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July 16th, 2011
Interviewee: Lester Gregson
Auditioning for Role: Police Sargent (alias Gregory Lestrade)
Function: Rehabilitation, Mentorship

Profile:
Mr. Gregson has had a moderately successful acting career to date, chiefly as a protagonist or secondary love-interest in a number of BBC period dramas and a few well-received but commercially insignificant films. Salient features of his personality include natural altruism, compassion, leadership. His similarity in voice and facial features to S’s favorite paternal uncle may have beneficial subliminal effects. Improvisational ability is strong.

Points of Interest:
Mr. Gregson is in debt to the tune of £450,000. Debt is currently owned by Blue Line Asset Management, and collection has been licensed to the Long Zi tong. While Gregson’s interviews to date do not indicate any objections to the premise of
Sherlock, this knowledge could become valuable should he threaten to become unmanageable.

Transcript Excerpt:

MH: Mr. Gregson, hello. First of all, I’d like to establish some basics. Do you watch Sherlock regularly?

LG: ‘Course, yeah. I never miss it. Not for ten, fifteen years.

MH: How would you summarize recent developments on the show?

LG: Well, it’s a disaster, innit? We’re all rooting for Sherlock to finally have a chance to prove his abilities, but between the drugs and the bad crowd, seems like it might never happen. Everybody knows it’s a controlled environment of course, but, Jesus, sometimes it seems like he could really get into trouble.

MH: What sort of trouble concerns you most?

LG: That he’ll damage himself, seriously. I mean, he must be taking actual drugs, or he’d know something was up. He could get addicted, he could ruin his mind. That would be really tragic. Nobody wants to see that.

[…]

MH: In order to maintain credibility, the training has to be quite rigorous. At first, of course, you’d have to improvise, but in your off-screen hours you would be enrolled in an intensive course in police work. Would you be available for such training?

LG: Of course, yeah. I thought it might be something like that. I’ve been reading up. I’d love to play a cop. Nice change from Victorian pretty-boys. Sign me up.

Chapter Text

 

January 3rd, 2018
Interviewee: Holly Cooper
Auditioning for Role: Forensic Pathologist (alias Molly Hooper)
Function: Admirer

Profile:
Ms. Cooper learned of the casting call through her very active membership in an unofficial internet-based Sherlock fan club. She has been pursuing an amateur acting career for the past six years, and has had one of her dramatic scripts produced by a community theater company. She has a degree in forensic pathology from the University of Glasgow, and has been working as a medical examiner for the past three years.

Points of Interest:
Ms. Cooper’s online activity has indicated a borderline-unhealthy obsession with a number of celebrities over the years. S is no exception. Her interest in him extends beyond the ordinary to include avid interest in paparazzi snaps, as well as both the creation and consumption of sexually-charged photographic manipulations and written material. As far as we know, she assumes that we have not discovered her internet pseudonyms.

Transcript Excerpt:

MH: How would you describe the current state of things on Sherlock?

HC: Well, it seems like…I guess…he’s coming into his own, a bit? Like he’s had some really good cases, and stuff, and it seems like, he should be taking some kind of big step…a big leap. Maybe getting some new friends, or a girlfriend. An ally.

MH: Do you see yourself in that position?

HC: I mean, I couldn’t presume, you know? (laughs) But yeah, I mean, I am a medical examiner, currently, and I assume you want those skills for the show. Somebody in that position, could help Sherlock a lot. Like that case with the poison frog? If I’d have been there, he would have solved it a lot quicker. I was like, jumping up and down on my couch, you know, being like “check the saliva!”, but it took him ages to get there! And lab equipment. Access to a good lab would help him a lot.

MH: So you’ve thought about this already.

HC: I mean, who hasn’t? He’s the new Sherlock Holmes. He’s brilliant. We’d all love to be part of his world, if we could.

Chapter Text

February 8th, 2019
Interviewee: Martha Hudson
Auditioning for Role: Mrs. Hudson
Function: Landlady, Housekeeper

Profile: Ms. Hudson has been a Holmes family friend for over forty years. Sherlock remembers her from early childhood, and later solved, via emails, the Case of the Black Opal, in which her (fictional) husband was found to be the criminal. We see her reappearance at this juncture as crucial to maintaining continuity of experience for S.

Points of Interest: Although S thinks of her as indulgent and matronly (and her character on Sherlock will bear this out), she is in fact a keenly pragmatic woman, strongly motivated by materialistic concerns.

Transcript Excerpt:

Hudson: I won’t take less than two-fifty. And don’t pretend you can’t afford it, I know what you make off of all this.

MH: Martha. A quarter of a billion pounds?

Hudson: You heard me.

MH: You must realize that most of the revenue goes directly back into production. Just doing the background checks to find trustworthy extras is a monumental expense, not to mention the security personnel, the set work, the media filtering…

Hudson: Nonsense. I know you have it. You do realize you’re asking me to change my entire way of life, for an unspecified period of years, to live within this fantasy of yours? You’re only lucky I don’t ask for more.

MH. …Fine. Yes. I’ll see what I can do.

 

Chapter Text

February 27th, 2020
Interviewee: Richard Brook
Auditioning for Role: Jim Moriarty
Function: Nemesis

Profile: Richard Brook is a well-known actor and a prominent old-school Sherlockian, active in the Baker Street Irregulars. He auditioned in 2008 for the part that was eventually given to Holly Cooper. Since then, he has had dramatic commercial and critical success with his one-man stage show, The Moriarty Monologues, wherein he reimagines the character of Professor Moriarty as a demented yet charismatic criminal mastermind.

Points of Interest: Casting him opposite S would be a significant ratings draw; his publicist has been in touch with acceptable terms.

Transcript Excerpt:

MH: How would you see your version of Moriarty fitting into Sherlock’s life right now?

RB: Well, I think he needs someone who can kind of push him to ever greater heights, you know? That’s the beauty of an arch-enemy. They push you. There’s a kind of…I guess…almost an obsessive thing that goes on.

MH: Do you think there is an obsessive aspect to Moriarty’s character?

RB: Oh, for sure. I mean, have you seen my show? I think everything Moriarty does, even if it doesn’t involve Sherlock directly, he’s conscious of how he will react, how it will affect the shape of their relationship, however amorphous that may be. It’s fun to think about that, I think, about what this relationship looks like between two people who don’t even meet, in person, until quite late in the game.

MH: And you’d be all right with that? With having your character work mostly off-screen?

RB: Well, I can’t deny it would be less work! (Laughs) But seriously, yeah, I love that. Just a spider, you know, pulling the strings. And when he finally appears—what a shock! What a delight! That would be fun for me. And I think it would be fun for Sherlock, too…I think he’d like that kind of thing. It would hold his interest, for sure.

Chapter Text

February 28th, 2020
Interviewee: Jack Wilson
Auditioning for Role: John Watson
Function: Sidekick, blogger

Profile: Jack Wilson was scouted for the role of John Watson based entirely on his skillset; he is a medical doctor and a military veteran, qualities which the public will demand in their Watson and which will, in fact, be invaluable to S as his career develops. He suffers from a moderate case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which he is seeing a therapist. If cast, he has stipulated that he be allowed to continue treatment. The only potential drawback of casting Dr. Wilson is that his condition is associated with a psychosomatic limp. However, there is some hope that this will resolve with continued treatment.

Points of Interest: Psychological profile is promising but risky. If cast, Wilson will need to be closely monitored for signs of intractability.

Transcript Excerpt:

MH: I’m sure this isn’t the sort of invitation you receive every day. What made you accept the chance to audition?

JW: I’m—I suppose it’s…a bit hard to say.

MH: Because you don’t know?

JW: (laughs) Because I’d rather not! It’s—look. I don’t have a lot going on, right now. This is better than…

MH: Anything is better than nothing, is that it?

JW: Basically. Yes. But also, yeah, I do love the show. I mean, I grew up with it, with him. It’s like…like a fantasy world. An escape—look, I know how that sounds, but, you’re the one who brought me here, so.

MH: I expect you have some questions for me.

JW: A few, yeah. Uh—one. I’m not an actor. What makes you think I can be convincing? I mean, to Sherlock Holmes, in particular?

MH: A reasonable worry, and you will go through an intensive course in screen acting. But remember that the whole point of Sherlock is that it feels like real life; it’s seamless. If he finds it convincing—and he does—then you should have no trouble. There will be a few scripted encounters, but for the most part, all you would have to do is relax, play along, be your charming self. Sherlock, don’t forget, is not an actor, either. All you have to do is interact with him as you normally would. No pretending necessary.

JW: Hmm. Hmm, okay. That might…work. Maybe. I’ll think about it.

MH: Any other questions?

JW: Yeah, um, can you just—and I don’t want this to sound like I’m not interested, because I am. But I’d just like to hear from you, from your own mouth: how can you justify doing this? To your brother?

MH: Surely that’s been covered in the media.

JW: I mean, yeah, I’ve heard the interviews, where you explain his…mental illness. But that’s never quite seemed like the whole story, to me. I mean, there are easier ways to protect someone from the world.

MH: Easier, perhaps. It’s true that he could be institutionalized, or drugged, or simply kept sheltered on an estate somewhere. But I love my brother, and I want him to have what the average person never gets: the chance to be the hero of his own story. To struggle, to achieve, to live in the certain knowledge that his life has a purpose, that he is doing what he was born to do. It’s the greatest gift any of us could hope to receive. Putting it on television is simply a way to make it pay for itself.

Chapter Text

Jack Wilson

The scripted scene with Mike Stamford needs a couple of takes, thanks to my nerves, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s not live; only Sherlock himself is ever shown live, and you can see that all day, every day, around the clock. The screen only goes dark when Sherlock is doing something private—which, for Sherlock, just means it’s something the showrunners deem inappropriate for broadcast. Most people just think it means he’s naked during those times, but nobody really knows. Then they show an edited version for an hour every night, just the highlights of the day, together with background scenes, like the one I’ve just done with Mike (or whatever his real name is; nobody tells me).

And next thing I know, I’m being ushered into the lab at this world’s version of St. Barts, and into the presence of Himself. I see a dark-haired person leaning over a microscope, he looks up, and—bam, it’s him. It’s Sherlock Holmes, the center of my new universe. In person, he’s…different. Not quite as tall, not quite as flawless. I’m almost disappointed for a second, but then he meets my eyes.

This is him, really him, not some actor. He knows and feels and believes that he is extraordinary, and when he looks at me, it’s like having my soul x-rayed. I’m immediately terrified that he’ll see through everything right then, but I guess the beauty of the whole setup is that he’s so used to being the only real thing in the world that he no longer even questions the feeling.

And I guess I’m real enough, after all, because he says “Afghanistan or Iraq?” And it’s true that I don’t even have to pretend. If anything, that first moment of raking scrutiny drives out of my head any hope that pretending might be remotely possible. I’ll be myself, or I’ll be nobody.

Chapter Text

We visit our flat, my new home in TV Land, and then we’re in a not-real cab, and Sherlock deduces everything about me except the one thing that matters, and then there’s a dead woman, and, oh, yes, she is really dead. I knew to expect it; Mycroft Holmes has explained it in interviews, that of course they have to have real corpses, or Sherlock would figure out the game. They get them through legal channels; in fact, since Sherlock started doing murder investigations, more than one person has actually willed their body to the show. A team of forensic geniuses cleans them up and plants evidence for Sherlock to find. In this case: dirty wedding ring, water under her collar, mud spatters on the back of her leg, chipped fingernails. No suitcase. Sherlock takes the bait, and we’re off.

Or rather, he’s off. We’re separated, which means that he’s on camera, and I’m…not. A script consultant pops out of the woodwork and chats with the others—Anderson, Donovan, Lestrade—and they come up with a game plan, where Sally warns me off of Sherlock and I go off by myself to be abducted by Mycroft. So far, nothing about Sherlock’s behavior has surprised them, including his running off without me. I try to decide whether John Watson would be annoyed by this. Would I be annoyed by this? Am I annoyed?

Things roll along to one of their many possible conclusions, Sherlock and me sitting in an Italian restaurant. I order wine, because there is an edge that needs taking off. I make small talk; asking Sherlock if he has a girlfriend feels extremely strange, since I know very well that he has only ever been single (speculation about his sexual identity is rampant; if he’s ever had sex, it was completely darked out), but it feels like the thing to say in the moment. Something about my delivery must be off, though, because he thinks I’m chatting him up. Am I chatting him up? Would John Watson chat him up?

We’re saved by a high-speed foot chase, and for a while I stop worrying about whether it’s real, just fling myself into the action as hard as I can. Sherlock runs, climbs, leaps; I run, climb, and leap after him. Afterward, when we’re standing, breathless and laughing, in the foyer of our house, he—fuck. He’s called up Angelo to hand me my cane.

My fucking psychosomatic limp. It’s been deleted. It was never real, anyway; a phantom injury, a phantom pain. Sherlock has restored me to myself. The lie of pain has been revealed, truth restored. Jack Wilson or John Watson—one of the two—is now a little more real.

Chapter Text

In this universe, I own a very real gun, and a supply of real ammunition—not blanks. These items were issued to me before filming started. I want to ask Mycroft about it, but I haven’t seen him yet; the scene where he abducts me is going to be filmed out of order. I suppose the gun would have to be real in case Sherlock gets hold of it, but surely the better option would be just not to have a gun at all. I wonder whether anyone else has a real gun.

The case of the serial suicides clicks along, Sherlock putting things together, until, suddenly, he’s—gone again. He disappears while we’re waiting for the tracking service on Jennifer Wilson’s phone to load up. I peer out the window and see him get into cab.

“He’s gone,” I say. “He went off in a cab.”

Everybody relaxes fractionally, knowing we’re no longer on camera. We all look at each other, trying to figure out what to do next, when Mrs. Hudson pops her head in.

“What are you lot standing around for?” she asks. “He’s just gone off with the killer. Somebody has to follow him.”

At this point, the laptop starts chiming, and we all turn to look at it. The phone trace. The cab. Christ, we really are all idiots.

“John’s supposed to be his new bestie, I think he should go after him,” Lestrade says. The others nod.

“Have you got your sidearm?” asks Mrs. Hudson.

I’m feeling lost. “Uh, sorry, why do we have to follow him?”

“Because he’s with the killer,” Sally says, as though I’m the dimmest thing since nighttime.

“But he’s…not really a killer?”

“But Sherlock thinks he is,” Lestrade says, “which means something’s got to happen. Something dangerous, or he might get suspicious.”

“Or worse, lose interest,” Sally says.

“Shit,” I say. Then, as things sink in: “Shit. Okay, fine, yes, what do I do?”

“There’s a cab waiting,” says Mrs. Hudson. “The driver has the phone trace on GPS.”

“We’ll bring the cops a few minutes behind, give you time to look cool before we get there.”

“John! Hurry up!” Mrs. Hudson all but shoves me out of the flat, and I get into the fake taxi.

On the ride across town, I take out the handgun. It’s—it’s pretty much my old gun, a Sig Sauer P226R, British Army equipment designation L106A1. This is the gun they give you when you go to Afghanistan. It feels terribly familiar in my hand. It was loaded when I got it, and still is. I’m pretty sure John Watson would not actually carry around a loaded pistol in his everyday life—I wouldn’t—but these are the facts in this moment. I make sure the safety is on before I tuck it back into the back of my waistband. I drum damp fingers on the tops of my thighs. My hands feel extremely steady.

The cab takes me to some kind of school, abandoned for the night. I let myself into the unlocked front door (how’s that for verisimilitude?), and start looking for Sherlock. The place seems to be a big square building with a courtyard in the middle. The hallway is lined with doors, mostly classrooms, mostly standing open. I move warily down the hall, alert for anything that might reveal where Sherlock and the killer are.

The whole thing feels strange, abstract, like one of those dreams where you’re at school but you haven’t been to class all year, and now it’s exam time and you’re lost. The ground floor is unoccupied. I push open the heavy steel fire door that leads to the stairwell, and go up.

Sherlock is with the killer. Sherock thinks he’s real. To keep Sherlock interested and/or fooled, the killer has to act like a real killer. And what do killers do? I start walking faster.

But surely you can’t kill Sherlock, not in this universe.

I catch sight of a glimmer of light in one of the rooms. Pushing the door open, I see that the light is actually coming from another room on the other side of the courtyard. I go to the window to look.

Sherlock and the cabbie/killer are in the room, Sherlock standing, the killer seated at a long table. Sherlock is holding something up—something small. A pill. I know the other victims were drugged. The killer is, somehow, going to make Sherlock take the drug.

I wish I could see better. I wish I could hear what they were saying, but I can’t. All I can see is Sherlock holding up the little pill. I take the gun out of my waistband, feel the weight of it. The gun is real. What else is real?

Who would play a killer on Sherlock? They never beat him. They get into physical fights with him; I’ve seen him break wrists, kick guys in the crotch, seen him smash a man’s face with his knee. People get hurt making this show. How does that work?

Sherlock is all but licking the poison capsule.

I’ve seen Sherlock take drugs before: swallow them, snort them, inject them. It was a difficult period of his life, and seemed to go on and on. The public almost rioted. Lestrade was finally cast to convince to him that he had to get sober, and he did, so far as anyone knew. But the whole reason people were upset was that the drugs were real. Mycroft went on late-night TV and explained.

So, things that are real: drugs, danger, guns, wounds. Sherlock.

There’s only one thing I can do.

Chapter Text

I try not to look guilty when Lestrade shows up to clean up the…crime scene. Yeah. I’m not totally sure which crime is being cleaned up, but there definitely has been at least one. Lestrade acts like he doesn’t know I shot the cabbie, except that when he first catches sight of me he gives me this look: eyes open wide, mouth set in a tight line. Boy are you in for it, or that’s how I read it. Shit. I have no idea how many rules I’ve just broken.

Sherlock, of course, figures it out immediately, and he also gives me a look, and it’s one I know very well from watching him all these years: finally, something interesting. I never in a million years expected to be on the receiving end of that look, from him. I tuck my chin, look away. He talks to me, and I can hear the excitement bubbling up under his words, the interest, the…affection.

We go out for Chinese, and the restaurant is picture-perfect, garlic prawns and crispy lo mein and wonton soup in a little white bowl with wiggly-looking red and gold decorations around the rim, and too many little round cups of jasmine tea, considering it’s nearing two in the morning. Sherlock deduces my gap year teaching English in Hong Kong from the way I hold my chopsticks, and all the time he’s giving me that look. He looks…hungry.

Lonely. Loneliness is a major theme of Sherlock, of course. His struggles, his brilliance, his isolation. Watching the show, it seems natural: the life of a genius. But now that I’m here, with him, I realize how it must actually feel, and as Sherlock tucks happily into his food and tells me about Jeff Hope and soaks up my admiration like a bone-dry sponge, I start to feel pretty fucking terrible. As we’re cracking our fortune cookies, Sherlock asks if I’m all right. I tell him I’m just tired, joke about needing an orange blanket. My fortune cookie says “A loaded gun can be the sword of justice.”

And then we go home. To Baker Street.

Chapter Text

It’s dangerous to lie to Sherlock Holmes about anything, which can make it tricky to get away to film the background scenes. This is why my character has a job. The morning after the business with the cabbie, I run out to “the clinic”. I don’t need to wear yesterday’s clothes; the wardrobe department will provide a duplicate outfit.

I take the tube. In the early years of the show, there was no tube, but it didn’t matter, because Sherlock was too young to ride it by himself. It was only added after several years on the air, for budget reasons. Even so, it’s a rather abbreviated version of the real thing, one of the most obvious ways this miniature London differs from the city itself.

I get nervous on the way. When I saw Mycroft at the crime scene, he didn’t give me even the faintest sign that he cared about my killing the cabbie one way or another. I wasn’t really surprised; Sherlock would have easily picked up on anything weird between me and his brother. I wonder how Mycroft can do this, simultaneously pull all the strings and then appear in Sherlock’s world, cool as ice. He’s cool—or cold—in the real world, too…maybe that’s the secret.

“Work” is a high-security soundstage set up as a warehouse. Somebody hands me my lines, Mycroft comes in through a side door, and we do the scene where he asks me to spy on Sherlock for money. Where I think he’s some kind of arch-enemy or criminal mastermind. After we’re done, he turns away, as though he plans to just go right back out the way he came.

“Wait,” I say.

He turns, looks at me with an expression of weary patience. I suddenly don’t know what I was going to say.

“I—that man. The cabbie.”

Mycroft raises his eyebrows. “What about him?”

“He’s dead.”

“Mm, quite.”

“Did you know that was going to happen?”

“Why does that matter?”

“I just want to know if I…did I do the right thing?”

He frowns. “Did you do what you would have done if it were all real?”

I consider this, consider Sherlock, the pill, the gun.

“Yes,” I say at last.

“Then, you did the right thing. Good day, Mr. Wilson.”

This gives me no kind of satisfaction, but of course he goes on his merry way.

Chapter Text

I’m used to seeing Sherlock at home. I’ve seen him putter, and experiment, and sulk, and play his violin. Most people consider these scenes to be the dullest parts of the show, but at the same time, almost everyone occasionally spends an hour or two just watching Sherlock do nothing in particular. It can be a comfort to know that he’s out there, maybe engaged in some extraordinary new case, or maybe, in fact, feeling the same as you, bored or frustrated or needing a fix of some kind.

Only, now, Sherlock at home is different, because I’m there. We chat, we bicker. I blow my top about the contents of the fridge, he insults my writing. I compliment his violin playing. He plays while I cook dinner. He antagonizes me and shows off to me and sometimes doesn’t speak for hours at a time. I wonder if more people watch us during these scenes than they used to do, and I wonder if anyone misses that old serenity of Sherlock at home alone.

“How can you stand it?” asks Sarah, the woman I’m meant to be dating. We’re filming some background scenes to go with the case of the Chinese graffiti.

“What do you mean?”

“Being with him all the time. On camera. Don’t you feel the lack of privacy?”

I have to stop and think about it. “I guess it doesn’t bother me,” I say. “I mean I’m just acting, the same as you.”

“But you’re not,” she says. “The other day I was watching, and you guys were, like, just hanging about. You were having a laugh about something on the internet, not acting at all.”

I shrug. “I suppose I’ve as much privacy as he does.”

“Yeah, which is none. I don’t think you could pay me enough to do your job.” I don’t have an answer for this, and she watches me speculatively for a moment before going on. “You actually like it, don’t you?”

“I don’t dislike it.”

“No, you like it. You like running around, being at the center of the story. I think you even like living with him.”

Her tone makes it clear that she finds the idea preposterous. I wonder who’s responsible for setting me up with her, and whether our relationship will last much longer. But then comes the bit where I get kidnapped and Sarah gets tied to a chair and, yeah, it really wasn’t fated to last.

Chapter Text

It’s not that I think I have any claim on Sherlock’s attention. I mean, nothing good would come of his focusing it on me, anyway. I’m only an actor. But the thing is, Jim Moriarty is also only an actor, a setup, a lie, and Sherlock lights up like Christmas at the mere thought of him.

I don’t actually want to argue with him, but I do want to pull his attention away from his new nemesis, and toward actual human beings. Toward me, I admit. Not much cop, this caring lark. It stings far more than it should.

While he’s tapping away on his phone, I spot a piece of paper lying on the floor near the sofa. I pick it up. It’s a phone number…the slip of paper left by Molly’s erstwhile boyfriend, Jim, aka Moriarty, aka old-school Sherlockian and stage phenom, Richard Brook. Sherlock has written in a string of letters above the numbers, some of them underlined:

PQRS ABC MNO MNO PQRS TUV GHI ABC MNO MNO
7 2 6 6 7 8 4 2 6 6

I stare at it for several seconds before a cold spike of realization shoots down through me, rooting me to the spot. I glance up to see if Sherlock has noticed, but he’s still giving me his coldest shoulder. I try very hard not to look as though I find the paper unduly interesting, because I’m pretty sure what I’m holding is pure, deadly contraband: a little shard of the outside world, trying to tear a hole in Sherlock’s universe.

Chapter Text

I must be so, so delicate.

I must be as quiet as a mouse. I must be as gentle as a summer breeze brushing the tops of the long grass.

I’m not sure, at first, whether Mycroft suspects that the gas explosion is anything other than an actual failure of this fictional London’s public works department. But then he turns up at 221b and tries to get Sherlock interested in something. That means he suspects. But nobody turns up to hand me my walking papers, which means that he doesn’t yet suspect me. This is good. I can work with this. In fact, Mycroft’s little case gives me an idea.

Now it’s my turn to get Sherlock interested. Most of what I do from here is scripted: the shoes in the basement, the old woman on the phone. But I go a little off the rails when Molly introduces me to Sherlock. The gay act, the phone number…improvisation. The phone number I give him is 72 6678 4266. I wonder how long it will take him to work out the hidden word. Not long, I expect.

Things tick along mostly as planned. The pink phone, the shoes in the basement, Janus Cars, Connie Prince, the fake Vermeer. Then, at last, Sherlock follows up on the Bruce Partington plans, and that is where I really get my chance to shine.

John Watson knows I’m not a real threat. In fact, when we met, he recognized me from my stage career, which was sweet. It did make me feel a bit safer, considering how things went down with that first fellow, the cabbie. John has an itchy trigger finger. But in this case, it’s Sherlock who has the gun; predictable enough that he’d bring it with him to the pool. He’s no fool, after all. I’m wearing kevlar, just in case, but it sill sets my hair on end a little, having a real gun pointed at me. Only the first of many, I’m sure.

We play the scene. Things get a little bit interesting: the sight of John draped in explosives has quite an effect on Sherlock, but I focus on the task at hand.

He holds the memory stick out to me. I pluck it from his fingers, place it in his palm, and curl his hand closed around it with both of mine. Or that’s what the cameras will see, anyway. The truth is that I work a very simple bit of sleight-of-hand. Sherlock, I’m sure, sees it happen, but his eyes give only the slightest flicker toward our joined hands. The memory stick I give him is not the one he gave me. I send up a silent prayer that he has decoded the warning in the phone number, that he will be cautious about where and how he opens this particular file. “Keep it,” I say. “I’ve got a whole bucket full.”

Meanwhile, I have an audience to enthrall. We banter. “I’ll burn the heart out of you,” I say, and I almost wonder if I’m overdoing it, but Sherlock responds with the loveliest, most piquant little line: “I’ve been reliably informed that I don’t have one.” Ouch!, I think. So John’s been needling him. I like what’s going on between those two. I can use it.

Moments later, Sherlock demonstrates his willingness to send himself and John up in a ball of flame if it means stopping me, and my own heart just fucking cracks for him. This man. He doesn’t deserve any of this.

Chapter Text

“Don’t worry,” says the wardrobe consultant holding up the Semtex-laden parka.

It has a smell, a volatile, plasticky, dirty putty sort of smell.

“I’m. I don’t think I signed up for this,” I say. There are three wardrobe consultants and two script consultants standing around watching. They look like very efficient people.

“He won’t let anything happen to you,” one of them says. Have they even been paying attention? Have they noticed how very much Sherlock does not care about me, or about anything besides the promise of a new puzzle? Don’t make people into heroes, he said. Maybe he’d just as soon not have me around, putting that kind of burden on him.

A door opens, and I’m the only one that looks to see who’s come in. It’s Mycroft, but he’s wearing his big-shot TV producer button-down and designer jeans, not his Sherlock’s Big Brother intimidating suit.

“John,” he says.

“That’s not my name,” I reply.

“I’m speaking to you in that capacity. I’m here because I suspected that you might find this evening’s wardrobe selection a little disconcerting in its…realism.”

“You could say that,” I reply. I’m starting to get angry.

“Good,” he answers, eyebrows raised.

It takes me a second to parse.

“What, you…you want me to be disconcerted?”

“I want you to be scared shitless,” he says, showing no emotion beyond the frank desire to communicate. “I want you to know that I give zero fucks what happens to you. I want you to know who is in charge of you and Sherlock and this entire operation.”

“You couldn’t have just sent me a fortune cookie?”

“They don’t have quite the same gravitas, you must admit.”

“So why now? What are you trying to achieve with this?”

“Later tonight, something is going to try to happen. You are not going to let it.”

“What kind of something?”

“You’ll know. Take care, Dr. Watson. The world is watching.”

He doesn’t carry an umbrella in real life, but as he swans back out of the secure staging area, I can imagine him swinging it with overdramatic nonchalance.

Chapter Text

“Christ,” I moan, as I finally get the inside door of Baker Street against my back. “Christ, I really thought we were done for.”

Sherlock is already tottering around the flat, rattling things in the kitchen, not getting much done. He fills the kettle, but wanders back toward me without turning it on, then paces back into the sitting room, hand rubbing the back of his neck. I suddenly see again the way he scratched his own head with the business end of my loaded gun, and I have to squeeze my eyes shut to banish the image.

“Sherlock, you all right?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, fine. Fine. John,” he looks up at me suddenly, as though only just remembering I’m there, then tears his eyes away again, looking everywhere, at the walls at the ceiling. Finally managing to catch my breath, I push myself away from the door and make it as far as the kitchen, where I switch the kettle on. When I turn around, Sherlock is in front of me, close enough that I have to take a step back and run into the worktop.

“You really were amazing,” he says, and his eyes are darting over my face, as though looking for some sort of answer. The nearness of him is startling. His lips look very red in the wan kitchen light, and his eyes are ethereal. I clear my throat.

“Yeah, well, don’t expect a performance like that every time you steal my gun to try and make friends with a supervillain.” I lick my lips. “I mean, you did just risk both our lives for some kind of game.”

“You’re angry.”

“A bit, yeah.” And I am angry, but that emotion is increasingly overwhelmed by something else, something raw and impossible. Sherlock is brimming with pent up energy, almost vibrating where he stands, his hands moving restlessly from his hips to his neck and back again.

“John, I think I want to—“ He swallows, tries again. “That is, I wonder if you’d…” I stare at him, uncomprehending, until he stills himself with visible effort, and I realize what he’s going to do only a split second before he wraps a hand around the back of my neck and leans in to kiss me square on the mouth.

Time stops. I am acutely aware of Sherlock’s fingers tangled in my hair, the breath coming hard and fast through his nose, the firm press of his lips against my own. His eyes are closed. After a brief, heart-pounding eternity, I close mine, too, and allow my lips to open under his. He makes a small, passionate sound and lets his body sag against mine, and I respond without thinking, sliding my hands up to clasp that impossibly slender waist. His lips are soft, just slightly chapped, and his tongue slides against mine almost tentatively, which makes a beautiful contrast to the smell of sweat and fear and gun solvent that clings to his skin. I wonder if he’s always like this, this gentle—

Until I realize with a chill that he isn’t always anything, because I’ve been privy to his whole life, and he’s never kissed anyone on screen, ever.

Something is going to try to happen. You are not going to let it.

Shit. I break the kiss with a gasp, and push Sherlock away from me. He looks confused, blankly vulnerable. God, what can I possibly tell him? That the walls have eyes? That the blogosphere has got to be fucking lighting up right now, if we haven’t been darked out? That his big brother has made a none too subtle threat to blow me up if I get too cozy with him?

“Sherlock,” I start. “I just don’t think it’s. It’s not a good idea.”

He looks confused for a moment more, and then a shutter comes down over his expression, and I wish immediately that I could take it back, and bollocks to Mycroft and the whole bloody world. But he is already pulling away.

“No,” he says. “You’re probably right.”

“Sherlock,” I start, but he holds up a hand, tugs the hem of his jacket down, and stalks off into his bedroom without a word. The door clicks shut behind him. For a moment I wish I were outside, where even now the public is watching to see how Sherlock reacts to romantic rejection. But here, in our flat, he has his privacy from me, at least.

The kettle behind me has long since boiled. I switch it off, then seek my bed.

Chapter Text

In his bedroom, Sherlock paces, fingers pressed to lips, his thoughts racing. These past weeks with John, he could have sworn—but no, mistaken, clearly. He has misjudged, again, why does he always misjudge? Why can he never form a real connection? It feels like the puzzle of Moriarty is the only real connection he has.

Moriarty. The memory stick.

He fishes it out of his pocket and examines it. It looks quite similar to the one he brought to the pool, though not identical. It’s a black 32GB USB drive.

Panopticon. Why that word? What is Moriarty trying to tell him?

He opens his wardrobe and rummages in a box until he finds an old laptop suitable for opening suspicious files. He turns it on and disables the wireless connection before inserting the USB drive.

There is one file on the USB drive, a PDF labeled “Partington_082420”. He opens it.

The first page has the word STOP at the top, followed by an image of a government seal, followed by a short paragraph of text:

It is unlawful to transfer this or any secret file to a laptop or to a not previously authorized mobile device without having first read and agreed to conditions under which official government policy covers access.

He stares at it for less than a minute before deciphering the 5-word skip code. Transfer file to mobile, read under covers. He briefly debates whether to follow these instructions. It would be incorrect to say that he trusts Moriarty—not in the abstract, not in full. But does he believe that Moriarty’s master plan includes planting a virus on his mobile? No. He connects his phone to the laptop and transfers the file. Then he undresses, showers, cleans his teeth, and curls up in bed with the phone.

He opens the file in his mobile PDF viewer. The government seal and fake warning message appear once again. He swipes them aside.

Page 2 of the PDF is a title page, which reads:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Published in The Strand between July 1891 and December 1892

On the next page, with an ornate initial “T”:

Adventure I—A Scandal in Bohemia
To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman…

Chapter Text

Interviewee: Aileen Aster
Auditioning for Role: Irene Adler
Function: Correction

Profile: Ms. Aster came to public prominence two years ago when video recordings depicting her in sexually explicit situations were “leaked” and went viral on the internet. In the recordings, Ms. Aster plays the role of a dominatrix; the combination of this powerful image with her apparent vulnerability as a victim of the leaks proved too heady for the public to resist, and she has since parlayed the event into a highly successful media career.

Points of Interest: We have reason to believe that Ms. Aster orchestrated the leaks herself, precisely in order to achieve the sexual infamy which has served her since then. We appreciate that these actions speak to a nature which is highly pragmatic and susceptible to financial incentive.

Transcript Excerpt:

AA: So, let me get this, if you’ll pardon the expression, straight. You want me to sweep into Sherlock’s life and either be so devastatingly gorgeous that he forgets all about his attraction to John Watson, or fuck him up so badly that he never considers being romantically involved with anyone ever again.

MH: In the crudest possible terms, yes.

AA: Well, I always say, never use a bullet where a bomb will do. But why are you so opposed to his getting involved with John? I think they make a nice couple.

MH: John is…unsuitable.

AA: But why? Surely not just because he’s a man. I mean TV’s littered with gay stuff nowadays, and most of the reaction’s been positive.

MH: That is one reason, yes. But there’s more to it. Emotional entanglements are extremely difficult to manage in the context of the show.

AA: Ohh, I see. And your Watson isn’t manageable.

MH: May we move on to another topic?

AA: If you like. Let’s talk remuneration.

MH: Of course.

Chapter Text

I wake up early the next morning, feeling jittery and strung-out. I get up and make tea, and cook breakfast for two, and practically crawl out of my skin waiting for Sherlock to wake up so I can try to explain my rejection in a way that will soothe his hurt feelings (if any) without either promising too much or giving away the game.

As it turns out, I needn’t have bothered. Sherlock emerges from his room at 2 P.M., eyes glued to something on his mobile. He takes his cold plate of breakfast, deposits it on the floor beside the sofa, and goes back to his phone without acknowledging my presence in the slightest.

“Uh, Sherlock?” I try.

He grunts, not looking up.

“Are you…all right?” I ask.

“Yes, fine, never better,” he replies, rapid and toneless, absent.

Ok. It seems we’re going to pretend nothing happened. I can’t say I’m too surprised by this approach. The rest of the day passes in awkward silence, and Sherlock is a bit strange again the following day, though not quite so distracted. A good case comes in the day after that, and things start getting back to normal. I try not to dwell too much on the sense-memory of his lips pressed against mine, and mostly succeed.

Over the ensuing weeks, Sherlock starts getting famous within his own world. Headlines. The deerstalker. The media crush. Sherlock Holmes starts to become a household name, the matter of most of those households being fictional notwithstanding. At first I can’t fathom what Mycroft is up to. I’d think it was intended to boost Sherlock’s perception of his own importance, but as he’s always considered himself superior to the rest of humanity, it doesn’t actually make much of a difference.

Then Sherlock starts wanting to keep a low profile, which means I get sent out alone to scout the less interesting cases, and I realize this must be the game. Sherlock and I spend more time apart, and I spend more time on conventional film sets, with actors. Sherlock gets up to stuff when I’m not around, and the separation makes me itchy; the whole world gets to watch his every move while I, his best and possibly only real friend, know only what he deigns to tell me. Meanwhile, the outside world starts to feel more real, and I’m constantly reminded of my place as a mere professional.

I learn that the kiss was not darked out, after all. Everyone saw Sherlock kiss me, and saw me react like a confused teenager. At the time, I thought my state of reciprocal arousal must have been obvious to everyone, but most of the other actors and staff seem to regard the event as a misguided assault on my undisputed heterosexuality. Lestrade gives me a manly shoulder slap and a look of commiseration (did he and Sherlock ever display any chemistry? I suddenly wish I could go back and review the old footage of their meeting), Donovan gives a sigh of amused pity for poor, confused Sherlock, and Mrs. Hudson seems to regard the whole thing as far too distasteful even to acknowledge.

Then comes the woman.

Aileen Aster. She gets brought onto the set to film some background scenes before Sherlock learns of her existence. I don’t have any scenes with her, but I’m there to film a scripted meeting with Greg, and the two of us are on a coffee break when the chat show queen sweeps into the break room, PA in tow. Greg and I exchange incredulous looks, but she saves us from gawking by coming right over to say hello.

“Ah, the famous Doctor Watson. How lovely to meet you at last.”

She holds out her hand to me, and I take it.

“It’s Wilson, actually.”

“Hmm, I don’t think your real name is very relevant in this context. And I suppose you’d better call me Irene Adler.”

“Irene Adler?” Greg chimes in. “What, are we gonna have scandalous photos of you with the Czech prime minister?”

“Not exactly,” she purrs. “So, John, is he a good kisser?”

My mouthful of coffee goes rogue, and I gulp and sputter. Greg thumps me on the back, which doesn’t help at all, but does give me a moment to compose myself.

“Uh, jeez, what? I don’t—“

Aileen laughs. “Oh come on, John, don’t tell me you weren’t giving as good as you got. I guess you’re not much of an actor if that was your version of ‘confused straight guy being snogged by a bloke.’”

I’m at a loss for a comeback. For a dizzy second I consider telling her the truth—that I’ve been bi-curious for years, that Sherlock is a good kisser, that during Sherlock’s troubled teen years I had wild fantasies about taking him away from it all—but Greg leaps in to defend my honor.

“Oy, you lay off him. John has a tougher job than any of us.”

“Hmm, well, if that’s the way you want to play it,” Aileen says. “The whole point of my being here is to divert his affections, you know. Maybe it’ll be easier than I thought.”

And with that, she sashays out of the room. Her pretty assistant casts an amused look my way as she leaves.

Divert his affections? Ha. We’ll just fucking see about that.

Chapter Text

Buckingham Palace, what a lark! And Sherlock without his trousers. He does it to make John laugh; antagonizing Mycroft is just a bonus. He’s prepared to ignore his brother entirely until he mentions the woman’s name.

Irene Adler. Irene Adler. Why is this her name? Why does she have the same name as the woman in the stories?

He’s read the file six times. It contains twelve stories about a man named Sherlock Holmes, supposedly written by one Arthur Conan Doyle in the fictional voice of a man named John Watson. There are also a number of rather laughable illustrations depicting “Sherlock” as a beaky fellow in late Victorian garb.

It’s a hoax, obviously, though what it could mean, Sherlock has absolutely no idea. Moriarty is trying to tell him something, but what? He’s searched the internet for information and turned up very little. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle existed and wrote a few historical and nautical adventure stories, but there’s no mention of another Sherlock Holmes anywhere.

Now he’s meant to recover some photographs from Irene Adler. Moriarty knew, somehow, that she was going to appear. The first story is about a woman who shares her name, and there are twelve stories in the book. Is he to have a case paralleling each of them?

John proves remarkably willing to punch him in the face, which is a relief. He was afraid, after his failure of reason, that John would be physically shy of him, but it seems this is not the case. They get into Irene Adler’s house with no trouble, and he’s sitting in her parlor in his Battered Vicar disguise when she comes in—

Naked. All right, this is…new. Yes, fine, naked, he’s seen loads of naked people. Mostly cadavers, granted, but still, it’s only biology. Nonetheless, he’s…unsettled. She is the sort of woman that men would probably like to see naked. He isn’t sure whether he likes it or not.

Then she prowls up to him and plucks the Roman collar out of his shirt. This brings her very close to him; he can smell her hair products, and the deeper notes of her perfume that are being volatilized by the warmth of her skin. He doesn’t recognize the fragrance—it’s something floral yet musky, like a poisonous orchid. Custom, most likely. It’s…interesting.

John rescues him. There is a small part of him that wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t come in, but the interruption is enough to reboot his crashed intellect, and from there, things proceed more or less as planned, modulo a CIA raid. But then, out of nowhere, a syringe, and he’s…finished.

Chapter Text

I cannot fucking believe what I’ve just been through. Aileen Aster has a lot to answer for. That stunt—barging in on Sherlock in the nude, crawling all over him like that, when she knows how innocent he is, she knows he has no experience with sex, she knows he’s in a vulnerable emotional state since our little encounter in the kitchen. It’s recklessly cruel. And if that weren’t bad enough: more real bullets, more real drugs. How has Mycroft not been arrested for the stuff they do on this show?

I get Sherlock home with the aid of a fake cab. About halfway there, he seems to regain partial consciousness. He mumbles a few indistinct phrases, then suddenly pipes up, quite clearly:

“Don’t get married, John.”

I have no idea where that’s coming from.

“I’m…not planning on it?”

“Mm. My Boswell.” He lolls awkwardly against me, but I hardly notice. The hairs on my arms are all standing up. I am lost without my Boswell. It’s a quotation from “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Chapter Text

For Christmas, Sherlock gets an extravagant mobile phone and the corpse of Irene Adler. If it is her…he’s not sure, actually. The bashed-up face is quite suspicious.

As he looks at the pale, female body on the slab, a strange thing happens. Maybe it’s because he’s not sure if it’s really her, maybe it’s because of the things he’s been reading, or that word, panopticon, but instead of just reacting, the thought comes into his head: how am I expected to react?

It’s true that he often reacts to things in a way that is not genuine, but always, in those situations, he knows who his audience is and what he’s trying to accomplish: he acts stupid to suspects to get them to reveal things, he hides from John the way that his incessant lip-licking drives him to distraction. But here, now, he has the dizzy sensation of not knowing who might be watching.

“That’s her.” He makes it terse, tries to be even more unreadable than usual, which, actually, probably reads as upset to anyone who knows him well. It’s not that he is entirely unmoved, of course, but he can’t shake the feeling that it’s all a set-up. The Woman. Story-Sherlock would be deeply saddened. So, when Mycroft offers him a cigarette, he takes it. But he also speaks to Mycroft in the way he’s always spoken.

“Look at them.” A family down the hall, grieving. “They all care so much. Do you ever wonder if there’s something wrong with us?”

“All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.”

Sherlock reflects on this homily as he makes his way home. It may be true, but why say it? Why, to him of all people, and now, in particular? It makes him think of John, John saying “it’s not a good idea,” even as his lips were red from kissing. It makes him think of Irene, her brittle advances, so obviously cold and calculated. This message is coming at him from every quarter. But where does it originate?

At home, John’s latest boring girlfriend has obviously stormed out for the final time. That’s a bright spot in the evening, at least.

Chapter Text

Irene’s mobile lurks, vexing him with unanswered questions.

On December 27th, there is a glitch in the flat’s wifi connection. Sherlock clicks the wifi icon on his laptop screen, and notices a new secure network is available to join. IAPHONE, it’s called. Intriguing. He gets the password in two tries: p4n0pt1c0n. He takes a deep, slow breath.

At first, there’s nothing. Just an ordinary network. Then a small camera icon lights up in the corner of his screen. He clicks it.

And sees himself. A full-body shot of himself, seated, looking at this laptop, side-on to the camera. He moves. The image moves, the focus point shifting liquidly to follow his motion. He looks at the wall between the two sitting room windows. His image looks into the camera.

By now, all the fine hairs are standing up on his arms and the back of his neck. He keeps his face expressionless. He closes his laptop and goes into his room.

There are no cameras in the flat—he’s been over it a thousand times. So how? How? And who?

Chapter Text

Do you have it? -MH
have what? :-)
You know what. -MH
if I did I wouldn’t give it to you
Don’t do this. -MH
whos going to stop me? :-)
Are you honestly going to test me on this? -MH
:-)
Neilson will be paying you a visit. -MH
ooh lovely I like them strong and stupid
I am not joking, Martha. -MH
neither am I dear ;-)

Chapter Text

On New Year’s eve, I get a surprise visit from a pretty woman who, once she quits flirting with me, has the unrufflable air of one of Mycroft’s script consultants. I sigh a bit; I’d been genuinely hoping for a bit of fresh air, a few minutes away from Sherlock’s mood of intense, gloomy distraction. But evidently we’re going to film a scene.

I get a bit curious when the car doesn’t head for the usual sound stage, but instead takes me to an enormous power complex on what passes for the outskirts of town. I have little choice but to go inside. I’m half expecting a film crew, but there’s nobody there. Just her—Irene.

“Thought you were supposed to be dead,” I say.

“I’m sure Mycroft wishes I were,” she says. “But my contract stipulates that my involvement will continue. I’m going to be brought back.”

“So…what are we doing here?”

“Just having a little chat while we wait for Sherlock to show up.”

“Why would you and I need to chat?”

“I need to tell you something, John. There’s going to be a disturbance.”

“What sort of disturbance?”

“The extras are going on strike.”

I wonder if I’ve heard her right. “They can do that?”

“Of course they can. I mean, it’s not so much a strike as a mass resignation. Several thousand breach of contract cases for Mycroft to litigate, if he feels like it. But yes, they are going to walk out.”

“Sherlock will notice.”

She smiles, sharply. “That’s rather the idea.”

My mouth goes dry. “I’m not sure that’s really—I mean. You’re doing this? Really?”

“Oh do keep up, John. We’ve been working against Mycroft for quite some time now. Sherlock is already beginning to suspect.”

That might explain his mood. “But he’s—“

“Mentally ill? Fragile? You don’t honestly believe that, do you?”

“I’m…not sure.” I have believed it, honestly. I’ve never questioned it.

“In any case, you can’t protect him from this. We were rather hoping to get you on our side, in fact.”

I consider this, consider her.

“You say ‘we’. Who else is involved?”

“Richard Brook is the lynchpin. He slipped Sherlock a bit of reading material at the pool.”

My Boswell. “Christ, he is reading Arthur Conan Doyle.”

She smiles. Her phone chimes, and she checks it. “Ah, Sherlock’s on his way. We need to have a conversation fit for him to overhear. The idea’s that I’ve brought you here to try to convince you to help get my phone back, but of course you’re going to refuse. Ready?"

I say the first thing that pops into my head. “Tell him you’re alive.”

We play out a scene, improvising, but Irene twists the conversation around, and when I hear her text arrive on Sherlock’s phone, she’s just finished implying, over my strident denials, that both of us are soppy over Sherlock. Which, maybe we are, but, Jesus. I don’t want this. I hate this.

Sherlock, naturally, flees the scene. I wish I could go after him, but I genuinely have no idea what I would say. That I’m not in love with him? That I am? That he shouldn’t listen to Irene anyway, because she isn’t real (an oh, by the way, neither am I)?

In the midst of our awkward silence, Irene’s mobile chimes again.

“Oh, fuck,” she hisses. “Never mind Sherlock, you’ve got to head home.”

“Why, what is it?”

“Mycroft’s sent his bloody thugs to get my other camera phone from Mrs. Hudson.”

“Mycroft—but?”

Real Mycroft, John, do keep up. He really wants that phone, it’s got more on it than imaginary photographs. I’ve no idea what Hudders will do, she’s a wild card. You’ve got to go. Don’t let Mycroft have that phone.”

Head spinning, I go. Sherlock’s already taken care of the problem by the time I arrive. Mrs. Hudson has real bruises on her wrists, and she’s kept the phone out of Mycroft’s hands.

“He really is insufferable sometimes,” she sniffs to me, out of Sherlock’s hearing.

Chapter Text

Yes, Miss Adler, it’s very amusing whenever you turn up out of the blue and turn Sherlock’s world upside down. Let’s just keep doing this every so often with no warning whatsoever. In fact, let’s have you turn up in Sherlock’s bed unexpectedly, dressed up like a vulnerable kitten. That’ll be a fucking delight.

So, yeah, when Irene turns up asking for her phone back, I’m less than thrilled. Sherlock fixates on her immediately, solves her little puzzle remarkably quickly for someone who hates planes. She comes onto him incredibly hard. I think she’s trying to make me jealous (which I am, thanks), but I don’t really understand why.

“What’s the point of this?” I ask her, when Sherlock has gone off to his mind palace and we’re, for all intents and purposes, alone. “Why the seduction routine? You know he has no idea what to do with you.”

“I’m a femme fatale, John. That’s my role. If I didn’t play sexy, people wouldn’t be interested in watching.”

I consider this, consider her. “So what are you really like, underneath all of that? Would you flirt with Sherlock in the real world?”

“There is no Sherlock in the real world, John.”

“But you want to get him out of here.”

She sighs, and for just a moment, I think I see some shadow of her true self. “We do want that, yes. But you must know that he won’t survive intact, not really. He’s a storybook character. He’s lived all his life by storybook rules.”

“So?”

“So the real world—“ Her voice hitches, and she looks away from me. “The real world may be hard on him.”

“So Mycroft is right, then.”

“No, no. Don’t you see? Mycroft did this to him. He made Sherlock this way.”

“Okay, so. Taking things as they are, currently. Is it really a good idea to just suddenly take him out there?”

“No, not suddenly. That’s the idea. That’s why we’re doing it this way, with hints and clues. We want him to have time to adjust to the idea, to come to terms with it, before we engineer an exit. He has to make the leap willingly, not be pushed into it. You see?”

I make a noncommittal gesture. If it were me, I’d rather have the bandage ripped off all in one go. But Sherlock…maybe. I’m not sure.

“And on that note,” Irene goes on, “do you remember what I told you? About the extras?”

“Yeah, of course. When’s that happening?”

“Soon. A few days. Mycroft knows its coming, of course. He’s going to have Sherlock removed.”

“Removed? What do you mean?”

“It’s happened a time or two before. He’ll be taken by helicopter to a location outside of his London. There’ll be a case there to distract him. The key thing is, John, you’ve got to go with him. No matter what else comes up, you’ve got to stay with him. Is that clear?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it. Of course. I mean, I’d do that anyway.”

She smiles, a sort of sly, lopsided smile that makes me think I could get to like her after all. “You would, wouldn’t you?” Then she casts a meaningful look toward the sitting room, where Sherlock is still, evidently, deep in his mind palace trance. “But for now, actually, I need you to slip away for a bit so Sherlock and I can talk.”

Hairs rise on the back of my neck. “Anything you can’t say with me here?”

“Oh, not at all, sweetie! Just need to advance the plot. And, by the way, that thing you’re feeling? Hang onto it. Sherlock’s going to need a constant in his life. We’re counting on you to be his anchor point. Now, if you wouldn’t mind? I’ve lines to deliver.”

Chapter Text

He manages to hide his reaction from both of them when Plummer hands him the plane ticket, but he can’t help the way his hands go clammy. He hates planes. Really, really hates them. The few times he’s been forced to fly for cases, Mycroft has been good enough to provide him with strong medication, which he has taken half an hour before boarding. He can’t remember the details of a single flight he’s been on, and he’d like to keep it that way. It’s irrational; he doesn’t even remember the reason for it. He just really, really hates planes.

So it is with no little trepidation that he mounts the stairs to Flight 007. But then: corpses. He lets out a long, relieved breath. Coventry. Of course.

Right on cue, Mycroft appears. Because he’s still a little off-balance from his bout of phobia, it takes him longer than it should to understand that Mycroft is accusing him of ruining the plan.

Oh. Mycroft thinks he was infatuated with Irene Adler. It makes a kind of sense, he supposes, if you don’t know that Irene isn’t real. Sherlock isn’t quite certain, yet, in what sense this is true, but he knows it. It’s the only possible meaning of the coincidence of her name with the woman in the story. So if he has let her beguile him with her little puzzle, it’s hardly what Mycroft imagines; it’s only that he’s fascinated with the puzzle that she, herself, represents.

Naturally, she appears at the most dramatically appropriate moment. Her flair for timing verges on the unnatural. Unless she’s being helped, somehow.

“Not you, Junior, you’re done now.”

Then she pulls out her phone. This is distinctly odd, because Sherlock still has her phone in his pocket. There are two phones. Why are there two phones?

He puzzles over it all through the silent black-car ride to Mycroft’s office. The IAPHONE wireless signal. Panopticon. When she mentions Moriarty, a piece clicks into place. Two flash drives. Two phones. Whatever the phone in his pocket means, he must keep it secret. Now he only needs the password. Perhaps he’s been working too hard. Perhaps he was meant to figure it out ages ago.

He visualizes the lock screen. I AM ____ LOCKED. Suddenly, it’s so obvious it hurts.

He brandishes his solution, making up a story about the phone being her heart, as that seems to fit with what everyone assumes has been the plot so far.

“I’ve always assumed that love is a dangerous disadvantage,” he says. “Thank you for the final proof.”

When she answers him, her words run clattering down the long hall of his mind palace, a giggling child who darts behind a door and shuts it, creating a whole new room just for herself.

“Everything I said: it’s not real. I was just playing the game.”

To whom is he speaking, now? Who is listening? Who else is playing the game?

“I know,” he says.

Mycroft’s eyes narrow slightly, but Sherlock is looking at Irene, and doesn’t see it.

Chapter Text

I’m on my way home when I catch sight of Mycroft’s unmistakable storm-crow silhouette loitering out front of Speedy’s. This is unusual for him. Either he’s very certain that Sherlock isn’t watching the street, or he doesn’t care if he sees. He gestures me into the cafe. After our last one-on-one encounter, I’m none too sanguine about this meeting, but, as usual, I have little choice. At least we’re in Sherlock’s world, where I’ll be missed if anything happens to me.

We sit down, and tea materializes. Speedy’s is a detailed reflection of a down-at-heels cafe in the real world, down to the flecked formica tables, red tomato ketchup bottles, and strong, bitter tea. Mycroft doesn’t touch his cup; he catches the cafe owner’s eye and flicks his fingers, indicating the man should leave. Mr. Chatterjee nods—bows?—and quickly makes himself scarce.

“This is our file on Irene Adler,” Mycroft says. He pushes a thick plastic packet across the table, stuffed with papers. A dark bulge proves to be Irene’s phone. “I want you to show it to Sherlock, and give him some news.”

“News, what news?”

“Aileen is dead.”

“You mean…Irene Adler.”

“No.”

I take a deep breath. “That seems a bit excessive.”

He taps the phone with a long finger. “Do you know what was on this phone, John?”

I shake my head.

“The keys to the kingdom,” he says. “Scrambling software. She was using it to move about in here without my knowledge.” He smiles thinly, leaning forward. “That is not acceptable.”

“Okay,” I say, letting his words sink in. Shit. I’d wondered how Irene was able to tell me things about their plans without alerting Mycroft. No wonder he wanted the phone back so badly. “So, you want me to tell Sherlock what, exactly?”

“Tell him whatever you like. Just make it clear that he’ll never see the woman again. If he wants to examine the mobile, let him. He’ll see that it’s wiped completely clean. He can keep it, for all I care.”

I doubt very much he’ll want to keep it. He hasn’t told me much about how the Bond Air case ended—only that he saved the day by guessing Irene’s password after all. He seems just as glad to have the whole thing finished. He’ll be fine with it, I think—not seeing her again. I’d be fine with it, too, if I didn’t know the truth.

“So, why aren’t you delivering this news yourself?” I ask.

“I’d claim it was because I thought he’d take it better coming from you,” he says. “But the truth is, I just wanted the excuse for us to have this little chat. Bad behavior has consequences, Jack. Do I make myself clear?”

Instead of answering him, I slide out of my seat and take the packet upstairs to Sherlock.

Chapter Text

If he were the sort of person who slept, he would not be sleeping well. He’s been edgy, and not just from the nicotine cravings. (God, why did he take that cigarette from Mycroft?) He desperately wants to search the flat for bugs again, but now that he knows someone is watching, it’s not that simple. If they see him searching, they’ll know they’ve been found out. Coventry all over again.

He ponders the twin phones: the original, and the duplicate he filched from Mycroft’s file on the Woman. He keeps them locked up in a drawer together. Whoever is watching, it seems clear that They know he has one phone, but not that he has two. This allows him to take out one phone or the other when he wants a look. The second phone is indeed wiped clean. It still turns on, but there’s no passcode, and no software or data beyond the original factory settings.

The first phone, on the other hand, provides some data, though not what one might expect from the way Irene and Mycroft talked about it. The passcode is SHER, just like on the duplicate phone. There is a folder containing a few salacious photos of someone who might or might not be a member of the royal family—the face is difficult to make out with any certainty. And, although there is a wide array of black leather and steel equipment in use, the photos are not actually all that sexually explicit. In one of them, Irene has positioned herself in the shot, wearing a wine-colored corset and matching lipstick. She is bending forward to display her cleavage to the camera, grinning crookedly and holding up two fingers in an obscene gesture. Out of character. Odd.

The text history is blank, which means either that she cleared it or that her texts were not sent from this phone. The email access has never been set up at all.

What the phone does have is software. There’s an app called Blick, and another called K2K. Both are entirely opaque in the their design. Blick shows a long list of eight-digit numbers, any of which can be selected or deselected, to no apparent effect. K2K shows a single button which toggles between red and green when touched.

In the Settings menu, he finds that “Wifi Hotspot” is set to “on”. He turns it off, and the IAPHONE network disappears from the wifi menu on his laptop. That, at least, is something. He leaves it turned off, not that it probably makes any difference to whomever is watching.

And on top of all that, there’s the problem of John. He’s grateful that Panopticon—as he has termed the whole situation in his mind—is at least interesting enough to divert his mind from running in circles over that other conundrum. Assuming the two problems aren’t one and the same. It’s not a good idea.

Then there are his usual cravings: cases, stimulants. What with one thing and another, he’s almost too distracted to notice that Henry Knight is important. He is a poor, jittery fool suffering from psychotic delusions induced by his childhood trauma. That much is clear. Sherlock is about to throw him out when he says “hound”.

“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound.”

Hound. The moors. Of course, of course! The case itself might be ridiculous, but the important thing is that it fits. It’s another clue from Moriarty, another reference to the stories of that other Sherlock Holmes. He wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Chapter Text

Whatever may have happened to Aileen, it seems the rebellion is still in motion, because Henry Knight turns up just a couple of days later to entice Sherlock away to the moors.

“Trains don’t go near Grimpen, and the roads are wretched,” Henry says. “I can arrange a private helicopter. It’s the quickest way, by far.”

I can feel Sherlock’s indecision, the tension between his fear of flying and his need to follow the case to its conclusion. His fingers tap rapidly on his thighs for a moment before he decides.

“Fine. Just let me text my brother.”

Henry departs to make arrangements, and I sit nearby while Sherlock sends a text.

“What do you need Mycroft for?” I ask.

“Sedatives,” Sherlock replies. “I hate flying.”

“What do you take?”

“Flunitrazepam, usually.”

“Fluni—fuck, seriously? Rohypnol? Mycroft gives you Rohypnol for flying?”

He enunciates his answer with sarcastic prissiness. “I find a shot of scotch facilitates the effects nicely.”

He tosses the phone in the air before dropping it into his pocket. I’m staring at him. I need to pull myself together.

“That strikes me as a bit excessive.”

“At least I’ll have a doctor with me.” Then he disappears into his bedroom, presumably to prepare for the trip.

Of course, of course he would have to be unconscious, and the only way to knock him out without raising his suspicion would be to get him to do the deed himself. Everyone knows Sherlock is afraid of flying, but we never knew how he coped with it because the flights were always darked out. If Sherlock were awake in the air, he would look out the window and see that the geography around his London is all wrong. He’d see the security perimeter, the artificial horizon field projectors. He’d see how his Thames begins and ends at the city borders, a backcountry stream artificially inflated to a busy urban waterway. It would give away the game entirely.

For him to resort to shutting his senses down entirely, his fear must be intense. I don’t even want to think about where it came from.

Chapter Text

We make our way to a private helipad early the next morning. Sherlock doses himself just before we leave the flat.

“You sure you need that?” I ask, as he pops the white pill out of its blister pack. “It might not be as bad as you remember, and you’ll want to be clear-headed.”

“Not interested in experimenting, thank you,” he says. “Anyway I’ve never had any side effects. It’s a small dose, wears off quite quickly.”

He swallows the tablet dry, and something cold slithers down my own throat at the same time, seeing how utterly he trusts his brother. Then he rummages in a cupboard and comes out with my bottle of Bowmore 15 (which, oddly enough, they do stock in the shops round here).

I step up to snatch it away.

“None of that.” Our fingers overlap for a moment on the neck of the bottle. “The hippocratic oath is no joke, you know. I’m not having your drug interactions on my conscience.”

“Never mind that you’ve shot people, I suppose.” He lets the bottle go, though, and pulls out something cheaper, left over from the Christmas party. He downs a tumblr of the amber liquid without so much as flinching.

We catch our fake cab in the grey quiet just before dawn, and Sherlock is already wobbly when he gets out twenty minutes later. An elevator takes us to the roof of the building, where a helicopter is waiting to pick us up. I end up snapping Sherlock’s ear defenders on for him as he passes out in the passenger seat before we even get airborne, his pale Adam’s apple sticking out as he throws back his head and snores.

Conversation is impossible thanks to the rotor noise, but the pilot throws a wink in my direction. I do not wink back.

Sherlock may not be able to see his London from above, but that doesn’t stop me from looking down at it, once I’ve reassured myself that his respiration is within the range of normal. I wonder whether today’s the day the extras are walking out, but I can’t tell from the air. We left early enough that the deserted streets could have been due to the hour. I suppose our pilot—and everyone we meet on this excursion, come to think of it—must have been hand-picked by Mycroft with even more care than usual. The streets and buildings diminish beneath us as we ascend, and soon I can see the rough edges, the surveillance stations, the official airstrip outside of town, the road blockades. Are we escaping Mycroft’s clutches, or flying deeper into them?

Sherlock is rousable, if only just, when we land at the tiny airfield that serves the village of Grimpen-on-the-Moor. A car meets us—not a taxi or one of Mycroft’s black cars, just a local lad who makes a little money picking people up at the airport. Or so he appears. He takes in Sherlock’s rumpled appearance without comment and hefts our bags into the boot.

Mr. Knight has arranged accommodations for us at the Cross Keys inn, a medieval building remodeled as a vegetarian B&B. We’re greeted by Gary, a chatty, bearded fellow—gay, I think, not that it matters. He helps us get our things up the narrow stairway, then unlocks our room and ushers us in with a flourish. I’m halfway through the door when I realize they’ve given us a room with only one bed. I turn to say there must be some mistake, but Gary has already disappeared off down the stairs.

Chapter Text

In addition to the solitary bed, the room is crowded with pseudo-victorian furnishings, done up in rather twee ruffles and floral prints. Lace curtains, a vase of irises. Sherlock takes in the room’s furnishings with a glance, drops his laptop bag on a chair, and sweeps back out of the room without a word. If he’s still feeling the effects of his intoxicants, he’s hiding it well. I take a moment to use the toilet and wash my face before following him downstairs.

Sherlock is out in the yard, talking to a young man with a painted sign. Gary is behind the bar. I’d originally planned to just come down and ask for a different room, but, God, I could really use a pint.

“So, you’re the famous John Watson,” Gary says, once I’m settled in at the bar.

“Name’s Jack, actually.”

“All right, then, Jack. What’s Mycroft Holmes got on you?”

“Sorry?”

He gives me a disgusted look as he hands me my beer. “Don’t go pretending. He must have you under his thumb somehow, or you’d have given away the game by now. What is it?”

“There’s—there’s nothing, honestly. Why? Has he got you under his thumb?” This doesn’t seem like the time or place to discuss Mycroft’s threats against my life.

“Only indirectly,” he says. “It’s Billy, my boyfriend—oh, speak of the devil.”

A shorter, ginger-haired man wearing a chef’s jacket has come in through the service door.

“I was just explaining to Jack here, about your situation,” Gary says.

“Oh?” Says Billy. “About Alex?”

“Yeah, about Alex.” Gary turns back to me. “So Billy’s got this nephew, Alex. Loves him like his own kid. We have ‘em round here every summer holiday. So Mycroft’s assistant calls up Billy and says ‘we’re sending Sherlock to stay at Cross Keys. You play nicely or Alex will have an accident.’”

“Jesus.”

“As if I wouldn’t have done it anyway!” Billy chimes in, exasperated. “I’d’ve been happy to help. I love Sherlock.” It’s not clear whether he means the show or the person. “It’s really going downhill, you ask me. First they toy with his heart, and now threats of violence. My gran applied to be an extra, you know, and it was layers on layers of background checks, very professional, and now this, such a rush job, just bullying the whole town into helping, and they only had time to install the VRS in the one room.”

I can’t help perking up my ears at that. VRS—Visual Receptive Surface—is the technology that allows them to film Sherlock from all angles without his being able to detect the equipment. Sherlock doesn’t know it exists. It turns an entire wall into a passively receptive mosaic of microscopic lenses, like an insect’s eye. A computer receives the combined signal and processes it to determine the focus of the image—usually Sherlock himself. It’s very expensive and time-consuming to install, and Sherlock’s London is liberally papered over with it. Almost literally so: busy wallpaper patterns help to conceal the unique nature of the surface. It’s not just Mrs. Hudson’s decorating style.

If what Billy says is true, then our presence here is likely much less intensely monitored than our life in Sherlock’s London. Mycroft must be under more pressure from Moriarty than I’ve realized. There will still be hidden cameras, but there are always blind spots in such systems. Come to that, the woods and moorlands can’t possibly be fully wired up, and it’s much too open an environment for Sherlock’s movements to be predicted with any certainty. Still, Mycroft must be counting on a lot of the action happening in certain places: Dewer’s Hollow, Baskerville. The audience may even enjoy the new spy-cam format.

“Just the one room?” I ask, trying not to sound too interested.

Billy doesn’t answer, but Gary gives a significant glance toward the garishly papered wall above the lounge fireplace, off to my left.

“Ah,” I say. “Erm, so, you think the show’s going downhill?”

“I’m just so furious about that kiss!” Billy complains. I blink a few times, searching for words, before he goes on. “I mean I don’t blame you, of course, I know you’ve got to follow a script. Me and my friends have had a bet going for ages on whether Sherlock was gay or asexual, but they never really put an available man into his path before you, you know. So now we have our answer, and it turns out you’re not available after all. The poor man, honestly.”

I take an exceptionally bitter mouthful of beer. Gary picks up the thread of conversation next.

“It was a calculated risk, you ask me,” he says. “The show can’t afford Sherlock to fall in love, it would make him much too unpredictable. As long as he keeps focused on cases, they can control where he goes, what he does. But they had to give him a Watson, or it wouldn’t be Sherlock.”

“Guess somebody thought you were a safe bet,” Billy muses, unsubtly looking me over. “Just goes to show. You can’t predict the movements of the human heart.”

“Anyway,” Gary says. “Sorry we couldn’t do a twin for you boys. Last minute reservations, you know how it is.”

“And Alex will be all right, whatever happens,” Billy assures me. “Mycroft’s not the only one with friends in high places.” I consider asking him to elaborate, but think better of it.

Chapter Text

Confession time: I’m having fun. Even knowing it was all set up in advance, breaking into Baskerville had a certain tension and release to it. I don’t know whether Corporal Lyons was a real soldier, but he was a good enough imitation of one that I enjoyed pulling rank on him. In particular, I suppose I enjoyed doing it with Sherlock watching, being what he needed me to be. He needed me to play the soldier’s part, he took it for granted that I would do it, and I did it. We have a dynamic. I get high on that.

Then we got to run around the moors. It was the most physical freedom I’ve had in months, the first time I’ve been in a truly wild place since I moved into Sherlock’s life. There’s a certain pleasure in knowing that Mycroft can’t possibly control everything that happens in a place like this. And now I’ve got my own little clue, “UMQRA”, which may be the piece that Sherlock needs to crack the case, not that it means anything to me, but I do like to contribute in my own small way, when I can.

So I’m feeling pretty good as we make our way back to Henry Knight’s place after the sighting of his “hound”. I didn’t see it, and Sherlock claims not to have seen it, though Henry seems sure that he must have. Conflicting evidence! Drama! Things are heating up.

Sherlock goes on ahead as I get Henry settled. Knight seems genuinely shaken up, not just acting. Something about this rings alarm bells in my head, but I can’t get any sense out of him, so I leave him with “something to help him sleep”—just Benadryl, actually, since I’m really not sure what his deal is—and then I go after Sherlock

I find him in the pub, brooding. At first I expect we’ll get on with talking through the case. I’m still pretty keyed up with fresh and air and excitement, so it takes a few moments for me to realize that Sherlock is out of sorts. “I saw the hound,” he says, and yeah, of course he bloody saw it, because of course he’s being constantly fucked to the hilt. Mycroft can’t just send Sherlock out for a fun case in the country, he’s got to fuck with his sense of reality as well. Fantastic.

I try to reason with him, but he lashes out at me. When he gets around to “I don’t have friends,” it’s finally more than I can take. It’s either get myself away from him or explode with everything that’s inside me—the truth. But I can’t, I can’t, not yet—it’s too much. I leave him there, alone with his delusions.

Chapter Text

Something is wrong. Very wrong. A new and different and awful sort of wrong.

Sherlock easily gives his companions the slip while John is distracted by Henry’s state of anxiety. Stalking away up the narrow lane back to the village, he breathes deeply of the cool night air, trying in vain to calm his racing heart. A stiff wind drags high clouds drag across the face of the moon. It pulls at the fullness of his coat and moans in the branches of the ancient, gnarled oaks growing alongside the road.

These facts give rise to unquantifiable sensations: solitude, grandeur, apprehension. He shouldn’t be susceptible to them, and yet they crowd against him from every side. It isn’t only that he’s seen the Hound, if that is what it was. It isn’t only that he has confronted an unnatural creature. It’s the way everything has seemed heightened ever since they landed, somehow more real than real, deductions coming upon him almost unbidden, spurred by an overwhelming richness of detail. There’s more dust here, somehow, more footprints, more history in the stones and the scuff marks and the way people move about. At first it was exhilarating, but as the day has worn on, it’s come to seem somehow sinister. There’s something impossible about it all, a deduction too far, and now, having seen the Hound, a fact at once implausible and incontrovertible, everything is piling up, coming upon him in sickening waves, implications spiraling out like fractals, too much for him to manage.

When he gets back to the inn, the sudden flood of warmth and yellow light puts a stop to his whirling thoughts. Instead of going up to his room (his alone, certainly, as John has obviously arranged for a room of his own by now), he finds himself drawn to a pair of chairs by the fireside, slumped side by side like a pair of old men. He sits, and someone comes to take his drink order. A drink appears. Then John appears. He sits in the other chair. They’re talking, and then they’re fighting, and then John leaves. Well then. All right. Good.

He abandons his drink and goes upstairs. It takes him a few minutes of pacing to work out why he found John’s presence so unbearable. Whatever is going on—whatever the explanation for the way this place feels different from home—John is part of it. The lines of his face, the way he wears his clothes…he belongs among these people, in this place, in exactly the way that Sherlock patently does not. In this moment, alone in this bedroom, it feels like betrayal.

Chapter Text

However upset I am, I don’t dare go far from Sherlock. Out in the windy night, I sit down on one of the picnic table benches outside of the pub. I still have my glass from inside, and I toss the liquor back quickly, relishing the burn of it.

I wonder what it was that Sherlock really saw. Prosthetics? Animatronics? Glow paint? Why was Henry Knight upset as well? The Actors usually have some idea what’s coming—usually better than I have. I often don’t know what’s going on, both because it’s hard for anyone to communicate with me without Sherlock’s knowing and, I suspect, because keeping me in the dark lends a certain veracity to my reactions. I almost prefer it this way, as it makes it easier for me to play my part. Still, I would normally have expected Henry (or whatever his real name is) to drop the act and give me some clues once we were alone together. Instead, he was just as jittery and manic as Sherlock. Is that strange? I’m not sure.

“Hey, mind if I join you?”

I look up to find a woman standing nearby, wearing a belted coat, skirt, and heels. She’s smoking a cigarette. She’s tall, nice smile, dark hair filled with motion in the wind—entirely my type. My game is not strong at the moment, but I wave mutely to the bench beside me. I’m not sure whether the distraction is welcome or not.

“Thanks,” she says, then takes a seat, crosses her legs, and blows smoke into the turbulent air. “Lovely night.”

“I suppose. If you like wind.”

“Don’t you? I love it. Wakes me up, you know? I’m Julie, by the way. I’m playing Louise Mortimer, Henry Knight’s therapist.”

“Tch. Course you are.” I lean my head back, look up at the stars. I never meet anybody for real anymore.

“Here, now, no need to be that way.” She leans to bump her shoulder playfully against mine. “Just because we’re working doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun. No cameras in my hotel room, I promise.”

Subtle, she’s not. “You aren’t staying here, then?”

“This quaint little heap? Certainly not. I’m at the Bedford out in Tavistock.”

That’s the better part of an hour’s drive from where we are. “So why did you come out here tonight?”

“To meet you, of course. And to get a glimpse of Himself. Looked like you had a bit of a tiff, in the lounge there. Trouble in paradise?”

I make a sour expression, which she misinterprets.

“Oh! My God, not that I’m implying anything like that.” She leans in close again and looks up at me through her eyelashes. “Ten to one, you’re into women.”

“Oh, got a bet going have you?”

“Why, would you help me win it?”

Her smile has that not-quite-joking edge to it. I can’t deny being tempted. A night off would suit me very well. Tavistock’s hardly London, but at least it’s real, and private. We could have a bite, a drink somewhere, and then go back to her room. She has exactly the sort of long legs I’d love to have wrapped around me—

“Come on, Jack,” she purrs. “Sherlock can survive the night without you. I’ll have you back bright and early. He won’t even know you were gone.”

I give a genuine snort of laughter at that idea. He’ll know with a single glance, know that I’ve left him alone in the middle of a mental breakdown for a one night stand. Even if he really were invulnerable to emotions, the disloyalty in that would be apparent to reason alone. Besides, Irene said I had to stay with him. We’re counting on you.

“Did Mycroft send you?” I ask her.

Her smile freezes. “Now why would you say that?”

“It just seems like the sort of plan that would be hatched by an egomaniac with no real understanding of human emotions. No offense.”

She sighs and stands up, tossing her cigarette butt to the ground.

“Well, nobody could say I didn’t try.” She sniffs, stamping out the tiny ember. “Good night, Watson.”

She walks away, coat swaying in the wind. A few minutes later, I hear a car pull out of the front drive. I allow myself another minute to breathe, then fling myself again into the fray.

Chapter Text

When I get back inside, Sherlock isn’t in the lounge. He must have gone back up to the room. Our room. With one bed in it. Well, knowing Sherlock, he probably won’t sleep anyway.

When I open the door, though, I get a surprise: Sherlock is indeed asleep, curled up tightly on one side of the bed with all of the blankets wrapped around him in a tangled clump. Nonplussed, I go into the bathroom and clean my teeth and take a shower, but when I come out, he’s still there.

I put on a vest and boxers and consider my next move. There’s a chair, but it doesn’t look terribly comfortable. There’s the floor, but it looks quite hard and Sherlock’s got all the blankets. There’s the bed, with a nice big empty spot next to my soundly sleeping, blanket-wrapped friend. Fine then. I’ll put on a jumper for warmth.

My jumper is under Sherlock’s overnight bag, which is lying open on the chintz armchair to one side of the bed. As I pick up the bag to move it, something catches my eye. In an unzipped side pocket is Irene’s phone. The fact that he brought it here with him is enough to draw my attention, and when I look closer, I see…its twin. Two phones. Two identical Irene Adler camera phones.

I remember her words at the power complex: my other phone. She was holding one phone, and trying to keep the other out of Mycroft’s hands. Eventually, he got it, or so I believed. I never stopped to think what had become of the other one.

Mycroft knows that Sherlock has the phone from Irene’s file. Does he not know about the other one?

I pick up one of the phones. Holding it close to my body to shield the screen from view, I turn it on. Two icons show up on the screen, labeled “Blick” and “K2K”. Blick shows me two serial numbers. K2K shows a single red button. Try as I might, I can’t make anything of it.

I put the phone back where I found it, put my jumper on, and lie down next to Sherlock. I don’t really expect to sleep, but between the early start and the adrenaline roller-coaster of the day, it isn’t long before fatigue pulls me under.

I’m not sure what exactly it is that wakes me up, but I open my eyes to find to Sherlock propped on one elbow, gazing intently at my face in the early light. He’s still got all the blankets, the untidy mass of them pushed down around his waist like draperies on a roman statue, although he is still wearing the tee shirt he slept in. His hair is wild, his cheeks still rosy with sleep. I feel small and rumpled by comparison, but he’s looking at me as though I were worthy of his interest.

I meet his eyes, then find that I can’t look away. Holding my gaze, he lifts his free hand to touch my face. For a moment, I forget to breathe. Then his gaze flickers to one side, and I realize he’s examining my details. His fingers trace the lines beside my mouth, and at the corners of my eyes. Fingertips dip behind my ear, where he can’t see, then trace the edge of my day-old beard, beneath my jaw.

“What—“ I have to clear my throat before I can go on. “What are you doing?”

“Gathering data,” he replies.

“Nothing you haven’t seen before.”

“Seen, yes. Felt? No.” His voice is soft. With a finger, he tilts my chin to the other side, observing closely. “There’s something about you, John. I don’t understand it yet, but I think you’re the key to everything.”

I need to get control of this. I need to figure out what he’s thinking. But I can’t speak, can barely breathe, with Sherlock looking at me this way.

His fingertips slide and press beneath the corner of my jaw. He takes my pulse. The jig is up.

“I don’t understand anything about you,” he says.

Then he leans in and presses his lips to the spot where his fingertips have just been. I close my eyes. The tip of his tongue touches me, tasting. Somewhere in the distance a skylark is trilling, an ever-tightening spiral of song.

He releases me abruptly, and I gasp a much-needed breath of air. While I’m still waiting for the room to stop spinning, Sherlock swings his legs out from among the blankets and starts rummaging in his bag.

“I’ve an errand to run,” he says. “I think we’ll solve this case today. You’d better get down to breakfast. I’ll meet you by the church.”

He’s dressed and gone by the time I manage to shake off my daze and get moving. I wonder what the viewing public made of that one.

Our bathroom has a little round shaving mirror on a swing arm. As I’m lifting my chin to shave the edge of my jaw, I feel again his touch against my carotid. I slide a soapy fingertip to touch the spot, remembering, and I feel the quick and steady thud-thud-thud of my heart—my true and living, aching heart.

Chapter Text

He’s only half certain that the drug is in the sugar, but there’s only one way to find out. Well, only one that he’s going to pursue. He leaves Henry Knight’s house feeling optimistic.

His sensorium has settled down considerably since the fugue of last night. Looking back on it now, it’s obvious that he was under the influence of something. The effects were unlike anything he’s ever had before, but the shreds of chemical hangover remind him distantly of psilocybin mushrooms, which he tried once and detested. He has a certain sense of being psychically rubbed raw, ordinary sensations catching in the worn-thin fabric of his emotional barriers like fishhooks in gauze.

He probably wouldn’t have kissed John this morning if it weren’t for that, but it’s hardly the end of the world. And, oh, the way John’s pulse raced! The memory of it clouds his vision for a moment. If there’s really nothing—if he has fabricated John’s responses to him out of thin air and wishes—then the whole world is built on a foundation of straw.

And yet. He could be wrong. He feels more and more wrong with each passing day. Panopticon remains unsolved. What if there is no solution? What if Moriarty is merely toying with him, trying to make him doubt his own senses, his own sanity? What if nobody is watching at all? Or if they are watching, could they still be watching him here, far from home, out in the countryside?

There’s still something strange about John, something he hasn’t yet been able to characterize, that has only come to light due to these unfamiliar surroundings and Sherlock’s unsettled state of mind. John is keeping something from him. Something important. Does this mean John cannot be trusted? Perhaps. And yet Sherlock, who is, in the end, just as irrational as every other poor idiot wandering this wasteland, continues to trust him.

He finds John sitting in the churchyard, scribbling in his notebook. He puts it away as Sherlock approaches.

“Did you get anywhere with that morse code?” he asks.

“No,” John says.

Sherlock tries to draw him out on the subject, but John is terse—nervous or angry, maybe. There’s a new barrier between them, a result of Sherlock’s words and actions, and after a few moments he finds that he cannot bear it. He can’t yet tell John that he and Henry Knight were drugged—it would spoil the experiment he has planned—but he has to do something to fix this.

“Listen, what I said before, John. I meant it. I don’t have friends.”

In the midst of walking away, John turns to look back at him.

“I’ve only got one.”

He means everything by it: you’re all I’ve got and you are my friend and please don’t be one of Them and forgive me for this sugar I’ve got in my pocket.

“Right,” is all John says, but Sherlock knows that he’s been heard.

Chapter Text

Hell, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Even as we get on with our investigation, I’m still half giddy from this morning’s…whatever it was. We don’t speak on the way back to the inn, but there’s an elastic tension between us. He holds the door open for me when we arrive, and our clothes brush together as I pass through.

The sight of Lester Gregson cuts through my whirling thoughts. I know exactly why he’s here. Sherlock thinks its because Lestrade is his “handler”, but I’m pretty sure he’s actually here to handle me.

My suspicions are confirmed when we get a moment alone outside of the pub.

“Jack, you need to tread very carefully.”

I take another sip of my too-sweet coffee. “What do you mean?”

“I think you know very well. Mycroft is none too happy with you right now.”

“Well, you can tell him I feel the same. He certainly rushed you out here, didn’t he?”

Gregson runs a hand through his bristly hair, frustrated. “It wasn’t only what happened this morning. He’s not happy with having had to send you boys out here.”

“He told you that?”

“Not in so many words, but it’s pretty obvious if you know him at all. You’re lucky, you haven’t had to deal with him much outside of his on-screen character. He treats me like a bloody dog, in production meetings all the time, planning out the cases and clues for Sherlock. He blames me if things go off the rails. I’m cracking, to be honest.” He pauses to rub his face with one hand before going on. “This shit with Moriarty is the last straw. I almost hope the bastard wins if it means the end of this bloody terrible job.”

“You can—erm. You can talk about that here?”

“Yeah, the sound pickup’s not been great outdoors. Nor in your room either, by the way. Just the two cameras in there, and a couple little mics. All they could manage on short notice. He only just got word of the extras strike in time to get Sherlock out. They’re scrambling to repopulate the city while you two are gone. It’s a nightmare. If you break the golden rule at the same time, it’ll all go tits up, so please, for all our sakes, just don’t.”

“The golden rule? What’s that?”

He shakes his head as though clearing cobwebs away. “That’s what Sally and I call it. Mycroft is absolutely opposed to Sherlock getting into any kind of…you know. Anything too intimate.”

He looks shifty. I guess he’s reconsidered his assumptions about me. I wonder if he’s reviewed the footage of the kiss after the pool scene. My mind comes up with an image of a high-tech situation room, Mycroft and haggard Greg and a bunch of suits all gathered around a holographic display, watching the kiss on repeat, analyzing it from every angle. Digital readouts of my life signs, my heart rate and respiration spiking in the corner of the screen. The idea is only half ridiculous. I sigh, banishing the image.

“Look, I guess I know that. But, Jesus, why? What’s the harm? I thought the whole point of this was for Sherlock to have what he wants.”

“Yeah, well, that doesn’t extend to romance, especially not with you. He doesn’t want Sherlock confused. Or you, either.”

“Doesn’t want him to have a mind of his own, you mean.”

“I mean what I said.” He growls through clenched teeth, jabbing a finger at me to emphasize his point. “Just. Don’t.”

“Sir, yes sir,” I mutter, downing the last of my coffee. Then Sherlock comes out of the pub, and our conversation is over. We part ways with Lestrade, and Sherlock rings up his ace in the hole—his brother.

Chapter Text

With “legitimate” authorization from Mycroft, we get into Baskerville much more easily the second time. Of course, our fist visit was also actually completely authorized and planned for, but Sherlock, naturally, wasn’t to know. Round and round we go.

When the gate guard waves Sherlock through, having checked Mycroft’s authorization, Sherlock sits back smugly in his seat. “The keys to the kingdom,” he says.

Once inside the lab, Sherlock sends me to search for the hound while he gets on with some other business. This is fine. I’m not expecting to find anything.

But then things get rather strange. I get stuck in the lab somehow, card reader’s not working, bright lights in my face, something howling. Pulse racing, palms sweating, and I know it’s not real, I know it, and yet I also know that the Hound is out there, in here with me, evil and intent. I ring Sherlock’s mobile, and everything is backwards, reality inverted. I need someone—him, my one friend, my other half—to tell me that it’s all okay.

“You saw what you expected to see because I told you,” he says, at last. “You have been drugged. We have all been drugged.”

Relief courses through me, and then a sick, angry awareness of the irony of it. For once, Sherlock knows what’s real. For once, he’s pulled the strings. I find I can’t begrudge him this small triumph.

Chapter Text

Get me out, Sherlock. You have got to get me out.

An unexpected feeling passes through him at the sound of it: John, powerless and frightened. Perhaps he could have done this some other way: used Lestrade, somehow, or manipulated a stranger into ingesting the sugar. But, no, it had to be John. To use anyone else for his experiment—especially now, at the pivotal moment of the case—would violate their tacit contract, the one that designates John as his primary confederate in all matters pertaining to the work, especially when adrenaline is involved.

So: necessary. And yet so terribly unpleasant to be the one causing John distress. It’s a relief to finally abandon scientific detachment and go and let John out of the lab and explain the illusion. John recovers quickly, pulling himself together with his usual gorgeous strength of will. Sherlock spares a moment to admire it before getting on with commandeering some lab space. If he can identify the compound in the sugar, he may be able to trace its origin, and then they’ll know who killed Henry’s father. He has to move quickly, as there’s a good chance his entering Baskerville has alerted the killer that he’s close to a solution, and it wouldn’t do to have the perpetrator force a confrontation before the proof has been secured.

It’s a simple matter to pressure Dr. Stapleton into letting them use her bench. He keeps an ear cocked toward her and John while he runs the analysis. John sounds edgy, but coherent. Good enough to be going on with. He tunes them out again.

Sugar: dead end. Back to pure brain work, then. Oh, this case is a delight: chemistry, psychology, memory, a dash of hacking. Travel, which at least makes John happy. He has the answer singing in his grasp when John’s phone rings—Henry’s therapist. The game’s afoot. As he and John head for Dewer’s Hollow, his nerves hum and his thoughts race with the crystalline perfection that keeps him coming back again and again to this work, this high, this rush that sustains him when everything else turns to ashes.

Henry Knight with a gun in his mouth is the icing on the cake; he’ll save a life today, on top of everything. Oh, to be Sherlock Holmes!

But then: the Hound. The engine of his thoughts whirrs and stutters to a stop. Wrong, he’s been wrong. What’s missing? If it’s not a drug, then it’s a hoax, and a complicated one, much more than could be managed by an ambitious young tour guide with a good story. This would take planning, power, resources. A concentrated effort to make Sherlock Holmes doubt his sanity. Who would have that kind of ability, that kind of genius? Who would have the motivation?

A figure coalesces in the mist, and Sherlock’s heart trips over itself as he knows, without even seeing the face, that it is Moriarty, this specter, come to taunt him, come to tantalize him with Panopticon and no answers.

But no. No. This is illogic, hallucination, chemical. He forces the gears of logic back into place, strains his vision past the obscuring fog of lies until he sees what’s really there: Frankland, the obsessive, the killer.

The sound of gunfire provides a focal point for his re-grounding, and there is John, standing over the dead body of an ordinary black dog. It draws his focus—and John’s, and Lestrade’s, and Henry’s—long enough for Frankland to slip out of their grasp. His life ends in a gout of flame from a land mine. A life saved, a life lost. Justice of the crudest kind. A failure. Their ragtag band goes limping home.

Chapter Text

After what seems an endless discussion with the local police force, Sherlock, Lestrade and I have dinner together at the Cross Keys. The conversation flows easily at first, all of us still high on the resolution of the case, but it soon lapses into a stony silence. I wonder what Lestrade makes of getting gassed by his boss. Can’t say I fancied it too much, myself. And Frankland. Jesus.

Sherlock grimaces and picks at his meal, quite unlike his usual post-case appetite. He’s been especially quiet since the showdown at the Hollow. Now that I’ve encountered the gas myself, I have a better idea of how he must have felt when we argued last night, how distressing it must have been for him not to be able to trust his senses—not to know what was real and what wasn’t. I touch his leg under the table, and he looks at me, but there’s a hollowness about his eyes.

I can’t quite muster up any encouragement, and after a moment of regarding me, his eyebrows draw together and he looks away again. A second later, though, his finger brushes against mine. I open my hand, and he takes it and grasps it tightly, there under the tablecloth where no one can see.

His grip lasts only a moment, but it breaks something open in me.

Eventually we pay our bill and head for upstairs.

“John, you want to bunk with me?” Greg asks, at the landing. “I’ve got a spare bed, and I’m sure Sherlock wouldn’t mind a bit of space to spread out.”

Beside me, Sherlock stiffens almost imperceptibly. I remember that desperate grasp beneath the table, and my wandering priorities march into line.

“Ta very much, but I think we’ll be okay. Our room has an armchair I can kip on, if His Nibs decides he wants to actually sleep in a bed for once.”

Greg shoots me a hard look, but Sherlock is already turning away, and I go with him.

Sherlock heads immediately for the shower—totally understandable, if he’s sweated half as much as I have today, between the bouts of unreasoning terror and all the running about. I think again of the camera phone in Sherlock’s bag, and take it out. K2K. The keys to the kingdom. The app still shows a red button. I tap it with the pad of my thumb. A timer icon appears and whirls for a moment, and then the button shows green. I’ve only the faintest guess as to what it might do, but if Mycroft doesn’t want Sherlock to use it, it’s probably something good.

I get into the shower myself after Sherlock comes out. The tiny room is humid, all the mirrors steamed over. For a few minutes, I’m alone; I can think my own thoughts and feel my own feelings, and brace myself for whatever is coming. I’m going to let it come. I’m through fighting it.

When I come out of the bathroom, Sherlock is standing by the window, dressing gown wrapped tightly around his lean frame. I reckon he’d be pacing if the room wasn’t so crowded with rustic clutter.

“You want to get some sleep, now the case is over?” I finish toweling my hair and hang up the towel on the hook on the bathroom door.

“Wouldn’t want to put you out of the bed,” he snarks.

“You won’t.” The bed’s been neatly made and turned down on both sides. I give the pillow a couple of unnecessary thumps, then climb in between the crisp sheets. The smell of lavender wafts up in a cloud as I settle myself on the pillow, my back to the rest of the room. I can’t see Sherlock’s reaction, but after a moment I hear his bare feet padding around the foot of the bed. There’s a soft sigh of fabric as his dressing gown pools on the floor, and then the mattress dips. I watch him settle onto his back, his dark curls silky in the soft light. Then he switches off his bedside lamp, and we’re in darkness.

The silence stretches on. Nobody is sleeping.

“You were brilliant today,” I say.

“I tried to drug you.”

“Unsuccessfully,” I remind him, smiling a little smugly in the dark.

“But you were drugged nonetheless,” he says. “Were you really scared there, in the lab?”

“I was terrified out of my wits.”

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock says.

“I’ll live. It was kind of a rush, actually. Like the hall of mirrors at a funfair.”

“The hall of mirrors,” Sherlock muses, as though to himself. It’s quiet a few minutes more, and then he starts speaking again, still quietly. “Sometimes I wonder about things.”

A little shiver creeps over me. This is it.

“What kind of things?” My voice sounds pretty steady, I think.

He shifts a little in the bed, turning away from me. “I don’t—. It’s. I think I’m going mad, sometimes.”

“Sherlock.” Without entirely meaning to, I reach a hand out to touch his waist. His hand flies up to cover it, grasping my fingers.

“None of it makes any sense,” he goes on, his voice rough and quiet. “But I sometimes feel as though, somehow, I’m not really here. Like I’m an imaginary person. As though nothing I do really matters.”

Following the pull of his hand, I let myself slide nearer. The warmth of him bleeds through the thin layers of cloth between us.

“You are real,” I say, to the back of his neck. “As real as anything in the world.”

He gives a harsh little laugh. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” But he pulls my arm down around his waist, snugging himself back up against me, and I tighten the embrace, holding him. He is shivering.

“Of course you matter,” I say, and this much of the truth, at least, I can tell him. “You’re brilliant. You’re so…much, Sherlock. To me. To lots of people.”

He hunches down into himself, muscles hardening. I pull my hand free and stroke his bare arm, hoping to gentle him. I have to bite my tongue against the further flow of words, against all the things I mustn’t say. Not yet.

The skin beneath my palm is soft. I know how pale he is, untouched by sun and wind. He’s always been lean, but he is also strong. I trace the divot where his bicep slips under the deltoid. He relaxes fractionally beneath my touch, so I keep going, letting my fingers catalogue the long muscles of his forearm, the tendons of his wrist. His back softens gradually, the tension seeping out of him little by little. There is hair on the outer surface of his arm, but the underside is smooth and fragile feeling. I make long, slow strokes, up and down from wrist to shoulder and back again. I’m so hypnotized with touching him that I don’t notice his response until, after a while, he turns his palm up, and I slide my fingers along his wrist and into it.

Sherlock is very still now, hardly breathing. The pulse against my thumb at his wrist is rapid, thumping hard in the blue vein beneath his skin. Oh.

“Is this all right?” My voice sounds husky in my ears.

“Yes,” he whispers. “Don’t stop.” I start to move my hand, but he grabs it and moves it to his waist. His shirt is rucked up, the skin smooth as paper under my touch. I shiver against him.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I say. “The gas—”

“Shh,” he breathes.

I slide my hand slowly across the fine skin of his belly, skate across the pucker of his navel in the dark. His abs are tense beneath thin skin. Trailing up, I find the flare of his ribs, the surprising, spare flatness of his pectorals. I lay my palm against his chest, feeling how close his heart is to the surface here, beating almost as fast as mine. He gives a wordless hum and wriggles back against me. Nestled up against the very bottom of his back, my cock gives a hopeful throb. I bite my lip, wondering if Sherlock can feel it. At least he isn’t pulling away. I let my thumb scrape across his nipple, just to see what will happen, and he gives a tiny gasp, tensing almost imperceptibly. I do it again, and his breath comes out just gently shaded with a moan.

Sherlock is letting me touch him. Wants me to touch him.

I skate my hand along his collarbone, then let one fingertip stroke lightly up the front of his neck. He raises his chin so fast we almost bump heads. I palm his throat softly, trace his jawline with my thumb, hardly daring to breathe for the beauty of it. He shivers, breath catching, and from the sound he makes I know that he is biting his lip. Christ. I wish I could turn on the light and see how he looks as I do this to him, but, no. This is a shadowy thing, what I’m doing. Darkness is better.

I stroke down his chest and belly again. The band of his trousers is there. The elastic edge is snug against his skin, except where it stretches across the hollow of his hip. I slip the tips of two fingers into that slight opening and then slide along the waistband, parting skin from cloth. Sherlock is motionless, but I can hear him breathing, shivery and open mouthed. When I repeat the stroke in the opposite direction, he wets his mouth to speak.

“John, if you want to—“

I squeeze my eyes shut against his innocence, take a moment just to breathe. Then I pull my fingers out of his waistband and touch the clothed ridge of his erection.

“This?” I whisper.

“Yes.” His voice is almost too quiet to hear.

“Do you want it?”

He swallows. “Yes.”

I palm him through the thin cotton. His breath hitches as I explore, gently kneading up the hot, hard shaft. The flare of his frenulum is smooth and warm, the tip leaking dampness through the cloth.

“God,” he whispers. “Nobody’s ever—“ he stops himself, biting his lip again.

“Shh, it’s okay.” Fucking Mycroft. I’ll destroy him. Softly, softly I touch Sherlock’s cock. He makes no sound, though I think, from the way his breath shakes, that he would like to. He is so hard. I let my mouth fall to the back of his shoulder, breathing into the cloth beneath my lips. His prick jumps beneath my hand.

I need to feel his skin. I move my hand to the flat of his stomach and slide it downward, lifting the waistband again. My fingertip grazes the head of his cock.

“Can I?” I whisper.

“Yes…oh.” He exhales roughly as I lay my hand along his bare hardness, there in the close, humid place inside his clothes. Sparse hair brushes against my knuckles. His testicles are pushed slightly forward by his closed thighs, the skin of his scrotum silkily mobile under my fingertips. Sliding up, I find him uncircumcised. I give the foreskin a single roll over the head, and Sherlock’s whole body shudders.

“Oh,” he whispers again. His feet find mine beneath the sheets, toes hooking behind my ankles. I push the back of his t-shirt down with my chin, getting his skin beneath my mouth at last. God, he is so warm, his body supple in my arms, his cock such a tender handful. There is heat in my heart and my throat and my groin. Words crowd in my mouth, but I’m not fit to speak, so I just touch him, and he leans back into me and lets me do it. I milk pre-come up from the base of his cock, letting it slick the head so that everything slides more easily. His voice sifts out into the dark: small, subverbal noises.

I’m really just fondling him, gentle pulls with no particular rhythm, but after only a few moments he grabs my wrist, stilling me.

“God, stop, stop,” he pants. “There’ll be a mess.”

I pause, swallowing my initial response that I don’t mind a little mess. “Do you want to stop altogether?”

“I…hnn. I just—I’m not experienced at this.”

Understanding dawns. I scoot up his body to plant a kiss behind his ear. His hair is damp and smells of sandalwood. “I just want you to feel good. You don’t have to worry about anything else.” I can’t stop myself from giving him another gentle squeeze, and he makes a strangled sound. I sternly will my fingers to be still. “Do you want me to go on?”

A beat passes, and then he lets go of my hand to pluck a tissue from the becozied box on the bedside table. He gets it into catching position. “Okay,” he says, ready now, and I’m struck by how funny and endearing that might be in an ordinary lover. But Sherlock isn’t ordinary, and I have to swallow a lump in my throat. I kiss his neck to hide my reaction, and forge ahead.

I make my strokes more purposeful, now, though I still keep them gentle. He gasps and shudders back against me, hips jerking minutely into the motions of my hand. My body responds to him; I hadn’t meant to lose myself, but the mechanics are undeniable. Nestled in the shallow cleft of his clothed buttocks, my cock is too hungry for friction, and so I move, taking oblivious physical pleasure from that warm divot with its suggestion of snug penetrability. Somewhere, he can be opened. Would he let me do that? God, maybe. Yes.

But softly, now, softly. Wanting the taste of his skin again, I shift upward, lick beneath his ear. He stills suddenly, breath caged, and I know by his fluttering heart beneath my tongue and the hot swell of his cock in my hand that one more stroke will finish him. I pause, not meaning to toy with him, but wanting to experience him like this for just a moment more, thrumming on the brink, sweat-damp and brim-full.

“John, oh, don’t stop, my God,” he breathes, and oh, heaven help me, I love him. My hand moves again, and he cascades into motion, moaning aloud and curling up around his pleasure as he comes. I don’t know if he hears the little sound I make, desperate and elated, pressed up hard against his back. His cock surges in my hand, but I never feel his semen against my skin, because he’s caught every drop in his tissue.

He barely pauses to catch his breath, and then he’s turning in my arms and kissing me and kissing me and kissing me. God, Sherlock. My Sherlock. I’m done for.

Chapter Text

Sherlock falls asleep in my arms. I lie awake most of the night, feeling him breathe, but when I open my eyes in the morning, I’m alone in the bed. My heart goes cold until I see Sherlock sitting cross-legged in the chintz armchair, wrapped in his dressing gown, doing something on the laptop. He looks adorably rumpled, his curls askew, his gaze intent. Then he tilts his head to look at something in his hand—oh. It’s the phone. The Irene phone that I interfered with last night.

“You touched this,” he says.

I have no answer.

“You opened this app and pushed the button. Why did you do that?”

I have to clear my throat. “I was curious what it would do.”

“Notice anything else curious?”

My brain feels sluggish. Oh—he means the two phones. He’s waiting for me to ask about the second phone. I open my mouth, then realize that the other phone may be a secret. If I mention it, Mycroft will know. Of course, he probably figured it out when I pushed the button in K2K, but—I can’t be sure.

“Not particularly,” I say.

He looks hard at me, eyes narrowed. A flash of emotion—puzzlement, disappointment?—passes over his face too quickly for me to catch. He looks back at his screen a moment longer, then snaps the laptop shut and drops the phone back into his bag.

“Our flight’s at ten,” he says. “Better get moving.”

We get breakfast at the Cross Keys restaurant, carrying our plates out to sit in the fine morning sunshine. Well, I get breakfast: a vegetarian fry-up, pretty passable, considering. Sherlock has a coffee and a croissant. When he’s finished, he fishes something small out of his trouser pocket: a white pill in a section of blister pack.

The food in my mouth loses its flavor. I swallow it down with difficulty.

“You don’t have to take that, you know,” I say.

“Oh, but I do.”

I look on helplessly as he pops the pill out of its bubble. What would happen if he didn’t take it? God, I don’t care. I don’t care. I could knock it out of his hand down into the gravel to be lost forever; he probably doesn’t have another one. I could kiss him and distract him and make him forget it. I could—

He sets the pill on his tongue and swallows it dry. He glances at his mobile, then peers up at the cloudless sky.

We pay our bill and go to meet the car that will take us to our helicopter. The motion of the car intensifies something that I’ve been dimly aware of all morning, a floaty, raw sensation that must be the aftereffect of the fear gas. Were we really as sober as we thought last night? Have I made a mistake? Is Sherlock upset with me?

The helicopter pilot turns out to be the same middle-aged woman as before. I study her expression for signs of having viewed last night’s broadcast, but she gives nothing away.

Sherlock is still with it enough to settle into his own seat and put his ear defenders on. He closes his eyes and leans back. He grimaces when the rotors fire up, and when we lurch into the air, he lets his hand fall palm-up to the seat between us. It could be accidental, just his arm going limp as the sedative takes effect—but from the tension around his mouth, I doubt it. I set my hand in his, and his fingers interlace tightly with mine. He holds my hand that way, even in his sleep, all through the long flight home to our everyday lives. Home to London.

Chapter Text

seen the news boss?
yes
couldnt hear much but so fucking adorable!!!
don’t lose your head over it theres a lot left to do
roger that, head firmly on shoulders
did you get the painting
natch. the real thing!!
lovely so lets get on with the operation then
will do. can’t wait!

Chapter Text

Home. He doesn’t remember anything of the journey, which is just as it should be. He wakes up well after dark, clear-headed, puzzled for a moment by a sense of welling hopefulness until he remembers: John. John kissing him, holding him, touching him—holding his hand, for God’s sake. In the privacy of his own bed, he curls down around a rush of emotion, a sort of joyful terror. What has gotten into him? And here he is, in his best pajamas, tucked up securely between smooth sheets. Maybe he dressed himself and doesn’t remember, but maybe John did it. He could probably figure out which, but he closes his eyes against any possible clues, not wanting to be sure. He’ll just stay in bed a moment longer, in that space where all outcomes are possible, before anything can be disproven or refused.

He has to get up eventually, though. There’s no hope of sleeping through the night, and wakeful inactivity with nothing to occupy his mind is intolerable. He’ll play his violin if John is up—even if he isn’t up, in fact. Perhaps, if he plays, John will hear and come downstairs. Yes.

As it turns out, John is not up. Sherlock picks up the violin from its stand and begins to play. He starts with a bit of a rather sweet Bach cello piece, then moves seamlessly into the Romanze from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and noodles away on it for quite some time, following themes to their various conclusions. John doesn’t emerge. He plays I Want to Hold Your Hand.

He goes out. Even though he’s been only two nights away, he ought to check up with his homeless network. He’ll speak to Jenny Maddox first—she always has her finger on the pulse of the city. Then Finn, and Old Byron. That should give him a clear picture. The night is damp, the streetlights haloed with fog. It’s good to be home.

Out on the street, he recognizes the cab that pulls up by its number plate and by the scrape on its left front fender. The cabbie is someone new, though, which is curious. He can’t see much of the man from his seat in the back, but by the tag sticking out the back of his cap, he can’t have been a cabbie for long. Perhaps something has happened to the cab’s usual driver. Sherlock makes a mental note to follow up.

He gets out along Tottenham Court Road, then ducks down side streets until he reaches the pedestrian underpass where Jenny can usually be found, but she isn’t there. The concrete’s been hosed down recently, all traces of activity washed away.

Finn is not under the Vauxhall Arches, and Old Byron is nowhere to be found on the Heath. In fact, Sherlock sees no one he knows on his whole expedition. What few homeless people he does encounter scurry out of sight at his approach, unwilling to be approached or answer his questions. Can his reputation among them have been damaged somehow? That would be most inconvenient.

Back at Baker Street, he finds that John has gone out and come back again and gone to bed. John has left him a curry in a bag on the worktop, but he ignores it. He lies down on the sitting room sofa, steeples his fingers beneath his chin, and listens to the traffic outside, wishing he could be certain whether its rhythms have changed. There’s something not right, something he can’t put his finger on, which brings him back again to Grimpen Village and the way he felt ever so slightly out of his depth when he turned his attention to anything besides the case. Even John seemed different there. But different how? It’s inexpressible, inexplicable, and he clenches his teeth in frustration. John, usually so transparent to his insight, is hiding something.

But John is also—well. Merely being the lodestone to Sherlock’s sexual compass is not a valid argument in his defense, but it’s more than that, surely. John sees him in a way that no one else ever has. In John’s company he feels himself peeling open, splitting layer by layer like a—well. He huffs derision at the floral images that come to mind, but can’t quite dismiss the memory of his parents’ garden, so very long ago, before they died, before he went to live with Mycroft in London. Roses, petals, bees, etc. How trite.

He must not forget that John picked up Irene’s phone, did something with it, and denied having noticed the duplicate. John knows something. Sherlock needs to find out what it is, but he dares not ask out loud. Meanwhile, where John is concerned, he’ll just have to…no, impossible to stay level-headed. The hot flush that comes over Sherlock at the mere thought of him is proof enough of that. He’ll just have to wait, and trust, and be vigilant, and try to find out if this bottomless ache can be satisfied before it all falls apart.

Chapter Text

Sherlock is still groggy when we get home. It’s only mid afternoon, but I lay out his pajamas and turn down his bed and tell him that it’s time to go to sleep. I check on him a while later and find him sleeping soundly. Then I relax and go up to my bedroom, where I lie down, thinking that a nap would not actually be a bad idea.

I wake from swelling, cresting dreams to the sound of Sherlock playing his violin. It’s still early. I could go downstairs; surely he expects it. I could go down and just sit and listen, and he might smile at me in that sidelong way he has, the music never faltering, and then the piece would end and he would set down his instrument and come to me and we’d—

We’d be on camera. I’m on camera now, half hard and delirious in my bed. Whatever we started in our shared bed at the Cross Keys, we can’t continue it here, where the surveillance is seamless, where not only Mycroft but the whole world will see everything that happens. The things I want to do with Sherlock do not belong on camera, and it’s not because I’m worried about my privacy or the sensibilities of the viewership.

Eventually the music ends. I lie tensely awake, straining my ears to guess what he’s up to, until he goes out. Ten minutes later an electronic chiming sounds downstairs: a mobile phone ringing, one I don’t recognize. I creep down the stairs to listen for it. It rings out and then starts up again as I walk slowly round the flat, trying to hear where it’s coming from, until I realize it must be the desk drawer. I take out the phone—Irene’s phone. The call is from an undisclosed number, of course. It stops ringing the second I pick it up. I stare at it for a moment, and then a text arrives with an understated buzz. Car arriving in three minutes. Bring this with you. —MH

Fucking hell. I’d rather stab myself with a rusty fork than get into one of Mycroft’s creepy cars right now, but it’s not as though I have any choice. I go and get dressed, and I’m on the kerb when the car pulls up. I have the phone with me, as there’s no longer any point in pretending it doesn’t exist. For one wild moment I considered bringing the gun, but that would just give him an excuse to take it away from me, which I really don’t want.

The car takes me to a stately, old-looking building. At first I can’t fathom what’s going on, until I spot a discreet plaque mounted above the door: Diogenes. Well, of bloody course. I knock on the door, and a butler—I mean, an honest-to-God butler—shows me into a well-appointed foyer. At this point, however, the veneer of a reputable gentlemen’s club breaks down slightly, because the door to the interior is fitted with a security keypad. The butler taps in a six-digit code, in response to which a panel of the wainscoting slides back to reveal a top-of-the-line retinal scanner. He peers into it, the bluish light incongruous in the old fashioned room, and the wood-paneled door makes a series of quiet mechanical clicks, then swings open to reveal a very much not wood-paneled corridor. The right-hand wall is covered with a delicately twinkling substance that I think I recall seeing in the design section of the Times before I was cast, and the left is set with a mind-bendingly expensive unbroken bank of slowglass windows looking out on a dramatic, mountainous landscape. These panes sat for a year in a mountainside slowglass farm, absorbing the rarefied alpine sun that streams into this hallway now, striking prismatic glints from the twinkly wall. It’s beautiful. It would blow Sherlock’s mind, considering that slowglass was only invented a few years ago and hasn’t been introduced into his world.

The twinkly wall is inset with several trim-looking doors, but the butler leads me to the larger door at the end of the hallway. His quiet tap is answered from within, and I am admitted. Mycroft’s office is large, fitted with more slowglass windows, these showing a Caribbean beach scene. The furnishings are sleek and new, low tables and chairs and aerodynamic sofas upholstered in grey and chartreuse. It’s not clear which piece of furniture might be Mycroft’s desk. When I come in, he’s sitting with his feet up on a grey ottoman, lounging back to view a large television screen mounted on the wall.

The screen shows an oblique view of our room in the Cross Keys, all the floral pinks and greens washed out in the night-vision film. The bed’s not in the shot—just the chintz armchair and the little desk—but the rise and fall of voices can be heard, mine and Sherlock’s, alternating. I can just catch a word here and there, enough to tell me what’s going on, and nauseous dread crawls up my spine.

“John,” says Mycroft evenly. “Come. Sit with me.”

“Yeah, no, I get the point, thanks,” I say, staying put.

“Do you?”

“Pretty sure I do. You want me to know that you were watching us, and that I should now be very scared of you and whatever punishment you’re planning to dish out. Well, yeah, okay, message received, so let’s turn this off and get on to phase two.”

“That would be the kindest thing, surely,” Mycroft says, but he doesn’t stop the video or move in any way. I stand awkwardly for a moment, then meander around the room a little, pretending to examine things while in reality straining my ears, wanting with an unseemly desperation to know just how much the microphones picked up.

The silence goes on and on, only slightly broken by an occasional rustle of cloth or unintelligible whisper, until, clear as a bell, Sherlock’s rough voice can be heard: “John, oh, don’t stop, my God.”

I close my eyes. Mycroft hits a key on his remote, and the video stops at last.

“That’s what we saw,” he says. “And heard. None of it was shown to the public, of course, but a gap in the transmission at this point is, if anything, even more suggestive than the reality. The media’s going bonkers, naturally.”

He sounds almost wistful. I need to get to where I can see his face, so I sit down at the other end of his L-shaped sofa. He regards me serenely.

“So, what now?” I ask. “Still planning to blow me up?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” he says. “I know my brother very well, Jack.”

“Yeah, so does everybody else in the world.”

“Not the way I do.” At right angles to me, he gazes into the middle distance. “Sherlock has given his heart to you entirely. Did you know that?”

I say nothing. My lip hurts where I’m biting it.

“He is inexperienced in these—matters, as you know. Therefore, he is incautious. Prodigal. You could ask anything of him—he has no defenses, no reserves. Do I make myself clear?”

He looks at me. I give the slightest nod.

“You, meanwhile, are an actor being paid to associate with him. What do you think would happen if my brother were to realize that?”

“Why, are you gonna tell him?” It’s easy to be cheeky when he’s only said what I’ve already been thinking.

“On the contrary, that’s the last thing I want to happen.” He leans forward. “I’m not an idiot, Jack. I know you’ve been in contact with Richard Brook’s operatives. I know you’re sympathetic to his cause. But if you don’t want Sherlock’s heart broken, you have only one option, and that is to play your part. Until the day you die, if necessary.”

He holds my gaze for a long moment. Once he’s sure his message has sunk in, he sits back again, giving his knees a businesslike slap.

“Now, the phone. Let me see it.”

“You know he’ll notice it’s gone.”

He rolls his eyes. “Obviously. I’m not going to take it away from you. I’m going to show you how it works. The last thing I want is to play voyeur to you deflowering my younger sibling.”

I take the phone out of my pocket and stand up hand to it over. I watch as he taps icons on the screen.

“It’s quite simple. Here, you can see a list of all the active image- and sound-capture devices in the phone’s range.” He taps the Blick icon. “VRS, cams, mics, etc. If you connect to the phone’s wifi network with your laptop, you’ll be able to see what each device is picking up. You simply select the ones you want to scramble, go over here to K2K, press the button, and bob’s your uncle. It can handle up to three signals.”

“So when we were at Cross Keys—“

“You deactivated one of the cameras. Yes. The one with a view of the bed, luckily for all of us.”

“So what—why are you telling me this? Aren’t you worried I’ll—I dunno—get up to something? Meet up with Moriarty?”

“Tch. With Sherlock watching? Not likely. Now run along home and play your part. I’ve things to see to.”

The phone is heavy in my pocket on the ride back to Baker Street. Privacy: it’s more precious than gold in this place. This isn’t much, but it’s something.

Chapter Text

I spend the ride home thinking about where in the flat I’d like to shut off cameras—not because I’m going to do anything more with Sherlock, but just because the idea of a little privacy is too tempting to ignore. Sherlock is out when I get home, so I get to work checking the camera angles with Blick. The sitting room is the most heavily covered, which makes sense considering that’s where most interpersonal action is supposed to take place. Lots of angles on the kitchen, as well. The downstairs bath has two views, one head height in the shower and one on the mirror. My little bathroom upstairs has one, just a general shot of the room, angled to avoid the loo. (Thank heaven for small mercies.) My bedroom has one, a full-room view that includes the bed. Sherlock’s bedroom has—jesus, five views, including a VRS wall. There are also views of the stairs, entryway, front hall…

I dither over which three signals to jam. I wish I could do something to give Sherlock some real privacy, but there’s just no way. Since that’s a lost cause, I may as well do what I can for myself; I select the two upstairs views, my bedroom and bath. They probably won’t even be missed, as they only get broadcast when Sherlock comes upstairs to wake me up for a case. As for downstairs…I’m not sure. I could choose the big view of Sherlock’s bedroom, but he’s hardly ever in it anyway. Where is he most vulnerable?

I flip through the shots again, trying to imagine Sherlock in them. Nothing worth bothering with in the common rooms. Bedroom: maybe. Bathroom…

A memory. Sherlock, about twenty years old, blue-pale and junkie thin, standing in front of the mirror, facing into the camera’s lens. He was bare chested, all tender hollows and fragile, birdlike bones, but he wasn’t looking at his body. Wasn’t looking at anything, really. You could tell. And then his eyes snapped into focus, his face crumpled, and—

Yeah. Definitely killing the mirror cam.

Once I’ve got the three serial numbers selected, I go to K2K and hit the switch. The hourglass spins for almost a minute before it turns green. My laptop shows a grey haze where Sherlock’s mirror was. I slip the phone back into its drawer, taking a moment to wipe off my fingerprints. And we’re done.

Chapter Text

Sherlock wakes up on the sofa. He must have been more tired than he thought. The morning is bright and hazy, and John is in the kitchen trying to clatter the pans as softly as possible, humming something under his breath. Sherlock lies still a while, listening: John slicing bread, cracking eggs, his cat’s-tongue voice rasping around the edges of the tune. Probably doesn’t even know he’s doing it. The kettle boils.

John clears off a spot at the kitchen table and sets down his plate and cup. Sitting, he picks up the paper and snaps it open.

Smells of bread and egg and fried butter, but the toaster hasn’t clicked. “Egg in a nest,” Sherlock says.

“Want any?” John asks. “Sorry to wake you.”

“I’ll have tea.” He gets up and goes into the kitchen. When he has his cup, he settles opposite John at the table, not bothering to clear away the beakers or the small litter of pH paper strips occupying his place.

John eats. Sherlock watches. What is one supposed to say?

John’s gaze is on his food, on the paper, on the table. Oh. Oh, damn. Sherlock takes a deep breath so that he’s fully prepared when John looks at him at last.

“So. About the other night.”

“Yes.” Smile? Why not. No reason to go easy.

John sees the smile and looks at his plate. “I don’t think we were…quite ourselves. Do you?”

“The fear gas.”

“Yes.” Relieved.

“You think a weaponized psychotropic aerosol made us attracted to each other.”

No longer relieved. “Look, it’s not—it’s just. Adrenaline can make people do strange things.”

“Yes, strange. Singular. Outlandish.” His voice is getting louder, but he doesn’t care. “It’s perplexing, really. Bloody inexplicable, isn’t it, how anyone could want to—“

“Sherlock.” John lays his palm over Sherlock’s fist on the table. His eyes are squeezed shut, a deep furrow between his brows. He covers his eyes with his free hand and takes a slow breath.

“I can’t explain. But we have to s—slow, slowly, at least. We have to go slowly.”

He takes his hand back and lets Sherlock see his face, defeated and shockingly, illogically sad.

“Would you take it back, if you could?” Sherlock almost whispers.

A long pause. “No,” John says.

Well then. It’s. God, Sherlock is out of his depth.

“Slowly is fine,” he says. But then a knife-like embarrassment comes over him. Keeping his expression stiff, he leaves his tea and takes the laptop into his room.

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s tongue is in my mouth.

No, wait, let me start over.

I’ve rehearsed my “we have to stop” speech so many times in my head that I’m utterly lost when Sherlock doesn’t let me finish it, and my traitorous tongue offers up an unauthorized compromise: slowly. Oh, no, no, slowly is not how we should go. We should not go at all. We will not go at all.

We maintain our non-pace for several excruciating days, with me trying to act as though everything is normal and Sherlock contriving somehow to simultaneously avoid me and to be constantly in my peripheral vision. Or perhaps he’s just behaving normally, and it’s my own perceptions that are warped. Either way, I think we’re both relieved when a case comes up.

It turns out to be a quiet little case, no running or jumping or shooting. Sherlock works it out neatly and does his reveal in classic fashion, with victim and criminal and law enforcement all handily in the same room. Elegant, like a magician. Even if the clues were planted, even if somebody, somewhere, knew how it would end, it’s still Sherlock that makes it work—his intelligence, his art. He glances at me in the midst of his speech and catches me smiling at him. He smiles back, eyes alight. I’ve gotten a lid on it by the time we get home, but it’s too late. He is flushed with success, and I with admiration.

I hang up my coat, then go to make tea. I’m just rinsing out the mugs when Sherlock sidles up next to me.

“John,” he says, right up close. Glancing up, I’m caught by his eyes, luminous in the kitchen light. I’ve a dishcloth in one hand and a half-full mug in the other. Then his hand is on my jaw. Then he’s kissing me.

My lips open to him in defiance of all rational thought, and he gives a little inhale of surprise. Recovering, he presses his advantage, and now we come to the part where his tongue is in my mouth, though not in any vulgar, teen-aged way. He comes in gently, curious, decorous. Churlish to refuse. I let my tongue-tip touch his, just at the threshold, then retreat. He follows and, God, but he is soft like this. The breath goes out of me. The cup clatters in the sink.

“Can we do this?” he murmurs, low against my lips. “I want to do this.”

No, I try to say. Should say. Mean to say. But instead I’m getting my free hand up into Sherlock’s hair, pulling him down, kissing him harder. He mphs into my mouth. His whole long, sharp frame gets up against me. I drop the dishcloth and fist my hand in the back of his shirt—leaving a damp spot, no doubt, but it can’t be helped.

“Please say yes,” he murmurs against my lips, and then kisses my cheek, my ear, my jaw. I’m panting, drowning, and God, not here, not here.

“Hang on,” I manage. I push my hand against his chest until he pulls back enough to look at me. “Can we go upstairs?” And I really don’t mean that the way it sounds, but—

He smiles slowly. “If you like.”

“Come on then.” He follows me up the stairs, outwardly calm, but practically radiating nervous energy. Or maybe that’s me projecting again. Oh, God, we are not doing anything, we just need privacy because I don’t want to reject him on camera. We’ll talk, he’ll understand, he’ll pull himself together, and nobody will see anything too raw—

And then we’re in my room. I shut the door behind Sherlock, and when I turn back he’s—right there, hovering close enough that I have to look up. He seems to hesitate, maybe giving me a chance to object, but that chance slips away somehow. This time when our lips meet it goes straight through me: eyes closed and sinking fast as his hands come to rest with bird-like lightness on my upper arms. My own hands are crabbed, uncertain, not knowing where or how to touch, but then—

We’re just kissing. Just standing there lip-locked, and of course he hasn’t really done this. He doesn’t know—except maybe in theory—what to do next. I let my hands alight on his hips, breathe, tilt my head a little for a better angle. He counter-tilts to match and oh, there, that. The knot under my breastbone unwinds, sending buoyant tendrils up through my chest. Breath. Light.

Sherlock makes a sound, and some tension goes out of him. He does that thing again where his whole body somehow melts against me, despite his greater height, and I get my arms around him. He’s warm inside his tailored shirt, the fabric smooth beneath my hands. He’s half-hard in his trousers, and I’m much the same—maybe more than half—but for now we’re just kissing. Lips and tongues and air.

Sherlock breaks away first, lets the tip of his nose brush down my cheek.

“I’d like to lie down,” he says. “Can we?”

At my nod, he sits down on the edge of my bed. I hesitate, but he takes my hand, and I sit down beside him. He lies back and scoots up and somehow takes me with him, and we kiss more. Funny he’s never kissed anyone else; but of course he’s a fast learner. We start out lying on our sides, but things happen the way they do, and pretty soon I’m half on top of him—maybe more than half—and shirts are untucked and hands are on skin. Faces are flushed, lips bitten red, and we’re maybe just moving and breathing and getting into each other’s space more than we are actually kissing.

Sherlock’s hands—big hands, hot, long-fingered—are on my skin. On my back, on my hips, pushing the back of my trousers down, nails scraping, kneading. Everything is close-warm-good, his hard cock against my thigh, smooth skin of his neck under my tongue, almost not enough air to breathe, not that I mind..

And then he flips us both over with some kind of wrestling move. My head is spinning, his mouth bearing down on my mine, his—oh—hand on my flies, shoving down and in and wrapping around me, bare skin on skin. I gasp through my nose, arch into it. His hand is rough but good, friction-hot dragging over every nerve. He licks into my mouth, and I can feel the blood in my face, my heart pounding almost too hard, heels digging into the mattress.

Sherlock releases my mouth to lick at my overheated ear. “Can I do this for you? Like you did—I liked it. Do you like it?”

“Ungh. God, I—” Gears stuttering, trying to process. All wrong. “God—just. Hang on. Stop.”

I struggle up to sitting, shoving his hand away, though he’s already withdrawing it. I’m too hot, breathing hard. I’m still wearing my jumper, for Christ’s sake. I pull it off over my head, along with my shirt. The cool air on my skin restores some sanity. Are we doing this? Yeah, fuck it all, we are. He wants to, I want to, nobody can see us. He deserves whatever honesty I can give him, and this, right now, is honest. It’s me. It’s true. But I’m damned if I’ll let him just stroke me off as some sort of payback for the first time.

Sherlock is leaned up on one elbow watching me, eyes wide, no doubt wondering if I’m going to push him away again. His skin is flushed pink, right down to the open collar of his shirt.

“C’mere,” I say, and I scoot down and he scoots up, and he lies back and lets me open that top button at the hollow of his throat. I kiss him there, and he sighs. I keep kissing as I undo the rest of the buttons, all bones and hollows under my tongue, smooth skin under my hands, his dusting of reddish-dark chest-hair angled like a map. We get chest-to-chest again and he shivers, starved for touch.

“This better?” I ask against his lips.

“Yes.” He’s gone pliant, eyes glazed as I kiss him, our fingers interlaced near his head. I kiss his lush mouth, his throat. His eyelids flutter. God, beautiful. I free my hand to skim his pale stomach. In this position the waistband of his tailored trousers is loose, a dark gap visible. Pulse quickening, I slide my hand into it, run my hungry fingers over the cotton-covered contours of him. His legs fall open for me. I unhook his flies quickly to make room, then go on petting him, his covered balls, his hard shaft with one plump vein clearly discernible through the cloth. I peer down to see, grey fabric stretched around the smooth, round of head of him, a tiny spot of moisture forming. I make a little involuntary sound.

“You haven’t…done this before,” Sherlock says, voice thick.

“Is it that obvious?” I give him a firm squeeze, brush my thumb across that little dark spot.

“Hah, no. I only mean—why me?”

“I dunno.” God, I can smell him, fuck. “Always wanted you. Just how it is. God, can I touch you?”

“Wait.” He only whispers, but his fingers brush my shoulder. “Would you undress? I want to see you.”

I pull away to shuck off my pants and trousers and socks. When I’m naked, he tilts me onto my back, then straddles my knees, crouching, looking. His scrutiny does nothing to discourage my cock, which is deep red and bouncing against my stomach. He brushes his finger up the underside, sending sparks through me. Then he takes the leaking head in the warm cup of his palm, watching carefully all the while. He tilts his wrist, circling, then takes his hand away and licks it. He repeats the caress, smoother now, and my toes curl.

“Can I lick you?” he asks.

Dizzy rush of heat. Can’t find words. “Ah, huh. Yes?”

And he does, just runs his tongue right up in one long swipe to the frenulum. I can’t keep still; he holds my hips down and does it again. He pauses as though considering, tasting, then moves to the side, licks again, the head of my cock bumping against the side of his nose. My balls feel high and tight, and, God, he licks those, too, licks right into the crease alongside them where I know I’ve been sweating all day, but he doesn’t seem to care. He pauses to push my knees open, not self-conscious in the least, and peers down at me, pinned open and bare in front of him.

“Sher—“ I gasp, not sure what I’m pleading for, but then he leans down close and, oh, fuck, lips around my cock, tongue intricately working, fingers wrapping tight around my shaft. Too good, too much, we can’t go on like this—

He pops off again, but leaves his fingers wrapped around me. Gorgeous, his long hand on my cock, his eyes never leaving it, concentrating totally on firm, short strokes, teeth indenting his lower lip, still rosy and wet from—

“God, Sherlock, I’m—“ His eyes flick to my face, narrowed with intent, his hand still moving, and then I have to close my eyes because I’m coming and coming, while Sherlock dissects me with his sharp, clear gaze.

He eases up at the last moment, holds me lightly, and when I can see again, he’s wearing a smug little smile. I’m too breathless to rib him about it; he slides back up and kisses me, shifting aside to avoid the mess on my stomach.

“I liked that,” he says, breathless.

Click of breath in my throat. “Me too.”

He’s rubbing himself against my thigh; small, slow tilts of his hips, maybe not conscious of it, just rubbing soft cotton between his cock and my skin. I think again of that little dark wet spot, and reach for him. He moans—God, so hard, his cock pushed sideways by the elastic of his pants. I squeeze and press and stroke; he gasps in my ear, hips undulating, close already—

“You want to take these off?” I ask.

“No,” he whispers. “Like this…oh…”

So perfect, all rosy-cheeked and breathless and trapped leaking in his pants. He rubs up hard under my palm, bites his knuckle, and yeah, there, I’ve got him, can feel his cock swell huge and pulse and shoot in its confinement. Stretched cloth, wet through. I slip a finger into the waistband to feel the slick on his skin, and he shudders, clutching at my arms.

God, so quick, both of us. I should draw it out more next time…show him how good it can be. Not that this wasn’t also good. But…next time.

After a few moments of stillness, Sherlock levers himself up to take off his remaining clothes. I take the opportunity to swab my belly off a bit. Then Sherlock lies down again and tucks himself up under my arm, all naked now and warm and bare. I kiss his forehead, and he rubs his lips against my chest.

“All right?” I ask.

He makes an affirmative sound. We lie still for some time. I’m on the edge of dozing when he speaks again.

“Tell me something.”

“Mm?”

“Are you a John or a Jonathan?”

“Jonathan.” My name, which nobody uses. “People used to call me Jack.”

“Ugh, horrid. I’m never going to call you Jack.”

I laugh at that, half-drunk with sleep and sex and love.

“What was your childhood like?” he asks.

A cold thread works through the haze. Danger. Still, I tell him. “The same as anyone’s, I suppose. Dad drank a bit, but he wasn’t violent, just…absent, sometimes. Mum held us all together pretty well. My…sister was in a lot of school clubs and things, so I was alone a lot. Rode my bike around, got in trouble.” My mind wanders back over those days, riding to the quarry up the road, throwing stones into the pool of rainwater at the bottom of it. Sherlock probably never had a bike.

“I was alone a lot, too,” he says, echoing my thought. “At first—after my parents died—I was unhappy. But I came to prefer it.”

I remember Sherlock’s childhood. He was just eight when they put him on TV. He lived with his brother at first, in their family’s big, empty house in the country. The show was kind of a cult thing in the early days; it was broadcast by a studio that was known for their edgy projects. There was a lot of public debate about whether it was ethical or not, but Mycroft…handled it somehow, I was too young to understand the details. Before long the show got hugely popular, and they sent Sherlock to a boarding school for a year to get him out of the way while they worked on building “London” for him. He hated school—we only got to see bits and pieces, but it was obvious. Then they moved him into his city, where he finished his studies on his own and grew into the mantle of Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft lived with him at first, but they parted ways when Sherlock came of age.

There was closeness between the brothers, back in the early days. They would sit cuddled together on the sofa in a pool of yellow light, and Mycroft would read to him. He loved Peter Pan and Treasure Island and Aesop’s Fables. But, for obvious reasons, a poison came into their relationship. Maybe Sherlock sensed something. Maybe Mycroft couldn’t live with himself. There was a chill that spread and spread, until they couldn’t stand the sight of one another. So Mycroft withdrew to observe from afar.

And that was the last time he had anyone, really. Now his head is pillowed on my chest, and he’s just starting to doze.

Chapter Text

Sherlock spends that night in my room. We wake to his phone buzzing: Lestrade, with a case. I’d far rather tell him to shove it and have a lie-in with Sherlock, especially as the timing is clearly intended to get us out of our nest and back into the public eye for the day. But Sherlock’s eyes light up, and so, we go.

So this is the day when I learn that if you had a lot of money to throw around in 1820, you could get a little tiny toy pistol that would shoot out a clockwork bird that would sing a song and move about and everything. A fully functional matched pair of such pistols, worth a fortune, has apparently been stolen. An antiques specialist at the auction house shows us some photos and a video of one of the guns in action, rhapsodizing all the while about what a miracle of art and technology they are. I find it at least moderately interesting, but Sherlock hits pause on the video before it’s through and asks to see where the pistols were stored.

On the way, he pauses to examine a partition on which several paintings are hung.

“What about this, then?” he asks.

“I’m…sorry?” says the auction house employee.

Sherlock looks significantly toward the partition. The employee looks blank.

“You haven’t even noticed it’s gone, have you? Well, never mind, let’s get on with the pistols first.”

We get on with the pistols. “Transparent,” Sherlock says, and solves the case by noon. As a reward, we get to try out the pistols. We each hold a toy gun at arm’s length, aiming at each other. They are tiny, extravagant little works of art covered in silver filigree and polished wood that shines like gold. My fingernail scarcely fits on the trigger. On the count of three we shoot, and two minuscule birds with real feathers emerge, bobbing and flicking their tails, whistling a mechanical duet. Even Sherlock gets a chuckle out of it. They’ll be worth even more now that he’s handled them. I wonder if Mycroft has a buyer lined up already.

Instead of going home for the day, Sherlock stays to snoop around the outside of the auction house.

“What are you looking for?” I ask, as he bends to examine the detritus blown into a corner.

“This,” he says, then straightens to show me a small clump of fluttery grey ash cupped in his gloved palm. I’ve been around long enough to know what it is.

“A bit of cigar ash,” I say. “But there must be loads of rich art collectors who smoke cigars.”

“Not these cigars,” he says. “Toscano il Moro. This explains the missing painting.”

“Um, sorry? Missing painting?”

“You didn’t notice either, did you?” He shoots me a sidelong grin. “Nobody did, and nobody will until the paintings expert gets to work at three o’clock. She just took in that lot of Romantic landscapes yesterday—I saw it in the ledger. There were six paintings in the lot, but only five on display, rearranged to hide the gap. I’ll bet you whatever you like that I can find the missing one before the crime is reported to the police.”

“And this cigar ash is going to help you how?”

“You accept the bet, then?”

“Yeah, sure. You’re on.”

Sherlock takes off walking fast, and I have to trot to catch up.

“So what do you want to wager?” he asks. He’s in his element, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, chin tucked into the collar of his coat. I don’t actually expect to win this bet.

“I dunno. Bottle of good scotch?”

“Fine,” he says.

“And if you win?”

His dark gloved hand darts out to grab the crook of my elbow, pulling me close—not roughly, but snugly. “If I win,” he purrs, “I get to do something to you that no one’s ever done before.”

Heat floods my cheeks. I wonder how many people heard that. “Cheeky,” I say. “All right.”

His smile widens. We walk arm in arm for another block, and I can’t help feeling distinctly Victorian. He lets go before we step into the tobacconist’s on the corner. Sherlock puts on a dim-sounding American accent for his chat with the proprietor, and we’re off.

The trail takes us through a few twists and turns to a rather gloomy row house on the edge of town. Sherlock knocks, waits, then jimmies the lock with a credit card. He goes quickly through the front room, sparing hardly a glance for the dingy furnishings, making instead for the master bedroom, which is dominated by a four-poster bed and a large wooden wardrobe. It’s 3:15.

Sherlock opens the doors of the wardrobe, revealing, of course, the stolen painting. I don’t know what I expected, but not this. Not the fucking Reichenbach Falls.

Chapter Text

The Great Falls of the Reichenbach, painted in 1804 by Joseph Mallord William Turner, remained obscure for most of its existence. It came to broader public attention in 2017 when the V&A had an exhibition on “Sherlock Holmes: Past, Present, and Future,” arranged to coincide with the period of my Sherlock’s life when it became clear that he was truly capable of growing into his namesake’s legendary shoes.

I went to the exhibit. I saw the painting: the cataract plunging into a spumy cauldron, roiling down between sheer stone banks strewn with bare, toppled trees like skeletal hands. You can hear the thunder of the falls ringing among the cliffs. I spent a long time looking at it. It’s the place where Sherlock Holmes, the original character, died, or was meant to die, taking Moriarty with him. It was only the public outcry that made Doyle bring him back. They displayed the painting alongside Paget’s original illustration of the two characters wrestling on the precipice.

It didn’t have much force for me, back then, but that was before…all this. Keeping my expression under careful control, I risk a glance at Sherlock, but he’s just texting away, looking smug. I don’t know what bits of the canon Moriarty has smuggled in to him. Perhaps they don’t include The Final Problem.

Lestrade shows up a few minutes later looking suitably confused. Just as he sets eyes on the painting, his mobile rings.

“Hello?” he says. Then, “Erm. A painting, you say?” As the voice on the line gabbles, he sighs deeply and passes his hand over his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah we’ll…that should be enough to go on. I’ve got some leads. I’ll be in touch.”

He hangs up the phone with a gesture of dramatic weariness.

“Sherlock, please tell me you haven’t gone and done something that’s going to ruin us both.”

“No. Although I understand some people do frown on gambling.” He looks at me in a way that can only be described as lascivious. Of course, he doesn’t know that Lestrade most likely knows what we’ve been up to, but Greg plays it off well.

“God, please, spare me. Just tell me how this painting got here.”

Greg gets back on his mobile once Sherlock has explained the case. I stick close by him, hoping a for a moment when Sherlock isn’t looking. I finally get it while Sherlock is trying to hail a cab. Greg catches my eye at the same time I catch his. He takes the phone away from his mouth.

“It’s not one of ours,” he says, quietly.

“S…sorry? Not—?”

“We didn’t plan this case,” he hisses. “Mycroft didn’t. It’s a problem.”

“Is it…God, did Brook do this?”

He nods, just barely, lips set in a grim line.

I have no idea what any of this means.

Chapter Text

John Watson is a man of action. That’s the whole point of my existence, the one immutable facet of my personality that makes my relationship with Sherlock work. While the streets of Sherlock’s London pass outside the cab windows, grey and streaky, every fiber of my being is twitching with the urge to do something in response to the threat implicit in the painting. The only problem is, I’m not sure what the right move is, or even whose side I’m on.

Well, except. Sherlock, still pleased with himself and oblivious to my state of nerves, is holding my hand on the middle seat of the cab. I’m on his side, obviously. Maybe I just hate that I’m not the one making the big moves. Mycroft and Moriarty are the players, and Sherlock’s life is the game. I don’t think I even rise to the level of pawn. Just an inconvenient lump of detritus on the board, waiting to see how it all turns out. Having a hand to hold is not unwelcome.

Sherlock hasn’t eaten all day, so we get a takeaway on the way home. He settles his socked feet up side-by-side against mine under the table as we’re eating. It’s such a simple thing that it shakes me out of my gloom a little, and I meet his eyes. Smiling, he lets one toe drag along the arch of my foot.

“So what has nobody ever done to you?” he asks, low.

Oh, yeah, this. The viewing public is gonna learn some stuff about me. But fuck them anyway. I smile around a bite of egg foo young, and it’s a real smile. “You don’t want to deduce it?”

He settles back, observing me seriously.

“You’ve been in exclusively heterosexual relationships.”

“Have I?”

He leans forward. “Yesterday, you admitted at that you hadn’t had sexual relations with a man before.”

“Did I?” I may be enjoying this a bit too much.

His eyes narrow. “You admitted that you hadn’t exchanged manual stimulation with a man before.”

I decide to let him off the hook before he gets any more technical. “Ok, yes, you’re right. I’ve never been in a relationship with a man, and I’ve never had sex with a man.”

“Well, that leaves one obvious answer.”

“The obvious thing is not a thing we’re going to do…right now.” It may be a bet, but I do have limits.

“Quite agree. So, what does that leave? Have you ever—“

“Sherlock.” My face is hot. I want to laugh and I want to kiss him and I want to get out of the public eye. “Can we have this conversation in my bed instead of at the dinner table?”

He sets down his chopsticks with a decisive click. “By all means.”

Chapter Text

“Of course there must be hundreds of things that nobody’s ever done to you because they’re unpleasant, or even just silly.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“But I don’t think we need to bother with those.”

“No.”

This conversation takes place as, by unspoken mutual agreement, we both undress ourselves. Sherlock leaves his little grey pants on—a thing with him, apparently, which is more than fine with me—but, since I’m the subject of this experiment, I strip completely. The painting is still on my mind, but this feels…good. The right move. Sherlock folds his creased trousers into thirds and sets them on a chair, then gestures me onto the bed. I lie down on my back, get comfortable. Sherlock clambers up to kneel between my feet.

“We’ll start with a review of the known facts,” he says, leaning down, and I laugh, tension unspooling. He takes my half-hard cock gently in hand and presses his mouth to the hollow of my hip, where he licks and nibbles as he squeezes and pets me to full, throbbing hardness. Then, hands on my hips, he takes the tip of my cock in his mouth.

“Sherlock.” I get my hand in his hair—no pressure, just touching. He inhales through his nose and takes me further in, his mouth a jumble of warm-slick and rough-smooth and faintly scraping edges, imperfect but fascinating, and in any case impossible to resolve into any specific complaint or instruction. He moves—hollows his cheeks—and the jumble gives way to something rather wonderful. Sherlock hums warmly at my reaction and settles in for a good long suck, not enough motion to be too dangerous, just hot and deep and welcoming. All my wandering attention draws inward and inward and down to where he’s taken me inside himself, building and blooming until I’m afloat, floating.

He pulls off at last, replaces his mouth with his hand, gets his other hand under my balls and lifts them to be sucked, each in turn, ticklish-deep-wet, but it’s his knuckle that has my attention, pressed up snug to my perineum, moving in little push-strokes.

“I think that’s as far as we got last time,” Sherlock says, down there somewhere.

“Bit further,” I correct him, breathless.

That stroking knuckle slides backward, presses shallowly in. Without thinking about it, I get my knees up, my feet flat on the bed for leverage.

“This?” he asks.

“Still within bounds.”

“Inside, too?” he asks.

I nod.

“Can I?”

“Huh. Yes.”

Sherlock’s breath quickens. The heat of his hands leaves me and he fumbles for a moment in the bedside drawer—no big deduction there.

I have no idea what Sherlock knows about sex, or where he learned it. There’s no porn on the internet here, no dirty magazines, nothing. Sherlock thinks that pornography is illegal and the government remarkably assiduous about enforcing it. So, as far as I know, anything he tries on me is his own inspiration. But I can’t say that anything would surprise me; he’s clearly quite interested in sex, and has certainly demonstrated a willingness to explore the limits of his own body and mind. There’s no telling what he’s tried on his own, while the signal went black.

Of course this is nothing too far from obvious, what we’re doing here, but even so he’s—God—shaking a little, I can hear his breath shuddering as he gets back into position. He presses a kiss to the inside of my thigh, stroking down into the crease of me with slick fingers. One circling fingertip homes in, presses, intrudes, careful. He doesn’t thrust, just presses, and, God, the slow, dragging heat of it—I breathe out hard and bear down. He keeps his finger still and strokes my cock, and I’m pinned, cherry-red radiance everywhere.

“You like this,” he says.

“Yes.” Eyes shut, breathless, stuck and blissful.

“And you’ve done it before.”

“Yes.”

“With someone else? Or alone?”

I huff a laugh. “Both.”

“Hmm.” He lets his finger slide and curl. Sparks in my vision. My knees fall open.

“I like it,” he says, very quiet, mouths at the side of my cock, gets his lips up on it so soft and not yet

“God, Sherlock, I’m—“

But he’s already pulling back, stilling. I open my eyes and catch him looking up at me, dark-eyed, his lips parted.

“C’mere.”

He withdraws his finger and unbends himself from between my thighs—I hear his knee joint pop, must have been getting a bit cramped down there. He slides up warm against me, and I roll to my side to kiss him, his hot cheek, his red mouth, his hands curled on my chest, my thumb at his temple. I could gather him all up in a bundle. Want to hold him completely, touch him everywhere at once.

“‘M not finished yet,” he says.

“I don’t recall a time limit on this bet.”

“Mm. No. But I like surprising you. You’re always surprising me.”

The very idea! It makes me smile. “Am I?”

“Constantly. But in bed, I mean, particularly.”

“You think this is all old hat for me, do you? Because you haven’t done it before, and I have?” A kiss on his nose, and one where the corner of his mouth is turning up a little ruefully. He shrugs, not denying anything.

“Well.” An idea has struck me, has been brewing for some time, in fact. “You could argue about who’s doing and who’s being done to.” I lick my lower lip—can’t help it, at the thought, and his eyes track to it. “But—something I’ve never done. If it’s not too much—could I…” I have to hide my face in the soft dark beside his ear. “Could I get my mouth on you? Suck you? Like that?”

John.” Breathless, he turns his head to kiss me, long and deep, his body all trembling against me. “You can,” he says.

“Okay,” I say, and kiss him again, and again, because the place where we are is a last solid ledge before the leap. Which maybe sounds overdramatic. But it’s true. Then, at last, I start working my way down, kissing him everywhere, as is proper in these situations, not neglecting to brush my tongue across one of his rose-brown nipples, which makes him hiss a little against the back of his hand, fingers tightening on my shoulder, so I do it again, and again, until he gasps a little ”oh”, before I go on. When at last I’m down between his knees, mirroring his earlier pose, I find the dark-blushed head of him just barely peering out the top edge of his pants, all captive and leaking. I hook the elastic with a finger and pull it away and down, letting his cock stand proud, purple-swollen and gently curved.

His left hand is still resting against his mouth, the fingers of his right just touching me. His eyes are closed.

“All right?” I ask.

“Yes.” Breathy, quiet.

I pull the pants down farther, to where they’ll stay put, then take him gently in my hand. Warm. I can already feel the shape of it in my mouth. The close, strong smell of him is as familiar as my own skin.

I lick him, first, just to explore, and the salt-tang taste is hardly noticeable compared to the silk-slick smoothness of the head of his cock, the inviting roundness of it. He gives a tiny, sharp inhale, his belly fluttering, just a fingertip resting on my shoulder now as his hand thinks of lifting. Then I take him in my mouth, awkward, mouth too full and that damned curve interfering; it must feel like all teeth. He is ambiguously tense. I try for shallower penetration, and that seems better. He gives a raspy inhale when I seal my lips beneath the flare of the glans, a muffled moan when I swirl my tongue around. Then he’s quiet, his breathing shallow and uneven.

I release his cock. “Still all right?”

“Yes, God, yes, keep going.”

I’m probably rubbish at this, but I keep trying, glancing up at him now and then to see his reactions. At first he keeps the back of his hand against his mouth so I can’t see his face, but after a few minutes he shifts, gets his hand behind his head, looks down at me, his cheeks flushed, mouth red and hanging open a little, which gives me some courage. Then he gets his fingers into my hair, and I—oh, good, that is good, it makes something light up in me and I stop worrying about the mechanics and just feel him, all hot and ripe and open to me.

“Oh, John, that’s—“ He breaks off with a shallow gasp, bites his lip and releases it. “I’m so close, but I—it’s too—“

Too unfocused, he means, too vague—too much teeth, too, probably. I take him out of my mouth and just stroke with my hand, and he presses his head back down to the pillow, breathing hard. I lick down into the crease of his thigh, suck at his tight scrotum, and he gives a great, anguished moan and pulses hard in my hand, under my tongue, come spilling over my fingers.

“God,” he says. “God, John, come and kiss me.”

I crawl up his body, which is all boneless now and sunk into the bed, straddling him, and lean down to kiss him, careful not to let my hips descend against him where he is no doubt oversensitive. But he puts his arms around me and pulls me down, so that I’m lying all close on top of him and between his open legs. His grey pants are still in the way, a bit, but I’m well past caring as I rub and burrow against the offered wet softness of his belly and groin, kissing him, kissing him even when it’s no longer easy, because kissing him is the one true thing, the best and most important thing. When I come apart at last, it’s with his lips under mine, his tongue at the brink of me, and I pour myself out like an offering.

Chapter Text

Sherlock never really expected this: to be lying cuddled up with a lover in the upstairs bedroom, to be sifting his fingers dreamily through the soft blond hair of soundly sleeping John. The room is dim with evening, street sounds filtering up from below: a car door closing, a woman’s voice, carefree and anonymous, no doubt heading for one of the restaurants up the block. A man’s voice answers: date. They’ve come in one car, so it’s not their first, but that heightened lilt in her voice and his tense laughter suggest that they aren’t quite comfortable together yet, still trying hard to amuse and impress. She’s wearing new shoes; he can hear them.

Quite different from himself and John, already living together, already familiar with each other’s best and worst qualities.

Except. There is still that question, that thing that John knows that he isn’t telling. Sherlock hasn’t missed the fact that they’ve now dallied twice in John’s bedroom, when Sherlock’s is more convenient and bigger and has a bigger bed and a more comfortable bathroom. At John’s suggestion, in fact.

And someone is watching, maybe. And John—maybe—knows someone is watching. It’s hard not to conclude that John led them to his bedroom for sex in order to avoid being watched.

Sherlock’s hand stills in John’s hair. He leans down to inhale John’s scent, subtle beneath the obvious animal tang of their exertions.

He has exhausted all his ideas about the video feed that he found via Irene’s phone. The most likely culprit for any unwanted spying on his personal life would be Mycroft, but then, how was Irene’s phone connected to it? Another possibility: Irene herself was spying on him. But then, why two phones? Third possibility: Moriarty. He helped Irene with her little scheme; perhaps he had her set up some sort of surveillance in exchange.

If only he could look harder for a camera. He’d gouge the wall open looking for it, if it weren’t for Coventry. John, in particular, mustn’t know that he suspects. Because the facts so far suggest that John is in league with one of them: Mycroft, Irene, Moriarty.

His arch enemies. He snorts a laugh, and John’s breathing hitches slightly in response before calming down again. Mycroft and the Woman are antagonists, but hardly villains. He has only sympathy for their various motivations, only respect for their abilities. John could do far worse. As for Moriarty: John would never cooperate with him. Not unless he’s an incredibly good actor and false down to his core. Which he isn’t. Sherlock’s seen the core of John. He knows John. For real. Whatever else is going on.

He feels himself beginning to slip into a doze, warm and easy in the arms of his conundrum.

Chapter Text

I guess Mycroft must have figured out a way to incorporate the Reichenbach painting into his plans, because it ends up being the catalyst for a huge boost in Sherlock’s career. Bigger and better cases keep coming in, with never a moment between them. Somebody gives him a deerstalker, which is utterly lost on him but makes the public swoon, I’m sure. I wonder what people make of all this, out there in TV land: the little memento mori of the painting, the ever-increasing identification of the real Sherlock with his namesake. They must suspect that something big is coming. I suspect so as well, though my idea of it is a bit different.

Meanwhile, our physical experiments continue, albeit at a fairly sedate pace. Sherlock’s busy schedule goes some way toward keeping us chaste, and even when we do get a moment, the things we do are so…innocent, almost. I’m careful never to ask anything of him that he doesn’t freely offer, and his desires progress in tiny increments. He wants to be good at things, mostly, wants to perfect his ability to get me off with hands and mouth and skin, as we’ve done before. So he focuses in on details, touches me with the most exquisite care and attention. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever had. I repay him chiefly by having mind-smashing orgasms; I can’t get within a mile of matching his creativity, so I focus on touching him in ways that have worked before, and in ways that he’s touched me, in hopes that I’m not pushing his boundaries. He seems to like it—rather a lot, actually—but I wish I could be more for him.

When the other shoe finally drops, it’s in the form of a text. Sherlock’s dozing on my chest when his phone chimes on the bedside table.

Come and play.
Tower Hill.
Jim Moriarty x.

My stomach gives a dizzy swoop. I text Lestrade on my own phone.

????

The reply comes back in less than a minute.

everythings fucked just bring him

So it’s me who gets to tell Sherlock that Moriarty’s back.

Chapter Text

The key to this work is balance: reality against fiction, carrot against stick, inside against outside.

I have people on the inside, but I also have people on the outside. My connections, invisibly joined, so that one little tug shivers the whole web.

There are three chief means by which Mycroft controls the panopticon.

The first will be represented by the Bank. This is the payroll department, the financial account information of everyone involved and the systems by which they are paid. You get paid a lot to be on Sherlock, and you get addicted to the money. Mycroft counts on it. Control the drug and you control the addict. Hack into payroll, and you pull the strings.

The second will be represented by the Prison. Who goes in? Who comes out? There’s a whole datacenter devoted to this, not to mention the physical gatehouses on the perimeter. I can trap people inside, shut people out, let in whomever I please, control supply chains. Very handy.

The third will be represented by the Tower. What is the crown jewel of Sherlock’s London? That’s easy: information. Truth. Well, also lies and theories and garbage and everything else that you can find on the internet. There’s a whole little office Mycroft bought in San Francisco with a lot of PhDs working in it, filtering the contents of the World Wide Web for Sherlock’s eyes. Like the past version of a time traveler, he mustn’t be allowed to see himself, or to know about anything that hasn’t been invented yet. Mycroft also demands a number of other filters, the prude. If it were me designing it, I wouldn’t have let the internet in at all. I mean, why not just set the whole thing in Victorian times? But there you are.

Of course I’m not a hacker, myself. Only a puller of strings, and an actor. I do love acting, and I’m quite good at it. Once my connections have done their work, I slip inside, just ever so gently, and set to work in my much-preferred idiom. Time to give Sherlock his clues. Sorry, cues. I meant cues.

Chapter Text

The next few days pass in a mad blur. They’ve got Moriarty in prison, supposedly. I can’t imagine he’s really sitting in there, though. It’s not as though they let us in to visit. All I know is that he is definitely inside, which I’ve no reason to believe he has been since the scene with the semtex-loaded vest. Lestrade gave us a report of break-ins at the Bank of England, Pentonville Prison, and the Tower of London (which we do have, for some reason—ravens, beefeaters, and all). But apart from the CCTV footage of Brook scratching “Get Sherlock” onto a display case and then smashing it up, I’ve no reason to believe those break-ins actually, physically occurred at all. They’re just stories, which someone—Brook, I suppose, as it seems Mycroft’s star is no longer ascendant—has fed to Lestrade to feed, in turn, to Sherlock.

I’m not sure what any of it means, except for the obvious fact that Brook wants to draw Sherlock’s attention. And oh, he gets that in spades. Sherlock broods intensely on the news of Moriarty’s return. I’ve gotten used to a rather cuddly physicality with him, but now he switches to a purely cerebral mode of being, hardly eating or sleeping, never touching. He’s twitchy and difficult, taciturn, sharp.

They’re putting Moriarty on trial. It’s a performance directed by Brook—got to be. A set piece. What if he unveils the whole thing right now, in one grand, crazy gesture? What if it’s all about to end? You’d think, if I were some sort of lynch pin as Aileen suggested, that somebody would get word to me about what’s going on, but there’s nothing. Even Lestrade can only manage a sort of put-upon scowl when I try to hint that we should find some time to talk things over by ourselves.

So when the day of the trial arrives, I’m a bundle of nerves. Sherlock’s attending as an expert witness. In the back of the cab, I hold his hand a bit tighter than usual. I could say something. I should say something right now, get my word in before Brook plants his idea of events in Sherlock’s mind. He might tell Sherlock I’m a fraud. He might say anything. I might not get another chance.

“Sherlock,” I begin.

“I know,” he says.

“You—what?”

“You’re going to tell me not to be too clever, to keep it simple and brief and not be a smart-arse.”

“No, actually, I—“

“Don’t try to pretend, John. You always get nervous on my behalf when we get into a situation where manners are required. You haven’t grasped that etiquette is the refuge of a dull mind.”

He’s giving me the full sociopath routine, which means he’s in no mood to listen.

“No, look, all I was going to say is that, whatever happens, I’m with you. A hundred percent.”

“What could possibly happen?” But his fingers shift a little in my grip, thumb stroking over the back of my hand.

Chapter Text

Before we go into the courtroom, Sherlock stops in at the loo. I wait around outside, taking in the imposing architecture of the Old Bailey, which is said to be a perfect replica of the real building. It’s funny that I’ve never been here with Sherlock before, but he generally declines to appear in court for cases that he’s solved, preferring to leave these more mundane aspects of criminal justice to the police.

Sherlock is taking bloody forever. I’m just thinking I should go in after him when a young woman comes out — out of the men’s toilet. She has curly gingerish hair, a blazer and a wool skirt and a deerstalker hat on her head.

“Oi,” I say. She casts a glance my way and touches the brim of her hat, but keeps walking, melting into the rush of people making their way into the courtroom. What the hell? I consider following her, but then Sherlock emerges, looking as though nothing has happened.

“Who was that woman?” I ask him.

“Woman, what woman?”

“The one who was in the gents’ with you. You must have noticed her.”

“There was no woman in there. I was alone.”

“Are you sure? But—“

“John, I know I’ve been a bit distracted lately, but I think I would have noticed a thing like that. Now, if you’re quite finished, I’ve a criminal mastermind to convict.”

Why would he lie about this? What is going on?

The echoing antechamber offers me no answers, and Sherlock is nearly out of sight. I have not choice but to go after him.

Chapter Text

At first, the trial proceeds just as it would in the real world: Sherlock is put on the stand, he mouths off outrageously, the judge has him thrown out.

There’s silence as the usher leads Sherlock out, everyone watching as the door closes behind him. Then all heads turn, as one, toward Moriarty, who rises, and as he rises, he changes, his expression easing, his shoulders shifting so that his suit hangs differently. Even his eyes seem to change, losing their dead, reptilian gleam in favor of an altogether different sort of madness.

“Well, that’s him out of the way,” Richard Brook says, in a voice meant to carry. “Thanks for that, My Lord.” The judge nods his wigged head gravely. Brook steps out of the defendant’s box and paces to the front of the courtroom with measured strides. He holds the assembled crowd’s attention easily.

“I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today,” he says, with an ironic half grin. “Well, the fact is, it’s no easy feat getting all of you in the same room, and I thought we could use a moment for all of the key players to get on the same page.”

Lestrade is sitting in the audience across from me, arms crossed, looking stormy. Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Donovan, and Anderson are there, too, as well as plenty of others I don’t recognize. I don’t know any of the jurors, the solicitors, or the judge. Are all of these people important?

“First, the obvious,” Brook goes on. “With the help of some of the people in this room, I have broken into Sherlock’s London. I have taken over. For all intents and purposes, I control it.”

“Yeah, about that,” Lestrade calls out. “What have you done with my boss? Don’t you think Sherlock will notice if he disappears?”

“He won’t disappear,” Brook says. “He’s still here, trapped in his office—besieged, you might say. But Sherlock won’t notice any difference, because Mycroft Holmes has no choice but to keep playing his part, as long as he has any hope that we might fail.”

“Sorry,” says Donovan, “Fail at what, exactly?”

“An important question,” Brook allows, nodding in her direction. “What exactly are we doing? Most of you know—or at least suspect—that our goal is to get Sherlock out. In an ideal world, we’d just tell him what’s going on, but it’s not that simple. He’s lived in this world for as long as he can remember. The evidence of its solidity is all around him. The only thing he trusts is the evidence of his own senses, and so we must bring him to a place where his own senses tell him the truth. We must do this gently, with as little shock as possible.”

“But—“ and this is me. Everyone turns to look. I try not to shift in my seat. “But don’t you think this is worse, in a way? Making him wonder, making him doubt himself? You saw what happened in Grimpen; he was panicking.”

“He was drugged,” Brook says. “As were you. And even if he weren’t, that was just a little brush with the real world. What do you think would happen if we brought him out all at once?”

“He just didn’t know what was going on,” I argue, my face getting hot—both because I’m getting angry and because I know everyone is thinking about what else happened in Grimpen. “He hates that more than anything. If he could—if you’d just tell him, he’d adjust. He’s not fragile.”

“No, he isn’t,” Brook agrees, surprising me. “So, Jack, why haven’t you told him?”

“Because—“ and then I stop. It’s because I’m not brave enough. Because I don’t want to hurt him. Because I don’t want to lose him.

“Not that simple, is it?” Brook answers for me. I look down.

“Excuse me, but are we still on television while all of this is going on?” Molly pipes up.

“Excellent question,” says Brook, turning to her. “Forgive me for not mentioning it. The answer is yes, we are still airing, because, quite frankly, there’d be riots if we went completely dark, and also because people need to see what happens to Sherlock: how he comes around, how he escapes, so that things can be as normal as possible afterward, for him and all of us. So you should all still expect to be on camera when he’s around. Except,” and here he turns to me, “we’re shutting down transmissions from the private areas of 221 B itself—the bedrooms and bathrooms. I’ve always thought it was grotesque how they filmed him at home, so now that I’m in charge, I’m stopping it. His private life is now private.”

He pauses as though he might say more about this, but then changes his mind.

“So,” he goes on, addressing the room. “You’ll all keep playing your parts for a while longer. I’ll keep steering our boy in the right direction, and when the crucial moment comes, we’ll make sure the escape hatch is open. Meanwhile, take a good look around you at the other people in this room. You’ve all been complicit in keeping Sherlock in the dark. Now I’m asking you to help me bring him into the light.”

Chapter Text

Bach’s Sonata no. 1 in G minor. As I ascend the stairs, his violin stops, pauses, starts again. We understand each other. We have communicated, he and I, deeply and subtly.

“Most people knock,” he says. “But then, you’re not most people, I suppose.”

He’s made tea. He gestures me toward a chair—his chair, that overdesigned affair of leather and chrome. I take the offered seat. He pours the tea, stiffly sits down opposite.

“So speaking of Bach,” I say, “did you know his life was rather marred by tragedy? His parents died when he was very young, and then he was under the thumb of an abusive master at school.”

“And then his first wife died, as well as twelve of his twenty children before the age of three. Your point?”

“Hm, perhaps that was a clumsy way to make my point, but then, I’m not really all that clever. Not in that way, or in Bach’s way, or in your way. I’m an actor, mainly.”

He gives me such a look. He’s not ready to hear this, not really—but he’s close. He’ll get there. With John helping him, he’ll get there.

“Oh, but I’m not acting now,” I go on. “This is really me, Richard Brook. Well, that’s a pseudonym too, really, sort of a pun, but I’ve been using it for an awfully long time, and it’s not a character, just another name for the real, regular, Irregular me.”

“So that’s it, then,” he says, letting dismay color his words. “You really are merely psychotic.”

“Maybe a bit. But then how did I get away with my crimes?” I can’t resist a little eyebrow waggle, but he’s immune to my infectious excitement. Ah, well.

“Oh, you’re clever enough, there are at least three ways you could have gotten to the jury. My bet’s on the hotel cable network. Blackmail, threats. Simple.”

I argue in spite of myself. “So then I’m not just mad.”

“No, fine, you’re a criminal genius,” he says, waving his hand. “But here you are saying you’re an actor. That’s the mad bit, not to mention writing all those stories.”

He’s surprised a laugh out of me. “Oh, no, I didn’t write them. Doyle wrote them. He really did. They’ve just been hidden from you. That’s the real mystery, here. That’s the real case you have to solve. That and the cameras.”

His eyes narrow; I’ve struck a nerve. “Your panopticon,” he says.

“It’s not mine,” I tell him. “It’s been there since before I knew you.” I could tell him so much more—could tell him everything, right now. But my patron has stipulated otherwise, so softly, softly, like taming a fox, I hand out little bits of truth, so that when the day comes he’ll leap to my hand. “It’s all going to come down,” I tell him, “very soon. But don’t be scared.”

He frowns at me, then frowns harder.

“I’ll show myself out, shall I?”

He says nothing further as I depart.

Chapter Text

With the trial concluded, albeit in such a disconcerting fashion, Sherlock settles down enough for us to resume physical relations. We have reasonably good if somewhat perfunctory sex a couple of times, but about a week or so in, things take a turn.

“Have you ever tied anyone up?”

My hands on his ribcage stutter to a stop. We’re in his room—why not, since Brook declared it private?—in his bed, still clothed, but not, I would have thought, for much longer.

“S-sorry?”

“For sex, I mean.”

I pause, trying to formulate a deflection. Big mistake.

“You have.” He sits up slightly, peers at me with narrowed eyes.

“Yes.” The truth, Watson.

“Would you tie me up?”

I sigh, lay my head on his heart for a moment, collect myself. “No.”

“Why? Did you not like it?”

I pull myself away from him and roll over to recline beside him, propped up against the headboard.

“Or I could tie you up, I suppose,” he says. “No doubt it’s quite a different experience, but the challenge would be interesting.” He turns to me. “How about it?”

“Sherlock.”

“Oh! That’s the let’s-please-not-discuss-this ‘Sherlock’. Why? Afraid you’ll break me?”

Jesus. Testing me. He’s been doing it more and more lately. It makes me angry, on top of everything else.

“I just don’t think—. I don’t think it’s a good idea for the two of us to get mixed up in power issues.”

“You always say that.” Big hands gesturing frustration. “By what logic is it not a good idea? You’d like it, I think I’d like it. It’s not as though we couldn’t stop if one of us didn’t.”

“It would be complicated.”

“I like complicated things, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

He has no idea how complicated it already is.

“But that’s not really the problem, is it?” His eyes search me, whip-quick and angry. “You never ask anything of me, ever. You never make the first move, you always wait for me to ask. I’d think you were quite uninterested if your physical responses didn’t tell a different story. Like you still don’t think it’s a good idea but you’re too much a slave to your cock to refuse sex when it’s right on the table. Then you feel guilty about it, but only until the next time I throw myself at you.”

“That isn’t true.”

“Well, it fits the facts.” And there must have been something in my voice that made him believe me, because he leans back against his pillow as though drained, and says nothing more.

I stare at the ceiling, wondering what I can possibly say. It’s all for him, all my restraint and care, so that I can stand to look my own reflection in the eye. But it’s not working. I want you all the time, I nearly say. But then, maybe we should stop altogether. Stretched taut between these extremes, I miss my turn in the conversation.

“I’m tired,” Sherlock says. “Just go away, please.”

I want to kiss him goodnight, but there’s no opening, so I go.

Chapter Text

So begins the hardest period of my life with Sherlock so far, two long months during which we fail spectacularly, over and over again, at making up. Sherlock has pretty clearly decided that if we’re ever going to so much as hold hands again, it’s me that has to make the first move. I, of course cannot capitulate to these tactics. If anything, it’s worse than it was before; even fighting with him is dishonest, and surrendering doubly so.

So, of course, we fight all the more, about anything and everything else. I wish I could move out. I wish I could tell him I’m not his enemy. I wish it didn’t feel as though I am. I wish I could snog the breath out of his too-smart, cutting, merciless mouth.

I go for a lot of walks. On one of them, a car pulls up next to me. It’s not one of Mycroft’s black cars, just a somewhat shabby little coupe, but when the window rolls down, I see it’s Mycroft’s PA. What’s her name. Anthea.

“Keeping a low profile, are we?” I ask.

“This is my car,” she says. “Mr. Holmes’ resources are somewhat diminished, as you may be aware.”

“And what if I’d rather not come along?”

“Up to you.”

I keep walking. The car rolls slowly along beside me. Oh, what the hell. I get in.

Inside the front door of the Diogenes club, we’re met by a beefy-looking suit with a military haircut and a scar over one eye.

“Mr. Moran,” Anthea says. Moran gives me a cursory patdown, then nods us through. Anthea does the retinal scan and leads me into the twinkly hallway.

“He’s one of Brook’s men,” she says. “So nobody can get in to see Mr. Holmes unless they’re authorized.”

“Am I authorized, then?”

“Naturally. It’s not as though you’ve much say in what happens.”

She raps on the office door, then shows me in, but doesn’t follow.

Mycroft looks very little changed. If what Brook said was true, then he’s been more or less confined to quarters, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that he’s got a shower and a full wardrobe in here. He only looks a little more tired than usual. I wonder if he’s been sleeping on one of the sleek lozenges that may or may not be sofas.

“Jack, come in,” he says, waving me to a seat. “Please tell me everything that’s going on.”

I sit down, this time, having nothing to prove. My leg is also aching a bit, truth to tell.

“Do you not watch the broadcasts?”

“What there is of them. But since we no longer see everything…well.” He makes an empty-handed gesture. “Not that certain things aren’t blindingly obvious. Why have you stopped being intimate?”

I’m not surprised he can tell. I’m sure everyone can tell.

“Why don’t you guess,” I offer. “I’m sure you’ve allowed for it in your calculations.”

“I’m sure I haven’t the faintest idea,” he says. “Some jealous tiff? A professional disagreement?” He leans forward. “Did he leave ears in the kettle again?”

“Don’t be a dick, Mycroft,” I burst out. “You know very well. It’s this, all this. I can’t do it anymore. I hate it.”

“I did try to warn you. This is why we have the golden rule.” He steeples his fingers, swivels his chair away from me. “Well, I doubt it’ll go on much longer. Do you think it will work, Brook’s plan? That Sherlock will come to terms with the truth on his own?”

“Fuck if I know.” I feel restless, hands twitching. “It’s not what I’d have done.”

“You’d have told him straight away,” Mycroft says, musing. “So why haven’t you done it? Why not do it right now? You can use my phone.”

I’m not answering him. Not Mycroft, not about that. He raises his eyebrows at my silence.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I think,” he says. “I think Brook is going to do it. He’s tied my hands completely and he’s going to get Sherlock out. Denial would be pointless and counterproductive. So, what I’m thinking about now is: what happens after?” He pauses, hands clasped under his chin, and fixes me with a serious look. “I’d advise you to think about that, too.”

I give an incredulous snort. “Why? It’s not as though I’ll be around for it. Never see him again, probably.”

“Maybe,” Mycroft says. “Maybe not. But even if you’re right, think of Sherlock. What state will he be in, hmm? Will he be happy in his newfound freedom?”

“I hope he will.”

“I hope so, too. And I’m doing what I can to see that it’s so. Will you do the same?”

“Of course, yeah. Of course I will.”

“See that you do. Anthea will see you out.”

Chapter Text

Anthea drives me back to Baker Street. As I’m steeling myself for another round with Sherlock, I find a yellow envelope lying on the front steps. Breaking the elaborate red wax seal releases a cascade of powdery crumbs, like bread crumbs. Strange.

Inside, I hear Lestrade’s voice coming from upstairs. I go up, and the two of them fill me on the case: a kidnapping. Greg gives me not the slightest flicker of a hint about what’s going on, and then we’re off to a posh boarding school to investigate.

I don’t have much to do at the school—just trail along in Sherlock’s wake as he reconstructs the scene. I’ve never been to a place like this in the real world. It’s hard to fathom how any parent could send their child away for an entire school term, to be looked after by strange adults. I’ve read my share of boarding school stories, of course, but that can’t possibly give you an accurate picture, can it?

But Sherlock was in one of these places for a year. I suppose this case must bring back memories for him, likely quite bad ones, but if he’s feeling anything in particular, he doesn’t show it. I see him smiling, though not at me. If we were on good terms, I’d ask him about his school memories, later, when our heads are on our pillows. But we’re not on any such terms, are we.

Chapter Text

Sherlock is working. He is crunching the numbers, dissecting the evidence, evaluating, concluding; and for a while it is enough. He doesn’t think about Brook, or the Panopticon, or about John who still won’t do anything, who just bends and bends and just won’t stand firm no matter how Sherlock pushes him.

In the lab at Bart’s, he analyzes the contents of the kidnapper’s footprint: asphalt, brick dust, pollen, and something biggish and organic. Glycerol something. He’s poring over the GC-MS results when Molly sidles up to him.

“Are you okay?”

“Quiet, Molly. Working.”

“Are you and John…fighting?”

“No.”

“You’re always watching him when you think he isn’t looking.”

“Molly.”

She’s quiet for a moment.

“Are you online much?” she asks, lightly. “You haven’t updated your website in a while.”

”Working,” he says again.

“It’s just that there’s been some quite interesting stuff about you in the press. Online. If you google yourself.” She stops, blushing. “Not that I’ve been googling you, I mean. It’s just. Interesting.”

“Molly, stop wittering and hand me that pipette. No—the other one. There.”

“Sherlock?” John says—always hesitant, now, but still useful, sometimes.

“Hmm?”

“That envelope that was in her trunk. There’s another one.”

Chapter Text

Mercury in the chocolate wrappers—jesus, weird, who comes up with this stuff? Flashing torches, a shout off in the dimness—

“Here!”

We run toward the sound, and find the two children in the beam of Sally’s torch. They’re smiling, well-groomed, munching sandwiches from a tin school lunchbox lying open between them. They’ve lined up a bunch of the silver-wrapped chocolates in a row on the ground.

There he is!” says the girl, face lighting up at the sight of Sherlock.

“Told you,” says the boy, older.

“He looks taller on the TV, doesn’t he.”

“That’s what Uncle Billy’s boyfriend said,” says the boy.

“Come on you two,” says Greg, in a voice maybe just a shade too stern considering we’re meant to be rescuing these kids from mortal danger. “Let’s get you back to the station to answer some questions, and then you can go back home.”

He seems anxious to get them out from under Sherlock’s eye. I’ve put it together of course: Uncle Billy is Billy from Grimpen, from Baskerville. “Friends in high places,” indeed—Billy must have run to Brook when Mycroft’s threats started rolling in. Or, no, he wouldn’t have known about Brook, so Brook must have come to him. The nephew’s snub nose and blonde hair make for quite a strong family resemblance, one that Sherlock can hardly have failed to notice.

I’ve often suspected Sherlock of being secretly fond of children, but he hangs back, now, and lets the police take the lead in getting the kids packed off. He is outwardly unperturbed, but in a quiet moment I steal a glance and catch him frowning, eyes narrowed in abstracted thought.

Chapter Text

“This is my cab. You get the next one.”

“Why?”

“You might talk.”

Sherlock is more than ready to have the police bureaucracy over with. The two children—rather dim specimens, really—have been treated for shock, not that they seemed to need it, and released back into the care of their supposed parents. Whom they don’t resemble, really, and in fact this whole case has been a bit fishy from the beginning. Overdramatic. Staged. He needs to think.

The cab is a newer model, with a little plaque touting the onboard wifi. Google yourself. Absurd. But he takes out his phone and types Sherlock Holmes into the search bar. He knows what he’ll get: a few thousand results, his own website as the top hit, then John’s blog, then a few hackish news stories, then blogs and forum posts and fan sites.

Except that isn’t what he gets at all, this time.

Fifty-seven million hits. Pictures: many (many!) of himself, and many of the beaky Victorian fellow with the pipe and silly hat. Watson, too: his Watson, and another one, stout and tweedy. Characters. They are characters. The Doyle characters.

He clicks. He scrolls. He reads.

As the miles slip by, a cold place yawns open inside him, dark and void, sinking down deeper and emptier with every word he reads, every image that swims across his vision. He can feel it there, beckoning, but he doesn’t wish to look into it just now, so he avails himself of a little trick that he’s used several times before. He puts the abyss into a little broom closet in his mind palace, locks the door, and throws away the key.

The cab stops.

“How much?” he asks.

Moriarty answers. “No charge.” Sherlock can only gape as the cab speeds away.

Chapter Text

So Sherlock must have picked up on the not-quite-rightness of the case. Just as Brook intended him to.

I’m still trying to hail another cab when Lestrade comes up behind me.

“Hey, I’ll give you a lift home,” he says. “I need to talk to Sherlock, anyway.”

We get into his squad car and make for Baker Street.

“So,” I say. “Did you know how that was going to turn out? With those kids?”

“I don’t know bloody anything, at this point. I’m just following orders.”

“Whose orders?”

“I don’t know that, either. ” He keeps his eyes fixed on the road ahead, a muscle twitching in his jaw.

“So, what, you’re just gonna let them push you around?” I shift in my seat, wanting action. “He trusts you, you know, you could—“

“No,” he says.

“What do you mean?”

“Not after this. We’ve missed our chance. He’s learning the truth right now, in the back of that cab.”

Red taillights ahead among the flickering city lights.

“What, now? Who’s telling him?”

Lestrade shrugs. “Brook, one way or another. He says Sherlock won’t act yet, but he’ll believe it, after this. It’s almost over. We’ve lost.”

He seems to think this includes me.

“So what do you need to talk to him about?”

Lestrade sighs. “I’m supposed to try and take him back to the station, keep an eye on him. Make sure he doesn’t…you know.”

Yeah, I know, all right. “And if he won’t go with you?”

“Well,” Lestrade says. “It’ll be down to you, in that case.”

Chapter Text

We pull up just a few seconds behind Sherlock’s cab. I see him get out. Bending toward the driver’s window, he makes a sudden movement, a lurch or lunge, as though surprised, then stumbles backward as the driver speeds off. Lestrade waits in the car while I get out. When I catch up to Sherlock, he’s standing on the pavement looking dazed.

“Hey,” I say. “You all right?”

He looks at me, inscrutable, then past me to where Lestrade is getting out of his police car.

“What are you doing here?” Sherlock asks.

Lestrade shows his palms, as though approaching a nervous animal. “It turns out we need you to answer a few more questions back at the station.”

“About what? About this perfectly elementary kidnapping case?”

“It’s just paperwork, Sherlock. I have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.”

Sherlock gives Greg a long look. Greg fidgets under his scrutiny, glances toward me.

“We’ve known each other a long time, you and I, haven’t we, Lestrade.” His tone of voice gives nothing away.

“Yeah, course we have.”

“And you’ve seen me at my worst.”

Greg frowns, shrugs, always showing those empty palms. “Maybe.”

“No,” Sherlock says. “It was my worst, my lowest moment. And you were there. To pluck me from the gutter, to make something of me.”

I know exactly what he’s referring to. Greg was cast in the Bad Old Days, when Sherlock had given up trying to make sense of his desperately lonely teenaged life and was trying every drug he could get his hands on in search of numbness and distraction. There was a moment when Greg had tracked Sherlock to a grimy dosshouse and found him unconscious with a needle still in his arm. He took the pitiful creature home with him, fed him up, got him clean—and gave him his calling. The public fucking loved it.

Greg doesn’t answer, but he looks as hopeless as I’ve ever seen him.

Sherlock turns away, coat swirling, and heads for our front door. “I’m staying here,” he says. “You can fake the paperwork.”

He shuts the door behind him, leaving me and Greg alone on the pavement.

“If this ever ends,” Greg says. “If you ever get the chance—just tell him I’m sorry, would you?”

I feel about a hundred years old. “We’ll see.” Then I go after Sherlock.

Chapter Text

I find Sherlock sitting at the desk with his laptop closed in front of him.

There’s nothing I can possibly say. He looks at me with a tightness around his eyes, around his mouth. His faith in me is slipping away, and I’m powerless to stop it. If I try to go on as before, I’ll lose him. If I bring up the elephant in the room—same thing, probably.

“Sherlock—“ I start, but I’m cut off by a blur of motion as he leaps up, quick as a cat, and pins me back against the wall with his hands on my shoulders. Heart racing, I knock his hands away and twist to evade him, but he grabs me by the wrists and slams me back again, pinning me with an arm across my chest. He crowds in close—foolishly close, open to a head-butt or a leg sweep or a half dozen other things, but he either doesn’t think I’ll hurt him or doesn’t care if I do. I rein in my adrenaline with an effort, because I really don’t want to hurt him. When he sees that I’m not going to fight, he presses me back even harder and leans down and kisses me, hard and toothy, forcing my mouth open. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m not having any of it; I find some leverage at last and shove off from the wall, pushing him off and away. He staggers back two steps, wiping his wrist across his smeared mouth, his eyes distant.

“Sherlock,” I say again, uncertain. I take his wrist to pull his hand away from his face, and his skin feels good against mine so I interlace our fingers, and then I kiss him again, or lean up so he can kiss me, or something, the great lanky idiot, and he does, properly this time, for a long, still moment. Even after all these weeks without contact, we still fit together like this. When it’s over, he keeps his eyes closed, still.

“You remember what I told you in the cab, before the trial?”

He opens his eyes and gives me a long, level look, then lets go of my hand and goes to rummage in the desk drawer. “We’re leaving,” he says. “Better bring the gun.” He comes up with Irene’s phone—the live one. I get the gun from its hiding place and tuck it into my waistband under my jacket. We leave the flat and go down the stairs. To my surprise, he takes my hand again in the foyer, and we go out like that, into the night.

Chapter Text

“Where are we going?” I ask, as we try to hail a cab.

“No time to explain,” he says. “Taxi!”

The cab doesn’t stop. It’s the ninth or tenth to pass by, which is unheard of in Sherlock’s London.

“They’re not stopping, why aren’t they stopping?” His mouth hardens into a grim line. “Tube’s not running either—we’ve been standing here long enough we should have heard it through the gratings. There!”

He darts out into traffic, still holding my hand, and a motorbike skids to a stop.

“John, the gun.” It takes me a second to realize what he intends, but quickly enough I fumble the piece out of my trousers and train it on the motorbike’s rider. The man raises his hands and climbs off the bike. Sherlock climbs on, I get on behind him—

“Wait.” I hop off again and gesture—not with the gun—to the unseated rider, who pries off his helmet and gives it to me. He’s a young guy, dark-skinned.

“Good luck,” he says. I shove the helmet down on Sherlock’s head. He immediately tries to shove it off again, but I hold it in place.

“Just wear it,” I order.

“Ugh, fine,” comes the muffled reply, and I sit down behind him, get my feet up, and hold on for dear life as the young rider watches us speed away.

“Is he calling the police?” asks Sherlock.

I look back to check.

“Uh, no.”

The bike puts on a burst of speed. Nothing hinders us for several miles, that is, until we come to an intersection blocked by a stationary lorry. Sherlock wavers a little, then rides up onto the pavement, scattering pedestrians, to skirt the obstacle. We get back into the roadway, but the road is blocked a little ways on with construction equipment. Sherlock says something—probably a curse, but it’s muffled by the helmet. We roll up onto the pavement again, but there are too many people. Sherlock stops the motorbike and tosses the helmet away. We start shoving through the crowd, but it’s impossible, too many bodies; they must have every extra in the city crowded in here trying to slow us down. A police siren starts up, cutting through the noise, and Sherlock stops, turning suddenly.

“This way.” He takes my hand again and pulls me sideways to a barred gate across the mouth of an alley. He vaults over it with his usual agility, and I follow with somewhat less grace. I’m halfway over when someone grabs at my trouser leg. I kick out, feel my foot connect with something solid, and the tugging stops. I make it over just as the sirens go quiet, two police cars pulled up in the road we’ve just escaped from. There’s nobody on this side of the gate. Sherlock grabs my hand and we pelt down the alley together.

We come out into a little side street, nearly deserted, of nice old row houses. Sherlock glances back and forth, getting his bearings, then makes for one of the buildings. There’s an intercom, but Sherlock ignores it, opting instead to smash out one of the door’s glass panes with his elbow so that he can reach in to undo the bolt. We go up to a second floor flat. Sherlock knocks. A couple of beats pass while we listen for movement inside, and then Sherlock tries the door. It isn’t locked.

I don’t know what I expected, but not this: the flat is empty. Unfinished, in fact: the walls showing bare wooden framing, no fixtures in the kitchen, nothing covering the rough lumber of the floor.

Sherlock pauses in the doorway, then drifts in slowly, taking everything in. He takes his torch and examines the walls.

“Galvanized nailheads,” he murmurs. “No discoloration.”

“Sherlock? What are we doing here?”

Without shifting his attention, he pulls a little grey card out of his inner pocket and holds it out to me.

“Kitty Riley, Specialist,” I read. There’s an address under the name—this address. “Specialist? Specialist in what?”

“She was vague on that point,” Sherlock says. “But she was…convincing. She told me to come here if I needed answers.”

“Well. I don’t think there are any answers here. It’s empty.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Sherlock says. “It isn’t just empty. It’s naked. It could be that it’s been gutted, but it’s more likely that nobody has ever lived here at all. More than that, this construction can’t be more than thirty years old, and the style of the building suggests well over a hundred.”

“Huh,” I say. He glances at me, thens straightens up and pockets his torch.

“What now?”

Before he can answer, a phone chimes—not Sherlock’s. He reaches into a trouser pocket and pulls out Irene’s phone. His expression as he reads it is still—still in the way that tells me he is concealing strong emotion.

“Sherlock?”

He swallows before he speaks. “Something I need to do,” he says.

“What? Can I help?”

“No—on my own.”

“Wait,” I say, grabbing for his sleeve, but he whirls, turns my momentum against me, and when I get myself right again I’m facing down the barrel of my own gun.

“Don’t follow me,” he says. Then, as an afterthought, “I’ll call you if I need you.”

He backs out of the door, gun still trained on me. Footsteps in the hall, the slamming door. I am alone.

Chapter Text

Naturally, I follow him. As soon as I hear the outer door closing, I run out of the empty flat and out into the street. But it’s no good: the crowd has found us out. The street is full of people, though not quite so many as the main road where we jumped over the gate. I suppose the intent of this tactic is either to impede Sherlock’s progress or to have enough eyes on him that his trajectory can be extrapolated, but it has all too clearly backfired, as Sherlock has disappeared amid the throng. Probably just took his coat off and changed his gait, and the average idiot was too unobservant to take any notice.

Not that I’m doing any better. Well, fuck.

In my pocket, my phone rings. Mycroft. I ignore it.

“Hey!” someone shouts. “There he is! John Watson!”

A dozen faces turn in my direction, and there’s a general surge of bodies toward the steps. I run back into the building, lock the door, and crouch down with my back against the wooden lower half.

Phone chimes again. Text, Mycroft.

Where is he?

Don’t know I type. Buggered off

Follow him. Now.

Call off your idiots

There’s a longish pause while I wait, heart pounding.

Done.

I peer out through the shattered pane again, and people are turning away, checking their mobiles. A couple minutes more, and the street is clear. Meanwhile, my phone keeps binging.

He’s in no fit state to be alone. And then, You are failing in your sole responsibility. A couple of seconds later: He may well be suicidal.

With shaking hands I thumb out well whose bloody fault is that, and then the crowd has thinned enough that I can get out into the street.

The phone chimes yet again.

We have him. St. Bart’s Hospital. Go there.

Chapter Text

Bart’s is about half a mile from the empty flat. I set off at a fast walk, then break into a jog as the situation sinks in. Sherlock didn’t seem suicidal, but he was definitely agitated. Until we got to the flat, he seemed almost high, like he thought he was on the trail of something. But something about the flat stopped him cold. He got his answer, and he didn’t like it. I break into a run. The sun is starting to come up, the sky washing out to a pale, unnameable color.

My sprint doesn’t last long—there are more and more people in the street as I get nearer the place. I gradually realize that there is something happening in the street up ahead, a compaction of the crowd. It’s only when I get up close that I see the barricade, armored vehicles blocking the roadway, men with long guns standing on top of them, men in riot gear standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the pavement, glass visors glinting in the early light. I suppose they must be Brook’s men, tasked with keeping anyone from getting through to where Sherlock is. The ordinary people—the extras—are hanging back in a nervous line. They don’t seem to be trying to force any sort of confrontation; they’re just standing there, bunched up as close as they dare to the roadblock.

It’s pointless trying to press forward. I need another way through.

“Hey!” someone says. “You’re John Watson!” It’s a guy dressed as a Uni student.

“Look, what’s going on? Why’s everyone crowded up here?”

“It’s the best view,” he says. “We heard something was going to happen up on the roof.”

I look again and, yes, you can see the Bart’s rooftop from here, one edge of it, anyway.

Just then, a gasp goes up from the crowd as Sherlock’s dark silhouette comes into view. He’s with someone—a shorter man, slightly built—and the two of them seem to converse for a few moments. Then Sherlock draws away and stumbles toward the railing at the edge of the roof. He looks down, then outward, toward us. The other figure hangs back, watching.

“Is he going to jump?” someone asks.

“Don’t do it!” someone shouts through cupped hands.

“Yeah, do it!” someone else calls out, and then everyone is shouting, waving, pushing. Sherlock takes something out of his pocket, looks at it, holds it to his ear. Amid all the noise, it takes me a couple of rings to realize my phone is buzzing. It’s him.

“Sherlock.” I start pushing toward the edge of the crowd, needing space, needing quiet.

“John.” His voice is so close and vivid compared to that spare, lonely figure on the rooftop. “I’m on the roof of Bart’s.”

“Yeah, I know, I can see you. What’s going on?” At last I get a little clear space. People have recognized me, realized who I’m talking to. They’re looking at me, now, listening. In the quiet, I can hear the sound of a helicopter.

“I can see everything,” Sherlock says. “The crowds, the…factions.” His voice sounds thick, shaking a little. I see his free hand move to his face, covering his mouth for a moment, and I hear the sound of it on the phone, a breath sucked in past his fingers. “They’re telling me…Brook, he’s telling me. That none of this is real, that I’m—“

“Sherlock.” This is it, then. The end. The dark helicopter swings into view, very close and low. For a moment it looks as though it will land on the roof, but then gunfire pops from somewhere on the ground, and it backs off, hovering. The soldiers on the barricade in front of me snap to alertness. Their commander gestures sharply, and four men cut away from the group, crouched low and running toward the gunfire. The helicopter tries again to approach, but there are more shots. Answering fire rings out from nearer by. A rope ladder descends from the awkwardly hovering helicopter, dangling and swinging madly as it maneuvers.

“Tell me they’re wrong,” he says. “Tell me it’s a lie. I’ll believe you.”

“Sherlock,” I say again. I know what I have to say. My throat closes on it. “You have to go.”

“John—“

“I love you. I’m sorry.” Another burst of gunfire, and this time I can hear the metallic ring of bullets finding their mark. The helicopter lurches, but stays in range. I know they won’t risk killing him. “Now, Sherlock.”

I wish I could close my eyes, hide my head, not see what happens next, but I’m as transfixed as everyone else. Moving as though in a dream, Sherlock tosses his phone aside. Then he steps up to stand on the ledge of the roof. The helicopter sways near again, the rope ladder dangling above the street. Sherlock crouches down, steadies himself. And then he jumps.

His coat spread out like wings, Sherlock hangs suspended in the air. The noise of the crowd cuts off abruptly, changed to the silence of an indrawn breath. At first it looks like he won’t make it, but then the ladder swings again and he—catches. He holds on, begins to climb. And with that dark, lone figure strung beneath, the helicopter lifts away. Safe. Free.

The noise of the crowd becomes a meaningless roar. My legs give out and I sit down hard on the pavement. Sherlock has gotten out. It’s over.

Chapter Text

done it! didn’t even get shot.
finally
hey, it’s not like I’m billing by the hour

don’t I even get a well done?
im sure your place in history is secure
and lived to tell the tale!
oh all right well done
you are too kind.

Chapter Text

Chaos. With its linchpin pulled, Sherlock’s London descends almost instantaneously into utter lawlessness.

The shouting crowd around me devolves rapidly into a mob. Two or three fistfights break out, I suppose between the pro-escape and anti-escape factions. A little band forms and sets about flipping over the cars that are parked along the block. The guys with the guns get into their cars and abandon the scene with all possible haste; with Sherlock gone, their job is finished.

“Watson!” somebody shouts. And then I’m being grabbed, pushed. “Pick him up!” somebody shouts. Then adrenaline kicks in, and I’m fighting, fighting dirty with elbows and knees and nails. I break free of the crowd at last and run, keeping my head down. I pull my jacket up over my head to hide my face, and in this manner I make it back through the tumult to the empty flat—the one from the card. The Kitty Riley one. It’s the only safe place I can think of that I can get to fast enough.

I lock the door and sit down to wait out the riots. After a few stupefied hours, my brain turns on again, and I realize I need to make some calls, some arrangements. I don’t have anywhere to go in the outside world. Baker Street has been my only home for the past year and half, but that’s all over, now.

Around dusk, the police arrive. Real police, and Army Reserve troops. Lights, helicopters, bullhorns blasting sharp commands. The riots are quelled. When the streets are passable again, they bring in buses to take everyone away, back to the real world.

Somebody orders special protection for me, and I don’t refuse it. Riding out of Sherlock’s London in an armored car, everything feels distant, fragmentary. It’s only when the lights and noise have fallen away behind us that my scattered pieces pull together once again. Since hearing Sherlock’s shattered voice on the phone, I’ve been carrying a dull, nameless feeling. Now, that feeling coalesces, becomes dense, like a nebula collapsing to form a new star. The star ignites, burns red and then white. Mycroft. Mycroft.

Chapter Text

Sherlock jumped in June.

At first, there’s just—nothing. Nothing but my hot, unassuageable anger. The calls I made whilst sitting in the bare flat take a few days to come to fruition. I spend a couple of nights in a police safehouse outside of Leeds, before they chuck me out on my own. Under an assumed name, with collar up and hat down and shades on, I check into a cheap motel. I spend two days locked in my room there before I get a call from a man called Preston, who heard from a fellow who heard from one of my old army mates that I was in need of accommodations meeting certain criteria. Once we’ve settled on a price, Preston sends a rather Mycroftian car to take me into my seclusion.

Because that’s what I’ve got to do, isn’t it? I’m now one of the most recognizable people on the planet. But fame, by itself, isn’t the problem. The problem is that a lot of people feel—some of them very passionately—that I have been complicit in wrongdoing concerning Sherlock Holmes. There’s been loads of media coverage of both Sherlock’s jump and the public’s reactions. For the most part, people are glad Sherlock got out, but there is a small, cultish minority who believe that I should have reacted differently when he promised to believe me, right at the end. And there are more than a few people who are saying—who have been saying, all along—that it was wrong for me to take advantage of Sherlock sexually. And then, of course, there is the general public’s condemnation of the entire concept of the show; hardly anyone didn’t watch Sherlock, as far as I know, but by far the most widely held opinion, now, is that the whole thing was unethical and it’s good that it’s over.

I want nothing to do with any of those people. I have something else I need to focus on.

Nobody has seen or heard anything of Sherlock, or any of the rest of the cast, except for Brook, who has been on the right side all along and is now enjoying life as a beloved public figure. His face is everywhere: interviews, chat shows, speaking engagements, film roles. He has stated that Sherlock is being housed in a secret location, and is receiving psychological help. He has begged the public to respect Sherlock’s privacy during this difficult time. I am grateful to him for that, although I can’t help hating him, a little, for having profited so much from engineering all of this.

But I do, indeed, respect Sherlock’s privacy during this difficult time. He won’t be hearing from me.

In a secure house, in a secret place, I begin my search. I start with what I’ve got: the account that paid my salary, the address where I had my interview. The organization that ran the Sherlock empire is shadowy at best. All my initial leads go nowhere; I have to dig deeper.

Months go by in a blur.

On November 5th, an unexpected package arrives by private courier, with no return address. It’s just a padded yellow envelope with nothing written on it at all, but the weight of it is strangely familiar. I slit open the top, tip it up, and into my hand slides the grip of the Sig. Someone has sent me my gun.

It’s unmistakably the same piece that I carried while I was inside: the one that shot Jefferson Hope, the one that’s always protected Sherlock. It feels good to have it with me again. Together, we continue the search.

Chapter Text

It’s April, now, and a hard, grey spring is clawing its way slowly from the English earth. Like the animals, I have been in hiding. But I have not been idle.

With my gun in my hand, I’m crouched on a rug behind an oversized antique desk. It feels good to have it with me, listening, waiting.

It’s taken most of a year of tireless work to get me to this moment. Sleepless nights, clues found, connections made, bribes paid. Some bridges burned. But, finally, I am here. I have him.

Footsteps in the hall, a heavy door opening quietly. His feet make almost no sound on the plush wool carpet, but I can hear him breathing. Two more steps, and he’ll be right where I want him. Just the two of us, at the end of this long road…

“Doctor Wilson,” sighs Mycroft Holmes. “You may as well come out.”

Of course it was too much to hope that I might surprise him. I stand up and step out from around the desk in a single motion, keeping the gun trained on his heart. His hands are up, which is, at least, gratifying.

“I suppose you think you’re still in a story,” he drawls, not looking the least big frightened.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Whatever he does, whatever he says, this can only end one way.

“I mean that it’s beyond foolish to imagine this will work,” he says. “You won’t get any satisfaction this way. You’ll only go to prison, revenged but ultimately unsatisfied. Murder is not an answer, not in the real world.”

“It’ll be something, at least.”

“It will be less than you imagine,” he says. “If Sherlock is your concern.”

My hand tightens on the gun. “Don’t. Say. His name.”

“Oh, Jack,” he sighs. “Do you really think you still have any claim on Sherlock Holmes?”

“More claim than you have, brother mine.” The deep voice makes both of us jump, and Mycroft goes as white as a sheet. Then Sherlock steps into my field of view. I should wonder how I didn’t notice him hiding here, in this very room. I should look at him, speak to him—but I’m too focused on my target. My hands are steady.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Sherlock says, addressing Mycroft. “If John could find you here, surely it was obvious that I could, as well.”

Mycroft’s lip curls. “You helped him.”

Sherlock tilts his head in acknowledgement.

“What?” I say.

“With hints I left for you,” Sherlock says. “I tried leaving you clues to my own location, at first, but it rapidly became apparent that it wasn’t me you were looking for.”

“Who was it, really?” Mycroft asks. “Richard Brook didn’t have nearly the resources to pull off that escape. Who was pulling the strings?”

“Oh, haven’t you guessed?” Sherlock looks genuinely pleased at that, a smile curling the edges of his mouth. “A benefactor. Someone you underestimated. As you did so many people, in the end. Come along, John.” He doesn’t move from where he’s standing, but the tilt of his head tugs at me. “Don’t bother shooting him now. It would throw a terrible wrench in the legal proceedings, and in any case I’d rather have you not in jail.”

I’m shaking. I’ve put too much of myself into getting here to turn back now. My finger is on the trigger. I could do it.

“John,” his voice is soft. “Jack.”

Something gives way in me, a rusty lever shifting. I blink sweat from my eyes. Mycroft is still pale, but he looks disgustingly smug.

I flip the pistol in my hand. Sherlock lets out a breath. Mycroft relaxes fractionally, and makes a small movement, perhaps toward some sort of panic button, but he doesn’t get far, as I lunge and smash him hard across the face with the weight of the gun. He goes down with a gasp, but I don’t stay long enough to see the aftermath. Sherlock holds out his hand, I take it, and we run.

Chapter Text

Sherlock takes me with him. Sherlock takes me with him.

We steal away from Mycroft’s house on foot, then duck into a shed where we dress up as gardeners and commandeer a motorized cart for a ride down the road to the gate at the edge of the property, where one of the armed guards gives Sherlock a nod and lets us through. Then we get into a car. Then there’s a helicopter, again. Apparently Sherlock is fine with helicopters now.

Sherlock directs me what to do through all of it, but I don’t speak at all. At first it’s because I’m still coming down from my earlier mental state. Then it’s because the thought of anything I might say makes my throat close on a wave of shame.

“So,” Sherlock says, as the helicopter lifts off from the turf in some farmer’s field. “You’ve got questions.”

“Why did you come for me?” I say, at last.

“I wanted to see you.” His gaze is fixed out of the window, hand gripping his knee so hard the tendons stand out. Maybe not so fine with it, after all.

“But why? I don’t—it wasn’t even—“

“Not real?” He snaps. “Well, it was to me.”

“But I shouldn’t have done it.”

“No, you shouldn’t.” He glances at me, then back out the window. “But you did, and here we are.”

The helicopter banks left, and Sherlock turns positively green. Without conscious bidding, my hand creeps out onto the seat between us. Sherlock snaps it up in his and just about breaks my fingers with the strength of his grip. We go on like this for some minutes before our flight path levels out, and Sherlock’s hand relaxes but doesn’t let go.

“It was real for me, too,” I say at last.

Another minute passes in silence.

“I still don’t think I can call you Jack.”

I surprise us both by laughing. “That’s all right. You can call me whatever you like.”

***

It turns out that Sherlock’s exile is quite similar to Mycroft’s, except that the elder brother’s country hideaway has about a thousand times more square footage. Sherlock’s is a tiny crofter’s cottage in Cornwall, with nothing else around it for miles. If you didn’t know Sherlock was there, you might assume it wasn’t even occupied, as the garden has long since gone to seed and the fence and the roof need mending.

“How did you find this place?” I ask, trying to keep the skepticism out of my voice.

“It belongs to someone I trust,” he says. “It’s not as bad as it looks. Come on.”

It’s really not so bad on the inside. The kitchen is quite new, and the furnishings are comfortable. There’s no evidence of water damage, so I can only assume that the holes in the roof look worse than they are.

“So,” I say. Where to begin? “What are we going to—I mean. Are we just…staying here?”

“For a while,” Sherlock says. “Until things get sorted. I’ll have the bed up in the loft. You can sleep on the sofa for now, I suppose.”

For now. “Sherlock. Why am I here?”

“My therapist suggested I try to spend some time with you. This seemed expedient, given the circumstances.”

“You have a therapist?”

“Obviously,” he says, from the depths of a kitchen cupboard where he’s digging around for something to eat.

“I mean…Sherlock. That’s good. That’s really good.”

“Well, my friend wouldn’t let me out of her sight if I didn’t get one. Otherwise I’d probably still be locked in a room somewhere.”

“Your—you were locked in a room?”

“I’d rather not dwell on it, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh. Sure.”

Sherlock makes tea. We drink it in the sitting room.

***

There’s a guy who brings a hamper of groceries and takes our laundry away now and then, and Sherlock’s therapist visits once a week. He’s an older man who wears jumpers, but other than that I don’t know anything about him. Sherlock is understandably anxious that we don’t run into each other, so I usually go for long walks when they have their appointments, which is fine. More than fine. He needs someone to talk to other than me.

There’s also a solicitor. I haven’t met him, but Sherlock talks to him on the phone, sometimes at great length. Sometimes these conversations leave him drained and irritable.

So, it’s not like we have social callers. Nobody is supposed to know where Sherlock is at all, and even if they did, who would he want to see? I still can’t quite believe I have any right to be here.

Yet for all that, it’s a fairly easy existence. After the intensity of the months I spent scheming to get access to Mycroft Holmes, ordinary life seems rather flat; so at first I don’t feel inclined to do much of anything except sleep and eat and drink tea in the remains of the garden. Sherlock is a bit more active—he seems to have a few personal projects going—but it’s nothing like the old days when he was caught up in the rush of his work. We drift in and out of one another’s presence. We don’t talk about anything consequential. We definitely don’t do anything sexual, and that’s fine, too, really. If Sherlock is doing well, it’s fine. Though I do wonder about it.

Then one day I come out of the shower and find Sherlock surrounded by a drift of aged tissue paper, unpacking a fancy porcelain tea service from a box. The little scones from the day’s grocery delivery are already arranged on a plate with some strawberries and lemon curd in the middle.

“Uh…someone coming for tea?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. “My friend.”

He’s used that phrase several times now, but I haven’t yet asked. “Sherlock, when you say your friend, do you mean the person who…who got you out?”

“Yes.”

“And it’s not Richard Brook?”

“No. He didn’t have anywhere near the wealth or connections to pull off something like that on his own. It was my friend who masterminded the project.”

“So who was it? Someone from outside?”

“No.” He’s obviously enjoying keeping me in suspense, his eyes alight with mischief. “Someone from inside. Someone who was making copious amounts of money off of my brother and didn’t want to waste her golden years stuck in a dingy imaginary flat. Someone that nobody would suspect.”

Just then there’s a knock at the door.

“Ah,” says Sherlock, “that’ll be her.”

He dries his hands on a dish towel and goes to admit our guest. I’m far too curious to linger in the kitchen, so I’m peering past Sherlock’s shoulder when he opens the door.

“Hello, boys,” says Martha Hudson, from beneath an extravagantly plumed hat. “Oh, I hope we won’t be sitting in the garden. It’s so dreadfully hot, and the weeds make me sneeze, you know.”

Chapter Text

“So,” says Mrs. Hudson, after we’ve sat down at the kitchen table, “getting bored yet?”

“No,” I say, at the same time as Sherlock says, “Starting to.”

“Well, I am,” she says. “Bored to death, really. I think it’s time we put our plan into action, Sherlock.”

Our plan,” Sherlock says. “It was your plan. I never agreed.”

“You didn’t object,” she sniffs. “I’ve taken the liberty of putting some things into motion. The BBC people are pissing themselves over the chance to get a glimpse of you.”

“Wh—hang on,” I interrupt. “The BBC? What plan is this? You can’t be proposing to have Sherlock…what? Do an interview or something?”

“That is exactly what I am proposing,” she says. “We can’t all hide for the rest of our lives.”

“But do you really want to make some kind of media circus out of it? Can’t we just go back to normal sort of gradually?”

Sherlock is shaking his head before I even finish talking. “No, no. The media will have their circus either way. They’ll only get more obsessed the longer I stay out of the public eye.”

“Exactly,” Mrs. Hudson says. “Which is why, as I said, it’s time.” She clinks her teacup down into its saucer decisively. “They’re expecting us this Tuesday at two for prep, and air time is at 8:30. I told them I’d make sure you came. Both of you. Together.”

That together strikes me as a bit ambitious, but I keep my mouth shut. Sherlock is leaned back in his chair, eyes narrowed as he gazes at a point somewhere to the left of Mrs. Hudson’s elbow.

“Sherlock?” she prompts.

“Hmm? Oh, yes, we’ll be there. Definitely.” He starts jiggling his leg, clearly anxious for her to finish up and leave. He’s obviously lost interest in what Mrs. Hudson has to say. I sense noncompliance in the offing. Mrs. Hudson obviously senses it, too, but she tries valiantly to regain his attention.

“Have you had a chance to look over those dossiers I sent you? The personal assistants?”

“Yes. Not having any of them. Thank you.”

“None of them? But Sherlock, you need someone, a professional, to help you navigate being a celebrity. You can’t just—“

“Yes, yes, I’m well aware.” He waves her objections away. “I’ll get someone. You can stop worrying about it.”

“Are you sure, Sherlock? It’s quite—”

“Quite sure, thank you. Will that be all?”

“I suppose so!” she huffs, standing up. “I needn’t have included you in all of this, you know.”

“No, of course not. Much appreciated. Goodbye.”

He hands her her hat and ushers her rather forcefully out the door. I think it’s only her sense of personal dignity that keeps her from physically shoving her way back inside. “Well!” I hear her say, after the door is shut. Then she stomps back off down the path to where her car is waiting.

“Is that what you were expecting?” I ask Sherlock.

“More or less,” he says, leaning his back against the door with evident relief.

We take the leftover scones and strawberries into the sitting room with our tea.

“You don’t like her plan?” I ask, after we’ve ensconced ourselves.

“Well, she’s right that we’ve got to do something. We can’t just lie low until someone discovers us, which they inevitably will.”

“Is it true you knew her before?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. “I remember her visiting us all the time before my parents died. The rest of the family thought she was a cranky old bitch.”

“But not you?”

“Oh, I thought so, too. She had a soft spot for me, though.” His mouth is quirked in a half smile. “She sent you that gun, you know.”

“She—what?” I haven’t thought too much about where the gun came from. I’d assumed that Sherlock sent it, or Brook.

“Oh yes. I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t even know where you were, until I caught up with you at Mycroft’s. I don’t think sending you the gun worked out quite the way she’d hoped, but it was a nice gesture.”

Yeah, nice, I think to myself. In a spiteful, chaotic, reckless sort of way.

“She has rubbish taste in personal assistants, though,” Sherlock goes on. “All the ones she sent me have dropped too many hints about their employers in public. Well, except Vanessa Carlton.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s too pretty. Tall. You’d like her.”

“I would—Sherlock, you don’t have to worry about me liking your personal assistant.”

“No?” He’s looking awfully shifty all of a sudden, hiding behind his teacup. God, does he really not—

No. I like you, you great berk.”

“Oh,” he says. “Good. That’ll make things easier.” His ears are pink. God, why is the sofa so far from the armchair?

“Make what easier?”

“Our public appearance tomorrow, for a start.”

“Tomorrow? But Mrs. Hudson said—“

“Tuesday, yes. But we won’t be waiting that long. Come on, help me pick a restaurant. And I guess we’d also better call Vanessa.”

Chapter Text

Vanessa Carlton is indeed pretty and tall, though neither as pretty nor as tall as Sherlock. It takes Sherlock all of two minutes to hire her over the phone, and she shows up at the cottage a startling three hours later, looking as serene as though this sort of thing happens to her every day. Sherlock lays out our plan—well, his plan, really—and she immediately offers a few suggestions to improve it. She looks over our meager selection of clothes and heroically refrains from making any faces.

“All right,” she says at last. “Just let me make a few calls. You can expect the stylist at noon sharp. He’ll tidy you up and give you something to wear. The driver will pick you up at half three. Shouldn’t be any trouble with the dinner reservation, but if there is, I assume cash is fine?”

“Um. Yes,” says Sherlock.

“Right.” She favors us with a blinding smile. “Lovely to have met you both. Now get some sleep, and just call me if you need anything else.”

And she drives away in her little blue Aston Martin, taillights winking in the dark.

“Well. She was…competent.”

Sherlock sniffs. “She’ll do.”

We go through our usual nightly routine, taking turns in the cottage’s tiny bathroom. It’s only after I’m tucked up on the not-too-uncomfortable sofa that the full import of the day’s events hits me, and a tiny curl of hope unfurls in my chest. There may be an end in sight, after all.

***

The stylist also brings us lunch. We get dressed, and then we get taken to London.

“Sherlock, have you—“ I pause, words catching on the strangeness of the question. “Have you been to London before?”

“The real London?” He lifts an ironic eyebrow. “No.”

The countryside is speeding past outside our tinted windows. Sherlock looks unbearably elegant in a sharply cut black suit. The stylist told him it was fashionable to go without socks, but he refused. I doubt anyone is going to notice or care what’s on his feet, or on the rest of him, for that matter. His leg is jiggling again. Nervous.

“Can I—can I tell you about it?”

After a moment, he nods, and so I tell him, as best I can. I’ve rambled on for about five minutes when he interrupts.

“You love it,” he says.

I can’t help smiling. I mean, I was already smiling. “Yeah.”

“You want to live there.”

It’s just an observation, but my smile does flag a bit.

“I’d like to,” I admit. “But I could be happy other places.”

“Hmm, doubt it.”

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to love it, too.”

“No I won’t.”

“Want to back that up with a wager?”

He gives me a sly, sideways look, but we never do get around to naming the stakes.

***

The restaurant we’ve chosen is adjacent to Hyde Park, inside a hotel whose name is the same as its address. It’s a French cuisine place; the website showed a long dining room with high ceilings and round chandeliers and a lot of tall white curtains. Supposedly it’s a place one goes to spot celebrities. As our car pulls up at the end of our four-hour drive, we prepare to be spotted.

It doesn’t take long. The restaurant greeter almost drops her tablet when she sees us walk in the door, and our waiter is equally excited, though he hides it better. After leaving us the wine list he comes back to ask in a hushed tone whether we would mind if the head chef came out to speak with us. Heads are turning at the other tables. I see at least three cellphones being held at discreetly photographic angles. So. We’re having the intended effect.

It’s not easy trying to seem as relaxed as Sherlock, especially as I’m now realizing that our appearing together is having another effect that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s proving, in the public eye, that my sins have been forgiven. It’s also suggesting something else—something that may or may not be true.

At Angelo’s, so long ago, I was desperate to prove that I wasn’t Sherlock’s date. Now I’m honestly not sure whether I am or not.

I’ve gotten so accustomed to the feeling that everyone is watching us that this almost feels like old times. The food and wine are fine; just your basic nice restaurant sort of stuff. I get filet mignon and Sherlock has some kind of stuffed duck breast thing with dark red sauce squirted around it.

“How’s yours?” I ask him.

“Adequate,” he says. “I’ve had better.”

“Well, Mycroft did look out for the important stuff,” I joke. And oh, shit, let’s please not let that little comment spoil the mood.

But Sherlock actually cracks a smile. He meets my eyes, and the smile warms, and something bubbles up in me.

“You know,” I start, and then I have to pause. He watches me expectantly. How much am I going to say? “I never thought this would…that I’d be out here with you, like this. I never really dared to think about it.”

He chews and swallows. “Why not?” he says at last, flatly.

“Well, at first I didn’t think that you’d get out—at least, not before…well. At first I guess I assumed that they’d engineer an exit for me, eventually. Or a partial exit, you know. Like in the canon.”

“You thought my brother would find you a wife.”

“Something like that. I mean, not that I needed that, but it would have made sense.”

“And later?”

“Well, later, when I found out about Brook’s plan—Mrs. Hudson’s plan. I assumed we’d never see each other again.”

He regards me impassively.

“I guess I just…I wanted to say. I’m glad to be out here. With you. Whatever it means, whatever you want. We can do it.”

“And what do you want?” Sherlock asks.

“I just don’t ever want to lie to you again.”

He gives a tight half-smile. Then the waiter comes to take our plates away, and leaves the dessert menu. I could do without it, myself, but Sherlock is keen, so we stay. I order a chocolate mousse or something. Sherlock gets a fancy ice cream assortment. Mine is fine, undistinguished. Sherlock takes a bite of his, and—pauses. Takes another bite, his brow wrinkled in concentration.

“Sherlock?”

“Have a bite of that,” he says.

“Which one is it?”

“Burnt orange hazelnut.”

I scoop up a bit of the light brown ice cream on the end of my spoon. When I taste it, I catch myself pausing just as Sherlock did, compelled by the dance of flavors across my tongue, cream and dark caramel and zesty volatiles, and then the little, buttery crunch of the nuts.

“Wow,” I say. “That’s amazing.”

“It’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever had,” Sherlock says. “I’m fairly certain.”

I go in for another bite, but he parries my spoon and pulls the bowl to the edge of the table.

“Get your own.”

“Mm, no, I’ll just watch you.”

“You wouldn’t be the first.” He says it seriously, but then he catches my eye again, and he’s—god—licking that spoon, and I can’t look away, and we’re both giggling, flushed up with alcohol and sugar.

“God, we have to stop, people are looking.”

“Let them look,” he says, though he does sober up a bit. “We can go home and pull down the shades and let them all go stuff themselves.”

We finish up soon after. Instead of bringing the bill, the waiter tells us that the meal is on the house, and fervently wishes us a “lovely evening.” Out on the pavement, a little crowd has gathered. Not enough to block the flow of traffic, just a cluster of nervous gawkers. I spot Vanessa standing casually nearby, keeping an eye on things under the pretense of checking her phone. Nobody bothers us.

“It’s a bit early,” I say. “You want to take a walk? Hyde Park’s just there.”

Sherlock nods. We cross Park Lane at Stanhope Gate and make a right into the park. Nobody follows us. We pass by the statue of Achilles, then wend our way along tree-lined paths to the Serpentine. Globe-shaped lamps light our path and cast yellow glints across the dark water as we stroll quietly along the lakeside. There are a few other walkers and joggers out and about, but, as Sherlock would say, they see us yet do not observe, and we have an illusion of privacy. On the bridge that crosses over to Kensington Gardens, we pause to look back along the water, where a few faint stars are glimmering through high, shreddy veils of cloud above the bright lights of the city.

“So, how are you?” I ask him.

He frowns, considering.

“Not bad,” he says. “I thought I’d mind being looked at, but it’s…tolerable.”

“At least you know it’s happening, now.”

“Yes.” We stand in silence for a while.

“I do see why you like it here,” he says.

“And you’ve hardly seen any of it.”

“I know. But I can deduce the rest.” He waves a hand dismissively.

“What, the whole of London?”

“To a first approximation.”

Joking. We laugh a bit. I just barely stop myself from bumping my shoulder affectionately against his. God, he’s so close. I could take his hand, kiss his knuckles. I fall silent thinking about it. An airplane light crawls silently across the sky, reflected in the water. Quiet beside me, he stands for a while, lost in his own thoughts.

“It felt so real,” he says at last, his voice low.

“It could have been,” I say. “That’s what I can’t stop thinking about. In a parallel universe—“

He snorts derisively, but I press on.

“In parallel universe, it could have all been true. You could have really lived here, and known real people instead of actors, and it would have—it would have been the same, almost. You would have been the same. You would still have been a genius.”

“And what would you have been, in this alternate universe?”

“I’d have…well. I’d still have been your friend, I hope. With luck.”

He grimaces and looks back out over the water.

“Is that what you want?” he asks.

It’s the second time he’s asked me that. What do you want?

So what do I want, then? Out here, in the real world?

I take his hand, his skin cool in the evening air. I kiss his knuckles, then look up to find his face so shockingly open, waiting. “I want…you, actually.” So inadequate, just put into works like that. “I wish we could just go on as though we’d been real people all along.”

“You often seemed not to want me at all.”

“I always wanted you.” My voice shakes, but I don’t care. “I loved you. I still love you. I just couldn’t…I couldn’t.”

“Did Mycroft threaten you?”

The thought of him still makes me angry, and Sherlock’s eyes widen slightly as I squeeze his hand harder. “A bit,” I say.

His eyes widen in sudden realization. “That night at the pool, the explosives, were they—“

“Real? Yeah. But that’s not why you got…frustrated, with me. After Grimpen he changed his tactics.”

“Sensible,” Sherlock says.

“But then I…I just couldn’t stand the thought that I might push you into doing something, or revealing something, when you were so, so lovely, and I was lying to you every second. It felt vile.”

“Miserable,” Sherlock says.

“Yes.”

“Well, let’s never do that again, then.”

“Yeah. Agreed.”

The little silence that follows is interrupted by a text arriving on Sherlock’s phone. He pulls out his phone with his free hand.

“What’s that then?”

“Vanessa. Just the hotel.” He types a short reply before the pocketing the phone again. “Right,” he says. “It’s getting late. Should get going.”

We head back along the edge of the lake. It’s not until some time later, when we have to turn off of the waterside path, that I realize he hasn’t let go of my hand.

Chapter Text

The elevator ride up to our hotel room—our room which I had nothing to do with booking, but the desk clerk has only given us one set of keys—feels like the longest I’ve ever taken. Partly it’s nerves, but partly it is actually just a really long elevator ride because apparently we are now celebrities and we stay in fancy suites on the topmost floors of buildings. I guess we’ve got Vanessa to thank for that.

The suite, when we get there, is huge, with two king-size beds in separate bedrooms, but the first thing I notice is that one wall of the sitting room is made entirely of windows.

“Look at that,” I say. “That’s what I call a view.” It’s possible—likely—that I’m just looking for something to say, something to do, before we have to address the particulars of our situation. But the view really is impressive. Sherlock comes to stand beside me, and for a few minutes we gaze at the city together. Thousands of lights, millions of people, all unaware of us looking down over them.

Stealing a glance at Sherlock, I find him rapt, his expression thoughtful. What can he glean from a view like this? Could he fathom the movements of the whole city, in all their complexity? Perhaps he could. Perhaps he will, one day.

We haven’t turned on any lights in the suite, yet. In the dark his face is pale, as though lit by stars, and between that and his dark, flawless clothes, he looks like an exiled prince preparing to return to his kingdom. But the tumble of his hair has a softness about it that makes my heart feel suddenly full.

“Hey,” I say to him, low. He turns his starlit face to me, and there’s that openness again, that expectation. “C’mere.”

I slip my hand inside his jacket, and he lets me pull him down for a kiss, our first since the night we fought. Just a soft touch of lips, at first. I expect I’ll just keep things light, give him space. But then his tongue brushes against my lips, and my mouth opens, somehow, and he exhales with a soft grunt or moan of…of surprise, maybe, or pleasure, and everything comes rushing up inside me. Without thinking about it, I slide my fingers up into his hair to get him just there, where the angle is perfect, and then we’re kissing, and it’s like our first kiss—like a movie kiss, like the kiss we could have had if everything had been different.

When it ends, he is so close, so soft, his eyes so large and dark and near.

“I really do love you,” I say, again. My voice, unthinking.

“I know,” he says, very gently. He kisses me again, briefly, then swallows, and takes a deliberate breath. “And I—too,” he says. “Me too, still. It took me a while to be sure.”

And then I guess I smile a bit, and he smiles back—his real, crooked, cocky, eye-twinkling grin, just for me. We kiss more, and he pulls me close, but then I just want to get closer, so I break off the kiss and hug him tight, pressing my face into the warm hollow of his neck. He makes a low, contented sound and rests his cheek on my head. We stand that way for some time.

Eventually, Sherlock clears his throat. “You know, I—I wasn’t sure what to tell Vanessa about—about beds, and things. But given these developments, I thought perhaps we might not…not need the other one.”

There’s a spot beneath Sherlock’s ear which, when licked, makes him do a sort of little gasp. As my mouth is quite near this spot, I take the liberty of licking it now. And there’s the little gasp, right on cue.

“Starting when?” I ask, nuzzling.

“Hmm?”

“When would you like to start not needing the other bed?” I nip the skin of his neck, and his breath catches. “Because, you know…now would work, for me.”

“Now would be fantastic.”

But as it happens, now ends up getting put off slightly. Both of us need the loo, and Sherlock decides to clean his teeth, and I decide it would only be polite to do the same, especially since the en suite is a palatial affair with two sinks. So we attend to our ablutions side by side, as though we’ve been doing it that way for years, as though it hasn’t been nearly a year since we were properly together. Sherlock finishes before me, and when I get out he’s already undressed and under the covers, with the curtains drawn and one bedside lamp glowing warmly.

It all feels bizarrely normal. I get completely undressed, skin prickling with awareness of his eyes on me. Then I get into bed, and Sherlock comes to me, all lean and warm and totally bare—not even his little grey pants to cover him up.

It’s been ages. Just the touch of his skin is enough to set my blood on fire. He tangles up his body with mine, and we kiss and kiss for a long, wordless, molten time. I pet him luxuriously, all up and down his arms and his long back and the cooler skin of his buttocks and thighs. He sighs into me, his big hands tracing paths of heat across my skin. I lose track of everything, just wanting more and more.

“What do you want to do?” I whisper, finally, when it seems we must go on or else burn to ash in our own fire.

“Mm, not sure,” Sherlock says. “There is…I got some. Stuff. You know.” He nods vaguely toward the bedside table. I reach over him to pick up the little bottle of lubricant lying there. “I thought you could use it on me, if you’re amenable.”

“Always.”

When we left off before, we’d been…experimenting. Just with fingers. For a guy with an adventurous sex life and a medical degree, I’ve had surprisingly little experience with prostate stimulation—mine or anyone else’s. Turns out I like it well enough. Sherlock, on the other hand, likes it very well indeed, which makes giving it to him quite a wonderful experience.

I kiss him quickly, then make use of the bottle. We’re lying on our sides, facing each other. Sherlock bends up one leg so that I can reach all of him. I take hold his cock with my free hand and give it a gentle squeeze. Hard—god, dripping. One of us makes a low, appreciative sound—maybe both of us. I give him a few slow strokes, just for fun, then slide the slicked fingers of my other hand back along the seam of his body.

“All right?” I ask.

“Obviously,” he rumbles, impatient.

“Just asking.” He doesn’t respond, too focused on what my fingers are doing. I watch his face as I press two fingertips carefully against him, and then ever so slowly inside. His eyelids flutter shut, and then his lips part on a couple of quick, gasping breaths. Then he slits his eyes open again and watches me watching him.

“Still good?”

“Yes,” he says, quickly.

I press in up past the second knuckle, and he gives a quiet hum. Christ, so hot and slick inside, his pulse pounding against my fingertips. His tongue darts out across his lower lip—in imitation of me, maybe, as I’m suddenly conscious of my own tongue stuck out in concentration. I pull it back in, and Sherlock smiles hazily, laughing at me. Then I let my fingers move inside him, and the smile gives way to something a good deal less coherent. I bend and twist my fingers, working him the way I know he likes it; his eyes close again, and I can feel how his whole body reacts to what I’m doing, all his little shivers and pulses. Gradually he he relaxes and cuddles up against me, propping his knee on my hip to keep his legs open just far enough. His cock rubs against the front of my wrist, thrusting gently with the rhythm of my hand. He breathes against my shoulder, deep and steady.

“God, Sherlock. I could do this to you all night.”

“Mm,” he moans, with feeling.

“Would you like that?” I lean in close to lick his ear. “Just keep you on the edge, get you all…slack and…pliant—“

He groans again, wordless but enthusiastic, and ruts harder against my wrist. It’s a fantasy—god, I remember what he asked for, what he wants.

“You wanted to be restrained. Hm? I could tie your hands to the bed. Would you like that? Just keep you right where I want you, for hours—for days, maybe. Just play with you. Would you like that?”

“Yes.” Breathless, unequivocal. I get a sudden glimpse of our future, and it knocks the breath out of me, the thought that I could have this, have him, forever—

“Maybe I’d fuck you” —and we haven’t done that, and just saying it feels like uttering a secret—“and maybe I wouldn’t, but I’d just keep you that way, in case the mood struck—“

Sherlock presses up even harder against me, surging a little closer with each flick of my fingertips. “God,” he says. “Yes.”

“Yes what?” Heart pounding.

“Do it. Fuck me, god, yes.” A harsh whisper, his cheeks glowing like hot coals.

“I would, Sherlock. I will.”

“I mean now. Now, for real.” He finds my eyes, and kisses me, and reaches down between us to rub my cock, fumbling in his urgency. “I know you’ve thought of it. Do you want to? I want to.”

“Oh. Yeah.” I kiss him back, incoherent, while he shivers and ruts against me. Of course I’ve thought of it. It just didn’t seem like I could…could put him in that position, before. But now…“How—how should we? Like now, right now, or—?”

“Yeah,” says Sherlock. “God, try, just try it.”

The way he’s draped over me feels like it might almost work. Carefully, I withdraw my fingers, then try to line up his hips, but we’ll never get anywhere like this; the angle makes it too complicated, and I can’t believe we’re getting hung up on fucking logistics when every nerve in my body is—

“Here, this, try this.” He disentangles himself from me and lies down quickly on his front, then, a second later, snatches one of the pillows and arranges it under his hips.

I pull away from him, slick some lube onto my cock, and he spreads his knees wider, face buried in the bed.

With that slight distance between us, I have a little room to process things. He is so incredibly vulnerable, still, and he trusts me so much.

“Sherlock?”

“Mm?” He gives an impatient wriggle.

“Maybe…maybe turn over? So I can see you?”

He huffs (sentiment, I can almost hear him say), but he does turn over, spreads his knees wide, and cocks an eyebrow at me.

“Okay,” I say, mostly to myself. Keyed up, shaky. I scoot forward on my knees, press my cock up against his entrance, push in a little, and it’s—god, the squeeze of it, still so fucking tight. He tenses a little, gasps; I hold perfectly still, and then I feel him consciously relaxing to admit me, and I sink slowly in by a couple of inches. That’s far enough for a start—more intense than I expected.

“All right?” I ask.

His breath catches slightly before he answers, low and husky. “Yes,” he says. “Try—try moving.”

I lean down onto my elbows, which means Sherlock has to lift his feet right up to keep the angle, and gravity pulls me further into him. He gives a deep, unsteady sigh, and reaches his hands around to grip my buttocks. I’d like to kiss him, but the fact is, I’m shorter than he is, so my mouth ends up in the vicinity of his collar bone. I settle for kissing that.

“’S good,” he said. “Move more.”

I rock my hips against him, pulling out a little and then sinking deeper in.

“God, you feel so good.”

“Yes,” he says. “Just—again. Oh.”

I get a rhythm going, thrusting shallowly.

Oh,” he moans. I sink in a little deeper, and he gasps and bucks up against me. God, I’m inside him, and he is so hot—

But tight—too tight, maybe. He makes a noise, and I slow down. More lube, maybe? His face is flushed, a sweaty tendril of hair stuck to his cheek. I force myself to hold still.

“You okay?” I ask him.

“Yes,” he says. “But—“

“But fingers were nicer, eh?”

“…Yes.”

I pull out of him, slowly, and he puffs out what is pretty obviously a sigh of relief. I lie down on top of him.

“Sorry,” I say, into his skin.

“More fingers,” he rumbles. His tone registers as demanding, but I’m far too hazy at this point to even tease him about it. I shove two fingers easily back inside him, and he groans luxuriously. The sight of his cock bouncing against his belly serves as sudden inspiration; I slide down between his thighs, and take it into my mouth. I can’t see his face anymore, but I can hear him panting, open-mouthed, as I suck him deep and stroke him from inside, over and over again, without mercy, until his cock is so rigid I can barely close my lips around it.

“God, stop, stop,” he gasps. “Come back, kiss me. Fuck me.”

I kiss him first, feel him shiver as our cocks rub together.

“Want to come with you in me,” he says, against my lips, and of course I need no further invitation.

It’s much easier to enter him, this time, and he gives a deep, satisfied groan, nearly in unison with me. He pulls me down hard against him before giving me space to move, and then it’s just a few fast, hard thrusts before he’s moaning, coming slick and wet between our bellies with his head pressed back against the pillow.

It doesn’t take much after that—maybe it’s his voice. I press my forehead against his sweaty chest and just move and move, drowning in the smell and slick and heat of him, until everything melts, and I spend myself with a cry, right up deep inside him, while he shivers and clenches and wraps his arms around me, holding me close and tight and true.

Afterward we lie still together for a long, quiet moment. His hands stroke slowly up and down my back, soothing, hypnotic. Then, tenderly, we disentangle ourselves enough to kiss, and I stretch out beside him with the air cool on my skin and his mouth warm and soft against my own.

Perhaps we doze. Later, we get up and get into the shower together. Words come back to us slowly.

“So what do you want to do next?” I ask him, when we’re tucked back up in bed again. “I mean, do you want to stay in your cottage forever? Which would be fine, of course.”

He gives a skeptical huff. “No it wouldn’t, you’d hate it. I’d hate it. I already hate it.”

“Mm. So what, then?”

“Travel.” He rolls onto his back, but stays close to me. “Have to stay in England for a while, I suppose, until the business with Mycroft is settled. Then I thought, maybe, a kind of holiday. See the world. That sort of thing.”

“A honeymoon,” I suggest. He snorts, but he looks pleased. Very pleased. I take his hand, and he interlaces his fingers with mine on his chest.

“Where do you want to go?” I ask him. “Venice? Australia? The Andes?”

“All of it,” Sherlock says. “All of it. Everything.”

“Okay.” I smile. “You might have to do a bit of flying.”

“I’ll manage,” he grimaces. “Anyhow, train travel is supposed to be quite pleasant.”

“Can be,” I tell him. “But then again…”

And that’s how I end up telling about my travels in Asia and the Middle East, in the army and before the army. We stay up almost until dawn, just talking.

“I’d like to live in London, though,” he murmurs, on the edge of sleep. “At least for now. Feels like I’m meant to be here.”

Much later in the morning he sends a text to Vanessa, and we meet with a real estate broker later that day.

We’re standing in front of a bank of windows in an ultra-modern loft when we get the news that Mycroft has been arrested.

Chapter Text

It’s 2:38 on a Wednesday afternoon in March, 76 degrees fahrenheit and clear. We’re at our California house, escaping the dregs of the dreary English winter. John is swimming and I am lying on a chaise lounge in the shade of a row of fan palms, reading the newspaper on a tablet. If I cared to, I could look down on the Pacific Ocean some 200 feet below, but I do not. I am unspeakably bored.

It’s been nearly two years since I leapt from the roof of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in that other London, the one engineered by my brother, ostensibly to keep me safe but in fact to keep me under his control. In that time, Mycroft has been tried and convicted both under the law and in the court of public opinion. He is in prison, now, and his ill-gotten wealth has been returned to me. Of course, the character he devised for himself in our former life together would never have ended up in so common a situation as prison. He would have drawn upon his connections to evade capture, perhaps to live out his days in some comfortable exile. But that story is over.

John derives some moral satisfaction from this outcome. I find I don’t much care what has happened to him, but I am glad to have the business over, especially as the closure of this final chapter of the drama of Sherlock Holmes has resulted in a slackening of the public’s fascination with us. We are still recognized, often, but people are less compelled to approach us, less inclined to effuse.

John (I still call him John; he takes it as a pet name, an intimacy) climbs out of the pool with a soft splash. I do look up at the sound of his wet feet padding on the stone tiles, as John is a sight always worth seeing, trim and tan and glistening in the sun.

“Hey,” he says, coming over. “Anything good on there?”

“I’ve worked out the missing heiress case.”

“Stepfather, like you thought?”

“Yep. They should’ve checked the alibis more carefully. They’re going to find the body six days from now on a Chinese cargo ship. The Ever Gentle.”

“How do you know that?”

“Connections, deductions, timetables. Completely elementary.”

“Genius,” John says, squeezing my shoulder. “You should really take this stuff to the police, you know. It would help.”

“Ugh, they wouldn’t listen to me. In any case, she’s already dead.”

“Well, yeah, but they should get the right guy. Do you still think they’re going to frame the nanny?”

“Definitely.”

“Well, that’s it, then. We should tell them. You should tell them.”

I don’t bother to reply. We’ve had this argument at least a dozen times.

“Sherlock.” He crouches down beside me. I look out toward the sea—surprisingly blue, actually—but he turns my face toward him with a finger on my chin. (His eyes are also surprisingly blue.) “Sherlock, I know you’re bored to death. I know you think nobody will believe you, but you can’t go on like this forever. You’ve got to solve crimes. It’s what you do.”

“It’s what I did. And it wasn’t real.”

“It was real. You’re amazing. You did things nobody else could have done. You’re still doing it, right now. The police aren’t idiots, you know—they’ve got really smart people working on this. They just haven’t figured it out because they haven’t got Sherlock Holmes.”

“If I am so bloody brilliant,” I grind out, “then why couldn’t I figure out the one thing that mattered?” It’s the final question, the worst question, that I haven’t dared to utter before now, not even to John. Especially not to him.

His eyes go soft, and he takes my hand. I let him interlace our fingers. I’ve cracked open the last closed door in my mind palace, the one that slammed shut for the final time on that last awful night before the leap. That yawning abyss is still inside.

“I think you did know,” John says. “Or suspected, at least. From very early on.”

I shake my head.

“You did. Not consciously, maybe, but—everyone hides things from themselves. That was the really—the really fucked up thing.” He takes a deep breath. “Mycroft told everyone you were fragile. He implied that you were liable to have some kind of—some kind of breakdown. And everyone believed it, because you were so…wounded. You obviously had a hole in your heart. And I think that’s what it was, you know? I think, deep down inside, you knew.”

“Then why didn’t I—“ my voice breaks, and I have to start over. “Why didn’t I do something? Why didn’t I fix it?”

“You were just a kid,” John says. “Sherlock, look at me. You were just a kid. You had no one you could trust. What were you supposed to do? I think you—when you got back from boarding school. I think you knew, and you…you integrated that, or sublimated it or whatever. And you pressed on the best you could. I think, the drugs and everything—that’s what it was about. You know?”

The ocean is stupidly blue. I wipe stupid salt water from my face while John is talking.

“There wasn’t anything you could do. You were made powerless. And that’s completely fucked up and wrong, and it shouldn’t have happened. I’m so, so sorry this was done to you.”

“Wasn’t your fault.” My stupid voice.

“Yeah, well, it sure as hell wasn’t yours.” He grimaces. We’ve been over this quite a lot: what was his fault and what wasn’t, what he could have done differently and what he couldn’t. He still loses sleep over it, sometimes, but I’m fairly sure he’s gotten over the urge to leave me for my own good.

“Now, listen,” he goes on. “Can we call the detective on that case? Because I really don’t want to hear that some poor brown-skinned lady is going to get life in prison for killing that girl.”

I close my stupid eyes. “Ugh. Fine. Bring me my phone.”

“What? Really?” Trying not to sound as hopeful as he feels.

“Yes.”

“Maybe, uh…something to blow your nose on?”

“Fine.”

He kisses my hand before he goes. The game, it would seem, is on.

Chapter Text

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