Chapter 1: Prologue: Homecoming
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The tall, blonde-haired figure stands silently in the evening twilight, smoke from the cigarette tightly clenched in his fingers swathing around his head like a shroud. The night is still and calm, the sound of the surf crashing against the distant beach barely registering as background noise in the man's mind.
He is standing on the balcony of his hotel room, barefoot, clad in a white, button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up past the elbows, and khaki trousers that hang just a bit too loosely around his hips. His striking emerald eyes are focussed… or rather, unfocussed… at some distant spot on the horizon, or on some distant point in time. The man's stance can in no way be construed as relaxed; his shoulders are tense, his back perfectly straight as if prepared for flight at a moment's notice, his face pinched in a scowl that would make anybody watching (if anybody were) instantly avert their eyes. He's currently enjoying the hospitality of a five-star hotel, all amenities one could possibly wish for, in a country known for its legendary history and breath-taking beauty. He currently isn't aware enough of his surroundings to appreciate any of that. His features have the look of utmost concentration.
If anyone were to look closely enough, to not just see, but observe, they might see a hint of sadness there as well. Although, ever since a… friend… once caught him out, he's been very careful to keep his expression schooled, even if there's nobody around to see. Because one never knows.
He absently rubs at his eyes, but the dry, prickling sensation remains. Sometimes it seems as if the lenses change not only his eye colour, but also the reality of the world he sees through them. Nothing is what it seems, or what it should be, anymore.
A text alert chimes; the man fishes a phone from his pocket and brings it to eye level, squinting in the dimness of the night as he flicks the buttons to read the message. As soon as he does, the blood in his veins turns to ice.
Moran knows you're alive. J has been shot.
He swallows hard; his thumb very slightly shakes as it types a response.
Is he alive?
The next ten seconds are the longest of his life.
Yes, for the moment. He is presently in surgery. It doesn't look good. And the others are now in danger as well.
He was coming back from the shops. He was at the front door of Baker Street when he was shot in the chest, one centimetre to the right of his heart.
He's still at Baker Street?
He moved back in two months ago after the deaths of his wife and infant son.
Without hesitation, he types back.
Coming home, NOW. Make sure that I am granted access to him, no matter his condition.
Understood. Do try and keep a low profile, and remain incognito for the time being. It wouldn't do to show your hand too soon.
Sherlock frowns at his brother's officious tone. He's tempted to fire back a string of insults, but he restrains himself. He flips his phone shut, shoving it back into his pocket. He flicks the remainder of his cigarette over the side of the balcony, and in two strides has opened the sliding glass door and stepped back inside his suite.
The plush, very expensive suite that his brother has rented out for an entire week will now go completely to waste.
Sherlock couldn't care less.
There's only one thing on his mind at the moment, and he is currently in a London hospital, fighting for his life.
A life that Sherlock has put in danger by being cocky, over-confident and careless.
Clenching his jaw, Sherlock throws his suitcase on the bed and proceeds to stuff everything that he had unpacked an hour ago back inside. He grabs his laptop and places it in his holdall along with his toiletries. His brain is on autopilot while his body does the things that are necessary in order for him to finally go home.
His phone pings.
Your ticket is waiting for you at the airport; your flight leaves in three hours. There's a taxi on its way to your hotel. Be careful, brother.
Sherlock doesn't bother replying. He grabs his room key, wallet and passport, stuffing the latter two into his back pocket. He takes one last look around, verifying that he hasn't forgotten anything. Satisfied, with his bag slung over his shoulder and dragging his suitcase behind him, he steps outside his hotel room, and makes his way to the lift.
It takes an eternity to descend the five floors to the reception; during the wait, he decides to contact his brother one more time.
As soon as he's out of surgery, or when there is any change, I want to be contacted immediately. Understood?
Of course, little brother. Don't you think I know how important the doctor is to you? Almost as important as you are to him.
What's that supposed to mean?
As soon as Sherlock hits send, the lift doors open into the foyer. Mycroft's reply, if there is one, will have to wait.
Sherlock has never before experienced this level of utter despair. Not even when he had relapsed for the third time and knew that the consequence would be getting thrown out of his doctoral programme at Cambridge. He had thought that was the end of his life back then. That didn't even begin to compare to this.
John is dying. After all Sherlock had done to ensure his safety, John Watson is fucking dying.
Helplessness has never been a condition that suited Sherlock. He remembers when, at the age of five, he had watched his baby sister draw her last breath. After that, he swore that he would never let that feeling in again. And now it's back, wrapping its unrelenting tendrils around his non-existent heart.
If he could make the plane arrive in London by sheer force of will alone, he would already be there.
The last email had been received one hour ago. The contents were discouraging, to say the least. John had made it through surgery, but the doctors only give him a fifty percent chance of making it through the next twenty –four hours. Surveillance on Edith Hudson and Gregory Lestrade has been tripled, but Sherlock is under no illusions regarding their safety. Moran's location is, for the moment, unknown. He could be anywhere, doing God knows what. It is now up to Sherlock to find him and deal with him.
But Sherlock can't even begin to think about Moran until he's seen John for himself, and ascertained his chances of survival. The answer to that will determine what course of action Sherlock takes regarding the sniper. It will determine whether Sherlock apprehends him... or kills him.
Sherlock leans back in his seat, closes his eyes and tries to empty his mind, at least for the remaining thirty minutes that the plane is in the air. He'll have plenty of time to think again when he lands at Heathrow.
Once back in London, Sherlock wastes no time. He deposits his luggage at the safe house that has been arranged for him, then speeds his way via taxi to University College Hospital. When (if) John's condition stabilises, he will be transferred to Princess Grace at Mycroft's expense. For now, John is in the critical care unit, comatose and fighting for his life.
Sherlock rushes through the revolving entrance doors and runs to the lift, frantically pushing the button that will take him to the correct floor. The climb seems to take forever, as the lift stops on its way to let in other passengers. Sherlock is practically vibrating with barely suppressed anxiety and rage. The lift finally opens, and Sherlock flies out the door. His eyes sweep over the signs hanging on the opposite wall, indicating the direction of Critical Care. Turning left, his long legs take him down the hallway, through a set of doors, and finally arrive at his destination. He stabs the buzzer for entry, and sweeps up to the nurse's station after being allowed in, breathing, "John Watson."
The nurse on duty frowns as she checks her clipboard. "Immediate family only. Name?"
Sherlock's jaw clenches. If Mycroft has failed to follow through on the one request he has made of him…
The nurse's eyebrow rises. "Half-brother? Yes, it says here that you are allowed to see him as soon as you arrive. ID, please?"
He thrusts his false ID at her, fingers drumming on the desk as he waits. The nurse (mid-thirties, divorced, single mother of two) looks at it carefully, lets her gaze slide over him, and nods. She hands his driver's license back, and says "Room 305, it's down the hallway that way, on the left. Five minutes only. Just one word, Mr. Sigerson," she warns as Sherlock starts to walk away. "He has yet to regain consciousness.."
"Yes, I'm well aware of his condition," Sherlock snaps. "I just need a few moments with him, I won't stay to 'disturb' or 'aggravate' him. Thank you." With that, Sherlock turns and strides down the hallway towards John's room. The nurse doesn't stop him.
Sherlock enters the room, and his breath catches. His vision narrows until all he can see is the figure on the bed, barely visible due to bandages, tubing and machinery. From where he stands, he doesn't recognise the man who had been his flatmate/colleague/best friend. He steadies himself, then walks over to the foot of the bed and takes the clipboard hanging there in hand. John's medical records, outlining his status and prognosis. Sherlock, of course, is not a doctor, but he is familiar with the medical jargon. After all, his studies in university were focussed on biochemistry and pharmacology. And he had lived with a doctor for a year and a half. Sherlock therefore understands what it is he is reading. The more he reads, the more feral his expression becomes. He lifts his head, and stares at the figure lying so still on the bed. He gently replaces the clipboard to its designated spot.
Sherlock remains standing in this one spot for several minutes, eyes fixed on his friend. He can feel a slow-burning pulse starting to claw its way from within his chest and spreading outwards. He can no longer hear the whoosh of the ventilator or the beep of the other machines surrounding John. All that he's aware of is a steady hum that is gradually growing louder, and that is trying to block out all of his thoughts. Both of his fists are clenched, and he feels a scream building up inside his larynx trying to break free from behind his tightly-pressed lips. He's reminded of the only other time he's ever felt like this, when he realised that Mrs. Hudson was being threatened and held hostage in his own flat. Part of him wants to laugh out loud at the irony. People never seem to realise that hurting the people closest to him won't ever get him to cooperate or to 'back off'. What it will do is make it that much easier to justify his actions to himself when he responds to their threats in kind.
The look on Sherlock's face is thunderous. The muscles around his mouth tighten, and his eyes reflect back murderous fury. He stalks from the hospital room with one goal in mind.
He is going to find, and then kill, Sebastian Moran. How slowly he does the latter depends completely on whether or not John survives.
Credit goes to fawsley for the line about Sherlock's lenses changing more than the colour of his eyes. I can't accept kudos for that part :)
I'm feeling a bit disheartened about my writing lately. Let me know what you think via feedback; comments are love.
Chapter 2: So It Begins
Grateful thanks go out once again to my beta/britpickers susako and fawsley, whose awesomeness made this chapter so much better than it would have been if left to my own devices. Also thanks to holyfant, who looked over the first part and made crucial suggestions.
Many thanks to all the comments and kudos I have received so far; they give me confidence and motivate me to keep writing, so if you enjoy this, please let me know :)
Twenty-four months earlier, six months after the Fall…
He was sitting in his favourite spot - Regent's Park - nursing a cup of too-strong, atrocious instant coffee from an ancient kiosk somewhere on the Outer Circle. The bitterness of the December air dug itself deep into his bones, insinuating itself past the protection of his down parka and the fleece he wore underneath. This winter was shaping up to be one of the coldest in recent history; he was having a hard time adjusting after leaving the desert behind.
And now it wasn't just the weather he found unsettling about the city. It seemed to lack the very vitality that he used to rely upon to give his life purpose, to make his blood sing with adrenalin and excitement. Had it really only been six months ago that he had possessed everything that he ever thought he could want? And now it was just… gone. And despite the miracle he had begged for, he knew it wasn't coming back.
It didn't surprise him, the effect this loss had had on him. Yes, he had been a soldier, both in Afghanistan and in London; they were both battlefields, in their own way. He had lost friends before, many of them good friends; many of them close friends. Yet somehow, this time it had been different; so much worse than any of the other times. And he knew why that was. He cringed as he imagined a much-loved voice expressing its disdain.
Sentiment. How utterly dull.
Yes. Sentiment indeed.
This time was different because he had never before lost a best friend.
A sigh escaped his pursed lips as he checked his watch; almost time for the meeting. He actually grinned as he thought of all the harsh words his friend would have flung his way if he knew where he spent his time every Thursday afternoon from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Then he immediately sobered as he realised that it was the lack of those harsh words that necessitated these meetings in the first place.
Right after the suicide, he had rapidly spiralled out of control. The drinking, which he had always been careful to censor, for obvious reasons, had finally laid its claim. More than once he had passed out in his flat and awakened in a pool of his own vomit. He didn't have much of a support system anymore. It wasn't that nobody seemed to care enough to check in on him; it was that he didn't care enough to let anyone help him. He had effectively alienated the many people who had tried to offer their friendship. Disgusted by what he perceived as pity and thinly veiled contempt, he had shut them all out of his life; so now he was left pretty much to his own devices. And those devices turned out to be... not so healthy ones.
His therapist wasn't too happy with the direction his life was taking, so she recommended going to some group therapy sessions for people dealing with grief. His friend's voice again: Tedious. Unnecessary. You didn't need it then, and you don't need it now. But he shrugged it aside (you're dead, you no longer get to tell me your opinions on the way I live my life) and decided he would give it a go. It certainly couldn't hurt, could it? What was the worst that could happen?
So he started going. It wasn't that bad, not really. It felt kind of nice to be able to unburden himself without fear of judgment. He didn't relate the whole story, of course; really, who would have believed him? But he told enough to find a touch of solace amongst the company of people who perhaps had an inkling of understanding of the crushing grief that consumed him.
It must have been enough, because he steadily started to feel better. He even started making some friends among his fellow sufferers. He had always been a likeable sort of bloke, so it hadn't been too hard to do. Impromptu gatherings at the pub, at each other's flats, at various restaurants scattered throughout the city. It was… pleasant. Nice. Normal.
Well, he couldn't have everything.
Four months in, he noticed her. Petite (five foot two), short russet hair, sparkling blue eyes. She was an au pair, having been forced a year ago to find a job after the death of her husband of only three months from a rare form of leukaemia. So, not recently bereaved, but still struggling with grief and its aftermath. Enough commonality without taking advantage of her in a weakened state.
Good Lord, he was starting to sound like him.
Tonight, he finally got up his courage. There was usually an hour or two set aside for socialising after the meetings, with beverages and snacks set up in the basement of an old church. He decided he would approach her there, ask her out for coffee. Just as friends. He found himself unaccountably nervous – not having asked anyone out in over a year had left him woefully out of practice - but he had never had any problems in that department before, so he took a deep breath and started making his way over to where she was standing.
But somebody else had made his way over there before he could. It was a new member of the group, someone who just started attending tonight. The man had looked vaguely familiar earlier, but he hadn't been able to place him right away. He narrowed his eyes, and concentrated on trying to remember where he had seen him before. When it finally clicked, the realisation sent a bolt of shock and fresh grief stabbing through him. It was all he could do to gather up the remnants of his tattered psyche and rush up the stairs and out the door before he could give way to his anger and hatred.
The last time he had seen that man, it had been through the sights of his sniper rifle. The man he had been ordered to kill if Sherlock Holmes didn't take a swan dive off of St. Bartholomew's rooftop.
The man known to have been Holmes's 'heart', otherwise known as Dr. John H. Watson.
John knelt at the foot of the gravestone, carefully wiping off the grime that had accumulated within the graved letters of Sherlock's name. No need at this time of year to get rid of weeds and wilted flowers. There had been a surprising number of the latter being left around the general area of the site. Apparently, even though the papers had done a very good job of smearing Sherlock's name, there still were some people loyal to his memory who didn't believe any of the lies. And lies had been what they were. John had never doubted it, but it was nice now to get some corroboration of the fact.
John cleared his throat. He felt a bit silly talking to a piece of granite, but he was always compelled to, every time he visited. At times, it was no different than when he had talked to the actual living man. Sherlock had had a bad habit of not responding to things that John would say. However, that didn't mean that he hadn't been listening. A memory unbidden pushed its way to the forefront of his brain. It had happened during the 'Blind Banker' case. John, hesitant with shame, had attempted to ask Sherlock if he could lend him some money.
Sherlock appeared to not have heard him, when he abruptly jumped up and claimed he had to go to the bank. It became obvious once they got there that Sherlock wasn't interested in the proffered paycheque, nor was the case (seemingly a simple break-in, no theft) something that would normally pique Sherlock's interest (although it turned out be more intriguing than originally expected). When the case had ended, and Sebastian's frankly enormous cheque had been collected, Sherlock had insisted that half of it be deposited in John's account. That's when it had dawned on him; Sherlock had taken the case for John's benefit. He had, in fact, heard John's plea, and had responded in a way that would spare John's pride. He had never actually thanked Sherlock for that.
John shook his head to banish the painful memory.
"Well, Sherlock, your name's been cleared," he said haltingly. "I know that wouldn't have been important to you, but it is to me. Especially after knowing now why you did it."
He took a shaky breath.
"Mycroft…" He fiercely suppressed the hatred that welled up as he said his name…"Mycroft's people found your phone on the rooftop. It took them a few months of working around the encryption mumbo-jumbo, but they found the recording you made while you were talking to Moriarty. And to me. God. I…. I always thought I would be the one dying to protect you. I knew that you weren't the type to commit suicide. I mean, you? I've never known such a self-absorbed, narcissistic individual. Killing yourself would be ridding the world of your massive intellect, and you couldn't have that, could you?"
"But the reason you did do it is almost even more out of character. To save your friends. That reeks of sentiment, and caring. Not even your brother thought you capable of such a thing.
"I always wished that you cared more about people. That was the one thing I would have truly changed about you, that maybe you would be just a little more human. I knew you had the capacity, deep down. I only regret that you got there at the expense of your life. That was a hefty price. Too hefty, I would say.
"I guess what I came here for today was to say… thank you. That's such a weak thing to say in response to you giving up your life for us. But it's the only thing I can say. That's twice now that you've saved me. I'm just sorry that I wasn't able to return the favour."
John paused, his breath hitching as his throat closed up and his eyes started to burn. Every time he cried, he was sure it would be the last. Every time, he felt that he had finally reached the bottom of the reservoir. He was starting to believe that that reservoir of tears was endless, without limit.
He didn't try to stifle them, this time. They ran unhindered down his cheeks, more of a cleansing baptism this time than the previous times. Before, they had been a sign of misery and anguish, an outward expression of the guilt that he felt for the fact that he hadn't been able to stop Sherlock's final act. Now, he knew that there had been nothing he could have done. Once Sherlock deemed an action necessary, there had been no stopping him, no matter the consequences. The tears he cried now were healing tears, tears of gratitude. Not only for his own life, but for the lives of Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade as well. Sherlock had had more than one friend after all.
It was time to actually say the words. He was still grieving, and he wouldn't stop visiting the grave every so often, but it was time to put the denial aside and start moving forward. He owed his friend that much.
John did a rendition of the same military pose he did on the day he had begged Sherlock for a miracle (and he may not have received the miracle he had been hoping for, but he got one just the same); he straightened his back, nodded at Sherlock's grave, actually saluting this time, turned with precision and walked away.
The figure was leaning against the giant oak whose branches hung over the grave, stalwartly resisting the urge to peek around the tree and watch John walk away. He brought the cigarette to his lips (his first since The Woman), took a deep drag, and held it for several seconds before exhaling. His mouth quirked into a slight smile.
"You did return the favour, John," he said softly. "Many times over."
Then, almost as an afterthought, "You're welcome."
He pulled out his phone and texted: Apparently name has been cleared. Still much to do. At least two of the assassins no longer in London; most likely location New York City. Need to leave ASAP.
Response: Documents ready within 48 hours. Will let you know when and where for pickup.
Sherlock sighed, and hesitantly replied with two words he rarely used with his brother: Thank you.
He closed his eyes. He would never be able to delete John Watson from his brain; in fact, anything at all having to do with John would most likely always have a place in his mind palace. But he had to find a way to limit the time he allowed himself to think of his flatmate. He didn't need any distractions; he needed to focus on the task at hand. Everything depended upon it. Lives depended upon it, and not just John's. Although, if he were truthful with himself, that was the life that mattered the most.
That last thought, he was sure, would earn him a "bit not good" from John. He really couldn't bring himself to care.
Contrary to what most would think, Mycroft Holmes was not in on it from the very beginning. It was only after the papers had started their vitriolic attacks that he took the time to sit back and think, really think, and go over everything in his mind to compare what he knew to have happened to what appeared to have happened. And to take into account that it was Sherlock Holmes, the second cleverest man in Britain, around which it all revolved.
He was sitting in his club as he finished reading the headlines in the Sun, printed three days after Sherlock's suicide. His pose was eerily reminiscent of his brother, fingers steepled underneath his chin, gaze focussed on the opposite wall. The only thought that his brain could conjure was the image of his brother's corpse as it lay upon the stretcher. It had been him, of that there was no doubt. He had only given it a cursory glance as the attendant removed the sheet for his identification, but that was all he had needed. Stomach clenching painfully, he had curtly nodded before turning and hastily striding away from the stifling atmosphere of the mortuary. It had been a long while since he had felt emotion that strongly; it didn't surprise him at all that it was his brother who had wrung it from him.
So, here are the facts. Sherlock had told Dr. Watson that the allegations were true, that he was a fraud. Sherlock had jumped five stories from the rooftop of Bart's. According to Dr. Watson, nobody had pushed him, so it appeared to be a suicide. There had been a body. It had been Sherlock. All indisputable.
There were at least two problems with this scenario. One, Sherlock was not, nor had he ever been, a fraud. The very idea was utterly preposterous. Mycroft knew his brother better than Sherlock knew himself; he had witnessed his brilliance first-hand more times than he could count. The only person, other than himself, who had even come close to his level of genius, had been Moriarty. Two, the words suicide and Sherlock didn't belong in the same sentence. Sherlock never would have done such a thing; he thought too highly of himself. It was unthinkable; impossible, even.
Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable….
Mycroft's eyes widened as the only possible solution presented itself.
His brother was still alive.
And Dr. Watson had no idea.
Three weeks passed. Worry, anger and frustration warred with each other as Mycroft tried to determine what his next move should be. He had no means of contacting his brother. Sherlock's phone had been discarded on the rooftop, and if he had obtained another one, Mycroft certainly didn't have the number. He couldn't risk sending an email to his brother's regular address, or leaving a message on his website. If Sherlock had indeed faked his death, it would mean that he was in very grave danger, and Mycroft would not risk drawing attention to his continued existence. Neither would he put the persons who had assisted him in danger by approaching them (it was obvious who those persons had been). As much as it pained him to do so, he would just have to wait until Sherlock decided to contact him.
Which would be fairly soon. There was no way Sherlock would be able to pull off whatever he was doing without his help. However, he had to get to the point of desperation, with no other options available, before he humbled himself in such a way. Why he hadn't previously clued him into his plans would be obvious to anyone who was familiar with the relationship dynamic between the two of them. Especially since Mycroft had apparently sold him out to his greatest enemy.
Apparently being the operative word. What he couldn't wrap his head around was why on earth he hadn't told John what he was doing? Mycroft had never been able to figure out what the exact nature of the men's relationship had been, but he knew that Sherlock had adored his flatmate. Surely he wouldn't put him through all this pain unless it was for a very good reason. Then again, Sherlock had never been one to understand the intricacies and pitfalls of human emotions.
He sat up straight in his black leather chair as he opened his Mac to check his secure email. His inbox was daily inundated with literally hundreds of messages, most of them tagged as Importance: High. The trick was deducing which ones actually deserved that designation. Quickly scanning the messages, he mentally weeded out the ones that didn't need an immediate reply. Messages from various colleagues and underlings flew by his practiced eye, until one stood out. Received just this morning, 10:03 a.m., from a firstname.lastname@example.org. A faint memory stirred in the back of his mind; wasn't Victor Trevor the name of Sherlock's old university roommate?
Intrigued, he clicked on the message.
From: Victor Trevor <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, July 6, 2012, 10:03 AM
I need your help. Remember Hannah Ivy?
The phone has an audio recording. I encrypted it in case NSY’s incompetence got hold of it first. I need you to make sure the content of that recording is not released for another five months. I also need access to funds and certain identifying documents. Please initiate surveillance on Mother and on Theodore Bear, and order additional surveillance on him.
I eagerly await your response, after which more information will be forthcoming.
This was Sherlock. He was letting Mycroft know it was him by mentioning their dead sister. Mycroft winced. His brother had actually used the word 'please' when requesting protection for three people. Was that the reason for this whole charade? Were Sherlock's friends being threatened?
He immediately replied.
Subject: Re: <none>
To: Victor Trevor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Friday, July 6, 2012, 12:30 PM
I do remember Hannah. Lovely girl.
Why didn’t you come to me sooner? Your pride will one day be your undoing.
We have the phone. People are still working on it, but once the code is cracked, its secrets will remain safe for the time being. Protection will be issued immediately. Other requests will be dealt with once I receive further details.
Look forward to being in the loop.
He sighed as he sent the email. He really, really wished that Sherlock had included John in his plans, whatever they were. The likelihood of whatever he was involved in now succeeding where the fall from Bart's had failed was extremely high, and he could have used a loyal, capable second by his side. When would his brother learn that he didn't have to do everything alone? That there were people who cared about him and were willing to do anything for him?
An hour passed as he focussed on organising the requested protection details. Lost as he was in a flurry of activity, the knocking on his door startled him. "Come in," he called out distractedly, one hand with a phone to his ear and the other gripping a pen as he scribbled on a notepad. He looked up to the sounds of the door opening and oxford soles treading on his wood floor.
His eyes narrowed. He waved the person in and quickly ended the phone call. Leaning back in his chair, arms crossed in front of his chest, he studied his visitor with a blank expression.
"Dr. Stamford," he drawled, dragging out the syllables of Mike's name. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Chapter 3: Step by Step
I can't begin to express my gratitude to the beta/britpickers who helped with this chapter: fawsley, susako, holyfant, and nepthys_uk. Couldn't have done it without you, darlings!
I realise a lot of fics write Molly as a doctor. I wrote her as a lab technician, because on the Sherlock page of the BBC website, that's how she's described in her character profile.
Fair warning: This is shaping up to be quite a long fic. I tend to be quite a slow writer in the sense that I agonise endlessly over my writing before I work up the courage to post. I therefore can't anticipate how regular my updates will be. That being said, never fear, this fic will at no time be in danger of being abandoned.
To those of you who are anticipating the resolution of what I set up in the prologue: I wrote this fic to mirror the format of the Reichenbach Fall episode. That is, the prologue is meant to take place before the opening credits, then the narrative flashes backward in time to tell the story from the Fall and working its way forward. It will take awhile to get back to injured!John and vengeful!Sherlock, but we will get there eventually. I hope this doesn't unduly disappoint anyone; if it's any consolation, there will be angst galore, and plenty of other forms of hurt/comfort. I do hope you'll stick with me :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The two men stared at each other for several heartbeats. One stood rigid and anxious, arms twitching at his sides, stance erratically shifting from one foot to the other. One leaned back in his chair, perfectly relaxed, arms crossed loosely in front of his chest, only the barest hint of emotion flickering behind the icy, shuttered gaze. As expected, the doctor broke eye contact first.
"So," Mycroft intoned, "you and Miss Molly Hooper, partners in the crime of aiding and abetting a fugitive from the law. Good acting on both your parts, I must admit."
He rose from his seat and slowly walked towards his visitor. "Of course, Miss Hooper is always fidgety and nervous, so that sort of behaviour wouldn't trigger any alarms with the wrong people."
He circled Mike, continuing his monologue. "She was suitably distraught at the memorial, which would make sense, since she was probably eaten up with guilt over the whole mess, especially the deception of Dr. Watson."
Mike flinched at the mention of John's name. He scanned the room, eyes darting from one corner to the next.
"Don't be absurd, Dr. Stamford, this room is completely secure. There are no bugs or cameras in here; there's no further need for ridiculous attempts at subterfuge." Mycroft stopped in front of Mike and held out his hand.
Some of the anxiety drained its way out of Mike's features. He managed a tiny quirk of his lips as he handed over the plastic bag that he had been gripping in his right hand. A bag that contained all of the personal effects of Sherlock Holmes, including his coat, scarf and the clothes he had been wearing at the time of his … suicide? Sacrifice?
Mycroft's lips twitched. "Thank you, Dr. Stamford. Care to tell me why you're really here? I'm sure it wasn't to return Sherlock's possessions to me."
"Mike, please, Mr. Holmes."
"Well then, we mustn't stand on ceremony. Do call me Mycroft."
Mike cleared his throat. "Of course, Mycroft."
Mycroft walked over to his filing cabinet and placed the plastic bag on top of it. Turning, he gestured to the decanter of cognac sitting on top of the book shelf. "Shall we? Please, sit."
Mike nodded, relief evident as the tension left his shoulders. He fell into rather than sat on the chair Mycroft had indicated, looking like a man who still wasn't quite sure of his reception. He let himself sink into the rich, well-worn leather upholstery as it moulded itself to his body. His eyes skittishly roamed the rest of the room, taking in the fact that his chair's deep burgundy colour was well-matched with Mycroft's mahogany desk and plush hunter-green carpet. The office suited the man in its elegance and simplicity, an obvious contrast to Sherlock's untidy, bohemian flat.
"I'm not angry with you, Mike," Mycroft assured him as he poured two drinks, turning to hand one to his visitor. "I'm not even angry with Sherlock. I've already deduced his reasons and the most probable chain of events. His friends were somehow threatened, and the only way to keep them safe was to fake his death. I received an email from him this morning, asking for help; I responded, and an hour later, here you are. I assume you're here to fill me in on the parts I haven't worked out, and on what needs to be done now?"
Mike nodded, swirling his snifter of amber liquid. "It's all there on the phone, when you eventually crack it, but yes. Essentially, three snipers were in place to kill Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade and John if Sherlock didn't jump, cementing the impression that he killed himself after being unmasked as a fraud. Moriarty's plan, as you knew already, was to ruin Sherlock's reputation. What you may not have known is that he planned to force him to die in disgrace."
Mike took a large gulp of his drink, swallowing painfully around the lump in his throat. His hand shook slightly as he continued his narrative. "Sherlock was two steps ahead of him the entire time and figured out what his agenda was, so he came to Molly for help in setting up a plan. It was only to be used as a last resort, since the odds for survival were nowhere near one-hundred per cent. And you know how Sherlock never likes to leave anything to chance."
Mike continued, explaining all the ways in which Molly had proven indispensable, from arranging the phone call about Mrs. Hudson, to opening up Bart's lab for Sherlock to hide out in that night, to providing Sherlock with a drug so that his muscles were relaxed enough to allow him to survive a six-story fall into a lorry. The only thing Molly couldn't provide was an actual autopsy with official documentation, since she was a lab technician, not a doctor, so she had approached Mike for help in that regard. Of course, the more people who knew the secret, the higher the risk for it all going wrong, but it couldn't be helped. Time had been of the essence, a commodity that Sherlock had run out of.
And now, Sherlock's priority was to identify, track down, and eliminate the threats to his friends' lives. That wouldn't be enough, though; it wouldn't be safe for Sherlock to return until all the tangled threads of Moriarty's web had been unravelled. The proof of his innocence needed to be withheld for a time, as Sherlock had requested, so that anybody who was sniffing around would be convinced that Sherlock had been totally and utterly destroyed.
Mycroft stood at the window, thoughtfully gazing outward and sipping his drink as Mike's voice trailed off. His forehead was pinched in concentration as he slowly turned to pin Mike with his stare, deciding to give voice to the question that had been niggling at the back of his mind ever since his epiphany of three weeks ago.
"Sherlock evidently had time to set a plan in motion to circumvent Moriarty's objective. He obviously entrusted certain people to help him with this plan. Why wasn't Dr. Watson one of them?"
Mike stared at Mycroft as if he has just sprouted a second head. His left hand had a death grip on the chair's arm; his right thumb betrayed his agitation by twitching and rubbing against his index finger.
"Really, Mycroft? You have to ask that? John would never be content to stay behind and play the grieving best friend. He would insist on being on the front lines; he would never let Sherlock take on this task alone. He'd insist on following him, as he always has."
"And why would that be a bad thing?"
"Because it would completely defeat the purpose of why Sherlock is doing this in the first place: to keep him safe."
"John Watson has never asked to be kept safe."
After a very pregnant pause, Mycroft continued. "So, what specifically does my brother need from me now?"
Mike told him.
Sherlock remembered the conversation as if it were yesterday.
"Liberty in death, isn't that the expression? The only true freedom?"
It certainly was that. Now that he was 'dead', Sherlock was no longer seen as a threat. Not only could he go after the snipers, he had the perfect opportunity – the 'freedom' – to go after the rest of Moriarty's network as well and bring it crashing down, permanently. Even with Moriarty dead, Sherlock could still beat him. This was the ultimate game, with enough intrigue and complexity to keep him occupied for months. It should have been exciting and glorious.
But for some reason that irritatingly eluded Sherlock, it wasn't.
Sherlock rubbed at the spot on his chest that had been aching lately for no apparent reason. There was something… missing, but that wasn't quite right. He had never needed or lacked for anything before, so what was happening? Why was there this feeling that something was… gone?
Apparently, the loss of something wasn't the same as the absence of it. Not at all.
His brother had been right; caring was not an advantage.
Caring had put John front and centre in the war between Sherlock and Moriarty. Caring had made it necessary to put John's life ahead of his own. Caring had resulted in Sherlock being on the run, having lost everything that was of importance… his reputation, his work, his home. His friend.
Sherlock's mind unwillingly flew back to almost two years ago. The smell of chlorine, the soft lapping of water, the blue sheen of the pool. Such an innocuous setting in which to meet one's arch-nemesis. A setting that had turned out to be anything but. A setting that had almost resulted in John's death. Well, his own as well, of course, but Sherlock had never really been interested in his own safety. He was a man who had, after all, almost taken a poisoned pill just to prove he was clever. And he usually wasn't all that concerned about John's safety, either. Usually.
Then he saw what was wrapped around John's torso as he parted the sides of his parka. Then Moriarty stepped out from the shadows and started talking about burning Sherlock's heart out. Then, Moriarty stepped outside and Sherlock stepped towards John and Sherlock shakily demanded to know if John was alright and Sherlock threw the semtex vest across the floor and …
And Sherlock couldn't control his shaking hands, couldn't stop rubbing a gun with the safety off against his head, couldn't even speak a coherent sentence as he tried to express his gratitude …
All of which proved… what, exactly? What did it prove? Sherlock didn't have the faintest.
Which brought him back to his current predicament.
He had already stayed in London for far longer than was safe. Months had been spent on determining the identities of the three snipers, and while that had been imperative, there were other strands to the web that needed to be chased down as well. As it was, two of the assassins - Mrs. Hudson's and Lestrade's - had relocated to America weeks ago, finally convinced that both his life and reputation had been utterly destroyed. He should have followed them and dealt with them then. But he had been fixated on trying to pin down John's sniper. All traces and evidence of the man had been erased, and it infuriated Sherlock to no end. He had no idea if Moran was still in London or not, but he felt a compelling need to get rid of this threat before proceeding to the next step in his plan.
Why? Why was it the fact that this sniper's gun had been trained on John, on John rather than on Mrs. Hudson or Lestrade, that determined how important it was for that particular one of the three to be eliminated?
This was unacceptable. He needed to focus on the other threads to the web, not just on Moran. There was no reason for him to tarry, beyond mere sentiment. He had already risked too much by appearing at his graveside not once, but twice. The Homeless Network had been instructed to keep an eye on things during his absence, and of course Mycroft would continue the surveillance until everything was completed. There was no reason, absolutely none, for him to remain in London.
Yet here he was.
Sherlock continued standing in the shadows of the pub, rain dripping off his hat into his eyes. He shivered as the wetness seeped into his inadequate jacket, but he made no effort to move away from the window and seek shelter. His gazed was fixed on two men sitting in a corner booth, pints set in front of them. It looked like they had been there awhile, from the obvious look of slight inebriation that surrounded them (glazed eyes, uncoordinated hand movements, leaning too far into each other's personal space) and from the lack of tension in the set of their shoulders showing that the stresses of the day had had a chance to dissipate. He wondered what they were talking about.
Time passed without him being aware of it, a fact which was scary in its own right. Finally, Sherlock turned and headed to the pickup point where he would retrieve the documents needed for the next phase of his journey. If some of the moisture on his face seemed to contain a higher salt content than was typical for rain, he paid it no mind and continued on his way.
John and Greg agreed to meet at The Raven's Head at eight for drinks. Both were numb and a bit shell-shocked after learning that Sherlock Holmes had fallen to his death in order to save their lives. They decided that getting pissed in each other's company was the logical reaction to the news, so here they were. Greg was on his fourth glass of Guinness, John his third.
How do you feel anything but gratitude when your life has been saved? How do you feel anything but guilt knowing you were responsible for another person's death?
"Sherlock Holmes… was a good man," Greg pronounced, words slightly slurring, beer sloshing from his glass as he made his point by slamming it down onto the table.
"The best," John agreed, lifting his drink in a clumsy salute. "The best I've ever known. I told that to his grave, y'know… before I even knew why. Why he did it."
"Why would you say that before?"
"Because he was. He cured my limp and my tremor, and he gave me a purpose."
Greg nodded as he took another swig. "Yeah? What purpose was that?"
"To make a difference. To be useful again. He gave me that. I met him exactly when I needed to. Did I ever tell you what I was planning to do, that day we met? Or rather, the night of the day we met?"
Greg shook his head, eyes wide. "No, what?"
John stared into his glass for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "If Mike hadn't called out to me, and introduced me to Sherlock that day… I was going to go home, take out my gun, and…" He didn't need to complete the sentence for Greg to understand.
"Jesus, John!" Greg looked slightly horrified. Then his eyes softened, and he asked gently, "Did Sherlock know? The difference he made in your life?"
John gave a sad smile. "No. I never told him. Well, I told his grave, but that's not the same thing, now, is it? Do you see?"
John reached out his hand and clamped it around Greg's wrist. "This is the second time that he's saved my life. I already owed him a debt I can never repay, and now… Christ, Greg, what do I do now? What can I possibly do to make sure what he did was worth it?"
Greg shrugged. "Live, I suppose. That's the only thing we can do, isn't it?"
"I loved him."
Greg raised one eyebrow and locked his eyes with John's, trying to read the man's meaning by peering into his soul.
John rolled his eyes, completely resigned to this sort of reaction. "Not like that. Not at all like that. I'm not gay, and he wasn't interested in that sort of thing. But that doesn't make it any less true. I loved him more than I ever loved anyone who wasn't family. I'm not sure how he felt about me, to be honest. I don't know how he viewed friendship, or how big a part I actually played in his life. But none of that matters. Apparently I was important enough to die for." His grip tightened around his glass, threatening to crack it.
"Apparently, we all were," Greg replied. "Makes you wonder, though, doesn't it? Why Sherlock's brother wasn't included in the list?"
John's jaw clenched. "I know exactly why. His brother's the reason Sherlock's dead."
"How do you mean?"
"Mycroft was the one who betrayed Sherlock; he's the one who gave Moriarty his personal information and gave him the leverage he needed to bring Sherlock down. Of course, he never intended it to go that far, but the fact remains that he sold out his own brother."
Greg frowned at that. "Are you sure, John? Mycroft is far from stupid. I can't believe that he wouldn't know what the ramifications were for giving out that information. He knew what Moriarty was capable of."'
John tilted his chin defiantly. "I'm sure. He told me himself."
"That doesn't make any sense," Greg scowled.
"It makes perfect sense to me! Mycroft is a cold-hearted bastard who doesn't care who gets hurt as long as his agenda is served. It didn't even do any good; he never got the information he wanted, and Moriarty was free to destroy Sherlock in every way he could. And he did, in the end."
John blinked back the tears that were rapidly forming. "I'll never forgive him for that. Never."
Greg looked away, giving John the brief privacy he needed to pull himself together. "Then you shouldn't," he murmured.
Silence fell for a while after that, each man lost in his own thoughts. It was only as John raised his head to speak again that he noticed a slight movement in the corner of his eye. He turned his head slightly, just making out the indistinct shape of someone standing by the window outside. He opened his mouth to say something clever about peeping-toms, but an instant later, the figure was gone.
Later, John would wonder if he even saw it at all.
Holmes's name had been cleared. His reputation restored, his legacy once again intact. He didn't think that had been according to his Boss's plan.
At least he was still dead. That was something to be grateful for. And Jim was still dead too; it wasn't like he would care.
Sebastian threw the newspaper across the room in agitation. He leaned forward until his elbows were on his knees and ran his fingers through his thinning hair. His legs continued their restless bouncing movement in counterpoint to his racing thoughts. What to do, what to do now…
He leaned back in his chair and let out a big sigh. Seeing John Watson a week ago had unsettled him in the extreme. He'd surprised himself with the intensity of emotion he felt after laying eyes on the man he had been instructed to kill all those months ago. It would have served Holmes right, to look on as his best friend's brains were blown out right in front of him. It wasn't fair that he had got away with just killing himself. What kind of pain can follow one into death? Jim had miscalculated. The death of Watson would have served to burn Sherlock more thoroughly than his own death or disgrace ever could.
Well, no use whinging about things now. The only thing to be done was to move forward; to follow the instructions Jim had left him in an encrypted, time-delayed email he had received after the events on that day. He had been told to remain in London for at least six months; when he deemed the time to be right, he was to move on to Melbourne, where he would take over the reins of the Organisation and continue the Work. If any whiff of something fishy concerning Holmes were to ever surface, then certain steps would be enacted; until then, the operation was to be considered closed. The objective had been achieved, unless new evidence arose to the contrary. Time to move on.
Sebastian curled his lip as he unfurled himself from the chair and strode over to the red-walnut roll-top desk in the centre of the room. He wrenched open the top left drawer and grabbed the photograph that was lying on top of all his unpaid bills. He took a moment to drink in the features of the man whose picture had been sent to him a lifetime ago, and then thrust it into a plain brown envelope. An envelope that would travel with him wherever his missions led him from now on.
It always paid to be prepared. If he ever stumbled across anything that would even remotely suggest that Holmes was still alive, he would drop everything and proceed to make him wish that he weren't. He would pay him back for so thoroughly mesmerising his best friend that Jim was willing to off himself just to make sure that he won the game.
So Sebastian took the envelope containing the photograph of John Watson, and placed it in the flap of the suitcase he would be packing for the next leg of his journey. Call it an obsession, call it sadomasochism, but he never again wanted to lose the red-hot festering in his belly reminding him of his loss and the reason for it.
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