Chapter 1: Prologue - The Patience of a Hunter
Sebastian Moran is very, very good at waiting.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
That was all.
No impatience, no expectation, no anxiety.
No anything. Not now. Not anymore.
He was very good at waiting.
He stood at the bottom of the stairwell and he simply was. Without thinking about it, he fell into parade rest with his shoulders and hands against the cool of the wall, and his eyes sank to half-closed as he listened for his cue.
It wouldn’t be too much longer. Jim was across the street and up on the roof. Holmes was up there with him. Last, and hardly least, John Watson was in a cab on his way back to the hospital from Baker Street.
He did not dwell on any of this, or what it meant, or what would happen next. In a few minutes, everything would change, but until then there was only now.
The feed from his earpiece told him Jim was nearing the end of his game with Holmes. Strange, but for once it was easy not to be pulled in by Jim’s theatrics. Normally, even a corrupted and static-filled recording of Jim’s voice would have made the man all too present even in his absence, but all he saw in front of him now was the dusty half-light of his chosen hunting blind.
The sound of Jim’s madness was comfortably familiar, even soothing in its own way, especially with Holmes’ distant baritone grounding Jim’s wilder flights. The words coming through the earpiece soon became just another part of the stillness around him. Inside him.
The stairwell was a good place; he had chosen well. His dark clothes and the bulk of the rifle case by his feet may have stood out starkly against the pale walls, but he wore the quiet of the place like camouflage. Nothing moved, not even him.
The only problem with the stillness, with the quiet, was that eventually he thought he could hear whispers from something that had not spoken for years. It was a ghost, a thrumming echo of what had been, stirred up by Jim’s hints and promises of what would be.
He supposed that was to be expected, really. Jim had always been brilliant at getting to people’s hearts. Even ones that had been burned away to a smear of ash.
There was nothing to do now but listen, and wait, and try to silence the ghost of want that had been awakened inside.
Jim’s last words weren’t ones he would remember particularly well, afterwards. He hadn’t expected that.
“Good luck with that.”
Holmes shouted in alarm and denial, and that was all the warning he got before the gunshot ripped through his earpiece. He clenched his jaw against a hiss of pain. The gun had gone off just inches from Jim’s wire.
Jim probably did that on purpose, he mused, rubbing at his ear. Later, he would wonder briefly if it was supposed to mean something, or if it was merely one last, spiteful flourish. It could have been either, with Jim.
Even with his ear still ringing, he had registered the fainter, duller impact that immediately followed the gunshot. He knew what it meant, and he smiled softly as the earpiece crackled back to life to confirm his assumption.
“What the fuck? The boss fucking shot himself! In the mouth! What the fuck are we supposed to do now?” Sutton sounded close to tears.
Long ago, the person he used to be might have grieved, might have been horrified at Jim’s death. If he felt any kind of grief now (nothing more than an echo, a twin to the ghostly want), it was for the man who had once been able to feel those things.
He suppressed the echo along with a sigh, and thumbed the ‘talk’ button. “Yes, Mr. Moriarty is down. I’m in command, now,” he said as if soothing a frightened child. “You saw exactly what you were meant to see, Sutton—now get back to spotting. Tell me when Holmes jumps.”
When, he reminded himself. Not if. Jim had planned this too well for ‘if’. And afterwards...
No. Later. Your time has not yet come. Patience.
Patience. Remember what you are.
It was time for Jim’s true end game to begin. He headed up to the window he had selected earlier—it had a broad, flat sill and a good view of the road behind Barts, with only a very few places where his shot might be obstructed—and settled in with plenty of time to spare.
Then, with the same gentle calm as before, and betraying nothing of the ghosts growing louder and louder in his mind: “The countdown starts now. Get me status on the targets.”
He opened the rifle case and checked each part thoroughly while waiting for Sutton’s report.
Sutton came back on the line much too soon. “Status on the... uh, we’re still on, Colonel?”
This time, he allowed the sigh. “Yes, we’re still on, Sutton. Nothing has changed,” he said, and he heard the other man’s breathing settle at the steadiness of his voice. “Keep your eyes on Holmes and on Mr. Moriarty.”
There was a soft ah! from Sutton, just as expected. Given everything else Jim had pulled off over the past several weeks, it wouldn’t take long for his people to start speculating about whether he was really dead or if he had fooled them all brilliantly once more.
As for him, at least he now knew what Jim had been going on about when he had joked about ‘radical brain surgery’ that morning. He never did quite get Jim’s sense of humor.
“Now—don’t make me ask you again, Sutton.” He listened to the report, and the thrumming want faded back to white noise as his hands assembled John Watson’s death piece by piece, each precise movement as mindful and reverent as a prayer.
According to Sutton, Lestrade was in his office frantically trying to do damage control. Detective Constable McAllister was ready to go in there at a moment’s notice to ‘talk’ with him, silenced pistol in hand. Mac’s chances of getting away afterwards were worse than slim, but then he always did get off on the risky jobs. The look that had bloomed on Mac’s face when Jim told him he was supposed to (would get to Jim had put it, clapping his hands together in glee) kill a cop in a building full of his fellow cops was obscene.
Hudson was still at home, and had just fixed Erskine a nice cup of tea. No doubt Erskine had thanked her politely, and probably even volunteered to fix the creaky step in the front hall before he left. Erskine was good about such things, but he was also very, very good at his real job.
As for Watson, several minutes ago he had taken off from Baker Street as if all his nightmares had taken on flesh to run him to ground.
“We’ve just verified he’s nearly at Barts, sir,” Sutton told him.
“Understood.” Even as Sutton spoke, a black cab pulled up just below his window. There had been a slight chance Watson would have asked to be dropped off around the corner and closer to the main entrance, but so far everything had been proceeding as he and Jim had projected.
Even from behind and without the scope, he recognized Watson at once.
His control broke for a moment, and his hand trembled slightly as he pulled his medallion from under his shirt and pressed it to his lips. He tasted metal and blood.
Guide my aim.
When he lifted the rifle to his shoulder, his hands were perfectly steady.
“We got someone on him over there, right?” Sutton asked. The man really should do something about that chronic worrying. It couldn’t be pleasant, going through life like that.
“Keep your eye on Holmes. Don’t concern yourself with Watson.” The cross-hairs of his scope were fixed to the back of his prey’s head as if they had been nailed there. He felt a rare grin pull at his mouth. “He’s covered.”
There was a second shooter assigned to Watson in the unlikely event Watson managed to get inside the hospital before Holmes killed himself. Then there was Erskine. If Watson had happened to still be at Baker Street when the call came in, Erskine was to shoot Watson first, the old lady second.
When they had been reviewing the final details last night and making sure they had all contingencies covered, Jim had declared it would be infinitely funnier if Watson had to watch his adored landlady be murdered right in front of him. He had been so taken by the idea, it took nearly fifteen minutes to make him see reason and that if Watson wasn’t put down first, Erskine was a dead man and the whole end game could fall to pieces just like that. Jim had scowled and stomped around their hotel room in a dressing gown he had stolen from Baker Street, looking both ridiculous and dangerous as he nearly trod on the hem. He came very close to pitching one of his tantrums, but at last he grudgingly agreed that yes, yes, fine, Watson could be a cold and ruthless bastard when he needed to be, and that made him dangerous.
“You’re right, mein oberst, you are absolutely right, but do you know what really makes him dangerous?” He grinned. “Go on, guess.” Jim’s childish sing-song whipped straight into spitting and shouting. It may have been his imagination, but these shifts seemed to be happening more and more as Jim got closer to the end.
“I have no idea.” He could have listed dozens of reasons, but he knew when Jim wanted an audience, not an answer.
“Sherlock makes him dangerous,” Jim snarled. “Our darling little Johnny would do anything, yes, anything for Sherlock. Even tear out his own soul.”
He very deliberately said nothing at all in reply to that.
Jim paused for a minute, then came up close to him—the kind of close that was meant to be uncomfortable, but he was well used to it by then—and tilted his head to look straight up at him with those mad, dark eyes.
“And would you do anything for meeee?” What started as a harsh whisper skirled up to a pleading, childish squeak.
“No,” he’d said simply.
Jim’s face hardened at that, and he eased back in a manner that wasn’t so much retreat as gathering to strike. He waited patiently as Jim studied him. That diamond-sharp gaze raked him up and down, leaving nothing unseen or unravaged. But that was fine. There was nothing left he cared to hide. Not anymore. Everything non-essential had been burned away years ago. He had nearly died, he should have died, but by some strange mercy, he hadn’t. Instead of dying, he had been refined. Refined and tempered. And then Jim had found him and shown him how he could use what he had become.
Jim’s face and voice went soft. Gentle. Dangerous.
“No. No, not anything. There’s always been a part of you I just can’t seem to bend.” Jim being quiet and dreamy always came far closer to scaring him than Jim shouting or being cheerfully manic ever could. Words gave way to a languorous sigh as Jim reached out to run a finger over his shirt, serpentining down from his collar to where his medallion lay beneath the cloth. Jim smiled, then pressed down hard against the medallion’s edge, brutally grinding metal against bone. “Oh, I could always just break you,” he growled, “but that would only be fun for a few minutes. But you simply won’t bend, and you know, there are times I really hate that about you. Although...”
Jim pulled his hand away, but it immediately returned to caress the same spot he had been abusing a second before.
“You’ll do this for me, won’t you?” It almost sounded loving.
“Of course.” There was no question he would. His chest stung and he felt warm wetness soak into his shirt where Jim stroked the cloth—Jim had pushed hard enough against his medallion to break skin. He idly wondered if it was an accident or just another one of Jim’s attempts to claim him, to brand him. It didn’t really matter either way.
“Yes. Yes. That’s right.” Jim clutched his arms as if to pull him into an embrace, and nodded fiercely. “You will. I know you will.”
The calm and kindness in Jim’s voice was clearly meant as a mockery, but he let it slide right off.
“You’ll be the one who shoots John Watson if Sherlock doesn’t jump.” Jim laughed. “You’ll do that for me, won’t you—Sebastian?”
Everything about that question was a deliberate reminder of just how much James Moriarty had done for him.
“Yes,” he promised. If Jim had not been pinning his arms to his sides, he might have raised his hand to cover the new wound over his heart.
In so many ways, he owed Jim everything.
In so many others, he owed Jim exactly nothing.
“Then you’ll...” Jim smiled and dug his fingers in hard enough to leave bruises, but he didn’t flinch. Jim’s smile carried a million meanings, none of them sincere. “You’ll carry on afterwards. For me,” he breathed.
That was when he finally believed Jim truly had no intention of surviving this. Jim had plainly said he didn’t over and over since his trial, but that was only knowledge, not true understanding. Looking back, he could now see how Jim had been hinting at it for months.
Now, Jim was dead, and his death meant Holmes’. James Moriarty had gone out near the very top of his game, knowing that he had won, knowing that his death had finally given him complete control of the man he saw as his other self—had finally and irrevocably made Sherlock Holmes his—and he had died a happy man.
Did you know what would finally make me happy? What I wanted? Did you ever figure out what would ‘fix it’ for me, Jim? Or did you already know it—all of it—when you sought me out and dragged me back into the light?
Now, as he watched Watson standing dumbstruck on the pavement with his phone pressed to his ear and looking up in growing horror at what Jim had wrought, he started to think that perhaps Jim had known.
In less than a minute, there would be another death. One way or another. He told himself it didn’t matter how it played out, but he kept the cross-hairs centered on Watson’s head, and before he knew what he was doing he had put enough pressure on the trigger that simply thinking about firing would release the bullet and spray the little fuck’s blood and brains and shattered bits of skull all over the pavement, and...
Jim’s dead, but his game isn’t over. Not yet. This isn’t what you want. Not really. Jim knew that.
He quieted himself out of old habit. Muscles relaxed, teeth unclenched, and he deliberately eased the pressure on the trigger. He released his near-loss of control in one long breath. He set aside desire and took himself back to a place of nothingness that was echoed in the hush and dust-light of the stairwell. The ghosts were gone and the echoes had stilled. He was himself again.
The earpiece crackled, breaking the quiet with a gasp. If it had come through a few seconds earlier, it might have jolted him into firing. “Fuck me, he’s done it,” Sutton whispered with something like awe. “Holmes jumped. He really jumped.”
Of course he had. Jim had said he would. Jim knew.
After a little thought, he slid his finger off the trigger and reached up to his earpiece. The cross-hairs remained centered right where they were even though only one hand was on the rifle and the stock dug uncomfortably into his shoulder.
“Stop the countdown. Call off the shooters. The operation’s over, and we’ll reconvene as agreed. You know the time and place.”
He switched off the earpiece before Sutton could respond. Even though he himself was one of the dogs he had just called off, he kept the scope fixed on Watson’s head as the man rushed to his friend’s side. He even kept his aim when Watson tangled with a bicycle and hit the tarmac, and when Watson stood up, the look of sheer anguish he saw through the scope was enough to knock the breath from him.
Rapt, he followed Watson all the way to Holmes’ body, watching how grief and horror piled years and years on the man as the consequences of abandoning Holmes in his moment of need struck home exquisitely hard. He did lose track of Watson for a few seconds in the confusion surrounding Holmes, but he kept his sights right where they were, and he waited for his prey to break cover.
Eventually Watson was in view again, cross-hairs right where they should be. He held his aim for just a moment longer even though his finger had not been on the trigger since he had reached up to switch off the earpiece. He watched, he considered, and at last he lowered the rifle and contemplated everything he had just seen.
Holmes’ fall. Watson’s confusion and grief. The astonishing swiftness and efficiency of the response from within the hospital, and the way Watson had been deftly—no, surgically—removed from the crowd around his friend’s corpse.
Watson had looked so perfectly alone, then. Alone. Abandoned. Betrayed.
If he fired now, Watson would greet the bullet to his head as sweet mercy.
Of course, he had no intention of firing. None at all.
For several minutes he just sat in the hush of the stairwell and stared out the window as if he were in a gallery looking at a masterpiece, absorbing it until it became his whole world.
It wasn’t a bad analogy. Not bad at all.
Jim was the most brilliant artist he had ever known. A true genius.
When he had finally seen enough, he clutched his medallion and bowed his head in thanks and remembrance. Then, he turned away. He had quite a bit of work to do in the next few hours, but he disassembled his rifle as mindfully as always, not wanting to squander a moment of the peace that still lingered.
Everything was as it should be. Even the doubt that had been raised in the immediate aftermath of the fall was perfect. He had no doubt Jim had known it would be.
Now that his rifle was packed away, he had to get to Jim. Next, he would personally see to Sutton and the three other pawns left on the board—but not before gently encouraging Sutton to remember exactly what he had seen when Holmes jumped.
Perhaps he had been given the opportunity to create a masterpiece to rival Jim’s. It would be a masterpiece that was truly his and his alone, but he would wait to think about that until after he had heard Sutton’s story.
He had waited years, after all. He could wait a while longer if that was what was needed, if it meant getting what he truly wanted.
After all, he was very good at waiting.
Holmes vs. Lightman, Round One, is scheduled to take place in chapter 4, for those who may be interested.
Next up: Greg Lestrade gets called into NSY to discuss the matter of his suspension.
Chapter 2: Too Little, Too Tate
Greg is called into Scotland Yard for a final conversation with the Commissioner regarding his association with Sherlock Holmes. In short, six weeks unpaid leave is about to come to an abrupt and traumatic end.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It had been a long day, even though it was barely past six and Greg had been at home sprawled out on his sofa since... five? It was only in the past few minutes that his thoughts had finally and blessedly slowed down to the point where the crack that staggered across the ceiling was completely and utterly fascinating.
Greg really didn’t want to start thinking again. Not just yet. Because once he started thinking, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop.
Should probably take off the tie, though. And the jacket.
He didn’t move. Not even when he pointed out to himself that the whiskey he’d been panting for since nine fucking ack emma was waiting patiently for him in the kitchen.
It had even brought friends.
You’ll have to take the suit in to get it pressed if you lie here like this for much longer, he tried telling himself. The fabric had rucked up beneath his back when he had collapsed an hour ago, but it was too much bother to do anything about it.
So what if the suit got wrinkled? He had plenty of others that were still in cleaner bags, all ready for him to wear to work on Mon—
There it was, and he’d blundered straight into it. He groaned and sat up, pulling his hands down his face. He let out a chuff of laughter when his palms didn’t rasp over the stubble that had grown in over the past week because he couldn’t be arsed to shave more often that that these days. Of course he had wanted to look all clean and competent and professional when he went in to talk with the big boys that morning. The Deputy Commissioner and the Commissioner. And himself. Just the three of them, having a nice cozy chat together over the smoldering ruins of his career.
Greg Lestrade had his pride, he did, and that morning he had decided there was no way in hell he was going to look as low as he truly felt when he went in to hear the inevitable news that his six weeks of unpaid suspension was turning into something a bit more permanent.
Somehow, he had managed not to see too many people from his division when he arrived at the Yard that morning. He did catch a glimpse of Anderson from a distance, but the other man had looked away sharply and skittered for the nearest door the instant he and Greg locked eyes.
Well, what else did he expect? More than what he got, apparently, given how Anderson’s disappearance hit like a punch to the gut. He couldn’t even muster a laugh over the fact that (judging by the screams) Anderson had just fled into the ladies’ room.
There were plenty of other people he recognized, but only a few he had ever worked with directly. There were too many startled looks and quickly averted glances for his liking, but even without that there was a tension in the air that seemed... off. He saw it in the stiffness of people’s backs, or in the furtive over-the-shoulder looks that punctuated their conversations. It was present even before people had spotted him.
Something was already very, very wrong and his being there was just one more splash of gasoline on a fire that had started well before he arrived.
He had almost made it to the elevators when Arthur Dimmock spotted him. Rather than turning away or quickly finding an elsewhere to be, Dimmock left a conversation while the other person was still mid-sentence and hurried straight over to Greg without hesitation.
“It’s good to see you again, sir,” he said, horribly earnest about the ‘sir’ even though they were equal in rank (for now). “I mean... I hope it goes well in there. I mean that.”
Christ, he looked so young. Greg hadn’t been that young when he was five years old.
At least Dimmock seemed to have got off unscathed from his own association with Sherlock Holmes. That had to count for something, right?
Dimmock checked around discreetly, mirroring half of the other paranoid bastards in the lobby, even though he hadn’t hesitated when coming up to Greg.
“I just wanted to tell you that I never thought Mister Holmes was a fraud, sir. Never.”
Greg closed his eyes for a moment, biting his lips against what he really wanted to say.
“Thanks for that,” he managed before Dimmock could ask him how he was doing, and Greg hated how defeated he already sounded. Maybe what Dimmock had said would have meant more if he hadn’t been worried about eavesdroppers. Greg clapped him on the shoulder and kept on to the elevators. “Take care, right?”
He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or not that Donovan was nowhere to be seen. He wondered if she knew what was happening today, and if so, what she thought about it all. When he paused right before calling the elevator and looked back over his shoulder, he almost believed it when he told himself he wasn’t looking for anyone in particular.
At eight thirty, he was seated outside the Commissioner’s office. At ten minutes to nine, the admin crisply informed him that the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner were ready to see him.
Commissioner Knox stood just inside the door, imperturbable as Jeeves himself, his hands lightly folded in front of him. The newspaper cartoons always depicted him as grossly fat and coarse-featured, but that captured nothing of the size and primitive solidity of the man. Knox had his own gravitational pull, and it had nothing to do with his bulk.
Further back in the room, Deputy Commissioner Williamson—who was lean and elegant in a way that suggested the kind of knife that could slip between your ribs and right back out before you knew what had happened—slouched against Knox’s desk, not bothering to hide his feral grin as he studied Greg.
Greg had rarely dealt directly with either of the two, and it had never been with both at once like this. One of them was the son of a dock worker and had never made it to university, the other had a Crufts-worthy pedigree and a Masters from the London School of Economics, and if you tried to guess which was which just by looking, you’d get it wrong every time. Once upon a time, back when velociraptors infested Hyde Park, they had worked together for over a decade as Inspector and Sergeant.
He’d heard all the horror stories. There would be nothing left of him but a stain on the carpet by the time they were done.
“Please have a seat, Detective Inspector,” Knox rumbled, inclining his massive head towards a long wooden table that was probably older than the Yard itself. It had been laid end-to-end with case files. Greg didn’t have to look at the labels to know they were ones Sherlock had consulted on.
For a moment, he saw Sherlock standing at the head of the table, sneering down at the files before turning to look at the three men in that room with the cutting smirk that said he was about to amaze them all. And amaze them he would, rattling off detail and explanation without pausing for breath, never slowing down, but rather picking up speed and animation as his audience went more and more slack-jawed in wonder. They would be stupid, Sherlock would say, to come to any other conclusions besides the ones he had drawn for them.
Greg wouldn’t be able to do even half of that, even though he had been there when Sherlock had unraveled everything the first time and made it all look so bloody simple. All he would be able to do, he knew, was fail his friend one last time. He hated everyone in the room for that, himself included.
He imagined Sherlock telling him not to be an idiot. This was more comforting than it should have been.
“I’m afraid we have a very long day in front of us, Lestrade. Have you eaten? No? I’ll have Amanda send out for some breakfast. I think this calls for something nicer than we can get from the cafeteria.” Knox excused himself as he stepped out to speak to his admin. The floor shook as he walked past. “Amanda, would you be so kind as to...”
In retrospect, Greg should have realized then that the day was not going to go anything like he had assumed.
At quarter past four that afternoon, he stumbled out of the Commissioner’s office. His ears were buzzing and he wasn’t sure anymore which direction gravity was supposed to go in. He headed straight for the gents (the regular gents, not the cushy private one he’d been offered the use of a few moments ago) and promptly threw up the remains of his very expensive catered breakfast and lunch.
They had given him his job back.
No demotion, no censure, and no question that he would be given his full six weeks worth of back pay.
Just like that.
He stood on wobbly legs with both hands braced against the cold tile of the wall, and he tried to catch his breath. He was afraid if he didn’t he would either throw up again or collapse in helpless, hysterical laughter.
Case after case after case had been declared clean by the investigators. Even the ones where Sherlock had bollocksed up the original chain of evidence past repair, because Greg and his team had gone back and built those cases right back up on solid and unassailable evidence once they knew what to look for. The investigators had even gone through a number of high-profile cases he’d worked on his own (which was really fucking insulting, if you asked him) and they all checked out. After only a month and a half, Commissioner Knox had declared that spending the kind of time and resources they had been on going through Sherlock’s cases was nothing but a waste. A team of twelve investigators was now down to one poor bastard who would make sure due diligence was done and all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed before there was any kind of public announcement, but there was no urgency as it was plain they would find nothing actionable. There was even considerable evidence that Moriarty—whoever he was—was real. Real enough that MI5 (and very likely 6 as well) had firmly taken over any investigation that had anything to do with the man.
“I suppose none of this surprises you, does it, Detective Inspector?” Knox asked with seeming innocence. The broad face was as unreadable as ever, and Knox’s muddy hazel eyes seemed unfocused, but Greg knew intense scrutiny when he felt it.
“Not really.” It was only mostly true, so he kept his eyes on the table as he answered. He hadn’t actually believed Sherlock was a fraud, but believing someone was a fraud and wondering if maybe someone could have been weren’t quite the same thing. Right?
Knox seemed satisfied enough by his answer. Then he and Williamson spent the rest of the day dragging Greg through the seven problematic cases that were left.
By ‘problematic,’ Williamson explained cheerfully, they meant that the people involved in the cases—or more to the point, their defense attorneys—were poised to raise holy hell with the press and in the courts if the cases were not shown to be as clean as the Blessed Virgin’s knickers. Some had already started in on the appeals process.
“I would make sure to memorize every detail of these cases if I were you, Lestrade. You’ll be called back into court more than once over this,” Knox warned him, but all Greg could do was nod dumbly in reply. It would probably be years before it was all over. He was starting to feel like he’d just gone five rounds with a champion prizefighter and had god knew how many more to go.
Round six was the matter of the ‘upset’ surrounding the Bruhl kidnapping. Knox had hemmed and hawed and spoken in vague generalities and plausible deniabilities until Williamson finally took pity on them all.
“Chief Superintendent Garrick’s taking ‘early retirement’ as of the end of this week, like it or not, and believe me, he don’t—not one bit. There’ll be blowback in the press,” he growled. “And speaking of the press, we got wind that something else tied to the Holmes mess is going to explode tomorrow.”
“Except for The Sun, one would imagine,” Knox said with a very genteel sort of malice.
There was nothing genteel about Williamson’s cackle. “Ah... No surprise there, right? They’ve been licking their wounds a bit, with this, that, and the other thing. That rag’s only good for one thing, and that’s Page Three,” he said with the requisite salacious grin. “You got to have seen it, though, Lestrade—telly, papers, web. The whole lot of ‘em, right? Every other day you got someone else going on on about how Holmes helped them and how he couldn’t be a fraud, no way, no how. Most of ‘em sound like crackpots, if you ask me, but when it’s people like the chairman of the board of Shad Sanderson, well...” He shook his head, chuckling, but his eyes had gone sharp.
“Actually, I’ve been avoiding the news recently,” Greg told them. Until recently, when money for petrol finally started to run low, he had been avoiding London as well. It had done wonders for his sanity, all told. Or maybe his recent self-isolation had finally cracked him completely, because none of this seemed real.
“Ah, yes. I see. I should also inform you there has been some, ah, discreet political pressure to put many of these cases back to bed as quietly as possible,” Knox said.
Ah, Christ. Greg knew exactly what—or rather, who—that meant. Talk about too little, too late.
“Monday will be your official first day back,” Knox continued, and then he paused just a little too long. “I suggest you use the time between now and then to think about the matter of your team, hm? Some restructuring within the division will probably called for, given the circumstances.”
Restructuring? He knew Anderson was still around, but...
Knox cut him off so smoothly that Greg felt like the one who had been interrupting rather than the other way around.
“Serious Crimes will report directly to Deputy Commissioner Williamson until we find a suitable replacement for Garrick.”
Williamson smiled in a way that could draw blood at twenty paces. No wonder everyone downstairs had been so spooked.
“As for the matter of your team, I believe I told you to give it the weekend, Lestrade. There will be time for such decisions later,” Knox said, and it was clear there was to be no more discussion on the matter.
After that, it was all over except the HR paperwork and two semi-sincere handshakes. And, of course, the vomiting.
What a fucking waste, Greg had thought as he staggered from the gents. He thought much the same thing two hours later, back in the privacy of his own flat.
Sherlock’s reputation had been hauled through the muck, jumped on, and torn to bits. God knew what else had happened that had driven him to jump off that roof, but now it was all being fixed. It was being patched together and polished up, and a year or two down the line it would be presented to the public with a fucking bow on top, and it was all too late.
At least they hadn’t had the gall to promote him in the bargain, as Knox had hinted they might. That would have sent him well and truly over the edge.
He sat on the edge of the couch, face still in his hands, and it came to him that if the press was going to ‘explode,’ as Deputy Commissioner Williamson so nicely put it, he owed John a heads-up. Yeah, that would be a fun call...
The last time he had spoken to John, it hadn’t exactly gone well. He felt a familiar twist of anger at the memory—couldn’t John see that he had tried to warn Sherlock of what was coming, that he had tried to help—but it was soon overpowered by an equally familiar twist of guilt and the realization that John was right, that maybe he hadn’t done enough, and if he’d done more, then...
He slapped his hands down to his legs and he shook his head in an attempt to knock those thoughts off their tracks. They never went anywhere he wanted to go. He was not about to add John to the list of people he had failed. The list was too long as it was, and...
Right. Enough of that, now.
Greg pulled out his mobile and selected John’s number before he could overthink things more than he already had. The call went straight to voicemail and a ‘mailbox full’ message. He then took a deep breath and fired off a text asking John to call him.
Twenty minutes later, still nothing. He fixed himself that drink.
After an hour, he fixed another drink and sent a series of text messages before he could think better of it.
Dont care what you think of me
Avoid news tomorrow
Two hours and at least two drinks later, he figured what the hell, and went to pull up John’s blog. He wondered if there would be any posts about the shift in public opinion, or maybe a post about how Sherlock’s so-called ‘friends’ had been a fat lot of good at the end (yeah, those last couple of drinks had been a bad idea).
It took him a moment to remember the URL once he finally stopped looking for a bookmark that was on his work computer rather than his piece-of-shit home computer. He mistyped or misremembered the address on the first go-round, or must have, because he got the hosting site’s ‘not found’ page. He missed it on the second try as well, and after completely botching an attempt to find it via search engine, he said ‘fuck it’ and stumbled off to bed because he’d clearly had too damned much to drink and couldn’t type straight to save his life.
Or maybe he’d had too damned little to drink, because his sleep was roiled by dreams that kept him from sinking into true unconsciousness. Most of the dreams were the kind of semi-realistic nonsense that faded away upon waking, but there was one that he would never entirely forget. It and its cousins had visited him too often over the years for that.
Once that particular dream started, he knew he was dreaming, but that knowledge didn’t change a damned thing. He was up on a dingy, dismal rooftop, one that looked just like the roof of the council block where he had grown up. The rooftop was also the span of a bridge, and even now he heard the rush of water and the crunch of great chunks of ice just below him. Over the past several weeks, it had also become the roof of St. Barts. He had no idea what that place looked like, but he knew it was the hospital with the sirens wailing below at the same time it was the bridge with its ice and the block with its cigarette butts and graffiti.
A gaunt young man stood in a gap in the chain-link fencing that ran along the edge of the roof. His back was to Greg, but the dark, matted hair and the sharpness of spine and shoulder blade beneath the foul, sweat-stained vest marked him as Sherlock—Sherlock as Greg had first known him, sleeping rough and strung out more often than he was sober.
Sherlock swayed where he stood, or maybe it was the roof that pitched and yawed as Greg ran (but too slow, too late, because that’s the way it always was in a dream, that’s the way it always was) to the man he thought of as his little brother.
It was his fault that Sherlock was standing there, but now... now Greg would be there in time.
He called out to Sherlock, but the words were wrong. The name was wrong. All of it was wrong. It wasn’t what he meant, he hadn’t known...
He slipped on the ice-slick concrete. No. Greg startled him, and that was what sent him over the edge. No. He jumped.
It was all of it, none of it. It didn’t matter. He turned, and he fell, and Greg was too late. He reached for Sherlock even as the familiar gray eyes shifted to an even more familiar brown. Greg nearly had his wrist, but the gap in the chain-link closed and his hand grasped nothing but metal. Sherlock was gone. Gone off the edge. Gone into the ice.
The shock threw him not into waking, but into a rapidly shifting spiral of dreams. Sometimes he was on his way to a crime scene. Sometimes, it was Donovan calling him from god knew where, and he needed to get to her but he couldn’t hear what she was saying. There were other people calling him too, people he couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize. Whatever it was, whatever they needed, he was always too late, too slow, too stubborn, over and over and over again until his brain finally stopped pawing through the garbage and allowed him to fall into a deep, unthinking sleep.
He woke up far too early the next morning to the sound of his mobile ringing, the beginnings of a throbbing headache, and the realization that he had fallen asleep in his best suit. He hadn’t even taken off his shoes.
He didn’t even have the presence of mind to check who was calling before answering.
“Inspector Lestrade?” It was a woman’s voice, elderly, close to tears. It took him a few seconds to place it.
He hissed in pain—shouldn’t have sat up so fast. “Mrs. Hudson? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I know it’s horribly early, but it’s Doctor Watson.” She paused, and there was a sniffle. “He moved out a while back, just after... I’d told him that Sherlock’s brother had paid his rent for the next year, but then he just left without telling me! He left most of his things behind, I haven’t heard from him in nearly three weeks, and then yesterday his sister phoned and said she’d been leaving messages but he wasn’t returning her calls, and she was so worried, and now he’s...”
There was a soft rustling, like she had put the phone against her shoulder while she collected herself. His heart was hammering so fast he was choking on it.
“Mrs. Hudson? Mrs. Hudson!”
Greg forced himself to breathe evenly. So John hadn’t checked in with anyone for a while. That didn’t mean anything had happened.
Bollocks. You don’t believe that.
The last time he’d seen John (and John had dully told him to just fuck off, hadn’t he done enough already?) the man had looked hollowed-out. There had been little left of him beyond the military posture and brittle expression, and what was left wasn’t anything he could bear to look at.
He shouldn’t have turned away. Yeah, he’d had his own wounds to lick. The man he had allowed himself to think of as a little brother had just killed himself (and he should have been able to do something to stop it, there had to have been something, he should have known...), his career was coming down in flames around him, and dozens of old scars had been ripped open again. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t good, but when John had looked at him with that mix of emptiness and anger and blame, with the anger rising wildfire-fast, the only thing he could do was turn on his heel and walk away before either of them could make things even worse than they already were.
Yeah, the rational part of him told him that as bad as things were for him, whatever John was going through was had to be a hundred times worse. Of course, he hadn’t been exactly listening to the rational part of himself back then.
“Mrs. Hudson, you still with me?” The hangover was still there, but it didn’t register. Not now.
There was another rustle of fabric, and then a quiet ‘sorry about that, dear’ that sounded almost collected. “Yes. Yes. I can’t help worrying—you know how it is with those boys.”
She used the plural, even though it was all too singular now. Maybe not even that. He shouldn’t have waited for her to call. He shouldn’t have waited so long to call John. He should have known to call.
“He even took down his blog, can you believe it? I hadn’t checked it in weeks, not after he locked down comments and stopped posting, but then one day it was just gone.”
He hadn’t mistyped it, then. Fuck.
There was another pause, and he could imagine her steeling herself. “And this morning...” Her voice broke. “Can you please come over?”
“I’ll get there as fast as I can,” he stammered. He had no idea what he could do when he did get there, but there had to be something. Even though it was probably far too late.
“Thank you.” Her relief sounded close to laughter even though there was nothing at all to laugh about.
Regarding rank and hierarchy at Scotland Yard, the Chief Superintendent (such as the one John decked) would possibly be in charge of a division such as Serious Crimes. The Commissioner, with the Deputy Commissioner as 2IC, would be in charge of the entire Metropolitan Police Service. In short, very big fish in a very big pond.
Next: Greg arrives at Baker Street and has not just one, but two very unexpected meetings.
Chapter 3: Ghosts in the Gaps
Ghosts lurk in the parts of stories that are not told. They can also blindside you with messages from beyond the grave.
Yes, this is the second chapter in a row from Lestrade's point of view, but you'll be hearing from other characters as the story progresses. Also, I apologize for the length of this chapter, but I had a lot of information that I wanted to get across as naturally as possible - not so much Chekhov's gun as Chekhov's arsenal in this case.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Greg probably broke eighteen different traffic laws on his way to Baker Street. It was a good thing he didn’t run afoul of any traffic police, or he would have done something to earn himself another suspension.
When he got there, Mrs. Hudson was standing in the doorway, twisting a tea towel in her hands. She had probably been waiting right there since he hung up.
He ran up the front steps and grasped her shoulder. It was anyone’s guess who it was meant to steady. “Are you all right?”
She lifted her hand to his and patted it gently. Somehow, she actually came up with a genuine smile. “Oh, yes. I’ll be fine, dear. I’ve just been so worried.” She squeezed his hand to emphasize the point. “I’m so glad you’re here. Someone else needed to be, today. It’s just too much for me.”
She stepped back and he followed her into the flat. The front hall and its hideous wallpaper looked just the same as ever, and he wondered why he expected it would be any different.
“What else can you tell me about—”
A noise from upstairs stopped him mid-stride and mid-sentence. There was a ripping sound, a thump, a muffled curse, and then uneven footsteps clomping towards the stairs.
He wasn’t exactly sure what he was expecting to find when he got to Baker Street, but it wasn’t John Watson trudging down the steps with a fouled-up tape gun in his hand. Dust had turned his jeans nearly as gray as his shirt, and there was a bit of cobweb making a cowlick in his hair. He slowed to a halt halfway down, and his slack-jawed surprise mirrored Greg’s own.
“Greg? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Took the words right out of my mouth, mate.” His own voice sounded very far away to him just then.
They both turned to gape at Mrs. Hudson. She gave them both a grandmother-proud smile, and there was not a single sign of the near-hysterics he had heard on the phone.
“Now you two boys go on and get settled upstairs. I imagine you have quite a lot to talk about, so why don’t l make you both a nice pot of tea?”
Once Greg was done being outraged (this took a while), he could admit that being played so damned well by Mrs. Hudson had given him and John something relatively safe to talk about. Even so, they sat uncomfortably at the kitchen table, pausing more often than they spoke. Any attempt at eye contact ended abruptly, not that not looking at each other made things any better. The kitchen was horribly bare—it didn’t even look like the room he remembered. All the test tubes and petri dishes were gone from the counters, and the only lingering chemical smell was that of scouring powder. He couldn’t bring himself to look in the refrigerator, not even out of morbid curiosity. Still, Greg had insisted on the kitchen and John had gone along with it because as bad as the kitchen was, the living room was even worse.
Out there, sheets had turned the chairs and sofa into ghosts, and Sherlock’s things were half where they’d been left, half in boxes, with no order Greg could see as to what had been packed away and what had not. The skull was nowhere to be seen, but the violin case was propped right where Greg had seen it dozens of times before. A book of sheet music still stood open on the stand.
Then there was the neat stack of three tidily labeled moving boxes with a stack of empties standing by ready to be knocked together and filled with the last of John’s clothes and books. A van would be there at ten.
“Well, she had me completely taken in. She sounded so frantic she had me thinking you’d... I don’t know. That something had happened.” Greg said after another awkward silence had gone on too long. What he didn’t say was I’m glad I didn’t break into your new flat and find you strung up in your closet or with a gaping hole in your head. He certainly thought it, though. Now that he ran through the details in his memory, that part of the story was all him, letting his own guilt, memory, and fear fill in the gaps. Mrs. Hudson hadn’t actually lied to him. He still felt like she had, though, because if she had just asked him to come over, he probably would have begged off. It would take him a while to get past that.
John let out a sharp breath that wasn’t quite a laugh. Greg recalled that the man could outright giggle at times, and wondered how long it would be before that ever happened again. John turned his mug around and around on the table, sometimes stopping to stare at it as if he’d been expecting to see something else.
“Yeah, well. I’ve seen her fake a complete breakdown well enough to fool a CIA operative, and all while lying through her teeth,” John said, wistful and fond at the same time. Sherlock’s absence felt keener for a moment, and after a painful few seconds John cleared his throat. “Look. Um... I’m sorry about... this.” He swallowed hard and blinked up at the ceiling, visibly struggling to collect himself. “About everything.”
When Greg saw him on the stairs, his first thought was that John looked like he had aged ten years in less than two months. Now, though, he saw it was more that John had been thrown back in time nearly two years, had once again become that insubstantial, ashen-faced man Greg remembered struggling to make it up the stairs at Lauriston Gardens. It was hard to think of that man as the John Watson he knew, and the same could be said for the man sitting across from him now.
“Ah, she was just worried about you,” Greg said, even though that wasn’t what John was talking about or anything close to what he really wanted to say. He let out a long breath. “Worried about me, too, I suppose. It’s probably doing her a world of good, knowing we’re sitting up here like this. I’m just glad most of the suspects I’ve dealt with weren’t anywhere near as good as she is at pulling one over. Good God.”
It could have been imagination, but he thought he saw a brief smile. “I suppose she had to learn how to. Given...” John flicked his hand to indicate something neither of them wanted to talk about where there was a chance she might overhear. “You know the story, right?”
“Yeah, mostly.” Sherlock had been the one to tell him about it, in great and gory detail. In the end, the less said about Robert Hudson, the better. Learning how to be a brilliantly convincing actress was probably the only thing that had kept Mrs. Hudson alive long enough to see him arrested. Given what she must have gone through back then and the kind of memories that had to be rattling around her head, Greg wasn’t going to say a blessed word—now or ever—about those ‘herbal soothers’ of hers. “So where the hell have you been, anyway?”
While Mrs. Hudson had been getting them settled in and fussing over what kind of tea to make for them (and would they like some biscuits?), she filled the excruciating silence with the same story she had told Greg over the phone. Only this time, there were no tears, and there were a few more details. According to her, John had left town the same day the two of them had visited Sherlock’s grave together. She also admitted that while she had known when John would be coming back to Baker Street to pack up the rest of his things, she didn’t know much more than that. Well, she did know that John hadn’t been speaking to anyone he should be speaking to, not even through the blog, so obviously she had do something about it because he wouldn’t and here they all were now, and wasn’t that nice?
It was, actually. Even though it was completely awful at the same time.
“First of all, I went to Wales. Just for a few days, though,” John said.
“Wales?” Greg blinked a few times. “Why?”
John shrugged. “I had to get away from London for a while.” There was no need for him to explain. Greg remembered what happened the one time John had tried to engage with the press. Besides, the flatness in his voice said it all, along with the way he kept pausing between sentences, as if trying to remember that he could speak. “I just...went. It was two days before I thought that yeah, it probably would be a good idea to let Harry and Mrs. Hudson know where I’d gone off to.” There was another of those sharp breaths that should have been a laugh but wasn’t. “That’s how bad it was. I got back from the cemetery, threw whatever I could grab into my duffel and was on the next train to Cardiff before I knew what I was doing. As for why there, I have a couple of old mates who are stationed back at Sennybridge. I hadn’t seen them in years, and I just thought... they were from a different life, you know?”
“Yeah. I know.” Life before Sherlock. Life before John was invalided home from Afghanistan. Not for the first time, Greg wondered just how different the John Watson from before was from the one he had come to know over the past year and a half. For the most part, the idea of John having been in the army for most of his adult life didn’t seem real. There were more than a few ex-military at the Yard, and John had always struck him as very unlike those men and women. Less regimented. Less respectful of authority when he thought authority was being stupid.
“Getting away helped. Some. More than I thought it would. I must have started thinking that maybe I needed to get even further away.” John laughed, almost for real this time. “I suppose you can’t get further than the other side of the world. One of my old patrol mates, Tom, he moved out to New Zealand after he’d been discharged and—well, we had been through a pretty bad time together. We survived it. Maybe there’s a part of me that needed to remember that it’s possible. That I can still do that.” Another half-laugh. “You know. Survive.”
John swallowed hard, and his gaze kept being drawn to the living room. Probably looking for someone who would never be there again, and Greg thought about all the times John had protested (flustered and indignant at first, then fondly exasperated as time went on) that he and Sherlock weren’t a couple, no really, they weren’t. He was pretty sure John was thinking about them, too.
Greg knew all too well how hard and how long that sort of thing could haunt you—all the stupid things you said and all the necessary things you didn’t say, all because you just didn’t know until it was far too late.
Once upon a time, he had thought the division’s betting pool about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson was a good joke. It didn’t seem funny anymore.
“I can understand that,” was all he said, hoping that some of what he didn’t know how to say made it through somehow. “It’s good you were able get out of here for a bit.”
It was good. He thought about what could have happened if John hadn’t pulled what sounded like a fugue state and run as far away from London as possible, or if he had balked at dropping what had to be an obscene amount of money on that plane ticket, and the cold dread he had felt when Mrs. Hudson called settled right back in his gut.
“Yeah. Me too.” There was a moment of quiet, and then—unexpected and wonderful—an actual grin. “Of course I would have been even more glad if I remembered while I was packing that it’s the dead of winter down there...”
John shuddered and let out a soft chuckle, Greg laughed outright, and for just a few golden moments, it was like they had gone back to a time before Moriarty and before everything went straight to hell. Everything felt easy again. Mrs. Hudson came back upstairs with more tea and a plate of ginger biscuits, and when John thanked her, his smile, weak and brief as it was, looked like resurrection.
Once she finished checking on them and telling them she would be back up to help pack once the two of them had a chance to visit, John told Greg about Tom Lewis.
Or rather, he didn’t. John spoke around rather than about the ‘bad time’ he and Tom Lewis had survived. There were gaps in the story, and there were ghosts in the gaps. As the story wound to a vague close, Greg realized that John had always been like that when it came to his time in the army.
Yes, at some of the post-case pub nights, John sometimes shared a story after he’d had a few, but all his stories were from his last tour of duty and could have been titled Stupid Shit Murray and I Did While Bored and/or Drunk. They were never about anything important. No wonder Captain John Watson, RAMC, had never seemed entirely real.
Talking about Tom Lewis was the closest John had ever come to ever telling him an actual ‘war story,’ and despite the vagueness and the downplaying, Greg picked up that Lewis came out of whatever happened minus an arm and half his face. John mentioned that he had saved Lewis’s life, but the expression that crossed his face looked more like guilt than the pride he damn well should have felt. Anyhow, Lewis left the army with a head full of nightmares and no good reason not to chuck everything and move as far away as he could and start raising sheep.
Greg supposed there were worse things a man could decide to do, under the circumstances. When he had been tooling around the countryside on his motorbike during the first few weeks of his suspension, there had been times when he had seriously contemplated simply stopping at the next village he came across and never going back to London.
“I went out there a little while back when he was going through a rough patch. That wasn’t why I went, but it ended up being a good thing I did. It was funny, but when things finally started getting better for him, Tom kind of...” John shook his head and stared down into his tea. “He met Sunny right after he moved out there, and she kept after him for two years before he stopped being an idiot and let her catch him. He said he couldn’t believe a brilliant woman like her could possibly want ‘damaged goods,’ but I don’t think she ever saw him like that. It was wonderful, they were wonderful, but... For some reason, he started to believe that once he had everything he had ever wanted, the only thing that could happen next was that he’d lose it all.”
Greg let out a bitter laugh. He knew too well where that sort of thing led. “Right. And thinking like that, he nearly did.”
“Yeah. It took him a while to get out of that place, but he did. He made it.” John leaned back slightly, closing his eyes. When he spoke again, It took Greg a moment to realize John wasn’t talking about Tom Lewis anymore. Maybe he never had been from the start. “Things are finally getting better... well, no. Not better. Bearable. I had to go someplace where I wasn’t being blindsided all the time.”
Greg knew exactly what he meant. He’d had his own losses, including some he hadn’t been sure he would survive at the time. He could tell John all about blindsided and what that felt like and how it could still happen to you even years and years later, and he thought Mrs. Hudson probably could too. No wonder she had wanted to make sure someone else was around when John came back to pack up his stuff and the two of them would be surrounded by reminders of everything that was gone.
“No memories,” Greg said. “No expectations.”
“No constantly seeing someone out of the corner of your eye who couldn’t possibly be there,” John said bleakly, echoing what Greg would have said next. “I honestly thought I was going mad, that first week. I swear every time I turned around, I saw...” He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, started over. “Like I said, I had stayed with Tom and Sunny before, so it was familiar, but not too familiar. No ghosts in the corners. No real memories other than playing tourist and avoiding sheep.”
“Yeah, I remember reading about that trip on your blog.” Greg thought it would be a safe place to steer the conversation, but then the next thing he wanted to say was how hilarious it was that Sherlock either hadn’t noticed or had simply ‘deleted’ the fact John was gone, and had even been talking to the other man for over a week without registering the lack of response.
It wasn’t the right time for that, and of course when he tried to cover the fumble he ended up making it even worse.
“Speaking of your blog, what happened? I went to look at it last night and... Shit. Forget I said anything, all right?”
For a moment, he was right back in Dartmoor, hearing the click as Frankland stepped on the mine. He actually grabbed the edge of the table, bracing for what would happen next.
“I couldn’t...” John stared into the middle distance, and his tongue flicked out to wet chapped lips. Then he exhaled sharply and slammed back his tea in a way that said he wished very much it was something stronger. “I... It had done enough damage.”
Greg nodded and hunched his shoulders, wanting to look at anywhere else but at John, not when his voice had gone so flat again. On his way over here, he couldn’t stop picturing what they might find when they started searching for John, and for a moment—when he’d seen John standing there on the steps and gawping like an idiot—he had been beyond furious at John and Mrs. Hudson for putting him through that sort of fright. You just didn’t do that to people, not if you gave even a single shit about them. The fact that neither of them meant to frighten him like that didn’t matter.
Now, looking through the kitchen door at the boxes stacked in the living room, he could barely even call up a shadow of that anger. He needed to be here today, and Mrs. Hudson had known that even if he and John hadn’t.
“He liked the blog,” Greg said after a moment, and it meant ‘I miss him, too.’
“Yeah,” John said, and it sounded like both ‘I know’ and ‘thank you.’ “Although I think what he really liked was complaining about it,” he went on, and Greg wondered if he heard an echo of fond amusement or was only hoping it was there. If it was, it vanished instantly. “I wish I’d never—”
His face constricted in pain, and Greg had absolutely no idea what he could say that could make things better. So, he said the one thing that he had been wanting to say for the past six weeks, but maybe now it would be heard, and maybe now it would do them both some good.
“And I keep thinking about what I could have done differently. If there was some way I could have pulled Donovan and Anderson back in line, or if I had been smart enough or quick enough to see where Donovan had got it wrong, or if there was something different I could have said to Superintendent Garrick. I know it’s not worth much, John, but I’m sorry I couldn’t... I’m sorry I didn’t do more.”
That was always the worst of it, really. The regret. The second-guessing.
There was a long silence that he couldn’t even begin to interpret. Finally, John spoke.
“You did more than you should have. More than most people did.” God, it hurt to listen to him, even though the words were ones Greg had been waiting for. “I know that, now. You tried to warn him. You did what you could to help him.”
He had wanted John to acknowledge that for so long, but in the end it was like his getting his job back or Sherlock getting his good name restored. It didn’t actually fix a damned thing.
“Fuck. I’m sorry, Greg.” John dragged a hand down his face, then he shook his head as if clearing water from his ears. “I kept telling myself I ought to call, but after what I said—”
“I’ve said worse, in my day. And we’re talking now, so no harm done, right? Besides, you’re not the only one who knows how to use a phone.” He raised an eyebrow. “Speaking of phones...”
That earned a sheepish wince. “Sorry. I had a few weeks worth of backed-up messages. Most of them from Harry, because she wrote down the wrong day for my return and she had a bit of a panic. She likes panicking—gives her something to do. I got your texts, though,” John said. “Um... thank you for that.”
“I’m hearing a ‘but’ at the end of that sentence. Go on, give.”
“What I was going to say,” and John’s voice was very, very tight, and there was a sharp little smile-that-wasn’t that went with it, “was that I made it nearly all the way here unscathed but I forgot about the newspaper kiosk right outside the tube station. I went up the escalator and came face to face with a headline telling me that Kitty Reilly’s ‘big scoop’ was a fake.”
“Bloody hell!” Greg was on his feet so fast the chair nearly fell over. He paced away from the table, scrubbing at his hair. “A fake? But Brook...” That was the one detail that still kept a sliver of doubt alive, no matter how often he told himself it made more sense for Brook to have been an out-of-work actor hired by Moriarty to be his public face. “He was in on it?”
“Oh, far more than in on it.” In another life, John might have looked grimly satisfied rather than just weary. “I didn’t read much past the headlines, but it looks to me like the reporter behind one of the biggest journalistic scoops of the year is nothing but a fraud who was out for attention. Or maybe she was just an idiot who missed the part in journalism school where they said to verify sources.” He had never heard that kind of venom in John’s voice before. The inflection he gave the word ‘idiot’ made him sound far too much like someone else. “Her career is over. I don’t see how it can’t be. I wonder if the next headline we see will—”
“No! You do not get to joke about that!” Greg leaned halfway across the table and jabbed his finger at John. “Not you. Not after everything that’s happened. Don’t you think there’s been enough harm done already?”
John’s mouth pressed to a thin line and he did a very good job at staring Greg down even though he was sitting and Greg was standing. “Yes. There has. But I would be lying if I said I’m not glad she knows what it feels like to have done to her what she did to him.”
“Too bad it doesn’t actually fix anything. Wonder how long it is before the lawsuits start flying.” Greg gave John a considering look, then gave into a dark, petty impulse. “You could probably make a case, you know.”
And lord knew, John deserved something after all he had been through. The press had given him sheer hell in the wake of Sherlock’s death, so it felt fitting that they would be the ones to pay.
John scoffed and turned away. “Right. Because that will fix everything, won’t it? Because the money that’s left after the lawyers’ share would be worth every bit of being dragged through everything all over again.”
“Point.” Greg sat down hard in his chair, scuffing it across the linoleum. He slumped into as much of a slouch as he could against the straight back.
“You weren’t really serious about that, anyway,” John said. “Were you?”
“Nah.” He shrugged. “But if we’re talking about things that don’t fix things but that might make you feel better, what if told you that Chief Superintendent Garrick is taking ‘early retirement’?” He made the brackets with his fingers.
John cocked his head, brows drawn together. “He’s the one I, er...” He closed his hand into a fist and threw a very tiny punch.
“Yeah, the one you ‘er,’” Greg said, and lord, he’d forgotten what it was like to grin like this. “Aside from the fact there’s some of us at the Yard who want to give you a medal for that, he cocked things up pretty badly.” He had a feeling that Kitty Reilly had been horribly duped, but Garrick had always been an ass. It was only a matter of time before he arrogantly blundered into the midst of some scandal or another, expecting his position and tenure to protect him.
“Being a posturing blowhard instead of doing a proper investigation the way he should have, and making some very public statements that came back to bite him, hard.” He wondered what Garrick’s time being tag-teamed by Knox and Williamson was like. He would have bet a fiver it hadn’t involved a nice breakfast. “Not exactly a good thing for one’s long term career.”
“Superintendent Garrick was always so short-sighted,” came a new voice. “But then again, so many people are. Wouldn’t you agree, Detective Inspector?”
Mycroft Holmes stood perfectly framed by the kitchen door, watching them with no little amusement. Greg had only met Sherlock’s brother a dozen times at most, and each time it had been just like this, with the man appearing out of fucking nowhere and taking over easy as you please. How long had he been standing there, anyway?
John rose to his feet smoothly, not all the way straight, but poised to move. His hand rested on the table the way a runner’s would on the starting line. “What are you doing here, Mycroft?” he said with the kind of quiet that wasn’t quiet at all.
Greg got up, not quite as smoothly, ready to intervene if John tried doing something that might get him hauled off by men in black suits. To him, it made perfect sense that Mycroft would be here. This had been his brother’s home, after all, and as far as he knew, John had been at least somewhat chummy with Sherlock’s brother.
But something must have happened between the two men. The way Mycroft’s mouth lifted into a vicious smirk showed he wasn’t in any way surprised by John’s reaction, and there was no mistaking now that John was ex-military.
“I’m here because the two of you are here, of course,” Mycroft said, innocent as a snake. “I need to speak to both of you, and this does save me time.” Mycroft turned to Greg, gaze flicking up and down. “I think you’ll be better off replacing that suit at this point, Lestrade.”
Despite himself, Greg pulled at his tie, even though it was past straightening.
“I have nothing to say to you,” John’s voice was clipped and deceptively light. He hadn’t moved, but it was clear that rapid and decisive movement was very much an option.
“So you keep telling me. Persistently,” Mycroft said with exaggerated puzzlement as he stepped forward into the kitchen proper. “But that does not change the fact that I need to speak with you.”
“And what do you want with me?” So far as Greg knew, Mycroft Holmes only saw him as his brother’s part-time handler/replacement dealer.
“For one thing, I wished to congratulate you on your reinstatement, Detective Inspector.”
John’s brows drew together. “Reinstatement? What’s that about, Greg?”
Greg jammed his hands in his pockets and forced himself not to tuck his chin. “Got put on unpaid leave, but it’s over now.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea,” John said softly.
“Ah, it’s all right,” he said, even though it wasn’t. “They had to make a show of going through, well, you know. The cases.” He didn’t say which ones. John knew. “They didn’t find anything wrong, of course.”
John nodded, but mercifully wouldn’t look at Greg.
“The tide of opinion is turning, from what I understand. I think some people are now wishing they had not been so quick to speak their minds,” Mycroft said.
John’s eyes went hard and his jaw clenched as his attention was drawn back to Mycroft, but Greg’s stomach churned. No wonder Anderson had practically fled from him yesterday morning. He had gone over Greg’s head to speak to Garrick, and Donovan had gone right along with him.
She had called him at home late one night, only days after he’d been booted. Her timing had been piss poor—Sherlock’s funeral had been that morning, and right after that was Greg’s run-in with a grieving and angry John Watson. Then it was just him for the rest of the day with nothing but a head full of roiled-up memories for company. So yeah, he’d been out of his mind drunk when she called. He wasn’t so drunk that he didn’t realize she had been crying from the start, but he was drunk enough that the next morning he couldn’t remember what the hell he had said to her.
He didn’t want to remember what he said.
“As for you, John, there is something I need to tell you, although I have a question for you, first.”
John didn’t give Mycroft any kind of prompt to continue. He just kept glaring at the other man, chin lifted so their eyes stayed locked. One side of his mouth had lifted slightly, not in a smile, but in something closer to a sneer, nostrils flared. He had seen John lash out in irritation or frustration or hurt, but this was something new to him. Greg would have bet this was what Garrick had seen just before John broke his nose. He got ready to move—and to get a split lip or worse for his trouble.
Mycroft didn’t seem at all bothered by the implied threat. He simply sighed as if dealing with an obstinate four-year-old.
“Do you know or know of anyone by the name of Sebastian Moran?”
Somehow, the question broke the tension in the room. John dropped out of his ‘ready’ stance abruptly and blinked a couple of times. A quick glance in Greg’s direction betrayed his confusion. “No. Should I?”
“Think, John,” Mycroft said, and there was a sudden sharpness to his voice. “Does the name itself mean anything to you?”
John actually thought about it, and he looked very much like he did when Sherlock used to bark at him to ‘think, damn you!’
“I had a Moran for my fifth form biology teacher, but her first name was Bridget. Sorry. As for ‘Sebastian,’ the only person who comes to mind is that prat, Wilkes.” Then, his mouth bent into a sad smile, and his eyes flicked to the side as if he was remembering something. “Well, there’s always the saint, not that it’s any help.”
Mycroft tilted his head slightly. “Hm. A rather odd association to make, although I suppose that answers my question.” He didn’t seem very pleased by this. “I had been hoping that perhaps you had heard or seen something useful while you were in James Moriarty’s... care for a few hours.”
Something in John’s face went dark again, prompting Greg to block the line of sight between him and Mycroft.
“All right. Who is this ‘Sebastian Moran’ person?” Greg asked. “And what does he have to do with Moriarty?”
Mycroft moved past them to the kitchen counter. He ran his fingers along it and scowled at something. Perhaps it was at the same lack of test tubes Greg had noted earlier.
“Who is Sebastian Moran? An excellent question, Detective Inspector. The only thing we know for certain is that he is a senior member of James Moriarty’s organization.”
Greg thought he heard another landmine go click.
“Moriarty’s second-in-command, to be exact,” Mycroft continued.
“But Moriarty’s dead.” Panic started to push aside John’s anger. “You said so yourself!”
“What?” Greg had heard nothing about that. Just yesterday, Knox and Williamson had been talking as if the man was still out there, somewhere, playing hide and seek with MI5. “What do you mean he’s dead?”
Mycroft turned and held up a hand, silencing both of them. “One thing that I can guarantee has not been made public, Detective Inspector—or even made known to your superiors—is that Moriarty was on the roof of Saint Bartholomew’s when my brother made the decision to jump.”
The air seemed far too thin, and it was impossible not to think of Jefferson Hope and his four victims. Murder by forced suicide, and the case where Moriarty’s name had first come to Sherlock’s attention.
“I will admit that we did not recover a body, but we did find sufficient blood, bone fragments and brain matter—”
“Brain matter?” Greg exclaimed.
“—to confirm what the CCTV showed us. James Moriarty is almost certainly dead. Almost certainly. One of his people, quite possibly Moran himself, removed the body before my people could intervene.”
“Ah. Yes. Of course,” John said flatly. “Pity they couldn’t get to the roof sooner.”
Mycroft gave him a look that should have reduced him to a wisp of greasy smoke.
“The situation that day was far more complicated than you could possibly imagine, John.” There was more than a little razor wire threaded through the silk of his voice.
“Right. Try me.” It was Greg who spoke this time, and both John and Mycroft started as if they had forgotten he was there. “What was so fucking ‘complicated’ that you didn’t try to stop your own little brother from jumping off a roof?”
Mycroft’s expression only looked like a smile.
“Well?” He took a step forward and was gratified to see Mycroft flinch.
Years ago, Greg had been there when the doctor told Mycroft that Sherlock had coded twice after that last overdose, but that they now had him stabilized. He had seen the look on that otherwise carefully controlled and mocking face. If Mycroft had been able to stop Sherlock from jumping, he would have, no matter what the cost to him or anyone else. Unless something had changed drastically between then and now, Mycroft just sitting back and waiting to clean up in the aftermath made no god-damned sense at all.
“When I say ‘complicated,’ I mean that multiple lives were at risk—and still are, Detective Inspector, yours and Doctor Watson’s included. Moriarty may be dead, but Colonel Moran—”
“Colonel?” Of course John would fix on that and not the threat to his life.
“Spurious, I expect, but it’s consistent throughout the few references to him we’ve been able to find. My source insists Moran has extensive military experience, most likely with some variety of special forces, but we have found no record of anyone of that name in any armed forces records going back to 1960.” Mycroft smiled. “We even checked the Korean People’s Army personnel records, which was something of a challenge. Still, It does pay to be thorough, as I am sure you can appreciate. Perhaps he is simply a well-trained mercenary. One thing we know for certain, however, is that there is a man by that name, even if it is an alias, who seems intent on carrying on Moriarty’s legacy.”
Greg wanted to punch something. Or maybe go find a hole to hide in for another six weeks. “Oh, bloody hell...”
“Why?” John rasped.
Mycroft took a deep breath. He looked like he might even feel a little guilty about what he had to say next. “We know very little about the man. We do not even have a verifiable photograph. That said, we have every reason to believe that Sebastian Moran may have been to James Moriarty what you were to my brother, Doctor Watson.”
John fumbled behind him to make sure the chair was still there, then sat down with a thump, his face pale. “Oh.”
“You all right?” Greg said, but John didn’t seem to hear him. He cleared his throat. “Look here, Mr. Holmes, what’re you trying to get at with all this?”
Mycroft gave him a look that could have been approval. “What I am trying to ‘get at’ is that without knowing more about who this man is, it is safest to assume that you and John should exercise some reasonable precautions, especially given what is happening in the news. The tale of Ms. Reilly’s downfall may provoke Moran to act.”
He did not seem overly dismayed by this prospect.
“You really haven’t had much luck with the news, have you?” John sniped, no doubt clutching at anger as he would a safety line to keep him from plummeting into something worse. “First Kitty Reilly somehow getting all of those facts about Sherlock, and now this. And to think I used to believe you had the fourth estate completely under your thumb along with everything else.”
“I have done what I can, John!” Mycroft’s loss of control startled a flinch out of John. “And while I am flattered you think so highly of me, recent weeks have found me on much shakier ground than I would like to be. Need I remind you that—” he collected himself before he could complete that sentence, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. When he spoke again, there was no sign he had ever let his composure slip. “Political favors come with a cost, John, and I have expended far too much of my capital lately, much of it for your sake. Or should I remind you how you nearly missed Sherlock’s funeral because you were up on charges for assault? I am afraid that you will simply have to live with what happens in the media over the next few weeks—and trust me when I tell you that things could have gone much worse for you than they have in that arena. I am sure you will understand that I am less concerned with the press than I am with making sure that my brother’s few remaining friends are not in any immediate danger.”
A quick glance in Greg’s direction indicated he was very much included in that last sentence. He wished it didn’t surprise him as much as it did.
John sat hunched forward in his chair. His right hand lay over his left, squeezing hard. “Are you going to be here much longer?” he said at last, sounding very small and very far away. “The van’s supposed to be here at ten, and I still have to finish packing.”
Mycroft peered over his shoulder back into the living room, and at the small stack of boxes. “So you really do intend to move out? I did tell you that the rent is paid up for the next year.”
“I didn’t ask you to do that.” John still kept his gaze lowered.
“No, you did not,” Mycroft said pleasantly. “As I have told you before, you are free to stay here or leave as you please. I do hope you’re not so petty that you would let my involvement in matters sway your decision. That said, it would be easier to keep an eye on you here rather than in... Hackney.” The look of disgust on his face would have been hilarious under other circumstances.
“As I told you before, I didn’t ask you to.” John’s voice sounded a little firmer, now, and he met Mycroft’s gaze straight on.
“Always so stubborn... Although I wouldn’t expect anything less from you, I suppose.” He sounded more fond than anything. “Good day, John. I’ll see myself out,” he said, heading to the stairs. “Detective Inspector, might I have a moment of your time? There is still something I need to discuss with you.”
Greg shot John a look. John shrugged.
I’ll tell you later, Greg mouthed.
“So, what is it you didn’t want to tell me in front of John?” Greg asked once they were outside. The customary black car was at the curb, engine idling. Greg hoped he wasn’t about to find himself whisked off to parts unknown.
“There’s more to what I was saying about your safety than I thought Doctor Watson should hear just now.” There was a subtle change to Mycroft’s voice. It had become less genteel and more clipped. Greg suspected it was the voice the man’s immediate subordinates heard day-to-day. “When my brother confronted Moriarty, he had his phone with him.”
Despite what Sherlock had always implied and outright said, Greg was an intelligent man. “Christ. He recorded the whole thing, didn’t he?”
Mycroft gave a curt nod. “It was most enlightening on a number of fronts.” There was a look on his face Greg couldn’t quite place, although he thought ‘shame’ might have been part of it. “The part that is most relevant to you is the fact that there were three gunmen who were under orders from Moriarty to carry out a certain task if Sherlock did not jump. One was assigned to Doctor Watson, one to Mrs. Hudson, and one to you.”
“Oh, don’t be disingenuous, Lestrade. I think you can understand why I have not shared this information with Doctor Watson.”
“Yeah. I do.” John would have gladly stepped in front of that bullet if it meant saving Sherlock’s life. It wouldn’t have done any good, though, because Sherlock would still have to save Mrs. Hudson. And him, although he might well have done the same as John. “So, these gunmen...”
“Were all found shot through the back of the head less than twenty-four hours later. On a very much related note, the investigation into Detective Constable David McAllister’s death has been closed.” The lift of Mycroft’s eyebrow confirmed everything he was not saying.
“Mac? But—” But he had known DC McAllister for years. The kid had even gone out with Lestrade’s team for drinks on more than one occasion. He couldn’t be... “You’re joking, right? That can’t... No.”
“Are you all right, Detective Inspector?”
Hell no, he wasn’t all right. He leaned against a rubbish bin for support, his ears buzzing as he tried to make sense of all this. The shock now echoed the shock he felt when he heard that cocky, hotheaded, stupid Mac had apparently barged into a drug deal gone wrong and taken a bullet to the head.
“How the hell did Moriarty get someone into the Met?” he rasped once the buzzing stopped enough to let him speak. “And how did he know things that far in advance? Mac was with Serious Crimes for three years! Not on my team, but...”
“Moriarty was very good at finding weak links, and exploiting them,” Mycroft said, and if Greg didn’t know better, he would say the man sounded gentle. “If he needed someone close to you, he never would have put in someone new. Far too risky. No, he would have found someone who was already connected, someone who already had the kind of... potential he was looking for, and he would have bent them and twisted them to his liking. Sometimes subtly, sometimes brutally, but always effectively. I am afraid McAllister was only one of many. He probably targeted McAllister shortly after becoming aware of your association with Sherlock.”
Greg clenched his teeth and turned away. “Jesus.” He’d liked Mac.
Mycroft inclined his head in condolence. “I am willing to show you the evidence file if you like. Unfortunately, although the original three assassins are gone, there is good reason to think that the threat is not as over as we had first assumed.”
“The three assassins and Moriarty, right?” Lestrade said slowly, daring Mycroft to contradict him.
Instead, Mycroft gave another of those smug smiles. “To the best of our knowledge, yes. There are good reasons for not making his death public knowledge, but I felt it was in Doctor Watson’s best interest to share that information with him. For his peace of mind, you understand.”
Greg automatically translated that as ‘to keep him from being a vigilante idiot and getting himself arrested or killed.’
“But now there’s Moran.” Again, it was the same kind of casual statement he might use to draw out a confirmation or poke a hole in an alibi.
“Perhaps, hence my visit today. There is a chance our fears regarding him are unfounded, but that is not a chance we are willing to take. There’s someone I need to speak to...” Mycroft’s voice trailed off and his mouth twisted as if he had just swallowed something bitter. “It may help us assess the true scope of the threat. Or if there is in fact any threat at all. I will keep you informed as to what I find. As for you...”
“I would very much appreciate it if you could keep an eye on Doctor Watson for me. I do worry about him.”
Greg jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards one of the many CCTV cameras in the immediate vicinity.
“There’s keeping an eye, and there’s keeping an eye, Detective Inspector. Telling him about Moran was a calculated risk, and I won’t be able to watch over him the way a friend would. Not anymore.” His shoulders dropped slightly, as did his gaze. It could have been remorse, or it could have been something else. “You may not choose to believe me, but that is one of the things I regret most in all of this.”
Greg swallowed hard, and nodded.
“Is that all?” he croaked after a moment.
“No. Not quite.” The corner of Mycroft’s mouth lifted ever so slightly as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a small, cream-colored envelope. He handed it to Greg. The paper was smooth and heavy, and his last name was written on it in a very familiar handwriting.
“Yes, my brother left this for you,” Mycroft said before Greg could ask.
“But why now? Why today?”
“Because you wouldn’t be able to use it until today. You’ll understand once you read it. Good day, Detective Inspector Lestrade. Again, congratulations on your reinstatement. And do make sure Doctor Watson stays out of trouble.”
Greg was still standing on the pavement staring at the envelope long after the black car had vanished around the corner. Even without opening the letter, it told him a lot. It told him that Sherlock had known what was coming, and had known far enough in advance to leave notes on expensive stationery and instructions regarding what to do with them..
He worked his finger under the flap of the envelope and tore it open. There was a plain but elegant card inside.
Whatever the note said, he knew it would probably have all of Sherlock’s usual tact and grace—that is to say, none. That knowledge didn’t keep his eyes from going wide when he read the terse message Sherlock had left him.
It was not anything he would ever have expected from Sherlock. Not in a million years. He stared at the message for a good minute. Its meaning finally sunk in.
“That son of a BITCH!”
So what if everyone on the block turned to look at the nutter in the wrinkled suit? He could swear if he fucking well pleased.
First it was Knox and Williamson. Then it was Mrs. Hudson. Then Mycroft Holmes. Now it was Sherlock Bloody Holmes’s turn to yank the rug out from under his feet, and he had even found a way to reach out from beyond the grave to do so.
How much had Sherlock known of Moriarty’s plans? And if he’d known, why hadn’t he done anything to stop them?
He re-read the note, but it hadn’t changed meaning since he last looked at it. He swore again (a bit more quietly this time), then jammed the note in his pocket. His first impulse was to chuck it into the rubbish bin, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do that.
After all, what Sherlock had written was only the truth, and the sad thing was, Greg had known that truth for weeks now. It was just easier to keep on licking his wounds and nursing a grudge than to admit what he damn well knew. As for acting on it... Right.
He turned and headed back into 221B, knocking on the open door as he called up to John to ask if he needed help packing. Maybe, he thought, he could tag along and see just how awful the Hackney flat was. Then he and John could grab a bite or a pint somewhere, and pretend it was old times for a little while. Maybe—probably not today, but sometime later—they could finally start talking about Sherlock rather than around him.
Tonight, he might be able to go home and do what Knox had told him and start thinking about the matter of his team, and about a phone call he dreaded making.
Dreading it didn’t mean he wouldn’t do it, though.
He would have liked to think that Sherlock’s note wouldn’t have any bearing on that decision, but he knew himself far too well, the good and the bad alike. He should be thankful, really. Even though Sherlock had found a way to be an arrogant prat even in death, he had pointed Greg towards the one thing he could actually fix in all of this.
Next chapter: Cal Lightman vs. Mycroft Holmes, Round One.