Chapter 1: terminator
John's left the agency behind him (not that they're letting go), and must face the effects of his torture.
If you have not read 'Eosophobia' before starting this, you may want to so you can understand what's going on.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The train swayed lazily back and forth, ignorant of its passengers, ignorant of their baggage, ignorant of their circumstances. The train knew no more of the fact that it held the world's only consulting detective and his partner-slash-assistant-slash-best friend than it did of how exactly the universe worked and if there was a god spinning it all around. It just knew its duty, go here and go there, rest, then repeat. Go from Prague to Sarajevo, go from Berlin to Prague, go from Bruges to Leipzig, go from Novgorod to Klaipeda…the destination doesn't matter to a train. It, for lack of a better description, simply doesn't know any better.
So it was no surprise to the train that it was unfamiliar to the entanglements of love as well as the tension that occasionally and inevitably springs between two people who love each other, a tension neither is willing to initiate the solution to for fear of looking like a right idiot.
If the train knew what idiots were, it would certainly think (privately, to itself, because it was a train that liked to be polite) that the two men in compartment 22 of carriage 1B were indeed right idiots.
Sherlock and John stared at each other silently, the train that knew nothing of love or idiots rocking onwards, both unwilling to look foolish, although for different reasons than usual.
Sherlock did not want to acknowledge that he had been both right and wrong in this certain situation. John was simply tired of being the first to initiate their peacetalks, tired of being used, tired of Sherlock's callousness, tired of many things, but those were what he could immediately think of. He figured that, after all the time they had spent together and then the three years of exile, Sherlock might have learned how to compromise or at least lay his pride down for five seconds and apologise. He was mistaken, but not for the motives he'd assumed.
Sherlock knew how to apologise. Everyone knew how to apologise. It didn't mean he didn't know what it meant. He just didn't care to. He supposed John would've spoken by now, but he understood the gravity of the previous night's events.
He would understand if John didn't forgive him for a long time to come.
He certainly wouldn't.
They'd started off, generally speaking, well enough. An hour out of Berlin, spent in comfortable silence in their quiet compartment of their considerably empty train. Not many people wanted to go to Prague, it seemed. Prague didn't exactly call to them and beckon them down for a vacation.
"How are they?" Sherlock asked quietly as the train rocked like a calm ocean, breaking the hour's silence.
John looked to him from the window, confusion in his face.
"The—" Sherlock cut off, unable to continue, but gestured to John's back, annoyed at his inability to speak those few words that gave a name to what John had suffered through.
"Oh…The doctor in Berlin said most would fade soon. Little to no scarring."
"Good. And the um—your ear?"
"That—that's going to be there a while."
"The rest of my life." John said, the fact that he didn't want to talk about it evident in his voice. Sherlock let it drop.
"John, you know that Mary—"
"Mary. What do you think I know about Mary?"
"I'm sure she has an explanation."
"I'm sure she does, too. I'm sure it's quite good and explains exactly why she left me with those fuckers, why she left me to have the shit beat out of me, have my back split open, to have—to have…" John trailed off, not wanting to go on. Sherlock gazed at him, knowing not to push him farther.
"I know you have problems with people leaving, John—"
"That's an understatement." John muttered. "I wonder why?"
Sherlock wished he could diffuse John as easily as Mikheia had diffused him.
"I am not the one you're mad at."
"Are you sure about that?" John bit. He didn't know where these words, this anger, was coming from, didn't know from what wound it bled out of and he couldn't staunch it.
"I thought you'd forgiven me."
Sherlock's voice washed water over the angry wound, cleaning it for the moment of spiked irritation and those barbed words that tasted like battery acid and left a bad taste in John's mouth.
"I did." John sighed. "I do." He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry."
Sherlock felt his envy prickle. John could say it so easily.
The train rocked on.
Their silence unbroken, they had gone to sleep. Or, rather, John had, stretching out on the seat opposite Sherlock and using his stolen jacket as a pillow. Sherlock merely switched from softly watching him to looking out of the window.
Finally, when he couldn't stand it, he moved to sit beside him. John didn't stir. Good. He didn't want him awake to hear him.
"I'm sorry, John." He began quietly. "I suspect that you already know that, without me saying it, because you can do wonderful things like that, but I—I thought I should tell you all the same." He felt a bitter smile come on his face. "Look at me. I can't even apologise when you're sentient."
John didn't reply, far away in his subconscious, Sherlock guessed, as he slid down to the REM state.
"I know you've wondered why exactly I left. I've been a bit vague about that, haven't I? I don't think I can really tell you one reason. I suppose the gist of it is that I left you so you would be safe, but you found me anyways. You found me, and now all those three years have gone to hell for nothing because you're more dangerous than I thought you could be. But it's not a bad thing, you know. It doesn't scare me. I think I may actually love you more for it."
A smile with no bitterness came onto his face. John didn't see it.
"It's nice to finally say that, isn't it? I see why you looked so relieved when you said it…it's funny though, that I can say it in any language you'd like except the one you want me to. To be honest, I don't know why I'm so afraid….except that's a lie. I once told myself that I'd never lie to you if it was unnecessary. Did you know that? It was right after that incompetent cabbie. I knew right after, I knew that I'd grow quite fond of you if you stayed. And you did stay. So I do, I do know why I'm afraid. You're so much better than me, John. You are. I knew it'd take one incredibly proficient coping mechanism for me to deal with that, so I told myself that I didn't deserve your small intellect. Can you believe that? Of course you can…"
John's face did not give away whether he believed Sherlock or not.
"Anyways, my undermining of your perfectly adequate mental capacity did nothing to quell how I felt about you, as well as your superiority. Your unworthiness of me morphed itself into my unworthiness of you, and I told myself that you would never truly feel the way you do for me. I felt like I could live like Atlas if it meant I could see you every day. After I left, I felt like everything had collapsed onto me, the whole universe, and I managed to pull myself out of the wreck even though it meant leaving you behind. I think I may have died on some level, but of course that's insignificant since I'm breathing and talking and all that…"
He trailed off, letting the heavy silence back into the room. Sherlock stared down at John, at that pale, relaxed face that looked so haunted in certain light but was peaceful under the moon.
"You're many things to me, John, and anything that I am to you is not even half as worthy. You are a far better man than anything I could be without using brains as an excuse." He exhaled quietly in a way that was not yet a sigh. "I love you, but I don't deserve you." He finished quietly.
He stood and softly pulled open the compartment door before disappearing down the hall in a wisp of cold air and dark coat.
John's eyes snapped open, wide and frozen with alarm.
No, no, no, no it wasn't happening like this, not if he could help it—
"Sherlock…" He murmured. "Sherlock!"
He bolted up from his makeshift bed, pulling on his thin thermal and stolen jacket as he stumbled out into the empty, chilled hall.
The empty hall.
No, no, no…it just didn't work like that. Sherlock couldn't just leave, they were on a moving train for god's sake—
But Sherlock was prone to leap off buildings at impossibly heights and survive. A train would be child's play for him if he had truly planned it out, if he had known that he was going to leave again, leave him, leave John out in an empty compartment without so much as a goodbye.
John was about to round the corner to the lavatory and the next carriage when he ran smack into someone—no—
"Sherlock!" John said, his voice strained, and he wrapped his arms around Sherlock as if he was desperately trying to prove to himself that this man was solid, not an entity.
"Don't…don't do that again—you can't just—just—"
"Just what? Use the lavatory?" Sherlock asked calmly, shutting the carriage door. "And do keep your voice down. People are sleeping."
"Oh, don't even give me that. This carriage is empty save for the couple at the far end and you know it."
"Anyways, John, what was so important that you had to rush into the hall and hug me like I was the messiah come to earth?"
John stopped, letting his hands fall from Sherlock, switching his affections off like a powered-down machine. He stood in that sparse carriage with his messy hair and in his stolen jacket, his thin little thermal, and his pyjamas, and he looked so damn lost and alone that for one single terrible moment Sherlock felt like his heart might have actually stopped out of sympathetic grief.
"You can't just leave like that, Sherlock."
"I have to inform you every time I leave a room where I'm going? I didn't know you expected that of me John and I'll try to amend it, but you have to tell me these things you know, I'm not a mind-reader although telepathy has been a long-standing interest of mine—"
"No, Sherlock, I mean—Christ—I mean you can't just say those things you said and then—and then leave."
A silence worked itself between them, spreading itself thin in the process.
"You heard me." Sherlock said calmly. It was not a question because he didn't need to ask.
"Of course I heard you." John smiled weakly. "You can't go up to someone and talk in their ear and expect that they won't hear you."
"I meant it all, John. It's unnecessary for me to lie to you right now, and I don't much feel like it anyways."
An understanding smile came to John's face. It seemed sad to Sherlock.
"I know you did."
Sherlock stepped forward, bringing a hand to outline John's face as they stared at each other. John let his fingers lace themselves with Sherlock's.
"Why is that an unhappy realisation for you?" Sherlock asked quietly. John thought his eyes were shaded like the thin line that separated the dark side of the moon from the one that shone down on them now.
"It's not, Sherlock. That's the thing."
"Then why do you look unhappy?"
"Because being in love feels like that sometimes."
"You think your love for me is negative?"
"No, but it's been through some negative things, just like yours."
"I suppose this is an 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' type of thing?"
"I wouldn't call it that," John said with a small smile. "But it'll do."
John kissed him then. Sherlock liked it, liked the warmth and softness.
"I'm glad you're here, John." Sherlock said quietly as they broke apart, resting his head on John's as he shut his eyes, hoping John would read between the lines.
He opened his eyes again and found John quietly looking into them. He knew.
"So am I."
They both smiled. Sherlock let his head dip down, let his mouth graze John's as they stood in that second-class train compartment with signs in a language neither was particularly good at as it rocked gently like a boat amidst calm waves, one hand tightening in the other's while the other snaked around the backs of their necks.
As the train rocked a little too much and they swayed, suddenly the kiss grew harder, more insistent on asserting itself as something that was permanent and not fleeting, not leaving, just staying. The train rocked again and Sherlock was knocked back against the seat, coming to rest with John sitting over him, the moonlight brushing his fair hair, his weight warmly pressed against him, reminding Sherlock that this man was real and alive and choosing to be with him. There were so many things he needed to know-
"John—" Sherlock started, but was cut off as John kissed him, running his tongue lightly along the edge of his lip. He groaned, settling back into the seat before sliding back so he was lying all the way across the seat.
"Yes?" John asked, kissing the spot on his neck where his pulse yammered itself away like it didn't know how to quiet itself in the situation. He leaned back, looking down at Sherlock expectantly, and the light hitting his face, illuminating such a haunted man when he looked peaceful, seemed to punch Sherlock straight in the heart like a spasm of electricity.
Sherlock let his brain turn off and just stared at him for a moment. As long as he lived, he'd remember how John's face looked in that moment, a calm happiness glowing from him, a smile moving behind his lips before it dawned.
"Never mind." He decided.
"Alright." John shrugged, letting Sherlock pull him down for another kiss before breaking apart as the detective's hands began to move. "Ah, sorry, hold on—" John leaned back, away from Sherlock, and started to work his way out of his jacket.
"I think it suits you well, you know." Sherlock said, watching John struggle and feeling his chest grow cold from John's brief absence.
"That's good." John smiled, quickly adding another kiss to its predecessors. The jacket was halfway off. "Mycroft asked me to give it back."
"Really?" Sherlock grinned. Another kiss. "And what did you say?"
"Told him to sod off. I felt bad about it at the time, but that's what he gets for asking me when I'm getting antiseptic poured on my back by a doctor who was having trouble with English…I feel better about it now, though."
Sherlock chuckled and John smiled as he tossed the jacket to the floor before returning to his previously occupied spot. He let his hands roam over Sherlock's face and felt like a blind man reading braille from the way he could feel Sherlock's pain and sadness and quiet loneliness and tense pleas that had been hardening layer over layer for the past three years.
Sherlock's hands pushed past John's shirt and grazed over the bandages on his back, thickly applied and properly secured by the doctors in Berlin, much stronger than their makeshift clinic in Mycroft's guest bedroom.
He stopped as John groaned.
"Does it still hurt?" He asked quietly.
"No," John replied. "No, that felt…good."
Sherlock felt a grin come on his face and he kissed John once more. He wondered if this was what happiness felt like. If it wasn't happiness, he'd have to think of a new name for it, for this comfortable bliss that so reminded him of being a kid coming in from the cold and taking a warm bath, like every inch of his skin became hot and prickling as the cold melted away.
In that one second, that one moment of warmth and soft harmony and fogged vision, John swiped his hand to wipe the fog off and had a moment of clarity. He read many things in the way Sherlock said his name, in the way half of their clothes were laying on floor, in the way Sherlock was looking up at him, in the way his hands rested on the curves of John's neck, and he shut the book.
"Sherlock," He began in a hoarse whisper. He was going to hate himself so much, but if he didn't do this, he'd hate himself so much more. "I don't think this is what you want."
"Don't be stupid, John." Sherlock said, pressing a kiss to his bare unmarked shoulder. "It doesn't become you."
"No, Sherlock," He needed a different approach. "I mean…really? You want this to happen here? In a train? "
"Yes." Sherlock said hoarsely.
"I'm sorry." John said, his lips grazing Sherlock's before he pulled himself away. "That's not how I want it to go. And once that brain of yours catches up, I don't think you will either."
Sherlock stared up at him, his cheeks flushed. John liked seeing colour on his face. It was a nice change, one where he could see it rise to Sherlock's cheeks instead of seeing it spill freely over them, unleashed past split skin like at St. Bart's.
"You're right." Sherlock muttered softly. "You're right."
"I'm sorry, Sherlock." John repeated. "But it just wouldn't be right. We'll come back to it later, yeah? At a better time and place?"
"Do I need a reservation or something? You're making it seem like a five-star restaurant. And I don't want there to be a list, John, I really don't—"
"No," John laughed. "No, you idiot." He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on Sherlock's forehead. "There's no list. Just one name." Kissed his nose. "Only one." Kissed his mouth, first his upper lip, and then the lower one.
"Good." Sherlock pushed up and back to lean against the seat, his legs splayed out under John. He laid his head against the wall and arm rest. John liked seeing the few dark locks of hair that had matted to his head with sweat.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm perspiring more than usual, to be honest, which is quite abnormal so you should feel proud of yourself, but other than that I feel quite…good, as you so eloquently put it."
Good was an understatement for both parties involved.
"No, that's all well and good, but…aren't you disappointed or upset or mad or something? I'd understand if you were, it wasn't the best thing to do, but it was right, I mean, think of all the people that have sat here for god's sake—"
John fell silent, letting the both of them immerse themselves in that quiet moment in that dark carriage under that bright and softly-smiling moon that shone down on them as the incognizant train carried them farther away from that bloodied past that was so like a nightmare, full of shadows and strangers and that special boy with a special spider scar who now had a webbed scar to give the spider a home and whose story was far from over.
They sat there in that humming darkness, letting themselves comfort the other in silent affection. For the first time in a long time they felt safe, and it wasn't in some bunker deep underground or in a thickly protected fortress with cold iron walls, it was found it was found in a second-rate carriage on an old train in a foreign land within two pairs of arms, one thin and bird-like with hollow bones, the other gentler and stronger. But, in Sherlock's arms, John felt like it may as well have been an impenetrable fortress made of wrought iron, which, though beautiful to view, with its elegant, twisted dark limbs, looked laughable, yet it did its duty well. And, in John's embrace, Sherlock felt surrounded on all sides by an unbreakable wall somewhere deep in the warmed womb of the earth that smelled of pillars of salt and solidly-packed sand. He felt like crying in that moment as John held him, if only to convey to John how he truly felt in that moment. But John wouldn't want his tears, even if it proved his longstanding theory that Sherlock was not the inhuman robot that he claimed to be. Sherlock grinned at the thought.
Moriarty was right then, in a sense. Sherlock had been a fake.
He let his hands tighten around John.
He'd remember it all later and go over it detail by detail as if his life depended on it, after the encounter the next day in Prague. He'd remember, and try to find a way for John to forgive him.
Sherlock was in the middle of one of the most beautiful silences of his life before the sun rose and they arrived in Prague and he had to wake John all too soon to change trains. But how he loved watching those blue eyes open, watching sentience pour into them like water, a smile blooming on John's face as he stared up at Sherlock from where his head lay on his lap. He decided then and there that he would like to see it happen every morning.
In the moment of John waking and John smiling, Sherlock could find no trace of the cold, effectively lethal assassin that he had seen not a week ago, when he had laid eyes on John for the first time in three years and John had stared back blankly in his detached, isolated state whose lone focus was the shedding of blood of the people who threatened himself or his friends or his…lover?
The term sounded clunky to Sherlock, because he was sure that, of all the things he and John were, they were not lovers. And not only because their relationship was unconsummated; there were scores of lovers that had relationships that went without consummation for very long periods or none at all. It was just that the term connoted two people who had nothing else to do but love each other, and that was most certainly not John or Sherlock since they had many things to do like solve crimes and shoot people and snog, if he could address it so simply. Loving each other was almost an afterthought, something they did alone after the adrenalin had worn off and the danger was over and they were mending their wounds.
He looked down at John, still half-asleep in the pale dawn's light.
They were certainly alone now.
He dipped his head and let the tip of his nose brush John's.
John smiled at him and let Sherlock kiss him with a warmth that felt like the rising sun that shone on them.
"And a good morning to you too." John muttered as they broke away.
"We're about to pull into Prague." He noted, looking out the window at the oncoming station.
"Fantastic," John said, sitting up. "I'm starving."
"Would you mind picking up the food then while I run to the bathroom?"
"But there's a bathroom here."
"Yes, but the sink is broken and I'd like to wash my face and perhaps shave while I'm at it. I'm almost entirely sure that you're not a fan of whisker burn."
"Well, I wouldn't know unless you decided to grow a beard." John said as he stood.
"Didn't your girlfriends ever say anything?"
"Never gave them the chance." John replied, shrugging on a new shirt. "Have you ever seen me with stubble, Sherlock?"
"Once, when we first met."
"Well then that was one time too many."
"You should try it, John. It could look good on you—"
Sherlock smiled, stepping closer to him. He liked that he never faked smiles around John.
"—or I might like it."
John considered it for a moment, making a thoughtful face before pulling Sherlock's face down to his and kissing him, letting his hands run over the faint stubble that had indeed appeared on Sherlock's face.
They broke apart as the train stopped.
"We'll see about that."
John couldn't help it. He was suspicious. Maybe it was Sherlock's history of thinly veiled lies or excuses or his track record of just what he said he'd do and what he actually did.
John followed him, clutching the sandwich he had just bought for them to share in one hand (he'd done quite a lot of pointing and gesturing to get it).
The crowd was thick at the hour. John was just short enough that if Sherlock looked back in a glance he wouldn't stand out, but there was no mistaking that tall, lean frame for someone else.
But Sherlock didn't look back. His actions seemed innocent enough that he thought he wouldn't be followed or that John would take his word on his plans. John was about to give up and just go eat.
Then Sherlock bypassed the men's room.
His curiosity was piqued now. Although he could hardly read Czech it was certainly a bathroom judging by the sign and a quick check told John it was unlocked and empty. So where was Sherlock going, then?
He ducked back into the crowd, just barely catching that head of dark curls, that blue scarf, and that pale skin before the man they belonged to rounded a corner.
John watched him go into a little in-and-out café and take a seat across from someone.
Unbelievable. Sherlock hadn't noticed him at all. Either his stealth was superb or Sherlock's mind was somewhere more important. John's bet was on the latter.
John moved to look in through the window.
"Good." Sherlock said as he sat. "You're here."
Mary looked up at him.
After an hour's search, Sherlock found John in an empty men's room, which was normal enough; he believed it was the one he had passed on the way in to meet Mary. It was best that John didn't know, at least not until he could explain it all—
It was odd though, how he found John curled against the wall in the handicap stall, asleep. He had certainly slept well enough on the train…why would he be tired?
Sherlock knelt before him.
"John?" He asked, nudging him awake.
John opened his eyes. There was something heavy, something blurred and distant that Sherlock couldn't quite place.
"And so the prodigal son has returned—" John said blearily as he stood.
"John? Are you alright?" Sherlock asked as John pushed past him out of the stall to the sink.
It was far too early for John to be drunk, not to mention that not enough time had elapsed for the intoxicated state he seemed to be displaying.
"I saw you with her, you know." John slurred as he washed his hands. "With Mary."
Sherlock froze, one hand on the stall door. John looked up at him in the mirror.
"I followed you and I was about to turn back because I thought maybe for once you were actually doing what you said you were going to, but then—then I saw you sit across from her." John turned around, leaning against the sink. "Mind telling me what's going on?"
"Did you think I was stupid, Sherlock? Is that it? That my puny little brain couldn't possibly catch up to your massive intellect and I'd just wait on the train with a bloody sandwich for us to share like a good boy?"
Sherlock ducked as John tossed said sandwich at him.
"John, listen to me…" He paused, waiting for John to react.
"Well," John gestured with his hands. "Out with it then."
"Mary is not your enemy."
"Really?" John laughed bitterly. "Then why'd she leave me in Bruges?"
"She didn't leave you. Mycroft removed her."
"Mycroft…?" John breathed.
"Mary has never worked for your agency, at least not directly." Sherlock continued. "She works for Mycroft, my dear, doddering, disingenuous brother. It was under his orders that she let you be taken into the Kremlin. It was under his orders that she 'rescue' you when you slipped out of his hands."
"Mary told me that the agency had put me in the Kremlin."
"She wasn't lying, exactly. Didn't you ever wonder who the head of your agency was?"
John groaned. "Of course." He ran a hand blearily through his hair, messing it up further. "Mycroft was the one that put me in the Kremlin?"
"And he knew what was happening to me?"
"I believe so."
John began to laugh, much to Sherlock's confusion. He laughed until his face began to turn red.
The manic smile faded from his face.
"Well, you two make a right pair, don't you?" John asked with no mirth in his voice, only an acidic sharpness. "The Holmes Brothers: helping the helpless, but only if it's convenient. The slogan just writes itself—"
John cut himself off as he smashed his fist into the nearest mirror, sending glass showering onto the floor and slicing through the skin of his already flayed hands. Sherlock nearly jumped at the sound of smashing glass and the smell of fresh blood and the sight of John, his John, in the midst of an emotional meltdown.
"John, what are you doing—?"
"Do you know how hard it's been for me to get control of my life since you threw yourself off the roof of St. Bart's and I heard your body hit the street?" John asked, his voice cracking.
"Technically it was the sidewalk—"
"And do you know—" John continued. "How much of myself that I've had to sacrifice to protect myself? And not just from other people, from me. Do you know that I used to lie awake at night and tell myself that it was my fault that you were dead—my fault—because I fell for the trick about Mrs. Hudson, because I wasn't as stupendously brilliant as you to figure it all out in time?"
He smashed the next mirror just as calmly as he had the first, blood running down his arm.
"Even though Moriarty was dead, he had still won because he took you from me, and I knew deep down that if our positions were switched, you would have saved me in no time flat, like with those Chinese gangsters or whatever the hell they were—"
He smashed the next one, sending a cut that was almost deep enough to slice down his radial artery. Almost, but not quite. Sherlock needed to stop him, needed to stop him now, before he could do any more damage. He could tackle him, but the floor was so littered with broken glass that it made a full frontal assault a terrible idea. He needed to do this safely.
"John, calm down, you're hurting yourself…" John didn't listen, and advanced to the last mirror.
"And do you know how it felt when I thought I finally had control of my life and then you come back and royally fuck it all up?" Sherlock couldn't stop the destruction of the final mirror. "I thought I was the one in charge of my life, Sherlock! Not you, not Mary, not bloody sodding MYCROFT ! Christ, I mean, have I truly done anything on my own without anybody meddling?" He headed to send another fist into the already smashed glass. With the sharp edges and the velocity the tissue damage would be so hard to repair—
"John, John—stop!" The sheer forcefulness of Sherlock's voice stopped him. "Mary left Bruges because I told her to." Sherlock said calmly, hoping it was enough to stop him, hoping that the information was heavy enough to distract him.
John didn't turn around. Not yet. He must have heard wrong.
"Mary left you in Bruges because I told her to." Sherlock repeated, his voice as smooth and cold as ice.
No, John had heard right.
Blood dripped onto the floor, on wet tiles and shards of shattered glass that made an abstract of two men, one bloodied and tense, the other desperate and still.
"Sherlock, what…I don't—I don't understand."
"When you arrived at the door to Mycroft's summer home, bloody, barely-alive, and in a state that I never desire to see you in again, you managed to say Mary's name before you passed out. I became suspicious, so I called her and discovered, among the many other things she said in her upset and panicked state, that she was under Mycroft's payroll. She told me that Mycroft had ordered her not to interfere with whatever happened to you. She told me it was because I had called him."
"Yes, I called him before you arrived because I was worried. It was the first time we had talked in nearly two years, since I called him in Shanghai for clean food. I asked him if he knew where you were, he said he didn't, and I told him to keep you in Bruges if he could, so you wouldn't run into any trouble. I called him out of a blind despondency to ask that he keep you secure, and he took that to mean that as long as you didn't physically leave Bruges then anything could happen to you inside and he wouldn't stop it."
"What—what else did Mary tell you?"
"Just now? Everything that had happened since I left you, and not just in Bruges. Everything since the day you began working for the agency. Every assignment you've had, every talk the two of you've had in the café I believe is called The Drop-Off, every city you've been to, which, coincidentally, we tended to occupy at the same time and remained unaware of each other. I believe that, through information supplied by Mycroft, Mary took it upon herself to assign you cases that correlated with wherever I was at the time in the hopes that we might run into each other."
"How…how did he know where you were?"
"Mycroft is Mycroft. He will always meddle where he is unwanted, and he is annoyingly effective."
"Annoyingly effective?" John repeated indignantly as he spun around. Sherlock was almost cowed by the anger in his face. Almost, but he knew John wouldn't hurt him. "Annoyingly effective? Your brotherdrugged me for three years with pieces of fucking gum, let me kill dozens of people, locked me in a medical facility in Russia, had me tortured, and you call that annoyingly effective?" John scoffed. "And what's more is that you knew and you didn't do anything." His face fell. "You didn't do anything, and you knew what they were doing to me."
"I didn't know at the time." Sherlock corrected as John stumbled to the sink to wash the blood off his arm. "I knew later, after the fact—"
"But you had your suspicions, didn't you?"
"I was considering your feelings on the matter, John. I did not think you would care much for my investigating your close friend."
"For fuck's sake, Sherlock!" John said exasperatedly, turning the water higher. Sherlock did not miss his wince as the steaming water hit him.
John pushed his sleeve farther up to avoid the water and it was then that Sherlock noticed the faint rash on John's arm. It was then that Sherlock began to piece it all together. The significant change in his personality, the maladjusted behaviour, the constriction of the pupils…
John wasn't drunk, but he wasn't sober either. Sherlock had rarely felt so incredibly stupid, so incredibly dense…he'd observed, but why hadn't he seen—
"John…what else did you take that the agency gave you?"
John didn't answer, watching the blood sluice off his arm in the water and disappear down the drain.
"They're called...drivers." John said quietly, sounding as if he was about to be sick. "The agency gives them to clippers—people like me—as a bribe or complimentary...or whatever. It's an opioid cocktail in pill form. I took my first one a month after I started working and had insomnia and roaming hallucinations for half a week...so I never touched them again. I just took my second one an hour ago...after I saw you with Mary. I thought maybe you were in on something together. I thought—well, I don't know what I thought, but it wasn't anything good…" John trailed off in a hysterical fit of giggles.
Sherlock shut his eyes.
"You haven't developed an addiction, then?" He asked quietly.
"You're one to talk." John scoffed, taking his arm out of Sherlock's hand as he attempted to walk away. He managed to wobble a few steps before his knees collapsed out from under him. Sherlock caught him before he hit the ground.
"I speak from experience, John." Sherlock said softly as he hauled him to his feet.
The departure alarm rang out through the station as he dragged John out of the bathroom, trying to look wholly inconspicuous and partially failing. It was hard to carry a drugged hitman-slash-army doctor through a train station without earning a few glances, but the crowd was relatively large and Sherlock had no trouble getting them onto their train and into an empty carriage.
He hastily threw their things onto the other bench and collapsed into the seat, resting John's head on his lap just as they had been not two hours ago, except everything had changed. How? How could it just reverse so quickly?
As the train began to leave, as Sherlock glimpsed a flash of Mary's face, half-hidden in shadow, as the two of them headed onwards with John passed out, exhausted from his drug-induced meltdown, his mind raced.
John was awake when Sherlock opened his eyes again a few hours later, sitting across from him.
"I can't sleep." He said quietly, squinting into the bright sunlight. "It's a side-effect of the driver."
"Well you took it against your better judgment—" Sherlock began and John felt his anger rise.
"And whose fault was that?" He snapped.
John recognised the hypocrisy of his statement then chose not to address it, feeling that it sounded much more guilt-inducing if he blamed it wholly on Sherlock. Except it had been John's decision, albeit driven by Sherlock's actions. After he had come to, he had felt a little contrite about leaving the detective to carry him through a train station alone before he remembered that some part of him had wanted that, to see Sherlock panicked and worried, if only to see some sort of emotion cross that solemn alabaster face.
Sherlock shut his eyes. "John, let me explain—"
"There's no need, Sherlock. I know you, remember? Was it an experiment? I bet that was it. You wanted to see how far you could go without me finding out, right? I was just the little mouse in the maze."
He wished John would yell at him, hit him, make him hurt for what he had done, but there was no anger in his voice, just broken glass, hollow of what it once contained.
John looked at him, his eyes heavy and dark with fatigue, looking skeletal shaded against the light pouring in through the window. Scenery as happy as the fields they sped through shouldn't witness the misery that was briefly passing by it.
"You said that Mycroft didn't stop them from taking me in Bruges until he realised I was no longer there, right?"
"So he wasn't the one who tortured me?"
"No. I'm afraid we don't know who."
John scoffed. "That's a shame…because I do."
"You do?" Sherlock sat up, his interest edging higher. "Who? Is it someone working under Moriarty? Is it Moran? Someone else? Where can we find them? I have a contact as far away as Reykjavik if we need them…"
He trailed off as John stared at him blankly, his mouth slightly open and twisted in a frown as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Do you think you could at least give me 24 hours to recover from the simultaneous collapse of my trust in you and my subsequent drugged stupor before I answer?"
Sherlock let himself fall back, slumping against the seat. "Yes." He answered numbly. He hadn't fully registered, hadn't really considered just how far John's faith had fallen.
"Just…" John sighed, rubbing his eyes. "I need to be alone right now, Sherlock, alright? I just need to be alone, where I can be in control and no one can treat me like a puppet so I can come to my own conclusions. Let me go to my mind palace." John grinned bitterly. "Oh, sorry, I forgot it's not a palace, it's more like a lean-to isn't it? Someone of my intelligence can't be capable of such brilliant buildings."
Sherlock turned from where he picked up his discarded scarf. "John, I never thought your intelligence was lagging—"
"I can't deal with this right now Sherlock…" John said quietly. "I can't deal with you." He added, his eyes heavy with sadness. "Maybe I was wrong." He muttered.
"Wrong about what?"
John didn't answer, his eyes fixed on the opposite seat.
"John, you think you were wrong about what, exactly?"
"Us." He murmured softly.
Sherlock took a step back, his omniscient eyes taking in everything; John's hunched posture as if he wanted to collapse in on himself, the emptiness of his voice, the darkness in his eyes, the sudden twitch in his leg, everything. He knew in that moment that he had done irreparable harm to the person he loved most and who loved him and he knew in that moment that the one seemingly insignificant breath he had blown all the way back in Bruges had hit them both like a gale-force wind and sent their house of cards crashing down.
And it was all his fault.
He did as John asked him and left, leaving John to his doubts, leaving him to simmer in Sherlock's unintentional quasi-betrayal, in his deceit and the fact that, once more, John had been lied to, had been used, by someone he trusted.
It was all his fault.
Sorry for reposting this! I tried to delete a chapter - ONE chapter - and I accidentally deleted the entire thing. Oh well. Thank you to everyone who previously commented, bookmarked and,/or kudos'd! That love is what keeps this thing going!
Chapter 2: red arrows (john)
"i watched you as you slept
red arrows fell around us
and before the sea came in
i knew you were the one
we are turning in the circle of the sun
we are falling into our new forms
i feel light i feel sent
catch me racing
across the skyline"
"Red Arrows (John)" - Gem Club
WARNING: SOME SEXUAL SCENES BELOW.
He was doing it again.
He was smoking.
He hadn't smoked in over a hundred days. He'd lit a cigarette in Damüls but hadn't had the heart or time to smoke it, not with John's voice chastising him in his head. He'd stubbed it out before meeting his contact, knowing it wouldn't be what John wanted for him. It had been his way of appeasing the restless darkness that was Non-John, the space that John would have occupied if he had trusted him, if he'd told him about Moriarty and St. Bart's and not kept it to himself so he could finally relish the feeling of winning and knowing he alone had done it. Instead he had lost everything.
He hadn't paid much attention to the unused cigarette pack. Not since John's last birthday, when he'd been deciding on whether to call anonymously or not and subsequently worked himself into an agitated state before lighting a cigarette and then getting into a very heated argument with the landlady over his right to smoke inside. He'd thought that it was the least of her concerns considering the opium den two floors above and three rooms to the left that he told her of in so many words. He hadn't made many friends that day, but that was because his Mandarin was limited and he had been focusing all his attention on the only friend that he deemed deserved enough of it.
Sherlock sighed, exhaling smoke into the rushing wind from his isolated spot in the back of the train. Apparently they had been fortunate enough to book one of the last trains that still had an open air carriage and it was, of course, bound for Sarajevo.
The capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina wasn't doing itself any favours in Sherlock's opinion. He doubted it would bother to differentiate itself from Novgorod or Moscow or Minsk. The post-Stalinist siblings tended to resemble one another in more than one way. The iron curtain had tried so hard at conforming them all into one in the darkness it cocooned them in.
But his thoughts were not on Sarajevo or that it was home to the boy with the spider scar or what fate possibly waited for him there or even the cigarette in his hand, as comforting as it was.
His thoughts were three carriages away, in the fourth compartment, on the seat on the left (providing that John hadn't moved).
John hadn't moved.
He'd drifted in and out of dark, murky, shimmering dreams that felt like he was floating in the boiling sludge of gaseous stars, adrift in the mud and muck of the universe before he'd finally surfaced out of the driver's sphere of influence and the fog lifted from his head.
He'd known better than this. He'd known he was better than this. He'd certainly chastised Sherlock for less.
John groaned at the thought. Of all the ideas he'd ever had, taking the driver was one of the worst. It had made him think things, awful things, things he'd never in his right mind consider much less accuse Sherlock of. What had he said? That Sherlock and Mary were working together to organise a sneak attack on him? If nothing else, he'd certainly implied it.
John groaned. He didn't think he'd ever touch the drivers again if this was what they led to.
Still, he couldn't staunch the acidic hurt that dripped itself through his body. Being used by someone unexpected stung his pride on its own (however unexpected Mycroft could truly be, John couldn't say), but it was a superficial wound when compared to being lied to and used in that order by someone he loved.
He'd learned his lesson with the agency, but he hadn't even begun to wrap his head around his and Sherlock's situation.
The one thought that kept him from losing all of his faith in Sherlock was the fact that he had done everything with good intentions, which was something he could not say with Mycroft, much less the agency. That one tether, however thin it was, kept his trust in Sherlock intact.
There were so many things he wanted answered. If Sherlock knew of Mary's employment, if John was just learning it, then what else hadn't he been told? What else had Sherlock discovered and hidden from him?
She didn't leave you. Mycroft had her removed.
But—wait—later, when John had been smashing glass like a petulant child in the middle of a tantrum, Sherlock had stopped him by saying something, something important. What was it that he said?
Mary left Bruges because I told her to.
John opened his eyes.
Why hadn't he realised that Sherlock hadn't told him the truth? At least not fully…he must've hoped John was too intoxicated to know the difference between the two facts, but surely he'd known that John would remember, surely he'd known that John was smart enough to tell the difference…
John shut the door to the carriage quietly. Sherlock didn't turn around but John knew he'd heard him.
"You shouldn't be doing that." John said, eyeing the lit cigarette caught between Sherlock's long fingers.
"It's not the worst of what I'd considered doing." Sherlock's gaze briefly darted over his shoulder then back away, as if he was looking at something he knew he shouldn't be. "I thought you wanted to be alone."
"Yeah, I thought I did too."
"Well, I'm not high anymore, so that changes things a bit."
"Right, of course." Sherlock took another drag, if only because he didn't know what else he should say. What else he could say that wouldn't destroy the remains of their situation.
"I never thanked you." John said quietly. "For carrying me to the train." He added at Sherlock's blank reaction.
"You're…welcome." Sherlock sighed, exhaling a breath of smoke. "If it had been me I know you wouldn't have left me there. However, considering your present state that doesn't seem too impossible to imagine now."
"Sherlock—" John groaned, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I don't think you can play the victim in this situation."
"I know very well that I can't and I'm trying not to undermine your suffering or justify any that I may have experience. I'm simply stating that, with your newfound mistrust of me, leaving me in the bathroom doesn't seem so impossible if it were to happen in the future—"
"I'm sure you've realised that I said a lot of things yesterday that I did and didn't mean. It tends to happen when you're not in your right mind."
"Are they things you might wish to divulge to me?"
There was something in his tone, something cold and metallic and dark, that made John frown at him for a moment.
"Well, for one, I didn't mean what I said about your family's slogan."
"Ah, yes. 'The Holmes Brothers: helping the helpless, but only if it's convenient.'" Sherlock repeated, taking another drag. "I actually thought that one was quite accurate."
"For Mycroft, maybe."
"He should have it engraved on the crest." Sherlock said dryly.
They both knew what was coming, what they'd have to address if any progress was to be made, but how to start? How to rectify mistakes that had been made with the purest of intentions that had been twisted in a dark hour?
"Sherlock," John began quietly. "Why did you lie to me?"
"To which lie are you referring?" Sherlock asked calmly, his eyes still on the horizon.
John sighed but it was lost in the wind.
"You're not doing yourself any favours you know."
"I know, but in order for me to properly redeem myself in your eyes I have to rectify any past errs I've made, and I have to start somewhere." Another drag, like it was a lifeline. "To which lie are you referring?" He repeated.
"You told me that Mycroft removed Mary from the Kremlin. Then you said that you told her to. Which was it?"
"As I said before, it was a combination. I called Mycroft to inquire if he could keep you in Bruges. He acquiesced, although he also misunderstood my request to mean that, so long as you remained in Bruges, anything could happen to you."
"So he just let me be kidnapped, then?" John asked with a wave of his hand. "Just like that?"
"Just like that." Sherlock repeated softly, the cold dark metal back in his voice. "You shouldn't worry about going after him. I already plan to."
Sherlock turned to look at John for the first time. The wind whipped his ash-blonde hair back, leaving all Sherlock's focus on his face, solemn and resolute; his unwavering blue eyes were the color of the clear sky above them.
"No. I don't want you to take revenge on him for me."
"I suppose this is for some noble and lofty reason, then." Sherlock said, stubbing out his cigarette.
"No." John shook his head. "It's not."
"You're a man, Sherlock, not a parrot." John said, and it took a moment for Sherlock to realize he was teasing him. So he was teasing now. A good start on John's road to trusting him again.
"I don't want you to go after him for me because he's not the one who—did this to me." John said, stiffly indicating his back.
"Then what do you want to do?"
John stared at him a moment, the wind sending his hair flying around his face. Sherlock's dark curls barely waved in the breeze.
"You know," He said, straightening up against the wind. "If we were in the other's place right now, I don't think you'd tell me what you were really planning."
"I would now."
"Why?" John frowned. "Why now? Because you learned I don't care much for being lied to? Because you learned it's not a good thing to hide important information from people who care about you?"
"No, I know the consequences of lying, John."
"Then why—" John swallowed, his voice hoarse. "Why did you lie to me? How do I know you're not lying to me now or that you won't later on?"
Sherlock stared at him a moment. The crease in John's brow was concern. The curve of his mouth was hurt. The darkness in his eyes was doubt.
How could he begin to change all those things?
"Because I love you." He said quietly as he stared at John. "Because I know you love me too."
Don't say you don't. Please don't say you've changed your mind.
John leaned on the railing again, shutting his eyes to the wind as he exhaled heavily.
"You can't think that saying those words can solve everything, Sherlock…" He said before opening his eyes again. "You know, before, in the bathroom, I wasn't lying or being overdramatic or anything." John said quietly, looking out at the scenery or the rusted iron railing or anything but Sherlock. "When I said that…when I said maybe I was wrong about us."
One thought and one thought alone managed to force itself into that fresh empty void that Sherlock could only assume was shock. It reminded him of red hot metal that had been dropped in icy water, the way it felt like he'd been frozen suddenly into a different, immobile state.
You've changed your mind.
John managed to bring his eyes up to Sherlock, who looked as if he'd been gutted of everything, like every important organ and impulse and thought that he'd ever had suddenly left him, casting his whole soul out to drown alone in open water.
"No, I do love you, Sherlock, I do. If you ever doubt anything in your whole life you should skip right over that because I will always love you, but you've just—fuck—" He laughed emptily. "You just don't know the damage you can cause sometimes. And that's the worst part. Whenever your plans are involved, I'm already being set up to fall."
"I'm sorry, John." Sherlock exhaled softly. John believed that, if Sherlock had ever meant anything he said, he meant this. "Truly, I am."
"How many times am I going to hear that?" John asked quietly, as if it hurt him to voice these thoughts, these things he thought at night while he waited for Sherlock to return only to wake up alone the next day. "How many times are your brilliant plans going to hurt me in the process? How many times are you not going to consider how I feel about whatever it is that you're planning and that maybe that I want to help you, not hinder you?"
"I never thought that, John. Never. Not about you."
"Then what did you think? You never tell me anything, and I don't just mean with St. Bart's or the time you were away. I mean anything. How can you ever trust me if you don't let me in?"
"But I do, John or…I'm trying to. I don't want to proclaim that you knew what you were signing up for when you became involved with me both platonically and emotionally, but I've never hidden anything about myself from you, and I don't plan to either. I've laid everything out before you."
"Just the bare minimum, Sherlock. Just the essentials. I know that you've never trusted anyone before much less loved anybody, but by saying that you love me, it means that you trust me and right now it doesn't seem like you do, so what conclusions am I supposed to come to?"
"That, by the default of my perceived distrust of you, I don't love you."
"Yes." John said, caught in an exhale as if he were trying to hold it back and it slipped past his throat.
"But I do love you."
"Then you'll have to trust me. From here on out, we're in this together. That means no secrets."
"And no withholding information. No hiding plans from me, no matter how important."
Sherlock nodded. "If you feel like I am trespassing, you have the full ability to leave me and never look back."
"See," John smiled. "I already told you, Sherlock. I'll never leave you."
Sherlock felt a genuine smile appear on his face.
He would let him in, if it meant forgiveness. If it meant being loved completely and wholly. It scared him, to let John into places that no one had been into, into locked rooms with stale air and rusted locks.
But John was worth it.
John didn't quite understand how it happened.
They'd gotten to Sarajevo just fine, in a comfortable yet slightly wound tension. Both were too uncertain of how to proceed although they knew and anticipated what it would lead to. It couldn't be said, however, that they hadn't tried.
John had offered a quiet kiss in the back of that open-air compartment but didn't like the smoky taste of Sherlock's mouth, still reeking of cigarette. Later, Sherlock had countered with a sudden nuzzling of John's neck as he'd napped, but John had woken with a start, sending a fist into Sherlock's face as he shouted something about 'don't—not there' which degenerated into a mumbled apology about knives and boilers. John had later tried to apologise, although they both knew who was at fault, but Sherlock didn't have the heart to try any other alternative approach.
Then, they'd arrived at their hotel, an unremarkable concrete inn with a rickety elevator and even more untrustworthy stairs. Yet they both agreed it was perfect since the last thing they wanted to do was attract attention. John trusted Sherlock's knowledge of inconspicuous residences since he had seemingly become a connoisseur of them during his global trek.
After a briefly polite explanation to a very baffled but kind lady at the front desk in broken Serbian about how they would be very alright with one bed, they entered the elevator. John thought he'd had a heart attack judging by the way his heart shot into his oesophagus as the lift started, thundering to life with a sound like cannon fire. Sherlock, however, was unmoved.
Their ride was silent, at least until they got to their floor.
One moment they were standing side by side in the lift, in their still silence as they rode upwards, and then, as the doors opened as the elevator jumped to a stop, Sherlock looked at John like he had made up his mind about something, grabbed the curve of John's jaw and pulled him into one of the most beautiful kisses of either of their lives.
John had never thought before to call a kiss beautiful. There were some that had been good or fantastic even, but this, this, was beautiful. The stars-behind-your-eyes, wipe-all-conscious-thought-from-your head kind of beautiful, like looking into the night sky and trying to comprehend your own mortality and insignificance. Except John felt quite significant at the moment.
The lift dinged, as if it was irately reminding them that it had other things to do than serve as their hormonally-charged, private broom closet. With something that sounded like a groan, Sherlock pulled John out and into the hall, but didn't anticipate that John, in his enthusiasm, would push back, sending Sherlock into the wall behind them. The hall was silent save for the sound of their gravid kisses and heavy breathing.
The click of a key. The opening and shutting of a door, and John found himself pressed in the cool darkness between Sherlock and the door.
"Don't think—" His words were broken off by a kiss. "That this—" And another. "Solves everything."
Sherlock drew away as John heard his coat hit the floor, his cheeks visibly flushed in the darkness as he stared down, his head resting on John's.
"Well…alright, then. Good." John finished lamely, the fire leaving his argument as Sherlock kissed the pulse point right in the soft underside of his jaw, next to an assortment of healing knife marks that now looked like someone had tried to connect a constellation.
"However, I anticipate that it might solve a few things—" Sherlock began, but was cut off as John took his bottom lip between his teeth and bit softly, enough to sting but not enough to hurt. The noise that escaped him seemed to John to be god-like, some breath infused with sunlight and warmth muttered from Apollo to Hyacinth, something that was certainly not human, not even remotely close—
The bed was easy to find considering it was the largest piece of furniture in the room. Sherlock soon found his back pressed against it, John looming over him, experiencing one of the rarer advantages of catching Sherlock off-guard. He managed to get his jumper off before crawling over Sherlock, burying his hands in that dark mass of curls as he drew Sherlock's face upwards into a warm kiss that pulsed with love and something tender that felt like blood rushing back into a constricted muscle.
"John…" Sherlock muttered against his kisses as John tilted his head back to look at him.
Christ, those heavy-lidded eyes would be the death of him. Sherlock swallowed harshly.
John laughed. "Nervous? You?"
Sherlock pursed his lips. "I thought that you would notice without my pointing it out."
John leaned back on his heels.
"Sherlock, we don't have to—I mean, if you're not ready—"
John stared silently down into the gaze that looked up at him, into unsure eyes that already gave him his answer. He exhaled softly, and a kind smile, love glowing from every curve, was sent down to the man beneath him, washing away all Sherlock's fears of John's anger at his timidity, at his decreasingly decimal confidence that only appeared with the man above him when he was above him. Sherlock the Virgin, eager to give it up but too afraid to lose it.
"I don't want you to think that you have to prove anything to me." John said gently.
"I don't." Sherlock answered in a quiet breath. Why was it that his affections felt they could fully manifest themselves on a goddamn train, but put them both in an acceptable bed that they turned on their tails and ran for all they were worth? He wanted this, he had thought of nothing but this to keep himself sane during his isolated exile, so why—why— couldn't he act on it?
He let out an unmitigated sigh, letting his head fall onto John's chest.
"Are you sure about that?" John asked.
"Can't I just bloody shag you?" Sherlock groaned into John's collar bone and John laughed.
"Not if you're not certain that's what you want…but I certainly wouldn't be complaining."
"It is what I want. It is. I don't think I've ever wanted anything more, but—" He stopped, moving his face to rest in the negative space between John's neck and shoulder as he wrapped his arms around John's waist. "But I want this too."
John smiled, shutting his eyes as he draped an arm behind Sherlock's neck, his other hand reaching down to let it meet Sherlock's as their fingers intertwined.
"So do I." He said, letting his head fall against Sherlock's. "So do I."
Sherlock woke to the sound of John's voice. He didn't know how much time had passed, but judging by the darkness of the room, not more than an hour.
"They took me somewhere dark…somewhere hot." John muttered.
Sherlock knew instantly what he was talking about, as well as that this was not the incoherent babble of a dream nor the dark dregs of a nightmare. He felt a tinge of jealousy for all the wrong reasons. He had been the one who was going to let John in first, but John, being that brave man that he was, being the soldier, he was beating him to it. But Sherlock's envy passed like dirt swept up in wind as John continued.
"It felt like I was inside a boiler. I guess they wanted me to sweat first, literally and metaphorically." John said quietly. He wasn't sure if Sherlock was awake or not, but it didn't matter. The words were coming out regardless, if only so he could confirm to the fitfully sleeping world what had happened to him, if only so he could whisper it into the currents of time and it could be taken as record instead of sitting as standing water inside of him, slowing tainting itself to stagnation.
He paused, almost expected sweat to start pouring out of him like it was on that night that seemed so long ago but was only a little over a week.
"They started with the whip. I still feel it when I wake up, even though most of the damage is healed over. I—right afterwards, it felt like Afghanistan again, after I'd been shot. I would wake up thinking that I'd passed out during the torture and they'd woken me up. That's why I hit you on the train. I...well, I thought you'd noticed, but then why would you find something you weren't looking for? I understand why you didn't. It's not how you work. Not how you think, either. I think your knowledge of the solar system is example enough." He chuckled, but it felt hollow, a pulse of sound filling the empty gap before he returned to that sharp burning, the crack snapping in the boiling air.
"Anyways," He felt his heart darken, the memory casting shade over it. "I don't know how long they went at it, but it must have been half an hour, maybe more. I tried to use some of the things the army taught me, mainly to avoid going into shock, but mostly just so I had something to focus on other than the pain. After the first ten minutes I couldn't feel any of it and I think they realised it, so they stopped…switched to the knife. Cut the IOU behind my ear, cut some other things too…my legs, the inside of my thighs—the outside too—but they were careful not to catch an artery, which I remember thinking was amusing at the time since I thought they were going to kill me at the end. I thought that right up until they cut me down and dumped me in someone's car. That whole ride I thought they were taking me to some godforsaken patch of earth with my grave dug in it. That whole ride I—" John cut off, his hand clenching and unclenching over Sherlock's shoulder. "I thought of you. Just you. I wanted you to be the last thing I thought of. It was nothing in particular, really, just whatever happened to come up that I could remember. You playing the violin or yelling at the crap telly or talking yourself into narcoleptic state after days of sleep deprivation…" John chuckled, and he meant it this time. "You know, for a doctor I never did you much good, did I?"
Sherlock didn't answer. John paused, listening to his steady breathing.
"Well, the car stopped and someone dragged me out, into another car. I didn't think much other than 'okay, they're not going to kill me yet'. If they were, who would change cars instead of just taking me to some abandon field and pull the coup de grace? By that point I knew we were heading east and I remember thinking that at least they were taking me closer to where you were, at least I could die close to you. I blacked out. Woke up a few hours later with what might have been the worst headache I've ever had. It reminded me of this technique I heard the insurgents in Afghanistan use. It's called 'La Corona' in Spanish and in Arabic the 'Hadeed Tajh'. Both mean 'Iron Crown', but I'm sure it's called something else too. The thing about Third World countries is that their torture tends to share similarities. It's crude, it's brutal, and it's effective. But with the Iron Crown—or whatever name it's going by—you're tied to a chair and put out into the sun with a wet rope knotted around your head, which isn't a problem until the water begins to evaporate from it and it tightens and in the pain you forget where you are, what your name is, if you have family…I didn't want to forget anything, I didn't want to forget you or what you mean to me or who I was, but I—but it felt like I was dying, Sherlock…and in all honesty I probably was. Multiple lacerations, dehydration, psychological torture…it can do a number on someone. So I tried to remember, tried to hold onto things that I didn't want to lose. Most of the stuff concerned you, but I thought about my mum and dad and Molly and Lestrade and even some of the Yarders too. I didn't want to overlook anything. And then—" John sighed. "Then I was at the door and you were catching me and I knew that I'd made it back to you and I could die happy. But I didn't, did I? You and Mikheia saved my life…"
There was silence, still, cool, soft silence like the air that billows out from sheets when they're falling over a bed.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Sherlock's voice came quietly, an inquiring whisper proving he'd been awake and listening.
"Would you have told me?" John asked with a hint of empty amusement. He didn't seem surprised that Sherlock was awake, much less that he had heard everything he'd said. On some level, he'd wanted him to.
Sherlock's silence was answer enough.
He turned his head, pressing it flush against John's stomach.
"I can't lose you, John." Sherlock said and John could feel him shut his eyes. "I can't."
Sherlock felt a small tremor of laughter ripple underneath his ear and lifted his head to see John smiling at him.
"That's a little selfish," John bent down and accentuated the word with a kiss. "Don't you think?"
"Selfish…" Sherlock scoffed, laying his head back down. His hands began idly tracing patterns on John's shirt. "I'm no different from you or the rest of the human race when it comes to selfishness. Everyone wants to hold on to the people they love. Everyone is selfish."
"I thought you weren't made in that mould?"
Sherlock looked up at him again, considering his words.
"Only with you do I change my shape. Only with you does metamorphosis occur."
John stared down at him, smiling with warm eyes. Sherlock felt like when he was a child coming home in the evening from an experiment in the forest and finding that the light out back was still on for him, even though he thought it wouldn't be.
"I suppose this is the part, then, where you sprout wings and fly away from me?" John asked, his hand softly travelling through Sherlock's hair belying his quiet admittance of his deepest, darkest fear.
"If I try to leave you, you may as well just crush me under your foot because it's not going to happen ever again."
"You're too pretty to crush…I think I'd pin you to a board instead. Then at least I could admire your superficial qualities every day."
Sherlock felt himself smile against John as his head gently rose and fell with every breath John took. Combined with his hand, gentle and soothing in Sherlock's curls, Sherlock briefly considered the fact that he may have finally found the cure to his persistent insomnia before he fell asleep, thinking that, of all the places on the Earth, there was nowhere else he'd rather be.
Chapter 3: the white hot heat
"i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)"
- [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] - ee Cummings
WARNING: SEXUAL SCENES BELOW
Sarajevo slept into the dawn.
The watery light of morning could barely drag its fingers on the floor, blocked by the thick curtains of a sparsely furnished room as the sun pulled itself from the foggy dregs of night, opening its great eye upon its sleeping side of the world.
Two figures lay in the greyness, corporal shadows in the pre-dawn.
"Why?" Sherlock asked quietly into the lightening shades of darkness.
They lay together, Sherlock's head tucked under John's, John's hand still tangling itself in Sherlock's hair like he couldn't bring himself to leave it.
"Why haven't you left me?"
John shut his eyes.
"I told you I wouldn't."
"But you're so much better than me, John. You're so…good."
"Well I suppose I am the paradigm of the better man in this relationship." John joked and Sherlock's eye roll was not lost on him even though he couldn't see it.
"It's quite a cumbrous title, to be honest."
"I'll make you a sash and you can strut about announcing it to the world."
"I don't strut. That's something you'd do, you big peacock."
"Peacock?" Sherlock lifted his head. "Why a peacock?"
"Haven't you noticed how you always draw everyone's attention when you enter a room? It's like you spread these great loud feathers and people have no other option but to look your way. It's either your beauty or your formidability, I can't decide which. Maybe both."
"Well by that account you shouldn't be surprised if I start sprouting feathers."
"Honestly, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if you were an extra-terrestrial."
"What made you assume I was an alien?"
"Nothing in particular..." John started. "I suppose it was an amalgamation. You have this gift, Sherlock, and sometimes I really think it's unworldly. I mean, how you can just see people but at the same time you see them—who they really are—it's…it's amazing."
For a moment Sherlock shut his eyes. Didn't say anything. Just breathed through John's shirt into his shoulder.
"After all this time…" He finally muttered into the knoll of John's scar.
"After all this time, you're still amazed by me, by the things I do, by who I am…it's like you're never bored with me."
"I could use a variety and plethora of words to describe you, but boring will never be one of them."
Silence lapsed over them like wave washing onto sand, calm and easy.
"I've never been religious, John." Sherlock said.
"No, I can't say you have."
"But…but if I was, if I had anyone to thank for you, I would. Every day. I'd thank them for you. Although, since that's quite counterproductive to my current viewpoints, I'll just have to abide by thanking you for you."
"Or my parents, since I am a by-product of the two—"
"Can't you just enjoy the compliment without your constant modesty getting in the way?" Sherlock groaned, but John knew he wasn't truly annoyed. "I am very grateful for your presence in my life and I am trying to show you."
"See, the thing is, you don't really need to, Sherlock." John said, smiling softly. "I already know. You've got your own little ways of showing me—"
Sherlock sat up suddenly, hovering over John with a mad frenzy in his eyes as he cards a hand through wild hair.
"But that's not enough, John. It's the basest, most pathetic means of affection. You know, wonderful. You know because I'm too much of a trainwreck to tell you myself. It's not enough."
John looked at him silently before he answered, unwaveringly calm and quiet, powerful in his certainty.
"Yes it is."
Sherlock found his throat tightening like someone was clenching it in their fist, like he couldn't breathe from the weight of it all.
For once, he didn't have anything to say.
He stared at John and John stared back and in that moment, he felt protected. He felt impenetrable, untouchable, safe, all from those steady blue eyes staring back at him.
He leaned forward, weight on his bent arms, and let his hands graze the edges of John's face before he drew in and took one breath—in and out—staring at John before he kissed him. It was whole and kind, a welcome, feeling to both like coming into the warmth from the cold and they knew what it meant, what actions could say that words couldn't.
Lazy kisses became harder, became forceful, became hot. Skin to shirt became skin to skin as what little clothes John was wearing melted off to settle into pools on the floor, Sherlock's own soon stripped from him and joining the pile. Hands drifted and grazed and grasped and pulled with rising insistency. Sherlock felt like his heart might burst, even though he knew the risk of that happening was impossibly high. Suddenly the room grew cold, his skin was too hot, his hair awkwardly stuck to his temples, he felt gangly...he was limbs, all limbs, tangled with John, and every part of him was in the way. Every part of him was too hot, too bare, too open and exposed...John would sooner laugh at him than fuck him, and he certainly didn't deserve him in either scenario.
"Hm." John made a sound in the back of his throat as he nipped and kissed and let his hands slide wherever they cared to.
"I feel naked."
John drew back for a moment.
"You are naked."
Sherlock's face, the lack of response, the rawness that was so evident in his hand covering his chest as he clutched at his shoulder, in his crossed legs, in his eyes, told John everything he needed to know.
"Come here." John managed to say, and it sounded like coming home. Sherlock looked at him owlishly through large eyes and obeyed, climbing into his lap and letting the damp heat and heavy air churn between them. He draped his arms around John's neck as John splayed a hand over his back, moulding him into the cocoon of his embrace. "I won't hurt you." John muttered, kissing his shoulder. "You know that, right? What am I saying, you're Sherlock Holmes, of course you do. I will never hurt you."
"I know." Sherlock answered quietly into John's hair, his lips brushing his ear.
John splayed a hand across his back as he pressed a kiss to his neck and then there was a wet, concentrated coldness that made Sherlock's skin prickle, but it wasn't uncomfortable. Just...new. He should have known John would have foreseen this, that a doctor would tend to bring the necessary materials involved in intimate situations that Sherlock hadn't even begun to consider and-
Sherlock's mind blanked, a warm blissful whiteness passing through his mind like a cloud in the warm summer breeze.
A heavy silence.
John groaned softly into Sherlock's shoulder, his teeth grazing the soft, salty skin.
Sherlock exhaled and shut his eyes.
Like slipping into a warm bath after being out the snowstorm.
"Are you alright?"
"I highly doubt there's been any other instance in my life where I've been more alright than this moment." Sherlock said calmly despite the prickling fire that had broken out underneath his skin. "Christ, it feels like I'm moulting."
"You big peacock." John chuckled into his shoulder before he brought up his head, resting it on Sherlock's clavicle, kissing the area where Sherlock's heart beat beneath hot skin. "I'm going to move. Is that okay?"
Sherlock dug his hands into John's hair, his voice darkly feral as his eyes bore into John's.
"I will kill you if you don't, John, I swear—"
John pushed. The bone of their hips met, ground against each other, and sparked.
In that quiet darkness of pre-dawn, there was fire.
They let it wash over them, let it course through their veins and burn away the dirt and grime that had accumulated in their blood, clogged by loneliness. As it burned, it left them hot and fresh like rain on summer pavement until steam began to rise off them and their bones turned to jelly. The fire settled into their hearts as it grew and pulsed, stoking the coals like a furnace until sweat was drawn from every pore and it felt like they were in a sauna and not some inconspicuous hotel room in an inconspicuous city in a conspicuous country, not knowing the fate that quiet city held in store for them.
The pulse quickened. Harder. Quicker. Deeper. Deeper. Striking the core of something Sherlock had ignored for years, for all his life since he could give it a name and now it was wiped away as John splayed an arm over his back, keeping them close. A ragged gasp escaped Sherlock and he let out a shaking exhale.
There were no muttered benedictions of awed beauty, no murmured words against hot skin, no whispered declarations of love. They were no longer needed when they could be said silently.
Sherlock really did feel like he was moulting, he was shedding his skin like some primordial snake peeling off its old skin that it had once thought fit so snugly but now realised it was constricting; it was suffocating him slowly and he hadn't even noticed until sweet air breathed over fresh skin. He hadn't cared. Not until now. Not until John had reached his hand out and begun to pick it off. How could he ever go back? He couldn't. Didn't want to. Not now. Not ever.
His soul began to breathe again, basking in its revival.
John had rested his head on Sherlock's shoulder, his face buried in his neck against flush, damp skin. Sherlock's knuckles were white with strain as he gripped John's shoulders, breathless pants escaping him as John bit his collarbone.
It's all because of him. Your soldier. Your brave little thing. Your human being, keeping you tethered to him like a moon to the Earth.
John pushed and he pulled. John's exhale was his inhale, heavy and desperate as they grinded against each other, moved with each other like they should always have belonged that way and they were just now realising it.
Sherlock took John's face in his hands, those long fingers tracing around the lines of his face, holding his head in the wiry cage of Sherlock's fingers.
"John…John, look at me. Open your eyes. Please."
"Christ..." John gasped, his eyes half-lidded and muddled.
"No...just me." Sherlock tried to smile, but he was too consumed with that slow heat, with fascination at this man beneath him, in him, this man that was saving him and didn't even know it.
John tried to keep his eyes open and hold Sherlock's gaze, but it was harder in act than in theory. His heart was glowing metal, a white hot heat hammering away at it.
"Don't go away, you can't go away—" A gasp fell from Sherlock as the breath was forced out of him with a particularly rough thrust. "You can't go—" Fingers tightening on his shoulder. "You can't—" A messy kiss. John sucked on his lip, let his tongue roam, tasting the toppled pillar of salt and sweet gathered sweat.
"Sherlock." John groaned, tightening his hand on Sherlock's hip, his nails digging into the soft skin. Sherlock's breath was ragged like choppy waves on a dark beach, sliding against John's steady tide.
John felt water drip onto his collarbone and he knew. He knew that Sherlock's desperate, shaking breaths weren't at the sensation, at their new bond, as strong and beautiful as it was. He knew exactly what the great detective grieved over. The years wasted, the negative memories, the negated time they hadn't spent together.
John had mourned for it already, cried alone in the back of an alley. Sherlock now cried in his arms.
"Not going anywhere." John muttered, his lips grazing Sherlock's. "M'not going anywhere…"
Sherlock dug his long fingers through John's short hair, grazing his scalp, sending soft sparks trickling down his spine before coiling in their connection like electricity through copper wires that had been soldered together.
"I'm right here. I'm right here. I'm—"
Flashes of light, those brief glimpses of heaven, started to strobe.
They cut him off with a startled cry.
Chapter 4: tar
"just your touch could cure my lonesome blood
you let go of everything you had
and everything got left here
waiting for what comes next
the state of things is tied to me
and I've been careless, I think too much
I want to lie still near you, I want to"
"Twin" – Gem Club
Sherlock doesn't dream. It's a fact. He just doesn't.
So, when he does dream, he remembers. Or he likes to think he does. He has a list of them. His Dreams That He Remembers.
All five of them.
When he was six, he dreamed of murky water and old wrinkled eyes and steel and cold wind that burned straight through him and felt like sadness. The next day his father died. Sherlock didn't notice his absence until three days later, when he noticed the curtains were drawn and he saw his mother striding through empty halls swaddled in black. He still didn't know how he felt about it.
When he was eleven, he dreamed of bloodied, raw meat and a damp wetness and a strange smell like cabbage and parched throats and something-hot-but-not-burning. He woke up with wet sheets, quietly washed them, and never spoke of it again. He knew Mycroft had seen him, had gotten up to get a glass of water—though knowing Mycroft it was probably a midnight snack—but Mycroft hadn't said anything to imply he had. Sherlock hated all the things he owed him—it was like trying to count stars—and when he was younger ad full of impotent rage at his brother he would stare up at the night sky and he would hate those plasmatic spheres that stared back at him, like evidence of his debt, and he wanted to wipe them all off that pure black sky with his hand and just leave the darkness.
When he was 29 and had finally emerged out of a drugged seven year stupor that he liked to call Lost, he dreamed of heat and sweat and red-but-not-blood. Just red. He met Greg Lestrade four days later, walking in on him during a criminal investigation at a Tesco and saving him the time of figuring out the culprit before he directed him to the skip out back where a video surveillance tape was stashed, indicating a regular customer that liked to stop by at 2am and hold up the place.
When he was 35, he dreamed of a strange land, of fresh and salt water and sun and wind and John. He woke up in an unsettling, shaking pain that he thought was either love or indigestion. He didn't know what it truly was until he saw John three days later in that godforsaken church and he felt that pain again, right in the hollowed part of his chest that he could feel but not name. He knew what it was though. Everyone knew what it was, but it just didn't have a name, that insufferable hooking behind his navel and below his heart that seemed to pierce straight through him and send an icy shock through his limbs.
When he was 35, he dreamed of darkness that smelled like chlorine and sweet clots of blood and a John that was Not-John.
He had fallen asleep in John's arms, sated and happy but fearing that he had become rather spoiled now and knowing that he'd never fall asleep again if John wasn't there. He just knew.
John had sighed in utter contentment, but dried wind swept it away as Sherlock plummeted into a hollow, dry pit that undulated with darkness. Sherlock could taste the bitterness of blackberries bursting in his mouth, even though nothing sat on his tongue. Like clots of coagulating blood sitting in his mouth that he couldn't spit out. He took a deep breath and recoiled. Chlorine. That dizzyingly sharp, stinging, clear scent that was so like Moriarty's cologne to him.
Someone was with him in the dark and deep inside he knew it was John. He relaxed.
At least until Sherlock could see him.
John's skin was cracked and broken like old pavement, streaked through with a smouldering tarry blackness like the veins of a leaf held up to the light. This was Not-John, some shadow taking his form, but he looked like him, he smelled like him, he talked like him and it was hard—so hard—not to say it wasn't John.
"This is a turn up, isn't it Sherlock?" Not-John asked quietly, just as he had at that Pool, that fucking Pool, with explosives strapped to his chest and a madman's whisper in his ears. "What, no kiss hello?"
His smile was bloody. There was a shimmering darkness in his eyes like the shadows reflected off the Pool that night, that night he almost lost John before he had truly found him, that night he realised just how big that pyre was that his heart lay in, ready to be torched by Jim fucking Moriarty, and that night he knew just how much John Hamish Watson meant to him, how invaluable he was, how much of his love Sherlock had already invested in him and not even known it, not even realised...
"Who are you?"
"Captain John Watson." Not-John said it like it was obvious. "M.D." He added with a wet, red grin.
"No you're not."
"What do I have to do to prove it, then?" Not-John asked, holding out his hands. He took a step closer to Sherlock. "I took the darkness from you." He whispers into his ear quietly. "While you were busy with me inside you. Fucking you. I left and you didn't even notice. I went right into your heart and I found the darkness. I scooped it out—it was like tar—and I swallowed all of it down, all that I could cup in my hands until it was empty. I licked it off your veins and sucked on your tendons like they were sweets. I wanted to you to be clean. Pure and whole. Like white linen sheets. But I couldn't get the blood off."
He wiped at Sherlock's brow and his hand came away red. He looked confused, like the answer didn't fit the question. "I couldn't get the blood off."
John's face flashed like an interrupted transmission before he was back, his face smeared in blood, his blue eyes bright but blank, glowing through the translucent pale skin of his eyelids that were tinted a cold shivering white, like snow.
"You fell for me once." His eyes were so damn blue, like ice that hadn't thawed. "If I recall you looked quite like this, didn't you? You can do it again."
"NO! No, John, I can't, I can't, I don't want to—you're the start and end for me, my Alpha and Omega, I can't lose you, can't leave you—"
"Sometimes I sit and I think about what would happen if I left you."
"Yes." Not-John's voice was a hiss, a gush of steam. "And your face when I tell you that your darkness is poisoning me and I have to get away, away from you…sometimes you look like those dead fish hanging from hooks at the market, shocked that their end came quickly and they hadn't even realised it until they were flapping in the air. Other times you look like a devil, all slathered in shadow and blood—my blood, Sherlock, because we both know you'll kill me one day—and you'll rage and say I'm yours, just yours, no one else's, and you'll try to bite me and get me to stay but I'll still go out the door."
Sherlock said nothing but his head twitched as if he was trying to deflect the idea.
"What? You think that won't happen? You think you won't kill me? I know you will, Sherlock. You know you will. You already did, once, didn't you? But you only took my heart then. My brain still worked. And look what I did without you. Look at what I accomplished without you." John stepped back, a mad grin on his face, he was proud of himself. "John Watson, assassin extraordinaire! He'll do the job for you, but only if you pay well."
Not-John looked at him with his chlorine eyes and his utterly cracked smile grew.
"Oh don't look at me like that Sherlock! What did you expect? That I'd just sit and twiddle my thumbs and reheat your tea every time it got cold and do nothing but wait for you?
This Not-John was a greater yet more terrible John. He was more beautiful in his fury, in his marble skin, but he was crueller, far crueller, far more brutally honest than His John.
"I waited for you." Sherlock said quietly.
"No, you ran from me. You hid in all your little cubby holes around the world, hoping to find traces of someone that had already been buried. You left me alone in a flat I couldn't afford in a city I didn't love and I was dying every day, over and over again. London is a cancer in my bones without you there to blast the grime away with your radiation. And you do radiate Sherlock. I think if nothing else—if no other word can describe you—you radiate. Madness. Beauty. A chaotic poison that shines underneath your skin. You're a mad genius, Sherlock, and I'm just the lab rat."
Sherlock stared at him mutely.
"John," His voice was hoarse and thick. He paused. "Give me my darkness back."
Smiles. Flares of light that hurt his eyes. Tar seeps through Not-John's skin, but it doesn't spill over his face, it just…stays. Like the veined blackness of space between stars.
"Too late. I already took it from you. It's like a disease and you've been innoculated. Absolved, even. You can't get it again. I either pass it on or let it burn me from the inside out and there's nothing you can do but watch. You should've known better than to let me in since this is was it will lead to."
Sherlock looked positively sick, pale and whitewashed and about to vomit.
"Haven't you noticed my silences? My surrenders to the pyre as I toss bits of myself in? Haven't you noticed The Emptiness, Sherlock?"
He could do nothing but stare at this Not-John that said all the things His John wouldn't and he could feel nothing but conceited disappointment because of course he should have noticed, should have recognised that The Emptiness was what filled His John's eyes when he fired his gun and The Emptiness was what His John had used to survive his torture and The Emptiness was quicksand, was a vortex, a black hole, and it was going to swallow His John up until he turned into Not-John and Sherlock couldn't allow that to happen.
His John was everything—everything—in every sense of the word.
Not-John smirked, a stream of blood pulpy with bits of flesh spilling from his lips.
"The great Sherlock Holmes, undone by a Nobody that goes by the alias of John Hamish Watson." You know, sometimes I think I'll leave you while you sleep, so you wake up alone." Not-John gave a happy gasp and held up a hand as if to signal something. "Can you feel that?" Not-John breathed in his ear. "The coldness." He looked up, his face holding a terrifying wonder. "You know, I think I already have."
Sherlock opened his eyes, breathing heavily. He touched his face, as if it was covered in the blackness, in that tarry deep space, but his hands were clean. He looked over beside him.
No no no —
John's space was empty. He ran his hand over it. Cooling, like night coming over hot pavement.
His voice sounded more broken than he wanted it to. Hoarse and cracked, a low whisper.
The room was empty, nothing but the sparse furniture and the dawning morning to fill it. There was no trace of John, not of his clothes or bags or anything.
Empty empty empty—no he must be dreaming, still a dream, John can't be gone, he can't just leave—
A terrifying thought struck him.
It was as if John had never been here to begin with. It was as if last night had been a dream meant to tide him over before the nightmare struck, some island of peace and bliss that he knew—he knew—had been too good to be true.
Facts. Stick to the facts. No unrealistic conclusions, they will get you nowhere.
He sprang up from the bed, completely naked as the day he was born, and snatched up his clothes from their various pools on the floor, knocking something off the bedside table as he moved. He looked down. Lube. So last night had certainly happened. He let the memories coalesce.
Warmth. Light behind his eyes, strange, new, but welcome. John was inside him, pulsing, moving, twitching. He could feel his heart beating. This couldn't stop, could never stop, it should be infinite, a universe expanding forever and ever, the heat blasting away as it pushed and pushed outwards, as far as this galaxy's fingers could stretch. After they were done, he pressed his head to John's damp chest and listened to that primordial drumming pound away like the heartbeat of the Earth after its creation.
In that thrumming quiet, he supposed that was as far as his knowledge of the universe could go. He liked to believe that he used to know more before he deleted it, volumes upon volumes of information regarding the Big Bang or Hawking's radiation or proton decay and then a man named John limped into his life and he tossed all of it into the rubbish bin next to useless information like how to make a fruitcake or whether the chicken came before the egg. How empty his mind would be if he deleted John, he mused as he listened to John's breathing. Would he remember what it was like to feel his kisses, to feel their sweat mixing together as they collided with one another with unavoidable gravity, that heaviness that the asteroids must feel when they crash into planets as if they were destined to? Some days, when he felt masochistic, he wondered what state he'd be left in; it must be something like the living dead. John had made him watch a ridiculous zombie movie once, but he found himself sympathising with the walking dead instead, and he remembered abstractly thinking that, without John, someone better just shoot him in the head instead of leaving him to the coldness of the world.
Then he had woken up to silence. That horrid quiet, so similar to the one that had lain between the coolling of the Earth and when man learned what name to call himself.
He tossed the bottle back onto the bed.
He had better, more important things to do than reflect on a life without John since he needed to focus on not making that a reality. He snatched his phone up from the table and typed a text out one-handed as he attempted to drag his shirt on with the other.
Where are you?
If not dead or maimed, reply immediately.
Unless your fingers have been sliced off. However it should be stated that in theory you could still use the stubs to type.
Though I hope they haven't. Been cut off, I mean.
John. Answer please.
He paced for a moment. He was seized by the sudden urge to throw something, to cause destruction.
We do not have the finances to repay the hotel for the damage I am about to do to this room in my anxiety.
If you think my response to your absence is exaggerated, we're in a foreign fucking country, and neither of us knows the language well enough.
I hope you're not dead. I hope with equal fervour that you are also not being a hero. I would much rather have you here.
Sherlock was about to send his caution out the window and rush downstairs when the door opened and John came in, trying to balance two cups of coffee as he pulled his phone out.
"Bloody hell, Sherlock, eight texts in five minutes? You couldn't wait a bit longer before you went off your rocker?"
Sherlock sighed in relief and sat on the bed. He thought his knees might have been shaking. And here John was, walking in like Sherlock hadn't just had a panic attack.
"Why didn't you answer me?"
"Well you try texting when both hands are carrying coffee." John smiled as he set down the cups, his smile so different from Not-John's, so unburdened and clean. He walked over to the bed and cupped Sherlock's face, kissing him on the forehead. "Sorry you had to wake up alone. Especially after last night—well—this morning. I thought you'd like waking up to coffee better than my morning breath."
Sherlock wrapped his arms around John's waist, burying his head into the soft curve of John's hip, wanting only to get closer closer closer, there was too much in the way, too much skin and muscle and blood and bone and why—why —couldn't he just burrow into some small corner inside John forever, why couldn't he just be surrounded by John always, why couldn't their morning be infinite—
"Sherlock," John's voice was softened concern as he tracked his hands through Sherlock's unkempt hair. "Will you let me in?"
A faint movement against his hip. Sherlock turned his head and exhaled heavily, shakily.
"I…had a bad dream. A nightmare." He said quietly. He felt a sudden rush of embarrassment at the sheer immaturity of it all. Nightmares were for children. He couldn't just go cry to John because of a bunch of fabricated images from his subconscious. That didn't mean, however, that he didn't trust John to let himself cry to him.
"Want to talk about it?"
"It was dark. It smelled like chlorine." Sherlock began. "But you were there, so it was alright. At least at first."
"What did I do?" John asked with all the seriousness as if someone had actually attacked Sherlock.
"It was you, but it wasn't. Looked like you at least. He—he told me that sometimes you think what it would be like to leave me one day. Or I would kill you. I don't know which would be worse—I think both would kill me—but I have to go with you leaving because then I would know you were alive."
"Sherlock." John said gently, firmly. "Sherlock, look at me." Sherlock let John's fingers guide his chin up. "I will never leave you. Ever. In any circumstance. And maybe you will kill me one day," John admitted, like he was saying there was a chance it would rain today, "But I'd rather it be you than anybody else."
Sherlock had nothing to say, looking up at John solemnly.
His lip trembled and he buried his head in the softness of John's abdomen, his knuckles a strained white as his long fingers held onto John's hips like he was about to be swept out in a current and they were the only things anchoring him down. How long ago had it occured to John that his demise might lie at the hands of the one whom he loved and loved him most? How long ago had it been that he'd accepted it?
"I'm still waiting for you to push me away." Sherlock said quietly. "To tell me what I did to you was terrible, was the worst thing anybody could do, that I'm damned in your eyes and you'll have no part of me."
"That's just the thing, Sherlock. I want all of you. All the good. All the bad. All of you."
John sleeping beside him, talking to him, kissing him, loving him, that was something he couldn't quite name but he could feel it. God, could he feel it.
"There will never be anyone else. No one before you, and so will it be after." He said quietly and he felt John chuckle against his ear.
"God help me if I have to live without you again."
"I won't live without you." Sherlock said. "I want no part of a life without you and, if given the chance and we can't escape it, I want to die with you. If you go then so do I."
"What does that entail?" John asked softly, his hands smoothing over Sherlock's curls. "Dying together, I mean."
"I tell you that I love you and then we go together. Hand in hand, if possible."
"Together." John smiled. "I don't think I devote enough time to the habit of fantasizing about my death, but if I did I would want to be with you. Near you. As close to you as I could get." He let out a small laugh. "You know, most people don't talk about this in normal conversation."
"People." Sherlock scoffed. "People always let you down or leave."
"Surely you can't think that's all there is to it."
The look Sherlock gave him was more than enough proof that yes, he did think that.
"I didn't leave and I should hope I haven't let you down."
"You're not a good representation of people."
"And what—um—what does that mean exactly?"
"You're not like everyone else John. You're capable of evolution. Soldier, partner-in-crime, assassin. In times of crisis you become something greater than what you were before. You're unstoppable now."
"I wouldn't say that. Everyone's stoppable in one way or another. You've just got to find the weak spot in the wall."
Sherlock said nothing. He inhaled deeply.
John's smell was golden. Not like gold, nothing metallic and pretty and cold. That wasn't John. John was sunlight and soft blades of wheat waving in the wind and sand and heat and salty dry earth that wasn't parched but quietly alive. He smelled like dried sweat and a tangy bittersweetness like dark chocolate and—Christ—he smelled like Sherlock. That was the best of it all. He'd never expected to smell himself on John and the sheer wonder of it all felt like someone had dropped a ten stone slab of lead on his chest from a great height.
They lay together on the bed, John on one side and Sherlock on the other, their coffee forgotten on the table.
"If we died together," Sherlock said slowly, hands clasped over his stomach. "I'd want to feel you one last time, anywhere I could get my hands on, at least before you were cold. I wouldn't want your warmth to go away. I can't stand the thought of you cold."
He could hear John's breath hitch. Oh god, he said something wrong—
"Is death…is it a…fetish to you or something?" John asked tentatively, rolling over on his side to face him.
"Not quite a fetish—I'm not that depraved John—it's more a morbid fascination."
"Oh…well that's alright." John said, relaxing.
"Sure. Lots of people are fascinated with death. It's a very human thing, speculating your mortality."
"Would it bother you if my fascination wasn't alright?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean if my fascination went beyond the realms of alright, if it was a crazy obsession, if I was completely barking mad about death and it got me off. Would that bother you?"
"You just said it wasn't a fetish."
"I could have been lying."
"No you weren't." John said surely and Sherlock looked to him for explanation. "Your mouth gets all firm when you lie and it looks like your nose tightens and almost pointier, if you can believe that. You get this—this haughty look when you lie, like you're better than it all."
"Better than lying?"
"No, better than lowering yourself to lies for the benefit of other people." John frowned then. "Why do you ask if I'd be alright with a fake fetish?"
"Prurience." Sherlock shrugged.
John laughed. "Well if it were prurience I'd think we had a bigger problem on our hands." He looked at Sherlock a moment. "Want to know why I know you're lying?"
"You already told me."
"No, the other reason. It's quite…logical." John said, knowing just the word itself would bait Sherlock's interest.
"What gave me away then?" Sherlock asked and to John it sounded like he assumed he was humouring him.
"Because you know I would do anything for you and, if death really was a fetish to you, adding in your sexual attraction to me, logically that would mean I would stage my death for you—it would be simulated of course—before we have the hottest shag in the history of hot shags."
Sherlock had thought their shag this morning had been the hottest shag in the history of hot shags, but he also had nothing to compare it to. Something that would remedied shortly.
Then he imagined John dead. Even if he did fake it, even if he had the cruelness to manage it like Sherlock had with all the best intentions, that image sat in Sherlock's head like stagnant standing water. Blood on John's face. Blankness in his eyes. Stillness of his chest. Sherlock could feel cold fear prickle underneath his skin. He couldn't even bear the thought of it, even if John sprang up and shagged him senseless, the image of him dead would distract Sherlock the whole time. All the colour, any he might have had, had drained from his face and left him looking an ashy, whitewashed grey.
"See?" John said, breaking him out of his darkness. "That's why I know you're lying. You can't even stomach my simulated death even if it was solely for your pleasure." John shrugged. "Thus, you were lying." He looked over at Sherlock, expecting to see a proud grin at his deduction, but instead Sherlock had thrown a pale arm over his eyes. "Sherlock? Are you alright?"
"I couldn't even endure the thought for two seconds." He muttered, dragging his arm away and looking over at John with a troubled expression. "How? How could you do it for three years?"
John pursed his lips and a sad smile crossed his face for a moment.
"Excessive denial, mostly. I told myself every morning that you would come through that door and every night I said 'Well, maybe tomorrow'." John looked away, a smile coming to his face. "And then you did. Well, not through the door, exactly, but you know what I mean."
"I knew it was you." Sherlock said. "In that church in Bruges. I knew it was you as soon as you spoke, I knew by your voice, by your silence, by your footsteps. I knew."
John was silent, as if he hadn't heard him, but Sherlock knew better.
"I thought you were going to shoot me. And I would have let you. I still would. I deserve it."
"Many people deserve many things, Sherlock, but not you. You don't deserve any of it. You can trust me on that…I've known plenty of people that have."
"What does it feel like?"
"Should I be rethinking my conclusions on your death fetish?" John asked, his voice teasing but with a black current underneath. Sherlock waited for him to answer and he sighed. "It didn't feel like anything, I suppose, when you get down to it. Whenever I have my finger on the trigger, I let whatever part of me that I can manage split apart and duck behind whatever shrapnel cover it can find. Then I went back and salvaged it later, trying to put everything back like I found it when I was alone. Or if Mary was there."
"You still trust her."
It wasn't a question.
"Yes." John answered quietly. "I feel like a right prick, reacting the way I did. I should have known better."
"It's not your fault, John. You gathered what evidence you had and deduced what you could. You suited the facts to suit your theories."
"Do you think I'll see her again?"
"Yes. Sooner rather than later, considering the fact that you two always seem to be on the same continent at any given time."
"Well, thanks to her, so were we. We just didn't know it."
Sherlock said nothing, but buried his head in the inverted curve of John's arm.
"There's something else I was wondering." John said.
"When can we get a shower?"
Sherlock grinned against John's chest before he followed him up to the bathroom.
The hospital was sunny, which was just about the only good thing Mikheia could find about it.
You're being ungrateful. They saved you your life, did they not? Find other things to be happy about. Stop complaining.
He supposed the food wasn't too bad either.
It was just the raw, unfiltered diaspora of being in a country that had a language he could hardly speak.
It was the isolation of it all that really got to him. Everything was too still. At least when Sherlock was around he was always in a frenzy, trapped in thought or letting his silent presence seep through the room, and then later John was around to talk to about anything, but this sudden silence, their absence…it was like dunking red hot metal into icy water.
It was the loneliness. No more Sherlock. No more John. No more adventures or gun fights or travelling.
Mikheia wondered if he would ever go back to Novgorod like they said he should. He was an adult in his own right, he didn't have to listen to John or Sherlock if he didn't want to, but he respected them too much to disagree. He knew quite well that they were smarter than him in the ways that either his youth or education had denied him. But he had felt so isolated, so trapped, before Sherlock had let him join his adventures, and now it was like he had looked away from the sun and everything was dark and he couldn't see anything as it used to be, only cast in shadows of disappointment.
His nurse, Lia, came in, bless her. The right amount of rush and quickness in her step to take his mind off the slowness of the day.
"Privet, Mikheia. Tebe uzhe luchshe?"
Hello, Mikheia. Feeling better?
Yes. Thank you.
Lia, bless her, who knew a smatter of Russian from her time in East Germany, although he preferred Serbian. Lia, bless her, who had a son around his age and thus took special care of him. Lia, bless her, who was carrying those pills that made him feel like his mind was a warm summer breeze. Like he hadn't had a piece of compact metal burn through his shoulder.
"Do you miss them?" Lia asked, checking the bag of fluid by his wounded arm. "The two men that brought you here?"
"Yes. A little more each day."
"They are in love, yes?"
"Yes. Very much in love."
Lia watched him take the pills with careful eyes and smiled, tossing the cup for him.
"Spokojnoj Nochi, Mikheia."
"Net. Do svidaniya."
No. Until next time.
The door swished shut. Left him with the sunlight shining through gabled windows. Left him with his thoughts and silence.
He had seen so much of the world in so short a time. German and Belgium in under a week, not to mention those they had passed through. He couldn't go back to Novgorod with its small walls and its concrete and its history. Not now.
He wanted more. He wanted to be somewhere else, his heart gripped in the fist of the Wanderlust, that curse that had cost his grandfather's life and now was his to bear.
He wanted to be with Sherlock and John. He had to. Nothing else was quite like their adventures, nothing else made his heart feel like bursting.
Mikheia looked up to see a man in the doorway, dressed in a sharply cut suit.
"Da—um—yes, that is me, sir."
The man looked at him a moment. Sizing him up like a rack of meat or hunted game.
"May I come in?"
The man walked in slowly, like he was testing to see if the tiles would give way under his weight. Like he was stalking prey in tall grass.
"Does the name Sherlock Holmes mean anything to you?" He asked.
Mikheia was suddenly hit by the desire to not trust anything this man said. Criminals, even a reformed one like him, knew one when they saw one. There was a slickness in his eyes and a cadence in his voice that screamed Do not go into a dark alley if I am behind you or your throat will be slit and your wallet gone faster than you can say 'Help me Jesus'.
"No." He shook his head, putting on that innocent face that had saved his life more times than he could count. "Should I?"
The man stared at him.
"May I ask how you received your injury?"
"The Germans and Russians have never gotten along, sir. I thought that much was obvious—"
"Funny. For a Russian you have an odd accent."
"Apologies, sir. I did not know you were an expert."
The man's face soured like he had eaten a lemon.
"Why are you so far away from home, Mikheia?"
"If I address you respectfully sir, then I expect the same from you."
The man's teeth were grinding.
"Why are you so far away from home, Gospodin Mikhailovic?"
"The Soviet Union was disbanded two decades ago, sir. Therefore I can go wherever I wish. It is the beauty of a non-Communist state, see. Free travel and all that."
This man was getting annoyed with him. Good for him. He clearly did not have much patience.
"May I ask how you got here?"
"I will answer if you tell me your name. It is a formality that strangers enjoy when they are being courteous with one another so they do not seem impolite."
The man stared at him with dark eyes.
"My name is Moran. Sebastian Moran. I have a proposition for you. And I can guarantee that you are not going to say no to me."
Chapter 5: the tower of babel
WARNING: SERIOUS BAMF ACTION
"There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don't you?"
"Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men."
"The Hollow Men" – T.S. Eliot
For reference, John sat here
When Sherlock first told him of his exploits, his tracking down and burning Moriarty's web, it had seemed so exciting, so thrilling, so like what they used to do. John felt as if he could have all the gun chases again, all the hand-to-hand combat, he could get flesh wounds again for Christ's sake! And Sherlock would be there, be there to worry over him and be quietly protective and loudly reckless.
Pure conjecture on his part.
He realized this as he sat at an open air café off the famed Baščaršija square and waited. He'd been there for a half-hour already. Not that he was complaining, since his surroundings were more than pleasant.
The café was tucked off the square like an alcove and he sat in the middle of a quaint little courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a hotel of sorts, whitewashed and framed in a dark brown, with the lower levels serving as typical Turkish bazaars selling their wares; plush rugs and silver trinkets mostly from what he saw. A large tree had been planted in the centre, shading a majority of the seats and tables and leaving the mosaic-like cobblestones cool to the touch. Peaceful noise drifted through the arched entrance to the café from the main streets of the square, full of tourists and locals, good people and bad, young and old. The bands of bracelets hanging from the stalls tinkled in the breeze like wind chimes.
If he had picked anything up from his time with Sherlock, it was his habit of people-watching, which was gleefully exacerbated by the agency; they took that basic rudimentary skill and taught him how to use it, moulded it to their needs. When he'd first started, he had the abstract feeling that Sherlock would have been proud of him, or as proud as he could be of anything that he'd had a direct hand in (somewhere John knew he'd claim all the credit and give the agency none they deserved).
Sherlock had taught him to pick up details on people with one sweeping gaze. Inconspicuous. Something normal and unobtrusive when one walks into unknown territory.
Two men behind him, two tables to the right, talking in rapid Bosnian about something that was probably as mundane as bills but sounded to John like Tchaikovsky madly plucking the strings of a ponder, dark, exciting and foreign and melodic as all languages seem to a non-speaker.
A family of four: man and woman, teenaged son and older daughter. Three tables back. Dutch. Tourists.
Two women, Colombian, judging by the dialect. Two tables beside him. Young. Beautiful. Laughter like the tinkling silver bracelets beside them.
But the agency had taught him to take those details and read into them. Something Sherlock hadn't had the time for before his departure (it was just a departure, John told himself when he ate alone, worked alone, woke alone).
The two men. There was an urgency in their voices, hushed and low, that suggested that the topic of conversation might be illicit. They met at the café because one was staying upstairs in the hotel. John had seen his room key sticking out of his pocket, along with a passport. That glance told him that one man was ready to run if he had to. That he didn't necessarily trust the person he was talking to. They weren't eating in the building next to them that advertised 'Restoran' in bright green letters, which meant that they wanted to be somewhere open-air to have their talk without the interference of waiters. Conclusion: illicit behaviour, but they aren't expecting a fight. Just business.
The family. Talking with the buoyancy of happiness and contentment. Vacationing. Not discussing the wife's affair. Not discussing the son's early-onset signs of heroin addiction. Not discussing the abscess in the husband's lungs from years of cigarette abuse and long nights at work. The wife's ring was missing. The son's eyes were heavy and drawn; there were marks in the crook of his bare arms. The husband's coughs were constant and thick with a sickness not yet diagnosed. John supposed he should go tell them, just sit down and reveal every single thing he had observed and warn them to get help, but who would listen to a well-meaning non-native stranger in a foreign country? Conclusion: strained filial bonds, on holiday to retrieve the remnants. Harmless, generally speaking.
The two women. Dressed impeccably well, some kind of travel-chic like models right out of a magazine. Wearing real gold. Rich, and eager to show it. Not tourists, though. He had heard them order their coffee in Serbian. John quickly crossed out prostitution. No streetwalker wore anything with great value when they were working. They knew the language well, they were young and beautiful, they were…Ah. One of them caught eyes with the Dutch son, the heroin addict, and nodded quickly, looking to someone who just glanced over like she was tossing her hair over her shoulder. Drug runners, then. Conclusion: Professionals. Unarmed, but to be watched carefully.
If anything, Sherlock had taught him to glimpse the interesting parts of people.
The agency had taught him to see the ugliness.
The room was dark when the door opened again. Mikheia blinked, willing his eyes to adjust as he dragged himself out of a shallow sleep. His shoulder burned like smouldering coals had nestled inside it and they shook around, setting his teeth on edge.
"Ko je tamo?" He said, hand groping for the light.
Who is there?
A deep voice, distant but not threatening, soothing in its heaviness. Like running your fingers over a guitar's strings in the dark and hearing them hum. There was safety in its familiarity.
"Kojih je jedan?"
Mikheia's hand found the light and he turned it on.
In the darkness it was his father. Bleeding from between his eyes. Staring at him with eyes that only stared. Eyes that his fingers had brushed as a child that hadn't shut because rigor mortis had already set in and they were frozen open. Eyes that burned him through that cheap casket that had cost them two days of food and his mother's pride.
As his eyes adjusted, it was Annushka. That man that had driven the flaming hot fragment of hell itself into his chest. That man that he and his friends once laughed at and called Anya because the poor man's mother had been an illiterate and thought Annushka was a boy's name, not a nickname for the English 'Anna'. That man that acted stupid so that Mikheia—whom he knew was the cleverest of that sorry bunch of bastards—would underestimate him, would tried to steal from the simpleton Anya, get caught, and pay for it. That man that had gone and let his pride get in the way, that man so drunk on alcohol and bloodlust, that had gotten his ear shot off and his head blown through because of a small, hurt boy that he had introduced to the world's cruelty too early.
In the light it was Sherlock Holmes. So dark and so pale, like a raven trapped under snow.
"Where is John?" Mikheia asked.
How the hell do you know Serbian? You never let on.
"Sleeping in the hallway." Sherlock answered. "Trains don't agree with him."
You really think I'd enter a country and not have a grasp of its linguistics? You know me better than that, Mikheia.
"How long will you go?"
"I don't know."
"Mr Holmes, I—"
Do not send me back. Please, do not send me back. Let me come with you. I will carry bags. I will translate maps and signs. I will just get coffee and sit and do nothing else. I do not care. I will do anything you ask. Please do not send me back.
"No, Mikheia. It is out of the question."
I can't. I'm sorry. I'll pay your hospital bills—or Mycroft will, rather. I'll send you back with enough money to last for years. I'll give you a stipend, even. Write to you when I can. Give your sister the love letters with my signature that she's been daydreaming about (as long as John doesn't mind). I'll do anything. But I will not take you with me.
I know you know what it's like. To be trapped in your head when you want to move. You and I are similar men. We want to bathe in the fire. I can be burned. I have been plenty of times. I can survive. Just like you did. Just like John. There's no fire in Novgorod. There's too much concrete.
"Mikheia. You know I can't. John can't. You have so much to lose. We only have each other."
It's enough though, isn't it Mr Holmes? I saw your face that night, I saw you as you wiped the blood off John's face.
"And me?" Mikheia asked quietly. "What do I have to lose?"
My life? I have already tried that. Nearly lost it. Recovered it. Sheltered it. Let me take it out of the fireproof box. Let me live.
"Your mother and sister need you."
John needs me. Just me. And I need him. I had three years of needing him. I will not wait any longer.
"They need money." Mikheia said, desperation creeping into voice as he realised that maybe joining them was truly not an option. "I have seen your brother. I know that I do not need to worry about their finances."
You can try and keep me here, but I'm going to find you because I tasted the fire of a supernova and it burned me in a beautiful way that shook the starry leaves off of the cosmos. It burned me to match your doctor and now we are twins and you can't separate twins Mr Holmes because they will find each other one way or another, like magnets. You can't rip Gemini in half without the other stars bleeding in protest.
"Mycroft will listen to me if I advise him against it."
No. I won't, because I owe you. I owe you for saving John's life and I owe you for that bullet in your shoulder because of it. But this conversation is over, Mikheia.
"John and I will be gone in a few hours." Sherlock said, his voice cold and clipped like a knife buried in permafrost. "I anticipate that in the next few days a man will come here. He won't tell you who he is, but he will ask if you know me. You will tell him no, but I don't need to tell you that, do I? You wouldn't say yes, because even though you are angry at me you don't have the nature to seek revenge on me or on John since you think maybe one day you can join us like you're hoping and you don't want to ruin your chances."
Sherlock knocked away the call button that Mikheia was reaching for.
"Mikheia, you aren't that petty as to end a conversation because you don't care for its results. You know very well why I am leaving you here and it's not just because of that hole in your shoulder. It's because you will wait for that man to show up and when he does you will realise why I don't want you with us. You will see him and you will understand because he is dangerous, he is ruthless, and, unfortunately, he is efficient. He won't harm you, though. John and I would not abandon you to face him if we thought he would. He just wants me and John. He doesn't care for bystanders; they are useless to him. You are a bystander. You let a mad genius and his doctor run around you in circle for a few days and then you got dizzy enough to get yourself shot and that is all, do you understand?"
Mikheia couldn't get his words out fast enough.
"Sherlock, you cannot—you cannot just leave me here. I told you once that I have not stayed with you for pity or money, and it is still true, it is, but you cannot just leave me here with your brother and think that money will buy me off when it was not even the reason why I went with you, why I stayed—"
"Do you understand?" Sherlock repeated, as if he hadn't heard anything Mikheia had said.
"You know I do!" Mikheia burst out in a loud, raw voice whose existence Sherlock had long suspected but never witnessed. He could see tears in the boy's eyes. "So why do you keep asking me? I know that we are friends, Sherlock, and friends do not just abandon each other. I heard John tell you that friends do not let one another watch them fall, or do you only listen to him when it is convenient for you—"
"Do you understand, Mikheia?"
Mikheia had heard that voice say that phrase only once before, when his father told him to run close to the walls and not look back, no matter what sounds he heard, no matter how much he cried. It ended with a sudden spray of his father's blood onto the dirty slush of the sidewalk, ended with Mikheia knowing in his five year old heart that his father would never laugh again, never smile or joke or hug him, and that he was alone, all alone, and thus the son christened into this world with the blood of the father.
"Please." He said quietly. "There has to be another way. I cannot stay here and I cannot go back." He felt tears drip through his shirt. "There is only you and John. There has to be another way."
Of course he understood and Sherlock knew it too. He understood many things. Maths. The Roman Empire. The proper assemblage of an AK-47. The Belgian language. The British desire for world conquest. The chords of a guitar.
This was no different.
He understood the words far before Sherlock said them in his cold clipped voice that sounded like a sniper's silenced bullet, too quiet for anyone in the hallway to know of the life it just destroyed.
"Go home, Mikheia."
It was odd that, separated by four countries, this memory chose to let itself be summoned at the same time by its two witnesses.
Sherlock felt bad about leaving the boy.
There. He said it. Or admitted, rather.
He'd known the instant he'd seen John again that he would leave Mikheia behind. It had been a sudden realisation, a tiny little epiphany like headlights flashing across a dark road before moving on.
He only had one friend, and now he was back.
He didn't know what he considered Mikheia. Child? Adult? Friend? Ward? A little bit of all, he assumed. So young, so wounded, so eager. Sherlock supposed that he had seen some of himself in that boy. Some whispered recognition that they were in the same sinking boat and had only each other to bale the water out, some flash of kinship that made him want to shut Mikheia away where no one would harm him, save that little boy with that spider scar because no one had tried to save Sherlock until John and maybe he just wanted to salvage in that boy what Sherlock had lost.
If he looked objectively, it was because Mikheia reminded him of John. Loyal. Brave, and wounded because of it. Far kinder than he was, and far shorter too (though who wasn't?). Admired his genius in ways that others didn't, in a way that wasn't fearful or jealous but…awed. Sherlock didn't come across many that enjoyed it and fewer that wanted to stay with him in part because of it.
He strode down the stone streets of the Baščaršija square, in a hurry to get back to John and tell him all that he had learned.
He knew John had been disappointed by his daily activities, although he was too kind and polite to say so. John had heard 'burn what remains of Moriarty' and he took that to mean 'get the flamethrower, take no prisoners'. Sherlock hadn't warned him of the boring days, the days when the leads didn't pan out or he reached a dead end, the days when there was nothing to do but wait and drive yourself crazy.
This was one of those days.
After his talk with Mikheia, that horribly distant talk that would save that boy's life, he had talked to Mycroft.
The hospital hallway had been empty. Mycroft had probably seen to it to ensure John a peaceful sleep. His way of apology. Sherlock was nearly too angry with him to take a step further once he saw him at the other end of the hall. His hands had trembled with a cold rage that he rarely let himself feel simply because it was so potent, so heavy, so angry that he feared for those around him when it reared its head.
"Good to see you again, Sherlock." Mycroft said in that infuriatingly calm voice, as if he had done no wrong and didn't plan to.
Sherlock didn't answer and Mycroft tutted.
"Surely you'd have something to say to me after your long absence."
"Such obscenities, Sherlock, really, they don't suit you more than they do a twelve year old—"
"Fuck you." Sherlock repeated because it felt good to say the first time and that feel had diminished no less the second. "Fuck you for leaving John like scraps for those wolves to feed on, fuck you for knowing how much he means to me and abandoning him, fuck you for nearly letting him die, and fuck you for wearing that fucking tie. The colours make you look bloated."
Mycroft gave a sigh as if to say 'well, what can you do?' then eyed Sherlock. "Finished?"
Sherlock stared back at him.
"You know, I'm wondering what use our good doctor is to you Sherlock when he seems to bring out such ugly feelings—"
"What do you want, Mycroft?"
"I see you've lost none of your charm, brother mine. You'll be happy to know that Mikheia will make a fully recovery—"
"You're avoiding the subject. Tell me."
Mycroft glanced to the right, a habit he had when he was annoyed, and exhaled heavily.
"We received a report from Sarajevo early this morning. CCTV scan from the train station." He said, reaching into his jacket as he pulled out a small photograph, blurred and grainy. "I believe you will find it of interest."
Sherlock took it and stared.
"Will you be telling John?" Mycroft asked solemnly.
Sherlock said nothing, continuing to stare blankly at the photo.
"I know sharing isn't in your repertoire, Sherlock, but I think John deserves to know what he's getting himself into."
Sherlock's head twitched to the side slightly, as if he was shaking his head.
"Oh?" Mycroft perked. "You disagree? Well, let's see how far that gets you."
"Don't be fat and stupid Mycroft, you're only good at doing one." Sherlock snapped as he turned around and Mycroft sighed.
"I realise you are only acting out of frustration, my dear brother, but time is of the essence here. Your train leaves in two hours. You have until then to decide your course of action."
Mycroft turned to walk away but Sherlock's murmured voice stopped him.
"Sorry, what did you say?" Mycroft asked, doubling around.
"I said what do you suggest?" Sherlock bit out, not turning to look at his brother.
"Tell him. If he is going to die for you, let him know who will be responsible."
"Will you abandon him?"
Mycroft didn't answer.
"If I leave," Sherlock turned around and Mycroft stared in disbelief at the expression he saw. "Will you abandon him? Or will you watch over him, play Big Brother, and not let him out of your sight?"
Mycroft looked at his brother for a moment, deciding to ignore what he saw so long as Sherlock allowed him to.
"No." He answered calmly. "I did not abandon him, as you seem to be so fond of suggesting. They took him before my reconnaissance could report their presence to me."
"But you waited. You waited until he was half dead to get him out."
"There is a difference between waiting and taking caution, Sherlock. We didn't know where he was or what they were doing until we managed to extract his location and raid the place. You wouldn't have liked what I saw. I didn't like what I saw, to be quite honest."
"What?" Sherlock stepped forward. "What did you see? What did they do to him?"
"That," Mycroft said quietly, "Is something that you should ask him yourself."
Sherlock said nothing, clenching and unclenching his fist in frustration.
"Do take care of yourself, Sherlock. As beautiful a city as Sarajevo is, there are snakes underneath the stones that are ready to bite. Make sure your doctor knows that. I doubt his expertise in antivenin."
Mycroft turned away.
"Answer my question, Mycroft." Sherlock said lowly and Mycroft pursed his lips as he looked over his shoulder at John's sleeping form, as curled on the hospital bench as he could be considering his wounds.
"If in two hours our good doctor remains here, he will not be alone."
Mycroft walked away without another word.
Sherlock took one look at the photo, then one look at John. He took the photo, folded it twice, tucked it in his pocket, sat down beside John, and waited for him to wake.
John sighed, leaning back in his chair. Sherlock had been adamant about going alone. Whether it was for John's safety or his own, John didn't know, but he had assured Sherlock twice and twice again that he was carrying his gun and would use it if he needed to. He'd certainly been gone long enough, but John was certain that if there was trouble, Sherlock would text him.
His phone lay still.
No one new had come into the courtyard, so he couldn't test his deductive skills on anything new unless he wanted to subject it to the tree.
What to do, what to do...
John glanced into the archway, where he could see the various bazaars in the square bustling with activity. A man stared back at him.
It was the grey that caught his eyes, his gaze snagging on those ash coloured swaths of clothing.
He stood, forgetting where he was, focusing on that gun tucked away in the hem of his pants, focusing on the burn of the wounds that still hadn't fully healed.
It was the grey that made him run.
Sherlock headed towards the archway, mind still circling his memories in the hospital, a great unease blanketing his nerves. He'd been gone longer than he'd anticipated, although Mycroft's intelligence had been worth the trip two-fold. Leaving John alone had not been sitting well with him, especially after he had seen that photograph.
He finally realised why when, just as he reached the arch that lead to the café, John bolted in front of him, not even giving him a second glance.
So that's what that feels like.
A pulse of cold fear panged through him as he realised who John was chasing, a man clad in grey that Sherlock knew with unflinching certainty was the same man from Mycroft's photograph.
The same man that had tortured John, who had shot Mikheia, the one he had hoped to surprise later that day, with John at his side so he could get the revenge he so badly deserved.
The sniper, bound by unrequited duty to wait out in the open, seen by all.
"Get out of the way!"
John barrelled through the stone streets, his shoes banging harshly with each step as he shoved aside the bystanders that were in his way.
Careful, careful. They're innocents. Not threats. Pure, not red (that you know of). Focus on the grey. Just the grey. He's the one that did this to you. Your blood is on his hands. Find him, find him, make him pay for what he did to Sherlock, for the pain he caused him when he saw your body, do it, run run run—
You remember that look don't you? That look on his face before you passed out from sheer happiness (and maybe more than a little blood loss)? That look you thought was the last thing you'd ever see of him and you were happy, so happy, because you saw him one last time. Your last wish, fulfilled.
But it wasn't, was it?
You woke up. You looked into his eyes. You kissed him and he let you in. You both know what that means to him. You both know that this man almost took you away from him and his wrath would have been of Biblical proportions, an angry and vengeful god set on destruction. You have to stop the grey, erase it, purge it, keep it from hurting him ever again.
As John ran through the bazaar a standing display toppled into his path and he vaulted over it, ignoring the burns of his still-healing wounds if it meant catching this man, if it meant erasing the grey from the world. He felt the burn of adrenaline, the hammer of his heart, the delicious slow burn in his lungs—
Hell, he felt alive again.
He'd been on plenty of foot chases before, both with Sherlock and without, but this one, this one burned with the clearest purpose.
Protect Sherlock. Don't let the grey find him first.
He'd known fully well who was staring at him in that archway. Knew who it was when he stood up, toppled his chair over, and bolted after him.
Sebastian fucking Moran. 6'2". 178 pounds of lean muscle that could snap your ulna like a twig as soon as dislocate your shoulder before you could even realise he was moving.
Soldier. Gun for hire. Author.
John had hardly believed it himself when he came across the titles in his research with 'Moran, Sebastian' listed as the author on the online catalogue. Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas. Three Months in the Jungle. He had briefly considered the thought that it was simply two men sharing a name, which happened often enough, but a quick scan through the pages of each revealed an uncommon bloodlust for hunting game, which sent off all the alarms in John's head, a warning that screamed 'This man would give Doctor Moreau a run for his money. Beware with utmost caution'.
Moran knew fully well what he was doing. And John knew fully well where this was going. They might have been eclipsed in the sun of their mad geniuses, but moons lie in the shadow of nothing, and they drift through space alone before they too will move in front and block out the Sun one day.
His gun pressed against his side. He could feel sweat begin to dampen his shirt against it.
It seemed that John had nothing better to do with his time than chase whatever got in his way.
"What do you do in your free time?" Sherlock asked quietly.
"You." John teased with a smile.
Sherlock's wet hair curling against the pillow, his skin still damp from the shower, water dripping in rivulets over his chest as little wisps of steam curled off his pale shoulders into the cool air. John's hair was matted to his head like papier-mache but it couldn't conceal the pale red scars about his left ear.
"What, you mean like when I'm not working?" He asked, and Sherlock nodded. "Well when I'm not shooting people I'm treating gunshot wounds and when I'm not treating gunshot wounds I'm shooting people."
"But your free time. When it's just you."
"I go out to the pub and wildly shag random strangers every night."
"Unlikely," Sherlock scoffed. "You're a doctor, John. You know the risks of sexual promiscuity."
"Yes, but I'm considerate, I smile often, quick to a joke…people often answer to that. I have what you'd call a natural charm, don't I?"
Sherlock's silence was more than enough confirmation.
"I can hear the gears grinding together." John smiled, tapping Sherlock's forehead. "Easy, I'm just taking the piss."
"Was there really no one?"
"Not a one." John said with an easy smile that said he didn't regret a minute of his abstinence. "There were plenty of opportunities, mind you. I'm not hideously unattractive or rude, so naturally I got a few offers. I accepted a few even—I guess to prove to myself that I could—but I realised very quickly that none of them would ever work."
"Well…they weren't you, for starters. Actually…that's about it. They weren't you. That's all I needed to know, really." John looked over at him. "Did you know that you look like a bloody barbet with wet hair?"
Sherlock said nothing, letting his thumbs brush over John's jaw before he leaned in and kissed him, his lips sharply sweet with the dew of apologies and promise of compensation. The kisses were sleeping in Sunday, leaving early Friday, coffee after waking up at noon, fresh air on a still day, waking up to a smiling lover.
John lazily rolled over, keeping Sherlock beneath him as they kissed. Idly, while his brain was on standby, he tried to place the taste. Copper. The shine of silver, sharp and bright. Earthen, like cloves. The dryness of old paper.
They were still naked after the shower, neither paying much attention to dressing simply because there wasn't any kind of urgency.
John planned to make good use of the fact.
Hands rolling over soft plains, feeling humming skin and damp shoulders. John closed his mouth around one, feeling not only the bone and sharpness but the softness between the two. Sherlock made a strangled sound and insistently tugged his head away to meet his mouth once more and John allowed him a few deep kisses that tasted of a glowing fire late at night, when people slept but others stayed up to watch the flames die.
He pulled away and his hands gently wrapped around Sherlock's hips.
Sherlock groaned. John tasted.
Skin. Sweat. Saltiness, like the damn Black Sea itself, undulating in its freshness, its pungency. A warmth that tasted of heaviness and spun sugar.
Christ, just the sound alone would make him come.
He felt as if he had just open-mouth kissed a column of the Tower of Babel, language flooding from the salt pillar into his senses. Sherlock's mind was flood with warmth, with a sudden rush of a language he'd long overlooked. Fingers tight in his hair— te sunt omnes. Pale hand gripping the sheet like an anchor in the current— te sunt interitis. He ran his hands along Sherlock's thighs, smooth and pale like marble, but pulsing with heat. A hand scrabbled at his and intertwined the fingers it found—te sunt tatum. Tongues rolled and swirled in empty and occupied mouths. Iliums twitched, ischiums pulsed upwards—te sunt mundi, sidera, Sol. Muscles tightened in on themselves, writhing, shaking. Tremors. John's hand left the curve of Sherlock's hip and drifted to his own lazily, like a lapping tide.
Te sunt spiritus, cor, anima.
A choked sound escaped Sherlock as he broke apart, John drifting after him, and that was the only sound in the room for a long, long time.
They had laid together for another hour, unwilling to leave their room, pressed front to back and as naked as the day they were born. Despite their previous activities, however, there was very little innuendo to be found in their actions, just simple intimacy. Twin souls comforting each other, embracing as closely as possible as if osmosis could be an option.
When they finally did manage to get dressed and wander out, it proved rather disastrous.
They'd been exploring the bazaars of Baščaršija when it started. John had been playing tourist, haggling with sellers without buying anything, stopping to look at whatever caught his eye, and Sherlock had been looking at him with utter fascination, as if he were realising the true worth of something he had only ever guessed at.
As John paused to examine a throw rug, a sharp voice rang out.
They both turned, one in inane curiosity and the other in reflex to the name.
A dark blonde woman, mid-twenties and oddly familiar looking, was staring at Sherlock with blazing blue eyes as if he had just insulted her in the worst way possible.
"Oh, no—" Sherlock sighed, before the woman bounded up to him and slapped him with a resounding, harsh smack.
"Hanne," Sherlock held up his hands, taking on that face that he assumed regular humans made when they didn't want a fight. "Vennligst forstår—"
The woman moved as if to slap him again and John stepped between them, grabbing her hand.
"Sherlock, what the bloody hell is she on about? Who is she? Who is Sigerson?"
"Han er!" The woman shouted, grabbing her hand back and pointing at Sherlock.
"Her name is Hanne." Sherlock said calmly. "I lodged with her family in Syria. Vacationing Norwegians. With my conversational knowledge of the language, I fit right in. Perhaps a little too well…" He added, eyeing Hanne, who was still red in the face with anger.
"What—I don't understand. Did you—I mean, were you two a…thing?"
"A thing?" Sherlock asked. "She's a human being, John, I'd hardly reduce to calling her a thing—"
"Did you…were you romantically related?" John said, feeling his face flush although he knew it didn't matter.
"Romantic?" Sherlock echoed with a bark. "She was more inclined than I was."
"So why is she angry with you?"
"Løgneren! Tyven!" Hanne shouted at John, as if gesturing wildly would help him understand Norwegian.
"I may have stolen some money from them to finance my trip to Khartoum."
"Mycroft wasn't allowing me any finances and I had to get out of the country immediately, what was I to do? Oh, don't look so scandalised, John, it's not as if this should be surprising in the least—"
"Well can't you just pay her back or something? It's not like Mycroft hasn't stuffed our wallets with cash from a million fucking countries—"
John moved in exasperation and Hanne's eyes widened, all the fight fleeing her. Both John and Sherlock followed her gaze to where John's gun lay tucked into his waistband with just the hilt peeking out. He had made sure to let his cardigan cover it, but it had been momentarily pushed aside by his arm.
John looked back up to Hanne, who had her hands up.
"Ingen problemer, beklager—" She met John's eyes with a cautious insistency. "No—trouble."
"Oh, wonderful, now she speaks English." Sherlock said acerbically.
"No, wait, I don't mean any harm—" John said, reaching out to show her, but Hanne backed away fearfully.
"Bli der du er!" She said, casting another shaky glance at the two before hurrying off into the crowd.
"I suspected that you'd been carrying your gun with you, John, but I must say that it is quite handy."
"Yes, well please don't expect me to go flash my gun at any other strangers that you happened to have robbed along your travels." John said dryly. "Otherwise we'll never get anywhere."
"I feel obliged to tell you that there are a good number of them."
"But the likelihood that they are in Sarajevo are staggering. The ratio alone must be in the triple digits—"
"Care to bet on that?" John said, smiling, which Sherlock mirrored before heading on with his quick pace. John began to follow but stepped on a cobblestone the wrong way and stumbled, Sherlock too absorbed in thought to notice.
A hand shot out to steady him, but its grip on his arm was tight, too harsh to be friendly. That grip knew where his still-raw injuries lay.
Enemy. Not Sherlock. Swathed in grey, not black.
"Careful, Doctor Watson." A low voice said and John turned his head in confusion, only to meet the black gaze of Sebastian Moran.
He didn't know why he hadn't shot the fucker in the face right then and there.
Maybe he thought his mind was tricking him. Maybe Sherlock had gotten too far ahead already and they were in a country where it was better to be together than apart. Maybe it was because he knew Sherlock wouldn't wait for him, no matter how many blowjobs he got or however many times he told John he loved him (John didn't hold it against him though. Quite the opposite. He found Sherlock's impatience endearing, when it wasn't annoying him at least). Maybe he like that rush of fear that he felt as Moran stared at him and he stared back. Maybe on some level he recognised that if he drew his gun and shot, he'd either be arrested faster than a hooligan trying to pants the Queen or shot right back, and then Sherlock would be all alone.
Whatever the reason, John moved on into the crowd, following after Sherlock and not knowing whether to tell him or not.
It didn't matter though, that he didn't tell him.
An hour later, he was chasing him through the streets.
Sherlock's ratio of people he pissed off—to—people in Sarajevo seemed with every hour that passed to be falsely corroborated.
John's heart was the happiest it had been in years, thrumming, pounding, beating out a rhythm of sheer joy as he ran. His brain hummed with cool purpose, focusing in on one target and nothing else. Hell, if he squinted, he could pretend he was running through the market of Asadabad, wearing that god awful uniform that he hated right up until the moment he took it off, when he began to miss it with a terrible ferocity. Asadabad, where he could rip off his Kevlar with the rest of the troop and dive into the Pech and not worry about anything for a half hour at the most and just float in the cool water and pretend he wasn't there. Asadabad, where he burned on that beach in his dream, where he was taken from Sherlock like a fish on a line, left to wake in that crushing despair where every shadow looked like a silhouette of that mad genius as the fever clung to him. He still tried not to think of the Kremlin, but that didn't mean he didn't. And it was also another story, for another time.
Right now, he was chasing that grey, that fucking grey, through the market as if the devil was on his heels, and perhaps in a sense he was. Bystanders turned briefly to look at them or yell, but they all passed by in a blur, becoming sparser as the crowds thinned and the market ended.
John knew very well what Moran was planning to do. He was too smart to fire into a crowd, not because he might hit a civilian, but because he might miss. He was a trained sniper, accurate from a distance, not running across bumpy cobblestones that might jar his aim.
He wanted John alone.
And John was going to let him believe that he had the upper hand.
He pushed past the last coagulation of people and caught the flash of grey as it disappeared down a sidestreet.
He can't run forever. He's going to find somewhere to ambush me eventually.
And so he did.
John sidled up to the bakery with the smashed window carefully. He felt like he was back in Afghanistan again, creeping up on buildings that brewed and teamed with the enemy.
He had, however, expected the bakery to be empty considering that it was a Sunday. Yet two women and a little girl turned their eyes up to him fearfully, a tray of pastries face down on the floor in front of them, dropped in shock. A family taking advantage of down time to catch up on their baking, not suspecting that a crazed psychopath would crash through their window when he found their door to be locked or that a small British man would calmly follow as if he'd been trained for it, as if he had been waiting for this moment all his life.
"Čovek?" John asked, summoning what little Bosnian he had managed to glean from the pamphlets. "Siva?"
The woman pointed with a shaking figured to the back of the bakery, where the machinery whirred away in an alcove. John nodded, keeping his gun drawn.
"Out." He said solemnly, and they must have trusted something in him, his face or his gun or his resoluteness or the fact that he was after the strange man that had invaded their bakery and ruined their day, because they fled hurriedly into the street.
As he vaulted over the counter and into the alcove, there was a screeching bang as the lights were shot out.
"And I thought we were playing fair." John said, ducking down and crouching behind some metal cabinets.
"You let me burn, John Watson." The sandpaper voice came from the darkness itself, everywhere and nowhere. "And I plan on returning the favour."
"Funny," John said, scanning the room. "A friend of yours once promised the same thing."
"Do you know what he told me? He said people like us, they don't get happy endings."
"Well you shouldn't feel bad. I didn't either."
"Holmes came back for you."
"We actually just met in the middle in a happy coincidence." John said dryly. "But being with him again, that doesn't mean I'll get a happy ending. Look where we are now."
Moran stepped forward out of the darkness from across the room, hands in his pockets, shadows still clinging to him as if trying to drag him back.
"I suppose congratulations are in order, then." He said with a bitter grin.
"For what, exactly?" John asked, raising his gun to aim in the centre of Moran's forehead.
"All the fucking shagging you lot have been up to." He said, laughing as he picked up a tulumbe and bit into it, spitting it back out onto the floor before he could chew. "Marathon sessions, from what I can tell since you've rarely left the hotel." Moran tossed the pastry to the floor and looked up at him, cocking an eyebrow. "Honestly, don't you have anything else to do?"
"Did you?" John smirked, watching Moran's face darken.
"Don't you fucking bring him up, Watson—"
"Why not? That's why we're here isn't it? So what was it like then? Did he use whips and chains? Gag balls? Was he a bottom or top—"
Moran's hand lashed out, sending a few trays of bread clattering to the floor. John moved to side-step it and came face to face with Moran, though they were separated by the metal cabinets.
"He was beautiful." Moran snarled. "A proper genius. My genius. A visionary. A good man—"
"A good man?" John echoed. "He was a bloody psychopath! He strapped explosives to people! Innocent civilians!"
"Funny." Moran cocked his head. "I wouldn't call you an innocent civilian."
"I'll bet you were the bottom." John said calmly and Moran lashed out again, tossing a handful of pastries at him.
"Will you stop fucking harping on who was the bottom?" Moran shouted before he composed himself again, brushing his hair back as John tried not to laugh. Moran, Sebastian fucking Moran, just got angry enough to throw food at him. It was almost too juvenile.
"He killed people." John said coolly.
"And so did you. And so did I. But didn't you see the art in the ways he did it, Doctor Watson? The way their blood spattered like a Pollock? The colour of their asphyxiated face like a Warhol?"
"Christ," John sighed. "You both deserve each other then, seeing how mad you are."
Moran stared at him for a moment, a slow smile coming on his face.
"You stand there and when I say he was an artist, you tell me he was mad. Well, what then of your madman? What then of Sherlock Holmes?"
"Don't bring Sherlock into this—"
Moran whistled. "Look who's touchy now. Isn't it odd, John, that we chose the battiest men in the world to dedicate ourselves to? I saw you, that night at the pool where little Carl died. Where Jim's portfolio began. You were ready to die for him. I'm no different from you in that regard."
"You never got the chance?"
"Oh, no, I got the chance. Plenty of times." Moran sniffed. "Hundreds, even. I just didn't throw myself in front of a bullet or cover him if a bomb went off—no, that's too pedestrian. Too similar to something you would do. I actually weigh my options, John. I protected him in ways that weren't so stupidly obvious."
"You know he'd never have done the same for you—"
"Of course not!" Moran laughed. "And yours wouldn't either, would he?"
"He has. Dozens of times."
"Is that what he's let you believe, John?" Moran said then made a sympathetic sound. "Love can be so boring to those that are above it. Sherlock and Jim, they play with us and we let them because we enjoy it. They let us think that it's love, but it's just a way to pass the time."
That noise Sherlock made this morning, when he was wrapped around me and I was inside him. That desperate groan. That desperate kiss. That wasn't just passing time.
"Then Moriarty deserved what he got, letting you think that's what love was." John smiled pityingly. "You're missing out, Seb."
Moran's face twisted in anger and he banged the metal cabinets, sending a hollow sound through the kitchen that sounded like a gunshot.
"Don't fucking tell me that I'm missing out! I knew what I had! No one —no fucking one—knew him like I did. I knew him inside and out. I knew his heart."
"Well, Sherlock's the only one who knows what his brain looks like, all smattered on the concrete, so I'd wager that you didn't quite see all of him—"
John was cut off as Moran gave a hoarse shout and rushed him, tackling them both to the ground. John hit his head harshly on a bag of flour and he felt it break under his weight, coating them both with fine white dust. Moran's fist flew at his face and John was unable to stop the crushing impact in time before blood spurted from the newly fresh cut on his nose. The blood flowed into the flour on his face, turning into a gross, thickening paste that drizzled into John's mouth.
He blocked the next strike with one arm then brought the other to hit Moran's solar plexus, effectively knocking the wind out of the larger man although not packing as much power as he'd have liked it to.
"Good." Moran wheezed into the ripped bag of flour. "Very good, Doctor Watson."
John scrambled up and tried to aim a kick to Moran's chest but Moran grabbed a fistful of flour and tossed it at him, blocking his vision for a moment, although that was all it took for Moran to jump up and land a solid kick to John's chest. John crashed against the metal cabinets as the breath was knocked out of him, but managed to send a vicious boot into Moran's side as he lunged at him, sending him crashing sideways into a rolling cart.
John's vision began to blur and he wanted to grab it before it fled, claw at it to get it back. Moran's punch must have been harder than he thought. He blinked rapidly, willing the fog to go away as he slid off the cabinet, grabbed Moran by the jacket, hoisted him up and hurled him into the cabinets, where his back connected with a sickening crack. John's back began to burn from reopened wounds. Sherlock wouldn't be happy.
Moran groaned but recovered quickly, throwing all his weight at John, who tried to side-step but ended up spinning them sideways as Moran barrelled into him. Moran reacted quickly, sending one foot behind John's as he tripped him, sending them both to the floor where John's head connected harshly, sending his vision burning a blinding white for a few seconds, no doubt worsening whatever injury he had gotten from that first punch.
Sherlock would definitely not be happy.
"John?" Sherlock's voice came from outside, just before the bakery. He was walking their way.
Two heartbeats passed as John and Sebastian stared at one another, neither moving but both breathing heavily. The adrenalin burned through them both, thick with blood. Moran's hands tightened on John's flour-stained collar and John could almost hear his thought process.
Kill him in front of Sherlock. That's what Jim told you to do. His last wish. Honour it.
John's head swam like a boat untethered from its moor as Moran hoisted him up by his shirtfront, sending enough pans and metal trays clattering to the floor to draw Sherlock's attention far more quickly than dragging John into the street. He scrambled for his dropped gun.
Moran stepped into the sunlight, his clothes trailing flour in the wind like dust. In the blur of movement John could see Sherlock's dark hair framing his pale face, all colour draining from it as Moran stopped in front of him.
"Holmes." He said thickly, wiping at the blood on his face. Yet Sherlock wasn't looking at him. He had only eyes for John, who was on his knees in front of him, head trapped in the chokehold of Moran's arm. "I'm up here, Holmes."
The detective's cold gaze turned to him.
If looks could kill Moran would be dead ten times over.
"Moran." Sherlock said calmly. His voice was almost courteous.
"Oh, let's not forget Watson, here." Moran jerked John upwards, snapping his head back to reveal his face, messy with blood and flour. "You should tell him to keep up his sparring. He's gotten quite sloppy since we last met. Although I wouldn't bet on him remembering that bit—"
John managed to muster up enough strength to struggle, but it was quickly cut off by a squeeze of Moran's forearm. John stopped with a harsh choked groan, his head pounding. Sherlock's gloved hands tightened into fists.
"Shh, John, grown-ups are talking." Moran hushed before his gaze snagged on Sherlock's clenched hands. "Going to fight me over your bonnie lass' honour, then, Holmes?" Moran smiled through a bloodied lip.
"No." Sherlock said solemnly, drawing a gun from his waistband and aiming it directly at Moran's forehead. "Actually, I was just planning on shooting you."
Moran whistled. "You're like Jim. You don't like getting your hands dirty. Wager that's not even loaded."
"Care to find out? I could disprove that theory a good six or seven times. I could disprove it right into your kneecaps, your stomach, your face, all sorts of places, really, and leave you here to die a very slow, painful death, bleeding out in the dirt—"
"You're made of different material than me or Watson, Holmes. Your gloves are too tight to pull that trigger, for one. Too fancy. Too inclined towards looking chic than serving their purpose right. Anyways," Moran hoisted John up so he was standing and drew his gun, placing it to his temple. "You shoot me and he'll be dead before I hit the ground. I can guarantee it."
Sherlock's hand didn't waver, but his expression tightened.
"I could say the same for you."
Moran laughed. "No you can't! You against a trained marksman? I'm positively quaking in my little boots."
"John is not the one responsible for Jim's death. If anything, I am to blame. Logically then, your gun is aimed at the wrong person."
"No, I know who this bullet is for, Holmes." Moran said, tracing John's temple with the muzzle and missing Sherlock's stricken gaze. "I know it will destroy you even if you remain unharmed. There's no fooling me on this one."
"Sh—Sherlock." John gasped out, both men looking to him before he trailed off, closing his eyes.
"Well go on, then, Doctor, you've got us all on tenterhooks now." Moran said, easing the pressure on John's windpipe.
"V—Vatican Cameos." John said and Sherlock's eyes widened before he threw himself to the ground, leaving an utterly bemused Moran open to John's impending pistol whip as he brought his hastily retrieved gun out of his waistband and across the back of his head. Moran's gun went off as he fell, the bullet whizzing into thankful nowhere.
Before Moran could move John placed a foot on the back of his neck, keeping him pinned into the dirt as he aimed his gun at the back of his head.
"John, are you—"
"Yes, Sherlock, I'm fine." John said with a rasping voice. "You?"
"The same as you, although undoubtedly cleaner."
"Isn't this cute?" Moran muttered into the dirt before he began to try and twist out from under John's boot.
"Moran, you're not stupid enough to think I don't have a gun trained on the back of your head, so stop it, will you?" Moran obliged and John turned to Sherlock. "What do you propose we do with him?"
"We could either contact the local authorities or phone Mycroft. Both would be effective although he'd end up with the latter either way—"
Sherlock's musings were cut off with the screech of brakes as a dark SUV sped its way to them and skidded to a loud halt.
"Ah, and so the cavalry cometh." Moran said with a bark of a laugh and John didn't need a second glance to know that the men getting out were heavily armed.
"Sherlock, get down!" John shouted, grabbing the detective by the collar and pulling him in a narrow alley as bullets began to whistle and burn around them. He turned his back to the entrance and pulled Sherlock flush against him, cradling his head against his chest. Through the hum of adrenalin Sherlock could smell flour and blood and sweat, a perfumed cocktail that he never wanted to smell on John again. They would be having words as soon as this was over. If it was over.
Silence. The banging of doors and the roar of tires.
John knew Moran was gone long before he ducked his head out of the alley to see the rising dust.
Chapter 6: the skeleton man, overwintering
WARNING: Sexual Activity
"And I pray aloud for you
And I look out for you
We are what we are
Don't need no excuses for the scars"
"The Woods" - Daughter
John swayed suddenly, threatening to collapse where he stood, but gloved hands grasped him under the arms and lowered him to the ground.
"You asinine, moronic, half-witted, stupid idiot!"
John closed his eyes, letting his head loll against the brick wall, not sure whether to feel relieved or annoyed at the voice now shouting obscenities at him as those leather clad hands gently began examining every visible open wound with equal, intense concern.
"That's a little redundant, Sherlock—" He muttered.
Sherlock's head snapped up from his examination the thick red marks on John's neck from where Moran had wrapped his arm around it, and for a moment he looked quite deranged.
"Do I look like I could be arsed to care about bloody redundancy, John?" Sherlock snarled and John supposed that he was right. "You just got into a fistfight with Sebastian Moran and he nearly blew your head off!" He leaned in closer, his voice a hiss in John's ear. "If you ever do that to me again, I'll be sure to kill you myself."
"Providing Moran doesn't get to me first?" John asked before he realised what he was saying. His blood hummed with a calmness he hadn't felt in years. The thrill of a chase, knowing Sherlock was there with him, it was like a heat that didn't burn but pulsed and coursed through him.
Sherlock's hands fell from John's shoulders. Seeing his face as the words tumbled out of his mouth turned the light, buzzing heat to a leaden, still ice.
"Christ—Sherlock, 'm sorry, I didn't mean that—" John slurred.
Then Sherlock's words were being hissed again in his ear.
"What are you playing at John?" Sherlock moved his hands to frame John's face, brushing a bloodied lock of hair out of his eyes. "You think I value your life so worthlessly that I'd let you throw away? And toMoran of all people? The man isn't even worthy enough to wash Mycroft's pants, let alone kill you."
"He wasn't going to kill me—" John offered in a weak rebuttal he knew wasn't entirely true. He just wanted Sherlock to shut up so they could go back to the hotel and not have it out in an alleyway newly christened with bullet holes.
"Where were you just now, when he had a gun to your head and I thought he was going to blow your brain and my heart out right in front of me?" Sherlock asked irately then let out a heavy exhale. "You are as essential to me as breathing. I will not live without you. Do you understand? I. Will. Not." He gave a rather harsh tug to John's hair and his brain lurched unpleasantly in his skull and he felt like he was about to get sick.
"Easy, Sherlock." John hissed. "I've still got a head injury you know."
"You're a bloody idiot, going after him like that. What if I'd lost you?"
There's no point in hiding his feelings regarding John. Not anymore.
"Then you'd know what it feels like..." John murmured, barely catching Sherlock's utterly crestfallen face before he shut his eyes.
Something moved to block out the sun and a gloved hand roughly grabbed his jaw.
"John Hamish Watson," Sherlock's voice was raw, scraped by desperation. "If you've gone and let Moran give you a bloody concussion I won't let you shag me again for a month, do you hear me?"
John let out a hollow laugh, all he could manage in his floating state, cut adrift from caring, from worrying what happened to him now. Sherlock was here, how bad could it get?
"I don't think you could last a month—"
"I'm serious, John!"
"I'll bet you are. Take your word on it…" John muttered, his eyes still shut.
"Open your eyes and look at me." The hand moved from his jaw, pawing at the space under his eyes. "Open your eyes, John."
John managed a non-committal grumble. The light was muted with his eyes shut.
"Open. Your. Eyes."
Wearily, John slid his eyes open and, when they focused, got a good look at Sherlock's face as he stared at him, paler than usual, his eyes consumed with panic.
"Oh, Sherlock." John breathed, trying to touch his face but only managing to raise his hand slightly before it dropped back into his lap. "It's just—just some minor bruising. It's nothing to worry about…"
As he trailed off, a high whine began in his ears, like an unending alarm. It felt like his head was tightening, trapped in a compression. Even in his dazed state he knew he had some sort of head trauma, although quite mild, so he counted himself lucky.
Sherlock's mouth moved as he talked, but John couldn't hear what he said.
Sherlock repeated himself, a little more forcefully.
The ringing gets louder. It made his head throb and ache.
"Sher—I can't—can't hear you." John murmured.
Hands were at his temples, his ears, examining them for damage, turning his head gently yet it lurched like a boat on choppy water.
The ringing faded.
"No outward ossicle damage…" He heard Sherlock mutter and it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard. "John?"
"I asked if you could hear me, but that question seems to be answered." Sherlock looked back out to the alley's entrance before gently wrapping his hands under John's arms and lifting him upwards. "Come on you great idiot. We need to get back to the hotel. I swear to God, if you've gotten anything broken—"
Sherlock trailed off into meaningless threats that John knew he said out of panic and frustration, threats he had no intention of keeping.
As Sherlock tossed his arm over his shoulders and began to walk, John thought the cracks in the pavement that passed underneath his feet were rather lovely.
"JESUS CHRIST!" John yelped as the icy water poured over him, sending gooseflesh erupting across his skin.
"It's just you and I John, let's not resort to blasphemy." Sherlock said as he stripped off his dirtied shirt, stained in some areas by John's blood.
"Cold water to ease swelling?" John asked through gritted teeth as he leaned against the wall of the shower for support.
"Good to see you're coming to your senses," Sherlock said, stepping into the shower as if the water wasn't at the same temperature of the ocean where the Titanic sank. "Though actually I was more motivated by other things. Cold showers are known to quell sexual tension, correct?"
John was too spaced to be bothered to pretend he knew what Sherlock was going on about, much less that he had dropped to squat on his heels.
"When you're 15, yeah, but 35 is a bit of a stretch—ah Christ—Sherlock—what in the buggering hell are you doing?"
Sherlock looked up at him calmly, bluntly removing John's cock from his mouth.
"I thought that would be obvious, John. I'm returning the favour you paid me this morning plus relieving my own sexual desires. I've been quite hard since we got back and this seemed a viable alternative to pass the time."
"Well—I mean—that's all well and good, but there's a time and a place—will you stop doing that?" John nearly screeched as Sherlock softly licked around the head of his cock and he felt the blood pound in his skull like he was standing next to a subwoofer.
"Isn't it pleasurable for you?" Sherlock asked clinically, like John was a patient of his.
"Yes, that's it, talk dirty to me." John said dryly. Sherlock made a noise of irritation before he open-mouth kissed the tip of John's glans, gently tonguing the slit, and John thought that the crackle in his ears sounded like bursting fireworks.
"I'm serious, John." Sherlock continued solemnly, as if he wasn't currently letting his tongue lave the tip of John's cock. "If you're not acquiring any pleasure I can stop now. I merely wished to reciprocate—"
"It's not that, Sherlock, trust me. It's—fuck—it's definitely not that. I just—oh fuck me—"
"I'm trying to, John, have some patience please." Sherlock huffed. "And, as I understand it, foreplay pays off quite well in the end—"
"No, that's not what I meant." John groaned, willing his brain to anchor itself back into place as it floated at the end of its tether, bobbing against his skull. "Physical exertion is the least ideal thing to do for a grade one or two concussion. I should be resting, lying down somewhere, not getting a blowjob in the shower, however pleasantly surprising it is—"
Sherlock leaned back on his heels, letting his thumb stroke lazy circles on John's thick, heated flesh. "What grade would you diagnose yourself as having?"
John shut his eyes, quietly analysing the symptoms.
"Most likely a one, if that. If I'd had a two or three, you'd have had to carry me here or to the hospital."
Sherlock said nothing, wordlessly moving to his knees and pressing his head to John's stomach, careful fingers resting on the jut of his hips, avoiding the reopened wounds. For a moment he listened to the blood rushing through John's body as if to reassure himself that it hadn't turned stagnant. "I nearly lost you for the third time today." He said finally.
"The third time?" John asked, looking down as water streamed down the sharp angles of Sherlock's face, so pale against his considerably tanner skin. It drizzled into his eyes but he made no move to wipe it away.
"St. Bart's." He said, holding up his thumb. "And Leipzig." Extended his long forefinger against John's flushed, damp skin. He let John run a hand through his slightly wet hair. "I can't lose you again." He admitted quietly. "Not when I just found you. Not when you came back into my life like you could hear those thoughts I'd had between waking and sleeping, when I wished for nothing else but you."
"Sherlock, I told you I'd never—wait, again? What do you mean again?"
He stared his great eyes up at John and unflinchingly said "The agency."
They were quiet for a moment, a few seconds of running water that sluiced away blood and dirt and dried sweat and things they didn't know how to say.
"Not a loss in the physical sense, of course," Sherlock began, "but when I see you when you're firing your gun, when I see the emptiness in your eyes, I—" He shut his eyes against cool, soft flesh, his eyelashes brushing John's navel. "I don't like it. I don't like it at all."
"I'll never hurt you, Sherlock. Whenever I had my gun out, I was protecting you. You know that right? I would never deliberately aim it at you unless the clip was empty or—God forbid—you got caught in the crosshairs and I had a clear shot."
"I trust you, John."
It wasn't I know. It wasn't an assent to a promise that John, in their line of work, couldn't possibly keep. It was an acknowledgment that, if the time came and John's gun was pointed at him, Sherlock would accept it, knowing that John loved him, that John would have his reasons and Sherlock would trust him absolutely and completely.
"I never wanted you to see me that way." John said quietly. "I never—never wanted you to know."
"I don't care. You were surviving."
"No." John smiled emptily and Sherlock felt his hollow laugh, like a reluctant admittance. "Not surviving. Existing, yes, but not living. I was—I was overwintering like a bear in its cave, waiting for sunlight. For change. I didn't know if I'd ever wake up, if I'd ever feel…"
John trailed off into silence and Sherlock didn't press him.
"'He's gotten quite sloppy since we last met.'"
"Moran. He said you've 'gotten quite sloppy since we last met'. What did he mean?"
"I don't know." John answered and Sherlock knew he wasn't lying, even in his addled state.
"Yes, he said as much. I suppose we'll have to ask him to clarify later. Why did you go after him?" Sherlock asked, brushing a wet lock of John's hair back before placing a kiss on his collarbone. "Why didn't you wait for me?"
"Why did you go after Moriarty?" John asked, but it was more rhetorical than biting with venom. "He tortured me. He told me things that night—I don't know if I'll ever tell you what he said. I don't think I ever will tell you."
"Withholding information." Sherlock muttered into his skin. "A logical tactic to gain the upper hand—"
"I'm not gaining the upper hand, Sherlock. That's not what you do in a healthy relationship. I'm protecting you."
"From things you don't want to know. From things that might destroy you."
"Knowledge is beneficial, John."
"Not this kind."
John wrapped his arms around Sherlock's neck and the younger man ducked his head to rest on his chest, next to the starburst scar, as cold water ran over them, feeling more like warmth now and less like ice. Of course John had surreptitiously turned the temperature up, but that was irrelevant.
"Will you trust me?" He asked.
"I previously stated that I do." Sherlock said lowly.
It was an odd sensation, certainly, that John knew something he didn't. But then again, John knew a voluminous amount of things that Sherlock didn't. Proper human interaction. How it felt to be shot. A repertoire of carnal knowledge (though Sherlock thought his expertise in the area was a bonus). The various traditions and hazing rituals of the army. How to make a cake and not confuse crushed amcyl nitrate for sugar (That particular incident began with John remarking that the cake smelled rather bitter and ended with him throwing the oven door open, releasing the inhalant into the room, and making himself so high he tried to take his shirt off, failed halfway through and danced on the table, half his shirt dangling off him like a snake shedding its skin. It was an event that neither he nor Sherlock ever mentioned it again.).
His thoughts dropped back to earth as John clumsily tried to turn the faucet off and Sherlock reached out a steady hand to help him.
Steam rose off their bodies through the silence.
"He threatened to kill you and make me watch." John said quietly. "So I suppose he's not so different from Moriarty in his M.O. But I'm only giving you the basics. He said much...worse things."
"All pure conjecture, then?" Sherlock asked as John stepped out of the shower.
"Some of it."
The doctor grabbed a towel from the rack and turned.
"I know I'm not particularly loquacious with my affection—"
"You can say that again."
"Why would I need to when you clearly heard me?" Sherlock asked and John stared at him.
"Anyways—you were saying?"
"You—Christ, you make it seem so easy—you mean more to me than—"
"Your medical dictionary?" John asked, gently towelling his hair.
"But you love the section on rigor mortis, you've got it earmarked and underlined like it's the bloody Rosetta stone—"
Sherlock snatched the towel away, letting it fall to the floor.
"Than anything!" He burst out then added, softer, "You mean more to me than anything. You're like the bloody earth or some ridiculous, unrealistic simile—but it's true because you're so alive and warm, and I'm just a cold uninhabitable moon circling around you and some days I really don't know what you see in me, but I certainly know what I see in you. You are…everything." Sherlock threw his hands out. "Everything." He said, if only because he didn't have anything else to add.
John stared at him a moment and the slow smile on his face made Sherlock's heart want to fly from his chest.
"The moon orbits the Earth." John chuckled, picking up the towel. "Who says you're not learning?"
"You are…vital to my existence, John."
"Oh, more dirty talk." John said, smiling. "You know just what to say to a guy."
"I did not mean it sexually, but if you chose to interpret it that way, I won't argue." Sherlock said, dipping his head and kissing John.
"Sherlock, with the state I'm in, anything we'd do would be quite counterproductive considering the concussion—"
"I could be obliged to—in simple terms—'do all of the work'." Sherlock said, following John into the room, both still quite naked and making no moves to change their state.
"Christ, what monster have I created?" John asked and Sherlock grinned.
"I feel that I should state that I am as equally partial to sexual intercourse as I am to lying next to you and doing nothing but looking at you."
"How about a compromise? We start with the latter, and then see if it changes to the former?"
Sherlock said nothing, lying down on the bed as he clasped his hands over his stomach and shut his eyes, waiting for John to join him, which he did as indicated by a dip in the covers a moment later.
He turned on his side and opened his eyes, greeted by John staring back at him.
"For three years," Sherlock began softly. "When I was alone, when I thought of you-which was quite often, actually, more than I'd tried to-I imagined what this would be like. Being with you."
Sherlock shook his head slightly.
"Gratified. Expectations rarely match up to reality, but this has exceeded what I'd hoped for."
"What did you think the reality would be?"
"That I would return—and I hope you know that I always planned on returning, not just wandering around until we ran into each other, and in Bruges of all places too—but I would come back to find that you'd moved on…to find that you weren't alone."
"Did you want me to be?"
Sherlock's silence could be taken as selfishness, but John knew he was merely reflecting, choosing between what was right to say and what he wanted to.
"No." He said finally. "Even if it meant that we couldn't be together like I wanted, I wouldn't want you to be alone."
John leaned over and pressed a soft kiss to Sherlock's shoulder before lying back, joining him in staring at the ceiling.
"What did you do when you thought of me?"
"Once or twice I tried masturbation, but that was uneventful—"
"Christ Sherlock, I meant did you cry or something, but okay, I guess that's good to know."
Sherlock rolled onto his side, facing John.
"I never considered myself a sexual being before you, John."
"Um…good on you, then."
"I meant it as a compliment."
Sherlock reached out and ran a hand down John's side, grazing the end of a whip mark. John shivered.
"So simple, human touch…skin." Sherlock muttered. "Yet it is capable of so many things. Expansion, retraction, burning, healing, scarring, horripilation, blistering…"
"I think I liked you better when you were trying to talk dirty—"
Sherlock hushed him with a kiss.
"It conveys things in such an underrated, unique way. Arousal, attraction, affection, comfort—"
"These your ABCs of things connoted by touch, then?"
"—Without it how would we get anything done?" Sherlock continued as if John hadn't spoken. "I don't think I could ever not touch you." He said, running his hand along the outside of John's leg. "That was the first thing I wondered when we met at St. Bart's. I wondered how the flesh above your heart felt, right above your breastbone. I didn't know the exact location where the bullet had hit you yet, so I resorted to the general area. When I saw it though, for the first time, I wanted to touch it. Dip my fingers in that crater and feel you respond." He let a finger traces the rim of the scar and John sharply sucked in an inhale. "I don't know how I didn't realise what was happening to me, as my fantasies surrounding your scar grew more overt, more…sexual in nature." Sherlock smiled, as if at some in-joke he had with himself. "It began with wondering what it tasted like—" His tongue flicked out and swiped over the raised skin. "Then the sounds you'd make if I bit it." He let his teeth close lightly over it and John groaned.
"Then I graduated to wondering what the head of my cock would look like pressed into it and that's when I realised I loved you. It makes so much sense now, that I'd equate sexual desire with love since I didn't know how to differentiate the two, never have experiencing either. But then love gradually eclipsed any sexual desire I had for you. I wanted to kiss you but not fuck you. I wanted to push you against the fridge and taste you but not go any farther. Maybe I was afraid. I don't know. Those months were an emotional blur to be honest. Then at St. Bart's, when I knew I was leaving you, I wanted to tell you everything, but I didn't have the time and much of what I wanted to say was far too inappropriate for my last words to you. Can you imagine if the last thing I'd said to you was 'John, you don't know how long I've wanted you to fuck me'? It would have hurt you too much if I'd told you then that I love you. I wanted you to move on, not stay up at night regretting the missed opportunities that you didn't tell me you love me too."
"Pointless." John said quietly. "I did that anyways. But at least you meant well."
"How is your head?"
John was silent, considering.
"Better. Gravity's working on it again."
"Wonderful. All this talk about not being able to resist touching you has made me feel like a hypocrite."
Sherlock didn't give him a chance to respond as he moved and rolled over him, trapping a laughing John beneath him.
Zlata Branković, who worked at the front desk, thought the two British men were alright. Handsome, nice, polite (or the shorter one was, rather. The tall one could do to learn some manners).
She just wished they weren't so loud. The walls were quite thin and their room happened to be above hers (family business and all, why rent a house when they had more than enough rooms?).
She glanced up at the ceiling.
"Careful, Sherlock! Don't hurt yourself…here, move over a little—oh Christ, like that, yes, like that—"
A low groan, a deep baritone that she recognised as coming from the rude skeleton man with dark hair.
Fortunately, Zlata didn't know much English. She may have fainted dead away if she had. She knew quite well what they were doing, though, if the rhythmic thumping was any indication. She'd always insisted to her uncle, the manager, that the headboards were flimsy…
The desk bell rang.
Zlata bolted up, awakened from her dreams of churning machinery that dripped with blood and a voice that spoke to her, dark and heavy, like that of the skeleton man from upstairs. Her father had told her once that hearing a dark voice in a dream meant that something terrible was about to happen because either the Devil or God was speaking to you and only one had anything good to say. She closed her eyes for a moment, hoping it was the latter, before wiping the sweat from her brow, crossing herself, and going to greet whoever was at the desk.
It a boy, not much older than herself, with cropped dishevelled dark hair and even darker, wilder eyes.
"Zdravo." She answered back. "Can I help you?"
The boy's eyes narrowed. She supposed she should see him as a man because of his age, but his face looked so vulnerable, so young—
"Why are you speaking in English?" He asked. His accent was definitely Serbian.
She pointed to the bracelet on his wrist. "Because I do not know German, sir."
He looked down and smiled, as if he'd forgotten.
"Ah. Apologies. Nisam nije nemački."
"Yes, I know, sir."
"You are still speaking English."
"Yes, but only because you are as well."
"Is there a vacancy tonight?" The boy asked, moving his watch over the hospital band as if it were about to give away some large secret.
"Well there are two rooms on the east wing, but they are both a double suite. There is a single on the west end, but it is connected to the suite of two British men who arrived yesterday and…I mean, if you do not mind the noise, I am sure it will be acceptable. Would you like me to book it for you, sir? Sir?"
"Hm?" He looked backed to her from where he stared at the elevator and smiled politely. "Ah, no. No thank you. But could you do me a favour, please?"
"If it is within reason, sir."
He unclipped his bracelet and handed it to her. His movements seemed stiff, like every motion pained him.
"Those British men upstairs? Could you give this to them please?"
Zlata frowned and looked at the bracelet, only understanding 'British' and 'give to'.
|| ||||| | || ||| || ||||| |
DOB: 12/12/1987 24 SX: M RE
She turned it over in her hand and saw a scrawled handwritten message.
She looked up to ask him what it said, but found herself instead staring into the barrel of a gun.
"Ako želite da živite, zaboravi moje lice." The boy smiled, as if he wasn't pointing a gun at her. "Understand?"
"It is not my want to hurt you, but if you tell them who delivered this, I will come back and I will send a bullet into your skull." His smile fell off his face and he motioned towards the phone. "Call them."
Wordlessly, Zlata picked up the phone and dialled the room.
The message was clear enough.
It was the shorter man, the polite blonde, who answered.
"Hello, sir." She began, trying to keep her voice even. Having a gun waved in your face had not been entirely uncommon in her youth, but she had thankfully managed to forget the feeling until now. "If you are at leisure, could you please come downstairs, please? There is a—um—a parcel waiting for you."
"A parcel?" There was a rustling as he got up. "Uh, sure, yeah, alright—Sherlock, quit it—Yeah, I'm on my way down."
She hung up the phone and noticed her hand was shaking. She looked to the boy.
"If you are going to shoot me, do it now please."
The boy stared at her and there was something slipping in his eyes that gave him away, like he wasn't fully committed to what he had come to do. He must have seen the realisation dawn on her face.
It was the last thing she remembered before he fired into her chest.
When she woke up, it was to the polite blonde plucking the tranquiliser from her skin. His warm hand was on her wrist, checking her pulse.
"It's alright, I'm a doctor." He said calmly, his cadence practised and measured, and she trusted him through the haze of a drugged stupor and the language barrier. "Here, ease up, that dart really did a number on you." He helped her sit up against the wall. She didn't understand anything he was saying. "Whatever it was though, it was a mild sedative, and you should be right as rain soon enough." He smiled kindly. His eyes were so blue. He really was quite nice.
"Your—your parcel, it is there—" She managed to get out, pointing to the counter. The man pocketed the dart and reached over to pick up the bracelet. She couldn't see his face, but his posture changed, stiffened. He looked like a soldier.
"Thank you. I'm sorry he hurt you."
"Are you—are you bad?"
He looked back and smiled kindly at her.
"It depends on who you ask."
She closed her eyes for a moment, relishing the thrumming in her chest that meant she was awake—alive but shaken—then opened her eyes.
The lobby was empty and she was alone.
She thought her father had been right, in a way. About the dreams.
Both the Devil and God had spoken to Zlata Branković that night, though in a language she didn't understand.
She didn't know which voice had been the loudest.
John woke to a blinding light, his own personal sun burning through his eyelids and blaring into his vision. As he came to, he realised it wasn't the sun hovering in their room, but the bedside light, the shade removed so it blared all the brighter. It was raining, the night outside the open window was wet and cool, a damp, easy breeze waving into the room.
There was a soft, wet brushing sensation on his bare back that altered between warm and cool as the air hit it, and he realised that Sherlock was licking him.
"Evening, John." He said, pausing as if he wasn't doing anything unusual.
"It certainly looks to be." Sherlock chuckled, and John could feel the vibrations humming on his tongue.
"Can you turn the light off?"
"Wanted to see you in a better light." Came the slow response, muttered against the hot skin of John's back.
"Well can you at least put the shade on?"
There was a great sigh as if John was severely inconveniencing him, a sigh usually reserved for interrupted experiments, before the shade was haphazardly tossed back onto the lamp. John felt a great rush of air as Sherlock flopped back onto the bed, his weight resting on his forearms as he dipped his head once more. John's eyes nearly rolled back in his skull as Sherlock laved at a tender mark on the curve of his shoulder, but from pain or pleasure he couldn't tell.
"As pleasant as it is, may I ask why you're doing this?"
"I enjoy the way you taste." Sherlock said matter-of-factly. "Why so surprised?" He added at John's bemused face.
"I'd thought that no one could go through a gauntlet of shagging without tasting…well…off."
"No." Sherlock hummed against his skin. "You taste wonderful. Every inch."
"I guess that's good information to have. I'll put it on my resume."
Sherlock raised his head to look at him then, a tight expression on his face.
"Will the agency take you back?"
"The agency?" John laughed. "No, I meant the clinic. I've been gone nearly two weeks with no explanation. If I don't get my pink slip when I get back I'll quit out of shock so they can be rid of me."
"I'm sure Mycroft will be perfectly happy giving you a job."
"No thanks." John said dryly. "I wouldn't want to accuse him of nepotism."
"He won't have a choice." Sherlock said, letting his tongue run over a mark on John's side. "He'll see me blissfully shagged out, a state he's never had the chance to see me in, and I rather think he'll collapse to his knees in front of you and cry from relief."
"And then order a cake?"
Sherlock chuckled lowly. "Yes. And then order a cake."
"That'd be a sight, wouldn't it? I think he'd have the baker write something clinical like 'Congratulations on the Coital Bliss'."
"'My Compliments on Your Intercourse'."
"'You Had Sex'."
John felt a breath of laughter against his skin and he smiled.
"Was it—I mean, was it good for you?" He asked quietly.
"Having no prior experience, I'd have to answer in the affirmative."
"Oh you can fuck right off. You know what I meant."
"I did enjoy it, yes." Sherlock admitted. "And yourself?"
"Well obviously you enjoyed it enough. You initiated it three times more afterwards—"
Sherlock huffed in irritation. "The question, John."
"Why does it matter if I did?"
"Because a partnership becomes a parasitic relationship and a huge waste of time if the pleasure is not reciprocal."
"I mean, you heard me." John mumbled, feeling his face flame. "Obviously…I like it a bit…"
"Yes, you are the loquacious type."
"Are you still treating me like a Cornetto back there?"
John was answered by a long wet lick along the side of his right shoulder.
"It's really quite masterful, if you look at it objectively." Sherlock said. "The scars, I mean."
"Wonderful." John replied dryly. "Remind me to get them appraised."
"Look—feel the way this one curves around the anterior, near the subscapularis." Sherlock gently traced the curve of John's right shoulder blade, eliciting a shudder out of him. "And here, around the opposite, yet they were careful not to hit your scar tissue from your bullet wound. Notice how the mark tapers off sharply, like they drew it up before hitting it—this is fascinating, John, I could do this for hours."
"Well I hope you've had your fun."
"Why?" Sherlock said, sounding like a petulant child. "Are you not having any?"
"Being reminded of one's torture is not what I'd call fun."
"I am…sorry, John. I didn't realise."
"It was not my intention to make you feel pain. You hurt because of these, yes, but they are also beautiful."
"Beautiful." John snorted. "How are they beautiful?"
"Well," Sherlock began, "This one, wrapping itself around the subscapularis anterior shoulder, was the first, was it not?"
John sucked in a breath as Sherlock gently nuzzled it.
"It tastes the sweetest." He breathed before moving on. "And its twin, it was next?"
"I don't remember."
"Gorgeous." Sherlock murmured, placing an open-mouthed kiss on it. "If anything it highlights your features, your lovely bone structure, instead of detracting from it—"
A sudden thought occurred to John.
"Are you—are you getting off from my injuries?"
"If I didn't get off from thoughts of your death, why would your injuries be any different since they brought you that much closer to that particular fantasy becoming a reality?"
Sherlock sounded so annoyed that John nearly forgot that he was the one who had the right to be offended in their petty feud.
"This here…" Sherlock said lowly, letting his fingers graze over a wound John couldn't see. "It's in Serbian. Looks almost like numbers..."
"You don't know Serbian—"
Sherlock leaned forward, staring down at John's nape as his lips brushed his ear.
"Me briga za ništa kako ja radim za vas." He said quietly, running his thumb over the scar above John's ear.
John supressed the urge to jump him and fuck him so hard he'd limp for a week.
"Okay, so you know Serbian…" He admitted glumly.
"Why did your tone lower in the manner of patients suffering from depression?"
"I really wanted to fuck you just now. Hard." John added, as if his point wasn't clear.
"And we aren't currently doing that because…"
John managed to turn himself over onto his back, the sheets sticking to the trails of thin saliva Sherlock had left.
"You know," He grinned. "I haven't the foggiest."
Near the end, after Sherlock had managed to kiss every inch of John's body into a humming arousal, after he had clambered once more in John's lap and let John open him up, after they both had groaned and shared a messy kiss between them as John pushed up and in, they managed to make so much noise that the poor woman downstairs could hear them, although neither knew it.
Sherlock's blissful sigh that had escaped as he came into John's mouth still hung in the air as the phone rang. Groaning, John rolled over and picked it up.
"Hello, sir." It was the young woman from the front desk. There was something off about her voice, it was too monotonous, too…detached. "If you are at leisure, could you please come downstairs, please? There is a—um—a parcel waiting for you."
"A parcel?" He tossed back the sheets, feeling a rush of cool air disperse in the pockets of the blankets where his and Sherlock's body heat still mingled. "Uh, sure, yeah, alright—" Sherlock leaned over and placed a sharp bite to his shoulder blade, catching the edge of one of the cuts. "Sherlock, quit it—Yeah, I'm on my way down."
He hung up the phone and stood, stretching out the kinks in his muscles, a cool feeling of calmness rushing through him.
"Endorphins." Sherlock said from the bed.
"No shit." John chuckled. "Have you seen my trousers anywhere?"
"By the dresser." Sherlock said lazily, rolling onto his back and spreading all of his limbs over the bed. "You could just go down as you are, you know."
"Can't go down in my pants, that's for sure. I'd mortify that poor girl to death."
"I think we already did that, John. She sleeps right below us and they hired an architect who likes thin, cheap building material. And obviously since she called she's still quite alive, so she seems to be made of stronger stuff than you give her credit for."
"Oh, shut it." John murmured before he leaned over the edge of the bed and placed a soft kiss on Sherlock's cheek. Sherlock turned his head at the last moment and their mouths slanted against each other.
John jolted as the elevator lurched beneath him, still not used to the loud banging sound as the machinery whirred. It sounded too much like gunfire for his liking and he didn't much care for the sudden reflex to duck and cover.
The doors opened and he stepped into the lobby, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up at the still silence.
He approached the desk.
"Excuse me—oh bugger—"
The young woman who had checked them in was lying unconscious, crumpled against the wall, a small dart sticking out from her chest. A dart that looked all too unsettlingly familiar to the one he had plucked from his shoulder a week ago, when he was trapped in the bowels of the Kremlin.
No—that can't be —
He kneeled in front of her and gently plucked it out right as she began to stir.
"It's alright, I'm a doctor." He said calmly, employing what Sherlock referred to as his doctor voice. The voice that would tell you everything would be fine, even if you were bleeding out in front of him and you were missing a leg.
The woman groaned softly and moved to sit up.
"Here, ease up, that dart really did a number on you." He helped prop her up against the wall. "Whatever it was though, it was a mild sedative, and you should be right as rain soon enough."
"Your—your parcel, it is there—" She pointed to the counter and John marvelled at her dedication. Whatever it was, it must be important, otherwise—
A bracelet? He left a shagged-out and thoroughly calmed Sherlock for a—
His thumb traced Mikheia's name.
"Thank you." He heard himself say. "I'm sorry he hurt you."
"Are you—are you bad?"
She sounded so frightened. He looked over his shoulder and smiled, but it felt like battery acid on his tongue.
"It depends on who you ask."
Her head lolled back onto the wall and he took his cue to leave. She would no doubt make a full recovery and he had greater things to worry about.
So Moran had Mikheia, or at least some form of leverage over him. That was bad, very bad.
Or…Mikheia was here? But that didn't make any sense, why would he be? And if he was, how the hell did he know where they were staying? Why hadn't he rung them up and said he was in town?
He'd tell Sherlock. Sherlock would know exactly what to make of all this, especially what had been written on the back of that bracelet—
John had barely begun to piece the puzzle together when the elevator stopped with a bang at his floor and he cursed, stepping out and shouting profanities at it.
Then he noticed the door to their room was cracked open. He hadn't left it like that…he had most definitely shut it—
A cold dread began to work its way through his body.
"Sherlock?" He asked as he pushed the door open, already fearing what he would see. "Sherlock!"
The first thing he noticed was the open window, the curtains still fluttering in the damp wind from where they lay, torn off the rack in the struggle.
The room was empty.
He stepped over a chair, overturned on the floor.
The room was empty.
The bed had spots of blood on it.
There was a note on the bedside table.
I had to clean up his body. Now it's your turn.
Moran didn't need to sign it for John to know who it was from.
Chapter 7: the end of a minor man
"War is nothing but boys trying to comfort themselves in the wilderness."
– hyacinth_sky747, "What to do When Your Flatmate is Homicidal"
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Find the fic above here. It's absolutely wonderful.
The dark room stirred with thin, spicy smoke, the wisps trailing from a hand-rolled cigarette dangling from a stubbled, bloodied mouth.
"Then what happened?" A light voice asked with lilting, disinterested cadence.
The man shrugged, taking a long drag without lifting his hands.
"Did you kill him?"
"The Golem? Did you kill him?"
"Do you care?" The man bit back. "It's not like you got anything out of it."
"I was heavily invested."
"With what?" The man's head turned, slathering his face in shadow. "Money?"
The voice chuckled.
"How quickly that mind of yours turns green. No, not money. I have enough of that. Something substantially more valuable."
The mouth grins, a wet, shiny red.
"He's dead. Caught him in the jugular."
"And our doctor attended to him?"
"You did well, Seb."
Smoke breathed out from bloody lips. Dark eyes turned upward.
Soft fingers reached out to graze over the redness.
"I can take care of that, if you like."
"I'm fine." He said, jerking his face back. "Just a scratch. I wasn't expecting the night guard."
The hand withdrew.
"Suit yourself." The voice said quietly, turning away. "You don't have to trust me anymore, but at least let me help you—"
"Why did we have to share?" Moran cut across quietly.
"We didn't share." The voice smirked. "Usually one of us won and one lost. Never in-between."
"If we had, would we still have ended up this way?"
A slow, still exhale.
"I don't regret it." He said. "Not the work or the blood. Not you, however long that took getting used to."
It was quiet for a moment, nothing but the sound of burning paper.
"Nothing that has happened to me since and nothing that will ever happen after will ever compare to what we have now."
"And what is it that we have?"
"You really want to name it?"
"No. There's not one I can use."
"We are parts of a whole that happen to fit together. We are…incomplete."
"We are, aren't we? Nothing's been the same since." He exhaled a stream of smoke and stubbed the cigarette out. "Nothing will ever be the same. But I'll manage. You too, I'm betting."
"We are equals, Sebastian Moran. Do not confuse it for devotion."
"Didn't say I did."
"Your eyes do."
He closed them.
When he opened them a second later, he was alone.
John had wasted precious minutes sitting and staring at the blood on the bed. He could barely move himself to breathe. He wasn't as excellent at deduction at Sherlock, but he was alright—good, even—when it mattered.
The sheets, though bloody, were also wet and dirtied on the edges. They had come in through the open window. They were also unnaturally undisturbed, and though copious amounts of fucking had occurred on them, they hadn't been tossed over or used, so that meant there wasn't much of a fight from Sherlock's end. Moran had done his research; he'd been prepared. Moriarty would've been proud. Sherlock's clothes were gone. John hardly thought they'd have had the time to knock him out and re-dress him, so he settled for the theory that they simply put a pair of pants or trousers on him and bundled the rest or they took him nude, but either way their escape vehicle was close by. John would be surprised if it wasn't the SUV he'd seen earlier.
He stared back down at the note.
Moran was going to make him clean up Sherlock's body. He'd always wondered who had gotten Moriarty's off the roof; in the ensuing grief, he'd never thought to ask, but it was incredibly obvious. Lestrade had once mentioned the lack of a body, but John hadn't been listening. He'd never been listening, not when all he could hear was the crunch of bone and smell the wet pavement. He heard it every day, every night, right up until the church bells chimed and the crunch never came but shattered on the floor at feet of Sherlock Holmes and John could hear everything again. He heard his deep breaths as he tried to breathe, heard his soft sobs, heard the fabric of his jacket scrape against the rough brick as he leaned against it and asked himself if Sherlock's hair had always been that dark, had he always been that pale, or was John imagining things again?
He'd burst out of the open water he'd been treading in for three years. He heard Sherlock's voice, heard the swish of his coat (not the collared trench, but one that still looked suitably good; hell anything looked good on him) heard the sigh he made when the kissed, the groans when they fucked, heard the slide of sweat and blissed out light that coated them.
He would not go back underwater after this. Maybe before, when he had nothing to lose, before, when Sherlock had been nothing more than a ghost. Maybe then he'd raise his head like an alligator and peer at his surroundings only to find nothing he liked and slide back under. Maybe.
But not now.
His gun was still in his bag. They hadn't had the time or foresight to find it.
He shrugged on his black jacket, stolen from the man he was about to call.
He stared at the bed as the phone rang. At those great circles of blood, those splashes that meant Sherlock was hurt, not injured per se, but hurt. Someone hurt him. And they would pay.
Taking the loved one of an international assassin was never a good idea.
It was still raining when John shut the door to the taxi. How appropriate. It had been romantic at first, when Sherlock had been in his arms, safe, but now it seemed too wet and cold.
Finding the hideout had been easy enough with Mycroft's help. Moran's group had left Sherlock's phone in his pocket or on their person, and tracking it had been child's play for the elder Holmes' network. Especially when his baby brother's life was at stake.
John knew Moran was waiting inside for him. To kill him. Why else would he take Sherlock but to bait John in by threatening his safety? They were going to kill him, maybe even in front of Sherlock, which was the icing on Moran's fucking cake. But, if it saved his life, John would die a thousand deaths.
It was selfish, if nothing else, to die so that someone else may live. Sherlock would feel as John did, know his pain of losing the one he loved most, but there would be no coming back. At least they still had those golden moments, beams of light in the storm. At least Sherlock could live off those memories, off the kisses and the knowledge that John loved him with everything he was. John hadn't been granted that amenity after Bart's, and if he could live off nothing, maybe then Sherlock could sustain himself on what he'd been given.
John stood in that drizzling rain, took in a deep breath of damp, fresh air.
Was this what Sherlock had known, what he had felt going up those stairs to the roof of St. Bart's? That he was going to die? It was an odd feeling, a stranger smudged among familiar thoughts. It felt cold and empty, bells clanging tightly inside his gut.
He exhaled and looked up at the building, on the outskirts of the city in the wartime industrial section that had long ago been blessedly forgotten. He almost expected lightning to ominously silhouette the abandoned munitions factory. The Miljacka River ran behind it, the waters unnaturally high from the unceasing rain, flood-like for a Sarajevo that was used to four inches of water, not 132.
Could he just walk through the door or would that be considered a faux pas?
He stared up at the entrance.
It wasn't like they weren't expecting him, to be honest.
He walked in through the front door.
The lobby was empty, dark. Two hallways branched either way at the back, with a large, thick metal door slathered in chipping blue paint dead ahead of him, the shadows of the machinery on the factory floor visible just behind it.
He went to the left, into a dark corridor spotted with doors. Sherlock could be behind any of them. Or Moran. Or both.
Tentatively, he tried the nearest one. Broom closet. Safe.
He moved on to the next. Office. Empty. Safe.
He stalked along the wall towards the next door. Jiggled the handle carefully. Unlocked.
He opened it, letting the door turn away before he followed his gun in.
Sherlock's figure was silhouetted against the light that poured in, head bowed and hands steepled in deep thought.
"Sherlock…" His name fell from John's mouth like a benediction.
He raised his head and turned as John walked towards him. He had blood on his face.
His widening, impossibly blue eyes—so pale like lightning—were the last thing John remembered, subtitled by the realisation that he hadn't checked behind the door.
Sherlock stared at John's body as he laid him on the ground, hands clenched into fists at his sides. A cold fury pulsed through him, making his limbs feel like frozen, hollow metal. How dare they hurt him again? Hadn't they done enough last time?
"Hands on your head." A voice commanded. He hadn't even realised they were in the room. His eyes were on John. There wasn't any superficial damage that he could see, no blood visible, good, that meant—
The voice repeated themselves.
Sherlock would rather smash his fist in their face. Or throw himself over John. Or both.
"If you touch him again," He snarled. "Rest assured I will—"
He heard a gun point itself (presumably and judging by the arc and the lack of confidence of the assailant at making a lethal shot) at the back of his head.
"Hands. On. Your. Fucking. Head."
Sherlock did as he asked, shifting closer to John as if to shield him. It was the only thing he could do.
"Ah, Mr Holmes don't think your priorities aren't so transparent. Back away from him or I send two in his skull."
Sherlock bit back the obvious retort: Why two when one will do the job? You're not very efficient with cost management, are you?
But that would only expedite John's end, and that was one thing Sherlock could not abide by. He stared down at his doctor. He looked so young when he was asleep—strike that—unconscious. The lines that came with worrying over Sherlock were gone.
"You won't. You need him alive."
Talking, yes. Talking was good. Talking would keep John breathing longer. He wished he was certain that what he was saying had validity, but he was about to find out.
He turned around.
"You put a bullet in his skull and they'll surely put one in yours, won't they?"
"That's for me to know, and you to find out then, innit?"
Sherlock wanted to roll his eyes and spout theories on just how inbred this man's family must be, or otherwise how uneducated, but if anything that would hinder him rather than help—
The door opened then and another figure let themselves in.
"He's asking for John now."
Sherlock didn't need to see them to know they had a gun in their hands as well. He didn't need to see them to know who they were.
The man nodded, took two strides across the small room and slung John roughly over his shoulder.
"Careful you gracelessly incompetent block of space, he's had recent head trauma!" Sherlock bit out. If he couldn't physically help John, verbal abuse might at least make him feel better. "If you want him alive, you never do that again you great idiot!"
The man looked like he was going to swing John back down and toss him across the room if his face was any indication.
"No." The other voice said, stopping him. "He must be unhurt. Take him."
Sherlock could only watch as John's slumped figure was carried out of his sight.
The door shut with a resounding bang, silence billowing in the cool air.
"I've read into you, Mary Morstan." He said quietly, still facing the door.
She stepped from the shadows behind him, and he could hear the smile on her face.
"And what have you read, exactly, Sherlock Holmes?"
"Tell me." The voice said. It was dark, feral, dangerous.
"I already did!" The man gasped. "I don't know, I don't know what they are doing—"
"They won't be happy with what you've already told me, so you may as well continue. Now...tell me." The voice said more forcefully, followed by a cry of pain.
"Conditioning!" The man groaned. "It was conditioning."
"To see how far they could push you. How far you'd go when you were unstable. If you would forget your morals."
"What are they planning next?"
"They're going to try to break you."
"Break me?" The voice barked in amusement. "They're going to have to find me first."
The voice leaned in close to his face. He could feel their breath, cold on his cheek.
"Tell them I'll be waiting." The voice hissed.
Something sliced through the man's bonds and they fell to the floor, clattering in the darkness.
The door slammed shut.
John woke with a start, the slam ringing in his ears far longer than normal or needed. He did not miss or appreciate the irony that he had just overcome one concussion only to possibly enter another.
Always that room, always the darkness…why was the rest blurred, why did it shimmer in his mind like he was opening his eyes underwater?
Those gaps in his memory bothered him. He wouldn't even have known they existed if he hadn't realised time had passed between his descent and rise from the Kremlin.
He remembered fear and pain, bright in their coldness, but distant, moonlight hitting an ice floe. He doesn't remember feeling it. Did someone else, by his hand? That'd be interesting: if the agency had made him an empath. He'd always wanted to be a hero. The tights would have to go, though.
Oh, god, this concussion must be bad. He had to focus.
Where was he?
Opening his eyes would be a good place to start.
He cracked them open and nearly cursed at the light that spilled in. Was it possible to hate inanimate objects? John discovered that no, it was not.
"Hello, darling." A sandpaper voice said to him. "Good to see you join us again."
As his vision cleared, he wished he was asleep again.
Pain began to course through his body, as if his mind had been trying to ward it off until the last possible moment. A soft pain, an ache of reopened wounds, yet he couldn't feel any blood sticking his shirt to his skin. His bullet wound felt red-hot. His lungs burned like he was holding his breath underwater.
He realised he was hanging by his arms, hands cuffed together, the chain arced over the hook of a raised crane in the middle of the factory floor. His feet barely touched the floor.
Moran smiled, sitting in front of him.
"Figured it all out, have you?"
"A bit." John managed to bite out through gritted teeth. "If you're going to kill me, just do it quickly."
"That's what everybody wants, John, an easy ending. Surely you know that you can't always get what you want. And furthermore, who said I wanted to kill you?"
"That's what you want, isn't it?" John groaned, head lolling forward briefly before falling back to stare at the high ceiling. "It's why you took Sherlock earlier. To get back at him, for Jim."
"No, no, Bruges was for Jim. Those wounds you bear are for Jim, so that every time Sherlock fucks you, he'll see them and he'll know Jim put them there. He'll know they'll never fade, never go away, and that he caused them with his arrogance, his plastic invulnerability, and he'll know that he is every bit as mortal as you are because he hurts."
"Can you stop with the exposition and just kill me?" John asked, not knowing where the words were coming from. Did he have a death wish? Some pseudo-attack to provoke Moran into a fight? It felt like a combustible cocktail of both.
"Your line of thought is that I need a reason." Moran said darkly. "You might want to rethink that."
John grinned emptily.
"I always thought you were a bit like Jim. Must have been why he liked you."
Moran stared at him coldly before taking the rolled cigarette from the crook of his ear and lighting it.
"Have you ever loved, John Watson?"
Moran stared at the wall. Brought a cigarette to his lips with a still, blood-slicked hand.
There'd been no clean exit wound. Of course not, not at that distance. He was used to quiet entry, soft exit, at distances where you couldn't see the brain gush out of the hole you created, where you weren't close enough to distinguish blood and brain from bits of skull.
He was used to abrasion collaring, not stellates. Halos ringing around the bullet wound, not those bursting black stars that turned to a burst brain that led to a bursting heart. He thought he was dying up there, on that high ledge that felt so comfortable because he was above everyone else once more, yet he felt as if he was below them, far below, somewhere dark and cold and painful. He tasted the sands of Afghanistan again, and they burned his throat, burned like so much inhaled smoke, burned like the hot sun, burned like the blank eyes of Jim Moriarty.
Jim had said they wouldn't get a happy ending.
He liked to say that often, as if to remind them, as if they could forget. People like us, they don't get happy endings. Didn't stop them though. Nothing stopped them from fucking until they bled or biting a lip between their teeth or bruising skin with angry, volatile punches. They were embroiled in the sun and it felt like a glorious becoming. Then Sherlock Holmes had come along and eclipsed that world. Jim's interest waned towards the gravity of the brighter star. Yet still Sebastian stayed, as he had when his father beat his mother into a coma, as he had when she died and his father was imprisoned, as he had when he had become a ward of the state because, if Jim had ever said anything correct about his insight into Moran's character, it was that he was a stray that dedicated its love to whomever decided to feed it. And Jim had offered the fullest meals. He stayed, right until the moment he knelt beside his genius, took in the hole in the back of his head, and turned to the stretcher he'd been ordered to bring for reasons unknown until he was putting Jim Moriarty on in carefully so what was left of that great brain didn't splatter onto the roof. He stayed long enough to see the body of Jim Moriarty and conclude that, as Sherlock was his end, so would Moran be Sherlock's.
He would be lying if he said he wasn't envious towards the detective. Who wouldn't be? He was everything Jim wanted, and that was nothing he saw in Sebastian Moran. But Sherlock had the love of John Watson tether him to the ground, whereas Jim had severed those chains long ago, not wanting to be tied down by anything. Sherlock's weakness and his salvation. Jim didn't like the word. He thought he didn't need it. Sebastian didn't want to give him salvation. He wanted to go along for the ride.
That didn't stop him from caring. Was that what caring was, that obsessive need to protect Jim? To be around him at all times, watching the intelligence flicker behind dark eyes? To invest himself in the existence of another? He didn't know.
John Watson. Such an odd little man. Moran had known him briefly when their tours intersected, but didn't remember if he had thought anything of him, which told him all he needed to know about his feelings towards him. Insignificant. Not heavy enough to leave an imprint. This made him unable to understand Jim's obsession with John's demise at first. Why would Jim lower himself to pay attention to the end of such a minor man? And furthermore, what did that mean for Moran himself, that Jim would no longer even give him the time of day unless it benefited him, dedicating himself instead to rather lower investments?
Then he understood. Get to John, get Sherlock. Crack the egg, get the omelette. John meant nothing to Jim, only his influence on Sherlock did, and if Moran ever wept over anything, it would have been that realisation. It was a beautiful thing, to know that he was the only soldier in his madman's life. John had his place, and Moran had his.
His damned nobleness made Moran want to vomit. The thought that there was good and bad and that was all. Nothing in-between. Bullshit. There were murderers with families, priests with secrets, nuns with children. Nothing was ever black and white. If anything, all was grey. Grey lives in grey cities on grey earth. Only the light of the brilliant ever shone brightly and, like moths to flame, Moran drew himself to the gleaming darkness of Jim Moriarty that shone like hot blood under moonlight. It was hard not to feel drawn to him, to his sparkling charisma, to his dark mind, to his bloody ambition. He wanted chaos. Sebastian liked that most about him.
Now, though. Now he was alone. Set on the path to fire with no one to light the match. But he would burn everything, he would set up the pyre and burn John Watson if it was the last thing he ever did for Jim Moriarty. That was what he had always wanted, and if Moran could give it to him, perhaps a little later than he could have, then he would. But it would take time. Years. He'd do it though. For Jim.
He hadn't loved him, but for a man that had never loved anything, he had come close.
It was an odd feeling.
He'd never experienced it before.
"Have you ever loved, John Watson? I'm sure you have."
Moran stopped to take a long drag. "If not your parents or your sister, then certainly Sherlock Holmes." He sighed, smoke drifting from his lips. "You are a man who falls in love easily, quickly, shallowly, and then once it's done you toss it away. But Sherlock Holmes…he's open water, isn't he? All treading, feet never touching the bottom…You get exhausted quickly, surrounded by so much with no land in sight." He rolled up his sleeve, hot ash falling onto the cool floor. "I felt like you did sometimes. Swallowed up by the darkness, the honeyed genius. It gets addicting, doesn't it? To have someone need us again."
"Did he? Need you?"
"I don't know. On good days, I suppose he did. Most days, he just tolerated me. I always wanted more. Didn't want to share." His eyes turned to John. "Then your madman came along and I knew I was done. Jim looked at him in ways he never looked at me. In ways Sherlock looked at you." Moran shook his head. "I was pushed aside, but I stayed because dedication is something you and I are quite good at. They needed soldiers, and there we sat, waiting and ready for them."
"Are you going to kill him?" John asked through the tightness of his chest.
"Sherlock? Maybe. It's you I'm after. If you wanted to be poetic, I can kill him without even touching him. Jim always knew we had to use you to get to him."
"So there's no chance of you letting me go."
Moran barked out a laugh.
"You, John Watson? You? The man for whom I spent three years setting up your fall? No. No, there is no chance I'm digging my claws out of you."
His words were blurry, slightly slurred. Cigarettes didn't do that.
Pain had consumed every cell in his body, his arms straining until they were numb, his chest curling into itself even more, tightening his lungs and making his heart pound. It was getting harder to breathe.
John had always had good upper body strength.
As quietly as he could, he gripped either end of his cuffs and began to swing himself back and forth, trying to ignore the compressed heat building in his chest. As he gained momentum, Moran realised what he was doing and stood, yet John had already gathered enough force to hit the cabin of the crane he was hanging from and kick off of it, swinging towards Moran as he stood and catching him underneath the chin with a vicious kick.
Moran was knocked back onto the floor in a spray of blood and John willed all of his energy to look up. The chain of the cuffs was weakening under his weight. His left shoulder burned horribly, a deep, hot pain burning where that bullet once did. He'd have to find a way to get down before Moran got back up or his shoulder gave out.
He gripped the sides of the cuffs again and pulled up before letting his whole weight drop. The chain was straining, bending under the stress. He pulled up and dropped once more and it snapped, sending him tumbling to the floor. He took a few precious seconds to breathe a great lungful of air again as blood pounded again in his arms, pulsing like a gush of cool water.
Moran began to stir and John took his signal to leave.
He could have shot him, looking back on it. He should have.
But he had to find Sherlock first.
The second to last chapter, guys!
Chapter 8: the bare heart
The final chapter! An epilogue and sequel will soon follow.
"Angels fall to earth
World heats down
Now you heart is cold
Waiting on the summer
Of my soul
On the samhain of my soul
Gonna bring your world
Down in fire"
"Soul on Fire" – EMA (Danzig cover)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I've read into you, Mary Morstan."
"And what have you read, exactly, Sherlock Holmes?"
Sherlock stared at her, at Mary Morstan, John's constant companion through those lonely years, Sherlock's substitute.
"That you are not who you appear to be."
"What am I then?" She asked pleasantly.
Sherlock turned, his face full of coldness.
"I hate to burst that positively model veneer of the world you must live in, but everyone is a liar."
"Some more than others." Sherlock replied taciturnly.
"Looks like the pot's calling the kettle black, Mr Holmes."
"I never claimed I was a saint." Sherlock sniffed. "But accusing me does not absolve you of what you've done."
"I believe I have the right to know the crimes I'm being accused of?" Mary said, her chin tilting up in an attempt to look innocent. They never learned that acting led them nowhere, only in circles. "That's what they do with war crimes, isn't it?
"I first toyed with the idea when Moran told John that his sparring had gotten sloppy." Sherlock began, leaving her question both answered and unanswered. "He said 'I wouldn't bet on him remembering that bit'. What event was extreme enough where John wouldn't remember? I could only think of one." Sherlock's sharp gaze turned to her. "The Kremlin. The only area of memory where John draws a blank. Nothing, not one thing in three years, escapes him except those meager hours he spent locked into a gurney waiting for you to save him until he decided to save himself. And, as I understand it, you responded quite quickly. Within minutes. 'What on earth caused you to be so fast?' I wondered. Then it came to me. You were waiting for his call."
She leaned against the old stone wall and smiled as her phone began to ring.
"If he was as valuable as you claim, what were you waiting for? An engraved invitation to raid the place? My brother's permission? But you wouldn't care for that. Mycroft is just a walrus in a suit to you."
"You act like the people you love mean nothing to you, Mr Holmes, but we both know they mean everything—"
"Trying to bait me by reminding me of their existence won't work." Sherlock snapped. "And you've gotten me off my train of thought, which makes you rude as well. No, you, you were waiting to see if John was capable enough to get himself out. And he passed with flying colours."
"That night in Bruges, if you remember, while John was showering, you woke up and I asked you about his actions during my absence. You told me them in such an abridged way that I was left to wonder if you'd shared with me everything that you, as John's closest friend outside of myself, would have felt the responsibility to share. I asked you if anyone would be coming after John for his betrayal and you told me that it depended on just whose orders he had shied from.
"And, I have to admit, you baffled me there. I spent my time at Mycroft's in supreme agitation because you had given me a puzzle that I could not solve: John's history during my exile. But then John showed up at the door, bloodied and half-dead, and I had greater things to worry about, more important things, but when I realised no other evaluation seemed to be working, fortune smiled upon me in the form of Mikeia Mikhailovic's hospital band." Sherlock drew it from his pocket, reading the back. "'Scan me.'"
He did not miss the colour leaving Mary's face.
"It seems that despite your agency's exhaustive intricacies, your skills of coercion still need a bit of work." He said, unable to keep the smirk from his face. "Mikheia was never yours. He will never be yours."
Sherlock looked at Mikheia, swathed in a hospital gown that made him look smaller than he was.
"You wouldn't say yes, because even though you are angry at me you don't have the nature to seek revenge on me or on John since you think maybe one day you can join us like you're hoping and you don't want to ruin your chances."
Sherlock knocked away the call button that Mikheia was reaching for.
"Mikheia, you aren't that petty as to end a conversation because you don't care for its results."
As he drew away, he tucked a folded note between the bed and the call button.
Sherlock smiled grimly. "I'm afraid a madman got to him first."
Mikheia found the note the next morning after he woke when he leaned over to call for a pitcher of water.
His name is Moran. He will say he has your mother and sister. Do not trust him. Do not follow me. Do not worry. John and I will come back for you. It was always my intention to come back for you.
"My name is Moran. Sebastian Moran. I have a proposition for you. And I can guarantee that you are not going to say no to me."
Mikheia stared back at him.
"You are not here to offer me money." Mikheia concluded quietly. "You want my help, but you do not intend to pay me for it." His eyes turned dark. "You are threating me."
"It's not your life that you need to worry about so much as your mother's and sister's."
Mikheia gripped the note in his hand.
Flashes of movement. Moran was too close. An invasion of space that politeness usually leaves empty. His breath smelled of stale tobacco. His pores secreted the sweat of desperation, bitter and pungent.
"You will be emitted tomorrow since that's more of a flesh wound than a festering bullet." He said in that low, scratchy voice that made Mikheia think of darkness that pulsed with evil. "And unless you get on the train I tell you to, you'll find yourself with another bullet wound to worry about. And make no mistake, I don't miss twice."
He moved away. His movements hadn't been subtle enough for Mikheia to not notice him switching his hospital band with another. He'd relied too heavily that Mikheia would be shocked that he was speaking to the man who shot him. But he couldn't know that he'd already done that, seven years ago, right before blood splattered on his face and he went home and made sure not to tell his mother the truth of how he got the thick, rounded wound in his side. He had gone to bed that night in the worst pain of his life, a pain in his chest that felt like his soul had been poisoned, and woke up with a raw throat, a burn in the soft skin of his hip, and tears on his face. His sister had glanced questioningly at him at breakfast but hadn't said anything until the early hours of the next morning, when she cried for him at his hospital bed because she thought the new hole in his chest was a bullet wound that she'd been afraid would come one day.
This man did not scare him. He had seen worse things.
"What if I were to stay here?" He asked quietly, staring into those light eyes that bespoke blackness.
"If you would be so cold as to risk the life of your family, then perhaps you belong on my side."
Sherlock eyed the bracelet in his hand.
"5-2-9-1-14-25-18." He read off the front. "His admissions code. Such a meaningless sequence of numbers to anyone other than myself. And to you as well, I suppose, since you constructed it to track him after he left. Meaningless…at least until it led me to a bank account of one Ryan John Bise." Sherlock smirked as the colour drained from Mary's face yet she said nothing. "You relied too heavily on recycling your account numbers. You were careless, thinking that no one would check.
"Imagine my surprise when, upon pulling up Ryan John Bise's wedding registry, I find your name. Mary Morstan. Widowed after four months of marriage. I take it the honeymoon didn't last long, then? Or did you meet someone else? Someone who fulfilled your depraved needs with his own? Someone who fed off your love and attention like a parasite and rewarded you with the kind of love only reserved for psychotics? Someone who offered you an escape from a marriage you didn't really want in the first place?"
"I didn't cheat on him, if that's what you're implying—"
"There is more than one way to be unfaithful, Mary Morstan." Sherlock said darkly before his expression calmed. "And you were quite unfaithful to say the least. Oh, but you were so clever." He whispered with something akin to reverence in his voice. "Letting John think that silly four number code was his idea—no harm in a special code between friends—when you yourself had used it as an anagram to conceal your past, making it so obvious that no one would suspect it, hiding there in plain sight. You were so clever, using your powers of persuasion to get close to John so you could destroy him where it hurt most, and, upon finding out his sexual preference didn't lean your way no matter how many cleavage-bearing shirts you wore or how much you smiled at him, you decided to take a different approach. You gained his trust. And isn't that worth more than any other kind of pain you could cause him?"
"I didn't want to cause him pain." Mary said monotonously, her large eyes turning up to his. "He is where you hurt most, Sherlock Holmes. He told me once that you said you didn't have a heart, but that he thought you were wrong. I want what Jim wanted. I want to burn you, inside and out."
"As there was Jim Moriarty," Sherlock said quietly, "so there too were his helpers. Moran…and Morstan."
Mary eyed him over before speaking.
"John told me about your tantrums, so I know that you understand me when I talk about boredom. About having nothing to do with yourself. You think John was the only one who found meaning in following a mad genius around? And, in the end, Jim was cleverer than you. He outsmarted you."
Sherlock made a face.
"Wrong." He repeated calmly. "You are wrong. Jim did not outsmart me. Obviously, since I'm alive—"
"Didn't he, Sherlock?"
This wasn't overconfidence. This was knowing something Sherlock didn't know, something he had yet to realise.
"What did you do, Mary?"
"I've been beaten by the great Sherlock Holmes." Mary said quietly. "A feat that destroys his victims as surely as it guarantees their infamy. But what can he do when the victim is clever enough to destroy him?"
"Jim is dead, Mary. What did you do?"
"He was on the right track though, wasn't he? Strapping those bombs to John, aiming a rifle at him, threatening him, making you realise just how human you are—"
Blood thrummed in Sherlock's ears and the next thing he knew, he had tackled Mary to the ground and pinned her.
"What did you do?"
"Hyacinth—" She coughed, gasped through the sudden lack of air pushed out of her by Sherlock's weight. "What happened to Hyacinth? The human man that came between two gods?"
For once, all thought in the mind of the great Sherlock Holmes ceased.
He scrambled up, his long legs bringing him to the door as he flew into the hallway, leaving Mary on the floor to pull out her mobile.
Sherlock was in the middle of a dead sprint out of the main factory to the ammunitions plant when he heard it.
A single gunshot.
It rang out through the empty night, freezing Sherlock in his tracks and sending a flock of crows fleeing into the quiet darkness.
Death had always been a possibility.
John's death, however, had always been an impossibility, at least to him. Death would and could happen to everyone but John. John was too good, too pure, too human for death. It was as if Sherlock had deluded himself into thinking that his affection for John alone was untouchable, that it cocooned itself around him and made him invincible.
Everyone wants to hold on to the people they love. Everyone is selfish.
He really was just like everyone else. Love seemed to be the common denominator. How interesting.
Who was he kidding? He'd been proven to be nothing else countless times before this. He held his head so loftily, looked down on everyone around him, yet judging by the way he felt like he was trapped in an ice floe, cold and numb as his shocked mind allowed raw, chilly fear to pulse through him, freezing him from the inside out, he was no different from them.
But he'd been right so many times before. Shouldn't that count for anything? For some kind of credit he could use to not feel this way, to not have his world stop at the thought of not having John Watson in it?
No use wishing for the illogical.
Somehow, his brain managed to reattach itself to the rest of his body and sent him running down the halls at a furious pace, bursting outside to the assembly plant where the shot had rang out.
John's laugh. His smile. How he hissed every time he took a sip of too-hot tea, even though he did it enough for it to be habit. His frown, the crease in his brow. The feeling of his bare heart beating under Sherlock's palm. His anger, the only thing that had ever made Sherlock doubt himself.
Sherlock couldn't lose any of it. He wouldn't survive. Living without John was like taking a rich feast away from a king and leaving him to live off nothing but bread and water. It was unbearable.
It was not an option.
Mikheia watched Sherlock appear as he pocketed his gun, watched him burst from the main factory and cross the empty yard like the stretched shadow of an invisible man, watched him pull open the large doors to the assembly plant and enter.
He watched, waited, and then followed.
He knew exactly where the switch to turn on the machines were, knew the exact order to punch the buttons that sent the assembly line roaring to life for the first time in eighteen years. He'd made sure to learn before he arrived.
It was of vital importance.
Silently, he entered the empty plant whose silence sung of decrepit rust.
Silently, he stalked over to the main switchboard, punched the buttons, and watched as Sherlock came to stand in the middle of the empty room as the machines began to bang and churn around him in a billowing plume of noise and dust. He looked like a mad scientist among his metal prodigies.
"Did you always know how to do that," Sherlock's voice came calmly through the steam and empty whirring of the rusted machines. "Or did your employer teach you?"
"Novgorod school number 24, actually." Mikheia answered, stepping back into the shadows. "To graduate you had to assemble an AK-47 in no more than 30 seconds."
"The machines didn't turn themselves on."
"No, I did that, sir. Since I was qualitied and had no other option, I used to work at a place much like this."
"Qualified." Sherlock corrected. "How is your shoulder?"
"Better than before. Mostly healed now."
"You and John match now, you know."
"Why?" Sherlock asked into the clanging void. "Why are you doing this?"
"I was charged with keeping you busy." Came the solemn voice.
"And this is your solution?"
Silence from the other end.
"Let me go, Mikheia." Sherlock said as evenly as he could manage, taking another step towards the doors. "You know what John means to me. You know, I know you do. Let me go and help him—"
"No!" Mikheia's voice echoed through the room like thunder. "He must do it alone."
Sherlock shut his eyes, the action visible to no one but himself. He reached a hand out and quietly tried the door handle. Locked, like all the others.
"They are all locked." Mikheia said, his voice coming from everywhere and nowhere. "I am thorough, sir, if nothing else."
"He saved your life." Sherlock said, his voice trembling as if it were angry for John. Angry at the unfairness of it all. "He saved your life, Mikheia. You owe him."
"No, sir. You saved me my life. You took me out of Novgorod, showed me what the world was like, and it was just as I imagined. They were just as I imagined—"
"I didn't want you to join them because they gave you a better offer!" Sherlock said irately. He paused, the hisses and grinding of the machines nearly drowning out his next words, spoken so softly, like a prayer in church. "I trusted you."
A jet of steam whistled ahead of Sherlock, near the chipping double doors, before falling, revealing Mikheia's pale face, close in proximity, but distant and untouchable in every other sense.
"You should not have." He said softly in a voice thick with darkness. "Love, it is a liability."
He struck a match and everything caught fire.
What an awful time for Sherlock to realise he was standing in a room that had been soaking in oil for two decades.
Fire bloomed around him like a sunrise, hot, sudden and bright. A machine to his left that had once been tasked to sorting bullets started to sputter as sparks began emanating from it. He could only hope the idiots that had abandoned this factory had taken the ammunition with them.
Through the thick black smoke Sherlock could make out Mikheia's form, flitting through the fire like a shadow.
"Mikheia!" He drew his shirt to the bridge of his nose and tried to squint through the smoke that blossomed around him. There was the smashing of glass and the room began to clear as smoke gushed out into the clear night air. A suicide mission didn't seem to be either Mikheia's forte or the way he truly wanted either of them to go.
A quick glance through watering eyes proved to Sherlock what he already suspected, that Mikheia had thrown himself through a window by the quickly heating metal stairs, not quite between the first and second floors.
Sherlock followed the thinning smoke to it, banging his knees against the hot iron of the industrial stairs and sending a long cut along his arm as his sleeve snagged the corner of a machine. He stared out of the smashed window at the imprint Mikheia's body had left in the bushes beneath him as he tucked and rolled through the impact.
The fall would hurt, but it wouldn't be fatal.
Just like his last one.
John had barely made it to the double doors before his legs had given out beneath him.
Moran laughed from where he lay sprawled on the floor as he wiped the blood on his jaw away with his sleeve.
"Did you really think I wouldn't have a back-up plan?" He barked as he wobbled to his feet, picking up his dropped fag.
John could feel his limbs begin to spasm, but the feeling was distant, detached, as if all of his nerve endings had been shot. He felt severed from his body, although it anchored him down he felt nothing in it but the rapid beating of his heart. He had the sudden feeling that he'd felt this way before.
"Was this—" He muttered into the concrete. "Was this what you gave me in the Kremlin?"
Moran chuckled as he relit his cigarette.
"Look at you. Every time I try to get to the exposition properly, you keep spoiling it." He circled John's convulsing form before he stopped and all John could see was the polished toes of his boots. "It's a newer drug, a form of benzodiazepines. They took clonazepam, that drug they use to control seizures, and reinvented it. You like it?" He asked, smiling. "Well, actually I can't see why you would be, considering that we haven't given it to you since Novgorod. Which would explain the little episode you're experiencing now. Sorry if I don't turn your head to the side so you don't swallow your tongue." He sneered as he began to circle John again.
John felt his stomach begin to convulse and heave, yet he could do nothing but choke on every breath he took before letting it rattle out of him. Moran knelt beside him, picking up his forearm in a tight grip and examining it for a moment before sinking the needle of a syringe into it and pushing the plunger.
John bit back a groan as cool water flooded through him. It felt like blood was surging back into sleeping limbs. He felt his body bloom back to life, reconnect back to his brain, and settle into soft stillness. He let out a slow exhale before breathing back in, marvelling at the sudden calm.
"You deserve every kind of hell, John Watson." Moran breathed, standing back up and kicking at John's still twitching leg. "This is the kindest one I'm offering. Addiction. You see, clonazepam embodies everything that forms an addictive substance. It takes the pain away. Makes you…dependent. Makes you think you need it to feel normal. Makes you see problems where they aren't any."
"I don't remember much of what happened. I know my contact in Novgorod was a snitch and I know I was drugged and taken into the Kremlin. I kind of drifted in and out after that, but I remember hearing your name and—it sounds so odd now—but I remember the taste of chewing gum and the smell of gunpowder."
"One—" John coughed. "One dosage can't form an addiction—"
"Who said anything about Novgorod being your first dose? Don't you remember the gum they gave you? How you always got so nervous before a hit, so restless that your hands were shaking? How the gum always seemed to calm you down?" He smiled as John's eyes widened. "You can't have convinced yourself it was a sugar rush."
The drug was in the gum— no —it was the gum, only with a vague synthetic mint flavouring, which would make perfect sense since cordite is three-fifths nitroglycerin so it would taste sweet naturally…
Moran looked up as the doors opened. "Wonderful, back-up has arrived." He said and John followed his gaze to the two men entering the room, one lightly tanned and blonde, the other bald and dark skinned. "Took you long enough." Moran sneered then turned back to John. "These two are Asad and Isaacs. Been working with them since before Sherlock's fall at St. Bart's. Some of the best of the best, as far as assassins go. The agency's been after them for a while you know—"
John drew his gun from his belt and fired. It caught the blonde guard in the forehead, near the bridge of his nose and a burst of red and pink splattered the wall behind him. Unnecessary. Unfortunate. One down.
Moran laughed, a deep scratchy rasp. The other guard moved to draw his gun.
"No, Asad, leave it." Moran ordered and Asad lowered his arm. "Isaacs was always the worst shot of the two of you. I was thinking of firing him anyways." A slow smile crept on his face. "Seems Johnny here beat me to it." He laughed as if John had made a good joke and nudged him with his foot. "Didn't know you had that gun, Watson. Remind me to frisk you next time."
"There won't be a next time." John said through gritted teeth and Moran turned around.
The two stared at each other for a moment, John's gun aimed at Moran and Moran's hands in his pockets.
"Well, Doctor Watson, what are you to do now? Kill me, hurt me if you must, but won't be getting revenge. Not really."
"There are other ways to hurt you." John said coldly.
"I concur." Moran said, blood trickling into his smile as he pulled out his gun and fired a bullet into John Watson.
Sherlock burst into the factory warehouse just as the shot rang out. How many more would he have to hear thinking that John was at the other end? What if—
He had come out onto a mezzanine overlooking the factory floor, built for the labour supervisors to watch their workers. A hawk's nest that offered a view of the entire building.
That same view included John's body, sprawled on the ground, blood spotting his right shoulder as Moran moved to stand over him.
No, wrong, no, no, no, NO—
"Moran!" Sherlock shouted, his voice booming around the bare skeleton of the building.
Moran's head snapped up and even from a distance Sherlock could see his smile widen.
"Look who's come to join us, Watson!" He said gleefully as he headed towards the stairs. "You stay right there, love." He chuckled to John as Sherlock rushed down. "Your own little Prince Charming, here to save you—"
Moran rounded the corner to the stairs just as Sherlock reached the bottom and rushed forward, grabbing the closest thing he could find and slamming a shattered beam of wood into his face, sending Moran to the ground in a blur of splintered wood and gushing blood.
"John?" Sherlock tossed the beam aside and it clattered beside Moran's sprawled form. He heard a rustle of movement, footsteps, and he quickly ducked the pistol whip aimed for his head. "Really?" He scoffed at the guard as he blocked the thick punch aimed for his solar plexus. "Have we been resorted to caveman-like tactics?" Sherlock leaned back to avoid the oncoming swipe to his temple and twisted his weight, sending all of his momentum into a harsh blow to the man's jaw, leaving him to collapse, out cold on the concrete. "Apologies for the indecorum." Sherlock sniffed, straightening his jacket back into place.
A gasp, a rattle of drawn breath, broke the quiet.
The floor looked more complicated when it sprang up around him, a maze of half-stocked shelves and broken machinery."John?"
"Sh—m'here." A voice rasped, followed by a sudden weak banging.
John groaned in relief as Sherlock came into view and let his foot fall from where he'd been kicking the underbelly of the assembly machine beside him.
His blood shone in the light.
Sherlock's blue eyes turned a dark red as they reflected the blood blooming under John's body. The rich red, like velvet or wine, staining the oil slick, greasy concrete beneath him. There wasn't much, but the bullet could still have struck a vital artery, still could have lodged itself in John's lung or his heart—oh god, his heart—
"John, hold on—"
"Yes it's me you great idiot." A gentle hand brushed at his temple.
"I don't know." Sherlock said as he unzipped John's jacket to get to the wound. "I didn't stick around to find out. Much more pressing issues."
"Hope he is. Bastard." John coughed.
Sherlock grinned at John's petulant tone as he tossed away the jacket.
"I do too, John."
He looked backed to him and his smile fell, a pale hand shooting out to grip John's face tightly.
"John? John, I swear, if you do something so predictably tedious as die on me tonight, I will find a way to drag you back from the hereafter so I can kill you again—"
"Look…f'ward to it."
"John—" He didn't like how his voice sounded, so full of shaking instability, so…insecure. For once, he wished not to be burdened with an intelligence that knew the outcome of the situation. "No—John, I—you can't leave me. You swore, John. You promised—"
A hand sticky with blood found his.
"N—Sherlock. Never. I—too. You know. Love you. Too."
Sherlock turned his head at a sound of movement behind him. Moran was struggling to get up.
Ignoring John's rising protest, Sherlock stood from between the rusting machines, something steeped in darkness somewhere inside him swelling with rage. His hands fisted at his sides.
"Why the long face, Holmes?" Moran barked. "Your bonnie lass' lights going out then?" He didn't have the chance to finish before Sherlock was upon him in a vicious blur of movement.
He straddled Moran as he struggled, sending carefully calculated strikes into places he knew would hurt most. Sternum. Solar plexus. Hollow of the throat. He sent all of his force into the punches then pulled back at the point of contact so the blows were sharp, so they were concise, concentrated. Maim, yes, but don't kill. Make him feel like John does. Make him hurt. He couldn't hear John's sounds of protest or Moran's mad laughter. He only heard the thunder of gunfire, only heard the screech of that blast that sent that small piece of metal into John's shoulder at a high velocity, something that only should have happened the one time, once, before Sherlock had known him, before he had loved him enough to save him and damn the fates that made it happen again.
After he landed a particularly sharp hit below Moran's ribcage, he realised he was crying stinging, dehydrated tears. The kind of tears borne from a harsh wind whipping at them, borne from keeping his eyes open too long so he could see the blood blooming from under his hands.
"Stop!" John's voice rang out through the garage, bouncing off the cold floor from where he lay. Sherlock took a steadying breath as he lowered his fist, curled into an anticipated blow, and glanced down. Moran wouldn't be getting up any time soon. Couldn't hurt John. John. John needs him.
He knelt beside him as John tried to grasp the straps of something Sherlock should have noticed before.
He should have known John would have been prepared, would not have walked into a situation that might be fatal and not have a back-up plan. Where Sherlock was instant, John was patient. Where Sherlock was logical, John was practical.
"Help me get this off, would you?" John groaned, nudging at his bullet-proof vest. "It's stifling underneath."
Sherlock helped him haul the ruined vest off and as soon as he flung it away he knelt closer to John's shoulder, examining the thick abrasion on the curve of his clavicle.
"Could've been worse." John muttered. "Christ, that knocked the wind right out of me. I forgot what that felt like…"
Sweat matted at his hairline, colouring his hair darker, and a bit of his blood had splattered across his jaw. Sherlock wiped it away with his thumb as he helped John sit up.
"Where's—oh Christ." John's voice trailed off and Sherlock glanced up to where he was looking, his face crestfallen.
Moran was gone.
Sherlock followed John through the silent shelves of the factory, the still-blazing plant casting their shadows in a dark orange glow against the concrete.
"Do you think he got to Mikheia?" John asked quietly and Sherlock considered his answer.
"No." He said, his eyes scanning the room. "Mikheia is smart. If he's as smart as I suspect, he should be a mile away by now."
"And if he's not?"
"Then he's still here."
"Are you alright?" John asked softly.
"Me? Yes, of course, I wasn't the one that was shot at."
"No, I mean—Sherlock, when I came back to the room, there was blood all over your face—"
"Ah, that. Yes, Moran did get a bit punchy. Happy to see me, I suspect."
"I should have shot him when I had the chance." John muttered.
"Well there's much to be said about second chances—" Sherlock said before he sent a kick into the nearest shelf, toppling it over with a resounding bang. There was a sudden noise, heavier, as someone tried to scurry out of the way. "Namely that they always appear sooner or later."
"Stay behind me." John said, drawing his gun from his waistband and pushing in front of Sherlock as the figure attempted to crawl out from between the tight space between the collapsed shelf and the wall. A great plume of dust rose with the shadow as it stood and soon settled to the floor.
"Mikheia…" John muttered. Two great green eyes stared at him, blood trickling down the side of his face from an open cut. His hands were bandaged with torn, bloodied pieces of cloth in the way of street punks that had habits of breaking windows.
His eyes flickering between the two, Mikheia opened his mouth as if to say something before he closed it and turned on his heel, vaulting over a fallen machine and disappearing from sight as he ran.
"Mikheia, wait!" John tucked his gun back into his belt and jumped over the machine as well as he ran after him, Sherlock following close behind.
John called his name once more as Mikheia leapt over the still unconscious guard and made his way to the stairwell, yet the boy didn't stop.
Sherlock's heart bloomed.
The chase was on.
Mikheia had mentioned to Sherlock once that he was a fan of parkour.
Sherlock had taken that to mean that he liked watching it, not practising, although apparently he did it quite often.
Of course his mind chose to bring this fact up as he watched Mikheia leap onto the top of a rusted piece of machinery with nothing more than a running start and some admirable arm strength.
Some part of him, however small, was quite jealous at the dexterity it was being shown.
Another part of him quietly remembered that Mikheia had a shoulder injury that would not allow him to continue completing such a trick. There was only so far he could go.
As soon as Mikheia's feet hit the roof of the machine he was bounding up again, crossing the gap to bang against the railing of a catwalk hanging above the floor. Sherlock heard his groan of pain as he dragged himself up and over as John called his name again and Sherlock bit back the desire to remind John that, since Mikheia had not responded to his name earlier, repeating it over and over again wasn't going to help.
But then John called him and there was something in his voice that made Mikheia stop, made him freeze in his tracks on that skimpy little excuse for a catwalk. Sherlock could see him shaking.
Mikheia looked down to them for a moment.
A large industrial light above them turned on, a brilliant blaze of light blinding them for a moment.
Then it shut off.
As his eyes readjusted to the darkness, Sherlock could hear feet pounding on the thin metal. He heard John call out as he rushed up the stairs trying to head Mikheia off.
He tried to follow, but stumbled into a conveyor belt with a crash. Disorientation was not his favourite state of being.
His vision cleared right as John reached the top of the stairs and Mikheia leapt off the catwalk onto an old shelf full of tin and spare parts near the doorway that Sherlock had burst through earlier, as Moran stood over John's bloodied form and he had thought the worst. As Mikheia jumped from the shelf to the door, he sent a kick to the back of the shelf as it gathered momentum, causing it to fall towards John in an attempt to blockade the door, yet John managed to slip through at the last second, pursuing Mikheia down the corridor, leaving a great mess behind for Sherlock to clean up if he wished to follow.
Time consuming and incredibly tedious, yet necessary. Loathsome work. Something he usually would leave John to do.
He'd better get to work then.
The assembly plant caved in on itself in a massive implosion of flame and sparks, casting John's form into shadow as it blazed through the window as he bolted past. He managed to round the corner just as something hard, cold, and heavy slammed into him, catching him on the injured shoulder.
Idiot! Always check unknown territory before you follow.
He collapsed to the floor, the feeling not so dissimilar from behind shot, although far less intense. He felt the metal's impact reverberate deep through his bones as he tried to suck in the breath it had punched out.
He groaned, clutching at his shoulder and generally feeling sorry for his current predicament, as Mikheia dropped the pipe he was holding and it banged against the floor.
"I am sorry, I tried not to hit too hard." Mikheia said, dropping to his knees beside John, holding each of his shoulders under his palms.
"Too late." John groaned, feeling the damp warmth from the boy's hands pass onto his skin. Shadows began to stretch around him. Mikheia's silhouette began to expand as he opened his mouth to talk.
"I needed to talk to you, sir. Alone."
Sherlock had managed to clear the shelf in record time through a decisive combination of kicking at the debris and swearing loudly before squeezing himself through the gap as soon as he could.
He banged open the doors and rounded the corner to an empty corridor, as he had suspected it would be. He hurried to the end of it, where four halls intersected, and passed through the silence before a dark movement caught his eye.
He doubled back to the crossed hallways and bolted down the one where John had appeared at the end. Sherlock rushed up to him just as John strode towards the detective, meeting him halfway and grabbing him, turning him around as he searched for any visible wounds.
"Are you alright? Did he hurt you?"
"What? No." John shook his head, his breathing heavy from exertion. "No, I lost him in the hallways. He must have ducked into an empty room or something, waited for me to pass before coming back out."
Sherlock stared at him for a moment before straightening up.
"Did you see him?" John asked, wiping sweat from his brow. "Did he come this way?"
"No, obviously." Sherlock said with a roll of his eyes. "Otherwise I would be in pursuit."
"Moran has his family, doesn't he? Or he's convinced Mikheia that he has."
"Most likely the latter." Sherlock sniffed. "Mycroft sent someone en route to Novgorod to watch them, although I am apprehensive as to whether they were successful."
"Ghost hostages. Brilliant idea on Moran's part, since he figures we don't know if we're even sacrificing ourselves for anyone's safety, which we don't. Fantastic. Right." John sighed before flinching as his hand gingerly touched around his right shoulder. "I suppose I should be grateful that the bullet didn't catch me anywhere vital, butChrist this stings. Probably not helped by…chasing after Mikheia like that."
"What did he inject you with?"
"It was to my understanding that you haven't been injected with anything recently, at least not to my knowledge, with the exception of tonight."
"Well if that's the attitude you're going to take—"
"No, John, that's not—" Sherlock exhaled heavily, bringing a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Please, just…tell me."
"Do you remember how the agency gave me drugged gum?"
"Well, turns out what was in it wasn't just cordite, it was clonazepam, a drug used to—"
"Control seizures, or at least give the illusion of control, which is simultaneously the most idiotic and brilliant notion because humans crave control the most, so naturally through association there would be an attachment to the drug, which makes it highly addictive…" Sherlock finished then trailed off as his eyes grew wide.
"And do you remember Prague? When we were in the men's room?"
"And do you know how it felt when I thought I finally had control of my life and then you come back and royally fuck it all up?"
Sherlock couldn't stop the destruction of the final mirror.
"I thought I was the one in charge of my life, Sherlock! Not you, not Mary, not bloody sodding MYCROFT ! Christ, I mean, have I truly done anything on my own without anybody meddling?" He headed to send another fist into the already smashed glass. With the sharp edges and the velocity the tissue damage would be so hard to repair—
"Yes." Sherlock answered solemnly.
"I was shaking then, not enough for me to notice, but I was. I had a panic attack. Thought you were leaving me or that you were working with Mary of all people or…well, I don't know what I thought. It was so sudden—took me off-guard—and I didn't even start to consider why it happened in the first place. But…I'd stopped chewing the gum then, hadn't I? I'd stopped the medication for something I didn't really need but my body thought I did."
"Dependency is a remarkably despondent state of being."
"Funny thing, that." John chuckled hollowly, running his hands through his hair. "I never wanted to be dependent on anything. Except maybe you on your good days." His gaze turned to look out of the window at the plant, consumed by fire. "This is all my fault, isn't it?" He asked in a quiet, broken voice that Sherlock never wanted to hear from him again.
Sherlock stared at him for a moment before he reached his hand out and ghosted his fingers over the scarring IOU by John's ear. John flinched slightly then leaned into his touch.
"You once told me that you knew who did this to you." Sherlock said quietly. "Tell me he is the man that tortured you. Tell me he is the man that shot Mikheia, turned him against us, and is now making us save his family because he knows that you're a good man, better than me, since you aren't inclined to abandon them like I might've been. Tell me his name, and I swear to you that I will destroy him and everything that he is or hopes to be. After you have your turn, though."
"You're a good man too, you know." John said solemnly. "A great one. The best, actually."
John looked at him, an infinitesimal regret seeping into his gaze. He opened his mouth then shut it, looking at anything else but Sherlock.
Sherlock leaned in and kissed him then, as if it were a reward for a correct answer. John thought it tasted salty, like sweat. Like smoke and tears. A mouthful of ashes of the remains of something beautiful.
"Good. Well done. It seems he is the culprit here, not you." Sherlock stepped away and moved almost as if he was going to start pacing and then reconsidered it, turning on his heel back towards John. "Moran has done all of those things because I wasn't smart enough to stop him. Because I failed you. I will not allow him to continue."
"What if they take you again? I won't be here to—to stop them." To protect you.
"My hand-to-hand combat skills are more than proficient enough to handle them, judging by the incompetence we've encountered lately. Moran merely got lucky in the hotel. It's hard to fight back when you're in a post-orgasmic haze and have a sedative fired into your chest." Sherlock sniffed before his expression turned cool, controlled. "They almost took you from me." He said calmly. "I know you have no plans to get revenge yourself for your bodily harm, however, my interests remain incongruous." He stepped closer to John. "I will make them hurt for what they did to you, John. I want them to feel how I felt, seeing you covered in your own blood and knowing I might not be able to save you."
John stared at him silently. He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing.
"It has to be me, Sherlock." He whispered. "I have to face him, in the end."
Sherlock scoffed and gave him a look as if Anderson had just suggested they go out to lunch.
"Ridiculous. I will not allow it."
"He's my Moriarty, Sherlock. You know he is."
"I will not make that same mistake twice, John, and I will certainly not sit back and let you die by his hands, staged or not."
"Sherlock, look at me." John said softly. When Sherlock didn't move, he added more forcefully "Sherlock, turn around."
Sherlock did as he requested and as his blue gaze turned to him John was reminded of a child he had seen in Afghanistan who had watched his home burn in front of his eyes.
Sherlock said nothing, taking a shallow, shaking inhale as he pulled John to him, resting his forehead on John's.
"You said you wouldn't leave." He said in a breath of words that billowed into John's face like smoke.
The tone of Sherlock's voice almost made him wish he could stay. He sounded like cracked glass about to shatter, like someone whose feet were losing their balance on the ledge of a roof impossibly high up, someone who knew they had no safety net below them anymore, only pavement and velocity.
John tilted his head up softly and let his mouth graze over Sherlock's. It could hardly be called a kiss, but it was so much more than a show of mere affection.
It simply was.
"Dying doesn't mean that I'll leave you." John said quietly. "You should know that well enough. You never left me."
"Oh, bollocks." Sherlock muttered in contradiction. "Yes I did. I faked my death, I deceived you, I ran around the world, and you weren't at my side. I left you in the fullest sense of the word."
"No you didn't. Not really."
How could John just disarm him like that? With five words he proved himself the better man. Again. As if Sherlock needed more proof.
"There will never be another you. Not for me, at least."
"Well, there's only one consulting detective in the world, so it's not like I have my pick of the field." John smiled and let it fade. "I have to go."
"I'll be waiting."
"Don't go where I can't find you." He muttered lowly in John's ear. John nodded, laying his forehead back down on Sherlock's.
They stood there for a moment, forehead to forehead in a quiet hallway, savouring their moment of peace as a building burned to ash behind them, setting their shadows alight.
John pulled away first.
Sherlock thought, in the burst of clarity he typically associated with epiphanies, that he was an idiot. An absolute idiot.
How supremely imprudent of him to assume that John had been the only one to have been injected with anything. How stupid, when he had nearly an hour of blank memory to account for, an hour between his kidnapping and John's arrival.
He looked down at his steady hands. No trembling. He and John were not part of the same experiment.
His shadow stretched in front of him as if it had just woken up. As if it had been strapped to a rack and stretched.
"I saw the Golem's shadow."
Sherlock could only stare at it. Stare as John continued running ahead, past the burning assembly plant, to the multilevel car park in the distance, the only place they agreed that Moran could have run to.
Move. MOVE. MOVE YOUR SODDING LEGS SHERLOCK HOLMES.
But he couldn't.
An aftershock detonated inside his head, feeling as if it were blasting away all the accumulated dirt and muck that had been gathering for years; the grime of his association with London's underbelly, with the seedy bars and clubs and alleys of the world as he burned Moriarty's remains. It made his mind feel clean again, peaceful and calm. Something not unlike the rush of cocaine. Something not dissimilar to the feeling of John pushing and pulling inside of him. He choked on a breath, clutching at his chest.
John. Where had John gone? Had he realised yet that Sherlock was not at his side? Surely he had. Wasn't that something that was immediately obvious?
But…in all their escapades, had he ever waited for John if he had fallen behind? Truth be told, he hadn't even noticed when John wasn't there until he arrived at his destination. His mind had honed in on one goal—get there—and everything blurred away into obscurity until it jutted back into sharp focus when it mattered to him again.
He felt a sharp, hollow pain in his chest as he realised that John would not notice his absence until he was facing Moran alone, if Moran was indeed where they suspected.
The sound of safety clicking off cut into the silence.
"Don't move, Mr Holmes."
Sherlock shut his eyes in frustration. He could not deal with this right now.
"Hello again, Mary."
"I'm afraid that I can't let you leave."
"You know, you're the second person to tell me that today and the first couldn't keep their promise."
"I will not."
Sherlock made a noise of irritation and turned around, hoping he looked foreboding and not obviously suffering from whatever drug had been injected into him.
He looked at the gun she was holding. They both were aware that, with her line of work, she most certainly knew how to use it.
"I am not going to let you keep me from him." He ground out lowly.
Mary smiled. It reached her eyes. How odd.
"That's the thing, Sherlock. I don't think you have a choice."
The multilevel car park smelled of oil and dirt, as many tended to do. It smelled dark and damp, metallic, of thick rust and new blood. John could hear the Miljacka River thunder furiously behind it like adrenalin enhanced blood through a vein. He peered over the edge of the concrete lip. The river was dangerously close, as if the rising floodwaters would sweep the car park away soon. He hoped it had been built on good foundation.
A noise clattered above him, on the next level, and he drew his gun as he headed up the ramp to the next level, passing by a decrepit elevator shaft that cocooned a rusting lift in its shadow.
Moran was waiting for him amid the decaying husks of cars that dotted the car park. He was alone. Hands in his pockets again, blood smeared on his face.
"You look lovely." John deadpanned.
"As do you. I have a question, Johnny."
"Ah, let's not spoil the surprise. That's coming later."
"Men like us. Soldiers. What happens to us, in the end?"
"We die." John shrugged. "But see, the thing is, that's nothing special. Everyone dies."
"Usually I find that our kind goes first." Moran said casually. "Those who like the thrill of fire always end up being consumed by it."
"To be honest, I thought a quiet death would be quite boring."
Moran eyed him. "Yeah, I bet some days you wish you'd bled out in the desert. Can't blame you since I do the same."
"Then go back."
A bark of a laugh escaped Moran's rough throat. "They'd never let me go back. I burned a lot of bridges when I left."
"Then turn around and leave."
Moran did not laugh this time.
"I can't leave for the same reason that you're here. The geniuses had their run already and now it's our turn, I suppose, although not many people ever tune in for the sidekicks."
"It doesn't have to end this way."
"Yes, I'm afraid it does. I have sacrificed too much, I have worked too hard, to let you walk away from this." Moran said lowly. "Why do you think I convinced the agency to take a look at you? To send all those people into your clinic and see what you'd do? To have that mugger ambush you in the alley?"
The third time, it had been an accident and on purpose and enjoyable, all at once. He never told anyone, he wouldn't ever tell anyone what had truly happened. All they needed to know was that there was a body and John Watson had put it there.
He remembered his phone ringing and he had scrambled a bloodied hand into his pocket to answer the unknown number.
"You didn't—you can't have—"
"I was trained by the best, John. And I did it for him. Even though alive or not he'd never appreciate it, I did it for him. He is my genius, my dark angel, and I am his soldier. After all," Moran grinned. "Isn't everyone always harping about how closure does you good?"
"And you think that my death will give you that? What about Sherlock? He'll come after you with everything he's got."
Moran laughed. "You think that hasn't occurred to me? I know I'm not as bright as the rest, but give me some credit, Watson. Jim left me a list of people; good people that I can rely on."
"What if Sherlock's taken care of them?"
"And why me? Why here and now?"
"Jim wanted Sherlock to watch his heart burn to ash. I always gave Jim what he wanted."
"But he's dead."
Moran smiled and cocked his head slightly. "No, he's not."
John felt his heart lurch. Impossible.
"Yes he is…I saw the bloodstains, Sherlock told me what he did, I—no one survives that."
A dark gleam appeared in Moran's eyes, like the shine of blood. "There are many forms of survival, John Watson." He said as he drew his gun from his pocket and trained it on John. "You didn't put your vest back on, did you?"
"No." John answered. He had aimed lower on Moran's body, in the non-lethal areas. Moran had not granted him the same mercy.
"Good. I don't want any cheating in this round. A fair fight to the end."
"If you want to call it that."
"Any last words?"
John shut his eyes and when he opened them, everything seemed clearer, every detail sharper and more defined. The moonlight was bright against the smoke of the still-smouldering remains of the assembly plant. When he spoke next, his words rung out through the emptiness.
"10. 15. 8. 14."
"You and Holmes got some sort of code now?"
John nearly smiled.
Sherlock let out a heavy exhale, damp in the night air.
"It was not my intention for you to receive the awful headache that you will get upon consciousness." He said down to Mary's decidedly unconscious form. "Or perhaps not. Morality has always been sort of a grey area for me." He sniffed, about to head towards the car park before he turned on his heel back towards her, kneeling down and fishing around in her pocket for her mobile, yet he came up with nothing. Knowing her, she would have had one on her person at all times, yet a quick frisk told him that there was no such device anywhere on her.
Never mind that, it's insignificant now. Get to John.
As he ran towards the car park, the sound of car alarms blared through the night. Plural. All had set off inside the car park simultaneously. Curious.
There was a bang. Gun shot. Not curious. Worrisome.
He was almost there, sprinting across the grass, his face slick with grime from the fire. The air smelled of ash and smoke. His chest hurt.
His voice was drowned in the subsequent blast as the garage exploded.
Don't go where I can't find you.
Thank you so much to everyone who has stuck with this! I know that there are some silent watchers in the wings, so I'd like to thank you as well, even if you've never reviewed, because you matter just as much and you're giving this story an audience, which is all I wanted. Thanks for making my first post to AO3 so wonderful!
Chapter 9: the faith
"There are worse things than
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it's too late
and there's nothing worse
"Oh Yes" – Charles Bukowski
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The room was utterly silent, a vacuity, void of noise, movement, sound, save for one man's shaking breaths and the background sounds of the street.
The silence wasn't screaming at Sherlock like it had before, when it was all white noise and static screeching and pounding in his head, pulsing and prodding like a black current underneath the frozen no no no not him not him not him anyone else anyone else take me do anything you'd like to me but not him please. It was softer now, a high-pitched wind that whistled through holes scraped into shredded metal.
He didn't remember how he'd gotten back to the hotel. He didn't remember anything other than the feeling of heat on his face and the sudden realisation that he had nothing to live for any longer. Maybe he didn't want to remember.
The aftermaths of the cocktail of Moran's drug and whatever Mycroft had given him to sedate him made him feel disconnected, adrift amid nothing and everything, but unfeeling, unattached. In some way, he felt grateful. It had temporarily achieved the heroin promise; the reassurance of the shadowy bliss, that blessed state of not caring about anything. It had made him not feel John's absence at all. He could convince himself he'd gone out to buy milk, that he'd be back soon, surely—
Yet some rational part of him knew otherwise.
This was worse, so much worse than Ante-John, before 221B was theirs and it was just his, just Sherlock's, when he often wondered if he would always be a solitary creature, it was worse than that lonely cigarette after The Woman faked her death, and far worse than Sine-John because he had hoped one day to return.
John would not be coming back. Death was, if anything else, confident in its abilities to ensure its own permanency. As surely as the sun would rise every day, so would John Watson lie still, never to rise again. The thought made him feel like he was drifting over something dark and empty.
This was Post-John, singularly more worse and terrible than anything else he had been through, something he had never hoped he'd live to experience, something he'd sacrificed three years of his presence for, and it ended in the one event that he knew would break him entirely.
This was an existence that he couldn't abide by. Not after he'd tasted the divinity of being with him, kissing him, holding him, opening himself for him. Not after he'd chosen to hand over his heart and all his darkness plugged into it like wires only to have his army doctor disappear with it into places that Sherlock couldn't travel to and get it back from, leaving his chest hollow as the warm pulse faded from him and his blood turned to stagnant standing-water (a physical improbability but nonetheless accurate).
He couldn't bring himself to eat or think or sleep. He couldn't even think of...of him anymore. Not by name. He couldn't. He just drifted through space, ignorant of the stars and light and beauty, just seeing blackness, slowly moving along into the infinite parameters.
He shut his eyes.
After the car park had been swallowed by flame, he heard them. The sirens. Apparently it was international custom for emergency help to arrive too late when you really needed it. As the trucks wailed and people rushed around him to put out the twin fires, he sat where he had collapsed in the damp dirt.
He couldn't move. He just stared at the fire.
Stared with an abstract fascination that such a simple thing, something no one ever thought of when it was small, could grow and gain the power to take away everything and leave nothing behind. The was life, wasn't it? Pillars of fire. You never thought about it when you could contain it, when it was a shadow inside you, and then one day you turn around and it's a mountain behind you that swallows you before you can realise just how big it's gotten.
The drumming was back in his head like it never left. That drumming that drove him to heroin so he could tune it out. That drumming that ceased as he turned his head and in that silent echo glanced at the small soldier in that hideous jumper, staring at him from between cop cars with a bent cabbie's blood on his hands.
The drumming that pounded louder than it ever had as smoke poured into the sky. That offbeat rhythm of hundreds of drums, all out of tune with one another, creating that cacophony that made it impossible to think. Sirens. Shouting. Fire gulping down the air. Smoke billowing into the night. Feet pounding in the mud. Metal keening as it collapsed. The sound of air brushing against the sheets. Car alarms screaming as their bodies burned alive. The small huff of laughter John had made after he'd licked a spot on Sherlock's neck and he'd flinched. The heartbeat under Sherlock's palm, steady and constant. The shouting, the running, as the garage collapsed into itself. The sound of John murmuring his name.
Alone. All alone with your mind and your coldness. You had Heaven underneath your hands, and now it's gone. Turned to smoke. No more John. John. He's dead. He's dead. He's dead. You failed him. You let him die. And you don't even have a body to bury. How karmic.
It was that thought more than the others that made him realise how wet his face had become. How badly his chest hurt. How achingly hollow the small sounds coming from his throat were.
At some point that night, Mycroft had stood beside him. He hadn't said a word. He knew Sherlock wouldn't hear him. After the last of the fire had been smothered, after the ash stopped smouldering, he made the mistake of attempting to get Sherlock to leave.
"Sherlock," He said softly, laying a hand on his brother's shoulder. "We have to go now."
Sherlock's head twitched as if he was shooing away a fly.
His gaze stayed on the smoking debris in front of him.
He'd been naïve, assuming that anything that might belong to John had survived. Nothing could have survived that inferno, that fireball that guzzled the atmosphere into ruination in its maw until it'd had its fill and imploded like a dying star.
Naïve, to think that he might fall to his knees in the rubble and find John if he dug deep enough, yet that didn't stop him.
His hands were bloody by the time Mycroft managed to drag him out. Whatever Moran had injected into him made his thoughts blurry, unfocused, drowned in the sound of the drumming. Made him think the stars looked nice instead of the fact that John Watson was nothing more than dust. It'd be nice to think that his atoms were now free to float up into space, nice to think that the stars he was staring up at as Mycroft and another person carried him to a waiting car now contained the last particles of John Hamish Watson.
Nice, but illogical.
The stars were bright tonight.
Mycroft said nothing about the tear tracks cutting through the smoke and grime on Sherlock's face, just as he didn't mention the blood on his hands or the blankness of his stare. If life with Sherlock had taught him anything, it was that the most human elements of his brother were best kept unmentioned.
Mycroft dreaded the moment with every fibre of his being when Sherlock's gaze cleared and he asked where John was. It was going to be cataclysmic, a meltdown of unparalleled fury.
Sarajevo would crush under the weight of Sherlock's grief.
Mycroft, contrary to the popular opinion that he was emotionally dead, was not entirely unfeeling. Though the sadness that weighed on him was mostly borne of sympathy towards Sherlock's loss, he himself had enjoyed the army doctor's existence, his positive influence in Sherlock's life, not to mention the fact that he had never seen Sherlock so peaceful when John was around since they were children. John had been a good man, and he was sorry to see the world void of his presence. John had been the sole inherently good thing in Sherlock's life, and Mycroft had appreciated him on his own merits, his nobleness, his kindness, his loyalty, and not necessarily by necessity.
He looked down at his brother.
He had seen Sherlock blacked out and faded from drug use, seen him feral and deadly from withdrawal, seen him irate and impatient from lack of food or sleep, but Sherlock heartbroken, Sherlock without John, that was something entirely different. He would not stand-by and watch his brother destroy himself over anything, even someone as worthy as John Watson.
He pulled out his phone, one hand still on Sherlock's shoulder.
Sherlock would be under full surveillance for no less than 48 hours following tonight. Sherlock was in no serious physical injury to warrant a hospital visit, but Mycroft knew it was the unseen wounds he needed to worry about. Although he was hesitant to call it a suicide watch—since it was easy enough for Sherlock to break his sober streak if it meant a distraction—that did not eliminate the more than probable risk of an intentional overdose on his part.
48 hours. Starting now.
A bath. He needed a bath. Something to get this dried sweat and smoke and dirt off of him. He needed to be clean.
Warily, Sherlock eyed Mycroft, who was currently typing away at his phone.
"If you wish to take a bath, Sherlock, then by all means do so, but if I do not hear from you within ten minutes of the tap being turned off then I will break the door down." Mycroft looked up at him solemnly. "Is that understood?"
Sherlock nodded. He didn't trust himself to speak.
"Oh, and Sherlock?"
"I'm afraid I'm going to need your clothes." Mycroft said with something akin but not as sincere as a regretful smile.
Sherlock stared at him for a moment.
"I'm being quite serious." Mycroft reiterated. "And no need to feel ashamed since after all we were raised together. Nothing I haven't seen before."
Wordlessly, he began shedding his clothes in the middle of the room. Some part of him vaguely recognised that he had done this in front of John not 24 hours ago. Another part quietly noted that he'd never do it again.
He left the clothes where they fell in a dirty heap of soot and dirt and stalked to the bathroom. He shut the door, turning the tap on to the highest temperature, noting in his movements the streaks of red and black smudged on his skin.
He looked in the mirror as it fogged up, consuming his face. His hair was matted in thick patches by dirt, his cheeks coated with a thin gritty residue that was streaked through from dried tears. His eyes were red from smoke. Or so he told himself.
He turned the tap off. Heat steamed through the pristinely clean room. The cleanliness of it all made his head hurt.
He stepped into the bath.
It burned. The water boiled underneath him as he laid down, his skin bubbling and pink and raw as it burned away like flame eating at paper. His bones blackened as the heat licked away at him, his muscle and tendons and lean fat melting away. His mind screamed at him, his nerves prickling in self-preservation, screaming at him wrong wrong wrong too hot but he ignored it, ignored everything as he slid under the water.
It was so quiet. He could hear his heart beating. He remembered reading about anechoic chambers, in that other lifetime that included him. His vague interest in the fact that they'd drive anyone in it mad in an hour because their ears turned introspective when there wasn't any sound.
In his little chamber, he could feel his lungs burning, the bronchi within shrivelling from oxygen deprivation. He could hear his heart pounding and he wondered just how long he'd have to stay under for it to stop completely. Insanity in the chamber had been induced by the reminder of just how human they really were. Sherlock had found it fascinating once. Now, as his stomach riled around seemingly in suspended momentum, he found it quite the opposite, and he burst to the surface just as he heard pounding on the door.
"Sherlock?" Mycroft's voice came from outside.
"I'm still alive, Mycroft." He bit out between breaths of air. Like he would waste his life away on something so painfully inadequate as drowning in a hotel bathtub. If he was bent on drowning—though he hadn't decided if that was the way to go yet—it would be out somewhere bigger, out where the stars would be the last thing he could see, where he could gaze up and hope that John would greet him on the other side, provided there was one. Was there an ocean near Sarajevo? How quickly could he get there?
Living without him, that was not an option.
Hot water dripped down his hair, trickling over his face.
He laid his head against the back of the tub and let himself burn.
After Mycroft had attempted to see him to bed like the overbearing mother hen that he was, Sherlock wondered if he'd ever feel normal again. Perhaps, after the drugs wore off, he might feel better. Perhaps then the drumming would stop. But he'd never feel normal again, not with that hole in his heart.
Mycroft soon appeared to realise that Sherlock, as exhausted as he was, was thinking far too much to slip into anything resembling an R.E.M. state and a man soon appeared, handing a syringe to his boss, who touched his hand to Sherlock's neck, feeling for his jugular. As he pressed the plunger, Sherlock's half-coherent attempt at a snide remark on drug dependence faded away.
He dreamed of his soldier, there in the fire. Saw his silhouetted form stand in the flames as smoke billowed around him, saw him standing there as he burned away to ash that scattered into the air. He reached out a hand, he called for Sherlock as if he was welcoming him home, and just as Sherlock reached him, he collapsed in a pile of ash. There'd been no body. No empirical proof that he'd ever existed—
When Sherlock woke, the space beside him was empty. He stared at it as the wind billowed into the room, ruffling the empty sheets where a body should be. He felt that same panic as the day when he had woken up alone instead of in his arms, a panic that hadn't subsided until his soldier had entered the room. Sherlock was in the middle of reaching his phone when he remembered that his army doctor was not there anymore, that he'd always be staring at a door that he was never to come through again.
It was as if he'd never even been there to begin with. As if he had truly been the Golem, created by some malevolent force and sent to Sherlock to love him, to make him believe that he might be loved by someone, before he burned away and turned to smoke, Sherlock's heart in his hand. From ash he was born, and so to which he would return.
It was stupid. Stupid. Yet, after the garage had fallen into cooling ash, he had sited through the remains, looking for any sign, for any echoes in his hollow chest that might lead him to find his heart in the debris.
But no. No. The way he had felt under Sherlock's hands, warm and soft, the way the sheets still smelled of sex and sweat and him, the way he had loved Sherlock, that couldn't—it had been too unspoiled, too real. He had been no counterfeit. Sherlock wished he could bottle it, that smell, to put it on swabs and capture that essence before it too faded away.
He barely remembered the first dream when he slipped into another. The day passed by in a drugged, exhausted haze of sleeping and waking, with Mycroft only bothering him with water or another dose of whatever it was that made him forget just what he'd lost. Sherlock welcomed it. He would raise his head blearily to the empty space on the bed beside him and vaugely recall that something was supposed to be there before he fell back once more into a heavy sleep.
Occassionally, he could hear voices.
"Just one body? Are you sure?" Mycroft sounded worried.
"Absolutely." A woman answered. Her voice was warm. Sherlock liked it. It sounded familiar.
Sometimes, he remembered his own.
"I lived my life before you and I lived it with you and I lived it after you, and only one of those periods was of any value to me."
He had meant what he said. He had tried to stop lying, if he had even lied at all. Only what he thought he couldn't handle. Only the minor technicalities. But his doctor had always been clever when it counted.
Sherlock didn't know who he'd been begging to, whom he'd prostrated himself before to spare his life, but whomever it was, they ignored him. He knew they would since he'd never been any shade of religious, a ghost in that crowd who only came to observe rituals that he found quite odd and pointless before he left, deemed that they had no beneficial merits, and never looked back.
He'd been secular, never religious in the slightest until he limped his way into Sherlock's life in a Holy Trinity of bad jumpers, psychosomatic wounds and steadfast morality. If he ever truly believed in anything or anyone other than himself, it was him. Just him. Always him. Believed in his inherent goodness, in his bravery, his loyalty, the fact that he held a gun as easily as a butter knife smeared in jam or a shampoo bottle if it meant protecting someone. Sherlock had never felt protected until his army doctor, always on his own, always relying on himself since Mycroft had grown into adolescence and found greater and better endeavours than coddling his younger brother.
Sherlock had been stupid, so incredibly stupid for trusting him, for loving him, for thinking that he might never die or at least if he did, it would be with Sherlock beside him so they could go together. He'd be lying if he said that he hadn't really considered what would happen if he died. His soldier's death was always a risk, but somehow they'd managed to avoid it through cunning, through cleverness, through sheer dumb luck.
"If we died together, I'd want to feel you one last time, anywhere I could get my hands on, at least before you were cold. I wouldn't want your warmth to go away."
Sherlock had never had the chance to touch him, to feel his chest rise and fall as they took their last breaths together, and that was the worst of it.
He never got to touch him but at least he hadn't been cold. He had been fire and heat and red-hot bone and melting flesh. His warmth had imploded inside him like a dying star.
A notion that his mind was trying to convince him was supposed to be comforting.
Was this what a crisis in faith felt like? He could only suppose that was it. His loss of the one sacrosanct thing in his whole life had been too large, had meant too much, and now what was he left with? An empty hotel room that he would certainly vacate within five hours (during his exile he had learned in Hong Kong never to stay longer than just to sleep and perhaps shower), loneliness, and a new person to dedicate himself to so he might destroy them as they had him.
He felt a bitter, empty grin.
In his death, those responsible had sealed their own, for now Sherlock had no morality to live by.
He was free to pursue with all of his great and terrible being.
He was not able to leave the hotel. Mycroft had made sure of it. Did he know what Sherlock was planning? Probably not. He most likely thought that Sherlock would kill himself at the first chance he got. A few hours ago, he would have been right. Now though, now Sherlock had some other business to take care of first.
Someone knocked on the door. Mycroft went to open it. He knew Sherlock wouldn't move.
"Sherlock?" He called out. "You have a visitor."
Mycroft, if you honestly think I'd want to see anyone other than him then I—
"You." Sherlock did not shout, did not raise his voice, but his whisper was like razor wire, slicing through the room, hoarse from its idleness.
Mary Morstan stood in front of him.
As he moved to attack, Mycroft moved in front of her.
"Mycroft—" Sherlock's voice cracked. "Get—get away."
"Sherlock, she has something to say to you. Things you should know. Will you listen?"
Sherlock's murderous gaze indicated that he would do anything but.
"No," Mycroft added quietly. "She is not responsible for John's death. That honour belongs to the late Sebastian Moran who, if you recall, John managed to take with him."
Sherlock stared at his brother, his hands shaking at his sides. Mycroft sensed his collapse before he did and helped him to the bed.
"He's been…weak." He heard Mycroft explain to Mary. "Quite weak." Then something else, "Drug…not fully left his system."
Mary murmured something that sounded like understanding. Noise rang in Sherlock's ears like a monitor flatlining.
Mycroft stepped out to answer a suspiciously timed phone call, leaving the two alone.
Mary did not sit beside him, but stood opposite. He was grateful. He didn't want to be near her.
"Why?" He asked quietly.
"Sherlock?" Her voice was too soft, too solemn, too unlike the cold sharpness he'd heard in the factory.
"Why?" He repeated.
Silence. He realised he hadn't been talking out loud.
"Moran had risen to high ranks in the agency." She explained quietly. "He had secrets, state secrets and personal. Moriarty taught him well." She added, the acidity of the name stinging her tongue.
Sherlock's head twitched at the name, as if to rid his thoughts of it.
"Sometimes cancerous tumours are incorrectly diagnosed as malignant." Mary replied to his unvoiced question. "We didn't know what he was—who he was—until it was too late."
"Last night—you knew so much—"
Mary smiled. Had he spoken out loud or was it in his head? He couldn't tell.
"Your brother asked me to convince you of my treachery." Mary smiled solemnly. "Do you really think he would hire someone that didn't know how to bluff?"
"And Anthea?" He was almost certain he had spoken now.
"You think I go by just one name? One face?"She fiddled with the straps of her purse. "Mycroft warned me once that you had a habit of undervaluing the things that mattered most."
"Mycroft can go choke on a fistful of cake for all the good he'd done for me."
He hadn't spoken, but judging by how Mary read his face, he may as well have.
"Yes, Sherlock, he has done good for you. Look at what's he's done. Look at how he's protected you."
"Protected me?" Sherlock shouted, turning to rear his wrath upon her. "By doing what, exactly? By letting my—" my earth, my entirety—"My colleague be employed by an international assassination agency? Did he think it was in my best interest not to let me know that he was murdering people because it helped him process my death? Did Mycroft think it was protecting, letting him be drugged into reliance on a seizure medication he didn't need? By letting him be tortured? By letting him—letting him—"
Sherlock couldn't finish although he knew quite well the difference between couldn't and wouldn't.
Mary sat beside him where he'd collapsed against the bed.
The room was silent, none of his words hanging in the hair simply because he hadn't said them. To Mary's eyes, he had stood and turned to look at her with an expression of such hatred and grief that she couldn't imagine how she'd once thought him to be inhuman. He stared at her until he was trembling, until she could see his eyes glisten and his hands clench into fists.
"I know what John meant to you, Sherlock, and all the times I talked to him, I could see how much you meant to him. Even though you were gone, he never stopped thinking about you. Never stopped telling me stories. Did you know that? Every time we met in the Drop-Off after a hit, he would talk about you. I think it made him feel better, made him feel…safer." Sherlock had his face buried in his hands. She reached into her purse. "He told me once that if you came back and he wasn't there, he wanted you to have this. He always believed in you, you know, even before he was sure you were alive, and—and I think he'd want you to do the same for him. To remember him." She sighed and Sherlock vaguely recalled that she'd cared for his army doctor too. But he had not been her world as he'd been Sherlock's. He had not been her reason to rise in the morning or to jump to her death or to track an international web of criminals. No, he had not been hers as he'd been Sherlock's.
He heard Mary run a hand over something.
"I know this is—it can't make up for what you've lost, but I hope it reminds you that he loved you, Sherlock, more than anything." Quietly, she laid a box in his lap. "You are loved, Sherlock…you are so loved." She said softly, brushing a hand at his temple before standing and leaving the room.
Sherlock waited until he heard the door shut to lift his head. It was a wonder he could even do that. But the promise that something of his remained, something that was all Sherlock's and no one else's, it was too enticing to ignore.
It was a simple thing, the box. Pinewood, engraved with his initials. J.H.W. A box for souvenirs, for things of personal importance. Something he'd wanted Sherlock to have.
He opened it, his fingers shaking as they dipped into the box.
His gun, standard army issue, Browning L9A1. He knew from the event at the pool that John liked to keep his firearms according to what felt most comfortable. Small, powerful, did its job any way you asked it to. So fitting.
He placed the gun beside him on the bed. The box was so much lighter now. He didn't want to reach in again, didn't want this discovery to end, he wanted it to be infinite, to know that there would always be more of his soldier to uncover, yet soon he found that his hand scraped the bottom and for a moment he panicked. Surely that couldn't be all he had to remember him by. There was so much more that defined him than a gun, something that reeked of the humanistic desire to assert itself.
Something clinked against the corner of the box.
He pulled them out, twin metal circles dangling from the chain wrapped around his hand. His dogtags.
Other. That was unexpected, although in a way it really wasn't. He had never discussed his religion with Sherlock and so he'd assumed it was Church of England or some other typical venture. Of course he'd still surprise Sherlock; of course he'd still be a mystery. Too uncertain to check the Atheist or Agnostic box on something that would feel so permanent and too undecided to check something more defining. Fascinating.
He slipped them on. Took a deep breath. Reached into the box for the last time.
Some part of me knew it would end like this, but the rest of me didn't want to believe it. Hopefully you'll never read this, but if you are then I'm sorry, for a lot of things, but mainly that we weren't what we should have been when you were here, and now we might never be. I always knew you'd come back though. My therapist would call it wishful thinking but I think I'd call it faith. Faith that you'd return to me one day. But if you have and I'm not there, this gun is for the times when you absolutely need it—emergencies, alright?—not just when you're bored. Mrs Hudson would not forgive you for the new holes in the wall.
I'm still here. It's not forever. It doesn't mean I've left you.
I've always wanted to end a letter like this, and I guess now is the best time for you to know:
I love you,
PS – Forgive me for the state of 221B, and whatever surprises you may find. People do strange things when they're lonely and in love.
Sherlock barely had time to process the note, much less the postscript, when he felt the chain of the dogtags being twisted behind him. He lashed out, struggling to reach whomever it was that was choking him, but they kept their grip tightly on the chain. He could feel their breath on his neck.
The sunlight was warm on his face, shining through the window in front of him. It felt nice. The metal cut into his neck. The fates had been merciful, allowing him only one day away from him before taking pity on him and letting Sherlock join him. He'd be glad to. He stopped struggling, letting his hands fall away. He'd make this an easy job for whoever it was. His heart pounded as he shut his eyes.
John. It wasn't forever, but it felt like it. John. Wait for me.
There was a crack, a sudden high pitched whistle as something sliced through the air. The chain loosened. He felt something hot dripping down the back of his neck as he dropped to the floor. His body sucked in great gasps of air although he didn't want it to. A door banged open. Someone called his name.
He opened his eyes. The light hurt. His throat hurt. His heart ached. Someone stood above him, silhouetted against the sunlight pouring into the room.
"John?" He smiled. "John, I—"
"Breathe, Sherlock, just breathe."
His heart dropped.
Mycroft. Not him. Not his soldier. Mycroft.
He scrambled up to his feet, the ground cresting in waves beneath him as his vision cleared and he looked down.
His attacker, dead behind him. A bullet in his throat. Clean entry. Blackened halos from the gunpowder already forming on burnt, bloody skin.
He turned his gaze.
Crack in the glass, signifying the bullet that tore through it. And the angle of the wound in his throat—
He was suddenly reminded of his analysis of the gunshot that killed the cabbie, the event that affirmed his soldier's presence in Sherlock's life.
"A kill shot over that distance, from that kind of a weapon…"
Sherlock rushed to the window, leaning as far out of it as he could without risking Mycroft's already spiking concern. He counted the windows up and across until he arrived at the correct angle.
Give me something. Give me anything. A flash of a rifle being packed away. The shine of blonde hair. The rim of a cap. An old biker jacket. Anything.
He stared at the window where nothing moved behind it. Stared at it until he felt Mycroft gently pull him back.
"Sherlock, I've already sent someone to look." He said in a tone that suggested for him not to be hopeful.
Sherlock felt his heart race.
He sat on the bed, ignoring a corpse for the first time in his life. Wasn't much of a mystery though, as he'd been there when he'd died. Boring case. He must have been sent by the agency, revenge for both agents on the only man left who could be accounted for it. Despite what Mycroft had earlier claimed, that he was in charge of the agency, Sherlock rather doubted it, or at least that his control was omnipotent. He hadn't known about this, hadn't been prepared, or else he never would have left Sherlock alone, never let him within sight of a window. Someone else had ordered this, someone that had gone undetected under Mycroft's nose. But who, then, had killed his attacker? Someone that had suspected the hit. Someone that knew of Moran's vitriol, his great revenge. Someone that did not want Sherlock Holmes dead.
Mycroft warned him not to hope, but since when had he ever stopped Sherlock from doing something when he truly wanted to?
The game was afoot.
Wow. The feeling is...it's quite surreal. I started working on this all the way back in February and now it's done...LUCKILY I have the sequel and "Come Back" to keep me busy. Thank you to everyone who commented or kudos'd or just showed this some love, I really owe this story to you because if it hadn't had an audience, it wouldn't have been continued. Thank you for loving this like you did!
And that lovely picture at the beginning is a screenshot from Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" (I'll forgive you if you haven't heard of it, but it is absolutely amazing). The quote underneath is from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (I won't be so forgiving if you've never heard of that one). Both works had a large influence on this work, especially towards the end.
Chapter 10: sequel posted
The sequel of Cicatrix has been posted! Thanks to everyone who read! Enjoy!