Greg Lestrade was in the middle of an absolutely heinous teleconference when his personal mobile buzzed on his desk. The tiny screen flashed Mrs. Hudson's name in white letters. That she never, ever called him during working hours sent a stab of worry through his gut. Something must have happened to John. Lovely, steadfast, amazing John, who had somehow become the sun that Greg's life orbited around, the best reason he had to take care of himself every day and go home to Baker Street every night.
He scooped up the phone, motioned for Sally Donovan to continue without him, and stepped outside his office. Cold sweat beaded on his neck.
"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson said, her voice breathless and high. "Oh, my!"
Greg turned to the windows overlooking Broadway, hoping for a shred of privacy from the scrutiny of his inspectors and other Scotland Yard personnel. The warren of desks was as noisy as usual with ringing phones and clacking computer keyboards, no one paying him obvious attention, but he didn't want to risk lip-reading or exceptionally keen hearing. Maybe he was paranoid. Maybe working around Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes had done that to him.
"What about him, Mrs. Hudson?" he asked. "Is John there? Is he all right?"
"You must come immediately," Mrs. Hudson said, her voice steadier. "He needs you."
The line went dead. Greg immediately considered the worst possibility: some kind of hostage situation at home, some awful calamity brought on by an obsessed admirer of the quite dead Sherlock Holmes. Even now, almost nine months after Sherlock's suicide, unhinged fans sometimes sent John emails, letters and packages. Some were rather graphic and upsetting, or would be if Greg hadn't hidden or deleted them before John saw them.
Donovan tapped on the glass partition separating Lestrade from his office. She made an inquiring face.
He gave her a hand signal that was meant to convey Be back soon and Carry on, but which probably looked like frantic finger spasms instead.
Without even grabbing his overcoat he left the building, hurried to the car park, and drove down Caxton Street toward Buckingham Gate. Traffic could be awful during the morning rush but now was the midmorning lull, if it could be said Westminster had any kind of lull at all. It took only ten minutes to reach Baker Street. Short enough to talk himself out of dispatching officers and ambulances or, worse, call on Mycroft and his terrifying resources.
All was quiet outside Mrs. Hudson's building. Greg stepped cautiously into the foyer. He heard nothing unusual or alarming. Twelve steps led to the landing of 221B, where the flat door hung open. He approached carefully, cautiously, calling, "John? Mrs. Hudson?"
His words dried up as he took in the sight before him.
No smashed furniture, no bloodstained carpets, nothing amiss as far as the decorations and furniture went. John was there, sitting on the leather sofa, clad in his favorite gray jumper and some old trousers, exactly as Greg had left him after breakfast. It was his day off, and he'd planned nothing more exciting than pay the bills and catch up on some medical journals. Now he was white-faced and staring at the floor, hands clasped between his knees. Mrs. Hudson fretted above him, wringing her hands in that uniquely Mrs. Hudson way.
Sitting by the unlit fireplace was Sherlock Holmes, surprisingly upright and alert for a dead man.
Greg sagged against the doorway and thought, What a cock up.
"I'm so glad you're here," Mrs. Hudson said, her face brightening. "We need a doctor."
Greg was too busy being caught up in a flurry of anger and disbelief to say anything more than, "We already have a doctor."
But John hadn't looked up, hadn't even seemed to notice Greg's return. Shock, then. Hardly unexpected. A shock like this would fell even the strongest man. In hindsight, however, it wasn't very shocking at all. This was exactly the kind of monstrous affair Greg should have been expecting. When you let Sherlock Holmes into your life you also admitted enormous amounts of strangeness and melodrama that better belonged to one of those crazy American shows on the telly.
Dead flatmates resurrecting themselves was a story definitely worthy of television drama.
"I don’t need a doctor," Sherlock announced, in what was perhaps the most obvious lie he'd ever told.
He was frighteningly skinny, for starters, stick-thin beneath a black trenchoat that looked like something nicked from a donation bin. His hair was short and tucked up under an equally unattractive cap. He appeared to be shivering, although the flat was certainly warm enough, and he was hunched in his favorite armchair as if he had broken ribs or some other injury. His gaze bored into John, who was steadfastly ignoring him.
"Where did you come from?" Greg asked, still too flummoxed to move from the doorway.
"Zurich," Sherlock said, gaze never wavering from John. "Bruges. Normandy. Ten thousand soldiers in one cemetery, have you ever seen it? I was in San Sebastian. Fell off a sea cliff. The Basques ate all the sharks."
He sounded delirious, or close to it. Greg understood Mrs. Hudson's concern. But as the power returned to him to move his own feet, Greg opted to go to John first. He sat on the sofa and reached for John's hands. His lover made no movement, no sound. His fingers were frighteningly cold.
"Quite a shock, it is," Greg said, voice low. "Hardly what you were expecting for today, is it?"
John didn't respond in any way. Sherlock coughed, loud and wet and hacking, and hunched further toward his knees. A few more degrees of inclination and he'd topple down to the threadbare carpet.
"What can I do?" Mrs. Hudson asked.
Greg had nearly forgotten she was there. He hesitated between several options. He prided himself on staying calm in any emergency but this wasn't a homicide or hostage threat or bombing. It was John, sitting like a statue and locked into himself. It was that arsehole Sherlock Holmes, looking as if he was ready to finally occupy the grave that was apparently filled by some luckless bastard's anonymous corpse, if it were indeed filled at all.
"Sherlock's bed needs sheets," Greg said. "And a pillow. We'll put him in there."
"I'm not staying," Sherlock said weakly.
"You're not going," Greg retorted. "You're sick as a dog."
Sherlock insisted, "I'm perfectly well."
"If you think you can waltz in here and waltz back out again, I've got a pair of handcuffs in my pocket that will prove you wrong. Shut up and follow orders."
Sherlock made a snorting noise and closed his eyes, but didn't argue any further.
Mrs. Hudson made up Sherlock's bed. John and Greg hadn't done anything to his room in all the months he'd been gone -- dead, Greg reminded himself, bloody well faked it, didn't he, made a fool of everyone with his deception and fraud, broke John into pieces without a care. The dresser and bedside table were dusty with disuse. Mrs. Hudson undid her apron and swiped them off with brisk, efficient strokes. It was up to Greg to get Sherlock from the armchair to the bed, a feat made difficult by the fact Sherlock could barely keep his feet under him.
"How did you make it this far?" Greg muttered, one arm wrapped reluctantly around Sherlock's skinny waist. Feverish heat poured off Sherlock's skin. "You should be in hospital."
"Assassins in hospitals," Sherlock responded through hacking coughs. "Poison in the needles."
Greg tried stripping off the trenchcoat, but Sherlock batted his hands away and sank to the mattress like someone desperately exhausted and in need of a week-long sleep. Which, Greg supposed, was exactly the case. Sherlock suffered to be separated from his boots and cap only because Mrs. Hudson did the separating.
"I've never seen you with such short hair," Mrs. Hudson said, tucking a thick brown blanket over him. "You're a whole new man."
Her voice wasn't quite steady. Greg didn't blame her for being shaken. He stared down at Sherlock's huddled form and went back to John, who hadn't moved. Greg crouched down beside him, knees creaking, and tried to make eye contact.
"I know this is difficult," Greg said. "And I know that 'difficult' is a wholly inadequate word for this mess. But he does need medical attention. Won't you have a look?"
No response. Nothing but a vacant stare aimed at the carpet. John's breathing was even, but his hands were still very cold.
Greg pressed a quick dry kiss to his cheek. "Right. I understand."
He wrapped a blanket around John's shoulders and left him on the sofa. Time for the big guns, then. He rang Mycroft. The call went directly to voicemail.
"You need to call me immediately," Greg said without preamble. "It's about Sherlock."
He hung up and counted. Forty-five seconds. Sixty. Seventy-five. Rain sleeted against the windows. The heat was on, stuffy and hissing, but Greg didn't turn it down. His mobile buzzed.
"Mr. Holmes is not available," said the smooth voice of Mycroft's female assistant. Andrea? Anthea. Pretty girl, a bit cold. She continued, "May I help you?"
Greg hesitated. "Is this line secure?"
She sounded amused. "Of course it is."
"Good. Because a dead man's sitting here in need of a doctor, but he won't go to hospital because he thinks it's full of poisons and assassins."
"I see," she said, and didn't sound surprised in the least. Maybe when you worked for Mycroft Holmes you were inured to surprise. "You're at Baker Street?"
"A doctor with a white umbrella will arrive in fifteen minutes."
She hung up without a single question why John couldn't handle the situation. Fourteen minutes later, the bell rang downstairs. A brisk, balding man with a white umbrella and a black medical bag gave Greg a sharp nod. Behind him, a taxicab sped off through the rain and puddles.
"House call," the man said. "I'm Doctor Jones."
Greg let him in. Jones marched right upstairs and deposited his raincoat on the coat stand.
"Don't know what's wrong with him," Greg said. "Fever and maybe his ribs, maybe pneumonia."
"I'll make the diagnosis, thank you," Jones said, and turned to Sherlock's room without needing instructions. If he'd noticed John at all, he gave no indication. His arrival in Sherlock's doorway made Sherlock give a shout of alarm. Sherlock tried to scramble back against the headboard, but the blankets and Mrs. Hudson's hand kept him from getting far.
"Now, then, no need to fret," Mrs. Hudson said. "Just the doctor."
Greg added, "Your brother sent him."
Jones deposited his medical bag on the edge of the bed. "You'll excuse us now, as I consult privately with my patient."
Sherlock eyed Jones with unveiled suspicion. "You're not trustworthy. No one is. The world teems with betrayal."
"Do what you need to, but you're not staying alone with him," Greg said firmly.
Jones raised an eyebrow but then turned, acquiescing, and extracted his stethoscope from his bag.
"Maybe some hot tea for everyone," Greg suggested to Mrs. Hudson.
"Maybe with some whisky in it," she agreed.
Greg watched Jones measure Sherlock's pulse, breathing and blood pressure. Sherlock glowered at him but didn't insult or taunt the man, which Greg supposed was a good sign. Or maybe a bad one. Perhaps Sherlock was terribly ill indeed, or maybe something vital had been stripped out of him all these months he'd been away. Greg was trying very hard to not to think about that. Focus on the present, he told himself. Focus on the immediate problem so that later he could give in to his disbelief and anger, to the simmering disquiet of being tricked and lied to.
He tried not to think about how John must feel—John, haunted all these months by grief and guilt that he hadn't saved his best friend. Only to find out that aforesaid best friend was alive and, if not well, at least not riddled with worms six feet beneath the ground.
The click-click of a phone gave away Anthea's presence in the doorway. She was as pretty as he remembered, yes, in a sleek South Kensington kind of way, dressed efficiently in black with discreet jewelry. He chided himself for not hearing the doorbell. Then again, she wasn't likely to have rung it.
"Where's your boss?" Greg asked.
"Unavailable," she replied, eyes on her screen. "How is Dr. Watson?"
"You saw him. You tell me."
"Saw him where?"
"Bloody hell," Greg said, once he'd pushed past her to the empty living room. There'd been no footsteps on the stairs up to John's room and John's coat was missing. Mrs. Hudson, busy fiddling with the tea in the kitchen, said, "He was just here--"
Greg hurried down to the street but there was nothing, no sign at all, of where John might have gone in his dazed state.
"Pneumonia," Jones announced when Greg returned, wet from a short, fruitless search in the rain. "Both lungs. I recommend hospital--"
"No," Sherlock said.
"--and respiratory treatments--"
"No," Sherlock repeated.
"--a course of steroids--"
"You're dismissed!" Sherlock thundered, or tried to. It was difficult to be loud and forceful when you were busy trying to breathe, Greg supposed.
From the corner, typing more messages, Anthea said, "Medication and equipment are on their way. I believe the tea is ready."
Jones tilted his head and excused himself. Greg was left staring down at Sherlock's huddled form.
"Where's John?" Sherlock asked miserably. "I want John."
"He's gone to the shops," Greg said. "He'll be back soon."
He felt no compunction about lying to Sherlock, not if it kept him from trying to toddle out of bed in fruitless pursuit. Greg could only handle one of them at a time. Under any other circumstances Greg would be inclined to let John have his walk, clear his head a bit, get his bearings back, but he didn't think John was in any condition to be alone. He rang John's phone. It buzzed out in the living room. Bullocks.
Sherlock ground his head restlessly against his pillow. "I want John."
"You can't have him right now," Greg retorted, and by right now he meant never, because Sherlock had left, had faked his death, had vacated John's life forever. Pity that Sherlock's definition of forever didn't match anyone else's…
Greg rubbed his eyes. No. He was not seriously wishing that Sherlock had stayed dead.
But he couldn't deny the fear that his and John's relationship might not survive Sherlock's return.
He touched Anthea on the elbow and beckoned her to follow him to the living room. Jones was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking his tea and chatting with Mrs. Hudson about the weather. Greg said, "Those cameras of yours. Can you put them to good use and figure out where John's gone?"
"I need a computer," she said.
John's laptop was on the coffee table. Greg typed in the password and let her have at it. It took an intolerably long time for her to start bringing up images, one after the other, so quickly he couldn't follow. She was still scanning them when clomping footsteps on the stairs announced the arrival of oxygen tanks and several boxes of medical supplies. Jones got to work installing it all in the bedroom. Sherlock's complaints rang past the open door but Greg didn't pay attention to them.
"He's in the park," Anthea announced. "St. Mary's Gardens. I can send someone."
Greg grabbed his spare coat. "No, I'll go myself."
If she had any objections or suggestions, he left too quickly to hear them. The rain was pelting down harder now, all the cars sloshing along with windshield wipers beating furiously. Greg turned up his collar and wished he'd brought an umbrella. His phone rang and it was Sally Donovan, wondering if he might be coming back to work today.
"John's a bit ill," Greg said, crossing into the park. "I'll have to tend to him."
She knew about their relationship. More or less. Knew that Greg had started kipping on John's sofa in the weeks after Sherlock's death because it was a bit smarter than stumbling drunk back to his own dismal, lonely flat. Later, when Greg had moved in more permanently, everyone understood it was a way for a divorced man and confirmed bachelor to save money. No one but John and Greg knew when commiseration and consolation had turned to something deeper, but the office Christmas party had clearly illuminated the nature of things to all sorts of people.
He almost blushed, remembering the party's embarrassing details, but instead the cold breeze and foul rain made him turn his head down and walk faster.
St. Mary's Gardens were lovely when in bloom, but today they looked shriveled and dead and suitable only for lonely pensioners. It wasn't hard to find John near the brown rose bushes. He was the only person sitting on a bench instead of hurrying toward someplace warm and dry. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets, showing a shred of self-preservation, but the rain had plastered his hair to his skull. His gaze was on the hedges and bushes where flowers would grow if spring ever returned.
Greg slumped down on the bench beside him. Water seeped into the seat of his slacks.
"Good weather for it," he remarked. "Catching pneumonia, that is."
No response. Of course not.
Greg sighed. "We don't have to go back. Not if you don't want to. All those strangers, all that hullabaloo. We can get on a train and go wherever you want. Maybe a plane, instead. Spain's lovely this time of year. I've never been to Portugal."
The rain slanted down sideways. It was absolutely ridiculous to be sitting here, getting progressively more drenched, but if John wanted to sit, they'd sit. Maybe they'd sit long enough that they turned into statues. Or dissolved into rivulets, flooded down through sewers, and went out with the tide of the Thames.
He could hear the distant sound of traffic and sirens, the omnipresent noise of London, but here in the winter garden Greg could pretend that Sherlock Bloody Holmes wasn't lying sick in bed, that John's wounded heart wasn't grieving in an entirely new way, and that there was some bright rainbow at the end of this relentless storm.
"Just for the record, I think I hate him," Greg said, eyes on the shrubbery. "And I feel sorry for him, because wherever he's been, it hasn't been easy. Let's admit that I am intensely curious as to why he felt it necessary to fake his own suicide. But I still hate him, and once he's well I'm going to punch him in the face a few times. You should seriously considering punching him as well."
Something squeezed Greg's arm. John's fingers were stark white but very strong. A soldier's hand, a doctor's hand. John's vacant gaze had been replaced by a bit of awareness and was focused now on Greg's face. Not much emotion there, nothing like what Greg was feeling, but for the first time since this had begun, Greg was sure that John's mind hadn't irrevocably snapped.
"Feeling better?" Greg asked hopefully.
John remained silent. Instead he leaned forward and kissed Greg on the mouth. His lips and breath were cold, but the kiss was firm and did a good job of warming Greg's insides.
He realized they were both shivering, though, and snogging in the freezing rain wasn't going to solve anything.
"Let's go home," Greg suggested.
But still he didn't speak.
End of part 1