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The Flat of the Blade

Chapter Text

 

How does it feel the weight of the steel
The weight of the steel of the flat of the blade?
How does it feel to kneel at the feet
To kneel at the feet of the choices you've made?
-- Flat of the Blade by Massive Attack

 

“Surely you have something to watch on telly, right? Isn’t some brainless reality show on that you could watch and then bore me later recounting all the details of? You know how much I adore hearing second-hand about television I wouldn’t deign to watch in the first place,” Sherlock said.

“No, nothing much is on tonight…unless you’d like for me to stay and watch something with you? To keep you company, you know. I know how lonely you get, now that John’s gone,” Mrs. Hudson offered kindly.

Sherlock gritted his teeth. That was NOT the response he was looking for, by a long shot. “No! No…no. Don’t you have any…phone calls to make?” he tried hopefully.

“No, no one I need to speak with this evening, I called my niece this afternoon and—“she began, but Sherlock cut her off.

“A letter to write?”

“I don’t—Does anyone actually write letters anymore? How old do you think I am, Sherlock?“

“A dog to walk. A fire to put out. Anything.” His voice was rising with impatience.

Sherlock.” She put her hands on her hips, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Maybe something womanly, then. I don’t know what sort of arcane rituals you’ve got. Maybe your hair needs setting or nails want doing or something that would make you go back to your own flat and stop haranguing me endlessly.”

“Oh, Sherlock.” She tutted. “Arcane rituals. Listen to you. As if you don’t have more ‘beauty’ products than I do. Or whatever you call them when they’re intended for vain men.” She ignored Sherlock’s scowl. “What you need is to eat. What you’ve had today wouldn’t keep a fly alive. Let me bring you some of my pot roast. The red meat will do you a world of good. You could use the iron. You look pale. Or paler,” she amended. She started bustling all around the flat, picking things up, putting them down, setting them to rights, straightening up clutter.

“Argh! See? You’re going to drive me to distraction, picking at me and finding things wrong when there is nothing wrong. I. Am. Fine! And don’t disturb my things,” he grumped.

Mrs. Hudson continued to ignore him. She began to tackle a pile of untidy, partially crumpled newspapers, refolding them into their correct sections and placing them into neat stacks. “You are not fine. I worry about you. It’s just like I said before John’s wedding, you didn’t know how it would be, that everything would be different,” intent on her newspapers, she failed to register that at this, his expression went from momentarily stricken to cultivated indifference. “At the time I said you’ve always lived alone, but that’s not really true, is it? I think you got used to living with John, and now it’s hard to go back to living alone, isn’t it, my poor, poor boy.”

The pity. That was the problem. That was what was making him speak so harshly to her; because if he didn’t, he really didn’t trust himself to be able to keep his voice steady in the face of that kind of pity. How much could he be expected to take? He couldn’t trust his voice to respond right away.

He took a deep breath and let her yammer on about her idea of nutrition, which included the unorthodox notion that red meat was a healthful restorative. He knew he could use this to his advantage.

“If I agree to the pot roast, will you leave me in peace to eat it?”

“Sherlock,” she said sadly, patting his cheek, “You know I only want what’s best for you.”

“What’s best for me is to be left alone.” He said, but there was no bite to it now.

She went out, clucking softly, back to 221A to make him a plate.

It was true that the long nights alone were the worst, and that Sherlock wouldn’t have minded Mrs. Hudson’s intrusions company nearly so much if she hadn’t felt the need to bring up John’s marriage constantly, his absence, and Sherlock’s alleged heartbreak over these conditions.

Never mind that it was possible she could be right.

A bit.

Part of the problem was that since shooting Charles Augustus Magnussen, Sherlock was supposed to be keeping a low profile, on the orders of the British Government. Not just his meddlesome, irritating, irksome brother, but really the rest of the British Government too. This meant he wasn’t solving nearly as many cases for Scotland Yard as he had been before his Great Hiatus. This further meant he had an abundance of free time. Free time was not his friend these days (or ever, really; the wall, with its spray-paint/bullet-hole if smile could have attested to this, had it the power of speech). There were only so many scientific experiments he could dream up, after all.

Sherlock was checking to make sure that Mrs. Hudson hadn’t displaced anything important with her straightening up when the landlady returned with a platter. “Where would you like it?” She asked him.

“Coffee table,” he said, and swept a space free for it. Said table was covered with stack upon stack of CDs. All of them were recordings of Bach. “Goodness, Sherlock, this place is a mess, you know. Why don’t you let me tidy some of this up for you? Just this once? Even though I’m not your housekeeper, I could help you out this once.”

“No, thank you, Mrs. Hudson. Just now I want all of this just as it is,” Sherlock replied, sitting on the sofa and picking up the plate and fork.

She went to the kitchen, filled the kettle, and put it on. She turned to the table, which was covered with beakers and tubing. “And this?”

“Needs to sit for another few days before it’s ready to be analyzed. That’s why I’m not eating there.”

She clucked some more, then busied herself again at the counter as the kettle clicked off. Sherlock huffed with soft impatience as he saw her return to the sofa with two mugs of tea. So much for leaving him in peace, then.

She began picking up the CDs and examining them. At least, he noted, she was careful to replace them in the same order they were in before she’d disturbed them. “I’m confused.” she said, “These all have different covers, but they all look like they’re the same thing over and over.”

“They’re all different recordings of Bach’s works for violin, performed by different musicians. I’m making a spreadsheet tracking the differences in the recordings, and I’m going to write a monograph on the subject,” Sherlock explained.

She tried to smile brightly. It looked pained. “Sounds…so interesting!” Mrs. Hudson said, utterly unconvincingly.

Sherlock snorted, “No it doesn’t. Not to you. You’re a terrible liar. It is to me, and that’s all that matters, since I’m the one doing it. I thought said you were going to leave me in peace if I ate this.”

“And I thought you said you were actually going to eat it,” she returned archly.

It was true. He hadn’t taken a single bite, or a sip of the tea. He raised the mug to his lips and drank as she nodded her approval. It was hot and very sweet, just the way he liked it. She knew him well. She and John both made his tea just how he liked it.

“And the roast?” she asked.

There was also mashed potatoes and peas. He cut off a piece of the roast and chewed and swallowed mechanically. It tasted fine, he supposed, but he had almost no appetite most of the time, and it just seemed so heavy and rich and…meaty…after so long of eating so little. But a promise was a promise. He took a bite of the potatoes. “There, are you satisfied? I’m not going to waste away to nothing.”

“All right Sherlock. I just worry about you here all alone.” She said, softly now.

Sherlock dropped the angry act. Because he really wasn’t angry with her at all. How could he be? But on the other hand, he didn’t want her here all night reminding him how pathetically alone and bored he was, because really. It was his turn to fake cheerfulness. He hoped he was doing a better job than she had. “I’m fine. Really. See? I have my pot roast and a project to keep me busy.”

“Well…good night then,” Mrs. Hudson said, a trifle uncertainly.

She retreated to her own flat and Sherlock sipped his tea and used his fork to smash the peas one at a time, thoughtfully, as he regarded his new stereo system and considered his plans for the evening.

He’d bought the stereo for himself when he’d started spending so much time alone. He’d never been much of a telly or movie person; he’d watched with John, and once John had gone he may as well have gotten rid of the television set for all the use it got. Music, on the other hand, was essential, and he decided that a top-of-the-line listening experience was little enough to want, considering. And hooking up the complicated speaker set-up had taken a deliciously long time. There were speakers in every room, and he could control them with the complex remote that came with the system. Music anywhere he wanted, or everywhere, if he wanted. He was immensely pleased with it.

He had not begun his project with the Bach recordings yet, and had only begun gathering the CDs. What if he started by playing each piece himself and then recording his observations about his own interpretation of the score, and then comparing those with the recordings he’d obtained? Yes, that would really be something new and interesting! He squished the remaining peas triumphantly, all at a stroke, watching the small green explosion that resulted.

He looked at the ruins of the peas with distaste. What would John say about you playing with your food like a child? What does it matter now? Oh, stop it. There’d been a couple of biscuits around midmorning, but no proper meal that day, really. He ate another bite of the roast, but decided that really just wasn’t happening. He wasn’t a big meat-eater at the best of times. By this time, the plate was an unappetizing, cold mess of mangled roast, pulverized peas, and cold potatoes. He scraped the meat and pea-smears into the bin and went to the refrigerator.

John would have the vapors when/if he saw this, for sure. A ghost of a smile crossed Sherlock’s face at the thought, and a picture flashed through his mind of John once opening the refrigerator to find a severed head and then abruptly closing it again. Sherlock smiled again, more strongly this time, at the memory.

The refrigerator held almost nothing. No milk (of course), and almost no real food. There was a bag on the bottom shelf, which contained another bag, which contained three dozen (deceased) white mice. This was not what Sherlock was looking for. There were a few unmentionable horrors in plastic containers in the back that possibly once contained edible items, but which now didn’t bear closer scrutiny. On the shelf on the door was the butter dish. Sherlock removed it, lifted the opaque white lid and gave it a sniff. It seemed ok. Considering some of the things he’d ingested, he was willing to take the chance.

He popped the plate, now containing just mashed potatoes into the microwave to warm them back up, and added a liberal amount of butter and salt. This was more like it; nice and uncomplicated, if he had to eat something. He placed the plate in the sink. He felt more virtuous for having eaten some non-junk-food item. It was almost a meal.

It must be getting on toward bedtime. He looked at the clock. 8:30. How could that be possible?

He was used to being up until all hours. The night and its silence stretched out ahead of him bleakly. This. This was why he needed a project, and why it was better if the project involved music. Well, no time like the present.

Sherlock went through the bedroom, undressed, and wrapped himself in a dressing gown for the night. He came back out and unsnapped his violin case, removed the instrument, and settled it under his chin. He might as well start with the Sonatas.

ooOOOoo

Engrossed as Sherlock was in his spreadsheets and the music, he had several thoughts occur nearly simultaneously: 1.) that he had not probably blinked in some time, and that he should probably do that now or his eyelids might never unstick from his corneas 2.) Bach solo violin sonata recordings did not include percussion and that if they did it would not be so 3.) Staccato, nor would it be played on a door that way. And getting louder.

“Sherlock!” It was Mrs. Hudson. Pounding on the door.

Sherlock grabbed the stereo remote from the coffee table and stopped the CD. “Sorry, Mrs. Hudson.”

“Two in the morning, Sherlock! The same song, over and over. You’re going to drive me right around the bend!”

“It won’t happen again, Mrs. Hudson.” He really was sorry, even. It was a thing that happened these days once in a while, which never used to happen before. Something about being away for two years had taught him how to do that.

Two in the morning! Well, there was another night successfully killed off. Sherlock plugged a set of headphones into the appropriate jack, settled them onto his ears, and then lay back on the sofa and let himself drift away.

If he was lucky, he wouldn’t dream.

oooOOOooo

“Wake up, lazybones. It’s half-ten. Lestrade’s been texting me now, because he can’t get you,” John said. There was a smell in the air of eggs and bacon. Toast. Sherlock felt an unfamiliar hollow feeling in his belly. Hungry. He’d woken up hungry for the first time in he couldn’t remember how long. He said nothing as a steaming cup of coffee was placed next to his head on the coffee table. “Breakfast, and then up and dressed. We have a case,” John continued as he headed back to the kitchen.

Sherlock didn’t move. He was afraid to even breathe, but he looked over at John where he was working on breakfast at the stove. Sherlock felt a warm surge in his chest at the sight of him. John was here. He was here. John.

“There you are. Fell asleep on the sofa again, did you. That’s where the few years between us must make all the difference. My back would be yelling at me all day, if I did that, I’ll tell you, to say nothing of the shoulder. Just waiting for the bacon and breakfast is done. Hope you’ll eat something this time, you look like you could use it,” John said, shaking his head a little. He was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a burgundy cardigan that made the blue of his eyes look like the sea after a night storm, and Sherlock was struck dumb with gratitude at his presence. He didn’t know how or why he was here, and in the illogic of dreams he didn’t question it. John.

So many mornings that used to be like this and I didn’t know just didn’t know that we wouldn’t have them always and I didn’t understand that just having coffee sweet from someone else’s hands was something I should have held close since solitude had just been neutral before I didn’t know how bitter it would be now and I didn’t know that having a friend could feel like that and I never had one before so I didn’t recognize the moment when having a friend became being in—delete—I didn’t know. What if I had said thank you more? What if I had remembered to buy milk sometimes? He used to get angry. What if I could’ve been sorry then? But I can say thank you now. I can say it. I don’t think this is even real so I can say it. I can say everything.

But he could say nothing. He tried to open his mouth and it wouldn’t.

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? You can talk, you know,” John smiled at him from the kitchen, but then his face began to change from John’s face into another face Sherlock had known, in another, less pleasant place. “Because I know how to make you tell me the things I want know. There are so many ways to gain information from the unwilling, Mr. Holmes.” The cardigan became a long, green, military-style coat. The spatula grew into a long, evil metal pipe.

Sherlock jerked awake in the cold dimness of the early morning.

In the dim silence, the instant Sherlock was fully awake, the thoughts came like demented birds, circling, cycling faster than he could process them for removal: What if I’d taken John with me? No I couldn’t have. I can’t even have wanted that, considering how things turned out. But what if he could have been informed of what happened, of what had to happen, by Mycroft, not right away but some time after; Mycroft could have informed him and what if then? What would John have done then? Would it have made a difference? Balance of probability is that having decided on a course of action he would have followed through anyway. But would it have changed his reaction to my return? What if I had taken into my calculations that he wouldn’t ever have believed I was a fraud? Would that have changed my planning? What if I had said from the roof “You’re right John, keep believing in me, no matter what.” What would it have changed? What if Mary had killed me with her shot? Nothing, I suppose, is what. What if he hadn’t thrown that memory stick into the fire? Was there anything on it? What if Magnussen had real documents I could have seen? How could I have been so blind about that? Mind Palace, obvious. Unforgivable. What if I had returned to Serbia? Would I be less numb right now or more? We shook hands before I went to the plane. I couldn’t speak but I took his hand. Like that other time when we raced through the humid London streets for our lives after he punched the Superintendent and I took him hostage. And we ran, breathing the free air, chained together, and no one could stop us, and all of Scotland Yard couldn’t take us, and then we sat in a darkened room, side by side, silent, and if only I knew then, really knew then. I knew then but not like this. Not like this and then I lied to him like nothing mattered to me and I sent him away, and then I was gone and when I came back it was me he laid out on the floor with rage and nothing’s been the same. What if

STOP. Delete, delete, DELETE!

Although it was not quite 6AM, Sherlock rose from the sofa to clean his teeth and make tea. He would return to the Bach Project so that he could refrain from the Self-Recrimination Project.

Chapter Text

The evidence of Sherlock in the throes of an extensive project was clear. While his personal hygiene was still impeccable, because it would never not be unless being undercover for a case absolutely demanded otherwise, everything else in the flat had gone to hell. There was little sign of actual food consumption, because little food had, in fact, been consumed over the past six days, however, the remnants of barely-eaten meals were here and there around the flat. Mrs. Hudson had cleared away some of the plates when she’d come by to try to force either food or companionship on him, but more often she had been shooed off. Mug after mug of tea, some empty, some full but forgotten and cold, were arrayed around the lounge on the coffee table, the mantel, and on other available surfaces. CD cases were strewn everywhere.

Presently, Sherlock was wrapped in a sheet, not having bothered to dress at all after getting out of the shower, dark curls corkscrewing wildly from under the band of the noise-cancelling can-style headphones he wore. He was listening to his seventh version of one of the Partitas for possibly the fifteenth time on repeat, eyes closed, seated in his chair, fingers steepled under his chin.

He never heard John unlock the door or come up the stairs.

Sherlock opened his eyes, and there John was, watching him with a look that was equal parts fond, amused, and undecided, as if he’d been trying to figure out how best to go about not startling Sherlock.

Sherlock was startled, anyway. Just like in his dream, John had suddenly materialized where no John was expected to be, but his reaction now was not the blissful gratitude he’d experienced when John appeared then. Mortified by his nakedness under his sheet, Sherlock’s eyes widened in alarm, and he bolted for his bedroom leaving a bewildered John in his wake.

Sherlock cursed himself for his overreaction as he began dressing. “John, I’ll be right out,” he called.

“Um, all right. Are you ok? It’s not like you’ve never done the whole sheet thing before. In the Palace and all, with an audience larger than just me, you know,” John said, uncertainly. “I, um, used to live here and everything…”

Right. But that was different. That was then. That was before I knew that I… Sherlock thought. No. Delete.

“Fine, it’s fine. I was just…surprised.” Sherlock replied through the door.

When Sherlock emerged from the bedroom, it was in his usual button-down shirt/dress pants combination. Sherlock still felt like he was wearing less clothing than he should be; he felt exposed, somehow. He was not about to show it. Since Sherlock’s return from the “dead,” and especially since the marriage, John had made it clear in every possible way that he wanted business as usual, and safe distance, and that was what Sherlock had worked to provide.

Sherlock stood before John at a respectful distance and adjusted the cuffs of his shirt, which conveniently gave him something to do with his hands, and someplace to look. He hated how awkward and strange things still felt when they met. “To what do I owe the pleasure, John?” he asked.

John, who’d seated himself in “his” chair while Sherlock dressed, looked surprised, and sounded a trifle hurt. “Do I have to have a reason to come by to see you?”

Now it was Sherlock’s turn to be surprised. Since John had gone back to Mary after Christmas, Sherlock had only seen him once—when he’d gotten off the plane and into Mycroft’s car. That had been three weeks prior. Even before that, John had become something of a seldom caller. “No. No, of course not. The door is always open. Obviously.” He found that he was having difficulty meeting John’s eyes.

John noticed.

“Sherlock…look. I…”

Sherlock felt an emotional conversation coming. He had an almost overwhelming urge to flee, like he had just about every other time conversations had turned emotional. Emotions. He had them. Always had. However, maddeningly, since his return, suddenly he couldn’t always hide them like he once had. This made escape whenever possible an attractive option. But there was nowhere to go. It was his flat for God’s sake. It would be a little ridiculous to leave.

“Sherlock, look at me.”

With an effort, he met John’s eyes briefly, then looked away again. He moved to the sofa and busied himself with his laptop to cover his discomfort.

“Are you sure it is? I wasn’t going to start off with this, but.” John struggled for words. He paused and then began again, “I came to say this, and I’m going to say it. Well, it means a lot to me that I am. Welcome here, I mean. If I am. I’ve been thinking a lot, and well, I don’t know if I haven’t heard from you because you haven’t been going on cases, or because you’ve been busy, or what…or if you’ve just wanted some space. Because if that’s what it is, I’ll respect that and go,” John said, and then he stood, squaring his shoulders, as if to make good on that offer. Sherlock did, then, finally, really look at him, because that was one hell of a speech for John.

He could see all over that John was trying hard to be the Captain, but that it was costing him. John…John missed him.

Suddenly his throat felt tight. John had been waiting all this time for Sherlock to contact him? Why? Why would he do that? There was something about their friendship that John could miss? This was intolerable. How was he going to speak? But he had to, and make it sound just the same as it always did. He must not betray himself.

“John, of course you are always welcome here, and I would never avoid you. In fact, look around you. I’ve been driving Mrs. Hudson to distraction with my efforts to amuse myself without you around to keep me out of trouble,” he said. His voice was only a little husky. It would probably pass muster.

John seemed to buy it. He looked immensely relieved. “What about your cases, then? You’ve been doing them alone?” He asked.

Sherlock rolled his eyes, “I’m supposed to be keeping a ‘low profile’ because of the Magnussen affair.”

Sherlock’s phone pinged, but he ignored it. The only person he currently wanted to talk to was right here.

“So there haven’t been any cases? That explains the state of the flat,” John said ruefully.

Sherlock snorted. He considered explaining his lack of work in greater detail, but the situation of the Not-Work was just depressing beyond words, and he was happy to have John here in his presence. He could dwell on the utter uselessness of his life without the work later, when he had nothing but time to contemplate it.

His phone pinged again. Twice. He continued to ignore it. He sat in his own chair across from John. He liked to imagine the picture they made sitting there, wreck of the room in Level-Two-or-So Squalor notwithstanding.

“Are you planning to get that?” John asked, indicating Sherlock’s mobile.

Sherlock could hardly have looked more disinterested. “Tea?” He asked John.

“Do you have a single clean mug left?” John asked, grinning, getting up from his seat and beginning to gather them up from around the lounge, “Tell you what, I’ll make it. It will be like old times.” He went to the kitchen with the armful of mugs and began to rinse the kettle.

Sherlock tried not to smile too much.

He found this impulse very easy to obey when he heard the door to 221B open again and the heavy tread of Mycroft Holmes on the stairs.

Really? Now? They hadn’t even had the tea yet.

Sherlock heaved the gustiest of sighs, and greeted Mycroft with, “Why DO you insist on ruining a perfectly good afternoon with your presence, both uninvited and unannounced? Are you bereft of even the most basic manners? Mummy would be appalled. She taught you better.”

Mycroft did not alter his usual sour-ish expression. “Good afternoon, John, always a pleasure. I texted you twice, Sherlock. It’s not my fault you can’t be bothered to check your phone. I am here on business. I am informed that you are about to be approached about a case that under ordinary circumstances I would urge you to take, but considering the Magnussen debacle and the need for you to keep yourself, shall we say, under the radar, I must compel you to decline.”

“For whom would I be taking the case, and what are the circumstances?” Sherlock asked, sitting in his chair with his hands folded, curiosity clearly piqued.

“For no one, because you won’t be taking the case. Surely the less said the better, but for someone of comfortable circumstances who has lost something of value and would like to see its expeditious return. It’s not even the sort of thing that normally interests you, lost items and the like. It doesn’t matter. You can’t have it. Say no when asked,” Mycroft commanded.

Sherlock’s face was like thunder. Both brothers suddenly looked many years younger than they were.

John, who had turned toward them upon Mycroft’s arrival, sank back against the kitchen counter and put his face into his hands.

“Well, this is clearly the way to go about quashing his interest. Well-spotted,” John said.

Sherlock was on his feet. “I’ll remind you I am not in the custody of the Crown and am still free to come and go as I please.”

The point of Mycroft’s umbrella thumped to the floor. He stood straighter and said, “A situation that could be remedied if required, Brother Mine.”

Sherlock moved into Mycroft’s space and hissed, “You wouldn’t dare try to put me into custody. You can’t imagine what would happen if you did.”

Mycroft didn’t back down an inch. “Don’t try me.”

Neither did Sherlock. “Don’t try me.”

John trotted in from the kitchen. “Gentlemen! This escalated quickly. Let’s just…tea? Anyone?”

“No, I think Mycroft was just going,” Sherlock said dangerously, not backing off or breaking Mycroft’s gaze.

Mycroft didn’t look away, but he relaxed his posture first, signaling his desire to try to talk sense into his little brother, “Sherlock, I am not kidding. You cannot be seen out and about assisting peers of the realm with their lost jewels in your current situation. You killed a man. Not just any man, an enormously wealthy, powerful, famous man. You are supposed to be behind bars. We can’t take the risk of having you on television or the in the tabloids just now. Anyway, it’s just the sort of thing you always say you hate, people’s boring stolen jewels and the stuffy old peerage. You find it all dull beyond belief anyway.”

Sherlock said nothing, but flopped onto the sofa, pulled his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around them like a child in a monumental strop.

John, taking in this exchange said, “So what, he’s not allowed to take any cases, or just the ones that involve grand rich people?”

“My preference would be for him not to take any cases, but really, none involving people of status or that come from Scotland Yard, or which would involve a lot of visibility—the possibility of press,” Mycroft said.

Sherlock continued to ignore them.

“So, really, no cases, in other words,” John reiterated. “And how long is this supposed to go on, forever?” he was beginning to anger. “It’s just another form of incarceration, isn’t it? There are no bars on the windows, but it’s the same thing.”

“And you would be angry with me for putting him in this situation, would you Dr. Watson?” Mycroft asked coolly.

“You’re the one telling him he can’t pursue his life’s work, and that he’s got to stay trapped in these walls, so yes, I am,” John said defiantly.

Mycroft did not seem to feel terribly defied. “Oh, interesting. And I suppose I am the only one culpable for the situation in which Sherlock now finds himself, am I, Dr. Watson?”

“Mycroft!” Sherlock said sharply.

Mycroft exhaled once, and this was the closest John had ever seen him to wavering in his control.

“I notice I’m ‘Dr. Watson’ when you don’t like what I’m saying,” John observed.

Mycroft began evenly, “I am working on building a body of evidence that can be presented to the public showing that Magnussen was an enemy of the crown and the people, which would justify his elimination. Although he had more blackmail schemes going on than you can possibly fathom the man was nothing if not careful and thorough covering his tracks, and of course none of his victims are exactly eager to step forward to corroborate. It’s going to take time. Until then, we require Sherlock’s cooperation.”

Silent again on the sofa, Sherlock’s mind was running itself through its paces. What if I hadn’t? Would it have mattered? Maybe Mary would have found a way to kill the bastard herself anyway and then I wouldn’t be beholden to my brother. Maybe—

“And how far do you expect the concept of cooperation to extend, exactly?” John asked.

“My, we’re inquisitive, aren’t we? John? Perhaps one ought not to inquire too far, if one wants not to hear things one might not wish to hear,” Mycroft replied testily.

John narrowed his eyes and said, “I don’t know that you’re implying exactly, Mycroft, but I’m not so stupid I can’t take a hint.” This whole conversation was getting nastier than he expected and John felt out of his depth. While he and Mycroft had never and would never be the best of mates, something was going on here that John was clearly missing.

Mycroft gave John a chilly smile. “Aren’t you?”

Sherlock decided it was well past time to put a stop to this. “Mycroft, your point’s been made. Get out.”

Mycroft must have agreed that his point had been made, because he turned to go. “It’s the one thing I always love about coming here, the hospitality.” With a last flourish of his umbrella he began to descend the stairs.

After the door closed behind him, John said, “Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have poked at him that way.”

Sherlock’s posture relaxed perceptibly on the sofa the moment the door closed. He waved his hand dismissively, “Oh no, don’t apologize. He deserved it. He always deserves it…So. Some lord or other and stolen jewels,” he said thoughtfully.

“Mycroft’s right, it’s just the kind of thing in the old days I’d try to get you to take to supplement our income, and you’d turn your nose up at it as being too dull,” John said.

“Hmph,” Sherlock didn’t want to admit that at this point, he’d take the case of someone’s lost dog from a leaflet tacked to the nearest tree if it meant getting out of the flat and solving something (and especially if John was going to come too and he could not be by himself doing it).

John asked again, “Have you really not been on a single case since Magnussen?” He shook his head disbelievingly.

Sherlock tried to sound less pathetic than he felt when he answered, “Lestrade brought me some cold case files to work on without leaving the flat, but that’s it.”

He could see John fighting to keep the pity off of his face. He appreciated the effort, because if pity was hard to take from Mrs. Hudson, it was going to be damned near impossible to take from John. “Sherlock, are you allowed to? Leave the flat?”

Sherlock replied with some small degree of sarcasm, “I’m not under house arrest, if that’s what you mean. I’m just not supposed to draw attention to myself.”

John smiled, again fondly. He knew it was very hard for Sherlock not to draw attention to himself by the mere act of existing in the world. “Have you?”

“Have I what?” Sherlock asked.

John looked at him with his The-Doctor-is-In-look. “Left the flat.”

Sherlock answered just a hair too quickly, and too sharply, “Yes, of course I have.”

“When? When was the last time?” John smelled blood.

“It—wasn’t that long ago,” Sherlock answered. And damn! He should be better than that, but when was the last time? Wednesday? Friday? Maybe it was Thursday. Definitely not longer ago than Wednesday, though…

John looked grim. “Right. And when was your last proper meal?”

Sherlock was a little more firm on this point, although he knew he was dissembling, “I ate just yesterday.”

But John was too used to this trick. “That’s not what I asked. I mean a proper meal. With real meal food in it, not just biscuits, and tea does not constitute a meal.”

“You’re as bad as Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock grumbled.

“Maybe I should ask Mrs. Hudson when the last time was you ate, since I can assume you haven’t fed yourself,” John admonished.

Sherlock was suddenly kind of glad John never did finish making that tea, and thus hadn’t seen the sad state of the cupboards and refrigerator.

“Well,” he said checking his watch, “Just as well it’s about noon, and that you’re allowed to leave the flat, because I’m taking you to lunch. How’s Chinese sound? You need to get out of here for a bit. Blow the stink off you.”

Sherlock was about to be indignant at this turn of phrase, but he looked at John standing there where he hadn’t for so long and found he had no argument to make.

“Give me five minutes.”

oooOOOooo

 

Sherlock was getting better at doing the things not-sociopaths were supposed to do. Thus, at lunch with John, he remembered to ask after the health of John’s pregnant wife, even though that same wife had once technically killed him. He congratulated himself a little on his magnanimity, for what it was worth.

“How’s Mary feeling,” Sherlock asked, swallowing a mouthful of noodles.

John likewise finished chewing before responding, “She’s fine. Huge, not that she’d appreciate my saying so. It’s getting close now. So what was with all the CDs all over the place in the flat?”

So, Sherlock deduced that John would rather not discuss Mary. No problem, she wasn’t exactly Sherlock’s favorite topic of conversation, either. That whole shooting-him-in-cold-blood thing, previously mentioned. Conversations concerning her were full of potential land-mines. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Sherlock explained with a bit more detail than he’d given Mrs. Hudson about the Bach project. John asked semi-intelligent questions. Sherlock then asked John what he’d been up to. He knew that’s what you were supposed to do in conversations. He’d learned. He listened with an approximation of interest to John’s Harrowing Tales of Colds and Flu from the Suburban Surgery. He figured it was only fair that his mind wandered a bit during this recital, because John didn’t seem much more interested in the telling.

Sherlock found that part of the reason his mind was elsewhere was it was already hard at work formulating a plan for a case he hadn’t even been commissioned for yet. He was eager to set his plans in motion.

Chapter Text

Sherlock invited John back to the flat, but he said he needed to get back. While Sherlock found this disappointing, he could tell that John’s regret about cutting their afternoon short was real, and he believed John’s sincerity when he claimed he would return soon. It was no polite platitude that he would just fail to follow through with, Sherlock was fairly certain, and everything about him felt lighter, even though he also felt full to bursting from their lunch.

The promise of a case, albeit (or perhaps especially) one about which he had to take extra precautions also was a reason for Sherlock’s lightened mood. As soon as he returned to 221B he took a sheet and hung it in the window where he always stood when he wanted to think or play the violin. His phone lit up with a text instantly.

What do you think you’re doing? –MH

Problem? –SH

What’s with the sheet? –MH

Must you surveille me constantly? –SH

Must you answer questions with questions constantly? What is with the sheet, Sherlock? –MH

If it is illegal to hang a sheet in my window to have a bit of privacy from time to time, have me arrested. Otherwise, piss off. –SH

Don’t tempt me, Little Brother –MH

Sherlock’s next step was to contact Billy Wiggins to let him know that he would likely need his services in the coming days, and those of the Homeless Network, if they were interested in making some money.

Nothing dangerous. I need to be out and about incognito. You can help me blend into the crowd. –SH

What did you have in mind mr. holmes? Are you going to go out as shezza again?

No, nothing like that I don’t think. I’m still considering options. I’ll let you know when the time comes. –SH

That’s good because shezza seemed to make people really angry and I don’t really want anyone trying to break my arm again.

Sherlock smiled at this, and even a little at the memory of Molly slapping him. It was nice to have people care about you. (The idea that it might be a little not-standard to have people smack you around to show that they care did not occur to him.)

Still feeling very full and unusually content, Sherlock settled in on the sofa and opened up his laptop. He had shopping to do. A lot of shopping.

oooOOOooo

Sherlock, I must insist that you uncover the window. –MH

Sherlock, do not ignore me. –MH

You are being juvenile. –MH

Sherlock, answer me. –MH

oooOOOooo

Less than a week had passed, and John had already been by the flat twice. The first time, they’d watched some terrible action-adventure film together, and John had pretended to be annoyed when Sherlock told him how it was going to end less than five minutes in, and they’d consumed popcorn that John brought and made with tons of salt and butter, just the way Sherlock liked it. Sherlock tried not to stare too much at John’s profile instead of the screen, and not to let his heart burst with joy, and vacillated between that feeling and disgust with himself for being as easily pleased and pathetic as a stray mutt off the street. He was sure that John must see how he felt, and be disgusted with him as well.

However, John did not seem to notice, and he came back two days later, this time with groceries, and found Sherlock deeply involved in his CDs and sheet music.

“Don’t stop playing! It’s been so long since I’ve heard you. How about I just put these things away and then I’ll make us something for dinner?” John asked.

He cooked a pasta dish for dinner that Sherlock had enjoyed when John had lived there and had done the cooking. They didn’t talk a lot during the meal, but it was a companionable sort of quiet, not the awkward, strained silences Sherlock had come to dread.

They were finishing up and Sherlock picked up his plate and John’s to bring to the sink.

“What’s this then, you washing up?” John asked.

“Well you’re not here anymore. How do you think it gets done? Elves?”

“Well, I’ll do it,” John said.

“That’s alright, I’ve got it. You cooked,” Sherlock replied.

“I always did the washing up. You’re making me feel like a guest,” John said.

Sherlock stopped. He felt wrong-footed. He didn’t want John not to feel at home here, but he was trying to show him how much he was better now, as well. He wasn’t the same person he’d been, one who didn’t appreciate. That person who took. His shoulders drooped and he didn’t know what to do.

John laughed, but gently. He seemed to see Sherlock’s confusion. “C’mon. Why don’t you just let me help, then.”

So they did the washing up together. The low warmth that Sherlock always felt in John’s presence glowed warmer, in his fingertips, in his chest.

What if I hadn’t come back, like I thought about not ever coming back? If I had stayed gone I would have never had this. That means that decision, at least, was the right one, at least as far as today is concerned. What if this is what there is for me now? It’s enough, isn’t it? It can be enough.

STOP. Don’t ruin it. Nothing but time for this later.

But for once he didn’t try to delete.

When it was time for John to go home, Sherlock was sure he didn’t imagine the sigh, or that it seemed to take John a while to actually go.

He also realized they hadn’t really talked about Mary much at all.

oooOOOooo

The very next day, one Lord Cantlemere arrived at 221B, in some state, with his valet.

 “Sherlock! I had the doorbell reinstalled after the last time you took it out. What happened to it now?” Mrs. Hudson cried, “Didn’t you hear the door?”

“Oh, Mrs. Hudson, I thought I’d made my position on the doorbell quite clear. I removed it again, of course. It’s in there.” He indicated a jar of formaldehyde on the mantel, with a doorbell floating in it.

She was too flustered to react to the desecrated doorbell. “There’s a man to see you. A Lord Cantlemere and his valet. Sounds very important!” She said, in impressed, hushed tones.

“Oh, well, send him right up then,” Sherlock said, mimicking her tone, and rolling his eyes. He preemptively took a seat in his chair, so that no one else would sit in it. The self-important ones always wanted to steal his seat. He didn’t know how they always, always knew.

He did, at least, rise when his guests arrived, buttoning his jacket. His parents had taught him some manners, and his brother wasn’t around for Sherlock to annoy by being intentionally rude.

“Good afternoon. Sherlock Holmes, I presume? I am Lord Cantlemere,” said Sherlock’s prospective client, after looking all about the flat imperiously. He sniffed, as though he smelled something offensive. Sherlock was reminded of the visit he’d had from Magnussen and his minions, although Cantlemere was much more overt in his disdain, whereas Magnussen had been more condescendingly dismissive. Sherlock felt like he was becoming a connoisseur of the personality quirks of egomaniacs.

“Good afternoon, Your Lordship; you are correct, I am indeed Sherlock Holmes. Please, have a seat,” Sherlock replied. He decided not to say anything more, but to let the client do the talking. He observed that Cantlemere was a sickly looking, thin man in his late sixties with a face that looked like it was tasting rotten citrus. His hair must have been dark in his youth, because he was trying to keep the dream alive by dyeing what remained black. Cantlemere seated himself stiffly in John’s chair with the valet planted at ready attention behind him. (Sherlock never learned the valet’s name, because Cantlemere never introduced him, but Sherlock was delighted that he had a valet. Not a PA, a valet.) He took a good forty-five seconds to one minute before he was satisfied with his comfort in the chair. He drew himself up with the air of a man about to make an important announcement, and then, he spoke:

“Mr. Holmes, I’m not going to waste a lot of time engaging in social pleasantries. I’m a busy man with important affairs to which I must attend. I am aware of your rather sensational reputation, and was reluctant to seek your services, first of all, because I don’t really believe you are all you’re cracked up to be, and because I abhor the idea of there being any press attention to anything pertaining to me. However, I am consulting you for two reasons--first of all, because I was advised strongly not to do so. Allow me to explain. I mean to say that I understand that you will therefore have ample cause on your own account for discretion. Secondly, working through official channels has gotten me nowhere.”

“As is unfortunately so often the case,” Sherlock said in his best understanding tone, thinking Oh, if only John were here. He would just love this one. Aloud he said, “And what seems to be your trouble, Lord Cantlemere?”

“A stolen diamond. But not merely any diamond—the Mazarin Stone. A jewel so fine it is without peer and almost without price. It was taken from a locked safe in my home. It was also in a locked case, but the case is gone with it,” Lord Cantlemere said.

“Hmm,” Sherlock hummed. “The Mazarin Stone. Is that the big yellow diamond that was featured in The Guardian a while back? About its priceless rarity and all that? It was going to be exhibited in the Natural History Museum, wasn’t it? For charity?”

“Well it was going to be, but it’s not now obviously.” Cantlemere said bitterly.

Sherlock snorted, forgetting he was trying to be on his best behavior here, “I can see why you don’t want any press, if you manage to lead a thief right to your prize diamond with a newspaper article.”

Spots of color appeared on Cantlemere’s cheeks. “Do you think you can help me or not, Holmes? I didn’t come here for your ridicule.”

“Relax, Your Lordship, I wasn’t ridiculing you. I’m good, but I’m afraid I’m going to need a bit more to go on if I want to have a go at finding this diamond. How long had you had it?” Sherlock asked him, steering the conversation back to the matter at hand.

“It’s been in my family for generations. I should have never allowed it to be photographed for the paper, and should have never agreed to lend it out to the museum; I’m sure the Children’s Cancer Society would have found something else for their exhibit.” he said sadly, shaking his head.

Sherlock schooled his features to avoid showing the repugnance he felt for this man. “And where, exactly, do you live, and where, exactly, in your home is the safe? And what sort of safe is it? You understand I’ll want to come to your home, preferably with my colleague Dr. John Watson to see the safe and the layout of the house myself.”

“Can I be assured of Dr. Watson’s discretion, Mr. Holmes?” Lord Cantlemere asked.

“Nothing could be more sure,” Sherlock said placatingly.

So Lord Cantlemere submitted to an interview about his missing diamond, and, it seemed, Sherlock once again had a case, very much against the wishes of the British Government.

As Lord Cantlemere was rising to leave, Sherlock said, “Lord Cantlemere, I must ask a small favor from you. You mentioned discretion, and alluded that I might also have reason to wish to be discreet. You were correct. I would appreciate it if you would mention this transaction to none.”

“Mr. Holmes, you may be assured I will speak of it to no one,” he assured the detective with a small bow.

With this, Lord Cantlemere and the valet, who had not spoken nor been spoken to the entire time he’d been in the flat, left.

Sherlock held his mobile in his hand and waited for it, and was not disappointed.

Scarcely had the door closed when his phone lit up.

I presume that you would know that I am aware that a certain person of importance has just left your flat. –MH

Sherlock considered replying, but then figured, why break his streak of ignoring Mycroft now?

After ten minutes, another text arrived.

I trust you declined to take the case as you were instructed, although he was there a regrettably long time for that to be the case. –MH

Sherlock didn’t even entertain the possibility of replying to this, since he would have to dissemble at the very least, and probably lie outright. Not that he minded lying to his brother per se, but if he could avoid doing so in text, he’d really rather. Who knew in what way that could come back to haunt him later? One thing he’d learned in the past three years or so was the value of circumspection. Besides, it might actually be to his advantage to goad his pain-in-the-arse brother into one of his meddlesome visits so that he could see Sherlock’s flat just as it was.

Perhaps you were just advising him? –MH

A RESPONSE would be most appreciated, Sherlock. –MH

Oh, he'd driven Mycroft to all caps, had he? How delightful. Everything regarding the case was shaping up just as Sherlock had hoped. For now, he was ready to return to his Bach. He went to his violin, which was by the window with the sheet. For the moment it suited him to play with the sheet over the window where he would be visible in silhouette only. He set up his laptop to make an audio recording, settled the instrument at his chin, and began to play.

Chapter Text

Sherlock hadn’t felt quite the way he did today since his cocaine days. Here it was. He was going to be out there again, finally on the streets of London, his London. Their London. The Game! The Game Was On! For the first time in Oh! So! Long! How Long? You couldn’t even count Magnussen as The Game, not really, because the stakes had been so high and so personal, and things had not been right with John then, not the way they felt now. Things were better now, he felt it in his marrow. They were getting back the friendship they had, and they were going to do this case together. A good, old-fashioned probably-maybe-just-complicated-enough diamond heist with the added incentive of pissing off Mycroft when he found out about it, and of course he’d find out about it. Balance of probability was that he would be on to them within twenty-four hours, so that would be like an extra challenge—they had to solve the thing before he put a stop to it. That was likely to be the largest difficulty, in fact.They were going to solve it, and they were going to be brilliant, and John was going to remember what it felt like to bring a criminal to justice, to find something that was lost, to be in it together--

You are pathetic. Is this really all it takes? A diamond stolen from some careless puffed-up aristocrat and the crumbs of John’s attention? You really are a sad fucking case, Holmes. Maybe if you slink up to his feet he’ll give you a treat and scratch you behind the ears, too. STOP. DELETE. He refused to allow his good mood to be spoiled. He’d spent too much time on the preparation for this case to allow that to happen.

He felt his elevated heart rate, the steady surge of excitement. He couldn’t wait to be off.

He’d pulled the sheet from the window at regular intervals to confuse watchers. To anyone looking presently, Sherlock was at the window, playing his violin. Just as it should be. Nothing out of the ordinary. Things at 221B looked from the ground as they had for the past several weeks.

He’d texted John, and he was set to arrive at any moment.

Ah, there was the door now.

Sherlock retreated to his bedroom. He had an entrance to make. He was just about giddy with anticipation. He left the door cracked so that he could watch John’s arrival and reactions.

John ascended the stairs.

“Sherlock!”

The sounds of Bach on the violin filled the flat.

“Sherlock?”

John reached the lounge and cocked his head to one side, confused. There was Sherlock at the window with his violin, wearing his blue dressing gown and a pair of silk pyjama pants, and the music was apparent, but something was obviously wrong. He wasn’t moving. Why wasn’t he moving? Sherlock could read John’s thoughts as clearly as if he were broadcasting them. He could hardly contain his mirth.

“John,” Sherlock said from behind him.

John whirled around, badly startled.

Sherlock raised both hands in a calming gesture, then lowered them slowly.

John’s mouth dropped open and stayed that way. He appeared unable to speak.

Sherlock was dressed as a woman. Nothing so obvious or over-the-top as an evening gown or anything crazy like that, but he was wearing tight blue jeans, black knee-high boots, a v-neck black top, and modest false breasts. He had a wig that approximated what his own hair might have looked like at just below chin-length, dark and curled. He hadn’t thought there was much that could be done for his angular face, but he’d done what he could by watching Youtube videos about makeup application, and had worked with contouring and highlighting to careful effect to try to soften the lines wherever he could. He was very pleased with the results, which were startling in the extreme. Who knew one could gain such effects with quality cosmetics and a little patience?

“Something might fly in, John,” Sherlock said.

John’s mouth snapped shut. “I’m sorry. What?”

“Your mouth was hanging open.”

“Oh. Sorry. Sorry! It’s just. Just.” He gestured somewhat helplessly from Lady Sherlock to the figure in the window and back again, and just looked so sadly bewildered that Sherlock decided to take pity on him. He laughed gently.

“You heard Mycroft. He didn’t want me to take the case of the lord with the stolen diamond. He wants me to stay here and work on my Bach monograph like a good little prisoner of the Crown. Well, I have other plans,” Sherlock said.

John walked over to the window and investigated the figure there. “Why, what the hell is this? It’s…it looks just like you but…” John looked it over a bit, sticking his finger into the figure’s silicone mouth. “Jesus Christ, Sherlock is this a bloody fucking sex doll?

“John. That is an important and highly specialized piece of detective equipment procured for the solving of a heinous crime committed against a member of the peerage, who would himself inform you that he is a very important man,” Sherlock placed his hands on his denim clad hips. Sherlock saw the moment John noticed that the nails were painted red. He rather enjoyed watching John shake his head as if to clear it.

“Yes, but the mouth on the thing. Is. It. A. bloody. Sex doll?” John asked him again.

Sherlock maintained his dignity with great effort. “It could be. A bit.”

“A bit.” Then John met his eyes and it was all over. They both exploded with laughter. Within moments, John was holding his sides and Sherlock had tears streaming from his eyes.

“John! Do you have any idea how long it took me to get…to get this makeup right? It’s going to be all ruined, and it’s going to be all your fault,” Sherlock said, gasping and hitching.

John too was trying to catch his breath. “Where do you, even you, manage to get a sex doll that looks just like you, you arrogant sod? Only you. I can just see you now. John straightened up, imitating Sherlock’s regal posture, and attempting to mimic his baritone, ‘I know,’” he said, holding up one finger as if a brilliant idea had just occurred to him, “’I’ll purchase a sex doll in my image. Of course there must be such things in the world.’ Why would you even think of it? Where do you buy a thing like that? What in the ever-loving fuck?” Having calmed down, at this he lost it all over again and doubled over in hysterics.

Sherlock couldn’t even speak for long minutes. Then he finally wheezed out in his best What an Idiot You Are tone, “Well, I didn’t just go out and buy it. It’s bespoke. Obviously.”

“Oh my God, Sherlock. No kidding. You mean to tell me they don’t sell them off the shelf looking like you? I meant where? Oh never mind,” John’s breathing was beginning to return to normal. Almost.

“Oh John, don’t you know by now all things are possible with the power of the internet?” Sherlock said, wiping the tears from his eyes carefully, trying not to further damage his eye makeup. “I have to try to fix these cosmetics. Bill Wiggins and a couple of people from the Homeless Network are coming by. We’ll leave with them and try to blend in so we won’t be so obvious to the surveillance cameras. That’s what my double over there is for.” Sherlock indicated the violin-playing-sex-doll.

“I see. So we leave with them, Mycroft’s surveillance sees that in the window and thinks you’re staying home like a good little—“He stifled more giggles. John went back to the window again to examine the Sherlock-double. “This is really something. This is no blow-up doll stag-party gag gift. You must have paid a pretty penny for this.”

Sherlock shrugged noncommittally. Truth was he had plenty of money, and always had. He didn’t spend extravagantly all the time, but when he wanted something, like his stereo or nice clothing, he bought it.

While John was examining the wheeled contraption Sherlock had rigged up so that the doll could be easily moved from place to place around the flat, Sherlock retired to the loo to fix his cosmetics. John began to pace around the flat, and then asked, “So what’s the case, exactly, anyway? I know it’s a diamond, but I figure it must be some kind of special diamond to warrant all this.”

Sherlock cut his eyes sideways, a mascara wand in his hand, just in time to see John craning his neck to see what Sherlock was up to in the loo. Sherlock did a double take. I know better. Really. But if I didn’t know better, I would think he was checking out my arse in these jeans. Really, John. I’m not even REALLY a woman. For God’s sake.

The door to the flat banged shut heralding the arrival of Bill Wiggins and the Homeless Network operatives. John exclaimed, for Sherlock’s ears only, “They don’t look homeless…”

“Well no, I’ve provided clothing. We’re going out to investigate at the home of a well-to-do person. We may dress casually, but I don’t think they’re going to let street people into the home of Lord Cantlemere in Whitehall,” Sherlock explained.

“Right. So what are we investigating then?” John asked again.

“The theft of the Mazarin Stone. An immensely valuable yellow diamond that disappeared from Cantlemere’s safe. I’ll explain more on the way,” Sherlock promised.

“Any ideas so far?” John asked.

“Six. But I haven’t seen the house or the grounds and have hardly gotten to ask any questions. Let’s go.”

oooOOOooo

The valet was doing a piss-poor job of concealing his impatience with the denim-clad lady at the door. Sherlock thought this valet didn’t seem like the sort of person whose job it was to answer the door at a posh person’s Town House. (Shouldn’t there be a butler for that anyway?) Come right down to it, it sounded like he was forcing everything about his interactions, from his mannerisms, to his accent, to his etiquette, as though it were all learned behavior, and hastily and somewhat recently learned at that. Interesting. Very, very interesting. He’d set John to interview one Sam Merton, who was Cantlemere’s personal driver, but that looked like maybe not being necessary. This was looking promising. He’d actually hoped this case might prove more challenging, but then there was always the small matter of figuring out where the stone actually was.

“Lord Cantlemere does not wish to buy any magazine subscriptions, and would like for you to leave his property immediately,” said the valet.

“I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?” asked Sherlock sweetly, in a voice several octaves higher than his own.

The valet huffed. “I don’t see why it matters, but it’s Nigel Sylvius.”

Sherlock reverted to his normal voice, “Finally we formally meet. Sherlock Holmes. You remember me, of course. Why don’t you talk to me about your employer, Lord Cantlemere, Mr. Sylvius.”

The look of shock on Nigel Sylvius’s face was really quite gratifying. Sherlock was enjoying the disguise thing so much.

oooOOOooo

That evening he had the pleasure of watching from his darkened bedroom doorway as an irate Mycroft entered the flat without bothering to knock and began chastising his violin-playing double in the window. The lights were dim in the flat, otherwise there was no way that Mycroft would have been fooled even for the brief time that the ruse worked.

“Sherlock, I should have you thrown in prison for defying my direct orders, and taking that case, AND ignoring my calls and texts for days! Sherlock, put that instrument down this instant and listen to me! SHERLOCK! ARHGH!”

Mycroft actually left his feet when Sherlock leapt out from his bedroom, yelling “Hah!” behind Mycroft’s back. Mycroft looked like he might be about to have a for-real heart attack, and Sherlock, who would never be accused of having an excess of fraternal affection, collapsed into his chair crying with gales of laughter.

“That’s…that’s what you get for trying to tell me what to do and keeping me imprisoned here. The case is solved. You’re too late to stop me. I’ve already discovered the culprit. All that’s left now is to actually find the stone and give it back to the owner. Oh my God, your face. Do you have surveillance cameras in here Mycroft? I certainly hope you do, so that you can watch yourself later.” At the thought of Mycroft doing that, Sherlock started laughing again until his sides hurt. He had not felt this good since...since before Jim Moriarty's trial, certainly.

He couldn't wait to tell John about this.

Mycroft did not say another word, but turned on his heel and left him cackling there madly. As Irene Adler had once sagely advised, Mycroft Knew When He Was Beaten.

Chapter Text

The third night after John and Sherlock began the Case of the Mazarin Stone found them both seated in their respective chairs, Scotch flowing liberally after a post-case meal. Sherlock had filed away some deductions for later consideration about this deviation from their normal behavior. On their way back to the flat, John had asked the cabbie to stop off for just a moment, and had returned with a bottle in a bag. He’d poured himself a respectable dose while they’d waited for the Thai delivery to arrive, and had asked Sherlock if he’d wanted any. Not wanting to look like too much of a lightweight (although, who was he kidding) he’d accepted, and just tried to pace himself.

Sherlock found himself reminded strongly of John’s stag night and had to push back against those memories hard all evening.

What if—DELETE. DON’T EVEN START. But that night. It had been…nice. Relaxed. And then. He stumbled? Out of his chair. His hand. He. NO. DELETE. But why was this even happening? John never drank like this after cases. At least not to this extent. Was there trouble at home? Did he drink like this often there now? With his family history and as a doctor he had to know he was playing with fire if he was making this a habit.

Sherlock found it was easier not to worry so much after the third drink. He was no longer entirely certain how many John had consumed. More than four. Possibly fewer than six or seven. Possibly.

“Oh my God, Sherlock, my favorite part, my very favorite part, besides the look on the poor posh bugger’s face when he found the diamond you’d planted in his pocket—how in the fuck did you do that, anyway? Was the look on his face when you told him it was his valet who had stolen it,” John clapped a shocked hand to the side of his face and exclaimed, mocking Cantlemere’s voice, “Not my Nigel!”

“I liked going door to door pretending to sell magazines to get a look at the houses and having everyone in the neighborhood practically threaten to have me arrested. A nice girl like me! Not very friendly, were they, John?” Sherlock added.

“Oh, that was good too. And your skinny jeans. I rrrreally liked the skinny jeans. Can’t forget those,” John replied, tossing back the rest of his glass, and pouring another.

Sherlock knocked his back at a gulp too, his fourth? Fifth? and hoped he looked less ruffled than he felt about the slight growl in John’s tone as he commented on Sherlock’s attire. What could he be on about? Sherlock knew that alcohol sometimes had certain effects on people, but...best not to think about it right now, probably. “Yes, well, whatever, we solved it. I don’t care what happens after that. Never do,” he said, and tipped his head back, and closed his eyes. The room began to spin alarmingly. He was having a hard time making words that strung together into proper sentences. It was embarrassing, really, he was so pathetic with the drinking. It wasn’t fair. Well he couldn’t be good at everything, could he? He was sure John must have got good at drinking in the Army. Well, not everyone could have military experience, right? Military. Experience. Hmm. Hmmmmm-hmmmm. Oh, the thinky thoughts that phrase could lead to. To which that phrase could lead: military experience. Another drink, then? Or no. John was saying something, and he must pay attention to John. Very important to pay attention to John. Oh yes.

“Cantle-Cantle what was his name? Cantlemere! Right. Didn’t even have him arrested, I don’t think. Who in the fuck still has valets anymore? What is this, Downton Bloody Abbey?” John wondered. John sounded a little fuzzy too, Sherlock thought.

That was when the window shattered and the Sherlock-sex-doppelganger went flying to the ground.

All of John’s easygoing buzz was gone, and he was out of his seat in an instant, flying across the room to Sherlock.

“Sherlock! Down! Now!” John commanded, arms encircling Sherlock’s waist and hauling him to the floor before Sherlock could react. John’s gaze swept the room and their angle from the windows. He was apparently not satisfied with what he saw. “Crawl! Back! Away from the windows, Sherlock. Now! Go, go!” John waited for Sherlock to begin moving before he moved behind him. “Keep going. We have to get out of the line of fire from the windows. Go!”

“Line of fire. John. Jesus Christ.” Sherlock said, stunned. While he was less drunk than he’d been sixty seconds ago, to be sure, he wasn’t as stone-sober as John seemed to be, and he felt slow and stupid.

Sherlock’s phone, still on the coffee table, began to vibrate with a call. Mycroft, surely.

Sherlock made a move as if to go for the phone, and John sort of half-tackled him to the floor wordlessly. They lay there for a minute or two, both breathing heavily with delayed reaction, John’s upper body partially covering Sherlock’s, his hands on Sherlock’s shoulders. The knock to the floor helped sober Sherlock up a little further.

“You think it was gunfire, then, for sure?” Sherlock asked.

“Yes, what else would it be?” John returned.

“I didn’t hear any shots,” Sherlock replied.

John gulped, “That’s really concerning to me, actually.”

“Long range sniper,” Sherlock said. It wasn’t a question.

John nodded. He tightened his hands on Sherlock’s shoulders.

“John, if that’s the case, the sniper must think he got me and will be long gone. Can’t we go have a look now?” Sherlock asked.

“All right. But lights off. Torch only. And stay down.”

They did as John required and crawled over to the light switch first, turning off the lights in the flat, getting a small torch from the bookshelf, and then crawling over to the Sherlock doll.

John felt around for the bullet hole he knew he would find as Sherlock held the torch. He found it just above the hairline over the eye. He lifted the hair so that Sherlock could see it, then stood bent nearly double with his hands on his knees. He looked ill.

“John.”

“Call Lestrade.” John’s voice had that quality of forced calm it got when he was holding back rage.

“John—“ Sherlock tentatively began again.

“Sherlock, I need a minute, OK?” He sounded like he was trying hard not to lose his patience with Sherlock.

“All right John, I—“

“What the fuck, Sherlock?” Angry now. He turned and raised a hand to his forehead, walking a few steps away.

“John?” Sherlock wasn’t sure what John wanted, and was distressed. It wasn't like he'd asked for someone to shoot into his flat. John was angry like it had been his fault or something. It wasn't fair. He didn't know how to fix it, how to apologize for it.

“What is with you always fucking dying?” John said, voice cracking a little.

“I’m fine! I’m right here.” Sherlock felt his eyes fill and his throat burn. No, not fucking now. NOT NOW. OH GOD. Why does this keep happening? Why can’t I control myself?

John reached out and ran one hand into Sherlock’s curls, in the same spot where the Sherlock-doll had been shot, as if to assure himself that the skull was whole and intact, the skin unbroken. And here it is, proof he does care, yes through all of my horrible shortcomings and betrayals of trust. It is enough. It is more than I thought to have. Sherlock tried not to lean too much into his touch. He closed his eyes quickly, knowing everything would be made plain if he met John’s gaze. Just as Sherlock was beginning to consider whether he might ever be able to take another breath, he heard the door to his flat bang closed.

John’s hand dropped back to his side.

Mycroft, followed by several of his minions, was taking the stairs two at a time by the sound of it.

“Sherlock!” He called when he appeared. For all of their verbal sparring, his relief at Sherlock’s safety was obvious in his expression. “I thought it was that ridiculous doll that had been shot out of the window, but when neither you nor Dr. Watson answered your mobiles I had that slightest twinge of doubt. So here I am. If you’d just answered your calls, I might have been saved the inconvenience of coming personally.”

“Oh, you called? Sorry I missed it,” Sherlock said nonchalant as always.

“Mycroft,” John said, “’Will you be investigating this, or should we call in the Yard? Do you think it’s safe to be here?”

Mycroft knelt by the doll. “The immediate area is being swept and will be safe,” he said.

“Right, but if this is a long range sniper, which it probably is, sweeping the immediate area’s not helping us much at all, is it? Sherlock may never be safe,” John said bleakly, but with the air of a man in charge. “We need to get the bullet out of this thing and get ballistics to see what we’re dealing with. I feel like a sitting duck in front of this window. Now who’s dealing with it?”

Not for the first time, Sherlock admired the way John took no shit from Mycroft, not to mention anyone else. From the moment the window had exploded, the Captain had taken over. Sherlock felt the glow a little brighter every time John spoke.

“Call Lestrade,” Mycroft said. “I’ll have my people investigate the identity of the shooter, but get the Yard involved as well. It can’t possibly hurt.”

oooOOOooo

Calling Lestrade in meant having Anderson in the flat (he’d gotten his job back) among a whole cadre of other incompetents, but Sherlock was still too filled with a sense of unreality and Scotch to care very much about either. His couldn’t find it in himself to do more than glare threateningly at the Yarders he wished to keep away from him with their stupid questions. Lestrade, however, he deigned to allow to interview him.

“Any idea who might have done a thing like this?” Lestrade asked Sherlock.

Sherlock snorted, “Are you serious?”

“Alright, I guess you have enemies,” he acknowledged, “I was thinking anyone new, or specific you thought might have a motive for a thing like this.”

Sherlock, who was seated in his chair with his elbows on his knees, slouched uncharacteristically in exhaustion and merely shrugged.

Lestrade looked tired and long-suffering. “Well, we’ll let you know what we find out with ballistics, but like John said, some kind of long-range sniper rifle at a guess,” he sighed. “Look, you be careful and take care of yourself.” He sounded like a man who knows the advice he gives won’t be heeded even as the words were leaving his mouth.

Sherlock looked up at him like he was being a moron. “I fail to see how being my careful is going to have anything to do with it,” Sherlock said, “If someone wants to shoot me, they’re going to shoot me.”

Lestrade looked over to where John was talking with some of the guys from the ballistics and forensics team. Clearly he wished he had John’s support here. “You be careful all the same. I know how you are. I’m sure John’s got good advice to offer. Listen to John.”

Sherlock was saved from having to retort by Mycroft, who pulled Lestrade away, no doubt to bully him for the ballistics data as soon as it was available. Sherlock watched John from across the room and saw the way his eyes strayed back over to Sherlock every minute or less, as though to assure himself that Sherlock was really still there.

There was a sudden racket as two of Mycroft’s hired minions brought in boards and began nailing them over the shot-out window.

Sherlock wanted nothing more in the world than for all of these people, except for John, to get out of his flat.

After a while, they did.

oooOOOooo

“They took my doll,” Sherlock said, offering John a wan smile after they’d all finally left.

“You may get it back when the Yard is done with it.” John tried to smile back, but it was a weak effort.

“I’d better, or they owe me.” He stood with his hands in his pockets, slightly awkward. So very much had happened today, and he had so much to process, but he couldn’t bear the thought of being alone yet. He could tell John was about to go.

“I should be off,” John said softly, about to rise from the sofa, but Sherlock could see the hesitation he wasn’t even trying to hide.

“Wait just a bit, if you could, it’s already so late, and we didn’t get to talk at all after,” Sherlock said, careful to keep his voice from sounding needy or pleading. He didn’t think John would like that, and he knew that he wouldn’t like that. “I didn’t even ask Mycroft’s people or those idiots from the Met about the sniper, because I knew you would know, and I would rather know from you. What can you tell me?”

“I was a doctor, not a weapons expert,” John said.

“Still, I want you to tell me,” Sherlock said. He sat down on the sofa next to John. He resisted the urge to curl up like a boy being told a bedtime story. “You’re still knowledgeable about weapons.”

“Well, I can’t tell as much as I can when the ballistics report comes back and we know what kind of gun it was. Probably a sniper rifle, obviously?” He looked over at Sherlock, who nodded his acknowledgement, “But then we’ll probably be able to pinpoint it further. I’d like to know—British, American, Russian, what?”

“It may not matter, since the gun was likely illegally obtained in any event,” Sherlock said.

“True enough, but knowing what kind of gun will also tell us the range, of course. But no sniper, no matter how gifted, would be able to approach the max range of the weapon in normal London weather conditions, and particularly at night,” John said, “But a particular type of weapon may suggest a certain kind of military background…” he trailed off.

“Of course, excellent. These were the things I wanted you to tell me,” Sherlock said softly.

He thought John would be pleased, as he often was when Sherlock praised him for helping with a case, but he looked…almost upset and confused, also. Why did Sherlock always seem to say the wrong thing these days, even though he was more polite than he’d ever been?

John asked, “But why now? Moriarty’s network is gone, you said. Right?”

“I thought so, yes, and am going to have Mycroft’s people looking into it very closely not that they haven’t already,” Sherlock said.

“Because the idea that all this could start up again, with snipers and Semtex, and…” John said, his voice growing agitated.

A thought suddenly occurred to Sherlock that was startling to him. “John! When the police were still here, Mycroft said he wanted me to go abroad for my safety. Of course I told him to stuff it. Do you think that you and Mary—“

John cut him off, “I really don’t want to do that. Where did he want you to go?”

“America,” Sherlock scoffed. Then seriously he added, “But for you and Mary…” Even as Sherlock said it, it felt like something was being ripped right out of his midsection.

“That’s a big place,” John said, “was he more specific?”

“I didn’t give him a chance,” Sherlock replied. “I wasn’t going, and I had no interest in knowing any more. But you and Mary could go there. You could be safe there. You’re right, John. Moriarty has targeted you once John.” Well, more than once, but now was probably not the time to get into that. “He could do so again, you know he could.”

John shook his head, “I really don’t think so. Let’s wait and see what happens.”

He tried one more time. “If something were to happen to you or Mary or the baby…”

John looked distressed, “Look, Sherlock, you’re the one who just had an attempt on his life tonight, and it’s you I’m worried about just at the moment. I don’t…what are we going to do with you?”

“What do you mean? Doesn’t look like there’s much to be done with me.” Sherlock shrugged.

oooOOOooo

Later, Sherlock lay alone in his bed and ran over the events of the night, and what he recalled the most wasn’t the thrill of solving the case or the explosion of glass, it was the look of John’s cheeks flushed with Scotch as he relaxed into his chair, his eyes alight with humor. It was his voice of calm command and the fearless way that John had pulled him to safety. It was the feeling of John’s hands in his hair and on his face.

The questions were quiet tonight. He knew they’d be back. But tonight he knew the things he’d done, whatever the results had been, had been for John, and he was thankful he’d done them as he felt that warmth spread all through him, running through his veins as the Scotch had done.

oooOOOooo

The aftermath of what Sherlock would have titled in John’s blog The Case of the Sex-Doll Sniper (and what John would never have dreamed of being so flippant about) had one positive effect. First of all, it somehow made the papers, and let the world at large know that Sherlock was not imprisoned for the murder of Charles Augustus Magnussen. Sherlock’s best guess was that there was someone at Scotland Yard making an extra buck or two giving tips to the tabloids. The much-feared fire and brimstone that Mycroft promised would rain down if the public got wind of the terrible criminal Sherlock Holmes walking around free amongst the law-abiding never materialized, and the story sank without a ripple.

Sherlock was, after a bit of argument, allowed to resume cases.

“Even you have to admit that I am safer that way than hanging about in this flat like a sitting duck,” he said.

The ballistics report confirmed that it was indeed a bullet from a long-range British sniper rifle, but other than that, no one had anything at all to go on. Mycroft’s people continued to look for signs of where the shooter had been, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, and the trail was only growing colder by the day.

oooOOOooo

Sherlock was staking out the location of a possible counterfeiting ring on his own (John had had to work) when his mobile vibrated in his pocket. It was John.

You busy?

Sherlock was hiding behind a skip that smelled like it had about 400 rotting fish in it. Stakeouts were always so much more interesting in theory than in reality.

I am, in fact, the opposite of busy. I am on a stakeout. About to give it up as a bad job. –SH

I have something I would like for you to look at.

Case related? –SH

There was no response right away, but he knew John was nowhere near as fast a texter as he was.

No, look, it’s not something I want to text about. When can I meet you at home?

Sherlock’s hand went to the wall to steady himself at John’s unconscious use of the word “home.” He took a couple of deep breaths and replied.

You go ahead and get there. Let yourself in if you arrive first. I should be there in no more than 15. –SH

Sherlock took off from the alley at a dash and had his hand out for a cab before he even reached the street.

Chapter Text

I’m not good in a crowd; I’ve got skills I can’t speak of.

Things I’ve seen will chase me to the grave.”

 

 

John was uneasy most of the time, and he had no reason for his unease.

That only made things worse.

Once, John Watson had been a soldier. He’d been a doctor, yes, but also a soldier, and he’d known fear in Helmand. He was capable of handling fear without showing weakness. An observer would not see his fear. That didn’t mean he didn’t feel it. He’d known the acute, immediate fear of shots fired or exploding mortars all around him as he worked to save the lives of the men and women in his care. He knew the constant unease and lurking threat of the hidden IED, or the mistrust of the local you thought was a friend who was really a spy for the Taliban.

There were so many different types of fear John knew well. He’d lived through the war, through the terror of being shot, then the constant dread of death and the pain of the enteric fever he’d contracted in the hospital after being shot. He knew the panic of PTSD nightmares that came after.

Then there was phantom anxiety of coming home and having no place anymore, of not being able to sit with his back facing doors or windows. Of discomfort in crowded places. Of startling from sudden, loud noises. Thankfully, most of these things had subsided, many of them quite quickly.

James Moriarty reacquainted him with the kind of sharp fear he’d known in Afghanistan: the fear of the Semtex-covered vest, the fear of the dancing red dots of the laser sights. Moriarty taught him the anxiety of having only eight hours to solve the case before the madman was going to blow up the hostage.

John Watson knew the sick horror of watching helplessly as the person he cared about more than anyone he’d ever known in his life plummeted like a broken-winged raven to the pavement, the uncertainty that his life would ever have meaning again, the terror that he might just go on living forever in nothing but emptiness and grief without end.

After the gunshot that nearly took Sherlock from John a second time, he knew the fear of waiting, of seeing the surgeon approach with the verdict on Sherlock’s fate.

These were at least all fears and anxieties that John Watson could comprehend.

Never in his life had John spent more time ill-at-ease for no reason than he had in the past year.

What he was feeling was not any of those known factors. There was no reason for his at-loose-ends feeling. He tried to trace the first time he’d noticed the feeling. He couldn’t, not with any accuracy.

When had it begun, this feeling of disquiet? Not long after Sherlock’s return, surely, but his emotions from that time were all a confusion of the bitter rage he’d felt, which had largely left him by the time of the bonfire and the foiled Parliament bombing (though not completely—he didn’t think he’d ever really understand, or that the anger would ever really leave him entirely, not since he’d never gotten any kind of explanation why Sherlock had jumped. It wasn’t too much to ask, really).

Even though John was not a superstitious man, he started to wonder if the sense of impending dread and overwhelming sense of wrongness was some kind of premonition. When the shooting occurred in Magnussen’s office, even as he knelt at Sherlock’s side, he thought that was it, then, that’s why I’ve had that feeling. This. This was the thing that was coming. I knew it was something. It was this. But it wasn’t. The feeling didn’t abate after the shooting. If anything, it got worse. When he was confronted with Mary’s perfidy in the Empty Houses, he once again thought well there it is, then. If not the shooting, this is the reason for that feeling, but no. The feeling didn’t go.

He could never say just what the feeling was like.

Like there was something he was forgetting.

Like there was someplace he was supposed to be.

Like a song played in the wrong time.

Like there was word on the tip of his tongue.

Like there was a crisis on the verge of happening constantly, narrowly averted.

Like he was living his life on the flat side of a knife, waiting for the blade to turn on him, to pitch him sliding off the shiny surface, upending his life, leaving him clinging to the deadly sharp edge of the blade, the blood causing his grip to slip, to fall into—what?

Really—how could his life be any more upended than it already had been? John Watson’s life was not the picture of stability, was it?

So he was uneasy, waiting for the other shoe to drop, whatever shoe could possibly be left to drop. He looked more than twice every time he crossed streets, as if a lorry would spawn from nowhere to run him down.

Some of the habits he’d lost after the war, like scanning every face in a room when he entered, and checking for exits, were coming back to him. These weren’t habits he’d been sorry to lose.

And while he hadn’t been avoiding Sherlock exactly after Sherlock’s very brief exile, he hadn’t sought him out either. First of all, what he’d told Sherlock hadn’t really been bullshit. He thought maybe Sherlock hadn’t wanted him around on cases, or…something.

Ok, Christ. It sounded lame, even to himself in his own thoughts. Yes, yes it was. Bullshit. It sounded like the bullshit excuse it was.

But that feeling. The feeling of WRONG. It was always there. So no matter that he missed being Sherlock’s friend so much that he dreamed about him at night, the NOT RIGHT made John awkward and strange with Sherlock, and Sherlock was the most perceptive human being on the planet. Of course Sherlock could see something was wrong, but how could John possibly explain it when he didn’t understand it himself? He could see how much he was distressing Sherlock whenever they met. The wrongness, the foreboding, the screaming feeling of NOT RIGHT had never felt more present than it had been on the tarmac before Sherlock had gotten on the plane.

How awful that had been.

He wanted to see if a little time away from each other would fix it.

He should have known that wasn’t going to work. It hadn’t worked when they hadn’t spoken for a while after the wedding. There wasn’t any reason to think it would work any better after the plane.

And it hadn’t.

So John went to work on the days he had to work. He did his job. He came home.

And oh, his life was so deadly, deadly dull.

And the feeling of wrong, the disconnect, that feeling of being late to catch a train when he had no train to catch (or even more so, that he’d gotten on the train, but it was the wrong one, and now he was traveling ever farther from his proper destination), that feeling of needing to make a call when there was no one he needed to call (although there was someone maybe he wanted to call, oh yes) that feeling that this life—HIS life--wasn’t maybe what his life was supposed to be had John looking at the clock all day until BAM at five sharp he was pouring himself a drink, because that was the civilized hour to do it, because that was when a man without a problem would do it, just to take the edge off a hard day, and he wasn’t Harry after all.

Until eventually it was half-four when he poured that drink, and then four, because it four was almost five, wasn’t it? and Mary got home from her shift at five and she always gave him that look if he had more than one before dinner, so if he had the drink at four or half-four, then he could skip the one at five, and then not have to see that look. And who in the hell was she to judge him, anyway? That was a laugh, really when you thought about it, wasn’t it? Her judging him? What gave her the right?

She usually went up to change out of her work clothes around 5:15 or so, and then he was pretty well free to pour himself another and take it out to the lounge so that he could drink it out there while she was making dinner, and most times she wouldn’t notice that, and then he could manage to pour one more to bring to the table and it would look like it was his first and no one was the wiser.

Because honestly? There were plenty of nights he needed a few drinks in him to get through meals with Mary. He’d known she had an edge to her, of course he had. It was one of the things that had drawn him to her, her wit. How could it not have? She was smart as a whip and funny as hell when she wanted to be. Reminded him of—well never mind what or who it reminded him of. But when she wanted to turn her tongue to acid, look out.

He wouldn’t forget when he wanted to reconcile at the Holmes’s at Christmas, how he had worked up his nerve for so long to do that, and how she couldn’t make that the least bit easier on him—had, truth be told, been a right bitch about it.  Could she give a centimeter? No. As if she’d been the wronged party. He’d never seen that side of her before that day, not like that, but he had surely seen it since. She was doing a good job of not letting him forget that he’d missed most of her pregnancy. It wasn’t any specific thing she said, it was more of a passive aggressive attitude that was really hard to pin down. She was a master at it, and it was enough to make him feel like he was going mad—or to actually drive him there.

She didn’t do it all the time, but she did it often enough. He knew he wasn’t completely blameless. He knew that if he’d returned to therapy to see Ella and told her how he acted toward Mary, she’d tell him he was doing the same thing to Mary that he used to do to all of his girlfriends before Sherlock had jumped off that bloody building; he used to be “emotionally unavailable.” He knew it. He just thought that in this case he was maybe entitled to a little emotional unavailability, considering. The girlfriends? Mostly probably didn’t deserve it. His wife? Was a harder case to make. Emotional unavailability with Mary could easily be considered self-defense, John thought ruefully.

He wondered what Ella would have to say about the feeling of wrong John felt.

Even if John had wanted to see Ella again just on general principles, which he decidedly did not, he knew Mary would want to discuss it at length. He didn’t think he could explain it to her satisfaction. There was no way she wouldn’t think it had to do with her. He guessed he could understand that. If he were an assassin who had tried to kill his spouse’s best friend, he might be a little concerned about who knew about it too. At any rate, John felt that a little self-medication in the form of a few drinks over dinner was probably ok, considering the kind of strain his mind was under. He’d had rough patches before and had gotten through them.

It was under control.

But even at that, there were only so many nights of the growing feeling of wrongness, the rift in John’s mind deepening as he felt at war with himself in a way he couldn’t understand (what? What is it?), and forced cheerfulness at mealtimes and in the evenings with his wife and avoiding her conversation over telly and her bedtime advances and her attempts to get him to go places with her and be social before he made up his mind to go to Baker Street to see Sherlock. At the very least, it would get him out of his own too-silent, too-feminine flat, where he felt like nothing was his.

He felt better from the minute he stepped over the threshold (home it felt like home) and seeing Sherlock actually made the uneasiness abate a bit: Sherlock, wrapped up in a sheet and some kind of musical project. It was like John had never left. John smiled on him, lost in memories. Suddenly, it was like the past three years had never happened.

Then Sherlock opened his eyes, which went wide with shock, and he bolted. John felt as if he’d been doused with cold water.

oooOOOooo

Once John was able to establish for sure that Sherlock was not interested in getting rid him—just the opposite in fact—John realized Sherlock was suffering from a depression brought on by loneliness and lack of meaningful occupation. He began hatching plans to help Sherlock without making it obvious that this was what he was doing. He knew Sherlock well enough to know that he would never show weakness or ask for help.

John benefitted as well. The sense of purpose and usefulness that taking care of Sherlock gave him made his own feelings of malaise and anxiety dial back from eleven to about a seven. John hadn’t realized how much he’d missed the little things like hanging out in the flat and having a simple meal, listening to Sherlock play his violin, watching films…it was a lot like the old days.

Every time he went to 221B, he found it harder to leave.

oooOOOooo

“John,” Mary’s voice said from behind him. He jumped slightly. He’d thought for sure she’d be sleeping, it was so late when he’d returned from—from Sherlock’s. It still felt strange to think of what had been their flat as just Sherlock’s flat now, but that’s what it was. John was seated at the kitchen table in the dark.

Mary leaned into the doorway, puzzled, “What are you doing in here all by yourself? Why don’t you put on a light or something? What are you doing? Not reading or anything?”

It was dim with just the light coming in from the sitting room. He had his hands around a cooling but mostly full cup of tea, and he’d just been sitting and thinking, but he couldn’t even remember exactly what he’d been thinking. He’d been putting off going to bed, although he had work in the morning. “It’s fine. I’m just...” he allowed the sentence to trail off, unfinished. He wished she’d go. She was disturbing the music that had been playing in his mind. One of the Bach pieces Sherlock had been playing. He didn’t want to lose it.

“Missed you tonight,” she said, almost shyly, advancing farther into the kitchen toward John. “Monica and Jeff wanted to know if we’d come to their housewarming. It’s Friday. You think you—“

“Let’s talk about it later, hmm? It’s late.” John felt the irritation bubbling up within him like acid, burning away all of the pleasant remainders of his evening, and he resented her for it. Somehow he resented her even more when she was pleasant and trying to be nice than when she was bitchy and miserable. How could she act like everything was fine? It wasn’t fine. It wasn’t going to be fine.

“Are you coming up to bed, then?” She asked tentatively, retreating again into the doorway of the kitchen.

He took a breath that he forced into uniformity. “Soon.” He knew he was lying. He would wait until she was definitely asleep before he went in. If he wasn’t sure, he’d eventually fall asleep on the sofa.

oooOOOooo

“John,” Sherlock’s voice said from behind him, as John was trying to figure out why the Sherlock playing the violin in front of him wasn’t moving. John whirled around, nearly jumping out of his own skin, to face…Sherlock? But Jesus Christ. What in the fuck did he have on? Of all the things? John’s brain went completely offline at the sight of Sherlock in women’s clothing and cosmetics. He looked Sherlock up and down and could feel himself starting to get a little hard. Over what? Sherlock in a pair of tight jeans and high boots? Lipstick? What the fuck. Get a hold of yourself.

 “Something might fly in, John,” Sherlock said.

John’s mouth snapped shut. “I’m sorry. What?”

“Your mouth was hanging open.

John was not a man who spent loads of time on introspection and self-reflection, but although it was a busy day, what with running about after this missing diamond, he realized that his very powerful reaction (and it was decidedly powerful) to Sherlock in disguise was going to need some examination. He had some time begin this process in the cab, while he tried not to be obvious about studying Sherlock’s exquisitely made-up profile. He had time to continue his ruminations at the home of Lord Cantlemere, while he took opportunities while Sherlock’s back was turned to admire the fit of his jeans. They fit very, very well.

He couldn’t really figure it out. Those clothes. They were so tight. The make-up. It was all so sensuous.

Those jeans made him want to run his hand up Sherlock’s thigh to the curve of his arse to feel the place where they met.

Seriously, again, What. The. Fuck.  

Sherlock wasn’t like that. Was he?

Like what, John? What exactly do you think Sherlock isn’t like? What do you know about it…really?

John again felt himself need to shift a bit uncomfortably in his own pants. It suddenly occurred to John to think that Sherlock could be full of shit about the body being just transport—Sherlock basically dressed in the men’s equivalent of this sort of clothing all of the time—the trousers tailored so tight it was a wonder they didn’t split at the seams and his shirt buttons practically cried out for mercy, so what did that tell you? Sherlock had to know that dressing that way was sexually attractive, right? Was there any possible way that he could not know that? So if that wasn’t what he was after, ever, why did he do it? Maybe he just liked his clothes really tight for some other reason? Why was tight women’s clothing drawing sudden attention for John to Sherlock’s usual tight men’s clothing? It was a complete mystery to John.

He’d known forever that his own feelings about Sherlock were… really, really complicated, but he’d mostly put that behind him since his return from the dead. This sudden bolt of physical attraction was unexpectedly strong. For fuck’s sake, Watson. Maybe it means you just need to get laid, badly.

Maybe he should just concentrate on the case.

oooOOOooo

In hindsight, John was probably lucky Mary didn’t shoot him. Startling an assassin wasn’t really such a great idea, was it?

His only thought was of getting into the flat as quietly as he could so that he could relax and have a drink (or two or whatever number was going to allow him to get to sleep after the mental WTF-ery of this day with Lady Sherlock on the Mazarin Stone case) without waking Mary and causing a repeat of the awkward conversation he’d endured the other night.

Instead of firing up the kettle for tea, he got down a tumbler and the Scotch and poured himself a generous glass, and assumed his position at the table, sitting with the glass fairly hanging from his hand, eyes closed. He willed himself not to see anything behind his lids, but the events of the day played on a loop, some more prominent than others.

He poured a second drink from the bottle he hadn’t bothered to cap (and still didn’t), this pour-line a bit higher than the first. After a few sips, both his recollections and his libations were disturbed by what sounded like voices coming from upstairs. John stopped, instantly alert. Yes, he definitely heard speaking.

He got up and started for the stairs. He got nearly to the top, straining to hear, and was pretty sure he heard Mary say “I think that’s John. I have to go.” The lights in their bedroom were all out, and so were the hall lights.

“John, is that you?” she called sleepily.

“Hello,” he said, and was glad his voice sounded as normal as it did, considering the way his heart was hammering in his chest. What in the fuck was she up to now? He opened the bedroom door and looked in. “I thought I heard a noise up here. Everything alright?”

She was in bed; although she sounded convincing enough, she did not appear to have just awoken to John, who knew that he was no Sherlock Holmes when it came to reading people’s tells. To John she looked like someone who was only shamming sleepiness.

“Fine; you startled me. I didn’t hear you come in.” She looked over at the clock. “It’s so late. Case going alright then?”

“It’s going fine. I’m sorry I woke you. Go ahead back to sleep. I’m going to take a shower and I’ll be up in a bit,” he said, and left, closing the door behind him.

He had to get a look at her mobile. She’d be smart enough to delete any evidence of calls, wouldn’t she, especially of the “I have to go, that’s John” variety?

Ten minutes later he was on his laptop, looking at the phone records for their mobiles on their wireless carrier’s website. Nothing. No record of any call being made or received from her phone number at all that evening.

Again, what in the bloody fuck was she up to now? Affair? That would really just be the living end, wouldn’t it? After all of this, after everything, his pregnant wife off fucking someone else, while he’d done the right thing and denied himself—

John cut the thought off half formed, closed the window with the mobile carrier website, and poured another Scotch.

He thought about calling Sherlock, and then discarded the idea. This wasn’t really something he thought he needed or wanted to involve Sherlock in at this point. What could Sherlock tell him? Probably everything about it. Everything. Including the “I told you so.” And John was not sure that he could handle that right now, especially since his friendship with Sherlock was the only thing in his miserable life that seemed to be going right. He didn’t need to fuck it all up again by getting angry at him when Sherlock needed to tell him some truths about his own wife that once again should have been self-evident.

Before he could stop the thought from forming: Just like you don’t need to ruin it by walking around half-hard for him all day long either, because how long do you think you’re going to be able to hide a thing like that?

Perhaps it would be best not to jump to conclusions. Maybe…he was just hearing things. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe with all the woolgathering he’d been doing, he just…made that up somehow, and she hadn’t really been talking to anyone at all.

And maybe you’re doing more of that World Champion Quality Self-Delusion you’re so good at!

He sighed and decided it was time to go to bed. He polished off the rest of his drink and went.

oooOOOooo

The next morning when Mary was in the shower, John found it, between the mattress and box spring on her side of the bed—a mobile phone that was not her normal iPhone. It was a smartphone, but not any kind he immediately recognized. He stood there holding it in his hand in dumb disbelief for a few seconds before trying what looked like the button that would probably wake it. It lit up to a lock screen that needed a PIN to open it. Of course.

The water for the shower shut off in the loo.

John hastily replaced the phone where he’d found it and made his way to the kitchen to make the coffee, feeling like he’d stepped on a rake and the handle had hit him right in the face.

oooOOOooo

Over breakfast, Mary smiled at him sweetly like she wasn’t off fucking someone else and being devious enough to use a second phone to cover her tracks to do it. John felt like he hadn’t hated her this much since the Empty Houses. He felt sick.

Chapter Text

Fuck it. John was going to forget all about his lying faithless wife and allow himself the pleasure of getting drunk with Sherlock. It had been fun, the last time they had done it. Well, it had been fun for a while. If you forgot about the whole going-to-jail-for-the-night part of it. So humiliating.

He’d just have to make sure they didn’t leave the flat this time.

He’d just nipped on into the shop on their way home, and had gotten a bottle, and then they’d get a bite to eat…everything would be just lovely, a little celebration of Sherlock’s first case back on the job.

John drank enough to make so bold as to remark about the jeans and hint, in just the slightest way, at what they had done to him. Oh, what they had done to John, and the effect seemed to magnify with the aid of memory. Then he got to enjoy observing Sherlock’s confusion and was he blushing? By God, John was pretty sure he was. Sherlock kept talking about the case, but John wasn’t hearing him, he was watching the pink that was creeping up from Sherlock’s shirt collar and over his ears in the most delightful possible way.

This was almost more than John could have hoped for, and he grinned, holding a hand to his mouth to hide it from Sherlock, but Sherlock wasn’t looking at him.

And then the night had exploded in a hail of glass, and suddenly all of John’s unease and his training coalesced into that moment when he threw himself at Sherlock to ensure his protection. His mind somehow was both serene and was broadcasting what should have felt like a panic thought: “Not again, not again, you cannot not have him again, death, no you cannot have him again. I will not allow it.” But there was no panic. Because bullets and broken glass and securing the perimeter in the immediate aftermath were all things that John Watson understood, much more than he understood the person you lived for jumping off a building and then reappearing, or unformed feelings of dread without a name, or wives who turned out to be contract killers who were having affairs.

John was still in soldier-mode as he calmly pressed Sherlock, crazy git that he was, to the floor, when he went for his buzzing phone.

When John lost it was after things were more secure, when the wrong had already returned, and he saw the doll and where its “injury” was. He bent to examine it and saw the bullet hole just above the hairline. His mind supplied the blood that should have been there, and suddenly, he was back on the sidewalk at Barts, with Sherlock’s newly-fallen corpse, seeing the blood all through those dark curls.

Let me through he’s my friend I’m a doctor no god please no. All the things you wanted to say, say them now. I can’t. You can. He’s here now and you can. I can’t. Say them now. No. God no. He’s my friend. Blood all over the pavement and so thick in his hair and running into those unseeing eyes that looked like these unseeing eyes. And that was a sham, a fake, a set-up just like this. He’s cheated death again. How many times does he get to do that before it doesn’t work for him anymore? How could he keep doing this? How many times am I going to have to see him die? See him die and never have said all the things I never said? And I won’t say them now?

There was no blood, but he could actually smell it. He could smell its acrid tang and feel the heat of the blaring sun on the blasted land…wait, that wasn’t right. It was rain on the pavement, that day, mixing with the blood as they pulled him away.

He felt like he was going to vomit, and he stood as though to walk away, but had to double over as his vision blurred with bright technicolor spots. Not going to pass out, not going to pass out.

“John.”

“Call Lestrade.” John forced calm into his voice.

“John—“ haltingly now.

“Sherlock, I need a minute, OK?” He really didn’t want to shout at Sherlock, but he was about to; he could feel his control slipping.

“All right John, I—“ Sherlock sounded almost afraid of him. Where was bloody Go-to-Hell-High-Functioning-Sociopath-Sherlock Holmes who didn’t give a shit? How was Sherlock afraid of him?

And this was what was too much, finally, for John, and he whirled on Sherlock in impotent rage and guilt and sadness, “What the fuck, Sherlock?”

“John?” Sherlock’s distress was plain to see, and it made John feel that much worse.

John couldn’t stop his voice from breaking, “What is with you always fucking dying?”

John could hear tears in Sherlock’s own voice when he said, “I’m fine! I’m right here.” He indicated the spot on his own head where the doll had been shot, showing him it was unmarked.

The anger left John as quickly as it had come. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and pull Sherlock into his arms and apologize for shouting at him, but he didn’t know if that would make things worse or not. He was not the sort who hugged. Neither, he knew, was Sherlock. He did, however, acknowledge what Sherlock had said about his basic wholeness by running a hand through his hair at the spot where Sherlock had showed him. He found that he couldn’t meet Sherlock’s eyes. He looked down and away, worried that he might give away too much if he looked Sherlock in the face just then.

It was probably just as well that Mycroft interrupted when he had. John felt like he’d been about to make a fool of himself, more than he already had.

After Mycroft’s arrival, he found firmer footing in things he again understood—ballistics and logistics. He threw himself into these matters and tried not to think about anything else.

oooOOOooo

John didn’t return home until very, very late. In truth, he’d given more than passing consideration to staying at 221B that night. Sherlock had seemed to want him to stay, looking for any conversational topic to detain him when he showed signs of leaving. John could understand being a little spooked after being shot at (even indirectly).

However, John’s emotions were still so volatile that he didn’t think it was a great idea to stay. All of that rot Sherlock had talked of sending him and Mary away to America! He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He was not going to America. And he wasn’t going anywhere with Mary and without Sherlock. Sherlock couldn’t really have thought for a second that would happen, could he?

The truth was, that he had been hoping that once the baby was born that the feelings of love he’d once felt for Mary would come back, and that the confusion he felt would fade. This business with the mobile complicated matters, but he wasn’t giving up on their marriage just yet. He felt like he owed that to their unborn baby. However, moving to America was right out. He couldn’t imagine being in a place where he knew Mary, and no one else.

Staying at 221B after an emotionally overwrought day and a shit-ton of Scotch was probably not a super wise plan either, though.

So John made his apologies and his exit.

When he finally returned to his own flat that night, it was past four. He was surprised to find Mary sitting in the place he normally occupied in the kitchen at night when he was trying to avoid her company, either with tea or with Scotch, depending on his mood. She had neither, but was clad in pyjamas. She’d clearly been waiting up for him.

He slowed his walk to a plod.

“John,” she said. “It’s so late, and you weren’t answering your texts or calls.”

He pulled out his mobile. How about that—there were several missed texts and two missed calls from Mary. He hadn’t even looked at his mobile since around the time he’d gotten in the cab after the case was wrapped up.

“Sorry about that. I should have checked it. Things got—a little hairy tonight,” John said, not sure he was really in the mood for the length of the conversation he was going to end up with if he elaborated on the nature of that hairiness.

“Is everything ok?” She asked, lines of worry creasing her forehead. She stretched her back, as though she’d been waiting for a long time in the uncomfortable chair.

“It’s fine, I’m just wiped out,” John said, hoping to head off more conversation.

He started to back out of the room, but she stopped him. “John.”

He turned to look at her, and her eyes were shining with tears. His chest tightened with irritation. He didn’t understand. She was the one with the secret phone, right? What in the fuck was all this then? “What is it?”

“It’s just, I just. We never—I feel like I hardly see you. I know now is probably not the best time. I’m doing that pregnant lady hormone thing I guess. I miss you. I feel like we never talk anymore. I feel like you’re always angry with me, John, and I don’t know what else to do to show you that I love you, and—“ She choked up here, and covered her eyes with one hand.

John’s annoyance mingled with confusion. If she was lying, he couldn’t understand her motives, at all. He knew a good husband would hold her now. The best he could manage was a hand on her shoulder, and pulling her back against him. He chose his words carefully. “I’m sorry if I make you feel like I’m always angry with you, Mary. I don’t mean to do that, and I’ll try to do better.”

She was too smart for that, though.

“That’s not the same as saying you aren’t actually always angry with me though, is it?”

oooOOOooo

Mary pulled her car into the car park, and took the secondary mobile out of her handbag. She was not going to chance another conversation at home after nearly being discovered once. She’d told him he was just going to have to be patient and wait to talk to her until she could find a safe time and place.

Now Mary knew it was the middle of one of John’s shifts at the surgery, and she was in a completely different part of the city. Things were about as safe as she could make them.

She entered the phone’s PIN and dialed.

“Hello,” she said.

A pause as she listened to the man on the other end of the line.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I already told you, I’m not calling you or taking your calls from home. It’s too dangerous.”

Another pause.

“Look…don’t…don’t be angry. We can work something out, but I cannot talk to you from home. If I think I’m going to give myself away, that ruins most of your leverage anyway, doesn’t it? I don’t understand what it is you think you can have from me anyway. I am hugely pregnant. Like eight months. I can hardly tie my shoes. I don’t know what the hell you think I can do to help you.”

“Seriously, like about to pop any minute pregnant here. You should see me.”

Mary laughed sardonically. “Oh, yes, I bet you have seen me, haven’t you. Watching us, are you?”

“It’s always down to money, isn’t it? Well, I’m sorry, but the Bank of AGRA is closed. My money is not easy to access, and what makes you think I would give any of it to you even if I was inclined to go to that much trouble to get at it?”

“You wouldn’t. Ok. You would. But…don’t. Just…be patient, and I will figure something out. I will. Can you just? Wait until the baby is born? Then I can…”

“I’m not trying to piss you off! Really! I—hello? Hello?”

Mary’s eyes closed as she saw “Call ended” on the mobile. She texted to the number:

I will work something out. Please don’t do anything rash.

The reply to her text was immediate:

I think it’s time to give you some extra incentive, Mary.

What’s that mean?

You’ll see, love.

 

oooOOOooo

Three days later, John received a padded mailer in the post at his job. He’d been working on paperwork in the morning, and had a bit of time before seeing the day’s patients to deal with the mail. He opened it, and a mobile tumbled out that was identical to the one he’d removed from between the mattress and box spring on Mary’s side of the bed. Suddenly all of the rest of the paperwork was forgotten.

He powered the mobile on.

The message light blinked, and the screen said there was one new text message, from a number he didn’t recognize. John opened it. It read:

Hello there, Dr. Watson! :)  I know you’re a man who likes to solve mysteries. I’ve got one for you. Here’s a hint: It’s about your wife!

John stared at the phone for long minutes, considering whether or not he should reply before he gulped and punched out:

Who is this?

There was no immediate reply. The nurse tapped gently on his office door to alert him that it was time to start seeing patients. He had three in a row before he had an opportunity to check the phone. It was hard to keep his mind on his work, and he hated that; he never wanted to give his patients less than his full attention. He forced himself not to allow his mind to wander as he went about the business of caring for them. When he finally managed to slip back into his office to check the phone, he read:

Oh come on now, Dr. Watson, you can’t really expect me be so easy, can you?

Do I know you?

This isn’t 20 questions, Dr. Watson! :(

Then how am I supposed to know what you want? Why does my wife have the same phone? Do you know her as well?

Better, Dr. Watson, now you’re asking better questions. :)

Are you having an affair with Mary? Is that what all this is about?

Or maybe not. :(

What do you mean?

I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a hint.

For a few minutes there was nothing else, and John had to take another several patients. When he finished, he could see the blinking notification light on the phone when he removed it from his pocket. When he pressed the button, a blue circle indicated something was trying to load.

The screen filled with a photo of a swimming pool.

Not just any swimming pool, the swimming pool. The one where he’d been covered with explosives and been ready to die with Sherlock to take down Jim Moriarty.

If the person who sent him this phone knew about that pool…

John picked up the office phone and dialed the office manager. “Hi, Sherry, it’s Dr. Watson. Do you think you could possibly reschedule my appointments for the rest of the day? I’ve had a family emergency come up, and I’m going to have to leave as soon as possible.”

The office manager expressed her surprise and concern, and asked if Mary was ok. John had a moment to reflect that the staff here hadn’t had the opportunity to grow as weary as the staff had at his previous job of his frequent “emergencies” as Sherlock was constantly dragging him off on cases.

“No, Mary is just fine. I’m very sorry to inconvenience everyone. Yes, I should be in tomorrow, and if not, I’ll give a call, thanks,” he said in his best reassuring doctor tones.

Then he took out his own mobile as he grabbed his things and headed for the door, and texted Sherlock.

You busy?

To John’s immense relief, the reply was nearly immediate.

I am, in fact, the opposite of busy. I am on a stakeout. About to give it up as a bad job. –SH

I have something I would like for you to look at.

Case related? –SH

They weren’t really on a case, per se, at the moment, but knew that this had certainly left the realm of normal extramarital affair territory. Fuck worrying about “I told you so.”

No, look, it’s not something I want to text about. When can I meet you at home?

The reply took a bit longer this time, but it didn’t matter, because John was already looking for a cab.

You go ahead and get there. Let yourself in if you arrive first. I should be there in no more than 15. –SH

oooOOOooo

Sherlock held the mobile in his hand, reading and re-reading the text exchange between the mystery-sender and John, and examining the photo. He also examined the phone.

“So you found the phone between the mattress and the box spring, and she was talking late at night…” Sherlock said. It wasn’t a question. Sherlock never asked anyone to repeat anything. He was clearly deep in thought, however.

“The phones are smartphones, but cheap. Your blackmailer seems like he’s not terribly bright, but not a complete imbecile either, if it is indeed a he,” he continued.

“So you think this is blackmail then. Again,” John said.

Sherlock replied, “Oh yes, I do. Mary has a phone, a hidden conversation, now the person starts harassing you? If it were a simple affair, he would have just said so right up front. No, he wants something. The question is, where does the pool come into it? The photo is recent. There is more wear evident…”

“Do you have ideas?” John interrupted, afraid of the answer.

Sherlock looked and sounded just like his old self when he said, “Oh, of course I have ideas, John. I think for now you have to just wait for more contact from this individual to see what he wants from either you or her. I’d like to have a bit more to go on. If there was some way to get hold of the mobile Mary has...but I don’t think that’s probably wise.”

“And you don’t think she’s having an affair then,” John asked.

Sherlock paused for a beat, and a beat more, and looked like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to answer…

“Jesus Christ. That’s just great, Sherlock.”

“I don’t think she’s having an affair with this man, right now,” Sherlock said carefully, “is that better?”

John snorted in disgust, “Yes, that’s great. Thanks tons.”

The door opened just then to DI Lestrade. “Hello, anyone in?”

“Come in, Lestrade,” Sherlock called, thankful for once for the disturbance.

Lestrade was oblivious of having interrupted anything. He carried a huge brown-paper-wrapped parcel under his arm. He was mildly winded by the time he made it up the stairs into the flat.

“Is that what I think it is?” Sherlock asked.

“If you think it’s a giant male sex-toy, you ponce, yes, it is. I’m so glad it’s well-wrapped. I’d never hear the end of it if anyone I know saw me with this thing,” Greg replied.

Sherlock said, “Excellent. Now I can evade Mycroft’s surveillance again.”

oooOOOooo

That evening they had dinner, and John was still in a pensive mood, and was quieter than normal. Sherlock was worried that he had upset him and wished he’d lied, or at least omitted his suspicions about Mary. As usual he’d gotten carried away with his deductions.

He tried several times to talk to John over their meal, but somehow it was too hard, there at the table, where he might have to look John in the face. He spent the meal studying John’s hands instead. He admired them, smaller than his own. He thought about all of the things he knew John’s hands had done and were capable of doing, until he abandoned that chain of thoughts as possibly problematic at a mealtime.

Sherlock waited until he was setting up his doppelganger back in the window of 221B and John was settled in his chair with a book before broaching the subject.

“John—“ He began, then stopped, unsure how to start.

“What is it, Sherlock?”

Deep breath. “I apologize if I upset you today with my deductions. I should have kept my opinions to myself,” Sherlock said. His chest felt tight. It was so, so important that he not drive John away from him again in anger. He would do anything to stop that happening.

John looked up at him, thunderstruck. “What in the…Sherlock. Did you just…” John trailed off and was silent for long seconds before beginning again, “apologize for deducing?”

Sherlock thought about what to say next. He knelt to attach the feet of the doll back onto the wheeled-stand contraption he’d rigged up in front of the window. He was saved from a response by John beginning to speak again.

“Sherlock, you may as well have apologized for breathing. But I do have questions,” John asked. He sounded tired now.

Sherlock remained where he was, and didn’t look up. “Go on,” he said to John.

“You said you thought Mary was having an affair. When? And how long have you known this?” John asked.

Sherlock sighed, and his shoulders sagged. He didn’t want to talk about this. It was a potential minefield. Softly he said, “John, I don’t know. I had doubts. That’s all. You know I don’t like to make assumptions without having all the facts. I’d rather not do it now either, if you don’t mind. It’s why I apologized.”

“Fair enough,” John said, standing up and stretching, “So if I go home, you don’t think we’re in any immediate danger,” he asked.

“No but…” Sherlock trailed off, again reluctant to anger John.

John sighed. “Let me guess, you think I shouldn’t say anything to Mary about this.”

Sherlock merely looked at him. The best way to say nothing wrong seemed to be to say…nothing at all.

“Fine. But I can’t go on like this forever. It’s no way to live in a marriage, keeping all these secrets and—“ he cut himself off, as he saw Sherlock’s abruptly raised eyebrows.

“Alright, yeah,” John said, “Point taken. I won’t say anything to Mary.”

Chapter Text

John returned home reluctantly that night. He knew that he was a poor actor and an even worse liar. Until he had time to fully process what Sherlock had said about believing that Mary had maybe had an affair and about their matching mystery mobiles, John hoped to avoid interaction with Mary as much as he could. Mary might not be Sherlock Holmes, but she was still uncannily good at reading people, and particularly John. He went into the kitchen and filled the kettle at the sink. While John would have preferred a Scotch to settle his nerves, he felt he should try to keep his wits about him. Besides, he was beginning to be uneasy about how much he was drinking. It seemed to be too much by half. And if he could make the choice to have tea instead now while he was under stress, then there was no problem, right?

As the kettle filled and he went about the automatic tasks of tea-making, he looked around the room and again reflected on how it didn't even look like he lived here, so little of his own personality was reflected in the rooms. Come to that, 221-B had been the same, in a way. He was just a man of few personal possessions, he supposed. It was just more obvious in the overt femininity of this space, and more grating. Somehow, even though the never-ending clutter of his shared space with Sherlock went against John’s natural inclination, not to mention his years of military training, it never bothered him in quite the same way that what felt like his erasure from this place rankled.

Tea made, John sat in his accustomed spot. So, Mary was not presently having an affair, but maybe at some point in the past? At what point in the past? Before or after they were married? Before or after she shot Sherlock in cold blood?

This was really not a constructive line of thought, John knew. Not one that was going to be conducive to natural, easy marital interactions. John decided he ought to stop thinking about it.

Before or after she got pregnant with John’s child?

With John’s child?

He sighed and brought a hand to his forehead. Was there any point in even trying to work this out on his own?

John contemplated pouring something medicinal into his tea to fortify it, caught himself thinking about it, and the hand on his forehead pulled at his hair in frustration.

oooOOOooo

Mary rolled over in bed when John came into the room so that she’d be facing him when he got in, and half-opened one eye. Of course she’d heard him puttering around in the kitchen for all he’d tried to be quiet. She took a slow, deep breath, as though she were sleeping soundly, but really she was smelling for the tell-tale odor of alcohol. She didn’t detect any. Not this time.

Nothing seemed amiss.

Maybe he still didn’t know then. She really had quite steady nerves. She wouldn’t have lasted in her old line of work if she hadn’t, but wondering day after day if today was the day he would try to meddle with John, to make contact, to bring down Mary’s carefully-constructed world—it was getting old. Mary was going to have to take matters into her own hands, and soon, before some disaster struck. Every day she waited brought calamity closer, she was sure of it. But there was nothing to do for it at this moment, and everything seemed ok for the time being.

Mary slept.

John mostly didn’t.

oooOOOooo

Noon the next day found John Watson working his shift restlessly at his surgery, and found Mycroft Holmes an unwelcome, uninvited visitor at 221B Baker Street.

Sherlock was seated in his black chair, one ankle propped on one knee, violin in one hand, bow in the other. “Back so soon, Mycroft? One would have thought I might have frightened you away for good the last time,” Sherlock affected a bored manner as he swung the bow to and fro in the air, but the corners of his mouth quirked in a poorly suppressed smile as he remembered the shriek he’d forced from Mycroft the night he’d jumped out and scared him.

Mycroft pretended that he hadn’t heard Sherlock speak, and began his own line of conversation. “Are you sure that you should really get yourself so entangled with all of this again, Sherlock?” Mycroft asked, seating himself in John’s chair, brolly point planted firmly between his impeccable Italian leather shoes.

Sherlock rolled his eyes theatrically. “Entangled with what precisely, although I’m not sure why I’m even asking, since I know I didn’t ask for either your presence or your advice.”

Mycroft replied, “The affairs of your Dr. Watson.”

“What is John’s affair may be John’s affair, but this also happens to be my affair. However, none of it is your affair, Mycroft,” Sherlock said, an edge creeping into his voice.

Mycroft seemed to feel he’d scored a point. “What’s John’s affair is your affair, Sherlock? Really? Do tell.

Sherlock huffed impatiently, “You know that is not how I meant it.”

Mycroft was all innocence, “However did you mean it then?”

Sherlock placed the bow and violin on his lap and leaned toward his brother with intent. “I meant it, of course, Brother Mine, in the sense that it is none of your meddling business, as should have been quite clear.”

“When will you ever understand, Sherlock, that we are on the same side and I have only your best interests at heart?” Mycroft asked Sherlock softly.

Sherlock was unmoved. “When you start acting like you have my best interests at heart.”

oooOOOooo

All morning John felt a gnawing nervousness about having to interact with his wife and convincingly lie to her. He realized this was easy enough to remedy in the near term, and had the fringe benefit of an enjoyable evening as a bonus. (He quashed any thoughts in the back of his mind about how he would have felt a longing to see Sherlock even if the events of the day before had never happened. That was neither here nor there.) Around 2:30 in the afternoon, John had a bit of a break between patients and he fired off a text to Sherlock.

Busy after I’m done my shift? Got any cases on?

No, nothing on. Bored. –SH

Mind some company when I’m done?

Company sounds just fine. Hope you don’t mind I was burning a pancreas in here earlier. There’s a bit of an odor. –SH

This text was followed immediately by another:

Dinner? –SH

John smiled and replied:

Yeah but maybe we should eat out instead of getting takeaway, yeah?

Maybe. I’ll open the windows now. Also Mycroft was here. The stench of hypocrisy/sanctimony even stronger than that of burning pancreas. –SH

John snorted with laughter. Before he could formulate a reply he got another text.

Actually, burning pancreas isn’t entirely unpleasant. Smells a bit like pork. –SH

Now John actually laughed aloud. He didn’t even notice that the gnawing sensation was entirely gone. He shook his head as he responded.

Nutter. Just think about what you want for dinner. Not pancreas.

Then he thumbed a quick text to Mary.

Going to have dinner at Sherlock’s and then look over some case files for Lestrade after work. Won’t be home too late probably.

He didn’t bother to wait for her reply before putting the phone in his trouser pocket and going back to his patients.

oooOOOooo

Italian. Their dinner had been Italian, but not at Angelo’s this time. John couldn’t remember making any specific resolution not to drink at dinner, but he’d ordered a bottle of red regardless, and it was uncommonly good with his Pasta Bolognese. He’d polished off glass after glass, not noticing that Sherlock hardly sipped at his own, nor did John notice the tiny furrow between Sherlock’s eyebrows when John called for a second bottle halfway through the meal.

The cab took them back to 221B, and John fairly drifted up the stairs, feeling that all was right with the world. He hardly felt that feeling of “wrong.” Alcohol muted it, Sherlock’s presence muted it, and being here at 221B muted it, so having all three of those things at once, well, it was no wonder he was feeling just fine. He just hoped nobody shot out a window to fuck it all up this time. He was tired of feeling like everything was wrong. Let Nobody Fuck It Up. Maybe he could make that his new personal motto. Sounded like a good motto. Words to live by.

No sooner was he in the flat than he was going for the bottle he knew was in the cabinet over the stove in the kitchen, saying, “Drink, Sherlock?” as he poured one for himself. He could see Sherlock watching him, assessing. Well, let him assess away. Not like anyone could stop him anyhow. John had poured steadily, and was just fine. Carrying on about Not Fucking It Up.

Sherlock seemed to have determined that John hadn’t yet over-indulged to the point where Sherlock needed to say anything about it, and he replied, hesitantly, “Alright, but just a bit.”

John poured Sherlock a generous amount and handed it over. John took a long swallow of his own drink and then another, and then refilled it before taking it over to the lounge.  John was somewhat less steady pouring this time. “Will you play something? I miss that about living here, hearing you play all the time.”

Sherlock looked troubled. “You’ve been here quite a bit lately. You’ve heard me play often.”

“Humour me.”

Without another word, Sherlock went to the window, unclasped the violin case, removed the instrument, and stood not far from where his doppelganger was taking up the space Sherlock would have normally occupied while playing with the violin fitted beneath his chin. He hesitated for just a moment, studying John’s face. John wondered what he was looking for there. Some clue about what sort of music to play perhaps? Then he began to play, something not too happy, not too sad, just some Beethoven (John guessed even Sherlock could use a break from the Bach once in a while).

John stood by the mantel with the drink in one hand and he knocked it back, then closed his eyes. He’d used meditation in the past as a relaxation technique after having nightmares, with varying degrees of success. It was a similar thing he tried now, as he rode the waves of drink, music, and memory and tried to place himself back before any of this mess had happened, before the fall, before Mary, before any of it, as he listened to Sherlock play. He felt the liquor do its work as he concentrated hard, chasing the feeling of well-being he used to know back then.

He felt himself start to drift and really almost believed he was back there again, and his whole chest and abdomen surged with warmth. He opened his eyes, and found Sherlock’s eyes fixed on his, and suddenly the illusion was shattered, because Sherlock’s eyes had a childlike vulnerability and intensity they never would have had then. John could see everything. He could see concern, worry, he could see fear, and could he really? He thought he could see longing there as well.

He put the glass on the mantel and took half a step forward. “Sh-Sherlock?”

Sherlock lowered the violin. “John, are you alright? I…I’ve not wanted to make you angry when we’re just beginning to really be friends again, but…I’m sorry, as your friend I feel I have to ask you when you started drinking so much?”

Whatever John had expected to hear, this wasn’t it. Shame and disappointment fought for dominance of his muddled and surging feelings. His next words sounded defensive. He knew it, and hated it. “Wait. My drinking? You’re concerned about my drinking? That’s--not what I thought you were going to say.”

Sherlock sounded suspicious when he replied, “What did you think I was going to say?”

Oh God. Here was Somebody Fucking It Up, for sure. Himself. What a can of worms John wasn’t interested in opening, since he’d obviously been wrong. “Um. Nothing.”

Sherlock shifted uncomfortably with the violin. “John, with your family history…”

“I’m a bloody doctor. I hardly need a lecture, Sherlock.” John’s voice had lowered dangerously. Now anger had joined the fray, and was winning John’s emotional battle.

Sherlock continued on, undeterred. “John. I know you probably think it isn’t my business. I wouldn’t say anything if I wasn’t concerned—“

John cut him off, replying icily, “Well, thank you for your concern, but you can save it. I don’t need it.” He started for the door.

“John!”

“No.”

oooOOOooo

Sherlock wasn’t sure what John had seen on his face after he’d opened his eyes at the mantel, but he knew one thing more certainly than he’d ever known anything in his life—he knew that if he let John walk out that door, Sherlock would never get him back. He practically leapt to intercept him, slamming the door to the flat closed as John tried to open it, and pushing him back from the door.

Sherlock spoke very quickly, knowing that he could not hope to stop John leaving the flat for any length of time if John really meant to go. Sherlock might have been taller, but there was no doubt that John could move him out of the way, and quite handily, even an incapacitated state. “John Watson, did you or did you not pull me out of a drug den and then subject me to drug testing and the scrutiny of most of our acquaintance? For God’s sake, you had Anderson and my brother poking around in this flat looking for drugs. Was that not done from a place of caring and good intentions? However irksome and meddlesome I may have found it at the time, even I can see that. Surely that must entitle me to ask a single question of you when I see behavior that is both out of character and clearly concerning? Especially since I strongly suspect that this behavior is as the result of some other cause, the symptom of a larger problem.”

“It’s not—that was different and you know it!” John exploded. John would not meet Sherlock’s eyes, and put his head down as if he were going to bully his way out of the flat like a mule.

Sherlock blocked as much of the door as possible with his body. “I fail to see in any way how it is different.”

John’s voice still rising, “It just bloody is!”

Sherlock’s voice rose along with his, “Are we going to stand here shouting at each other like children ‘no it’s not, yes it is?’ because I fail to see how that’s going to accomplish anything. I don’t think you’re being rational.”

John’s voice dropped, but he was still enraged, and he still refused to look at Sherlock. “I’ve had enough of this. Let me out of here.”

John had no choice but to reach around Sherlock’s body to get to the doorknob, where Sherlock’s hand was holding it behind his back. The awkward position affected John’s balance and he staggered slightly in his attempt at the door.

John evidently decided that retaining his dignity was worth more at the moment than an immediate exit, and he dropped his voice still further. Sherlock knew the calm in his voice was deceptive, and that a quiet John Watson was a dangerous John Watson. “Sherlock, let me open this door.”

Sherlock wondered if John would strike him as a next step to get him to move. He didn’t doubt it.

Sherlock also lowered his voice, but not in rage. “John, I will if that’s what you really want. I’ll let you walk out of here. I’m sure you feel I’ve no right to tell you what I want. But that is not what I want.”

John finally raised his eyes to Sherlock’s then. Sherlock was determined not to put the mask back, to let John see him. For once, the voices second guessing him were silent. They’d been gone for longer and longer stretches since John had come back into his life. If only they could stay gone.

“What…” John took a deep breath. He looked as if he wasn’t sure if he wanted to ask the question on his lips. For a second Sherlock thought he might not, that he might walk out the door after all. But then John did. “What do you want, Sherlock?”

After years of careful silence to hide his growing feelings and then months of uncharacteristic irresolution, when it came to the point of a direct question, Sherlock found decisive action came once again as second nature. Sherlock hardly had to lean forward at all to press his body into John’s from knee to shoulder, his lips just barely brushing John’s, a question.

Sherlock felt a thrill at the contact, followed instantly by fear that he may have ruined everything—if he hadn’t already ruined everything by questioning the drinking. He waited, taking in John’s response, his rapid breathing, his pupils so wide the iris was a barely-visible ring of dark blue around their black depths, his lips parted in--desire? Or was it just disbelief?

Without thinking further or waiting for any further response, Sherlock pressed his lips to John’s again, more insistently this time, pressing with both his mouth and his body, surging forward to elicit a reaction, which he got. Suddenly John was roused to life, and then John was kissing him back, his hands going to Sherlock’s curls, his mouth opening under Sherlock’s, a small, pained-sounding noise escaping from John’s lips. Sherlock could feel the hardness of John’s erection growing against his thigh.

Sherlock’s first feeling was joy and soaring triumph, that John was kissing him back, was responding to him, after so long that Sherlock had wanted and despaired! His senses were overloaded with stimuli. He had to try to catalogue everything about this moment so that he could remember it always. And that was when it all fell apart for Sherlock, as soon as he began to analyse it.

Sherlock could taste wine and Scotch, both very strongly, as their kiss deepened and Sherlock realized what he was doing was wrong. John was compromised, obviously compromised by alcohol consumption. What if John didn’t truly want this? And John was possibly emotionally compromised as well by the recent revelations about Mary (though admittedly, Sherlock found this less likely). Sherlock really could have just ruined everything, more than he’d ever imagined. He broke away from John with difficulty. John’s mouth chased his, but Sherlock backed away more, still keeping hands on John’s shoulders.

“John, no. Not like this,” Sherlock said softly, shaking his head.

John was incredulous. “What? But you…”

Sherlock struggled. How could he explain this? “John, I’m sorry. You’ve had too much to drink and…”

John began to splutter with renewed fury. “Are you…you can’t be serious! Are you actually trying to blame this on me? You came on to me!”

Sherlock looked as miserable as he felt. “John, I know and I’m sorry. I should never have done that. You’re clearly intoxicated and I shouldn’t have taken advantage.”

If Sherlock thought this would mollify John, he was mistaken. “Oh this is rich. What am I, some blushing maiden? First you imply I’m some kind of lush like my sister, now I’m some babe in the woods you’re corrupting. You. I don’t know where the fuck you get off, but I’m done with you playing with me, Sherlock.”

Sherlock felt his eyes burning, and again cursed himself for his inability to control his emotions. He blinked savagely to clear the blurring, not that it mattered. John was back to not looking Sherlock in the face at all. “John…John, please listen,” Sherlock was nearly stammering, “I’m not trying to play with you. I know I’ve made a mess of things and I am sorry.”

There was steel in John’s voice when he replied, “No. Enough. I’m not kidding now, Sherlock, I will break you in half if you don’t fucking let me by and let me out of here right. Fucking. Now.”

Sherlock, defeated, stood aside.

oooOOOooo

John, who did not have Sherlock’s gift for making a cab instantly materialize out of air, walked for some time before successfully hailing a taxi, which gave him a little time to sober up and calm down. John had his faults, and plenty of them, but he was not too stubborn to admit to himself the truth in what Sherlock had said about the drinking. Had he not had the same thought himself just the previous night? Had he not decided on tea instead of Scotch at that time in a half-hearted resolution not to drink? It might be time to admit that the thing was, if not a full-blown problem, at least well on its way to becoming a problem that had a handle on him instead of the other way around.

And Oh My God, that kiss.

It was what he’d been waiting for, even if he hadn’t been able to admit he’d been waiting for it. Did this mean that Sherlock felt the same? Could Sherlock feel like that about him? Or could it have just been the adrenaline of the argument and being caught up in the moment, and loneliness, and what could it have been? What a mess.

He didn’t know what to think, besides that he had certainly done a fine job of Fucking It All Up.

Whatever anger John had felt toward Sherlock had mostly dissipated by the time the cab had neared his flat, to be replaced by embarrassment. What was it going to be like when they met again? Maybe he should try to head off some awkwardness as soon as possible. Talking would be awful. Texting was bound to be better.

He took out his mobile as the cab approached his neighborhood and texted:

I’m not angry and I’m sorry I shouted at you. Let’s just forget it happened, ok?

John held the phone in his hand for a few minutes, but there was no immediate response.

The cab eased to a stop at the kerb in front of his home and John paid the driver, bidding him good night. As John made his way up the walk, he saw that there were no lights on inside. John registered this just enough to be mildly puzzled. It wasn’t that late, and normally Mary would have left a light on for him even if she’d gone to bed. Come to think of it, she hadn’t replied to his text about having dinner and working on Lestrade's files with Sherlock, had she?

When he reached the door, it pushed open with no resistance. Not locked then. Definitely not like Mary either. He felt a prickling at his spine. Something was Not Right. Really Not Right, and not in a formless dread kind of way. He itched to reach for the gun that would have been at the small of his back if he’d spent the day working a case with Sherlock instead of working at the clinic, but of course it wasn’t there.

John stood just inside the doorway, silent and unmoving, allowing his eyes to adjust to the low light before he proceeded further inside. After a few minutes had passed, he made his way through the lounge in the dark, and into the kitchen. Even having given his eyes time to adjust, it was nearly impossible to see. He decided that the chances of there being anyone there were very slim, and decided to chance a light, and flipped the kitchen switch.

What he saw ratcheted up his feelings of alarm tenfold. The kitchen held evidence of a violent confrontation. A teacup with a waiting teabag in it sat on the counter, and the kettle was filled with water, but a plate with a sandwich and crisps had been dropped or flung violently to the floor. Shattered remains of the blue plate were everywhere, as well as pieces of the sandwich and crisps. Mary’s handbag was still on the counter. A large kitchen knife was also on the floor.

John called Mary’s name, knowing already that he wouldn’t get any answer. He didn’t get any.

John took out his mobile and dialed Sherlock.

Chapter Text

After John texted Mary about his dinner plans with Sherlock, Mary sat at her kitchen table running her thumb over the screen of her mobile. She did not reply to John’s text. Her other hand rubbed absently over the swell of her belly. Mary put the phone down and contemplated the options remaining to her in her untenable situation.

Her handbag sat on the table nearby, and she drew from it the burner mobile. It had 16 missed calls on it from Sebastian Moran. He wasn’t even bothering to send her text messages anymore. Her time was growing short. There was no doubt that he was going to escalate matters soon if she didn’t take steps to intercept him.

John was out, she had at least two and a half hours before he’d even be finished work, and then he’d meet Sherlock after. She’d bet folding money he’d linger long after dinner, because he very often did. She could depend on John to be out for hours yet. 

Mary had vowed to herself and to Moran that she was not going to call him from home, but to hell with it. John had no motive, and frankly no capacity for the kind of subterfuge that would cause him to send a text like he just had and then suddenly burst through the door the next moment to catch her on the phone with Moran. No. Subterfuge wasn’t John’s area, was it?

She dialed Moran’s number.

Mary didn’t even wait for him to speak once the ringing stopped, signaling that the phone had been answered.

Her voice was as even as ever. “Look, Moran, I can see you aren’t going to stop. Do you seriously think I can do the assassin thing for you in this condition? You think I can climb about in the rafters of some building in a black cat-suit shaped like this when I can’t even see my feet, or sit on a stake-out for you for days…I have news. I can go about forty minutes without needing the loo.”

Moran’s voice was fraternally reassuring. “You don’t even need to, love. You’re acting mainly as bait here. It’s not even really you that I want, you must know that.”

“Well then what do you want? Because what I want is my life back. Will that be allowed to happen when this is done?” Mary asked, having to work now to keep her voice even.

Moran’s growing boredom with the conversation came through in his tone, “I suppose. Your life’s not my problem. It’s Holmes that I want.”

Mary was incredulous. “Yeah, sure, I’ll just hand him right over. I’ll just ring him up and invite him for tea with you. And then you can kill him, and my husband would be thrilled to spend the rest of his life with me after that, and his brother will leave both of us alone. I don’t think so. Sherlock Holmes, really? You’re going to tear that whole situation wide open all over again? Why?”

Moran was quiet for a moment. “That’s not your problem now, is it?”

Mary said nothing, waiting to see if anything else was forthcoming. After a few moments, Moran did continue.

“Let’s just say he’s cost me so much.”

“What are you on about? Moriarty? Still? You probably should consider letting it go. Why now? It’s been a long, long time,” Mary replied.

“No, not just Moriarty, you goddamned idiot, not that it wouldn’t be enough. He’s cost me a fortune, and that was my money to get away from here for good. Look. You just deliver me Holmes and we’ll be square, see? This will be all over. You can have your life back,” Moran sneered.

“Don’t you see that’s not going to work? If I give you Sherlock, I will lose my husband. If I don’t, you’ll blackmail me and I’ll still lose my husband. What kind of a choice is that? I have no incentive to work with you,” Mary said.

Moran’s tone turned contemplative. “You know, I tried to take care of this myself. I’m not into games like Jim was. I wanted to keep it simple. But that Sherlock Holmes, he’s turned out to be a tough nut to crack. Thought I had him, but turned out it was a no-go. You might not relish the idea of climbing about and staking out a mark, but I don’t mind at all. Your husband now. He follows a pretty predictable schedule. Bet I could have better luck with ol’ Johnny-Boy.” Moran mused. “It’s become too much trouble, trying to take out Holmes all by myself. So, there’s losing your husband, and then there’s losing your husband. You wanted incentive? How’s that do?”

“What are you saying? You already took a shot at Sherlock and missed him?” Mary asked sharply. She didn’t reply to the threat against John, because it wasn’t the least bit surprising, and she didn’t want to give the son of a bitch the satisfaction of a reaction. Better not to betray any emotion if it could be accomplished.

“My temper got the better of me, I’ll admit,” Moran said, taking a regretful tone, “I wasn’t thinking of the long game. I was sure I’d got him. If there’s anyone who’s a better shot than you, it’s me. I’m still not sure what went wrong. But now? Now I’m actually glad I missed him. Because the money, love. I still need that money. It’s time to move on, and I find myself a bit short on funds. And who better to get money out of than a posh bastard like Holmes with an even more posh bastard of a brother?”

Mary thought quickly. She had no idea what money he was talking about. The money he would have made from contract hits if Moriarty was alive? Something else? But that wasn’t really important. There was a good chance that if Sebastian Moran was acting alone and was talking about trying to extort ransom money out of Mycroft Holmes, he was in way over his head.

Then it could finally be over, and she could have her life back.

She could go along, and if it all went badly for Moran, she could explain exactly what had happened. Sherlock could deduce that she was telling the truth. She’d been coerced. She’d had to comply.

And if it went Moran’s way, and Moran killed Sherlock or successfully ransomed him?

Then maybe that was a sign.

There was always her cut of the ransom, which she would negotiate in advance. Sebastian Moran knew her well enough to know that even in her compromised position, she wasn’t going to work for free.

Possibly it was time to face the fact that after Magnussen and now this new development, that maybe it was never going to be over. There would always be someone else with a pre-paid mobile phone. With some incriminating pictures. With a video. Someone out there just waiting to tear it all to shreds, her pretty little life.

Maybe it was time for her to disappear.

These thoughts passed through Mary’s mind in mere seconds.

“Alright, fine, I’m in. What are my instructions?” Moran gave Mary the address of an abandoned chemical factory in East Ham. “A chemical factory? Really? Could you come up with something more likely to damage my unborn baby? Maybe a leaking nuclear reactor site or something?”

“Come or don’t, but make a decision within the hour,” Moran said shortly, and rang off.

Mary knew the decision had already been made when she’d decided to dial his number in the first place.

She hung up the phone and looked around her kitchen. She went over to her kettle, filled it, and switched it on. She took a mug from the cabinet and added a tea bag. Then she went to the refrigerator and took out ham and cheese, took out bread, and calmly made a sandwich, which she placed on a blue plate. She took out a knife and cut the sandwich in half. She added crisps to the plate. She studied it a moment.

The kettle had clicked off while she was preparing the sandwich, but she didn’t bother to prepare the cup of tea.

She picked up the plate with the sandwich and threw it at the floor at an angle with enough force to shatter the plate and send the contents scattering everywhere.

She examined her handiwork, and was mostly satisfied.

She pulled a larger chef’s knife from the block near the stove and threw that as well, to complete the illusion of having attempted, unsuccessfully, to fight off an attacker.

Then she went upstairs into her bedroom and opened her knicker and bra drawer. She felt under the top, and there it was--a small change purse held up with packing tape that contained folded cash and a prepaid debit card. There was more than enough money there to last her for some time. She opened the drawer above that. Similarly taped, she found a prepaid flip-phone, and next to it a taped charger. Rudimentary, but it would get the job done.

And then under the bureau itself, held with much more tape, a loaded Beretta 92FS.

From the closet, she took a jacket that was too warm for the weather but which had ample pockets for all of these items. She left the flat, making sure all of the lights were off and not locking the door behind her. Thinking twice, she left the front door just a tiny bit ajar.

oooOOOooo

As John left 221B, Sherlock let his back hit the door and he closed his eyes, sliding down the door to sit on the floor.

He waited for the questioning voices in his head to return, but there was nothing yet; just an aching sadness, and a certainty that he had once and for all ruined his friendship with John by crossing the line that must not be crossed.

John had responded to him physically, but John had said, more than once and for all to hear, that he was Not Gay. Even if he had latent feelings in that direction, there was no reason to expect that he was ready or willing to explore that part of his sexuality, and Sherlock had, in effect, tricked him into doing so when he was unable to consent by pressing him while he was intoxicated. It’s the kind of thing Sherlock would have done before. Sherlock liked to think he was a different man now, a better man now.

That wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. The feelings Sherlock had for John were worth so much more than the treatment Sherlock had just given them—foisting himself wordlessly on a man who didn’t understand what was happening, in the midst of an argument, and without any kind of proper context.

It was shameful how little self-control he’d had.

Sherlock felt a buzzing in his pocket. His phone. He took it out and read the message on the screen from John:

I’m not angry and I’m sorry I shouted at you. Let’s just forget it happened, ok?

Sherlock looked at it in disbelief. Did John think Sherlock could simply delete what had happened? Was that really what John planned to do? It had meant nothing to John after all. He meant to go on as if nothing had occurred. Did John think their friendship could carry on as if it had never happened? As if they had never kissed, had never…

It was only the effect of the alcohol on John then. Sherlock remembered the feel of John’s lips under his own, John’s fingers twined in his hair, the heat and hardness of the entire length of his body pressed against Sherlock’s.

No, Sherlock had committed the entire episode, however brief, to memory, and he would never forget it.

He supposed that he should just be grateful enough that John was willing to remain friends. He still wasn’t sure what, if anything he should say about John’s drinking habit. It was a problem, Sherlock was convinced, and if John wasn’t going to see it, Sherlock was going to have to find some way to make him see it, there were no two ways about it.

While he was still absorbed in these thoughts and with the phone still in his hands, it began vibrating. Sherlock started. John was actually ringing him. John never called him, knowing that Sherlock hated talking on the phone.

“John.” Sherlock answered immediately.

“Sherlock. Someone has been in my flat, Sherlock. Mary is gone. She’s gone, Sherlock! I got back to the place and it looks like she’s been abducted. Oh, Christ. Jesus Christ,” John half-shouted, half-moaned into the phone.

Sherlock was on his feet, into his Belstaff and was halfway out the door before John had finished speaking. “John! Are you sure that no one is in the flat with you?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Sherlock descended the stairs and began frantically looking left and right for a cab as soon as he reached the pavement. He saw one and signaled. As it slowed, he said, “You’ve checked the flat thoroughly.”

“Yes.”  John was pacing. Sherlock could tell by the cadence of his voice.

“You have your gun.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes.” Still pacing.

“And you are certain Mary isn’t there and that she was taken against her will?” Sherlock asked as he opened the door to the cab and entered.

No longer pacing, composure lost, John cried, “Sherlock, are you fucking coming or not?”

Sherlock gave John’s address to the cabbie, which was audible to John on the other end of the line. He added, “And there’s a rather generous tip in it for you if you hurry.” And then again to John, “I am on my way, as you hear. Please, John, try to remain just calm enough to answer my questions. You obviously are certain she isn’t there. What makes you think she was taken against her will?”

“Her handbag is here. It has her wallet and her own mobile and the mobile from that bastard. She wouldn’t have left those things here and that phone for me to find,” John answered, and Sherlock’s stomach clenched in sympathy at the sick sound in John’s voice.

Sherlock’s ability to divorce himself absolutely from all emotional involvement in a case was, in his own opinion, always one of his greatest strengths as a detective. He knew that his inability to do so in the Magnussen case was one of the things that had cost him so dearly then. He tried desperately to clear his mind of everything but fact.

Fact. Right. Cold hard reason, remember what that is? Remember how you used to value it above all things? What if you cannot find her? What if something happens to John’s baby? What use will John have for you then, if you allow such a thing to occur? What if John himself is in danger? What if it wasn’t just the Magnussen affair and Moriarty/Brook debacle where you blew it, what if you’re really just past it, and all of your wallowing in sentiment has ruined your ability for rational thought forever? It would be nothing less than you deserve, really. STOP. DELETE.

“Alright John. I’m on my way. Try to remain calm. Don’t shoot me when I come in.”

oooOOOooo

As soon as Sherlock arrived at John’s house, John felt somewhat better. Not entirely better, obviously, but John was smart enough to know when he was wholly out of his depth, and this was that time. Something about having Sherlock there to look over his kitchen like it was any other crime scene, all cool detachment, was comforting. John got to enjoy this sensation of comfort for all of three minutes before the wrong took over firmly again.

“Have you called Lestrade?” Sherlock asked, sweeping through the front door.

 “No, I’ve only called you. Should I call him?” John asked in turn, still looking a bit lost.

Sherlock turned on the outside lights, then went back outside to look about, leaving the front door open. “Have you got a torch?”

John reached into the cupboard under the kitchen sink to grab one, and then stepped out the door and handed it to him, glad to have something to do other than just standing around feeling extraneous.

Sherlock came back inside presently, making a dissatisfied noise. John trailed after him. Apparently whatever Sherlock saw outside did not meet with his investigative approval.

Sherlock looked carefully at the doorway of the flat, then he crawled about on the floor, examining the shards of the plate, and the remains of the sandwich. He picked up the knife carefully with his gloved hand and pulled out his magnifying glass, examining it very closely. He took a long time about it. Once he was done examining it he pulled the gloves off and pocketed them. Sherlock sat back on his heels and continued to hold the knife.

John waited. He thought about Mary, about how much he had tried to avoid her presence lately. He thought about spending evenings getting drunk avoiding bed with Mary at the same kitchen table Sherlock was currently sitting next to, and his eyes flashed to Sherlock; even now John felt his pulse quicken as the sense memory of earlier that night recurred unbidden. This was superseded by an image of Mary smiling at John fondly after they’d shared a laugh, as she had sometimes. There was guilt, but they had been through so much—John had been through so much, that his capacity for guilt over his near-infidelity was much diminished.

John thought about kissing Sherlock, and how for a little while, the wrong had been gone. Logic dictated that it wasn’t so, but it was hard not to think that he was now about to pay for his drop of contentment with a sea of misery, as he had done so many times before.

But John realized that even if he was well on his way to being entirely out of love with Mary, if not already there, that that was a far cry from not feeling any concern at all for her welfare, especially since she was carrying their (yes? no?) baby.

John tried again, “Sherlock? Should I call in Lestrade?”

Sherlock still sat back on his heels holding the knife. John could one of Sherlock’s eyes reflected, darker steel and blue in the steel of the blade.

John wasn’t sure what to make of his silence, and suddenly the feeling of wrong, having returned since leaving 221B and already strong, increased.

“What, do you not know if I should call Lestrade or not? What is this?” John asked.

“John, please, just let me think a moment,” Sherlock said, tonelessly.

John stood, waiting. Precious minutes passed. He knew how Sherlock operated; sometimes he required the quiet calm of his Mind Palace to help him find the things forgotten, he needed the deep recesses of memory to find the tiny fragment of data that would be the key to finding the missing person, to catching the criminal, to cracking the case. However, sometimes that process took excruciatingly long. And right now, John Watson was standing in the middle of his smashed kitchen, and his pregnant wife, (whatever their issues) was out there somewhere, maybe dying. He didn’t have the patience for excruciatingly long.

John breathed in and out, slowly, concentrating on not shouting. He wanted not to act like a lunatic, remembering that Sherlock was trying to help him here. When John was pretty sure that he could manage not to sound like a maniac, he spoke. Carefully.

“Sherlock. Should I. Call Greg Lestrade?”

Sherlock continued to look down at the knife in his hands. John bent at the waist to try to meet Sherlock’s eyes. He was unable to do so. John knew that he had already done enough to hurt Sherlock in the past several hours, and he didn’t want to do any more damage. John spoke as carefully as he could.

“Sherlock, if you’re in there, can you look at me please?” John said, still keeping his voice calm.

Refusing still to meet John’s eyes, Sherlock took a gulpingly deep breath and began, “This knife. It’s the key to the whole thing. The rest of the scene is certainly suggestive, but the knife is the real key.” Sherlock began to tap his fingernails on the side of the blade in a rapid staccato rattle, a sound that set John’s teeth on edge. The feeling of WRONG! was screaming now.

Stop, Sherlock, Christ please just stop. Don’t say anything else. You know what? Don’t say another word, because I know whatever you’re going to say is going to be no good bad horrible WRONG. It is. I don’t want to know it. Once you say the words they can’t be unsaid. Let’s just go together away from here. We started something before we didn’t get to finish it and I want to know, I need to—

John of course said none of these things, and cut off this last thought before it could fully form itself.

Rather than stopping Sherlock from speaking, as was his first inclination, John rushed him on instead, unable to bear the suspense any longer.  If I have to hear it, let’s have it then. “I’m trying my best to be patient here, Sherlock, but it’s my wife and my baby’s lives in jeopardy here and I’m not understanding what you’re saying so can you please say something that FUCKING SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING?” John stopped and took two gasping breaths of his own.

See? There you go, Fucking It All Up, Watson. Then he began again. “Sherlock I’m sorry I began to shout. I am obviously upset. Please, explain. Clearly, you have a deduction. I would like to hear it.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, startling lightly, as though he’d forgotten he’d begun to speak, and had just been reminded.  He stopped tapping the knife and began instead to stroke a single long finger up and down the blade near the edge.

John wanted to tell him to stop or he was going to cut himself, but he didn’t, unable to interrupt. John felt like an insect pinned to a board, feeling helpless to stop WRONG that he was feeling, or to stop Sherlock hurting himself, or to stop the nothing good that was coming.

Sherlock continued, “The scene, the broken crockery and the thrown cutlery all are meant to suggest that Mary had a struggle and was removed from the house by force. But the fingerprints, John. The prints on the plate, on the knife, they’re all clear. There are no smears. There are no scuffs in the front doorway, none on the floor here in the kitchen, none on the kitchen furniture, nothing here indicates a struggle. Surely, at least the knife that the attacker took away from her would have smeared prints. Would probably also have the prints of more than one person. It does not.”

John was silent as he took this in. Sherlock was likewise silent for a moment.

“John, this scene was staged. Mary was not abducted. She set it up to make it look that way, and then she left.” Then Sherlock finally looked up at John, his expression carefully neutral.

John regarded Sherlock with a look of bleak despair, and then he turned and fled, leaving Sherlock alone on the Watson kitchen floor holding the knife in his hands.

Chapter Text

John left the door ajar behind him, heedless, and didn’t know or care where he was going; it was only important that he was going. He didn’t spare a thought for his and Mary’s car parked at the kerb. He’d never learned to drive until they’d gotten married and moved to the suburbs, and it still felt unnatural and strange, like so much of this new life did, so he didn’t even think of the car. He certainly didn’t think of driving as a way to clear his head. What John thought of was running in the clear night air. He ran first at a full-out sprint, then as his body reminded him that he was no longer twenty-five, he slowed to a jog, and then to a panting walk. He’d left behind his immediate neighborhood, and things were a bit dodgier here. He stopped for a moment, with his hands on his knees and his head down, catching his breath, still not allowing himself to think. He looked up at the building next to him, which had a buzzing partly-lit neon sign. It read 3 M’s Pub.

What did Sherlock say about coincidences? The universe was rarely so lazy. This looked like just the place for not thinking. Perfect. Just what the doctor ordered. Well maybe not. But fuck it. It was just what this doctor was ordering, right enough.

Before he could reconsider he went inside, allowing the familiar scents and sounds of neighborhood watering hole to envelop him. It was like a comforting balm. His mind wanted to wander to all of the time he’d spent in places like this in the time between Sherlock’s “suicide” and meeting Mary, but he wouldn’t let it. There was a telly over the bar showing football, which made John suddenly wonder what time it was—it apparently was not nearly as late as it felt, and even though the pub was a dive, there were several people bellied up to the bar watching.

He didn’t want company. He didn’t want even the most remote possibility someone might try to start up a friendly conversation with him. He thought he might punch anyone in the face who tried to talk to him, and that would not help matters one bit. There were a few booths, so he went to one of those instead. The wrong in him was screaming. He ignored it. He made sure to sit with his back away from doors and windows without conscious thought.

A brunette, blue-eyed waitress with cute-but-fading looks came to take his order.

He didn’t even manage a smile at her. Very not-John-Watson. “Scotch. Neat.”

“Alright, then. Getcha anything else?” She asked him.

“No, thank you. You know what,” John said stopping her as she was leaving the table with the order, “Just bring the whole bottle, will you?”

John took out his phone to check it. No messages.

He started pecking out a text to Sherlock,

I’m sorry I ran out on you but

But what? He didn’t know where to go from there, how to continue the text. The waitress returned with a bottle of very cheap Scotch and a glass, both of which she plonked on the table. John poured generously, sipped and then winced a bit. He drank a lot at home, but never this sort of paint-remover. That was ok. He was sure it would get easier going down the more of it he drank.

Now that he was sitting still and hadn’t really downed enough alcohol to sufficiently numb his brain, it was hard not to think, and not thinking had been his only objective.

The scene at home was staged.

Mary had staged it. She had premeditated that whole thing. And that picture of the Carl Powers/Moriarty pool. Did it mean she was one of the snipers at that pool? Christ, could it mean that?

He had already known his whole life with Mary and everything about her was a lie. He hadn’t read the AGRA flash drive, because why bother? He’d known what he needed to know, hadn’t he? But apparently not. How could he still be surprised to find out new things about her that were lies?

And then she’d left him with a staged crime scene, making him think she’d been fucking kidnapped, letting him be frantic with worry over her and the baby. What a shitty thing to do. There was nothing that could justify that. She knew what he’d gone through, she knew--

Sherlock had not wanted to tell him that the abduction was staged, just like he hadn’t wanted to tell John about Mary’s probable-sometime-affair. Was Sherlock just afraid of hurting John? Maybe. But John thought back to the immediate aftermath of the Sex-Doll Sniper shooting, and the way Sherlock had seemed just plain old, well, he’d seemed--just afraid of John. How many times since Sherlock’s return had he caught Sherlock looking worried that he might push John too far and make him leave, sometimes over big things, but sometimes over next to nothing?

And John had. He’d left Sherlock there on his kitchen floor. Twice now just today he’d left Sherlock.

John looked at the glass in his hand, which was still mostly full.

What in the fuck was he doing here? Drinking? He had to go back, and right now.

He reached into his wallet, dropped some notes on the table, and checked his phone again as he headed for the door. Still no messages.

He quickly finished the message he had started while standing by the table.

I’m sorry I ran out on you but I just needed a minute to clear my head. I’m coming back. Where are you? Still there? Wait for me.

“Change your mind then, love?” said the waitress, as John made his exit.

John checked his phone once more. Nothing. Every nerve ending jangled with the anxiety of wrong. What if he was too late to avert some disaster?

He was no sooner on the street than a sleek black Jaguar pulled up beside him and the back door opened from the inside.

Mycroft Holmes leaned out and peered out at him from the semi-dark interior. “Get in, Doctor Watson,” he said peremptorily.

“I have to find Sherlock,” said John impatiently, and started to turn away.

Mycroft rolled his eyes and huffed. “What other reason could I possibly have for wanting to see you other than our mutual desire for Sherlock’s well-being? I don’t mean to insult you, but I’m not so fond of your company that I would accost you on the street just to seek it out. Sherlock is no longer at your flat. He’s gone after your ‘wife’ and is now in danger as a result. So, if you’d care to hurry?” The quotes around the word “wife” were audible.

John looked at his phone again. Still nothing. It didn’t matter that John would have felt it vibrate, he was still going to keep on checking it. He was growing agitated. “How do you even know he was at my flat? Or that he’s looking for Mary? And I’ll still need to stop back home first then.” He took a step toward the car.

“Is it this what you’re wanting from your flat?” Mycroft produced John’s gun from beneath his own coat and held it toward John. “Really, you’re wasting time with these pointless questions. How do you think I know? Now get IN, would you?”

John took the gun and got into the car, resigned. “I won’t even ask why you have this.”

Mycroft settled back more comfortably into his seat, planting his umbrella between his knees. “Thank you for small favors.”

oooOOOooo

After John’s footfalls died away, Sherlock remained seated on the Watson kitchen floor for several moments with his hands steepled under his chin and the knife in his lap. He tried to deduce where Mary might have gone, but without more data, it was useless. Somewhere to deal with her blackmailer, certainly, but it could be anywhere.

But Sherlock suspected that staging this scene meant either Mary wanted help, or that she was being blackmailed into compromising Sherlock in some way (or, far more unacceptably, into compromising John in order to get to Sherlock. That could not be allowed to happen).

John had said she’d left both her personal mobile and the burner mobile here. That had to be intentional. Why would she leave them if not to leave some kind of clue?

He stood and took the burner mobile from her handbag. PIN lock. He thumbed 2472, the numbers corresponding with AGRA, fully expecting it to work, which it did.

Just as Sherlock suspected, Mary wanted to get caught. It was the obvious explanation for why she’d expend so little effort on her cover. This staged crime scene itself was child’s play. It was enough to fool John, but only just, and not nearly enough to fool Sherlock. Even Scotland Yard would have seen through this sham in minutes. The single set of fingerprints, the lack of any effort to make it look like there was a real scuffle—the dearth of attention paid to the door or entry way to indicate forced entry—and really, it wasn’t like they were talking about any ordinary woman. Mary, even eight months pregnant, would have fought. There would have been signs of a struggle beyond a single broken plate on the kitchen floor. The fingerprints of several assailants, gunshot holes, blood, broken and overturned furniture, the boiling kettle having been thrown, broken glass—bodies, even—these would have been things that would have made a believable abduction scene in the home of Mary Watson.

The laughably simple phone PIN was more evidence that Mary wanted Sherlock to know what she was doing. AGRA—who had more than twenty years of experience in the CIA, international freelance espionage, and mercenary sniper-work according to Mycroft’s intelligence, was not going to use her initials as her phone PIN unless she wanted that PIN to be guessed. He was sure even John would have tried that one after he tried both of their birthdays and their anniversary.

The phone had no stored photos and no emails. There were dozens of phone calls, many of them missed calls, all to and from the same number, but mostly received, as though the caller had been harassing Mary. There was only one text conversation in her messages, between Mary and someone called SM. Sherlock recognized the number from the mobile that had been sent to John; it was the same.

Sherlock scrolled quickly through the text messages, which were of this SM trying to get Mary to do a job, and of Mary trying to tell SM she couldn’t work in her physical condition, that she was not a good bet for blackmail, telling SM not to try to contact John, and so on…and then the communication abruptly ended, until the last message, which was sent just less than an hour prior. It was an address.

Well, that was convenient, wasn’t it?

He didn’t know where John was, although he could deduce.  It was just as well that he was out of the way for the time being. After a wobbly start, Sherlock felt he had done an admirable job so far of shutting off the part of his mind that wanted to consider what it meant that John had fled the way he had, the part of himself that wanted to relive their moments in 221B, and to wonder what, if any future their friendship had. That was all for later. The only objective now was keeping John safe, and to do that, for the moment, he had to find Mary. If a trap was being laid, it was being laid for Sherlock, of that he was certain. Mary would have expected Sherlock to solve her puzzle, not John. Regardless, he wanted John well clear of whatever danger awaited.

Less than ten minutes from the time that John departed the scene, Sherlock pocketed Mary’s burner mobile, and was out the door in search of a cab.

oooOOOooo

Mary sat in the smelly chemical factory in an uncomfortable metal folding chair, her Beretta holstered at her ankle, the bulky Kalashnikov Moran had given her across her knees, enjoying the glamorous life of the international assassin. She was bored and she was cold, her back hurt, her arse was falling asleep, and she wanted something to drink. She stood and paced a bit, but it was no good. At this stage of pregnancy, stiff and cold and walking around on a concrete floor wasn’t any better than stiff and cold sitting in an awful chair. She sat again, returning the rifle to her lap. Frankly, the Kalashnikov was at once overkill and bound to be inaccurate in these conditions, but Moran had always valued appearance over substance. It was why he was destined to be the number two man in any operation he was a part of, and it was why he was having such a hard time now that he was trying to strike out on his own. It didn’t matter how much yelling and name calling he did; he didn’t have the brains to lead.

“I can’t believe you left your mobile at your house. You really are a dumb bitch, you know it?” Moran said, shaking his head. “How are we supposed to know what the hubby and his boyfriend are up to if you can’t get in touch with them?”

She again refused to react. “Relax, Sebastian. The way I set things up should draw Holmes right to us,” she said soothingly. “You texted the address to the mobile you gave me, which I also left there right in plain sight, and Sherlock will find it.”

She knew Sherlock would, she just hoped he would not have John with him when he arrived.

oooOOOooo

“So what is the plan, then?” John asked as the Jaguar began to glide without a bump or a hitch over the streets.

“There is no plan as yet,” said Mycroft. “I don’t know where Sherlock is. I was hoping that you might be able to shed some light. I see that once again, though, my brother has set out to save you, ever the white knight where you are concerned, as always without consulting you beforehand.”

“What do you mean ‘Once again’…what are you on about?” John asked.

Mycroft huffed and rolled his eyes impatiently. “Please, John. Now isn’t really the time.”

John challenged him, “And why not? You’re the one who brought it up, and you just said you didn’t have a plan, so telling me what in the hell you’re talking about can at least pass the time,” A new thought suddenly occurred to John.  “You know what, take me back to my house first. Mary left her mobile there. Maybe I can try to see if there’s anything that will tell me where she went.”

“That’s actually not a terrible idea,” Mycroft sounded grudgingly impressed.

John was about to inform Mycroft that he hadn’t made it through medical school by being a complete drooling moron, when he suddenly remembered his own burner mobile that he’d left behind in his haste and confusion. “Oh my God, how stupid am I? I have a mobile from—obviously I need to have that!”

“What? You need to have what?” Mycroft seemed thoroughly confused.

“Just get me back to my flat.” John didn’t want to waste any more time. He checked his regular phone again. Still nothing. He dialed Sherlock’s number this time instead of texting him, which went straight to voicemail. Phone almost certainly off then. Fabulous. No point continuing to text him, probably.

Mycroft directed the driver, and then John gave Mycroft the short version of what had been going on with the mystery mobiles.

By the time John was finished his tale, they were back at John and Mary’s flat, where John retrieved the mobile from where he’d dropped it on the kitchen table in all the confusion.

He looked for the burner in Mary’s handbag and all he found was her iPhone. He took it with him.

Then he was back in the car with Mycroft.

“One of her phones is gone, the one from that goon. I guess Sherlock has it. I have her regular phone here, which looks normal to me. Sherlock has his phone off,” John reported.

They sat idling in front of flat for the moment while Mycroft contemplated what should come next.

“Now what’s your idea?” John asked. “I’m sending a text to this dickhead who mailed me this phone. Maybe he’ll respond. It’s worth a shot. He’s always responded before.” He didn’t wait for Mycroft to agree or not with this course of action before he sent:

“Do you have Mary or Sherlock? Where are you?”

The reply came at once.

:D Oh do I? Come find out! :D

This text was followed by another with an address.

“Oh, it can’t really be that easy, can it?” John asked incredulously.

“It can be if they’re trying to draw you there,” Mycroft replied grimly. He took out his own mobile and began dialing.

“You think it’s a trap, then?” John asked.

“Probably meant to be, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there,” Mycroft replied. Then he held up a finger for John to wait and turned his attention to his phone, as he started taking care of business.

To the person who answered, Mycroft said, “Mobilize operation Ugly Duckling, contingency plan Troy, repeat, Troy. Stand ready, but do not apprehend until I give the word. Here is the address…John?” John held out his mobile so that Mycroft could repeat it to whatever spook he was directing. Mycroft asked his agent, “What is at that location?”

Mycroft listened for a few moments and then asked, “How long should it take us to reach the location from here and how long for the team to mobilize?”

He listened some more, and then rang off, replacing the phone in his inside breast pocket.

John waited a beat and then, impatiently, “Well?”

“The address is a condemned factory. We can be there in twenty-five minutes. My team can be there in fifteen, and ready for action in twenty.”

“Your team; what is this, rugby?” John asked.

Mycroft made a sour face and didn’t dignify this with a reply.

John’s face did something complicated while he tried to decide whether he was going to pursue the topic of conversation that was on his mind. When he came to a decision, he spoke. “So explain this white knight crap you were spewing just now? Because I’m really not in the mood for your Holmesian riddles tonight, I have to tell you.” John said.

Mycroft studied John for a moment over the handle of his umbrella, still planted between his knees. “You aren’t being deliberately obtuse, are you, for reasons of your own? I wouldn’t have thought it possible that you could really not know this, but you don’t, do you?”

John smiled, but the smile didn’t come close to reaching his eyes, and he laughed a laugh that was entirely without humor. Intelligent people knew not to trifle with John Watson in this state. “Mycroft, it’s been one hell of a day, so anytime you’d like to start making sense now, or I will get out of this car and go after them myself.”

Mycroft Holmes was (obviously) a highly intelligent person. He wasn’t about to trifle with John Watson. However, the idea that John would leave the moving vehicle was pure foolishness, and Mycroft called him on it.  “You won’t. I won’t allow you, and it’s absurd to even say you would. So that’s an empty threat. By jumping off the roof, John. Pulling you from the fire. Shooting Magnussen—committing premediated murder. Now there’s this; whatever form this dragon takes, he’s off to slay it. How many times does he have to risk his life to keep you out of the danger?”

John started spluttering. “But, I…what…the roof…. For me….what? That was to stop Moriarty….I don’t understand. And he shot Magnussen to protect Mary, he said so. And this… now…I don’t want…“John trailed off utterly bewildered.

Mycroft looked caught between pity and contempt. Neither look gave John any comfort. “He wanted to stop Moriarty, yes, but mainly he was trying to avert a threat to your safety. Magnussen? Again, trying to avert threats to your safety and happiness. You, John Watson, it’s always you.”

John’s memory replayed “It’s you, John Watson, you keep me right…”

John was thunderstruck. He remembered Sherlock sending him away on a false pretext right before setting up his jump from the rooftop, then John calling him a machine and running out on Sherlock. His face, in the moment just after he said “Alone protects me” just a fragment of a memory—a flash and gone. So many other glimpses of Sherlock’s face caught in those fragments of moments when John guessed he wasn’t supposed to be able to see the Sherlock under the mask

on the train carriage (yes of course I forgive you), at the wedding reception (don’t know how those rumours started!), in hospital more than once as he drifted in and out of consciousness and would wake to see me at his bedside, as Magnussen tormented me and again just after the bastard fell to the pavement, before he got on that bloody plane, HOW many times since he’s been back after that you saw it, you did, HOW could you be so willfully blind?

 culminating in what he suddenly saw fully and for real tonight. John suddenly was full of questions, but the person he wanted, needed to ask them of was not here. John felt like something was missing--and the feeling was strange, like free-fall, or like his ears were ringing when they weren't--but he couldn’t put a finger on it for almost a full minute. What could be missing? He suddenly felt filled with all this incredible new knowledge.

Then he had it.

The feeling of WRONG was gone.

He needed to find Sherlock.

Who was evidently risking his life to keep John safe after John had run out on him. Again.