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the sensation of falling as you just hit sleep

Chapter Text

1 : 16 June 2012-24 June 2012

♫ Picastro - I Can't Fall Asleep

 

As soon as they let him, John goes back to the flat. It's the middle of the afternoon. He takes off his shoes and turns on all the lights.

 

17:08 Missed call from Harry Watson

17:08 New voicemail

 

17:19 Missed call from Harry Watson

17:19 New voicemail

 

17:25 Missed call from Sarah Sawyer

17:26 New voicemail

 

17:27 Missed call from Mike Stamford

17:27 New voicemail

 

17:29 Missed call from Harry Watson

17:29 From: Harry Watson
Pick up your phone

 

17:31 Missed call from Greg Lestrade

17:32 New voicemail

 

17:37 From: Harry Watson
John? Are you okay?

 

17:40 Missed call from Harry Watson

17:41 Missed call from Harry Watson

17:43 Missed call from Harry Watson

17:43 From: Harry Watson
Pick up your phone you bastard

 

The next time John's phone rings, he turns it off.

 

"John."

John opens his eyes. He says, "You're—you're dripping on me."

"It's been raining for an hour and a half, you berk," Harry says, pushing a tangle of water-darkened hair away from her face. She says, "Thanks for dragging me all the way out here in this, by the way. It was just what my weekend was missing, watching the news and wondering if my brother's about to follow." Her eyes are kind.

John looks away.

"Christ," Harry sighs, then picks up his phone as she pushes back up to her feet. She turns it on again, then puts it down on the arm of his chair and walks away. She says, "Thanks, Mrs. Hudson." John hears the door close behind him. He closes his eyes again.

If he thinks about it hard enough, he can hear—sounds. Footsteps, mostly. If he waits long enough, he thinks, there'll be a crazed mutter or two—ah, right there, just on cue. He wonders how long it'll be before he hears the violin.

"All right," Harry says, and John half-jumps, head jerking up in surprise. She throws his duffle into his lap, then shifts his overnight bag around in her hand to get a better grip on the handle. She says, "Come on. We're done here."

 

John wakes up with an aching back, wondering what he's doing on Sarah's lilo. He always takes the sofa. Then he remembers that it's Sunday, and it's not Sarah's lilo at all. He closes his eyes again.

 

"So," Harry says.

John opens his eyes.

"I got a fun call," Harry says. She's got her arms crossed over her shirt, which today is a blue that Clara always tried to get him to wear, too (it brings out your eyes). "A Dr. Hooper. Said I was listed as your emergency contact, which I would have laid money wasn't true. Asked after you. Asked about your concussion."

"M'fine," John tells her. He closes his eyes again.

"Funny," Harry says. "I said, 'Really? He didn't tell me he had a concussion!'"

"I didn't tell you anything," John mumbles.

"Yeah," Harry says. "I remember. I found out about it on the news."

John rolls over to face the wall.

"Are you even allowed to be sleeping?" Harry demands. "I thought you weren't supposed to sleep if you had a concussion."

John sighs. "I'm fine," he tells her. "Really. I'm a doctor, remember?"

Harry punches him in the arm, hard. Then she says, "Thai all right? I haven't anything in."

John doesn't reply. When the food shows up, she gives him half a bowl of rice with green curry, so he eats it, without really thinking about much of anything. He can't even be bothered to chew with his mouth open, even though that's always driven her absolutely round the twist.

 

When he wakes up, he has four more messages (Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Bill), and too many texts, most of which he can't be bothered to read. It's half eleven on Monday morning. He thinks for a while about dying, but he can still hear Harry banging about in the kitchen, so it's probably not worth the effort.

 

"All right," Harry says, on Tuesday. "Up. C'mon." A towel hits him in the face.

"Aren't you supposed to be at work?" John mumbles.

"Yeah, I am, so, thanks, really," she says. "Shower. Shave. Now. You look like you're homeless and you're starting to stink up the place."

John can't really come up with a pithy reply, so he goes to shower. She's put his shampoo on the edge of her bath, neatly lined up along with his razor and Sherlock's bar of special extra-strength anthrax-killing antibacterial bath soap. John turns the light off and showers in the dark. Harry's prodigious collection of bath products are all fragranced with gardenias. He has to turn the light back on to shave, but it doesn't matter so much at that point; he can't smell anything but flowers, anyway.

When he opens the door, towel wrapped around his hips, Harry's standing there holding a clean pair of jeans, new shirt, fresh boxers. He bares his teeth at her, but takes the clothes and ducks back into the bathroom. He's doing up his flies when she calls through the door, "By the way, I made you an appointment with your therapist. Thursday at one."

John exhales through his nose, but he can't think of anything to say.

 

John's voicemail's filled up, so he's stopped getting new messages, which is a relief.  Mycroft finally gives up on calling and texts him the details late Tuesday night. John glances at it for maybe a tenth of a second before hitting delete.

 

On Wednesday, John keeps his eyes closed for most of the day, and tries not to listen to the clock.

 

In the end, Harry goes with him and waits in the lobby, because, as she puts it, "I've known you for four decades, you think I'd trust you alone?"

John suddenly remembers that he disliked her well before she started drinking.

"You didn't go to the funeral," Ella says, near the end of the session.

John looks out of the window.

"John?" she asks.

"Yeah, no," John says. "It. Mrs. Hudson texted me to say it was a media circus."

"But that's not why you didn't go," she persists.

"No," John says, and presses his hand over his mouth.

When the session ends nine minutes later, Ella's still quiet.

 

On Friday night, Harry makes him shower and shave again, then takes him down to her local. The barmaid, a pretty blonde in her late twenties with broad, lush hips and an elaborate tattoo framing the tops of her ample breasts, calls out, "Harry, love, it's been ages!" and pours out two shots of whiskey without asking. Harry settles John in a corner and then goes up for their drinks, coming back with the whiskey and something clear and fizzy, with a lime and a cherry and a slice of pineapple and a little umbrella. She gives John the whiskey.

John takes it and nods at her drink. "That's a bit," he says.

"Fruity?" she says, mouth quirking as she puts the pineapple on a cocktail napkin. "Meg's idea of a joke, I'm afraid. I told her I was off it, so she decided to liven up my mineral water."

"Christ," John mumbles.

"I know, right?" she says, but she does eat the cherry.

Halfway through his third whiskey, John's getting a little fixated on the tattoo. When the barmaid laughs, it moves like a wave. He asks, "Did you fuck her?"

"Who, Meg?" Harry asks, looking up from her growing tower of pineapple.

"Yeah," John says.

"Oh, well," Harry says. "You know."

"No," John says. "I—I do not know."

"Oh," Harry says. "Um. Well, we didn't date, or anything."

"I can't ever get girls who look like that to go to bed with me," John admits.

"But not for lack of trying," Harry says, mouth twisting up at the corners, and John says, "I will—I will drink to that," and raises his glass. Harry taps hers against it, and John asks, "Seriously, are you not going to eat your pineapple?"

She pushes it over to him.

"Another?" she asks, tapping at his glass as he starts on the last slice.

"Cheers," he says. His stomach feels warm. She gets up and carries their glasses up, and he finishes off the pineapple right as she sets a fresh whiskey down in front of him. She hands him the pineapple off her fresh drink without a word, but John's less hungry than he was, so he sets it down on the napkin.

"I didn't think this'd go like this," she tells him, halfway down.

"Mm," he agrees.

"I thought I'd get you drunk and then you'd cry into my hair," she adds.

He looks up at her face, at her kind eyes—Christ, that's annoying. He says, "I'm not actually fifteen anymore."

"You didn't go to the funeral," she tells him.

He turns his glass, left, right. He swallows and says, "There haven't been any reporters outside your flat."

She shifts. "No," she says.

John nods. "Were there at Baker Street, when you came for me?" he asks, and then takes another long drink.

She's quiet for a long moment. "No," she says, voice low.

"And this pub, this pub, here, which is almost empty, at half nine on a Friday," he says. "No one. Not. One. Person. Has so much as looked at me. Which, I mean. I'm not anybody important, of course, except the last possible source on the biggest scoop in London. Unless—I mean, it's been almost a week; you think they've already forgotten?"

Harry rubs at her mouth, twisted oddly to one side.

"Right," John says, and tosses back the last of the whiskey. "So. I'll—tomorrow, I'll—I'll go to a hotel."

"John," she sighs.

"He killed him," John says, in a tight, aching rush. "He—if I had, if that night, after uni, if we had—if Clara hadn't made it—"

"We're not talking about Clara," she says, tight.

"Well, we should be," John says. "Would you have—"

"Clara's fine, she's got a boyfriend," Harry spits, "and you two weren't even—"

"You never would've spoken to me again," John says. His voice doesn't even shake. "Never. Not after Dad, not after Afghanistan, you wouldn't have—he killed him, Harry. If he had stood behind him and pushed, I don't think he could be more responsible, and you. You just let him—"

"He wants to help you," she says, low, "and I don't know how."

"Right, no." John laughs. He grabs his coat. "Just—God save us all from the help of Mycroft Holmes."

He's not ten steps out when he hears her footsteps, jogging a little to catch up, her low heels tap-tapping behind him.

"You're coming back to my flat," she tells him, a minute after she's matched her pace to his.

"No," John says.

"I stole your wallet days ago, you know," she tells him.

John's hand comes up to his pocket before he can think to stop himself; it's empty. She smirks at him. John looks straight ahead and keeps walking.

It's raining by the time they get in. John strips off his jacket and then digs through the things Harry packed for him on Saturday: both of his suits, his least worn shirts, his stack of jumpers, his work trousers, the two pairs of jeans Sherlock had given him at Christmas and always made him wear when Sherlock wanted him to manipulate a witness. Socks, boxers, pajamas, dressing gown. Laptop. Phone charger. His mug, wrapped in newsprint and tucked into a corner. The two fat paperbacks from his bedside table, only one of which is actually his.

When Harry pads back out, toweling her hair, John's sitting on the edge of the sofa. He's still staring down at his lap. She pauses, watching him.

"The Pears was mine, actually," he says, shaky, "and I've never liked Russian novels."

Harry's still for a moment. Then she heads into the kitchen.

John presses his thumb and forefinger to his eyes and breathes. A few minutes later, she slides the book out of his lap, and when he looks up at her, she hands him a cup of tea.

John takes a sip.

Harry sits down next to him. After a minute, she tips her head over against his shoulder, and John exhales, slow.

 

John wakes up at two in the afternoon, with a splitting headache and a taste in his mouth that reminds him of that time that he and Sherlock spent the better part of a Monday in the sewers. The thought is sharp, hot, and John finds himself gasping, like something's pressing too hard against his chest. He swallows and swallows, blinking against the light, until the feeling dulls enough that he thinks he can stand.

He drinks a glass and a half of water and takes two paracetamol and eats a whole piece of toast, dry, because Harry only ever buys fucking apricot jam. The flat is quiet; Harry's left him a sticky note, Tesco's, text if you need anything, but he doesn't, so he heads to the bathroom and turns the shower up hot enough to make his skin flush lobster red. Sherlock's soap has vanished in the night, but John still knows where it was, right there on the edge of the bath, next to his shampoo and his razor. The thought twists something deep in his gut, so he fixes his eyes on the taps instead and breathes through his nose and washes his hair and doesn't, thank God, throw up. He stares at himself in the mirror while he brushes his teeth, then shaves carefully, making sure to get all the spots that he's been missing.

It takes him fifteen minutes to turn on his phone, and another ten to dial.

"Hullo," he says, when Mrs. Hudson answers.

"Oh, love." She sighs. "Are you all right?"

"No," he tells her, and swallows.

There's a long and aching silence.

"I was wondering," he says. "Since I didn't—I couldn't, for. On Wednesday. So. I was wondering if you could."

He swallows again, his throat suddenly impossibly dry. He rubs at his jaw which is smooth like his jaw and then at his throat which is sore unlike his throat and then at his knee which is covered by the jeans Sherlock made him wear when Sherlock wanted him to manipulate a witness. He's still out of words.

"Tomorrow," she says, after a minute. "Tea. And then we'll. Stop by."

John rubs at his face and nods, even though she can't see. He says, "Could you come by my sister's, though, for the tea?"

 

That night he and Harry stay in and eat take-away and watch four deeply forgettable films on DVD. She falls asleep halfway through the last one, but John stays up to finish it and then steals her cigarettes and goes out onto her balcony, because she's not got any booze in the flat, and he needs something to help him through the next bit.

It's half three before he's finished, and he's smoked half the pack and his throat burns and his stomach aches, but he's listened to and deleted all but four. Greg's is simple, and heartfelt, and mentions nothing but John, and John can't make up his mind yet whether or not to forgive him. Two are from Mycroft, and he can't—he just can't listen to them, not yet, not for anything. The last one must've been an old one, misdirected, somehow, somewhere far down in the system, to be delivered so late; John doesn't really ever understand how any of this stuff works. It's not really relevant anymore. He saves it anyway.

 

Mrs. Hudson brings flowers. Harry sticks the ends in her old margarita pitcher with water, to stay fresh while John makes the tea and digs out some biscuits. They're lilies; the smell makes John feel sick. Harry chats about nothing with Mrs. Hudson while they drink their tea, but she declines, very politely, any suggestion that she ought to come along. Very proper, John thinks; Sherlock never could stand her.

"I'm angry," he tells Mrs. Hudson, and he is, but not for any of the reasons she thinks. He's angry because Sherlock tricked him and shut him out and left him, and he's angry for Sherlock making him do this, for making him do any of it; for making him watch his coat flutter and his arms windmill and his blood spreading out through his ears and his hair, for making him touch him, his hand, his cold hand, his hand going cold in John's hand while the world tilted and spun and—God, John hates this, he hates all of it, he hates that he's standing here alone with cold stone (his cold hand) under his fingertips and saying, I was so alone and I owe you so much, like he's the one going into the ground and it's his last chance to say it, his last chance to thank him, his last chance, his last chance, when it isn't a chance at all. There isn't an inch on John's body that doesn't hurt, anymore.

In the end, John goes, because there's no point in any of it, because he said it and out loud it was foolish and hollow and it didn't hurt any less, because he can hear himself begging for an impossibility and it doesn't make a difference, none of it makes any kind of difference, because Sherlock is dead and still will be tomorrow, because John isn't, yet, and he still won't be for a while. John swallows and straightens and from there, his spine reminds him what he's supposed to do.

He doesn't go back to Harry's flat. Instead, he goes to her local, and sits down at the bar and watches the blonde barmaid with the tattoo laugh with two men, obviously regulars, down at the far end. When she comes over to him, smiling, to take his order, he suddenly remembers that Harry still has his wallet, which he'd already remembered once today (painfully, when Mrs. Hudson had had to pay for the cab), and then promptly forgotten.

"What'll it be, then?" the barmaid asks.

"Fuck," John says, and she grins and says, "You couldn't afford me, love," and John can feel his cheeks heat up as he says, "I—Christ, no, no, I don't have my wallet."

She looks at his face intently, for a moment, then says, "You're Harry's brother, aren't you?"

John swallows, then nods.

She reaches under the counter and pulls out a glass, reaches for the whiskey.

"On the house," she says.

"You don't have to," he starts, but she shakes her head.

"On the house," she repeats, and when she pushes it over to him, she touches the back of his hand, once, light.

John drinks his whiskey. The barmaid—Meg, John thinks—brings him another, so he drinks that one too. When she brings him a third, he mumbles, "You can't keep giving me free drinks," and she raises an eyebrow and says, "As a matter of fact, I can do anything I want to do," and John stares at her, and then swallows, and tells her, "I like your tattoo."

She studies him for a moment, then nods at his drink and says, "Finish that. I was supposed to be off ten minutes ago, and the other girl should be almost done with her dinner."

"You slept with my sister," John reminds her, and she puts her elbows up on the bar and leans over and touches her tongue to his ear. John's fingers tighten on his glass.

"All right?" she murmurs.

John knocks back the whiskey. "Yeah," he says. "All right."

 

When John unlocks the door to Harry's flat, it's past midnight, but Harry's still up, sitting on the sofa and chewing on her thumbnail. She doesn't move, just sits there while she watches him slide off his jacket.

"Listen," he says, hanging it up. "I need my wallet back."

"John," she says.

"No," John says. "I can't—you can't stay home from work for another week and I'm actually not planning to off myself, so you should give me my wallet back and let me go back to being an adult."

"John," she repeats, and then nods, and John notes it all, too late, too slow: two cups, and Harry's always taken hers like he does, milky; the other's black, and from the umbrella resting against the arm of the sofa, John would be willing to bet no sugar, too.

"Hullo, John," Mycroft says, stepping out from the hall, and John stares at him, because he can't believe that Mycroft Holmes is in his sister's flat drinking her tea, and it's actually genuinely unthinkable that he has just finished using her loo.

"I really don't want to talk to you," John tells him.

"I need you to," Mycroft says.

John smiles at him. "Oh, good, so, if you need me, we're fine, then."

"John," Harry says, shifting.

"No, really," John says, not looking at her. "I guess I'm just confused as to—do we have anything in common, now, Mr. Holmes? I'm just—I'm a little uncertain, why our paths should cross, since—"

"I have a job for you," Mycroft interrupts, and John flinches, because he's heard that before, he's heard that so many damn times, but it's the first time he's ever heard it directed at him.

"And what sort of job," he says, low, "could you possibly have for me to do?"

"Moriarty," Mycroft tells him, and John stills. Mycroft smiles, a little tight, and says, "I want him dead, don't you?"

Chapter Text

2 : 16 June 2012-29 June 2012

♫ Radiohead - Backdrifts

 

If Sherlock were to trust anyone, he'd trust John. Moriarty knows it. So Sherlock does something that he hates so much it makes his skin crawl: he trusts someone else, and he gives her control.

It works, well enough. It doesn't play out perfectly, though; Sherlock didn't predict Moriarty's gun.

It's not an insurmountable obstacle, but it was a careless mistake and the results are unfortunate. Moriarty's blood is spreading rapidly around him; they'll have much less time. He runs through it in his head as he types it out, fast: Trolley, now, hurry. He doesn't think she'll have more than five minutes, unless John's taken longer than Sherlock thinks he will at the flat, and it'll take her about two to get the body ready, even with help, and—no, no, damn it, it's less than that; it's him, that's his cab, and Sherlock's brain aches, trapped into one single agonizing thought: Please. Molly. Hurry.

His miscalculation keeps costing him; he's going to have to jump far too soon; John won't hold still much longer. He has to take it on faith, then, that she won't make a mistake. They can't afford another one. He feels unsettlingly unsettled, which is probably why he doesn't land as well as he should, one leg sliding badly on a bag of linen as he tries, not very successfully, to tuck into a roll. He bites down hard on his lip and then flattens himself into the mounds of linen, low to the bed of the lorry; he counts to eleven before he feels it pull away.

Five minutes down the road (left turn right turn right turn left), the phone in his pocket vibrates, just once. He tugs it out to read and gasps, and laughs, a little, and then puts a hand over his face, to block out the sky.

 

11:47 From: +447700900781
They've said I can do your postmortem. We're fine. You owe me a new lab coat, by the way.

 

He's definitely injured—the knee is the worst; he worries it's dislocated—but he knows it could've been far more serious, if he'd not aimed even as well as he'd managed, if he hadn't been able to get his feet underneath him at the end. He lets himself in with shaking hands and then deadbolts the door and somehow manages to drag himself over to the sofa, only just; it's not nearly long enough, but it's flat, and he can prop his leg up over the arm. There's a cat, of course (he should've known there'd be a cat); it comes and climbs up onto his stomach, exactly twice and no more. After the second time he dumps it onto the floor, Sherlock closes his eyes to wait and ends up falling asleep, heavy and dreamless, and doesn't wake until he hears a soft knocking at the door.

Sherlock groans and struggles to his feet; his knee is worse. He bites down on a sick, greyish-yellow sort of a feeling and staggers over to let her in; at her first look at his face, she slides one arm around him without asking and helps him back to the sofa.

"What did you break?" she asks, dumping her things onto the floor and sitting on the edge of the coffee table to reach over to touch him: neck, arms, ribs.

"Not broken," he grits out. "My knee—"

She slides her small, careful hands over him, then exhales. "Sprained, I think," she says. "Swelling up pretty badly, though."

"Damn." Sherlock grinds his teeth and rubs at his face. "I can't—I can't just lie here, I—"

"Don't pretend you weren't worried it'd be worse," she says. "You did jump off a fourth-story building, you know; I'm amazed you didn't break anything."

"I didn't land on asphalt," he scoffs, then looks up at her, and admits, "I thought I might've dislocated it."

She gives him a tiny smile, her hands still resting on either side of his knee. "Doesn't feel like it," she says, standing. "Anyway, I've got ice, and I managed to scrape up some co-codamol. Worried you might need it."

"I—thank you," he says. She locks her door, chain too, then fetches him the ice, wrapped in a tea towel, and a glass of water and her bag, from which she extracts the co-codamol. "I'll get you something to eat, too, hold on," she says, shrugging off her damp coat, then her jumpers. "I haven't got anything to wrap your knee with, though; it'll have to wait until I go out again."

Sherlock digs out three tablets and swallows them dry, then gulps down the water. It's only then that he notices the label. He blinks, twice, then calls, "Molly. Why is this prescribed to John?"

"Oh," she says, coming in with two plates with biscuits and two cups of tea. "They took him in, he—"

"He's all right," Sherlock says, too fast. "He isn't—"

"He's fine, Sherlock," she says, sitting back down on the coffee table and handing his over. "Mild concussion, banged up a bit. They didn't even send him over to Royal London, released him before I finished."

"Oh," he says. The knot under his ribs is unclenching, just barely. "Then—why do I have his co-codamol?"

"Dropped it on the Tube," she says. "I mean—I told them he'd dropped it on the Tube and he'd rung me up to see if I could pick up some more."

He stares at her. "You lied to get me narcotics."

She takes a bite of a biscuit, then says mildly, "I lied on a postmortem, too. After that, it didn't seem to make much of a difference."

Sherlock exhales and picks up a biscuit. "I," he starts, then huffs and says, "I'm indebted to you."

She watches him, with the same serious, mousey expression as always, then says, "If anything goes wrong, if they take another look, this won't hold up, you know."

"They won't take another look," he tells her.

"It's just, you're not very well liked, just at the moment," she says, very soft.

"And I threw myself off a building," he reminds her. "They won't take another look."

She nods slowly. She says, "You told me to tell you later, about, um," sounding a little uncertain.

Sherlock swallows. "Yes," he says. This is the part where it could all have gone wrong, if she's stupid enough to choose—but he didn't have a choice, he didn't have a choice, damn it. He needed her. "I need to know who—"

"The driver, Brian Jessup," she says, leaning forward. "He lived two doors down when I was a girl; we've always been friends. He didn't even ask why; just waited for my text because I asked him to. He doesn't know anything. I—there was, my b—a, um. Friend. I told him it was for a bet, to make sure he wouldn't—well. He was watching John. Fred Evans. He's not stupid, he may put it together, he knows we're—he knows we work together."

Sherlock nods, thinking. "And the body?" he asks.

She takes another bite of biscuit, chews, swallows. Then she says, "Mike."

Sherlock stares at her. The bottom of his torso has fallen away; any moment his organs will tumble out onto the floor. He says, "Mike. You mean Mike Stamford."

Molly drinks her tea.

"You," he says, feeling his voice jerking up as he says, "You enlisted the one person in that building who John considers a friend, you—"

"Yes," she interrupts. "Because you enlisted me, you entrusted it to me, you said you were protecting John and it was critical, that I'd need someone to help me move a body and I should pick because if you picked, Jim would know, so I picked Mike."

"They go out together," Sherlock tells her, desperate. His heart rate has increased; it makes his knee throb uncomfortably.

"I know," she says. "He introduced you two. You wouldn't have picked Mike."

"He'll tell him," Sherlock says. "They have drinks—"

"You see, this is your problem," she says, quiet. "You don't think anyone can be properly trusted unless they have no real reason to betray you. You'd do better, I think, if you trusted the people who have every real reason to help you." She stands up. "Mike cares about John, and he trusts me. He trusts you. He won't say a word."

 

Sherlock pushes the biscuits about on his plate and drinks his tea and fumes. Molly's gone to take a shower. She comes out half an hour later in a dressing gown that's the wrong shade of pink for her complexion, with a pair of soft-looking grey jogging bottoms underneath; they suit her better, which he doesn't think he should say.

"I'll get you something to wrap your knee tomorrow," she says. "It's pouring, I'm not going out again tonight."

Sherlock licks his lips. "Mike," he says.

"He's not going to tell anyone," Molly says.

"You're right, I never would've picked him," Sherlock tells her, which is as close as he thinks he can get to an apology.

Molly's still for a moment. Then she comes over and sits down on the edge of the coffee table again, and scoops the cat up off the floor.

"John," she says, "You love him," and Sherlock closes his eyes and sighs, "Really, Molly, that question is beneath you," and Molly says, "Wasn't a question, actually."

Sherlock looks back up at her. It takes him a while, but finally he says, "He's my friend. It matters to me that he's safe."

"Right," Molly says, "that's what I said." She's rubbing her hand over the cat's ears; the cat's eyes have gone half closed and he's purring, loud and low. Sherlock dislikes cats, in general, but he does have to admit that the noise is soothing.

"We're not—our relationship isn't sexual," Sherlock tells her, and she says, "What does that have to do with anything?"

Sherlock swallows, and looks back up at the ceiling. He says, "It just matters to me that he's safe."

Molly doesn't say anything, just keeps rubbing the cat's head as she stays perched, awkwardly, on the edge of the table. Her voice is low when she says, "What are you going to do," not quite a question.

Sherlock rubs his thumbs against his fingers, and then draws his hands up to his chest. He thinks about inventories and variables and unpredictable chemical reactions; about Molly, utterly unquestioning; about John, so illuminating. He thinks about the actor Richard Brook and the killers living on Baker Street; about three guns and three bullets and a code word, a signal; about Stamford, unexpected; about the heavy weight of John's gun, still tucked into his pocket. He thinks about papers and identification and the mobile in his pocket, not as nice as his old one. He thinks about the hole in the air to his right and before him, about the countless men and women of London who no one actually wants to be able to see, about a single email address curled in around the hook of a finger in the back of his mind, glistening with four sharp-edged shots of terrible American whiskey. He thinks about what he still has that's not useless.

"I think," he says, finally, "that I may have to kill some people."

Molly's hand stills on the cat.

He turns his face up towards her, and asks, "Are you still willing to help me?"

She watches him, mouth drawn thin, and then slowly, eyes determined and afraid, she nods.

"I need to borrow your laptop," he says.

 

Sherlock spends most of Sunday on his back with the icepack over a brace Molly bought with the last of his cash; he spends Monday and Tuesday being seen, but only in the right places. He ruthlessly forces himself to ignore his anxieties; his financial problems will be temporary, he knows, and John doesn't have his gun, and Sherlock's borrowed enough from Molly to make small investments where he needs to. He doesn't often need to; for some reason, they trust him, and by Wednesday morning his new phone is half full of pictures and his knee's mostly stopped screaming.

John isn't at the funeral; neither is Sherlock. His people are, though, and Sherlock examines the faces and sorts them out into groups: reporters, mostly, divided into the serious and the dangerous; a handful of people who want to make sure he's really dead; Molly and Stamford, who keep their eyes averted, damn it, neither of them can lie worth a damn. Mrs. Hudson, who never questioned him; Lestrade, who didn't want to; and Mycroft, who looks, for him, angry, and for some reason, oddly young. No one else that he knows bothers to come. Donovan, he knows, will be at her flat wondering why she feels guilty, and Anderson will be at his wondering if it'll give him the opportunity to get back in her knickers. Predictable, the lot of them; except for John, who didn't come.

He sends the email late Wednesday night, stays up with his phone until his neck gets stiff and he's sure she knows what he needs. He braves the rain to pick up his new passports around noon on Thursday and drop the package into the post; his phone buzzes in his pocket not ten minutes later. It's a photo, two, three: John, his mouth set and narrow and his sleeve dark with wet, beside Harry, who is reaching for the door, her umbrella tipping down. She is blurred by rain, but somehow, John is not. Sherlock's mouth curves down, and he opens up a forward:

13:04 To: +12125557139
You need to do it now.
<image attached>

He spends the afternoon looking for what he needs. Before he heads back to Molly's he's found himself a laptop—student in history, no girlfriend, divorced parents, with incipient acid reflux; the idiot leaves his flat unlocked every time he goes downstairs for a coffee, which he shouldn't be drinking to begin with; both stupid and predictable, and Sherlock needs the laptop more, anyway. Because he's feeling generous, he compresses the coursework folder, then opens up Mail and sends it, along with a note about basic home security, from the boy's own account; the four essays Sherlock skimmed weren't too horribly off the mark, so Sherlock supposes it's acceptable if he finishes his degree. Then he wipes the drive and reinstalls everything from the two DVDs the boy keeps tucked in the outside pocket of the case, honestly; Sherlock wonders what they're teaching at university these days.

By the time he's got it back up and running again, Molly's made stir-fry, and it's had time to get cold, and Sherlock has his reply.

 

justaverageonthemark : done. and what, exactly, will you do if he tries to reply? (attached: audio)  rnw: He won't.  justaverageonthemark: because he doesn't ever surprise you. of course, I forgot.
(click to zoom)

 

Sherlock finds Diachenko on Sunday morning. She doesn't give him much, just two names (a man from Brussels, a voice on the wind), but it's something. He knocks her out first, for that; it's the only reward he can afford to give.

He lets himself go, after, to follow the inevitable conclusion of two blurred photos of Mrs. Hudson (in black, with lilies), and finds what he had hoped he expected. John is fine, he looks fine; he cries, but he's fine. Sherlock grips John's gun in his pocket and watches him, even though it's too far to see what he's saying and probably dangerous, besides. John's fine.

John's fine.

 

Sherlock buys Molly her new lab coat on Tuesday afternoon, then buys himself the cheapest ticket he can find and heads to Brussels. He comes back on Friday and breaks in, because she still hasn't copied her key, and sleeps on her sofa with his legs over the arm, still wrapped up in his coat, until the door opens and he jerks up with the gun out without thinking and she stops dead still in the doorway.

She licks her lips. "Bad day?" she asks.

Sherlock exhales and puts his arm down, flipping the safety back on and tucking the gun into his pocket. He says, "Not particularly, no."

She shuts the door. "Mike asked after you," she says.

"I hope he used code," Sherlock says, jerking his head up.

She laughs, a little, then pauses and says, "Oh, no, you're serious."

"Hmm," he says, voice rising. "Oh, I don't know, I faked my own death, let me think about whether or not I'm serious."

"He didn't say your name or anything," she says. That crease in her forehead makes her look older. "He just asked how my friend was doing. No one was around, anyway."

"Don't be an idiot," Sherlock snarls. "You can't ever know that no one is around."

"You know that no one is around in my flat," she says, tight. She drops her bag on the floor and starts peeling off her wraps.

"I searched it," he tells her.

"Oh, you—" She blows out a breath. "You searched my flat, Sherlock?"

"I'm staying here," he says. "I needed to know if you were bugged."

She makes a small, angry noise and then hangs her coat on its hook with more violence than is strictly necessary. "Why are you even here, then?" she asks. "Why not—why not a flat? A hotel? I mean, if you aren't here because they—because no one ever thinks about me, because they wouldn't—I don't know why you, you break into my flat, or sleep on my sofa without asking, or—"

"Well, I do know you'd prefer it if I used the bed," he snaps, fisting his hands against his coat.

She slams her hand into the back of the door, which is surprising; he can't help but start. "Don't you dare use that against me," she tells him, voice cracking, raw. "Don't. Don't you dare, don't you dare, after. After everything, after I—just. Don't."

Sherlock is silent. She stares at him without blinking for a long minute, then dashes her sleeve over her face.

"You wouldn't use it against John," she says tightly. "You wouldn't use it against him, so why do you have to use it against me?"

"John isn't attracted to me," Sherlock tells her, after a moment, and she laughs, low, harsh, and then looks at him with her eyes tight at the edges and says, "That isn't the point. That's not the point, Sherlock, that just—it isn't the point."

She turns and goes. Sherlock folds his coat around his chest; after a minute, he hears her start the shower. He swallows, then stands and goes over to her fridge. His culinary abilities are limited, but he can make eggs, at least, and toast, and tea, so he does. When she comes out in her grey bottoms and t-shirt, hair hanging damp around her, he nudges the plate across her tiny table, and says, "Two sugars, no milk?" and then hands her her tea.

She stares at him.

"It was—um, uncalled for," he tells her, and tugs his coat close, tight. "I'm sorry."

"Oh," she says.

"I am." He pauses and licks his lips. "You are. A help, to me. I—I think I would have failed, without your help."

"Oh," she says. She takes a sip of tea, then reaches for her fork.

After a while, he says, "Mike," and she says, "He won't say anything," and Sherlock says, "He's careless, Molly."

She takes another bite of eggs and doesn't meet his eyes.

Sherlock runs it through in his mind, roots to trunk to branch by branch, and then he exhales, long and slow, and goes back over to dig out his laptop. He opens up Mail and flexes his fingers, and types, I need you to do something else for me.

It's quiet for a long time, after that.

 

03:41 From: +12125557139
you're mad.

03:42 To: +12125557139
Please.

03:42 From: +12125557139
you can't possibly think this will work.

03:43 To: +12125557139
I'll pay you.

03:44 To: +12125557139
Please. I did it for you.

03:47 From: +12125557139
...better.

03:47 To: +12125557139
Will you do it?

03:48 From: +12125557139
I'm headed to Tokyo. Haven't even got your present yet. What do you expect me to do?

03:49 To: +12125557139
That's trivia. Irene, please.

03:53 From: +12125557139
fine. I'll do it because I owe you; if you try to pay me, I'll beat you.

03:53 From: +12125557139
and mind what you say, *Sherlock.*

Chapter Text

3 : 24 June 2012-1 July 2012

♫ Interpol - The Scale

 

"Moriarty," Mycroft tells him, and John stills. Mycroft smiles, a little tight, and says, "I want him dead, don't you?"

John licks his lips. He says, "I want rather a lot of people dead, as it turns out."

"Humorous," Mycroft says, though John doubts that he thinks it's funny at all. "Tell me, John. Has your phone been behaving itself?"

"What?" John asks, blinking.

"You got a message," Mycroft says, and John can feel his back tensing up.

"Technical glitch," he says, low. "It—it wasn't anything important."

"You saved it," Mycroft says.

"Of course I saved it," John says, low. "You're monitoring my phone, now?"

"We've been monitoring your phone for quite some time," Mycroft says.

"You," John says. "Don't say 'we', there's no 'we', this is personal."

"Fine," Mycroft says. "I have been monitoring your phone for quite some time—or really, there is a 'we', since I have my staff do it—because that was the next step in keeping track of him, and after you two broke into Baskerville I decided it was high time I took it."

"So you listen to my messages." John can't control the tremble in his voice. "And, what—live calls? Texts?"

"Yes," Mycroft says evenly. "And the sooner you can get over your no doubt highly satisfying histrionics, the sooner we can talk about what's actually important, which is that Moriarty destroyed Sherlock—"

"—with help," John supplies, but Mycroft ignores him.

"—and he escaped," Mycroft finishes. His eyes have dark circles underneath; good. John hopes he isn't sleeping at all. "However culpable you may think I am in all this, for an act that I will readily admit was unforgivably foolish, the active agent was Moriarty and he escaped. I can't find him. I have people tracing out his network and coming up with nothing, John, but I have you and you got a voicemail in Sherlock's voice five days after he died and it wasn't delayed, it wasn't a glitch, and right now, that's the lead. That is the only lead that we have."

John is still standing by his sister's coat rack, and she's still folded up on her sofa. John says, "Harry, would you—kettle still hot, d'you think?"

"Not moving," she says.

"You can't be involved in this," he tells her.

"I already am involved in this," she says. "I'm not moving." She picks up her cup and holds it out. "You can have mine, though, I haven't touched it."

John steps over and takes it; he really does want the tea. He sits down on the stylish grey chair that faces his sister's sofa; he's always wondered how she managed to find a squashy armchair that's so massively uncomfortable, but that, like so many things in her life, is probably simply inexplicable. "How do you know it's not a glitch, then?"

"It wasn't on the server until Thursday afternoon," Mycroft says. "Your voicemail was full. He had to allocate extra space before he added the file. It didn't come through the phone networks; someone connected to the voicemail servers directly and uploaded it that way, with a computer, not with a phone, and days—days after he died."

"And you think it's Moriarty because it's high tech?" John asks.

"I think it's Moriarty because it's you," Mycroft says, low. "I think he's trying to make you think that Sherlock is alive."

"I doubt it," John says. He leans back. "The problem—the problem with that, Mycroft, is that I didn't."

"You didn't what?" Mycroft looks puzzled.

"I—I assumed it was a glitch, I didn't think about it." He rubs his thumb over his eyebrow. "I'm not—I'm not a conspiracy theorist—though sometimes I think I ought to be, what with you and the international crime syndicates and everything. I didn't think about it. I just." He swallows. His throat is hurting, again. "It was about the shopping, you know?" He laughs, a little, then says, "I've had maybe a hundred messages like that, in the past year, and I've deleted them all without thinking, so I. I was just. I was happy to have something. Of him."

"Moriarty wouldn't know that," Mycroft says.

John rubs the back of his hand over his mouth. "Yeah, he would," he says, quiet. "Sherlock would know it, so Moriarty would, too. If Sherlock could outwit him on anything, it. It wasn't going to be me."

"John," Mycroft says, leaning forward. "Even if that were true, it was planted. It wasn't a glitch."

John puts his hand over his eyes.

"You think it's Sherlock," Mycroft says.

"No," John says, but even he doesn't believe himself. His heart rate is picking up, a rush of something he can't even identify spreading out through his limbs, shaky and bright and oh, relief.

"John," Mycroft says, and then, "I have the photos from the postmortem, do you need to see them?" and John makes a raw, wild noise, deep in his chest, and Harry murmurs, "Mr. Holmes," and Mycroft is silent.

John manages to take a breath. Then another. Then another. "You're sure," he manages, even though his mouth and tongue feel thick, alien.

"Yes," Mycroft says, very gently.

"Because Adler," John says, looking up, "she got away with it, you know, and you—you both signed off on it and then she turned up a week later, so I—"

"I'm sure, John," Mycroft says, low. He reaches down into an expensive-looking black briefcase by his feet and puts a manilla folder down on Harry's coffee table. He says, "Credit card and phone records, John. Two texts, both Moriarty, one outgoing and one coming in, not half an hour before, and no calls but—no calls but the one, to you. Nothing on email at all. He couldn't have done this alone, but he didn't recruit any help."

John swallows.

Mycroft watches him, then sighs, adds another folder. "Fine. The photos from the postmortem, if you're still uncertain. Complete with DNA analysis. There's a transcript of Dr. Hooper's dictated notes, too—you can't tell from that but she's crying, every second of the tape. This isn't fake, John. Not this time."

"CCTV?" John asks, finally.

"That corner's blind, which I imagine Sherlock knew, probably his—his perverted idea of a courtesy, but we've gone over every path out, for hours after, and there's nothing," Mycroft tells him. He leans forward. "This is real, John. That message wasn't. What you're thinking, right now, that's not coming from you. That's coming from Moriarty. He wants you to wonder. He hasn't finished with you." His mouth twists; it makes him look young, oddly petulant. "But I'm not finished with him, either, and that means I need you."

"As bait," John says, quiet.

"Not quite," Mycroft says, reaching down again. On top of the folders, he puts John's gun.

John licks his lips.

"I need a weapon, John," Mycroft says, soft. "He wants you to—to wonder, to be uncertain, so that he can hurt you again and again and again. I want you to believe me. I want you to know. And then I want you to destroy him, because I think you might be the only person left who can."

John looks over at Harry. She's barely moved, just sat quiet with her legs folded up and her thumbnail tucked against her lip and listened. Her face is serious, but beyond that he can't read her expression, can't quite tell what's looking out at him from behind her blue eyes and square jaw.

"Har," he says.

She shifts, turns her head, just barely, Not now.

John exhales. He looks back at Mycroft and says, "I need to think about this. Give me—I need a day. I'll call you."

"Fine," Mycroft says, putting the gun back in his briefcase. "I'll leave you the—look at those, if you need to."

"And the gun," John says, holding out his hand.

"John," Mycroft sighs.

"The gun is mine," John tells him.

"Not yet, it isn't," Mycroft says. "If I'm going to be the one who gets called when they arrest you—"

"Fine," John says, and leans back. "You know, I don't even—just. Fine."

Mycroft snaps his briefcase shut and stands, so Harry does, too, and follows him over to the door. Mycroft is saying, "Thank you very much, Miss Watson, for the tea," and Harry is saying, "Call me Harry, please," and then John fixes his gaze on the folders on the table, and doesn't listen to anything. After a while, Harry comes back to reclaim her seat on the sofa.

"John," she says, quiet.

"It's nothing I haven't done before," he tells her.

"Because you've had to," she says.

John looks away.

"John," she repeats. "You're a doctor. You—you're a brave man and a pragmatic one, and you served your men well, and I think sometimes you think I don't understand what that meant and—I don't, not really, but. I do know what you've done; I'm not stupid. But I know this, too: even if you stepped past the line, you didn't ever stop being a doctor."

"I killed a man," John tells her, "for Sherlock."

"And he wasn't the first, was he?" she asks. Her voice is very gentle. "Even that—it was war, Johnny, it was war over there and it was war with Sherlock, and you know and I know that this isn't."

John exhales slowly.

"I want to kill him," he says, finally.

"I know," she says.

"I want to kill Mycroft, too," he adds.

"I know," she says.

"Difference is, with Mycroft, I'd make it painless," he admits.

She doesn't laugh at that. John supposes it wasn't very funny.

"At school, you always enjoyed the revenge tragedies," John says, finally.

"These days I find the ending a little harder to stomach," she replies.

 

In the morning, John wakes up to Harry making herself coffee and toast. She's not turned the light in the kitchen on, probably didn't mean to wake him. It's just barely light out.

"What?" he asks muzzily.

She looks over, squinting. The lilo's tucked in against the far wall, deep in shadow. "I've got buckets to catch up on at work," she explains. "Go back to sleep."

He nods, then asks, "Wallet?"

"On the counter," she says. "Go back to sleep."

John goes back to sleep. The next time he wakes up, it's just after ten. The folders are still sitting on the coffee table. John showers and shaves and tucks his wallet in his pocket and then makes himself a cup of tea and two slices of toast and an egg and sits down to read.

John scrutinizes the credit and bank records, the phone logs. He doesn't really know what he's looking for, but whatever it is, he doesn't find it. Then he opens the other folder and reads the reports, Molly's transcripts; he ignores the stack of photos until he can't, anymore.

He doesn't make it very far down, in the end. He thought that if he had one, it'd be the close-ups that would be his breaking point, but he doesn't even get to them. It's an overhead shot, and John stares at the narrow spread of Sherlock's pale torso, at his hands resting beside him, their characteristic elegance stripped from him in stillness; John hasn't exactly spent a lot of time looking at Sherlock undressed, but it's still shocking, how little he recognizes him. It's as though with all that manic energy gone Sherlock's not even the same person. His skin is marked up with greyish splotches of bruise, and even laid out flat, John can see at least three bones that have been broken; John knows there are more, with that kind of a fall. Sherlock is more muscular than John would've thought. He really does seem shorter without the coat. John rubs at his face and briefly glances at the next photo, but he's had more than enough.

He reaches for his phone.

 

Harry gets back at half seven, and John stands before she's even properly through the door and says, "Let's go out. All the mineral water you could want, on me."

She pauses. "You took the job," she says, quiet.

"Yes," John says. "So let's go out, tonight, and then after, you can go back to—however that makes you feel about me."

"God, you really think I'm a judgmental bitch, don't you?" She sounds somewhat admiring.

"You are a judgmental bitch," he says. "But it's been six months since you threw up on me and also you maybe saved my life, so I'll work on forgiving you."

John gets very, very drunk. He hasn't been this drunk in—in ages, really, at least ten, maybe fifteen years. After uni, after his dad, he and Harry had both seen the writing on the wall and then drawn very different conclusions, but now Harry's the one who's reined herself in and John's so drunk it takes him both his hands to hold his head up.

"Christ, you wanker," Harry sighs at him, and then because she's her mother's daughter, when he asks, she gets him another.

"I loved him, you know," John tells her, leaning heavily on his hands. "Every—everyone thought we were shagging."

She runs her finger up and down the side of her glass, then asks, "Were you?"

John tries to shake his head but he can't, but he does manage to tell her, "No. Nope. We were—we were not shagging, though it—it would've made things easier. In—dubitably."

"Oh?" she sounds amused. "Yes, I can see how shagging an egotistical bastard like Sherlock would make any straight man's life easier."

"Bint," John tells her.

"Arsehole," she replies. "Seriously, John, are you—I mean, you're not even attracted to men, are you?"

He tilts one shoulder up; the other follows awkwardly. He adds, "He drove all my girlfriends away."

She snorts. "Yes," she says, standing. "And finding easy sex has always been so difficult for you."

"Maybe I didn't want easy sex," he tells her. The spaces in his nose are aching, and he's beginning to worry he might cry, which, even this drunk, is just. Not on. "I'm forty, Har, maybe I—"

"Wanted the wife and two kids and the privet hedge, did you?" she asks. She doesn't sound like she believes him.

He blinks at her slowly.

"You've never been that person, John," she tells him. "Neither of us has, and you know it. C'mon, you're getting maudlin, and I can't handle that sober."

He leans on her heavily, most of the way back to the flat.

"I think I would've," he tells her, halfway home. "If he'd asked me to."

"You are really going to regret telling me that in the morning," she says, and then he throws up on her shoes.

 

The next morning, John pads over while Harry's making her coffee, and she pours him a cup and makes an extra slice of toast without saying a word.

"How bad?" she asks.

"Pretty sure I'm still drunk," John admits. His tongue feels thick.

"Ah," she says. "Sleep it off?"

He shakes his head. He says, "After you go, maybe."

She nods and watches him, thoughtful and quiet.

"I wanted to say thank you," he says, quiet.

She swallows her coffee. "Of course," she says, and rinses her cup, and goes.

John doesn't go back to sleep after she's left. The coffee helps, and by the time he gets out of the shower, he mostly feels like a person again. He gets himself a glass of water and opens up his laptop. When he hits "submit," it feels like a good punch, painful and clean.

His head still feels a little heavy, and his mouth is still dry. He hasn't forgotten anything, which is one of the reasons he hardly ever gets really drunk anymore; it doesn't ever help, with anything. He thinks about the words falling out of his mouth like they were too heavy to hold onto any longer. He considers regretting it, and then decides not to give Harry the satisfaction.

 

John does sleep, after that, then wakes up at two and writes Harry a note and packs up his things. Mycroft has found him a flat. John would balk at that, except that Mycroft tells him it's a legitimate expense and John's on his payroll now, only he knows that if he writes out a check John won't cash it. Besides, Mycroft reminds him, if John is going after Moriarty, he doesn't want to be living with Harry; she'll wind up in the firing line. Unfortunately, this is all rather too sensible to be ignored.

The flat is fine. It's not far from Baker Street, actually, but it's far enough that he doesn't have to walk that way if he doesn't want to. He unpacks what little he's got into the narrow student's desk and the massive old-fashioned bureau that the landlord, Murray, told him his grandfather had hauled up the three flights of stairs back in 1921, before promptly dying of a sudden heart attack; after this, it seems, no one in the family thought that it would be proper to have it moved. Murray slaps his thigh and laughs wheezily when he tells this story, so John laughs too. John's not certain if Murray is his first name or his last, but it doesn't really seem to matter.

The flat has two mismatched armchairs and a telly that's a hair too large for the corner it's crammed into and a small but perfectly serviceable kitchen with a totally empty fridge. John puts his mug on the sink, then heads out to get something to eat; he winds up in what he supposes is now his local, nursing a lager and half-heartedly watching the game. He strikes up a conversation with a woman who says her name is Diana; she's pretty, if perhaps a little angular for his taste, perhaps five years older than he is and at least two inches taller. She has dark hair and drinks red wine, not white, and travels a lot for work.

"So," she says, with a smile. "What's your story, then?"

"What?" he asks, laughing a little.

"You said you used to be a doctor," she says. "Not anymore?"

John licks his lips. "No," he says. "I—I was an army doctor, came home...almost two years ago?"

"Ah," she says, and wisely doesn't push it. "Married?"

He holds up his left hand, and she laughs, so he laughs too.

"Not tucked into your pocket, then," she asks.

"Ah, no," he says. "No, I."

He stops. Meg had known Harry and therefore him by extension, and so she had known what had happened; she hadn't said a word about anything, but the weight of it had still hung between them. He realizes, suddenly, that Diana doesn't know anything, and he doesn't have to tell her, that I solve crime, girls don't much stick around or my flatmate's a bit of an extraordinary bastard don't have to come up in this conversation at all, that he can get her number without explaining anything, that if she lets him, he can take her back to his flat with its odd furniture and empty fridge and not wonder if Sherlock will play the violin until four or yell at them to keep it down when they already are or intrude on their dates and almost get her killed. He doesn't have to tell her anything.

"Used to be married, then," she says sympathetically, and John has to bite down on his tongue to hold back a sudden rush of agony, because he can't tell her anything, either.

He takes a gulp of wine. "My wife," he says finally. He almost says died, but my wife is comfortable but died is not, so he says, "left me," and then, for completeness, adds, "because of another man."

She leans forward and puts her hand over his. "How long?" she asks.

John almost tells her, but— "Two months," he says, "but it's still a bit raw, you know?" and she nods and runs her finger over the back of his hand. Later, he pays for the cab and follows her up into an extraordinarily tidy and modern-looking flat with dusty-smelling sheets and peels down the zip on the back of her dress, runs his hands over the grooves of her ribs. While they're fucking, he closes his eyes and mouths at her small breasts, at their broad, dusky nipples, and after, at the wet, red slit of her, framed by dark, neatly trimmed pubic hair, until she comes, twice, quiet and breathless, around three of his fingers. She laughs a little, during, which he's always liked, and after, they kiss for a while, and then she puts on her bra and gets her laptop, and he goes home.

 

Blog title: Keeping Busy.  I'm going to be starting my new job today.  New job. I honestly thought I wouldn't ever be saying that again.  3 comments.  Comment 1: Oh, well that's very exciting. Doing what? (Posted by Mrs. Hudson, 26 June 10:21).  Comment 2: Bit of government work, that's all. So not so exciting, I'm afraid. (Posted by John Watson, 27 June 02:38). Comment 3: Fully recovered from the concussion? I hope you're feeling better! (Posted by Molly Hooper 27 June 02:43)
(click to zoom)

 

John doesn't actually have all that much to do. He does calisthenics, goes for runs; Mycroft arranges for him to have space to practice so twice a day, he shoots. It's a bit pointless, honestly; John doesn't have any doubt in his own ability to hit what he aims at, but at least it gets him out of his flat. He reads the useless scraps of information Mycroft throws his way twice, and has lunch with Harry on Wednesday and lies to his therapist on Thursday and visits Sherlock on Friday and again, with Mrs. Hudson, on Sunday afternoon.

"Two weeks," he tells her.

"Feels like longer, doesn't it?" she asks.

"No," John says. In the past week, he's slept with four women; Charlotte even gave him her number. They're oddly hard to distinguish in his mind. When he returned the file on the postmortem to Mycroft, he'd kept the picture; he keeps forcing himself to look at it to remind himself what's true. Mrs. Hudson reaches over and pats him on the arm.

"I'm glad you've started blogging again," she says. "It's good to have something to do."

"Well," John says. "I haven't much to say."

"New job not as interesting as the last one, is it," she agrees.

"No," he says. "Just, um. Bit of admin. Mycroft helped me get it."

"Oh, well, that was very kind of him," she says, beaming.

John's still not sure. On Friday, Mycroft had given him a file; on Saturday, the Belgian police had found the body, so John's back on standby. When he gets back to his flat, he puts on the radio, just low enough to not be distracting; he's not used to the quiet, but he still can't listen to the news. He sits at his desk and stares at his blog until his phone buzzes by his side:

17:41 From: Mycroft Holmes
Still nothing?

17:41 To: Mycroft Holmes
Nothing.

17:42 From: Mycroft Holmes
Give him something. Belgium was useless, an utter dead end.

John rubs at his mouth. After a minute, he slides open the drawer of his desk and takes out the photo. His eyes keep flicking to Sherlock's hands; he keeps wondering if he looks over quick enough, they'll start moving. The thought bothers him. He wonders if it should bother him more that he stole a photo of his best friend dead, nude, and on a steel table, but weirdly, that really doesn't bother him at all. He exhales and puts the photo away and starts typing.

When he's done, he stands, and turns off the lights, and grabs his jacket.

 

Harry was right about one thing: John doesn't have a lot of trouble finding easy sex. He's not even trying, but the pub is crowded and when a woman drops down beside him, a little breathless, saying, "Lord! This seat's not taken, is it?" John smiles at her and disclaims, "No, no."

"You've saved me, then," she says, and then leans in, dropping her voice to say, "Chap at the back, claimed to be a rugby player and then tried to get his hands all over me, but I doubt he knows league from union."

"I played rugby," he tells her.

"Oh really," she says, and raises an eyebrow, pressing her smile to her shoulder.

"But it was back in the early ages of man, so help me remember." He pauses, and leans close, confidential. "That's the one they play with a ball on a field, right?"

She throws back her head and laughs, bright and earnest. She holds out her hand, saying, "Tina."

"John," he replies, shaking it. "Buy you another?"

Tina is thirty-one and works in public relations and has a long, satiny mess of thick dark hair, reddish and coffee-glossy when it catches the light. She also has wide, expressive eyes, which are shockingly blue, and she puts her hand high up on his thigh and insists on paying for the second round. He ends up taking her back to his flat without question and pulls her into his lap in the larger of the chairs, and kisses her for what feels like something close to years.

"So," she murmurs, as he licks the hollow of her throat. "Is there a bedroom in this place?"

"Um," John kisses over the damp and then pauses, and pulls back. He looks up at her bright smile, which is a little crooked, and then he says, hesitant, "I should probably say, I—my wife left me, not that long ago, so—"

"Oh," she says. She looks a little surprised.

"I mean, it's over," John tells her, serious and urgent, tightening his arm around the back of her waist. "It's definitely over, I just don't want to rush into—"

"Oh, no, of course not," she says.

He looks up into her face.

"Should I go?" she asks, awkward.

"I was hoping I could kiss you some more," he tells her, so she laughs, just a little, and when she bends back down, her hair blocks out the light.

He ends up sleeping with her anyway.

 

The personal blog of Dr. John H. Watson.  Posted 1st July - Title: Doubt.  Entry: It's funny how hard it can be to remember what's real. (4 comments).  Posted 29th June - Title: Brussels.  Entry: Spent a lot of today thinking about getting away. (0 comments)
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Chapter Text

4 : 30 June 2012-9 July 2012

♫ Grizzly Bear - Knife

 

Blog Title: Doubt.  It's funny how hard it can be to remember what's real. 8 comments.  Comment 1: Wishing can't bring him back, love (Posted by Mrs. Hudson, 1 July 18:08). Comment 2: I know (Posted by John Watson, 1 July 18:11).  Comment 3: We should get a pint sometime, you know? I certainly have plenty of time on my hands, at the moment (Posted by Greg Lestrade, 1 July 20:24). Comment 4: If you need to get out of London for a while, I really did mean it when I said you should come to visit. After all, what else is family for? (Posted by RNW, 1 July 23:47).  Comment 5: Greg, that'd be lovely. I'm sorry I never returned your voicemail, my phone got a bit out of hand. RNW, I'm sorry, I don't recognize your screenname. Who is this? (Posted by John Watson, 2 July 01:49).  Comment 6: It's me, Robert. I've got so used to using my initials online I didn't even think about it, I'm afraid (Posted by RNW, 2 July 01:53).  Comment 7: Robert who? I don't think we ever had a client named Robert (Posted by John Watson, 2 July 01:54).  Comment 8: Your cousin Robert? Remember, I ran into you last April, when you were up for that conference. Don't tell me you've forgotten me already, that's not like you (Posted by RNW, 2 July 01:53).
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The logic is simple: John's distraction is meaningless, except in that John's distraction buys Sherlock time. Sherlock intends to use every second.

He finds himself taking a short but scenic tour of Scandinavia before ending up back in London with a collection of very interesting facts and a pressing need to reacquire supplies. Molly hesitates when he asks, but then he tells her what to do and explains why no one will catch her and how badly he needs this and she does it.

"Not the gun, then," she says, a little shaky, as she watches him stash it away.

"Gunfire makes noise," he tells her, without looking up. "It's inadvisable to use a firearm as anything but a last resort."

"I see," she says, and goes to take her after-work shower, then spends the evening in the bedroom with the door shut, in silence. She's fine in the morning, though; Sherlock doesn't ever sleep well and she's not a morning person, so he makes her coffee and toast in exchange for the anesthetics and then, after she's left, pockets his new duplicate key and slings his bag across his chest and heads to King's Cross. In Edinburgh, he invests six hundred pounds in four hours. It's strange, how pleasing he finds this bit; the start of his fourth satellite network since his death, and it takes less than a day for it to start to pay off.

 

The personal blog of Dr. John H. Watson.  Posted 5th July - Title: Mrs. Hudson.  Entry: Mrs. Hudson, our landlady when Sherlock and I were living at Baker Street, has come down with that flu that's been going around. Thankfully, she rang me up; it's a bad case and she had pneumonia last the winter, so she really did need to see a doctor. I'm sure everyone knows this, but I do want to remind you that flu doesn't just limit itself to the winter months, and it can be quite serious, especially if you're already not quite in the best of health. If you think you're getting ill, take care of yourself. See a doctor if at all possible, but beyond that, stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids.  I'm sleeping on Mrs. Hudson's sofa for the time being. It's strange to be staying at Baker Street again. (6 comments)
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He finally runs Nørgaard to ground on Sunday morning. Nørgaard pulls a knife, but Sherlock's faster. The first injection makes him foggy, slow; Sherlock shoves him down against the torn-up dirt and chokes him until he starts talking.

"Do you think this ends if you kill me?" Nørgaard asks, voice growing thicker with every syllable.

"No," Sherlock tells him. "But I'm still going to kill you, and if you tell me, I won't hurt you, much."

Nørgaard laughs.

Sherlock slams his head against the ground. "It was you for Lestrade," he says, "and Osbourne for Mrs. Hudson and there's a third name, one more name, and I know that you know it."

Nørgaard shakes his head and laughs. "Moriarty always had a back-up plan," he says. "His back-up plans had back-up plans. Even if you kill me..." He trails off, blinking up at the sky, so Sherlock shakes him, hard.

"A name," Sherlock says, and Nørgaard's focus shifts back to him, slow. "Tell me. Now."

"You want to know who you'll be thanking, for putting him beside you?" Nørgaard asks. "It really is sad, isn't it, to be so alone."

It's pure bait, and meaningless, so Sherlock grabs Nørgaard's fingers and twists, then when that doesn't work, digs his thumbnail in at the center of the joint and twists again, this time until Nørgaard screams, then gasps, then pants it out, teeth gritted tight, "Van Leeuwen, his name is Marcus van Leeuwen, he—"

Sherlock pulls back and takes out the second vial. "Dutch?" he asks.

"Not international," Nørgaard sighs, gone limp, relaxed, as Sherlock fills the syringe. "Leeds, I think. Don't know him well."

Sherlock presses the needle into the vein and pushes, and Nørgaard looks up into his face, eyes wide and still as calm water.

"It was the girl, wasn't it?" Nørgaard says, thick. "Molly. Pretty Molly Hooper, such a pretty girl... I wondered... I did warn him... to remember her... warned the colonel, too." He sighs, a little; his breath is fading fast.

"The colonel," Sherlock says, low. "Colonel who?"

Nørgaard doesn't answer.

 

11:04 To: +447700900781
Tell me where you are.

11:04 From: +447700900781
Spending the day with Jen. Why?

11:05 To: +447700900781
If you have to leave, text me. Take a cab home, not the Tube. Don't go anywhere alone, if you can manage it.

11:06 From: +447700900781
Why? What's happened?

11:07 To: +447700900781
Someone knew about you. He doesn't anymore. Others might, though.

11:10 To: +447700900781
Don't go quiet like that. Promise me. Please.

11:11 From: +447700900781
I promise. I'll be careful.

11:12 To: +447700900781
Thank you.

 

It's not that Sherlock didn't consider it; it's just that it bothers him more now than it would've three weeks ago. What he is doing terrifies Molly; she doesn't try to hide it, but she still holds herself up straight and helps him when he needs her to. He didn't think about the details, much, before, but now he can see it as clearly as if he were there: Molly in the shop, chatting with a shop assistant who probably didn't even realize he was being conned, who probably pitied her, who thought that Molly's fluttery shyness enclosed the whole of her. Sherlock can imagine Molly wrestling Moriarty's body onto the trolley behind his back, as fast as she could without making a sound. He can imagine her face, the thin, determined line of her mouth, while she stripped off Moriarty's shirt, tugged the mask down over a head already sticky-streaked with blood. Sherlock is fiercely glad he spent so long dismissing her; she wouldn't be half so valuable if he hadn't.

It's the first time he's wished for Mycroft, since. He knows that Mycroft is a liability he simply cannot afford, that Mycroft's utter confidence that he knows best might very well cost John more than Sherlock is willing to give. But it would be helpful, now, to be able to request his help, as lightly as though he were requesting the time, and know that Molly would be tailed within minutes: two on the ground and one from above, all of them extensively armed. Instead, while he waits for his train, he texts Harris, Lara, and Penny, with very careful instructions: Watch. Follow. And if you see anything, cause a scene; and then he texts Irene.

It's the best he can do, for now.

 

12:39 To: +12125557139
I need to know about someone who worked with your old boss.

12:42 From: +12125557139
haven't we exhausted that line of conversation yet? international roaming costs a bloody arm and a leg.

12:43 To: +12125557139
It's important. The colonel?

12:47 From: +12125557139
doesn't ring a bell. who is he?

12:47 To: +12125557139
I don't know. That's what I hoped you could tell me.

12:48 From: +12125557139
the only people I ever met who had any kind of military rank were grunts. nothing that high up.

12:49 To: +12125557139
If you hear anything, please tell me.

12:51 From: +12125557139
I will, but you know I'm not really plugged in anymore.

 

She texts him when she leaves Jen's and again when she reaches her flat; he's perhaps half an hour behind her. As soon as he lets himself in, he bolts and chains the door, then checks the fall on her curtains, the locks on her windows. She's standing in the kitchen with a cup of tea, and she watches him carefully, but says nothing. When Sherlock is satisfied, he ducks back into the kitchen, pressing one hand to her counter, and the other to his face.

"Who?" she asks.

"His name was Carl Nørgaard," he says, then exhales. "But he isn't the one who matters anymore."

He looks up at her. His face aches. He's—he's exhausted, he realizes, the center of him worn thinner than he thought was even possible. He realizes that Molly doesn't ever blackmail him or steal his computer to get him to sleep or eat, and aside from a few inescapable collapses, he's done little of either, in the past few weeks. She's watching him over her cup, showered already despite the hour, with her wet hair leaving dark trails on the shoulders of her shirt.

"Do you have anything to eat?" he asks, somewhat ashamed, and she huffs out a laugh and tells him to sit, so he does, dropping down onto the sofa and tugging his coat around him. He thinks he ought to be warmer than he is.

She brings him reheated takeaway curry and, inexplicably, toast, then tells him, "I already finished the rice," so, perhaps not inexplicable after all.  She sits at the other end of the sofa while he eats the lot, barely tasting it, fast enough to make his stomach cramp.

He stands to rinse his bowl out, feeling jumpy, unsettled. She's still sitting on the couch, watching him, waiting for him to tell her—and what, he thinks, in sudden anger; what can he possibly say?

"Three killers," he tells her. "Three killers, three bullets: John, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade."

"I know," she says. "You said."

"Only one left, now," he admits, and she exhales, but says nothing. He comes back over and settles down at his end of the couch, folding one leg over the other, and willing them to be still. "But there's—there's someone else, Nørgaard mentioned someone else. And I. I know nothing about him. But Nørgaard said that he told this fourth man, the colonel, he called him, about you. He said he warned Moriarty and he warned the colonel and that Moriarty's back-up plans had back-up plans, and now I—I don't know where this will end, any longer."

He doesn't look at her. He looks at the photographs on her wall, instead: family photos, a few drunken-looking snapshots of her with a remarkably average-looking group of female friends. They look happy.

"I thought it would take—a week, two, perhaps," Sherlock tells her. He tugs his coat around himself, arms folded tight over his chest and stomach. "I thought—it was never meant to be like this, Molly. I thought I'd be home by now and then that, that'd be the part that took time and effort, fixing the damage, but I thought if I could just make it safe for me to go home I could be patient and work and in the end, it'd all go back to the way it was. But."

She shifts beside him. "But you're making progress," she says, low.

He rubs at his cheek. "I thought it was in my grasp," he tells her. "Today, I thought it was in my grasp. One more name, just one, and—but it wasn't, and now—Lestrade's suspended pending inquiry and Mrs. Hudson's alone and ill and John's still not safe and now you're in danger, too, and—"

"I'll be careful," she tells him, and rests her fingers on his forearm. "I can—if you tell me what to look for—"

He looks over at her. She's wearing a green t-shirt and the jogging bottoms she always sleeps in, and her hair is messy, still damp, and lush with tangly waves.

"Green's quite nice on you," he tells her.

She draws in a breath, eyes widening.

"Sherlock," she says, quiet, and he looks away, shaking his head.

He looks over at the light filtering in through her curtains and tells her, "It will kill me, if John dies."

Her hand is still on his forearm.

"Are you in love with me?" he asks.

For a minute, she is utterly still.

"Because you stopped pushing me ages ago," he says. He doesn't recognize his voice. "It—after Christmas, you. You stopped. No more offers of coffee, no more—no more of the. Of any of that." He exhales. "But then you, you saved his life because I asked you to and you let me stay here and you know, you—you are a gentle person, but you know what I'm doing, you know that people are dead and I made them that way. And I can't understand why you'd let me do that unless you loved me, but. But you act like you're my friend."

He glances over at her. Her face is always so open, so easy to read, and he can tell that this hurts her, he knows that he hurts her, but he can't understand why she would let him. And then suddenly, with him still in the dark, he watches awareness slip across her face, bright and warm, like when John finally sees the shape of the problem and understands.

He looks away.

"Sherlock," she says, very gentle, and he shakes his head again and again.

Her hand is still on his forearm. John does that, too.

"Does it matter?" he asks, low. It makes him ache. "I—just—tell me. Please."

She exhales, slow. Time stretches out, and then finally, she says, "I—I am attracted to you, but you knew that, and I—I do have a bit of a—a crush, I suppose. Which—which is foolish, which I know. But you're my friend, too, and I—I worry about you. I care about you and I want you to be safe. You—you said that about John, so I know that you understand what I mean."

He doesn't say anything.

"I don't mean to talk down to you," she says awkwardly.

"Are you in love with me?" he repeats, because she still hasn't answered the question.

She exhales and moves her hand, leaning back against the cushions and pulling her feet up onto the sofa, wrapping her arms around her knees. Her feet are narrow and long and elegant, with high arches; he finds, to his surprise, that he wants to touch them.

"If I thought that you were actually asking about me," she says, and he closes his eyes, "that question would be much easier to answer."

He shakes his head. His fingers keep moving on his coat, like they can't quite get purchase, a little against his will.

After a long minute, he hears her exhale. "No," she says, soft. "I'm not. I—I don't think it can—I don't think you can really be in love, you know, with someone who's—who's at a distance. I think you—you maybe can get there before a partner, or stay there longer, but—but unless, unless you have a partner—I mean. You can't really be in love on your own."

"And helping me with—with Moriarty," he says, very low. "That doesn't make us partners?"

She's silent for long enough that he looks over at her again.

"You did save my life," he says.

She tells him, "I don't think that's quite enough. I mean. For me."

"Oh," he says.

She touches his forearm again, very gently, then folds her arms back around her knees.

In the morning, he won't remember falling asleep.

Chapter Text

5 : 2 July 2012-8 July 2012

♫ White Rabbits - Rudie Fails

 

Comment 4: If you need to get out of London for a while, I really did mean it when I said you should come to visit. After all, what else is family for? (Posted by RNW, 1 July 23:47) Comment 5: Greg, that'd be lovely. I'm sorry I never returned your voicemail, my phone got a bit out of hand. RNW, I'm sorry, I don't recognize your screenname. Who is this? (Posted by John Watson, 2 July 01:49). Comment 6: It's me, Robert. I've got so used to using my initials online I didn't even think about it, I'm afraid (Posted by RNW, 2 July 01:53). Comment 7: Robert who? I don't think we ever had a client named Robert. (Posted by John Watson, 2 July 01:54). Comment 8: Your cousin Robert? Remember, I ran into you last April, when you were up for that conference. Don't tell me you've forgotten me already, that's not like you. (Posted by RNW, 2 July 01:53). Comment 9: Check your address book. I'm sure you added me.  (Posted by RNW, 2 July 01:57).
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John pauses. Suddenly, everything feels clearer; he can hear the traffic in the street below, a siren, somewhere nearby. He takes another gulp of coffee and glances over at the bed, where Tina's hair, darker by daylight, is spread all around her in a soft, dark halo. Her breathing is still even. John opens up his email and checks, then exhales, long and slow. His heartrate is picking up, and his lips twist up as he reaches over for his phone.

07:12To: Mycroft Holmes
I think I have him. Look at my blog. You can read my email, can't you? He hacked my address book.

07:13From: Mycroft Holmes
Of course I can. Make him convince you. The more he talks, the more we know.

John smiles. It feels like baring his teeth. He hits clicks on "New" and starts typing.

 

Email thread.  Subject: You're right, you are in my address book.  From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 07:23. Message: Tell me one true thing. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 07:22. Message: They'll tell you that I'm emailing you from a hotel in Tokyo, which is perfectly true.  I'm away on business.  I am not Jim Moriarty. What do I have to say for you to believe me? From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 07:20. Message: You think you're being clever, don't you?  You aren't.  You want me to think that you're Sherlock, which you're not, because he's dead.  I saw him.  I touched him.  So I think you're trying to mess with my head.  With all our heads.  Which is sick, and stupid, and isn't going to work.  Because you've never been quite as clever as you think you are.  My blog logs IP addresses, you know.  I've put the police onto yours. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 07:19. Message: I'm not Sherlock Holmes.  I was sorry to hear about your loss, John.  From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 07:18. Message: I know who you want me to think you are, if that's what you mean.  Sherlock Holmes is dead. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 07:17. Message: Don't pretend you're stupid, John.  Or that you don't believe me—please.  We're family.  You know who I am.  From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 07:15. Message: I'm handing my computer off to the police right now if you don't tell me who you are. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 07:14. Message: Well, I know you haven't any cousins you're close to.  But you do have a cousin named Robert—namely, me. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 07:13. Message: ...but I don't have a cousin named Robert.  Who the hell is this?
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Tina stirs. John snaps his laptop shut and carries his coffee back over to the bed. "Morning," he says, sitting beside her.

"Mm," she replies. Her eyes have the soft quality of the newly awakened, and when she smiles up at him, he bends down to kiss the corner of her mouth, very gently. "Is that coffee?" she mumbles.

"Yeah," he says. "Milk? Sugar?"

"No thanks," she says.

"Stay right there," he tells her, and goes to pour her some. There's a collection of mugs, forgotten or discarded by previous residents, on the lowest shelf of the cupboard over the sink; John grabs the one with a spray of small pink flowers on the side and fills it almost to the top, then tops up his own.

"Thanks," she says, when he comes back in; she's sitting up, now, and when she reaches for the coffee, the sheet slips down to her waist. John sits back down beside her, and presses his mouth to her neck. She makes a pleased noise and takes a sip of her coffee.

"When do you have to go?" he murmurs, kissing her jaw.

"Um," she turns and kisses him, quick, then says, "I have to be at work at nine, but I really ought to go home, first. I can't really go into the office in jeans."

"Mm," he says, catching her mouth again. "Then can I—" She runs her fingers through his hair, down the side of his neck, and he laughs, a little, and takes her coffee away from her, sets it carefully on the bedside table with his beside it. "You're not encouraging me to let you go," he tells her. She grins and slides her thumbs under the elastic on his boxers. He tells her, "It's almost half seven," reluctantly.

"Well," she says. "I'm very good at my job. D'you think they'll sack me if I'm late, just this once?"

"Mm, no," he says, laughing, sliding down. "No, I do not. I do not think that at—oh, um."

 

They share the shower, which is really far too small, and she leaves her hair—"takes bloody ages," she sighs—until last and then washes it after he steps out to shave. He finishes first, then dresses and clears away their mugs as she towels off and puts on her bra and her jeans and a borrowed shirt and stuffs her knickers and yesterday's pale purple jumper into her bag, half-jumping as she tries to balance on one foot to zip up her boots. "I, um—I really am late," she tells him, laughing, pushing her wet hair back. "Can you—you should get your phone, please."

He gets his phone—two texts from Mycroft, but he doesn't read them, just opens up a new text and types her number in as she calls it out.

8:47To: +447700900447
Why hello there

He hears it buzz in her pocket as she's saying, "All right, I—um, thanks for the coffee," and kisses him, quick, and then dashes out the door.

"Just the coffee?" he calls down the stairs after her, and he can hear her laughter float up to him from the ground floor.

07:27From: Mycroft Holmes
We're tracing the IP. It is Tokyo; I'll tell you when we know more.

07:52From: Mycroft Holmes
Does that last message mean anything to you?

08:49From: +447700900447
Oh, sorry, I meant to say--thanks for the shirt, too. :)

John saves her number—he wishes he'd thought to ask for her surname, but it's too late now to have it seem natural and he'd rather she not know that he's a bit compulsive about these things just yet—and then opens up his laptop.

 

Email thread.  Subject: You're right, you are in my address book.  From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 07:39.  Message: Fine.  I stayed with you and Harry one summer when we were boys.  You and I got into every kind of trouble until the day I fell out of that tree in the park and got a sprained ankle and a concussion for my trouble.  Remember? And then we ran into each other when you were up for that conference in Edinburgh and I gave you my email and you told me about your blog.  I said we should keep in touch, and you said of course, and you never emailed me but I have been reading your blog.  So, that's two true things.  I hope it's enough; the Watsons never have been the best at keeping in touch, but I've been hoping that we can take this opportunity to change.  From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 07:23. Message: Tell me one true thing. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 07:22. Message: They'll tell you that I'm emailing you from a hotel in Tokyo, which is perfectly true.  I'm away on business.  I am not Jim Moriarty. What do I have to say for you to believe me?
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John sits back hard enough the chair creaks. Very nearly the best summer of his life had been the summer when he was nine and Harry was not quite thirteen. His mum had still been well, then, and it had been before his dad started to decline; Harry hadn't started properly rebelling and John hadn't even started considering it. That summer, Harry had still been truly blonde, he remembers, and her hair had been long enough that as summer day cascaded after summer day, the ends bleached in the sun, until the tips were nearly white. That summer, they'd had a houseguest, a slight, brown-haired lad just about John's age who'd stayed with them while his parents were looking after a great-aunt somewhere in rural Ireland who was seriously ill. He'd stayed for six weeks and always taken John's side against Harry, and Harry and John's side against anyone else. He'd taught John to fold a proper paper aeroplane, one that actually would make it across the room instead of plummeting to a crumpled wreck in under a yard, and in his fourth week, he'd sprained his ankle and got a concussion falling out of the best climbing tree in the park around the corner, trying to top John's record as the only boy in the neighborhood who could make it up high enough that if he stood on the last sturdy branch, he could reach up to shake the top. John remembers that boy well: his name was Ned Cooper, and his mum had worked with John's mum at the hospital, and they hadn't been related at all.

He'd told Sherlock that story six months ago. The next weekend he'd gone to a medical conference in Edinburgh; Sherlock texted John four times that Friday asking where John was, and John had replied, Edinburgh, Conference in Edinburgh, still in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh, home Sunday. If the texts hadn't stopped after that, John might not be able to believe that Sherlock knew John had ever been to a conference in Edinburgh; as it is, John still wouldn't have said for sure that he did, until now. He shoves on his shoes in a hurry, then pockets his phone and his wallet and grabs his jacket and dashes down the stairs to hail a cab.

 

Mycroft's current assistant, a slim, vaguely constipated-looking blonde woman who wears the most aggressively high heels John's ever seen on a woman in a suit and always looks at him like only her undoubtedly excellent breeding is preventing her from telling him exactly what she thinks of the way he can't help but look at her legs, makes him wait for eleven minutes before she shows him in with an expression like she's doing him a favor.

"Thank you, Griselda," Mycroft says, smoothing down his tie. "Would you mind getting us tea? Dr. Watson takes his with milk, no sugar."

John sits down and waits until he hears the door click, then says, "It's him."

"John," Mycroft sighs.

"No, Mycroft, listen to me," John says, scooting his chair closer to Mycroft's desk. "Listen to me. Please. I told that story to Sherlock—I mean, it's definitely a lie, there's no question about that, I really don't have a cousin named Robert. But that did happen, there was a boy who stayed with my family when I was young and who fell out of a tree. Concussion, sprained ankle. I haven't ever told that story to anyone else, but I told it to Sherlock."

"And so, because the writer of these emails happens to know that story, it must be Sherlock," Mycroft says, smiling slightly.

John looks at him. He doesn't entirely know how to explain, how the night he told Sherlock that story they'd been getting a little tipsy off a very nice bottle of brandy they'd received as a thank-you present, along with a basket of homemade scones and a somewhat excessive quantity of excellent blue cheese, from a widowed friend of Mrs. Hudson's whose engagement ring they had retrieved, without fuss or noise, from her adult son (recently laid off, going through a messy divorce, hard up enough to be desperate). John doesn't know how to tell Mycroft that he'd been slumped in his chair, gesticulating almost but not quite enough to spill his brandy; that Sherlock had been sprawled out in his opposite, giggling even though the story wasn't ever that funny. He doesn't know how to describe the faint firelit pink brushed over the tops of Sherlock's cheeks, or the way John's entire body had felt filled with a warmth so vast as to be boundless, as though his skin, the flat, the very world could not possibly contain him. John doesn't know how to explain what it had meant to him when Sherlock had shifted one long leg over to rest his toes against the top of John's bare foot.

"If Sherlock was alive and he wanted me to know," John says, finally, "if he was alive but it wasn't safe and he couldn't come home, that would be the story he would tell me."

Mycroft rubs at his mouth. Finally he says, "You know, every week or two, I bugged your flat."

John stills.

"I don't think I have that particular conversation on tape," Mycroft muses. "I could be wrong, but I think I would've recalled it when I read that email. It wouldn't be surprising if I didn't; Sherlock always found what I put up after a few days and threw it in the bin, which—aside from being a shocking waste of Her Majesty's resources—was really rather foolish, because I only ever listened to protect him. And you."

Griselda chooses that moment to come in with the tea. Neither of them says a thing until she leaves again, and then Mycroft says quietly, "I would never have used anything I heard against you. But is it so inconceivable that someone else would?"

"You think Moriarty had us bugged," John says, numb.

"Oh, I know that he did," Mycroft says. "Periodically, I mean. If my people found strange equipment, they dismantled it and reported it to me, but it all comes down to time, John: can you be certain that on that day, when you told Sherlock that story, you two were the only people in the room?"

John fists his hands on his thighs and stares at the wall.

"I worry, sometimes," Mycroft says, after a moment, "that I am asking too much of you."

"Go to hell," John tells him.

"Good," Mycroft murmurs, and John's eyes snap back to his face, which is strangely misshapen, somehow; he's put on weight, and it doesn't sit well over his bones. Mycroft leans forward and rests his forearms on his desk. "That," he says, quiet. "Use that. That is what you need."

John shakes his head. There is a hot, fierce feeling in his throat, and he knows from experience that it won't burn itself out, that it will grow and grow until it consumes him, or it will turn itself inside out and over and melt into despair. He feels divorced, divided, split straight down the middle from crown to soles, a line shot through with razor wire running through the center of him. If Sherlock is alive, none of this will be necessary. With every second of doubt, the alternative becomes more unbearable.

"I don't believe you," John says, finally. "I don't believe you, Mycroft, I—I can't. I can't afford to."

He stands, so Mycroft stands, too.

"It's him," John tells him.

"It isn't," Mycroft says, very gently.

John shakes his head and shrugs his jacket back on and says, "Yeah, well, call me when you have some proof."

 

That night, John meets up with Greg.

"It's like a holiday," Greg tells him, running his thumb up the side of his empty glass and staring blearily at the bottles lined up behind the bar. "Only I can't really relax and I have fuck-all to do, so."

"So not like a holiday at all," John agrees.

"Exactly," Greg sighs.

"Who've they got in your shoes?" John asks.

"Eh." Greg shrugs. "Hopkins—I forget, did you ever meet him? He was a sergeant, mostly under Dimmock, but he's a bright kid and he's clean, just got promoted. If he did ever work with Sherlock, it wasn't close enough to raise any questions."

"Oh," John says, and swallows the last of his lager. "I'm—I'm not sure, is that good or bad?"

The barman sets down another pair of glasses with a nod, and Greg raises his in a lazy salute. He doesn't answer John's question right away, and John's just trying to figure out how best to change the subject when Greg says, "He wasn't a fraud," very low, but clearly.

John's vision wavers very slightly.

"No," he manages, after a moment, and then takes a long pull off his drink.

"He wasn't a fraud, and if they keep us all out of it and anyone on the investigation has half a brain, that'll be clear," Greg tells him. "That's how the system works, John, and as extraordinary as Sherlock was, we actually can still function without him. We will still function without him."

John nods. His jaw feels tight, as though someone has bolted his teeth together. After a while, he manages, "So it's good, then, this—Hopkins, is it?"

"It's good," Greg says, and then sighs. "Absolutely the best of all possible fucking worlds, and too fucking late by far."

(John doesn't know what to tell him, about Mycroft or the emails or any of it, so in the end, he pours him into a cab ten minutes before closing, and doesn't tell him anything at all.)

 

On Wednesday, John spends the better part of the day with his laptop and his phone; Mycroft doesn't call. He doesn't call on Thursday, either, but Mrs. Hudson does, and John doesn't like how weak she sounds, the rasp in her throat. He spends Thursday and Friday nights on her sofa, and the days making her swallow herbal tea and tinned soup and watching telly while she dozes in her dressing gown and two blankets, curled up to his right. On Saturday her fever's lower, which is a relief, because over the past seventy-two hours Tina's texts have got hot and secret, until John's half-hard for hours at a time and jumping every time he thinks Mrs. Hudson might catch a glimpse of his mobile. John wouldn't be thrilled by her looking at his laptop, either, though it's perhaps less immediately incriminating, but he hates the thought that she would read between the lines, when the man who is emphatically not his cousin sends him a cameraphone snapshot of a crowded metro platform, And this is why I prefer cabs—some things transcend geography, or tells him, Spent the afternoon at the zoo; the elephants made me think of you, complete with a photo of ears, ears, ears, to which John replies with a suggestion both rude and physically improbable, and, with only minor regrets, an offhand remark about a former client that could be considered disparaging.

I thought you liked Henry, comes the reply, and John curls his toes against Mrs. Hudson's carpet and doesn't bother to hide his smile.

John has always been a patient man, in his limited way. He makes Mrs. Hudson more tea and enjoys the rush each time his mobile chirps, the way half the time Tina's comments are subtle enough to take him a minute or two to fully appreciate, the way each new bolded message in his inbox feels like a surprise. He doesn't mind waiting for Mrs. Hudson to be well, for the whole of a warm and private evening, for the inevitable fall into equilibrium as his real life returns; he hasn't ever minded the space of a measurable distance, neither the five minute walk to his own flat nor the five minute cab ride to Tina's, not even the breadth of a twelve hour plane ride to the other side of the globe.

He doesn't tell the man who isn't his cousin about Tina, and with Tina, it simply wouldn't ever come up.

 

"There's a couple who came around last weekend to take a look at the flat," Mrs. Hudson tells him Sunday morning. She'd woken up hungry, but he'd insisted that he be the one to make the eggs, no matter how much better she seemed. He dishes them out and drops the toast next to them and passes her plate over.

"Mm," John says, then takes a bite of toast. He's not sure what to say to that.

"Nice young couple," Mrs. Hudson says, "excellent references, clean and quiet," and then sighs. "I told them no. I must be losing my mind."

John swallows. "Well," he says, a little awkwardly. "I can see how clean and quiet might be a surprise."

She looks up at him and then laughs, a little lopsided, and then makes a soft, sad sort of a noise, and John feels it twist in his gut.

"Listen," he says gently, but when she glances up he looks at her face and says, "Never mind."

 

He goes home at half eleven and texts Tina before he's all the way in the door. He ends up scrambling to shove his washing out of sight and remake the bed, dashes through a shower as quickly as he can without missing anything and then shaves, very carefully, very methodically, against the grain. She rings the bell while he's buttoning his shirt, and when he opens the door, she holds up a plastic bag and says, "I brought Chinese," and he says, "I'm not hungry," and ends up tugging her down on the floor because she is pink-cheeked and glorious and the bed is approximately a million miles away. After, they get dressed enough that John doesn't have to be quite so worried about his open windows, his unknown neighbors, and then she feeds him dumplings with her fingers and licks a smear of sweet-and-sour sauce off the corner of his mouth and damn it, he knew he should've closed the curtains. They get dressed again, both flushed and laughing, and John finally draws the curtains shut and then tugs her into his lap in the larger of the two chairs, which, he thinks, may always be washed over in his mind with the sweetness of her that first night, a week ago; heavy and pliable in his arms as he reached past something he thought he couldn't find the end of to kiss her and kiss her and kiss her. She twists against him as his hands slide up her satiny ribs, then reaches down to tug his shirt off again, which seems both overly ambitious of her and a very fine goal for a weekend achievement, and then his phone buzzes against his hip as she's just sliding down onto her knees. John reaches into his pocket to throw it out the window, but he can't help but see it on its way.

14:14From: Mycroft Holmes
If you could stop by, when you have a moment.

"Fuck," John says, heartfelt. Tina laughs against his belly. "No, fuck, I—I actually do have to answer this, just give me a—"

"Oh, by all means," she murmurs. "Don't let me distract you."

She undoes the button on his jeans. He rubs his foot up the side of her calf and tries to focus enough to type.


14:16To: Mycroft Holmes
Tomorrow.

He's barely set the phone down when it buzzes again. "Oh, fuck, I—" John pushes her away, but not far enough. "Christ, it runs in the family, I swear, I—"

"What?" Tina asks, fingers stilling.


14:17From: Mycroft Holmes
I know you did say to call, but I wasn't sure you'd appreciate so insistent an interruption.
John feels it run through his whole body. For a long, agonizing moment, he can't breathe.

"What is it?" Tina asks, a little hesitant.

John swallows.

"John?" she asks.

"I have to go," he says. "I—Christ, I—I'm really sorry, but I. I really have to go, this can't wait."

She blinks at him.

"I swear this isn't a brush-off," he tells her, a little hopelessly. "But I. I really, really have to go, right now."

He bends to kiss her cheek, fast and distracted, then stands, buttoning up his jeans and grabbing his shirt off the floor.

"Do you," she says, and then stops.

He says, "Um, you can stay if you want, I—" and she says, "Oh, no, no," already tugging her blouse back down to her waist and standing, and John says, "Can I—I may have to, it's a work thing, you know, and if it's what I think it is I may have to go away for a couple days, but I'll—I'll call you, okay? I swear to God, this isn't—I'm really not trying to get rid of you, I just have to—"

"No," she says, smiling at him. It looks a little uncertain. "No, don't worry, I understand."

"God, you," he says, and sighs, then wraps his arm around her waist and kisses her, longer than he can afford but probably not as long as he ought to. "I really, really have to go," he tells her, helpless, but she's already sliding her feet into her shoes and smiling up at him, still not quite genuine, and saying, "Don't worry about it, John. Call me when you can."

He follows her out and locks the door behind him, then hails her a cab at the street. "Share?" she asks, as he holds the door open for her.

"Um," he says, "better not, you're—distracting."

The smile he gets for that one seems real. He shuts the door, and promptly dismisses her from his mind.

The cab ride to Mycroft's club takes hours, it seems.

 

"I want you to know," John tells him, as soon as Mycroft shuts the door, "I'm not going to believe this unless it's good, this isn't—I want evidence, Mycroft, something better than logic and speculation."

"Sit down," Mycroft tells him, and goes to pour him a drink.

John swallows. After a moment, he sits.

"Not just speculation, then," John says.

"It's never been just speculation," Mycroft tells him. "The folder's to your left."

John rubs at his lip, then picks it up and opens it. On the very top, there's a black-and-white photocopy of a passport. Watson, Robert Neil, it says. The photo is terrible: grainy, overexposed, and unflattering, but John would know Sherlock anywhere.

"This is your evidence against him being alive?" John asks, incredulous.

"That's a terrible photograph," Mycroft tells him, setting the glass to John's right. "You know him, but if you didn't, that could be just about any dark-haired Caucasian man in his mid-thirties. We checked with the hotel staff. The registration desk wasn't of much use—Robert Watson was checked in by his assistant—but the doorman could describe him and did: dark hair, dark eyes, very pale. Highish voice, between five foot eight and five foot ten. He was very clear on that, John—absolutely no chance he was taller. And that particular trick of disguise is one with which I, at least, am not acquainted."

John's mouth twists. "What else?" he asks, and dreads the answer.

"Well, the doorman seemed impressed by, ah, Mr. Watson's Japanese, and Sherlock's was never more than passable, but the doorman may have just been being polite, so I doubt that'll convince you," Mycroft says. "But there were two low-visibility, high-tech, high-payout heists in Japan during the period when our friend was emailing you from Tokyo," he adds. "Almost four hundred million yen vanished in three- and four-yen increments over several days of trading—"

"And that's what, exactly?" John asks, quick.

"A little over three million pounds," Mycroft tells him, and John shifts. "And a valuable dog was kidnapped from a very good friend of mine."

"A dog?" John asks.

"A very valuable dog," Mycroft corrects. "A purebred akita with highly specialized training—not to mention, of course, her extraordinary sentimental value."

"Moriarty stole a dog," John says, just to check.

"Moriarty kidnapped the personal bodyguard to a—" and here Mycroft pauses— "a minor member of the Japanese government. A travesty made all the more remarkable in that it occurred in a lift, while it was in motion, and the security system caught nothing, on any floor."

"Jesus," John says, and shifts.

Mycroft leans forward and puts his arms on his desk. "John," he says. "I understand your reluctance to believe me. I know what it would mean to you, if he were simply biding his time. But in the past week, what have you done?"

John rubs his thumb over his mouth and says nothing.

Mycroft nods. "Meanwhile, Robert Watson, who is described as being a dark-eyed man between five foot eight and five foot ten with a light tenor, stole three million pounds and kidnapped Maeki Ekiguchi—"

"Who?" John asks, surprised.

"The dog, John," Mycroft says, exasperated. "All while you have been indulging yourself with playing nursemaid to your former landlady and sexual romps with some tart—"

"Hey now," John says, a little sharp.

Mycroft pauses. "I'm sure she's a lovely girl," he says, not very apologetically. "But this is important. She is not."

John reaches for his glass and takes a long swallow.

"The voice means nothing," John says, quiet. "And colored contacts are—"

"Between five foot eight and five foot ten, John," Mycroft says, very low, and John tilts his head back and looks up at the ceiling.

After a minute, he asks, "What do you want me to do?"

Chapter Text

6 : 9 July 2012-10 July 2012

♫ Black Lips - Veni, Vidi, Vici

 

The light is too bright.

Sherlock swallows and pulls himself up, squinting. A line of white-fringed yellow is burning down the edge of Molly's curtains and directly into his occipital lobe. Sherlock struggles up to his feet. Molly's favorite fuzzy blanket, which is a crocheted mess of bobbly purple and magenta flowers, slides down to tangle around his feet, and he stumbles, catching himself wrong on the arm of the sofa.

The room tips dangerously. Sherlock closes his eyes and counts to seven, and it stills. He lets go of the sofa and takes another step and a half over to tug the curtains shut tight, then tips his forehead against the wall and breathes.

"Molly," he manages, low, but it's late, of course, and she's gone, of course, because it's Monday and she goes to work on Monday because it's a workday. Sherlock takes a breath and focuses. Her assistance is unnecessary, anyway; potentially a hazard. Sherlock survived for thirty-four years before John turned up to lock him in his bedroom and bring him tea.

After a minute, he goes to the kitchen and fills a glass from the tap, twice. Then he closes his eyes, just for a moment.

 

Around two, he gets up off the floor.

 

Van Lewis—Van, Van Llewellyn. Sherlock blinks at his cursor, trying to concentrate. Van Ludwig, almost like Beethoven—no, not Van, not a given name, van. Dutch but not Dutch. Van—van—Van—Van Leuthe?

Outside, the sun falls down.

Sherlock gets up and makes himself three cups of tea by accident and then comes back to sit down and stares at his cursor and blinks and blinks and blinks.

 

"What are you doing?" Molly asks.

"Go away," Sherlock tells her.

"Why are you lying like that?" she asks. "Why are your feet on the sofa?"

"I needed more blood to my brain," he tells her, and wiggles his toes. "I took my shoes off. Your sofa's fine. I'm thinking. Go away."

She sighs and dumps her bag on the floor, followed closely by her jumper. It's really very interesting how her things always make a trip to the floor before she hangs them up; undoubtedly a subconscious outlet for a natural recklessness she must so often hold in check, more generally hemmed in by the pressure of societal expectations. He reaches into his pocket and wraps his hand around John's gun. He can picture Molly's girlhood room: decorated in pinks that increase in both vibrancy and violence with every passing year; books and toys and clothes scattered about the floor until her mother (conventional; aggressive) forces her to tidy, then shoved away without care or any pretense of order. He can see her as an adolescent, all quiet, fruitless rebellion wrapped in a transparent veneer of feminine compliance; as a young woman at university, quiet at parties, brutally competent with a scalpel. Pink is for baby girls and delicate flowers and naked skin and, at its darkest edges, tissue walls. Organs. He wonders if she was one of the ones who cut off all her hair with nail scissors, or—no. Not Molly. She would have bought proper haircutting scissors, new and sharp, with carefully saved and counted pocket money, and spread newspaper out around her feet to catch the strands as they fell and watched herself in the mirror as she snipped and snipped and snipped. She would've done a good job, a pixie cut with none of the grace or elegance of a girl in a magazine; it wouldn't've suited her in the least. She would've only done it once. He wonders if he should tell her that he would help her burn her jumper, if she is developing an interest in efficiency. He wonders if he should tell her that the next time he robs someone, he will buy her one in green, just to say thank you. Even he knows that he shouldn't tell her it's because she hasn't got the color sense of a bat getting dressed in the dark. He presses his cheek against the floor and watches while she reheats her dinner. She reminds him of a bit of a girl named Hannah Becker with whom he had shared three conversations while at uni and once, at a party, in the brief period after when they had been working together and Sherlock had been pretending to be a regular person, a single dry and uncomfortable kiss. After, they had discussed the mechanics of building a still in the basement of their lab building, but a casual cost analysis had dissuaded them. Sherlock hasn't spoken to her in fifteen years, but he remembers her rather fondly. He notes that Molly doesn't hoover as often as she should; the carpet smells of dust and cat.

(The cat has been staring at Sherlock; Sherlock considers this beneath his notice.)

Where was he? Sherlock was trying to remember something. A name. A name he got off a largish man in Scotland, shortly before he killed him. Van. Van—Liu? No, no, wrong. Very wrong. Leuhring? Leuy. Leuthauser. Van Leuthauser. Christ. He rubs at his face. Lewis? Better. Ludwig? Van Ludwig? No, not—not Van, van, not a given name. Ludwig von Beethoven. Something van—something else. Sherlock closes his eyes because they hurt.

 

Van Leeuwen. Sherlock jerks out of sleep and tries to ignore his rising horror of the sharpened claws of the icy mice running up and down his spine to figure out how to fold his legs down around him on the floor. He knows that he will never be warm again, but he clutches Molly's awful blanket around his coat around his body and then reaches up to the coffee table for his laptop because that is what is important right now. Van—hell, why can't he hold onto it—Van—no, van, because it's Dutch, not a first name, van Leeuwen, Marcus van Leeuwen, even though he's not international. Nørgaard had said Leeds. Sherlock types it in to the search bar and presses return. While the results page is loading, he presses his cheek against the edge of the coffee table and closes his eyes—just to rest, just a small. A very small. Rest.

When he wakes up, he's lost it again. Thankfully, his computer remembers.

 

By the time eleven rolls around, he is better, which is to say, better than he has been, if not as well as he would like to be. The sun outside is sharp, despite the filter of high and hazy clouds, and the street feels unreal. Sherlock wraps one clammy hand around the butt of John's gun in his pocket and flinches every time someone pushes past him, shrugs deeper into his coat and blinks behind his (hideous) pair of £3 sunglasses, which he shoplifted just after leaving Molly's flat, because he's fairly certain, at this point, that he has the flu, and the shop assistant was pregnant. He doesn't know if that counts as consideration; he'll have to ask John later.

King's Cross is packed and he hesitates. In the back of his mind, Mycroft explains the maths to him like he's fourteen years old again, where the rate of infection at time t is proportional to—he stops. He can't remember. The product of the uninfected population and the infected population? Oh, but, there must be some factor representing the rate of—Sherlock can't remember. He blinks at the bodies shifting in stuttering film cuts all around him—13:35, Leeds, Marcus van Leeuwen—and of course, what he is forgetting is the rate of contact: a constant parameter mediating the product of the infected and non-infected populations. Sherlock swallows and steps up to buy his ticket. On a positive note, parents with small children and the elderly rarely voluntarily come near him, anyway. Just after he pays, he realizes he's forgotten his laptop, but he doesn't really need it, and he hasn't the time to go back.

He dozes on the train, rough and fitful. Every time he jerks awake he grips the gun in his pocket again and tries to turn his face towards the window; he knows it won't count for much, but it's the best he can do. All he wants is to go back home, but he can't, he can't yet, because it's not safe. He can actually feel his fever rising, with a vague, resigned sense of misery; he understands perfectly that ill or well, body temperature tends to increase until early evening, then fall. He hopes he won't have to do anything important until much later. The train gets into Leeds just before four, and Sherlock briefly contemplates his four satellite networks and the opportunity for a fifth, but he can't recall how much money he's acquired, lately, and he's so tired he's not sure he can speak. Besides, this one is simple. He even has an address—Mr. van Leeuwen, Sherlock thinks, is remarkably overconfident.

Instead of making contacts, he naps, tucked into his coat under a tree in the park, for perhaps an hour, until a spiritual cousin of Anderson's comes to tell him to move along, and then he buys a cup of tea and a scone he can't bring himself to eat, and checks his supplies. Then he breaks into van Leeuwen's flat to wait.

He falls asleep on the sofa. Later, he will come to suspect that this was not his first mistake.

 

The lights coming on startle him awake, and he gets the gun out fast but his hands are shaking, and a man is watching him from the doorway. Sherlock squints at him fruitlessly; van Leeuwen is slight, dark-haired, handsome, but logically the man in the door must be him even if Sherlock can't get his face to sharpen up.

"All right," van Leeuwen says, slipping the strap of his messenger bag over his shoulder. He pauses. "Not what I was expecting." His voice sounds echoey, strangely hollow. Sherlock's ears are ringing.

Sherlock wraps his left hand around the gun to steady it and blinks rapidly, trying to focus. Suddenly van Leeuwen is standing before him, and suddenly Sherlock isn't holding a gun. Sherlock takes a deep breath in and reaches for the inside pocket on his coat, but then the world cracks in two and pain follows, hard, in lightning flashes running like ants across his face. Sherlock tries to stay silent and fails.

"Hm." When Sherlock can see again, Van Leeuwen is examining the gun. "Very nice. Not my style, alas; too...brutish. And of course, it's really not much good at all when someone else is holding it, is it?"

Sherlock's throat feels hot and swollen, but he tells him, "You are going to die," unsteadily, and van Leeuwen laughs and says, "Oh, the boss was right—you are fun, aren't you?"

Sherlock rubs at his face. His head feels heavy and—and wrong, cotton-thick and useless, like he fell asleep in the park under that tree and it grew and grew and grew and shot roots down through his skull and his spine and—irrelevant, what is wrong with him? His hands are still shaking, and his temple still throbs with the crack and ring of impact and metal, and van Leeuwen is still holding John's gun.

Van Leeuwen perches on the edge of the coffee table, close enough to touch him, crossing his legs at the knee with John's gun—John's gun—held loosely in his left hand, aimed casually at the base of Sherlock's ribs. Sherlock tries to scrunch back into the sofa cushions without much success; they do not, despite his desires, appear to be willing to consume him.

"So," says van Leeuwen. "What's it to be, then? What surprises are you hiding under that coat of yours?"

Sherlock tries to swallow.

"Drugs?" van Leeuwen guesses. "That'd be my guess. A low-impact, quick-acting injectable, probably not even illegal. Given your history of...medical associates, my guess would be an anesthetic? Thiopentone, perhaps? Oh, no, wait, don't tell me, wouldn't want to ruin the surprise." Sherlock swallows again and van Leeuwen's hands are sliding into Sherlock's coat. Sherlock tries to pull away, but can't, and besides, van Leeuwen's already found the pocket.

"Hm," van Leeuwen says, examining the syringe. "Bit fiddly, isn't it? I imagine it's hard to take someone by surprise, with something like this." He leans up and reaches past Sherlock's body to push open the window. The vials are small; Sherlock can't hear them break, no matter how hard he listens. When van Leeuwen sits back down, he tells Sherlock, "I've never liked needles," and smiles, broad and cheerful, like he's about to offer Sherlock a cup of tea.

"Tea?" van Leeuwen asks. "You don't look well, you know—herbal, perhaps? Chamomile?"

Sherlock swallows and manages, "No, thank you, I had some before I stopped by," but it comes out croaky and dry, and van Leeuwen laughs and reaches over to pat the flat side of John's gun against Sherlock's aching cheek.

"You know," van Leeuwen muses, sitting back. "I'm not sure how you managed it, but I am awfully excited to find out. I'll tell you what: why don't you just—hang out here, for the night. Put your feet up, I'll tie them down, just go ahead and make yourself comfortable. And then while I pop down to London to kill your friend John, you can decide just how you're going to explain it all to me when I get back, all right?" He reaches over to run the fingers of his right hand across Sherlock's cheek, and then the butt of John's gun rushes towards Sherlock's face and—

 

Sherlock swims in and out for—for hours, at least; possibly days. Water. When he finally manages to pull himself all the way up into consciousness, his arms are stretched out over his head and his mouth is desperately, painfully dry. Water. He can't think about anything but water but his hands are tied and his feet are tied and that, right at this moment, stands between him and the water, so he focuses on his hands and his feet and their ties for as long a stretch together as he can. Water. Christ. He's going to die of dehydration in an upscale block of flats in Leeds. He needs to focus.

All right: still on the sofa, which means—rope, anchored to the feet of the sofa, most likely; van Leeuwen has also taken the trouble to spread a soft navy blue blanket over him, which means that he enjoyed the idea of Sherlock tied to his sofa rather more than he cared about actually seriously incapacitating him. Sherlock sighs. It's sloppy; van Leeuwen's old boss would've done better. Sherlock moves as much as he can, and—ah. If van Leeuwen had been clever, he would've criss-crossed the ropes, strung Sherlock's left ankle around to his right wrist beneath the base of the sofa, but when Sherlock pulls his right wrist as hard as he can, it tightens the bonds around his left wrist alone. That makes things easier. It takes Sherlock six desperate, dry minutes to successfully tip the sofa over onto its side, and he barks his left arm badly on the floor; he briefly considers the possibility that the neighbors will hear the crash and call the police, then decides that it would be both useful and a complication, and so not worth considering. With the sofa's back legs hanging up in the air, it only takes Sherlock another ninety seconds to free his right hand, and another thirty-five for the rest. As soon as he's free he rushes for the kitchen sink, awkward and unbalanced as the blood rushes back into his feet, and then cups both stinging hands under the running tap and drinks and drinks and drinks.

When he's swallowed enough that his stomach aches with it, he lets himself settle his elbows on the counter to hold himself up and tries to think. He doesn't know how long it's been, but he can't afford to wonder if he's too late. He surveys the living room: no landline, no computer; always carries his laptop, relies on his mobile. That severely limits his options. Perhaps, if he left, a public telephone, but—his mental machinery grinds to a stuttering halt when he catches sight of his own phone, sitting neatly on the low table beside the door. Beside it is John's gun, and Sherlock grasps wildly for a reasonable explanation, all the while thinking, van Leeuwen can't possibly be that stupid, and hoping to a God he doesn't believe in that he is.

He staggers over, still feverish, unsteady, but it is John's gun, though it's been unloaded, and it is his phone, though the battery has died, because of course, of course, this isn't Moriarty, and the difference between Moriarty and the up-and-coming-but-not-yet-arrived in his organization, Sherlock has found, is that Moriarty had mastered the art of marrying efficacy and symbolism; the second-rate tend to vastly overemphasize symbolism. Van Leeuwen would have enjoyed the thought of Sherlock coming back into consciousness tied up on his couch with a blanket spread over him in a parody of concern and Sherlock's own tools for escape and revenge resting within sight, but far out of reach. Sherlock digs around in van Leeuwen's desk, half-noting the contents of the notes and papers as he stacks them to one side to steal later (two bank statements; an electric bill, three days overdue; a collection of yellow sticky notes in sloppy printing: Parker £2319.47 27th June; Moran, Fri 2:15, Hummingbird; call Mum) until he finds the right cable and a USB-to-wall adapter, probably forgotten long ago, from the way it's crammed down in the back of the drawer, then grabs his phone and plugs it in, and the seconds roll over like years until it finally, finally has enough charge that it responds to his thumb on the power button and flickers to life, the clock fixed momentarily at 00:00, then flipping back to 21:28 as it gets a signal. He dials the number from memory, thinking to himself, please, please, please, let me not be too late.

It connects on the third ring, and Sherlock barely waits until he hears the "Yeah?" before he starts talking.

"Don't say anything, just shut up and listen," Sherlock tells him, too fast. "John is in danger. There's a man coming to kill him, a very bad, very dangerous, very heavily armed man coming to kill him and you have to stop it and I wouldn't be calling you at all but I made a mistake and now I haven't a choice and I don't know who else in the organization he's contacted so you cannot tell John, you absolutely cannot tell John, or my brother, or anyone, that this call came from me."

There's a pause, then, "What'm I looking for?"

"Marcus van Leeuwen," Sherlock says, fast. "Five foot ten, eleven stone, blue eyes, brown hair."

Lestrade says, "I'll call you back," and hangs up.

Chapter Text

7 : 8 July 2012-10 July 2012

♫ Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers

 

John asks, "What do you want me to do?" and Mycroft tells him, "I want you to draw him out. Draw him back to London. The farther away he stays, the harder he will be to catch."

"And how exactly do you expect me to do that?" John asks.

"He thinks he has you on the hook; give the line a tug," Mycroft tells him.

John licks his lips. "You think all I have to do is crook my finger, and Moriarty will come running across continents to play with me," he says.

"It'd work on my brother," Mycroft says, smiling, and John finds himself on his feet without thinking.

Mycroft raises an eyebrow.

"Sit down," he says.

"I'd like to remind you that I don't actually work for you," John tells him.

"As long as you're carrying that gun, you do," Mycroft tells him. "Sit down."

John licks his lips. After a moment, he sits.

Mycroft watches him, steepling his fingers in front of his mouth. After a moment, he asks, "I can't tell from the emails. Does Moriarty think you were lovers?"

John exhales sharply. "Why don't you ask me what you mean, Mycroft? Tact is beneath you."

Mycroft's eyes narrow. "Fine," he says evenly. "Did my brother think you were lovers?"

"You mean, were we lovers," John corrects.

"No," Mycroft says. "I mean, did Sherlock think that you were lovers?"

John opens his mouth, and then closes it again. Then he opens it again and says, "I don't understand."

"Yes," Mycroft says. "You do. You just haven't thought about the question. I know that by any reasonable standard, your relationship was objectively platonic; I also know that my brother doesn't have—has never had anything approaching reasonable standards."

John swallows. "You mean, you think that he—"

"I mean that while it may have been something better than twenty years since my brother so much as considered conducting a romance, I have wondered, once or twice—geological time scale notwithstanding—if he might be attempting to do so with you," Mycroft says, a little sharply.

John stares at him.

"John," Mycroft sighs, "the question is really quite simple. I need to know if—"

"You're asking me if Sherlock was taking it slow with me," John says. "Because—what, because he's shy?"

"I will never understand how in a year and a half of living with him, it apparently never really occurred to you that there was very little that Sherlock did to which ordinary definitions could apply," Mycroft says, and John can't quite identify the tone until he marks the lines at the corners of Mycroft's eyes, and he doesn't know quite why it is, right then, that it hits him: that Mycroft has lost his brother, has buried the last of his family, however difficult and strange; that in that first week after, when John was barely breathing on Harry's lilo and trying to sleep through the funeral and fucking twenty-eight-year-old tattooed barmaids, Mycroft was in his office, in his club, in whatever undoubtedly horrifyingly posh mausoleum he calls a home, alone. These past three weeks John has felt the pull and snap of his grief like an elastic band, twisted this way and that around something shapelessly essential inside him, and under the relentless pressure of his own denial and doubt, John has forced Mycroft to be certain. Mycroft has listened patiently to John's arguments in the face of all plausibility and repeated himself and found photographs and photocopies and third-party witness descriptions, all to convince John that Mycroft's brother is dead.

"Better than twenty years?" John asks, finally, because here, between the two of them, that's probably the safest question.

"I don't know the details," Mycroft says, though it is an obvious and transparent lie. "He was at school, at the time."

John rubs his thumb over his mouth. Finally he says, "He never would've told me, you know."

"Yes," Mycroft says quietly. "But at this point, he's rather beyond the harm of a broken confidence, wouldn't you say?"

John nods and looks up at the ceiling. "You want me to make a pass at Moriarty," he says, finally.

"I want to know if he expects it," Mycroft clarifies.

John exhales.

After a minute he says, "Yeah, probably."

Mycroft leans forward.

 

John gets home. He turns the kettle on and opens his laptop.

He drinks two cups of tea before he gives up on tea and switches to lager. Twenty minutes later, he reaches for his mobile.

16:31To: Mycroft Holmes
What the hell am I supposed to say?

He rubs at his face, sighs, and finishes the bottle. He goes to get another.

16:34From: Mycroft Holmes
I know you can't be asking me to coach you through a flirtation, John.

John grinds his teeth.

16:36To: Mycroft Holmes
Bit out of my comfort zone, Mycroft.

It takes him ten minutes and the better part of the bottle to realize that Mycroft doesn't consider that worthy of a reply. He rubs both his palms against his cheeks and exhales, drums his fingers lightly against the keys.

Start with something true, Mycroft had told him. It gives structure to the lie.

After a minute, John opens the drawer in his desk and gets out the photograph. He stares at Sherlock's grey-splotched white unrecognizable ribs and feels it sear through his chest all over again. Start with something true. John closes his eyes and types without looking, I miss you.

He sits back for a while after that, sips his lager, peeling at the edges of the label until it comes off in his hand. Then he reaches over and clicks on the message box. He feels absurd, beyond ridiculous, but he pretends that he's talking to Sherlock and that Sherlock is a man that he never was and he himself is a man he never will be. He types, I'm not supposed to admit that, am I? and then, mostly because Sherlock would expect him to ask, adds, Are you concerned this account is being watched?

The reply comes in seconds. John licks his lips and replies, That was an opening, you know, for you to say that you miss me too.

His stomach feels oddly light. He is aware that it is absurd to be nervous about what he's giving away, aware that he is merely playing a role and that it is little better than coincidence, how close it sits to his actual life. He takes a deep breath and tries to pack that feeling away someplace safe as his inbox goes bold again with a new reply. When he clicks on it his heart twists painfully; he can almost hear it, hear Sherlock's voice pitched low, oddly unbalanced as ever he would be when admitting anything other than one hundred percent pure self-sufficiency. John replies as quickly as he can, like yanking off a plaster.

Half an hour later, his inbox remains the same. He rubs at his face and stands. To hell with this. He needs to get out of his flat. He needs a drink. He grabs his jacket and goes.

 

Email thread. Subject: I miss you. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 17:54. Message: Ordinary mortals, remember? Sometimes we appreciate concrete reassurances. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John. Watson. Sent: 17:54. Message: Was that not apparent? From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 17:54. Message: That was an opening, you know, for you to say that you miss me too. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John. Watson. Sent: 17:53. Message: It doesn't worry me overmuch, no. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 17:52. Message: I'm not supposed to admit that, am I? Are you concerned this account is being watched?
(click to zoom)

 

Since coming home, Mike has consistently been the easiest person John knows in London. He has a wife whom he loves and two kids, both girls. Norah, his wife, is one of the most laid-back people John's ever met; the kids are both still at primary school, not old enough yet to give him any real trouble. Of course, Mike's been different since—since June, more quiet, more cautious, his eyes always on John's face like they're doing something other than having a drink and watching football, but the possible alternatives are Tina, and John's never felt less like getting a leg over in his life; or Greg, and John—John just can't. He can't risk it tonight, that it'll come up, and in that regard, at least, Stamford is perfectly safe. Greg and his wife go to couples counseling, so Greg is in touch with emotions that Mike is perfectly content to pretend they don't have.

"Fucking Manchester," Mike tells John after four, a little blearily.

John nods his agreement. He's off by one, but whether he's ahead or behind depends on whether he counts the two at his flat.

"And you," Mike says. John blinks at him. Mike swallows and pushes his glasses up on his nose. He asks, "You all right, then?"

John waves a hand at the screen. "Are you seeing this?" he asks, because really.

"No, I mean," Mike says, and leans over. His eyes are wide and oddly hard to look at, and his forehead is damp with sweat. The pub is crowded and was getting too hot an hour ago; John's jacket keeps sliding onto the floor. Mike says, "I mean, with the." He ducks his head and takes another swig of lager. He finishes, "With the new flat and everything."

John blinks at him, then turns back to look up at the game.

"Or," Mike says, "or, yeah, that," and John exhales, slowly, and stands, asking, "You want another?"

"Sure," Mike says, and John weaves back up to the bar. Mike doesn't bring it up again.

 

John hangs up his jacket, then leans against the wall to work off his shoes. His flat is stuffy, so he opens all the windows, then shuffles over to his desk and taps the space bar on his laptop. He squints down at the screen. New message. He clicks on it. He reads it, four times. Five.

What is this, anyway? he'd asked Sherlock, when John had found Sherlock's copy of Anna Karenina next to his bed, and Sherlock had rolled his eyes and told him, A book, like that'd been what John was asking. Us ordinary people—, John had replied, though he can't quite remember the rest of the protest; he can't remember if us ordinary people like John only read Russian novels if they were assigned at school, or if us ordinary people enjoyed books where characters had, in general, no more than two or three names. Sherlock had sighed, sounding very put-upon, but he'd taken his book back; later that night, John had been sitting up in bed reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when Sherlock had opened the door without knocking and leaned in to tell him, there isn't anything ordinary about you. Sherlock's expression had been serious, a little nervous, and for some reason oddly intense, and John had licked his lips, had still been trying to think of something to say when Sherlock had leaned back out and closed the door behind him, very softly. Anna Karenina had been sitting on the coffee table in a conspicuous fashion in the morning; Sherlock hadn't mentioned it, but John had taken it upstairs and put it back on his bedside table. He'd meant to read it later.

There isn't anything ordinary about you.

John leans forward and presses his forehead against his desk, beside his laptop.

Start with something true, Mycroft whispers.

John swallows. He can't operate like that, is the problem, as though the truth is something that exists outside of the two of them, immutable. The closest he can get is to pretend he isn't lying, to sit up and hit reply and close his eyes and tell himself that it's real and tell himself that it's Sherlock and let his fingers fall where they may.

Come home, he shapes in ether, and it stretches out from him across continents. He doesn't even know what timezone he's talking to, anymore, but the reply comes in seconds, and it shakes within him in Sherlock's voice, Not safe; John replies so fast his fingers stumble on the keys, Come home anyway. There isn't an inch on John's body that doesn't hurt, anymore.

The clock ticks around itself in circle after circle without end. John's windows are still wide open, but the day's heat has faded, and he finds himself shivering, his fingers going numb and stiff before he can't bear it any longer, and clicks on "Reply" again. Mycroft told him, start with something true, but John's far past stopping there. His hands are already moving, tearing it out of him, like field surgery on a shrapnel wound.

 

Email thread. Subject: (No Subject). From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 23:17. Message: Christ, Sherlock, don't make me do this over email. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 23:05. Message: I don't care. Come home anyway. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 23:04. Message: Not safe. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 23:03. Message: Come home. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 22:31. Message: There isn't anything ordinary about you.
(click to zoom)

 

John falls asleep in his chair, waiting for a response that doesn't come. At half four, he suddenly finds himself awake, and after getting up to close all the windows but the one in his bedroom and check the lock on the front door, he sits back down at his desk to check his computer again.

Please don't, Sherlock is telling him, and he bites down on his lip and snaps back the first thing that comes to mind, again—and again—and again.

When the rush of words runs out, John staggers over to the bed, unbuttoning his jeans and kicking them off. He knows he needs at least four hours actually lying down flat to be of any use to anyone; he ends up getting five and waking to his phone ringing, still in the pocket of his jeans, muffled but insistent. The sun is streaming through the open window, and John groans and buries his face in his pillow as he reaches down to grab his phone. It goes to voicemail just as he gets it up onto the mattress and squints down blearily at the screen:

07:48 Missed call from Mycroft Holmes

07:49 New voicemail

08:13 Missed call from Mycroft Holmes

08:13 New voicemail

10:06 Missed call from Mycroft Holmes

10:07 New voicemail

"Christ," John mutters, and tosses the phone back onto the floor. A little over an hour later, he gives up on going back to sleep, and goes to shower and shave.

 

11:49 To: Harry Watson
Lunch?

11:49 To: Harry Watson
On me.

11:50 From: Harry Watson
Christ. Who'd you kill?

11:52 To: Harry Watson
No one. Yet. But I need a reality check.

11:53 From: Harry Watson
And you're looking at me? You *are* desperate, aren't you?

11:53 From: Harry Watson
Half twelve all right?

 

Harry has a salad and a glass of white wine, raising an eyebrow at him while she orders. He doesn't bother to comment—he knows her far too well for that—just orders a bowl of pasta and a glass of water, largely because he's still hungover but also because he doesn't need anything else to make this day feel unreal. They talk about absolutely nothing until the food comes and Harry switches to mineral water like she's doing him a favor.

"So," Harry asks, stabbing at her salad.

"So last night." John pauses and rubs his thumb over his eyebrow. "I—I think I'm going mad, Har."

"You mean, just now?" she says. He grimaces at her, and she sighs. "I don't even know exactly what you've been doing," she reminds him. "I mean—this is one of Mycroft's things, I'm guessing?"

"Yes," he says, and then he shifts, and says, slowly, "No. Not—exactly."

She takes a bite of salad.

"I've been emailing with—" he starts, and then shifts, and scoots closer to the table, and drops his voice. "I've been emailing with Sherlock, all right?"

She pauses. She still has a bite in her mouth, half chewed, pushing her cheek out to the side.

"I mean," John says hurriedly. "I know—Mycroft, he's. He's pretty well convinced me it isn't him."

Harry finishes chewing and swallows. She says, "Pretty well?"

"It." John swallows and pokes his fork into his food. "It really feels like him, Harry. I mean—I know it isn't. But I—I'm having a really hard time knowing that, um. All the time."

"Okay," Harry says slowly.

"My—" The waitress steps over to refill John's water, and John smiles up at her, distracted, and says, "My boss wants me to—to convince him to come back."

"The, um." Harry's brow furrows. "Um. Jim?"

"Yes," John says, as the waitress turns to the table beside them, "yes, that's the one. So we want him to come back and—um, finish the project that he started with me, right?"

"Am I going to get arrested for knowing any of this?" Harry asks, low.

"It's not exactly official secrets if it's in my Hotmail account," John tells her. "Besides, it—it barely makes sense to me and I'm doing it. I really don't think anyone else could get you to explain it to them."

"You're certainly not explaining it to me," she agrees.

John pokes at his food. "My boss wants him to come back, all right?" he says. "So—so I have to. To tell him things, that will convince him to come back. But he—he thinks that I—that I believe him. When he tells me who he is. So."

"Oh," Harry says.

"Yeah," John says. "So it's—the things I have to say to him are."

He stops. After a minute, he shakes his head.

"Right," Harry says.

John shrugs. He says, "I—I'm not a sentimental person, Harry."

"No," she agrees, a little cautiously.

John licks his lips. His chest feels strange to him, as though it's holding two of him inside. He leans his elbows on the table and asks, "So why does this make me feel like I'm losing my mind?"

She scrunches up her face. "I think you'd have to already be a fucking lunatic for it not to," she tells him, a little too loudly. The man at the table next to them clears his throat; Harry hunches her shoulders and digs her fork aggressively into her salad.

John takes a bite, even though he isn't really hungry. After a minute, he says, "Met someone."

"Christ," Harry sighs. "Are—honestly, John."

He shrugs.

She sighs again. "Oh, all right then. What's she like?"

John looks past her shoulder, out the window. After a minute, he says, "Normal."

 

When he gets home, he checks his email; nothing. He makes it half an hour before he checks it again. He exhales, fierce and hot; he's not going to return Mycroft's calls. Normal. That's—that's what John needs, and Mycroft Holmes is anything but normal.

14:11To: Tina
Sorry about yesterday. Do you have plans tonight?

14:14From: Tina
Well, I think I have some now. ;) And don't worry about it. Meet you at the pub? 9?

John licks his lips.

14:15To: Tina
What about earlier? I was hoping to take you out to dinner.

14:16From: Tina
All right if I come by around 8? Bit tied up at work, not sure if I can get away earlier than that.

John smiles. It doesn't feel quite right on his face, so he tries it again.

 

15:33 Missed call from Mycroft Holmes

15:34 New voicemail

16:02From: Mycroft Holmes
This is unamusing, John.

 

John shaves again while he's waiting for Tina to get off work. His girlfriend at uni had liked it, when he'd rubbed his almost-invisible-but-still-rough stubble against her belly, her thighs, leaving hot red marks behind; but of course, it'd taken him two years, after, to fully catalogue all the ways that she had been unusual. It's on the list, now, of things that are not quite safe to bring up too soon, along with the things he did while deployed and his gun and Sherlock, so John shaves for the second time in eight hours, very carefully, and checks his work with his fingertips and not just the mirror. Then he sits down and checks his phone—Mycroft's taken to calling him every hour, but there's nothing John thinks needs a reply. He rubs his thumb over the corner of the photograph, which is curled up from some day when he shoved it away too fast, careless; after a minute, he opens up his laptop and checks his email. No reply.

The bell rings, and he tucks the photo away in the drawer, under everything, and closes his laptop, then heads down to let Tina in.

 

They go out. They have a nice dinner. John keeps Tina's glass filled and focuses everything he can on her face, on her deep blue eyes and soft mouth, and he finds himself laughing when she does, reaching over to brush his fingers along the back of her hand. Her eyes get darker, her smile slow and lazy, and John feels more tied to his skin than he has at any point in over a day. As they're leaving, she says, "My place?" as he's hailing a cab, and he slides an arm around her waist in reply.

He holds the door of the cab, gets in after her. He means to make it seem effortless, to slide over up against her warm side and tangle his fingers in her masses of hair; unfortunately, he misses her handbag on the seat between them until he's knocked it to the floor. "Oh," he says, "shit—" looking down at the spill of small and shining objects across the floor of the cab. She laughs. He bends to pick it up at the same time she does, bumping their hands as he picks up her lipstick, her compact, her phone, saying, "Sorry, sorry," while she grins at him, all forgiven. He leans over to kiss her quickly, then scoops up her purse, which has fallen open, leaving a scatter of coins around their feet. Her driving license looks up at him, 1. Moran 2. Miss Bastina Elizabeth 3. 14-09-80 England. He hands the purse up to her and reaches back down to collect her coins.

"That was supposed to be my, um, big effort for the evening," he tells her.

"Yes, it was quite suave, I thought," she tells him. "I appreciate a man with moves."

"That's me," he says, sitting back up and passing over two hair ties, a handkerchief, and a pair of narrow reading glasses, which he finds strangely endearing. "Your name is Bastina?"

She laughs, tucking everything he's retrieved back into her handbag. "Christ, don't rub it in. You have no idea the hell I got for that at primary school."

"My middle name is Hamish," he admits, and she laughs again and says, "Oh, so your parents were sadists, too?"

"Evil, evil sadists," he agrees, sitting back up and and leans over to lick the shell of her ear.

She laughs again, low and warm, and threads their fingers together. He tugs lightly at her hair to turn her face towards his, and kisses her with his eyes half open, telling himself, This, yes. This, for me.

 

He sleeps in her bed and drinks two cups of her coffee while she blowdries her hair and then goes home and stares at his closed laptop. Mycroft's messages are still sitting in his voicemail, undisturbed, and John is angry; he doesn't want to call him back. He can't decide whether he wants to check his email or not. Finally he decides that it's something like cowardice, what's holding him back, and he opens the screen. New email. He licks his lips and clicks.

If I come home, what do you plan to do?

John feels it curl up inside him, an instinct to run without a direction; a coil of violence, latent and waiting, no target. Christ. He can't remember what he was doing, before. He rubs at his jaw and makes two cups of tea, then drinks them both, then goes back to his desk and sits down and closes his eyes and lets himself mouth the words, silent—then not silent—becoming low and hesitant, There isn't anything ordinary about you. It makes him feel jumpy, like he's being watched. It opens up the wound in his throat.

It's not quite eleven in the morning. The hint of breeze through his open window is threatening heat through the morning damp. After a minute, he yields to all his uncomfortable desires in one: he replies, and then he grabs his gun, and then he goes down to the pub.

 

Email thread. Subject: (No Subject). From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 10:49. Message: Touch you. From: Robert N Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 04:34. Message: If I come home, what do you plan to do? From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 09/07/2012. Message: No. I'm fucking done with waiting, Sherlock, I've put you in the ground. What can you possibly have to do that you can't do with me? What can you possibly have to do where you can't use my help? If you tell me you're better off without me I won't believe you for a second and you know it, you know what I am, you know what we are, you know you're my partner and you know that neither of us works better alone. This is where you'll want to argue, so go ahead, try to convince me otherwise, fine. I won't believe a fucking word. You know how I feel about you. You knew it a month ago. You had to know this would kill me. Come home. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 09/07/2012. Message: Please don't do this, John. Please wait. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 09/07/2012. Message: I can't remember how I work on my own. I'm not sure that I do. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 09/07/2012. Message: I can't. Come home. I miss you. I need you. Please, Sherlock. I can't do this without you. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 09/07/2012. Message: John. Please don't. Wait until I come home, please. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 09/07/2012. Message: You're dead. Doesn't that mean I can tell you anything I want and you can't stop me? From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 09/07/2012. Message: Please don't. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 08/07/2012. Message: Christ, Sherlock, don't make me do this over email. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 08/07/2012. Message: I don't care. Come home anyway. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 08/07/2012. Message: Not safe. From: John Watson. To: Robert N. Watson. Sent: 08/07/2012. Message: Come home. From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 08/07/2012. Message: There isn't anything ordinary about you.
(click to zoom)

 

John stays in the pub until well after it's dark. His phone is silent and cool in his pocket; it's been off since last night, but there's no one in the world John wants to talk to today, anyway; his father died in 1995, but John always feels closer to him after ten hours steady drinking. John's not really drunk, though; he's got close, a couple times, but never quite slipped over the line. He and Harry both learned how to pace themselves young.

John had planned to stay in the pub until an hour when it'd be slightly more appropriate to get absolutely shitfaced and then do so, but at eight, and again at nine, he finds his heart's not really in it. He feels thick-headed and a little ill; he wonders, idly, if that's where the line is, between him and Harry, that he can feel his hangover creeping up on him and it mostly makes him want to eat a sandwich and drink a glass of water, that above all else it makes him want to stop drinking. He grabs his jacket and goes.

It's still warm out, pleasant. John rubs his palms on his thighs. He hasn't quite managed to shake his discomfort yet. He wants to check his email. He knows that's insane.

He opens his door and shuffles in without turning on the lights. He'd left his windows open, but it still feels close, the evening breeze not quite enough to chase away the heat of the day. He hangs up his jacket and heads for his room, reaching to take the gun out to put it away, and then he sees a lighter flicker in the window opposite—he sees a shadow—and then his hand is still out, not shaking, and he's still staring straight ahead, breathing hard, as the echoes clear from his ears, a gunshot and shattering glass.

John swallows and digs out his phone. He turns it on. He dials.

"So glad you've finally decided to return my calls," Mycroft tells him.

"Yeah," John says. "I think I should tell you that I came home from the pub and there was a man with a sniper rifle waiting in the flat opposite my bedroom window."

Mycroft is silent for a moment. Then he says, "And?"

"And I killed him," John says, sharp. "What the hell do you mean, 'and'?"

Chapter Text

8 : 10 July 2012-11 July 2012

♫ School of Seven Bells - iamundernodisguise

 

Sherlock sets his phone down on the desk. It buzzes once, then again, then again, almost immediately, as the texts received while his battery was dead start coming in. Irene; he'll read them later. His hands are shaking. He tries to remember the last time he ate something and can't, so he digs around through Marcus van Leeuwen's kitchen and ends up with milky tea, which he can't finish, and a slice of toast, which sticks in his throat. His phone has stopped buzzing, but he still hasn't had anything from Lestrade. He ends up righting the sofa and lying back down with the fuzzy blue blanket because if he wasn't too late van Leeuwen won't make it home tonight and if he was none of it matters any more, anyway; he falls asleep again with his fingers tight around his mobile and the volume on the ringer turned all the way up.

He regrets that decision when it finally goes off, loud enough to put him in mind of air-raid sirens and adolescent girls, +447700900610, and he answers with his tongue thick in his mouth, mumbling, "Did you stop him?"

There's a tiny pause before Lestrade says, "Well."

Sherlock feels the whole world come back into focus. "Is John all right?" he asks, sharp.

"Yes," Lestrade says. "Van Leeuwen is—I'm pretty sure John shot him."

"He what?" Sherlock asks, confused, struggling to sit up. He's worried he misheard.

"I think John shot him," Lestrade repeats, so, no; he heard exactly right. "I was still trying to convince anyone who would listen that they needed to get in gear when the report came in. I'm still trying to sort all the details, but John is fine, he's down at New Scotland Yard with your brother, evading everyone's questions."

Sherlock closes his eyes. "Mycroft's involved," he sighs. He'd known this was coming, but it's still inconvenient. He needs more time.

"Yeah," Lestrade says. "Stonewalling everyone, as far as I can tell." He pauses for a second, then says, "Look, Sherlock, I'm—I don't know how much you're aware of what's been going on, but I'm suspended. I'm not in on this one. I'm getting what little I have from Hopkins by way of Lukas; everything I'm getting is scrambled."

"Lukas," Sherlock says, trying to call up a face. "Sergeant Lukas? Little blond chap, looks like a strong wind would knock him over?"

"Don't believe it," Lestrade tells him. "He's got black belts in martial arts I've never heard of."

"Why is he working with Hopkins?" Sherlock asks.

"Because it's not just me—everyone who's got your name and their name on the same case file is suspended," Lestrade tells him.

Sherlock blinks up at van Leeuwen's ceiling. "Everyone?" he asks. "Anderson? Donovan?"

"Everyone," Lestrade confirms. "And don't sound so pleased, you have no idea what it's doing to our clear rate, having this hanging over our heads. Everyone who's still on has twice the case load they ought—you've got eighteen good officers out and a fair number who can't tell their arse from their elbow besides; if I told the Met you'd turned up I wouldn't take bets on you living to see dawn."

Sherlock waves his hand, even though Lestrade can't see him. "The important thing is that John's all right," he says. "I don't really care about the Met."

"Christ, you're a bastard," Lestrade says, and sighs. "Who else knows, by the way? Obviously not John, but your brother must—"

"Not my brother," Sherlock says, swallowing. The adrenaline is flushing away, leaving him feeling drained and weak. "Mycroft mustn't find out. He'll take over and it'll all go to hell. It's just—well, you, of course, and Mike Stamford, he's a doctor at Barts. And, ah—Molly Hooper."

"You got that poor girl in on it?" Lestrade says. "Was that really fair?"

"Molly's not half so anemic as you seem to think," Sherlock tells him, a little sharp. "She's been very useful to me. And, there were—I was trying to keep the police out of it. I—I thought you might feel it divided your loyalties. But. Thank you. I appreciate your help."

"Christ," Lestrade sighs. "Look, Sherlock, you're not getting off the hook, you know. You can't call me up three weeks after your funeral and then expect me to just go back to pretending you're dead."

Sherlock rubs his face. All he wants to do is sleep. "Fine," he says finally. "But—not tonight, all right? I'm. Unwell."

"Unwell?" Lestrade echoes blankly.

"Yes," Sherlock says. His fever has gone down; it doesn't matter. He still wants to sleep for a year.

There's a pause. Then Lestrade asks, "Are you—are you high, Sherlock?"

"No." Sherlock sighs and rubs at his face. "I'm just. Ill."

A longer pause, and then Lestrade says, "You're what?" He sounds delighted.

"I have the flu," Sherlock grinds out, "which, yes, I'm aware of the irony, very funny, but—"

"In seven years I have never known you to be ill," Lestrade tells him.

"Yes, well," Sherlock tells him, "I died and then I got the flu, I'm having a bad summer."

Lestrade laughs, damn him. "Do I need to send someone over to make you tea and soup? Where're you staying, anyway?"

"Right now, I'm in van Leeuwen's flat, actually," Sherlock tells him, and sighs. "In Leeds."

Lestrade's quiet for a moment. "You better get out of there, Sherlock," he says. "If I'm right, and van Leeuwen's dead—and it certainly sounds like it, from what's coming from Hopkins and Lukas—the police will be in his flat within the hour."

Sherlock stares up at the ceiling.

"Damn it," he says, finally, then falls silent.

After a minute, Lestrade says, "All right," and sighs. "Leeds. Christ. Sometimes I wonder how on earth you made it to this age alive; you shouldn't be let out on your own. Just—can you make it to the train station? There ought to be at least one more tonight, I can pick you up on this end if you text me when you're getting close. If you really are ill, you shouldn't be wandering about."

Sherlock exhales. "I—yes, I suppose you're right." He rubs at his face, then admits, "I didn't plan this well."

"You know, I will always regret not having caught that on tape," Lestrade tells him.

Sherlock scowls. "How's the divorce moving along?" he asks, biting. "It's always so hard, when you have kids, isn't it?"

"Jesus," Lestrade says, disgusted, "maybe I will tell the Met you're alive," and hangs up.

 

Sherlock gets up and gathers up van Leeuwen's papers and notes. He folds them and puts them in his pocket with his phone and the gun and van Leeuwen's charger, then has to sit down for a minute to let the room stop spinning. After, he gets up and washes his teacup and the plate he used for his toast; he considers wiping the flat for fingerprints, but if van Leeuwen was shot in London and his flat looks undisturbed, they probably won't bother to check, and he's not at all sure that his fingerprints along with van Leeuwen's would be more suspicious than none at all. Sherlock tidies as best he can, and then he sees the lights through the window; no sirens, not for this, but he still needs to leave. He wraps his coat around him and scrambles up the stairs to the fourth floor. He listens—no one home, lucky—then picks the lock on the door and turns the handle to hold it open. He waits until he hears the police on the third floor landing, then opens the door for a count of two, then shuts it again, not trying to be quiet, and heads down the stairs, tucking his phone between his shoulder and his ear.

"What do you—evening, gentlemen—what do you mean, he's lost the account?" Sherlock asks, keeping his eyes fixed on the wall to his right, just above the baseboard. "If Peterson hears about this—"

"It's not locked," says one officer.

"Well then," the other replies, but he reaches up and knocks again.

Sherlock keeps walking. No one stops him.

 

Sherlock just barely catches the last train; he loses most of the trip to sleep and arrives in London feeling vague and disoriented. The upside is not having to contend with cash or cabs or his shaking hands; the downside is that Lestrade's car is tiny and ancient and makes a noise like a freight train whenever he shifts gears. Sherlock has to practically fold himself in half to fit into the passenger seat; he steps on a stuffed tiger getting in, tosses it in back with a huff.

"Sorry," Lestrade tells him. "Emma was over yesterday and couldn't get to sleep, so I took her out for a ride."

"Not Max?" Sherlock asks.

"Why do you say that?" Lestrade asks, pulling into traffic. His mouth is tight, unhappy.

"Because if Max had come along, he would've insisted on sitting in the front," Sherlock tells him.

Lestrade exhales. "No," he says, after a minute. "Not Max."

Two right turns later, Sherlock tells him, "The back seat is the safest place for children under twelve," then, blinking around him, "Where're we going?"

"My flat," Lestrade says. "I called Molly and she told me if I dumped you on her doorstep with the flu she'd never forgive me. And—I know, but she cries."

"My laptop's in her flat," Sherlock. "You should give her back her tiger."

"Your laptop's in the boot, actually," Lestrade tells him, turning on his indicator. "And I will. Tomorrow."

 

Lestrade has a telly sitting on a box and one photograph (his kids, taken at least a year ago, propped up next to the coffee maker) and a truly decrepit sofa in a shade of orange derived from nothing in nature.

"Came with the flat," Lestrade tells him, when he sees Sherlock staring at the sofa.

"I believe you," Sherlock says, sliding his laptop bag off his shoulder. Molly's tucked what little he has by way of spare clothing into the outside pocket of the bag; he can tell it was Molly and not Lestrade because nothing's folded and his clean pants are rolled up inside one of his shirts, like Sherlock cares whether or not Molly's touched them. Sherlock digs out his phone charger and plugs his phone back in; he's not letting it go dead again.

"There's about six different kinds of takeaway in the fridge, help yourself," Lestrade says, going over to get out a lager. "I'm assuming you know how to heat up food, yes?"

"I know how to do a number of things that I delegate to lesser minds whenever possible," Sherlock tells him.

Lestrade smiles, a little tight. "Well, lesser mind or not, I'm still not doing it for you," he says. "It's almost two in the morning. If you're well enough to make it out to Leeds to cause trouble, you can heat up your own curry, too."

Sherlock grimaces at him and slides down onto the sofa. He doesn't want curry. Mostly, he wants to sleep. He rubs at his face.

Lestrade's quiet for a minute. "You really are ill, aren't you?" he says, finally.

"I'm getting better," Sherlock tells him.

"Right, yeah," Lestrade says, and ducks into the bedroom, then comes back out and throws a blanket and a pillow at Sherlock's face. Sherlock doesn't quite manage to react fast enough to catch them.

 

Sherlock sleeps wrapped in the blanket and his coat and wakes up at two the next afternoon. He feels groggy and a little queasy; he's far too hot and his coat is really starting to need to be cleaned. He peels it off and drapes it over the end of the sofa, then digs out the crumpled shirt wrapped around his clean pants and goes to take a shower. Lestrade has two-in-one anti-dandruff shampoo, which makes Sherlock's hair tangle, and his razor is an electric, so Sherlock can't even have a shave. He sits on the sofa in his pants and his shirt and Lestrade's blanket—both pairs of his trousers have seen better days, too—and looks around; Lestrade's flat is even more depressing by daylight. He wonders if since he's feeling better Molly will let him come back. After a while, he opens his laptop.

justaverageonthemark : if you think I'm replying to that one for you, you actually ARE insane.
(click to zoom)

Sherlock blinks. He clicks. He clicks. He clicks.

About fifteen minutes later, he picks up his phone and dials.

"About time you called me back," she says. "What the hell are you playing at?"

"I'm not playing at anything," Sherlock snarls. "What are you—what are you doing, why are you making him—"

"I'm not making him do anything," she replies, tight and angry. "I've been replying as little as possible while your boyfriend pours his heart out to me—"

"He's—he isn't my anything, Irene!" Sherlock says, and he hates the way—he hates the way it sounds. He pushes his hand down over his eyes, shaking.

"Look, I haven't pushed you too hard on this one," she tells him, "because I know you're—well."

"For the ten—eleventh time, I am not a virgin," Sherlock tells her, a little too loudly. "You're—why are you so obsessed with my sex life, I honestly don't—"

"I really, really don't care what you do with yourself in bed, Sherlock," she interrupts. "I don't even care what you do with him. But you told me to keep him on the line and now he's coming at me with this crap, without any warning that I was going to have to conduct your relationship for you—"

"This isn't about sex," he tells her, desperate and angry.

"Don't be stupid," she snaps. "He's in love with you."

Sherlock rubs at his face. "I've told you, this isn't about sex," he repeats.

"For the love of God!" she yells. Sherlock has to hold the phone away from his ear.

After a minute, Irene sighs, and Sherlock moves it back closer, a little cautiously.

"You're so—you know," she tells him, "there's a million psychiatrists in L.A. and each and every one of them would have a field day with you. You set me on him and tell me to keep him busy and then I find out he's in love with you and you couldn't even have given me a heads-up?"

Sherlock rubs at his face. "It's not like that," he tells her. "He's—we're not like that, he'd—he'd never do this, he'd never say those things, you—"

He stops.

"I'm only going to say this once," she says, low. "I'm done, Sherlock. You said it'd be simple and you'd tell me whatever I needed to know, and I owed you so I did it, but you lied to me, didn't you?"

"Where are you?" he asks.

"I'm—what do you mean? I'm in my flat, I—"

"Get out of there," he says, numb.

"What?" she says.

"He'd never say those things," he repeats. "Get out of there, get out of there, Mycroft—"

He hears her suck in a breath, and the line goes dead.

 

Sherlock still isn't all the way himself, but he's certainly well enough to go out. He takes his coat and the more revolting pair of his trousers to be cleaned and makes a handful of careful purchases. He's low on cash, but he can't recall who's next on the list and besides, he's a little leery of trying his hand at crime again until he's entirely certain he won't quite literally be caught napping. He tugs the hood on his new sweatshirt up and tugs out his phone.

16:31To: +447700900107
What's John's new address?

16:33From: +447700900107
Who's this, then?

Sherlock rolls his eyes.

16:34To: +447700900107
Who do you think it is, Mike?

It takes Stamford ten minutes, but he comes up with the address, and it only takes Sherlock another five to swing by. He has his things in his laptop bag, slung over his shoulder, his head ducked down; he probably looks like any ordinary student, to a casual observer, but he doesn't think John would miss him for a second if he spots him standing out on the street. He drops the package off and then hails a cab; he still has Molly's key, and however short her sofa is, at least he doesn't wake up fallen halfway down the crack in the back.

When he gets to her flat, he's tired enough that his spine doesn't quite feel up to sitting; he sends what emails are necessary lying down and ends up taking a somewhat impromptu nap. He wakes up two hours later feeling almost human and goes to take another shower; he doesn't think of himself as being vulnerable to the allure of creature comforts, as a general rule, but he's getting to be rather fond of Molly's conditioner, which says that it is specially formulated for wavy hair and promises, not in vain, increased manageability and shine. When he gets out, Molly's standing in the kitchen in her work clothes with her arms crossed.

"Let's get one thing straight, I work with dead people for a reason," she tells him. "I'm not holding your hand or making you tea."

"You make me tea when I'm not ill," he points out, pushing his wet hair out of his face. "Besides, I'm feeling much better."

"You don't look better, you look like death warmed over," she says. "And I mean that I'm not making you any more tea than is strictly dictated by common courtesy."

"I am perfectly content with our usual arrangement," he tells her, and when she rolls her eyes he goes back over to the sofa. He sets his phone and his laptop on the coffee table next to van Leeuwen's papers and opens his screen. Molly huffs and heads towards the bathroom. No new email. He flips through van Leeuwen's papers; he keeps coming back to the sticky note that says, Moran, Fri 2:15, Hummingbird. He frowns, then opens a search window and starts typing.

A moment later, Molly stomps out, wrapped in a towel, her brow thunderous. She tosses the empty packet on the coffee table and says, "You used the last of my razors, Sherlock?"

He glances down at her legs.

"Eyes up!" she snaps. "God! Why do I even put up with you! I'm changing the locks."

"I'll just break in," he points out. "Lestrade's sofa is awful, and Stamford's got a family." He reaches into his bag and digs out the pack he bought at Boots. "You threw out the one I was using before," he tells her. "I had to take another one. Some men can grow facial hair with elegance, but I am not one of them."

She sighs, shoulders hunching up. She doesn't argue with him, though; she's seen what he makes pass for five o'clock shadow.  

"Don't take my things," she tells him, grabbing the packet out of his hands and stomping back into the bathroom, muttering, "I knew there was a reason I don't have a flatmate."

Sherlock checks his email again. Nothing. He goes back to his search.

It's another ten minutes before his phone rings. He smiles, then hits ignore.

It takes John four calls to get the idea.

19:04From: +447700900899
Why give me a phone if you won't bother to answer?
19:04To: +447700900899
Three guesses.
19:05From: +447700900899
Oh, so you will reply to a text?
19:05From: +447700900899
Live calls are easier to trace.
19:06To: +447700900899
Correct in one.
19:07From: +447700900899
And that'd be the end of the world.
19:08To: +447700900899
Close enough. If Mycroft has set his dogs out after the IP in LA, call him off. It won't lead to me, and it may cost a good friend her life.
19:09To: +447700900899
I will give you points for this one, John: you're getting better at lying. It took me half an hour to figure out what you were doing.
19:10From: +447700900899
You've got it all figured out, then? Then you know I don't believe a word you say.
19:11To: +447700900899
You should.
19:11From: +447700900899
Why? You won't even pick up the phone.
19:13To: +447700900899
Because I've been offline for three days, but it took me less than half an hour to see through those emails. You know why I won't pick up.
19:14From: +447700900899
Just a minute ago you said it did take you half an hour.
19:14To: +447700900899
I was being generous.
19:15From: +447700900899
Oh, of course. You've always been almost the cleverest man I know.

Sherlock pauses. Molly's shut off the water. He gets up and turns the kettle on.

19:17To: +447700900899
I'd be less flattered by that if I actually were who you think I am. Please. I need you to trust me, because I need you to stay alive.

He rubs his thumb and forefinger together, then hits "Reply" again.

19:18To: +447700900899
Have you told Mycroft's men to stand down?
19:18From: +447700900899
I can't trust you. You don't seem to be able to trust me. We have a problem, don't we?
19:19From: +447700900899
They wouldn't listen to me if I did.
Sherlock puts his phone down on the counter and pours out the tea. Molly shuffles in in her pajamas, and he raises an eyebrow at her and hands it over. Her mouth is curling up at the corner; it looks as though it's happening against her will.

"Who're you texting?" she asks.

"No one," he tells her, and picks up his phone again.

19:20To: +447700900899
When I finish this I can come home.

There's a bit of a wait, before he gets a reply.

19:23From: +447700900899
God. You utter bastard. You come at me with his own words and then send gunmen after me and you think I'm ever going to stop until I make you bleed?
Sherlock pauses, frowning. He is aware, in the abstract, that he sometimes has difficulties interpreting tone, but that seems fairly unambiguous.

"What is it?" Molly asks, and he replies without looking up, "Nothing, don't worry about it."

19:26To: +447700900899
You really don't believe me.
19:27From: +447700900899
I wouldn't believe you if you showed up in my flat wearing his face.
19:28From: +447700900899
And if you did, I would never forgive you.

 

Sherlock has been sleeping too much. Tonight, he is awake for a long, long time. Around two, he reaches for his phone.

01:49To: +447700900899
If I took a risk, would you believe me?
01:51From: +447700900899
What kind of risk?
01:52To: +447700900899
You're still awake.
01:52From: +447700900899
Can't sleep, for some reason.
Sherlock rubs his hand through his hair.

If you hadn't been lying, he types, very carefully, I would have let you.

There's a long, perilous space for Sherlock to wait through. After three minutes, he gets up to make himself a cup of tea, and forces himself to leave his phone on the coffee table. It buzzes while he's waiting for the tea to brew and he scrambles to grab it.

01:58From: +447700900899
Either you're Jim and I'm a fool to trust you because you're lying to me now, or you're Sherlock, and I'm a fool to trust you because you lied to me before.
Sherlock sets his phone down and buries his face in his hands and thinks. God, why can't he—he needs to be able to think. That shouldn't be what John replies. In a million years, Sherlock never thought—

After a minute, he reaches down and types, I trust you now, whether I ought to or not. Do you understand?

He hits "Send," and then counts to thirty, and then dials.

Chapter Text

9 : 10 July 2012-11 July 2012

♫ Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Hold On To Yourself

 

"Don't say anything," Mycroft tells him, as though John would be interested in talking to these people. In the sea of lights and sirens, John sees perhaps four faces he recognizes: a young black man with his hands in the pockets of his suit jacket and a carefully unreadable expression; a fox-faced middle-aged medic with a long red-and-silver plait hanging down her back; a towheaded kid who doesn't look old enough to be out this late without his mum; a man in his thirties with a girlish twist to his mouth that takes John a while to place as looking far more at home on Greg. These people are not John's friends. After a while, the familiar-looking black man comes over and holds out his hand, saying, "Dr. Watson? Detective Inspector Stanley Hopkins."

"Yes, of course," John says, and meets his eyes squarely. If he's honest with himself, he's been curious to know what Greg's replacement looks like; he watches Hopkins' eyes flick over his jacket, his hands, and then come back up to meet his. John can't tell what he's thinking, which is interesting.

Hopkins nods and says, "We'll have to ask you to come down and give us a statement," and Mycroft leans on his umbrella and says, smoothly, "Dr. Watson will cooperate in every way possible, of course," in a way that means that Dr. Watson will do nothing of the sort. Hopkins' eyes crinkle up at the corners, and he responds pleasantly enough, but somehow John ends up riding down to New Scotland Yard in a police car, while Mycroft climbs into his car to follow with his jaw set and jutting out, looking both determined and murderous.

John's there for five hours. He stares at the walls and drinks four cups of tea that don't taste like anything; in the end, it turns out, he doesn't have to give a statement at all.

 

"You shouldn't have killed him," Mycroft tells him, as the car heads back to John's flat.

"I didn't really have time to think about it," John tells him. "Call me crazy, but when I see a man with a sniper rifle—"

"He could've given us information," Mycroft says.

"Yes," John tells him. "He also could've shot me in the head."

Mycroft turns and looks out the window. "Well," he says, after a minute. "I suppose the upside is that you're obviously getting a response."

"Yeah," John says, and licks his lips. "I'm sorry, but—how is this the upside, exactly? We're no closer to Moriarty and I've had to kill a man, which may be an ordinary Tuesday for you, but—"

"You've made someone nervous," Mycroft tells him, sounding deeply satisfied.

"Oh, good," John says, leaning back against the leather upholstery. "Yeah, that's just fucking fantastic."

 

It's almost three in the morning before he gets home, but John can't relax. His flat seems hostile, now, but he doesn't know where else to go (not Harry's, would put her in danger, and it's far too late to ring up anyone else). Finally he ends up settling into the larger of the two chairs in the living room with the blanket off his bed and sleeping sitting up; he wakes up as soon as it's light out feeling hungover and stupid and goes for a run to try, not very effectively, to shake it off. He ends up spending three hours with the targets to make up for his week off; he still doesn't miss.

It's eleven before he can bring himself to go back into his bedroom. His window is still wide open, and he can see the plastic pinned up over the shattered window opposite. He swallows and closes his window and draws his curtains shut, and then he pulls out his laptop.

It's probably too much to expect some sort of Bond villain confession just sitting in his inbox, but he is a little surprised that there isn't anything at all. He rubs at his mouth. After a minute, he clicks on the "New" button, but he can't think of anything to say.

 

It catches up with him around one and he crashes out for the whole of the afternoon on the floor, lying on the side of the bed away from the window. He wakes up at a sound he can't identify, then slowly, carefully, sits up, and crawls over to the desk to grab his gun.

He slides over to the bedroom door on his knees, blinking, and follows the barrel of his gun around the frame. He listens. He can't hear anything.

His phone buzzes in the pocket of his jeans.

"Fuck," he gasps, forcing his hand to relax on the gun before he shoots out the front door. He's sweating. He digs out his phone: Mycroft Holmes, of fucking course.

He sets the gun down on the carpet and answers. "What do you want?" he asks, tight.

"I want to know why you logged into your email seven hours ago and didn't write a word," Mycroft says smoothly.

John exhales. "God," he says, low. "You are absolutely fucking unbelievable, you know that?"

Silence.

John shakes his head, looking up at the ceiling. "Do you understand what this is doing to me?" he asks, after a minute, because he's honestly not sure. "Do you—do you understand, what you're asking me to do? You—you want me to—you want me to pretend, Mycroft, you want me to—you want me to tell myself he's dead and tell him he's still—he's still." He rubs at his face, and whispers, "You want me to tell him he's still here."

"He was my brother," Mycroft says, very quiet.

"He was my entire life," John yells, and the room catches his words and rings them out in the darkness.

Mycroft doesn't say anything.

"I can't do this," John says, voice cracking. "I—I can't do this, Mycroft. I can't do this anymore."

John hangs up and drops his phone on the ground.

After a minute, he pushes himself up off his knees.

 

Time for a new email address, he thinks. Time to leave the old behind. All it'll take is one last time, one log in, delete. Simple. Nothing with—nothing recognizable. Nothing with his name. He'll start again, from scratch. No one ever emails him but—no one important ever emails him, anyway.

He opens his laptop.

Email thread. Subject: My brother From: Robert N. Watson. To: John Watson. Sent: 16:54. Message: is reading over your shoulder, isn't he? Talk to me directly. Check your post.
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John swallows. After a minute, he stands up and heads downstairs. There's a package stuffed through his letterbox, no stamp.  He tears it open: a cheap mobile, powered down. He carries it back upstairs and sets it on the counter and makes himself a cup of tea.

After he drinks it, he reaches over and turns the phone on. It doesn't blow up. He rubs at his mouth, and then flips it open.

No email, not on this model. No calls, incoming or outgoing; no texts. Stored contacts: one number, no name.

John licks his lips and dials. It goes to voicemail. It goes to voicemail. It goes to voicemail. John grinds his teeth. After the fourth call, he pauses, and then slowly, hesitantly, opens up a text message.

19:04To: +447700900814
Why give me a phone if you won't bother to answer?

The reply comes back practically before he's had time to hit send.

19:04From: +447700900814
Three guesses.

John laughs. God. How could he—how could he ever have thought that—he jabs his thumbs into the keypad.

19:05To: +447700900814
Oh, so you will reply to a text?

And then—he stills. He rubs at his mouth. And then—he makes a guess, because Sherlock—Christ—no—because, because he asked him to.

19:05To: +447700900814
Live calls are easier to trace.

A breath. A breath, only.

19:06From: +447700900814
Correct in one.

John rubs at his face. And that'd be the end of the world, he says. His throat hurts. His hands are shaking.

19:08From: +447700900814
Close enough. If Mycroft has set his dogs out after the IP in LA, call him off. It won't lead to me, and it may cost a good friend her life.

God. John doesn't even have words for how little he wants to talk about Mycroft, right now. He rubs at his cheeks. The phone buzzes again.

19:09From: +447700900814
I will give you points for this one, John: you're getting better at lying. It took me half an hour to figure out what you were doing.

John sucks in a breath, and then—and then. You've got it all figured out, then? he types, and then, after a moment of hesitation, he adds, Then you know I don't believe a word you say.

19:11From: +447700900814
You should.

Really shouldn't, John reminds himself.

Why? he asks. You won't even pick up the phone.

And that. He can't even—he doesn't even know why, but that feels like a weapon, a blade; something used against him without warning. His hands are shaking again. He can barely bring himself to keep reading. The phone buzzes, relentless.

19:13From: +447700900814
Because I've been offline for three days, but it took me less than half an hour to see through those emails. You know why I won't pick up.

Just a minute ago you said it did take you half an hour, John reminds him.

I was being generous, his correspondent tells him.

John laughs and says, Oh, of course. You've always been almost the cleverest man I know.

I'd be less flattered by that if I actually were who you think I am, comes the reply. John grinds his teeth; he's not falling for it again. Please. I need you to trust me, because I need you to stay alive.

I can't trust you, John tells him, because it's a truth that won't cost him anything.  You don't seem to be able to trust me. We have a problem, don't we?

Have you told Mycroft's men to stand down? Moriarty asks, and there, right there. John can see that one, that break. Suddenly, it's easier to know what's true.

John closes his eyes. He exhales slowly, then types in his reply.

It's almost easy, now.

19:19To: +447700900814
They wouldn't listen to me if I did.

19:20From: +447700900814
When I finish this I can come home.

John gasps. He puts the phone down on the counter and paces to the window, the door, the window. He picks up the phone and sets it down again, a noise catching in his throat. He rubs at his cheeks with shaking hands and picks up his phone again.

19:23To: +447700900814
God. You utter bastard. You come at me with his own words and then send gunmen after me and you think I'm ever going to stop until I make you bleed?

He drops the phone onto the carpet and paces back towards the door. He presses his hands into his jacket but he can't think of anywhere to go; after a moment he goes back over to the door to his room and bends down to pick up his gun off the floor. The phone buzzes against the carpet.

John forces himself to reach down and pick it up.

19:26From: +447700900814
You really don't believe me.
John stares at the screen while seconds fall to the ground around him. Finally, hands shaking, he replies: one each.

I wouldn't believe you if you showed up in my flat wearing his face, he tells Moriarty, and then, with a noise he doesn't recognize clawing out of his throat, for Sherlock, And if you did, I would never forgive you.

He can't do this. He can't do this anymore. He rubs a hand through his hair and powers down the phone and grabs his jacket, and then he goes down to the street and hails a cab.

 

"Take it," John tells him, and drops the phone on the table like it burns him.

Mycroft's brow furrows. "What—"

"It was in my post," John tells him, and stuffs his hands in his pocket. "I—it was in my post and I found it and I talked to him, so. You can have it, it's. It's yours, I can't. I don't want to—I can't do that anymore, I just can't."

"John," Mycroft tells him.

"No," John says, fast. "I'm—I'm done, Mycroft, I—sometimes I. I think about not breathing, anymore, and I. I can't, I can't do this anymore, I."

He stops. He swallows, hard, and shakes his head.

Mycroft looks up at him, his eyes bright and unreadable in his heavy face. "I meant to tell you, earlier," he says, quiet. "The IP search turned up something interesting, there's a block of flats off Ovington—"

"No," John interrupts, because— "No. I'm not going to do it. I'm not, Mycroft. I'm done." He raises his hands, takes a step back. "I'm done," he tells him. "I'm done."

Mycroft licks his lips. A moment later he nods, and reaches his hand out for the phone.

"All right, John," he says, quiet.

John nods, once, tight, and turns on his heels, and leaves.

(Mycroft, he thinks, has forgotten about the gun.)

(John hasn't.)

Chapter Text

10 : 11 July 2012-12 July 2012

♫ The Cave Singers - Dancing On Our Graves

 

The instant the line connects, it tumbles out of his mouth. "Please," Sherlock manages, shaky. "John."

On the other end of the line, there is a long, slow sigh, like air rushing out of a balloon.

"Oh, Sherlock," Mycroft says, quiet, and Sherlock feels his whole body jerk.

"What are you," he says, and then stops, and swallows, and puts his hand over his mouth.

At the other end of the line, he can hear Mycroft's breathing, steady and even and heavy, and somehow subtly and disarmingly wrong.

"How long?" Sherlock asks, after a moment.

Mycroft draws a breath, and clears his throat. "Just these last few minutes," he says, imperfect; his voice is still a little thick. "John came by just after eight."

While Sherlock grinds his teeth together, Mycroft hums, and then says, very soft, "I didn't realize, you know, how much I would miss your voice."

Sherlock stills. After a moment, he pulls his feet up onto the sofa. "Sentiment," he says, dismissive.

"Yes," Mycroft agrees.

Sherlock shrugs one shoulder, then the other, then tucks the phone up against his ear and tilts his head to the side to hold it, wrapping his arms around his knees and closing his eyes.

There's a long pause. "You should've come to me," Mycroft tells him, finally.

"You have a certain tendency to... take over," Sherlock reminds him. "I was protecting people."

"You were protecting John," Mycroft says, quiet.

"I was protecting people," Sherlock repeats, then adds, softer, "mostly John."

Mycroft's silent for a moment. Then he says, "You still should've come to me."

"I couldn't risk it," Sherlock tells him, and then exhales, and looks up at the ceiling. "But," he says, "it's too late now, isn't it?"

"Yes," Mycroft says, low. "Now you haven't any choice." He sighs. "Luckily for you, I have always been on your side."

Sherlock nods but says nothing; it's meaningless. He tells his brother, "You do a rather poor job of it, at times."

Mycroft doesn't disagree. Instead, Sherlock can hear him shifting in his chair; he's gained weight. He says, "Tell me."

Sherlock tells him.

 

After, sleep catches him and drags him down, against his will. His mind is running too fast, overflowing with worries and questions and fears, his phone quieter and stiller than he would like beneath his palm, and then Sherlock blinks back awake to Molly in the kitchen brewing coffee and a painful cramp in his neck.

He unfolds himself, clumsy from four hours sleeping sitting up, and wriggles his toes as his blood rolls reluctantly back into his feet. He pads over to lean on the kitchen counter, and Molly glances up at him, then glances up at him again.

"What is it?" she asks.

"My brother," he says, quiet.

"Oh," she says, and shifts her weight. "But he's—"

"An officious bastard," Sherlock tells her.

"But he cares," she says. "Maybe you should—"

"Molly," he says, quiet.

She falls silent.

After a minute, he exhales, then leans down and pushes his mouth against hers. He doesn't close his eyes; neither does she.

She remains perfectly still until he pulls back. "What was," she says, quiet.

He reaches over to the cupboard and gets down another coffee mug, her sugar. He doesn't look at her.

"An apology," he says, finally. It's less awkward than the truth.

She puts her hand on his forearm. "Sherlock," she says, very low, and somehow, he manages it, manages to draw his eyes back to her face. He hates what he sees, but he knows that this is one of those times when he isn't supposed to look away.

She watches him until he can't stand it anymore. She exhales, and that horrible sympathy slides back behind her features, and he can breathe again. He looks down at his coffee.

"All right," she tells him. "I'll tell you what, if you want to apologize, you can do my shopping for me."

He swallows and nods.

"List's on the fridge," she tells him, and finishes the last of her coffee, and puts her mug in the sink.

 

08:04To: +447700900357
Anything?

08:07From: +447700900357
Cameras caught him a few times last night, but there are too many gaps and we've nothing today. Flat's been watched since eight; nothing. You're certain there's nowhere else he would go?

08:08To: +447700900357
Of course I'm not certain.

08:08To: +447700900357
Ask Harry.

08:09From: +447700900357
Did. Not returning my calls.

 

Google search: 'moran'
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Sherlock makes it until half nine. He knows better than to think John will answer a call from his number, so he tries a public phone; when he hangs up he tells himself that John's probably just not answering calls from any number he doesn't recognize, because the alternatives make Sherlock's skin crawl. He heads back up to Molly's flat; he has things to do, but he can't focus on his screen. He rubs at his face and pulls out his phone again; he texts Ian, Georgiana, Daniel, and Carol; they're the best at spreading requests quickly, and all four of them have met John face-to-face.

How much? Georgiana asks him.

You tell me, Sherlock tells her, and means it.

 

Google search: 'moran london uk' - page 5
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Google search: 'moran london uk -hotel'
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Google search: 'moran hummingbird'
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Sherlock picks up his cleaning and checks all the usual drops (nothing) and a few of the less usual drops (nothing) and a few more that he hasn't used in years (nothing). He heads back to Molly's flat and peels off the sweatshirt and rips the plastic from around his coat; it's not really cool enough for it, but its pockets are big enough for the gun, and besides, he feels more like himself when he's wearing it. He spends another fruitless hour online before he finds himself texting Mycroft again.

11:42To: +447700900357
Anything?

11:43From: +447700900357
I would tell you if there were.

Sherlock presses his palm over his eyes and tries to breathe, but it's heavy and awkward in his throat.

After a while, he stills, and then stands, and slides on the coat, and pockets his phone.

 

The graveyard is empty; it's afternoon on a weekday, and the sky is clouded over, oppressive and grey. Sherlock stuffs his hands in his pockets; there are footprints around his grave, a limp bunch of asters beside the marker; and when he crouches down, he can see where John's been sitting in the dirt, with his back against the stone. He folds his legs up and sits facing the marker and closes his eyes. If he had been earlier, their knees would be touching.

His phone buzzes against his hip. He pulls it out without getting up.

14:33From: +447700900862
I see you.

It's a warning; Ian's always been jumpy. Sherlock knows better than to look around.

14:34To: +447700900862
He was here earlier, wasn't he?
14:35From: +447700900862
The old man says yes. I didn't see him.
14:35To: +447700900862
When?
14:37From: +447700900862
During the night. I came down to watch after you asked us to. I thought he might come back.

Sherlock nods. He keeps his eyes trained on the marker; he saw a hint of blue (coat), white (hair), far up on the hill to his left. He doesn't look towards it. His phone buzzes again.

14:39From: +447700900862
Asters mean patience.

Sherlock rubs at his mouth. I doubt that he knows that, he types, then hesitates with his thumb hovering over "Send". After a minute, he presses the "Delete" key and holds it down instead; it's unnecessary.

 

15:58To: +447700900357
Nothing?
Google search: 'moran hummingbird' - page 14
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Google search: 'hummingbird london uk'
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16:04From: +447700900357
Nothing.

 

Sherlock can't find anything. It's driving him mad.

16:31To: +447700900357
You have *nothing* on Moran? Your dogs don't have any kind of leads?
16:34From: +447700900357
It hasn't exactly been our top priority today. Would you like it to be?

Sherlock drops his face down to his knees and groans out loud.

16:36To: +447700900357
No. Go to hell. Keep looking.

 

Sherlock makes it another hour before he can't stand it anymore. He has to get out of the flat. He shoves his laptop back on Molly's coffee table and stands, joints cracking as he straightens, and then grabs at his shoes. He forgets her list until he's halfway to Tesco's and has to turn around and go back; on his way out again, he pauses at the telephone box on the corner, then ducks in, feeling both foolish and guilty, and dials.

No answer.

 

He's halfway through Molly's shopping when he realizes how unforgivably stupid he's being. He stops up short next to the milk and pulls out his phone in one movement; an elderly woman runs into his back with her trolley.

"Oh, sorry, love," she says, laughing, and he waves her away without looking up.

18:28To: +447700900107, +447700900610
Have you heard from John today?

Stupid. Unforgivably stupid.

18:30From: +447700900107
Had drinks with him last night. What did you do?
18:31To: +447700900107
I made a mistake. Can you get ahold of him?
18:34From: +447700900610
No, why?
18:35From: +447700900107
Left a voicemail. Where are you?
18:36To: +447700900107
Heading back to Molly's. Why? You'll tell me if he calls you back.
18:37To: +447700900610
Would you try him, please?
18:38From: +447700900107
Yes. Be careful.
18:39From: +447700900610
He's not answering. Should I be worried?
18:39To: +447700900610
I am.
18:40To: +447700900107
I always am.

 

He's rounding the corner onto Ovington Street when he spots Stamford, waiting to cross. His mouth is set, grim as he meets Sherlock's eyes. Sherlock pauses, shifting the handles of the shopping bags to keep them from cutting into his hands, and waits for Stamford to come over.

"Mike," Sherlock says.

"Sherlock," Stamford replies, and pushes his glasses up on his nose. He looks awkward, nervous. "So."

"Has he returned your call?" Sherlock asks, quiet.

"Can we talk inside?" Stamford asks. "It's—I'm fairly certain I'm being followed."

Sherlock shrugs; he's absolutely certain Stamford is being followed. Mycroft's not a fool.

"Fine," Sherlock says, shifting to hold out one of the bags. "But if you're coming up, you can help me with the shopping."

Chapter Text

11 : 11 July 2012-12 July 2012

♫ Wolf Parade - Fine Young Cannibals

 

John ends up taking a long walk with no fixed destination; he finds himself in Mike's neighborhood without really meaning to go there and texts him to see if he's busy. Lager, football, thinking about nothing: it all sounds fine, right now, if somehow impossibly distant. Mike texts him to say he'll meet him in ten, and John gets two lagers and slides down into a dark table in a corner in the back with his back against the wall and puts his hand back in his pocket on his gun. Mycroft calls him twice while he's waiting, so John turns off his phone.

Mike slides in across from him in just under eight minutes. "Cheers," he says, reaching for his lager, but his smile slips at whatever he sees on John's face, and then he says, "Tell me," very steady.

John shakes his head.

"Sherlock," Mike says, in a tone John can't read, with his mouth turned down; John looks away and then nods.

"Jesus," Mike sighs, and repeats, "Tell me."

"S'fucking with my head," John says. His voice sounds foreign to him, oddly raw. "This—everything has been. Fucking with my head. I—I needed to get out of there."

"What happened?" Mike asks.

"I can't—I actually can't tell you," John says, tight, "It's—Sherlock's brother, he's in the government, he—" He stops, then laughs. "It's just—the whole thing is insane, Mike, it's—I—I think I'm losing my mind."

He wraps his shaking left hand around his glass. His right is still wrapped around the gun, tucked into his pocket and hidden by the table. Mike is quiet, watching him.

"I just needed to get out of there," John tells him. Mike nods slowly. After a while, John drains his glass; Mike gets him another without asking.

 

When they're leaving, Mike says, "Come back to my flat, you can sleep on the sofa, Norah won't mind," but John still feels keyed up and jumpy and there's no way he's bringing guns any closer to Mike's kids, whether he's the one carrying them or not.

"No, no, I'm fine," John tells him, and widens his eyes and smiles in a way that he can feel doesn't look right.

Mike puts his hand on John's forearm. "John," he says, low. "You're forgetting, I remember the crash."

John stills. Over Mike's shoulder, the streetlights spread out to the edge of John's vision, a pointillist smear of amber and gold.

"I don't remember the crash," John tells him. It's not a lie. He remembers before the crash and after the crash, the rain on the windshield and the steering wheel jerking under his palms, the sudden feeling of mingled panic and elation, like freefall, as the tires lost their connection with the road; he remembers blood on his face and his hands and Mike's hands and his hands and Mike's hands, Harry screaming and screaming and screaming.

"I mean, I remember what you were like after," Mike tells him.

John doesn't say anything.

"Are you okay?" Mike asks, quiet.

John rubs at his face. After a minute, he says, "I will be."

Mike is studying him, his mouth still turned down at the corners. "If you need it to stop," he says, after a moment, "come to me first."

John sucks down a breath.

"You aren't alone, you know," Mike tells him. "I think. I think that can be hard to remember, when—but you aren't alone, you aren't anything like alone, you have—you have Harry, and—and Molly, you know, or—well, maybe you don't know, but you do, you have Molly, and you know you have Harry and you know you have me. You aren't alone. If it—if it is unbearable and you need it to stop, come to me, first."

John swallows.

After a minute, he says, "It is unbearable," and ducks his head.

Mike squeezes his arm.

"Come back to my flat," he repeats, finally, very quiet. "Norah won't mind."

John rubs at his face and says, "I had to kill someone last night."

Mike doesn't say anything.

"You have two kids," John says, quiet. "I—I'm not a safe person to know, anymore."

"Okay," Mike says, soft. "Your flat, then. I'll come with you."

"He was a sniper," John tells him. "You might get in the way. You have two kids."

"We'll draw the curtains," Mike says, and puts his hand on John's elbow, and draws him along. "If they can't see, they can't shoot, right?"

John exhales, and inhales, and exhales again.

"If you think I'm going to let you go home alone tonight, you're mad," Mike tells him.

John laughs, a little. After a minute, he nods. Then he says, very quiet, "D'you mind making a stop, first?"

 

John appropriates a bunch of flowers off another grave; it's probably sacrilegious and it's definitely impolite but he doesn't quite care. He didn't think to stop. He's not totally sure where to buy flowers at half one in the morning, anyway. He can see Mike out of the corner of his eye, waiting up at the top of the hill, leaning against the cab, watching him; John feels an odd mixture of resentment and gratitude, lodged deep in his throat. It's awkward, though, to be able to see him, so after a while John turns around, drops down to sit cross-legged on the ground, and leans his back against the marker. He closes his eyes.

It's strange, because before this, John was always strangely bored by the routine of burial and mourning. At sixteen, he'd felt no connection to the body or the box or the grave; that wasn't his mother. His mother had a poorly-controlled temper and a boundlessly generous heart and was rarely still. She had been the kind of mother who had slapped him when he misbehaved and crushed him in her embrace when he came home with good marks and had sobbed out loud, thick and uncomfortable, while she made him and Harry their breakfasts in the still and waiting silence of every morning after, and he found he missed her—loved her—neither more nor less in the presence of her corpse. His father—well. His father had been a stranger to him for years, before he'd died; and in Afghanistan, bodies had felt, more than anything, like exams that John had failed.

But tonight, on this night, John leans back against the marker on Sherlock's grave and thinks of Sherlock's body underneath his body underneath the ground, and he feels it tug him down, like an anchor, like Sherlock's shoulder just touching his while they caught their breath or Sherlock reaching over to steal John's second piece of toast even though it had jam or Sherlock's toes resting on top of his bare feet in the living room at Baker Street while they drank brandy by firelight and were happy. For the first time in weeks, John lets himself settle into the extent of his body, perfectly at home inside his own bones, folded up, over Sherlock's bones, laid flat, under the earth beneath him.

John exhales, slow.

"Hi," he says, and turns his head a little. The stone radiates cold against his cheek. "You're such a bastard," John tells him, and closes his eyes.

 

Mike is still waiting outside the cab when John comes up the hill, even though it's been long enough that John is shivering inside his jacket and Mike's not got anything on over his shirt.

"All right?" Mike asks, quiet.

"Better," John tells him truthfully. "I—thank you."

"Of course," Mike says, and holds open the door.

It's half three by the time the cab reaches John's flat. Upstairs, Mike checks John's windows, John's curtains, the lock on John's door, and then John checks them all again while Mike's making them tea. "You have anything to help you sleep?" Mike asks, and when John nods and shows him, Mike gives him two pills and then takes the rest and puts them away in his pocket. It's embarrassing, but John doesn't really blame him. It's lucky Mike hasn't spotted the gun; John has some really very practical reasons why he doesn't want to be left without it.

John ends up sleeping hard and deep, however briefly, sprawled out across his bed on his stomach like a kid as he dreams of Sherlock's voice shaping words in foreign tongues, low and soothing. When he wakes up the sun is bright around the edges of the curtains and his back hurts and he can smell coffee, toast, and Mike cooking up the last of John's eggs.

"I think it's getting better," John tells Mike, scooping another spoonful of sugar into his coffee; this morning, he feels like a change.

"I think it goes back and forth," Mike says, around a mouthful of eggs, and John shifts a little, then nods.

"When my mum died," Mike tells him, while John's finishing the washing up, "Norah was pregnant, you know?"

John looks at him, then nods, even though no, he didn't know. Katie's eight, Bess is six; John was overseas.

"I used to bring her the ultrasound photos," Mike admits, quiet. "Foolish, you know, but I thought she might like them. And then after, some weeks—some weeks I was so happy that, you know, that—that Katie—well, I mean, Katie's named after my mum, it's where she gets the—the hair, you know, and I—that first year I always was so angry she never met her, and sometimes it was all right and sometimes it was awful, but I haven't forgotten anything and I am glad."

Mike's shoulders are hunched a little, and his cheeks are flushed; he's looking down into his coffee, embarrassed.

John takes another bite of toast. After a minute he says, "I did wonder."

Mike looks up.

"How you and Norah came up with a ginger, you know," John says, and after a moment Mike's eyes crinkle up at the corners, slow, like he has a secret. John refills his coffee, then raises his mug in a lazy salute.

 

Mike leaves just before eight, and John showers and then shaves and then sits down in his chair and is silent and still. His phone is quiet in his pocket; he doesn't want to turn it back on, yet, so he doesn't. He eats beans and toast for lunch because it's all he has in; he thinks vaguely about going to Tesco's, but he feels lighter today than he ought to, oddly hollowed out, like he's spent everything he had, and he knows that no one has ever died from malnutrition from a day or two of living on beans, toast, and milky tea. He ends up falling asleep and napping through the bulk of the afternoon, and this time he dreams of nothing; it makes him feel lonely, chest aching when he wakes. With the early evening light going grey-blue outside his closed curtains, he sits at his desk with his laptop closed and rests the palm of his hand against the wood, just over the drawer, like he can feel his way to the photograph at the bottom, touch Sherlock's white ribs spread out and life-sized beneath his spread hands. It doesn't hurt in quite the same way, today; he isn't entirely sure why. There are still things his mind slips off of, harsh and achy, like the idea of Moriarty cackling over John's belated love notes and Mycroft's machineries of overcomplicated revenge and John's own aching and twisted confusion, but then he thinks of his bones folded up over Sherlock's bones laid flat in the graveyard in the night, and something fluttering and desperate inside him goes quiet and still.

You aren't alone, Mike had told him, and he's right; John isn't alone. He still has Sherlock, albeit in scattered and ghostly pieces, woven up with the tattered remains of the rest of John's life, and he does have Mike and Harry, and Greg and Mrs. Hudson, too; he supposes, even, that he does have Molly, though he's always really thought of her as being more Sherlock's than his own. He hasn't even talked to her since Sherlock died. He remembers, suddenly, that she called, that she had left him a message he never returned and then actually bothered to call again to talk to Harry: a Dr. Hooper, asked after you, asked about your concussion; he exhales, surprised, and oddly touched. When Sherlock was living, Molly's farce of a crush had often made John uncomfortable; part of him had always wanted to take her aside and tell her, he isn't ever going to understand, you have to let it go, but it wasn't his place and besides, if it had been him, true or not, he wouldn't have wanted to hear it. He remembers the night last November when he had dragged Sherlock down to her flat, very much against Sherlock's will, for a party she had somehow ended up hosting for Anderson's birthday; her flat had been hot and cramped and she'd seemed both uncomfortable and pleased to have so many people about, and it had occurred to John, that night, watching her flit about getting drinks and refilling the crisps, that they were oddly alike: doctors who had ended up spending these years of their lives on the dead, building not recovery but instead the law's careful and neutered revenge. That night, Sherlock had got a little tipsier than he usually let himself and Donovan had locked him in the loo; John remembers Molly refilling his wine while they both giggled as Donovan, wearing a yellow jumper and jeans that made her legs look nine miles long, casually slipped the back of a chair under the handle from the outside and Greg and Anderson bent double with laughter and Sherlock rattled the door and yelled at her, his voice rising in both pitch and volume until the neighbors came by to complain.

It was a good night; John remembers that, too. When John and Sherlock had woven their way down the stairs to the ground floor, after, Sherlock had been grumbling about the buttons on his coat, which he insisted, implausibly, someone had detached and repositioned while it had been lying with all the other wraps across Molly's double bed. Halfway down the street, John had finally got tired of Sherlock whinging on about it and had stopped him with two hands to his chest, and then Sherlock had fallen silent and watched him, breathing evenly under John's hands while John did up his buttons for him, fingers clumsy with wine and the cold, right there under a lamp in Ovington Street as the last two disengaged cabs in London passed them by.

John can feel himself go very, very still.

There's a block of flats off Ovington, Mycroft is saying, in the back of John's mind, because Mycroft traced the IP, because Moriarty's been emailing John but not always from L.A. or Tokyo but sometimes—of course—from London, because Moriarty is like Sherlock and Sherlock had never been able to stay away for long, either, so of course he'd wind up back in London, no matter how dangerous, still tugging at John's puppet strings because Moriarty has always had more than enough pride to engineer his own fall; of course Moriarty would set himself up for it and of course Mycroft would trace the IP. Of course. After all, that'd been Mycroft's plan all along, and John knew it: to give this to Moriarty, John's useless words and John's broken heart—delicious! irresistible!—and then, at the end of the world, just John, just John and a bullet; no hesitation, no doubt. John should know better, at this point, than to bet against a Holmes.

John's thoughts are sliding into focus again, hot and sharp, because Molly had told them I ended it and John had believed her and Sherlock had dismissed her, but if he thinks about it John can remember every time Sherlock cut her or ignored her or criticized her or humiliated her, a score of tiny stings that together all add up to something no ordinary person would really be able to forgive, and God, they had been fools, unforgivable fools, all of them, to ever think for a second that Molly Hooper didn't count.

John breathes: in, out, in. Then he gets up and puts on his shoes, and slides on his coat, and pockets his gun.

He has his hand on the knob of the front door before he realizes that he probably isn't on Mycroft's team any longer. Better not, he tells himself. Better not risk it. He needs to keep the gun. He lets go of the doorknob and turns, heads up the stairs instead, and when he opens the door to the roof and steps out into the London twilight he thinks of Sherlock, and begins to run.

 

Sherlock taught John to pick a lock, so John picks the lock; it isn't even hard. He wonders how Molly sleeps at night, if she worries about break-ins; he wonders if she even knows. For his part, if he were Molly's criminal mastermind boyfriend, he'd have changed her locks, but he isn't, he's just John Watson, so, well, what does he know. John can hear the shower running. He locks the door behind him and leans up against it and waits with his hands in the pockets of his jacket. When she shuffles out with damp hair, in a green t-shirt and a pair of jogging bottoms, it takes her a minute to spot him, and then she jumps.

"Oh!" she gasps, and then folds her arms over her chest, flushing. She's not wearing a bra. "Oh, God, John, you startled me."

"Where is he?" John asks, quiet.

"Oh," she says, and then exhales, and rubs at her forehead. She laughs a little, and looks up at him, rueful. "How long have you known?"

"Just figured it out tonight," he says, stepping forward, and pulls out his gun. He aims at her face; he's found that that particular gesture is really difficult to misinterpret.

Molly stares at him. Her expression is oddly blank, like she doesn't understand.

"I asked you where he was," he says, stepping towards her. "I don't particularly want to shoot you, but I will if I have to. So. Moriarty, Molly. Tell me where he's gone."

Molly inhales, sharp, and John watches understanding sink into the cells of her body in a single quick rush. She raises her hands and takes a step back, saying, "John, I'm not working with Moriarty, Moriarty is dead, it's—"

"Jim," John interrupts, and steps right up to her, so the gun brushes against her cheek. She gasps and flinches, and takes another step back. John follows, saying, "I imagine he prefers it if you call him Jim. And I know he isn't dead, because he was texting me last night."

"Oh, God," she whispers, "Sherlock—"

"Don't," he says, and presses against her head with the barrel of his gun. She takes a tiny step back but she's up against the wall; she has nowhere left to go. "Don't say his name," John tells her, very calm. "Just don't. Tell me where Moriarty is, and I'll let you go, and if you do it quickly, I won't tell Sherlock's brother who you are, and what you've done."

"No," she gasps, "No, John, you don't understand, Sherlock—"

"Shut up!" he yells, feeling something snap somewhere deep inside him. He pushes the gun into her forehead; she whimpers and flinches. "The only thing I want to hear out of your mouth is where he is. That's it. Don't—don't say his name, don't you dare. Just. Tell me where Moriarty is and I'll let you go."

"John," she gasps, "please—"

"Do you know where he is?" he yells, hard, and when she doesn't answer right away, he slams his left hand down on the wall by her ear; she flinches. "Do you think I'm not serious, Molly?" he asks. "I've already killed one person this week and I didn't even know him; I really am not going to have a problem killing you. Tell me: do you know where Moriarty is?"

"Yes," she gasps.

"Where?" he asks.

"Dead," she whispers, and John yells without words and shoves the gun into her forehead hard enough he knows that it's going to leave a mark. She cries out and blinks and tears spill over onto her cheeks. Her whole face is going red. "I swear," she whispers, "John, I swear—"

"You know, I should've killed you," he tells her, low. "I should've killed you weeks ago, I should've known, I should've known it was you, your—your petty fucking revenge—"

"John, please," she begs. Her whole body is shaking. "You have to listen to me, you—"

"Shut up!" he yells, and cocks the gun. She makes a small noise, high and frightened, like a cornered rat. "Just, shut up," he tells her. "Right now. If you say another word, I will kill you."

She blinks at him, shoulders trembling, eyes wide with fear and misery. Good. She doesn't say another word, but John can almost hear them anyway.

"Maybe I should kill you anyway," he tells her, low, and then he hears it behind him, the scrape of a key, the click of the door coming open.

No hesitation, no doubt; not anymore. He turns in an instant and fires.

Chapter Text

12 : 12 July 2012-13 July 2012

♫ honeyhoney - Angel of Death

 

"I told you I got drinks with John last night, didn't I?" Stamford asks, huffing up the stairs at Sherlock's heels.

"Yes," Sherlock tells him, stopping him at the first landing. "You mentioned it. You're in terrible shape, you know." Sherlock takes back the groceries and hands him Molly's key instead, then starts up the next flight. He can feel Stamford glaring at his back, but Sherlock never—well, rarely, anyway—apologizes for telling the truth, so he says nothing.

"He's in a pretty bad way," Stamford tells him. "You can't keep stringing him along like this; it's far too hard on him. He needs to know that you're alive, and if you aren't going to tell him, I'm intervening as his doctor and doing it for you."

"You're not his doctor," Sherlock observes.

"I'm close enough," Stamford tells him.

"Well," Sherlock says, "as a matter of fact, Mycroft and I have been trying to get ahold of him all day to do just that, but he's not answering his phone, as you know."

Stamford's mouth turns down. "Have you called the police?" he asks. "I mean—he seemed better this morning, but yesterday, he—well. I took away his sleeping tablets." Stamford is flushed; he looks uncomfortable. It isn't clear whether it's the conversation or the stairs.

"My brother is better than the police," Sherlock tells him. "He hasn't found him yet, but he will, even if." He swallows, then shrugs awkwardly, the shopping bags tangling around his fingers. "I can't believe John would hurt himself," he says, finally, even though he can; Sherlock can believe most things, even if he doesn't want to.

"Did you go by his flat?" Stamford asks.

"Mycroft's watching it," Sherlock says. "John hasn't been home."

"Oh," Stamford says, brow furrowing as he steps forward, but Sherlock nods at Molly's door, saying, "Just on the right, here," so Stamford says, "Oh, yeah, right," and opens the door.

Sherlock hears the shot and forgets himself. He slams back against the wall opposite, and later he will be aware of a long instant where everything went black. His pockets might as well be empty. Then he blinks the world back into focus—no pain, just—nothing, nothing but his empty hands and the oranges rolling about his feet and Stamford grabbing for the doorframe, clumsy, as his bulk slides awkwardly towards the floor. Sherlock's gaze flicks past him to see Molly, hand to her mouth, and just in front of her and to her left, John: face white, gun still held out, arms straight and steady, his wide eyes locking with Sherlock's for an instant of absolute and boundless horror before Molly shoves past his body in a blur of pale skin and damp hair, to drop to her knees by Stamford's side.

"Mike," she's saying, "Mike," and Stamford is saying something too faint to hear, and Sherlock knows what John's going to do before John knows himself. Sherlock moves, fast; steps over Stamford and Molly (irrelevant) and grabs John's right wrist. John isn't fighting him, not yet; Sherlock hurries, because he doubts he'll be able to manage what needs to be done once John does. He takes the gun out of John's hand and flips on the safety, then tucks it into the left pocket of his coat and pulls John's gun—John's proper gun—out of the right. Hurry. Sherlock wraps John's right hand tight around the handle of John's own gun and directs John's arm, his fingers wrapped over John's fingers as he makes John aim at the wall by the window. Sherlock fires, and feels John go tense against him.

"Mike," John whispers. His whole body is twisted, looking back over Sherlock's shoulder.

The instant Sherlock lets go of his hand, John flicks on the safety without even looking down, purely automatic, and Sherlock watches John with his heart twisting in his throat, watches him tuck the gun back into his pocket without thinking and stumble over to Molly and Stamford.

"Your phone, Molly," John is saying, pushing her aside, "emergency services, now," but she's already leaning back and dialing, her green shirt damp, near black, along a broad swath of her belly and chest.

Sherlock backs up until his back presses against the edge of the window. He hears their voices: three, then two. He watches Molly kneeling up and putting her slight weight into chest compressions while John presses her awful purple and magenta—no, not really, not anymore—blanket over the wound and says things Sherlock can't understand into Molly's phone in a low and urgent voice; until Molly shakes her head, face white and set, arms shaking with exhaustion, and then puts her right hand beside John's right hand over the blanket and reaches for the phone with her left as John struggles back into her place and locks his hands together over Mike's breastbone, one, two, three, four, until his face is white and set and he says, "Trade," low and tight, and reaches for her phone again. The instant Sherlock hears the sirens he opens the window and climbs out, reaches up for any slight handhold he can get to drag himself up and up, to the roof. He jumps over once, twice, and crouches low, and is safe.

Up high and hidden, Sherlock watches the ambulance come, the police. He sees the medics dash in and out, the police oddly suspended until the ambulance pulls away again, siren wailing. Then Hopkins follows one of his underlings up into the building, and a moment later Sherlock sees him come back out with John beside him: not handcuffed, but still very clearly under escort. John's face is still vague with shock, his sleeves and his front stained dark. Hopkins puts John in the car to wait. Sherlock watches Molly come out with Lukas beside her, his hand hovering behind her back, with her coat wrapped over her pajamas and a lumpy oversized tote bag slung over her shoulder, her work shoes sticking out at the top. Lukas walks with Molly to the end of the street to hail a cab, and Sherlock watches as it pulls away: it turns left, which means Becky, who was Molly's roommate at uni, who is strong-willed and loud-voiced and a little vulgar, but also full of stolid common sense. It's a good decision. Sherlock flexes his toes in his shoes.

He rests his chin on his knees and watches. He watches the car carrying John pull away, watches the scene contract and wind down and roll up, shrinking down to the size of a burglary gone wrong, a tragedy dismissed, and then he pulls out his phone.

23:46To: +447700900357
John needs you to get him off a gun charge.

23:48From: +447700900357
Anyone dead?

23:49To: +447700900357
Not sure. Not yet. Not on his gun.

 

John's new flat is easy to break into; Sherlock finds this worrying. He keeps the lights off. He doesn't know who's watching. Once his eyes have adjusted, he drapes his coat over the larger of the two chairs in the living room and makes himself tea; he drinks it standing up in the kitchen and waits. It's two before he hears John's tread on the stairs; Sherlock has been turning the kettle on and off every ten minutes, to keep it hot.

John flicks on the light by the door. His eyes come up to Sherlock's face, and he exhales, short and sharp, and flicks the light back off. He drops his jacket on the floor and toes off his shoes and pads past the kitchen and into his bedroom.

Sherlock makes him a cup of tea; milk, no sugar. He brings it into John's bedroom. John is lying on his side, still fully dressed in his jeans and his socks and his ruined shirt, his back to the door.

"Have you eaten?" Sherlock asks, quiet.

John inhales, then exhales, then shakes his head. Sherlock licks his lips, takes one step in, two, and very carefully sets the tea on the bedside table.

"Milk," he says, quiet. "No sugar."

"Shut up," John tells him.

Sherlock folds his arms across his chest.

"Mike's in intensive care," John tells him, after a minute. "His heart stopped twice. He lost a lot of blood. He may not make it, so too bad I didn't hit the burglar."

The last eight words come out crisp and odd, carrying the quality of a quotation repeated without understanding.

"John," Sherlock says.

"Shut up," John repeats, louder.

Sherlock's arms tighten over his ribs. After a minute he takes another step, so his knees touch the edge of the bed.

He counts his breaths. It takes him another six minutes to reach down and put his hand on John's shoulder.

John makes a noise, low and terrible, and twists to press his face into the pillow.

"John," Sherlock whispers, and his knees follow him forward, up, as he whispers, "John, John, please—" and John twists around beside him and knocks gravity over to the side, and Sherlock finds himself flat on his back on the mattress with John's knees pressing down on his thighs and John's palms pressing into his shoulders.

Sherlock swallows.

John keeps taking breaths like he wants to say something, but he doesn't. He just holds Sherlock down. In the faint light from the street lamps, John is black and grey and golden; his eyes dark; his face shadowed, unreadable.

Sherlock stares up at him. He looks inside himself and finds, ashamed, that he has run out of words.

"Christ," John says at last. His voice is very soft. After a moment, his right hand slides over Sherlock's collarbone, slow. His fingertips brush up the outside of Sherlock's ear, through his fringe, then over his eyes and his nose and his cheeks and his mouth and down again to curl and then flatten against Sherlock's throat, John's fingers spread out over his adam's apple and John's thumb resting just against the throb of his pulse.

Sherlock closes his eyes. He can feel his heartbeat echoing back to him against the broad, smooth warmth of John's hand. He can feel the ground opening up beneath him, again, again, after everything he has done, despite everything that he knows. He almost, but not quite, cares.

When he lifts his hand, it shakes. He reaches up without looking, until his knuckles hit warmth, and when he turns his hand, palm up, John sucks in a breath, ribs jerking under the stiff fabric, pressed flat under Sherlock's hand.

"What," John says, and Sherlock slides his hand until his thumb catches in the gap between the buttons on John's shirt, and John falls silent. Sherlock swallows. He twists his hand, and opens his eyes and looks up at John even though he can't properly see him in the dark.

There are seven buttons on John's shirt; the top one is already undone.

"You," John whispers, as Sherlock's fingers hit the button just over his jugular notch.

Sherlock presses his thumb and forefinger together with a twist, plastic through fabric then free, and then he swallows, just on the edge of a little too far, burning up. He slides himself up onto one elbow, and John's hand slips down off his throat to rest against his chest, no resistance; and then Sherlock turns a fraction of an inch, heart pounding, and presses his mouth to John's cheek.

John gasps.

Sherlock's face feels hot. He finds that he has become very, very still; he doesn't really think he can find it in himself to do anything more. Then John shifts, just above him, and then the terrible weight on Sherlock's left thigh eases, and John's knee slides against his on the duvet, and then John twists, just slightly, and their mouths slide together. Sherlock can't catch the sound in his throat before it has climbed out of his mouth.

John's mouth moves against his, whispering, "I thought—" and Sherlock can't bear it any longer. His left hand jerks up to grab at John's hair, which is longer than John usually lets it get (twenty-nine days, twelve hours, thirty-seven minutes since his last haircut and counting), and Sherlock finds his mouth opening against John's mouth opening against his mouth to swallow up the last of his air. John makes a noise, hot and foreign, and then his weight comes down against Sherlock's body all over and Sherlock gasps and pulls him closer closer closer, to forget that there ever was space between them and to press Sherlock back into the ground opening up beneath him and to muffle the things that Sherlock can't be allowed to say.

I will let you, Sherlock tells him without words, torn between hope and terror that John will be able to hear the rest. He hopes that John doesn't notice how Sherlock's hands are shaking when he tries to undo John's jeans or that the noises Sherlock makes are raw and strange, but everything inside him is opening up and unraveling, until there's only space inside, the tightly folded and refolded center of him spread out spread flat laid bare beneath John's hands, beneath John's mouth. Sherlock's throat feels vast and hollow; when he twists against John's body to settle them both down tangled together against John's duvet, it is with his left hand curled around the back of John's head and his right tucked into John's armpit and his own heart, weak and pale, fluttering in John's throat. John presses his body into Sherlock's body, just bare enough, and Sherlock makes a noise that he doesn't understand as John is pressing his mouth to Sherlock's throat and whispering, "Don't make me do this alone, please—"

(It's easy, Nick had told him, in the cold in the damp in the new-sprouting moss in the woods in May; but it hadn't been easy, it hadn't ever been easy, not then and not later and surely not when Sherlock stood in the doorway of Nick's room in Nick's house in July with his hands at his sides and looked straight ahead at the window and asked, Please, may I sleep in your—in your wardrobe, because Sherlock had been given a bed on the other side of the wall, through two doors, with locks. It wasn't easy, Sherlock found; it was unbearable, and that was the first lie that Nick told him.)

"—Sherlock—" and then Sherlock swallows and brushes his hand up John's thigh, up the open V of John's jeans, over the elastic of his boxers, pushed down, and wraps his fingers around John's erection.

"Oh—" John whispers, and tilts their foreheads together, the hair at the nape of Sherlock's neck caught between his knuckles; and when John reaches down and wraps his hand around Sherlock, Sherlock's throat closes up, thick and heavy.

Sherlock knows how this works, in theory. It doesn't make a difference; John destroys him anyway. Sherlock comes first. It makes him want to cry, but he doesn't. He just keeps moving his hand awkwardly and rubbing his nose against John's and panting to try and force himself to get enough oxygen while the bruise-bright squiggles of light are fading from the edges of his vision, and when John shakes and jerks against him, spilling hot and sticky over his hand, Sherlock presses kiss after kiss after kiss along the squarish line of John's jaw, until John makes a low, raw noise, and begins to sob.

 

Sherlock wakes up curled on his side, still half-dressed, hair tangled, alone. John has spread the duvet over him; Sherlock blinks and tugs it tight around his shoulders and shuffles into the kitchen. John is wearing shoes and making coffee, and his collar is buttoned all the way up to the very very top.

Sherlock straightens slowly. He knows the anatomy of this moment quite well, he thinks. Intimately, perhaps.

"Um," he says, feeling fifteen again and so, so foolish, and then he clears his throat. "Good morning."

John doesn't look up at him. Instead he says, very quiet, "I don't want to talk to you ever again," and pours himself a cup of coffee.

Chapter Text

13 : 12 July 2012-13 July 2012

♫ Florence + The Machine - Blinding

 

The first time John had performed CPR, he'd been fourteen, and he hadn't actually known how. One of Harry's friends, a long-legged brunette with wide, honey-colored eyes who had always called John "love" in a slow, drawling tone that made him simultaneously furious and hopelessly turned on, had taken too much of something or too many sorts of somethings at one of Harry's "girls only, I promise, Mum" parties while their parents were on holiday. John had been upstairs in his room with the door shut, trying to block out the shrieks of laughter, the muddy sonic mush from their parents' aging record player, without much success; Harry had burst in, eyes dilated, reeking of whiskey, to grab his elbow and drag him downstairs because the girl in question was crumpled up oddly beside the sofa, still, not breathing.

"You're going to be a doctor!" Harry had screamed, and John had screamed right back, "You babysit! You've been certified four times!" and Harry had begun to cry. John's pulse had been pounding in his ears, and no one else was doing anything useful so he'd got down on his knees and yelled, "All right! Shut up! Just—someone call an ambulance—Harry, stop crying and tell me what I'm supposed to do!"

Harry could flip it off, fast, instructions memorized in the class but apparently never fully processed; it was just enough. John had always thought it would be weird, like kissing, maybe; but it turned out that the breaths tended to fade into the background and mostly what it was was exhausting. By the time the ambulance came his arms felt weak and limp and he was shaking all over, and when the paramedic looked at him with something like respect and said, "Good work," John had just stared up at him as the terror he'd pushed back came tumbling down all over him, then said, "I think I'm going to be sick," and then promptly demonstrated the accuracy of this prediction all over his parents' living room carpet. Now, some twenty-five years later, he can't even remember the girl's name, but he remembers how it felt to have her breastbone moving in a way that it couldn't—it shouldn't—under his sweating palms; how the next morning, his shoulders ached as though he'd been lifting weights.

The siren is still echoing in his ears. There's blood all over him.

"Burglar," Molly is saying, eyes narrowed at Detective Inspector Hopkins like he's the enemy. "He—we were just getting back in and we interrupted him. He shot at us—he hit Mike—and then he went out the window."

Hopkins glances down at her t-shirt, her jogging bottoms, her bare feet, then back up to the mark on her forehead: red and circular, just starting to bruise. "Dinner out with your mates from work, was it?" he asks.

"Yes," Molly says, setting her chin. "I've been ill," she adds. "They were kind enough to help me with my shopping on the way back. Couldn't be bothered to get dressed properly, you know how it is. Takes it out of you for days. My shoes are just by the door." She points at a pair of grubby ballet pumps, half kicked under the sofa, along with an open laptop bag and a familiar blue scarf. Suddenly John is dizzy.

Hopkins flicks his gaze over to the shoes, then to John where he's still kneeling on Molly's carpet. He says, very calmly, "The butt of your gun is sticking out of your pocket."

John swallows.

"He shot at the burglar," Molly says, level. "He hit the wall. He probably saved my life."

Hopkins watches her. She watches him back, steady. After a moment, he says, "Dr. Hooper, on behalf of the law, I would like to express my fervent gratitude that you are on our side." She flushes a bit, but she still doesn't look away, and Hopkins takes a step over to John and holds down a hand, saying, "I'm sure, Dr. Watson, that you know that I have to take you in. You are in illegal possession of a handgun—unless, of course, this was government business, again?"

John says nothing, just takes the outstretched hand and lets Hopkins pull him to his feet.

 

"Tea?" Hopkins asks, sitting down and setting a folder on the table in front of him.

John shakes his head. He knows he probably should accept; it's been—a long time. He's doesn't know just how long, he can't see a clock, but it's been long enough that he's started to notice a tremor in his hand (low blood sugar? adrenaline? he's not certain), and the blood on his shirt has dried stiff. He hasn't opened his mouth since the police came up into Molly's flat. He's a little afraid of what he will say if he does.

Hopkins spreads his hands. "All right, suit yourself," he says, then watches John across the table with the same unreadable expression from Tuesday night.

"You don't want to give a statement," Hopkins says, confirming.

John drums his fingers on his thigh, then clears his throat and says, "No." His voice sounds oddly rough, unused.

"I don't blame you," Hopkins says. "It's a tricky one, isn't it?"

John blinks at him. Hopkins' eyes are wrinkling, just slightly, at the corners, and his gaze is miles deep. It sends a strange, prickling ache up the back of John's spine; the quality of that stare is so like Sherlock, who is not dead. John knows this because he almost shot him.

"You know," Hopkins says, leaning forward, resting his forearms on the table, "I've talked to you... five times, I think? And I've seen you at scenes, hard at work with Holmes, plenty of times. But I still don't think I really have a read on you."

John shifts in his chair.

"It's interesting, actually," Hopkins says, "because back—before, you know, most of the sergeants on the squad—Donovan and Lukas and everyone—they thought Holmes was the one to keep an eye on. I didn't know, though. If we were to have had a pool for which of the two of you was more likely to commit—for example—a brutally efficient murder, my money would've been on you, Dr. Watson."

John licks his lips. "You think I'm a murderer?"

"Not what I said," Hopkins says. "I said, of the two of you, you or Holmes, I think that for a brutally efficient murderer, my money would be on you."

"Ah," John says.

Hopkins spreads his hands. "Holmes liked flash," he says. "Analytical. Creative. That's necessary for being really brilliant at solving crimes—Lord knows I wish I could do what he did—but sometimes I think it actually might be a handicap for committing crime—really big crimes, I mean. You, though." He narrows his eyes, shakes his head, smiling a little. "You, I think, are a pragmatist. And pragmatists—well, they don't care if it looks cool. They just do what needs to be done. Whatever that might turn out to be."

John doesn't reply.

After another minute or two, Hopkins says, "You know, since you don't want to give me a statement, why don't I talk for a while?"

John frowns. His hands feel restless, moving without destination over his thighs. Finally, he says, "All right."

"Okay, great," Hopkins says, and opens the folder. "Your gun. It's very interesting—it's not the one you had when we brought you in on Tuesday."

John forces himself to remain very still.

"It's especially interesting because the one you used on Tuesday, hmm." Hopkins flips through the top few pages in the folder. "That one still had its serial number very much intact. Mr. Holmes—Mr. Mycroft Holmes, I mean—was so kind as to send us the paperwork on that weapon. Plenty of paperwork, you know the kind. Very few details. Just enough: MI6, official secrets, just enough to make us feel like you were properly accounted for, Dr. Watson."

Hopkins looks up at him. John just watches him, steady. It feels like a test. Hopkins lets himself smile, just a little, then flips over another page.

"Now this one, the gun you had tonight," he says. "Same model. I understand that firearms can be a matter of strong personal preference, of course, but. The funny thing is, the serial number on this one had been filed off—inexpertly, I might add—which doesn't seem like it would be necessary with the full force of MI6 at hand to authorize its possession, does it?"

John says nothing.

"However," Hopkins says, "if—hypothetically speaking, of course—one of our soldiers were to return from active duty with an illegal weapon, which I imagine happens more frequently than an overworked member of law enforcement like myself might want to believe, filing off the serial numbers would simply be a logical precaution, wouldn't you agree?"

John licks his lips. "I can think of several reasons why someone might file the serial number off a gun," he says. It comes out far steadier than he'd felt comfortable hoping it would.

"Oh, so can I," Hopkins says. "I'm just giving you one possible explanation, you understand. In fact—" he leans back— "I don't have any reason to think that's what happened here. It's certainly not what I told my boss."

John opens his mouth, then closes it again.

Hopkins spreads his hands. "Here's what I think," he says. His voice is almost casual. "I think that someone working for Mr. Holmes—Mr. Mycroft Holmes, I mean—might have a very good reason for carrying a gun with the serial numbers filed off. I mean, I'm not MI6, but I can believe that they often have to do things that aren't—aren't quite on the up and up."

John licks his lips.

"Imagine, for example," Hopkins says. "That—well, we've discussed the pragmatic criminal enough, I think. And all in the abstract, of course. But let's consider the, ah. The analytical, creative criminal, let's say."

"All right," John says carefully.

Hopkins shifts a little. "So, the analytical, creative criminal," he says, "where he tends to get into trouble, as I see it, is with other people, you understand me?"

John says nothing. After a moment, he nods.

"Because no matter how analytical and creative he may be, people are surprising," Hopkins says. "Not—not in retrospect, you understand. It's much easier for analytical, creative minds to see how people have acted than it is for them to see how they will act. They can imagine—anything, right? But unless they know someone very, very well, it's hard to know which option another person will actually choose. I think they tend to assume that people are either—either very clever, or very foolish, and they don't see that for most people, most decisions are actually very straightforward. They don't say, 'I will kill my lover with an untraceable poison made from four common household chemicals'; they say, 'I'll use a kitchen knife', because that's what's to hand. That crime is usually very easy to solve, even if the criminal does a good job of cleaning up after, because it's not hard to imagine that someone might kill his lover with a kitchen knife. But the way I see it, even if that kind of crime is far more common, if you ask an analytical, creative person how a person might kill his lover...well." He shuffles through the papers in the folder. "A man like Mr. Holmes, I think, would always be inclined towards saying that a criminal would use the untraceable poison, because that's how he would do it. But in point of fact, most criminals use the kitchen knife. So I imagine that it would be very easy, under certain circumstances, to derail an analytical, creative sort of a criminal, just with the unpredictability of—well, a pragmatist. Like yourself."

John doesn't say anything.

After a minute, Hopkins looks down at his hands and says, "If I were going after an analytical, creative sort of a criminal, the sort of man who could destroy a great mind with nothing but half-truths and publicity stills, I would want to be sure I had a pragmatist on my side, wouldn't you?"

John takes a minute to process this. Finally he says, "Sometimes pragmatists make mistakes," halfway against his will.

"Of course," Hopkins says. There's a soft knock on the door behind him, and he closes the folder and stands, leaning on his fists, pressed against the table. "Everybody makes mistakes, Dr. Watson," he says, quietly. "And pragmatists, like you and me? We know that that's when the decisions really start to be important."

John stares at him. Hopkins knocks his knuckles against the table and straightens, turning towards the door, slipping one hand into his pocket. He ends up leaning against the door, cracked open, talking in a voice just too low for John to hear.

John looks down at the table. His vision is oddly blurred along the edges, like something is closing in on him; he doesn't have any time to really consider what it might be.

"Dr. Watson?" Hopkins says. He's leaning against the door, holding it open. "Apparently we've just finished speaking with Mr. Mycroft Holmes. You're free to go, though I'm afraid this time we are going to have to keep your gun."

John blinks up at him. After a moment, he stands, stiff and clumsy. Hopkins turns to the man at the door—Lukas, John thinks—and says, "Would you mind making sure that Dr. Watson gets into a cab safely? It's getting rather late."

Lukas nods, and John slides his jacket on over the blood on his shirt and follows him out.

"Any word on Dr. Stamford?" John asks, in the lift.

"No, haven't heard much yet," Lukas says. "I know I really shouldn't say this, but it's too bad you didn't hit the burglar. Arseholes like that, threatening Dr. Hooper and all—" Lukas shrugs his shoulders up and shakes his head.

John nods. The fine hairs on the outsides of his ears feel strange; fizzy. "And you're friends with Dr. Hooper," he says, quiet. He feels, vaguely, like this is a piece of the puzzle that he's been missing.

Lukas flushes. He is young, John realizes, even if he can't possibly be as young as he looks. He's significantly younger than Donovan, and even she's apparently still young enough to think shagging Anderson is a good idea. John feels suddenly off-balance, stuck in a lift with a towheaded kid of twenty confessing to a crush on a forensic pathologist a decade older after what may very possibly be John's second fatal shooting in forty-eight hours. It's like the magnetic poles of the Earth have suddenly flipped without warning.

"She's kind to me," Lukas tells him, as the lift reaches the ground floor. He's bright red and he looks about nine years old.

John nods. "Listen," he asks, stopping just outside the door. "Could you do me a favor?"

 

Lukas is as good as his word. John gets three texts on the cab ride home, none of them tremendously reassuring. The good news is that Mike didn't bleed out on the way to the hospital; the bad news is that he isn't out of the woods yet. John rubs at his face. God. He—he needs to sleep, is what he needs; he feels like someone's taken sandpaper to every inch of his skin. Everything—everything else can just fucking wait until tomorrow.

Of course, then Sherlock turns out to be in his flat and in usual Sherlockian fashion, won't leave John alone. Time keeps moving ahead in these strange, clumsy jerks, like John's lost the ability to create a narrative out of the individual moments of his life. One moment Sherlock is dead and the next he is trying to make John drink milky tea and the moment after that he's stretched out under John on the bed unbuttoning John's shirt from the bottom up and John is aware that he's hard in his jeans, but it feels very far away, and mostly what John is right now is confused. He is kneeling on Sherlock's bony thighs, and even with that uncomfortable connection between their bodies, it seems so improbable, this moment, after the grave and the post-mortem photos and the emails and the texts and the sniper and everything, that John feels unmoored. Even if he could find the ability to speak, he wouldn't know what to ask, whether to start with what are you doing or how aren't you dead or why did you leave me.

Then Sherlock pushes himself up onto one elbow, and John—John has no idea what's going to happen, which is strange, because John knows sex and John knows Sherlock and he is about 98% certain that those two don't actually intersect and if they were to intersect it wouldn't look anything like this. And then Sherlock twists, just a little, and kisses him, on the cheek.

He's in love with me, John realizes.

Sherlock's face is hot against his, and he is very, very still, and the yawning void at the center of John's chest is slipping wider and wider. He moves, a little, his right knee dropping down to the mattress so he can shift his weight without hurting Sherlock, and then he turns his mouth to meet Sherlock's mouth and Sherlock makes a small, unhappy noise and the edges of the void crumble in and it swallows John up.

John knows that scraps of words are escaping him, but he can't think clearly enough to know what they ought to be. Sherlock is alive and beneath him and unhappy, and somehow, that—that is the part that is agonizing, not Mike—not Molly—not the sniper—not the texts or the emails or the post-mortem photos or the grave, but Sherlock alive under his hands making sounds like John's hurting him even though John knows he isn't, John wouldn't, John couldn't, while Sherlock clutches spasmodically at his hair and Sherlock kisses him like he's trying to crawl inside. John would—John would do anything for him. It isn't really a new realization. It hurts anyway.

John unbuttons Sherlock's shirt and his trousers, slides his arm tight around Sherlock to pull him close, all his acres of sweat and hot blood and unmarked skin, shockingly pale, and whispers to him, fragments John can't understand and he doubts Sherlock can hear. Sherlock wraps his hand—Jesus, those hands—around John's cock and John presses his forehead to Sherlock's and touches him back and doesn't say, I would do anything for you, I would do anything for you, even though he feels it pounding through him with every heartbeat, white like fire, like driving snow; obliterating. As Sherlock comes over John's fingers with a tight, choked noise, John thinks, Sherlock, and as Sherlock rubs his nose against John's and doesn't still his hand for a second, John thinks, I love you, and as every system of John's body grinds down and explodes in sequence John thinks, helpless, I would do anything for you, and as Sherlock kisses his jaw over and over and over again, clumsy and desperate, John thinks, but you won't let me, will you? and he can't, he can't hold himself in any longer, he can't, he can't, he can't, and the whole of him shakes apart into desperate, punishing sobs.

(After, John will remember that Sherlock kissed his mouth, his eyebrows, his cheekbones and nose; that Sherlock rubbed his stockinged feet up the backs of John's calves, pushing the cuff of John's jeans up with his toes, that he rubbed circles into John's back with his palms; that Sherlock stayed close while John wept and touched him and said nothing, and that the whole time Sherlock's shoulders stayed hunched up, drawn together, strangely defensive, and whenever it wasn't on John, Sherlock's mouth remained set in a thin and unhappy line.)

 

John had had a girlfriend, during his first year after uni, who had been a weeper, inclined to sob until her face turned red over everything: politics, bad news, romantic films. He has never understood how she did it. When John wakes up the next morning, he feels sick to his stomach and grotty all over like he's been on an absolutely epic bender; his head hurts, and any other morning he would raise his arm to push the pain back behind his eyeballs, but he can't, because Sherlock is sleeping on top of it, warm and heavier than he looks and snoring faintly on every inhale.

John blinks at him. Sherlock's hair is a mess—well, to be honest, Sherlock's everything is a mess, his shirt mostly off but still tangled around his left wrist, because John hadn't been able to get that cuff undone; his trousers still open and really not in a state that John, at least, would be comfortable taking to the cleaners. Sherlock is half-wearing one sock; the other lost to the blankets, and he has a purpling mark on the left side of his throat. When John reaches over to brush his fingers over it, it feels a degree warmer than the rest of Sherlock's skin. John doesn't remember doing that.

He slides his fingers up, just a little, until they rest over Sherlock's pulse, steady and slow, deep in sleep. Sherlock doesn't stir, not then, and not when John slides up to sitting on the wreck of his bed. They've been sleeping on top of his sheets and the blanket; his lightweight duvet is badly askew but still lying half over them—mostly over him, in fact; Sherlock's kicked it away. John realizes that he now knows that Sherlock runs hot in his sleep; the thought is shocking, somehow, in a way that the sex has yet to be. Carefully, gently, John works his arm free; Sherlock mumbles something incomprehensible and frowns in his sleep, then, as John watches him, tugs his shoulders together, slightly caving the top of his chest, and then goes still. John swallows and shifts, slow and cautious, until he can sit up cross-legged with the duvet draped around his shoulders and look down at Sherlock's ribs, which are wholly unfamiliar.

Whatever Sherlock has to say on the matter, John in fact has a fairly efficient visual memory, but eventually he gets up and fetches the photograph, anyway. He's careful, sliding the drawer open, shutting it again in near silence. He doesn't want to wake Sherlock up. Then he sits back down on the bed again, folding his legs up. After a minute, he turns the photograph around so the head is over to the right, parallel with Sherlock's; then he tilts it, a little, because Sherlock is sleeping on his side, and John wants to be certain it's not just a trick of the angle.

He wants to be wrong. He isn't.

John puts the photograph on the mattress, face down, and looks over at Sherlock, who is exactly as tall as John thinks he is, with or without the coat, whose torso is just as narrow and wiry as John would've guessed from a year and a half of seeing him fully dressed; and John knows now, eyes stinging, that he would be able to recognize Sherlock's hands in cashmere or leather or nitrile, still or moving, alive or dead, and that he should never doubt his own fucking instincts ever, ever again. John's hands are in fists on his thighs. John spends about four and a half seconds wondering whose goddamned fucking corpse he's been staring at in twisted yearning for the past three weeks before—Jesus, God damn him, God damn him! Because Molly told him, didn't she? Dead, she had whispered, with the tears spilling over her red cheeks. Because Mycroft has the phone records to prove that the two of them went up onto Bart's roof together; he showed them to John, and John may not be Sherlock fucking Holmes but he can still add two and two and get four. He knows that the two of them went up to the roof and from there, one of them vanished into ether, and the other one ended up as a dead body on a steel table under Molly's knife with his post-mortem photograph sitting in John's desk as a reminder of everything he wanted without knowing and lost without having—the same body, John would imagine, who was buried under the dirt, his bones laid flat under John's bones folded up in the graveyard in the thick, heavy silence of an unbearable night, and John is suddenly very, very glad he's eaten nothing in the past twenty hours, because if he had he's almost positive he'd throw it back up.

He showers and shaves with shaking hands and thinks about nothing. He has to come back into his bedroom for his clothes. He dresses with his back to the bed and then turns around and can't stand even that, so he tugs the duvet up over Sherlock's wholly unfamiliar ribs and goes into the kitchen and forces himself to eat a slice of dry toast. It settles his stomach, a little; John carefully doesn't think about anything that's likely to undo the good.

Sherlock lied to him. It echoes in his head over and over again as he tries to steady his hands enough to make the coffee. Sherlock lied to him and lied to him and lied to him, and then after he was done rearranging John's heart and his head and his goddamned sexual orientation, after he made John kill someone who deserved it and very possibly someone else who didn't, he turned up alive in John's flat in John's bedroom in John's bed being no one John recognized and made John watch himself being erased and erased and era—

"Um," Sherlock says behind him, then clears his throat. "Good morning."

John doesn't look up at him. He can't afford to. Instead he says, very quiet, "I don't want to talk to you ever again."

John pours himself a cup of coffee. He tries to pay attention to his mug. It's hard. At first, Sherlock is still, and then, long moments later, he slips back into the bedroom, and John tries not to let his attention orbit Sherlock's body as thoroughly as it so desperately wants to, tries not to hear the soft sounds of him dropping the duvet back onto John's bed or zipping up his flies or digging around in John's blankets for his missing sock. John fixes his attention on the wall when Sherlock comes back out for his coat, not on the telly or the window, because John knows if he does, he'll end up watching Sherlock's reflection, the narrow slope of his shoulders, the dark tangle of his hair, everything that John wants in the world and everything that it will kill him to have.

Sherlock shuts the door very quietly, when he goes.

Chapter Text

14 : 13 July 2012

♫ Vampire Hands - Cathedral Blues (One and Two)

 

Sherlock has things to do.

He focuses on that.

 

Molly is home, which surprises him. He obviously surprises her, too, judging by the way she jumps when he jimmies open the door. Also by the way she punches him in the face—but upon reflection, Sherlock decides that that might not be from surprise.

Her face crumples up. "Ow," she hisses, shaking out her hand.

Sherlock touches his jaw carefully. It was a surprisingly good punch.

"Next time, don't fold your fingers over your thumb," he tells her.

She glares at him.

Sherlock can taste copper, a bit. He licks at his lip. "I don't think I need to tell you to put your legs into it, though," he says, and prods an aching tooth with his tongue. Her shoulders jerk, and she huffs, half startled into laughing.

"God, Sherlock," she says, and leans on the counter. She's dressed for work, but obviously something didn't go according to plan, because it's after eleven and she's still hanging about in her kitchen.

"You took your work clothes," he observes.

"I—what?" she asks.

"I saw you leave last night," he says. "You took your work clothes. But you aren't at work."

"Oh," she says. "You—you stuck around?"

"Yes," Sherlock says.

"Why—you know what, don't answer that," she says, and sighs. "I went to work. I couldn't—" She stops, and shrugs.

Sherlock looks away.

"Any word?" he asks, a minute later.

She clears her throat. "Touch and go," she says.

"Ah," he says.

"How's—" she starts, so he sits down on her sofa, fast, and opens his laptop.

Some time later, she brings over two cups of tea.

"You didn't sleep here last night," she says, handing his over.

"No," he says, and switches to the next tab.

She shifts, tugging her feet up onto the sofa.

"Why don't you wear green?" he asks, because he needs a distraction. His distraction isn't working.

"What?" she says.

"Green," he says. "You hardly ever wear it. It looks good on you."

"Oh," she says. "Um. I—I don't think about it, I suppose."

"You should wear more green," he tells her. He switches to the previous tab.

She's quiet for a minute.

Sherlock thinks about sending an email, but by this point, he's certain Irene has abandoned her previous account.

"You slept at John's," Molly says.

"Hm," Sherlock says. "Not really relevant."

"Well," she says, quiet. "I'll wear something green if you tell me what happened at John's."

Sherlock snorts. He says, "I have no investment in whether or not your clothes are flattering."

"You obviously do, since every time I put on my jumper you look at it like you want to set it on fire," she says.

Sherlock glances over at her, then at the offending jumper, hanging awkwardly off its hook.

"I do want to set your jumper on fire," he says, and looks back down at his computer.

Molly sips her tea.

Sherlock gets out his phone.

11:27To: +447700900862, +447700900119, +447700900393, +447700900719
What comes to mind when I say "Hummingbird"?

"You had sex with him," Molly says.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "It's not about sex," he says. "I have had sex before, you know."

"I—" Molly says, and then stops. Then she says, "I never implied that you hadn't."

Sherlock looks down at his phone.

11:27From: +447700900393
a flitty little bird? they have them at the zoo, they're pretty.

11:28From: +447700900119
Other than the bird?

11:28To: +447700900393, +447700900119
Don't be obvious.

"So," Molly says.

"Don't," Sherlock says. "Armchair psychology is beneath you."

"I wasn't going to," she says, then sighs, shifting on the sofa. "This would be easier if you were one of my girlfriends and I could make you margaritas and you could weep and tell me all about it."

Sherlock snorts, and tucks his phone into his pocket, then flips his gaze back to his computer, staring without seeing.

Molly doesn't go away.

After a minute, he says, "I've had sex four times."

She inhales. Then she says, "You mean—with—"

"No," Sherlock says.

She's quiet. His phone buzzes against his hip, twice.

11:30From: +447700900862
Bakery.

11:31From: +447700900119
bakery?

Sherlock exhales.

11:31To: +447700900862, +447700900119
Thank you.

He stands, and Molly reaches out, and grabs his sleeve.

He looks down at her. "It doesn't have anything to do with sex," he tells her.

"Why didn't you tell me you were gay three years ago?" she asks.

"I'm not gay," he says, quickly.

"You—oh, fine," she says, and sighs. "But you're not interested in women."

"I'm not interested in anyone," he tells her.

"That isn't true," she replies, looking him right in the eye.

Sherlock watches her, steady.

"All right," she says, and tugs on his sleeve. After a moment, Sherlock folds himself down next to her, because she doesn't seem like she's going to let go.

"This is pointless," he tells her.

"For once," she says, quiet, "you need to actually listen to me."

Sherlock feels his mouth twist.

She exhales. "All right," she says, very carefully, then sighs. "You let him think you were dead and then you—you apparently had sex with him, which—and then he kicked you out, I'd imagine, or you wouldn't have come back for your computer."

Sherlock looks at the wall. He says, "I needed my computer."

"No one in their right mind leaves sex to go and get their computer," she tells him.

"I'm not in my right mind," he reminds her.

"All right," she agrees. "But you—you, Sherlock, would not leave John to come back for your computer."

Sherlock doesn't like the way that sounds. He doesn't say anything.

"You lied to him," she says, quietly.

"I had to," he tells her.

"Shut up," she says. "I'm—this is a tutorial, all right? On a subject with which you are obviously not familiar. So listen to me."

He crosses his arms.

"You lied to him," she repeats, "and he—he drew some highly inaccurate conclusions, and then he tried to shoot me, and then he actually did shoot Mike."

Sherlock flinches.

"Right," she says, quiet. "So. He did not have a great day. Because you lied to him."

"I have never understood why people insist on putting—" he shakes his head— "on putting feelings ahead of what is, what is necessary—"

"One of these days," she says, pensively, "you are going to finally realize what utter shit is coming out of your mouth, most of the time."

Sherlock is surprised into silence.

"You—" she sighs, again. "I—I have this little cousin, you know? She's nineteen, just finished her first year at uni, and she called me up about a month and a half ago to cry about how her boyfriend had been snogging some other girl at a party, and." She shrugs.

"That's hardly respectful behavior," he observes.

"No," she says, rubbing at her face. "That—that really wasn't my point. I just mean—Sherlock, I—if you were nineteen I would be able to tell you that relationships are difficult and it is actually impossible to have one, with anyone, on any level, without feeling your way through what you are and are not able to forgive."

"I'm not nineteen," he observes.

"Yes," she says, "so—so can we just consider it said, and move on?"

Sherlock licks his lips. "He threw me out," he tells her.

"I know," she replies. "You pretended to be dead."

Sherlock looks at the wall. After a minute, he jerks his head in something that very well might be a nod.

"All right then," she murmurs, and straightens up. "Hungry?"

He is.

 

The internet kindly informs him that Hummingbird Bakery has five London locations; Sherlock takes a gamble and goes to the Soho location, because it's the closest to—to everything important. Sherlock's mobile starts buzzing in his pocket just before two; he has people watching all five locations. He can actually see Eric just across the road, phone out and up. He sighs.

14:04To: +447700900719
You're being obvious.

The next time he looks up from his intent perusal of the cupcakes, Eric's got his phone down and looks a bit more normal, so. That's something.

Sherlock makes it nine minutes before he finds himself being manipulated into placing an actual order; he ends up purchasing what the girl recommends and tries to look pleased, though he really can't imagine ever voluntarily eating something quite so... pink. He takes it over to a corner seat and eyes it briefly, fork up.

He ends up dissecting it slowly over the next fifteen minutes, largely without looking at it. In the twenty-nine minutes total he spends in the bakery, he sees forty-one people walk through the door: a mother (formerly in government) with two small children (ages five and three; the three-year-old is slightly hearing impaired but his mother doesn't know yet); a chubby blonde on her phone (talking, not texting; international, expensive); an older man in a worn suit and new tie (lemon cake; reminds him of their wedding); one freckled university student (splurging); one dieting office worker (cheating); a secondary school couple holding hands (revolting); one awkward young man more interested in the girl behind the counter than her cupcakes (hopeless); four Japanese tourists with jetlag; one American tourist, who'd rather be at Starbucks; his wife, who'd rather be at home; a man who's embezzling money from his job; a woman who's cheating on her wife with a man; a couple in their thirties less than a month from divorce; two single blonde women in their twenties, who don't look at him at all; a male couple in their forties with silvering hair, who do; one blue-eyed brunette in her thirties (meeting her boyfriend later; he's older), who is thinking that Sherlock looks like that detective from the papers; one man who's too tall to be John; one man who's too young to be John; one man who's too loud to be John; an adolescent brother and sister speaking softly in Farsi; four people in a row all pretending to text; one schoolteacher fretting about her aging mother; two musicians with hangovers; one woman who's pregnant and doesn't know it yet; one man whose back aches on account of his aging mattress; and a pair of secondary pupils who are giggling about nothing at all.

Sherlock exhales.

14:22To: +447700900357
Does seven minutes seem excessively late to you?

14:23From: +447700900357
For what variety of rendezvous?

14:23To: +447700900357
Criminal.

14:24From: +447700900357
Very.

 

Sherlock spends the better part of his afternoon and evening sorting through the photographs. He both texts and emails Irene, without much hope; she could have at least given him her new contact information. He wonders if she'd recognize any of the two hundred and seventeen faces cluttering up the memory on his phone. All of them appear normal, unremarkable, the sorts of people who have houses and families and jobs that don't involve murder or larceny; typical London hoi polloi, uninteresting. Sherlock rubs at his temples.

"Going out after I have my shower," Molly tells him, shuffling into the kitchen just after six. "You can come if you want."

"And have half-a-dozen of your girlfriends dissect me over drinks? Thank you, no."

"It won't be like that," she tells him. "Mary always brings her husband. You won't even be the only man."

"The gender balance wasn't really at the heart of my objection," he tells her. "I have better things to do."

She watches him silently for three, four minutes.

"Any word?" he asks, finally, because she seems like she has something else to say.

"Norah's been texting me," she says.

"Who?" Sherlock asks.

"Mike's wife," Molly says. "It's—touch and go, still. But they're hopeful."

Sherlock finds it suddenly harder to concentrate on his screen. After a minute he exhales and closes his laptop. "Tell me when you're done in the bathroom," he says finally. "I need to shower."

"Yes," she agrees, and heads back to do so herself.

 

Molly used up the bulk of the hot water, so Sherlock uses the last of her conditioner. He finds himself oddly resentful of Molly's plain white soap; he's spent all day smelling John on his skin and however aware he has been that it couldn't possibly last, it's still disappointing, somehow, watching the soap swirl down the drain. He knows he's being foolish. For some reason, knowing doesn't help.

While he shaves, he tries, ineffectually, not to think about the summer he was fifteen. He remembers Mycroft finding him, lying face down under the great oak's outstretched arms as though if he got enough of his person close to it, the dirt would just swallow him up; he remembers Mycroft digging the entire sordid history out of him, one agonizing admission at a time. Caring is not an advantage, Mycroft had told him, crouched in front of him, not sitting, so his trousers stayed out of the mud. It had been just after Mycroft had first lost the weight; Sherlock now knows that during that period Mycroft had been systematically shagging his way through London's population of female governmental workers between the ages of twenty and forty-five, though he hadn't seen fit to make Sherlock aware of that particular fact at the time. Sherlock remembers that when he had finally found out, he had been not quite twenty; that a week earlier Olivia Richards had held out her pink palm, two pills; that whatever she had told him, when she kissed him half an hour later he had still found it uncomfortable, if not quite fully as excruciating as expected. Sherlock remembers that Mycroft brought a woman home that Christmas, though he doesn't remember her name. Sherlock remembers that he had watched Mycroft kiss her in the darkened hallway, sighing into her mouth, with his eyes closed and his hand on her bottom, careful and practiced, and Sherlock remembers that in that moment he had felt sharply and humiliatingly betrayed.

Periodically, over the years, Mycroft has decided to repeat this same admonishment, Caring is not an advantage, as though Sherlock were still that same idiotic boy who followed Nick Williamson into the woods into the moss in May, as though Mycroft were their family's resident expert on that particular subject (untrue). Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock hears, in his brother's voice, over and over and over again.

It has always been unnecessary.

 

18:41From: +447700900781
Heading out. You're still welcome to come join us, if you like.

Sherlock reads it with his towel still wrapped around his hips, then drops his phone and drops the towel and digs around under the couch and inside his laptop bag until he manages to come up with pants, his second pair of trousers, which still badly need to be cleaned, though perhaps not as badly as the pair he's been wearing, and a shirt he's fairly certain he's only worn twice. He can't find any socks, so he supposes he'll just have to go without until he has time to buy more.

18:57To: +447700900781
No, thank you. I have to run an errand.

He folds up his laptop, then, after some consideration, clears out the side pockets of his laptop bag and bundles all his clothing under the sofa. He doesn't want it to be a distraction. He takes his phone charger, though. He feels that he can reasonably tell himself it's because the photographs are hell on the battery.

19:01From: +447700900781
Going to be out again tonight?

Sherlock checks his pockets (wallet, phone, gun) and ties on his shoes. He'll take a cab, though it'll be the last for a while; his cash situation is getting to be truly perilous.

19:02To: +447700900357
I need some money.

19:04From: +447700900357
You need a swift kick.

Sherlock has known his brother far too long to think that that statement is in any way related to the money.

19:05To: +447700900357
Has someone been by telling tales about me?

19:08From: +447700900357
I have less than no desire to be involved in your... entanglements, as well you know. Come by tomorrow. You have something of mine; I want it back.

Sherlock rolls his eyes.

19:09To: +447700900357
You're just going to give it back to John.

Sherlock gives the last of his cash to the cabbie, then steps out, laptop bag slung across his chest.

19:11From: +447700900357
Under the circumstances, I think that unlikely.

 

Sherlock doesn't break in this time—at least, not right away. First, he rings the bell, twice. He waits for ten minutes, then tries again. Then he breaks in.

He keeps the lights off and sets up his computer and his phone on John's tiny coffee table, then makes himself a cup of tea and sits in the larger of the chairs to wait. After a while, he decides that that could be construed as invasive, so he moves to the smaller one. At nine, he's starting to remember just how long it's been since Molly's rubbery omelette, so he gets up and digs around in John's kitchen. John's got nothing in but beans and bread—obviously not taking care of himself, Mycroft should have done better—so he makes himself toast and another cup of tea, and then, hearing John's tread on the stairs, gets down another cup, and makes John some, too.

Chapter Text

15 : 13 July 2012

♫ The Guggenheim Grotto - Trust Me I'm a Thief

 

After, John strips his bed down to the mattress and bundles everything but the duvet into the washing machine. The duvet isn't machine washable, so he shakes it out and tosses it over the larger of the two chairs in the living room and opens every window in the flat, wide. Then he bins the photograph and the copy of Anna Karenina and the pack of cigarettes that somehow managed to follow him all the way from Baker Street and into his desk and then—and then he starts to maybe go a little bit nuts.

 

The Personal Blog of Dr. John H. Watson. 5th July: This post has been deleted. 1st July: This post has been deleted. 29th June: This post has been deleted. 26th June: This post has been deleted. 16th June: This post has been deleted.
(click to zoom)

 

11:23 To: Harry Watson
New email address. nothingconfirmed@hotmail.co.uk

11:25 From: Harry Watson
What's happened?

11:26 To: Harry Watson
I'm moving on.

11:27 From: Harry Watson
I'll believe THAT when I see it. What's wrong?

11:31 From: Harry Watson
John?

11:40 Missed call from Harry Watson

11:41 New voicemail

11:44 From: Harry Watson
I'm setting Mycroft on you if you don't pick up your phone.

It rings about ten seconds later. John picks up.

"Really don't want to talk about it," he tells her.

"Oh, I never would've guessed," she says. "But you're going to tell me what happened or I really will call—"

"Don't," John interrupts. "You don't—you really don't know what you're saying, there. Just. Don't."

"Johnny," she sighs.

John rubs at his face. "Killed a sniper," he says, tight. "May have killed Mike Stamford. Oh, and Sherlock's alive."

There's a long, long pause.

Harry says, "Right, be right over."

John can't bring himself to tell her not to come.

 

He's sitting on the floor in his kitchen when she gets in. He left the door unlocked. Down here he can't see—anything, really. It's nice.

She drops down next to him and hands him a bottle of wine, then digs the corkscrew out of her handbag.

"This one's mine, right?" he says, head dropped back against his cupboards.

"Depends on what you've got in," she says.

"Beans," he says. "Bread. There might be some lager in the—no, wait, I think I drank that."

"Christ," she says, and sighs, handing over the corkscrew. "All right, fine, you can have the wine. I knew I should've bought two."

John steadies it between his knees as he opens it, then gives it to her so she can have the first swig. She looks at him, expression perfectly mingling exasperation and sympathy, but she takes a swallow or two and then gives it back.

"You actually are incapable of taking what you want, aren't you," she says, leaning back against his cupboards.

"I slept with him," John says, and her head jerks to the side to stare at him, and then he adds, "Made him go, after."

She doesn't say anything for a while. Then she nods at the wine and says, "Drink up."

"Doesn't help," he tells her.

"Yeah, but it'll give you an hour or two where you don't have to care," she points out.

It's true enough. John drinks his wine.

 

"You know," she says, much later, when they've moved to the chairs, her sitting sideways in the larger of the two, legs draped over the arm, with his duvet tossed onto the floor. "It would be easier to believe you were moving on if you hadn't referred to him in your new email address."

"What?" he asks, squinting up at her. He's not nearly drunk enough for—anything, really. He could be so much drunker.

"Confirmed bachelor John Watson," she says, kicking her foot against the side of the chair. "Nothing confirmed, huh?"

"It was a joke," he tells her.

"It's not very funny," she observes.

He slides down in his chair. "You're not very funny, either," he tells her, and holds up the bottle. "Why did you only bring one bottle, anyway?"

She sighs, exasperated, and stands up, grabbing the bottle out of his hand. "You're not a drunk," she reminds him.

"Works for you," he says.

"Off it again," she tells him, then adds, "mostly."

"That was quick," he says.

She shrugs, dropping the bottle in the bin. "Clara came around," she says, and his heart sinks, because he knows that one never lasts. "Why've you binned your jeans?"

"Sherlock gave them to me," John tells her.

"They're the only ones you own that aren't tragic, you know," she tells him, fishing them out.

"I'll let you buy me a pair, how's that?" he asks. "Two pairs. Three pairs. I will let you dress me up to your heart's content. Just put them back."

She sighs, but she drops them back in the bin. "You should go back to work," she tells him.

"I don't have a job," he reminds her.

"The hospital would take you," she says, quiet. "The hospital always would've taken you."

John rubs at his face. "You want me to go back to being a doctor, after everything that's happened," he says, low.

"You are a doctor," she tells him. "You've been a doctor since you wrapped up that dog with the broken paw when you were eight."

"I didn't wrap it up right," he says.

"Well, I never said you were a vet," she says, and he laughs, and looks up at the ceiling.

 

She makes them both tea, and toast, and beans. "You're a fucking disaster at taking care of yourself, you know," she says, handing him a fork.

He taps it against his plate. He tells her, "It was easier, when I had to take care of someone else."

She drops back down into her chair and takes a bite. A minute or two later, she says, "At some point you have to figure out what you want, you know."

He swallows, even though his food sticks in his throat.

"What if it's something I can't have?" he asks her, without looking up.

"Can't have like a spaceship, or can't have like a great mad bastard who solves crime and can't wash his own socks?" she asks, squinting over at him.

"Can't have like a great mad bastard who solves crime and can't wash his own socks, and a life," he tells her.

She finishes her beans. Then she says, "What's next best, then?"

He stares at the wall. After a while, he says, "If I knew that I think I'd know everything."

 

Harry has to go back to work after lunch, so John's left to his own devices. He sniffs the duvet to make sure it's endurable and then remakes his bed with the clean sheets and blankets and tidies up his bedroom, which is barer than it ought to be. He ought to buy some sort of wall art, or something. It's about a year and a half past high time he stopped living like he's still in the army.

 

13:29To: Tina Moran
Given up on me yet?

13:33From: Tina Moran
Who's this then? John? John who? Do I know a John? :)

13:34To: Tina Moran
Bit of a bastard, aren't I? I'm sorry.

13:36From: Tina Moran
Four days makes you a bit of a bastard, yes.

13:39To: Tina Moran
Didn't want to seem too eager.

13:40From: Tina Moran
I think that once you've spent the better part of three hours with your head between my thighs, you are welcome to seem as eager as you please.

13:42To: Tina Moran
In that case, what are you doing tonight, tomorrow, and all day Sunday?

13:44From: Tina Moran
Oh, dear, well, I had been hoping to catch up on my laundry tonight...

13:45To: Tina Moran
Does that mean that I'm forsaken for your delicates, or that I can keep you entertained while you run them through?

13:51From: Tina Moran
Why don't you bring over some wine and some dinner and we'll see what you can do?

 

John wears his oldest pair of jeans, which he's fairly certain he's had since uni, long since gone so worn they're pajama-soft and practically transparent at the knees. They may not be quite witness-manipulation-worthy but they fit him well, and he's never had any complaints. He doesn't shave again; his jaw is smooth enough to pass muster but rough enough to test it out. Tina's skin is that same milky white that Lily's had been, and John finds himself thinking of the way Lily had looked after they were through, heavy-eyed and wrecked, with red splotches of beard burn on her soft belly and his fingerprints blooming like roses all up and down her sides and the dark impression of John's mouth on the insides of her arms, on her creamy throat. He thinks a lot about how in an hour in bed her dark hair would go from a satiny waterfall to endless brambles, tangled in wild knots around his fingers, how the ends had always got in his mouth when they kissed. He's half-hard already, but it's sliding about in his mind, getting all jumbled around: his hands on Tina's thighs, his face on Lily's belly, his hands on Sherlock's ribs; purpling marks on Sherlock's throat Lily's ribs Tina's knees; Lily's hair: straight, long; Sherlock's hair: short, curly; Tina's hair: curly, long; all three of them the same deep dark black-brown that shines reddish and surprising under dimmed and honey-golden lights. God. He wonders if this will end up forcing him to start only fucking blondes.

He brings over wine and Thai food and rings her bell just past seven; Tina is wearing a dress that hits just below her knees in a blue that makes her eyes look endless, and no shoes. He wraps his arm around her back and puts his hand on her arse and kisses her throat and his head's a lot clearer, now, which is good because Lily was not much over twenty the last time he saw her and he tries not to get off to thoughts of girls half his age and also because Sherlock needs to be absolutely off-limits, forever.

"The food'll get cold," she murmurs, her lips soft and wet against his, and he buries his hands in her hair and says, "But you won't," and tugs until her leg comes up around his hip, and God, she's hot, he can feel her already, hot and promising over his thigh, and when he drops the Thai food and the wine and works his hand between them he can feel her already getting wet through her knickers, and God, he wants to eat her alive. He pushes her back onto her sofa, which is massive and soft and upholstered in a deep, plummy purple; John can imagine what she'll look like spread out on it before he's even got the hem of her skirt properly pushed up over her knees.

He pushes her back so her head's propped up against the far end and toes off his shoes so he can tuck his feet up at the end, crumpling up that blue blue dress to show him her long bare legs one white-hot inch at a time, then keeps right on going until the dress slides up and off and she is lying spread out beneath him looking warm and inviting, with her eyes half closed and her long dark eyelashes casting smudgy shadows on her cheeks. Her mouth is red and wet and her knickers are black, just barely opaque, and she's not wearing a bra, and when he rubs his thumb over the fine, downy trail of brown hair between her navel and her knickers, she arches and hums and hooks her big toe in one of his belt loops, and Christ, this is the problem with the naked women on the internet; the naked women on the internet are just never this fucking into it. He tugs her knickers down and off (her legs, Jesus Christ, those legs) and then the second she can get her legs back around his sides she buries her fingers in his hair and drags him right on down where she wants him. "God," he breathes, so far beyond willing he wouldn't even be able to tell her, and he kisses her hipbone and rubs his thumb over her clit, which is already shiny and bright-hot-red and tastes salty and dark and delicious.

"Oh," she gasps, fingers twisting in his hair, and God, he's so hard it should probably be worrying, and she hasn't even touched him, so he pushes three fingers into her all at once and she arches up against his mouth, making a small, strangled noise, getting hotter and slicker every nanosecond, salt springing up against his mouth.

"You," he tells her, and she moans and says, "Stop talking," and pushes him back down and he laughs and sucks at her clit, fingers curling and twisting, until his wrist cramps and his face is so wet that his eyelashes are sticking together and she's making ragged, desperate noises that he thinks would probably be screams if she didn't have neighbors on either side as she comes for a third hot-tight-clenching time beneath him.

"I want to fuck you," he tells her, pulling up onto his knees because he's got to the point where it's more or less impossible not to hump her sofa and with that—Jesus, he's glad he's not all the way gay, because her cunt is wet and glorious and not being able to enjoy this would be just an absolute fucking tragedy. His voice shakes, and she twists up, her whole body shiny with sweat and flushed dark rosy-peachy pink all over. Her hair is a disaster, frizzing out wild all around her and sticking to her shoulders and her arms, and he twists his fingers and her arm stutters as another one of those hot sharp cries catches in her throat and she grabs back at the back of her sofa. "No," he breathes, "I—you really just have—you have absolutely no idea how badly I want to fuck you," he tells her, and she laughs, high and desperate, and says, "I'm trying to get a condom, you—you bastard—" because he's rubbing his thumb over her clit with his fingers still tucked inside her like a bookmark and she's twisted over onto her side, now, which closes her thighs up tight around his hand so he can barely move but she rocks against him and he twists from the wrist and she gasps, flushing redder and redder and rubbing her cheek against the cushions of the couch as she comes again, God, just, holy Jesus.

"Give," she pants, "give me a minute," and he tells her, urgently, "please tell me you mean a literal minute and not a metaphorical one that takes a lot longer," and she laughs, low and molasses-dark and reaches up for the little square box on the side table and comes back with a condom.

"You are—um, quite the forward thinker," he tells her, a little breathless, as he unbuttons his jeans and she looks up at him hotly, tearing the packet at the corner. He shoves his jeans and boxers down around his thighs and she crawls over and pushes him back into sitting on his heels, which. This is not going to be comfortable at all; he's still so turned on he can barely see. She moves to roll it on him and he stops her with a hand to her wrist, bending in to kiss her flushed shoulder and saying, "you, um, better let me," and she laughs, low and hot, and sticks her tongue in his mouth while he rolls it down over his cock and tries to think cool, dull thoughts and really honestly can't remember any, not with her soft wet mouth open against his and her breasts, heavy and warm, pushing against his chest as she wriggles into his lap, not with his hands on her soft sides as he pulls her down onto his cock. He rests his forehead against her shoulder and breathes.

"All right, there?" she murmurs, rocking, just barely, and it catches in her throat when his hands tense on her hips and he exhales and tells her, "Christ, woman, you're actually going to kill me," and she throws back her head and laughs.

Throat, John thinks, looking up, and then—it's. Oh. He licks his lips and slings his arm over her shoulders, kisses her throat, the underside of her jaw, with his hand on her hair—hair, long hair—and she makes a low, soft noise, and pulls back to look down at him with her heavy half-closed dark-smudged eyes and moves on him and he focuses on her unmarked throat and her long hair and her dark eyes and presses up into her and tells himself: here, here, and she digs her hand into his hair, and—and no, not better, and she tilts his head back and bends to kiss him, and he gasps "I—um—" into her mouth and she laughs and he says, "um—sorry, I—stop, you need to—" and pushes her onto her back and him up onto his knees and pulls out, breathing hard, and holding the base of the condom.

"Sorry," he manages, sliding down, laughing, pressing his face to her belly, heart pounding and pounding and pounding. "God, I—sorry, sorry. That was. A waste, sorry."

"God, John," she says, laughing a little, "only you would call that a waste—"

"Well, one would like to think that at forty the thirty-second nonsense was really quite finished," he tells her, breathless, and smiles up at her as best he can, and slides off the condom and ties it off, then drops down off of the sofa onto his knees. He roots around for his boxers one handed. His fingers are shaking. "Bin?" he asks, casually, he thinks.

"There's one in the kitchen," she tells him. He can hear her shifting on the sofa, pushing herself up behind his back. He looks at the wall and blinks twice, hard, Get it together, Watson, and then straightens up, tugging his boxers up to his waist, and pads into the kitchen.

When he comes back out, she's wearing her knickers and holding the pillow from the sofa in her lap, in front of her chest. Her face is oddly serious. Her eyes look endless even with the blue dress in a heap on the floor.

He looks at her and manages to come up with a laugh, from somewhere. "Well," he says.

"John," she says, quiet.

He licks his lips.

She watches him.

"Bad week," he tells her.

"Right," she says. "And that's—that's fine, you really don't have to lie to me." Her lips quirk a little. "I really can't imagine any woman would require that you lie to them, after—well."

He rubs at his face. After a minute, he nods.

"Just a bad week," he repeats. "I—my wife, you know, there's all this nonsense with—with the divorce, and, and she won't just—"

"John," she says, and he stops and squares his shoulders and is still.

She's not looking at him. She's holding the pillow up against her body, her long legs folded up, not quite with grace, and she's staring at the baseboard of the wall to his left. "I do read the papers, you know," she says, after a minute, and looks up at him.

He meets her eyes.

"John," she says, very low, "when're you going to tell me about Sherlock Holmes?"

Chapter Text

16 : 13 July 2012

♫ Sea Wolf - Wicked Blood

 

John opens the door and stops.  He's shadowed, outlined by the yellow light in the hall, hand on the light switch but unmoving.  Sherlock knows John can see him.  After a minute, John steps in and closes the door.  He doesn't turn on the light.

Sherlock licks at his lip.  He forces his hands to go flat on John's counter; he can smell him from here.  Not important.

"I need your help," Sherlock tells him.

"You can't keep breaking into my flat," John replies, then hangs up his jacket and toes off his shoes.

"I rang the bell," Sherlock tells him, "but you weren't in."

"So then it's fine that you broke in," John says.  "Of course it is."  He leans his back against the door.

Sherlock shifts.  "I made you tea," he says, quiet.

John rubs at his face.  After a minute he says, "Sherlock," and then sighs.

Sherlock fiddles with the handle of John's cup until it makes a perfect 60 degree angle with the edge of the counter.

"All right," John says, and clears his throat.  "Well.  I've not had dinner yet, so I'm ordering takeaway.  You—you, just, sit and be quiet until I've eaten, or leave."

"I," Sherlock begins, but John interrupts him, saying, "Two options, Sherlock.  Only two.  Pick one and shut up about it."

Sherlock rubs his thumb over the handle on John's cup, just once, and then goes over and folds himself up in the smaller of the two chairs.

John orders Thai food; his voice sounds grim.  So, then: thought about having Thai food earlier in the day but didn't for some reason; had sex with a woman; already angry before he got home.  Sherlock shifts in his chair and tries not to think about it, which is hopeless.  John orders Massaman curry in particular and too much food overall; it makes Sherlock's throat hurt.  John waits standing up in the kitchen, not looking at him, but John does drink the tea; when the food arrives, he goes down to get it, and Sherlock risks upsetting him further to go into the kitchen to dig out plates and forks.  John's kitchen isn't organized like Molly's; more like Baker Street.  On the way back up, John's steps sound heavier than can be explained by carrying the food.  

John's kitchen is small enough that he has to stand close to Sherlock to sort the takeaway out onto the counter.  Sherlock breathes through his mouth.  When John hands him the Massaman, Sherlock's innards twist painfully beneath his skin.

"Thank you," he says, very soft.

"Don't talk to me," John tells him, and dishes out green curry over rice for himself.

They eat standing up in the kitchen.  John eats almost all the green curry and Sherlock manages about half the Massaman because it seems like it might be important.  Then John gets a glass of water and Sherlock watches the way his throat moves as he swallows.

John dumps his plate and his glass in the sink and then grinds out, "So, you need my help, do you."

Sherlock's lips part.

John rubs at his face.

"Um," Sherlock says, shifting, because this entire situation is perplexing, leaving him feeling off-balance, which he dislikes.  Best to focus on what's important.  "Yes.  I need you to look at some photographs and tell me if you recognize anyone."

"Ah." John nods, once, sharp.  "Why, exactly?  I mean, you haven't exactly been falling all over yourself to have me involved in—"

"Because the person I need you to identify is very probably trying to kill you," Sherlock says, quiet.

John exhales, short and sharp.

"I shot a sniper on Tuesday," he says, a minute later.

"I know," Sherlock says.  "Lestrade told me."

"Lest—Jesus, you've been in contact with Lestrade, Sherlock?" John presses shaking hands to his face.

"I had to," Sherlock says.  "John, please believe me, I wouldn't have contacted him if there had been any other way to—"

"Who else, Sherlock?" John asks.  His voice is shaky.  "I mean, between Molly and Mike and Greg and—and, who else?  Mycroft? Mrs. Hudson?"

"Mrs. Hudson couldn't've helped, so no," Sherlock tells him.  "Mycroft found out very much against my will."

John nods and nods, then says, "Yeah, right, then.  So I'm not quite the last person to know you're still alive, because Mrs. Hudson couldn't've helped."

Sherlock's heart is beating too fast; uncomfortable.  He says, "I was trying to protect you," and John slams his hand down on the counter so hard his dishes rattle in the sink.

"I was a soldier," John tells him, low and harsh.  "I was a soldier for thirteen years, Sherlock; you don't need to protect me from a single goddamned thing."

Sherlock licks his lips.  He says, "It is impossible to explain what it would do to me if you died."  His voice doesn't shake, somehow.

John drops his head down.  He looks exhausted and defeated and miserable and he smells wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong and he is saying, "But you still think that even after this past month, you'd have to."

Sherlock looks up at the ceiling.  He says, "I did, for a while."

John exhales.

After a moment Sherlock says, "It can't possibly be new information for you."

"What can't?" John asks, low.

"That I don't understand how to behave correctly," Sherlock tells him.

"Bullshit," John says, and he grabs the front of Sherlock's shirt and yanks, and Sherlock looks back down, against his will.  

John's mouth is hard, turned down at the corners, as he tells him, "I understand you much better than you think, Sherlock."

Sherlock doesn't contradict him.  It might be true; he knows this.  It's still uncomfortable, if not quite surprising.

"I can forgive a lot, Sherlock," John tells him, very soft.  "I always have, haven't I?"

Sherlock watches him.

"You can't keep yanking the rug out from underneath me," John says.  "You can—you can be strange and rude and inappropriate and drink the last of the milk but you can't change the rules on your own, you—you can't do that, you can't treat me like that, there are two of us, and I can't—you can't act like—"

"It isn't about the sex," Sherlock tells him, desperate, because he—he needs John to understand, he— "We don't have to—I don't care about the sex, I—"

"Fuck!" John's voice cracks, and then he laughs; it's awful. "God, I don't even—" he says, and then he pushes up, hard and fast, and kisses Sherlock, and Sherlock ignores—ignores what he has to ignore and kisses him back back back, back against the fridge, John's hands knotting up in Sherlock's hair, because all of the other options aren't options at all.

John lets go of Sherlock's hair and unbuttons Sherlock's shirt and Sherlock kisses him and kisses him and kisses him because if this is—because if this is the last time Sherlock wants to kiss John a lot, that's all; it doesn't mean anything.  John finishes on his shirt and starts on Sherlock's trousers, and Sherlock honestly doesn't know how John does all of it so fast while Sherlock's still trying to figure out where his hands go.  Then John drops down onto his knees and that is—

"John," Sherlock gasps, "John, don't, I—" and then he grabs John's hair and pushes his head back because he really doesn't think John's listening.

John's face looks angry.

"Please," Sherlock manages, holding John back, out at arm's length, "please don't, please—please come back," and then he closes his eyes, and waits for John to refuse him.

After a long, painful moment, John eases his hand, and Sherlock can't quite catch the noise that draws out of him.

John is very silent and very still for a very long time.  Sherlock knows that John is looking at him; it makes Sherlock feel as though he is being flayed.

"You don't care about the sex," John says at last, very low.

"No," Sherlock says, rough.  He can't bring himself to open his eyes.

"We don't have to have sex," John says, and his voice is softer, now, and then he brushes his palm over Sherlock's erection, very light.  It sets off fireworks in the very farthest reaches of Sherlock's skin.

"No," Sherlock agrees, shivering.

"Do you want to have sex?" John asks, gentle, and Sherlock opens his eyes, looking down at him.

"It's not important," Sherlock tells him.  "It's just—"

"Because I want to have sex."  John is still looking up at his face.  He wraps his hand around Sherlock's hip, and however improbable, Sherlock would swear, in that moment, that John was leaving fingerprints right down to Sherlock's bones.  John murmurs, "Of course, sex is the easy part, for me."

Sherlock licks his lips.  Over the next 0.4 seconds, he remembers—

  • slamming back another shot of terrible American whiskey at thirty-five while Irene tells him, "It really doesn't matter if you're a virgin," to which he replies, irritated, "But it would matter much less if you would believe me that I'm not," as he remembers—
  • trying and failing to concentrate at thirty-four while John and Sarah are giggling on his sofa and Sherlock is hiding in his room and trying not to catalogue the ways in which the silence in the flat is different when it is silent because they are kissing, as he remembers—
  • being called in to explain himself at twenty-eight, with Mycroft telling another anonymously attractive young woman, "Would you fetch me a cup of tea, dear?" and Sherlock telling him, "At some point you're going to have to stop shagging your assistants," and Mycroft raising an eyebrow very carefully and asking, "Why, exactly?" as Sherlock remembers—
  • that party at twenty-two at which he is saying, "I don't, usually," while Hannah kicks her heels against the legs of the table and replies, "Well, me neither, honestly, it's all so... distasteful," which makes him remember—
  • being fifteen and saying, "I didn't like it," and Nick laughing; fisting his hands at his sides and dropping his voice and insisting, "I didn't," to which Nick replies by reaching over and ruffling his hair, as the memory floods up, painful and sharp—
  • that day at not quite eleven when he plays the violin for his grandmother, who isn't English and weeps (baffling), and later tells him, "Things will be so difficult for you my love, my little love," and Sherlock feels puzzled and solemn and engraves it on his memory to be kept for later because it is one of those things that he knows he doesn't yet understand.

He says, "Sex isn't easy."

"No," John says, quiet.  

"Not for me," Sherlock tells him.

"No," John says, brushing his thumb over Sherlock's hipbone.  "I'm getting that."

Sherlock's hand twitches, and then he realizes he's still holding onto John by the hair, which he suspects is uncomfortable.  He loosens his grip, and then rubs his fingers through John's hair, because it's thick and soft and there and Sherlock may be better than most people but not in this, not in this, not in this, and then he lets go, lets his hand drop back down to his side.

John exhales.  "Okay," he says, finally.  "So—I should stop, then."

"I want you to," Sherlock tells him, fast, "to not stop."

"Okay," John says, a little cautiously.

"I want to have sex," Sherlock tells him, which is agonizing.

"I," John says, and then pauses, and then says, "I'm confused."

"Come back," Sherlock tells him, and when John doesn't move Sherlock can hear the desperation in his voice as he says, too fast, "come back here and kiss me."

John exhales, and then rocks back on his heels.  It takes him a minute to push himself up, a little stiffly.

"You shouldn't do that, it's hard on your knees," Sherlock tells him, quiet, and John tells him, "Shut up," then leans in and kisses the corner of his mouth.

Sherlock blinks into the darkness past John's ear, then closes his eyes, because everything important is too close to bring properly into focus, anyway.  John pushes him back against the counter, which is sensible, because then Sherlock doesn't have to hold himself up quite so straight.  "Okay?" John asks, when he wraps his hand back around Sherlock's erection and Sherlock shakes his head and says, "Not just—please, can I—" and John tells him, very low, "You can do whatever you want to me," and Sherlock unbuttons John's jeans with hands that feel foreign and clumsy and thinks about how badly he wants to have John almost everywhere inside him and how impractical that would be in the kitchen, and then John is pulling Sherlock through a hole in the world that's too small to fit him and Sherlock drops his face in John's shoulder and forces his hand to keep moving.

"Sherlock," John says, tight, a few long minutes later.  Sherlock's wrist hurts.

"I can't," Sherlock tells him, "you can—I'll let you—"

"Shut up," John says, shifting.

"I told you," Sherlock reminds him, and John huffs and tells him, "It's—it's not you, it's—after a certain point I can't always—"

"Your girlfriend," Sherlock says, snide, even though it hurts, and John exhales sharply, and whispers, "Jesus, you—" and then wraps his hand over Sherlock's and kisses him and Sherlock lies into John's mouth, "It's not important, I don't care if—" and John bites his lip and tells him, "Shut up," so Sherlock shuts up and lets John move their hands together, faster and faster and faster.

The noise John makes when he comes sounds painful.  He's trembling, so Sherlock kisses his mouth and his ear and his hair and his mouth, and after time stretches out and he slowly goes still, John untangles his sticky fingers from Sherlock's and says, low, "She isn't my girlfriend, and if you tell me you don't care, I swear to God, I'll kill you."

Sherlock doesn't reply.  

After a minute, he asks, "At what point does it become awkward that we're half undressed in your kitchen?"

"Around now, I think," John tells him, and then pulls back, looking up at him with a face that can't seem to decide what he's feeling.

Sherlock finds this part distasteful.  He looks at the linoleum and pulls his pants and his trousers back into place and then buttons up his shirt and then washes his hands and wonders if maybe he should've washed his hands first, but then he decides that it's a foolish thing to be concerned about because John gets angry with him and then still orders Sherlock's favorite curry and wants Sherlock to not not care whether or not he has a girlfriend, so perhaps it's possible, maybe, that everything isn't quite wholly and entirely ruined after all.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock tells him.

"What for, exactly?" John asks, quiet.

Sherlock shifts a little and leans back against the counter.  "Apologies don't come naturally to me," he tells John.

"Oh, you don't say," John says, and huffs out a laugh.

"You ordered Massaman curry," Sherlock tells him, "even though I never told you it was my favorite."

"You noticed that, did you," John says, soft.  His collar is askew, so Sherlock reaches over and fixes it.

"I notice everything," Sherlock reminds him.

"You just don't always understand it," John agrees.

"Does that make it... impossible," Sherlock asks, and he hates the way his voice drops down at the end; it makes it sound like it isn't a question.  He shrugs his shoulders, awkwardly, and adds, "I ask because—you understood about the curry."

"Well, yes," John says quietly.  "I also shot a sniper on Tuesday.  Would've shot him sooner, if you'd asked me to."

Sherlock considers this, then hesitantly, slowly, he nods.  

"It is very difficult for me to believe," he says, low, "that I am not alone."

John exhales.

Sherlock tells him, "Let me try harder," and John's hands go into fists and he looks like he's fighting but he looks Sherlock right in the eye and then tells him, "All right."

After a moment, Sherlock licks his lips and glances away and then back, clearing his throat.  He says, "The, um, photographs?" and John laughs, a little, and then rubs at his jaw, and then looks at him, and yes, all right, Sherlock can feel his mouth quirking up.  He says, "Yes, fine, I'm aware," and John starts to giggle, and Sherlock looks at the ceiling and rubs at his throat and tries to keep his mouth still even though it's impossible.

"I'm not entirely sure how to manage another distraction," Sherlock admits, and John says, "Well, it'd probably help if we both kept our trousers on," and Sherlock snorts and shakes his head, but he doesn't disagree.  He goes over to John's two mismatched chairs and sits in the smaller, and John comes over and—to his surprise—leans on the arm.  Sherlock looks up at him.  John scrunches his face up and says, "Well, I won't be able to see, if—" which is logical, so Sherlock suggests, "We could sit on your bed?" and John says, "Um, well, maybe not," and Sherlock is glad that the lights are still off, nothing but the amber-soft glow leaking up from the street, because he can feel himself flush, at that.

"Well," he says, and clears his throat, and John reminds him, "Photographs, right?" and Sherlock says, "Um, yes," and opens his phone, passes it over.

"You need to text me your new number, you know," John muses, without looking up, which is lucky, because Sherlock is relatively certain that if John did, he'd see Sherlock's face and then he'd know everything—and then Sherlock realizes, a little startled, that John already does.  John is slowly thumbing his way through the photographs, and Sherlock tells him, "I tried to put the older men near the front, they're the best candidates," but then John stops, and exhales, and says, very softly, "No, they're not," and passes Sherlock back his phone.

"It's her," John tells him, quiet.

Sherlock looks at the photograph: the blue-eyed brunette who had thought she recognized him, the one with the older—oh.  Sherlock swallows.  He runs it through in his mind: PA, probably; an assistant—or perhaps a secondary player—

"Her name is Tina Moran," John says, quiet, "I met her about—about a week and a half after, um—she does PR for—for some technology company, I can't remember the name."

Sherlock nods slowly, thinking through all the possibilities, and then reaches down into his bag and pulls out van Leeuwen's papers, with the sticky notes at the top: Parker £2319.47 27th June; Moran, Fri 2:15, Hummingbird; call Mum.  

John huffs out a laugh.  "Christ," he says.  "Where'd you get that?"

"The sniper you killed on Tuesday," Sherlock replies.  "Marcus van Leeuwen."  He's still puzzled.  Something doesn't—it doesn't quite—

After a minute, he frowns.  "That can't be right," he says.

"I'm pretty sure I'd recognize her," John says.  He sounds uncomfortable.  "I mean, it's not a great picture, but—"

"No, no," Sherlock says, "I—I understand the implications, John, I—I'm quite sure you recognize her, I just—"  He pauses, and shifts, uncomfortable, and John puts his hand on his hair.  Sherlock tries to remember what he was talking about.  

After a minute, Sherlock manages to say, "It's just—it's just that something doesn't add up."

"What doesn't add up?" John asks.  His fingers have slid down to the nape of Sherlock's neck.

"I was certain it—I was certain it was the same person," Sherlock says, thinking it through.  "Van Leeuwen was working for Moriarty; I'm sure of that.  Two names in his papers, just two: Parker, Moran.  I was certain one of them would lead back to the head of what's left of Moriarty's organization, but—damn it, it must be Parker, I've been following the wrong lead, stupid, stupid—"

"Much as I enjoy hearing you call yourself stupid," John interrupts, "I don't think you can have been following the wrong lead.  That definitely is the woman who—is not my girlfriend, and her name definitely is Moran, and seeing as how she pumped me for information on you earlier tonight—"

"What did you tell her?" Sherlock interrupts, and John rolls his eyes.

"Don't be stupid," John says.  "I didn't tell her anything.  But unless you really think it's coincidence—"

"No, it's not coincidence," Sherlock says, shaking his head, then shifts and asks, "She's not military?"

"Ah, no," John says, and laughs a little.  "She—she is very definitely not military."

"You're sure," Sherlock asks, because it's important, and John says, "She's a bit—um, high maintenance, for the military," and Sherlock looks down at the screen of his phone, at her thick long hair and her Louboutin pumps, and says, "Hm."

John shifts on the arm of the chair.  "Why would you ask if she was military?"

Sherlock shakes his head.  "Because someone is military," he says, "and everything—everything kept indicating one person, one contact, everyone I—everyone I've found had one contact and he has countless aliases but it's—it's always the same person.  I can tell, John, when it's the same person.  A hundred different names all with the same feeling about them.  I was certain there was only one person."

He looks up, and John nods, slowly.

"One contact," Sherlock tells him.  "Moriarty's hidden face: organized, efficient, deadly.  If Moriarty was the thought, this man was the action, the back-up plan for Moriarty's back-up plans, his—his fixer, John.  And I had two solid leads, but now they're not pointing in the same direction."

John shifts.  "Two solid leads," he says, slowly.  "One of them's the sticky note, yeah?"  Sherlock nods, and John asks, "Well—I mean.  Where're you getting military, then?  What's the other?"

"Nørgaard," Sherlock starts, and John interrupts, "Who?" and Sherlock waves his hand, dismissive.  "A man I killed in Scotland," he says.  "Doesn't matter.  He had figured out it was Molly.  That Molly had helped me."

"And that... made you think you'd find someone in the military?" John asks, brow furrowed.

"No," Sherlock says.  "He said, 'Molly.  Pretty Molly Hooper, such a pretty girl.'"  Sherlock closes his eyes as he calls it up, tries to duplicate each rise and dip in Nørgaard's last words, because maybe John will be able to hear something that Sherlock has missed when he repeats, "I did warn him... to remember her... warned the colonel, too."  He lets his voice trail off at the end, just as Nørgaard's had, and when he opens his eyes again to look up at John, John is frowning.  

Sherlock shakes his head, and says in his own voice, "I still can't make sense out of it.  I mean, colonel's an advanced rank, they aren't exactly thick on the ground—"

"No chance it's colonel, K-E-R-N-E-L, is there?" John asks uncertainly, then muses, "Though I suppose that still wouldn't make much sense," but Sherlock feels it like an electric shock and he barely breathes, saying, "John.  John."

"It—you don't mean it is kernel, do you?" John asks, confused, and Sherlock says, "She does public relations for a technology company, John, you told me," and John blinks and says, "What on earth does that have to do with anything?"

 

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Kernel (computing).  In computing, the kernel is the main component of most computer operating systems; it is a bridge between applications and the actual data processing done at the hardware level. The kernel's responsibilities include managing the system's resources (the communication between hardware and software components). Usually as a basic component of an operating system, a kernel can provide the lowest-level abstraction layer for the resources (especially processors and I/O devices) that application software must control to perform its function. It typically makes these facilities available to application processes through inter-process communication mechanisms and system calls.  Operating system tasks are done differently by different kernels, depending on their design and implementation. While monolithic kernels execute all the operating system code in the same address space to increase the performance of the system, microkernels run most of the operating system services in user space as servers, aiming to improve maintainability and modularity of the operating system. A range of possibilities exists between these two extremes.
(click to open original article)

Chapter Text

17 : 13 July 2012-14 July 2012

♫ BlakRoc - What You Do To Me

 

"You're saying it's a code name," John says, slowly, as he reads.

"I'm saying it's a descriptor," Sherlock says, sounding impatient. John looks down at him. "It fits," Sherlock tells him. "Moriarty may have masterminded the operation, but he never much seemed like the type for the day-to-day organizational nonsense. Can you imagine him personally keeping track of who is where doing what and when? Can you imagine him writing out payslips or paying the broadband bill? He'd never lower himself to that sort of thing; it's unspeakably tedious."

"Yes, I know," John says, raising an eyebrow, and Sherlock rolls his eyes and tells him, "I'm not saying it's not important," and then reaches up to take his computer back off John's knee.

John straightens up, then stands, and Sherlock says, a little too fast, "Where're you going?" but doesn't look up.

"The arm of that chair isn't exactly comfortable," John tells him, and Sherlock looks up at him quickly, then down again. John says, "Tea?" because the temptation to sit right back down is almost overwhelming.

"Yes," Sherlock says, then adds, awkwardly, "Um—please," hands moving over his keyboard.

John can feel his mouth curving up, a little bit against his will. "Are you trying to be polite?" he asks, and Sherlock looks up.

"Yes?" he says. He sounds uncertain.

"That is—um, not important," John tells him.

Sherlock says, "I considered it a gesture of good faith," and then hunches his shoulders up and slouches down in his chair.

"Yes, but you'll have forgotten again in ten minutes," John says, heading to turn the kettle on. "If you're going to beat yourself up about being a bastard to me, I'd rather you saved it for the important things."

Sherlock is distressingly quiet, while John makes the tea. When John comes back over, Sherlock is staring down at his hands on his keyboard, which are still.

"I want to tell you the truth," he says, and then looks up. His eyes are shadowed, the light from his screen lighting his face from underneath. It's cadaverous; troubling. John hands him his tea.

"About what?" John asks, sitting on the very edge of the other chair and setting his own tea on the coffee table, beside the sniper's papers.

"I'm not perfectly clear on how this sort of thing is supposed to go," Sherlock tells him. "Because—I concealed things from you, and that upset you."

John watches him, and after a moment Sherlock's expression changes subtly, and he says, very low, "That—I didn't misunderstand that," which takes John a minute to realize was intended to be a question.

"No," he says. "You didn't misunderstand that."

Sherlock nods, and then says, "I think—you often prioritize things differently than I do," a little hesitantly, and John nods, because agreeing to that one is easy. Sherlock exhales, shoulders relaxing, and then he says, "So I'm concerned that you'll—I have to, this is—this is a case, John, but I still haven't—there's still a lot you don't know, and—" Sherlock shrugs, first one shoulder, than the other, not perfectly in sync.

John blinks at him. He asks, "Are you asking me if we need to stop trying to track down the people who might be trying to kill us to have a chat about our relationship?"

Sherlock hunches into himself a little and says, "I really have no idea what I'm doing, John," and John says, "Annoying, isn't it?" and Sherlock says, "Very," and John presses halfway up onto his feet, leaning over to his left, leaning up.

Sherlock makes a very soft noise against his mouth. He's surprised, John thinks, and then John is surprised at himself, at how worrying he finds that, and then Sherlock puts his hand on John's shoulder, very lightly, like he's unsure he's allowed to. John pulls back, slow, and sits back down. Sherlock blinks at him, head turned, lips parted.

John picks up his tea.

"You don't need to worry," he tells Sherlock.

Sherlock is quiet. After a minute he tugs his laptop back more squarely onto his knees, and goes back to typing. "You said she pumped you for information," he asks, without looking up. "What'd she want to know?"

John feels it shiver the wrong way up his spine. When she had asked, her voice had been sympathetic and gentle, and her eyes had been wide and liquid, and John'll give her this; if his paranoia hadn't already been ratcheted up so fucking high he felt nakeder without his gun than he did without his boxers, he isn't entirely convinced he wouldn't have answered her honestly.

John rubs his thumb over the side of his cup. "She wanted to know if there was any chance you weren't dead," he says, as casually as he can. "Thought she'd spotted you."

"She did," Sherlock tells him, quiet, and John shifts, standing, and says, "I, um—I have to," and then goes around the flat, careful and exhaustive: locking the windows, drawing the curtains, checking the lock on the door; twice.

With the curtains pulled tight, the flat feels claustrophobic, and when John turns back from the door, all John can see in the darkness is the glow of Sherlock's screen over his still shoulder, the curve of his throat lit up blue-white beneath the inky fall of his hair.

"Sherlock," John says, quiet.

"Mm?" Sherlock asks, without moving.

"Can you please turn on the lamp to your right," John says, and Sherlock lifts his hand and turns it on, and John can breathe again. He puts his hands over his face.

There is time, John knows, between that moment and the next. In the next, Sherlock is saying, "John," and then his fingers, which are shockingly cold, press against the back of John's left hand and John sucks in a breath, and drops his hands, blinking up. Sherlock's face is guarded; uncertain.

"Sorry," John tells him, a little breathless. "Sorry, I—I'm, it's nothing."

"It's not," Sherlock tells him. His mouth is set; unhappy. The only other time John's seen him look like that was when they had sex. Sherlock tells him, "I've been saying your name."

"Oh," John says, "um—"

"I've texted Mycroft," Sherlock tells him. "He has her photograph; he'll send agents to pick her up. Address? I'm sure he can find it but if you can save him time—"

"She won't be there," John says, looking up at him. His mouth feels numb. "She—Sherlock, it's been an hour, at least, she's not stupid. She won't be there."

"Where would she go?" Sherlock asks, and John shakes his head.

"I don't know," he says, trying to think. "Shit. I don't know—I don't know anything about her. She's not my girlfriend."

Sherlock nods, a little, and then presses his fingers to John's throat, John's mouth, then drops his hand, awkward, back down to his side.

"Your heart rate is elevated," Sherlock tells him.

John knows; he can feel it picking up, because he's wrong, he does know.

"Wait," he says. His voice sounds wrong. "Here. Sherlock. She'll come here."

Sherlock nods, a little hesitant. "And—and she's been inside," he says, voice dropping. "She knows the building?"

"Yes," John says, and swallows, and his eyes flick to the windows, the door. "Sherlock. Gun?"

Sherlock swallows and goes back over to the chair, gets his coat.

"Turn out the light," John tells him.

Sherlock hesitates.

"Do it," John says, stepping into the kitchen. He opens the drawer on the right. "And—come here. Bring—whatever you need, laptop, phone, whatever, but do it now."

Sherlock turns out the light and vanishes. John can hear him moving around; after a minute, Sherlock hands John the gun. John's eyes have started to adjust, so he gets to work.

"John," Sherlock says, quiet, "if the police get ahold of that—"

"Sit down," John tells him. "We'll be in much bigger trouble if someone shoots us than if I get arrested, so. Sit down, Sherlock."

Sherlock makes a small, angry sort of a noise, so John steps on his foot, so Sherlock sits down on the floor.

"Happy?" he asks, looking up. It's awfully dark, but John can still see the set of his jaw out of the corner of his eye.

"Fucking thrilled, yeah," John says. He finishes loading the gun and lowers himself down next to Sherlock, back against the cupboard, just at the edge, so he can see the front door if he leans out, and so that Sherlock is on the far side of his body. Sherlock has his phone out, texting furiously.

"No sight lines to the windows," Sherlock observes, without looking up. "And you keep ammunition in your kitchen. Do you always plan for invasion, or is this just a one-off?"

John knows him better than to think it's an idle question. "Bad week," John says, "but—one-off, mostly."

"So," Sherlock says, and John sighs.

"I didn't sit about planning it in Baker Street much, no," John tells him. "But every now and again, yes, it did cross my mind."

"Mm." Sherlock looks at him quickly, and then back down at his phone. The expression is familiar. In retrospect, it's hard to understand why John didn't know what it meant.

John feels his mouth quirking up. After a minute, he asks, "Have you always been this..."

He pauses.

"This what?" Sherlock asks, without looking up.

"Interested," John asks, stretching his legs out.

"Hm." Sherlock still doesn't look up. "Mycroft's got two agents on their way over."

"Not actually an answer," John points out.

"If I had an answer, I would give you one," Sherlock tells him. He still doesn't look up.

John nods, then leans his head back against the cabinets, head tilted against his shoulder to watch Sherlock text. It's far from the first time that John's felt a wash of almost overwhelming fondness for him, but the feeling had gone harsh and sharp, a jumble of jagged broken pieces inside his chest, after Sherlock's death. Tonight, Tina had held a cushion in front of her bare torso and asked him the sorts of questions you ask when you feel someone needs to talk but you know the answers will be painful; at first, John had answered truthfully and then she had said, cautious and uncomfortable, There's no chance it—wasn't him? and after that John had held the ache on his face and answered with lies. He hadn't even thought about it. He doesn't think he's ever needed to think about protecting Sherlock. He thinks about Sherlock unsure about how long he's been interested, when Sherlock is so rarely uncertain about anything at all, and then he wonders if it's even possible to find the bottom of something that lives in your roots.

"Sherlock," John says, after a while. "I need to know. Is she going to be aiming for you or for me?"

Sherlock tenses and he says, "If she aims for me—"

"I'd like to remind you that we've already had this fight once, tonight," John reminds him. "I have no problem protecting myself and I have no problem protecting you, but it's easier for me to do both those things if I know what I should expect. I am the one with the gun, Sherlock."

Sherlock sighs. After a minute, he says, "She'll probably be aiming at you."

"Probably?" John asks.

"Probably," Sherlock admits. "I don't—I still don't have—she isn't quite what I expected; I mean—she's on Facebook, John. I'm still trying to get a sense of her. Moriarty would be aiming at you, but if she saw me this afternoon but then you were, um. Over."

John nods, shifting his grip on his gun. He's not entirely sure what was going on tonight, either. He says, "Right."

"I'm glad she didn't want it to be easy," Sherlock says, oddly fierce, which takes John a moment to translate.

"Well, me too, quite frankly," he says, and Sherlock slouches down lower, so their shoulders press together, still texting, phone in his hands, resting between his bent-up knees.

"You'll stay down," John says, and Sherlock turns to look at him. "I mean it, Sherlock, don't give her a target. It's easier for me to protect myself by myself than it would be for me to protect us both."

"I do understand the basic principle of why we're hiding in the kitchen, John," Sherlock tells him.

"Yes, but sometimes you're an idiot," John says. For once, Sherlock doesn't argue.

They end up stuck there for two and a half hours. After about the half-hour mark, Sherlock spreads his coat out and John helps him tug it over both their legs; it was a warm enough day, but the heat's faded and they're sitting on the floor, the chill seeping up into their skin. Sherlock reads him the occasional vague and unhelpful text update—Mycroft's agents searching the roof, the hall, checking the buildings opposite and behind with flats that have sight lines to John's windows—and texts Lestrade, who is supposed to have the kids for the weekend but ends up taking them back to his wife's and going to visit his parents in Bexley instead, and Mrs. Hudson, who replies with an all-caps scolding that goes across seven messages and then agrees to go over to kip on Mrs. Turner's sofa with a butcher knife and keep the curtains drawn. John sits and watches the door. Finally, when John's lost most of the sensation in his arse and legs and his spine feels like it'd twang if someone plucked it, the bell rings; Sherlock's phone buzzes at almost the same instant, and Sherlock says, "It's Mycroft," but John makes him stay in the kitchen anyway while John gets to his feet stiffly and answers the door with his gun in his hand. It is Mycroft. John lets him in and closes the door before turning on the light, then sets all the locks and flips on the safety on his gun.

"You can't find her," John guesses. In the kitchen, Sherlock is straightening up, untangling all the many miles of his limbs, draping the coat over his elbow, and holding it carefully in front of him, as though that'd actually effectively prevent Mycroft from seeing what they were getting up to earlier.

"No," Mycroft says. "We will, though. We just need time." His eyes flick to Sherlock, to John, to the gun, and back to Sherlock again. He leans on his umbrella and says, "I wouldn't have selected this flat if I'd thought I'd end up needing to monitor it this closely; the access is dreadful. You need to be relocated."

Sherlock says, "Not a chance in—" but John interrupts to say, "Relocated where?"

"Well, you're welcome to stay with me," Mycroft says, and Sherlock snorts. John looks at him and raises an eyebrow. Sherlock looks at the ground. "Or, of course, we can arrange for you to stay in another secure location," Mycroft says. "Not in my territory, if that makes you uncomfortable. Though I would of course prefer to be able to keep an eye on you." As he's speaking, he's examining Sherlock's face, the faint circles under his eyes, his crumpled shirt. Mycroft looks vaguely constipated, an expression that John has learned, on him, represents concern.

Sherlock isn't looking at Mycroft; he's looking at John. John walks towards his bedroom, saying, "I'm assuming I have time to pack some things." Sherlock follows him.

"Of course," Mycroft calls after them, and John shuts the door behind them, glancing over to make sure the curtains haven't magically opened themselves before he turns on his light.

"What's his flat like, then?" John asks, getting his overnight bag out from under the bed.

"House," Sherlock corrects, which, well. "It's exactly what you'd expect: dull and expensive."

"With an excellent security system," John guesses, stuffing in socks, boxers, shirts, jeans. Sherlock doesn't reply, which is, John knows, a concession of a point that makes him unhappy. John grabs the rest of his ammunition out of his desk, then adds his computer and his power cord and his phone charger. He'll grab his toothbrush and razor on the way out. The whole process takes him maybe ninety seconds. When he looks up, Sherlock's mouth is turned down.

"I don't like it," Sherlock tells him, and crosses his arms over his chest. "I—I don't have very good associations with the place."

John licks his lips. "Can you stand it?" he asks. "Just for a night? With me? I could use a proper sleep."

"And you'll sleep better at Mycroft's than you would in a safehouse?" Sherlock asks, and then sighs, saying, "Never mind, of course you would. You put too much stock in the personal, John."

"Really don't," John says, quiet, and puts his hand on Sherlock's arm. Sherlock exhales. John tells him, "I think he'd do an awful lot, Sherlock, to make it up to you."

Sherlock still doesn't look happy, but he nods, and then bends down and presses his mouth against John's, harsh, like performing an unpleasant chore. John rubs at Sherlock's arm and pulls back. It'll keep for later.

 

Mycroft's house is, as advertised, boring and expensive, and it does in fact have an excellent security system; John can tell it's good by how long it takes him to spot it.

"Make yourselves at home," Mycroft tells them, setting his briefcase on the table by the door and then taking John's jacket and Sherlock's coat. "You know where the guest bedrooms are, of course, Sherlock. I'll leave it to you to get John sorted out. I still have some things to take care of for work, I'm afraid." Sherlock grimaces at him and then reaches down to grab John's overnight bag and strides off towards the stairs, fast enough that John practically has to jog to catch up.

"Guest bedrooms?" John asks. "Plural?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, shifting his laptop bag across his chest. "Mycroft keeps the rooms on the second floor for himself, but there are three bedrooms on the first. You may pick."

"You don't have a room, then?" John asks, because it seems like Sherlock hates the place enough to have spent a significant amount of time there. "Just so I know which to avoid?"

Sherlock shifts, but doesn't answer him right away.

"I mean, because you obviously dislike it," John tells him. "You can—sleep wherever you like."

Sherlock indicates the door far to the left, so John takes his bag back and takes the one in the middle, and leaves his door open while he gets his things sorted out.

Sherlock watches him from the doorway.

"Do you have something to sleep in?" John asks, and Sherlock shrugs.

"He used to keep things for me, but I haven't been here in years," he says. "Probably still in the chest-of-drawers; Mycroft always chooses the path of least resistance."

"Well then," John says, and pulls out his toothbrush, looking over at Sherlock with raised eyebrows.

"On the right," Sherlock tells him, and pushes off the doorjamb. When John gets back, Sherlock's sitting on the edge of his bed in a grey t-shirt, which is worn and stretched at the neck, and a pair of striped blue pajama bottoms, which are a hair too short. He looks uncomfortable, but John doesn't think it has anything to do with his sleepwear. His laptop bag is tucked haphazardly under the bedside table closer to the door, and he's plugged in his phone.

"I meant it," John tells him, as gently as he can manage. "Wherever you want."

Sherlock meets his eye and says, "I slept better last night."

"Me too," John tells him, because it's true, even if he didn't sleep nearly enough. Sherlock's shoulders relax minutely, and John nods and pads over. Sherlock stares up at him, and John bends down to kiss him, but Sherlock jerks back.

"I have to brush my teeth," Sherlock tells him, and scrambles to his feet, coming within about an inch of hitting John in the face with his shoulder as he does so.

"Right," John says, turning to look at his retreating back.

This, John thinks, is the problem with doing things so badly out of order. With a stranger, everyone sleeps in their underwear and flirts to defuse the awkwardness, but John's rather past flirting, when it comes to Sherlock, but even if they weren't hiding from homicidal criminals they still wouldn't have had a chance to build up a routine. Besides, John's been around the block a few times, but even without Mycroft's inappropriate and invasive personal revelations, it'd be perfectly obvious that Sherlock hasn't. John ends up sitting on the side of the bed closest to the window in his boxers, legs crossed, with the covers turned down; it's not in bed, he thinks, so Sherlock can still back out if he needs to, but it's close enough to make it easy to move in that general direction. When Sherlock comes back, he hesitates in the doorway; John watches him and waits.

After a minute, Sherlock steps in and turns off the light and closes the door; John waits until he's sliding under the covers to do the same. Sherlock lies down on his left, so John lies down on his right, facing him. There is a careful twelve inches of space between their bodies; six at their knees.

"You told Robert you would touch me," Sherlock says, quietly.

John's brow wrinkles. "I—I told you I would touch you," he says.

Sherlock says, "Not true, you—you told Robert. You didn't think it was me, really. You wouldn't have told me you would touch me."

John licks his lips. "I might've," he says, quiet, and reaches out to rest his hand on the side of Sherlock's neck, fingers just brushing his hair.

Sherlock exhales, but doesn't move. "Irene," he says, and John blinks, so Sherlock makes a small, frustrated sort of noise and says, "Most of the time, you were talking to Irene."

John's heart stutters oddly.

"Most of the time," he says, quiet.

"Yes," Sherlock says. "I—there were a few times where I. Well. I stopped, because it made her angry. She said I could either let her do it or do it myself, but it made it hard to keep her story straight if she wasn't the only person telling it."

John takes his hand back.

Sherlock wraps his hand around John's wrist. "Please," Sherlock says. "Please understand. I didn't—I didn't know, John, that it would become—personal. I just—I realized that there were too many people who knew, I was convinced that Stamford would tell you, so I—I wanted you to know that I was alive without being able to trace it back to me physically."

"Irene's alive," John says, quiet.

"Yes," Sherlock says. "And she rather owed me a favor."

"In Tokyo," John says, quiet. "And Los Angeles." He licks his lips. "Robbing the stock exchange."

"Oh, is she?" Sherlock sounds oddly pleased. "She was always rather wasted on blackmail."

"Sherlock," John says, and it comes out achy, and Sherlock shifts closer, pushes their knees together.

"I was worried," Sherlock tells him. "Earlier. Because of this. Because I—I knew you still didn't know the whole story, and—you had already forgiven me."

"Yeah," John says, quiet.

"But I wasn't sure you would, for this," Sherlock says, soft. "Even though—I swear to you, John, I did—I did lie to you, I lied to you and it was deliberate, but I did it to protect you, and I didn't realize it would get so—so big, or go on so long."

John swallows.

"I was away," Sherlock tells him, quiet. "When you—I. When I got back and I came online and you'd—you'd said all those things to her, I—I was furious with her. I was—"

John blinks. "She tried to stop me," he realizes. "She told me to stop—"

"But you didn't," Sherlock says. "And I—I realized you were lying—"

"I wasn't lying," John tells him, fast. "It—it would've been much easier, Sherlock, if I'd been lying."

"But you wouldn't ever have said it to me," Sherlock says. "If I hadn't—if we'd kept—kept on, you would've—followed me about and dated women, and—"

"I didn't know," John tells him.

"Shut up," Sherlock tells him, a little desperate. "Shut up and listen to me, please."

John is quiet.

"I am—I—I am, am crushingly in love with you," Sherlock tells him, very low, strangely breathless, hollow, and then gasps, deep and shuddering, and John rests his fingers against the dip in his throat. Sherlock doesn't say anything, waiting and breathing and breathing and waiting until his voice has steadied. Then he says, "Which you know," so John nods, and Sherlock closes his eyes. John turns his hand, rubs his thumb along Sherlock's collarbone, curls his fingers against Sherlock's throat.

"I thought—I thought it was worth anything to keep you safe," Sherlock whispers.

"It isn't, to me," John tells him, fast, because that part is important.

"Well, obviously, I know that now," Sherlock replies, and John can't help smiling at how exasperated he sounds. Sherlock relaxes, just slightly, under John's hand, then tenses up again, and says, "But—you know, I. I haven't ever. I mean. Before."

"I," John says, and pauses, because Sherlock keeps changing the subject and it's confusing. He asks, shifting, "Are we—are we talking about sex, now?"

"No," Sherlock says. "I—I have had sex before," and adds, low, "whatever Mycroft has to say on the subject."

John shifts but says nothing, asks none of the approximately seven thousand specific questions that statement invites into his head, even though he's horrifyingly and desperately curious.

"It's—a partner, John," Sherlock tells him, soft. "I have never had a partner before."

John—doesn't really know what that means. "All right," he says, cautious.

Sherlock shifts, sheets rustling, and says, "I didn't like him very much," which makes John's heart twist painfully, and then, even worse, "And I didn't like me at all when I was—when we were—well. So."

However awful it may be, it makes a certain kind of sense. John brushes his fingertips over Sherlock's throat, reaches up to touch his face. He says, soft, "And you were—young."

Sherlock's quiet for a minute, and then he says, "Yes. Very."

John nods and says nothing, because he thinks he can imagine how the rest of it goes.

"I don't know if I am capable of this," Sherlock tells him, very soft. "I—you wouldn't have ever—if I hadn't—if I hadn't got Irene involved, if I had—I would've ended the discussion, John," he says, and takes a shuddering breath, and finishes, "if you had tried to say those things to me."

"You kissed me first," John reminds him, quiet.

"I didn't know what else to do," Sherlock tells him. "It was ruined."

"Ruined," John echoes, and Sherlock adds, "And—and I have been thinking about kissing you for. For some time."

John exhales, and says, "You can."

Sherlock is quiet. Eventually, he asks, "Now?"

"Pretty much whenever," John admits.

Sherlock nods, hair scraping against the pillow, and says, "Me too. I mean—you can kiss me too."

John sighs. He says, "I can't even tell if you like it."

Sherlock's quiet for a minute. Then he says, very soft, "I find it overwhelming."

"Oh," John says.

"That's—um, fine," Sherlock tells him, "with you."

John swallows. After a minute, he props himself up on his elbow. "You don't have to," he says, quiet.

"I know," Sherlock says, and lifts his head up to meet him.

 

John wakes up with Sherlock sleeping on his arm again. He can't feel his fingers; he's surprisingly okay with that. There's bright sunlight leaking in around the curtains, and Sherlock's right arm is draped heavily across his ribs, his left tucked up awkwardly underneath him, the whole of his body radiating heat. John twists up to look at the clock; it's after eleven. He rubs Sherlock's forearm until Sherlock stirs enough that John can work his shoulder free, then twists over to the bedside table to get his phone.

"Mphf," Sherlock mumbles, behind him, and John lies back down on his back to check his messages. Sherlock blinks at him, wide-eyed, and John shifts over and kicks his legs over the sides of Sherlock's bony knees. Sherlock exhales and wraps his arm back around John's belly, then presses his face into John's shoulder.

"Good morning," John tells him, thumbing through to the messages from Mycroft.

07:56From: Mycroft Holmes
I've had to go into the office, but please consider my home your own for the duration. Sherlock knows his way around the kitchen.

07:59From: Mycroft Holmes
I'm afraid the contents of my refrigerator are a little sparse at the moment, but the eggs are fresh and I believe there may be some bacon in the freezer.

08:11From: Mycroft Holmes
I'd also very much appreciate it, John, if you could convince him to stay in until this is resolved.

"Any news?" Sherlock asks, muffled.

"No," John says. "Except that your brother wants me to keep you entertained."

Sherlock snorts, and says, "Mood killer."

"Oh, there was a mood?" John asks. He drops the phone back on the bedside table and then rubs at Sherlock's forearm.

"Mm," Sherlock says, tightening his grip. "Could be."

John turns and kisses his forehead. Sherlock looks up at that, so John kisses him properly, twisting around so he can scissor their legs together. Sherlock is already getting hard under his pajama bottoms and he doesn't appear to mind John's morning breath, which is, John thinks, possibly an advantage to having it off with someone with a noticeable lack of objection to living in moderate squalor. Sherlock smells like sweat, which is sexier than it probably should be, and he's shifting his hips against John's, which is driving him crazy.

"Mm." John pulls back, a bit, then kisses Sherlock's chin, "I—hold on, Sherlock." Sherlock makes a frustrated sort of noise, and leans back in, so John flattens his hand over his face, palm over Sherlock's mouth, middle finger pushed up awkwardly by the tip of Sherlock's nose.

"You're—I'm not entirely sure what you're okay with," John tells him. Sherlock rolls his eyes. "I'm not being obtuse," John tells him, "I'm just not sure what we're doing," and then moves his hand.

"Well I was enjoying a kiss, not sure about you," Sherlock tells him.

John huffs. "I was enjoying it rather a lot, actually," he says, "but now I've had some sleep, so," and shifts his hips into Sherlock's, and Sherlock's eyes flutter shut, a little, lips parting. He still has that rounded softness to his expression that people tend to have after sleep, and his hair has achieved a state of chaos that has to be seen to be believed. John tries to focus on using his words and tells Sherlock, "It's—um, bound to come up," and Sherlock snorts, and then laughs, which, well.

"Not that funny," John tells him, even though he's grinning up at the ceiling, and Sherlock inhales and says, "It was, a bit," and John says, "All right, yes, erections are always funny. But more importantly, can I—"

"You can do whatever you want to me," Sherlock interrupts, and he isn't quite laughing, but he's smiling, and it takes John a minute to realize why it sounds familiar.

John slides his hand down over Sherlock's side, then tucks his fingers under the hem of Sherlock's t-shirt. "Yeah?" he asks, soft, and when he lifts his hand up, Sherlock props himself up and helps peel it off, then leans back down and settles one arm at either side of John's head. Sherlock's face is strangely still, serious, and he says, "Yes," and bends down to kiss him. John exhales, running his palms down Sherlock's back, and Sherlock hums into his mouth and settles down on top of him. Sherlock's pajama bottoms are slipping down at the back, a bit; John might be helping them along.

"I, um," Sherlock says, and then turns his head and licks John's stubbly jaw, which is inexplicably arousing. John puts one foot on the mattress and pushes up, and Sherlock jerks and says, "Ah!" sounding startled and then grinds down against him.

"Oh, um, okay," John says, muffled, and tucks his thumbs under Sherlock's waistband, and Sherlock starts trying to wriggle up out of his pajama bottoms and manages to elbow John in the face. "Sorry—um, I—" Sherlock says, and kicks his pajamas off down near the mess of the covers at the foot of the bed and kisses John's nose and sticks his hand down John's boxers, and John says, "Oh, all right, then," and turns up over onto his hip so he can get them off. It takes about four times as long as it would if Sherlock weren't helping. "Um," Sherlock says, "this is—" and John rolls him back over onto his back and fits their hips together, curling the tops of his toes against the sheets.

"Oh," Sherlock says, very soft, and then buries his hands in John's hair and pulls him down and sticks his tongue in John's mouth. John wonders, a bit, what sex must be like, for someone who finds kissing overwhelming, so he asks, "Is it," rocking against him, and Sherlock says, "It's—good, very good—um," with his voice gone low and rough, and then pulls John's mouth back against his. "Can you tell me?" John whispers, his lips moving over Sherlock's skin, and Sherlock shakes his head, rubbing their noses together and breathes, "No, it's," and John drops the last bit of his weight against Sherlock's body and moves against him and kisses him until John feels the heat of Sherlock's blood boiling up through the pores of his own fucking skin, until Sherlock gasps out, "Like—like my cells aren't big enough," and John moans and Sherlock puts his hands on John's arse and John presses down orders of magnitude harder than gravity as they shake and shake and shake.

"Christ," John says, breathless, and tucks his face in against Sherlock's neck. Sherlock is panting, but he laughs, a little, sounding surprised, and then runs his hands over John's arse, up his back. John tilts his face up and kisses the underside of Sherlock's jaw. "I—all right?" he asks. Sherlock's skin tastes salty, a little sharp.

"Yes," Sherlock tells him, and folds his arms up over John's back. His voice sounds thick, when he says, "We ought to shower."

"In a bit," John says, closing his eyes.

"My brother often comes home for lunch," Sherlock says, a little reluctantly, and John opens them again, blinking against Sherlock's skin.

"You're right," he says, pushing up onto his elbow awkwardly. "That is a mood killer." He looks at the clock—quarter to noon, Christ. John rubs at his stubble and asks, "Do we even have time to—" and Sherlock says, "Come on," and rolls away and out of bed, then bends to dig around in the heap of the covers and throws John's boxers at his face.

They share the shower in the interests of efficiency, John reaching around Sherlock's narrow ribs for the soap while Sherlock rubs conditioner through his hair, eyes scrunched shut. Sherlock shaves while John brushes his teeth and tries not to jostle Sherlock's elbow, and then John shaves while Sherlock vanishes to find something to wear. John had put his foot down about the trousers from the day before.

"They need to be cleaned, Sherlock," John had told him, tugging on his boxers. "Or, I don't know, burnt, maybe."

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he does manage to find a pair of jeans that undoubtedly cost more than John's monthly pension stuffed in a ball in one of the drawers in his old bedroom. Then he goes upstairs and steals one of Mycroft's white shirts.

"I was thinner then," Sherlock explains; John can tell. Sherlock is buttoning up the shirt as he heads down the stairs just ahead of John, who is trying not to stare at his arse. Sherlock adds, "None of my old clothes fit me properly."

John clears his throat, but doesn't say a word.

 

Mycroft doesn't come home, but he does text, while Sherlock is eating the last of John's eggs. "Your brother," John says, around his last rasher of bacon. He hands over the phone.

12:42From: Mycroft Holmes
We're still looking. Stay there. Tell Sherlock I'd rather not have to waste time looking for him, too.

Sherlock rolls his eyes and hands it back. "Are you going to eat your toast?" he asks.

"Yes," John tells him, then frowns.

12:44To: Mycroft Holmes
She hasn't turned up at all? I mean, not at her flat or my flat or Lestrade's or Baker Street? What is she doing?
"I'll make you more," Sherlock tells him seriously.

"Make yourself more," John tells him, and stuffs the last of it into his mouth and chews, crossing his eyes.

Sherlock snorts, but he gets up and sticks another two slices of bread in the toaster and refills their coffee.

"Thanks," John says, and his phone rings. Mycroft Holmes, says the screen. "What's going on?" he asks, tucking it under his ear.

"I'm glad you're finally awake," Mycroft says. He doesn't sound worried, exactly, but John would bet money that he is. "Is my brother handy? He's not picking up his phone."

"I think he left it upstairs, hold on," John says, and hands it over.

"What?" Sherlock asks. "I'm staying in, I'm—I'm eating toast, what more do you want?"

After a moment, Sherlock frowns. "No, that—I mean, that was who Moriarty—no."

John raises an eyebrow at him.

"Harry?" Sherlock asks, and raises an eyebrow at John. John swallows. Sherlock shakes his head and mouthes, She's fine, then says, "Well, that's good news, but I don't know who else—"

John can feel himself go still. He swallows and pushes his plate back and gets to his feet, takes the stairs two at a time. Sherlock's phone is still on the bedside table.

12:13 Missed call from +447700900357
12:39 Missed call from +447700900357
You have 23 unread text messages.

John ignores the notifications and flips over to the text log. It's hard to recognize who's who just from the number, but the homeless network generally only sends quick notes or photographs. He recognizes Mycroft's number, but it still takes him another few moments to track down anything else that looks like a personal message.

13 JulyFrom: +447700900781
Going to be out again tonight?
John swallows and hits "Call", then heads back down the stairs. It rings, and rings, and rings.

"Hi, you've reached Molly Hooper's voicemail," she says on the recording, improbably cheerful. "Leave me a message and I'll call you back."

Sherlock is still holding John's phone to his ear, watching John's face, as John says, "Hi, Molly, it's John," and Sherlock's eyes widen. "Give either me or Sherlock a call back, all right? As soon as you get this. Mine's 07700 900232, you know Sherlock's," as Sherlock is saying into his phone, "No, Mycroft—Molly, Molly Hooper, Dr. Molly Hooper—she lives on Ovington Street and she works at Bart's, forensic pathologist—anyone, everyone, you need to find her," his voice jumping up and echoing off the walls of the kitchen as John goes for his shoes, their coats, his gun.

Chapter Text

18 : 14 July 2012

♫ King Khan and the Shrines - (How Can I Keep You) Outta Harm's Way

 

"Have you got any cash?" Sherlock yells down the stairs.

There's a pause, then John calls back, "Fifty quid," so Sherlock improvises and unfolds a paper clip to use as a pick and takes just shy of half of the cash in small denominations that Mycroft always keeps locked in the top drawer of his desk.

12:57To: +447700900357
Borrowing some money. I'm cleaned out.

12:58From: +447700900357
Sherlock, stay where you are. I'll handle this.

13:01From: +447700900357
Sherlock?

On the ground floor, Sherlock hands a wad of notes to John, who says, "What—"

"If we get separated, you may need it," Sherlock says.

"If you go off on your own, I will shoot you," John warns.

"Wasn't planning on it," Sherlock tells him, "but I'm starting to realize that things don't always go according to my plans."

John laughs a little at that, and shakes his head, and Sherlock pulls out his phone, struggling to put his coat on and text at the same time. John tucks the money into his wallet, saying, "Bart's or her flat?"

"Her flat," Sherlock says, thumb moving. "She doesn't work the Saturday shift unless Dr. Dawson bribes her with wine. Usually stays in and does her laundry."

John glances up at him. Sherlock hits "Send."

13:04To: +447700900232
New number.

Sherlock drops his phone into his pocket and John's phone buzzes in his. "You?" John asks, without taking it out.

"Yep," Sherlock says, shuffling him out the door and hitting the numbers on the keypad to rearm the alarm, # 6 6 0 7 1 9 0 1 *. The light flashes red, so Sherlock blinks, twice, then thinks, then tries, # 8 7 2 0 1 0 1 2 *, and rolls his eyes when the light flashes green; predictable. Sherlock hits "Arm" and steps out and pulls the door shut behind him.

"Thanks," John says, and heads to the street to flag down a cab. Sherlock slides in first and pulls out his phone again.

13:06 Missed call from +447700900357

13:06 New voicemail

Sherlock ignores Mycroft and flips over to his texts.

"Who?" John asks.

Sherlock hits "Send" and tells John, "Lestrade," without looking up.

13:07To: +447700900610
We need to find Molly, right away. Very likely kidnapped--Tina Moran, worked for Moriarty, dangerous. Could use your help. On our way to Molly's flat.

"Good," John says, then adds, "306 Ovington Street," to the cabbie, and then says, "Um—what about—active officers?"

"Not yet," Sherlock says. "I need five minutes in her flat, and then I'll go and you can call."

"Then we'll go and I'll call," John says, turning to look at him.

"Someone needs to stay and explain," Sherlock tells him. "They won't believe just any phone call, they—"

"I'll call Hopkins," John interrupts. "Hopkins isn't an idiot, and he's met her, and if you haven't figured out yet that every time we split up—"

"No, yes, all right," Sherlock tells him, as his phone buzzes in his hand, because John may have a point.

13:08From: +447700900610
Meet you there.

Sherlock clicks past Lestrade's message and finishes sending his texts: Ian, Georgiana, Daniel, and Carol. It's uncomfortably familiar. Sherlock can't help himself; his leg is jittering, and he keeps looking at John and thinking about his sides, his face, all the places Sherlock wants to touch.

"All right?" John asks.

"Yes," Sherlock says, and tries to keep his foot still.

After a minute, John slides over, until their sides are pressed together, and Sherlock looks up at the roof of the cab.

"Thursday," he explains, after a minute. "Mycroft couldn't find you."

John hesitates for a minute before saying, "Ah."

"I was—" Sherlock swallows. "Concerned." He turns to look at John. "You gave Mycroft the phone," Sherlock says, "and then—later. I called you. But you'd already given that phone to Mycroft, and turned yours off."

John's eyes widen. He says, "You—you called me?"

"I was trying," Sherlock explains, and then shrugs awkwardly, because he's really not sure that counts for much.

John rubs the back of his knuckles against Sherlock's knee, and then folds his hands up in his lap.

A moment later, he says, "If your brother couldn't find me on Thursday, I'm—troubled," and Sherlock frowns and asks, "Why?" and John says, "Because I was in my flat, all day—he couldn't've rung the bell?" and Sherlock grimaces and slouches down against John's side and says, "Mycroft. Outwitted by the obvious, again," as they're just turning onto Ovington Street.

John pays the cabbie while Sherlock waits, jumpy and uncomfortable, but unwilling to go up ahead and leave him behind. John pulls his gun as soon as the front door of the building is closed behind them, and they take the stairs two at a time. Sherlock digs Molly's spare key out, glad that this time he didn't leave it behind (he can pick her lock just fine [it's easy, in fact {he probably should mention that}], but it takes time), and unlocks the door, then steps back quickly as it swings open, looking across to John, who is waiting, Sherlock's mirror image only with a gun, with his back against the wall on the other side of the doorway.

Sherlock doesn't hear anything. After a moment, he shakes his head, and then John nods, and steps in. He doesn't put the gun down, just ducks into the hall, pushes open the door of the bathroom, then turns to his right and knocks lightly before stepping into Molly's bedroom. Sherlock stays in the living room, eyes darting over the carpet, the counters, the walls, the hooks, the coffee table, the cat. The cat is upset. It scratches at Sherlock's jeans and yowls; Sherlock scoops it up and tucks it under one arm, its legs dangling by his side, since his own clothes are in short supply and he cares less about the future of Mycroft's shirt. The cat appears to object to its relocation.

"There's no one here," John says, stepping out of Molly's bedroom. "What are you doing to Toby?"

"Who?" Sherlock asks.

"Oh, for the love of—the cat, Sherlock." John tucks his gun back under his jacket and says, "Give him to me, you can't hold him like that."

The cat complains about being handed over, then tries to scratch John's face, which, really.

"I'm not really a cat person," Sherlock tells John, glaring at the cat.

"Just so you know, saying that in that tone of voice usually implies that you are a dog person," John says, turning the cat around so its claws are aimed out. The cat narrows its eyes, but settles. "What was he doing, leaving paw prints on your crime scene?"

"No," Sherlock says, looking at the coat hook. "It's not a crime scene. Molly went out last night and she hasn't been home."

John follows his gaze, but looks confused, so Sherlock tells him, "Her—that ghastly jumper, John. She was going out last night, dressed up, so she left it here, but if she had come back and just gone out again for her shopping—"

"Right," John says, and sighs, putting the cat back on the floor. "So—"

"She mentioned a boyfriend, when she first—helped me out," Sherlock says, frowning, "but she hasn't been out to see him since, that I know of. She said she was going out with friends last night—um, that'd be—Becky, probably, and—I know she mentioned Mary. I don't know any of their surnames, though."

John shifts. "On her computer, maybe?" he suggests. "It's on her bed."

Sherlock nods and heads into Molly's bedroom. Her laptop is an older-generation cousin of Sherlock's, heavier and rather scratched up around the edges, with a sticker spray of cherry blossoms stuck across the back and a mobile broadband adapter sticking out of the side. It's not password protected. John sits next to him while Sherlock pulls up her address book.

Address book. Selected card: Becky Barker, mobile - +44 07700 900741. Amanda Beckett-Price, Roberta Carr, Daniel Crichton, Marjorie Crichton, Sally Donovan, Fred Evans, Sherlock Holmes, Christopher Hooper, Ruby Hunter, Brian Jessup, Greg Lestrade, Laurie Mason, Mary Morstan-Church, Ana Patel...
(click to zoom)

"You start with Amanda," Sherlock says, pulling out his phone and dialing, then clicking down to the next card for John as it rings. "Hi, Becky?" Sherlock says. "Yes, hi, this is Robert Watson, I'm a friend of Molly's?"

 

"Yes," John is saying. Sherlock is clicking down aggressively to Ana's card, when John reaches over and puts his hand on Sherlock's knee and squeezes, then turns Molly's computer towards him and double-clicks, three times, then starts typing. Sherlock moves over so he can see the screen.

left pub round 10 last nght, John types quickly, which means inaccurately, and honestly, his utter lack of typing skills will never stop being frustrating. convo w woman in st, John adds, saying, "Yes, and was she—" as Sherlock tries not to grind his teeth. John looks up and meets Sherlock's eyes. "Yes," he says, pushing up to his feet. "Yes, I think I do know who that is—where were you? Did you see which way they went?"

Sherlock folds Molly's laptop shut and tucks it under his arm, then pulls out his phone.

13:54To: +447700900610
Are you off the Tube yet? We're done here.

Sherlock's phone rings. "Where are you?" he asks. "This is why I always take cabs, the Tube—"

"I didn't take the Tube, I'm driving, I'm stuck in traffic," Lestrade tells him, then groans, and Sherlock hears his horn in the background. "This crap never happened when my car had a siren. I think I'm five minutes away?"

"We're leaving," Sherlock says, "one of her friends saw her leave last night with Moriarty's... colleague. A woman, Tina Moran: dark hair, blue eyes, early thirties."

"Give me to John," Lestrade tells him, but John's still talking to Mary, trailing Sherlock into the kitchen. "Hold on," Sherlock says to Lestrade, then gesticulates at John until he says, "I'm sorry, I—can I call you back? Or can you meet us—yes, thanks, perfect," and hangs up. Sherlock passes over his phone, and John rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, hi," he says, tucking the phone under his ear and bending down to pick up the cat's water dish. "No," he says, refilling it at the tap. "We haven't called yet, I was going to—yes, I know, I had planned on asking for him directly." He sets the dish back on the floor. "Can you meet us at the Beauchamp? Pub over on—yes, I—right."

John hangs up and passes the phone back to Sherlock. Then he pulls his own out again as he follows Sherlock down the stairs, saying, "Yes, hi, may I speak with Detective Inspector Hopkins, please?" Sherlock's thumb flies over the keys: one message, two, and then, on a whim, with his tongue tucked against his teeth, three.

13:55To: +447700900357
Molly was seen with Moran outside a pub--the Beauchamp. Last night, 10 pm.

13:55To: +447700900357
I got your alarm code on the second try, by the way. So much for official secrets.

13:56To: +447700900781
I know you have her. Tell me what I have to do for you to let her go.

 

Mary is fair and petite, with fine, short-cropped blonde hair and a worried smile. She starts talking practically before they've finished introducing themselves, her hands moving quickly as she stands outside the Beauchamp and says, "The whole thing felt off to me, you know? That woman—Mols' friends aren't—well, we just don't tend to look like that, you understand." This, at least, appears to be reasonable; Mary is quite pretty, but she's wearing khaki slacks and sensible shoes and the only jewelry she has on, aside from her wedding ring, is a pair of very nice pearl earrings. Mary takes a breath, and adds, "And Molly looked at her like she was a stranger, but then the woman said something and Molly smiled at her, and I sort of—told myself I was imagining things. But I wasn't, was I?"

"No," John tells her, just as Lestrade is jogging up. "Um, this is—"

"Greg Lestrade, hi," he says, smiling at her.

"Mary Morstan-Church," she says. "You're the—you're a policeman, aren't you?"

"Yes," he tells her. He appears to be utterly unfazed by the fact that this is, at the moment, in the strictest sense, a lie. "I'm here unofficially, though, you know," he says. "It hasn't been long enough, properly speaking, but—I'm her friend."

"Oh, good," she says, and smiles at him. Sherlock watches her gaze flick down to Lestrade's left hand; he's finally taken off the ring, but the tan line is still visible. Sherlock wonders what she makes of that. "I was just saying," she says, "the woman who Molly went off with—"

"Definitely not a nice person," John cuts in. "We know who she is; we just need to know where they went."

"To the right, at first," Mary says. "But a minute later, a black van came back the other way; seemed like it was going a bit fast. My husband said I was being paranoid, but I marked down the license plate number on a napkin—I don't know, it just felt—off." She digs the napkin out of her handbag.

"Good instincts," John says, smiling at her. She smiles back.

"Not that good," Sherlock tells her, reaching out for the napkin. "You should've called the police."

"Why?" she asks, raising an eyebrow at him. "Because a friend of mine talked to a perfectly nice looking woman in an expensive coat and then I saw a van driving faster than I'd recommend?"

"Ignore him," Lestrade tells her, as Sherlock's phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out, and Lestrade adds, "He's a congenital bastard."

14:11From: +447700900781
You can come and have a chat with me.

Mary laughs, a little, but the worried expression hasn't left her face. She says, "You will call me, won't you? And keep me posted? I'm worried about her."

"I'll make sure we keep in touch," John tells her. "I have your number. Thank you, Mary."

"Of course," she says, and tucks her hands in the pockets of her trousers.

Sherlock is already walking and texting at the same time.

14:12To: +447700900781
When and where?

"Sherlock!" John calls, and jogs up behind him, Lestrade at his heels. Sherlock licks his lips and opens a new text.

"Texting Mycroft the license plate number," Sherlock tells him, doing so, "though I doubt it'll get us anywhere." He looks over at John and meets his eyes, reshifting Molly's laptop under his arm. John opens his mouth, then closes it again. Sherlock relaxes.

"Where next?" Lestrade asks.

"Lestrade, will Hopkins listen to you?" Sherlock asks.

"Probably, yeah," Lestrade says. "He had a bit of a—hero-worship thing for you, you know. Always wanted to be transferred over to me, before his promotion, but I like working with Donovan."

Sherlock snorts. "Don't know why," he says, and hands over the napkin.

"She's a good cop, Sherlock," Lestrade sighs, pulling out his phone. "She saw something that seemed wrong and she told the right people and it may have cost her her career. That may be the definition of a good cop."

Sherlock waves this objection away. "She's not creative," he says.

"She's smart and she's methodical, and a lot of the time, that's better," Lestrade tells him, tucking the phone under his ear. "You may get to make the great intuitive leaps, but we still have to do the goddamned work." He turns away, saying into his phone, "Stan? Greg Lestrade. I know I'm not official any longer, but I think I have something that you need."

John puts his hand on Sherlock's arm, and Sherlock looks down at him. John isn't saying anything. Sherlock's phone buzzes in his pocket.

"We should go back to Mycroft's house," Sherlock tells him. "We can't do anything else here, and I need to think."

"All right," John says, and then waits for Lestrade to hang up the phone. "Can you give us a lift?" John asks, and Lestrade frowns.

"You're not packing it in, are you?" Lestrade asks, but he's digging out his keys.

"No," Sherlock says, trying to thumb out a reply to Georgiana. "But the van is the best lead at the moment, and we are not the most efficient way to track that down. I'm alerting my network as well, and then—we wait."

"You want me to hold Molly's laptop?" John asks, and Sherlock passes it over, saying, "Yes." It's easier to text with both hands free.

"The thing I need most right now is information," Sherlock says, without looking up. "Lestrade, if Hopkins will talk to you—"

"I'll keep you posted," Lestrade tells him as they walk. "He might even—I may not have a badge but I may be able to convince him to let me in on the small stuff. We'll find her, Sherlock."

"Yes, well, between you and Mycroft and the Met and the homeless network, someone really ought to," Sherlock says, without looking up. "And—be careful, Lestrade. I'd hate for Moran to catch you off your guard."

"Of course," Lestrade says, unlocking the car, then adds, "You'll look after him," not to Sherlock, and John replies, "Always try to."

Sherlock's still texting when they get back to Mycroft's. As Sherlock pushes his seat forward to let John out of the back seat of Lestrade's car, John asks, "All right?"

Sherlock holds out his hand to pull him up, and says, "I'm worried."

"I know," John says, and follows Sherlock into the house.

Sherlock drops his phone back into his pocket. He still hasn't got a reply.

 

The van. The laptop. John. Molly's awful jumper. The pub. The van. The laptop. John. The cat. John.

John hands him a cup of tea and says nothing.

John's still got shadows under his eyes and he missed a spot near his ear when he was shaving and his shirt is untucked and his feet are bare and Sherlock wants to gather them up and press them to his chest and hold him there, home, safe, with you, but Molly Molly Molly he has to focus on Molly. Molly is missing. He corrected Molly's form after she punched him in the face; he hopes that she remembers what he told her. It was a surprisingly good punch; he hopes that she can do it again, that she has made someone hurt for hurting her; but mostly he hopes that she is still Molly and not—not nothing but abandoned meat, because he used her without apology and she turned into something a bit like a friend anyway and John's hair is still longer than he likes it and Sherlock can't afford to think about that right now. The van. The laptop. John. Molly's awful jumper. The pub. The van. The laptop. John. The cat. John. Molly.

Sherlock drinks his tea. It's gone cold.

When John leaves the living room, Sherlock watches him go. John's laptop is on the table, open, next to Molly's, closed, and John's phone, dark and silent. Sherlock blinks, then reaches over, and picks up John's phone. He turns it over in his hand, slowly, thinking. Then he sets it back down on the table, just as it was.

John comes back. Sherlock watches him. Sherlock is not a good person; he's known that for years. It's still shocking to him, though, that Molly can be gone, taken, because of him, and all these thoughts can crowd that one thought, that one important thought, so far to the edges. Sherlock is thinking about sex. Sherlock is thinking about John's mouth on him, his mouth on John, curved together as perfect and endless as the ouroboros, as infinity. Sherlock is thinking about pressing John down into Mycroft's expensively upholstered beige sofa and working him open one finger at a time. Sherlock is thinking about whether John would be shocked or intrigued or desperate or all three, about how John's cheeks and chest would flush, about how his mouth would be round and open as he gasped and panted, about how his eyelashes would shadow the tops of his cheeks. John leaves again. Sherlock is thinking about curving his body around John's and inside John's and then pressing his face to the top of John's scarred left shoulder and not moving at all, ever again. Sherlock is wondering how far he'd have to go, before John would tell him no. He shivers. John comes back.

"All right?" John asks, handing him another cup of tea and a slice of toast.

Sherlock looks at the toast. He tries to focus on the toast. Toast. Toast is a compromise between them, like biscuits and a handful of John's crisps: something he can eat without forks or thinking about it because if he doesn't he gets light-headed when the adrenaline drains down and then he feels sick and then John is unhappy. John. Molly.

"You should eat something," John tells him, and Sherlock leans towards the coffee table and puts the tea down and the toast down next to their laptops and their phones and then looks up at John, standing beside the arm of the chair, just to his left, and tells him, "Come here."

John hesitates.

"Can't think," Sherlock tells him, "desperate to fuck you."

John's mouth parts, just slightly. His pupils are dilating, heart rate and respiration rising. Sherlock can smell him.

"Come here," Sherlock repeats, and John's hand slides into his hair, and Sherlock reaches up to pull him down, fingers tangled in the front of John's shirt, John's spine bent awkward and ungainly over Sherlock sitting down in the chair until John slides his knee in between Sherlock's thigh and the chair and slides his weight up into Sherlock's lap, heavy and grounding and exquisite. Sherlock pulls his mouth away from John's long enough to say, "I want to, can I—" as he thumbs open the button on John's jeans, and John mumbles, "Jesus Christ, Sherlock, we're in your brother's living room," and Sherlock tells him, "He won't be home for hours," and John tells him, "It's half nine, you idiot," and Sherlock can't stand it, he can't stand it, he's lost nearly eight hours he should've spent finding Molly to trying to think about finding Molly but mostly just fantasizing about John on his knees in the shower, so Sherlock pushes John up off his lap and tugs down his zip, yanking the whole lot of John's boxers and jeans down past his knees.

"Oh, fuck," John mumbles, and puts his hands over his face. He's hard, and flushing straight down past his navel, and Sherlock really can't look away. He leans forward and presses his face against John's hip and breathes, inhaling the complicated aerosol science of John's body, then pulls back just long enough to grab his phone off the coffee table. He sits back, pulling John back up into his lap, barely looking—missed messages, texts, later—thumbing out, Don't come home in the next 30 minutes, then pressing "Send" and dropping his phone on the carpet. John is pushing his hands down into Sherlock's shoulders and kissing him, his pulse hot and fast under Sherlock's thumbs pressed into his hips. The hem of John's shirt is brushing the tops of Sherlock's hands, setting off a low, quaking rush that reverberates beneath his skin. Sherlock slides his hands over John's bare arse, folds his fingers and squeezes, and John makes a low, choked noise, and says, "Jesus, you mean—"

"I want to," Sherlock tells him. He's breathless, like he's been running. He feels lightheaded. He says, "I want to, I—can I?"

John says, "Oh, fu—Jesus, Sherlock, yes, but—" and Sherlock presses his tongue to John's skin saltsweaty and pushes the tip of his finger just against him and John tenses and pulls away and says, "—but wait, Sherlock, we don't—" and Sherlock mumbles, "Can't wait, I—I can't think, John, I—" and John says, "You—you haven't ever done this, have you," and Sherlock pulls back and blinks up at him and says, "You haven't either," and John says, "Actually, I have," and Sherlock says, "You've never had sex with a man," and John licks his lips and says, "No, but some of my girlfriends have been a bit creative, so, I mean, you can, Sherlock, but not like this, not without—just," and slides down off Sherlock's lap and kneels between his calves and undoes his flies, and says, "All right?"

"No," Sherlock tells him, as John tugs down Sherlock's jeans and pants, because Sherlock wants—but then John wraps his hand around him and looks up at him and Sherlock says, "Oh," and drops his head against the backrest of Mycroft's chair and watches John kneeling between his knees with his hand on Sherlock's erection. It makes every hair on his entire body stand quiveringly on end.

"All right?" John repeats, stroking him, a little harder than Sherlock really likes, but—oh, "Yes," Sherlock breathes, thinking of John's hand on John's body with John's door shut and Sherlock downstairs tuning his violin like he didn't know. John's lips curl up, lopsided, and he says, "This—so, this I actually haven't done before, so," and then John leans in and puts his mouth on—Sherlock folds his hands over his face.

John's mouth is hot and wet and clumsy and every touch burns through Sherlock's entire body, until he is weak and shaking, melting into nothing but his hot and liquid desire to be poured down John's throat. Sherlock half-rises half-falls like a marionette with tangled strings up out of his chair and down onto the floor to push John back into the carpet and call up every shameful scorching-hot too-well-learned lesson he was taught in the damp in the woods in May until John cries out and pulls his hair and Sherlock's eyes fly open wide and he swallows and swallows and swallows.

"Jesus Christ," John pants, throwing his arm up over his face, and Sherlock struggles to pull himself away and put his clothes to rights and reach out for his phone, to seize the tenuous and temporary functionality of his brain to look and read and think.

He has to read it twice. He rubs his hand through his hair and swallows, then thumbs out a reply and shuts his phone. He stands up. John is still lying on the carpet, half-naked, trying to catch his breath.

"Put your pants on," Sherlock tells him, and steps over him, and settles himself down shaking and horrified into his chair.

John props himself up on his elbow, saying, "Sherlock?"

"Shut up," Sherlock tells him. "Get dressed, then leave me alone."

Chapter Text

19 : 14 July 2012

♫ Sleater-Kinney - Let's Call It Love (Warning: 26.1 MB)

 

"What?" John says, and then laughs, because—what?

Sherlock says nothing. He doesn't even look down at John, just stares straight ahead with his jaw set and the sex flush still fading from his cheeks and his throat. John can't believe it.

"You're serious, aren't you," John says, low. He shakes his head, then sits up, grabs his boxers, tugs them on. He says, "You know, just—"

"Shut up," Sherlock says, without looking at him. "I need—"

"You need me to punch you, is what you need," John tells him, because Sherlock really, really does, and Sherlock does look down at him at that, eyes glittering, and says, "Do it, then," and John shakes his head and grabs his jeans, standing up and stepping into them and saying, "Not going to give you the fucking satisfaction, you bastard."

Sherlock huffs and looks away, mouth tight, and John shakes his head, steps over, bends down over Sherlock's chair and presses his fists into the back, straddling Sherlock's bony knees. Their heads are inches apart. Sherlock is breathing hard and staring at John's chest like his life depends on not meeting John's eyes. John hears Sherlock's phone buzz and thinks that if Sherlock checks it, John may actually be forced to shoot him in the head.

Sherlock doesn't check it.

"Not letting you," John tells him. "I'm not letting you do this, Sherlock. It's not fair."

"Nothing in life is fair," Sherlock tells John's chest.

John shakes his head, then reaches down and grabs Sherlock's jaw, forces his head up. Sherlock snarls at him, but meets his eyes.

"There are two of us," John reminds him. "There are still two of us."

"Molly is more important," Sherlock says.

"Molly isn't a fucking free pass," John says. "You can't say things like that to me, you can't—"

"I can't change the rules, can I?" Sherlock says, and laughs. "And what about you? You—you keep, you keep being around—"

"I've always 'been around'," John tells him, feeling his blood heating up under his cheeks.

"—and you—and you let me," Sherlock says, eyes fluttering shut, hands fisting on the arms of the chair, "and I can't, I can't do this, I've never been able to do this, I—"

"What'd the text say, Sherlock?" John grinds out. "What'd the text say that makes you feel like you have to throw away—"

"A shag?" Sherlock says, low and furious, opening his eyes. "When have I ever cared about a shag, John? I thought you knew me better than that."

"I'm not a shag and we both know it," John tells him, tight. "If you want to lie to me you'd better come up with something a hell of a lot better than that."

Sherlock stares him in the eye and says nothing, until John half laughs and pulls back, steps back, shaking his head.

"You know what?" he says. "I don't even know why I bother."

"Neither do I," Sherlock says, low. "You know I don't work right."

"Oh, you work just fine," John tells him. "You know exactly how to playact at being normal for us ordinary people until it becomes inconvenient, and then you drop it all and pretend you don't know any better because—because you're such a fucking coward that—"

"Coward?" Sherlock says, lip curling. "You're going to throw that one at me?" He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Really, John? Why haven't you called Stamford's wife?"

John stills, then says, "You're sure I haven't, are you?"

He realizes his mistake almost immediately, as Sherlock meets his eyes and says, "Yes," very evenly.

John looks away, shaking his head.

"You would've told me if you'd talked to her," Sherlock tells him. His voice is just raised, with an edge so sharp it glints. "You would've told me, one way or the other, whatever she said, but you haven't told me anything, ergo, you haven't talked to her."

"It doesn't matter," John says, stepping over to the other side of the coffee table, reaching one trembling hand down for his phone. "Me calling won't make a damn bit of difference to whether Mike lives or dies."

"So why not call, then?" Sherlock asks, sharp. "It'd be the considerate thing to do. She doesn't know you were the one who shot him, and you did, after all, spend the better part of Thursday evening trying to make sure her husband didn't bleed out all over Molly's carpet; a follow-up call would be expected. So why haven't you called? Afraid her concern and her grief might make you uncomfortable?"

"I'm afraid that Mike is going to die, and I will have killed him," John snaps. He glances down at his phone but he can't even see to read the screen. He drops it back on the table. "I'm afraid I've killed a good man, a friend, and—he has two kids, Sherlock, do you—do you even know that? He has two little girls and their names are Katie and Bess and the older one is eight and I may have taken away their dad. I may have taken away Norah's husband. Don't you dare act like that's nothing."

"And this is nothing, is it," Sherlock says, very low, then adds, in a voice that grinds like broken glass, "that my entire life has narrowed to the space you occupy."

John closes his eyes.

"Eight hours, John," Sherlock says, and digs his phone out. There's an infinitesimal pause before Sherlock says, "I sat here for almost eight hours and heard nothing. I came up with nothing. Eight hours. Forty-seven texts. Most of them from the homeless network; plenty there for me to work through. Also Mycroft: 'CCTV lost the van in Mayfair; still looking for Moran.' Lestrade: 'tracked the van, stolen last night, turned up this morning, nothing useful on forensics.' Eight hours, John, while I sit here and try not to think about—about everything we could—about you, while Molly is locked up somewhere by a madwoman that no one can find, and—"

"That isn't my fault," John says, and Sherlock tells him, "No, it's mine."

John shakes his head, then looks up at the ceiling, for help that won't come.

Sherlock tells him, "You may be able to step away from your body as it is with another person's body as easily as you step away from your dirty clothes, but I can't."

"You've never exactly taken the opportunity to try, though, have you?" John says, looking up at him.

"I did, once," Sherlock tells him, mouth tight. "Didn't work out."

"God," John says. "Just—Jesus, Sherlock, that kid—that stupid fucking boy," and he hates the way his voice cracks on that, "I don't even know his name and I still want to strangle him for what he did to you—"

"He didn't do anything to me," Sherlock says, low.

"Right," John says, laughing, "right, of course he didn't, of course, because none of it's important, is it? You're so above all this, so he couldn't possibly have—"

"He didn't do anything to me!" Sherlock yells, and drops his head back against the chair, and then laughs, raw and terrible. "God, John, don't you get it? He, he said, 'I want to, let's,' and he was my age and he was—God, he was even almost kind to me and there wasn't a single thing in it that was sordid except that I wanted him so badly that it practically killed me to know that we breathed the same kind of air. I am like this because I have always been like this. He didn't do anything to me. Nothing in this is about him."

He looks back up over to John, whose mind has gone blank, fuzzy with static.

Sherlock shakes his head, exhaling a puff of a laugh. "That's what you've been thinking, is it?" he says, voice rough. "Some terrible adolescent heartbreak, and then—then what, John? You'd come along and I'd have a nice healing shag, and that'd be all it takes, to make me normal, to—"

"I haven't been thinking anything of the kind," John tells him, against the ache each of Sherlock's words is carving into his bones. "I've been thinking that you're the goddamned love of my life, and all I want is to be close to you—"

"Whenever you want, whenever it's convenient," Sherlock finishes, "whether or not I—" and John straightens, and interrupts, "The last word on the planet that I would use to describe you is convenient."

Sherlock exhales and drops his head back against his chair.

John closes his eyes. "You lied to me," he says, quiet. "And not—not a little lie, Sherlock, you told me a lie that contained fucking multitudes, all right? You treated me like I was—like I was furniture. Not—not a friend. Not a partner. Like I had no right to make a choice. You are." He exhales, long and slow, and says, "You are not even a little bit convenient."

Sherlock is silent for a long, long time. After a while, John drops down onto the sofa, and reaches for his phone.

"I can't do this," Sherlock tells him. "I can't—I can't have you be so—so on offer—"

"I'm not a bloody buffet, Sherlock," John tells him, and drops his head down. His throat hurts.

"But you love me and it's easy for you, so you won't make me stop," Sherlock says, low.

John looks over at him. He says, "And you need to be stopped, do you."

"Yes," Sherlock says, and lifts up his eyebrow and his phone. "Forty-seven texts, John. Eight hours. And Molly is still missing."

"We weren't having sex for eight hours," John points out.

"No," Sherlock says, low. "I was only wanting us to."

John leans back against the sofa cushions and stares up at the ceiling.

"There is something wrong with me," Sherlock tells him, very low. "I can't—I can't do this, I can't manage this, it destroys me. I touched Nick and then failed five of my GCSE mocks and got bumped down to the second set in Maths; I touched you and now Molly might die. It's me, it's my entire—I can't, I'm not—I'm not like other people, John, I can't keep this in a box and put it aside."

John swallows. He says, "So you think because you find sex overwhelming, it means you're allowed to hurt me."

"I think because I find sex overwhelming, hurting you is simply inevitable," Sherlock tells him, but he doesn't look up, and he doesn't meet John's eyes.

"And you think it would be easier," John says, quiet, "if we just weren't having sex."

Sherlock is quiet for a long time. Finally he says, "It would be easier if we couldn't."

John rubs his thumb across his eyebrow. He says, "Right," and then leans forward, and picks up his phone.

Sherlock watches him. "Are we... finished, then," he asks, very low.

"No," John says, standing. "We're not even a little bit finished. But I'm starving, and your brother has nothing in that's not diet or high fiber or nonfat, so, I'm ordering Chinese."

"Oh," Sherlock says, shifting.

"You just—you just go ahead and do what you need to do," John tells him, gesturing at their laptops, "and I'll—I'll just have to talk you out of it later."

 

John ends up waiting in the kitchen, because Sherlock's presence is like a toothache; he can't stop poking at it. He reads through Mycroft's and Greg's texts, all of which he's sure were copied to Sherlock, and none of which are helpful. Then he rests his arms on the counter and thinks about nothing and waits for the bell to ring. Eventually, it does. He goes to the door, digging out his own cash; Mycroft's money is still tucked behind his shopping list, which has now largely been rendered irrelevant. Sherlock is already punching in the code on the keypad; John waits for him to finish, then opens the door, pays, and closes it again, and then waits for Sherlock to turn the alarm back on.

"If you haven't been here in years, when did he give you the code?" John asks.

"It wasn't difficult to guess," Sherlock says. "For years, it was my birthday."

"Oh," John says. He doesn't say, that's sweet or that's surprising, even though it's both, and Sherlock takes the food out of his hands and adds, "Encoded, of course, though not very comprehensively."

John thinks about that as he trails him back into the kitchen, sitting at the counter and watching Sherlock pull down plates, dish out fried rice and orange beef and divvy up the eggrolls, three to John, one for him.

"You're eating tonight?" John asks him.

"Athletics generally make me hungry," Sherlock says quietly, without looking up, and hands over a pair of paper-wrapped chopsticks and all the packets of hot mustard.

John watches him bite into his eggroll and then set it aside, steam curling out of the open end, and then looks back down at his own plate and takes a bite of broccoli. After a minute, he says, low, "After I got shot in the shoulder I walked with a cane and my hands shook when I tried to dice onions."

Sherlock looks up at him.

"I just mean," John says, and then clears his throat. "I know something about your body betraying you." He swallows. "I mean. About one's body. Betraying one."

Sherlock drops his head and nods, then digs out a piece of beef. "I wouldn't mind so much," he says, "if it were just my body."

"I know," John says, and after that, they eat in silence.

John does the washing up while Sherlock stashes the leftovers in Mycroft's fridge, then makes them each a cup of tea. Mycroft comes in while they're waiting for it to brew and says, "Orange beef?"

"Leftovers in the fridge," Sherlock tells him.

"Thank you, no," Mycroft says, and sighs. John thinks he looks rather wistful. "Any particular reason why your electronics have colonized my coffee table?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, and looks up to meet Mycroft's eyes, and if John hadn't been sure before, he's sure now. He feels his cheeks flush, hot and red, and looks over at Sherlock, who glances at him and just raises an eyebrow. John swallows every hot-angry thing he has to say, and chases it with a sip of his tea.

"Ah," Mycroft says, then adds, "Are you planning on working more this evening?"

"I'm tired," Sherlock tells him, which is a wholly transparent lie.

"Of course you are," Mycroft says. "Well, sleep well. I'll be upstairs, in my office, in the... highly unlikely event that you need me." He nods at John, then heads out.

"God," John mumbles, after he goes. When he looks over, Sherlock is almost, but not quite, smiling. John says, "Tired, are you?"

Sherlock ducks his head, shrugging. He says, low, "Rather not have it out in my brother's living room."

"Already did," John points out. Sherlock does smile at that, but it looks awkward and achy. John reaches over and touches his side. He says, "C'mon, then," and takes his tea, and Sherlock follows him up the stairs.

 

"Do you have your phone?" Sherlock asks, as John closes the door.

"Yeah, why?" John asks.

"In case," Sherlock says, and then stops, shrugging one shoulder up.

"Oh," John says, and then clears his throat. Sherlock is hovering, back towards John, shoulders hunched. His hands are restless, tugging the blankets straight, smoothing out the pillow, but John made the bed earlier and it's not a large room, so there really isn't that much for him to do. John clears his throat again, and Sherlock stops, but doesn't turn back to look at him. Sherlock's fingers are tensed, curled in towards his palms, hanging not quite at rest at his sides.

"Anything new?" John asks, leaning his back against the door.

"No," Sherlock says, and sighs.

"So what now?" John asks, and Sherlock rubs one hand through his fringe and says, "We wait."

"Right," John says. "Um. What for?"

"Anything," Sherlock says, low. "She's—she knows we're looking, and she's waiting for us to exhaust our options. She's waiting for us to give up."

"Then what?" John asks, quiet.

Sherlock is quiet for a long moment. Then he says, "I don't know."

John watches his back. He thinks that Sherlock is lying, that Sherlock does know, or at least has a very good idea.

"You won't do anything without me," John says, low, and Sherlock's breath catches, and he inhales, then exhales, then shakes his head.

"All right," John says, and pushes off of the door, comes around to sit on the foot of the bed. After a long moment, Sherlock seems to get tired of staring at the absolute nothing directly above the far side of the headboard, and folds himself down next to John, long legs folded up in a way that John thinks would be impossible for just about anyone else in jeans that tight: knees bent up, the soles of his bare feet resting on the duvet. He's facing the wall, not John. John reaches out over Sherlock's left foot and trails his finger just along the arch of the right, and Sherlock shivers.

"So it'd be easier if we couldn't have sex, would it," John says, quiet, and Sherlock looks up at the ceiling, and says nothing.

John says, "What—just what're we talking about, then?"

Sherlock blinks and looks over at him.

"I mean," John says, quiet. "I'm not—I don't, I don't think I can leave."

"I don't want you to," Sherlock tells him, "but—"

"So the way I see it," John interrupts, because Sherlock is about to say something stupid, "is—is that I need to know what to expect."

Sherlock stares at him.

"I like sex, Sherlock," John tells him. "I—I like sex a lot, I like—I like orgasms and I like orgasms with another person and I like being close to another person, in—in that way. I—I couldn't do what you've done, all right? I—I start to go a bit, a bit bonkers if I go for more than three or four months, to be honest. I put up with it in the army, when I had to, because a lot of times it was the only ethical choice, but it was. It was really difficult, Sherlock, and I'd be lying to you if I didn't say that just about the only thing I looked forward to, those first months back, was the possibility of an actual real-life in-person shag."

Sherlock doesn't laugh. He nods a little, though. John licks his lips.

"It would be easier for me," John tells him, "if we could have sex," and John can actually see the instant Sherlock works that one all the way through, the way his eyes widen, a fraction of a second after John says it.

"But it's—you're saying it's not impossible if we don't," Sherlock says, straightening up.

"Is it impossible for you if we do?" John asks.

Sherlock swallows. He says, "I don't know."

John nods. He says, "I don't know either," and Sherlock nods and rests his chin on his knees, and stares at the wall.

Sherlock says, "That's. Fair."

John nods again, then looks away. He sits up straight, his hands clasped in his lap, and stares at the door handle. He thinks about Sherlock gasping beneath him, Like—like my cells aren't big enough, and it shoots a spike of want so sharp and deep into him that it actually makes him catch his breath. He rubs at his eyebrow, and sighs.

"Maybe we should go back," Sherlock whispers. John turns to look at him. Sherlock says. "To—to the way it was before, with the—the women, and." He stops, and takes a shaky breath, and presses his face to his knees.

"That's not what you want," John observes, and Sherlock tells him, "You, of all people, should know better than to give me what I want," and John says, "Also wouldn't be particularly fair to the women," then tightens the clasp of his hands, and adds, "or to me."

Sherlock's breathing is ragged, a little too fast. He says, "I don't know why you'd let me do these things to you."

"Well," John says. "Rather stupid about you, to be honest," and Sherlock makes a soft, unhappy sound, so John tells him, gentle, "I think I'm all right with that, though."

"I'm more all right with it than I should be," Sherlock says, and then sighs.

John nods, because coming from Sherlock, he thinks that might be very nearly sweet.

After a minute, he asks, "Will you let me kiss you?"

Sherlock is silent for a long time. He says, "I—I want to. But it's—I'm very bad, John, at not taking—everything."

John nods and licks his lips. He says, "When you're not on a case, then?"

"Oh, God," Sherlock breathes, and John looks over at him, and shifts, a little, because he's fairly certain that he can guess what Sherlock's thinking.

"Not boring, then?" he asks, lips quirking, and Sherlock flushes pink, but he doesn't disagree.

John looks back at the door. He says, "So. We can—we can start there, can we? And—and see?"

Sherlock is silent for a long, long time. Then he says, very soft, "You should have someone better."

John shakes his head. "Don't," he says, low. "I—I don't want someone better."

"You want me to be better," Sherlock says, very low, and John says, "I want you to be with me," and Sherlock says, "I want to be better, for you," and John says, "Oh, God," and exhales, and lets his head hang down, and closes his eyes.

The quiet spreads out around them. John thinks, half desperate, that he could live on that, on seven simple words, and then wonders if he ought to. He tries to count the number of times that Sherlock has hurt him and then he tries to figure out how many times it was intentional, and then he hears it thrumming through him, I want to be better, for you. He is aware of Sherlock's body, sliding towards his, but the press of Sherlock's mouth at the nape of his neck is still a surprise.

"Is it always like this?" Sherlock asks, mouth moving against John's skin, and then drops his face down against the back of John's shoulder.

John looks up at the ceiling.

"I mean," Sherlock says, low, "is it always this hard?"

John licks his lips. "No," he replies, hoarse, and then clears his throat.

Sherlock is very still, his breathing even and heavy and damp through John's shirt.

"I mean—um," John says, and swallows, and says, "Just the once, generally, I think."

Sherlock exhales, and slides his arm around John's waist, his torso twisted against John's back. John folds his arm over Sherlock's and interlaces their hands, just below his ribs.

"We need to get some sleep," Sherlock tells him, quiet.

"You won't be able to sleep," John says.

"You need to get some sleep," Sherlock corrects, and John nods and leans back against him and closes his eyes, saying, "In a minute."

Chapter Text

20 : 14 July 2012 - 15 July 2012

♫ The Avett Brothers - Head Full Of Doubt, Road Full Of Promise

 

It takes forty-seven minutes from the time he slips under the covers and Sherlock turns off the light for John's shoulders to relax into something that Sherlock can believe is genuinely sleep.

He flips open his phone and reads the whole thing again.


13:56To: +447700900781
I know you have her. Tell me what I have to do for you to let her go.


14:11From: +447700900781
You can come and have a chat with me.


14:12To: +447700900781
When and where?


17:19From: +447700900781
Tomorrow morning, I think. You ought to be ready by then. Given up on the van yet? 219 Hardwick Street. 10 am.


21:49To: +447700900781
What about Molly?


21:51From: +447700900781
Don't worry about Molly. She's being fed and watered regularly. I even gave her a book. I won't hurt her--unless you don't play by the rules.

He looks over at the S-curve of John's body under the blankets, at his shoulders hunched in sleep. The easiest answer, he thinks, would be to leave. To leave, and to tell him nothing. John would find out, of course, and hate him for it. Sherlock knows now, he thinks, what John can and cannot forgive. That isn't the question. He knows that John wouldn't be able to forgive him for leaving him outside, not now, not again, but Sherlock wonders, with his stomach heavy and empty like a rotting gourd in his chest, would that be such a terrible thing?  John would—go back. He would no longer feel obliged to tie his life to Sherlock's. They might, someday, again be something very like friends, but not today, not now, not for this. In this time, Sherlock would be able to do what needed to be done. John would leave him, and then no one would have a reason to use John against him, or him against John. An atomic bomb defused before deployment by the utter disintegration of its maker.

Sherlock had had his tonsils out at eleven; it'd been excruciating, and he'd lain on his side in a miserable ball for a week and a half, drinking only when his thirst became unbearable, eating only when forced, and not sleeping at all, until the agony had passed and he had found, somehow, surprisingly, that he was still real and whole and breathing. It might, he thinks, be very much like that.

Then again. It might not.

Sherlock finds his fingers itching for a cigarette. Need. It is—in the words of lovely, understandable, untouchable Hannah—distasteful. Sherlock wants to laugh. It is distasteful like John's body above him is distasteful, like the rough red warp and weft of John's scar, like John's hands John's mouth John's breath. Sherlock hadn't been able to stand it, earlier. The very fact of John's presence had been obliterating. Sherlock had felt loathing bubble up inside him, for that, but John had given him what he asked for and then given him what he wanted and then given him what he needed and forgiven him for the way that none of those things were the same, and the loathing had collapsed in on itself and vanished in a soundless blink of gravity and endless, crushing night. Sherlock wants. He wants John to hold him up and hold him down, for John to press his heart and hands and body through the rice-paper perforations of Sherlock's tattered self. It is terrifying; insane. Sherlock would let John do anything to him. Sherlock might even want him to.

Sherlock needs a cigarette.

It's unfortunate that nicotine was never Mycroft's vice. There's a careful two slices of what Sherlock is certain is excellent chocolate cake in the freezer—in case of emergencies—but Sherlock has spent more hours than he can count crippled by chemical want in the bedroom at the end of the first floor's very short hall, and Mycroft has never let him bring anything, not even nicotine patches, into the house. Not here, Sherlock, he had said, not ever here, his voice hateful and gentle as he sat on the edge of the bed by Sherlock's side and pushed Sherlock's sweat-matted hair out of his eyes. Sherlock had bitten down his rage and blinked back the blinding sting in his eyes but said nothing, made no noise, and then he had fallen down twice more (the police the first time, hospital again the second) and each time Mycroft had collected him and brought him here and watched him and stroked his hair and said nothing, so that the end result is that Sherlock knows with blinding and agonizing certainty that there are two slices of excellent chocolate cake in the freezer and not so much as a single years-old half-smoked cigarette in any nook or cranny anywhere in the entirety of Mycroft's vast, dull house. If Sherlock wants a cigarette, Sherlock will have to leave and buy himself a pack of cigarettes, at half two in the morning. Maybe things will be easy. Maybe if he goes out to get a cigarette, Moran will shoot him in the head. It seems depressingly unlikely.

Sherlock exhales and waits and watches John sleep and discovers that desire still is as he has always found it: blinding terror atop rage and grief. Sherlock has always wanted more than he can have, wanted to be good and right and important, wanted to not drag the people he cares about into danger or damage them through his accidental and inevitable neglect. Sherlock thinks about John and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade and Molly—Molly, who seems to be able to find nothing but compassion inside her for everyone and anyone, who cares that he gets it right, who has done nothing but help him, and whom he has discounted and ignored and forgotten, unforgivably, twice. The first time saved his life; the second may cost her hers, and she didn't even get the opportunity to yell at him because he used up the last of her conditioner. Sherlock doesn't want any of that. He wants it erased. He wants her home and safe, Lestrade home and safe, Mrs. Hudson home and safe, John home and safe, and himself being nowhere breaking nothing at all. Sherlock wants to stop being an expense for which other people pay.

If he leaves, John will never forgive him. He knows that. He knows that it is true. He knows that John will hate him and it will be ruined, finally and truly over and finished, forever raw-edged and incomplete. He knows that that would be best. He thinks about what he wants, which is impossible, and what is best, which is unbearable.

Then he gives up, and tries to think about what is right.

Sherlock needs a cigarette.

 

The clock on the bedside table chirps at quarter to nine. John grunts, face mashed into the back of Sherlock's neck, and Sherlock moves under the arm John's draped across his chest to reach out and silence the alarm.

"Morning?" John asks, thick.

"Go back to sleep," Sherlock tells him, soft, turning against him, and John mumbles, "No, no, m'awake," then, as Sherlock kisses his jaw, very light, John exhales, slow, and sinks back under.

Sherlock sits up carefully and tugs the blankets back up over John's side. John curls up around the space where Sherlock was lying, brow furrowing, but he doesn't wake up again, and Sherlock resists the temptation to bend back down and kiss him again. John didn't sleep well, and Sherlock knows it, and it will be better for the both of them if he can make up for it now. Sherlock resets the alarm for noon, just in case, then goes to shower and shave.

Mycroft is in the kitchen, reading the newspaper (honestly, it's like he thinks Sherlock doesn't know what he does for a living) and eating nonfat yogurt and a banana with a displeased expression.

"Good morning," he says, as Sherlock pours himself a cup of coffee. "John sleeping?"

"Yes," Sherlock says. "Let him."

Mycroft smirks at him, and Sherlock rolls his eyes. Sherlock says, "He doesn't have anything he needs to do this morning, and I have to run an errand."

Mycroft makes a considering sort of noise, then curls his lip and takes another bite of his banana. He chews and swallows and says, "Don't forget your phone."

Sherlock rolls his eyes and says, "You're still the funniest person I know, Mycroft."

"Well, I do try," Mycroft says mildly.

Sherlock licks his lips. He reaches out and tugs Mycroft's paper down until Mycroft raises an eyebrow at him and looks him in the eye.

Sherlock sets his passport on the table. Mycroft's eyes flick down to the sticky note on top, then back up to Sherlock's face. Sherlock says, "You'll be careful, won't you?"

Mycroft looks up at him, eyes tight at the corners. He says, "Yes."

Sherlock nods and swallows the last of his coffee, then drops his mug in the sink. On the way out, he picks his phone up off the coffee table. He's careful to not so much as look at John's.

 

The address leads him to a disused office building, plastic over the windows, construction debris scattered across the floor. The door isn't locked. Sherlock keeps his hands loose by his sides, aware of the weight of John's gun in his pocket, but he suspects he's being watched and he's unwilling to draw attention to it. He's alert. He's being careful. John will be unhappy if Sherlock is killed. The corridors are dark, and the dust in the air tickles the back of his throat, makes him cough. He stops, finally, in a large room that must've once been crowded with desks; some sort of data work, judging by the outlets and ethernet ports under taped-down plastic, scattered at the corners of an otherwise invisible grid, all the way across the floor. He marks his options, three doors: far left, far right, mid right.

There's a crackle as the PA speaker built into the far wall comes on. "To your left, love," she says. She has an interesting voice, even with the distortion—a smooth, throaty alto—and he will give her this: she's already substantially more interesting than the bulk of John's romantic entanglements. Under different circumstances, he might not even have minded her all that much. Sherlock goes to the left: the lifts. He pushes the button—ground floor, and the building must not have a basement; there's only an up—and the doors slide open. Sherlock gets in.

Seventeen floors have ordinary buttons. The eighteenth needs a key, which is inserted, but not turned. Sherlock turns it (one-quarter turn, clockwise) and then pushes the button. The doors slide shut with a hiss of air that doesn't stop, and the lift doesn't move. Sherlock blinks once, twice, then sucks in a breath and holds it. He looks up—no hatch—then grabs at the doors, trying to lever them open with his fingers. He has to take a breath. He exhales hard and then sucks in another, even though it probably is too late to help.

"Don't be an idiot," she says, from the emergency speaker in the panel, just above his knee. "I'm not going to kill you. If you sit down, you won't even hurt yourself when you pass out."

Sherlock grunts and widens his eyes, trying to clear his vision, but whatever she's pumping in is already slipping under his skin. He tries the door again, hits every button on the panel, then swallows, then considers his options, and then lowers himself slowly onto the floor and—

—his head feels thick; useless. He reaches up to rub at his forehead, but his arm is weak and uncoordinated, and it takes him at least three tries to remember how to open his eyes. He straightens up as best he can; foot pressing against industrial carpet, hand trying to grip the edge of his chair.

"Hullo," she says, warmer and clearer than before, and he blinks her into focus. She's sitting on the other side of an ordinary, somewhat old-fashioned metal-and-wood-veneer desk, her laptop resting closed in front of her, beside a cup of tea and Molly's phone in its purple case. There's a second cup of tea in front of him. She's very much as he remembers her from the bakery, though he hadn't quite registered that particularly arresting quality of her eyes.

She smiles at him and says, "I am sorry about that, but I knew you'd bring John's gun, which would rather stack the odds in your favor, wouldn't it?"

"Am I," he croaks, and then grimaces. She reaches out to nudge his mug closer to him. He blinks at it for a moment or two, then manages to make his hand work enough to lift it and take a long drink. He supposes that it's rather too late to be worried about what she might be slipping him, and his throat feels like sandpaper.

He tries again, "Am I supposed to believe that you're unarmed?"

"Mm, well, technically," she says, "I'm not unarmed anymore. But don't worry, Mr. Holmes. I'm not Jim Moriarty, and I think you'll find that that particular detail works to your advantage."

Yes, Sherlock thinks hopefully, but if he's honest with himself, he's not certain. Tina Moran is wearing a lavender cardigan (silk blend, three-quarters sleeves) over a grey frock (Dolce & Gabbana), a rather unseasonable pair of gloves (cashmere), and two—no, three quick spritzes of Chanel No. 5; she looks kind and friendly and keeps a Facebook page and went to Bali on holiday last year and also, she has had what Sherlock suspects works out to a fairly substantial amount of sex with John. All of that adds up to a woman that Sherlock can believe in, but it doesn't add up to a woman that Sherlock can believe in taking over the reins for a man like Jim Moriarty.

She smiles at him again. "Tea all right?" she asks.

Sherlock takes another, evaluative sip. Splash of milk, one sugar; perfect. He asks, "Where's Molly?"

"Oh, she's fine," she says. "Not here, if you're wondering. That'd be rather too easy, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," he agrees.

"I don't have any real interest in her," she explains, leaning back in her chair and recrossing her legs. "I'm not like Jim; suffering doesn't amuse me. But for some reason everyone else of import was on their guard... so Dr. Hooper it had to be." She tilts her head and looks at him, eyes sparkling. She says, "You know, I like her. She's spent the better part of the morning using a plastic knife to try and loosen the screws on her air vent, because she's figured out it's her best shot of getting out. It won't work, of course, but it's a clever idea. I am so glad I didn't have to actually hurt her to get your attention."

"Most people would say that kidnapping is painful enough on its own," Sherlock observes.

"Most people are wrong," she says, in the even tones of an expert, and Sherlock drops his gaze. "But," she says, and takes a breath. "Psychology was really always more Jim's department. I'm more of a... doer, really."

"And what, Ms. Moran," Sherlock says, quietly, "do you do?"

"What needs to be done," she says. Her voice is level. "I'm concerned, Mr. Holmes, that you have rather the wrong impression of my organization."

"Moriarty's organization," he corrects.

"Hm," she says, scrunching up her face. "Not anymore. It's mine now, and it does what I tell it."

"Like kidnap perfectly ordinary young women," Sherlock says.

"Would you call Dr. Hooper ordinary?" she asks, raising an eyebrow. "Interesting. But, yes. If that becomes necessary, it can be arranged."

"Still fixing up people's crimes?" Sherlock asks, and takes another sip of tea.

"Good money in that," she says, and smiles at him. "I haven't much of a moral center, I think you'll find. I mean, I don't personally appreciate murder and violence and those sorts of things—I've never been particularly outdoorsy—but I honestly don't have much of a problem with it if they happen to come up in the course of pursuing my broader business interests."

"Is that what you call them?" he says.

"That's what they are," she says.

"And what," he says, setting his cup down before looking back up at her, "would you call John Watson?"

She raises an eyebrow. "An absolutely first-rate shag," she says. "Why, how about you?"

Sherlock can feel himself flush. "You went after him to get to me," he tells her, and she throws her head back and laughs. Sherlock swallows.

"Oh, you know, Jim warned me about you," she says, a moment later. She's smiling. "He described you, said, 'Self-centered, egotistical, fascinating,' and I wondered—well. But it is surprising. For such a spectacular wanker, you really are rather charming, aren't you?"

"What do you mean?" he says, low, then shifts and says, "John—"

She interrupts. "I was keeping an eye on John because Jim expected you to try and pull one of your little tricks, one way or another," she says. "Jim was certain that if you did, John'd be the first to know. But he was wrong, wasn't he? He underestimated you."

Sherlock doesn't know what to say to that.

"The surveillance was because I thought John might have information," she explains, as casually as if she were discussing the weather. "The sex was just a little reward to myself, for a job well done."

Sherlock curls his lip.

"Oh, don't be like that," she says, mouth quirking. "That's more of a reaction than I got out of you for my sordid life of crime; I'd really hoped you were better than that. Prudishness doesn't suit you." She leans her forearms on the desk, carefully above the cuff of her cardigan's sleeves. She hasn't once let her skin touch anything, that he's seen, and her hair is pinned up in a complicated mass, heavy and lush and also, he suspects, under careful and rigid control. "You aren't a stick by nature," she tells him. "If anything, I suspect you're a bit of a hedonist, between the drug habit and the antique violin and the really rather remarkable thread count on your sheets."

Bait; obvious. Sherlock smiles at her.

She smiles back. "Good lad," she murmurs, even though he's at least five years her senior. She shifts in her seat. "Now. Can we talk? I'm very much hoping we can come to an understanding."

Sherlock picks up his tea again; it's getting cold, but it gives him something to do with his hands.

"You want me to work for you," he says.

"Yes," she agrees.

"Because I'm a threat to you if I don't," he says.

"Yes," she says, "and also because like any businesswoman, I rise and fall on the talents of my employees. You're a talented man, Mr. Holmes."

"And you think that you can control me with—what?" he says, leaning back. "With Molly? With John?"

"Well," she says, "yes, actually, though I'd really rather it weren't necessary. I'd rather you came on your own. I can offer you quite the career, Mr. Holmes. Money, adventure, a challenge. You pick the work. You tell me you want to keep your hands clean, well, you can keep your hands clean—or, well, as clean as they can be, at this point, given how many of my people you've... disposed of this past month."

"And all I have to do is trade sides," he says.

She shrugs eloquently. "I don't think that's nearly as much of an issue as you'd like me to believe," she says, leaning back. "You know morality isn't black and white. You've committed plenty of crimes on your own. You've even killed people. You've even killed people recently."

"For John," Sherlock says quickly.

She smiles. "Yes, for John. If it bothers you, I won't ask you to kill anyone for me. I don't really believe you're, ah. 'One of the angels,' was it? And neither do you."

Sherlock shifts.

"You're a consummate liar," she tells him. "I've seen John watch your performance on the roof from four different angles. It's only a pity that the CCTV cameras couldn't catch the thing itself. And lest you feel tempted to file that one under the all-forgiving umbrella of 'I did it for John', I'll remind you that you have a decade-plus of purchasing illicit narcotics and selling illicit narcotics and manufacturing illicit narcotics in that little home laboratory of yours, and even if you could come up with an altruistic motive for any of that, it was all long before John was ever involved."

Sherlock doesn't say anything.

"I know, Mr. Holmes, that you don't have an inherent problem with crime," she tells him. He scoffs, but she smiles, and plays what is obviously her trump card, adding, "And admit it, you'd like to match wits with your brother—and you know the only place you'll really get a chance is if you're playing for the other team."

Sherlock hesitates, shifting his weight in his chair.

"You see?" she says, raising an eyebrow. "It has its appeal, doesn't it?"

"You think I'm going to turn to a life of crime out of—what, some sort of sibling rivalry?" he asks.

"No, not on its own," she says, looking intently at his face. "But I would like you to consider this. The Met has half its own under investigation, right now, for having dared to talk to you. You and I both know it's only a matter of time before they clear Lestrade and Dimmock and the rest of that lot of any wrongdoing, but what do you think happens then?"

Sherlock doesn't reply.

"They won't let you back, Mr. Holmes," she says, very low. "Every last one of them will be on notice, from the very highest authorities: Do not put us in this position again, and they will know that the second their superiors get a whiff of you in the mix, their careers will be over. They'll hate it and they'll apologize to you for it, but they won't fight it. It's their livelihood. For some of them, it's even their vocation. They'll do it on their own, and you'll go back outside the line, and the only thing they will tell you from now on is no comment. Your career, Mr. Holmes, is already over. Even after the police manage—as they almost certainly will—to clear your name."

Sherlock tries to keep his gaze steady; he's not sure he succeeds.

Her voice is almost gentle as she tells him, "You're not on the team anymore, Mr. Holmes."

Sherlock licks his lips. He says, "The private work—"

"Divorces?" she says, leaning back, dropping her hands back beneath the desk. Her mouth is quirking up. "Lost mementos? Cheating spouses? How long do you genuinely think that is going to keep you entertained?"

Sherlock says nothing.

"If you come to work for me, on the other hand," she tells him, "you'll be well paid, and you'll have freedom, and you'll have a challenge, and I will have absolutely no reason whatsoever to make your life unpleasant."

"And if I don't," he says, low, and a little less certain than he would like, and her hands come up, a blur of cashmere, as she flicks off the safety on the gun.

He looks at it. He feels suddenly quite startlingly calm.

"So," he says, looking up at her face. "You're saying that if I don't come to work for you, you're going to kill me? Ms. Moran, your boss could've told you that wouldn't work, I—"

"Don't be stupid," she interrupts. "I know that wouldn't work. That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying that if you don't come to work for me, I'm going to kill you with John's gun."

Sherlock goes very, very still.

"John's a good man," she says, calmly. "He's a survivor, too. I'd rather not see him in prison for the rest of his life; I'm almost entirely certain that that will be a very, very long time. But you walked in here with his gun in your pocket—his gun, the gun he killed my man with on Tuesday and critically wounded a perfectly harmless doctor with on Thursday, and I really must say, my goodness, Mr. Holmes, you are awfully determined to make things easy for me."

"My brother," Sherlock starts.

"Will let him rot," she finishes, and Sherlock looks up at the shocking blue of her eyes.

"I was examining the police records while you were... resting up, you know," she tells him. "They have documentation from MI6 that this gun, this exact gun, with this exact serial number and, I'd imagine, John's fingerprints all over it, belongs to one Captain John H. Watson, lately of the RAMC. The police know that it belongs to him, that it was in his possession after and matched the ballistics on a single gunshot wound to the head that killed Marcus van Leeuwen on Tuesday night."

"Has my fingerprints on it, too," Sherlock observes.

She says, "Yes, but you'll be the one who's dead."

Sherlock is silent.

"Your brother stepped up and saved him, before," she says, quiet, "and you pulled a rabbit out of your hat after he shot Dr. Stamford. It was lucky that Van Leeuwen wasn't a nice man, and your brother could prove it: wanted by MI6 and the CIA and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, suspected in a string of professional hits in the UK and abroad. Very convenient. Mycroft Holmes may have been on John's side that time, love, but he'll be hard pressed to explain it away if the police can match this to the bullet they dug out of Dr. Stamford, and he won't even try if it matches the bullet they dig out of you."

Sherlock swallows.

She leans closer. "You are his little brother," she says, gentle, "and however strange and repressed your bizarre little family may be, if you think for one second that your brother would protect John over your body, your blood, your forehead with the bullet hole just over the left eyebrow, you are either madder or more foolish than I can bring myself to believe."

Sherlock's heart is pounding. It's unpleasant, and unnecessary. He tells it to stop.

"You would ruin John," he says, soft, "to destroy me."

"No," she says, quiet. "I don't care about destroying you. I'm not—I'm really not a vindictive person, Mr. Holmes. I mean, I like John, he's—sweet. I even liked Jim, we had—we had a certain sort of friendship, I suppose you might say, and I'm a little sorry he's dead, but he played the game and he may not have lost but he definitely didn't win, and honestly, at this point, that is what it is and what it is is largely irrelevant to my interests. What I care about now, here, today, is that I have precisely two hundred and seventeen plates in the air, right at the moment, and worrying about which ones you're going to bring smashing down on my head is just an absolutely crippling waste of my time."

Sherlock says nothing.

"Please don't make me shoot you," she says, sighing. "It's such a bother, getting everything cleaned up after, and these are new shoes."

"What makes you think I won't sell you out tomorrow?" he asks, shifting.

She looks him in the eye and says, "Because tomorrow, everything I have just said will still be true."

Sherlock looks down at his hands and considers. He counts to two hundred and seventeen.

Then he says, "If I accept," and pauses.

"Yes?" she asks.

"I don't trust you," he tells her. "I won't trust you, and I won't leave it to chance, or to your highly dubious best intentions. I—if I accept, you and I need to have an understanding." He draws in a deep breath, and says, "I will tell John what I need to tell John, and he will come with me."

Her mouth quirks. "Oh, and what—leave light and the law behind him?" she says, sounding amused. "You really think he'd do that?"

Sherlock licks his lips and says, "Not for a second."

She watches him.

"If I tell him I'm working against you," he says, quiet, "he won't ask me any uncomfortable questions. He's not—he's not a suspicious person. And I—I have often found him. Helpful."

Her smile widens, blooming to its full. "You're willing to lie to him again?" she asks. "Even you have to know that he won't ever forgive you."

Sherlock's chest feels tight. He meets her eyes and tells her, "Then it is very much within my interest to ensure that he won't ever find out."

After a moment, she exhales, and nods, and lowers the gun. She asks, "What identification do you have access to?"

"Passport, driving license, birth certificate," he says.

"Are they any good?" she asks.

He raises an eyebrow. He tells her, "Not even my brother could find a flaw with them."

"You're very confident," she says, lips curving up.

"They're very good," he tells her. His phone buzzes in his pocket, but he doesn't take it out.

"There's a bit of something happening in Germany, if you'd like to start there," she tells him, opening her laptop. "You might find it interesting. Guns will almost certainly not be involved."

"And I'll be working with a number of people who can keep an eye on me, I'd imagine?" he says.

"Of course," she says. "Trust is earned, Mr. Holmes."

He doesn't tell her that she's wrong. He doesn't tell her that John trusts him, even though Sherlock hasn't earned it, even though Sherlock has done everything possible to spend it unbidden. It doesn't seem strictly relevant.

Instead, he says, "Please, call me Sherlock."

"Tina," she says, and smiles at him again, saying, "I do hope we'll be able to get along."

"Not in person, though," he says, leaning back and folding one leg across the other. "It would be tremendously inconvenient if John were to see you. He might even start to wonder if I'd been lying to him."

She lets the corners of her eyes crinkle up. "What's the name on your passport?" she asks, looking down at her computer. "I'll arrange for your tickets."

"Robert Watson," he tells her, and her eyes flick up to meet his. He tells her, "I'm John's cousin."

"Oh, naturally," she says, and Sherlock doesn't often want to slap women, but he briefly considers making an exception for her.

She arranges for two tickets to Munich (one way; Sherlock has to force himself to not panic at that) and emails the confirmation to him.  "John's is, of course, refundable," she says. "You leave tonight at nine. I trust you, at least, will be able to manage that."

He licks his lips and says, "That's not long."

"No," she agrees. "Not long enough for you to try anything at all."

He laughs, a little, then lets his gaze drop down to his right. "And Molly?" he asks. His heart rate is still a little higher than he'd like.

She looks down at her computer, clicks, clicks, types, pauses, types, clicks, types, clicks. She says, "Dr. Hooper will be safely home within thirty minutes."

"I hope you don't mind if I wait," he says, taking out his phone and glancing down.


12:01From: +447700900232
Everything okay?

"Not at all," she says. "I don't suppose you play cards? I have a pack in my desk."

"My family always rather enjoyed bridge, as a matter of fact," he says. "But we can hardly manage that with just the two of us."

"Very true," she says, standing. "I suppose we'll just have to amuse ourselves while we wait. Another cup of tea?"

"Please," he says, and thumbs out a reply.


12:05To: +447700900232
All's well. Molly's on her way home. 30 minutes.

They drink their tea. Tina works on her computer. Sherlock keeps checking his phone, until the message finally comes.


12:29From: +447700900232
We've got her. She's fine. Furious with you, which I can understand, but otherwise fine.

Sherlock lets his mouth quirk up. He says, "John says he's angry with me," and tucks his phone away, looking up to meet her gaze, calm and steady. He adds, "I probably shouldn't have left without waking him up."

Her smile widens, eyes narrowing, cat-like. "Well, I sincerely hope that you can bring him around," she says. "I really do prefer it when my employees are content."

"I'll do my best," he says, and stands. "I'll be off, then—but if you don't mind, this time, I'd prefer to take the stairs."

Chapter Text

21 : 15 July 2012

♫ Motopony - Seer

 

John is somewhere deep and dark and warm, wrapped in roots and earth and leaves-gone-sleeping and the smell of smoke and home. John, he hears, his name running its fingers along his skin, and he shifts against sheets under blankets and comes up to Sherlock's hand on his cheek.

"Mm." He licks his lips and reaches up until his hand finds Sherlock's shoulder neck nape. Sherlock exhales above him, and then slides down, letting his arm fall across John's waist. John folds his arm around Sherlock's shoulders and turns his face and breathes him in, sweat and cigarette smoke and toothpaste, and at that he manages to squint one eye open. Sherlock is too close to him, out-of-focus and distorted, his eyes hollow and shadowed in the dark. John tells him, "Been smoking. Brushed your teeth."

"You usually want to kiss me, in the night," Sherlock tells him, and John licks his lips and nods and his voice is thick when he replies, "Yeah, time of day really doesn't have anything to do with that one." Sherlock's lips curve up on a quick breath of a laugh, and John kisses his cheek, because he doesn't want to push it. Sherlock twists, just barely, and licks into John's mouth, wet and hot and breathless, until John's panting with it.

Sherlock says, "I, um," and drops his head back against John's shoulder, and John says, "Right, yeah, no, we—should stop, right? I'm pretty sure we—we should stop," and Sherlock groans out, "Oh, damn," and then laughs, sounding embarrassed, and says, "I—I actually did need to talk to you."

John sighs, pulling back and rubbing at his jaw. "That is—just, for the record, Sherlock, that is—um, you know. Maybe not the best lead-in to having an actual conversation."

"I've gathered," Sherlock says, and sighs, and rolls onto his back, adjusting his jeans.

John looks up at the ceiling. "Good news is, I'm awake," he offers, and Sherlock snorts, and says, "Yes, well, me too." He sighs, then, and pushes up to sitting against the headboard, and after a minute, John slides up next to him, stretching his legs out under the blanket.

John had been very much asleep and his mind still is thick with it, so it takes him a minute to come up with, "Molly?"

"Sort of," Sherlock says, and rubs his palms over his chin. He says, "I got rid of your phone."

John blinks. "What?"

"Your phone, I—I was working, downstairs, so I had an excuse to take your phone," Sherlock says. "Mine too, there's—there's definitely nothing in here."

He turns to look at John, and John says, "So we are bugged, then?"

"Yes," Sherlock says.

John nods. He asks, "Did you know this before or after the blowjobs?" and Sherlock looks up at the ceiling and says, "I really wasn't thinking about it at the time," and John says, "Right, yeah, so, before, then. I—all right."

Sherlock turns to look at him. He says, "You're not angry with me," and John says, "Oh no, I'm definitely angry, I'm just—saving it, since I doubt you woke me up at—" he squints at the clock— "three in the morning to fight with me—and for the record, if you did wake me up at three in the morning to fight with me—"

"Moran's been using Molly's phone to text me," Sherlock interrupts.

John closes his mouth.

"She wants to meet with me," Sherlock tells him, and then drops his head back against the headboard and sighs.

John doesn't quite know what to say. He wonders if this particular text came after he went to sleep—but no, oh. No. Of course it didn't. This, this is what Sherlock missed. He closes his eyes.

"Did you miss her deadline?" John asks, quiet.

"Tomorrow, ten in the morning," Sherlock says, then sighs, and says, "Well, today, I suppose."

John nods. He asks, "Do you know what she wants?"

Sherlock's quiet for a minute before saying, "She's going to offer me a job."

Oh. John swallows. He says, "And you're going to take it."

Sherlock doesn't say anything, at first, and then he says, "If—if she offers me the job, taking it is the best way to get Molly home safely."

"Yeah," John says.

"And if—if I can handle this correctly, John, if I can—if I can get her to take me on under my terms, I can bring them down," Sherlock tells him. "Not—not just her, John, a bullet would take care of her, but—but the whole of Moriarty's network. If I do this right, I can bring down the whole thing."

"Yeah," John says.

"I don't want to do it alone," Sherlock tells him, and exhales.

John is very, very still. He stares straight ahead into the darkness and wonders, Is that—is that enough? Is that quite enough?

"Please," Sherlock says, low, "do this with me," and John closes his eyes.

"Yeah," he says, and clears his throat. "All right."

Sherlock exhales, and the vast, angular tension in his body eases, and he lets his weight settle against John's side.

"She has to believe that I am deceiving you," Sherlock says, quiet.

John swallows and lowers his head. He says, "Really shouldn't be a stretch. You have before."

"In the morning, I have to go alone," Sherlock tells him, and John nods, clasping his hands in his lap, saying, "Without any backup," and Sherlock replies, "I am the backup, I'm Molly's backup, I have to go alone," and John nods and nods and tells him, "Take my gun."

 

It isn't a good night. He's restless, anxious, and even after Sherlock strips down to his pants and slides into bed next to him, not even Sherlock's arm around his waist—Sherlock's shoulder by his shoulder—Sherlock's body tucked up against his body can be a comfort. Sherlock isn't sleeping either, but then again, he rarely does.

"Don't get killed," John tells him, around six in the morning, "just—don't you dare get killed," and Sherlock twists against him and kisses him and kisses him and says nothing, and for once John doesn't want to fuck him because it'd feel too much like goodbye.

 

He does sleep, eventually, with his arm around Sherlock's waist and Sherlock's arm over his and his face pressed into the stale smells at the nape of Sherlock's neck, but John's rest is light and uneasy until the exhaustion takes over and time blinks, once, twice, and then it's just shy of eleven and he's waking up alone. His face is pressed into Sherlock's pillow and his stomach hurts. He swallows and sits up, and then takes a breath: in, out; even.

I need at least until noon, Sherlock had told him, and John had said, Give me something, I'll go mad, and Sherlock had looked at him and said, Mycroft.

John showers and shaves. His phone is downstairs, so he heads up. At the top of the stairs there are two doors; one is open, showing a tidy and rather pretentiously furnished bedroom, and the other is closed, so John knocks on the door that is closed and Mycroft calls, "Come in, John."

John steps in and closes the door behind him. Mycroft's offices, he notes, look more or less the same no matter where they're located, though this one is smaller than his official one. There's a second chair with its back to the wall; John drags it over to face the desk, asking, "Did you talk to Sherlock this morning?"

"Hm," Mycroft says. "Not exactly, though he did leave me a very brief and foolish note."

John sighs. He says, "We really do need your help."

"Yes," Mycroft says dryly. "For fake documents—really, John?"

"Well, it would be a bit of a complication if we were to be stopped at the airport while trying to take down a vast criminal network because someone didn't accept Sherlock's passport," John points out.

"No, no, you misunderstand me," Mycroft says, and sighs, leaning back. "I have no problem getting Sherlock a better passport; it's done. Griselda will bring it by later. But Sherlock simply isn't thinking big enough. He doesn't want to rely on me, even when he needs to, even when I am in a unique position to help." Mycroft eyes John, and then adds, "I'm hoping that you are willing to be more practical."

John licks his lips. He asks, "How so, exactly?"

"I want to give you a job," Mycroft says.

"Technically, you already have given me a job," John points out.

"Yes, but I'm going to have to sack you for you to take this one," Mycroft tells him.

John shifts in his chair. He says, "You mean—"

"Off the record," Mycroft says. "Wholly off the record. My best agents—my most important agents—are always wholly off the record."

John's heart rate is picking up. He says, "You're—you're talking about MI6, aren't you?"

"Hm." Mycroft smiles. "MI6 is so much less secret a secret service than it used to be. You wouldn't be working for MI6. You'd be working for me."

"You want me to agree to be your spy?" John says, and laughs.

"I want you to agree to be Sherlock's handler," Mycroft corrects, and leans forward, resting his arms on the desk. "A year and a half ago I asked you to pass along information about Sherlock, and whatever my intentions, you thought it was sordid and deceitful and you refused. Now I am asking you to pass along information about Sherlock and I will tell you explicitly that it's because I can't watch his back. I can't do that, not even to give him the security of my people and my resources, because it's something they can spot and that will in fact put him at risk. But if he can convince Moran that you are—" he curls his lip— "as harmless as you look, you will be in a unique position to keep him safe. I don't need to have him followed, John, if he is inviting you along."

John's heart is beating fast. He says, "I won't do it behind his back."

"John," Mycroft sighs.

John shakes his head. He says, "If I do it behind his back, he'll find out and do whatever he damn well wants behind mine. I can't protect him, Mycroft, unless he trusts me."

Mycroft says nothing.

John says, "I won't do it behind his back."

"And if he knows you're working for me and he conceals things from you," Mycroft says, and John shakes his head and says, "You don't understand."

Mycroft is silent.

"He asked me, you know," John says. It comes out a little rough. He clears his throat. "He—he didn't phrase it as a question, but it was one. He asked me and he gave me the opportunity to say no. If—if he hadn't been right, Mycroft, he wouldn't be off on his own, alone with Moran, but he was right and I knew it. He had to go alone, even though it meant leaving me sitting here all morning with nothing to do but think about every way that this could go wrong."

Mycroft watches him.

"I'm not going to tell him I'm working for you," John says, quiet, "I'm going to ask him if I can, and he's going to say yes, even though he'll hate it, because it makes sense and it's right. I won't do it behind his back, Mycroft. I'm not making this decision alone."

Mycroft breathes in, deep, then exhales, dropping his chin against his chest, and then he is silent for a long, long time.

Finally Mycroft rubs a hand across his face and says, very low, "I sincerely hope you won't take this the wrong way, John, but there are times when I am—when I am wordlessly glad that you got shot."

 

John does actually survive until noon. In fact, he survives until 12:01 (two cups of coffee; half a slice of toast; his bag, mostly packed; Sherlock's cigarettes, found and flushed; his phone still neglected downstairs on the coffee table) before he can't stand it any more. He's been trying to stay out of the living room, unsure what Tina and her associates will make of him this morning, but by 12:01 he just can't take it, even though Sherlock had said at least noon. He heads into the living room and grabs his phone and tells himself careful, she's watching, and thumbs out, Everything okay?

It's four minutes before he gets a reply, four minutes back pushing through the crowd outside Bart's sending emails to Moriarty sitting in the dark with his back against the marker at the head of Sherlock's grave, and then his phone buzzes and his heart and lungs and liver start working correctly again.

12:05From: Robert Watson
All's well. Molly's on her way home. 30 minutes.

John swallows and tucks his phone in his pocket, because that's his cue.

 

We need to get rid of the bug without her knowing we've found it, Sherlock had said, and John had said, But you're not sure what it's on, so Sherlock had replied, Not my things, not your laptop; I know them too well. Molly's laptop, or your phone.

John had nodded and said, Let me take care of Molly's laptop. I'll need your help with my phone.

He grabs Molly's laptop and tucks it under his arm. He texts Greg in the cab on the way to her flat and pays the cabbie with Mycroft's money. Her door is locked but he still doesn't have even a bit of trouble picking it, and at some point, they're really going to have to do something about that.

Toby yowls at him accusatorially as John locks the door behind himself, and John sighs, setting Molly's laptop on her counter as he steps into the kitchen to examine Toby's food dish, which is now quite empty, and his water, running low again.

"Where does she keep your food, then?" John asks, but Toby doesn't seem to know, so John goes through her cupboards one at a time until he finds a canister of dry food on a shelf above her sink. John bends down to rub his thumb over Toby's soft head, then fills Toby's food and gives him fresh water, then goes over to the sofa to wait. After he's eaten, Toby comes over, and hops up on the sofa, turning around on the crumpled pillow resting against the arm and wallowing down in a possessive sort of way. When he's successfully left a scattering of fur all over the occasional dark thread of Sherlock's hair, he gives John a self-satisfied look and settles.

"You needn't be so proud of yourself," John tells him. Toby meows his disagreement. John huffs and says, "He wasn't ever trying to steal your mum away," just as there's a knock on the door. John gets up and lets Greg in.

"Anything?" Greg asks, sliding off his sunglasses.

"No, but it's only been about fifteen minutes," John says. "Sherlock said half an hour."

"Oh," Greg says, straightening. He says, "So, Sherlock—"

"I don't know what he's done," John tells him, quick, and shakes his head, willing Greg to understand.

Greg's brow furrows, and John clears his throat and pulls out his phone, saying, "I'm sure if he—" just as Molly's key is scraping in the lock.

John leans over and opens the door, and she jumps, but when she sees it's them, she says, "Oh," and gasps, and flattens her hands over her face.

"Are you okay?" John asks her, putting his hand on her shoulder, very light. "Are you hurt?"

She shakes her head, and then says, "Where's Sherlock?" in a voice that's higher and tenser than usual.

"Not here," John tells her, and Molly laughs, raw, and says, "Too bad, because I really—really want to punch him in the face." She's shaking. Greg wraps his arm around her shoulders, saying, "Well, most people do, you know," and guiding her over to the sofa. John goes into Molly's kitchen and turns on the kettle, then takes out his phone.

12:29To: Robert Watson
We've got her. She's fine. Furious with you, which is a feeling I can relate to, but otherwise fine.

He closes his phone, unable to stop the curve of his mouth, the broad and liquid feeling of gratitude rushing through him like a wave. He presses his hands to Molly's counter and drops his head down, half-listening as Molly tells Greg, "—and then this—this—person—" her voice jumps up on that, and John wonders, idly, what it'd take to get Molly to call someone a bitch— "gives me a—a novel, like I'm just going to sit on my hands and do nothing, because kidnapping and relaxation obviously go hand in hand, so I tried to unscrew the grate on the vent with the plastic knife they gave me with my dinner and it kept snapping and slicing up my hands and it—it was—it was just so frustrating—" and then the kettle clicks, so John pours out three cups of tea.

"But you're okay," Greg is asking her, when he brings over their cups, and John blinks a little at his expression, at his hand on Molly's, but he says nothing, and Molly looks up at him, cheeks pink, and says, "Oh, thank you, John."

"Of course," John says, and heads back to get his own cup.

Greg sighs and lets go of Molly's hand and leans back. "I need to call Hopkins," he says reluctantly. "He's still out looking for you."

She flushes a little, and says, "Thank you," and he says, "It's not like we found you," and she says, "Well, it's nice to know that you tried." Greg squeezes her shoulder and stands.

John stops him at the door. He drops his voice and says, "I don't think it's over."

Greg licks his lips and nods a little, then says, "I'll be careful."

John nods. "Thank you," he says, "for all your help."

Greg looks at his face, brow furrowing, and John drops his hand to touch the outside of the pocket on his jacket, hoping that Greg will understand. Greg's expression clears, just slightly, and he says, in his most casual voice, "Pub on Tuesday?"

"Okay, if I'm not arrested for murdering Sherlock first," John says, and laughs, so Greg laughs too, and then nods, once, and turns towards the stairs. John locks the door behind him and then licks his lips, thinking about how best to phrase what he has to say.

He brings his tea over, pushing Molly's coffee table back so that he can sit on the edge. He waits for her to look up and meet his eyes, then touches his mouth, then touches his pocket, then takes a sip of his tea.

Her eyes widen, and John relaxes, and smiles at her.

"I have quite a number of things to apologize to you for," John tells her. "Can I take you out for lunch?"

She watches his face, then nods, slowly. She says, "Um, I—I'm a bit desperate for a shower, though, do you mind waiting?"

"No, take your time," he says, and she nods and stands, then heads off to her bedroom. When she stands, John catches sight of a scrap of blue sticking out from under the sofa, and crouches down; Sherlock's scarf is still under there, along with a ball of his dust- and cat hair-covered clothing; John sighs and digs it out, because this, at least, is an answer to why Sherlock doesn't have anything to wear. John hears the water come on when he's in Molly's kitchen looking around for a bag, then, a few moments later, he hears her scream and his head jerks up, banging into the top of her cupboard. "Fu—" he hisses, clutching at his skull as he straightens up, then jogs over to the bathroom door, saying, "You all right, Molly?"

"I'm—I'm fine!" she calls out, sounding a bit embarrassed, and then she adds, "Sherlock, um, used the last of my conditioner," and then her voice drops down as she tells herself, "God, that—that bastard—" and John turns away, looking up at the ceiling and exhaling and shaking his head. He tugs out his phone.

12:48To: Robert Watson
You used the last of her conditioner?
12:49From: Robert Watson
I did mean to buy her more. When're you heading home?

John bites his lip. He tries to think of what to say that'll sound angry enough but not too angry; it's harder than he might've expected.

12:51To: Robert Watson
I'm taking Molly out for lunch. I'll be home when I get home.

He tucks his phone back into his jacket pocket; it sits quiescent and silent against his palm. John stuffs Sherlock's laundry into a plastic bag and sets it on the coffee table and waits. When Molly comes back out, wearing jeans and a lightweight brown jumper and looking damp and uncomfortable, John holds the door open for her, and then follows her down into the street.

"So," she says, cautiously. "Um—there's a—my favorite cafe, just, um—it's just at the end of the street?"

"Sounds great," John says, "Lead the way." He's spotted a familiar face leaning against a lamppost just ahead, and tries to call up the right name. Dave? David? he tries, but no, it's—it's Daniel, he remembers, and then wonders how long he's been waiting. Just as John steps in front of him, Daniel turns quickly, without looking up, and steps forward, slamming into John's chest. "Oh," John says, and laughs as he takes a staggering half-step back, and Daniel is saying, "Sorry, sorry," and biting his lip, saying, "Sorry, I was texting, I wasn't paying attention," and John is saying, "No, no, don't worry, it's—it's fine," and stepping to the side. Molly is watching, but saying nothing, and John waits until he hears Daniel take one step, two, then break into a run, and then John stuffs his hands in his jacket pockets and turns, yelling out, "Hey, you—he stole my phone!" just as Daniel turns to the right and vanishes in between buildings. John jogs after him, calling out, "Hey! Stop!" and ignoring the heads turning towards him, but Daniel is good, Daniel is good, because John can't spot him at all. John exhales, just in case, and says, "Damn it," and turns back to walk back towards Molly, who is still waiting awkwardly, next to the lamppost. She looks at him and murmurs, "I thought I recognized him," and John says, "Yeah. Come on, let's go, I'm starving."

As they walk, she licks her lips and says, "So in my flat, when I thought you wanted to say something but—but couldn't. I wasn't being paranoid."

"No," John agrees, and then tells her, "We think your laptop is bugged too, but if it is, it's a good job, Sherlock couldn't find it without making it obvious he was looking."

"Oh," Molly says, then crosses her arms and asks, "So, what do I do, then?"

"Two options," John says. "You can let us buy you a new one—which, really, after, you know, you saved Sherlock's life and we got you kidnapped and that time I almost shot you in the head, it seems like the least we can do is to upgrade your computer—or."

He pauses, so she prompts, "Or?" and he says, "Or, you can know that it's bugged, and you can keep it."

She's quiet for a minute. Then she says, "Cover."

"Yes," John says. "I mean—for you, not for us. If your laptop is bugged and you're being watched, Ti—um, Moran will know that you're not talking to us. It'll help keep you safe, though I—I can certainly understand why you might want to get rid of it." He can feel his face heating up.

She considers this for a while before saying, "I think I'll keep it, then."

"Really?" he asks, turning towards her.

"Really," she says. "I—I mean, it'll be a bit—unsettling, and I suppose I'll have to start being a bit clever about—um, privacy, but—I mean, I'd honestly much rather have strangers know all about my really not very interesting life than have them, you know."

"Making it interesting?" he suggests.

"Yes," she agrees, and laughs, a little.

"All right," he says, then adds, "And—um. About the—about Thursday."

She waves a hand and says, "Sherlock is—a bit of a bastard."

John glances at her. He says, "I will point out that I was the one with the gun."

"Yes, but I know he was, um." She shrugs and says, "He didn't exactly—keep you in the loop."

"No," John agrees, "but—"

"You know what, if you want to make it up to me, you can buy me lunch," she says.

He says, "I was going to buy you lunch anyway."

"Well, then," she says, shrugging awkwardly. "You can buy me wine with lunch, too."

"Oh," he says. She gives him an uncertain and lopsided sort of smile, and he clears his throat and says, "By the way, you, um—you really need to put in a better lock on your front door," and she laughs, a little, almost like she means it.

 

It's almost three before John's ringing the bell at Mycroft's house, the bag of Sherlock's clothes hanging off his wrist. Mycroft's car is waiting out the front, and Mycroft lets John in immediately, saying, "Ah, John. Just you now, I'm assuming?"

"Yeah, it was really weird, my phone got stolen," John tells him, stepping in.

"Oh, indeed?" Mycroft says, reaching for his briefcase, his umbrella. "What a coincidence. Sherlock's up on the roof."

"The roof?" John asks.

"Yes," Mycroft says. "The terrace is quite nice this time of year, actually. Just go up through my office. I have to run an errand. I've left some things for you in your room, if you need them."

"Thanks," John tells him, and Mycroft nods, and tells him, "Do be careful," and John says, "Yeah, you too," and Mycroft nods and rearms the alarm and steps out. John locks the door behind him.

He doesn't take off his jacket, just heads up to their room and drops the bag with Sherlock's clothes on the floor. There's a plastic folder on the bed: passport, driving license, and birth certificate for Robert Neil Watson (born 6 January 1976; in Wales, apparently), and a number of curiosities for him. He's apparently now, among other things, a major in the Australian army and an American sky marshal; he wonders if he'll be expected to put on the accents. He closes the folder and drops it back on the bed, then heads up the second flight of stairs, through Mycroft's office, and out into sunshine and a somewhat improbable abundance of roses, blossoms hanging over the edges of their wide containers, heavy and lush. It's. Remarkable. John licks his lips.

"Does he do this himself?" John asks, sitting down next to Sherlock on a narrow bench. Sherlock is slouched down, leaning back, legs stretched up in front of him, looking up at the sky.

"Yes," Sherlock says.

"Never really had your brother pegged for the gardening sort," John tells him.

Sherlock shrugs. "Even he has hidden depths, I suppose." He points at one of the plants, so covered in buttery-yellow flowers that John can hardly see the leaves. "That one's from our garden back home. He was so worried that it would die, the first few years after he transplanted it here."

John glances over at him.

Sherlock's voice is slow as he says, "Our grandmother particularly loved that one. She used to cut them and put them in the living room whenever she was visiting, even though they'd never last more than a day. They have a particularly strong fragrance. I got so used to smelling it while I was practicing that now I can't even listen to Bach without thinking of it."

John nods. After a moment, he asks, "Good memory?"

"Yes," Sherlock agrees, and sighs, and says, "I—I was close to her. She—she understood."

His face is just twisted, a bit, at the corners of his eyes and his mouth. John reaches out and Sherlock interlaces their fingers, looking down at their hands. His mouth is curved up a bit, just at the corner.

Sherlock says, "You flushed my cigarettes, didn't you."

"Every last one," John confirms.

Sherlock nods, then says, "Thank you."

John looks straight ahead, and says, "Your brother offered me a job."

Sherlock exhales.

"It's a good job," John tells him. "Access to information. Use of his resources. Contacts." He looks over at Sherlock's profile and tells him, "It'll be helpful, now that we can't—now that we won't be able to rely on the police."

Sherlock is still for a long moment. Then he says, "You're going to take it."

"Want to, yeah," John says.

Sherlock exhales, and says, "Yes. You should."

"All right," John says, and settles back against the bench.

There's a long pause before Sherlock tells him, "I made a call for you."

John blinks.

"Mike's doing better," Sherlock says. "He's awake, and he's—he's improving. Not home yet, but. Tuesday or Wednesday, they think."

John exhales. He says, "You didn't have to do that."

"No," Sherlock says, "but—but you wanted to know, and—and it was easier, for me. It was—it was a thing that I could do for you. And earlier, you—you were being alone. For me."

John swallows.

"I don't know if I could do that," Sherlock tells him, soft.

John stares straight ahead. The horizon stretches out in front of him: Mycroft's secret, improbable roses and the London skyline spread out beyond. The sky is brilliant and bright, just dotted with clouds, and this morning, John felt the knowledge of Sherlock in danger racing through his blood and narrowing the edges of his vision, a rush of paralyzing fear as he fell down a hole with no bottom, and then his phone had buzzed in his hand and he'd jerked back awake—alive, awake, alive.

"You could," John says, "if I asked you to."

Sherlock exhales, and leans against John's shoulder.

John asks, "What next?"

"Germany," Sherlock says. "9 pm, Heathrow. Are you ready?"

John says, "Yes."

Chapter Text

Epilogue

♫ The Weepies - Hideaway

 

Every now and again, Molly gets something in the post.

In July: two postcards, not signed, one from Munich, one from Dubai. On the first of August, a little plastic hula dancer that sways when she gives it a tap; on the seventeenth, a bottle of her conditioner, sent from New York weeks earlier; on the thirty-first, a dark green jumper, so soft it hangs on her like it's made of nothing real. Molly feels uncomfortable even trying it on; it feels less like clothing, really, and more like a costume. For almost the whole first month, she keeps wearing the old jumper, the new one folded carefully in her chest of drawers, wrapped in tissue paper for safekeeping, as the postcards on her fridge keep growing, spreading out until Ana asks her where they come from and Molly deflects, not very effectively, and then takes to keeping all but the most recent two or three in a shoebox, tucked away.

She does worry, occasionally, but the truth of the matter is that really, except for the post, she thinks about it less than she had expected. On the twenty-ninth of September she leaves her laptop in the living room and wears her new jumper out and it ends up on her bedroom floor, coat jeans trousers boxers knickers jumper shirt undershirt bra. Greg's hands are broad and gentle and he kisses like she's breakable; it's nice, she finds, even if it isn't really what she wants, and Toby gets hair all over her discarded jumper and not even the cleaners can get it all out. It lasts for not quite five months; she doesn't want to meet his kids, and when it ends it's unsurprising but amicable, and Molly ends up spending the next weekend helping him slog through the medical files on his first really big case back and they end up in bed together mostly out of habit.

"It still seems weird," he tells her, and sighs, and rubs at his jaw, and adds, "but I don't suppose I need to tell you that."

Molly hums and tugs the blankets up to her shoulders. It doesn't actually seem that weird to her, not anymore. Mostly it's just quiet.

"You hear from them ever?" he asks.

"Postcards, mostly," she says. "Never signed. The kind you buy at the airport."

"On your way out of town," Greg agrees, and turns and smiles at her.

Molly smiles back and Greg stays the night but leaves without sharing her coffee in the morning. Two weeks later, Molly meets a man in IT who appears to actually, genuinely work in IT; she gets the margarita mix, posted from Los Angeles, the morning after their second date, and it takes her a while to even realize why he's sent it.

The funny part is that just about the only time she really does think about it is when she's trying to figure out who picked out what. Anyone can do it, she tells herself. It's just thinking, really. So, she thinks: the conditioner. Practical, apologetic; Sherlock, strongly encouraged by John. The jumper and the hula dancer and the antique field guide to rare African birds are all Sherlock. She can tell about the African birds book because it has delicate, hand-drawn pencil illustrations, not unlike the handful of light, translucent sketches she's framed and hung in her hall; she can tell about the hula dancer because it makes her laugh; she can tell about the jumper because Sherlock seems to have made her jumpers his personal cause. She worries that the last one, at least, might be cheating. John sends her sweets with amusing names from the U.S., Canada, and Korea; he adds a soft, fuzzy hat from Australia just as the weather's getting really cold. The postcards that show scenery are often (though certainly not always) from John; the ones that show architecture are often (though certainly not always) from Sherlock. At the end of April, she turns a packet of pickled cherry blossoms over and over in her palm and files it under, John, though with hesitation, since John always seems more aware of food than Sherlock is, but she isn't entirely sure that pickled cherry blossoms count. Then she stops thinking about it and grabs her old jumper and goes out to meet Keith.

As May is winding down, Molly gets a snapshot of brilliantly blooming bougainvillea twisted around wrought iron. Sherlock, she thinks immediately, even though she wouldn't be able to articulate why. It's not bought; it's an actual snapshot, printed out and made into a postcard; it takes her a while to even notice the curve of a man's hand, just up at the top left of the shot, blurring off the edge with his inner wrist turned towards the camera. It's funny, she thinks, that it took her so long to notice; it's even funnier, she thinks, that she's fairly certain she understands what it means. She thinks about Sherlock sitting on her sofa and telling her, It will kill me, if John dies, and then she smiles and puts the postcard aside, making a mental note to buy it a frame. She ends up hanging it up on the wall with all her snapshots of her friends, between Dan and Marjorie cannonballing into the ocean and Mary and Vince feeding each other cake. It might be silly, but she thinks it rather fits.

That ends up being the last. For weeks, Molly gets nothing, no postcards, no packages at all, and Molly worries enough that she asks Greg when he comes in to ask for her help at work. He hasn't heard anything either. Molly tries to tell herself that it's probably nothing, but when July rolls around and Mycroft Holmes rings her doorbell, nothing she can tell herself can stop her heart from pounding in her throat.

"Miss Hooper," he says, and when her inner voice corrects him (it's Doctor Hooper, actually) she thinks it sounds a bit like Sherlock.

"Everything all right?" she asks, and he says, "Yes," and smiles, and she nods, for the first time in a year really truly breathing easy.

She steps to the side to let him in, asking, "Tea?"

Chapter Text

First (and most important) things first:

 

Dear Sherlock fandom,

Happy (slightly early) Valentine's Day. You guys are the John to my Sherlock, and for the past month, you have been making me want to try harder.

♥,
Gins

 

 

Second: apologies to anyone who hit this early in the morning (well it was early in the morning here) on 14 Feb. 2012 and saw missing images. I've had a bit of a time finding a place to host the images for this; TinyPic didn't like the Wikipedia image and then Dropbox disabled my public folder for getting too much traffic, so I moved all my images to Picasa and am hoping that now it works okay. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you find a problem!

And now, here are some other things that may be of interest.

Confessions
Wherein the author explains herself.

There is an explanatory/meta post about how this fic came to be and why I made some of the decisions that I made and why I occasionally loathe it with the fury of ten thousand suns and also why Sherlock fandom is the best fandom over on my DreamWidth account. I didn't want to put it on AO3 because it's not really necessary to the story and the bit about why I sometimes hate this fic is possibly kind of squee-harshing, especially if you love Series 2 really a lot (spoiler: I did not love Series 2 really a lot). However, if your squee is unharshable or you want to read it anyway, you can find the aforementioned meta post here.

Sequels

I suppose that my apology for the parts of this that are ridiculous is that there are obviously a fair number of (extremely dirty) one-shots in this universe kicking around in the back of my head, so those will be forthcoming eventually. So pretty much... this story is 80,000 words of setup on a bunch of porn, I guess. Because that's totally normal. Anyway, I've created a series for this on AO3 if you'd like to keep an eye on it: "The Good Morrow", which (pretentiously) borrows (then repunctuates) its title from some dead guy whose poetry I really like a lot. (By the way, anyone who feels like the series was created with a different title to start with isn't hallucinating; I needed a link to prep this post, but wanted to call the series something ambiguous before the story was fully posted, so I used the title of a really not at all tonally appropriate Beirut song.) I don't think AO3 permits you to subscribe to a specific series yet, alas, but you can bookmark it, and if you want email alerts you can always subscribe to my pseud (I promise I'm not actually usually this prolific; it's not going to be a high-traffic subscription) or track the "the good morrow" tag on DW or LJ.

Art

I am still, like, boggling that people actually made art for this? Like. Mind blown. I have no words. I have zero skills in the visual art direction, so this is especially awesome because sometimes I'd be sitting there going "aw man I wish it could have art I like pictures" and then MAGICALLY IT DID. Is this fandom secretly made of wish-granting unicorns? I feel like it might be. Anyway. blanketforyourshock made a totally incredible book cover with a sort of pulpy, noir style that made me curl my toes up and shriek, and prufrocking illustrated John telling Mycroft that Sherlock was his entire life and my heart actually may have burst inside me. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Translation

Did you know that [livejournal.com profile] yoghurt_yu is working on a translation of this into Chinese? YEAH SO THAT'S PRETTY AWESOME. Literally, you would not even believe the face I made. Looked kind of like this: *_____________* Only more excited.

Soundtrack

[ETA 2014.05.11]If you would like to download the entire soundtrack all at once instead of a file at a time, you can find it here as a .rar of .mp3s, in 3 parts: 1 | 2 | 3. As of 15 March 2012, I'm not maintaining the single-track downloads anymore--it's way too much work--but please do let me know if one of those goes missing. Yeah that doesn't work anymore. OH WELL.

THIS SHOULD (sort of) WORK THOUGH, SHE SAID HOPEFULLY: I put the soundtrack on Spotify. For reasons that I don't understand and tbh don't care all that much about, some of the tracks appear to not play in the web player, though they do play on my desktop Spotify app when I am logged in to my advertising-infested but free Spotify account. Best I can do guys, sorry:

Anyway the far better method is to just buy the albums because then you will get like 10x the amount of music above and no one will be advertising Match.com to you on the sidebar, so[/ETA] here is where I shill for money for a bunch of musicians with whom I have absolutely no affiliation: if you like these songs, please support the artists who made them: hit up a show! Buy a CD! Here are some Amazon links for you to do so, though I strongly encourage you to check your local record store or buy from the artist directly first.

01. Picastro - I Can't Fall Asleep
02. Radiohead - Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)
03. Interpol - The Scale
04. Grizzly Bear - Knife
05. White Rabbits - Rudie Fails
06. Black Lips - Veni Vidi Vici
07. Lykke Li - I Follow Rivers
08. School of Seven Bells - iamundernodisguise
09. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Hold On To Yourself
10. The Cave Singers - Dancing On Our Graves
11. Wolf Parade - Fine Young Cannibals
12. honeyhoney - Angel of Death
13. Florence + The Machine - Blinding
14. Vampire Hands - Cathedral Blues (One and Two)
15. The Guggenheim Grotto - Trust Me I'm a Thief
16. Sea Wolf - Wicked Blood
17. BlakRoc - What You Do To Me
18. King Khan & The Shrines - (How Can I Keep You) Outta Harm's Way
19. Sleater-Kinney - Let's Call It Love
20. The Avett Brothers - Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise
21. Motopony - Seer
22. The Weepies - Hideaway

Here is where I shill for money for some radio stations with whom I have absolutely no affiliation: a really enormous percentage of these artists (and in fact a really enormous percentage of these songs) are musicians (songs) I've found out about through KEXP's Song of the Day or Today's Top Tune from KCRW, which are podcasts from two really first-rate public radio stations that also could use some dough.

 

*deep breath* OKAY THAT'S IT I THINK I'M DONE

Chapter Text

First off, I apologize if you got an email notification for this chapter and got unduly excited; this is not moar story at all. However, I know a lot of people have been waiting for moderately functional ebooks, so I did want to force the email notification for them.

Here's the deal: there's a problem with the software the Archive uses for ebook generation on stories (like this one) that contain off-site embedded images; the images are discarded in their entirety, including their alt-text. Because the images or their alt-text are critical to the plot, and because this story has a lot of competing design demands (the visual offset for the text images, for example), the best way for me to deal with this problem proved to be to make my own ebooks.

I don't know anything about making ebooks, so it took me kind of a while to even get kind-of functional drafts. Sorry.

The ebooks are currently beta-version in all formats (HTML, PDF, EPUB, and MOBI), and have pretty much only been tested on the Mac. However, if you're interested, they are now available for you to poke at:

Current Version: 0.3b, 31 July 2012
Download:

For more information, and the most up-to-date version of these downloads, please see the Extras Masterpost on DreamWidth.

The Extras Masterpost also contains the most up-to-date information on the soundtrack (which has been re-uploaded as of 28 July 2012) and the art and translations that other people have done for this story. I'm moving that stuff over to DW because every time I edit the actual story itself, I get completely freaked out that I'm going to accidentally delete something, so over the next few days I am going to be making a handful of edits to the story here on AO3 (cross your fingers for me) that will hopefully greatly reduce my need to make further edits in the future.

Thank you all very much for your patience!