Chapter 1: come back
"If I don't fall apart
Will my memory stay clear?
So you had to go
And I had to remain here
But the strangest thing today
So far away and yet you feel so close
I'm not going to question it any other way
There must be an open door for you
To come back"
"Come Back" - Pearl Jam
At night, he still thought of it. He still thought of the blood and sweat and tears that belonged to John; all those things like a dying star that he wanted to steal away from him and swallow so it would burst inside him and leave John whole like he used to be. But he couldn't. He was unable to. So he watched John burn. He watched, and Moriarty reached out from beyond the grave to ensure that his promise was kept. A match was struck against the hard flint of his chest, and, for the first time in his life, Sherlock felt his heart smoulder away in a slow burn.
It felt like it was raining, raining all the time, even when he could feel the sun shining. One collectively large, incredibly dark cloud leaving a shadow over him everywhere he went. It was maddening, because he knew exactly what was wrong with him, but he couldn't do one single thing to cure it. Sherlock Holmes always wondered what it meant to die, but every time he woke up in a foreign world that wasn't anywhere near Baker Street or even London for that matter, every time he woke up and was reminded that John was not there, he knew he didn't have to wonder, because he knew what dying felt like. How odd it was, that his "death" was painless, yet being alive hurt so much more.
He didn't sleep much, but then again he never did. He slept easier when John was there, but now John's not there and when he allowed himself to slip into unconsciousness it was John he thought of so he could get some modicum of peace. He imagined John's hands stroking at his hair, brushing his temples, and John's voice as he drones on about nothing because he knows it's just white noise to help Sherlock block out the world.
There was never a time when John Watson didn't help him. That was who John was, that was who he would always be.
At night, he watched. He acknowledged but did not appreciate the irony that John was usually the watchdog of the pair.
He truly expected that, in their adventures, John would learn something, would have gleaned some kind of insight from the detective as to home security, but here he was, staring at that little flickering screen as John fumbled around the kitchen as he fixed his tea at 5:45 exactly, on the dot, precise, as John always did. He was, if anything, consistent and Sherlock was, if anything, as anal-retentive about surveillance as ever before.
It was a childish move; that was for sure. The sour look on Mycroft's face had not been unnoticed, as Mycroft well knew it would be. He knew his brother and therefore he knew the precise reason why he was being asked for such a silly favour. And so, with the words I'll see what I can do, but my power has its limits, I'm just a humble civil servant after all, Sherlock knew his brother acquiesced. He had known when he had dialled Mycroft's number and he had known when Mycroft met him in whatever broken down building they were in that Mycroft would say yes to him.
And so, every night, he chastised John's poor detective skills and every night he watched what John considered to be humdrum activities with the greatest fascination. And every night he thinks of one of their last nights together before Moriarty threatened to have John shot in front of him and Sherlock plummeted off that rooftop and began his three year exile.
Moriarty had called him first.
"I might kill him today." That soft voice, so effective at metamorphosing his blood into a cold lead. "No reason, though. I think I must be bored. Is this what it's like to be you?"
"I know you're there Shirley." He said, turning playful. "You're thinking of a way to talk me down, like I'm about to jump off the ledge. You know there's no way, though, and now you're trying find another way. It's like watching a mouse trying to find its way through the maze."
A pulsing, pounding silence greeted him.
"I could skin him. That would be fun. And you know how I do love a good skinning. I could have you tied to a chair and pry your eyes open and have him strung up all pretty in front of you, like a rack of meat or a present waiting to be open. And I would open him, Sherlock. It would be as simple as slicing a papercut on him and then I would peel it. I would peel and pick and pull until he screamed, and it wouldn't take long for him to start, either."
A long exhale, a sigh, as Jim imagined the scene unfolding in front of him.
"I bet he would try to keep it in at first, don't you? He wouldn't want you to know how much he was suffering, but I would make that cry bloom in his throat, and I would make him scream, just for you. Because everything I do is for you, Sherlock. I would make him scream for you like you've wanted him to all these months. You'd finally know how it sounds. Maybe I'd even fuck him for you, in front of you. But sex is just so dull, isn't it? So…normal."
Sherlock was staring at John, where he sat reading in his chair, unaware and ignorant that Moriarty was now talking in great detail about his hypothetical demise. Hypothetical. And Sherlock would make sure that's all it was.
"You're not that depraved."
"And you aren't goaded into arguments easily." Moriarty answered slyly. "What was it that I said that made you want to play? Was it the skinning of our good doctor, or was the image of me fucking him just too much for you?"
John scratched at his left shoulder, just where his scar was. He had that wound before they met...how many more would he have after Moriarty was done with them?
"I take it from your silence that it could be either," Moriarty continued, "but we both know which one it was, don't we, my darling, dear, deprived Sherlock? Is The Virgin feeling a wittle fwustwated at these new feelings—wait. Wait." It was a hiss, a breath of realisation. When Moriarty spoke next he was nearly giddy. "Don't tell me you love him. No…no. The great Sherlock Holmes, in love?" Moriarty laughs, a clang on cold metal. "I just thought you wanted to fuck him! Oh my god, Sherlock, do you know how beautiful this is? Knowing that you love Doctor John Watson? This is beyond beautiful. This is exquisite. I could get Bess' jewels for you again, as a wedding gift...I'd do that for you, Sherlock, I hope you know that. I really would."
"No, I'm not." He says, so sure of himself and his convictions. "You know, I think I'll round up all your little friends and pick them off one by one. Your landlady first, since there's not much of her to play with. Then that friend of yours, that Detective Inspector Lestrade you work with—"
"He's not my friend."
"Yes he is. You think he's not, but it's quite obvious that he is. Where was I? Oh, right. Our dear Detective Inspector. Little Greggy. But if you don't care that much about him, I suppose I'll get rid of him as quickly as your landlady, which really is a shame because I do so love to play with my food. Then I'll get to your brother. Magnificent, maladjusted Mycroft. He's too proud to cry or scream in front of anyone, even if I was carving my name into where his heart should be. He wouldn't be any fun…" Moriarty's tone was contemplative before it turned accusatory. "What's wrong with you Shirley? Why don't your friends like to play? I'm already disappointed. Maybe I'll leave them for later. But John Watson. Our Doctor. He will be worth the wait."
Sherlock focused on John's right hand as he turned the page, if only to remind himself that John was here, and not in Moriarty's hands.
"I think I'll run my fingers through his hair and make him bleed." Moriarty whispered, quiet excitement bleeding into his voice. "I think I'll touch him where you never will, where you're afraid to, and I'll make you watch until he screams for you to help him. And then…I'll kill him." He was eager now, a deranged kid in a macabre candy shop. "Oh, to see your face when it happens too, that would be incredible. There are a million things I could do to give him a slow death too, to make him feel it, and then I'll untie you both and lock you up so you can cradle his body. In his final moments he'll know, everything will finally click in that little brain of his, and that will just be the icing on the cake for me. It really will. Knowing that, with his dying thoughts, he realises all he could have had, and then he loses everything… it will kill you, won't it?"
Sherlock's hand was white with strain.
"It will kill you, because you know, deep down in that dusty shelf that you never go to, that he would understand that he won the love of the great Sherlock Holmes and yet he did nothing with it, even though he would have. And you know he would have. He would have loved you and cooked you meals and kissed you when he got home and—oh god—he would have even fucked you and you wouldn't have to imagine what that felt like anymore."
"Why are you doing this?"
"You know why."
"I know you're trying to bait me into trying to find you more quickly than I am currently trying to and I know you're using the safety of my landlady, brother, flatmate and colleague as leverage, but I want to know why."
"Why did you answer the phone? Why did you listen to me instead of hanging up? Why do we play this game? You need someone to validate your feelings. If that means I threaten those close to you just so you'll realise their worth to you, so be it. Your fall will be that much sweeter. It's going to taste so good, watching you realise that you've lost not only your friends, but the love of your life. You will be all alone, Sherlock Holmes, with no one to love."
"I don't love, Jim. Love is for people who have nothing better to do with their time than to give their vulnerability to someone else. Love is for idiots."
"Sometimes," Jim's voice was soft again, resigned. "You are just too simple, Sherlock."
And he hung up.
Sherlock sat in stillness, willing his limbs to move as he shut his eyes.
"You should really reconsider giving your number to psychopaths." John said from his chair. John, beautiful, loyal, brave, level-headed John, closed his book and turned to look at Sherlock over the chair. "So, how's Moriarty?"
"What did he want?"
"I—" The image of John, dangling in front of him by his arms, flayed open, bloodied by Moriarty's hand, flashed before him. "He just wanted a friendly chat."
"Friendly? That doesn't sound like him."
There was a pooled tenseness in John's face.
"You want to say something." Sherlock said quietly. "Say it."
"Your opinion on matters concerning Moriarty are never nothing, John. I'm sure you know by now how useful your opinion is to me."
"Is that all I am?" John said suddenly. "Useful?"
"You're feeling underappreciated. Of course you're useful to me, John, you've always been useful and I appreciate you."
John sighed and stood, tossing his book back on the chair as he walked over to get his coat.
"I'm going out. You can ring up Moriarty and then have a nice chat about how it's great not to have friends or be in love and I will just go down to the pub until I can't see straight."
As John walked out of the door, he muttered something in the hall that, propelled by that air from the closing door, floated to Sherlock and settled neatly on the table in front of him.
That struck the match.
Sherlock closed his eyes, thinking back on what could possibly have made John so cross, so suddenly. When he came in from work an hour ago he seemed quite peaceful, so something happened between then and now that made him irritable. He had found a human thumb wired to a potato in the fridge before he made dinner, but that wouldn't faze him anymore, much less make him angry. Angry was a word he didn't usually use when he thought of John. John was irritable, annoyed, cranky or upset, but he was never angry. He never flew into an uncontrollable rage—focus. John breathed a heavy sigh at finding the thumb, he burned his hand on the stove and later slightly tore the wrist of his jumper, all things that would make him briefly, mildly irritated, but nothing that would cause him to leave in such a hurry. After dinner he had done some paperwork then he started his book then Moriarty called and—
The culprits were his answers to Moriarty's taunting, though taken out of context.
"He's not my friend."
"My flatmate and colleague…"
"I don't love, Jim. Love is for people who have nothing better to do with their time than to give their vulnerability to someone else. Love is for idiots."
His first conclusion was Fuck. John knows, his second and far more rational conclusion was John knows, and it makes him upset and his third and most reasonable conclusion was John doesn't know, but from what he's gathered, he thinks I consider him the lowest of acquaintances and wouldn't bother to give him the honour of my friendship, let alone my vulnerability and—oh.
With that oh, with that finite little word, Sherlock realised what he should have known all along, a habit he had formed with matters concerning common sense, a habit that he needed to break as soon as he could.
He was in love with John Watson, that much was clear already, and John Watson was also in love with him, but hadn't acknowledged it until just know, just when Sherlock himself proclaimed that love was for idiots.
John thought he had been rejected.
The heart inside Sherlock Holmes began to smoke.
One night, while John was plainly eating his plain dinner at their plain table and Sherlock watched him with utter fascination from one of the cameras that Mycroft had installed, right where they found the last one on that dusty bookshelf, Sherlock realised that John very well might never recover.
Not in the physical sense of course, since Sherlock had done everything in his power to ensure that John was not injured that day, but emotionally, since psychosomatic injuries were the hardest to cure. He could see the strain in John's bad arm as he ate, could see the constant frown that dragged his face down, could see the slight limp that appeared when John carried his plate to the sink. He had thought that John had gotten rid of all those things since he had moved in, but he knew that he, Sherlock, was the real reason all those things had gone and why they know returned with a bitter vengeance.
Sherlock was not the hugging type, in any sense, since hugging him would be like hugging a mannequin or a body stuck in the throes of rigor mortis, but that did not mean that he did not appreciate the ideaof a hug; two human beings willingly accepting physical touch that in turn triggered a feeling of personal comfort. If he ever hugged anyone in his life, Sherlock would hug John, because, in the simplest and most basic sense, John, more than anyone else, needed a hug. Sherlock assumed he was too proud to travel downstairs and ask Mrs. Hudson for one, but he also knew that John's sense of moral propriety and social rigidity wouldn't allow him to knock on her door and ask their landlady for a hug before going back upstairs without another word.
John still seemed to have some resemblance of a life, which was good. He still called and met with old friends, there were still nights were he went out, but every night he dutifully returned, and that's wasn't an exaggeration. Every night Sherlock watched and every night that door to their—well, John's—flat opened and every night John walked in, sometimes slightly tipsy, sometimes not, but always alone. Sherlock didn't know whether to feel elation or depression at this. He usually felt depressed, but that wasn't new at all. He wanted John to not be a warzone anymore, to not have that hole where the bullet pierced him burn every night, to not be the devastation after the atomic bomb dropped and burned away everything but shadows, but he was, he was, and Sherlock couldn't change that and, for a rare time in his life, knowledge physically hurt him. John's resemblance of a life was a lonely one, and that was bad, very bad.
After John muttered Idiot, the door closed and he left, Sherlock waited out the night for him to return from whatever pub he had gone to, but of course Sherlock knew exactly where he was because humans were creatures of habit and John even more so. He settled into his chair, fingers curling around the ends like a stone grotesque burying its claws into Notre Dame, and he waited.
While he waited, he planned, as Sherlock was prone to do. He had thirteen scenarios planned for the moment John walked through that door, and was working on three more when, lo and behold, the good Doctor himself entered the flat, or staggered in, rather.
His cardigan was slightly askew and Sherlock could see flakes of peanut shells caught in the fibres, as well as a slightly dark, moist spot on his sleeve where beer had splashed onto it as he drank his way to clumsiness. But he wasn't drunk—John rarely got drunk—he was merely sloshed, as per what usually happened when he ran into a few of his rugby friends. His hair was slightly mused from where his friend had ruffled it and Sherlock felt a tiny jealous needle prick his skin because he had always wondered, in a purely scientific (or so he convinced himself) sense, what John's hair felt like because it looked smooth and soft, even when he had product in it. There was a scuff on John's right shoe at the toes where he had bumped into someone's chair and a thin green thread snagged under the nail of his pointer finger on his right hand from patting them on the shoulder in apology. Under the nail of his other pointer finger there were traces of tobacco leaves, which struck Sherlock the most because he was certain that John didn't smoke much less roll his own fags, proved by his fastidious refusal to give Sherlock any cigarettes of any form, a refusal which Sherlock still held against him. He could take John by the hand and lead him to the chair, pick out a few leaves from his nail on the way and have them under his microscope for analysis before John even knew what was going on, but he knew that would be quite unnecessary.
John only had one foot in the door by the time Sherlock had managed to wrap all of his conclusions about John's night up in a neat package.
"You're not in bed yet?" John asked, shedding his cardigan and hanging it.
"Who did you meet at the pub? Was he a soldier as well?"
John paused, a grin creeping onto his face before he batted it aside. How exactly Sherlock deduced these things, he'd never know, but it was incredible all the same. He'd never get tired of it.
"Yes, Sherlock, I met another soldier. When he was paying I saw a tattoo on his wrist, his division insignia. Thought I'd be friendly since apparently that's not welcome here, and I said hello. We got to talking and it turns out that he was in my sister division in Afghanistan. Honourable discharge."
"Did he tell you his name?"
"Yeah, funnily enough, that's what humans use to introduce themselves to each other."
"His name, John." Sherlock gritted out. He didn't have time for games, not when he harboured that desperate need for his suspicions to be confirmed so he could properly, as John would say, freak out.
"It was—uh—Moran. Sebastian Moran."
Sherlock stood, feeling that cold palpable heart thud madly in his chest.
"Sherlock? What's wrong?"
"What did you talk about?"
"What did we talk about?"
"Yes, that's what I asked!" Sherlock snapped, his fear for John greatly eclipsing any desire for polite formalities.
"We—we talked about the war and our duties in Afghanistan and football…things that normal people talk about in polite conversation." John said as he sat down into his raggedy chair.
"Did you talk about me at all?"
"We discussed things that normal people talk about in polite conversations, and seeing as you're not normal or polite, I didn't mention you. Blimey, Sherlock I didn't think your ego was so big that you thought a stranger should know about you—"
"This isn't a joke, John! When have I ever deliberately joked with you?" Sherlock took a deep calming breath. "Sebastian Moran, former sniper in the Queen's Army, is now a gun for hire, an assassin working out of Moriarty's pocket."
John stilled at the revelation. He realised long ago that he could never truly doubt anything Sherlock said, so he usually took whatever came out of that perfectly shaped cupid's mouth to be gospel truth. He always seemed to pick the oddest and most inappropriate times to think about Sherlock's mouth.
"John." Sherlock's voice brought him back. "John." Sherlock moved down the sofa, peering into John's eyes and everything perfect and beautiful about the man, his voice, the pillar at the top of his nose, the bow of his lips, the piercing grey gaze, everything, they all banded together and smacked John right in the face. "Do you know just how close you were to being killed tonight, all because Moriarty wanted you to be?"
"Do you know," Sherlock went on, "Just how close you were sitting to your assassin? While you were talking with him about bloody rugby he was probably thinking of a hundred ways to slit your throat or shoot you in the heart or in your head and then get away without anyone identifying him."
Before he blurted it out, Sherlock managed to mould Do you know how close I came to losing you into "Do you know how close you came to dying tonight?"
"But that's—that's completely unlike Moriarty." John countered, coming to his senses once he shook his brush with death off. "Moriarty is like you. He always has a reason for whatever he does, he always..." John trailed off at the look on Sherlock's face and realised what he had said. "Oh, dammit, Sherlock, you know I didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry, I just meant you guys think very similarly is all—"
"You could not have Jim Moriarty or myself more wrong than you do in this moment." Sherlock began lowly, fingers clasped together. "You think Jim Moriarty is a man of principle, a man with rules, like me. You think Jim Moriarty is a man of decency and propriety. You think Jim Moriarty is a man, but he is not a man, John, he is a beast. An absolute beast, a monster that lives in the dirty veins of London, a pathogen that snatches cells up and swallows them and turns them into viruses. Jim Moriarty is a cancer, a gangrenous limb that needs to be sliced off before infection can spread."
Sherlock stood and began to pace.
"He could have killed you, tonight. He could have called Moran and told him to get rid of you and he wouldn't even bat an eye, but he didn't. He didn't. Why? He—" Sherlock froze, shutting his eyes.
"Sherlock? What is it?"
"You were right. He is like me."
"No he's really not Sher-did you…did you just say I was right?"
"Now is not the time, John. I'm having a revelation."
"Care to share with the rest of us lowly mortals?"
"Moriarty didn't kill you tonight because he was sending a message to me." Sherlock turned, looking John square in the eye. "He was telling me that he can kill you whenever and wherever he wants, and there's not a thing I can do to stop him. The only thing in his way is whether he feels like it or not."
"Oh, to see your face when it happens too, that would be incredible…"
And whether Sherlock was there to witness it. That was essential in Moriarty's plan. That was the checkmate. Sherlock had to be there. That was why John was spared tonight. Moriarty had called to savour the last peaceful moments of Sherlock's existence, knowing that he was about to kill John, knowing that he was going to crush Sherlock's heart in his hand, in a fiery implosion. Moriarty had called to—
Sometimes, though he would never admit it to anyone, not even John, Sherlock was astounded by his idiocy, by his blindness. Sometimes, and maybe he would admit this to John one day, he even suspected that some part of his subconscious didn't want to realise too much too quickly, and so it drove his mind around in a circle until it reached a conclusion that he had already known.
Moriarty had called, knowing Sherlock, knowing his pride would get the best of him, knowing that John would misconstrue Sherlock's word and storm out, and then he called Moran and told him to go down to the pub and wait for John, told him to pay with his sleeves rolled up and his tattooed wrist showing so John could see it. And he knew that Sherlock would notice the tobacco and ask John who he had met, and he knew that Sherlock would realise just how far he was willing to take this game.
Moriarty had sent him a message, and Sherlock had gotten it, loud and clear.
He would kill John one day, when he was ready to watch Sherlock burn, but until then he was going to have some fun. He would never let Sherlock forget that every time John went out, he would meet another Moran, another bug caught in Moriarty's web, and Sherlock would know that, with each meeting, John took one more step closer to his own death until finally it was Moriarty himself sitting across from him, ready to kill him, ready to make them both suffer.
With this revelation, Sherlock strode to the door, grabbing his coat and scarf and hastily shrugging them on.
He turned, not realising that John hadn't come to the same conclusions he had, that John was so far away from the same conclusions that he was in an entirely different galaxy. John had heard Sherlock say Moriarty would kill him when he felt like it, and now Sherlock was in a hurry to get out the door. In John's eyes, as far as Sherlock's knowledge extended (he wasn't yet telepathic, but he was looking into it), it looked like Sherlock was jumping ship and leaving John to flounder.
"I will never leave you, John." He said it as a fact, as something that could not be disproven, ever. "I have to go talk to Molly."
He left without another word.
The next day, Sherlock Holmes plummeted off the roof of St. Bart's as John watched him leave, thinking all the while that he could never take anything Sherlock said as fact again. Right before Sherlock hit the ground, right as that damned cyclist swiped John and sent him sprawling, John realised that, as the smell of pavement and blood filled his senses, he was in love with Sherlock Holmes.
There are many different kinds of privacy, Sherlock concluded as he watched John shuffle around the living room, tidying things up before he moved down the hall. Or rather, people had different views of them. There was working privacy, where you sat and you were expected not to be interrupted as long as it was expected of you that you were working. There was home privacy, where you could lock yourself in your bedroom or your bathroom and do whatever your little heart desired and no one would barge in. And there was personal privacy, where you expected that, if you didn't try and pry your way into those hearts filled with the darkest poison, they wouldn't burst like cyanide capsules and embitter you.
Sherlock had managed to nicely compartmentalize all of those areas into his bedroom. His bedroom, where he would work in peace, lock himself in during a tantrum or frustrating case in peace, and be as bitter as he'd like to be when John went out in peace. His bedroom was his church, his mosque, his tabernacle, the place where he could shut his eyes and block the world out and expect absolutely silence.
John had been in his bedroom before, when that Woman had drugged him (he never thought about it if he could help it), but John had never lingered to look around or poke through his stuff, because that was not who John was, and Sherlock appreciated it. He could compartmentalize John all he liked, all day and all night, and it would be an endless Russian-doll scenario. As much as he hated to admit it, John Watson was just as much a mystery to him as the solar system or fruit cake. John Watson was a pan-galactic fruit cake.
But as much as John respected Sherlock and all his eccentricities and privacy issues, John was curious, he was finally answering the call and killing the cat, and Sherlock couldn't stop him.
John was opening the door to his Kaaba, his Holy Sepulchre, his Wailing Wall, and he was not there to stop him. He wasn't there to lay a hand on his doorknob and proclaim to John, as he once did (he only warned once), that his bedroom was infinitely off limits. He wasn't there to stop John's feet from crossing the threshold, he wasn't there to stop John from opening his bedside drawer and finding John's own personally folded, presumed missing striped jumper, and he wasn't there to walk in and find John kneeling in front of his bed, clutching that jumper as if it was the only thing that mattered anymore. The camera's resolution wasn't high enough to show the wetness on John's face, but Sherlock was, if anything, excellent at insight.
It didn't make it hurt any less. If anything, it hurt more.
He wasn't there, and that was the worst thing. That was Moriarty's revenge.
He felt cold iron stoke the coals in his chest.
Mycroft picked up on the first ring, expecting the call ever since he watched John and the landlady leave for the cemetary.
He just left, brother mine.
You'll keep him safe?
I wouldn't have this minor position if I didn't do my job right. When are you leaving?
As soon as I can. There's one place I have to stop by first.
If he sees you, all you've done is for naught—
Don't you think I know that?
There was a sharp venom in his voice before it softened.
Mycroft, Sebastian knows who he is, what he looks like, and he's out for blood.
Really? I would have thought Moriarty blowing his brains out would have sufficed.
Don't be so crass, it doesn't suit you. You know Moriarty had Moran wrapped around his finger.
If he kills John—
But if he tries—
He won't, Sherlock. He doesn't have orders to anymore.
If someone killed me, would you wait for orders to go after them?
Silence. Then, the last words Mycroft spoke to his brother for three years.
I'll watch him closely.
One night, John went out, and so Sherlock waited the night for him to come back, as he usually did. But John didn't come back that night, and Sherlock spent the hours declining into his lowest state of being in years.
He knew John would move on eventually. Three years was his cap on waiting, apparently. Three years was enough. John had found someone else, at least for the time being, and Sherlock should be happy, he should be bouncing off the walls in joy, but instead he stared at that monitor with an abstract sadness, with the knowledge that, yes, this really was the end, at least for John.
When John didn't come home the next day, Sherlock began to worry.
Of course he still remembered hsi brother's number.
Mycroft? It's me.
There was the sound of movement, as if Mycroft had straightened up in his chair.
And so the prodigal Magellan returns.
Where is John?
I'm fine, by the way.
Where is he, Mycroft?
Someone disengaged his tracker sometime last night, I'm afraid.
Someone…you put a GPS in him?
Well you told me to look after him, and that was the easiest and least cumbrous option for all involved parties.
And he agreed to that?
Of course he didn't, Sherlock. Don't be daft.
What time last night? Where did he go?
He went down to the pub outside of your flat around seven pm, and then the signal was lost around half past seven.
Well what causes it to be lost?
Numerous things, really. It could be a bad connection, it could be a high speed radio communicating on the same frequencies, it could be a strong, concentrated electro-magnetic pulse, you could even rack it up to faulty electronics…or someone could have taken it out manually.
Removed, ripped, plucked out by hand, yes. All of those options apply here.
I made a promise you once and I don't intend on breaking it. I've already sent someone to take care of it.
It may have been the only time that Sherlock truly meant it, because Mycroft understood him. He understood what John meant, he understood why Sherlock didn't tell him where he was, and he understood why he was not complimented on his recent and substantial weight loss or his promotion or why Sherlock didn't ask how he was. Because he knew that Sherlock knew.
It seemed that it was John's lot in life to make Sherlock worry about him. Hope springs eternal, and so does Sherlock's anxiety.
And Mycroft, clever, brilliant Mycroft, had found a way to communicate to Sherlock John's safety the next morning without the danger and luxury of a phone call. To anyone else, it sounded like a faulty alarm clock or a phone ringer gone rogue, but Sherlock knew better. As soon as he heard the beeps sounding out through their—John's—empty flat, he grabbed the nearest paper and pen and scrawled out the message.
John's safe, passed out at friend's flat. Bad wiring—M.
As long as he would live and as expansive as his phonetic knowledge was, Sherlock would never find a word to describe how he felt the moment he saw John entered that door, roughed up and hungover, but alive and well, despite how he must be feeling.
For the first time in a long time, Sherlock smiled. It was, however, as all things are, short-lived in face of what was to come.
Sherlock found himself outside 221b Baker Street for the first time in three years on a Thursday. He didn't particularly care for Thursdays.
Hesitantly, he slipped his key into the lock and turned, relaxing as he heard it churn the tumblers as they unlocked the door. Why, in three years, would Mrs. Hudson have any reason to change the locks? That was a good sign. It meant no one had tried to attack them, or at least not from the street.
The staircase was the same as always, and he climbed slowly, feeling the creak of the wood under his weight. That door in front of him…John was on the other side. That fact alone made him want to bound up, skipping steps as he went, and throw the door open, but at the same time, it made him want to turn and flee, go back the way he came and continue his purge of Moriarty's underworld, only there was very little web left that he could burn away. He had made sure of that.
He turned the knob and opened the door, but what did he expect to see? John, waiting for him with a hot pot of tea? John, smiling from the chair or dusting their skull like nothing had happened? How odd it was that when John had moved in the skull was his, it was Sherlock's property, but now it is theirs, his and John's, and it didn't even bother him. Did John consider it his now since Sherlock didn't factor into the equation anymore?
Well, whatever he had expected to see, at least, in every scenario, John was there. Now, standing in the middle of their empty flat, John was most definitely not there. Should Sherlock go back downstairs and hide and wait until John returned and then he could bound up the stairs and throw open the door and shock John into cardiac arrest? Or should he sit in his chair (he was quite pleased that John had kept it) and wait in stoic stillness for John to open the door and turn on the lights and see him and then proceed to go into cardiac arrest (all these situations involved John and cardiac arrest, although he knew one of those things was highly improbably since John had a very healthy cardiovascular system)?
And furthermore, what could he possibly say to alleviate three years of unending longing and sorrow? Sorry just wasn't enough for how he felt about abandoning the doctor. Sorry was what a child would say if he drew on the walls (Sherlock knew better than to do that, but Mycroft didn't). Sorry was what you would say to a friend or loved one if you had erred, but sorry was not what you said to a friend and loved one when you deserted them and left them stranded, alone, when you made them think you were dead, and then reappear years later and expect that to melt away all their grief.
Sorry would not cure John Watson's wounds, it would rip them apart.
Any scenario that Sherlock had anticipated was only that: a scenario. He knew that even the most logical daydreams tend to overshoot reality by lightyears. Occasionally, however, very occasionally, they overlap and meet each other with near-impossible precision and what you hoped would happen actually happened.
When Sherlock Holmes and John Watson met once more, this was not one of those moments.
As Sherlock waited for John in that cold, empty flat they used to share (a fact that they would hopefully resume), he could tell, simply from the things John had left out, all that he had been up to for those whole three years. The skull still sat on the mantle, as did his violin, which he was very happy to see, but that meant, along with the unrented room, that John had not forgotten him which was a very great and terrible thing. There was a woman's scarf hanging on the coatrack where Sherlock used to keep his own, but that was no surprise, since he saw this woman, Mary, around the flat nearly every day, yet by John's attitude towards her Sherlock had come to the conclusion that their friendship was platonic, which led to his conclusion of the obvious: she was a lesbian. Despite her constant presence and John's happiness around her, Sherlock knew that, at the end of the day, John was always alone. And, at the end of the day, so was Sherlock. If John still loved him, if he still wanted him after all he had done, then Sherlock would gladly trade anything if it meant he could be alone with John, together.
The tea John had poured into his mug was still cooling, so John left in a hurry, possibly for a medical emergency, possibly for something else. His laptop was on the counter, shut, so he had been looking at something before he ran out. His cane rested against the wall underneath the coatrack, but Sherlock didn't want to acknowledge that John might be needing it again and simply accepted that John had taken it out once long ago and forgotten to put it up. All of Sherlock's experiments were packed neatly away in a corner of the kitchen, all the boxes labelled and organised. He had watched John pack up his things, he had watched John clean out the fridge of all his experiments, and he had watched John come upon that potato wired to a thumb, gingerly pick it up and head for the trash bin before he thought twice, turned around, and put it back in the fridge. Though he appreciated the gesture more than he should have, Sherlock knew John would curse his name when he had to throw out the decomposing thumb and solanum out the next week, and he was proven correct.
Suddenly Sherlock was flooded with hundreds of words for what he could call himself, but all he could settle on was:
He stood and rushed to the door, throwing it open and closed before bounding down the stairs.
He chose the worst moments to realise his greatest errors.
He couldn't stop the cameras from catching his face earlier that day.
He hadn't meant to be a hero that day either, but as John had sponged some genius off of Sherlock in their time together, so had Sherlock absorbed John's sense of goodness, if only a miniscule amount.
It had been outside St. Bart's, proving that not only was fate cruel, it also had a sense of humour. Sherlock had just arrived back in London, his nose not yet immune the grimy smell as it once was, and he was even on his way to Baker Street because if he was going to see anyone after his exile, it was going to be John if he had any say in it. Some news station had sent a reporter to cover a story outside the hospital, probably about some new strain of the common cold or some other boring and tedious tale, but the reporter had stepped slightly off the curb during a live broadcast and Sherlock, passing by, merely took a moment to right her before moving on.
He was an idiot. An utter idiot. It hadn't occurred to him because, once again, he proved that geniuses don't pay attention to matters that held no worth to them, such as the solar system or fruitcake or a news broadcast about something trivial like a cold. It hadn't occurred to him that people would be watching the live broadcast and that maybe one of those people was John, who obviously had an interest in new strains of the common cold since he would have to treat it.
Sherlock was back outside of St. Bart's, as alive and well as he ever was, his eyes scanning the street for any sign of his doctor, any sign of John, when he finally saw him. After three years of wondering if he was forgetting what John looked like (because the camera's image was often grainy), of what John smelled like (because obviously cameras didn't have olfactory sensors), of what John's smile or his frown or his laugh were like (he would like to have a nice chat with Mycroft one day on the quality of his surveillance cameras), he spotted John in the crowd.
Finally, after more than a thousand days, he saw John Watson once more, long enough to last him a thousand lifetimes, and he was worried that it would be the last time.
"John!" That sandy blonde head wove through the crowd ahead of him, unaware of what was happening. A man turned to Sherlock as he passed and Sherlock irately yelled "No, not you, you idiot!"
Too many people, too many, and that was what Moran had been waiting for. He was going to fulfil Moriarty's last request, that John be killed where Sherlock Holmes could see it and he was going to do it because Moriarty was to Sebastian Moran what Sherlock was to John Watson, an invaluable man he held in the highest regard, whom he would gladly die for, whom he would gladly put his military skills to good use with, and whom he would avenge if given the chance. John had offered his life for Sherlock's at the pool that night they met Moriarty, and now it was simply Moran's turn, although it came to him too late.
He had not come all this way, had not put himself through hell and exile, to lose John before he found him again. Moran would certainly not be the force that took John away from him because he wasn't worth a million John Watsons, even if he tried.
He grasped the fabric of John's cardigan, the smell of him invading Sherlock's senses, as he pulled the doctor down, off the curb and into the gutter right as the sound of a bullet pierced the crowd. In the chaos of the rushing crowd, as he covered John's body with his own, kneeled uncomfortably over the curb, Sherlock could see the gunman being tackled down much more harshly than he had taken John down (he had been sure not to hurt John more than the situation called for). The man's head snapped back and Sherlock felt a rush of dread and admiration. That man was not Sebastian Moran, but he had most certainly been hired by him judging by the same tattoo he and Moran shared. Moran was clever, cleverer than Sherlock had given him credit for, and now…now the game was back on and Sherlock would win without a doubt this time.
John groaned from under him and Sherlock drew back, blocking the sun from John's face. As John looked up at him with great blue eyes in his great, perfect confused face, Sherlock felt a fantastic and beautiful friction in his heart as it scraped against his flint chest, a beast awakening from its long and terrible hibernation.
"Wh—Sherlock? Am I dead?" John said, looking around in confusion. "I mean...everything looks the same, but you're here, so...so, okay...okay. I'm dead. I'm alright with that if you're here—"
"No, John, you're not dead, and neither am I for that matter. You are, however, kneeling in dirty water in a very busy street, and I would feel much better if you were sitting in our flat where it's safe and, in general sense of the word, clean. So, if you don't mind, that's where I'm going to take you now."
The two now sat at the tiny table that they had crammed into the kitchen so long ago, before the schism split the gulf between them and that bitter black longing poured in until it overflowed. Two mugs of hot tea were in front of either of them, but only one actually drank it.
"I know how you felt, John. I felt the same way." Sherlock says quietly, staring at John with an infinite sadness that makes John's chest ache like there's a festering, rusting bullet lodged in it.
John opens his mouth, wanting to tell the man in front of him how wrong he was, and that he'd never know, never, about how John felt all those days and months and years. That bottomless pit, that rush of wind in his ears every night in those first few months that made him wake so violently, sweating and crying, feeling the most vulnerable he'd ever been, and in a state far worse than after he'd been shot and discharged. Sherlock would never know, and John wants to tell him so badly.
But he doesn't, because that's not who John is. He's a non-complainer, a man who suffers through hell and comes back stronger each time and doesn't tell anyone, not a single soul, of how he managed to climb his way out and return, even if it felt like someone had slashed open his chest and his heart tumbled out, catching under his feet before it was ripped out in his desperate attempt to escape; he had left it where it fell if he meant he could feel something again. When he saw the news that day, he had to run back to where he left it and hurriedly sew it back in, but in his haste he had placed it in backwards and it was twisting in on itself in an attempt to right the wrong and it was wrong, it was all wrong, wrong, wrong, and it would never be right again, yet still he hoped. Still he dreamed, and he thinks that might be all he has or will ever have in this life again.
There was no longer a knowing and a not knowing. There was only a quiet acknowledgement, a flutter in the vast expanses, of whom he has chosen to earn his love. He knows, he knows very well what he feels, thank you, and he won't trouble anyone with it because no one needs to know but the one person he doesn't want to know.
John is a non-complainer until the end.
"I'd say you don't know what it felt like," John begins quietly after that finite silence, turning his eyes up to his friend. "But I know that would be incredibly self-pitying, and more importantly it would be incredibly wrong because I know you felt exactly as I did."
Sherlock says nothing, which all but confirms John's suspicions.
"I'm not mad, at least, not anymore." John says, knowing full well the difference between what Sherlock needs to hear and what he wants to or doesn't, as well as that they must be said anyways. "I mean, how can you be mad about something you don't really understand? But I did understand, or I think I do, now."
Sherlock takes a slow sip of his tea and John nearly smirks because it's decaffeinated and he knows how much hate Sherlock reserves for decaffeinated, non-nicotine substances.
"You had to go. I had to remain here. It was simple, Sherlock. It was so simple. But," John's eyes close. "But it hurt so much—so much more than I thought it could."
"John—" Sherlock interrupts, his voice quite and hoarse as he looks up, but John keeps going, needing to explain to this man before him just what had happened to him. He needed him to know and wanted him to understand.
"I promised if I wouldn't fall apart, I would remember everything. You would come back if I kept myself together, in one piece."
"But that wasn't healthy for me to think that, so I tried not to, but I still felt it, like you try to forget about a healing wound but you still know it's there, and then one day you bang it on the coffee table or on a corner of the counter and you feel it tear open all over again. I bled every day, every day the wound opened a little more. I don't think I have much left in me to lose."
"You don't have anything to worry about anymore." Sherlock says and John looks up, hoping to hear a comforting word or too. "What you just described is medically impossible, but in the metaphorical sense that was quite poetic."
The kitchen is silent before John starts to chuckle and Sherlock smiles, although he didn't mean his words to be humorous.
There are no tears or hugs or kisses. They are both too raw for that, too naked and bare before the other and the uncomfortable self-consciousness hasn't completely left them yet.
So, life resumes for the pair, but it's heavy with mud and dirt and sadness, something easily repairable but impossible to address. The solution is simple enough, when one side is stronger than the other it's a checkmate, but, in this case, when two sides are too frightened to move, it's simply a stalemate.
Sherlock moved back in, or rather he just started sleeping at their flat again since all of his things had never left. He and John do not mope because they are not the type, but the move around each other like two planets that share the same orbit and have to shift apart so one can pass. But neither of them want to pass and that is where they are now, an incontrovertible state of non-being, that area between two similar magnetic poles as they hover before one another, about to reject each other and fly apart.
They do not ignore one another because they were not those types of friends before the incident, and they are not those types of friends afterwards. They know exactly what they are, and they don't want to put a name on it. They still talk and laugh together and solve cases as they once did, but they tentatively step over that bottomless puddle that they are afraid to step in. John is afraid of drowning, and Sherlock knows that if they just took that one step that their heads would remain above water and they could keep each other afloat. That puddle is not as deep as they think it is, but they are afraid to find out how far the bottom really is.
It takes one case, one lead, one chase and the one and only Thames to break them out of their black orbital life.
John dashes over the sand, finding that wherever he is, be it London or Qurya, the sand is still the same and he is still a soldier, as he will always be. There's no distinction to be made when sand is flying in your face and it spills into your shoes, no oh, well it's softer here or there's blood in this one. Gritty, coarse, unrefined, and it gets in his face whatever continent he's on.
The figure in front of him makes a mad dash through the banks of the Thames, right to the water, and John knows that he won't hesitate to jump in and swim for it, but then again, neither will John. Sherlock is in hot pursuit of both of them but that damn coat is slowing him down. John's already shed his jumper, running in the winter weather in a thin thermal, but it doesn't matter because his heart is racing like it used to and his blood is pumping and he feels alive again. Soldiers weren't meant for sidelines. They were meant for war and adrenaline and a canned existence that could explode at any minute and that's why it was so precious and bloody and so very instant. Instant action, instant gratification, instant glory.
But John doesn't want any of that. He wants simple things, like a peaceful flat and hot tea and a nice warm jumper on a winter morning and he wanted that to include his on-again, off-again, on-again flatmate. Hopefully, after this chase ends, he can go home and have every simple thing he wanted.
The runner turns around just as he reaches the edge of the water and John sees him for the first time in that one second.
He's a child, a boy, certainly not past seventeen, but he has the face of an adult that's been continuously trampled by the world, clubbed and beaten to sleep every night by circumstance. John sees all this, and he feels for the boy because that could very well have been him, and he sees the boy toss his rucksack into the river and he sees the boy raise his gun and aim at him as he dashes after that precious rucksack, although it's more what's in it that counts. As John arcs up and dives into the water, he sees Sherlock reach the boy just as he fires. But Sherlock can't stop him in time and he has fired, a stray bullet from a stray gun from a stray boy.
John thinks it's hit him right where that first bullet did so many years ago, but further evaluation tells him that it only clipped the underside of his arm, certainly nothing fatal even though it feels like he's burned himself, and he continues his mad swim to the rucksack, flowing away from him in the current. The water is cold and piercing, but not unbearable, and John knows he may very much have hell to pay afterwards as he fights off the cold he's quite likely to get. Water foams and curls around him, a man trapped in the pulse of the river as he chases a cancerous cell through its chilled veins. As his fingers close around a strap he feels that rough texture, knows the rucksack must be from an army surplus store, and the irony that this rucksack could very well have been his one day if he hadn't been shot is not lost on him as he pushes up for air, his lungs burning as much as his arm.
With a great gasp, John Watson breathes in fresh air.
With that one gunshot, Sherlock thinks that he has lost John after all, which wasn't fair for many, many reasons, but mainly Sherlock thinks it's unfair because, as much as he hates to admit it, if John were to die, he would rather it be by Sebastian Moran himself, and not by some stupid, scrawny street git who works for him.
In that moment Sherlock's brain swells and shrieks with anger, calling for blood blood blood because look what he did to John, John's been shot, and he's underwater and that bullet could have caught him anywhere and he could be drowning. In his anger, and he will never quite understand why it only rears its head in matters pertaining to John and John's safety (although, yes, he really does understand why, but doesn't like to acknowledge it), he knocks the scrawny street git out cold with one simple long pinch to his subclavian artery and rushes to the water.
He wrenches off his coat and scarf, fully intent on diving after John and pulling him out, when John breaks the surface, gasping for air and holding the rucksack in one hand. There is blood in the water around him. Sherlock splashes into the water, nearly tripping over a rock lodged in the sand, and helps John halfway out, his eyes running in a full sprint over him before concluding that the bullet merely grazed the lower half of John's right bicep and that he would very certainly survive.
"I got it." John smiles, handing him the rucksack, but Sherlock tosses it aside because why should he bother his hands with it when this perfect man is in front of him, wounded, and so proud that he got what they came for.
Sherlock wraps his arms around John tightly, gratefully, and John stiffens for a moment before throwing his arms around Sherlock . Sherlock's heart must be going at an inhuman speed as they kneel in the sand and water, an unconscious teenager a few feet behind them and the cold wind nipping at their wet clothes, but it feels like they're warm and it feels like they're safe and it feels like they're alive.
There are many things Sherlock wants to say to John, but all that's coming out is his name, a steady stream of "Johnjohnjohn..." like water trickling down rocks that have been smoothed by the current. Somewhere between two utterances of John's name, Sherlock finds that the phrase I love you, I love you so much has wedged itself to the point where there's no dislodging it and Sherlock would much rather it stay there than take it back. He draws back and kisses John's forehead, his temple, his eyelids and the philtral dimple between his perfect mouth and his perfect nose. He gets gritty wet sand in his mouth, but what does that matter? The phrase I love you is said once more before he feels a strong hand at his chest and he's pushed away to look at John.
"Sherlock, I—no. I can't."
As he turns away, Sherlock has the deadening feeling that he must have missed something, he must have been blind but may be didn't want to see. There was someone else. But all the theories didn't suit the facts; the facts just suited the theories. Why had John kept all of his things if there was someone else? Why was it Sherlock that he expected to see if he died and not this other person?
"Honestly, Sherlock," John laughed, but his eyes were sad, they were abjectly lonely and if he never looked at Sherlock again like that as long as they lived, Sherlock would die a happy man. "What did you expect? That I'd welcome you back like nothing happened and then we'd skip off into the sunset?"
"I thought if you knew I loved you it would be different."
"It doesn't work like that!" John says, scrambling out of the sand and Sherlock follows.
"Why doesn't it? Why shouldn't it? It's a straightforward problem, John! We are two human beings in love, one of the wickedest and greatest things to happen to anyone in their lives. Why can't we just accept it? Why can't you?"
"Because you haven't had it taken from you." John could have yelled, he could have screamed in frustration, but he says it as a fact, because he knows that Sherlock has never had anything taken from him simply because he doesn't care enough about it when it's gone. John wipes river water from his face and continues. "That day at St. Bart's, I had everything taken from me and what's worse is that as you were falling I realised what exactly everything was to me—I realised—"
He can't say it. It's not that he doesn't want to, he simply can't. He is physically unable. Sherlock thinks this vocal handicap is simply psychosomatic, but John is not in the mood to be corrected and for once Sherlock doesn't want to correct him. He doesn't feel the need to feel superior in this moment, on the contrary, he feels quite inferior.
There are many ways he can treat John in this instant, but he knows above all else that he can't treat John like a piece of glass. For one thing, John is a human being, not glass, and for the other, to connote that John is anything as breakable and fragile as glass would be insulting. John is quietly strong, quietly noble and he is quietly flawed, like everyone, but he is beautiful because of it.
John is beautiful to him, and he realised that long ago, sometime between breakfast and dinner on a chilly November morning, when they knew who Moriarty was but not what he was, when John walked into the flat and his hair was askew slightly from the wind and Sherlock just stared at him like he normally did and it hit him just how beautiful John was. How beautiful he was when he asked if there was milk left for tea and how beautiful he was when he stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast with groggy eyes and bad breath and how beautiful he was when he stared up at Sherlock that day outside of St. Bart's and how beautiful his voice was when he told Sherlock what they both certainly already knew, that he was clever. It was so simple, that you could, so plain and perfect, because, of the millions of things he could have said, he chose the one thing that he should have.
Now, John is standing before him, covered with river water and sand and silt, and John is still just as beautiful as he ever was.
"You're right, John." Sherlock says quietly. "And you should savour hearing that because I don't say it often. But you're right. I didn't have it taken from me at St. Bart's. I lost it, yes, but I was not robbed of it like you were because I knew what I was giving away. So, you may be right, but you're also wrong. Would you like to know why?"
"Sherlock, now's not the time—"
"You're wrong because on another day outside of St. Bart's, I had it given back to me. I had it placed in my arms and you know what? I'm never going to let it go, not even if someone has to pry it out of my cold, dead, hands. Because I'll die clutching at it if it's the last thing I do."
"I don't want to be there when you do." John says, looking up at him. Sherlock thinks, after years of pondering, that this may be what heartbreak feels like, but he could never have anticipated how it felt like John had, in one swipe, gutted him, left him breathless, left him utterly bereft of any feeling at all. He would no longer ponder on the subject of heartbreak, because if it felt like this, he never wanted to feel it again.
"I don't want to be there when you do," John repeats, "because I can't see you dead again."
The dregs and remnants that remain inside Sherlock stir like a wind into embers.
"You will never see me dead again, John. I promise."
"You can't promise me that. We all die, one day."
"I'll promise you whatever I damn well please. When we're old and grey and I'm about to go, I'll blindfold you and you can't take it off until the funeral's over and done with. So there, you will never see me dead again."
It isn't another beginning. It's picking up where they left off.
Chapter 2: riders
"From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were — I have not seen
As others saw — I could not bring
My passions from a common spring —
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow — I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone —
And all I lov'd — I lov'd alone —
Then — in my childhood — in the dawn
Of a most stormy life — was drawn
From ev'ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still —
From the torrent, or the fountain —
From the red cliff of the mountain —
From the sun that 'round me roll'd
In its autumn tint of gold —
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass'd me flying by —
From the thunder, and the storm —
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view —"
"Alone" – Edgar Allen Poe
That night John bolts up in his bed, cold sweat trickling down his temples even though his head is hot. No, not hot. Burning. He stumbles out of the covers, feet twisting in the duvet in his mad escape and sending him crashing to the floor.
He groans, pressing his head against the cool floor. He probably looks fucking crazy but bollocks to that. It feels nice. He already knows that polar swim in the Thames has made him sick. One of the better perks of being medically trained. Self-diagnosis. Early-onset flu, maybe even hypothermia, but it was too early to tell—
"John?" Sherlock's voice barks from below. "John—"
The thudding of wild footsteps on the stairs before the door flies open, giving him prime viewing of two bare, pale feet. His heart hammers. His face is still too hot.
"Sh'lock." He whispers against the floor.
"Are you alright?" Sherlock asks, concern gleaning in his tone, yet he makes no move to help John up. Is he afraid of touching him? Have they reverted back to primary school and John has been infected with cooties?
"You're here." He murmurs against the faux wooden panelling.
"Of course I am." Sherlock says it like it's obvious.
"No I mean…" John trails off. What did he mean? He's not sure. And he doesn't need to give more cause for Sherlock to call him an idiot, so it seems to be best kept ambiguous.
He manages to untangle himself from the sheets and sits up, against the side of his bed. Wordlessly, Sherlock joins him.
A soft silence settles between them like cool air, a fine dust ground together out from sounds of muffled traffic outside the window, of quiet breathing, of a plucked tensed chord with overtures of longing.
"How many nights are you going to ask me that?" Sherlock asks finally, an idle hand fiddling with the edges of a sheet.
John's head has lolled against the bed and he looks over. "Hm?"
"Whenever you have a night terror and I run up here thinking you're being murdered when really it's just me who's killing you—you always seem surprised that I'm here."
"Well that's only because I am."
"I have no intention of leaving you, John, as I'm sure you well know."
"The one time was enough for you, then?" John asks, but it sounds bitter to him. Let it. He feels bitter. He feels too goddamn uncomfortably hot, like his body has internalised itself into its own little steam room, making his skin clog with dirt and sweat.
"Why didn't you take me with you?" He asks softly, his voice barely above a whisper yet in the quiet he knows Sherlock will hear him.
Sherlock is silent.
"I served active duty, Sherlock. I'm sure I'm more than capable of protecting you and myself."
"Yes," Sherlock finally speaks up, "but that was before—"
He stops suddenly and John raises his head.
"Before? Before what?"
They both know what he was going to say.
"I've saved your life countless times since then." John points out. "Even with this fucking scar. But that's all it is, Sherlock. A scar. That's all it is. Or at least all it's been since we met." John stops for a moment, chewing on the inside of his cheek. "It bled once, you know, after you—after you left. All on its own. No warning either, just—" John gestured at the offending shoulder. "I never knew why. Still don't."
"I couldn't risk your life." Sherlock says quietly.
"That's funny." John says, but his tone indicates it's anything but. "You seemed quite fine risking it here. You thought London—London—was child's play?" John pauses, a darker thought surfacing in his mind. "Or did you think I wouldn't follow? Because I would have, Sherlock. I would've followed you to the ends of the earth and back. I still would."
"I was not 'quite fine' with risking your life, in any situation." Sherlock says rather tersely. "Many times, it was the contrary."
That silence falls between them again, like a shadow.
"Moriarty was going to kill you. In the end, I suppose he was better than me. I allowed him to slip past me twice like the little snake that he was and get to you. I allowed him to threaten your life twice."
"No," John begins, because it doesn't make sense. "No, it was only once, at the pool—"
Sherlock shakes his head but doesn't elaborate.
"—and at Bart's?"
"Of course." John breathes. "Of course. Christ, I've been stupid—" He brings a hand to his face, as if it will shield him from what he perceives to be the oncoming onslaught of Sherlock's criticisms. "Moran?"
"Among others, yes."
Sherlock looks at his soldier. At that battlefield that he must now clean up because he decided to play instigator, investigator, judge and executioner all at once.
"How is your arm?" He asks, because he both wants to know and change the subject.
"Fine." John murmurs. "Least of my worries with this cold—" He sniffs, as if to accentuate the point that he was getting sick and it was because Sherlock had dragged him on another case, another chance to catch Moran that had ended in an ill-advised—but graceful—dive into the Thames. In December. John was either brave or mad or a combination. Sherlock wagered it was the latter.
"I was going to kill him, you know." Sherlock admits.
"Moran? Yeah, I'd let you if I didn't want to myself—"
"No, the boy that shot at you."
"I understand that it's one thing to kill the enemy and it's quite another to kill a child, but he shot you, John. I saw him raise his gun and fire and then you went under and I thought the worst. I wanted to make him suffer for hurting you. I wanted to make him feel as badly as I did. Needless to say I only knocked him out."
"A great practiser of the Vulcan nerve pinch, are you?"
"The what? I've never heard of that technique. I simply applied pressure to the subclavian artery, cutting off blood to the brain and—"
"Yes, genius, I know what that does. Doctor John Watson, remember?" John pauses. "Anyways, I'm glad you didn't kill him. I'm not worth it—"
Sherlock sits up so suddenly that John thinks he's hurt himself. He grabs John's face in his hands, staring at him with those intense bright eyes, as mad as they ever were.
"Don't. Don't you ever say that again. You are worth a great many things to me John Watson."
"Get your hands off my face, Sherlock."
"What good would it do?" John bursts out, the sudden fire in his eyes making Sherlock drop his hands as if he's been burned. "Shooting him if he'd killed me wouldn't do anything. It wouldn't bring me back. It'd make you feel worse and you'd have two bodies to explain to Greg." John fell silent, his voice cooling. "Donovan once told me that there would be a day when there'd be a body and that Sherlock Holmes would have put it there. Technically that day has already passed, although you weren't really dead. But I don't want that day to come when it's someone who threatened or killed me. I can't have that blood on your hands."
"What if I want it?"
"That's too bad," John chuckles humourlessly. "Because I know what it does to someone and that's not happening to you. If anyone is going to kill to protect someone they love, it's going to be me."
All the air deflates out of Sherlock's lungs like he's been slowly crushed under a ton of rocks and he's just now noticed the weight.
"John…I don't understand."
"No, you wouldn't, would you?" John snaps then regrets it. "Sorry."
Sherlock stares at him a moment and John can feel the pages of analysis printing out of that brain.
"You're tired and susceptible to illness."
"Well spotted." John says dryly.
Sherlock stands, straightening his pyjama legs.
"I'll leave you to rest then."
John slowly gets up to follow him and stops as he pauses in the doorway. Sherlock looks down at him with a solemn expression.
"I would die for you, you know."
John looks at him for a moment, a hand on the door. His eyes are heavy with some unseen burden, lined with sleep and sickness.
"Yeah, I know." He says quietly. "You already did."
The door softly shuts in front of Sherlock, effectively blocking him from the man on the other side.
He hears a sniff, but manages to half-heartedly tell himself it's just John's cold acting up.
When John wakes up the next morning, he feels awful.
His body aches like it's been rolled through a printing press and he's so goddamn hot, every pore of his skin covered in dried sweat that effectively caps the uncomfortable heat inside him and makes him want to kick off the covers that are already piled on the floor. There's a tightness in his head, a knot right in the middle that keeps being pulled at both ends, and it's so hot and burning and utterlyunbearable.
Sherlock is there when he wakes.
As he should be, since John is somehow, inexplicably, in Sherlock's bed.
He doesn't even have the will to ask.
"Good morning, John."
"If you say so." John grumbles, laying an arm over his eyes. A cool hand places itself on his forehead and it takes all his willpower to not grab onto it when it pulls away.
"Your fever's breaking."
"My fever—how long have you been in here?"
"You kicked me out of your room around two-thirty four this morning. Around three-thirty I heard restless noises and, knowing that you most likely caught cold from your swim, came up to check on you. As soon as you calmed down I left, but around four I heard noise again and decided it would be more pertinent to my sanity and your comfort if I moved you to my bed."
"And let me guess, you haven't left since."
John sighs. "Can't say I'm ungrateful—"
He's cut off as a sopping wet rag is all but thrown on his face and he drags it off, sputtering.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I thought you'd like a cold washcloth—"
"Well yes, but not an ice bath!" John rings the excess water out into the bin beside him and tries to wipe some off his shirt before giving up and laying the cloth over his face, blanketing him in coolness.
John makes a noise underneath the rag.
"I thought that was admirable, what you did, however ill-advised."
"What the Thames thing? Honestly I just felt like going for a swim."
Sherlock makes a noise of amusement. John stares through the small holes in the washcloth as the coolness spreads over his face.
"What was in the bag anyways?"
Sherlock mutters something.
"A stuffed animal."
"A what?" John sits up and takes the rag off his face then instantly regrets it as light pours into his eyes and to him it may as well be molten lava. When his vision clears he sees that Sherlock has placed a worn-out, raggedy tiger in front of him that smells of the dirt and dampness of the Thames. It looks innocuous enough, sitting on its rump with all four legs sprawled in front of it. So John takes the scientific approach.
He pokes it.
Nothing happens, of course. Sherlock had seen to that before bringing it anywhere close to his doctor.
"I got shot at, jumped in the Thames, swam 30 metres in water that may has well have been ice, and got sick for a…tiger."
"It would seem that way, yes."
"Please tell me there's a bomb or a packet of anthrax in it or something so I know I was justified in risking my life for it."
Sherlock leans forward and presses something in the tiger's back. There' a slow whirring and John nearly jumps at the sound, having a hard time believing that Sherlock had brought a bomb into his bedroom and not known it.
"Evening, gentlemen." A deep voice resonates from inside the tiger. "Or whenever you happen to be listening to this. I trust it came into your hands quite easily, Sherlock Holmes."
John looks up at Sherlock as the voice spoke his name, but Sherlock doesn't move. The voice is soft, deep, like the undercurrent in the ocean threatening to churn into riptide.
"John, I'll bet you're wondering why I used a tiger. And I'm addressing you, John, because Sherlock Holmes, being the man that he is, already knows why. Sherlock, kindly tell him, but only after I'm done as it's rude to interrupt. I hope the chase after it was beguiling enough. Speaking of, Watson, I hope Sherlock nurses you back to health as best he can. I don't want to kill you when you're half dead already by his hand. That's no fun at all. This has been the second warning, gentlemen. You have one left before I come out and play."
The whirring clicks off.
Of course, to anyone else, this tiger would seem so ineffective. Why, in a world where phones and email (and even letters for god's sake) would this person use a stuffed tiger with a recorder embedded in its back?
Why, to rub salt in the wound of course. To let the great Sherlock Holmes and his loyal Watson know that he could send them on a wild chase through London after something so utterly worthless and they would do it because they thought themselves cleverer than him.
"Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas." Sherlock says calmly, hands clasped in front of him as he leaned into his fingers. His thinking face. "Three Months in the Jungle."
Sherlock shakes his head.
"By anyone I'd know?"
"Both by one Colonel Moran comma Sebastian."
"Ah. Didn't think he'd have the brain power for an authorship."
"It's unwise to underestimate an opponent when given contradictory evidence." Sherlock pauses, thinking. Considering. "It is surprising, however."
"That Moran would still wish revenge on us after three years."
John folds the washcloth across his forehead, crosses his arms behind his head and leans back.
"Who said it was only Moran?" John asks quietly and Sherlock looks over at him, taking in his intentionally blank expression. He doesn't know if the red on John's cheeks is from fever or something else. "Revenge doesn't have an expiration date, Sherlock."
"But the initial anger at said event should abate at least by the first year—"
"Christ, Sherlock!" John suddenly bursts out. "It's not that simple!"
"Explain it to me." Sherlock says, but it sounds almost like a question.
John doesn't respond for a moment, staring at the ceiling as the washcloth on his heat sponges up heat. Wearily, he reaches a hand up and takes the now warm cloth off and tosses it in the laundry hamper. He sighs, wiping his face and dragging the water droplets into his spiky dark blonde hair, making some ends stick up. Wordlessly, Sherlock hands him a new one, as if conjured out of thin air. He nods his thanks and presses it to his face.
"It's so hard, Sherlock—for me." He begins softly. "You have to understand that. Something needs to click in that brain of yours so you understand." He pauses, trying to verbalise what's he's thinking. "It's hard for me, because you're here, you're here, with your mad brain whole in your mad skull, not six feet under—hell, you're not even six feet away from me—and it's all that I've wanted for three years—Christ, it has been almost three years, hasn't it?" John stills, as if it's only just occurred to him how great the passing time had been. He's silent for a moment, his lips mouthing around the words three yearsbefore he remembers that he was trying to explain his personal hell to the person that caused it. Beads of sweat are gathering at his forehead again and he presses his face to the washcloth for a moment.
"For three years." He mutters into the rag then lifts his head. "That was all I wanted. I wanted to see you again, to live with you, to—well I think you get the point." He says it weakly, like he had intended to say something else but stopped himself. "I wanted you back in my life, but with every day that passed I had to face the fact that you really were dead, and something inside me couldn't reconcile that with my disbelief that you, the great Sherlock Holmes, could well and truly die. I thought you were cleverer than that." A sad grin flitted over John's face. "I was right, though, I suppose."
"I never wanted to leave you, John." Sherlock begins, and tries to clear his throat of the invisible obstruction that's choking him. "If you should be sure of anything in this life, it's that I could never voluntarily leave you. I couldn't. I can't."
"You didn't seem to have much trouble at Bart's—"
Sherlock's chair topples back as he stands and, for a moment, he looks every bit as mad as other people reported him to be.
"You see, John, you see, but you don't understand." Sherlock began to pace the room, grabbing at his hair roughly. "The night before Bart's, when you first met Moran and didn't realise how lucky you were that you survived the encounter, I told you that I would never leave you. Do you remember?"
"I understand that what happened at Bart's must have eclipsed that particular memory, but I meant what I said. I did not abandon you at Bart's because I thought you were a burden or because I didn't trust you or whatever reasons your personal foibles have led you to believe. I left, fled, faked my death, or what have you, because if I didn't Moriarty was going to give Moran the go ahead to blow your brains out in front of me."
"You could have told me." John says, if only to argue for the sake of arguing.
"And what? See you duck behind a skip for cover so I couldn't see you until your blood was spilling onto the pavement? I didn't know where Moran was positioned—I didn't know, John, so how could I warn you?"
"I could have saved you."
"Yes, but you do that every day." Sherlock says solemnly, offering a slightly compunctious smile. "I suspect it's getting rather boring."
"That was the only day that really counted."
"And what of every other day that you've save me from bodily harm? What of them? You should think of it as me returning a long overdue favour."
"I don't want you to owe me anything."
"But I do, John. I owe you everything."
John stares at him, his expression utterly tired, lined and exacerbated by sickness.
"You can sleep, John. I'll be here when you wake up."
Sherlock stares at him for a moment then deftly takes the rag off John's face, wiping at the remaining water with his own hand, which somehow seems cooler in comparison. As he draws it away, John wishes it had stayed longer. Hell, he wishes he was at the top of Everest or at the bottom of the ocean if it meant coolness.
Sherlock doesn't bother to right the chair he knocked over, which nags at John until he collapses back into an exhausted sleep.
The world was ending, surely. The day had come and the Riders were near, closing in on Baker Street.
Sherlock Holmes had done the grocery shopping.
John opens tired eyes to an empty room and his fever-addled brain struggled to dredge itself out of sleep.
"Sh'lock?" He slurs, raising his head. The chair is still toppled over. "Sherlock?"
John tosses back the covers that somehow tucked themselves around him again and staggers to his feet. The room sways and he barely makes it to the bathroom before losing the sparse contents of his stomach into the toilet.
This cold may have to be upgraded to flu.
John is not a particularly violent person, but right now he wants to hurt something. He wants to tear that tiger's goddamn head off.
He stays slumped against the toilet seat before gentle hands come up behind him and lift his head back, propping him against the opposite wall.
"I thought you'd gone off somewhere." Sherlock's deep voice says to him, but he doesn't want to open his eyes.
"I could say the same." John groans out.
"I went to the grocer's."
John's eyes snap open. He must have misheard.
"I bought the milk."
John stares at him like he's suddenly sprouted a second head.
"I must be dead."
"Or dreaming, which is much less detrimental to both our health."
"Are the Four Horsemen outside yet? Has everything gone to hell? People being raptured in the streets?"
"Well, now that you mentioned it, a homeless man did steal some poor woman's jacket off a bench."
"And Lestrade didn't ring you up to solve that one?"
"Lestrade would ring me up to solve a crime he watched occur."
John starts to laugh, but regrets it as his chest tightens and he falls into a few racking coughs.
"Come on." Firm hands reach beneath his arms and he lets himself be lifted up. "Back to bed with you."
"Will you make me tea?"
Sherlock smiles and deposits John back on his bed.
"I'll make you tea."
"No milk though. That's not ideal for an onset of the common cold—"
"Yes, John, I know."
"Why'd you get milk then if you never drink it and I can't right now? Sherlock, it'll have gone bad by the time I get better—"
Sherlock pauses and knocks a fist absentmindedly on the doorframe.
"I suppose I should confess that I didn't get milk. I just wanted to see the look on your face."
Sherlock disappears as he heads to the kitchen, leaving John a stupefied, muddled mess.
A few minutes later John hears his bare feet padding against the floor and he appears once more, carrying a steaming cup of what can only be tea (John can only hope that he hasn't contaminated it) in one hand and John's laptop tucked under his other arm.
Without spilling a drop, Sherlock hooks his foot underneath the edge of the chair and tilts it back up, sitting on it in the same movement and placing the cut on the table beside John, who can only stare dumbly at it for a moment.
"It's Earl Grey." Sherlock says, nudging it towards him with one long finger. "Your favourite."
John's gaze darts to the cup then Sherlock then back to the cup before taking it and hesitantly taking a sip before remembering just what it is he's drinking.
"It's tea John, I should hope that it is." Sherlock sniffs from his seat beside John, John's laptop resting on his knees.
"At least there's no sugar in it this time." John admitted before eyeing his computer. "You could have asked to borrow that you know—"
Sherlock rolls his eyes and prods John with his foot.
"Oh, hush, I brought you tea."
"What are you looking up? More ways to drug your flatmate with things that dissolve in tea?"
"One time it happens and he never lets me forget it—"
"Oh you say that like it wasn't a bad thing—"
"I'm sending screenshots of my suspected coordinates of Sebastian Moran's location to Mycroft and Lestrade."
"Suspected—you know where he is?"
"Which usually prove to be right."
"Oh, such modesty…it really must be the end of the world."
"Drink your tea before the chemicals solidify."
"Chemicals…Sherlock what did you do?"
Sherlock smiles at John's stricken expression.
"Kidding, John. Only a joke."
The buzzer downstairs sounded.
"Mrs Hudson's out." Sherlock notes, standing. "I'll get it."
"If that's not Gabriel coming to tell us that war's broken out in the streets then I'm going back to bed." John mutters. "All this tea and jokes and grocery shopping—"
Sherlock leaves him murmuring to himself as he heads down the stairs to open the door, a smile plastering itself to his face. He likes ill John. Ill John is interesting, to say the least.
He returns to John with the smile wiped from his face.
He won't tell John why.
John sighs, closing his eyes. He's counted the repeating pattern of the wallpaper twice now. There's only so much longer he can stay in this flat.
"Sherlock?" He calls out.
He hears footsteps and Sherlock comes into the living room, caught in the middle of brushing his teeth.
"If you're not going to let me leave then you can at least acquiesce to going on a walk."
Sherlock stops for the barest moment, but John catches it.
"What are you so afraid of that we can't leave the flat?"
"M'not afraid." Sherlock mumbles into the toothbrush as he turns back to the bathroom.
"Yes you are." John says, turning to look over the back of his chair. "I've been well enough to leave the flat since yesterday and every time you bar the door and give me some bollocks about airborne diseases that's not even half-true—"
Sherlock comes up behind him and wordlessly shoves his phone into John's hands.
It's a picture of the door to 221, but there, spray painted in bright red, are a series of numbers and symbols that takes John a few minutes to decipher.
"Coordinates of Bangalore, capital of Karnataka, India." Sherlock explains, taking his phone and coming to sit across from John.
"What about it?"
"Moran was in the 1st Bangalore Pioneers when he was in the army."
There's a short silence. Sherlock is waiting for John to realise something but John's not sure what epiphany he's currently supposed to be in the grip of.
"John?" Sherlock says.
"This is the third warning."
"He must have gotten word that I suspected where his base of business was."
"This is why you don't want to leave the flat."
"This is why I don't want you to leave the flat."
"Sherlock, this is ridiculous, I'm not going to spend the rest of my life like bloody Rapunzel, afraid of my own shadow—"
"Please, John." He says quietly, his eyes focused on the mantle, away from John.
"Please," He repeats, gaze still fixed on the mantle. "Just give me one day. That's all I want. All I need. 24 hours." He turns his head and John can see his desperation, but also the resolve buried underneath it. Sherlock will use all he has in him to scourge Moran from this world just as hard as he had tried to rid them of Moriarty. John trusts him; Moran, even if judged with proper estimation, was no contender with Moriarty's brilliance.
And Sherlock would find him.
John is still awake when Sherlock leaves for Bart's.
"On your way out then?" He asks as Sherlock brushes past him.
"Yes." Sherlock answers quickly, and John knows it's out of anxiety more than rudeness.
"When do you expect to be back?"
"Hopefully by dawn."
The detective pauses at John's stern voice and shuts his eyes. Wordlessly, he backtracks his steps and reaches into his pocket, handing John a pack of cigarettes.
"Thank you." John says, then, as Sherlock pulls away, adds "Wait," pulls a single cigarette from the pack, and hands it to Sherlock. "For luck." He offers, knowing he's stretching the truth.
Sherlock finds that his smile is genuine.
"I won't need it."
One cigarette, fifteen hours and twenty minutes later, he receives a text from John.
How's it going?
Sherlock's gaze sweeps the lab table, awash with loose papers and dead-end conclusions that have led him nowhere. Lestrade's errant and ill-advised raid on Moran's headquarters had proven, as Sherlock had suggested, pointless. Moran knew that Sherlock knew where he was; anyone with half a brain, including Moran, would've left as soon as he could. Now Sherlock had to pinpoint another location based on erroneous evidence that he considered sloppily gathered by the Yarders and even more carelessly organised. Of course, Lestrade had heard an earful as it was delivered to Sherlock and he had fled the lab just as fast as his feet could take him, offering Molly a quick kiss and promise of lunch together (Sherlock had been unsurprised that in his absence the two had gotten together; Lestrade's divorce had been impending for years and it was obvious that Molly was good with and loved kids so naturally all it took was Lestrade's viewing of his youngest son's fall in a tour of the lab and Molly's subsequent doctoring skills for him to—finally—ask her out.). Sherlock had repressed the urge to say something condescending and then remembered that neither of the pair ever said anything to he and John.
The labour is fruitless, as of the moment. Lestrade made sure of it. SH
Need a distraction?
Molly already came in here offering coffee. I'd say that merits enough distraction for the rest of the day. At least for Greg (as you call him). SH
I mean the good kind.
There hasn't been a murder reported today yet. And I'm too busy trying to prevent yours to indulge in another's. SH
I mean the REALLY good kind.
Is this your attempt at seduction? SH
You could call it that, yeah.
Sherlock smirks. Surely John has better things to do.
Very well. Parade your wares. SH
I don't need to. You've already made up your mind.
I have, but you don't know the conclusion. SH
You took care of me when I was sick. I think that signifies a more-than-small amount of devotion.
It was my understanding that friends look out for one another. SH
Friends don't wipe vomit off their sick friend's faces.
Au contraire, the cinematic stereotype of clubbing friends suggests that in an intoxicated state one friend will take the sick one to the bathroom and metaphorically (or with females and feminine men physically) 'hold their hair' etcetera
He's interrupted by another text from John.
Friends don't tell friends 'I love you' on the bank of the Thames and then kiss them.
I only kissed your face and the area around your mouth, therefore I did not kiss you in the typical sense. Although why people decided that the mouth was a romantic piece of skin I don't know. SH
I retract the last bit then. But the rest is true, isn't it?
Sherlock hesitates before sending the next text. It's true though. He can't deny that John heard him admit certain things when he was still trapped in the fear that his doctor had been injured.
He waits in supreme agitation for John to text back and when he hears the ping he snatches his phone so fast that he nearly sends it flying across the room.
Fine. Come home and ravish me.
John, if this is a joke— SH
John sends him a picture of a shirt crumpled onto the floor of Sherlock's bedroom, along with the text: I was wearing that three seconds ago. I'm waiting.
On my way. SH
Needless to say Sherlock packs up his supplies as hastily as Sherlock can with his anal-retentive nature, flies past a bewildered Molly, hurtles out of St. Bart's and hails the nearest cab.
He must seem like a crazed criminal on the run from something with the way the cabbie's looking at him. Hell, he's taking deep breaths to calm himself and he's carrying an indiscreet bag that jangles with every movement, he may as well have been running from the police for all this man knows.
He spends the cab ride in an unsettled anxiety, drumming his fingers on his knee, silently wishing that desire was a convertible form of energy that could spur the car to go faster. He watches the buildings go by but doesn't see them, his mind on that picture John sent him. That little crumpled t-shirt that conveys so much. Consensual affection and desire. It was too good to be true. He pulls it up again and stares at it until the cab pulls up to the flat. He hurriedly tosses the fare at the cabbie, adding a tip for his more than probable mental nervousness at the fact that he might be carrying a fugitive.
A bloody tip. John must be rubbing off on him.
He bolts up the stairs two at a time, unwinding his scarf as he undoes his coat buttons, and throws the door to the flat open loud enough that there's no chance John didn't hear his arrival.
"John? John, I feel like I should state that, with as many things as I'm certain of, your response, while not unwelcome, came as a happy surprise and I'm quite grateful you accepted my proposal…" Sherlock trails off, shedding his coat over a chair in the kitchen in his haste.
The flat is oddly quiet. John must be waiting in their room, formerly his room, though he was keen to share. Their room. It makes him want to puff his chest out in pride and declare to everyone that John loves him and he loves John and nothing will ever get in their way again. He could kiss him, taste him, hold him, and love him unmitigated.
"John? I swear if you're not naked yet I may just shag you were you stand—"
He stops, frozen, as he turns to the sitting room.
Sebastian Moran is sitting across from him in Sherlock's chair. The one he'd been so happy to see that John hadn't thrown out.
"Hello Holmes." He smiles crookedly, eyes glinting. "Miss me?"
It had been too good to be true.
Chapter 3: demon, rising
"There will always be something to ruin our lives, it all depends on what or which finds us first. We are always ripe and ready to be taken."
- Charles Bukowski
It took all of five seconds for a swelling rage to bloom out of the cold realization that pangs in Sherlock's gut.
"Where is John?" He says coldly, advancing on Moran with a feral glare. "What have you done?"
"What? No kiss hello?" Moran frowns as he toys with something in his hands. "That's no way to greet an old friend."
"John!" Sherlock shouts, despite the futile bells ringing in his head. Heart palpitations, squeezing the air from his chest as his heart frets itself away at all the possibilities of what could have been done to his soldier, to his John. No no no no— "John?"
There is no answer.
He whips back to Moran, who is smiling over bridged hands as he makes a pointed look to the door flung open into the dark hallway past the kitchen. Sherlock turns on his heels and strides to the closed door of his bedroom.
Moran can wait. Everything can wait. He has to know that John is alive, has to know that he's alright so this shallow pounding in his mind and the wrenches in the depths of his heart can cease, but—
But he has no idea how long Moran had been alone with John.
He moves through the molasses of time as he takes long strides down that dimly lit hallway.
The door is blank. It won't tell him what it's hiding.
He wraps a hand around the handle. Opens it. Steps inside, fearing what he might see. Or what he won't.
He blinks. Opens his eyes again.
His bed is empty. John is not there.
A great hollow relief sweeps through him. John is not lying in white sheets stained red with blood. John is not sleeping awake with blank eyes.
But John is gone.
He hears Moran's laugh, followed by his loud call: "I'm just fucking with you, Holmes, he's not here."
Everything is suddenly a brilliant white, like starting at the sun through dark clouds. Not too bright to look away, just…overwhelming. The colour of the moon, smooth, seamless, blanched and burning.
As Sherlock's senses begin to return to him, he feels the rough wool of Moran's jacket in his hands. Smells the aftershave, which can't stifle the tobacco must. Hears the leather of his chair breathe as he pulls Moran's weight off it. Sees his crooked smile, charming to most unless they knew of the demon pacing beneath it. He thinks of the kiss that would have been his, his and John's to share, had Moran not taken it away from him.
He slams Moran against the mantle and something clatters to the ground with a metallic clang. He wants him to hurt, hurt like he does. He wants Moran to feel the immolation of his anger, to burn and roast in it.
"Where is he?"
Moran laughs. Sherlock punches him in the centre of his face, sending his head cracking back into the mirror. The skull watches the bloodshed with blank eyes. Sherlock likes that it's taking such a placid attitude; he didn't need its judgment at a time like this. His grip on Moran's collar tightens as he brings their faces closer.
"Where?" He snarls.
Moran spits the flecks of blood that has trickled from his broken nose into his mouth at Sherlock.
"Tell you what, Holmes." He smiles with red teeth. "You take me to your mate Lestrade, and I'll tell you where Watson is."
Sherlock narrows his eyes.
Moran wants to turn himself in. Ulterior motives.
"What are you afraid of?" He asks, cocking his head. "Or should I say who?"
"Take me to your friend and I'll tell you."
"Unacceptable. Tell me now."
"You want your friend alive?" Moran snarls. "Cause that's not what it sounds like."
"Why did you take him?" Sherlock asks lowly. "Why, if you want to turn yourself in?"
"Isn't this why you came back, Holmes?" A slow smile spreads on Moran's face. "So you could taste the divinity of the unknown? Pretty thing, not knowing," Moran's eyes swept to his knowingly. "Isn't it?"
Sherlock exhales heavily through his nose as he stares into that dark gaze.
Lestrade does not believe the call at first when he gets it.
The air is dry, achingly cold and sterile.
Sherlock paces in front of the interrogation room.
Moran's timing was so dreadfully awful.
Of course—of course—just as the stars have aligned and John is his, Moran appears to take it all away. Just as his life had returned to its wonderful chaos, just as John had begun to gravitate towards him again, to trust him, Moran had to come and throw a spanner into the works and royally screw everything up.
Sherlock's timing was no better.
At least he had told him. At least John knew that he loved him. Sherlock hoped it was something he could hold on to, a life raft amid choppy waves like John's devotion to Sherlock had been in his travels.
But there was so much that he hadn't said.
John, I love your gross jumpers that make your silhouette look like a frumpy old woman whose only company is her nine cats. John, I love that when the jumpers come off you suddenly have a body shape again, and that it always surprises me when I see it (small rewards). John, I love that you started making two cups of tea again even though I never said anything (did you ever even stop? No, of course you did, that'd be a waste of tea and tea is to you what religion is to a priest). John, I—
Lestrade lays a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, which snaps Sherlock out of his thoughts and makes him shrug it off.
"What?" He snaps.
"I'm going in to question him." Lestrade tells him calmly. "And you are going to stay out here until I'm done—"
"No, that idea is pointless not to mention incredibly stupid—even coming from you—since I'll hear and see him in any scenario. I'm going in. I may as well be in the room—"
"Sherlock," Lestrade sighs heavily, although he's been expecting this reaction. "That's my point. I know it's occurred to you that Moran is going to say some things to provoke you and I am not having sixteen bloody feet of legs and black coat like some great bat hovering over me in the interrogation room, not when you know as well as I do that he will say things to try and goad you into a fight. He's safer if you're on the other side of the glass."
"Safe?" Sherlock echoes. "You want him to be safe—?"
"Yes, Sherlock, I do." Greg bites out. "Because, god help me, if you let him get to you and you snap, if you hurt him, we may lose our only chance at getting John back. I need you to think of John, now, alright? He's relying on us to help him. I'm going to do my job and see to it that we find him, and you're going to listen to me, yeah?"
Sherlock doesn't answer. He eyes Moran through the glass of the door without really seeing him.
"Sherlock? Oi? You hear me?"
Sherlock's head snaps back to him so fast Lestrade is amazed by the lack of whiplash.
"Your estimations on my height were off by ten feet, Lestrade, as I am six, although that was most likely one of your attempts to highlight a physical quality of mine in a negative light in order to undermine me. As for the other statements you made, do you honestly think that I have gotten this far in my life without having some modicum of self-control? John Watson is the type to hit people that offend him, to wear his heart on his sleeve, and you seem to think that in his absence I will adopt some of his characteristics. You are most indubitably wrong. John Watson is an inimitable man, and I can assure you that all of his mannerisms will remain so. You also stated that I needed to 'think of John', as if it's not occurred to you that I have done nothing else for the past few hours, let alone every moment I can spare since I've met him. Do you really think that I would be so careless that I would risk John's safety? That I would let some rat like Sebastian Moran take him away from me? At the rate you're going, even Anderson has a better profile of me, and he's the worst kind of idiot—"
"Oi—" Anderson stops outside the open door, but retreats at Sherlock's stare.
"Natural." Sherlock finishes with disgust.
"You can stand in the box."
"No, I think I'll go in if that's alright with you—" Sherlock begins, brushing past Lestrade to get into the interrogation room, but the DI is faster than expected and grabs him none too gently by the wrist.
"I'm not negotiating, Sherlock. I think, considering the circumstances, you should feel lucky enough that you're even in the same building."
"You don't trust me with him."
"I don't trust him with you." Lestrade says solemnly, his eyes grim. "The box is all you get. It's one way blind. He won't know you're there."
"Yes he will. He knows John's value to me, that I'd get in here one way or another."
"Just humour me, alright? If you behave in there, maybe, maybe, I'll consider letting you interrogate him after I'm done."
Sherlock says nothing, and watches Lestrade stand outside the door to the room he'd give everything to be in.
He stares at the handle for a moment, and heads to the box, the room situated behind the tinted glass of the interrogation room.
Donovan sits at the monitors, her eyes heavy with fatigue. She nods grimly at him as he comes to stand beside her. He'd complain about her presence if it weren't so obvious that she wants information on a friend as much as he does on his...well, on his...on John.
"Donovan. No colourful moniker this time?"
"John wouldn't want me to. I mean, I won't use it while he's...you know. We owe it to him to work together until we get him back." She sighs, brushing her hair back.
"Are you calling for a ceasefire?"
"For now." She says, smiling solemnly. "You're not getting off that easy."
"Nor are you, as I hear that Anderson and his wife are about to leave on vacation to renew their vows."
She shuts her eyes. John wouldn't have wanted him to say that. Apologise, Sherlock, he'd say. That wasn't very nice.
"No...no, it's alright. Deserved that one, I suppose."
Before Sherlock can say anything more about old habits dying hard, the door to the room opens and Lestrade enters.
The lights are brighter than he expected, shining down on Moran like the light of heaven, or the shockwave of an atom bomb. He looks like a ghost already, pale and drawn, but his eyes are burning.
Moran smiles up at Lestrade over his cheap cup of tea.
"Back for more, Detective?" He smirks, taking a sip of tea. "Your tea tastes like piss by the way."
"You're just lucky it's warm." Lestrade says, and the darkness in his voice nearly surprises Sherlock. He's seen Lestrade in police-mode, but this—this is different. Most interesting.
"Well, a deal's a deal." Moran says, hiking his feet up on the table. "You brought me here, now I hold up my end."
"John Watson." Lestrade says calmly. "Where is he?"
"Did you enjoy his texts, Holmes?" Moran asks, turning his head to look with a keen interest over at the glass Sherlock stands behind. "I know you're there, of course. But you've already considered that."
Sherlock does not answer. He knows better than to press the intercom button, but Donovan's gaze has already darted between the two as if she's preparing herself to stop him.
"I managed to sneak into your home and catch him before he realised it, right after you said you loved him—"
Sherlock does not miss Lestrade's slight look of shock.
"—So I figured I may as well finish what he started." Moran grins. "Course, it's never too hard when there's a shag promised, is it? Even for you Holmes," Moran eyes him. "Even for The Virgin. But John Watson would have taken care of that, wouldn't he? And the way you rushed into the flat, it was like you thought you'd be late for the Revelation. Pity you missed it." He smirks. "And all it took was a crumpled shirt. Here I was, thinking you had more brains in your head than your cock."
Sherlock keeps his hands fisted at his sides. Donovan's breath hitches beside him.
"Enough—" Lestrade starts, but Moran continues.
"I'm not doing anything illegal, Detective Inspector. I don't want to kill him." Moran tilts his head and a knowing smile comes on his face. "I just want to talk to him." He laughs. "Who knew a fuck buddy would be the end of Sherlock Holmes? He may even have kissed you at the end—"
Donovan moves to stand as if to diffuse the outburst she expects to be coming, but there is nothing. Sherlock stands as still as ever behind her, staring at Moran with…blankness. No anger, no disgust, no interest, noanything. As if he's looking into the distance but not really seeing anything.
His hand is trembling. She chooses to discount it as a nicotine craving.
"Cheer up Holmes," Moran continues. "I'm sure Watson would have been a good lay—"
"Enough." Lestrade's voice seems to hold enough power that Moran lets his taunts peter out. The two stare at one another for a moment. "Where?"
"221C, of course." Moran smiles. "Honestly, didn't anyone think to check?"
Sherlock is out of the door before he can hear the rest.
The world passes by in smears of colour.
Sherlock Holmes does not pay it any attention. Not when the cab seat beside him is empty.
He doesn't think of much, for once. Just something his father told him when he was a child.
The weight of negative responsibility always feels like a black hole in your mind, eating up your thoughts.
Startlingly accurate, Father.
Sherlock was sure that, as tedious as he found incorrect information, he must have corrected his father's knowledge of the solar system. That would have been the only time he knew so much about the stars. He was sure late one night, before the wake, he snuck into the parlour and drew Canis Major—which held the brightest star—in crude pencil on the coffin, because the next day, as he stood before his father's body (closed casket since the bullet holes couldn't be disguised), he didn't recognise what he had drawn.
He didn't correct his father now. His thoughts were swirling into a vortex of a soundless wind, rushing and pulsing, but unfeeling.
Whatever happens to John, it is all his fault.
This game with Moriarty that was saturated with blood.
Thinking that John would ever want to be with him.
Trying to gamble with fate, when John was its price.
All his fault.
He'd bolt out of this cab and run to Baker Street if he thought it would get him there faster.
He'd do anything if it meant John Watson came back to him.
Sherlock is standing in the centre of 221B when Lestrade arrives. He almost doesn't want to see what the detective is staring down at.
The room is just as bare as it ever was. Chipping wallpaper, bare carpet, empty fireplace. Weak light filtering in through grimy windows.
There is a body on the floor, where Carl Powers' shoes once sat. Dark blonde hair, compact frame, nondescript jumper.
"Sherlock." Lestrade starts forward. "Sherlock, is it—?"
Lestrade rounds Sherlock to look.
He is not John Watson.
Sherlock, after he had shaken off the initial shock, had been sure to check.
No, he's much younger, much more gaunt, and his clothes scream of high fashion masquerading as thrift.
Lestrade calls in the ambulance and forensics as Sherlock seems to snap out of whatever suspension he had been in and drops to his knees in front of the body.
"Cause of death…" Sherlock murmurs, nudging at the body with gloved fingers. "Acute psychosis brought on by substance injection, most likely a solution of cocaine."
Sherlock turns the man's head, revealing a series of puncture marks lining his neck, one after the other, four neat dots.
"There are violent scratches on his arms and blood under his nails." Sherlock explains. "Formication, more commonly called 'coke bugs'. Given a high enough dose or consistent abuse, you start to think there are things crawling under your skin, biting you, scuttling along your bones."
"And you know this from—"
"Experience, yes. Although it was mild, I assume it gets worse as the abuse continues. A direct correlation."
"How do we know he wasn't just an addict?"
"Do you remember how I looked when you found me?" Sherlock asks quietly, turning his eyes to Lestrade. "Did I look like that? That clean? That well-kept?"
"No." Lestrade answers carefully. "You looked like hell thawed over."
"You've realised by now that Moran lied to us."
"Yeah, of course. Anyone who's seen John knows this isn't him."
"Indeed." Sherlock says, rummaging through the young man's jacket and coming up with a triumphant sound and a monogrammed cigarette case.
"Johnson-Hait…" Lestrade mutters. "Why does that sound so familiar?"
"Of the filial Johnson-Haits. Those posh English types that use three names a various numerals afterwards to denote the appearance of wealth, although in this case it's entirely appropriate since this particular family owns a good amount of London."
"Among other ventures." Sherlock sniffs.
"Alright, so why him? It's not for ransom, not if Moran can't collect while he's still at the Yard. A dead body isn't worth anything, even to a family that wealthy."
"You say that like he's been acting alone."
"Of course not. He's stupid, Lestrade, but he's not an idiot." Sherlock's eyes sweep over the man. "He died because of his name."
"I thought ransom was—"
"His name, Lestrade. Look at it."
Lestrade does, for a moment.
"Obviously." Sherlock mutters under his breath, taking a notepad from the inner pocket of his jacket and scrawling something before showing it to Lestrade.
W. SAM JOHNSON-HAIT
JOHN HAMISH WATSON
"Can't be a concidence, then." Lestrade says and it sounds almost hopeful.
"No." Sherlock sighs, moving behind him as he tucks the notepad back into his jacket.
"Wait, isn't that John's moleskin—"
Sherlock is gone.
The door opens and shuts with a bang.
Moran doesn't need to look up to know who it is.
"We had a deal." Sherlock's voice emanates lowly.
"So we did. I told you where Watson was." Moran mutters as he stares at the ceiling. "And you made me lose count. I was up to 45 tiles. Did you know they're skimping on renovations, I mean look at the water damage—"
"No, you drew attention to a man in a basement flat with John's name scrambled in his own. You did not tell me where John was."
"You're not even paying attention to important issues, Holmes!"
Sherlock's eyes narrow.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what if there was mould culminating in the vents or something? It's dangerous—"
Moran laughs as Sherlock hauls him forward by the collar.
"Where is he?"
"You're the genius, you figure it out."
Sherlock is about to break his fingers one by one until he screams the location of John Watson when Lestrade bursts in.
"Sherlock what the bloody hell are you doing?" He shouts as he pries Sherlock away.
"Getting information." Sherlock huffs.
"What did I tell you would happen if you did that? I swear, Sherlock, it's like you want me to lock you up—"
He stops as a breathless laugh cuts through the room. He and Sherlock slowly turn their heads to look at Moran, who is laughing so hard his eyes are tearing up.
"Stop it, please, I—ha—I'm going to piss my pants!" He wheezes.
"What is it that you find so humorous about me not grievously harming your person?" Sherlock asks, his tone clipped and clinical.
"You—Holmes, you don't know, you've got no idea what's going on right—right under your nose—" Moran manages to get out before he collapses into laughter again.
"And what might that entail?"
Moran lets out a few more chuckles before he can rein his mirth back in.
"Tell me, what does Watson think when he sees you two bickering like an old married couple? I think he gets jealous, not that he'll ever make it to old age—"
Lestrade steps in front of Sherlock before he can move, blocking his view of Moran.
"Yes, tighten the leash, Lestrade. That always makes the dog stop whining." Morn taunts. "Hit him on the nose with a newspaper while you're at it. Lock him out before he puddles on the floor."
"Are you ever going to answer any of our questions directly?" Lestrade growls.
"Maybe." Moran smirks. "Does it bother you?"
"That you're wasting my time? Yeah, I'd have to say it does."
Sherlock's eyes flit to the back of Lestrade's head. What game is he starting?
"I didn't waste your time, Detective Inspector. I…prolonged it."
"So we're back to Detective Inspector now? You may as well start calling me Greg while we're at it. Which one sounds best to you? The most personal?"
"I think I'll stick to DI if that's all the same to you, Greggy."
"You know I've seen all kinds in here. Murderers, arsonists, street punks that thought they were tough. Never seen a coward though. Never seen a gun-for-hire that thought he was grade-A beef when he was really just leftovers. Well, until today that is. Moriarty could have had Sherlock, and when he didn't get what he wanted, he settled for you." Lestrade shrugs. "Can't blame him, really. There's not much competition."
And then Sherlock understands.
Oh, Lestrade's game is played wonderfully. He picks at his fingers pseudo-subconsciously, his tone is casual, his posture relaxed. But his words have the effect that he desires, the barbed hook that catches under tender flesh.
Moran's expression darkens.
"I am continuing his work." Moran says, but it sounds to the rest of the room more persuasive than convinced. It sounds like something drilled into him so deep that he knows nothing else.
"And what work might that be?" Lestrade questions and Moran looks at him with a faint smile.
"Did you know that master artists like to leave their work unfinished?" Moran asks. "Kafka, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Vermeer…what's the mystery in revealing all of your hand to the public when it's so much sweeter to hide it? Holmes knows that, that's why that poor sod Watson's locked up in the first place—"
"Sherlock, get out." Lestrade says suddenly.
Sherlock looks at Lestrade as if he has utterly lost his mind, dressed Mycroft up in drag, spat at him, and then punched John in the face.
"Honestly, you're being stupider than normal, Lestrade—"
"Sherlock, leave, or I will regret not unleashing you on him." Lestrade keeps his eyes on Moran. "I have better people to do that."
Better? Sherlock wants to scoff, but he does as he's told because he would rather wait where he's free than wait in a cell where he cannot help John. One night of helpless wondering is not worth it. His eyes meet Moran's, who, as he leaves, blows him a kiss and winks.
He shuts the door and stands alone in the hallway.
He lets his head fall against the wall.
John, I let him get to you.
John, please be—
What is he praying for, truly? Please be whole? Untouched? Alive?
He would very much like all of those things.
But he knows too well that the reality of life often comes in a hail of cold disappointment.
The black hole widens.
Chapter 4: stagnation
John wakes. He’s moving, lying in the backseat of a car as rocks slowly on what can only be smooth expanses of highway.
He’s floating. His eyes won’t stay open.
Someone is smoking. Secondhand smoke is nearly as fatal as if you’re actually smoking it (he sometimes wonders if this is the real reason that Sherlock really quit, not for his health but for John’s). He doesn’t think that this driver deserves to know that fact though; wherever they’re taking him, he’s certain it’s nowhere he wants to be.
They’ve stopped moving.
His mind wanders away.
It doesn’t return immediately when he wakes again and it takes a few moments before it comes crashing back to him with the heavy realization that they haven’t killed him yet, which is a good sign. It’s all he has to hold onto at the moment. Blindfolded, gagged, crowded into a cramped, hot darkness with only his thoughts for company. A bead of sweat trickles down his back, his shirt sticking to his skin in the damp heat. He thinks he’s alone. He hopes he stays that way.
He’s not even sure if Sherlock knows he’s gone. Some small quiet voice protests—surely he’d know if his flatmate isn’t there—but a far louder voice shouts over it, reminding John that this is the same man who carried on conversations by himself and who assumed that John was always in the room to listen. It wasn’t uncommon for him to come back from the Tesco or an errand run and remind Sherlock that he’d been gone for a few hours So if John were to be completely honest with himself and the situation, it was entirely likely that Sherlock hadn’t noticed his absence since his track record of his awareness that John is in the room was absolute shite.
But this was different, wasn’t it? Sherlock must have wondered why his texts went unanswered when the topic they’d been discussing had been so important. John found it hard to believe that Sherlock would ignore a prospective interest in something he previously thought was unrequited, even if it interrupted his research and even if that research involved Moran. Because he’d told John the one thing that gave John faith; the one thing that assured him that everything might be alright, that Sherlock would work with every fibre of his being to find him. He said he loved him.
It’s the waiting that’s the worst. The time spent not knowing anything, where he is, who’s taken him, what their plans are. Something to get to Sherlock, surely. John was never valuable enough on his own to be considered priceless collateral. Like a hungry greed upon seeing gold, Sherlock gave him his worth, yet it was a two-faced blessing, and sometimes they were unlucky enough for others to notice that without John Sherlock didn’t shine quite as brightly.
In the dark, he remembers Victor Hatherley, a man who’d come into the clinic with a missing thumb and a shockingly calm disposition. He said he was an engineer, called out to Eyford to look at a malfunctioning hydraulic press that was so large it constituted a whole room on its own. He was in the middle of examining the machine, too caught up in trying to figure out the problem to notice that it had been turned on. Trapped, stuck with no way out, his only option was choosing his means of death: lying on his stomach so his spine would be crushed or on his back, staring up at the descending piston that was growing larger as it laid itself down to crush him. He escaped of course, at the price of a sliced off thumb, but John can’t shake the feeling that, here in the dark, he must choose how to face his own death.
He doesn’t know which one to choose yet.
Sherlock stands in the empty hallway, the orange sun setting behind London’s skyline, burning his shadow against the wall as he stares out of the window.
He’s heard a multitude of things over these few hours, shouting, murmuring, the banging of objects, but nothing seems to hit Sebastian Moran hard enough to break him. He wants nothing more than to go into that room and break him, rip him apart like a piece of paper until nothing is left but confetti and then he’ll burn it to ash. But not before he gets what he wants out of him. Not before he knows where John is, if he’s alive.
He shuts his eyes.
Something inside him aches at the thought of the empty space where John should be, the feeling not dissimilar to the cold reverberations of a stuck metal pipe, shivering through his insides like ice.
He needs a cigarette. He needs that little insignificant burning wad of chemicals and pseudo-tobacco that tastes like heaven until it turns to ash on his tongue.
He needs his blogger.
The door bangs open behind him. He turns as Lestrade comes out and jerks his head towards his office before he strides off down the hallway, haggard and exhausted in the way of someone using all of their might to go absolutely nowhere.
He looks into the room and Moran stares back at him. He winks before the door slams shut.
Silently, Sherlock stares at the space that demon’s face had been before he turns on his heel and follows Lestrade, a shadow trailing softly down the burning hallway.
Sisyphus would not envy their task.
Sherlock doesn’t need to ask to know that Moran hasn’t said anything. He knows him because he knows John and a soldier needs more than threats to sell their loyalty and Moran’s lies in the grave beside the body of Jim Moriarty. An embalmed devotion, fossilised and untouchable, preserved in a crystallised darkness.
Lestrade is ripping open a nicotine patch and slapping it on his arm beside its twin as Sherlock stands in the threshold.
“You’ll deplete Tesco’s stock in two hours at the rate you’re going.” Sherlock says lowly, leaning against the doorway.
“Well to quote a magnificent git, it’s a two patch problem.” Lestrade growls at him, shaking his hands through his hair.
“You’re paraphrasing. My tolerance has led to a three patch minimum. Two patches just shame the word.”
“Sherlock, he hasn’t said anything.”
“I’m aware of the fact. If he’d said anything important, you’d have informed me—”
“No, Sherlock,” Lestrade slams the drawer of his desk shut. “He hasn’t said anything.” He sighs, gripping the edge of his desk with white knuckles. “Not one bloody word.”
Sherlock feels something dark and cold pass through him.
“Nothing?” He asks, and his voice is too quiet for his liking.
Lestrade shakes his head.
“The one thing your force is good at, incompetent violence, and you can’t even do that right.”
“Sherlock, don’t you dare turn this on me, alright?” Lestrade says, whirling around to face him. “You know I’m trying my best and if I had any way to sweat him, any chance that it would lead us to John, I would do it.” He pauses, controlling his temper. “Look, I know what John is to you, I heard Moran say it just as clearly as you did, but turning on your friends because you can’t hurt your enemy is not what you need to do right now.”
“And what is John to me?”
A huff of empty laughter escapes Lestrade . “You don’t need me to spell it out to you, Sherlock.”
John smiles at him one night, before their lives were synchronised and they were in that black orbit around each other, when Sherlock offers to clean the kitchen, and it was so warm and unfiltered like candlelight and Sherlock feels his heart choke at the sudden memory, spluttering before it breathes again.
“Lestrade, you—you don’t know how this feels.”
A self-immolation of his soul, hot and bright and burning and it hurts, it hurts so much.
“No,” Lestrade says, shaking his head. “You’re right, Sherlock. I don’t know, but I understand it. If it was Molly, that box of patches would be empty and I’d have alienated everyone that was trying to help me. Don’t be like that, Sherlock. It won’t help you and it certainly won’t do John any good.”
“What can we do?”
“Now? We wait. Wait, and hope we can do something that will change his mind. Maybe find out more about this Sam Johnson-Hait, follow up on him once the family has been contacted.”
“Where is he now?”
“With Molly. I told her about your theory on the cocaine abuse and she’s running some tests.”
“I assume she has his possessions, then?”
“Yeah, most likely. Why, saw something you liked?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Well stop by before you leave; I’m sure she’d like the company.”
“Why? Is yours not fulfilling enough?”
Lestrade frowns. “Just because you find me incompetent doesn’t mean she does.”
“I don’t think you’re incompetent.” Sherlock says solemnly. “Ineffectual maybe, and certainly unorganised, but not…wholly incompetent.”
“That’s quite a compliment coming from you. I should print it out and frame it.”
“Don’t count on a personal appraisal.” Sherlock says dryly.
Lestrade looks at him for a moment, and he knows that, despite what Sherlock claims, he’s every bit as human as the next man. John’s absence will be sorely felt tonight.
“Listen, Sherlock,” He starts. “I know going home tonight will be difficult, but will you promise me you’ll get a good night’s rest?”
“I’ll try.” Sherlock says tensely and Lestrade nods grimly. He doesn’t know if he should add anything, any words of comfort.
“I’ll call you if he says anything. Go see Molly, although if I catch you nicking anything, it’s on your head.”
Sherlock waves his hand in departure as he leaves.
“Tell me if you find anything!” Lestrade calls after him.
Sherlock walks back down that lonely hall, nothing more than a shadow against the darkness outside.
Molly walks over to the cold countertop where the body of W. Sam Johnson-Hait now rests, stripped of his wealthy vestments and just as naked as anyone that comes onto Molly’s table. “His cause of death was a cerebrovascular haemorrhage brought on by hypertension from the solution of cocaine.”
“Yeah, exactly. You were right, Sherlock.”
Sherlock likes it better when John says it.
“How high was the dosage?” He asks lowly, eyes concentrated on the pallid face in front of him.
Molly flips the papers on her clipboard until she finds the one she’s looking for.
“The median lethal dose of cocaine is about point two milligrams per kilo of body weight, and he had almost two in his system, so I guess whoever wanted to kill him wanted to be sure he’d be dead.”
“Were all the injections intravenous?”
“Yeah, all but one.”
“What was the exception?”
“Well, um, this one here,” She carefully turns the dead man’s head to the side and points to the third injection mark. “It’s subcutaneous, but I can’t tell if they planned it to be or if it was an accident.”
“Was the cocaine solution injected into it?”
“I can’t tell yet, but I’ll let you know when I find out.”
He pulls the gloves off and shrugs his own on as he heads for the door.
He turns at her voice.
“You—you left some of your things here earlier, before you left.” She reaches underneath one of the tabletops and extracts a small black bag, one of his minor tool kits that he took more out of routine than use.
“Why did you leave so quickly?” She asks, then upon seeing his face she adds: “I mean, you don’t have to tell me, I was just curious…sorry.”
“I thought John needed me.”
A silence billows between them.
“I heard what happened.” She says quietly, her face filling with sympathy. “I’m sorry, Sherlock, I’m sure you and Greg will find him. If I can help you, you’ll let me know, right?”
He’s already out of the door before she finishes her sentence.
He goes home, but he doesn’t sleep. How can he?
The atmosphere of the flat is pathetically stagnant, the air thick with a silent miasma of heavy emptiness. He will be alone, for tonight.
This investigation is in his most dreaded state, inaction. It’s too early to gather the information he needs, but too late to notice anything of value. The inspection of the flat while he was with Lestrade is more than enough information for him to know that any evidence Moran could have left behind was obliterated.
He stares at his bed, his outline indented in the mattress once more after years of inoccupation. It will feel more lonely than it looks, since he knows that, if this day had gone differently, John might be there beside him. Laughing at him, kissing him, holding him.
He can’t stay in his room. Not with these hypothetical ghosts. They will only haunt him.
He goes into the parlour, littered with things that are all yelling John’s name at him. His mug that he hadn’t washed out yet, his medical books, his magazines and war novels, objects that speak loudly of their owner’s character. A meticulous nature, honed by time in the army yet frayed by a more peaceful civilian lifestyle. An interest in war, a clean curiosity until it was experience first-hand when one finds that there is no romanticism in the sound of gunfire or screams of the dying. It is this interest, however, that makes him hopeful. John has survived many things. In the best outcome of the situation, this will be one that he can add to his list. Sherlock doesn’t want to think of the worst.
He knows Mycroft is watching him. He didn’t hide his newest camera as well as the others, and it stares at Sherlock where it’s wedged between the corner of the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. He stares back. He knows his brother won’t hesitate to meddle and he fully expects an unannounced visit in the morning.
He decides to do what he does best. Investigate.
He sits at the kitchen table, the background light from John’s computer illuminating his face in the darkness.
The Johnson-Haits. Blue-bloods of the highest pedigree, distant relations to the Queen (naturally), and plagued by the personal trouble that comes with old money. The prodigal son, riddled with drug abuse and social scandals. The daughter, high strung, cold, manipulative. The father, distant, absent. The mother, dependent. It all reeked of melodrama. It reminded him of his family.
But despite the petty scandals, he still has no motive for the son’s murder. Moran wasn’t stupid enough to do it for a name, just because it matched up with John’s. There had to be another reason.
It was nearing three in the morning when Lestrade calls.
“Sherlock,” His voice is heavy and tired. “He’s asking for you.”
Chapter 5: snap
“If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me.”
― Saul Bellow
John snaps awake as quickly as if he’d been caught sleeping on the job. His head pounds with aching constancy, the soft skin at his temples damp. He needs to throw up. He can feel the bile churn and boil in his gut like someone’s stoking coals in his stomach.
He keeps his eyes shut. Let whoever has him think he’s still unconscious. Let him have time make sense of where he is and what’s happened to him.
It’s cold, wherever he is, which is a mercy considering he’s out of that hot, stuffy boot of that godforsaken car. The collar of his shirt is soaked and smells of pungent dried sweat. His arms are numb, tied behind him to take advantage of his bad shoulder; that means they know about his injury, and therefore his history as a soldier. They know what they’re dealing with. They also must know about Sherlock, they have to. John is fool’s gold on his own, worthless, without Sherlock. He’d kept his head down for three years; if they’d wanted him on his own, they’d had their shot. No, this was about what he was to Sherlock, and that meant one person.
It made enough sense, even if John had only remembered being taken. He remembers the smile that grew on his face as he typed a reply to Sherlock, along with the bubbling excitement that what they’d been waiting for to break them out of that weird orbit they’d been in around each other for weeks was about to happen—Sherlock was going to come home and John was going to tell him he loved him too, the mad genius, and then they’d have the shag to end all shags and they could finally just be happy.
Then he heard the chuckle behind him, low and deep and wrong, like scratching the needle on a record. He remembered thinking of course as he reached for the nearest weapon—a kitchen knife since he wasn’t armed so early after waking up—and then…blackness.
Christ, his head hurts. He tries to self-diagnose as well as he can in his condition. His bet was on a nasty knock—his captors most likely cared that he was alive, not that he was unhurt, at least until they were done with him—or a slight concussion. Judging on how he’d been slipping in and out of consciousness, he thought the latter was more likely.
His shirt dragged behind him, snagging on the stone wall—
John opens his eyes carefully, slowly, surveying the room.
He’s in a fucking dungeon.
Sherlock is back in that burning hallway, the orange of the sunset charring the halls to the burnt black of night. Most of the Yard has gone home already, the open space of desks and cubicles leading to the half of interrogation rooms dotted with one or two stars of workaholics chasing leads and clues down with cheap coffee.
He stares out into the maze of brick and soot that smears London's face before turning to Lestrade.
The door closes behind him as he sits across from Moran, Lestrade hovering in the corner of the room.
“Miss me?” Moran grins.
“The same could be asked of you, as you called me here. So talk.”
“What if I just wanted to do that, talk? What if I just wanted to prove the power I have over you? It’s what, about 3:30 in the morning? You should be asleep in your bed—or John’s, because you like the smell of him and you miss it like a dog misses a bitch in heat—but yet here you are.”
A muscle in Sherlock's jaw clenches.
“And here I am.”
Sherlock stares into Moran’s unblinking gaze, both half-lidded with lack of sleep, yet forcing themselves to continue on out of spite for the other.
“Watson.” Moran begins. “I bet you’re wondering why I took him.”
“Of all the questions I have for you, that’s one that has the most obvious answer. Because of his meaning to me.”
“That’s only part of it.”
“And the rest?”
“I needed a doctor. He came…highly recommended.”
Moran grins. “Your brother.” He stares at Sherlock’s unmoving face. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“Mycroft hasn’t been known for his loyalty to me with matters that concern Moriarty.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. He funded your trip around the world, didn’t he? I bet Watson wasn’t too keen on your globetrotting without him.”
“He only helped if he got something in return. John didn’t know.”
“Of course I know that. I’m not stupid, and neither is Watson, although you can’t tell by looking at him and he tends to get quite sentimental when you’re concerned. I don’t think he wanted to see you for what you really are. A coward. A liar. A thief.”
“I suppose it's pointless to remind you that you are all these things too.”
“And so was Jim. But John,” Moran shakes his head. “There’s a Queen-and-Country fellow through and through. Can’t tell if you’re the Queen or Country, though.”
“He always said I could carry off a pair of heels and a dress.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet he did.”
Sherlock’s smile falls into a sharp frown.
“You will tell me what you’ve done to him.”
“You summoned me here. You obviously had something to say.”
“Yeah, I do, actually. Salt shakers.”
“Salt shakers.” Moran repeats. “Cruets. I’m sure you’re familiar with them.” He relaxes against his chair and looks up at Lestrade. “I’m done now, Detective. You can tuck me in now. Be sure not to scrimp on the bedtime story.”
Lestrade says nothing, but unlocks Moran from the chair and leads him from the room.
Sherlock sits completely still for a moment, staring at the space Moran had occupied.
He stands, pushes his chair in, and walks out of the room.
Wordlessly, Sherlock strides past Lestrade, who’s handed Moran to Donovan to take back to the holding cell, and into that Sisyphean pit of the late workers, mostly empty now in the hours between morning and breakfast. He makes it three steps to an unknown officer’s desk before he snaps.
He feels himself grabbing items off the desk and throwing them wherever he cares to; stapler, loose paper, files of information, coffee mug inscribed with #1 Dad, photos of family, a box of tacks, everything flies to the floor with an almighty crash. He bangs his clenched fists on the desk when its swiped clean, as if it’s personally wronged him by running out of things he can destroy.
“Sherlock, what the hell?”
He hears Lestrade chastise him, but he can’t stop, like a car whose breaks have been cut. He moves on to the next desk, his blood roaring for something he can’t have, for something he might never have, and he sends a desktop computer to the ground in a burst of sparks and loose wires.
The breath is suddenly knocked out him as he’s tackled to the floor. He can smell Lestrade’s aftershave; it’s awfully pungent and reeks of a single parent who’s just begun to date again.
He doesn’t struggle as Lestrade hauls him to the interrogation room, now void of Moran but full of his smell—his vile, evil little presence that makes the bile churn in Sherlock’s stomach.
When Lestrade asks him why, he can’t answer. He’s going to kill Mycroft. He’s going to hurt him, make him feel John’s pain, make him understand the look in Sherlock’s eyes as he takes him apart.
He must have said some of this out loud, as he hears Lestrade distantly say why and Mycroft in the same span of time it takes his meagerly slow brain to complete a sentence.
Why why why
Because he can get his hands on Mycroft without the Yard being in his way. Because Mycroft is the next one most responsible for the unforgivable fact that John is not here after the dead man and the prisoner.
Lestrade lets him go and leads him down the hall so he can take him home. He says Sherlock needs rest. Rest. He can do that when he’s dead, which, if John doesn’t—that is to say if he’s not—if the worst thing happens, Sherlock can rest much sooner than they think.
The halls are healing like bruises, the mottled purple and pale blues of dawn blooming on the white paint.
It’s a new day.
John has a limited few left if Sherlock can’t figure this out in time.
Sherlock stares out into the waking London for a brief moment, wondering where in all that grime and life John is. He wonders if he can see it from the view here. Maybe, when he finds John alive and whole like his best scenario entails (which is dwindling by the hour), he can take him back here and point it out.
He’ll never know if he can. Not until he actually finds John.
He turns and walks down the hall, his shadow chasing the dawn behind him.
Chapter 6: ring
“Ninety per cent of life is a nightmare, do you think I am going to get it rounded up to hundred per cent?”
- Saul Bellow
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock wakes at the ring of his phone. He reflexively reaches out to answer it and hoarsely calls out for John to make him tea before he realizes what he’s said.
He lets the phone ring for a moment, lost for a moment in how empty the space beside him is, how full of army doctor it should be. His fingers tighten around the balled up cream coloured jumper he’d clutched to his chest all night before he snatches up his phone.
“Lestrade.” He answers.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade sounds harried, out of breath. “There’s been another one. We sweated an address out of him this morning. Forensics just got here.”
Sherlock has already leapt from the bed, shrugging his coat over the clothes he’s slept in. He’ll change later. He can’t afford to now, not when John is still gone.
“Who is it? Have you identified the body?”
There’s a pause, as if Lestrade doesn’t want to answer. Sherlock hesitates at the front door as the ground trembles underneath him, as if it’s about to crack and split and consume him.
“Sorry,” His voice cuts back in. “The service is rubbish here. They’re working on identification now. It’s a woman, late 20s. We know that. Not much else though. Are you leaving soon?”
“I’m getting a cab now. What’s your location?”
Lestrade hears the line disconnect after he’s given Sherlock the address and sighs.
They’d better find John soon. Sherlock was already starting to crumble, if this morning’s breakdown was any indication, and John had been listed as a missing person for barely 24 hours. As much as he’d like to revel in his denial, as much as he’d like nothing more than to convince himself that Sherlock could solve this, after 48 hours hope would start to dwindle. He knew it was an inevitability, he’d spent too many work on too many cases that ended badly, and he knew that Sherlock was well aware of the fact that, if John was gone much longer, they might not find him at all. It was hard to be an optimist when your job made you stare into the face of reality from the moment you woke up—his phone ringing at two a.m. that called him out to a crime scene had long ago stopped being unexpected—and the moment you went to sleep—or collapsed, rather, to savour those few blessed hours of rest before the cycle began again.
Sherlock wouldn’t last much longer, he could tell. The detective put up a tough front, the stoic staring coldly down on the battlefield, that only a handful of people could see through. Sometimes Lestrade wished he was still blind, could still see the detective for what he appeared to be instead of what he was. It was more comforting that way, to believe that Sherlock was infallible, but fate had other plans. Lestrade had been fortuitous enough—though some days it seemed unlucky—to be the officer on call to check on a reported breaking and entering and, upon entering the flat, finding a skinny little wretch of a person—truly a walking shadow, a ghost waiting to die—slumped over the bathtub, half conscious and convulsing. The ghost had responded to his questions before letting himself be carted off to Bart’s to get his stomach pumped. He’d had the oddest name Lestrade had ever heard, and he remembered thinking in that moment, as he watched the ambulance speed off to Bart’s, that he’d love to see the priceless look on the epitaph engraver’s face at having to carve the name Sherlock Holmes.
Of course, years, over a decade later, someone did have to engrave a headstone with his name, and there’d been nothing humorous about it to Lestrade then. Quite the opposite.
And John. John had been forced to bear the brunt of that. Lestrade had thought—more than once—that the poor man would crush underneath the weight of it all. Of the world. Of Sherlock’s death. Of his own grief. But John was stronger than he looked. He and Sherlock were deceiving in that way; they were nothing akin to how they appeared.
“Sir?” A voice asks, breaking him out of his thoughts and reminding him that they should be elsewhere. He turns to one of the younger officers. “Do you want the perimeter to span the street outside or just the interior flat?”
“May as well extend it to the street, but just to the property line. No use holding up traffic. Are you busy with something?”
“Right, you’re on the crime log then. Thanks.” He turns to head back into the flat.
“Sorry, sir,” The officer says, and Lestrade looks back to them. “But are we expecting Holmes? Should I put him and Watson on the log?”
“Just Holmes for now.”
Sherlock breezes into the crime scene minutes later, looking as if he were regressing to the ghost Lestrade met him as, pale, gaunt, unshaven, and in the same outfit as yesterday. Lestrade almost expected John to follow him with some joke about Sherlock’s appearance or how the cabbies are trying to kill him again.
“What have you got?” Sherlock asks, pretending for the both of them to not notice the absent space beside him.
Lestrade turns away from examining the mantle, which consisted of various knicknacks, candles, and a bust of what look to be Napoleon.
“Jane Doe, as of now, late 20s like I said, stabbed to death. Home invasion and armed assault are being considered.”
“Right on both counts,” Sherlock sniffs, turning into the room. “As you do tend to stick to the obvious answers. Someone did break in and someone was armed, clearly.”
A woman is bound to the bed, limbs tied to each corner, the soft skin of her belly exposed. They wanted her to feel helpless, vulnerable. Alone.
Newspapers had been plastered to her naked body with water so the ink bled onto her skin. Suicide of Fake Genius, Moriarty Walks Free, Sherlock’s A Fake: The Shocking Truth as told by Richard Brook. All involving Moriarty, all involving Sherlock’s planned fall. It had Moran’s name all over it, metaphorically. Sherlock’s own face made a shoddily applied appearance in the space between her breasts, the picture with that damned idiotic hat on his head.
The phrase I.O.U. was carved vertically in thick lines in the bloodless flesh of her stomach. Her hair was braided on both sides, a deerstalker cap on her head, with an irritatingly familiar blue button fastened to it.
“Right," Lestrade says, checking his phone. "We just got an I.D. on her, she’s—”
“Kitty Riley.” Sherlock finishes. He can't say he's surprised, exactly. He figured she might turn up like this; she seemed too involved in the identity of Richard Brook, and now she'd served her purpose.
“Yeah. She’s that woman that tried to defame you, right?”
“I thought she was working with Moriarty.”
“No,” Sherlock shakes his head minutely. “She was working with Richard Brook.”
“And subsequent fallback identity, yes. She had no idea Moriarty really existed.”
“Are you sure?”
“If she had, John would be dead by now, well before my return to London, and so would you. Her loyalties were with another man entirely, the one Moriarty wanted her to see.”
“He must have been good at that.”
“Yes,” Sherlock says tensely, his jaw clenching. “He was good at that.”
“Why is she dead, then?”
Sherlock stared for a moment at the body. An inconvenient annoyance in life, an important mystery in death.
“I’m inclined to say her murder was out of a fear that she would talk to the Yard—”
“That’s what I thought—”
“But then I would sound like an idiot.” Sherlock continues, as if Lestrade hasn’t spoken. “She knew everything about Richard Brook and nothing about Moriarty, so she would be no help to you, even if she told you everything she knew, because it was about a man that didn’t exist.”
“Alright,” Lestrade crosses his arms. “So the question still stands then.”
Sherlock breathes heavily as he examines her arm, following the trim of ink around to her palm. “The paper’s been stuck to her skin with a mix of flour and water, the papier mâche method. It was done post mortem.”
“How do you know?”
“Flour in her hair and not under her nails. If she’d been alive, she would have struggled. Someone set aside time to do this, two hours at least. This was calculated, not a crime of passion, but that was obvious. There’s glue residue around her wrists and ankles—I feel almost grateful that they deprived of her clothing, it’s much easier to gather information this way—which shows she was restrained with tape while she was alive, but it’s not around her mouth, which means they wanted her to scream.”
Sherlock looks at him for a moment. “So she would know it was pointless.”
“This is good though, information-wise. It means they took her somewhere secluded, isolated, where they knew they wouldn’t be interrupted.”
“Does this have anything to do with Moran?”
“It has everything to do with Moran, please try not to be so stupid about obvious facts.”
“No, you ponce, I meant does it have to do with what he told you earlier? About the salt shakers?”
“His comment on the cruets?”
“Yeah, d’you have anything on that?”
Sherlock purses his lips. “No.”
“Why’d he say it then?”
“I’m not sure. I’m not sure he even meant anything by it.”
“You—are you sure?”
“I—yes—no…I don’t know, that’s the point of it all!” Sherlock growls, straightening up. “He’s diverted completely from the composite I have of him.”
“I thought he was continuing what Moriarty had failed to do—namely, as he said, ‘burn my heart out. I thought he was going to kill you and John and Mrs Hudson, but this hasn’t been the case. I thought he was going to try and make me suffer, that he’d have some sort of plan, but it’s the opposite! He seems to have no outward motivations at all, even where Jim is concerned; you heard him, he called him a coward and liar and thief, all very accurate, but all very unexpected, considering the source. Here’s a man who did everything Moriarty told him to, yet seems not to have done so out of loyalty and certainly not out of money. So what is it? What is he? He’s turned himself in to the Yard, he’s killed two people who are seemingly unrelated and who have no value to him, to what end? To send a message?”
“Do you think he’s trying to give us a red herring? Something to throw us off or distract us?”
“No, that would be…” Sherlock trails off suddenly, his eyes widening. “That would be something Moriarty would do.”
He turns suddenly and rushes from the room, grabbing his coat as he shrugs it on.
“Sherlock? Sherlock!” Lestrade follows him through the gathered officers and out the door into the busy street. “Wait!”
Sherlock whirls around, his face pinched and solemn.
“I need you to call your officers. Tell them to evacuate Scotland Yard. I don’t care what your excuse is, you get everyone worth saving out of there.”
“Sherlock, tell me, I need to know what’s going on.”
Sherlock looks agitated, carding a shaking hand through his hair.
“He’s going to blow up the Yard. Moran is going to blow up the Yard.”
Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas everyone!
Chapter 7: burn
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
John drifts, rising and falling softly in his own head, unmoored and untethered.
A pub, one night, bright and cheery yet managing through its odd magic that all good English pubs possess to also be gloomy and muted. He’s laughing with a friend, with Lestrade because he remembers the grainy hair and the easy grin. He’s drunk. He’s stumbled outside and someone’s leading him to a cab. Their hands aren't gloved and he wishes they were someone else’s but he can’t think of whose exactly he wants them to belong to. He remembers staring out of the window, the glass comfortingly cold, at London’s wet, blurred face as he passed by it, and he remembers wondering if anyone would miss him if he disappeared. The dark streets are tar, sucking him down, preserving him, fossilizing him, keeping him whole, keeping him in a womb of quiet stasis, keeping him waiting, waiting…waiting for what? For whom? He knows he’s been waiting, waiting for…
The anchor drops, the reverberations SherlockSherlockSherlock striking at the walls of his skull as he’s yanked into consciousness.
A door’s being slammed shut, but he’s learned to keep his eyes closed if only to allow himself to get his bearings without being conspicuous.
“Oh leave off, Watson, I know you’re awake.”
John keeps his eyes shut. There’s a gruff sigh and a hand sharply slaps him across the face.
“Was that really called for?” He croaks, opening his eyes in the thick darkness to glare in the direction of his captor.
“Would you rather I kiss you, Sleeping Beauty?”
"Fair point." John rubs his head, tender from sleeping on the hard ground, or at least tries to before he remembers his hands are tied behind his back by the circulation-restricting tension in his bound wrists. “Should I expect water and food deprivation during this point of the torture?”
The man responds by tossing a water bottle in John’s direction, striking him roughly on the chest before it rolls into his lap. He closes his knees around it to stop it from tumbling to the floor.
“And I’m going to open this—how, exactly?”
“Same way you’ll open this.” The man grunts, chucking an energy bar at him. “Figure it out yourself.”
“Ah, so I’m in the luxury suite. Marvellous.”
“And can that attitude while you’re at it. The boss won’t mind your mouth.”
“You mean Moran?”
The man stares at him for a moment and grins.
“He’s going to have so much fun with you.”
John smiles back.
“I can’t wait.”
* * * * *
Lestrade stares blankly at Sherlock, as if he’s budded off himself and sprouted twins instead of announcing that New Scotland Yard was about to burst into flames.
“Care to repeat that?”
“No.” Sherlock replies briskly. “Call your people. Report a gas leak, turn on the sprinklers, pull the fire alarms, I don’t care. Get them out.”
“You’re going to have to give me more, Sherlock, or I’m going to look like a right arse, sticking my neck out for a false emergency. Why do you think Moran is going to blow up the Yard?”
“When I questioned him, he mentioned mould culminating in the vents before he told me that I had no idea what's going on right under my nose. He then said, and I quote ‘what's the mystery in revealing all of your hand to the public when it's so much sweeter to hide it’.”
“And from all that you think he’s going to blow up the Yard?”
“Sherlock, I’m going to need something more. Your word isn’t enough. I need proof.”
“Would you like it in the form of a smouldering pile of office building and charred employees?” Sherlock snarls before something in him seems to soften with quiet insistence. “Lestrade…Greg. When have I given you false information? Intentionally.” He adds at seeing Lestrade’s scepticism.
Lestrade stares at him for a moment, his rationale clearly at war with his better instincts. He nods curtly and turns, ordering two officers to radio into the Yard. “Evacuate immediately. Report an 11-71. Get all personnel out.”
“And the prisoners, sir?”
“If you can.”
He turns to Sherlock and grabs his arm, steering him towards a waiting panda car as he climbs into the driver’s side, turning the lights on. Sherlock barely has time to buckle himself in before Greg stamps on the pedal and swerves into the street.
“Right.” Lestrade growls, barrelling through traffic. “Tell me the truth, the whole unexpurgated truth.”
“Moran only gave me one clue, ‘cruet’, which, to be frank, didn’t make any kind of sense until I thought about it, about him and his methods. He said he wanted to prove a point, that I’d come whenever he called because he has John and that it didn’t have to be about anything important—Christ, Greg, I’d like to make it there alive—and sodium has a high thermal conductivity and low neutron absorption cross section—”
“English please—” Lestrade barks as he weaves through passing cars.
“Cruets have salt, which is comprised of sodium, which, when it’s in the form of sodium metal and exposed to water can cause a violent reaction, namely great massive explosions.”
“Okay, and how the bloody hell did you come to that conclusion?”
“I tried telling you before! Moran gave us information with seemingly no intermingling involvement, when really upon all possible aspects are put under consideration it all makes sense, you’re just too dense to see it—”
“What? It’s not my fault you have the IQ of an echidna—don’t feel bad, I feel like an idiot for not realising it sooner, although in your case you’ve got to have it spelled out before you have a modicum of—”
Greg darts between two cars and in the process clips the mirror off Sherlock’s side, but out of frustration or carelessness, he can’t tell.
“The vents!” Sherlock bursts out irately. “Moran must have some form of sodium metal available to him at the Yard and he mentioned mould and water damage—he’s going to blow up the Yard and all he has to do is turn on the sink in his cell—”
The car comes to a screeching halt, the brakes skidding on the pavement, as they arrive outside New Scotland Yard and Sherlock falls silent.
“Jesus Christ…” Lestrade murmurs. He doesn’t bother to kill the engine, leaving the lights flashing as he climbs out of the car.
Sherlock stares through the windshield, speechless. He feels his heart kick in his chest as he unblinkingly unbuckles his seat belt. He steps tentatively out of the car, feeling as if the road beneath him was paved in petroleum.
He was wrong.
He can feel the heat from where he stands. The windows have been shattered, black smoke billowing from the pattern their destruction creates, a bright, all-consuming fire that belches out from the smashed glass. Later, he’ll admire the craftsmanship of it all, the sheer intricacy and effort it took. Later. He will later.
In the melting face of the Yard there is a word, punched in a black and blazing message.
He was wrong.
Moran didn’t want to just blow up the Yard.
He wanted to burn it.
11-71 is the evacuation code for the United States, so, for the sake of fiction, it's the same for the U.K.
Sodium metal is, in fact, extremely flammable when placed into water. One small piece the size of a pebble can cause a well-sized fire in seconds.
Stay tuned for next time! I promise John's going to get more facetime soon!
Chapter 8: debts
Time is a bizarre thing. A notion, really. Something humans named to number their days.
People are screaming around him, employees, workers, pedestrians. Running away from the fire that humanity worked so hard to capture, yet fled from when it escaped their hands. He can’t hear them. He hears the flames burning, gulping down air and belching out smoke. He hears the high silence of the pure adrenalin of the moment coursing through him.
He begins to walk through the fray, feeling like a man possessed, like a sleepwalker.
This is magnificent.
This is terrifying.
He stills and squints through the dust and debris, holding up a hand to block the heavy light.
A shadow marks the rubble, tall and powerful like the sun has concentrated all its might into the space it occupies, as if it wants to burn it into the face of the earth, stretch it for miles, make it a giant.
Sebastian Moran, his towering shadow staining the rubble he created, stands alone in the sun.
“You want me, Holmes?” He calls over the din as he holds out his arms. “Here I stand.”
* * * * *
Later, Lestrade will sit in his apartment and wonder exactly what the hell happened that day, and what Mycroft told his superiors to not send a search team after him. In the ensuing chaos at the Yard, he was just another bystander while the important concern was bodies. Christ. He didn’t even know if there were casualties…hadn’t had the time to look before he was being ushered in that toff git Mycroft’s unassuming SUV, right behind Sherlock and Moran himself, handcuffed faster than you could say uncle and tossed unceremoniously into a seat across from His Highness Himself, Mycroft, and returned the stony glare Sherlock had pinned him under the whole car ride. What got to Greg most though, upon further reflection, was that the trip itself had been absolutely silent. Not a word spoken. Just that trifecta of men and their intense staring. He’d learned not to ask questions with Mycroft Holmes. They’d either be answered vaguely, or not at all.
When they had arrived at the building that Lestrade knew as both the cover to Pink Floyd’s Animals (a record to which he denies to this day that he’d gotten high to at university) and the Battersea Power Station, he realised, with a clarity that was so late it was borderline embarrassing, what shite his day had yet to go through and why exactly he’d been taken from the Yard.
Mycroft was going to refute the government’s long-denied stance on torture and he was here specifically to witness it.
As if he could sense the DI’s revelation, Mycroft turned to him.
“There will be no file opened on this event, or incidents reported, I trust.” He says calmly.
Moran is a citizen who deserves the justice of a fair trial, even with a kangaroo court.
Moran is a monster who hurt innocents, an arsonist and murderer, and he has John.
“I don’t take kindly to hurting someone that wears the same uniform I do.” Lestrade answers.
“Wisely said, Detective. I know that I need not remind you that Moran qualifies as a domestic terrorist and will be treated as such, but I do know how you value the law, and I will state that the price you’re paying for your silence will be compensated.”
“It’s nothing compared to the debt that he’s got to pay.”
“Rest assured,” Mycroft says coolly. “He will.”
* * * * *
Lestrade is not a squeamish man.
Not until Mycroft’s men dislocate Moran’s shoulder, reset it, shoot him full of a concentrated caffeine solution so he’ll remain awake as they smoke and chat about weekend plans, and then break his scapula, singeing the other with the butts of their cigarettes, does he turn away. He doesn't see them break each finger on Moran's left hand, but he hears it.
It’s not so much the sound of breaking bone or the smell as Moran’s skin begins to scorch or the fact that he has said absolutely nothing that gets to Lestrade. It’s the nonchalance of it all, the disaffected, impersonal attitude of two men in the incredibly personal act of torture. It’s their water cooler discussion as they cripple a man.
He’s glad he went into peace-keeping, and not MI6.
Meanwhile, Sherlock stare mutinously at his brother, confined to the sidelines to watch but forbidden to play. Mycroft strides around Moran, sitting up straight in the seat he’s tied to, like a vulture waiting for carrion to begin rotting. He signals to the two men and they cease their fun before hauling Moran, chair and all, to a solitary table lined only by the objects found in his pockets: a pocketknife, a mobile, and a wallet, empty but for a blank, business card-sized piece of paper.
“Sherlock is here.” Mycroft says softly. “I understand you like to play with him.”
“Is he?” Moran huffs through a bloodied face. “He’s so quiet I forgot he was here. Is his timeout over? Can he stop sulking in the corner and come out to play?”
Mycroft smiles before he calls out into the darkness. “Sherlock.”
Quiet footsteps, echoing in the dark room. The scrape of a chair on concrete as Sherlock sits across from Moran. His gaze shows no pity, no anger, no disgust, nothing. He stares at him, assessing him over steepled fingers, and Moran stares back.
“You didn’t use sodium metal, did you?” Sherlock asks finally. “The cruet meant nothing.”
“Look who’s finally catching up.” Moran sneers. “I had the windows rigged by a team posing as window cleaners. Tell our friend Greg over there he needs to step up his security. It’s a bit pathetic, how poorly guarded the headquarters of the fucking police are.”
“And your clues…they all were irrelevant. Red herrings meant to distract me, meant to keep me guessing at what your next move would be.”
“You think I’m like Jim. You think every clue has to mean something. I’m not so indulgent as he was. He was obsessed with making you puzzles and watching you work through the intricacies. In a way, my work is…a loving parody. Jim overthought everything, tailored every detail and riddle to your liking. I don’t plan like he did. I don’t think things through.”
“You had to find someone with John’s name, you had to track down Kitty Riley and plan her murder in a jail cell, you had to plant bombs at the Yard, and on top of it all premeditate your arrest…that’s not indicative of someone who doesn’t think things through.”
“Maybe. Maybe I like how Jim spun you in circles. Maybe I wanted to try. See how good I was next to him.”
“You called him a coward.”
“You felt loyalty to him, outside of his money? For his personal qualities and ideology?”
“You loved him.”
“We military men like a bit of crazy. Keeps us sane.” He taps his forehead, handcuffs clinking against chain and broken skin. “Always felt like the most balanced man in the room when Jim was around. Maybe that’s why he tolerated me. Maybe that’s why Watson’s got it bad for you. You both needed a sound board, someone to feed your ideas through until you got to the final draft. But you know what the funny thing is? Despite Jim leaving the reserves for you to track down—my thanks to you for that, by the way, saved me a lot of work—and despite you thinking he gave me some blueprint plan on how to dismember you bit by bit if you returned, he never actually gave me orders to go after you, or Watson. That bit at St. Bart’s was the last job he gave me. All this, this is me, winging it.”
Sherlock says nothing and stares at him, eyes darting around his mangled face.
“You hate this, don’t you? Am I lying or am I not? It’s like making sense between a cookbook and the ocean.”
“It’s quite fun, making you dance.” Moran drawls. “You have such a wonderful jeté, leaping around from point to point with those bow legs of yours. Like a colt that’s learning to walk—”
Moran cocks his head to the side, as if he hadn’t heard him properly.
“Why? Why all this? All the little secrets and riddles and dead-end clues? Jim wanted to learn you. He wanted to know you so completely, turn you inside out and back, scan that big, sexy brain of yours for all your secrets and ticks and mannerisms, that you would be solved. I don’t want that. I want to destroy you. I want you to eat yourself alive like a body killing itself through fever. Why, you ask me? Why, Seb, why? Why the trick with the Johnson-Haits, why kill Kitty, why John?” His face drops, carved with lines of disgust and cold anger. “Because I know what will get you in the end, and it’s not the drugs and it won’t be on some run-of-the-mill crime bust gone bad. It will be madness. Madness, because the great Sherlock Holmes tried to solve an unanswerable question.”
“You already know. You’re just too much of a coward to admit it.”
Sherlock stares at him for a long moment.
“Why John?” He murmurs finally.
“No,” Moran smiles. “You’re overthinking it.”
“Bingo. And the answer, the one that you don’t want to think about it because it makes no sense in that intricate mass of cogs in your skull, the one that will drive you mad, in the end, is why you’ve allowed me to get as far as I have, and make no mistake Holmes, I understand the difference between being clever enough to beat you and being ruthless enough to destroy you. That answer is why Watson went on that swim in the Thames and it’s why you took yourself and your DI buddy on a chase after some fucking junkie blueblood, a mediocre reporter, and a saltshaker when we both know that deep down, you knew it was all a dead-end but went on anyways because it was a distraction from that empty space in your bed and the idea of a man who loved you that could have filled it.
The question that you never want answered is ‘Why?’. And the answer that you never want to hear is the simplest one, the one that Jim overlooked because he wanted this game to mean something to you, God rest his thoughtful, sentimental soul. It’s because I can. It’s because you repeated yourself, something you never do, but when Watson’s involved, you’ll bend over backwards to keep him safe and alive. And when I give you the clues that finally make sense, the ones that lead you to the hall with that one door that you’ll be so afraid to open, when you’re holding the dead body of John Watson and are tortured at night with those miserable dreams of what might have been, you’ll know that I destroyed you if only for the sake of doing it. If only for the reason that I could.”
Sherlock moves so fast that for one moment after it happens, Lestrade is sure he imagines it.
The hammer that was used to break Moran’s fingers is in Sherlock’s gloved palm, arcing through the air with all of the force Sherlock can muster behind it, and it smashes into Moran’s face with the crunch of bone and the squelch of pulpy flesh being flayed apart. Moran’s head kicks back in reaction, blood pouring from a large gash on his cheek, edging towards the mottled purple and yellow shoreline of a bruise from earlier. Sherlock sets down the hammer as Moran howls in pain and carefully examines the tips of his glove.
It’s clean and sharp and the efficiency of it nearly stings Lestrade’s sympathy.
“You fucking cunt son of a bitch—!”
“Yes, yes, get it all out.” Sherlock sighs. “No one can hear you here except the ghosts.”
Moran moans in pain, the sound echoing off the walls, before his incoherent utterances begin to form something that chills the blood in Lestrade’s veins.
He starts to laugh. A stream of giggles that runs into full blown gut-clenching laughter, complete with his eyes tearing up.
“You just fucking broke my face.” He pants through mangled skin. “Well done, you. I think you’re finally coming out to play.”
“Zygomatic fracture.” Sherlock growls. “You should feel lucky I felt lenient today. Be comforted by the fact that you have a reprieve today, for once I find him, I will do to you tenfold of what you’ve done to John Watson.”
Lestrade is torn between being grateful that he is on Sherlock’s good side and being absolutely terrified of what life would be like if he was not.
“Speak of the devil.” Moran mutters.
His mobile, on the table beside his wallet and pocketknife, begins to ring.
“Answer that for me, love, would you?”
Sherlock reaches out in front of him to pick up the phone, the motion smooth in execution but hesitant in nature. Lestrade understands that he is bearing witness to a rare event: Sherlock Holmes has been caught off-guard.
“You’ve reached Sebastian Moran, Sherlock Holmes speaking.”
Someone answers him, and Lestrade watches as Sherlock’s face drains of colour, all his defences singularly knocked down in one blow. His grip tightens around the phone as if it were a lifeline thrown to a drowning man. Mycroft has already come to attention, straightening in the edge of Lestrade’s line of sight. Sherlock looks like he might be sick.
Not good. Not good not good not good—