Cover by bootsnblossoms
Sherlock's return to London for the first time in almost one and a half year was marked by a heavy rainstorm. It worked to his advantage. All around him, the people of the city bustled by while huddled under umbrellas and hanging their heads against the wind, failing to both see and observe. He wore no disguises today. Instead, he was clad in his preferred armor of choice, looking exactly as he did the day he jumped off the roof of Bart's.
He tightened his clutch around his briefcase, resisting the ridiculous urge to hold it to his chest. Ten minutes ago, he took a jaunt around Trafalgar Square and he knew the CCTVs had caught sight of him. He pulled his coat tighter around himself, turning up his collar against the rain. His hair was plastered flat against his forehead by the time the black luxury sedan with tinted windows pulled up to the curb.
The door fell open to reveal Anthea sitting in the far seat with her eyes glued to her Blackberry. Sherlock slid into the car. She scrunched her nose in disgust as he dripped all over the leather interior. They spent the rest of ride shrouded in silence until they reached what Sherlock recognized as one of Mycroft's many private offices. His brother's office encompassed the entire top floor of the five-story building.
Sherlock strolled straight into the office, up to Mycroft's desk, and deposited his briefcase on top. He averted his gaze to the rest of the room so as to not have to look at his older brother. Mycroft had redecorated the place since Sherlock was last here over two years ago.
"This contains all the evidence exposing the entirety of Moriarty's criminal network. I need you to take this information public, lend it some sort of 'legitimate' law enforcement," he sneered. "Credibility."
"Sherlock!" Mycroft's words are sharp and harsh. "You cannot just walk in after disappearing for two and a half years to make demands."
He slammed his hands down on the desk and leaned forward to meet Mycroft's gaze. "You owe me," he hissed.
Anyone else would have missed the half flinch covered up by Mycroft leaning back in his seat. But Sherlock noticed. It was probably safe to say that his brother still felt some residual guilt.
Mycroft looked away first—a rare and hard-won victory on Sherlock's part. "You're finished then?"
Sherlock eased back on the balls of his feet. "Almost, Sebastian Moran is the last puppet remaining. He knows I'm after him and has evaded me thus far."
It was boring, devoting the last three months to tracking just one man. Moran was not genius, but he made good use of his previous military experience and criminal connections thus far. But Sherlock had been just as thorough. By now, Moran must be discovering he had few allies and even less favors to call upon.
"Once Moran is dealt with, I'm ready to return." His chest expanded impossibly big as he tried to taper down the hope surging up. He wasn't done yet, but he was so close.
"I'll need two days to vet the appropriate media outlets." Mycroft finally said.
Sherlock turned on his heels and marched toward the door. As he laid a hand on the door knob and wrenched it, he heard the other man speak again.
"Welcome back, brother dear."
Sherlock nodded with his back still turned and stormed out of the room. He had more preparations to make.
Sherlock spent the next few days trapped in Molly's flat. He didn't speak for that first day, too busy going over all possible outcomes and scenarios in his head. Molly may have tried to talk to him after her hospital shift, but Sherlock couldn't be sure. He barely registered Toby, Molly's cat, insistently butting his cheeks every few hours.
The day after was Molly's day off and Sherlock had finally resurfaced from inside his head to browse the internet. When he didn't see any sign of Moriarty's identity in the news, he chucked the netbook at the coffee table.
"Sherlock!" Molly screeched with disapproval.
He glared in return, but she refused to be as easily cowed as in the past. For better or for worse, she was no longer awed by him—at least not in the same way. At least, her crush had also faded on the most part (tedious, though useful leverage at times). It was going to be a lot harder to needle her for body parts once he returned from obscurity and started working again.
She crossed her arms over her chest and asked, "Have you talked to John yet?"
Ah, Sherlock had been doing so well avoiding thinking about his best friend until that moment. It irked him to not know exactly where John currently was (as if he was going to ask for Mycroft's assistance again). But that also meant that Moran probably didn't know either, which would be a very good thing.
"I suppose I could text him," he muttered distractedly. He wondered if he would be able to still deduce John's passwords (sensible enough to now to avoid the common password archetypes like significant dates, but still prone to using phrases recently seen on the telly or read in the papers) and piece together his recent spending behavior to figure out John's location.
Molly had fallen silent. He forced his train of thought away, looking up to find the woman gaping open-mouthed.
"What?" he snapped.
"Your first contact with the poor man in over two years can't be a text message!" she cried, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"I detest talking on the phone."
She threw her hands up in defeat (John, in similar situations of exasperation, clenched his fists and made that strangled noise that sounded like a small animal dying). It was clear she had more to say on the subject, but had settled for holding her tongue instead. Good, lectures from Molly were exceedingly dull. And he wasn't ready to be kicked out of her flat yet.
"I'm getting takeout for dinner tonight. Do you want anything?" she asked.
He grunted and she now knew him well enough to figure he meant "no."
By the time that the press conference aired on the BBC news the next evening, Sherlock was climbing the walls and contemplating using Molly's wall for target practice with the illegal firearm he obtained in Budapest.
"Sherlock, they're talking about Moriarty on the telly!" Molly called from the living room and her voice cracked at the name of her psychopathic ex-boyfriend.
Finally! Sherlock raced out of the bathroom and threw himself on the couch. He drew his knees up to his chest, rocking back and forth with barely concealed anticipation. Jim Moriarty's mugshot was blown up on the presentation screen behind the stiff and suited man talking at the lectern. Sherlock wrinkled his nose in distaste: ugh, MI5, one of Mycroft's lot.
The broadcast lasted about twenty minutes and ended with the promise of more details forthcoming in the near future. Questions were volleyed like missiles at the agents as they attempted to leave the room, who dutifully ignored the microphones being jammed in their faces. Sherlock smirked when he heard a few regarding the nature of his own connection with Moriarty. He picked Molly's laptop off her desk and went searching for for reactions online.
"You were waiting for this to happen." She still managed to make it sound like a question.
Sherlock was about to roll his eyes in response when he saw that a recording of the press conference had already been posted to YouTube. View counts were steadily climbing, aided by the link being retweeted among the #believeinsherlock tag on Twitter.
"It's part of the plan," he finally looked up at Molly, who was fidgeting with her hands and whose body was stiff with apprehension.
"Will you tell me?"
"No, it's better if you don't know."
After several moments of quiet, she sighed before walking away, "Okay."
He refocused his attention to tracking the rate at which the news was spreading. Within thirty minutes, online articles had gone up on the BBC, the Guardian, and Associate Press websites. They did little more than regurgitate information from the press conference. More detailed writeups were going to be on the front page of tomorrow's broadsheets.
Sherlock steepled his fingers together and leaned forward into them. The web was closing around Moran, and Sherlock was finally going to put an end to Moriarty's legacy. There was no early case buzz anymore, because the work of destroying Moriarty's network was grueling and exhausting (interspersed with moments of longing and terror he would admit to no one).
He was ready to come home.
It felt odd returning to 221B Baker Street after being away for so long, especially since he knew John would not be waiting for him. In fact, John was nowhere in London. In the end, it was for the best to keep John out of Moran's scope (but John loves/loved danger and was going to be peeved at having been left out).
And Sherlock wasn't going to risk John, not when he was so close to the end.
He didn't want to alert Mrs. Hudson to his return yet. So he waited until it was past midnight—well past the time for her daily dosage of herbal soothers—to lock-pick the front door. He swiftly and quietly made his way up the stairs to 221B.
The flat had been empty for the last five months since the last tenants moved out. The living room is almost completely bare except for the writing desk still sitting between the windows. The sound of his leather shoes moving across the wood floor almost echoed off the empty recesses of the bookshelves built into the wall. Mrs. Hudson must have gotten the walls re-plastered and re-wallpapered, because there were no longer bullet holes or a smiley on the wall. The jagged grooves cut into the mantelpiece denoted the spot where he used to pin his unopened correspondence.
It looked wrong now—it was all wrong.
Sherlock wondered why John had moved out. John had loved the flat—it was so obvious. And Sherlock had left him enough money to stay at Baker Street even without taking another flatmate (the very idea of which still raised Sherlock's hackles). By all rights, John should have stayed. Sherlock had been the one to leave and John, as a feeling man, should have wanted to keep the flat. People do that sort of thing because...sentiment.
He shrugged off his long coat and hung it on the back of the door—something he had done hundreds, if not thousands, of times while living here. It was a small step towards reclaiming this space as his own (and John's).
His feet took him into his old bedroom with blank walls and a bed with a bare mattress. He collapsed face first into the mattress and allowed his limbs to dangle over the edges. It had been almost 55 hours (too busy making his way from Warsaw back to London) since he last slept and fatigue was finally catching up to him. In the morning, he would ask Mrs. Hudson for some sheets and a pillow or two.
Maybe she would know where (his) John went.
He closed his eyes and drifted off without a second thought.
Judging by the pattern of sunlight sprayed across the walls and ceilings, it was noon. Sherlock remained still with eyes fixed on the ceiling above and listened to the sound of London around him. The traffic patterns outside confirmed his estimation of the time. Downstairs, Mrs. Hudson was bustling around her kitchen. Sherlock could hear everything and nothing at the same time (because 221B is empty of everything except him).
There was no use in putting it off. He needed to go downstairs and talk to his former landlady. He needed her to get him copies of today's papers. Sherlock wouldn't be able to leave the building until later at night.
He squared his shoulders and thundered down the steps to Mrs. Hudson's door. She was already pulling open the door to her flat when he came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. They stared at each other across the distance of the front hallway for several heartbeats. Then her eyes rolled back and Sherlock had to run to catch her before she hit the floor.
Ah, what was it that John used to go on and on about?
Tact, Sherlock. The familiar sound of John's exasperated sigh pressed against the back of Sherlock's head. That and timing.
Sherlock filed away her reaction and made note to refer back to it before attempting any additional reunion scenarios.
Mrs. Hudson regained consciousness some minutes later after Sherlock carried and deposited her on the sofa in her flat.
"Sherlock, is that really you?" Her voice cracked with emotions and tears welled in her eyes. With anyone else, Sherlock would have been disgusted and annoyed by such a reaction. But Jim had long ago shown him that his landlady wasn't just anyone else. In fact, a small amount of warmth had annoyingly bloomed inside his chest.
"Of course. What other explanation could there be?" He scolded her lightly, but laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. She was far too practical a woman to buy into ghosts and spirits.
"Sherlock Holmes, what in heaven's name have you done? And do you have any idea what you put poor John through?"
The next hour was a conversation about three assassins, a desperate plan aided only by one mousy pathologist, and months and months of hiding, running, and hunting. It was a conversation he would have rather had with John first, which seemed fair considering the fact that he had made John watch him jump. It only seemed right that the person to see him "die" be the first to know it was, in fact, otherwise. He also hoped that the next time he needed to have this conversation (preferably with John), it would take less time—Mrs. Hudson kept interrupting him with questions and concerns.
At the end, she pulled him into a deceptively strong hug. He endured it for her sake and her further cooperation. Before the afternoon was out, she went out and returned with a stack of that day's newspaper. By evening, Molly stopped by with the supplies from the list he texted her last night. The three of them suffered through a quiet dinner of Mrs. Hudson's roast as Sherlock kept one hand perpetually on his many mobiles or netbook.
Mycroft had been thorough, Sherlock would say at least that much. But the newspaper stories made for dry reading and were obviously vetted by his brother's people. The online reactions were far more interesting by leaps and bound. He went over to John's blog (completely untouched over the last two years). There was no new entry at the moment, but he knew John would be compelled to have his say sooner or later.
He could no longer put John out of his mind, not while he was finally back in London and the flat they'd shared (where they both belonged). He would be lying if he said he hadn't missed his doctor. Yet the word "miss" seemed lacking. Was there a word in the English language for what it felt like to live and labor with an absent organ? Gutted? Eviscerated? Or was it more appropriate to liken John's absence to a lopped off limb?
Sherlock scrubbed a tired hand over his face. He was becoming ridiculously maudlin. John had to return, if only to stop these stupid thoughts. Sherlock would insist—he couldn't function optimally like this.
He cradled one of his burner phones and dialed John's number from memory. Surely, John could realize the significance of him ringing instead of texting. It was ten at night. Surely, John would have had enough time to process the day's news by now.
After the third ring, Sherlock felt lightheaded. Right, he needed to breathe (dull dull dull). The sixth ring was cut off abruptly as his call was redirected to voicemail.
"You've reached Dr. John Watson, but I can't come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the tone."
It was an utterly pedestrian message, but Sherlock committed every cadence and the sound of every phoneme John said to memory. He already had an extensive file system of John's words and conversations stored in his hard drive, enough to construct entirely new mental and imaginary conversations with the man. But the process of gathering (hoarding) more data was on-going.
He flipped the mobile lid shut. He wasn't going to leave a message. Even he thought the idea of that seemed wrong. After all, Sherlock would much rather their first contact be face-to-face (even if John punched him, even if John cursed and swore at him, even if John walked away afterwards).
(He wanted to see John again.)
John didn't answer his mobile the night after or the night after that. Phoning John was Sherlock's part of his ritual before heading out for the night (shrouded in ill-fitted street clothes and the London damp). It steeled him and reminded him why he was making poorly disguised and brief cameos across London's underworld.
He would be disgusted with what he had been reduced to, but he had (needed to) gotten over that years ago.
On the fourth night, John finally picked up his mobile. For a moment, Sherlock wondered if he was finally going mad with this pathetic longing (for lack of any better word, ugh!). In the brief seconds between the connection and John's first word, Sherlock had already run through all the possible scenarios. Which was a lie, because there was no actual way to predict John's reactions (because John had always been surprising and they've spent two and a half years apart forgetting one another). But there was the distinct possibility (very high and very risky) that this was the worst venue to stage a reunion on—that John, in his anger (a near certainty at 97%), may refuse to return to London.
Which was unacceptable in Sherlock's book. Because he needed John. Because John is vital to the Work
(is as necessary as the Work).
"Who is this?" There was a note of irritation in John's voice. He'd probably been inundated with calls from reporters since the news about Moriarty came out.
Sherlock held his breath, or maybe he just forgot how to breathe again. He should hang up.
"Whoever this is, stop harassing me. I don't have any comment to give about Sherlock—"
At the sound of his name, Sherlock's heart skipped a beat—at least it did so figuratively.
"—Holmes, so leave me the bloody hell alone."
Then there was the dial tone.
Sherlock stopped trying to call John after that. He had Moran to focus on (then John could safely return to London).
London had been the central hub of James Moriarty's network—the capitol and the crown jewel of the consulting criminal's empire. After Jim passed away (self-afflicted gunshot wound through the maxilla with a gaping exit wound through the left parietal bone; Molly had been kind enough to pass him the postmortem before he left London), parts of the network fell—fighting each other tooth and nail for control and territory. While Moran had been able to rally and take lead of those closer to the top, a greater portion had fallen out of his grasp. And Sherlock had spent the last two and a half years hunting Moran's inner circle and allies and owed favors.
Over the last three months, Sherlock and Moran had been circling each other like bulldogs trapped together in a pen. In September, Sherlock foiled a total of three assassins sent to take his life in Frankfurt, Leoben, and Sicily respectively. Two weeks later, Sherlock sent a crude mail bomb to one of Moran's empty hideouts in Prague—Moran having just been there the day before surrounded by goons.
Years ago, this would have been a game for both of them. But it wasn't—not anymore, not when they're each clawing at the eroding dirt to ensure their own survival.
Colonel Sebastian Moran (formerly of the British Special Forces [SAS], dishonorably discharged for [redacted]) was a sadist and fitted the profile of a power-excitation rapist to a tee. Moran was a trained sniper, but he was even deadlier in close combat because he enjoyed feeling the life drain from the body in his clutches. Sherlock knew he had angered Moran—right and properly as John would say. So the entire affair between the two of them had become personal (because Moran would kill John to spite Sherlock and Sherlock would kill Moran to keep John safe).
Sherlock spent the last week clearing out the last of Moran's support in the London underworld—texting anonymous tips to the Met and moving evidence out into the open so that even stupid Anderson couldn't miss them. He had cut off every possible route of tactical retreat.
Moran was boxed in, and he knew it. He had been outflanked and outmaneuvered, so the only thing left for a good soldier to do was to make a direct assault on his enemy.
When Sherlock returned to the flat that Thursday night after maneuvering Mrs. Hudson into going to her sister's, he knew Moran had (finally, so much tedious waiting) come to meet him.
It started with a standoff—a gun ready to fire in Moran's hand. Then Moran did fire. Once at the space between Sherlock's shoes, and once at empty space above where Sherlock's neck joined his right shoulder. Moran discharged his revolver just to show he could—that he could easily end Sherlock in a blast of gunpowder and red hot metal.
Instead, Moran turned the safety back on and placed his firearm down on the desk by the windows. He brought up both fists to his face, before uncurling of them and inviting Sherlock over with a wave of his fingers. He wanted to toy with Sherlock.
"I'mma enjoy squeezing the life out of that scrawny neck of yours." Moran never quite lost the Midlands accent of his youth.
If Moran was a smarter man, he may have realized that it wouldn't be so easy to take down Sherlock. For one, Sherlock is younger, more agile, and a genius. That was just to name a few advantages he had over Moran. But Moran wanted to be the conquering army and 221B was Sherlock's home territory to defend.
As previously stated (Sherlock did loathe repeating himself), Moran is no Moriarty—he had neither the charisma or brains.
"You have two minutes and forty-nine seconds to try," Sherlock calmly pulled off his suit jacket, folded it, and set it aside on the floor. "Agents from MI5 will be here by then."
"All I need is one." Moran roared and charged at Sherlock, crossing the living room in just four quick strides.
They crashed into the kitchen partition, shattering the bright multi-colored glass arrangement into pieces to be ground underneath their grappling bodies. Sherlock wasn't averse to fighting dirty—not if it gave him the advantage. John could worry about honor or a fair fight—if he really wanted to (because John was capable of ignoring that if the need arose and lives were at stake). Sherlock simply needed to win.
Moran pulled him up by the lapels of Sherlock's shirt. They walked back until the back of the kitchen table collided with the small of Sherlock's back. He broke out of Moran's grip and slammed Moran's face into the table surface with all the force he could muster. Moran gave a gurgle of pain, twisted, and kicked—his feet catching against Sherlock's knee. Sherlock retaliated by snapping the food tray that Mrs. Hudson used to bring up lunch earlier today over Moran's head. The wood splintered and cracked in half.
Moran's fist flew through the gap between the broken pieces and slammed into Sherlock's nose. Flailing, Sherlock quickly blinked to clear the black spots in his vision and jabbed the jagged edges of the tray into Moran's throat. Moran caught the wood first and tossed it aside. There are long seconds where Moran's fingers found purchase around Sherlock's neck and squeezed.
Over the sound of their panting and breathing, Sherlock could hear the street door downstairs being knocked in. One minute and fifty-eight seconds. Mycroft had mobilized his people even faster than usual. Or Moran could somehow still have backup. Two people were taking the seventeen stairs up to the flat two at a time. By the time Moran realized what was going on and tries to reach his discarded firearm, Mycroft and Anthea were through the door and into the flat.
Anthea dropped her phone without a second thought and met Moran halfway across the living room. Sherlock had always suspected that she was more than a PA, but he never had any solid proof otherwise. He struggled to sit up from where Moran left him face planted into the lino by the sink. He managed in time to see her use the momentum of her body to sweep larger man to the floor while trapped between her thighs. Moran didn't get the chance to retaliate before her next blow knocked him unconscious.
"Moran is secured, sir." Her outfit remained somehow impeccable despite her exertion. "Pickup should be here in under a minute. The Met will be two minutes behind them."
"Very good, we should go before then, Sherlock." Mycroft offered a hand to help Sherlock to his feet.
He slapped the hand aside, ignoring his brother's scowl. He didn't need Mycroft's help—not really. He could have finished Moran on his own, but Mycroft must really have wanted Moran alive if he made an appearance in person. "No one asked you to come, Mycroft. I had everything handled."
Mycroft's expression and his fingers clasped around his umbrella handle clenched and twitched.
"Yes, handled." Anthea was staring pointedly at Sherlock's neck, where finger-shaped bruises were no doubt starting to show.
Mycroft laid a hand on Sherlock's elbow and tried to guide him out the door. Sherlock tore his arm out of his brother's grip and glared. "I'm not going anywhere with you. You've done your part." He tried to escape into his bedroom instead.
"No, Sherlock!" Mycroft's umbrella shot up and blocked off Sherlock's flight. "We are going to talk about your stunt tonight. You heard Anthea, the police will be here shortly and the press will not be far behind. Unless you'd rather Doctor Watson find out about your return in the news tomorrow, I suggest you come with me."
His shoulders slumped in defeat. The thought of John's anger (I had to find out from the sodding papers, Sherlock! The papers!) quelled the last of his rebellion. So when Mycroft ducked out the front door, Sherlock followed noisily behind him. Anthea stayed behind to watch Moran and had already retrieved her fallen Blackberry from the floor. One of Mycroft's black cars was waiting with the engine idling. After his brother got into the vehicle, Sherlock stood resolutely by the curb for a few moments. By then, several vans were pulling up with MI5 agents spilling out to secure the scene. The neighbors poured out onto the streets with mobiles and cameras in hand. It was this that finally prompted Sherlock to throw himself into the seat across from his brother. Mycroft gave two brief raps against the partition between them and the driver, and they took off onto the streets of London.
Mycroft crossed his legs primly while Sherlock ignored the other man in favor of the city flying by. His brother's opening salvo was so trite that he couldn't stop the snort.
"What you did tonight was reckless. You had no backup. You sent Mrs. Hudson away."
He could almost hear Mycroft's teeth grind from across the space dividing them. Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Kindly piss off, Mycroft. I knew you were watching me from the moment I left your office days ago. You got what you wanted. So spare me the lecture."
Mycroft slammed the tip of his umbrella on the car floor, unable to keep his voice from rising. "What I want, Sherlock, is for my little brother to stop risking his life—unnecessarily—without any regard to the people he leaves behind or those who have to clean up his mess. How was I to explain to Mummy if we hadn't gotten there in time tonight? Or to John?"
Sherlock's head turned sharply at Mycroft's last word and snarled, "You would have told them nothing. I was already dead. Don't make them mourn twice."
His brother's features had collected and settled into their usual placid arrangement. Sherlock knew it to be a lie and he wanted nothing more than to rip Mycroft of all his pretenses. "So you are aware that there were those of us who mourned your passing?"
He could explain to Mycroft that he had grieved too—that he had mourned the comforts of before: the interesting puzzles, Baker Street, his violin, John... He could tell his brother that he had felt loss too. But he won't, because these were not thoughts he would ever choose to share with Mycroft. He screwed his face into a sneer instead, even if the expression rarely had any effect on his brother. "Let me out here."
"Please, Sherlock, you need to go to a safehouse until everything is cleared."
"Let me out now, or I will throw myself into traffic."
Mycroft sighed and tapped against the driver partition. Sherlock was out the door before the car even came to a complete stop at the curb.
"I just want to help," Mycroft called after him.
"You can help by making sure Moran never sees the light of day again!" he declared without looking back. Sherlock drew his collar up and jammed his hands into his coat pocket. Rain had picked up once again. He hurried along the damp pavement. Molly's flat was nearly a mile away from his current location. He would hide out there again until he could return to Baker Street (to John).
Moran's arrest was all over the news come morning. Over the breakfast table, Molly shot him curious glances that he ignored stalwartly in favor of some rather dry toast. She sighed, changed into her scrubs, and told him that she should be back by six. He may have nodded, but he was too busy scanning through the online articles to see what was being reported.
The rest of the day passed in fits of nervous energy and mind-numbing ennui. By the time Molly returned, he had managed to con his way into information about John's debit card spending. The most recent purchase was for a week's reservation at a guest house in Saint Ives. What in the blazes was John doing in Cornwall in the middle of October? Either way, it meant that John was probably not going to be returning to London any time soon. The subsequent frustration made Sherlock want to tear at his hair.
He was almost tempted to ring John's mobile again. Almost.
It was almost midnight before anything of interest happened. He was sprawled listlessly across Molly's sofa when his mobile chimed. He thumbed absently at the notification, half expecting it to be Mycroft annoying him again already.
A new entry has been posted on The Personal Blog of Dr. John H. Watson.
He needed a bigger screen to read John's post, which would be undoubtedly sentimental and long-winded while missing all the most important details. In his mind's eye, he could picture John laboriously pecking at the keys to his laptop while composing the post in some nondescript room in Saint Ives. Sherlock's first attempt to load John's blog earned him a 502 error (sudden uptick in traffic due to the recent news). He glared furiously at the screen before reloading the page. It took several more attempts before the server yielded its treasure.
The new entry was titled: The Reichenbach Fall.
I owe you a fall, Sherlock.
It was hard to deny the sudden surge of bile rising in his throat. What a grim/regretful/maudlin/perfect title! Perhaps one of John's rare moments of literary genius. Even Sherlock could appreciate that much.
The entry began:
Some of you may still remember the case that first made Sherlock's name almost three years ago: the recovery of the painting called Falls of Reichenbach . Some of the papers even proclaimed him as the "hero of Reichenbach ." In retrospect, even long before Moriarty made a play at the crown jewels, I can now see that had been the beginning of the end.
It continued from there, recounting the events of their last case together (the kidnapped children of the American ambassador, who had already come forward last year after the boy and the girl recovered from mercury poisoning and undergone several months of therapy to say that Sherlock had not kidnapped them) to their final meeting at Barts'. He tried not to think about it, but it was chilling to read about their encounter from John's point of view—so full of terror and later guilt.
I will never understand why he said what he did. Although Sherlock was many things, he was most definitely never a fraud. I never believed otherwise for even a second. And I know there are many of you out there who also believed in him, who campaigned for the truth. Well, the truth is out now. James Moriarty was every bit the master criminal that I knew. While I'll never get my best friend back, at least the world now knows—beyond the shadow of a doubt—just how human and brilliant Sherlock Holmes really was.
I will always believe in Sherlock Holmes.
Oh, John, ever faithful and ever loyal... Sherlock certainly didn't deserve it, but he wanted it—wanted John back.
Commenting on the entry was disabled, a preemptive attempt to stem the tide of people who would want their own say. People were instead commenting in some of the older posts. John probably wasn't going to check his email either. There was no way to reach his blogger except by phone.
He must have read the entry at least a dozen times. After he had it memorized, the words played on a constant loop inside his head—all narrated by John's voice. He must have spent hours poring over and analyzing the syntax and the word choice in John's composition. Because Sherlock blinked before looking at the clock in corner of the dark living room. It read 5:32—early morning then. He rose from his supine position on the sofa, stretching as his joints popped back into place.
His mind was made up. He needed to do something to get John to come back to London without giving himself away.
Molly was still fast asleep when he slipped into her bedroom. He froze when she shifted and flopped over onto the other side of her bed with her back turned and taking half the duvet with her. If she woke up now, she was going to make a racket over privacy and things (John always did when he found Sherlock sneaking into his room). Her mobile was sitting on her nightstand and being charged. She didn't even bother to lock it or set a pass code.
John Watson was the last contact on Molly's list. Previous history showed that she had taken the initiative a few days ago and sent John a text asking where he was. John never replied.
It was a good indication that John was not likely to respond to anything else sent from Molly's number.
Instead, he typed and sent one simple command: Come home.
Sherlock was finally allowed to go back to 221B the next day. He begrudgingly accepted Anthea's escort back to his flat after she turned up at Molly's door around eight in the morning. Mrs. Hudson had returned from her sister's and caught him at the door to lecture him for "destroying her bloody flat again." When he finally escaped upstairs, he found boxes and boxes of his belongings that he had left behind. He would have to buy an entirely new chemistry set as Mrs. Hudson donated his previous one before Mycroft's people could get to it.
Going through his belongings gave Sherlock something to do as John did not immediately come rushing back at the prompt of his (Molly's) text. He sawed at his beloved violin, which he was reunited with at long last. Two searches through the storm of boxes didn't turn up the skull, leading Sherlock to the conclusion that John had taken it. Which left him feeling both annoyed and touched(? [file away for further analysis]). It also left him with no conversation partner, forcing him to settle for speaking to an absent John as if his words would find their way to the man over 400 kilometers away.
After all, it was a given that John would return. He had to.
But John's shadow didn't darken the hallway of 221B's threshold the next day or the day after that. Another peek into the doctor's debit transaction showed that he was still in Saint Ives. It was an unacceptable state of affairs, but there was no way to compel John without revealing himself.
Sherlock had never been a particularly patient man.
Five days after Moran's arrest (four days after sending John that text from Molly's phone), Sherlock crawled out of bed to find the rest of the living room furniture returned and Mycroft sitting in John's old armchair. He turned around and went right back into the kitchen. It was too early to deal with Mycroft without caffeine first, and since John had still yet to return, Sherlock needed to fend for himself.
Wrapped in his bedsheets (why bother getting dressed? He had nowhere to go on the account of still being technically dead), he settled on the newly returned settee with a mug of instant coffee. Mrs. Hudson had left the day's paper on the coffee table so he pulled it into his lap and hoped his brother would take the hint.
No such luck.
"Sherlock," Mycroft started with a drawl. "The paperwork for your return is in the works. Your financial assets will take a bit longer to sort out. You may want to start thinking about how to handle the press once news of your return gets out. And Mummy will wish to see you."
The last part made Sherlock wince. He wondered how long he would be able to put that off until his mother simply came down to London herself.
His brother continued, "As you have done nothing in the last four days except sulk like a child, I have taken the liberty of contacting Dr. Watson."
He threw the paper back on the coffee table, scattering the newsprint to Mycroft's apparent disapproval. "You fat, meddling bastard," Sherlock snarled as he tightly gripped the arms of his seat to keep himself rooted. "What did you say to him?"
"Nothing regarding you, Sherlock. I believe that honor should fall to you. I simply requested that John return to London in four days' time so that he and I may meet," Mycroft gestured to the rest of the room with his umbrella. "Here."
"I don't need your help!"
"No, you think you don't but you do and you have it regardless. I know you may never forgive me for what happened with James Moriarty, but there is little I can do now to change the past."
Sherlock continued to glare at his brother, who held his gaze in return. After a moment, Mycroft broke off the stare to consult his pocket watch (pretentious git). He must have an appointment, because he stood and walked past Sherlock. Good, Sherlock couldn't wait for Mycroft to get out of his hair for good.
His brother paused in the doorway and spoke without turning to face Sherlock, "Try not to botch this, Sherlock. Evidence would suggest that the good doctor is no longer as keen on London as he once was."
And then Mycroft was finally gone—the door closing with a gentle thud. Sherlock was, once again, alone with just his thoughts.
Wants and desires were dangerous. Sherlock knew that. Just as he knew that caring was not an advantage. John would argue otherwise; he put a lot of stock on that caring lark.
It had taken two and a half years away to learn just how disgustingly human he really was.
How was he to explain everything to John and make him understand? Surely, John would have to understand (no, friends protect people). He wasn't going to apologize for what he did (maybe for the fallout that followed) and he will remain firm on that point. He had done what was necessary in the given circumstances. In utilitarian terms, three lives was always worth more than one. And he hadn't really died or sacrificed (no, he did sacrifice, but he didn't know how much at first).
But he already knew that John was not going to see it that way.
He glanced at the time on his mobile screen. Half past one. Where was John? Four days have come and gone.
His phone chimed.
He's on his way.
He spun around and took one last look around the sitting room. He hadn't finished unpacking yet so the room was even more of a mess. At least he had the chance to redecorate with spraypaint and bullet holes. The wall had been positively offensive without the Smiley face graffiti. He moved over to the window overlooking the streets below and parted the curtains just enough to look through.
Within two minutes, the recognizable figure of John Watson was strolling up Baker Street (took the Tube, no limp) and caused the muscle in Sherlock's chest to flutter arrhythmically. Downstairs the knob turned loudly and was followed by the telltale creak of the door falling open.
"Mrs. Hudson?" John called.
His voice (still the same but pitched just slightly lower than Sherlock remembered) sent a spike of rare panic racing down his spine. He twirled and considered all the ways he could arrange himself for John to find. None of the six positions in the sitting room seemed adequate. John's heavy tread on the staircase finally jolted him into action and he swiftly moved to place himself in the corner of the kitchen (partition restored days ago by Mycroft, no doubt). John would not see him immediately upon entering and he was going to be too busy gawking at the mess.
Yes, this position would afford him an advantage and give Sherlock the chance to observe his friend without John knowing.
John froze upon entering the room, eyes darting wildly across all the boxes scattered around. His gait was even as he moved toward the boxes with his name on them, but he was starting to lean his weight on the right leg (something John always did unconsciously in times of emotional discomfort). Sherlock couldn't see John's face yet except for a brief moment in profile. John's hair was grayer than it used to be, but still mostly a dirty dishwater blond.
"Mycroft!" John roared suddenly.
Sherlock clamped down on the desire to reveal himself. He needed more time.
When John sank to his knees with his entire body swaying, Sherlock knew he had underestimated John's state of emotional well-being. He tapped out a text on his brand new phone: Behind you. SH
John was reaching into his jacket pocket and his hand tremor was visible all the way from the kitchen. His shoulders were tensing as he read over the message on the screen. Sherlock left his hiding place and slowly approached his friend. John's body gave a shudder as Sherlock neared.
"John." Sherlock savored the way the name (common and ordinary) rolled off his tongue.
His friend, in turn, twisted around and stared up at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. John clenched his fists but didn't release them (not a good sign according to Sherlock's mental catalog of John's reactions).
"Say something." Sherlock did his best to hide his nervousness and he was pretty sure he succeeded. Because John was too shaken and shocked to register anything properly, muttering about Jesus and clones. There was still a chilling fear seeping into his bones. Sherlock can see the rigid set of John's shoulder, trapped between a fight-or-flight response.
Then he realized. John was on the verge of a panic attack—of hyperventilating. Sherlock knew that if John got to his feet somehow, his friend was going to bolt.
The idea of John running from him terrified him more than he would like to admit.
He swooped down to meet John eye to eye. He barely masked the tremor of his own hands when he threaded his fingers around the curve of John's shoulders and tentatively kneaded the tense muscles. As long as he kept John here—here on the floor of 221B—John couldn't run away.
It was probably best to start with the basics. John didn't look ready to hear the full details of the story yet, so Sherlock spoke in short and concise sentences and willed the words to all sink in. "John, I'm here. I didn't die. I had to finish what Moriarty started. But I've come back."
Something in John's eyes changed. They were still darting back and forth, trying to process all the details of Sherlock's face and lingering briefly on the scar behind his ear. But John was finally fully there with Sherlock, greedy for affirmations and reassurance. It almost stole Sherlock's breath away.
He leaned in closer, wanting to banish every distance between him and John. "Do you believe me?"
He needed John to believe this. He needed John to believe in him. Sherlock needed it so badly that it physically hurt.
Relief flooded Sherlock's system as John nodded ever so slightly (and his dark blue eyes still wide with amazement). And when John hugged him, something inside Sherlock slotted back into place. The unmistakable feeling of coming home.
In that moment of unadulterated joy, it seemed like everything (the two of them, Sherlock's reputation, John's heart, their irreplaceable friendship) was going to be just fine.
Except not everything was alright again. At least not for a while.