Chapter 1: Let me help you
At first, I dream of what happened a few days ago. A happy dream...
"Don't be so immature, John." Sherlock scowls.
I laugh, loudly and cheerfully. I take fists of snow and toss them in the air, being delightfully and unashamedly childish. The snow was light, fluffy and absolutely freezing, it was gently dusting Hyde Park with a soft layer of fluff. I was taking delight in the snowfall; Sherlock was glowering disapprovingly. Snow was collecting in his collar and he flicked it away with a look of disgust. His hand was cold and tightly intertwined with mine. The two of us must look like one contrasting couple. I break away from him and fall down in a soft snow bank, bringing my hands back and forth, making snow angels, pushing snow onto both my face and Sherlock's shoes.
"Well, might I say that you are acting like a prime example of a military man?" He scolded, shaking the snowflakes from his feet. I giggled.
"Don't be so bloody serious all the time! It's fun!" I cry.
I gather a little snowball and toss it towards him. It explodes against the shoulder of his jacket. I can just about see the corners of his mouth twitch upwards, when he bends down and scoops up a gigantic mound of snow, one fistful already raised. I panic, putting my hands against my face, bracing myself for the attack.
"No!" I shout. "If you value your life, you will not throw that, Sherlock!" He chuckles.
"I'm not particularly threatened by that, my dear, dear John." I feel the first snowball meet my face and I scramble behind the nearest tree. Sherlock, now amused, runs towards me and rains the snowballs on me. I swipe feebly, trying to fend off the many snowballs now pelting my face and neck.
"Hey, now!" I yell. "That one had a stone in it!"
He pauses and I use the opportunity to wriggle forward and grab his legs, sending him flailing into the snow bank. He laughs loudly, throwing his head back, snowflakes coating his dark hair and a few even catching in his eyelashes. The blue of his eyes stands out in the snow, and they are so beautiful they take my breath away.
"You weren't prepared for this, were you?" I ask him softly.
"For what?" He murmurs.
"For all this!" I tell him, spreading my arms out in the air.
"Of course not. All the, you know, couple things. The hand-holding, the rolling around in the snow, the clichéd, overused couple things."
I'm lying on top of him, and he takes my hands and brings them to his lips.
"I am happy to do them." He informs me. I smile and kiss him, gently at first, and then soon we're rolling around in the snow, our lips freezing, our hair getting coated in frost, and not caring about it. We are content for a few minutes, until a beeping from Sherlock's phone interrupts us. He sits up and checks his caller ID, looks disgusted, and answers.
"What is it, Mycroft?" He snarls.
Then, it changes. My dream changes location; and it feels colder, darker. A sense of dread rushes through my veins.
'The pulse is still there. Faint. But still beating.
I hold his arm tighter, part of me trying to urge his heart to keep beating, the other part trying to hold on to him so they can't separate us. Because when the crowds gather to see what's happened, they will drag me away, and leave him to die. The thought of leaving him here sends more hot tears down my face. One lands on his hand, and I quickly brush it off.
Oh God. I'm panicking. Losing it. I've got to keep it together, or I'll lose him as well. I prop him up into a better position, and brush the hair from his face with my free hand, the blood leaving sickly red streaks on the sleeve. It turns my stomach, but I continue to work.
A few people have gathered, but they seem too afraid to come closer. I prefer it that way. I take his pulse again; weaker. My heart is racing, it's going faster and faster...
Then the moment I've been dreading. I feel the paramedic's hand close around my shoulder.
"Please sir, we have to work on him..."
I cling onto the only part of Sherlock I have left; his hand.
"No, no. I told you all, I'm a doctor. I am a doctor, and I can fix him, if you can let me do my work..."
"Please!" I almost scream this, but my voice breaks as I turn to the paramedic. A young-ish girl, couldn't be more than 20. A trainee. She's probably never seen this kind of thing before. She looks as scared as I do. But this is no time for sympathy for her sake. I can feel the pulse slowly drifting away. I look away from her, back to Sherlock's pale face.
"No!" As they try to pull me away, I drag myself closer. After a few moments, I find myself grasping Sherlock's shoulders, crying angry, shocked tears into his chest. I can hear his heart beat. For a few moments.
...nothing. Gone. The pulse is gone too. I can feel my blood run cold in that one moment. It feels as if my pulse has stopped too. All I have strength for is to bring his hand to my lips, and press them against his now cold fingers. Hold this hand one last time. Then I let them drag me away.'
I wake, the feeling of shock and absolute terror hits like a slap to the face and I run to the bathroom. After standing there shaking for about a minute, I splash cold water on my face. My heart has regained a reasonably normal rate. I look in the mirror: my face is a very pale colour, and still trembling slightly. I can hear someone shuffling behind me, grasping for the bathroom doorknob.
"John?" Sherlock's voice is sleepy and muffled. "Are you ok?"
I nod half-heartedly. "Another nightmare, Sherlock. That's all, I'm fine." Even in his half-conscious state, Sherlock still looks concerned. His brow is creased, and his stare accusing.
"No, you're not. These have been going on too long, John. Please, go back to..."
"No." I object firmly. "I'm not going back to any therapist."
His blue eyes are pleading. He walks over and places his arms around me, gently pulling me in closer.
"At least let me help you, John."
The next day
"You've brought your journal, John?" Sherlock asks. I nod, grasping the little leather bound book that kept me going for the months Sherlock was gone. And after he came back. It was where I wrote about my grief, my hope, and my nightmares. All the things too private to write on my blog. I've never shown it to anyone. Until now.
"Before I take a look, John, I want you to tell me what mostly happens in your nightmares."
I feel a little nauseous at the thought of having to relive those moments. It's bad enough that they haunt my sleep; I don't want them to haunt me while I'm awake as well. Regardless, I clear my throat and begin listing them off.
"Most of them, if not all of them, involve you, Sherlock. You: falling off buildings, getting shot by Moriarty; dying before my eyes. Some are exactly the same as what happened after you jumped off the hospital, some are the jump, only with different details. And some never even happened. But they feel so real." I finish, feeling beads of sweat appearing on my forehead. Sherlock tries to remain emotionless, but I can't deny that he looks worried.
"Not good?" I ask him.
"A bit." He mumbles softly.
Chapter 2: Welcome company
I shudder awake, turn on the bedside lamp and rub my eyes, images of a dying Sherlock still burned into my brain. I roll over and see the perfectly unharmed Sherlock lying beside me. Propped up on his elbows, he has the look of concern that I am now very accustomed to etched upon his face.
"What time is it?" I say, as casually as I can.
"Ten past four. In the morning. And you've been tossing and turning for hours." He speaks gloomily; his low voice seems lacklustre and weary.
I shake my head disbelievingly, then turn to see the alarm clock display "04:11" in bright LED letters. Defeated, I face Sherlock once more.
"Get up, John."
"What? It's just gone four in the morning! Where are we going...Are you joking, Sherlock?" I splutter.
He does not look like he is joking.
"I said get up, John. I'll tell you where we're going..." He slides out of bed and shakes on his dressing gown. "...when we get there."
Still groggy and half-asleep but fully dressed and functioning, I walk into the kitchen. Sherlock is drinking coffee, and has a steamy cup ready for me. I take the cup and stir it, suspicious. I sniff the contents- can't smell any chemicals. It looks alright. I take a tiny sip. It actually tastes pretty good.
"Your lack of faith is disheartening, John."
I smirk. "Well, I have good reason to be a little cautious. Last time you fixed me a cup of coffee I ended up in a government laboratory with what I thought was a demonic hound."
He nods, a smile playing on his lips.
"Well, I have no reason to drug you this morning. Other than, of course, pure amusement. But I have easier ways to get that from you."
I hit his shoulder playfully, then sit down, content. I soon remember why we're here, however, and then question him about it.
"We're going to visit somewhere. And someone."
I narrow my eyes suspiciously, but give in. I have learned from past experience that disagreeing with Sherlock only wastes time before he inevitably wins. So I finish my coffee, shrug on my jacket and follow Sherlock out the door.
It is a short walk to the destination; a small, well-kept office building. Sherlock knocks three times, when the door opens; revealing an elderly gentleman in a suit. He invites us inside, and directs us up the stairs before he walks outside. I shift my gaze, embarrassed, as I follow Sherlock upstairs.
"Sherlock, it's too early to be interrupting someone..." I'm unsure what to say, as it's obvious this man wasn't asleep. What were we interrupting?
"Don't be ridiculous, John. Gideon works at night. To ensure only his...welcome company arrive."
I raise my eyebrows. "And you're welcome company?"
"Indeed. Gideon was the man who assisted with my fall. He helped me carry it out, and kept my being alive secret afterwards. He got me back to you, John." I blink for a few moments, and then give Sherlock a quick peck. He grins, and climbs the rest of the stairs.
To my confusion, Gideon is already in the room at the top of the stairs. I awkwardly hand him my jacket as he brings us into the impeccably kept office. He walks over to his chair and sits, remaining silent the entire time. He folds his arms, and opens his mouth.
"What brings you here, Sherlock? Last time I saw you, you told me in no uncertain terms that you hoped never to see me again."
Sherlock remains impassive.
"I meant that in a friendly way, Gideon. For your own good."
"Anyway..." Sherlock continues. "John is having...readjustment...issues."
"I told you he would," says the voice from across the desk.
"I know. I was hoping that they'd go away after a while, but they're getting worse. Worse by the day. It's affecting his health, Gideon. I can see it in him."
I frown. This is news to me.
Gideon gently rocks back and forth on his chair, thinking.
"Have you explained to him the details of your disappearance, Sherlock?"
Sherlock hesitates, and looks noticeably startled. He now looks guilty, and he speaks his next sentence quietly.
"Most of them."
"Most of them, Sherlock?" I blurt out. "Not all?"
Chapter 3: 1,576,800 minutes
Sherlock blinks, making an effort to ignore me. Gideon, far from looking uneasy in this situation, looks rather curious.
"You didn't tell me the whole story?" I ask, turning in Sherlock's direction. This is the first time I've ever seen Sherlock look uncomfortable. His fingers are quietly drumming a rhythm on Gideon's desk, his lips tighten and he shuffles a little in his seat.
"I told you most of it, John."
"I don't care. I need to know all of it."
"It's better if you don't." Sherlock's voice is controlled, but I can hear a little quiver in his tone.
"Better? You mean to protect me? Where have I heard that before?" I laugh, without any humour. Sherlock looks almost pained, but I don't care.
"There's so many things to protect me from, Sherlock." I grab my coat and make towards the door. "So why don't you save yourself the trouble and stop bothering?"
The voice is not Sherlock's, but Gideon's. The surprise at hearing him speak directly to me is enough to stop me in my tracks. For a second.
"Look, no offence, but I don't even know who you really are or why the hell I'm here. So why do you care if I leave or not?"
"Shall I explain, John?"
In that moment, Gideon looks very...old. He can't be more than seventy, I guess, but he suddenly looks ancient and weary. Yet he fascinates me. So I sit back down, and allow him to explain.
Gideon props his elbows on his desk, ignoring Sherlock completely despite the conversation being about him. He is giving me his undivided attention.
"Sherlock likes to think that nobody cares about him. It gives him less to worry about, and he feels that he is not obligated to care for anyone else. But he's wrong. You care about him. Mycroft. Lestrade. Molly. They do. I care about him, too. That puts pressure on him that he has never experienced before. It's always been just him that he has to take care of. I should know, I've been his confidant for as long as I can remember..."
So that's what Gideon is. A confidant, an advisor. Sort of a therapist, I guess. But somehow, I doubt Sherlock would approve of calling him such.
"But then you came. You changed him, and Moriarty used that against him. But you know that. I'm sure that wasn't the detail he left out?" I give a confirming nod.
"He is also having readjustment issues, John."
What readjustment issues could Sherlock be having? He didn't live for months, years, thinking /himself/ to be dead. He didn't go to his graveside and cry every single evening for over a thousand days. For over three years. Three years is one thousand and ninety five days. Twenty six thousand, two hundred and eighty hours. One million, five hundred and seventy six thousand, eight hundred minutes spent thinking he was dead. And Gideon thinks he's the one with readjustment issues? The look of disbelief and outright offence must be clear on my face, as Gideon quickly elaborates.
"Coming back to you, knowing you'd resent him. He knew that you'd have trouble, which of course is completely expected. But do you have any idea how many nights Sherlock came up here to me, worried about the pain you'd be going through when be comes back? Worried about if you'd hate him, or even wish he really was dead? That was his worst nightmare, and that, John, is exactly what's happening now. It's not your fault, obviously, but it's why I'm here, to help you. If you give me the chance."
I feel Sherlock's hand find mine under the desk; his slender, violinist's fingers wrapping around mine. I give him a little smile, and I can nearly see the relief wash over his face.
"But that still doesn't clear up what you didn't tell me about the Fall, Sherlock." I inform him.
"When I'm ready, John." He replies.
I give his hand a reassuring squeeze, then turn back to face Gideon.
"What has any of this got to do with my nightmares?" I question.
Gideon smiles. "How direct. But yes, you'll see. Not meaning to be all mysterious, and it won't happen overnight, but keep having meetings like this and you will notice improvement. I assure you."
We say our goodbyes, and begin the awkward shuffle downstairs while trying not to knock the many framed documents off the walls. Outside, dawn has just broken, the yellow-orange light streaking the darkness. Rarely is a London sky this clear. My watch says just gone six, Sherlock says time for breakfast.
It's only now, in the surprisingly busy queue for coffee at a cheap looking cafe, that I notice Sherlock hasn't let go of my hand since we left.
As we collect the chipped mugs from the counter, Sherlock leads us to a small table near the window. The seats are two plush armchairs and the table is a glass coffee table. I have to admit, for a place like this, it’s actually really cosy.
I smile at Sherlock over my cup, but he looks guilty. I raise an eyebrow questioningly. He dismisses me with a shake of his head, but goes on to explain anyway.
“When you found out I kept some things about the fall to myself...you let it go, John. But I can’t.”
Confused, I point out to him what happened at Gideon’s office, how he explained everything.
“Not everything, John. There are things about the fall that Gideon can’t explain.”
“I don’t care. You told me you were going to tell me when you’re ready, and I believe you.”
“John.” He looks at me, straight in the eye. “I hate keeping things from you. Especially things like this.”
This feels strange. I’ve never had this kind of conversation with anyone, let alone Sherlock. Even when he came back I never saw him like this. He seems hurt; his expression looks pained whenever he let his guard down. In other words: whenever I ask him a question.
“What’s wrong Sherlock? This...this isn’t you.”
“It is, John. For the past few months. I just never showed it.”
Chapter 4: A good night
-"He tosses his phone to his side, takes a step forward and looks down. I see his face for a fraction of a second, not long enough to even register his expression. I take a deep breath before screaming, screaming so loud my lungs hurt. I yell at him, part of me angry and part of me terrified. He doesn't seem to notice. All of this takes place in a few moments, then before I know it he's plummeting, and he hits the ground with a sickening crunch. I see the blood pooling underneath his head as I dazedly stumble towards him...-
I startle awake.
"You said they were getting better." Sherlock mutters, disapprovingly. I squint a little at the clock- it's six in the morning. Sherlock is next to me, reading the paper, trying to act indifferent. After the meeting at Gideon's, I am much better at detecting his guilt.
"They were. No, they are..." I begin dishearteningly. "That's the first one I've had since the night before the meeting."
"Which was four days ago, John." He folds the newspaper up and none-too-gently slaps it onto the bedside locker. "It's a few days of a difference. I'm not going to accept this, going around for the next few months, maybe years, hoping that you'll get a full night's sleep." He is the one that sounds tired, not me. I seem fine, except for the bags under my eyes. But I can deal with those. Sherlock, however, looks pale and weary. His voice is listless, and he has yawned three times since I woke up. Which was five minutes ago. And there's something else, too...
"Sherlock, why are you always up before I am?"
He looks a little surprised, and he turns to me questioningly.
"Every morning, Sherlock, I wake up at some ridiculous hour. But you're always awake before me. I wake up in a panic and you're here, always."
He picks up the newspaper again, and folds it out. He's avoiding conversation- that much I can see.
"Your tossing and turning wakes me up a few minutes before you, John. That is all." He compresses his lips and pretends to read an article about some politician.
"Since when do you follow politics?"
I scowl, throwing him a glare.
"You can tell me, you know that." I say, not as kindly as I probably should.
"Maybe later." He mutters.
I shake my head disbelievingly, and shrug on my dressing gown.
"Where are you going?" He asks gently.
"Kitchen." I murmur, and stalk out.
I am in the process of making tea when Sherlock arrives, all tousled-haired and tired eyed. He looks kind of adorable, I must admit. It makes it rather hard to be angry at him. But I still give him a frosty look as he walks up to get a mug from the cupboard. He looks like a kicked puppy, which sends a pang through my heart.
"I don't want to be mad at you, Sherlock."
"And I don't want you to be mad at me." He replies softly.
I almost roll my eyes. This was so unlike Sherlock. The gentleness, the careful and timid way he says everything and the things he says. How he always talks about caring for me and keeping me safe instead of the usual "What cases do we have today, John?" He looks guilty of something, and he seems to be making up for it. In the way he thinks I want him to.
"I'm not mad at you. I just don't want you to feel so guilty. You haven't done anything."
He stares at me incredulously.
"Haven't done anything?" He splutters.
"That was a long time ago, Sherlock." I retort. He takes my mug, and pours the hot water into mine first. He's actually become rather good at making tea nowadays. I suddenly realize that he's probably been practising, for me.
"It's still tearing you up, John."
This time I do roll my eyes.
"You're not going to let that go, are you?"
He grins, the first time I've seen him happy since the coffee shop.
"Never." He comes up behind me, and puts his arms around my shoulders. "It doesn't matter, anyway, John. I'm taking you out tonight."
I laugh, twisting his arm around as I hand him his coffee.
"You're taking me out? What happened to just going out together?"
"Ah, that got old. I am going to show you a good night, Doctor Watson." I raise an eyebrow. "A good night out, I mean." He corrects himself hastily.
I feign a disappointed groan, and it's his turn to raise his eyebrows. He puts his hand under my chin, tilts my head up, and whispers into my ear.
"Only if you're lucky, John."
-Later that evening-
"John!" I hear my name being called from the bedroom. "JOHN!"
I quickly finish buttoning my shirt and jog out to our room. Sherlock is standing next to the bed, holding an untied tie in his hand.
"I thought this might suit you." He says, handing it to me almost childishly. I smile, probably looking like a love-struck idiot, until I realize something.
"You couldn't tie it, could you?" I question with another stupid looking grin.
If I've ever come close to seeing Sherlock blush, this is it. Well, he's either blushing or flushing with indignation or anger. But I'm still satisfied.
"John. I am the only consulting detective in the world, who has worked for the Royal Family and solved a crime using only a pair of shoes. I know how to tie a tie."
I smirk. "Yes, you are the only consulting detective. A consulting detective who is lacking much of his basic intelligence, seeing as he "deletes" almost everything not directly pertaining to knife crime or serial murder. I'm assuming you've also deleted the method to tying a tie, as it doesn't apply to apprehending villains or anything."
He nods sheepishly. Chuckling, I place the tie in his collar and being tying.
"It looks better on you, anyway, Sherlock. Let's go, then."
We walk to the street, and Sherlock calls a taxi. We spend the entire journey chatting, and giggling unashamedly. As we arrive at the Odeon, I'm pretty sure the cabbie is glad we're gone. But I don't care.
-After the movie-
"All I'm saying is that it's unrealistic, John."
I sigh, dismissing his complaint. "That's not the point, Sherlock..."
He interrupts me, not for the first time. "Nobody could hold onto a boat railing that long, especially in freezing weather. It just wouldn't happen."
At this point, I'm beginning to regret taking him to Titanic.
"Remind me never to take you to an action movie, Sherlock. All the continuity and factual errors would give you a nervous breakdown."
He throws his arm around me, and once again, keeps it there until we're safely home.
I guess I'm having a lucky night. I certainly feel lucky, anyway.
I sleep soundly that night.
Chapter 5: And One of them is Dead
Last night's nightmare was brief, and I woke to a comforting Sherlock beside me. Not a disapproving one. One that held me until I regained my composure, and held me for a while afterwards too. I felt blissfully happy as I strolled to the kitchen, to see Sherlock fixatedly reading a slightly suspicious catalogue entitled 'Top Secret Scientific Equipment'.
"What about this one?" Sherlock points at a page. I shake my head, with a bit of a grimace.
"Definitely not, Sherlock. You already have a full set of adult human teeth. Why are you looking in that catalogue, anyway? You already have most of the stuff for your experiments, and you have the equipment in the morgue." I reply, looking a bit disgusted at the images displayed on the page.
"I only have a full set of male adult teeth. I need to study the differences between genders." He responds, immersed in the detailed diagrams of the skeleton.
"Wait a second..." I interrupt. "Is that a catalogue for government scientists?"
He nods casually. "How the hell did you even get that past Mycroft?" I splutter.
"He was the one who gave it to me, John. He grew tired of my borrowing things from his office, and installed cameras. Not that he needed confirmation of who it was stealing the government reports, anyway." He states with a bit of a self-satisfied grin. "He decided to save himself the trouble and just give it to me." He flicks the page to reveal a list of no-doubt highly toxic chemicals. I swear I can see his eyes glint with excitement.
"Fine, if you've got it sorted out." I say as calmly as I can. "You leave me out of those experiments."
"Oh, yes. About that. You know that croissant you had for breakfast this morning?" He asks sheepishly. The horror I feel clearly registers across my face, as Sherlock chuckles the moment he sees it.
"Only kidding, John."
I scowl a little, but can't resist the smile playing on my lips. We look at each other, making thinly veiled attempts to hide out laughter, when Sherlock's phone beeps loudly. He sighs, checks the caller ID, and then sighs even louder.
"Mycroft. What do you want?" he mutters. He rolls his eyes at his brother's answer, and snaps an "Alright" or a "no!" every few seconds. After about two minutes of heated conversation, he angrily hits the hang up button and puts his phone into his pocket.
"Well." I begin. "I'm no consulting detective, but from your tone I'm guessing that Mycroft has a case for you?"
"A case for us, actually. He's asked for both of us to be there."
"What is it?"
"Some stupid government problem that they want me to sort out." He scoffs. "I don't understand why they can't fix their messes by themselves..." He continues this rant for a while, but I let him continue. He's had a difficult lack of days; what with his sleeping patterns (or lack of them) and his workload was piling sky-high. He needed to vent, and I was there for him. Just like he's there for me.
"...And we have to go this instant. He says that the evidence needs immediate analysis." He says this with a ridiculing expression, as if this pretty serious-sounding case was beneath him. But with Sherlock- nearly everything is beneath him. I don't even bother getting my jacket this time.
"Let's go, then."
At Mycroft's office
"Hello there, younger brother. John."
Mycroft Holmes nods in our direction. He looks shockingly like Sherlock when it comes to their physical state, both look unhealthily sleep-deprived. Mycroft has to rub his eyes a few times as he guides his reluctant sibling and I into the room, a modern and impressive office. He gestures us towards the two comfortable looking seats in front of his desk. He takes his place behind said desk, and crosses his arms, looking about ten years older than when I last saw him.
I notice, to my surprise, that there is a photograph of a younger Sherlock in front of him. The young Sherlock is in stark contrast to the one sitting next to me; the one in the photo is smiling, laughing, holding a teenage Mycroft's hand. The present day Sherlock is sitting, glaring stonily. I also notice that in the picture there is a woman with them. Mrs Holmes, I'm assuming. I see where Sherlock gets his cheekbones, where Mycroft gets his nose. I realize why Mycroft keeps this particular photograph. It's of happier times.
"You understand the urgency of this case, I hope?" He enquires.
I nod, Sherlock pouts. Mycroft's eyes narrow slightly at Sherlock, not out of anger, but out of...curiosity?
"This case should particularly interest you two, I'm afraid." He says solemnly. "There have been...rumours."
"Regarding what? About a shamed politician and his mistress? Or about a Royal with a certain affinity for whisky? Whatever your rumours are, I doubt very much that they will capture my attention. Good day, Mycroft. See you at Christmas." Sherlock begins to leave the room, when Mycroft turns to me pleadingly.
"Sherlock, I think he's serious here." I inform him. Mycroft seconds my point with an action- he lifts an envelope from underneath his desk. A beautiful one, I might add. Craft paper, wax stamp. Sherlock disregards this as he tears open the seal.
He reads the letter inside in less than a minute, and you can almost see his mood change within the second.
It turns from irritated boredom to sickened terror. He seems frantic, hurrying back over to Mycroft's desk and slamming the letter in front of him.
"When did you get this?" He urges.
"This morning. A young boy delivered it to our door saying a strange gentleman paid him to." Mycroft's voice is stressed yet weary. I remain confused during this entire scene.
"W-what's going on? What are you talking about?" I demand.
Sherlock is pacing, Mycroft is watching him. I am growing more and more flustered by the second.
"Tell me." I beg.
Sherlock turns to Mycroft and gives him a feeble nod. Mycroft hands me the delicate envelope, and I begin to read.
"Dearest Mr Holmes,
I offer my sincerest sympathy. Your death shocked us all.
However, I not-so-recently discovered, (to my disappointment), that you are not as dead as I'd like you to be. It amuses me that you thought you could evade the inevitable. But it's those three special people that will pay for it first, Sherlock.
I thought I should inform you that I have added to that list. The list of those I can so easily use against you. There are now five people close to you. And one of them is dead.
I really do hope that you make the wise decision of continuing the Game.
Chapter 6: Loss
You'd think that after serving in Afghanistan, that I'd be used to seeing people losing things. Losing limbs, losing friends, losing lives. But as clichéd as it sounds, it never gets easier. I wish I could feel nothing, you know. It would be surreal, blissful. I'd be like Sherlock used to be.
But look at him now. Feeling nothing for such a long period of time is causing him to slowly unravel, and now he's losing his mind with guilt and paranoia.
But is it really called being "paranoid" if he has reason to be?
I've seen people lose damn near everything, but this... This was just laughably unfair. After pretty much losing his life, having his reputation completely tarnished, and being chewed up and spat out by the press, you'd think that a little good luck would come our way. I'm not asking for lotto winnings, but just to not having to worry about dying? But this situation is unique. And the outcome will be too.
And while I'm here, moping about how unfair this is, Sherlock has taken over the practical side of things. Which is unusual, but understandable. He is calling people; I'm assuming they are the others that Moriarty referred to in his letter. I can see the relief wash over his face when he hears a "hello?" on the other the line, before he abruptly hangs up and calls the next. A niggling question is at the back of my mind- who are the rest? I can guess, but not knowing for definite...
Anyone we know could be dead right now.
"Hello?" Sherlock yells into the phone. His face tenses after a few seconds, panic flittering over his face; a panic which spreads to me as I hear his second, desperate..."Hello?"
After thirty seconds, Sherlock presses the hang up button with a lost, unsure expression.
"No answer." He mumbles.
He looks up to Mycroft, who murmurs something into his ear and scribbles some words onto a sheet of paper. He gestures us out of the door, and we don't hesitate. I scramble for my things and run awkwardly out of the room, while Sherlock gracefully manoeuvres his way around the office before taking off out towards the street. I barely hear Mycroft yelling behind us as we open the door of the awaiting taxi.
"Call Lestrade first! It could be bait, Sherlock!" Mycroft has lost his dignified manner, and is instead out on the street, yelling as loud as he can. We exchange a glance.
"Where to, mate?" The driver asks, his husky voice uninterested. Sherlock simply tosses him the piece of paper in his direction, and I hear the tires screech. The next few minutes go agonizingly slowly, despite our dangerous (and undoubtedly illegal) speed.
"Are we nearly there?" Sherlock asks, as kindly as he can.
The cabbie harshly jerks the wheel. The images outside our window are blurred, making it impossible to tell where we are, even if I were in a calm state. After another dangerous turn, I grab the armrest and swear under my breath. Sherlock is beside me, rapping his fingers against his knee to distract himself. The terrified look on his face is not from the cabbie's driving.
As we arrive at the building, the car screeches to a stop and the driver quickly unlocks the doors. I thank him while almost tumbling out of the car. After Sherlock practically leaps out, he sprints up to the flat of the only person who has not answered his phone call. I hear nothing except Sherlock's quick, frantic breaths as he knocks frantically on the door.
No answer, again. But we really weren't expecting one, were we?
"Alright. I might be able to pick the lock..." I suggest helplessly.
"No time." He replies, and kicks open the door. In any other circumstances, I would be impressed. But there's no time for that now. We run up the stairs, blood stains already appearing on the carpet; not a particularly good sign. We find the door at the top ajar, a breeze from the window keeping it open. I hang around at the top of the stair, frankly; scared of who, or what, is in there.
I feel my stomach turn at the sight.
Now inside the room, Sherlock steps over the body, struggling to maintain his calm composure. He blinks several times, squinting a little at the person lying dead underneath his feet. Just to make sure, he takes the pale wrist and checks the pulse. He flinches when he realizes the obvious; there is none.
I take a moment to calm down, attempting to breathe in fresh air when all I get is stickiness and humidity. And it smells of blood. I clear my throat, and Sherlock looks up in reply. His eyes are large, and bore into mine, urging me to say something. I struggle to think of something that could comfort him; something like he used to say to me when I woke up in a sweat, panicking. Unsurprisingly, I come up with nothing.
Sherlock lets the hand drop to the floor with a dull thud.
Gideon, the man I met less than a week ago, is sprawled on the floor, shot at the back of the head. Execution style. His once clean office is chaotic, the back window shattered. But what strikes me is the red letters painted on the wall behind Gideon's desk. Wait, red letters... Painted with blood. I shake my head, trying to clear the foggy feeling threatening to overwhelm me. I squint as I read them, my eyesight a little shaky with the panic.
It took only one bullet. I have more.-JM
That's it. That's all it says. But it is not only a taunt; it is an outright, arrogant threat. It sounds like him, alright. Which means that Moriarty was here. For all we know, he could have been the one who pulled the trigger. He did say that he didn't like to get his hands dirty, but this is personal, isn't it?
I peer down the stairs, Sherlock follows me, and we and spot Lestrade in the middle of a conversation with Anderson at the foot of the stairs. Sherlock is pale faced and blank, Lestrade insisting that Anderson be gentle with the situation. Lestrade sees me at the top of the stairs with a look of relief, and gestures for me to come down. I hesitate, and then slowly descend while passing Donavan on her way up. She avoids my gaze, carrying her forensic equipment.
"John. I'm sorry you had to see that. Really, you should have called us before you entered...but never mind. You're alright? Physically, I mean..." Lestrade trails off as I reach him. I nod, my eyes flicking back to Sherlock, still standing motionless even as Anderson, Donovan, and pretty much all of Scotland Yard crane their necks to get a look at him. He walks down the steps; head held high, grabs my hand and takes me outside.
"Please." Is all he says.
I need no explanation.
Chapter 7: Protocol
“Can I see him?”
I am losing my patience, yet Lestrade is surprisingly gentle. I’ve seen him at work; usually compassion doesn’t come into things. But he is making this a little more bearable, at least.
“John, he has to be interviewed. You know how long that takes. We have to find out the details, and we have to put those in danger into protective custody. That includes you.”
“What the hell are you on about?” I splutter, making no attempt at remaining calm. “You’re not going to let him see anyone?”
Lestrade looks grim, and very uncomfortable. But I continue, even though part of me knows that this won’t help in the slightest. The other part knows that I can wear him down eventually.
“Listen. Do you have any idea what that will do to him, Greg? It’s bad enough that you’re grilling him like a common criminal, but you’re also going to isolate him? Pretty much placing him into solitary confinement is not going to help, and you know that. It’s a whole lot of bull-...”
Lestrade places a hand on my shoulder, the other one gesturing for me to take a moment. I breathe in, and he begins to speak.
“Calm down, John. You will be with him, we’ve worked that out. He’s only agreed to give up information provided you stay with him. It seemed fair enough. What’s difficult is getting the rest of the names. He seems to think that keeping them to himself is the safest thing for them.” He rakes a hand through his hair, looking stressed and far more tired than I’d seen him in a long time.
I throw a glance towards the door, just about making out Sherlock’s silhouette in the glass. I stay still for a few moments, and then allow Lestrade to lead me outside. He promises to take me to our new living arrangements personally.
Woah. That part hadn’t really sunken in yet. We’re going to have to leave Baker Street. I ask him for how long, half afraid of what the answer will be. I’m assuming that “indefinitely” isn’t exactly good news.
Lestrade reassures me that Sherlock will be back before I know it, but I doubt that. Although this is a unique case, these interviews aren’t exactly short and sweet.
In the car, there is no attempt to make conversation, and I prefer it that way. Frankly, I am too drained to do anything at this point. We pass St Bart’s, and to my surprise, I spot Molly. She is standing beside the ambulance, in her thick coat, shivering a little.
The car comes to a halt, as Lestrade needs to deliver a quick message to the coroners. He whispers something in Molly’s ear, and she looks towards the car and back. She is directed towards me, and she silently makes her way over. She soon spots me, and she gives a little wave, with a sad smile. As we pull away, I see the staff wheel out Gideon’s body.
The gurney is moved quickly out of our sight, but I still catch a glimpse of the the tarpaulin covering the body, glistening in the rain.
The next few minutes are tense; nobody speaking, barely any movement. As we pull up to a heavily guarded apartment block, the doors open and we are shepherded out. A friendly man named Henry is introduced to me as my assigned guardian.
“He’s just here to make things safer, John.” I am told.
Molly’s guardian, Michael, is treating her well. That's makes me a little happier. He removes his coat and wraps it around her shoulders, bringing her over to a flat across the street. I catch her eye as I am taken to mine.
My flat is quite some distance away from Molly's. We have to avoid each other as much as possible. For safety reasons, they tell me. So instead of trying to catch Moriarty, they are trying to keep us separate. And God only knows who else?
After a ten minute walk, and three flights of stairs, I am inside the apartment. Henry's just across the corridor, and he can't stop reassuring me that he'll be there if I need him. I nod to show my appreciation, and shut the door, tired of having to function like this.
I put the kettle on, inspecting my surroundings as I do so. I am about to give up on this and go to sleep, when I remember that Sherlock should be home tonight. The least I can do is to be here for him, so I dawdle around the kitchen as the minutes tick past.
At quarter past one, I hear a key click against a lock. Feeling a bit woozy, (after the cup of tea, I made the unwise decision of having a couple of shots of whiskey) I wander into the hallway to find Sherlock and Henry standing, discussing protocol from now on. Apparently I'm not going to be continuing work anymore. I make many attempts to catch Sherlock's eye, but he always diverts his gaze.
As he leaves, Henry looks apologetic, but I simply ignore it; I'm tired. Not just emotionally, but physically. I need a break.
"Don't, Sherlock. Don't apologise. This isn't your fault."
"It's not yours, either." He retorts.
We spend the next twenty minutes getting ready for bed, moving slowly around, half asleep. We don't say much, really. We decide that enough has been said today.
The nightmares are considerably worse that night.
Chapter 8: First day nerves
"John?" A voice calls out from the hall.
Having just thrown back my fourth cup of coffee, I feel a little groggy. Most of the lights are off, and all I've been doing all evening is staring into space. I tried flicking through a few TV channels, but attempting to distract myself was pretty pointless.
Despite it being four in the morning, I recognize Sherlock's voice instantly. I can hear him fumble at the lock with his new keys (Henry must have been waiting outside the flats all night), and he opens the door and drops them. They send a surprisingly loud ringing noise throughout the rooms, causing me to jump a little. I switch on the ceiling light and watch Sherlock as he trudges into the hallway and stops, surveying our new home.
No, surveying our new flat. This is not a home.
If I can describe Sherlock using one word right now; it is exhausted. He just seems to be drained. He looks as though he's trying to begin conversation, but I interrupt him with an invitation for some tea. He accepts.
I stir the mugs, leaving a teabag in Sherlock's (the way he likes it), trying to break the uncomfortable silence with a few friendly questions.
"Did you meet Henry?"
"It's a nice place, isn't it?"
"I think Molly is settling in alright..."
His answers are brief: 'yes' or 'no' or 'mm, yes, lovely.' Except for the last one, to which he replies with...
"Mrs Hudson and Lestrade are settling in alright too."
I frown slightly, not to look angry but to convey my surprise. Mrs Hudson and Lestrade? Where were they? I open my mouth to ask this when Sherlock explains.
"Lestrade had to leave his wife and kids behind."
Of course he did. He was the only one of the four who had any immediate family members. They would be in as much danger as we are.
Sherlock makes a few half-formed excuses, and then goes in search of the bedroom. I follow him, not to make more small talk but to finally get some sleep. What little we can get, anyway.
Contrary to my expectations, I didn't have a single nightmare last night. I just couldn't sleep. I would close my eyes and they would fly open again within a matter of seconds. I didn't toss or turn, all I could do was stare into space. After three hours in bed, I am up again.
The phone rings, unfortunately, as I am still finding my way around (and rather sleep-deprived), it rings out before I find it. Moments later, my own mobile vibrates in the pocket of my dressing gown.
Mycroft's speech is muffled at the other end of the line; then again, mine mustn't sound so great either.
"John, would you like me to send a car for you?"
"What do you mean?-..." I ask, stifling a yawn mid-sentence.
"I secured a small job for you." He informs me. "It's right here in my office building, so it's safe. It's not for too long, just temporary. I just assumed that...you wouldn't like to spend too long in that flat." His voice stiffens on the words "that flat."
"Thanks." I hang up, and slip the phone back into my pocket. Just...what just happened?
Sherlock makes his way into the kitchen, gets himself a glass of orange juice and sits down with the newspaper, all without making a sound. He seems unusually focused on the business reports when I question him about the job offer.
"He's probably just trying to keep your mind off things." He suggests, while taking a sip of juice. "Distractions. There aren't that many of them around here." He gestures around the kitchen with a dismal flick of his hand. Frowning, I query him a little more.
"What about you, then?" I wonder, placing my elbows on the breakfast bar and looking over at Sherlock. "You're the one who quite literally can't deal with boredom."
He shakes his head dismissively, turning the page of his newspaper.
"I've got a few cases. It's not that you can't help," he adds, seeing the affronted expression on my face, "It's just that they're a little...basic. Mycroft wants me to lay low." He finishes with an eye roll.
"Yeah, ok. When I ask, the answer is no; Sherlock Holmes never lies low. But when it's Mycroft, you follow it as if it was the law..." I tease.
"No offence, but Mycroft is the law, John."
Henry has to escort me to the awaiting car, and checks Anthea's ID a few times before he allows me to sit in. He still looks a little suspicious of Mycroft's assistant, but I can't really blame him considering that I don't even know her real name. She smiles warmly in my direction, however. Maybe she's not as cold as I'd thought.
The drive to the office buildings is as long as you would expect, due to their placement in central London. About forty minutes of the near one hour journey is spent in traffic, talking awkwardly with Anthea and the driver- a small elderly man, most likely ex-military judging by his pristine uniform. The usual 'terrible weather we're having' makes the trip seem twice as long as it already is.
As I arrive, my coat is taken by a young man at the door. When I thank him, he simply nods, hides his face and turns his back away from me. Confused, I follow him in the doors, and upon seeing Mycroft I ask him about the doorman.
"What? Oh, him. Never seen him before. It's probably just his first day nerves, John."
I see the man walking back out the doorway, staring pointedly at the front awning as if he were following a target...
I duck, just as a gunshot sends glass shattering on the marble floor.
Chapter 9: Moran
I had an uncomfortable feeling about that young man from the first time I lay eyes on him, which was, coincidentally, five minutes ago. He looked...programmed. He was too focused, as if he were a soldier carrying out a mission. And it seems to me that he was.
Three shots were fired, and two people lay dead. I know neither of them, and breathe a sigh of relief for the second time today. I feel guilty for doing so almost straight away, as their friends rush to their sides. The screams I hear next send shivers down my spine.
"Call an ambulance now! He's dying!..."
Mycroft's hand simply twitches towards his phone when another shot rings out. This time it seems not to be aimed at somebody, but to serve as a warning. A deterrent. Call for help and you die.
"Thanks for the coat, Johnny, old pal."
Moriarty's voice oozes with arrogance, this power that he now possesses pleases him greatly.
"Giving it to a stranger was a rather...foolish decision, wasn't it?" He croons, stroking his gun gently, surveying the destruction he's caused. Nobody moves, it's... eerie. It's as if not one person even dares breathe in case they attract his attention. He is in absolute control. He can do whatever he wants.
He is soon joined by the young man with my coat. He can't be more than twenty five, and his face has changed from absolute calm into awestruck amazement. His eyes practically glaze over as Moriarty flashes him a grin.
"John, I don't believe you've been properly introduced to Sebastian?" He indicates to the man by his side.
I let my eyes drift over to Sebastian's face, which is now twisted in a smug grin mirroring his...employer'? Boss'? I don't know their relationship...if there even is one. He could be just a kid, hired as a distraction. But the look on his face when he sees Moriarty, it's not just admiration. It's complete and utter adoration.
"Sebastian's been a loyal friend to me, John. You and your buddies in the Yard made things a little more complicated for me, what with having to "die" and everything. But, y'know..." He shrugs. "...it was simple in the end."
"Why do you need him?" Is all I manage to ask, getting to my feet. "You seemed to be having enough fun on your own."
"Yes, granted, it was fun. But I needed company; it's such a lonely job." His drawl is answered with idolizing looks from Sebastian, who is now directly by his side. My coat is draped over Sebastian's shoulder, and I suddenly wonder...
"Was this all about the coat?" I question, thoroughly confused. They didn't seem to come here with the intent to kill as much people as possible- this was about him, Sherlock, and it seems- me, as well. His efforts seemed to lie solely on getting the coat. The both of them laugh softy and dangerously at my question.
Moriarty slips his hand into the pocket, and slowly fishes out the keys to the new apartment. Our new apartment.
Mine and Sherlock's...
"Oh, look here, Sebby. The key has an address on it. How convenient."
Mycroft has gone a sickly shade of pale, and I'm pretty sure that I'm about to be sick. He has the address, he knows where we live, and he knows how to find Sherlock. And God only knows what other information he can get, or already has.
There is complete silence now, not even Moriarty says a word. They stand in silence, relishing the effect they've had. After exchanging one glance, they both simultaneously make their way towards the exit. Nobody stops them, due to the unfortunate fact that both are heavily armed. Even from here I can see an ankle holster underneath Moriarty's trouser leg, and what looks to be a semi-automatic in Sebastian's back pocket. And that's just the weapons that they wanted us to see. They open the door, and with one last triumphant look around the hall, walk outside. To freedom.
As soon as the coast appears to be cleared, several different mobile phones are whipped out and within ten minutes the majority of Scotland Yard are milling around the building.
"John." Greg catches sight of me, and looks solemn. Not a very promising sign. "He's alive, John." I smile, but only for a second. If this is good news, then why does everybody look so distraught?...
"He's with them, John. We couldn't get there in time."
I flinch, the words shocking me like an electric current.
"But he is alive."
"Of course he is!" I burst out. "They want to make it slow, painful..."
"We're going to find him."
"How do you know that?"
"Because of you. You are the final piece to their puzzle, John. They will come back for you."
“You were handsome, you were pretty, Queen of New York city…”
The drunks at the back of the bar sing along heartily to “Fairytale of New York” as I struggle to keep a steady grip on my drinks. I elbow my way through the thriving mass of the festive partygoers, and spot Lestrade waiting at a particularly small table. One or two of his heavily intoxicated colleagues attempt to cajole him into singing, and he smiles apologetically back at me. Anderson, having clearly had a glass of eggnog too many, has a tattered-looking Christmas hat placed on his head, and is belting out the song (gloriously out of tune, I may add).
As I reach the table, I hand Lestrade the pint he had ordered and I pull up a chair for myself.
“They didn’t have any Guinness left in the tap, Greg, but I know you like cider, so I hope it’ll do.”
I apologize to him after I take a swig of my beer.
“It’s fine, John.”
He dismisses my apology while watching Anderson, now flushed very red, sing the last few words with great vigour.
“And the bells were ringing out, for Christmas day…”
I sit back and attempt to enjoy the atmosphere. My first night out in nearly seven months, and damn it, the only thing I can think of is the intense depression which has consumed me ever since Sherlock disappeared. Sherlock. It’s been months since I’ve seen him in person. But trust me; I’ve seen his face constantly since then. I’ve seen him in news reports, missing person’s profiles, magazines, and every time I shut my eyes at night. My therapist says it’s severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I call it common sense. Nobody’s even caught a glimpse of Moriarty, let alone Sherlock, since that evening in May. All signs point to trouble.
There’s been no communication whatsoever, which is even more unnerving. I was told that Moriarty would be eager to boast at every possible moment, but all I’ve been getting is radio silence. Lestrade checks twice a day for letters or messages, to no avail. That being said, I haven’t exactly been sitting around doing nothing. I’ve called up all sorts of favours, contacted every acquaintance I have, and researched tirelessly. And in return, I found out nothing. Nothing at all. I’m not one step closer seven months on in the investigation than I was when Lestrade first told me that Sherlock was missing
. It’s the most horrible feeling I’ve ever experienced. Such an overwhelming helplessness, and feeling that everything you do seems to be futile. I should prepare for the worst, I’m told. Best case scenario; Sherlock is alive, but…not exactly himself, to put it lightly. Worst case scenario…well, it doesn’t exactly leave much to the imagination, does it? The only way the Worst Case Scenario will play out is violently, Lestrade informed me, and with a lot of casualties. Scotland Yard have made it very clear that we have to avoid the Worst Case Scenario at all costs, even if it involves abandoning Sherlock (if he is still, in fact alive).
I don’t want to think about that. I don’t want to think that far ahead, considering I can barely function now. I still have some form of a social life, however. I have long conversations with Mycroft, Molly and Greg (albeit usually over the phone), and sometimes even stop for tea with Mrs Hudson. I haven’t detached myself from society, but some days I choose to ignore it.
“John?” Lestrade’s voice has a well-concealed hint of anxiousness to it as he calls my name.“You alright, John?”
Back to reality, I nod as reassuringly as I can. “
Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, Greg. Just got lost in my thoughts. Anyway, did you see the game last night?”
Relieved, Lestrade launches away into a discussion about the controversial red-card in yesterday’s semi-final. I nod or shake my head every few sentences, until Anderson joins in.
“You saw that penalty, right?”
As the two begin a lengthy debate, I seize the opportunity to slip out relatively unnoticed. I clear my throat.
“I better head home, Greg. It’s getting late.”
Suddenly losing interest in the soccer discussion, Lestrade frowns and looks at his watch.
“It’s eight, John. We’ve been here an hour.”
I feign a yawn. “Yeah, but I’m wrecked, Greg. I’ll have some mulled wine and then I’ll go straight to bed, I think.”
“You sure, John?” Lestrade murmurs, his voice as mixture of disapproval and concern. I pick up my coat as discreetly as possible, but still attract a few curious glances and some not-so-hushed whispers.
“Positive. I’ll see you at the Yard tomorrow. Christmas Eve.” I add with a smile. Lestrade nods slowly, but appears to have given in. I weave my way through the crowd and am soon greeted with the frosty air that many a pedestrian have been complaining about the past few days. Last week, we had almost continual snow and temperatures well below zero, and it sure feels like it. I shove my hands into my pockets, and trudge through the remaining (and rather mushy) snow on the pathway. Doyle’s bar is, thankfully, a short distance away from my new flat.
I have to remind myself that the flat is not new, that I’ve had it for weeks and weeks. But it will always be the new flat, and one thing I’m certain about- it will never be home. Home is Mrs Hudson faking disappointment about the blood stains Sherlock left on her walls. Home is skulls, gunpowder and God-only-knows what else strewn all over the flat. Home is where Sherlock and I solved our first crime together. Home is 221B Baker Street, not some dark, dreary, lifeless apartment block, with nothing but bad memories and the smell of mildew attached to it.
As I approach said apartment block, all I hear is…nothing. An eerie silence. I open the door, step inside, and something catches my eye. An all too familiar shiver of dread rushes through my body as I see a small red envelope, with nothing but my name (written in flawless calligraphy) on the outside. I bend over, and tentatively pick it up. There doesn’t seem to be any imminent danger, but I know opening it here, by myself, would be stupid. Yet, I open it. A square Hallmark Christmas card slides out. A snowy scene coated with glitter is on the front of the card, and a strangely threatening message is printed on the inside. Ordinarily, it would not seem such an intimidating message, but upon seeing the signature afterwards, I feel as if I’m going to be sick.
Happy Holidays from the both of us. Looking forward to seeing you soon.
…Of course. Of bloody course.