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X Is For X Marks The Spot [Or: The Place In My Heart That Is Shaped Like You]

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I cannot but remember such things…
that were most precious to me.
-William Shakespeare

 

As soon as he walked into the flat Sherlock knew all too well that Mycroft had been there. Quite recently. Mycroft showing up when Sherlock was not in [and he did not delude himself by pretending that Mycroft did not know very well where he was most days] usually meant that his brother was up to something. Strangely enough, it was never anything good.

John was slumped on the settee, frowning thoughtfully. Also not a good sign. If Sherlock had been inclined towards fretting, which he most assuredly was not, this would have been a good time to indulge. Just to be on the safe side, he prepared himself to be irritated

He was not, however, prepared to be terrified.

John did not seem to even notice that he’d arrived, until Sherlock actually dropped down next to him. “Oh,” he said then, a smile starting. “Hello, you.”

Sherlock quirked a brow at him. “Am I to assume that after only one year of marriage the magic has gone? You used to notice when I entered a room.”

John laughed softly. “Hard not to notice you. All legs and hair and swooping coat. In fact, impossible not to notice you. At least for me.” He leaned close and kissed Sherlock’s lips lingeringly. It had been a long day.

They settled back against the cushions, wrapped together in a long familiar way. “What did my hideous brother say to upset you?” Sherlock asked, his fingers making a languid journey through John’s hair.

“I’m not upset. Not really. It’s just…” He took a deep breath. “A request has come through for me to teach a one-week symposium on front line medical techniques.”

“How tedious,” Sherlock murmured, part of his attention diverted by several strands of hair that were somewhat blonder than they had been last week. Interesting. Probably the result of that sunny afternoon spent in Battersea Park staking out a larcenous and possibly murderous ice cream vendor.
“Actually, Mycroft rather did me a favor by intercepting the request. He wanted to present it to me personally so that I could simply refuse if I wanted to and the matter would go no further.”

“Hurrumph.” Sherlock, feeling that he had adequately catalogued the changes in John’s follicles [and approved them], leaned back a bit. “But you didn’t refuse, did you?”

“Well, I told him I’d let him know in the morning. After we talked.”

“But you want to do it.”

A small shrug was his only reply.

Sherlock gave a put-upon sigh. “I suppose I could manage for a few days without your assistance, although it will be annoying. There are no good cases on at the moment anyway.” He smirked just a little, because he knew that John would know exactly what he meant by a “good case.” Namely, one that was especially gory, or clever, or macabre. Or in the best of all possible worlds, all three things at the same time. John understood that, although he didn’t necessarily endorse the sentiment.

As realization struck, it was Sherlock’s turn to frown. “Oh, it’s really tedious, isn’t it? The symposium is someplace outside of London. So you will not only be unavailable for the work, but you won’t even be at home. For a week?”

“Yes. It’s outside of London.”

Something in John’s voice alerted Sherlock, but he didn’t say anything. After a moment, John sighed. Warm, moist air brushed across Sherlock’s cheek.

“The symposium is in Afghanistan.”

Sherlock thought he’d misheard. “What? Where?”

“Afghanistan. That’s where the doctors are, so it makes sense.”

“No,” Sherlock said.

“I know it sounds crazy---”

“No,” he said again.

“---but I could do some good, save some lives. Sherlock, we’d be on a base the whole time.”

Sherlock made the effort to keep his voice steady. Calm. Reasonable. “That bloody country almost killed you once. I have no intention of giving it a second chance.”

He could feel the slight recoil in John’s body and knew immediately that issuing edicts wasn’t the way to get what he wanted. Instead, he lifted a hand and pressed it against John’s face. “Please,” he whispered. “Don’t do this.” For me, he wanted to add, but didn’t.

Now, instead of stubbornness, John’s eyes filled with guilt and Sherlock knew immediately that the battle was already over. “Oh, John,” he said.

“Try to understand, love,” John said. The rare use of an endearment was a clear sign of the desperation John was feeling. “I always felt there was unfinished business for me over there. The way I left…”

“Almost dead was the way you left,” Sherlock said viciously.

An unexpectedly dark look crossed John’s face and then was gone almost before Sherlock knew what he was seeing. “Sometimes,” John said a low voice, “sometimes a person has to do what he thinks is right, no matter what. You are familiar with the concept.” Like throwing yourself off a building to save others, he did not add, but might as well have. Uselessly, he patted Sherlock’s arm. “I’ll be fine. But I need to do this.”

“I hate you,” Sherlock said.

“And I am familiar with //that// concept,” John replied. He stood. “Tea, I think,” he said cheerfully.

“Fuck the tea.” Sherlock rarely swore; he claimed that the need to use profanity displayed a limited imagination. There was nothing wrong with his own imagination, as proven by the vivid images racing through his mind at that very moment. He leaned forward and dragged frantic fingers through his hair. It did not wipe out the pictures on his hard drive, but it did disarrange his curls until they were sticking out at every possible [and a few impossible] angles. He listened to the so-familiar sounds of John making tea, before finally getting up and stepping into the kitchen.

“There is one thing you must know,” he said.

John turned to look at him. “What’s that then?”
“If you die, I will as well.” Sherlock knew that this was undoubtedly more than a bit not good. He should probably feel guilty about the words, but he had promised to always tell the truth to John and what he’d said was profoundly true.

The stricken look on John’s face made Sherlock feel sick, but he did not flinch away. Did not retreat from the vow.

John left the teacups sitting on the table and came to Sherlock, wrapping both arms around him.

Sherlock returned the embrace as tightly as he could. “John,” he whispered.

They stood that way until long after the tea had grown cold.

**

Sherlock raced through his conclusions even more rapidly than usual, ignoring Lestrade’s pleas to slow down, not even really noticing the more than usually stupid expressions on the faces surrounding him.

Lestrade finally threw up his hands in frustration. “Sherlock, what the hell is your hurry?”

Sherlock had finished reeling off the evidence, so now he fixed the policeman with a chilly gaze. “Skype,” he said crisply.

Now Lestrade was really confused. He glanced from the corpse back to Sherlock. “What the devil does Skype have to do with anything?”

Sometimes Sherlock could not believe the patience he was forced to extend to other people. Speaking slowly now, clearly, so that there would be no misunderstanding, he said, “I have to be home when John Skypes.”

“Oh, that’s right. He’s off somewhere, isn’t he?”

It was hopeless. “Off somewhere? Yes, you could say that. He’s off in Afghanistan.”

Lestrade looked stunned. “Bloody hell! He went back?”

“He’s giving a symposium. They wanted the best.” There was pride in his words, but Sherlock really didn’t want to talk about it. Easier to ignore it and pretend that John was in, say, Brighton.

“You must be worr---” Lestrade bit off his words.

Sherlock frowned fiercely and tightened his scarf. “I’m leaving now,” he said.

By the time he’d gotten home, brewed himself a cup of substandard tea, and settled in front of the computer, it was time.

John’s face appeared on the screen. “Hi,” he said with a smile.

Sherlock hated electronic communication. He’d considered not doing this at all, but the thought of not seeing or even talking to John for a week was too difficult. But this was painful, too, because seeing John only on a screen brought back memories of the bad days when they were apart.

Still, he managed a small smile in return. “Hello, John,” he said. “How are you?”

“I’m good. You?”

“Fine. The case is done.”

“Ah, so you managed to crack it without any help from me. Should I be worried?”

“It would have been more pleasant to have my blogger along. I miss you.”

John’s face softened. “I miss you, too. So much. Just two more days, though, and I’ll be home.”

It was the forced conversation that Sherlock hated the most. He loved talking to John when they were together, but they also had the grace to just be together in silence. That was equally pleasing.

But on Skype like this, there was an obligation to actually talk. Still, for a few moments they just looked at one another.

John sighed. “Have you eaten?”

“Not yet. I’m just in.”

“Please eat.”

“I will. Please be safe.”

John nodded.
“I hate this,” Sherlock whispered, not caring how it sounded or how weak it made him seem.

“I know. I know, Sherlock. Have a meal. The case is over so you need a good sleep. By the time you wake up, it’ll almost be time for me to come back.”

Sherlock wanted to say that it was hateful to sleep alone, but he didn’t. He’d slept alone for many more nights than he’d slept beside [on top of, beneath, wrapped around] John Watson. But it was rather horrid to be alone now.

“I better go,” John said.

“All right.”

“Love you.”

“I know.” Sherlock paused. John should not have gone to war. But there was something inside Sherlock that was afraid to let John end the call without hearing the words. “I love you, too.”

John smiled.

And then was gone.

**

Sherlock took John’s advice [orders] and ate some of the pasta left in the fridge. Then he showered and went to bed, surprising himself just a little by falling asleep.

The next day was half over before he woke up.

He was standing in the kitchen groggily trying to remember how to make tea, when the door opened and Mycroft came into the flat. “Not this early, Mycroft, I just woke up. I need time to---”

Then he looked up and saw Mycroft’s face.

Sherlock knew, objectively, that the room did not suddenly start to spin wildly out of control, but also knew that it was only his grip on the edge of table that kept him from flying off into the void.

“What?” he asked thickly.
Mycroft had never been one to sugarcoat bad news. “John and another doctor were taken from the base. A search has been launched, but to this point there has been no sign of them or any clue as to who the abductors might have been.”

Sherlock leaned towards him. “This is your fault.”

“If you want to think so,” Mycroft said wearily.

“I’m going,” Sherlock snapped. “I’ll find him.”

“No,” Mycroft said. “You will do no such thing. Leave this to the experts.”

“Would that be the same experts who could not keep him safe in the middle of a fucking military base?” Sherlock’s voice rose until the last words were a shout.

Mycroft did not respond in kind. “Sherlock, please, you must remain calm.”

“Must I?” Sherlock picked up a cup and threw it against the wall. The pieces fell to the floor. “I’ve done it before. I saved that damned Adler woman. I can save John.” Suddenly, his legs gave way and he slid down against the wall until he was sitting on the floor. “Mycroft, they behead people,” he whispered. “Please.”

“I will find him, Sherlock. You must stay here. Don’t try to take off on your own. You will not even make it off Baker Street.”

“Bastard.” Sherlock stared up at his brother. “You had better find him. You must.”

**

When Mycroft had gone, leaving another warning for Sherlock not to do anything on his own, the flat was very quiet. Sherlock wrapped his blue dressing gown more tightly around his body and fell onto the settee. Had anyone been there to see him, he would have looked icily calm. Inside, he was screaming.

After a moment, he reached for his laptop, not even knowing why. He checked his email and gasped when he found a message from John that had come in sometime overnight. Maybe only moments before he disappeared.
//HI. HOPE YOU’RE HAVING A GOOD SLEEP. I’M OFF OUT TO HAVE A MEAL WITH ONE OF THE OTHER DOCTORS. TAKE CARE. SEE YOU SOON. LOVE, JOHN//

The screaming inside got louder.

Sometime later, he turned on the TV, hoping for some news. If Mycroft would not tell him anything, maybe the BBC would do better.

The news broadcaster reported the kidnapping of two British doctors from a base in Afghanistan. The first, Richard Gates, was a military physician who had served on the base for six months. He was married and had two children. The other, John Watson, was a civilian participating in training. Watson was well known as the blogger and assistant to the famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. The two men had married a year ago. An exhaustive search was under way for the missing men.

Sherlock’s first, ridiculous, thought was of how irritated John would be at being described as his “assistant.”

As the hours passed, Sherlock could feel the darkness of the room begin to swallow him. Mrs. Hudson tried to get him to eat, but he refused and asked her to go away. He hoped it had been done politely, because John would be disappointed in him otherwise. She cleaned up the cup he’d broken and slipped out of the flat.

At one point, he got up and went into the bedroom to take John’s pillow from the bed, bringing it back to the settee and clutching it to his chest. If only he could do something, other than just sit here slowly losing his mind.

The smell on the pillow comforted him for a time, but finally he felt his resolve crack. The house was silent as he went down the stairs to 221C and let himself in. He went to the fireplace, took a deep breath, and finally pulled out the third brick on the left. His hand slipped into the cavity and emerged with a small leather case. He felt sick knowing what the case held, but he still brought it back to their flat. Taking care that it came nowhere near John’s pillow, he shoved the case down behind the cushions.

He had meant what he’d said to John and if that was wrong, well, when had he ever cared what the world thought? He had always lived his life just as he’d wanted and he would leave it when he wanted. There would be no one who would miss him much, if it came to that.

The phone rang. It was Lestrade, who had undoubtedly seen the news.

“What?” Sherlock snapped.
“Sherlock, Christ, are you---”

“If you ask me if I’m okay, I might commit an act of violence.”

Lestrade was quiet for a moment, before taking a deep breath. “John is tough,” he said. “And brave.”

“Indeed. John is tough and John is brave,” Sherlock said flatly. “Sadly, neither of those admirable traits will keep them from cutting off his head if they like.”

There was a gasp.

Sherlock disconnected the call.

**

In a little while, Sherlock stood and went to the bookshelf. Reaching up to the top, he pulled down a sturdy box and brought it to the settee.

John knew the box was up there and he knew its purpose, but he never looked into it himself, a feat which would have required a stepladder, Sherlock thought with a tiny smile. But John respected the fact that this was Sherlock’s property.

Sherlock Holmes was not a sentimental man in most respects and he would have objected to this being called a box of souvenirs. He preferred to think of it as simply an adjunct to the part of his Mind Palace that was devoted to John. A physical manifestation of memories.

He lifted the lid off. There was no sense of order, no efficient filing system. The contents were a jumble and he always felt that was as it should be. It was messy, as he had come to accept that emotions were.

The first thing his fingers touched was the stub of a candle from Angelo’s. “More romantic,” the man had said that first night he and John had gone there. Clearly Angelo had never really understood how this candle could have any bearing on a case, but he accepted what Sherlock had told him the next day and cheerfully handed it over.

Sherlock could not have said at the time why he wanted the candle, but he did.

Next: An x-ray of John’s wrist, broken when a panicked rapist swung a metal pipe at John’s head. Luckily the ex-soldier responded quickly enough to deflect the blow with his arm at the last moment. Sherlock could still hear the sound of the bone breaking. Not so luckily for the rapist, he had to face trial with two broken wrists. And a shattered ankle just for good measure.

Next: The drawing of a small boy with tousled hair, bright eyes, and a jumper. Sherlock ran a finger over the drawing he had done so long ago. “Jawn,” he whispered.

Next: Sealed into a small evidence bag, two Chinese fortunes from the night John shot the cabbie. One was marked with an S and it read: THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE ALWAYS UNEXPECTED. When he’d read it that night, Sherlock scoffed. And tucked it into his wallet. The other was marked with a J. SOMETIMES IT IS HARD TO SEE WHAT IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. John read it, seemed to think about it for a moment, then set it down. Before they left, Sherlock picked it up and put it with the other one.

Sherlock dropped the bag back into the box.

Next: Something he should not have at all, but which Mycroft had given to him. It was a printout of the eulogy John wrote but never delivered. Sherlock removed it from the envelope, unfolded it, but then could not bring himself to read it. Not on this night.

Next: Another evidence bag. This one held a small clump of brown-blond hair. He just held onto it for several moments.

Next: A photograph. It was one that Harry had not included in the small album she did for them as a wedding present. She did not feel that this one was good enough.

Personally, it was Sherlock’s favorite.

Just the two of them, sitting at the table during the post-ceremony lunch. They were looking at one another, neither man was smiling, but their eyes were locked. On the table, their hands were clasped together, their rings showing.

He stared at the picture for a long time, then instead of putting it back in the box, he propped it against an empty teacup.

Sherlock smiled just a little as he pulled out a stack of post-it notes that had once been on their refrigerator.

S: FINGER IN THE JAM JAR? REALLY? J
S: I BUY MILK. YOU PUT VARIOUS POISONS INTO IT. AND DON’T WARN ME. SO THIS IS MY LIFE? J

S: HOME LATE. BE HERE. SERIOUSLY. THERE WILL BE CONSEQEUNCES IF I COME HOME TO A HEAD IN THE CRISPER DRAWER AND NO FLATMATE. J

S: HAPPY BIRTHDAY. MANY MORE. UNLESS I COME HOME TO ANOTHER TOE IN MY RAMC MUG. J

S: LOVE YOU. LOVE YOU. J

There were more, but suddenly he couldn’t look at anything else. He slammed the lid back on and returned the box to its shelf.

Sherlock curled into the settee and held on to the pillow.

*

Dawn is a terrible time when you fear that the coming day will bring nothing but pain. Sherlock didn’t even try to keep the tears from rolling down his face. What did it matter? He simply wiped them away with the corner of John’s pillow.

When Mycroft came through the door an hour later, Sherlock was still on the settee, staring at the wall.

Mycroft stopped just inside the door. “Sherlock,” he said softly. “We found him.”

There was a moment of utter silence.

Sherlock sat up. He cleared his throat. “Is he--?”

“He’s fine. Some cuts and bruises. The other doctor is fine as well.”

Sherlock didn’t respond to that.

“It seems the kidnappers were amateurs who merely wanted money. Nothing more sinister. Rather stupid amateurs at that.”

“Kill them anyway,” Sherlock said.

“Oh, sadly, none of them survived the rescue mission.”

Sherlock’s mouth twitched. “You are good, brother mine.”
Mycroft just tipped his head modestly.

“And John?”

“He will be on his way back very soon. I expect him to be calling you momentarily. I will leave you to that.”

“Thank you.”

Mycroft paused. “Sherlock, do not neglect to dispose of that article you hid in the settee cushions. John would be very disappointed.”

Sherlock nodded. “I’ll take care of it. But, Mycroft---”

“Yes?” Mycroft turned to look at him.

“John knew what would have happened. I told him before he left.”

For a moment, Mycroft just stared at him. Then he shook his head. “Remarkable. If there actually were a god, he would have to have a very twisted sense of humour to put you two in the same universe.”

He left.

A moment later, Sherlock’s phone rang. He took a deep breath and answered the call.

fini