Sherlock hadn’t known it would be like this. Even with Molly’s help with rigging the monitors, the help Mother had given him in making himself appear to be a corpse while still so, so alive and aware, he hadn’t anticipated it hurting like this.
Every cell of his body felt as if it had been bruised. Every cell in his heart, every part of his soul was screaming at him to move, get up and move and comfort him as John clung to his shirtsleeve and screamed like a gutted animal.
When Lestrade came and took John away, Sherlock let one tear slip free as he waited for Mycroft to arrive. His brother exhaled once, loudly, through his nose, and then gently brushed one hand over Sherlock’s curls before he turned nearly as sharply as John had and left. Sherlock’s mind whirled with the implications of John’s raw, animalistic grief and Mycroft’s sombre, but loving touch as he waited for Molly to come retrieve him.
When she entered the room five minutes after Mycroft’s departure, looking even smaller and mousier than he’d ever seen her, she handed him a bag of replacement clothes and turned her back.
“I’ll take you to mine,” she said as he buckled the belt. “You can recover there for a few days. Hope you’re not allergic to cats.”
“Good. Right.” She peeked over her shoulder to see him tugging at the slightly too-short sleeves of his shirt. Without another word, she strode out of the room, down the back hallways that Sherlock learnt in his first few weeks at Bart’s, out to her car. She opened the door a bit more viciously than Sherlock expected, and the drive to her flat was silent. It was strange, sitting next to this silent, tight-lipped Molly, when she normally filled the silence with her nervous chatter. Sherlock’s teeth were on edge, his fingertips tingling from worrying the denim of his borrowed jeans.
Molly’s flat was as expected⎯clean and practical with a few hints of homely comfort. Toby rubbed against his legs once in welcome before wandering off to his food dish. Sherlock turned to look at Molly, and was met with a sharp, stinging slap that rocked him on his heels.
“John doesn’t deserve you,” Molly spat as Sherlock gaped at her in stunned silence, one hand on his red cheek. “You’re going to kill him with this.”
Molly’s eyes lost a little of their anger as Sherlock’s shoulders slumped. “You can stay here for a few days. The fridge is full, I put some extra clothes for you in the wardrobe. My laptop’s just there⎯” she nodded at the coffee table⎯“and Toby gets a scoop of food twice a day. The food’s under the sink. I’ll be back on Friday⎯you should be gone by then.” She lifted her chin and met his eyes. “I’ll keep your secret, even if it kills me. I’ll help how and when I can. Just.” She bit her lip. “Just ask.”
Molly turned and grabbed the suitcase she’d left by the door. She kept one hand on the door knob, but turned to speak over her shoulder. “I believe in you, Sherlock Holmes,” she said, voice only slightly shaking. She opened the door and walked out, head high, refusing to allow her steps to waver.
Sherlock sank down on the couch and rubbed at the empty place in his chest where John should be. Toby jumped up and curled up on his lap, butting his head against Sherlock’s hand in a silent demand for pets. Sherlock’s hand absently stroked between the ginger cat’s ears as he tried, in vain, to slow his racing thoughts long enough to come up with a plan.
At some point, Mycroft and Greg had staggered to bed, pausing only to wash off the salt that dried on their faces. Greg fell asleep the moment his head touched the pillow, but Mycroft sat up against the headboard, wide awake, one hand gently resting on Gregory’s side just to feel him breathe.
Greg sat straight up in bed after only two hours, gasping. Mycroft looked at him in concern.
“Your mum,” Greg said breathlessly. “We need to tell your mum what happened.”
“She would have known the instant it happened. She always does.”
Greg swallowed thickly. “Did you⎯did you know, the same way?”
Strong arms pulled him close as Greg ran a hand through Mycroft’s hair to rest it on his nape. “God, I can’t imagine.”
“I’m glad you can’t.” Mycroft paused, then sat back, disengaging from the hug to clasp Greg’s hand and run his thumb over the back of his fingers. “It’s rare that Sherlock dies before I do, but it never stops the ache of it. I do a great deal to keep Sherlock alive and well, even if it ends up being at the expense of my own health and life.”
“Does he know?”
“Yes. The few times he’s died before me was simply because he was trying to protect me.”
“Christ. You can’t say that he doesn’t love you, nor that you don’t love him.”
“I’ve never said that, and neither has he.” Mycroft retorted. “But he resents that I sacrifice so much for him, even though it keeps him safe.”
They sat and watched each other for long moments before Greg wordlessly tugged Mycroft down and situated him to lie along Greg’s side, head pillowed on his chest. “We should see John tomorrow. And your mother. Make arrangements and all that.”
“Yes, we should.”
Greg leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of Mycroft’s head. “Try to sleep, love. I’ll stand watch for a while.”
John was pale and unshaven when they arrived the next morning at Baker Street. When the door opened, John jumped up, face alight, until he realised who it was and sank back down, closing himself off as he dropped his face into his hands. Greg glanced at Mycroft, who wandered into the kitchen in search of the kettle while Greg went and sat next to John.
“John, mate, we need to⎯” John looked up and over at him, eyes haunted and bloodshot. Greg stopped and swallowed, jaw tight, before he plowed through the rest of his sentence. “We need to make arrangements for the funeral. Did Sherlock, did he tell you what he wanted?”
John scoffed. “He never said. We never thought this would happen, that one of us would go without the other.”
“Okay.” Greg glanced at Mycroft, who was holding out a cup of water. “Let’s get this in you and then get you ready.”
John took the cup and drank mechanically. Mycroft cleared his throat, looking a bit awkward as he fidgeted with his now-empty hands. “I’ll have some tea in a bit.”
“Ta,” John said softly, bushing aside Greg’s help as he stood up and headed towards the bathroom.
When he emerged fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed, Greg and Mycroft were in the kitchen dropping tea bags (Sherlock had used the last of their loose tea in an experiment four days ago and John had been too lazy to go out and get more when they had perfectly serviceable tea bags in) into three chipped mugs. John smiled briefly at the expression on Mycroft’s face when he dropped his tea bag into a mug. Greg caught his eye and grinned back, adding an eyeroll.
It felt…wrong to be mocking Mycroft’s distaste without Sherlock there to tease his brother more vocally. John reached out and took his mug, mustering a thankful smile for Mycroft that probably looked more like a grimace.
They retired to the sitting room, where they drank their tea in silence. John only sipped at his, dread settling in his chest and stomach when he thought about having to talk to someone else about Sherlock, about what kind of gravestone, coffin, music. His chest locked tight and he heaved, spitting up the small amount of tea he’d drunk into a bin that Greg miraculously got under his mouth just in time. “Thanks,” John mumbled, chest still heaving as panic set in.
Suddenly, Mycroft was crouched in front of him, hands gently covering his own. “John, you don’t have to go. Not if it’s too much.”
“No,” John muttered, “No, I have to go. He planned mine⎯I need to do the same for him.”
“Very well. Do you want a moment?”
“No. I’m fine. Let’s go before I lose my nerve.”
John’s voice was firm as he spoke to the funeral director. His hands were steady clear up until they got to the point of choosing a casket, and then he looked at Mycroft pleadingly as he shook violently. Greg steered him to a chair and sat with him while Mycroft pulled the director aside and spoke to him quietly and quickly. The director nodded, and after a brief squeeze of John’s shoulder and a shake of Greg’s and Mycroft’s hands, disappeared. Mycroft nodded at Greg, who helped John stand, keeping his hand locked on John’s elbow as they went back to the car.
John shrunk back into himself once they were on their way. He refused to look at either of them, and said nothing until the car glided to a stop outside Baker Street.
“You can stay with us, if you like,” Greg offered.
“It would be no trouble. In fact, I do wish you would,” Mycroft added.
John stared at them, blinking rapidly before he replied, “Thank you, but no. I’d like…I’d like to be alone.” He glanced up at them, smiled tightly, and then got out of the car, banging his fist on the car’s roof as he shut the door. Greg watched him out the window until they turned the corner. He and Mycroft exchanged a glance before Mycroft said, softly, “We need to keep an eye on him. I’m afraid that this business with Moriarty and Euryale is not yet over. And grief, especially among bonded pairs, is dangerous to say the least.”
“You don’t think…”
“He very well may. Sherlock would have, if John had not been returned to him.”
“Christ.” Greg looked out the window, eyes unfocused as London flew by them.
“I’ll ask Mummy to watch over him. She can alert us if anything…untoward happens. I’ll have an ambulance on standby for him, just in case.”
“You really think he will?”
“It’s happened once before, long ago. Sherlock and Moriarty had been playing a game of cat and mouse all over the Continent, and John thought Sherlock to be dead to keep him safe. I knew Sherlock was alive, and had been assisting him in his endeavours. John became neglectful of himself in his grief, and of course, as he was not part of the family at the time, there was little I could do. I’d not been formally introduced to him⎯he had no idea who I was. By the time one of my people knew how dire his situation had become, John was dead. I had to inform Sherlock, who, upon hearing the news, threw himself with such vigour into catching Moriarty that he died in the attempt. That was one of the few times he died before I did.”
Greg was staring at him, incredulous. “You don’t think that Sherlock’s doing the same thing, now, do you? Going into hiding to hunt down the rest of Moriarty’s crew?”
“No. No, he is most certainly dead.” Mycroft pressed a hand over his heart. “I would know if he was alive⎯I would feel it. John would feel it.”
Mycroft gave him a tight smile. “Indeed.”
Mrs. Hudson came up a few hours after he returned home from the funeral director’s office. She entered their sitting room with a faint “Oooh-ooh” and held out an envelope. John stared at her for a moment before it registered that he should take it from her and reached out slowly, his damned, traitorous left hand trembling slightly.
“It was under the door knocker, dear. I heard someone knock, but when I got to the door, they were gone. All there was was this.”
John turned the padded envelope over in his hands, inspecting it. There was no writing other than a simple JOHN WATSON written in unfamiliar block capitals on the outside. Whatever was inside was too slight to be felt through the padding. John cleared his throat and looked up at Mrs. Hudson, who was watching him with watery eyes. “Thank you,” John rasped.
“I’ll just go make us a cuppa. Come down whenever you’re ready, dear.” She reached out and touched his shoulder lightly, patting it twice before she turned and trotted off down the stairs.
John waited until her footsteps were no longer audible before steeling himself and ripping open the envelope. He had a sinking feeling that he knew what was inside; Sherlock had told him Mycroft had returned the feather he’d given John, the one that had been in his pocket the day he was stabbed. He hesitated for a moment when the envelope was open, and then turned it upside down, shaking the contents out into his palm.
It was his feather, the feather he’d plucked the first time he changed and the one he’d given to Sherlock to seal their bond. John brushed his fingers ever so gently along the vane as Sherlock had done so many times before. He allowed himself precisely three minutes to cry, and then he steeled himself to put the feather in his pocket, right against his heart, to wipe his eyes, and to go down and have tea with his landlady.
He let Mrs. Hudson’s voice wash over him, not really paying attention to the actual words. He nodded and replied in all the right places, and when his cup was empty, he placed it carefully on his saucer, set it gently in her sink, thanked her for the tea, and told her not to worry⎯he was going out for a bit. She nodded and told him to be careful.
Once he was outside, he headed straight for Regents’ Park, disappearing in a small copse of trees to change. He flew as fast as he could, heading straight for Mum’s home, where he had woken so long ago, confused and lost and still human. When he arrived, he was unsurprised to see Mum standing there, watching him with eyes that were both full of pity and love. He changed back, striding towards her angrily.
“Where is he?”
“Where. Is. He? I know he’s here. He has to be here.”
“He is not here.”
“Then where is he? Where is my husband?”
She reached out to touch him, but he took a deliberate step back. The Morrighan sighed and said, “He’s gone, John. He’s somewhere even I cannot reach.”
“Bring him back!” John roared. “He needs me, and I need him.” He let hot, angry tears run down his face, completely ignoring them as they soaked his collar. John reached into his pocket and brandished the feather at the Morrighan. “Sherlock never would have given this up. He told me that you returned the feather he’d given me and then you brought me back. So, bring him back.”
“You can!” John yelled. “You can! You brought me back because he needed me. I need him⎯bring him back to me.”
“John⎯” this time, she managed to get hold of him and pulled him close, letting his tears stain her cloak. “You were still human, and I could bring you back because I changed who you are. Once you die in this form, you have to wait to be reborn. I cannot change that. No one can.”
John clung to her, still clutching the feather in his fist. “It hurts,” he whispered. “I’m missing half of myself and it hurts even more than the last time.”
“I know, child. I am so sorry.”
“Can I see him? Can you at least let me see him one more time?” He pulled his head back, eyes scanning her face in hope.
“He’s gone beyond where I can go, John. There is nothing I can do.”
“How long do I have to wait?”
“You will not see him until you meet again in your next life.”
John’s face crumpled as he sobbed. He had hoped and wished that even if she could not bring Sherlock back, at least she could let him see his bondmate one last time. When he could get his eyes to focus again, he realised that she was crying too, albeit silently.
“He’s your son,” John said when he had calmed a bit. “Doesn’t that make a difference?”
“You are my son, too, John. I will do anything in my power to keep you both happy and together, but this goes beyond what I can do.” She tilted her head at him, looking eerily like Sherlock for a moment, before she added, softly, “I miss him too.”
John wouldn’t meet her eye as he changed, wordlessly, and flew away without looking back.
If he wouldn’t see Sherlock until they both died, then he would ensure that happened sooner rather than later. John had no idea how Sherlock had lasted two weeks without him⎯if his pain had been even a tenth of what John was feeling (was it worse now that they both were bonded instead of it being one-sided?)⎯John felt as if his soul had been torn in two and his half was screaming for its mate.
But first, he would wait and give Sherlock a chance to work his magic. One more miracle⎯that was all he wanted.