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A Long Walk Down a Dusty Road

Chapter Text

It was good. It was all good. They had survived; bruised and bloodied, physically and mentally, but they’d come through. The Holmeses, sons and parents, were working towards, if not peace, at least acceptance of the mistakes made and their terrible consequences. John was feeling more like a real father every day, and thinking very seriously about moving back to Baker Street.

It was all good. Really. But

It started small. Waking up to wails over the baby monitor, and realizing it was half-eight and he’d slept through the alarm, again. Staggering out to care for his daughter, aware of a raging headache and a mouth that tasted like he was storing her used nappies in it. Swearing it wouldn’t happen again, only to wake three days later in the same state.

Then there was the forgetting: forgetting what he had for dinner the night before. Forgetting, until the next morning, that he had promised to go help Mrs. Hudson move furniture the previous evening. Worst of all, most frightening of all, forgetting to set up a childminder for Rosie until he was actually picking up his keys to go out the door.

It was almost as bad as the period just after Mary died. When he had left Rosie at the neighbors one evening and didn’t remember she was there for two days.

Nearly repeating that horrible history stopped him. For a while.

 

 

 

One of the only good things that had come out of the whole horrifying affair (no, bad choice of words, or at least painful choice)—the events of Sherrinford, had been John’s reconciliation with his sister. They would never be truly close—too much water, too much alcohol, under that particular bridge—but John had found, down in that well, that he didn’t want to die estranged from his only remaining family member.

They started slowly, carefully, meeting up. Coffee at midday, quick lunches—nothing that required long periods of time together, but long enough to make tentative steps towards connection. By the time two months had passed since Eurus Holmes had tried to drown him, John was heading over to Harry’s for dinner at a restaurant once a week or so (since Harry never, ever cooked), or she would come to his.

Harry was sober—bitterly so, as it happened. She was quite blunt in her feelings—she resented sobriety, when you came right down to it. Resented the loss of chemical calm, especially when she acknowledged that she could never have it again. But she had stuck grimly to her program for more than six months now, even after release from the 60-day inpatient detox that she’d never mentioned to John.

John had been—not hurt, exactly, but saddened that she’d never told him. “Why not, Harry? I could have visited, could have helped you—”

“Nope,” Harry barked. “You couldn’t. You’re good at coping with emergencies, Johnny, but you’re pants at long-term support. Especially when that support requires you to not judge the recipient.” Her face softened. “And you had too much else on your plate. I’m not…I don’t blame you. I never have.”

“For what, Harry? For your drinking? Not to blame for that one, ta,” John said, just a tad too harshly.

“No,” Harry said. “For your being too much like Dad. It’s not your fault, just like the drinking isn’t entirely my fault. Genetics doesn’t fuck around. Both of us can attest to that.”

“I’m not—I’m nothing like Dad,” John sputtered. “I’ve never hit you, or any other woman. I would never hit Rosie. And I don’t drink too—well, I don’t drink like Dad.” He found himself nauseous and fighting off a surge of red-hot anger.

“But you hit Sherlock. Hit him a lot, from what you’ve said,” Harry said quietly.

Before Harry could say anything more, John stood and left her sitting in the folksy restaurant. They didn’t speak again for a week. When Harry did finally call and ask if she was welcome for their usual dinner the following night, John gave her a brusque, “Of course”. They never discussed Dad again, or hitting, and especially not drinking.

Not even after Harry found the empty bottles in the bin. She cut her eyes at John, looked back, while he stood frozen at the kitchen sink, then moved away and started talking about Rosie’s new tooth.

But John had seen, and thought, and agonized. He’s been through a version of this, an ugly version, after Mary’s death, and managed to stop. He never wanted to hurt anyone like he’d hurt Sherlock again, and he didn’t want to drink himself to death.

So, he changed—well, somewhat. He bought no more hard liquor. Beer, that was the thing. Harmless, even in fairly large quantities. Not that he’d use large quantities.

Gradually, though, he did.

About the time he started purchasing beer a case at a time, he noticed another familiar, troubling symptom. He was angry again. So very angry, and often for no discernible reason. He was angry at shop girls; he was angry at patients who failed to fill out forms properly; he was angry when his favourite show wasn’t on telly when he expected it.

He reduced the beer purchases. It didn’t help, so he bought more. Because he was still angry (and terrified, honestly)—angry, now, that the anger had become independent of his drinking.

 

 

 

 

It hadn’t been, once upon a time. Now, granted, in retrospect it seemed like John had always been angry, to one degree or another. He had a reputation as a hothead throughout school; being a small kid didn’t help, of course, but his classmates learned the hard way that “small” didn’t mean “helpless”.

But he really hit his stride, in a lethal kind of way, once he discovered alcohol in his late teens. Up to that point he’d avoided it—the influence of his father, and his father’s heavy drinking, made John determined to avoid the same pitfalls. But at uni, and then going through military training, he fell in with a group of hard-drinking, hard-partying friends, who laughed at his concerns and promised to tell him if he ever stepped over the line. He tried it; he liked it; he kept doing it.

He never fully crossed that “line”, but he danced along it for a number of years. And in those same years, the anger that he’d somewhat learned to control roared back. John was the one who, though he rarely started fights, could always be called upon to end them. Usually one of the smallest men in the room, he was nonetheless the one who virtually always walked away the victor. Once he got angry enough, he had no care for potential consequences. He spent more than one night in the drunk tank, waiting for his friends to sober up and bail him out.

What he never told anyone (and, when sober, hated) was how good that anger felt—how cleansing. Using his fists to prove his worth. And, when he was drunk enough, being fiercely proud of being feared.

It all came to a head in Afghanistan. John loved it, at least at first: loved combat surgery, loved doing field triage, loved the adrenaline rush, followed by the surge of accomplishment for saving a life. But he didn’t love the losses; wasn’t prepared to accept that not every soldier could be saved, or that his own skills sometimes just weren’t enough. And, after one too many losses, John marched into one of his fellow surgeon’s tents, grabbed the bottle of whiskey he knew resided in a spare pair of boots, and proceeded to drink himself insensible.

When he awoke, one of his friends stood beside his bunk, paracetamol, water and a bucket at the ready. John spent a miserable 12 hours, then went into his next shift as if nothing had happened. No one said anything about it.

Until it happened again. And again. Until finally, John was starting his day with beer and toast. And the anger came roaring back, and John gained a reputation, once again, as a hothead.

The end, when it came, was utterly predictable when looked at from a distance of almost 10 years. John never showed up for his shift drunk, never worked drunk (since, by now, his morning beer or two didn’t impair him to any significant degree), never drank during a shift. But, every night that he had nothing else on, he would head back to his tent and drink until he could no longer reliably fill a glass.

The night that changed his life, then, he had had roughly a quarter of a bottle of whiskey, followed by at least two beers. He was on his bunk, snoring away, when an alarm rang through the camp, alerting them to incoming wounded on helicopters.

He slept through the alarms. He slept through the landing. He didn’t wake until a corpsman burst frantically in and began dragging him bodily to the showers. While John leaned, soaked, sputtering and furious, against the side of the shower stall, James Sholto came in, grabbed John’s head and shoulders and shoved a finger down John’s throat. Once John had vomited up everything he’d eaten and drank for the past two days, Sholto washed away the results, handed John a large bottle of water, a towel and a set of scrubs.

They spent the next 11 hours side-by-side in surgery. John didn’t kill anyone. That was the best he could have hoped for.

They could have court-martialed him. John knew it. John was pretty sure he deserved it. But James Sholto, thankfully, disagreed.

After their marathon surgery shift, Sholto ordered John back to his quarters, with a command to present himself, appropriately groomed and clad, in eight hours. John staggered to his bunk, sure he’d never sleep, and woke to his usual alarm six hours later, with no memory of lying down.

He presented himself, miserable and stone-cold sober, twenty minutes before his appointed meeting. Sholto looked up from his desk, noted John’s attire and shaking hands, and proceeded to ignore him until the previously-set hour.

As an alarm chirped from his watch, Sholto put aside his work, stood and closed the office door. Then he came back and sat on the edge of his desk, directly in front of John. He leaned forward and looked directly into John’s eyes.

“Can you quit?” he asked. “Do you want to?”

Yes,” John said, his eyes filling and overflowing, knees threatening to go. “Oh, God, yes.”

And he did. Oh, he had a bit of help—Sholto insisted on it, made John attend counseling once a week for the next six months. John went, and talked, and hated every damn minute of it. But it worked—John never drank anything stronger than tea for the next three years, and the anger bled out of him as if someone had poked a hole in the place where he stored it.

By the time his second tour in Afghanistan ended at the end of a sniper’s rifle, John had been able to transition to a cautious relationship with alcohol—the occasional beer or stout, even a finger of whiskey now and again, without ever triggering the urge for more. The anger, for the most part, stayed away, and John was almost happy.

Then he got shot. And then he met Sherlock Holmes. And then the two of them met James Moriarty.

Very early on in his relationship with Sherlock, alcohol had re-entered the picture, but not to a worrying degree, certainly not in an abusive way. The anger, too, crept up, but not in an alarming fashion, considering their circumstances.

As time went by, both alcohol and anger seeped into John’s life. He wasn’t quite the hothead yet, but he ended many evenings with a finger, or two, or three, of the fine whiskey Sherlock’s brother gave them as gifts periodically and Sherlock never drank. His temper flared, but he hadn’t hit anyone who didn’t deserve it (criminals didn’t count). He shouted at Sherlock, but Sherlock both deserved and expected it, most of the time.

By the time Sherlock “died”, though, John could feel things slipping away from him again. In retrospect, his chinning the Chief Inspector was a triumph—he wanted to keep hitting the man until he never got up. He stopped himself--but, in the darkest hours afterward, hated himself for having done so.

John suspected, months later when he was finally able to think, that people would have assumed that a tragedy like theirs would have released the shaky hold John had on both his drinking and his temper. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Through the long, grey months, then years, of Sherlock’s absence, John wasn’t drinking (much—although there were exceptions) and wasn’t angry. Wasn’t anything, actually, once the initial appalling pain faded. John faded, in fact, until, by the time he met Mary, there was very little left.

And then there was Mary, and a returned Sherlock. John found himself again; he also found alcohol, and at least some of his anger (mostly at Sherlock—initially, in one of those moments when the anger took over, and John scared himself a bit). But it was manageable. It was fine. It had to be fine, once Sherlock’s own damage started to reveal itself, and John found himself acting as both friend and counselor to a deeply traumatized, frighteningly fragile consulting detective. Something, maybe the renewed purpose, made him temporarily whole.

He lapsed on alcohol as the wedding approached—realized, as he prepared to go on Sherlock’s Sherlock-y idea of a stag night, that he couldn’t get through it sober, and that beer wasn’t going to do it. But it was fine, again—not John’s first night in the drunk tank, after all, and he was fairly sure Sherlock had spent his time there as well, though certainly not for alcohol.

The wedding itself was madness, of course, but John kept his even keel—the excitement outweighed any need for chemical assistance, and he simply hadn’t the time to be angry. And the honeymoon—it had been grand, and reading Sherlock’s highjacked blog comments had him (and Mary) laughing till they cried.

Then the shooting, and the reveal, and months of pain and estrangement and rehabilitation capped by that horrible, horrible Christmas. It seemed they’d boarded a runaway roller coaster, that took them from highs to lows without slowing down. John held things together, mostly because Sherlock’s physical weakness gave him no choice—he couldn’t be a caretaker and angry. Or, at least, he couldn’t ever express that anger, and that meant that alcohol was off the table again.

After the debacle of Magnussen, and the false Moriarty broadcast, they fell into a No Man’s Land—in retrospect, it was a false spring of a sort. They were like children in a candy store—running cases with Sherlock, who worked with a feverish dedication, bouncing from one ridiculous scenario to another, never slowing for a moment (which, looking back, was probably a bit of a red flag—Sherlock had seemed intent on not giving himself a chance to stop, as if idleness was dangerous).

The baby came—the wonderful, beautiful baby, along with the flurry of christenings, and child minders, and complete lack of sleep. It was terrifying, frustrating, but marvelous all the same.

And then Mary disappeared. And then Mary died. The alcohol came roaring back, in full control, and brought the anger, the searing, burning, heart-stopping anger, with it. And most of that anger was directed at Sherlock. Because (or so the alcohol insisted) it was all his fault.

 

Chapter Text

The alcohol swallowed John whole—well, that and the anger, since the two now, once again, had a symbiotic relationship. When John was sober (which, granted, wasn’t very often in those first weeks after Mary died), he felt that red-hot glow fade, ever so slightly. But as soon as he had his first beer or three, or his first whiskey, it was back, glued firmly around his heart so that nothing else could enter.

Harry tried—her first, tentative foray back into his life after the debacle of her £75,000 gambling debt*, even though she wasn’t, strictly speaking, sober at the time. She handled the funeral, since John just…couldn’t (he found, much later, that the costs had been paid by Mycroft Holmes. Something else that made John angry). Afterwards, she called, she texted, she showed up unannounced and occasionally brought dinner and put his daughter to bed. But John initiated none of that contact, nor reciprocated, and gradually the visits and texts grew further and further apart. Those were some of the things John remembered, when he thought he would drown in the dark.

The lowest point of the whole thing, obviously, was the period when he forgot his daughter existed. But the second—that was the letter he wrote to Sherlock. To this day, John wasn’t completely sure what he’d written (not everything, anyway), but what he could recall was…horrible. Unjust. Intentionally cruel, and pinpointing exactly those things that John knew Sherlock saw as lacking in himself, though Sherlock would never say so aloud. Molly had wept when she read it, begged John to stop, and John shouted at her until she shuddered and took it, to give to her other friend who was in nearly as much pain as John.

When they were reconciled, when it was all done, John had asked, hesitantly, what Sherlock had done with the letter. Sherlock blanched, went silent, and left shortly thereafter. And John was distressed to realize that Sherlock’s refusal to respond made him ever-so-slightly angry, again. Because the anger was always, always looking for an outlet.

Distancing himself from his friend had given John an ugly surge of satisfaction that was refreshed every time he saw Sherlock’s picture in the paper or on telly, standing wretchedly next to a worried-looking Greg Lestrade. The darkness under pale eyes, the gaunt face and shadowed expression, fed something awful in John’s soul. But, as Sherlock descended into what John now knew was a drug-fueled mania, those mentions trailed off to nothing, and John was left with the silence of the flat, or the dull routine of the surgery. And that, too, made him angry. So, he drank more, to hopefully dilute the anger to the point that he wasn’t tempted to strike out at everyone he met. He wasn’t very successful.

Finally, he listened to Molly’s repeated pleas (and, ironically, “Mary’s”, given that John’s subconscious was a hypocritical bastard, urging him on one side to be a drunken, angry, abusive son of a bitch, and on the other to make rational, healthy choices), and signed up for a new therapist. He’d long since decided that both Holmeses were right about Ella—the woman hadn’t a clue on how to help John (though, to be fair, John very rarely told her much, and what little he did say usually had no more than a nodding acquaintance with the truth).

Ironically, Eurus Holmes was a much more capable therapist than Ella ever was. It didn’t turn out especially well in the end, though, when you figured in the whole “body in the airing cupboard” bit. Well, that and shooting him in the neck with a tranquilizer.

But, before all of that, there was Culverton Smith. And the Incident (John referred to it, in his head, just like that, capitals and all), which John found himself completely unable to reconcile with any moral precepts he had ever held for himself. And, in the aftermath of the Incident, his still-adamant intent to block Sherlock Holmes from his life entirely.

That, at least, John “cured” himself of, to the point where he remained astounded that he had walked out of an unconscious Sherlock’s hospital room that first evening convinced he was doing the right thing—even a little smug about it. By the time he had pulled the horrifying Smith off of his friend and seen Sherlock through the first few days of recovery, though, John looked back on that decision as if his body had temporarily been commandeered by pod people. He didn’t recognize that person, to the point where it was very disturbing to think about it.

After Sherlock’s recovery, after John’s emotional meltdown (in which Sherlock was, for once in his life, the more emotionally-mature of the two of them, a fact for which John would never cease to be grateful), after Eurus and Sherrinford and the well, John just wanted his life back. Yes, his life was crazed; yes, it would never meet anyone’s definition of “stable and well-adjusted”, but it was his (and Rosie’s. And Sherlock’s) and he (usually) loved it just the way it was.

Then why did he seem to have so much trouble settling back into it?

 

 

 

John found himself increasingly at sea as the weeks passed. He and Rosie were at Baker Street most days and interacted happily with the revolving group of friends who passed through their doors. That, typically, went just fine: John never found himself getting angry with Mrs. H., or Molly, or Greg, or even (oddly enough) Mycroft.

But Sherlock—he found himself, for lack of a better word, “picking on” Sherlock, to the point where Mrs. Hudson raised her eyebrows at him once or twice. Things that he would have let pass with an eyeroll or a gusty sigh, in the past, now led to thundering scolds and the occasional early departure, a wailing Rosie in tow.

Sherlock noticed, of course, and in his saner moments John could see the detective trying to modify his behaviour, trying to be non-confrontational, trying to remember all of the myriad social and household rules that he never bothered with before (and didn’t really understand). In those same saner moments, John would try to awkwardly apologize, and Sherlock would respond with a dismissal that was just as awkward and go on as if nothing had happened.

After one of those apologies, John would vow to be more tolerant, to put their relationship back into the comfortable, caring mode they had previously enjoyed. He started bringing pastries with him when they went to Baker Street early in the day, and was rewarded by a glowing smile from Sherlock, whose sweet tooth was every bit as present as before he “died”.

John’s resolve lasted roughly a week.

On the following Friday, John left Rosie at the neighbor’s house for the day—a “play date”, as if (in Sherlock’s sarcastic view) infants actually needed a social calendar. There was a case—Lestrade had swung by Baker Street to brief Sherlock the previous evening, and Sherlock had texted John as soon as it became clear that this one had the potential to be really interesting. (“A ring dealing in exotic fish, John—and the victim was found tied to the bottom of a tank containing 40 poisonous jellyfish but wasn’t stung!”) John wasn’t quite sure why the lack of stings was either exciting or relevant but was willing to be convinced.

When John arrived, Sherlock was in the process of building his evidence wall, happily bustling back and forth from the kitchen to the lounge, sticking photos, reports, and sticky notes on the wall before creating an elaborate web with various colours of Mrs. Hudson’s yarn (John had made a point of replenishing her supply every couple of months, since it never occurred to Sherlock that the poor woman might actually intend it for some other use). While he worked, the detective shot questions at Greg, rapid-fire, only about a third of which the older man could answer.

John found himself reflecting that Sherlock didn’t treat Greg all that well, considering everything that the policeman had risked over the years on Sherlock’s behalf. Greg, too, had fared poorly in Sherlock’s “death”, spending several months on suspension and the remaining time (until Sherlock’s name was cleared) given grudging assignments well below his skill level or former pay grade. John really doubted that he’d ever received an apology from Sherlock for any of that.

He listened as Sherlock once more cut Greg off as he tried patiently to explain his thinking on a pivotal clue.

“Of course not, Geraldo. Why on Earth would you think something so stupid? It’s entirely the wrong colour,” Sherlock sniffed, turning his back and fluttering his hands dramatically.

“Don’t do that,” John snapped. Both Sherlock and Greg turned towards him, frowning and blinking respectively.

“Lestrade knows—” Sherlock began, in a dismissive tone.

“The hell he does,” John said. “Don’t treat him like an idiot. It’s insulting and demeaning.”

Sherlock flushed, looking over his shoulder towards Greg, standing uncomfortably in the kitchen. “Sorry,” he muttered, looking at his feet like a scolded child.

“S’alright, mate,” Greg said easily. “I know you don’t mean it like that.” Greg gave John—John!—a scolding look of his own, and John had to stomp down the instinct to snap at him as well.

John managed, just, to suppress the urge, choosing instead to make a strategic retreat into the kitchen. He thought about tea but decided the poor start to the day warranted something else. He opened the fridge and pulled out one of the beers he had taken to stocking here, raising his eyebrows at Greg inquiringly.

Greg’s brow furrowed. “It’s only just gone 11,” he said. “Bit early for me.”

“All the more for me, then,” John muttered, and sat back down in his chair to observe.

John listened with half an ear to the ongoing conversation between his two friends, finding himself peculiarly unwilling to join in. Finally, though, he made himself get out of his chair and go join Sherlock next to the evidence wall. He noticed Sherlock’s small half-smile as he did.

“So, how did the murderer avoid having the victim stung by the jellyfish?” he asked, looking at one of the many photos of the corpse. “Or does it really matter?”

Sherlock gave a scandalized gasp. “Of course, it matters, John! To understand the entire process is…it leads to…we need to know,” he finished, frowning.

“Well, you need to know,” John said, looking cynically at Lestrade. “I doubt Greg cares one way or the other, so long as we solve the case.”

“Oi,” Greg said. “I’d quite like to know myself. Professional interest, ya know.”

Sherlock smirked at John before turning back to his evidence wall. “You see, John?” he asked over his shoulder. “Gilbert is marginally smarter than he appears.”

Just as the final words came out of the detective’s mouth, John found himself moving forward, his hand clamping down on Sherlock’s shoulder. “I told you not to— “he snarled, but abruptly found himself seized around the waist and spun towards the door by Greg.

As John struggled furiously to break Greg’s hold, the older man hustled both of them towards the stairs, talking over John’s incoherent, furious noises.

“Back soon, Sherlock,” Greg said, continuing to move them both down the steps. “Just taking a walk. No worries.” John tried to swing on him but couldn’t quite get into position.

“Um…OK?” Sherlock said hesitantly. John caught just a glint of worried eyes before Greg hauled him out of eyeshot.

 

 

 

 

Once they’d reached the ground floor, Greg shoved John forcefully away and pointed at the front door. “Out,” he said. “Let’s go. You don’t want to have this conversation here, I promise you.”

“Don’t want to have this conversation at all,” John snapped. “Where do you get off, throwing your weight around?”

“Because I’m your friend, just like I’m Sherlock’s friend, and something is seriously wrong,” Greg said, giving John another shove to get him walking.

John seethed with resentment but began stalking towards Regents Park.

They walked in silence for several moments, before Greg pulled up even with John. “You need help, John,” he said.

I need help?” John asked, incredulous. “You’re the one acting the doormat, letting him treat you that way. He doesn’t even remember your name, but you let him talk to you like—”

“It’s a fucking joke, John, which you’d recognize if you’d pull your head out of your arse,” Greg said. “It’s always been a joke, but you’re the only one who doesn’t seem to get it.”

“No, the joke is that you don’t realize when he doesn’t give a shit about you,” John replied.

Greg snorted. “John. He jumped off a fucking building for me—and you, by the by. If that’s not ‘giving a shit’, I’m not sure what is.”

They had reached the edge of the park by now, and Greg pointed to a nearby bench. John sat, arms crossed, with an air of angry disdain.

Greg dropped onto the bench with a sigh. “Look, John, I know it’s been hard, and I know you’ve been through hell,” he began. “Plus, you haven’t had the best of luck in choosing therapists.”

The attempt at humour fell flat. John wasn’t in any mood to be jollied.

Greg shook his head. “Anyway. You seem to be really, really angry at Sherlock. Angry to the point that you want to hit him. And I have to tell you, mate, that you need to find a way not to do that, or you and I are going to have a problem. Because I let it pass last time, and I shouldn’t have. I won’t do that again.”

John’s head jerked up. “I told you, he was out of control,” John said.

“Well, yeah, at first,” Greg replied. “But then I looked at the security films.” His gaze dropped to John’s hands. “That wasn’t about stopping Sherlock, John,” he continued. “That was about hurting Sherlock. And if I’d done the right thing, I would have charged you.”

“I was a soldier,” John said. “I know how to stop someone, and I know when they’re dangerous. I was—”

“He never fought back,” Greg said soberly. “Not once. He let you take the scalpel, and he let you hit him, kick him. Because you told him he deserved it, and he believes you. He always believes you.” He looked John in the eye. “And that’s why I won’t let it happen again. Because he won’t protect himself. Not from you.”

“So, what—you’ll lock me up if I pop him one? No matter what he does or says to earn it?” John asked.

“No,” Greg said. “I’ll tell his brother.”

Chapter Text

“No,” Greg said. “I’ll tell his brother.”

 

John looked up, startled. “You mean—I, uh, I assumed he already knew,” he said slowly. “I thought he, well…honestly, I don’t know what I thought.”

Greg shook his head. “No. Mycroft called me, after the news broke online about Sherlock’s attack on Smith. You’re lucky, really—he was out of the country at the time, so he asked me what had happened. I told him what I knew at that point—hadn’t viewed the video yet, so I told him what you and the other witnesses had said. I knew Security had come into it towards the end, so I just assumed part of the damage came from that.”

He looked pointedly at John’s hands. “Guess I should have thought about it, when I saw how swollen your hand was. But, after I saw the tape, I thought long and hard about calling Mycroft back. I didn’t—figured you’d come to me once you’d cooled down, tell me what really happened. And I waited too long for that; once I realized you weren’t going to say anything, it was too late to tell him, and not look like I’d intentionally hidden it from him.” He paused, thought briefly, then continued. “I think you know how it would go if he heard the truth, no matter what Sherlock wanted.”

“I would have told you, if you’d asked,” John said gruffly, still feeling a bit belligerent.

“Well, yeah,” Greg replied, “but I shouldn’t have had to ask, you know? Because the John I used to know would have offered.”

“Yeah, well, let’s all agree I’m not the John you used to know,” John said, only registering as it came out of his mouth how very true it was.

Greg looked searchingly into his eyes. “Would you like to be?”

And John found that he honestly couldn’t answer that one.

 

 

 

After another five minutes of near-silent, uneasy companionship, the two stood and headed back to Baker Street. John wasn’t angry, exactly, and told Lestrade as much. Greg, on his part, was a little more equivocal.

“I’m, I never was angry at you, John,” he said. “But I’m confused, and concerned, and want to make sure you think about things before they get out of hand. Maybe get a little help. Can you do that for me?”

“Yeah, yeah,” John muttered, and Greg sighed but stayed silent for the rest of the trip back.

They were met at the pavement steps of 221 by a visibly-agitated Sherlock.

“Where did you go?” he demanded. “What’s wrong?” He was anxious enough that all of his “tells” were in play—fingers twitching, swaying from foot to foot, furrowed brow.

“Nothing, Sherlock,” Greg said, before John could get a word in edgewise. “Just needed to explain something to John. Nothing to do with you, really.”

John let that bald-faced lie pass, even though Sherlock clearly wasn’t buying it. He refused to say more, though, even after Greg left. Sherlock glowered for a bit but ultimately the siren call of his evidence wall was too strong, and he drifted back into his head. By the time John left, with a list of equipment to collect and calls to make before appearing the next morning, both of them, on the surface, appeared to have forgotten all about it.

But John really, really hadn’t.

 

 

 

John came back the next morning with a new determination. After a longer, more sober night than John had had in a while, he realized that Greg was absolutely right: John needed to fix this, needed to fix them. And it needed to start with John, since (viewed with a clearer eye than had previously been the case) John now recognized that much of the problem originated with him.

He wished he had a better idea of how to accomplish that.

He climbed the stairs with the assortment of odd items Sherlock had asked him to collect, as well as Rosie and all of her usual detritus. (He had often reflected that carrying a 90-pound army pack on 20-mile hikes had been excellent practice for parenthood). He thumped the bags, including Rosie’s, at the entry to the lounge and plunked Rosie down in the playpen by the windows (which Sherlock insisted on referring to as Baby Jail).

“Sherlock?” he called, wandering towards the bathroom to check—nothing.

He checked the coatrack by the door—the Belstaff was neatly hung over the peg, and the scarf had drifted down to lie on the floor beneath. Sherlock had to be here, then.

He walked back to Sherlock’s bedroom—nothing, but the usually-tidy bed was covered with an assortment of papers, clothing, and what appeared to be a bagged human hand. A quick look back in the lounge confirmed that the evidence wall had reached capacity, so this was now “overflow”.

John considered going down to Mrs. Hudson’s—Sherlock sometimes had breakfast with the older woman, something both of them enjoyed. But it was unlikely that one of the two wouldn’t have heard John come in.

He cast a quick look over at his daughter—she was busily bouncing her stuffed animals off each other, making happy little sounds. Safe to leave for a bit, then.

John turned and started up the stairs to his old room, noting the open door at the top, light filtering onto the landing from the tall windows. He didn’t really attempt to be quiet; Sherlock would hear him well before he reached the top, if he was there.

He was shocked, then, to reach the top of the steps and behold Sherlock, blissfully unconscious on John’s old bed. The detective was surrounded by a field of papers, books, phone and laptop, the latter having apparently slid off his lap as he lost the battle to stay awake. Now, Sherlock was curled on his side, one hand under his cheek and the other still resting near the laptop.

He looked twenty, and deceptively innocent. John felt an abrupt surge of irritation—despite all Sherlock had been through, his travails showed on his face so much less than John’s did. It seemed desperately unfair.

“Hey!” John barked, and was amused to see Sherlock give a full-body jerk and spin that tumbled him backwards off the bed. He landed, hard, with a pained cry.

Sherlock’s mad hair popped back over the edge of the bed shortly thereafter, followed by the rest of him. The detective pulled fretfully at his dressing gown, putting his rumpled clothes to right and attempting to slip his dignity back on at the same time.

“John,” he said stiffly. “I was…”

“Sleeping,” John interrupted. “You were sleeping.”

John stood, smirking to himself, as Sherlock considered arguing, then sighed and relented. “I had run into a surprising roadblock in research and worked very late. Too late, evidently.” He gave a rueful grin before turning for the door. “You’re welcome to join me for breakfast,” he called back over his shoulder.

“You mean I can cook breakfast, and you might eat some of it?” John called.

“That, too,” said Sherlock.

 

 

 

Half an hour later, John, Sherlock and Rosie had finished a simple breakfast of toast, eggs and juice (which Sherlock expressed surprise at seeing—apparently Mycroft’s minions were still working their magic and stocking his fridge), and Rosie sat contentedly in her high chair squeezing eggy bits between her fingers while John washed up.

Standing attentively next to her, Sherlock was patiently showing the baby a series of large pasteboard cards. John couldn’t see them—the angle was wrong—but Rosie watched carefully and made distinct facial expressions for each, as Sherlock nodded and made pleased noises. This wasn’t a new game, then. Suddenly, though, Rosie scrunched up her face and stuck out her little pink tongue, as Sherlock did the same, before erupting into a deep chuckle that was followed by the baby’s delighted giggle.

John put down his drying towel and walked over to see what the fuss was about, as Sherlock grinned and held up the cards. All held stylized human faces with expressions of emotion: happy, sad, angry, etc., labelled in large print at the bottom. The final card, though, was a photo of a frowning Mycroft Holmes.

John found himself smiling back at his friend, while wiping Rosie’s fingers clean. He raised an eyebrow inquiringly at the cards.

Sherlock looked at his hands. “Oh,” he said. “They were mine. Well, Mycroft’s, I suppose. He taught me with them.” The tips of his ears pinked suddenly. “Not every child finds facial recognition easy,” he said after a pause. His shoulders drew up a bit, and he shoved the cards into his large pocket.

It wasn’t often that John was reminded of Sherlock’s inherent…otherness. Almost invariably, those reminders hinted at past pain. The fact that his friend wanted to make sure that Rosie was shielded against that potential pain never failed to warm John’s heart.

“That’s a good idea,” John said reassuringly, and was pleased to see Sherlock’s shoulders relax. “But I suspect that last card wasn’t in the original set.”

Sherlock snorted. “No, that was my own addition.” He beamed briefly at Rosie. “I am looking forward to my brother’s next visit while she is present with a certain amount of anticipation.”

 

 

 

It was a good day. A busy day. Sherlock was focused and only minimally abrasive (he was always on his best behaviour when Rosie was present), even when it became clear that the case, initially so promising, was turning out to be a 5, at best.

“It’s very disappointing,” Sherlock sighed, midway through a telephone conference call with Greg Lestrade. “It’s clear the tank cleaner is responsible for moving the body—he didn’t even attempt to deny it when Donovan cornered him.”

That, too, was a change—when Rosie was over, they only left the flat if the case was difficult enough that Sherlock needed to see everything in person or was unsure which of several options was correct. That meant relying on the NSY staff for more of the “hands-on” work. John knew Sherlock found it frustrating, but the detective never said a word about it.

“Yeah, but he swears he didn’t kill the guy,” Greg’s voice said over the speaker on Sherlock’s phone. “He found the body and panicked, since he has a record and thought he’d be blamed. So we still don’t know—”

Sherlock wandered back towards the desk, flipping distractedly through piles of crime scene photos and dropping the discards on the floor. “We do know. It’s either the final customer, who could have killed Jacobson while the tank cleaner was spending 45 minutes working in the back building, or the shop owner, who claims to have left an hour previously but whose Oyster card was used three streets away only twenty minutes before the body was found. The shark repellent is a red herring, so to speak,” Sherlock continued, pausing to bow theatrically at John’s response to the pun, “though I must confess I find it fascinating that shark repellent worked on jellyfish as well—the tank cleaner put that on the body himself, in a misguided attempt to ‘save’ the corpse from any further injury. Though how jellyfish stings would harm someone who was already quite thoroughly dead is unclear to me.”

“Sentiment,” John said quietly, and Sherlock nodded.

“It all comes down to motive, and finding out why Jacobson came to the shop in the first place,” Sherlock continued. “Locate the final customer. It’s a pity there’s no security camera, but the tank cleaner knew him or at least had seen him before, which is why he left him unattended in the front of the shop, or so he told Donovan. An interview may give us what we need. I will sit in on your interrogation of the shop owner, if finding the final customer proves a dead end. There’s nothing in the shop’s financial records that would indicate a serious need for extra funds, so the question is, did the owner know about the smuggling, or was he just stupid enough to let his staff operate completely unsupervised? One would think that the operator of such a specialized shop would be capable of recognizing endangered species when he saw them, but it never pays to underestimate the profound stupidity of the population in general. He may be more lazy and uneducated than criminal.”

“Sterling endorsement, there, Sherlock,” Greg muttered.

“Oh, please,” Sherlock sneered. “If people were smarter your solve rate would be significantly lower, and I would be too busy to handle the excess workload.” He paused, struck by a thought. “It would provide many more interesting cases, though.”

John chuckled at the wistful tone of that.

 

 

 

The afternoon wore on, with no breakthroughs achieved and no new promising leads arising. The final customer was located and questioned, with Sherlock watching via Skype. “Not him,” was the detective’s succinct verdict. “Let him go.”

That left the owner of the shop. Greg Lestrade sighed and agreed to send officers to collect him, and Sherlock ordered him to text when the man was en route to NSY.

Things went downhill from there. The longer the wait, the more irritated (and irritating) Sherlock grew, and the less patient John felt.

“What are you doing?” John asked (for the third time—such things required repetition if he ever hoped to get an answer).

“Hacking into the owner’s medical records,” Sherlock said. He continued to type, making little observational humming sounds.

“Why?” John asked. “Do you think he’s, I dunno, raising money for some sort of medical issue that he doesn’t want to wait for NHS to treat?”

The resulting eyeroll looked almost painful.

“Of course not,” Sherlock said. “You’ve seen the pictures—he’s one of those tiresome ‘exercise’ sorts, bulging pectorals and all.”

“Then why are you looking at his records?” John asked.

“Bored,” Sherlock sighed. “Giles is taking too long. Either traffic is worse than usual, or he’s stopped for a snack on the way. I’ll be able to tell once we get there.” As if John cared one way or the other. God knows why Sherlock did.

The detective sniffed and closed the page. “Dull. Nothing of note, other than elevated testosterone levels. Clearly, he indulges in a little self-medication, but it’s inexpensive enough not to be relevant.” He pushed back from the desk, drumming his fingers on the edge.

“Come to that, though,” Sherlock said, after a meditative pause, “you’d be shocked at what one can find in medical records. All sorts of dirty little secrets. Mrs. Hudson’s was a gold mine—how do you think I found out about the Youtube videos?”

John felt a flash of irritation. “You shouldn’t do that to people you know,” he said gruffly. “It’s disrespectful.”

Sherlock waved an airy hand. “It’s not like I’m going to tell anyone.”

“You just told me,” John pointed out.

Another eyeroll. “Yes, and I’m sure you’ll run right out and tell everyone you know,” Sherlock said.

“Not the point,” John replied. “Don’t do it anymore.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows climbed into his fringe. “Well, I’ve already researched most of our acquaintances. I tried quite hard to access Mycroft’s, but it only resulted in his cutting off all of my bank cards for a week, and I didn’t even manage to open the files.”

He looked suddenly intent. “But I haven’t done yours,” he said slowly, turning back to his laptop.

No,” John said, reaching out and slamming the lid closed.

“Oh,” Sherlock breathed. “A challenge!” He grabbed the edge of the laptop, swatting at John’s hands, before John gave him a hard shove and tossed the computer roughly on the couch.

“I said no,” John snarled. “It’s none of your damn business.”

Sherlock’s face took on that mulish look that those who knew him came to dread. “Why not?” he said. “What kind of secrets might I find? What do you fondly imagine I don’t already know?”

“Again, none of your damn business,” John snapped. “And I’m keeping the laptop until we leave, just in case you decide to make another go of it.”

Sherlock crossed his arms, radiating the air of someone who’s been subjected to dire mistreatment. “Fine,” he sniffed. “I’ll just wait until you go home and do it then.”

John felt rage flood over him in a black wave. “The hell you will,” he near-shouted, and distantly heard Rosie burst into tears from Baby Jail as he strode forcefully towards Sherlock. His arms raised, almost of their own volition, as he lunged towards his friend.

His friend, who abruptly jerked backwards, tripping over a desk chair and falling, hard, with his legs tangled in the chair legs. His friend, who, still on hands and knees, scuttled urgently towards the screaming baby in her pen, putting himself bodily between John and his daughter while raising both hands defensively, eyes wide and shocked and desperate.

And John, suddenly, came back to himself as if doused with a bucket of water. He stood, gaping and appalled, in front of a cringing Sherlock and came to two horrifying conclusions:

One: Sherlock, brave, fearless, reckless Sherlock, was afraid of what John Watson might do to him; and

Two: Sherlock believed that John Watson was a potential danger not just to Sherlock, but to his daughter as well.

The two men stood staring at each other, panting with fear and emotion, before John broke the stasis, turning and thundering down the stairs towards the front door. He heard Sherlock’s anguished shouting behind him but ignored it, as he ignored his daughter’s howls as well. He needed distance.

His thought processes clicked back in before he’d traveled more than a street or two.

Sherlock couldn’t follow him: Mrs. Hudson was out, and he would never leave the baby alone, especially when she was so distressed. John had few illusions about it, though—as soon as he could manage it, Sherlock would bundle Rosie into her carrier and be in pursuit.

He couldn’t go back, if for no other reason that he feared, really, truly feared, that Sherlock was right to be afraid of him. When these impulses overcame him, he was not in control. He didn’t recognize that man. That man fucking terrified him, and evidently terrified Sherlock as well.

He couldn’t go to Greg Lestrade: Greg would be obligated to take him in for attempted assault. Even if he hadn’t actually touched his friend, the intent had been there, and Sherlock had believed himself in peril. Sherlock would of course deny it happened—but, this time, John would not.

John needed help, and that help needed to include something that kept him physically away from both Sherlock and his daughter. He knew Rosie would be safe—as the period after Mary’s death had proven, there were multiple caring friends willing to take on her care, even if Sherlock didn’t feel capable of doing it himself. But Sherlock would never stop looking unless he was told that John was safe and would (hopefully) be back once he was sure that Sherlock would be safe if that happened.

That left John with only one viable option that ticked all of the necessary boxes.

Looking around, he spied a corner shop selling stationery, newspapers and magazines. He darted inside, threw down money and grabbed a small tablet and a black marker. Then he strode back out to the street, looked around until he located the closest CCTV camera, and placed himself directly in front of it. He waved his arms slowly, then wrote a message carefully on his tablet in large letters before holding it up for the camera:

COME GET ME.

Chapter Text

A sleek black car pulled up a gratifying five minutes later. From John’s perspective, it was five minutes too long—long enough for him to realize he was shaking, head to toe, and people were giving him alarmed looks as they passed him on the pavement.

He wasn’t sure if he was pleased or not when the car proved to be empty beyond the silent driver. Anthea might, possibly, have been soothing; Mycroft would have been too much to handle in a confined space.

The car moved smoothly through the streets towards what John recognized as Mycroft’s home—it was only six in the evening, so the bureaucrat must have left his office earlier than he usually did. They pulled into the parking garage under the building and the driver opened the car door remotely; John wouldn’t require an escort, then.

John had been to Mycroft’s townhome a few times in the past, mostly for holiday dinners. He walked over to the lift entrance, aware that everything had taken on a remote, misty character. Shock, a voice in his head said softly. It was a pleasant change from the full-bore terror of the previous ten minutes.

When he entered the lift, he was surprised (and mildly alarmed) to see the doors close immediately and the lift begin rising, without any action on his part. Mycroft’s disembodied voice came from invisible speakers.

“You were expected, after all,” he said, with no further elaboration. “Come to the kitchen when you reach the ground floor.”

 

 

 

 

The lift opened onto the main hallway of Mycroft’s grand home, and John turned right towards the world-class kitchen that he knew Mycroft used only rarely. As John entered, the older man held up his mobile.

“I have just received a rather incoherent phone call from my brother,” he said. “He apparently feared your state of mind, and believed that you may intend to harm yourself.”

It was said in a tone of polite inquiry, but John, who knew Holmeses quite well, could read the underlying disquiet that Mycroft was suppressing.

“I hope you reassured him,” John said. He shivered at the thought of what that phone call must have sounded like, if Mycroft termed it “incoherent”.

“I was not certain that I could,” Mycroft said delicately.

John made a sound that, in other circumstances, might have passed for a laugh. “I wouldn’t be here if I planned on killing myself, Mycroft. I do have a gun, you know, and your brother couldn’t stop me from taking it if I wanted to. But the truth is I wouldn’t do that, to either Sherlock or my daughter.”

“I am…relieved to hear it,” Mycroft said, and John believed him. “How, then, can I help to resolve this situation? Would you like to contact Sherlock, or should I? And, to be blunt, why did you come to me?”

“Just tell him I’m safe,” John said. “Anything beyond that depends on you, once we’ve talked.” And it did—John wasn’t sure how Mycroft would take this, but couldn’t see any other viable solution, short of disappearing, and staying gone.

Mycroft raised his dark ginger brows, but typed in a message and sent it. The phone pinged again immediately, followed by three more rapid-fire messages.

“We will need to ignore him for now,” he said, with a mildly apologetic air. “And I will initiate minor setbacks to prevent his arriving in the next twenty minutes, but I likely will be unable to delay him any further than that. He’s quite inventive when agitated, even while burdened with Rosamund.” He tapped several more times at his phone keyboard. Two more messages came in.

John did laugh at that one. “That’s a polite way of putting it. It’s a lucky thing that I left my own mobile at the flat.”

Another message chirped. Mycroft rolled his eyes, tapped a key and put his phone facedown on the kitchen island. Then he looked to John and waited expectantly.

John took a fortifying breath before leaping right to the core of things. “There’s something very wrong with me,” he said. “Something…dangerous. Out of my control. Don’t know where it’s coming from, but I just scared your brother to death, and I’ve realized he has every reason to be afraid of me. I’m afraid of me.”

Mycroft looked momentarily startled, before his face dropped into a Holmesian blank. “I somehow find it unlikely that you would intentionally do my brother harm, John.”

“You don’t get it,” John said impatiently. “I already have.”

 

 

 

 

Ten appalling minutes later, John stood looking over Mycroft Holmes’ shoulder as the bureaucrat watched the Incident—watched on-screen John attack his brother, viciously kick him, punch him, continue to attack as he slid helplessly to the floor. By the time Sherlock, tears in his eyes, gave on-screen John tacit permission to fucking kill him, if he wanted to, John, real-time John, was struggling not to vomit.

The tape rolled inexorably on, showing a trauma team rush in with a gurney, showing Sherlock give a breathless gasp of agony as they lifted him, before going limp, eyes closed. Mycroft gave a small flinch at that, and reached forward quickly to flick the video off. Then he stood back from the counter holding the laptop and turned his attention to John.

The marginally-genial Mycroft Holmes who had greeted John when he arrived was gone. This, now, was the Iceman.

He said nothing aloud. He didn’t have to—the change was enough.

“I told you,” John said. “I recognize that something is seriously wrong. I should have done something sooner—I didn’t. I honestly don’t know why.”

“You don’t know a great many things, it would appear,” Mycroft said, in arctic tones. “I would hope that this…abomination, and the ensuing events, did not include a concerted effort to keep what occurred from my notice.” His voice dropped half an octave. “Since you knew what my reaction would most certainly be to this.”

John shook his head, refusing to react to the thinly-veiled threat of that voice. “No, it didn’t,” said John. “But it should probably say something about how generally off my thinking has been that it never occurred to me to worry about it.”

Mycroft made an ugly sound masquerading as amusement. “How comforting for you. And how exceptionally fortunate you are that I fear my brother would not survive your loss,” he said.

Mycroft,” John said. “You didn’t listen. I’m here because I recognize that I, looking at almost everything I have done the past few months, am fucked up. I’m not here to beg forgiveness—I can’t forgive myself, let alone ask anyone else to do so. But the bottom line is, I am not in control part of the time. And, if that’s correct, we’d better find out what else is riding around in my head, before I do something even worse than what’s on that tape, don’t you think?”

Mycroft still looked stonily at John, but his silence was marginally encouraging.

“I know I need to see someone. I know that ‘someone’ needs to be extremely competent, unlike my previous therapists,” John said. “But I also know that, given the extremely secret, potentially damaging information that also sits in my head, that ‘someone’ needs to be a therapist who’s used to dealing with military or covert-agent patients, who’s signed the Official Secrets Act, who’s totally trustworthy. So, who else would I ask for that kind of recommendation but the one in charge of all the secrets?”

Mycroft’s expression eased marginally. “That’s…not incorrect,” he said stiffly.

John felt part of the weight shift off his shoulders. “That’s—” he began, just as strident alarms shrilled out, and the overhead light began to strobe.

Mycroft closed his eyes with a sigh. “It would appear my brother has arrived.”

 

 

 

 

Just as the alarms quieted, Sherlock burst into the kitchen, a cross-looking Rosie strapped firmly to his chest. “John!” he barked, striding forward to grasp John by both forearms. Rosie wriggled and complained between them.

John pushed the hands away and stepped back. “I’m fine, Sherlock. I’m…physically, I’m fine, and I’m not intending to harm myself. I wouldn’t…I…not to you. Not to either of you. But,” and he took another firm step back, even as Rosie reached out tiny fingers demandingly towards him, “it’s not safe for either of you to be around me. Not until we, until I, get my head straight, find out where this is coming from.”

“Where what is coming from?” Sherlock said, brow furrowing. Rosie began to fret, and he absently petted her head while continuing to stare at John. “You haven’t…you didn’t really…,” he trailed off, before trying again. “I don’t believe you would actually—”

Mycroft cut him off before John could. “He already has, brother mine,” he said, not unkindly. “Something you chose not to share with me, though I will make some allowance for your physical and mental state at the time.”

“It didn’t matter—” Sherlock snarled, and stopped himself when Rosie puckered up her face and began to wail. John, despite his misgivings, reached for her and pulled her free of the sling, while Sherlock’s face fell into a mask of misery. “It didn’t matter,” he said again, very quietly, looking at the floor.

“Yeah,” John said, just as softly. “It did.”

 

 

 

 

Shortly thereafter, they migrated by some sort of unspoken agreement to Mycroft’s comfortable den. They had already given Rosie a bottle from the bag Sherlock had remembered to sling over his shoulder, and then deposited her gently in the portable cot that had mysteriously appeared in one of the townhouse’s guestrooms the first time Rosie came to dinner. Wrung out from tears and a frantic taxi ride across town, the baby snuggled into her stuffed elephant with an exhausted sigh.

Now, the adults settled uncomfortably into chairs and looked at one another, each one reluctant to begin this conversation again.

After several minutes of silence, Mycroft, consummate diplomat that he was, sighed and took the lead.

“Are we agreed that immediate evaluation of Dr. Watson’s mental state is warranted?” he said.

Sherlock bristled. “I hardly think that ‘mental state’ is a fair—”

“Yes,” John said. Sherlock turned a betrayed look his way.

“Sherlock,” he continued, “this is not going away. This is not getting better—if anything, it’s worse. When these spells happen, I get no warning. All of sudden, my body starts moving, without any intent on my part—at least, not intent as I’ve usually thought of it. Before these things happen, I don’t consciously want to hurt you. You’re the most important person in my life, barring my daughter, and I can’t see that changing.”

His friend’s face had fallen into The Mask—this had passed Sherlock’s comfort level with emotion. John sighed, but went on. It had to be said.

“The rest of this, the bits before I try to hit you—the people around us have all seen it, said things about it,” John said. “I’m mean to you, Sherlock—for no real reason. Even when I’m not threatening to physically harm you, I’m dismissive, I’m intolerant of things I’d normally just ignore, I have unreasonable expectations that you’ll automatically meet standards that you’ve never understood and never will.”

Sherlock’s shoulders raised, and his eyes lowered.  

“Not your fault,” John interjected firmly. “That’s part of the point, actually. I, my head, whatever the fuck this is, seems to always be looking for a reason to hurt you, either verbally or physically. If it doesn’t find one, it’ll make one up.”

Sherlock had opened his mouth, preparing to object again, when Mycroft re-entered the conversation, cool reason personified.

“So, if I may summarize: John, you consider yourself a danger, potentially to both Sherlock and your daughter, and do not believe it safe to remain in their presence alone. Is that correct?” he said, as if finishing up a budget meeting.

John blinked, then replied. “Um…yeah, that’s it. Until we figure this out, I can’t be alone with either one of them, I think.” The idea of that grabbed him solidly by the throat all of a sudden. He found himself completely unable to continue, and was grateful that Mycroft once again took the lead.

“In the interim, then, we must settle on accommodations for Ms. Watson that enable her to both see you, but also be, forgive me, protected. And, though I am sure Sherlock is more than capable of caring for her, she would perhaps be more content in a less-frenetic environment, at least until she is a trifle older,” he said, giving his brother a nod to indicate he knew Sherlock would be insulted at the idea of being incapable, or unwilling, to care for Rosie.

I won’t have her go into care,” John barked, suddenly on his feet and borderline furious. Both Holmes brothers startled at that, and John, once again, was left with the queasy feeling of having momentarily stepped out of the driver’s seat of his own body.

There was a brief uncomfortable silence, before John could bring himself to speak. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Illustrates exactly what I mean, yeah?” Rage still simmered darkly, just below the surface.

Sherlock looked like a spooked cat (and that nasty little voice in the back of John’s head purred “Good”). Mycroft recovered more quickly, though.

“Yes, well,” he said, nodding briskly. “An effective demonstration, John, though I am aware that was not your intention.” He gave John a quick look that was marginally apologetic. Sherlock continued to watch warily.

Mycroft templed his fingers, much like his brother’s mannerism, before continuing. “So, to recap: we need a placement for Rosamund which provides you with access to her on a regular basis, while not allowing solo visitation. And, I would presume, you would also wish to interact with my brother, at least on an occasional basis—but also not without others present. This will need to be within reasonable travel distance for your sessions with medical professionals, since I am quite sure you would prefer to undertake these in a private setting, rather than in hospital.”

He looked inquiringly at John, who nodded firmly.

“Not much interested in staying in a psych ward, no,” John said. “But I will if I have to.”

“I don’t believe that will be necessary, at least not at this time,” Mycroft said. “Now, as to therapeutic concerns: would you be amenable to counselling with Dr. Arquette*? You already know him, and I believe Sherlock has found him very helpful. His security clearance, of course, goes without saying.”

John thought about that—he did like Dr. Arquette, and was particularly impressed at the man’s handling of Sherlock after his return. The psychiatrist had visited Sherlock regularly during his recovery from the shooting; they had progressed, just prior to Mary’s death, to only meeting once every two months or so.

In the horrible days immediately thereafter, the detective had one wholly-unproductive session with Ella and never went back. But Sherlock had returned to “Dr. A” in the aftermath of Culverton Smith and all that followed, and seemed satisfied to continue for the time being.

“I…maybe?” John said. He looked at his friend. “Sherlock, would you be bothered if I saw Dr. A as well?”

“No, of course not,” Sherlock scoffed. “It’s not like he doesn’t know all about both of us already anyway.” He dropped his chin and looked up through his lashes. “And I’m fairly sure he’s not really my sister.”

John was startled into a reluctant giggle, while Sherlock looked satisfied with himself. Mycroft just gave a long-suffering sigh.

“Allow me to wrap this up, then,” Mycroft said, in a repressive tone.

Sherlock smirked at John, but stayed silent.

“We require housing for both you, John, and your daughter. Such housing must have other occupants ready and willing to act as…monitors between you on a regular basis, and take on the daily care of an infant. Ideally, the housing should also be open to my brother, if only for mutual support. Finally, it should be within reasonable commuting distance of your chosen physician—no more than an hour, say,” the bureaucrat continued. He paused, clearly for effect, before holding up his mobile. “As it happens, I have what I believe may be an excellent solution.”

Sherlock suddenly groaned. “Oh, God,” he said, while John probably looked as mystified as he felt.

“What? What’s wrong?” John asked, mildly alarmed. “Who’s he calling? And why would he need—”

Mycroft gave his brother an especially smug smile, punched a button on his phone, and held it to his ear. “Good evening, Mummy. How are you?” he crooned, as Sherlock dropped his head in his hands.

Chapter Text

John had forgotten how uncomfortable traveling in a closed car with an anxious Sherlock could be. By the time Rosie was strapped, red-faced and howling, into her car seat between them in the rear, the detective was already on edge, twiddling his fingers, one leg bouncing restlessly.

They had settled in the front car, Mycroft sitting next to the driver, John and Sherlock flanking Rosie in the back. Mycroft’s obligatory security detail followed in a second car—it was, as the Great Man had been known to sigh, “a necessary evil, until the Powers That Be forget, once again, that my sister exists”. The good news was, Dwight and Alice were both excellent poker players, and Dwight could make a mean toasted cheese in a pinch.

The trip didn’t start well—Rosie was exhausted, and furious to be woken from her nap. She made her displeasure known, complete with angry screams, snot and thrown dummies, for the first ten minutes, before the cries abruptly trailed off, her eyes slid shut, and the adults breathed mutual sighs of relief. John gently wiped the baby’s face and hands; she never stirred.

“Thank God,” Sherlock said, slumping against the car door. “I was afraid her lungs would outlast my sanity.”

“Hardly a lengthy trip,” John said drily, and was rewarded with an eyeroll. For a moment, at least, things felt as they used to: snark, sniffs, and an easy camaraderie. But that moment was brief indeed.

No sooner had Rosie dozed off than Sherlock began.

First, it was a minor rant about dummies. “Why can’t they make them with an attached holder, so that children can’t throw them?” Sherlock demanded, picking up two casualties from the floor of the car with a disgusted moue. “Or, failing that, sell them in packs of 20, since that’s how many the average child goes through per week, based on Watson’s efforts?”

“The holder’s a non-starter,” John said. “They worry about infants getting a cord around their neck, or swallowing it.”

“With a dummy on the end? That would be extremely ambitious of an uncoordinated infant,” Sherlock sniffed. “But the larger packs…”

“Would cost twenty quid, and many families couldn’t afford it,” John said.

“But they use that many anyway,” Sherlock said. “And they should not have children before researching the costs, and planning accordingly.”

“Yeah, I’ll mention that at the Family Planning clinic,” John said drily. “I’m sure they’ve never thought about telling parents that aspect.”

Sherlock wriggled restlessly in his seat before lapsing into silence for five minutes. Just as John started to relax, the next item was thrown into play.

Sherlock began tapping rapidly with a biro on the back of the driver’s seat. He “played” for two minutes before turning to John.

“Give me another,” he said, holding a demanding hand out to John. “I can’t capture the full percussion range with just one.”

John sighed but complied. He noticed, though, that Andrew, Mycroft’s long-time driver, flinched when the additional “drum” was added.

Within three minutes, Mycroft’s shoulders had stiffened, and he was gazing rather forcefully out the window, as if the trees had personally offended him. Andrew’s shoulders hunched increasingly towards the steering wheel.

At eight minutes, John broke, reaching over, grabbing both “drumsticks” and hurling them out the window, while Sherlock gave a squawk of protest but failed to stop the confiscation.

“I wasn’t being any trouble,” Sherlock whinged. “You always complain that I’m annoying on car trips, but I was occupying myself and not talking.” The last was directly pointedly to the back of his brother’s head.

“This is why my parents stopped taking us on automobile vacations when Sherlock was three,” Mycroft sighed. “If we couldn’t take the train, we didn’t go.”

Sherlock scowled and ostentatiously turned his back on the other occupants of the car, arms folded militantly across his chest.

 

 

 

Silence reigned, by John’s watch, for a grand total of seven minutes, during which time John attempted to return to his paperback book and Mycroft cued up something governmental on his tablet.

Sherlock had been gazing theatrically out his window, sighing periodically at the injustice of it all. Suddenly, though, something on his phone caught his eye.

“Oh, my God,” he groaned. “Garson has lost his mind. As if I would be willing to come all the way back to town just to sign a report. Can’t the man adequately forge my signature by now? I can certainly do his.”

“And have, many times,” John muttered, trying to focus on the paperback. “And his name is Greg.”

“As if it matters,” Sherlock said, typing in what was almost certainly a snippy reply.

“Probably does to him,” John observed, still talking to his book.

After another full minute of silence, Sherlock, who had clearly been hoping for an invigorating argument, deflated back into his corner with a huff.

 

 

 

This time the pause wasn’t quite five minutes. Sherlock shifted, twitched, shifted again, then finally caved and opened his mouth.

“Mycroft. Why on Earth are we going this route? You know it takes at least fifteen minutes more,” he said.

“Because there’s construction on the main road,” Mycroft replied. “Barriers everywhere, and they’re doing much of the work at night. Mummy’s been quite annoyed.”

“Then we can go through Tadworth. Andrew, take the next left,” Sherlock said, pointing over the driver’s shoulder.

“No,” Mycroft said repressively. Andrew, having known Sherlock since the detective still had spots, wisely didn’t engage.

“But why not? Why would we want to spend any longer in the car than we had to? Going through Tadworth would take at least five minutes off, especially at this time in the evening,” Sherlock insisted.

“Because my security team prefers we keep to the busier roads,” Mycroft said. “And an additional five minutes won’t kill you. Though Andrew just might, if you poke his shoulder one more time.”

Sherlock flushed and yanked back his hand, which had crept up towards the stoic driver. He slouched back into his corner, but the pause lasted only a minute or two.

“I still think we could—” he began, in a sulky tone. But John’s subconscious tenant had had enough.

Sherlock!” he snapped. “Shut the fuck up!”

Rosie, between them, stirred but didn’t quite wake. The other three occupants of the car, however, froze momentarily, before Sherlock cringed and pulled back into his corner.

John, though—John began, wretchedly, to apologize once again, but Mycroft beat him to the punch. The bureaucrat reached over and gestured to the driver, who pulled quickly to the side of the road. Then Mycroft turned and looked over his shoulder at John.

“I think,” he said, in a formal tone, “that it would be best if you rode in the rear car for the remainder of the trip.”

And John, ignoring Sherlock’s muted rumble of disagreement, opened the car door and went.

 

 

Dwight and Alice were considerately quiet about John’s “walk of shame” back to their car. It wasn’t clear if Mycroft had texted, or if they just read John’s body language and decided silence was the best option. It helped that John knew them fairly well—they’d been a constant presence whenever Mycroft was around, and John often sat in the kitchen with them while the Holmes brothers engaged in one of their quasi-silent arguments. Anything was better than sharing the sitting room with two people who stared silently at each other for ten minutes at a time, punctuated by supercilious sneers (Mycroft), disgusted sniffs (Sherlock), and the occasional triumphant eyebrow lift.

The three of them sat in reasonably-companionable style for ten minutes, before Alice began a conversation about recent movies that lasted most of the way to the Holmes homestead. Once again, John found himself relaxing more the longer he was out of his friend’s presence, and wondered where that came from—and if he could send it back there.

 

 

 

They pulled up to the front circular drive in front of the historic home at just past 9pm. They had no sooner pulled in behind Mycroft’s car that the front door opened and the elder Holmeses bustled out, Mellie in the lead, making a beeline for the front car and her surrogate granddaughter.

John stepped quickly out of the car, hoping to sidle up close enough that the Holmes parents might not notice he hadn’t travelled with the others in all the commotion of arrival. An emotion peculiarly close to shame trickled through him.

Didn’t work, of course. Siger’s fine-boned head came up, and the old man gave a knowing grin. “Chose not to travel in close quarters with Sherlock, I see,” he said. “Was a few times in his childhood when I would have paid good money to be able to do the same.”

Of a wonder, they managed to unhook Rosie’s car seat without waking her. The group bundled inside quickly, without a great deal of conversation, and John and Mellie headed towards the upstairs guest room where John and Rosie had stayed together, the few times they’d visited in the past.

John was surprised, though, when Mellie walked right past the door to “their” room, heading to a small door at the end of the hall. She opened it with a flourish, to reveal a tiny room equipped with only a white-painted cot, an antique rocking chair with a beautiful quilt draped across the back, and a small dresser. A baby monitor sat on the dresser top, with the remote unit sitting ready next to it.

“We did a bit of remodeling,” Mellie whispered, as John carefully wrangled Rosie out of the car seat and settled her gently in the cot. “This old box room was sitting empty, and it’s just the right size.” And it was—cozy without being cramped, warm, even a small round window up at the roofline bringing in a bit of moonlight.

John felt a swell of affection. Mellie had been nothing but good, to both him and to his daughter. He reached over and hugged her, and she gave a little trill of pleasure.

“Thank you, dear,” she said. “Now, why don’t you go downstairs? I know Mycroft mentioned you had some…issues to attend to before bed. I’ll stay with Little Miss a bit to make sure she settles.” She sat down in the rocking chair and pulled a paperback book out of her jacket pocket, before twiddling her fingers at John to send him on his way.

 

 

 

As he expected, Sherlock and Mycroft had settled in the kitchen, the real nerve center of this rambling home. Siger wasn’t in attendance; Sherlock looked up at John’s entrance and, as usual, read his mind.

“He had to leave,” he said. “He’s walking and feeding the neighbor’s dogs. Be back in an hour or so.”

Mycroft rustled paperwork on the table in front of him, then cleared his throat significantly.

“I think it’s time we discuss the arrangements for this little sojourn,” he began. “I will not be staying beyond this evening; Sherlock, of course, may leave at his own discretion, but you, and your daughter, will remain as long as needed. I will be enlisting the help of interested parties to relieve my parents of some of the childcare duties, among other things. They will not be strangers; I assume that is acceptable to you, John?” He raised his eyebrows inquiringly, as if John, in some alternate universe, might actually object to Mycroft Holmes’ arrangements.

In this universe, John didn’t. While he was sure, at the moment, that he would never harm Rosie, he wasn’t prepared to gamble her life on that. His, maybe, but not hers.

Mycroft nodded as if John had replied verbally. “Very well,” he continued. “I have contacted Dr. Arquette on your behalf and given him a bare-bones explanation of the circumstances. He has indicated his willingness to engage with you, and you have your initial appointment at his London office at 3 tomorrow afternoon. I will send a car.”

Mycroft looked at his brother. “Sherlock, if you wish, you may ride back with me in the morning with Andrew, if you prefer not to travel with John. Understand that, if you do elect to go with Dr. Watson, you will be riding with security in some guise—either a member of my team, or one of our ‘guest’ minders. The two of you will not be unescorted at any point.”

John wanted to object—wanted Sherlock to point out how ridiculous it was, to assume he wouldn’t be safe in John’s sole company. The fact that his friend didn’t sent a frisson of pain through John’s chest.

“I may stay a day or two,” Sherlock rumbled, not making eye contact with John. “I will let you know in the morning.”

Mycroft courteously waited a moment or two, to see if any further comments would be forthcoming. When they weren’t, he launched into the next order of business.

“Now,” he said, leaning forward and catching John in that laser gaze. “One additional thing: you must decide how, and when, you wish to inform my parents of exactly why you are here.”

John looked up in mild horror: he assumed Mycroft had already dealt with that (though, in retrospect, he’d been stupid to assume that—Mellie’s warm greeting would have been out of character if he had).

Predictably enough, Mycroft knew the reason for his silence. “No, of course not,” he said, brow furrowing. “They knew only that you needed to be away from London, and relieved of the full-time care of your daughter to pursue needed treatment. They are aware now of Mrs. Watson’s involvement in Sherlock’s shooting, which was quite traumatic to manage,” he said sternly. “But they recognize that you were totally unaware, until all had been revealed, as it were. But this—forgive me, John, but I am unable to make the same leavening argument here. By the same token, though, I wish to give you the opportunity to explain in your own way.”

The bureaucrat paused momentarily, before his expression softened a bit. “I can tell you that my mother has a forgiving nature. She is distressingly volatile ‘in the moment’, much like my brother, and can say things that are quite unkind. But she invariably repents once she has reflected and calmed. It is to be hoped that the same would be the case now.”

“God,” John moaned, rubbing his hands over his face. He looked up, to see Sherlock’s distressed face. It matched his own feelings to a tee. “I…yeah, I see I need to. I’m just not sure how,” he admitted. “I like your mum, quite a lot, actually. She’s warm, she’s smart, and she seems to like me. She loves my daughter. How can I give that up, just like that? How can I stay in her home, how will she let me, once I tell her something like this?”

“Tell me what?” Mellie’s sharp voice asked from the doorway, as both Holmes brothers flinched in their chairs.

Chapter Text

“Tell me what?”

 

It probably said something about the force of Mellie Holmes’ personality that, after their initial flinch, every other person in the room came to attention in their chairs. Predictably enough, Mycroft recovered first.

“John has something important he wishes to discuss with you, Mummy,” he said, rising and holding his hand out to beckon his brother. Said brother traitorously erupted out of his seat and scuttled after his sibling, giving John one quick, semi-apologetic look over his shoulder before exiting.

Mellie blinked at her disappearing children, then turned back to John with a sharpening gaze.

“Based on that rather craven retreat, am I to assume that you have something unpleasant to discuss?” she asked, her voice somewhat less warm that was usually the case. John mourned the loss of that warmth, especially since he feared it would never again be directed towards him.

“Yeah,” John managed. “I’d say so.” At that point he stalled, totally unable to think of a way to say this to make it less awful for both of them.

The silence dragged out, as John continued his struggle for just the right words. Mellie finally took matters into her own hands.

“Right, then,” she said briskly. “Something horrible, I assume.” While the words were simple, her expression was not—a complicated mix of resignation and fear. Mellie saw the surprised look creep over John’s face and sighed.

“John,” she said. “My life has been a cavalcade of extraordinary events, interspersed with occasional tragedy and pure terror. It’s the nature of things in our family, and I’ve long since come to terms with that. I would be hard put to think of anything you could tell me that would exceed things I have already managed to survive. Just say it, and rip off the bandage.”

John’s continued silence prompted a different approach—one that John instantly recognized. It was clear that Siger had been correct when he referred to Sherlock as “Mellie’s child”. *

“Let’s narrow things down, then,” Mellie said. “Have you done something that will result in your incarceration, or require Mycroft to relocate you somewhere permanently?”

John shook his head. “I wouldn’t—” he began, then the words trailed off and he was once again mute.

“Good,” she said. “Have you harmed your daughter in some way?” That was delivered in a deceptively calm voice; her eyes were anything but.

“God, no,” John said. “I would never.” Even as he said it, though, he remembered Sherlock’s fear, and knew a moment’s uncertainty. He prayed he would “never”.

Mellie nodded, the relief there but unspoken. “Have you harmed someone else, someone who has a right to expect that you will care for them? That is, not some nameless criminal? I’m not much concerned about that, you know.” She looked a little hopeful.

John shook his head, faltered, but managed to shake some words loose as well. “Yes, I did,” he said. “Harm someone, that is. Someone I…someone who didn’t deserve it. Who never deserved it, and I never told him, I …”

“All right,” Mellie said, after waiting for more information that wasn’t forthcoming. After several minutes, one of Sherlock’s expressions abruptly appeared on his mother’s face: the exasperated one (though, granted, Sherlock used it much more often).

“John. We have wasted enough time and energy on this.” Mellie said bluntly.  “I understand that I will find this distressing. I understand that you are not proud of whatever it is that you have done and presumably regret it. Obviously, you have harmed someone I care about, someone that you also know—which means the potential field is quite small, all things considered. So—what did you do to my son, and why am I likely to take issue with it?”

John gave a combined cough and choke before responding. Of course Sherlock’s mother would figure this out. He knew she was the genius of the elder generation, and Mycroft and Sherlock (and Eurus—don’t forget Eurus) learned how to apply their gifts from someone.

He took a deep, shaky breath, and began.

“You know Sherlock had a relapse before the Smith case—a very bad, really serious one, yes?” he asked, and Mellie nodded. “I wasn’t—that was in the middle of a very bad time for me, and he and I, we were, we weren’t—”

“You were estranged,” Mellie said. “Mycroft told me. I figured out the drugs part of my own, after seeing him on telly. We were discussing an intervention when he ended up in hospital on his own.”

“Yeah,” John said. “And that part was my fault. It’s part of why I, why Rosie and I, are here, but we’ll get to that. Before that, though—at Smith’s hospital, Sherlock got confused. We know now that Eurus set part of that up, but then, we, I, thought it was just paranoia from the drugs. He went after Smith with a scalpel—lunged at him, threatened him, though he didn’t actually hurt anyone. And I went to take the knife away from him—dangerous, you know? He was right off his head, thought Smith was laughing at him, thought Smith had the knife.”

Mellie nodded, intent and serious.

“And I…,” John started, and ran out of words momentarily. Mellie’s brow pleated between her eyes, just like her son’s. Get on with it, John.

“I hit him,” he managed, and suddenly it flowed out of him, while Mellie’s face slid into anguish. “I took away the scalpel, and I hit him again. And again. He fell down, and I kicked him. He never fought. I kept…I didn’t stop, and he was bleeding, and crying, and…”

He managed to stop himself by dint of putting a shaking hand over his mouth. And Mellie…Mellie wept, but her face was now stone.

It broke him. That this woman, who saw the best in him, who liked him, turned that face to him.

Without conscious thought, he slid from his chair until he was on his knees in front of her, while she continued to look on with Mycroft’s expression on her face.

“I swear to you, Mellie, on my fucking knees,” he near-sobbed. “I have no recollection of intending to hurt him. I had no desire to hurt him, before it happened, and it was as if I was standing outside my body watching it happen. But it keeps happening—not that bad, not anything damaging, but something in me is dangerous, and angry, and directed at Sherlock. And I want to get better—more than anything in this world, I want this to stop. I swear, Mellie—I’ll do anything, anything at all, to keep him, to keep Rosie, safe.”

“Including leaving? Leaving for good? Both Sherlock and your daughter?” Mellie said, in a cold, cold voice.

John drew a shuddering breath. “If I can’t fix this, yeah.”

There was a long, awful silence, while John tried to control his breathing. Finally, Mellie relaxed marginally.

“Very well,” she said, still cold, still stern. “I am unsure how I will reconcile this with my perceptions of you, John. It will require time and effort, on both our parts. I presume that the plan now is for you to pursue treatment of some kind, while Rosamund stays safe in our care, and Sherlock stays well away?”

“Sort of,” John managed. “I mean…Mycroft thought that Sherlock was safe enough if we’re not alone. But the focus is more on finding out why this is happening, and that means my spending most of my time on that, for however long it’s necessary.” He paused, before offering something he really didn’t want to say. “If you’d prefer I left, and found somewhere else to stay in London so that Sherlock could safely stay at Baker Street, I can ask—”

“No,” Mellie said. “At least not at present, unless you prove more of a threat than I think likely. Your daughter needs you, and I think Sherlock would find your absence distressing, which would very likely lead him to track you down.” She frowned. “It’s a mystery to me why that boy has so little sense of self-preservation.”

John was startled into a snort of amusement, and was relieved to see a brief lightening in Mellie’s face as well.

“Yes, well,” she huffed. She reached out her hand and caught his. “Get up. We’re done with melodrama, I think.” As John levered himself off the floor, though, she didn’t relinquish her grip. When he was back to standing, she pulled him abruptly towards her.

“Understand something, though, John,” she said. “I choose to believe you. I choose to accept that you have done these things without conscious volition. But, if I find this is not the case, if I find you have misled me, if I learn that you wish intentional harm to my son, this won’t end well.” She looked him straight in the eye. “Are we clear on this?”

“Crystal,” John said weakly.

 

 

 

When they came out of the kitchen, they found Sherlock hovering just outside the back door, smoking a furtive cigarette that he hurriedly tossed into the bushes as his mother approached. He coughed as he swallowed a mouthful of smoke before coming back inside.

“Mycroft left,” he croaked, before getting his voice under control. “I told him I would ride into town with John tomorrow. He’s sending a security person along.” Unspoken was the reminder that the security person would be there to protect Sherlock from his best friend.

Mellie nodded, giving her son one of those “I know what you were doing but choose not to comment” looks.

“You will be in your old room, of course,” she said. “John will be down here, in the guest room off the lounge.”

Judging by Sherlock’s expression, that was news to him. Made sense, though—not a good idea to have John rooming near him, and given that Mellie and Siger had Rosie’s monitor for the night, there was no need for him to be that close. Honestly, it was a relief.

Not to Sherlock, evidently. “That’s unnecessary, Mummy,” he said. “I’m far from helpless, and John isn’t going to randomly come into my room and attack me in the night. He won’t—”

“Can you guarantee that?” Mummy said, in a tone like a knife blade. “Either of you?”

Their combined silence was its own answer.

“Yes, I thought not,” she said. “John, the linens are in the wardrobe, and the en suite should be all set. Breakfast at half seven.” And with that, she swept majestically out of the room, with Sherlock reluctantly in tow.

 

 

 

 

John thought he wouldn’t sleep—too much in his head, and his heart. He was surprised, then, to find his eyes blinking open to sun shining through the windows of a strange room, alarmed until he realized where he was, and why.

When he was finished in the en suite, he followed his nose to the warm kitchen, where Mellie was bustling about, putting bowls on the table while Siger handed silverware off to Sherlock. Siger turned at John’s entry and gave John a grave look rather than a smile; Mellie had shared her news, then. John felt his face flush, but said nothing to the older man beyond a soft greeting. Siger nodded and handed John a set of mugs.

Sherlock bustled back from setting places and took the mugs from John. “You can sit at that end,” he said, gesturing with a mug. “Normally Mycroft’s place; you can wipe it down if you need to.” He grinned up through his lashes.

Mellie reached over and tweaked a curl. “Enough, you,” she said, before dropping the last of her burdens on the table.

It wasn’t quite as uncomfortable a meal as John feared. Just as they prepared to sit down, Rosie announced herself over the monitor in Siger’s hand. John, fearing a rejection, asked silently to tend to his daughter, and tacit permission was (thankfully) granted. By the time he returned, Rosie burbling excitedly when she saw her “grandparents”, the others had launched into a typical Holmesian conversation.

“No, of course not,” Mellie said as John entered the kitchen. “If I’d needed that done, you know very well I would have asked Rudy. He loves military coups.”

“Mycroft would be so jealous, love,” Siger chortled.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “He’d have been in short pants,” he sniffed. “Even Mycroft lacked that kind of influence at six.”

John didn’t bother to ask.

 

 

 

The car arrived at just past noon. They’d had a slow morning—Sherlock spent the first half of it on his phone, arguing via text with both Mycroft and Greg Lestrade, before stomping off to his bedroom to sulk. John helped Mellie clean up the kitchen while Rosie banged happily in her high chair, then took his daughter out for a long, slow walk through the gardens. By the time the baby was winding down towards her nap, beginning to whine and grizzle, it was almost time to leave.

The sleek black car pulled into the circular drive promptly on time, disgorging Andrew, Mycroft’s regular driver, and Dwight.

“Hi ya, Doc,” Dwight said. “Everyone ready to go? Traffic’s a right horror story, so we need to be moving.”

Sherlock appeared as if magically called, and they climbed in, Dwight in front and the other two in the back. Sherlock was back on his phone, looking annoyed.

Dwight was good company—he, John and Andrew spent the first twenty minutes arguing about martial arts, and which was the most effective (Andrew, unsurprisingly, wasn’t just Mycroft’s driver). Sherlock ignored them for the most part, surfacing periodically to insert a scathing comment about the artificiality of many formal disciplines, and the superiority of his own hybridized version.

After the last of these, John snorted. “Yeah, Sherlock, that explains why you got your arse handed to you the last time we sparred,” he said. “And you six inches taller than me.”

The detective drew himself up in indignation. “That was—I didn’t—I was still not fully recovered from my injuries!” he sputtered, before coming to an appalled halt when he realized what he’d just said.

“No, you probably weren’t,” John said quietly. They rode in perfect silence the rest of the trip.

Chapter Text

They dropped Sherlock off at Baker Street before heading towards the Harley Street office Dr. A. maintained for his regular (non-MI6) patients. John was relieved—he didn’t particularly relish returning to the facility near Sevenoaks where Sherlock had been treated.*

Sherlock had been unusually quiet for the remainder of their trip, after his inadvertent faux pas (which, when John thought about it, was something else that was John’s fault, in a back-handed way). The detective climbed out of the car amid promises to return to Surrey in a day or two, or sooner if needed. John’s last view of his friend was Sherlock standing on the pavement in front of Speedy’s, looking rather forlorn.

The office was somewhat nondescript for the area; most Harley Street digs that John had visited were more on the opulent, up-scale side. Dr. A’s office could be mistaken for an insurance firm or the like. John found it oddly reassuring; maybe that was the point.

The receptionist was a motherly older woman, who took John’s name with a cheery “Oh, yes, Doctor,” indicating that they already had copies of John’s medical and therapy records (which was interesting, since John hadn’t signed anything releasing records to anyone. Mycroft again, presumably). John settled himself in a comfortable armchair and fidgeted for the next 10 minutes, until the receptionist ushered him in to see Dr. A.

The psychiatrist gave John a warm smile, gesturing with his prosthetic hand towards one of the chairs nearby. “I’d get up,” he said, “but you know that’s a bit of an effort for me. And I figured we know each other well enough that we can be informal.” John knew  a little about Dr. A.’s history—from what Sherlock had told him, the man’s service as an agent in the field had left him lacking one hand, and partially paralyzed.

They did know each other, actually, only through the lens of John’s acting as Sherlock’s medical advisor throughout his treatment. John, though, knew enough to feel comfortable around the man, and the feeling was clearly mutual. After a flurry of tea (brought in by the cheery receptionist) and an offer of scones  and biscuits, the two settled into their respective chairs, and Dr. A. brought out a phone which he placed on the small table beside his chair.

“I’ll start by asking if you mind my recording the session,” the doctor asked. “It won’t be released or shared in any way without your permission, but I often find that patients benefit from a retrospective view of early sessions, once they’re a couple of months into treatment.”

“Does that include sharing with Mycroft?” John asked, unable to prevent a little belligerence from bleeding into his tone.

“It does not,” Dr. A. chuckled. “Mycroft and I have known each other a long time. He knows my requirements. I wouldn’t have shared Sherlock’s sessions with him unless Sherlock expressly permitted it either.”

John found himself momentarily taken aback; why would Sherlock have allowed that? But then he realized—that was easier than talking directly to his brother about very painful things. Finally, he nodded. “Yeah. Record away. You know some parts of this story already anyway.”

“No, I don’t,” Dr. A. said instantly. “First thing you should realize. I know Sherlock’s story, period. That includes only Sherlock’s perceptions, Sherlock’s sometimes deeply-skewed perceptions, of some elements of your common story. And a great deal of what I know relates to events in which you had no involvement, given that you thought he was dead at the time.”

John felt an abrupt flush of anger sizzle across his nerves. “Yeah, true enough,” he said, and even he could hear the bitterness in his tone. “Because I’m a fucking bad liar, apparently.”

Dr. A’s eyebrows rose. “I see. An area we’ll be discussing, clearly.” He leaned forward, real and prosthetic hands resting on his knees. “We won’t be having a true full session today, unless you feel an urgent need to talk about something specific. What we will do is set initial ground rules of what we need to work on, what’s most troubling to you, and what you hope to achieve. I’ll help where needed, but I want you to do most of the talking today.” He leaned back more comfortably in his chair. “Go,” he said, and waited.

John blinked. Not at all like any other therapy session he’d had. He thought he liked it. He took a deep breath, and began.

“I’m here,” he said, “because I’m afraid something in me means Sherlock harm. Serious, lasting harm, by preference, but it will take whatever it can get, at every opportunity. And if no opportunities naturally arise, it will create them.” He looked at the doctor, but got only an encouraging nod. “And…I’m afraid. I’m afraid of me.”

Dr. A. waited a beat to see if John would continue before he spoke. Then he nodded. “I see,” he said. “I’m of course aware that Mycroft has been concerned about certain recent incidents, which we can discuss when the time comes. But I want to point out something to you here, for you to consider. You don’t say that ‘you’ want to harm Sherlock. You talk about this as if there’s a separate agency of some kind involved, one that’s driving your actions. Do you believe that?”

It was said without judgment of any kind.

“I…yeah, that’s what it feels like. Sometimes,” John said.

“Well, that’s definitely an area we will be focusing on, then,” Dr. A. replied. “But that begs another couple of questions that, again, we will not discuss today, but I’m going to throw into the mix for our first true session: if that’s the case, does that relieve you of responsibility for your actions? And, if so, to what extent?”

John found that…unsettling, and had a brief impulse to challenge the doctor on it, before reining himself back in. This wasn’t a true session, and the psychiatrist had made it clear they wouldn’t be doing any in-depth discussion today. He would certainly be doing some “thinking”, as Dr. A. had asked, but it looked like some of that thinking was going to be tinged with resentment. Didn’t John’s asking for these sessions stand as enough of an indicator that he was taking responsibility?

He pulled himself out of his head to see Dr. A. giving him a look of shrewd intelligence.

“Got to you, did it?” the man asked. “You’re going to find that I do a fair amount of that. This is not a passive approach, John—I’m not going to sit and listen to you talk without interruption, and I’m going to challenge some of the discussion where it seems necessary. If you find that too uncomfortable, I’m afraid you’re going to need to find a different therapist.”

“No,” John said, sounding cross even to himself. “The pool is pretty limited by our circumstances. And I trust you. I just reserve the right to fight back if I feel it’s warranted. I’ve had a crap few years; I think I’m entitled.”

“Fair enough,” Dr. A. said peaceably. “Now, any other issues immediately come to mind that we need to work on early on? Doesn’t mean anything will get omitted, if not; I’m just setting priorities for the next month or so.”

John thought about it, thought again, seriously considered bringing “it” up and cringed internally, before finally managing to open his mouth.

“Not…not right now,” he said finally. The drinking he could handle on his own. He could. He would.

Dr. A. didn’t actually raise his eyebrows, but John felt like he had nonetheless.

“Look, I’m here, voluntarily,” John said, trying to wash the hostility out of his voice. “That should mean something, shouldn’t it?”

“Certainly, expressing a desire for change is a positive step,” Dr. A. said. “But remember, challenge—part of this process will be to shake things up and see what rattles loose, as a means of understanding what your true underlying mechanisms are. Including, especially, rationalizations wherever they may appear.”

“Noted,” John said, with a brisk nod. “I…look, I’m not going to be your easiest patient, yeah? I’ve had therapy before, and it’s not my favourite pastime.”

“John,” Dr. A. said with a raised eyebrow, “I treat Sherlock Holmes. You are Little Mary Sunshine by comparison.”

John snorted with laughter. “Thanks, I think.”

 

 

 

 

They settled into easier conversation after that. Dr. A. wanted to “level-set”, as he put it—discuss what therapies John had undergone in the past, what worked, what didn’t, and why (or at least why John thought so).

John didn’t mention the sessions he underwent while in Afghanistan—they never appeared in his military records (courtesy of James Sholto), and John honestly didn’t think they were relevant here. They spoke at some length about John’s work with Ella, though, and while John tried to be fair, but suspected he failed.

Dr. A. picked up on John’s hesitation. “You don’t have to mince around it, John. Not every patient and therapist are a good match, and certain therapeutic approaches are of limited value if they don’t work with the patient’s personality. Doesn’t make her a bad therapist per se, but it does suggest that she should have recommended you see someone else, given what you viewed as your lack of real progress.”

John felt himself flush. “Um…she did suggest it, actually. I turned her down.” He thought about that a bit. “Honestly, I have no idea why. Wasn’t at my best, and didn’t want to make waves, I guess.”

Dr. A. gave him a shrewd look. “Oh, I think you’re pretty good at making waves when you’re motivated enough, or so I’ve heard,” he said. “Maybe you were less convinced that any therapy was going to be effective, even though you stayed for…” he flipped through his phone, “better than three years?”

John blinked. “Wait, what?” he said. “I didn’t. I only saw her a handful of times before Sherlock d--, before, and then for maybe six months afterward.”

Dr. A. blinked this time, looking through the records on his phone again. “Well that’s…. John, there are documented sessions here, showing you were a regular patient from the time you arrived back in London, right through to Sherlock’s return. I have case notes, session dates, everything.”

“No, I,” John stammered. “That’s, that’s not right. Maybe they got my records mixed with someone else’s,” he said. “I know I didn’t see her more than, oh, fifteen or twenty times, all told.”

“John, I’m looking at case notes,” Dr. A. said. “They mention you by name.” He continued to scroll through pages, nodding as he went.

John was starting to be alarmed. He wasn’t sure what this meant, but at the very least, it suggested his records had been tampered with. But why? How could that benefit anyone else, or harm him?

Dr. A. placed the phone in his pockets and slid his crutches over his forearms, levering himself painfully to his feet. “I’m going to make a quick phone call, John,” he said, lurching towards the door. “Help yourself to more tea and biscuits if you’d like.”

Going to call Mycroft, John thought. Though he could have stayed here for that—John wished he’d caught on soon enough to prevent the doctor from leaving.

 

 

 

Dr. A. was gone a little more than ten minutes, before coming back in, this time in a wheelchair. John stood as he approached.

“You could have stayed in here to call Mycroft,” he said. “I really wouldn’t have minded—might have saved some time, in fact.”

Dr. A. looked at him soberly and shook his head. “I didn’t call Mycroft, John,” he said. “I wanted to check with the source first. I called Ella Thompson.”

John blinked. “Well, I…yeah, I guess I can see that. Although all she could do would be confirm what records she actually sent, compared to what you received.”

Dr. A. nodded. “Yes, and so she did,” he said. “She reviewed each date with me, and compared them to her own in-house versions.”

“So, how much was added?” John asked. “And, more importantly, why?”

Dr. A. shook his head again. “That’s just it, John—nothing was added, and nothing was deleted. What’s contained in my files is an exact match for the information Dr. Thompson provided. She has personally confirmed that you were her patient, off and on, for more than five years, with an 18-month gap in the middle of that period. Total active treatment, then, was just under three and a half years.”

John was distantly aware that he knew the clinical term for this particular kind of mental shock: cognitive dissonance, the feelings of discomfort that result from simultaneously holding two conflicting beliefs. Because, he realized, on some level he knew that what Dr. A. was saying was true—but also believed that it wasn’t, somehow. It made him queasy; it made his head pound, sudden and severe.

Dr. A., perceptive as ever, picked up quickly on John’s distress. “Talk to me, John. How do you feel?”

“Confused,” John managed after a few seconds, clasping his hands to his aching head. “It’s…I remember. But I can’t…I wasn’t…how can both be right?” He was dizzy now, his breathing not quite steady.

“There are several possibilities, including some form of traumatic amnesia,” Dr. A. said. “Have you had any other instances recently where you felt your memories might be compromised in some fashion?”

Just the thought of that made John’s stomach give a queasy roll. “No! I—no. But how would I know for sure? Unless someone else pointed it out, I mean.”

“Well, let’s take it from the other direction,” the psychiatrist said, “and try to de-escalate a bit. Have you had any serious head trauma in the past couple of years?”

John gave a slightly-hysterical laugh. “It’s an occupational hazard,” he wheezed. “If a month goes by that I don’t get whacked in the head at least once, I think the criminal class is slacking off.” He sobered, then continued. “In reference to what I think you’re asking, though—no, no real concussions in the past year, and nothing serious enough to cause concern. Been unconscious once or twice, but came ‘round quickly and without confusion.”

“I’ll defer to your medical judgment on that, then,” Dr. A. said calmly. “But that leaves us with other, potentially less-palatable reasons, especially when considered in light of the other issues that brought you to me.”

“How so?” John asked.

“Well, the concerns you have about your interactions with Sherlock—your description of how it feels like someone other than you is driving those interactions—added to these contradictory memories, would tend to tie into some form of intentional intervention,” Dr. A. said. “So I’m afraid I must ask: have you undergone any form of chemical or physical interrogation in the past six months, and, if so, why doesn’t it appear in your medical records?”

Chapter Text

So I’m afraid I must ask: have you undergone any form of chemical or physical interrogation in the past six months, and, if so, why doesn’t it appear in your medical records?

 

John, after a few moments of breathless agitation, wrested himself back under control.

“I wasn’t…I haven’t had chemical interrogation that I know of,” he said slowly. “But you know about Eurus. In my memory, our last session ended with her shooting me with a tranquilizer, and the sessions previous were simply typical therapy—lots of talking, no physical contact.”

“But?” Dr. Arquette prompted.

“But I can’t guarantee, can’t be sure, that there wasn’t more than that,” John said, aware of terror building in the back of his mind. “I can’t—she was, I didn’t know her as just a therapist, you know, she—we were—” His breathing spiraled rapidly upward, and he started to feel light-headed. He lost track of things then—someone was shouting, and John wasn’t in his chair anymore, but wasn’t sure where he was, wasn’t sure who he was, to be honest.

When he came back to himself, he was lying on his back on the too-short sofa, the friendly receptionist by his side offering bottled juice. He suspected it wasn’t for the first time.

As he reached for the bottle, Dr. A’s wheelchair rolled into view.

“Ah, back with us,” the psychiatrist said, holding out a damp flannel that John gratefully took—his shirt, his hair, he realized suddenly, were both soaked in sweat. “We’re going to need to do some work on your breathing and anxiety exercises, John. I wasn’t aware that you were still prone to panic attacks, or I would have picked up on the signs sooner. My apologies.”

“But I’m not,” John protested. “At least I haven’t been. I haven’t had an attack since before Sherlock returned.”

“Well, that’s both reassuring and concerning,” Dr. A said. “Reassuring, because I would hate to think you were enduring those on a regular basis; concerning, because we must consider what’s changed.”

John sighed. “Doctor, remember? I’m painfully aware that this is tied to whatever the fuck else has been scrambled in my head. It’s either some intentional manipulation on Eurus’ part, or my brain’s reaction to whatever other manipulation took place.”

“Let’s put a pin in that and come back to it,” Dr. A said. “While I’m a believer in Occam’s Razor, I also know that, when it comes to the human psyche, nothing is simple.”

 

 

They took a break then, long enough for some tea and biscuits, to allow John’s system time to settle back down. He was aware of crushing fatigue, struggling to participate in the conversation—the typical aftermath of the adrenaline rush that went along with panic attacks. Every muscle ached, his head pounded.

Finally, Dr. A put down his teacup and picked up his phone. “So,” he said, opening his schedule, “we need to set some parameters. How often we’ll meet, what items are your top concerns after your issues with Sherlock, what you ultimately hope to get out of this.”

John leaned back on the sofa, resting his head on the back. It helped, but not enough.

“I can answer two of those, right off the bat,” he said firmly. “We’ll meet as often as you think necessary and can fit me in—I’m at your disposal for however long you think advisable. As to what I hope to accomplish—safety. I want my friend and my child to be safe around me. I want me to be safe around me. I want to find out where this anger comes from, and send it back. I think that’s enough to be going on with.”

The psychiatrist nodded. “That’s a good starting point,” he said. “Clearly, your concerns about your interactions with Sherlock must be our primary focus, and the one we attack first. But, for me to understand what’s going on, I believe I need to see the two of you together. Assuming Sherlock is OK with that, are you open to the next session being a joint one, with both of you in attendance?”

“Yeah,” John said weakly. “I guess so.” He wasn’t sure how he felt about it, honestly; wasn’t sure he wanted to expose himself that much to the Second-Most-Observant Man in the World. But he’d promised, after all—anything.

“Excellent,” Dr A said, flipping through his appointment calendar on his phone. “I can be at the house very early tomorrow—that gives me time to be back for my afternoon appointments here. I’m sure Mycroft can spare a driver for me—in fact, Sherlock and I may ride down together. I’ll work that out with the two of them. I’m presuming you’ll be returning to Surrey this evening?”

John nodded. “Rosie is there, and I don’t want to stick the Holmeses with her care full-time.”

“And you miss her when you’re away,” Dr. A said with a smile, and John nodded again.

 

 

 

John got back to Surrey quite late. When he left Dr. Arquette’s office, he found a message on his mobile—Greg Lestrade had invited him to dinner. Though John was suspicious—he wondered if Sherlock had enlisted their mutual friend to winnow out information John wasn’t willing to share with Sherlock—he was nonetheless happy to have an excuse not to sit through an excruciating dinner with the elder Holmeses. He did call Mellie, to tell her he would be arriving later than expected, and she was gracious, if not warm.

“Don’t worry a bit about Rosie,” she said. “She’s already had her bath—Siger took her to play at that tiny stream down the way, and she was quite the little mudlark. I’ll feed her dinner and pop her off to bed in an hour or so. If we’re not still up when you arrive, just make sure you put the latch on the door before you turn in.”

John met Greg at one of their favourite spots, a warm, comfortable pub not too far from Baker Street. When John arrived, Greg had already claimed one of the booths in the far corner, and waved his arms semaphore-style to get John’s attention.

Their server bustled over, laden with plates, as soon as John sat down.

“I already ordered for us,” Greg said. “Saves time, and you always get the same thing anyway.”

“Rude,” John said. “True, but still rude.” That didn’t stop him from taking a quick bite from his sandwich, groaning with pleasure at the taste.

Greg grinned. “Yeah, I figured you’d be ready for some comfort food, y’know, after a day or two with all four of the Holmeses. I went for Christmas dinner once—did I ever tell you the story?”

It wasn’t until after Greg finished the story (interrupted multiple times by laughter on both their parts) that the other penny dropped.

“Wait a minute,” John said. “How did you know where—that I was with the Holmeses?”

Greg popped a last chip in his mouth before answering. “Called Mycroft,” he said. “He told me you were off getting yourself sorted, and I shouldn’t worry about it.” Implied in that, or so John heard, was an added “and needn’t worry about Sherlock’s safety”.

Before John could get up a head of steam to make an angry reply, Greg saw his face and cut him off. “I told you I would, John. I’m not going to apologize for it—it’s for everyone’s safety, and you know it. It’s not like I’m going to spread it around, mate. I’ve told you before, Myc’s a friend, sort of. He said he’d been planning to call me anyway.”

“Because that’s what he does,” John muttered. “He meddles.”

“No, he…well, yeah, he does, but it’s sometimes for a really good reason,” Greg said. “And that was definitely the case here, so I need you to let it go, John. Really.”

John managed to beat the anger down, and waved his hand at the server to replenish his pint. “Well, if I’m going to have to accept Mycroft as a confidante, it’s going to require alcohol. Lots of alcohol.” He grinned at his friend, and was relieved to see that grin returned.

Greg ended up texting Mycroft to send a car for John, since John, by 11pm, was several sheets to the wind and inclined to belligerence whenever the bureaucrat’s name was mentioned. A walk out to the kerb in the cold wind sobered John just enough to be glad that driver wasn’t Andrew, or anyone John knew—he was also just sober enough to know he’d be embarrassed by this, come morning.

By the time they got back to Surrey, John had had enough bottles of water that he was truly sobering up—enough, at least, to be courteous to the driver, and not puke in the back seat. He climbed out with a subdued “Thank you,” and tottered into the house to tuck himself into bed.

 

 

 

John was awakened, far too early, by a text alert, one he ignored long enough to stagger to the shower, then head to the kitchen for strong coffee and three paracetamol. This regimen didn’t really help him feel better, but at least he could convince himself he was doing something positive.

In the end, Mycroft, too, came to Surrey, in addition to Sherlock and Dr. A. The three travelled down together, though Sherlock was less than enthusiastic (as least his whinging texts to John, sent roughly every five minutes following the first, certainly sounded that way). They had gotten started quite early—must have left London in the dark to have gotten here by 7. When they arrived, Mellie Holmes insisted on fixing everyone a quick breakfast first, but they were still ready to go well before 8.

At this session, things took place in a highly unorthodox (but necessary) fashion. The participants included the therapist, the patient, the patient’s best friend, and the patient’s best friend’s officious older brother. John would be the first to admit that, on paper, that sounded even more mad than the rest of his life. But, once Mycroft went through his reasoning, John had no room to argue.

It went like this: Dr. Arquette had specifically requested Sherlock’s presence. But, for good and sufficient reason, John and Sherlock could not be alone together, especially in emotionally-charged situations. Dr. A couldn’t function as the necessary protection: while the psychiatrist was burly and had years of experience as a field agent, those years had also left him with his prosthetic left hand, and largely wheelchair-bound.

Because of the sensitive nature of parts of John’s recent history, though, and his close relationship with the Holmeses, the protective duties couldn’t be delegated to just any capable bodyguard.

By default, then, Sherlock’s “chaperone” was his brother, the only other available person who knew all of the highly-classified back-story and was extremely unlikely to reveal anything that was said outside of the confines of this therapeutic setting. It was also implied, though never said aloud, that Mycroft was much more capable of physically defending his brother than he normally led people to believe.

This logical progression didn’t stop Sherlock from objecting, strenuously, using much the same arguments as he’d mustered about the car ride back to London with John.

“It’s stupid,” he snarled. “I have expert rankings in three martial arts!”

“And will you be willing to use all of that, to cause serious physical harm to John, in order to stop an attack, since John has already evinced a willingness to do so to you?  Can you give me your word of honour?” Mycroft asked coolly.

Sherlock hesitated just a hair too long.

“Exactly,” Mycroft said.

 

 

 

 

They set up in the front parlour, a warm fire burning in the antique fireplace and two soft leather chairs arranged in front of it, with room for Dr. Arquette’s wheelchair to one side. Mycroft established himself, tablet in hand, in an armchair set against the back wall, and immediately gave off an air of courteous deafness, for which John found himself grateful.

The psychiatrist led them off with a precis of what he hoped they would accomplish, followed by a request.

“As I discussed with John, the intent of this session is observation: I need to see how the two of you interact, to get a better feel for that dynamic. But I don’t want that to happen while each of you are on your best behaviour—so we will spend our time in an initial discussion of the issues between you,” he said.

He rolled his wheelchair forward, until he faced the two of them, his back towards the fire. “Next, I have a request as to the content of these talks. Sherlock and I have had this discussion before, but I feel the need to reinforce it here, since John hasn’t. It’s quite simple to say, but sometimes fiendishly difficult to follow: we must be truthful. However painful, however ugly, however unwelcome, in this session we tell the truth, to each other and, most importantly, to ourselves. If we can’t do that, we won’t move forward.”

He turned first to Sherlock. ‘So—are we agreed, Sherlock? Truth, no matter how dramatic?”

Sherlock sniffed and nodded. “It’s not like I’m the only ‘dramatic’ one in the room,” he grumbled.

Dr A snickered. “Fair enough,” he said. He turned to John. “John—can you make the same commitment? Understand that I will enforce this—if I sense that you’re hesitating, or that you are holding something back, I will call you on it. Can you agree to that?”

“’Course,” John said, a little grudgingly. “Not sure if this means you think I’m usually lying to you.”

“No more so than most patients,” the psychiatrist said with a grin.

 

 

 

They began with what John thought of as “background noise”. How John had been invalided, how John and Sherlock met. At several points, Dr A made notes, marking things that he and John would discuss on their own. He called a halt when John reached the point of Sherlock’s Fall.

“This is a very weighted subject,” the psychiatrist said, “a period that was profoundly traumatic for both of you. I’d like, if you don’t mind, to ‘walk around’ that event, and the following two years—I already know Sherlock’s part in it, and I believe you, John, would be hesitant to relive that in this setting. That, too, we can take up in private.”

John swallowed roughly, then nodded. “Yeah, I….yeah.”

Dr. A smiled. “OK, then. I believe we can also skim past the months following Sherlock’s return—Sherlock and I have worked through those in depth, and you, John, were involved in part of that work. I think, if you don’t mind, we can skip ahead, to the time leading up to your wife’s death, and your estrangement from Sherlock.”

John managed to get through most of the following few minutes dry-eyed, but hoarse here and there. The scene at the aquarium, though, defied him—he finally managed to choke out “She was shot,” and left it there, breathing heavily.

The psychiatrist gave him a pause to compose himself—handed over water, gave some to Sherlock as well, who had been exceptionally quiet the last few minutes, hands clasped tightly in his lap, eyes down.

Finally, John put down the water glass, took a deep breath, and went on.

“I…honestly, I don’t remember much about the first week or so. Other people handled the funeral arrangements; I never saw Sherlock,” John said. “I didn’t want to see Sherlock,” he added—he’d agreed to be honest, after all. “For quite a long time, as it turned out, after I wrote the letter. I’m sure Sherlock told you all about that.” A bit of anger had bled back into his voice.

The psychiatrist raised an eyebrow at John’s tone, but didn’t comment. “Sherlock,” he said, “what was your perspective of that time?”

“At first, I tried to get on with life,” Sherlock said. He turned to address John directly, rather than Dr. A. “I assumed you would let me know when you were ready to…when you were ready.” He lowered his eyes, and his voice. “I was not at my best,” he finished, very quietly.

“So, you thought I was just fine, if a bit pissed off, did you?” John snapped.

“I wasn’t aware of how much you were…how poorly you were coping,” Sherlock said.

“Because you were never there,” John said.

‘You didn’t want me to come,” Sherlock said. “So I didn’t.  At least, not initially.”

“Yeah, and then you sicced Greg Lestrade onto me. Showed up on my doorstep one morning, 15 miles from NSY, and claimed he was ‘in the area’ and thought he’d stop by,” John sneered.

“You weren’t talking to me,” Sherlock said. “I didn’t know what you were doing. I was…it was very concerning.”

“I existed,” John said tautly. “I cared for my daughter, badly, and myself, after a fashion. What did you want from me?”

“I wanted you to let me help,” Sherlock said. “Isn’t that what friends do?”

The angry part of John stepped up. “Oh, because you’re so good at that,” he snarled. He rose abruptly from his chair. Sherlock’s eyes snapped to John, puzzled and hurt.

“John. Sit down,” Mycroft said softly, warningly, from his seat by the wall. John heard the warning, but ignored it.

“Look, I know how you are,” John continued, his harsh tone carrying a tinge of contempt that had some deeper part of him cringing. “I always knew that your ability to deal with emotional things was limited—you don’t understand, and you’re uncomfortable with sentiment, with other people’s emotional reactions. You get overwhelmed, and you shut down, or you insult everyone within earshot to make yourself feel better. So I didn’t expect much, but—I mean, I knew you’d probably do what I asked, but, the thing was, I didn’t think I should have to ask.”

Sherlock bristled at that. “I did my ‘limited’ best, John. I did offer to help, over and over again, but you refused. You wouldn’t answer texts, you wouldn’t take my calls. And later, when I tried to force the issue, when I came by the flat twice, unannounced, to get around your hesitation, you wouldn’t open the door, wouldn’t even let me see Watson--you had someone else refuse on your behalf, as if you couldn’t bear to look at me. And then, finally, you wrote the letter. And I knew…I didn’t try again.” His irritation had faded into sadness, which left John curiously unmoved—Sherlock’s sadness felt warranted, somehow.

“I was…I was so angry,” John muttered, sitting back down with a thump. “And after you’d decided not to do the things that really counted, I figured you didn’t deserve to do the things you liked. I knew you wanted to see the baby, but you didn’t…you hadn’t earned it.” That sounded awful, said out loud. But they had agreed to be truthful, and that was the truth.

What things, John?” Sherlock said, now truly distressed. “What, exactly, did I not do, or not offer to do? I would have done anything!

You didn’t even come to the fucking funeral, Sherlock!” John shouted, and was shocked to see Sherlock’s look of confusion. That alien, ugly part of himself shivered in secret delight, while John, appalled, tried to stamp it down.

“But…you wouldn’t let me,” Sherlock said slowly, eyes darting over John’s face as if looking for an indication that this was a particularly awful form of joke.

“I—what? Of course I wanted you to come,” John said, flabbergasted. “Mrs. Hudson was beside herself. And I was stuck with fucking Harry as my only support.” Anger started to bleed through again, but this time John felt it was actually justified.

“No, you, you—at the funeral home, at the door,” Sherlock stammered. To John’s horror, his friend’s eyes welled up, his chin wobbling. “You said—and I—” he trailed off into silence, his breath rasping, eyes down again. The white-knuckled grip of those long fingers, clasped ruthlessly together, told the rest of the story.

John suddenly found what he thought of as the “real” him back in control—and that self was appalled and frightened.

John looked to Dr. A, helplessly. “I didn’t. I wouldn’t—that was part of why I wrote the damn letter,” he said finally. The anger vanished, replaced by disbelief and confusion.

Mycroft spoke quietly from the back of the room. “It did happen, John, I assure you. Sherlock called me and asked …,” he trailed off at a quick, pleading look from his brother. “He was quite distraught,” he finished. He left it there, but it was more than enough.

John could feel panic rising, once again. “I don’t understand,” he panted. “I don’t understand.”

John,” Dr. Arquette snapped. “Breathe. Do your exercises, right now, or we are stopping.”

 

 

 

They took five minutes—it took that long for both John and Sherlock to regain their equilibrium, for slightly different reasons. Sherlock found it necessary to pace frenetically for most of that time—motion was always the key to soothing his anxiety, along with a host of small hand movements and tics. He finally managed to stop flitting around the room, but settled leaning against the bookshelf near Mycroft—sitting, evidently, wasn’t to be considered just yet.

John, though? John breathed and counted, breathed and counted, until his heart stopped feeling like detonation was imminent.

Chapter Text

After checking quickly with both participants, Dr. A called the session back into play.

“I think we can see, John, that there are disconnects here,” he said carefully. “At first, our concern was simply memory loss—alarming, certainly, but it can occur from a variety of sources, many of them relatively short-lived and comparatively benign.” He looked solemnly at the three of them. “However, it’s now clear that something more…wide-reaching is involved. Your memories have been altered. That implies two things: first, though it’s still possible, it’s much less likely that this has an organic cause. And second, that this is likely the result of intentional manipulation—to what end isn’t yet clear.”

John nodded, completely unable to come up with anything to say that didn’t involve shouting, or possibly screaming. He shook, inside and out.

‘I think, then, that we should approach this on two fronts,” the psychiatrist said. “While some sort of neurological defect is looking less likely, we should nonetheless rule that out—differential diagnosis, if you will. With that in mind, I’m going to recommend an EEG, CT scan and MRI, as soon as possible. My office can help in scheduling, either in London or Sevenoaks, or perhaps you have—”

“I am in the process of finalizing those appointments,” Mycroft said, tapping away at his phone. “I believe they should be able to be completed at King’s this afternoon and evening.”

And John was quite sure that he could—hopefully without bumping some other hapless soul. “Ta,” he said quietly. Mycroft nodded without looking up from his screen.

“What would potentially be identified in these scans, if the cause were organic?” Sherlock said suddenly. He had been quiet since the realization of John’s lapses, presumably working through his own internal “database” of information on brain injuries.

“Well, remember, I don’t really expect to find anything,” Dr A said. “But the things to rule out would be such causes as seizure activity, brain tumours, stroke, perhaps even some form of developmental issue—a birth defect that didn’t manifest until now.” He looked to John. “You understand the thinking here, yes?”

“Yeah,” John said. “We want to find out what it isn’t, before we can be sure what it is.”

Dr. A nodded. “Exactly. Once we have the results, which I’m assuming will also be mysteriously expedited,” he pointed his chin in Mycroft’s general direction, “we can pursue our next line of inquiry.”

“And what will that line of inquiry consist of?” Sherlock said, his voice curiously cold. John shot him a quick look of concern, but got nothing but blankness in return.

Dr. A, too, seemed to pick up on the odd tone, furrowing his brow at his other patient before responding. “It seems likely,” he said, “that some form of hypnotic process is involved—either chemical or therapist-based.” He turned to John. “Have you ever, to your knowledge, had exposure to either?”

John gave a bitter laugh. “Fuck if I know,” he said. “Not while I was aware, certainly, but that doesn’t mean a great deal, now, does it?”

“Likely not,” Dr. A said, refusing to rise to the bait. “Or you would have brought it up before now.”

Sherlock gave a derisive scoff. “Let’s stop beating this particular dead horse, shall we?” he sneered. “We all know where this is going. Eurus is almost certainly the deus ex machina in this scenario. The only real question is, what was her ultimate intent—since we can also be certain that she had one, one that went beyond simply ‘alienate John from my brother’? After all, the events themselves, coupled with my own actions, would have made that too small a challenge for her. John had reached that point largely on his own.”

“Sherlock,” Mycroft said, softly. Sherlock scowled, but didn’t turn his head to look.

“No, he’s right,” John said. “We’re all thinking it—even though I don’t remember anything like that happening, it’s stupid to think that it didn’t, under the circumstances.”

The psychiatrist nodded, completely ignoring the undercurrent of anger, or something like it, emanating from Sherlock’s part of the room. “Agreed. Dancing around issues serves no one well, and I believe delay might have unintended negative consequences, given the existing dynamic between the two of you. The sooner we can identify triggers or sources, the sooner we can initiate a treatment regimen.”

Dr. A turned towards the doorway, and, after Mycroft stepped up to open it, rolled back out into the lounge. “I’m heading back to town now, and I’d presume we can all ride back together,” he said. “Have several appointments this afternoon. And John, I’m assuming you’ll be tied up all afternoon and evening as well, with your various scans. I think it likely we’ll have the results of those sometime tomorrow; why don’t we plan on meeting up, in London, at that juncture and decide on next steps?”

“Yeah,” John said, “that’s fine. You can contact me when you’ve received the results. I’ll probably stay in London overnight—maybe go bunk with Greg Lestrade, so Sherlock can get back to Baker Street.”

“No need,” Sherlock’s deep voice came coldly from behind them. “I will be staying in Surrey; I have a long-term experiment with which to occupy myself.” At that, he edged quickly around the others and headed off without another word to the back of the house.

Dr. A looked after him, frowning, before raising his eyebrows inquiringly at Mycroft. The bureaucrat shook his head.

“I have no idea,” Mycroft said. “I suspect, however, that my brother found the session more disturbing than we realized.” He looked at John. “I would suggest leaving it for the time being,” he continued. “He sometimes needs time to process his reactions, and forcing the issue leads to greater stress.”

“Not necessarily a good idea,” Dr. A said. “Sherlock’s had a lifetime of shoving things back down and ignoring them. It’s a habit I’m trying to break him of.”

John, though—John had an inkling of what was distressing his friend. “Look, I’d…I think I should talk to him,” he said. He noticed Mycroft stiffening, and went on hurriedly. “No, not completely alone—I get it, I do. You can stand just out of earshot—that’s fine. But I think I might know what’s bothering him, and, if so, it’s something I need to fix, or at least try to.” He looked pleadingly at the psychiatrist, who slowly nodded. John thanked him, and headed off in pursuit, aware that Mycroft was following him at a slower pace.

 

 

 

John gave the kitchen and back parlour a quick look, but found them both sans Sherlock. Mellie, though, emerged from the rear stairs and pointed silently out the back door, frowning.

It was cool out in the garden, but not quite cold. The sunshine filtered through the great trees, and Sherlock’s beloved bees zipped here and there among Mellie’s roses and hollyhocks.

John looked towards the arbour at the very back of the property, near the stone wall dividing it from the open nature preserve behind. And there, just visible on the lawn swing, was the top of that black, curly head.

The first time John came here, Mellie had laughingly referred to it as “Sherlock’s Thotful Spot”—apparently the detective loved Pooh when he was very small, and especially liked the idea of a special place just for thinking. Mycroft, at 14, had even made him a sign for it, complete with Pooh’s “creative” spelling. The swing had been Sherlock’s designated retreat when overwhelmed. Old habits still applied, apparently.

John was aware of Mycroft walking quietly over to sit on top of the stone wall behind him. John walked over, not asking for permission, and sat gingerly next to Sherlock on the swing.

John glanced at Sherlock’s stony face—not promising, that. “I’ve hurt you. Again,” John said without preamble. “And I want to fix it.”

Sherlock said nothing, but John saw a flicker of pale eyes before that gaze was down on Sherlock’s shoes again.

After a silent wait of several minutes, John tried again. “I know that was really hard for you to hear again,” he offered. “I know you struggled, after…. after. And I blamed everything on you, unfairly, and I’m truly sorry for that.” He’d already said this several times. He’d say it a thousand, if that’s what it took.

“I did not realize you found me ‘limited’,” Sherlock said suddenly, quietly.

John inhaled roughly—it felt like a kick in the chest. “Oh, God, Sherlock—you know all manner of shite comes out of my mouth when I’m like that. I’ve never—”

“For the first 25 years of my life, I was defined by other people—primarily defined by what I lacked,” Sherlock continued, as if John hadn’t spoken. His tone was lifeless, wrapped round with deep sorrow. “In their eyes I was my deficits, and nothing I did or said would change that. But then I found the Work. And suddenly I had value that offset my oddities, my… limitations.”

He stopped, eyes closing, throat working roughly, before picking up again. “In the intervening years, I had intervals of failure, certainly—times when my own nature overcame my desire to be another person, a whole person, a person others saw as a force to be reckoned with. But gradually I managed to move away from those failures, for the most part, and I started to believe that I had changed the world’s perception of me.” He looked fiercely at John. “Understand—when it comes to the general populace, I don’t care what people think of me. Not one iota. That’s not what I mean by ‘the world’, not really. But there are some people, a few people that—”

He trailed off, swallowed, then tried again. “I have allowed myself to believe that you, of all people, saw more in me than my outward mien offers; that you didn’t judge me as the sum of my peculiarities, but rather as ‘exceptional’ in a more positive sense of the word. You will forgive me if I am finding it difficult to realign my thinking with this new reality.”

He put his hands on his knees and pushed, preparatory to walking away. John reached out and desperately grabbed his sleeve.

Please,” John said. “Please don’t leave.”

Sherlock remained tensed, staring at John’s hand on his arm. He looked tired, so tired. John understood that completely—he found it impossible to remember a time when he, too, wasn’t tired.

“Look,” John said, still holding his friend’s sleeve and giving it a sharp tug. “I’m a bloody mess,” he said miserably. “You know that—that’s why we’re both here. But the one thing, the one important thing, is that you are the main reason I’m doing this—this whole ‘bare your soul to the world’ thing, that you know I really, really hate. Because, after my daughter, you are the most important person in this world to me. You are‘exceptional’, you are extraordinary, you are every over-the-top adjective I can think of. I have never thought of you as ‘less than’, and can’t imagine doing so. Right now I can’t always control what comes out of my mouth, just like I can’t control what my body does, half the time. But this is me, the real me, talking now, and I need you to listen, and believe me. Please.”

John found himself pinned by that laser-sharp, multi-coloured gaze—the one that most people found so unsettling. He forced himself to stay still and open, and meet that gaze head-on, hiding nothing. After what felt like hours, Sherlock nodded, slowly. The detective’s brow lifted, just a bit, and his shoulders relaxed.

“I think I see,” he said warily. “Is this one of those instances where what you say is not necessarily what you really mean?” Because Sherlock recognized that he sometimes took things too literally, didn’t understand things that were intended as jokes, or sarcasm. John’s chest gave a twinge when he realized that Sherlock had historically relied on him to navigate those.

“Yeah, in a way,” John said, with a wash of relief flooding through him. “This…this thing in my head, it likes to hurt, any way it can. So it picks on the worst thing possible to poke away at, to get a rise out of you. And because I know you so well, I, it, knows exactly what to choose. But I’ll put this in writing, Sherlock, if that’ll help: you are my best friend. You are a force of nature. You have the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. It makes me sick to know I cause you pain. And if we’re not able to fix this, fix me, I will leave for good before I’ll continue to hurt you.”

That pale brow furrowed. “I don’t want you to,” Sherlock said.

John nodded. “Yeah. I don’t want to either. So, let’s do this: I’ll go and get poked and prodded, and then go to get my head well and truly shrunk. You’ll just ignore whatever I say when I’m being that other person, that awful person, and wait for me to come back to myself. Can you do that, Sherlock? For me? Even if I don’t deserve it?  Are we agreed?”

Sherlock, after a moment, nodded solemnly. “Agreed,” he said.

Chapter Text

It was, as John’s old friend Bill Murray used to say, a “long-arse day”. After John’s far-too-early, deeply hungover start, and the emotional wringer of the session with Sherlock, John was almost relieved to climb back into the car with the doctor, Mycroft and, thankfully, Andrew. John climbed into the front seat without a thought. He had no desire to spend another hour closeted with either of the other two. He and Andrew had a lively conversation about football, and John was able to forget about the morning, at least for a bit.

Sherlock had elected to stay a day or two in Surrey after all. He actually did have a long-term project—his own macabre little “body farm” of decomposing animal remains, all scavenged from local roads by an enthusiastic crew of neighbourhood boys. Mellie was apparently willing to pay the boys the agreed-upon rate in exchange for (1) never being presented with the carcasses herself; and (2) never having to listen to Sherlock discuss his results. Siger had mentioned that he was occasionally enlisted as the recipient of those results; he gave the martyred sigh of parenthood, and John grinned. He knew it well.

When they reached town, John was dropped off directly at King’s; his first scans began at 11, and stretched across the remainder of the afternoon. He did get expedited service—between Mycroft’s influence, and his own acquaintance with half the medical staff, he was considered a star patient. Even with that, though, it amounted to a lot of waiting, a bit of discomfort, and hours spent in a hospital johnnie.

He finally finished the CT scan, the last in the sequence, at just short of 5 PM, and headed back to Baker Street. Should have taken the tube, but after this kind of day, a cab was the only means of transport he could manage, and even that was difficult—a thundering headache had bloomed over the past few hours, and creeping through rush hour traffic in a cab that reeked of old curry for more than an hour didn’t help a bit.

He’d called ahead to see if Mrs. H. wanted to go to dinner with him; that lady, of course, pooh-poohed the idea of going out, and launched into a description of all the things she had sitting in her fridge, waiting to go bad unless she cooked them all for John instantly. John chuckled and agreed.

He finally crawled out of the cab in front of 221B at half-six, feeling grimy, exhausted and irritable. Part of that blew away, though, when he stepped through that black door and got his first breath of the distinctive smell of Baker Street: old brick, old papers, books, a bit of tobacco smoke and ginger biscuits. He took a deep inhale and felt his shoulders drop, just a bit.

Mrs. Hudson bustled out of her flat at the sound of the door, face wreathed in smiles, apron covered in flour. “John!” she said fondly. “I thought you’d never get here.” She held her cheek up for the requisite kiss, which John happily supplied. Then she herded him into 221A, where good smells made a heady mix in the air.

The next hour was a blur of roast beef, tea and scones, followed by a cleaning-up that John insisted on handling, while Mrs. H. hovered to make sure he was doing it right.

After the meal, Mrs. H. assembled a tea tray and handed it to John. “Go ahead and take that upstairs, dear. I’ll be right up.”

That was John’s first clue that his redoubtable landlady had something on her mind. He sighed, but dutifully carried up the tray and settled in to wait.

By the time Mrs. Hudson came carefully back up those 17 steps, John had settled warily on the sofa, the tea things arrayed carefully on the coffee table. The tiny woman scanned the arrangements, and settled onto the other end of the sofa with a pleased hum.

John, wanting to delay what he feared was an inevitable unpleasant conversation, busied himself with pouring tea and piling biscuits on tiny fragile plates for each of them. No sooner had John handed over the landlady’s cup and picked up his first biscuit than she cocked her head like an inquisitive sparrow and raised one carefully-drawn eyebrow.

“Well?” she said, as if awaiting an update of some kind. John blinked, unable to think of anything to say.

“Oh, really,” she huffed, sounding entirely too much like Sherlock. “Don’t play dumb, John—it doesn’t suit you.”

John gave an involuntary snort of laughter. “Nope, not playing,” he said. “I really am dumb in this case, evidently.”

Mrs. H. shook her head, chiding him silently, but finally replied. “Well,” she said, “I was awaiting news. What have you been doing? What does the doctor say? Since I knew you were seeing one, John—it’s not a secret, surely.  Sherlock would have told me.”

“No, not a secret,” John said finally. “And yes, I’ve been seeing a therapist—Sherlock’s therapist, in fact, Dr. Arquette. You’ve met him, haven’t you?”

She nodded. “Lovely man,” she said. “Such a shame about his limp and so on.”

John blinked—not every day one heard a prosthetic hand referred to as “so on”.

“Yeah,” he said finally. “We—he’s good. Been good for Sherlock, and he knows us both, so…yeah.”

Mrs. H. waited, the picture of an attentive audience. After an additional minute of silence, she tsked in exasperation. “John Watson,” she said sternly. “Stop stalling and tell me what’s going on.”

John thought idly that Mrs. Hudson was much better at being a mother than his own biological parent ever thought about being.

“I’m working on the anger thing,” he said, just a bit gruffly. “I recognize it’s a problem. A big problem. I, um, I frightened Sherlock a few days ago. Frightened myself, in fact. And I’m going to stay in Surrey with Mellie and Siger while I get sorted, so they can watch Rosie.”

“Hmm,” Mrs. Hudson murmured, as if waiting for more. When nothing was forthcoming, she frowned slightly, considering. Then--

“My husband was a bad man,” Mrs. H. said, seemingly out of the blue. “You know about that—how Sherlock got him topped for all those murders.” She lifted her eyebrows, and John nodded automatically, completely at sea about where this was going.

“But it wasn’t just the drugs and murders, you see,” she said. “Frank was bad to everyone, in the end. And especially me.” She waited while that sunk in—while John realized exactly what she meant, as his face fell, and his heart ached.

“Yes,” she nodded, as if John had spoken. “My hip, you know? I didn’t fall—well, I did, but I had help, if you know what I mean. I was trying to make it up the stairs, and Frank caught my hair.” She reached up one slightly-shaky hand to pat her short curls. “I used to have such lovely long hair.”

John reached out to gently take that shaking hand. “You don’t have to—” he began, only to have Mrs. H. interrupt him.

“Yes, I do,” she said firmly. “Because this concerns you.” She gave a small tug to free her hand, and gave him a soft pat on his knee. “Because you need to know why you can’t come back to Baker Street until you get yourself straight.”

John’s face must have reflected the strength of that blow, because the older lady caught herself, shaking her head rapidly.

“Oh, I said that wrong. Well, it’s not wrong, but I wasn’t there yet. I mean—” Mrs. H. stammered, before giving herself a little shake. “I knew I’d mess this up,” she sighed. She patted his knee again. “Let me tell you the story, so you understand,” she said, pulling a small gold picture frame out of her pocket. She handed it to John, who blinked at a faded picture of a much-younger Mrs. Hudson, in an eye-popping Hawaiian shirt and scandalously-short tan shorts, wrapped in the arms of a short, stocky dark-haired man, handsome in a heavy-featured way.

“I met Frank when I went to Florida on holiday to visit one of my old dance troupe friends,” she began. “He owned the club she was working in—it was one of the ways he laundered the drug money, or so Sherlock told me later. We met, fell into—well, not love, but close enough, I suppose—and married two weeks later. We’d been together two years the first time he hit me.”

She settled back into the sofa cushions with a sigh. “I stayed almost twenty years,” she said with a grimace. “I couldn’t tell you why. I knew I should leave. My friend tried to tell me, before we married, even, but I wouldn’t hear it. And, after he, well, I started making excuses not to see her, not to see any of my friends. Until I didn’t have any friends left that weren’t three thousand miles away.”

“And then I found out—I didn’t know what he was doing, I swear, John—it sounds so stupid now, when everything he did was in cash, and I was doing the books,” she said sadly. “But I thought he was just dodging taxes, you know, just like everyone tries to,” she added, and smiled when John nodded.

“But then one of the kitchen boys turned up dead in the alley behind the club,” Mrs. H. continued. “He’d overdosed—cocaine, maybe something else as well. We called the police, of course, but before they got there, one of the servers dragged me into the back room and showed me a fake door I’d never seen before. It was open, stuck somehow, and when I peeked inside I saw cocaine stacked on a table, bags and bags of it. She was frantic to get the door shut before the police arrived—Frank wasn’t there, he was on a trip to South America, you know.” She paused. “It all sounds so obvious now, doesn’t it?”

“That—that made me scared, and made me think,” she continued. “And then the next week, the server was found murdered herself, sitting in her car in the parking lot.” John reached out and retook possession of her hand, patting it gently as she fluttered in distress.

She shook her head firmly. “I’m making too much of this, and it’s not the important part. So let’s get to that.” She fished back into the pocket and pulled out another creased photo, this one a polaroid. It showed a rail-thin, painfully young Sherlock Holmes, in dark clothes and dark sunglasses, standing uncomfortably in front of a pool surrounded by a garden of lush palms and flowers.

“I met Sherlock just around that time,” she said. “He was busking with a violin in front of a restaurant in Coconut Grove—that’s a wealthy part of Miami, dear—and had gotten very ill from the heat. He collapsed, poor boy, and people just walked past him! So I had my driver—Frank did give me a driver, you know, said I was much too dangerous to other drivers on my own—tuck him into the car and took him home. When he was feeling slightly better, I found out that he had been attacked outside a club the night before, and had everything stolen—his wallet, his plane ticket home, everything that wasn’t in his hotel room.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I’ve always thought it was a drug deal gone bad,” she confided. “Don’t tell him, though. He thinks I don’t know, suspect, at least, that that’s why he’d come to Florida in the first place—to be able to use freely without his brother knowing.”

John felt an ache in his chest at that—Sherlock never talked about that period, except for brief mentions that made it clear how desperately unhappy he’d been.

“So, after that, I got him a job serving drinks at the club, and he moved into our pool house,” Mrs. H. went on. “Frank seemed to like him—Sherlock did that thing he does, you know, where he was an entirely different person when Frank was around. Sherlock knew---well, when Frank and I fought, he would—he always came to make sure I was all right, once the house was quiet,” she finished in a rush, her eyes suddenly a bit too bright. She looked at John earnestly. “He offered to kill Frank for me, once, when he was very high,” she said, her voice uneven and very soft. “But then, when he was sober again, he tried to force me to leave, and I told him I couldn’t go. I don’t know why, now—I certainly would if it happened today.”

Mrs. Hudson raised her head back up, then. “Two weeks later Frank was arrested for drug dealing and suspicion of murder, several times over,” she said. “Apparently an anonymous informant had amassed a package of evidence that was delivered anonymously to the Miami Police Department. And you know the rest of the story,” she concluded. “Sherlock stayed at my, our house for almost a year, all told, working at the club and sometimes helping the Miami police, not just on Frank, starting to do the Work, you know? Anyway, he stayed through the first round of appeals, until it was clear Frank wouldn’t be released. After he left, though, I didn’t see him again for years, not until a few months before he met you, in fact.”

“So, now we’re back to you,” she concluded, with an air of having explained everything.

“I’m not sure what…” John began, and Mrs. H. cut him off.

“I’m not quite finished,” she said firmly. “I sat with Sherlock in hospital a lot, after he was attacked by that awful Culverton Smith person. He was so poorly, for several days, that he didn’t feel like talking much—slept most of the time I was there, so I got to talking to one of the nurses. Sweet lady—said she was a fan.” She stopped and gave John a glare. “And then she told me that most of Sherlock’s injuries didn’t come from Smith, or even the drugs. Mind you, he didn’t tell me that—someone else had to do it, since he wouldn’t.” She took back the hand John had held throughout her story and raised her eyebrows at him. “And it hasn’t escaped my notice that you didn’t, either.”

John could feel his face flush, red and hot. “I didn’t…. I wasn’t myself,” he managed to mutter. “That’s part of what—”

“That’s what Frank always said,” Mrs. Hudson said. “And do you know what Sherlock did, when I asked him about it later? He told me the same thing, said you didn’t mean it.” She gave John a significant look. “He also told me it had never happened before. But that’s when I realized, John—it had, hadn’t it? When he got first got home, came back from that awful place in Serbia, he came to see me after he saw you. He tried to act like he was just fine. But his lip was split, and his nose was swollen, and his back…I hope you didn’t know about his back, John, I really do.”

She was weeping now, just a little, and John felt like joining her. “Because I see it. I see what he saw, back in Florida. Not just the hitting, though that’s bad enough, you know that. But the way you talk to him, the things you say, the way you talk about him when he’s not there. It’s not you, John, or not the ‘you’ I knew, the one who cared about Sherlock, who took care of him, even when he didn’t want you to.” She gave a damp, wobbling sigh. “So, that’s what I mean. Until you get yourself right, until you’ve gone through whatever treatment you need to go through, until you can swear to me on your daughter’s life that you will never hit Sherlock again, never treat him like that again, you can’t move back here, John. You can visit, you can stay when he’s not here, but you can’t move back. You just can’t. I love you, dear, but this is wrong, and I let myself ignore it for too long. He won’t protect himself, even though he tried to protect me, once upon a time. So now, I’m returning the favour.” Her face worked, and her voice cracked as she reached for his hand. “Please don’t hate me, dear.”

John gave a damp chuckle. “I could never hate you, Mrs. H. Not ever. And I’ll promise you exactly what I promised Sherlock’s mum, when I told her what I’d done. If I ever think that that will happen again, I will leave. I will walk away, walk away from everything and everyone, before I will hurt either Sherlock or my daughter again.” He brushed roughly at his eyes with his free hand, and looked at her searchingly, hopefully. “Can you believe me? Can you believe in me?” Because he really, truly needed that, he realized, even though this was the first time he’d said so aloud.

And was rewarded, to his utmost relief, with a beaming smile as his surrogate mother clasped his hand in both of hers. “I can certainly try,” she said. “As long as you try, I can too.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t a late night. After the emotional upheaval of their talk, both John and Mrs. Hudson felt limp as dishrags and more than ready for their beds. And given that John had started this hellish day hungover to begin with, he was tucked in, covers up and lights out, by 9.

He expected to have trouble sleeping—he usually did, after therapy, and this day had included (terrifying) therapy, brief hospitalisation, and that last conversation with Mrs. H. as the cherry on top.

He slept like the dead. Never stirred once, until he heard Mrs. Hudson bustling around in the kitchen and tottered down the stairs to the toilet. Yet more evidence that his subconscious was a contrary bastard.

As he came out of the loo, Mrs. H. smiled and held out his phone. “You left it on the sofa,” she said, and so he had—never even missed it. “Someone called at 8—I couldn’t get to it in time to answer.”

Over fresh coffeecake and tea, John scrolled through his email and texts before moving to the phone message—he suspected it was from Dr. A, and he wasn’t quite ready to deal with that yet. There were a host of nonessential emails from the previous day—something encouraging from Molly, a note from Kings confirming his leave of absence (the one he hadn’t asked for—thank you, Mycroft Holmes), a long whinge from Harry about dating as a middle-aged lesbian (which, oddly, made him smile. He knew Harry was doing well when she was snarky enough to use phrases like “gluteal subsidence”. He managed to ignore the visual that phrase gave him, though). This morning’s texts were, unsurprisingly, all from Sherlock—nine in all, eight of which consisted simply of “John?”, and the last indicating that the detective was going next to Mrs. H., since John was “ignoring” him.

That lady caught John’s eye and huffed. “He started at 5 am, you’ll notice,” she sighed. “When he tried me at 6:30, I told him you were asleep, and I was trying to be. Finally ordered him to stop until you were up, or 9 am, whichever came first.” Right on cue, the phone chirped—it was 8:59.

Are you finally awake? I’ve been waiting for hours, and Mrs. Hudson is being completely unreasonable—SH

Which means she refused to come roust me out of bed, so you could complain about staying in Surrey? JW

There was a longish pause, while Sherlock considered his options. Then--

No—SH

Which was, of course, code for “Yes, and I would like you to commiserate with me and pillory Mrs. Hudson accordingly.” But some distant part of John, an older, less familiar part these days, also recognized the subtext: “I was anxious and would like to be reassured.”

John found himself chuckling as he typed—something else that had been relatively rare, of late.

Everything’s fine. Suspect Dr. A has my medical results. More in 10. JW

The reply was instant.

More what? SH

Because, of course, Mr. Literal had to have the last word. John grinned, but resisted the urge to send another reply. He was just delaying listening to the voicemail, and he’d already decided he was past using avoidance as a coping mechanism.

As expected, the call was from the psychiatrist. “Your tests were all staggeringly normal,” Dr A drawled in the message, “just as we expected. So, we need to set up next steps. I have an opening for tomorrow morning at 11—nothing today, but I suspect your taking a day to let things settle is probably all to the good right now. Call me if that time is a problem, but if I don’t hear from you I’ll expect you.”

That, right there, represented why Dr. A was such a good choice for John—much better than Ella, all around. No delays, no niceties—just straight to the point, and “let’s get on with it.” It was refreshing; novel, even.

As promised, his first text was to Sherlock.

All my tests were normal, so we’re moving to more-intensive therapy, I assume. Next session is tomorrow at 11, here in town—I think I’ll head back to Surrey today,  as soon as I can get a ride. Do you have Andrew’s number? JH

It took a little longer than John would have expected to get a response, but when it came, it included two texts at virtually the same time—one from Sherlock, saying, simply, Handled, and the second from Andrew, saying that he would arrive in 30 minutes. He gave Sherlock the appropriate credit for that.

Thank you. JW

Unnecessary. The sooner you arrive, the sooner my mother will stop following me around like a sheep with one ewe lamb. She insists on regular conversations about FEELINGS--SH

John couldn’t resist.

Maybe that’s a good thing, Sherlock. JW

He could almost hear his friend’s gasp of outrage.

There’s no need to be offensive, John—SH

 

 

 

 

A few things had changed in Surrey in John’s absence. First, Siger was gone—seconded to a diplomatic mission in Ukraine, as an “extraordinary advisor”, given his many contacts in the region. Sherlock was rather disgruntled about it—he needed his father around as a leavener in his interactions with his mother, and (to John’s practiced eye) seemed somewhat concerned about the older man entering into such an unstable region.

Mellie, though, had no such qualms, and seemed exasperated by her youngest’s fretting. “He’s old, Sherlock, not stupid. If things start to go tits-up, your father will know about it before anyone else has any inkling, and make sure they get him out.” She paused, frowned, then continued. “He promised me,” she concluded, which told John that she wasn’t quite as sanguine about the trip as she appeared.

The second change, then, was an offshoot of the first—given that Mellie wasn’t always available for Rosie’s care, and Sherlock was elbows-deep (literally) into his roadkill experiment, the Holmeses had called in one of their outside minders to help. John wasn’t surprised by that—Mellie had mentioned the possibility from the outset. What did surprise him, though, was to walk into the kitchen and discover his sister sitting at the table, flipping through a glossy magazine while Rosie squeezed bread dough between tiny fingers in her high chair.

After the initial flurry of greetings, hugs and kisses (for Rosie and Mellie—Harry backed away quickly. Neither of them were big on familial demonstrations), John bounced a sticky Rosie on his hip while turning to the first order of business.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming when you emailed?” John asked, trying (and, he suspected, failing) to keep accusation out of his tone.

“Didn’t know I would be,” Harry said, dropping back into her chair and reaching for her magazine. “Mellie called me about six this morning, when Siger had to leave. I had emailed Sherlock a couple of days ago to ask if I could be first in line, when they needed someone. Been too long since I saw Rosie.”

John could see her strive to not put any kind of anger in that. Honestly, some anger might have been justified, and he sighed as he mentally acknowledged it.

“Sorry, that was out of line,” he said carefully. “I appreciate your coming down.” Harry nodded, and went back to her reading, as Mellie reached out with a damp cloth to wipe Rosie’s fingers (though John could feel that much of what she’d been covered with was already spread across his clean shirt).

Mellie, finishing her task, gave John a Look and pointed militantly with chin towards his sister. John sighed, but complied.

“So, how was your trip?” he asked lightly. He could just see Mellie’s eyeroll out of the corner of his eye.

Harry snorted. “I could get used to that, Johnny. Just tell me who I have to kill to get on the list to have one of those cars, will you? Though I did notice that someone had thoughtfully taken all of the alcohol out of that bar thingy in the back.” Her tone made it clear that it wasn’t really a complaint.

“Don’t think assassination is the only requirement,” John said, bouncing Rosie to make her hiccup with glee. “Mind you, marrying into the family would probably work, but, on balance, killing might be easier.”

Mellie and Harry both laughed.

“If I had to marry Sherlock, certainly,” Harry drawled, and then gave John’s laugh, which set Mellie off again, pointing at the two of them. John felt a brief warm glow in his chest—he’d forgotten how funny Harry could be when she was sober.

“Harry will be here until Wednesday, most likely,” Mellie said, bringing Rosie a sippy cup of juice from the fridge. “Siger should be back by then, but we have a list of helpers lined up, if not.” She gave her surrogate granddaughter a chuck under the chin, as the baby wriggled happily in John’s arms. “Your daughter is a popular young lady, it would seem.”

“More so than her dad, most likely,” Harry said. And just like that, the mood changed—well, John’s mood, anyway. On one level, he knew she was teasing, nothing more. But the comment had an unpleasant bite to it that set his watchful, inner “passenger” on alert.

“There’s the Harry we know and…tolerate,” John said darkly. The smiles dropped off Mellie and Harry’s face, though Rosie remained oblivious. “Trust you to remind us why we’re all here. Making sure John is reminded of all his many shortcomings.”

“John!” Mellie said chidingly. “We are all trying to help. We wouldn’t do that if you weren’t important to us.”

Before he could stop himself, the words “I don’t need help!” almost flew out of his mouth. Almost. Because he did need help. And he hated it.

Harry, being Harry, heard them anyway, and sighed. “Always this, John,” she said quietly. “It always comes back to this.”

“No, Harry, it always comes back to one of us cleaning up after the other. It’s usually you. But I guess it’s finally my turn,” John said curtly. He handed Rosie to Mellie, who took her with a frown, and strode over to pull a bottle of beer out of the fridge and open it.

Harry abruptly stood from her chair, marched over and snatched the beer bottle from John’s hand, then upended it briskly into the sink.

“The fuck, Harry?” John barked, furious and confused.

Mellie, with a reproachful look at both of them, swept Rosie up tighter into her arms and fled. Well, removed herself, anyway—Mellie wasn’t the type of woman to “flee”, as a rule.

Harry, meanwhile, had moved to stand in front of John, hands on her hips and that Watson chin held firm. “It’s half-ten in the morning, John. Even I didn’t start on beer at half-ten.”

“No, you just drank most of the night, so that pretty much tided you over until you passed out. You didn’t even see half-ten in the morning for years,” John said nastily, and meant every word.

Harry paled, but stood her ground. “You’re right,” she said. “And I shouldn’t have compared the two of us. Your drinking problem isn’t all that similar to mine, beyond the basics of genetics.” She gave a rueful half-smile. “If nothing else, you don’t seem to enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did.”

“I don’t have a drinking problem,” John gritted out, determined to keep his temper under control. “I drink, occasionally. I enjoy it, whether you believe it or not. And I am not like you.”

“I’m your twin, John,” Harry said. “Of course you’re like me.”

“Not what I meant, and you know it,” John replied. “You need to let this go. Go see Rosie. Go for a walk.”

“Just get away from you, is that it?” Harry said, a bit angry in her turn, now. “So you don’t have to think about it? Think that maybe, just maybe, alcohol helps feed this thing in your head?”

“I already have more than enough to think about,” John snarled, shoving roughly past her to fish out another beer from the fridge before turning to head for the back door. “And I don’t have a drinking problem!” he barked again, as he banged outside and strode down the path to the back garden.

Chapter Text

John walked briskly down the path leading out to the nature preserve behind the garden, well aware that he was stomping, more than walking. He took a long pull at the beer before stopping, looking at it in mild disgust, and pouring the rest out into the soft grass, shoving the empty bottle into his deep side pocket.

Turned out, beer really didn’t taste all that good at half-ten unless you were either already drunk, or hungover. Be damned if he’d go back and tell Harry that, though.

He loved it out here; had done from the very first time he visited. He particularly loved bringing Rosie out here; it must have been a spectacular place to raise children. He knew that Sherlock and his mother went on regular “rambles,” as Mellie called them, following routes of Sherlock’s choosing—determined by some mystical algorithm only Sherlock understood, but which was somehow tied to chains of birds’ nests, badger setts and fox dens. He’d gone along, once or twice, and was enchanted.

He didn’t feel very enchanted just now. But he was here, so he might as well walk, at least long enough to work off his excess temper. Really didn’t want to engage in a screaming match with his sister in front of Mellie, or his daughter.

He had roved for roughly half an hour, going nowhere in particular, when he heard rustling somewhere nearby. Could be a deer, could be a person.

“Hello?” he called. Didn’t especially want to meet anyone, but maybe someone needed help, or was lost.

“John?” Sherlock’s deep voice called, sounding uncertain. As John passed a barrier of bushes and brush, he saw his friend standing just off the path. He was carrying a good-sized burlap sack, and was accompanied, oddly, by a smallish boy.

“What’s up, then?” John asked, indicating the boy and the sack. The child in question, perhaps 9 or 10 years old and clad in very dirty jeans and hoody, looked on curiously.

“Up?” Sherlock said, and then “Oh. Yes.” He held up the sack. “Jeremy found a good-sized beaver, hit by a lorry down near the creek. I didn’t believe him at first—as far as I know, they are only currently living, under managed conditions, in Somerset, Devon and Scotland. They went extinct in the British Isles in the 1600s, you know. Someone must have illicitly introduced this one; I plan on doing some investigating to see if there are more. In the meantime, though, the carcass will prove an interesting addition to my research.”

John recognized this as Sherlock’s version of “chatting”. He only did it when he was (1) drunk; (2) high; or (3) nervous. John put his money on option three.

“I hadn’t heard that,” John said. “Are you going to dissect it first?”

“No,” Sherlock said instantly, as Jeremy suddenly looked a bit distressed. “I had planned to, but Jeremy’s gift was conditional on my not doing so.” He gave the child a slightly-teasing smile. “Of course, considering I’ve paid him for his efforts, I suppose it doesn’t quite qualify as a gift. But I gave him my word.”

Jeremy’s face relaxed. “Can we go now?” he piped. “My mum said I had to be back by noon, and she’ll go mental if she sees me before I can change my clothes.”

Sherlock looked at John, torn. “Would you…you can come, if you’d like,” he said in a rush, shifting the sack from one hand to the other.

“I’d like to,” John said, and realized it was true. “But we’re not supposed to be…your brother wouldn’t like it,” he finished, not wanting to say too much in front of the child.

Sherlock gestured airily towards Jeremy, bobbing impatiently up and down at his side. “We have a chaperone,” he said. “Come on.” He turned and strode off, not looking to see if John was following (as usual).

Really sure this is not what Mycroft had in mind,” John called, and trotted off to catch up.

 

 

 

 

Sherlock’s “body farm” was modeled after one he’d seen a documentary about as a child; it was started in the late 1980s in America, the leading edge of an expanding field. Sherlock had actually written to the lead scientist and still had the researcher’s thoughtful, detailed reply. During his recuperation from his shooting, he’d spent a few weeks in Surrey, and hit upon the idea of creating his own version using “found” animals—more to satisfy his own curiosity than anything else, something to do that didn’t require running around. The idea of enlisting the local children to collect specimens actually came from Siger—he’d contributed the first specimen, a badger he found and carried home, to Mellie’s horror. He’d also done most of the initial digging and shifting, until Sherlock recovered enough to take over those tasks.

Mellie’s contribution, as she put it, was to look the other way, and provide the payouts for the little “collectors”, who were under very strict orders never to show her their finds. The oldest boys took over the digging as well, when the detective wasn't available. He texted them detailed instructions on soil preparation and location, and insisted on photos of their progress.

Most specimens were buried in carefully-selected types of soil, though one or two were (rather awfully, John thought) left exposed to the elements. After a shouting match with his mother, Sherlock had consented to build lightweight wood screening around those, so that the children didn’t see them unless they asked to do so.

Jeremy didn’t ask. It was usually the older ones, sometimes egged on by their friends, according to Sherlock.

“So where are you burying Herbert?” he asked, as Sherlock put the sack down to show John around. “Is it a nice spot?” He glanced over at the succession of neatly-kept mounds, some fresh, others with moss or wildflowers and grass grown over them.

“Herbert?” Sherlock said, confused.

“Yeah, I…he just looked like a Herbert, you know?” Jeremy said. His face scrunched up a bit. “It’s my Grandad’s name. I don’t think he’d mind. It’d be sad to bury Herbert without a name. What’d you put on the stone otherwise? I mean, ‘beaver’ seems a bit mean.”

John had a dawning feeling that Sherlock had missed something here—that Jeremy had a bit of a different idea of what this field was about.

“Jeremy,” he said slowly, “what did your friends tell you about Sherlock’s project? What this is all for?”

Jeremy smiled. “Oh, it’s a pet cemetery, sort of. Only for wild animals.” He beamed at Sherlock. “It’s really nice, innit? Most folks don’t care. Just leave the poor things sitting in a ditch or the like.”

Sherlock frowned, started to open his mouth, then caught John’s eye and ground to a halt.

“Yesss…” he said slowly, clearly scrambling through the Mind Palace for an acceptable response. “It’s…rather like that,” he finally finished. “I’m putting him over there,” he added, pointing over past the last row of mounds to an area with newly-tilled soil. He was on firmer ground now—just pointing out the spot wasn’t loaded with potential emotional weight, surely? His eyes darted quickly to John for confirmation.

John nodded, feeling an old, familiar grin on his face. This was Sherlock’s endearing side—something John had allowed himself to overlook far too often in recent years.

Jeremy looked at the indicated spot, then nodded briskly. “That’s all right, then. Do you have shovels? Since Herbert was on the road for a while, you know. Probably best to be getting on,” he said, flushing a bit and looking at his shoes unhappily.

John cut in before Sherlock could say something unfortunate. “Why don’t we do that bit, Jeremy?” he asked. “You need to get back before your mum sees you anyway.”

Jeremy looked at him, wavering.

“We’ll take good care of him,” John said. “Promise.”

“You can come back and see the spot tomorrow,” Sherlock said suddenly, and Jeremy gave him a relieved smile.

And that was how Sherlock’s body farm gained a new occupant—and a small, flat gray stone at the head with “Herbert” painted on it with whitewash, in Sherlock’s spidery script.

 

 

 

 

 

By the time Herbert had been appropriately buried, John was pleasantly tired—digging could be therapeutic in a way, so long as you didn’t have to dig a full 6 feet down or make a man-sized hole. He’d enjoyed working side-by-side with his friend, aware the whole time that they really shouldn’t be here alone but enjoying it too much to leave.

Sherlock had grumbled about the stone, but John noticed that the detective opened up his tiny storage shed and mixed up a coffee tin full of whitewash mix from his stocks of powdered lime without prompting, and was quite careful in lettering the name.

“His grandparents are friends of Mummy’s,” Sherlock said, reading John’s mind as usual. “I’ll never hear the end of it if I upset him.” He rose and dusted off his gloved hands after wedging the finished stone in place. “And it’s a relatively harmless fiction. I likely won’t disinter Herbert for at least a year, by which time Jeremy will have headed away to school.”

“Maybe don’t show him the bits behind the screens either,” John added, and Sherlock pulled up in an offended huff.

“I’m socially awkward, John, not stupid,” Sherlock sniffed. “Although I would have been interested to see them when I was his age,” he added.

“Of course you would,” John said. “Though not anything you’d named.” Sherlock flinched minutely, and John wanted to kick himself. Child Sherlock and tiny bones was a little too close to the mark for all of them, still.

“Sorry,” John muttered. “Didn’t think.” He felt a distant internal rumble of that alien anger, and forced himself to step away.

“Look, I better…I think I need to head back to the house,” he said reluctantly. “Should I tell your mum you’ll be back by dark?”

Sherlock looked at his plot a little wistfully, then back to John. “You could stay a bit, if you liked,” he said. “I was planning on examining one of my older subjects today—a fox that has spent eight months in peaty soil I imported. I wish to see the effects of the tannins and potential for mummification. It could be quite interesting,” he said, looking studiously unconcerned.

“Maybe…maybe tomorrow, yeah?” John said. “When we have an escort.” Because he’d realized—this, again, was why his friend needed protection from him—because he’d never ask for it. And John would be damned if he’d violate that, while he still had the will to not do so.

“Oh,” Sherlock said, in a small voice. “OK.” And the small flare of satisfaction John felt at Sherlock’s obvious disappointment? That, right there, told him he’d made the right choice.

 

 

 

 

It was a quiet evening. When John got back to the house, he made a gruff apology to his sister, and another to Mellie, who huffed in a manner just like her son, but accepted it. Harry just grinned and went back to helping Rosie stack blocks in the lounge, before watching her knock them down to happy squeals.

Sherlock came back, nose reddened with cold, just as Mellie was pulling the components of dinner out of the oven (a vegetable lasagna that John had helped chop veg for. Rosie had been entranced). The detective made appreciative noises before going off to change out of his “work” clothes, coming back with his hands scrubbed particularly well.

He noticed John looking, of course.

“I’m quite experienced in maintaining cleanliness after this kind of thing,” Sherlock sniffed.

“Because I took a broom to him until he did,” Mellie said, turning to her frowning offspring. “I still remember that whole thing with the hedgehogs, when you were 13.” She gave a theatrical shudder. “God, your clothes.”

She gave John a droll look. “And the sounds he made when I hosed him down out back—you would have thought I was beating him.”

Sherlock turned a dusky pink, his chin rising. “It was March,” he said stiffly. “There was still snow on the ground in places. I’m quite sure that would be judged child abuse in some circles.”

“Not in ours,” Mellie said. “And you never did it again, did you?”

Everyone settled in to eat. Even Rosie had bits of soft carrot and courgette on her tray that she gummed with gusto. She adored marinara. The only downside was that she looked like a crime scene when she finished.

As they finished up and Sherlock topped off the wine glasses for the adults (except Harry, who stuck to sparkling water), Mellie looked up from wiping Rosie’s mouth and asked about plans.

“Are you heading back as well, Sherlock?” she asked, when John confirmed that Andrew would be arriving with the car at half-nine.

Sherlock nodded. “Dwight is coming along, so we’ll be ‘safe’.” He smirked in John’s direction. “If you’d like, I can go along with you to Dr. Arquette’s office and wait. I have a session myself at 1, so we could get lunch somewhere nearby in between.”

And wasn’t that a change—not just that Sherlock was continuing with his own therapy, but that he was willing to casually discuss it in front of his family. If John wasn’t sure Sherlock would be mortally offended, he would tell him how proud he was of him.

“Yeah, sure,” he said instead. “Sounds like fun.” He turned to Mellie. “Not sure if I’ll be back tomorrow evening or not—I’ll call you as soon as I know.”

“Of course, John,” Mellie said, popping Rosie from her high chair and handing her over to Harry. “Harry and I are taking Miss Rosamund into the village tomorrow—if I don’t answer when you call, just leave a message.”

 

 

 

 

They set off the next morning right on time. Sherlock was a little anxious, and John felt it rubbing off on him. Just in case, he insisted that his friend take the front passenger seat, while he shared the back with Dwight. Sherlock scowled, but agreed.

Dwight and Andrew dropped them off in front of Dr. A’s Harley Street building, and the two friends walked inside together. Sherlock settled down in the waiting room with his phone, while John was escorted into Dr. A’s office in short order.

The psychiatrist was already seated in his wheelchair, waiting by the comfortable couch and armchair against the far wall. His secretary brought in the requisite tea and biscuits while John settled in. He noticed, with a grimace, that his palms were sweating.

“Anxious?” Dr. A asked.

“Yeah, a bit,” John said. “This isn’t my favorite thing, you know.”

“Never would have guessed,” the doctor replied with a grin. He rolled briskly over to his desk, shuffled around the host of papers and decorative items on it before pulling out a sheaf of printouts. He rolled back and dropped them on the coffee table in front of John.

“There,” he said. “Copies of your lab results. I thought you’d appreciate a look, but I can tell you there’s nothing of significance in them.”

John picked them up and flipped through them, nodding. “Yeah. Pretty much as expected.”

Dr. A nodded. “That’s good, in the grander scheme of things. But it also means we’re going to have to leap into the deep end of therapy here, and I want to make sure you’re on board with that before we begin. My thought is this: as we discussed last time, it’s pretty clear that some sort of manipulation to your memories has taken place, for an unknown reason. While it’s possible that’s the result of a drug, it’s unlikely; drugs like that, though they do exist, can’t be fine-tuned to the point where only specific memories are targeted.”

John thought about that. “You mean there’d just be entire periods missing. And I’d likely have noticed sooner.”

“Yes,” the psychiatrist said. “More a hammer than a scalpel, certainly. That leaves us with two other candidates, since we know head trauma has also been ruled out: an ongoing, true dissociation, or hypnosis of some kind. Now, with your permission, I had examined your earlier therapeutic records. There were no indications of any kind of serious dissociative process, so I believe it’s safe to rule that out as well, unless you have some reason to think otherwise.”

John shook his head. Though he still found it difficult to feel sure of anything, under the circumstances.

Dr. A nodded again. “So. How do you feel about hypnosis in treatment?”

“I’m not opposed, but I don’t think it’ll work,” John said. “I’m familiar with the literature on it, but anything I’ve read implies that it relies on the suggestibility of the subject. And, as you yourself have noted, I’m a stubborn bastard.”

Dr. A laughed. “Well, there’s a bit more to it than that,” he said. “For example, in recent years, we’ve recognized that the best hypnosis patients are those who can focus, intentionally focus, on something to the exclusion of all outside stimuli.” He saw John’s face, and nodded. “And yes, that makes Sherlock a perfect candidate. He can tell you about that sometime—not something I can discuss, you understand.”

He pointed to John. “But you—you’re probably somewhere in the middle of the pack. Stubbornness, per se, isn’t especially an issue. But your inherent difficulties with trust are. On the flip side, though, the fact that you’re also not prone to snap decisions works in our favour. It’s one of those odd things about the whole process—we know what works, we’re just not completely sure why.” He looked pointedly at John. “So, knowing all that, are you still open to hypnosis?”

“Um, yeah,” John said. “Don’t see why not. Do I need to lie down on the sofa? Look at a pocket watch while you swing it back and forth or something?”

“No, nothing like that,” Dr. A said soothingly. “You’ve been watching too many old movies.” He pointed to the high-backed armchair. “Why don’t you sit in that? It reclines a bit, and is quite comfortable. We don’t want you to fall asleep, ideally, but it’s easier to induce if you’re not conscious of physical discomfort.”

John moved over and settled into the chair, pushing back enough to bring the footrest up in place. “You’re right—quite nice,” he said. “Now what?”

“Now we’re going to do some breathing exercises, to begin with, and then I’m going to put your full focus on something and ask you to work on that for a bit,” Dr. A said. “Shouldn’t take long, nor should you experience any discomfort.” He leaned forward a bit so that he was fully in John’s line of sight. His voice became calm, soft, yet commanding. “I want you to start backwards, and, with each number, you do a slow inhale, then a slow exhale, and concentrate on the movement of air and how it feels in your body…”

It was…strange. John was aware of everything that was happening, but it was as if it were happening largely to someone else. On one level he recognized that this was hypnosis, but couldn’t muster up any kind of concern about it. Dr. A ran him through several visualization exercises before asking him any questions. The first batch of queries were simple—his background, what the weather in Afghanistan was like, how long he’d been in the army. After some indescribable time (since time didn’t seem to have any meaning at present), Dr. A asked different questions: why had he left the army? How had he met Sherlock? What happened to Mary? Those were harder, in some odd way. He could still answer, and he wasn’t aware of being upset, but the words didn’t come as easily, and he found himself abruptly stopping in the middle of sentences before picking up the story at a slightly different place than where he’d left it.

Dr. A, still completely calm and reassuring, reached over and took John’s wrist. “John, I’m going to take you deeper now—you will feel as if you are falling asleep, and that’s absolutely fine. You will not be consciously aware of what we speak about, nor remember it, if you choose not to. I will always give you that choice. Are you OK with that?”

John nodded. “Yes,” he said, and that was the point at which all memory stopped.

And then he suddenly was aware of people shouting. He opened his eyes (or perhaps suddenly registered what his already-open eyes were seeing) and saw a distraught Sherlock standing in front of him, one hand, covered in blood, clenched tightly against his chest, the other holding one of the memorabilia from Dr. A’s desk, a Far Eastern kris dagger that John had previously noted and admired. He felt a pressure on his neck, and turned his head slightly to see Dr. A, also spotted with blood, holding a bundled cloth firmly to the left side of John’s neck.

And that was just about the point where John passed out.

Chapter Text

John woke, surprisingly enough, to shouting voices again. Well, near-shouting anyway, and quite close by.

“Sit down, Sherlock! Get in the chair and let them see to your hand before permanent damage is done.” He should know that voice; fairly sure, anyway.

“I am fine. It can wait until John’s evaluation is complete.” He definitely knew that voice.

Try though he might, though, he couldn’t fit the pieces together and slot names to voices until someone hurt him, rather a lot.

His eyes flew open on a curse, and, just like that, he remembered. Well, remembered the office, and the people in it. But, strangely, they weren’t at the office anymore.

“Oh, sorry,” the nurse who had just jabbed something into his neck said from his left. “Just putting in a bit more lidocaine.” John didn’t know her; looking around, he saw nothing familiar.

He, they, were in an exam room somewhere. Standard exam tables, racks of equipment and cabinets along the walls, really bright light shining in his face.

“We’re in Sevenoaks*,” Sherlock said hoarsely, because he, of course, had noticed John’s “return” before anyone else. “You…your neck is damaged, but it isn’t severe. Stitches, and not a great deal more.”

Sherlock was extremely pale. He was still clutching his right hand to his chest, now wrapped roughly in a reddened cloth, and his shirt and trousers had rather a large amount of blood on them. As John turned to look, he swayed suddenly, and Mycroft stepped into John’s line of sight and bundled his brother into a wheelchair he pushed forward.

Now will you go?” the bureaucrat huffed. Sherlock didn’t respond, just sat in the chair with his eyes closed, breathing rather heavily.

At that point, the door opened, just behind John, and Dr. A rolled into view. He had changed his shirt and washed his hands, at least, and took a long look at Sherlock before turning to John.

“Do you remember what happened?” he asked, as the nurse stepped away, presumably to find whoever would be placing the stitches needed. “Or, let me phrase that a little differently—what’s the last thing you remember?”

“You told me you were putting me under deeper, and then I woke up with blood and shouting,” John managed, still feeling confused and anxious. “And Sherlock was hurt. Is hurt.”

Dr. A nodded. “Yes. You had picked up the knife while still entranced. Sherlock—intervened. You have superficial damage to your neck, and Dr. Stewart will be in shortly to take care of that.”

The anxiety was worse, suddenly. “Did I hurt Sherlock?” John managed, with a warble in his voice he couldn’t prevent.

“No,” Sherlock said, his eyes opening as he sat up straighter, but didn’t attempt to rise. “It was…I grabbed in the wrong place. An accident, nothing more.” John didn’t miss the challenging look he sent his brother, standing behind the wheelchair with his arms crossed.

“Not intentionally,” Dr. A said, as if Sherlock hadn’t spoken, which drew him an outraged look from his other patient. “He’s going off now to get that seen to—he’ll be back later on today. And, right now, as soon as Dr. Stewart is through, I’m going to give you something to make you sleep for a bit, until you’re feeling a bit more yourself. Are you OK with that?”

“I…guess so,” John said, beginning to lose track of things again. The young doctor came in and set to work, and Sherlock was bundled off, protesting all the while. Then his nurse returned and injected something deftly into John’s drip, and he sank back into the soft darkness.

 

 

 

 

The next time John awoke, things were very different. For one thing, he could think again—he knew instantly he was in a hospital cot, knew that he’d been sedated, knew that he was currently in Sevenoaks, presumably because he was now considered a potentially violent patient with an unsettling skill set.

He took a moment to look around—not in the exam room anymore, then. This was a standard, upscale patient room, much like Sherlock had occupied in the psychiatric unit, if slightly more medically -oriented. He checked the large clock on the back wall—just after 7 PM.

Speaking of—Sherlock was across the room, sound asleep in a second cot. A drip stand with a bag of blood stood next to it, the line snaking down to Sherlock’s arm, with a second bag, presumably antibiotics, fluids and pain medication, hooked up as well. His right hand and forearm were heavily bandaged, his splinted fingers peeking out of the end of the wrappings.

John looked around for water—his mouth was arid and sticky, to the point where moving his tongue was difficult and speech felt impossible. Nothing appeared, but his fingers touched a call button that he seized on with gratitude.

A male nurse he didn’t recognize bustled in within two minutes.

“How are you feeling, then, Dr. Watson?” he asked. “I’m Curtis—I’ll be your on-call nurse for the remainder of this evening. Well, yours and Mr. Holmes,” he said, gesturing towards Sherlock.

“Could I get some water?” John croaked. He wanted, very badly, to ask about Sherlock’s condition, but needed the water first or he’d never get the words out.

“Of course,” Curtis said. He was back with a carafe and a cup in short order, and John swallowed an entire cup before refilling it immediately, though he only sipped at this second cup.

Curtis had moved over to check Sherlock’s vitals, his drip and bandages, while John drank. And John, determined to keep his voice steady, finally managed to ask.

“What did he have done?” he said, in as neutral a tone as he could manage. “Was the blood…how much did he lose?”

Curtis turned, after pulling the blanket back up over Sherlock’s shoulders.

“I know Dr. Arquette wants to be notified as soon as you’re awake, but I can give you a bit of a summary first, since you’re listed as his medical contact,” he said. “Mr. Holmes’ radial artery was nicked at the base of his index finger—that caused the blood loss. They’re giving him blood since he was quite shocky when he was evaluated, in addition to the estimated volume lost going by his clothing and so on. He had repair work done to a couple of tendons, in addition to the artery. But he should be right as rain now—he’ll go home in the morning, as soon as his blood work is done and looks fine. He’s just sleeping off the last of the anesthesia right now.”

John struggled to suppress the horror he felt at the damage done. “Does he…what’s his prognosis for recovery? Any lasting effects?” He hated to think of Sherlock with limited use of those talented, spidery fingers.

“Shouldn’t be,” Curtis said reassuringly. “It was all pretty straightforward, apparently. He’d have already been released were it not for the blood loss. Just a few physical therapy sessions and some exercises after that.”

The nurse reached over to tilt John’s head gently to the side, examining the bandage there and giving it a gentle prod. “Yours is much less involved,” he said. “Five stitches; you can likely take them out yourself, since they’re all external. Barring infection, you shouldn’t even have much of a scar.”

“So will I be released in the morning as well?” John said. Wasn’t quite sure why he asked it; wasn’t sure what answer he wanted to hear.

Curtis backed towards the door. “I’ll let Dr. Arquette speak with you about that; he’s over in the other wing, so he should be available shortly.”

And he was gone.

 

 

 

Dr. A rolled into the room about fifteen minutes later, by which time John had managed to beat down the impulse to disconnect his drip and vanish into the night. Mind you, he did disconnect the drip—didn’t have any need of it now that he could identify, and he was coherent enough to take any needed medication by mouth. But he was also coherent enough to recognize that any vanishing attempt on his part would be short-lived, given the excellent security at this facility. And, at its core, it would be rather cowardly. And John was done with being a coward.

The psychiatrist raised his eyes in silent inquiry as he entered, and John sighed.

“Better,” he said. “Not good, but better.” He looked over at Sherlock, still sleeping soundly. “Please tell me I didn’t attack him.” Because that, right there, was his greatest fear.

“No,” Dr. A said instantly. “You had no intention of harming him. His injuries—well, let’s put that on hold until we’ve had a chance to consider our options. But I promise you, this was not your aim.”

John abruptly found himself near tears, and fought it momentarily. When he was sure he had control of his voice, he said a gruff “Thank you” and left it at that.

The older man nodded. “It is, of course, a setback. It indicates a need to revise our approach somewhat; we’ll talk more about that tomorrow. You don’t necessarily need hospital care tonight, but I think Sherlock would find your presence soothing if he wakes in the night. He has told me in the past that he finds waking alone in a medical facility extremely stressful.”

John nodded, feeling on firmer ground. “Yeah. Reminds him of rehab, I suspect. He’s had a full-fledged meltdown once or twice in the past.” He looked over at his friend. “Is he likely to be restless once the anesthesia wears off?”

Dr. A shook his head. “No, we’re keeping him sedated. He had a minor flashback episode in Recovery; I want to prevent any more of that if we can. And it does no harm for him to get a good, long sleep—I think we both know how rare that is, for him.”

John had a sudden, uncomfortable thought. “Is it…safe for us to be here alone? Especially with him in this state?”

Dr. A pointed up to the far-left corner of the room. “There are very sophisticated monitoring systems included in the mounting for the emergency lighting,” he said. “You are both under full-time observation, and there is a guard outside your door.” He gave a wry grin. “Mycroft is leaving nothing to chance, you see.”

“Good for him,” John said, in the same tone. “I’ll try to remember not to scratch my bum too much.” It felt odd to smile. Good, but odd.

 

 

 

 

John didn’t really sleep; dozed a bit now and then, but the hours spent sedated, married to the mild background noise of hospital activity, kept him more alert than was compatible with rest. For the most part he read, or listened to Sherlock breathe. That last was comforting, in an odd way.

It was very, very late—just past 3:30 by the wall clock—when someone out in the hallway knocked over a cart, leading to a loud, crashing, clanging burst of noise. John startled, pulling out of a light doze, but Sherlock, on the far bed, sat up abruptly with a gasp and a whine of pain.

John was across the room before the echoes had faded, to see Sherlock’s pale eyes open, frightened, pupils wide and black, dart around the room before finally settling on his face.

“John?” he slurred, his forehead rumpling in confusion. “Where—what’s happened?” He looked dazedly at his bandaged arm. “Hurts,” he said, and looked back at John.

John leaned over to hit the control on Sherlock’s pain medicine, and gently took his shoulders to urge him back down.

“It’s fine,” he said soothingly. “You’ve had surgery on your hand; you hurt it. If you go back to sleep, you’ll feel much better when you wake up.” That last was probably a lie, but this wasn’t the time for full disclosure, after all.

“Oh,” Sherlock sighed, eyes closing. Within two minutes his breathing was slow and even again, and John went back to his cot.

 

 

 

The day started early—at just past 6, a nurse John hadn’t seen before came in to take Sherlock’s blood, waking the detective in the process. After trading a few pleasantries with John, she bustled back out with her prize, while Sherlock stared after her in a bemused fashion.

“What was that about?” Sherlock asked. “Wouldn’t think they needed to test for anything at this juncture; any medications will be simply those that they administered.”

“Blood counts,” John said. “They want to make sure you’re not still running low before they release you. It’s a good idea—I’ve often suspected you’re a little anemic anyway.”

Sherlock scoffed. “I’m pale, John—it’s genetic. Has nothing to do with blood volume.”

John laughed. “Fair enough. If your hair matched the rest of you, you could pass for albino.” He stood and looked at his friend’s bandages. “How’s your hand?”

Sherlock carefully lifted the bundle, trying to wriggle his splinted fingers before stopping with a flinch. “Sore,” he said. “But bearable.”

“It’s the morphine,” John said. “Enjoy it while it lasts. They’ll probably move you to something else once you’re released.” Sherlock gave a theatrical frown, but stayed silent.

Their breakfast came in on trays at that point; John picked at his, but Sherlock, surprisingly, ate with a fair amount of enthusiasm. He caught John watching, of course.

“What?” he said. “I haven’t eaten in…I haven’t eaten recently,” he said, quickly covering up his near-gaffe.

And just like that, John was angry. Angry enough that he recognized it; angry enough that he grabbed the robe on the foot of his bed and strode out of the room, leaving Sherlock gaping after him.

 

 

 

In retrospect, John felt lucky; lucky that he removed himself from the room before his inner “passenger” took the reins; lucky that the guard sitting just outside the door did nothing more than give him a seeking look before relaxing back in to his chair; lucky that one of the first people he saw, once he stalked out past the nursing station, was Dr. A rolling up the hall.

“I wanted to shout at him,” John announced, rather too loudly. “I wanted to call him an idiot, and mean it. I wanted him to feel bad,” he finished, panting.

Dr. A blinked. “And did you? Do any of that, I mean?” he asked.

John blinked in his turn. “No,” he said. “I left. I made myself leave.”

“Well, then,” the psychiatrist said with a smile, “I think we have progress. Small, but progress.” He pointed down the hall with his chin. “Let’s go have some coffee, and a chat. I have something you need to see after a bit.”

Chapter Text

They ended up in a canteen much like the one John had frequented when he visited Sherlock. It was calm and quiet, with carpeted floors and sound-baffling material on the wall—looked, really, like a coffee shop in an upscale hotel.

They settled into a table in one corner, far enough away from the counter that the noise and bustle from the serving line wasn’t an issue.

John took a sip of his coffee—excellent, as usual—and waited for the psychiatrist to begin. Dr. A, though, was sending a series of texts. He finally finished, and reached for his own cup with a sigh.

“Now,” Dr. A said, “I think it’s time to review what happened yesterday. We’re going to start with you, and I’m going to ask you some questions without giving you a context for why I’m asking. It’s important—I don’t want you to inadvertently skew your answers based on viewing the video from the session, so we’ll do this ahead of time.”

“Um…OK,” John said warily.

The therapist nodded. “Good. First—do you remember anything, anything at all, after the point at which I told you I was going to take you deeper? Even an impression? Think carefully.”

John did as directed, straining his memory as best he could. Finally, though, he shook his head. “Nope. I remember your voice, then there’s a blank until I woke up to shouting.”

“Do you remember any strong feelings before that point, or after? Were you alarmed, angry, sad?” Dr. A asked.

John thought about that. “No,” he said finally. “No more than usual. I mean, everything about this is stressful, yeah, but nothing about the session was making that worse.  After, well, I was confused and a bit frightened. But that was more about how I woke, and Sherlock standing there bleeding.”

“One last question: were you, have you been, aware of suicidal feelings, either at the time of our session or any time recently?” Dr. A said, looking intently at John.

John jerked in surprise. “What?” he barked. “I mean, no, I…I won’t deny I’ve had feelings like that in the past. You know that. But not recently, and certainly not at the time of the session. That’s more of a ‘dark, middle-of-the-night’ thing for me, when it happens.”

Dr. A nodded again. “I assumed so, but I needed to make sure. You’ll see why it’s relevant once we look at the video from the session.”

John blinked. “Well, that’s not terribly reassuring.”

The psychiatrist gave John a sober look. “The video isn’t reassuring—far from it. And we’re going to take some mildly uncomfortable, but necessary, precautions before you watch it.” And with that, he beckoned John to follow him out of the canteen and down the hallway.

 

 

 

 

John was surprised to see Dr. A turn into what seemed a standard patient room—twin cots, tray tables, miscellaneous equipment in the corners. An additional lightweight table had been moved in, and a cutting-edge laptop was perched on top. A male nurse, one John hadn’t met, waited silently beside it.

As John’s eyebrows raised, Dr. A gestured towards the nearest cot. “Climb up, John,” he said. “We’re going to take this very carefully. You’ll understand why, once you’ve seen the video. We need to make very sure nothing triggering happens.”

And on that cryptic note, John did as requested, then watched in mild shock as the nurse lifted light restraints that had been dangling along the side of the cot and fastened them around each of John’s wrists.

“You really think I might hurt someone?” John asked, increasingly uneasy.

“Potentially, I suppose,” the doctor said. “But my primary concern here is you.” He gave John what he supposed was intended as a reassuring look. “ I don’t believe this will prove necessary, but I’d rather not find out the hard way that I was wrong.”

The nurse picked up the laptop and placed it on the tray table, then pushed the table over John’s lap as Dr. A rolled his wheelchair over, close enough to see the screen clearly.

“Hang on,” John said, as the nurse reached for the controls. “Don’t you think Sherlock will want to sit in on this? I mean, he was there too.”

The psychiatrist shook his head. “No,” he said. “And I’m glad you asked that, since it’s something I want you to be aware of. Sherlock has found this--your treatment, and his involvement in it--tremendously difficult. I’m sure he’s mentioned none of that to you. But it’s been stressful enough that he has called me several times. I think we need to insulate him from the more difficult aspects of this going forward, and this recent event, including any reliving of this event, definitely falls into that category.” He paused, carefully considering his words. “I can’t discuss his sessions with you. But I think you are aware that Sherlock’s sobriety is tenuous at best, and he has been struggling with an upsurge in his depression. I need to strike a balance between what you need, and what he can bear.”

John felt a strange conflict in emotions at that. First was a surge of regret, deep and profound—that he had brought this on his friend. And second, an eerie, distant flutter of what could only be pleasure, so alien it took his breath away momentarily.

Dr. A, observant as ever, noticed. “What?” he asked. “You’ve thought of something?”

John shook his head. “No,” he said. “But I just…I felt one of those ugly things again. But it was different.”

“Different, how?” The therapist asked.

“It’s…I can feel it, but it’s not in control, if that makes any sense. It’s more a, a suggestion. And I feel it separately from other thoughts. My thoughts,” John said, trying to make it make sense.

“They’re both your thoughts, John—don’t mistake that. The question is, did they originate completely with you? Not quite the same thing, but something we’ll definitely pursue. Thank you for telling me,” Dr. A continued.

John settled back in the cot, not sure how he felt about that comment. But he didn’t have time to dwell on it, as the nurse reached to queue up the video, and then left the room with a nod and a smile.

Dr. A turned to John, as he reached for the control to play. “One last thing, John. We’re going to watch this twice, if we can. I want you aware of that from the outset. The first time will be to expose you to the event in broadest terms, and deal with the initial shock. The second time will be to observe details, and allow you to process more fully. Obviously, the second viewing can be delayed if you find the first too distressing. But I find that, the more time elapsing between reviewing upsetting events, the more prone the mind is to ‘rewrite’ portions of it, to soften the blow.”

“That’s really not reassuring, doctor,” John said, and Dr. A gave him a glimmer of a smile, before reaching forward and starting the video.

 

 

 

 

The video was in black-and white. On-screen, the psychiatrist dictated the time and date of the session—John remembered this portion. John watched, fascinated, as hypnosis was induced—heard his own voice slow and deepen, his breathing smooth out, his face soften.

After roughly ten minutes of conversation, all of which John remembered, although rather distantly, the on-screen psychiatrist leaned forward and put one hand on John’s knee. They had now reached the point at which John’s memory stopped.

“John, I’m going to take you deeper now—you will feel as if you are falling asleep, and that’s absolutely fine. You will not be consciously aware of what we speak about, nor remember it, if you choose not to. I will always give you that choice. Are you OK with that?”

John nodded. “Yes,” he said slowly.

The two men ran through a series of breathing exercises, the therapist inserting commands in a warm, soothing voice, and John saw himself relax further, until he was lying, eyes at half-mast, arms lax at his side.

“John, do you recall another time in which you were hypnotized? Or think that you were, even though you didn’t realize it at the time?” Dr. A asked.

John nodded.

“Can you tell me about that?” Dr. A continued.

John shook his head, a frown rolling briefly across his face. “It’s not allowed,” he said. “It’s an order.”

On-screen, the psychiatrist looked concerned, and made a series of notes on his tablet. “Can you tell me who the order came from?” he asked.

John shook his head again. “I have to obey orders. I’m a soldier,” he said.

Dr. A nodded, and on-screen John relaxed. “Yes, I know,” the doctor said. “But perhaps you can tell me what those orders were, so I understand what you can’t talk about?”

John thought about that, brow furrowing momentarily. Then he nodded slowly. “Can’t discuss our sessions. Can’t disobey. Have to act without thought, without delay. No regret. Until after. After is allowed,” he said, in a toneless voice.

“And are there any other orders?” Dr. A asked.

John looked confused. “No?” he said uncertainly. He looked slightly agitated. The therapist on-screen took note, and tried a different approach.

“Can you tell me your therapist’s name? Your most-recent therapist?” he asked.

“Dr. Arquette,” John said, calming now.

The psychiatrist smiled. “Yes, that’s correct. But who was your therapist before that?”

“Dr. Svenstrom,” John said. “Anya Svenstrom. She’s Swedish. She comes from Stockholm. She lives in Camden.”

“Yes,” Dr. A replied. “But does she have another name as well?”

John looked troubled again. “I don’t…I have orders,” he stammered.

Dr. A backtracked quickly. “Yes, I understand, we’ve talked about that,” he said soothingly. “We won’t talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable, all right?”

“OK,” John said, relaxing again.

“Let’s talk about something else entirely,” the therapist said. “Let’s talk about Sherlock. He’s your friend, yes?”

John nodded. “My best friend,” he said.

“What can you tell me about Sherlock? Who is he, really?” Dr. A continued.

“He’s a detective,” John said. “Best detective in the world. But he doesn’t understand people very well, so he needs me for that sometimes.”

“Because you help him understand, yes?”

“When I can,” John said.

“You know, I don’t know that much about Sherlock’s family,” the psychiatrist said. “Do you know them?”

John nodded again. “His parents live in Surrey. They’re very nice. Mellie and Siger. And he has a brother. Mycroft. He’s not very nice.” He gave a tiny smile at that.

“Is that the only family he has? Just them?” Dr. A said.

John’s face clouded over. “I just told you,” he said.

“Well, yes, I know you did,” the therapist said. “But, you know, Sherlock told me that he also has a sister. She’s not very nice either, but not the same way as Mycroft. She’s mentally ill, and has been in a psychiatric facility for most of her life. It’s a hospital for the criminally insane.”

“That’s…very sad,” John said uncertainly.

“Yes,” Dr. A said. “But I thought perhaps you might have heard her name mentioned, by either Mycroft or Sherlock.”

John shook his head.

“Are you certain?” the psychiatrist asked. “Have you never heard anyone mention the name ‘Eurus’? Eurus Holmes?”

John didn’t answer, but suddenly rose from his chair, a blank expression on his face.

Dr. A tried to redirect him. “John—please sit back down so we can finish our talk.”

John showed no response. His eyes scanned the room, as if looking for something. Then his attention locked on the desk, and he moved rapidly towards it. When he reached for the knife, sitting on its ornate wood stand, Dr. A shouted urgently for Sherlock.

As the detective burst into the room, John picked up the knife, shifted his grip momentarily, and reached forward to place it directly at his own throat before beginning a sideways motion, while pressing firmly against the skin. And Sherlock, with a shout, shot out his right hand and inserted it between the knife and John’s skin, essentially grabbing the razor-sharp blade. Sherlock’s face worked with pain, but he didn’t let go (while John silently, grimly, fought for control) until he had managed to work the knife loose from John’s grip with his left hand.

John, blood coursing down from his neck, staggered back, face still utterly blank, and sat back in his chair. Sherlock held his wounded hand to his chest, curling over and panting, while Dr. A shouted for his receptionist and a towel.

Back in the real world, Dr. A reached up and turned off the playback, and waited for John to speak.

John was still gaping at the frozen tableau on the laptop. “Jesus,” he finally managed.

The psychiatrist reached over and touched his arm. “Did you, at any time during that, feel an urge to move, to do anything? Did the mention of Eurus Holmes generate any kind of reaction?”

“What?” John asked dazedly.

Dr. A closed the laptop to break John’s focus on it. “Did you find yourself feeling any kind of restriction, any kind of urge to act?” he said again.

John finally managed to shake his head. “No, I…no,” he said slowly. “It’s just—Jesus,” he said again.

The therapist heaved a sigh. “That’s a profound relief,” he said. “Not least because I didn’t want to have to confine you if you did.” He pointed at the laptop. “Do you remember any of that now?”

“No,” John said. “It’s just so fucking eerie, to watch yourself like that. What does that? Am I…is this psychosis?” he said, afraid of the answer.

Dr. A shook his head. “No,” he said. “That is compulsion.”

Chapter Text

“No,” he said. “That is compulsion.”

 

 

John blinked. “But—how? Why?”

“As to that, it’s too early to say,” the psychiatrist said. “I have my suspicions, but it’s going to take some additional investigation to be sure. In the meantime, however, I’d like to catch you up on my own observations, and where they’ve taken me.” He looked at John. “Are you prepared to watch it again, this time with a critical eye?”

John was shaken, but not distraught. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “As long as it accomplishes something beyond making me feel like something out of a zombie film.”

Dr. A smiled. “That, I think I can guarantee. And I believe there are some glimmers of hope here, as well.”

He reached forward and hit the button to restart the video. When the film reached the point at which on-screen John gave his speech about having ‘orders’, he stopped it.

“Now,” the therapist said, “does anything strike you about that?”

John thought about it. “Well…it seems like whoever, whatever did this pulled on my background specifically. ‘Orders’ and ‘soldier’.”

Dr. A beamed. “Exactly. Your ‘orders’ were framed in such a way that your subconscious reinforced their validity—based on your history, ‘orders’ were a comfortable framework for enforcing specific behaviours.”

John nodded. “I can see that. Is it true, what I always heard—that you can’t be forced to do things that go against your conscience?”

“Let’s put a pin in that and come back to it,” Dr. A said. “I’m going to play the rest of the tape, as there are a couple of additional observations I’d like to make, and see if you agree.”

The tape ran again, proceeding through John’s eerie, silent reaction to the question about Eurus, ending with picking up the knife and putting it to his throat. The psychiatrist stopped it again, and turned back to John.

“Now, I noticed two things of import here,” he said. “The first I’m sure you got—the trigger for your actions was the question relating to Eurus Holmes. Your affect changed, becoming much flatter. Don’t know if that’s significant or not. But the second—look carefully at your grasp on the knife. Do you see anything unusual about it? Anything you wouldn’t ordinarily do, if this were a training session in hand-to-hand combat?” Because, of course, Dr. A knew how that kind of training went—he’d almost certainly gone through it himself, before his crippling injuries and forced retirement from the field.

John had to forcibly disengage himself from the image of that knife at his throat, and Sherlock’s grimace of pain as he grabbed the blade. He thought about the on-screen John moving to the desk, scanning it, then picking up the knife, and—

“I picked it up with my right hand,” he said. “Why would I do that? I’m left-handed, strongly so. Shoot with my right, granted, but only because my old instructor insisted on it, and bludgeoned me with practice until I learned.”

Dr. A was visibly pleased at that answer. “Yes, exactly so. Why would a trained soldier pick up a weapon in their non-dominant hand when preparing to use it?”

John shook his head. “No idea. But it doesn’t make sense. Is this something that whoever messed with my head was too specific about—as in, gave step-by-step instructions without knowing I was left-handed? Said ‘pick up the knife with your right hand’, like that?”

“Possible, but unlikely,” the therapist said. “Suggestions like this one rely on the subject being physically able to complete the task, so the assumption would be that the subject already knew the steps involved.” He gave a delicate pause. “But—‘whoever messed with your head’—are you really in doubt about that, under the circumstances?”

John snorted. “No. Open to suggestion as to who else it might be, of course, but we both know it was almost certainly Eurus. But how? I mean, yeah, she’s a genius, but I only saw her as a therapist twice, and the first of those only lasted, oh, ten or fifteen minutes.”

He looked over to see a peculiar expression on Dr. A’s face—a hesitation to say something John would find unpleasant? It took a minute, but the other penny finally dropped.

“Oh,” John sighed. “So this might be an area where my memories have been…adjusted?”

Dr. A nodded. “It makes sense. Sherlock said that there were roughly two months between your confrontation with Culverton Smith, and the events at Sherrinford. You have already mentioned that you made a concerted effort to take the steps necessary to improve your health, mental and physical, after reconciling with Sherlock. So does it seem logical that you would have had only one session of therapy in all of that time? Obviously there are no records we can consult—we have no way of knowing how long the real Dr. Svenstrom had been dead, given that her body was packed in an airing cupboard, bagged with dry ice, after her return from her overseas sabbatical. The best estimate is at least a month. And Eurus Holmes certainly wasn’t updating any patient records during that time, given that you were her only ‘patient’.”

And John could see the sense in that. Even though he could only remember that final meeting with his “therapist” clearly, in looking back, the two of them seemed to have a more comfortable rapport than would normally be the case if this was only their second meeting.

“Why didn’t that occur to me?” John said uneasily. “Why didn’t that seem strange before now?”

“Because nothing called it to your attention,” Dr. A replied. “That’s the nature of it—almost like a ‘don’t-see-me’ spell in fantasy novels. It’s not that the information isn’t there—it’s just that your subconscious has been directed away from it.”

John had heard of that, actually—a form of redirection that was used to distract patients from uncomfortable or distressing thoughts. Never read of anyone being able to remove those memories entirely, of course—but this was Eurus Holmes they were talking about.

Dr. A took a leaf from the Holmes playbook at that juncture, and apparently read John’s mind.

“After the end of the session yesterday, once you and Sherlock were settled in hospital, I met with Mycroft Holmes and showed him the video. He was understandably concerned about your state of mind. As a result of that meeting, though, I was able to secure his cooperation in securing a…I suppose you would call it an ‘evaluation’ of his sister,” Dr. A said. “Ironically, Mycroft himself was the source. There were never any psychological profiles completed of Eurus as an adult that weren’t compromised by her manipulation of the examiner. But, using what materials existed, and pairing it with his own knowledge of Eurus’ history and abilities, Mycroft put together his own take on her pathology, as well as her methods. I now have possession of that document, and it makes fascinating, if horrifying, reading.”

John felt a queasy wave run through him. He beat it down, and asked. “What…how does she do it?”

“She has a natural affinity for hypnosis,” the therapist began. “She has a similar strength to Sherlock—that ability to turn all outside distractions away, and hyper-focus on the desired path. In her case, though, that focus can be directed outward, rather than inward. With a preternatural talent for observation--again, a family trait--she can identify the best approach for her audience, tailor it to the individual. It’s not simply a matter of her will, of course, but that is indeed formidable. She’s evidently had access to information relating to body language, voice patterning and the like, and wields it like a sword. Her voice is not as striking as Sherlock’s, but she has practiced tone, pacing, all the things professional speakers use in capturing and manipulating their hearers, to the point where she very likely rarely says anything that isn’t artificial or heightened in some manner.”

He looked carefully at John. “She is, almost certainly, the most talented hypnotist of the past century. When you partner that with her intellect and utter lack of conscience or moral filter, there are very few people who could resist her. She was institutionalized at the age of seven; it’s very likely her emotional development ceased at that point, though it’s unclear how much development would have ultimately taken place regardless of her location or care. And people tend to forget just how dangerous a child’s impulses can be, if left unchecked.”

John thought about that, then nodded. “Especially an angry child,” he said. “And Eurus was, is, very angry indeed.”

“For most of her life, very likely,” the psychiatrist said. “Imagine that intellect, trapped in the body of a child, suddenly realizing that they lack something that everyone around them understands innately. Then top that off with the realization that they will never be able to learn it, no matter how brilliant they are.”

“And then she directed that anger at Sherlock,” John added soberly.

Dr. A sighed. “Well, we could debate that outcome at length, if we were so inclined. My own theory—and I freely acknowledge that it’s theory, nothing more—is that Sherlock was her one contact to the rest of the world. Mycroft would have worked as well, but he was too old. But Sherlock was like her, in a way—very intelligent, but somewhat alien, not able to understand emotions or read faces. Unlike her, though, he was beginning to learn, albeit slowly. But then he made a friend—and to Eurus, that friend was a threat. Because she didn’t truly understand what friendship was, very likely saw it as ownership, in a way, it wasn’t possible for Sherlock to be friends with more than one person. If Victor Trevor was ‘in’, Eurus, by her definition, was ‘out’.”

“And she wasn’t having it,” John said.

The therapist sighed. “No,” he said. “And thus we end up here. Are we agreed that Eurus is the likely source of your issues, at least the issues relating to Sherlock?”

John nodded.

Dr. A smiled slightly. “A small victory, then: we’ve identified the point on which we need to focus. Now, we need to turn our hand to removing it, or at least relieving it to a manageable level.”

“But can’t you just re-hypnotize me and, I dunno, override it?” John asked.

Dr. A shook his head. “We may do some of that, certainly. But without knowing exactly how it was phrased, exactly what form the compulsion took, it’s not that easy.” He looked at John’s right hand. “Like the bit with picking up the knife—we don’t know if that came from a mis-worded ‘order’, or from you fighting the compulsion on a subconscious level. I hope it’s the latter, but I wouldn’t want to risk being wrong.”

“How does it work, then? Compulsion?” John said.

“That’s probably an incorrect term, to be fair,” the psychiatrist said. “The technical term would be ‘post-hypnotic suggestion’. Sure you’ve heard of that one. It’s often used in the treatment of phobias, or to help patients avoid unhealthy habits—smoking, that kind of thing. The most successful suggestions aren’t structured as negatives—‘you will not smoke’ or ‘you won’t ever purge again’—but as assertions: ‘you no longer have a desire to smoke’ or ‘you are pleased with the way your body looks’. Results vary, but it can be extremely effective.”

“But what about the thing I asked about before?” John said. “About not working for anything you wouldn’t normally be willing to do?”

“It’s less clear-cut than that,” Dr. A said. “It would depend partly on the skill of the practitioner, to a degree. Would a suggestion for you to physically attack Sherlock, worded in precisely that fashion, work? Likely not,” he said, with a knowing eye to John’s involuntary flinch. “But a good therapist, who knows their patient well, can build on what’s already there, and form it into something else entirely. In your case, at your initial meetings with Eurus, you were deeply depressed, completely estranged from Sherlock, and lethally angry, not least of all at yourself. Is that a fair assessment?”

John nodded. “Yeah, I…it was really, really bad.”

The therapist nodded. “So, if I were Eurus Holmes, I would start from that point. And while you were deeply entranced, I would start building a framework. I would take that anger, and give it a focus, using things, uncomfortable, even illogical though they may be, that your subconscious had already generated. In the face of loss, human nature dictates that we look for a cause—someone, or something, to blame. And, if we can’t blame ourselves—or even if we do, but won’t acknowledge it—we look for an outside agency to lay all of that grief, all of that anger, on. In your case, that focus—”

“Was Sherlock,” John sighed.

“Yes,” Dr. A continued. “He’s told me his perspective of that time. He shared your letter with me; did you know he carried it in his wallet until very recently?”

John cringed. “I’m…I’ve told him how very, very sorry I am for that. I haven’t—I don’t even recognize myself in the person that wrote that letter.”

Dr. A looked at John intensely. “That’s a very interesting way to put that, John,” he said, and waited.

“Wait,” John said. “You think that was—that she had a hand in that as well?”

The therapist shook his head. “No, not really—from what you tell me, your initial session was well after that time. That kind of feeling is something that Eurus could have used as a building block, though. But no, I had another meaning—your issues with grief and anger weren’t the only moving parts in your mindset at the time, were they? From what Sherlock has told me, you were drinking a great deal as well.”

John felt his temper flare, for the first time in this whole conversation. “I drank. It helped. Until it didn’t. And then I stopped, for the most part.”

The psychiatrist gave him a knowing look. “Yes, so you’ve told me. But I don’t think we can overlook the presence of drinking in this scenario. Lowered inhibitions would have made your suggestibility much stronger, if you were drinking on a regular basis.”

“I understand,” John said stiffly, and left it at that. Dr. A waited briefly for anything further, then sighed.

“All right, then,” he said. “Let’s talk about your actual sessions themselves. Did Eurus do anything unusual, anything unlike your previous therapists had done?”

“I’ve only ever had one other,” John said, still slightly testy.

“Fair enough,” Dr. A. said. “How did Eurus’ sessions work, then? The first one, perhaps?”

John thought about it, mildly uncomfortable when he realized that, when he tried to pin down the actual events of that session prior to Mrs. Hudson’s arrival, they skittered away. “I…when I got there, she took a history,” he said, sure of that at least.

The therapist picked up on his discomfort. “That’s good,” he said encouragingly. “What next?”

“Um…she made tea,” John said, only now realizing he was looking at yet another gap in his memory.

“Did you drink it?” Dr. A said.

“I don’t remember,” John said bleakly. “I don’t remember anything about the session at all, up until just before Mrs. Hudson got there. It’s just…there’s blank space,” he said, his voice rising.

Dr. A reached over and touched John’s arm. “Calm, John, calm. This isn’t new; you knew you had memories missing. The positive thing here is that you may have just touched on the source, at least in part.”

John gave him a wordless look of inquiry, still breathing faster than he wanted to.

“I would wager that each of your sessions with Eurus started the same way,” the psychiatrist said. “Tea or coffee is a normal part of many sessions; no one would think anything about it. In this case, I think Eurus used it as a vehicle to introduce the drug of her choice; nothing dangerous, nothing that would give you noticeable aftereffects. Perhaps a low-dose benzodiazepam, perhaps a form of rohypnol. Either would lower your inhibitions, and in the right hands could induce you to forget anything that happened until you were awakened, when she had accomplished what she wished.”

“But…what do we do now? If I can’t remember any of it?” John asked helplessly.

“The sessions themselves may well be unrecoverable,” Dr. A replied. “But for the rest—I think we’ll ask the people who were there, and see where it takes us.”

Chapter Text

As it turned out. Dr. A didn’t mean the people that were there at John’s sessions—he meant the people that were there for John’s life. His chaotic, often terrible life over the past 18 months or so. If John’s memory issues went back further than that, they’d recalibrate and expand their work, but for now they would concentrate on what memories they (well, everyone other than John) knew had been corrupted.

Once John had been relieved of his restraints and the hospital cot, they headed to Dr. A’s Sevenoaks office before they continued. Once they were there, John was anxious to know where they went from here.

“So how do we go about it?” John asked. “I mean, I don’t know where the holes are until someone points it out. So I don’t even know what questions to ask.”

“Well, in this case, I believe we will take a conservative approach,” the psychiatrist said. “While we will ultimately return to hypnosis, most likely, I think a step away from that method for a time will serve us better.” He paused thoughtfully before continuing. “Do you remember when you first realized, really understood, that your memories had been tampered with? That sensation?”

John nodded. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “It was…I could recognize both memories. Both were there, and I knew that once it was pointed out. But I couldn’t really tell which was ‘true’, for lack of a better word.”

Dr. A nodded in his turn. “That’s a very good sign, actually. It indicates two things: first, the memories, the original memories, are still there. And second, you are able to recognize the truth of them, even if you can’t immediately reject the overlaid ones.”

The therapist pulled out an electronic tablet and handed it to John. “I want you to write out your memories of your wife’s funeral,” he said. “I believe that’s a good starting point, as I already have a comparison I can offer you to gauge your reaction. I know this is a hard one, John,” he continued, after a glance at John’s forbidding expression, “but it might not be a bad idea to get one of the harder ones out of the way.” He gestured at the tablet. “We can record it if you prefer, but I thought you might prefer writing. Start from wherever you wish, but make sure to incorporate the events of the funeral itself, from beginning to end.”

It took fifteen minutes or so; John had gotten better at typing than he used to be, and it wasn’t like he had to be as concerned about language or editing as he was for his blog. He surprised himself, honestly—it wasn’t as emotional as he’d feared, though detailing the funeral itself was a struggle (Sherlock’s absence was particularly hard to describe, especially since he knew, now, that it had been his own choice). When he was finished, he read back over it quickly, nodded, and walked over to hand it to the psychiatrist, seated now behind his desk.

Dr. A read through it silently, nodding several times, then put it aside as he finished. Then he typed quickly on the laptop sitting on the desk, and gestured for John to come around next to him so he could see the screen readily.

The psychiatrist tapped one more key, and video flickered to life on the screen—black and white, like the security film of John’s disastrous session. This, though—this was Sherlock, the Sherlock of a year ago. Very pale, slightly disheveled compared to his usual mien, dark shadows obvious even in this poor-quality film. Very thin, with hands that shook slightly until the detective noticed and clasped them tightly in his lap.

Though not on-screen, Dr. A’s voice was suddenly heard. “Tell me about the funeral,” he said.

Sherlock’s head lowered, and he began to speak, haltingly, quietly. He covered much of the same ground that John had, beginning (because this was, after all, Sherlock) with the planning of the service (Mycroft, almost exclusively). John was quickly aware of the differences between his own version of this tale and his friend’s. As Sherlock’s story progressed, the signs of stress increased—blinking, fingers twitching restlessly when not clasped, white-knuckled, in his lap, throat-clearing. When Sherlock reached the scene at the church door, the confrontation with John, John watched in agony as the detective lost his composure completely, Dr. A’s on-screen voice asking him if he needed to stop now, telling him to remember to breathe. The video halted, then began again after an indeterminate pause. Sherlock now had tissues clutched in his hand, his eyes firmly down. When he began to speak about the days following the service, Dr. A reached over and shut off the feed.

John and the psychiatrist sat in silence for a moment, while John struggled with his own feelings: sorrow, pity, confusion, horror. It was a volatile mix, overlain with that remembered feeling of dissonance—the realization that, on some level, he remembered all of that. But a remnant of that alien anger kept trying to bubble to the fore as well.

Dr. A finally broke the impasse. “Well?” he said. “Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me what strikes you in hearing Sherlock’s version of your story.”

“Sick,” John said without hesitation. “Horrified.” He paused, and remembered his promise. “Angry. And I don’t know why.” He looked in the doctor’s eyes. “But I…he’s telling the truth,” he said. “I remember. Sort of.”

The psychiatrist nodded. “As I suspected. I’m beginning to get a picture of the form of hypnotic suggestions that were used. Not well enough to try to subvert them yet, but this is encouraging, though I’m aware it’s far from pleasant.”

John gave a chuckle that held no amusement whatsoever. “You have a talent for understatement,” he said. His chest still ached, both for Sherlock and for himself. “So, where do we go from here?”

“Two-fold approach,” Dr. A said. “First, we want to reinforce the correct memories. Repeated viewings will—”

I can’t watch that again,” John said. “Really can’t.” Just thinking about it made his stomach churn.

The therapist blinked, but didn’t argue. “All right,” he said. “Do you think you could read it, if I give you a transcript? Will that give you enough distance?”

John nodded, reluctantly. “If I have to.”

They ended the session shortly thereafter. John was left with instructions to read through the transcript at least twice, being mindful of how he felt while doing so, trying to identify the source of his own feelings. He returned to his hospital room, queasy and exhausted, to find Sherlock being prepped for release.

It had been decided (by Mycroft, presumably) that it was safe for John and Sherlock to travel back to Surrey together, so long as Dwight rode along with them. As it happened, it was almost completely unnecessary—even if John had been inclined to react badly to Sherlock’s usual car-trip antics, he would have no scope for that today. As was usually the case, Sherlock had metabolized the general anesthesia poorly; he was pale, anxious and drowsy. Andrew tucked him in the back carefully with a couple of pillows, and Dwight took up position in the rear seat next to him. John and Andrew had a calm, pleasant chat about football, while Sherlock dozed for most of the trip.

They were home by just past noon. Mellie bustled out, an excited Rosie in her arms, and they went inside to a pleasant lunch, which lasted until John caught Siger’s eye and jerked his head at Sherlock, hunching in his chair, forehead creased and eyes closed.

“I think it’s time for a kip, Sherlock,” Siger said. “Want you awake for this evening’s British Baking episode, don’t we?”

Sherlock jerked in his chair, and flinched as the movement jostled his forearm, tucked tightly in its sling. He started to argue, then caught John’s eye and deflated. “Oh, very well,” he grumbled. “At least it will save me from Mummy’s recitation of the church fete planning.”

 

 

 

Sherlock didn’t get up for dinner; he was complaining of pain, and his medication made him slightly queasy, so Siger brought him some broth and left him to it.  John watched from the doorway as father and son chatted briefly, wishing he could join them. He found himself thinking, uncomfortably, of the transcript hiding in his pocket, wishing he was brave enough to broach the subject with his friend while realizing this would be the absolute worst time to do so. In the end, he watched as Siger picked up the empty cup of broth and switched off the lights, and they headed back downstairs.

Dinner was a simple affair, hot roast beef sandwiches and soup, with ice cream for afters. Rosie was thrilled with her own tiny portion of that, smacking her lips and squealing for more, while Mellie grinned and picked up another tiny spoonful. After doing the washing up, Mellie and Siger headed off for their evening ramble, while John, feeling blessed to be able to do so, got Rosie bathed and tucked up in her cot. On his way back, he stuck his head briefly through Sherlock’s open door, but heard only slow, steady breathing.

Mellie and Siger were gone for most of the evening; she texted John that they were stopping at their neighbor’s house for coffee. John occupied himself with telly, reading, and (mostly) brooding. By the time his hosts returned at 10, he was anxious and irritable, and had to force himself to be pleasant as they said their good-nights.

As the house settled into silence, John began to find the atmosphere oppressive. He turned the telly back on, only to switch it back off in five minutes. He finally, reluctantly, made himself pull the transcript out of his pocket, and forced himself to read all the way through it; it was less awful than watching it, but only just. He managed, just, to not tear the paper into bits, but thrust it forcefully back into his pocket as if it burned his hands.

As he paced around the lounge, his eyes landed on the lovely antique glass-fronted secretary against the wall. It had been converted into a drinks cabinet, and sitting right in front was a bottle of very old, very expensive Scotch, John’s “serious” drink of choice.

He debated with himself, briefly, but the decision was really never in doubt. Mellie and Siger wouldn’t mind, after all, and after a day like today (a week like this week, come to that), John was entitled to something that might relax himself enough so he could sleep a few hours without dreams.

And oh, it was good. Burned, but in a good way. It warmed him from the inside out. He took the bottle and his glass to the sofa, and settled back in with a book.

He looked up, eventually, and realized it was quite late. The book was entertaining, but the Scotch was better.

John looked at the bottle next to him on the side table. He’d had enough, likely. Enough that the edges of his concern were beginning to blur, along with his vision. It really was good Scotch, though.

Maybe one more glass before bed.

 

 

 

 

John woke, reluctantly, with sun glinting into his eyes, a thumping headache and a crick in his neck. He checked his watch—just past 7. He was mortified to realize he was splayed across the sitting room couch, an empty bottle of Scotch sitting on the floor by his head.

That was nothing to the mortification he felt when his eyes fully focused on Mellie Holmes, sitting patiently in an armchair across the room. She wore a steely smile that had little of warmth or friendliness in it.

“Good morning,” she said briskly. “It’s a very timely awakening, this—I was just about to resort to my ultimate weapon.” She held up a large carafe of water. “It worked a treat when Sherlock was 15.”

“I’ll bet,” John groaned, sitting up carefully while using his hands to keep his head from splintering into bits. He looked around cautiously. Mellie, in typical Holmesian fashion, answered the questions he couldn’t quite formulate yet.

“Siger has gone into the village for the shopping,” she said. “Sherlock is still in bed. He had a very bad night; he woke in considerable pain at about 4 and finally came to me an hour ago, and I gave him a hefty dose of his pain medication. I expect him to sleep for some time.” She raised an imperious eyebrow. “I checked your room first, expecting that you might wish to examine him and see if anything more serious was going on. He said that he had tried you first, but I checked nonetheless. Imagine my surprise to find you missing.” Unspoken in that was a very-much-merited reprimand; because of Sherlock’s history, someone else had to be in charge of any kind of opiates. That was supposed to be John.

“I’m sorry,” John muttered, lowering his eyes as he rested his head on his hands, his elbows propped on his knees. “I had a bad night as well.”

“So I see,” Mellie said, in chilly tones. “But it’s interesting, isn’t it, how your bad night made someone else’s much worse?”

John felt a flare of temper—not that cold, alien version, but his own internal fire that was never quite extinguished. “I said I was sorry,” he said. “I apologize for…this,” he said, waving a hand at the couch and the bottle, “but I’m having, have had, a bad few days.” He paused, then continued bitterly before he could stop himself. “A bad few years, come to it. I think I’m entitled to a lapse or two.”

That glittering smile, the same one John had occasionally seen from Sherlock, the one that hid anger, was back. “Oh,” Mellie said chirpily, “it’s time to compare ‘Horrible Things’, is it? The things that make us entitled to abdicate from our lives?”

John gave her a look of incomprehension. He was lacking a few too many brain cells currently to follow this conversation.

“Well, in any situation where addicts try to excuse their dabbling in various substances or activities, there’s always a list of ‘Horrible Things’ that give them a license to ‘check out’, as it were,” Mellie said. “I am well aware of yours, and I acknowledge that many of those things were, indeed, horrible. But in such a competition, my dear, I believe I have you beaten.”

She leaned forward intently, looking for all the world like Sherlock in his “explaining the crime” mode.

“I birthed a monster,” she began, ignoring John’s flinch. “That was not my fault, but it was my fault that I minimized or ignored the depths of her illness for far too long. A natural instinct of any parent, I suspect, but criminally negligent, when you consider the consequences.”

She sat up straighter in her chair, then swung to her feet, unable to be still. “My daughter tormented Sherlock; I attempted to keep them separate, but know I was not always successful. When he made a little friend, that friend soon disappeared; and while we didn’t truly know what had happened, I—we—in my heart I knew. And then she set fire to our home, attempting to kill us all, but most particularly Sherlock—did you know she wedged his door from the outside? Siger had to kick it in. It is a miracle that we survived.” Her breathing had sped up, her voice becoming shrill, before she managed, by force of iron will, to calm slightly.

“And then, while we were still recovering from the shock, still trying to assess where the damage lay, there was another fire,” she said, her voice shaking. “And—so we thought—she did not survive.”

She paused again, settling back in her chair, while John tried to think of something, anything, to say. But Mellie wasn’t done.

“You may have learned, in your medical training,” she said, “that a significant component of addiction is genetic.” She raised her eyebrows enquiringly, and John gave her a wary nod. “Did you ever wonder about Sherlock?” she continued. “Where his may have come from? Because it came from me, evidently.”

She leaned forward again, catching John’s eyes in that pale stare, so like her son’s. “When Eurus died, I had…I suppose at the time they called it a ‘nervous breakdown’. I was in hospital for a time; several weeks, I believe. And I had a very sympathetic doctor, who agreed to my requests for continued medication once I was released. I needed it, you see. All those ‘Horrible Things’.”

“But here’s the thing, John: before I knew it, six months had passed, while I was in my pleasant, golden, painless haze. And by the time Siger finally managed to drag me back out…” Mellie’s voice cracked again, and John’s hand reached towards her involuntarily, before she shook her head fiercely and continued.

“By the time I came back to myself, my family was irreparably broken,” she said shakily. “Mycroft, my calm, steady boy, had climbed so far into himself that he has never managed to find his way back. He could not sleep unless Sherlock was in sight; they shared a bed whenever Myc was home from school until Sherlock was almost 10. And Sherlock, my sweet, happy little man, had been electively mute for six months. He did not speak voluntarily for almost a year; thank God we all retained the sign language he used when he was tiny.” She took a deep, unsteady breath. “And my daughter was still dead.”

John couldn’t stand it; he stood, grasped her shaking hand, and urged her over to the couch next to him. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I should—”

“No,” she interrupted. “I’m not quite done.” She reached over to took both his hands in hers.

I know pain, John,” she said. “And I understand that addiction is an illness, and not a weakness of character. But I also know this, above all: using ‘illness’ as an excuse to avoid pain is self-indulgent and crippling, both to you and to those who love you, those you love. You have to be willing to fight for them, or you will lose them. And for those like us, we have to be willing to fight ourselves. I know that; Sherlock does, though he finds it still so difficult that he sometimes fails. Your daughter loves you; my son loves you; Siger and I can love you, if you give us a chance. But it has to start with you, my dear—to make that decision, to make the hard choice, to seek out the help you need and work at it. Because otherwise you will lose it, all of it. And I would hate to see that happen, and know that I hadn’t tried to help.” She tugged at his hands urgently. “You must do this, John. Whatever it takes to stop this, before you become your sister, or your father. Please.”

And, just like that, John was weeping, covering his face with his hands. And Mellie, that wise, sharp-tongued woman, reached over and pulled him to her, and held on, until he calmed. Then she handed him a serviette, waiting patiently while he mopped at his face, embarrassed at this display but somehow relieved.

“Now,” she said, “can you promise me? We’ll help, Siger and I. For all our sakes, we want this to be better, want you to be better. But it starts with you, and our concern isn’t just for whatever damage my daughter managed to inflict—it’s for the damage you’re inflicting with your drinking. Are we agreed on that?”

“Yes,” said John, with a slightly watery smile. “And I’ll try. As best I can, I’ll try. I promise.”

Chapter Text

It was not, unsurprisingly, a very good day. Well, physically, anyway. After the gut-wrenching conversation with Mellie, John wanted nothing more than paracetamol, water, and another few hours in bed, licking his wounds. As luck would have it, though, he only got two out of three.

Mellie had prodded John (relatively gently) towards the kitchen, poured a large glass of water, and pointed him towards the shelf where the OTC medicines lived, when the baby monitor sitting on the kitchen table lit up as Rosie began to fret upstairs. John almost, almost, looked to Mellie, who was studiously looking at the cooktop, “not noticing” in the same way Sherlock sometimes did, but caught himself up—no more shifting his responsibilities onto others. He sighed, stood, and trudged off towards the stairs.

He almost missed the slight smile Mellie tossed his way as he went.

 

 

 

Rosie, thankfully, was in a sunny mood this morning, unlike her father (and, sometimes, unlike her—she could be quite the grump if not allowed to wake on her own). She gave John a gap-toothed, damp grin and chuckled through her nappy change, then bounced in his arms all the way down the hall. She leaned over curiously when John cautiously stuck his head briefly in Sherlock’s door—still asleep, with a slight frown on his face—then pointed imperiously towards the staircase.

By the time they reached the kitchen, Harry had installed herself at the table and was chatting amiably with Mellie. Mellie turned with a smile while Rosie attempted to launch herself across the table into her de facto grandmother’s arms, and John handed his daughter over with a grateful sigh.

“Morning, Hare,” John said, reaching thankfully for the filled plate and teacup waiting by his chair. Harry gave an amiable grunt while giving the baby’s bottle to Mellie and Rosie.

“So, what’s on the agenda for today?” Harry asked, as John was finishing up. “You staying around, or heading back into town?”

“Not a lot,” John said, with a side glance at Mellie. “I don’t have an appointment until tomorrow, and Sherlock’s not going to feel like doing much anyway.” He smiled over at Rosie, currently sliding bits of toast happily around her tray. “Maybe take my daughter for a walk. Nothing more ambitious than that.”

 

 

 

 

The walk was just the ticket, for both John and Rosie. It was beautiful weather, though chilly, and the baby was interested in everything they saw—leaves, squirrels, the tiny stream that carried a light skim of ice along its banks. John’s spirits rose with each step they took.

John headed back inside once Rosie started to grizzle about small things—her early warning signals for “I’m tired and hungry.” He fixed her meal while she burbled on his hip, then popped her in the high chair with a plate of soft pasta and sauce while she sucked away at her sippy cup. He took the opportunity to grab more water and paracetamol for himself.

The second time she lifted up her divided plate and threw it on the floor, John gave up, wiping sauce-covered fingers with a flannel and lifting her from the high chair to his shoulders. Rosie squealed and grabbed handfuls of John’s hair, while he winced and clattered up the steps.

He spent a few minutes getting her ready for her nap—nappy change, reading a book, finding her stuffed bee and tucking her favorite blanket around her—before tiptoeing gratefully out of the tiny room, tucking the monitor in his pocket as he went.

Out in the hallway, he glanced at his watch—almost 2 PM, and Sherlock still hadn’t appeared. He debated with himself before walking to Sherlock’s room and quietly pushing open the door.

The detective wasn’t asleep, but wasn’t really fully awake either, his eyes blinking open slowly as John entered. He looked exhausted and ill—very pale, with blue-grey shadows under his eyes. His hand, at least the portion visible past the bandaging, was quite swollen and rather pink. A little concerning, in fact.

John sat carefully on the edge of the bed, reaching to push pillows up against the headboard. “Budge up for me,” he said, nudging Sherlock cautiously up to sit braced against the pillows. “I want to take a look at your hand.”

Sherlock complied, slowly, but made no move to extend his damaged hand. “It hurts,” he rasped quietly. “Relentlessly.”

John felt his cheeks flush. “Yeah, I, um, I’m very sorry about that, about last night,” he said, busying himself with carefully unrolling the wrappings. “It was unforgiveable of me, and I hate that you had to go to your mum.”

Sherlock flinched as John gently touched closer to the wounds, but covered it up with a slightly breathless chuckle. “I suspect she felt the same. My mother has never enjoyed being roused in the middle of the night. And, historically speaking, it is almost always to do with me.”

John kept his head down, working on the last layer of bandage. “Well, this one is on me. She told me off, as well she should have. It won’t happen again.” He finally bared the incisions and the rest of the hand, and drew in a slightly-dismayed hiss. “Well, that’s not ideal.”

“What?” Sherlock said, trying to peer past John’s head. “Is it bleeding?”

John leaned back enough so Sherlock could see. “No,” he said. “But your mum was absolutely right in her instincts. This should have been checked and rebandaged last night. Whoever did the original dressing was overenthusiastic in their compression wrap—didn’t allow for the actual amount of swelling. So you…” John had to stop and steady his voice. “You were in unnecessary pain all night. Because of me.” He reached out to gently touch the inflamed fingers. “I am so sorry.”

Sherlock made an unhappy noise. “I wish you would stop that,” he said gruffly.

John’s head came up. “What?” he said. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, not…” Sherlock said. “Stop apologizing. It’s…I don’t know how to respond, you know this. I can accept that you are doing your best; I know that you would never intentionally cause me pain. Can’t we just leave it at that?” His shoulders slid up, his head down, staring miserably at his damaged arm, not meeting John’s eyes.

And, just like that, John suddenly remembered a fragment of a conversation he’d had with Ella—most likely in one of those sessions he no longer consciously recalled. It had centered around apology and atonement, both things that had been much on John’s mind in the aftermath of Mary’s shooting of his friend.

“Apologies have weight,” the therapist had said. “And while their intent may be good, they can also transfer some of that weight to the recipient. True repentance requires action, not just words. The words can build up and become too much, or too little—neither is a good option. It’s easy to just say you’re sorry, over and over, but the hearer may feel obligated to repeatedly respond in kind, which defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? You are asking for forgiveness; that’s appropriate. But to truly move on, that forgiveness has to extend to yourself, or you end up trapped in a circle of negativity.”

John must have made some sound, or moved unexpectedly, because his friend flinched again, slightly, and raised his head. “What?” Sherlock said, sounding cross and uncertain.

John gave a rueful chuckle. “Nothing,” he said. “It’s just—you’re right. As usual.” He smiled to remove any sting at the mild teasing. “How about this—I’ll promise to stop doing things I need to apologize for, and if I fail at that, I give you free license to shout at me until you feel better. How’s that sound?”

“Acceptable,” Sherlock huffed, and gave his attention back to his damaged hand.

 

 

 

 

John made his medical evaluation of Sherlock’s hand quickly—nothing dangerous, but the swelling from the too-tight bandage meant congestion in tissues that were already under stress. He’d carried his kit in from the en suite, so he was prepared to deal with this. He cleaned the wounds carefully, adding gauze and antibiotic cream before wrapping the whole up loosely. He slid on a light-weight plastic splint to support the wrist, and tucked Sherlock’s arm back into the sling the detective had discarded at the earliest opportunity.

“You need it,” John said sternly, as Sherlock frowned. “The only way that swelling will go down is if the arm’s kept high. I’m also going to apply an icepack when we get downstairs.” He felt carefully of the skin one more time, frowned, and reached out for Sherlock’s forehead, finding it a bit warm as well. “And I think we’ll up your dosage of antibiotics as well. It may be just a bit of fever from stress and lack of sleep, but I’m rather be safe than sorry.”

“Safety is an illusion,” Sherlock muttered. “And I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not,” John sighed. “But it could be worse.” And with that he had to be content.

 

 

 

Once they were finished with the necessary medical care, John herded Sherlock downstairs to have some tea, biscuits and medication. “I’m going to set up alarms on my phone for your pain meds,” he told his friend. “That way we don’t have to worry about it wearing off in the night. You hopefully won’t need them as much by this time tomorrow.” His conscience poked him, briskly, to remind him that Sherlock wouldn’t need them as much now if John had just—he pulled himself up and refocused.

“Do you want to go ahead and eat something now—a sandwich or soup—or just wait until dinner?” he asked as they entered the kitchen. “Your mum has a roast in the oven, but it’ll be at least another couple of hours, I imagine.”

“Wait,” Sherlock grunted. “My stomach’s not awake yet.” He did manage two pieces of shortbread with his tea, though, so that was enough to help digest his meds at least.

They wandered back to the small parlour, probably a housekeeper’s room once upon a time, that Mellie used as a reading/television room, and were surprised to find Harry already there, a magazine open in her lap. She looked up at their entrance, and gave Sherlock a slight smile.

“How’re you feeling, then?” she asked. “Surgery always makes me feel worse afterward than I felt before.”

Sherlock dropped carefully into an overstuffed chair with a sigh. “Like I was hit by a lorry,” he sighed, and closed his eyes. “One that ran over my arm as it passed.”

Harry gave him a sympathetic look, but stayed silent. It was odd to see those two together—while Sherlock and Harry had now met socially several times, John always seemed to expect fireworks and shouting that never actually happened. He had a sneaking suspicion they liked each other, for the most part.

John was shocked to feel a distant shimmer of glee from that alien part of himself—shocked enough, thankfully, that his own reaction seemed to banish it. He shivered in reaction nonetheless.

Harry, of course, noticed. “What?” she said. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing new,” John said, truthfully enough. Harry nodded, as if she understood. Maybe she did.

They settled into a quiet period; Harry stayed with her magazine, while John turned the telly on and flipped channels until he found a science special that he knew Sherlock wouldn’t object to.

After an hour or so, Sherlock sat up straighter and then stood, swaying a bit before steadying.

“What’s wrong?” John asked, standing as well.

“Toilet,” the detective said, and turned to start down the hall. He stopped, though, when John followed him.

“I’m quite able to do this myself, John,” he sniffed. “Mycroft taught me when I was three.”

“Mm,” John said. “And how, exactly, are you going to manage that one-handed, with a sling and a dose of pain meds on board?”

Sherlock’s cheeks flushed. “I can…I’ll manage. I can take the sling off,” he said firmly.

“No, you won’t,” John said firmly. “Jesus. Why can’t you just accept help when you need it?”

“Pot. Kettle. Black,” Harry observed, never looking up from her magazine.

One part of John was suddenly furious. But the other part, the part that seemed to be very slowly coming back into the forefront, slid a grin onto his face. “Touché,” that part said, and watched as Sherlock grinned as well.

Chapter Text

Come suppertime, Sherlock airily waved off John’s suggestion that they recheck his bandages and give him his next dose of medication ahead of time.

“It can wait,” the detective said. “I’m fine at the moment. As you always say, the less pain medication I take, the happier you are. And there’s no real reason to check my hand again so soon, it’s fine.”

John reluctantly agreed, and headed off to help Mellie set the farmhouse table in the kitchen, their usual location for meals on anything other than formal occasions. Sherlock stayed in the parlour, arguing amicably with Harry about a crime documentary she’d insisted they watch.

Sherlock’s bravado didn’t last all that long. As the meal wore on, he spoke less, ate less, gradually receded into himself. John caught Mellie’s eye and excused himself briefly, coming back with his kit, two tablets, and his phone. He marched to Sherlock’s chair, reached over for his friend’s good hand, and placed the pills in it.

“Take those,” he said. “And see if you can eat a bit more. When you’re done, we’ll look your hand over again, and then trot you back to bed.” He took in Sherlock’s mutinous look, but also noted the slightly glassy eyes, and the light pink flush on his cheekbones. He held his phone up before continuing. “I’m also going to text Mycroft and have them switch the physical therapist for tomorrow to a home visit. With that fever, it’s better you wait a day before having to travel.”

“I don’t know why everyone seems to have decided that I am suddenly ‘delicate’,” Sherlock whinged, pushing his food listlessly around his plate.

“Not delicate, dear,” Mellie said soothingly. “Just a bit decrepit at present.” Siger managed to stifle his laughter; Harry simply didn’t bother to try. Sherlock just scowled at his food and ignored them.

 

 

 

 

 

Siger drove John to Sevenoaks for his session early the next morning, before the others were up; it wasn’t that far, and he insisted he’d planned on going to a woodworking supply shop in Westerham at some point anyway, and “It might as well be today”. John couldn’t come up with a reason to refuse. They had a pleasant trip; Siger was good company, always ready to chat but aware of the value of companionable silence when needed.

John found himself curiously apprehensive of this session, though unable to say exactly why. Dr. A, perceptive as ever, picked up on his discomfort and raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

“What’s bothering you?” he asked simply. “Anything particularly disturbing that you need to share?”

John shook his head. “No,” he said. “At least not that I can pinpoint. Just…anxious.”

The psychiatrist relaxed. “That’s understandable,” he said. “If nothing else, you’ve been through therapy enough to know the process can be uncomfortable, even without the weight of what’s happened recently.” He rolled over to his desk and pulled his laptop over. “I think we need to continue the process we started the other day,” he said. “The more we can identify the gaps or ‘misrepresentations’ in your memory, the easier it should become to root them out.”

“Why?” John asked. “What would that have to do with it?”

“Do you remember what you said about the therapy sessions with Ella—the ones you couldn’t remember?” Dr. A replied. “That you could both remember them happening, but also remembered that they didn’t, even though you couldn’t say which of those was true?”

John nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It was…it’s a bit like a double image. I can see scenes in my memory that seem to overlay each other, for lack of a better description. Makes me feel disoriented, out of control.” He was determined to be truthful here, no matter how uncomfortable such admissions made him.

The therapist nodded. “Cognitive dissonance, you said. Which is interesting, given that you even knew how to describe what was happening. You’re a doctor, of course, and I would presume you had at least some exposure to psychiatry, either in training or in practice. But I still find myself wondering if, on some level, your subconscious wasn’t already struggling with this disconnect, even if you weren’t consciously aware of it.” He paused, considering his words carefully before continuing. “I know that you have mentioned recently that there have been occasions when you felt the presence of that ‘passenger’, as you describe it, prompting you to anger or violence, before you managed to overcome the impulse.”

John nodded again, feeling his anxiety heighten in response.

“Well, that goes back to a theory I’m developing about what mechanism Eurus Holmes used in her treatment of you,” the doctor said. “Which started, I’m afraid, with my forcing myself to imagine what approach I would use, if I were to attempt such a thing.” He looked at John earnestly. “It’s up to you, John—if discussing this, at this juncture, makes you too anxious, I can wait until my conclusions are more concrete, until I have more information. The last thing I want to do is provoke is another negative incident.”

John gave a rueful chuckle at that. “Right on board with that, ta. But—I guess, in thinking about it, I’d just as soon know as not. I’ll try to tell you if anything pushes my buttons too hard.”

“Fair enough,” Dr. A said. “But I need your word—if you start to feel your control slipping, or even feel undue pressure of any kind, you need to tell me immediately.” John nodded again, and the psychiatrist opened his laptop, waiting while it booted up before proceeding.

When the machine stopped clocking and pulled up a densely-printed page, Dr. A pointed at it.

“This is Mycroft Holmes’ brief on his sister. While he is not a trained therapist, his knowledge is nonetheless deep and broad, and informed by his first-hand interactions with her. I would match it against an evaluation performed by any specialist you care to name,” he said. “His belief is that Eurus’ main talents lie in her ability to induce quick, deep trance states in her subjects, and her use of that ability to interweave her own suggestions smoothly into the subjects’ psychological stratum.” He looked at John expectantly.

John blinked. “Am I supposed to respond to that?” he said finally. “I can see…it makes sense, I suppose, given what she apparently did to me. Doesn’t help me much in finding how to uproot it, though.”

Dr. A shook his head. “No, that’s not exactly what I was going for,” he said. “I want you to realize the implications. What I suspect was going on is simple enough to say, but would be hellishly difficult to implement, if you were anything other than a genius of her calibre.” He clasped his hands in his lap and leaned forward intently. “If I’m correct, Eurus would have spent considerable time having you describe, in great detail, specific interactions and events in your life, especially those events that included Sherlock Holmes. And then, using that knowledge, she would have crafted replacement ‘memories’ which took those events and interactions and deleted or subverted them—manipulated them to reach a desired effect. A negative one, for your friendship with him, certainly. Negative enough that you would feel justified in wishing him harm.”

John felt an odd flush flutter through his system, and a feeling of…watchfulness, for lack of a better word, in the back of his mind. “It’s…something doesn’t like that,” he managed to say.

Dr. A reacted instantly. “John. Focus for me. Name the bones of the hand and fingers in alphabetical order. Do it now!” he barked. And something, maybe that well-honed voice of command and experience, made John redirect and do as he was told.

It worked—by the time John had finished with the last bones, his awareness of that alien presence had faded. He looked at the psychiatrist and nodded.

“Good,” Dr. A said. “But that little incident means we will have to be extremely careful in how we approach this. Your…antagonist was clever enough to lay what I’ll call ‘trip-wires’ as she went. One of those, I now presume, is the use of her name. From now on we will not use that name without prior agreement. What do you suggest we use instead?”

John gave a bitter laugh. “Crazy Evil Bitch?” he said. “Or is that too harsh?”

The therapist snorted. “Not at all; quite apt, actually,” he said. “But I think for our purposes, perhaps something less emotionally loaded? We want to try and remove any form of upsetting context from the reference if we can.”

“Fine,” John huffed. “How about, I dunno, ‘Maggie’? It’s a bit of an inside joke—something Sherlock figured out once about this overbearing pompous arse of an Army major, on one of our cases.”

Dr. A beamed. “A good idea; anything that your mind links with ridicule is probably all to the good.”

“Um…why?” John said.

“Those trip-wires I mentioned?” the psychiatrist said. “I’m hoping that they were quite specific. Most people who don’t do psychotherapy as a profession don’t realize how astoundingly literal the subconscious can be; a reference to ‘Spot’ and a reference to ‘the dog’ may or may not be taken to mean the same thing. And post-hypnotic suggestion, which is largely what we’re dealing with here, must be phrased very carefully indeed to get around that. I know that…Maggie isn’t autistic. But I’m willing to bet she has some of the same issues with language, and the use of it, that Sherlock has. Trouble recognizing sarcasm, that kind of thing.”

“So…she set up the use of her name as a trigger, of sorts? A fail-safe, to preserve her ‘programming’?” John said slowly.

Dr. A waggled his good hand. “To a degree. Based on your actions in trance, though, I’d say more ‘to ensure destruction’ would be a better description. She had no qualms about seeing you dead, John, if she couldn’t get the rest of what she wanted.”

Not for the first time, John found himself at a loss to understand. “But why? For God’s sake, what was it all for? She certainly didn’t, doesn’t, love Sherlock—doesn’t love anyone, most likely, and actively despises Mycroft, though I suppose she has reason for that last one. But still—Sherlock had no involvement in her situation, wasn’t even aware she existed. So where does this animosity come from?”

Dr. A sighed. “Again, speculation only. But I would agree with you that ‘Maggie’ lacks, or doesn’t understand the concept of, love. Based on Mycroft’s analysis, her primary motivation lies in possession. As far as she was concerned, she owned her brother from the moment he was born. Like most psychopaths, she isn’t willing to share. And, because one of the few true emotions she is capable of is anger, she is angry that no one is willing to return her possession to her. Furiously so.”

“So, if she can’t have him, no one can?” John said.

“Mmm,” the doctor hummed. “Of course, this was all planned and enacted before Sherrinford, which I would presume was intended as her ‘grand finale’ of revenge—because revenge, under the circumstances, is the logical endpoint for her fury. As a clinician, I would be fascinated to hear her speak with Sherlock about all of this. As Sherlock’s therapist, however, I would shoot her myself before I would let him interact with her on that level.”

John found himself gasping with laughter. “Christ,” he said finally. “Are all MI6 therapists like you? Because I could have used this, when I got back from Afghanistan.”

Dr. A looked pleased, and a little smug. Reminiscent of Sherlock, actually. “I’ve always believed that therapists for agents or military personnel should be required to spend time in at least one of those roles first,” he said. “Glad to hear someone agrees.”

 

 

 

They took a brief break for tea before returning to “work”; that had given John time to formulate the question that had been fumbling around in his head for the past half-hour.

“So, you said she essentially ‘edited’ my memories,” he said. “What would that look like? How, exactly, would that work?”

Dr. A waved his hand towards the laptop. “You remember the film of Sherlock’s session,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

“Of course,” John said, and left it at that. He didn’t think he needed to remind the therapist of his reaction to that awful video.

“That is probably one of the higher-priority interventions ‘Maggie’ focused on,” Dr. A continued. “Makes sense—manipulating your memory of already-stressful events would be almost guaranteed to generate fury on your end.”

The former agent leaned forward in his wheelchair. “Think about it, John. If, as a hypnotist, you already know areas of your subject’s life that are potential triggers. Areas that you can delete or add elements to, even though it may take you multiple attempts. She saw you a number of times, after all—plenty of time to build her own narrative on top of the real one. Inserted that little voice that spoke to your basest instincts. Encouraged you to react violently. Our, your, one saving grace is that she lacked the ability or time to completely remove the true experiences underneath.”

‘So we…I mean, what’s our approach, beyond sitting through a series of horrible videos?” John said. “I can see that as a means to identify where the tampering occurred. But what does it get us? How do we uproot what she did without, well, something like this week?”

“I’d like to say it’s simple, John; it’s not. In the short run, yes, you’re going to watch a number of unpleasant videos, and maybe read a transcript or three. But once that’s done, we’re going to go on the offensive. We, you, are going to challenge her for possession of your subconscious,” Dr. A said. “By whatever means necessary.”

John gave a wry grin. “And may the best man win,” he said. “Figuratively speaking. As long as it’s me.”

Chapter Text

“All right,” Dr. A said, “let’s get down to it. Where do you want to start today? Something easy, or something hard?”

John had to think about that one a moment. “Depends. I’m thinking we only have another, oh, twenty minutes or so. So maybe something short?”

“Fair enough,” the therapist said. “How about something that Sherlock and I discussed two weeks ago? He'd given me a recording on it a long while back, but...I doubt he’s mentioned it to you, but he’s been troubled recently by his memories of his return to England—specifically, his reunion with you.”

John made a surprised noise. “I…really? I mean, there wasn’t that much to it, beyond me being unable to decide between hugging him and throttling him. At least Mary wasn’t angry, thank God.”

Dr. A stared, then nodded slowly. “OK, John, I need you to write that one out for me—start to finish, please. I’ll get us some more tea while you’re occupied.”

 

 

 

It didn’t take long—after all, as John had said, there wasn’t that much to tell. Sherlock popped up in the restaurant, just as John was preparing to propose, John shouted at him while the detective smirked and rolled his eyes, they were thrown out, John finally gave in to his anger and popped him one, and they all went home. End of. Well, at least until the next day, when John gave in and went to Baker Street. And got kidnapped, because Sherlock couldn’t be arsed to answer the bloody door when John knocked.

John exchanged his paper for a fresh cup of tea, and sipped while the psychiatrist read it. Then Dr. A put the paper down, and pulled his laptop back over, navigating though several screens before handing it to John.

He pointed at the screen, currently showing a large “start” button in the center. “This video is different from the last one you saw. It was recorded during one of my hospital visits with Sherlock, after the shooting. The definition isn’t great since it was recorded on my mobile, but at least this one’s in colour.” He gave a quick smile, and gave John a “get on with it” wave.

The screen lit up, and, after a moment of blurriness, focused to show a pale, limp Sherlock, lying on his cot and hooked up to several lines. Early on, then, John thought idly. Probably not that long after Sherlock’s Great Escape. The detective’s pupils were pinpoints, and his hair was a messy, greasy disaster.

John heard the psychiatrist’s voice, speaking to Sherlock.

Why don’t you start from the beginning?” he said. “Tell me the parts I don’t know—the things that we didn’t discuss when you were in hospital before.”

On-screen, Sherlock raised his brows, coughed, then flinched in pain. His voice, when he spoke, was the breathless rasp John had almost forgotten about—the one that took Sherlock months to lose.

Did I tell you about the night I returned?” he near-whispered. “I can’t remember.” He waved one pale hand airily. “Drugs, you know.” He gave a tiny smirk.

Off-screen, Dr. A gave a chuckle. “Didn’t really need to point that out, thanks. Your eyes gave you away.” He paused. “Well, that and the fact that you’re entirely too relaxed despite the impressive hole in your chest.

Sherlock gave a small, hiccupping laugh, then winced and grabbed his chest before sobering.

So, the return,” he said. “I…in retrospect, it was a classic misinterpretation of likely emotional reactions on my part. I was, I thought…I was very anxious to see John, to let him know he was safe, that I was back. Mycroft wanted me to wait, at least until I had spent a bit more time at a medical facility, but I insisted, and, short of his having me handcuffed, there was little he could do to deter me.” He paused and looked down at his hands. “He was, sadly, entirely correct, on several fronts.”

How so?” Dr. A asked.

Sherlock sighed. “He was correct in that my anxiety led me to act, as usual, entirely inappropriately. Because I was unsure of my welcome, I tried to make a joke about something that…it wasn’t funny, would never be funny. But I couldn’t, it was the only thought I had once I saw him, sitting in his chair. All normal thought processes, right out the window.” He stopped, his head coming up, eyes haunted. “He was so angry. So angry.”

And what happened?” the psychiatrist said.

Exactly what I should have expected,” Sherlock croaked, swallowing roughly. “He…the first time. In the restaurant. That was worst. He had his hands on my neck, and I fell backwards. On my back. It…my back wasn’t. Good.” His fingers twisted together, knuckles white.

The disembodied Dr. A made an unhappy sound. “The first time?” he said finally. “There was more than one?

Sherlock’s head bobbed. “Three, all told. The second split my lip. The third nearly broke my nose. I was lucky, I suppose—at least it didn’t blacken my eyes.” He paused, fiddling with the sheets. “My back, though, was the worst,” he said again. “Mycroft was furious.”

 

 

 

Dr. A, the real Dr. A, reached over and turned off the video, and looked at John expectantly. And John found himself momentarily dizzy, as if caught in a room where someone was projecting two videos onto the same screen simultaneously. He felt that same peculiar shift in his head he’d felt before, as the true memories slotted into place.

When John finally found his voice, he found it nonetheless difficult to squeeze words past the obstruction in his throat. “He—I knew that,” he said, gutted. “I apologized once I saw his back, I was so sorry. I was furious with him, but I never should have laid hands on him. I know how he is when he’s out of his depth, know how terrible he is with serious emotion. But his back—how could I forget about that? When even Mrs. H. mentioned it this week?”

“Because someone systematically worked on your subconscious, to blur the parts that didn’t fit with her narrative,” the therapist said. “”Maggie’ cherry-picked incidents like these—emotionally-charged events involving Sherlock. I don’t know if I could do it myself, but I can visualize how she may have done so: a nudge here, a suggestion there. ‘Do you really think he was sorry? Or did he really find it funny, find your pain amusing?’” Dr. A looked at John. “Like most people, you may have had occasional thoughts along those lines, especially in the early days of Sherlock’s return. Consciously, you knew that his response arose from social ineptitude, not indifference, but your subconscious, your ‘lizard brain’, took longer to be convinced. I think she drew on that, nurtured it, until it overwrote your conscious memories, at least in the short run.”

“The bit about the kidnapping happening because Sherlock didn’t care enough to open the door was a nice touch,” John said bitterly. “Especially since he rarely comes to the door anyway.”

“Genius, John,” the therapist said. “It’s what they’re good at—doing things no one else can. Unfortunately, in ‘Maggie’s’ case, it’s not a force for good, shall we say.” He reached over and picked up John’s narrative again, and closed the lid of the laptop. “Now—I want you to tell me the story again. Try not to think about the video, or about what you wrote. I want to see how permanent this shift is. We’ll wait ten minutes, and then we’ll have you tell me about the scene at the funeral again, if you can bear it. As we said—challenge. We’re going to uproot her meddling, weed by weed, and make sure it stays gone.”

“Challenge,” John said weakly. And began.

 

 

When John's session was complete, he felt limp as a dishrag. Although it also had a element of accomplishment to it--the kind of exhaustion you feel that is tempered by having successfully completed a difficult task. He dropped onto one of the couches next to the entryway of the hospital, texted Siger that he was through, and leaned back to close his eyes.

When he arrived, Siger took one look at John's face and shook his head. "You need a break, son," he said. "We're going on a road trip."

John blinked, but nodded. "Yeah, OK," he said. "What do you have in mind?"

"Oh, nothing special," the old man said. "Just a big loop around two or three villages, and then we'll stop for a late lunch at a pub I know." He looked over confidingly. "I used to do this with Sherlock, you know, during the times he stayed with us while he was recovering last year. He would go for his visits with Dr. Arquette, and then we'd ramble, just the two of us. Never had a real destination in mind, but that was beside the point." 

"It's the journey, not the arrival?" John said with a smile.

Siger beamed. "Exactly," he said, and they were off.

 

 

 

 

When John got back to Surrey that afternoon, all he wanted was to crawl into his bed and collapse. Neither happened, of course. Parenthood, and Sherlock Holmes, intervened.

The first thing John heard when he opened the front door was his daughter’s disconsolate wailing. He followed the sound to the back parlour used as a music room, and saw Sherlock sitting on the piano bench, Rosie in his lap, while he plinked out notes with his one good hand. It wasn’t helping, as Rosie continued to howl.

They both noticed John at the same time, Sherlock looking up with a lost expression, Rosie throwing up her arms and making an abortive lurch towards John that Sherlock foiled with his left arm.

“Thank God,” Sherlock sighed. “She’s been inconsolable for hours. I am the last line of defence—everyone else has tried and failed already. My mother was about to order some infant Benadryl delivered. It’s what she used when I was teething, apparently.”

John grimaced as Rosie rubbed her snotty nose on his shoulder, while continuing to sob. “Where’s Harry?” he said, absently bouncing the baby briskly, without noticeable effect.

“Prostrate with a headache,” Sherlock said, cradling his bad hand and wincing. “She had the first hour, but finally yielded to my mother. Then it was me.” He gave a wry grin. “My physical therapist offered to send earplugs.”

“Did you try a bath with lavender?” John asked. “I don’t know if I’d mentioned that—almost always works, these days.”

Mellie bustled in, just in time to hear that comment. “No, but I wish to God you had,” she huffed. “Goodness knows, nothing else worked.”

John felt a bit off-kilter. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I—”

“I thought we agreed that there would be no more apologies,” Sherlock interrupted. “I reserve the right to shout at you if necessary, but can we defer that until we see if we can soothe Watson before the universe implodes, or at least my head?”

Mellie reached out and took the baby back, which seemed to make no difference in the amount of noise Rosie was generating. “I can get her undressed. John, there are lavender salts in the upstairs bath cabinet—can you get that sorted in the meantime?”

“Yeah, of course,” John said, looking over her shoulder at Sherlock. “But maybe Sherlock should come show me where things are.”

 

 

 

By the time Mellie came back jouncing a naked and still-howling Rosie on her hip, John was almost finished running the bath. He knelt beside the big, old-fashioned tub, swishing his arm in the warm water to dissolve the (likely hideously expensive) powdered bath salts, a luscious smell of lavender, vanilla and something else he couldn’t quite place filling the room.

“Sandalwood,” Sherlock said from his perch on the built-in clothes hamper in the corner. John nodded, still swirling, as Mellie brought Rosie to the tub and pointed at it.

“See, darling,” she said, “your daddy says it’s your favourite.”

Rosie’s wails waned a bit as John twiddled his fingers enticingly in the water. After another full minute, she gave a great, damp sighing sound and reached out imperiously, and John placed her carefully in the water as her sobs stopped abruptly, bar the occasional hiccup and sniff.

Mellie was digging in the corner cupboard industriously, pulling out objects and setting them on the counter while continuing to rummage, while Rosie began to splash both hands gently in the water. The older woman suddenly gave a little victorious cry and pulled out two things, one in each hand, before passing them to John.

The first was a small plastic wheel, like a water mill—little buckets fixed to the inner edge could be filled with water, making the wheel revolve before tipping and dumping the water out. There was a old, wonky suction cup on the bottom, presumably to secure it to the tub floor. The other item, though, could be termed a cup, but was actually a stylized elephant, a rosy lavender colour, with scalloped ears and a spout formed by a curving, extended trunk. The moment Rosie’s eyes fell on it, she reached both hands for it demandingly, clutching it to her chest with a tiny chuckle when Mellie passed it over.

Mellie watched, delighted, until Sherlock shooed her away. “The room is entirely too small for three adults,” he said. “And I’m sure you have dinner preparations to complete.” Mellie’s eyebrows rose, but she obediently waved “bye bye” to Rosie and went.

John, in the meantime, had secured the wheel to the tub and showed Rosie how to use the elephant to pour the water into the little buckets (complicated by the fact that she wouldn’t release said elephant, so John was required to simply move her hand, cup and all). Once he was sure she was content and settled, he looked up and raised expectant eyebrows at Sherlock.

Sherlock stared back, briefly, those dark brows rising in their turn. After a bit, though, he crumbled. “All right,” he said, a touch of pink on the top of those cheekbones. “They were mine, of course. My mother insists on keeping everything.”

“Yeah,” John said, turning back to smile at the baby, splashing and happy. “It’s lovely. My family—we didn’t hold on to anything.” He thought about that a bit, while Sherlock watched. “Made me feel like we came from nowhere, you know? No roots, no history. You—your family, this house—it feels more like a home than anywhere we ever lived.”

Sherlock smiled, but rolled his eyes as well. “Just wait until you’ve heard the lecture about the four different china sets and the cabinet that came from China. After the tenth repetition—let’s just say I could repeat all of those stories verbatim by the time I was 5.”

“Lucky you,” John said, with an answering smile.

“Yes, I suppose so,” Sherlock said with a theatrical sigh.

Rosie paddled in the water, and held up the filled cup for John to use. Sherlock watched silently, before finally speaking.

“I am astounded at how quickly she’s calmed,” he said. “We tried everything. Mummy even suggested rubbing whiskey on her gums, before Harry talked her out of it.”

John was surprised into a snort of laughter, and Sherlock looked up with a grin. “Yes, I’m aware of the irony,” he said. “As was she, as it happened. She asked me to make sure you knew who the ‘voice of reason’ was, in this instance.”

John laughed harder. “For likely the very first time in her life,” he gasped.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’ll be sure to tell her you said so,” he smirked.

 

 

 

 

Dinner was quiet. Harry had left shortly before the meal was served; she had a presentation to do in town in the morning, and wanted to get her necessary prep work done early. Their next back-up carer would be arriving mid-morning tomorrow; Mellie gave John a mischievous look when she mentioned it, and refused to tell him who it was.

After the meal, Mellie had volunteered to put the baby to bed in exchange for John and Siger doing the washing-up. (She had included Sherlock in that request initially, but he held up his bandaged hand and shook his head, with a passable imitation of regret).

After finishing the cleaning, Siger, Sherlock and John wandered back to the music room, where Siger went to the piano and began playing something slow, soft and classical, while Sherlock settled in an armchair with a tiny therapy ball he pulled out of his pocket. John wandered over and sat opposite, basking in the music and comfort.

“Are you all musical?” he finally asked, as Sherlock gingerly squeezed the ball in his damaged hand, grimacing in pain.

“Mm,” Sherlock hummed. “To one degree or another. I probably came the closest to making a career of it, either in voice or with violin, but we all play something. Mycroft is quite good on piano, and used to play cello in school.”

“I’m jealous,” John said. “My clarinet days just don’t measure up.” Sherlock smirked, then flinched again as he squeezed the ball. John reached over and gently took it away.

“I’m quite sure your therapist told you not to overdo it,” he said. “You just had your first session today, and if you keep at it you’re going to have swelling again. Give it a rest, and start again tomorrow.”

Sherlock’s brow pleated, but the pain in his hand must have convinced him of the wisdom of John’ advice. “I just…I’m concerned about regaining the flexibility quickly,” he said. “Bowing, you know. Regular practice is really essential to maintain it.”

And, just like that, regret slapped John again. “That’s…I’m so…”

Sherlock bristled, sitting straight up in his chair, as Siger looked around from the piano bench in mild concern. “If you apologize again, I will indulge in my mandate to shout at you until I feel better. Are we clear on this?” he said firmly.

John felt his face flush, and was aware of a tiny ripple of that alien presence stirring. He almost left. Almost. But Siger was sitting right there, and if he was ever going to beat this, it wasn’t going to be by leaving the room every time this happened. He forced himself to focus on sensations—the lingering scent of lavender on his shirt, the warmth from the fireplace in the corner, even the brush of fabric as he shifted in his chair—and was pleased, moments later, to feel that awareness recede.

Something must have shown in his face; Sherlock was suddenly alert and watchful, even a little on edge. John’s look, as he regained himself, must have reassured, though, as the detective sighed and relaxed back into the chair. “Better?” he asked, almost timidly.

“Yeah, Sherlock,” John said. “I think. I think it can be.” It was the first time he’d said it—the first time he’d really felt it, come to that, and it was a revelation. And the smile that bloomed on Sherlock’s face was the icing on the cake.

Chapter Text

In the morning, John, Sherlock and Harry rode into town together, waving Rosie a cheery goodbye from the front drive. They would stop in Sevenoaks long enough to drop Sherlock off before continuing on to London.

“Mummy will be in her element, unless the teething is an issue again,” Sherlock said grumpily—this was earlier than he normally preferred to be up and about, without a case in the offing. “In which case she’ll be calling for help in an hour.”

John felt a surge of guilt, which lasted only long enough for Harry to step in. “Your mum knows what to do now,” she said, surprisingly peaceably. “And there’s plenty of lavender salts to use.” Sherlock huffed but stayed silent.

John looked at his sister, and realized suddenly how much she’d changed; how much she’d worked to change. “Hare,” he said. “Thank you so much for all of this.”

Harry blinked. “Um. You’re welcome, I guess.” Her mouth twitched into a grin. “But you needn’t sound so shocked.”

“Fair enough,” John said with a laugh.

 

 

 

 

After dropping off Sherlock, and taking Harry to her shop, John headed off to Harley Street and Dr. A. As usual, he was anxious—didn’t think he’d ever lose that. But it got a little easier each time—he hoped that was the beginning of a trend.

When the receptionist ushered him in, John saw the psychiatrist already had the laptop queued up.

“I want to look at something a little different this time,” Dr. A said. “I was struck by something you said in passing, a while back—that you felt your drinking was not an issue, and not something we needed to pursue.”

John stiffened. “No,” he said shortly. “It’s under control.”

“Well, I have an interest in exploring that a bit,” the therapist said. “One of the mechanisms through which suggestion can work is through the lowering of inhibitions. Alcohol is an ideal vehicle for that, particularly in patients accustomed to using it to address anxiety or pain anyway.”

John felt his temper starting to rise. “I…there was a time when it was an issue. Before. In the army. And I stopped.”

“On your own?” Dr. A asked.

John gave a jerky nod. “Of course,” he said. “It was never to the degree that rehab was necessary, and I probably wouldn’t have gone regardless—can’t keep certification for combat surgery very easily with something like that on your record.”

“I think you might be surprised in that area,” Dr. A said, “but we’ll let that pass. In the meantime—you may recall that I asked various of your friends and family for their recollections of specific times and events.”

John nodded warily, unsure where this was going. Too much buildup to be something John was going to be happy about.

“In aid of this conversation, I asked that your sister record something for me—something to do with alcohol, and your relationship with it,” the psychiatrist continued. “I would ask that you watch, and hold any comment until the end, if you would, whether you agree with her or not.”

John nodded again. “Just so you know, though—Harry and I rarely agree about anything, so I wouldn’t set your hopes too high.”

Dr. A acknowledged that with a chuckle, and pressed the “play” button.

On-screen, Harry fidgeted in an office chair, unsure where to look to see the camera head-on.

“We did this via Skype,” Dr. A said quietly. “She said it would be less stressful that way.”

Tell me about your family and drinking,” Dr. A’s on-screen voice said. “Background, if you can.”

Our dad was a mean drunk,” Harry said. “As long as I can remember. He was more of a steady drinker than John—more like me, I guess. When he worked, if he worked, he started as soon as he got home and kept going until he passed out, or had a screaming match with Mum and the police came,” she continued, grimacing as she worked the edge of her sleeve through her fingers. “On weekends, it was all day.”

You said he was mean,” Dr. A said. “Was he also abusive?”

Harry gave a mirthless laugh. “Depends on how you define it,” she said. “Did he beat us, or Mum? No, not really. Was too rough, often, and boxed my ears when I argued once or twice. But he was more prone to words—loud ones.” She paused, caught in her head, in her past. “Ugly ones. Especially once I came out. Had no truck with queers, my dad.”

When did it end?” Dr. A asked. “Did he clean up?”

Harry shook her head, inadvertently looking directly into the camera for once. “He drove them both into a bridge abutment during John’s first tour. Think you can take it as a given that Dad wasn’t ‘clean’ at the time.

“What about you? And John?” the psychiatrist said.

What?” Harry asked. “When did we start drinking, you mean? Me—I guess I was 14. I would pick up near-empties Dad left lying about—Mum was not what you’d call a housekeeper, y’know? And I, well, I liked it. Liked the taste, liked how it made me feel. Or, really, how it made me not feel.” She was fiddling with her sleeve again. “Johnny—he was, oh, 16 the first time I saw him drunk. Came home from a friend’s house and he was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, right off his arse. Didn’t happen all that often for him, until he got to uni, and then—

Then?” Dr. A prompted.

Then I realized how much like Dad he was,” Harry said in a shaky voice. “I mean, we both like it—the taste, the effects. But me, I’m mostly a sloppy, happy drunk. Yeah, I say stupid things, throw away money, the lot—but John gets really, really angry. Always. Didn’t help that he was always little, and male—boys, especially teenagers, are right pricks about that, y’know? But John took it just that one step further. Ended up in drunk tanks, got threatened with expulsion twice for fighting. Then he shipped out.”

And what happened? Was going into the Army a positive or negative?” the psychiatrist asked.

As a whole, a positive, no question,” Harry said. “He’s a good doctor, the best. Top of his class. And he always wanted to make a difference, and he was doing that. Got several commendations—he sent them to me to keep for him. But then I started to—he sent me emails,” she said helplessly. “And I didn’t know what to do.”

How so? What kind of emails?” asked Dr. A.

Drunk ones,” Harry said. “Scary ones. Ones where he mentioned threatening to kill someone he got in a fight with, and he was thinking about doing it. And then the next day, I’d get another—horrified, apologetic, saying it was just a bender, that he went out with mates and they talked him into it. And swearing he’d stop drinking altogether.”

And did he?” the therapist said.

Harry nodded. “Eventually. But here’s the thing: I think, I dunno, I think something really bad happened first. He’d never say, he’s never told me. We’ve never been that close, you know? But all of a sudden he mentioned therapy—he’s always been against it, you know? But he went. I didn’t get any more of those emails. I didn’t hear much from him for a long time, until he got shot. But as far as I know, he stopped.” She looked back down at her hands. “I didn’t. And I think he never forgave me.” She looked back up, her face troubled. “We’re twins, you see. He figured that if he could stop, so could I. At least I think that’s what he thought.

When did his drinking come to your notice again, then?” Dr. A said off-screen, and John found himself stiffening in his chair. Anger, again—he was so tired of being angry, but that’s where he landed.

John stood, and Dr. A reached over and stopped the video, looking inquiringly at John.

“What’s the point of this?” John barked. “I’ve already told you. I had a problem in Afghanistan. It was dealt with. I drank after the death of my wife—don’t think anyone would blame me for that. But that’s over now, and this is wasting time.”

“As I explained at the outset, this may have played a role in your conditioning by ‘Maggie’,” Dr. A said calmly. “I don’t believe it’s a waste of time to explore that. Does hearing this make you uncomfortable?”

“I just think it’s useless,”John said. “It’s not like Harry even really knows me anymore. We may be twins, but we’re nothing alike.”

“Does it bother you, to think you’re like your sister?” Dr. A asked.

John was aware of a visceral rejection of the idea—one that rather surprised him in its intensity. “I—yes, I think it does,” he said. “She’s a screwup. Always has been. And it’s always someone else’s fault. Often mine.”

Dr. A nodded. “I see,” he said. “But does that mean she’s not telling the truth in this instance?”

That pulled John up a bit. “Well, I…” he began, before stopping himself. “Maybe she is. I don’t really remember specifically.”

“I see,” the therapist said. “Don’t remember at all? Any of it?”

“Does it matter?” John said. Even he could hear the aggression in his voice.

“You tell me,” Dr. A said, still absolutely calm. And that calmness, in and of itself, pulled John back.

“Sorry,” John muttered. “Don’t know if it matters or not, but that was inappropriate. We’ll listen to whatever you want, and I’ll sit here and behave myself.”

“You sure?” the doctor said. “Or do we need to stop and talk about this?”

“No,” John said. “Play the damn video.”

Dr. A leaned over and hit the button.

We really started trying to reconnect after Mary was killed,” Harry said on-screen. “But it was by fits and starts. He was so angry, you know? Always angry. So I, we, would meet up, and fight, and stop, and then try again two weeks later.” She looked up, trying to find the camera again. “I had quit by then,” she said. “Gone through rehab, the whole bit. But then I realized John was picking up the slack in my stead.”

Yes?” Dr. A said.

Harry nodded. “Drinking a lot,” she said. “Forgot about the baby at least once. Turfed her off to neighbors, to me, to friends. I tried to confront him about it—found a batch of empties—and he was, he was so angry, and I just. Stopped.”

And did things change? After that?” the therapist asked.

Some,” Harry said. “He slowed down. Was more careful. Worked at it, I think.” She gave a long, thoughtful pause. “And we talked. Some. Not a lot, not about drinking, specifically.”

But do you think he was still drinking?” Dr. A asked. “More than casually?

Harry nodded again. “Yeah,” she said. “Saw him hungover a couple of times. Saw empties.

Dr. A hummed. “And what is your conclusion on his current state? I mean, as someone who knows him well, who has struggled through much of your own life with alcohol, who’s gone through extensive therapy to deal with it? Where does that leave John?

As an alcoholic,” Harry said bluntly. “One who will never, in this lifetime, admit it.

Chapter Text

Dr. A switched off the video and looked expectantly at John.

“What?” John barked, stamping firmly on the anger again as it writhed in his chest, unable to suppress all of it. “Do you believe it? And if you respond by asking me if I do, I’m walking out the door. Fair warning.”

The psychiatrist was unimpressed by John’s fury, sitting calmly in his wheelchair and waiting.

John broke first, heaving a sigh and nodding. “All right. Inappropriate again, on several levels. To answer your carefully-unspoken questions, no, I am not exactly angry at Harry, though I think she should mind her own business—she thinks what she thinks, and I will reluctantly concede that she’s well-intentioned, at least in this. And no, I don’t believe I am…what she says. But if it will make you feel better, I will stop drinking altogether, for as long as it takes to prove to you that it’s not an issue. Satisfied?”

“I’m not the one who needs to be satisfied, John,” Dr. A said. “And I want you to think about this issue, not give me a spot reaction. Nothing need be decided today, nothing needs to happen today. You may recall that my lead-in to this was that alcohol, and diminished inhibitions, can make manipulation easier. Given that much of your contact with ‘Maggie’ occurred during periods in which even you admit to drinking heavily, it’s relevant. The question is, does it remain so? That’s what I want you to take away from this session. It’s a question, not an attack.”

John thought about that, feathers still ruffled. “It felt like an attack,” he finally muttered.

The therapist gave a sigh, and shot John a rueful grin. “John. What did we say the basis of this therapy was going to be? The one, overriding theme?”

Challenge,” John said, with a matching sigh. And scowled at the psychiatrist’s smile.

Satisfied with John’s response, Dr. A. sat back in his wheelchair. “OK, glad that’s settled,” he said. “Let’s try a related, but less-charged issue for the rest of our session. Tell me more about your relationship with your sister—describe the dynamic, both in the past and the present. How has it changed, and why? Positively or negatively, from your point of view?”

“Um,” John said, aware it wasn’t quite as descriptive as one would have hoped.

Dr. A waited patiently, expectantly. John gave up, and told the truth.

“We didn’t like each other,” he said bluntly. “We were twins. Always loved each other, relied on each other as children, but who we were, what we wanted, was too different to mesh together well.”

“And now?” the doctor prompted.

John had to think about that before he could respond. “I guess…hopeful?” he managed finally. “She’s sober—has been for longer than any other time in her life. She works at it. She’s successful in her business, and is trying to mend fences with both me and her ex. And she’s—” John suddenly ran dry, unable to put his finger on the exact words he wanted.

Dr. A waited, again, before giving a gentle nudge. “She’s?” he said.

“She’s a nice person. Well, a nicer person,” John said finally. “Someone who helps other people, someone who has the capacity to do it. She never did, before.”

“And you feel…” Dr. A said.

“Glad,” John said, and realized as he said it how true it was. “Really, really glad.” He paused, thinking, before continuing. “I want her in my life. I want her in Rosie’s life especially—our ‘family’ is pretty thin, you know, and I’d like her to know someone from the Watson side, since she’ll never know, we’ll never know, anything about Mary’s family.” He paused again, then continued with a small smile. “Though we seem to have acquired a whole host of Holmeses in their stead.”

“How do you feel now, then, about Harry’s beliefs about your sobriety? Do these realizations change that—verbalizing them, that is?” the therapist asked.

“Better than I did,” John said. “Still don’t agree, but I’m not upset with her about it. She’s a recovering alcoholic, so she’s sensitized to that. Might be one of those ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’ kind of things, you know?”

“Well, I have a suggestion, then,” Dr. A said. “How would you feel about recording something for her, in your turn? About things you might find it easier to say to a camera, rather than to her?”

John’s initial, knee-jerk reaction was to say “no”. He stopped himself, though, and poked at that a bit. “Maybe?” he managed finally. “Can we stick one of your ‘pins’ in that, and come back to it, maybe next time?”

“Certainly,” the psychiatrist said. “I’ll add a reminder to my notes.” He looked at the clock quickly. “Now, we have ten minutes or so remaining. We can discuss, within reason, whatever area you wish in the remaining time, but it needs to relate to something specific: I want you to tell me of a time when you did something you weren’t happy with, and what you did to resolve it. This isn’t a ‘feel-good’ exercise, per se—I want you to pick something difficult, something you had to work at. Because I think it important that we remind ourselves periodically that life is made up of a series of challenges, and how we respond to them. You’re a survivor, John—tell me a bit about your survival tactics.”

And John, to his own astonishment, found himself talking about Afghanistan, and the drinking, and James Sholto—for the first time in his life. He’d certainly never discussed any of this with Ella.

It was both exhilarating, and painful—John felt both lighter and curiously bruised when he was done. It took longer than ten minutes—Dr. A waved his good hand airily when John look guiltily at the clock, in a way that was reminiscent of Sherlock.

“It’s fine,” he said. “My next patient isn’t due for another hour.” He leaned forward intently. “Now, I think we made some progress today. I hope you agree,” he said, and smiled at John’s hesitant nod. “On that note, then, I’m going to assign you some homework.”

And that was why John found himself, that afternoon, sitting in Sherlock’s empty bedroom at 221B while Mrs. Hudson drank tea in the lounge, her heavy skillet and Greg Lestrade by her side.

 

 

It went like this: John’s “homework” assignment was to find a quiet, calm place, well-removed from Sherlock, in which he would actively try to remember something, anything, about his previous therapy sessions, either with Ella or with “Maggie”. He was to take any precautions he felt necessary to ensure that he (1) had no access to weapons, conventional or otherwise, and (2) could not leave his location until a responsible adult could confirm that he was fully compos mentis.

“I don’t think there’s any real danger here, John, or we would be doing this on a locked ward,” the psychiatrist had said. “You’ve never shown any form of aggression towards anyone other than Sherlock or yourself. Choosing your venue carefully will remove both of those as possibilities. And I want you to begin carefully doing some guided thought exercises that may enable us to pick away at your conditioning. Understand, you won’t be hypnotized, you won’t be drugged, it will be just you and your memory. Don’t be concerned if you’re unsuccessful the first time, or even the first few times. Just do the exercises, give it some time, and go back to Surrey and relax when you’re done.”

So John, before he could talk himself out of it, picked up his phone and called Greg as soon as he left the psychiatrist’s office.

“Look,” John said, after the pleasantries had been dealt with, “can you swing by 221B, early this afternoon? Won’t take more than an hour. But I need someone who can, well, act like a prefect, or maybe a security guard—keep me from doing something stupid, keep me where I belong. My therapist thinks it’ll help. And, hey, I think it’s a pretty safe bet Mrs. H. will bake something, so there’s that.”

“Yeah, sure,” Greg said easily. “Anything I need to bring? Got a pair of handcuffs going begging.”

John could hear the smile in his voice. It was nice, this—he’d missed these snarky back-and-forths. “Waste of time,” John said. “After Sherlock, I don’t think there’s a pair around I couldn’t get out of, if I put my mind to it. Gaffer tape, now…”

And with that, Greg chuckled and hung up.

Mrs. H, when John rang her, was quite enthusiastic, to the point where she insisted on cooking an early dinner/late lunch for John and Greg both. “It’s far too quiet around here, with Sherlock gone,” she said. “And I’m happy to do anything you need to help you get better, John, you know that.”

John wasn’t entirely sure this was going to do anything for him—he’d spent many an hour already, wracking his brain for even the smallest fragment of lost memory—but it should be painless, and harm no one. Both high recommendations, in light of recent events.

He decided that Sherlock’s bedroom was a good spot: quiet, comfortable, unoccupied and likely to stay that way for the duration of this visit, since he knew exactly where Sherlock was (and didn’t think anyone could be convinced to let the detective take a ride into town on his own quite yet). He’d asked Greg to give it a search ahead of time, to make sure there was nothing available that could be dangerous, either to John or to his minders.

John spent the intervening time between the end of his session, and the time for his new “session”, indulging himself a bit. Went for a snack, including an indulgent cup of cocoa topped with whipped cream, took a walk around Regent’s Park and fed the ducks, ducked into the little bakery around the corner from Baker Street for a sackful of Sherlock’s favourite chocolate croissants to take back to Surrey with him. He was pleased to find that he felt normal by the end of his expedition—very little anxiety, no free-floating anger, in contrast to his default mood in recent months.

When he arrived, he gave Mrs. H. and Greg stringent instructions: “If I come out of that room and I’m not, well, ‘me’, you have my permission to do whatever you need to stop me leaving. If you’re in any doubt, call the number I gave you”--Dr. A’s direct line--“and someone will come.”

Mrs. H. pointed cheerily to her skillet, and expressed an unsettling amount of enthusiasm for using it if necessary, while Greg struggled not to laugh behind her. On that note, then, John marched into Sherlock’s room and closed the door.

 

 

 

 

God, it was frustrating. John progressed from the side chair to the bed, thinking that the change of position might make a difference. It didn’t. He still found himself, after almost two hours of focused thought, breathing exercises and visualization, exactly where he’d been at the start—with an utter blank when it came to his past therapy, either with Ella or Eurus. He was somewhat proud of himself—he’d managed to tamp down any anger that might usually go along with such frustration. But that hadn’t help either. Finally, he cursed, sighed, and sat up to pull his shoes back on in defeat.

Out in the lounge, his minders suddenly sat up straighter at his entrance, looking him over carefully. “Alright, then, John?” Greg asked, coming swiftly to his feet as John approached. John noticed Mrs. Hudson taking a firm grip on her skillet.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” John said with a sigh. “Ask me anything you need to—I’m not going to make a mad dash for the door or anything.” He dropped onto the couch with a thump.

“Ah, I think the fact that you suggested that means we don’t need to,” Greg said. “Any luck at all?”

John shook his head. “Not a thing, other than the realization that Sherlock’s bed is a whole lot more comfortable than mine was. I dunno—maybe I’m just not doing it right. Or maybe there’s nothing left to remember, and Eurus wins this one,” he said, feeling his shoulders slump.

“Or maybe it’s just not time yet,” Mrs. H said firmly. “It will come when it comes, apparently. You sit here with the Inspector, John—I’m going to go get dinner finished up, and we’ll see if that makes you feel a bit better.”

It did—a little, at least. John reminded himself repeatedly that Dr. A hadn’t necessarily expected this to work the first time, if at all. He would ask for additional guidance before the next session, to make sure he was giving it the best possible opportunity to work. For now, though, all John wanted was to be back in Surrey with his daughter.

Greg, as it happened, drove him back. “Can always use a nice drive in the country,” he said, his wry grin sitting comfortably on his face. “And I have a case I wanted to run by Sherlock—nothing too strenuous,” he added quickly when he saw John’s frown. “I know he’s not up to a ‘running-about’ one. This is more of a ‘thinking’ kind of thing.” And that could only be a good thing—God only knew how the elder Holmeses were dealing with Sherlock, bored, stroppy and still in a bit of pain.

They arrived at the house at just before 8. Dinner was finished, but Rosie was still up, and squealed with delight as John walked in.

“You can do her bath, then,” Mellie said with a smile. “She’s been quite crochety all day—knew you were gone, but didn’t know how to fix it.”

Greg latched onto Sherlock, and Siger trailed along behind. By the time John had bathed the baby, plied her with a bottle and tucked her in her cot for the night, the three were closeted in the back parlour with a roaring fire, a bottle of brandy and various appalling photos of dead people.

“No, it’s not,” Sherlock sniffed as John walked in. “You have a copycat. Very likely someone with a grudge against your second and third victims, who latched onto the earlier killing as a means of disguising their own planned murders. The killing of the first victim may well have been accidental—a disorganized, mentally ill or drug-addled culprit attempting a mugging but wielding a knife they didn’t actually know how to use—but the last two truly are identical in method and weapon. A weapon, by the by, that was similar to, but not identical to, the original. Look to their families, their business contacts. Someone was very angry, or feared some action the victims were preparing to take.” He looked simultaneously irritated and triumphant—very much his old self, and one John hadn’t seen in far too long.

John settled onto the settee with a smile, and let the grisly conversation flow past him until Greg finally left, and the rest of them wandered off to their beds.

 

 

 

 

 

It started sometime around 3 am. John was dreaming—aware he was dreaming on some level, but unable to waken. He felt a nameless dread. Something was coming, something dangerous, and John was not prepared. He had a gun, then he didn’t. Sherlock was there, but then vanished, and no one could tell John where he was. And then Sherlock was back, and he was laughing, and pointing, and turning his back on John.

And John, dream John, pulled out a gun and shot his dearest friend in the back.

John, real John, sat up with a jerk and a gasp, and launched himself bodily out of bed, to stand gasping next to the door of the en suite. He shook, violently, for the five minutes it took to convince himself not to rush up the stairs to make sure it wasn’t true, never true. Then he dropped back onto the bed, the adrenaline rush making him briefly light-headed.

“Jesus,” he moaned, wiping his face roughly with one hand, while reaching for his bathrobe with the other. There was no way he could try to go back to sleep right now. This required tea, or maybe something stronger. He pulled the robe tighter, and trudged off towards the kitchen.

He was surprised, as he reached the doorway into the kitchen, to find the lights already on, to hear soft voices. As he entered, his eyes met the startled gaze of Siger, standing at the cooktop stirring a pot of what smelled like cocoa. The older man blinked, then nodded.

“You, as well, then?” he asked, and stood aside so that John could see Sherlock seated at the kitchen table, his wounded arm cradled to his chest. He looked pale, and exhausted, and annoyed. As John watched, the detective huffed, placed his good arm on the table and lowered his head onto it.

“It needed only this,” Sherlock muttered into his sleeve, and subsided into silence.

Siger, thankfully, took up the conversational reins. “Sherlock had a nightmare, a bad one. Fell out of bed, and I heard him cry out.” At the table, Sherlock’s face, what little John could see of it, scrunched in distaste.

“Ears like a bat,” Sherlock hissed.

Siger grinned. “Perils of parenthood, as I’m sure John has already discovered. Once you have children, you never again sleep soundly.” He turned off the burner and reached for mugs, waiting for John’s confirming nod before filling one for him as well.

Sherlock shifted from his hunch, bringing his wounded arm down into his lap. Siger noticed, and looked at John. “He hit his arm in the fall. Wouldn’t let me look at it.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Sherlock moaned. “I am fine.” The fact that his head still resided on the tabletop argued against that.

Without thinking about it, John reached out and carefully pulled the damaged arm into his grasp, while Sherlock flinched. “What’s your pain level?” he asked, as he unwrapped the bandage. “1 to 10?”

Sherlock twitched as John prodded gently at the edge of the incision. “Six,” he said, but then gasped as John reached a slightly-swollen spot where a stitch had been stressed, though not quite broken. “Seven,” he amended.

“Well, you don’t have any new bleeding, beyond a couple of little spots,” John said, “but you haven’t done yourself any favours here. Probably added a few days to the healing process. I can give you a dose of your pain medicine—” he started to continue, and then caught Siger’s eye, his tiny shake of the head. He was suddenly aware of Sherlock’s focused attention. A little too focused.

“But maybe a dose of injectable paracetamol would be better,” he said, without looking at Sherlock. “Won’t leave you with a drug hangover in the morning. Unless your pain level is too high for that?” he asked, and this time caught Sherlock’s eye—well, the portion he could see past his concealing arm.

“I suppose you’re right,” his friend said with a gusty sigh.

Ten minutes later, cocoa had been downed (for which Sherlock had deigned to raise his head from the table long enough to drink, before plopping it back down), bandages changed and injection administered. John helped Siger clean up the minimal mess, then turned to Sherlock, still languishing in his chair.

“You should head back to bed now, you know,” John said. “You’re exhausted, and the medicine always makes you drowsy.”

“You sound like my mother,” Sherlock sniffed, as he rose carefully, still cradling his arm.

John laughed. “You’re not the first person to say so,” he chuckled. “Ella told me a year or so ago that I described you more like my poorly-behaved child than my friend.”

And it wasn’t until he noticed Sherlock’s stunned face that he realized he had just described an incident in a session that, until that very moment, he hadn’t remembered existed.

Chapter Text

The next morning, John was awake early—early, and happy, something that hadn’t been the case in, well, forever, honestly. It had been all he could do not to pick up the phone and call Dr. A. last night to tell him of the memory breakthrough; only Siger’s hesitant reminder that it was 3am made John reluctantly reconsider.

When he bustled into the kitchen at just past 7, John was surprised to find it already fully occupied. Siger and Sherlock were examining a small piece of intricate machinery at one end of the table; Mellie was at the cooktop, preparing something that smelled fantastic. And, to John’s surprise, Rosie was being settled in her high chair by an old, and unexpected, friend—Anthea.

He found himself breaking into a beaming smile. “Well, hello, stranger,” he said, as Anthea grinned and flopped Rosie’s hand in a wave.

“Hey, John,” the agent said amiably. “How’s tricks? Sherlock says things are getting a bit better, but I’d rather hear it from you.” Sherlock frowned at her from the other end of the table, but stayed silent, still poking at Siger’s gadget with his good hand.

John sat in the chair next to Rosie and broke off a bit of scone from the platter in the center of the table for her to play with. He used the time to really consider the question.

“It is getting better,” he said finally. “Not as quickly as I’d like, you know. But there’s a difference.” He glanced at Sherlock and Siger, both scrupulously Not Listening despite being seated four feet away. “Had a bit of a breakthrough last night, in fact. Looking forward to telling my therapist about it.”

Anthea beamed. “Excellent!” she said, handing Rosie her bottle. “Just what I was hoping to hear.”

John looked closer; Anthea had an air of someone eager to be asked about something. He concentrated, while she raised one sardonic eyebrow, and then suddenly noticed her left hand, gracefully draped across the tabletop.

“You’re engaged!” he said. “Congratulations!”

“Austin finally broke through her defences*,” Sherlock drawled from the other end of the table. “He’s been wearing her down for nearly a year now.” Anthea made a rude gesture, but smiled nonetheless.

“Yes,” she said happily, holding out her hand to better display the antique ring on her finger. “It’s set for July. All present company invited, of course.” She waggled her eyebrows. “Mycroft insists on paying for it; Gabe is furious, but can’t quite bring himself to decline, since he knows Mycroft can get us a much sweeter deal than we’d be able to manage on our own. I told him to consider it my annual bonus.”

Which said volumes about what Anthea’s salary typically was, if you thought about it. No wonder Sherlock bristled if anyone referred to her as Mycroft’s “PA”.

“So how did they enlist you in babysitting duty?” John asked, as Mellie began to set plates of eggs and bacon in front of everyone, giving Siger and Sherlock a stern look that made her husband sigh and place his model on the sideboard. It was now clear that Anthea was the “Mystery Carer” Mellie had mentioned would arrive yesterday. “And why are you a day late?”

“Oh, I was here yesterday—well, briefly, anyway,” Anthea said airily, biting into a piece of bacon with gusto. “I had to make a run out to Heathrow in the evening, before you got here—one of our diplomatic attachés managed to lose his courier pouch. We had to make sure it was actually lost, and not ‘lost’, if you catch my meaning.” She made air quotes, waving the bacon as she went. “I got back too late to come say hello.”

“She had an ulterior motive,” Sherlock offered, ducking as Mellie swatted at him with a dish towel. “She’s using your daughter as a guinea pig.” Anthea threw her bacon, which bounced off his forehead and landed in his plate. He picked it up and stuck it in his mouth with a smirk.

Anthea turned to meet John’s bemused look. “Honestly, it’s not Rosie who’s the guinea pig, it’s me. Getting married and all that—I wanted, well, to take her for a test ride, sort of. See if this was something I could handle. Don’t know that we will, but I figured it was a golden opportunity to see if it was even a possibility.” Her cheekbones were rather pink, but she met John’s gaze evenly enough.

“Very wise,” Siger said calmly. “I wish more prospective parents did the same.”

John, remembering his own family, could only agree.

 

 

 

 

After breakfast, a stroppy Sherlock was delegated to help his father in the workshop, while Mellie headed out to the village. That left Anthea and John to their own devices for a bit, since John’s appointment wasn’t until 1.

John wiped Rosie’s hands and face while she fussed in irritation, then looked inquiringly at Anthea. “Walk?” he asked. “It’s pretty out, if a bit brisk. Rosie loves to get down and trundle through the leaves, and it sets her up a treat for her nap.”

“Sure,” Anthea said. “I haven’t been back in the preserve in quite a while. Sherlock wants me to see his Body Farm, but that can wait. Not burning with enthusiasm,” she added with an expressive eye roll.

It was a nice walk. Anthea was good company, once you got past her innate reserve. John couldn’t say they were close, exactly, but he felt comfortable with her—he’d gone on several joint excursions with her and her boyfriend-cum-fiancé in the past, since they all enjoyed hiking. Before the shooting, Sherlock had sometimes come along—Mary had never been interested, even before she got pregnant.

After ten minutes or so, John stopped to let Rosie down, dropping her carefully into a pile of leaves, which she grabbed gleeful handfuls of. He sat on a nearby downed branch to supervise, and gestured for the agent to join him.

“I’m glad you suggested this,” Anthea suddenly said. “I wanted to have the chance to speak with you alone anyway.”

John raised his eyebrows. “Why? Something Mycroft wanted said that he couldn’t be arsed to say himself?”

Anthea made a face. “Not everything I do comes from Mycroft, John,” she sniffed, and John held up an apologetic hand. “This actually comes from Gabe.”

“Do tell,” John said, though he was unsure what Gabe Austin had to do with his current situation.

“Sherlock called him, a couple of days ago. Did Sherlock tell you?” Anthea said.

John shook his head. “No. What about?” Not that it was necessarily any of his business, really.

“Sherlock knew a bit of Gabe’s history that I don’t think you were aware of,” she replied. “And it’s not really my story to tell. But suffice it to say, Gabe had some experiences in the past that are somewhat relevant to yours—your recent ones, anyway. Capture, interrogations—if he wants to tell you more, he will,” she continued. “But what he wanted to say was, one of the things that helped him was physical activity, lots of it. So he suggested that you might want to come to his gym a couple of times a week and spar.” She dropped her chin and grinned through her eyelashes. “He says that his past back injury will probably offset the fact that you’re a foot shorter. And, if not, he’s prepared to go easy on you at first.”

John gave a crack of laughter that startled Rosie, who frowned momentarily before going back to crinkling leaves in her pink-mittened hands. “I’ll remember that,” he said with a chuckle. “But yeah—tell him I’d like that, I think. I can let him know which days I’m in town and we’ll go from there. Just make sure you tell him the tall ones fall like a tree—makes a very satisfying thud.”

Anthea gave a laugh of her own. “I know,” she said. “I beat him at least half the time. He says I should go easy on him, now that we’re engaged.” She gave a mock frown. “It’s disappointing how little he knows me.”

And on that note, John swept up his daughter with a grin, and they headed on into the forest.

 

 

 

 

By the time they got back to the house, it was almost lunchtime, and Rosie was overdue for her nap. Siger and Sherlock were absent—they’d gone on a parts-hunting expedition, according to Mellie. “Siger’s little mechanisms are wonderful,” she said, “but he’s forever off looking for fiddly bits that cost the earth.”

Siger had gotten involved in making tiny, working automatons—little engines, cars, trains, even the occasional “robot” animal. They were the kind of thing that would go for thousands of pounds in a specialty shop, but he never sold them. Sherlock had several at 221B, sitting in pride of place on the bookshelves.

“Well, if he needs another set of hands at any point, tell him to let me know,” John said, and meant it. “I know Sherlock can’t do much at present, with his arm bunged up.”

Mellie beamed. “I’ll tell him. Just be aware Sherlock might be a bit jealous. He’s quite territorial when it comes to his father, you know.” Her smile took any potential sting out of the words.

By noon, John was in the car with Andrew, heading back into London. The driver had brought Anthea back from Heathrow and stayed the night, so it was convenient for both of them. The car dropped him off in Harley Street, just across the road from Dr. A’s office.

When he got upstairs, John was glad to see that he was the first appointment after lunch—no need to wait for a previous session to finish up. He was, for a change, looking forward to this meeting.

On being ushered into the psychiatrist’s office, John was surprised to see the man walking forward on crutches, rather than in his wheelchair. Noting John’s scrutiny, Dr. A gave a comical scowl.

“It’s my required daily exercise,” he said crossly. “Have to use them at least one hour a day, and this is today’s hour.” He gave a wry grin. “Doctors really do make the worst patients,” he sighed.

“Can’t very well comment on that one, under the circumstances,” John said, with a grin of his own.

Dr. A’s brows lifted. “Well, then,” he said. “You’re in a cheery mood. What brought that on?”

John took a deep breath. “I remembered something,” he said. “Spontaneously. Had something that tickled my memory in conversation, and suddenly realized where and when that memory came from.”

The therapist beamed. “Well done,” he said. That is good news, indeed. Anything of significance?”

John found himself deflating just a bit. “Well, no, not really,” he said. “Something from one of the ‘lost’ sessions with Ella. But I’m finding now that my false memories are also feeling a bit hazy—when I think about meeting with Ella, it isn’t like I hadn’t seen her in years anymore.”

Dr. A clapped his hands together. “Excellent,” he said. “That means your exercises are beginning to have an effect.” He noticed John’s skeptical look, and shook his head. “It doesn’t mean you suddenly have recovered memories as soon as you begin the process, John. But it does mean that focusing your thoughts, consciously being aware of where those missing memories lie, is causing things to bubble to the surface. It’s gradual, typically. Those dramatic ‘I remember everything!’ moments only happen in movies, in my experience.”

“I won’t lie—that’s disappointing,” John said slowly. “I thought—well, I believed that this was like a blockage. Once we broke it up, everything would flow freely.”

The psychiatrist shook his head. “Wrong metaphor,” he said. “Or, at least, an incorrect concept for memory. Time, the passage of events, that’s often been referred to as a stream passing through our lives. But the memory we build from those events doesn’t flow, it settles. Think of it like sediment—each layer builds on top of the existing bed. That’s why false memories lack the durability of real ones—they don’t have that underlying buildup of related happenings, they’re simply dropped on top. In your case, ‘Maggie’ didn’t even try to insert more than a few actual false memories, she simply tried to warp your perception of the real ones, using as little new ‘material’ as possible.” He sighed. “I hate to say it, but it’s what I would do as well, in the extremely unlikely case that I was moved to try to subvert someone. It’s both less complex, and more subtle, than trying to create a false reality from scratch—that virtually always fails, simply because it lacks the extraordinary detail of real memories. The patient recognizes those details, even though they’re not consciously aware of them, and notices the lack in the ‘created’ scenarios eventually.”

“That sounds like Sherlock,” John said, aware even as he said it of bitterness in his voice. “We ‘see, but we do not observe’.”

“Quite right,” Dr. A said. “Sherlock and Mycroft have the ability to consciously touch all of the information the rest of us just unknowingly file away.” He paused, then continued. “Why does that realization make you angry, John?”

And John, before he could edit himself, said the first thing that came into his head. “Because that means that Sherlock should have known what had happened to me, or, at least, known that something was very wrong that wasn’t related to just Mary’s death. And that, even now, my subconscious still thinks that this is all his fault.”

But John was shocked to look up and see Dr. A’s wide smile looking back at him. “Now that, John, is real progress. Because this is the first time we’ve managed to see that mechanism at work—to see how your ‘suggestions’ were designed to affect your perceptions. And we can work with that.”

Chapter Text

John was only allowed to bask in Dr. A’s approval briefly, before the psychiatrist called them back on task.

“Now,” the doctor said, “I want to try something. I want you to think of a specific recent memory—something that made you very angry. Something involving Sherlock. And I want you to identify why—exactly what got your temper going.”

John, somewhat to his own surprise, found himself telling the story of Harry’s enormous gambling loss*, and the resultant set-to with Sherlock and Mycroft.

When he’d reached the end of his tale, Dr. A nodded. “And who were you angrier with, Harry or Sherlock?”

“Then? Sherlock,” John said. “No question. I was horrified at Harry, but not…it wasn’t exactly anger.”

“Why not?” the therapist asked.

John was shocked to realize that he’d never actually examined that. Why wasn’t he angry at Harry? Or, maybe…

“Um. Maybe it is, but I’m not calling it that?” John said slowly. “Because I’m…not supposed to be angry at Harry?”

“Again, why not?” Dr. A asked patiently.

John felt a brief, distant thrill of that alien watchfulness. “Because…I think I’m supposed to focus on Sherlock,” he managed to say, despite his throat trying to close.

“And, quickly now, John, before you can think about it—why were you angry with Sherlock?” the psychiatrist said. “Don’t think, just respond.”

“Because he laughed about it,” John said. “Because he offered money and sneered at me for not having it. Because he implied that Harry came to me because she knew Sherlock would bail her out, even though I couldn’t.” A wave of self-loathing rolled over John, tinged with stinging fury at Sherlock’s callous actions.

“John, I want you to listen to me closely: I believe that is not a true memory,” the psychiatrist said. “As it happens, I discussed that event with Sherlock at length, some months ago—he was deeply hurt and confused by it. But he says that your anger seemed to be because he had told you about the funds that he had diverted for your use. He remains bewildered as to why. And he certainly never laughed at you—on the contrary, from his perspective, it was you who belittled him, in a rather cruel and callous fashion.”

John had a sudden swirl of vertigo—that wave of dissonance, almost like a filmy veil covering his memories, giving him a mental “double vision”.

“Talk to me, John—what’s going through your head? Don’t censor, don’t ponder, just talk,” Dr. A said.

“It’s…I can remember both again,” John managed. “I can see what I just told you. But behind that, under that, I can see…it’s different.”

The therapist nodded. “Just as I thought. Let’s run through it again, John—tell me what happened. But this time think before you speak. Concentrate on the memories and try to siphon out what’s real, and what isn’t.”

They worked for the next twenty minutes, with John repeating his story, uneasily recognizing that it changed, in ways either small or large, every time he did so. The final time he told it, Dr. A nodded.

“That matches with Sherlock’s recitation. Subtle differences, of course—both of you colour events with your own individual perceptions—but the core facts match,” he said. “Does it feel ‘real’ to you? Or are you still aware of dissonance?”

John shook his head. “Maybe a tiny amount, but nothing significant.” He paused before continuing. “But…”

The psychiatrist raised his eyebrows enquiringly. “But?”

John sighed. “But now I remember what a dick I was,” he said soberly. “And I have no fucking idea why. Didn’t know then, in fact.”

“Are you sure?” Dr. A asked. “Because you told Sherlock something that made a lot of sense.”

“You mean the whole ‘attack before they can attack you’ bit?” John sneered. “That’s a mechanism, not a reason. I’m not…I don’t know why the money thing hit me so hard. I’d borrowed money from Sherlock before, and neither one of us were fussed about it. But this—he was kind, you know? He wanted me to be secure, to make sure his…leaving didn’t turf me out on the street. And I said horrible, unforgivable things—accused him of trying to buy my friendship. What kind of ‘friend’ does that?”

“The kind who has a very serious problem with anger. That’s the kind of thing we’re going to spend some time on,” the therapist said simply. “Figuring out where all this anger comes from, and what we can do to weed it out. Because that anger gave ‘Maggie’ the perfect ‘potting soil’ to work from, and it’s been part of your life for a very long time.”

 

 

 

 

By the time John left the session, he wasn’t sure if he felt better or worse, on a emotional level. Physically, though, he felt like he’d been beaten with sticks, and was looking forward to thinking about something that had absolutely nothing to do with mental health. Competent and compassionate though Dr. A was, he followed a strict “take no prisoners” approach in his methodology—effective, but exhausting.

John was both pleased, then, and a little dismayed, to turn his mobile back on and see a message from Gabe Austin.

My honey says you’re willing to come with me to get your attitude adjusted,” the big man had texted. “Cupham’s Gym, 4 PM. Here’s the link to the website and address.

It didn’t escape John’s notice that Gabe didn’t use one of those conventional phrases to allow John to back out gracefully, if he decided not to come. John was quite sure that was no accident.

The big man was waiting out front when John’s taxi pulled up in front of the nondescript red brick building. John felt a grin creep over his face, and saw a matching expression on Gabe’s, as John strode forward and shook his huge hand.

“Looking good, Watson,” he boomed. “Ready to get your arse kicked?”

“In your dreams, Austin,” John said amiably. “I’ve dropped bigger men than you.”

“But not better,” Gabe said smugly as he led them inside.

 

 

 

 

The gym was a bit of a surprise. The outside was blank, almost warehouse-like—an unassuming, bland commercial space from the post-war period. Inside, though, it was a revelation: open, airy space with high windows all along the rear roof line, designated space for weights and workout equipment, mats for classes, even a boxing ring visible in the far corner. They went through a glass doorway in the back wall that led to a pool, hot tub, steam room and sauna.

Gabe nodded his head at the steam room as they passed. “They put eucalyptus oil in the steam,” he said. “Gotta go, the next time you have a cold. It’s almost a religious experience, I swear.”

The changing room was also state-of-the-art: highly-polished wood floors, padded benches, stacks of towels, and, for their purposes, the best part: piles of basic workout clothes—shorts, t-shirts, even socks.

Gabe waved his hand. “Make yourself at home,” he said. “This place caters to folks who may not be able to bring a change of clothes along, or those who are travelling and didn’t pack them.” He looked at John’s feet, clad in sensible brown leather half-boots. “Probably need to go barefoot, though. Those look like a weapon to me.” His grin made it clear he was teasing.

John made a point of not looking too closely while they both changed, but couldn’t avoid giving the taller man’s back a doctorly look. Gabe, of course, noticed.

“All healed, Doc,” he said, as John felt his face flush. “no more surgeries needed**. I’m actually stronger now than I was before the injury. I could carry you and Sherlock both if I needed to, not that he adds that much to the load.”

“Just wanted to make sure you won’t snap like a twig when I drop you,” John said with a grin. “Several times.”

“Nah,” the agent said. “But I reserve the right to whine if you don’t bounce high enough when you hit the mat.” He dropped his chin and looked up through his lashes. “Loser buys dinner.”

 

 

 

 

They started slow—feeling each other out, mostly. John knew that he couldn’t give Gabe the chance to use his expansive reach effectively, so he stayed close. John was used to sparring with bigger men—he began with the same tactics he employed when he worked out with Sherlock, darting in close and low to strike at knees and abdomen. Gabe drew first “blood” though, grabbing John’s extended arm in a startlingly quick motion for so large a man. He used John’s own momentum against him, falling to the mat and using John’s arm to flip him halfway across the mat. John landed on his back, winded and annoyed.

Gabe walked up to stand over John as he panted. “All right, then?” he asked, holding out a hand to help his opponent up.

“Yeah,” John said in a disgruntled tone. “Big men aren’t supposed to be that fast.”

Gabe gave him a smug grin. “Andy says I’m a classic over-achiever.”

John’s brows shot up. “’Andy’?”

Gabe beamed. “She claims she hates nicknames,” he said, and leaned in confidingly. ‘She really doesn’t.”

They had been sparring for roughly twenty minutes when things changed. Until then, they’d been relatively even. Eventually, though, Gabe had landed on a tactic that offset John’s lower center of gravity and relative strength, and he twice managed to grab John mid-strike, pick him up and slam him to the ground. The third time, John had had enough, suddenly—as Gabe’s arms snaked around him, he jerked back his head briskly and attempted to break the agent’s nose. When Gabe’s arms came open with a howl of pain, John spun and whipped the tall man’s legs out from under him, As he moved to strike again, though, Gabe suddenly shot out an arm and grabbed John around the throat.

“That’s it,” he growled, and slid his other arm around and under John’s arms, forcing him into an arched-back posture, one hand still around John's throat. John continued to struggle, furious, until Gabe gave a rough shake of his throat that briefly cut off his airflow. “Stop!” Gabe barked. “Just stop, or I will hurt you.”

John stilled, still furious but knowing he risked serious damage. His pulse pounded in his head, and his breath came in angry gasps. He finally managed to loose one hand, and smacked the mat sharply, twice. The agent released him and gave him a sharp shove to separate the two of them.

“So,” Gabe said finally. “That, right there, is why Andy though us sparring would be a good idea.”

“How so?” John rasped, rubbing his throat, refusing to make eye contact.

“Well, it’s often recommended for blokes with anger issues,” Gabe said, “which we all know is the case with you. But it only works, realistically, if whoever they work out with is able to take them, because otherwise it’s just one more target.”

“I could take you!” John growled, trying to roll to his feet, only to be dropped by Gabe’s sweeping leg, the arm back across his throat.

“No, John,” Gabe said in a steely tone, “you can’t. Because, unlike Sherlock, I’m willing to hurt you if I have to. And for you, apparently, that’s what it takes. So let’s just both of us keep that in mind, shall we?”

It was like being doused in ice water. Just like that, John’s temper was gone. In it’s wake was a bitter realization—that he had been prepared to do whatever it took to stop his opponent, his friendly opponent.

“I am so sorry,” he said slowly. “You’re right, and I’m sorry. I understand if you don’t want to do this again.”

He was shocked, then, to look up and see a slow grin slide over Gabe’s face. “Oh, no, you don’t get off that easily, Watson,” he said. “As long as you’re prepared to take the risk—to know that I won’t let you hurt me without payback—it’s on. Not a lot of people are willing to go full-bore with me. But if you’re game, so am I. I jusr reserve the right to stop at any point if I think either of us is going to take real damage. Deal?”

“Deal,” John said gratefully.

 

 

 

 

 

Gabe insisted on driving John back to Surrey. It was late when they reached the house; they hadn’t finished dinner until almost 10, and traffic had been surprisingly heavy.

The house was dark and quiet. The other occupants, including Rosie and Anthea, had headed into town for dinner with Mrs. Hudson. They would spend the night at Baker Street before heading back home in the morning. Sherlock, according to his snarky text, had declined because he couldn’t face another dinner “full of people fussing over him and offering to cut up his food”.

John and Gabe came into the house through the back door, stepping into the kitchen from the rear driveway. John wanted some tea, but went first to go find Sherlock as well to see if he wanted any. He wandered out towards the lounge, Gabe following along. They nearly tripped over each other when John stepped into the darkened room and came to an abrupt stop as he suddenly realized someone was there, silent and still.

Sherlock was sitting—well, lounging, actually—draped across the overstuffed sofa. It was quite dark, the only light coming from the slightly-open swinging door to the kitchen. His only reaction to their entrance was a lazy roll of his head.

“Hi,” he said cheerily. “I’m not sad anymore.”

Gabe recovered from his startlement first. “Yeah?” he said slowly. “Were you sad, then?”

Sherlock nodded. “Yes,” he said. “For weeks. And I just…I didn’t want to be sad anymore. So I fixed it.”

John stepped closer. “How’d you do that, Sherlock?” he asked, despite being pretty sure he already knew.

“Found it,” the detective said smugly. “Advantage of staying in my old room—I put all kinds of things away for a rainy day. Mycroft got most of it, but I was always better at hiding than he was at finding.” He gave a happy little laugh, before frowning briefly and putting one shaky hand up to his temple.

John stepped forward and grabbed Sherlock’s chin to turn his face into the limited light. One glimpse of his pupils told the story.

“What the fuck did you take?” John barked.

Sherlock blinked. “I’m…I don’t remember,” he said slowly, his brow crinkling momentarily before clearing again. He waved a hand airily towards the side table. “But I made a list,” he said proudly.

Gabe was closer, and swept up the torn bit of paper first, forestalling John’s abortive grab.

“Ketamine,” he read, then held it out to John. “You would know better than I do what the dosage means.”

Jesus fucking Christ,” John snarled. “Come on, then. Taking you upstairs to sober up, and make sure you don’t choke on your own vomit.” He reached out and grabbed his good wrist, and Sherlock gave a bleat of dismay and pulled back, in a floppy-limbed fashion.

John swore and reached again, only to be intercepted by Gabe. “Enough,” the agent said, batting John’s hands away. “He doesn’t understand right now why you’re angry, and you’re scaring him. You can be mad once he sobers up, all right?”

John tried to tamp down the anger that was surging to the forefront. “I’m not mad, I’m disgusted,” he said, and some small part of him noticed Sherlock flinching. “I can’t believe he’s back at this crap again.”

“I was sad,” Sherlock said again, in a small, woeful voice. He was trying unsuccessfully to get up but couldn’t quite figure out how.

“Welcome to my world,” John said bitterly, and reached for his friend’s arm again.

This time Sherlock’s floppy dodge led him to tumble off the couch entirely. He managed to push himself up on his hands and knees, but then suddenly made a startled gurgle and vomited on the polished wood floor.

“Jesus,” John sighed, moving forward, but was once again forestalled by the agent, who deftly reached in, grabbed Sherlock’s skinny arm and flipped the detective up over his shoulder, while Sherlock moaned and hiccuped.

“Try to tell me if you’re gonna puke again, OK?” Gabe asked as he headed for the stairs.

“M’kay,” Sherlock muttered.

John stood indecisively in front of the couch, before calling out at the retreating figures. “Recovery position, yeah?” he said, and received a grunt of agreement from Gabe as he trudged up the stairs.

 

 

 

 

John had already cleaned up the mess by the time Gabe stomped back down the stairs, stiff and angry.

“Alright, John, what the fuck was that?” he said, as soon as he reached the bottom. “Whatever happened to ‘first, do no harm’? If that wasn’t a cry for help, I’m not sure what one would look like. And you basically looked at him like he’d shit in your soup bowl.”

John bristled. “That’s easy for you to say. You haven’t seen him like this before.”

“No, but I’ve heard all about it from Myc,” Gabe retorted. “And Myc’s been at it a hell of a lot longer than you have. But I’ve never heard him speak either to or about Sherlock like that.”

“Then maybe he’s a better man than I am,” John snapped. “Because I’m out of patience with it. That great big brain, and he uses that shit to just opt out whenever he’s a bit overwhelmed.”

“He ‘uses that shit’ largely because of that great big brain, from what I hear,” Gabe said. “And your soapbox is a bit shaky there, you know? Because I hear you do pretty well yourself in that general arena.”

And there was very little John could say to that, but he felt compelled to try anyway. “I’ve never been in rehab,” he said. “And I’m not drinking—won’t be drinking, until Dr. A decides it’s safe for me to do so. I’m not an addict, and never have been.” Gabe rolled his eyes, but stayed silent.

“We need to go search his room,” John said. “As soon as he wakes up, he’s likely to be looking again. This isn’t usually a ‘one-time’ thing.”

Gabe gave him a "do you really think I’m that stupid?" look. “I put him in Andy’s room for tonight. I’ll share with him,” he said. “And I texted Myc to let him know someone needs to come give his old room a deep cleaning, so to speak.”

John balked at that. “I should monitor—”

He was interrupted by Gabe’s firm head-shake. “Not happening,” he said. “Not least because I can’t trust you not to treat him like shit tonight.” His stony expression softened just a bit in the face of John’s visible dismay. “If he needs anything I’ll come get you straightaway, all right?”

And with that John had to be content.

Chapter Text

John went back to bed, but not to sleep. The queasy awareness that he had been completely, utterly out of line (as well as borderline heartless) sank in quickly, and his mind chased itself like a hamster on a wheel, reminding him over and over again of exactly what he’d said, what he should have said. And, as time passed, he was more and more aware of where some of what he had said actually came from; it wasn’t a comfortable realization. Dr. A’s work was bearing fruit, but it was proving to be bitter fruit indeed.

When Gabe knocked on his door at 3 am, then, it was more of a relief than not. The big man looked exhausted and stressed. “Look, can you come?” he said. “He asked me not to come get you. But he’s been sick, over and over, and now he’s really out of it—keeps talking to people who aren’t there. He remembers when I remind him, but five minutes later he’s back at it. And he says his stomach really hurts.”

“Fucking ketamine,” John sighed. “It’s a dissociative—hallucinations are really common, as is the nausea and cramping, unfortunately.” He pulled his trousers back on. “Let me grab my bag and I’ll be right there.”

Sherlock was huddled against the headboard, sweaty and pale, with his splinted arm holding a pillow clutched tight to his abdomen. “I told Gabe not to get you,” he said hoarsely. “It’s just ketamine. It’s always like this for me. I never…I learned to always use it with something else instead of like this. Not on its own. It was stupid.” He stopped, gasped, and leaned over the bed to heave into the bin resting conveniently at the side. Then he slid down to lie curled on his side, still clutching the pillow.

John resisted the temptation to agree with him. Not the time or place. He sat carefully on the edge of the bed, setting his bag behind Sherlock’s knees. He reached out and brushed aside sweaty curls to feel his friend’s forehead, and lifted his chin to check pupils. “Are you having any trouble breathing? Or staying awake?” he asked, while checking the pulse in Sherlock’s good wrist.

“No,” Sherlock groaned. “Just headache, and the nausea and pain in my stomach.” His eyes closed as he relaxed deeper into the bedding.

John opened his bag and made up two syringes, since it was clear tablets weren’t going to be a viable approach. Then he shook Sherlock’s shoulder gently, and the eyes fluttered back open. “I’m gonna give you two things: an anti-emetic, and some benzodiazepam. Between the two, that should take care of the nausea and the hallucinations, and have the added bonus of sending you right to sleep, which will likely be the best medicine anyway. Are you OK with that?” He added the last, because, amidst all the other things his conscience had battered him with this evening, he’d realized that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d asked Sherlock whether he wanted John’s care or not. And that wasn’t right.

“Of course,” Sherlock rasped, then gagged again through clenched teeth. His eyes slammed shut and stayed that way, as John slipped his pajama waistband down and quickly emptied both syringes into his hip.

John waited quietly on the bed, as Gabe dropped onto the other side with a gusty sigh and Sherlock began to gradually relax. When John was sure there would be no adverse reaction, he patted his friend’s hip, and those pale eyes opened slowly.

“I think you’ll be OK now,” John said, “but I’ll be right downstairs if you need me. And I know you asked me not to say this again, but I figured you’re too tired and sick to shout at me right now. So, I was wrong, very wrong, and I’m sorry, all right? But you can still shout at me in the morning.”

Sherlock gave a slight smile, as his eyes slid closed once more. John closed the door as he left.

 

 

 

John was surprised to find he’d actually slept a bit, as his eyes dragged open to early sunlight and chirping birds. It was not long past dawn, but he knew he was unlikely to sleep any more now. He grudgingly rolled out of bed and into the en suite to face the day.

He was surprised, on entering the kitchen, to find Sherlock and Gabe already there, mugs of tea and plates of eggs in front of them (Gabe’s mostly empty, Sherlock’s mostly full). Gabe looked up and gave John a strained smile.

“I made breakfast,” the agent said. “There’s some left in the pan for you, and the kettle’s still hot. Figured we might as well stock up before we head out.” Sherlock groaned, pushed his plate aside, and dropped his head onto the table with a dramatic sigh. Gabe gave a sigh of his own, and pointed at Sherlock’s plate. “You can probably have his, as well.”

“Ta,” John said, and set about putting together his own breakfast. While he worked, he observed Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. Gabe noticed the look, and spoke as if John had already asked a question.

“He’s OK,” he said, and Sherlock didn’t contradict him. “Cramping’s gone, and the nausea, mostly. Headache’s still an issue, but likely to be that way for a while, from what he says.”

“Twelve more hours, if past history is any indication,” Sherlock said from the cradle of his arm on the tabletop.

“Eat your eggs, and I’ll give you something for it,” John said coaxingly, and the detective groaned, sat up and picked up his fork.

Gabe, with a studied air of nonchalance, stood and began washing up his own plate. “We spoke with Dr. A earlier,” he said. “Sherlock’s going to spend two or three days at Sevenoaks, make a start on some new meds.”

John managed to suppress his astonishment, just. “Oh, really?” he said, trying to sound as if such things happened every day. Sherlock gave another gusty sigh to let him know just how successful he’d been.

“It’s pragmatic,” he said dourly. “If medication will prevent me from…prevent this, again, so be it.” His brows swooped aggressively together. “But only for a short time, until things…until it’s better.”

Gabe picked up the conversational reins at that point. “You can come with, if you’d like,” he said. “Don’t know when your next scheduled session might be, but the doc asked about you--said to feel free, and he can kill two birds with one stone.”

John was swept by a wave of gratitude towards the big man. This could have been a terribly uncomfortable morning, with Gabe bristling with resentment over John’s, well, dickishness the previous evening. Instead, Gabe was offering a largish olive branch, one John was pleased to accept.

 

 

 

 

Twenty minutes later they were on their way. John had left a note for the elder Holmeses, letting them know where he’d be, and Gabe had texted Anthea, so John was secure in the knowledge that Rosie would be safe and happy.

It wasn’t a long trip to Sevenoaks—only about half an hour—so John lost no time in introducing the topic of conversation he’d been mulling since last night.

“Sherlock,” he began, stealing a glance at his friend, “do you remember much about last night?”

Sherlock flinched minutely. “Not…I don’t recall much,” he said, suddenly finding his phone very interesting.

“I think you remember enough,” John said gently. “I think you remember me being horrible to you. Again.”

“Appropriately enough, I presume,” Sherlock said, falling into the formality he often used when faced with emotionally-charged moments.

John was aware of Gabe listening closely, but not interjecting himself into the conversation. Gratefully aware.

“No,” John said. “It wasn’t appropriate. And I’m not going to try and apologize again—I know how you feel about that. But I want you to know that I thought about this all night, trying to figure out why I reacted the way I did, when I could clearly see you were in trouble. When I knew, when anyone with eyes and ears would know, that you didn’t do this on a lark.”

“No,” Sherlock said, very softly. “Not a lark.” He was looking out the window now, not ready to make eye contact but willing to listen.

“So I went through some of the exercises Dr. A had given me, and had a long, hard think as well. And, well, I suddenly remembered something. And I realized that I was, basically, being my dad. Because I had heard him talk about addicts, back in the day,” John continued. “You know my dad was a drunk, right?”

Sherlock nodded, but said nothing.

“He was a mean drunk. Think I told you that, too,” John said. “He’d say awful things, call my mum and Harry terrible names, fall over in the lounge and break up my mum’s things—he even pissed out the kitchen window one morning. But God forbid anyone call him an alcoholic. He just ‘liked a drink’, and as long as he was paying the bills, he could bloody well ‘like a drink’ whenever he damn well pleased. Which, in general, was about 40% of the time. The ‘paying the bills’ part, that is—the drinking went on, regardless.”

“He didn’t have much cop for anyone who didn’t meet his standards—white, working-class males, generally, were OK, but anyone else was suspect. I got into fights a lot as a kid—small, mouthy, had a chip on my shoulder the size of a barge pole—and he was proud of that,” John went on. “He was over the moon when I talked about the Army, but made it pretty clear that my going to university first and going in as an officer was, well, puffing myself up, putting on airs. But his greatest contempt, his greatest spite, he reserved for drug addicts. Said they should all be left to die in their own vomit, basically—‘do the world a favour’, he used to say. ‘Shoving my tax dollars into their fucking arms or up their nose’, as if he ever paid taxes to begin with.”

John saw Sherlock curling in on himself, cursed, and reached up to touch his friend’s shoulder. “No, it’s—you’re missing the point, Sherlock. That’s what he believed, not me. Never me. I knew, know, better. And what really kills me here is that I used that bastard’s ugly thoughts as a bludgeon against you, Sherlock. Just opened my mouth and let all that bile spill out. And the worst part is, I hated him. Still hate him. But apparently I’m still giving him space in my subconscious. And that is going to stop, if I have to authorize Dr. A to go in with steel wool and scrub out the inside of my skull. May take me a bit of time, so I’ll ask your indulgence for that in advance. But I’d like to do something, in the meantime: I’d like to come up with something—a word, a phrase—that I want you to use whenever you feel like I’m doing that, being my dad, going over the line in any way. Something you can say that’s memorable enough that I’ll stop, or at least try to. You use it, without fail. Can you do that for me, Sherlock?”

And John was rewarded by a tiny, hesitant nod. Wary, but willing to meet him halfway. He started to thank Sherlock, when—

“Twat,” Gabe said suddenly from the front seat. “Use ‘twat’.”

Sherlock blinked; John found himself laughing. “Think that might be a little too—”

“No, it’s perfect,” Gabe interrupted again. “It’s descriptive, it’s accurate, and it’s something Sherlock never says on his own under other circumstances.” He gave Sherlock a sideways look. “Doesn’t soil his lips with profanity, our posh boy.” He waggled his eyebrows, and was rewarded with Sherlock’s raised middle finger. “Well, not verbally, anyway.”

And the hell of it was, he was right. “All right, then,” John chuckled, as Sherlock rolled his eyes. “’Twat’ it is.”

 

 

 

 

Gabe dropped them off at the front entrance, handing Sherlock’s overnight bag to John. “Gotta get back to real life,” he said. “But we have a date for your ritual arse-kicking on Thursday, Watson.” He looked over at Sherlock, standing awkwardly, anxiously, by the doors. “Bring that one along, if he’s out by that time.” He drove off with a theatrical squeal of tires and a Bond-ian wave.

John walked a silent Sherlock down remembered corridors to the locked psychiatric unit. Once they’d identified themselves, a buzzer hummed and the door opened to reveal a familiar face—Sherlock’s one-time nurse, Brian.

Brian gave the two of them a warm smile. “Good to see you, gents. Step on in. We have to go through the formalities—you both know the drill—but after that, we can get you settled in, Sherlock. I’ll do intake, and then Dr. Arquette will be along later.” He looked at John. “He mentioned he could have your session while Sherlock gets checked in, if you liked.”

In short order, Sherlock and John had both gone through a thorough, if intrusive, physical search, and John had handed Sherlock’s bag off to Brian for review as well. Sherlock watched it go, then reached into his coat pocket to hand his phone off to John. Brian stopped him.

“No, you can keep it, unless it becomes a problem,” he said. “Your notes say this isn’t a critical admission, and patients can usually keep one item like that—a phone or a laptop, usually. No outgoing calls, though—you’ll have to use it in the day room only, and leave it with me otherwise. We’ll check it in when we get inside.” Sherlock gave him a grateful look and stuck the phone back in his pocket with a wan smile.

All too soon, it was time for Sherlock to leave. The detective looked unhappy but resigned. “I’ll stop by before I leave,” John said, rubbing a hand across his friend’s slumping shoulders. “If I can’t see you then, I’ll try to give you a call when I get home.” He raised his eyebrows inquiringly at Brian, and got a confirming nod.

“As long as you route it through me,” the nurse said, and pulled a card out of his pocket. “Just call this number and I’ll transfer it.”

Then Sherlock and Brian headed off towards the nursing desk, and John went back through the security doors to head to Dr. A’s Sevenoaks office in the main hospital area.

 

 

 

The psychiatrist rolled into the lobby area of the office shortly after John got there. “Sherlock get checked in OK?” he asked, as he reached to shake John’s hand.

“Yeah,” John said. “I stayed with him until they took him for intake.”

“And he was OK with that?” the doctor asked. “He told me…he said there were some harsh words yesterday evening.”

John felt his face flush. “I…yeah. We, um, spoke about it this morning. Cleared the air. But I did a lot of thinking last night, and that helped.”

“Yes?” Dr. A said.

John nodded. “Leads right into part of what I want to talk about today,” he said. “I mean, I know you probably have some things you’d like to do, but this is really important to me.”

Dr. A shook his head. “No, no—if this is on your mind, and it’s relevant to your current issues, by all means, we can lead with that. What is it?”

John looked him right in the eye. “I want to kill my father. Well, figuratively speaking. I want to uproot every poisonous bit of that old bastard that’s floating around my subconscious, and wash it with bleach. Or a blowtorch. I’m not particular. Because I am done with him having any room in my head, in dictating who I am, how I act. I thought I’d already done all that, but I was wrong. So now I want to do it right, once and for all. Can we do that? Or at least make a start towards it?” He realized his hands were shaking, and shoved them in his pockets.

“We can certainly try,” the therapist said, and ushered John into the inner office.

Chapter Text

The session was…horrible. Exhausting. And, in the end, a little enlightening, if cementing the realization that his father was an emotionally stunted, perpetually angry man whose poisonous legacy had haunted John’s adult life could be considered “enlightening”. Maybe “endarkening?” Was that a word? He’d have to ask Sherlock.

Dr. A began by having John run through a summary of life with his father, beginning with a description of his father’s education and background, the dynamics of his parents’ marriage, and his father’s parenting style.

“Authoritarian. Verbally abusive. Emotionally distant, except when he was screaming at us, or my mum. Don’t think I ever saw him exhibit tenderness in his life. Had a sense of humour, but it was a mean one—nasty little sarcastic remarks, teasing, that kind of thing.” He paused, remembering, before sighing and continuing. “I mean, I’m sure he loved us. Was just shite at letting us know it,” John said.

“Why?” the therapist asked.

“”Why’, what?” John said with a blink.

“Why are you sure he loved you?” Dr. A said. “Because ‘every parent loves their children’? Or because you had any proof, of any kind, that it was so?”

And John found himself stopping, and thinking, and stopping again. Finally—“The first one. I think,” he said slowly.

“And do you think all parents love their children?” the psychiatrist continued. “Really love them, care for their needs above their own, do uncomfortable, even painful things, if it’s what their child needs?”

“I…I guess I never really thought of it in those terms,” John said. “I mean, no, based on some people I’ve met, cases Sherlock and I have worked on, I’d have to say ‘no’. But that doesn’t mean—I mean, just because my dad never said he loved us isn’t—”

“Do you believe that Sherlock is truly capable of love?” Dr. A said. “Some people have argued that those on the Spectrum have limited capabilities in that area. I disagree, of course, but it’s a well-known argument.”

“Of course he is,” John said, with no hesitation.

“But does he do the conventional things you mentioned that indicate ‘love’? Does he tell you, or any of the people around him, that he loves them?” the doctor continued.

“Well, he has,” John said, remembering his wedding reception with a flash of pain. “But, no, not typically.”

“Then how do you know he is capable? That he loves the people he cares for, or seems to care for?” the therapist said.

“By his actions,” John said. “By the way he’s prepared to do whatever is necessary for them. For the way he cares for Rosie, sings to her, buys her things, walks the floor with her even when she’s being a little pill and screaming for hours. By his tolerance for things that drive him nuts in strangers, but willingly endures for the ones he loves.”

“Mm, I see,” Dr. A said. “And, by the by, I agree completely. But that begs the question—if you know, without question, that Sherlock loves you and his family and friends—do you ‘know’ that your father did the same?”

John found himself blinking again, mouth open. “I, um…I just assumed,” he said slowly. “Since he stayed with Mum, and took care of us. That’s what he always said, anyway.” He’d nearly forgotten that—

Harriet Jane Watson. Sit your arse down. I house you, keep you in those overpriced biscuits you like and buy your slutty clothes. So, by God, you will do what I say, you little shit!

“But I have to ask,” Dr. A said, “was that about love? Or was that about control?”

And John couldn’t really answer that. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to believe that his father was incapable of love, or that he was capable, but chose to withhold it. Or, perhaps worst of all, that John and Harry hadn’t been worthy of love.

Dr. A, judging John’s silence, picked up the conversation again. “Understand that there are no hard and fast answers here. I doubt your father ever had any kind of professional assessment done. But from what you’ve told me, he was at best indifferent, and at worst abusive. The point of this conversation is not to make you doubt that one of your parents loved you, if in fact you believe that to be true. But, given your history, I want you to consider this: if you do believe your father loved you and your sister, does that make the way he treated you better, or worse? Or have you found yourself making excuses for your father’s behaviour because he must have loved you—that is, you feel obligated to believe that? In some cases, patients find it easier to detach themselves from a parent’s poisonous influence if love, or the lack thereof, is taken out of the equation. It’s not something you need to decide on the spot. But it’s one more thing for you to consider, in working through these issues.”

John let out a small, whistling breath. “You really take no prisoners, do you?” he said.

‘Neither of us has the leisure to do otherwise,” the therapist said. “If your intent is to truly uproot your father’s influence in your life, we need to take a long, hard look at exactly what that influence was, and how it was demonstrated to you, your mother, your sister.” He paused before continuing. “If this makes you too uncomfortable, John, we can take another approach. But this seemed reasonable, based on your narrative of your relationship with your father and your description of him.”

“Fair enough,” John said. “I may…if you think it’s advisable, I may want to speak with my sister about this. See if her take is the same as mine. She often got a heavier hand than I did, at least verbally, especially once she came out. Dad kicked her out—threw her things out on the front porch. Sixteen years old. She was lucky she had someplace to go.”

“Where was that?” Dr. A said.

“Our grandmother,” John said. “Mum’s mother. She was Scots—lived just over the border from Carlisle—Harry was lucky she had enough money for the bus fare. We didn’t see her that often, but she was—I guess the best word would be ‘safe’. Harry lived with Nan for more than a year, until she went off to uni. Nan kept her off the bottle for most of that time, too.” He paused, remembering. “I’d forgotten how much I wanted to go with her,” he said slowly. “Isn’t that strange?”

“Not that strange,” the therapist said. “It sounds like a very stressful time. Over the years, we tend to suppress some of the details from events like that, only to recall them once we examine those memories with intent.”

“Yeah, it was…let’s go with ‘stressful’,” John said with a wry grin. “Mum and I weren’t allowed to mention Harry’s name, though that didn’t stop Dad from coming up with a wide variety of creative nicknames on his own. I guess that’s one reason I was so interested when I heard about the Army’s programs for medical students. Something that would let me do what I wanted to do—travel, and help people--while simultaneously getting me as far away from my father as possible. I signed up the day I turned seventeen—earliest they’d allow it without a parent’s consent. Didn’t go on active duty until I finished school, but it made me officially part of the service. Ironically enough, it turned out to be one of the only things I ever did that met with his approval. Even if I did end up an officer. A ‘posh boy’. As if that was all it took.”

He realized something, and laughed. “I can’t imagine what my dad would have thought of our real posh boy. Though, come to think of it, it would be satisfying to watch. Sherlock would rip him into tiny, bleeding shreds, figuratively speaking, without ever working up a sweat.” He grinned. “I’d enjoy that.”

Dr. A grinned in return. “He does carry a certain entertainment value, our Sherlock,” he said. “Speaking of—how are you feeling about him being back here?”

“About how he does, I expect,” John said. “Sad. A little depressed. But, um, a bit hopeful as well, now that I think of it,” he continued. “I mean, for him to suggest this on his own…”

The therapist nodded. “Certainly a positive step. I did have to do a bit of persuasion for him to physically return here, but the idea of medication was his. I just wish I could convince him to continue on a maintenance dosage, once the current issues are dealt with. He’s very likely had mood disorders for most of his life—they’re not going away on their own, and I hate to see him continue to struggle without trying to help.”

“I can’t see him ever agreeing to that,” John said. “We’ve had conversations about it several times—he just sees it as something where the side effects are worse than the problems they’re designed to solve. Says they make him slow and anorexic. And I have to admit, it was a struggle to get him to eat when he was on them. More so than normal, I mean.”

Dr. A shook his head. “I’m aware, and it’s a special concern right now when his weight is on the low end for him already,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to try some new formulations this time around, and add something to stimulate his appetite if necessary. And I would hope you would be able to provide moral support to encourage him to continue.”

John nodded. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll see if I can enlist a few other folks as well.”

The psychiatrist gave him a considering look. “And, if you and I agree that you should try medication yourself—which I’m not yet suggesting, by the by—would you be comfortable telling him?”

John, caught off-guard, found himself glaring at Dr. A, while the therapist waited patiently. Finally, though, John yielded. “Yeah,” he said gruffly. “If I have to.” He paused, thinking about that. “And I have no idea why that’s so bloody hard. Really don’t.”

Dr. A gave a rueful chuckle. “That’s less a ‘John Watson’ issue, than it is a ‘adult-male-former-soldier’ one,” he said. “We’re supposed to be the strong ones. And, for whatever reason, society decided at some point that taking medication made you somehow less strong. Stupid, and self-defeating.”

“Amen to that,” John sighed.

They spent another forty minutes, ranging over a batch of memories that John hadn’t consciously thought about in years—interactions with Harry, the brief (happy) period when John and Harry were eight that saw them spend two months with their grandmother while their mother was hospitalized, John’s final visit home before his departure for basic training, when his mother wailed and his father threatened to slap her until she stopped. By the end of the session, John was exhausted but curiously lighter—as if an old injury had been cauterized, left still painful but now able to heal.

Dr. A’s parting comment summed it up. “Your progress is good, John. But try not to expect instant results, a quick resolution. These issues have been there for the better part of forty years, in some cases—we don’t want to slap another plaster on, we want to heal the damage. So remind yourself, as often as necessary—it’s a process, not an event.”

 

 

 

By the time the session had ended and John had made his way back to the locked unit, it was almost lunchtime. John rang the buzzer, announced himself, and was pleased when Brian came to let him in.

“He’s at PT right now,” the nurse said. “Probably be another twenty minutes or so, then he meets with his doctor. So it might be best if you call him later, rather than waiting. He has a block of free time beginning at three—I can tell him, if you want to set it up now. Might give him something to look forward to.”

Something in Brian’s voice gave John pause. “Um…would that be a good thing, then? Having something to look forward to?”

The nurse nodded. “Yeah. He’s not doing especially well right now, as far as I can tell,” he said. “Really quiet, seems depressed. Partly a hangover from the drug, most likely—ketamine is known for that, and he’s still complaining of the headache. But, all in all, it’s good he’s here, so we can get a start on making things better.”

John had known that, of course. But it made it more poignant to hear a third party describe his friend’s pain—especially when John had been so dismissive of it last night.

“If you think it would be better, I’d be happy to wait,” John said, wracking his brain for something else he could offer. “Have a late lunch with him. I’ve got nowhere else I have to be right now.”

“Ah, well, probably not,” Brian said, shaking his head. “You know the drill by now—once they start on new medication, the doc prefers to have a ‘breathing spell’ from outside influences, to let things settle. Sherlock had his first dose once we got him checked in. A quick stop, if he’d been available right now, would be fine, but a longer visit, probably not. Even the phone call will be limited to ten minutes, actually. Sorry.”

John sighed. “Yeah, that’s fine—I remember. I just want him to know I tried, yeah? And that I’ll call at 3?”

The nurse smiled. “Got it. I’ll have him primed and ready.”

 

 

 

 

John was surprised, but not shocked, to see a sleek black car waiting out front as he exited the facility. A driver he wasn’t familiar with looked up at his approach and hailed him by name, saving him the bother of having to ring a taxi service.

They reached the house at just before 1, and John was pleased to see everyone had returned, but not as pleased as Rosie was to see him. As soon as he entered the back garden, the baby let out an excited squeal from her place on Anthea’s hip and tried to launch herself through space to reach him.

“We’ve been looking at the flowers,” Anthea chuckled, as she wrestled the wriggling infant under control before handing her over. “It goes fine, as long as you don’t let her actually touch anything.”

“Oh, yeah, should have warned you about that,” John said, giving Rosie a hug and tickle as she shrieked with laughter. “She’s faster than any paper shredder you ever saw. Mellie was horrified the first time Ro got near the tulips.”

When they entered the house, John saw the lunch clearup was still underway.

“Are you hungry, John?” Mellie asked, as she paused in returning cold cuts to the fridge. “We have a bit of everything for sandwiches, if you’re interested.”

John shook his head. “No, I got something at the hospital. Probably not as good, but it was filling, anyway.” He smiled, and leaned over as Rosie insisted on giving Mellie a kiss.

Siger, still seated at the table, gave John a significant look. “How was the trip?” the older man asked. John knew, though, that rather more was included in the question.

“Not too bad,” he said. “I stayed with Sherlock until he got checked in. He’s a bit down today, but that’s to be expected.” He carefully didn’t mention how miserable the detective had been last night, but Mellie apparently read his hesitation from his shoes or something similar.

“Better than last evening, at least?” she said. “Gabe told Anthea he was quite ill.”

John felt his face flush. “Yeah, much better on that front. Headache, but that’s about it.” He paused, then continued. “I’m…he and I are supposed to speak at 3, when he’s finished with sessions for a while. Anything you’d like to pass on?”

Siger gave a wry grin. “He’s heard most of it before, I’m afraid, and finds it embarassing to discuss—parents loving their children, and all that. But do tell him we’re proud of him for asking for help, would you? And that we’d be happy if he could call at some point, but not to distress himself if it’s too difficult?”

John suddenly found himself struck with emotion, throat tight. It was impossible not to contrast these two warm, concerned people with his own family. Someday soon, he vowed, he was going to try and make Sherlock understand how very lucky he was to have them, even if he did find them embarassing.

“Yeah,” he finally managed. “I’ll tell him.” And then forestalled any more further conversation by whisking Rosie off for a nappy and a long walk.

Chapter Text

Being out in the fresh air with Rosie did much to restore John’s somewhat-battered spirits. The baby took such joy in everything she saw and touched, and it was infectious. By the time he got back to the house and saw her tucked in for her afternoon nap, he was content, bordering on hopeful.

He went to his bedroom to call Sherlock; for both their sakes, privacy seemed a good idea. He rang through to Sherlock’s phone and was gratified when it was answered immediately by Brian.

“Good afternoon, Doc,” the nurse said cheerfully. “He’ll be here momentarily; just stopped in his room to drop off some books.”

“How’s he been?” John asked.

“Not too bad,” Brian said. “Still kinda flat, but that’s to be expected. It’ll take a while for the meds to kick in. But he’s participating, so I’ll take it.”

“You’ll know he’s feeling better once he starts whinging,” John said with a chuckle. “You may recall that.”

Brian laughed, but stopped abruptly. “Oh, here he is,” he said, and John could hear Sherlock rumble something indistinctly in the background.

“John?” Sherlock’s deep voice suddenly said.

“Yeah, Sherlock,” John said. “How are things going? Brian said you’d been busy, and they’d started your meds this morning. So how do you feel?”

“Tired. Nauseous,” Sherlock said. “But I expected that.” He sounded it, his voice dispirited and slow.

“Did you tell anyone about the nausea?” John said. “Dr. A said he had some ideas about that.”

“Not yet,” Sherlock said. “It’s not insupportable so far.” His tone sounded more like “not yet, and I don’t plan on doing so.”

“Let me handle that for you, then,” John said easily, knowing that it otherwise likely wouldn’t happen. “Don’t want you going off your feed again. You already have some ground you need to make up, you know, after the past few weeks.” Because it was very true—one of Sherlock’s first reactions to stress was always a near-complete lack of appetite. Between that and his surgery, the detective had likely lost at least 10 pounds in the past month, and it showed.

“You and your obsession with my weight,” Sherlock grumbled.

“Indulge me,” John said, hoping his friend could hear the smile in his voice, and was rewarded by a sigh that he chose to read as consent.

“Your parents wanted me to let you know they’re proud of you for deciding to go,” John said into the silence. “And that they’d be pleased if you’d call, but not to worry about it if it bothers you.”

More silence from the other end of the phone. John took a guess at its source. “They mean it, you know,” he said gently. “They’d like to hear from you, but won’t be upset if they don’t. I can tell them you’re not quite up to it yet.”

“I…yes,” Sherlock said finally, quietly. “That would…yes.”

John, sensing that his friend wasn’t currently equipped to handle social conversation, picked up the reins again. “I’m planning on heading into town tomorrow on my way to my session, to check in with Mrs. H and make sure everything’s OK at my place,” he said. “Have you discovered anything you’d forgotten that I can drop off on the way? I know they won’t allow visitors, but deliveries are presumably OK.”

Sherlock rallied a bit. “I’d like my violin, but with my hand as it is there’s no point,” he said, with a theatrical sigh. “My therapist says I can begin strengthening exercises to aid my bowing next week, but in the meantime I can play only in my head.” He paused before continuing. “Perhaps…you could call tomorrow afternoon? Mornings are quite busy, but this time of day is unstructured, generally.”

John felt a wave of warmth roll through him. “Yeah, of course I can,” he said firmly. “And I’ll let Dr. A know about the nausea as well, so hopefully you’ll feel a little better by then.” He shot off a quick text as they spoke.

They hung up shortly thereafter; given Sherlock’s discomfort with holding up his end of the conversation, it was unfair of John to try to prolong it, however much he wished they could continue (and, to be truthful, wished they could return to the kind of conversations they used to have—long, rambling, often wandering off on entertaining tangents).

He shook his head to clear it, and went off in search of Mellie or Siger, to pass on their son’s regrets. Predictably enough, Siger, when he found him, was philosophical, not annoyed.

“I’d rather he focus on himself than on us,” the older man said. “The last thing we want to do right now is cause him distress. He’s safe, and getting help. It’s enough.”

Because, John realized, the elder Holmeses had lived through a long period when they could say neither of those things. As a parent now himself, he had some inkling of how terrifying that had been.

 

 

 

 

It was a quiet evening. Anthea had left while John was gone, and the next carer wasn’t due until early tomorrow, as per Mellie, so it was just the Holmeses, Rosie and John for dinner. While Siger cooked (it was his turn, he said—anything involving lots of prep work fell in Siger’s domain, apparently), Mellie made biscuits while Rosie “helped”, joyfully squeezing bits of dough between her fingers.

The meal was delicious—chicken cordon bleu, something Siger claimed he only “halfway” knew how to make. “If that’s ‘halfway’, Siger, you need to open your own restaurant,” John said. “Cozy little bistro somewhere—serve tiny little portions and charge the Earth for it.”

Siger blushed just like Sherlock, and it was every bit as charming to see. “Well,” he said modestly, “Mycroft has tried to convince me to do so once or twice. But I’m enjoying my retirement too much, and travelling as we like to do would be impossible. Maybe Myc will, when he retires.”

“That boy will die at his desk,” Mellie sniffed. “Ninety years old, and still terrifying half the world.” It was said with wry amusement. Based on things Sherlock had let slip, though, John rather suspected that Mellie, too, was far from truly “retired”—he knew of at least two instances in which Mycroft had consulted with his mother on a cypher issue, and of course Siger had just returned from his own “consulting” trip. Someday, if he got to know him well enough, John was going to work up the courage to ask Siger what, exactly, he actually did, beyond diplomacy.

After dinner, Mellie left for a church planning meeting, so John and Siger settled in at chess once the baby was in bed. Sherlock, in his long convalescence, had spent many hours teaching John to play. John’s skills had improved to the point where he never beat his friend, but had managed a draw or two (though he accused Sherlock of throwing the games, and still wasn’t convinced he hadn’t). Siger poured glasses of brandy for each of them, after checking with John for approval.

After an hour of play, John remembered something with a bit of a start. “I’m going to need to quit now, Siger,” he said apologetically. “I just remembered, I have ‘homework’ I need to complete before my session tomorrow afternoon. Need to have a chat with my sister.”

Siger waved his hand airily, just like his sons both did on occasion. “Don’t worry about it,” he said cheerfully. “Mellie will be home soon anyway, and we need to practice. We have a dance competition coming up in a month, and all of this recent activity has put us a little behind in our schedule.” He twitched his eyebrows playfully. “Mellie loves it when we take home trophies, you know, but she gets quite stroppy if we lose.”

“So that’s where Sherlock gets it!” John said with a laugh, and Siger joined him.

 

 

 

 

John paused on his way to his room and poured himself another glass of brandy. This was the type of phone call that he needed a little fortification for.

He couldn’t decide if he was pleased or dismayed when Harry answered on the first ring.

“Hey, Johnny,” she said, “how’s it hangin’? Austin hasn’t killed you yet?” She sounded sober, and cheerful, and, astonishingly, happy to hear from him.

“Yeah, Hare, I’m fine,” he said. “Well, relatively speaking, of course.”

He heard a quick intake of breath from his sister. “You…is something wrong, then?”

“No, no,” John said. “Just a little tired. We, um, we checked Sherlock back into hospital this morning, is all. He’s OK, but he, well, he needs a little help. With medication,” he stammered, and then wondered why he was struggling to say this, as if it was some shameful secret.

“Oh. I’m sorry,” she said, and John could tell that she meant it. “Tell him I’ll be thinking of him, yeah?”

“Yeah, I will,” John said. “Hopefully he’ll be home in two or three days.”

“Oh, good,” she said. “Then I can check him out for myself. I’m heading back over there tomorrow afternoon to child-mind again. Looking forward to it, actually,” she said.

“Well, Rosie will be pleased,” John said. “You’re one of her favourites, you know.”

John could hear Harry’s smile in her voice. “Everyone’s her favourite, John,” she said, but he could tell how pleased she was. “I…you know, I wanted kids,” she said suddenly, her voice now much less carefree than before. “With Clara. It’s just as well it never happened. But. Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, Hare,” John said quietly. “You still could, you know.”

“No,” Harry said, with a bit of a warble to her tone. “They checked. Between my age and the drinking—system’s likely not up to it anymore.” She took a deep breath. “But that just means I need to be the best damn aunt ever. So there.” There was a great deal of determination behind that declaration, and John wasn’t inclined to argue.

“You already are,” he said. “Best one she’ll ever have.”

Harry laughed. “Only one she’ll ever have, you tit.” And, just like that, the air between them lightened again, to the point where John hesitated to bring up the things he’d planned to talk about.

Harry, though, who knew him very well indeed, read something through the ether. “So what did you actually call about?” she said. “I know very well it had nothing to do with my auntieness.”

John gave a wry chuckle. “Not sure that’s a real word. But, yeah, you’re right. I actually, well, I wanted to talk about Dad a bit.”

Jesus, John,” Harry gasped. “Why, in God’s name, would you want to do that?”

“Because I, um, I had a long talk this morning with my therapist about it,” John said. “And he asked me some questions, well, one big question, actually, that I wasn’t sure how to answer. Wasn’t sure what I thought about it, honestly. But, the more I considered it, the more I wanted to get your take, because you had it harder than I did, I think.”

Harry made a rude noise. “We all had it hard, John,” she said. “Just because I got called more names than you did—at least I didn’t have to constantly deal with trying to meet the old bastard’s expectations, you know? All in all, I think we’re even.”

“Well, maybe,” John said. Something else he’d have to think about. He took a big sip of his brandy before continuing. “So, here’s the thing. Do you think he loved us? You and me, I mean?”

“I don’t think he understood the word,” Harry said flatly. “I’m surprised it took you that long to figure it out, though. You really did have a crap therapist, didn’t you?”

John was suddenly aware his mouth was hanging open a bit. “You—I mean—what do you mean?” he finally managed.

“He was a sociopath,” Harry said bluntly. “A real one, which is what made it so obvious that Sherlock never was. Practically textbook, in fact: narcissistic; controlling; charming in public, lethal in private. The alcoholism was just a sidebar of the bigger picture.” She paused, then continued with a  wry laugh. “He was the star of my rehab program, you know.”

“But, I mean,” John stammered, “how did that make you feel? Realizing he didn’t give a shit about us?”

“Bad, at first. Angry,” Harry admitted. “But then, the more I thought about it, the more I was honest with myself—they’re big on that in rehab, you know? Honesty—the more I realized that what I really felt was relief.”

John must have made an inquisitive noise, because Harry responded to a question he hadn’t voiced.

“I was relieved, because I no longer had the responsibility to feel bad about not loving him,” she said. “Of course, first I had to admit, out loud, that I didn’t—harder than you’d think, that. We’re so conditioned to feel we ‘must’ love our parents, just as they ‘must’ love us. But once I got to that point, admitted that I really, really hated him, for good and sufficient reason, and that he deserved it, it was a relatively easy step to admit that he likely felt the same way, if he ever thought about it one way or the other. Or, if he didn’t hate us, he certainly didn’t love us, and wasn’t at all concerned about that. At best, we were possessions; at worst, we were hindrances. Either way, not love, and not anything I’m going to let myself continue to obsess about.”

They were both silent after that—one minute, two. Finally Harry spoke again.

“Does that help, Johnny?” she asked, in a subdued voice. “It helped me, but you may not—”

“No,” John said. “It does. It really does. It’s just a lot to take in, all at once.” He paused before going on. “But thank you, Hare. I’m, I’m really glad you told me. And I’m really glad you’re doing so well.” He found himself, abruptly, completely unable to continue.

“Aw, John,” Harry said softly, once again picking up on his mood. “Thank you, sweet.” She paused, before pulling her typical background snark once more firmly in place. “But if I’m so good, it must be your turn to pull your head out of your arse now, isn’t it?”

John laughed, just as she intended. “Guess so,” he said. “Sounds like we have the makings of a family motto there, you know? ‘Head out of arse.’ Maybe it would sound better in Latin, though.”

 Harry said goodbye, still laughing. And John put away the phone, went and poured himself another glass of brandy, and wandered thankfully off to bed.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Siger insisted on driving John into the city, though John would take his own car (well, Mary's) back. “I don’t get to use the car all that much,” the older man said. “And I’ve not been to Chiswick in years, so taking you by your place will be a novel drive.” He beamed, and John didn’t have the heart to disagree. John now knew why Sherlock had once mentioned how much he dreaded having to argue with his father—Mellie was a stone wall to throw himself against and sometimes (rarely) overcome, but Siger was a moving stream, adjusting to each objection calmly and, almost always, prevailing.

Sherlock wasn’t with them, but his presence was very much felt nonetheless. “I hope we can bring Sherlock home in a day or two,” Siger sighed, as they passed the turning that would have taken them to Sevenoaks. “I know it’s the best place for him to be, but…” His voice trailed off into silence.

“Yeah,” John said softly, “I hate it as well. Since I have to consider that at least part of this is my fault.”

Siger’s head snapped over, a concerned frown on his face. “No, it’s not,” he said. “I’ve seen the video, you know,” he continued, as John raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Made Myc show me, though not Mellie. And it was very clear you were in a trance. Not your fault,” he concluded firmly.

“Well, no, I didn’t actually mean his hand,” John said. “I meant, the, well, the depression. His doctor told me he was struggling with all of this, and I still managed to be a dick to him when…the other night.” John wasn’t sure how much Siger knew about that, but wasn’t going to lie about it. It seemed like an equitable payback from the way he’d treated the man’s son.

Siger shook his head. “No, that’s not your fault either, except for your lapse in patience, which is unfortunate but not unforgivable,” he said. “It’s biochemistry, and Sherlock’s bad luck in that particular draw—one of the things that sometimes goes along with being on the Spectrum. It can’t come as a shock to you that he’s had episodes of severe depression since his teens, and the course of his life since then hasn’t helped. And yes, he’s found events recently very stressful, especially the necessity for pain medication after his injury, and then the lack of it. But you didn’t cause this—if anything, his sister bears the blame. He’s been teetering for several months now, trying to hold things together, to not fall back into his habit. But self-medicating has an irresistible allure sometimes. All we can do is help him through it, and hope for the best.” He paused before continuing, in a slightly diffident tone. “For what it’s worth, John, that’s something therapy helped us with, back in the day: recognizing what we could and couldn’t control. It’s a valuable lesson, but not a terribly pleasant one.”

John gave a rueful chuckle. “In my experience, you can say that about virtually everything you learn in therapy. Double-edged swords, every bit of it.”

Siger just smiled.

 

 

 

 

They reached Chiswick by 10, and Siger let John out, waved and said goodbye. As John was walking up to the door, though, he realized something: not once had he thought of this place as “home”. It wasn’t; whatever peculiar alchemy designated a place as “home” had somehow never extended to this building. It was pleasant; it was reasonably comfortable, reasonably convenient—and it was a building, just like millions of others. Not home.

When he entered, he noticed the flat had that slightly musty smell of abandoned places, which gave his heart a bit of a wrench; there were some happy memories here, after all, though not as many as might ordinarily derive from a superficial description of the inhabitants. But he couldn’t deceive himself: even at their best, he, Mary and Rosie had never fit into the “young family, suburban home, upwardly mobile” niche. Too much pain, too much deceit and/or self-delusion on both sides of the equation.

He needed to sell it. Hadn’t really thought about it before; too many other concerns rattling around in his head. But, as both Ella and Dr. A had pointed out to him at some point, his instinct to isolate himself when distressed did neither him nor his daughter any favours. This distant suburb separated them from everyone, and everything, John held dear. And he was done with doing the expected thing—staying here because it had good schools, safe streets, all of that. He did Rosie no good if “all of that” was offset by John being miserable, especially if that misery led him to someday take it out on Rosie. He didn’t think that would happen, but then he hadn’t thought, two months ago, that his best friend would be frightened of him, and have good reason to be so.

To be honest, he’d never liked the flat’s décor; when he looked around, all he saw was beige, and taupe, and other shades of no-it’s-not-white-John-it’s-eggshell. It was to Mary’s taste, not his, and he hadn’t cared enough to argue about any of it. Not horrible, not ugly, just a bit too bland and modern for John. He preferred Baker Street’s messy Victorian mishmash of furniture and decorations. But he had to acknowledge that this flat’s lack of personalized style would make it easier to sell. Make an estate agent happy, anyway.

Without letting himself think about it any further, he shot off a text to Mycroft, asking for a vetted list of agents to choose from. Given their recent history, John wasn’t about to give someone who hadn’t been personally blessed by The British Government (or at least Anthea) easy access to his flat and belongings. Once he’d sent the text, the unexpected bloom of accomplishment let him know he’d done the right thing, for a change. He gathered some changes of clothes, a book or two, and an assortment of Rosie’s toys and clothing before closing the front door with a satisfying finality. He piled the bags into the car (something else he should likely sell), semi-abandoned in its rear parking spot, and drove away without a backward look.

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Hudson, as always, was pleased to see him; thrilled, in fact, given that Sherlock’s absence left her very much alone these days. He offered to take her to lunch, but she tutted and dragged him through to her kitchen. “I’ve no one to cook for, John, with everyone gone. This is a treat.” He didn’t have the heart to argue.

Over omelets, fresh fruit and crispy potatoes, Mrs. Hudson systematically pumped John dry of every bit of information he could give.

“So how is Sherlock doing now?” she asked. “His brother let me know Sherlock would be back in hospital for a bit, but wouldn’t tell me anything more. But I rang his mother, and she said it wasn’t his hand, but his, well, mood.” Sadness slid across her face abruptly, but she quickly bundled it away. “He’s getting help,” she said firmly, as if to convince herself. “I know that’s the important thing.”

John reached out and gripped one small, frail hand. “Yeah. That’s it,” he said. “And he’s doing what he needs to do to get better. I’m going to speak to him this afternoon, hopefully--anything you’d like me to say for you?”

She gave a fluttery little laugh. “Oh, well, you know, John,” she said. “He won’t hear anything about love or anything like that. Just tell him I’ve got some ginger nuts waiting for him when he gets back.” And she blinked away the hint of tears, and smiled. “And that I miss him.”

John startled, suddenly thinking of something he’d meant to say. “Oh—that reminds me,” he said. “I’m selling the flat in Chiswick. Hoping to find something close to you, so if you hear of anything local, let me know. Bit of a fixer-upper is fine, and not too big, but a small garden, preferably.”

Mrs. H was thrilled, of course, but John couldn’t miss her searching look. He knew exactly what she was thinking: how could John Watson, retired Army surgeon and fitfully employed GP, afford anything this central? Because the truth was, John Watson couldn’t—but Mary Watson could. And that was another whole can of worms that John had tried not to think about.

Not long after Sherrinford, John had received a phone call from Mycroft one afternoon at the surgery—a request that he come, alone, to the Diogenes during his next work day. The “alone” was emphasized several times. When John arrived, Mycroft pulled out one of his ubiquitous manila folders, dropped it in front of John, and waited. Mystified, and not a little annoyed, John flipped open the file and started glancing through the sheets inside, recognizing bank statements, balance sheets, a host of largely-incomprehensible legal language relating to high finance. Mycroft sat silently and waited.

John closed the folder, looked at Mycroft and raised his eyebrows. “And?” he said. “Someone clearly has a great deal of money. A very great deal. Not sure what this has to do with me, though. Or why you don’t want Sherlock to know about it.”

Mycroft just looked at him, still silent. And waited. John, used to the ways of Holmeses, waited as well—until…

“Mary,” he suddenly realized. “It’s Mary’s money.” He could feel the blood draining from his face, to the point where he felt slightly light-headed.

Mycroft nodded. “And now you see my dilemma. I suspected that you would be of mixed emotions about your inheritance, which is why I have waited so long to present it to you. In part, that was to make sure that none of the funds were illegally obtained. And I didn’t want to deprive you of the choice of whether to tell my brother or not, since I suspected that your answer would depend upon what you decided to do with the money.”

Which was startlingly (and uncharacteristically) considerate of him. Sherrinford had changed Mycroft, in ways that were continuing to become apparent.

In the end, John came to a compromise with his conscience. For himself, he wanted none of it. It was blood money, quite literally. But for Rosie—as Mycroft had pointed out, the money would ensure her education, as well as a sizeable amount for her care in the event something happened to John (and Harry, and the Holmeses, and… John had to stop that thought process at that point, since he couldn’t rule out any of those possibilities).

After thinking about it for several days, John went back to Mycroft and worked out a plan. Mycroft (well, his minions, most likely) would work through Mary’s accounts, as well as records of her employment by the British intelligence services and the CIA. John had no doubt that the bureaucrat had all of that information readily at his fingertips, and had ever since the truth of Sherlock’s injury came to light. Any funds clearly identifiable as coming from either of those sources would be retained, and invested by Mycroft in secure financial setups. The remainder would be donated, anonymously, to a group of charities John hand-selected: an NGO working in Afghanistan to aid orphaned children, a veterans’ organization in the UK providing counseling, housing and job training for returning soldiers, and several large London-area homeless outreach agencies. John never asked how much money was turned over; didn’t want to know. But he did receive the final tally of what was kept, and a short summary of where the funds were invested.

All told, it was a little more than two million pounds. John put the files away, and proceeded to try to never think about it again. But, that afternoon, walking into the flat he had no desire to ever return to, it was the first thing that sprang to mind.

He had examined his conscience on the drive to Baker Street. Would using the money to buy a centrally-located flat be unfair to Rosie, deprive her of money that could (should) be used on public school, or a top-rated university? He debated internally for most of the trip, but came to the conclusion that (1) he couldn’t imagine placing his daughter in boarding school, ever, nor even an elite, and elitist, public day school in London; and (2) there would likely still be ample funds for uni, even after purchasing a flat. And being with her Nana Hudson, and seeing Sherlock regularly, would be the payoff she’d most enjoy anyway.

The biggest roadblock he had to dread was explaining all of that to Mrs. Hudson, and he’d save that for when he actually made the purchase. Sherlock wouldn’t care one way or the other, so long as John was content with his choice.

And, in thinking about it, wasn’t that a kick in the head—to recognize, finally, that all Sherlock wanted was what was best for John. He felt a brief, queasy awareness of that alien presence at that thought—the first time he’d felt it in days—and gave it a quick, vicious mental blast with all of his strength. He was pleased to feel it wither like an unwatered plant.

 

 

 

 

John left for his appointment at Dr. A’s Harley Street office after lunch, leaving the car temporarily parked next to Mrs. Hudson’s Aston Martin in the rear mews. He gave the latter a longing pat on the hood as he left.

When he got to Dr. A’s offices the receptionist was absent, but the psychiatrist called from the back and insisted John come through. When he got there, Dr. A was seated behind his desk, nibbling at a sandwich. John started to retreat, but the therapist waved his hand dismissively, swallowed, and beckoned John to a chair.

“Sit,” he said. “I’m just finishing, and I think we’re past standing on ceremony, don’t you? My receptionist is out for the afternoon, so it’s just us for the time being.” He lifted half the sandwich from the wrappings open in front of him. “Want some? I’ve had plenty.”

John laughed and shook his head. “Nope, I’m good. Just came from lunch with my…our…Sherlock’s landlady,” he said, stammering over his self-corrections.

Dr. A gave him a knowing look. “Oh, please,” he said. “We both know she’s a great deal more than that. Martha Hudson is a force of nature, to hear Sherlock describe her. I’m looking forward to meeting her one day.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you did,” John said. “She has a way of getting what she wants, most of the time.”

“I gather she has basically adopted the two of you,” the therapist said.

“And my daughter,” John said with a smile. “And Sherlock’s parents. And Mycroft, I suppose, though she’s more a strict ‘parent’ than not with him. Won’t tolerate his browbeating Sherlock.” His smile faded. “Though she’s used that on me a bit recently as well,” he continued. “She, um…” his voice trailed off, throat suddenly tight.

“John?” Dr. A said inquiringly. “What did she do?”

“She told me I couldn’t come back, couldn’t be there alone with Sherlock, until I got myself straight. Told me, compared me to her husband. Her abusive husband. Who pulled her down the stairs by her hair and broke her hip.” John was horrified to hear his voice crack on that.

“And was that a fair comparison?” the psychiatrist said, in a scrupulously neutral tone of voice.

“Yeah,” John croaked. “It was.”

“And what did you do?” Dr. A said.

“Told her I’d fix it. Or I’d leave,” John quavered, holding onto his composure by a thread.

“And did you mean it?” the therapist asked.

“Damn straight,” John said, a little damp but determined. “So let’s get back to work, shall we?”

Chapter Text

“I’ve got some good news,” John said as they settled down to their proper session. “I seem to be able to slap my ‘passenger’ into the gutter now. It’s a little hard to describe; I just sort of…push. And it goes away. At least so far.”

Dr. A looked both pleased and impressed. “That’s excellent news, John. Really good,” he said, beaming. “We’ve talked about this before—tactics that work for some people don’t work for all, so it was always going to be a process of trial and error. Good on you for finding something this quickly.”

John found himself beaming right back, before settling back down as another thought hit him. “Now if only I could find something similar that worked on me,” he sighed.

The psychiatrist laughed. “You’re a harder case,” he said. “Longer in residency, and you know where all the good hiding places in your brain are. And, when you come down to it, the point isn’t to get you to leave, now is it?”

“I suppose not,” John said, sighing theatrically. “But there are times it’d be mighty convenient.”

 

 

 

 

They spent the next forty minutes taking a deep dive into John’s interactions with his family, his father—reviewing old hurts, breaking down issues point by point, looking at what John had done versus what he wished he’d done in retrospect, looking at how his actions as an adult had reflected those choices, for better or worse. At the end of it, John held up a hand and waved it weakly. “Truce,” he said. “Think I’ve reached my limit for today.”

“Fair enough,” the psychiatrist chuckled. “But I think we made progress; you seem more able to view the past dispassionately than you were at first. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but you will often make more headway if you can discuss events ‘at one remove’—look at them as if watching film, rather than immersing yourself in what you felt at the time.”

“I guess,” John muttered weakly. ‘Horror films, anyway.”

Dr. A laughed again. “Depends on your point of view, I suppose,” he said. “But the fact that you’ve apparently located your sense of humour is also a good thing, John.”

And John had to admit that that was a pleasant change for him, too.

“Well, I think that will wrap us up for the day,” the therapist said. “I have a session with Sherlock in an hour or so, so I’m heading back to Sevenoaks; anything you’d like me to pass on?”

John thought about that; he knew that asking if Sherlock was feeling better would be self-defeating, given that the detective would feel obligated to say that he was, regardless of the truth. And John really, really hoped that his friend already knew how John felt about Sherlock getting better, anyway.

“Just…oh, I’ll try and call him at 3, yeah? And that I have something a little exciting to talk about.” He gave a wry grin. “And no, it’s not a murder. He’ll probably ask.”

And on that note, John left, laughing.

 

 

 

 

John decided to walk from Dr. A’s Harley Street office to Baker Street to pick up his car; it was only 15 minutes away, and the weather was perfect, sunny and cool. He ambled, intentionally; didn’t want to meet back up with Mrs. H just yet, not while he was still working through his recent session in his head. He rambled down side streets with tiny shops that he and Sherlock had discovered on cases, buying a favorite Vietnamese pastry here, a Viennese coffee there. Then, as 3pm drew near, he took his prizes to Regents Park, sat on his favourite bench near the duck pond, and rang Sherlock’s phone.

Brian answered, and the two chatted briefly before Sherlock picked up. Brian had nothing new to report—he hadn’t spent much time with Sherlock that day, as the detective had been busy with therapy appointments and medication discussions for most of it.

“John?” Sherlock’s deep voice suddenly said. “You’re 10 minutes early.”

“Yeah, I got my errands and session done with, so I walked for a bit and then figured I’d go ahead and try now. You’re free, yeah?” John said.

Sherlock hummed in agreement. “I have a painting class before dinner, but that’s not for an hour,” he said. He sounded, surprisingly, as if he were secretly looking forward to it.

“Painting, huh? Not basket-weaving this time??” John asked with a chuckle.*

“No, my hand’s not up to the challenge, and I won’t be here long enough,” Sherlock said, apparently missing the sarcasm entirely. “But I painted at school, and quite enjoyed it. The instructor is relatively talented.” That was high praise indeed.

“How’s your tum doing?” John asked. “I sent something to Dr. A yesterday, telling him you were having trouble.”

“Somewhat better, with a new medication they added last night,” the detective said cautiously. “I’m not hungry, but at least I’m not nauseous anymore.” He paused, then huffed as if he’d suddenly recalled something. “I’m told you have a surprise for me. Though not, sadly, an interesting murder.” John was glad to hear the humour in his voice—that had gone largely by the wayside in recent weeks.

“Yeah, I, um, decided to put the flat on the market. And probably the car,” John said.

“Oh?” Sherlock said, after a brief pause. “Are you…you’re not planning on leaving London?” he asked, voice suddenly quite small.

“No, no, rather the opposite,” John hurried to say. “Gonna look for something close to Baker Street,” he said. “May have to be something that’s a bit of a project to fix up, but that’s OK. We’ve got some experience with that recently, haven’t we?” Because, yes, the cleanup of Baker Street after Sherrinford had been a largish undertaking, even with the help of any number of friends and Mycroft’s assorted minions.

“Oh,” Sherlock said, clearly pleased. “I will make sure Mycroft knows you’re looking. He knows all the nefarious real estate dealings in this part of the city; it’s a hobby of his. Says one can learn all kinds of things about powerful people by what they do with property.”

“Never thought about it, but it’s probably true,” John said. “Just make sure he knows I’m not looking for anything remotely like his place.”

Sherlock’s delighted laugh was his reward. “No one wants anything remotely like his place,” he said finally. There was some commotion in the background, and conversation paused.

“John…,” Sherlock suddenly began, then trailed off into silence. In the background, John could hear Brian’s voice, and Sherlock’s muffled replies before the detective abruptly returned to the conversation.

“Sorry. I will likely be leaving tomorrow afternoon,” he continued. “If you…I wasn’t sure…perhaps you could pick me up?” he finished in a rush, as if uncertain of his reception. And wasn’t that a kick in the head.

“Yeah, of course, though I’ll have to enlist someone else to ride along. Maybe your dad?” John said, trying to inject as much warmth and reassurance as he could into his voice. “And we can make an outing of it,” he continued. “Gabe and I are going to be sparring again at 5, and he specifically asked if you wanted to come, assuming you were released in time.”

“Oh,” Sherlock said, sounding somewhat pleased. “That might work well. I have a PT session at 3:30, and should be ready to leave by 4:15, if that will suit.”

“Sounds perfect,” John said. “And afterwards maybe dinner with Mrs. H? She’s been missing you, you know. And she mentioned at lunch today that she hadn’t seen Gabe in ages.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said thoughtfully. “I could stand to spend a day or two at Baker Street anyway; maybe you could remove my stitches so I could do some bowing exercises, finally. And I have some long-term experiments that I, well, I don’t think Mrs. Hudson is aware of.”

That raised the hair on the back of John’s neck, honestly, but he managed to not react. “Anything dangerous?” he asked, and was proud of how calm he sounded.

‘No, of course not!” Sherlock said, in a scandalized tone. He paused briefly, then continued somewhat less stridently. “Well, not unless she touched them,” he said. “Or moved them, perhaps.”

John felt a frisson of anger. “How dangerous?” he asked, and heard Sherlock give a jerky huff on the other end of the line.

“It’s…I don’t think…,” the detective trailed off, before giving a dejected little sigh. “Perhaps you could call her this evening and steer her away from the second shelf of the fridge,” he said stiffly. “And the bottom of my wardrobe.”

John pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Yeah,” he said. “But it’s not like you can do much with your hand still bunged up anyway, and you shouldn’t try. You and I will relocate them somewhere safer tomorrow without fail, or you’ll throw them out. Clear?”

“Fine,” Sherlock sniffed, and hung up.

John felt a blast of fury ring from his toes to the top of his head. Sherlock had hung up. He stared at his phone momentarily, then began to furiously punch in the numbers again, preparatory to telling Sherlock exactly what he thought of that. And, just as he hit “dial”, he suddenly heard Dr. A’s voice in his head.

What’s in your head, and why?

John startled, violently, and dropped the phone into the dry grass as if it had burned him. He had been about to call Sherlock back and tear into him. Shout at his friend, his best friend, his fragile, severely depressed best friend, who was currently in a mental hospital.

Self-disgust and horror left him light-headed, unsure of what to do. Even though he had stopped himself, the strength of that impulse left him deeply shaken. He couldn’t even tell himself that this was the result of outside manipulation; there was no sense of his “passenger” whatsoever—this was John Watson, pure and simple, that angry, self-centered little bastard.

Somehow he was moving. He was distantly aware of picking the phone up and roughly shoving it deep in his pocket, and then beginning to walk. He had no destination in mind—the motion was the essential part. He wasn’t really sure where he went; only became aware of the passage of time as the shadows bled into near-darkness and the temperature fell enough that he began to shiver as he walked.

He slowed, then stopped, looking around himself dazedly. He recognized nothing in particular—he was far from Baker Street, certainly. Fairly sure he hadn’t crossed any bridges, but the rest was a blur of pavement, people and buildings that told him nothing. He was just about to go into a small, rundown restaurant across the street when he happened to glance behind himself and saw the sleek black car idling at the corner.

 

 

 

 

John was shocked, when he opened the door and slid inside, to see Mycroft sitting in the far corner of the seat.

Mycroft, as usual, read his mind. Or his shoes. Or his eyebrows.

“It is nearly 8 pm,” he said calmly. “You were observed walking for more than 4 hours, in no particular direction and quite far from your typical haunts. I was on my way home anyway, and thought you might find this preferable to a taxi, or the Tube. Andrew can drop me off and run you out to Surrey.”

At least part of that was a polite lie; the items John had picked up at the flat and stashed with Mrs. Hudson were clearly visible on the front seat next to Andrew, who gave John a smile through the glass partition. But John took the offering in the spirit it was given.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m not honestly sure where we are, nor how I got here. Wasn’t a good afternoon, as it turned out.”

Mycroft’s patrician brow furrowed. “Did something happen I am unaware of?” he said. “Nothing was visible once you began your phone call.” Because, of course, John was under observation. He had no illusions about that, and could hardly argue against the necessity of it.

“Not exactly,” John said, feeling his face warm. “I, um, when I spoke to Sherlock he hung up on me.”

“Was he distressed?” Mycroft asked, sounding just a tad distressed himself at the idea.

John shook his head. “No, just a bit annoyed,” he said. “He told me about some experiments that may have gone a bit rogue at Baker Street, and I told him we had to deal with them tomorrow.” He paused. “You heard he was being released, yeah?”

Mycroft nodded. “He texted me this afternoon, not long after he spoke with you.”

John nodded. “Yeah, so I said we’d handle the experiments then, and he hung up in a strop. And I, I…,” John had to pause and breathe for a moment or two. “I was going to call him back, and shout at him. God knows what I would have said. And it was…I scared myself. Again. Because this time, it wasn’t your sister in my head, it was just me. Just me.”

“And did you do so?” Mycroft asked, a bit sharp-eyed. “Call him back? Shout?”

“No,” John said. “But—”

Intent is not the same as action,” Mycroft said. “You need to stop treating yourself as if it was. I have considered inflicting everything, up to and including serious bodily harm, on my brother in the past, but have somehow managed to pull myself back from the brink. I give myself time to calm, and then consider how I will prevent matters from escalating to that degree in future. And then I forget about it.”

“Until the next time,” John muttered, and Mycroft nodded.

“Until the next time,” he agreed. “Regret is a constant of human existence; I refuse to indulge in it for something I merely thought about, though I recognize the value of training myself away from such thoughts where necessary. I am fortunate enough to have had a lifetime’s experience with Sherlock to gain that perspective, however,” he added with a slight lift to the corner of his mouth. He paused, then continued. “What does your doctor counsel about such incidents?”

John made a sound that was almost, but not quite, a laugh. “We haven’t gotten that far, honestly; we’ve been dealing with real harm, as opposed to imagined, so far.”

Mycroft gave a neutral hum. “I have no specific information on your treatment, obviously,” he said carefully, “but my impression has been that you believe yourself to be making progress.” It wasn’t exactly a question.

“Yeah,” John said. “With some things. The compulsion, at least.” He tried to recapture that feeling of triumph he’d had at putting his “passenger” in its place, but was only partially successful.

The older man nodded again. “I…John, this is not my area of expertise, and I will be the first to admit that my skills in interpersonal relationships are more suited to espionage than psychotherapy. But I could perhaps offer something from my own experience, if you wouldn’t find it intrusive.”

John gave a startled crack of laughter at that. “’Intrusive’ is your middle name, Mycroft,” he said, and was pleased to see that tiny Holmesian smirk once more. “It’s a little late for me to start being precious about it. And in this case I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’d be an idiot to refuse any offer of help at this juncture.”

Mycroft nodded. “As I presumed.” He gave John a searching look. “You must understand, this conversation can’t be shared, most especially with my brother. I need your word.”

“’Course,” John said. “You’re the Keeper of The Keys, I know that—as long as it does no harm to me and mine, I can keep any kind of secret you need.”

“Honestly I would be unconcerned on a personal basis,” Mycroft said, “but the Diplomatic and Intelligence services are a hotbed of rumour and innuendo, made up of people who consider any kind of mental aberration a weakness to be exploited and publicized.” He paused, and raised one dark ginger eyebrow. “Which is quite ironic, when you consider that one of the unbreakable requirements of my position is that I undergo an in-depth psychiatric evaluation no less than twice a year. The results of those evaluations are shared with exactly three people: me, the Queen, and, on a redacted basis, Lady Smallwood. Once read, the results are eradicated from every form of recordkeeping.”

John nodded. “Yeah, I…that makes sense, actually. Anyone with your level of power, you need to be absolutely sure they’re stable enough to handle it safely.”

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “I have never resented these sessions. And I have found them, though sometimes uncomfortable, quite revelatory as well. Before I began such testing, I had undergone counselling briefly before—as a child after the first fire, and then in the aftermath of various physically and emotionally stressful missions during my days as an active agent. But I had never had a full-blown psychological profile presented to me. I always thought, prior to my first such evaluation, that the fount of my, shall we say, more interventional approach with my family and subordinates was a fear of failure—that keeping my brother safe, my sister incarcerated, all of the various plates of intelligence work spinning, drove me to extreme measures, because failing in any of those areas would result in a devastating blow to my psyche, a psyche I believed was built around achievement and the pursuit of perfection. You would think that I would have rejected a differing opinion out of hand. But I found, upon reading it, reading the rationale behind it, that it had the ring of truth.”

He paused, took a bottle of water from the center console and drank from it, offered one to John before continuing.

“I have found therapy, voluntary therapy I have undergone in addition to my semi-annual reviews, especially valuable since the events at Sherrinford,” he said. “Because my required evaluations established that my driving force was not a fear of failure, but rather a fear of a loss of control. It can come as no shock to you that Sherrinford was a severe blow to that fear.”

Mycroft noted the look of recognition on John’s face, and nodded. “Yes, in retrospect it’s quite obvious to anyone who knows my childhood, knows how completely events swung out of my, or anyone else’s, control,” he continued. “But that only serves to emphasize my point: it’s not unheard of to find, in the course of therapy, that the assumptions one carries about their very nature can be challenged. In my case, I have begun to question much about who, and what, I’ve become, and how much of that was actually my choice. Not quite your situation, of course—there’s no question of duress, for me—but enough similarity that I believe I can appreciate some of the distress you feel when faced with actions you take that seem incomprehensible, when viewed afterward in the clear light of day.”

John blinked. “That’s—thank you, Mycroft,” he said slowly. “That’s exactly it, you know? I mean, the anger thing aside—that’s always been there, and I know exactly where it came from, and I’m beginning to understand what I need to do about it. But the other—it’s so alien, so frightening. And I wanted to be able to tell myself it was all that—that I was just poor, unlucky John Watson, who had a monster shove all these horrible thoughts in my head. The hardest part to handle was the recognition that the monster simply used what was already there.

Mycroft shook his head. “No, not quite,” he said. “The monster manipulated what was already there. There is a difference, and you do yourself a disservice to think otherwise.” He leaned forward to look John in the eyes. “The mental energy you have available to expend in your daily life is a finite amount. Every bit you spend castigating yourself for failure is one less bit you have available for working towards success—in your case, towards mental stability. If therapy, and tragedy, and repeated failures have taught me nothing else, it is this: you have a choice, every day, between regret and recovery. I would hope very much that you choose the latter.”

Chapter Text

The trip back to Surrey was, thankfully, quiet and uneventful. Andrew, as advertised, dropped Mycroft off, and then he and John headed out, though not before John had him pull up to a favoured Chinese hole-in-the-wall and get takeaway for both of them. Andrew tried to demur, but John was adamant—“It’ll be well past 10 by the time you get back to London,” he said. “Least I can do is make sure you don’t get back with an empty stomach.”

At Andrew’s request, his meal consisted of pork and vegetable egg rolls, so he was able to eat as he drove (after John promised never to tell Mycroft, and to take the evidence with him to throw away). John held onto his own food; he’d reheat and plate it once he got to the Holmes’ house.

When John crept in the door, it was 9:30 and the house was dark and quiet, but a small, efficient-looking woman was sitting at the kitchen table with the baby monitor and a cup of tea. She looked up as John entered and smiled. “John, it's so good to see you again,” she said, rising and holding out her hand. “You might not remember me--I’m  Alicia Hardy, Mellie’s neighbor—they’re at a meeting in the village,” she continued. “You saved my daughter’s life.”

And John suddenly remembered her. Of course—Nicky Hardy, one of the girls kidnapped in the fertility scheme, who’d been Sherlock’s child-minding project since her infancy*. John smiled in return. “Oh, I had a little help with that,” he said. “How is she doing? Last time I saw her, she was still in hospital afterward.”

“Very well,” Alicia beamed. “She’ll probably take over as a minder sometime this week, if one’s needed—she’s on holiday this next two weeks, since the troupe just finished up an engagement. Royal Ballet, you know,” she added proudly. “She says she wants to practice what Locket taught her as a minder. In your shoes, I’d be quite wary.” Her expression made it clear she didn’t mean it.

“Looking forward to it,” John said, and he was—it wasn’t often that he and Sherlock got to see someone, well after the fact, who lived now because of their efforts. It was easy to forget those in the stress of cases, all too many of them,  that had no happy endings.

After Alicia left and John had made a quick trip up to peek in on Rosie (pink-cheeked, snoozing peacefully with yet another new stuffed animal next to her), he warmed and ate his dinner and then trudged gratefully off to bed, baby monitor in hand. His days just seemed to keep getting longer and longer.

 

 

Rosie was up with the sun the next morning, which, of course, meant John was up as well, despite having tossed and turned till the wee hours of the night. Nothing in particular wrong—just a brain too busy, too full of recent events, good and bad. All in all, though, he was glad today was a day to look forward to: Sherlock’s release from hospital, sparring with Gabe, dinner with Mrs. Hudson.

Siger, when John asked him at breakfast, was more than happy to drive him to pick up Sherlock, as well as join in for the rest of their evening’s agenda. “If you’re sure Martha won’t mind, that is?” the older man asked, not wanting to impose.

“Well, I’ll text her just in case, but I suspect she’ll be happy to have you—one more person to feed is always a treat, to hear her tell it,” John chuckled, and so it proved—he had an immediate response of “Oh, wonderful!” from his erstwhile landlady.

John occupied the morning with playing with Rosie, something he felt he’d been neglecting of late. He set her up in the music room with an assortment of blocks and toys—figured he’d let her plink away at the piano (carefully!) if she got bored. He sat on the floor with her as she carefully sorted through blocks, held one in her hand, threw it away, picked up another, and solemnly handed it to John for inspection before taking it back. It sounded ridiculous, but John had the strong impression she’d picked that game up from Sherlock.

Just before lunchtime, Mellie wandered in and plopped herself down on the piano bench, opening the keyboard up under Rosie’s riveted attention. “Siger’s in his shop working on something terribly complex,” she said, “and he finds me distracting.” Her ears pinked up just a bit, just like her son’s on those rare occasions when he was embarrassed about something. John had a pretty good idea what kind of “distraction” she was talking about, and felt a huge grin sliding onto his face. Mellie tutted and turned her back to begin tinkering away at the keys, the back of her neck as rosy as her ears. When Rosie crawled over to her, she picked the baby up, and they played “together” until lunchtime, while John reveled in how amazingly normal it all felt. This, right here, was what families should always feel like. He would do a great deal to make that happen, for all of them.

 

 

 

 

John had gotten an email from Brian during lunch, confirming that Sherlock would be ready to go between 4 and 4:30, so he and Siger bundled into the car and set off at 3:45, hoping to beat some of the afternoon traffic surrounding London if possible.

When they arrived at Sevenoaks, Brian met them in the lobby, smile on his face. “He’s putting his things together,” he said cheerily. “Been on tenterhooks all day, that one.”

“You have my sympathies, mate,” John said cheerily. He knew all too well what Anxious Sherlock could be like. He chuckled to hear Siger make an affirmative noise behind him. John took that as a reminder to introduce the older man to Sherlock’s nurse, and they chatted amiably in the lobby while they waited.

Suddenly Brian’s phone beeped; he glanced at it and smiled. “It’s time,” he said. “Wait here, and we’ll be out shortly.” He used his card to open the locked door and darted inside.

Five minutes later he was back, this time with Sherlock in tow. The detective saw John, smiled, then noticed his father behind him, and the smile widened just a bit. John looked, and saw an answering grin from Siger.

“Hello, Son,” Siger said, moving forward to take Sherlock’s bags from Brian.

“No, wait,” Sherlock said, “we’ve got something else to deal with first.” He handed one small bag off to John, who took it without comment, and reached back inside the still-open door, pulling out a good-sized, flat rectangle—a painting, presumably. The detective basically shoved it into his father’s arms.

“I was bored,” he said, sounding oddly defensive. “And you always complain I never paint anymore.”

Siger held the painting with wondering eyes, as John looked curiously over his shoulder. It was a watercolour, painted in a misty, Impressionist style in masterful fashion. John was stunned to recognize the setting—it was Mellie’s back garden, complete with Sherlock’s bench in the far background, amidst rioting flowers of every variety. Just visible on the bench was the suggestion of a small figure, a tumble of black atop the head.

“It’s beautiful, Sherlock,” John said, and his friend turned a bit pink and flustered.

“It’s adequate, I suppose,” Sherlock said stiffly, but he was clearly pleased. “I was happy to find that I could hold a brush adequately with my hand as it is; my physical therapist said the brushwork was an ideal means of working fine movement and building stamina. It was painful, but bearable. The art teacher was pleasantly surprised to have someone who had had higher-level instruction, and wasn’t restricted to finger paints or primary colours.”

“It’s lovely,” Siger said, gently brushing the surface with his free hand. He looked up searchingly at Sherlock. “Can we actually hang this one, then?”

“I suppose,” Sherlock huffed, his colour still high. “If only to stop Mummy whinging about it.” Siger smiled, but held his peace.

 

 

 

 

In short order, everything had been loaded into the boot (except for the painting, which took pride of place in the back seat beside John) and they set off for the gym to meet Gabe Austin.

John had been uncertain, when he asked Siger if he wanted to go along on this expedition—wasn’t sure if a gym was the diplomat’s natural milieu, honestly.

Siger surprised him, though. “Oh, no, I’d love to,” he said. “I used to spar with the boys when I was younger, you know. Millie made me stop when I broke my hand some years ago,” he added, with a mild moue of discontent that echoed Mycroft at his most disdainful.

“Well, I’ll have to make sure you stay on the sidelines then,” John said. “I’m not about to risk Mellie’s wrath, you know.” Siger rolled his eyes, but smiled nonetheless.

When they arrived at the gym, Sherlock was interested, but trying to hide it. He looked around at the unassuming location and sniffed. “Doesn’t look like much,” he said. “Hopefully the exterior is deceptive.” He was obviously mollified when they got inside, though, and saw the clean, expansive space.

John had been keeping a close eye on Sherlock throughout. For someone just released from hospital he seemed to be doing well, but John didn’t want to push him past his limits, wanted to be aware of cues that he was agitated or tiring. He was surprised, though, and amused, when he looked over and realized that Siger was doing exactly the same.

Unfortunately, Sherlock realized this as well. “Will you two stop? I am not delicate; I am doing passably well, and if I were not, I would tell you. Now, where’s Austin? I was promised some pugilism; if I can’t participate, I want to at least see one of you take a beating.”

Speak of the devil, and he appears—as if summoned, Gabe Austin suddenly popped out of the locker room across the open floor. “Sherlock Holmes, you tosser!” he boomed, wide grin and outstretched hand leading the way. “I was hoping you could come.” He bounded over, grabbed Sherlock’s good hand and pulled him into a brisk hug before turning to John and Siger.

“Good to see you again, sir,” he said, sticking out his hand to Siger. “It's been a good while since we've seen each other, hasn't it? Though, come to that, we've known each for better than 20 years, when you think about it—we met once, at Cambridge, when Mycroft graduated the first time.”

“Of course,” Siger said. “I quite remember—though I suspect Sherlock does not. He was fairly small.”

“Oh, yeah, he does,” Gabe said, giving Sherlock a droll look while the detective glared in return. “We had a lovely chat about it, once upon a time.”**

“You’ll have to tell me about it over dinner, young man,” Siger said genially, while Sherlock scowled. “I never hear much about his adventures, though Myc did tell me some of what you and Sherlock underwent. It would be good to hear something pleasant from those times.”

While Siger bore Sherlock off to get coffee and snacks from the café, John went with Gabe to change and prepare. Gabe lost no time in pumping John for information.

“So, how’s he doing?” the big man said. “Seems OK so far, but I know those particular still waters run very deep indeed. So is he? OK, I mean? And, come to that, are you OK?”

John laughed. “Well, to take it in order, ‘so far, so good’, and ‘yeah, doing better’,” he said. “I mean, not perfect, but I feel, I dunno, a bit different each day. And Sherlock—well, he’s less anxious, and that’s always a good sign with him. I’ll keep an eye on him, though.”

“Think his dad will help you with that,” Gabe said. “Myc says his dad is the calm one. Think all of us could use a little of that, ya know?”

“Amen,” John said, and picked up his shorts to go change.

 

 

 

While Sherlock and Siger settled into some comfortable chairs set near the sparring mats, Gabe and John spent some time initially warming up. John found the suspended punching bags particularly satisfying to use; he needed to give serious thought to installing one of those at home. Well, wherever “home” ended up being, anyway. Gabe ran laps around the outside perimeter of the gym; he invited Sherlock to join him and got a sarcastic wave good-bye.

Eventually they got down to business, choosing a large spring-loaded floor lying near where Siger and Sherlock sat (Sherlock taking fervent advantage of his newly-returned phone, Siger serenely sipping coffee and nibbling on a scone). They started sparring slowly, much like last time—abortive grabs, attempted take-downs, brief flurries of blows that did no real harm. Finally, though, they settled into a flow, attack-and-parry, advance-and-retreat. John felt good—capable, warm, flexible. He felt brief splashes of anger when Gabe blocked a move, but nothing more than a simple competitive instinct, really.

Suddenly John saw an opening. He waited for Gabe’s long arm to shoot forward in a strike, then slid smoothly underneath, grabbed the big man’s torso and threw him off-balance while sweeping his legs out from under him. They landed on the floor with a rattling crash, Gabe (thankfully) on the bottom, unhurt but winded. John pressed the advantage, scrambling over his prostrate victim to snake his arm up and around Gabe’s shoulders and throat, forcing his back to arch. Gabe struggled, grunting, trying to wriggle free while reaching unsuccessfully for John’s hair, his shirt. John gave him one last squeeze, determined to force his opponent to tap the mat in defeat, when they were interrupted by another, entirely unexpected burst of sound just behind their heads, vibrating through the floor.

“Twat!” Sherlock shouted, bringing his good arm thumping violently onto the mat from his kneeling position at the edge. “Twat! Twat! Twat!” he bellowed, punctuating each shout with another rattling slap to the mat.

All motion stopped—the whole gym, in fact, falling silent. John had released Gabe at the first sound, and the taller man had twisted around easily to look at the source of the interruption. And then, as one, John and Gabe looked at each other, looked at Sherlock kneeling anxiously on the verge, hand still held in mid-air, looked back—and then proceeded to laugh till they cried.