There was a telephone number Mycroft Holmes would not use, for any reason. This was made abundantly clear, and in the previous three years, he had never used it, not once, not even when he had every reason to do so.
He only hesitated a moment now before typing the six words into his mobile. He left it unsigned.
John in coma. Come home quickly.
Mycroft Holmes pressed send, replaced the mobile to his coat pocket, and then rested his head on his hands, pressing the heels into his eye sockets and counting his breaths, which surely matched the ventilator he had spent an hour beside that morning.
He did not feel guilty about breaking the rule. It had been his rule in the first place, anyway.
There was no announcement or message in response, but the next night, some 36 hours later, Gregory Lestrade looked up from John Watson’s bedside in the ICU and saw Sherlock Holmes standing in the doorway. Neither man spoke. Lestrade because he couldn’t unclench his jaw; Sherlock because he couldn’t take his eyes from John, and did not see Lestrade standing watch.
It was a nurse who startled them from their individual reveries, with her gentle, “Pardon me,” as she moved past Sherlock into the room. “Only one visitor at a time, sir,” she added to Sherlock.
Sherlock didn’t appear to hear. He moved to John’s side and almost reached for his hand, before thinking better of it – too many tubes, wires, needles, and the blasted ventilator, obstructing John’s face. Instead, he just stared, taking him in: the way his hair fell limply around his ears, the bruises around his eyes, the grey tone to his skin. Lestrade knew what Sherlock must have thought when he saw John, because Lestrade had thought the same thing. Who the bloody hell is that? It’s not John, can’t be.
The half-light of the hospital room made eerie specters of everyone, and the steady beats of the monitors were so similar to the ones on television serials that Lestrade half expected someone – John, perhaps, in full health and a blasted jumper – to jump out and shout, “Surprise!” In John’s room, the entire world began and ended. Outside was an illusion. And Sherlock was there.
“Sir,” said the nurse again, still kind but more insistent this time.
“It’s all right,” said Lestrade. “I’m just leaving.”
Lestrade stood, shrugging into his coat. Sherlock hadn’t even acknowledged him; might not have even heard him. All at once, Lestrade wanted to beat the other man senseless, shove him up against a wall and shake him until his teeth rattled in his too-intelligent skull. He could feel the rage building, his breath quickening, and was sure if the other alpha didn’t notice these tells, the excess pheromones brought on by strong emotion would tip him off. Lestrade took a deep breath as he tried to keep himself from launching across John’s bed.
Beating Sherlock into a bloody pulp on the floor would not help John, or Mycroft, or anyone, least of all Lestrade. He didn’t think it would even make him feel better afterwards.
“Hold his hand,” said Lestrade shortly, and when Sherlock didn’t move, Lestrade reached across and forcibly put Sherlock’s hand on John’s. “Sherlock.”
Sherlock looked at him for the first time in three years, and Lestrade could feel the tremor in Sherlock’s hand, the hollow coldness that was matched by the look in his eyes. Sherlock didn’t look dead, but he did look hopeless.
He doesn’t know, remembered Lestrade, and it wasn’t Sherlock he wanted to punch anymore.
“Hold his hand,” Lestrade repeated, and felt Sherlock’s fingers curl around John’s hand. “It’s your hand he wants to hold, not mine.”
Lestrade’s shoes echoed in the corridor as he left the hospital. The September night was cool, smelled like a mix of rain and city, and Lestrade struggled to fill his lungs with it, wanting to feel the sensation of his lungs nearly bursting. His inhale fell somewhat short. There was just enough light streaming from the doors for him to send a message on his mobile.
Sherlock is here. GL
The response was nearly immediate.
Thank you. MH
Lestrade shoved his hands and mobile in his coat pocket, and walked away from the hospital, facing the wind.
“It was Molly. She gave me the painkillers and muscle relaxants, and drugs that would slow my heartbeat and respiration, and I used a vest from Scotland Yard – nicked it two weeks before. Lestrade should really pay attention. Had to take the fall the right way, wouldn’t do to land on my head. Molly wasn’t sure it would even work but she did all right. Broke two ribs and my right tibia. Matching limps, I thought.
“I went to Ireland first, to establish a base and a cover. I saw you in the cemetery, and I left the next day. Rain all the time, bloody awful weather. Worked my way into the cell’s confidence then set it to implode. Over the top, really, but the rain made my leg ache. I don’t know how you stand it with your shoulder, all the rain. We should move to Mexico. Beautiful beaches in Mexico, John, warm weather and Spanish isn’t so hard to learn. I can teach you. I took out seven of Moriarty’s sleeper cells in Mexico, and no one batted an eye.
“Not like Japan. I hope you don’t want to visit Japan, John. Six weeks to find one sodding man and by the time I tracked him, he was in Venezuela. Everyone in Japan is so annoyingly polite, and no one will tell you anything you want to know.
“You never broke the bond, you never even tried. Not once. I never felt it waver, or fade, or slip. You held onto it so tightly, John. It was dangerous. I sometimes wish you had broken it. My death should have released you, and at our age, it’s not natural to go so long, unbonded. It might have tipped Moriarty’s remaining cells off, that something wasn’t quite right.
“Venezuela was too easy. Venezuela was so easy I almost didn’t pay attention, and I thought it was all over. I thought – never mind what I thought. I killed four men in Venezuela, John, and every single time I thought of the cabbie you shot the first night, the way the blood spread underneath him on the floor. You’ve killed men before, John, but you’ve never said how many. The cabbie couldn’t have been the first. And you never wavered, it never bothered you that I could see, but we weren’t bonded then. Maybe it did bother you. I wished you could have been there, in Venezuela. I would have liked to have talked to you, to find some horrible Venezuelan Chinese and talk about anything, and instead I boarded a bus and went to find the next man, and by the time I left Venezuela, he was dead too.
“Good beaches in Venezuela. But the food in Mexico is better. We’ll go to Mexico, John, when you wake up. They’re gone now, all of them. Almost. Just one more, and then we’ll go to Mexico. I’ve been chasing him for months, he keeps slipping right out of my fingers , always one step ahead. He was in Afghanistan, John, I saw him there. I saw where you were stationed, I saw where you were shot. There’s nothing there now. I don’t know what was there when you were shot, you’ve never told me, but I know the place. Just a road in a desert, a riverbed with thin green trees nearby.
“I don’t know why you didn’t break the bond. I’m not the puzzle – you are. I wish I knew why you didn’t break the bond. I wish I could understand. I wish you would wake up, and tell me, because I need to know.
“I know just the place we’ll go, little hacienda on a beach. We won’t need shoes. And if you want to wear your jumpers, we’ll put in air-conditioning. You can bundle up and I’ll track in sand and it won’t rain and it will be bloody awful because it won’t be London but if you wake up, that’s where we’ll go, so it doesn’t hurt anymore, John. Because I’m bloody tired of hurting when it rains.”
Mycroft had wasted no time once he received Lestrade’s text, and when he entered John’s room in the ICU, and saw his brother sitting beside him, the tension in his shoulders that had settled in three years before slowly ebbed away. Sherlock – thinner than he remembered, dark circles under his eyes, hair too long and unkept. But Sherlock, in the flesh, and Mycroft couldn’t stop looking at him.
Sherlock was still talking quietly, a list of places and people and cells and tactics, a monotonous drone that could hardly be soothing to anyone, much less likely to entice a man out of a coma. Mycroft did not want to interrupt. He had followed Sherlock’s trail, but at a distance, and so many of the details were lost in translation and time and false reporting. It was not the time for a thorough debrief, however; it was already late, and Mrs. Hudson was waiting.
“Sherlock,” he said quietly, and the recitation came to a sudden halt.
“Mycroft.” Sherlock’s voice sounded hoarse. Mycroft considered how long Sherlock had been talking.
“Come with me.”
“No,” said Sherlock, fiercely.
“It’s not a choice.”
“I don’t have anywhere else to be.”
“You do,” said Mycroft. “And Dr Watson would agree. You can return in the morning, when the doctor in charge of the case is able to tell you about Dr Watson’s condition.”
“He shouldn’t be alone.”
“He won’t be,” Mycroft assured him.
Sherlock did not move.
“When was the last time you slept?”
“Three years, two months, and 24 days ago.”
Mycroft doubted it, but he was very good at maths, and he thought he knew what Sherlock meant. “Then it’s high time you did. I have a car waiting.”
Sherlock stood, still holding John’s hand. He brushed the hair back from John’s brow, rubbed his thumb along his eyebrows, a quiet, careful touch. He exhaled slowly, then leaned over to whisper in John’s ear before he stood straight again and slipped his hand from John’s. A quick tug on his coat, and Sherlock turned sharply and strode from the room without a backwards glance.
Lestrade was in the hallway, facing him. The two men stared at each other for a long moment, and Mycroft was reminded of a pair of alpha wolves, silently arguing for territorial rights. Finally, Lestrade, without saying a word, brushed by Sherlock on his way into John’s room.
“Thank you, Inspector,” said Sherlock, and Lestrade gripped the doorway, his knuckles white.
“Thank you?” he spit out, and if his walk in the cold air had calmed his fury from before, the walk had clearly not been long enough. “You bloody smart-arse wanker, I should punch the nose off your face.”
“You should,” said Sherlock evenly, emotionless.
Lestrade’s shoulders caved in, and he sighed. “Later,” he said, mumbling, and went into the room with John.
Mycroft led the way out of the hospital in the most expedient path possible. He might have taken a more secure route, but he wanted Sherlock to see. Sherlock did not disappoint.
“Guards,” said his younger brother. “On every floor. Every corner.”
“Lestrade is armed as well,” said Mycroft quietly. “You are not leaving John unprotected.”
The car waited at the kerb; Sherlock sank into the seat, and slumped over to press his cheek against the leather. “Where are we going?”
“You tell me,” said Mycroft, and as soon as the door had closed, the car moved into traffic. Sherlock did not speak, or even try to deduce; it was a few minutes before Mycroft realized that Sherlock was quietly, under his breath, continuing his travelogue of men and locations, and the destruction of both.
Sherlock’s eyes opened wide when the car came to a stop. “Baker Street.”
“Of course,” said Mycroft. “I could hardly take you home to Mummy.”
Sherlock moved slowly. “He…still lives here.”
“He talked about leaving in the early days, but it was…easier to remain here,” said Mycroft carefully, and Sherlock’s eyes were sharp, noting the careful phrasing. “Come now. Mrs. Hudson is waiting.”
Inside, Sherlock stopped at the base of the stairs. For a moment, Mycroft thought he saw the light in Sherlock’s eyes again, as he looked around the dim entryway, almost exactly the same as he’d left it three years before, but with a few significant changes.
Mycroft watched Sherlock, and he thought he could tell the moment Sherlock realized it. There was a tilt to his shoulders, and a pause in his breath, and the deep inhale, as if Sherlock could sense something in the air. Perhaps he could.
“Mycroft,” said Sherlock slowly.
But before Mycroft could respond, or Sherlock say anything else, there was a sharp cry from upstairs, a thump and a wail that was instantly and unfailingly familiar. Sherlock stared up the stairs, his hand frozen on the rail.
“Sherlock,” said Mycroft. “Please. It’s time to meet your daughter.”
She looked at him with John's blue eyes, and Sherlock felt the last breath leave him. The one he hadn't realized he'd been holding since he stepped into John's room at the hospital, and with it went every doubt and fear and hesitation that perhaps returning was not the right idea, because looking at her, Sherlock knew that it was. She blinked back tears which sailed down her cheeks anyway. Sherlock couldn't take his eyes off of her.
"There's your papa," said Mrs. Hudson, and Sherlock walked to them and rested a hand on the toddler’s small back. She reached for him, and he took her as if he'd done it a thousand and one times already (and maybe he had, maybe he had only forgotten). She was a solid weight in his arms, and he wrapped his arms around her as if she might float away.
"What—" He swallowed. "What is her name?"
"Emily Holmes Watson," said Mycroft, somewhere behind him, and Sherlock could hear the slight distaste regarding the order. Sherlock decided he didn’t care.
"Emily," repeated Sherlock, and Emily wrapped her fingers around his coat lapel and sniffled. She let out a deep sigh, rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Sherlock slowly sank into the wingchair. Emily let out a whimper of protest, and then settled back down.
"She knows her papa," said Mrs. Hudson.
Sherlock could hear them talking, but he paid no attention. Emily's back rose and fell with every soft breath, and she whimpered in her sleep. Her muscles alternatively tensed and relaxed, the quiet motions of a body falling deeper into sleep, and Sherlock rested his head against the dark swirls of hair on her head. His hair, he thought with a shock. John's eyes, his hair; he held her just a bit tighter, and Emily did not protest.
He could look around the room now, and see the changes. Gone were the experiments, the glass vials, the piles of news clippings and the discarded souvenirs of solved cases. He saw his microscope high on the mantelpiece, next to the skull, where small fingers couldn't reach. He saw the cloth-covered box under the window, filled with dolls and soft blocks, and the lowest shelf filled with brightly colored books.
And he saw the photographs - everywhere, the photographs, even the blasted one of him wearing the ridiculous deerstalker hat. Photographs of himself with John. Photographs from before he met John. Photographs of uni, of Eton, of when he was no older than Emily. He'd forgotten those photographs existed, and he saw others, presumably of John at the same ages, a comfortable mix of history, and when Emily sighed contentedly under his hand, still on her back, he had no doubt how she knew him.
"Mycroft," said Sherlock softly, and the conversation on the other side of the room stopped. Mycroft sat on the sofa opposite Sherlock.
"He never stopped believing in you," Mycroft began, knowing instinctively what Sherlock wanted to hear. "He never said anything, of course. He never asked me if you were still alive, never let on that he believed otherwise. But he knew. I think he always knew."
Sherlock kept his eyes on Emily. "I should have broken the bond," he said softly. "I would think of it, and then never... He would have felt the bond. He would have known I wasn't gone, when it didn't break on its own."
"Unbonded omegas have a high rate of miscarriage," said Mycroft.
"Breaking the bond could have killed her," said Mrs. Hudson. “And I think – I think that would have killed him.”
Sherlock closed his eyes, and thought about the night in Dublin, the omega on the bed, the dryness of his mouth and the way he'd nearly vomited. Had vomited, when he finally stumbled out into the alleyway. "I couldn't do it myself."
"John kept saying he’d find another place to live. But he never managed—" Mrs. Hudson's voice broke. "I'm sorry. Your brother was still paying the rent. When I told him that John had decided to stay—"
Sherlock tried to be angry, and found he couldn't. "You could have told me."
"I didn't know," said Mycroft. "I didn't know until she was born. And no, I couldn't have told you. John asked me not to tell you." Mycroft held up his hand. "Not in so many words, of course. He never gave any verbal indication that he thought you were alive. But he asked for your photographs, as many as I could give him, so that Emily would know you, and he said that you hadn't known about her, and he was glad."
Sherlock's head snapped up. "Glad?"
"It was something Moriarty said to you. About burning you."
I'll burn the heart out of you.
"John was afraid that if you had known about Emily, it would change the way you had done it. It would change everything."
Sherlock looked back down at the sleeping child.
"He was right," said Mycroft. "If I had told you about Emily then, you would have come home, and left the job unfinished. Everything would have been for naught. Everyone’s life would have been forfeit."
Sherlock caught his breath. "The job >is unfinished."
"Sherlock," said Mycroft. "Moriarty’s last cell was dismantled four months ago. Those remaining are all either too minor to bother about, or at the bottom of the most convenient body of water."
“Not all,” said Sherlock, and closed his eyes against Emily's hair.
"It has been long enough, brother. It was time to come home, even without John's accident."
The thought was so reprehensible to Sherlock that it made him gasp, and he stared at his brother, not quite recognizing him.
"Don't be stupid," said Mycroft, and the cool anger was evident. "I had nothing to do with it. I would not risk my niece's happiness just to prove a point to you."
Emily shifted in her sleep, pressed against Sherlock's leg uncomfortably. He stared down at her, and for a moment, couldn't quite remember how he ended up in his chair with a child on his lap.
"Let me show you where she sleeps," said Mrs. Hudson.
"I know where she sleeps," said Sherlock, but he let Mrs. Hudson help him up anyway, because his leg ached, and he realized that holding Emily, he couldn't navigate the stairs easily or open the doors. When he saw John's old room, now decorated as a nursery, he felt even more lost. It was a lovely little room, yellow and white, and he watched as Mrs. Hudson swiftly turned on the small lamp in the corner instead of the bright overhead light, turned back the coverlet on the bed and arranged the stuffed toys in what was surely an exact blocking. Rabbit on the floor, elephant by the pillow, sheep at her feet. Mrs. Hudson nodded to Sherlock, motioning to the bed, and he carefully laid her down on it. Emily rolled to her side, away from him, and wrapped her arms expertly around the elephant. He pulled the covers over her, and let his hand rest on her shoulder.
Mrs. Hudson tugged on his sleeve, and he left the room unwillingly, his eyes on the little girl until the moment the door closed. He kept his hand on the doorknob.
"You'll want your rest," said Mrs. Hudson. "She'll sleep until morning, but she'll need you as soon as she wakes, and she wakes early."
"I can't do this," whispered Sherlock.
Mrs. Hudson patted his arm. "John said the same thing, the day he brought her home," she said, and her voice caught. "You'll be all right. He was."
I'm not John, thought Sherlock, and followed her down the stairs.
Canonically, Harry should be older than John, but this is my AU, so I’ve made her two years younger. This chapter was written long before Wellingtongoose’s excellent essays on the medical background of John Watson; I’ve taken the liberty of not really changing his story here to conform with how it might have actually gone. Again, AU. Please forgive me the discrepancies; hopefully the reasons for both decisions will be made clear by the needs of the overall narrative.
John Watson had never put much thought into what he would be when he grew up. He was perfectly happy to play rugby and hang upside-down from trees and try to see under the girls’ skirts if the opportunity arose. He and his mates used cardboard boxes to build a massive space fort in Westbury common - the fort was John's idea, the fact that it was in space was Nigel's - and for a blissful ten days, John lived the life of a space ranger, saving the galaxy from aliens and earthworms and other monstrous forces worthy of an episode of Doctor Who.
Then it rained, and the cardboard became so water-logged that it couldn't hold itself up anymore, and the boys were told sternly to pack it all up and dispose of it properly.
It was while Tom was trying to collapse a particularly stubborn bit of cardboard that he fell and scratched his arm wide open on a thick, rusted staple. Nigel saw the blood and was sick and Tom refused to scream and Euan ran for whichever mother happened to be closest. John took Tom by the hand and marched him over to his father's nearby sweet shop, where he requisitioned use of the lavatory and washed Tom's arm with soap and water, then pressed a wad of paper towels to the area. By the time the mothers arrived, fluttery and frightened, Tom's arm had stopped bleeding and he and John had successfully taken down the rest of the fort.
"Regular doctor you are," said Euan's mum, and Euan didn't look at any of them in the eye for a week. John thought about the way the blood had swelled up on Tom's arm and read every book about doctors and medicine and hospitals that he could in the primary's library. There weren't many.
"I'm going to be a doctor," he told his mum a few weeks later.
"We'll see," said his mother. "You'd have to go to school for a long time and study very hard."
John studied, right up until he was thirteen and primary school ended. About half of his classmates were preparing to go on to their various secondary schools. Euan was down for an alpha secondary on the other side of Westbury, and Tom was going to an exclusive beta academy in Kent, because his mother and grandfather and great-grandmother had all gone there too. But neither John nor Nigel had the necessary tests done to find out what they'd present as, and so both were set for home-schooling until they did.
"It won't be long," said John's dad. "I presented early, your mum presented early. It runs in families. Shouldn't be more than a year, and you can use that to study up and help me in the shop."
Left unsaid was that the tests were expensive, and if John was going to present early, there was no point in using what little money the Watsons had saved to determine what would be obvious soon enough, anyway. John decided not to mind, because he didn’t have a choice. It was fine. It had to be.
So John and Nigel studied together, going over the government-supplied home school texts that were meant to supplement a formal education while they waited to present. Euan came by after school, dressed in his uniform, told stories about pranks and cafeteria lunches and the horrific smell of alphas all grouped together - "Like when your dad burns the caramel, John" - and they compared homework assignments at the kitchen table under the watchful eye of John’s mother. Because that was really the worst bit, he was never allowed to be alone with his mates. It wasn't that Euan was dangerous, exactly; Euan was exactly the same as he was all the rest of the time, but Euan was Alpha now, and even if he was only fourteen, he might present at any minute, and if he did, and John or Nigel did too, then there would be trouble. Might be trouble. It all depended. It was all very sticky. But it was fine, because he had Nigel to pal around with, and they laughed as much as they studied and made fun of Euan's uniform together.
Tom came back for the Christmas holidays and it was worse, because he had even better stories than Euan, about dormitories and the stiff students from the grand houses who thought they were so much better, and might have been but Tom was able to kick them around the rugby field anyway.
And somewhere during the Christmas holiday, Nigel presented as an alpha, and he was sent off to join Euan and left John to study all alone.
It was fine. John could study better by himself, and he tried not to let the loneliness get to him. Euan and Nigel didn't come around anymore, and Tom didn't write, and Harry was a stupid girl, and the smell of the sweet shop made John sick half the time. So he studied, and studied, and studied, and then he woke up one day in June and realized that he'd lost an entire year of schooling, and he was fifteen years old and didn't have long before he'd be too old to get any secondary school at all if he hadn't presented as anything yet.
And then Harry, thirteen years old, presented as an alpha.
John shut himself in his room for a full day. Not because he was scared of what Harry might do to him - even in a frenzy, no alpha was going to try to seduce her brother, let alone an unpresented brother. It was because Harry was thirteen, and she was going to go to the alpha school with Nigel and Euan and she'd get to join in the organized rugby and wear the stupid uniform and mix herself in with all the ridiculous smelling pheromones while John would sit and stew at home and waste time when he could be working.
"Leave me alone."
"John, dear, open the door."
"It's not as though I can lock it."
Mrs. Watson opened the door cautiously. "John, love, you need to get dressed."
"Because we've made an appointment for you. At the clinic. For your x-rays. In forty-five minutes."
John sat straight up in bed. "You did what?"
John's mother slipped into the room and shut the door behind her. She sat next to John on the bed. "I remember my gap years. I had two of them - absolutely brilliant, I had such fun. I didn't do a bit of studying, instead I went on a massive trip through Europe with your granddad - easier to do back then, after the war when it wasn't so expensive - and I thought - well, I thought you would enjoy your gap as much. But I had it wrong, didn't I?"
"I can't spend another year at home, Mum. I can't."
His mother nodded. "I think it's time we had you settled, don't you?"
The clinic was very nice about it, even if John was a bit older than their usual clientele. He had to strip down and put on a paper gown, and then get up on a table and wait while the x-ray took pictures of his abdomen. The table was cold, and he felt somewhat embarrassed to even be there, but the nurses were kind and no physical examination was actually necessary. By the time he had dressed and joined his mother in the doctor's office, the x-rays were ready and already hanging on the light boxes on the wall.
John didn't need the doctor to tell him anything. He only needed to look at his mother's face to realize that she recognized what she saw there.
"Suppose I'll need a lock on my door after all," said John.
He did his research. There was an omega school in the next county that had excellent resources for sciences and mathematics, and they had good scholarships for students who could not otherwise afford it. The year of studying paid off; John was accepted immediately, full scholarship, and because omega schools were almost always boarding schools, left the first week of September and didn’t see his family for five weeks.
The school was brilliant. John studied, played rugby, made friends, and watched other students present in turn. He usually was the one who escorted them shaking and moaning to the infirmary, but he was never allowed to accompany them past the locked door in the back. "No, dear, not your time," said the nurse soothingly, even though she never minded when he stayed with the broken bones and oozing sores that inevitably resulted from a rugby match. The students behind the locked door wouldn't appear for a week, and when they did, they didn't talk about their heats very much, which is to say, at all.
He tried not to think about when it would be his turn. He knew what it was, of course - the doctor at the clinic had explained heats to him, and his own particular biology, and every year started with another required sex-ed lecture which was generally ignored by the student body. But the idea that it could happen to him was still somewhat alien. He didn't feel like an omega. He felt like John, and he didn't want to have children when there was so much to do and see in the world that didn’t involve nappies and bottles and naptimes. He didn’t want to have to waste time in bed making small talk with someone else while his body ran amok.
Because that was what happened. John wasn't allowed in those rooms in the infirmary, where the students in heat spent their week suffering. But he knew, because the school nurse liked him, and she let him stay when he would bring other students by, and she even let him help on occasion. By the time John was in his last year, he was allowed to administer mild pain killers, and he could wrap sprained ankles and wrists with his eyes nearly closed. And John would every so often catch glimpses of the rooms behind the solid, locked door, and once in a while, he'd hear the moans and groans and even the screams, and they would make his blood run cold and hot all at once.
He didn't present for two more years, and by then, he was one of the last students in the school to have his first heat. He hadn't even realized it was coming until he'd doubled over in the showers after rugby. He'd felt hot, but that could have been the exertion from the game and the sweat pouring down him. When the water from the showers hit his fevered and sensitive skin, John had let out an unearthly moan and tried to hug the wall. At least, that was what he'd been told afterwards - he didn't really remember it.
When he finally came back to himself, it was a week later, and he was in the part of the infirmary where he'd never been allowed to go.
"Oh, good, you're awake," said Nurse Morstan. "Feel better? Time for a shower before your next class, I think."
John stared up at the ceiling.
"So that's it," he whispered.
"Yes, that was it. I promise, it won’t be nearly as long again, and much easier, too. The first is always the worst, but still not quite as bad as you think it'll be, is it?"
But that wasn't what John meant. "So much for university."
Nurse Morstan sat down on the chair next to his bed. "Oh, now..."
"No," said John, and he sat up and held his head. "How am I going to be a doctor if I have to take a week out every couple of months to turn into a raving maniac?"
"Most doctors are already raving maniacs, you'll fit right in."
"But the universities - they're co-ed. I'm going to be stuck in with a bunch of alphas and betas - I'm a goner. I'll be pregnant before the first semester's out."
"That's not going to happen."
"You're a beta, you don't know anything," snapped John, and turned over in the bed so that his back was to her. “The world’s changed in the last hundred years, but not that much.”
Something dropped on the mattress next to him. John opened his eyes and looked at the small box.
"Not really, no," said Nurse Morstan kindly, and left the room. John sat back up and picked up the box.
John barely read the instructions before swallowing the first dose dry.
John had another heat, and then he graduated. He had his third heat at home over the summer, safe in his locked room. Euan and Tom and Nigel and even Harry and his father all knew, of course, and he'd seen a predatory look in Euan’s and Nigel's eyes that he knew wasn't entirely their fault, but he didn't want to ruin their friendship, not realizing that it had been ruined the moment he'd had the x-rays done at the age of 15.
By his fourth heat, he knew more or less what to expect, and by then, he was at the University of London, rooming with another omega student. It was meant to afford students some degree of safety, but it usually meant that everyone was sexiled at least twice during the course of a year, and John, much to his shame, was the first to lock the door on his roommate, with a bloke from his chem lab whose name John had never quite managed to remember.
(John could never determine what was more embarrassing - that he couldn't remember the name of the alpha who deflowered him, or that his roommate had been forced to use the same pair of underwear for four days.)
"So," said the alpha, after the first coupling, while they lay on the floor in a tangle of damp clothes and used tissues. He didn't say anything else for a minute, but John wasn't stupid.
"I'm on birth control."
The alpha exhaled with relief. "Oh, thank God. I mean, you're cute and all, but..."
"I understand," said John, and he did, he really did. Unbonded omegas miscarried 70% of the time, but the miscarriages were bloody awful, no pun intended, and there was usually intense social pressure on the alphas to do a post-heat bonding to prevent them. John had already heard stories about omegas forced into bonding for exactly that reason just a few months into the school year, and took his birth control every morning with a prayer of thanks to Nurse Morstan.
At the end of the heat, John shook hands with the chem student, and during class, they didn't look at each other, and it was fine, but the alpha ended up having to drop out at the end of the semester because the next omega wasn't on birth control.
John sent Nurse Morstan a thank-you note and a dozen roses, and got better at noticing his heats before they went into full gear. For the first few years, he locked himself in the room, further barricading the door with a chair and having a sledgehammer near in case of emergency.
The last year of university, with his acceptance at St. Bartholomew's Hospital School of Medicine in hand, John went home for two reasons. The first, and most important, was his father's funeral.
The second was for Harry's bonding party with Clara. The party was raucous and fantastic, and everyone got smashingly drunk, probably from a mix of joy and sorrow. Clara was lovely and John liked her immediately. Harry teased him for not having found anyone - "Nose in a book too much, that's you all over" - and bemoaned the fact that she was the alpha in the family now, but otherwise seeing the family was a bit all right.
Seeing everyone else was...well. Tom was fat and full of himself, having made friends of excellent status, and spent most of the evening telling everyone in a horribly put-upon accent about the latest horse he'd trained. Euan looked at John as though he'd like to eat him alive, even with the petite omega holding desperately onto his arm. (Some alphas, thought John with some amount of disgust, didn't care how many times they bonded and broke and bonded and broke.)
Nigel, on the other hand, sat near to John and drank the water-logged beer, and talked to him like a friend. John remembered the days spent at the kitchen table studying, and they found themselves giggling together about Euan's uniform again.
"What a tosser," said Nigel, watching Euan hit on a fourth omega across the ballroom. "Glad I wasn't a beta at school with him."
"Betas are a bit of all right, in a pinch," said Nigel, and John was abruptly reminded of their essential differences now. "Works both ways, I hear," added Nigel, and John filed the information away for future reference.
"Cheers," said John.
"What about you, mate?"
"No, ta," said John, and they both howled with drunken laughter.
"But why med school?" asked Nigel when they'd managed to get a hold of themselves again. "Not a lot of omegas in your line, are there?"
"More all the time," said John, tensing.
"I don't mean it like that," said Nigel, stung. "I think it's great. Didn't we always say you were the doctor? Christ, when Jenny McFarlen split her lip at the swimming pool and the whole deep end was covered in blood - you swam right through it to pull her out."
"Three drops of blood, Nigel, hardly an entire swimming pool."
"Harry says you don't have anyone."
John didn't say anything for a minute. "I don't want anyone."
Across the floor, Harry and Clara were dancing together; Euan was spurned by his current conquest and returned to his bonded omega.
"How do you stand it?" asked Nigel finally. "I can't pretend to know what it's like on your end, but on mine - the drive - I can barely remember my name when the frenzy hits."
"I don't know," admitted John. He thought briefly of telling Nigel about the birth control, then decided against it. The medications weren't illegal, or even frowned upon, but some alphas took their existence personally. Nigel had always been a decent bloke, but John had known a lot of decent blokes before. "But I know what I want when I'm not in heat, and that's all that matters."
"What do you want?"
"More," said John.
Nigel tilted his glass to John, who clinked it in response, and the matter dropped. For a while, anyway.
John’s mother was more straight-forward. “John – about medical school. I know it’s free, but London is so expensive. Your father had debts, and the insurance barely covers them…”
“It’s fine,” said John, who wasn’t surprised. He’d been expecting something along those lines anyway. “I’ll work something out.”
Nigel rang before John returned to London the next day. “John,” he said, and he didn’t sound a bit hung over, which was impressive, considering John had the worst headache he’d ever experienced, and Nigel had matched him drink for drink. “Look. This is really stupid and if this is going to completely ruin whatever friendship we have left—“
John began to giggle. “You’re not going to suggest one of those Bonded by Forty pacts, are you?”
“I was thinking thirty. You’d be done with the bulk of med school by then, I’d be established in a law firm. We’d be able to afford child care.”
Child care. John couldn’t help but grin, and he stopped giggling.
“Look,” said Nigel. “If this is going to mess it all up, then forget it. But…well, it’d be nice to have some of the pressure taken off, you know?”
“No,” said John. “It won’t mess anything up.”
“I shouldn’t have asked.”
There was a clatter, and John waited as Nigel picked the phone back up.
“Oh. Oh. All right then.”
“I have to catch a train,” said John. “It was great seeing you.”
“Right,” said Nigel, still sounding surprised.
On the train ride, John let himself dream a little bit. Nigel, and a little cottage on the edge of town with a garden where he could plant flowers and vegetables. And a swing, John had always wanted a swing. A couple of kids running around – a boy and a girl, of course, and maybe a dog. And he’d have a little practice that didn’t take up much time, and he and Nigel would sit outside in the evenings and talk about everything and nothing. Harry and Clara could visit and sleep in the attic.
It wasn’t half awful, but when the train pulled back into Paddington, he was able to shake it off and return to the school dormitories. After he dropped off his bag, he went back out onto the street and went straight to the Army enlistment center.
By the end of the day, John Watson had gained a Cadetship, living expenses while in medical school, the promise of a rank upon graduation, and a proposal. As days went, it was about as fine as it could be.
Mrs. Hudson showed Sherlock which container had Emily’s milk, how her sippy cups assembled together, where to find her favorite dish and cup for breakfast, and, in a sudden burst of logic, how to work the toaster.
“I’ll try to be up by 8.30,” she said. “She’ll sleep the night, but she wakes near seven. She’s quite good in the mornings, and she doesn’t mind new people then. You’ll be fine.”
Sherlock glanced at the stairs leading up to Emily’s room. “But—“
“You can’t break her,” said Mrs. Hudson, and she took Sherlock’s hand and squeezed it. “Good night, Sherlock. I’m so glad you’re home.”
Mycroft still sat on the couch. The last thing Sherlock wanted to do was to talk to his brother; he could feel the exhaustion in his bones, and if he went to bed now, he thought he might actually sleep.
There had been too much in the last few days, and everything had started with the text Mycroft had sent. Sherlock’s hands shook. “Get out.”
“No,” said Mycroft, and waited. Sherlock was too tired to argue. He sat on the wingchair opposite his brother, and looked at John’s empty armchair. It looked larger than he remembered, wider, but maybe that was the doll shoved in the corner, the two or three children’s books slipped in between the cushion and the armrest. He imagined John and Emily curled up in it, reading bedtime stories while bathed in yellow light, and he wondered what Emily’s voice sounded like when she was awake. Did she speak yet? Did she laugh easily? Did she know what had happened to John?
When Mycroft answered, Sherlock half wondered if he had spoken aloud, or if it was merely Mycroft being himself again.
“John was crossing the street on his way between the clinic and Emily’s nursery,” said Mycroft. “The car came out of nowhere. Hit and run. It was crowded and dark. One other pedestrian was killed; the witnesses said that John was able to push a third out of the way. He stumbled, and fell under the wheels.”
The ghosts of John and Emily reading to each other faded, and Sherlock turned to Mycroft. He saw the dark circles under Mycroft’s eyes; the hollow cheeks, wrinkles in his suit.
“You are his emergency contact. All of this happened three days ago.”
“Yes,” said Mycroft.
“Why did you wait to contact me?”
“I had to be sure it was necessary,” said Mycroft.
“Necessary? John is in a coma,” said Sherlock, barely keeping the anger from increasing his volume. “John was hit by a car, and is in hospital in a coma, and my daughter is without the only parent she has ever known.”
“Necessary? I left to save them, Mycroft. Not to let them die without me.”
“You left to save John, not Emily,” said Mycroft. “And John didn’t die.”
“John is—“ Sherlock’s throat closed. He took a breath. “Emily needs him.”
“Don’t use Emily to justify your anger with me,” said Mycroft coldly. “You didn’t come back for Emily. Until an hour ago, you didn’t even know she existed.”
Sherlock closed his eyes.
“I had to be sure,” said Mycroft, low, “I had to be certain that this was a chance event. And if it was not, I had to know that too. You said yourself, Sherlock, you are not done yet. I have been watching; I know that you still search for some part of Moriarty’s web, one last strand. It has been months since part of it has surfaced, and yet you remain in the world and not here with your family. I had to be sure that by contacting you, I was not merely leading you into a trap.”
Sherlock exhaled. “It was a hit and run.”
“The CCTV footage – the witnesses.”
“Interviewed, and viewed. The car has been tracked down, but the driver has proven to be elusive.”
Sherlock let out a long sigh.
“You could make my job infinitely easier, you know, by telling me about your last target.”
“No,” said Sherlock firmly, opening his eyes and staring at his brother sharply. “He’s mine, Mycroft. Mine. I won’t let you or your hired assassins take him for me.”
Mycroft gripped the handle of his umbrella. “John’s sniper, then. There is no other figure in this game you would take so personally. I’m surprised you left him for last.”
Sherlock didn’t dare react; he kept his face a complete mask. “You haven’t located the driver. You posted guards outside John’s hospital room. There are guards in the buildings surrounding us – and yes, I saw them. Tell me, Mycroft, what should lead me to believe I have not walked into a trap?”
“Emily needs John,” said Mycroft. “And if anyone is going to pull him through, it will be you, Sherlock. The doctors have said as much – a bonded omega heals faster when his or her alpha is present. Your bond with John still exists, Sherlock. If this is a trap, wouldn’t you rather it be you in it, rather than your daughter? If this is where your last target is – shouldn’t you be here, and not wasting your time looking for what doesn’t exist?”
“He exists,” said Sherlock, low and cool. “Trust me. And I’ll find him.”
Mycroft stood. “There will be a car for you at 9 a.m. to escort you back to the hospital. The doctors can give you a far better assessment of John’s current condition than I can. Detective Inspector Lestrade will remain with him until you arrive. I believe John keeps the gun in the same location, though under lock and key. Goodnight, brother. I wish I could welcome you home.”
Mycroft paused, and might have said more, but instead turned and left the room, closing the door softly on his way out. Sherlock listened to his footsteps go down the stairs, and then the outside door open and close with the barest of clicks.
The flat was silent. Sherlock gripped the armrests of his chair, feeling his nails dig into the fabric. He reached over to John’s chair, and pulled out the books wedged there. Yes, children’s books, clearly worn and well-loved, pages slightly sticky. He slipped them back into their place, and stood.
The bedroom was nearly the same as he remembered, down to the coverlet on the bed, the blankets piled at the end, the pile of books by John’s side, bookmarks halfway through each one. The mix was nearly the same – a history of Cornwall, a medical journal, an autobiography of some political figure. And a parenting book, much dog-eared and worn. Sherlock picked it up, and put it back down without opening it.
There was a lockbox at the top of the closet now, but Sherlock didn’t reach for it immediately. Instead he swayed, momentarily overcome with the scent of the jumpers and John and shoe leather and the faint undercurrent of the clinic, ammonia and lye and something sharper, like blood. He saw, with some surprise, that some of his own clothes still hung in the closet, and wondered where the rest of them had gone.
The gun was in the lockbox; the key was ridiculously easy to find, taped behind the headboard of the bed, where John could grab it easily without actually getting up, but Emily would be unlikely to find it, for a few more years yet anyway. It wasn’t loaded, which was probably wise, with a child in the house, but not so much if he needed to use it quickly, and would already be slowed down by a key. Sherlock considered, could feel John frowning at him, and loaded the gun anyway, before replacing it in the box, locking it, and shoving the box back to the top shelf again. The key was retaped to the headboard.
Sherlock didn’t expect to find a toothbrush waiting for him in the loo, but John’s waited in the glass on the counter. He almost missed the box next to the mouthwash, and froze when he recognized it.
“Of course,” he whispered. Of course suppressants. Single, with a child to raise, no support other than Mycroft who was of course no support at all, and after Emily was weaned, heats every four months like clockwork. There could have been no other way.
Sherlock thought of John, returned to the living hell of suppressants, and the bond that didn’t break from death or distance, and he closed the cupboard. There were too many questions, too many variables, and he was too tired to dwell on it anymore.
Sherlock shed his clothes, turned off the light, and slipped in between the sheets. The bed still smelled like John. He reached for John’s pillow, and held it tight as he fell asleep.
Another airplane above another sea, another watery drink in front of him, another destination and list of those who faced death by his hand and didn’t yet know it. Sherlock was tired of it, tired of his personal war, tired of travel, tired of his leg aching with loneliness, tired of missing John.
“John,” he said, and turned to the passenger next to him, and was surprised to see John lying on the flattened airplane seat, eyes closed and asleep. “John,” said Sherlock again, and touched his arm, but John was cold, and did not move.
“John,” said Sherlock, urgently, as the airplane droned on, and the police sirens began to wail. “He’s coming for you, John. Wake up. Wake up.”
He heard the wails some hours later, mixed in with the scream of the police sirens and the drone of the airplanes in his dreams. When he woke, the wails continued.
“John,” he said, but John didn’t answer, because John had been part of the dream, and the dream had faded. Blearily, on autopilot, Sherlock rose from the bed and stumbled up the stairs, half feeling John push him along the way.
The little girl sat in her bed, and let out a fresh round of sobs when he entered. “Daddy,” she said, and her voice matched the lonesome cry in his heart.
“No,” said Sherlock, and picked her up. She was damp with sweat and tears, and she gripped onto his neck as if to choke him, wrapping her legs around his chest and burying her head into his neck. He barely needed to hold onto her as he carried her downstairs, still sobbing for her daddy into his skin. In the bedroom, he found John’s shirt and pajama pants, still tucked under a pillow, same as he always had done, and slipped them on before crawling into the bed with Emily, who had in the meantime found John’s pillow and wrapped herself around it.
“Daddy,” she whispered, and in the dim light threading into the room from the street outside, Sherlock could see the tears glistening.
“Papa,” said Sherlock. “Go to sleep.”
“Papa,” said Emily, and breathed John’s scent in deep. She closed her eyes. “Daddy.”
Sherlock watched her breathe, the steady rhythm of her heart and lungs, until the soft sounds lulled him to sleep.
He dreamed of John.
He had often dreamed of John, when he was able to sleep during his journey around the world. He thought it was the bond, because John, while in the dream, was never really more than a presence, a thought, or a ghostly apparition in the background, and dreaming, Sherlock thought that if he could only turn quickly enough, he would see him standing there, just behind his shoulder. It never worked, not even in dreams, but simply knowing John was there was enough to ease the ache of not having John there next to him. Sometimes.
Asleep in Baker Street, in a bed filled with the scent of John and their daughter at his side, Sherlock saw him clearly, just out of reach, healthy and smiling, his hands resting on the legs of a small girl who sat on his shoulders, her hands twisted in John's hair.
"She's too heavy for you," said Sherlock, and John laughed.
"It's your dream," said John. "Tell me about Mexico again."
"Does she speak?" asked Sherlock, eyes on Emily. But Emily wasn't quite in focus; her face was fuzzy, not quite defined. Perhaps because he'd only seen her the once. Perhaps it was not Emily at all.
"She knows who you are. I show her your picture every day. I talk about you all the time." John laughed. "I sing about you. I'm ridiculous with her."
"You're ridiculous without her," said Sherlock. "If you sing about me."
"He plays the violin," sang John, and the little girl's legs bounced up and down.
"Musical theater pap," sighed Sherlock.
"I can hardly sing opera to her."
"She calls me Papa."
John grinned, and all the Johns who had appeared in his dreams before came back to Sherlock in a heady rush. John smiled and grinned and laughed in Sherlock's dreams; Sherlock couldn't remember John smiling and grinning and laughing quite so much when awake. "I said to her, 'Emily'—" John's voice dropped an octave. "'Emily, this is your father', and she went cross-eyed when I laughed."
"Not terribly funny. She must have inherited your lack of humor."
"I thought you could speak to her in French or German. So she could be bilingual."
"How could you think that if I was dead?" asked Sherlock.
John didn't answer, because John wasn't there - just Emily, tugging on his sleeve. "Papa," she said. "Ou-est Daddy? Je veux mon Daddy. Papa, réveillez-vous! Papa, papa, je veux mon Daddy, ou-est Daddy, réveillez-vous, Papa, papa, papa, papa..."
The tug pulled him from sleep, but the small voice continued. "Papa, papa, papa."
Sherlock opened his eyes and saw Emily by daylight, kneeling next to him on the bed. She was smaller than he remembered from the dream, her face clearly defined in the morning light, and Sherlock did not quite recognize her immediately. Her riot of dark hair, thicker than any toddler had a right to have - that was his, of course. Her eyes were blue, but deeper than John's, with a thin rim of silver near the irises. It was so unusual that it gave Sherlock a pang, because surely no one else had noticed those silver rims, could have watched to see how they changed as Emily grew older. Two and a half years of missing data, and mourning this, Sherlock for a brief moment forgot everything else.
"Papa," said Emily, insistent. She wrapped her fingers around John's shirt and tugged again. Small hands, impossibly small hands, compared to his long fingers. They weren't his, clearly - they weren't John's either. Sherlock inspected the rest of his daughter, trying to find more evidence of either himself or John in her. The ears - they might have been John's, and perhaps the shape of her face. It was hard to tell under the baby cheeks, but he thought she might have his cheekbones, and she certainly had his eyebrows. Her nose was something else entirely, and the shape of her mouth, a tiny rosebud bow, he couldn't remember seeing on anyone. There was a flush to her cheeks, and Sherlock couldn't be certain, as he didn't recall seeing very many other children Emily's size or age, but he thought she might very well be the prettiest child he had ever seen.
She shifted, and the odd, acidic, warm scent that was not John hit him. He saw the wet patches on her pink paisley pyjamas, and Sherlock had a moment of pure fear.
"I am not a morning person," he said to the child. "I am not an afternoon person, either. I suspect I do not become any sort of person until after your bedtime, which undoubtedly is an early hour such as eight or nine o'clock at night, and there are members of the London police force who undoubtedly believe I am not a person at all. I suspect there is a betting pool involved; you ought to lay odds somewhere. I can help, once we know the options still available, and we can use the proceeds to pay for your schooling."
Emily listened with wide eyes, and sank down, splaying her knees to either side.
"I am to feed you toast," remembered Sherlock. "And milk. And judging by the state of your assemblage, prepare you for the day."
"Elfin," said Emily. Her voice was small and high, but not shrill. She said the word quite clearly, as though it meant something vitally important, and she repeated it, more insistently, tugging on John's shirt again. "Elfin."
Sherlock did not quite smile. "An accurate description of yourself, but rather out of context."
Emily's face scrunched, a toddler-sized version of a theatrical mask with a snub nose, and grew red. Large crocodile tears did not fall so much as explode, and Sherlock had another moment of dread before the loud wails drowned out the sounds of a London morning.
For a moment, Sherlock reveled in the mercurial change in his daughter's temperament. He noted the lines that circled her open mouth, the dampness of her eyelashes, the small and perfectly formed teeth. When Emily threw herself backward on the bed, he calculated the bounce to the mattress, and made a reasonable guess to her weight. It was only when she nearly rolled off the bed that something shifted - almost as though he could feel John frowning at him - and he tried to lift her up. Emily kicked out, pushed against him, and caught Sherlock's throat with her foot.
Sherlock sat back, gasping for air. Emily continued to scream, and Sherlock could feel himself shaking. He wondered how long the child could hold the note without breathing, if Mrs. Hudson would hear and come to the rescue, and moreover, why any of them thought that leaving the toddler alone with him was a good idea in the first place.
John, thought Sherlock, and then pushed the thought away, because John would have known what to do, and John was not in a position to tell him anything. Emily could not know this - and telling her would not help. She was too young to understand about car crashes and comas and hospitals and ventilators, and the thought that anyone might have taken Emily to the hospital to see John lying there, untouchable and unreachable, filled him with a cold sense of rage, enough that he had the energy to pick up Emily and carry her from the room.
She still screamed, but she clutched onto the shirt now, and he could feel the dampness from her nappy against his hands and he struggled to keep her from slipping. It took several tries before he could even stand with her additional, wiggly, angry weight, and unable to determine where else to go - and how to calm her - he decided to fix the only thing he could.
Emily's room was still dim, with the thin light of the small lamp in the corner giving only an impression of furniture. Sherlock fumbled for the switch, which flooded the room with yellow light, and set Emily, still sobbing, onto the changing pad. He stared at her pyjamas, took a breath, and unsnapped the lot, spreading it open as if he were performing a dissection.
"I have no idea what I am doing," he said aloud, and Emily stopped sobbing for a moment to look at him, before rolling herself off the changing table, scrambling to set her toes on the carpet below. She lunged for her bed, before Sherlock could catch her, and wrapped her arms around the pale blue plush lump barely visible beneath the covers.
"Elfin," she said defiantly, and hugged the animal tightly to her. The pyjamas twisted around her ankles, and Sherlock sat down opposite her.
"Elfin," he said, touched the animal with a finger.
"El'fin," repeated Emily. He could hear the slight hiccup in the word now, or perhaps it was still the leftover crying fit, but he could also see the oversized ears and trunk of the animal, and decided that it was Emily's word for Elephant, clearly a beloved toy. The tears still dampened her cheeks, and Sherlock hesitated before picking her back up to return to the changing table. Clutching her Elfin, Emily did not protest.
The nappy. Sherlock carefully examined it before removing it, and then set it aside, unsure what to do with it. There was a pile of clean nappies nearby, as well as various powders, creams, and lotions. Sherlock was about to take a quick peek into his mind palace, hoping to find something about any of them tucked away in a corner, but Emily twisted again, nearly fell off the changing table, and Sherlock decided that one change without any of the various accessories would not harm her.
It took several tries before he could secure the nappy to his satisfaction, which he was sure was a great deal less than John's satisfaction. But it stayed, and if it continued to stay until someone with greater experience could handle it, Sherlock would count it as a success. He wondered, idly, why she still wore nappies at all – surely one learned to use the loo at one or two years of age?
Clothes. Sherlock lifted Emily from the changing table to the floor, where she might be safe from unexpected tumbles. She toddled to her bed, clad only in the new nappy, still clutching Elfin to her chest. Sherlock watched her for a moment while she reached under the bed, and started to pull out a mix of books, balls, small dolls, and assorted teacups. Clearly, she had a plan, and Sherlock forgot about the clothes for a moment, curious what Emily had in mind.
Carefully, Emily took the balls and set them in the teacups, and then offered each teacup in turn to Elfin, providing her own slurping sort of noise. A tea party, then. Sherlock slowly sank to the floor again, continuing to watch her, and then, without really thinking about it, reached out a hand as if to accept a cup of tea.
Emily looked at him suspiciously before turning back to Elfin and his tea. Sherlock couldn't help but feel hurt at his exclusion, and turned to look through the drawers of the dresser, wondering where John kept Emily's clothes, and what she might want to wear.
Sherlock wasn't sure what to make of the clothes - there were a few dresses obviously saved for best, and then there were a mix of brightly colored leggings, blue jeans, shirts of various lengths, most of which had ruffles or roses at the neck or sleeves. Quite a lot of it was pink, and what wasn't pink was pastel. Sherlock looked at all of it with mild distaste, and had just decided that perhaps pyjamas would be the order or the day (provided they weren't all pink and fluttery as well), when a small hand reached over, pulled out a bright pink dress, and presented it to him.
"This is pink," said Sherlock to Emily, who put the dress on top of her head. "It isn't a hat."
Emily attempted to pull the dress over her head, and let out a shriek when the fabric refused to give way. Sherlock sighed, and righted the garment. Her head slipped through the neck, and she proved to be nearly adept at pushing her arms through, even if she needed assistance in actually locating the sleeves. It might have been pink, but at least there were few frills or lacey accents, and only one small rosette at her waist. Sherlock decided he could suffer it for a morning, and then perhaps purchase her more sensible clothing later.
For a moment, Sherlock wondered what Emily would look like, in dark skirts and white shirts, patent-leather Mary Janes with turned down socks, and a ribbon in her hair. Pressed and polished and entirely presentable, trotting along after him as he examined crime scenes and carrying her own small notebook and crayon to keep track of what he deduced for later inclusion in a blog. She would need a jumper, for cold nights, and he ought to carry a blanket, in case she wanted a nap. The blanket could be pink, Sherlock decided, and then realized that Emily was no longer in the room with him.
She was halfway down the stairs, holding tight to the rails and lowering herself down, step by step. Sherlock watched, his heart missing every other beat as Emily's feet searched out its next landing, but she was sure-footed, and did not slip. When she reached the bottom, she toddled off toward the kitchen and out of view, and only then did Sherlock scramble down after her.
He found her pulling at the refrigerator door, which now sported a latch of some type, clearly installed to keep Emily from finding her own way inside. Sherlock studied the latch, and then disengaged it, allowing Emily to pull the door open the rest of the way. She reached inside, found a half-full sippy cup, and with this firmly in one hand, and Elfin in the other, made her way out of the kitchen into the sitting room.
Sherlock closed the refrigerator door and followed her.
In the sitting room, Emily climbed up onto John's chair, and curled up in the corner, setting Elfin firmly by her side. She pulled out the books wedged between the cushion and armrest, and began to read. It wasn't quite reading - Sherlock could see her eyes dart around the page in a haphazard fashion, as well as every so often up to give him a studious gaze, but it was clearly an imitation of something she saw every day. Perhaps something she did every day, with John. Wake up, change the nappy, get dressed, have a tea party, drink some milk, and read.
A good routine, Sherlock decided, and unsure what his role was in her morning, sat down opposite her on his wingchair.
"Do I read to you?" he asked, but Emily did not look at him. "Do you read to me? Or should I go and prepare breakfast while you read to yourself?"
But Emily did not answer him. Sherlock watched her for a few moments, but it was quickly clear that she neither needed nor wanted him, and he left her to return to the kitchen and the mysterious toaster in the corner.
Mrs. Hudson fully expected a screaming Emily, a distressed Sherlock, and an upside-down flat. She was not wrong.
There were six untouched pieces of toast on the table in the kitchen, with various concoctions spread on them. There were four sippy cups filled with various amounts of liquid, none of which appeared to be milk. There was a trail of something dark and sticky leading from the refrigerator to the sitting room, and there was an odd scent in the air that Mrs. Hudson decided she did not want to identify.
And somewhere, perhaps in the direction of Emily’s room, there was a child screaming, not in distress or fear, but pure anger. Mrs. Hudson tsked, and waited for Emily to take a breath before calling up, “Hello?”
The screaming obliterated the rest of Sherlock’s response, but his relief had made itself evident already. Mrs. Hudson waited for Emily to take another breath.
“Emmy, love, come down to Gran, there’s a dear.”
Emily appeared at the top of the stairs, sniffling and red-eyed. She clutched Elfin to her and sat down on the very top step to rub her eyes.
“Sherlock, be a dear and bring down her brush,” said Mrs. Hudson. “Slide on down, lovey, let me wrap my arms around you.”
Emily went down the stairs on her bottom as her dress rode up, and Mrs. Hudson tried not to smile.
“Sherlock, another nappy, too, please.”
Sherlock appeared at the top of the stairs, still wearing John’s shirt and pyjama bottoms. The dark circles under his eyes were worse, and he looked as though he had run four miles over flaming coals. “She won’t let me put it on.”
Mrs. Hudson tutted at Emily soothingly, wrapping her girl in her arms. “Did you feed her?”
“She didn’t want to eat.”
“And her milk?”
“She poured it out over the carpet when I was making the toast.”
“Goodness, have you been so naughty?” Mrs. Hudson asked the little girl, who buried her head in Elfin and refused to answer. “Well, Sherlock, chivvy up, Mycroft will be here with the car soon, and I dare say you can’t go to the hospital looking like that.”
By the time Sherlock had left the shower, Emily was sitting happily at the kitchen table, her hair tamed and held back with barrettes. She had socks on her feet, a clean dress and leggings, and Sherlock, before he stepped into the kitchen, could hear her chattering away incomprehensibly to Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock had no doubt that whatever she said did not reflect well on him.
The moment he appeared, Emily fell silent, and stared at him with round, blue eyes. She held a half-eaten piece of toast in one hand, and tell-tale crumbs on the dress showed she must have had a slice already. There were some remains of egg on her plate, and drips of milk along the table in the exact trajectory of a child struggling to control a glass that was slightly too full.
Sherlock did not like failing, and here was failure, staring him in the face while wearing a pink dress with a rosette at the waist.
“There’s Papa, doesn’t he look nice,” said Mrs. Hudson to Emily. “Put down your toast and let’s brush your teeth, and we’ll walk him out on our way to school.”
“You don’t stay with her?”
“I’m your landlady, dear, not your nanny,” said Mrs. Hudson briskly. “There’s a lovely nursery just around the corner, and Emily loves it there.”
Mrs. Hudson helped Emily down from the table, and led her to the lavatory. “Eat some toast, Sherlock, you do look thin.”
Sherlock picked up a piece of toast, and then dropped it back down on the table. He listened to Mrs. Hudson chatting to Emily, and Emily tentatively saying something in response, clearly still aware of the strange man in the kitchen. He wondered if Elfin would accompany them to nursery, and hoped not.
Elfin stayed in the flat, at the bottom of the stair leading to Emily’s room. “Take your papa’s hand on the way down the stairs, love,” Mrs. Hudson said to Emily, but Emily shook her head and held tighter to Mrs. Hudson, who finally relented and walked down the stairs, step by step, as Emily navigated them carefully. Emily did not let Sherlock put her in the pushchair, nor did she want to give him a goodbye kiss. She did, however, wave goodbye to him, a vicious, pointed, and clearly relieved shake of her hand and abundantly clear, “Bye”, that did not hide her dislike in the least.
“Don’t take it too hard, Sherlock,” said Mrs. Hudson. “She’s had a very difficult few days of it, and she misses her daddy.”
“I understand,” said Sherlock, and watched them go down the street, eyes darting from their retreating figures to the windows in the buildings around them, and the other people walking casually to and fro.
Mycroft waited in the car.
“You’re tailing them, of course,” said Sherlock. “The woman with the dog and the man with the newspaper and sunglasses. Quite obvious.”
“Of course,” said Mycroft, still reading his newspaper. “I would rather there be a show of protection, to perhaps dispel any action before it occurs.”
Sherlock nodded briefly, and counted his breaths on the way to the hospital.
“Did you sleep?” asked Mycroft.
Sherlock did not respond.
“Do be helpful, Mycroft, and shut up.”
It was not far to the hospital, and neither brother said another word on the way.
Emily’s Lullaby. Thanks to Sophonisba for correcting my French!
The passage Lestrade is reading to John is from John Reed’s Insurgent Mexico.
FYI, if you don't have an AO3 account, you can also follow me on Tumblr for updates. I'm azriona over there as well. Thanks!
The hospital thrummed with life, little slices of hope and despair, small soap operas at every turn. The omega woman with the broken wrist and her abusive alpha boyfriend; the toddler with a frighteningly high fever and his parents, two betas who looked as though they hadn’t slept properly in weeks; the elderly man with the recent heart attack, and his wife patting him soothingly on the shoulder in order to hide her own fear.
The man in the wheelchair, holding a newborn baby. Sherlock did not stop walking, but watched from the corner of his eye. The man was followed by his alpha, proud and gloating over his mobile, but falling further and further behind as the nurse pushed the omega and baby down the corridor. Sherlock resisted the urge to shove the alpha forward, closer to his family, and continued to follow Mycroft as he led the way to the ICU.
Lestrade waited in John's room. He sat near the head of John's bed, one foot propped up on a support beam, and Sherlock caught the whisper of words as Lestrade read aloud from the book in his hands.
"The color of the street was red - deep, rich, red clay - and the open space where the burros stood, olive drab; there were brown crumbling adobe walls and squat houses, their roofs heaped high with yellow cornstalks or hung with strings of peppers."
John Reed - Sherlock recognized it. He had found it left behind on a train somewhere in Canada, and bored, read it, hearing John’s voice speak the words. When he reached Mexico some months later, he recognized it as the same location in Reed's account, and felt at home.
"A gigantic green mesquite tree, with roots like a chicken's foot, thatched on every branch with dried hay and corn. Below, the town fell steeply down the arroyo, roofs tumbled together like blocks, with flowers and grass growing on them, blue feathers of smoke waving from the chimneys..."
Lestrade's voice was quiet, barely audible over the hiss of the ventilator, his head tilted toward John; in the light, it looked as though John's head was tilted toward Lestrade, listening intently. Sherlock clenched his fist.
"They fell away to the yellow plain where the horse-races are run, and beyond that the barren mountains crouched, tawny as lions, then faintly blue, then purple and wrinkled, notched and jagged across the fierce, bright sky."
The scene was too pretty, too perfect, and had it been any other couple, Sherlock would have deduced them immediately as an alpha and his omega, sharing something they both treasured. Sherlock's heart pounded and he could feel his pheromones kicking in, tumbling over themselves shouting in possessive anger. My Mexico. My John.
Mycroft knocked politely, but Sherlock strode past him and took his position by John on the other side of the bed. John was exactly the same as the day before, and Sherlock wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed. No better - but no worse. Mycroft and Lestrade talked behind him; Sherlock only half listened. Instead, he focused on the sound of the ventilator as it hissed and wheezed - not quite as often as John's chest rose and fell, but the white noise was soothing, and Sherlock slowly lowered himself to sit on the nearby chair.
"Has the doctor been here yet?"
"No. The nurses have come through - he's doing better with the breathing on his own. They think they may be able to remove the ventilator entirely today. And he's healing well."
"But no sign of waking."
Lestrade paused. "Not that they told me."
Sherlock picked up John's hand and turned it to catch the light. The skin was scraped raw, the scabs thin and red. The nails were broken; one was blood red from the vessels which had burst. Impact with the road, the car, the person John had pushed out of the way? Difficult to tell, this long after the accident, but Sherlock suspected the former, based on the size of the scrapes.
John's hands, hitting the pavement, skidding along the wet asphalt. John's hands, examining a patient at the surgery, giving a comforting touch to someone's shoulder. John's hands, deftly swinging Emily through the air as she laughed. Cradling her as a newborn, resting on his expanded stomach, knuckles white as he held someone else's hand in the midst of labor.
Twisting his fingers with Sherlock's, running down his arm, pressing against his chest, pulling his shoulders in closer. Sherlock could feel John's fingers on his cheeks as he pulled himself up for a kiss, and closed his eyes as he rested John's hand back on the bed, not wanting to look at it battered and bruised anymore.
"...reported the car stolen this morning and the insurance company alerted us. He's been out on some sort of walkabout for two weeks—"
"The driver," said Sherlock without opening his eyes. "You found him."
"Not quite," said Lestrade. "We found the owner of the car, but he says it was stolen while he was away."
Sherlock opened his eyes and stared at Lestrade. The man had the gall to look comfortable in John's room, as if he belonged there, as if he had nowhere else to be. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go talk to him."
"No," said Lestrade.
Sherlock bristled. "He is undoubtedly lying; your officers will only miss some vitally important clue."
"My officers have spent three years solving murders and kidnappings without your assistance," said Lestrade, hackles raised. "I won't authorize your help on this case, Sherlock. I don't want your help."
"This is not an ordinary hit and run, Detective Inspector—"
Lestrade held up his hand, and the movement was enough to send another batch of pheromones - this time, Lestrade's, into the air. Sherlock could see him shaking with effort. "Don't. I do not need you to tell me how to do my job."
"This hit and run was personal," said Sherlock coldly.
"It's John, Sherlock, it's personal to all of us." Lestrade rubbed his eyes. "I want to find the bloody bastard who put John there as much as you do. But you're the one John needs here, not me. So I'm going out there to find the driver, and you'll be the one here when John wakes up."
"You cannot expect me to sit here," said Sherlock.
"As a matter of fact, I do. You want to help?" Lestrade pointed at John. "Help him. For once in your fucking life, think of what John needs, not what you think he needs."
Lestrade stormed from the room, one last comment over his shoulder. "John needs his alpha, not a hero. If I see you at any of these investigations, I'm handcuffing you to John's bed."
Lestrade's footsteps echoed down the corridor. Sherlock turned back to John and threaded their fingers together. His heart pounded; but the bond was still there, and the scent of Lestrade's anger faded. The implication that Sherlock could not give John what he needed - and the underlying inference that Lestrade could - did not fade quite so easily.
Worse, Mycroft had witnessed it all, and Mycroft missed nothing.
"His wife died six months ago," said Mycroft from the corner. "Cancer of some sort."
Sherlock saw Lestrade's book, sitting on a table near John's bed.
"I believe he grew rather close to your Doctor Watson in your absence. Anna in particular was quite fond of Emily. They never had children of their own."
"Lestrade is an alpha."
"Anna was a beta. Sometimes the combination is not compatible."
"You would know," said Sherlock scathingly, and Mycroft fell silent, which had been Sherlock's intention.
The doctor did not keep them waiting long. He was young, a beta, obviously not bonded but in a steady relationship with an omega. A...pregnant omega, to be exact, which was very interesting considering his lack of bonding status. Clearly he had been briefed, because he showed no surprise with Sherlock's appearance.
"Mr Holmes, I'm Dr Thomas Bartholomew. I understand you are Dr Watson's alpha?"
"There are several doctors overseeing Dr Watson and most will be in shortly to answer any questions you might have. I do have good news for you - my colleagues plan to remove Dr Watson's ventilator later this morning, which will allow him to breathe on his own. We have been gradually decreasing the assistance it has been giving Dr Watson and he has been reacting well within normal parameters. While this isn't necessarily a sign that he could wake soon, it does mean he is not deteriorating."
Sherlock nodded, and wished his brain would be quiet. Yorkshire born, raised in Cornwall, attended Cambridge, coxwain for the crew team. Affinity for Ireland, or perhaps recently visited...
"...the damage to his lungs was nominal, the ventilator is more cautionary. It was the internal bleeding that caused the most concern, though this has been brought under control. We removed his spleen on Tuesday; the operation was successful and he has been healing normally from that time on. The bleeding coupled with the head trauma are what likely caused the coma."
An hour-long commute to and from work, on the train where he read the newspaper. No electronic book reader for him; an old-fashioned sort of man, even if he was only two years out of school, and refused to admit he needed glasses.
"...initial CAT scans show some slight bruising to his brain. When he wakes, Dr Watson may have some memory loss, and there could be some issues with motor skills, balance, and verbal acuity, but my hope is that none of these will be permanent."
Loss of memory, motor skills, balance, verbal acuity - may have, which means he could possibly not have any of those things. Hope for non-permanence - meaning he could be impaired with all of them for the rest of his life.
When he wakes up - when, not if.
"You believe he will wake up?"
The doctor did not hesitate. "I believe all my patients will wake up. But in Dr Watson's case - yes. I am quite certain he will wake up."
He was not lying. "When?"
"That I cannot tell you. He will wake when his body is ready, most likely when the swelling is down and he feels safe. I know it sounds strange," said the doctor quickly, fending off Sherlock's scowl, "the idea of coma patients needing security, but the brain, and how it perceives its own reality, even in sleep, is a curious and incredible thing. Of all people, Mr Holmes, I am sure you are aware of this. We of course keep track of Dr Watson's vital statistics, but also his brain functions, and we noticed something quite interesting in the last twelve hours. For a period of time last evening, starting near 8.30 and lasting approximately forty-five minutes, Dr Watson's brain activity was quite active in comparison to the rest of the night. His heart rate increased, and his oxygen intake was extremely promising - all signs that he was significantly improved over his normal state. This change occurred again, and is in fact continuing, and has been for the last half hour. When did you arrive at the hospital, Mr Holmes?"
"Approximately half an hour ago," said Mycroft. "And he was here between 8.30 and 9.15 last night."
The doctor smiled. "He is reacting to your presence - some would say he is comforted by it, or at least energized to heal himself. I've found that bondmates often are."
The doctor's pager went off, and he glanced at it. "Excuse me - if you have no further questions, Mr Holmes?"
"No," said Sherlock, his mouth dry.
"Then I'll take this call. I recommend remaining here at the hospital with him as much as you possibly can. Please ring if you need anything."
Sherlock wrapped his hands around John's, and looked up at the monitor above his head, counting out the beats of his heart. They quickened, and then slowed into an even pattern, steady and sure. Sherlock counted John's breaths, not quite in time with the ventilator, and watched the rise of his chest, which seemed to him to be steadier than before. There was a tension in John's face that eased away - or perhaps that was the light. Sherlock couldn't be sure.
The ventilator's even hiss and blow were soothing, and the bond was a warm and comforting knot just below his heart. It had been too long since he had felt safe, and too long since he had slept. Sherlock held John’s hand tightly, and felt his bones settle into his skin. He had slept so little, and the hours it had taken to return home, the gripping, vertigo-like feeling he'd had since receiving Mycroft's text - everything began to take its toll. John’s chest rose and fell, and Sherlock closed his eyes and slept.
They walked beside each other along a path that did not exist in Regent's Park, but Sherlock recognized the trees anyway. Emily toddled ahead of them, running in spurts before pausing to examine a blade of grass or intriguing bug.
"You promised not to do this again," Sherlock said to John accusingly.
"I didn't die," said John soothingly.
"You made an extremely good attempt to do so."
“Of course, I step out into traffic every day on my way home from the clinic.”
Emily turned to run back at John, full force into his knees. He picked her up and swung her in the air as she shouted with laughter.
“Please don’t joke about it,” said Sherlock quietly, watching them.
Emily wiggled back down to the ground, and was off into the grass, performing cartwheels.
“You think I would do that?” asked John, equally quiet. “Just – step out in front of a moving vehicle and be done with missing you every moment of every day?”
“No. Yes. I wasn’t surprised, when Mycroft’s text arrived.”
“No? I was. I was thinking beans and toast for dinner with Emily, and then…” John sighed. “I wouldn’t, Sherlock. I couldn’t. And not because of Emily, either.”
Emily skipped over to them, and buried her head into John’s legs. He leaned over and picked her up, hugging her tightly to him.
"She doesn't like me."
"She doesn't know you yet."
"I have been given to understand that one does not necessarily preclude the other."
John laughed out loud, and Sherlock felt a little better. "Let's hope she takes after me and not Anderson, then."
John laughed again, and pulled Emily close to give her a kiss on the cheek. "Don't be afraid of Papa, Em. Be afraid of what he leaves in the refrigerator."
Sherlock huffed. "Please don't refer to our daughter as a unit of measurement. You chose a fine name for her; there's no need to shorten it."
"Now you sound like Mycroft."
"And stop appearing in my dreams if you're only going to insult me."
"I'm making up for lost time," said John, quite matter-of-fact, and set Emily back onto her feet.
Sherlock did not breathe for a moment. He saw Emily's hand in John's, so much smaller, and he wasn't sure what startled him more - just how small she was, or the appearance of the tubes and tape on the back of John's hand. "John—"
But John didn't answer, because John was in a coma, and Sherlock was awake.
"Mr Holmes? So sorry to disturb your rest, but the respiratory therapist is here and would like to try removing the ventilator now."
The therapist and one of the ICU nurses stood on the other side of John’s bed, smiling pleasantly. The nurse: beta, unattached and quite happy to be so, pleased to be a beta and thus avoid all the hormones. Lived with at least two other women, betas both, within walking distance. The therapist: alpha, bonded, but quite fond of the nurse even so. Interesting.
"Of course," said Sherlock.
"If you could just—"
"Yes, yes," said Sherlock, and held John's hand tightly before setting it gently on the bed and stepping to the foot of the bed. The nurse quickly took his place - Sherlock noted the longing on the therapist’s face before it snapped back to a more professional visage - and they set to work, murmuring measurements and vital signs to each other in practiced symmetry.
Movement behind him; not Mycroft, but his perpetually preoccupied assistant. She stood beside him and waited.
"Here to babysit me?" asked Sherlock dryly.
"Not really. The car owner’s story checks out - he was on a guided walking tour of Wales with half a dozen other people. He left his car locked in the garage and on his return, found the garage vandalized and the car missing. A few other items taken but clearly the car was the primary target."
"What other items?"
She did not answer immediately, and when she did, it was clear she read from a list. "A box of books meant for storage, a bicycle pump, an empty cardboard box, and four cases of ale. Tell the git to stop asking questions."
"And the police are satisfied," said Sherlock grimly. He watched the therapist carefully detach the ventilator and held his breath for the long moment before John inhaled, raspy and somewhat labored, but without the aid of a machine.
Sherlock exhaled, and the taut muscles in his shoulders relaxed. The therapist and nurse appeared to be equally pleased, as they moved around John, checking blood pressure and timing his breaths. When the measurements were done, the therapist turned to Sherlock with a smile.
"He is breathing without assistance. This is very good news, I'm sure you realize. We'll need to leave the intubation tube in place for now, but his overall oxygen intake is well within the normal range for a man in Dr Watson's condition.”
“Mr Holmes,” said a new voice, and it took Sherlock a moment to realize that a third doctor had entered the room without his noticing. “I understand you arrived last night - has anyone explained what you can expect while Dr Watson is comatose?"
Sherlock shook his head, counting John's breaths with the nearly steady rise and fall of his chest. It was strange, suddenly, to not have the hiss of the ventilator, and without it, John's hold on life seemed that much more tenuous.
The doctor was still talking, but Sherlock only half listened. Far more important to ensure that John kept breathing. Twitches, involuntary movement, eyes open but unresponsive, pupils dilated unevenly...
The tone indicated that the doctor had tried for his attention already without success. A thought occurred to Sherlock. "John is on...medications."
"If you refer to his heat suppressants, then yes, we run a full tox screen with our comatose patients and we saw the andronone in his blood work. We’re continuing the dosage, of course."
Sherlock was not sure if he was relieved or not. "What else is he being given?"
The list was not overly excessive, but Sherlock stored it safely in the new room in his mind palace, just off the foyer, which seemed to be the storehouse for the half-bits of information pertaining to John in the hospital bed. He would examine the combination of medications later, when the doctors were no longer talking at him.
"If you have any other questions?"
Sherlock shook his head, wanting only quiet, and kept counting John's breaths. He didn't notice when the doctor and nurse left the room, and wasn't entirely sure how he found himself back at John's side, resting his hand over his.
Time slowed, or stopped, or sped up; Sherlock wasn’t sure. He counted John’s breaths, and measured them by his own. When John’s fingers twitched, Sherlock trembled, and counted the beats in long and short taps which never quite made sense as Morse code. The ICU was busy and loud, beeps and whistles, nurses talking, people crying, moans and groans from down the corridor, and nurses were continually in and out of the room, turning John, checking his vitals, taking his temperature, listening to his lungs. Sherlock moved as necessary, but kept the careful count of John’s breaths, and when he could not hold his hand, rested his fingers on John’s foot instead.
But through it all, Sherlock could not remain still. His skin itched and his bones felt heavy; he stood and sat in turns, unable to find a comfortable position.
When the nurse returned to turn John the other way, he glanced at the clock, and was shocked to see that only half an hour had passed.
“You,” said the woman in the doorway, and Sherlock, still not quite believing the time, for a moment thought he saw John standing in the doorway. And then she laughed, but it was hollow and angry. “You fucking wanker. Did fatherhood scare you so badly that you had to jump off a building and run for the hills?”
“Harriet,” said Sherlock.
“Get out of my brother’s room. You don’t deserve to be here.”
Sherlock said nothing, but he held tighter to John’s foot, rubbing his finger along the toe. It curled, briefly, before relaxing again.
The nurse finished moving John and Harry quickly slipped in beside him, before Sherlock could resume his place. She straightened the sheet around him, and reached to brush his hair back. “They removed the ventilator.”
“Yes. He’s doing well, they say.”
“He’s a fighter,” said Harry, and her voice caught. “He should have been the alpha, not me. What a waste.”
Sherlock’s grip on John’s foot tightened. “If you refer to Emily—“
“I’m talking about me, you moron,” snapped Harry. “Bloody waste of an alpha. I can’t even—“ Harry took a breath. “Emily’s not a waste. Emily’s the only good thing you ever gave John.”
She brushed her brother’s hair back again, and Sherlock focused on her fingers. Steady, pale, unadorned.
“Clara,” he said.
“Still talks to me. I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m of much use to her, she’s always wanted kids, and I can’t give them to her.” She sighed. “Twist of fate, isn’t it? What a ridiculous pair of alphas we make, running from our failures.”
“I didn’t know about Emily.”
“Didn’t you?” said Harry, but she didn’t look at him.
“Do you really think I would run out on my mate and my daughter out of fear?” asked Sherlock, unsure if he was more angry or annoyed. “I’m not you, Harry. I don’t run from what I can’t accomplish. I run toward what I can.”
“And you can’t be a father,” said Harry, bitterly. “Congratulations. Neither can I. We should start a support group. Alphas Anonymous. Why did you return, Sherlock? Don’t tell me it’s because John needed you. He’s needed you for the last three years, and you were off playing dead.”
It happened quickly. One moment John was still, and the next, he had shot straight up in bed, flinging his arms wide and nearly knocking Harry into the ventilator machine. His entire body swayed, as if trying to fold itself over in an effort to reach Sherlock, but the various wires and tubes connecting him to the monitors impeded his attempt. Harry let out a shout as she slammed into the ventilator with a crash; every monitor in the room began to blare and shriek, and startled, Sherlock skidded on the floor, but managed to catch himself before falling. He reached out toward John and was able to grab one of the flailing hands, just as the nurses and doctors poured into the room.
“Sir, we need you to step away,” said one of the nurses briskly. Another nurse helped Harry up and to the side; the other two tried unsuccessfully to wrestle John back to the bed.
“Sod off,” said Sherlock, and his fingers tightened around John’s hand.
“Four milligrams of Lorazepem,” said the doctor, and Sherlock saw the nurse add something to John’s IV line.
“Sir. I will call Security unless you Step. Away. Now.”
“Sherlock,” said a familiar voice, and Sherlock felt a hand on his sleeve. He turned and looked at its owner: Mike Stamford, with dark circles under his eyes, and a quietly studious expression on his normally jovial face. “It’s all right. Let us take care of John now.”
Sherlock let John’s hands slip out of his fingers, and walked backwards until he hit the wall, where he stood, watching the scene unfold, heart pounding in his chest. The sounds John made – the labored breathing, the moan from the back of his throat as his body relaxed. And the rip of Velcro as the doctor and nurses began to tie John down.
“No,” said Sherlock, shaking.
“It’s for his own protection,” said Stamford. “Just for a little while.”
“He’s in pain.”
“He’s in a coma, Sherlock. He can’t feel anything.”
“You can still be in pain if you’re sleeping,” said Sherlock.
“He’s stable,” said one of the nurses. “EEG reading indicates the seizure is over.”
Seizure. John? A seizure? No.
The doctor nodded and stepped back. “Increase the Propofol by two milligrams for the next two hours and monitor for any signs of reoccurrence. Call me if there are any changes.”
“He hasn’t seized before this,” Stamford told Sherlock. “It’s a normal occurrence in comatose patients. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Everything means something,” said Sherlock. John didn’t have seizures. Surely the involuntary jerking and moving had been John trying to wake up.
“Mr Holmes?” said the doctor, coming over to them, and Sherlock barely gave him a glance. “The seizure appears to be over. We’ll continue to monitor Dr Watson’s brain patterns for any reoccurrences, but as we’ve added some anti-seizure medications to his cocktail, he is unlikely to seize again.”
“Seizure,” repeated Sherlock, and it began to sink in. He wondered why he hadn’t been able to recognize it before. He knew about seizures. Somewhere in that bloody palace of his mind, there was a room or filing cabinet or drawer about seizures.
“Yes.” The doctor glanced at Stamford, who gave him a nod. “Is there anything—“
“I don’t think so,” said Stamford. “Thanks, Tom.”
The doctor glanced at Sherlock again, nodded, and left the room.
Sherlock couldn’t move from the wall. He ran through the empty corridors in his mind palace, and stared at the Velcro around John’s wrists which bound him to the bed. The stiff fabric was bright blue against the white sheets and bruised skin.
“Do you want to sit down?” asked Stamford, and when Sherlock didn’t answer, he patted him on the shoulder. “You need to eat, Sherlock. I’m going to get some sandwiches from the cafeteria. Do you want one? Harry? Sandwich?”
Harry didn’t answer either.
“I’ll be back,” said Stamford, and left the room.
Sherlock didn’t notice as Harry got to her feet, still shaking. She didn’t look at John; instead, she stood directly in front of Sherlock, her lip trembling.
“What do you want?” asked Sherlock. “A thousand mea culpas, my heart on a silver platter, tear-stained promises to never leave your brother again?”
“He reached for you.”
Sherlock pressed his lips together.
Harry shook her head and reached into her pocket. She pulled out her mobile and thumbed through it for a moment, before taking a shuddering breath.
“274 Worlds End Lane, Chislehurst.”
Sherlock’s eyes darted to Harry’s face. “Sorry?”
“Don’t ask me,” said Harry. “I’m just….274 Worlds End Lane, Chislehurst. Do what you want with it, I don’t care. But my brother believes in you. I don’t know why, you’re a great bloody tosser who doesn’t care a lick about anyone, but he loved you. Loves you. And he always said you were the cleverest person he’d ever known, and my brother isn’t a slouch. So there you are. 274 Worlds End Lane. And for God’s sake, if you’re going to die, do it properly this time.”
Sherlock looked at John. His hair had fallen across his face again, and he frowned – such a familiar, exasperated, why-do-I-put-up-with-this frown, Sherlock felt the bubbling surge of something nearly akin to joy.
“I’ll stay with him,” said Harry.
“Stamford is coming back with sandwiches. He’ll sound an alarm.”
Harry smiled. “Don’t worry about Mike. I might be useless, but I’m still an alpha.”
“Thank you,” said Sherlock, and left, as quickly as he dared.
The romantic education of John Hamish Watson, told in three acts.
The only part John didn’t like about the Army was the medication. He had been on birth control since his first heat at seventeen, but the Army required heat suppressants as well, regardless of bonding status. It wasn’t meant to be discriminatory; most omegas agreed that a heat in the middle of a war zone was not the wisest of ideas. Alphas were supplied with medications of their own, but they were only required when deployed. Omegas were required to take their suppressants every day they were on active duty, full stop.
It had all been explained the day John had signed up and gained his medical school funding. He hadn’t minded so much, because it wasn’t as though he had any intentions of breeding anytime soon anyway, and there was hardly a line of people outside his door during heats. It wasn’t that John didn’t want sex – in the last few years of university, he’d started actually dating, and even had a few heat-fueled romps with classmates of both sexes. Sex was fine, sex was great, and if he was going to be honest, he even liked the heat sex when he managed to secure an alpha who wasn’t a complete tosser – but most alphas had intentions and John didn’t want any part of them. Children didn’t fit well into a medical career, or a military one. Not when you were an omega, anyway, not unless your alpha was the best fucking alpha on the planet, and John wasn’t sure those existed.
One thing John hadn’t expected was that the suppressants were required even while in school. “We’re paying for you to become a doctor, not to take a sex holiday every few months,” was the rationale, and John thought this made a great deal of sense, especially after the first semester when the days and weeks slipped away and before he knew it, Christmas had come around and John was trying desperately to keep up. Had there been a heat in there, John was sure he would have been asked to leave immediately, because a week spent locked in his room would have destroyed him.
John knew when a cycle would be interrupted; it was an itch under the skin, a vague unease and he’d go a day or two without a shit, and feel constipated and bloated the entire time. He would snap at everyone, feel guilty, apologize, and then snap again, often in the same sentence, and frequently in response to the most banal of statements.
It didn’t help that he was one of the few omegas in his class, and the only one who wasn’t one of a bonded pair. One omega had a child already, but she explained that her alpha was extremely supportive, and her parents happy to mind the baby, and she was such a friendly person and so giving with her class notes that no one bothered her with cumbersome questions or insinuated commentary. John met her alpha and son at a get-together sometime during the first year, before they were all tired of each other, and while he thought both alpha and child were very nice, it didn’t create any special longing in his gut for the same.
The other omegas mostly tried to blend in, and pretend they weren’t omegas. No one believed them, of course, and they were spared no end of harassment. John grew tired of it after the first month and, when he caught a pair of alphas trying to back one of the omegas in to a broom cupboard, put his two months of Army boot camp to good use. The alphas were sent away with bloody noses and in one case, a loose tooth, and John became the ipso facto protector of the omegas at the school. It wasn’t exactly a role he cherished, but the alphas decided that he wasn’t worth the bother.
“Doesn’t even smell like an omega,” they sneered, which was true enough, with the suppressants. John didn’t care; he had better things to do than worry about what the resident alphas thought of him.
Eventually, the alphas came round and saw him as confident, competent, and able to drink any of them under the table. In the meantime, he made friends among the betas, and the few omegas who weren’t too afraid to hide.
“I hate that we have to be better,” said Janet, the omega with the husband and child. “Omegas have been nurses for two centuries now; you’d think we’d be on equal footing finally.”
“Nurses,” said John. “Not doctors. There’s a difference.”
“I’ve met nurses who were a thousand times smarter than doctors,” said Janet. “When Percy was born, the attending doctor wanted to go right in with the knife, and the nurse had to distract him long enough for Percy to pop his head out.”
“So why aren’t you studying to be a nurse?” countered Brian, the lone alpha in their study group. He wasn’t bonded, but John had already determined that Brian wasn’t interested in him, which made life easier. John wasn’t looking for an alpha; most alphas didn’t much care for omegas on suppressants, anyway, and there were plenty of betas in the sea if he was so inclined.
Janet tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Someone holding the knife has to be clever. It might as well be me.”
“Wouldn’t have pegged you for surgery,” said Mike Stamford.
“I’m not. I’m going into obstetrics. Completely ridiculous, the number of alphas in that field, none of them have any idea what it’s like with your feet in the stirrups.” She grinned at John. “I can help you out, when it’s your turn.”
“Not for me, not for years,” said John firmly. “Not if the Army has their say.”
“Can’t see you in a uniform,” said Brian.
“Won’t see me out of it, either,” countered John.
“Thank God,” shuddered Brian.
“You’re lucky, though,” said Janet longingly. “All those lovely suppressants…”
“Take your worst day and multiply it by twenty,” said John grimly. “I’d almost rather have the heats.”
“You nearly shoved me out the window last week,” said Mike dryly. “I’d almost rather you had them, too.”
“Can we please stop talking about heats?” moaned Brian. “And talk about anything else?”
“Ruptured appendixes and engorged livers.”
“Brilliant. Much better.”
Later, though, John found himself walking alongside Mike on the way back to his dormitory. “Brian’s a berk,” Mike said.
John glanced at him. “He’s all right. Better than some alphas I know. Most would have tried to jump either me or Janet by now. Both, probably.”
“Don’t trust him,” said Mike grimly.
John understood the next month, when he arrived for their study group ten minutes early, and found Brian with his hand up Janet’s skirt. Janet was so close to her heat that John felt a sympathetic flush himself, and it took all of his strength to pull Brian away from her, and even then he had to scream for help for five minutes before anyone came by who was willing to assist. An alpha in a frenzy was no laughing matter, and by the time security had arrived to pull Brian away and put him somewhere safe, Janet and John both were shaking, and their clothes were in rags.
But Janet’s bond held. Her alpha showed up within the hour. The pheromones he threw off were so strong that John could smell them the minute he entered the library. Security nearly had to restrain him, as well, before he battered down the door leading to Brian and killed him on the spot.
“You’re lucky,” whispered Janet to John while they waited. Her heat still hadn’t quite broken – the fear and the trauma had slowed her body down a few precious hours, which she’d need to get home where it was safe. “You’re lucky. I wish I had suppressants. So lucky….”
John didn’t feel lucky. It could have been him, up against the wall, with Brian pressed up against him, feral and strong. He felt sick, and he rubbed Janet’s back and cursed their biology.
When Janet had gone home, Mike approached. “Sorry, I didn’t dare come any closer,” he apologized. “Janet’s bloke looked like he would have killed any non-omega who came near.”
John agreed, but it still rankled how little help they’d received. And Mike was a beta. Mike wouldn’t have realized what it was like, two omegas against an alpha. Mike probably wouldn’t ever understand.
Mike handed him a blanket. “Come on, I can walk you home.”
John thought about refusing. And in the end, didn’t. “Thanks,” he said.
The study group disbanded. Janet and Brian were both given slaps on the wrist – Janet for coming to school so close to her heat, and Brian for taking advantage of them. But the real consequences for Janet were worse. Her breezy, easy confidence was shattered when she finally returned to classes two weeks later, and she didn’t want anything to do with any of the alphas, which was understandable, but something of a problem since alphas made up the majority of the student body. The study group disbanded, which didn’t surprise John. What did surprise him was Brian’s lack of remorse.
“Look, mate, I’m sorry you got involved,” said Brian, when John confronted him about it the next week. “But she shouldn’t have come to school smelling as good as she did. What did she expect would happen? It’s not like it was her first heat.”
“It was her first after Percy was born,” snapped John. “It’s not her fault she didn’t know it was coming – it’s usually a year after giving birth before another heat comes on.”
“How the bloody hell am I supposed to know that?” said Brian with a unapologetic shrug.
“Because you’re studying to be a doctor!” shouted John. “And it’s basic biology.”
“Oh, and you’re the sodding expert on biology, is that it?” countered Brian, defensive and angry. “Then here’s a reminder, mate.” Brian poked John in the chest. “You? Omega. Me? Alpha. I would have fucked you both sideways with all the pheromones in that room, and the fact that I’m not all that interested in your dick wouldn’t have stopped me, because I can’t help it. That’s basic biology for you, Watson, and the sooner you realize that and stay locked up in your room when you should, the better.”
John didn’t punch him, but it was a near thing. He knew that Brian’s opinion only reflected that of the rest of the student body, and most of the world, anyway.
John joined another study group, this one of omegas and betas only. Mike invited him in.
“They’re a good group of people,” he said, and to John’s surprise – or not, considering Mike – they were.
The week before graduation, Mike and John got drunk in Mike’s flat.
“You never asked me,” said John from his drunken stupor on the floor.
“Asked what?” slurred Mike from the couch.
“About my being an omega,” said John.
“I don’t care. I’m not an alpha.”
“Betas and omegas, though. It happens.”
“Nah,” said Mike after a minute. “I mean, yeah, sure. But not you and me. You’d knock my head off.”
John wasn’t entirely sure he would, but he liked Mike. And if Mike didn’t care – then neither did John.
He was assigned to the Royal Medical Corps after Sandhurst, and stationed at Selly Oak in Birmingham. John liked Birmingham; it was close enough to Harry and Clara that he could see them from time to time, but far enough away that if he didn’t see them for a few weeks, no one commented. The city was pretty, with plenty of things to do in the off-hours, and a vibrant and fairly supportive omega community that was able to run its own activities centre and sports clubs.
The years flew, and by the time John had his fifth year at Selly Oak, he was easily one of the most liked doctors among the nurses and patients, which brought its own set of problems.
"I've got a sister," said the new nurse on John’s ward.
"Congratulations, so do I."
"She's an alpha."
"What a coincidence," said John dryly, and kept walking.
And there it was: the nurses all liked John, and nurses were notorious for wanting everyone to be content and happy and most importantly, bonded. As John was nearly thirty and unbounded, it was inevitable that the nurses tried to set John up. He thought the nurses made a sport of it: the game of Get Captain Watson Laid.
There were rules. John didn't date other servicemen or women. This was obvious; fraternization within the ranks was frowned upon, more so if one was an omega, and John liked the Army too much to risk being discharged. No one seemed to question this rule.
John also didn't date siblings of servicemen or women. This was a little harder to explain, but boiled down to the same thing: if the relationship soured, it would be potentially difficult to work with someone whose sister or brother he had dumped. This rule took a little bit of time to explain, but eventually everyone played fair.
The last rule was simple: John did not go off suppressants or birth control, for anyone, for any reason. He didn't even joke about it. The option was so far off the table that it cowered in the garden under the azalea bushes.
Beyond that, John was more or less open to anyone. Which was how even the alphas started joking about Love'Em and Leave'Em Watson. After the six-month period in which John dated an Australian, a Brazilian, and an extremely memorable (mostly because she was also dead frightening) Russian, someone called John "Three Continents Watson", and the name stuck.
Not many people offered him their sisters or brothers after that. But Lieutenant Bill Murray was new, he probably hadn't heard the stories yet. John liked Murray; he was quick and clever and kind, and he figured one of the other nurses would clue in him eventually. Anyway, John was still dating the beta from the bookstore.
"We should go somewhere," said the beta over dessert. "A long weekend. How quick does your heat come on if you stop your suppressants?"
That ended the beta from the bookstore, which was too bad, because John had liked that bookstore and the discount which came with her. It also seemed that the dating pool had dried up somewhat. None of the nurses offered up friends, cousins, flatmates, or exes for his inspection, and after a few months, John began to get antsy. He might have been an omega on suppressants, but he was still a man with urges. Just not Urges.
Then came the Birthday Picnic on the hospital's front lawn. High summer, the Queen's birthday, ice cream and sandwiches and the most god-awful punch that had ever been mixed. Families were invited, so there were clowns and balloons and small children scampering underfoot who paid absolutely no attention to anyone, which was how Mary tripped over one and twisted her ankle. John was the closest, and carried her inside to find the bandages.
"Little beasts," sighed Mary from her perch on the exam table. She rubbed the offending ankle and swung her other leg. John rifled through the drawers, trying to find the bandages. "And all of them sticky with ice cream, too. Do you think the one I tripped over is bruised and battered?"
"I don't think it noticed," said John.
"Pity. Wretched things, all of them. Unless - one or two or twenty aren't yours, are they?"
"Happily, no," said John, and found the bandages. "Blasted nurses hide everything."
"That's the whole point of nurses," said Mary, and stuck her leg out for him. "Are you sure it's not broken?"
"Very. Just a twist, you'll be right as rain in a few days and can find a suitable child to kick."
Mary, thought John, had a very shapely foot.
"There," said John, tucking the end of the bandage under itself. "Can you stand?"
"I think so," said Mary, but leaned on him anyway while she tested her balance. "Yes, a bit. I won't be running around anytime soon, will I?"
"Drat. Don't suppose I can have a doctor's note? I'd love to take time off for medical recuperation."
"It depends entirely on what you do for work."
"Oh," said Mary, her eyes sparkling mischievously. "I'm a nursery school teacher."
They looked at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter.
"You can hardly run after little monsters on that ankle," said John. "And the punch is awful. Come with me to the cinema instead."
"I thought you'd never ask," said Mary, and she smiled so brightly that John wondered if his suppressants had stopped working.
The movie was complete rubbish. Neither of them cared, or were able to recount the plot afterwards, although John thought there was a car chase somewhere in it. He wanted to continue the non-watching of a movie at his flat, or Mary's flat, or anywhere with a horizontal surface, but Mary shook her head with a shy smile.
"I like you too much," she explained. "And I want to see you again, and if we sleep together, I might not."
"I'm not that bad," said John.
"Your reputation precedes you, Doctor Captain Watson. Captain Doctor. How do I say it properly?"
“Just Captain. We don’t use doctor or nurse as titles in the army.”
“What a shame, all those years of study wasted.”
“Hardly. And for the record, I like you, too."
"Good to know," said Mary. "And I don't think you are that bad, not really. I'm not trying to change you, I know much better than to do that. But I don't want to hop into bed immediately with you."
John paused. "It's not – you aren't—"
"Heavens, no. I haven't been a virgin in years. This has nothing to do with that."
John nodded, relieved. "Dinner on Wednesday. Early, because I have the night shift, and you can rest assured that I won't ravish you when you have to chase little beasts the next day."
"What about my doctor's note?" pouted Mary, teasingly.
"Further examinations required," said John, and held up his hands, laughing, when she playfully hit his arm.
"I accept," said Mary. "Only, Captain Watson - what makes you so certain that you'd be the one doing the ravishing?"
John was a goner. It didn't help when Lieutenant Murray cornered him the next day.
"You dog," he said, delighted. "And they said you never dated sisters."
John stared at Murray for a few moments.
"Fuck," he swore.
He ought to have broken it off, but somehow, he never got around to it, and before he knew it, he and Mary had been dating a month, and then they went on a long weekend together, and then he met her parents, and her brother out of uniform, and they moved in together.
They didn't bond - it wouldn't have been possible with John on the suppressants anyway. There were special dispensations available, for omegas who wanted to bond while in uniform, which would have given him the month or so he needed to go off the medications, have a natural heat, bond, and then go back on before returning to active duty. But there didn't seem to be much point.
"I don't want children," said Mary. "And neither do you, and there's no point in bonding if we don't want children, and anyway, I can't imagine you not working for a month. I think I'd wake up in the middle of the night with you trying to remove my appendix just for old time's sake."
"Of course not," said John. "I'd use anesthesia to keep you from waking up."
Whereupon Mary poked him in the stomach, and he elbowed her in the arm, and she rolled over on top of him and kissed him so thoroughly that he completely forgot what side of the body the appendix was situated in, anyway.
It wasn't entirely true, that John didn't want children. He liked children. He liked hearing Mary's stories about the children at the nursery, and sometimes he stopped by and sat in the corner and would read to the one or two brave enough to come up to him, always in awe with his uniform or his lab coat or the stethoscope he always kept in his pocket. "Doctor John", they called him, and after a while they would line up to hear their heartbeat, and he would see Mary in the corner watching him with them, a loving and somewhat baffled look in her eye.
But she never came home and said, "Let's have one too," and he wasn't sure if it was because of all the red tape involved, and she was afraid to ask him to put his life on hold for a year, or if she really just didn't want children.
He would have done it. He would have looked into it. He would have considered it. Probably.
It never came up, anyway. And that was fine.
They were happy without children. Life was easier, certainly. They went to concerts and on mini-breaks and slept as late and as nude as they wanted. They ate microwave popcorn for breakfast and had loud, raucous parties and wandered local bookshops until the wee hours of the morning on weeknights. They fell into a comfortable pattern of sitting together on Sunday mornings, reading the newspaper and drinking tea, holding each other's hands and every so often looking up to smile at each other, perfectly content to be in each other's company, with no one but the birds on the windowsill to join in the conversation.
And then it ended, so quickly. One morning, Mary kissed him and laughed at his new haircut, and they talked about the upcoming trip to Nice. The next day, he sat in a room full of mourning friends and family, dressed in a dark suit Mary had chosen months before, wearing a tie he didn't recognize, staring at a coffin that held her broken and battered body.
"Absolutely ridiculous, what was the little bitch thinking of, doing the shopping as if her heat wasn't a day away?"
"Suppose she thought she could buy some milk before it was too bad."
"There ought to be a law...."
There was, John thought, remembering Janet and Brian and five minutes of terror in the library study rooms. Only the law didn't favor the omegas, and most everyone knew that. Which was why the shoppers tried to help, when the omega who was too close to her heat brushed up against Mary, who had no defenses to stop her own frenzy. And they'd been overly enthusiastic in their effort to keep Mary from the poor girl, and shoved her into shelving, which collapsed and broke nearly every bone in Mary's body. But it was the glass shards that had nearly severed her leg, and she'd bled out before the ambulance could arrive.
He didn't know what happened to the omega. She was probably locked up somewhere, deep in the throes of her heat, and wouldn't even be read the charges until she was in her right mind, and Mary was buried.
"It wasn't Mary’s fault."
Someone said that to John, and he didn't know why, because of course he knew it. It hadn't been Mary's fault, just a product of her biology. It hadn't been Brian's fault, either, and John hated that Mary and Brian were paired together in his mind now, and he threw himself into work the following week, and put on a show of being all right, and prescribed medicines, and smiled at the patients, and performed the surgeries necessary and the first time he had to remove someone's appendix, he did it without shaking and was sick in the lavatory afterwards.
It was Bill Murray who found him. Of course.
"It's not your fault."
John got to his feet and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He didn't look Bill in the eye.
"I know," said John, and when he left the lav, he went straight to the commanding officer and requested a transfer.
He went to Northern Ireland first, to meet up with the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, and found a completely different army than he’d first experienced. It didn’t take long before he realized that this was exactly the Army he needed to forget about Mary. Someone in the regiment had heard of Three Continents Watson, and he laughed with them, and didn’t correct them. Better not to explain.
In Kosovo, he shot someone for the first time. John was trying to stabilize a soldier who was out of his mind with fear and pain, and the insurgent popped out of nowhere and ran screaming toward them, holding the axe above his head. John hadn’t even stopped to think; he pulled the gun out of his patient’s holster and shot the oncoming attacker three times. One missed; one hit him in the stomach, the last one hit him in the heart. He dropped five feet away.
“Crack shot, Watson,” said the commanding officer, and put John in for a course in sharpshooting and however much psychological counseling he would need to get over killing another human being.
After Kosovo, the Fusiliers cooled their heels at home for a few months. John thought about going up to Birmingham, to see Mary’s grave, but in the end did not. There were new training courses in battlefield trauma care, and sharpshooting courses, and the general pomp that went with being in the Army, and these all took up enough time.
Harry rang one evening, about a month before the idyll was set to end, which was when John found himself heading up north anyway.
It wasn't a long furlough, but the compassionate leave tacked on by his mother's death made it very nearly intolerable. John supposed he would need the entire month, just to sort through the house and prepare it for whatever Harry wanted done with it, but all the same, he wanted to get back to his regiment. The world outside of the Army was so different as to be alien.
Or maybe it was John who was the alien; fifteen years of living with suppressants, never having a heat, never feeling the drive or the push or the urge to be skin-to-skin with anyone but Mary...it made him jumpy to suddenly be surrounded by the pheromones and hormones and obvious signs that everyone in the world, except for him, was clearly getting their groove on. The itch under his skin, signaling a heat that the medications were allowing him to ignore, was even worse when he walked down the High Street to purchase groceries, as if his body was trying desperately to join in the fun it saw all around him.
"So sorry about your mother," said the grocer, the pharmacist, the postal employee, the little old lady with her dog on the corner. "Such a lovely lady. We'll miss her."
"Yes, thank you, as will we," replied John, and if he was unwilling to talk to them, too quick to run back into the house, too unwilling to pass the time, then they chalked it up to grief, and let him be.
His mother's house became a safe-haven of sorts, and John took his daily dose and went through the accumulated paperwork, the unpaid bills, the cancelled cheques, and the empty bottles of sherry he found hidden behind the sofa, the cushions, the headboard, and the back of the bathroom cupboard.
Harry helped most days, and Clara came in on weekends. Those were good days, because Clara was funny and friendly and never asked about the difficult bits of the Army, or made odd insinuations about all the lovely alphas he must have met and why didn't he bring any home? John liked Clara, so he paid her the same courtesy, and didn't ask why after fifteen years of being bonded to his sister, they hadn't bred yet. He was a doctor; if Clara was worried, then she could have asked him, she knew that. John hoped she knew that.
Besides, Clara was career-oriented herself; she was a well-regarded partner in the local gardening center, and John didn't think she minded not having children. These days, with birth control and suppressants and the like, it wasn't completely outside the norm to find childless omegas, just not terribly common. The mating urge during heats was too strong, and the birth controls didn’t always work – but even 80% effectiveness was an improvement. So far, John had been lucky, and with every new prescription, he gave silent thanks to the nurse who had long ago given him his first supply.
John and Clara giggled over photographs while Harry attacked the rest of the house, brutally sorting clothing or books or cookware into piles for Keep, Donate, Toss. Every so often she would come in with some ridiculous vase decorated with boar's heads, or a first-edition Anthony Trollope, or their mother's bonding gown, and the three of them would discuss and debate or recoil in horror, depending on the item, before deciding what would be done with it.
The vase was put in the Donate pile, though none of them had any idea who would want such a monstrosity. The book was set aside to Keep, with the intention of discovering its value. The gown was trickier.
"How lovely," said Clara. "I wish we'd known about it, you would have looked lovely in it, Harry."
Harry shuddered. "Better you than me - Mum was shorter than me, this dress would have ended around my knees." She looked at John thoughtfully. "Stand up, John."
"Come on, don't you think you'd look lovely in satin and lace?" teased Harry. "Up you get!"
John let his sister pull him to his feet. "I am not going to wear Mum's bonding dress. Not now, not in the future, not ever."
"Spoilsport," said Harry, and held the dress up to him. "Well, it's the right length, but you're a bit stockier."
"The term is built."
"We could have it remade," suggested Clara. "Into a waistcoat or fancy tie-and-cummerbund. And then have leftover to make something for you, Harry."
John flashed a look at Clara. "Traitor."
"Or cushions," continued Clara. "Or a tablecloth. But I don't think we should give it away or toss it. And really, it's pretty enough, maybe there will be someone who will want to wear it someday."
"I suppose there's an alpha somewhere for John," said Harry. "But she'd need to be awfully short to fit into this."
The room went quiet.
“Oh,” said Harry, and grew red. “I – I’m sorry, John. I forgot.”
“It’s okay,” said John. “It was a long time ago. We didn’t want that, anyway.”
“I’m an idiot,” said Harry.
“Now that you mention it,” said John, and he grinned at his sister, who tried to grin back. “Anyway, when do I have time to meet girls in the Army?”
"Maybe we’ll just find you an alpha who’s willing to cross-dress," said Harry by way of reconciliation.
"Sod off," said John, and Harry playfully shoved the dress at John, who shoved it back.
"We ought to save it for future generations," said Clara, and the tension rose so quickly between the bondmates that John took an involuntary step back.
"Right," said Harry evenly. "Of course. How silly of me to have forgotten that could even be an option."
Harry dropped the dress onto the Keep pile and stormed up the stairs, as loudly as John remembered her doing as a teenager, her alpha pheromones just breaking through. Clara remained sitting on the floor, and closed her eyes tightly. John got to his knees in front of her.
"Sorry," whispered Clara. "I—" She let out a shaky breath and opened her eyes. "Didn't mean to start a domestic in front of you."
"Don't be stupid," said John, and handed her the box of tissues. "I've seen worse in the cafeteria between blokes sharing only a table, believe me."
Clara laughed and blew her nose. "It's - it's been a bit of a sore point, that's all. Between me and Harry. Not having..."
John stood up and went to the bonding dress, carefully picking it up from the crumpled pile, and holding it aloft. "It's a beautiful dress."
"You can always ask me things, Clara. Being a doctor."
"I know. I hadn't wanted to bring you into it, seeing as you're family. It's a bit...close to home."
"But - you are - seeing someone? A doctor, I mean."
There was a pause. "We should get it cleaned, I think," said Clara. "Properly cleaned and stored in one of those airtight bags, so that it doesn't fall to bits. That way it's ready for whoever wants to wear it. Whenever we need it."
John carefully hung the dress on the back of the door. "Yes," he said, not looking at his sister-in-law. For some reason, his heart hurt, hearing the resignation in her voice. "We should."
John spent most of the rest of his furlough trying to talk to Harry, but she proved to be surprisingly adept at slipping out of the thorniest of conversations. And really, John wasn't sure what he would have said to her, anyway. "So, Harry, I hear you can't get it up. Knot not happening?"
John might have been trained in combat, but he had no doubts that Harry could pack a punch when she wanted to. He didn't know that much about the alpha side of the coin anyway, apart from what he'd learned in medical school, and it wouldn't have been much help either. Infertility wasn't all that common among alpha/omega couples, but it wasn't uncommon, either, and could usually be overcome with routine and consistent medical intervention.
It was the last few days of his furlough before John unearthed the bonding ceremony photos. All three of them laughed at the ridiculous hair and outrageous clothing, and watching his sister and her bondmate joke and giggle about what had been a really good day in a really bad year, John thought maybe it didn't matter if his mother's dress was never worn again. If Harry and Clara were happy even without kids, then that was all right.
"John, who are you flirting with?" said Clara, delighted, and John looked at the album, because he couldn't remember flirting with anyone.
"Nigel," he said with some surprise. In the photograph, he and Nigel were sitting at a table, two tankards of beer half full in front of them, looking at each other and laughing about something. John wasn't sure he would have called it flirting, but Clara tended toward the romantic.
"I remember Nigel," said Harry. "You and he studied together before he presented, didn't you? He was at school with me."
"Yeah," said John, and snatches of the conversation came back to him.
"An alpha?" asked Clara, and her eyes lit up. "Then you were flirting."
"I don't flirt."
"Everyone flirts," said Clara.
"You flirt," said Harry, teasing, and they were giggling together again.
John left them to it, but that night, he looked up Nigel's name in the phone directory, and wasn't surprised at all to see his last name attached to one of the local law firms.
"So," said John. "So."
The next day, John walked by the law firm, with absolutely no intention of going in. He was not going to go inside and present himself to Nigel; that would have been utterly ridiculous and depraved and desperate, and John Watson was none of those things. He was a perfectly confident man who did not need someone else's verification that he was worthy of existence, let alone to be validated by bonding to an alpha who undoubtedly would not want him to go to combat zones or perform complicated surgeries or even have his own life, for Christ’s sake—
"John? John Watson?"
John snapped out of his reverie to find himself standing in front of Nigel.
"Nigel!" he said, and actually managed to sound surprised. "Hello!"
Nigel grinned. His hair was a bit thinner than John remembered it, and his chest was a bit stockier. His face had filled out, but nicely, and the suit fit him incredibly well. Too well. John decided to stop thinking about how well Nigel filled out the suit. "I wondered if I'd see you. I heard about your mum - she was a fantastic lady. I remember her hovering in the kitchen when we were trying to do maths, and slipping us biscuits before teatime."
John grinned. "The alligator experiment."
Nigel let out a hoot. "Oh, Christ, I'd forgotten. The alligator! My mother cried about my clothes for a week. I didn't think she'd ever let me go back."
John rocked back on his heels. "Glad she did; it was nice having a study partner for a while."
"You didn't have much longer to wait - you were gone the next year, wasn't it?"
"I still waited; took the test so I could get away. I needed the formal schooling if I was going to be a doctor."
Nigel looked impressed. "That’s right, you went to medical school. Have your own practice now?"
"Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers," said John, not without pride, and Nigel whistled low.
"Then I owe you a drink, mate, don't I? Come on, I'm not due anywhere until tomorrow morning."
Sitting with Nigel in the pub was exactly like how John remembered it, both at Harry's bonding and at the kitchen table. They joked, they laughed, they made fun of everyone else in the pub and then giggled into their beer. John told Nigel about the Army and training and medical school and the first time he'd had to cut into a cadaver. (He'd made the incision on the wrong side and ten centimeters off.) Nigel told John about law school and the ridiculous clients and the first time he'd had to argue a case in front of a judge. (He'd forgotten his notes, not to mention to zip his fly beforehand.)
They talked about Nigel's parents, who were retired in Majorca, and his sister, teaching in one of the local beta colleges.
They talked about John's mother, and Harry and Clara's bonding.
"That was a good party," said Nigel. "I think about it a lot these days."
"Do you?" asked John, trying to stay calm.
"Planning my own - I forgot to tell you." Nigel dug into his pocket and pulled out a photo. "Sam - gorgeous girl, I met her a year ago. I know I'm coming to it late, but she's worth the wait. She was bonded to another alpha for a while and then they broke it off."
"She's gorgeous," said John, looking at the pretty ginger in the photograph. He wasn't sure if he felt disappointment or relief. "I'm happy for you."
"Yeah," said Nigel, a dopey grin on his face. "She's pregnant - the last heat, you know. So we decided to make it official, have a party. You'll come, of course? We want it as big and ridiculous as we can make it."
"Wish I could, but I’m deploying to Afghanistan after my furlough ends," said John. "I won't be back for a few years."
Nigel whistled. "Christ, mate. Be careful out there."
"They don't send doctors to the front lines," said John. "I'll be fine."
"Would have been nice to have you there, though," said Nigel.
Awkward, too, but John didn't say, and decided that Nigel didn't remember. Just as well, anyway. "I really am happy for you," said John, and to his surprise, he was.
Worlds End Lane was leafy and green, with neat sidewalks and clearly marked zebra crossings. There were houses set back from the road, spaced widely apart, and very little traffic. It didn’t quite feel like the end of the world – and Sherlock certainly knew what the end of the world felt like – but he did feel as though he were far removed from London and the hospital where John lay.
Perhaps that was the point. Sherlock had not been able to see who had sent Harry the text with the address, but given how long she had to scroll to find it, it had been there for some time. If she had saved it, it was either because the address was important, or because it had disturbed her on some level. If it was important, than surely she might have remembered it without the aid of the text, or kept it somewhere safer. Sherlock did not think the address was important to Harry. And from what she had said, when she gave it to him, Sherlock wished he had thought to retrieve the gun from 221B.
The cab pulled down one of the small lanes leading off the main road, and they bumped along the uneven path for a short ways before the building appeared. There were no cars parked anywhere nearby; the windows were dirty and askew.
“Don’t look lived in, do it?” said the cabbie. “Want I should wait for you?”
“Yes. I won’t be long,” said Sherlock. “It might be best if you stayed in the car, however. And perhaps turn it around to face the road again?”
The cabbie did not question, and once Sherlock had stepped out, did exactly that. Sherlock walked up the path to the front door of the small cottage, and knocked.
The door opened with his touch.
Sherlock stepped inside, not bothering to announce himself. It was immediately clear that the house was empty. The door ran up against a pile of mail, only enough for a day, perhaps two. Somewhere in the back of the cottage, an alarm clock buzzed.
His footsteps echoed as he walked through. It had not been empty long; the electricity and water were still running, and in the fridge, there was a carton of unexpired milk. There was a thin layer of dust, but the dishes had been washed, if not put away, and the laundry was empty. Sherlock looked in the bedroom, turned off the alarm clock, and noted the unmade bed, the pillow with the impression of a head, the scent of soap in the lavatory, and the cup of tepid water on the dresser.
He walked back into the main part of the house, looking at the photographs along the wall. Army – men in dress uniform, standing to attention, or in fatigues in the desert sun. All of them, lined up, looking grim, as if posing for class photographs at the end of a difficult year. He was three-quarters down the hall when he spotted him.
John’s face was tanned and young, without the lines that Sherlock had taken for granted. He had a half smile on his face, instead of the studious, serious expression of the rest, and he knelt in the sand, a rifle at his side.
There was something written on the corner of the photograph. Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, 2007, Afghanistan.
Sherlock went back and looked more closely at the photographs. Each was of a different regiment, from between the years 2003 and 2009. Every one of them held a rifle of some variety, and Sherlock quickly spotted the common thread: a man standing in the back row, arms crossed and looking the thinnest and sternest of all. He had the exact expression in every photograph, and though the years showed him in the harsh dessert terrain for six years, he did not appear to age, but simply grow more leathery and brown.
Sherlock glanced at the pile of mail by the door, and picked it up. The recipient – who lived here? Who would have a photograph of John on their wall?
When he saw the name on the envelope, his blood ran cold, and his knees nearly stopped working.
Less than ten minutes after Sherlock arrived at the house, he climbed back into the cab, cradling a framed photograph and a pile of envelopes.
“Where to?” asked the cabbie.
Sherlock didn’t know what to answer.
“London,” he said finally. “New Scotland Yard.”
“Righty-ho,” said the cabbie, and pulled back onto the road.
Sherlock did not look back at the house. Instead, he stared at the top envelope, and read the name of its intended recipient, over and over, until the letters began to blur together.
Col. Sebastian Moran
Harry Watson clearly did not prefer to text. Within a few minutes of texting her from the back of the cab, she rang Sherlock back.
“Who is this?” she asked, suspiciously. From the background beeps and whistles, it sounded as though she were still in John’s room at the hospital.
“How did you know the address you gave me?”
“Of course. I signed my text.”
“How did you get my number?”
“You have it taped to the back of your mobile, which you exhibited to me earlier today. I simply remembered it.”
Harry laughed in spite of herself. “Christ, my brother isn’t wrong about you.”
Sherlock’s breath caught in his throat. “Is he – did he—?“
“Still in the coma. Stable, though, no more seizures.” Harry exhaled shakily. “Did you go there? Did you find him?”
“No, he was gone. Please answer my original question – how did you come by the address?”
“John gave it to me a few months ago. I was watching Emily for him, and he was running late, wanted me to know where he was starting so I’d know when he might show up. I suppose it was an old friend from Afghanistan, but I’d never heard John mention him before, not like Bill or Mike or Nigel, really. I met him, briefly. Odd fellow, a bit older. The sort who looks cagey but is so pleasant you forget the creep up your spine until he’s gone away again. I wasn’t sure about him, so I kept the address. I thought – everyone has come by or rung or sent messages since John’s accident, except for him.”
Sherlock didn’t realize that his free hand had gathered his trouser leg into a ball until Harry had finished talking.
“Right,” he said. “Thank you, Harry.”
“Sherlock—“ Harry let out a breath. “It’s all right. If you want to come back. I won’t stay.”
“Not just yet. I need to finish this,” said Sherlock, and disconnected before Harry could continue her guilt and her grief.
Lestrade, I need to speak to you. SH
I’ll stop by the hospital after work.
I’m not at the hospital. SH
Why the hell not?
I believe John was being targeted. SH
What’s that got to do with you not being at the hospital WITH JOHN?
Cannot explain over text. Must speak to you. SH
Fine. I’ll meet you at the HOSPITAL. With JOHN.
In cab outside front entrance of NSY already. SH
Lestrade was cursing when he climbed into the cab. Sherlock took no notice of him.
“You’re a bloody bastard, you do know that?” Lestrade asked him.
The cab pulled into traffic. “I could hardly walk into New Scotland Yard, Inspector. I’m still dead.”
“And give up the chance to give Donovan the shock of her life?”
Tempting, but… “Another day,” said Sherlock.
“Where are we going?”
“It won’t be long,” said Sherlock, and it wasn’t. The car pulled up to a quiet cul-de-sac in Kensington, and Lestrade followed Sherlock into one of the grand houses, picking the lock easily. Once inside, he made a point of knocking the mirror in the foyer an inch out of alignment, and then smiled, satisfied.
“It’s Mycroft’s house, I’m not about to break and enter somewhere we might be overheard,” said Sherlock, scoffing. “He might have his own house bugged, but at least it would be bugged by him and not someone else. And this way, I won’t have to explain myself twice.”
“And to think I missed you,” said Lestrade, rubbing his head, but he followed Sherlock into the back of the house anyway, where Sherlock was already rearranging the books on Mycroft’s shelves, undoubtedly additional attempts to annoy his brother.
“What did you learn about the driver of the vehicle?”
“He’s innocent, or at least he wasn’t driving the car. We talked to the people on his walking tour and they all confirmed that he was with them the entire time. None of them knew him previously; a few of them didn’t even like him all that much. He apparently has done numerous walks in the past and tends to lord this over the new walkers. Not the nicest of blokes. Donovan wanted to punch him.”
“He told her she smelled like an omega in heat. It went on from there. I had to drag her from the room and lock her in the car.”
“A belligerent beta with a death wish,” said Sherlock thoughtfully. He pressed his fingertips together and tapped them against his mouth. “Interesting.”
“Do I even want to know how you knew he was a beta?”
“Only a beta would be stupid enough to tell an alpha that she smelled like an omega,” said Sherlock absently. “Tell me about the other items stolen from the garage.”
“Box of books, mostly dealing with history and politics. Some twenty books in all, most hardcover. None particularly valuable or rare. A bicycle pump, an empty cardboard box, and a case of ale. He seemed most upset about the ale, honestly.”
“Heineken. Not even a particularly good ale.”
Sherlock knocked another book out of place, and continued to ponder. “I assume you dusted the car for prints.”
“We’re not stupid,” said Lestrade. “But I’m starting to think that whoever was driving wasn’t stupid either, because we didn’t find any. It was abandoned ten miles south of London, along the side of the road, and it wasn’t even cleaned up. Still had the dents and—“ Lestrade stopped short and winced. He sat heavily on one of Mycroft’s couches. “Sorry.”
Sherlock shoved the image out of his head. It wouldn’t do to dwell on it, not now. Perhaps later, when he was back at 221B with John’s scent filling him up. “Then you’re sure it was the same car.”
“DNA evidence,” said Lestrade. “Witnesses. Paint scrapings. CCTV footage. Yes, we’re sure.”
“And none of the other stolen items were located in the vehicle?”
“The cardboard box, but nothing else.”
Sherlock nodded absently, and continued tapping his fingers against his mouth.
“Old days, I might have come to you on this one,” said Lestrade ruefully. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Earlier, you said you thought John was targeted?”
Sherlock handed him the photograph. Lestrade looked at it, and after a moment, did a double take. “That’s John in the front row.”
“Yes, I noticed him as well. There were several photographs of this nature, all of what appear to be different training groups of British soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq, all between the years 2003 and 2009. This was the only one with John, of course, but you’ll notice the man standing to the side, staring straight into the camera? He was in every one of them.”
“The instructor,” surmised Lestrade.
“Very glad to see your mental facilities have not decreased in the last three years, Inspector.”
“You didn’t find this at 221B?”
“No, I found it in a cottage in Chistlehurst. The occupant had obviously fled the scene in the last 24 hours, perhaps as late as this morning, and certainly before today’s mail delivery, which is how I came to discover his name.”
Sherlock handed the pile of envelopes to Lestrade.
“Colonel Sebastian Moran?” Lestrade frowned. “He’s the instructor, you think?”
“And you think he was targeting John?”
“I am sure of it.”
“We can question the car’s owner, and see if he knew him.”
“I doubt he would; Moran is very intelligent. He would have covered his tracks extremely well. And I don’t believe he would have been the one to drive the car; too much risk that John would recognize him. He could not risk that. He likely has intermediaries doing the footwork.”
“Another criminal mastermind,” sighed Lestrade. “Exactly what we needed.”
Sherlock winced again, but Lestrade didn’t notice.
“How’d you know about the cottage, anyway?”
“Harry Watson gave me the address.”
Lestrade stared at Sherlock. “Wait a minute. You’re telling me that Harry Watson gave you the address of a man who knew John in Afghanistan on a professional level, and now you suspect he has not only targeted John, but made a supremely good effort to kill him? Exactly how does Harry know anything about a man who is trying to kill her brother?”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” said Sherlock.
“Shouldn’t you be asking Harry?”
“But Harry and John aren’t close. Never have been. She had the address, but didn’t know much about the man; John clearly never discussed him with her. You, however – you’ve grown very close to John the last few months, haven’t you?”
Lestrade stared at Sherlock. “Okay, granted I don’t always follow your logical leaps, but that one has to be wider than the English Channel. How on earth would I know anything about what Harry does?”
“You have had a front row seat to John in the last three years, haven’t you? You’ve grown rather close, I should think. He probably told you any number of things over the years. New friends, new activities – new hopes, dreams, desires…”
“I’m his friend, Sherlock. Not his bloody confidante. That was your job, and you bloody jumped off a building and let us think you were dead for three years.”
Sherlock gave Lestrade an all too familiar look. “Two shirts in John’s closet, purchased in the last year at approximately the same time as the shirt you’re wearing now, both of the same make and from the same dye lot. Beer in the fridge, not the kind that John prefers but the kind that you would drink while watching a game. Three stuffed toy bears of different sizes, purchased at different times, wearing a policeman’s uniform, one of which has been well loved. I imagine the other two were purchased in case the first was lost or misplaced. You have spent a great deal of time at 221B in my absence, Detective Inspector. I understand your wife passed away six months ago. Already auditioning John as her replacement, is that it?”
Lestrade punched him. It was hard, it was fast, and it was painful. Sherlock staggered back, holding his cheek, and let the pain seep into his bones.
“He loves you,” said Lestrade, utterly and completely furious. “You mad, stupid, insane bastard. You got him to fall for you, you bonded him, you knocked him up, and then you made him watch as you jumped off a fucking building, and you didn’t even bother to tell him to not mourn because it was all a lie.”
“Wasn’t all a lie,” said Sherlock carefully, touching his teeth with his tongue.
“Not being dead? You have no idea how much I wished it were a lie. About as much as I wish it was the truth now. You know, I honestly can’t decide which is better, Sherlock. Does John wake up and find out that you’ve been gallivanting around the world the last three years while he mourned and raised your daughter by himself? It would break his heart, it really would. Or is it better if he just never wakes up, and never finds out he was bonded to a fucking wanker like you?”
Sherlock stood. Lestrade faced him, arms at his sides, fists clenched tight. He was clearly ready for Sherlock to punch him; in fact, Sherlock knew that Lestrade expected it, even welcomed Sherlock’s fist in his face.
Instead, Sherlock swept by him, to the door and out into the street.
“Go on then, run, you bloody bastard,” Lestrade’s voice floated after him. “It’s what you do best.”
London was in his bones and the beat of his heart, even if he hadn't been born there, hadn't grown up there, hadn't even stepped foot there until he was thirteen and desperate for someone to listen to him. His mother had been livid when the inspector at Scotland Yard finally reached her, but it was Mycroft who arrived to take him home.
"What were you thinking?" Mycroft had scolded. "Do you have any idea of the danger you could have been in had you presented in public, without anyone there to protect you?"
"I'm hardly an omega, Mycroft, I wouldn't have been in danger."
"You could have bonded with some completely inappropriate person—"
"Someone killed Carl Powers, Mother, no one was paying attention."
"And I suppose you know who did it."
"Of course not, but they aren't even acting as if he was murdered—"
"You are not allowed to leave the house unless Mummy or I are with you. Do you understand me?"
"Do. You. Understand."
Back in his room, staring at the ceiling and trying not to cry tears of humiliation and rage, Sherlock walked through London again, retracing his train journey in, the hot smell of Euston Station, the cool breeze against his back and the wide, white pavements of Westminster. Sometimes there were other people, jostling and talking and laughing, and other times, he would walk the streets alone, paper cups and discarded napkins rolling on the pavement before him. He recreated London in his mind so thoroughly, kept its memory so alive, he started to store other memories there. The periodic table on the street corner; the combination to Mycroft's lockbox under the tree in Regent's Park; the list of addresses of his mother's favorite tea shops pasted on the window at the pub closest to Scotland Yard.
When Sherlock escaped to London after Cambridge became too ridiculous and boring, he looked for his memories in their real-life counterparts, and couldn't find them. He moved them all, lock-stock-and-barrel, into a house that he refused to admit was a copy of the one he'd grown up in.
London filled up with memories of its own soon enough. It was impossible to go by any corner and not remember something, and John was only a small portion of those memories.
This was the street where the headquarters of the Red-Headed League had made their offices, a rather silly attempt to elicit red-headed omegas together for solidarity – only the organization was merely another name for slavery of a sort.
This was the street where Sherlock had met Victor again, four years after leaving Cambridge, and there was the cafe where they'd had a drink before succumbing to the frenzy and the heat.
He had purchased cocaine at this corner once. He had staked out a suspected jewel thief in that building. He had broken into that townhouse and discovered the occupant was not quite as dead as previously thought. The Indian restaurant John particularly liked. The Thai restaurant that had made them both ill for three days.
At the end of the street, the clinic where John worked, and somewhere nearby, surely, the corner where he'd nearly died, but did not.
Somewhere to the south, Bart's, where Sherlock had died, but did not.
Sherlock kept walking, and found himself on the outskirts of Regent's Park. Close enough to go home, but he kept walking anyway. It was beginning to mist, and he turned his collar up. If he stopped walking, his leg would start to ache, and Lestrade's words were already sitting heavily in the back of his mind.
He needed to walk, to keep his leg limber, to keep the words from engraving themselves in. Everything was muddled in his head – thoughts were bouncing and flipping and moving so quickly he could barely keep track. He needed to clear his head and breathe the cold London air and he needed to think.
The mobile in his coat pocket shuddered with an incoming text. Sherlock ignored it.
Everything Sherlock had learned about Sebastian Moran in the previous three years swirled and coalesced with the information he’d discovered only hours before. Sebastian Moran had known John, albeit briefly. Sebastian Moran, pictured with dozens of military units, had been in Afghanistan with the Army; a sharpshooter, and John had held a rifle. Sebastian Moran, decorated and well-regarded until he was not, an instructor, perhaps. Teaching the new and old recruits how to spot and kill a man, how to allow for the heat waves from the desert sand. John had killed a man for Sherlock the day after they had met: cool, calculated, an impossible shot. Sebastian Moran had been a sharpshooter, and had taught John.
John was an extremely good student. Look at how much Sherlock had taught him about deduction.
What could John learn from Lestrade? What did Lestrade possibly have to teach John? Except for how to mourn, how to grieve, how to pick back up and find a way to go on living. John had Emily. Lestrade had...John.
Sherlock didn't want to think anymore. The mobile in his pocket buzzed again, and he pulled it out to look.
Get in the car, please. MH
Really, S, enough of this foolishness. MH
Sherlock stopped walking, and the black car pulled up alongside the kerb. He rolled his eyes and continued, picking up the pace.
It's time to go home. MH
"I don't have a home," said Sherlock, loud enough for the car's occupant to hear.
Your daughter needs you.
"Hardly," said Sherlock under his breath.
Anthea is much stronger than she looks.
"As am I."
The car pulled ahead, and the door opened. Sherlock saw Mycroft get out of the car, and then begin to walk toward him. Sherlock didn't bother to dart out of the way; Mycroft might have been slower, but he knew it was still a losing battle.
"Quite inconsiderate of you, Sherlock, to bring a guest to my home and then leave him there for me to find."
Sherlock shoved his hands in his coat pockets and looked anywhere but Mycroft's eyes.
"Lestrade said you were behaving erratically, making ridiculous accusations and particularly wild connections."
"Lestrade is not in possession of all the facts."
"And you are?"
"Not yet. I need to do some more research—"
"You need to go back to 221B. Emily is waiting for you."
"Emily doesn't know who I am," said Sherlock, focusing his gaze on his brother. "Emily doesn't care a whit where I am or what I do. I'm not Emily's father, I'm a strange man who lives in her house and takes up space and I am not a replacement for John in Emily's world."
"It will take time."
"I need to find Sebastian Moran, Mycroft. Not babysit a toddler who doesn't even like me."
"Spending time with her is the only way to get her to like you."
Sherlock gritted his teeth. "Why does everyone think she will like me by spending more time with me? There are hundreds of people who have spent time with me and they all, to a man, dislike me. I'm surprised there aren't support groups for people who can gather and commiserate about what a terrible man I am. Emily would be quite welcomed there, I assure you. There is only one person I know who likes me, and John was..."
The word slipped out in past-tense before Sherlock could stop it. Mycroft's expression did not change; he remained cool, observant, and disgustingly aloof.
"Is," said Sherlock, but the word sounded dead in his ears. "John is. The only one who..."
Sherlock closed his eyes, breathing heavily. "Oh, God."
He felt Mycroft's hand on his arm, and knew he was being led to the waiting car. He didn't care. The door slammed shut and the car moved into traffic, and Mycroft said nothing for a very long time.
"Sebastian Moran is the man you have been tracking, I take it."
"Yes," said Sherlock, eyes still closed. "The last man of any importance who worked for Moriarty. I have been tracking him for the last four months, and he has been here in London under John's nose."
"His file is on the seat next to you, which you would know if you opened your eyes," said Mycroft dryly.
Sherlock opened his eyes and snatched up the file. "You do have your house bugged, then."
Mycroft shrugged. "It comes in handy from time to time."
Sherlock scanned the file. "Yes, yes, I knew that, of course, not correct, he was there for seven weeks, not six. Ah, that's interesting, though not entirely useful. Oh, I see now, of course, that clears it up. But..."
Sherlock skimmed through the pages again. "He was in contact with John. Harry said as much.”
"If he was, he was very careful about it. Every contact made to any of John’s phone numbers has been accounted for by people he has known for years, none of whom are Sebastian Moran or an alias for him."
"Then how was John able to give Harry his address?"
"I would think the answer would lie with John, and not Lestrade."
"Lestrade is key to finding Moran."
"Lestrade is doing his best to find who drove the car. I should think that would be quite as important as finding Moran, particularly since you believe Moran was not driving the car himself. You would do well to remember that you and Lestrade have the same goal, Sherlock. You are only attacking the problem from different ends. Stop impeding his work, and I suspect you will find yourselves meeting in the middle."
"Lestrade doesn't want me to work any end. Lestrade wants me to sit in a hospital room and fester while Moran tries to finish what he started," snapped Sherlock.
The brothers fell quiet for a moment. Sherlock rubbed his temples, and tried to think. It was there, there was something there, something was just ahead of him, if only he could think, if only he could breathe, if only John wasn't flat on his back in a hospital bed, trapped in a dark tunnel when he ought to be a clear and vibrant prism, sending light into every nook and cranny of Sherlock's mind.
"You are not thinking clearly," said Mycroft.
"Full marks," said Sherlock bitterly.
The car pulled to a stop. Sherlock looked to see the comfortable and familiar doorway to 221B.
"You are correct in one thing, brother, that has nothing to do with Sebastian Moran," said Mycroft softly. "Emily does not need you. It is you who needs Emily."
“I don’t need Emily.”
“Yes,” said Mycroft. “You do.”
The inside of 221 was mostly quiet, save for the sounds of the telly playing music-box quality classical music, and a little girl laughing and chattering back to it. Sherlock’s legs felt ridiculously heavy, going up the steps to 221B; not dread or fear so much as resignation. Mycroft was right at his back; there was no escape. Sherlock thought of John in his hospital bed, Harry looking over him, and remembered the half dozen things he kept forgetting to say.
The rooms in 221B were pleasantly warm; the telly was on but Emily and Mrs. Hudson were nowhere to be seen. Sherlock felt the drip of water from his hair slide down the back of his neck.
“Tea, I think,” said Mycroft, and steered Sherlock into the kitchen, just as a scramble of footsteps came clattering down the stairs. Emily raced into the sitting room, not noticing either of the men, and plopped herself amongst her toys. Mrs. Hudson was directly after her, and the brief look of relief on her face on seeing Sherlock was quickly replaced by concern.
“Sherlock, you’re bleeding,” she said worriedly.
Sherlock lifted his hands to his check; his fingers came away with a thin slick of blood, lightened by the mist outside. “Ah. I didn’t know.”
“Lestrade hit him,” explained Mycroft. Sherlock wasn’t certain if Mycroft sounded more amused or impressed. It was most likely equal amounts of both.
“Bound to happen sometime,” said Mrs. Hudson sympathetically. “Sit down, dear, I’ll just get the first aid kit.”
Sherlock waited at the kitchen table while Mrs. Hudson dug for the first aid kit in the cupboard. The chattering at the telly stopped, and a quick series of padding footsteps announced Emily, who ran into the kitchen and came skidding to a halt when she saw the tableau. She stared at Sherlock for a long moment, very much like she was trying to place him in her personal history, and found him wanting. Sherlock stared back at her, and tried to deduce anything worth knowing.
“You should know that Lestrade has returned to the hospital,” said Mycroft.
“I don’t want him there,” said Sherlock.
Emily’s eyes shifted toward Mycroft, and she broke into a smile. “Uncle Mycraw,” she said, quite pleased, and went over to wrap herself around his leg. Mycroft absently set a hand on Emily’s head, and comforted, Emily continued her assessment of Sherlock.
“Mycraw?” repeated Sherlock, and his lips twisted, unsure whether or not to laugh at his brother or groan at his daughter’s mangling of his name.
“Nevertheless,” said Mycroft to Sherlock, as if a toddler was not hanging onto his leg, “spend a few hours here with Emily, rest and restore yourself, and I would recommend returning to the hospital for the night.”
“Emmy and I will have a proper sleepover,” said Mrs. Hudson, answering the question Sherlock hadn’t thought to ask. “Won’t we, love?”
Emily smiled shyly at Mrs. Hudson briefly, and then it was back to Sherlock. He would not have been a bit surprised had she suddenly announced his caloric intake, the exact path he’d taken from Mycroft’s home to the park, and his shaving patterns. He wondered, briefly, if this was how people felt before he began deducing about them.
“Yes,” said Mycroft, reading his brother as though the three year hiatus had not actually occurred. “You do look exactly like that.”
Mrs. Hudson nodded her agreement before beginning to carefully wipe the blood away with a pad of gauze. Sherlock tried not to wince.
“You’ll have a lovely black eye,” she said. “Hold still, dear.”
“All the more reason for her to be afraid of me.”
“She’s not afraid of you,” said Mrs. Hudson, concentrating on Sherlock’s eyebrow now. “She’s used to seeing you in photographs. You’re a bit taller in person.”
Sherlock leaned just enough to see Emily, still holding onto Mycroft’s leg. “The pair of you make quite the picture.”
“We have an understanding,” said Mycroft.
Sherlock winced as Mrs. Hudson dabbed on the disinfectant. “She’s very small.”
“She used to be smaller,” said Mrs. Hudson. “You should have seen Mycroft with her in swaddling clothes. Such faces they made at each other!”
Sherlock imagined it, and his mouth quirked.
“Be that as it may,” said Mycroft dryly, “there are certain things I must attend to this afternoon.”
“Mycroft—“ He almost said “Mycraw”, and was instantly sorry he did not.
“The car will be waiting at 8.30 for your return to the hospital. Please remember that you are still technically dead, Sherlock – it will take a few days for you to come back to life, at least on paper. I’m not a miracle worker. So I would ask that you refrain from wandering around London and perhaps being seen by someone who might actually recognize you.”
Mycroft looked down to where Emily still clutched his trouser leg. His hand was cradled around her head, they smiled at each other – Mycroft’s quiet and fond, and Emily’s filled with adoration. For a moment, Sherlock saw the two of them together, thick as thieves, and imagined John with them, wrapped in their arms, a neat little family picture.
Sherlock’s hackles, still heightened from his argument with Lestrade, rose; every alpha instinct he had went to high alert. The jealousy and suspicion overwhelmed him – right up to the moment when the sting of the disinfectant brought him to his senses.
Mycroft wasn’t John’s lover. He wasn’t Emiy’s father. Mycroft was familiar. Mycroft was a beta. More than that, John was loyal, he wasn’t the one who had left. Lestrade’s taunt wormed its way out of the dark drawer in his memory palace, and echoed up and down the corridors.
Go on and run, it’s what you do best.
“Is it such a good idea, to announce my return?” asked Sherlock.
“If Moran is indeed the last link in the puzzle, as you claim he is, and if he truly did target John, as you claim he did, then I suspect he is well aware of your return already. In which case it doesn’t matter if you are dead or alive, as far as the legal ramifications are concerned. At any rate, it will make certain matters easier if we declare you alive and have everything in order sooner rather than later.”
Mycroft gently lifted Emily off his trouser leg, and gave her a small kiss on the top of her dark head. He pulled a sweet from his pocket and handed it to her, with a small push toward the living room, and she scampered off, giggling happily.
“You mean if John—“ Sherlock couldn’t finish.
“All eventualities,” said Mycroft, not meeting Sherlock’s eye. “Mrs. Hudson. I’ll let myself out.”
Mrs. Hudson placed the plaster over Sherlock’s eyebrow. “There. Rather dashing, I think.” She smiled brightly at him, but when Sherlock didn’t return it, she took both of his hands. “Oh, dear, John will be fine. Mycroft is just being cautious.”
“Mrs. Hudson,” said Sherlock slowly. “I—“
“It’s all right,” said Mrs. Hudson. “It’s a lot to take on, when you didn’t expect any of it. I can’t imagine. Emily, and John being in a coma – it’s too much.”
“You weren’t surprised to see me,” said Sherlock.
Mrs. Hudson smiled, and Sherlock could see the tears in her eyes. “Mycroft told us the day after John’s accident. He explained why you’d left, why you hadn’t come home. And he explained why he wasn’t sure whether or not to text you, to let you know about John. I said, ‘Mycroft, he’s your brother, I’ve told you before that family is all we have in the end, and for Sherlock, family is John and Emily and he needs them more than he realizes and if you don’t text him and the worst happens, then he will never forgive you and neither will I.’ That’s what I said, and I meant it.”
“You should be angry.”
“What makes you think I’m not?” asked Mrs. Hudson, bristling. “Honestly, I couldn’t even convince John to let me patch the holes you shot in the wall.”
Sherlock lowered his head and listened to the sounds of Emily laughing at the television. “I don’t know how to be a father.”
“No one ever does,” said Mrs. Hudson. “Why don’t you go in and make friends? I’ll just make us some tea.”
Sherlock didn’t move for a moment, and he half expected Mrs. Hudson to continue to cajole him. Instead, she patted his hand and went to the electric kettle, not saying another word one way or the other. It was the lack of pressure that convinced him to move, and he went into the sitting room and found Emily in the cleared space before the telly, which wasn’t showing the horrific cartoon he’d half expected, but video of fish, whales, and other sea creatures. The music was terrible, of course; Sherlock wondered how many horrific nursery songs he’d have to undo to cultivate an appreciation of the classics.
At any rate, Emily paid little to no attention to the television, which was some relief. She looked up only to laugh at the dolphins and attempt to repeat the names of the animals when the video gave them. Sherlock watched her for a moment, and then sat on the sofa behind her.
Emily turned her head to look at him. She pressed her lips together and gave him a hard stare, before going back to the line of stuffed animals at her feet. Sherlock had heard her chattering away to them while he had been in the kitchen, but now she fell silent, and turned the pages of her book silently.
“Hello, Emily,” he said, and Emily paid him no attention. “At least you have the good sense to ignore the television.”
Emily turned and gave him another hard stare, and then looked at the floor at his feet.
“Ah,” said Sherlock, and slid off the sofa and onto the floor next to her. This did not improve relations, however, and Emily made a pointed shift in the other direction.
He could hear Mrs. Hudson clattering away in the kitchen. The video announced the arrival of whales, and Emily dutifully chirped, “Ales,” in response.
“Whales,” said Sherlock. “An orca, to be precise, often referred to as killer whales or blackfish. Orcas are apex predators known to feed on fish and marine mammals, and even other whales, with no natural predator, hence the designation as apex.”
Emily gave him another look, and Sherlock decided to stop trying. He ran his fingers through his hair, felt the dampness, and wished Mrs. Hudson would finish making the bloody tea.
Which was when he spied the block resting by the television.
Sherlock reached over and picked it up. Bright red, perfectly square save for the worn edges where the paint had rubbed away. It was light and small in his hand, and Sherlock wondered if it had belonged to John when he was small. He could imagine an entire box of blocks, just like this one, perfect for building, and without really thinking about it, he looked around the room until he found exactly that, half under the sofa.
Sherlock reached and pulled the box over, dumping them out onto the floor with a clatter. He started with the red blocks, creating a firm base, and then went up, alternating colors as the tower grew, choosing square and round and rectangular blocks carefully, saving the triangular ones for decoration and dramatic archways.
The tower had reached his eye level when he realized that Emily was watching him.
“What do you think?” he asked her, holding a green triangle in his hand.
Emily picked up one of the yellow columns and carefully placed it on top of a blue square. It destroyed the color scheme, made the entire endeavor look somewhat lopsided, and certainly would cause problems if the tower were to obtain any height whatsoever, but Emily nodded satisfactorily and gave him such a knowing, self-contained look that Sherlock couldn’t help but be immensely proud.
“Well,” he said, “I think that will do very nicely.” He carefully set the triangle on top of the column, at which point the entire tower fell with a crash.
Emily giggled, and Sherlock swept the blocks to the side and began the tower again, with Emily’s assistance.
When Mrs. Hudson came in with the tea, Sherlock saw the satisfied smile in her eyes, and was grateful when she did not say anything other than, “All right, dears, put away your blocks, it’s time for tea. Emmy, love, I have a chocolate biscuit for you.”
“Please, Mrs. Hudson, her name is Emily, not Emmy,” said Sherlock haughtily, and Mrs. Hudson laughed.
"Turn off the telly, Emmy," Mrs. Hudson said, setting out the spoons, and Emily dutifully pressed the button at the base of the television before taking Sherlock by the hand and dragging him to the table. Her fingers were tight around his, her little hand incredibly hot and soft and smooth, and she walked him right up to a chair before she let go and climbed up into her own without assistance.
Sherlock took his seat, and watched as Emily tucked into her tea, which was more substantial than his own by way of a plate of macaroni cheese and several spoonfuls of green peas. Emily took her spoon up in her left hand, and proceeded to pick out choice pieces of pasta and peas with her right, setting them carefully on the spoon before transferring to her mouth.
"She's left-handed," observed Sherlock with some surprise.
"John thinks so, yes," said Mrs. Hudson, sitting across from him. "But she uses her right hand to color, and both to brush her teeth. Drink your tea, dear."
"Does she always eat this much for tea?"
"Oh, yes. Sometimes more. She's a good little eater, and this is usually her last meal of the day - she'll go down to sleep around seven or half-past. This week has been a bit funny, and she knows that something isn't quite right."
"She's young, not stupid," said Sherlock.
"I never said she was, dear. I've put her down a few times, when John worked the late shift at the clinic, or was meeting the lads at the pub, but she dotes on John. She’s never gone this long without seeing him.”
“Does she know—“
“No,” said Mrs. Hudson, a quick glance at Emily. “I – we aren’t sure she’d understand. And we’ve all agreed, she shouldn’t see him, not with the tubes going every which way, and the monitors beeping and shrieking. It would only scare her, we think. It's been rather hard as it is. She hasn’t seen him since Monday morning when he took her to nursery."
Sherlock thought of Emily, saying goodbye to John at nursery, sure that she’d see him again in a few hours, and no one saying a word about John since. He might have gone mad, in her place, and wondered that she was even able to sit calmly and eat anything at all. She ought to have been on the floor, screaming out her misery. If she were him.
John was more stoic. John took things as they came and waited. It was Sherlock who was reactionary. Not John. Not Emily.
Emily set down her spoon and reached for the glass of tea-stained milk. Sherlock frowned.
"If bedtime is in a few hours, she shouldn't have any caffeine."
"Oh, you," said Mrs. Hudson, and smiled. "You sound just like a father, now."
"Mrs. Hudson," said Sherlock, straightening a little. "You haven't told me what you have done, the last three years."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Hudson. And Mrs. Hudson was off, talking about a trip to Blackpool and a new problem with her hip, Mrs. Turner's new lodgers who enjoyed tap-dancing at odd hours and a street cleaning programme that was not doing a bit of good. Sherlock was able to tune her out and continue watching Emily, marveling at her methodical examination of the pasta, the way she piled the pieces carefully on her spoon before expertly maneuvering it to her mouth. She was neat and tidy about it, never dropping a single piece.
There was John, right there - the single-minded focus on the task at hand, the unwavering attention, the dogged determination to complete whatever he started. She was shy initially, of course, but then John had been as well, dancing around boyfriends and girlfriends and alphas and omegas. Sherlock supposed that building and destroying towers, as well as shooting murderous cabbies, had a way of bringing people together. Emily had taken his hand, after all. Perhaps she had accepted him, or at least was concerned that he did not know where to go to obtain tea.
Emily looked at Sherlock and frowned. She handed him the spoon, still laden with pasta and peas.
"What?" asked Sherlock, and Emily shook the spoon a little. One pea fell out onto the table, and she picked it up and replaced it before pushing it back to Sherlock, leaning over as far as she could reach. "Wha—umph."
The spoonful of pasta and peas was popped directly into his mouth, and Sherlock closed his lips around it in surprise. Emily pulled the spoon out, now emptied of its contents, with a pleased expression on her face, and began filling it again.
Trying to feed him; that was John, too. And there she was, offering him yet another spoonful.
"That one is yours, Emily," said Sherlock firmly, but Emily had other ideas. "All right - this is my last bite."
Emily, satisfied, finished the rest of her pasta and peas by herself. Sherlock drained his teacup, trying to wash the flavor of pasta and peas out of his mouth.
"Ah, there's a good girl, you finished your pasta and your peas, and you can have your biscuit now," said Mrs. Hudson as Emily took the final bite. "Sherlock, it's just there on the plate, why don't you give it to her?"
He handed her the biscuit, and Emily paused before taking it, giving him another assessing look. He didn't flinch, and she seemed to approve of his nerves under pressure and took the biscuit, munching on it slowly as she settled in her seat.
"You're a natural," said Mrs. Hudson. "I'll clear the things away - just this once, dear, I'm not your housekeeper."
"Or the nanny," Sherlock said.
"That too," said Mrs. Hudson. "But Emmy and I, we get on very well, don't we, love?"
Emily gave her a sweet, shy smile, and kept working on her biscuit. After a moment, she scrambled down from the chair and back into the sitting room.
"She doesn't talk to me," said Sherlock.
"She's shy with new people," said Mrs. Hudson. "She'll grow used to you soon enough. She's a regular little chatterbox; she has far more words than most children her age. John says it's how he knows she's your daughter."
"I am not excessively verbose," said Sherlock petulantly.
"And then of course there's the sulking," said Mrs. Hudson, and turned on the faucet, ending the conversation.
But Emily wasn’t sulking, though Sherlock. Emily was…simply existing. Waiting for John to come home.
Sherlock found Emily by the window, looking down onto Baker Street, and for the first time, Sherlock thought he recognized himself, looking out the window onto the world, waiting for someone to turn the corner and fill the room with color.
He joined her, pushing aside the curtains. People on the pavement below; none of them were John.
"Boo," Emily said, and when he looked, he caught the tail end of a blue car as it turned the corner.
"Blue," he said, careful to speak clearly.
"Red," said Emily.
"Orange," Sherlock corrected her. And so it went, with Emily saying the names of the colors she knew, sometimes correctly, sometimes not quite, and Sherlock correcting her. Soon, Sherlock began to add additional information. "Not quite blue, more of an azure. A Ford Fiesta, from 2007. A good driver, Emily, but observe the badly dented fenders on the passenger rear side; I would wager that the driver is somewhat short-sighted in his or her left eye."
"Geen," said Emily about the next car.
"If you insist," replied Sherlock, "but the driver is somewhat impaired, given his or her tendency to drift to the left side of the lane."
The little girl leaned against his knee companionably, and they continued their disjointed conversation. Sherlock half imagined that Emily listened to his deductions, and scrutinized the cars that much more closely, seeing what he saw, observing everything and then some. He didn’t know how long they discussed the traffic, only that for perhaps the first time since returning to London – even the first time since leaving it – he was able to breathe, and forget.
"Well, now," said Mrs. Hudson, and Sherlock could hear the smile in her voice, as well as the catch in her throat that meant she was trying not to show how affected she was by the scene by the window. He suspected she had been watching them before speaking. "I'm just going to pop downstairs for a bit and then I'll be up to help with bedtime. Emily has a very specific routine, Sherlock, and you'll want to learn it."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
"Be good for your papa, Emmy," said Mrs. Hudson, and closed the door behind her.
It was exactly as if Mrs. Hudson had elicited a challenge. Emily's head spun, her eyes at first questioning and then frantic. "Gan?"
"She will return," said Sherlock, but Emily didn't seem to care, instead growing more and more agitated as Mrs. Hudson did not appear. Sherlock felt the calm slip away; all the small bits and pieces in his head began to slip out of their carefully stored places, to jumble together in a massive heap of confusion, and the more Emily worried, the worse it became.
Finally, Emily sat down in the center of the room, her lip trembling, and let out such a wail of sorrow and disappointment that Sherlock, without even thinking, fled the room and into the bedroom. He wasn't sure what drew him to the closet, to the top shelf, but the moment his fingers brushed up against the familiar case, he knew.
John had cared for it, that much was certain. The varnish smelled of linseed oil and rosin, and the wood shone as brightly as it had the day Sherlock had put it away three years before. Sherlock lifted the violin and plucked the strings cautiously; they were hopelessly out of tune; of course John wouldn't have been able to do much there, but the keys turned smoothly.
"Daddy vi’lin," said the small voice from the doorway, and Sherlock turned to see that Emily had followed him, and stood half hidden, unsure whether or not to advance. He sat down on the bed and motioned her closer.
"Not your daddy's violin; mine," he told her. "Papa's violin. But I dare say you saw your daddy with it, didn't you? He wouldn't have played it for you, of course, but he must have shown it to you."
Emily reached out to touch it with one cautious finger, and Sherlock allowed it. She looked up at him. "Papa vi’lin," she said, and he thought she might have understood.
“Emily,” he said, and Emily looked at him. “John. Daddy. Do you know that your daddy’s name is John?” Emily only looked at him. Sherlock took a breath, and tried not to stumble over the words. “Of course you do. You’re not an idiot. You’re simply young, and you’ll grow out of that. I’m sorry no one has explained matters to you. Stupid people, really, thinking you didn’t know something was wrong. Of course you know something is wrong.
“I’ll tell you what happened. John was in an accident, a very bad one, and he was hurt. But he’s in hospital, and the doctors are taking reasonably good care of him. I haven’t had a chance to truly examine his charts and I still have to check the medications to make sure there are no adverse reactions that could be impeding his recovery. But I’m told he’ll be better. I suppose the doctors know what they’re doing. Mycroft wouldn’t let them near him if they didn’t, and if you ever tell Mycroft that I am putting my trust in him, I will disown you. But just as soon as he wakes up, he’ll come home. I’ll smuggle him out of hospital if I have to in order to bring him back to you. But I will bring him back to you. I promise.”
Emily’s eyes were wide, and she said nothing. Sherlock wanted to touch her hair, but didn’t want to see her scurry away from him.
Sherlock stood and carried the violin and bow into the outer room. The jar of linseed oil and the lump of rosin ere just where he’d always kept them in the kitchen cupboard. Emily watched as he rosined the bow, then tuned the strings, taking his time. The motions and the quick notes were calming, and Emily watched, curious, her hand hot on his knee.
“The first time I played for John, he wasn’t in the flat,” Sherlock said, as he tightened and loosened the strings in turn. “Wagner. I was trying to think. I didn’t hear him come in, but the music changed. Mozart. I didn’t realize he was in the room, watching, until I’d finished. He’d been home for ten minutes, and thought I’d been playing Mozart the entire time. He’d never heard the Wagner. The music knew he was home, before I did.”
Sherlock set the rosin on the table, and saw Emily, still staring up at him. “I could smuggle you into the hospital,” he mused. “Tuck you under my coat and play Mozart for John. Perhaps he’s waiting for that to wake him up.”
Sherlock stood - playing while seated had never quite the same calming effect - and put the bow to the strings. The note sounded clear and full, and Emily's mouth dropped open in startled surprise.
He played, and when she began to smile, he played more. When she laughed, he played faster, and when she began to spin, he played to match. It wasn't until she began to chatter along to the music that he realized the song he had unconsciously begun to play was the same musical pap he'd teased John for in his dreams.
"Payz devi owin," sang Emily, spinning. "Duckset rye unner izzin..."
When at last she collapsed, giggling, he slipped into another song - Wagner, this time, but Emily continued to sing the barely comprehensible babbles while she stacked the blocks in small piles, and Sherlock kept playing. The thoughts in his head heeded, and at last began to order themselves in their own small piles, forming bridges and tunnels that somehow matched the patterns Emily created on the floor below.
Sebastian Moran, master sharpshooter for the Army, served in Afghanistan. How had Sherlock never realized the likelihood of Moran running into John, who had been in Afghanistan at the same time? The Occupation was large, but the British Army was small, and John himself was no slouch when it came to shooting well. He had to have learned it somewhere.
The idea that Moran could have taught John the skills that would later save Sherlock's life, only to later use them to kill John himself, made Sherlock faintly ill.
Moran had left the Army and fallen in with Moriarty. Or perhaps he had already fallen, but he certainly hadn't acted on Moriarty's orders until after his discharge. Sherlock had spent nearly two years before he'd learned the identity of John's sniper. He wondered what had gone through Moran's mind when he realized that his prey had been his student.
And then trying to find the man. Eight months, taking down other cells, tracking other men, gathering as much information as he could, only to have Moran one step ahead of him.
Harry. "Four months or so ago..."
Mycroft. "Well aware of your return already..."
Himself. "Left within the last 24 hours, perhaps as early as this morning..."
And it all clicked into place, laid out crystal clear and shining. Sherlock lowered the violin; Emily continued to play happily with the blocks, and Sherlock set his violin back down on the table before joining her.
“Emily,” said Sherlock, as he picked up a yellow block, and carefully balanced it on a red column, “I’m sure John hasn’t told you, but there are 243 types of tobacco ash. We’ll start with the ash from the corojo tobacco plant, found in Cuba and used mainly for the production of cigars…”
For those of you on Tumblr, I’ve created the tag #The Heart in Him; feel free to follow for updates concerning this story and others in the Heart ‘Verse. And yes – there’s definitely others, because I finished the first draft of the sequel a few days ago - and it's longer than this one!
Despite Brian, despite Janet, despite the side effects and the bloating and the faintly sick feeling they gave him every four months, John still used the hated suppressants. He would have given anything to stop using them, but they were necessary, because he loved the Army. He loved the camaraderie, the discipline, the drive to excel. He even loved Afghanistan, often in the same breath as he cursed it. The heat on the back of his sun burnt neck; the sand dancing across the road, the children laughing as they begged for the sweets the soldiers always handed out, while their bearded and suspicious fathers and grandfathers watched from the shade.
And no matter how bad it got – whenever he thought of Janet and Brian and Mary, he’d look at the local Afghans, the omegas wearing their burkhas in the sweltering sun, the alphas in their turbans with skin roughened by the swirling sand. At least he had suppressants, he could pick up a gun and defend who and what he loved, and he wasn’t trapped in some kind of a loveless bond, having children one after the other. At least he belonged to himself and not his biology.
There were the hard parts, too. Trying to triage in a sandstorm, ignoring the barbed insults in the showers (“Watson, lookin’ pretty today, heat getting to you?”), knowing he was ten minutes out from safety but the firefight wouldn’t let him move, and his life was bleeding out from his fuckin’ shoulder.
John didn’t dwell on those times often. None of them lasted long – the sandstorm cleared and the wounds healed, the showers ran cold and John watched his tormentors run squealing, the helicopters arrived and he woke in the plane, already heading home.
(He only remembered it in patches. The firefight and the smoking humvee and the shouts from the soldiers and Please, God, let me live, and then, inexplicably, Bill Murray’s face yelling at him to Fucking stay alive, you sodding tosser, or my sister will come back from the grave to pummel us both, and it wasn’t until much later that he realized that it really had been Bill who had saved him by shoving him on the helicopter, and not just the fever dream.)
He kept taking the suppressants, even after being invalided out of the Army. At first, it was habit, or maybe denial. The latter, his therapist said. John didn’t care. If it was, maybe denial wasn’t such a horrible thing. Taking the suppressants let John pretend he was still in the Army, that he was still more than what his biology dictated.
He went to see Harry first, mostly because he didn’t know where else to go, and he hadn’t heard from her other than a strange, short letter while he’d been recuperating. He knocked on the door of the flat she shared with Clara, and when she opened it, the smell of sour wine and sherry hit him like a wall.
“God, Harry,” he groaned.
“John,” said Harry, her eyes bloodshot, her clothes stained and hanging loose off her shoulders. “What are you doing here?”
He recognized what he saw in Harry, and he found empty bottles in all the familiar places. He collected them while Harry watched from the sofa, a half-empty bottle of wine in her hands. He didn’t try to take it from her, and she didn’t offer. Collecting the bottles was a slow process, between the cane and his sore shoulder, but John gritted his teeth and did it anyway.
“Where’s Clara?” he asked.
“She doesn’t need me,” said Harry.
“I told her I’d leave, that she could have the flat, but she said she wouldn’t stay anyway. And she thought you’d need a place to stay.” Harry laughed, but it was bitter. “She always liked you. Omegas stick together, she said.”
“She’ll come back,” said John, more out of hope than conviction.
“No, she won’t. I won’t let her. She deserves someone better than me.”
“If you’re referring to the wine bottle between your knees, then I agree.”
“I’m referring to the utterly useless prick between my legs,” snapped Harry, and wrapped her arms around her head. “Christ. We’re supposed to be the most fertile combination you can get. Alpha and Omega and you get one fucking heat and a knot the size of Yorkshire and bam, there are sixteen year old alphas strutting around with twins, and I’m thirty-five years old and I haven’t been able to get Clara knocked up in fifteen years of trying.”
“No. You don’t know anything about it – you didn’t even want kids, you and Mary didn’t even bother bonding, for Christ’s sake. And you were in the fuckin’ Army, no one cared if you didn’t have kids because you had to go save the world. You don’t even keep in touch with anyone from home, you don’t have to see them in town with their two-point-five children hanging off of them, get the stupid school newsletters with the birth announcements and the bonding announcements and hell, I’ve got a friend who’s a grandparent already. And that’s something else you missed, big brother – Mum going on about grandkids and babies and looking at Clara’s stomach every time we stopped by and then at me and sighing. You skipped all that. Lucky you. Lucky fucking you.”
John couldn’t look at his sister. He didn’t really agree.
“Why’d you even bother coming here, anyway?”
“I was shot.”
“In the shoulder. Why the limp?”
“The leg is fine,” said John through gritted teeth. “I have a limp. We’re not talking about my leg.”
“Maybe we should,” said Harry, sitting forward. “I mean, it’s a better topic than why I’m rip-roaring pissed here. We know why I’m pissed. We don’t know why you’re limping. So let’s see, what’s bothering you, Johnny?”
“You don’t get accessories with a shoulder, do you? No one looks at you and thinks, ‘Wounded soldier’ unless you have accessories. Is that it, John? Did you want the sympathy from strangers on the street? Want them to hold doors open for you?”
John gripped his cane so hard his knuckles turned white.
“Wonder why you thought of the leg. Lots of other soldiers hurt in the leg, was that it? Or…oh. I know. It was Mary, wasn’t it? She bled out from her leg, didn’t she? You can’t tell me you’re still mourning her? Christ, she probably couldn’t get it up either, is that the real reason you never bonded?”
John threw the empty wine bottle against the wall, where it shattered. Glass fell to the floor with a rain of leftover wine.
“Fuck you,” said John. “Get pissed. Get bent. Get the hell off of my case, and leave Mary out of your insecurities.”
Harry opened her mouth as if to say something, and then thought better of it and left the room. John heard the bottles clanking and supposed Harry had finished her bottle of wine. He finished gathering the empties and put them out in the recycling bin. By the time he found Harry in the kitchen, she was already halfway down the first glass.
“I’m sorry,” said John.
“You,” he replied, and went into the guest room, closed and locked the door, and fell asleep.
The next morning, the broken glass and wine had been cleared up, and Harry handed him a mobile. She looked like shit, and her hands were cut from handling the broken wine bottle.
“Take it,” she said.
“No,” said John.
“No, take it. I don’t want it, and you’re just back and you need a mobile.”
John looked at the mobile and sighed. “I don’t want a peace offering.”
“It’s not a peace offering. It’s…look, I want to know you’re okay.”
“Just fucking take it, John. I can’t give you anything else right now. I just can’t.”
Harry’s lip trembled, and he saw one particularly deep cut on the swell of her thumb.
“Come on,” said John. “Let me bandage that before I go.”
“You can’t fix me.”
“No,” said John. “But I can try.”
There was this, too: if he had not been on the suppressants, he would have been locked in his room riding it out, instead of walking through the park where Mike Stamford told him about the man looking for a flatmate.
John forgot about the way his skin itched as soon as Sherlock Holmes went on his mad rant about the origin of his mobile, and how it told him everything anyone needed to know about John. He forgot to be cantankerous and ornery when Sherlock asked him to come along, and when he killed the cabbie, he felt the heat of Afghanistan on the back of his neck.
Sherlock brought it up over Chinese that night.
“Will you keep up with the suppressants?”
John choked on a mouthful of spicy beef something-or-other. “I’m sorry, what?”
“The suppressants for your estrus,” repeated Sherlock. “Required in the Army, but I wasn’t sure if you would want to continue. I understand the side effects are not entirely pleasant.”
John stared at him. “Okay, really, how do you do that?”
“Thin layer of sweat on the back of your neck compared to yesterday, despite the temperature having dropped five degrees. You scratch at your arms when you are preoccupied with something, an almost absent-minded tick, and you shift in your seat as though you aren’t quite comfortable, yet you are clearly not exhibiting signs of estrus. All of these are indications that you are on suppression medications. Also, Mike Stamford has been on a matchmaking kick lately.”
John put down the chopsticks. “You’re an alpha.”
“I’m not interested.”
“What luck, neither am I. Clearly Stamford knows what he is doing. In this area, at least.”
“I’m staying on the suppressants.”
Sherlock smiled as he examined a piece of broccoli. “That certainly makes life easier for both of us.”
John had not given much thought to whether or not he would stay on the suppressants before then, but he didn’t regret the decision. He was enlisted in Sherlock’s personal army, and in any army, suppressants were required.
The first few weeks, John was careful around Sherlock. The only other alpha he’d lived with for any length of time was Harry, who didn’t count. In John’s experience, most alphas found omegas to be interesting and curious, mysterious creatures who bore closer inspection. Even Brian, who claimed not to be interested in John, had flared his nostrils every so often when John entered the room.
And certainly there were exceptions to every rule – but John hadn’t lived in close proximity with another alpha in years. Mary had been kind and loving, but even she’d had her predatory moments, when the fire flashed in her eyes, and he’d been able to see the alpha in her then. Sherlock was something else altogether. He half wondered which of them found the other to be more fascinating a subject.
It didn’t take long before John realized that Sherlock wasn’t quite like any other alpha he’d met. His nostrils flared, but John didn’t think it had to do with his being an omega – more because John represented Someone To Bring Tea. Or Resident Guinea Pig. Or Stand-In For the Skull.
Gradually, without quite realizing it, John began to not just like Sherlock, but to fit him into his life. When he picked up the shopping, he reached for the biscuits he knew Sherlock would eat. When he needed a new coat, he unconsciously chose the black one, because it would look smart compared to Sherlock’s long lines. And he told himself that he and Sherlock were friends. Just friends. Good friends. The music Sherlock played on the violin, the smiles and smirks and giggles and Chinese take-out – those were what flatmates and friends did.
And that was fine. John didn’t want much more of Sherlock, and he thought Sherlock didn’t want more of him. Anything like that – it was in the past for John, and he didn’t mind.
Until the swimming pool. Until Moriarty strapped a bomb to John’s chest and a laser danced on his head, and John caught his breath against the wall while Sherlock paced. Both scared out of their wits, and John had nearly died while at the same time, he was still whole. The suppressant couldn’t overcome adrenaline or desire, or maybe that was what they told themselves afterward, in the dark recesses of Sherlock’s room, because neither of them could stand to climb another set of stairs before they fell into bed. It wasn’t a heat, of course, but it didn’t seem to matter to either of them, and in a way, it was better without the hormones overriding every thought and directing every movement. It was John and Sherlock, not Omega and Alpha, and that was better than fine.
“Don’t do that again,” said Sherlock, resting his head on John’s shoulder, his cheek against the scarred skin.
“I didn’t,” said John, surprised.
“Exactly. Third time, you might not be so lucky.”
John let out a huffing breath. “You just don’t want to find another blogger.”
“I don’t want a blogger at all,” said Sherlock, and wrapped his arms around John, who knew what he meant.
It wasn’t as though he’d been chaste since Mary. He hadn’t been, not by a long shot. No one in combat gave a shit about omega or alpha or beta; in combat, the only thing anyone thought about was proving that they had made it through another day without dying. John knew all about sex to prove you were alive. It was the comfort, afterwards, that surprised him. Most of the time, in the tents in Afghanistan, the men and women would put their boots back on and adjust their belts and head back out, and nothing more was ever said until the next time. Sherlock didn’t seem to want to return to the status quo. John found that he didn’t either. And that was just fine, too.
It was several months later, just before Christmas, that John couldn’t find his suppressants. They normally sat in the bathroom cupboard, between the mouthwash and the birth control, but instead there was a space, as though they’d simply disappeared. They weren’t on the bedside table, inside Henry the skull, or under the cushions of his armchair. After nearly tearing the flat apart, he found them, exactly where they belonged, in between the mouthwash and the birth control, as though they’d never moved.
Two days later, it happened again. This time, however, he found them in the electric kettle.
The third time, he found them wedged in Sherlock’s sock index.
“Do stop disturbing my sock index, it’s very tiring.”
“Stop hiding my suppressants, and I won’t touch your sock index.”
Sherlock sulked for a day, and then hid the suppressants in the farthest, coldest part of the freezer. John was livid.
“These are expensive, Sherlock. And now I have to buy another month’s supply.”
Sherlock set the bow on the violin, looking out the window.
“Really, of all the jokes you could play—“
There was a screech from the violin before it settled into something more familiar. “Yes, terrible joke. Sorry to have played it,” said Sherlock, his voice muffled by the music. “Very sorry to inconvenience you. Best run off and buy more.”
John slammed out of the flat, and was halfway down the stairs before it hit him. He sat down and watched the snow drift down through the window. After a few minutes, the violin music caught up to him, quiet, calming, and in a way that John couldn’t quite define, round. How music could be shaped in circles, he didn’t quite know, but he breathed in and out with them, and held the box of ruined suppressants in his hand.
After a few minutes, he returned to the flat. Sherlock continued playing.
“Pharmacies closed?” asked Sherlock.
“You’re a bloody puzzle, you know,” said John, heatedly, and he tried not to think of his hot annoyance as a pun.
“Is it such a bad thing?” asked Sherlock.
“You being a puzzle, or destroying my suppressants?”
Sherlock didn’t answer.
“It’s childish, Sherlock. You can’t just hide the things that scare you.”
“Why would your suppressants scare me?”
“Why don’t you just ask me, instead of playing a stupid game?” said John.
Sherlock turned his back and kept playing. The music floated between them, and John recognized it from the stairwell, and before that, from Harry and Clara’s ridiculous bonding. John couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped.
“Hell of a way to propose,” said John. He sat on his armchair and started to read the paper. Sherlock continued to play, but with a smile on his lips.
Sherlock didn’t ask again about the pharmacies, and John didn’t complain about his destroyed suppressants. It wasn’t exactly a proposal, but it wasn’t an answer, either, and this seemed to suit them both.
Heats had a way of changing the game, and for the first time, and in a way completely different from the first few weeks, John was nervous around Sherlock. He remembered the heats he’d had before he was on the suppressants, the way molten lava crept up his spine and turned him into jelly. The way it would take only a single look from an alpha in the early stages – and anyone in the later stages – to make him moan and beg and plead. Before, he’d loved it and craved it and would even spend the days leading up to the heats in anticipation, and the days after in quiet daydreams, reliving the best moments. Once he was used to them, anyway. Once he’d found a rhythm in them, and learned to find alphas who didn’t care about bonding, or betas who couldn’t bond properly anyway.
This heat, this first heat without the suppressants would be different, John knew. It would be explosive and frightening and might even last longer than normal, and because there wasn’t anything to stop it, it would happen soon, a dam engorged and overflowing. Purple prose, but appropriate, thought John, and laid in extra towels and water and cash to pay for food delivery. He and Sherlock had slept together, sure, but without the omega pheromones in the air, Sherlock hadn’t felt the alpha urge to bond. Now, he would. And there wasn’t any question that he would, and even as the thought made John grin, it scared him senseless.
When the first heat hit over New Year’s, John thought briefly of the skull, and the cushions, and the electric kettle, and the freezer, and met Sherlock thrust for thrust. They talked and giggled in the quiet moments, ordered Chinese and fucked and ordered Thai and showered and watched half an episode of some ridiculous programme before going at each other again. In between, John slept and dreamed of the Afghan sands dancing on London pavement. He dreamed of Mary laughing in Sunday morning daylight, so incredibly pleased for him and blowing him kisses with joy. He dreamed of giggling with Nigel over watered-down beer and of Janet’s tear-stained face burrowing into her alpha’s arms, sheer relief that her ordeal was over. He dreamed of the burnt-sweet scent of his father’s candy shop, and he woke without nightmares.
The first morning after the heat, he found a new box of suppressants in their old place in the bathroom cupboard, between the birth control and the mouthwash.
“It’s your choice,” said Sherlock.
Before the heat, John might have been hurt, might have read into the statement, might have thought that Sherlock was merely showing alpha superiority because he could. After, the newly-formed bond a present and comfortable reminder somewhere between his heart and his gut, warm and quietly humming, John saw the statement as nothing more than what it was – acknowledgement of John’s particular history, his hard-won discipline, of his need to be his own person, apart from what he was in public.
John picked up the box of pills, and out of the corner of his eye, saw Sherlock tense, even as he said nothing. The rest of the day, Sherlock tensed every time John went near the box, more so if John carried a cup of tea or glass of water.
John threw away the pills. Not because he didn’t want them, or because Sherlock didn’t want them – though neither of them did. The suppressants were the only part of the Army John had hated, and neither the Army nor the nightmares haunted him anymore.
The second heat happened the week before the trial. John thought it was good timing – it gave them a few days to escape the media circus, to fold into themselves and pretend there was nothing outside the world of 221B. It was a quieter heat – still urgent and pressing and sweaty, but without the frantic desperation and intensity of the bonding heat. Sherlock kissed him up against the wall and John returned the favor in the kitchen, and they spent half an hour on the sofa like teenagers, trying to pull their clothes off without actually falling to the floor, before Sherlock pushed himself up and said, “Sodding hell,” and pulled John laughing into the bedroom.
When Sherlock finally knotted inside him, he breathed a sigh of relief and kissed John on the forehead. John could feel their hearts pounding and he buried his nose in Sherlock’s neck, breathing deep.
“I’m old,” he said.
“Not that young.”
“Not that old,” countered Sherlock.
“Respect your elders,” said John, and Sherlock nipped his earlobe playfully, which made John’s back arch, and for a moment they lost themselves as their bodies shifted as much as the knot allowed.
“Ten years left, at best,” said Sherlock.
“Of these,” mused Sherlock. “Before you have menopause.”
“Thank you for reminding me. I had completely forgotten that I am old.”
“You’re not old.”
Sherlock lifted himself up to look down at John. “John…”
“You’re not too old.”
John opened his eyes and looked at his lover. He’d lived with Sherlock long enough to pick up on things, and semantics had always come easy anyway. “Thank you for the qualifier, at least.”
“I meant – if you wanted – there’s time.”
John blinked at him. “Do you have any idea what you’re talking about? Because I am still in the throes of a heat and have absolutely no ability to comprehend anything except what is going on below our waists.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“John, you’re not a fool.”
“Only compared to some.”
Sherlock sighed, but he let it go, and John wrapped his arms tighter around him, and pretended that he had no idea what Sherlock was asking.
If Sherlock meant it, he would hide the birth control pills before the next heat, and John would let him.
Bedtime was oddly complicated, despite Mrs. Hudson claiming it was quite simple.
Put away the toys, with Emily’s theoretical assistance; a sippy cup of milk slightly warmed up and snuggles while reading two favorite books. A bath every three or four days, hair washed once a week, with additional baths as necessary. Teeth brushed nightly, with the smallest amount of toothpaste and an adult getting the hard-to-reach spots. Upstairs to bed, making sure Elfin was under Emily’s arm, then the nighttime nappy (darker in color, don’t use a regular nappy lest the sheets need changing come morning), pajamas which were ridiculously difficult to assemble. Turn on the nightlight, turn off the overhead light, turn on the white noise and ensure the black-out curtains are drawn. Close the cupboard door very tightly lest monsters escape. Elfin at Emily’s side, sheep at her feet, rabbit on the floor. Sit in the rocker and recite one last story or sing one last lullaby, and then a goodnight kiss and the same words every night: “Goodnight, Emily, sleep well, I love you.”
“I’ll just leave you to the last bit,” said Mrs. Hudson, and she guided Sherlock to sit in the rocking chair, settled Emily on his lap, and handed them both a book.
Sherlock and Emily watched Mrs. Hudson leave the room and close the door softly behind her, and then looked at each other at precisely the same moment. Emily bit her lips and clutched Elfin tighter to her chest. She did not appear entirely certain how she came to be left with the man in the rocking chair.
“Well,” said Sherlock. “That wasn’t complicated at all.”
Emily didn’t say anything, and Sherlock opened the book to see an elephant wearing pyjamas. He sighed, and closed the book again.
“Emily,” he said, “I’m going to tell you the story of how I met your daddy. It started with a woman who very much liked the color pink...”
The car was waiting, just as Mycroft had said it would be, when Sherlock left 221B. Mrs. Hudson was happily watching her telly programme, and much to Sherlock’s surprise, Emily had fallen asleep during his careful explanations of the deductive methods he’d utilized during the Study in Pink, all details which he was quite certain that John had neglected to tell her about, and certainly which he had left off his blog entry.
Sherlock had stayed in the rocking chair, Emily curled in his arms, and watched her sleep. He didn’t know how much time passed before he noticed that his arm had gone numb, or that she’d left wet drool marks on his sleeves. He studied the shape of her ears and the curls in her hair, the dark lashes over her eyes and the pearly teeth. Her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, and her comfortable warm weight made him feel grounded and safe.
Odd, Sherlock thought. That such a small, fragile, unexpected thing could make him feel safe. He hadn’t expected that. He ought to have been tucking her away in the closet, putting padlocks on the door, guarding against anything that would try to destroy or hurt her. Instead, she was sturdy and strong and independent, and he had no doubt that every thought that went through her head was fully-formed and rationalized. She was a force of nature, and here in the dark, he wanted to sit and rock her, and pretend that she wasn’t afraid of him, when she was awake.
He wanted to do that…but the shadows in the corners began to creep up on him, and the white noise machine didn’t quite cover the swoosh of the traffic outside the window, and he could hear the soft murmur of Mrs Hudson turning on the telly, and the tinned laughter of some inane sort of program that she would have watched with John.
John. Who was waiting for him at the hospital, still asleep. Their bond was a comfortable, solid knot in his stomach. Sherlock moved Emily to the bed, and tried to tuck the covers over her, not entirely sure how to arrange the stuffed animals to her liking. It didn’t matter, he supposed; she would sleep through the night. Mrs Hudson had said.
Mycroft’s assistant was in the car already, typing away on her ever-present BlackBerry. “Are you texting with my brother?” demanded Sherlock.
“Tell him I need to discuss matters of extreme importance with him. Lestrade should be present. And it needs to be a secure location. Tonight, as soon as possible.”
The assistant didn’t respond for a few minutes. “He says he’ll arrange it.”
Sherlock sat back in the seat and pressed his fingers together. He closed his eyes and imagined himself back in Emily’s room, the chair slowly rocking, the gentle sounds of the white noise machine soothing against the backdrop of London traffic. The light sounds of her breath as she slept.
Quietly, the turmoil in his head stilled, and shuffled into neat, orderly rows. When the car came to a stop, Sherlock was ready.
Sherlock knew exactly how to find the ICU, and strode purposefully toward it. Every step signaled confidence and even possessiveness, both qualities that propelled him past the guards and the nurses, none of whom dared to stop him for anything so trifling as identification. He suspected the guards knew exactly who he was, anyway - Mycroft would have had them well-briefed. The time alone with Emily, and then again in the car on the ride to the hospital, had left Sherlock so convinced of his deductions that he would not have been one bit surprised to see John sitting up in bed, ready with an admiring "Amazing" on his lips.
Instead, he found the last person he expected to see, and stopped dead in the doorway, every positive and confident emotion fleeing for cover.
"Gregory, look at the lovely black eye you've given my son," said Aurora Holmes. "Well done, you."
"Mother," said Sherlock, and tried to ignore Lestrade, grinning from a corner of the room.
"Be grateful," said Aurora. "If Gregory hadn't hit you, I certainly would have. As it is, I might just wait until the bruising has faded and slap you then."
"I knew I liked your mother," said Lestrade, amused.
"Get out," said Sherlock.
"Righty-ho," said Lestrade. "I'll just be wherever it is your brother has in mind for whatever dénouement you've cooked up. Christ, the things I didn't half miss."
Lestrade walked over to John's bed and rested his hand on John's leg. Sherlock's reaction was immediate and predatory; he stepped right up to the detective inspector and fixed him with such a look that anyone other than another alpha might have withered or at least stepped back. Lestrade did neither, and both men faced off, with the pheromones suddenly rolling off them both in waves.
Neither of them heard Aurora Holmes stepping up beside them, but they both felt the thwap of the rolled up magazines as she swatted them both over the head at precisely the same moment.
"Worse than a pair of hunting dogs," she sighed.
"Mother, did you just discipline me with a rolled up magazine?" demanded Sherlock.
"Ow," said Lestrade, rubbing the back of his head, but still clearly impressed.
"Thank God Mycroft is a beta. I don't know how I would have survived your childhoods otherwise," said Aurora briskly.
"The same as you did, Mother - nannies and boarding schools and solitary vacations to Switzerland."
"Aren't you leaving?" Sherlock snapped at Lestrade, who glared back before turning to John again. This time he rested his hand on John's, but not without a defiant, challenging look at Sherlock.
"Tomorrow, John. And I was right, it'll be a beaut."
Lestrade smirked at Sherlock - or to be more precise, the rapidly forming black eye - and with a polite nod and respectful "ma'am" to Aurora, left the room.
"Honestly, Sherlock, I fail to see how you manage to have friends at all."
"And how are you on a first-name basis with the good detective, Mother?"
"You've been gone three years, you can't expect us to remain stagnant in your absence," said Aurora as she settled herself on the chair nearest the window. She picked up her needlepoint and started working again. "Besides, Gregory is quite a good friend to John and Emily, and I have it on excellent authority that you once leapt off a building for him, so clearly the feeling was at one point mutual."
Sherlock slowly lowered himself onto the chair next to John's bed. The scrapes on John's hand were healing; the bruises on his face looked less severe. His chest rose and fell with a steady rhythm, and Sherlock was glad to see that even if the intubation tube remained in place, the ventilating machine had been pushed to the far corner of the room - ready, but clearly not expected to be brought back into service.
"He's doing marvelously well," said Aurora. "His blood oxygen is very good, EEGs normal, and the swelling and internal bleeding have stopped. The doctors see no reason why he shouldn't wake soon, but of course they're unwilling to say as much. I don't understand why the doctors here need to be so dour; your doctor very rarely is anything but hopeful, no matter how dire the situation."
Sherlock nodded, and held John's hand carefully, his eyes on John's face.
"You shouldn't keep Mycroft waiting, darling. I'll stay with John until you return."
Sherlock didn't care if Mycroft waited the entire night, but there it was - the little bit in the back of his mind, anxious to impart what he had determined. "Show-off," John would have said.
But his mother was in the room, and though she had said nothing of substance about Sherlock's supposed death, he knew that it wouldn't last. He could feel her discontent with him, even if she stabbed mercilessly at her needlepoint, even with his back to her.
"I had to go, Mother," said Sherlock finally.
"This has been explained to me, of course. And I quite understand why you felt the deception was necessary. I believe that others would have done the same in your place. Perhaps without the theatrics, of course. I had to talk to your aunt Charlotte after the funeral, Sherlock. Charlotte."
Sherlock sighed dramatically.
"You and Charlotte, both exactly alike. She tried to make your death all about her, too."
"It was my death, Mother, of course it was all about me."
"Don't be silly. Funerals are meant for the living, otherwise why have them? And I'm your mother, if anyone should have been the focus, it should have been me."
"John was rather catatonic, love. He spent most of the funeral and the wake sitting in your room. It was quite some time before he would even speak; almost as if he folded in on himself. I thought perhaps he was trying to hold onto the bond, but of course it was only later I realized it was Emily he tried to protect."
Sherlock set John's hand down on the bed, not wanting to hear anymore. He leaned over to pressed his forehead against John’s. His skin was warm and dry, and John’s hair between his fingers felt achingly familiar. "I won't be long," he said quietly. "Don't let Mother order you around."
"I never order anyone," said Aurora haughtily.
"Only if they need it," she amended. She set aside the needlepoint and took up Sherlock's chair next to John. "Now, John, I wanted to discuss Emily's course of study at Oxford—"
"Cambridge," Sherlock corrected her.
"I thought History, so much more practical than Philosophy..."
The room Mycroft had sourced was not far, and Sherlock found it easily. He had his doubts that any room within the hospital complex was truly secure, but he also did not relish the idea of leaving John again quite so soon. At any rate, the wing was completely empty, devoid of both patients and nurses, and indeed much in the line of beds, chairs, or other medical equipment. Plastic sheeting covered the walls and a thin layer of dust and debris littered the floor. Power cords, saw-horses, and sheets of dry wall were scattered down the corridor. Under construction, then - Sherlock supposed it was fitting, since much of his life appeared to be that way, too.
"Sherlock," said Mycroft when Sherlock entered the room at the end of the corridor. It was large, clearly meant to be some kind of waiting or recreation room. Large windows looked out onto the city skyline, or would have had they not been covered in additional plastic sheeting which allowed a chilled wind to sweep through the room. The light was dim but serviceable, enough to ensure that the room offered no secure hiding place. Sherlock took a moment to walk around it, examining anyway.
"I assure you, it is as secure as I can make it. I did not imagine you would want to leave the hospital."
"No," said Sherlock. He glanced at Lestrade by the windows. "Detective Inspector, what have you learned about the car's driver or Moran's whereabouts?"
Lestrade tensed, and saw Mycroft sigh with disappointment. Sherlock half thought he could hear John groan and give him a gentle, correcting nudge. Clearly, he was supposed to have offered some kind of peace offering. He ignored the sensation.
"Moran leased the house four months ago, on a six-month rotating basis. He paid the first six months in cash, but we haven't found any bank accounts with his name on them. He wasn't employed, nor did he receive any sort of pension, at least not under his name. The house shows no sign of anyone else having been there, except for yourself. No prints or DNA. No neighbors recall him very well - kept himself to himself. No car, a driver's license that is due to expire in another year. He never troubled the landlord with complaints or requests for repair. He is not listed on any manifest for any airline in the last week, nor has he attempted to rent a vehicle or purchase long-distance train tickets. We're trying facial recognition now to see if we can determine any aliases - so far nothing, but that can take some time so it's possible we won't hear anything until tomorrow afternoon. Moran has just...disappeared."
"And the car?"
"Dead end. Moran wasn't in it, we know that much. The owner didn't recognize his photograph or name."
Sherlock nodded and pressed his fingertips together, tapping his mouth thoughtfully. "Slipped through again," he murmured to himself, and after a moment, spoke aloud.
"I assume Mycroft has explained why I faked my death three years ago."
"I have," said Mycroft.
"Four months ago I destroyed the last cell which Moriarty controlled. However, I did not do so entirely successfully, because I expected to find Sebastian Moran within it, or at least information that would lead me to him very quickly. Instead, I found that Moran had slipped through my fingers, and moreover, there was a strong likelihood that Moran knew that he was being targeted, though not by whom. It would not have been hard to guess; after all, who else would have such cause to attack Moriarty but me? Moran led me on a merry chase, but now I believe that is all it was - with me as the goose, and Moran safely ensconced in the cottage in Chistlehurst. I believe he returned here with the intention of carrying out his original mission. He has two, perhaps three, associates left to him, and thus he secured their assistance in the theft of a vehicle and the actual attack on John. Once he learned I was returned, he fled London, presumably to wait for his next opportunity to strike."
"Wait a minute," said Lestrade. "That doesn't make sense. The original mission was to kill John, Mrs. Hudson, and myself if you didn't jump off the roof of Bart's. So if Moran knew you were alive, why didn't he just come back and kill all three of us?"
"I have several theories," said Sherlock. "Moriarty tended to keep information compartmentalized. I doubt that Moran knew the entire plan, and I suspect that Moran was the sniper assigned to John. The assassins assigned to you and Mrs. Hudson were disposed of a year ago. I was never able to correctly confirm John's assassin, however, but considering the nature of our relationship, I would think that Moriarty would have put his best on him. Moran is undoubtedly the best. It’s the only reason he’s still alive – he’s been the most difficult to track and to corner. As he was part of the plan, I doubt he knew of its scope, and he was likely unaware of the intent to kill you or Mrs. Hudson; thus, he would not assume you ought to be targets now."
"That doesn't explain why he didn't act immediately."
"Hence the other theory. I don't believe that Sebastian Moran necessarily constructed the accident to kill John, though that outcome would certainly have not disappointed him. I believe he wanted to send me a message."
"Send you what message?" asked Lestrade.
"That he still has the power to destroy me," said Sherlock, and unconsciously rubbed his chest above his heart. “If he’d merely wanted John dead, he would have had ample opportunity to do so, while John is lying helpless elsewhere in this hospital. No, he wants John alive. He’s using John to call me out – and now that I’m here, the game will begin again.”
Lestrade, arms crossed, frowned at Sherlock. He turned to Mycroft. "Are Emily and Mrs. Hudson safe? Should we move them from London?"
"I told you, you're not in danger," said Sherlock, and was ignored.
"No one can enter 221B who is not on an extremely short list," replied Mycroft. "In fact, no one can so much as pause at the doorway, and I have secured every building within its sight. There is no window where Moran can hide, and no alleyway where he can creep."
"And John?" demanded Lestrade. "Is it safe for him to remain here? The ICU is populated, but Moran's already killed once indiscriminately, and if he's going to kill innocent people, I doubt he'll hold back for a few nurses or doctors."
"The ICU is not especially safe, no," admitted Mycroft. "But it is the safest place for John in his condition, and we dare not move him while he remains in the coma."
"All your resources and you can't scare up a secret medical facility in a secure bunker somewhere? What about Baskerville?"
"No," said Mycroft shortly. "I have done absolutely everything I can to ensure John's safety, Gregory. Believe me when I say that John is as absolutely safe as houses. Safer, in fact."
Lestrade exhaled and nodded. "Good."
"As for yourself—"
"I don't fucking care about myself," snapped Lestrade. "Sherlock says I'm safe, that's fine by me. And if not - let Moran at me, Mycroft. I can defend myself. Put your resources on John and Emily where they belong."
Sherlock turned to look at Lestrade, somewhat surprised. He already had trouble reconciling the man he'd once known with the angry detective inspector across the room, but here was proof that they were one and the same. Lestrade trusted him, or at least trusted his instincts. Lestrade might be angry with him, might be disappointed in him, might be insane with alpha jealousy and in mourning for his wife, seeking John as a substitute mate and Emily as a substitute daughter - but when Sherlock said that Lestrade's life was not in danger, Lestrade took him at his word, even knowing that Sherlock would have wanted to sweep the board clean of other alphas threatening his own family.
What's more, Lestrade seemed just as interested in keeping John and Emily safe as Sherlock was. Altruistic or not, the end result was the same. Lestrade was on Sherlock's side.
"I believe the protective measures are an unnecessary precaution," said Sherlock finally. "Moran has accomplished his current objective."
"I'm not calling them off," said Mycroft.
"What objective?" asked Lestrade.
"He has brought me out of hiding, thus proving that I am, in fact, still alive. For Moran, this is confirmation of what he may have suspected in the last few months: that I have been working to bring down Moriarty's web, and that there is still his original mission to accomplish."
"Then why call off the guards?" demanded Lestrade. "If John's life is still in danger?"
"Because his original mission was more than killing John Watson," said Sherlock, and he rubbed at his chest again. "It was to destroy me. Killing John Watson now would not accomplish this goal, and so Moran has fled to bide his time and wait."
"What's he waiting for?" asked Lestrade.
"The same thing we are," replied Sherlock. "For John to wake up."
They were on a cliff top overlooking the sea. The mist hung low on the horizon, blending the water with the sky in a white misty smudge. The trees broke just in front of them, allowing the view, and triangle-sailboats danced just out of reach. The grass was damp underfoot, the air smelled like cotton candy and cut grass, and John was angry.
“Greg isn’t in love with me,” said John.
“You’re in a coma, not blind,” said Sherlock patiently. He sat on the park bench, huddled tightly in his coat and scarf, but John paced around him, back and forth in a remarkably even figure eight, unable to keep still.
“Greg misses his wife. I miss you. We have that in common.”
“If I had stayed dead, he would have tried to mate with you eventually.”
“Greg didn’t hit you hard enough,” said John, and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m on suppressants. It would never have come up.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” said Sherlock, irritable.
“I’m not the idiot,” replied John.
Sherlock looked, but did not see Emily.
“She’s not part of this conversation,” said John.
“I don’t know what it was like, for you,” said Sherlock suddenly. “I thought…I thought you would be going through what I went through, being apart. The loneliness and the empty nights and the way my brain never quite settled. I thought it would be the same. But it wasn’t, for you. You had Emily.”
“I did.” John sat next to Sherlock; he didn’t quite meet Sherlock’s eyes, and had Sherlock not known better, he might have thought John was being shy.
“She loves you.”
John smiled. The skin around his eyes crinkled with it. “Of course she does. She’s you.”
“She’s you,” said Sherlock with some surprise. “She fed me pasta and peas.”
“She points out everything, names everything, tells her animals long stories about everything she sees.”
“She has your eyes.”
“She has your hair.”
“She’s not mine,” said Sherlock, staring out at the water. “Not in the same way she’s yours.”
John let out a huff. “You think I—?”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Sherlock. “It’s a biological impossibility, anyway. But she loves you. I’m a stand-in.”
“She loves you, too,” John insisted. “She kisses your photographs before bed every night.”
Sherlock frowned. “That wasn’t part of the ritual.”
“She does,” said John gently. “I know you don’t believe it, but it’s true.”
“Perhaps she loves the idea of me,” said Sherlock, doubtfully. He glanced at John. “When did you know?”
“Ah.” John settled back and looked out at the surf below. “Mycroft was right. I think I always knew. But it was one of those things you know in the back of your mind, like how a television works or how planes can fly, and you can just ignore it. I spent a lot of time ignoring you, because I didn’t understand why you did it. I didn’t want to understand. It was easier to hate you. And some days, I really believed you were dead, even when that small part of me knew you weren’t. There were a lot of days like that. God, I hated you for it. At first. Hated you so much, I might have killed you myself, with my bare hands, if you’d come around those first few months.”
“You changed your mind.”
“Emily changed it. And once I knew she was coming, I wanted her badly enough that I would have let you live, if you’d shown up at the door. And then once she was here, I wanted you to know what you were missing. What you’d given up.”
Sherlock stole a glance at John; his face was set in hard, angry lines. “You haven’t forgiven me.”
“No,” said John.
“Do you…” Sherlock swallowed. “I can go away again.”
John grabbed his hand and held it tight. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
They sat, next to each other, and the breeze ruffled their hair. A seagull screamed somewhere nearby.
“Tell me about Mexico,” said John.
“It was hot,” said Sherlock. “The sun never stopped shining. The water was grey in the morning and blue in the middle of the day, and Emily will learn to speak Spanish like a native. She can translate for you.”
“I can learn Spanish.”
“No, you can’t. You’ll be horrible at it, and you’ll want to wear your jumpers, and it’ll be too hot. Your skin will break out in rashes, and you’ll complain endlessly and you’ll miss London so badly your bones will ache with it.”
“That’s you, missing London,” said John. “I’ll buy a pair of sunglasses and get a tan and flirt with the girls in the cafés.”
“When will you wake up?” asked Sherlock. “Do you know?”
“Do you want me to?” asked John. “You said yourself, Moran won’t strike until I’m awake. As soon as my eyes open, it’ll begin again. Right now you don’t have anything to lose.”
“Emily is part of me,” said John. “He has to take us both together, you know that.”
Sherlock closed his eyes. “Yes. I want you. Even if you wake up and you hate me, if you never want to see me again, if you refuse to let me be part of Emily’s life, I want to know that you’re awake and alive and going to the clinic and making toast and tea and putting her to bed at night. Even if I don’t get to keep you, I want to know you’re there.”
“Hey,” said John, and squeezed his hand as a reminder. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“We were never going to Mexico,” said John. “Even before you knew about Emily, the day you came back. You know we’re in London for life.”
“This is a dream,” Sherlock said. “You’re only part of my dreams; what you say is only what I want to hear. This is all happening inside my head.”
John grinned at him. “Just because it’s happening in your head, doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
He giggled, and Sherlock frowned.
“You’re making fun of me in my dreams,” he accused John.
“Christ, I wish you paid attention to popular culture,” sighed John, still amused. “Tell me about it when I wake up, and I’ll explain why you’re an idiot.”
“Wake up, and I will.”
John squeezed his hand again. “Are you ready? I’ve been waiting for you, you know.”
Sherlock picked up John’s hand and held it tightly between both of his. “No. But I don’t think anyone ever really is.”
“Good answer,” said John, and touched Sherlock’s bruised face with his other hand. “Greg was right, it really is going to be a beaut.”
“Saves you the trouble,” said Sherlock.
“I’ll take my turn after your mother.”
“If you insist,” said Sherlock, a man headed for the gallows, and John laughed and pulled him in for a kiss.
“Won’t get to do this for a while when I wake up,” he said into Sherlock’s mouth, and wrapped his hand around the back of Sherlock’s neck.
Dreams weren’t meant to have smells, or tastes, or temperatures. John’s mouth tasted like strong tea and cinnamon, salt water tears and blueberries. He clung to Sherlock as if he might slip away with the tide, and so Sherlock took John’s face between his fingers and drew him up, out of whatever dark abyss John was in. He could feel it, nearly, just as clearly as he could hear the waves crashing below and the seagulls screeching overhead. Sherlock licked at the tears he could taste in John’s kiss, a never-ending three-year supply, and he felt John rise up to meet him, hands curling into his coat and pulling himself up and out. The salt was replaced with the grapefruit of John’s shampoo, the cold loneliness by the nubby jumper John wore under his jacket. John smiled into the kiss, reaching up for him, aggressive and eager and at long last, there. The roughness of his cheek, unshaven for a week. And the heartbeat – Sherlock knew it wasn’t possible, but he could feel John’s heart beat in time with his own.
Sherlock felt the rush of blood through his veins, cold and crisp as a waterfall, as John rose up to meet him, came alive under his fingers. Details and questions and facts in Sherlock’s mind went springing and flying into their places, snapping with the connections they made. Clear, everything was so clear, made so much sense, that Sherlock held his breath, and John held his, too, waiting for him to catch up. The muddle and the dark that had chased him for the three years without John were washed away, leaving behind only clear and sparkling thoughts, and Sherlock had forgotten how much he’d relied on John’s bright and clean light.
John broke away, too soon, and Sherlock was left, chest heaving. He could feel John’s heart thudding through his chest, and he rested his forehead against his lover’s. “John…”
“Enough for now,” whispered John. “Still not entirely well, you know.”
Sherlock smiled, and thought he might feel joy. He couldn’t quite remember it. “Three years is too long to wait.”
Sherlock hummed, and John slid his head to rest on Sherlock’s shoulder. “Don’t bring Emily to see me until I’m coherent, please. I don’t want her to be frightened.”
“No, of course not.”
“It’ll take a while. I’ve seen patients out of a coma; it’s never as quick as in the movies. You’ll need to be patient.”
“I’ve waited three years.”
“This is different. I can’t be the strong one.”
“John. It’ll be fine. Just wake up.”
“Working on it,” said John, and he sounded sleepy. Sherlock pressed a kiss to his temple – the only part he could reach easily, and pulled him close.
“I’m here. I’m waiting.”
“Lestrade is in love with you,” said Sherlock again, because he didn’t want to let that go just yet.
“Bully for him,” said John. “I’m already taken.”
A crash from somewhere in the ICU woke Sherlock from his dreams. He didn’t want to wake up just yet; he could still almost smell the surf and hear the seagulls crying out, and he could feel the slight pressure where John’s hand held to his fingers.
Sherlock lifted his head, and looked at John. John blinked.
“Oh,” said Sherlock. “Oh.”
He stood up and rested his hand on John’s cheek. “Hello,” he said, and didn’t care that his voice shook, or that his face broke into a grin. “You did it. You woke up. John.”
John’s eyes looked at him, knowing, recognizing, unsurprised and relieved and slightly unfocused. He blinked again, twice, and Sherlock brushed the hair back, to keep John’s vision clear.
“Go to sleep,” said Sherlock. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”
John’s hand squeezed again, gently, and he closed his eyes to slide into sleep.
There will be a short epilogue posted this weekend. (Because I feel bad making you all wait a full week for something so short!)
Chapter 10: An Epilogue in Three Parts
I don’t have words to say how much I appreciate everyone who has commented and kudo’ed and subscribed to this story. Thank you all so much for reading. I have been overwhelmed with the response this fic has received, and I hope you’ve all enjoyed it. I’m happy to say that Heart2 will be on its way to my beta shortly, and will be posted sometime after the New Year. There are also two short ficlets, and I plan to start writing Heart3 in December. (The delay in posting Heart2 is because I want to make sure Heart3 doesn’t demand any rewrites!) You can keep up with Heart by following my #The Heart in Him hashtag on Tumblr, or subscribing to the series here.
I wish you all the happiest of holidays, and for those of you willing to follow me into OT3 (and eventually Mystrade) territory, I’ll see you on Wednesday!
The only good thing that could be said about Sherlock’s death was it allowed John to return to anonymity. He had always been the quiet half of the equation, despite the blog. It wasn’t John people gravitated to, it was his stories about Sherlock, and in Sherlock’s presence, no one bothered about John. He was invisible.
And so John went out, did the shopping, attended patients, collected the mail, had uncomfortable dinners with the Lestrades, tea with Mrs. Hudson, and was never accosted by memories or those who might want to dredge them up. For a little while, this was comforting.
He went to Sherlock’s grave and resisted the urge to kick the headstone over, to tear through the neatly clipped grass with his bare fingers (he’d only been gone for a few weeks, why was there already grass? Sodding Mycroft) , to pull Sherlock out and pummel him senseless.
Except. John knew it wasn’t altogether true. He was only playing pretend, they all were, Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade and even the readers of his blog who remained silent and stunned at the fall of their hero. Because John was a good sport, he played along with them. They made it easy, and so John simply never brought their deception up, never even said Sherlock’s name.
And neither did they. It didn’t occur to John that Greg and Anna and Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson might have refrained from mentioning Sherlock to him because they might not want to hurt him unduly. He had conversations and dinners and tea and messy discussions about money (Mycroft, being stupidly insistent, and John slammed the door in his face), but no one said that the attention was about Sherlock.
Which was fine. It was fine. Because John knew that if Sherlock’s name had been mentioned, he would have had to ask them, would have brought it right out into the open.
It’s not true. Sherlock isn’t dead. The bond is still there, I can feel it, a hard knot above my gut. Bonds dissolve when one half dies; he can’t be dead. Is he out there? Where?
John didn’t want to know why. If Sherlock was alive, he had a good reason, or at least a reason good enough for Sherlock, which wasn’t always the same thing. If this reason was important enough that he had to fake his own death – and to keep John in the dark – then John would have to trust Sherlock in his absence, and give him hell when he returned. Don’t ask questions, follow the orders of your superior officers. John had been years in the Army; he followed, perhaps not blindly, but he followed.
It was fine. He could wait. It hurt and he choked on his pillow every night and wished he could just fucking cry but the tears never came and one night he went a little crazy and threw out every one of the experiments Sherlock had left behind, and then went out at three in the morning to dig in the rubbish bin before finding the last unbroken glass vial, still coated with the purpley residue of whatever toxic substance it’d been holding. John carried it back upstairs, washed it, and put it away in Sherlock’s sock index.
He slept and dreamed of Sherlock falling and falling and falling and falling and falling and falling, and John prepared tea and folded clothes and made toast and set the table and washed the dishes and watched Sherlock fall and fall and fall.
One morning, he woke up and was peaceful. It was two months since Sherlock had jumped. The sun shone through the windows. The bond was a warm bundle inside him. He took a breath and went into the kitchen, made his tea, and drank it.
He was promptly sick in the kitchen sink. His head swam and his body shook, and the bond was there, but….
Two months and two months was four months, and every four months…and John felt fine. A bit cool, actually, and the sweat on his brow had nothing to do with internal body temperature.
“Oh God,” said John, and then because the situation warranted, “Bloody hell.”
After a moment, he rested his hand on his stomach and followed up with, “Sorry, you weren’t meant to hear that.”
And then John Watson laughed, hysterical gulps that ended with him sitting on the kitchen floor, keening, because he knew the small hard knob wasn’t his bond anymore, but something greater than either of them. Two plus two was four. One plus one sometimes equaled three.
“Fuck you fuck you fuck you,” sobbed John from the kitchen floor, because Sherlock Holmes was dead, and one plus one minus one was two, and their bond was broken, and John Watson was pregnant and had no idea what to do next.
Sebastian Moran had one plan, and that was to run. He hadn’t really known what to do when he arrived in London four months before, and that had seemed fine at the time. Jim had plans, Jim had big plans, and none of them worked out quite the way he’d intended, so Moran didn’t put much stock into plans.
Look at the Army: full of plans, full of great fantastic plans and intentions and good will, and that was a fucking disaster.
And so much could have gone wrong, when he returned to London. Those sodding apprentices. Moran didn’t understand how Jim stood it, trusting other people with the dirty work. But then, Jim was dead, shot himself through the head on the top of Barts, so maybe Jim had finally figured out that trusting was for fools.
Moran wasn’t a fool. Not like the sodding apprentices, couldn’t even conduct a simple car theft properly. Well, not even Sherlock Holmes would find those bodies.
Moran was far from a fool. That’s why he was running. Only fools stayed still when they knew their lives were at stake. Look at the sodding apprentices; stayed still and now they slept under twenty feet of concrete.
Moran had no intention of sleeping again, if it meant waking up under a concrete slab, and the thought of it kept him running. Run, rabbit, run.
Moran watched the coastline recede until it was a thin line on the horizon. A fool might have breathed a sigh of relief. Moran felt the tension knot on his back. He wondered how long he’d be able to run before she caught him. Three months? Six? He could try again in six. Give John Watson a chance to recuperate and Sherlock Holmes time to wind himself up with paranoia, and then Moran could swoop in, the dark savior angel, and prove him right.
No. No. Moran gripped the side rails and wondered if John Watson was awake yet, if his little girl sat next to his hospital bed, if Sherlock Holmes had turned the cottage in Chistlehurst upside-down looking for him. There hadn’t been time to clear it out before he ran, only steps ahead of her. She’d find him. Three months, six? Moran was a dead man walking, and he knew it. The only hope was to keep running.
The box of books in his cabin – the dead idiots might have been idiots but at least reading would take his mind off things. Maybe she’d be kind, when she found him, kill him so softly that it’d be like breathing.
He doubted it.
He didn’t dwell on the conversation, but he didn’t delete it, either. It was tucked away somewhere in his mind palace, and there was too much to keep his mind occupied already, bits of information moving rapidly from one connection to the next, and everything was happening too quickly.
The little boy – ah, the little boy was brilliant, leaving them a message in footprints and Sherlock admired him, thought he could see a bit of himself in him. Children were boring but this boy was fantastic, clever like Sherlock and brave like John. Something of a jolt; for a half a moment, Sherlock almost felt proud, as if he’d had anything to do with the boy’s genius.
But the game was on, there was no time for considering the combination of the boy and the conversation.
“Don’t scare her, she’s only seven,” said Lestrade, and it was ridiculous. Sherlock had no intention of scaring the little girl with the incredibly clever and brave brother. He was sorry the boy was still asleep; he’d have liked to shake his hand and say, “Well done.”
When she screamed – it echoed through his mind palace and shook the walls like an earthquake. Everything came tumbling out of their carefully organized rooms and scattered on the floor.
He didn’t have time to process it; he was too busy picking up memories from the floor and trying to remember where they belonged.
Back at 221B, John was a nervous bundle of energy, and Sherlock knew something was off, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Too much to do, too much to consider, and the boy and his sister’s scream were shoved in a cupboard off the foyer, because he couldn’t think about them now.
When John was shoved up against the police car, Sherlock caught the oddness again, like a whiff of something that smelled musky and sweet at the same time, but now something in him answered.
So he held a gun to John’s head and forgot they were handcuffed together and it was only once he was safely back in the labs at Bart’s that Sherlock was able to finish cleaning up the palace and sort through the last of the memories. He found the conversation wedged between the umbrella stand and the wall.
Not that old.
“Got your message,” said John when he came into the lab, and Sherlock’s breath caught in his throat. He thought fleetingly of John's birth control pills.
Ten years left, at best.
Eighty percent success rate meant twenty percent failure.
John moved slowly as Sherlock watched him, weary from the night of running, the near-arrest, the long night’s journey into day. But there wasn’t time to think about it, there was a code and a madman and a rooftop and Molly and John, who wouldn’t leave, who was determined to stay close. Who didn’t believe in Kitty Reilly or in Richard Brook. Who believed in someone else instead.
John would try to stop him. John had killed a man the first day they’d met, to save Sherlock’s life. John would do no less now.
If you want…
It was only on the rooftop, standing on the edge with John below, that the conversation and the boy and the screaming and the oddness when he stood near John all made sense. One in a thousand, or one in five. Sherlock knew statistics didn’t work that way, but somehow, statistics didn’t much matter anymore, and he couldn’t look at John without his heart stopping.
But Moriarty was dead and Molly was waiting and John (plus one) was below. The minutes were tick tock ticking faster and faster and he didn’t know how much time he had left before a gunshot ended the lives (plural, of course plural) waiting on the pavement, and Sherlock didn’t have a choice, not if he wanted to keep them both safe. (One plus one equals three, just as often as it equals two.) Sherlock took a deep breath, filling his lungs so much they hurt. Easier to pretend the pain was in his lungs than in his heart.
He hoped they would forgive him. One day.
Except there wasn’t. Sherlock jumped.