Chapter 1: Falling
The first time John hears about Say No to Sexual Deviancy, he doesn't consider it seriously.
He's watching BBC News at Ten when it comes on, waiting for Sherlock to get home – god only knows where the man is; it's just like him to wander off somewhere without telling anyone. 'It' is a short piece on the newly founded Say No to Sexual Deviancy Party, discussing the ethics of their policies. John listens for a few moments, his expression deepening in disgust, and then flips channels.
They aren't unheard of, these kinds of fanatical prejudice politics – Britain's got its fair share, like the National Front and the BNP and they never go far. He still feels a stab of unease, though, on Harry's behalf, that even in this day and age people persist in entertaining this medieval notion that there is something innately wrong with being gay. He consoles himself with the thought that times have changed drastically from the beginning of the twentieth century, and are still changing. Homosexuality is widely accepted, even celebrated. People who voice homophobic opinions are more often than not unceremoniously shot down. This movement will go the same way; it won't even get off the ground.
Then Sherlock stumbles through the door a second later, bleached bone white with pain and shock. The sight drives all thoughts of prejudice and politics clean out of John's mind for the time being.
He's too busy scolding, fussing and trying to deal with a copiously bleeding and ridiculously obstinate Sherlock to reflect on what he's seen until it's one o'clock in the morning, after he's bandaged Sherlock up and sent him to bed. He's exhausted and he can hear his own room calling to him from upstairs, but he lingers by the head of Sherlock's bed awhile, absent-mindedly fiddling with the covers and watching his friend turn fitfully in his sleep.
He wonders vaguely what the Say No to Sexual Deviancy Party would mean for the pair of them if it ever assumed power. It's not like anything has ever happened between them but they have a uniquely intense relationship. John supposes it's necessary when they're colleagues and friends in a business where you need to trust your partner with your life. He knows what it looks like from the outside, though. People would talk about them. Are already talking about them. He sinks down onto the bed beside Sherlock and for a minute, he toys with the idea of being forced to part with him. Moving away, getting a job and a flat elsewhere. Not being able to work with him or see him.
The rush of fury, defensiveness and devastation he feels almost unbalances him. He needs Sherlock. Sherlock needs him. This is the way things work. It's not a question of want or desire; it's a statement of necessity. He will do what it takes to stay with Sherlock and keep him safe, as long as Sherlock wants him.
It's that exact moment that Sherlock chooses to roll over and murmur, clearly and distinctly, John's name, and then John is falling.
For a brief flash, he is consumed by the idea of them together, the kind of together that could be threatened by the ridiculous Say No to Sexual Deviancy Party. But the moment passes and he wrenches himself away from the bed almost violently, breathing hard, feeling ashamed at being in Sherlock's room while he's asleep and having these kinds of thoughts. He stumbles upstairs almost blindly, without once looking back.
In his room, under his covers, it's easier for him to breathe and think straight. It's not going to happen. He never even seriously considered it. All he needs to do for Sherlock – and all he will do – is what he already does – provide a sounding board for Sherlock's insane deductions, shoot wildly at things that need shooting on cases and dole out caustic remarks when he feels the time is right. Also make tea. Sherlock is surprisingly bad at that.
He chuckles softly, already drifting off to sleep.
Chapter 2: Headlines and Revelations
Hello! For the wonderful few who subscribed to this fic, I should tell you that I shall be updating once a day - god willing, as I struggle to get to grips with this website and am currently trying my hardest not to break anything (is that even possible? Apparently so, I think I broke the notes.).
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John's second encounter with the Say No to Sexual Deviancy party leaves even less of an impression. It's just a headline in a paper when his mind is on bigger, more important things. Namely, Sherlock.
He'd like to say that the night didn't change a thing; that by morning, the nascent and somewhat disorientating feelings he uncovered are already creased and worn around the edges, evaporating in the daylight like so much of a dream. He wants to say that he fell straight back into the old familiar routine with Sherlock without a second thought. It's what he expecting to happen; it's what he wants to happen. Thing is, it doesn't.
It's like a seed, or an infection, planted in his head. It resists all attempts at pruning or restraining. Nothing John throws at it makes a blind bit of difference. He's always prided himself on being a straightforward, logical kind of man, so this germinating affection – he refuses to think of it in any other terms – is entirely baffling. John's never been attracted to a man before. Sherlock doesn't appear to be attracted to anyone, ever. Sherlock is an insufferable tit almost all of the time. It doesn't make sense.
Regardless of logic, regardless of sense, he still falls asleep at night and dreams of Sherlock.
For the first week, though, it's okay. Acceptable. He's struggling to come to terms with it but it's easy to divorce his feelings from his interactions with Sherlock and he's almost a hundred percent sure that Sherlock has no idea of his internal conflict, for which he is more grateful than he can say. He's not blind. He's seen the way Molly Hooper looks at Sherlock and he's damn sure seen the way Sherlock treats Molly Hooper. John has absolutely no desire to be downgraded from 'friend and colleague' to 'irritating hero worshipper'. So he clamps down on this new and confusing development – hard – and throws himself into the cases that arise with everything that he has.
Which makes it even more galling that his undoing stems from something so small. Every-day, really. It's been a week of non-stop cases and it's their first day of rest but Sherlock isn't satisfied – obviously not, John thinks grimly, the man doesn't need rest like us mortals do – so he's curled up on the sofa fully dressed while John skims the news for any developments they can look into.
'Run up to the elections this year, Labour looking to do well.'
John scans the next headline and grimaces. This again.
'Rise in violence against the homosexual community linked to support for new extremist party.'
Sherlock waves a lazy hand in the air.
'Politics. Not my area. Moving on.'
'Uh... Medical breakthrough for the nerve disorder CRPS.'
'Oh, John. Come on. Give me something decent, for the love of god.'
'There's a cat... that can play the bassoon?'
Sherlock's patience snaps entirely.
'Please, John. That's not a crime, that's a travesty. The only way that's getting me off this sofa is if someone kills the fool who mistook a cat playing a bassoon for a feasible news story. And then only so I can congratulate the killer.'
John huffs in pretended exasperation, but he's grinning and secretly pleased. He's had his eye on a particularly intriguing headline ever since he picked up the paper, but the opportunity to tease Sherlock rarely arises and he's enjoying it. Irate Sherlock can be hilariously cutting when he puts his mind to it and his recent injuries have left him more cantankerous than ever. There's also a small part of John which he's trying to firmly quash that's enticing him to prolong the news search so he can hear Sherlock repeat his name – soft J, open O, strong N. He likes the way it sounds in Sherlock's mouth.
Stop right there. Stop thinking, just stop. Dangerous territory. Moving on. The headline.
'Hey, how about this? Double homicide in Chelsea. Middle of the night, nothing on CCTV, but when the neighbours came around in the morning, all the doors and windows were hanging wide open.'
There's a beat of silence as Sherlock processes the information.
'…it says wide open? Not just slightly open, but wide open?'
John consults the paper again, grin widening. Gotcha.
'Apparently so, yeah.'
Sherlock deliberates for less than a second before vaulting from the sofa like a jack-in-the-box to rip the newspaper from John's hands. It takes him less than a minute to scan the article for the relevant information, pacing madly up and down, while John watches and waits, sipping his tea. It's a feeling akin to giving a child a toy at Christmas, John thinks, a feeling only emphasised when Sherlock's face reappears from behind the paper with a mad grin plastered all over. John can't help chuckling a little in response.
'Well, John. What are we waiting for? Leave your tea, grab your coat and let's be off.'
And then he reaches down to take the teacup from John's hands.
It's this simple movement that is John's undoing. The brush of Sherlock's fingers against his own is unexpected, unforeseen, all the more potent for it. He freezes instantly in his chair, feelings painted in a blush that spreads all across his face: a blush that only deepens when he sees Sherlock's gaze, previously distant with anticipation and suspense, narrow in confusion at John's response.
A question. An exhalation. A confession. It's so quiet John's not sure, but he can't respond anyway. For the life of him he wouldn't know what to say. Sherlock's eyes hold his, rooted to the chair as he is with shock and embarrassment but Sherlock keeps looking and he's humming humming humming under Sherlock's gaze and he can't bring himself to look away. Sherlock moves closer, oh ever so slowly, lips slightly parted and his fingers brush against John's for the second time, hesitantly, questioningly and oh god oh god John is falling all over again.
When the phone starts to ring, John is so close to Sherlock that he can see the vibrations through Sherlock's suit. It's a harsh, gaudy noise in a moment where the two men are barely breathing and it shatters the silence like a stone into glass; splintering, fragmenting, bringing John back into reality. The two break apart in a crack that John swears he can almost hear.
Sherlock leaps back, scrabbles in his pocket for his phone and begins to talk at top speed. John bounds up, keeping his distance from Sherlock and hurtles into the kitchen to deal with his cup.
And that's it.
If John thinks dealing with these feelings was difficult before, it's positively brutal now. The silence lasts a day, which stretches to two, and then a week has passed and they haven't talked about what happened – or almost happened – at all. In their silence it grows to unimaginable proportions, fills all the spaces between their sparse conversations; some unsaid thing which they feed with their reluctance to talk. He and Sherlock become opposing magnets - they don't touch, not even slightly, and it drives John to distraction. He was alright dealing with it when it was just him, unrequited, some kind of crush that would wither and fade without reciprocation. But their shared silence, Sherlock's refusal to discuss what happened – even to tease John about it – bolsters his infatuation to the point where when he falls into bed at night, his dreams are filled with the humming humming humming that he felt under Sherlock's gaze. It's the not knowing that exhausts him, really – is he sparing my feelings? Does he feel the same way? Does he not want the hassle of dealing with another besotted fan?
A week of this and John feels like he's about to explode. Between his fitful, dream-ravaged sleep, the effort of being constantly on guard against touching Sherlock and dealing with a stupidly complicated murder case, he is entirely exhausted. And he misses Sherlock. The man will barely look at him and barely speak to him. John's at his wits' end trying to figure out how to repair the damage, or at least build a bridge so that Sherlock can meet him halfway.
Something, John thinks, as he swallows down a comment to Sherlock, for what feels like the thousandth time, has got to give.
Chapter 3: Deductions
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Thanks as always to you the reader, for deciding to give this a chance, and to all you who subscribe and kudos - your support is wonderful!
His third encounter with the Say No to Sexual Deviancy takes the form of an empty beer can to the head.
John doesn't see it coming. One moment it's late evening and they're walking side by side down the pavement from a crime scene, discussing some surprising new evidence – Sherlock's not half as enthusiastic as he usually is, John notes almost guiltily – and next the world is spinning, the pavement sliding beneath his feet, pain blossoming at his temple. He staggers away from Sherlock, putting his hand to his head, and feels a vague kind of surprise when it comes away bloody.
He doesn't understand until he hears the drunken laughter and shouts bleeding like poison from the alleyway to his left.
'Haha, got him. Nice one.'
'See if you can hit the tall skinny one next.'
John's mind goes to Sherlock and his hands towards the gun in his pocket, but for the first time in a week Sherlock is looking at him, actually, properly looking at him, and he's motioning for John to leave the gun alone so John swallows hard and forces his hands away. The next can soars out of the alleyway towards Sherlock, but he crouches in one smooth motion, inspecting something on the floor, so it clears his head and skitters into the road. John looks at the spot Sherlock's studying, but he doesn't see until Sherlock holds up the crumpled can that hit John, anger etched into the lines of his face. He stands up, bouncing the can in his hand, and strolls towards the mouth of the alleyway. John follows behind, clenching his fists.
In the dim light from the streetlamps, John can see that the can-throwers are teenagers, three of them. They've turned away and the sound of their drunken laughter echoes off the alley walls. There's a blur of motion at his side and Sherlock's can hits the bin next to them with a clatter, but it's not loud enough to get them to turn so John takes it upon himself to do the honours.
The group falls silent, and they all turn. Sherlock flashes John a quick one-sided grin, and steps forward into the alleyway.
'Excuse me. I think there's something we need to clear up with you.'
One of the teenagers laughs mockingly, and the rest chime in. Images rise in front of John's eyes: Harry, bruised and bleeding and stumbling through the door. Sherlock, quietly grimacing at Donovan's liberal use of the word 'freak' when he thinks nobody is looking. He makes a concentrated effort to stay still and keep his hands off the gun. He hates bullies, drunken or sober.
'We're not interested in anything you have to say, gayboy.'
'Not that you'll be saying much after the Say No people deal with you.'
'You and your boyfriend will be too scared to say anything at all.
John's still a little way back so he can't see the look on Sherlock's face, but he imagines it's something fairly terrifying to behold from the way the teenagers stop laughing and begin to sidle backwards, sobering up a little. When Sherlock begins to speak, it's quiet, but the power and the threat in his voice gives John an inkling of what the group is seeing displayed on Sherlock's face.
'Scared? Of people like you? No, you're mistaken. Not scared. I pity you. Let me tell you why. Because when you look at John, you don't see what I see. You could, if you weren't more spineless, brainless and senseless than the average idiot. But you don't, which is why you dared, you dared to throw something at him. I pity you, because when you see splendour, when you see beauty like John, what do you do? You make it bleed. You can't appreciate it like I can. And I think that's sad.'
John's finding it difficult to breathe as Sherlock advances down the alleyway, step by step, coat billowing. Confusion and hope bubble up in his chest, threatening to spill out of his mouth in a waterfall of questions. Beauty? Splendour? Sherlock, what?
'Right. You first.' Sherlock motions towards a blonde girl on his left. 'I see you're the one who threw the can at John. Why? Oh, I see. Your mother's bisexual… and she left your father for another woman, so you've developed some kind of homophobic complex and adopted this Say No fanatic belief system concerning homosexuals as a coping mechanism because you're angry. How illogical of you. John didn't cheat on your father.'
'Now you.' Sherlock spins on his heel, nodding towards a gangly boy on the right, leaving the girl gaping. 'Ah… homosexual tendencies. Strong ones, too. You've joined the group for protection, to hide your little identity crisis. Oh, didn't get around to telling your friends yet? Well, you don't have to worry about that anymore.'
'And finally, you,' He indicates a second boy with a sweep of his arm, while the first boy explodes. 'So it's better to be like you, is it? Absolutely infatuated with this one-' he jerks a thumb towards a girl, 'and it's been a good year since you realised, I'd say. You haven't said anything to her yet? Yes, I'm sure that compared to me and John you must feel so superior in your domestic bliss.'
John watches as Sherlock pauses. Turns towards John, catches John's eyes. Begins to walk, tossing words like coins over his shoulder as he goes. He speaks to the group, who are by John's reckoning too involved in accusations and drunken breakdowns over Sherlock's deductions to pay much attention, but his eyes never leave John's face and the intensity John sees makes him shiver.
'Although, it's possible I'm being unfair. I must confess I've kept silent on some feelings of my own recently. It's difficult, I must admit, when you're not entirely sure of the amenableness of the intended party to… er, reciprocity.'
He stops a metre away, shifting uneasily from foot to foot. There's a question in his tone and a vulnerability in his eyes that makes John realise just how much Sherlock's putting on the line with this bold statement. So he smiles and nods, emphatically, and is rewarded with a slight softening of Sherlock's eyes and mouth and his somewhat breathless response:
'I was hoping you might say that.'
John's heart is somersaulting wildly in his chest as Sherlock moves closer, eyes fixed on John's, hands seeking John's waist. Then there's no space at all between them and they're kissing and it's scraping teeth and awkwardly moving mouths but it's Sherlock, it's Sherlock, it's Sherlock and for that he wants to sing. He's aware of Sherlock's hand coming up to cradle the back of his head and his own hands gently cupping Sherlock's face, mapping Sherlock's skin inch by inch, and he's overcome by how right it feels to be here in this bizarre situation, kissing this man in a darkened alley while a group of drunken homophobes watch on in what he suspects, from the abrupt cessation of panicked babbling, is deeply shocked silence.
All too soon Sherlock pulls away, grinning mischievously and John thinks somewhat dazedly that he looks how just how John feels – entirely, completely, blissfully happy. Sherlock gently wipes the blood from John's temple with his sleeve, John jumping at his touch – God, John thinks, this man will be the death of me – and turns back towards the teenagers, who appear to be in varying states of quickly-sobering shock.
'I really should congratulate you,' he calls in a relaxed and friendly tone, 'for your work here tonight. Really well done. See, you've just witnessed the birth of a homosexual couple. Up until you threw that can at John, I was having some difficulty deciding what to do about this man but seeing you cause him harm was the clincher. So I really have to thank you for all your help.'
John's laughing as Sherlock turns to him and grabs his hand with a dramatic flourish, towing him out of the alleyway.
'Come along, John. We should be going home.
Chapter 4: Murder
Currently an actual hot day in England so I am dying by the wayside of my computer due to overheating, but my love for you for your giving this fic a chance and your kudosing and subscribing drives me onwards :D THANK YOU.
After John's fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh experiences of homophobia, they begin to bleed together in his mind, so he stops counting.
He's expecting it to some degree when he's so open about the shift in his relationship with Sherlock, particularly from Anderson and Donovan. He and Sherlock deal with them in the same way they always do: sarcasm, condescension or pointed ignoring. He's a bit more shocked by the high levels of hostility they receive from people who don't even know them, people in the streets and at crime scenes who jostle and heckle when he and Sherlock display the slightest bit of affection in public view.
But, as John repeats to himself, the people who mind don't matter, and the people who matter don't mind. In fact, the people who matter are over the moon. Molly cries, as does Mrs Hudson. Stamford is overwhelmingly smug. Lestrade claps him on the shoulder and shakes Sherlock's hand. Mycroft, in a rare show of sentiment, embraces John. It would be awkward, but John can hear the thread of sincerity wrapped around Mycroft's voice as he wishes them the best of luck together and he suspects Mycroft is more moved by this new development than he wants to let on. In any case, their combined support goes a fair way in alleviating the hollow feeling he gets at the pit of his stomach whenever anyone shouts after them that the Say No party is going to 'sort them out.'
And then there's Sherlock.
Without a shadow of a doubt, John is firm in his conviction that Sherlock is worth a thousand toxic stares, a million little dirty comments, and beyond. In the beginning, he can't take it for granted and he's constantly forgetting about the change in their dynamic. His heart jumps every time Sherlock touches him affectionately, like an electric shock, like a shockwave reminder and he has to stop what he's doing and just take it in. There is Sherlock taking his hand. There is Sherlock playing with his hair. There is Sherlock kissing his fingertips, smiling up at him, sketching over the lines on his palm with a feather-light touch. When Sherlock kisses him, John feels like he's falling and he never wants to stop.
It's not traditionally perfect. Sherlock's still an insufferable arse a lot of the time and John's patience for it is still the same as ever. But John almost prefers it this way. It's them. And he doesn't like to gush, but he feels like its imperfections make it – well, perfect. For them, anyway. They're two differently shaped pieces of a beautiful puzzle and although they get it wrong a lot of the time, when they fit together it takes John's breath away and he doesn't think he'll ever get enough of it.
For all that, it takes just three months for the Say No party to seep its way through the cracks into their relationship.
John is affected by the homophobia from the beginning. The insults he and Sherlock receive hold echoes of words he heard a lifetime ago, hurled at Harry like stones, and he still remembers clearly the way Harry flinched as if the gibes were almost solid. But Sherlock is different. John's looked on in fascination and respect as Sherlock glides blithely past the abuse and the jeers, seemingly impervious to everything that's been thrown at them since that first incident in the alleyway. John rides through it at Sherlock's side with the sound of Sherlock's confidence in his ears and the feel of Sherlock's hand in his, lending John strength. Somewhat like a child, John feels better knowing they can't touch him when Sherlock is with him.
Sherlock struggles to hide how much it affects him, though, when it's three months on, standing at the side of a murdered gay man on a tube platform.
It's gruesome, John's got to admit, and that's a lot coming from a seasoned soldier. Even Lestrade visibly pales on approaching the victim. John finds he can't stand more than a few seconds of looking at the corpse so he approaches Sherlock, who has wandered a few feet away, inspecting something red on the ground, to ask what he thinks about the whole thing.
Sherlock's face is like iron and when he speaks aloud his voice makes John's blood run cold and John doesn't blame him because he can't stop looking at the graffitied words on the ground that have seemingly burned themselves in stark crimson into the backs of his retinas. Ugly words. Homophobic words. He closes his eyes, but he can't stop seeing them, can't stop hearing them repeated in Sherlock's voice. He feels Sherlock's hand latch onto his and grips back, hard; harder when he feels Sherlock shaking.
John waits, breathing deeply, until Sherlock's hand has stopped trembling. Then he tows the man quietly towards Lestrade so they can tell him their suspicions and get the hell out of there. John details the wounds and the cause of death and Sherlock's voice, raw and quiet, describes the particulars he's deduced about the murderer and informs him of his suspected motive. About the homophobic slur scrawled on the ground. Lestrade blanches further and doesn't waste any time calling Anderson and Donovan over to tell them about Sherlock's suspicions, but before he walks off to inspect the graffiti for himself, he gives them both a slight push towards the exit and a kind smile.
'Alright guys, you can go. You've done enough here.'
They leave in silence. The taxi ride is tense and strained and John's pretty sure neither of them breathe comfortably until they've shut the door behind them at Baker Street.
When they're up in the flat, John runs his hands through his hair and turns to Sherlock, intending to say – what, exactly? He's not sure, can't remember, because the moment he moves Sherlock lunges for him. They hit the sofa in a tangle of arms and legs and Sherlock is kissing him frantically and John's kissing him back, desperate to erase the thought and sight and sound of the crime scene and replace it with something sweeter.
And it works, because nothing, John thinks, pressing his lips to Sherlock's collarbone, tastes sweeter than Sherlock. When he kisses Sherlock, it's something like tea and excitement and fresh air and curiously, honey. He wants to continue the thought, but he's distracted by the way Sherlock looks at him, by the way his own hands shake when they pull off Sherlock's shirt and skim his torso and ribs and the way Sherlock's fingers trace the outline of his lips, of his scar, of his hipbone almost reverently. It reads like a love letter written in body language, Sherlock writing poetry over John's skin with lips and fingers and John can't help but respond in kind.
Afterwards, they curl up together on the sofa, John's back pressed against Sherlock's belly and Sherlock's face buried in John's hair, and they talk. Sherlock grips him tight around the chest and confesses that as soon as he saw the graffiti he couldn't stop picturing John in the place of the corpse. John keeps still and silent for a minute before swearing that he'll allow it to never happen but Sherlock has to promise the same - because if Sherlock ever lets anything like that happen to himself, John will find him and bring him back to life just so he can kill him all over again for being so careless. Sherlock laughs and presses a kiss to the top of John's head and John can feel its warmth all the way down to his toes.
Lestrade calls and John scrambles for the phone. They've caught the murderer. He's confessed. Neither John nor Sherlock say anything, but they're holding each other close during the phone call and John feels the tension drain from Sherlock's body just as Sherlock feels it drain from John's.
They cut the call and fall asleep pressed together head to foot.
Chapter 5: Spiralling
Angst warning; it's beginning to set in. Don't expect fluff for a fair while, but then I never promised a happy story. Gods, I sound like Lemony Snicket. I promise it's not all bad, just a little, for a time. Now it's two in the morning so I should stop typing and go to bed.
Thanks to you, the reader, as always, for giving this fic a chance.
The next six months pass in a series of strange leaps and bounds for John, who watches with an ever-increasing sense of disbelief as the world goes to pot.
It's like the first murder opens the gates of a flood. Britain goes insane; literally, insane. They take case after case after case that involve crimes perpetrated against homosexuals and John sees his own emotions mirrored on face after face after face: disbelief, slowly sanded away by the harsh realisation that this is reality now. They are not safe, because they are not heterosexual.
The Say No to Sexual Deviancy Party is everywhere they go. Their views are parroted on the streets, discussed on the radio, dissected on talk shows. Their leader, Jim Moriarty, becomes a household name and his profile is splashed across t-shirts and mugs and the posters that appear everywhere around the city.
At first, the reaction from the media is almost unanimously negative. It's the fanatics, the outsiders who commit the crimes and who view the party as a godsend. But then the violence spreads from the homosexual community to those who support the idea of sexual equality and newsreaders and journalists who condemn the Say No party and their homophobic policies come under attack. Despite Jim Moriarty's repeated denial of the link between their party and the violence, it's like a secret everybody knows: put down the party and your safety is forfeit. The undercurrents of violence and hatred and the fear of reprisals become strong enough to sway a tide, and sway a tide they do.
And it affects John and Sherlock in the extreme.
There's the time they crack a case involving a well-known television presenter, one of the great royal families of Europe and a terrorist cell in Australia, and it leaks to the press.
It's not the first time they get media attention for a case, but it's certainly the first time media attention has been so focused on their relationship. It's like a match to gunpowder. People heckle them in the streets, on the blog, on Sherlock's website, at work.
They start to take precautions. They don't kiss outside of the apartment. They don't even hold hands. They walk a foot apart from each other whenever they go anywhere together. They don't laugh too hard, smile too loud or look too long at each other. It takes a toll on their relationship, inevitably. John's impatience and anxiety and Sherlock's recklessness and disregard for others become magnified by the extreme situation and they're arguing more often than ever. John would be worried, but whenever he leaves the apartment to get some air, he always comes back to Sherlock's silent apology: a cup of tea, a space on the sofa, an embrace.
When they find the graffiti on the front door John starts to carry his gun with him everywhere he goes.
There's the time John gets the phone call from Harry.
They're at a crime scene in central London and Sherlock's demolishing a witness when John's phone rings. He's got to excuse himself and walk away because Harry's crying so hard she's almost incoherent and it takes him five minutes to talk her down to the point where she's able to choke out her reason for calling.
'I'm getting married.'
Before John's got the chance to even think about formulating a reply, she adds,
'To a man.'
And that tells John all he needs to know. She hasn't mentioned his name, or how they met, or when the wedding is, or what the guy is like, because it's not really important. She's getting married to a man because he is a man, and if she's married then nobody can beat her up or kill her for being a lesbian.
John is trembling with fury. He's angry at everyone. He's angry at Great Britain, a society of supposed equality and freedom where people like Harry have to get married to others they don't love to feel safe. He's angry at Harry, however irrationally, for taking this way out rather than running the gauntlet and being herself like John is with Sherlock. He's angry at himself for not being able to protect her from this kind of thing. The phone call makes him feel like he's ten years old again and watching from the side-lines as the kids at school tease her.
He forces a fake note of jollity into his voice and congratulates her, then hangs up and punches the wall.
There's the time Lestrade calls them into his office. The last time.
John knows what it's about as soon as he sees the look on Lestrade's face: guilty, uneasy, tense. John's not naïve. He's been waiting for this to happen. But that doesn't make him any happier about it, so he cuts in before Lestrade can say anything, making sure to keep his tone neutral.
'You're firing Sherlock, because he reflects badly on you.'
Lestrade's face twists into a grimace at the iron self-control evident in John's voice and he begins to tap anxiously on the desk.
'Look, John, don't be like that. We're not even firing you, not really. It's just for a bit, yeah? Just until all this calms down.'
Sherlock has none of John's inhibitions and his tone is low and vicious.
'And when exactly do you suppose that's going to happen, Detective Inspector?'
'It'll take as long as it takes, and I'm sorry Sherlock but you really can't come back here in the meantime.'
Sherlock approaches the desk slowly and deliberately and leans towards Lestrade, forcing the man to look him in the eyes.
'You're in a relationship with Mycroft, and you're discriminating against us? You hypocrite.'
John's noise of surprise is drowned out by the crash of Lestrade's chair as he bursts out from behind his desk. His face has clouded from guilty to angry with the mention of Mycroft's name and he's practically spitting at Sherlock.
'Shut up, Sherlock. Just shut up. He's got nothing to do with what's going on here. It's got nothing to do with you. Do you think I want to have to do this? Just shut up, just go, both of you.'
They go. John's last glimpse of Lestrade before the door swings shut is of the man bent over his desk, halved with grief and fear. John would be sorry, but he's not. He and Sherlock are living this too.
There's the time John finally realises how badly this is affecting Sherlock.
Being cooped up in the house is good for neither of them. There's been another argument and he's gone out for a night with Stamford, but it ends early because neither of the two men really know what to say to each other. He climbs the stairs quietly and pauses just outside the door, watching Sherlock, who's curled up in his chair with his eyes fixed on the TV. He's concentrating pretty fiercely on the screen and John's confused by the level of his intensity – and quietness, Sherlock's forever correcting the TV – until he hears the voice that fills his ears, saccharine, slick and nauseating.
'…obviously we don't condone any of the violence that has been demonstrated towards the so-called homosexual community. My party is constitutional and doesn't need to resort to such methods to prove that it's wrong to be homosexual.'
John recognises it instantly. It's the voice of Jim Moriarty, the leader of the Say No party and the man whose voice and views have been dogging John's footsteps for months. As he listens, the hair on the back of his neck stands up and his hands curl into fists. The man is talking about his policies and it's worse than he could have imagined.
A ban on any and all homosexual activities. No pro-homosexual literature or media to be published with severe repercussions for those who do not conform. Confirmed homosexuals to be publicly named and monitored to prevent recidivism. John supposes he and Sherlock fit right into this category. When Moriarty begins to talk about 'correctional clinics' for those who do not repent, Sherlock throws the remote at the screen hard enough to make a loud crack and curls up into a ball. John listens closely, and to his astonishment he thinks he can make out the sound of Sherlock crying.
It's so unexpected that it feels like the ground beneath his feet is shifting. This isn't right. Sherlock isn't meant to do this. He's the strong one, the impervious one, the one who doesn't care about the opinions of anyone else. That he should be reacting this way is fundamentally wrong, like waking up in the morning to find that gravity's stopped working.
He pulls himself together - Sherlock's crying and he's just standing there. He takes a deep breath, coughs, and makes a show of entering the kitchen and putting on the kettle, giving Sherlock enough time to collect himself before going over to greet him and apologise with a quick kiss and a cup of tea.
John doesn't say anything about what he's seen, but he's extra patient with Sherlock that night, even when he finds the tongues in the freezer. He feels the same way.
They don't talk about it, but they're both looking for the light at the end of the tunnel; something to prove to them that not everybody feels the same way towards them that the Say No party does. And they find it in a day, less than a month away. November 16th – the day of the general election.
Surely, John thinks, in this age of reason and common sense, a secret ballot vote will point the way towards a party that doesn't subscribe to the homophobic agenda, and the Say No people will have the wind taken out of their sails, maybe enough that they can go back to work.
Or at least, he hopes.
Chapter 6: Elections
The world outside has stopped making any kind of rational sense, so Sherlock and John spend the last week before the elections entirely indoors.
For distraction, John cracks out board game after board game, totally taken aback by Sherlock's almost childlike affection for them. Watching his face light up when John blows the dust off an old copy of 'Sorry' is almost worth the routine humiliation of Sherlock kicking his butt in every single game.
After all, it's not like they've got anything else to do for the time being but wait it out. Their situation isn't a case to be cracked with some clever deductions and a late-night cab chase – there's no mystery here. The cause and consequence are simple, and for once neither Sherlock nor John has the power to change anything about the situation. It doesn't help that tensions are so high that they can't even leave the flat. Last time John tried, even in broad daylight, he stumbled back into the flat two minutes later shaking from head to toe. He wouldn't tell Sherlock what they yelled at him, no matter how much the man pressed him.
The television tells them they're not the only ones: in fact, their relative obscurity means they're getting off pretty lightly. Elton John was jumped after leaving a club in the dead of night on his own, and left with serious injuries. John Barrowman's house was besieged for two days by protesters and Say No supporters. It's when the newsreader reports Simon Amstell's murder that Sherlock switches off the television and breaks the remote. John can't move for the longest time. He just stares at the blank screen, running the words over and over in his head, and wonders what happened to all the sane people in the world. He almost wants to laugh but he thinks if he does he'll start crying instead, so he pulls Sherlock close and they sit together in silence.
But they've got plans. The middle of the night has seen them huddled under the covers in Sherlock's room, talking about favours owed and far-flung countries and places where the stain of the Say No party hasn't seeped into the fabric of society. It's somewhat of a reassurance to John to know that if all goes to hell in a hand-basket, there will be somewhere for them to go, something for them to do rather than hide at Baker Street for the rest of their lives. Because as much as he cares about Sherlock, a full week of him with tensions and nerves stretched to breaking point is almost enough to drive them both crazy, board games or no board games.
In a way, it's a relief when the morning of November 16th finally dawns, just for the sheer knowledge that the wait is over; one way or another, something is going to happen. They don't say much as they drift through their morning routines: getting dressed, putting on the tea, making toast. It's surreal and John thinks he could almost be mistaken in believing it was a normal day, if it wasn't for the travel bags that lie piled by the door, the letter penned by Mycroft and the train tickets burning a hole in his pocket. Just in case.
When the time comes, they switch on the radio and sit side by side on the sofa. Sherlock's face is inscrutable and his feet tap the floor without ceasing until John takes his hand and leans up, very gently, to brush a kiss onto his lips.
'Whatever happens, we stick together, right?'
A tremor crosses Sherlock's face as he struggles to keep his composure. Takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes. Presses his forehead to John's and speaks.
'I will not lose you over some nonsensical political party, John. I will not.'
John smiles tentatively and squeezes Sherlock's hand.
'Good. Right. Just so that's clear. Hey, Sherlock-'
But John doesn't finish what he's going to say. He doesn't even remember what the words were a second later because the ground is falling away from his feet at the sound of Moriarty's voice echoing around the flat, issuing from the radio.
This is wrong. It's not possible, John thinks. But it's him all the same.
'My name is Jim Moriarty. Hi! I'm the leader of the Say No to Sexual Deviancy Party, and now, of Great Britain. I'd explain to you what's going on, but none of you ordinary folk really need to know the situation, apart from this – and this is directly for you, self-proclaimed homosexuals of Britain – this is no longer a democracy. Things are going to be very different around here from now on. Ciao, citizens. Have a nice day.'
The static buzzes gratingly in the wake of Moriarty's speech. John is staggered. It's too much. He doesn't understand what's going on. Where are the votes? Where are the constituencies? What happened to fair politics and democracy and the secret ballot? What the hell happened to this country for a lunatic like Moriarty to be put in charge?
He doesn't realise he's spoken aloud until Sherlock answers him.
'It's a takeover.'
John looks up at him. Sherlock looks like he's been cuffed around the head. His eyes are focused someplace else entirely and his voice sounds like it's coming from a long way away.
'They've taken over the government. There's no democracy, no more voting system or multiple parties. Just the one. The Say No party.' His voice cracks. 'I should have seen this coming. A fanatic party like this: they want power but they'd never be able to gain the appropriate number of votes, so they use violence, fear and a hostile takeover to secure supremacy. The government is over.' His eyes narrow in the direction of John's jacket pocket. 'Mycroft.'
John's phone begins to ring. He doesn't even ask how Sherlock knows who it's going to be, just fishes it out, checks the name on the screen and hands it over. But they're both wrong; it's not Mycroft, although it is his number.
It's Anthea, and she spares just a minute to tell them that Mycroft and Lestrade have already been arrested before hanging up.
Sherlock hears it all and doesn't waste a second. He's got John's hand in his and is towing them both out of the flat door and down the stairs, bags in hand, before John's brain registers what's really going on. He tears his hand from Sherlock's as they reach the bottom hallway.
'Sherlock. There's no democracy. There's just a party that essentially either wants us straight or dead. We're well known for being in a non-heterosexual relationship and there aren't many places we can go that we won't be recognised. In fact, they actually know where we live. We were counting on your brother to take us out of the country if everything went wrong, but he's already been taken in by the government so he can't help us at all. Tell me, Sherlock, is there anything I've missed, or are we really as screwed as we think we are?'
Sherlock turns to face John and his eyes are burning. He crosses the distance between them in two steps and then he's hauling John off his feet and kissing him desperately like he's drowning and John is the air he needs to breathe. They break apart after a minute and Sherlock holds John firmly.
'We are not screwed, John. We have each other. We will figure this out.'
John stares back at Sherlock.
'They're coming for us, aren't they? What are we going to do?'
Sherlock opens the front door and pulls John through into the daylight.
Chapter 7: Running
So this chapter was a little late, because there was a scuffle in the comments that I wanted to work out (thanks infinitely, bergergrey).
I think I should mention here, for those of you reading this far - I assume you know this already because you haven't called me out on it - but this is categorically NOT a story designed in any way to promote homophobia. My intent was the opposite: I wanted it to be cathartic, about overcoming and making a difference.
I'm not that far yet, but I will get there, I promise you that. Things have to get bad to get good again. But I can promise you that to the best of my abilities I will treat this subject with respect. If you feel I'm not doing this, please feel free to message me and I'd be delighted to talk.
Okay. All done. Barring unforeseen obstacles, normal posting should resume.
And how they run.
On and on, never stopping. Part of him loves it; the feel of Sherlock’s hand in his, the never looking back, the close calls – oh, there have been plenty of those – and the intensity it gives to his life, and his relationship with Sherlock. It’s like living life at double speed. After a while, he almost doesn’t remember what it’s like to live without feeling constantly on edge, alert, with the pulse of adrenaline beating through his veins. It becomes a part of him, bound with the part that misses the war, that pulls the trigger, that loves the chaos inside of Sherlock.
Still, part of him hates it. It’s intense, but it’s draining. Nothing is constant. They’re always swapping names, swapping hair colours, swapping clothing styles – John could swear that Sherlock even swaps his walking gait and posture. There’s no looking back, but there’s always looking over his shoulder. And there’s a voice in his head, quiet but insistence, that speaks of Baker Street, of home and cups of tea and a singular, warm bed to sleep him with Sherlock at his side, and it itches.
But they can’t go back, so they keep moving forwards.
Molly’s. Irene’s. Stamfords. And beyond. After a while, John no longer recognises the faces that open the door to them, but they recognise Sherlock, and that’s enough. He’s amazed by the number of favours that Sherlock is able to call on to cadge them places to hide. All this time, all this running, and he is confident that they’ve never stayed more than once in a single place. It reaffirms his faith in people, just a little bit.
Not everybody is as lenient, though. While some are bent on helping, others are focused on finding and arresting them – and it’s not just Say No party members on the lookout, but ordinary citizens too. In a world where people are being taken off the streets for a swift hug, a brush of the hand, even a wrongly timed compliment, the very existence of John and Sherlock as a couple is an inexcusable error, and one that many are keen to rectify. And it isn’t like people are unaware of their presence – they’re the ‘gay detectives’, the ones who solved impossible crimes. Fairly well-known even before the explosive takeover of the Say Nos.
A famous duo, still; even when on the run. John knows in his heart of hearts that staying together is only increasing the chance that they’ll get caught. Their renown in this time, after all, comes from being a couple. Despite this, only once do they ever try splitting up.
It’s in the wake of Stephen Fry’s sensational arrest and with the sudden surge of enthusiasm for reports and sightings, it’s become too dangerous for them to call on favours like they usually do. Instead, Sherlock picks an apartment building and jimmies the lock of a flat with the lights out. John thinks it’s a random choice until he sees the photographs that adorn the walls, and realises that they’re standing in what once was Lestrade’s apartment. The place holds a silence that is louder than anything John has ever heard. Sherlock can hear it too, he thinks. That’s why Sherlock doesn’t look him in the eye when he clears his throat nervously and says,
‘John… all things considered, do you think it would be better, if we were to… part ways, for a bit? Just to try.’
John appreciates what it must have cost Sherlock to ask this. After all, staying with John has cost him his job, and his home. He also appreciates the logic in the idea – they would be safer apart for a time, it’s true. But appreciating it doesn’t mean he has to like it one bit, so he confirms Sherlock’s suggestion without looking at the other man either.
‘Yeah. Yeah. Makes sense. Just for a bit.’
He understands why here, why now, the idea has been brought up. On the run, it’s easy to forget that there is anything but the running – easy, even to forget what they’re running from. But it’s impossible, here in Lestrade’s apartment where the dust and silence lies on everything so thick, to deny the very real danger of the Say No party. They haven’t heard from, or even about Lestrade since the newspaper reports of his arrest on the day of the elections. It’s as if being taken means he’s been wiped from the face of the earth. John remembers Moriarty’s slick voice, and his talk of ‘correction clinics’, and he shivers.
That night, he and Sherlock fall asleep tangled more closely together than usual, in Lestrade’s bed. John sleeps fitfully, and he dreams of ghosts.
In the morning, they don’t say goodbye. They agree on when and where to meet – two weeks next Tuesday, in the park a block away – and then John watches Sherlock open the door and walk down the street until his view is obscured by a crowd of tourists. When they clear, Sherlock is gone. John shuts the door and sits on the carpet in the middle of Lestrade’s sitting room and tries hard not to concentrate on just breathing.
At any other time, he’d call it an overreaction, but this isn’t any other time. It isn’t like a case, where a week or so without hearing from Sherlock probably means that the man is having the time of his life with blood-spatter patterns and locked rooms. It’s real life, and there are potential enemies in every single person who Sherlock is passing on the street right now, potential enemies who only have to call Sherlock’s name and that’s it - gone, disappeared, and John will never see him again. And John cannot wade in this time, throwing punches and shooting guns and dragging Sherlock out by the skin on his teeth. He’s powerless, utterly powerless against what is going on, so he excuses himself a moment, a minute, an hour, to lie on Lestrade’s carpet and just try to calm down.
In the end, it takes three days for them to meet up again, although John swears it feels like forever. He spends most of the time holed up in Lestrade’s apartments, clueless about what he’s supposed to be doing, eating tinned food from the cupboards, and trying and failing not to visualise Sherlock in danger. It’s only when he realises that he hasn’t seen a newspaper in three days and subsequently he has no idea of what’s going on in the outside world – they could have caught and killed Sherlock, and he’d be none the wiser – that he ventures out of the flat into the daylight, to find a newsagent’s.
Halfway back from the shop and reassured to a point by the lack of news about Sherlock, he realises he has a shadow. Twenty feet from the apartment building, the shadow is recognisably Sherlock-shaped and John is grinning madly and foolishly. By the time they reach the door, Sherlock’s arm is around his waist. And then the door is open and Sherlock is pushing him through to the safety of the apartment and hugging him so hard that John can feel Sherlock’s heart beating against his own. He buries his head in the curve of Sherlock’s neck and laughs while Sherlock hums with contentment. I missed you too, John thinks.
They spend as little time as possible in Lestrade’s apartment before moving on – this time, out of London and all the way out to Grimpen to stay with Henry Knight, who offers them shelter at his house for a week or so.
So they run, and they don’t look backwards and they don’t look forwards, any further than the next house, the next safe places. But in the rare moments of quiet, in curling up together on an unfamiliar sofa or bed, in Sherlock tracing patterns over his back in the dark of the night, John will let his thoughts wander to the future. This can’t last forever. He knows. The life they live is transient, fleeting, and sooner or later someone is going to catch up with them. There’s an intense desperation to the way they live, and he knows Sherlock can feel it too.
But as long as he can have this, he thinks, as Sherlock’s warm breath trails over the back of his neck, then he’ll do what he can to preserve it. For these snatches of peace, for the silent spaces in between the running. For the moments where the world shrinks, to just Sherlock and he. He’ll do what he can. As he always does. He’ll protect.
Chapter 8: Spotted
Hello again! Just a quick note to thank all of you who have given this fic a chance, and all of you who have subscribed and kudosed. It really means incredible amounts, thank you so much!
It was inevitable. They're fugitives, after all, on the run from the law, and fugitives only last for so long before they're caught.
It starts in the evening time, when the sun is setting over the London skyline. Usually they rarely venture out in the evening, and they're never out after the sun's gone down – it's the most dangerous time to be out, despite the decreased visibility. Tensions are high, people are violent and everybody knows that stepping out after sundown with a companion of the same sex is asking to be beaten up, or worse. In the night-time, it doesn't even matter that they're Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, famous homosexual renegades. If they're a couple, they're a target.
So they're usually cautious, but tonight they have to make an exception. They were planning to spend the night at the house of a man who owed Sherlock a favour – Sherlock was muttering something about seven dead cats and a kidnapped child and John decided he'd be better off not knowing. But when they got there, the man was gone. Taken away. John knew without saying. The house's windows gaped emptily and it felt the same kind of deserted as Lestrade's flat.
So at eight o'clock, when usually they're safe inside the house of one of their reluctant hosts and splitting a meal together, with Sherlock stealing food from John's plate, they are instead strolling down a side street in Central London towards a hotel, a foot apart and making no eye contact.
John's gaze wanders instead over the rapidly dispersing crowd, and he notices the couple just as they notice him.
He doesn't know them. He's never seen them before in his life. But he knows, he just knows, from the set of the man's mouth and the way he stares, that he and Sherlock are in trouble. It takes a second or two, but soon enough John watches as comprehension dawns across the man's face, and he's unable to look away until it's too late. He turns away and tries to motion unobtrusively at Sherlock, to signal that they need to slip away into the crowd quickly and silently, but Sherlock just doesn't get it.
John, panicking slightly, risks another glance at the couple and sees the man staring right back at him, his female companion straining to see what he's looking at. Then the woman's gaze drifts to the right and her mouth falls open as her hand raises to point straight at Sherlock, and John's heart sinks.
It's too late. They've been recognized.
He knows what the woman is going to do even before she opens her mouth. It was inevitable; after all this time, they've been lucky to survive for so long without being spotted. He's seen the papers, watched the news; they're regulars on the wanted list. If he's entirely honest, he had thought it would have been over a very long time ago. But he's not giving up - not on this himself, not on Sherlock, not yet. So he throws caution to the wind, giving up on trying to slip away, and takes the direct approach, seizing Sherlock's hand as he takes off at a run. He can hear the woman's shriek rising over the complaints of the crowd as he pushes through and runs faster, clutches Sherlock's hand tighter.
'It's them! Hey, anybody, it's them! I'm sure it is! Sherlock Holmes! The party wants them!'
Searching frantically for an escape, John spots a side alley and careens towards it, Sherlock catching him up to run alongside.
With a thrill of horror he hears other voices joining in the shout. Don't think. Keep Sherlock safe. Just run. Even when he hears the footsteps on the ground behind them, echoes bouncing off the alley walls until it sounds like an army. John throws a sideways glance at Sherlock and is amazed to see the man is grinning from ear to ear. Sherlock shouts something and he strains to listen.
'John! We go right here, up the stairs, across the rooftop, onto the bins, through the alley, across the road, over the bridge, through the park and we should find ourselves somewhere safe!'
Half of Sherlock's words are stolen away by the wind so John just smiles, nods, and lets Sherlock take the lead.
John just stands and stares at the familiar front door. It feels like a million years since they've been home; though, he thinks wryly, it was for the best. He's got no idea what they're doing back here and he decides to say as much to the man whose hand he's currently still holding.
'Uh, Sherlock… isn't it insanely dangerous to come back here? I mean, won't they be watching this place?'
Sherlock turns to face John and streetlight illuminates the half-grin on his face.
'Relax, John. It's a double bluff. Baker Street is the last place they'd think of looking. It's the perfect place to hide for the night. They'd assume we'd be far too scared to come back here.'
John grumbles quietly under his breath and looks around nervously as Sherlock unlocks the front door.
'They'd assume sensibly. This is madness.'
He quietens down, however, when he follows Sherlock into Baker Street. As soon as he steps over the threshold and into the dark hallway the smell and warmth of home hit him like a tonne of bricks and he's overwhelmed with tiredness all of a sudden. What he really wants at that exact moment is to go upstairs with Sherlock, find the bedroom and just sleep with him, in the most innocent sense of the word. He smiles at the man's back, snapping on the light.
Sherlock turns, as if reading John's mind, and drops a soft kiss onto John's lips. When he pulls back there's a warmth and a light in his eyes that John's sure he hasn't seen this bright since the day of the first homophobic murder and John finds himself grinning even more widely as he embraces Sherlock warmly. Sherlock's breath tickles John's ear as he leans into the hug and whispers,
'Welcome home, John.'
From the top of the stairs, there comes a slow, sarcastic handclap. It raises the hairs on the back of John's neck. The chill realisation hits him like a blow to the stomach - Sherlock was wrong. They were monitoring Baker Street. And now? There's someone in the house.
John springs away from Sherlock like a jack-in-the-box and pulls out his gun in one swift motion but Sherlock's already treading softly towards the foot of the stairs.
'Sherlock, don't –'
Sherlock motions for John to keep quiet without turning around, and then he speaks aloud to the darkness at the top of the staircase.
Footsteps. A slick, nauseating voice that crawls its way up John's spine.
'Touching, boys, really touching. And just a little bit… sickening. The name's Jim Moriarty. Hi! You may have heard of me, I've been about a bit recently. It's my job to from people from doing what you two just went ahead and did.'
With a surge of pride, John can hear the contempt in Sherlock's voice as he replies,
'Well, you're obviously not doing a very good job, are you?'
John's kept his gun trained on the darkness at the top of the stairs throughout the whole exchange but he hasn't seen a flicker of movement until Moriarty begins to descend the stairs in the silence that falls after Sherlock's remark. A foot materialises from the darkness, and then another. Expensive trousers appear. Well-tailored jacket. Slim, pale hands. And then, the face. Sallow, unremarkable, except for the obsidian eyes, which bore into John's as he spreads his hands and says flatly,
'Well, you haven't really seen what I can do yet, have you, Mr Holmes?'
Sherlock chuckles easily, but John can see by the tense set of his shoulders that he's anything but relaxed as he replies,
'If it's all the same to you, I don't think I'll hang around long enough to find out. John!'
And then they're both turning on their heels and running out of the door, John scanning between the cars and up and down the road for potential enemies, thugs, members of the party. There's silence apart from their pounding footsteps for approximately three seconds and then John throws a glance over his shoulder and sees Moriarty silhouetted against the light of the hallway in Baker Street. He gives them a mocking salute, and then holds up a hand to snap his fingers.
The crack echoes into the night and then everything starts to falls apart.
Chapter 9: Fighting
Hugs and kisses and handshakes to you all for reading this far and for all your kudosing and subscribing. As always, take a chapter in gratitude -this chapter's a bit action heavy, I really hope it's not too difficult to make sense of!
John stumbles to a halt in the middle of the street, his heart faltering. He's struck down, struck dumb by the simple fact of the red lights playing in constellations over Sherlock's coat.
Across from him, Sherlock has similarly ground to a halt. John can see Sherlock's eyes sweeping his jumper up and down and by the streetlight he can read his own panic and fear etched into the shadows of Sherlock's expression. He doesn't need to look down to know the same scarlet lights are dancing across his own chest. He swallows hard, closing his eyes. It's not looking promising.
Yet, for all that there's a voice in his mind hissing that death is imminent (the more rational part, he's sure), he can't help feeling a certain sense of surrealism. After all, living with Sherlock for the past – oh God, he doesn't know, it feels like a lifetime – has taught him to expect nothing less than miracles from the man. It wouldn't be the first time he's cut it close. He vividly recalls the darkness of the tramway, the smell of blood and wet and the sound of Sarah's sobbing.
So in a way, he's not all that surprised when the seconds tick by without the sharp crack of gunfire and Sherlock begins to laugh. He should have expected this wasn't going to end the traditional way.
He cracks an eye open and grins at Sherlock.
'What have you done now?'
Sherlock's eyes twinkle almost mischievously as he swaggers – there's no other word for it really, John thinks – swaggers forwards and kisses John extravagantly. There's a vaguely disgusted noise from the doorway of Baker Street and Sherlock laughs against John's lips and pulls away, catching up John's hand.
'He can't shoot us.'
'He can't shoot us, for some reason. Those assassins aren't here to kill us otherwise we'd already be dead. Possibly he doesn't want us to be martyrs – we'd be more dangerous dead and famous than alive – but he could make us disappear and nobody would be any wiser. So why the guns? He's just threatening us, instead of killing us or taking us. Why?'
John's heart leaps as Sherlock jumps away from him like he's been electrocuted, bringing his hands to his head.
'Oh, John, he was out of breath! Coming down the stairs, he was out of breath, I could hear it when he talked. Of course! I only decided where we were heading about five minutes before we got there! He must have anticipated and arrived there before us, but he's missing something, John, something important, something he needs to keep us here for until it arrives.'
John's head is spinning with the effort of trying to keep up with Sherlock but he nods anyway. Sherlock's grin widens as he points to the end of the street, where a black van is shooting around the corner, all squealing brakes and spinning tyres.
'He was waiting for backup, John.'
And then Sherlock's hand is wrapped around his and they're running for their lives down Baker Street, Sherlock shouting garbled explanations at the top of his voice that John strains to hear.
'Donovan or Anderson or somebody in the crowd must have called the party to say we'd been spotted! So Moriarty gets wind of it and rushes over to Baker Street with his gang of personal bodyguards; we're dangerous and prominent and he's a man who can't resist a gloat. He must have wanted to greet us personally. He got there way before the backup, but only just before us – did you notice how all of the guns were angled from the ground? No time to position themselves on the rooftops. They were all hidden on the street. So, Moriarty breaks in, we unlock the door a minute later, Moriarty threatens us and then trusts in the two of us being too scared of being shot to move until the backup arrives to take us in. He's only got his bodyguard, he needs more. So he used the threat of them to keep us here until the van arrives. Genius!' Sherlock, still running, punches the air. 'Or, it would have been, if he wasn't dealing with me.'
John can't stop himself from grinning as Sherlock speaks. It's times like these – always ridiculously inappropriate – that he looks and Sherlock and sees the light that shines so brightly through his enthusiasm and his dedication and his bottomless reserves of energy, and he feels buoyed on the wave of his affection for this man. As they run, he reaches and takes Sherlock's hand.
The grin slides straight off his face as another black van rounds the corner ahead of them, stopping thirty feet away. For the second time that night, both of them skid to a halt in the middle of the road. Behind them, John hears the whine of the engine as first van stops behind them. He scans the sides of the street. Terraced houses. No gaps to slip through.
John can hear the footsteps as the men pour out of the vans, both ahead and behind, but before he can process what's going on Sherlock drags him by the hand behind a parked car. They crouch, and John swiftly checks his pockets for his gun while Sherlock begins to mouth silently, gesturing at the air. John recognises the signs and appreciates Sherlock's efforts to deduce a way out of the situation but there are two vans and a whole lot of footsteps so he's got to have something pretty spectacular.
He calculates from the noise that they have fifteen seconds before the first of the men rounds the car so he grabs Sherlock's lapels and pulls him close, snapping him out of his reverie.
'Sherlock. Anything. Any ideas.'
Sherlock shakes his head.
John listens for the footsteps and thinks for the first time how many men there actually are; probably too many for him to deal with, he muses blandly, but dismisses the thought quickly. He'll do what he can. His priority is Sherlock.
'Listen, Sherlock. We'll run if we can, but otherwise we're going to have to fight our way through. You don't have a gun, so stick close behind me. If anything goes wrong, meet me at Lestrade's.'
He doesn't know what else to say so he takes Sherlock's hand, kisses the palm, and curls Sherlock's fingers into a fist around the kiss.
'Don't do anything stupid.'
Sherlock doesn't say anything, just raises his clenched fist to his heart and stares at John. John offers him a hesitant smile.
They round the car together and are almost instantly ripped apart. They don't even have a chance to make a run for it.
The attackers are fast and fierce and they don't use guns – Sherlock's right, John thinks, they don't want to kill us – but they're dauntingly good at hand to hand combat. John takes a punch to the ribs and a minor blow to the head before he snaps into defence. What scares John more than their skills, though, is the look in their eyes. Ferocity. Fanaticism. What makes these men so dangerous, he thinks, is the fact that they truly believe what they're doing is right. Fending off kicks and punches, he wonders what on earth the party has done to them.
He keeps an eye out for Sherlock and glimpses him through the assailants. It's not looking good. Sherlock's bleeding from a cut to the temple and as John watches, one of the attackers gets a hold on his arm and twists it into a lock.
John sees red.
He breathes in deeply, grabs the arm of the nearest attacker and hurls the unfortunate man into those attacking Sherlock, who stumbles free and glances over to John. John can't stop staring at the trickle of blood on Sherlock's temple. He knows what he has to do and he hates it but he does it anyway. Sherlock is the priority.
Gesturing wildly towards the road, he yells,
'Sherlock, you're a better runner than you are a fighter! I need you to lead them away from me! Just go, you know where to meet me!'
Sherlock hesitates for three seconds exactly – enough time for John to receive a punch to the ribs and to deliver one to the gut – and then nods in assent. John watches without saying goodbye as Sherlock deliberately raises a clenched fist to his heart before sprinting off down the road without looking back, men in pursuit.
There's a lump in his throat as he turns his attentions back to the fight.
But he's just a second too late to dodge the punch that's directed at his head. It connects at his temple with the force of what feels like a moving car and he staggers sideways, losing his balance. Instantly, two of his attackers grab his arms and slam him up against the side of a car. With a sickening falling feeling in the pit of his stomach, he fights to get free, but there are more of them then there are of him, and together they're more than capable of handling one lone man.
Jesus Christ no oh God no oh Jesus.
For a minute, there's nothing but the sound of heavy breathing and fabric scraping as he struggles uselessly against his captors. Out of the quiet, though, come slow, purposeful footsteps sounding out against the road. Slumping against the car and the restraining hands, he cranes his head to peer around the soldiers.
Oh God Sherlock please help. No, run, Sherlock, run, oh Jesus.
Moriarty approaches with almost painful slowness, grinning from ear to ear. He halts right in front of John and John makes an effort to stand up straight, bruised ribs and head screaming in protest as Moriarty looks him up and down.
'Well well well, Johnny boy. What do we have here?'
Chapter 10: Travelling
So this is a little chapter with a tiny bit of fluff and brave John just to prepare you for the next chapter.
Love to you all.
John directs all of his fears about Sherlock's safety, extensive army training and not unsubstantial irritation at being referred to as 'Johnny boy' towards keeping his expression at a carefully schooled blank as he responds. He fails to catch the bite in his voice, though, which betrays him as he snaps,
'A pretty pissed off John Watson, if you really want to know.'
Something close to amazement flashes across Moriarty's face in the lamplight before he breaks into peals of laughter, spinning around on his heels in the middle of the empty street. John sneaks a glance at the impassive faces of the soldiers who are still maintaining their grip on him and wonders how long they must have spent in the company of this lunatic to be so unresponsive to his exuberant displays.
'Oh, temper temper, Johnny boy! The pet bites back!'
John keeps himself from rolling with eyes with extreme difficulty. He's already regretting the anger he's let slip in his words. He wants more than anything to give into the potent mix of fury and fear he feels roiling inside him and have at the man, but he knows he can't afford to. A year ago, maybe, he would have, but spending months on the run has done things for him. Being constantly hunted, constantly looking over his own shoulder has given him a sense of his own relative powerlessness. He's acutely aware that if he wants anything approaching an advantage in a situation as hopeless as this, he doesn't have the luxury of indulging his temper. Moriarty wants him angry, hence the inane words and provoking tone; wants him confused and muddled and blinded by rage. So he plays it cool with a bland tone and words that bely his fear and anger.
'Okay, Mr Moriarty, so you've got me now. What are you going to do with me?'
In a flash, Moriarty's gleeful expression becomes mock-serious.
'Oh no, soldier boy. That would be telling.' He wags a finger derisively. 'I've got serious plans for you and your little boyfriend, though. You two have undermined my system with your little fugitive relationship,' here, he spits the word as though it were poison, 'for long enough now. You've had your fun. Ever wondered what happened to Gregory Lestrade? What happened to Mycroft Holmes? You're about to find out. You and Mr Holmes, when we catch him. And that's only a matter of time.'
John's fists clench automatically at the sound of Sherlock's name, but he forces himself to stay calm, relaxing into the grip of the soldiers. As far as possible, he's not going to play Moriarty's game, so he continues to keep his voice calm and offhand and hopes it's as infuriating to Moriarty as he thinks it is.
'Have fun catching him. Legs like a bloody giraffe; it's always difficult for me to keep up. You might have better luck, but,' he grimaces dramatically, 'I really doubt it.'
Much better than anger, he thinks with a touch of hysterical glee, watching the absurd enjoyment drain from Moriarty's face to be replaced by something steelier. The man regards him in silence for a second, and then turns swiftly on his heel, removing a slim phone from his pocket and beginning to punch in numbers. He's seven feet away from John before he gestures in their general direction without looking back and the accompanying command is chillingly direct.
'You know where to take him, boys.'
Instantly, the pressure of the soldiers' hands increases on John's shoulders and arms, digging into his bruises, and the men begin to tow him towards the dark gaping mouth of the black van.
John struggles the whole way – of course he does – but it's futile. He's handcuffed and strapped into the van in less than a minute, stripped of his bag and his gun. The men manhandling him barely seem to notice his attempts to fight his way free, although John notes with pride that his earlier rebelliousness has had some effect – one is limping, another has a broken nose and two are sporting brilliant black eyes from their earlier skirmish.
The pride is apparent for only a few seconds, though, before it's replaced by a steadily growing fear that gnaws in his gut. He'd been able to quash it down with his feigned nonchalance during his conversation with Moriarty but the perilousness of his current situation is enforced by the ominous slamming of the rear doors and he begins to quietly panic in earnest when the engine revs and the van sets off. He's not Sherlock. He's got no idea where they're going, what's going to happen to him or where Sherlock even is now. He can't deal with Moriarty. The most he could do was keep from showing his fear and anger to the madman, and even that served little practical importance – only to keep his head clear and irritate Moriarty. Either way, it hasn't made a blind bit of difference in that he's still speeding towards some unknown doom.
His one glint of hope is Sherlock.
John knows that he would tear the world down brick by brick to get Sherlock safe and he's reasonably confident in his assertion that Sherlock would do the same for him – although with infinitely more subtlety and genius, but that's always the way with Sherlock.
Even if – he forces himself to think the words – even if Sherlock doesn't come for him before whatever happens to him happens, he's still got faith in the man's ability to run and hide and disappear. The thought is a balm to him. Whatever happens, he can reassure himself with the thought that Sherlock is out there somewhere, safe, surviving and very much alive.
But Jesus Christ he's scared.
It's been months. Months, and he hasn't heard a single thing about Lestrade or Mycroft, or Mrs Turner's married ones, or even the famous ones like Stephen Fry, Gok Wan and Alan Carr. Nobody has. People just disappear after the initial arrest, and they don't turn up again, not in the flesh or in newspaper print. After a while, people just stopped talking about the people who got taken by the party, like they never existed. Sitting in the black van, John knows the same will happen to him and he feels panic rising in the back of his throat. He's itching to clap a hand over his mouth as he does when he feels he just can't handle the fear, but he's loath to display any kind of weakness in front of these Say No bullies.
So instead, he thinks of Sherlock. The way it feels to kiss him in the dark of the night. Sherlock's warm hands running through his hair to calm him down after a nightmare. The way he can feel Sherlock's laugh running through him when they're talking pressed up close against each other, so close he can almost pretend he's an extension of Sherlock himself.
He holds onto the last image he has of Sherlock; the man's darkened outline on an empty street, hand to chest, eyes wide and fearful and fixed on John. John hardens his resolve and clenches his fist, holding it up to his heart. He imagines Sherlock's kiss ghosting his own palm.
The afterimage of Sherlock's affection settles into his bones, glowing inside him – a talisman he'll carry with him wherever the van takes him, to give him strength. Like a safe harbour, like Baker Street. Like the feeling of home.
Chapter 11: Lestrade
CHAPTER WARNING: This chapter bears a warning for the conditioning of a character against homosexuality. The process itself is not described, just the effects. I thought better safe than sorry to warn you, so feel free to skip if you'd like.
That being said, all that's left is to thank you for reading this far, as always, and for your kudosing and subscribing and commenting.
The point where John can no longer tell how long he's been sitting in the van has come and gone, and he's now tending towards the belief that there has never been anything for him but this. Nothing, ever, but the roar of the engine in his ears and the thrum of the road under his feet and the fear that's been wearing him down, inch by inch.
He knows it's ridiculous to think this way, but he's had nothing to do for the past forever except sit and let the fears about where he's headed worry at his head like a dog with a bone. He's tried talking, shouting to get information but his kidnappers are impassive and silent to the last.
He wishes bitterly, not for the first time and almost certainly not for the last, that he possessed some measure of Sherlock's skills of deduction and almost infallible sense of direction. He had foolish hopes that being around Sherlock for so long would mean the man's genius would rub off on him a little, but six corners and a roundabout after he decides to take stock of his route, he is forced to conclude that his only deduction is this: he is entirely, hopelessly lost.
Not that it matters anyway. He already knows what he needs to know – namely, that the chances of him coming back are remote. Mycroft, the man with the government in the palm of his hand, disappeared and never came back. Not a sound, not a whisper. If Mycroft can't wrangle himself and Lestrade from the grip of the Say Nos, then what hope does John have?
So dramatic, so easy to give up faith. He chastises himself. He's forgetting of course, that rainy day, the smell of cigarette smoke and the sound of Mycroft's voice, soft around the corners with concern for Sherlock.
'It would take Sherlock Holmes to fool me, and I don't think he was on hand – do you?'
And again, much later, at the very beginning of the panic and the running and the never-looking-back, the arrival of two exhausted fugitives at a bland front door; Sherlock's sharp grin as the door swings open and John's mixture of relief, surprise and uncontrollable smugness at the slight hint of jealousy that colours Irene's tone as she says,
Silly of him to let his fears overtake him, John thinks wryly. If Mycroft can't do it, that still means Sherlock probably can.
He holds onto that thought, clutching it tighter and tighter as the van begins to slow and the men around him begin to stir. There's a sound of metal and metal – gates, John supposes, or doors – and the van slows to a halt before picking up speed, rounding a corner and stopping with a jolt that John feels in the pit of his stomach.
Oh Jesus oh Christ where am I oh God no.
He fights to keep his face straight and his thoughts on Sherlock. There's a few seconds where the silence left by the cessation of the engine is broken only by footsteps, moving around the side of the van, and the anticipation is almost agonizing for him – Oh God what's happening what are you going to do – and then the doors are flung wide open, bright sunlight spilling painfully in and then he's out of the frying pan and into the fire.
It's a blur, and one that he will have difficulty recalling later. He's outside and there's fresh air and voices shouting all around him and hands on his arms, back and sides and he vaguely recalls the cold kiss of a gun against the back of his head. He walks where he's directed – does he have any choice? – chanting Sherlock's name inside his head to ease his panic and trying to adjust his eyes to the blinding sunlight so he can figure out where he is.
Except he doesn't get the chance. By the time he's no longer seeing spots, he's already been manhandled inside a cool, dark building and walking swiftly away from the door that let him in. He cranes his head around desperately to try and catch a glimpse of the outside but a hard jab to the head from a gun quickly dissuades him from that idea. Instead, he concentrates on memorizing the route they're taking and learning what he can about where he is from his surroundings. They don't help much. Dim lights, white walls, tiled floor. Unobtrusive doors on both sides. No wall decorations. No other people in the passages. Think, John. What would Sherlock say? What would Sherlock deduce?
But it's no use. He's panicking and he's not Sherlock, so he abandons the idea of deductions pretty quickly and instead concentrates on memorizing the route, which is thankfully easier now he's not sitting in a blacked-out van. Two rights, a left, another left, straight on… and oh Christ, they're opening a door. Third door on the right. Oh God oh God oh God.
He's roughly manhandled through the door, which closes with an ominous thud behind him. It's totally dark and totally cold inside and he's entirely on his own. He can hear the footsteps of the men disappearing down the corridor outside and sinks to his knees in a moment of terror, mind absolutely blank with fear. He's been waiting for so long, ever since he started running, or even before, to find out what the Say No party would do to him if they caught him, and he's about to find out.
No. Not 'him'. When he thought about it, it was always what they'd do to 'them'. Him and Sherlock. With that thought, his fear is quickly replaced with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that Sherlock's not here, and his strength is bolstered to the point where he can climb to his feet, roll his shoulders and call out into the darkness,
'Alright, what are you going to do with me now, then?'
The room floods with light in an instantaneous response and for the second time in five minutes John is seeing spots and trying desperately to clear his vision. He screws up his eyes in pain at the same time that Moriarty's voice begins to boom mockingly throughout the room.
'Welcome, John! Welcome! I had hoped we'd have the set but no matter, we've got people on Mr Holmes' trail right now. You'll be reunited soon. I thought you'd appreciate some entertainment in the meantime, so I took the liberty of inviting an old friend so you can catch up while you wait. It might give you an idea of what you've got to look forward to while you're here. Goodbye, Dr Watson!'
At the mention of an old friend, John's eyes snap wide open and he's shaking his head desperately, trying to clear his vision. As the room comes into focus – small, painted white, dimly lit, undecorated, just like the corridors outside – John's gaze finds and focuses in on the figure lying crumpled in the middle of the floor. He's barely taken stock of the short, salt and pepper hair and the heavy coat before he's lurching across the floor, hands outstretched, to haul the man into a sitting position.
It can't be. But it is.
John mouths Lestrade's name as the man in question opens his eyes slowly and focuses with surprise on John's face. There's a minute of silence as the two men stare at each other and John, stunned, thinks of nothing but how exhausted and thin Lestrade looks before his brain kicks up a gear and the questions begin to trip off his tongue.
'God, Lestrade, you're alive? What happened to you? What have they been doing to you all this time? Are you hurt? Is there anything I can do for you? Jesus, where's Mycroft?'
Agony rips across Lestrade's face at the mention of Mycroft's name and he slumps into sideways, falling on John. John's arms automatically catch and steady Lestrade's shoulders and he's shocked at how thin and bony the man feels in his arms. The slow burn of anger starts up again in his chest and he finds himself squeezing Lestrade's shoulders in an attempt to silently comfort the man. They sit without speaking. John is utterly beyond words.
It takes three tries before John realises Lestrade has been trying to speak and he leans down so the words drop into the shell of his ear.
'John… get out of here.'
John laughs humourlessly, keeping his ear close to Lestrade's lips.
'Lestrade, I wasn't planning on staying. I'll bring you with me when I go, though, yeah?'
Even before he's finished speaking, Lestrade is shaking his head.
'No. Not going. I've been bad. Need to stay. Thought I'd fallen in love… with a man. With…' Lestrade takes a deep breath and John can almost feel Mycroft's name hanging unspoken in the air. 'I was married. And I gave it up. I was wrong. Men don't… fall in love with other men. It's wrong. I was… wrong. I was bad. Should have stayed with my wife. You… have another chance. You're not with Sherlock any more. He can be… just a mistake for you. Find yourself a woman. Get out of here… go.'
John feels sick to his stomach. Is that what they do to people here? Take the love that they had for their partners and make them believe it was wrong? Make them believe they were wrong, for falling in love? He's beyond furious at what's been done to Lestrade – and countless others, surely, he realises – but he keeps his tone gentle as he replies.
'Sherlock won't be a mistake. Isn't. And neither is Mycroft for you. He's a… unique kind of man. You must have loved him a lot. What they've done to you…' he swallows. Hard. 'They're lying, Lestrade. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you being in love with him.'
'No. No. I thought so… but I was wrong. At the beginning. Now I know better. Should have stayed… with my wife.'
John opens his mouth to reply but Moriarty's voice sounds again throughout the room before he can get a word out. John looks wildly around for him but spots only a speaker, halfway up one of the walls.
'Time's up, boys! Hope you had a nice reunion! See what you've got to look forward to, John? Look how much better our Gregory is now!'
John's aware of the door at his back opening and people moving in so he clutches Lestrade closer, determined not to let him go, and whispers quickly and quietly into Lestrade's ear.
'Don't let them break you, Lestrade. You're a good man and you care about Mycroft – I know you do – and there's nothing wrong with being you, or loving Mycroft, or me and Sherlock, or not being heterosexual. It's this place making you believe that. And I'm leaving here. I am, and I'll find you and Mycroft and I'll take you with me. I promise, okay? I'm coming back for you and I will fix this- NO!'
He fights the men. Of course he does. But he's only one man and it's over before it ever really begun. Lestrade's out of his hands and being towed towards the door before John's got time to process what's actually happening. As the door closes behind them, John thinks numbly that he will see the lost desolate look on Lestrade's face until the day he dies. Lestrade was a fighter. A brave man. A good man.
Is a brave man, he corrects, wiping the tears from his face. Is a good man. It's not over yet, not while John's still angry, still fighting.
With that, he gets up from the floor, walks over to the wall and rips the speaker from its fitting. It comes away with surprising ease. He throws it on the floor with a satisfying smash and stamps on it once, twice, three times.
And then he settles down in the centre of the room and prepares himself to wait.
Chapter 12: Escape
John feels like he should be mentally castigating himself over his loss of temper in destroying the speaker – stupid, letting Moriarty know he's getting to you, spent all that time controlling your temper so you can keep your head clear – but honestly, he thinks hearing Moriarty's mocking voice right now would break him, absolutely break him. He can't stop seeing Lestrade, wasted and helpless, being dragged forcibly from the room. He can't stop hearing the despair in Lestrade's voice and the deep intake of breath in the silence that should have been filled with Mycroft's name.
It occurs to him that for all his fears, he has seriously underestimated what he is up against. Even this might be something Sherlock can't solve.
He's so afraid of ending up like Lestrade: emaciated, helpless, overcome with shame about something that – if what exists between him and Sherlock is anything to go by – is so beautiful, so strong. He pictures himself in Lestrade's position and feels like retching.
This isn't like anything he's ever faced in Afghanistan, or in the streets and crime scenes of London. He is utterly and completely unprepared. It's insidious. Covert. It will get inside his head and change him beyond recognition. He can already feel the intense fear, uncontrollable and immobilising, seeping through his veins.
With an effort, he snaps himself out of his train of thought, licking his lips in nervousness. He really cannot afford to think that way. Moriarty wants John afraid for the same reason he wants John angry: to disorientate and blind him. Hence the meeting with Lestrade, hence Moriarty's reluctance to divulge any details of his plans for John, hence the long periods where John is left to his own devices to worry and fear and imagine each and every possible horror that Moriarty could have lined up for him. Moriarty wants to disarm John with his own emotions.
John makes a studied attempt to stay calm, breathing deeply. Focus. You have a job to do. He needs to stop pontificating over what Moriarty might do and instead start planning how he's going to get away. He needs to believe it's possible; escape, alive and preferably sane, bringing Mycroft and Lestrade along with him.
He deliberates for what seems like hours, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room. He's no schemer at the best of times, but as always, he does what he can with what he's got, and eventually he's got a rough sketch of a plan – emphasis on the rough, but at least it's better than the hundreds he concocted and discarded. Besides, he feels like he's running out of time, and he'd rather not give Sherlock the chance to get within a hundred miles of this place.
The plan is neither clever nor intricate, but the soldier part of John remembers Afghan warfare and reassures him with the thought that simple is usually best. Anyway, he doesn't have Sherlock's clever mind so he's working with what he does have: his bravery, his strength. He gets up and stretches, legs cramped and stiff, and presses himself up against the wall next to the door in preparation.
In the end, he waits for so long that his legs start to fall asleep again and his stomach and bladder begin to make their complaints loudly known to him. His impatience and anxiety grow with every passing minute. He needs the door to open.
His patience is rewarded when finally – finally – the door glides quietly and noiselessly open and someone steps through, cradling a gun. John doesn't waste time on stupid pithy one-liners or dramatic attack moves. He punches the man swiftly in the face and stands back, hearing the thud of the man's body hitting the ground with quiet satisfaction.
He has to fight the inappropriate laugh that threatens to bubble up in his throat as he leans down and quickly strips the man of outer clothing and firearms. The gun in his hand feels like an old friend and he weighs it quietly, smiling, before setting it down. God, it's good to be taking control of things again.
Dressing quickly in the man's black garments, he picks up the man's ID tag and weapon and steps quickly into the corridor, shutting the door carefully behind him.
Lestrade. Mycroft. I'm coming for you.
He takes off down the deserted corridor as noiselessly as possible. He's already planning the next stage of the plan in his head – he needs to find the entrance – a right, another right and two lefts should do it – and then he needs the loo and a cupboard to hide in, in that order. He'll get his bearings in the building and then wait secreted away until darkness, and then search out Lestrade and Mycroft. He's got the unfortunate man's ID and uniform and his army years have taught him how to act with authority. All he needs to do is find the two men, bluff his way into picking them up and then get the hell out-
That's as far as it gets before his plan falls apart.
He's reached the final corridor but instead of turning around immediately to find a loo and then somewhere deserted to hide in, he stops dead in his tracks before the entrance, momentarily thrown for a loop. It's already dark outside.
He's puzzling it out – how long did he spend in that dimly lit room? – when with a jolt he hears a single pair of footsteps behind him.
He takes a second to breathe and rearrange his features into what he hopes passes for authoritative, running a monologue of reassurance through his mind. All he needs to do is keep calm, let them pass by and then he can go and find Lestrade and Mycroft immediately. No worries. He knows the balance of probability lies in favour of the approaching person not recognising him, but his heart is still pounding as he turns on his heel to face them and his hand clenches unconsciously around the gun.
And then he's backing away, all semblance of authority gone, and his internal monologue has become a stream of profanities because it's Moriarty. It's Moriarty and goddamn if he won't have any trouble recognising John.
John sees his own shock and surprise flash fleetingly across Moriarty's face before his features twist quickly into something rather more menacing. Vaudeville, almost, but John's not going to deny the very real danger that Moriarty sighting him has put him in, so before Moriarty has a chance to open his mouth John's turned quickly and is sprinting down the corridor, thanking God he is so close to an exit. There's a moment when the door refuses to give under his hands and John feels almost sick, hearing Moriarty's shout rising behind him, but then it opens and he's outside and breathing the fresh night air.
He spends no more than ten seconds taking in his surroundings – courtyard, high brick walls and black vans lurking immobile in the shadows to his right – before clocking the entrance, marked by car-park style metal barriers and brightly-lit entrance booths, and running flat out towards it. His mind is all but blank with panic and he can think of nothing but getting out, away from the building and away from Moriarty, until he's vaulted the barriers and is halfway down the street, ignoring the shouts of the guards in their booths.
Oh Christ. Lestrade and Mycroft.
He stumbles as the realisation his him like a shock of icy water. Mentally flagellating himself, he runs over his words to Lestrade in the dimly lit room and winces.
'I'll find you and Mycroft and I'll take you with me. I promise, okay?'
For a brief, insane moment he considers turning around and re-entering the building to find them. But the sound of feet hitting tarmac and panicked shouting quickly reach his ears and he realises he can't, he just can't. He's been incredibly, amazingly luck to get out himself. What he needs to do now is find Sherlock and once they're reunited, they can devise a better plan and return to release Lestrade and Mycroft, together.
Silently, he makes another promise to Lestrade and Mycroft as he runs. I'll find Sherlock, and when I do, we'll return for both of you. Sherlock will think of something, something much cleverer than my stupid plan and we'll get you out.
He shakes his head, dispelling his thoughts. For now, he needs to just concentrate on getting away as fast as possible. They'll have the vans out soon and John's sure the Say No people won't be as lenient with him the second time around. He needs to find somewhere safe, somewhere he can hide until morning or until he can catch a bus or a train into London and rendezvous with Sherlock. He recalls his frenzied, whispered instructions to Sherlock as they crouched behind the parked car in the middle of that deserted street.
'If anything goes wrong, meet me at Lestrade's.'
So, the plan now. Place to hide until morning. Transportation. London. Lestrade's apartment.
The noises of pursuit fall away behind him with the thought of seeing Sherlock again. John smiles, and lopes off into the night.
Chapter 13: London
Brownie points to those of you who spot the Blue Carbuncle, Engineer's Thumb and Final Problem references.
Thanks as always to you, the reader, for giving this fic a chance.
He runs six blocks before it hits him, and then he's kicking himself.
He spent hours and hours travelling in the van after they captured him, long enough for the dark of night to turn into daylight that blinded him as he was bundled out of the van, and he assumed that meant he was hundreds of miles away from London. But all of that travelling didn't necessarily mean he went anywhere. What if the van just went around in circles all that time? Or made one massive circuit?
Because he's standing on a pavement in Kentish town, where he and Sherlock took that case about the diamond and the goose, and that is most definitely in London, and the last thing it is is hours and hours away from Baker Street.
He doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. He decides on laugh, because the more he thinks about it, the less angry he feels with himself for not noticing earlier and the happier he feels that he's so close to Lestrade's apartment. Half an hour, an hour tops, and he can see Sherlock and make plans to rescue Mycroft and Lestrade and the world will make sense again.
His thoughts are disrupted as the silence of the night is shattered by an engine and he ducks quickly into a darkened alleyway. Heart in mouth, he watches as a black van passes by. Don't celebrate just yet, John.
When everything is still and quiet once more, he steps cautiously out of the alleyway, holding the gun steady, and sets off at a run again.
Between the dodging cars and the hiding in shadows and the avoidance of well-lit roads and populated areas it takes John an hour and a quarter to make it to Lestrade's apartment and his nerves are shot from jumping at every little noise. In the end, it doesn't much matter because he's made it, safe and undetected, and so much quicker than he could have hoped when he first escaped the compound. He's got his gun loaded and cocked but his mind is on Sherlock Sherlock Sherlock as he comes to a halt in front of the door and raises his hand to knock on the wood panels.
There's no answer.
He knocks again, harder. Calls Sherlock's name. Still no answer. Panicking, he tries the door. Locked. He's really worrying now, so he puts his shoulder to the door and heaves and heaves again. With a crack like gunshot, the door swings open.
The air inside is stuffy and absolutely still and tastes of neglect. John drifts like a ghost from room to room, methodically checking everywhere for Sherlock. It's only when he returns to the front room, hollow with fear and disappointment that he spots the letter sitting on top of the coffee table and can't believe he's missed it.
He unfolds it with shaking hands.
If you're reading this, you must have escaped with no visible pursuers. I wish to assure you first of all that I am fine, and remain out of the hands of the Say No party. Now, pay attention. I've left you a phone –
John checks the table, and notices a sleek black smartphone, previously hidden under the letter. He inspects it for a moment, and then shakes his head in amused disgust. Trust Sherlock to go for something ostentatious and what looks like hideously expensive.
and I promise that I will contact you soon. In the meantime, stay in Lestrade's apartment. Do not leave, not for any reason. There are plans being put in motion that you cannot interfere with. I will be in contact as soon as I possibly can.
John sinks into the sofa, devouring Sherlock's note again and again with his eyes. With each reading and rereading, he feels some of the tension and horror of the past 48 hours rolling off his shoulders to be replaced by the comfort of simple truths. He is safe. He is alive. He will contact me soon.
As soon as his fears have dissipated, John's tiredness catches up to him, swamping him in a wave of exhaustion. He hasn't slept in more than two days and he's just hot-footed it across London and what feels like every bone and muscle in his body is screaming in protest, so he levers himself off the sofa with difficulty, cleans himself up as best he can in the loo and then collapses fully-clothed onto Lestrade's bed.
There's a crinkle beneath him as he hits the sheets and dazedly, he ferrets around under the bedding to pull out a sheet of crumpled paper.
I am sorry. Please forgive me for not being there, John, to welcome you myself. And believe me to be, most definitely,
John's teetering on the edge of exhaustion, but he smiles warmly nonetheless at the note's rare sentimentality. Keeping hold of the paper, he loads the gun, places it on the bedside table and curls up on the bed, waiting for exhaustion finally claims him, it is with Sherlock's words ringing in his ears and the note clutched to his chest.
He sleeps deeply, and dreams of the taste of tea and fresh air and excitement and, curiously, of honey.
Chapter 14: Slow Motion
CHAPTER WARNING: This chapter bears a warning for characters undergoing violent stress and grief, and implied character death.
On the plus side, when things are this bad they can only get better. And I'm posting multiple chapters so you all don't get stuck with this.
Later, John will recall memories of this next day – when he can stand to – in something approximate to video format.
No emotion. Just footage. He'll speed it up and slow it down, adjust the contrast and volume, pause rewind and zoom; anything, anything at all to stop the memories being realistic. Being believable. Being his.
Anything. Not believable. Not his.
It begins early in the morning, when the sun is peeking over the horizon. He emerges reluctantly from a far-too-short sleep like a swimmer rising from deep water, registering first the irritating buzzing sound that woke him and then the warm kiss of the morning sun on his face and the taste of sweetness on his lips. He stretches luxuriantly on the bed like a cat in a sunbeam, appreciating the way the sunrise smoothes the worry lines and tired bags from around his eyes, and takes a second or two to get his bearings and recall the events of the past few days.
Donovan and Anderson. Baker Street. Moriarty. The parting. The van. Lestrade. Escape. The flat. The notes. The phone.
John all but falls off the bed in his hurry to reach the still-ringing phone on the bedside table. When it's in his grip, though, paranoia stays his hand and he takes a second to inspect it – caller withheld – before answering it cautiously.
'John,' Sherlock breathes. 'You escaped.'
John is undone. Sinking boneless onto the bed, he unleashes all his pent up fear and tension in a barrage of questions and exclamations that he directs down the phone at Sherlock.
'Sherlock. Oh, Sherlock. Oh, God, Sherlock, where are you? What happened? Are you okay? Why aren't you here? Do you need help? Oh, Jesus, Sherlock, bloody hell, they've got Lestrade, we need to get to him and Mycroft, I promised but I had to go. You've got no idea what they do to people in there, we need to get them out as soon as we can meet up again, as soon as I know you're okay.'
In the wake of his verbal explosion, his only answer is the slight buzz of background static. Puzzled, he tentatively calls Sherlock's name again.
'Sherlock? Are you okay? What's going on?'
When Sherlock speaks, he is slow and quiet and there are threads of sorrow and regret wrapped around his voice.
'John, I'm at Bart's. Take a taxi and come and meet me. Do you have the money?'
John moves off the bed quietly, searching his pockets and scooping up the gun and the notes.
'Yeah, I should do. They took my bag and my gun but I've got notes in my pocket. But you're scaring me, Sherlock, what's going on?'
There's a hysterical edge to Sherlock's voice as he answers that scares John more than anything Sherlock has said so far.
'Just get a cab, John. Please. Just do it.'
John's stepping out of the door as Sherlock speaks and he makes a definitive attempt to keep his voice slow and calm as he replies, taking the steps down the apartment block two at a time. Don't panic. Not yet. You don't know anything yet.
'Getting one right now, I've just reached the roadside. Look, you can hear me getting in – St. Bart's hospital, ta – so tell me, right now, what's going on.'
On the other end of the phone, Sherlock takes a deep breath.
'You escaped, John. It's been less than two days since they caught you. Do you really think it's that easy? That they'd just let us go? They hold all the power. They've got eyes and ears everywhere. They are this country. If you've escaped, it's because they want you to escape. Looking for me is difficult. They want you to find me, and they want to take us both together. But I'm not going to let that happen. I'm going to end this.'
John feels the stirrings of guilt, dread and fear begin to strike up deep in the pit of his stomach.
'Sherlock, you said you were at Bart's. Tell me you're not. Tell me you're not at Bart's. Tell me you're somewhere else, that you've got a plan to evade them. Please.'
There's nothing but silence at the other end of the phone and it drives John close to tears.
'Sherlock, no. What are you doing? What the hell are you doing?'
The taxi pulls to a halt and John tumbles out and flings a handful of change at the driver before steaming off towards the entrance.
'Sherlock? Sherlock, I'm here. I'm coming in.'
Something akin to grief makes Sherlock's voice leaden.
'Stop, John. Look up.'
John's facial expression doesn't change at all as he registers Sherlock's position, silhouetted against the bright blue sky. In fact, he doesn't move a muscle; not to move, not even to speak. There aren't words for this, he thinks.
Vaguely, he registers the sound of Sherlock's voice in his ear.
'John. I'm so sorry. But without me, there is no us. No need to run or hide or any of it.'
John shakes his head, not understanding, and finds his voice again. It comes out flat and hollow.
'Sherlock, what are you doing? Come down. Now, Sherlock. Please. We can sort it out together. We can face it together. Together.'
Sherlock's voice is tinged with tears.
'No, John. We can't.'
For the first time, he notices that Sherlock is dressed in his pre-Say No black coat and dark hair, like the running and hiding don't matter anymore. In a flash of understanding that makes him stagger, he gets it, and then he's shouting and running for the entrance, intending to drag the man down by his hair if necessary.
'No! Sherlock, no! You are not doing this! I forbid you!'
Sherlock's voice is almost as desperate as he replies.
'No, John! Don't move! You can't move! Please, stay still and keep your eyes on me. Will you do this for me?'
John is utterly, entirely trapped. Frustration runs like an electric current over the surface of his skin and bubbles up in a single word that forces itself up his throat and past his vocal chords. He expels it in a single blast, feeling the raw honesty and bitterness burning his lips as he speaks.
From what feels like a million miles away, John watches Sherlock shake his head. A second later, like the echo of a heartbeat, he hears Sherlock's words, half-gasped, half-sobbed.
John's shaking his head now, holding up his hand as if to say, stop. This has gone far enough. No further, Sherlock, this isn't a game you should be playing. Sherlock holds up a hand in response, but it's not in acquiescence or agreement. It's a request, a wish, a desire for connection just one more time.
As Sherlock's fingers slowly curl themselves into a fist and drift to the centre of his chest, John knows without saying that the conversation is over. After all, they've never really been the ones for verbal goodbyes.
Sherlock drops the phone and steps off the end of the building.
Slow. Half speed.
It's almost comical, part of John thinks, even as he roars Sherlock's name.
The way Sherlock falls like a man from a cartoon – arms and legs akimbo, coat billowing around him like a parachute, only heartbreakingly not even close enough to slow his fall.
It's funny, because it can't be real. It was only this morning that John woke with Sherlock's note clenched in his hand and the taste of Sherlock on his lips. It's funny because Sherlock promised him, on a long-abandoned sofa light-years away on Baker Street, in the comfort of the past, that he would never be that corpse on the tarmac. He promised.
And John believes Sherlock. Trusts Sherlock. Implicitly. It's what he does.
So even as Sherlock falls, achingly slow, achingly graceful, there's still a part of John that is laughing, because it's not real and Sherlock is going to be just fine. He just needs to wait until Sherlock's ridiculous dramatics are over and then they can all just go home, or keep running onwards to the next safe place.
Sherlock drops out of sight.
Rewind. Rewind. Rewind. Rewind.
In his memories, John watches Sherlock fall over and over and over again, because anything is better than what comes next.
As soon as Sherlock is out of John's sight he is running, running faster than he ever thought he could, because if he can just keep Sherlock in his line of sight then everything will be okay and –
The bicycle comes out of nowhere, taking him down as he rounds the corner. He hits the ground with all the momentum of his short sprint, his world short-circuiting and whiting out with pain for a single blessed moment as his head cracks sharply against the ground.
He can't stop though, can't afford to waste time, so he lurches dizzily to his feet. He needs to get to Sherlock, make sure Sherlock's okay, find him so they can both go home.
He makes for the spot where Sherlock fell, barely noticing the swiftly-growing crowd until he's already on top of them. Hands land on his shoulders and sides, restraining him and pulling him out of the way, but the words escape him of their own accord and they let go when they realise he's not going to stop.
'Please, please let me through. I'm a doctor, I'm his… I'm a doctor. I need to see him. Need to…'
He breaks through the crowd.
Mute. Zoom. Contrast up.
John thinks Sherlock is the most beautiful fatality he has ever seen.
All of a sudden there are hands on him again and mouths moving and he's sure it's supposed to mean something but he's mesmerised by the wrongness of the blood that is everywhere – drenching Sherlock's hair, running in rivulets out of his nose and mouth, spreading like a halo across the pavement. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.
For a brief, crazy second, he strains against the hands that hold him, desperate to catch every drop so he can pour it back inside Sherlock and fix him. Fix this. He's a doctor, isn't he? He fixes people. He'll catch all of the blood and sew it up inside him and then he'll reach inside Sherlock's chest and start Sherlock's heart again because he cannot allow this to happen. This cannot happen.
Oh god it can't. It can't. It just can't.
And then someone turns Sherlock over and John splits down the middle watching the limp way Sherlock moves. One half of him is screaming, cursing, raging, swearing vengeance on the Say No party and everyone in it, making bargains with anyone and anything he can think of for Sherlock's life, promising everything if only Sherlock will sit up and insult John like he always does.
The other half is small, quiet and numb, and envelopes the screaming half in a blanket of silence. It slows John's movements, silences his voice, anesthetises all of his pain and fear and anger and worry. Renders him immobile as the people ebb and flow around him, calling for help and ambulances and doctors.
He sits like a rock in the centre of the stream and watches Sherlock, because that's what John does, and as long as Sherlock is in his line of sight, he can protect Sherlock, even now.
The furious half of him breaks the surface only when they begin to wheel Sherlock away. Sherlock's eyes are still wide open and John just can't bear the thought of Sherlock having to see the morgue, the body storage shelves, the inside of the coffin. He wants Sherlock's last sights to be of the sky above him, so wide and blue on such a beautiful day, so he fights off the calming and supporting hands with a ferocity he wasn't even aware he was capable of.
An apology. An expression of tenderness. One final act of protection.
Gently, calmly, quietly, he kisses the bloodied palm of Sherlock's hand and closes Sherlock's eyes.
The calmness takes over, keeps him calm and sedated as he watches Sherlock disappear into the hospital. It stays with him, even when he hears the people around him beginning to identify him and Sherlock. Even when he hears what they call the two of them. Even when the restraining hands draw back like he has burned or infected them.
Even when he drifts to his feet and spots Moriarty standing on the other side of the pavement. Half of him rages, spits insults and threats like fire, burns Moriarty in his head over and over again. But the fear and the anger are swallowed by the other half, the numbness that coats everything that John sees and hears, everything that John feels. Even when Moriarty calls out to him, it bounces right off him and he begins to walk, even though he doesn't know where he's going.
'A little too late, Johnny boy?'
Scarlet blood. Alabaster skin. Sky-grey eyes. John feels nothing.
The sound of Moriarty's mocking voice follows him down the street. John doesn't look back. An apology. An expression of tenderness.
'All of John's horses and all of John's men couldn't put Sherlock together again!'
One final act of protection.
John keeps walking.
Chapter 15: I Believe In Sherlock Holmes
Second of tonight's three chapters, featuring John Watson picking himself up and dusting himself off, with a side appearance from Raz. We're on a rollercoaster that only goes up, folks. Thank you so much for sticking with it.
It takes a ridiculously short amount of time for Moriarty to leave John entirely alone.
For the first three months after Sherlock's death, John sees the signs of his involvement everywhere. Suspicious-looking men out of the corner of his eye – well, they don't need to be discreet, even John's not stupid enough to expect Moriarty to leave him alone immediately. The crass stories about his and Sherlock's relationships in the papers and magazines and on TV. Even the things he doesn't see, but he's sure are there nonetheless: the bugs in his phone and laptop, the cameras in his flat.
Not that it matters for the first few days. Weeks. With Sherlock's death comes grief and pain and heartbreak. In his head the lines between past and present are bewilderingly blurred and he's too busy trying to cope to expend energy on caring about Moriarty or making trouble.
The first day is obviously the worst. Truth be told, he actually can't remember much of it. He wakes up the next morning from a dream of Sherlock falling to the cool grass of Battersea park beneath his cheek, with absolutely no recollections of what happened after he closed Sherlock's eyes. But it doesn't get much better in the days and weeks and months that follow. He lives half in the now, half in the nowhere, and it exhausts him to the point of tears. He sees Sherlock on street corners, talks to CCTV cameras, chases criminals before realising he no longer carries a gun.
Well, he no longer needs to. With Sherlock gone, Moriarty's stance on the matter is to leave John alone and he is gleefully firm. His explicit instructions to the general populace at the time were not to lay a finger on him. He's an illustration, an example of Moriarty's mercy and a warning to anyone who might think the same way as John and Sherlock did. As a result, he has gained some semblance of life: a flat, a menial job where nobody talks to him, just whispers when he's not around. No more running, no more hiding, no more guns and chases and embraces, no more heated embraces in the dead of night and no more life-or-death escapades. Just the suspicious men who check up on him, and then, when they're gone – nothing.
He would be insulted by Moriarty's lack of expectations about his potential for causing trouble were it not for two things: firstly, nobody ever pegged him for much in the first place – he's Sherlock's sidekick, and people have always overlooked him – and secondly, Moriarty is correct. He's not up to anything. No clever schemes, because that wasn't him. He was the gun and the sounding board and the support. Except that he wasn't even that, because supports retain their shape even when what they're backing is gone, and without Sherlock John is the last word in falling apart.
He doesn't dwell on it much. A lot of the time – most of the time – almost all of the time, he's suspended in the same numb state that enveloped him with the sight of Sherlock's body, moving sickeningly pliably against the hands that jostled him. He gets up in the morning. He goes to work. He comes back to the flat. He falls asleep. And he doesn't really think, apart from in those rare moments when he spots a shock of dark curly hair or when the way a man moves makes his hand reach for his non-existent gun.
Kind of like sleeping, he doesn't notice the time passing him by until a chance encounter wakes him up.
He's walking home one night when somebody's hand shoots out of nowhere and catches him in the chest, stopping him dead in the middle of the pavement. Illogically, he's shocked first and fearful second, because nobody touches him. Nobody has touched him in what, six months? Has it really been that long? But he doesn't have enough time to dwell on it because the man who stopped him – medium height, medium build, hooded – has firmly grasped him around the upper arm and is towing him into a darkened alleyway.
John's shock quickly turns to foreboding. Damn.
He's got one hand at the empty pocket where his gun used to be and the other poised to rip the man's hand off his arm when the stranger lets go and turns to face him, checking they're safely ensconced in the alley before pulling down the hood.
It takes John a few seconds to place the smirking face but when he does, he is agog.
Raz shoots John a mocking grin, scuffing the dirty ground with his shoes. John is extraordinarily and illogically pleased to see the man.
'Didja ever get that ASBO, old man?' John doesn't answer. In the dim light, the grin fades by degrees.
'I guess you got worse things to think about now, though. Sorry for surprisin' you in the street. I just wanted to say sorry. For Sherlock and that, y'know. With you both out of the news for so long, we were kinda cheerin' the two of you on. Not out loud, but all the same… How's it been, since…? You look…'
Raz' rough voice tails off and John's hand spasms unconsciously, his pleasure at seeing Raz fading. He doesn't want Raz' sympathies. He doesn't want to think about it. And he definitely doesn't want to answer the question, to be the lonely man, pouring out his heart story to anyone who will listen. But in the silence that falls after Raz' speech, John finds his mouth moving without his permission.
'I... I didn't even get to go to his funeral.'
He winces at how small, how pitiful he sounds. Raz' look changes from grudgingly sympathetic to plainly uncomfortable and kicking himself, John backtracks blindly. He's not doing this for you. This is for Sherlock. He wants to apologise, for Sherlock.
'Oh – god – sorry – you just wanted to offer your sympathies. Thank you. Really – really appreciate it.'
Raz is already turning but John offers his hand anyway, composing himself. After a second of hesitation, Raz accepts, smiling more sincerely.
'No worries, mate. Hey, listen. Best of luck, okay?'
John volunteers his first sincere smile in six months.
'You too, Raz.'
John fully expects Raz to turn and leave without further ado but the man hesitates, holds up a hand, begins to rifle through his pockets with the other.
'Wait up a sec.'
Obligingly, John stays put. Raz fishes something cylindrical from his pockets and with a grin, throws it to John, who catches it mid-arc reflexively. He brings it close, inspects it. It's a small can of vibrant-yellow spray paint.
Frowning, he looks up at Raz, who is grinning again.
'For old time's sake, yeah? Well, it's not like you haven't broken bigger rules, mate. See you round!'
With that, he saunters out of the alley and disappears around the corner. John looks at the can in his hand again, dumbstruck. Begins to laugh.
John has gone entirely insane.
It's the only reason he can think of as to why, an hour later, he is lurking in an alleyway in an entirely different part of London, hood over his face and spray-painting the wall. Not that he minds, really, because this kind of insanity is infinitely preferable to the grey nothingness that has smothered his life for the past six months. He may be freezing cold and bone weary and achingly lonely, but he feels utterly, utterly alive.
He finishes spraying with a flourish and steps back to inspect his work. It's not skilled and it's not complicated and it's probably not beautiful to anyone but John, but the only other person who would be interested in seeing it is gone so it doesn't really matter.
He spins the can through his fingers, smiles hesitatingly and painfully, and jogs off into the night.
Two hours and seven walls later he stumbles through his flat door, exhausted and out of breath. It's been months since he's done something so insane, absolutely months, but he can't help feeling a warm glow of pride at what he's accomplished. Sherlock would hate it, he thinks, and he collapses into laughter.
He falls asleep less than ten minutes later, having cleaned the paint from his hands and stuffed his stained clothes in the bin. While he sleeps, the paint on seven different walls dries slowly in the night air.
I miss you.
I don't know how to work without you.
You're such an idiot.
You didn't have to die.
Tell me why you did this.
And the biggest and the brightest and the closest to the city centre:
I believe in Sherlock Holmes.
Even as he falls asleep, he's not sure why. A 'screw you' to Moriarty? A testament to Sherlock? A wake-up for himself? Any will do, he thinks, because for the first time in a long time he's falling asleep smiling.
Chapter 16: Spreading the word
Have a final short one on me. Thus ends tonight's Homophobia spam. Stand tuned for tomorrow night in which normal, spaced out posting will resume.
It was never his intention, not at all, but by the time he's up and out the following morning – paint can safely hidden beneath his bed – there are not one but three walls proclaiming their faith in Sherlock Holmes.
By the end of the first week there are fifty-six walls in London that bear Sherlock's name and a week and a half later when John finally stumbles across one (halfway to his work, spray-painted on a post box) the number has risen to one hundred and two.
What started out as something entirely private – he's not entirely sure what snapped inside him that night, but he certainly wasn't intending to start anything, and he hasn't pulled the spray can out since – has mutated into something very public and the implications of that stick with him as he goes about his daily business. They won't leave him alone, gnawing at the edge of his mind, breaking through the numbness that constantly threatens him, and the more that he sees the graffiti plastered across walls and garage doors, on street signs and abandoned shop windows and at skate parks, the more it preys on his mind.
I'm not alone. I'm not the only one who thinks this system is wrong.
It doesn't really change anything at first; he's still stuck in the same grey routine, going through the motions of normal life. And then a few weeks later, a customer leans over the counter towards him at work, whispers, I believe too, and walks off without looking back.
John has never seen this person before. It's a teenage boy, all floppy ginger hair and thickset shoulders, and he hasn't seen anyone who looks less like his ex-flatmate in his life. Byt watching the boy's retreating back and replaying his kind, hesitant words, John is struck with a powerful realisation. That boy is someone else's Sherlock Holmes.
That's all it takes, really. That night he is out on the streets with his hood carefully pulled up and his spray-can in his hand, searching for a clear spot to paint. He weighs the can in his hand before spraying, considering his words, and then prints carefully and neatly onto the wall,
SAY YES. I believe in all of you the way I believe in Sherlock Holmes.
He hesitates only for a moment before signing, carefully.
By the time he is done for the night, there are sixteen walls sporting that message and John cannot contain his grin.
John may be many things, but he is not a fool, despite Sherlock's numerous claims to the contrary. So when he collapses onto his bed later that night, exhausted and paint-stained, he's already planning and formulating in his head.
If he was Moriarty, he would be coming after John for the graffiti. Confirmed homosexuals to be publicly named and monitored to prevent recidivism, and all that. John is sure that Moriarty has only left him alone for so long because he thinks that John is no threat without Sherlock, and feels a vicious stab of pleasure that Moriarty has underestimated him. Not that the graffiti is much yet, but he has plans.
Because with everything that has happened, he's lost sight of something very important. After all is said and done, he was a soldier, and he went to war to protect his country and the people he cared about. He's lost the people; Sherlock is gone.
- scarlet blood - alabaster skin - sky grey eyes -
He changes his thought track sharply. Not just Sherlock. He can't contact Harry, or Lestrade, or Stamford, or Mrs Hudson. But Britain is still here, and in Britain there are sixty million other Sherlock Holmeses, and Harrys and Lestrades. People who matter to other people, and he'll be damned if he's going to just sit by any more while they get taken in by the Say No party, or – take their own lives.
- an apology - an expression of tenderness - one final act of protection -
John closes his eyes. Breathes in sharply.
He will protect them, and he'll do it for the one he couldn't protect.
When the sun rises, he is almost completely packed, although severely lacking in sleep. As he moves through the flat, checking cupboards and shelves for anything he's missed, the parallels do not escape him: here he is, preparing to go on the run once more, and just like that he misses Sherlock so goddamn much that he can't breathe.
- the most beautiful fatality -
It takes a while for him to regain control and composure and the ability move again, but when he does he moves with purpose and haste. Gather things. Leave. Lock door behind him.
He squares his shoulders before stepping out into the morning foot traffic. He's got his paint can in his pocket, Sherlock in his heart and his plans in his head and he hopes – prays – wishes that it will be enough.
Let's see who believes in John Watson.
Chapter 17: Adler
Spamming madness over, please enjoy tonight's chapter. I have discovered that minus Sherlock and minus John's compulsion to chat her up, John and Irene might be a BroTP worth supporting :P It's a nice way to look at things and I'm finding I rather like it.
On other topics, I remain eternally grateful for your subscribing and your kudosing and your giving this fic a chance. Thank you, each and every one of you.
On with the show.
Later, he will look back on himself, disappearing into the swell of morning foot traffic, and try to pinpoint the start of it all. The start of his rebellion.
Was it the boy – the floppy haired ginger teenager, the first to offer John's own words back to him like a gift, like something precious? Was it that can of spray-paint, hastily snatched from the air, and then that first night with the cold and the paint stains and the song of adrenaline in his veins? Or was it before that even; before the fall and the running and the murders and all that way back to that very first day, sitting before the television set, watching the news and waiting for Sherlock?
He thinks it's the latter. It was inevitable, always going to happen, even if he himself wasn't the one that started it. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, after all. Create a kind of homophobic extremist party and use it to take over Great Britain and you've got to expect some kind of backlash. It wasn't much at the beginning: one washed up, grieving army doctor against the collective might of the Say No party. But it was a start, and what a start it was.
But even more importantly, oh, what it would become.
He sets out from the empty flat that cloudy morning with his paint can and his thoughts of Sherlock and his plans, wanting to do what little damage he can to Moriarty's system. Stirring up rebelliousness. Finding people who think the same as he does. Protecting the Sherlocks of Great Britain.
He knows that as soon as he disappears into the crowd he is for all intents and purposes a dead man. The party will be after him, hunting him. But he doesn't mind, not really; as established, there's nobody left to grieve for him.
Besides, the person he's looking for is legally dead, too.
As he walks, he takes advantage of the people cover and CCTV blind spots to exchange clothes, hats, even shoes, and he walks free of the crush a changed man. No longer JohnWatson, downtrodden, numb and mundane – but John Watson, fugitive once more, with a straight back and a purpose in his stride. Still grieving, but now fighting.
It's time to implement the first phase of his plan. By lunchtime, he's walked for what feels like forever and he's on the doorstep of an innocuous looking house in southern London. He rings the bell and waits, looking over his shoulder every few seconds. He's pretty sure he wasn't followed, but he's nervous.
The intercom crackles into life.
His hands may be shaking, but his voice doesn't betray him.
'Irene Adler. I'm looking for Irene Adler.'
The door swings open and the Woman herself is on the side, staring at him. She's pale and thinner than he remembers, and her greeting is unusually serious, carrying none of the easy-going flirtation that he attributes to her in his memories. Looking at her, John thinks that maybe convincing her to help will be easier than he supposed.
'Dr Watson. To what do I owe the pleasure?'
He looks her straight in the eye.
'I want to do what I can to undermine Moriarty's government. And I want your help.'
In the front room, they sit together and John describes everything that has happened since they last met. She says little, merely listens, but an hour or two later he has convinced her to help him and they've set about making plans.
He's not really sure what made her decide to help. For all the change in her appearance, she looks like she is doing pretty well, if the house is anything to go by. Helping him will mean little but trouble for her. He suspects, though, that it may have something to do with the way that as they speak, they both shift physically away from each other, as if to include a third body into their conversation. Irene doesn't mention him. John rather thinks she doesn't need to. He sits between the two of them as easily as he did when he was still alive.
The turn of phrase he uses catches him off guard. When he was still alive. He wonders if it will ever stop hurting to think that way and concludes, probably not, no, even until the end of his life.
- scarlet blood - alabaster skin - sky grey eyes -
But Irene is speaking to him and it's important to listen, so he tunes out of Sherlock and into Irene. She is talking contingency plans and contacts and witnesses and spray paint, and John feels a warmth inside him as he realises that he is able to keep up with what she is saying.
He's not Sherlock, not yet, he thinks, and snorts internally. Probably never. But thinking like Irene is good. It's a step, and one that he will most likely need if their plans are to succeed. He'd like to think that Sherlock would be proud.
They talk for hours, and as the sun sets, the vague plans that John made in that poky, empty flat have been transformed into something solid and concrete and feasible. John feels sick, dizzy, sad and elated all at once, like he's standing on the edge of a cliff and about to fall. Or fly. This might work. This actually, really might work. Making a difference, sowing dissent. Giving hope to people. Oh Christ, we might actually do this.
And then, with a tightening of resolve: for you, Sherlock. This is for you.
He looks Irene in the eye.
'You're sure about this? This is a lot to ask you. You'll really help me? You think this will work?'
She doesn't meet his gaze, but her voice is steady and firm as she replies.
Then she hesitates, and looks up at John. For a minute, she looks more vulnerable than he thought was possible, and John doesn't miss the way her voice shakes as she quietly states,
'It won't bring them back, you know.'
John narrows his eyes.
'You know. Sherlock. And Kate.'
John thinks for a moment, pursing his mouth, and then it hits him.
'Kate… oh, Kate! She was the one – she was your… assistant?'
Irene smiles again, but there's nothing in it.
'They took her before Sherlock… before Sherlock went. I tried everything I could think of to get her back, but there's no use in having contacts in government when there's no real government to use them with. And James Moriarty… I'm afraid I don't know what he likes, but it's certainly not me.'
John's not really what to make of this confession. After all, despite the planning and the talking they have done, she was always Sherlock's somehow. Of his ilk, not John's. But Sherlock's not here, so he takes her hand anyway and gives it a swift and clumsy squeeze.
'Hey, look. If Lestrade can be alive, I'm sure we can find Kate too. There's no need for them to kill her. We'll find out where she is and get her back for you.'
Irene smiles again, and it's warmer this time.
'Doctor Watson. After all this, and you're still around. Still the doctor, comforting people, still the soldier, still fighting. People have underestimated you. Even me. I must say I wasn't expecting this from you, not at all.'
John is pleased despite himself, and tries very, very hard to keep it out of his voice as he says,
'Well. I'm taking the sofa, right? We should, uh, go to bed. We should get some sleep. Big day ahead of you – well, us – tomorrow.'
She's already standing, stretching from sitting down for too long.
'Of course. People to contact, walls to paint, governments to bring down. Say,' she hesitates, and there's a twinkle in her eye as she shoots a look at John, and nods upstairs. 'Care to accompany me?'
John sits in shock for a second, mind absolutely blank. But the corners of her mouth are twitching – are you jealous?... yes you are – and he realises she isn't serious and then they're both laughing. The joke removes the last traces of awkwardness between them and it comes to him, unbidden, that she may not just be a valuable ally but possibly a very good friend.
'Thanks, but unless you're a six-foot tall mad sociopath detective, I don't really think you're my type.'
He means for it to come out light-hearted, but his voice ends up cracking a little bit at the end.
- the most beautiful fatality –
He covers up quickly by continuing to speak.
'Thank you, Irene, for today and for everything. I really… I appreciate this more than I can say.'
Irene smiles back at him, and just like that John can see the extent to which Kate's situation has affected her in her hesitation and vulnerability; and then in the softness of the way she speaks as she says,
'No, thank you.'
She leaves the room as John is digesting her words. There's hurt and fear and pain but there's also a little bit of hope for the future, and John would like to think that he was part of that.
He curls up on the sofa, smiling, and falls asleep almost immediately.
Chapter 18: Messages
Just a quick note to thank you all, as always.
If asked, John would say that although he has been described as many things – both complimentary and decidedly insulting – 'lucky' is not one of them.
That's not to say he hasn't been happy. At various points, he has had it all: a wonderful, irreplaceable man, a great job, a fruitful career, good friends. But it's in the ending of all these things that he considers himself unlucky. Their ephemerality meant that his happiness was always fleeting. After all, everything that he has cared about has almost invariably ended in blood and bullets and misery, even death, specifically of the people he cared the most for.
In the grey time following Sherlock's death, he more or less laid to rest the idea of being lucky. Wrote it off. No point in believing something that was going to let him down – and had done, time after time after time. His army career ended unceremoniously, stranding him in a London that didn't care about him with a gammy leg and no friends. Harry never became happy despite his best hopes for her, never gave up the booze. The Say No party's rise to power ended his and Sherlock's cases and police work. And then Sherlock himself – well, John doesn't really like to think much further on that. It speaks for itself.
So when John first proposes his ideas to Irene, on that first day when they sit down together and plan out their private rebellion, John's being realistic about how much they can achieve together with the little they have to work with. Dissent and discord, probably. Becoming a thorn in Moriarty's side, hopefully. But really his main aim was to reassure people like Irene: people who thought they were alone in living in the shadow of the Say No Party.
To that end, the plans that he and Irene eventually decide on are deceptively simple, essentially little more than passive aggressive undermining of Moriarty's government. After all, Irene has to maintain her heterosexual façade and once John reads the stories the newspapers are printing about him, he quickly realises he has to be very, very careful about the risks he takes.
But for all that, they aren't powerless, not by any means. There are very specific things that only the two of them can do.
Irene's job as a professional dominatrix, for instance, is very useful, having regained it after the downfall of democracy when she used the ensuing chaos to reassert herself back into her work – or so she tells John one night as a story to calm him down after a nightmare, and it's a thrilling tale. They sit in her living room opposite her fireplace and by the end of it, the last vestiges of the kissing Sherlock's palm and the feel of Sherlock's blood on his lips have all but disappeared and he's hanging onto her every word.
They do a surprising amount of talking. Irene, like John, has been on her own for a very long time and although there is a lot that he doesn't feel comfortable discussing – the way it felt to close Sherlock's eyelids what Moriarty's voice sounded like what my heart did the exact moment I knew what Sherlock was planning how it feels to have absolutely no words left to say – it's good to just talk about Sherlock and interesting to hear Irene talk about Kate in return. Sometimes it's a little bittersweet, because it's like a stab in the chest hearing Kate's name and knowing that she and Irene at least have a shot at being reunited, but anything is better than the greyness and the loneliness and more than once he's found himself exceedingly grateful that Irene has somehow become a friend to him.
Of course, she is almost invaluable as an ally. The long and short of her job is that she has potential contacts in abundance, and useful ones too. She is scrupulous about what she reveals to whom, but a combination of bribes and threats and carefully placed trust means that she is able to gather several men who are sympathetic to the cause. None are particularly high up in the party, but John and Irene are both thrilled anyway.
The day that one of them – a well-known IT specialist – offers to manipulate John's laptop so as to make it undetectable to the party, John begins to believe in luck again, just a little bit.
John's job is very different. At first, all he does is leave the house by night to graffiti. He's cautious about it, very cautious; dealing with Mycroft has taught him well about the dangers of CCTV and the like, so he always keeps a hood up and mixes well into crowded places to lose pursuers and watchers, both before and after doing any painting. After all, the last thing he wants is to lead Moriarty back to Irene's place. It's tiring and tedious to go through the same precautions night after night, but it's worth it for knowing he is undermining Moriarty, and what's more, for the responses he receives in kind: heartfelt thanks and encouragement and countless pledges to the cause that has been swiftly dubbed as 'believe in Sherlock Holmes.'
Later, once he receives his laptop back, he carefully restarts his blog with Irene laughing over his shoulder at the way he types. The first post he makes details most of what has happened since he last used his blog – leaving out his current location and company. He uploads with a kind of breathless pessimism, not expecting anything at all but unable to stop wondering, if he was lucky, just what would happen if…?
He wakes up the next morning to thousands of hits and hundreds, hundreds of comments and private messages sending him their condolences for his loss. Hundreds more pledge support for his cause.
He has to sit down very swiftly.
Scanning the list of comments and messages he discovers that he doesn't recognise a single name, and he's abruptly overwhelmed by the thought of so much support from people who don't even know him. He expects it will take him a long time but he pledges to go through every single message, encouraging and thanking and supporting everybody who took the time to leave him something.
Everybody bar one, that is, because when he comes across a comment that reads how nice to hear from you again, dr watson, enjoy it while it lasts,jim – he deletes it without a second thought.
Irene arrives home when he's halfway through and takes a second to laugh at the way his tongue sticks out of the side of his mouth before hopping onto the sofa beside him and reading over his shoulder as he types. He pauses and passes the laptop over for her to read, and then sits for a moment in silence, still reeling.
'Oh my god,' she says, and then –
'John,' and the breathless tone of her voice makes him look over in alarm.
She's opened up a private message on the screen and is staring at it wide eyed, so John retrieves the laptop from her and squints to read what it says.
Dr Watson, it reads, we have been watching your actions for a while. You're a difficult man to contact. Please be assured we mean you no harm: in fact, quite the opposite. If you're against the Say No party, then we are for you. You're not alone in this fight. There are many others like you willing to take action for the cause. Many of us have lost partners and family members to the tyranny of the party. I think we may be able to help each other. If you are who you say you are then we may be able to introduce you to a network of people who will be more than willing to co-operate with you. Reply for further details.
Please take our sincere condolences on the death of Mr Holmes. Many of us knew him. He was a great man and he would most certainly take pride in what you have achieved in his name.
It is signed, simply, The Say Yes Association.
John takes a minute to collect himself before speaking.
'What do you think this is? Some kind of joke? Do you think they're serious?'
Irene replies slowly, as if testing her words before she says them.
'We can't rule out the possibility that this is the work of the Say No party. But then again, they may not be. If you think about it logically, we can't be the only ones hoping for freedom of sexuality. Before the Say No days there were plenty of people I met who I'd consider more likely candidates for defender of free sexuality than you and, well,' she waves a perfectly manicured hand in the air, 'here you are.'
John grins very slightly at her and makes his mind up.
'I will message them. After all, they won't be able to track it back to us, and if they're for real we need all the help we can get. And if they're Moriarty, well, I'd never miss a chance to tell him to bugger off.'
He sets to typing and sends it before he can think through it too much. Once he's done, Irene touches his arm gently and smiles at him.
'They're right, you know. He would be proud.'
John smiles in return, but it's painful.
That night, as he settles down to sleep on Irene's couch after washing away the paint stains, for the first time, the thought occurs to him that if this other network exists, he and Irene might be able to do more than just irritate Moriarty. Maybe, just maybe, they might be able to bring him down.
He corrects himself quickly - that may be rather too lucky - but he's smiling anyway as he falls asleep.
In the morning, there is a new message waiting in his inbox.
Chapter 19: For You, Sherlock
Don't look now, but I'm giving you something that isn't stuffed to the gills with doom. Consider it a present for putting up with the horrors of this world so far.
Much love to you all, and as always, take my eternal and humble gratitude for reading this far.
When John wakes the next morning, sweating and sobbing as Sherlock's name is torn in a cry from his lips, he finds to his surprise that there's something new in his head besides the residual echoes of pain and fear and grief. It's a small thing, granted, but it's there nonetheless, and it doesn't fade away in the light of the sun like the leftover shadows of his nightmare eventually do.
It's a thought, borne of his half-awake musings in the dead of the previous night.
We could take down Moriarty.
Like an itch he can't quite scratch – barely noticeable, but still just there – he carries it with him as he goes about his morning, getting up, wiping away his tears, making coffee and breakfast and grunting a sleepy goodbye at Irene, who is already dressed and heading out of the door.
The thought gets louder and louder as he waits for his laptop to boot, his hand trembling unconsciously over the mouse. He's nervous, although it's not something that he'll ever admit out loud. Nervous that the email is a fake, a trick, a red herring from Moriarty to catch him out. Nervous that it's real and the thought that has somehow ensconced itself firmly in his head might actually turn out to be possible.
The blog loads. The message icon is flashing. John clicks.
Dr Watson, he reads.
We're happy to hear that you might be amenable to joining our organization despite your hesitations. We recognise the unfortunate necessity of your reticence in trusting us. It is no secret that you are one of the most wanted men in Britain.
For this reason, we will be frank with you, in an act of faith. We need you. Your ability to stay out of the grasp of James Moriarty despite claims that he has a personal interest in finding you and the popularity of your Believe in Sherlock Holmes campaign could prove invaluable to our ultimate aim: the destabilisation of James Moriarty and the Say No to Sexual Deviancy party.
This has been our aim since the Association was first created but our best efforts have gone unnoticed by the populace at large. We have undertaken many acts of protest and vandalism but James Moriarty is as enthusiastic about keeping the pro-freedom of sexuality news from the public as he is about publishing anti-homosexual propaganda. Your lack of knowledge about our existence is a prime example of this. However, we feel we can change this, with your help.
Therefore we have taken the liberty of adding a little something to your graffiti campaign. Call it a gesture of our good will towards you.
Before you make up your mind concerning whether or not to trust us, please also bear the following in mind: it is true that we need you, but you may also want to consider how much you need us. Your graffiti campaign is popular, it is true, but if your ultimate goal is the same as ours then your current efforts simply will not suffice. Together, we can achieve far more.
If you can bring yourself to place your trust in us, please reply promptly. Time is of the essence.
The Say Yes Association.
John sits in shock, statue-still, for approximately five minutes while taking in the email. He's rebounding between running over possibilities and ramifications and weighing up the pros and cons and risks of accepting and trusting this mysterious association, and repeating the phrase 'one of the most wanted men in Britain' on a loop while trying to get his head around it when Irene phones.
'Irene, hello? What's wrong?'
'Did you happen to notice any of this last night when you were out?'
'Notice… any of what?'
The sounds of traffic fall into the slight pause before Irene speaks again.
'Well, the graffiti, John. It's everywhere. I must have seen, oh… about two hundred, and I'm only halfway to Hillingdon. There has to be at least four times as much as just yesterday. This is excellent news, someone out there must love you. Look, there's a client calling, but this is excellent. We'll talk about this later, John.'
She hangs up. John stares dumbfounded at the phone for a few seconds before pulling the laptop over and typing, simply,
What do you need me to do?
In the next three months, the Association explodes into John's life. It's like living on fast-forward, John thinks: almost, but not quite, like he's back with Sherlock all over again. There's the risk, the chase and the near-capture, the adrenaline.
In the beginning, it takes less time than John really needs to process everything that's happening, but for all the Association's sophisticated manner of address it really boils down to something very simple. The Association promote his blog and help his graffiti campaign, and in return he references them on his website and helps out with their demonstrations.
He quickly finds that it's very near to the best thing that could have happened to him and Irene.
At first, the requests the Association sends him are simple and polite: please, graffiti this particular message here - if you wouldn't mind, we'd appreciate this if you included this sentence on your next post. He recognises that they are reassuring him that he is not in any danger of capture by the party and is grateful; even more so when the hits on his blog and the number sprayed motifs on London walls continue to steadily rise.
The first time he is asked to meet some other members of the Association, he tucks the gun into his pocket before leaving. Irene kisses him on the cheek for good luck as he walks out of the door and he makes sure to keep his voice cheerful and carefree when he tells her he'll be fine. Nevertheless, he arrives ten minutes late because he's been inspecting the people waiting for him and the buildings all around, just in case. When he finally approaches them, he half expects the street around them to explode with black vans and men packing guns and hard punches. But the street is silent and the people are normal, or as close to it as he has seen in a very long time, and maybe even a little in awe of him. The task is simple and painless – graffiti the Say No meeting house in Waltham Forest – and over before he really knows it.
He gets home and sits down heavily on the sofa, letting out the tension he didn't even know he was feeling. The thought pops right into his head, stronger than ever.
We could take down Moriarty.
That night is just the beginning. For the next three months, he runs at night and slashes van tyres and graffitis on Say No party buildings and meets up with other association members and blogs openly about his actions and laughs with Irene and evades capture and falls into bed at night exhausted and although he still can't quite get used to running through the darkened London streets without the sound of Sherlock's breathing beside him and the feel of Sherlock's hand in his he considers it all the best damn therapy he can possibly get.
He sees the change in himself in mirrors, glimpses it in reflections of shop windows as he passes, feels it in himself, in the way that he moves and talks and stands. It's like an inversion, the antithesis of those six horrific months when the world was falling down brick by brick around him and Sherlock. But instead of retreating back into Baker Street and hiding away from the world to keep the two of them safe, John is slowly emerging. He's coming out from the greyness that's kept him bound up for so long in the past and the numbness and the fear and it's wonderful.
He holds himself straighter, talks louder, laughs longer. He ventures out into the world in daylight with shields of hair dye and strange clothes. He even grows physically; he puts on a little weight where it has been lost, and clothes that hung off him when he first approached Irene now fit a little more snugly. He'd usually mind, but he's finding that after months of hiding away he quite likes having more of a presence in the world.
He'd like to think it's what Sherlock would want for him. Building himself up day by day, he can carry the thought and feel and sight of Sherlock with him. It's becoming a comfort, rather than a source of pain, and one that keeps him going.
It's not a miracle cure, not by any means. He still feels Sherlock's loss like a dull ache on the side of his chest, still turns to talk to him before remembering with a sharp pain that nobody will answer and it's still difficult to hear the way that Irene speaks Kate's name, rounded out with hope and optimism. But this quest, this cause; it makes those burdens easier to shoulder.
And it's not just his burdens becoming easier. He sees it in his blog and graffiti, and even in the people who he passes on the streets. He's not the only one walking taller, speaking more freely, smiling more easily. Freedom and hope – it's infectious, and the Association people who he contacts via his blog and on the demonstrations report that they are picking up new members in greater numbers than ever.
John runs and blogs and sprays and smiles, and thinks we could do this. We could take down Moriarty.
For you, Sherlock.
Things are good.
Chapter 20: Some Swift and Damaging Action
Much love and thanks to you all.
It happens three months after John's first contact with them, almost to the day.
He comes in from a successful night of vandalism, flushed and out of breath and bubbling over with equal parts panic and exhilaration. It's been another near-miss night with a van and a group of party members and stumbling through the door, he'd still be tense with fear, but he managed to take one of them down with a paint can to the head before escaping. The mental image of the look of surprise on the man's face has kept him on the edge of hysterical laughter all the way home.
He flops down onto the sofa, still grinning and energised on leftover adrenaline, and pulls his laptop over to check his blog. The message icon, he sees to some surprise, is flashing. Unusual for the time of night. He clicks.
Dr Watson, he reads.
You are no doubt aware of the great successes we have enjoyed over the past few months, in no small part due to our timely collaboration. The surge in membership of the Association has been beyond our most optimistic estimates and we are sure you in return have noticed that London is fairly covered in encouraging vandalism bearing your former partner's name.
Yet for all that we are enjoying the advantages of such a situation, so we are also experiencing the shortfalls. We are losing members to the Party in greater numbers than ever before. Just this evening we received word of the loss of fifteen of our supporters.
While at some other time we might content ourselves to merely mourning the loss of such individuals, we the Association have decided that the time is ripe for some swift and damaging action. Therefore, we propose a raid of one of the Say No party's buildings to retrieve as many of the aforementioned taken as possible, and it is here we turn to you.
You need not trouble yourself with the mechanics of the plan, but as the only person sympathetic to our cause with knowledge, however limited, of the layout and security of such a building, we require your assistance in preparation to increase our chances of success in this venture. We would also greatly appreciate your presence on the raid.
Think on it if you must, but please reply promptly. Circumstances are such that we have but a small window of time in which to act.
The Say Yes Association.
John's smile is long gone from his face as he finishes reading. He puts the laptop to one side for a moment to rub the crease from between his eyebrows and, slumping backwards into the sofa, simply think.
The chances of this succeeding are tiny. Absolutely tiny. Moriarty is powerful, ruthless and intelligent – vastly so – and for all that the Association converses authoritatively, John is coming to realise that in the past three months very little has been achieved practically. If he's being brutally honest, the sum of their combined efforts has in all likelihood done little more than irritate Moriarty and possibly give a little hope to the citizens of Britain.
But what if, John thinks, what if?
It would be amazing, he concedes. It would be a massive blow to Moriarty, one that he would really feel, and it would free dozens of innocent people. But there are so many ifs. If the Association's plan is feasible. If the prisoners are actually hidden in the place the Association suspects. If they manage to actually get the prisoners out. Oh, and if John actually manages to recall anything about the building apart from the image of Lestrade's distraught face, which rises before his eyelids no matter how hard he struggles to push it down.
But that's the clincher, isn't it, he thinks grimly. That's the one thing that overrides all of his pontificating and pessimistic wonderings; overrides everything. The promise he made to Lestrade all that time ago – dear god, has it been nine months already?
I'll find Sherlock, and when I do, we'll return for both of you. Sherlock will think of something, something much cleverer than my stupid plan and we'll get you out.
Obviously, he thinks, not all of it is applicable, as Sherlock's – not around. But the gist of the promise still stands and if there's any chance that Mycroft and Lestrade are still trapped inside that building then he's not going to stand idly by while someone else goes about busting them out.
Mind made up, he pulls the laptop over and types, painstakingly,
Whatever you need, I'm your man.
He receives a reply within a minute of sending his acquiescence, but to his surprise there is no request for information, nor any details of the planned raid. Instead, the message contains simply a time in twenty four hour format and what appear to be co-ordinates to a small café in outer London. Mysterious, but John gets the gist. They want to meet him.
John is wary, of course, but three months of dealing with the Association has reassured him to a point about their acute lack of desire to kidnap, brainwash or in any other way harm him. After all, if they want to take him, they have had chances aplenty to do so before this point. And truth be told, John's desire to put a face to the Mysterious organization has been growing steadily since his first contact with him. Someone has to be behind the organization and John has only ever met with Association members before now. John's burning curiosity to find out if the meeting can tell him who near-on trumps the trepidation that the secretive manner of the message sparks in him.
It doesn't happen, though, to his utmost disappointment. The meeting itself is brief and remarkably uneventful. John arrives early and hovers outside for a minute before entering, giving the building and its inhabitants a once over as he did the first time he met members of the Association, but a man inside quickly looks up and upon seeing him, beckons him inside.
The speed at which he is recognised unnerves John somewhat, but upon introduction his contact seems friendly enough. He identifies himself as Claude before outlining the situation and then detailing exactly what information he wants from John.
John's reassured somewhat by the fact that Claude appears to be the Association member who undertakes correspondence with him, judging by the fact that Claude sounds like he's never heard a colloquialism in his life; reassured enough to plunge into his memories of the building and security measures without much prompting. In return, Claude gives him the details of when and where to meet for the raid and what exactly John needs to do throughout. John feels a thrill of excitement as he listens. The prospect of making an active and practical stand against Moriarty, taking action that he will really feel, is something that he's been looking forward to for a long time.
By the end of the meeting, John is satisfied enough with the information and the all-you-can-drink cheap coffee to ask Claude whether he is in fact the leader of the Association. Claude sits in shocked silence for a second before bursting out into peals of laughter.
'Oh, my dear Dr Watson, not at all! No, I'm merely a subordinate, albeit a privileged one.'
John has a distinct memory of a not dissimilar man telling him that he holds a minor position in the British government, but he quashes it firmly. This man is not Mycroft.
'Will I ever get to meet the people who actually lead this thing?'
Some kind of emotion flashes across Claude's face but he smoothes out his expression before John can get a fix on it.
'Ah, that would probably be a no, Dr Watson. At least, not until all of this is over.' He smiles in a definite way and leans across the table, offering John his hand. 'Well, I must be off. It's been a most enlightening experience to converse with you. And may I say –' he pauses, and John just knows what's coming so he tries to prepare himself, ' – how sorry I am for your loss. I am informed that he was a great and good man. You must miss him terribly.'
It doesn't matter what how much notice he's given, or how hard he tries to stop it affecting him. It still feels like a punch to the chest.
- the most beautiful fatality –
Always, John thinks. This will always hurt. But he manages a decent approximation of a smile as he takes Claude's hand and thanks him, and he waits until Claude has exited the café before wiping a hand across his forehead and letting out a shaky breath that he tries very hard to convince himself is not a sob.
But it's okay, he thinks. Because remembering Sherlock reminds him of why he needs to keep going, keep fighting Moriarty. For Sherlock.
Two evenings later he's repeating the thought to himself, wrapped up in the darkness down the street from a Say No building and stamping his feet and blowing on his fingers. It's a chilly night out and he's so wound up that he's finding it difficult to think straight. He and the group of men currently milling around him – he'd take a guess at fifteen to twenty of them – have been waiting for near on three hours for the signal that will tell them to rush the building and John thinks that if he waits much longer he may well go mad.
His orders are simple, really. Once the lights go out, enter the building. Descend to the lowest floor and free as many prisoners as you can find. Lead said prisoners outside the building and enter the black vans, which will be commandeered to carry them all to a safe point for a debriefing.
Simple enough in practice, John thinks. But he's finding it hard to suppress his fear.
John is well aware of the way that the eyes of the other men in his group are drawn to him over and over as if by magnetism, so he fights as hard as he can to project a relaxed exterior, even though the long hours of waiting are severely grating on his already tense nerves. He knows that as not only an army captain but a wanted fugitive of Moriarty's these men will be looking up to him for guidance: he can see the tell-tale lines of stress in their faces and the way they hold themselves. At any other time he'd be flattered, but on this particular job, he really couldn't care less. The building they are raiding isn't even the same one that held him nine months ago, but his mind throws up image after image of the black vans and the sniper sights and Lestrade at just the thought of going inside a Say No building and he's feeling sick already.
The lights go out in the Say No building. John tenses, and reaches for his gun. It's time.
Lestrade. Mycroft. If you're here, I will find you.
Chapter 21: Rescue
Let it be known that I know absolutely next to nothing about unconsciousness-inducing drugs, and any knowledge on the subject would be welcomed with open arms because this is all totally coming off the top of my head.
I give you rescue.
There's a second, a split second, where the world slows down around John and he is entirely still. He recognises the feeling from his army days: the moment before the battle, the calm before the storm. It's just long enough for him to push all of his fear deep down inside himself before reality hits in an explosion of awareness and adrenaline.
And then he's moving, running low and fast down the street towards the Say No building, the Association members at his heels. He spares a second to admire their professionalism – they're whisper-silent, apart from the unavoidable noises of feet on the ground and clothing in the wind – but after that, all of his attention is focused on the buildings and his surroundings and anywhere else that could possibly be hiding Say No members. Claude had told him that there would be no danger from the party, but John knows better than most how even the best-laid plans go awry, so he keeps an eye out anyway.
He finds that the layout of the grounds is essentially the same as those of the building that he was taken to, for all that they're different places. Barriers. Guard booths. Courtyard. Black vans. He mentally makes note of them as he passes them by.
True to Claude's words, the guard booths appear empty as he runs past and as he approaches the building, he can see that the place is utterly dark and utterly silent. It terrifies him and reassures him in equal measures. He tries to let only the reassurance show on his face as he slows to a jog and then a walk, finally stopping before the front door. The Association members gather around, entirely silent. John sees pure fear etched over more than one of their faces, but a particularly brave one amongst their ranks reaches forward and gently pushes the door open.
It gives without a sound, and then they're all pouring inside.
The corridor they find themselves in is as dark and quiet as the outside has led them to expect. John stands just inside, letting the others pass him by and putting away his gun, replacing it with a torch. He switches it on, peering down the beam. A second later, his light is joined by the rest of the team's and they begin to advance slowly down the corridor. Without a word, they all draw close to each other as they move.
John would put good money on the chance that there is not a single person in their contingent who is not scared out of his wits.
His suspicions are entirely confirmed when one of the group's torches sweeps further up the corridor and highlights the inert form of a someone lying prone on the ground a fair way up the corridor There's a collective intake of sobbed breath and the group stumbles backwards, footsteps and explosive profanities bouncing off the walls, taking on eerie echoes and shattering the hush. John is frozen in a crouch as terror - cold and electric and uncontrollable - makes a blank slate of his mind.
After a minute, when the figure has remained just where it is, John bolsters his courage and gathers himself enough to stumble a short way down the corridor, driven on almost blindly by the knowledge that these men are relying on him to lead the way. His steps slow as he approaches and he draws close to the other side of the wall, but as three metres become two, and then shrink to one John can see that the person - it's a man, mid-thirties, dressed in the Say No getup - is not just unmoving, but entirely still, his muscles lax with what John assumes is unconsciousness. For a moment, he's even concerned that the man is dead, but closer inspection reveals that the man is breathing.
Cautiously, John crouches, and when there's no response he quickly checks the man's vitals. Responsive. Fine. Healthy as a horse, even. The man's just unconscious, although he doesn't know why - and then it hits him. The pupils are slightly dilated. He's been drugged, to allow the Association passage into the building, he assumes. His gratefulness to Claude is tempered by a certain irritation that he wasn't told this at the debriefing and spared the shock of having to stumble across the man in a dimly lit passage.
He dusts off his hands and stands up, and then calls to the others to explain their situation. There are a fair few sighs of relief, but as they regroup and continue past the unconscious man, nobody looks particularly comfortable. And John doesn't blame them. One unconscious man doesn't mean that everybody in the building is going to be so. He has no idea how long they're going to be out. And even if he trusts that Claude has allowed enough time for them to get in, find the prisoners and get out, he's still not really sure what to expect when they get downstairs.
Certain stories have been circling about what the Say No party does to the people it captures ever since the takeover and John himself is not reassured by his own experience, limited as it is. In his heart of hearts he's almost expecting some kind of Room 101 getup, but he's reassured by the fact that if that is the case, he'll probably be okay. After all, there's not that much left they can do to him that hasn't already been done.
With that cheerful thought, they round the corner to see a staircase. John breathes an inaudible sigh of relief. If all goes to according to plan, all they need to do is descend to the bottom floor and escort the prisoners up. Claude has assured him that the rooms containing the prisoners will be open. Since Claude also told him that the opening system for the rooms runs on the same one that opens the doors to the outside, and they breached the building's exterior with little more than a slight push to the front door, John is thankfully inclined to believe him. Although he's really wondering exactly what they needed to talk to him for, if they knew so much about the building in the first place.
The echoes of his team's footsteps sound even louder as they all descend the stairs to the basement floor - pausing to skip over another unconscious Say No member, this one female and a little older - and the harsh sound grates on John's nerves. When they hit the final flight, he flexes his fingers around the torch and draws his gun out of his pocket again. Although everything that Claude told him in that coffee shop has turned out to be right so far, he'd be a fool to let his guard down this far into the game.
The door to the bottom floor opens silently onto a plain corridor. John's nerves are screaming at him to freeze, run away, hide, anything – but the rest of his team are hanging back and John can almost smell the fear in the air so he takes it upon himself to be the first to step through the doorway.
Nothing. No explosion of light, no party members pouring out of doorways, no piercing alarm. Just the plain, long hall lined with plain doors, still silent, still dark, with one more unconscious Party member slumped against the far end of the corridor. John feels a little of the tension drain from his shoulders and walks on further into the corridor with more confidence, hearing the Association members start to follow him. He reaches the first door on the left, puts his gun away again and curls his fingers around the handle. Around him, his companions are fanning out down the corridor but he doesn't pay the much attention until he realises that his heart is beating triple-time, his hand hasn't moved on the handle and none of the rest of the team are moving either.
He looks up and flashes his torch down the corridor, keeping his other hand on the door. The Association members are spread all the way down the corridor in exactly the same position as him: hands on handles, unmoving. This time, when he scans the faces, there is not a single one that doesn't register fear.
He smiles, but it's strained. He knows exactly how they're feeling. So for the first time that night, he speaks to them, although his voice sounds hoarse in the semi-darkness of the torchlight.
'Christ, I'm scared. I don't want to open this thing. God knows what's on the other side.'
There's a high-pitched giggle from the other end of the corridor and he sees a few faces relax by degrees. John realises that for all that this operation has every appearance of a well-organized, professional mission, these people are all just that at heart – people. In the best of ways, nothing special. Nothing amazing. So, scared to death. Just like me.
'Look, let's get this over and done with quickly. Open on three, yeah? We'll do it together.'
On the third beat of silence, the sound of doors opening echoes down the corridor and John bursts through the door in front of him. His torch beam sweeps the room, highlighting dark, wild hair and long spindly limbs and for the faintest of seconds an illogical hope swells unbearably inside him but the figure lying splayed out on the floor in front of him moves and groans and he realises it's a woman.
He crouches over her and puts his torch in his mouth so he can do a proper check of her state of health. He finds no bruises, lacerations or broken limbs, although like Lestrade, she's underfed to the point of emaciation. As he works, he becomes conscious of her eyes on him, but he keeps his expression schooled and his examination clinical. When he's satisfied himself that she's not in any danger, he stands up, pulling the torch out of his mouth, and offers her his hand. She flinches for a second before accepting it gingerly, and pulling herself to her feet. Good news for once, John thinks, and smiles: she's swaying a little, but she can stand. She'll be fine.
'Look, we haven't got much time,' he starts, 'so I'll be brief. We're getting you out of here. We'll be taking you to a safe place where we'll update you on everything that's been going on since you've been taken. How long have you been here? Can you tell me your name?'
'…Mary. I was taken in March.' She blinks, and her face crumples momentarily before straightening out again. John might be fooled that she's okay, but her voice is suspiciously detached when she asks, 'Do you… do you know what they did with Lisbeth?'
John has to swallow down the lump in his throat. Lisbeth. This girl's Sherlock Holmes?
'No. No, I'm very sorry. But, hey, there are other people with me helping the other prisoners. She might be there. Just come with me.'
He keeps her hand and leads her out into the corridor, pleased to see that she moves strongly enough considering what's happened to her. The corridor is filled with a babble of voices: some emotional, some explaining. John hears one couple in tears down the end and when he swings his torch that way, he sees two men embracing. He smiles. For once, he is able to feel just purely and simply happy for them.
He sweeps the rest of the corridor with his torch slowly, giving Mary enough time to dissect faces and figures. Her intake of breath and the way her hand slackens out of his grip tells him everything he needs to know.
In the dim light, her smile is radiant and her eyes are distant.
'Yes… oh, god, yes! I never thought I was going to see her again! Oh, God, Lisbeth! LISBETH!'
A short blonde woman close to the end of the corridor turns in the torchlight and John has to suppress a grin at the way her jaw just drops. Mary spares a second to turn and peck him quickly on the cheek before dashing down the corridor. John watches her go and smiles, touching his cheek gently, and then relaxes against the corridor wall until he realises someone is calling his name.
'Dr Watson? Dr Watson!'
Alarmed, he starts down the corridor, sweeping his torch from side to side. But he only manages a few steps before he has to stop because in the shaking torchlight, he sees none other than Mycroft Holmes, whose hand is wrapped around an unconscious Gregory Lestrade's.
Christ. I've done it. I've actually done it. Found Lestrade and Mycroft.
John feels an overwhelming bubble of happiness rise in his chest as he kneels down in front of them to gently check Mycroft's vitals. Mycroft stares at him the whole time like he's some kind of miracle and John thinks cheekily that he could almost get used to that. When he's done, he doesn't fight the massive grin that spreads across his face as he looks the other man in the eye and says,
'Good to see you, Mycroft.'
Mycroft seems incapable of speech and it's only moving over to check on Lestrade that stops John from really, really appreciating the moment. Because it's funny to think of Mycroft being dumbstruck by John's presence but the reality of the situation is brought painfully home by Lestrade's state. The circles under the man's eyes look like they've been engraved there, his breathing and heartbeat are rapid and he's so very thin; thinner even than when John last saw him, and he was already concerned about Lestrade's health back then. John doesn't think Lestrade is in any immediate danger but he's overcome by the sudden urge to get him out of the building - get them all out the building – as soon as possible, just in case. The place feels like poison.
All business, he hooks his arms under Lestrade's unconscious form and then looks Mycroft dead in the eye.
'Can you walk?'
Mycroft nods and climbs unsteadily to his feet and John has to look away because god, Mycroft is almost as thin and Christ, last time they met Sherlock made that diet joke and it's not at all funny anymore. Not at all.
But they're safe now, he reassures himself. That's what matters. Gently, he hefts Lestrade into his arms and then calls down the corridor, keeping an eye on the unconscious guard.
'Is everyone ready to move?'
There are murmurs of assent all the way down. So, with Mycroft at his elbow, John leads the way out.
Chapter 22: Mycroft
You are amazing, you are fantastic, and you all are more luminous than I am but continue to inspire light in me nonetheless. Thank you, as always, for giving this fic a chance, and I hope you enjoy.
The ride to the safe place is heart-stopping and heart-breaking in equal amounts.
For the former, it's easy to explain why. In that café, what feels to John like a thousand years ago, Claude had told him to escort the prisoners out of the building and into the black vans, which would be commandeered by Association members to get them somewhere safe. So far, so straightforward, John thinks. But John's memories of the last time he was in one of those vans aren't exactly rosy so he's tense as hell when he climbs through the black doors, still cradling Lestrade. Even watching members of his own team settle into the driving seats doesn't do much to reassure him.
The latter feeling is more difficult to put into words and John tries his hardest to reason it out as they jolt their way out of the Say No compound. He feels happy and sad and hopeful and desolate all at once and he's pretty sure it's got something to do with the way Mycroft can't bring himself to take his eyes off Lestrade's face, but he's still getting used to feelings in the place of six months of numbness and the events of the evening have taken their toll on his emotions. So, feeling a little overwhelmed, he just contents himself with siting in companionable silence next to Mycroft and watches as the man occasionally leans down to brush the over-long hair out of Lestrade's eyes. John can't help feeling that this is the most human that he's ever seen Mycroft being, but he and Lestrade both have been through hell and back so John's not surprised at the melting of the Ice Man's exterior.
For this reason, it's especially painful to remember halfway through the journey that Mycroft doesn't know. John knows it's unavoidable, though, when Mycroft appears to have gotten his fill of Lestrade and turns to John to ask what's been going on.
'Tell me, Doctor Watson. I don't even know what the date is, but I'm aware I've been secreted away for a considerable length of time. I assume from the secrecy of the operation that Moriarty is still in government – to that end, do we have a plan? Have you managed to steal away any other members of the previous government? And where is my brother? I'd expect him to be attached to your hip on a mission such as this.'
Christ does John not want to be the one to tell him.
It comes spilling out of his mouth anyway. John would like to say that it's purely because he considers it unfair to keep Mycroft in the dark about the situation of his brother and wouldn't he himself want to know immediately if something had happened to Harry but there's a nasty dark part of him, small as it is, that is sick and tired and jealous of the way Mycroft looks at Lestrade and wants to ruin it and well – John's had enough of that way of thinking, but it's really too late.
John hears the spite and the jealousy in his tone and hates himself more in that single instant than he's ever done before; more so when Mycroft looks at him, pale eyes wide in a far-too-gaunt face.
John gentles his tone and pushes the now-reluctant words out, willing himself to keep it together.
'He… jumped. From the roof of St. Bart's.'
He can read the disbelief and the doubt and even the hint of condescension in Mycroft's face before the man even opens his mouth to reply and he knows just what Mycroft is thinking. Of course Sherlock didn't really jump. Of course it's an illusion, a magic trick, just another one of Sherlock's deceptions. He doesn't blame the man. He knows Sherlock and at any other time he'd have the same reaction. But it's imperative that Mycroft knows what he does: that Sherlock is gone, and he's not coming back. So he pours everything that convinced him – the feel of Sherlock's lifeblood cooling on his lips, the give of Sherlock's delicate eyelids under his fingers, the sight of Sherlock moving limply under the hands of strangers – into the crack in his voice as he informs Mycroft,
'I was the one who closed his eyes.'
John knows it works because he sees realisation and horror chase each other briefly across Mycroft's face before it closes, expressionless, like a trap. He sees the weight of it hit him, the way Mycroft folds almost imperceptibly under the knowledge of his death and so he carefully places Lestrade's hand into Mycroft's, just as a reminder. Because God knows John knows what it's like to be alone with that kind of knowledge and for all that he's never really gotten on with the man, they're in this together, now, Lestrade too when he finally wakes up. All of them.
There's a minute of quiet which John tactfully ignores before Mycroft looks John in the eye again. His face and tone are perfectly even as he asks,
A pause, and then John laughs. It's not a happy sound.
'Believe you me, I've been asking myself than same question for nine months.'
Mycroft's composure slips and his eyes bulge.
'Nine months? What on earth has been going on?'
John is exhausted all of a sudden and he wants it over and done with. He begins to speak in earnest, faster and faster, the words tripping over themselves as they fall in a waterfall over his lips.
'We haven't heard anything about you in a year and a half, Mycroft. That's how long you've been gone. The first nine months Sherlock and I spent on the run, then they got me, and after that…' The words he doesn't want to say hang unspoken in the air between them. Ever the politician, Mycroft acknowledges them with a flick of his eyes, nothing more. 'After that, nothing happened for six months until this underground organization called the Say Yes Association appears out of nowhere. I've been working with them – only small-scale rebellion – for three months now. Tonight's rescue is the first real change we've attempted to make.'
There's a pause while John assumes Mycroft uses to process this information, filing it away in a corner of his head. For that, when Mycroft speaks again it's not about the rebellion or the government. Mycroft doesn't use his name but John's expecting the question anyway.
'Did he say why?'
John hesitates, then parrots softly.
'Without me, there is no us.'
Mycroft's lips twist into a grimace and John thinks grimly that he knows exactly how the man feels.
'Yes, he was a bloody fool. It wasn't worth it. It will never be worth it.' John hesitates again, and looks at his hands. 'He was wrong, anyway. I've spent the last three months making sure that there was, and always will be, an us.'
Mycroft doesn't ask any more, just lays his free hand gently on John's shoulder. John appreciates the gesture, especially coming from a man usually so reserved in his affections. He decides to tackle the next issue while Mycroft's still accessible as a human being, difficult as it is for him to broach the subject.
'Mycroft… about Lestrade.'
John can feel Mycroft tensing next to him, even though he's still keeping his eyes away from Mycroft's face.
John licks his lips nervously, measuring his words before speaking. Nevertheless, his dialogue is full of stops and starts and broken punctuation because honestly, John thinks, how do you tell a man that the man he loves has been broken, possibly beyond repair?
'I'm not… going to ask you what they did to you in there. Where we're going… it's probably necessary that they know, but we've only just got you out of that place. I just wanted to warn you that I saw Lestrade, just before Sherlock… I saw him and he wasn't in the best of shape even back then. Physically… and mentally. You seem to have fared a hell of a lot better than he did and when he wakes up… he might not be the same.'
When John risks a glance at Mycroft, he can see that the man's face is oddly at peace. There's a kindness and a light in his eyes that John doesn't see an awful lot of these days and his voice is soft when he speaks.
'That… doesn't matter.'
John's not sure how successful he's been at getting his point across.
'Mycroft, I mean – he was talking about how wrong it was to care about you. I don't know what the Say No party has done to him, or if it can be repaired.'
'It doesn't matter.'
Mycroft's voice is stronger this time, but John can still hear the kindness and the care in it and all of a sudden he finds a glimmer of understanding in the odd pairing of the politician and the detective inspector. It makes him smile a soft, sad smile as Mycroft continues.
'In sickness and in health: isn't that the expression, Doctor? I appreciate that there is no formal arrangement between Gregory and myself but regardless the sentiment remains. I will not give up on him. I do not consider the actions of this Say No party to be irreversible. And if they should prove to be so, then I will not rest until I find a state in which he can find happiness and once he is there, I shall consider myself happy even if he is not with me.'
John thinks that while there are people in the world who speak with as much determination as Mycroft does that there may be hope for this country yet. There are people who need that kind of determination, so he turns and looks Mycroft full in the eye.
'And if, in healing Greg, we would happen to need to utterly destroy James Moriarty and everything that he stands for? Including this current system of government? Could we rely on your assistance?'
Mycroft smiles, and it's scary.
'My my, Doctor Watson, I think we can consider that absolutely necessary. For Gregory. And for Sherlock.'
John nods in acknowledgement as the van slows to a halt, Association members and prisoners alike beginning to shift into awareness around them.
'For Greg. And for Sherlock.'
Chapter 23: Safe Place
I'm curious to know what this chapter is going to do for your theories; those of you who've commented about them. Therefore, without further ado, I present you with it. Along with my thanks as always.
John's not entirely sure what he's expecting to see when the black doors open and Claude's safe place is revealed to him. The phrase 'safe place' brings images of empty flats and underground basements to his mind's eye; naked bulbs and dark corners and dripping ceilings somewhere where the Say No party can't possibly find them. But when the van's engine dies away and John reaches out a hand to open the doors, he finds himself breathing in cold fresh air and the scent of grass.
No basement flats. No naked bulbs. No dark corners. Instead, as he steps out, still cradling Lestrade, he finds meticulously kept lawns rolling away into the distant darkness - and above him, stars spilling across a cloudless night sky.
John frowns and shifts Lestrade in his arms. He has the uncomfortable and slightly bewildering feeling of having stepped into a period drama. From what he can see, his surroundings are ostentatious, like the grounds of some magnificent house, and John has to wonder at the extent of the party's influence. Whoever owns this place has serious money.
While John is still taking in the view in front of him, Mycroft hobbles up to stand by his side. John can hear his limp in the way he walks and his laboured breathing fills the night air, but when John offers him a shoulder he waves John away, instead resting a hand gently on Lestrade's unconscious head. They are silent and immobile for a time, facing the lawns and stars together as Lestrade's steady breathing sounds in the darkness like a heartbeat.
John's so engrossed in the moment that when a hand snakes out to tap him on the shoulder he jumps, almost dropping Lestrade. He turns away from the dark grounds to greet the person behind him, but instead of acknowledging a merrily beaming Claude, he is rendered speechless by the building that stands behind the black van.
His initial thought is that he was absolutely right in thinking that whoever owns the place has to have serious money, because what lies behind them that he has somehow missed seeing is a veritable palace. It is stories tall and impossibly wide and its multitude of windows blaze with light. John stares and then whistles, long and low.
'Christ, Claude, this is your safe place? There's only about twenty or thirty of us – not that I don't appreciate staying in comfort, but we could always kip on people's sofas or something.'
'Good to see you too, Doctor Watson! I'm assuming from that your mission tonight was a success?'
John makes an affirmative noise.
'Went without a hitch – that I know of. Is the rest of my team back? We had to split into separate vans.'
As Claude nods, Mycroft coughs in an obvious way and John starts.
'Of course, yes. Claude, meet Mycroft Holmes. Once we get him some food and medical attention he's agreed to help us with the cause. Mycroft, this is Claude. He was my contact for this mission.' He eyes them both. 'I'm sure you'll get along very well.'
As Mycroft and Claude shake hands and exchange polite words of greeting, John shifts Lestrade again in his arms.
'Claude, this is Gregory Lestrade, Mycroft's… partner. I don't think he's in any immediate danger, but better safe than sorry – is there anywhere I can take him?'
Claude, still smiling, gestures towards the building.
'Of course. In there. As you walk in, there is a side room adjoining the entrance hall for you all to rest in - you should see the beds through the archway, so you should have no trouble spotting it as you enter. We anticipated that conditions such as your dear friend Gregory's might be the case for some of the kidnapped, so we have prepared medical supplies and also managed to round up some sympathetic medical personnel. Your assistance might be required later on this evening, though, Doctor Watson. Once the rest of the teams make their way in I'm sure we'll have an absolute flood of patients on our hands.'
John finds himself absent-mindedly agreeing before the full impact of Claude's words sink in.
'Yeah, sure – hang on, the rest of the teams?'
Claude's smile widens to a full-blown grin.
'My dear Doctor, you cannot think that the women and men you rescued tonight are the only ones we have decided to liberate from the clutches of the party?'
John's jaw drops.
Claude's eyes are positively sparkling.
'All of them.'
Initially John thinks that Claude is exaggerating, but he's wrong and he very quickly eats his words. Once they've installed Lestrade into a bed in the dormitory room just off the entrance hall and Claude has disappeared into the depths of the building, John sits with Mycroft and just watches through the archway into the entrance hall as people pour through the front door. He is forced to conclude that Claude is not only a bloody genius for having achieved this but also probably entirely right that they have managed to release everyone.
Because it's a flood, it really is, and it's even enough to distract John from the absurd luxury of his gilt-ceilinged surroundings. Later, he will swear down that during the evening he caught a glimpse of not only Stephen Fry but also John Barrowman coming through the decadent front doors, but they disappear into the mass of people in the dormitory room before John can make sure. It's not really a room, more of a hall, because it fits beds by the hundreds and people by what seems the thousands. What was a small group of about thirty when Mycroft, John and Claude first laid Lestrade gently down on an empty bed has swelled and multiplied into a seething horde of hugging, crying, kissing and shouting all squeezed into one space.
Looking on, John finds that his heart is expanding up into his throat at the thought that he has been a part of this.
Eventually, though, the chaos calms as prisoners and rescuers alike curl up on the beds. A nurse comes round to check on Lestrade's vitals, regarding John with awe-filled eyes as she takes Lestrade's pulse and blood pressure. John would be bothered by this but he's captured by the way Mycroft follows every movement of the nurse's hands with his eyes. He reaches out a hand to gently rest on Mycroft's shoulder. The man jumps at the touch, but keeps his eyes on Lestrade.
'Easy.' John soothes. 'Easy. He'll be fine.'
The nurse echoes her agreement, smiling encouragingly as she tucks in the covers around Lestrade's inert form.
'Some rest, some food, some comfort. We've been seeing a few like him tonight, and we're not especially worried. He should make a full physical recovery.'
Claude appears noiselessly at the nurse's side, making them all start.
'Excellent news, Mr Holmes. Fingers crossed that all goes well. Gentlemen, now that Gregory is comfortably settled, would you both mind accompanying me for a debrief? I have some people very anxious to meet the two of you.'
John shoots a hesitant look at Mycroft, whose face appears set in stone and whose eyes haven't moved from Lestrade's face. He licks his lips.
'Maybe Mycroft would feel more comfortable by Lestrade's side for a while? They have been separated for a year and a half, after all. I know I would… well, Mycroft would probably like to stay with Lestrade.'
He smiles gamely at Claude, whose face registers disappointment for a brief moment only before reverting to his usual wide beam. Mycroft nods impassively at John and Claude before shifting his chair closer to Lestrade's bed and laying his head on the pillow. John has to fight to stifle a bright smile as Claude cheerily bids Mycroft goodbye.
'Of course, of course! Until later then, Mr Holmes!'
John spares a second to wave goodbye to the two of them before following Claude, who has set off at a steady pace between the rows of beds towards the main entrance hall, where people have stopped trickling through. Claude tosses out observations and thoughts about the house as they walk and John is half paying attention until something catches his eye.
In one of the beds a little way from the door lies a conscious young woman with a flame of bright orange hair, who is quietly conversing with a nurse.
John has stopped walking, has entirely stopped listening to Claude who is several paces ahead and still chatting. The young woman is maddeningly familiar. John takes a step forwards, and then another one before it hits him and then he's speeding up, marching and then almost running between the beds, pulling out his mobile as he goes and dialling up a number.
'John? John, for god's sake, it's the middle of the night. Hold on, are you alright? Do you need help?'
The patient and the nurse both look a little frightened as John approaches determinedly, face set and phone in hand. He softens his expression and keeps his voice gentle as he offers the phone to the young woman.
'Kate. I think it's for you.'
Claude puffs to a halt beside John.
'Doctor Watson, what appears to be the -'
John holds up his free hand to silence him and keeps his eyes fixed on Kate, whose pale hands have closed around the phone. She stares at John with an expression of confusion, mixed with half-remembrance. John smiles and gestures towards the phone.
'Don't keep her waiting.'
As Irene's voice bleeds recognisably from the tinny phone speakers and the first tears begin to roll down Kate's cheeks, John grasps Claude firmly by the wrist and leads him away from the bed.
'So, Claude, I believe you were telling me about the house?'
When they reach the debriefing room upstairs, John is directed sit amongst people he doesn't know but assumes are members of the other teams while Claude stands behind the desk at the head of the room to take the role of speaker. The debrief itself is short and mostly consists of thanks for their assistance and apologies from Claude, who requests forgiveness for the Association leaders –
'…those who do not have their hands full with tonight's operations are unfortunately those whose identities are rather too delicate to be revealed to you all at the present time…'
- which only reignites John's burning curiosity. Claude also reassures them that they are in no danger of discovery while they are at the house so they are free to stay the night, at which point John realises that he is exhausted and entirely zones out of Claude's speech until a change in the man's tone grounds him again.
'…ultimately the majority was successful although it is with regret that I have to announce that one of our teams has not made it back within the time expected. All attempts to contact this team have failed and we have to act under the assumption that they have been taken in by the party.'
Silence falls in the wake of this declaration. John is taken aback by the Claude's words and tone - Claude's voice is genuinely tinged with regret and he looks wrung out and tired – before he realises it's not a matter of just going in for another rescue. Maybe whatever magic the Association worked won't get them in to Say No buildings a second time. He spares a minute to mourn the loss of the Association members he will in all likelihood never meet with a twist of his mouth and a vow not to forget them, and then Claude is speaking again.
'But don't let that detract from what you brave men and women have achieved tonight. We'll be contacting some of you separately with further requests for actions.'
He catches and holds John's eye. John smiles grimly.
'But for now, you must go and get some sleep. Please forgive me for saying that you all look shattered. We will make arrangements for getting you home in the morning.' He makes a show of checking his watch. 'Apologies - later this morning.'
He sits down behind the desk and pulls a folder towards him in a very definite way, beginning to leaf through it.
Obediently, John follows the Association members out of the door, but while the rest of them troop downstairs and through the archway to the makeshift dormitory to join the main body, John finds himself wandering the first floor. His feet take him aimlessly through darkened rooms and corridors. He's exhausted - by his reckoning it must be about three or four in the morning - but he's restless, feeling something like an itch under his skin, imagining quiet footsteps on the edge of his hearing. And he has no desire to third wheel his way through a night at Lestrade's bedside, or worse, take a corner for himself in a room full of people reuniting with loved ones or making new friends. He's just not up to it. So he plans to find a sofa or a chair somewhere in a deserted part of the house and lay down for a nice long sleep.
In the end, sleep hits him in the middle of a corridor without having seen a single sofa or chair. He looks back and realises somewhere along the way he may have climbed a flight or two and passed several junctions and is now therefore hopelessly lost. He tries to retrace his steps but quickly gives it up as something best pursued when he's had a little more sleep - possibly with the aid of breadcrumbs or some chalk because he swears this place is bigger on the inside. But it's too late and he's too tired to worry about it now, so he picks a dark corner of the corridor to curl up in, pulling off his jacket to cover him as a makeshift blanket.
On the edge of sleep, he imagines the footsteps coming closer, and all of a sudden the smell of Sherlock fills the air around him. He pulls the jacket closer and mumbles into the lining.
'Miss you, S'lock.'
Then he's tumbling over the edge of sleep, dreaming of the sound of a choked sob, the feel of warm lips brushing his eyelids and the deep timbre of Sherlock's voice, reassuring and solid and close to his ear.
'Miss you too, John.'
Chapter 24: Count Me In
You guys should hire yourselves out as consultants on stories. I'm desperately hoping that my actual explanations (only a few of which are forthcoming :P) are even half as good as yours.
For a very long, very stupid second after John is shaken awake, he sees Sherlock, and he doesn't know why.
But he panics nonetheless, reaching out forwards almost blindly. His fingers connect with solid flesh, grasping thin shoulders and the contact makes his breath hitch in his chest. Then his vision clears and Mycroft's concerned face swims into focus. John exhales shakily and relaxes his grip, leaning against the wall, pulling himself together. He's acutely aware that he must look almost as bad as he feels – he's sweating and shaking and he's not entirely sure that he wasn't having a nightmare before Mycroft woke him, which means that if he's very, very unlucky, he was probably making a considerable amount of commotion.
Recovering his breath, he smiles blandly at Mycroft in what he hopes will pass for a nonchalant fashion. He fears it's ruined by the tremor that crosses his face a second later.
'Morning, Mycroft.' He greets him in as casual a manner as he can muster, given that he just near enough attacked the man. 'How did you find me?'
The tone of Mycroft's voice speaks volumes, weighted as it is with concern.
'I followed the screaming.'
John winces and grimaces apologetically before getting to his feet, brushing down his clothes. If his hands shake, he ignores it. Mycroft makes a move to say something further, but he's still looking at John with concern and John absolutely cannot stand it – especially knowing the other man has been through so much, so recently – so he cuts right in.
Mycroft raises an eyebrow at the apparent non sequitur as they begin to walk down the hall together, but thankfully doesn't otherwise comment on John's less that subtle subject change.
'He remains in much the same condition, but the nurses have high hopes for an imminent return to consciousness.'
Good news. John smiles, a real smile this time, while Mycroft continues.
'I've left him downstairs in the care of the nurses for a while. Our presence is apparently required at some kind of meeting. Your friend was most insistent that I fetch you and that we both attend. By the way, what on earth possessed you to sleep in the corridor? There were plenty of beds downstairs.'
John eyes Mycroft steadily as they descend a flight of stairs, waiting in pointed silence until Mycroft recalls exactly in what state John awoke not five minutes previously. His nightmares are not the real reason why John slept in the corridor – in fact, he didn't think of them at all – but it's as good a reason as any and he certainly doesn't feel comfortable telling Mycroft how out of place he'd have felt returning to a room full of celebrating and/or loved up Association members.
A few seconds later as they turn another corner, there's a slight 'ah' and a delicate cough as Mycroft understands what he's trying to convey.
John is coming to really appreciate Mycroft's unique brand of non-invasive, non-verbal communication and he has to turn away to hide a small smile. As he does so, he spots the door to the room which held the previous day's debrief - or the earlier morning's, as he swiftly realises he has absolutely no idea what time it is.
As they approach, the door opens of its own accord and about six or seven people leave, one after the other, leaving a familiar figure behind in their wake. Claude beams brightly and ushers them over, although John notes that his good humour is belied by the stress lines and dark circles that he could swear weren't there when they met for the first time a few days previously. His voice is light enough to be teasing when he speaks, though, and he all but pushes them both through the door into the meeting room.
'Doctor Watson! You had us unfairly worried when you drifted off this morning! We have a lot to work through, so I'm glad Mr Holmes was swift in finding you. I don't think you've had the honour of seeing some of our esteemed leaders before?' He gestures out of the door into the empty corridor. 'You'll be meeting some of them properly later, although I regret to say a few will remain anonymous for a while longer. I'm sure by the time our aims our complete, you'll be familiar with all of them, though.'
There's a particular nuance in Claude's tone that John can't quite work out, but it's lost as Mycroft coughs sharply and Claude appears to lose his train of thought. In the silence that follows while Claude gathers himself, John copies Mycroft's example in seating himself at the large table in the middle of the room. A second later, Claude follows suit, splaying his hands across the table top.
'I'm going to outline the situation as it stands, Doctor Watson. Mr Holmes, if you will excuse me going through the details once more for Doctor Watson?' Claude pauses to lean forwards in his chair and address John personally. 'Mr Holmes and I, along with several leaders of the Association, had a very eventful chat after we managed to prise him away from Gregory Lestrade. I have to say that his particular skills will prove absolutely invaluable to our ultimate aims. In fact, the scheme which I am about to lay forth in front of you is mainly of his concoction.'
'But, to business.' Claude resumes his original position, his voice becoming unusually grave. 'All of our teams bar one returned successfully last night with all expected prisoners accounted for. However, I'm afraid to say that we can absolutely confirm that the last team has been captured. This is because just a few hours ago, James Moriarty personally announced his intention to publicly execute them.'
There is absolute dead silence in the room while John wonders numbly, and not for the first time, what kind of hell this country has fallen into. It takes him a couple of tries to find the words when he finally breaks the silence.
'But – he can't – Britain doesn't have a death penalty. It was abolished.'
He knows he's wrong to assume that's something that will stop Moriarty, but somehow it feels like saying it will make the situation go away. Mycroft steps in to correct him anyway.
'Technically, Britain doesn't have any legal anti-homosexual legislation either, yet – here we are.'
John stares at Mycroft.
'What are we going to do?'
Mycroft answers him slowly, teasing out the words like he's not exactly sure what John's reaction will be.
'With your help, if you give it… we're going to kill James Moriarty.'
John's eyebrows shoot skywards.
'I'm sorry… kill James Moriarty? What? How?'
Mycroft leans back on his chair, looking ten years older in an instant, and sighs as if the weight of the world is on his shoulders. It's a funny thought that occurs to John that maybe, it is.
But then John is distracted by the way that the harsh lighting in the room is catching the hollows of Mycroft's cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes and it hits him with certainty that it doesn't have to be, not right now, now while Claude can explain it to John. Because Christ, Mycroft's only just escaped an eighteen month imprisonment, and yes, the people who are in danger of dying are important – incredibly so – but so is Mycroft, and he's valuable for more than just his ability to lead and organise or John's rather more selfish view of him as a link to Sherlock. So before John knows it, his doctor self is taking over and he's gently admonishing Mycroft, like a parent at bedtime,
'Bed, Mycroft. Now. Go and curl up with Lestrade downstairs for a bit. You're going to collapse if you don't and Claude can explain the rest to me. Can't you, Claude? Do you need Mycroft?'
By this point, Claude is grinning.
'Not right now, no.'
The look on Mycroft's face is so scandalised it's almost comical.
'Doctor Watson, I don't think you understand what is at stake here – '
John interrupts him swiftly. Past experiences have taught him not to let stubborn Holmeses get into their stride.
'Mycroft, you weren't rescued from that place just so you could work yourself to death as soon as you got out. Have you eaten since you got here? Slept?' Mycroft's silence is telling. 'No? Well, you can take yourself off downstairs and get some sleep. You'll be better functioning for it, if it makes you feel any better. Rest assured we will call you if we need you.'
Mycroft doesn't even open his mouth his time before John cuts him off.
'Mycroft. Downstairs. Or, if you'd prefer, you can wait here a minute more and then I can carry you down when you collapse. But I'm sure you'd rather that I didn't have to do that.'
Mycroft blinks once with the air of someone who has absolutely no idea what just happened, and then rises unsteadily from the table. John watches his facial expression twist into something unpleasant and a vaguely threatening, but it's comical rather than scary and he's reassured by the simple fact of Mycroft moving towards the door. He watches until Mycroft disappears outside without a word and then turns back to Claude, who is looking at him in fascination.
'Goodness. I can see why Moriarty wants you so much.' Claude sounds vaguely awestruck.
'You flatter me. I'm just… used to dealing with Holmeses,' John says, with perhaps a touch too much wistfulness.
Before the silence that falls after his statement can stretch on for too long, John brings the conversation back to the topic at hand.
'So, Claude, what's the plan? Killing Moriarty? Is it possible? And why so soon?'
Claude smiles, reanimated.
'Because if Moriarty kills the Association members, it will undo everything we have worked so hard to achieve. And if we merely set our sights on rescuing them, then the same problem will arise again and again. Our aim was always and has always been to destabilise Moriarty. We need to achieve this now, before twenty more innocent people die. And of course it's possible, my dear Doctor. I'm afraid we will be calling upon your help though, and it will be dangerous.'
'Okay. And breaking into a Say No building was of course the epitome of safe. What will I need to do?'
'Here is the plan as it stands. Moriarty has set the date of execution for next Wednesday. He will not be expecting anything from us: to his due, he would be entirely correct in expecting so little if it were not for the untimely introduction of Mr Holmes. He expects us weak, powerless. But this means he will be unprepared for an offensive attack. The most he will expect from us is some kind of plea to stop it, a campaign against it – possibly an attempt at bargaining. We will give him all three. And you will be our delegate to bargain with him, face to face. When he hears you wish to meet with him, he will not be able to resist coming to see you for himself.'
John is nodding.
'And then I kill him? Do you think that will work? Don't you think he'll have some kind of plan to stop me?'
Claude smiles mischievously.
'You won't kill him. Our snipers will. See, we have noticed that Moriarty has a tendency to rely rather too heavily on snipers in his dealings with those who oppose the party. It would be simple work to overpower the snipers he will no doubt hire to deal with you, and replace them with Association members.'
'Simple work. Really?'
Claude continues as if John hasn't spoken.
'We'll make it appear as if you are the one we have chosen to kill Moriarty. He will disarm you, and he will be too busy dealing with lording it over you to notice that we have switched his assassins for ours until it is too late.'
John is both unconvinced and confused.
'So… Moriarty will think I've turned up to kill him, when in actual fact I'm a smokescreen for the snipers. I don't know… Moriarty is clever, insanely so. He's got to be, to have overtaken a whole country with barely a hitch. Ask Mycroft, I'm sure he'll tell you how difficult it is to run Britain. Do you really think he'll fall for it? What if he doesn't turn up?'
Claude looks at John, really looks at him.
'If he doesn't turn up, then he doesn't turn up. But we're confident your presence will draw him, and more confident about those among us who have made a study of his character that we have identified the mistakes he could make. If you can concoct something more devious in the next week, you are more than welcome to bring it up. It's currently just a rough sketch of a plan, but we're running with it. For now, though, Doctor Watson – are you in?'
John hesitates for no more than the second it takes to recall all of the damage he's seen caused by James Moriarty. All the crimes, all the attacks and the kidnappings and the killings and not just Sherlock but everyone, all the way back to that first man, killed on the tube station platform. Then he nods.
'Count me in.'
Chapter 25: Ten O'Clock
I should give you all a heads up.
That is that I started writing this thing in March - I think - and I'm up to chapter 32. I still have three or four chapters to write before the end. So although I'm updating every day now, it's probably going to slow up rather a lot sometime soon. I'll leave you on a nice chapter in the meantime. But just be warned that I'm not going to update every day until it's finished. As much as I'd like to.
The week passes in fits and starts as John prepares to meet Moriarty.
He spends a lot of time feeling like clay in the hands of the Association. They coach him through everything: what to do and say, how to stand, how to act, which signals mean what, and who to call if everything goes wrong. John tries to listen, honestly he does, but a lot of it goes over his head, mainly because he's too busy quietly fretting to retain most of it.
It's not reassuring in the least that the basic plan doesn't change much from Claude's first description. Turn up, have Moriarty think that John is the assassin, hope the Association's snipers manage to overpower Moriarty's and duck when the bullets start flying. In the deepest, darkest part of his heart there's a voice whispering that Mycroft is too emotional over what happened to Lestrade to have thought this through clearly, but he's got to admit it's a better plan than he could think of. In any event, it's the only one they've got and the clock is ticking down towards the date of the execution.
And it passes quickly, especially when he's busy, which is most of the time. He stays on at the decadent mansion, which he learns that through some bizarre twist of fate actually belongs to some obscure Holmes relative, and divides his time between preparing for the Moriarty meeting and looking after Lestrade, who refuses to gain consciousness. He'd be worried, but the man's vitals are looking healthier and healthier every day and secretly John would rather rid the world of Moriarty before Lestrade wakes up. He thinks a man who has gone through as much as Lestrade has deserves to regain consciousness to a world far nicer than the current one.
Time crawls for him only on the occasions where Claude finds it necessary to interrupt their preparation time to go and consult the Association leaders on some kind of discrepancy, which usually takes far longer than John cares to recall. John thinks it highly unnecessary to do this every time Claude has an idea – that is, up until four days before the execution date when Claude pauses in the middle of a sentence, looks John straight in the eye and asks him very gravely and seriously what he would think about carrying a bomb. He leaves the room while John is still trying to wrap his head around the idea and therefore unable to provide any kind of coherent answer and returns remarkably swiftly with the look of someone who has been severely chewed out. John is inexpressibly relieved that the subject isn't brought up again, and sincerely grateful to whoever dissuaded Claude from the idea: he is dedicated to the cause, but he wasn't sure if Claude was discussing suicide bombing and the prospect of giving up his life just like that isn't something he wants to spend too much time thinking about at all. After all, he's seen the effect that close proximity to an explosive can have on a person and it still haunts his nightmares. Or used to, until there were worse things to dream about.
But by and large he's distracted throughout the week. He even gets to see Irene again, once or twice. All of those rescued from the care of the party have been effectively put under house arrest – just in case, Claude says, you never know what one might say – so Kate stays, although the members involved in the mission are allowed home. Technically none of the rescued are allowed visitors either, but John's not about to let anything stand between Irene and happiness after all she's done for him so he uses all of his influence to allow Irene to visit.
He's rewarded by being witness to Kate and Irene's reunion. It brings up the same familiar mix of heartbreak and happiness, but he pushes the former aside when he sees the way that Irene's face entirely lights up upon her first sighing of Kate. John's sure he's never seen her smile that way before.
He stays just long enough to quietly congratulate them, and then leaves them to it.
And then time does its funny thing and all too soon it's Tuesday and it's the day before the execution. John is seated in front of someone else's laptop, logging into his blog so he can lay the bait for Moriarty. For the first time since the plan was first laid out before him he realises what this could mean, this plan, if all goes as it should. Moriarty dead. The Say No party destabilised. And the Sherlock Holmeses all over Great Britain – safe. He allows himself a moment of panic and then sets to writing.
The execution itself is set for six thirty the following evening, but Claude and Mycroft both reasoned that it would be best if they left as little time as possible for Moriarty to prepare for the meeting so it's eleven o'clock at night. All of the instructions that he remembers from Claude's lessons dance in front of his eyes as he types, painstakingly slowly.
Intrigue him. Make him think he's got the upper hand. But make it sound like you're the one out for revenge. Be subtle. Remember the plan.
He sticks out his tongue. Right.
You've stolen something very precious to us. But we're prepared to reason with you to try and get it back.
Well, I say we. I mean I. The Association provide the bargaining chips: I negotiate them with you. Figures, since we have so much history. It'll be nice to see you again.
Meet me at the rooftop.
This was John's input. The connotations of meeting there were sure not to be lost on Moriarty.
You know which one. Ten o'clock. Tomorrow morning.
And then time is speeding up in the odd way it has and John falls into bed but only manages a couple of fractured hours before he wakes screaming and fighting the bedclothes and he dresses despite his shaking hands and he loads his gun and puts the safety on and then he paws through his pockets.
Opens up the notes.
Believe me to be, most definitely
Remembers who he's doing this for.
And then there's no time at all and he's riding the car to the hospital, bolstered by the way that after the countryside gives way to the city he can't see London for the Sherlock. It's everywhere, on every street corner and scrawled on every wall. Once or twice, John sees traces of people – he assumes Say No supporters - having tried to clean it off but on the whole it's largely untouched. It makes him sit up in his seat a little straighter, hold his head a little higher.
Then he's all alone and climbing the floors of the suspiciously vacant hospital and he doesn't know who's doing that is – Mycroft's, or Moriarty's, and the not knowing is worse, but he's got more important things to worry about now because he's reached the final floor and he's got to concentrate on not thinking about whose footsteps he's tracing and who he's going to meet because he's finally, finally there –
Outside. Fresh air. London skyline.
Chapter 26: Are We Sitting Comfortably?
So Moriarty features quite heavily in this scene and the next, and I've had some issues with characterisation bearing in mind the first words we hear him kind of say to Sherlock in the show are 'hello sexy', which obviously doesn't work fantastically in this storyline bearing in mind his primary motivations. So I hope you all can put up with that and the character works okay nonetheless.
Without further ado! The chapter. Thanks to you all.
When he emerges cautiously to the bright morning sunshine, Moriarty is nowhere to be seen.
He screws up his eyes against the sunlight and scans the roof again to be sure, and then frowns. Nothing. It's ten on the dot, and Moriarty is late. The illogical part of his mind thinks, how rude, and he has to tamp down hard on an inappropriate chuckle. God, he's tense as hell, but it's neither the time nor the place to indulge hysterical reactions.
His feet crunch on the asphalt as he walks out further under the open sky, the sound gratingly loud in the hush that appears to have fallen city-wide. It doesn't take John more than a few seconds to notice that the London air is curiously absent of the normal morning hustle and bustle – voices, car horns, police sirens – and although he knows that it's probably his imagination, he can't help but imagine the city holding its breath.
Do they know what could happen here today? All those people – all those Sherlock Holmeses – do they know that they could be that much closer to freedom in just a half hour's time?
The idea sends a shiver of excitement down his spine, but he catches himself before he gets too caught up in what might be. Moriarty isn't even here yet. There are a thousand thousand things that might go wrong, so he fingers the gun in his pocket for reassurance, a barrier against all the ifs and coulds that rise unbidden in his mind. Just think about the plan. About what you need to do.
His mind may be on the meeting but his feet have unconsciously carried him all the way over to the edge of the roof. When he comes to himself again, scattering thoughts of Moriarty away like water droplets, he's crossed the whole expanse and his toes are resting very gently over the lip of the building.
He looks down at the street below him, at the last thing Sherlock saw before he fell, at the people passing so small and so quiet. He should be afraid of the height, but he's not. For a brief, fleeting second, something snaps inside him. The urge to jump, to fall, is overwhelming and he half-spreads his arms in anticipation, leaning dangerously over the edge. As he teeters on the brink, he distantly wonders if this was what it felt like for Sherlock. Not fear. Freedom.
But of course it isn't, because John has to admit that a large part of it comes from that misguided belief that somehow letting go will bring him back to Sherlock. All this time, all this space and he's still so torn, so pulled towards seeing Sherlock again, and it scares him a little bit, how strong the compulsion is to take that final step forwards. For the first time, he feels a slight tinge of anger, because Sherlock's pulling him down towards the ground in death, but John was still very much alive when Sherlock fell. Falling wasn't going to bring him back to John. What, for Sherlock, was stronger than this, this compulsion to be with the other?
John knows the answer for himself. He can't follow. He's got work to do, governments to destabilise, people to save. So he very gently disengages Sherlock from his thoughts and wipes the sight of those sky-grey eyes from his mind for what feels like the thousandth time, and it feels like an apology.
He steps back from the edge at the exact moment that a mocking voice calls out from behind him,
'Following in his footsteps, Johnny boy?'
Every part of John is screaming to instantly spin on his heel and face the man, but he keeps his movements slow and deliberate and controlled when he turns, and when he's finally facing Moriarty, his voice is calm. Remember the plan. Remember who and what you're doing this for. Don't let him see how close that hit. Remember the other Sherlocks.
'And miss the opportunity to see you again? No fear.'
Moriarty smirks, and swaggers forward a few steps so he's only a few feet away. John stands his ground.
'Soooo… Doctor Watson. How nice to see you again. It's a shame your boyfriend couldn't join us.'
John rolls his eyes, but his attempt at bravado is belied by the unconscious flinch at the thought of Sherlock. He keeps his response terse.
'Cheap shot, Moriarty. Really nice.'
'I saw an opportunity. I took it. Kind of like Sherlock did nine months ago, am I right? Couldn't wait to be shot of you, Johnny.'
Moriarty's jibe hits John exactly where it hurts and he has to fight to keep his composure. Moriarty's got no way of knowing that that particular thought is one that John has been nursing for the past nine months; the kind of insidious whisper that's impossible to uproot once it's taken hold, that chafes at his foundation stone of belief in Sherlock and how much Sherlock cared for him. Hearing it in Moriarty's mocking tones is hideously exposing. It implies all sorts, shakes John's confidence, and considering the situation, the thought that he might be so easy to read is not a pleasant one. So he ignores the comment, and speaks like Moriarty hasn't said a word.
'To business, then? I expect you're too busy to waste much time, what with all of those lives you've still got left to ruin.'
Moriarty drops his whimsical act and his voice takes on a decidedly nasty tone.
'Ah, yes, business. I was under the impression you had something to offer me? You and that bunch of rag-tag misfits that call themselves my opposition?'
John smiles tightly while his left hand beats an unconscious rhythm onto his leg. Remember the plan.
'You know exactly what we're bargaining for, yes? The lives of the Association members you captured? We want them alive and well and released before the execution time tonight.' John attempts to inject some kind of authority into his tone, and is gratified when his voice sounds out stronger. 'All of them. That's the deal.'
Moriarty rolls his eyes exaggeratedly.
'Yes, Doctor Watson, very well. Once you're done playing dress up in ex-boyfriend's confidence, would you mind informing me exactly what you have that you think is worth swapping for the lives of thirty people?'
John's about to reply, but Moriarty opens his eyes very wide and then begins to laugh.
'Or maybe, you might care to relieve yourself of the British Army Browning LA1 you've got stashed away in your coat and then you can admit that you lured me here to try and kill me. Johnny, I'm disappointed in you! Now, hand it over.'
John's heart is a jackhammer in his chest and his mouth is entirely dry. Oh god oh Christ so soon now is the time it's time in a minute it will all be over. He can hear the blood pulsing in his ears – a quiet but relentless this is it this is it this is it – as the world slows down around him.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his gun in a motion that feels endless, before holding it high up into the air.
Go, snipers. Go.
Take him down.
In a movement as swift as the last one was slow, he drops fast and low to the ground and screws up his eyes, drawing great gulps of breath like he's drowning. Any second now: the inevitable sniper fire, the bullets arcing overhead, the death of James Moriarty. Revenge, for the death of Sherlock Holmes. The beginning of freedom, for the people of Great Britain. The end, for the Say No to Sexual Deviancy party. Oh please let it be the end. Let it be the end. Let this all be over.
The world skews sickeningly as Moriarty begins to laugh.
'Oh, no! Oh, poor Doctor Watson! I'd say I expected more from you, but… well… oh, this is priceless.' In an instant, his voice sharpens. 'Get up. Or perhaps you'd rather look at your chest?'
John's reeling, utterly reeling, can't believe this is happening. A creeping sense of dread is overtaking him, bringing goosebumps to his skin and nausea to his stomach; dread only compounded when he cracks open his eyes, and sees the sniper sights blossoming to life over his chest.
'Up, Doctor Watson.'
Dead-eyed, he straightens up and looks at Moriarty. Triumph and glee are clearly written all over the man's face in a wide smile and he claps loudly before spinning in a circle, arms spread wide. John watches in numb disbelief. This cannot be happening.
'You didn't get to my snipers, of course. I was expecting such a boring move from people like you. Maybe, if your old pal Sherlock was still around… but oh, still, what a wonderful day! Now, slide over your gun, there's a good doctor. I don't think you want to go through the whole process of being shot again. Might be less reversible this time.'
For a second, a brief second, John considers sliding the gun towards Moriarty. But it passes, and in its wake falls a beautiful sense of peace and purpose.
He can do this. He's got the gun, and he's got the bullets. They can't shoot him before he shoots Moriarty. They can shoot him after, sure, but he doesn't mind that so much. Peace. Freedom. Like leaning out over the building ledge. He can take Moriarty with him, finish his job here. It won't be for nothing. His life, for the freedom of Britain. It seems like a fair trade.
As soon as he moves the gun, Moriarty speaks.
'No, Doctor Watson. You won't.'
John says nothing, just raises the gun to eye level. His mind is made up.
'Doctor Watson, if you pull that trigger, I can promise you that you and I won't be the only people dying. I had a woooonderful chat with your friends just before I came here. Mycroft, Claude, Irene, Kate… did they tell you Gregory woke up after you left?'
John's hand flexes around the gun and he has to fight hard to prevent the anger boiling up inside him from showing on his face.
'I did a beautiful little number on him. Terrified him half out of his mind when he woke up to see my men pulling a gun to Mycroft's head. He wasn't sure whether to care or not. Disappointing, really, I was hoping he'd straight out reject the man, but I've got oodles of time to correct that.'
John can't hold it in any more.
'Don't you dare. Lestrade is a thousand times the man you'll ever be.'
Moriarty laughs again, delighted.
'Well, he won't be any kind of man at all if you don't slide me the gun right now. Then we can discuss what you're going to do for me, or I'll kill you, and I'll kill your friends. Or maybe I'll kill your friends, and keep you as a pet. Choices, choices. But first. The gun.'
There is anger and frustration in every single movement as John leans down and slides the gun in Moriarty's direction. Moriarty stoops to pick it up, and then twirls it in his hands before looking John straight in the eye.
'Now, that wasn't so hard. Now, are we sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.'
Chapter 27: Options One and Two
CHAPTER WARNING: This chapter bears a warning for one of the characters being, well, exceedingly messed up. Some of the things he says may be really uncomfortable to read, as might the motivations behind his actions. Better safe than sorry. Skip if you like: if you want to continue, I'll message you the details.
Jim's a pretty sick puppy in this one, so I'll be uploading the next chapter in a couple of hours because I'd rather not leave you all with this chapter.
It's over, John thinks numbly. This is it.
He's vaguely aware of Moriarty pacing circles around him like a hyena, chattering away nineteen to the dozen to him – or at him; he's not entirely sure that Moriarty isn't just overly fond of the sound of his own voice. Regardless, he doesn't listen, blocking out the man's inane prattle as best he can.
Because it's over, it really is.
So none of it matters any more.
Moriarty has both him and the Association in the palm of his hand. John is helpless, powerless, even to the point of physical immobility; the threat inherent in the slow curl of the sniper sights over his chest has pinned him to the ground more securely than if Moriarty had padlocked him down. And it's killing him. Frustration and violence run in twin currents under his skin, fuelled by his hatred of Moriarty which grows with every second of the man's obvious glee. John has to fight to remember that if he moves, it won't just be his life on the line.
He's learned that lesson by now, that the Say No party inevitably get their way. After all, Sherlock provides a shining example. He stood in that street with the sniper sights playing in constellations over his chest and proclaimed himself safe, but two days later John kissed his palm and felt the blood against his lips and he knows that the Say No party killed Sherlock as surely as if they'd pushed him over the edge themselves.
Bottom line, John thinks bitterly: nobody is as invulnerable as they believe themselves to be. So he keeps a straight face, a still body and a closed mouth, just concentrating on blocking out the sight and sound of Moriarty and keeping his anger on a leash. He'll be damned if he's going to be the excuse for the Say No party to kill everyone else.
But keeping silent and stoic isn't as easy as he'd hoped it would be, because after a minute or two of talking Moriarty grows tired of being ignored. He stops mid-circle, heaves a sigh and darts forward to grab John by the chin. John's taken aback, forced to look into those flat obsidian eyes and he can't tune it out any more, not with Moriarty so close.
'You haven't been listening at all, have you?' Moriarty asks. John stares back, motionless, mute. Moriarty frowns. 'Tut tut. I applaud your resilience, though; you'd have made an excellent subject for my subjugation programme. I wonder, would you have lasted longer than dear Gregory did? He was one of the strongest of them all, but even he didn't last longer than seven months before he was turning away poor Holmes Senior.' He sighs. 'Shame I didn't get my hands on you before. I wonder how long you'd have stuck it out before you were cursing Sherlock's name.'
John hates him. Utterly. Passionately. It's a physical feeling, a lump in the pit of his stomach, burning like a fire or a sun inside him. Violence flows through him, making his fingers itch and his muscles tense. But he's constantly aware of the sniper sights on his chest and the people relying on his good behaviour, so he keeps his expression schooled and his mouth shut.
Moriarty lets him go and stands back, scrutinising him while he talks.
'I bet Sherlock would have made this more fun for me, though. Dragged it out longer. I can see right through you.' Bizarrely, his hands deftly shape spectacles around his eyes and he grins. 'Your Sherlock would have made this fun for me. But I guess I got him in the end anyway, and he was only ever going to die so maybe it's just as well that he did the job for us.'
- sky grey eyes –
John hates him. Hates him. He feels physically sick with the force of it, but he pushes it down. Concentrates on the lives at stake. Clenches and unclenches his fists. Calms himself as much as possible.
Oblivious, Moriarty twirls in a small circle, arms outstretched, continuing to singsong at John.
'Ah well! I'll have my fun for today anyway with you, little Johnny. You may not be a Sherlock, but I've got plans for you. Big plans. Starting now.'
John can't help it. His head automatically snaps in Moriarty's direction. Moriarty doesn't miss it, and his grin spreads wider.
'Oh, they made a mistake sending you here, little Johnny. Because you were the person I most wanted to see. They could have sent anyone. But no, if we have Britain's most famous fugitive homosexual, let's send him. Remind me to thank them later. Do you know why, Doctor Watson?' Moriarty asks, and in the blink of an eye he's at John's side. John doesn't respond, doesn't react. 'Because right now, you're the one I want the most. And they trussed you up and sent you to me like I wouldn't see right through it.'
John breathes calmly, cranks his chin up a notch and straightens minutely. No response. No signs of fear. But he's afraid, very afraid: the slow chill of ice overcoming the burning hatred in his stomach. This talk of being "wanted" by Moriarty: it strikes a note of dread somewhere inside him. He doesn't understand why Moriarty doesn't kill him now and be done with it. What is Moriarty keeping him alive for?
Moriarty begins to talk again, pacing once more in wide circles around John's immobile form.
'Doctor Watson, I'll be frank with you. I'm offering you a choice.' He pauses and flashes John a one-sided grin. 'Never let it be said that I'm not a kind hearted man. So here it is. You choose.'
He pauses, right in front of John, and holds up a finger on his left hand.
'Option one. Claude. Lestrade. Mycroft. Kate. Irene. The rest of the leaders of that pathetic organization. Everybody at that so-called safe house. The forerunners of the graffiti movement. I kill them all.'
John recoils instantly, shock and disgust hitting him like a physical force. Just the idea of it, all those people he cares about, the great hope for Britain's freedom, gone in one fell swoop. He shies away from the idea on instinct. But Moriarty mentioned a deal and he doesn't understand why Moriarty wouldn't just kill them all now and be done with it, so he stops thinking and instead forces his numb lips to move.
Moriarty laughs, holds up two fingers on his right hand.
Points the fingers at John.
John shakes his head, not understanding. Moriarty's smile is razor sharp.
'I get you. I get to destroy you. I get to print stories about you, disgrace and ridicule you, drag your name and campaign through the mud. After you kill yourself, of course. Publicly. With no obvious manipulation from me.'
John is numb. There's a soft buzzing in his ears, which he's grateful for, because it means that he might have been mistaken in hearing Moriarty just then. Kill yourself. Disgrace. Publicly.
No. Christ. Surely not.
But Moriarty's still speaking.
'In return for your death, your friends go free.' He hesitates, and a thoughtful look slips fleetingly across his face. 'Well, I'll keep tabs on them, of course. Make sure they're not getting up to anything behind my back. And I can't promise their welfare if they misbehave: trust me, I'll know. But for now, I'll let them go. You die. They live.'
The buzzing in his ears grows louder, a quiet noise that threatens to overwhelm his thoughts. John holds it off; holds off everything that's threatening to crush him, and instead just tilts his head and looks at Moriarty.
'How am I meant to trust you?'
Moriarty shrugs and grins.
'Well! You don't. You can't. But you can trust that if you pick the first option, they will all die. Hey: as an act of good faith, I'll even chuck in the ones I've got plans for tonight.'
John swallows, and then the question escapes his mouth before he can stop it.
The sight of Moriarty's smile unfurling wider across his face is both brilliant and terrifying.
'Oh, Johnny boy. Because I get bored. It's never been about politics or power. It's distraction. Playing the game. Setting people up against each other and seeing what they do. Consider it… the ultimate social experiment, with me pulling the strings. Oh, and it's a wonderful experiment. Let the other members of the party deal with running the country.' He wrinkles his nose. 'As long as they don't forget who's in charge.'
'But really, Doctor, it's a distraction. Shake things up, see what pops out of the woodwork. Who tries to be a hero, who ends up as a villain. Really, it wasn't personal to you, just your bad luck that I chose your particular group to take a disliking to. But my good luck to have chosen it. Oh Johnny, you and Sherlock. What a pair. What fun I've had with you. You want to know why you? Why I'd give up those people for you? Because I forced Sherlock into killing himself, and it would just be the cherry on the cake to take you down too. Oh, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself once this is over.'
Then there's a silence where John feels like he's falling and he's just not hitting the ground. It's too much. That's it. It's over. No matter what option. Everything, all of the past three years, everything he's done and accomplished. Over. Because some madman wants a distraction.
He feels nauseous, absolutely nauseous. And he's not sure if it's because it's all over, or because everything that has happened to this country has been down to the whims of some psychopath craving entertainment. Images flash in front of his eyes. That coat, billowing like a broken parachute. The sunken lines of Lestrade's face. The stocky shoulders of the ginger teenager. The sight of his grey flat, day after day, colourless without Sherlock.
It's beyond sick. It's an insult. And John is trembling with fury. He's never wanted to hurt someone so badly as he does right now, despite all his time on the front lines. Everything comes down to one sadistic little man and everything in John wants to tear Moriarty apart.
But then it's lifting him upwards, driving him forwards as it always does: life, the idea of all those people and their individual Sherlock Holmeses. Still out there. Dependent on him. So he wipes every inch of fury from his mind and forces himself to focus on his options.
It doesn't come down to much of a choice. The Association and his campaign: both are damned either way, and he knows it. The Association would never recover from the deaths of everybody at the safe house. And the second option is much the same: not dead, but unable to rebel. Moriarty had said that they were protected only as long as they behaved.
So it's over for him, all of it, because once he factors out the organizations, then it's a simple act of weighing up human life. His, versus the entirety of the people close to him.
It's not really a choice, is it?
Moriarty sighs, and taps his watch. Impatience is written all over his face.
'Waiting, Doctor Watson. Your choice, please.'
The buzzing in his head is louder than ever, threatening to overwhelm him. Panic rises up, and he beats it down. Lips that aren't his own and a voice that isn't his says,
'I'll take option two.'
And it's done and Moriarty is grinning and John feels like he's about to fold up and collapse because that's it.
Chapter 28: Say Yes
I lied. New chapter now.
Moriarty doesn't stop talking, even as his hand pushes gently against the small of John's back, urging him towards the lip of the building. The man never stops talking, John thinks, and the thought makes him giggle slightly. Moriarty doesn't seem to notice.
John takes one small step and then another, as Moriarty's sibilant voice whispers relentlessly into his ear. He walks oh so slowly, as if he's fighting against every movement, but he walks nonetheless. All the while, Moriarty's words drop like stones into his ears, one after another until John can feel the solid mass of rock weighing down his mind, weighing down his body. He thinks, very calmly, that it will help take him to the ground.
'You're just a toy,' he says.
'You want to join him at the bottom,' he says.
'It's all over,' he says. And John can't begrudge him for saying these things because after all, they're nothing but the truth.
So he moves closer and closer to the edge, and resigns himself to the knowledge that this is the end. It's not all bad, he thinks. There's some comfort to be found in the situation, even as Moriarty's hand presses harder against his spine. It's nice, almost, the idea that everything is beyond his control now. He'll step off the side and it's all over. The thought of going the same way as Sherlock did is almost peaceful.
Then his toes are hitting the barrier at the edge of the roof and he carefully steps up to look at the street below. The few people passing are as small as ants to his high-up eye and John wonders at how entirely oblivious they are to what is going on overhead. Vaguely, he wonders what it will be like for them to see a man fall to his death in their midst. They'll be panicked, no doubt. Scared. Scarred.
But it won't be half as bad for them, he thinks, as it was for him.
And then – speak of the devil, and he shall appear, John thinks – he sees Sherlock standing in the middle of the street. Dark hair, black coat, pale skin, spindly limbs: unmistakable, even from this distance. All of the breath is knocked out of him in a single instant. Christ. What?
It's undoubtedly Sherlock, and he doesn't understand how.
But hot on the heels of his shock and confusion is pain. It hurts. It hurts. Because it's not real, can't be real, isn't real. Sherlock died. John kissed his palm and closed his eyes and Sherlock died so he cannot be standing right there. He's had this argument with himself a thousand times – every single time a man's coat or a shock of dark hair or a particular mannerism catches his attention – but it's never been so painful, because everything, from the way the figure stands to the pale oval of his face, is screaming Sherlock at him. It is Sherlock.
But he needs to accept that this is not real. Can't be. It's just a hallucination.
It's a little bit reassuring, though, that in the end his mind has sought to comfort him with the thing he most wants to see. People talk about their lives flashing before their eyes; John thinks it's entirely appropriate that on the cusp of death, he sees Sherlock.
Down far below, Sherlock's hand rises high into the air, reaching out to the sky, echoing the movement of a lifetime ago. John's hand stretches out automatically in response and he tries very hard not to think about anything other than the simple facts of him and Sherlock, real or hallucinatory.
Hello again. I missed you.
'Do it,' Moriarty breathes over the noise in John's ears. 'End it. Now.'
John doesn't even look at Moriarty. Just smiles, and it's beatific.
There's a pause where the world slows right down and it's no longer about sacrifices or saving people but just John on the roof and Sherlock far below. Moriarty falls away, and the world narrows right down to the way it feels to lean out over the edge, recklessly far, the fear and worry falling away and that sense of peace returning and –
John's concentration splinters and shatters as the shout sounds over the omnipresent buzzing in his ears. At his side, there's a loss of heat as Moriarty turns away and back from the edge. It takes a couple of seconds before John is able to tear his eyes away from Sherlock waiting far below and do the same.
Ten feet away stands Molly Hooper of all people, the wind playing with the strands of her loose hair. She looks older, fiercer somehow, and with a jolt John realizes that it's been a year and a half since they last laid eyes on one another. He sees little of the characteristic shyness of self-doubt that he had come to associate with her; her hands are shaking, but her expression is grave and her posture is tense and ramrod straight.
'S-stop,' she says again, a little quieter.
Next to John, Moriarty scoffs loudly. John's eyes are transfixed on Molly's face, but he can almost imagine the expression of contempt and disbelief.
'I'm sorry. Stop, or what?'
Molly attempts a smile.
'It's not an or. I mean, there's no or. You can still try to push him off the building if you like, but I don't think you're going to get much out of it.' She bites her lip. 'What I mean is, you might want to look over the edge. At the street. Any minute now.'
The buzzing noise in John's ears is becoming difficult to ignore as he turns in tandem with Moriarty to take a look over the edge of the building. There's a hard, fierce hope burning up in his heart as he surveys the quiet street and holds his breath, and it almost but quite smothers the disappointment he feels at losing that odd sense of peace as well as the sharp pain he feels when he sees that Sherlock has disappeared. You're being ridiculous. He was never there. Focus.
It starts very slowly.
Just a person, one person, rounding the corner and shouting something that John can't quite make out.
Then another, and another, and the three become a four, and then a five, six, seven until there's a steady trickle of them rounding the corner. They stop in front of the hospital and mill around, waving to the top of the building. One is holding a sign that John can't read from this distance.
Cautiously, he lifts a hand to his head to shield his eyes from the sun. The twenty or so people who have gathered immediately respond with shouts and motions. John feels the hope swell again in his chest as his stomach twists in fear and uncertainty, the two emotions coming to a stalemate. Who are they? Who are they here for?
Then, clearly and distinctly, one of them shouts his name, and the rest of explode into cheers and whistles and shouts.
John takes a physical step backwards and clamps his hand over his mouth. Next to him, Moriarty's eyes are round as saucers. There's a soft grip on his upper arm and when he looks back, he sees that Molly is giving him an encouraging smile and motioning for him to look over the edge again. John swallows down the blossoming shock of fear and hope, tamps down hard on his quickly-forming expectations and just looks.
More and more people round the corner, the trickle becoming a stream, enlarging into a river until John realises that the noise in his ears is and has always been the shouts of these people, a tide of human emotion, a conglomeration of audible hope and determination that reaches him all the way up the top of the building and won't stop.
It just won't stop.
There are people still pouring into the street and John estimates that there's got to be at least a thousand people gathered there and more squeezing into the small street all the time. The noise – oh god, the noise is incredible, louder than anything John's ever heard, hundreds of human voices all shouting at the same time. Incoherent, but John's sure of what they're here for now. He's sure. So he takes a cautious step up onto the barrier of the roof and lifts a hand, strong and steady, into the air.
The response is instantaneous and overwhelming. Each and every member of the crowd, as far as John can see, mimics him instantly and John can't see the people for the hands in the air. He notes that a fair few of them are clutching what appear to be yellow paint cans and he has to fight back a hysterical chuckle.
Beside him, Moriarty is quiet and still as a marble statue, a marked contrast to Molly who is anything but. Words bubble and overflow from her lips like she just can't stop them, even though she has to shout to make herself heard.
'This isn't it, John, this isn't it! I had a call when I came up here and they're saying that there are a hundred thousand people moving this way! A hundred thousand!' John closes his eyes. Breathes deeply. Opens them again. Molly is still talking. 'Can you imagine, John, all those people? All coming together for this? And it's not just here; it's all over the country, John, millions of people all over the place making a stand, saying yes!'
John is utterly silent, utterly still. Can't take it in. A minute ago, he was ready to die; looking forward to it, almost, that sense of peace and calm and Sherlock. But now, with all these people, he feels something entirely different. He looks out across the sea of faces while Molly continues to talk.
'We got to the snipers too, of course!'
There's a quiet noise from Moriarty.
'But we needed something that would utterly destroy the Say No party! And, well, you know…'
John does know. The knowledge is solid and full in the pit of his stomach, fuelled by the shouts and cheers of thousands of people below. All these people. All these Sherlock Holmeses. Coming together. Christ, does he know.
'Mycroft and Lestrade and everyone else are safe, of course!' Molly continues. Her eyes shine brightly as she looks at John. 'Hey, are you okay? You haven't said much?'
John turns towards her, and struggles for the words to cover what he feels. There aren't any, really. All this time. All these years of fighting and running and pain and loss and hope and finally, finally, the people of Britain are fighting back. He's searching for the words, the right ones to describe exactly what all this means to him, but he feels he won't find any large enough or strong enough to contain everything that he's feeling right now. Happiness. Hope. Disbelief. Shock, and pain. Loss. Gratitude, determination. Deep, dark grief. He drops his head into his hands.
'Tell Mycroft,' he says, loud enough for Molly to hear, 'that I am absolutely going to kill him.'
Then there's a cough from beside him that causes him to lift his head up again as Moriarty recovers, blinking and straightening. John watches as that familiar oil-slick smile spreads across Moriarty's face, and he finds that he cannot be bothered with it all. The inevitable contemptuous and ultimately demeaning speech. His attempt to salvage the situation. No. He's put up with it – they've all put up with it – for two years, and there is absolutely nothing that Moriarty can say which would change the facts of the situation.
Britain does not want the Say No party any more. Their time is over. It doesn't matter what tricks Moriarty pulls out of the proverbial bag. All these people, all across the country – they know their worth and their power now, he thinks, and it's going to take a lot more than Moriarty to make them forget it.
He waits quietly until Moriarty opens his mouth, and then he finds the right words to say, as if they'd been sitting on his tongue all along.
'Christ, Moriarty, shut up,' he says, and punches the man right in the face.
Chapter 29: A Day Like Today
Love to you all, and my eternal thanks.
Oh, and there was something I wanted to ask you - I've been corrected that Lestrade's name is not Gregory, but actually Gregson. I've never heard this before. Do any of you know, is this true? Have I been writing a lie the whole way through this piece?
Moriarty turns and flees the second John's fist leaves his face.
John tries to grab him as soon as he sees the rapidly tensing line of Moriarty's body and the sharp turn of his head before the rest of his body follows. But Moriarty is faster and has the advantage of surprise, so John manages to do no more than briefly grasp the edge of the man's jacket before Moriarty is flat-out running across the roof, locking the door behind him. To John's intense annoyance and unease, the man is long gone by the time he forces his way through the door.
He has to admit that more than a little of his disappointment stems from being unable to see the result of his attack on Moriarty's face. He likes the idea of Moriarty being marked, for however short a time, with physical proof of the displeasure of the British people.
But Moriarty isn't sticking around to grant John the satisfaction, so John supposes he must be happy with the sound of Moriarty's bone cracking under his fist and the small, secret hope that he's actually broken Moriarty's jaw. John does try to take off down the stairs after him, but Molly lays a restraining hand on his arm and tells him to wait; people are coming, and apparently he still has one further thing he needs to do.
It takes another ten minutes for reinforcements from the Association to arrive, most of which John spends watching Molly entertain herself with the reactions of the crowd below. He tries asking her about what on earth is going on and about the exact nature of the final task he needs to carry out, but she ignores him and quickly distracts them both with her discovery that making any kind of movement in view of the crowd below prompts cheers and wolf-whistles. John would push his questioning, but in truth he enjoys seeing her have fun far too much to get in her way. Something heavy detaches in his chest and lifts off as he watches her: somehow, her bright smile and easy laughter mark this day out as different to him, even more than the feel of Moriarty's cheek under his fist.
He's laughing at her clumsy attempts to dance the Macarena to the crowd below when he registers a hand on his shoulder and a voice at his ear and instantly, he moves. He's on his feet and in a defensive position in a heartbeat; he doesn't relax one bit as he takes in the presence of an unfamiliar brunette woman standing just a pace away from him.
The woman introduces herself curtly as Allison, one of the Association's leaders. She speaks with a cockney accent and holds out a firm hand for him to shake, which he takes after a moment's hesitation, breathing a little more calmly. Molly greets her brightly, and Allison responds a little more warmly to her, but John can read tension and upset in the way she stands - hell, he thinks, he's been reading it in his own body language for nine months, he's practically fluent – and he wonders what, exactly, is wrong, on a day like today.
He doesn't get much opportunity to study her because she soon turns her back on the two of them entirely, cutting off Molly's attempts at conversation, and instead starts setting up some complicated-looking equipment that John doesn't recognise and didn't even notice that she was carrying.
He watches her talk for a minute, and then taps her on the shoulder.
''Scuse me, uh… Allison… but what exactly are you doing? What am I supposed to be doing?'
In answer, she turns and aggressively shoves a microphone into his hands.
'I'm settin' up for you. This is your crowd, and you need to talk to 'em. Reel 'em in. They're here for you, and we need you to make a speech to mark the occasion, for the Association. When you joined up with us, you became the unofficial mascot of the Association, and if any of us spoke to 'em it wouldn't have half the impact of you speaking to 'em. So go on.'
John is open mouthed in disbelief.
'You can't be serious? I don't even know what the hell is going on! I'm not the person for this!'
Allison pokes him fiercely in the chest with a free hand.
'Nah?' Look around you. Take a look at London, for Christ's sake, it's bleedin' covered in your boyfriend's name. They'll listen to you a damn sight longer than they will to any o' us.'
'But why? What the hell do I say?'
She rolls her eyes and pushes him sharply towards the edge.
'Anything you like, s'long as it's good for us. Talk about it bein' such a positive day, a wonderful change. Your campaign and the Association, talk about your boyfriend, talk about the future. We need to mark this change in power, and your the person to do it. You're the bleedin' unofficial spokesperson for this thing, Watson, so get out there and lead.'
John watches in horror as she picks up what appears to be a video camera and pushes him again towards the edge. Her voice is bitter and harsh.
'Well, get goin'. We don' have all day. Talk into the microphone; speakers 're at ground level.'
Molly has been quiet throughout the entire exchange, but now she touches Allison on the shoulder and speaks gently.
'Allison – are you okay?'
To John's surprise, pain and grief ripple across Allison's face before she gets her expression under control.
'Claude's gone, Molly. We lost him in the fight a' the safe place. Tha' Mycroft man said Moriarty was goin' to send men to secure us and 'e was right, but Moriarty sent more than we were expectin' and we couldn't subdue 'em in time. Took a bullet to the chest. Only casualty.'
Molly covers her mouth with her hand, and then reaches out gently with the other to clasp Allison's shoulder.
'Allison, I'm so sorry. I know you and him were… I'm so sorry.'
John is reeling, utterly reeling. Not Claude; indefatigable, senselessly optimistic Claude. Not dead. Not on a day like today. Christ, no. He speaks without even realising.
'You and Claude… were together? And he's…? No. No. Oh God. I had no idea. Christ. Sorry.'
'For Christ's sake, Watson, go,' Allison snaps instantly, and then composes herself, although her face is still hard. 'S'okay. Just go. I'll give you the signal when it's time to talk.'
Molly smiles, her hand still on Allison's shoulder, and her smile is sad and soft at the edges. 'Go on, John. Do it for Claude. And for Sherlock. Make it something really special.'
John looks at Molly and Allison, right at them, and then gives them the briefest of nods before swallowing up all of his grief and shock. He steps onto the roof edge with his back straight and his chin high.
As he does so, the crowd surges towards him, calling his name in a roar so loud that it makes his head spin. He throws an alarmed look in Allison's direction but she's busy adjusting the camera and doesn't see. When she does look up, she's moved the camera to point right at him and then she's nodding at him to start. Next to her, Molly smiles. John turns back to the crowd and self-consciously lifts the microphone to his mouth.
'Jesus Christ, there's a lot of you, aren't there.'
The words escape his mouth before he can stop them and he's wincing, hearing them repeated a thousand times from the speakers down below. But the responding laughter is light, amused. Not mocking. Relax, he tells himself. Breathe. Remember who you're doing this for. Make it something really special.
'Right,' he continues. 'Well, firstly I think I ought to, uh, thank you, for your support here today. I hope you enjoyed seeing me punch Jim Moriarty in the face as much as I enjoyed doing it.' More laughter. John relaxes just a little, and turns to Allison and Molly to check if he's doing okay. They both give him thumbs up.
Energised, he starts to speak again.
'I should thank you even more because coming here today, you technically broke the law. That's something I'm hoping the events of today will change, and I think your participation went some way towards achieving that. Because although what you did here was illegal, it was also morally right, long overdue, and possibly the most important thing that's happened in this country for two years.'
Cheers and wolfwhistles. John grins nervously while his left hand flexes unconsciously at his side.
'Well. I'm assuming that since you're all here, and you seem enthusiastic to see me, then you know who I am. John Watson. Blogger and fugitive vigilante homosexual, if you believe the papers.'
Laughter, applause. Breathe. Continue. Christ, what the hell do I say. Continue.
'But I'm not. I mean, I shouldn't be. Fugitive or vigilante. I should just be a normal man.'
And then it hits him. How to win over the crowd, what to say to make the proper change, to mark the day. Something special. For Claude. For Sherlock.
'And I guess you all know why I couldn't.'
Sweat trickles down between his shoulder blades. His heart is beating so loudly that the crowd must be able to hear it; he's certain the crowd can hear it. He breathes deeply and scrapes up his courage. Remember. For Claude. For Sherlock. For the first time in two years, I'll say it freely.
'Because I loved a man, and apparently that makes me evil. But it doesn't, not really. It makes me human.'
In two years, nobody has dared speak those words aloud, and in the end the words roll off his tongue like they were nothing. Months – years – of holding it inside, everybody, those forbidden words that nobody said and they fall so easily from his mouth that he's almost ashamed.
Except it's not easy, John thinks, chest seizing. He wants to grab the confession and stuff it back inside his mouth. Those words should have first been said a long time ago, to an audience of one. But Sherlock is gone now. He's gone, and John needs all the ammunition he can get to make this change a lasting one, to get the world on his side. He's kept it locked up inside him for a year now since Sherlock's death, this feeling of JohnandSherlock carried with him like a talisman or a charm and that's long enough. So he hardens his resolve and bows his head, sending a silent apology to Sherlock, wherever he is, that he wasn't the first to hear those words. He just hopes that Sherlock approves of his second choice of audience.
It's not until the first clap drops like a stone in a silent space that John realises the crowd has barely moved, barely breathed since his admission. The lone clap becomes a smattering of applause, swelling into a roar and then a wave that swamps him as he looks up and out over the people below. He only truly grasps the significance of what he's done – a man, confessing his love for another man in front of thousands – when he focuses on the faces in the crowd, one by one, and sees his own emotions mirrored there. Fear. Determination. Hope.
When it's time to speak again, he has to shout to make himself heard.
'But he wasn't just a man. His name was Sherlock Holmes. He liked crime scenes and tea and playing the violin – he lived off of them – and he hated idiots and boredom and social conventions. He died,' he breaks off. Breathes. Christ, Sherlock, I miss you so goddamn much. Soldiers on. 'He died because he didn't want to live in a world like this. And all of you, gay, straight, bi, all sexualities, you all have your own Sherlock Holmeses. Or will have. Or did have. And that's why I'm standing here today, and that's why I'm so grateful to you all. Because Sherlock was the best man and the most human human being that I have ever met, and he died because nobody did this for him.'
He doesn't look at Allison as he continues to talk.
'And he's not the only one. This morning, today, someone else's Sherlock Holmes died. I knew him. His name was Claude. He was a fantastic man, hard-working and ceaselessly optimistic. He left behind someone who hurts just like me. He died trying to make this possible today, and he's only one of hundreds of people who have suffered and died to get to this point.'
Only now does he turn to Molly and Allison. Molly is clapping, but John is more struck by the way Allison's stony exterior has cracked like an eggshell and tears are rolling down her face as she films him. The sight of her pain, the way he feels it mirrored in his own chest at the thought of Sherlock: it drives him onwards, drives him forwards, makes him speak more loudly and with more passion.
'But this ends today. No more suffering, no more death. Claude and I both worked for a group, a wonderful group of incredible individuals who have been risking pain and death for the past two years to make a change for you all. With their help, we're putting back into place the system of government which the Say No to Sexual Deviancy party removed all that time ago. So none of you, none of you, will have to live in fear any more. So.' He pauses. Waits. Breathe. 'Will you help us?'
The response is overwhelming, utterly overwhelming, a physical blast of noise that makes John stagger and almost drop the microphone. He's laughing and smiling and he may even be crying so he takes a second to recover, and then stands straight and tall again, punching a fist into the air. Far below, a thousand people echo his movement.
'Thank you,' John says, and sketches a quick bow. 'You'll be hearing from us. Thank you.'
He steps down, taking a valiant stab at ignoring the tremors in his limbs as he runs a shaking hand through his hair. A second later he finds himself taking a swift seat on the floor as his legs give out underneath him. Laughing, Molly helps him back up to his feet and helps him over to sit on the roof's barrier.
John tactfully ignores Allison, who is making a great show of putting away her equipment while surreptitiously wiping her face, and instead addresses Molly.
'Molly. It's over. God, Jesus, never make me do that again. Now, will you please tell me what on earth is happening today?'
Chapter 30: Go Home
Firstly just to say that I've asked around a bit about the American politics situation, because I'm British myself. I think my assumptions of what would happen aren't too outlandish, but please forgive me if I take things too far: any misinterpretation is entirely my fault.
Um, secondly, about chapters - I've technically planned six chapters left until the end of this story (not five), but I'm having debates about how far I should take this, and I'm considering ending four chapters away from now.
I'll explain more when we get there but just to say the ending is entirely up in the air right now. So basically this means that what with the ending and having only written two chapters ahead, so I'll try my very very best but I'm not sure how successful I'll be at posting every day, especially since I just got a job.
And my beta is unfortunately away for a week so what you get; well, it won't be pretty, exactly, especially since I'm away from Saturday so I think I'll have to rush a bit to not leave you all hanging for two weeks. Things are a bit of a mess.
Just so you know that there's a bit of kerfuffle going on right now. But I'll try to do my very best by you all.
John's ears don't stop ringing until he's standing in a lab a few floors down, waiting for Mycroft to debrief him.
Allison escorts him down, but she doesn't speak - except to tell him what's happening - and she can't look him in the eye. John understands, and he doesn't begrudge her for it. He knows grief: it's a private, solitary thing, and she's had to spend this day looking after others when she should have been taking care of herself. He can't remember anything the day of Sherlock's death after turning that corner away from the hospital, so he isn't capable of imagining what Allison is going through – especially on a day like today, when the whole of Britain should be celebrating.
He considers some friendly words, maybe some quiet consolation as she turns to leave, but everything from her stance to expression screams brittle, fragile, stay away. It gives him a hollow sort of feeling, that his kindness will shatter her more irreversibly than even harsh words ever could. So he lets her go without a word, but he makes a note to look her up sometime in the next few months and thank her. She deserves it.
When the lab is empty and he's found himself a seat, he rests his head on his hands and lets out a slow, low breath. It's been an emotional rollercoaster of a day, long and draining – despite it being no later than midday, John feels shot through with the force of everything that's happened. He carefully secretes away his own grief about happened to Claude and the still-painful, rubbed-raw wound of Sherlock. Later, when the time is right, he'll sit down and drink a pint to Claude's memory and try but ultimately fail to keep himself from pulling out Sherlock's battered notes as he often does when he's in need of reassurance. But for now he needs to focus on keeping his emotions in check for his discussion with Mycroft - he can't discuss the future with a clear head when he's trapping himself in the past – so he pushes Claude and Sherlock out of his mind and sets to sorting out his thoughts into some semblance of order.
Not that he's particularly successful. He tries to look objectively at everything that has happened, but try as he might, he can't find a way to make it make sense. For everything to turn tables so quickly: one minute literally on the edge of destruction, everything they'd worked for about to go down in flames, and the next – well, the thousands of people appearing out of nowhere, cheering his name, and the sudden appearance of Molly and Allison, and Moriarty's escape, and the unexpected speech – try as he might, he can't make it fit. So he's relieved when a clatter at the door announces Mycroft's arrival.
Mycroft passes and draws up a chair immediately opposite John's, who is absolutely thrown by how terrible Mycroft looks. He's pale and drawn and even thinner than John remembers him being the last time they met, which is saying something considering his state at that time, and John is seriously concerned at the shaking apparent in Mycroft's every move.
Something of his concern must show in his face because Mycroft holds up a hand before John has the chance to even open his mouth.
'No, Doctor Watson. No, I will not go and get some rest; no, I will not have something to eat. Although I assure you that I do appreciate your concern, there are greater things at stake here than my wellbeing, and I am entirely certain of regaining both my weight and health once the events set in motion today have reached a successful conclusion.'
John frowns, but keeps his mouth shut as Mycroft leans forwards to continue speaking, steepling his fingers.
'I cannot afford to waste time on frivolities on a day like today. It was difficult enough to procure half an hour to meet with you but the Association and I both believe that you are due an explanation. So, if you have any questions, please ask them now.'
John doesn't even hesitate.
It's not a question per se, but Mycroft understands, and his expression is genuinely pained as he answers.
'That was… my mistake. A terrible mistake. We were of course aware that Moriarty had knowledge of our safe place, and we anticipated that he would take the opportunity that today's events provided to fetch in all of the Association in one fell swoop, as it were – that is, not just yourself, but all the members present at the house as well. Unfortunately, the number of men that we predicted he would send was rather less than the actual number. We were overwhelmed, and Claude was killed before we managed to regain control of the situation. A senseless loss, but I must say I was touched by your mention of him in your speech.'
John smiles humourlessly while Mycroft continues.
'Very well done, by the way. Apologies for springing such a task on you, but you must understand that there was no way we could have warned you. It was necessary that you truly believed all hope was lost, or Moriarty would have suspected something was up. It was essential to keep him there until reinforcements arrived.'
John arches an eyebrow.
'Reinforcements? I assume you're talking about the massive crowd that just showed up out of nowhere? Where the hell did you find them all?'
Mycroft smiles, a real smile this time.
'We made an… appeal, you might say. We requested their presence at St. Bartholomew's. It was essential that we show Moriarty the extent of the opposition to his government. After all, he may be able to kill one of us, or even a few of us, but even Moriarty can do little against the populace of an entire country. Really, your job was just to be bait for the trap, and then to stall him until they arrived. Sterling job, though, Doctor Watson.'
John's eyes are wide with 'what ifs'.
'Christ, Mycroft, isn't that a bit risky? What would you have done if nobody turned up?'
Mycroft grimaces, but he doesn't seem too concerned.
'We all would have been taken in, possibly 'treated' to remove revolutionary idealisms, but more likely killed. I consider the risk entirely worth it, however. I don't know about you, Doctor Watson, but I would not wish myself or Gregory to exist in a world where Britain prefers to live under the thumb of a man like James Moriarty. You had already done the job of introducing them to a possibility of life without the Say No party through your graffiti campaign – it was their choice whether they seized the opportunity, or let it pass them by. If they had decided to let today pass without turning up, there is little more we could have done to convince them of the benefits of taking such a risk. It was a risk worth taking though, and we were almost entirely sure of achieving an adequate number.'
John leans back and blows a long, low breath.
'Thank god for the British public, then. So, what now?'
'We pursue Moriarty. He escaped out of the back of the building by slipping into the crowd just before your inspiring speech. No,' Mycroft adds with something approaching alarm, noting John's attempt to struggle to his feet, 'your presence was necessary on that rooftop. You could not have followed. Consolidating our successes today was more important than tracking down a man who is, for all intents and purposes, powerless without his party. We expect to have him in our possession by the end of tomorrow at the latest. I've put my best men onto it.'
John relaxes back into his seat a little.
'And what about this country? The people? What's going to happen to them? What about Lestrade and the others who were harmed?'
Mycroft's genial air vanishes instantly and John knows; he just knows that it isn't good news. Watching the way the shadows fall over Mycroft's face, John remembers Mycroft's reaction to Sherlock's death, and he wonders just how this man manages to keep going despite the burdens he carries. Then again, he thinks with a grimace, couldn't the same be said for himself?'
'I'm afraid Gregory is… not well, currently. I've provided the best healthcare possible at the moment and there are high hopes for a full recovery, for all those in a similar condition also. Rest assured that I will fix what has been done to him, Doctor. Jim Moriarty will not win this battle either.'
John tries for a reassuring smile, and claps Mycroft on the shoulder. His newfound familiarity with Mycroft's particular style of non-verbal communication allow him to read the man's gratitude in the the small returning smile, and his lack of subtle distain for John's display of emotions, and it makes John smile a little wider. The ice man, melting. He considers, though, that if there were ever a situation that called for being grateful for some support, Lestrade's condition would be it. Poor Mycroft. Dealing with the fallout, even on a day like today when everybody else is celebrating. Just like Allison.
After a moment, Mycroft continues.
'>em>You are of course free to go and see him, if you wish. Regarding the government, I and others like me who were detained when the party first came to power have resumed communications with other countries and are fully expecting their co-operation in healing the damage that has been done to this nation.'
John starts, shocked, all thoughts of Lestrade scattered. It's odd, he thinks, but for the first time since everything started he remembers that the world extends outside the boundaries of Britain. Everything that has happened – the takeover, the persecution, the counter-revolution, it all feels like it has cut Britain off from the rest of the world, creating a bubble which John cannot see beyond. Or could not. The world is apparently still out there, which infuriates him as much as it relieves him.
'What the hell have they been doing for the past two years?' he asks, and there is real bite to his voice. 'People have died! People have been hurt! What did they think was going on here?'
Mycroft looks pitying at John, and it's only the vestiges of his concern for the man's state that prevents him from being further infuriated by the gentle chiding in Mycroft's voice as he answers.
'You cannot think we are the only country with these problems, John. The takeover of the Say No party sparked a wave of homophobic uprisings in most other major countries of the world. President Obama has only just been able to wrestle power from the alliance between Santorum and Romney –well, the politics is complicated, but you must trust me when I say that none of our allies have been in a position to send any meaningful help. But that's really enough of the politics for today, John. Go home. Get some rest.'
John watches as Mycroft gets up and dusts off his already-immaculate suit, and Mycroft's words repeat themselves louder and louder until John realises: this is it. This is really it. This is the end of the Say No party, and in a way, it's the end of him. He's been propping himself up with this goal for so long – protecting the country, bringing down Moriarty, and in no small way, avenging Sherlock – that its loss, however positive the effects for Great Britain, leaves a gaping hole in his chest.
He doesn't mean to ask it: he just opens his mouth and out it comes, in a rather more plaintive way than he would have hoped.
'But… what do I do?'
He collects himself, and tries again.
'From now on, I mean. You've got no more use for a fugitive spray-painting blogger – at least, I assume it's all up to you politicians now. What do I do?'
Mycroft turns to look at him, and there's a real twinkle in his eye as he says,
'Just go home, John. To Baker Street. I've already sent somebody to open it up for you, and you must be exhausted.'
Mycroft cuts in, and John thinks he can almost detect a note of glee in the man's voice.
'Rest assured we will call you if we need you. But for now, go home. I'll make sure instructions are… ah, sent to you.'
John positively does not trust Mycroft's tone of voice, but he's not about to deny a man whose partner is possibly irreversibly damaged and who may have just had a hand in saving the country. So he sighs, but he gets up and follows Mycroft out of the door anyway.
Before Mycroft turns away to walk down the corridor in the opposite direction, he lays a hand on John's shoulder.
'John… before you do anything else, I suggest you check your blog when you get home. You'll find it some interesting reading, I assure you.'
Nonplussed, John watches Mycroft walk away, looking utterly smug, and then turns for Baker Street – for home.
And it is still home, he thinks, even after all this time and trouble. Baker Street was always that way, even back before the Say Nos: a constant of comfort in an equation of crime, murder, darkness and danger. Not that he disliked the danger of cases, he thinks – he thrived on it almost as much as Sherlock did, with the adrenaline in his veins and the high of a case well solved. But Baker Street was always there, a place to close the door of an evening and leave the rest of the world outside. He finds himself curious, as his feet trace the distance back to his old front door, about how much will have changed.
The answer is, everything and nothing.
He will not dwell on it as he slips inside the unlocked outer door. Nor will he dwell on the feeling of déjà vu as the stairs, or the last circumstances under which he found himself here. He will not look at Sherlock's belongings, gathering dust all over the living room and kitchen. He will not pay any attention to Sherlock's chair, still facing his own in a quiet corner of the room, and Sherlock's dressing gown still heaped over the cushions on John's. He will not think about the night before they left, when Sherlock curled up with him on the sofa, and they talked and kissed and John held his hand over Sherlock's beating heart as they did so, just to remind himself that no matter what, they would stick together and see this through. He will not think.
He will not, he vows. He will not.
But of course he does.
He can't help it. The memories crowd him, fighting for attention, one after another after another until John is drowning in everything that he has tried so hard to push aside. Sherlock has always been demanding of John's attention, taking up all of the space in the room, and now that he is dead he's even bigger, in everything that John thinks and does and as he stands in the centre of the living room trying not to think, he finds that he can do nothing but.
Sherlock is everything and everywhere in this flat and the full force of the two years rises up like an unstoppable force to drag John down. He does not check his blog, as Mycroft requests. He does not do anything except stumble into Sherlock's bedroom, wrap himself up in the covers and breathe, and even that reminds him, with the absence of Sherlock's familiar smell, that the flat's apparently ageless appearance only masks how much things have irreversibly changed.
It's ridiculously early still - only one in the afternoon - but John is exhausted and heartsick over the day's events and the previous night's lack of rest. So when unconsciousness gently tugs on his eyelids, he gratefully slips under, and sleeps.
Chapter 31: Morse Code
Thank you all for your extreme patience.
It happens most nights. He's used to it. By now, he expects it.
- hard ground beneath my feet, he's faking, of course he's faking, I just need to see him again and he'll be okay, I'll be there, he'll be protected and then we can all go home but – CHRIST, no, bike, oh god, it hurts, not important, have to get up, have to get to Sherlock –
It used to be Afghanistan, but there are worse things to dream of now.
- before anything happens to him, anything could be happening while he's out of my sight, have to get up, have to find him, have to go faster, go faster, John, pushing, pushing but they won't let me through, god please let me through, need to see him, need to see, I'm his –
He's overheating. The covers are too warm. John pushes them off, and a welcoming breeze from the open window trails cold fingers over his sweating forehead –
- what's the word? Lover? Soulmate? Friend? Doctor, oh Jesus he fell, he needs a doctor, I'm a doctor, need to see him, need to see that he's okay, of course he's okay, he's always okay, let me through, for God's sake let me through, can't you see he needs me – I need him – we are, we are just SherlockandJohn, together, let me see, let me through, oh god –
It's always the same dream, over and over. He tries not to think of it, but he can't control it, so it's always the same. His subconscious is like a video stuck on repeat. Watching him fall, way down, out of sight, running and running and breaking through the crowds and seeing –
- the blood, so much blood, blood everywhere, it's wrong, it's all wrong, make it better, John, fix it, John, don't let this happen, not now, not ever, how could you let this happen –
And then the dream shifts, begins to disperse, which is unprecedented. But John doesn't even mind, because this dream is better, so much better. Calmer. Peaceful.
There is no blood, and no voices shouting above him, and most definitely no fall. It's quiet. He's in the flat, in a bed, eyes closed and there are footsteps on his floor. Familiar. Soft, but still heavy, muffled by the carpet. Shoes. Heavy tread. An adult's. Familiar.
- kiss his palm, his bloodied palm make it better –
Breathing. Quiet, but deep. A man's. Comforting. The anticipation, the hope is so painful because John knows who it must be – has to be – can't be anyone else, he'd recognise that walk anywhere – but he squashes it down, firmly, not thinking of it. It's painful. But it's a better dream than the other, John thinks, and he keeps his eyes closed, scared that it will dissolve. It has to be a dream. A better dream.
- close his eyes, so he can't see the death, can't see the morgue – close his eyes –
Clothing hits the floor in three rapid thumps. Heavy, definitely shoes, and something else – a coat, maybe, possibly, and then John can't restrain himself anymore and oh god it has to be. Because there's a shape, a figure, a presence sliding into the bed next to John over the covers, taking care not to touch him, and John has known every bit of it, inside out, from the lithe movements to the soft breathing to the –
It was never anybody else. It could never be anybody else.
John keeps his eyes closed but he still feels the bed dip beside him, feels himself sink into the new weight. And it figures, really, doesn't it, that even in death and dreams he is still bending to move around Sherlock, accommodating him, following his movements.
This is a nice dream, John thinks, and he doesn't even notice he is crying. A nice dream.
As the figure stills beside him, there is a moment of silence when John doesn't even dare to breathe. The hush is absolute and total, weighing him down, pinning his limbs like a butterfly's wings to a board. Pinning his limbs to the bed and keeping his mouth closed. The situation feels bizarre, and infinitely delicate, like the wrong movement or word - no matter how small the error - will shatter the dream irreversibly and wake him up. And he does not want to leave this dream. This moment and everything it contains: the darkness, the stillness, the knowledge that Sherlock, Sherlock, is within touching distance, John wants to seize it with both hands and keep it pressed against his heart for as long as he can. Forever, if possible.
So he lies as a silent statue, and he stays as still as he possibly can with his eyes closed, tensing his limbs and fighting for control over the tears that slip down his cheeks. The moment stretches on and on in the darkness, building and building until John can easily believe that there has been nothing but this, just this dream, he and Sherlock, Sherlock and he, a metre apart and a lifetime away, and then even further until John cannot hold it in any longer. He lets go of one breath, one single sobbing breath, and it shatters the stillness and the silence like glass. Broken. Irrevocably broken. John catches his breath again – holds it – hopes, even though experience has taught him well that hope does little, that he might be able to save the shattered remnants of this illusory moment. He's not confident, and he waits for the dream to disappear.
After a moment, Sherlock begins to shift across the bed towards him.
Hesitatingly at first, then more confidently, John feels Sherlock grasping at him; one hand at his shoulder, one at his hip, tugging him closer. John is numb, just numb with relief and grief and confusion and a thousand other emotions at the dream's refusal to dissipate, so he lets himself be manipulated under the dream Sherlock's hands, his body going limp as he is pulled and tucked and folded. Eventually, he and Sherlock are wrapped around each other as close as possible, their legs inexorably twined until he can no longer tell where he ends and Sherlock begins. John feels raw and achingly open, painful everywhere they touch and brush, but it's a good kind of pain, the kind that reminds him what it's like to be alive and endlessly in love.
As Sherlock settles, his head nestled in the crook of John's neck, John begins to shake. Gratitude and grief meet, rise and overwhelm him, reducing him to a state of near-childlike helplessness. He clings to the dream-Sherlock like a lifeline and doesn't let go.
It takes him a minute or two to realise that Sherlock is shaking too, his hands trembling as his fingers dig into John's back, crushing John against his chest. John doesn't care, doesn't care at all. He feels the same way – he wants to get as close as possible, under Sherlock's skin, closer than close until there is no difference between them, mixing atoms and protons, neutrons, and electrons until they are just one, SherlockandJohn, impossible to tear apart. He thinks of school-age chemistry, barely remembered; of chemical and physical reactions and compounds, of the way that when some materials, when shaken up together, become impossible to separate, no matter what – bonded by shared experiences, they physically change on the most basic level to irreversibly interlock.
John has felt it in himself, the unnatural life he has without Sherlock, and how fundamentally wrong every day has felt since Sherlock's death. He did not notice, not until it was too late, but he sees now all the ways that Sherlock has altered him; bit by bit, day by day, kiss by crime scene by taxi ride by takeaway, until John does not recognise the person he was before, and he cannot go back, even though Sherlock is no longer here.
Irreversible. Chemical. Basic. Sherlock has altered him, then left, and without the support of the cause and the Association, he has no purpose left.
Eventually, dream-Sherlock's fingertips smooth out over his shirt, and John's sobs quieten down into the occasional hitch. For a time, he simply lies in the cage of Sherlock's limbs, enjoying the soft movements of Sherlock's fingers tracing pictures over his back. It's been a long time. Back when John's dreams were still haunted by Afghanistan – the children, and the soldiers, and the beat of frantic dying pulses beneath my fingertips, the panic and the blood and the ever present grit and sand in my equipment, my clothes, my mouth– he would wake in the night with Sherlock's fingers trailing in patterns over his back, sketching oddly childlike delineations of houses and stick figures with gentle hands. John would lie cushioned by the darkness, sweat drying on his forehead and breathing slowly evening out, and he would lose himself in the calm movements of Sherlock's fingers on his back.
'Taxi,' he'd guess wrongly, just to hear Sherlock's quiet exhale of amusement against his ear. 'Skull. Blood spatter. Microscope. Gun. Murder.'
But here and now, John can't bring himself to speak, because he can't even imagine what he might say. His dream-Sherlock has stopped drawing anyway, and instead John can feel fingertips playing gentle piano over his shoulder blades. He releases one last sigh before letting go and falling into the steady staccato of Sherlock's hands through his back.
The steady movements are Morse code through the slide of John's shirt, bringing him back to the days when they moved in a silence not born out of any political party, but instead of the danger, the constant third dynamic in their shared equation. On the cases, when Sherlock would lay his hand on John's shoulder in a brief, friendly touch, spelling out some warning in code that remained familiar even without the military to drill it into his head. And, once, at home, after a near miss that was closer to all the others, after a bullet that had nearly managed to sever them apart, when they collapsed onto someone's bed, close but not quite touching. John had seen the muscles in Sherlock's face and throat, the way they worked but no sound came out, and he had grabbed Sherlock's hand and thought of those nightmares, and those cases, of a way he could blend comfort and communication to let Sherlock know that they were both okay.
I know, he'd tapped, feeling the beat of blood under the skin where his fingers fell, and thanking god for it. I know.
Now he doesn't even think about it: it just happens. In the silence and the near-stillness, he decodes Sherlock's movements tap by tap, the steady rhythm lending itself easily to translation.
· — — — / — — — / · · · · / —
John, Sherlock says, without saying a word. John. John. John. John.
John's fingers clutch against Sherlock's back.
John, Sherlock says, spelling his name hesitantly, fingers falling long-short, short-long over John's skin. John. John. Look at me. John. John. John.
John's fingers are shaking as he replies, scrabbling over the silk of Sherlock's shirt. He can't speak, can't say the words aloud, they will shatter this illusion, they will break this –
I can't, John spells out, slowly and clearly. You're –
He can't continue. He breathes deeply, splays hands flat out over Sherlock's back, runs his fingers over the ridges of vertebrae and shoulder blade. Then he tries again.
I can't. You're dead.
Entangled together as they are, John feels the exact moment where Sherlock becomes absolutely still. John's own heartbeat sounds loud in the silence and he wonders if that was it, even unspoken; the sentence that shatters the dream. Then Sherlock begins to move again, pulling away from John, arms unwrapping from behind John's back, removing his upper body from John's embrace. John feels the chill on his chest and shoulders and panics, reaching out to grab Sherlock by his shoulders, eyes still closed. He doesn't say anything, not even in Sherlock's Morse code movements, but he trusts that this action speaks for him. Not ready. Not yet. Don't go. Just a little longer. Please, Sherlock. It's been so long.
Sherlock's answer is to cup John's face with his free hands, running a thumb across John's cheek in reassurance. John feels Sherlock's touch like a physical pain, a burn that sinks through his skin, into his bones, and he can't stop himself from leaning into Sherlock's hand. It's been so long. Sherlock's fingers continue to trace the contours of his face – nose, lips, jaw, like a sightless man, and John wonders if the dream-Sherlock has his eyes closed too. If it will persist, this dream, as long as the silence and blindness are maintained, as long as John can pretend that Sherlock will be there if he opens his eyes.
Then slowly, incredibly slowly, John feels the butterfly touch of Sherlock's fingertips around his eyes, dancing under his lower lashes.
John, says Sherlock, his fingers tapping out the words on John's temple. It's alright. It's okay now.
John is paralysed; speechless, motionless, as Sherlock's fingers move towards his eyelids and gently, gently, push. John knows what Sherlock wants. He's terrified, but he knows, so he takes a deep breath as Sherlock removes his fingers and flicks his eyelids open.
For a split second, after John's eyes have adjusted to the darkness, he does nothing but breathe and simply watch the moonlight play along the ridges of Sherlock's face. He takes in the familiar curve of lip, the expanse of cheek, the tumble of curls, and thinks of nothing but how breathtaking Sherlock is, even after all of this time.
Then reality hits and he is panicking, scrambling away from Sherlock, disentangling his legs and throwing aside the covers until he's as far away as he can possibly get without falling off the edge of the bed.
He is awake. This is not a dream, and there is a dead man in his bed.
There is a dead man in my bed.
He can't stop staring. Not just a dead man, an impossibility, a physical paradox. This can't be. Sherlock died. John knows this better than anyone. Christ, John closed the man's eyes. Sherlock was dead. Irreversibly, irrevocably. For months, John grieved for him, mourned for him, and more. Saved a country in his name. Confessed love to him in front of a crowd of thousands. It is beyond John, utterly beyond John, to understand how he could possibly be once again feeling the power of Sherlock's piercing stare.
But he tries, anyway. Everything that he has believed to be true has just been thrown up in the air so he ignores the tumult of emotions that rise and swell in his chest and focuses on calming himself down, on facts, on Sherlock.
He finds he can't bring himself to look Sherlock in the eyes quite yet, so he squats at the edge of the bed, and just looks at the rest of him, trying to solve the puzzle. It's a puzzle. Think of it as a puzzle. He canvasses Sherlock like a map, looking for any clues that might show him what has led to this point. The curves and angles of Sherlock's body, the sweep of hair, the familiar splay of hands; he follows them all, and pointedly suppresses the mix of emotions as he does so. Stay calm. Stay calm. Take things one step at a time.
The silence stretches on and on and Sherlock does not move an inch. All the while, John can feel the heat of Sherlock's stare burning into him. But he keeps looking, taking in everything he can about Sherlock because he's afraid to look Sherlock in the eye and he doesn't know why, doesn't want to know why. So he just lets go of trying to find the clues, buries himself in the reassurance that Sherlock brings him, sweeping his eyes over the mountain range of leg and hip and chest, over and over and over, forgoing finding information in favour of just absorbing the simple facts of this: Sherlock is alive and well and in his bed.
He doesn't reach any solid conclusions about where Sherlock has been or what he has been doing or how he has survived all this time - he learned a long time ago that a relationship with a consulting detective does not a consulting detective make, and he's entirely too mixed up to be thinking straight – but nonetheless, he reaches some valid conclusions.
He is incredibly relieved. Some small part of him is chanting Sherlock's name, over and over and over and he wants to clutch on tight to Sherlock and never let him go.
His relief is matched by a slow, burning anger igniting in the centre of his chest, and once he gets over the shock, he is going to be angrier than he has ever been before in his life, and he doesn't know how he is going to handle it.
He may be angry and relieved, happy and sad, and grieving and shocked and godknowswhatelse but even after all this time, just the knowledge of Sherlock's presence gives him a greater sense of hope than anything he has experienced over the past nine months. For the first time, despite the tumult, there's a real seed of hope that once everything is over and he has raved and cried and shouted, there might be some kind of peace waiting at the end.
It's this last conclusion that leads him to search for Sherlock's eyes in the darkness, just for a second.
He finds them easily. Sherlock is looking at him. His eyes are wide and infinitely familiar, the supernova blue that haunts John's memories. But instead of being empty, glassily reflecting the sky like the ones in John's memories and dreams, they are filled with emotion. One that John recognises, but can't quite fit to Sherlock.
Sherlock is scared.
It doesn't quite make sense. The danger is over, for the most part. The country is still broken, still wrecked from its time under Moriarty's leadership, but there's a clear path now to getting better. Sherlock has nothing to be afraid of.
He doesn't understand. So he looks again, for longer this time, searching Sherlock's face for any clues. And he finds Sherlock looking at him, really looking at him, scouring John's features in the same way that John is doing to him. He stares at John like he can't quite believe John is here, like John is going to leave any second, like Sherlock needs to recommit John's features to memory.
And then he understands what Sherlock is really afraid of. It's him. Sherlock is afraid of him, that he will go, that he will leave, that all of this time spent apart will have ruined things between them. Because Sherlock's lips are pursed and his eyes are wide and he has kept to his own side of the bed as he would never normally do, and kept his opinions to himself. He's respecting John's space, giving John the opportunity to do what he likes with his newfound knowledge of Sherlock's survival, and that includes retreating. John has no doubt that if he left now, Sherlock would not make a move to stop him.
John is angry. He is furious. And he doesn't know how things will be in the morning, or a week from now, or a month from now. He doesn't know where Sherlock has been, or why Sherlock went, or what Sherlock is planning to do. But for the moment, there are some things he is very sure of. That he loves Sherlock. And that somehow, despite leaving, after all of this time, Sherlock loves him. And in this moment, he is simply happy that Sherlock is here.
So he buries his misgivings and his questions and his anger, and he reaches a hand across the bed towards Sherlock, placing it carefully on the duvet halfway across the space between them. A peace offering. An invitation.
Gently, very gently, Sherlock lays his hand across John's own, skin resting lightly on skin.
John, he says, his fingers falling in a rhythm over the skin on John's knuckles.
Sherlock, John says, and his hand tightens around Sherlock's.
Chapter 32: Don't Touch Me
Firstly! Of arty developments.
There is incredible fanart for the end of chapter 23 by the amazingly talented Khorazir at http://khorazir.tumblr.com/post/23122852283. I urge you to check out the rest of this artist's work: the 'after the fall' series in particular is simply stunning.
Also fantastic cover art by conductressofcoats over here at http://conductressofcoats.tumblr.com/post/27710539661, whose graphics - well, dear god, totally go and see because wow. Also highly recommended are the other fics on this post, many of which I'm absolutely in love with. Needless to say both these developments are still freaking me out slightly.
IMPORTANT FIC UPDATE INFORMATION: So due to an avalanche of stuff all over the personal lives of not just me but also my beta, this fic is officially on hiatus. I'm so sorry, really I am, and I swear to god I am trying as hard as I can to work past everything, but it's just unfortunate timing which means that the slight hiatus has morphed into a full-on NOPE. I miss you all, and really hope to return to this fic soon.
I'm really so sorry and I'll try as hard as I can to get stuff sorted so I can get back to you.
When John wakes the next morning, Sherlock is everything and everywhere.
And for a minute, it's peaceful. In the timeless hush of the early hours, he does nothing but lie still and appreciate these simple truths – the sharp planes of Sherlock's face, illuminated by the morning light; the feel of Sherlock's hand resting lightly in his, spanning the space between them; the way Sherlock's face is open and restful in sleep. The sight of Sherlock at rest – really at rest, in unguarded slumber – was rare even before the Say No Party, and John takes the opportunity to scrutinise Sherlock properly while the dawn paints everything in technicolor.
He does so hungrily. It feels like he's been starving for this, all this time, this contact with Sherlock; so he absorbs every little detail he can, taking advantage of the morning light to build on last night's study. The prominent cheekbones in particular catch his eye, and he frowns. Sherlock has lost a lot of weight – coupled with his overly long hair, the soft illumination of the morning sunlight and his peaceful expression, it makes him look ten years younger, and John's heart twists painfully. It's only been nine months, but John himself feels like he's aged a lifetime, in contrast. So much has changed.
And John wants to hear all of it. But now isn't the time, not with the morning so gentle and Sherlock still sleeping, so John gives Sherlock one last glance, settles down into the mattress and tries to drift off again.
He doesn't have much success. There's something wrong, and it takes him a minute to put his finger on it.
It's nothing really, he's sure. It's just that, well, Sherlock isn't moving very much. Or at all. But Sherlock's always been a deep sleeper, whenever he actually finds the time to sleep, and John tries to reassure himself with this fact. It's fine. Sherlock's fine. It's all fine. John readjusts his sleeping position and tries very hard to keep his eyes closed and will himself back to unconsciousness.
It lasts for approximately a minute before John is straining to hear Sherlock's breathing, placing his free hand gently on the duvet covering Sherlock's chest, just to check the rise and fall. Of course Sherlock's still breathing. It's fine. He's fine. But John just wants to make sure.
When a minute passes and John can't tell whether the movement is his imagination or reality he really begins to panic. Nausea claws its way up his throat, freezing his voice, making his breath come shallow and fast. He swallows to disperse it but his thoughts are racing ahead of him, throwing up situation after situation, everything that could have possibly happened to Sherlock between last night and the current moment and it's overwhelming, it's too much, he can't even remember what he's supposed to do now, and – oh god, is he sure Sherlock's heart is still beating?
John's shaking fingers alight briefly on Sherlock's wrist.
He can't feel a pulse.
For a split second, the world whites out and then everything explodes. John's aware of ripping himself away from Sherlock, because everything is mixed up and nothing is right and oh god no, it's happening all over again, Sherlock's dead and there's blood and voices and Sherlock's bleeding, but he's not, but John can't get a pulse. He's stumbling backwards across the floor and watching Sherlock wake up and he doesn't know what's going on anymore because Sherlock wasn't moving and he didn't have a pulse and now he's awake and looking at John like John's about to faint and there's blood and sightless eyes and a blue, blue sky, but there's not, it's not actually real, and John knows it but it doesn't stop him from it and feeling it in every inch of him. Past collides with present in front of his eyes and John hits the wall, sliding downwards until he reaches the floor.
Sherlock slipping out of bed – Sherlock falling – Sherlock's socked feet, padding slowly across the carpet – Sherlock bleeding – Sherlock standing over him, haloed with sunlight – Sherlock dying, oh god – Sherlock kneeling, looking at John with concern – Sherlock dead, Sherlock's eyes, the way they blankly stared – Sherlock reaching out a hand to John.
John flinches at the movement and Sherlock freezes.
Sherlock's okay, John thinks, but he can't stop staring. He tries very, very hard to convince himself that there is no blood on Sherlock's face, that it's just the way the shadows fall. John just didn't take the pulse properly; his hand was shaking too hard, he didn't keep his fingers there for long enough, Sherlock's pulse has always been difficult to take. It's fine. Sherlock's whole. He's alive. He's uninjured. Like he's always been, all this time. Sherlock's fine, all this time and John's been the one falling apart. He closes his eyes, tries to breathe calmly, but it doesn't really work.
When he opens them again, Sherlock is leaning closer, about to place his hand on John's shoulder.
'Don't touch me.'
John's voice cracks like a whip. The words sound out hoarse and raw, like he hasn't spoken in years. For a split second, he feels regret – the words are born of pain, and fear, and shock, and he doesn't think before he speaks, and he didn't mean this, for all of this time, all of this separation and silence to end in words so furious and dark, poisoning the pure and beautiful calm of the morning.
But after a second, he reconsiders. It's not unreasonable. It's not at all unreasonable to be angry at Sherlock. Sherlock's fine. He's not dead, not even close. There's not a scratch on him that John can see. He's been doing god-knows-what, holed up somewhere totally separate from all of this, and John's been living these past nine months in the eye of the hurricane. John's been risking everything to keep alive the memory of the dead man who's currently staring him down, irrefutably alive. And look what it's done to him, he thinks.
His pain, his grief, the fatigue that's dogged his steps these past nine months; all of these things that he has been living through day after day… they haven't just disappeared because Sherlock has returned. He's still shaking, still sweating, and his stomach still feels like it wants to force its way out of his mouth. So where was he? Where was Sherlock when this was happening, when he was changing day by day into this new John, who can't even wake up in the morning without breaking down?
John's not angry. He's livid. He's never been so furious in his life. Because it's worse than all that, John thinks, so much worse, because it's Sherlock that has done this to him: ruined him, lied to him, broken him, and then slunk back into his life without even saying a word. What the hell did Sherlock think he was doing, just slipping into John's bed without even a hello, I'm alive and what did John think he was doing, letting him?
'Bastard,' John breathes, and he sinks forward to his knees. 'You let me think you were dead. You did this to me. You… you…'
Sherlock is frozen two feet away, kneeling at John's level but not moving, and John sees the look of hurt on his face and feels a vicious stab of pleasure. Good.
'Christ, Sherlock. After everything… everything that happened. This whole country went to the dogs and you… you just left? You jumped off a bloody building, Sherlock, with the blood and the way you died, Sherlock, what the hell was that? You… you didn't have to… oh god.'
He passes a shaking hand over his face.
'John,' Sherlock says, for the first time in nine months.
And just like that, at the sound of that voice, deep and reassuring and last heard eons and eons away, John shatters. It's impossible to hear Sherlock, to see Sherlock crouching in front of him wide-eyed and horrified and breathing and talking like some kind of miracle and not be aware of just how much he goddamn loves the man. It catches up with John, it's overwhelming; it's almost everything, and it hurts.
Because at the same time, that singular word echoes in his head, becoming twisted and warped, taking on static, and then John remembers the last time Sherlock called his name. The world twists and he sees blood and recoils, lurching away, hands immediately moving to his head.
'Sherlock, what have you done to me?'
Sherlock's lost for words now, his mouth opening and closing but nothing coming out, and the hand he's proffering to John is shaking. John shrinks away from Sherlock, against the wall, wild-eyed and burning with fury.
'Jesus Christ, Sherlock, why? In what screwed up world did you think you'd jump off a building and then waltz back into my bedroom and think things would just be okay? Because it's not. It's not. You died, Sherlock, you died right in front of me. So tell me how I'm supposed to deal with this Sherlock, how I'm supposed to even look at you right now, tell me.'
For all that his demand sounds rhetorical, he's expecting an answer. It's one of Sherlock's defining traits - this need to be right, need to have the last word, every single time - and as much as he loves it, he hates it. He can't count the number of times Sherlock has negated his supposedly well-reasoned anger with his casual and irrefutable logic, leaving John floundering in the dust with the slow burn of anger still roiling in his stomach and nowhere to direct it. The idea of Sherlock doing it right now, of undermining John's nearly overwhelming panic and fury with a few almost nonchalant explanations makes him almost dizzy with something approaching dread, but as long as he considers it inevitable he'd rather get it over and done with.
But for a full minute, Sherlock doesn't say a word. Instead, he just stays put, kneeling a foot away from John, and calmly meets John's eyes. Slowly, very slowly, he stretches out a hand and grasps one of John's, bringing John's hand back towards his own body to rest splayed out over his heart.
As the moment stretches on and neither of them moves, John's heartbeat begins to slow, and his breath begins to come easier. Through the thin cotton of Sherlock's shirt, John can feel both the rise and fall of Sherlock's chest and the pulse of blood to Sherlock's heart. The steady rhythms ground him, relax him as he stares at Sherlock and Sherlock stares at him. For once, John can read Sherlock's expression like a book, and he's infinitely grateful that there is no trace of superiority or condescension there, only raw concern.
When Sherlock does speak, the words are the last thing John would have expected to hear in a thousand years.
'John, I'm sorry.'
John can't suppress a snort, his hand still placed on Sherlock's chest. Sherlock's mouth twists into a grimace.
'John, please. Just give me a chance to explain.'
John raises his eyebrows.
'So you can have me as a willing audience for yet another Sherlock Holmes miracle? I'm not going to bloody ooh and ah for you, Sherlock, not this time.'
This time when John sees the hurt flash briefly across Sherlock's face, he does feel a pang of remorse. After a moment of silence Sherlock speaks again, his voice sounding carefully controlled, barely controlled.
'That… isn't my intention in explaining to you. I want you to understand. I admit that I misjudged… what the manner of my leaving would do to you, and you've got to understand John, I am truly sorry for that.'
John's voice is flat.
Sherlock maintains eye contact as he carefully removes John's hand from his chest, placing it on John's knee. John watches as Sherlock settles cross-legged on the floor and begins without preamble.
'I needed to fake my death, and you couldn't come with me.'
John swings his legs around and hugs his knees, leaning back against the wall. The anger is draining out of him little by little, and in exchange exhaustion fills him up to the brim. He can't handle Sherlock's melodrama, his need for theatrics and drawing things out, not now. Not with this. He just wants the facts, the bare skeleton of the thing at the very least - nine months of his life spent guessing and wondering, he thinks, is enough.
'I think a little further explanation is needed, Sherlock.'
Sherlock steeples his fingers together and nods.
'Look at it this way. I think both of us always knew that avoiding the Party and calling in favours was not the kind of lifestyle that could be sustained indefinitely.'
John makes an affirmative noise, and Sherlock continues.
'Your… ah, absence, courtesy of Moriarty, was the final proof of that. When three hours passed – the longest three hours of my life, I might add – and you didn't meet me at Lestrade's apartment, I assumed the worst. After all, you've never been the kind of man to keep me waiting. So I knew that you'd fallen into the hands of the Say No to Sexual Deviancy Party, and that was it. There was no way that they'd let you escape, not a high-profile dissenter like you. But I knew that they wanted me too, and if Moriarty was smart, he'd use you to find me.
'So I left you the notes and went to find Molly.'
'Molly? Molly Hooper?'
'Her job made her the ideal candidate in helping me to fake my death. You see, either way, they had you. Either you didn't escape - or you did, and it would be because the Party wanted to keep tabs on you. The only way I could help you was to take down the Party, and John, I couldn't do that with them following me. So I had to die.'
John cocks his head and stares at Sherlock, and his eyes are very bright. This is an angle he has never considered before.
'You took on the Party for me.'
Sherlock smiles, just the smallest, tiniest bit.
'You did the same, and you punched Jim Moriarty in the face. Makes me feel a bit inadequate.'
John's responding laugh takes both of them by surprise, and he can see Sherlock's cheeks visibly colour in response, just a little.
'Anyway,' Sherlock says, looking away. He sounds graver, less proud now. 'I couldn't take you with me. The key to the plan was the party absolutely believing that I was dead. You needed to believe it for that to work. And John, I couldn't take you with me. They'd found you, they knew where you were, and if we both disappeared off the radar, they'd never believe it.'
John can't keep a trace of bitterness from entering his voice.
'So you threw yourself off a rooftop and didn't tell me a thing.'
Sherlock flinches, but he continues speaking.
'Molly helped out with the logistics of faking the death, and then I stayed with her for a week while I started my search.'
John hugs his knees closer to his chest, curious despite himself.
'Search for what?'
'Others,' Sherlock says. 'There had to be other people out there who were hiding in the same way as we were. I used my homeless network to filter the rumours and determine who would be the best person to approach. That's when I met Claude. Their Association was already organised when I joined, but it didn't take long before they recognised the wisdom of giving me more control, and after a couple of months I joined their board of leaders, most of whom were imbeciles.'
Christ. That was unexpected. John doesn't know how to deal with this revelation: he speaks slowly, as if he's not sure whether to be angry or not.
'That was you. That was you. I joined your organization. All that time, and it was you all along?'
Sherlock continues speaking like John hasn't said a word.
'The rest of the leaders were an insufferable drag. Claude was the only even mildly tolerable member, and even then his optimism was nonsensical. It took me an inordinately long amount of time to persuade them all that performing a rescue operation on the prisoners was in their best interests, even though I had to agree keep out of sight on the night.'
John's eyes widen even further.
'God, Sherlock, were you there that night when we rescued everybody? You must have been, Sherlock, everyone was. I was there, at the house. I was so close.'
Sherlock stares at John, and when he speaks, his voice is softer than John has ever heard it before, and there's an intensity and a possessiveness in it that John can feel it to the very marrow of his bones.
'I know. You fell asleep in a lonely corner of the house. I found you.'
John bites his lip and says nothing. After a moment, Sherlock continues and his voice is stronger and louder.
'Obviously you know little bits of the rest: the capture of the other team, the meeting with Moriarty. We used – I used – your blog to advertise the meeting and ask people to turn up and show their support. The popularity of your graffiti campaign suggested that there would be a sufficient turnout to effectively remove Moriarty from power. Thankfully, our hypothesis was correct. All that was left was to come and find you.'
There's a moment of silence where Sherlock looks expectantly at John, who blows out a long breath.
'It's… a lot to take in,' he says.
And it is. John's head is spinning from all the information that Sherlock has given him. That Sherlock's been so close, all this time – that he'd been there, in that very house just a week ago, that he'd stumbled across John sleeping, been close enough to touch – angers him as much as it oddly reassures him.
'So,' he says, shaking his head. 'All of this time… we've been working together to take Moriarty down, and I didn't even realise it.'
'That's one way of looking at it, yes.'
'Christ,' John says, shaking his head. 'This is insane. This is absolutely, categorically insane. I ought to throw you out right now.'
John shakes his head mutely, and gets up off the floor.
'But,' he says, as he stretches, 'I don't forgive you.'
Sherlock presses his lips together and doesn't speak a word.
'Not yet, anyway,' says John, and he reaches down to give Sherlock a hand.