Sherlock woke, disoriented. He blinked at the ceiling a moment, taking stock, wondering why he felt light-headed.
A voice came from the other side of the room. “You know, if you ate more often, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. I can’t let you out of my sight for a minute, can I?”
He froze at the familiar voice. No. It wasn’t possible.
He sat up too quickly, dislodging the wet cloth on his forehead and bringing on another wave of dizziness. “John,” he said in disbelief, fingers clutching the sofa cushion beneath him. “How…?”
Because, it was John, sitting in the lumpy armchair in the corner and smiling at him with that combination of affection and disappointment that was uniquely John’s. He stared at him, flogging his unusually sluggish brain. There had been a knock on the door, and nobody knocked on his door. Nobody knew he was there. The door had opened, and when he saw John’s face… “I fainted?”
A familiar warm smile. “Yes, you idiot. When’s the last time you ate anything? Spending too much time chasing enemies to grab a sandwich?”
Sherlock shook his head. “That’s not the point. What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“It is the point,” John said, a faint strain in his voice. “It’s not bad enough that you make me think you’re dead? You have to court malnutrition, too? How many times have I told you that you need to eat?”
“No, John, I mean it.” Sherlock staggered to his feet. “How did you find me?”
John was on his feet, too, ready to catch him again if necessary. “You’re not the only one with friends, you know.”
They were only steps away from each other, for the first time in a year. “You’re really here?”
John reached out and gripped his arm, his hand warm and solid, steadying. John’s hand. “Of course I’m here. Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be hallucinating, would he? At least,” he glanced around the room, “Not if he’s clean.”
“I am. Can’t let my guard down.” Even Sherlock could hear the strain in his voice as he spoke.
“Sit down,” said John, pushing him back toward the couch and sitting next to him. “When’s the last time you slept properly? Or ate a meal?”
“I don’t remember,” Sherlock said, leaning back and letting his head stop spinning. He was sitting next to John, his John, his best friend. He couldn’t help himself, but reached out his hand and smiled when John took it in his. It was oddly reassuring.
He glanced at his friend, noting the new lines in John’s face, and the hint of tension around the eyes, tempered by relief. “You obviously haven’t been eating, either,” Sherlock said. “You’ve lost at least a stone.”
“Pot calling the kettle, Sherlock. I’ve been in mourning; it doesn’t come with a hearty appetite.”
“I, I’m sorry, John,” Sherlock began, but John stopped him, fingers tightening on his hand. “It doesn’t matter. Right now, it doesn’t matter at all. I’m just so glad you’re alive.”
They sat in silence for a few more minutes, and Sherlock couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so content. Just having John near him made him feel safe, like a part of him he hadn’t realized was missing had returned. He had known how much he missed his friend, but hadn’t realized until this minute how impossible life was without his solid, steady presence.
“So, did Mycroft give me away?” he asked finally.
“No, I told you. You’re not the only one with friends.” John turned on the sofa to look at him. “Mind you, I didn’t think to look right away. I … your jump … it was very convincing. I couldn’t think of anything, really, after that for a while.”
“One of my old buddies sent me a photo. Of you. In Berlin, I think. He expressed surprise and congratulated me on being so convincing as the grieving flatmate.” John pulled his hand away and moved back to lean against the arm of the sofa, looking directly at Sherlock now. “I couldn’t believe it, at first. Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t.” Sherlock practically whispered the words. “It was for your own safety.”
“Safety.” John snorted. “Ironic, that, when my gun was looking very attractive there for a while, Sherlock.”
Sherlock sat up straight. “No, you wouldn’t.” He couldn’t keep the horror from his voice.
John ran his hand over his face. “Well, obviously I didn’t, but thinking I’d never see you again? Let’s just say it’s a good thing Moran contacted me when he did.”
Sherlock’s face burned as he felt the blood drain and the room swum in front of his eyes again. “Moran? Sebastian Moran? He’s the one who brought you here?”
“Not here, exactly, no, but he’s been helping me look. Very discreetly, I promise. Just a few old mates from the army who had some contacts I could trust.”
“But, John …” The urgency in his voice cut through John’s satisfied expression. “Sebastian Moran was Moriarty’s second in command.”
Now John looked horrified. “What? No. No, he couldn’t be. I knew him in Afghanistan. I saved his life…”
Sherlock was on his feet, staring around the room and trying to think before moving toward the drapes at the window. “That may be, but it doesn’t change the fact that he had a sniper rifle on you that day, with orders to shoot if I didn’t jump. I believe he was the sniper at the pool, too, John. He might be a ‘buddy,’ but Sebastian Moran is NOT your friend. It was his job to kill you if I didn’t die, and if he knows that I didn’t …” The thought made his blood freeze in his veins. “Does he know you’re here?”
He reached for the drapes, edging them back from the side, just as a bullet shot through the glass.
John gets an email from an old army buddy.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Eight months earlier.
John stopped at the coffee shop on his way home from the surgery. He wasn’t particularly hungry, but he knew there was nothing back at the flat. It was just easier to grab one of the premade sandwiches than to deal with Tescos.
He was at the register paying when a surprised voice came from the table by the window. “Captain Watson?”
He turned, and felt an unaccustomed smile stretch across his face. “Bill! How are you doing, you old sod?”
The other man was on his feet. “I’m good, sir. And you? What are you doing here?”
John held up his sandwich. “Just getting a bite to eat on my way home.” He wasn’t really in the mood for old army stories, but he let himself be convinced to join the younger man. Bill explained that he was waiting for his girlfriend to get off work, and asked where John was working.
“A surgery just up the road. It’s not exactly exciting, but it pays the bills.” Well, thought John, more or less. He was sure Mycroft was covering some of them, but hadn’t been able to catch him at it. But considering he had been less than reliable these last few months, he couldn’t really complain.
“You know,” Bill offered after a while, “I was worried about you when your flatmate … well, I meant to call. I saw it on the news and couldn’t believe that you, of all people, would have been taken in by a fraud.”
John closed his eyes briefly, hoping it merely looked like a long blink. “He wasn’t a fraud, Bill,” he said wearily for what had to be the thousandth time. “I don’t know what made him jump, but he was never a fake. It wasn’t possible.”
“No,” Bill said. “No, I believe you. That’s what I’m saying. I saw that story all over the news, saw you on the news, and couldn’t believe it. I mean, I didn’t know him at all, but I served with you for what, five years? Six? You’re not the kind of man to be taken in by a fake—not over months like that. I mean, anybody can be fooled once by a con, but you lived with the bloke. There’s no way I can believe that you’d have been fooled.”
John felt a warmth across his back as his shoulders relaxed. “Thanks, Bill. That means a lot.”
They talked for a while about old comrades and then it was time for Bill to meet his girlfriend, so they exchanged numbers with promises that they’d keep in touch.
They did, too. They met for beers a few times with other army buddies, and exchanged the occasional email. John was one of the first Bill told when he proposed to his girlfriend, and all in all, it was a comforting friendship—one that had no ties to Sherlock or the police or the press. If it was ironic that being reminded of being in a war was the most calming influence in his life, well, that just showed how insane things had been around Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t Bill’s fault that John had actually preferred the insanity.
It was three months after they bumped into each other, six months after Sherlock jumped, that Bill sent an email.
John— Just got an invitation for an informal reunion/drinks thing for locals from our old regiment. It’s from Old Tiger himself, and he asked me to pass it on to anybody else I knew who wasn’t on the list. I figure that means you. It’s Friday night at 8:00. Please, don’t make me go alone! —Bill
John laughed when he read the email. Colonel Moran had never been one of his favorites, either. Not that he’d known him well. He had saved his leg for him, though when the man had been shot. He had been given a few shooting tips in return, but John hadn’t been able to warm to him. But then, many snipers he knew were a bit odd. It took a special kind of mentality to do that job, and some men were just a little … off.
Still, a chance to get together for drinks with a host of his old comrades sounded like a good distraction, so he wrote back and assured Bill he would be there.
When he floated home that night, he felt more relaxed than he had in months. Sharing stories and drinks with men who had risked their lives with him was a camaraderie he’d missed since Sherlock died. Luckily, most of them had never heard of Sherlock Holmes, or at least, nobody brought him up.
Well, once. He had been sitting in the corner with Bill and one of his other mates when Moran came over to see how they were doing. “I heard you were mixed up with that detective a few months ago, Watson,” he’d said. “Damn shame. Why’d he do it, do you think?”
John had tried not to flinch. “No idea, Colonel. He didn’t tell me everything.”
“Ha. Obviously not. Soldiers stick together, right boys?” He’d asked the question loudly and was answered by approving roars by the men gathered around, but John had sat stunned. What the hell had he meant by that?
He tried to get Moran on his own, but he was always surrounded by other people, and meanwhile, John’s common sense had reasserted itself. Moran had been talking in generalities, right? He couldn’t possibly know anything specific about Sherlock. If there had been something to know, Mycroft would have told him … wouldn’t he?
Still, he hadn’t been altogether surprised when he received an email a couple days later from Moran.
Watson— Sorry we didn’t get to talk more the other night. You know how the army loves to drink! Too loud for conversation. Was sorry to hear about Holmes, though. He was a great man. Can’t imagine what drove him to it, but it must have been a good reason. Regards, —Moran.
Reading the email, John was reminded of Moran’s comment Friday night.
Colonel— Thank you. Knowing him, it had to be convincing and logical. It’s just a shame I’ll never know for sure. You’re right, though. He was a great man. Thanks for arranging the other night. I needed the break. —Watson
He hadn’t expected anything like a correspondence with the older man, but after that, John would get an email every week or two, nothing too personal, just notes with a feel of touching base.
So he was utterly shocked a month or so later when he received the following:
Watson— I wasn’t sure if I should send this to you or not, but decided I had to. Either you’re the world’s best actor, or you’ve been duped. You’re too good a man not to know the truth. I don’t know what his game is, but if you need me to help you find him, just say the word. —Moran
Moments later, John was staring speechlessly at a photo of a crowd someplace that looked like Germany. Standing clearly in the background was Sherlock Holmes. His hair was shorter and lighter than it had been, but there was no question. He wasn’t looking at the camera, but at something off to the side, but the way the light was hitting the side of his face, highlighting the familiar cheekbones … there was no question.
Sherlock Holmes was alive.
Alive, and he hadn’t told him.
John dropped his head into his hands and cried.
(I know, it's not the continuation to the cliff-hanger, but you've got to have the back-story as to how they GOT there, right?)
But is it real?
It was only a few minutes before John regained his composure, dashing away the tears as the flood of relief changed to anger. Sherlock was alive, and he hadn’t told him? Why? What had John done to deserve such a betrayal? He thought Sherlock trusted him.
He took another look at the photo, noting the differences in Sherlock’s appearance, the wariness in his face at whatever he was watching. He looked thinner, if that was possible, and the slanting light limned new lines around his eyes. This wasn’t a man enjoying a holiday from an annoying flatmate, or a break from some nasty attention from the press. This was a man on a mission, a hard one.
Well, John thought for a moment. That was his choice, wasn’t it? If he had just said something, I would have been there, watching his back in a minute. But he didn’t. It’s his own fault he’s on his own.
To be fair, though, John knew Sherlock had been driven to this by Moriarty. He didn’t know how Jim had convinced Sherlock to jump, but he obviously had done it. Somehow, he had convinced Sherlock to not only jump but to make it look like Moriarty’s lies were true. When they weren’t. John didn’t doubt for a moment in Sherlock’s authenticity. The only time Sherlock had ever really lied to him (that mattered) was right there at the end when he’d tried to convince him that he was a fraud.
Because obviously that had been false. Nobody could be as consistently, annoyingly right all the time as Sherlock had been unless he was the real deal. John had wondered for months why Sherlock had said he was a fraud. Wasn’t it bad enough that John had had to watch him jump, without the added emotional burden of that final lie? What could have been the point? Why would his final words to his (only) friend be a lie? A heart-wrenchingly cruel lie.
It was tied to Moriarty, somehow. John was sure of that, but it wasn’t like he could unravel the mental stylings of that psychopath. Sherlock might have been selfish (he was), and god knew he’d been clueless about anything resembling sentiment, but he was never deliberately cruel. Carelessly, thoughtlessly cruel, yes, but John considered that an entirely different thing because it lacked intent.
But even Sherlock would have known that watching him jump would hurt. Why would he have made John watch?
Now, with this picture … if Sherlock had somehow (how?) faked his suicide (really, how?) … and now was on some private mission …
That opened all sorts of interesting possibilities.
Assuming it was a real photo, of course. But what possible reason could Moran have to lie?
John had considered asking Mycroft, but decided against it. He didn’t know what was going on between the two Holmes brothers, but he knew Mycroft wouldn’t tell him anything. He would never break Sherlock’s confidence. Or, well, apparently only to Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. Best friends obviously didn’t count.
No, he didn’t know what was going on there, but he could not rely on Mycroft to tell him the truth. Hopping on a plane to Germany would probably be pointless, too. Not only would Mycroft know right away, but Sherlock probably wasn’t even there anymore.
He sat and thought long and hard for a while, and then sent an email. Before anything else, he needed to be sure.
Colonel— I didn’t think this was your kind of humor? Not very funny. Excellent photoshop skills, though. —Watson
It was only a matter of minutes before he had a reply.
Watson— I’d be offended except I understand the extenuating circumstances. Guarantee this is not a fake. Can send you video footage from the security camera if you want proof. —Moran
John stared at the computer screen. Video?
His computer chimed with new email. A new email from Moran with an attachment. John opened it and … yes. It was footage from a standard security camera pointed into a busy square, one of those huge, open spaces filled with pedestrians and café tables, a constant stream of people walking by. Seven seconds into the clip, there was Sherlock. He was loping along on those impossibly long legs of his, looking altogether casual but with an extra straightness to his back, his head held carefully still so as not to look around too obviously—John had seen that a million times. Sherlock on guard without seeming alert at all.
He soaked in all 17 seconds that Sherlock was on screen, drawing in the curve of his cheekbones, the way the sun glinted in his eyes, played in his hair. Even with his hair lighter and shorter, without his usual custom suit, it was definitely Sherlock.
John noted the date embedded in the video. Ten days ago. Could that have been changed by someone who knew what they were doing on a computer? Maybe. How would he know? He wasn’t a computer expert. But it was Sherlock’s new look that convinced him. Except for the rare case, Sherlock had never needed or wanted to disguise himself before. The fact that his hair was a different color, that his clothes were so carefully not what he would normally wear made John believe that this was authentic. The new lines in his face proved it wasn’t somehow an older video from a younger Sherlock with a new, fake date.
It was real. He was sure of it.
What the hell was he going to do now?
Then he laughed. The answer was so obvious. His best friend was out there on his own, doing something dangerous without him. Where else could John possibly be than by his side?
Finding a new hobby and making plans.
Decision made, now John had to figure out how he was going to find him.
He didn’t underestimate the difficulty, either. Sherlock had the whole world to disappear in, and John didn’t exactly have the resources to chase him down.
Or, did he?
Thanks to his time in the military, he practically had an entire network of people he could trust. Not just soldiers he had fought with, either, but ones whose lives he’d saved, or who had worked in the hospitals with him. They weren’t spies like Mycroft had, but that doesn’t mean they were useless. He sent a carefully-worded alert to a few of his friends and asked them to pass it on, stressing the importance of the utmost secrecy.
He wrote back to Moran to thank him, and ask him to let him know if he came across any other leads. He was surprised when the Colonel assured him he would. (“Nobody should treat a comrade that way.”) John had always thought of Moran as a lone wolf type, but he supposed that was one thing about combat—it taught you the importance of a team you could count on.
Next, he thought about what he would do if (when?) he finally learned where Sherlock was. He couldn’t just hop a plane to the nearest airport. He didn’t know how carefully Mycroft was watching him these days, but had no doubt that using his passport would send alarm bells ringing in his office. It wasn’t like John could claim he was taking a holiday. Nobody who knew him would believe that. It wasn’t like he could smuggle himself onto a plane….
Except … he knew someone who used to do just that for the occasional desperate soldier who needed to get from point A to point B as quickly and cheaply as he could. If there was any form of military transport heading that way, he would look the other way. It was utterly illegal, but … well. Last John heard, he was still in the service.
With that plan in place, there wasn’t much else to do but wait. And to look as bereft and forsaken as he had ever since Sherlock’s jump. He didn’t know what Mycroft and Sherlock were up to, but he didn’t want to tip his hand. Sometimes, being continually underestimated by them was a good thing.
Over the next several months, he heard from Moran from time to time, or from one of his other army buddies. Nobody had anything concrete, though, and he was getting frustrated.
He spent his time developing his new hobby—reading the news. Local news. International news. Important news. Trivial news. He figured the only way he could be sure Mycroft didn’t spot that there was something specific he was looking for was to read, well, everything.
He had started with the theory that Sherlock was on a mission, something connected to Moriarty. Going by the ultra-casual-yet-alert posture in that video clip, John was positive he was on the trail of something, and what else could it be that would keep him away from England?
So he had started by looking at German newspapers around the date of that clip (thank god for web translations), and found a tiny paragraph about a man found dead of an overdose. Which could mean nothing except that his body was found in the building behind Sherlock in that video. That, and the dead man supposedly had ties to the local crime ring.
He started spending much of his free time at the library, reading newspapers, looking for other signs of a genius out gunning for a crime ring. He read online editions, too, but worried about that being too easy for Mycroft to trace. He had already been asked (so very subtly) about his new interest. He said he’d always liked reading, just hadn’t had the time, living with Sherlock.
After that conversation, he made a point of diversifying his reading habits. Suddenly, he was reading everything. Papers, magazines, journals, novels, history—everything. He hadn’t read this much since university, and was surprised to find how much he was enjoying it. It helped pass the time.
Finally, after months of being on edge, he got an email from Moran.
Watson— Got this photo from Sgt. Paterson, in south France, stamped four hours ago. Interested? —Moran
John opened the attachment and pulled a deep breath. Sherlock, with ginger (ginger!) hair, slicked straight back, sporting stubble and glasses, but still unmistakably him.
Five hours later, he was in the air, sitting in the back of an army plane, heading for France. The plane had a brief layover in Marseilles before heading east. John didn’t know if he was the reason for the layover (and didn’t ask). All he knew was that his old buddy had come through.
So had Moran, who had a new set of papers delivered to the base before the plane took off. New ID, as well as everything he had on Sherlock’s whereabouts. Looking at the new passport (James Mapson, really?) he wondered at Moran’s connections. How had he gotten such a good forgery? And why was he just giving it to John?
Not that he wasn’t grateful. Using his own passport would have screamed all kinds of signals to Mycroft, and John was just as glad to avoid his attention. He didn’t know what Mycroft was going to do when he noticed John was missing, but he hoped it would take him some time to figure out where he’d gone. Travelling under a different name would help—not to mention illegally in the back of an army cargo plane.
He worked his jaw, trying to relieve the pressure in his ears. He’d forgotten how damn loud these planes were in the back, but he wasn’t complaining. This was his best chance to find his friend, and he wasn’t going to let it pass him by. If all went well, they could be having dinner together tomorrow.
Meanwhile, what's Sherlock up to?
Sherlock reached for the milk and then mentally chastised himself for the mental twinge. For some reason, buying milk always made him think of John. Always.
The sudden wave of regret washed over him and, abandoning his shopping, he turned on his heel and headed for the door. He was not fleeing, he told himself. Eating was boring, anyway. It’s not like he was hungry.
He wasn’t, either. These days, he found he had even less appetite than he had before. Before the fall, before John. What was the point? It was just a waste of time. He didn’t know why John continually nagged about it.
Stop it, he told himself. Stop thinking about him. He’s not here, and if you don’t focus on the job at hand, it’ll be even longer before you can see him again. Concentrate on getting rid of this link in Moriarty’s ring, and you’ll be one step closer to Baker Street. Don’t get distracted now.
Except, some days were better than others. Some days, he could barely concentrate. It was like there was a constant refrain of JohnJohnJohnJohn repeating in the back of his head like a sadistic Greek chorus. Most days he could ignore it as he focused on the task at hand. But when he was tired (or hungry), it got louder, pounding until it was impossible to hear his own thoughts.
That was what had driven him to that godforsaken shop in the first place, thinking that maybe eating something would stop the spinning in his head so that he could concentrate. But now? What little inclination he’d had for eating was gone, swamped, washed away by the flood of missing John.
He paced up the street, nerves on edge. He knew it was probably because he was hungry. Even he couldn’t deny the science behind the effects of low blood sugar. Maybe he should go back to the shop after all? He mentally mapped what other shops were between here and his temporary flat. There was a patisserie not too far out of his way, he thought. He could get a pastry, or something, though John would scold him for empty calories … no, John wouldn’t say anything, he reminded himself firmly, because he wasn’t here. That was the whole point. That was the whole problem.
His steps faltered as the thought of John distracted him again. What was wrong with him today? Except … over there. A figure that had paused the same time he had. The hairs at the back of his neck rose to attention as he bent to rub his leg, as if easing a cramp, all while stretching his senses back to the shadows across the street.
No time for food, he thought, and he started walking again, mind working furiously. Adrenalin was wonderful stuff. He needed to go back to his flat to pick up his laptop. He cursed himself for not bringing it with him today, but it made him more conspicuous, travelling with all his belongings in a pack like a gypsy. He had thought the flat was secure.
Still, all he had to do was shake this tail. He could be in and out of the flat in five minutes, and no-one would be the wiser. His mobile pinged in his pocket and after a brief hesitation, he pulled it out to check the new text.
He thought his heart would stutter to a stop in his chest.
—JW missing. Will inform the moment we have news.
Suddenly the person (possibly) following was a lot more dangerous. If Moran and his minions had moved on John, they had to be confident that Sherlock wouldn’t be able to do anything else to hurt them. Because surely they knew that, if they harmed John, he would hurt them. But if John was suddenly out of the picture and now he had picked up a tail?
He made a sharp right turn down an alley, dodging bins and hanging laundry before pulling himself up on a fire escape, and crouching there, watching to see who would come dashing into the alley behind him.
His heart was beating quickly, making the minutes seem extra long, but nothing happened. Nobody followed him. There was no movement at all, except for a cat wandering by, intent on rats.
Maybe he was being a little paranoid.
Still … now that he was here, he found he was reluctant to go back to street level. Instead, he climbed up the fire escape to the roof. He could make his way from here and keep an eye on the ground at the same time.
He forcefully pushed the memory of that first chase with John out of his mind. (“Hurry, John, he’s getting away!”)
Before moving, though, he sent a text to Mycroft.
—What do you mean, he’s missing? You’re supposed to be watching him!
—Don’t worry. We’ll find him.
—You’d better. I ask you to do this ONE thing. If anything happens to him…
—I know. Will inform you the minute we learn anything. Meanwhile, be careful.
Between the texts and having to cross the roofs carefully so as not to be seen, it took him twenty-seven minutes to get to his flat. He climbed down the fire escape to the neighbor’s window and edged in, giving the cat a quick caress when it complained as he blocked the sun.
He eased the door open, looking down the hallway to his flat. Nobody in sight.
Quickly, silently, he slipped down the hall and into his flat. All he really needed was his laptop, he thought, reaching for the bag.
He almost dropped it when the knock sounded at the door.
Swiftly, he pulled his gun and approached the door, ears straining, heart beating madly. He stood to the side of the door, gun at the ready as another knock came. Another pause, and then sounds of the lock being picked. It was someone who knew what they were doing, too, he thought, and it was only a matter of seconds before the door edged open.
Eyes straining in the dim light, Sherlock leveled the gun at the man’s head, waiting until he was in the flat before reaching to slam the door behind him. “What do you want?” he asked.
The intruder spun around, light on his feet, the late afternoon light slanting across his sandy hair, catching in his blue, blue eyes. Sherlock stared at him across the length of the gun now pointing at the man’s, at John’s head.
His hands started to shake as his arms dropped, the horror of holding a gun to John’s head overwhelming him. He’d been so close, so ready to shoot … He felt the gun fall from his fingers as the light dimmed, lost in the blood flooding through his brain.
And he fell.
Which brings us full circle back to where we started.
John stepped into the flat, trying to hit the right balance between silent enough not to spook his quarry, but not so quietly that he automatically triggered an attack. He knew Sherlock’s nerves had to be on edge. The way he had dived into that alley earlier … usually Sherlock was calmer, more collected than that. But from what he could gather, his friend had been on the run for over a year now. He obviously had an excuse to be jumpy.
He glanced around the room, but had barely had time to identify the rectangular shadow on the opposite wall as being a sofa when he heard the safety being taken off a gun. He turned to see Sherlock by the door pointing a gun right at his head.
He stood calmly, hands at his side, knowing this was a shock, relishing the chance to surprise Sherlock for a change… until he saw with horror his friend’s hand starting to shake as he recognized him, the barrel of the gun wavering wildly as his arms dropped. “John?” he whispered, just as his face went completely white and he dropped.
John leapt forward to catch him under the arms, just saving him from hitting his head on the table by the door. (Thank god the dropped gun hadn’t gone off.) Grunting, he dragged him over to the sofa and heaved him up, pulling those impossibly long legs up to drape them over the arm. Then he went to the kitchen to find some ice or wet a towel, and cursed at the empty cupboards. When would Sherlock ever learn that a little food went a long way?
There was no ice, so he wet a towel under the tap and carried it back to the sitting room. He laid it on Sherlock’s head and then sat down in the chair, content for the moment just to look at his friend.
He was too thin, of course. Typical of Sherlock. He could talk about the body merely being transport for the brain all he liked, but that didn’t mean it didn’t deserve fuel. The hair was shorter, too, and ginger. It was going to take time getting used to Sherlock in jeans and a hoodie instead of a tailored suit.
But that was okay. He had all the time he needed. Sherlock was alive. He could get used to anything.
John propped his head on his hand, trying to ignore the tremor. Even though he had been hoping, he hadn’t truly believed his friend was alive until this moment. He watched the chest rise and fall, waiting, patiently. Hoping that by the time Sherlock’s eyes opened, his own heart would have slowed down to something resembling normal.
It was only a few minutes before he saw Sherlock’s eyes open, staring at the ceiling, taking stock. John said, “You know, if you ate more often, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. I can’t let you out of my sight for a minute, can I?”
Sherlock’s eyes widened and he sat up quickly—too quickly. John had to force himself not to move when he saw his friend clutch at the sofa cushions. “John. How…? I fainted?”
John couldn’t hide his smile. “Yes, you idiot. When’s the last time you ate anything? Spending too much time chasing enemies to grab a sandwich?”
“That’s not the point,” Sherlock said with a snap. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“It is the point,” John said, trying not to think of all the ways Sherlock had been neglecting himself. “It’s not bad enough that you make me think you’re dead? You have to court malnutrition, too? How many times have I told you that you need to eat?”
Sherlock wouldn’t be distracted, though. He was on his feet, weaving a little, but face intent, urgent. “No, John, I mean it. How did you find me?”
John stood also, hand outstretched as he took in his friend’s pallor. “You’re not the only one with friends, you know,” he said as soothingly as possible.
Sherlock blinked. “You’re really here?”
It was a sign of his distress, thought John, that he needed to ask. He reached out and clasped his hand, wrapping his warm hand around Sherlock’s cold fingers. “Of course I’m here,” he said bracingly. “Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be hallucinating, would he? At least, not if he’s clean.”
A flicker in the eyes, but all Sherlock said was, “I am. Can’t let my guard down.”
John pulled him over to the couch and forced him down. “Sit down,” he said, settling beside him. “When’s the last time you slept properly? Or ate a meal?”
“I don’t remember.” Sherlock shrugged it off, eyeing John again now that the shock was wearing off. John almost closed his eyes to bask in the old familiar feeling of being under the patented Sherlock Holmes scrutiny. He would never have thought he’d miss this feeling of being dissected and measured in a glance. “You obviously haven’t been eating, either. You’ve lost at least a stone,” he said after a moment.
“Pot calling the kettle, Sherlock,” he answered. “I’ve been in mourning; it doesn’t come with a hearty appetite.” He tried to keep his voice as light as possible.
“I, I’m sorry, John,” Sherlock faltered.
“It doesn’t matter.” And he was amazed to find it was true. Which isn’t so say that this wasn’t a topic they were going to revisit and soon. “Right now, it doesn’t matter at all. I’m just so glad you’re alive.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, and it was just so good, like cuddling under a warm blanket after being cold for a year. (Thirteen months, one week, three days.)
After a time, Sherlock asked, “So, did Mycroft give me away?”
John pulled away, turning on the couch to face him. “No, I told you. You’re not the only one with friends.” This time he couldn’t quite force the smile past the lump in his throat. “Mind you, I didn’t think to look right away. I … your jump … it was very convincing. I couldn’t think of anything, really, after that for a while.”
“What changed?” Sherlock’s voice was tentative.
“One of my old buddies sent me a photo. Of you. In Berlin, I think. He expressed surprise and congratulated me on being so convincing as the grieving flatmate.” A flare of anger as he remembered the hurt, the disbelief, the feeling of betrayal. “I couldn’t believe it, at first. Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t.” It was practically a whisper. “It was for your own safety.”
It was all John could do not to throw up his hands. Sherlock’s lack of understanding about the way normal humans worked never failed to astound him. He wasn’t able to keep the bitterness from his voice as he gave a bitter laugh. “Safety. Ironic, that, when my gun was looking very attractive there for a while, Sherlock.”
At the other end of the couch, Sherlock sat up straight, horror on his face. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“Well, obviously I didn’t, but thinking I’d never see you again?” He tilted his head and let his eyes close briefly, shutting out the memory of despair. “Let’s just say it’s a good thing Moran contacted me when he did.”
“Moran? Sebastian Moran? He’s the one who brought you here?”
The total absence of inflection in Sherlock’s voice made John’s eyes pop open. Sherlock had heard of him? “Not here, exactly, no, but he’s been helping me look. Very discreetly, I promise. Just a few old mates from the army who had some contacts I could trust.”
“But, John …” and now Sherlock’s voice was sharp with urgency and … fear? “Sebastian Moran was Moriarty’s second in command.”
“What? No. No, he couldn’t be.” John was shaking his head, but at the same time remembering how he’d never liked the man, how his instincts had never felt settled when he was near him. “I knew him in Afghanistan. I saved his life…”
Sherlock was on his feet, pacing the room. “That may be, but it doesn’t change the fact that he had a sniper rifle on you that day, with orders to shoot if I didn’t jump. I believe he was the sniper at the pool, too, John. He might be a ‘buddy,’ but Sebastian Moran is NOT your friend. It was his job to kill you if I didn’t die, and if he knows that I didn’t … Does he know you’re here?”
John felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. He felt sick, nauseated. Moran was the sniper from the pool? He had been going to shoot him? Sherlock had jumped to save his life? And … oh god … he had been the one to send John here. And had given him his phone.
He stood up, reaching for the phone to turn it off, disable its GPS tracking, just as Sherlock cautiously pulled back the drapes and a bullet shot through the glass, hitting the sofa right where John had been sitting.
John hit the floor, cursing—mostly at himself. “Christ, what have I done? Bloody hell, you’re right. I am an idiot.”
“It’s all right, John,” said Sherlock breathlessly from the other side of the room. “Practically everyone is.”
“That’s not really a comfort right now, Sherlock. If you haven’t noticed, somebody’s shooting at us.”
“Not us, John. You.” Sherlock had edged across the floor, reaching for his fallen gun. “I thought you were a soldier?”
“Right. Because that makes it better. I led him right to you, Sherlock!” John couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid. He was never going to forgive himself.
To his surprise, Sherlock was shaking his head, tapping now on his phone. “No. Actually, Moran led YOU here. The question is why. He obviously knew where I was. He could have just killed me, but he brought you here, too.”
John jumped as his phone rang, startling him as it vibrated in his hand. He looked at the number and cursed again. He looked at Sherlock as he answered on speaker. “Moran? Good timing. I found him, and now someone’s shooting at us. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
A hard chuckle from the other end. “I’ll give you this, Watson, you’re amusing. Gullible, it’s true, but definitely amusing. Put Sherlock on the phone.”
John closed his eyes and gave his head a shake, trying to fight down the nausea as Sherlock said, “Go ahead, Moran.”
“That you, Mr. Holmes?”
“Yes, Colonel. You know they’re going to charge me extra for that window, don’t you?”
“My apologies. I’ll be happy to cover the cost of a new window pane, Mr. Holmes. It’ll be cheap for the price.”
“What price is that?” Sherlock asked.
“Justice, of course.” Moran’s voice sounded almost surprised. “You let down your end of the deal, and I’m here to collect your debt.”
“So, you’re going to kill me?”
Another dry laugh. “Of course not—or not yet. I’m going to kill Captain Watson. That was the deal, wasn’t it? Your death would have saved his life, but since you’re alive, it’s forfeit.”
Sherlock’s eyes were locked on John, who flinched at the pain he saw there. “No, The deal was that I jump to complete Jim’s story, which I did. It was the jump that mattered. So far as the world is concerned, I am dead, Colonel. I held up my end of the deal.”
“Maybe so, but a dead man has been systematically hunting down my people for the last year. You can’t possibly think I’m going to let you walk out of there, do you? You deserve to die.”
“Maybe I do, but John doesn’t. I thought he saved your life, Colonel? Kill me if you must, but let him live.”
John couldn’t stand it anymore. “Sherlock, what are you doing?”
“What I’ve been doing for the last year, John. Trying to save your life.” Sherlock was staring at the phone. “What do you say, Colonel? My life in exchange for the good man you already owe for saving your life?”
Silence for a moment and then, “No, sorry. Can’t do that. I always abide by my contracts, Mr. Holmes. The deal was that if you died then, Watson lived. By reneging on your end, his life is forfeit. I don’t mean to make him suffer, though, if that’s any comfort—to him, I mean. Besides, really, he should be grateful.”
“Grateful?” John couldn’t stop the word coming out. “For what?”
“Why, John, didn’t I thoughtfully arrange this nice little reunion for you? I gave you a chance to see each other, catch up, ease the months of grief.” Moran’s voice was hard now, bitter. “Because that’s more than I got with Jim. You think you grieved any more than I did? You think your pain was worse than mine? I was bloody generous with you, because you did save my life back in Afghanistan. You can die happy, now, having seen and talked to Holmes, while I’ve lost Jim for eternity.”
“I didn’t know.” John didn’t even try to hide the sympathy in his voice. If Moran had been dealing with the same pain John had, he could forgive almost anything he did here today. Anything but killing Sherlock. “I’m sorry, Colonel.”
“Don’t get soft on me, Watson … but I suppose it’s too late for that.” Moran’s voice was edged, laced with acid. “You’ve always been soft. You could have been a good sniper once, I had my eye on you when I saw your marksmanship scores, but you were a doctor, and more interested in saving lives than taking them. You’ve never had the stones to make the hard choices. That’s what brought you here, the broken little soldier, running to daddy to fix him instead of realizing that he’s been holding you back all these years. You let him. Because you’re weak.”
John listened numbly, but found that he was no longer shaking, no longer sick. He knew exactly what he had to do, and his hands, his resolve, were perfectly steady. “You’re wrong, Moran. Friends don’t make you weak. They give you something to fight for.”
And, taking aim, he fired.
What was happening DURING the phone call.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
As the sniper’s bullet hit the couch, Sherlock flung himself to the floor, and made sure the window was covered again, made sure John was safe. This was exactly why he had left John behind—to keep him from being a target.
John looked shaken, betrayed, and Sherlock felt a twinge at how lost he looked. He had known their separation would be hard on his friend, but it had obviously taken more of a toll than he’d thought. Why hadn’t Mycroft told him? He was still reeling from the knowledge that John had considered suicide. He had only stopped because he learned that Sherlock was alive, and now the ‘friend’ who had supposedly helped him was trying to kill him. How much could one good man take?
He tried to reassure John, to remind him that Moran had used him, but his friend still sat sprawled on the floor in shock at what he saw as his failure. Sherlock looked away long enough to send a quick text.
—JW with me. We’re under fire by Moran. Trapped. My flat. Taking steps.
Putting the phone away, Sherlock reached for his gun. He had just picked it up when John’s phone rang. It was Moran, calling to gloat. He rolled his eyes. You would think that only comic book villains would monologue, but it seemed to be an irresistible temptation for all of them.
Fine. It bought them time. It wasn’t like Sherlock hadn’t been prepared for a potential assassin, even if he hadn’t been expecting a sniper. While talking with Moran, he carefully stood up.
“Sherlock, what are you doing?”
He held a finger in front of his lips and then said for Moran to hear, “What I’ve been doing for the last year, John. Trying to save your life.”
With a gesture, he led John silently into the bedroom as they carried on their conversation. He grinned when John saw the setup—his own sniper’s rifle lying next to a chink in the wall next to the window. He reached out to take the phone from John as he gestured to the gun with a tiny bow. He smiled as John’s eyebrows rose, but he was realistic. He was a good shot, but John was a great one. They would only have one chance.
Sherlock bargained with Moran while John set up the rifle, complimenting himself on installing one-way glass in this window when he’d arrived. They could see out just fine, but the sniper couldn’t see them.
Moran was in a window across the street, only one hand on his rifle as he held his phone to his ear. He almost looked human as he talked about missing Jim, and Sherlock flinched at the sympathy he saw in John’s face. Didn’t he know how many innocent people this man had killed?
Well, no, he probably didn’t, and that sympathy was what made the difference between John Watson and Sebastian Moran. John embodied the best of humanity. Even at this moment, with both their lives in jeopardy, John could feel for the other man’s grief.
It didn’t stop him, though. Sherlock practically beamed with pride as John said, “Friends don’t make you weak. They give you something to fight for,” and fired.
A tiny circle appeared in the window across the street, a sound of a grunt over the phone, and then utter silence.
“You’ve said that before,” Sherlock said, suddenly breathless.
“Yes, I have. It’s about time you paid attention, you idiot.” John was breathing heavily, too. “Obviously you need me.”
“I always have.” They stared at each other, until Sherlock heard sirens in the distance. “We should probably leave. Quickly.” John nodded and looked at the rifle.
“There’s no time.” Sherlock led the way into the sitting room and grabbed his laptop bag and then opened the door, checking the hallway. “Follow me. There’s always a chance Moran wasn’t alone.”
“Unlikely. He preferred to work alone,” John told him. “For some reason, he rubbed people the wrong way.”
Sherlock grinned, feeling unexpectedly giddy. “I can’t imagine why. Come on. This way.” He led John up to the roof, fighting a sense of déjà vu. Was it really less than an hour ago that he’d been up here?
Except this time, he had the bravest, best man he’d ever known at his back, and he wasn’t alone any more.
He couldn’t help but smile as the two of them fled the police.
Before long, the two of them were on a train heading north.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done,” John said once he had caught his breath. “Even counting Afghanistan and chasing serial murder cabbies.”
“What?’ asked Sherlock, lips twitching in response to John’s laugh.
“Out-sniping a sniper. Why on earth did you even have that rifle set up? And how didn’t Moran see it?”
Sherlock stretched out his legs with a sigh. “It’s the ultimate irony, John. I was in that flat because I’d learned the room across the way was being used by Moriarty’s old network. I’d heard Moran was in the area, but didn’t expect him there. It is lucky he didn’t spot the rifle, though, or we would have been in trouble.”
“Just a bit, yeah,” John said. “So how did you miss him setting up his rifle?”
“Luck works both ways, John. He probably waited until you were in position, and I hadn’t had a chance to look out the window on my arrival. You were too close behind me.” He smiled at his friend, warmly this time. “Well done on that, by the way. Except that one glimpse, I didn’t spot you trailing me at all.”
John smiled back, just as tired, just as content. “Years of experience with your methods, Sherlock. I’m not an idiot, you know.” His face froze, as he remembered. “Or maybe I am. I can’t believe he played me.”
“He knew that watching you die in front of me would be excruciating, and he wanted me to suffer.”
John tried to shrug it off, but Sherlock saw his shoulders curl forward, his eyes narrow and realized what he had just said. He had made John watch him die.
Sherlock stayed silent for a beat then added quietly, “I am truly sorry for that, John, that day, when I … jumped. I didn’t have time. I tried to get you out of the way, but you were back too soon, and I needed to make sure you didn’t see what was happening on the ground. The only way to do that was to have you watch me. I am so, so sorry, John. I knew it would hurt, but I had no idea how much.”
Eyes on his hands, John nodded, the barest tilt of the chin. Sherlock searched his mind for the right words to say, but nothing came. “I can’t apologize for saving your life, John,” he said finally.
“And I can’t be sorry you faked your death, Sherlock, because that means that you’re still alive.” John’s fingers twisted in his lap, then he looked up. “But it hurt. I mean, really hurt. Like nothing … not even losing my parents … I couldn’t bear it, Sherlock. Why couldn’t you tell me? I mean, okay, you didn’t have time right then, but … after?”
Sherlock flinched at the raw pain in John’s eyes and leaned forward, intent. It was imperative John understand. “You heard Moran. The deal was that I die and you live. You, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade. All of you were targeted if I didn’t jump. I couldn’t risk anything tipping him off that I was still alive.” He leaned back again and quirked an eyebrow. “You’re not exactly the best actor, John.”
A sigh. “No, probably not, but still ... it’s disconcerting to learn I was being watched by both Mycroft’s and Moriarty’s people. That’s quite an audience.”
“All watching, waiting for you to show any sign, any hint that I was alive.” Sherlock shrugged. “I don’t know when he learned I was alive, but he must have expected you would know and crack eventually.”
He nodded. “And when it quickly became obvious that I didn’t know anything, he watched anyway.”
A pause, and then John’s eyes widened and he pulled in a sharp breath in a hard inhale. “You know, it’s probably lucky that Moran was watching me. He must have seen how close to the edge I was, and since he wanted me alive to help torture you, stepped in to make sure I didn’t take myself out of the equation.”
Sherlock blinked. He hadn’t thought of that at all. “How close were you?” he asked quietly, not sure he could bear to know the answer.
“Honestly? Really close. A day or so. I couldn’t handle…” John broke off and glanced at him, a quick flicker of shame and embarrassment. “I’m not kidding when I tell you to NEVER leave me behind again.”
Sherlock closed his eyes, trying to shut out the mental image of John dead at his own hand—at Sherlock’s hand. “All things considered, maybe we should send flowers to Moran’s funeral,” Sherlock said thoughtfully after a bit.
“We do know for sure he’s dead, right?”
Sherlock nodded. “I got a text from Mycroft confirming it while we were waiting for the train. He said to compliment you on your marksmanship and your stealth skills, and that he expects an explanation on how you eluded him when we get back.”
“Like being called before the headmaster,” John mumbled. Then he looked up, face brightening. “Get back? So … was that it, then? You’re done?”
“Moran was the biggest danger,” he said slowly. “The other assassins are already gone, and I’ve eliminated most of the threats. I think Mycroft’s people could take it from here.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when he realized.
He was done.
He could go home.
He felt a smile stretching across his face, growing even broader when he saw the look on John’s face. “John, it’s done.”
“About bloody time,” John told him. “You stretched it out long enough.”
Sherlock laughed, glee and relief bubbling up in his chest. He couldn’t believe how wonderful he felt. “Well, I figured, while I was gone, I might as well mix in some sight-seeing, have a bit of a holiday. Why rush back?”
“Why, indeed. It’s not like there was anything to do, after all. Moriarty slandered your name pretty thoroughly, so it’s not like anyone was going to hire you.”
“True, my reputation is officially dead, whether I’m breathing or not. Maybe we should just go somewhere else. What do you fancy, John? America? The Mediterranean? Mountains? Sand and sun?”
John tilted his head, pretending to consider. “Well, I had enough sand in Afghanistan, thanks, and I’m not really much for hiking, but I’ll go wherever you want, Sherlock.” His face was casual, joking, but his eyes were serious.
“There’s really only one place I want to go, John.” Sherlock said. “221B Baker Street. Will you come with me?”
Now John was chuckling. “You have to ask?”
(And, yeah, I thought about splitting this into two chapters, but decided that would be cruel.)
Hope you enjoyed it!