By the time the cab stops, James has dozed off. Sherlock shakes his shoulder lightly. James bolts awake, wide eyes looking everywhere. He relaxes again when he sees Sherlock, and insists on carrying his suitcase up the three flights of stairs.
There’s not much to the flat; one look shows all there is to it. Sherlock gestures to the back, where a small bed is pushed against the wall.
“You’re falling asleep on your feet,” he says. “Go to bed. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
James doesn’t move except to turn his head minutely toward the sofa.
“I can sleep there,” he says in a quiet voice. “I don’t need a bed.”
“Nonsense. I sleep on the sofa all the time.”
“But it’s your bed,” James insists. “Really, the sofa would be fine.”
It’s more than politeness, Sherlock realizes when he catches a glint of something wary in James’ eyes. Something that doesn’t belong in a child’s eyes at all.
“The sofa is fine,” he says gruffly, “which is why it’s mine. And I’m fairly certain that you being the child and I being the adult means you do what I say. Go to bed.”
James practically jumps. “Yes sir.”
Sherlock doesn’t bother correcting him. He’s beginning to understand that some things are going to take time. Out of two dead men, he’s not sure if one is more to blame than the other or if they’re both equally at fault. What he is sure of, however, even so soon after first meeting James, is that both Moriarty and Moran died much too quickly.
Shrugging out of his jacket, he walks to the bathroom and closes the door. Usually, he doesn’t bother as the tiny room is downright claustrophobic, but the feeling is in his head and he resolutely ignores it. For the first time that night, he takes a good look at the wound low on his left side; it bled a lot, but it turns out to be a bad graze rather than a through and through. He cleans up, disinfects the wound, bandages it, all by rote. Taking care of his body is a chore he’d much rather entrust to someone else.
When in passing he sees his reflection in the mirror, he barely recognizes himself. His features are as familiar as ever, of course, just… sharper. Almost gaunt. The sparse facial hair darkening his cheeks, chin and upper lip definitely add to the feeling of otherness. It was fine until tonight. It was even necessary. Not anymore.
It’s late, he’s exhausted both physically and mentally, he’s in pain – but this can’t wait. With slow, careful movements, he runs the blade of a razor over his skin and relearns the contours of his own face.
When he finally comes out of the bathroom, he almost feels like himself again. It’s going to take a little more than that, but it’s a good first step.
The flat is so perfectly quiet that it’s easy to forget he’s not alone. Lying on the sofa, he closes his eyes but he’s not quite ready to sleep. First, he reviews the events of the night, rechecks everything, makes sure he didn’t leave any thread hanging. When he’s satisfied he hasn’t overlooked anything in his desire to be done with his hunt, he closes that door and opens a new one.
What is it going to take to go back to his old life? Can he even go back, fully and completely? These three years changed him, and not just physically. What’s more disquieting, though, is that he’s not sure he wants it all back exactly as it was. Having lived without some things, he’s come to realize how much they meant to him.
He texts the address of his flat to Mycroft. That’s one thing done. He’s still trying to figure out in which order he’ll do the rest of the forty-two items on his list when he hears the first whimper. Strangely enough, it’s all too familiar, for all that he hasn’t heard anything like it in four, almost five years.
For a good six months after John first moved in, he had nightmares at least once a week, usually two or three times. He never mentioned them. Neither did Sherlock. But whenever the tell-tales sounds filtered down through the old walls of the flat, Sherlock would accidentally knock down a pile of books, or bang a door, or otherwise make some obnoxious noise. Sometimes, he’d have to repeat the process two or three times. Eventually, though, John would wake, and presumably go back to a more restful sleep.
There’s nothing to knock down within reach, and the thought of getting up is as intolerable as the idea of letting those quiet whimpers continue.
“James,” he says in a loud voice. He has to say it a second time before, at the other end of the room, a gasp and rustling sheets tell him the child is awake. He’s breathing hard, though trying not to make noise.
“Are you awake?” Sherlock asks.
“Good. I was wondering. Do you know additional languages other than Italian?”
There’s a beat of silence before James answers. “French,” he says. “And a bit of German. But Fa… Father said my German was terrible.”
“All right. Maybe we’ll work on that. That’s all. You can go back to sleep.”
The room falls silent again, but a few minutes later James’ voice rises softly.
“Sherlock? Are you… I know you said you’re sure, but… are you really sure?”
Sherlock refrains from sighing, although he’s not even sure why.
“Yes. I am really sure.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Soon, there’s nothing more than the sound of quiet breaths echoing through the flat. Sherlock never even realizes he drifts into sleep.
Sherlock couldn’t say what wakes him: the sound of his name or knocking on the door. He opens his eyes, and James is there, just beyond arm’s reach, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, his hair mussed up but his eyes alert.
“There’s someone at the door,” he whispers. “Are we running?”
Sherlock sits up, then frowns. “Why would we run?” he asks gruffly, blinking against the light pouring in through the bare window.
And then he remembers to whom he is speaking.
“No, we’re not running,” he says as he stands and crosses the small flat to the door, belting his robe over his t-shirt and pajamas.
He expected to find one of his brother’s lackeys behind the door. Instead, it’s Mycroft himself who stands there, looking as startled by Sherlock’s appearance as Sherlock is to see him.
“Dear God, are you ill?” Mycroft asks as he pushes his way in. “You must have lost nearly a stone.”
“And you must have gained it,” Sherlock replies instantly. “Diet not working so well anymore? You should try being on the run for a year or two.”
Whatever Mycroft meant to say, he falls silent when he notices James, still standing by the sofa. Sherlock grimaces. Why couldn’t Mycroft have sent a lackey to deliver the thick envelope he still has in hand?
“And who do we have here?” Mycroft asks after a second or two, and it’s not clear if the question is for James or Sherlock.
James’ eyes dart to Sherlock, questioning. Sherlock shakes his head minutely. James takes a step back, then another, turning away then darting back to the rumpled bed. The sheet and blanket have been tucked in neatly and a book rests on the pillow. It seems he’s been awake for a while. He sits there and picks up the book, appearing instantly absorbed by his reading. Out of the way, quiet, unobtrusive, seemingly uninterested by whatever is going on near him… He’s been well trained. Sherlock is as fascinated as he is appalled.
Mycroft, on the other hand, seems to err toward confusion.
“Would you care to explain?” he asks, turning a frown to Sherlock.
“No,” Sherlock says, holding out his hand.
Mycroft holds the envelope to his chest, a nonchalant hand wrapped around it. “Answer the question, Sherlock.”
“It’s none of your business.”
Eyes to the sky; old patterns are so easy to return to.
“You know I can find out by my own means.”
Sherlock snorts. “I’d like to see you try. It might be interesting to see what kind of nonsense you find.”
Given Moriarty’s skills in creating imaginary people, Sherlock is reasonably certain that James has a story already written, somewhere out there, only waiting for someone to come looking for it.
“Sherlock.” Mycroft’s voice cracks like a whip; like ice. “You coming back to life after a fake suicide is going to take some damage control on my part. Having some unidentified child with you would make my efforts a fool’s errand.”
The Ice Man echoes through Sherlock’s mind. As nicknames go, that one was fairly accurate.
As much as it pains him to admit it, Mycroft might – just might, mind – have a point. The presence of a child at his side will definitely raise questions. He could claim James is his son, but who would believe that? He’d need at least some kind of proof to back up that claim. Not that he intends to keep the child around for very long, but until he finds him a better place to be, a cover story would probably be helpful.
“James,” Sherlock says, raising his voice.
On the bed, James’ head snaps up at once.
“We’ll be going out as soon as Mycroft leaves. Unless you intend to go shopping unwashed and in the same clothes you wore all night, I suggest you make use of the bathroom. Your hair could use a good combing, too.”
James’ gaze flicks up to the top of Sherlock’s head, but if he thinks Sherlock is bordering on hypocritical, he keeps it to himself. Clutching the carry-on in both arms, he hurries into the bathroom and locks the door behind him. Soon, they can hear water running.
Mycroft has been observing the proceedings with a light frown. When Sherlock walks over to the window and opens it, letting in noise from the street below, he seems to catch on and comes closer, asking again, although more quietly, “Who is he?”
“Moriarty’s son,” Sherlock says coolly, observing his brother for a reaction.
All he gets is a slight widening of Mycroft’s eyes.
“I… see,” Mycroft says, glancing at the closed bathroom door. “And the reason he is here?”
Sherlock shrugs. “He asked to come with me. He seems reasonably smart for his age and I have questions about his father.”
“And when you get your answers… what do you intend to do then?”
Mycroft shakes his head. “He’s a child, Sherlock. You can’t just use him for information.”
“No?” Sherlock drops his voice lower still. “I’m pretty sure being used for information will be nothing compared to what he was used for by his previous caretakers.”
The lack of reaction on Mycroft’s part can only mean he noticed something, a clue that guided him to the same conclusion Sherlock just hinted at.
“If that’s the case,” he says, “then what he needs is to be in the care of people who know how to deal with this kind of thing. You hardly qualify.”
Sherlock doesn’t gag, but it’s a close thing. “You think he’d be better off talking to a psychiatrist?”
For all the venom he puts in the word, it might as well be an insult. The look Mycroft offers him in reply is close enough to pity that Sherlock strides away from him, going to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from his jacket. He lights one with vindictive relish, more interested in changing the conversation to his bad habits than he is to talk about the past. Before Mycroft can decide to stay on course or switch gears, the door of the bathroom opens and James walks out.
The jeans are a little bit longer than the other pair but still too short. The shirt is too large, and it’s missing a button. What stops Sherlock’s cigarette halfway to his mouth however is James’ hair. Sherlock suggested combing it. James took that to heart, wetting it a little and slicking it back. The resemblance was there before; now, it’s startling.
“Is that better?” he asks.
Sherlock nods, then exhales a huff of smoke. A grimace flashes through James’ face but he schools his features. He walks back to the bed, setting the suitcase next to it, and sits on the edge, reaching for his book again.
Stepping forward, Mycroft throws a glare to Sherlock’s cigarette but says nothing about it. Instead, he addresses James.
“Sherlock told me you asked to stay with him.”
James looks up at Mycroft, then glances at Sherlock, questioning again. When Sherlock nods, James replies.
“Why? Believe me, he’s not the most pleasant person to be around.”
“He’s the smartest person I’m aware of,” James says. “I don’t really care about pleasant.”
Sherlock has a hard time hiding a smug grin, even more so when Mycroft throws him a dirty look.
“He may think he’s the smartest—” Mycroft starts, but James interrupts him quietly.
“Father thought he was the smartest man he knew. Including you, sir.”
This time, Sherlock doesn’t bother hiding his grin. Mycroft’s face might as well be a block of marble carved only halfway for all the life and emotions it doesn’t convey.
Turning his back squarely on James, Mycroft finally hands Sherlock the envelope that was the purpose of this visit. With the cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, Sherlock opens it and peeks in. A few official-looking documents; he can look at those later. For now, he pulls out a familiar lump of leather. Looking through it, he finds that everything is in order, from his bank card to his driving license. There are even stub tickets, three years old, for a gala he and John attended for a case. That was just weeks before Sherlock’s fall from grace. It’s not just a wallet stuffed with his things; it’s his wallet.
He looks at Mycroft with an eyebrow raised. Mycroft looks away, back toward James.
“How about… distant cousin?” he offers thoughtfully. “Mummy had a great-uncle who produced a rather alarming number of offspring.”
Sherlock shrugs, pulling deeply on his cigarette. “Whatever you think is best,” he exhales, but the whole point is, exactly, that they’re not doing what Mycroft thinks is best. Which is just how Sherlock likes things.
Ten minutes later, Mycroft is gone, Sherlock is dressed, and he and James head out.
“Where are we going?” James asks.
He’s wearing his parka again; zipped, this time. Sherlock tries not to think of explosives.
“I need clothes,” Sherlock says. “So do you, actually.”
James nods gravely. “I know. These are awful. Sebastian said to think of it as a disguise but…”
He gives an exaggerated shudder. Sherlock knows exactly how he feels.
“But before that…” James peers up at him. “Do you think we could find something to eat? There wasn’t much at all in your fridge. Or at least, nothing I dared eat.”
Which, on one hand, is a good thing because Sherlock’s mini-fridge is more a receptacle for in-progress experiments than edible stuff. On the other hand, Sherlock has always considered stopping to eat somewhere a waste of time. Well, not always. When his companion was hungry, it was a necessity to endure. And since his current companion is hungry… The tailor will have to wait a bit.
They stop at a Chinese place whose door handle looks promising. James orders without hesitation and eats with gusto. It’s only when he’s halfway done that Sherlock realizes he still hasn’t asked him anything. He’s not even sure where to start. He goes for the first thing that crosses his mind.
“So what did you think of Mycroft?”
James shrugs. “I don’t think he likes me much.”
Sherlock gives him a half-smile. “He doesn’t like anyone much. Try not to be crushed.”
Returning the half-smile, James goes back to his fried rice. He holds the chopsticks almost delicately, and closer to the end than most people do. After a moment, without looking up, he says, “I don’t need to see a psychiatrist. Or a psychologist. Or any kind of therapist.”
“You eavesdropped,” Sherlock says in reply.
“You were talking about me. I wanted to know. Are you going to send me to a therapist?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Because you saw one and it didn’t help you?”
Sherlock’s fingers twitch, seeking the cigarette he can’t have in here. He’ll need to buy patches. A lot of patches. Maybe bribe people not to sell him cigarettes. It worked, once. It wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.
“No,” he says quietly, looking out into the street. “It didn’t help. Are you done?”
Sherlock watches people pass and instead of asking another question he reviews his list, rearranging things here and there. The list starts like this: Clothes [suits, shoes, coat, etc.] [clothes for James]. Phone [must have sensible typing option]. (Bookstore near phone store?). John.
There’s only one problem. He pulls his cell phone out, sends what will hopefully be his last text on this ridiculous keypad.
I don’t suppose you have his address?
By the time they get out of the restaurant, Mycroft has replied with an address and a cryptic, Be ready for the unexpected. Which is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say. How can one prepare for what they don’t know is coming? It must be Mycroft’s way of getting back at him for whatever perceived slight. Things really are going back to a semblance of normalcy. He glances at the child keeping pace with him; well, normalcy has always been relative where Sherlock was concerned. That’s all right. John is good at adapting to not-quite-normal things.