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His Best Man

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Kitchen. Morning. 0700 hours on the clock.

Mrs. Hudson (subdued, distinct periorbital puffiness) saying, "When mum passed in 92, I remember the first five days I couldn't get my feet under me, either. You'll begin to feel better now, dear. You should eat." Eggs, glassy-eyed and blank. John looks at his hands.

So. That was five days.

"Thank you." Reflexive. He’s missed the last few minutes. The nightmares have been so bad.

"I've made more to share, when he comes in."

Lungs empty. Oh God. Then just as suddenly, No, not him. Greg. Greg Lestrade, not letting him be alone. Because. Well. Many reasons.

"I couldn't manage without you, Mrs. Hudson." Voice again. A surprise.

Shoulder squeeze, kiss on the cheek. "Tea's in the pot." Light step on the stairs.

So, five days. He should start to keep track. Was the funeral yesterday? Or, has no time passed, and he is still standing on the street, blood running in the cracks of the pavement? Possible.

Stop. Ridiculous. Eat an egg on toast. Get dressed. Day five.

 

It is day twelve when John first sees the man.

The planet remains out of order, and John's shoes float on a centimeter cushion of air as he walks out of Baker Street. Greg is there, though, and that helps hold him down. He's real enough, all practicality and patience.

Greg has stayed on. His wife is serious this time, apparently, and he'd been bunking on sofas, before. Before. Before he was put on some sort of paid leave, pending. Before there was a bed made available, although he has slept on the sofa most nights. No reason Greg would know which room was Sherlock's. He'd assume that John was sleeping in his own room, yes? Recently (has it been enough time, did an invisible marker get passed that would make using Sherlock's bed less morbid?) Greg has emerged from John's room in the mornings. John imagines he has changed the linens, thinking he is sleeping in a dead man's bed.

John has not changed the linens. He can't imagine when he ever will.

But Greg is there, tethering John down to reality as he floats out of Baker Street. Greg waves down a cab and John waits.

Something flutters, just a glimpse out of the corner of his eye. John's foggy mind sparks, he looks. The man is a filthy, unobtrusive figure leaning against the phone box and digging through a wrinkled paper bag.

No one he knows. But.

Something.

Greg has a cab, and John gets in.

 

Nothing like standing before a judge on an assault charge, John realizes, to get one's feet firmly planted on the planet. Greg had tried to get him out of the hearing (due to emotional distress, no less, and god would Sherlock have loved that), but the Chief Inspector's nose had actually been broken, so here he is.

The judge is a woman, hard-faced but with gentle eyes. John wishes he could get the run-down from Sherlock, she seems like an interesting one. She listens to the evidence for less than five minutes and then sentences him to anger management counseling and a round of community service.

"That went well, John," says Greg as they retreat down the marble corridor, footfalls echoing as if they are in a high-budget spy-thriller. "Couldn't have asked for better."

"I've already been in therapy for my anger."

"Justice system. Not always that concerned with results, I'm afraid. She may as well have shaken her finger at you and said 'Just don't do it again, young man.'"

John laughs, then suddenly he can't go on. He stops. Greg stops a step later and turns around, hands in his pockets.

"You all right?" Greg Lestrade.

He has to shake his head for a few moments before words will come. "No. But Greg…th…" John hasn't cried for a week, and never in front of anyone else, but he feels it coming now.

"It's a whole mess of shit, isn't it?" Greg replies, and John sputters a little, laughs and nods, and starts walking, tight lump in his chest. Greg places a light hand on his shoulder and walks by his side.

 

The man on the street is gone when they return to the flat, but John looks at where he was standing and can feel the throb of memory like an image afterburn in his brain.

Greg orders in and Mrs. Hudson joins them. It is almost normal, for a moment. Sherlock might be out on a wander, as he does. He wouldn't eat anyway. Maybe there's a case. He'll hop up the stairs two at a time. Any moment now.

Supper is cleared. John waits. No one comes.

Night. The lights go out and John swims into Sherlock's sheets, nose buried in his pillow, and reality crashes in around him. Night is for this. The replay, making it all real.

The part that plays over the most is the crying. The honest to god crying, because Jesus, John had never heard that before, and the only way he can process the terror of those tears is to listen to them again and again and again until they become nonsense and he can sleep.

Also, the falling, slow and beautiful and relentless.

He watches it like a film, listens to the trembling voice (it never trembled) and sees that one hand, stretching out (to touch him? to grab on? to say goodbye?). And then he watches the whole thing again. John knows he has other memories, a whole life before that moment, but he can't access those in the dark anymore. Only this. So he wades in, takes a deep breath, and submerges.

 

Day fifteen. Greg takes him to a film. "Get your mind on something else for a few hours, John. I’m buying." It's an American thing with lots of explosions. Flashback material, before, but Helmand has been replaced for the moment.

The man is there as usual when they return to Baker Street, leaning against the phone box with a paper bag. John stops and stares and feels the tug of…something. Greg has bought sandwiches, so John allows his obedient feet to carry him up to the flat.

Top of the stairs. Greg is still and concerned in the center of the room, and Mrs. Hudson is there, tea ready and hands wringing. "I'm sorry, John, but I couldn't say no, not to him, he’s family. I know you'd have wanted to help, picked some things to keep. You should phone him, he's not unreasonable…"

It takes John a full minute to realize what is wrong. Sherlock has been removed from the flat while they were away. Violin, skull, chemistry set-up. Bookshelf has been picked clean. Leather armchair missing. John is freely floating again, untethered, from kitchen to bedrooms to bathroom. Clothes, all three cupboards and every drawer. Laptop. Toothbrush and deodorant and shampoo. Dressing gowns. Hair brush. Bed linens. Oh god.

Mycroft. Has to be. Suddenly coming all full of brotherly nostalgia? Or paranoid that the flat is full of national secrets hastily stored in jam jars? Probably both. John imagines the team of agents it must have taken to clear out so much shit in three hours. They must have watched for the moment John and Greg left and then moved in.

John doesn't stop walking, passes the worried glances, down the stairs, out the door, and away. Just away, as fast as possible, walking hard, until he can feel the ground under his feet again.

 

Home. Early morning. Greg is asleep on the sofa in his clothes. John considers the state of his back trying to get comfortable on that thing. He should offer to pay for a masseuse. Maybe a pretty one. Yes. He'll do that.

John drops his jacket on the (only) chair and Greg stirs with the sound. Rubs his hand down his face as he swings his legs over and sits up, stretching.

"Back?"

"Yep. Yes." John doesn't know what this moment will be. He turns to the kitchen and starts the kettle.

"All right?"

John can't answer. God. Sherlock would know better than to ask that. Suddenly John misses him so much he has to lean all of his weight against the counter to remain standing.

"I've moved my things out of your room so you can use it, now the other room's cleared out,” Greg says. Thankfully, John's turned away, so Greg cannot see his flush.

"Sure. Right." Watches the start of bubbles in the kettle. "Didn't think you knew."

"John. I know I'm not…him…but I am a damn good detective. I can determine whose bedroom I'm sleeping in."

John snorts, and closes his eyes.

"Honestly, I thought…" Greg hesitates. "Well, we had all sorts of theories. I was never sure, but I imagined…"

The kettle clicks off, and John rattles the mugs as loudly as he can. "Imagined?"

"So, you weren't? There were still two."

John pours a mug, tries not to spill. Hand shaking. “Two?”

"Bedrooms."

John finishes the tea, milk for him, one sugar for Greg, and stirs slowly. "There were two." Takes a breath. Walks in to sit in his chair and face the empty space in front of it.

Greg stands to take his cup, then sits again. Legs splayed, elbows on knees, concern and curiosity at war on his face. "But you were…together." He says it. It's not a question.

“I can’t...” John's gaze comes to rest on Sherlock’s leather chair, inexplicably pushed into the far corner of the room, a pile of sheet music left neatly on the seat. Huh.

Greg's phone buzzes in the silence. He closes his eyes, sighs, and looks. "Christ. John. I've got to take this. The Yard."

"Ah, you back on?" The chair. His eyes can't leave it.

"In a manner. Sort of...special assignment." Buzzes again. "Sorry."

"No. It's fine. Good. It's your job."

Greg quirks his lips to the right, brow creased, then says, "Right. I'll be a moment," and vanishes into the bathroom.

John stares at the displaced chair, and his tea cools before he remembers to take a sip.

 

Greg rushes out of the flat ten minutes later, shave cream dotting his collar.

Walking all night has cleared John's head. He should sleep, but he’s wired. He starts a room by room survey.

Sherlock is not entirely gone.

His fur-lined winter boots are in the downstairs cupboard, tucked behind John's dusty combat boots and Mrs. Hudson's Wellies. One piece from Sherlock’s art collection still hangs on the wall (the poor copy of Vermeer's 'View of Delft' that John found at a boot sale and gave to Sherlock as a joke- he dubbed it 'the fake' and John painted a little supernova in the center). The pile of sheet music on the chair, and two other folders tucked into the lowest bookshelf (all Bach, for some reason). John pulls all of the books off every shelf in the flat and sorts them (memories of bins and bins of books flood back, and John's chest tightens and hardens), finding enough that are Sherlock's to cover the sofa in teetering piles. All manner of things left in storage: three old microscopes, hundreds of slides in an old chest, an entire cupboard of chemistry gear, his immense soil and rock collection, all labeled in precise, tiny hand. His furniture: bed, dresser, ancestral side tables. All of his spare linens. A half empty bottle of his home-brewed hair serum in the third drawer (the scent, John hides it away and slams the drawer). An almost full bottle of scotch (two glasses drunk, shortly after Dartmoor, Sherlock hoping to better John’s pedestrian taste), and John has to sit down for a few minutes after he finds it.

So. Not all of his things. Just. Some. Did they simply miss the rest? No. Mycroft doesn't miss things. So. Just his everyday things. His. Jesus.

Why does this feel worse?

 

Day twenty. He tries to explain, even wants to explain, but the words won’t come, no matter how thoughtfully Ella sits at attention across from him, her notepad and pen at the ready.

Therapy adds an odd realism to the surreal life John has been leading, having to admit out loud truths he cannot even think in his head. In the worst silences, he reminds himself the session counts towards his sentence, and then he can breathe again.

 

Day twenty-two. John jerks awake in a hot sweat late at night, and barely contains a shout.

He’s got it. Cyclist. Cyclist.

Being knocked to the pavement, quick glimpse of sturdy knees, shoes, cap, profile, shoulders as he rode away without stopping. Head slammed. No. No time for pain. Sherlock. He's falling. He's falling. Not too late. Catch him. Run.

Cyclist. It’s the same man. The man on the street, at the phone box, with the paper bag. The man on the bicycle at Bart's. John has never been more certain about anything in his life.

He's up and pacing now. Cyclist. Why? Why? Why would the same man who knocked him down on his bicycle be lurking at the door of Baker Street sorting a paper bag and looking like he slept in the gutter? Was he run down on purpose? Who is he? Damn, Sherlock would know. He would have known the first day. Breath coming hard. Fuck. Fuck it all. Fuck you. Why did you do it? Why did you leave me here alone??

"All right?" Greg cracks open the door.

John's fist is through the plaster. "I think I need some help, actually."

"Bloody hell, John." Greg, in his pajamas. He chips out the sharper pieces and pulls back wallpaper without further comment, and John wrenches his hand free, knuckles bloodied and raw.

"Anything broken? Besides the wall, I mean?" Greg calls to John as he washes and cleans his hand in the bathroom.

"No." But it hurts like hell. "I can manage it here, no need to go in."

John finishes bandaging, and then splashes water on his face. It's four in the morning.

The cyclist. Could be Moriarty's man, of course. But why knock John over? Moriarty would want John to see… to see it all, wouldn't he? Still. John thinks about where his gun is hidden.

Out in the living room, Greg has tea prepared. His hair is pressed up to standing on one side and John smiles. Everything seems a little bit sharper than it has for weeks.

"The hole in the wall will make Mrs. Hudson think it's old times around here," John says lightly, and then his chest closes in and he can hardly breathe.

"Is there anything you want to talk about?" Greg Lestrade.

"Nothing really."

"That's a bloody great hole in the wall over nothing."

John nods. "Just sorting something out."

"Yeah?"

Nothing to lose. "There's been a man, a street person, on Baker Street. I recognize him. He was there, when Sherlock...outside Bart's. I think he's watching me."

"Oh." John sees Greg straighten up, filing that thought away, looking quite like a policeman tonight, save the hair. "Who do you reckon it is?"

"Don't know. I just put it together. It's probably nothing." It's not nothing, though. "I'll tell you if I see him again."

"Do that. Do that, John."

A formalness in Greg's tone, in the set of his shoulders, and something obvious clicks into place in John's head. He sets down his cup.

"Greg, why are you here?"

He looks up. "What do you mean?" Still his work face. Why didn't John notice before?

"I mean here. It's been weeks. Staying in my flat."

Greg's quiet. He doesn't even try to pretend.

"I'm your special assignment. Is that it? Jesus. Am I in custody?"

Greg sets down his cup and runs his fingers through his hair, settling it back down. Sigh. He slumps back on the sofa. A man who has been waiting to be caught. "Not custody, no. Of course not, John."

"So. Surveillance?"

Greg's lips are pinched. "I'm here first as your friend, John. Honestly."

"But?" John's blood is racing and his hand is throbbing.

"We should sort it out in the morning."

"I just put my hand through a wall, Greg. Let’s sort it now."

"I…" Another sigh. “The thing is, we still don't know, do we? Not really. And we know he talked to you. Before he jumped." Suddenly John can't breathe. "He never even ended the call, just tossed his mobile aside." Oh god. John didn't know that. "What did he say to you?"

John can't feel his toes. "I…can't…"

"John, look at me." Greg's voice is clear and calming. John looks. "Right now, it appears to almost everyone that Sherlock Holmes arranged countless crimes and murders in order to glorify himself as a master detective, fled from the police, then dragged his hired help to a rooftop, shot him in the head, and jumped off a building to his death."

John inhales so hard he makes himself choke. Greg doesn’t flinch. "We don't have much to go on, John. I don't want to believe it, but I can't undo it without you. And we can undo it, if it isn't true." Greg's eyes are clear and steady.

“It isn’t true.”

"But...” Greg leans in and almost whispers. John cannot get his breath. “But...John, if all of those cases were really him, his crimes…if he fooled us all, you included. Then I was the one who invited him in. And I. I have to…to make it right." Impossible position. God. "Please, John. That phone call. What did he say to you?"

Rooftop, hand reaching out. ”It's…all true.”

John stands up and shakes off a shiver that runs through his entire body. "So that's why you’re here? Gathering evidence? Waiting for me to share a confidence and solve your case?"

"John."

"I have to go to bed. My hand hurts."

"John, if someone is following you, watching you, I can offer protection. I'm your friend, John. Truly." Greg's voice follows him all the way to Sherlock's bare mattress. John collapses there, and doesn't sleep at all.

 

Sometime in the late morning, John lies flat across the bed staring at the ceiling, thoughts spinning whirling shifting. Perhaps this is what it is like to be Sherlock. The thought is agony.

So. The cyclist. At Bart’s, and then outside his door. In disguise. Watching him? Why? Sherlock’s things gone, but not gone. Hair serum. Delft. Winter boots. Richard Brook dead on the roof. But. There is no Richard Brook. So, Moriarty, dead. Killed by Sherlock? Maybe so. That cyclist. Why knock John down? And why leave that scotch? Mycroft probably adores the stuff, so. Why?

”It's…all true.”

But it isn’t. John knows that. It is not a guess or a deduction. Sherlock is not a fake, and that is a plain, ordinary, old-fashioned fact.

Why, Sherlock? Why?

Greg is gone when John emerges from the bathroom later, clean and clear and pressed. And desperate to talk to Sherlock.

“Mrs. Hudson?” Down the stairs. “Would you? Come with? To the...to visit him.”

They gather a few things and Mrs. Hudson shares a sugary cup of coffee with John (more damn memories) before they head out to the pavement.

The man, the cyclist, is there again, against the phone box, crumpled bag in hand, as John ushers Mrs. Hudson into the cab for the cemetery. This time John stares at him and the man meets his eye, then looks away. As they pull out, John looks back. He can swear the man is texting.

 

 

Don’t. Be. Dead.

He’d left the flat so confident, but the newly turned soil and the black, glossy headstone (utterly bleak, selected by Mycroft no doubt) and the sad flowers break him down so quickly that he cannot even remember what he needs to say until the very last moment.

Don’t. Be. Dead.

On the way home, he texts Greg.

The watcher is back. Won’t return to the flat. Told Mrs. H I'll be away without worrying her.

And then, because they are friends first, truly.

Don’t worry. Not running. Going to my sister’s. Contact me there.

Don’t. Be. Dead.

The cab drops Mrs. Hudson off but John continues on to Regent's Park. He needs to walk and think. Something sharp edged and dangerous is starting to take shape in his mind. Because.

Because, some man knocked him down so that he didn’t really see Sherlock after he...hit the ground; and because that same man has been watching his flat and looking very much like a homeless man being well-paid; and because someone came and took out some, but not all, of Sherlock’s things, the things one might need, say, to set up a short-term bolthole, not planning for winter; and because Sherlock told John ”It's…all true,” when it is most definitely not true; but mostly because, Sherlock, because fuck you, you taught me how to think this way.

These are all things, John thinks, that mean - when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth - that Sherlock might not be...no. He saw him. The blood. No. Don’t think. Prove it.

Okay. So. If he did it, if he...isn’t...he didn’t ask John to help. For some reason. John does not think about that too deeply right now. So. Someone helped. If he did it. It would be hard.

These are perilous thoughts. John sits on a bench and stares out at some ducks.

He’s awake now. Feet on the ground, fog cleared, world glowing like crystal. Because. Maybe he’s. Not.

So, who? Who helped?

Phone.

John hasn’t been much of a correspondent, since. His in-box is full of unread and unanswered messages and texts from friends, reporters, Harry, Mycroft, Mike, even fucking Anderson. Nervy bastard. Jesus, they must be worried about him. He texts Harry, asking if he can stay. She texts right back. YES.

He scrolls through the mess of notes. Searching. Sherlock would know what to look for. John isn’t sure. He sends brief responses to anyone who sounds desperately worried.

He walks some more, phone in hand, gravel crunching in a solid, lively way underfoot. Would Sherlock go to Mycroft? He would hate that, but if anyone could help him disappear it would be his brother. Obvious though. Boring. Keep thinking.

Wait.

He scans through his texts and voicemails again. Then again. To be sure. Then again. Nope, not there. Not once.

John sits, his breath shallow. This is madness, just some phase of grief (denial?) that he is passing through like any ordinary bloke who misses his friend.

But.

He sets his shoulders, brings up his contacts, and hits call. Just to be sure.

Her voice is watery and uncertain when she answers. “John? Is it you?”

“Molly.”

“Oh John. I’m so sorry.”

Long pause. Too long. Awkward. John’s heart accelerates. Maybe.

“Is he alive, Molly?”

He was going to say something else, something conversational to start. But. Don’t. Be. Dead.

Silence. Thick. Then, “What do you mean?” Not “No.”

“I think he might be, Molly.”

Then, in her soft whisper, “Oh god.”

“You never phoned me. You should have called.”

“I...” Molly’s voice cracks and John steadies his heart for the inevitable. This is the woman who knows, who felt his cold skin and who washed the blood and who held his organs in her hands. He waits for the door to slam shut forever, breath held and feet flat on the ground.

Then, she says, so quiet he can hardly hear, “He said not to.”

"He?"

Breathless. Oh god. Oh. John floats free for a blissful moment, high above the park, taking in the full view of his city (gray and gorgeous, ancient and alive, the battlefield).

"John, I...can't..." panicked whisper. Then silence. Call ended.

He closes his eyes and drifts back down to the bench, utterly peaceful. Because. Maybe.

The world is made of crystal.

 

John sits in the corner of a pub, enjoying his second pint of utter relief, when he starts thinking again.

Maybe. No, probably. And probably Molly knows how, and where, and that is...well...John can’t come up with proper words to describe what that is, only knows that he has been blissed out and grinning for the past hour. He’s felt like this only one other time in recent memory (two glasses of Scotch, firelight, don’t think about that, John). Now that the euphoria is starting to wear off, he is left with the fact that Sherlock likely faked his death, forcing John to be a witness, and has disappeared without a word. So. What the fuck.

Perhaps he should be angry now? John considers it, rolls the emotion around in his head, but nope, it doesn’t take. He’s just relieved. No, not relieved. Giddy. Ecstatic.

The question that needles its way into his head, though, is why? WHY?

What would Sherlock do with a problem of this magnitude? John takes a long draw off his pint and imagines. Rude insults to clear the room, nicotine patches (or cigarettes, John’s no fool), abuse, mind palace, irritated and active silence until it all falls into place. (Alive. He’s alive.) Well, John is alone, doesn’t smoke, and hasn’t built a mind hovel, much less palace, so his methods will have to be more concrete.

He takes his empty to the bar and orders another, then asks for a paper napkin and a pen.

Evidence for:
Phone call- Mrs. Hudson shot. A way to get rid of me?
Cyclist- intentionally knocked me down so I couldn’t see
Now watching the flat
Homeless network?
Molly knows something, never called me
She said he
Molly was in charge of the autopsy and death certificate
She helped

John pauses and runs his fingers through the cool condensation on his glass and reads over his work. Ah, there’s this.

Mycroft removed his stuff from flat
Mycroft knows where he is

Now. Close eyes, play through the events at Bart’s again. It is surprising that with the agony gone, the scene plays much more clearly. Sentiment, John. Then he adds to the list.

Sherlock insisted I not move
Controlled what I could see
Sherlock confessed to being a fake
Sherlock told me to tell everyone he was a fake

Huh. John reads that bit again.

Sherlock told me to tell everyone he was a fake

This wasn’t a suicide note. Sherlock knew he wasn’t about to die. So. Not a confession at all. ”Tell anyone who will listen to you.” Not a confession.

Instructions.

Wait.

He’s faked his death, and John and everyone else of consequence believes it. Hell, there’s a bloody obnoxious grave marker that must have cost a small fortune over freshly turned soil with sad flowers in front. He’s brilliant at this sort of thing. A genius. John should not be able to discover the truth this easily. So. Why?

Why hire a man I might recognize (cyclist) to watch flat
Why only have Mycroft remove some things, not all
Why tell Molly not to call me (I’d expect it)

Sloppy. That’s not it, though. No.

Breadcrumbs. The word pops into his head. A trail of evidence left behind that only John can follow. A personal message. Vermeer, 'the fake'. The scotch, that particular scotch. Oh god. John takes a long drink and stares at the scrawls on the napkin. Molly’s silence, Mycroft setting the scene, cyclist on stakeout. Scotch and supernova for John. Jesus. Even his fucking armchair was in a new place but not gone.

He meant for me to figure it out.

The pen tears through the napkin, he presses so hard.

Greg’s words come back to him. "We know he talked to you. Before he jumped. He never even ended the call." He never ended the call to John. He never ended the call, because the line is still open.

Damn it, Sherlock. You utter dick.

It’s day twenty-three. John figures it out.

 

 

So.

John’s heart takes hours to slow. The world has flipped on its head once more, and so he walks, hard and fast, to let his mind catch up. Now what, Sherlock?

He knows what to do next, though. Sherlock told him, clear as day.

The cyclist is nowhere to be seen when he has his cab drive by, so John sneaks into Baker Street after dark and packs for a few nights away. Harry is waiting on her doorstep in her flannel pajamas, arms crossed and looking frighteningly like their mother. She plys him with tea and doesn’t ask any questions.

 

The next steps are unpleasant but obvious, and they start on the phone. It is late when John settles into his room, but he has his orders.

Mycroft answers on the fifth ring. “John.”

“Mycroft.”

“How are you?”

“Better now. Been thinking, and now I’m feeling downright peachy.”

“Oh, are you? I see.”

That tone. All of the hairs on John’s neck stand up. “You’ll be interested to know that we had a break-in at Baker Street a while back. Loads of things lifted. Landlady saw the great arse responsible and would be eager to point him out in a line-up.”

“I thought it time you phoned. I was considering sending round a car if another week passed.” John can hear his smug little smirk through the phone. He thinks because John’s figured it out that he’s forgiven.

“I have nothing to say to you.”

“Odd that you phoned, then, isn’t it?”

Rage boils under John’s skin. “Lose the chummy tone, Mycroft.”

John can hear the rustle and creak of Mycroft settling back in his chair. “Very well. What can I do for you, Doctor Watson?”

“I need money.”

A slight pause. “No.”

John almost flings the phone against the wall. His teeth clench and his voice is a hiss. “Listen, you right bastard, the things I know about, the things you’ve done...Should I phone the bbc or would a print source be more dignified...?”

“John. Stop.” Mycroft’s tone has shifted entirely. “Allow me to finish.” John breathes through his nose and listens. “No. You do not.”

“What’s that?”

“No. You do not need money.”

Flinging the phone has become a viable option again. “Yes, actually, I do.”

An infuriating sigh. “My brother was not very forward thinking in most regards, Doctor, but it appears in his final hours he drafted a will. You are the sole beneficiary of his monetary resources, which I assure you, are quite sufficient for whatever you may need.”

Oh god. Oh god. John rubs his eyes and breathes to compose himself. “And...and...you were going to tell me this, when, exactly?”

“As I said, I was planning to send round a car.”

“Right.”

“As it is, I’ll have the papers brought to your sister’s tomorrow evening. A signature is required and it is all yours. Very tidy.”

Very tidy. God, Sherlock. Stop being so good at this.

“Anything else you require, John?”

Mycroft knows where he is. John sets his shoulders. “The...thieves. At Baker Street. They...stole some of your brother’s things."

“Indeed. Did they? What a shame."

"I wonder..." John lowers his voice, "...where those items are now.”

"Doctor Watson, we mustn’t forget that Sherlock is dead, and has no further use for material possessions," Mycroft says, with all the confidence of a man who knows his phone is tapped. "Looking for them would surely be a waste of precious time.”

John closes his eyes. So. No shortcut to him. Only straight through. “Right. Yes.” John’s heart is in his throat.

“Don’t fret, John. When they are ready, lost items almost always turn up.”

Mycroft ends the call. John covers his face in his hands and sits still for a long time, just breathing.

 

John sleeps hard and deep in Harry’s guest room, a stark modern affair with white linens, white furniture, and white walls. The calming blankness is a relief after his cluttered weeks inside his own head. He doesn’t remember his dreams.

In the morning, he wanders out to the kitchen. Harry is there, dressed in her crisply ironed dress shirt and slacks, calmly cracking open a box of pastries from the bakery up the street. She’s never been one to cook.

“Got you some breakfast, Johnny.”

“Thanks.”

They sit at the marble-topped island in the kitchen, Harry smoking, John eating a scone with his coffee. Silence.

Harry stubs out her first, and says, “Do you need to talk or anything?”

“Um. No.”

“How long do you need to stay?” She lights up a second. God, he misses Sherlock.

“Just a day or two. Thanks and all.” He pours another cup of coffee from the pot and helps himself to milk. “I’m good now.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m leaving. London. For a while.” It’s the only way he can stand it, he’s realized.

Harry looks up, and takes a long drag. “Shouldn’t you stay where you can see your therapist?”

John swallows hard and avoids her judgmental gaze. “I’m not a head case, Harry. I’m fine.”

“You never should have been over there.”

John sets his mug down harder than he means to. “My best friend killed himself in front of me, Harry. This has nothing to do with politics or Afghanistan. Or you.”

She sighs and breathes out a plume of smoke in his face that makes John melt with memory. “Right. Okay.”

“Jesus, Harry.” He picks a croissant from the pastry box. “I’ll have to find a new therapist anyway. When I get settled.”

“You’ll tell me where you are?” She doesn’t meet his eyes.

“Yeah. All right.” John grabs his coffee mug and turns back to the guest room. “Sorry. I have to make a call.”

 

The next step, the irrevocable step. The phone rings only once before it is picked up.

“Lestrade, here.”

Swallow, steady. “Greg, hi. It’s John.”

“John, thank fuck. Glad you called. That was a real cock-up at the flat the other night. You all right today?”

“Greg.” John’s body is vibrating. “I’m ready to talk.”

Long silence. “What?”

“I’m ready to tell you. About the phone call.”

“John? You certain?”

He winces at Greg’s pained tone. He almost can’t do it, but he has his orders. Sherlock made this so easy. John doesn’t even have to lie.

“Get a pen. I’ll tell you what he said to me. Every word.”

They rattle off his tongue easily, John knows them so well. It is just like falling.

***

“An apology. It’s all true.

Everything they said about me. I invented Moriarty. I’m a fake. The newspapers were right all along. I want you to tell Lestrade; I want you to tell Mrs Hudson, and Molly. In fact, tell anyone who will listen to you that I created Moriarty for my own purposes. It’s a trick. Just a magic trick.

This phone call – it’s my note. It’s what people do, don’t they – leave a note?

Goodbye, John.”