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Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

Breathe.

Tick.

Take a sip of Louis XIII Cognac by Remy Martin and barely taste it as it burns, acerbic, down my throat. It feels like penance, and I welcome it. The disdain I have towards myself for allowing this situation to occur is thick, coating my very insides like tar. However, it holds barely a candle to the frustration I feel towards my brother for his role in all this.

“Dammit, Sherlock!” There’s a light knock at the door. Anthea, clearly. “I’m fine,” I state evenly as she walks in, mobile in hand and eyebrows raised. “Any updates yet?”

She glances at me before taking a seat in the chair across from my desk, graceful legs crossing. She’s dressed in my favourite of her suits, a charcoal pinstripe number with a high waisted pencil skirt, accented by a deep violet blouse I purchased for her earlier this year. Her brunette hair is perfectly curled in large waves, falling about her shoulders with practiced, careful ease. She looks stunning. Then again, she always looks stunning. Her sharp chestnut gaze catches mine as she smirks, yet the humour stays out of her eyes.

“Nothing, then,” I comment. “Of course.”

Anthea sighs, her lips pursing. “We’ve been monitoring every mobile you requested. Molly Hooper, Greg Lestrade, Harry Watson, John Watson, and the burner phone you gave Sherlock. There was a text exchange between Ms. Hooper and Dr. Watson last night indicating he would be joining DI Lestrade at a pub. Sherlock’s mobile has not moved from Moscow--its last location about a week ago.”

“He disposed of it.”

“It would seem so. As far as we can tell, Sherlock has not had contact with any of them via mobile. Surveillance on Dr. Watson’s flat hasn’t indicated any activity either, aside from a cleaning crew arriving early this morning.”

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

“A what.” More a statement than a question. Another sip of Cognac. Still burns.

Anthea, looking down at her Blackberry, frowns, then sighs. “A cleaning crew, sir. No movement from Harry--”

I clear my throat to catch her attention. She glances up through her long, pretty eyelashes and sees how little I care for John’s useless kin. I stare, jaw working, and she takes the cue, standing up. We lock eyes and she raises an eyebrow. Clearly she hasn’t realized John Watson is hardly the sort to have a cleaning service. Regardless, she acquiesces and turns to leave.

“I’ll send a team,” and with that, she’s gone, door clicking quietly behind her.

A glance around my luxuriously furnished office provides much less solace than I expect in this dire time. Dammit, Sherlock, how could you let it get to this? I’ve dragged you out of all sorts of unseemly situations before, but this is impressive even for you. Our entire plan is rubbish and now you’ve gone lord knows where for what? Sentiment!? Disappointing.

Oh, Sherlock. An image of a young, curly haired child, hiding inside a rhododendron bush while he cries flashes in my mind. I reach towards him, beckoning. Let me help, Sherlock. I can help you. Let me help.

Go away Mycroft!

I can’t. I’m responsible for you. Please, Sherlock, let me help.

I don’t want your help! Go away!

I can’t go away, Sherlock. I’ll never go away. The memory fades and I’m left with the tick, tick, tick of my desk clock. Left with my empty office, awaiting the reports from staff that are no doubt going to disappoint. Seems I must take matters into my own hands if I’m to find him.

>>Contacts

>>Molly Hooper

>>Calling…

“Hello?” a mousy voice answers after a few rings.

“Miss Hooper. This is Mycroft Holmes.”

I hear her gulp before she replies. “Yes. Hi, Mr. Holmes. I...I expected you might call.”

Have you now. And that would be because…,” I trail off, awaiting her confirmation of what I already know is true. She assisted him, assisted Sherlock in deceiving me and traveling back to London, rendering the entire last 6 months nearly useless.

“I can’t find John!” she blurts out suddenly, her voice the edge of a panicked sob. “I think something’s happened to him. Do you know where he is? Have you seen him?”

Sigh. “Although it may be true that I choose to maintain the knowledge of the whereabouts of persons of interest…”

Mycroft Holmes, you know how important John is to him, and if he’s missing...if he’s been hurt...it will kill Sherlock, you know it will!” she spits at me venomously.

Dammit. She’s right...of course. I’m reminded why Miss Hooper was essential to our plan before--the tenacity to do what’s needed at exactly the right moment. “I have a team on the way to Dr. Watson’s flat presently,” I reply, working to keep my voice as neutral as possible.

“Good,” she comments, relaxing slightly. “Have you heard from Sherlock?”

“Not in the past 19 days, I’m afraid. Have you?”

“I--well, um…,” Molly stammers, determining how much she wishes to lie to me further. A sigh indicates she’s given in to her usual modus operandi of integrity and she continues with, “I spoke to him last week, so I could send him some more money. He contacted me for help getting back to London so he could see John. I suppose you know that by now. I haven’t heard from him since he left Moscow, where he--”

“Disposed of his mobile,” I finish for her. “Of course.”

“Yeah.”

“Your contribution, Miss Hooper, is appreciated as always. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

The line is quiet as we both wait, pleasantries binding us in awkward, pregnant silence. She has more to say, otherwise she would have hung up. I breathe patiently and tap my index finger on my desk.

“Mycroft, um...Mr. Holmes, I mean. Please just...help him. Help them. They need each other. Even you must see it by now. Please. Um...that’s it. I’ll let you get to it. Bye,” and with that, I hear the familiar alert indicating the end of the call.

They need each other.

Her words roll about in my mind, tumbling, shrinking, expanding, repeating. Translating themselves into every language I know as they echo around between the neurons of my brain, triggering a flood of oxytocin as I consider my little brother and the good doctor.

Need.

Sherlock has always needed John. John has always needed Sherlock. Even when they were unaware, the universe, it seems, was working to pull them together. Every decision they made in their lives led to this moment, and I have no idea where either of them are nor how to help them figure it out. Maddening.

Of course it doesn’t mean I won’t try. Always did enjoy a puzzle. Irritating that it is, yet again, a puzzle created by my dear brother. We are forever trapped in this cycle, Sherlock and I. He creates the problems that I inevitably end up spending inordinate amounts of time and government money resolving. It could be comforting, this dance, if he wasn’t so annoying.

Another light knock, and Anthea is striding carefully up to my desk, mobile in hand, to show me the results of the team at John’s flat.

It’s a photo of a ransom letter, about John.

For Sherlock.

My God.

Chapter Text

Bloody hell, my head. Must be losing my touch! Only had a few drinks...not even strong ones at that. Looks like age is catching up to me. Before I know it I’ll be catching early bird specials and hitting the sack by 1900. Where did the time go?

My mobile rings, and I start tossing my flat looking for it. “Shit, where’d I leave it?” Better not be any of my sergeants, I'm in a right state this morning, definitely not fit for duty. “Ah, right. Jacket. What’s this then?”

>>Private number

>>Accept or Decline?

>>Accept

“Hello?” I croak, immediately regretting that I chose to answer. With my free hand I reach up to scrub at my face and rake my fingers through my hair while I wait for a response. What I hear is probably the last person on earth I’d expect to call.

“Detective Inspector Lestrade. This is--”

“Yeah, I know. It’s Mycroft Holmes. What can I do for ya, Mycroft? I’m not technically on duty at the mo…,” I interrupt, wandering unsteadily towards the kitchen for some water to take paracetamol for this bloody awful headache. He’s kidding himself if he thinks I’m going to get dragged off to handle something for him on my day off. I blink wearily, wincing at the lights. Off, then. Off is better.

I can almost feel his stifled annoyance through the phone as he breathes quickly through his nose, choosing his words carefully before answering. “Detective Inspector, it seems that I may need your assistance. Last night you were in the company of Dr. John Watson, yes?”

“I’m not stupid, Mycroft, I know you know that already. Just--what is it? We had a bit too much fun for a couple of blokes our age so I’m a bit under the weather this morning. I'm sure you've had similar experiences yourself.”

Mycroft clears his throat and continues, “Hm. Hardly. Anyway, Dr. Watson has been missing since you parted ways. He did not return to his flat, and there is a possibility that he may be endangered. Did he mention anything out of the ordinary to you?”

“He’s missing? It’s not been 12 hours yet. You sure he didn’t just pick up someone after I left and got off with them?” I know it isn’t likely, but I have to suggest it. Need to hope that maybe it’s true. Mycroft remains silent, the bastard. Knows just how to make anyone around him feel like an idiot. Why am I even having this conversation again? “Don’t you have bloody cameras everywhere? You know more than I do about what happens in this city. Can’t you find him?”

“Apparently not. I sent a team to his flat, there’s been no sign of him. Left his mobile there last night before he went out with you. It does take time to review video footage from the entirety of London, as you would expect,” he replies with thinly veiled sarcasm.

“Sure, sure. Look, you know I was with him last night which means you know I’ve got a hangover and that I’m not even on duty today. If no one died and you’re already on the case , I don’t see what you need me for. Aren’t you supposed to be the smart one of the Holmes boys anyway? I’m sure you’ll figure it out, yeah? Feel free to file a missing persons down at the met. The proper way, not by calling the off-duty DI. Not like I keep copies of the paperwork here with me anyway,” I finish with a chuckle. I feel a rather large swell of pride at successfully shutting up a Holmes as I wait in the silence.

Finally, “Yes, of course. Good day,” and the call ends.

Chuck my phone on the coffee table and sigh. John’s missing? Seemed fine last night, a bit drunk like me but nothing out of the ordinary. We had a fine time. Well, he was a bit odd, even for him, but I figured it was just getting used to regular life again after his stint in the hospital. First time out and all that. Anyone would be a little off after being locked up.

No, this is John Watson. Doctor, Captain in the RAMC, and right hand man to Sherlock Holmes. Not very likely he was picked up or mugged on his way home. If anything, he probably decided to go to…

Baker street.

We were talking about Sherlock a lot last night. Anyone could tell by the way those two stared at each other that they were gone on one another. They were nearly inseparable, and no one has ever had such a positive effect on the right arsehole that Sherlock was. I wonder if that arrogant sod Mycroft knew what they meant to each other. Bet he didn’t even think to check Baker street.

Right, it’s decided then. Cuppa, a shower, then I’ll go round up John and bring him home. After I wink at Mycroft through one of his CCTV cameras. Yeah, I’ll bring him home after I do that.

* * *

Here we are. Baker street. The black door seems larger than life right now, the gold numbers twinkling in the sunlight. The much too bright sunlight. Course it has to be extra sunny today. I walk up to the door, raising my hand to knock, and hesitate. I haven’t been here since Sherlock died. Sure, I came the day of the funeral to pay my respects to Mrs. Hudson, but haven’t been ‘round since. Seems odd, considering how frequently I was called here before. Everything changed with Sherlock’s suicide, the bastard.

I gather myself and reach up when the door flies open suddenly.

It’s Molly Hooper. What is she doing here?

“Molly?”

She startles, eyes wide and bloodshot. She looks like hell--well, hell for her, anyway. She’s always been pretty, but today she looks a bit unruly and pale. “Greg! Um, hi. I was just...I was just popping round for…,” and with that, she’s suddenly bursting into tears, sobbing into her hands.

I stare, shocked. “Molly, what’s going on? You okay?” Should I hug her? Wouldn’t mind it. Not the time for that , though…

“It’s John. Well, and...Greg, it’s Sherlock,” she gasps out between sobs. A few deep breaths and she slows down enough to look up at me, face serious. “Greg, he isn’t dead. I need your help. I think John’s in danger, and that they might be using him as bait for Sherlock.”

Time stops for a moment. I forget to breathe, eyes locked on hers, red rimmed and shining, as the words and what they mean suddenly become real.

Sherlock’s alive.

He’s alive.

Of course he bloody is! I should have known he’d pull something like this off! He probably had a right laugh, watching us grieve over him. I bet he even watched the funeral just so he could see us and have a giggle. Ooh, the bastard!

And Mycroft, what an arse. He called me on his high fucking horse, asking for my help when he knew! I swear it’s my lot in life to be played by the Holmes boys, goddammit.

I blink and return to beautiful Molly Hooper, who is staring at me while tears silently stream down her face. “Tell me what you know. What were you here for?”

She frowns, pursing her lips, and beckons me inside with a quick shake of her head. I follow her upstairs and we enter Sherlock’s flat, which hasn’t changed in the past 8 months except to add a few more layers of dust. It feels still --awkward. Empty. Dead.

Except he isn’t, my brain reminds.

She plops down in John’s old chair and begins with a deep breath. “Sherlock knew that Moriarty was threatening the people he loved, so he and Mycroft devised a plan to fake his death to save them, buying him time to dismantle Moriarty’s network. I helped him fake the death, helped him escape, and have been helping him make his way back to London after John attempted suicide. He loves him, Greg.”

I sigh heavily, looking up at the ceiling briefly. “Yeah, I know. I’ve always known.”

She glances my way, a brief moment of hurt flashing through her eyes, before continuing. “He’s been writing to John, in case he...well in case he died while working for Mycroft overseas. Sherlock wanted to make sure that John knew, eventually, how he felt. I set up a P.O. Box for John, and at Sherlock’s request I went today and picked them all up. He should have been here by now. And John...I was supposed to meet up with him today but I haven’t heard from him since before he went out with you. Mycroft called me earlier and was frankly useless, so I brought the letters here.” She looks over her shoulder to indicate the pile on the table. “And now, I...I’m not sure what to do. John isn’t answering his mobile, Sherlock dumped his in Moscow so I can’t even try to reach him.”

I can’t help but chuckle. It can’t be simple when Sherlock is involved, can it? “It’s my day off, you know?” Her face falls, and I feel like kicking myself. “No, no, not like that. I mean... of course it’s my day off and Sherlock Holmes who isn’t bloody dead like we all thought needs my help to save his damsel in distress. And maybe him too, who knows. Anyway, Mycroft called me too.”

She frowns, confused. “And?”

“Useless. Why do we even bother with either of them, hey?”

She laughs humourlessly and shakes her head, catching my attempt at lightening the tone. “Guess we’ll have to figure things out on our own.”

“Seems so,” I reply with a sly grin. “Come on. Let’s go to John’s flat.”

Chapter Text

“Uhnnnn….”

Is that…

“Mmmm unnnn mrrrrrphhhh….”

Dark, it’s so--

Fuck my head, it hurts --

Where… “ugggghhhhh….”

That’s my voice.

It’s...why is it so dark….?

Fucking hurts, everything fucking hurts right now. What...where am I? I can’t...why can’t I see?

God, fucking hell, fucking, what is...everything is just…

“He’s coming to. Hit him with it again. Damn, this guy just won’t stay out!”

No, no, no, noooooo ….

Don’t, don’t...

Sherlock…

where…

are...

you.

Chapter Text

I could’ve sworn I just heard the door to Sherlock’s flat open and shut. Wishful thinking, I guess--been so quiet since... well. No use dwelling, What’s done is done.

Wait-- I definitely heard that. Talking-- oh dear. Thought my days of defending myself from unwanted visitors had ended. Apparently not. Luckily my pistol is already loaded. I ease the door open a crack and listen--

“Did you drive here?” a somewhat familiar female voice asks.

“Yeah, course. Hate using bloody cabs, plus being a DI means I do get a few privileges like parking wherever the hell I fuckin’ feel like…”

“Gregory Allen Lestrade, you watch your language!”

They startle, then Greg laughs nervously as I stride towards them with purpose, a sweet smile on my face despite the thundering in my chest from moments ago. “Oi, Mrs. Hudson! Didn’t think you were in, sorry if we gave you a fright!” He eyes me, then raises an eyebrow at me while staring at my gun. “I assume you have a permit for that?” he asks, cocking his head towards me.

I smile and tuck it into my blouse. “A permit for what, Detective Inspector?”

Molly, standing behind him, snorts as she holds back a laugh. “Molly, dear, how are you? Haven’t seen you for ages. Well, not since...well, you know…,” I trail off, unsure. Hit her hard, his death... must have, anyway. Never really saw her after. I assumed because it would have been too hard for her. Such feelings she had for him, pined after him...poor girl.

She shares a secret look with Greg, mouth set and jaw clenched, before forcing a smile. “I’m fine, yeah. Thanks. We’re sorry, just had to...um…”

Something’s going on, I can feel it. They’re acting restless, uncomfortable. Years of living with Sherlock (not to mention my previous stint as a drug lord’s queen) taught me enough about observation to catch clues like this. “What’s going on, you two? Can’t hide stuff like this from me, you know. There’s a reason Sherlock picked me as his landlady. I may be aged but I’m still sharp as a tack!” They continue glancing at each other furtively. “Is it John? He’s not been ‘round since...I heard, of course, but...all I’ve got is…,” I sigh, exasperated. “Can’t seem to get my thoughts sorted when it comes to my Baker street boys, especially when it’s to do with them hurting.”

Another shared look.

Molly swallows.

Greg looks away and takes a deep breath.

“It’s John, isn’t it?” They both nod slowly, and a tear trickles down Molly’s cheek. “What’s wrong with our dear Doctor? He just got home, didn’t he? He hasn’t called, then again, he hadn’t except to tell me about the letters.”

Molly’s gaze is suddenly sharp on me. “The letters?” she asks, frowning. “He can’t have known about them, I didn’t tell him yet. I had the only set of keys. How did he know?”

Suddenly, Greg is barking out a harsh laugh, rubbing his hands over his face roughly. Molly and I jump, staring at him. “Oh, these two,” he starts, shaking his head. “Aw, come on, you’re both clever. Surely you see it? Each of you know about letters, but for different reasons. These two idiots couldn’t bear to talk about anything important when they were together so they’ve been writing their hearts out in letters to each other. I’ll bet it’s bloody lovesick poetry in these things!”

“What are you on about?”

Molly’s large brown eyes meet mine as she quietly says, “Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock is alive.”

For a moment, all I can hear is my telly, currently on an advert for Tesco’s. The jingle seems to fill the hallway as the words register.

Sherlock is alive.

My boy, my sweet Sherlock, is alive. The boy who came to me, begging for a room to get away from his brother and to prove that he could make it on his own, stay clean, live a decent life...the boy who hugs me and steals food from my fridge and threw a man out of a window for touching me. My Sherlock is alive. Alive. I feel the sting in the corner of my eyes as my heart swells, the words of joy I feel stuck in my throat. I could never believe that he would do this to us--he loved us all too much for that. I have always believed in Sherlock Holmes, and he’s proved me right all along (as he usually does). I can’t help but cackle loudly, sounding a bit maniacal and not really caring that I just scared the daylights out of my visitors.

My Sherlock! I clap my hands together, memories of him flooding my brain. The 2am violin playing, the minor explosions in the flat, the shouting (and the shooting, we can do without that this time around), the kisses and hugs, the conversations over tea...

My thoughts swirl away as I hear Molly continue. “He’s been writing to John at a P.O. Box in Lauriston Gardens. I just brought the letters here for him. Sherlock’s...well...he was supposed to be back in London today. Once he heard about John, he left Siberia and started back. Without Mycroft’s help or permission, of course…,” she pauses, smirking. However, the mirth leaves her as she says, “But I think something’s happened to John. He was supposed to call me today and I can’t reach him.”

She looks to Greg, who adds, “and Mycroft called me saying John never made it home last night after we went out for drinks--Oi!” he shouts as Molly punches him squarely in the shoulder.

“Greg Lestrade! You went out to a pub with John, who was just diagnosed with alcohol addiction!? That’s what led him to this! You should know better than that! I can’t believe you!”

The Detective Inspector, sheepish, looks at his feet. “I--he didn’t tell me that bit. Wouldn’t have gone out had I known...and, just so you know, he asked me to go out. Why would an alcoholic ask...oh. Right.”

Serious, thick air fills the hallway for a moment as we stare at one another. Finally, I can’t bear it any longer. “John’s been sending letters here addressed to Sherlock since October. His therapist told him to do it, a way of processing his grief I suppose. He called me and asked me not to open them--not that I would, of course--but said I could do whatever I like with them. Burn them, he suggested.” They both look at me, alarmed. “Couldn’t bear to, though. He’s been in such pain since we lost Sherlock, I figured he might need to see them again, when he healed from all this. Poor John, pouring his heart out and suffering so and Sherlock’s been off overseas gallivanting about--”

Molly shakes her head. “Sherlock’s been tearing apart Moriarty’s network with Mycroft. He had to stage his own death to...to call off the snipers. Mrs. Hudson, you were a target. Sherlock faked his suicide to save your life.”

Another wave of intense, chaotic emotion washes over me at the thought of Sherlock, despairing over saving those he loved most and yet knowing the only way to do it would tear him away from all of us. Oh, Sherlock. Too much. This is all too much for one person to bear.  “And you’ve been in touch with him?” I croak out, holding back a sob.

“He’s...yeah. He’s definitely not on holiday. He’s, well... he’s not okay. Hasn’t been for a while. I spoke to him last week--I don’t think he’s sleeping or eating. He sounds manic--the way he’s talking he could be high, although I know he wouldn’t jeopardize rescuing John for a hit right now. He’s been so worried about him…”

“That’s our Sherlock, though,” I respond, smiling sadly. “He won’t stop until John’s right again.”

“Or until he collapses,” Greg adds. Molly glares at him and he shrugs, raising his hands in defense. “I’m only saying because I’ve seen it, Molly. I've rescued him from it before. If we don’t find John soon, Sherlock won’t be able to control himself. It’ll be worse than when he’s high. He’s never had... this, whatever this is, before. He’s only every self-destructed for other, less important reasons, but never this. If something happens to John...I’m afraid of what a manic, enraged, desperate Sherlock might do. We could easily lose them both.”

I sigh as the memory of Greg dumping Sherlock into his flat after a particularly bad run flashes before my eyes. His yelling lasted until 5 in the morning, loud bangs and crashes occasionally shaking the entire building, and then he finally passed out from exhaustion. He needed stitches the next day, which I ended up doing myself for fear of letting him near anyone else. The panic in his eyes made him feral while he came down, tearing at his clothes and writhing on the floor in agony. He refused help from anyone but me, and he shouted abuse at me the entire time.

He brought me flowers later and apologized, crying in my arms like the child he was. I ordered him to ‘find a flatmate immediately.’ Preferably a doctor, knowing his tendency to get himself injured. He conceded, kissing my cheeks, and thanked me before he whirled out of my flat to head to Barts to test post-mortem bruising.

“Well what are you two standing around here for, then? Off you pop to John’s flat. See if you find anything that will help us find him. I’ll stay here in case Sherlock comes ‘round. You have the number to my mobile, right? Phone me if you find anything, please,” I beg, clasping my hands around Molly’s. “You know what they mean to me. They deserve each other, and I’ll be just heartbroken if they never get the chance. They’ve spent so much time trying to figure it out.”

Greg nods, pursing his lips. “Best be off, Molly. Mrs. Hudson, please be careful. Never know if they’ll target you too. I’ll send a sergeant over--”

“Like hell you will. Sherlock’s name isn’t cleared yet, and I don’t trust your officers. I don’t mean any offense, but...they are the ones who contributed to all this, you know. If he comes home the last thing he needs is to get arrested by one of your idiotic lot. I’ll be just fine on my own, thank you,” I state resolutely, arms crossed and daring them to challenge me.

Molly kisses my cheek and smiles sweetly. “We’ll be going, then. Phone us if he turns up, okay?”

“Promise. Be careful, dearies.”

As they leave, I think about John’s letters, sitting in a small stack in the top drawer of my bureau. Think I’ll move them now.

I set them down on the kitchen table next to Sherlock’s letters and stare at the stacks. So many unsaid things between them. My Baker street boys, lost without each other.

Chapter Text

CRASH!

SLAM!

Oh, dear. It’s getting worse. I knew he was upset, of course. It’s his brother, after all. He’s always been...emotionally compromised when it comes to his little brother, the addict. Can’t say I blame him--if I had any siblings I probably would care for them in a similar fashion. Still. He’s starting to lose control, and that very quickly becomes dangerous for everyone, including him.

I need to reign him in, or at the very least isolate him before he starts tearing into the staff.

“How is it possible that two of the most dramatic and obvious people I have ever known have gone missing and no one in this bloody office can find them? What do we pay you people for, anyway?” he bellows, face twisted up in a sour frown while he agitatedly paces through our surveillance room. It’s been quite a while since he’s raised his voice at anyone here--the staff are cowering beneath his fury. His ranting is echoing around the room, drowning out the electronic sounds from the equipment.

This has to stop.

“Sir,” I call quietly. He doesn’t hear me, his eyes darting from screen to screen while he searches for tells that he’s convinced have been ignored. Surely he would find something if he kept looking--we all know that. This is Mycroft Holmes. He would find something. But now is not the time for that. His rage is bordering on mania and if he found something now he’d inevitably end up making a few rather impulsive and irrational decisions with the information.

He passes near me and I reach out, touching his forearm. “Mycroft.” A whisper, barely audible. A secret between us. He would startle if it was anyone else, but for me he just halts and turns slowly to face me, an eyebrow raising to his hairline. His face is hard, teeth clenched and eyes dark. I stare into them, pleading: Calm down. Calm down, Mycroft. Calm down.

A deep nasal breath, hint of a shudder on the exhale before he purses his lips and nods. “Inform me of any status changes.” With that, he’s gone, a flash of grey pinstripe and a loud click of the door. The atmosphere in the room immediately relaxes as the staff breathes their relief at his absence and return to their work. The lead surveillance technician glances my way and I nod before leaving. She’ll text me when something important happens. I have more pressing matters to attend to.

I raise my hand to knock when I hear, “Come in.” Shaking my head, I smile. He always knows. It used to be unnerving, but I’ve learned to expect it from him. To be honest, when he’s on holiday I find myself bored with his replacements--dim-witted, they are. Then again, most people are when compared with Mycroft. He raises the bar. For everything.

Entering his study I find him exactly where he always is when things are dire--standing by the window, a glass of cognac in one hand and the other in his waistcoat pocket, fiddling with his watch. His chin is raised in defiance of his own emotions, jaw set and nostrils flaring while he breathes deeply.

“As always, your intervention is appreciated,” he states evenly without looking at me. His voice is steady and calm, hoping to deter concern. Silly man.

“You’ve got to get a handle on this,” I reply, walking slowly around to sit at his desk. I kick my feet up, leaning back in his posh leather desk chair.

“I hate it when you put your feet on my desk.”

“Stop me, then.”

Silence. We spend so much of our time in silence. I scroll through my Blackberry, checking for updates. Nothing important. These arseholes are hiding their tracks well. So is Sherlock apparently. Can’t say I’m surprised--he is a Holmes, and I’ve learned that Holmes men should never be underestimated.

“Still nothing, I assume.”

I nod. He doesn’t look, but he knows anyway. He sighs, heavy and dark, while his eyes dart from object to object outside--cataloguing without seeing anything. The clock ticks. He pulls his watch out of his pocket and flips it open, shut, open, shut before replacing it, then taps his fingers on the window moulding in an erratic, staccato beat. The muscles along his jaw tense while he clenches his teeth, struggling with a strong desire to throw something out of frustration and the self-imposed restraint he usually employs.

“I…,” he starts, eyes sliding shut.

“Yes, I know.” He could lose himself in this at any moment, and the results would be catastrophic. The shame and guilt of such a loss of control would overwhelm him and jeopardize everything we’ve been working towards, throwing him into despair. When he finally emerged, the man known as Mycroft Holmes would be gone completely, all hints of sentiment squashed in the name of reason and rationality.

I can’t allow it.

I won’t .

He swallows harshly against the rise of emotion, slamming his fist into the window sill. “There’s a mole, Anthea.”

I set my Blackberry down on his desk, pouring myself a small glass of water from the pitcher he keeps there. “Is there?”

“I made a mistake.”

“We all do from time to time--”

NOT ME!”

The water is cool as it slides down my throat. I glance up to find him staring at me, eyes wide and jaw set. I meet his gaze before blinking once, twice. “Done?” I ask, eyebrows raised and chin dipping to show him just how much I don’t appreciate his outburst at me. He nods and slumps into his favourite Windsor chair, taking a swig of his Cognac.

“Apologies.”

I smile and stride over towards him. “Understood. Now, would you like me to focus on the mole, or on finding your brother and the doctor?”

“Our main priority is finding them, of course. I know who the mole is. I will deal with him myself,” Mycroft replies, steel in his voice. I almost feel sorry for the man at the receiving end of his wrath. Mycroft is terrible when he needs to be.

My text alert dings! and we both stare at it.

>>Message

>>DI Lestrade and Ms. Hooper are at Dr. Watson’s flat. Engage?

I tap out a quick reply: Wait. Watch them for now and give updates on their activities.

“For someone off duty, Detective Inspector Lestrade is awfully busy,” I tell him, sitting opposite and crossing my legs.

He glances at me and rolls his eyes, a sigh escaping. “Awfully busy doing absolutely nothing useful, I’m sure.” Another small sip of Cognac--the glass is nearly empty. I review the day and realize the last time he ate was last night, before all of this came to light.

>>Send Message

>>Bring him food. Don’t enter the study, text me when you’re outside and I will come get it.

“Considerate, Anthea, but hardly necessary,” he says indifferently, staring out the window. His hand is in his pocket again, fiddling. He only fiddles when he feels uneasy, when he feels lost. His back is rigid, feet firmly planted on the floor in an effort to remain grounded.

“Perhaps I’m hungry,” I tease, earning me an eye roll and humourless smirk. Progress. “Have you decided on the team for the retrieval tonight?” He shifts, keeping his gaze directed away from me, and remains silent.

He intends to go. Fuck.

“Mycroft.”

“Are you implying that I am compromised by sentiment, dear Anthea?” he nearly spits, eyes suddenly locked on mine. “I am perfectly capable of field work, you know.”

“Um, no,” I respond carefully, matching his stare. “I know what you are capable of, sir.”

“Anthea.”

“Yeah?”

His face softens as he replies, “Caring is not an advantage.” I nod, waiting. “Sentiment is a chemical defect found--”

“On the losing side,” I interrupt, smiling.

“On the losing side,” he parrots. “It is...possible... that I may be... impaired. However, I have legitimate concerns about both the ability and trustworthiness of our staff. We have had a mole working within our organization for months and I was unaware. Balance of probability states that there is a high chance that others have known and have not informed us.”

Ding!

>>Message

>>Food

I retrieve the food and set it on his desk. He’ll eat it later, now that it’s in his vicinity. He’s told me stories of Sherlock, how he won’t eat for days when he’s in a manic fit, and it makes my stomach churn to consider the implications. He seems to think he’s above all that, but a Holmes is a Holmes. I know better.

Once I settle, he continues. “I cannot trust anyone, Anthea.”

“Anyone?”

He smiles and looks at his wingtip shoes, the tips of his ears turning a faint pink. “Almost anyone, that is. I need to do this myself. I have to be sure.”

I hate to admit it, but as usual, he’s right. “Tell me who you want on the team. You’ll need backup.”

He sighs as he stands and heads towards his desk to inspect his dinner. “I have a feeling we will need more than backup, Anthea. Have a medical helicopter on standby. They’ve had John in their custody since last night. Sherlock won’t be kind.”

 

Chapter Text

As I walk down the hallway, I can hear the sounds of my entertainment starting up. I smile and lick my lips, excitement flooding my body, making it tingle. I love this part so, so much. I love watching them scream and groan, writhing on the floor, begging for mercy.

God, I love it. The power. The reduction of a complex human to an animal, crying out, whining like a dog. A work of pure art, perfection, causing such a transformation to occur.

The door swings open in front of me and I’m greeted with a purely delicious sight: John Watson, right hand to Sherlock Holmes, cowering on the floor, blood seeping from a variety of cuts on his cheeks, above his left eyebrow, across his chin, covering his forearms, the knees of his trousers soaked black from the blood pooling beneath him. His left eye swollen nearly shut, purple-red bruising spreading through his face.

Charles is relentless, using everything he has to beat John nearly senseless, the sounds of flesh connecting harshly with flesh filling the room. I watch as he knocks John flat before kicking him savagely in the kidneys, eliciting a few sharp, short yelps. The sound sends delightful shivers through me while I reach for a seat to watch the show. Charles is so focused on making John suffer that he doesn’t hear me, even as the chair scrapes across the concrete floor with a screech. He finally pauses, flexing his hands to crack his knuckles and turns around, jumping at the sight of me.

“Boss, hey! I didn’t think you were here. I think John is probably ready to do some talking, now. He’s nice and loose,” he chuckles at his ill-made joke, sweat glistening on his cheeks while he grins. He walks over to the nearby table and grabs a water bottle, slugging most of it down in one go.

I smirk and lean forward in my chair, resting my elbows on my knees and rubbing my hands together. John is still laying on the floor, nearly motionless except for an occasional involuntary shudder as his body processes the immense trauma to it. His forearms twitch, stretched taut behind his back to the zip ties we have him in. Despite his semi-drugged state, Charles and I know better than to let John Watson have full range of motion.

“John, get up onto your knees. We’re going to have a little chat.” No response, no movement. “Charles, tell me you didn’t knock him unconscious. Check him.”

Charles walks over and rolls John onto his back with the toe of his boot, revealing two wide blue eyes and a set jaw. “Naw, he’s awake, boss. Want me to make him get up?”

I cluck at John. “Now that’s not very nice manners, is it, Mr. Watson? Don’t help him, Charles. John, get up,” I command, peering into his face. The only shift is a narrowing of his eyes--a glare. A mistake. Slowly, I rise and walk towards him, maintaining eye contact. He keeps his resolute expression while I reach down to pet his head, wiping a bit of blood off his eyebrow with my thumb. He watches while I bring it up to my mouth and slowly reach the tip of my tongue to it, the metallic tang immediately exciting my taste buds and activating my salivary glands. I draw it into my mouth and savour the taste briefly before reaching back down and threading my fingers into his hair, close to the scalp. His cold, dead eyes stare at me before squeezing shut as I yank ruthlessly on his hair, pulling him bodily upright and onto his knees. The only sound of protest he makes is a grunt. I remain close to him, smiling into his face while he settles back onto his heels and finally opens his eyes again, staring at the floor in submission.

Knew this one was a fighter--perfect. Fighters take longer to break, but the reward is so, so sweet once it happens.

I return to my seat to begin my questioning. “So, John, tell me--how did he do it? How did Sherlock survive?”

He lets out a low, maniacal laugh, guttural and disturbing, before he lifts his head to look at me, unblinking. “Survive? Are you...you’re daft. He’s dead. Sherlock is...he’s dead, aren’t you?” He shifts his attention away from me to glance over my shoulder, bloodshot eyes locked on a fixed point behind me. I turn in my seat to see what’s drawn his gaze, yet find nothing.

“Aren’t...aren’t who? What are you talking about, John?” I ask, confused. I gape at Charles, who shrugs.

“You’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead forever and ever, Sherlock fucking arsehole Holmes. He doesn’t think you’re dead, does he? Tell him you’re dead, Sherlock. Tell him,” John mutters darkly. “Tell him, tell him…,” he trails off, giggling every so often.

Charles, eyes wide, catches my attention and gestures at John wildly from behind. What the fuck? He brings his finger up next to his right ear and swirls it through the air, mouthing ‘crazy.’

I frown, then lean forward into John’s space again to whisper, “Do you know, John, that we are using you as bait for him? We’re baiting him, and we’re baiting his big brother, and once they come for you, it’ll be done. I can’t wait to string up your posh, gorgeous genius and beat him until he begs to die. I’ll whip him, I’ll cut him, I’ll burn him, and finally, I’ll kill him. But I’ll make him suffer, first. He deserves that for all the trouble he’s put us through, for what he did to Jim. If you’re lucky, maybe we will let you stay alive long enough to watch him get tortured before we kill you both, John Watson.”

John shifts slightly to look me in the eye before he spits a mouthful of blood in my face, the cock! I lick it off my lips, another taste of him flooding my senses, before rearing back and punching him squarely in the face with a crack, knocking him flat on the floor. He groans and squirms, head stuck in a filthy puddle. Judging by the immediate swelling, it’s likely I broke his cheekbone and possibly his nose. Good. He deserves it for being so rude.

Deep breath, close my eyes. The endorphin rush from hurting him myself makes my heart race, but I need to get more information out of him. Another breath before I continue. “Okay, so...I appreciate your loyalty to him, really I do. It’s admirable. Impressive, even. But you will at least tell me how far he got before we intervened by picking you up. He’s coming back for you. He’s probably almost here already. The more you tell me now, the more... restrained we’ll be with him,” I say firmly, smiling. John suddenly lifts his head and his expression catches me off guard. He looks oddly lucid, his eyes rimmed with unshed tears and mouth parted slightly. Exhausted. Blood is still oozing silently from the cut above his eyebrow, but he seems unaware. He just keeps staring at me, a vacant and empty stare that sends goosebumps up my arms and tingles down my spine.

“Sherlock Holmes killed himself and he will never come back to me. Never in a thousand years. Even if he was alive, he wouldn’t care enough about me to come try to save me. I’m a lost cause. I’m broken. I’m done living this life,” he states as evenly as he can muster before a choked back sob echoes in the nearly empty room. “I can’t do this anymore, Sherlock. I just can’t. It’s not worth it, is it, living the lie that I’m okay. I’m not okay. I’ll never be okay again. I’m...I’m sorry, Sherlock. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry, so sorry, sorry…,” he repeats quietly, staring past me again. His mantra of apologies continues, getting softer and softer until it’s a whisper, and then finally, it stops as he loses consciousness. His face is soaked in dirty water, blood, and tears as he stays slumped awkwardly on the floor, breathing rapid and shallow.

Fuck this guy is messed up. Obviously a waste of time, questioning him. I had heard he was in a psych ward, didn’t realize it was because he’s off his fucking tits. Does he really think Sherlock is actually dead? No, can’t be. He must know Sherlock’s alive, they’ve been communicating somehow. It’s his military training that kept him from bending, it’s gotta be.

Charles comes forward to check on John, rolling him onto his back to place two fingers at his pulse point. We need him alive. Bait doesn’t work when it’s dead. We need Sherlock to see his best friend alive, give him hope. The more hope he has, the more he’ll be compromised and make mistakes. That’s how we’ll win. This time, we will win. Jim had it all wrong--he was all talk and no action.

Not me. Not Sebastian Fucking Moran. I’m not afraid to do what Jim always avoided. I’m not afraid to get my hands bloody.

In fact, I delight in it.

Chapter Text

Greg parks his car and we get out, convening on the sidewalk. “That’s John’s flat, there,” I announce, pointing. I glance at the detective, who has a frown on his face. “What’s that face for, then?” I ask. Slowly, he turns to look at me, expression dissolving into one of confusion.

“Was I making a face?”

I stare at him, nodding once, before replying. “Yeah, a sort of sour frowny face. Thinking about something?” He gazes back at John’s flat, his mouth dropping open slightly in thought. I can barely see the tip of his tongue worrying a molar in his mouth while he considers...well, something. Not really sure what he’s so focused on. “Greg?”

He starts briefly at the sound of his name, and says quietly, “I can’t tell what it is, but something’s off. Molly, just...just stay behind me when we go over there, okay? I’ve learned to trust my instincts on these things, and something is definitely off.” His voice is ominous and low, and I feel my arms cover with goosebumps while my heart starts thudding in my chest. I take a deep, shuddering breath and steel myself for whatever might happen, immediately thankful to have run into Greg at Baker Street instead of heading over here alone. Why is this happening?

We start walking over, me staying slightly behind him with shaky, weak knees, and I watch as his head swivels constantly, checking the area for...danger? Threats? What would I even do if something happened? This is not my life, not like him. He knows what to do. I’m just a doctor who works in a morgue who happens to know the people who do this type of thing.

As he reaches the door to John’s flat, Greg reaches out and notices it isn’t latched. He glances back at me and frowns again, then mouths ‘stay here’ as he pushes the door open completely. It swings silently on the hinges before hitting the doorstop and he leans in, listening.

Silence. Complete silence. Not even the whirring, electronic noises that usually fill a home. It feels lifeless, reminding me of the morgue. Stop it, I tell myself. He’s fine. John’s fine. Mycroft would have said something.

Greg returns after walking through the flat, shaking his head. He gestures for me to follow him and we enter, walking over to the small kitchen table. “His mobile is still here, plugged in by his bed. No signs of struggle, nothing out of place, although there really isn’t much that even could be out of place. It’s a little too clean, actually. I did find this, though,” he pauses, holding up a notebook. “It’s got several pages ripped out from the beginning. If I had to guess, I’d say it was where he used to write his letters to Sherlock. And look…”

He opens it up to the beginning of a letter, dated 17 February 2012. Yesterday. The handwriting is atrocious--not at all the neat block print that I know to be John’s style. It’s scrawled all over the page in fits and starts, with words crossed out or underlined heavily throughout, exclamation points and question marks overused. The margins are peppered with bizarre scribbles and extra words that don’t seem connected to the main body of the letter, making it difficult to stay focused. The entire thing is eerie, giving me chills as I read it.

 

Dear Sherlock,

Had fun with Greg!!! Lestrade. Greg’s his name, though you suck at remembering it. Or maybe you’re just an arsehole. That’s true, that’s true. You are an arsehole. He’s a good bloke. Not you, not you, you stood nearby like a bastard, glaring. Then you disapppp were GONE. Looks like alcohol does give me a break from the fake you, the fake you that doesn’t want me to have fun you poncy arse bast the fake you who cares about me???? the way the real you wouldn’t. Couldn't? Does it matter??? Doesn’t MATTER.

You’re still not back, but I’m also still drunk!! The room is swimming, SWIMming, swimming. I don’t remember being drunk feeling like this. Am I drugged??? Greg drank more. He was bad not bad like bad JUST

MAYBE we were both drugged?!? No, stupid. No one would drug us. No reason to, now that you’re dead you’re dead Sherlock HOLMES is dead no one cares about the rest of us--we aren’t import danger like you were are WERE

I wish you’d come back. I want to talk to with you. Your voice voice I need it you voice your

It helps

Come back to me, come back come, I’m sorry SherLOCK I’m sorry

I’m sorry I

My heart feels like it’s breaking open in my chest as I reach the end of what’s written, thinking about John, alone and grieving still so much. He sounds so, so sick. I should have called him. Texting isn’t enough, letters aren’t enough. I would have been able to tell that he was this sick if I had just heard his voice. John, oh John! Greg glances up from the letter, eyebrows knitted together with concern at my reaction. I realize I have a hand to my mouth and tears are streaming down my face from my pain and regret. And now, now he’s gone somewhere and no one can find him.

“Greg, we have to find him. Why did the letter stop? He left his phone here, and he mentioned feeling drugged? Did you feel like that?” I ask suddenly, desperate with anxiety.

He thinks for a moment and then nods slowly, a hand scrubbing over his forehead. “Dammit, I should have known. I felt so hungover this morning and I was thinking maybe I lost count of what I put away last night, but it would make more sense if there was something else in my beer. Hold on, how did John figure it out? He must have been even more affected, plus he’s--”

“He’s sick, Greg,” I interrupt with a warning glare. “Couldn’t you tell?”

“Right, right. He’s sick,” he replies with a quick nod. “He seemed a bit off last night but...not like this. He kept looking over my shoulder, and I even asked him what he was looking at. He just sort of smiled and said ‘nothing ’ and changed the subject. I hadn’t realized...I mean, I figured the hospital would have...well, fixed whatever needed fixing, I guess?”

I sigh, looking back over the letter again. “Not if he didn’t actually take his medications and follow the aftercare instructions, which he obviously didn’t. Greg, I’m really worried about him. He’s sick, he’s not thinking right, and it sounds like maybe he’s been hallucinating? Seeing Sherlock? He’s not the same John Watson we know, he’s so much more vulnerable right now. We have to figure this out, we have to find him!”

Greg nods soberly, a hand resting on my shoulder for reassurance. “Even when he’s sick, though, he’s still leagues above everyone else. Don’t underestimate John Watson. That man never fails to impress. Seems like maybe someone was trying to pick him up but knew we’d put up a fight if we weren’t impaired. You said you think maybe someone’s trying to use John to get to Sherlock? It would fit, if we were drugged last night. Maybe they waited until he got home and then they jumped him here. It would explain why his letter stops so suddenly,” he finishes, sighing heavily. “Mycroft said he had a team here. Maybe we should try to get in touch with him. I think he hangs out at some posh government club, the Dior club or something--”

He stops as I pull out my phone and scroll through my contacts, finding Mycroft Holmes.

“You have Mycroft’s number? How did you get that?” he asks with an incredulous laugh. I smile in response, shrugging. Just as I’m about to hit call, the door swings open and thuds against the doorstop. Greg glances sharply over and pulls me behind him by the elbow, drawing his gun from the small of his back and walking cautiously towards the noise. “Oi!” he shouts. “Show yourself! New Scotland Yard here, I am armed and more than a bit hungover so my patience is thin! Make it easy for us all!”

There’s the distinctive click of high heels on the lino in the entryway and suddenly Anthea is standing in front of us, staring at her Blackberry as usual. She looks up through her eyelashes, the corners of her lips curving into a smirk at the sight of Greg’s gun. Her hand holding the mobile drops to her side and she raises her eyebrows expectantly. I hear Greg harrumph to himself before putting his gun away and commenting roughly, “What, come to tamper with my crime scene again? I know Mycroft had a team here and judging by how clean everything is they definitely found something and then cleaned up. Otherwise they’d still be here, waiting to see if John returned. I’m not stupid, despite the Holmes men’s opinions of me.”

She smiles the way Sherlock does, mouth changing but eyes remaining untouched, and cocks her head in the direction of the outside. “Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade and Doctor Molly Hooper, your presence is required immediately. I've got a car waiting,” she responds with a barely amused yet simultaneously bored tone. Before either of us can comment, she's out the door.

“OI! Who's to say we will be going with you?” Greg shouts after her, hands on his hips in defiance. “And it’s Greg!” As we wait for a reply that never comes, I touch his elbow to catch his attention. He looks my way, eyes softening, and smiles, sweet and sad. “S’pose we don't have much of a choice, do we?” he asks quietly. I shake my head, and his hand finds its way to the small of my back, guiding me gently out of John’s flat. As mentioned, a black luxury sedan is awaiting us, the rear passenger door open and the distinct sounds of classical music spilling out onto the sidewalk. Greg gestures for me to enter first, so I slide in and settle on the plush leather. He joins me, shutting the door and announcing, “Off we go, then.”

As the car rolls smoothly into traffic, I survey the cab of the vehicle. A bottle of fancy spring water in each of the cup holders, along with blank TV screens in the backs of the front seats. Does Mycroft travel in this car? Maybe he watches the news or receives special secret messages on these screens. Or maybe he just watches cartoons, I think with a giggle. Greg looks my direction, a curious expression on his face. I shake my head and gaze out the window at the blur of shops, people, and roads. The window is bulletproof glass, I bet. Definitely the most expensive car I’ve ever been in. Wish it was under better circumstances.

Greg coughs and clears his throat, then leans forward to ask Anthea, “So, what d’you need us for, eh?”

“Mr. Holmes requires your assistance to handle a concerning situation that is occurring presently.”

A snort from beside me. “English, please. What d’ya mean?”

“John Watson has been abducted to be used as bait for Mr. Holmes’ brother, Sherlock. We retrieved a ransom note from Doctor Watson’s flat indicating a meeting will occur tonight at the factory that Mr. Holmes the younger rescued those two children from last year, prior to the situation at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Mr. Holmes needs people he can trust working with him,” she explains calmly, staring at her Blackberry the entire time.

“He doesn’t have staff he trusts for this?” I ask, feeling a bit daft as soon as the words leave my mouth. Of course he doesn’t have staff he trusts, that’s what she just said. Stupid.

Anthea shakes her head, a mocking smirk on her lips. “There is, unfortunately, a staff issue we are dealing with.”

Greg snorts again before breaking out in a few harsh laughs. “You’ve got a turncoat, haven’t you? Even the great Mycroft Holmes can’t do everything right, can he?” I elbow him and he stops, frowning briefly at me. “What does Mycroft want us to do?” he asks seriously. “I don’t know that Molly should be involved if there’s going to be violence. Maybe I should call in some backup, or--”

“Mr. Holmes would prefer to keep this matter private, Detective Inspector. Doctor Hooper’s presence is requested due to her extensive medical expertise and training. It is likely that there will be medical attention required for numerous people involved this evening. Mr. Holmes will explain the details of the plan once we arrive. For now, please feel free to relax for the remainder of the drive,” Anthea recommends before turning away from us and effectively ending our conversation. Greg shrugs, clearly annoyed, and turns to stare out the window, jaw working as he clenches his teeth in frustration, lost in thought.

I sigh, thinking about the upcoming events and wondering how they might play out. And, to be honest, I’m worried. Really, really worried that the amount of first aid I can supply will not be sufficient. Sherlock, when he’s protecting the people he loves, can be ruthless and therefore, reckless. Depending on who these arseholes are, John might be very injured already, and I don’t know that I trust Sherlock to not make things much worse in an effort to fix this all.

How did this even happen? How did this become my life?

It doesn’t matter, though, now. My friends are in danger and they need me. I only hope that I can be enough for them.

Chapter Text

Mycroft

“Now, then,” I begin, surveying our team. “Let’s review responsibilities this evening. Lestrade, you’ll be guarding the main entrance after I enter to retrieve my brother and Doctor Watson. Miss Hooper, you’ll remain outside with the Detective Inspector with two of my medical staff and a van of supplies. I expect we will need them. Anthea will handle the back exit of the factory with two staff of her choosing. Our intelligence indicates that we are likely dealing with Sebastian Moran, right hand to Jim Moriarty. He’s ruthless, like a dog off his leash now that Moriarty is dead. Do not let your guard down. Watch each other. Stay in your assigned team. We don’t want any additional casualties. Any questions? Now is the time. Our success and your very lives depend on absolute clarity,” I finish, voice grave.

I glance at Anthea, who takes a measured breath. She thinks this a fool’s errand.

I suppose she’s right.

A fool’s errand indeed.

 

Lestrade

“I still don’t understand why you think going in alone is a good idea, Mycroft. Have you heard from Sherlock at all? How do you even know he will be in there?” I ask, shaking my head. “Let me come in with you, at least initially. Or get one of your staffers to go in. How will you defend yourself? With your umbrella?” Can’t help but laugh, picturing Mycroft executing a perfect riposte. The cold glare I receive in reply kills my humour nearly instantly.

Mycroft purses his lips before replying, “Sherlock, despite evading me at times, is predictable when it comes to his feelings about Doctor Watson. We are quite sure the ransom note was left for him, and that he saw it at some point. The flat wasn’t locked when my team arrived. He will most certainly be at the warehouse tonight.”

I look to Molly, who nods slowly. “He’s right. Sherlock should have been back by now. We were supposed to see each other at Baker Street, and he hasn’t been at all. He loves John, loves him so much. He’ll be at the warehouse,” she affirms, crossing her arms and looking out the window. I snatch a tissue box off Mycroft’s desk and hand one to her for the silent tears sliding down her cheeks.

I can’t wait for this to be over with so we can all go back to our normal lives again. Poor Molly--she shouldn’t even be here with us, except of course Mycroft is bloody right as usual and we will need her. Who knows what state Sherlock or John will be in when we finally get them--it won’t be pretty, I’m sure.

 

Molly

I feel so ridiculous. Can’t seem to have any serious conversations about these two without crying like a child. My face is probably blotchy and puffy--it aches with the pressure in my sinuses. I’ve been bursting into tears at the drop of a hat in the past few days--I am so over it. I am clearly not suited to this lifestyle. Hopefully once it’s over I can go back to focusing on autopsies. It’s calmer, there. Quieter. Safer. Well...generally speaking. I suppose if Sherlock is home there’s always a chance of disruption.

Not that I mind it. Usually, anyway.

Greg keeps watching me. He’s so sweet, Greg. So concerned and supportive, an honestly good friend to all of us. I think he’s worried that I might get hurt in all this.

“Greg, I’ll be fine, you know. I won’t do anything silly. Not really the reckless type, you know,” I reassure him quietly while the others continue discussing the strategy for tonight.

He nods, but the frown remains on his face. “Yeah, Molly, I know. It’s not you I’m worried about, it’s the arsehole who has John captive right now. Who knows what he’ll do. Just make sure you stay close and listen for my commands, okay? I just want you to stay safe.”

“Yeah, Greg, I know. Thanks,” I reply, dipping my head.

 

Anthea

Not only does Mycroft want to go, but he won’t allow anyone in the warehouse with him. Idiot. He’s afraid that if anyone else is in there they may be harmed--likely, if we were all inept foot soldiers. I trust his ability to defend himself in most situations, but where Sherlock is involved…

We’ll talk in the car on the way over. He knows what I think about this, and he’ll tell me how clouded I am by sentiment. That this is the best option we have.

He’s incorrect, but I am aware of how little influence I have on changing his mind once he’s set a course. Any attempts I’ve ever made to shift his thinking have been pathetic failures--this will be no different, especially considering Sherlock’s involvement.

We’ll have to head out soon. It’s nearly 6pm already, and we will need to be placed and secured well before anyone else starts arriving.

>>Send Message

>>Tea and a quick dinner service for 4. Bring milk and sugar, we have guests. Knock before entering.

I need to go on holiday after this mess.

Chapter Text

John

The room won’t stop spinning. I might be sick. I try to take a deep breath, but the sharp pang in my ribs stops me short, making me gasp. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Suddenly, flashes of the past 24 hours pass behind my eyes--drinks with Greg, stumbling home, a shadowy figure in the parlor, pain in my neck from the jab of a needle, a horrible headache and too-bright lights, and then... oh God. The rest of my senses begin returning and I realize that my entire body is in horrible, burning pain. They beat me. Sherlock, the fake Sherlock that I love and hate, watched as they beat me. It’s difficult to differentiate the various sources of torment within my body, yet I can tell that the majority of the pain is in my head. I lick my lips and taste blood and mucus. Broken nose, then.

My stomach twists and I realize before it’s nearly too late that I’m going to vomit. I roll slightly to my side and release the bile, acrid and bitter as it coats my mouth and burns in my nose.

Through the fog of disorientation I hear a distant voice, a man’s voice, say something about ‘awake’ before being answered by another voice responding ‘good, good, get him up.’ I’m roughly yanked to my feet and the world swirls around me again, threatening to knock me down. Strong, steady hands keep me still, guiding me forward. My hands are tied behind my back, the plastic from the zip ties cutting into my wrists. I flex my fingers, checking for circulation--tingles through the tips of my fingers indicate it’s impaired. I shuffle in front of my captor, vision slowly clearing, as he pushes me forward through a darkened warehouse office and out the door. We enter the main room, a cavernous, aircraft hanger sized area littered with garbage and abandoned factory equipment. It seems familiar, but I can’t place it with the pounding in my head. I think I’ve been here before?

We stop abruptly and a firm hand lands on my shoulder, pushing me down to my knees. As I hit the concrete, they ache terribly. Bruised, potentially fractured? I shift my weight, assessing, but neither seems particularly swollen. I forget and breathe too deeply again, willing my head to keep clearing, and am met with another stabbing jolt of pain in my ribs. At least one is broken. Fantastic. Despite the pain in my body, this is the clearest my head has felt in months. Adrenaline, maybe? I look around, searching for...no. Of course not. In the moment his face might actually be encouraging, fake Sherlock is nowhere to be found. Abandoning me again, even in my own mind. Figures.

I glance up and recognize the man standing above me as Sebastian Moran, second-in-command to Moriarty. We never met in person, but I saw pictures of him from Mycroft plenty of times. ‘He’s the bulldog,’ Mycroft said. ‘He handles the less dignified aspects of their criminal ventures.’ I remember thinking that only Mycroft could talk about a murderer in such a posh way. Prat.

“Mr. Holmes! I will say I am a shocked. Jim said that you loved Doctor Watson, would do anything for him, even, but I didn't expect this to be so easy! You put on a great show of apathy to the outside world,” Moran crows to no one in particular. He sounds deranged. How did I manage to get caught by this idiot? “Looks like Jim was right after all.”

Damn, my knees are killing me in this position. What's he on about? “Ok, where have you been getting your information? Looks like it's a bit off. Mycroft may feel some sort of...oh, I dunno, obligation? Towards me, but...love? Ah, no. Don't think so,” I reply, shaking my head. Can’t help but smirk. This is the guy Moriarty had as next in command? Pathetic.

His head snaps around to stare at me. “Wait, wait,” he says incredulously. “You’re telling me...oh, ohhhh... this is fun. You weren’t kidding earlier, or just protecting him before. It wasn’t your military training after all. Here I was, so impressed with how much of a badass you are but really...you’re just a crazy old man. Wow.” He chuckles to himself before turning back towards the rest of the pitch black room. “Should you tell him, or should I? Wait, wait, no...I want you to do it. I’ll watch. Go ahead.” He gestures wildly with his hand before bringing it in front of his mouth, obviously amused with himself.  

“Seriously, what are you...Mycroft doesn’t...you’ve got the wrong Mr. Holmes,” I reiterate, exasperated. He thinks I'm crazy? He's the one who's bonkers. Really wish I could skip to the end of this one. My face hurts and my trousers are soaked. What is taking him so long? “Come on, Mycroft. Out with it. I’m surprised, and...flattered? I think? To see you here. While I am enjoying this little chat, I’m more than a bit damp and frankly knackered. Mind putting an end to this so I can get on with my life?”

The figure in the shadows steps slowly forward, the moonlight from the window streaming in behind him. Wait, that’s...no, that’s not Mycroft. No umbrella, stride is too long...God I sound like…like...

Oh my God. It’s

No. No it can’t… it can’t be. He’s never appeared like this. And he looks...he looks so different. He’s scraggly and dirty, wearing sweatpants and a hoodie with holes in it. Not the usual suit jacket and tailored button down.

For some idiotic reason I had hoped that maybe I had gotten over this. That maybe Moran and his grunt beat it out of me. I guess I was wrong, and now my brain’s made up this new, awful version of my dead flatmate, the dead love of my life, realized much too late. He looks high and I hate it. I hate it so much.  

And now...oh, God. A voice I have spent the last 8 months painfully hearing within my brain suddenly fills the room. “I’m afraid he’s right, John. About loving you, that is. As for the rest...well, you’re right. He is an idiot and a simply pathetic excuse for Moriarty’s replacement. Disappointing, really. Had hoped our reunion would have a bit more excitement, some pomp and circumstance--”

Shut up.” Not now. I can’t... no. Not now. Please, brain, not now.

 

Sherlock

Not exactly what I thought his first words to me might be. He’s…I can’t tell. I can’t tell what is going on, and it’s infuriating.  I’ve been away from him too long. I’m not as familiar with the outward signs of his emotional state as I used to be. “John, I--”

“I said shut up.”

Oh. Angry. He’s angry. At me?

“Sherlock,” he growls. “Shut up. I can’t...I can’t do this right now.”

Yep. At me. That tone is undeniable. Time to consider possible courses of action. If I make a move towards Moran, giving John time to escape and free himself, he could then assist me if needed. Also, it would ensure John’s relative safety fairly quickly. Additionally, however, it would then give him access to throttle me soundly, which, judging by his face, he seems apt to do. I suppose I deserve it. Perhaps it would provide him the emotional catharsis he most assuredly seeks, giving us the opportunity to move on and then subsequently, for me to...well, I suppose I ought to mention--

“Excuse me, girls. Hate to break up the reunion, but..,” Moran interrupts.

Glare at him. “Shut up. I’m thinking.”

“...what?”

“You heard me perfectly. I won’t repeat myself,” I reply, refocusing my attention on John.

Where was I? I ought to mention how much I...well. We’ll get there. Anyway. John looks...different. Disheveled. His hair is much too long, greasy and unkempt. His usually clean shaven face is gaunt and covered in a scraggly, mostly greying beard. John’s typically solid frame seems thinner--slight, even. His eyes are bloodshot and his skin is barely jaundiced. Liver damage, malnourishment. Severe depression. Insomnia.

I did this to him. I hate myself for it.

I blink, willing myself to move on. They... they hurt him. His face is swollen in several areas along the left side, early stages of bruising evident. Some abrasions along his right cheekbone--Moran (right handed) must have punched him while he was on his knees, knocking him flat against the concrete. Coward. He knew he would not stand a chance against John’s military training, so he tied him up and beat him while keeping him near the floor. Submission. He was forcing submission, keeping John below him like that. Obvious, given how often John is shifting his weight currently in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his knees.  

As I stare at him, a horrific deduction sweeps through me: John didn’t flinch or shrink away while he was being beaten-- he took it. Took every last blow, and now his left eye is nearly swollen shut and his nose is probably broken. Why did he take it?

Why didn’t he…

He didn’t fight back.

Why wouldn’t he fight back? He could have overpowered Moran. Moran is four inches taller than him, but weighs significantly less. He’s thin, wiry. John may not be as solid, or as firmly muscled as the day we met, but with John’s combat experience...I don’t understand.

“You didn’t fight back, John. You didn’t even try,” I state quietly, fighting to keep my voice even.

He looks down, sniffs loudly as a drop of blood splashes audibly on the floor near his knees. “Why bother?”

Oh.

Oh.

Oh dear God.

“John…”

 

John

There are no words. How is it possible? It isn’t. Nope, not bloody possible, that’s how. This isn’t real. There is no way that this is real. He’s dead. I saw him, saw his head cracked open on the pavement and blood streaming out of every orifice on his face. I felt his still warm skin for a pulse that wasn’t there. He is dead. Sherlock is dead. It’s just another fucked up trick my mind is playing on me. He’s dead.

I need to breathe. I’m...I’m hyperventilating. I can’t...can’t get a deep breath. Come on, body, don’t do this right now. I can’t have a panic attack right now. I’ve got to...just wait, please. Give me time to get through this. I need to...breathe. My chest, it hurts, a deep throb as my ribs shift in ways they aren’t meant to, the fractures shooting electricity around my torso, making me gasp.

“You’re not real,” I announce. “Stop it. Stop this right now. You’re not real. I don’t know how Moran can see you, but we’ve played this game before, Sherlock. You’re not real. Now go away. Let me...let me die here. I’m tired of fighting for a life that’s a lie. That isn’t worth it. Whoever you really are, go away. Give this one to me, please. Please …just tell whoever sent you that you got here too late. I was already dead. Please, please…”

He looks different, so different from how he’s looked lately as he’s followed and commented on every bloody thing happening, or not happening, around me. This version of him, he looks so dirty. Disheveled. Pale and weak, bloodshot eyes above dark awful bags. He looks like he’s been through hell. Why now? Why does he look like this now? It hurts me to see him this way, even though I know he isn’t real. He isn’t real. I know he isn’t real, he isn’t real, he...isn’t... real.

His face is twisted up in a horrid, pained expression as I plead. Is this hurting the fake him too? That’s almost ridiculous enough to make me laugh. Now I know for sure that it isn’t real. Sherlock doesn’t...he didn’t care about me like that. My brain is giving him emotions he doesn’t have, again. Just like before, as he stared at me while I binned my meds. Just like his disapproving glares in the pub. Never, never, never would he have acted like this. He never cared about me like this. Never, never, never, never, he didn’t, he just didn’t, I’m putting this on him, this isn’t real, it isn’t, it... God, I am so fucked.

“I can’t keep doing this! I can’t keep seeing you everywhere! I am done with this! This is NOT a life! At first I wasn’t sure, thought maybe I could keep going, but...I’m just done. I’m done, okay? Go away. I don’t want to get out of this anymore. Just...please...just go. Let me…Get out of my head , Sherlock! Leave me alone!!

“John, I refuse to lose you like this. Not after all I have done to keep you safe. I am real, John. I am real and I am sorry, so very sorry. Please, don’t do this. Just... I love you, John. I’m real, I’m real, I’m real, I promise, I’m real, please... please believe me. I’m real. I’m real...”

 

Sherlock

He’s...he’s sicker than I thought. Does he think...he keeps saying I’m not real. Is he...has he been hallucinating? Oh. Oh, no. He does think he’s hallucinating. Oh, John, my John...I have to get him free. He needs to touch me, feel how real I am. He won’t believe me otherwise. The thrum of anxiety vibrates through me, urging me to finish this, now, before something else happens. Before John does something rash or Moran loses his patience with us.

“Moran, is it? While I appreciate your enthusiasm for following in Moriarty’s footsteps, I have more important things to get to, and frankly, you’re boring me. Would you please release Doctor Watson before you regret it?”

“Oh, Mr. Holmes. You underestimate me. There’s a reason Jim kept me close to him. I’m willing to do what he wouldn’t get his hands dirty with,” he replies with a sneer before his arm raises and the world goes dark.

 

John

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck I can’t...I can’t take this. No, no, no, I can’t watch him die again, even if...even if he’s not real, he’s not real, no, I can’t--

God that sound--he’s howling in pain, guttural and awful and--

I...I can’t. I just--

“Your turn, Dr. Watson,” I hear above me, accompanied by the unmistakable click of a gun being cocked. “I appreciate your willingness to perform as bait for Sherlock Holmes. He’s been tricky to find, but Jim told me if I caught you, I’d get him. Romeo and Juliet, it seems, in the end,” he adds as icy metal presses into my temple.

Wait. Did he say…

“John…,” the body on the floor groans, shrinking into the fetal position. The red-black pool of blood beneath him grows as he shifts, running down the cracks in the concrete around him.

It’s...it’s…oh God, no, I can’t--

I blink over and over, staring at him, willing my vision to clear. To show me who’s really there, to show me what’s going on, to push me back into reality. A sound from deep inside his chest erupts, somewhere between a growl and yell as he continues clutching at his thigh in a futile attempt at stopping the inevitable pulses of blood from the bullet wound.

Another few blinks and suddenly the world seems to shift sideways as my head clears.

This is real. All of this, it’s real. It’s real, and...he is real. I don’t know how or why, but…

Sherlock is alive.

But not for long if I don’t do something. Get your shit together, Watson!

My body moves automatically, launching up to headbutt Moran in the stomach. He falls back onto the floor, the wind knocked out of him and the gun a few feet away. Within seconds I’m standing over him, foot pressing into his throat. He’s choking, gasping, tears streaming down his face while his eyes plead silently for mercy. While keeping him still, I bend over and pop the zip tie cuffs off with two hard whacks on my tailbone. I lean down and grab the gun, aiming it at him while his arms flail at my leg, scrabbling for purchase in an attempt to breathe.

A small part of my conscience whispers I’m not a killer. I’m better than him. I’m better than this.

Not this time. Not this time. This time, I am handling things myself.

“You ruined my life. You and Moriarty ruined my life, and now I will ruin yours.”

 

Sherlock

Mycroft? What are you doing here? You weren’t...wait, where’s John? I don’t...I don’t understand.

“You’re dying, little brother. You were shot,” Mycroft replies. “You let sentiment overpower you, and you let your guard down. Disappointing.”

I was shot?

“Do keep up.”

John. What’s happening with John? Is he...is he safe? I need to stay conscious, I need to help John. Mycroft, he doesn’t think I’m real, he might...he was begging to die. Please, I need to wake up. Wake me up, Mycroft! Wake me up!!

“You know I can’t do that. You’ve lost a considerable amount of blood already. It’s unlikely you will survive this,” he replies, shaking his head sadly. “You’re already in shock.”

What do I do?

“Nothing.”

Unacceptable. Tell me what to do.

“I just did.”

You’re not helping. There’s an answer in here somewhere. I’ll search this entire Mind Palace without your help. Again. Bugger off. I can’t leave him, not when I’ve just found him again. He needs me. I need him. I’m not losing this one, dammit.

 

John

BANG!

I barely hear the screams echoing off the walls of the warehouse as Moran writhes on the ground, clutching his right knee. My ears are ringing from both the gunshots and the adrenaline coursing through me. I watch with detached interest as blood spurts out between his strained fingers, staining his trousers black. His face contorts in another pained groan. His patella is surely shattered, stress fractures probably radiating up his femur and down his tibia from the shockwave of bullet entering him at such short range. Somehow it doesn’t feel like it’s enough, though. He will suffer for this.

For all of it.

 

Mycroft

Oh, Sherlock. Oh no, no, no…

Hastily I undo my belt, yanking it out of the loops on my trousers with single tug before dropping to my knees next to Sherlock, who is gushing blood from the bullet wound on the interior of his upper thigh. Femoral artery nicked--he hasn't much time. Judging by the amount of nearly black liquid on the cement and his ghastly appearance, only a few minutes if I can't stop this bleeding. He's moaning, keening, horribly tortured sounds while he reaches at everything and nothing, consciousness barely still with him. I glance around after I fasten the makeshift tourniquet and see...oh.

Is that? It is. And he’s...oh my. “Dr. Watson?” He’s savagely beating a man who I assume was his captor and who must have attempted to assassinate Sherlock. “Dr. Watson? I need your assistance.”

Nothing. The disgusting sounds of fists on flesh, squelching as they make contact with the various bloody contusions he's already given the man echo around the empty warehouse.

“Dr. Watson,” I repeat firmly. “JOHN! Please! He's dying, John!”

 

John

“No, no, no...not again, don’t do this, don’t do this, Sherlock, you have to live, you can’t leave me again, I can’t...no Sherlock no, stay with me, stay with me, you can do it...Sherlock, can you hear me? Sherlock, stay here, stay with me, I’ve got you...oh dear God, no, Sherlock, no, no, no, no, no!” I beg, checking his pulse, touching him everywhere to confirm he’s real. He’s real, and he’s dying, he’s real and dying and--

“Dr. Watson, we need to--”

Shut up Mycroft! Please tell me you have backup on the way!? Sherlock, breathe for me, Sherlock, breathe! Dear God, Sherlock, breathe DAMMIT!”

“Miss Hooper, I need your team now!!” Mycroft shouts into an invisible radio. His words echo around the warehouse, disconnected from reality as I start CPR.

Inhale--exhale into his mouth.

Inhale--exhale into his mouth.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen...Mycroft, where are they? Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…,” I count through the chest compressions.

“John, they’re on their way, just keep going, keep...please, John, you have to keep going

Don’t you think I know that!? Where’s your bloody backup!? Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven…”

to be continued...