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Walking Together

Chapter Text

"It was the mate."

"What?"

"The mate." Sherlock Holmes did not like repeating himself, but it was a necessary evil when one worked with the common masses. He watched the expression of disbelief spreading across Lestrade's face and sighed wearily. "Truly, what it is like to be so slow? Do you find the world just passes you by?"

"Sherlock..." Lestrade put a hand to his head and sighed. The silver ring on his finger flickered in the flashing lights of the police car. "We need more to go on than that."

"Are you telling me that you honestly think the man's soul mate did it?" Anderson cut in, crossing his arms. "It may be hard for someone who doesn't have a mate to understand, but generally there's a bond there, you know. One that doesn't lead to death."

Sherlock shot the man a withering look. "Do keep up, Anderson. The victim’s mate discovered that the victim was cheating on her. She killed him."

"And you know this how?" Anderson sounded sceptical.

"It's obvious. His cell phone is password protected. Why a password if you don't have a need for secrecy?" It took him seconds to enter the correct password and hold up the screen in front of Lestrade's face. "A list of contacts, all women. He's been in the sun recently. If you had bothered to use your eyes, you would have noticed that the sunburn on his chest has an unusual pattern that looks like a chain with a very specifically sized circle on the end." Sherlock swept around the body. "What is small and circular? Wedding ring. He wears his wedding ring around his chest often enough to have the imprint sunburned into his flesh. But you’ll notice that his ring is missing. Who would bother to take something like that? A mate. Even if you don't honour your bond, Anderson, surely even you would know that rings are sacred. Anyone else, including a lover, wouldn't have bothered."

Anderson's mouth hung open. His face had gone slightly pale. "What are you trying to imply?"

"It's not implying if I come right out and say it," Sherlock answered swiftly, rolling his eyes. Honestly. "This case is boring, Lestrade. Text me when you have something more interesting."

He swept away before Lestrade could come up with an answer, striding towards the pavement and hailing a cab with a single raised hand. Donovan sneered at him as he climbed inside but he ignored her. That was the problem with having found a soul mate. It completely blinded people to the possibility that not every bond worked in perfect harmony. There was a small chance that Lestrade might have actually noticed that before he found his own soul mate, but ever since he'd found bliss with Mycroft (Sherlock shuddered at the thought) he'd become increasingly boring.

His cell phone beeped. Sherlock sighed, already knowing who it was, and stared silently out the window. When his phone beeped for a second time, he couldn't resist checking.

Sulking doesn't become you. - MH

It's not too late. - MH

Irritated, he swiftly typed out a response. Even though he was in his early thirties, Sherlock Holmes had not yet met his soul mate. That was rare in a world where most people were mated by their late twenties at the absolute latest. Mycroft had been increasingly insufferable since he and Lestrade had found each other two years ago; he seemed to be convinced that Sherlock's mate was just around the corner.

I'm not interested in finding a mate, Mycroft. I have no desire to be sullied with someone boring. - SH

Your mate is your perfect match. I would so hate to have to tell Mummy that you have stopped searching. - MH

Bloody Mycroft. Sherlock thrust his phone into his pocket and got out of the cab as it pulled up to 221 Baker Street. Soul mates were for those who needed other people, and Sherlock Holmes didn't need anyone.

---

When John Watson was sent home from Afghanistan, he swiftly found out that it was going to be much harder to return to London than he had expected. Though he'd missed the city's thriving ways, he'd nearly forgotten the kind of looks people would give him when they found out that he was not yet mated. It was nearly unheard of, more than enough to garner sympathy from everyone who heard even without the additional information that he was a wounded soldier, and his therapist seemed to think it was one of the main reasons for his limp.

"You need to talk to someone, John," she said patiently. "Someone you trust. Someone who can hear and feel everything without you having to explain."

"As wonderful as it sounds to have a complete lack of privacy, I don't see that happening anytime soon." His voice was harsh, harsher than he would have liked, but he'd had a bad night and she was pressing on his last nerve.

Ella sighed and made a note in her file. “Unfortunately, that concludes our time for today. I'll see you next week."

He nodded and stood up stiffly, eager to leave. He had nowhere to go, but surely anywhere was better than sitting in a room with someone who was trying to read your every thought. Her voice stopped him when he was nearly to the door.

"Don't give up yet, John. Stranger things have happened."

He just shook his head, dismissing her happy attitude with the cold, cruel knowledge of reality. "I'll believe it when I see it."

---

When Sherlock first spotted the man that Mike Stamford had brought in to meet with him, he was... intrigued. Though this man, this soldier, appeared to be utterly ordinary in every way, the way he reacted to Sherlock - or the lack thereof - made him unusual. It was enough to warrant further investigation. He was pleased when John Watson showed up at 221B Baker Street, though he was less pleased when he received a text from Mycroft at the same time.

New friend? - MH

I don't have friends. - SH

"Sherlock!" Mrs Hudson was practically beaming as she looked from Sherlock to John. "Is this...?"

"My new flatmate," Sherlock said. It didn't take deductive skills of his calibre to know what conclusion her mind had leapt to. He pretended not to notice the way her face fell at the word “flatmate” - ridiculous, he always noticed - and led John upstairs to the flat. John looked around slowly, taking things in, and for once Sherlock couldn't tell what someone else was thinking. It was massively frustrating and yet at the same time, it made him want to know what made John tick. Because Sherlock Holmes always knew.

"It could work," John said cautiously, taking a seat in the chair Sherlock rarely used. He looked at home there, like he belonged. Sherlock frowned and pulled his phone out.

"There's an extra bedroom upstairs if you need it." Mrs Hudson was hanging around in the doorway, searching for anything... more... between them.

John shot her a flustered look. "Yes, of course we will."

Her face fell. "Have you touched, then?"

"Yes," Sherlock said. Technically, not a lie. He and John had shaken hands, though Sherlock had been wearing his gloves at the time. He turned his head slightly to the blue and red flashing lights outdoors. "I think we have visitors, Mrs Hudson. Best go let them in."

"Not your housekeeper, dear." Her voice floated behind her as she went downstairs.

John looked at Sherlock. "So you..."

"So I what?"

"You don't, then. Have a soul mate, I mean."

Sherlock's voice was cool. "Supposedly everyone has one. I have no interest in finding mine."

"Right." John frowned slightly and looked down at his hands. He squeezed them shut into fists. Sherlock eyed him, but before he could speak, Lestrade walked into the room, and then there was nothing more but the case.

Chapter Text

John Watson was different and it was driving Sherlock crazy. He sat across from the shorter man, keeping one eye on the world outside the restaurant and one eye on John, who was scanning the menu eagerly. At least in this way John was proving to be just like everyone else, with his need for things like food and rest, and that was comforting. He shifted in his seat and ignored the wink Angelo sent his way when he came to take John's order.

The silence dragged on. Sherlock drummed his fingers on the table. John hadn't tried to touch him yet, and that too, was surprising. Even the people who claimed to hate him, like Donovan, had gone out of their way to brush against him in some way just to see what would happen. Even those who already had soul mates of their own generally couldn't resist. Yet John had kept his distance, as though he understood Sherlock's unspoken desire for no contact.

"So..." John said at last, apparently feeling the need to break the silence. Another way he was normal. Surprisingly, Sherlock didn't find it as annoying as usual. "You don't have a soul mate."

Sherlock gave him a quick look. "I believe we already established that and I do hate repeating myself."

John smiled awkwardly. "So you're bondless... like me."

Sherlock tensed. It wasn't unheard of for the few who never found their soul mates to seek solace in each other. The thought wasn't appealing at all. "John, while I'm flattered, I think you should know I consider myself married to my work..."

"No!" John said hastily, shaking his head. "No, God, it's just - it's refreshing to be with someone who isn't pressing me to be finding my soul mate. That's all I ever hear from just... everyone." He fiddled with his fork, expression darkening. "No one ever stops to think that maybe I don't want to share everything."

Pale blue eyes bordering on stormy grey flicked over the other man, taking in everything. Finally, Sherlock looked away. The deductions were there, at the tip of his tongue, just waiting to spill out into the air between them. But he held them back. Even he could tell that, much as John seemed to like listening to him, John wouldn't have appreciated them at the moment. And when he said nothing, John kept talking.

"I mean, sure it sounds great when you're younger, but I've seen some mates that were destroying each other." The bitterness in his voice told Sherlock that he was referring to his sister and her partner. Sherlock had already known that the split between Harry and Clara was less than amicable, but apparently it was worse than he had expected. Interesting.

"My brother bonded late in his life. He has since become insufferable," Sherlock said. Then he paused, surprised at himself. He rarely spoke of Mycroft to anyone, usually preferring to forget that he existed.

John looked surprised as well. "You have a brother?"

"Unfortunately."

John smiled, hearing the undertones of a younger sibling all too easily. "There's nothing wrong with not having a soul mate," he said. "It's fine."

Sherlock frowned. "I know that."

The waiter appeared, bringing John's meal and a cup of tea for Sherlock. John thanked her and dug into his meal. Sherlock glanced at him occasionally. Once or twice, John rested his arm on the table between them, and he was puzzled by the urge that occasionally went through him, the desire that swept through him to reach out and touch John's hand. He was confident that nothing would happen, but still. He had never actively wanted to touch anyone before. It had always been the other way around.

He looked at John's hand.

His own fingers twitched.

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the cab pulling up outside the building. All thoughts of wanting to touch John fled his mind immediately as he leapt up and threw himself into the case again.

---

The case, as they so often do, came together in a smooth, natural click of triumph. One final piece of the puzzle was the key, although it revealed itself in a different way than normal when the killer showed up on his doorstep. By the time they reached the college, Sherlock had deducted everything he needed to know about the man. Boring, really. Closely bonded soul mates usually died within days or weeks of each other and the death of his soul mate was causing the cabbie's body to fail. Boring, boring, boring.

What was really quite a bit less boring was the single expert gun shot that took the cabbie down when the pill was seconds from Sherlock's mouth. He sat on the back of the emergency vehicle, ignoring the hovering paramedics, fingers steepled, mind racing. The pill had been an interesting way to end the case and possibly his life, but this... this was worth living for.

"Sherlock." Lestrade was standing next to him, eyes wide as he openly scanned the younger man for any signs of damage. He'd become a shade more protective since bonding with Mycroft. It was annoying. "Are you alright?"

"Why don't you ask them?" Sherlock indicated the paramedics with a jerk of his head.

"Because I know you'd lie to them even if you were bleeding all over the place," Lestrade replied, relaxing. His hand made an unconscious twitch in the direction of his pocket and Sherlock's eyes narrowed, knowing that Lestrade was dying to text his brother. He huffed and stood up.

"Go ahead."

"Sherlock..."

"You might as well text him. Though I should tell you he likely already knows all is well," Sherlock muttered.

Lestrade just sighed and folded his arms. "Let's hear it."

Sherlock arched an eyebrow.

"Your deductions, Sherlock. I know that look. You must have something."

His mouth began moving automatically, the information spilling from his lips as fast as possible while his mind leapt ahead. He found himself looking at John and, for once, his mind froze. The words trailed off into an awkward silence. It took Lestrade a full minute to catch up (even after years of practice, he couldn't write as fast as Sherlock could deduce), and when he did, he looked up to find Sherlock staring blankly at his flatmate.

"Sherlock?"

"Nothing," Sherlock said abruptly. "Forget it. There's nothing to go on. I was wrong."

"Nothing?" Lestrade echoed, amazed.

"Don't make me repeat myself, Lestrade, really." He took off without further word, making his way through the crowd towards John.

Lestrade watched him go, watched him walk up to John and stand close. Closer than Sherlock stood to anyone, even Lestrade or Mycroft. A slow smile worked its way across Lestrade's face and he chuckled softly as he tore the page out of his book and crumpled it up. Sherlock and John could deny it all they wanted, but the connection between them was nearly visible, practically tangible, and it was only a matter of time. He pulled out his cell phone and sent a quick text before he went off to scold the crime scene boys.

Think Sherlock has finally found the winner. - GL

--

"What did you do with the gun?" Sherlock asked flatly the second he got to John. Despite his calm appearance, his heart was pounding harder than it had when the pill was inches from his lips. No one had ever killed for him because they wanted to. It was a novel concept. It was... exciting.

John was looking at him carefully, head tilted slightly. "Hidden," he replied, a small smile quirking his lips. "You would've swallowed it. The pill, I mean."

"I would not. Why would you think that?"

"Because you're an idiot."

The lightning fast response made Sherlock smirk. There weren't many people who could get away with calling him an idiot. "Chinese?"

"Sounds good."

Sherlock was vaguely aware of the black car pulling up to the crime scene as he and John walked away and couldn't help noticing that Lestrade walked over to it rather quickly and greeted the man who got out in a way that made him want to gag. He turned away and became entirely focused on John, who was striding along beside him as confidently as though he belonged there.

Sherlock was beginning to wonder if maybe he did.

And starting to worry about what would happen if he didn't.

Chapter Text

The days following the case were the beginning of an awkward dance between Sherlock and John. Neither of them was willing to be the first one to admit that they actually wanted to touch and see what would happen. Several times, Sherlock caught his flatmate watching him, and there may have been a handful of times when he got caught up in watching John (it was so handy not having to sleep at night like normal people). It was easier when John was out of the flat, but then Sherlock was left wondering what was happening. Who John was touching and why he was bothering to touch them when he wouldn't touch Sherlock? It all combined to leave him in a far worse mood than normal, which was saying something.

And then... it happened.

He was playing his violin to distract himself when his cell phone went off. Sherlock grabbed it and felt a thrill when he saw the name. "John!" he shouted, fingers flying over the keys. "John!"

"What?" John stumbled down the stairs, looking sleepy. "What, Sherlock?"

"There's a new case," Sherlock replied, the words tasting good. "Come on."

John sighed but grabbed his coat, following at Sherlock's heels. Sherlock was humming with energy as they got into the cab, and during the drive he was, for once, not obsessing over how close John's hand was to his and how easy it would be to reach out and casually brush against it. His whole mind was focused on the new case, craving for information the way he used to crave drugs.

Lestrade was waiting for them when they arrived. His eyes darted back and forth between them and then he sighed. "This way, then." He stepped up beside Sherlock and caught the younger man's arm. In a lowered tone so that John wouldn't overhear, he said, "Sherlock, you're being ridiculous."

"And you're being annoying," Sherlock said, easily wrenching his arm free. He straightened his coat, flipping up the collar. "John and I are flatmates, nothing more."

"But you want more, and so does John," Lestrade replied. He turned and ducked under the tape before Sherlock could respond, and then the sight of the two dead bodies drove any sarcastic, cutting remark from Sherlock's mind.

He began circling the bodies, muttering under his breath as he absorbed details about them, eyes lingering over the smallest of things that most people would have deemed inconsequential but which meant everything to him. John and Lestrade stood somewhere behind him, watching patiently. And he was aware of that. So aware of it. It took actual work to keep himself from looking over his shoulder to see what John was doing and who he was touching. Most of the time Sherlock could ignore his body's ridiculous demands, but that was proving more difficult than he had expected. Worse yet, it was impeding his ability to solve the case. He couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

"This is ridiculous," he said out loud, standing up.

"What?" Lestrade looked past him to the body and frowned. "Don't tell me you've solved it already. I thought this would be a case that even you would have a bit of trouble with."

Sherlock ignored him and slipped his gloves off. All of his previous concern and fretting had disappeared in the wake of his frustration. He would touch John and nothing would happen and then he would be able to get on with solving the case already, damnit -

John was staring at him with wide eyes. "S-Sherlock?"

It didn't seem to be necessary to respond when it was blatantly obvious to even an idiot what he was going to do. Sherlock reached out, the movement calculated to be just slow enough that John could have pulled away, and touched John's arm. His fingers wrapped around the warm, tanned skin, soft hairs tickling his fingertips, and John took in a sharp breath.

Then...

Oh.

Sparks went off behind his eyes. His mind stuttered to a stop, froze, trembled as new connections were formed. His breath caught in his throat and, although he had always claimed breathing was boring, he was fast discovering new appreciation for how very not boring it was. Someone shouted behind him and then suddenly he was flat on his back, staring blankly up at the sky as a faint throbbing began in his shoulder and leg. A familiar face leaned over him.

"Sherlock! Sherlock, fucking hell, are you alright?" Lestrade asked frantically.

"Stop. Talking," he managed, closing his eyes as a furious headache bloomed right behind his temples. He heard a groan to his right.

Damn that bloody well hurt. What hit me? Oh, it was Sherlock. Of course it was Sherlock. It's always Sherlock.

"It's not always me," he said defensively.

There was a moment of silence and then a pressure tightened around his fingers. John Watson leaned over and looked down at him, face ashen. Sherlock?

And even though his lips didn't move, Sherlock heard his voice as clearly as though he was yelling.

Oh, hell.

---

Lestrade sent them home. Even though he was anxious to get information about the case, he recognized that Sherlock was in no shape to be working. John was able to walk and talk without too much trouble, but Sherlock swayed when he stood, staggered when he tried to move, and could barely force out a few words past the roaring pain in his head. It was even worse when John thought something; the words slipped straight across their connection and slammed into Sherlock's brain with all the force of an arrow.

"Sit down, Sherlock," John said wearily, depositing his friend, flatmate and apparent soul mate into his chair. "I'll get us some pain relievers."

Sherlock just groaned and clutched at his head as another unwanted thought of John's slipped through. Pain relief wouldn't do much good; his body was so used to drugs that it would require far more than a couple of aspirin to have any effect. John must have heard what he was thinking - well, of course he would, Sherlock told himself bitterly - because he returned with something that was definitely not aspirin. Sherlock didn't care. He downed the little blue pills without question and leaned back, closing his eyes. John sank down into the chair opposite him and both of them just sat there for a while.

Gradually, much to Sherlock's amazement, the pain started to recede. It puzzled him at first until he figured out why: he was feeling John's pain as well, and that was the pain that was fading away. His own seemed to be far more manageable in comparison. His mind started working again, puzzling and scanning and deducing and thinking...

"Bloody hell, Sherlock, could you put a lid on it?" John groaned. "I only just got my headache to disappear."

A very small flicker of satisfaction went through him. Finally, someone besides Mycroft and to a lesser extent Lestrade knew what it was like.

John opened an eye and glared. "And stop feeling so smug. What was up with you earlier, anyway? Why did you grab me so suddenly?"

Sherlock wasn't sure how to answer that question. Didn't know how to explain his frustration at not being able to focus on anything else. As it turned out, he didn't need to: his thoughts slid just as easily into John's mind. He saw the blue eyes widen in understanding and scowled, turning his face away. He wasn't sure he liked this.

Sherlock...

I'm going to bed, he retorted, leaping to his feet. He stalked into his bedroom and slammed the door. It did nothing to break the soul connection between them, but it made him feel a bit better anyway. He felt more than heard John sigh and then footsteps on the stairs indicated that John was going to bed.

You know, this is just as odd to me, John said mentally, as clearly as though they were still in the same room. Sherlock jumped and then tried to pretend he hadn't.

Go to sleep, he answered.

Only if you take your own advice. Tinged with amusement.

Sherlock scowled deeper and threw himself down on the bed. He was expecting to be awake for hours, having gathered enough information about the case to think about, but then feelings of sleepiness began washing through him. He yawned and his eyes fluttered closed. By the time he figured out they were coming from John, he was asleep.

Chapter Text

Waking up was a lot more pleasant than falling asleep. It seemed that his brain had gotten a little more used to the new connections while he was resting, and his agonizing headache had lessened to a mild pain by the time he got out of bed. But that didn't make him any happier. Sherlock threw his dressing gown around himself and stalked out of his room, planning to yell at John for using such an underhanded trick to get him into bed before sulking for a while to make sure his point was truly taken. He stopped short, however, when he saw who was sitting in the room with his soul mate and instead groaned audibly.

"Isn't it customary to wait for an invitation before dropping in on the newly bonded?" he demanded.

"Yes, but in your case that invitation would never come," said Mycroft, sipping at a cup of tea.

Why did you give him tea? Sherlock whined mentally, glaring at his brother. Now we'll never get rid of him.

John sighed. Be nice, Sherlock. He and Lestrade were concerned about you.

Mycroft glanced back and forth between them, clearly sensing that a silent conversation was going on. He looked fascinated. Sherlock glared at him harder and threw himself down in his chair, curling up like a little kid. Already it was evident that he and John shared a stronger bond than most soul mates. Some of them couldn't even sense emotions, much less actually speak mentally. Lestrade and Mycroft could talk mentally, but they had to be within a certain distance of each other. It would be an interesting experiment to test how far his and John’s connection could stretch, but that would have to be put aside until later.

I don't want him here, John. My head hurts. He bit his lip. It wasn't entirely a lie. The sunlight pouring in through the window was making his eyes ache, which was setting off a painful, dull throbbing in his temples.

Sherlock... John looked at him carefully and then winced as some of Sherlock's pain began spilling over. "Alright, Mycroft, you can see that Sherlock and I are both fine. If you want to have a social visit, it's going to have to wait for another day. We're both very tired."

Against John's pleasant but firm dismissal, Mycroft had no argument. He'd gotten what he had come for, after all. "I'll be on my way, then. Sherlock, I'd like to speak with you later."

"Piss off," Sherlock muttered into his dressing robe.

He heard Mycroft leave and then John began puttering around. A phantom pain bloomed in Sherlock’s thigh and shoulder and he realized that John's injury and psychosomatic limp must have been acting up. John sighed at the thought and then drew the curtains across the windows, shrouding the room in more comfortable darkness. Moments later, warm hands touched Sherlock's head, rubbing gently at his scalp. It was something John had never done for him and he was surprised at how much it helped, soothing the building tension and forcing his tense muscles to relax.

"I am a doctor, you know," John said, sounding amused. "I know about these kinds of things. Besides, I read that the touch of your... your mate can help with pain." He stuttered ever so slightly in saying the word. "Sherlock, we need to talk about this."

"No, we don't."

"Yes, we do."

"Fine, let's talk about you making me sleep," Sherlock snapped, lifting his head. "Aren't there rules about that kind of thing?"

John's mouth twitched. He kept his hands on Sherlock's head, though the soothing rubbing stopped. Sherlock pouted and couldn't resist tilting his head a little, trying to get John to resume. When a thought from John that he was acting like a kitten slipped into Sherlock's head, he started to pull back, but John cupped the back of his neck to prevent him.

Don't. Don't, Sherlock. You don't need to hide anything from me. This changes nothing. I was always going to stay with you even before this happened. I need you, you great git. It was easier to say those kinds of things mentally than out loud. I know this isn't what you were intending. It'll be hard. I'm sure some days I'm going to want to punch you. But I'm not going anywhere. So don't pull away from me, okay?

I make no promises, Sherlock replied grudgingly, but he allowed the massage to continue.

---

Lestrade called on them the next morning. Neither of them had left the flat the previous day and Sherlock could feel John's apprehensiveness like an annoying itch at the back of his mind as Lestrade took the stairs two at a time. He drew his bow over the top of his violin and didn't bother to turn around as Lestrade appeared in the doorway.

"Good morning, John," Lestrade said. "Sherlock."

"Inspector," John replied. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"No time. Sherlock, there's been another one."

Another one. Interesting. Sherlock twisted, taking Lestrade in calmly. The man's suit was ruffled (he hadn't been home in a while, possibly two to three days). The skin around his ring was agitated from twisting (Mycroft was annoyed). There was mud on the bottom of his trousers (the scene was on the west side of London where it had rained for exactly twenty-two minutes this morning). He was looking anxiously at Sherlock...

"Anderson again?" Sherlock complained. "You know he doesn't work well with me."

Lestrade sighed. "I'm not even going to pretend to know how you know that. Please, Sherlock. I know it's customary to give newly bonded a few days in peace but we desperately need your help with this. This is the fourth body in as many days and I really don't want to wake up to number five tomorrow."

Concern radiated from John as he walked back out of the kitchen balancing three cups of tea. Though he didn't know Lestrade that well, he'd come to the conclusion that the man was a friend of Sherlock's - acquaintance, John - and thus an ally. "You don't have anything to go on?"

"No. Crime Scene's doing what they can, but..." Lestrade accepted the tea with fingers that shook (caffeine and nicotine withdrawal). "Sherlock, will you come?"

"We'll follow," Sherlock said, turning back to the window. There was no need to ask where the scene was. He recognized the colour of the mud smeared on Lestrade's pants, could narrow it down to a fairly specific area, and from there the crime scene would be evident. John's eyes flicked towards him as those rapid-fire thoughts shot through both of their heads and there was a swelling of amazement. Sherlock drew his bow across his violin a touch too harshly.

"Thank you. Oh, and congratulations," Lestrade added with a small smile, downing the too hot tea in one gulp. He grimaced and set the cup down before hurrying out of the apartment.

Have you got anything yet? John inquired, moving to pick up the empty cup.

"No," Sherlock muttered. What little he'd been able to observe of the previous scene had been nearly wiped out in the wake of the agony of new connections forming. Fortunate that it would only ever happen once; it was such an annoyance.

John gave him a fondly exasperated look and shook his head. "If it helps, you're not quite what I had imagined, either."

"Why would that help?"

He chuckled. "Come on, Sherlock. Let's go before Lestrade comes back."

Sherlock frowned but set his violin down as John tossed him his coat. He still wasn't sure how he felt about John being able to hear his every thought or feel what he was feeling. It certainly threw a wrench into his carefully constructed high-functioning sociopath guise. Humanity as a whole tended to believe there was something inherently wrong with those who didn't have soul mates, especially those who had stopped searching. He'd built upon that belief for years, using it to add layers to keep people away. Now it was falling apart and that was... something entirely unexpected.

John was entirely unexpected.

The two of them went down the stairs and past Mrs Hudson's door. John turned to look back and Sherlock knew what was coming before he'd even asked.

"She and her husband were soul mates but the connection between them was very frayed," he said bluntly, raising a hand to summon a cab. "When the man was executed, it caused her some pain but not enough to cause death."

"I figured," John muttered. "I saw a few cases like that in medical school. I always wondered what it meant, that their connections could be so worn." His head rose and their eyes met, and for a moment, the same thought rang between them. What would happen if one of them died?

Sherlock looked away first, unable to deal with the flood of bewildering terror and panic, and climbed into the cab without looking back.

Chapter Text

The crime scene was truly gruesome this time. Whoever or whatever had provoked the killer had sent him or her into a rage, and he or she had torn the victim apart. John's stomach rolled when they walked into the room and he stopped, startled by the amount of gore that had been liberally splashed all over the room. Sherlock proceeded past him, disregarding the blood and assorted body parts in favour of examining the evidence. He knelt over what was left of the body and began scanning it in close detail.

"Sorry," Lestrade said quietly, coming up behind John. "I should have warned you. I'm so used to Sherlock not blinking an eye when it comes to things like this that it never occurred to me that you might need a minute to prepare."

"I've seen worse," John said, which was true. But that had been in a whole different world. It was different seeing someone torn apart in a war zone, or even in the hospital, than it was seeing it in an otherwise ordinary room in one of London's more respectable hotels. "You don't have anything to go on?"

"No one seems to know anything." Lestrade exhaled and his hands dropped to his sides in frustration. "I wanted to give you two some time alone to accept the bond but..."

"It's alright. I don't mind." And he was pretty sure Sherlock didn't, either. From what he'd seen of his flatmate/soul mate, Sherlock went out of his way to avoid acknowledging emotion, much less talking about it. He’d been receiving a constant influx of excitement from Sherlock ever since they’d been called in. "This is more important, and maybe it's for the best. Gives us something to concentrate on instead of agonizing over things endlessly."

Lestrade smiled. "Been there." He wiggled his ring for emphasis. "Was a bit of shock, myself. Though I don't know what bothered me more, being mated to Mycroft Holmes or being mated to Sherlock's brother."

John giggled. He'd had a brief encounter with Mycroft; it hadn't been pleasant.

No encounter with my brother is ever pleasant. Now will you please stop thinking so loud when I’m trying to concentrate?

Sherlock's irate voice bloomed in his mind and he winced. Not so loud yourself! he retorted, turning to glare at Sherlock. The younger man was walking in slow circles around the largest pile of blood and body parts. It was truly fascinating to hear the constant stream of deductions coming from Sherlock's brain. Sherlock leapt from evidence to conclusion so quickly that it was truly amazing.

Sherlock turned to stare at him, eyes wide. John flushed and looked away hastily just in time to see Lestrade smirk knowingly. Fortunately, the inspector didn't mention it and instead pulled out his notebook.

"Alright, let's hear it," he said.

John stepped outside the room as Sherlock launched into what he’d found. Sally Donovan was monitoring the hall, and as soon as he saw her John stiffened. Even though he’d only met her a few times, her attitude towards Sherlock rankled. Certainly Sherlock could be as rude as they came, but Sally and Anderson gave as good as or better than they got with little snippy comments and cold nicknames. He tried to duck back into the room but she spotted him and walked over.

"I heard about what happened," she said.

"About what?" John said politely.

"About you and the Freak. Poor luck on your part." Sally's smile was fake. "Getting stuck to him for eternity. I told you to run when you had the chance."

Never hit a woman. That lesson had been drummed into John from the moment he was young. The army, however, had done an excellent job of beating that out of him, and Sally’s condescending tone had just done the rest. His fist tightened and he was about two seconds away from time in a cell when a hand landed on his shoulder.

Come on, Sherlock's thoughts whispered. We have a lead. Let's go while Lestrade is distracted.

Sherlock, I'm a bit busy.

Sherlock cast a disdainful look at Sally. He didn't need to say or think it; it was written all over his face that he felt that she wasn't worth either of their time. Could be dangerous.

Shit. John sighed and loosened his fingers. Lead on.

---

Technically the lead wasn’t dangerous at all. It involved going around to different pawn shops and searching for a particular bracelet with a very specific design. How, exactly, Sherlock knew that this bracelet had belonged to the victim remained a mystery to John and Sherlock was perfectly aware of that. His brain moved fast, too fast for even him to be able to keep up sometimes, but fortunately John seemed to be content for the moment to just go along for the ride, danger or no.

They found the bracelet at the fourth pawn shop they visited. It was a pretty little thing that consisted of slender links of gold and silver with a small ruby between each link. A larger ruby pendant hung down from the clasp. Valuable and costly, considering that all of the gems were real. Sherlock palmed it and walked straight out the door without looking back.

"Sherlock!" John hissed, tagging along behind him. "You can't just - "

"It didn't belong to them," said Sherlock calmly, ignoring the mental stream of you can't do that it's illegal that was coming from John. He pulled the bracelet out of his pocket and examined it, twisting it this way and that. At last he got his magnifying glass out and began to go over every inch of it closely before making a triumphant sound. "Humans, so sentimental."

"I'll take this opportunity to remind you that you're also human," John said irritably. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Look." Sherlock thrust the bracelet into his face, knowing that the inscription was too small to be seen by the naked eye. "It says M VAUTON."

"A last name." An admiring smile broke out over John's face. They were a step closer to knowing who the victim was.

"More than that, I now know exactly what's going on," Sherlock replied smugly.

John raised an eyebrow. "You do?"

"Yes." He didn't bother to offer any more details; his brain had already leapt ahead and was best deciding how they would capture the killer.

Nothing too dangerous, okay? John told him, speaking silently due to the large crowd around them. The words chimed in Sherlock's mind clearly. I don't relish having to shoot someone to save your life again.

I never asked you to in the first place.

No, but you wouldn't be here if I hadn't. It was spoken with a certain amount of...

Sherlock stopped and turned, staring at John in surprise. The emotions coming off of John were an odd mixture of depression, worry, and fear, all combined into one roiling mass that made Sherlock feel a little sick to his stomach. It had been so long since anyone felt that way towards him that he didn't know how to respond. Was it just because John was worried about his limp returning? Or because he was concerned that the death of his mate would end poorly on his side? Yes, that must be it.

I hardly think the bond is developed enough for you to die if I weren't, he said.

John sighed and rolled his eyes. That's not the point, Sherlock. It's... no, you know what, forget it. He shook his head and stepped past his clueless flatmate.

Sherlock watched him go, feeling more confused than ever, feeling like he'd missed something. Something important.

Chapter Text

The case ended in a way that was even less than dangerous. Sherlock handed the bracelet over to Lestrade, rattled off a string of deductions that left the poor inspector blinking, and then strode out of the office without looking back. It left John with a distinctly unfulfilled feeling as he and Sherlock went home that night. Something didn't seem quite right between them, but Sherlock's face was so closed off that he didn't know how to begin.

He went to bed feeling discomfited and spent a restless night, eventually waking up feeling just as tired as he had the night before. He came downstairs to find Sherlock playing his violin and rubbed his head with a sigh. "You didn't sleep at all, did you?"

"Sleep is boring," Sherlock replied shortly. His mind was a constant low buzz in the back of John's mind, moving so fast that it would have taken his full concentration to pick something concrete out.

John looked at him thoughtfully. "I could make you sleep, you know," he pointed out. "You're making me tired just feeling the fatigue rolling off of you."

The bow screeched. "Try it and you'll regret it." Sherlock's voice had dropped and sounded like ice. John was unperturbed.

"I will unless you start treating yourself better," he muttered, wandering into the kitchen. They were out of almost anything edible, he noted, searching the cupboards aimlessly. Someone like Sherlock could easily abuse the bond if he began pushing his exhaustion or hunger onto John, letting John do the sleeping and eating for both of them. He would have to be careful of that.

"I can hear you," Sherlock called.

"Good for you!" John slammed the cupboard door, realizing that there was nothing for it. He'd have to go shopping if he wanted to eat. "I thought you crashed at the end of a case."

"New case. The Jaria Diamond."

The name was only vaguely familiar but John wasn't interested in hearing more details. "I'm going to the shop," he said. "Want anything?"

"Cigarettes."

"Right." Like that's going to happen.

Why ask if you're just going to say no?

John rolled his eyes in reply and headed back upstairs to get dressed. When he came down again, Sherlock was sitting in the chair flipping through a book. He didn't look up and John just shook his head at him before leaving.

The walk to Tesco's made him feel a little better, a little more awake. He entered the store and began grabbing the basics, easy things that wouldn't take much time or effort to make, and joined the end of the queue. As he was getting his wallet out, he felt a flood of shockpanicpaingrimdetermination flooding through the bond that made him gasp. The basket slipped from his fingers and hit the floor.

Sherlock! he cried out silently, without thinking. It was useless, he knew. He was too far away, could only feel the fact that Sherlock was in danger, and Sherlock wouldn't have even heard him speak.

But -

John! Sherlock's voice reverberated through his mind.

John froze in shock. Sherlock -

Not now. Don't just stand there. We have a small... well, large intruder in the flat and he has a sword.

A man with a sword. In the flat. With Sherlock.

Groceries forgotten, John sprinted out of Tesco's.

---

Sherlock was sitting in his chair by the time John made it back. He looked up calmly and flipped a page, eyes flicking over John. "You could've taken the time to get groceries," he remarked. "Turns out it wasn't all that."

John stopped in the doorway and stared at him with narrowed eyes. "I can feel what you're feeling, Sherlock," he reminded tersely.

Damn. Sherlock scowled and closed his book, realizing that his pretence of calm was pointless. His blood was humming with adrenaline. He felt wired from the fight. "Mycroft's men came and collected him," he said, nonchalantly nudging a sword out of sight, under his chair. John’s scowl grew deeper. "I've lost interest in the Jaria Diamond so it's not a big deal."

"Someone tried to attack you, Sherlock, that will always be a big deal," John replied with a shake of his head. He could feel a phantom throbbing in the knuckles of his hand, a pain that wasn't truly his. He crossed the room and took hold of Sherlock's wrist. Sherlock stiffened but allowed him to examine the bruising and small cuts that had opened up on his knuckles. John clicked his tongue and sighed. "Judging by the size of that sword, I suppose I should be glad you're still alive," he commented.

Sherlock looked away. "I was perfectly fine," he said defensively. They hadn't yet discussed about their odd conversation;. John didn't seem to want to bring it up and Sherlock certainly wasn't going to be the one who called attention to it. "You can go back to getting the shopping."

John's eyes softened slightly. "You're such a git," he said, and there was so much affection in his voice that Sherlock stared at him. "Honestly, Sherlock, I wonder about you sometimes."

He wasn't sure how to respond to that so he settled for saying nothing at all. Sherlock wandered over to the desk as John left again and picked up John's laptop. It took him less than a minute to crack the password and this time he didn't even need to listen to John to do it. The surge of adrenaline buzzing through him died a swift death as he opened up his e-mail and saw what was waiting for him. A cold chill ran up his spine and he read it once, twice, three times, even though he had it memorized the first time.

"Sherlock?" John had felt the abrupt change. He could only liken it to a sudden storm during a fine summer day and it was enough to make him backtrack, taking the stairs two at a time. "What's - hey, is that my laptop?"

Sherlock ignored him. His heart was racing. "I need to go to the bank."

---

There would be times, in the future, that John would regret not taking the opportunity to punch Sebastian Wilkes right in his smug face.

From the moment they entered the bank, Sherlock was noticeably tense. He looked around, eyes scanning everything, and he seemed perfectly normal... Well, as normal as Sherlock could get. But it was the small things that alerted John to the fact that there was something a bit not good. The tenseness of Sherlock's jaw. The way he stiffened when someone came too close. His hand, which was plucking absently at the second button on his coat. Even his mind, which was a normal quiet and constant buzz that John was still having a hard time getting used to, was suspiciously still.

"Right in here," said a young woman, gesturing into an office.

"Where, exactly, are we?" John asked quietly, glancing around. The office didn't offer many clues, though he was certain that Sherlock could have deduced where they were from far less. "What's going on?"

Sherlock didn't respond.

The door opened behind them and a man walked in. "Sherlock Holmes!"

"Sebastian," Sherlock said tersely.

“Sebastian” stepped into the room and John disliked him immediately. He had a large, phony smile and he gripped Sherlock's hand hard, placing his other hand on Sherlock's wrist in a possessive manner. He kept them there for a moment, looking deeply into Sherlock's eyes.

"How long has it been?" he said.

John felt the faintest figure of discomfort from Sherlock. He shifted and Sherlock glanced at him, pulling his hand away from Sebastian.

"This is my friend, John Watson."

"Friend?"

"Soul mate," John corrected. The words slipped out before he could stop himself. He and Sherlock hadn't really discussed whether or not they would be telling people outside of those who already knew, like Lestrade and Mycroft. Really, Sherlock probably would have preferred that they kept it quiet. He knew that.

And yet.

There was something about Sebastian Wilkes, perhaps the way his mouth had curved up into an amused little smile when Sherlock said "friend”, which irritated him. He had the feeling that had he let the "friend" comment stand, Sebastian would've mocked Sherlock, or possibly both of them, for it. And then John really would have had to punch him and that would’ve probably ended badly. It was better all around that Sebastian knew where they stood.

"Soul mate?" Sebastian's jaw dropped and he looked staggered. "You? Really?"

"Yes," John said, sticking a hand out. Sebastian's grip was as tight as he'd been expecting but John gave as good as he got and was gratified by the subtle wince of pain that flashed across Sebastian's face.

"How about that?" He looked back and forth between John and Sherlock as he pulled his hand back. "We were at Uni together." He clapped Sherlock on the shoulder. "I never thought Sherlock would find his soul mate. Didn't think such a thing existed as a perfect match for this guy."

"Well, I do." John kept his smile in place. If Sebastian didn't stop touching Sherlock, he wasn't going to be held responsible for his actions.

Sherlock glanced at him and his eyebrows furrowed. "I understand you have a case," he said.

"Yes, yes. A little break-in." Sebastian finally backed off and sat down behind his desk. "Grab a pew." He continued to stare at John in fascination. "So what's it like? Being Sherlock's soul mate."

John stared back at him, wondering what he was supposed to say. "It's fine."

"Just fine. Trouble in paradise already, eh, Sherlock?" He laughed and it didn't take someone with Sherlock's observational skills to hear the mocking in his voice. John tensed, his hand clenching into a fist.

Don't, John.

But Sherlock -

"Tell me about the case," Sherlock said again and this time, Sebastian took the hint.

Chapter Text

Sarah was pretty, in a classical sort of way. She had long, dark hair bound up into a ponytail and a warm smile. John folded his hands on his knee and found himself smiling back. He'd been initially nervous about coming to the interview; Sherlock hadn't been pleased that he was looking for a job, period, though he hadn't said as much. It hadn't been necessary. The low thrum of what could only be described as sulkiness rolling off Sherlock as John left had said it all.

"Well, I'll be looking forward to having some extra help around the place," Sarah said finally, setting John's resume down on her desk. "You're sure you won't be bored?"

Bored? John had nearly forgotten what that state of existence was like unless it was in relation to Sherlock Holmes in one of his dark moods. Slowly but surely, Sherlock had seeped into every area of his life until that word had lost all meaning to him. "Like I said, sometimes a bit of the mundane is necessary."

She chuckled. "Well, we might have to find you a bit of excitement around here," she teased.

"I'd like that."

Their eyes met and John felt warm. It was... nice, being in the company of a pretty woman. He hadn't dated anyone for a long time, not since he had returned home. Part of it was that he hadn't been able to imagine that any woman would want him, a crippled solider who was useless to everyone. But another, quite larger, part of it was Sherlock. He was rapidly realizing that he needed a life that was separate from the man. Just because they were soul mates didn't mean anything. Plenty of soul mates were purely platonic and Sherlock had made it clear that's all he wanted. Not that John wanted anything more, no of course not, but -

Sarah shifted a couple of folders on her desk and cleared her throat. John looked up, startled, feeling like a child with a hand in the biscuit jar. And then, like she had been the one granted the ability to read John's thoughts, she glanced up at him and said awkwardly, "I realize this sounds a bit invasive on my part, but I do have to ask... have you found your soul mate, John?"

He tensed a little. "Yes. But we're just... friends. That's all."

She smiled again. "Yes, well, that's neither... here nor there, though I’m pleased to hear it. I have to ask for code regulations. All soul mates possess some form of a telepathic bond..." She trailed off meaningfully and raised an eyebrow.

"Oh!" He hadn't considered that. He really hadn't considered that at all. It was true that most soul links were fairly weak. Couldn't speak to each other unless they were in the same room, possibly the same building if they were lucky. John squirmed, remembering the unusual incident as Tesco's, and let out his breath out in a long sigh. He could feel Sherlock in the back of his mind even now, could listen to the man's muttered thoughts about the cipher if he so desired. Despite the distance, Sherlock was coming across as clear as a bell. If they both focused on each other it would be an easy thing to talk. Technically, that meant he was a liability. Sherlock could hear anything about anyone.

He should stand up, explain, and then walk out. But if he did that... what good was he, except as a doctor? Besides being a soldier and the assistant to mad consulting detectives, it was the only thing he knew how to do. There was no chance of being called back to duty, and fortunately the world only had one mad consulting detective. No, he needed this job, desperately. He would just have to explain to Sherlock that he wasn't allowed to listen while John was at work.

A small, wry smile broke out over his lips. Like that would happen. Still, he met Sarah's eyes squarely. "It's not an issue," he lied.

Sarah looked pleased. "Excellent. Then you'll be able to start tomorrow."

"I look forward to it," he replied, rising. He shook her hand - her fingers were small, delicate, but firm - and then made his way out of the building. He kept his eyes on the pavement as he began the walk back to the flat, his mind spinning. Somehow, he would have to make this work. Somehow.

---

To say that John was less than pleased when Sherlock used the advantage of his height to haul himself through the window of the flat without John was an understatement. Sherlock did his best to ignore the loud huffing reverberating through his mind as he automatically caught the vase that he had knocked over. He cocked his head and examined the floor, noting the wet spot.

So you're just going to ignore me, then? John demanded.

I'm busy, Sherlock snapped. Do be quiet, you're distracting me. Opening the front door would waste precious time, didn't John understand that? He moved forward on light feet, missing nothing, opening the washer door, sniffing at the milk. It was difficult to block out John, who was having a rant down in the street about Sherlock leaving him behind, and he would later put the blame squarely on that for his not realizing that he wasn't alone in the flat until the cloth was being slipped around his throat.

Because really, Sherlock, between the ASBO and this -

John!

Fear and panic flooded through Sherlock as he uselessly dug his fingers into the cloth, trying to drag it free. His assailant was standing in such a way that Sherlock's attempts to strike at him missed and that meant the cloth was tightening ever so slowly, squeezing every last bit of air from his lungs. His chest burned with agony and he gasped for breath, legs and arms going limp, no longer responding to his commands.

Sherlock! Bloody hell... what's going on up there?

Help me... Sherlock managed, his vision growing dark and hazy. It was getting difficult to think. He could hear, from a distance, that John was pounding on the door and shouting. His assailant must have heard it too because all of a sudden the horrific pressure on his throat eased. Sherlock squinted past the dancing black spots, straining to catch sight of the man, but all he saw was a black shadow darting out the window.

Sherlock! Sherlock, open the door. Do I need to break a window? John was becoming increasingly frantic. It was making Sherlock feel ill. He decided against going after his assailant and instead staggered over to the door, unlocking and pulling it open with a quick turn of his wrist. The world was still blurry.

"Sherlock!" John burst out, eyes wide with alarm. "What happened?"

"We... We need to find the person who lives here," Sherlock gasped out, turning to look at the label. Soo Lin Yao. He glanced down, groping for the envelope that had been pushed through her mail slot. "We need..."

"No, you need to tell me what happened," John said firmly. He put a hand on Sherlock's chest and pushed him back into the flat. Sherlock allowed it, too disoriented to fight back, and found himself sitting on the sofa with John leaning over him.

This isn't necessary.

"I'll decide what's necessary. You can hardly speak, Sherlock. Here, chin up." Gentle fingers forced his chin up, bearing his throat, and John hissed softly when he saw the vivid red marks that had been painted across Sherlock's pale skin. It was evident that the marks would develop into bruising before long. He kept his touch as light as possible as he searched for anything that had been seriously damaged. Sherlock still flinched and he paused. "Sorry, did that hurt?"

No, Sherlock lied. Yes, actually, it had. His whole neck was one solid throb but he wasn't about to admit it, even though it would be blatantly obvious to John, who was likely experiencing some of the residual pain. Can we go now?

John sighed. "I don't think you've broken anything. Bloody lucky sod that you are." He kept his hand on Sherlock's throat, feeling the tender skin. Their eyes met and Sherlock blinked, swallowing hard. "You've got to stop doing things on your own, Sherlock. One of these times it's going to end with your death."

He added, And out of all the ways for you to die, I don't want it to be with me standing on the other side of the door, helpless to do anything about it. If it hadn't been for our bond I wouldn't have even known you were in trouble. God knows what would have happened.

Sherlock looked away, discomfited. He was used to people trying to guilt him. He wasn't used to it working. Can we go?

"Yes, alright, we can go. But I'm going to look at your neck again tonight, and only if you agree to follow whatever I prescribe."

Fine. Sherlock stood up and swept out of the room. Unconsciously, he tugged at his scarf, loosening the fabric's grip on his throat. He didn't want anything too close, not when his skin still tingled with the memory of John's touch.

Chapter Text

Except that night, instead of inspecting his flatmate/soul mate's throat for signs of long-term damage and then prescribing heat, ice, paracetamol, warm broth, and sleep (though knowing Sherlock, not necessarily in that order), John found himself following Sherlock and Raz down underneath the Hayward gallery. Raz showed them the symbols that he’d found and immediately Sherlock's mind was whirling, trying to figure out what it meant, struggling to solve the puzzle without all of the necessary pieces. John just looked at them blankly, knowing that he would be of no help; the symbols were an entirely different language and if Sherlock couldn't figure it out, he certainly had no hope.

Still, at least he could help search for more of them. They would cover more ground if they separated, so Sherlock went one way and John went another. Several homeless people gave him suspicious looks as he walked by and he tried not to look too conspicuous. Sherlock would have an easier time of getting around them, being that most of them were in his employ, but they didn't know John and thus he was regarded as a stranger invading their territory. He was very aware of his wallet, which was in his back pocket, and how easy it would be to lift it, but he tried to ignore the feeling of being closely monitored and kept his phone firmly out in front of him, using the light to guide his way and help him search.

And even then, he nearly missed it.

"Oh, bloody hell..." he breathed softly, staring up at the hastily painted symbols that covered a large portion of the wall in front of him. They would surely mean something to Sherlock, but if he hadn't known what they were for he would've walked straight by without giving them any consideration whatsoever. This gang, whoever they were, were smarter than they seemed. Instinctively, he held up his phone. Fortunately Harry was more into electronics than he was, and her old phone still had an excellent camera. John snapped off several shots, making sure that he got at least two copies of each one. There was no doubt in his mind that he'd never hear the end of it if Sherlock didn't get the chance to see them.

Sherlock! he called out mentally, reaching across the distance as he closed the camera feature on his phone. Sherlock must have been further away than he'd thought; Sherlock's mind was a quiet, though active, hive of activity that was much more subdued than usual, but it was shoved to the back when Sherlock heard his voice.

John, you've found something? he responded eagerly.

I went south, said John. He could've added more detail but he it wasn't necessary; Sherlock was already moving in his direction. A constant thrum of excitement began to vibrate down their bond and John shifted, smiling in spite of himself. He liked it when he was able to help Sherlock on cases, when he felt as though he was doing something important that was of value to the detective.

Stay there, Sherlock instructed, like John was going to go for a walk by the river. Make sure that nothing happens to the symbols. I'll be there in about ten minutes.

I'm here and not moving. He linked his hands behind his back, waiting patiently. Something moved behind him - an odd sound, like cloth being dragged along old, rusted metal. John started to turn, his hand tightening on his phone, and the blow caught him on the side of the head. He staggered, stunned, and saw a blurry shape standing right in front of him. Sherlock!

A second blow brought him to his knees and his phone hit the ground beside him. Though he could tell that Sherlock was trying to talk to him, mental voice jagged and sharp from fear, none of the words were coming through and John couldn't remember how to speak back. His eyes fluttered shut and he collapsed forward, landing hard on his belly. He was vaguely aware of something being set down on his hand, and then someone stepped over him and started walking towards the wall. He wanted to open his eyes to see what was going on - planned on doing just that - but it never happened.

----

Sherlock was running. His heart was pounding, legs aching, chest burning from a lack of air, but all of that was inconsequential. He knew what it felt like when John was sleeping: the man became a muted sort of hum in the back of his head and the feelings he gave off were generally that of sleepiness or fatigue unless he was dreaming or having a nightmare. But he'd never felt like this before. John's presence had completely disappeared. Even when Sherlock tried to reach out to him it was like running into a smooth glass wall that caused all attempts to break through to rebound. The backlash was giving him a headache but he couldn't make himself stop trying.

He rounded the corner sharply and came to a stop when he saw John, who was lying at the base of the wall along the tracks. Sherlock fought his instinctive urge to rush over to him and instead scanned their surroundings, making sure that they were alone. He'd already had one encounter with the assassin and he had no desire for another. But everything seemed normal, and try as he might he couldn't make anything or anyone out. He walked quickly over to John and dropped down into a crouch beside him. John was breathing, thank god, he noticed instantly. His chest was moving up and down with reassuring frequency.

But his colour was awful, nearly as pale as Sherlock was naturally instead of the faded tan John usually was, and there was blood running down the side of his head. Some of it had already dried and was an ugly shade of rust, but some was the brighter colour that indicated it was fresh. Sherlock touched the wound gingerly and was relieved to discover that it wasn't as deep as it looked. There was a gash and it might require stitches, but John would probably be alright, though he'd have a nasty concussion. He sat back on his heels and heaved a deep sigh as the adrenaline rush began to leave his body.

And that's when he noticed the tiny, perfectly folded black orchid that had been left on John's right hand.

Chapter Text

“Oh Sherlock!” Mrs Hudson stared in open dismay at her boys. She’d been summoned from watching her programmes by a knock on the door. Usually a knock after dark meant someone looking for Sherlock and she’d opened the door a touch more harshly than usual as a result; she certainly wasn’t expecting to find Sherlock himself standing on the step holding an unconscious John in his arms. “What have you done to poor John?”

“Nothing, Mrs Hudson, he’ll be fine,” Sherlock said wearily. John was proving to be heavier and more awkward to carry than he’d thought and he was getting tired. He stepped forward and Mrs Hudson moved out of the way automatically. After a moment, she went up the stairs ahead of him and opened the door to 221b. He followed, moving past her in order to set John down on the sofa gently. Mrs Hudson fluttered behind him, wringing her hands when she caught sight of the blood that had soaked into John’s jumper.

“Shall I call someone?” she asked worriedly.

“No, I’ll take care of it.” He herded her towards the door and closed it behind her with a resounding slam. The night had been a dismal failure as far as he was concerned. There had been no sign of the cipher that John had spotted; by the time Sherlock got there, it was gone. John was injured and might be out of commission for a few days depending on how badly he’d been hurt. Sherlock ground his teeth together, frustrated beyond belief as he removed his coat and scarf almost automatically. When he got his hands on that assassin…

A faint stirring in the back of his mind made him turn. John had shifted into a more comfortable position before falling back into what seemed to be a more natural sleep, judging by his renewed presence in Sherlock’s mind. The barrier was still there, but thinner, more malleable, and with it came the phantom pain on the side of his head; all of the pain with none of the wound. Grimacing, Sherlock went into the kitchen and fetched John’s first aid kit and a bowl of water, plus a relatively clean cloth. He returned to John and carefully set about cleaning the blood off of John’s face and hair. His jumper could be burned (John needed new clothing, anyway).

The gash was about three inches long and had stopped bleeding. He gently rubbed ointment over it and then placed a series of butterfly bandages along the length of the cut before adding a patch of gauze overtop. John could decide if it required stitches; he doubted that the man would be very happy if he woke up to find that Sherlock had been putting needles in his flesh while he was unconscious. That sounded like the sort of thing that would be termed a bit not good.

His task complete, he sat down on the ground, back supported by the sofa, and stared off into space. They didn’t have the symbols and as a result were still operating blind. Hopefully the gang would put them somewhere else, but that could take days. Knowing that he had been so close chafed; after all, he had an entirely new reason to want to catch up to them as soon as possible. It was one thing to attack Sherlock but it was quite another to attack John. He slipped a hand into the pocket of his trousers and pulled out the little black orchid, tracing the delicately folded paper with his finger, knowing that it had been meant as a warning.

And... God. They could’ve killed John so easily and he wouldn’t have been able to have done a thing. For all of the bond that existed between them, it was useless, just torture, to know when someone was being attacked but being too far away to do anything. Bemused, he took the orchid in hand and began pulling it apart, committing the art of how it had been folded to memory, something he’d gladly delete as soon as the case was over. Was this strange sensation of unease why John had looked at him so strangely that morning outside of the pawn shop?

“Sherlock.”

“John!” His head whipped around. “You’re awake!”

John looked tired but amused. “Good observation,” he said, dropping his voice just enough to make it a hair friendlier than outright mocking. “I don’t know how anyone could sleep through that mind of yours.”

“Did I wake you?” Sherlock frowned uncertainly. Maybe he should have stopped thinking when he felt John slip into true sleep, but how exactly was he supposed to do that? His mind never shut itself down unless he was truly exhausted, and Sherlock was pretty sure he had at least a couple more days in him before that happened.

“It’s alright,” John said, smiling slightly. He reached up and touched the side of his head. Even as he winced, an expression of surprise flashed over his face. “Did you... patch me up?”

“It was nothing,” said Sherlock. John was sitting back so it was difficult for him to tell but he thought that John’s eyes might be dilated. One of the signs of a concussion. Other symptoms included blurred vision, dizziness, headache, ringing in the ears –

“Bloody hell, the only thing ringing in my ears is you.” John pushed himself into a seated position, swaying only slightly. “Did you see them, Sherlock? The symbols?”

“No. The wall was painted over.”

“Damn.” John shook his head and reached for his pocket. “Where’s my phone?”

Sherlock blinked at him and then looked around. He had no memory of grabbing John’s phone, but when he got up and checked his coat pockets, he found it. “I must have picked it up without realizing. Here.” He tossed the phone to John and was pleased when the other man caught it with no problem.

John opened it up and scrawled through. His face lit up. “Excellent. Now, I’ll make you a deal.”

“A deal?” Sherlock echoed, glancing at the phone. Normally he would’ve already known what was on it, but the residual pain seeping through their bond was making him feel a little nauseous. He was doing his best not to listen to John.

“You sleep for a few hours and I’ll show you the photos I took of the symbols.”

“You... took photos?” Sherlock’s eyes widened.

“That’s right. Whoever hit me must have only just come up behind me. He wasn’t waiting for me to show up or he would’ve seen me taking pictures and probably destroyed my phone.” John smiled smugly. “That’s my deal, Sherlock.”

Realistically, John would’ve shown the pictures to him either way, eventually: people’s lives were at stake and John had never been one to risk unnecessary danger. But he could – and would – be stubborn about it. Sherlock sighed as though he was being put upon and crossed the room, intending to go into his bedroom. Then he could bide his time with his laptop, waiting until John fell asleep before sneaking back out to take the phone. Simple.

“Nice try,” John said behind him. “Get over here.”

“I do not like this bond,” Sherlock muttered sulkily, returning to the sofa. He sat down and was startled when John’s hand came around his shoulders, pulling him down into a horizontal position with Sherlock’s head on John’s lap. The reason was immediately evident: John’s hands began probing at his neck again. Sherlock sighed impatiently. “I’m fine.”

“Let me be the judge of that, thank you.” Satisfied, John sat back. “You can have the phone after you sleep. Just three or four hours.”

“Two.”

“I’m not negotiating, Sherlock.”

Sherlock pouted and shifted onto his side, back facing John. He heard John sigh and closed his eyes, purposely allowing his mind to wander, not thinking about how his plan still stood (John would be out in less than ten minutes). Somewhere, though, in between remembering what colour tie Lestrade wore on the last case and contemplating how it related to the state of his marriage, he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

By the time John woke up, there was late afternoon light spilling in through the curtains. His phone was gone and so was Sherlock, unsurprisingly. He sat up gingerly, mindful of his head, and stretched. At some point during the time he’d been asleep, likely not long after Sherlock had woken up and taken off, he had shifted into a vertical position that left him with a painful kink in his neck. He sighed and stood up, deciding that a shower was in order before Sherlock got home and they were thrust right back into the heat of the chase.

It turned out to be a good decision. It meant he was in a fairly calm state of mind when Sherlock arrived a couple of hours later and the first words out of his mouth were, “I have to hide out in the museum tonight to speak to Soo Lin Yao before the assassin catches up to her.”

John blinked and stared down at the kettle as the threatening ache right behind his eyes promptly blossomed into a full on headache. It was going to be one of those nights, he could tell. He maintained his silence until the tea was ready and he’d prepared two sandwiches, one of which Sherlock was going to eat even if John had to force it down his throat. He carried the two cups and two plates over to where Sherlock was pouring over photographs of the ciphers.

“By you I assume you mean we,” he said.

Sherlock tried to wave the food away. John ignored him and pointedly slammed it down on a free, uncluttered part of the desk, along with a Look that didn’t need the accompanying thought of eat it or so help me, Sherlock, I swear to get his message across. John’s stomach was rumbling painfully, had been since he’d woken up, but he knew that it wasn’t all him. It had been a while since Sherlock had last eaten and John had no intention of suffering the consequences.

“No, I meant me,” Sherlock said, pouting and daintily picking up his cup of tea while ignoring the sandwich altogether.

“You’re not going by yourself.”

“You’re not at full capacity.”

“Neither are you,” John pointed out, unable to resist rubbing his own throat for emphasis. The pain was almost like an itch that lay in a low band around his neck, exactly where he could see darkened bruise marks around Sherlock’s. “It’s either both of us or neither of us, Sherlock, take your pick.”

Roughly four hours later, as he watched Sherlock dart out of Soo Lin’s office and go sprinting in the direction of a serial killer, John was beginning to wish he’d steered Sherlock towards the latter as opposed to the former. Soo Lin was making tiny gasping sounds under her breath and shaking from head to toe. John grimaced and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders, straining his ears for any hint of what might be going on. The silence of the museum pressed heavily against his ears.

Sherlock? Even though it made his head ache, he couldn’t resist reaching out mentally to make sure that the other man was alright.

I’m fine. Stay with Soo Lin, Sherlock ordered. She’s our best chance at figuring this out, John.

The sound of gunshots made John tense. Remaining still was, quite possibly, the most difficult thing he’d ever done. Every beat of his body screamed at him to find Sherlock, to make sure that he was safe, and it was impossibly hard to just sit there and listen. Only the constant stream of I’m fine, John, I’m fine flowing through his mind, interspersed with the occasional burst of annoyance or adrenaline as Sherlock was shot at and dodged again, was enough to make him stay where he was.

A rustling sound made him tense instinctively until he saw the source. Soo Lin was bent over her desk, flipping frantically through a book. Noticing she’d caught John’s attention, she grimaced. “I thought I would help your friend,” she said, “by translating the cipher.”

“Good on,” John said, cupping a hand over his pounding temple. Listening so hard to Sherlock was making the headache a hundred times worse, and the rhythmic beating of the drum in the distance wasn’t helping. But, oh, the cool breeze was nice.

It took him a moment to understand that there wasn’t supposed to be a breeze.

Soo Lin’s terrified whimper helped.

John launched himself up. Sherlock, he’s in here! he yelled, taking a swing at the man. The pain from his headache made him slow and with a fluid grace, the man dodged John’s blow and came up high with an uppercut to the gut. John doubled over with a hollow gasp and felt something hard connect with the side of his head. Then there was nothing.

Chapter Text

Sherlock had had doubts about whether John should come to the museum from the beginning. The pain in his own head had been bad but easily ignorable. John, however, had swayed almost imperceptibly where he stood, and his colouring had been a bit not good. Still, John insisted and Sherlock had given in.

He regretted that now.

“Look,” Dimmock said wearily, regarding him cautiously over his desk. It was piled high with papers. Normally Sherlock would’ve been nosing through them but tonight he hardly cared. “I know you say your flatmate and this young woman have been kidnapped, but we didn’t find any proof of that at the museum, Sherlock. We’re a bit busy with this case right now. How do you know they didn’t just… go off?” He made a limp gesture with his hand. Sherlock had to fight the urge to break it.

“Because they were kidnapped,” he growled, narrowing his eyes into slits. Dimmock swallowed hard. “The Black Lotus gang is trying to warn me off the case by taking John.” He had never in his life wanted to see Lestrade as much as he did at that moment. Lestrade would have taken his word for it, would have known that Sherlock wouldn’t – couldn’t – be wrong about something as important as John. Dimmock, on the other hand, was wasting time.

“Can you prove any of this? Any of it?” Dimmock asked.

“As a matter of fact, I can.”

Dimmock considered him for a long moment and glanced down at the paperwork on his desk. He sighed. “Lead on, then.”

Sherlock swept out of the room, inwardly incensed at having to lead Dimmock around in circles before getting his access to the books. Every minute that went by was another minute that left John in the hands of the Black Lotus gang, and every time Sherlock closed his eyes, he could see it: that lurid yellow cipher scrawled across the floor of Soo Lin’s office, right next to a pile of John’s blood. It made his heart pound uncomfortably fast to think about that or the lack of John in the back of his mind, and he had to force himself to concentrate. He would find John in time.

There was no other option.

---

This was intolerable.

Sherlock sat in his chair, surrounded by a mountain of books that were utterly useless. One wrong move and the whole lot of them would come tumbling down. He sat back, idly contemplating the thought that there would probably be enough force and mass combined to break his neck in the process. Normally that was the kind of thing that would’ve had John yelling at him for being irresponsible. The fact that there was only a continued silence in favour of John’s voice made the fact that John was missing and had been kidnapped that much more prominent.

Growling low under his breath, he scrubbed his hands roughly through his hair. He’d been awake during the past night and day scouring the books for any hint of how the code might be broken, but there was nothing of use. Even though Soo Lin had explained much of the background behind the Black Lotus she had failed to give him any of the clues that would lead him to where John would be. The last thing he had to work with was the knowledge that the Chinese circus that had come to town. If that didn’t lead him to any further evidence… well. Sherlock staunchly refused to let his mind go down that path.

The doorbell rang. He didn’t move, just listened to the sound of Mrs Hudson going to answer it. A moment later there were hushed voices and then a knock on his door. Sherlock glanced up in time to see it open and Lestrade walk in without being given permission. He was dressed in his standard on-duty clothing, though it was obviously the start of his shift considering that nothing was yet wrinkled or stained.

“Well,” he said, “this is a right old mess you’ve got yourself into, isn’t it?”

“I thought you were busy,” said Sherlock.

“That was before I found out John had gone missing.” There was something in his eyes, in his voice, that made Sherlock sneer.

“I don’t need your help.”

“I know you don’t, but you’ve got it anyway because I’m not leaving.”

“Mycroft - ”

“Mycroft didn’t send me, you tosser. I came of my own free will after Dimmock told me what happened. Despite what you seem to believe I do still have some of that, you know. Being bonded hasn’t changed that much,” Lestrade said, taking in the state of the flat slowly. He shook his head and moved forward, steadying a stack of books that was swaying rather precariously. “Dimmock said you seemed rather agitated when he dropped by to give you these.”

Sherlock’s mouth thinned and he said nothing. He didn’t regret snapping at the man, not one bit. If Dimmock had been a little more cooperative, there was a chance that John might still have been here instead of wherever he was. Lestrade watched him and sighed, reaching out to clap a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder. He left it there, allowing the warmth to seep through and tingle against the cold skin underneath. For once, Sherlock didn’t push the contact away.

“I can’t feel him,” he said at last. “He’s either unconscious or drugged.” Or dead, but that was one avenue he couldn’t bring himself to contemplate.

“I’ve been there.” Lestrade squeezed once before letting go. “That’s happened to me. I’m sure you remember when Mycroft was taken that time.” He paused before adding, “Try not to think about it. Tell me where you were going tonight. What was your next move?”

“The circus.”

Lestrade raised an eyebrow. “The circus,” he repeated, somewhat in disbelief.

“If you’re too busy to help…”

“No, I am not too busy,” Lestrade said with forced patience. He was not going to let Sherlock run around his own getting into god knew what. Normally it wasn’t his division to be playing baby-sitter to consulting detectives, but he - and, alright, Mycroft as well - were both genuinely worried about what Sherlock might do if John remained missing or, worse, if harm came to him. “Let’s go.”

They hailed a cab that took them directly to the address on the little scrap of paper Sherlock had found. There were quite a few people heading into the building. Sherlock and Lestrade joined the end of the line unobtrusively. After picking up tickets (reserved under the name Hooper just in case) they moved into the main auditorium, which was lit only by candles. Lestrade looked around apprehensively, but Sherlock just stared straight ahead at the centre stage as some very familiar drums began to play.

The show was fascinating and Lestrade found himself being caught up in it all too easily. He didn’t notice when Sherlock slipped away, but it would’ve been impossible to ignore the man tumbling out from between the curtains with an enraged, costumed Chinese Warlord after him. For a moment, everyone seemed to be frozen as people wondered whether this was a part of the act. But then, as the Warlord aimed a vicious blow at Sherlock’s shoulder that made Sherlock cry out, someone screamed and it became pandemonium.

“Stop, police!” Lestrade shouted, charging forward through the crowd. He caught the Warlord around the waist, dragging them both to the floor, and pinned the man down as best he could. Sherlock jumped up, his cheek swelling with a bruise, and sat down on the man’s legs. As far as moves went, it might not have been graceful, but it was effective.

“Where is he?” Sherlock demanded wildly. “Where have they taken him?”

The man said something indistinct in Chinese that Lestrade didn’t understand. Fortunately Sherlock had no such problem. He grabbed Lestrade’s shoulder and pulled him down flat just as the arrow from the Chinese escapology act split the air directly where their heads had just been. It struck the opposite wall with such force that the tip of it was left vibrating too fast for the eye to follow. Taking advantage of their momentary shock, the man slipped out from under them and took off, vanishing into the night.

“Damn!” Sherlock leapt to his feet and swayed slightly. Lestrade pushed himself up and caught Sherlock’s arm, looking at his eyes.

“Do you need to go to A&E?” he demanded. “How hard were you hit?”

“Not that hard.” Sherlock shrugged him off with effort. “I need to go back to the flat. I’ve missed something.”

Lestrade sighed and took his arm again, this time for support. “Alright, let’s go before anyone else shows up and tries to paint the floor with you.”

Chapter Text

The world was hazy and filmy. Smoky greyness danced in front of John’s eyes. He blinked, letting out a low grunt, and then squinted, trying to see past the fog. He could hear a distant scraping sound and the perpetual dripping of water, though he couldn’t pinpoint where either sound was coming from. Something shifted next to him and he tensed instinctively. Pain flared in his head and he couldn’t choke back a groan, his muscles going limp and weak, refusing to respond to his commands.

“Stay still,” a voice whispered. Young, female, frightened. Soo Lin. “You were struck in the back of the head and you have been bleeding quite badly. I managed to get it to stop but try not to move. If it starts again you will be in trouble.”

John managed to get his eyes to open. She was leaning in front of him, her dark hair falling like a curtain of silken water over her shoulders. The bottom of her sweater was torn and he realized that she was holding the balled up material against the place on the back of his head where it hurt the most. When she noticed that he was fully conscious, a tentative smile broke out across her lips and she shifted back a bit in an effort to give him a little space, though she kept the cloth against his skin.

“Alright?” she asked.

“I’ll get there,” John said, or he tried. He wasn’t sure the words didn’t come out as a garbled mess. He swallowed hard, wincing at the dryness in his throat, and tried again. “Where are we?”

“The headquarters of the Black Lotus,” she said quietly. “You have been drifting in and out of consciousness for a long time, Doctor Watson. This is not the first time that we have spoken.”

He had no memory of speaking to her before, but at least it explained why she had been so quick to detail what had happened to him. “How long?”

“At least a day,” she whispered. “Night has fallen again.”

Perversely, the first thought that went through his mind was that he’d missed his first day at the surgery. Sarah probably wasn’t going to be terribly impressed that the doctor she’d taken a chance on couldn’t be bothered to show up. He shook his head and then winced, regretting the motion. “What do they want with us?” he asked, finding it odd that both of them were still alive.

Soo Lin sat back on her heels. “I am not sure. Zhi Zhu… he did not kill me even though I was given the warning.”

“Yeah, I can see that.” God he wished he could reach out to Sherlock, but just trying made the throbbing in his head even worse, changing it from a dull ache to a sharp stabbing pain. Had Sherlock even noticed that they had been kidnapped? Was he trying to find them or had he focused entirely on the case? He tried to bring a hand up to touch his head, wanted to assess the damage, but his fingers merely twitched in reply. He closed his eyes instead.

“Doctor Watson?” Soo Lin touched his shoulder. “You should try to stay awake.”

“I am awake,” he said confidently. The world was going soft and blurry around the edges and he thought he heard Soo Lin say something else, but she sounded so distant, and even the pain in his head didn’t hurt anymore. He didn’t even try to fight when everything turned into a quiet darkness.

---

Sherlock crossed his arms, staring blankly at the information he had pinned up on the wall. His mind was racing, trying to slot evidence together, trying to spot what he had missed. He knew it had to be something obvious. The Black Lotus had already proven that they weren’t the smartest of gangs. They’d made mistakes, plenty of them, and it stood to reason that they would’ve made another. He just had to figure out what it was.

Behind him, Lestrade shifted uneasily on the sofa and flipped through another paper. His eyes were burning and he was tired, but he didn’t dare stop searching. He wanted to suggest that they bring Mycroft in - Mycroft did, after all, possess resources at his disposal that were far beyond either of them - but he knew that Sherlock wouldn’t hear of it. It would take time to convince Sherlock to accept his brother’s help and it was very possible that was time John Watson and Soo Lin Yao didn’t have.

He sighed and shuffled the papers together, setting them aside, and found himself staring at a picture of some gaudy yellow symbols. The cipher, evidently. “Nine mill…” he muttered, looking thoughtfully at the first two. “Means nine million quid, obviously. Suppose you don’t know what the rest of the sentence is.”

“What?” Sherlock swung around to face him. “How did you…?”

“It’s written here. Not your handwriting, though. Must be John’s.” Lestrade showed him the picture.

“No, it’s Soo Lin’s!” Sherlock breathed, grabbing the picture. “She must have started translating the code while she and John were trapped in her office. Damn! The book must have been on her desk while I was there. I must have missed it.”

It was on the tip of Lestrade’s tongue to make a comment, but he restrained himself. Pushing Sherlock when he was on the edge would not benefit either of them. “Forensics will have collected her things as evidence by now,” he said instead. “Come on. Bring the cipher and we’ll go.”

Sherlock nodded tersely and the two of them headed down the stairs at a run. For once, Sherlock didn’t make any protest about climbing into a police car. Lestrade turned the siren on and slammed his foot down on the accelerator. He sped through the streets as quickly as he dared, knowing that it was still far too slow for the man sitting beside him. By the time they arrived, Sherlock’s hands had tightened into fists around the ciphers, and his leg was bouncing anxiously.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Lestrade to gain access to the evidence from Soo Lin’s office once he’d shown his badge. He picked up the container of books and snapped the lid off - and staring up at them was an old, dog-eared copy of The London A to Z.

Chapter Text

The tramway was dark, lit by just enough light for Sherlock and Lestrade to be able to see where they were going. Lestrade had a gun tucked into his waistband and Sherlock had John’s, appropriated from where John normally kept it (poorly) hidden in his bedside table. Officially Lestrade hadn’t noticed the illegal firearm that had technically already been used in a murder. After all, if Sherlock had his way, it would be used in another before the night was through.

“I’ll go in first,” Sherlock muttered, pausing.

“Sherlock, if you think I’m letting you face those nutters alone... They’ve killed several people already, you know.”

“And they have John. If they realize I’ve brought the police into this, John might become one of them,” Sherlock hissed back.

Lestrade opened his mouth and then paused, looking astonished. “Sherlock, are you...?”

What?” There was a lot of pent-up ire in that single word. Lestrade seemed to think better of whatever he was about to say and just shook his head, waving his hand as an indication for Sherlock to go ahead. He had his other hand in his pocket, no doubt already sending a text to Mycroft. Sherlock just rolled his eyes and swept into the entrance to the tramway, dark coat flaring out behind him, face a calm mask that gave nothing away.

“Ah, our guest of honour has arrived.”

It was a woman’s voice, old, slightly accented, Chinese no doubt. Sherlock stopped and took in the scene quickly. John and Soo Lin Yao were both present, though only Soo Lin was awake. She had been tied to a chair that was placed off to the side. A man was standing next to her. Zhi Zhu. John had also been tied to a chair, but he was still unconscious, his head lolling weakly against his chest. Dark blood had streaked through his blond and gray hair and formed an ugly trail down his cheek, where it had stained his jumper. The woman who had spoken was standing in front of him, holding a gun to John’s head.

“Sherlock Holmes,” the woman said. “I’ve been waiting to meet you.”

“You need have only asked me to come,” Sherlock replied, scanning John’s unmoving form with a quick, experienced eye. As far as he could tell John was otherwise unharmed. “General Shan.”

Shan looked pleased. “You are as wise as they say,” she observed. “Most people do not realize who I am.”

“Most people are stupid.”

“Indeed.” She let out a wicked laugh and pressed her finger to the trigger, pushing it down ever so slightly. Noticing the resulting tension in Sherlock’s frame, she smirked. “I had wondered how we were going to deal with you, Mr Holmes, after you failed to heed the two warnings we gave you. Then I found out about your fondness for your little friend here and I realized that we had the perfect way to get you here after all. If I pull the trigger, he will die instantly, and not even you will be able to save him.”

“I am aware of how guns work.”

“Then let me make you aware of this. Tell me where the jade pin is and I will let your friend go free.”

The jade pin, of course. Sherlock regarded her calmly, knowing that none of the anxiety he was feeling would be visible on his face. “I haven’t got your pin,” he said, “and I don’t know where it is.”

“You expect me to believe that the great Mr Holmes does not know everything? After your fan assured me that you would?”

At that, he couldn’t help stiffening. His fan. Moriarty. “I only just found out that the item stolen was a pin,” he said coldly. “I was rather more focused on the fact that you had taken what doesn’t belong to you. But then, I suppose you know just how that feels considering that one of your so-called underlings was smart enough to do the same thing. You were surprised when you found out about the betrayal, weren’t you? Or at least you pretended to be. You’ve been expecting something like this to happen for a while now. Your age concerns you; you believe you’re no longer suited to being the leader of the Black Lotus and you worry that those under your power are going to start feeling similarly.” He let his eyes flick towards Zhi Zhu was standing.

Shan’s face reddened. “How dare you,” she said ominously. “Tell me where the pin is! Or I will shoot your friend!” She pressed the tip of the gun against John’s forehead and John moaned softly at the contact.

Boiling anger flooded through Sherlock and he had to fight to be able to breathe through the constriction that wrapped itself around his chest. He wanted nothing more than to put a bullet between the old woman’s eyes. Instead, he forced himself to smile cockily. “Even if you knew you wouldn’t be able to retrieve it. The police have become involved with this case. They’ll find it soon and once it’s in their custody you’re out of luck.”

“The police,” Shan scoffed. “What have they ever – ”

Her sentence was cut off, quite abruptly, by a gun shot. Shan’s eyes widened slightly, her lips parting, face growing vacant. A thin trickle of blood began to run down her face as she collapsed bonelessly, revealing Lestrade, who was standing right behind her. Sherlock took a deep breath, relieved; he’d seen Lestrade sneaking closer but he hadn’t been certain the sound of his voice echoing off of the walls would be enough to cover it.

Zhi Zhu took one look at Lestrade and the gun in his hand and bolted. Lestrade watched him go and made no move to follow. Sherlock glanced at him questioningly and then sighed. “Mycroft is outside.”

It wasn’t a question but Lestrade nodded. “He’s been on standby all evening,” he said without a hint of apology.

Sherlock rolled his eyes and strode over to John as Lestrade went to help Soo Lin. He set to work on the tight knots, unravelling them with skill. John’s skin was cold to the touch and he was shivering slightly: shock, maybe, or possibly drugged. He stood up and cupped John’s cheek, gently tilting his head up so that he could inspect the damage that had been done. John stirred again at the touch and looked up at him with unfocused eyes.

“Sh’lock?” he mumbled.

“It’s me, John. Just relax. I’m going to get you out of here,” Sherlock whispered. John nodded and his eyes fluttered closed, his body relaxing as he lapsed back into sleep. Sherlock leaned down and picked him up, cradling John close to his body, and followed Lestrade and Soo Lin out of the tramway.

Chapter Text

Sherlock went to the hospital with John in the ambulance. The paramedics didn’t want to let him in - one of them actually stepped in front of him and tried to physically prevent him from getting in - but a sharp word from Lestrade was enough to make them back down. Sherlock just ignored them all and, pushing past the paramedic, climbed inside, taking a seat beside John without saying a word. John looked pale and quiet, the blood on his face standing out in stark relief against his unusually white skin. Though he knew, consciously, that John was still alive, it was much easier when he could be close enough to see it as well.

They took John from him at the hospital and he was sent to the waiting room. Lestrade arrived a few minutes later. He took one look at the expression on Sherlock’s face and went to get them both a cup of strong coffee. He came back and thrust one of the cups in front of Sherlock, waiting patiently until the smell jerked Sherlock out of whatever daze he had fallen into. Sherlock took the proffered drink and sipped at it, wincing at the sharp, bitter taste. It helped to clear his mind, though, and for that he was thankful.

“Wasn’t much left behind,” Lestrade said, sitting down beside him. “Shan’s dead, of course. Mycroft’s men picked up Zhi Zhu. They’re going to question him but I dunno how much they’ll get. He’s a professional, well trained, and I suspect he won’t give up many secrets.”

“Even if he does, it won’t make a difference,” Sherlock muttered. “The rest of the Black Lotus gang will be out of here by morning, if they’re not already gone. Someone will have already stepped up to take Shan’s place.” What he’d said back at the tramway had all been true: Shan had been getting old, plans had no doubt been made in anticipation of her death, and that meant younger members would’ve been vying for the chance to take her place before her body was cold.

“Yeah, well.” Lestrade sighed and ran a hand through his greying hair. “He’s going to be fine, you know.”

“What?”

“John. He’s going to be fine.”

Sherlock said nothing.

“Really, Sherlock, I mean that. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it was the truth. John’s a lot stronger than we all give him credit for. Soo Lin said he was drugged. Once that wears off and he gets a couple of stitches, he’ll be alright. You’ll see.” Lestrade clapped him gently on the shoulder.

Again, Sherlock didn’t respond. One of the disadvantages to having a brilliant mind was the ability to remember a lot of things perfectly. And at that moment, he could clearly picture Shan’s gun pressed against John’s temple as she squeezed the trigger. It was enough to make him feel nauseous in a way that he hadn’t allowed at the time. No matter how strong John was, there were some things that people couldn’t recover from and a gunshot to the head was one of them. It would be far from the first time that someone had died in his line of work, but this was different. This was John.

Lestrade stood up suddenly and Sherlock glanced up just in time to see him giving Mycroft a quick kiss in greeting. Normally he never hesitated to mock the two of them but at that moment he didn’t feel like it. Mycroft squeezed Lestrade’s hand and turned to look at him and Sherlock was treated to a brief, five-second scan. It was much longer than Mycroft usually took and that meant he was seeing a lot of things that Sherlock probably wouldn’t want him to see. He stared back coolly, knowing that his expression held none of his usual malice. Mycroft’s eyes softened almost imperceptibly.

“I’ve spoken to the doctor. John will be held for observation over night,” he said. “If the drug is out of his system and his head wound looks good he can go home tomorrow. If you want, you can see John before the visiting hours end.”

The resulting wave of relief that Sherlock felt was sickening. He hoped it didn’t show on his face. He stood up and followed Mycroft and Lestrade down the hall, around the corner, and down another hall until Mycroft stopped in front of a door. Sherlock went in alone. The blood had been cleaned off of John’s face and he was now wearing one of those dreadful robes. A white bandage was covering the gash on his temple. He was breathing deeply and slowly and the steady beeping of the machines that were hooked up around him echoed through the otherwise empty room. There was a chair pulled up beside the bed and Sherlock sank down into it. He felt as though he should’ve been absorbing and making connections and deducing but his mind had slowed down, felt frozen, and all he could do was sit there and watch, listening to the comforting sound of John breathing.

Lestrade came in eventually and told him that visiting hours had ended. Sherlock stood up. For a moment, he hesitated, just looking at John, and then he reached out and brushed his index finger along the inside curve of John’s wrist. The reassuring, steady throb of John’s pulse was enough to make him follow Lestrade out of the room. A few people gave him horrified looks as they left the hospital and he realized he was still covered in blood, some of it Shan’s and some of it John’s.

“Mycroft’s got people watching, you know,” Lestrade said as he pulled up in front of 221. “No one will get near John, not tonight.”

Sherlock nodded. Apparently his brother had had the same thought that any lingering members of the Black Lotus gang might try to finish what Shan had started. Most of Mycroft’s people were idiots but they did know how to do their jobs. John would be well protected. He put his hand on the door and started to push it open.

“Sherlock,” Lestrade said slowly. “Do you think you…”

“What?” To his absolute horror, Sherlock heard his voice waver ever so slightly as he turned to glare at Lestrade. “Do I think I what?”

Lestrade stared at him for a long moment and then he smiled, just a little. “Nothing. Go on, go get some sleep. We’ll go pick John up together tomorrow, alright?”

Not bothering to give him an answer, Sherlock got out and slammed the door. Sleep? That was the last he needed. He spent the night tormenting his violin, drawing long, discordant notes out of the instrument, his mind whirling furiously without really getting anywhere. It was intolerable, not having John’s steady presence in the back of his head, and he had no idea just when he had started being unable to do without it.

Chapter Text

John woke up slowly. Sleep was reluctant to let him go, clinging to him in great sticky webs, but he felt a pressing need to wake up because something... something was happening, though he wasn’t sure what. Everything felt blurry and hazy. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but a blinding whiteness that immediately convinced him that this had all been a poor idea. He must have made a sound, groaned or something, because a moment later the brilliance behind his eyelids had dimmed and he sensed that there was someone standing beside him.

“John? Do you want me to fetch the nurse?”

“No. No, I’m fine.” John squinted, dimly recognizing Lestrade. The man had been sitting beside his bed but was now standing, shielding John from some of the annoying light that was still filling the room. He blinked and then rubbed his eyes, wincing as the back of his knuckles came into contact with swollen, bruised skin. Gently he felt around the area, his fingers encountering bandages. Slowly memory started coming back to him. Soo Lin and the office and the man who’d come out of the shadows without warning. He didn’t really remember much more after that. He looked up at Lestrade.

“You’re at the hospital. Sherlock figured out where you were being held and we were able to arrest most of the Black Lotus gang,” Lestrade told him.

“Oh. That’s good.” It took him a minute to realize that there was something else. Lestrade’s face was lined with worry and he seemed to be unusually tense. John stared at him. “What’s going on? You’re not just here to take my statement.” He glanced around the room, suddenly alarmed by the realization that there was a pressing emptiness in the back of his mind, and sat up. “Oh my god, where’s Sherlock?”

“John, relax,” Lestrade ordered, putting up a calming hand. “Sherlock is fine. Last I saw he was still being an absolute git. You were drugged. That’s why you can’t feel Sherlock through your bond. It’s only temporary and now that you’re awake you should begin picking up on him again in no time. I didn’t want you to worry.” He sighed. “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this but I didn’t want you to see it on the news. There was an explosion last night at 221.”

John was fairly certain his heart skipped a beat. An explosion? “Sherlock was home, wasn’t he?” For a moment his mind whirled dizzily, remembering what had happened to all of the men in Afghanistan who had been caught in explosions. Death was only the beginning; he’d seen countless injuries and the thought of Sherlock with any of them was enough to make him feel sick. A monitor began beeping rapidly.

“John! For fuck’s sake, calm down. Yes he was home but like I said he’s fine. They think it was a gas leak. He’s still there but Mycroft is with him. They were fighting when I left.” Lestrade watched John relax a little and sighed.

“Fine. He’s... fine. Right.” There was no way John was willing to just take Lestrade’s word for it. He closed his eyes and began focusing on Sherlock, struggling to push away the looming fuzziness and exhaustion that he now recognized as partly head trauma and partly the effects of being drugged. It made him feel sluggish but he determinedly shoved through it, straining to reach Sherlock.

Sherlock! Sherlock, can you hear me? Oh god please answer me.

---

The explosion had been an unwelcome shock, not in the least because it brought Mycroft to his door. Sherlock sat back in his chair and glared at his brother, who was sitting in John’s chair like he owned it. He plucked at one of the strings of his violin, enjoying the way Mycroft flinched minutely in response. “You can feel free to leave at any time,” he said pointedly. “I doubt you were here because you were actually concerned but on the off hand chance you felt like you needed to pretend you were you can see that I’m fine. And if you were here for any other reason...” His eyes cut across to the folder on the table between them. “You should know my answer is no.”

“Sherlock,” Mycroft said reprovingly. “I was quite concerned about you. I didn’t come here purely for the case. That was merely an added bonus.” He thumped his umbrella lightly against the floor. “You know, the reconstruction of 221 could be done very quickly or very slowly. I’m sure that your injured mate would vastly prefer the former.”

Sherlock glared at him. “Get out, Mycroft,” he hissed. There was no warmth left in his voice and he spoke the words in a clipped manner that belayed the genuine anger he was feeling. The very idea that Mycroft would deny John the right to heal in comfort was... well. “Get. Out.”

Mycroft’s eyes had widened slightly in surprise and then in understanding. “Sherlock,” he began.

But Sherlock was no longer paying attention. A familiar sensation, one that had been desperately missed in light of what had recently happened, had risen in the back of his mind. He knew what it was immediately: John. John was awake and trying to contact him. Disregarding his brother, Sherlock turned his attention inward, reaching out towards John. Distantly, he heard John speaking to him, felt the panic rushing through them both, and realized that Lestrade must have been at the hospital.

John, I’m fine. He returned, something that might have been relief flooding through him. Are you?

Yes, I’m fine too. Lestrade told me about the explosion. Only you, Sherlock Holmes, could be involved in something like that after the week we’ve had! John replied. Though the words were meant to be a scold, they were accompanied by a rush of relief/gratitude/warmth that made Sherlock feel dizzy.

It wasn’t my idea, he said, unable to keep the small smile from his lips. God it was good to hear John’s voice again, to feel his presence and know that John was safe from harm.

Sherlock, John said, and too late Sherlock realized that John had heard that as well. A couple of nights with his mind to himself and he’d nearly forgotten how their bond worked. Stupid! Don’t say that. I missed you too and I’m glad that you’re alright. Could you... John hesitated slightly, embarrassed. Would you... come to the hospital? I know this sounds stupid but I need to see you to make sure that you’re okay. Even though you and Lestrade said you were, I... I need to be sure.

I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Sherlock glanced up, intending to tell his brother that he had alternate plans, but Mycroft was already gone. Surprisingly, he had taken the file of work with him. It was odd for Mycroft to give up so easily and Sherlock suspected he would be back again, but he didn’t really care. John was waiting.

Chapter Text

Those fifteen minutes turned into something that took considerably longer. A text message from Lestrade had Sherlock making what was meant to be a brief stop at Scotland Yard, but when he received the package of a pink cell phone, five pips and a picture, all thoughts of going to the hospital to visit John vanished. He threw himself head first into the brand new case with relish, leaving Lestrade to tag along for the ride. This had Moriarty written all over it, Sherlock knew. No one else would’ve been able to come up with something that was quite so… tantalizing. If he played the game right it would be his first chance to come face to face with the consulting criminal and he wasn’t about to miss it.

He was at Bart’s, peering through a microscope at a pair of familiar trainers, when the door opened and John walked in. Sherlock’s stomach twisted and he let out a shallow breath of air, eyes flicking up briefly. John was using a cane again, perhaps legitimately this time, though that didn’t make it any less annoying to see. His head was still bandaged and some of the grey-and-blond hairs around the white covering were spotted with blood. He was dressed in an old pair of jeans and a jumper that was too big for him. His face was expressionless and their bond suspiciously quiet. He just stood there at the door for a long moment without saying anything, staring at Sherlock.

Finally, he said, “You know, when most people ask their friends to come to the hospital and their friends say yes they actually make it a point to come.”

“John - ” Sherlock looked up quickly. A dozen things rushed to the forefront of his brain, all of them wanting to tumble free at once: excuses, explanations, apologies - and he never apologized, not to anyone, not unless he absolutely had to, but he would’ve to John if that would make things right and that realization stopped him cold just in time to see that John was smiling.

“You git,” John said gently, using his cane to support his weight as he moved closer. Sherlock stood up but remained still, uncertain of what to do. He felt a strange conflict of emotions coming from John - amusement, indulgence, exasperation, relief - and he didn’t know what to make of them.

There was a case, he said, knowing that it wouldn’t do any good.

There always seem to be a case with you. The observation wasn’t harsh, and nor was the touch of John’s hand on his chest. He pressed the pads of his fingers lightly against Sherlock’s chest, as though he half-expected Sherlock to fall apart, and then sighed, shoulders slumping. God you bastard, you nearly gave me a heart attack when Lestrade told me about the bomb.

Then it’s mutual.

John looked surprised and pleased. You were worried about me?

Sherlock licked his lips and very carefully did not say or think anything but he couldn’t stop the swell of feeling that fled between their bond without his permission. He saw John’s eyes widen and scowled, twisting away to stare pointedly into the microscope again. This was exactly why he had never wanted to bother finding his soul mate. Being unable to hide anything was immensely frustrating and certainly didn’t make up for the fact that it was useful when John could listen in on his deductions instead of forcing Sherlock to stop and explain them. Not that he had been expecting this to happen, but -

“Hey,” John said gently, interrupting the stream of thought. “Hey, none of that. I told you before, Sherlock, you don’t need to hide anything from me.” He started to lift his hand again and then paused, unsure if the touch would be welcome. “Sherlock, are you… do you…” His voice trailed off and he swallowed hard, blue eyes oddly shy. I thought… you were married to your work.

“I am,” said Sherlock quietly. His heart was pounding and he knew that in spite of the calm demeanor he was presenting John could feel everything that was racing through him, just like he could feel the hope/surprise/warmth coming from John. “You’re a part of it.”

Before John could respond, the door flew open and Molly came in, giggling, accompanied by a young man. She beamed happily at the two of them, though her face fell a little when she saw John. “Oh,” she said, and then, “Oh dear. You don’t look well.”

“I’m fine,” John said, though he didn’t sound it, and the emotions coming off of him - Sherlock very carefully did not watch as John stepped back, putting a fair distance between them.

He consoled himself with deducing everything there was to know about Molly’s new boyfriend, Jim. Molly didn’t look especially pleased when she was told that Jim was gay and she flounced out, which was exactly the opposite of what Sherlock wanted her to do. Being left alone with John was, well, probably a bit not good at the moment. John had gone strangely silent and nothing was coming through their bond except for the occasional random thought that made no sense, which meant John was probably thinking but taking care to do it behind the cover of other surface thoughts. Clever. He cursed himself as the door closed behind Molly.

“Sherlock,” John began.

The case, Sherlock interrupted. Whatever John was going to say, he didn’t want to hear it. He would ignore these… these feelings until they disappeared. Soul mates could be friends, best friends if necessary, and that was enough. I have to work on the case, John. I don’t have time for this discussion.

John looked at him for a long moment, something unidentifiable that Sherlock couldn’t place in his face, before he said, “Alright. Where are we going?”

And even though Sherlock had gotten what he wanted, he didn’t know whether to be relieved or not.

Chapter Text

On the way back from Connie Prince’s house John’s phone rang. Sherlock turned to look at him as John fumbled it out of his pocket, trying not to drop the camera Sherlock had brought along or his cane. John frowned when he saw who it was and let out a little sigh. He stopped walking, set the camera down on the pavement, and brought the phone to his ear. “Hello?”

Sherlock couldn’t hear the conversation but then again he didn’t need to. It was Sarah, John’s prospective boss / woman he’d tentatively flirted with. Instead of continuing on his way he paused as well, lingering, and listening intently to the spiel of thoughts drifting across their bond. It was pathetically endearing how John lamely tried to make excuses for the repeated missed days and the complete lack of phone calls, all without trying to give her too many details about what had actually happened. In the end Sarah hung up on him and John was left staring at the phone with a look on his face that was better suited to a kicked puppy dog.

“Not good?” he asked after pause.

John sighed and tucked the phone back into his pocket. “A bit not good, no,” he said with a self-deprecating laugh. “She told me that she needs to hire someone that she can rely on, not someone who isn’t going to show up. Needless to say I’ve been fired.”

“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” Sherlock said, throwing a hand up for a cab. He glanced at John out of the corner of his eye and then took the camera, slinging it casually over his shoulder by the strap. He very carefully did not look back again, though he could feel John’s surprise at the move.

“What, tell her that I got kidnapped because my mad flatmate slash soul mate pissed off the wrong set of people?” John said sceptically. He followed Sherlock into the cab with a heavy sigh, wincing as he relaxed against the cushions. Absently, he rubbed at his leg. “I hardly think that’s what she’s going to be looking for in a doctor, Sherlock. Besides, she probably would have fired me anyway the first time I had to dash out the door for one of the cases.” He sighed again and Sherlock knew that he was thinking about money, or rather, a lack of it.

He shifted slightly. I have plenty of money, he said, knowing this was a conversation that John wouldn’t want anyone else to be privy to.

You do? John said. He didn’t seem surprised but Sherlock could feel that he was intrigued. John was too polite to ask but he had wondered. Most people did.

Yes. When my grandmother died she left a sizeable inheritance to be split equally between Mycroft and me. When I moved into Baker Street I regained access to my share, he explained. He didn’t want to go into what had happened to make his access be restricted in the first place; he didn’t like thinking about those days, the ones that he’d been forced to leave behind through the combined efforts of his brother and Lestrade. You don’t need to work, John.

John flushed slightly. I’m not going to take your money, he said.

Sherlock briefly examined John’s emotions - embarrassment, a little shock, fear - and rolled his eyes. If you’re worried about what people might think, don’t. You’re my soul mate. And that was something that he had never thought he would say to anyone. No one would think twice if we shared an account. I’m sure any women you tried to ask out would understand.

Something odd flashed over John’s face, there-and-gone again too fast for Sherlock to identify it. He was smiling, though, just a little. You do know how this sounds, right? Like you’re…

Like I’m paying you for the work that you do in helping me? Sherlock interrupted, unwilling to hear the rest of that thought being formed. Oh yes, he knew exactly what John was thinking. John didn’t want anyone to perceive him as a kept man or any such nonsense like that. As though Sherlock would ever be the sort of person who paid someone to do anything: that’s what favours were for.

There was a snort next to him and when he looked up and caught John’s eye both of them burst into laughter. John shook his head and passed a shaking hand over his face. “Honestly,” he said, sounding and feeling far too amused for it to be scolding that he had intended.

“It’s true,” said Sherlock, looking out the window. He didn’t need the money that he had. Except for clothing or travelling for cases, Sherlock rarely purchased anything expensive. He liked the thought of John being able to stay with him and not having to worry about him finding another job, one that he might enjoy even more than working on the cases. He wanted John to stay.

“Hey,” John said softly, placing a gentle hand on Sherlock’s arm.

“Alright then?” Sherlock said to the window.

“Yes, alright. For now,” he added, but Sherlock didn’t have to look around at him to know that John was smiling. They spent the rest of the trip in silence, not speaking even when they reached NSY and scrambled out. Lestrade was bent over Donovan’s desk when Sherlock strode in. When John found out that he knew about the cause of death, had figured it out hours ago, he got angry. Sherlock could see it in his eyes and feel it through the bond, the quiet disappointment that made him feel sick. He tried not to pay attention to the sensation as he appropriated Lestrade’s computer and sat down to type the answer in.

The phone rang in response and he picked it up automatically. The conversation was pitifully short and ended with the sound of a gunshot.

“Sherlock?” Lestrade said.

“What’s happened?” John asked sharply.

Sherlock couldn’t tell them. There was an oddly heavy feeling in his chest and it didn’t get any better when John understood. Lestrade swore softly under his breath and twisted away, heading out the door at a run. John put a hand on the back of the chair and leaned against it, face pale. For once neither of them was thinking about anything. Then, slowly, Sherlock set the phone back down on the desk. A moment later John’s hand left the chair and slid around his neck, not doing anything, just resting there. He allowed himself to lean into it.

Chapter Text

A gas explosion. That was how the bomb had been explained to the public, most of who would probably the story for what it was without ever questioning it. Sherlock’s lips curled slightly and he let out a quiet sigh, unable to stop his eyes from flicking to the iPhone that was resting on the arm of the chair. It remained stubbornly silent, just as it had for the past several hours. He had to wonder what was taking so long. Technically he had solved the last case and it wasn’t his fault that the old woman had started to describe the voice, but perhaps, semantics-wise, that didn’t matter. Frustration built until he was nearly squirming with it.

“Stop it,” John said without looking over. He was no longer using his cane, having abandoned the thing in Lestrade’s office, but his head was still bandaged and he moved slowly as he carried a cup of tea over to Sherlock, who eyed it for a long moment before reluctantly accepting it. John went back into the kitchen, collected his own mug, and then finally sank down into his chair with a deep sigh. He regarded the television and shook his head. “I suppose it’s too much to hope for that he’s simply given up.”

“He won’t,” Sherlock murmured, sipping at the tea. It had been made exactly the way he liked it during a case, with a fair amount of milk and, more importantly, sugar. Sometimes John got stroppy and refused to make it right, claiming that sugary tea didn’t take the place of food.

John scowled at him. “I do not get stroppy, I get worried because you never eat anything,” he said.

Same difference.

Rolling his eyes, John said, “You think he’s what, biding his time?”

“Likely.” It was fascinating, all of these little nuances. His brain had never been challenged so much before, not like this. Moriarty was a puzzle, a consulting criminal to match the consulting detective, a game that no one else would have been able to play. He tilted his head over the cup and absently inhaled the soothing scent. “I think he wants to be distracted. He’s bored. All of these little people with their little problems. It gets so tedious.”

Something about John had gone rather tense. “I hope you’ll be happy together, then.”

“What?” Sherlock looked at him and blinked.

“You!” John said, which didn’t go a long way in explaining what he meant and Sherlock merely arched an eyebrow in response. That only seemed to make John’s ire worse. He leaned forward, eyes narrowed in a heated glare, and snapped, “There are human lives at stake, Sherlock. Actual human lives. You can try to keep up your whole sociopathic act all you like but you forget I was there when you heard that gun go off, I felt it. I know that it upset you. So you can pretend that you don’t care but I know the truth and so does this… this Moriarty.” He spoke the name with an edge of distaste. “He’s baiting you, trying to get you to mess up. What happens when you do?”

Sherlock stared back at him, cold, unable or unwilling to put a name to the roiling mass of emotions churning in his chest. “Caring is not an advantage, John,” he said. “It won’t help me to save people.”

John’s eyes shut and for a moment he looked very tired. “Yes,” he said quietly, “I suppose you would be the one who thinks that.” He stood up, swaying slightly before he caught his balance, and crossed the few steps to Sherlock’s chair. “What about me, Sherlock?” he asked. If I had gone missing, if I was one of those pips, would I be just a game to you?

It was impossible to miss the deluge of feeling coming from John; it had taken every last bit of courage that he possessed to ask. Against his will, Sherlock pictured what it would have been like if John had been the one on the phone, if he was sitting here watching the news and listening to a report about John’s death. The resulting flash of emotion that he didn’t even think he could properly identify left him feeling breathless and he leaned back without thinking, automatically uncrossing his legs. John edged closer, sliding neatly between his barely parted thighs, and the two of them just looked at each other.

“John…” The word slipped from Sherlock’s mouth unbidden, hovering in the air between them, He was reminded of their moment at Barts, when John had looked at him and known exactly what he was feeling. It was something that had not gone away or lessened during the past several hours; Sherlock may have been an expert at pushing aside anything that didn’t have to do with a case, but not even he was capable of forcefully getting rid of… whatever this was.

“Sherlock.” John eased his weight down slowly, perching on one of Sherlock’s knees when it became too difficult to loom. I’ll ask you again. What happens when you mess up?

I won’t, Sherlock said finally. This game between him and Moriarty was fun only because Sherlock expected to win. There had never been any question of that. John’s lips quirked into a faint smile as he caught the end of that thought and he shook his head lightly.

“I just want you to be more cautious and remember that there is more to this than just a game,” he said steadily, looking straight into Sherlock’s eyes. John was the only one who could do that. Most people hated it when Sherlock looked at them; a rare few, such as Lestrade, could tolerate it for only as long as was necessary. In this, as with everything else, John was different. “Moriarty is dangerous. It’s one thing to be excited about a crime where the deed has been done, Sherlock. But you’re playing with something far more valuable now and I don’t want you or anyone else to be burned.”

Their faces were very close together and Sherlock’s heart was pounding. He tilted his head up and it almost seemed like John was going to lean in closer, but the sharp chime of the iPhone interrupted them. John, looking startled, jerked back and then hastily got up, like he’d suddenly remembered that sitting on your flatmate’s lap might be a bit not good. Sherlock stared at him for a moment, unsure if the disappointment reverberating through the bond was his or John’s or both, before he reached for the phone and the new picture.

Chapter Text

Life with Sherlock was a rush. There was never any time to rest and no one had come to know that better than John Watson. From the moment that Sherlock had received the newest picture they'd been on the move, from the body to the homeless network to Woodbridge's fiancé. Not once had they had a moment to stop and talk about what had almost happened between them at the flat. Even now, in the cab on their way to visit Professor Cairns, Sherlock had been very pointedly not thinking about anything but the case and John had the feeling that he was supposed to be doing the same, but that was easier said than done.

He'd experimented a few times in uni, yes, didn't everyone? But when all was said and done he'd always pictured himself settling down with a bird at some point, maybe a nice house in the country, couple of children, possibly even his own practice if everything went right. This... he glanced across the cab at Sherlock, who was utterly absorbed in his phone. If he was listening to John's thoughts he gave no indication. What was this between them?

John absently drummed his fingers on his knee as he stared out the window. There were soul mates out there who kept their bond strictly platonic, closer than even the best of friends, but generally in those cases either they were related or one or both partners had already married and didn't want to break up the previous relationship. Like most people, as a young man he’d dreamed of finding his soul mate. He'd certainly never expected that his soul mate would turn out to be a man like Sherlock. And now that he knew it was, he had to decide what he wanted to do about it and soon, preferably before the case had ended and Sherlock either came demanding an answer or disappeared entirely behind his shields. He wasn't sure which scenario would be worse.

The cab pulled up, leaving him no more time to ponder the matter, and Sherlock launched himself out of the car. John tossed a handful of notes at the cabbie and ran after him. You have got to stop doing this! he complained, directing the thought at Sherlock so that the man wouldn't be able to ignore it. One of these days you're going to run in somewhere and get yourself killed before you even know what's going on.

Sherlock huffed in reply and threw an arm out. Quiet, he commanded, even though neither of them had actually spoken out loud. John slowed his breathing and tried to listen, but he knew he wasn't hearing the same things as Sherlock, who appeared to have selective hearing at its best: could hear a mouse if it meant solving a case but was completely oblivious when John was yelling his name because of an experiment gone wrong. In spite of himself, John smiled affectionately and waited.

He didn't have to wait long. Sherlock suddenly tensed and darted off again. This time, John was ready for it and kept up easily. They burst into an auditorium of some kind. There was music playing and an automated voice was speaking about the stars and planets. The lights were exceptionally bright and he squinted into them as Sherlock shouted, "Golem!"

You mean he's here? John exclaimed, automatically drawing his gun. He rushed towards the stairs, already knowing that they had come too late to save Professor Cairns, but needing to try regardless. He'd only gotten halfway up when he heard Sherlock make an odd, choked sound, or perhaps he felt it, either way he spun and sprinted back down the steps. Sure enough the Golem had Sherlock, hands clasped firmly around the detective's mouth and nose, and already Sherlock's thrashing attempts to get away were growing weaker.

John... he whispered.

"Fucking hell." John didn't waste time with a warning: he took aim and shot. The bullet flew over the Golem's left shoulder, missing by inches. He couldn't aim too closely for fear of hitting Sherlock but it was close enough. The Golem looked up at him and in that split second he threw Sherlock aside and lunged towards John. Sherlock stumbled and landed hard on the floor, gasping for breath. Attention caught between Sherlock and the Golem, John wasn't able to get the gun up in time and the Golem batted it away, sending it flying across the stage. He felt those hands trying to close around his throat and struggled, using what he'd learned in the army about self defence to keep out of reach until a blow to the side of the head, directly where his still healing wound was, sent him reeling.

The lights had gone all fuzzy by the time he gathered himself enough to roll over and sit up. He could hear Sherlock gasping and then there were gun shots and things shattering to pieces. A moment later Sherlock dropped down beside him and grasped his shoulders. He was speaking but the words were lost over the sound of the squeaking tape. Finally Sherlock’s hands tightened and he physically pulled John to his feet, half-carrying him as they ran towards the exit. Tumbling out into the cold night air was both a shock and a blessing. He sat down heavily on a bench while Sherlock began to pace back and forth.

It took about five minutes for the pounding in John’s head to subside and another two or three before he could look around without wanting to throw up the tea and toast he’d had that morning. Wearily, he stood up and walked over to Sherlock, grabbing his arm. Sherlock glanced at him, surprised, but before he could speak John guided him down onto the bench and stood over him. He pushed Sherlock’s chin up and began examining his neck, using the pads of his fingers to determine the damage done. It hadn’t been so long ago that Sherlock had been strangled by Zhi Zhu and twice in such a short period of time was a bit not good.

I’m fine, Sherlock said impatiently, and when John didn’t stop, he reached up and gently grabbed John’s hands. “I’m fine. It doesn’t even hurt, does it?”

“No,” John admitted. Or if it did, he couldn’t feel it over the throbbing in his head. He sat down beside Sherlock and sighed, closing is eyes. He didn’t resist when Sherlock’s hand guided his head around, and then there was warm breath on John’s cheek as Sherlock leaned close. John allowed him to look, even though he knew the Golem’s fist hadn’t opened up the wound. It was just irritated and swollen and hurt and he was glad that Sherlock didn’t try to touch.

“Alright?” Sherlock asked.

John opened his eyes. Sherlock was very close and his eyes were soft. He didn’t protest when John leaned against him, tucking his forehead into the curve of Sherlock’s throat. It wouldn’t last long but he needed it, needed Sherlock. The realization wasn’t particularly surprising but it definitely cemented a few things. He sighed and replied, Yeah, I think I will be.

Chapter Text

The room was dark and lit only by the dim flickering of the telly screen. Sherlock’s eyes, pinned to the infamous pink phone, moved only occasionally to actually watch. In spite of the fact that he wasn’t really paying attention to the inane chatter of the actors, he’d already deduced how it was going to end. That left him free to stare fixedly at the phone and will Moriarty to send him another photo. It had been two days since they’d received the last picture and he’d solved the case of the Van Buren Supernova. He knew that Moriarty wouldn’t have given up, not that easily, and the lapse was both deliberate and infuriating.

He looked up as John entered the room, scanning his soul mate briefly. “Going somewhere?” he inquired.

John jumped and swore. “Jesus Christ, do you have to sit there in the dark?” he demanded, catching his balance against the back of the sofa.

Sherlock smirked at him. “If you’d been paying attention you would’ve known I was here.”

“Yeah well, I was busy,” John muttered. He was dressed neatly in a pair of fitted jeans and one of his nicer jumpers in a shade of blue that complimented his eyes. The bandages had been removed from his head and the bruising around his stitches stood out in stark relief. John glanced at him, hearing the string of mental commentary, and rolled his eyes. “I’m going out with Sarah. She called me up last night and apologized for being so harsh on the phone. Seems she heard about the explosion in the flat and connected it with me. I think she’s willing to give me a bit of leeway.”

“Oh,” Sherlock said quietly and in spite of himself he couldn’t help thinking about the two of them dating. The idea of John and Sarah was enough to make his stomach hurt in a way that had very little to do with lack of food.

“Sherlock.” John’s eyes softened. “It’s not like that, alright? We’re just going to have a chat so she can get to know me better. She said she might be willing to take me on at the surgery after all. You and I, we need the money. We won’t be able to live off of the money from that idiot’s case forever.”

Hearing the way that John referred to Sebastian Wilkes made Sherlock smile. John had professed a serious dislike for the man and Sherlock suspected that if they ever met again Wilkes might find himself with a fist to the face. “It doesn’t matter, John.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t pretend like you don’t care when I know that you do.” John took a step towards him and then hesitated. His mind was curiously blank. “Look… when this is over, you and I are going to have to sit down and have a serious talk, alright? I’m not entirely opposed to…” He stopped and self-consciously scrubbed a hand over his face with a short laugh. “When I moved in with you I never thought… Christ even after I found out we were soul mates I didn’t think it would matter.” He shook his head. “Can I… Would you mind…?”

Even though John hadn’t finished his sentence, Sherlock still knew what he meant. Normally he didn’t allow anything that could be termed a distraction during a case, and this was the biggest of distractions during the biggest of cases. But he found himself nodding anyway and John smiled tentatively, crossing the remaining distance between them. They looked at each other for a long moment and Sherlock studied his familiar John, noting details that somehow felt new even though he’d looked at him a thousand times before. John exhaled slowly and then, propping himself up on the arm of the chair, leaned a bit closer.

You’re a total git sometimes, he said silently, blue eyes alight with warm amusement. It makes me wonder what it says about me that you turned out to be my other half. There was a rush of not-quite-thoughts that came with it, a silent acceptance of what this was and what it would mean, even a slight tinge of mocking towards the naïve John Watson that had thought they would be able to keep each other at arms length.

It says that you’re my better half, Sherlock replied with an unaccustomed burst of honesty. He wasn’t really one for sentiment or any of that other nonsense but John was different: what he’d said was the truth, nothing more. And then, before John could respond, he arched his back and closed the small distance between them.

John’s eyes were very wide and he made a small sound in the back of his throat when they broke apart. His cheeks flushed and he bit his lip, possibly to hold back the silly smile that wanted to break free. “I’ll see you?” he said softly. “We need milk, so I’ll be back late.”

“I’ll get it,” Sherlock said.

“Really?” John straightened up and cocked his head, like he was trying to figure out what was wrong with that sentence. “And beans?”

Sherlock nodded. “And beans.”

“Alright,” he said hesitantly, lingering a moment longer. “What are you going to do tonight? Just sit here and watch crap telly?” He looked down at the pink phone. “Maybe he’s given up, Sherlock. It’s been a while since you heard from him. Maybe he got bored.”

“We’ve only had four pips,” Sherlock pointed out, tilting the phone so that it was hidden by the curve of his thigh. “There will be a fifth eventually.”

“Eventually.” John let his shoulders slump and cleared his throat. “I’ll be off, then. Text me if there are any more developments.” He fetched his jacket and then, with one last smile directed over his shoulder, walked out the door.

Once he was certain that John was well and truly gone, Sherlock stood up and moved across the room to his laptop. The screen was still open to his website. He knew that John would be angry with him if he’d known what Sherlock was planning but he was, in a word, tired of waiting and this wasn’t something John needed to be caught up with, not anymore. Moriarty’s game had been a thrill but it was time that things became a little more interesting. He picked up his laptop and typed a few words before hitting send. Then he went to go get ready.

[Think it’s time we played in person. The pool. Midnight.]

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s heart was pounding with eager excitement as he climbed out of the cab. The area around the pool was virtually deserted so late at night, but in spite of that he was still conscious of the eyes on him as he walked calmly through the front doors. Moriarty, it seemed, had not come alone. He kept one hand wrapped around his cell phone, which was on and prepared with a pre-typed text that would summon Lestrade (and probably Mycroft) to his location. In other pocket was John’s gun. He might have enjoyed playing the game but he was not foolish enough to think that this might not end badly.

His footsteps echoed softly as he walked down the hall and pushed the door open. The smell of chlorine was heavy and pungent and he wrinkled his nose a little, a headache already starting in the base of his skull. He stopped, sweeping his eyes around the empty room, lingering briefly on the gleaming pool water before moving on. There was no sign of Moriarty but Sherlock had no doubt that the man was around somewhere, biding his time until he felt like making the perfect entrance. It seemed like it would be up to him to make the first move. He moved a step backwards until the wall pressed against his shoulders and spoke.

“So sorry I came without a getting-to-know-you present,” he said out loud, standing perfectly still. With the wall so close to his back there was no way anyone could come up behind him, so Moriarty would have to approach from in front. “Bad manners, I know, but I rather thought you would understand.”

There was a shuffle somewhere in front of him, a door opening, and then someone stepped around the corner. Sherlock felt his chest tighten and for a long moment he couldn’t breathe. It was John, dressed in a winter jacket with the same clothing he’d worn out for his date underneath. “Evening, Sherlock,” he said quietly. “You look a little surprised. I bet you never saw this coming.”

“John.” It was the only thing that Sherlock could say. John, what’s going on? Why are you…

John acted like he couldn’t even hear. “It’s strange how much a consulting detective can miss, isn’t it? You think you see everything and then it turns out that someone you dismissed as not being a threat can actually turn out to be the biggest threat of all.” His eyes fluttered shut and he took a deep breath before looking back up at Sherlock.

He was clearly waiting for some sort of answer but Sherlock could only stare, his throat working convulsively as his body tried and failed to bring some desperately needed air in. It wasn’t very often that Sherlock Holmes was thrown for a loop and in this case it felt as though the hard drive of his mind had temporarily crashed. John was his soul mate, the one person who was perfectly suited to be his partner. Put like that, the idea of John Watson being Moriarty made a horrible kind of sense, but how could Sherlock have missed it? Their minds were connected and he… he’d been so sure.

When it became obvious that Sherlock wasn’t going to respond, John cleared his throat. “Nice touch this,” he said, nodding his head towards the pool. “The place where little Carl died, the place where you first became known to me. It’s very poetic. I thought it was so amusing to watch the way you tried to get the police to listen to you when he died. You were so frustrated that they ignored what you had to say. But of course, we can’t all be little consulting detectives in the making.”

“John,” Sherlock said again, weaker this time, his voice barely audible. He took a deep breath, feeling a little lightheaded.

“This is just a taste, Sherlock. A glimpse of what I have at my disposal. You can’t even begin to imagine the things I could do. I’m a specialist, you see. Just like you. No one has ever gotten to me. I have to admit that you came the closest.” He swallowed hard. “Now you’re in my way.”

Somewhere behind John there was movement. Sherlock tore his eyes away from his flatmate long enough to glance over John’s shoulder. There was a man walking into the room, short and slender, wearing an expensively cut suit. He was vaguely familiar but Sherlock couldn’t place him until the man stopped and smirked. “Hello, Sherlock,” he said smoothly. “Here’s the thing. Daddy’s had enough now. You were initially interesting to me until I discovered that you were bonded to someone so… mundane.” His gaze flicked towards John. “Honestly, I’m disappointed. I thought that you could really be something.”

“Jim,” Sherlock said, remembering the man from the hospital, Molly’s boyfriend, who he’d dismissed from his thoughts as soon as John walked through the door. He couldn’t help looking back at John, who wouldn’t meet his eyes. But he pulled his hands out of the pocket of the jacket for the first time and tugged the front of it open, showing off the bomb that had been strapped to his chest.

“Hiiii,” Moriarty sang, dragging the word out and sounding unbearably amused. “Yes, that’s me, Jim Moriarty. Glad we’re all on the same page.” He began walking again, slowly moving closer, and Sherlock reached into his pocket and pulled out the gun. Moriarty didn’t look surprised to see it. “Just one more sign that you’ve gone boring, Sherlock,” he said, a hint of derision in his face. “Predictable. This was fun, this little game of ours, until you bonded with your pet.”

Sherlock tensed slightly and pressed the button to send the text message to Lestrade before bringing his hand up to cup the gun and steady it. He said, “I never would have joined you.”

“Yes you would have. If I had offered you excitement, challenges, games to play, you would have. You could have had it all.” Moriarty shook his head. “It’s such a shame that you had to turn out to be so sentimental. And now…” He tilted his head and Sherlock saw John’s eyes widen, and he knew that the red laser of a sniper had just appeared on his body. “Now I’ve had my fun and it’s time for this to end.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock felt useless. It wasn’t an emotion he was used to and he didn’t like it. He shifted his weight slightly, mind racing in an effort to figure out some way out of this, preferably some way that would allow both him and John to walk away relatively unharmed, but he couldn’t think of anything. He kept looking at John, following the lines of the semtex vest, before glancing back at Moriarty’s enormous smirk. His hand tightened around the gun and he wondered if this was it, if he’d finally lost a game - the game.

“What if I shot you?” he asked, the words emerging in a rough rasp. “What then?”

“Then you’d get to cherish the look of surprise on my face,” replied Moriarty, widening his eyes comically. “Because I would be surprised, Sherlock, I would. It wouldn’t do you any good, of course. Neither of you will walk out of here alive regardless.”

“I’d feel better,” Sherlock said, finger squeezing lightly at the trigger. He suspected that Moriarty was probably wearing a bullet-proof vest beneath his expensively cut shirt. Aim for the head, then. He lifted the gun a bit higher, meeting those cold, dark eyes squarely.

Sherlock.

It took effort to not start at the sound of John’s voice. It sounded very far away, like they were miles apart instead of a few feet. John?

He gave me some sort of inhibitor that temporarily blocks off the bond, John said. There were new lines in his face and he looked weary, strained. It’s meant for… no, you know what, never mind. I can barely hear you as it is and this is exhausting. Look, I just want you to run okay?

What? Sherlock purposely didn’t look at him but that didn’t stop John’s plan from unfolding in his mind in scattered little pieces. John, don’t -

Before he could finish the warning John was launching into action, leaping forward and tackling Moriarty to the ground. One of the snipers above them fired and missed, the bullet striking the spot where John had been standing. Sherlock, however, moved a second too late and a slash of fire opened up on his upper right arm. Blood began to soak through his suit jacket but he ignored it. John was thrashing around with Moriarty, trying to pin him to the ground, but Moriarty was proving to be unexpectedly strong. Not daring to shoot either one of them just in case he missed, Sherlock settled for slamming the gun against the back of Moriarty’s head. The man went limp.

For a tense, long moment, the only sound in the room was their combined gasps. Sherlock felt dazed and shaky but when John stood up he leapt forward, fingers grappling with the ties to the vest. His hands were trembling so much that it took him at least a minute to pull them free, but finally, finally he was yanking the vest down John’s arms and pushing it as far away as he could get it. Then he rose, clasping John’s head between his hands, trying to search for anything that might be wrong at the same time that John was collapsing against him.

“Bloody hell.” John was gasping, his body shuddering with the force of it, and the emotion coming off of him was a slick oily wave, fear and anger all rolled up into one. “Never mind chasing a cab through London, that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. And you!” He looked up at Sherlock. “Why the hell didn’t you run?”

“I don’t know,” Sherlock said, stunned. It was the truth. He’d never even considered leaving, not without John. “John, why would you - I mean, how could you - that was… that was good, but…”

A very small smile touched John’s lips. He started to speak and then paused, looking around, his head craned so that he could peer into the shadows above them. “Why didn’t the snipers shoot at us again?” he asked. “I mean we attacked their -” He stopped short upon turning around. The spot where Moriarty had been was empty save for a small pool of blood on the tiled floor.

“Where did he go?” Enraged, Sherlock stalked over to the spot where Moriarty had been. He hadn’t noticed the man getting up and fleeing. Surely they hadn’t been that distracted? Yet there was no other explanation. He stared down at the floor, realizing that Moriarty must have only pretended to have been knocked out. And Sherlock, in a rush to get the vest off, hadn’t bothered to double check. Stupid!

“Sherlock.” John stopped forward and took the gun from him. Both of them jumped when the door at the end of the pool opened and John started to bring the gun up before he stopped, realizing that it wasn’t Moriarty but Mycroft, with Lestrade just behind him. John let out a sigh of relief and dropped his hand, quickly tucked the gun in his waistband and tugging his shirt down over it.

At least that explains what happened to the snipers, Sherlock thought, scowling at his brother. Even though he had been the one to send for help it didn’t rankle any less, the idea that Mycroft had been forced to come and save him. Knowing that he and John would probably be dead from the snipers if Mycroft and Lestrade hadn’t shown up was just making it worse. He folded his arms, ignoring the flare of pain from the bullet wound, and didn’t even try to pretend that he was happy to see them.

“Sherlock, John, are you alright?” Lestrade asked, scanning the immediate area for any danger.

“We’ve been better,” John said. “But we’re okay. Where’s Moriarty? Did you catch him?” His face fell when Lestrade shook his head.

“We took out the snipers but there’s no sign of him,” said Lestrade grimly. “If he’s not here then he must have escaped.”

John swore softly and then sighed. “You’ve got good timing at least.”

“Sherlock texted us,” said Mycroft, looking at Sherlock with narrowed eyes. Sherlock glared back at him.

“You did?” John was surprised. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“There was no time,” Sherlock said. He didn’t bother to add that with the way that John had to strain to listen to him at the moment, there was also no point. John couldn’t even feel the bullet wound in Sherlock’s arm. Until the inhibitor wore off their connection would be weak and strained at best and he didn’t like it. He felt unsettled, jittery, and he didn’t want to stick around any longer. He started towards the door.

“Hey, where are you going?” Lestrade threw up a hand to stop him. “You need to give a statement, Sherlock. You can’t just leave.”

“Piss off,” Sherlock snapped, neatly dodging around him and striding even more quickly towards the door. His skin was crawling and he was suddenly desperate to be out of this room, this room where he and John had nearly lost everything. He ignored the voices calling his name and burst outside into fresh air and dozens of police cars. Several startled faces swung in his direction but Sherlock was already moving, sliding into the shadows and hunching down, wishing desperately for a cigarette.

Chapter Text

From his vantage point Sherlock could see everything that was going on if he cared to pay attention. He watched as Mycroft, John and Lestrade left the pool in a hurry a few minutes after his own abrupt departure, likely because John had finally alerted them to the possibility of a real bomb in the vest. People who were equipped to take care of the situation were then dispatched inside. He watched as Lestrade spoke to Mycroft, head turned at an angle that made it impossible for Sherlock to read his lips, and as John looked around, eyes sweeping the area but not finding what - or who - he was searching for.

Sentiment, Sherlock supposed, was a very human thing, an ordinary thing, and yet it could affect even the most extraordinary of people. He kept watching until Mycroft, prim and proper Mycroft, dropped a hand onto Lestrade’s hip in the middle of the crowd, not knowing or caring who might be spying or judging a move that spoke of intense familiarity. Dangerous. Lestrade leaned into the touch absently, still preoccupied with barking orders at his subordinates, and then at John, who was trying to avoid getting checked over by a paramedic.

Eventually John gave in and was towed over to the nearest ambulance. Sherlock lost sight of him at that point and he dropped his head as a result, resting it on his knees. His arm was a slow burning throb, enough to border on true pain if he let himself focus on it, and he forced himself to think about Moriarty instead. Their game had been fun at first. He’d enjoyed it, having someone who could challenge him in a way that no one else had been able to before, but now it had gotten boring. Moriarty had crossed a line, bringing John into this, and now that the shock of the moment had passed all Sherlock could feel was cold fury. The temptation to hunt Moriarty down and repay him in spades was nearly overwhelming and probably a bit not good, not that Sherlock cared.

“Sulking in the corner really doesn’t suit you, Sherlock.”

“Piss off, Mycroft,” Sherlock said without bothering to lift his head. He supposed that he should have known that hoping Mycroft might leave him be was too much to hope for. His brother could never resist poking his nose in where it wasn’t wanted or needed.

“You’re such a child,” Mycroft sighed, tapping his umbrella restlessly against the ground. “There’s no need to throw a tantrum. He will be caught, you know. I’ve already put my best men onto the situation. If Moriarty is still in London he will be found.”

There was something about the way that Mycroft said that. Sherlock glanced up, eyes narrowed, suddenly alert. Mycroft looked back at him, placidly calm on the surface but with an edge that spoke of the fact that not everything was as alright as Mycroft would have had him believe. There was a cold glint in Mycroft’s eyes, a dark hint that promised at the kind of future Moriarty would have if he was unfortunate enough to get caught. And even though Sherlock desperately wanted to be the one to find Moriarty first, there was a part of him that felt a thrill, not that he would have been willing to admit it.

“I doubt that he’s stupid enough to stay within the city,” said Sherlock. “I should have stopped him.” His failure galled him when he thought about it. He’d allowed sentiment to get in the way of winning the game. Stupid.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Mycroft said very quietly, unperturbed by the astonished look that he received. “Sentimentality is a weakness, Sherlock, but when it comes to your bonded exceptions need to be made. You have functioned better in these past few weeks with John at your side than you have since you were born. If you had lost him…” He deliberately allowed his voice to trail off into silence and Sherlock swallowed hard, the ice in his chest changing from a spot of blind fury to just cold. He didn’t want to talk about this anymore but he knew from experience that if he tried to brush Mycroft off it wouldn’t work, not unless he got up and physically moved away, and Sherlock wasn’t wholly sure that his legs would support him if he tried to stand. He looked around desperately for Lestrade but there was no sign of the man, just John, who had emerged from the ambulance and was looking straight at him. Sherlock stared back and finally, thank god, John began to walk towards them.

“Mycroft.” John was bruised in a few places but didn’t appear to be any worse for the wear. “I need to talk to Sherlock. Alone.”

“Of course.” Mycroft nodded. “Sherlock, remember what I told you.” He stepped away from the two of them, umbrella hanging from his hand, and walked towards the ambulance.

John waited until he was out of earshot before he spoke. “Alright?”

“I’m fine,” Sherlock muttered.

“You’re such a liar,” John said, but he said it with so much fondness that that the comment didn’t sting. He crouched down and gently took hold of Sherlock’s arm, turning it until the dark patch was visible. “I thought I felt something but I dismissed it. I should have known that it was you but I didn’t realize until this bloody inhibitor started to wear off. You’ve been shot, Sherlock. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Boring,” he said. John’s lips curved into an exasperated smile and he let out a sigh.

“Idiot. Come on, let me see.” His hands were unbearably gentle as he rolled up the suit sleeve, nudging it up past the wound. It was more of a graze than anything and probably wouldn’t even need stitches, yet John was treating it as carefully as though it was life-threatening. “I’ll get one of the paramedics. They can - ”

“No.”

“Sherlock!”

“No,” Sherlock repeated. “I want to go home. Can’t you just…” He made a violent motion with his hand. John just stared at him for a couple of minutes, blue eyes assessing. Their connection hadn’t come back fully yet, but Sherlock was beginning to think that maybe John Watson no longer needed it to be able to understand, because amazingly John nodded slowly.

“Okay,” he said softly. “Okay. We’ll go home.” He stood up and helped Sherlock to stand, not making a comment when Sherlock’s legs buckled slightly. He just ran a soothing hand down Sherlock’s back and murmured, “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

It was a true mark of Sherlock’s desperation that he was willing to accept a ride from one of Mycroft’s cars when it became evident that there were no cabs to be found. He waited impatiently while John spoke quietly to Lestrade, well aware of the two sets of worried eyes that kept flicking in his direction. He pretended not to notice and instead swept his gaze over the assembled officers, most of whom were standing around gawking rather than doing their jobs. He curled his lip in contempt when he noticed Anderson, but before he could say anything to the man John was there ushering him into the car and closing the door behind them.

“Lestrade said we could come down to the station tomorrow to give our statements,” said John. Somehow he had ended up right next to Sherlock even though there was plenty of space. The solid heat of John’s shoulder, side and thigh pressed against his was not unwelcome. “He said they would have a full night ahead of them here so it wouldn’t really matter. It’ll give us a chance to rest for a while, anyway.”

Sherlock didn’t respond, just kept his gaze fixed on the window and the blurring scenery rushing by. Moriarty had escaped and he knew that no matter how many details they gave the police it wouldn’t make a difference: the man would’ve had a hundred different escape plans set in place regardless of what happened. They wouldn’t be able to catch him. No, it would take someone who could think the way Moriarty did, who had ability to keep one step ahead of him without Moriarty being the wiser. Someone like Sherlock. And while he knew he was wasting precious time that would allow Moriarty to get ahead, he couldn’t seem to make his brain start thinking. It felt like he was mired in a swamp, struggling to get through.

He could feel that John was worried about him and it was ridiculous, really, making him want to laugh. John was the one who had been wearing one of those bloody vests and yet he was concerned about Sherlock? Really that was a sign of just how common John was, that he’d put someone else’s welfare so highly above his own. It shouldn’t matter that Moriarty brought John into this and it definitely shouldn’t make Sherlock want to track him down that much more, shouldn’t make him want it so much that resulting jolt of rage that went through him when he saw John probing at the bruise on his cheekbone from one of Moriarty’s well-aimed fists was pure, heady, and stronger than anything else he’d ever experienced.

John jumped. No inhibitor could mask that. “Sherlock?” he said cautiously, turning his head to stare. “I felt that. Are you - ” He stopped in the next instant as the car had pulled up in front of 221 and Sherlock leapt out of the car and darted up the stairs. The front door opened easily beneath his fingers and Mrs Hudson looked up at him, startled. She was standing in front of her door, getting ready to close it, but she paused and smiled.

“There you are,” she said. And, upon seeing John charging up the steps behind him, she smiled slyly and added, “I’ll just be taking one of my herbal soothers and going to bed.”

“Good night, Mrs Hudson,” John said, his breath coming a little heavier. Sherlock didn’t wait to see her go back into her flat. He went up the stairs two at a time and swirled into 221b, eyes automatically raking the room to see if anything had been touched or changed in their absence. But no - it all looked the same, at least from what he could remember. That, at least, was something.

Hearing the sound of John’s approach, he started to move towards his bedroom. He wasn’t prepared for John’s full weight to come down against him, knocking him against the sofa. For a moment Sherlock fought back, at first just trying without success to get John to move far enough so that he could get away, and then it descended into an all out wrestling match with both of them trying to pin each other, hands grappling and legs flying. At some point John wrenched back and Sherlock followed and they both fell to the floor with a resounding thud that made Sherlock’s arm flare in pain and John wince as many of their bruises protested.

“Jesus,” he said, rolling over onto his back. “Are you quite finished?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, closing his eyes. He heard John get up and leave. He returned a moment later and sat down on the floor, tugging gently at Sherlock’s coat and shirt. Sherlock allowed him to take both of them off, willingly moving his limbs as John directed, until he was half-naked on the living room floor with John leaning over him holding a bottle of disinfectant.

“This will sting a bit,” John cautioned, and it did for both of them but his hands remained steady as he set the bottle aside and began to wrap the wound in some fresh gauze. “You know, you can be such an idiot sometimes, Sherlock.”

Sherlock opened his eyes and looked up at him. There was an uncustomary amount of affection in John’s face and voice, despite how exhausted he looked. And truly, in that moment, Sherlock did not know what to say. There were a dozen things all racing through his mind at once - John was right about Moriarty and the game, he’d never expected that Moriarty would stoop that low, Sherlock did care, he cared very much, at least about John, and he had no idea what to do with that - but none of it wanted to come out. John, however, didn’t seem to mind. He shifted closer and reached down, cupping Sherlock’s cheek, rubbing his thumb over Sherlock’s bottom lip.

“Idiot,” he repeated softly. “You should have run when I told you to.” He didn’t seem to be expecting an answer to that because he leaned down and kissed Sherlock lightly, brushing their lips together.

John… I’m sorry, Sherlock whispered, the words so faint he wasn’t even sure if they would be able to get through.

But John, wonderful steady John, just smiled against his lips and caressed Sherlock’s cheek with his thumb. I know.

Chapter Text

The summer stretched before them, long and silent, and there were times when Sherlock felt as though he was going out of his mind. As expected, there was no sign of Moriarty, even though he spent several long nights searching fruitlessly for some sort of clue that might tell them where he had gone. Exasperating, yes, especially since the man had been so close and Sherlock had just let him get away. That wasn’t to say he regretted taking that damn vest off of John as soon as possible, but he would never forgive himself for not having made certain that Moriarty was unconscious before doing so.

John seemed to understand Sherlock’s preoccupation far better than Sherlock had expected; for the most part, he went to work at the surgery and came home and forced food into Sherlock when he could and gave up when he couldn’t. He urged Sherlock to take the more interesting cases that came in and not focus all of his attention on finding Moriarty, tempting though it was to do just that. And when Sherlock got truly manic, John was not above pinning him down on the sofa and methodically massaging the tension from Sherlock’s body until he gave up and fell into an exhausted sleep - something he had learned from an ex-girlfriend, he claimed, though Sherlock had his doubts.

It was nice, Sherlock gradually discovered, to be around someone like John Watson, who knew when to push and when to give, who accepted experiments all over the place and strange things in the refridgerator and had a dark sense of humour that seemed to match Sherlock perfectly. John matched Sherlock perfectly. For the first time Sherlock was actually beginning to put stock in the whole soul mate theory and he wasn’t sure how to think about that. He’d spent most of his life denying the possibility that this would ever happen. But nothing confirmed reality as much as the one thing Sherlock had been dreading the most: a visit from Mummy.

Not long after the case of “The Speckled Blonde”, as John had chosen to call it in his blog, the two of them returned to the flat after eating a meal at Angelo’s at John’s insistence. Still riding the high from the case, Sherlock had agreed without too much argument. He’d spent most of the time watching John eat but he had managed to consume enough that John was happy, which in turn made Sherlock happy. There was a smile on his face all the way up to the point where he opened the door of 221b and spotted the woman sitting in John’s chair. Sherlock stopped short and John ran into him.

“Sherlock, what are you - oh.” John peered around him and blinked. It wasn’t hard to guess the reason for Sherlock’s sudden pause: the intruder was an older woman in her early fifties with neatly cut dark hair that had a hint of silver, well-dressed and proper, a small smile on her face. And then John saw her eyes and Sherlock could tell the moment that it connected.

Is that your mother? he asked, sounding torn between horror and amazement, his initial belief that the woman was a client fading away.

Unfortunately.

“Sherlock!” Mummy Holmes rose, somehow managing to make the one word sound both affectionate and scolding.

“Hello Mummy,” he muttered, planting an awkward kiss on her cheek.

“And you must be John Watson. I’ve heard so much about you from Mycroft. It’s lovely to meet you, dear. I didn’t think I was ever going to get the chance, waiting for Sherlock to introduce us. I had to come all the way into London.” She made no effort to hide the disdain in her voice. Mummy did not like London and she hated that both Sherlock and Mycroft had chosen to live and work there.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” John said slowly, glancing back at Sherlock. You don’t have to be so horrified, you know. It’s not like she’s going to chase me away.

Sherlock huffed - as though he would have been afraid of that! - and retreated, curling into a ball at the end of the sofa and sulking while Mummy cooed over John and asked him all sorts of questions about his family and the army and his life with Sherlock. Her eyes took in everything while John talked and John must have realized what she was doing but he didn’t seem to mind, likely having become used to the feeling of being analyzed after living with Sherlock for so long. Once or twice he looked over at Sherlock and smiled, seemingly not put out by the scowl he received in return.

He typed out an angry text to Mycroft and sent it. Then he sent another text to Lestrade demanding a case (something, anything, that would get them out of the flat) only to receive a text telling him to piss off. Mummy left the room to visit the bathroom, and there was no need to worry about her poking through their bedrooms as she’d likely done that long before the two of them had come home.

Sherlock, John said and he was amused, the feeling leeching over their bond and turning Sherlock’s sulking fit a shade lighter in spite of himself. It’s not that bad.

You don’t know her, John. Where do you think Mycroft and I learned it all? Sherlock demanded and felt a flash of satisfaction at seeing John pale just a little at the implication. John had no idea, not really. Mummy had chased a good many men and women away from Mycroft over the years, the ones she deemed weren’t ‘suitable’, and although John was worth more than any of them and probably wouldn’t leave regardless he didn’t want… well, he just didn’t want.

John’s face went soft as he sorted through this flood of information and emotions and he stood up, moving over to sit down next to Sherlock. He picked Sherlock’s feet up and then placed them in his lap once he was seated. He was getting quite good at interpretation. Look, you git. Even if your mother didn’t approve I told you I wasn’t going anywhere. It’s not just because we’re bonded, Sherlock. I like this, what we have together. It’s good. His hand squeezed the arch of Sherlock’s foot warmly. I’m not going anywhere.

John… Sherlock stared at him helplessly.

“Sherlock. We’re meeting your brother and his husband for dinner.” Mummy stepped into the room, a satisfied little smile on her face. One would have thought that she’d heard the whole conversation they’d just held. Honestly, Sherlock wouldn’t have put it past her. He pouted again as she held up a finger. “I don’t want to hear any complaining. We’re going.”

Chapter Text

The only saving grace about the whole situation was, as far as Sherlock was concerned, the look of stunned horror on Mycroft’s face when Anthea opened the door to his office and let Mummy, Sherlock and John in. Apparently, in this case, Mummy’s idea of ‘meeting’ Mycroft and Lestrade for dinner involved a sneak attack. Sherlock had to approve. There weren’t many people in the world with the ability to surprise Mycroft. That it meant that at least he would not be alone in his suffering was only a bonus. He tried not to smirk too widely as Mycroft stood up to greet them.

“Mummy,” he said weakly, eyes flicking over to first John and then Sherlock. His mouth tightened when he noticed his younger brother’s glee. “I was not aware you were coming to town so soon.”

“Yes, well, when I heard about Sherlock’s news I just had to come and meet John.” Mummy smiled over her shoulder at John. “After how long it took you to bring Gregory home I knew I would have to act if I wanted the opportunity before the year was up.”

Mycroft tried hard not to wince but it was there. He stepped around the desk and leaned down, dutifully dropping a kiss onto her cheek. There was nothing he could say in response, Sherlock knew, if only because it was the truth. Mycroft hadn’t been too accepting of having found his soul mate, not at first. The progression of the relationship between him and Greg had been slower than most, developing over the course of two years whenever either one had enough spare time, and he’d kept the news from Mummy for months until she’d gotten tired of waiting for him to admit the truth and shown up unexpectedly one morning at Scotland Yard. What had followed was possibly the fastest vacation ever planned as both Mycroft and Greg promptly took a few weeks at the estate to help smooth things over.

Mummy just gave him a slightly smug smile. “Where is my son-in-law?” she asked.

“At work, I imagine,” said Mycroft. “Since Sherlock refused to help him with this case it’s been causing him some trouble.”

“Sherlock!” Mummy said reprovingly.

Sherlock glowered at his brother. “It was a boring case,” he said sulkily, ignoring John’s surprised look. He’d received the call that morning while John was still asleep - victim found on the bank of the Thames with no visible cause of death and a bottle of nail polish inserted in a most unusual orifice. Normally it was the sort of case he might have considered accepting but John’s shoulder had been wrenched a bit during their last case and he knew from the occasional phantom flash in his own shoulder that the injury was still not fully healed. He realized he was staring at John when John lifted a hand to touch his wounded shoulder thoughtfully and looked away quickly.

“That doesn’t matter. You should know better than to leave your brother-in-law out in the cold,” she scolded. Sherlock looked a bit ill at that but she ignored him. “Mycroft, do you think there’s a chance that Gregory could come join us for dinner? I’d love to see the poor dear.”

“I’ll check, Mummy.” Mycroft turned away, already drawing his phone out of his pocket. There would be no question about whether or not he would be joining them: nothing short of a world war would lessen Mummy’s ire if either of her sons didn’t show up for dinner on the few occasions that she made it to London. He began speaking quietly into the phone.

“I’m going to visit with that lovely assistant of yours. Sherlock, you and I will be having a conversation later about family,” she warned.

Pouting, he watched his mother glide out of the room, moving with a grace that he had been fortunate enough to inherit. Thanks to bloody Mycroft he would be in for a long lecture about how it wasn’t right that he denied ‘dear Gregory’ help when Lestrade came to him. Mummy adored Lestrade and he wouldn’t hear the end of it until he promised to help next time - and Lestrade would no doubt hold him to it. Damn the man! He was about to start plotting a way to drop Mycroft’s new diet into the conversation when John took his arm. Sherlock glanced at him, startled, but allowed John to pull him out of the room.

“Bloody Mycroft,” he raged as soon as they were out in the hallway. “I don’t know why he always insists on trying to get Mummy in his favour.” Well, actually he did, they’d always fought over Mummy’s attention in their own specific little areas, ever since it became evident that she doted on Sherlock for things like music and being precocious and praised Mycroft for things like excellent grades and diplomacy.

“God.” John shook his head in wonder. “You two really are like a couple of children sometimes.” He sounded remarkably fond as he said that. “You remind me of Harry and me when we were young.”

Sherlock stilled, curiosity inflamed. How so?

We used to fight all the time for Mum’s attention when she was sick, said John. It didn’t seem to bother him, remembering this, if anything he was feeling a bit nostalgic and content. Course that stopped after she got really ill, but still. I think it’s cute.

Cute? Sherlock repeated with all the indignity of a wet cat. He didn’t even want to think the word, which why he spoke out loud. “I am not, nor have I ever been, cute.”

John chuckled and reached out, sliding his fingers into Sherlock’s belt loops. A couple of steps closer and he had Sherlock backed up against the wall, the two of them pressed together in a shocking but pleasant way. “Yes you are. Most of the time you’re a right bastard but once in a while… yeah.” His eyes went all soft and warm and he leaned up, coaxing Sherlock into a kiss. It was sweet and slow, a gentle give and take, and Sherlock had never felt anything like this before. He had no idea what to do with his hands and finally he settled them, awkwardly, on John’s lower back, thumbs loosely curled over John’s hips.

By the time John pulled away he was smiling and Sherlock’s head felt a little fuzzy. John reached up and smoothed a hand down his cheek. “Definitely cute.”

Chapter Text

Lestrade met them at the restaurant. It was a small place, out of the way and secretive with wait staff who had signed numerous contracts of non-disclosure, the kind of place meant only for those who were already in the know. Expensive, Sherlock knew, eyeing the door with resignation, and no doubt one of Mummy’s favourites. She always did enjoy taking advantage of London’s cuisine on the few occasions that she was in the city. At least the night would be on Mycroft’s card. He wasn’t very hungry but that wouldn’t stop him from ordering the most expensive dishes on the menu.

“He looks tired,” John said in an undertone as they got out of the car, glancing at Lestrade. Sherlock followed his gaze. Yes, John was correct, Lestrade did look exhausted. There were dark circles under his eyes and his cheeks were a bit hollower than they had been before. He’d obviously tried to wash up as best he could considering that the clothing he was wearing had clearly seen better days: there was a stain on the right cuff that he’d tried to hide by rolling both sleeves up and his trousers were wrinkled. Even his hair was still wet, curling and damp in the foggy night air.

“Hello, Mummy,” Lestrade said, stepping forward to drop the expected kiss onto her cheek. “Mycroft. John. Sherlock.” His jaw tightened just a little bit, annoyance evident.

“Gregory, dear, you look run in,” Mummy said worriedly before Sherlock could respond. “This can’t be good for your health. When was the last time you slept?”

“I catch a few hours here and there,” he replied with an easy smile, deliberately not answering her question. He didn’t have to. If Sherlock could tell that it had been at least two days then Mummy and Mycroft would be able to with no problems. Probably even John could recognize that.

“I’m relieved you were able to sneak away to meet us for dinner but you might’ve taken the time to go home and sleep instead,” she went on, clucking her tongue. “Really, Sherlock, you should know better than to leave your brother-in-law in this kind of state. I’ve told you before that we must do what we can for family.” She turned an accusing gaze on him and Sherlock shrank away from it, hating how she always managed to make him feel like a small child.

“Oh it’s not so bad,” Lestrade said, the faintest hint of a smirk tugging at his lips. He was enjoying this, the bastard. “I mean, we might’ve saved that last victim if Sherlock had agreed to help out… but my team is doing the best that we can.”

Sherlock!” Mummy exclaimed and he hissed in outright annoyance, storming closely enough to Lestrade that he could take the man’s phone out of his pocket. Lestrade sputtered something in outrage as Sherlock stalked away, fingers already flying over the mobile that was nearly as familiar to him as his own or John’s. As he’d expected, Lestrade has been exchanging texts with Donovan and the other members of his team, keeping up to date on how they were doing while he was out. Of course, their progress was laughably slow and couldn’t really be termed “progress” at all, at least as far as Sherlock was concerned.

“Idiots,” he muttered scornfully, flipping through a series of crime scene photos. Lestrade only kept them on his phone because it was one Mycroft had given him, encrypted and protected with the very best security both on and off the market. He narrowed his eyes, staring thoughtfully at the way the most recent victim was laying. There was something noteworthy about the face.

Sherlock? A warm hand touched his arm, fingers sliding up rest on the curve of his elbow in a way that felt appallingly intimate when he was trying to think. John smiled softly and stepped around him so that they were face to face, glancing briefly at the phone. The gory picture didn’t seem to bother him. “Your mother, Mycroft and Greg have gone into the restaurant already. Greg told me to tell you that if you sabotage his phone he’s going to restrict your access to crime scenes for the next three months.”

After seeing the frankly amateurish work that the Yard had been doing so far Sherlock very much doubted that. “Look at this, John,” he instructed, tilting the photo so that John could see it better.

“What am I looking at?” John wrinkled his nose and caught the side of the phone, cocking his head. Pictures weren’t nearly as good as being there in person but Lestrade, at least, was marginally competent at seeing the things that actually mattered. And John, clever John, caught on to what Sherlock was referring to right away. “Oh. You’re talking about the foam on her mouth? That doesn’t look like - hang on, it looks like -”

“Shaving cream,” Sherlock said triumphantly, evidence falling into place at rapid pace. John gave a little gasp but Sherlock paid him no mind. He opened up a new text and began typing out a message to Donovan. Hopefully her simple little mind would think it was from Lestrade and she would actually follow through on his instructions without argument. The sooner they acted, the more chance that another woman could be saved. For a moment he hesitated to send it, hating the thought that he couldn’t take a cab to the location and challenge the killer himself, but he’d get in trouble with Mummy and that would be a bit not good. Regretfully he pushed the button and looked up just in time for his collar to be seized as he was dragged down into a rather violent kiss.

“Fucking amazing,” John growled against his lips and oh, this was nothing like the soft, sweet kisses they had shared before; this was rough and biting, John’s tongue plunging into his mouth and exploring, one hand curled into the hair at the nape of Sherlock’s mouth to keep him from pulling away as his back as pressed against the brick wall, propping them both up.

John. Sherlock was gasping, reeling from the unexpected assault.

“Amazing,” John said again as he pulled back, eyes glittering in the dim light. “Seriously, every time I think I know how brilliant you can be you do something like that and make me realize all over again that I’ve got no idea.” He shook his head and, as though just realizing his hands were still holding Sherlock in place, let go, smoothing the front of Sherlock’s coat. “Sorry.”

“Sorry?” Sherlock looked at him like was mad. He wanted more, wanted to take John home and learn about this fascinating side of him. John caught the thread of that thought and grinned.

Later, he promised, one that Sherlock intended to keep.

Chapter Text

After that, dinner felt like a lost cause. Sherlock wasn't hungry in the slightest, not when all he could think about was how it had felt when John's powerful fingers curled around his collar or the feel of John's body pressed up against his, that hot mouth pressing possessive kisses on him, biting at his lips, licking his way in... God. He barely repressed a shiver, knowing that Mycroft would instantly realize what, exactly, Sherlock was thinking about so intently. As it was, his older brother's eyes had been focused on him for the majority of the meal, occasionally flicking over to John with a frankly speculative look, and it was only the fact that Mummy was so interested in asking John questions that stopped her from having the exact same look.

"So you're a doctor," she was saying, and it was only good manners that stopped her from leaving forward over the table. "Tell me, John, why did you decide to go into that profession?"

Having lived with Sherlock for long enough to know that Mummy could likely deduce the answer, John remained polite when he replied, "It was just something that I've always been fascinated by. My mother was ill quite a lot when I was a child and we ended up spending some time in the hospital visiting with her. So when it came time for university it just seemed like the natural choice." He shrugged with one shoulder and gave her a small smile. "Plus it was a good way for me to sign up with the army. They agreed to put me through school."

"Oh yes, I agree. It sounds like you are a very responsible young man. Patient, too, if you can put up with my Sherlock." Coming from anyone else the comment would've stung, but there was a distinct softness to Mummy's face as she spoke, which, combined with the tender way she said "My Sherlock", took all of the ire out of the words. John's fond grin only helped.

"He can be a git sometimes but I wouldn't trade him for anyone else," John said honestly, looking at Sherlock with a distinct warmth in his eyes that made the twin emotion flowing across their bond even stronger. "I'd almost given up on finding my soul mate, to be honest. It happens for so many people when they're younger. I guess I figured mine had died." He cleared his throat, uncomfortable, and glanced at his plate.

"We thought the same thing for Sherlock," Mycroft said diplomatically and Sherlock glared at him. Mycroft might have forgotten some of the teasing Sherlock had endured in his youth but Sherlock certainly hadn't. There were a fair few people who were under the impression that Sherlock had been born without a soul mate, that he (and the rest of the Holmes, for that matter) weren't human enough to have that kind of a bond. He also knew that there had been times when Mycroft had wondered the same thing, though his brother would never have admitted it. Finding Lestrade, as difficult as the change had been, had made an enormous difference in Mycroft's life, as much of a change as John had made in Sherlock's.

"Yeah, well, I guess you were all wrong," John said and there was an edge of sharpness to his voice when he looked at Mycroft, like he was warning the man off from making any other comments. Mycroft stared back at him placidly.

Fortunately, before war could break out, Lestrade's phone rang. He looked up in surprise, having been deeply involved in a rich pasta dinner with shrimp and chicken, and swallowed a mouthful of his food. "Excuse me, I really must take this," he said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "It's Donovan."

"Of course, go ahead," said Mummy. Sherlock and John exchanged a glance.

Think Donovan followed your instructions? John asked.

Probably. She can be an intelligent person when she wants to be, Sherlock said, pretending that he was inspecting the contents of his untouched wine glass so that he wouldn't have to meet John's astonished gaze.

Did you just compliment Sally Donovan? John said incredulously.

"I've got to go," Lestrade said, dashing back to the table and saving Sherlock from having to come up with an answer. "They've got a lead on the killer. This could be the break we were waiting for. Mummy, I'm sorry."

"It's perfectly alright, dear. I wouldn't want to keep you from your job, not when I know how important it is." She rose to accept his kiss good-bye as Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Stay safe, dear."

"I will." Lestrade kissed Mycroft briefly, a chaste brush of their mouths, and then nodded to John and Sherlock. His eyes lingered on Sherlock for a long moment and it was obvious that he wanted to say something more. Sherlock stared back in a stony silence that dared Lestrade to suggest anything: there was a reason, after all, that he had erased the texts he'd sent to Sally. There was no proof that he had helped as long as John didn't betray him. Finally Lestrade nodded to him, grabbed his jacket and headed out of the restaurant at a run.

"Well, that was quite exciting," said Mummy, sipping from her glass. "You boys have such interesting jobs!"

"Yes and speaking of, I've got to work in the morning. I'm sorry but Sherlock and I must be off, too," said John. Sherlock only kept the look of surprise from appearing on his face from long practice. He'd been expecting to have to endure several tedious hours before John would allow them to leave, since he knew for a fact that John didn't work the next day. But he wasn't about to question his good fortune too deeply. He rose to his feet quickly.

"Mummy, as always, a pleasure," he said, not wanting her to suggest that he stay while John left.

"I'll come see you again before I leave," Mummy said. She gripped his shoulders for a moment, looking at him intently, and then smiled. "Until then, Sherlock, John." She accepted Sherlock's kiss and squeezed John's hand before sitting down across from Mycroft. Sherlock shot a smirk at his brother as he followed John to the exit, noting and relishing the tell-tale signs of Mycroft's frustration. For once Mycroft was the one left sitting with Mummy while Sherlock left early. It was a pleasant change.

"Did Sarah call you to go to work after all?" he asked once they were outside.

"No. You'd know if she had." John looked up and down the street. "I just couldn't sit there with you one second longer."

Sherlock frowned uncertainly. It didn't sound like a good thing to say, but the emotions coming from John - they were definitely good. "John?"

"I want to take you home," John explained and he didn't have to say anything else; the roughened timbre of his voice combined with the darkening of his eyes and flush across his cheeks spoke volumes.

And really, there was nothing that could be said to that: Sherlock just swallowed hard and threw a hand up to stop a cab immediately.

Chapter Text

The heat buzzing between him and John was practically tangible. Sherlock stared out the window out of the cab, conscious of the fact that the cabbie was periodically eyeing the two of them in the mirror. There was no cause for her to be alarmed, of course - he and John were sitting on opposite sides of the car, leaving a good distance between them. They hadn't so much as looked at each other from the moment that she had initially picked them up. And yet, that did nothing to dispel the tension that lingered. Every so often John's breath would audibly hitch and he would shift on the seat, not quite squirming but close and even Sherlock, who prided himself on remaining calm, was having a difficult time sitting still.

Bloody hell, this is the longest trip ever, John said, stating Sherlock's thoughts exactly. Really they were travelling at an astonishingly good pace considering the time of the day, but every minute felt like it was lasting for much longer. Sherlock had no idea what was going to happen when they got back to the flat. Maybe nothing would, perhaps John would make tea and then retire upstairs until Sherlock's incessant playing of the violin drove him back downstairs at half past two to scold. Or maybe it would go much further than that. But he knew he wanted to find out.

His phone beeped, momentarily distracting him, and he glanced down automatically. It was Lestrade with details on the case they had been working on. Apparently Scotland Yard's finest had allowed their criminal to escape. Sherlock gritted his teeth, annoyance temporarily breaking through the fog that had been permeating his brain. Honestly even when he gave them simple, clear instructions they couldn't follow through! He'd practically hand wrapped that criminal and set the man on their doorstep. Irritated, he typed out a quick response and then locked his phone, knowing without looking up that John was watching him intently.

"He escaped," Sherlock stated unnecessarily.

"I know," said John. "I'm sorry."

"That's what happens when you're surrounded by incompetence," said Sherlock, tucking his phone back into his pocket even though it was vibrating again. He knew that the next step would be Lestrade asking him to come along to the newest crime scene and although it was tempting, he wasn't interested. And wasn't that a sight? Sherlock Holmes willingly turning down a crime that might actually prove to be slightly interesting in favour of something else?

John's lips quirked at that. "I'm sure that they'll be able to deal without you for one night," he said. "If you go, you know that Donovan will be looking for a way to pin is escape on you."

That was true, if only because that was Donovan enjoyed doing the most. "I'll text him tomorrow if they haven't solved it," Sherlock said, knowing that the chances of Lestrade's team doing so were extremely low. If Lestrade had been that run down, his team likely wasn't far behind, and most of them weren't stunning examples of intelligence even when they were well rested and fed.

"Sounds good to me," John said and he reached across the cab, brazenly laying a hand on Sherlock's knee. He kept his eyes on Sherlock's face and the bond between them wide open, searching anxiously for any hint that the move had been unwelcome. Sherlock swallowed hard, unable to keep from looking down at that strong, tanned hand, the fingers gently cupping his knee, thumb rubbing the inside of the joint, stark against the plain black of his trousers. It was oddly intimate in a way that was just barely bordering on sexual.

"221 Baker Street," the cabbie announced, pulling the car to a stop.

While John was paying her, Sherlock climbed out and swept up the stairs, unlocking the door. Not waiting for John, he hurried up the steps to their flat. By the time John came up a few seconds later, Sherlock was ready. He slammed the door shut and smoothly backed John up against it, using his height to keep John pinned. He was relieved to feel intrigue flowing from John as his blue eyes went a little hazy with renewed arousal. Sherlock grinned fiercely and ducked his head, catching John's lips in a harsh kiss. John made a soft sound in the back of his throat and ran his hands up Sherlock's back, gradually softening the kiss until their lips were just barely brushing together, sweet little touches that were somehow more exciting than the deeper one Sherlock had initiated.

Sherlock, are you sure about this? John asked, finally pulling back just a little. He was breathing heavily and his cheeks were flushed, blond hair mussed. Things don't have to change, you know. I mean, when we first met you made it very clear that you weren't interested in having a soul mate. You told me you were married to your work. I've been trying to respect that. Now he was the one who swallowed, his colour high. I'm not interested in being a mistress.

You’re not a mistress, Sherlock said though admittedly the idea conjured up some truly intriguing pictures. You’re… a part of my work. It wasn’t what he had intended to say and he winced, drawing back slightly to watch John warily just in case that had been a bit not good.

John, however, was actually smiling. Do you know, from you that was almost sweet, he remarked, sliding his hands down to rest on Sherlock’s hips. He began rubbing small, slow circles with his thumbs, digging deeply into the tissue. You need to eat more, you great bony git.

“John,” Sherlock said and it became immediately obvious why they had been speaking silently, because it was so much easier than trying to get his body to cooperate with speaking and not sound all breathy and wanting. But then, the sound of his voice made John’s breath hitch and he leaned up, attaching his mouth to Sherlock’s throat, and okay, yes, that was really quite brilliant and worth sounding so foolish if would get John to do that thing with his tongue again.

Hands tightened on his hips, the only warning Sherlock received, and then John was moving them, guiding them backwards across the room. Sherlock’s legs the sofa and bent and he sat, pulling him away from John’s heat, and he looked up with an expression that on anyone else would be termed a pout. John just grinned and moved to straddle his thighs, knees sinking deeply into the sofa. If he was the only one who would ever say so, he was quite good at removing that pout.

Chapter Text

The sofa sank comfortably beneath their combined weight. John squirmed a little bit closer and then gave a contented sigh as he brought both hands up and tangled them in Sherlock’s dark curls. There was a small smile on his face as he began to rub the pads of fingers over Sherlock’s skull, instinctively seeking out pressure points. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, he admitted. I just didn’t think I would ever get the chance.

You’ve done a remarkable job in hiding it, Sherlock said and it wasn’t quite a compliment, mostly because he didn’t like the idea that even with their bond, there were still things that John was capable of keeping from him. In spite of that he closed his eyes and allowed John to tip his head forward. The soothing sensation was both comforting and pleasurable and he realized that, although he could have stayed exactly where they were forever, he was still craving more. His hands found their way to John’s hips and tightened, his fingers brushing along the curve of John’s arse before stilling with uncertainty.

John just grinned and used his grip on Sherlock’s hair to guide the man’s head up until he could slot their mouths together, moving, teaching in a lazy give-and-take. He nipped gently at Sherlock’s plump lower lip, then suckled until Sherlock was shifting restlessly beneath them, unconsciously lifting his hips so that the juncture of their bodies rubbed together in a very appealing way. The tantalizing bit of friction made both men moan. John shifted, face flushed, and then ground down, deliberately this time, fully enjoying the deep sound that was pulled from Sherlock’s throat as a result.

Fuck you’re gorgeous, he said. He wasn’t speaking out loud but he still sounded breathless. You have no idea how many times I’ve watched you, Sherlock. I mean, for the most part men aren’t really my thing, but you... He let one hand slip free of Sherlock’s hair and trailed his fingers down his chest, seemingly fascinated by the way his touch was wrinkling the expensive cloth.

"I am your soul mate," Sherlock pointed out, swallowing hard when John's fingers passed a little too close to one of his nipples. He didn't have a whole lot of experience but he had enough to know that his chest and neck had always been sensitive. He had to fight the urge to move, though whether it would be to push John away or push up into John's touch was up for debate.

"No, that's not it," John replied. "Believe me, I know. It's because you're a mad wanker who saved my life." And he leaned down and kissed Sherlock again, one hard but impossibly gentle kiss, and then he moved to the right, trailing a series of kisses across Sherlock's cheek and down the side of his throat. He nudged the collar of Sherlock's shirt aside and stuck his tongue out, teasing the flesh of his neck while Sherlock twitched underneath him, fighting to keep back the groan that wanted to escape him.

“I... I saved your life? John, you... you shot a cab driver to save me,” Sherlock gasped. “I... I don’t recall... doing that for... for you.” Okay, this was not working. Speech was becoming progressively more difficult. And even though speaking mentally through their bond felt almost too intimate, he didn’t like that John could see how much this was affecting him. Then again, that in itself was foolish because John could hear and feel everything and he felt John grin against his skin as that thought passed through both their minds, and he nipped gently at the skin beneath his mouth, using his teeth to scrape across the sensitive nerve endings before soothing the bite with his tongue.

Yes, of course. He slipped easily back into mind speech, his mouth to preoccupied to be speaking out loud anyway. Sherlock, I hated my life before I met you. Everything was the same. Nothing ever happened to me. It was, to paraphrase a certain consulting detective, boring. And then I met you. And you made everything seem like it was worthwhile.

Sherlock could feel it, the absolute sincerity that was coming from John, and he knew without even looking at the tense set of John’s shoulders or listening to the way his voice was shaking a little that John was telling the truth. He lifted his hands from where they had been clutching at John’s hips and let them slide up his back, spanning the length of his shoulder blades. John, he said hesitantly, uncertain of what he even wanted to say. Apparently, somewhere along the line he and John had saved each other and he hadn’t even known. He had always believed that if something were to happen to him, if he ever disappeared, that John would be just fine without him, that Sherlock would be the only one to suffer from their separation. Now, it seemed, that wasn’t true at all.

Idiot, John murmured and his voice was filled with both affection and fear, one that had paralyzed him, briefly, all the way down to his core before Sherlock understood what he was trying to say. He did lean back now, his eyes meeting Sherlock’s and staying there. Don’t ever do that to me. I’m sure I’d pick myself up afterwards, carry on somehow, but I don’t want to go back to that half a life, Sherlock. Don’t go to that one place where I won’t be able to follow.

It was on the tip of Sherlock’s tongue to make a promise he wasn’t sure he would be able to keep and he knew that John knew that. John’s jaw tightened briefly and for a moment it seemed like he was going to climb off of Sherlock’s lap. Instinctively, Sherlock’s hands also tightened on his shoulders, desperate to keep John exactly where he was. After weeks of wanting, he didn’t want anything to come between them now that he had John exactly where he wanted him. He stared up at John and had no idea what John was reading from his face or their bond, but whatever it was seemed to be enough: abruptly John relaxed against him and smiled, bringing one finger up to lazily trace his cheek.

“What say we go to the bedroom?” he suggested softly.

“Alright,” Sherlock said. John slipped off of his lap and he found himself instantly missing that warmth, but it was alright because John hadn’t gone far; he tugged Sherlock up and smiled, blue eyes soft, and pulled him in the direction of Sherlock’s bedroom. Sherlock followed him willingly.

Chapter Text

Sherlock fell asleep the same way he woke up: with John’s hand on his hair and his head on John’s chest, listening to the sound of his heartbeat. He could tell that John was awake as the fingers in his hair were moving, the pads gently rubbing at his scalp before trailing down his neck and sweeping across his bare shoulders, tracing his bone structure. He shivered and felt John's amusement flowing across their bond. The teasing didn't stop, though he did leave off Sherlock's shoulders and move further down his back. He slipped a hand over Sherlock's hip and left it there where he could rub lazy circles just inches from where Sherlock really wanted him.

"Tease," Sherlock mumbled, his voice muffled by warm flesh. It didn't matter, he knew that his comment had been understood when John chuckled, his chest rumbling with the force of his laughter. He squirmed, trying to get John's hand to move just a bit.

"Sorry," John said regretfully, giving him one last squeeze before letting his hand go limp. He ignored Sherlock’s huff. "I was woken up by your cell phone going off. Mine has rung twice in the past ten minutes and we've both got several text messages waiting, I think. It's probably Lestrade trying to contact you about that case. As much as I would love to keep you all to myself for the rest of the day, you should probably answer him."

Sherlock grumbled something unintelligible in reply. For the first time in his life, he would have gladly given up the case if it meant that he and John could stay exactly where they were. He felt deliciously warm, a bit achy in places that weren't used to this sort of exercise, but otherwise good, well rested and peaceful. He wasn't sure he wanted to ruin it by having to deal with Scotland Yard, no matter how much he was craving a good case. He pressed his face into John's side and planted a gentle kiss on his skin before he pulled away, squirming around until he could sit up and reach across John's body for their phones. He looked at the two screens and saw that John was right, every message except for one was from Lestrade, each one getting progressively more urgent and resorting to threats, including contacting Mummy. The other message, on John's phone, was from Sarah and he scowled.

"Sherlock," John said, and then he sat up took and took his phone out of Sherlock's hands, ignoring the frown he received in return. "I'll just tell her I'm busy, alright? She knows that when we have a case on, I don't come in."

There was nothing Sherlock could say to that - as long as John remained with him and not that woman, he couldn't complain - so he turned his attention back to his phone. Scotland Yard, of course, had yet to find the killer they had been searching for and Sherlock let out a huff of frustration. He skimmed the messages quickly and then sent a short reply back to Lestrade saying that he and John would be around to the newest crime scene within the hour. Lestrade must have been waiting for his text because an answer came back right away, a quick and concise "Ok" that told Sherlock exactly how exhausted and frustrated Lestrade probably was. Possibly, he might have to get Mycroft to intervene on this one.

John's hand reached out and caught his chin, pulling his attention up and away from his phone. Sherlock blinked in confusion when John leaned forward and kissed him lightly. You know you don't need to worry about Sarah, right? he asked, resting their foreheads together. She's just my boss, Sherlock. I wouldn't want anything with her, not when I've got you.

You were attracted to her, back when you first met, Sherlock couldn’t resist pointing out.

Yes, that's true, but I'm afraid I'm attracted to rather a lot of women. It's just the way I am. That doesn't mean anything is ever going to happen, John replied gently, kissing him again. We've never even been out on a real date and we never will be, either. He smiled. And I think it's grand of you to step in so that Lestrade can get some much needed rest. He looked pretty awful last night, I have to admit. You can be a good brother sometimes when you want to be. His grin grew wider when Sherlock made an annoyed sound and pulled away.

"Do you have to ruin it?" he said, though his ire was ruined simply because he was secretly pleased that John had reaffirmed that there was nothing going on between him and Sarah. Even though Sherlock had already been aware of that thanks to their bond, it still felt gratifying to hear that extra bit of assurance. He'd never seen or even spoken to Sarah before but there was something about the way John looked sometimes when he came home from work that was a bit worrying.

"Yeah, I do." John dropped a third kiss onto his shoulder and then clambered out of the bed, stretching his arms over his head. He was careful with his bad shoulder, cautious about straining the muscles, and Sherlock took the opportunity to unabashedly examine John from head to toe. He'd had the chance to get close up and personal with a good portion of his body the night before, but there was something to be said for being able to look his fill as long as he wanted, to having the visual knowledge to go along with the tactile. John was, after all, a spectacularly fit man even though it had been months since he had been in the army. A bit on the thin side, but muscled nevertheless, with a slightly faded tan that made his grey and blond hair look exotic.

"Done admiring the view?" John asked and Sherlock realized he'd been caught. John was grinning, though, his blue eyes sparkling with amusement. "I have to say, you've got bollocks, calling me thin."

"Of course I do, you became intimately acquainted with them last night," Sherlock said innocently, just to see the way the tips of John's ears would flush pink. He smirked and got off of the bed, sauntering from the room, well aware that John was now the one leering, his eyes following Sherlock's backside until he couldn't see it anymore. "Get dressed, John. We've got a case!"

Chapter Text

After a shower that took much longer than it really should have because John couldn’t resist sneaking in to join him, the two of them were finally on their way to the crime scene. In the cab, Sherlock tapped out a quick text and sent it to his brother. Normally he made it a point to ignore the people around him unless it was absolutely necessary, but in this case Lestrade was going to be utterly useless unless he got some rest. It would be just like him to send the rest of his squad home for a few hours of downtime but keep working himself, and the only one who could put a stop to that without a huge fight was Mycroft.

They reached the scene at the same time; the large black car gliding up ahead of them was unquestionably Mycroft’s. Lestrade noticed it immediately, of course, but he didn’t seem to be paying much attention. He came right over to the cab and opened the door for John. “Thank god you’re here,” he said wearily.

Sherlock could tell at a glance that not only had Lestrade not gone home, but that he hadn’t consumed any additional food or drink or sat down for more than ten minutes since their dinner the night before. His hair was badly mussed and the dark circles under his puffy eyes had sunk so deep it would take weeks to fully erase them. He also smelled strongly of cigarette smoke, which meant the case really had been going no where because Mycroft loathed smoking as much as John did. It would have been enough to make him feel guilty that he’d spend the night in bed with John had he not been a sociopath that didn’t feel useless things like guilt. John snorted at that and Sherlock scowled at him to keep him quiet as they climbed out of the car.

“Yes, here we are,” he said primly, adjusting the collar of his coat automatically. Fortunately the day was cool enough to warrant it being worn. He never felt quite right without it. “You’ve sent Donovan and the others home until midday, correct? I’ll be able to catch them up when they come on shift if we haven’t caught the murderer already, and there’s a good chance that we will have.”

Lestrade rubbed a hand over his face. “It would be good if you can but I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here to fill them in myself if you haven’t,” he said.

“No, you won’t,” Mycroft said.

It was fascinating to watch the play of emotions as they spread across Lestrade’s face, frustration and resignation being the most obvious as he turned around and looked at his mate. Mycroft had clearly been home at some point as he was wearing a different suit and looked positively well rested compared to Lestrade, even though he had been up for half the night working on documentation. Lestrade folded his arms and frowned, not looking pleased in the least that Mycroft had actually come to the crime scene. John glanced between the two of them and realized that a fight was not far off.

Sherlock, we should -

“What are you doing here?” Lestrade asked before John could complete his thought, and it was just as well. Sherlock didn’t want to leave. This was interesting.

“It’s past time that you came home for a rest,” Mycroft replied. If he was aware that Lestrade was angry, he didn’t show it. “You’ve been awake for much longer than is advisable, Gregory. Your body won’t be able to take much more of this. I understand that this case is important to you, but surely it will be alright if Sherlock takes over for a short time? You must be exhausted, aren’t you?”

“I still have work to do. I don’t see why I should rest before this case has been solved. There’s still a murderer running free,” said Lestrade. “Besides, I’m not even that tired.”

“That’s because you have reached the point when your mind is beginning to delude itself,” Sherlock interjected calmly before his brother could respond. “Pretty soon, within the hour I would say, you’ll begin to hallucinate. I hardly think that you’re going to be of any help when you’re seeing things that aren’t even there.” He shot Lestrade the most disdainful look he could muster. “If you don’t go, you’re going to pass out anyway. It’s obvious that you’re struggling to maintain your balance. You keep looking at the cab because you want to lean against it. Your pulse is racing because of the two, no three cigarettes you just finished smoking but it’s already wearing off. Go, Lestrade. John and I will take over the case.”

Lestrade looked uncertain. He actually was swaying now, just a little, the movement almost imperceptible unless you knew what to look for. John was beginning to look concerned and he stepped forward, grasping Lestrade’s arm to steady him. “Look, you know Sherlock will have this wrapped up in no time,” he said gently but firmly, automatically slipping into his doctor mode. “I see Dimmock over there. We’ve worked with him before and he knows Sherlock. It will be fine. You go home and sleep for a while and then you can rejoin us once you wake up, alright? You need rest before you can participate in any high speed chases.”

Even though he was ready to keel over, Lestrade still managed a grin. He gave a faint nod, the most he seemed to be capable of, and John passed him over to Mycroft, who half-carried his mate back to the car. He settled Lestrade inside and then climbed in after him. The car glided away and John sighed. “God, he’s nearly as bad as you sometimes,” he commented.

“I haven’t the slightest idea of what you’re trying to imply,” Sherlock said, already striding over towards the crime scene. To his credit, Dimmock greeted the two of them with a forced grin and a limp handshake. He didn’t protest when Sherlock swept over to what remained of the scene and began investigating. The body was already gone but there was still plenty to be seen, and because Anderson wasn’t around none of it had been mucked up.

“Do you have access to the photos?” John asked behind him.

Dimmock nodded. “I’ve got the file right here. Where’s Lestrade?”

“His soul mate took him home,” said Sherlock, returning to the two of them and seizing the file. He flipped it open. It was exactly as he had expected. He stared down at the pictures thinking furiously for a few seconds before he looked up. “We need to go to Scotland Yard.”

Chapter Text

A case that Sherlock had initially thought would be extremely easy was turning out to be more difficult to solve than he had anticipated, and it was soon obvious why Lestrade and his team had been struggling as much as they had. Having made one mistake, it didn't see like the murderer was inclined to make any more. Sherlock locked himself up in Lestrade's office and began pouring over the crime scene photos and folders that Dimmock had given to him. Every single one held new but useless information that did nothing to advance the case. He gave a low growl of frustration and sank back down into the chair, suddenly regretting his decision to not become involved right off. If he had, they would be much further along considering that none of the pictures contained anything useful.

Oh really? John's amused voice came to him with a distant twang; he was down in the cafeteria, purchasing two cups of the sludge that NSY had the nerve to consider coffee. Sherlock, maybe you should get up and walk around. Let your mind have a break for a bit. Even as he spoke his words were tinged with resignation; he knew that there was no way Sherlock was going to leave the case be until it had been solved. And he was right.

Sherlock scoffed at the idea of leaving, knowing that John would hear and understand, and took out another photo. As he peered down at it, he could sense that John was leaving the cafeteria and approaching the stairs that would bring him back up to the office. That was John all the way through: he refused to use the lift unless absolutely necessary no matter how much his shoulder or leg were paining him. And they were, make no mistake about it: it was bad enough that even Sherlock could feel it as a phantom ache when he moved too quickly or stretched an arm out too far. It was frustrating to have a pain that could not be soothed by outside or inside means and he knew that was how John felt sometimes when it came to his leg.

Suddenly, he paused and cocked his head to the side, staring down at the photos with renewed interest. He grabbed one and held it up close to his face, then scrabbled for another. "Oh," he breathed with dawning understanding. "Oh." He leapt to his feet and scooped up some of the files. John, don't bother coming up here. We have to get to Barts.

He felt John frown as the doctor tried to absorb the deductions that were flooding through Sherlock's brain at a rate that must have seemed nearly overwhelming for someone as average as John. It all seemed so simple to Sherlock as he threw the door open and dashed out. Soul bonds were frustrating that way, particularly for ones that were undeveloped or mates that had never met. What if this serial killer was trying to pin down his mate? Each victim was a potential match that had turned out to be fake and the killer, enraged, had slaughtered them with whatever means was closest after breaking into their houses and flats at all hours, hence the shaving cream in the photo he'd seen before.

But how do you know where he'll strike next? John asked.

I need to see the newest body, Sherlock replied, not bothering to wait for the lift. He took the stairs two at a time. I think he believes he is closing in on the concept of his perfect match. Each person that was murdered had something wrong with their left pinky finger, John. The killer must be able to feel it. He's using that ridiculous psychological crap to fill in the rest.

John smiled. He knew what Sherlock was referring to. "That ridiculous psychological crap" was Sherlock speak for the popular "find your soul mate" services that existed. There were people who believed that you could tell what your mate would be like just by filling out forms and allowing yourself to be extensively tested. Personally John didn't put a lot of stock in them, if only because he knew that no one would ever have been able to match him with someone like Sherlock. Harry had gone when they were just kids and she'd tried to drag him along, but he had refused. There were just as many people who believed that some people never found their mates because they were too stuck on the idea of what their mate should be like.

I can't believe Lestrade didn't think of it, he said as Sherlock ran towards him.

"He might have if he'd been thinking more clearly," Sherlock said, panting just a little as they hurried out the front doors. "It would have been difficult for me to see the connection at first too, I have to admit. It's only more recently that the killer had started on the same type of victims - blond hair, blue eyes, all relatively short - that it occurred to me he might be hunting mates. Some people get desperate if they haven't met their mate by the right age and I estimate that he's in his early forties."

John said nothing, he didn't have to because Sherlock already knew what he was thinking. Both of them had been older than normal when they'd found their soul mates, too, and both of them had faced a fair amount of flack for not having a mate earlier in life like most people did. It was impossible not to sympathize with the killer just a little. Finally, John said, "So you think that you'll be able to figure out who his next victim is?"

"Not me, Mycroft," Sherlock said and he threw a hand up to stop the cab. "His access will actually come in handy for once. Once I pin down the criteria, it's simply a matter of him looking into hospital records to identify the correct person. Find the person, find your killer. But we have to move quickly. He's picked up his pace during the last few kills and it won’t be long before he’s found his next target. We need to act before he does.” Sherlock’s eyes were gleaming with an undeniable excitement.

“Then we’d better get to Bart’s as soon as possible,” John agreed, sliding into the cab after Sherlock. He looked out the window and wondered what his life would have been like if he hadn’t met Sherlock. Would he still be here, living the same old dull, pointless existence? Or would he have grown so bored, so disillusioned, that he would have just ended it all? He was suddenly incredibly grateful he would never have to find out.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was nervous. It was not a state of mind he was accustomed to and, even though over the course of the years he had become used to staying in one spot for several hours, he couldn’t help fidgeting a little. He watched as John turned away from the counter and sat down at one of the booths with a cup – likely containing tea – and a small plate that held a fancy little pastry of some kind. Even without the use of their bond, he would have been able to tell that John was every bit as anxious as he was. He was trying hard to act casual, but he kept flexing the fingers of his left hand, specifically his pinkie finger.

“He’s going to be fine, you know,” a familiar voice said in Sherlock’s ear. It was Lestrade, who looked a lot better than the last time Sherlock had seen the man. His face was freshly shaven and the marks under his eyes had noticeably lightened, though they were not entirely gone yet. He was dressed in a clean set of clothing and he had eaten recently. Technically he probably should have still been resting, but when he’d heard what Sherlock and John were up to he had insisted on being there to make sure that things went according to their plan. And Sherlock hadn’t bothered to protest because honestly, he was relieved to have Lestrade there, though he was less impressed that Lestrade had seen fit to bring Mycroft along.

“Of course he will,” Mycroft said now. He was sitting in the front seat of the car beside Lestrade. “John really doesn’t have to do much. He’ll be full view of our men the whole time.”

Considering that Mycroft had already said as much before, Sherlock didn’t bother to respond. Hearing his brother repeat something was not reassuring because Mycroft abhorred repetition as much as he did. The fact that Mycroft was repeating himself meant that he too was nervous, and that was something Sherlock couldn’t let himself focus on. If he did he would probably call the whole thing off. Instead, he shifted in his seat and leaned closer, as though that extra few inches would make the difference. In the cafe, John leaned back against the booth and took his first sip of tea with his right hand.

Sherlock, he said, and in spite of his nerves his voice was wonderfully steady, it’s going to be fine. Your brother and Lestrade have taken every possible precaution. Besides, I wanted to do this.

Yes, Sherlock did know that, but it didn’t necessarily make the situation any easier. It hadn’t taken them long to figure out who the killer was based on the list of suspects that the Yard had already put together: one of the doctors who worked at the A&E, one who had regular and easy access to patient files. He was supposedly a mild mannered man according to the statements taken, but there was one thing that everyone who had been interviewed agreed on: the man, a Doctor Edmund Smith, did not like to talk about soul mates. Apparently he abhorred them and was known to be scornful of mate pairs that he treated for any malady. Rumour had it that he had lost his mate when he was younger, and in this case the rumour mill was quite correct: Doctor Smith was jealous. Deadly jealous.

Mycroft’s men had figured out who his next victim would be. When Sherlock and John saw the picture – a middle aged man in his late thirties, blond hair, blue eyes, quiet smile – Sherlock had seen the similarity to John, of course he had. But he hadn’t really acknowledged them until John had spoken up unexpectedly and volunteered himself to act as a decoy. It made the most sense, John had explained, because he fit the profile perfectly and with a little make-up and the right clothing he could pass for the victim. There would be no need to put the actual victim into any danger. It had taken little persuasion to get Lestrade to agree to the plan.

I still don’t like it, Sherlock replied finally after a suitable amount of time had elapsed to underscore how very much he did not like it. You’re meant to be here, not there. There was no way for him to adequately explain how bothered he was that John wasn’t over here, where it was safe, where Sherlock would be able to bounce ideas off of him.

Fortunately, it seemed that John understood. He had to duck his head to hide his smile. I know. It will be alright, though. You know I can hold my own.

“Alright, you two, knock it off,” said Lestrade before Sherlock could formulate a reply. “We don’t want Smith getting suspicious.”

“I hardly doubt he is that intelligent,” Sherlock muttered, but he knew that Lestrade was correct. Those who looked closely enough, i.e. those who bothered to observe, could tell when mates were talking to each other. The speakers often took on an expression of deep focus, eyes glazing over and gazing at nothing in particular, and they couldn’t afford anything that might chase Smith away. He had already quit his job and moved out of his flat, he hadn’t even been caught on CCTV cameras in days: it was pure luck that he had reached out to the next target when he had. They could not mess this up.

John must have heard Lestrade’s admonition too because he lifted his head and rolled his shoulders back, drumming his fingers on the table. The move looked like an absent or impatient one, but it was really designed to show off the artificial scar that Sherlock had painted over his pinkie finger. He took another sip of his tea and looked around, every inch an innocent man who was waiting for a friend to show. With the make-up and the clothing and the scar on his finger, he didn’t even really look like John Watson anymore. It was surprisingly unsettling.

But not nearly as unsettling as the woman who walked in the door and moved straight over to John. She slid seamlessly into the booth and gave the startled John a bright smile. Sherlock stiffened.

“Who is that?” Lestrade hissed. “Where the hell is Smith?”

Sherlock was listening closely, hearing what John was hearing, and his stomach was tightening. “There’s always something,” he hissed under his breath. “There’s your killer. Sophia Smith, Smith’s daughter. She’s - oh.” He cut himself off mid-sentence with a sharply indrawn breath. Sophia Smith had just drawn a gun.

Chapter Text

Sophia Smith had a gun, she had a gun, and it took every bit of control that Sherlock possessed to not leap straight out of the car and go running across the street. Stupid, he thought savagely, pressing one of his hands to the glass, knowing that any interference on his part at this point would make things worse. There was always something that he missed, and in this case it had been a daughter, probably exposed to years of her father's jealousy and bitterness that would have warped her own perceptions, and now she was searching for her soul mate… why? So that she could kill the man before anything happened between them. It didn’t matter: John was in danger because of this mistake. Stupid.

Across the street, John hadn't given anything away. He remained cool and calm like there wasn't a woman pointing a gun at him under the table, like that gun wasn't aimed at a part of his anatomy where a shot would be extremely painful indeed. "I thought we were going to have dinner here," he said, very calmly. Relax, Sherlock. She hasn't done anything yet. Just alert Mycroft and Lestrade, okay? Don't do anything rash.

"We are going to have dinner, just not here. This is some incentive to make sure you're willing to come along," Sophia said. Her words, filtered second-hand through John's ears, sounded far away to Sherlock, but he could still hear every one. "I've got us a lovely picnic at a hotel just around the corner. I think you're going to be very pleased." And she smiled, and in any other situation she would have been pretty, but not then. "So come on, unless you want me to start attracting more attention."

"No, we'll go," John said quickly. "There's no need for that. Let me just - " He stood up and took his wallet from his pocket, removing a couple of bills. He tossed them down on the table as Sophia rose, sliding the gun into her bag. She kept one hand on it at all times, ready to pull it out and use it. John's eyes flicked from the bag to her face and he smiled tightly.

"She's got a gun," Sherlock said abruptly.

"What?" Lestrade said.

"A gun. They're moving to some hotel down the street." Sherlock's mind was racing, trying to modify the plan. Originally John was supposed to have kept Smith busy in the restaurant until the operatives could make their move and disarm him safely. There were several of them blending in as customers of the shop, but there were also innocent people around and none of them would - could risk it. They watched every bit as helplessly as Sherlock as John escorted Sophia out of the cafe and onto the busy street.

Mycroft grabbed for his phone and began speaking in a low, urgent tone. Next to him, Lestrade was typing madly into his mobile, but Sherlock knew that neither of them was going to do any good. Sophia could pull out her gun and begin shooting at any second. And she would, that much was obvious, she was mentally unhinged, desperate and extremely unstable, devolving further with every person that she had slaughtered. She didn't care who she hurt or why. Unless his brother had a sniper stationed on one of the nearby roofs, it wasn't going to be helpful. This was going to be up to Sherlock and John. He grabbed the handle of the door and pushed it open, launching himself out smoothly, ignoring the alarmed calls of his name as he strode across the street.

John knew he was coming, of course he did, but he pretended that he was utterly absorbed in listening to what Sophia was saying. They weren't touching without the protection of clothing, not yet, but he couldn't imagine it would end well when they inevitably did. There would be no connection and she would know that he was the wrong man. Whether she realized he was the actual intended victim was irrelevant; odds were good that she was going to start shooting regardless. Sherlock, I need you to keep your distance. I can get her gun away from her, but if you spook her then it could all be over.

Absolutely not. She could kill you, John. Sherlock was making his way closer, pushing himself through the crowd, his eyes focused on the two bodies right in front of him. He was less than a dozen feet away.

Just listen to me, would you? John said tightly, adding just a hint of his iron will behind the words, enough so that Sherlock actually did stop. Unfortunately, so did Sophia. She was watching John's face and wearing an expression of dawning understanding.

"I don't understand," she said.

"What?" John looked at her.

"Why would you come here if you've already got a mate?" Suddenly, she gripped his arm and slid her hand down to touch his bare wrist. Both of them stared down at the point of contact, waiting for a reaction that was never going to come. Sophia's jaw tightened and she pulled the gun out of her bag, waving it in John's face. "I recognize that look on your face. I've studied soul mates for years. Every one of them gets that - that look, like they're not paying attention to anyone or anything. You had it just now!"

There was a succinct pause during which John just looked at her, silently measuring, and then he said, "Yes, alright, I've got a mate. I was surprised when I got your note saying that you were convinced we were a match. I thought it would be easier to break the news in person."

Sophia smiled. It was not a nice smile. "That's very sweet, but I know for a fact that Jasper Tonstall does not have a match," she said, and her voice was shaking. "Where is he, huh? That fucking bastard, I should have guessed that he was going to involve the police. Who are you? Who are you really? Tell me or I'll shoot you, I swear to god."

"My name is John Watson," John said, and then he lunged for the gun.

There was a dizzying moment during which Sherlock was unable to follow who had the gun or where it was pointing. Sophia was shouting something incomprehensible, and then a man caught sight of the two of them and clearly got the wrong idea about what going on because he punched John in the back of the head. Sherlock felt the phantom pain and grimaced, though he didn't stop shoving through the crowd. John staggered, and that split second of being caught off guard was enough for Sophia to get the upper hand on the gun. She pulled the trigger and a hot lick of pain opened up across Sherlock's left side as John doubled over, and as it turned out Sherlock was just close enough to tackle Sophia to the ground in retaliation.

Chapter Text

Sophia was unexpectedly strong considering her size, and Sherlock realized quickly that he was struggling to get the upper hand over her. She thrust a knee into his ribs that left him breathless, and a second knee to his groin made him double over before he could control his body’s instinctive reaction. She laughed after that, her voice shrill, and managed to get one finger around the trigger of the gun. Immediately, Sherlock twisted the barrel in her direction and watched as she gritted her teeth, her grip on the trigger going abruptly lax. No, she was not stupid enough to risk having the bullet go in her direction.

“I don’t know why it has to matter so much!” she shouted hysterically, raking her nails across his cheek. It stung, but Sherlock ignored the pain, fighting to get his hands around her wrists. If he could just subdue her – ”You people all walk around like you’re so high and mighty just because you’ve got a soul mate. It shouldn’t make a difference. We should be judged on our own merit, not on whether or not we were lucky enough to find the person who matches us!”

“You won’t find me arguing,” he snarled in her face, and she was so shocked by that that she stopped fighting. He seized the advantage, slinging a leg over her waist and pinning her effectively. Both of them were gasping for air, but he continued regardless. “I went for over thirty years without having a soul mate. It didn’t make a difference to me whether I ever found my mate or not. But you, you who searched out your mate so determinedly, clearly it does matter to you. You can tell yourself all you like that you just wanted to eliminate the possibility of a connection forming, but really you’re just holding a grudge against your mate for not having found you earlier.”

Sophia stared up at him in stunned silence. Her eyes filled with miserable tears. “I could have shown him,” she whimpered. “If I could’ve found my mate, I would have proved to him that it doesn’t have to be about that. You can find happiness even when your mate is dead. I would have shown him!”

“Sherlock!” Lestrade rushed over to them before Sherlock could formulate a response, and it was just as well. He wasn’t sure what he would have said to the weeping woman beneath him, but it probably wouldn’t have been kind. “Alright, Mycroft’s men have got you covered. Just get up slowly and you, Miss Smith, don’t make any sudden movements, or they will shoot.”

She nodded, sobbing freely now, and Sherlock slowly removed his hands from around her wrists. When she didn’t move, he eased his weight back until he was kneeling on the ground beside her. Now that the fight was over, he could feel pain both phantom and real all over his body. He checked over his shoulder, searching instinctively for John, and that’s what gave Sophia the opportunity. Before Lestrade could move in and arrest her, she seized the gun, put it to her head, and pulled the trigger.

The retort was deafening. Sherlock stared in shocked silence as blood and brain matter splattered his face and clothing. The body fell over slowly, most of the face gone, and hit the ground with a dull, mushy thud. He had seen many bodies in his line of work, but most of the time they were already dead. He had never seen anyone be killed before, nor a body quite as fresh as this one. He looked down at the corpse, which was no longer recognizable as Sophia Smith. Blood was oozing out from what remained of her head and forming a rich, dark red puddle that was beginning to soak into the knees of his trousers.

A hand on his shoulder startled him and he flinched away. Lestrade backed off quickly. He was speaking, his lips moving, but Sherlock realized he was unable to understand what Lestrade was trying to say. Somehow that didn’t seem to matter. He watched the man in mute silence until Lestrade abruptly stopped, an expression of concern coming across his face. He turned away and then John was there, kneeling in front of Sherlock with his hands out in a placating gesture, obviously meant to show that he meant no harm – which was stupid, because of course John meant no harm, it was John.

“Shock, I think,” John said quietly. There blood forming on his right side where the bullet had struck him. The thin line stood out starkly against the white of his shirt. The words reverberated around Sherlock’s head and he realized that he wasn’t sure whether he was hearing John inside or outside of his head.

“John,” Sherlock said, or at least he tried to say, there was a possibility it came out oddly judging by the look on John’s face. Slowly, John reached out and wrapped an arm around Sherlock’s shoulders.

Come on, love, he said. Let’s let the paramedics look us both over and then we’ll go home, okay?

The case –

It’s been solved, Sherlock, and there is no more for you to do here right now. We can go home. It’s alright.

But our statements, Lestrade always wants them. Normally Sherlock wouldn’t have cared about that in the least. It was very strange to realize that suddenly he did care, that he didn’t want Lestrade to be angry at them. He tried to look around for the man but John stopped him with a hand to the side of Sherlock’s head, forcing Sherlock to keep his eyes on John.

Don’t worry, I assure you Lestrade won’t be mad. You can talk to him later, John said softly. Come on, now. Can you walk? He stood up with remarkable ease considering that the wound on his side was beginning to hurt worse, and then he gently pulled Sherlock up and guided him away from the body without letting him once look away. They walked over to one of the ambulances, where several paramedics were waiting. John sat him down on the edge of the ambulance and then sat down beside him.

The paramedics worked swiftly, examining the both of them to make sure that there were no lasting injuries beyond bruising. Sherlock was sore, but it would fade in time: Sophia hadn’t landed any blows hard enough to break bones, fortunately. He watched in a detached way as the paramedic decided John didn’t require stitches and wrapped him up with gauze and bandages instead. John submitted to the treatment in silence, casting worried looks in Sherlock’s direction. It was hard to say who was more relieved when the paramedic finally declared them both fit to return home.

Chapter Text

When Sherlock woke up, he felt as though he hadn't been sleeping very long. One quick glance around the room told him that was wrong, however, as the light filtering through the curtains was from the morning sun, which meant he'd slept the whole night through. The bed beside him was empty, but the sheets were wrinkled and the pillow was flattened in the shape of John’s head. He reached out and skimmed a hand over the mattress. It was cold, and that meant that John had been up for at least an hour. He had no memory of John climbing out of bed. Odd, that John would have left him to wake up alone considering what had happened the night before. Something must have happened to prompt it. The most likely candidate was...

Ah, yes. Sherlock closed his eyes and listened to the soothing sound of John's mental voice, the thoughts running freely through his mind as he chatted with their visitors: Mycroft, Lestrade, and Mummy. He could tell that John was weary but pleased that the three of them had come to see how Sherlock was doing. That was just like John, who clearly didn't realize that this was more of a fishing expedition. Perhaps the concern was genuine on the part of Lestrade and Mummy, but Mycroft would have come for an altogether different reason, of that Sherlock was certain. It was enough to make him throw back the covers and sit up.

Outside, John stood up and excused himself before he padded back to the bedroom. He opened the door and surveyed Sherlock for a moment before he stepped inside, closing the door to give them a modicum of privacy. "Hey," he said gently, his voice soft and affectionate. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," Sherlock said, which was the easiest answer to give. He discovered that it wasn't entirely true only after he made to stand up, and a variety of bruises and aching muscles suddenly made themselves known to him all at once. The pain was swift and seemed to radiate from every inch of his body, and he couldn't contain the startled gasp that escaped as he doubled over in an instinctive effort to make it stop.

John was at his side instantly, hands firmly catching Sherlock's weight and lowering him back onto the edge of the bed. Falling easily into doctor mode, he crouched down and laid his hands against Sherlock's ribs, searching for anything that might be broken. His touch was every bit as warm and soothing as it had been last night and Sherlock stilled under it, allowing John to make sure that he wasn't in need of further medical attention. John examined him carefully, looking into his eyes, mouth, and ears, examining the bump on his head, and even lightly cupping his swollen genitals before letting go when Sherlock winced. He nodded at last and released a slow breath as he stood up.

"You'll be pretty sore for a handful of days, but I don’t think there’s any lasting damage," he said. "I'll get you a couple of painkillers so you can move around."

"And you?" Sherlock asked, looking meaningfully at John's side. He could deduce what the answer was before John said it, of course. John was favouring his side when he walked or knelt or sat, the movement an unconscious one until the wound pulled enough to draw his attention back to it. But he had learned, or been told, that it was better to ask when a loved one had been injured.

A small smile crossed John's face. "I'm fine, and yes, thank you for asking," he replied, resting one hand lightly over the bandaged area. "She only skimmed me; I checked it over when I got up."

Sherlock nodded. As expected. "What does Mycroft want?"

"Officially, to check on you," said John. He picked up a glass of water that had been sitting on the stand and handed it to Sherlock. Normally the two of them tossed their pills back dry, but he knew that Sherlock's throat was bordering on painfully dry already. A side effect of the shock he'd been in the night before, no doubt. Sherlock frowned slightly at that but took the glass, drinking half before he swallowed two pills and drank the rest. Pleased, John continued, "Unofficially, he says he needs to speak with you. He won’t tell me what it’s about, but Greg keeps giving him unimpressed looks so I expect he's got a case for you. It's too soon, Sherlock. You need to rest before you can take on anything else."

"I probably wouldn't accept it anyway," Sherlock said, though admittedly his curiosity was piqued. Mycroft could be a lazy bastard, but the case must have been intriguing for him to risk both the wrath of Mummy and Lestrade by bringing it over so soon after what had happened.

"Yeah right," John said wryly. "I think you forget I can hear exactly what's going through your head, love. And in this case, I wouldn't even need to be able to read your mind to know that you're dying to see what he's brought." He shook his head. “I suppose I can’t keep you in here, so come on. You may as well come out and let your mum and Greg see that you’re still in one piece.”

It still hurt when he stood, but this time Sherlock was prepared for the pain. John fetched him a fresh pair of boxers and his dressing gown and helped him to put both on before they left the room. It was gratifying to see the expression of relief on Mummy’s and Lestrade’s faces when Sherlock appeared. Even Mycroft looked slightly more at ease, a fact which Sherlock sneered at. He moved stiffly across the room and sat gingerly down in John’s chair. “What do you want, Mycroft?”

“Sherlock,” Mummy scolded. “Don’t speak to your brother like that. He was worried about you. We all were.”

“Are you alright?” Lestrade asked to forestall Sherlock’s inevitable snipped response, which likely would have provoked a fight of some sort.

“I’m fine,” Sherlock replied with a wave of his hand. John snorted as he crossed the room to lean against the back of the chair, but made no comment.

Lestrade didn’t look convinced. “Look, Sherlock, I wanted to say - that is, I’m sorry. If I’d known what she was going to do, I would’ve cuffed her on the ground instead of giving her the chance.” It was written there in his face that it had occurred to him that Sophia could’ve just as easily swung the gun around and shot at Sherlock, not herself. Sherlock had not yet contemplated that, but judging by the way John’s hand slipped down to his shoulder and squeezed painfully tight he was the only one who hadn’t.

“I’m fine,” he repeated more firmly, and this time he meant it.

Chapter Text

Lestrade took their statements one at a time in the kitchen where there was a modicum of privacy. Sherlock told him everything for once, leaving nothing out. At the end of it, when Lestrade was writing down the last of what he had said, he was overcome with a strange urge to do something completely out of character. In that moment, he actually wanted to apologize for not having stepped in sooner, for having left Lestrade to deal with this serial killer until it ended the way it had. Because he could see in the way that Lestrade moved and spoke, the subtle tension that lingered, that the man was not as unaffected by Sophia’s death as he would have liked to pretend.

“I guess that about does it,” Lestrade said finally, flipping his little notebook shut. He rubbed at his temples with a weary hand, grimacing faintly. “I can’t think of anything else, except to tell you that this will be last time we ever use you or John as bait in anything. Christ but my heart can’t take it.”

Sherlock’s eyes flicked over him briefly. “You’re not old,” he said.

A small smile cracked Lestrade’s exhausted face. “Thanks, I think, but I sure as hell feel like I am after watching that woman point a gun in your face. Took several years off of our life between Mycroft and me, as a matter of fact, so try not to do it again.” He stood up. “He says he might have a case for you, but we’re going to come back with it later if it turns out that he does.”

Automatically, Sherlock opened his mouth to protest. He hadn’t even heard what Mycroft’s case was about. He hadn’t even had the chance to turn it down! But Lestrade held a hand up to silence him before he could speak and said, “Look, I know what you’re about to say because you and your brother are a lot more alike sometimes than you think. But I know it’s the right decision to make. You’re still in shock, Sherlock, and even if you weren’t, neither you nor John is in any physical condition to go romping about the city. Regardless of whether or not you will ignore pain until your body gives out on you, John can’t.”

It was possibly the only thing that Lestrade could have said that would keep him from protesting, and they both knew it. Sherlock scowled. “Fine,” he muttered after a lengthy pause.

“Good.” Lestrade smiled again, this time with relief, and picked up his book. He tucked it into his pocket but otherwise didn’t move, and there was a telling sharpness in the way he glanced at Sherlock. His eyes roamed over the younger man’s body as though trying to make sure that a bullet hole wasn’t going to magically appear.

“I am fine,” Sherlock said, repeating the words he’d uttered not an hour earlier.

“He really is.” John stepped into the kitchen carrying three empty mugs, and on his way by he swiped the two that were sitting on the table. He dumped them all into the sink and added, “No worse for the wear, either of us, and if you’ve got any cases that pop up in a day or two we’d love to take a look at them.”

“Noted,” Lestrade said with a nod. “Thanks John.”

He walked out and John turned towards Sherlock, gracing him with an unexpected kiss that left Sherlock’s heart fluttering. John’s hands were cupped his face so tenderly that he felt fragile for quite possibly the first time in his life, and much to his surprise the feeling was not a detestable one. Rather, it was almost enjoyable. It never ceased to amaze him, how unbearably gentle that John could be. John was a set of contradictions wrapped up in a fluffy jumper, and it was no wonder that more than one criminal had been left reeling after under estimating him.

John chuckled softly. You’re such a git sometimes, he remarked fondly. That was good of you, how you acted with Lestrade. He was really concerned about you.

I’m fine, Sherlock repeated, a little annoyed at being ignored.

If you want us to believe that, love, you’ll need to stop insisting as much when you’re ready to fall over from exhaustion and hunger. John was grinning, his blue eyes lit up with amusement. It made him look years younger, adding a boyish quality to his face that was extremely appealing. Sherlock leaned up and kissed him again rather than respond.

In spite of the approving sound that John made against his mouth, he pulled away. Your mum’s waiting to say good-bye, he explained, pulling a regretful face.

And if they didn’t go out, Sherlock knew, she would come looking, and the idea of being caught snogging with John was incredibly unappealing. He nodded and stood up, following John back into the other room. Mycroft was just helping Mummy to put her coat on. Their eyes met and a silent communication passed between the two of them. After a moment, Mycroft inclined his head slightly in understanding and picked up his umbrella. Mummy, if she’d noticed their exchange, ignored it in favor of pulling Sherlock into a careful embrace.

“I hate to go back so soon,” she fretted. “But your aunt’s asked me to help plan Matilda’s party, and I said yes - I can stay if you’d like, I don’t mind.”

“That’s not necessary, but thank you,” John said gently before Sherlock could say anything. He knew that if Sherlock had to say “I’m fine” one more time they’d likely have a strop on their hands. “I’ll take good care of him.”

Mummy smiled. “Thank you, John,” she said, moving to embrace him as well. John hid his surprise well as he returned the hug, and over Mummy’s shoulder Sherlock gave him an unexpectedly shy smile. Mummy released him and moved to stand back next to Mycroft and Lestrade.

“Good-bye,” Sherlock said, meeting her eyes significantly. She was smiling, which was a far cry from the last time she’d visited and she’d spent nearly the whole time trying to convince him that he could still find his soul mate if he was willing to look. She was far more at ease leaving him with John than she had been when he was alone. Even though he never would have admitted it, it was comforting to know that Mummy had given her approval of John. He relaxed into the warm grip of John’s arm around his waist as the three of them left.

Chapter Text

Exactly one week later, John Watson walked into Buckingham Palace and found his flatmate/best friend/soul mate lounging on a sofa waiting for him, dressed in a sheet. Sherlock had been anticipating John's arrival for several minutes now. He knew exactly why they here and as such, so did John, but that did little to erase the look of discomfort on John's face as he entered the room. He paused for a moment, lingering in the doorway, and Sherlock very pointedly did not look over at him. He could feel the exasperation and, yes, a little bit of amusement rolling down their bond as John registered for the first time that he was still dressed only in a sheet, with no other covering.

Really?It wasn't enough that you faked your injuries hurting - which I know you were lying about, you git, ta for that - to get me to go on that case for you? You had to drag me along to the bloody palace where you're not even dressed?

I was not asked if I wanted to come, Sherlock countered. He was irritated at himself for not making it perfectly clear to Mycroft that he was not interested in this case while Mummy was there to hear it. If he had, he would've been able to complain to her about what was essentially an act of kidnapping. But now it wouldn't do him any good because Mycroft would be able to twist things to make it sound like Sherlock was being the childish and petty one. Mycroft was incredibly annoying like that.

"Like two little kids," John muttered with a shake of his head. He finally left the door and moved over to sit down next to Sherlock. In spite of the cross mask he was trying to put on, Sherlock knew that he was on the verge of laughing. Nervous laughter, perhaps, but that was what he liked so much about John. Anyone else probably would've turned tail and run for it, but not John Watson.

Something softened in John's eyes, and he turned an affectionate smile on Sherlock. Seriously, why are we here?

Mycroft. Sherlock replied simply, imbuing the word with as much disgust and outrage as he possibly could. He shifted, squirming against the decidedly stiff and uncomfortable sofa, and the sheet slipped, leaving one of his shoulders bared. John's breathing stilled as he watched the progress of that white sheet. He could just barely make out a hint of Sherlock's dusky pink nipple, only half-hidden by the hem of the sheet. Abruptly his mouth went dry and Sherlock turned towards him with more interest. The fact that the movement allowed the sheet to slip down just a little more was purely accidental, of course.

"Really, John?" he said out loud, intrigued. He wasn't sure if it was the fact that they were in public or that they were in the palace, but regardless Sherlock was suddenly interested in learning more about this unique facet of John's personality that he had not been aware of.

John flushed. "I can't help it," he said defensively. "You're sitting there with your cheekbones and that sheet, it does things to a man."

Sherlock meant to ask him something. He really did. But it was rather hard to think when you were being kissed by an army doctor, and frankly after two seconds he no longer had any desire to try. He melted against John willingly and even tilted his head to invite better access. John swore under his breath, one of his hands fisting in the sheet as though he would have liked nothing better than to tear it off, and Sherlock knew for a fact that that was exactly what was going through John's rather inventive mind. He moaned softly and let John press him back against the sofa, and of course - of course - that was the precise moment when Mycroft decided to walk in.

"Just for once, could you two act like grown-ups instead of over-sexed teenagers?" he asked, looking more resigned than angry.

"It's your own fault," Sherlock gasped as John hurriedly backed off. He sat up and glared at his brother. "You're the one who told your people to bring me here at any cost. If you don't want to pay it -"

Mycroft just shook his head. "You're right, Sherlock, imagine how I could have forgotten that my baby brother is entirely too childish to consider -"

"Alright," John broke in. He had recently discovered that nothing killed an erection faster than having your lover's older brother walk in, followed by having said lover and brother bicker like a couple of two year olds. He shifted, squirming a little, and sighed. "Why are we here, Mycroft?"

"It turns out that I have a case for Sherlock after all," Mycroft replied. "It really should've been taken care of sooner, but of course certain circumstances prevented me from bringing it to your attention before now."

"He means Lestrade put his foot down and forbade Mycroft from mentioning it to me until he felt I was healthy enough," Sherlock muttered snidely, knowing that the case he’d accepted had been Lestrade’s turning point. "I suppose we know who wears the trousers between the two of you, not that it is any real surprise."

Sherlock, John warned, shooting him a stern look. Don't make this any worse than it already is.

But I'm bored, Sherlock whined, finding a good deal of pleasure in how annoyed his brother looked.

"You were even worse at the flat when everyone just kept bringing you cases that were only a five or six, I think it's worth our time to hear about Mycroft's case," John replied.

Sherlock huffed moodily. "Fine. Who is my client?"

"Someone important enough to warrant clothing." Mycroft picked up a neatly folded stack of trousers, pants, shirt, jacket, and shoes from the table. He extended them to Sherlock with a firm look that was very familiar. "Put them on, Sherlock. It's time for this childish game of yours to desist."

"Mycroft," John jumped in, because he did not need a connection to Sherlock to be able to tell exactly how this was going to play out, and just as an extra bonus said connection was warning him that this was going to go south very quickly if he did not act. "What is the case? I think we have a right to know that much before you start placing demands on us." He swallowed, wanting to add something about how even if the demand was as simple as putting clothes on in public. But he didn't, and Sherlock shot him an oddly fond look in thanks.

"It has to do," Mycroft said heavily, "with Irene Adler, and that is all I will be telling you for the time being. Now get dressed."

Chapter Text

On the way back from the palace, Sherlock was oddly quiet. John glanced over at him periodically, wondering if Sherlock was still upset about the little comment Mycroft had made about his lack of a sex life. He was rather surprised, actually, that Mycroft wasn't already aware that Sherlock was most definitely not a virgin anymore, considering that the man seemed to know everything else about their lives. But then, that was the nature of the odd relationship that existed between Sherlock and Mycroft: the two of them were prone to using whatever tactics necessary to get under each other's skin, even if said information was not necessarily true. Case in point: Sherlock's remarks about Mycroft's weight.

Still, it was enough to worry him. In the wake of their light-hearted laughter, the tension that had fallen was enough to feel stifling. Sherlock was distant, his mind already fully occupied with the new case that had been given to him. He was trying to figure out the best way to approach Irene Adler. But underneath that was a little bit of worry, one that was so deeply rooted that John was frankly amazed he had never realized that it was there before now. He looked at Sherlock again, examining the detective's pale, silent features, and wondered whether it was worth trying to broach the subject with Sherlock when he was already so wrapped up in a case. He was entirely unprepared for the explosive, annoyed sigh that erupted a second later.

"Do you mind?" Sherlock snapped, turning his head to glare at John. "I'm trying to think about the case, but all I can hear are your thoughts. It's extremely irritating. Do me a favour and just stop thinking!"

John's first reaction was to snap back, but he bit down on the impulse. Because past the anger and frustration that he could feel from their bond, there was also fear and sadness and it made his stomach turn. Sherlock was afraid of something, and John didn't know what it was but he desperately wanted to find out and an argument was not the way to do that. "I'm sorry," he said as evenly as possible. "I wasn't trying to think loudly. I'm just a little concerned about you, that's all. Is there something you want to tell me?"

Sherlock's lip curled and he huffed in response, dramatically and pointedly turning his head away to stare out the window. He remained stubbornly silent and John sighed, lifting a hand to massage his forehead. Alright, perhaps a cab wasn't the best place for this sort of conversation. He waited, allowing the silence to stretch far past the point where it grew uncomfortable, until they had pulled up in front of 221. He paid the cabbie while Sherlock leapt out and charged up the stairs. John was right behind him, though, following his annoying soul mate into their flat. He was fully prepared for Sherlock to make a run for his bedroom and blocked his attempt.

"Are we going to do this again?" he demanded. "I beat you once, Sherlock, and I'll do it again. Can't we sit down and have a reasonable discussion like two adults?"

"Oh, you want to talk?" Sherlock sneered, "Why don't you go find someone to talk to, then?" The words were hurtled like an accusation, and unbidden across their bond flickered those photographs of Irene Adler. Startled, John stopped and stared at him, wondering what Irene had to do with this sudden strop. Sherlock seized his chance and stormed past into his bedroom, slamming the door.

Baffled, John retreated into the kitchen to make tea. He tried to ignore Sherlock's thoughts as best he could. He needed to do some thinking of his own. What had set his partner off? It had to have been something that happened at the palace, something after Mycroft walked in on them. But all they had done was discuss Irene Adler and what she was doing, the threat she was hanging over the head of British royalty. What could possibly make Sherlock upset about that? It didn't make sense. He drummed his fingers on the countertop and considered Sherlock's retort, which had been flung in his face like he was expecting it to sting. That also made little sense. Go find someone else to talk to? Who?

It was extremely rare for bonded pairs to separate once they found each other. It happened, of course, for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it did not end well. On occasion it would result in death from one of the bonded pining away for their mate; those who survived the separation always had some lingering pain afterwards. But John couldn't imagine leaving Sherlock now. Frustrating though the man might be, Sherlock was everything he had been waiting his whole life for. They fit together in ways John couldn't describe. It was the sort of quality that he had searched for in all of his previous relationships without fail, the kind of thing he had only found with Sherlock. Granted he had mostly dated women in the past, but -

He stopped, remembered his unconscious reaction in the palace, the bolt of lust that had gone through him at the idea of Irene Adler and an unidentified female in the kind of positions that would stir up the British government to that point. And then he closed his eyes and swore very softly but very explicitly. He switched the kettle off and marched through the flat, straight into Sherlock's room without even bothering to knock. "You," he announced, "are a complete git."

"Get out -" Sherlock began, but John did not give him the chance to finish.

"A wanker. An utterly mad one," John said with emphasis. "In the future, if you're worried that I'm going to toss you over for the next woman who walks down the street, I'd appreciate it if you mentioned it to me instead of leaving me to play some bloody guessing game."

"I'm not worried," Sherlock said, like it was the worst accusation John could have made. He was standing beside the bed, looking ruffled.

"You're right. You're actually terrified," John said. It did not make him feel good to say. He had not realized Sherlock was harbouring this fear, and knowing that had escaped his knowledge all this time made him feel a bit nauseous. "Sherlock, I can't help getting turned on by the thought of two women in bed together. I'm just a man, and we can't all be like you. But just because I find that sexy doesn't mean I'm going to run off with a woman."

"How do you know that being soul mates is enough?" Sherlock demanded, and the fact that he did not deny this whole situation told John exactly how concerned he had been. "How do you know that you won't grow tired of being with a man?"

"Because it's you, it's us. And it wouldn't matter if we weren't soul mates," said John, suddenly weary. He knew that his words alone would not be enough to make Sherlock understand, to believe him, and he had no idea how he was going to fix this.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was uncomfortable, though he was trying increasingly hard to pretend that he wasn’t. He doubted it was working, considering the less than subtle glances that John was sending in his direction. He hadn’t meant for John to ever become aware of his insecurities. He didn’t even know where they had come from. They were just - there, and it seemed like they only got worse with every admiring glance that John received from women or phone calls from Sarah. And rest assured, John Watson got more than his fair share of admiration on a regular basis, even from stranger. John may have been oblivious to it, but Sherlock certainly wasn’t.

Before Sherlock, the majority of all John’s relationships had been with women. He had experimented once or twice with men in uni and Afghanistan, but Sherlock knew for a fact that none of those had been anything other than one night stands and comfort in the middle of a war zone. John was predominantly straight with bisexual tendencies, and it was a twist of fate that his soul mate had turned out to be male. There were plenty of people in this sort of situation who never bonded completely, who settled for being the closest of friends. He knew that John would not abandon him, they would always remain friends, but he couldn’t help wondering if John would someday regret crossing that line.

What would it take? The right woman? Because if that was the case, there were plenty for John to chose from even if he and Sarah never got anywhere. Even some of the newer police officers from NSY had taken to eyeing his partner up. There was one in particular, a pretty blonde whose mate had died when she was younger, who had actually nearly approached John on a handful of occasions. Sherlock could imagine perfectly well how good they would look together, John and that woman. She was petite, coming in at exactly two inches shorter than John, so for aesthetic purposes they would be a far better match than -

Oh for god’s sake, I can’t listen to this anymore! John interrupted. He had been gazing out the window for the past several minutes when he wasn’t sneaking looks, but now he turned an openly exasperated look towards Sherlock. You are being absolutely ridiculous, you know.

I know about the human mind, John, Sherlock answered, equally tense. Statistically you are unlikely to be happy with a man after you’ve spend most of your life with a woman. Won’t you miss having breasts or an arse around, or being able to fuck someone with good, soft curves? He knew he was being deliberately cruel now, but he couldn’t seem to stop. I won’t be able to give you children, you know. Even if you wanted to adopt, I doubt anyone would agree that I was fit to raise a child. And -

“Stop the car,” John said out loud, voice tight. It sounded like he was fighting to keep his temper. “Right now, please. Thank you.” The second the cabbie had stopped, John pulled his wallet out and tossed a handful of bills into the front seat. His face set in an expressionless mask, he shoved and prodded until Sherlock had climbed out of the car. He slammed the door behind them, took hold of Sherlock’s arm, and yanked him across the pavement towards the nearest alley. Sherlock allowed it, too stunned to fight back when John promptly slammed him up against the wall.

“Listen here, you utter prick. I’m not going to listen to you trying to bait me for the next however many years we live together. I can appreciate that neither of us is what the other one imagined. And I get that you’re scared of what might happen.” He held a hand up when Sherlock went to respond. “No, don’t. Let me finish, okay? It’s normal to be worried about the future. I feel that way too, sometimes. You can’t know what will happen, after all. But I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not going to leave you for a woman.”

“You just said, you can’t know what will happen,” Sherlock pointed out, pressing his lips together in a way that was definitely not a sulk.

John chewed his lip and then sighed. “No, you can’t. So let me amend that to I have no desire to leave you, and at this moment I really cannot think of any reason why I would ever want to.” His grip on Sherlock’s shoulder became less punishing and more affectionate. “God, you’re such a sodding prat sometimes. I can’t believe you were trying to think up reasons for me to go.”

“I just -” Sherlock stopped too late. John’s interest was piqued.

“Just what?” he asked gently.

Sherlock looked away. “I just don’t want you to regret staying with me,” he mumbled.

“Sherlock.” John sighed and stepped closer, bringing their bodies flush together. “I don’t even want kids, alright? Yes it was something I used to think about, but honestly I’m not sure that life would ever really be for me. Maybe I’d get used to it, maybe I wouldn’t, but I don’t want to bother finding out. As for the rest of what you said, us being together doesn’t stop me from admiring a nice pair of breasts and you’ve got all the arse I could ever want.” With a leer, he slipped his hand behind Sherlock and groped at his bottom. “Not to mention a fair few of those soft curves.”

"John." There was a very faint flush on Sherlock's cheeks, almost indiscernible in the dim light, but it was enough to make John smile. He reached up with his other hand and looped it around Sherlock's neck, pulling him down into a kiss.

You're being an idiot, he said, sliding his tongue into Sherlock's mouth. I might have a bond with you, Sherlock Holmes, but that still doesn't give me the ability to know everything that goes on in that brain of yours. When you're worried about something, you've got to tell me. I can't do anything about it if I don't know.

Sherlock moaned in reply, too focused on the dual sensations of John's hand kneading his arse and the hot, sweet pressure against his mouth to concentrate on what John was saying. It was only when John broke off the kiss that the words fully sunk in. "John, I - are you sure?"

"Very sure," John said firmly, giving that lush arse a firm squeeze for emphasis. "Now, are you going to tell me your plan or not?"

"My plan... Oh, yes. I need you to punch me."

John stared at him. "Punch you?"

"I need to look as though I've been in a fight," Sherlock said, bracing himself. It was easier said than done when John was still stroking his arse. "Come on, punch me."

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not. We're both still in enough pain without me adding to it, thanks," John replied. He smirked. "But if you need to look dishevelled, I know another way we can take care of that." And he pulled Sherlock back down into another kiss.

Chapter Text

Irene Adler was unlike anyone that Sherlock had ever met. She was physically beautiful, of course, but that was not what interested Sherlock. It was her mind. It had been pathetically easy for him and John to be granted access to Irene’s house. After their snogging session, Sherlock had indeed looked suitably dishevelled and Irene’s servant had let them in without questioning their story. But now, as Sherlock peered up at the naked woman who had slung herself casually across his thighs, he suspected that there was a good chance that was due more to Irene’s having expected them than because he and John were good actors.

“Sherlock Holmes. It’s a pleasure,” Irene said with a smile, her darkly painted lips curving. She lifted a hand and touched his cheek lightly, her expression growing thoughtful. “Such a pity that you’ve already bonded with someone else,” she said, more to herself than to Sherlock. “I can imagine what you would look like underneath me, begging for mercy. I don’t suppose you’d care to try anyway.”

“No,” Sherlock said shortly. Her breasts were so close to his face that was it almost impossible to avoid looking at them, but he determinedly kept his eyes locked to hers. He had not been expecting this, and truth be told he wasn’t wholly certain what his next move should be. Irene looked comfortable, and he wasn’t going to ask her to move but any attempt to make her do so would mean touching her bare flesh. The thought, while not necessarily unappealing, was not one that he wanted to follow through on. John! John, come in here right now.

What’s wrong? John appeared in the doorway holding a bowl of water and a napkin. He stopped dead when he saw Sherlock and Irene and his jaw dropped. Irene looked over at him and blinked, and then she smiled again, more flirtatiously this time. John flushed and cleared his throat. “I’ve… missed something. Yes. Quite. Um, what are you doing?”

“Savouring a missed opportunity,” she replied, skilfully climbing off of Sherlock. She sauntered over to an armchair and sat down gracefully, folding one of her long legs over the other. She never took her eyes off of Sherlock, and he stared back in tense silence. No matter how many times he scanned her, he couldn’t deduce anything about her. She was a blank slate. It had happened to him before on occasion, but it was rare and - though he would not have admitted it - upsetting when it did.

Sherlock, John said softly, shifting his weight and relaxing slightly. Sherlock glanced over at him briefly. He could deduce things about John, of course, but that didn’t really say much. He knew John as intimately as he knew his own mind, possibly better. He turned back to Irene and tried to look past her nudity, considered the woman who had let them in and what he’d seen of the house so far. What did it all mean?

Irene’s eyes flicked away from Sherlock and landed on John. Her smile grew. “Hello, Doctor Watson. How are you today?”

“I’m fine,” John replied somewhat awkwardly. Briefly, his gaze fell to her chest and the tips of his ears turned pink before he glanced back up at her face. “Could you… um, put something on?”

“I’m perfect the way I am,” Irene replied, tilting her head to the side and revealing a long, slender neck. “This is my best outfit, you know. I only wear it when I’m seeing someone… special.”

John’s mouth tightened slightly. He did not look impressed. Sherlock, I’m not sure that this is going the way that you want it to. Maybe we should -

“No,” Sherlock said out loud. They had a plan, and he wanted John to stick to it no matter how uncomfortable Irene Adler wanted to make the both of them. He was aware that Irene was staring at them in fascination, and he spoke mentally to keep her from hearing anything else. Every word gave her more insight. John, go outside and guard the door. Make sure that no one comes through. Set off the smoke alarm, just like we planned. I assure you nothing will happen in your absence. I’ll be a perfect gentleman.

It’s not her I’m worried about, John muttered, but he set the bowl of water that was he still holding onto down on a little table and turned with the intention of leaving.

“Stop.” Irene’s voice rang out sharply, suddenly, and in spite of himself John obeyed. He half-twisted to look at her as she rose, the easy sensuality she had been wearing vanishing as the lines in her face hardened. It was obvious that Irene was not preoccupied with him, as she was staring over his shoulder and there was something in her face that made Sherlock pause. “There is someone else in the house.”

“How do you know?” John asked, glancing at Sherlock.

Her lips trembled, just once, and then pressed together firmly. “My bonded has been knocked unconscious.”

That was confirmation enough for John. He took a neat step back from the door. He closed the door quickly and locked it as Sherlock stood up, automatically noting Irene’s anxious glance towards the large mirror that covered the fireplace. It seemed that he’d got his answer as to where she was keeping the photographs after all. He took a handful of steps closer to the fireplace and easily pulled the mirror away from the wall, revealing the safe that was hidden behind it. Irene made a soft sound, but surprisingly she was smiling in a way that did not look terribly kind.

"I should have known," she said quietly.

"This wasn't us," John told her, realizing the conclusion that she had leapt to as Sherlock examined the buttons. "We wouldn't - I don't know who's up there, but -"

Footsteps on the stairs and a fist pounding on the door cut him off. Sherlock straightened up, his frustration growing. The door was fashioned from wood, but it was thin and would give away before long. He could tell by the way it was vibrating in the frame. There was no other way of safely escaping the room before he got the photographs, which meant that the people on the other side would have to be dealt with first. He locked eyes with John as he shucked his coat and held it out to Irene. She paused before taking it.

"I assume you'd rather not give them incentive," said Sherlock without glancing at her naked form. "It's your choice, but you have approximately thirty-one seconds before that door gives away and the decision is made for you."

She took the coat.

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s heart was pounding with a mixture of adrenaline and excitement as he strode over to the window and peered out. As he’d thought, there was no way out and it was doubtful that any of the idiots hurrying along the pavement just outside would be able to help even if they did manage to catch someone’s attention. He turned back to John, who was eyeing the sofa and rubbing absently at his shoulder in an enormously obvious way, and Irene, who was watching the door but in an unfocused way that meant she was actually trying to communicate with her bonded. Judging from the stiff set of her shoulders, she wasn’t having too much luck.

John, Sherlock said, knowing what was running through his partner’s mind. Pulling the sofa over to barricade the door would do no good. Whoever was on the other side was intent on getting on no matter how long it took. They would not give up and go away, and since the only exit was through that door it would be a pointless waste of energy.

I know. John sighed and gave up. He would have liked to have avoided the confrontation entirely if at all possible, but it seemed that it was going to happen regardless of whether they put it off or not. He moved closer to Sherlock instinctively, wishing that he had thought to bring his gun along. Unless Irene had hidden a weapon in the room - and that seemed unlikely - they were in trouble. Are you going to try to open the safe?

It was tempting. This was a puzzle he was certain that he could figure out, given a few minutes to do so. Most people tended to use something personal as a password, something that they would not easily forget. He doubted that Irene Adler would be any different. It was unlikely that she would use her birthday or age, given how vain she was, so it had to be something equally obvious. He looked her over briefly, eyes narrowed slightly. Something to do with her bonded, perhaps. Figuring it out would be easier if he could see the number pad, but he didn’t want to reveal the safe’s location unless he had to -

There was a splintering sound and the door buckled, and Irene came back to herself with a start. “Whatever they’ve used to knock her out, it was strong,” she said darkly, retreating quickly from the door. “I can’t get her to wake up.”

Briefly, Sherlock’s jaw tightened as he recalled being in the exact same situation when John was unconscious. It was never a pleasant experience, being cut off from your bonded. John glanced over at him in concern, but before he could say anything there was an enormous cracking sound and the door burst apart. Splinters and shards of wood went flying in all directions, and several men with guns poured into the room, all of them shouting. One advanced on Irene, who clutched the coat tighter around her abdomen.

“On your knees!” a second yelled at John, pointing a gun squarely at his forehead. “Right now!”

John scowled but obeyed, sliding silently to his knees. Don’t do anything stupid.

Nothing I do is stupid.

“Ms Adler, on the floor,” the second one commanded, switching his gun to Sherlock. The third moved away from the door and began covering John.

“Did you want me on the floor too?” Sherlock asked, a hint of sarcasm easily audible in his voice.

“I want you to open the safe.”

American, Sherlock noted, eyes narrowing slightly. This, at least, was proof that his deducing ability had not disappeared after all. He could read a lot from these men, including the fact that the one who seemed to be calling the shots had a daughter. “I don’t know the code,” he replied.

“Then you had best figure it out, and do so quickly. Or we’ll be forced to take drastic measures,” the man replied. He looked at his watch. “You have exactly two minutes, and then my associate Mr Archer is going to shoot Doctor Watson.”

Something cold seeped down Sherlock’s spine and curled around his belly. For a split second, a thrumming sense of panic threatened to overwhelm him completely. It was not helped by the fact that John’s heart rate sped up as alarm and raw fear flooded through him and down their bond. He couldn’t think, not like this, and Sherlock bit down on the inside of his cheek viciously. The sharp pain was enough to help part the cloud. His mind forcibly calmed, and suddenly he could think again with a rationality that did not bode well for their attackers.

“Very well,” he said, turning towards the fireplace. A quick flick of the finger revealed the safe and the number pad. Sherlock analyzed it quickly, noting what numbers had been touched most frequently. But he still didn’t know what the possible combination was, because even though Irene would have used something personal to her there was still a long list of what that could be.

“One minute,” the man said.

John, do you think you can disarm him?

I can try. Now John was beginning to calm down, too, his breathing slowing and muscles tensing subtly. He always did better when he had something concrete to work on.

Sherlock glanced over his shoulder, as though checking to be sure that John was alright. In reality, he was performing a fast but thorough scan of the man standing behind John. It was restrained, but the man was shifting his weight ever so slightly to the right. He had a weak ankle, Sherlock deduced, most likely left over from some childhood trauma considering how used he was to favouring it. He was also right-handed - evident since he was holding the gun in that hand - and the muscles in his left hand were slightly weaker.

John processed all of this nearly as quickly as Sherlock did, and he reacted accordingly. He struck out with his foot, kicking the man hard in his weak ankle. At the same time, Sherlock spun around and grabbed for the pistol that was mere inches from his spine. He was vaguely aware of Irene moving as well, but he paid her no attention as he wrenched the pistol from the man’s grip and struck him savagely across the back of the head. The man dropped limply to the ground just as John successfully pinned the one who had been covering him. Sherlock struck him as well, taking a cruel delight at the way the man’s face went slack. John let him fall face-first onto the carpet, and there was a satisfyingly telling crunch as his nose broke.

“Alright?” John asked breathlessly, looking over at Irene.

“Just fine,” Irene replied with a tight smile. Her guard was also lying at her feet, unconscious. “You know, that was more fun than I’ve had in weeks.”

Chapter Text

It was tempting, the idea of killing the man who had held a gun to John’s head. Breaking his nose didn’t seem like nearly enough punishment, and Sherlock knew exactly how he would be able to get away with it. Lestrade’s men were idiots, and none of them would be able to tell when he had pulled the trigger - and even if, by some miracle, one did, Mycroft would be able to cover it up before any charges were ever laid. The only thing that stopped him was the fact that the idiot was already unconscious and would be unable to see death staring him in the face the way he should have.

Well, that and the fact that John was giving him a Look. Don’t even think about it, Sherlock Holmes. Give me that gun.

I’ve already thought about it, Sherlock returned, but he sulkily surrendered the gun to John anyway. John just rolled his eyes and began removing the bullets from the gun. Sherlock moved back over to the safe, aware that both Irene and John were watching him, and punched in the code. It had occurred to him while watching the way that Irene tucked his coat around her body. She’d smoothed the thick material across her hips the way most people would touch something precious. The most difficult part had been figuring out the correct measurements. It wasn’t like he had all that much experience with the female body.

“People are all the same,” he remarked, pulling the cell phone out of the safe. It was light in his hands, but from the expression on Irene’s face it should’ve weighed a lot more. She did not look pleased. “You won’t have made copies of what’s on here because you need your information to be entirely unique. The more copies that exist the more chance that some or all of them could be leaked, and your leverage vanishes thanks to the internet. I expect that you are no different. I believe the common saying is all of your eggs in one basket, is it not?” He tossed the phone in the air and caught it easily.

John’s mouth was twitching. He was fighting back a grin. “I think so.”

“That camera phone is my life. I can’t let you take it,” said Irene. Her face had gone blank now, but Sherlock could tell that her mind was working furiously. She crossed the room and extended a small hand, like she expected him to just give it to her. “It’s my protection, and I’ll have it back now.”

“Don’t you think you should go check on your bonded?” Sherlock replied, tucking the phone into his pocket. John’s eyes widened slightly and he left the room quickly at the reminder that somewhere in the house, there was a patient waiting for him. Sherlock followed, disregarding Irene’s presence entirely as he took his own phone out and sent Lestrade a quick text message. The resulting text - Jesus fuck, Sherlock - assured him that Lestrade would be there soon.

John searched the rooms until he came upon the unconscious woman who had originally allowed them into the house in the bedroom upstairs. “Christ,” he muttered, crouching down beside her. He checked to make sure she was still breathing - even though it was obvious she was, considering that her chest was still moving - and then took her pulse. His other hand lifted her head gently, revealing the blood that had stained her hair.

“Kate?” Irene had followed them into the bedroom. It was astonishing, Sherlock thought, how much people could reveal with one word. For just a moment there was naked fear on Irene’s face, and he was reminded all over again of what it had been like when the situation was reversed and John had been the one who was out of his reach.

“She’s fine,” said John, fingers probing at the wound. After a moment of consideration, he eased her head back down and wiped his hands on his jeans. “Or she will be, though she’ll likely have a splitting headache.”

Relief flickered in Irene’s eyes, and she nodded. “Would you check to make sure, Doctor Watson?” she said. “Only I can’t feel anything at all, and… you know.”

“Of course.”

That was Sherlock’s mistake, in retrospect. Instead of paying more attention to why Irene Adler would question a skilled doctor when the evidence was right in front of her, he dismissed her concern as that of a flustered bonded and turned away to inspect the bathroom window. This was clearly where the men had come in, and they hadn’t been all that cautious about doing it either. There was paint scratched off of the frame, and more of the chips lined the floor. One would think that CIA-trained killers would have a bit more finesse.

He wasn’t expecting the jolt of pain that tingled up his left arm, or John’s shocked grunt. Sparks burned a trail through his veins as he spun around - too fast - and the world blurred into disorienting, fuzzy shapes. John - sweet, trusting John - was kneeling on the floor, staring up at Irene with an adorably confused expression. There was a syringe sticking out of the back of his arm, stabbed deep into the fleshy part of his muscle. Irene was smiling, looking vaguely amused, as she started to reach out and stroke his hair.

“Don’t,” Sherlock hissed, rage not quite enough to cut a path through the fogginess that was fast creeping up on him. Drugs delivered straight into his own bloodstream were not nearly as potent as they were on the average person thanks to his history. But John wasn’t used to this, and whatever he’d been given was hitting him fast and filtering straight through to Sherlock as a result. He felt his knees threatening to buckle and staggered.

“Oh very well, if you insist on keeping him to yourself, but he’s quite cute: I could have a lot of fun with him.” Irene sounded disappointed, but her smirk had not faded. She sashayed closer to Sherlock and hooked her fingers through his collar, drawing him close enough that he could feel every curve of her body. “I could have fun with you, pet. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

Sherlock wanted to tell her exactly what she could do with her offer, but his mouth was no longer working properly. Irene stepped backwards and his legs gave out, sending him crashing to the floor. She giggled, the sound strangely coquettish and innocent, and reached down to pluck her phone from where he’d hidden it in his pocket. Her fingers waved it tauntingly in front of his eyes before she straightened up and sauntered over to the bedroom window. His last memory was of seeing her leap out the window still wearing his coat with the phone safely tucked beneath her arm.

Chapter Text

Gregory Lestrade was not a happy man. He'd been at the office, finally catching up on some of the paperwork that had been on his desk for at least a month, when he'd received Sherlock's text message. That was bad enough. Texts from Sherlock that asked for help - even if the detective would never have actually lowered himself to using those words, that was essentially the point - were few and far between, but they were always serious enough to warrant his immediate attention. So in a way, he wasn't too surprised to enter the home of one Irene Adler and find several bodies, some of which were located in what looked like a sitting room of some sort and a few more upstairs in the bedroom, including his missing brother-in-law and the soul mate of said brother-in-law.

He might not have been surprised, but he was also not too impressed. "Bloody buggering fuck, you stupid twat," he said to the unconscious form of Sherlock Holmes. As far as he could tell, Sherlock, John and the woman who was lying a few feet away from them all appeared to be breathing. Just to be sure, he crouched down and swiftly checked for a pulse on all three of them. It didn't take long to identify why Sherlock and John were both out: the needle sticking out of the back of John's arm told volumes. Greg scowled and gripped the syringe gently with his fingers, pulling it out in quick, easy move. John didn't even stir.

"Between you and your damn brother, I'm going to be sent to an early grave," Greg said with as sigh, carefully placing the syringe down on the carpet. He pulled off the gloves he'd been wearing and set them aside, then took out his mobile. He punched in a familiar number. He could've reached out to Mycroft mentally. It would've been a stretch considering that his mate was on the other side of London, but he could've done it. But he and Mycroft had long ago agreed that when they were working they would do their best to keep mental communication to a minimum. It just made sense considering the serious nature of their jobs. Their normal system was to call, let the phone ring exactly three times, and hang up, then wait for the other man to have a free moment to respond.

Not this time. Greg let the phone ring, deliberately not attempting to contact Mycroft through their bond. When no one picked up, he disconnected and immediately called back. He was so mad that he thought it was probably for the best that he speak to Mycroft over the phone. At least that way Mycroft might be spared the worst of the words currently running through his mind. Though in retrospect, Greg wasn't really sure why he wanted to do that. He'd expressly told his partner not to give Sherlock any cases that would put him and John in danger. In spite of what Sherlock might claim, he had not fully recovered from the trauma of seeing Sophia Smith die right in front of him. But of course, in the way of stubborn idiots everywhere, the two Holmes brothers had completely ignored him.

Finally, the ringing stopped. "Gregory?" Mycroft's voice sounded calm to anyone who didn't know him, but Greg could hear the slight undertone of concern.

"What part of do not give Sherlock any cases that might prevent him from recuperating did you not understand?" Greg growled. He was not normally a man who cursed where anyone else could hear him, but at that moment he was sorely tempted to let loose with the kind of swearing that would've made Mycroft's cheeks pink for a week.

Mycroft paused. "I had not anticipated any danger," he said carefully.

Greg was no one's fool. After all this time, he knew how to read between the lines. "But you knew there was a chance it could happen!"

"What, exactly, has happened?"

"I got a text from your little brother saying that there had been an incident, along with an address. What do you think I found when I got here? Three unconscious men in the sitting room, an unidentified woman who has been knocked out, and your brother and John drugged to the gills and not responding. Sodding hell, Mycroft, I am getting too fucking old for this!"

"Gregory -"

"Don't you Gregory me, you prick. And don't you send some of your men over here to fix this, either. If you're not in your car and on your way here with a competent doctor in the next five minutes, I'm calling Mummy."

Silence.

"I'll make my excuses," Mycroft said, sounding strained, and then he hung up.

With a grim smile, Greg locked his phone and slipped it back into the pocket of his trousers. He knew that Mycroft would be arriving within the next half hour with back-up, and in less than two hours no one would be able to tell that anything had ever happened in the house. Mycroft's men were nothing if not efficient. There was no point in trying to call it in, because he knew from experience that Mycroft would just make all of the files and paperwork disappear. The only reason that he would be allowed to stay was because he was Mycroft's bonded, and that meant he automatically had the same level of security clearance as Mycroft. It came in handy in situations like this, he had to admit.

He was checking on the woman again when he noticed that Sherlock's eyes were partially open. The detective was staring at him, but there didn't seem to be any recognition in his face. Greg knelt beside him anyway and tilted Sherlock's head up until they were looking at each other. "Alright, Sherlock?" he said.

Sherlock's eyebrows furrowed, and a thin line appeared on his forehead. "Lethrade?"

The appearance of the lisp was, to be frank, adorable. Greg hadn't heard it very often over the course of the time he'd known Sherlock, and hearing it now made him realize just how out of it Sherlock really was. In spite of the severity of the situation, he had to bite back a smile. "It's me. Mycroft is on his way. What happened, Sherlock? Can you tell me?"

Blue-grey eyes wandered away from him, looking around the room without any real comprehension of what they were seeing. "Woman," he slurred.

The word meant nothing to Greg. He frowned. "Woman? Do you mean the one over in the corner? She's unconscious."

"No. No, woman - " Sherlock was growing agitated, and Greg sighed. He would have to give up on the questioning for the time being. He scooted a bit closer and slipped his hand around to the back of Sherlock's head, silently urging him to relax and lay back down. Sherlock tried to resist, but it was evident that whatever he'd been given was too potent. He was unconscious again in less than a minute, head lolling back against Greg's thighs. Greg stared down at him and spent the remaining seventeen and a half minutes before back-up arrived plotting exactly how he was going to get his lover back for this.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was drifting, listening to voices and feeling things that he wasn't wholly sure were real. At one point he thought he felt a pair of lips on his forehead along with the distinct scent of Lestrade's cologne; at another, he could have sworn that Mrs Hudson was standing right in front of him wearing a monstrously pink dress that looked like the clothing version of Molly Hooper's blog. Trying to keep fact from fiction was completely disorienting in a way that it had not been for years, and he opened his eyes feeling frustrated with the world at large.

Irene Adler was leaning over him, her plump lips curved into a wicked smile. "Hey sexy," she murmured huskily, her finger toying with a stray curl that had fallen across his forehead like the beginning of a fringe. "Thank your sweet doctor for taking such good care of my mate, will you? I'd have had to whip some cocks if I'd found out that she was irreparably injured."

He merely stared at her in reply, trying to figure out whether or not she was actually there. Irene seemed to sense his confusion, because her smile widened and she let out a soft, throaty chuckle. She leaned down and pressed her lips against his for just a moment, the touch fleeting but oddly gentle, and Sherlock jumped. He recoiled and Irene sighed, straightening up again. She regarded him with a touch of wistfulness that seemed out of place as she slipped his coat off. Underneath she was wearing a black skirt and a lavender blouse, the first normal clothing he'd seen her in.

"We could've had some fun together," she whispered, like those words were a private secret just for them to share. "Maybe we still could. We'll have to have dinner, yes?"

"No," Sherlock said, or thought he said. He tried to sit up as Irene backed away from the bed, but there was something extraordinarily heavy weighing him down. He fell back, eyes closing in exhaustion, and it took him a ridiculously long time to realize that the additional weight was John. The two of them were curled up together in Sherlock's bed, and John's arm had made its way across his chest to pin him down.

She was getting away, Sherlock thought, trying to muster the strength to move John's arm away. He lifted his hand, never once opening his eyes. It seemed to take forever before his fingers actually made contact with warm skin. Only then did he look up again, and he realized that there was no one else in the room. It was empty except for him and John, and what's more it was morning. Light was pouring in through the windows, the curtains not drawn, and making random shapes across his floor - across his coat.

Sherlock stared at the coat, at the way the familiar black material created a shadow against the wall. His mind still felt foggy from the remnants of the sedative. It had been a very long time since any drug had hit him that hard, and he could tell that John would probably sleep for at least another few hours, possibly longer if Sherlock remained awake. He narrowed his eyes at the space where he thought Irene had been. Had he hallucinated or dreamt her appearance? There was always a chance that Lestrade had found his coat and returned it, thought that seemed unlikely.

He drifted off in the middle of analyzing the room for more data, and woke up even more frustrated than before. Fortunately, before he had the chance to say or do anything John also opened his eyes. The two of them looked at each other for a long time before John smiled tiredly and said, "Good morning."

"I fail to see what's good about it," Sherlock muttered.

John blinked at that, and then he frowned as the thoughts racing through Sherlock's mind finally sank in. "Oh," he said, and twisted to look at Sherlock's coat. "You don't think -"

"I don't know. I need more data." But he doubted he would get it now. If Irene had been there, it had been hours ago. Things in his room had been moved, but that could've been Mrs Hudson or Lestrade. He glanced automatically at the window, but predictably it was locked.

After watching him for a moment longer, John sighed. "I have an awful headache."

"Side effect," Sherlock said, realizing belatedly that he also had a headache. It was particularly bad around his temples and above his eyes, and his mouth was painfully dry to the point where swallowing hurt.

"Dehydration," John said, pushing at the covers. He kicked them down to the bottom of the bed and sat up, swaying slightly. "God, I need about a pint of water. And then some tea, and some toast. I feel like I haven't eaten in months."

The thought of food made Sherlock feel nauseous, but he got up anyway and followed John out into the kitchen. He might not have been so inclined to get out of bed if he'd known what was waiting. Mycroft and Lestrade were both sitting at the table. Sherlock stopped in the doorway and groaned, suddenly feeling a lot more like he wanted to throw up. John shot him a look for his dramatics and rolled his eyes as he headed straight over to the sink, reaching for the cupboard he'd deemed off limits for experiments.

"How are you feeling?" said Lestrade, looking between them.

"Been better," John replied, downing his first glass of water without pausing to take a breath. Only once the glass was empty did he add, "What're you two doing here?"

"Excellent question," Sherlock said through gritted teeth. His stomach was not settling. Rather, he was beginning to feel worse.

"I thought that watching over you to make sure you were alright was the least we could do," Lestrade said, and then he shot a pointed glance at Mycroft that could not possibly have been more obvious. He was angry because Mycroft had given them the case and sent them into a dangerous situation. Normally Sherlock would've gloated, but he was about to lose the contents of his stomach.

"Fine, you're forgiven. Get out," he said as a light sheen of sweat broke out across his forehead. He didn't wait to hear what else Lestrade was going to come out with. Cursing John's appallingly low intolerance for drugs, he made a run for the loo.

Chapter Text

Sherlock barely made it to the toilet before he felt what little he had consumed the day before coming right back up again. He wrapped his hands around the porcelain edge and groaned as his stomach roiled. His body wanted to throw up again, but there wasn't anything left. A sweat broke out across his forehead as he retched for a third time, spitting a mouthful of bile into the bowl. He hated getting sick regardless of whether it was because of a virus or his own doing; it was one of the reasons that he seldom drank, as alcohol did not agree with him the next morning. Drugs generally didn't have this kind of reaction, but then he'd never taken sedatives on a regular basis.

Footsteps sounded in the hall just behind him, and then John was in the room, shutting the door and leaning over his mate. You look dreadful, he commented, running his fingers through Sherlock's tangled hair. The pressure helped to relieve some of the pain that had been building in his head and Sherlock sighed, leaning into John's touch.

There is a reason why I never go to the hospital, he said grumpily.

John chuckled. Really? And here I thought that was just you being a stubborn wanker, he replied. Do you have this reaction to all sedatives?

In lieu of a reply, Sherlock vomited for a fourth time. John sighed and straightened up. He picked up the glass he'd set down on the vanity and held it to Sherlock's mouth. "Easy now," he murmured, tilting the glass just far enough to let a little bit of water in. "This will help, but only if you drink it slowly. Too much and you're going to throw it back up again. I'd give you something to settle your stomach, but I don't know what was in that syringe."

"Give me something," Sherlock said. It was definitely not a plea. "It was injected into you, therefore more medication should have no further physical ramifications on me."

For a moment it seemed as though John wanted to protest, but Sherlock's tightening fingers at another threatening cramp seemed to break whatever argument he'd been planning. He left the room and returned a minute later carrying a small bottle of pills. He shook one out into his hand and gave it over. "These are fairly mild, shouldn't do anything more than calm your system. See if you can keep it down."

Sherlock tossed the pill back and kept sipping from the glass, each time barely wetting his lips before pausing. He didn't need to listen to know that Mycroft and Lestrade were still in the flat. "Why haven't they left yet?" he grumbled into the glass.

"Lestrade's pissed. I think he wants Mycroft to apologize." The corner of John's mouth was twitching with amusement. "Apparently sending your baby brother into a houseful of trained killers is just not on."

"Well deserved, but I wish they would leave."

"Mycroft was muttering something about telling you to stay out of it from now on," John replied, leaning comfortably against the counter. In the bright light, he didn't look quite as well off as he'd claimed. His face looked pale and tired. "Though I doubt that's going to work."

"Not likely." Sherlock flushed the toilet and levered himself to his feet, feeling shaky. He rinsed his mouth out and washed his hands. As he went to dry them, an odd sound filled the room. He'd never experienced it before personally, but it sounded like the moan a woman might make as she orgasmed. Sherlock froze as John turned to look at him, both of them staring at the pocket of Sherlock's robe.

"Was that -" John began incredulously.

"I believe we now have proof that Irene was here," Sherlock said, pulling his phone out and looking at the screen. His mouth curled. "She says she wants to have dinner." His phone moaned again, and he added, "Apparently, she'd like to make it a double date."

John blinked. "You can't be serious."

"See for yourself."

"For fuck's sake," John said, catching the phone as it was tossed into his hands. He turned it around and glanced at the messages, confirming what he already knew: that Irene Adler wanted to have a double date. With Sherlock Holmes. He was pretty sure that was the first time in history anyone had ever asked for that. The sound came again, and he checked the text automatically. "She says she's hopes you feel better soon because she -" He broke off, his cheeks flushing pink, and cleared his throat before finishing, "she wouldn't want to upset me by keeping you from performing your duties for too long."

Sherlock smirked.

"Oh, piss off," John muttered, throwing the phone back. "What do you think she wants, Sherlock?"

"Right now? To make a general pest of herself," Sherlock answered, locking the phone and sliding it back into the pocket of his robe. He did not take it back out even when she sent a fourth message. "I suspect that her mate, Kate, will have been taken into custody by Mycroft's men. At some point this morning, if it hasn't happened already, Mycroft will get a phone call stating that Kate has mysteriously gone missing."

"Well, I guess that's something at least," John said. "She wouldn't leave her soul mate behind." There was something in John's voice that sounded odd. Sherlock frowned and glanced at him. John met his gaze evenly.

"Oi!" Lestrade pounded on the door, and Sherlock jumped before trying to pretend that he hadn't. "Are you lot alright in there?"

"We're fine." John reached for the lock and then opened the door. "Sherlock was just feeling a bit ill, that's all. As soon as the last of the drugs work their way out of him he'll be okay."

"Glad to hear it. Both of you were really out of it," said Lestrade, eyes flicking back and forth between them.

"Of course we were," Sherlock replied. "We were drugged." He brushed past Lestrade and went back into the kitchen. Mycroft was just finishing up a phone call. He did not look happy. As John went over to the counter and began finishing off the tea, Sherlock said, "Missing someone?"

"Indeed." Mycroft stood, holding his phone loosely. "I apologize for sending you both into danger. Fortunately, it will not be a problem in the future. Your assistance is no longer required with this case, Sherlock. You are officially not to involve yourself any further." He nodded at John and strode out of the room, pausing only to murmur something to Lestrade in a low tone before leaving the flat.

"Right," Lestrade said with a sigh as soon as his mate was gone. "I know you're not going to listen to that, but at least try not to put me in the middle this time."

"I make no promises," Sherlock said haughtily, and went to get a cup of John's tea.

Chapter Text

It took Sherlock a few days to recover from being sick. John, annoyingly enough, didn't suffer any after-effects. But even more frustrating than that, Sherlock didn't hear a single word about Irene Adler for months. There were other cases, of course, but all of them left him with a bitter taste in the back of his mouth. Nothing irked him so much as leaving a case unsolved, and it was particularly aggravating this time around simply because there was something different about Irene Adler. She was unlike anyone that Sherlock had ever met, and the knowledge that she'd slipped through his fingers haunted him.

In the days coming up to Christmas, Mrs Hudson decided that she wanted to have a little party. It didn't take her too much effort to convince John that it might be a good idea for he and Sherlock to host it. John gave in readily, and Sherlock did not need their link to know that John was hoping he would stop "mooning" over Irene Adler for one night. Sherlock could have responded to that, but he refused to dignify that level of ridiculousness with an answer. He was not "mooning" over Irene Adler, and he said as much to John on several occasions. John developed the habit of just nodding along, and then he would give Sherlock a little kiss and pop off to the pub for a few hours while Sherlock stayed home and played his violin furiously.

Mooning, indeed.

Sherlock was sitting in his chair staring off into space, trying to ignore John's attempts at decorating the flat, when John stopped in front of him. And just stood there, waiting patiently, until finally Sherlock was forced to acknowledge him. He flicked his eyes up to scan John's face automatically, but there was no sign that John was angry. "What?" he asked at last, deciding it was safe to do so.

"I wanted to make sure that you were going to behave yourself tonight," John said, resting his hands lightly on his hips. "I know you're not pleased about who we've invited, but I want your word that you're not going to start a fight with Mycroft."

"I just don't see why you had to invite him."

"Because I invited Lestrade and they're soul mates, and besides he's your brother," John said patiently.

"Does that mean you're going to invite Harry?"

John paused at that, his mind focusing on the possibility and what would likely happen if he did, and then he shuddered. Sherlock contained his own grimace at the image that had filtered through: Harry Watson, drunk off her arse and crying into the nearest cup of alcohol because she'd ruined her relationship with her bonded. He'd not had the pleasure of meeting her yet, and judging from everything he'd got from John whenever Harry's name was mentioned it was not something that was going to happen in the near future.

"God no," John said emphatically after a moment, pushing at Sherlock's legs until he uncrossed his knees. He sat down on Sherlock's lap, something he only did in private. "Even though Mycroft can be a git, at least he can be trusted to not go through the liquor we've bought in half an hour."

"His one redeeming feature," Sherlock muttered sourly, letting his hands come to rest on John's thighs. They were strong thighs, nice and muscular from the running they did, and the skin was warm even through the material of the jeans. He began rubbing small circles with his thumbs, noting the tension in the muscles. John had been running himself ragged trying to pull this party together.

"Yes, well, try to behave. You'll risk upsetting Mrs Hudson if you don't."

"It would be her fault for suggesting this ridiculous party in the first place."

"Sherlock." John gave him a Look.

There was, Sherlock had discovered in the past month, a sure fire way to make John stop giving him that Look. Quickly, he ran his hand up John's spine, cupped the back of his head, and pulled him down into a kiss. John stiffened at first, surprised, but in less than a minute he melted against Sherlock with a soft sound of pleasure. Satisfied, Sherlock parted his mouth and deepened the kiss into something was decidedly more passionate. Something else that he had discovered: there was nothing quite like having John Watson in his arms, limp and pliant with wanting, first squirming against him and then shifting around until he was in a position to better leverage himself.

God, you're such a menace, John said between kisses. The colour had risen in his cheeks, giving him a delightfully flushed look. Let go. People are going to be here in less than ten minutes.

That's plenty of time. And to prove it, Sherlock rolled his hips deliberately. John gasped, caught off guard, and his eyes fluttered shut, head tilting back to reveal the tanned column of his neck. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Sherlock straightened his spine to lean up those last few inches, pressing his mouth greedily to John's throat. Perhaps, if he could get John into bed, they would be able to cancel the party altogether. He sucked hard.

"Fuck," John moaned out loud. "You are - god - going to kill me with sexual frustration."

No need to be frustrated, John, Sherlock replied, his mouth too busy to respond out loud, and he sent a serious of suggestive images through their link about what else they could spend their time doing.

"Yes - fuck - there is." Shivering, John hefted his weight up onto his knees, leaving far too much space between them as far as Sherlock was concerned. He was breathing heavily, his jeans noticeably tight. He shook his head. "How the hell do you do that? I came over here to extract a promise that you'd be good and not say anything to Mycroft, and now all I want to do is cancel the party and drag your arse off to bed."

Sherlock smirked. "You wouldn't find any complaints from me if you chose to do so," he pointed out, giving John's arse a squeeze.

"Bastard," John muttered. He gave Sherlock a quick kiss on the mouth and then skilfully slipped free of his hands, backing away from the chair just far enough that Sherlock couldn't easily grab him again. He ignored Sherlock's pout and said firmly, "The party starts in eight minutes. Be ready."

Chapter Text

The one saving grace about the party was that Mycroft was every bit as miserable as Sherlock, and doing a deplorable job of hiding it.

Or at least, it was at first. But then Sherlock got the text message that told him of the gift that had been left for him on the mantelpiece, and after he opened that box and realized what was inside there was nothing that could have saved the party for him. The situation was made even worse by the fact that Mycroft knew what the gift was, probably even before he opened it, and was waiting by the door when Sherlock finally emerged from his bedroom. Without so much as a word to the concerned John and Lestrade, Mycroft whisked him away while speaking into his mobile phone in low tones, alerting his men to be on the look-out for the body of a middle aged woman.

Molly was good enough to leave the party to be there when they came to look at Irene. She was wearing a garish reindeer sweater that looked completely at odds with her fancy make-up. Her hands shook as she pulled the cloth back, and she was not confident enough to look either Sherlock or Mycroft in the face when she was ordered to draw the sheet back further. Sherlock looked at the body dispassionately, noting the chest, hips and waist automatically. Irene had taught him one lesson that stuck, it seemed. He suspected he would have been able to accurately deduce the measurements of any woman he came across. Somehow, the thought that this one lesson lingered did not please him. He turned on his heel and stalked out.

Behind him, he heard Molly say softly, "I... I'm sorry. Did Sherlock know her?"

He knew that Mycroft would not reply.

Sherlock was waiting in the hall when Mycroft came out a moment later. Actually, he was staring fixedly out the window at the snow that had begun to fall. He was trying not to think about Irene Adler and what she must have felt during those last few moments. In doing so, he'd begun to wonder what her soul mate must have been feeling now. He closed his eyes and said, "She had an item in her possession, one that was worth her life. That was what she gave me."

Mycroft did not speak for a minute. Instead, he slipped a lit cigarette into Sherlock's hand. "Evidently she felt that you were the only who could be trusted with it."

That was Mycroft's way of saying that he thought Sherlock would do the stupid thing and keep the phone to himself. Which, to be fair, was exactly what Sherlock was planning on doing. He lifted the cigarette to his lips and was about to inhale when he thought about John. It was impossible not to. Even at this distance, he could still feel John's concern. It was like a deep, bottomless well that called out to him, imploring him to come home safely. Sherlock's fingers tightened and he paused, pulling the cigarette away ever so slightly. He could smell the heady fragrance. His body was demanding that he inhale already, but still he held off.

He said, "I thought she was more intelligent than that."

"As did I." There was the barest flicker of an ironic smile on Mycroft's face. "Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock."

"So you've told me several times," Sherlock said, and then he dropped the cigarette and ground it out beneath his foot. Even though he desperately wanted the smoke, he could not - he just could not. It would've been so much easier if he and John had not touched hands on that day. Sometimes Sherlock wished that they hadn't. Would he have cared this much if they hadn't? Or would he have kept to the rule better than Mycroft had?

He would never know.

Sherlock turned away from his brother and started the long trek down the hall. He passed by a grieving family of three, once four, and stepped out into the bitterly cold night. Even his coat was not enough to keep the worst of the chill away. Still, instead of taking a cab, he walked back to Baker Street. The journey seemed to pass much quicker than he wanted it to. He wasn't even sure that he wanted to return home, but he didn't know where else to go. The closer he got, the deeper and louder John's mind got. It was like a magnet, pulling Sherlock in even when he thought that he should turn around and run. He kept walking, footsteps loud, and climbed the stairs.

The party was over. Lestrade and the other guests were long gone, and even Mrs Hudson had returned back downstairs. John was alone. He'd foregone cleaning up in favour of tossing back a glass of the wine that Molly had brought along. He wasn't drunk, though, but the relief that crashed through him when Sherlock walked in was strong enough to make it seem that way. Sherlock's knees nearly buckled at the unexpected wave of emotion, and John took the opportunity to dart across the room and back him up against the door. He didn't say a word, just slipped his arms around Sherlock's waist and held on tight. Like he thought that Sherlock might disappear if he didn't.

Thank god, he whispered after several minutes. Thank god you came back. Thank you for coming back.

John, Sherlock said, and then he lifted his arms and wrapped them around John's body. John was warm and solid and strong, and it felt odd to hold onto him so tightly. Not bad. Just different.

I know, love, I know. It's going to be alright. John kissed him on the forehead, then the tip of his nose, then both cheeks before finally pressing their lips together very gently. He pulled back far too soon and looked Sherlock over. Come on, sweetheart. Let's get you out of those clothes and underneath the covers. You're shivering.

Sherlock had not noticed, and that was why - even though he would much rather have played his violin for a while - he allowed John to tuck him into bed. John climbed right in next to him, pulling the covers around them and then wrapping himself around Sherlock like he could keep all of the bad news in the world at bay. It was a long time before Sherlock stopped shivering. By then, John had fallen asleep. He was breathing deeply and slowly, and so there was no one to watch when Sherlock pressed his face against John's soft grey-and-blond hair and started to shiver for an entirely different reason.

Chapter Text

It was sometime early in the morning when John woke up, and that he only knew from the light that was filtering in through the window. He'd forgotten to draw the curtains before they went to bed. Not surprising, considering the state that Sherlock had been in. He shifted, gingerly wiggling his fingers and toes, conscious of the warm body curled at his back. This had swiftly become one of Sherlock's favourite positions, second only to him sleeping with his head pillowed on John's chest. He liked to bury his face in the back of John's neck and sling an arm around his waist and then just pass out, and John would have liked to have believed that it was romantic except he knew better: it was Sherlock's way of making sure he didn't do anything interesting while the man slept.

It also meant that it was impossible not to know that Sherlock was there, and right then that meant more to John than anything. Because he was very aware of how close Sherlock had come to not returning home last night. The news about Irene Adler's death had shaken Sherlock right down to his very core in a way that had caught him off guard, and when Sherlock Holmes did not understand something it generally didn't go over very well. John closed his eyes and let out a slow sigh, offering up a silent prayer of thanks that Sherlock had chosen to come back instead of wandering the streets of London and getting into god knows what trouble.

He'd never forget that look, the one of utter shock, that Sherlock had worn when he came in. It was almost like he'd never experienced something like this. Loss. Maybe he hadn't. John didn't know enough about Sherlock's background to be able to give an accurate prediction of whether or not that was true. Irene Adler had been different, a challenge, and now she was gone forever. Slipped through Sherlock's fingers, but not before leaving one last clue that was going to drive the brilliant man crazy. If he hadn't known that Sherlock would never forgive him and Mycroft might make him disappear over it, John might have been tempted to get out of bed and flush that stupid phone down the loo where it belonged.

Sherlock stirred briefly, as though sensing the trail John's thoughts had taken, and John sighed. Gently he stroked the hand still clasped around his waist until he felt Sherlock relax back into sleep. It was good for him to sleep for as long as possible, because he had the suspicion that Sherlock was going to fixate on that phone until he knew all of Irene's secrets or he drove himself and John insane trying. It was just the way that Sherlock was, and if he couldn't solve the puzzle that was Irene Adler he was going to do his best to solve the one that she had left behind. John just hoped that it wasn't going to lead them into even more danger, or worse back towards someone like Moriarty.

"Interesting," Sherlock breathed against his neck. The warmth of his lips made John shiver. "Is there a reason you connect Adler and Moriarty?"

The use of Irene's last name didn't escape John's notice, but he refrained from comment. "It seems like Moriarty is responsible for a lot of crime in London, and Irene sounded like she had loads of connections," he said truthfully. "Not that I think she would have been stupid enough to blackmail someone like him." He tried to roll over, and there was a brief struggle during which Sherlock didn't want him to but John insisted before he finally managed to at least get a look at Sherlock's face. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"Really?" John persisted, because Sherlock didn't feel very fine. In all the time that John had known him, Sherlock's emotions had always been fairly calm. The only time that they got out of control was during a case. This was the first time that Sherlock felt like a storm while they were in bed together: all crackling, nervous tension that had nowhere to go.

"Sentiment, John," Sherlock said.

"Yeah, exactly." John propped himself up on his elbow. "It's not... I know you liked her, Sherlock. There's nothing wrong with being upset that she's gone."

Sherlock said nothing.

"Are you sure that the body in the morgue was hers?"

"The measurements matched, though the face was too mangled for recognition," Sherlock admitted, shifting on the bed. John sighed and leaned down, leaned close, pressing their foreheads together. He looked into Sherlock's eyes. Sherlock said, "I was thinking - I thought about her mate. The one that would have been left behind."

"Kate?" John supplied, genuinely surprised. "Why would you - oh."

Because he got it then, he understood, what had been bothering Sherlock so much last night. It wasn't just Irene, this was about everything they've gone through together: some kind of delayed reaction to what had happened with Moriarty, and later in Irene's house. Like some kind of belated post traumatic stress, and he wondered if Sherlock had looked at Irene on the table and seen someone else in her place. He knew that he'd stumbled across the truth when Sherlock tensed underneath him and his pulse picked up.

"Oh," John repeated, infinitely softer this time. He gently brushed a curl from Sherlock's face and Sherlock twisted, trying to pull away.

"Caring is not an advantage," he said, the words and uncertainty dancing across their bond, and John scowled.

"Fuck that," he declared, using every ounce of his strength to drag Sherlock right back down. In spite of Sherlock's best efforts to squirm away, he was eventually pinned. John blinked down at him, a little amused by the way that Sherlock was pouting. It was adorable. He placed a finger over Sherlock's lips when he opened his mouth, already knowing what was coming.

It didn't stop the indignant, I am not adorable!

"I beg to differ," said John quietly, ducking his head and replacing his finger with his mouth. He kissed Sherlock as slowly and sweetly as he knew how, wishing that he could do more. Wishing that he knew how to better offer comfort to this intelligent, amazing man who had somehow ended up as his bonded, and god if John didn't question every day how that had come to be. Sherlock started to say something when John pulled back, but John didn't let him. This was the only thing he had to offer, and he wanted Sherlock to take it, take him, while they still had the chance.

Chapter Text

If John had thought that Sherlock was moping around before, it was nothing compared to what happened after that. Sherlock seemed to lose interest in everything, and the fact that Lestrade had no interesting cases to offer them didn't help matters. He spent most of his time either on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling but actually looking at things that only he could see, or shouting at the telly or composing music on his violin that John could only have called wistful. The only time that he really became himself was when John would take the violin out of his hands and lead him down the hall and into bed. There Sherlock would forget about Irene Adler and the case he couldn't solve for a little while, while John did his best to drive those thoughts away permanently.

It never worked, whether he spent hours worshipping Sherlock's body or they had a hot, hard fuck on the sofa that was over in a handful of minutes. John was always left to watch as Sherlock's eyes would go cloudy and distant again, and it was beginning to drive him mad. He came down from his bedroom one morning to find Sherlock with his violin in front of the windows and Mrs Hudson puttering around in the kitchen. There was an uneaten meal on the table. Sherlock's mind was strangely quiet, the usual mad whirl of half-formed thoughts and deductions soothed by the sweetly sad sound of the music that he was coaxing from his instrument. John stopped in the doorway and looked at him for a long time.

"Composing?" he asked quietly, even though he already knew the answer.

Sherlock paused, tucking the bow beneath his arm, and scribbled a note down on a sheet of paper. It would never be seen by anyone else, and John suspected that the only reason Sherlock bothered to write the music down was so that he had a hard copy in case he accidentally deleted it. "Helps me think," Sherlock answered after a moment, turning back to the window. "I've got three tries left to unlock the phone."

John sighed and cast a glance at that bloody phone, sitting on the mantelpiece, watching over them, before he went into the kitchen. "Have you ever seen him act this way before?" He made sure to keep his voice quiet, useless though it likely was. Still, he had noticed that when Sherlock was otherwise preoccupied, he didn't always pay attention to what was going on in John's mind.

"No," Mrs Hudson said, setting a plate gently down on the counter. "But then, as far as I know he's never lost anyone." She glanced at Sherlock and sighed. "Grief does funny things to people, John. Not everyone handles it well."

"We should know," John muttered, frustrated. He should know. The fact that he didn't know all that much about Sherlock's past had never bothered him much before, but as the days crept by it was beginning to annoy him more and more. He felt helpless, and that was not a feeling that he enjoyed. "Look, I think I'm going to run to the shops. I need a few minutes to clear my head. Can you - well, just text me if you see him leaving."

"I'll do that." Mrs Hudson's smile was pitying, and John had to turn away. He crossed the room to Sherlock and waited until there was a pause in the song before he leaned over and kissed the man softly on the mouth. Beneath the light pressure, Sherlock paused, and then long fingers gripped his arm and Sherlock kissed him back.

I'm going to figure this out, John.

I know you will, John said, and left it at that, left him there, because it was unsettling to know that he had discovered the greatest weakness of Sherlock Holmes. A puzzle that could not be solved, regardless of whether it was due to insufficient data, might be thing that brought Sherlock to his knees. John couldn't help pounding down the stairs a little bit harder than he would have normally, because he needed to take his frustration out on something. He sorely regretted the day that Mycroft had ever taken them to the palace and given Sherlock that damn file.

"Doctor Watson?"

The voice was unfamiliar, but the intonation - the way she spoke his name, as though it wasn't a question at all because she was so certain that it was him - was not. John turned his head as he stepped outside, spotting the nicely dressed woman standing on the pavement. "Yes?"

"If you'll follow me," she said, and indicated the black car.

John stared at the car and then walked towards it without any further prompting. He had a few things to say to Mycroft. He got in and the woman slid in next to him. The car pulled away, blending seamlessly into the early morning traffic. They travelled in silence for a long time - that was, John suspected, Mycroft's way of trying to make sure that Sherlock did not overhear through the bond. He sat and stared out the window, paying no attention to the woman sitting beside him. She was attractive, and there was a time when he might have hit on her, but those days were long past. His concern for Sherlock was so strong, too strong, he felt like he was being choked with it.

When the car stopped about thirty minutes later, John got out and entered the building. He was expecting Mycroft. That was not who was waiting for him. He stopped short at the sight of Irene Adler. She smiled at him, and he had to blink furiously because for a few seconds his vision had gone red with rage. He said, "You're alive."

"Proving your worth as a doctor after all," Irene said, her smile growing. "Which reminds me, I never had the chance to say thank you for checking on Kate."

He unlocked his jaw with some effort. "Why the hell haven't you told him that you're alive?"

"Should I have?" Irene said mildly. "I didn't think it would matter that much." She shrugged one shoulder, and John noticed for the first time that she was wearing a black coat that looked suspiciously familiar. It was not Sherlock's coat, of course, but similar in style, only designed just for her. "Besides, you know he would come after me. That would be unfortunate for both of us."

"Somehow, I think you are the only one you're really concerned about," John said. It was unfortunate that he had a policy against hitting women, because he really wanted to punch her at the moment. "Besides, you think he's not going to find out? We're bonded, Irene. He's going to know eventually."

She looked at him, and finally her smile vanished. "That's what I'm counting on."

Chapter Text

Are you okay?

John's voice, soft and sweet in the back of his mind, gave Sherlock pause as he lingered in the hallway of the warehouse. He'd followed John, of course he had. It had been blatantly obvious from the beginning that the car had not belonged to Mycroft, though Sherlock fully suspected that his dear old brother was likely kicking himself for not having intervened sooner. If he had, Irene Adler would have been comfortably in his grasp. Instead the car that John got into had evaded all of the CCTV cameras on the way to the building, and it had been all too easy for Sherlock to do the same thing. He'd learned how to avoid those cameras when he was just a teenager; the knowledge had served him well several times since.

Sherlock, John said, and he sounded a little amused now. The fury that had been pouring through their bond had abated somewhat, though it still lingered: hot and heavy, like a burn that made Sherlock's palms itch. He was getting tired of standing there and talking to Irene, and if Sherlock did not intervene he was probably going to lose his temper at some point. It was remarkable that he'd held back as long as he had.

Rather than respond to the increasingly pointed queries, Sherlock stepped forward into the room. His presence made the stark silence in the room feel more poignant. Irene did not look surprised to see him, or rather she was working hard to make it seem like she wasn't. But he could see it in the way her shoulders tensed a bit, how her breath shortened, that she was shocked he'd come out into the open. He suspected that she had thought - hoped - that he would leave her there, too angry or confused to confront her, and she would disappear again into the depths of the underground until she made the choice to reappear. That was the sort of game Irene Adler loved to play, a game where she could seize control and allow others to think that they possessed it right up until she pulled the rug out from under their feet.

"Not exactly the sort of setting I would have expected you'd chose for a double date," Sherlock said, looking at her with his most unnerving stare. The mobile phone was a heavy weight in the pocket of his coat, but it was safer with him than with John. He had not forgotten what Irene had done to John the last time. However much her cleverness called to him, he would not - could not - forget the threat she posed to his other half. "But then, it appears that you are missing your date."

Irene flinched. It was a small gesture, easy to overlook considering that she immediately and deliberately shifted her weight to hide it, but it was there all the same. "You never responded to any of my texts," she replied. "How was I to know that you were interested?"

"I thought you would assume, seeing as how you seem to think you know everything else about me."

"You know what they say about assuming," she quipped with a faint smile.

Sherlock frowned slightly, because he didn't - doubtless this was another one of those annoying pop culture things that went over his head - and glanced at John. There was amusement sparkling in John's eyes as the answer passed between them, and then Sherlock huffed. John snorted, biting on his lip to hold back laughter, and Irene smiled. For a moment the atmosphere might have even grown a shade less tense, but that was destroyed when Sherlock turned to look at her again. He knew why Irene was there. More importantly, he knew what her plans were, what she was working towards. It had taken him some time to fully understand, and he still wasn't sure he'd grasped the whole concept. But the finer details could wait.

He said, "Moriarty has your bonded."

The stark words made Irene's smile vanish. John's mouth dropped open, and he looked over at her in shock. Irene's eyes flicked between the two of them, and in that split second she looked much younger than her thirty-odd years. Even the exquisitely crafted hairstyle and carefully applied make-up did little to hide the depth of fear that was visible in her eyes. It was evident that she had not been expecting Sherlock to say that, and for just a moment Sherlock allowed himself to coast on the feeling of pride that surged through him. He savoured the knowledge that he had caught Irene Adler off guard.

"It's true, isn't it?" John said as the silence dragged on. His anger was truly gone, now, though it had not been forgotten. Like Sherlock, he would never forget just what Irene was capable of. However, he was now a good deal more inclined to be gentler, and that was reflected in his voice when he added, "Why didn't you say something before? That's why you've surfaced, isn't it? Moriarty wants something from you, and he's threatening Kate to make you dance to his tune."

Irene tilted her head up slightly. "I mailed something to you, and that was a mistake," she said to Sherlock, disregarding John's questions entirely. "I've come to get it back."

"I believe the term is finders keepers," Sherlock said, keeping his hands hanging loosely at his sides. "Besides, what would you do with it even if I returned it to you? Is there something that Moriarty wants?" He narrowed his eyes slightly, frustrated at his inability to deduce her true motives. "Or were you planning to abandon your mate and disappear on your own?"

"Sherlock!" John exclaimed.

Sherlock ignored him. "Is that what you were thinking? I know that there are people who ascribe to the school of thought that soul mates are really nothing in the long run, no more important than anyone else you happen to meet. Considering the level of concern you showed towards your mate at the house, I hadn't thought that you would be one of them. But now I see I was simply taken in by your great acting skills," and it was obvious he was not complimenting her from the mocking derision that dripped from his every word, "and yet I do wonder, does your faithful mate know that she is no more then -"

"Enough!" Irene's voice was shrill, echoing through the room as her composure finally snapped. She was breathing harshly, her hands trembling before she clasped them into fists and hid them in her pockets. "You. Are. Wrong."

"Then explain it," John said quietly before Sherlock could. "We're here, we're listening, and you're not going to get a better offer. Let's hear it."

Chapter Text

The seconds ticked by, and still Irene did not speak. She was looking down at the ground, her face set into a look that was obviously meant to give nothing away, but occasionally her eyes would flick first to Sherlock and then back to John. Sherlock watched her calmly, not giving any indication that he was keeping the phone on him. Not that Irene would have been able to do anything even if she knew, but he wouldn't have put anything past her. He was making it a point to keep a fair distance between her and them as it was, just to make absolutely certain that she never got close enough to use another one of her syringes.

And finally, Irene said, "I can't."

"You can't," John said, a thin wrinkle appearing between his eyes. "Or you won't?"

Irene folded her arms and the jacket pulled tight against her body, outlining all of her curves. It was a deliberate move that might have won her favour elsewhere. "You were right," she said, and it sounded like it pained her to admit that. "Not long after the police took Kate to the hospital, she disappeared. They didn't search very long." Her mouth twisted bitterly, and she visibly tightened her grip on her arms to the point where it had to hurt. "Not that they would have found her even if they had. Moriarty has spies all over this city, a web all over the world. I... have no idea where she's ended up. I can't even tell if she's in London, because our link has gone silent. I haven't heard anything from her in days. Either she's too far away or he's suppressing it with drugs."

There was a third option, one that was the veritable elephant in the room, but Sherlock did not need John's warning glance to know that bringing it up was not the way to get Irene to cooperate. "What does he want from you? The phone?"

"No. Small stuff like that is of no interest to someone like Moriarty," Irene replied with a thin smile. "I suspect that he already knows most of what's on there, and probably has better proof than I do." She paused before sighing heavily. "I thought - we'd always discussed that there was a chance we might end up in prison someday, even though I was the one who was doing the blackmailing. But as my bonded, of course she would be considered an accomplice." She rolled her eyes. "There was a plan for what we would do if that ever happened. She was supposed to - I didn't anticipate that Moriarty was going to interfere."

"So what were you trying to do with the phone? Were you really going to leave?" John looked astonished at the idea. Sherlock couldn't help being pleased by that.

"No!" Irene's denial was a good deal more vehement this time. "I told you, that's not it at all. I need that phone. Moriarty is the most dangerous man out there, that's true. But he's not the only one who'd like to string me up. There are a lot of people who aren't too pleased with me, and the only thing keeping them at bay is the fact that I could potentially go to the press with my information at any time. If they realize that I don't have that threat to hold on them -"

"You'll be killed, and Moriarty will be free to do what he wants with your mate," Sherlock filled in, realizing that the situation was not as interesting as he'd hoped. Of course, there was always the chance that Irene wasn't telling the truth. She'd proven once before that she was adept at lying and concealing the truth, so there was a possibility that Moriarty actually did want the contents of the phone and that he was holding Kate ransom until Irene got it back. There was no way to tell. It did not upset him as much as he might have thought.

"Exactly. So give it back." She held out a hand.

Sherlock snorted. "Not a chance."

Irene looked furious. "I need that phone!"

"And yet you sent it to me, which makes it mine. I don't feel very inclined to give it to you," he replied.

"You'll never get it open," Irene said.

He sent her a smug look in response and turned, intending to leave. "I think you'll find that there is not very much I can't do."

Sherlock, John said. He had not moved from where he was standing, and Sherlock could feel John staring at him. He fought back the urge to groan as John added, We can't just leave her here. Moriarty's trying to kill her.

I fail to see how that's my problem, Sherlock said, not even bothering to try and hide the fact that he was pretty much whining. Having Irene around would lead them to Moriarty, that was true. And Sherlock couldn't deny that another meeting with the psychopath did sound interesting. But he was also aware that having Irene around would exponentially increase the level of danger that they - John - were in. They'd got away from Moriarty once. He didn't know if the same outcome would happen a second time. For all of his curiosity, he wasn't sure he wanted to find out.

John sighed, and Sherlock could feel it: he was torn between agreeing that Sherlock had a point and feeling like he should do the right thing by Irene. "Where are you going from here?" he asked finally, because this was John and he always had to do the right thing. It never ceased to be annoying.

She was standing tense, likely glaring at the back of Sherlock's head, but she answered John readily enough. "I'll have to disappear again," she said, short and unhappy. "Without the phone, I don't dare give the people looking for me the chance to find me."

"You can't be too concerned," Sherlock said. He'd been looking at the wall, but now he pivoted to face her. Just as he'd thought, she was glaring at him. It was oddly thrilling. "After all, you've taken the time to bring John here even though you knew he didn't have the phone. And you've spun us this little tale, quite heart-warming I'm sure," he deliberately made his voice mocking, "but you've failed to tell us the most important part. Moriarty wants something from you, a trade that he considers worthy of your bonded. You've skirted the issue thus far, pretended that it doesn't matter. What is it? What does he want?"

There was a very long moment of silence, so long that he thought maybe she wasn't going to answer him at all. Her face shifted into an expression he couldn't identify, and at last she said, very quietly, "You. In the end, what it comes down to is that he wants you."

Chapter Text

It was the little things, Sherlock reflected later, that got to him the most. The way Irene had stared at him so hungrily while she flirted and coaxed him into translating the code, as though she thought that he would give in and have sex with her right there on the desk with John not two feet away. The look on Mycroft's face when he walked onto the airplane, that unique combination of guilt and anger that only a Holmes could really do justice to, and how voice trembled ever so slightly when he finally spoke, clipped and icy as he outlined all the ways that Sherlock had been fooled.

How John's anger burned through their bond, outraged at the realization that Irene had been playing them both from their very beginning.

"I thought," Mycroft was saying, his quiet voice echoing through the cabin, "that having a bond mate might be good for you, Sherlock. I know that you don't have much experience in these matters. I'd hoped that it would help you learn to avoid these sorts of situations." He held up his ever present umbrella, stabbing it through the air. "This was - you should have known. How did you not realize? Or were you truly that anxious to impress someone other than John?"

Bastard, John said, sounding furious. He'd been out when Sherlock was picked up, and he had not been too pleased that Sherlock had gone without waiting for him. It was probably for the best: judging by the annoyance roiling down the bond, he probably would've punched Mycroft if he had been there. Don't let him talk to you like that, Sherlock. It's his bloody fault for bringing Irene Adler around in the first place.

Sherlock lifted his head, ignoring John's suggestion that he punch Mycroft instead, and said, "Perhaps if you'd given me all of the relevant information in the first place, this wouldn't have happened." It was one of the reasons why he hated working for Mycroft. It wasn't just because his brother annoyed him so much, though granted that was part of it. It was because Mycroft always had to play these games. He always had to hold information back, and not just because he was paranoid about it getting into the wrong hands - though that was part of it. He just enjoyed being in the driver's seat a little too much. This wasn't the first time that Mycroft's reluctance to share pertinent information had got them into trouble, though granted this was the biggest issue that had ever arisen.

Mycroft's expression flickered, and for a moment Sherlock thought his brother was going to come up with a truly scathing comment. He even braced himself in preparation. But all Mycroft said was, "You're right."

"But just think," Irene said, and Sherlock stiffened for an entirely different reason as she entered the cabin behind him. Neilson was standing right behind her, glaring daggers at Sherlock. It was obvious he still wanted to put that bullet between Sherlock's eyes. Irene smirked and continued, "If you hadn't, Mr Holmes, this whole thing would have been so much more boring than it really was. At least this way I had the chance to play with your delicious little brother."

"So it was a lie, then," said Sherlock. "The fact that Moriarty had your bonded."

Irene hesitated for a split second. She was all dressed up now, hair coiffed and make-up perfect, wearing a pair of high heels and a slinky black dress and a fur coat, but it did little to hide that flash of insecurity. "No," she said, "no, that wasn't a lie. It was the truth. But I also told you that Kate and I had a plan in place. I just led you to believe that the plan was only for the police." She shrugged one shoulder and smiled at him, baring her teeth just a little. "I believe we need to speak, Mr Holmes. In private, if you don't mind." And she wiggled the phone at him.

Though Mycroft probably would have preferred to drive them both straight off the nearest bridge, he took them to his personal residence. Sherlock had not been inside very often, and he usually liked to keep it that way. He noted that there was a distinct lack of Lestrade as he settled into a chair, with Mycroft and Irene at a table just behind him, and he knew the inspector had to be working late. For a moment, he allowed himself to indulge in the fervent wish that he could be with Lestrade no matter how boring of a case he was working. Anywhere would have been better than where he was.

Sherlock, John said softly.

I hate this, Sherlock returned, hands tightening around the arms of the chair as he listened to Mycroft and Irene discuss her demands. Mycroft was not pleased, and rightfully so. This was the sort of thing that could easily destroy careers. He didn't have many superiors, but none of them would trust him after how this little debacle had turned out. It would take years for him to work his way back up, and - depending on what, exactly, Irene wanted - he might never be able to do so.

I know you do. But there's nothing you can do, is there? John was on the underground, which he only took when he was alone because Sherlock couldn't handle it. He was staring off into space as he spoke. You've been trying to break into her phone for the past month and you haven't had any luck. Even when you tried to trick her into giving you the combination, it still didn't work.

That was all true, unfortunately, and Sherlock still wasn't sure what the code for the phone would be even though it had been burning in the back of his mind for a while. He knew that the code was probably something personal; it was the sort of assumption he felt safe making considering what the code for her safe had been. But he was also aware of the fact that he knew precious little about Irene Adler. There was something he was missing, something key, but it was dangling just out of reach and it was driving him mad -

"You've been very thorough," Mycroft said at last. He sounded defeated. It made Sherlock's skin prickle uncomfortably.

Irene chuckled with satisfaction. "Indeed. But I can't take all the credit. I had a little help. There are consultants for everything these days, you know."

Sherlock stopped. Literally. He didn't move, didn't breathe, didn't respond to John's alarmed inquiries. He was staring intently at nothing in particular at his mind sorted and shaped and understood -

"Now off you go," she went on, "you'd best see to it before I get impatient."

"No," Sherlock said quietly, firmly, and the room went deliciously silent. He stood up and turned around. "No, I think not."

Chapter Text

Both Irene and Mycroft froze at the sound of his voice. Irene's eyes widened, just a little, and Mycroft looked like he was about two seconds away from just telling Sherlock to just shut up. To cut him off, Sherlock advanced until he was standing right beside the table. Because both of them were sitting, it gave him the added advantage of being able to loom over them. He reached down and plucked the phone off of the table, along with Irene's list of demands. He raised an eyebrow as he glanced down the list, reading quickly. As he'd expected, her desires grew more ridiculous the closer to the bottom of the list that he got. Nothing overly surprising, but it was no wonder Mycroft was so upset.

And Sherlock was about to save him. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to gloat or be sick.

"I'm not sure what you're talking about," Irene said. Her expression had smoothed out, but now the confidence appeared to be faked rather than genuine. It was a pleasure to know the difference, and Sherlock couldn't resist smirking at her.

"You nearly had me fooled, I will admit to that. There aren't many people in the world that I am unable to deduce. Usually I can tell anything about anyone. But you..." He tossed the phone into the air casually, catching it deftly as Irene started like she wanted to grab it out of his hand before forcing herself to still. "You were a mystery to me for quite some time. It wasn't until now that I realized it was at least partially because I was operating with incorrect information. That is to say, you led us to believe that Kate was your bonded and that she was being held captive by Moriarty, that you were doing this to free her." He let their eyes meet. "And I was right, at least in one respect. She is being held by Moriarty. But you don't care, do you?"

Irene stood up. He'd never noticed before, how small she was. The top of her head was about on level with his chin. "Give me that phone."

"I think not," he repeated lazily. "You're not bonded, are you?"

She flinched. "Mr Holmes -"

"Ah, we've returned to Mr Holmes now, have we?" he murmured, amusement growing. She was trying to distance herself from the situation. It wasn't going to work. He said, "when we first met, you claimed you knew that the house had been infiltrated because Kate had been knocked unconscious. But that wasn't it, was it? You had some other way of knowing. I suspect that it was a small, electronic hearing device hidden in your ear, one that allows you and Kate to pull off the illusion of being bonded. So much easier to put people off when they believe you've already found the love of your life, isn't it? And you've been practicing for such a long time, you've nearly perfected your act." He dropped his voice, let it become mocking. "I should have realized earlier, when you showed no signs of pain whatsoever while she was unconscious. Even the weakest of bonds still include phantom pain. I suppose you were so rattled you simply forgot."

He keyed in the first two characters into the phone and watched her stiffen. "Still, it didn't really occur to me until now, when you said that there are consultants for everything these days. That's when I realized that your relationship with Moriarty was rather different than what you told us."

"That doesn't mean that Kate isn't my bonded," Irene said heatedly.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You're still going to sit there and pretend that's what you have?" he asked, not bothering to hide the way his lip had curled in derision. It was worth it, just for the rising flush seeping up her neck into her cheeks. "I don't doubt that it's true Moriarty has her. Maybe he even believes that she's your bonded and that's the leverage he's been trying to use against you. After all, few bonded can survive when their other half is killed. But you - you don't care, not really. Oh, I'm certain that it bothers you that she's going to die. But when it comes right down to it..." He finished the code and all three of them watched as the phone responded, the locked screen fading away to reveal the main screen. "You don't. One look at the frankly selfish items on your list, silly things Moriarty would never ask for, tells me that the only thing you care about is you. I suspect that's why you've never actually found your soul mate."

Her mouth had fallen open, and now it closed, like she was trying to think of something to say. Sherlock relished her silence. He could have said more, dropped a comment about the fact that the lock code had been 'I am SHERlocked' - more proof that she was not bonded, in his eyes, because Irene Adler only used codes that meant something to her - but he didn't. He set the phone down in front of Mycroft and started to walk towards the door. John's admiration and pride was a soothing buzz in the back of his mind, and he wanted to return home as quickly as possible so that he could bask in it.

"Wait," Irene said to his back. She sounded desperate. "They'll kill me."

"Not my problem," Sherlock said, and let the door swing shut behind him. He stood there for a minute, breathing deeply, before he began walking down the hall towards the outside door. He didn't know what Mycroft would do with Irene, and frankly he didn't care.

That was amazing, Sherlock, John said as Sherlock emerged into the cold night air.

Thank you. Sherlock drew his coat collar up. There was one thing he had not mentioned, one thing that was still sticking in his mind, something that he knew Mycroft would probably deduce after some thought into the matter. He'd believed Irene because of his relationship with John. It was so easy to let what he and John had colour his view of the world, to think that all bonded pairs shared what they did. And Irene had taken advantage of that. Just remembering how he'd provided her with the perfect cover story at the warehouse made him burn with private humiliation. God only knew what she would have said if Sherlock hadn't jumped in.

He could sense John's desire to soothe and comfort him through their bond, but fortunately John didn't say anything to that effect. He just said, Come home, Sherlock and Sherlock stopped, flagged down a taxi, and got in.

Chapter Text

Sherlock ended up saving Irene's life.

John couldn't say that he was surprised.

He put on his best straight face when Mycroft came to bring him the news, and he accepted the mobile phone with a steady hand. He left Mycroft waiting downstairs and went back up to the flat where Sherlock was playing his violin as loud as he could in the hopes of dissuading his brother from visiting.

"I'm supposed to be trying to console you right now," he said, kicking the door shut gently. He took off his coat and tossed it down on the back of the chair. He knew that Sherlock was listening to him, but chances were what he was saying was only vaguely registering. Lestrade had been by earlier that morning with a file on some recent disappearances, and Sherlock had been mostly non-communicative since. Knowing what would get Sherlock's attention, he added, "Apparently we've decided to tell you that Irene is in the witness protection program."

Sherlock drew the bow lightly across the strings, coaxing a thin shivery sound, before he straightened. "That sounds like Mycroft," he said with a smirk, more pleased at the confirmation that he really had put one over on his brother than anything else. "He wouldn't want to tell me she was dead. Wouldn't be able to risk me doing anything foolish."

John looked at him fondly. "Foolish? You? Perish the thought," he grinned.

"Shut up, John, and give me that."

"The phone? Mycroft wants it back."

"It's mine," Sherlock said, and John knew he wasn't imagining the slight hint of whining present in his voice. "Irene gave it to me."

Which was - well, true, actually. John pitched the phone across the room and Sherlock caught it with one hand. He tucked it into the pocket of his robe as John turned and went back downstairs to get rid of Mycroft. It was easier than he was expecting. Mycroft didn't even seem to mind that Sherlock had insisted on keeping the phone. Knowing the way Mycroft and Sherlock were, he'd probably been expecting it. John was back upstairs in less than ten minutes. He walked in to find that Sherlock had decided he'd had enough of torturing his violin and was now sitting in John's chair, face creased in concentration.

"Four victims," he said as soon as John was in the room. "Two male, two female. Varying ages. Varying ethnicities. Two were married, one was single, the fourth was a notorious playboy. One man is rich, one of them so poor he doesn't have two pence to rub together, the other two relatively middle class. No connections. And all of them have gone missing in London during the past month."

"Why hasn't Lestrade brought it to your attention before?"

"Mycroft." Sherlock's already sulky expression went a little bit more pouty. John tried not to think it was adorable. "He kept Lestrade away, said that I had more important things to be concerned about than something so trivial." He sounded outraged, but it wasn't because Mycroft had decided the disappearance of four people was trivial. It was because Sherlock hated few things more than he hated interference, particularly when it came from nosy older brothers.

"Right." John sighed and rubbed his head, realizing that there wasn't going to be any rest between cases this time around. Things had just settled down and already they were diving head first into the next one. "What do you think, then?"

"There must be some connection that we're missing," Sherlock said unhappy. He hated admitting that he couldn't figure something out. "That's the whole reason that Lestrade brought the case to my attention. On the surface, it seems like each one is not connected to the other at all. It's surprising that he thought to link the four of them together at all."

Was that a tiny amount of grudging pride in his voice? John stared at him.

Sherlock caught the thought and glared back.

Before he could protest, either out loud or otherwise, John said, "Then how did he connect them?"

"He was the one in charge of two of the cases, and he found the other two when he did a little extra investigating. He noticed that the M.O. was very similar. All four victims disappeared in the early morning hours while they were outside of the home. There haven't been any ransom demands. It's as though these people simple vanished with no explanation. The two cases he worked on eventually went cold. The victim is believed dead in the third, and in the fourth case it was decided that the woman simply walked away." Sherlock stared down at the file in his lap and frowned. "Really, there is no proof that they are connected. But Lestrade believes, and he is correct, that they are related."

They were probably right, too. John crossed the room and picked up the file, idly flipping through it and pretending not to notice the way that Sherlock's arm snuck out and slipped around his waist. When Sherlock tugged him down, John went. But he didn't settle into Sherlock's lap. Instead he wedged himself into the small bit of chair left over so that he and Sherlock were sitting side by side. It was a little awkward because the chair wasn't really meant to hold two grown men, but it worked.

He said, "I noticed something weird. None of these four are bonded even though two of them are married."

Sherlock looked at him for a minute, his eyebrows furrowing. "No, they're not."

"I don't know if that means something." John shrugged. Some people got impatient or bored with searching, others were of the opinion that the idea of soul mates was nonsense and preferred looking for love on their own. Then there were the bonds that were platonic, between siblings or friends. He closed the file again.

"It might." Sherlock sounded far away, and his mind was churning up a dozen different thoughts. It made John feel dizzy when he tried to keep up with them all.

He set the file aside, knowing that Sherlock would probably be caught up in thinking for a while, and reached instead for a book he'd been slowly working his way through. He flipped it open and started to read, doing his best to ignore the constant stream of thoughts going on right next to him. After about fifteen minutes, he noticed that it was beginning to slow down. He kept reading while projecting calm and safety.

It was not a surprise when Sherlock's head hit his shoulder a few minutes later. The man hadn't slept since he'd returned from helping Irene to escape, and, since they only got into a fight whenever John threatened to make him sleep, it was about time that he'd finally given in. John just smiled to himself, resolving to stay where he was and think about nothing but his fascinating book for the next couple of hours, and turned to the next page.

Chapter Text

The look on Lestrade's face when he saw them together in the chair made John wish that he was close enough to get to his phone so that he could snap a picture. Lestrade looked like he honestly couldn't decide whether to think they were adorable or be utterly befuddled with the realization that Sherlock Holmes was actually sleeping when there was a case on. He ended up picking his way into the room and stopping a few feet away, raising an eyebrow when Sherlock failed to spring awake.

"Did you drug him?" he asked, genuinely curious.

John tried not to laugh. The vibrations, he knew, might be enough to wake Sherlock. "No," he replied, keeping his voice low. "If I had, that would've knocked me out too. The idiot hasn't slept for days, and when he stays awake for long enough it doesn't matter how much I've been sleeping. His body makes the decision for him." He cast a fond look towards the man sleeping beside him. Sherlock had shifted in his sleep, slouching down so that he was twisted towards John. His arms were wrapped around John's midsection and his head was resting on John's shoulder, clutching at him like a child would a teddy bear. It was just about one of the sweetest things that John had ever been a part of. He didn't even care that he'd had to pee for the past forty-five minutes.

"Mycroft gets like that," Lestrade said with a knowing nod. "It's damned useful being able to make him sleep when he's so exhausted he has to literally prop himself up with a pile of books just to keep from slumping over." He studied Sherlock for a moment longer before, with a grin, reaching into his pocket and drawing out his phone. He snapped a quick photo of the two of them. "He said he wanted to talk to the fourth victim's wife, but I guess it could wait until morning."

"No," Sherlock mumbled into the fabric of John's jumper. He opened his eyes - it looked like a difficult task - and blinked heavily for a minute. John wouldn't have been surprised if he'd started rubbing his eyes like a sleepy toddler. Sherlock glared at him and, just for that, pushed himself up and extracted himself from the chair. "I'll talk to her now."

"You sure?" Lestrade said. "You looked pretty comfortable."

"Ask again and I'll delete that stupid picture on your phone."

Lestrade covered his phone protectively as Sherlock left the room. "Boy, someone's cranky when he first wakes up."

"You don't know the half of it." John rubbed the back of his neck as he yawned. These chairs weren't the most comfortable things to fall asleep in, and the crick in Sherlock's neck was bad enough that it was crossing over. He stood up and stretched. "Send me that picture, will you?"

"Already done." Lestrade shot him a grin. "The victim's wife is down at the Yard. I expect you two will be along when his highness is ready?"

"We'll follow." John waved him off and listened to the sound of Lestrade retreating before he went to get their coats and make a quick stop in the bathroom. He'd have liked to have had a cup of tea, but he knew there wasn't time for that. Sure enough, within two minutes Sherlock returned looking far more awake than he had before. He accepted his coat from John and pulled it on as the two of them went downstairs.

The weather was turning cool, and John was glad for his coat as Sherlock stopped a taxi. It also gave him an excuse to sit right beside Sherlock, even though the interior of the cab was plenty warm. The phantom pain in his neck twanged again when Sherlock turned his head to look out the window, and John couldn't resist reaching up to rub at the back of Sherlock's neck. Sherlock tensed beneath the familiar touch, just for a second, but John persisted, digging his fingers into the muscles. Gradually, Sherlock relaxed and the ache began to ease.

You're such a doctor, Sherlock said after a couple of minutes had passed, warmly amused.

Bloody lucky for you, considering some days I think you'd fall apart if I wasn't, John replied. Sherlock would never admit it, but he could tell the man felt better for having had the four hours of sleep. It was bad enough that neither of them had eaten since that morning.

Sherlock just rolled his eyes as the cab stopped. Surprisingly, he didn't leap out right away. John glanced over at him and smiled as he slowly pulled his hand away after one last rub. Only then did Sherlock climb out, and John followed after he had paid the cabbie. Scotland Yard was bustling, and no one gave the two of them much notice as they entered. Lestrade was waiting for them in his office. He took the them down to one of the interview rooms where the wife was waiting.

"Try not to upset her," he said, looking resigned.

"I promise nothing." Sherlock swept through the door and Lestrade made a face at the window. John giggled.

The woman inside the room stood up as soon she noticed Sherlock. Her face was drawn and worried. "Have you -"

"No," Sherlock said shortly. "What can you tell me about your husband?"

For a moment, John thought she was going to get upset. Her jaw snapped shut so hard there was an audible click. But she swallowed and sat down, and when she spoke again her voice was very quiet. "He was a good man. He enjoyed spending time at home with me and our puppy when he wasn't working. He didn't like to drink, or smoke... we were saving money for a house..."

"And yet you weren't bonded," Sherlock noted, with that often appalling lack of tact that never failed to make John wince. "Why not? Weren't you concerned that you might meet your bonded?"

"I'm almost fifty years old," the woman said tightly. "If I was going to meet my bonded, I have to believe it would have happened before now."

"Your husband was only thirty-five," Sherlock pointed out.

"He didn't have a bonded." And now she really was getting upset. Her cheeks had flushed pink and her mouth was drawing into a thin line. Lestrade swore under his breath.

"Didn't have... Oh."

There it was: the sound that always heralded a breakthrough. John just barely contained a gasp of his own as he understood where Sherlock's spectacular mind had gone. Lestrade looked at him curiously, and John said, "The victims, they're all - they've got open bonds."

"What?" Lestrade said, stunned.

Sherlock threw the door open again. His face was grave. He said, "You're looking for a slave ring."

Chapter Text

Lestrade left one of the officers on duty to escort the victim's wife out of the building while he led Sherlock and John back upstairs to his own office, where he could close the door and make sure that no one could overhear their conversation. "A slave ring?" he asked, gesturing for the both of them to take a seat. He didn't bother to wait before he going behind his desk and sitting down. He looked tired, and his night wasn't going to get any better. "How exactly did you come to that conclusion?"

John sat because his thigh had begun to ache with a familiar pain. Sherlock chose to stand. He linked his arms behind his back and said, "John pointed out to me this morning that none of the victims had bonded. And that's true. I noted it as a peculiarity, but what really brought the matter home was when the wife said that her husband did not have a bond. Surely you've heard the stories about open bonds."

"Well, yes. Everyone has. I didn't think that they were true." Lestrade looked to John for support.

"It's rare, but it happens," John admitted reluctantly. "The medical community doesn't really like to talk about it because they don't understand why or how it happens." He spread his hands helplessly. "Basically, something like 1 out of every 8,000,000 people is born with the ability to form a bond with everyone else on the planet. That's why it's called having an open bond. Every time they touch someone, it's like the first moment of bonding all over again. It doesn't matter if the other person is already bonded or not, it still happens. And, if you're in direct contact for long enough, a bond can actually begin to form. It just gets broken down from lack of exposure." He paused. It sounded impossible, but he knew for a fact that it was true. "But like I said, no one knows why their bonds malfunction that way."

"Someone with an open bond would be ideal for a slave, particularly a sexual slave," Sherlock said, picking up where John had left off. "I imagine there are several people out there who would be willing to pay an exceptional amount of money to have sex with someone they could temporarily bond to, as long as they could be assured that the bond would dissolve as soon as they were finished. With an open bond, it would be." He sounded disdainful. This was one of those things he would never understand.

"That's horrifying," Lestrade said flatly.

"It makes sense, though," John said quietly, because it did. It explained why the victims weren't bonded and why they'd been taken in the first place. "But how could these people have known? No one would go around advertising that they have an open bond."

"No," Sherlock agreed slowly, rubbing his chin. "But for the right price, someone could be persuaded to part with that knowledge."

No one said anything for a moment while Sherlock's words sank in, and then Lestrade swore under his breath. "You think the wife was in on it, didn't you?"

"Yes. I suspect that she has just come from contact with the kidnappers, as a matter of fact. The whole time I was speaking with her she was noticeably uncomfortable. They'd probably warned her about me. She kept fiddling with the clasp of her purse, and when I left the room she reached inside and touched her wallet to make sure that it was still there." Sherlock nodded decisively. "If you check her private bank balance, you would likely see that a large deposit of money has been made into it recently. And if you check, I'm sure the same anomaly will exist with someone in the other three cases as well."

"Jesus," John muttered. He couldn't imagine falling in love with someone only to decide that what they could do was worth selling them off to the highest bidder. Then again, he couldn't imagine what it would be like to bond with everyone he touched. It would've meant forming a bond, however, temporary, with Moriarty. He couldn't stop the revolted shudder at the very idea.

Sherlock glanced over at him, but he spoke to Lestrade. "If we follow her, she might lead us to the slave ring."

"Right, then what are waiting for?" Lestrade stood up quickly and strode to the door. John got up to follow, but Sherlock stopped him with a hand to his shoulder.

"What?" John looked up curiously. He could hardly believe that Sherlock wasn't racing Lestrade down to the front doors. Sherlock's thoughts were a confusing muddle, jumping from one train to another so quickly that it was impossible to keep up. John had tried, and it usually only ended up giving him a bad headache, but he was clearly radiating concern. John frowned. "Is there something wrong?"

"No," Sherlock said, somewhat unconvincingly. It was such a blatant lie that John was a little amused. He glanced at the door, seeing that there was no sign of Lestrade, and reached up to put his hand over Sherlock's where it still rested on his shoulder.

Tell me.

Your leg is bothering you.

John shifted his weight automatically. It was, a little. The ache had started high up in his thigh and was radiating downwards to his knee. It happens sometimes.

Sherlock just kept looking at him, and finally John sighed and gave in.

Harry's wife had an open bond, he said at last, the words tinged with pain and regret. It wasn't something she shared with the world. She did her best to keep it under wraps, actually. He looked away then, at the ground. When she and Harry broke up, Harry said it was the worst feeling in the world to have the bond dissolving. She claimed that it drove her to drink even more.

I see. That was all Sherlock said, and John knew that it was just killing him to not point out how obviously not true that was. Harry was a chronic alcoholic and, while the dissolution of the bond probably hadn't helped, it would've been impossible for it to have made her any worse.

I know, and that's not what was bothering me. I just couldn't help thinking of Clara, that's all. She was always afraid of trusting people with that and I used to wonder why. Now he knew, and it made him feel nauseous to imagine Clara in this sort of situation. He sighed and dropped his hand to his side. "Come on, Lestrade's probably wondering what's taking us so long."

"Did you ever touch her?" Sherlock asked as they went out the door.

John had been expecting that. "Yes." And then, because he wasn't cruel enough to make Sherlock ask the question he was dying to know the answer to, he added, "But having met you and experienced what it was like when our bond formed, it wasn't the same." He paused, remembering that brief flicker of connection when he touched Clara, like sparks going off. Nothing compared to what he'd felt when he and Sherlock touched the first time. Nothing compared to what he felt when he and Sherlock touched now. He smiled. "Not even close."

Chapter Text

By the time that John and Sherlock got downstairs, Lestrade had caught up to the victim's wife. She was standing about ten feet away from the front door, clutching her purse protectively to her chest and darting longing looks at the door. When she spotted Sherlock, her face went several shades paler and she took a step back, half-twisting like she might bolt at any second. Lestrade gave a nod to the officer standing behind her, who immediately reached out and gripped her arm to stop her progress. The wife made a little moaning sound and sagged dramatically against the officer, though it didn't escape Sherlock's notice that she never once relinquished her grip on the purse.

"As I was saying, we have some more questions we need to ask you, Mrs. Hunter," said Lestrade apologetically. "It could be pivotal when it comes to finding your husband. I'm sorry, we really need for you to remain inside of the building."

"I'm getting tired of this," Mrs. Hunter said in a shrill voice. "I've told you everything I know. You've questioned me twice. How is it that you still haven't asked me everything? I've heard of the incompetence of Scotland Yard, but I wasn't expecting it to be this bad. If I'd known that you lot were this terrible, I never would've bothered asking you to find poor Lucas in the first place!"

"I'm sure you wouldn't have," Sherlock said dryly, sweeping his gaze over her as he approached. He lingered on a few keys areas, specifically her shoes and the hem of her pants. Both of them were liberally splashed with mud, which was odd considering that Mrs. Hunter had taken a lot of care in every other aspect of her appearance: her nails had been manicured within the last day, she had expertly-cared for skin, and her make-up had been carefully reapplied even though she had been crying not ten minutes before. He also noted that there was an odd blue dust mixed in with the mud, and that she had a small, hastily scrubbed at scuff of white paint on the back of her right elbow.

"I have rights, I don't have to -"

"Oh do shut up. We know what your role in this whole charade was," he interrupted, growing tired of listening to her increasingly high-pitched voice. It was beginning to give him a headache. He shot her a cool look. "You might tell all of your friends that you and your husband don't have a bond, but that's not quite true, is it? You do have a bond, it's just not the sort that most people are used to." His eyes narrowed slightly, focusing in on the way the lines of her face pulled tight, and he exhaled slowly with satisfaction. "Ah yes, bothers you, doesn't it? Was your husband starting to stray, forming bonds with women who are considerably younger or more attractive than you are?"

"How dare you," Mrs. Hunter hissed, wrenching her arm away from the officer. "I don't have to stand here and listen to this!"

"By all means, go ahead and leave. But Scotland Yard is already investigating your finances, including that bank account you believed you had hidden," Sherlock said. She froze and he smirked. "I agree that they're rather incompetent, but given that you've recently come into a large sum of money I suspect that even they will be able to deduce the role you've played in your husband's so-called disappearance. Because he wasn't kidnapped, was he? You decided that you were tired of the way he was treating you, and then you decided to get even. You contacted the right person, agreed to a price, and produced as little fuss as possible when he was taken. Except you weren't counting on the fact that Detective Inspector Lestrade might put see a similarity in this case and others."

Is that a hint of pride in your voice? John inquired.

Shut up, John.

"That's not... you can't..." Mrs. Hunter looked to be at a loss, too shocked by all of her secrets spilling out to come up with a suitable defence. She looked around desperately, searching for someone who might have sympathy, and finally appealed to John. "You can't possibly believe the things he's saying. He's crazy!"

"Oh, he can be mad alright," said John, placing his hand on Sherlock's back. His fingers were splayed out possessively against Sherlock's spine. It was a more intimate exchange than they normally indulged in while in public, but John clearly thought it was warranted. He straightened his back and added, "But in this case, he's also completely correct."

Mrs. Hunter's mouth dropped open, and Sherlock knew what she was going to do before she did it. Fortunately, the second she spun around and made a dash for the doors, Lestrade reacted. He sprinted after her and caught up to her long before she made it, one steely hand clamping down on her shoulder and bringing a quick stop to her attempt to flee. She wiggled against him for a moment, testing his strength, before subsiding abruptly. She didn't even fight when Lestrade took her purse. She just put her head in her hands and started to sob.

"It's not my fault," she wailed. "I agreed to love him, to honour him, and what does the bastard do? He starts ch-cheating on me with some young bitch! I was good enough back when he didn't dare tell anyone else about what he could do, but as soon as that whore found out what he was capable of and opened her legs for him he decided to dump me! What was I supposed to do?"

"Not sell him to the highest bidder?" John suggested, ushering Sherlock out of the way as she was dragged past them. She glared furiously at him but didn't get the chance to respond; Lestrade and the officer pulled her forcefully into the lift and the doors swept shut.

"Well that was tedious," Sherlock muttered once she was gone, kneeling down to examine the mess she'd left behind. He dragged a finger curiously through the mud and examined it closer.

"I don't know, I thought it was rather fun watching someone else take down the suspect for once," said John.

"Liar," Sherlock said absently. He dug around in his coat pockets for a moment before he came up with one of his glass slides. Carefully, he scraped a bit of mud onto one of them before snapping it shut. "You love tackling people, it's your favourite part."

John snorted, but he was grinning and he didn't deny it.

Chapter Text

John never minded being nearby while Sherlock did his experiments, but it was never especially interesting. At least, that was what he told himself after he nodded off for the third time. He jolted awake when his head hit the desk and sat up, looking around blearily. Sherlock was sitting exactly where he'd been since they'd arrived at Bart's, still bent over a microscope. He was running tests on the mud he'd taken from Mrs Hunter's shoes, but so far nothing conclusive had come up and he was beginning to get frustrated. Time was definitely of the essence in this case, and every minute wasted was one that meant the criminals might actually get away. He wasn't concerned with the victims, of course, but John had long since learned that he would be the one who did that sort of worrying.

"I'm going to go get a coffee, Sherlock," he said, rubbing at the back of his neck with a grimace. "Do you want anything? No? I'll get you one anyway." He shook his head at his silent partner, knowing that Sherlock probably hadn't heard a word he'd just said, and got up from the stool. He opened the door and let himself out into the hall. It was quiet down here after hours, and he wasn't really expecting to see anyone at the coffee machine.

But Molly Hooper was there, her long red hair tied back into a messy ponytail, face scrubbed free of make-up. John stopped in the doorway, startled. He hadn't seen Molly since the failure of a Christmas party, when she'd had to run out and attend to whoever had died in Irene Adler's stead. He hesitated, wondering if he should leave, and noticed that she looked like she'd had a long day. When she dropped a coin into the machine and it refused to give her any coffee, she put her head into her hands with a muffled sob. There was no way he could leave her that miserable.

"Here now," he said a little awkwardly, crossing the room to peer at the machine. Molly jumped and John gave her a kind smile. Her eyes were red rimmed with more than just tears, he suspected. He knew the signs of chronic fatigue when he saw them. "I'm not good with these things, but I do remember the trick with this one. You just have to give it a little thump..."

"Oh," Molly said when the machine begrudgingly switched on. "That's - thank you, John. I hardly ever come up here to use this one, but the one we've got downstairs is broken." She took the cup of coffee with a shaking hand, and even though it was scalding hot she drank half of it immediately. "I just needed a little pick me up, and I didn't feel like going outside."

"It has got nasty out," John agreed. The forecast had promised rain and, as it turned out, they hadn't been kidding. The skies had opened up just as he and Sherlock had got to Bart's, and he'd been treated to a furious twenty minute rant about how frustrating it was when the rain ruined evidence before Sherlock finally shut up and got lost in his project. He could still hear the rain pounding on the roof. He just hoped that Sherlock didn't have any stake outs planned for the near future.

Molly gave him a wan smile. "I'll just be - thanks again."

"Molly, is everything alright?" he asked before she could leave. "No one's been giving you trouble about Moriarty, are they?"

He knew he'd hit the nail on the head when her chin started to tremble. "I," she said and then stopped, swallowing hard. "It's not been too bad, to be honest. The police asked me questions for a long time, and so did some government men. But I think they finally realized that I really didn't know anything that could help them." She glanced down at the ground, her shoulders slumped: the very picture of dejection. "They all sort of... left me alone after that."

John studied her face and felt bad for her. He knew, though Molly had never said outright, that she'd been crushed when he and Sherlock bonded. Even though she'd touched Sherlock numerous times before, she'd always harboured that hope... and then that dream had been destroyed permanently. Having Jim around had been good for her right up until she found out that he was a murderous psychopath in disguise. Life hadn't been very kind to Molly Hooper lately, and John was a little ashamed to realize that he'd taken to ignoring her just like Sherlock did. Handy when she was around, out of mind when she wasn't in sight, and that wasn't the way to treat your friends even if they weren't close. She'd been good to Sherlock, and she deserved more.

"Hey," he said, "do you think you'd like to meet for a cup of coffee sometime? My treat. I promise you, no annoying detectives trying to beat corpses with crops will be there."

Molly actually giggled. "That would be nice," she said shyly. When she smiled, she was actually quite pretty and John was struck by an inspiration.

"I've got a couple of old army buddies," he added. "If you'd like their numbers. I know them well enough to be able to say with certainty that they're not secretly murderers in their spare time. Though I'm pretty sure one of them has a secret gardening hobby."

"You don't have to do that, John."

"It would be my pleasure," John said honestly. He thought that she would get along with Bill Murray in particular. Bill was a nice chap, cheerful and loyal to a fault, but he'd never had any luck when it came to talking with woman. Someone like Molly, who was willing to forgive the occasional misstep, would be ideal for him. More convinced than ever that it would be a good idea to introduce them, he winked at her. "Come on, Molly. Are you really going to say no a fit bloke in uniform? They don't all look like me, I swear."

She laughed. "Okay. Sure, why not?" She glanced around and grabbed a napkin from the dispenser, scribbling her number across the back of it in purple ink. "Here. And... thanks."

"No problem," John said, pleased to see that she appeared to be more cheerful than she had when he arrived. He knew what it was like when the world threw one terrible thing after another into your path. It was about time a nice girl like Molly got a break. Pleased with how the encounter had gone, he fetched two cups of coffee and headed back to Sherlock.

Chapter Text

"I've got it!"

John's chin hit the table with a resounding thud that he felt throughout his whole body. He yelped in pain and opened his eyes as he reared back, scrabbling at the edge of the counter to avoid falling off of the stool. He caught his balance just in time to see Sherlock pulling his coat on as quickly as possible while trying to adjust the knob for his microscope. He rubbed his chin gingerly, mouth aching, as he glared at his partner. Sherlock didn't even notice, of course, too preoccupied with whatever breakthrough had caused his shouting in the first place.

"Got what?" he asked sourly, realizing that he'd accidentally bitten his tongue. The taste of blood was awful when combined with the coffee he'd consumed earlier, and he made a face.

"The location of the criminals," Sherlock said triumphantly, spinning around to face him. He blinked and touched his chin absently, as though only just realizing that he was hurting as well. "Really, John, you should learn to be a little more careful. You could've knocked us both out."

John glared at him. "Sod off," he said, reaching for his own jacket. He pulled it on and followed Sherlock out of the room, taking care to flip off the light. Sherlock led the way outside, where he summoned a cab. They both got inside. The address that Sherlock recited wasn't familiar, but he gleaned that it was on the outskirt of London. Almost in the proper country. The perfect place for people who didn't want much attention.

"Exactly," Sherlock said triumphantly, fingers darting across his cell phone. "There, I've texted the important details to Lestrade."

"He's all the way across the city," John said, already resigned to what was about to happen. It had been too long since Sherlock had got the chance to really get into a case. Dealing with Irene Adler had been both subtle and intriguing, the sort of case that Sherlock usually lived for, but there hadn't been any adrenaline or excitement. Even beating her had held little of the normal satisfaction, if only because she had come so close to winning. He suspected that within about twenty minutes both of them would be chasing a criminal - or possibly being the ones chased, most of the time Sherlock didn't seem to care which occurred.

Sherlock shot him a grin in response, eyes flashing with excitement, and in spite of himself John couldn't help smiling back. "How did you figure it out?" he asked.

"The mud. When I analyzed it, I found a concentration of blue dust," Sherlock replied. "All I had to do was compile a list of companies that use that brand of blue dust in their work, and from there it was easy to narrow it down based on what I deduced from the victim's wife." He hesitated before adding, "I suspect that we may be too late to save some of them, John. It's likely not a large operation, so some of the kidnapped victims will have been moved out of the country already."

He swallowed, repulsed at the idea. "Well, all we can do is stop them," he said quietly.

Once we know for sure, I can ask Mycroft to try to find the ones who have been sent away.

Touched, John reached across and squeezed his hand. He knew how much Sherlock hated asking his brother for anything, and that would never change. I'd appreciate that, he said, though he didn't hold out much hope. He'd seen some things in Afghanistan that would have been beyond even the control of Mycroft Holmes. He figured this might be one of them.

The cab came to a stop and Sherlock thrust a handful of bills in the direction of the cabbie. John paused to collect the change - they weren't so well off they could afford to tip that much - and followed just in time to catch a glimpse of a long black coat disappearing in between two buildings. He rolled his eyes, because of course Sherlock wouldn't wait five bloody seconds, and jogged after him. He found the man crouched down and intently examining the pavement, which was damp with mud and other substances John didn't want to identify too closely.

She was here, Sherlock said, not looking up. The footsteps have all been washed away, damn the rain. But I can tell - He scooted forward as far as he could, right up until his hand ran into the wall. He frowned then, as though the wall had done him a personal affront. There's a door here, John.

"There is?" John said, speaking out loud in his surprise. Sherlock shot him a venomous look and he winced in apology. Right, sorry. I just don't see anything.

As always, you see but do not observe.

Right. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes again, he stepped up beside Sherlock and bent to squint at the wall. The line Sherlock was pointing to was so faint he was amazed the detective had even noticed it. There's no knob, though. It must open from the inside out. You think this is where they're hiding? He couldn't conceal the faint note of scepticism. The building wasn't exactly what he was expecting when Sherlock mentioned this area. It looked like a store for women's clothing.

I believe that's the point. Hiding plain sight, if I'm not mistaken. Sherlock stood up. You go in the front, John. Do that... thing you do.

That thing I do? John raised an eyebrow, not sure whether he should laugh or not.

You know. Sherlock made an impatient gesture with his hand.

No, I really don't.

That thing! Where you flirt with women and try to get them to go out on dates with you.

Ah yes, that thing, John said wryly. And why am I doing that thing, if I might ask?

Distract them, get them talking about the people who have disappeared, see if you spot anything suspicious. Make yourself useful, John, Sherlock snapped impatiently. I'm going to see if I can find another way to get in.

Alright, fine. But if you find a way in, Sherlock, do not go without me.

Yes, yes.

"No, I mean it." John gripped his shoulder and spun him, pressing Sherlock back against the wall. He met the wide, startled eyes squarely and willed Sherlock to understand how important this was to him. "I've almost lost you too many times, do you understand me? I'm not pleased about you walking into danger, but at the very least don't do it unless I'm there with you."

Chapter Text

John made sure that his disdain for what he was about to do was being broadcast perfectly clearly across their link as he headed out to the front of the shop. He hadn't been into a woman's clothing store since he was a child, and his mother made him and Harry go shopping with her. He'd learned young that trying to pick out clothing for a girlfriend was a fight waiting to happen, considering that most of the time he ended up with something that was either a size too big or too small. It just wasn't worth it.

He started to enter the store but stopped, freezing in place when he caught sight of the windows. Sherlock!

What?

Did you know this was a store for... for lingerie? John demanded, staring at the windows with mounting horror. To be honest, he hadn't been paying that much attention when he jumped out of the cab and took off after Sherlock. No wonder the cabbie had given them both such an odd look. The store windows contained delicate displays of bras and knickers and... other things.

Once again, your failure to observe astounds me.

You're suck a fucking prick. He could feel Sherlock's laughter by way of response and gritted his teeth as he reached for the door. A little bell above jingled as he pushed it open, announcing his arrival to everyone in the shop. It didn't escape his notice that he was the only male in there. A couple of younger girls, teenagers by the looks of them, turned bright red when they saw him and immediately stopped picking through some bras. When John stepped away from the door, both of them left in a hurry.

"Good afternoon, sir. Can I help you find something?" The saleswoman that had approached him had a friendly smile, at least. Apparently she found his discomfort amusing. "Were you perhaps looking for a gift for your wife or girlfriend?"

"Yes," John said, seizing on the explanation gratefully. "But I have no idea where to... to start." He gestured lamely at the displays, each of which looked more complicated than the last.

"Well, I suppose that depends on what you were thinking of buying her. Do you know her sizes?"

"Err... no. But she looks about your size," he added.

"Alright, well, I can show you some of my favourite items and we'll go from there. Come this way." She led him over to a table that was covered with knickers. John pretended to pay attention to what she was saying while also looking around the shop. Granted, he didn't spend much time in lingerie stores, but everything appeared to be normal. There were three saleswomen and a half a dozen customers walking around, not including John, and no one looked suspicious.

But working with Sherlock had taught him that it wasn't about what he could see, it was what he could observe. And what he observed was that, while two of the saleswomen stayed out on the floor, the third woman kept wandering through the store without speaking to anyone. She would pick out a couple of items and disappear into the back room for two to three minutes. Then she would return. She also seemed to be making it a point to touch every customer, even walking close enough to deliberately brush against John, even though she never spoke. It was unusual, but he couldn't figure out why.

So he had to admit he was pleased when she approached again, this time holding a vial in her hand. "Excuse me, sir, I heard you were looking for a gift and I thought this might do if you didn't want to pick out something more personal. It's our new perfume, guaranteed to spice up the bedroom." Her smile held a hint of mischief. "Your partner will want you even more, and it will boost your sex life to an extreme you won't believe."

John raised an eyebrow, curious. "Really? How does it work? I have to admit, I'm usually not a big fan of perfumes."

"This one is special, something we only sell at this store." She took a step closer. "Tell me, are you and your partner bonded?"

"No?" John said, surprised by how forward she was being. It wasn't really the sort of question people tended to ask, and he wasn't sure what sort of answer she was looking for. But considering the way her smile grew, he'd found the right one.

"In that case, this perfume has the ability to make you two feel like you have a very intimate connection. Even if you were bonded, it would have added a little something extra to your encounters. But since you're not, I really don't think I can let you walk out of here without buying a bottle. Believe me, it will be the best gift your girlfriend could ask for."

"I don't know." He glanced at the bottle and the clear contents inside. To be honest, it just looked like water. "Could I test it first?"

"You want me to spray perfume on you?" She looked a little amused, but when he extended his wrist she sprayed it on willingly enough. John lifted his wrist to his nose and inhaled. The smell was surprisingly bland. A hint of vanilla, but that was about it. Not what he would have expected considering the expensive price tag. He was about to say as much when the saleswoman reached out and laid a finger on his wrist.

A pleasant fizzing sensation shot across his skin, sending shivers down his spine. Startled, he jerked backwards. He knew exactly what it felt like: a weak shadow of what had happened the first time he and Sherlock touched, like how it had felt whenever Clara touched him on occasion. He stared at the perfume bottle for a couple of seconds in shock before lifting his gaze to see the self-satisfied expression on her face. Clearly she thought she'd found someone who was going to buy her product.

Sherlock, John said. There was a sneaking suspicion trying desperately to make itself known. Sherlock, I think we've been going about this the wrong way.

There was no response. John licked his lips, worried, and tried to smile. "You know, I think I will buy a bottle of that," he said.

"Great! Come right this way, and I'll ring you up." She led him up to the till. John paid as quickly as he could and took the perfume with him, dashing out to the alley. He didn't know what he was expecting to find. What he found was nothing.

Sherlock was gone.

Chapter Text

Sherlock, the git, was nowhere to be found, and no matter how hard John tried to contact him mentally he had no luck. It was sort of like running head first into a brick wall and then repeatedly bashing his head against said wall - which was a pretty spot on simile when he stopped to think about it, because that's what dealing with Sherlock tended to be like all the bloody time. He fought against the growing sense of panic and took out his phone, dialling the number that had become engraved into his memory. He held it to his ear and listened to Sherlock's sarcastic message, which had no doubt offended a fair amount of people, before hanging up again and glaring at the wall in disgust.

As far as he could tell there were no signs of struggle, but that didn't mean Sherlock had left the alley of his own free will. Intelligent though Sherlock was, he often let himself get too fascinated with cases. Sometimes to the point where he wouldn't even notice John had returned to the flat until a couple of hours had gone by. John could picture him here, crouching in front of the door, completely oblivious to the fact that someone was sneaking up on him. A neat blow to the head or worse, a sedative, would be enough to put even Sherlock out of commission. But then why hadn't it translated through their bond? Even if Sherlock was unconscious, he should have been able to sense where the man was...

He glanced down at the perfume again and made his decision. Turning sharply, he strode back towards the entrance of the alley and flagged down a passing cab. Had he not been so concerned, he might've enjoyed the fact that one actually chose to stop for him on the first try. He climbed into the back and said, "Scotland Yard, please, as quickly as you can. I'll give you ten pounds if you can get me there in the next ten minutes."

The cabbie raised an eyebrow but made no comment, though she did slam her foot down on the accelerator. They lurched into traffic and sped recklessly towards Scotland Yard, leaving several frustrated and annoyed motorists in their wake. John cradled the perfume under his arm protectively, bracing himself against the door. He was surprised and pleased when they made it to NSY with thirty seconds to spare, and he didn't hesitate to come through on his promise of giving her a large tip. She grinned smugly as he left the cab, slamming the door behind him, and hurried into the building.

Lestrade wasn't in his office when John got there, but Donovan was sitting at her computer. She took one look at his face and groaned. "Oh dear god, don't tell me the freak's gone and done it again."

"Done what?" John asked, bemused in spite of himself.

She shrugged. "I don't know, but you only get that look on your face when he's involved. And if he's a part of it, it can't be anything good." She pushed her chair back and got up, straightening her shirt. "Do I want to know what's going on?"

"Where's Lestrade?"

"I'll take that as a no," she muttered before jerking her head sharply. "Interrogation, but you can't - oi!"

John ignored the sharp reprimand, hurrying towards the lift. For once, he was pleased to note that Donovan had been telling the truth. Lestrade was in the same room talking to the victim's wife, though judging by his frustrated expression it wasn't going very well. She was bent over nearly double, sobbing pathetically into a crumpled handkerchief. As John got closer, he could hear Lestrade saying, "Come now, we know you were involved. It's really better for everyone if you cooperate and tell us what we want to know. There's no need for you to get hysterical."

He tapped lightly on the window and watched Lestrade look up. Even though he couldn't see who was on the other side, he wasted no time in making his excuses and escaping. The second the door was shut behind him, John said, "Sherlock's missing."

"Of course he is," Lestrade said, rubbing a hand across his face. "Because this whole case is just one nightmare after another, isn't it?" He sounded equal parts annoyed and worried. John knew exactly how he felt. He thrust the bottle of perfume towards Lestrade.

"I need you to spray this on yourself."

"Err... John, not that I'm not flattered, but I'm not really a perfume kind of bloke."

"Just do it," John said, rolling his eyes. "I need to confirm a theory."

Lestrade frowned but obeyed, pressing down on the top of the bottle and spraying a tiny bit onto his left wrist. He wrinkled his nose at the smell. "Alright, I did it. What sort of -" He stopped abruptly, eyes widening slightly and taking on the glazed look he often got that meant he was speaking to Mycroft - or in this case, that he was trying to. John studied him closely and was rewarded when Lestrade made an alarmed sound.

"You can't contact Mycroft, can you? You're cut off from him," John said, pleased that he had drawn the correct conclusion. "I knew it. Lestrade, I think Sherlock was wrong. The whole point behind taking the victims wasn't so that they could be sold into slavery. It was so that this could be made." He pointed to the bottle of perfume. "Sherlock tracked down where that woman was last. It was a store that was selling this perfume. I don't have proof yet, but I'm also positive that it's designed to induce a temporary bond in anyone you touch after being sprayed with it. I also think that whoever made it mixed in one of the drugs that block bonds."

"So people can have affairs without their partner being any the wiser," Lestrade filled in, disgusted. He gave the bottle a dubious look. "How do you suppose they make it?"

It was something John had been trying to avoid thinking about. "Blood, maybe," he said quietly, hoping that was all it took. But he doubted it would be that simple. If individuals with open bonds could be explained that easily, science would've figured it out ages ago.

"Fuck," Lestrade muttered. "I have such a headache right now. Alright, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to take some of this to get analyzed, and then we'll go back to where you last saw Sherlock and figure out where the idiot went." He tucked the bottle under his arm and added determinedly, "And at the same time, we're going to shut that shop down."

Chapter Text

Greg's phone was ringing incessantly by the time he made it back to his office. He glanced over his shoulder, making sure that John had been temporarily derailed by Sally, before he pushed the door shut and set the perfume bottle down on his desk. As he'd guessed, the caller was none other than his soul mate. He'd been hoping that Mycroft would be preoccupied with one of the several meetings he attended in a day and wouldn't notice the absence of the bond right away, but apparently he wasn't that lucky.

He swiped his finger across the screen and lifted the phone into ear. "Annabelle," he said softly without waiting for the person on the other end to speak. He and Mycroft had worked out a series of codes a long time ago, way back when they first began dating and it was proven that their bond wasn't infallible. Annabelle, the name of Greg's mother, was the code that would let his lover know that everything was alright and he wasn't in danger.

Mycroft's relieved exhale was the first thing to come through. "You scared me half to death," he said, and Greg knew it had to be true if only because Mycroft would never have admitted to it otherwise.

"I'm sorry, love. I wasn't thinking." He sat down in his chair and opened one of his desk drawers, searching for the little glass vials he knew that Sherlock had stashed there for when a sample of something needed to be taken. "Or rather, I wasn't given the chance to think. Apparently Sherlock is rubbing off on John when it comes to using people in experiments without their permission."

"Wonderful," Mycroft muttered. "That's exactly what I wanted to hear. I take it that John involved you in an experiment, then?"

"You could say that." Spotting two of the vials, Greg scooped them up and unscrewed the lid of the perfume bottle. He explained what had happened with John and the perfume as he carefully poured some of the scented liquid into the two vials. He made absolutely certain that no more of the perfume splashed onto his skin. He didn't know how long the effects would last, and he didn't want to prolong it anymore than necessary. It was bizarre not to feel Mycroft in the back of his head. As hard as it had been to get used to their bond, it was even more difficult to be without it now.

At the end of the explanation, Mycroft sighed. "I was afraid that this would happen when you told me about the case," he said.

Greg straightened up. "Wait, you knew this was going on?"

"I was unaware of the exact details, but I had received some reports that there were scientists who were working on just such a development." Mycroft sounded openly scornful. He wouldn't be someone who approved of a person being able to cheat on their mate. "I didn't think it had got anywhere as I had their funding pulled, but if they've resorted to less legal methods..."

"Then funding isn't an issue," Greg concluded, pressing the lids down on the vials with a snap. The sharp, cloying scent of the perfume was beginning to give him a headache. His next stop was definitely going to be the bathroom to wash as much of the rotten stuff off as he could. "John told me he thinks that the missing people might have been forcibly volunteered to be research subjects for this shit, and it makes sense. He and I are headed over to the shop right now to shut it down. I've got a sample of the perfume here if you want to send Anthea over."

Mycroft paused. Even without their bond, he was scarily good at reading between the lines. "Dare I ask where my brother is during all this?"

"You can ask, but I haven't got an answer. Sherlock's missing."

"Again?" Mycroft muttered with so much exasperation that Greg couldn't keep from grinning. He knew that Mycroft was worried about his brother, but Sherlock did have a tendency to get himself into trouble.

"Yes, again. He and John were investigating the shop and they split up, and Sherlock never came back." He got up and tucked the perfume bottle and one vial into his pocket. He knew that Sherlock would want one of the vials for his own experiments, and the perfume bottle itself would be sent for analysis. That left the third vial for Anthea, and he said as much.

"That's fine. I'll have her pick it up within the hour."

Just before he would've opened the door, Greg stopped. "Did you want to meet us there?" he asked gently, knowing that Mycroft was uncomfortable with their lack of telepathy. Greg knew that his lover was comfortably ensconced in his office, where it was pretty likely that the highest degree of danger that Mycroft would run into was a paper cut. Mycroft, on the other hand, had no such guarantee. He'd always depended on their bond to make sure that he was kept aware of exactly how much danger Greg was in at any given time, and he wouldn't have that now. The waiting would both tedious and difficult.

"No," Mycroft said after such a lengthy hesitation that Greg knew he'd given it serious consideration. "I can't leave right now, I have an important telephone conference with Russia in half an hour. But I'm going to leave my mobile phone on. If anything goes wrong, you are to call me immediately."

"I will, and I'll let you know as soon as I find Sherlock."

"Be careful."

"I will," Greg repeated, closing his eyes briefly as he hung up. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he turned and opened his door. John was waiting on the other side, leaning against the wall. Judging from the frustrated expression on his face as he peered at his own phone, he hadn't had as much luck at contacting his partner as Greg had.

"How's Mycroft?" he asked when he caught sight of Greg. "Alright?"

"Yeah, just scared him."

John looked genuinely regretful. "I'm sorry, Greg. I should've warned you before I told you to spray that perfume on yourself. I wasn't thinking."

"It's alright." It wasn't, but he could tell that John felt guilty and there was no time to waste. "I'm going to stop off and try to wash it off before we go."

"I didn't try that. Maybe it will work," John said hopefully.

"It better," Greg muttered, stopping at Donovan's desk just long enough to hand over the perfume bottle with instructions to send it along - and for god's sake, to not spray it anywhere. Donovan took the bottle with a look of confusion, but she knew better than to ask questions. As soon as it was out of Greg's hands, he made for the nearest sink.

Chapter Text

John’s hands stung by the time he was finished scrubbing. The flesh from his elbows down had turned bright red from the pressure and soap, but the perfume must have still lingered because he couldn’t sense Sherlock. He could tell from Greg’s prolonged silence in the car that he was having the same problem. He looked out the window, feeling a bit guilty. If he’d warned Greg it might’ve contaminated the experiment, but that made him sound a lot more like Sherlock than he was willing to admit. Sherlock, he thought a bit ruefully, might’ve been rubbing off on him more than he’d realized.

“Is that the shop?” Greg said, breaking the heavy silence that had fallen.

“Yeah, that’s –” John cut himself off as he turned his head, his eyes widening slightly in disbelief. Because the bustling shop that he had been inside not two hours ago was deserted. There were no mannequins in the window, no cute little displays of delicate lingerie that made him feel a little flustered, no customers wandering in and out. The windows were boarded and empty; the sign above the store had been taken down. John got out of the car slowly, wondering if he’d been mistaken and given Greg the wrong directions. But no – he recognized the alley that Sherlock had run down.

Greg got out too, putting a hand up to stop the progress of the two cars that had followed them. “Are you sure?” he said doubtfully. “No offence, John, but it looks like that place has been abandoned for weeks.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” John said firmly, slamming the door. He cut across the street and walked right up to the window, leaning down to peer inside. There were still racks of clothing visible, most of them half-heartedly covered with bolts of cloth, so apparently those people hadn’t been able to get rid of everything. He tried the door, not expecting much, and was surprised when the knob twisted easily beneath his hand.

“John!” Greg hissed from behind him. John ignored him and stepped inside. All of the perfume bottles that had been sitting out were gone, he noticed, though it seemed like they had left most of the other stuff behind. Probably they’d been too concerned about making a run for it to bother with the things they considered unimportant. He strode towards the back room and pushed the door open. It was quite a large room, mostly empty except for some tools, and he came to a stop with a frustrated huff.

“They’re gone,” he said, unable to keep from stating the obvious. “But how did they know?”

“Maybe someone followed you,” Greg suggested, looking around the room. He swiped a hand across the counter and held it up. Dust coated his palm. “Or maybe they recognized you, you and Sherlock have been getting a fair amount of mention in the press lately. Either way it doesn’t look much like a reputable shop from back here, does it? Kind of makes you wonder…” He started to step towards a large closet on the back wall.

Both men tensed and exchanged looks when a loud thump came from the closet. Greg took out his baton and cast him a questioning look. John picked up a hammer and gave him a nod in return, wishing that he had his gun, as Greg drew closer and slowly reached for the knob. With one quick jerk, he yanked it open. A human body toppled out, hitting the floor with a resounding crash that echoed off of the walls and made John’s bones ache in sympathy. Though the head was covered with a sack, it only took John a few seconds to recognize the black coat.

“Sherlock!” he exclaimed, throwing the hammer aside and falling to his knees. He yanked the sack off and was met with a pair of furious grey eyes. Sherlock was gagged, the material biting cruelly into the corners of his mouth, and his hands and ankles had been crudely tied with wire. He started struggling as soon as he saw John, making muffled, angry sounds.

“Jesus,” Greg muttered. “I should’ve guessed.” He retracted his baton and put it away before crouching down and beginning work on Sherlock’s hands. John fumbled with the knot of the gag, digging his nails in until he got a good grip and could yank it apart.

Sherlock grimaced as his mouth was freed. “What took you so long?” he said hoarsely.

“I didn’t know where you were, you idiot,” John replied tiredly, resolutely trying not to think about what might have happened if he and Greg hadn’t returned to the shop. Of course he probably would have eventually when Sherlock didn’t turn up, but humans couldn’t last long without water and he couldn’t remember the last time Sherlock had consumed any liquids and god only knows how long they’d be without their bond… His own stupidity could’ve easily got Sherlock killed.

“I told you repeatedly where I was, but when you didn’t respond I assumed you had been knocked unconscious,” said Sherlock, and John paused to look at him a little more carefully. There were no signs of visible trauma except for his wrists and ankles, but now that he was paying attention he noticed a tell-tale smell that was quickly getting familiar.

“Did someone spray you with perfume?” he asked with a sigh.

“Yes,” Sherlock said slowly before wincing. “Damn it, be careful Lestrade!”

“Sorry!” Greg said, lightening his pulls at the wire. His face was a mask of frustration as he plucked at the thin strands, trying to unravel them without causing further damage to the raw skin underneath.

This hadn’t been accidental, John realized. Somehow they had managed to spray him and Sherlock within a couple minutes, the timing so close together that neither of them had had the chance to notice what was going on. He sighed. “The perfume’s been altered with a drug that blocks bonds, Sherlock,” he explained wearily. “It also has the ability to create temporary bonds between people wearing it.”

As he spoke, Greg’s hand brushed accidentally against Sherlock’s fingers. Both of them jumped like they’d been pricked by a needle and Greg jerked away. Sherlock looked horrified. “Don’t touch me again,” he said quickly, twisting towards John. “Prolonged contact probably deepens the bond – John, untie me.”

John bit his lip to hide a smirk, willing himself not to make a teasing comment about the prospect of a bond between Sherlock and Greg, and carefully unraveled the last of the wire. Sherlock stood up immediately, swaying slightly and wincing as he put pressure onto his bloody ankles. Knowing there was no sense in trying to get him to go to A&E, John rose and put a hand on his arm to balance him. “Come on, we’re going home so I can check you over.”

“The case –“

“Will wait,” John said firmly, not accepting protests, and towed his mate towards the door. If he had his way, they wouldn’t be leaving 221b until the perfume wore off.

Chapter Text

Distracting Sherlock was not as difficult as John had thought it might be; he fell into a silence as they got closer to 221b, and John didn’t need their bond to know that Sherlock was deep in thought. He thanked Greg, apologizing once more for having got him tangled up in the experiment without permission, and bustled Sherlock out of the car and up the stairs before the man even realized what was going on. In less than five minutes, he had Sherlock stripped down to nothing more than his boxers and sitting on one of the kitchen chairs so that he could do a more thorough examination.

“You know this is pointless,” said Sherlock, opening one eye to peer down at him. John ignored him, rising from his crouch to fetch his doctor’s kit. He pulled up another chair and sat, lifting Sherlock’s feet into his lap. As far as he could tell, aside from some bruises on his torso his ankles and wrists had taken the worst of the damage. He tenderly cleaned those wounds, unsettled when Sherlock flinched and he felt no wave of phantom pain. It had become second nature to hurt when Sherlock hurt.

“I don’t care if you think it’s pointless,” he said at last. Fortunately, the wounds weren’t as bad as they looked. He sprayed on some antiseptic just in case. “I can’t tell what’s going on with your body right now, and if this is the only way I can make sure that you’re safe then so be it.”

Sherlock stilled, and John felt the heavy weight of eyes on the top of his head. “You know I didn’t go anywhere on my own,” Sherlock said, and it was almost a question.

In spite of himself, John smiled. “I know you didn’t.” And that was almost the worst part of it, because he’d been more concerned about Sherlock getting into trouble than trouble finding Sherlock. He never should have left the idiot alone in that alley, if only because he was all too aware of how much more awful things could have been: whoever had done this could have decided to silence Sherlock permanently instead of temporarily.

He finished and set his kit aside, but remained where he was. Absently he placed his hand on the curve of Sherlock’s left foot and dug his thumb into the ball, rubbing up and down. Sherlock’s eyes fluttered shut almost immediately, lips parting on a quiet groan of pleasure. “I think,” he said, his voice rumbling deep in his chest, “that I know where and when the makers of the perfume will be striking next. Tomorrow night.”

“Then you don’t have anything to do until then?” John said, not ceasing the kneading. It was good to see Sherlock like this, squirming from pleasure, head tipped back in ecstasy as his pain was steadily massaged into submission. He knew it wouldn’t last long; tomorrow morning Sherlock would be down at NSY, making sure that Greg knew when and where to go. Tomorrow night, John would make sure that he didn’t leave Sherlock’s side.

“I suppose not. I could do an analysis of the perfume that Lestrade me, but –”

“Shower first.”

Sherlock pouted. “That analysis could be important, John.”

“If you shower, I’ll give you a massage after.”

There was a pause, and John didn’t need to look at the man to know Sherlock’s interest was piqued. But, stubborn to the end, Sherlock said, “I might be able to find out enough to discover where it was made depending on the ingredients.”

John considered that. “Is there a chance that the people who were kidnapped are still alive?”

“Honestly? Considering what the perfume is capable of, it’s unlikely.”

Which was a no. John couldn’t say he wasn’t expecting it, but it still hurt to hear. He hated knowing that they were too late to make a difference. “Then shower,” he said, finally pushing Sherlock’s feet off of his knee. He stood up and extended his hands, waiting until Sherlock sighed and gave in to add, “If you had moved faster, I might’ve been persuaded to get in with you.”

Sherlock glared at him and John laughed as he turned to begin cleaning up the small mess he’d made. He listened to the sound of Sherlock’s footsteps leaving the room and only allowed the smile to fade when he heard the door close and the shower switch on. Too close. Today had been way too close. The work that he and Sherlock did was dangerous, and there would always be some level of risk. That was a large part of what drew the both of them to it in the first place, of course, but. John always felt like his life was an acceptable risk, but not Sherlock. Never Sherlock.

He closed his eyes and let out a quiet sigh that had been building for a while before he continued with the cleaning. The shower was still running by the time he was done, and he felt too restless to sit. So he went upstairs to their room and fetched the bottle of massage oil he’d hidden there with just such an occasion in mind. Sherlock knew it was there, obviously – even without their bond, there was no doubt in John’s mind that the git regularly poked through John’s things – but John suspected he had no idea just what John could do with it.

It was while he was setting the oil down in a pan of hot water he’d got from the kitchen to warm that he felt it: a sensation that he could only describe as an egg breaking open, only it was taking place in his mind. He staggered and caught himself on the bed as emotions and thought bound up into chaos surged into him. He sat down hard, pressing a steadying hand against his head as he tried to sort through everything. Sherlock was – upset, yes, and worried about John, but also excited and curious about the case, and aroused by what he now knew John was planning, and –

Your mind is like a circus, John said wryly, too overcome by relief to even make an effort at hiding the fondness.

Better to be a circus than an empty room, Sherlock returned, and John could tell that he was relieved as well. Is that for me?

John grinned and let his hand drop to his lap, glancing at the massage oil. Better hurry before it gets cold.

Chapter Text

Excited about the case though he was, Sherlock found himself loathe to get out of bed when the sun woke him up the next morning. Every muscle in his body felt deliciously relaxed, with none of the residual pain he had been expecting after having been locked into that small closet for several hours. John had proven to be surprisingly adept with the massage oil, his fingers both thorough and skilled as he tenderly rubbed away cramps and aches, and it left him feeling languid and lethargic in a way he didn't often experience. He stretched his arms above his head, arching his back, before sinking back against the bed and glancing over at his partner.

John was still sleeping on his side, curled away from Sherlock. The sheets had fallen down around his waist, revealing that he was naked even though Sherlock had fallen asleep last night before anything could really happen between them. Sherlock examined the graceful lines of John's back, a delicious expanse that he was beginning to learn well, and was just reaching out to touch when he became aware of a familiar buzzing sound. A mobile phone set on vibrate, no doubt John's way of making sure that they weren't disturbed until morning, and Sherlock changed course by pushing the covers away and jumping to his feet.

His body proved immediately that, while John's massage had gone a long way towards dispelling the worst of the damage, it hadn't erased all of the pain. His ankles in particular stung fiercely as he sought out the phone, but he ignored the burning in favour of holding John's phone to his ear. "Do you have something for me?" he demanded.

"Glad to hear from you too," Lestrade remarked, not sounding at all put out by the rude greeting. "Are you feeling alright this morning?"

"I'm fine."

"Normally I'd disregard that until I saw you with my own two eyes, seeing as how you seem to think that even being shot means you're still fine. But since John went home with you, I'll take your word for it. Your bond come back?"

Sherlock stilled momentarily, focusing on the subtle tension audible in Lestrade's voice. He knew that Lestrade had been bonded with Mycroft for so long that the temporary disappearance of their bond, fleeting or no, must have been a jarring shock to both of their systems. It wouldn't have surprised him in the slightest to discover that Lestrade had indulged in a few cigarettes between yesterday and today, and Mycroft had likely made a stop at that expensive bakery he rarely frequented. After all, while he'd been locked into that closet, cut off from John and everything else, his mind had strayed to a few of the darkest corners that would've taken the edge off.

"Yes," he said at last, clearing his throat and pretending that the lapse had not occurred. "Last night. And yours too, considering that you no longer sound as angry with John as you did the last time we spoke."

"You're rubbing off on him," Lestrade grumbled, though there was a fair amount of exasperated affection in his voice.

"I would hope that with enough exposure John will eventually pick up on some of my method's, yes. Now I assume there was a reason you called?"

"Yeah, yeah. I got the text you sent me last night and I've spent most of the morning checking things out with Mycroft's help. You were right. It looks like a shipment of that perfume is ready to be sent out tonight, all very hush hush. Mycroft says that he thinks Moriarty might have a hand in this, considering how well these people have been covering their tracks until now."

That was unsurprising, as it is explained why Sherlock was simply tied up and left behind instead of being killed, but no less unsettling. The thought of meeting up with Moriarty again provoked an unexpected and undesirable physical reaction, sweat breaking out across his forehead and gooseflesh rising on his bare arms. They had barely walked away last time, and with every case it seemed the madman grew that much closer - and it was always on his terms. Sherlock didn't like it. "John and I will meet you at Scotland Yard," he said briskly, hanging up before Lestrade had the opportunity to respond.

He set the phone down and turned back to the bed, aware of the blue eyes that were tracking his every move. John smiled sleepily, wisps of blond hair scattered across his face. The contented expression gradually changed as he processed the full extent of Sherlock's conversation with Lestrade and the implication behind it. He sat up, the sheet falling down around his hips, and said, "You can't be serious."

"I was expecting him to show up at some point, John."

"So was I, but I was hoping it would be as a body on Molly's table."

Sherlock's mouth twitched. He didn't need to point out that the only way that would happen was if Mycroft or Sherlock put him there, and that had yet to happen. He walked back over to the bed and sat down on the edge before saying quietly, "I doubt that we'll run into Moriarty on this one. He has hands everywhere, but I suspect he only puts a personal touch into that which fascinates him the most."

"And you don't think this case is one of them."

"No. If it were strictly to develop or produce a better version of the drug that blocks bonds, that would be one thing. Useful, to a criminal like Moriarty. But this?" Sherlock shrugged, tipping his head back. "It's too flashy. Even Scotland Yard would have caught on to those idiots sooner or later. Even if he did have an interest, he'll have got the recipe to manufacture it on his own terms by now. There would be no reason for him to continue having anything to do with them at this point."

John shook his head slowly. "Moriarty makes me sick," he muttered, reaching out for Sherlock's hand. He pulled the detective towards him and Sherlock came willingly, pressing a kiss against John's parted lips. John only allowed the kiss for a moment before he pulled away. "Promise you won't do that anymore. Don't run off and leave me behind. I can't protect you if I'm not around."

"John -"

"Please."

The sincerity in John's eyes, radiating through their bond, made Sherlock ache for an entirely different reason. His throat felt thick and it was difficult to swallow, harder still to formulate an accurate response. "I will... try not to," he said finally. It was the best he could offer.

Judging by the expression on John's face, he understood. The kiss he granted indicated that it was acceptable.

Chapter Text

John and Lestrade were gone, and the taste of blood and smoke were thick and acrid on Sherlock’s tongue as he gasped in deep breaths of foul air. He was down on one knee, the cold seeping up through the thin fabric of his trousers, trembling hands braced against the wall. There was snickering behind him and he felt a brush of wind that was just a little too close to his hair, the crowbar striking the wall just beside his head with a resounding clang that made his teeth ache.

“You’re too drunk for this, you idiot,” the unarmed man to his left said. “Let me have it, I’ll finish him off.”

“No way! You know what kind of cred I’m gonna get for being the one to take down Holmes?” The words held only a hint of a slur, but the craving for vengeance was loud and clear. Sherlock licked his lips, tasting more blood, and tensed his body in preparation.

He lunged upwards, ignoring the band of pain that pulled tight around his ribs, and launched himself towards the idiot with the crowbar. Ducking under the upraised weapon, he slammed his fist into the man’s stomach. The breath left the idiot with a gasp as he doubled over, unintentionally swinging the bar straight into the path of his bumbling friend. Sherlock smirked, gripping the hand clutching the crowbar and jerking it quickly. The sound of snapping bone echoed loudly and the man screamed.

A quick elbow to the face silenced him and the body crumbled to the ground. Not caring whether he was still alive, Sherlock seized the bar from the floor and turned to the other one. He was sprawled out clutching his face from where he’d been hit, moaning. Sherlock grabbed his collar and yanked him up. “Where are they?” he demanded, voice quiet and intent. The man turned white and started to sweat.

“I-I dunno,” he stammered. “Last I h-heard, they was p-planning to start work on making… on making the perfume from n-normal people. They'd need t-test s-subj-jects.”

John. Sherlock’s chest felt tight. “Where are they?”

It took only a few seconds before the man decided to show a shred of intelligence and stuttered out an address. Sherlock hit him with the crowbar, just once, and let the lax body drop from his hands. He threw the bar down and strode quickly towards the door. They’d been prepared, damn it all: perhaps Moriarty did have a hand in this because they’d been waiting when Sherlock, John and Lestrade had arrived. The rest of NSY had been utterly useless as always, running around a purposely set fire and stupid bystanders while the three of them were divided and overwhelmed and taken.

He pushed the door open and stopped short. “Mycroft.”

His brother lifted his head slowly. He was standing not two feet away from the door, ever present umbrella actually open to shield him from the torrential downpour. A calm smile crossed his face, but surprisingly his eyes gave away the mingled worry and relief he was truly experiencing. “Sherlock. Nothing less than I expected.”

Sherlock stepped aside as several of Mycroft’s men pushed past him into the building. If Mycroft was here, that must have meant… “Lestrade is safe?”

“Yes, he and John managed to escape about an hour ago. You’re slipping, baby brother.”

Rolling his eyes, Sherlock straightened his coat. Neither of those idiots had been careful in their mishandling and he frowned when he noticed a small tear in the seam on his right sleeve. “I will never consider myself as being too slow as long as I escape before I have to be rescued by you,” he replied scornfully, unwilling to admit to just how close of a call it had been. It had taken him longer to recover from the blow that had knocked him out than Mycroft would ever know.

Mycroft raised an eyebrow at that. “I’m not sure that John would agree,” he said carefully and Sherlock just barely avoided wincing. There was no doubt that John would not be pleased right now that the two of them had been separated and sprayed with that blasted perfume again – the second time in two days, no less. He had the sneaking suspicion that they wouldn’t be going too far from the flat over the next week.

“Did you stop the shipment?” he asked, deciding to ignore the comment entirely.

“Yes.” Mycroft offered no more detail than that as the two men who had kidnapped Sherlock were carted out. Judging from the way his mouth tightened when he saw them, they were not going to have a pleasant awakening. And as much as he hated letting his big brother… letting Mycroft interfere, Sherlock couldn’t help the small flicker of satisfaction.

Just to make himself feel better, though, he lifted the identification papers that Mycroft had and slipped it into his pocket as he strolled back towards the car. Mycroft never noticed, too preoccupied with issuing orders to one of his men in a lowered voice that Sherlock could easily overhear if he chose. Tempting though it was to lean against the car for support, he chose to stand and wait. He didn’t have a long one: a couple of minutes later, a car screeched up to the kerb and John leapt out.

“To be fair,” Sherlock said before John could say a word, “this time I wasn’t the one who ran off.”

John looked at him and laughed. It was a little shaky, but it was still a laugh. “What the fuck am I going to do with you,” he said to no one in particular, shaking his head. “At this rate I won’t need to be concerned about Moriarty. You’re going to give me a heart attack first.”

“I escaped on my own,” Sherlock pointed out.

“That’s not really a comfort,” John muttered, looking him over with a practiced eye. He slipped a hand into Sherlock’s hair and frowned when he found the swelling and bruising. Sherlock winced under the careful touch but subsided, knowing by now that John would not rest until he was confident that Sherlock wasn’t going to keel over.

“I really am fine,” he said quietly, feeling the hand slip from his hair.

“I know.” John sighed and closed his eyes, resting his forehead briefly on Sherlock’s shoulder. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could convince you take a vacation.”

Sherlock made a face and, in lieu of a response, rested a hand on John’s back. He’d been dragged along on family vacations as a child and they were always boring as hell. He wondered if he could convince John to just spend a week in bed instead.

Chapter Text

It didn’t take long for John to hustle Sherlock away. Greg leaned against the car and watched as the two of them departed in a cab, feeling the knot of tension in his chest finally starting to loosen again at the realization that they were all safe. The last few days had been one disaster after another, culminating in the three of them walking right into a trap like a bunch of idiots just starting out. They all should have known better, a fact that was cold comfort in light of what a close call they’d had. Waking up to find someone standing over him with a knife pressed to his bared throat was not an experience he wanted to repeat.

He watched, willing to wait, as Mycroft finished dealing with the last of his men. Originally a case for Scotland Yard, Greg hadn’t been surprised when, after he and John escaped, Sally had contacted him to say that the file had been escalated into hands far above hers. She wasn’t happy, but it had happened often enough that she’d got used to it by now and Greg hadn’t needed to do too much smoothing over. It was just as well in this case: Mycroft could lock the creators of that perfume up for far longer than NSY could. If that would stop the recipe from getting out, Greg was all for it.

The two men who’d been holding Sherlock captive were brought out of the building and over to the car Greg was leaning against. He eyed them, amused by the visible bruises and the way they were walking, all hunched over and clearly in pain. “Had a fun time with our consulting detective, did you?” he asked brightly. “Maybe next time you’ll think twice before you decide to kidnap someone trained to defend themselves.”

One of the men glared at him. “No pay was worth this,” he muttered.

Greg raised an eyebrow. “You were paid?” he asked, but the man just shook his head and spat at Greg’s feet before he was hauled off. Unease churning in his gut, Greg watched as they were roughly shoved into the back of an unmarked car. There had been whispers of one particular madman who might’ve had a hand in this, and he couldn’t help wondering if there was a reason the three of them had escaped so easily.

Paranoia is not a good look on you, my dear.

Mycroft’s voice was sleek in the back of his mind, like trailing a finger down a bolt of spun silk, and Greg shivered. He would never get tired of that, not now that he knew what it was like not to have it anymore when they both conscious. It’s not paranoid if they’re really out to get us, he replied, already turning to meet Mycroft’s eyes. Or in this case, Sherlock. I don’t like Moriarty’s preoccupation with him. It bothers me, and you only added fuel to that fire.

It was an old argument between them. Greg might not know exactly what details Mycroft had filled Moriarty’s ears with, but he knew enough. Mycroft had been careful to keep Moriarty in an enclosed space outside of London, stretching the limits of their bond to the point that Greg had not been privy to their conversation. But not even Mycroft could prevent some of the memories of those conversations from filtering across their bond afterwards; every time he thought about it in proximity to Greg a scattered bit here and there slipped across.

Furious was not a strong enough word to express how Greg had felt about it. Still did, in fact. For a man as brilliant as he was, Mycroft could be fucking stupid sometimes. And no matter how many times Mycroft tried to explain his reasons, Greg didn’t want to hear them. Especially not now, right after this, when he could see Mycroft getting ready to spill his list of excuses at Greg’s feet again. The first few came through their bond, raw and rambling in a way completely at odds to Mycroft’s usual brand of eloquence, and he shook his head, holding one hand up.

“Don’t,” he said out loud, the word coming out colder than he’d intended. “I don’t want to hear it. It’s already done and you can’t change it now.” Because they’d had it out several times now, and at first it was a point of pride that he could reduce Mycroft Holmes to a red-faced shouting version of himself but now it just made him tired. This whole situation was so screwed up and he regretted giving in, promising that he wouldn’t tell Sherlock or John, because now more than ever they deserved to know.

“We have a plan,” Mycroft said in spite of Greg shaking his head, because of course he couldn’t let it go. Had to press, because he and Sherlock were more alike than either of them wanted to admit.

Greg sighed. “Yes, I know you do,” he said tiredly instead of saying what he was really thinking, which was that plans only worked to a certain point. People weren’t perfect, didn’t always react the way you expected them to, and Moriarty prided himself on being surprising. He didn’t need to say it. Mycroft heard it all anyway.

His eyes narrowed slightly and Greg tensed in preparation for another fight, was surprised when Mycroft reached for him instead. He went willingly, pressing himself against the familiar body and warmth of his mate, letting his forehead rest on the expensive coat. Mycroft said – quietly, but out loud – “I’m glad that you’re alright. I was concerned when I heard that you were missing. It distressed me to think that you could’ve been sprayed with that perfume again and I wouldn’t have known what was happening.”

The admittance made Greg lean further into him. Sometimes he just had to keep telling himself that everyone made mistakes, and Mycroft was no different. Moriarty knew how to play them all. “I hope you guys lock up that recipe and throw away the key.”

Mycroft chuckled, the sound barely audible but for the movement of his chest, and lightly skimmed the palm of his hand across Greg’s back. “That’s the plan,” he said. “Come on, I think that for once my brother had a wise idea in not sticking around to see what happens next. I’ve left instructions for this area to be cleared. Anthea can supervise. We can go home. I can tell that your head is hurting you.”

Maybe Greg should have argued, but his head really was aching and the pressure was threatening to build into a wicked migraine. He allowed Mycroft to usher him into a parked car, leaning back against the cool plush leather. As soon as Mycroft shut the door, the car started up. Greg smiled lazily, remembering the last time Mycroft had insisted he go home for rest. This is starting to become something of a habit, he thought a little hopefully.

“Is that a hint?”

Yes. Right then he ached for the touch of Mycroft’s sure hands on his body, soothing away their outside troubles into a private paradise – however temporary.

Barely turning his head to hide his smile, Mycroft brushed a kiss across his temple. “Consider it done.”

Chapter Text

It had all happened so fast. One minute John would swear that everything had been under control. He, Lestrade and Sherlock had gone on ahead to stop the packages of perfume from being shipped out while the rest of the officers were temporarily distracted, and in retrospect that had been a stupid move on their part. Sherlock hadn’t wanted to wait, though, and there was no way he was going alone so John and Lestrade had followed, and the next thing John knew there had been a surge of men coming out of nowhere and the three of them been overwhelmed in seconds. He still wasn’t completely sure what happened after that - though he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, his memories of those last few moments before someone hit him upside the head were blurry.

He did remember waking up to find Lestrade in the same room with no sign of Sherlock, the two of them escaping easily thanks to some pretty pitiful defences. They'd found Mycroft, and he'd had a car take them to where Sherlock was being held. Too late, it seemed, as Sherlock had managed to rescue himself. But it was close, too close for John's discomfort as he tended to his mate through a concussion and headache that left both of their ears ringing for hours afterward.

Now John sat back against the sofa and rubbed his eyes for the umpteenth time, trying to rid himself of the memory of seeing Sherlock hit the ground unconscious. That was, unfortunately, painfully clear and he couldn’t forget about it even when he tried. They’d only been separated for a few hours – for all that those idiots were good at the element of surprise, they were pitifully bad at keeping prisoners under wraps – but that hadn’t done much for his blood pressure. He needed a break. Sherlock, whether he was willing to admit it or not, needed a break.

“This wasn’t what I had in mind,” he said in tones of long suffering, turning his head to look at Sherlock. The detective was standing at the counter, peering through his microscope. He was trying to pretend that he hadn’t heard John’s comment, but the stiffness of his shoulders suggested otherwise. The sitting room still smelled like smoke, the remains of Henry Knight’s cigarette lingering in the air, and even though it should've put Sherlock in a better mood it hadn't. The acrid scent did, however, make the fact that Henry had been there impossible to ignore, much as John might have wanted to.

“You said we need a vacation,” Sherlock said without turning around. “This is what people do, correct? They go to the country.”

“Yeah, but not for a case.” John gave up on pretending that he was actually reading and closed his book, setting it aside. He had another headache, but he wasn’t sure whether it was his head that hurt or Sherlock’s. Maybe both, the pain bouncing back and forth and creating looped feedback. He shouldn’t have been as relieved for that as he was. “And definitely not a case like this.”

“So what do you suggest? That I call Henry up and say I've changed my mind?”

There was no reason for him to sound like that would be as appealing as cutting off his own foot. John glared at his back. He was already resigned to the fact that they were going, would probably be leaving as soon as John gave in and packed a suitcase for them both, and unfortunately Sherlock knew it. “All I’m saying is, there’s no chance you’re actually going to rest on this. Which is what the whole point of it was. You’ll spend the whole time trying to solve the case. And that’s fine. But it’s not a vacation.”

Sherlock sighed. “The case is interesting, John. Far more appealing than any of the ones Lestrade has been sending our way recently. I admit that Knight’s timing could have been better, but had he waited much longer he probably wouldn’t have lived long enough to bring it to our attention.”

“You think he’s in that much danger?” John asked reluctantly, a little relieved that Sherlock didn’t seem to be willing to include the perfume case under the heading of ‘interesting’. As far as John was concerned, if that perfume never saw the light of day again they would all be just as well off. Not knowing where Sherlock was had left him feeling itchy and irritable.

“It’s likely.”

And that meant there was no chance that John could say no, not like he would have anyways. He didn't need their bond to know that Sherlock was already buzzing with excitement, though it was still too early yet to know much about the "gigantic hound". "Okay, okay. I'll go pack for us, shall I?"

He received only a disinterested hum in return as he got up and shuffled into the bedroom. It didn't take him long to pack the two suitcases; he wasn't sure how long they would be gone for but he put in enough clothing for at least four nights. Sherlock had been restless ever since the end of the perfume case, so perhaps, no matter how reluctant John was, this case wouldn't hurt. If Sherlock solved it quickly enough, they might even be able to have a couple of nights left over. Just the two of them. The thought made him smirk. As if Sherlock would be able to fend off boredom for that long.

"What was I thinking," he muttered to himself.

"I ask myself that every day, even though I can hear your thoughts," said Sherlock, lazing in the doorway. He had one hand up above his head. His shirt had ridden up, showing off a flash of skin that drew John's gaze like a magnet.

"You would," John said, smiling in spite of himself. It was amazing how quickly a new case could change Sherlock's attitude. He'd been incorrigible over the past few days, having decided that the world should suffer through his nicotine withdrawal along with him, and John alternately wanted to drag him into bed and punch him in the face. He settled for being rough in bed, something that Sherlock had been surprisingly receptive to.

Sherlock caught the line of thought easily and smirked. "My apologies, John, but if we're going to catch the train we really don't have time." His hand inched ever higher, though, exposing even more skin.

John rolled his eyes. "You're such a git. If we don't have time, stop trying to seduce me."

"I'm not trying, I'm succeeding."

"That's what you think." John tossed one of the suitcases at him, pleased when Sherlock had to scramble to catch it. He grabbed the other one off of the bed and marched by. "Come on, then. Let's get going before I come to my senses and decide that keeping you away from a dangerous, secret military testing facility doing god only knows what is a much better idea than willingly accompanying you there."

Chapter Text

Sherlock caught a case out of the city. Not sure how long we'll be gone for, but just giving you a heads up. - JW

Not for the first time that day, Greg sat back in his chair and admired the text that he'd received from John earlier that afternoon. He'd been right in the middle of a tall stack of paperwork and trying to decide whether or not he wanted to leave to get something to eat at the little diner across the street when it arrived. The concise message had cemented the decision: he was guaranteed a break of at least a day, maybe more, from Sherlock Holmes, and that meant it was time for a celebration. He'd grabbed Sally, Gregson and Hopkins and the four of them had thoroughly indulged, only returning once the last scrap of pie had been consumed.

It wasn't that he didn't care about Sherlock. That would've been impossible. Mycroft Holmes held a deep fondness for his brother that may or may not have been love, depending on when he was asked, and there was no way to keep such true emotion from leeching across the bond. But it was more than that. Greg had been taking care of Sherlock long before he even knew who Mycroft was, back when Sherlock was just a strung out, skinny, hapless little thing that was one dose of cocaine away from a heart attack. There were still stains on both his sofa and the old floor of his flat that proved just how much he cared about the idiot, because that was how Sherlock was: you either wanted to kill him or he weaselled his way so far into your heart you still wanted to kill him but you couldn't.

But that didn't mean Greg didn't appreciate the thought of a few days without Sherlock turning up uninvited at a crime scene, particularly considering that the last case Sherlock had become involved with had ended up in a media clusterfuck that had the department reeling even now. People were demanding answers that no one knew how to give, and finally Mycroft had stepped in to help hush everything up. It still wasn't entirely sorted, but the pressure had let up a lot and Greg felt like he could breathe again. It was for that reason he threw his pen down at half past seven and got up, reaching for his coat.

The temperature had dropped, growing chilly with mist, and he shivered as he turned towards the nearest station. Before he got more than a couple of steps down the pavement he felt a familiar brush against his mind and a black car materialized out of the fog, gliding silently up to him. Greg rolled his eyes and reached for the door, unsurprised to find Mycroft sitting behind it. "You do that just so you can look cool," he said, climbing in and shutting the door behind him. It was warm in the car and he stuck his hands in front of the heater.

"It's not my fault I have impeccable timing," Mycroft said, faintly amused. "Judging by your state of mind all day, I expect you got word that Sherlock has been called out of the city."

"Yep." Greg didn't even bother trying to hide his grin, knowing that his lover was equal parts relieved and worried about his little brother. Sherlock was out of London and away from the CCTV cameras that Mycroft was so used to being able to monitor him with. It made the propensity for trouble that much greater, even with John there as somewhat of a calming influence. "Any idea of where they went?"

"Sometimes I'm not sure I really want to know," Mycroft muttered. Greg chuckled and leaned against him, resting his cheek on Mycroft's shoulder and nuzzling into the extra warmth happily. He sighed softly as Mycroft shifted, and then a moment later an arm came up around his shoulders and tucked him in even tighter. It was rare that he could convince Mycroft to drop his mask this much when they weren't behind closed doors, and he relished the opportunity while it lasted.

Unfortunately the distance to the flat was not that long. Too short, as far as Greg was concerned, and he grumbled as he reluctantly pulled away and stepped back into the cold air. Mycroft just shook his head indulgently and led the way into the flat. "You can go take a shower," he said. "I'll get us something to eat. Anything in particular?"

"Surprise me," said Greg. If he didn't know how much Mycroft enjoyed cooking, he might've felt guilty about how quickly he left his mate to it. He shucked his clothing as fast as he could and walked into their personal bathroom, switching the shower on. Recipes and half-formed thoughts about vegetables and meat floated around in the back of his head as Mycroft began checking out what they had in the cupboards and refrigerator. Greg smiled to himself and stepped into the water, sighing as the delicious heat flowed around him.

It was while he was washing his hair, hands sliding through the strands to create suds, that he felt the first tickle of worry. He raised an eyebrow and frowned as confusion and then annoyance swiftly followed. He ducked his head under the shower and rinsed the shampoo away, listening to Mycroft rant something about Sherlock. Of course it was Sherlock. It always was.

About ten minutes later, the curtain was pulled aside. Naked, Mycroft stepped in behind him. Greg didn't turn around, just kept running his soapy hands across his chest. "What is it this time?" he asked, because Mycroft hated hot showers and rarely joined him for that reason. He already knew, of course, but there was something justifiable in making Mycroft say it out loud.

"He broke into a secure military testing facility," Mycroft muttered in that tone of voice that meant he was wondering why his parents couldn't have stopped at one child. "In Baskerville."

Greg sighed, saying a silent good-bye to the paperwork he'd planned to catch up on over the next day or so. "Let me guess. John was right there with him and you're starting to think Sherlock's partner in crime might not be enough to hold him in this time. You want me to go down, too."

"I'll make it worth your while."

Hands rested on his hips, familiar, and Greg let himself be turned. He looked into Mycroft's eyes and smirked. "Oh really?"

Slowly, never breaking eye contact, Mycroft slipped to his knees and smirked. "Yes. I think you'll find that my way can be very... persuasive."

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s decision to take Henry back out onto the moor was, at best, a poor one as far as John was concerned. He could tell that Henry was terrified out of his wits as the three of them strode towards the darkened forest, but to his credit the man didn’t flinch or try to change his mind at the last minute. The torch might have been shaking in his hand and he was walking slowly enough that Sherlock huffed in poorly concealed frustration once or twice, but he kept going across the uneven terrain.

Later, John would regret pausing long enough to investigate the rustling sound that caught his attention. Useless as the information turned out to be, it meant he wasn’t close enough to see what Sherlock and Henry did. He was pretty sure, judging by Sherlock’s annoyance about the slope and yearning for London pavement, that he was still a fair distance away when the thing – whatever it was – raced by him and began to howl like a wolf that had found prey. He had only the paralyzing jolt of disbelieving horror radiating through their bond to let him know that its hunt had been successful.

Sherlock! he shouted, forcing the words through their bond at full volume. Sherlock, are you okay?

There was no answer, although the sharp terror slowly faded to be replaced by doubt and confusion and fear. John swore under his breath and ran faster. Once or twice he nearly went sprawling, only just managing to catch himself at the last minute and keep going. At the top of the slope he found Sherlock, striding back up. His face was pale and he looked at John like he wasn’t really seeing him. Henry was just behind him, flitting around like an incessant housefly, pestering and demanding in turn until Sherlock snapped.

“I saw nothing,” he hissed, and Henry went quiet with rounded, hurt eyes.

John knew that wasn’t true. Sherlock’s mind was in a confused whirl, thoughts tumbling against each other in a maelstrom that made little sense. He was overwhelmed and Henry’s persistence was not helping. John said gently, “Let’s just go back to your house and sit down, alright? We can talk about it there.”

That proved to be easier said than done, as no sooner did they arrive at Henry's house than Sherlock stormed off. John let him go, deciding that it would be easier to deal with one of them at a time (particularly since Henry was just this side of a break down), but that didn't mean he had an easy time concentrating. Even though he would not want to admit it, fear still lurked beneath the shadows of Sherlock's thoughts. It was an ugly and poisonous emotion, twisting and clawing into Sherlock, and John wanted nothing more than to go back out on the moor and hunt the stupid Hound down himself. Instead, he sat Henry down on the sofa and fetched a bottle of water.

"I'm going to give you something to make you sleep," he said kindly. "Okay?"

"Why won't he admit it?" Henry asked, not looking up from the floor. He was sitting on the edge of the sofa with his hands tightly clasped, and John felt a little sorry for him. The size of the house had been impressive when they first arrived, but now it just seemed to be terribly large and empty. John couldn't imagine living here all by himself with no one for company. He sat down beside Henry, resolutely putting off the urge to find his frightened mate.

"Sherlock can be difficult to explain, Henry. He's not doing it to be difficult, he's just... well." There was really no way to properly explain the cocktail of denial, bewilderment and distress Sherlock had apparently settled into. It oozed through the bond and sent a chill down John's spine. He shifted to cover his unease. "I'm sure you both saw something, but Sherlock deals in fact. And the fact is, every once in a while your senses can play tricks on you."

Henry drew back, scowling. "The Hound is real."

"I know," John said, patting him on the shoulder. "Look, you mentioned earlier you'd been prescribed medication to help you sleep. You've had a shock tonight and I think it would be a good idea for you to take something. Where do you keep them?"

"In the kitchen," Henry muttered.

John got up and went into the kitchen. He opened a few cupboards aimlessly. Are you alright? he asked again.

I'm fine.

The answer was short and clipped, would have bordered on angry had it not been for the fact that John could see - and feel - straight through it. Sherlock was turning on the defensive now, and wasn't that just a bloody brilliant end to this miserable day. He sighed and grabbed the bottle of pills, deciding that it would be better to speak to Sherlock in person. He returned to Henry and coaxed the upset man into taking three of the pills, staying just long enough to make sure that Henry actually did pass out on the sofa before he took his leave. He knew that Sherlock would be waiting for him at the inn and this was a conversation John did not relish having.

Sherlock was, surprisingly, sitting in the main room in one of the plush armchairs in front of the fire. John was half-expecting him to have taken refuge in their room, but then again it made sense in a way: Sherlock always grew overwhelmed in large crowds, unable to control or diminish the flow of information, and in this case that was probably exactly what he wanted. Information overload to avoid having to think about what happened, only it wasn’t working out that way. John watched him for a minute, knowing that only the proximity of their bond told Sherlock that he was there. His lover was oblivious to everything else in the room, staring so hard into the fire that the flames danced strangely in his eyes.

He sighed and approached slowly, sinking down into the other chair and glancing down at the half full glass that rested on the table between them. His concern had already been fairly high, but it was ramped up another level when Sherlock picked up the glass and took a sloppy sip. His hands were shakng badly and he could barely get the drink into his mouth. Liquor spilled down his chin and dribbled onto his shirt, but he didn't appear to care and for Sherlock that was pretty much a red alarm right there. John leaned forward a little and reached across the gap, settling a hand on Sherlock's knee. He had no idea how he would've handled this without their bond.

Probably poorly, he considered with grim humour, seeing as how it was difficult to understand how Sherlock – strong, no-nonsense, stick to the cold, concrete facts Sherlock – could be this terrified. “Sherlock,” he said quietly, “it’s alright.”

“I saw it, John.” Sherlock’s voice was dull with self-loathing. He didn’t look away from the fire.

John took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “What did you see?”

“A Hound.”

“You saw it,” John muttered, wishing now more than ever that he hadn’t stopped to look at those lights. He didn’t know how to handle this, not in the slightest. “Are you sure your mind wasn’t playing tricks on you? It was dark and scary out there, maybe –”

“Do not condescend to me,” Sherlock hissed, glancing at him for the first time. “I know what I saw. And there’s nothing wrong with me, John, if that was your next question.”

It was. John swallowed hard and sighed. The fear radiating off his mate had not lessened, but it was compact now as Sherlock shoved it down and tried to ignore it. Clearly, Sherlock felt like he’d seen something and he wasn’t handling it all that well. He was trembling a little, skittish and breathing fast, only a few moments away from losing it completely. And really, that was the only thing that mattered. He softened his grip, sliding his hand up until he could press it against Sherlock’s belly.

“We can’t do anything else tonight,” he said quietly, ducking his head and shifting until Sherlock had no choice but to look at him. “You’re certainly not going back out on the moor. Come on.”

“You want to have sex.”

John smiled. “I want to distract you,” he corrected, thinking, I want to take care of you. “You’re the one who always says that sometimes sex helps to reboot your mind, right? The fact that you’ve been teasing me since yesterday is only a bonus.”

When Sherlock only stared at him, looking a little lost, John stood up and took him by the hand. He helped Sherlock to his feet and led him through the crowd of patrons, towards the steps. Sherlock clung tightly to his hand and didn’t relax until they were back in the room with the door shut and locked and the curtains drawn. Even then, though, he was tense, looking around with the air of someone who feels as though they’re being hunted. John settled his hands on Sherlock’s shoulders.

“Relax,” he whispered, easing backwards until Sherlock hit the bed and sat down hard. John stood over him and smoothed the tips of his fingers through his sweaty hair. “It’s only me, Sherlock. Just relax.”

Chapter Text

In spite of what the detectives at Scotland Yard thought, Sherlock was no stranger to sex. Considering that it was one of the key motivations when it came to murder, he'd become interested at a fairly young age. At first he had merely observed, often taking the time to sit down in a public spot and watch those who didn't really care or who had a desire to be observed. Later, as he'd grown older, he'd started conducting experiments of his own. None of them had really shown results until university, when he'd decided to begin experimenting with both men and women, doing his best to learn what was universal and what was unique to a person alone. The information he'd gathered had often proven invaluable when it came to his work.

Sex with John, though: there was nothing else quite like it. Even without bringing their bond into the equation, John was first and foremost a giving lover. He always made sure that Sherlock was taken care of, usually pulling all of his tricks so that Sherlock came first before he would allow himself to follow. Yet it wasn't purely for unselfish reasons, either, as it hadn't taken Sherlock long to deduce that John thoroughly enjoyed seeing him undone.

It was the first time that Sherlock was free to indulge in sex purely for pleasure and intimacy, as opposed to gathering information or, on the rare occasion when Mycroft was cutting him off, exchanging sexual favors for drugs or money.

Then there was their bond, which could not be ignored. Not with the way it had grown over the months that they had known each other, expanding in leaps until Sherlock could hardly remember what it was like to not be aware of John Watson at any given moment. He looked up at John and thought about before, when he'd believed that his soul mate was dead. How very wrong he'd been. The roiling loop of pure pleasure that was steadily threatening to overwhelm his body and mind were proof enough of that: all of their emotions laid open, bare, clashing against each other in a surge that made it impossible to hide anything as John drove them both higher and closer for the second time that night. It was unending, his desire ending where John's began and vice versa, until Sherlock could only shut his eyes and let his mouth open with a silent cry.

John breathed out shakily above him, the soft grunt the only sound he seemed to be capable of making as all of the tension drained from his body at once. He slumped forward, catching his weight at the last second with an arm against the bed, and rested his forehead against Sherlock's shoulder. The feel of his breath washing over Sherlock's bare chest would have been enough to provoke interest had Sherlock not felt so tired. All he felt capable of doing was turning his head just far enough so that he could regard the top of John's. the soft, dark blond hair that had become as familiar to him as his own. He was close enough that he could have brushed a kiss against that hair, if he wanted.

"Mmm, better?" John asked eventually, when his heart rate had returned to something resembling normal. He sounded absurdly pleased with himself, and it reverberated through the bond: always so much more open, raw, after sex. Sherlock rolled his eyes and huffed faintly. He could feel the bond beginning to settle now as the surge of adrenaline slowed, leaving a sweet lethargy in its wake.

"I know I saw something," he said quietly, though admittedly the words did not hold the same tinge of fear as before. John had done a very thorough job in making sure that Sherlock was distracted, first by giving him a very slow, tender massage. Only when Sherlock was melted into the mattress, his mind a humming, dazed version of the hard drive it normally was, had he proceeded to change things into a different sort of intimacy altogether. Just the memory of John's mouth around him while fingers pressed inside was enough to make him shiver.

"I'm sure you did, too," John said. He rolled off of his lover with a faint groan, stretching his hands above his head and then scratching idly at his belly. "The question is, what did you see and how was it that you were able to see it?"

Sherlock could provide no answers to those questions and that bothered him more than he wanted to admit.

"Hey, no, come here." Expression turning impossibly gentle, John shifted onto his side and propped himself up so that he could cup Sherlock's cheek. "You'll figure it out, you always do. There's got to be something that we're missing, some piece of information that's going to tie this whole situation together. I have every faith that it will come together for you."

"It just doesn't make sense, John," Sherlock said, and he loathed the vaguely whiny quality that his voice had taken on. Rather than terror, he felt annoyed and faintly outraged that someone had so thoroughly managed to deceive him into thinking that the hound was real. He closed his eyes with a frustrated sigh, tipping his head towards John in a pointed way. He didn't need to look to know that John was smirking indulgently as he trailed his fingers up into Sherlock's hair and began to stroke the curls gently. It gave him something tangible to cling to while he let his mind wander freely, trying to figure out the strange situation that they had found themselves in the middle of.

They had been drugged, obviously. Now that he'd had the time and space to ponder the matter, Sherlock could recognize the induced hallucinations for what they were: akin to a few experiences he'd had in university when he was testing drugs outside of his beloved cocaine in the search of something that worked even better. He hadn't liked the way those drugs made him feel. He wanted something that would help to sharpen his mind, not to make him see and question that which didn't even exist.

The real question was how had they been drugged. He was generally cautious about consuming food and drink outside of the flat, particularly in a situation such as this, but it was still possible that something could have been slipped in at some point. It would have had to have been something both he and Henry had consumed, but even if he figured it out he would have no one to test it on. By nature of their bond John had already become susceptible, falling to the effects of the drug as quickly as Sherlock had.

Sometimes their bond was inconvenient.

John snorted and the pressure of his fingers tightened briefly. "I hope you're not thinking what I think you're thinking, Sherlock Holmes. You have no idea how pissed I would be if I found out that you'd been experimenting on me without my knowledge."

"You mean like how you experimented on Lestrade?" Sherlock inquired innocently.

The expression on John's face was priceless. His mouth opened and shut and he sputtered for a moment. "That's - that's not - that was different!"

"Oh really."

"Yes!"

"I'm not sure Lestrade would feel the same way."

"You..." John stared at him and then shook his head. "You bastard."

Sherlock laughed, because he couldn't help it, and squirmed further down the bed until his head was resting on the pillow. Normally he would never deign to sleep on a case, particularly one like this, but after a bout of terror and two bouts of increasingly good sex exhaustion was catching up to even him. It didn't help that John was tired and making no effort to stop fatigue from rolling across, even encouraging it, until Sherlock's eyes were half-lidded and the room had gone foggy.

John's lips brushed across his forehead, following him into sleep.

Chapter Text

Sherlock received the news about Greg's arrival about as well as he expected... which was to say, not well at all. Even after Greg proved that his presence could be useful after all by questioning the owners of the pub, Sherlock continued to shoot him baleful looks out of the corner of his eye while he paced around the room in deep thought. He was acting exactly like a stroppy toddler and, as much as Greg hated to admit it, he was more amused by the behaviour than anything else. He drummed his fingers against the table, sipping idly at a cup of tea, and then glanced over at John. It didn't take a genius to realize that this case was clearly wearing on the both of them.

"How has he been?" he asked finally, tipping his chin in Sherlock's direction. Normally Sherlock hated leaving London, so he always made it a point to stay as close to the city as possible. Sherlock and the country did not mix. Greg had seen proof of that the last time he visited the family estate with both of the brothers. He still wasn't sure who'd been more out of their element, Sherlock or Mycroft, but either way it was a very close tie.

"Difficult," John said with a weary sigh. He looked tired, like he hadn't slept well. "This case is considerably more complicated than either of us expected."

Greg pursed his lips at that, intrigued. It wasn't very often that someone managed to stump Sherlock. The last person who'd done that was Moriarty, and he hoped to god the little psychopath wasn't involved in this because if he was then Greg was going to be having words with his mate. Angry words that would result in Mycroft sleeping on the sofa for the next two weeks. Tempting though it was to press John for details of that nature, he refrained. There was no sense in worrying him, even if he was sure that John had already contemplated that possibility. Instead, he drank the last of his now tepid tea and said hopefully, "Are you making any headway?"

"A bit, now that you're here to help smooth a few things over, but not nearly as much as Sherlock wants."

Reflexively Greg glanced around for the detective and realized that the rest of the pub was empty. Either Sherlock had thought of a new lead and run off, which was unlikely considering John was still sitting across from him, or he'd got bored with pacing the small room and moved on to a larger space. "I know he's pissed that Mycroft asked me to come down," he admitted. There didn't seem to be any point in continuing to pretend that he'd decided to wander down of his own free will. Sherlock wasn't the only one who rarely left London.

John shot him a small smile. "Actually, I think he's pleased that you're here. Not that he'd ever be willing to admit it, but Sherlock likes it when you're around. Though I'm not sure if it's you he likes or the fact that, by having you here, he's keeping you away from Mycroft."

"That sounds about right," Greg said, rolling his eyes. Sometimes he felt a bit like a favoured toy. He jumped at the sound of a clatter and looked around to see that Sherlock had set a cup of coffee down on the table. Even as Greg watched, one eyebrow raised, the detective slid it across until it was sitting in front of him.

"Sherlock," John said.

"I made you coffee," Sherlock said, ignoring John.

Greg looked down at the cup. "Did you now."

"Sherlock," John said again, more firmly this time. "We talked about this last night."

"You got to do it. I don't see why -"

"Oh for god's sake." Heaving another, far more exasperated sigh, John grabbed the cup and stood up. He marched behind the bar and dumped it into the sink. Sherlock scowled and started to protest, but apparently John wasn't in the mood to hear it. He returned to the table, grabbed Sherlock by the arm and physically hauled him to his feet. Greg had to bite back a laugh as they walked out of the pub together like they didn't even remember that he was there. They were glaring at each other in a way that meant they were having a silent argument, and he was just as glad he couldn't hear it.

He took out his phone. "I think your brother just tried to drug me," he said by way of greeting.

Mycroft’s sigh was perfectly audible even over the line. “That does sound like something Sherlock would do, yes. Since you say he tried, I’m guessing Doctor Watson stopped him.”

“Should I be insulted that you automatically think John stopped him instead of me realizing what Sherlock was doing?”

“Gregory, even after all this time and the many ways he’s proved he does not deserve it, you still have an inherent trust in my brother that I will never understand. No matter how often I tell you not to accept food or drink from Sherlock, you still do it.” Mycroft paused, and when he spoke again his voice was considerably softer. “It is one of the many things I admire about you.”

Suddenly Greg was glad that Sherlock and John had departed, if only because he was pretty sure he was now blushing. He shifted uncomfortably, clearing his throat. “Thanks,” he muttered. “So, look, Sherlock seems to be pretty rattled about this case. I haven’t seen him like this for a while.”

“It’s complicated,” Mycroft said, thankfully accepting the change in subject without protest.

“Complicated in a guns are going to be fired soon sort of way?” Greg asked. He was conscious of the weight of the gun at his hip, since he rarely wore one. Mycroft had given it to him right before he left. He’d intended to leave it in his suitcase, and it didn’t bode well that he didn’t feel comfortable enough to do so.

The pause was considerably longer this time. “Perhaps.”

“Bloody fantastic.” He got up and left the pub, heading up to his room. “They just left now. I won’t follow, but let me know if Sherlock starts trying to get himself killed.”

Mycroft agreed and they hung up as Greg reached the door to his room. He actually didn’t have that much to do, but following Sherlock and John around wouldn’t do much good either. Sherlock would know he was there and it would only serve to make him feel like he was being monitored by Mycroft, which never did much to improve Sherlock’s concentration. In the end, he lay down on the – surprisingly comfortable – single bed and fell asleep.

He woke up to his phone and Mycroft’s alarmed voice telling him to get out to the moor immediately, and later Greg would almost wish that he’d slept right through the call because he could’ve done without seeing that hound. The night air was cold and felt like it was sinking right through him as he and John shone their torches up at the dog, catching the gleaming red eyes and long white teeth. He stumbled backwards as the hound leapt down the hill towards them and swore.

“What the hell is that?” he shouted.

“Sherlock,” John was saying, voice trembling.

“Henry! It’s not – it’s here, but it’s not real, oh god, it’s the fog, it’s drugged us!” Sherlock was trying to focus, but Greg could hear him panting, low and frightened, and it was enough to make a surge of protectiveness cut through the fear.

He drew the gun that Mycroft had given him and fired once, twice, three times. The sound jolted John and he pulled out his own gun. Between the two of them, they hit the hound twice. It staggered, growling, and Greg fired again. This time it went down, sprawling in a twitching heap. Greg was gasping, felt like he couldn’t breathe properly, too much happening in too short a span of time, but the handle of his gun was hot and sweaty and real and he strode closer impulsively to put the last of his bullets in the creature’s head.

Chapter Text

It was late, nearly morning, by the time that the local police were satisfied by their story. By that point, what little remained of Frankland’s body had been collected by the coroner and been taken off to be examined – though why they bothered Sherlock wasn’t certain, as any idiot would be able to tell the cause of death. A special team had been brought in just to take extra precaution with the minefield, ensuring that no one else stepped on one of the active mines during the investigation.

The drugged fog was being dealt with; the dog’s body had been retrieved by a couple of men in suits with clean oxygen so that they wouldn’t be affected. Paramedics had been summoned to the scene by the police after the first time Lestrade had explained and, knowing that John was waning fast, Sherlock was relieved to hand Henry off into their care. Henry would be fine, would recover at some point, given enough time to recuperate and come to terms with what he’d seen as a child and learned since.

John was swimming with exhaustion by that point, eyes heavily lidded even though otherwise he was doing an admirable job of pretending that he was listening to every word that one of the younger officers was spewing at him. Sherlock could feel it, though, seeping slow and sluggish through their bond, and considering that for once John wasn’t even trying to push it in his direction that meant it was a wonder that John was still on his feet.

“Are you not done yet?” he asked, cutting straight through Lestrade’s fifth recitation of the events. Even Lestrade was beginning to sound increasingly weary, shoulders slumping as the weight of what had happened settled on him. Sherlock deliberately drew himself up and narrowed his eyes at the officer. He hadn’t bothered to catch the man’s name, deeming it unimportant.

The officer bristled. “Look here, Mr Holmes, we need to make sure that we’ve got all the details down right. You have to admit, this whole situation is a little far-fetched.”

“I hardly think that the military performing unethical experiments and having one go wrong is far-fetched,” said Sherlock. It was tempting to unleash a barrage of deductions on this man, strikes that would slice deep and leave him speechless, but Lestrade shifted next to him, a silent warning. He added, “And even if it was, Detective Inspector Lestrade has already thoroughly explained several times and his story has not changed. It is not going to. If you haven’t confirmed the details to memory yet, then there is no hope for you. Either way, we’re done here.”

“You can’t just –”

“Actually, we can,” Lestrade said. “I’ll leave you my contact details in case you need to hear this again.” His subtle emphasis on the word was a glaring indication of how fed up he was getting, and the officer proved he wasn’t such an idiot after all because he subsided upon hearing that and accepted the card offered to him in silence, albeit a sulky one.

“I’ll have one of my officers drive you back,” the officer muttered.

“No need, I have my own car. Come on, Sherlock.”

Sherlock detoured briefly to rescue John – the younger officer was in the midst of asking something about glowing red eyes, and John looked far too relieved when he saw Sherlock coming – and the three of them departed quickly. Lestrade hadn’t been lying; his rental car was small but large enough to comfortably accommodate Sherlock’s long legs in front, and John didn’t mind climbing in the back. As Lestrade went to start up the vehicle, Sherlock stopped him with a raised hand.

“Look,” he murmured.

John and Lestrade followed his gaze out the window. A couple of black cars had pulled up to the scene. Even as they watched, black-suited men and women began climbing out. The head officer noticed them first and went running over waving his badge. Sherlock felt a distinct flash of satisfaction when he realized that Anthea was the one stepping forward to greet him. It was nearly enough to make him wish they hadn’t left, if only so that he could be there to listen when Anthea shut the man’s illusions of grandeur down completely.

“Sherlock,” John said from the back, sounding more amused than scolding.

“Whatever he’s thinking, I’m sure it’s deserved,” Lestrade said wryly, turning the key in the ignition. “I was wondering what was taking Mycroft so long. This really isn’t a case for the local police.”

“He was probably trying to teach Sherlock a lesson about using Mycroft’s access to get into places he’s not supposed to be,” John said.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “It was necessary for the case.”

Lestrade snorted but didn’t comment, instead flicking the radio on. The station crackled for a moment before a low voice came through, crooning about a lost love. Sherlock stared out the window as the excitement and adrenaline of a solved case slowly began to drain out of him, leaving both fatigue and restlessness in their place. John had no such problem. He could pinpoint the exact second when John fell asleep about ten minutes later, even though his mate fought it for as long as he could.

“You did good here,” Lestrade said quietly then, not taking his gaze off of the road. “You and John, you’re good together. And I… I don’t want to see you two broken up.”

“John wouldn’t leave me,” Sherlock said, probably not as confidently as he should have judging by the quick look Lestrade shot him.

“It’s not John I’m concerned about, Sherlock. I know how attached you are. Of course you are, you love him. He’s your mate and I’m happy for you. So maybe this isn’t my place to say, but…” He exhaled and shook his head. “Damn it no one else will, so I’m just going to come out and do it. I’m worried that Moriarty’s going to try to take advantage of that, and I know you well enough to realize that you’d rather leave than put John in the middle of a fight between the two of you.”

These were the kinds of things that Sherlock was always cautious to never think too much about when John was awake. “It’s not John’s fight,” he said at last. He could still remember the worry in John’s expression way back when this had begun, when everything between them was new and uncertain. John had warned him about Moriarty and the game he was trying to make Sherlock play. Much as he hated to admit it, John was right. But Sherlock hadn’t seen how this could play out in any other way, still didn’t.

“Don’t.” The amount of anger in Lestrade’s voice was shocking. Sherlock looked at him, eyes wide, as they pulled into the parking lot. Lestrade shut the car off and stared back at him. “Don’t you dare say that, Sherlock Holmes. Whatever Mycroft is going through has an effect on me and vice versa. It’s exactly the same for you and John. If something was going in with him, you’d be right there no matter how much danger it put you in. I understand you’re trying to keep John safe, but do yourself a favour and accept that he is just as much a part of this as you. Don’t push him away. Don’t push any of us away.”

It was one of the few times in his life that Sherlock was speechless, and before he had the chance to formulate a response John stirred in the back. “Are we there already?” he mumbled.

“Yes,” Lestrade said, giving Sherlock one last pointed look before he pushed the door open and got out.

“Sherlock?” John said sleepily.

Sherlock swallowed several times, firmly pushing back the sharp panic that threatened to tear him apart. As it was, he knew it was only John’s grogginess that kept him from noticing. He only responded when he was certain he sounded and felt normal. “I’m here, John. Come on, let’s go to bed.”

Chapter Text

Over the next few months, all of John's hopes for a quiet bit of time with just the two of them plummeted as Sherlock's popularity skyrocketed. He could do no wrong as far as the media was concerned. Cases that would have been largely ignored not all that long ago were now being lauded as proof of Sherlock's intelligence. Reporters started camping outside of 221b and following them both to crime scenes. Lestrade invested in a few more officers to control the press and keep evidence from being contaminated, but he wasn't happy about it and he made no effort to pretend that he was. Every time that Sherlock showed up with the press in tow, he looked more worried. John knew exactly how he felt.

Sherlock enjoyed the attention for the sole reason that it brought more cases his way, and he solved every one eagerly. It was adorable, in a way, because Sherlock truly didn't care about the media the way most people would have: the only thing that mattered to him was having an interesting case to sink his teeth into, and now that everyone wanted a piece of him he had more interesting cases to choose from than John had jumpers. It took serious effort to make him stop for five minutes and eat something, never mind sleeping. John was grateful for their bond over those weeks, because little else would have been enough to make Sherlock get the occasional good night's sleep.

It all came to a head in exactly the way John was most concerned about, when they received word about Moriarty breaking into those three places simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, Sherlock was an arse during the first day of court and got himself arrested briefly before Mycroft stepped in. He seemed to be strangely calm about it, unmoved by his brief stay in prison alongside Moriarty and god only knew how many of the men that were working for him, but John didn't have that ability. Adrenaline made him restless as they got into the cab that would take them home, too aware of the fact that they had no idea what Moriarty's end game was. This game, with the rules that hadn't been explained, was one he wasn't sure that Sherlock would be able to win.

"I don't like it," he said the instant that they were back inside of 221b with the door shut behind them. Sherlock glanced at him, blinking lazily, and removed his coat and scarf. As he moved past John to search the room for any electronic recording devices, John frowned at his back and repeated himself. "I don't like this, Sherlock. He's playing with you, baiting you, and there's no way to tell what he's planning. How can you play a game that you don't understand?"

Sherlock did not respond, not even mentally, until he had thoroughly scoured the room. Only then did he turn and look at John. His eyes were strangely bright in the dim light of the room. "You were right."

"I was - what?"

"Right before we met Moriarty the first time, you asked me what would happen if I messed up," Sherlock said quietly.

John remember that night, almost against his will. It was back before he and Sherlock had become lovers, before they had even shared their first kiss, back when everything between them had been new and confusing. He licked his lips. "Yes."

"I told you I wouldn't."

The implied 'but I think I have' lingered at the end of his sentence, twisting John's heart. He wanted to go to Sherlock and offer him a hug, but he didn't. He wasn't sure it would've been welcome right then. "You made a mistake," he said wearily, because there was no point in saying something as ridiculous as 'I told you so'. That would not improve the situation, nor do anything to dissipate the tension between them. "Everyone does, sooner or later. What matters is that we have to focus on figuring out what Moriarty wants and how we can stop it."

"I'm not sure that he can," Sherlock replied. "He's... craftier than I expected." Once there would have been awe or even respect in Sherlock's voice, but now he just sounded resigned. It was awful. "That night at the pool, Moriarty wanted to beat me. He wanted me to watch as you died before he killed me. That was important to him. Things have changed."

"Changed how?" John couldn't get anything from their bond; Sherlock's thoughts were too confusing and muddled. Just trying made his own head begin to ache.

"He wants to prove that he's better than me," Sherlock said after a pause.

"I don't see how that's different."

"This time he doesn't care what he has to do to make it happen."

Now John's head really hurt. "Sherlock -"

"I don't know what's going to happen, John."

And wow, John had never heard Sherlock sound this lost before. Not even when he saw the hound for the first time. It scared him, and he could tell by the way Sherlock twitched that Sherlock was picking up on it. "We'll figure it out," he said, attempting to sound confident and knowing that he was failing miserably. He did approach then, reaching out for Sherlock. He was relieved when Sherlock allowed the embrace, even lifted his own arms to wrap around John's waist. It didn't take long for his grip to become so tight that it left John breathless, but he didn't protest. The pressure, bruising though it might have been, felt good.

Now that they were in physical contact, the chaos in Sherlock's head actually slowed down a little. Became more manageable, so that John could actually sort through it all. It didn't take him long to be able to pick out the strands of thought that were at the core of Sherlock's unusual display tonight: he was worried that Moriarty would lash out at certain people, notably Mrs Hudson and Lestrade and John and maybe even Mycroft or Molly, in order to get a full set of revenge on Sherlock. John had to admit that he hadn't actually contemplated that before, and it was a chilling thought. He instinctively smoothed his hands down Sherlock's back in a calming gesture when the detective shivered.

You're worried he's going to attack the people around you, he said, unable to contain his surprise. Because there was a time when those thoughts wouldn't have even crossed Sherlock's mind, not with the thrill of the chase and a mind that just might well have been his match to compete against.

Not everyone is intelligent enough to be able to keep up with us, Sherlock said.

John smiled in spite of himself. Ha ha, you're funny. Don't worry, okay? We can fix this.

How?

That one word held so much pain and desperation that John's heart broke just a little bit. He swallowed roughly and held Sherlock tighter, relieved that they weren't speaking out loud because he wasn't sure he would have been capable of doing so. We'll get Mycroft to send Mrs Hudson away somewhere safe. She can take a nice vacation, maybe with a couple of her friends. Molly too. And you know Lestrade will be well protected, Mycroft's always got some sort of security detail on him, and Mycroft's got his own personal bodyguard in Anthea. There's no way they'll agree to leave.

And you?

I'm not leaving either, John replied immediately, resolute and firm in this alone. Whatever happens we're going to face it together.

Sherlock tensed, like he wanted to say something more, and John caught a few flickers about Moriarty's web and how vast it was, and how much time and effort and travel it would take to bring it down under the radar, before those thoughts cut off and Sherlock sagged against him until he could press his face to John's shoulder.

Chapter Text

Although John tried to convince him to be there when the jury read off the sentence, Sherlock refrained. He wasn't even pleased with the idea that John was going to be there, and he tried to be as thoroughly distracting as possible to keep John from leaving. It helped that John looked frankly amazing in his fitted suit, which emphasized his muscular thighs and arms. John actually ended up having to get dressed twice after Sherlock successfully peeled him back out of the clothing the first time around, and he only just managed to escape the flat and put off his incessant lover's attempts at trying for a second. As he ran down the stairs, Sherlock collapsed onto the sofa and stared blankly at the telly. It was on, but with the sound muted.

Moriarty was beginning to close in, the strange little game he was playing ending now that everything was starting to come out into the open. But Sherlock had no doubt that Moriarty was going to unveil the finer details of his plan slowly, piece by piece, like an overly indulged child opening up a gift on Christmas morning. Had Sherlock known the full scope of his plan, he would have delighted in ripping the wrapping paper off quickly and spoiling the surprise. That was just the problem, though. He was confident that Moriarty was going to strike soon, and that the eventual target would be the people closest to him, but that still left far more to chance than he was truly comfortable with.

He closed his eyes after heaving a quiet sigh, mentally following the route that John was taking to the courthouse. This far away their connection was strained enough so that they had to push thoughts in each other's direction, but he could tell what sort of mood John was in fairly easily. It corresponded to the path he knew John would be taking. He remained like that, head tipped back and breathing lightly through his mouth, until he sensed that John's temperament was changing. John was shocked, and angry, and Sherlock didn't need to open his eyes to know why. He did eventually, gazing at the telly just in time to see the replay of the shocking announcement that Moriarty was being set free after a decision of not guilty.

Not five minutes later, Sherlock's mobile phone rang. He regarded it silently for a few seconds before he sighed and reached out to pick it up.

"Not guilty!" John burst out without even waiting for Sherlock to respond, a testament to how upset he was because John was usually nothing if not polite on the phone. "Can you believe it? Somehow that sorry bastard must have got to the jury. That's the only reason he would've got off so easily. No sign of him already, he's just gone - Sherlock, you should go to Scotland Yard. I'll tell Greg you're coming, you'll be -"

The sound of John's anxious voice was abruptly cut off as Sherlock switched his phone off. John would be furious at him for that, he knew, and he'd probably pay for that with hours of the silent treatment while John alternated between fretting and complaining to Lestrade. It would be worth it. Distractions couldn't be afforded, not right now. He sat up straight, sliding the phone into his pocket, and listened to the quiet sounds of the flat settling around him. Most of the noise was familiar, background by now, but rising above it was the quiet click of the lock downstairs being picked. Sherlock smiled faintly, disregarding the slightly quickened pounding of his heart, forcing himself to remain calm to avoid worrying John even more than he already had.

"No tea?" Jim Moriarty inquired, leaning lazily against the doorframe. His sharp eyes darted around the room, although he was likely intimately acquainted with everything there already. "I'm surprised at you, darling. I thought you would've been better taught."

"I wouldn't want you to become bored with my predictability," Sherlock responded. "But then, I'm guessing that's why you're here."

Moriarty's eyes darkened just a bit, the hazy brown turning black in the dim light. "You're not playing by the rules. I had no idea you were going to send your landlady away. That's just poor form, Sherlock. I had such lovely plans for her, too. She would've made a gorgeous corpse, you know. Perhaps we could've strung her up where everyone could see." He smiled sweetly. "That's alright, though. We'll just find someone else to play with. You'd get bored without me otherwise. After all, every fairy tale needs a good villain and I just happen to be the best."

Sherlock let the corners of his mouth tighten. He'd been resistant to John putting in a call to Mycroft to get Mrs Hudson out of the country in just under an hour, but suddenly he was grateful that John had insisted. Knowing that she was safely out of Moriarty's reach was worth the favour Mycroft would no doubt call in later. "That's the problem with fairy tales," Sherlock said finally, after he judged enough time had passed for him to make his point. "They all start to look the same after a while no matter what kind of villain there is."

Until that moment Moriarty had remained mostly composed, but that remark was enough to make real anger flash across his face. "You could have been something, Sherlock," he observed. "Why would you allow yourself to be bogged down with someone so common? I thought we were the same, you and I, and yet here you are..." He glanced around with distaste. "I wonder, sometimes, if I rearranged some things in your life if you would go back to being useful."

It took effort to tamp down his initial reaction, which was to shove Moriarty against the nearest piece of furniture or wall and demand that he keep his hands off of John. Doing so would not keep John safe; it would only encourage Moriarty to make more taunts - and possibly carry through on his threats. "I was never like you," Sherlock replied, wondering even as he spoke if that was really true. If it weren't for Mycroft and Lestrade, the two of them determined to keep Sherlock on what they considered the right path...

Like he could hear Sherlock's uncertainty, Moriarty smirked. "Given the proper environment, you will be," he promised with a leer. "I'm going to make this fun for us. One final puzzle, a real challenge. No one else will be able to do this for you." Even though he was across the room, he lifted his hand like he was reaching out to stroke Sherlock's face. "Only me, and when it's all over you'll wish that I had been the one to meet you first."

"You're not my soul mate," Sherlock said, fighting the urge to recoil at the thought. He felt a flicker of concern from John, tamping down the anger and frustration that had been flowing across their bond before. John was getting close enough to start picking up on the conversation.

"We'll never know now, will we?" Moriarty said, like he was truly disappointed by that, and then he bowed. "Don't disappoint Daddy, darling. I'd hate for you to see what happens to those who don't perform the way I ask." His smile was cutting, cruel. "After all, I owe you... and I always pay back what I owe." He wiggled his fingers and glided out of the room as quietly as he had come.

Sherlock stared at the place where he had been for several long minutes without moving. There were some people who believed that everyone in the world had more than one soul mate, that there was no one perfect match, and that it was just a matter of which two individuals happened to meet first. Because once you'd met your match, there was no need to keep searching - and the people who never did were just unfortunate in luck or circumstances.

If that was true then it could have just as easily been Moriarty, and Sherlock wasn't sure how to handle that.

Chapter Text

Even though John was furious about Moriarty's visit to Sherlock, there wasn't much he could do about it. Particularly once Moriarty faded into the background and all attempts to locate him failed to yield results - they knew that he was out there, but finding him was apparently beyond the capability of even the men that Mycroft had at his command. Several weeks passed in agonizing silence, filled only with the usual sort of silly little cases that Sherlock was able to solve with very little effort. John could feel the nervous tension that was building and he knew that it was going to reach a point when everything would blow up, but he had no idea how to dispel it or if he should even try.

And then came the case with the missing children, and he realized that in all likelihood it was too late for him to even bother.

With the threat of the video Moriarty had recorded and showed to Sherlock on the cab ride home ringing in John's ears - and make no mistake, that was going to be the last time that he and Sherlock took a separate cab anywhere as long as Moriarty was still running free - he turned and watched as Greg slowly mounted the stairs to the flat. He stepped just inside the door and tried for a smile, but it came off too weak to do any good. Mrs Hudson glanced between the three of them, a fretful look crossing her face, before she quietly gathered the tray she had brought up before Sherlock began his search for audio recording equipment and cameras and bid them all a good night.

In the ringing silence left by her departure, Greg said heavily, "He's really doing a number on your reputation, Sherlock."

"I know," Sherlock said without looking up from the camera he was examining. "Bit hard to get rid of an idea once it's been placed in your head. Afraid the answer is no, though. I'm not going down to the station with you. I have too much to do. Criminal empires to bring down, you see, and spending even a little time behind bars is not going to help my progress." He raised his eyes, finally, and glanced at John and then Greg.

Greg rolled his eyes. "You really do think pretty highly of yourself if you honestly believe I've taken that bullshit about you being the mastermind behind all this seriously. I know you better than that, Sherlock Holmes." He folded his arms across his chest and pinned Sherlock with his best no-nonsense stare. "Having said that, I do have a job to do and I'm thinking it's not going to be very long before I've got strict orders to bring you in whether you want to come or not. Donovan's going to go over my head with this one if you don't come."

"Donovan," Sherlock muttered. Moriarty must have been thrilled to have her in exactly the position he needed. I do wonder what she would think if she realized how easily she played into his hands.

John sighed. On the surface Sherlock was maintaining a fairly cocky demeanour, but just underneath he was a roiling mess of fear and concern that was enough to make John feel sick to his stomach. Sherlock was terrified, not that he would admit it. Moriarty was a wild card here and more than capable of doing something unexpected that could change this stupid game entirely. He tried to send a pulse of calm across their bond and turned to Greg. "We understand that your hands are tied, Greg. If not you, then they're just going to send someone else. The end result will be the same and refusing will leave you out of a job, and we can't ask that of you."

A look of relief flashed across Greg's face, almost too quick to see. "Thanks John. If I thought it would make a difference..." He trailed off and tipped his head at Sherlock. "You're a bastard sometimes, but you don't deserve this. I wish I could change what was happening." He looked at Sherlock with something in his face that hurt to watch, a depth of affection that made John wince.

Especially when Sherlock just turned his head away. "Give my regards to Sergeant Donovan."

For a moment Greg hesitated, as though waiting for there to be more, before he sighed. His shoulders slumped momentarily before he straightened up again. "Fine, if that's how you want to be play it. Just... for fuck's sake, be careful." He turned and left through the door, shutting it behind him. John listened to the sound of his footsteps proceeding down the stairs before he moved over to the window and peered out. Greg and Donovan weren't speaking to each other as they got into the police car waiting on the street, but Donovan had a smug expression on her face that John wouldn't have minded punching off.

Right before they drove off, Greg looked up at their flat again. It was too far away for their eyes to meet, but even with the distance John had no trouble reading the look of hopelessness on Greg's face. It made his throat tighten up as the car finally started and drove off, blending in amongst the early evening traffic. He stayed there and watched until he couldn't see the car anymore, until Sherlock cleared his throat behind him. He didn't speak out loud, because even though he had scoured the apartment for recording devices there always the chance that he could have missed one, but silently.

He's right for once. He'll be back in just a few hours with a warrant for my arrest. Standard procedure at this point, I think, and not something that the Chief Superintendant will be willing to let go once Donovan's had her way with him. I suspect that Lestrade wasn't even supposed to be here to give advance warning. If he came back to an empty flat he'd be fired at the least for having warned me.

John closed his eyes in resignation. This was really happening. I suppose it's too much to hope that I could convince you to actually run away.

I can't, John. Don't tell me you believe my departure would actually be enough to stop Moriarty from playing this game. You know he would come up with more contrivances until he found something that was enough to draw me back to London, and then I would be at a disadvantage. Sherlock approached the window with his arms locked behind his back. He looked out at the skyline. Right now, I breathe London. I know all of her secrets and mysteries and an understanding of her most puzzling complexities. Were I to leave for even a short time, I would have to reacquaint myself with the city upon my return and that would not be time Moriarty would give me.

Even though he'd known there wasn't much chance Sherlock would actually agree to leave, John still felt a little surge of disappointment. You could've gone in with Greg. Explained to them why you're innocent, told them about Moriarty.

Sherlock shook his head. It wouldn't do any good, John, and you know that. He's set things up perfectly to cast suspicion my way, and every police officer who dislikes me is only going to add to that. It would take weeks, possibly months, before the truth came to light even with Mycroft's help.

So what, then? John asked, angry now, throat aching. It wasn't right that this brilliant man's reputation was going to be dragged through the mud. It wasn't fair that everyone was going to question Sherlock's abilities. All he'd ever done was solve cases that stumped the general public and Scotland Yard. He might've had a bit more fun with it than was considered generally proper, but in the grand scheme of things that wasn't even all that horrible. They should've been thanking Sherlock for his efforts, not condemning him at the first opportunity. He believed in Sherlock so much and it pissed him off that so few other people did.

The look on Sherlock's face, the emotion surging across their bond, couldn't have been properly put into words. He stared at John for several seconds before he responded. We wait.

Chapter Text

Sally smirked pretty much the whole way back to Scotland Yard, so smug and certain that she'd been right all along about Sherlock that Greg could barely stand to look at her. She'd been his trusted colleague for a long time now. They worked well together; there was a reason that Sally had never made any effort to transfer to another unit even though more than one detective had tried to steal her away. She was a good sergeant in many ways, calm, loyal, clever, unbiased - for the most part. Clouding their interactions, though, especially as of late, was that faint hint, a niggling wonder he had done his best to ignore, that Sherlock might be the person who came between them.

It was depressing to think that had finally happened. He glanced over at her, wondering it was worth trying to convince her that she was wrong. At the sight of her smile, he knew that he was just kidding himself. As far as Sally was concerned Sherlock Holmes was guilty. Not even the slightest hint of doubt could be put into her mind. She'd already decided and no matter what Greg said she wasn't going to be persuaded otherwise. He'd be wasting his breath and possibly saying something incriminating that could come back to haunt him, depending on how this thing with Sherlock ended up. Sally was his friend, yes, but she'd proven already that she was a police officer of the law first and foremost. She would not hesitate to put him into the line of fire next if she thought it was necessary.

He ground his teeth together as the met came into view, dread curling thick and hot through his veins. He didn't want to go in. He was perfectly aware that within a matter of hours, possibly minutes, he was going to be heading right back to 221b if he did. And this time there would be no easy chat with Sherlock. He would have to arrest the man. And granted, it wasn't the first time he'd done that. Sherlock had ended up behind bars at Greg's discretion more than once when he was younger, usually when he was strung out and belligerent and needed a night to calm down before he did something stupid or harmful or both. For a while there he'd arrested Sherlock more than any other criminals combined before it dawned on him that was Sherlock's way of asking for help.

But this was different. Sherlock did not want to be behind bars, he wasn't on mind-altering chemicals or going to be walking out in a handful of hours. This was serious. If Sally and Anderson and the other officers who were picking up on this mess had their way, Sherlock would be put in prison permanently. Greg couldn't think of a worse fate for a man who didn't know how to keep his mouth shut. The inmates Sherlock had put away would be gunning to kill him, and the ones Sherlock hadn't had a hand in catching would soon want to after they were treated to a first class round of 'let me deduce your life, including every private and personal thing you never wanted anyone else to know'.

Greg stopped the car. "This isn't right," he said hollowly, the first words he'd spoken since leaving Sherlock's flat. It struck him as funny in a morbid sort of way that they would be falling on deaf ears, and yet in spite of his earlier conviction that it was useless he had to try.

Sure enough, though, Sally just shot him a look that was clearly meant to pass as sympathetic. "Don't worry," she said, already reaching for the door handle. "You'll feel a lot better once you don't have to talk to him anymore. He's in your head, that's all."

"He's my mate's brother," Greg said coldly. "Family. My family."

Sally's hand froze inches from the handle, and when she turned to look at him there was a strange expression on her face. "Oh," she said. "I forgot about that. This is sort of a conflict of interest for you, isn't it? If you like, I can be the one to actually arrest him. That way you won't have to worry about the freak's solicitor trying to say that you didn't handle the situation properly."

It took a lot more control than it probably should have to keep from pushing her out of the car. Greg managed, just barely, by pressing his fist into his leg instead. He'd have a bruise there later. "Get out," he said instead, and there must have been something in either his face or his tone or both because Sally went pale and obeyed without saying anything else. She closed the door lightly and headed towards the building at a pace that was not quite a run but certainly wasn't a walk, and her head kept twitching as though she wanted to check back and see if he was following.

He didn't. He needed a few minutes to himself if he was going to come through this clusterfuck with anything resembling sanity. He dropped his head against the steering wheel and took a deep breath, wondering how it had all spiralled out of control so quickly. At this point he wasn't sure who he was more pissed off at. Sherlock for being such an arrogant idiot, Mycroft for not thinking about the consequences of what he was doing, or Sally and the rest of Scotland Yard for letting their biases colour their judgement so badly. He was half-tempted to just take off and leave them all to sort it out without him, maybe invite John along and go crash at the nearest pub for a few days. John had certainly looked like he could use a vacation that did not involve giant hounds.

Of course, that was just a pipe dream. Albeit a nice one, enough to make the corners of his mouth twitch up as he fished around for his mobile phone. He finally found it stashed in the door. There were a couple of missed calls, one of his mum and one from Mycroft. He dialled Mycroft's number and listened to it ring. When someone picked up, he said, "You're really going to owe me for this. I mean it. A blowjob's not going to be nearly enough."

"I'll be sure to pass that message on to Mr Holmes," Anthea said.

Shit. Greg could feel the embarrassed flush warming his cheeks and he let his head thud against the wheel a handful of times. "Sorry, Anthea, I wasn't expecting you to pick up Mycroft's phone."

"That's alright," she said, sounding far too amused for Greg's comfort. "Mr Holmes is in a meeting, but he left his phone here with the instruction that if you called I was to interrupt. One moment."

Greg felt like he should have told her not to bother, but he needed to talk to his mate. And since he couldn't drive the few blocks it would take to let them speak mentally without exhausting them, this would have to do. He waited quietly, listening to the sounds of the background noise, watching out his window as a few people came and left Scotland Yard. He was curious to know how long he could stay out here before Sally came to find him so that they could move things along. If staying in the car permanently would've meant he could put this off forever, he would've been willing to set up camp immediately.

"Greg?"

"Hi," Greg said, closing his eyes at the sound of Mycroft's concerned voice. Even that one word was enough to make some of the tension in his shoulders melt away.

"Are you alright?"

"I've been better." There was no point in lying, not when Mycroft had likely deduced the answer before he even said a word. He sighed. "I'm sitting outside of NSY. Sally's not letting this go. She's determined to see this through, and I know as soon as I go in they're going to want me to arrest Sherlock."

"Greg," Mycroft said softly.

"I don't want to," he said, frustration welling up inside of him. He clenched his fist and pounded it against the dash, needing some sort of outlet. "How can we fix this, Mycroft? Tell me you have something in mind."

Mycroft hesitated for only a moment before he said, "There might be. But it will not be... the sort of fix you're hoping for. I can't make everything better, Gregory. I can't make this go away."

His throat ached. Greg swallowed. "So I should go arrest your brother, then."

Again that pause, and then - "That does seem to be the wisest course of action."

Wise wasn't the word Greg would have used.

Chapter Text

In any other situation, it might've been the sort of plan that John would have admired. As it was, it took everything he had to keep from mentally lashing out at Sherlock as the details slipped into his mind. This was an argument best had in person. He clenched his hands into fists, forcing himself to remain otherwise outwardly calm until the cab had pulled up in front of St. Barts. He paid the cabbie and got out, striding into the hospital. Sherlock was waiting for him in the lab and John was glad to close the door behind him. It was a flimsy barrier between them and the rest of the world, but it was regardless some form of protection. Better yet, it would keep them from being disturbed should he give in to the urge to strangle his soul mate.

Sherlock snorted. "Please," he said, adding a twist to the movement of his wrist that nearly sent the ball he'd been bouncing soaring over his head. He caught it just in time, bringing his hand back down to his chest before he bounced it again - a little more gently this time. "As if you would try to kill me. That would only end up in your own death and you've never been the suicidal sort, John."

"Not anymore," John countered. "Not since I met you." But there had been days, before he encountered Sherlock, when the nights had stretched long and hellish and the mornings had been too quiet, and his gun was a tempting answer. It was only the knowledge that committing suicide would take a lot of energy that he didn't really possess that had kept him from actually doing so. Still, once or twice he had come close: his gun had been a comforting weight in his cupped palms more than once and Sherlock knew that.

And yet, in spite of that he would still... Fresh anger made his skin itch, a sensation he was unable to scratch, and John took a step closer. "If you were gone, though, I'm not sure what I would do."

"John."

"You'd have done it, too," John went on, ignoring the quietly voiced protest. "I know you would have. You've been sitting here for the past two hours thinking about how easy it would've been to pull the wool over my eyes if only we didn't have this bond. How many scenarios have you come up with, Sherlock? A dozen? Fifteen? It must really gall you that I have an opening into your mind, that you can't just pretend to commit suicide in front of me and then abandon me here like I don't even matter!" He was shouting by the last bit, unable to keep himself composed any longer.

"I want to protect you," Sherlock snapped. "Leaving you behind is the easiest way to do that. Moriarty won't stop until he believes I'm dead, John, and you're not a very good actor. We both know that. The kind of grief you'd need to feel, there's no way you would be capable of that. He'd see through you in an instant."

"Maybe I don't want to be protected!" John yelled back. "It's my fucking choice, Sherlock Holmes. If I want to come with you then I will!"

Sherlock paused, a hard, searching look in his eyes. "Would you want to?"

The change of pace was so unexpected that for a few seconds John floundered, staring at him. "I - what?"

"I would rather you stayed here. It's safer for you. John, once my plan has been put into action I won't be able to return to London for months. Years. Possibly never." And there was no hiding the crack of grief that oozed across their bond, like a splinter driven deep under flesh. "I need to dedicate my time to taking down Moriarty's web. It's extensive, more massive than any of us imagined, and it will take time. Until that's done, I won't be coming back. Everyone will think that I'm dead. Everyone would have to believe that you're dead."

John's head ached, the beginning of a headache he wasn't certain he'd ever be able to get rid of. He drew closer, letting his feet carry him towards his partner until he could sink down onto the floor beside Sherlock. There was barely any space between them now but it still felt like too much. "Sherlock, watching you die would kill me. You must know that."

Too fast, Sherlock's eyes dropped. John caught his chin, tilting his head back up until their eyes met and held. Gently, he said, "I love you. You're my other half, my soul mate, and I mean that literally." He shook his head, realizing that his anger had faded, leaving a sort of cold resignation in its place. "Watching you kill yourself, regardless of whether it was fake or not, would've destroyed me. Please don't ask me to do that. Don't do that to me."

"John," Sherlock said again, and now all that was left was a desperation that had been growing for the past several weeks. I can't ask this of you.

"Really?" John said, a little amused. "Because that doesn't sound like the Sherlock I know. That sounds more like Mycroft."

Sherlock made a face. "He... might have mentioned that it would be cruel to drag you along."

"Mycroft doesn't know shit and you know that. If he ever tried to pull that with Greg, he'd get his arse handed to him. And I should kick yours for even thinking about it."

"It would be safer here, John."

"I didn't move in with you because you were safe. As I recall, you said danger and I came running." John let himself smile. He could feel Sherlock relaxing a little, the tension unwinding from his shoulders bit by bit, and it pleased him. He stroked his thumb against Sherlock's cheek. "There's nothing here for me but you. Harry won't care. We haven't seen each other in ages. I never see my old army buddies. Mrs Hudson will be upset, but I know she'll understand. And if Mycroft knows, then so does Greg. Besides, if I stay here in London who will be there to watch your back and stop you from being an idiot?"

It was slight, but there it was: Sherlock smiled. "I would have. Left you behind, I mean. I wouldn't have wanted to. But I would have."

"I know." John closed his eyes because he could see it, the neatly written out plans in Sherlock's mind that would've ripped them apart. He'd never been a praying sort of man, but right then he fervently thanked god for the bond that existed between them that prevented Sherlock from being so stupid. He leaned forward and kissed Sherlock's forehead. Tell me the plan.

I'm going to jump from the roof of St. Bart's, Sherlock replied, his eyes also shut. He leaned into John's touch, soaking it up. Molly's prepared, she's willing to help. Right after I hit the ground someone's going to spray you with the perfume that will block our bond. It's a concentrated formula, won't wear off as quickly as the last one did. But John, John you have to be convincing -

I will be, John said. There was no doubt in his mind that it would be easy to be distraught. Just watching Sherlock fall from the roof would be psychologically scarring enough without the added loss of the temporary removal of their bond. He wouldn't even need to act. And then what?

A couple of days from now, you'll pretend to kill yourself.

It didn't surprise John, he'd seen it coming of course, but hearing Sherlock say so made him shiver. All those times he'd hefted his gun, preparing for the end, and now he'd be getting a taste of what it was like. And no one would even be all that surprised, because he and Sherlock had an exceptionally strong bond. It wasn't uncommon for the partner of a bonded pair left behind to commit suicide after their mate's departure, unable or unwilling to face the rest of their life alone. Some of his old army mates might look at him unfavourably for being 'weak', but John could live with that. Would easily live with it, as long as he and Sherlock were both still alive and together.

He let his mouth trail down until he found Sherlock's lips. He pressed a kiss there, soft. Just tell me what to do.

Chapter Text

Sherlock's heart was pounding as he mounted the stairs to the roof, not that he would ever be willing to admit it. The feelings washing through their bond were not helping: John's anxiety was only serving to make his own nerves that much worse and vice versa, but it couldn't be helped. John needed to present an act of complete and utter grief that was so powerful no one would dare to doubt his loss as genuine. That was the only way to protect Mrs Hudson, John and Lestrade from Moriarty's twisted little game. This plan was going to have to be perfect and that meant Sherlock had to lock his emotions away. He paused at the top of the stairs and took a moment to do just that.

It was easier said than done. Months of living with John had accustomed him to sentiment, much as the thought disturbed him. John was a very emotional person on the inside, even if he presented a proper British soldier/doctor facade to the outside. And that meant Sherlock had got used to not really having to control his emotions, as John was nothing if not persistent. Now, he did his best to remember how life was before he met John. Before he had someone who understood him all the way through, before he realized that no matter what actions he took he would always have someone who cared deeply enough about him to give up everything. Sherlock seized all of that and stuffed it as far down into the back of his mind as he could.

Only then did he reach for the knob and push the door open. Moriarty was waiting, sitting on the edge of the rooftop and gazing out over the London skyline. To anyone who didn't know who he was or what he was capable of, the scene would have been a peaceful one. Sherlock knew better. He stepped forward, letting the door swing shut behind him. It didn't matter that it locked behind him automatically, since neither of them would be going back down that way. “You’re still insisting that we play this game?” he asked coldly.

Moriarty smiled, his white teeth flashing in the sunlight. “Oh darling, you’ve just become such a bore lately that Daddy didn’t have any choice.” He stood up, straightening the collar of his coat absently. “You are the one who started this, Sherlock. In the end, their deaths will be on your hands. Unless…”

“Unless…” Sherlock slipped his hands into his pockets. His mobile phone was still there, exactly where he needed it to be. He held onto it tightly.

"It's all meaningless, you know," Moriarty said. "It really is your fault. I was interested. I had fun with you. You were a lovely distraction. Until you got boring." He turned, his face a profile against the sun. "I don't like being bored, Sherlock," he whispered. "It's time for you to entertain me again."

--

John had thought that leaving Sherlock alone in the morgue would be one of the hardest things he'd ever have to do, but as he stood on the pavement and watched Sherlock fall from the top of St. Bart's he knew that was a lie. This. This was easily the most difficult thing he would ever have to do, and that included surviving after being shot in Afghanistan. His heart pounded as he watched the lithe body plummet out of the sky towards the ground. Even though he knew Sherlock wasn't going to hit, it was still enough to make him feel lightheaded with fear. He stumbled forward on legs that did not want to work properly, eyes still glued to the place where he'd last seen his mate. He didn't see the man on the bicycle until it was too late.

It coincided perfectly, he thought later: as he sprawled on the ground, it would've been timed exactly right with Sherlock's moment of impact. He felt a light mist landing on his skin as he lay there, stunned, and it wasn't until after that he realized that the cyclist was spraying the perfume on him to block their link. As it was, he felt only a hollow emptiness where his bond with Sherlock should have been strongest. No matter how many times he told himself that it was just a ploy, a trick designed to fool Moriarty, as he staggered to his feet and stumbled along he wondered if maybe something had gone wrong. Maybe Sherlock was actually dead, maybe this terrible emptiness was the last thing he'd ever feel.

Sherlock, or – please god - a body that looked like him, was spread-eagled dramatically on the ground. John fought his way through the gathered crowd and collapsed beside him, hardly able to breathe because his chest felt so tight. His hands fumbled automatically for Sherlock's wrist, attempting to find a pulse that wasn't there. Useless though it might have been, he couldn't help reaching out with for their bond. But this time it wasn't like coming against a smooth wall. There was no wall. There was nothing. Sherlock was just... gone.

"No," he choked out, hardly aware of the tears on his face. "Sherlock."

Familiar hands landed on his shoulders, squeezing tight and pulling him to his feet. His legs gave out, refusing to hold him up, and he literally fell into Greg's arms. "Shh, John, it's okay," Greg was saying over the incredibly loud roaring in his head. There was no mistaking the devastation in Greg's eyes, but his voice - ever the detective inspector - remained remarkably calm. "Come on, let the paramedics in to do their work."

"I'm a doctor," John said.

"Yeah, I know, but you're in no shape to be doing anything right now."

"You don't understand, he - it was supposed to be -"

Greg's fingers shushed him, sliding over his mouth and pressing until he obligingly fell quiet. The crowd around Sherlock was so thick John couldn't see him anymore, but it was impossible to miss the way one paramedic straightened up and shook his head grimly. The other paramedic sighed and set his medical equipment down, and then they were a lot less gentle than they should have been when they heaved the body up onto the trolley. John, watching them, would have yelled at them for their lack of care had it not been for the warning squeeze on his arm right when he opened his mouth. He stayed quiet and the paramedics wheeled Sherlock's body into the hospital at a much slower pace than he wanted.

"Come on," Greg said, and propelled John along after them. John went blindly, his head aching and heart thumping, shaky and weak and nauseous. It was a trick, he kept telling himself, just a trick. Sherlock wasn't dead. He couldn't be.

Tender but stern, Greg directed him away from the main part of the hospital and took him into a room where there was no Sherlock and pushed him down in a chair. No Sherlock, but Mycroft was already there. Had John been thinking less clearly, he might've thought the expression on Mycroft's face could've been taken for concern. "Gregory?" Mycroft said.

"He's in shock, I think."

Mycroft sighed. "I was afraid that would happen. Sherlock and his plans. They never do work out the wall they were supposed to."

"Is that all you can say?" Greg hissed at him, sounding irrationally angry.

"What more do you want me to say?"

"How about an apology?" Greg shoved a glass of water into John's hands and then, for lack of something else to do, rested his hands on John's shoulders again. John just stared at the glass and saw Sherlock falling again, his mind conjuring up the moment when he'd hit the ground.

"Would it help?"

Greg sighed. It was loud in the otherwise empty room. "No,” he said helplessly. “It wouldn't."

Chapter Text

It didn't even take the media a full day to catch on. Within a handful of hours, that was the number one topic on all of the news stations. By the next day John couldn't walk down the street without seeing the news about Sherlock's suicide on the front page and having everyone stare at him. Not that he spent a lot of time out doors that first week. Everyone wanted to get some sort of comment from him, and after the first time he nearly punched out a journalist for being less than tactful in what he was saying about Sherlock Greg gently suggested that it might be best if he remained inside 221b as much as possible until the funeral.

That was fine with John. It was difficult to be in their flat surrounded by Sherlock's things and not have Sherlock there, but at the same time it was comforting. As far as he knew, neither Greg or Mycroft had heard from him and that was a little troubling. He clung to the theory that Sherlock was waiting for him, that as soon as John carried out his part of the plan it would be the two of them together again. Those thoughts were the ones that carried him through the worst of the nightmares, when he would wake up choking back hollow sobs because Sherlock's blood-spattered body was painted across his eyelids and there still wasn't anything coming through their bond no matter how much he strained.

On the morning of Sherlock's funeral, roughly a week and a half after the detective had jumped, John got dressed with numb fingers. Tonight was the night, the night when he was supposed to kill himself. Apparently the trauma of Sherlock's funeral was the trigger that pushed him over the edge. As dramatic as it sounded, John was certain that everyone was going to believe it. Even Mrs Hudson been looking at him strangely lately, and more than once he'd noticed her poking through the flat. He knew what she was looking for and he’d already made sure that she wouldn't find it. His gun was safely hidden away until he had need of it.

The funeral passed by in a blur, and the only thing John was really sure of was that Sherlock would have hated every moment of it. He stood in between Greg and Molly, with Mycroft on Greg's right and Mummy beside him. Molly held onto John's hand tight and cried when everyone stood up at the end, and all John could think about was that he'd never had the chance to introduce her to Bill. He looked at her kind face, knowing what had been asked of her, and knew that he would never be able to thank Molly enough for what she had done. Without her aide, Sherlock might've actually had no choice.

He hoped that Greg and Mycroft would take care of her and Mrs Hudson.

"Molly," he said, somehow not having the words to convey what he wanted to say. Her name ended up being the only thing that he could force out. Molly seemed to understand, though. More tears streamed down her cheeks, but she squeezed his hands and stepped forward to kiss him on the cheek. She smelled like vanilla, soft and clean, and her hair tickled his chin.

"He's waiting for you," she said softly, her lips brushing against his ear. "Be careful, John." And then, before he had the chance to even try to formulate an answer, she slipped out of his grip and vanished into the crowd of mourners. John stared after her. He'd never asked Molly if she had heard from Sherlock, but then that was why it would've made perfect sense for Sherlock to hide with her. No one would've thought of Molly.

For the first time in days, John actually felt alive again.

He turned to Greg. "I'm ready to leave."

Doubt flickered momentarily in Greg's eyes. He looked like he wanted to say something, but in the end he sighed and nodded. "Okay."

Instead of going to the cemetery, John went home. Mrs Hudson wouldn't be back for some time; John had encouraged her to go visit her sister to get out of London for a while and she'd agreed with some reluctance on her part. It was a relief to know that there was no chance she would be the one to accidentally discover the body. He didn't want to put her through that. It felt too cruel. No, Greg would be the one to report the suicide. The cover story was both simple and believable: he'd claim that he'd been concerned about John and stopped by after repeated calls went unanswered.

In the meantime… John didn’t even bother taking his suit off. He went into the kitchen and fetched a couple bottles of beer. “Want one?” he asked before downing half the bottle in one long swallow.

Greg raised an eyebrow but took the other, sipping at it a little more slowly. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes.” There had been enough nights for John to work out the little doubts that plagued him. He’d spent dozens of endless hours contemplating the pros and cons of pretending to commit suicide and then going off with Sherlock. In the end, it all came down to the fact that there was really nothing in London for him. Greg and Mycroft and Molly and Mrs Hudson and Harry were all important to him, but he wanted to be out there with Sherlock. He couldn’t imagine waiting around London and spending god only knew how long wondering if Sherlock was still alive, if he was hurt, if he needed someone to watch his back. John wanted to be there.

Slowly the wrinkles in Greg’s forehead smoothed out and he smiled. “I figured, but I thought that I should make sure. Take care of him John, will you? Bring the bastard back in one piece.” He held his bottle up, tipped so that John could lightly tap them together in a toast.

“Will do,” John said, grinning, and drank the rest. He felt buoyed as he watched Greg depart. He left the bottles on the counter, entirely unsurprised to see Anthea standing in the doorway when he turned back around. For once there was no sign of her blackberry. She was carrying a small, black leather case and dressed entirely in dark colours. She gently placed the case on the counter, watching him.

“Ready?” she inquired.

John nodded, a strange mixture of anticipation and nausea making his stomach churn. “Let me get my gun.”

“You won’t be using your gun. Officially you’re going to die from an overdose.”

“An overdose?” he repeated, raising an eyebrow. As a doctor an overdose was probably one of the last methods he would’ve chosen to kill himself. It seemed much easier to use his gun: one quick pull of the trigger and there would be nothing more to worry about.

Anthea shot him a look. “If you have any suggestions as to how we can realistically replicate a gunshot wound to your head when Moriarty’s man examines you, I’m all ears.”

“Oh,” he said a little sheepishly. “Right. So it’s… really going to be me, then.”

“It has to be. It’s guaranteed that at some point on your way to the morgue, someone employed by Moriarty is going to get the chance to look at you to make sure that you’re genuinely dead. It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to snag hair or saliva for identification purposes, but we can’t take that chance. If they did and the DNA proved it was not your body, all of this would be nothing.” She turned now, and John saw that she was holding a needle.

He couldn’t look away from it. “Aren’t you concerned about the report, then?”

“No. Mr Holmes has made certain that your process to the morgue will be expedient, and the doctor on duty tonight who will care for you is completely trustworthy. Overdose, as I said. All you need to do is sleep.” She indicated the needle, her expression softening just a little. “And when you wake up, all of this will be behind you.”

That was sufficient enough for John to sit down in his chair, facing Sherlock’s empty one, and allow Anthea to pull the back of his shirt up. There was a chance his arms would be examined for needle marks, so whatever it was would be injected into the back of his hip just above his right buttock. She was both quick and methodical, to the point where he wondered if she’d had previous medical training as she pinched some skin and smoothly slid the needle home. It stung a little, burning, but whatever it was worked fast. The last thing he thought about was Sherlock.

Chapter Text

The week and a half without John, without Lestrade, without any fresh cases: the days he spent cooped up in Molly Hooper's spare bedroom were the longest of Sherlock's life. It didn't help matters that Molly needed to continue acting normally, which meant that she was unable to stay at home and help keep him occupied. Every morning that she left for work Sherlock found himself hard-pressed to keep from begging her to stay, if only because it was beginning to feel like his mind was going to tear itself to shreds.

Molly felt bad for him, he could tell, but there was really very little that she could do. Chances were no one would be capable of putting two and two together and realizing that she was the one who had made the plan possible, but Moriarty was smart. It was impossible to tell who had registered on his radar, regardless of whether or not he had deemed them unimportant. The risk was not one that Sherlock was willing to take. That was why he remained silent when Molly bid him good-bye and left.

He could've donned a disguise and gone out to explore the city. He did contemplate it, once or twice. But if anyone caught so much as a glimpse of him than everything would have been for nothing. Though Moriarty's men had been called off temporarily, there was no doubt in Sherlock's mind that if awareness of the fact that he was very much alive reached their ears, arms would be taken up again. It would mean John, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson would be in renewed danger and the days spent in isolation had been wasted. Sherlock had faith in his ability to disguise himself, and yet not if it meant risking those who cared about him.

It was a strange realization to make, one morning when he was lying on the too short bed in the spare room. The ceiling was painted a ghastly shade of greyish green that resembled old vomit and liberally stained with water. He lingered on one stain in particular that looked a little like John's gun and wondered when he had changed. Because there had been a time, not too long ago, when Sherlock wouldn't have cared. He would've donned a disguise, confident in his ability to fool everyone in London, and not worried about what might happen otherwise.

Easy as it was to just point the finger in John's direction, it wasn't quite that simple. Sherlock had known Lestrade and Mrs Hudson and Molly and, of course, Mycroft long before John came into his life. John was the catalyst, though. John was the one who had torn down all of his carefully constructed walls. Before Sherlock realized what was happening he was letting people in when he'd sworn that would never happen to him. The work stopped being paramount. Suddenly there were other things that mattered, too.

Sometimes he wondered if he would have been better off never touching John. The memory of that impulsive decision stuck with him even now, that moment when he had been torn between certainty that nothing would happen and the impossible-to-squash hope that something would. And then... connections had been blown open between them, raw and whole and warm, and now the silence was pressing heavy on his head. It had never occurred to him before how quiet London really was.

He blamed that for the reason that he didn't hear Molly returning, too caught up in the silence, until she'd sat down on the edge of the bed and reached over to run her hand through his hair. Sherlock opened his eyes and peered at her. He had the blankets drawn up protectively around him and he had to tug them down to be able to see her properly. She looked tired, her face swollen from tears and free of make-up, and he cocked his head in a curious, unspoken question.

"You really didn't remember, did you?" Molly said. She sounded annoyed, but soothing motion of her hand through his hair never stopped so she couldn't have been too irritated. "It was the funeral today, Sherlock. That's why I'm back so early. It's not even time for dinner, yet." Her mouth twitched, shadows drawing the corners of her eyes, and her voice softened with accusation. "You never even noticed."

"The days are running together without anything to occupy me," Sherlock mumbled defensively. Molly snorted and smiled in spite of herself.

"What a drama queen you are. In retrospect, I'm glad that nothing happened when I handed you that coffee cup the first time. I'm not sure I could handle it inside your sulking head all the time." She withdrew her hand and picked up the hated bottle sitting on the stand right beside the bed. Sherlock scowled at the sight of it but allowed her to spray the stuff on him. Fortunately, it would be the last dose. As soon as John went under - which would be soon if the funeral was over - Sherlock could use the gel Mycroft had given him that would neutralize the effects.

He decided to ignore the drama queen comment and focus on what mattered most. "You saw John?"

"Yes, I did. I sat right next to him and held his hand. He was devestated, Sherlock. It was heartbreaking."

"He knows I'm alive, though."

"What you know up here," Molly tapped her head, "is different when you have doubt in here." She dropped her hand to her chest. "Believe me, that's how it is for everyone. Logically John knows you're alive, but he also watched you jump off a building and your bond has been dead for days. Until he sees you in person and gets to make sure, he's not going to believe it."

"But it was believable?"

Molly cocked her head. "You're really fortunate I know you better than most, or I would punch you for that. Yes, Sherlock. It was worth it." She patted him on the shoulder and got up. "John was perfectly believable. No one could look at him and believe that he was anything other than a grieving man. If I didn't have you tying up my spare bedroom, I would've followed him home and slept on the floor of his bedroom to make sure he didn't do something stupid."

Difficult as it was to hear about John's unstable emotional state, Sherlock was also relieved to hear it. That had been one of the hardest things about staying out of sight and cut off from everything: he had no idea if John was putting on a good enough act to fool Moriarty's people. Because if he wasn't, it was unlikely Sherlock would hear about it until it was too late. He sighed, relaxing just a little bit but unable to resist pushing for a few more details. "And Lestrade? Mrs Hudson? Mycroft?"

"Mrs's Hudson left to stay with her sister. I can't say for your brother, but to all appearances Lestrade is just as upset as John," Molly replied. "They really love you, Sherlock. Don't mess this up."

"I'm trying not to," Sherlock said honestly. He already had, really, considering that he was the one who had gained Moriarty's initial interest. But he was trying to make up for it. He didn't relish the thought of the next few years, even if having John with him would make the work infinitely more bearable. Dismantling Moriarty's extensive network was going to take everything they had.

"Good. See that you keep it that way. Now get out of bed. You're supposed to leave here tonight and you stink. As soon as Anthea texts me the go ahead, you're putting that gel on and then you're going to sit down and eat a proper meal whether you like it or not. You can't meet John looking like that." She wrinkled her nose as she backed towards the door. "After all the man's been through in the past few days, the last thing he needs is to see you looking like death warmed over."

"Then I don't have to get up until she texts you," he pointed out.

Molly looked like she was trying not to smile. "Get up, Sherlock Holmes. If you don't, I'm coming back with a bucket of cold water. One way or another, you're going to be clean."

He got up.

Chapter Text

John didn't so much wake up as snap instantly into consciousness the second that the renewed bond slammed into him. It was painful in a way, to go from hollow and gaping emptiness to suddenly having someone else's mental and emotional state pour into his mind like a faucet had been switched on. He jerked on the bed, writhing with pain until the onslaught gradually began to slow into something that was marginally more manageable, and even then he was left with a ferocious headache.

Something small and hard was pressed against his lips and he opened his mouth automatically, registering the pills as they were slipped inside. Then a glass was held up, the rim telling against his bottom lip, and he drank greedily, slopping water down his front in his haste. He didn't care. He pushed the glass away after the worst of his thirst had been quenched, letting his eyes slide shut in order to focus as he tentatively reached out. Sherlock?

John.

Just the sound of his name, spoken in that deep voice, was nearly enough to make John cry. Tears burned at his eyes, though he refused to let them fall. Where are you? he asked, because he couldn't quite make himself believe it until he could see Sherlock in person. Raw emotion hummed across their bond, fear and worry and relief and everything else that Sherlock would never admit to experiencing mingling into a tight ball of pressure in his chest.

We're close. We should be there shortly.

For the first time John looked around to see where 'there' was. He discovered that he was in a small room, no windows and walls painted an ugly shade of brown, that was pretty much bare except for the bed he was sitting on and a chair. Said chair was occupied by none other than Greg, who was holding the glass that John had just been drinking from. John blinked at him and Greg smiled, setting the mostly empty glass back down on the floor beside a pitcher and a bottle of pills.

"Glad to see you're awake, finally," he said. "You've been out for over twenty-four hours. I was starting to think that maybe something had gone wrong and Anthea had given you too strong a dose. Alright?"

"I can hear Sherlock," John said hoarsely, and Greg's smile turned softer at the corners.

"I figured that's why you'd suddenly come to. Don't worry, he and Mycroft aren't that far away."

They weren't close enough. John dropped his head into his hands and rubbed at his aching temples, but the physical pain was nothing compared to the desire to touch Sherlock again. He mentally clutched at his mate desperately, trying to get as close as possible in spite of the distance between them. Soothing calm trickled across their bond, but it was not nearly enough to disguise the fact that Sherlock was every bit as anxious as John was. He was just better at hiding it.

Hours seemed to pass, the car that Sherlock and Mycroft were driving in moving remarkably slow, before the brothers arrived at wherever he and Greg were holed up. John swung his legs off the bed and stood up the second he sensed Sherlock's elation, their bond surging with strength with each step closer they got. His knees buckled slightly and he wavered, a little dizzy, before Greg gripped him by the arm to keep him on his feet. John shot him a grateful glance as they took a step together towards the door. As it turned out, that wasn't necessary.

Sherlock was coming to them.

The door flew open approximately thirty seconds later and Sherlock barrelled in. In the next instant John was being tugged away from Greg and clutched against a lean chest, head tucked against reassuringly familiar material. He wrapped his arms around Sherlock's back and clung to him, dropping all of his barriers so that their bond was completely open from his end. Sherlock breathed in against his hair and, after only a moment of hesitation, did the same.

Pure emotion and longing gushed through them both, leaving them reeling to the point that Sherlock only just managed to get them both to the bed before they ended up sprawled on the floor. John soaked up everything greedily, not caring how much of a shock to the system that it was to have Sherlock roaring through his mind again. There was so much and it was so overwhelming that he knew it would take ages before he could sort through it all and understand everything Sherlock had gone through over the past week, but what little he could pick out only made him hug Sherlock that much more tightly.

You're shaking, Sherlock whispered, the words only just barely audible.

Actually I think that's you, John responded, although he suspected that there was a good chance it was both of them. It was nearly as bad as when their bond had first been formed, though at least this time they hadn't passed out. He finally tipped his head just far enough back so that he could get a good look at his mate. Much to his relief, Sherlock did not look harmed. Seeing him helped to ease the image of Sherlock'd blood spattered body that had been haunting him over the last few days.

Guilt flickered through, and Sherlock's eyes were shadowed when he said, I'm sorry, John.

And the thing was that John could tell that Sherlock really, truly meant it. He regretted having ever got involved with Moriarty; more than anything, Sherlock wished that when they'd encountered Moriarty at the pool he'd just shot him and ended everything back before it spun out of control and threatened so many people. The heaviness of Sherlock's remorse was enough to make his heart ache, and he couldn't resist trying to console the man.

No, don't apologize. You handled this as best you could. John reached up and cupped his face, pulling Sherlock down into a kiss. Sherlock opened up to him immediately, soft and pliant under John's hands, but as much as John wanted to continue he doubted there was enough time. They were probably already pushing it as it was.

When he went to pull back, Sherlock's hand slipped around his neck and kept him there for just a moment longer. And when Sherlock finally broke the kiss, it was with clear reluctance. He looked at John and spoke out loud for the first time. "You're right. We need to go."

In spite of their agreement it was another five minutes at least before Sherlock could bring himself to let go, and even then John kept hold of his hand. Greg had left the room and shut the door to give them some privacy, but he and Mycroft were waiting right outside. Mycroft looked the two of them over and said, "You need to go. Every minute you linger is another chance that someone will see you. Your plane is ready."

"Plane?" John asked, startled.

"We're going to France," Sherlock told him. "And then on to Russia."

John raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He'd never really travelled anywhere except for Afghanistan, but he supposed that now he was going to be seeing a lot more of the world. "And then?"

"It depends on what we find," Sherlock replied, sounding grim.

"Be careful," said Greg, eyeing Sherlock in particular. "Don't be an idiot, okay? The whole point of this is for you to actually be able to come home at some point, so don't do anything to fuck it up. Give them hell, but don't put yourself in too much danger." He stepped forward and swept Sherlock into a hug. Sherlock started to tense, but it was over before he had the chance to do much else.

"Hopefully we won't be gone too long," John said, since Sherlock appeared to be speechless after that little display. He looked Mycroft in the eyes, then Greg, and knew that just like with Molly he would never be able to fully express his gratitude. Without their combined efforts, Sherlock would dead. "Thank you."

"Take care," Mycroft replied simply, resting a hand on Greg's arm.

Sherlock's eyes flicked towards his brother and John didn't need their bond to know that while there were things Sherlock wanted to say, they were things he never would. He squeezed Sherlock's hand gently and took a step towards the door, pleased when Sherlock exhaled and followed. The door led to a private hangar that housed a small plane, engine already revved for take-off. John climbed the stairs first and sat down, automatically buckling his seatbelt. Because he had the window seat, he was able to catch one last glimpse of Mycroft and Greg before the plane swung around and started rolling out of the hangar.

"They'll be fine," Sherlock said unconvincingly. "Though I'm not sure anyone is going to buy the excuse that Mycroft needed a few days away to come to terms with my death."

"He loves you more than he lets on," said John, gazing at his mate as the plane took off. They were airborne. Against all odds, they had actually made it. He couldn't help sighing in relief even as he added, "They both do, much as you hate to admit it."

Sherlock made a face and didn't comment. After a couple of minutes, he said, "We're going to a small town just outside of Paris. Mycroft suspects that's where a major part of Moriarty's organization originated."

"I don't speak French."

"I do."

"Of course you do," John murmured affectionately, a little amused. He had never released Sherlock's hand, and now he brought it to his lips so that he could brush a kiss to the back of it. Despite everything, he was glad he was here.

Sherlock glanced over at him. "John..."

"Shh. You can tell me everything before we land, but for right now I just need a few minutes."

After a second of hesitation Sherlock nodded and slipped his hand free so that he could wrap his arm around John's shoulders. John leaned into him even though the armrest between them dug into his ribs. It was worth it. It was all worth it.