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The Montague Street Doctor

Chapter Text

Three weeks after the death of Sherlock Holmes, after that impossible man threw himself off a roof, (why? Why did he do that?) Doctor John Watson moves into fifteen Montague Street. It's small, a shotgun house where you could stand with the front and back doors open and the bullet would fly straight into the alley and create shrapnel of the aging wall bricks. There is barely enough room for his things let alone any of the items Sherlock's left him (everything; as the man's will had said: aside from the few items of familial importance I have outlined below, to Dr John Watson, I leave everything I own. EVERYTHING. Take care of my city John.). He sorts through Sherlock's belongings and takes several of the more memorable items and all the man's books and notes, before locking the black door behind him for the last time and opening a new one.

The John Watson who moves into Montague Street is more like a war veteran than the one who moved into Baker Street. He's wearing his old combat boots, the sandy worn comfortable ones that he wore in Afghanistan. To be fair, it's only because one pair of shoes have Sherlock's blood all over them and the other pair have Harry's sick. But once he's cleaned the sick ones and thrown out the blood ones he still wears his boots. They make him stand straighter.

The practice he starts working at is in a pokey part of London, near the British Museum. It's in a shambles. The doctor he's replacing worked there for two months, getting away as fast as possible after too many drunks and too many fights and dog bites and too much real world. The doctor he's sharing with and technically working under is nearing retirement and almost permenantly half-drunk with blood shot eyes and a red nose and a bottle of brandy hidden in a side draw. The place suits him down to the ground. 'Take care of my city John' Sherlock said. He's going to start here.

The first thing, the very first thing he does, because he is a damn good doctor, is spend three days going through patient records. They are disorganised but digitalised, and thankfully all uploaded to the NHS mainframe, which means that he can work from his new house. He uses Sherlock's laptop. He's always preferred the macs, it's what they used at medical school, and anyway, Sherlock's is faster and has a much better battery life. What he sees makes him cringe, and dread the kind of clearing up he will have to do. That's okay though. He needs a project. Something to get everything else off his waking mind.

The place is busy, the only surgery aside from the hospitals that scatter themselves around for a ways in all directions, and the hospitals are not for general practice anyway. He makes up a list of patients he needs to see immediately based on what Dr Fryer had written or not written or in several cased possibly misdiagnosed or mis-prescribed and gives it to the receptionist.

The receptionist is a young woman named Mira, the daughter of Afghan immigrants whose mother calls each day at 1:30 during the lunch break to check on her. She speaks Dari fluently and John starts speaking it to her, to her surprise and once she gets over how his syllables stutter slightly as he gets his brain back on the right lingual track, long conversation breaks out over the country that language is from. He gets a dinner invitation for that Sunday at her family's flat above the Londis shop on the corner and accepts.

Over the rest of the first week he speaks to all the people he needs to and re-prescribes several. One man he sends to hospital due to pneumonia. That Sunday is the first time he's spoken Dari and Pashto in several weeks. It was something he and Sherlock had done when bored, he speaking Dari or Pashto but mostly the eclectic mix of both that he had come away with and Sherlock speaking which ever language he wanted to practice until it didn't matter which language each man was speaking because they knew the other so well that words were superfluous. They were so used to doing it that it became the natural thing to do inside the flat when they wanted a private conversation what with their door sometimes appearing to resemble a revolving one. On several occasions they fell into the habit outside the flat until Lestrade had said "What are you saying?" to the back forth that had been going on over the corpse of a lorry driver in a back alley. They'd looked up from either side of the body, smirked at each other and picked up the conversation in English. John finds it comforting to speak the language he associated with some of the best times in his life.

Three weeks into his life at Montague Street, three weeks of looking over his shoulder and sleepless nights and too much caffeine and a new found hatred of music that is not played by Sherlock, he breaks up a turf war among the two local gangs. Stopping the turf war is accidental. All he wants to do is stop the fight that breaks out ten metres from his house at ten that night. He ends up, two nights later, the acknowledge peace keeper in the neighbourhood.

There is a rapid accumulation of people, young people, around fifteen in all. They don't know he lives in this house and he doubts they would care if they knew. He watches the posturing and bagging and the shouting and swearing about "this is our block!" and "we were here first you bastards…" and the actual fight breaks out at just past ten. He sighs and put his boots back on and thinks of his gun, illegal and safe in his strongbox in the bottom of his chest of draws and doesn't tuck it in his waist band at his back and picks up his bag. He keeps to the shadows and examines the situation. There are two fighters and they have knives. Both have managed to injure in the other, one in the arm, one in the cheek- he was lucky his eye hadn't been damaged. Definitely one battered set of ribs going by the way they are moving, possibly two.

He gives himself a one, two, three before launching himself into the fray, disarming both young men within four seconds. He puts on his best Captain Watson voice, the one that made Mycroft and his goons and his old commanding officer flinch and listen goddamnit to what he had to say. Because John Watson is usually right.

"That is enough," he says, very deliberately enunciating each word.

They all stop. And stare. He's not surprised. He knows he's a short man and that his shirt is un-tucked and his sleeves are rolled up from doing the washing up, but he makes it abundantly clear who is in charge through his posture and expression. He starts employing every trick he's ever learned to make himself the most important person in the space. It all works a treat.

"Everybody sit down." Most of them do, only three don't, less than he expected. He recognises one; he came in to the surgery two days ago with a desperate need for allergy medicine. "Andy McIntosh, sit down." Andy McIntosh sits down. "Nice to see the anti-histamines are working," John adds lightly, because he knows that will throw them off track. He looks at the two fighters and sits them down away from each other, ignoring the glares being given as he carefully removes jackets. He ties a quick pad around the slashed arm to stop the bleeding and leaves it to deal with the cheek. The cut is shallow and only needs sterile strips and a bit of glue. Having to do this by street light doesn't bother him. He's done this by moonlight, starlight and in no light.

"Right, whoever has spray paint get the brightest colour you have and spray a line across the road thirty meters from here in both directions. Then come back." A boy of no more than thirteen, Christ, does so, running to do both lines. That happens in the corner of his eye. He's mainly focused on the young man with the sliced triceps. "Name?" John barks out as he cleanly glides scissors up the arm of his shirt.

"Jordan," says the fighter. "And watch the shirt," he grinds out.

"I don't care about the shirt." John says as he cleans the area around the wound and gives the local a few seconds to start working. He's not cruel. "I do care if you never get to use your arm again because this wasn't stitched properly. Right." He says again and pokes the area. When Jordan doesn't react he starts sewing, using tweezers to pull the needle through. "You all see those lines; they mean no fighting in between them. I don't care what about. No fighting." He ties off the thread and starts wrapping the arm with gauze.

"Jordan, you come to the surgery in five days to get those taken out. In the meantime, we're going to sort out this like I did in Northern Ireland. All of you lot," he looks at the group all wearing some green, somewhere, "are going to bring a few packets of chicken breast to the community centre at five o'clock on Thursday. They're three for a tenner in Tesco's. All of you lot." John looks over at those who wear black and white and feels exhausted all of a sudden. He's not used to this. "Bring whatever vegetables you think are appropriate for a curry. You are all expected to show up or you won't get a say in the marking of the boundaries. We're going to sit down and eat like civilised people, not the cavemen you seem to think you are." He's learnt a lot about expressing scorn just by watching Sherlock talk to the police. He uses it all to express just what he thinks of that idea.

"Doc," says Andy and it reminds him of being Captain Watson and men screaming 'Doc, we need you!' "What do you mean like in Northern Ireland?"

"Thursday," is all he says and waits for them all to scarper before he methodically packs up his kit and goes back himself.

Thursday comes fast. Sherlock has left him what amounts to a small fortune so he has no worries about putting in a mass order for Naan bread from the take-away two streets away. They show up in unsure dribs and drabs, those bringing ingredients arriving first and staying in the kitchen to help him cook, adding spices and herbs at his say so to the big pot. It's an Afghan recipe, which basically means chuck it in the pot and it will come out good but he's substituting goat with chicken.

It's nearly six by the time everybody is served and eating on wobbly folding tables off plastic plates. More than the original fifteen have turned up, and they seem to be relaxing with food. When all the plates have been put in the trash he stands up and puts a large A3 street map on the table. They look at him in confusion, but some seem to get it.

"I want two people from each lot of you who you trust to tell the truth of the matter from your side." Four people are pushed forward. "Names," John says.

They introduce themselves; three boys and a girl with motor oiled fingers (Jordan-stiches holding everything together nicely and his opponent Frenchie, Dawson, a soft spoken hulk and the girl just introduces herself as Sugar 'because I give an engine the sweetest tune up you've ever seen'. He makes the four shake hands, which they do with more grace than he expected. He gives Dawson a green pencil and Frenchie a black one and gets them to draw the current boundaries on the map. They cross. The disputed territory extends from the play park to his house. Then he gets out a yellow the same colour as smiley faces and the colour of the spray paint lines on the road.

"I'm marking neutral areas," he says. "I don't care who you run with. Where there's yellow on the map it doesn't matter". He colours the area around his house and the surgery and the schools and the play parks. "Yellow is mine," he says, ignoring the fact that all the spreading graffiti (I BELIEVE IN SHERLOCK HOLMES) screams at passersby in the same bright colour. He knows who's responsible. Only one other person knew the significance of that colour. John is expecting him through the surgery door any day now. But by claiming the yellow as his own it feels a bit like claiming Sherlock.

It takes them three hours to draw out boundaries that they all agree on. John keeps the final neat copy and dates it. Any future disputes are to come through him first before descending into violence.

Within a month he's effectively running the surgery. His two nurses are good, competent and compassionate, and slowly they're cutting Dr Fryer's hours and making small comments about retirement. So far, it seems to be working. He's coming in less drunk and is thinking about retiring in the New Year.

John sees the spreading graffiti and contributes in small ways, like giving Andy and Raz, who has finally showed up, just once, a tenner each and telling them to by more yellow. They understand and two nights later yellow messages stain the street. But mostly he just lets them be. Let others (Mycroft) work on defending Sherlock's name. He's continuing the Work and he knows what would be more important to Sherlock.

He starts making more food than necessary (the spice of the large curries is comforting, adding some much needed heat in his life )at dinner and invites anybody who would care to join him. Some of the homeless network seems to have accepted him as their new person to talk to, so they come a few at a time and local families as well (some of the poverty here isn't much better than the Middle East) everyone brings around a pound each time, or some ingredient. He doesn't mind them contributing but them paying him is a bit much; he has more than enough money now.

He doesn't mind the company at all though, the company is relief, and enjoys the varied conversation and encourages everyone to speak as many languages as they can. So dinner is served in Dari and English and Punjabi and French and Spanish and Gaelic and Polish. Mrs Hudson joins them once and is soon a regular fixture at his small table once a week. His life is slotting back together again. He still misses Sherlock (Jesus Christ does he miss Sherlock), but it's like living without his right arm. He can still function and if he works hard, can function well.

In late July his house is broken into while he's at morning surgery. They take the television and the DVD player and the shortbread tin he'd left on the coffee table the night before, struck by the urge for tangible memories. The tin is the reason he goes back at lunch. It contains everything precious and he should have put it away before going to bed.

The place is a mess, the door left open, but the tin and the telly are the only things gone. He doesn't care about the TV. He tidies up and looks everywhere for the box. By the end of lunch he has to admit defeat.

John doesn't go to the police. The locals are nice, headed up by a cop called Mary Morstan who fancies him. She's asked him out on two dates so far and he's said no each time. He goes back to the surgery and tells Mira who texts her family who spread the message on. By three the thief is being frog marched between Andy, who's responsible for many of the yellow murals that are spreading in the area and Tobi, who is the young talented mechanic at the garage. Sugar, who works for him is trailing behind, looking on with interest.

"I've already sold the TV," the boy says, and god, he is a boy, can't be more than sixteen. "But I still have your box."

"I thought you would," says John. "You would have rather a lot of trouble selling it. Everything here is either priceless or not worth very much at all," he adds dryly, accepting the tin from the boy who stands awkwardly between Andy and Toby. He puts the box on Mira's desk to check everything is as it should be. All his medical certificates are there, he puts them beside the box along with all the paperwork for his medals. Sherlock had said he was ridiculously decorated and he is inclined to agree.

Still, he checks his George Cross, for the time when he and half his patrol had been trapped in an outhouse with an expectant father and labouring mother and had gone to the door and stopped the fire fight going on by shouting out, "I'm trying to deliver a baby here!" and then delivering a healthy child that the mother named HANA after Hannah, his mother, and the other various mad medical miracles he'd managed to pull off in heat and dust and just maybe the open clinic he established just outside the camp had helped too and there was the incident with... well that was a rather classified incident. It was for his work saving legs and lives and the hearts that hoped and prayed from halfway across the world. He checks the Military Cross, for being one of the officers to organise the defence and do the actual defending, while patching up all the wounded during a twelve hour siege. Practically everyone had lived. There are several other smaller awards he has the ribbons for and the dispatches he's mentioned in for calmness and a steady hand and bravery and quick thinking under fire and the general service medals and the blood honour and the campaign colours and notes of thanks from those many, many lives he has saved, and mementos of the ones he hadn't managed to.

"Are they your Da's?" the boy asks and John once again thinks sixteen, he really should be in school.

"No," John says and carefully folds the GC in the cloth it came in.

"That was a George Cross, wasn't it," says Mr Dillhew, who is seventy six and diabetic and somehow still going strong. "And one of those Conspicuous Gallantry ones. Brave soul, whoever they belong to. I salute them."

John has to bite back a smile and feels suddenly grateful for this run down corner of London. "They're mine," he says calmly. "Before I was invalided back to here I was in the army. These are from my service there." It's a rather neat explanation that cuts out the two years he spent running around with a madman, but still an accurate one.

He takes the last item out of the tin and ignores the mutters growing around him. It is undoubtedly the most precious item (aside from Sherlock's Stradivarius which is hidden in the back of his closet) he has for purely sentimental reasons. It's a pocket watch, battered and brass with the initials SH on the front. It had been his Great-Grandfathers and then his Grandfathers; the first, Solomon Hartford and the second, Samuel Hartford who had given it with careful age spotted knurled hands to his inquisitive grandson. John had kept it, and on finding out the date of Sherlock's birthday, had had a new chain added and had a message engraved inside the casing, something Harry had once said about Sherlock and him that had made them all laugh and Sherlock give one of his rare shy smiles.

'To my Partner in Crime– J' the message read. He'd given it to Sherlock that January and the detective had scarce been seen without it since. It had been found after he'd died, in the lab at Bart's with a note tucked inside. 'You were loved by me, as much as I could.' And on the reverse, almost an afterthought- 'No tragedy there'. Which is ridiculous, because the thought of Sherlock writing that after John had stormed out of the lab is one of the most tragic that he can think of.

"So, who paid you?" John asks conversationally as he puts it all away and closes the lid with a metallic clink. "And congratulations on the professional job on the door, barely a mark. Far better than I'd have done." He smiles ruefully, picks up the tin and considers his options.

"Okay, this is how it's going to go. Tomorrow night you're going to bring your family to dinner at mine, shall we say around seven. Right now, however, you're going to answer two yes or no questions. Did the man who paid you have an umbrella?"

The boy shakes his head.

"Was it a frankly gorgeous woman who was always texting with a sleek black car and a scary driver?"

The boy nods.

"Right, thank you for returning this. It was a sensible decision." Something in John's tone makes it abundantly clear that if he had not the consequences would have been unpleasant in a rather unconventional way. "You can go now." The lad scarpers.

"Thanks for bringing him here boys," he says and rubs a hand over his face and considers his options. "Now a couple of odd questions. Mr Dillhew, can I borrow your umbrella, and the nearest CCTV camera, it's the one just over the road?" The old man hand the item in question over and John exchanges it for his tin, which the old man promises to guard with his life.

"Showed up about a week after you did," says Andy, who would know the location of every camera in the area due to his small quest to brighten up the streets.

"Of course it did." John goes very still and anyone from New Scotland Yard would have recognise that stillness from when he did something like subdue two suspects singlehandedly during a chase or dress down Anderson and Donovan for being petty. "Lead the way."

John stares at the camera in question for two minutes before it swivels to look at him.

"That's creepy," Toby says and glares at it suspiciously.

"Not as creepy as the man controlling it, I assure you," John says.

"You know Big Brother?" Toby looks at him, incredulous and John grimaces and chokes back a suffocating laugh.

"Unfortunately." John holds up the umbrella so like Big Brother's own and starts tapping on the ground.

-. . -/- ... ./ -... ..- -. ... /- ..- -/ - ..-./ - -.- /... - ..- ... . Get the bugs out of my house he spells out. -.- - ..- /... .- ...- . /..- -. - .. .-.. /../ -. . -/ -... .- -.-. -.- you have until I get back. He pauses before starting on a longer sentence, and it feels good to say. .. ..-. / - ... . .- .-. ./ -. - -/ -. - -. . / -… .-/- … ./- .. - ./ ../ -. . -/ -… .- -.-. -.-/ .- . .-.. .-../ -.- - ..-/ -.. -/ .-. . .-.-.. .. … ./... …. . .-. .-.. - -.-. -.-/.-.. . ..-. -/ - ./ . …- . .-. -.- - …. .. -. -./ ../ -.-. .- -./-… . -.-. - - ./ .-/ - .. -. - .-./ .- -. -. - -.- .- -. -.-. ./ - -/-.- - ..-/ .- .. - …./ …- . .-. -.-/ .-.. .. - - .-.. ./ . ..-. ..-. - .-. -/ If they're not gone by the time I get back, well you do realise Sherlock left me everything. I can become a minor annoyance to you with very little effort.

He leaves it at that.

His phone dings. The removal crew is on its way. MH.

John turns back to the camera. - .- -.- ./ … ..- .-. ./ - …. . -.-/ .-.. - -.-. -.-/ - … ./ -.. - - .-./ -… . …. .. -. -../ - …. . - Make sure they lock the door behind them.

He turns away, twirling the umbrella much like Mycroft had the first time they'd met. He knows the reference will b understood and his message received.

Leave me alone.

Irritating Big Brother dealt with, he settles back into afternoon surgery, treating simple small problems that didn't hold the risk of international incidents. Though, he thinks as his leg twinges and he uses his right hand to lock up that evening, that might be the problem.

Chapter Text


Mary Morstan sits at her desk in the small building that qualifies as a police station and wonders if she even has a job any more. Ok, so the murder rates are roughly the same and the unsolved rate has gone through the roof, but for this area gang related crime, theft, petty larceny, all gone right down. She could swear that yesterday she saw Rebecca Collins, the girl who worked at the garage fixing Jordan Abashek's battered old corsa, and she was sure that that had been a temporary hallucination because they usually spat in each other's faces when they saw each other.

Only one thing bucking the trend: a sharp rise in vandalism, especially graffiti, most of it a ridiculous bright yellow that makes her think of smiley faces. There seem to be two separate lots. The I BELIEVE IN SHERLOCK HOLMES stuff, which has as many different culprits as stars in the sky as far as she can see, and the lines sprayed on to the road and pavement outside the schools, shops and play parks, which get refreshed just as soon as they're cleaned off. They've started to give up the hope of it stopping, and worst is that it seems to mean something to people. The problem is that they have no way of identifying the people doing it. They have suspects, sure, Andy McIntosh is at the top of that list, but with all the Olympic tourists coming through, strangers have no trouble fitting in.

She needs a drink. She digs out her phone and calls Sally, because the MET does have an unofficial 'Don't mess with' girls club and for this kind of thing, she needs to complain to another member.

John is exhausted. The surgery has been open seven days a week for the past two weeks; Mira has been swapping on and off with Rashida, her cousin, so that they both have some time off. But the thirteen hour workdays are getting to him- first appointment is at eight, he usually stops seeing people at nine in the evening, and then he has to clean up. He needs another doctor, preferably female, because some women are just not comfortable talking to a man about some issues. It's not a slur against him or his sex; it's just how things are.

So he puts up the adverts for two positions and hopes to high hell that they are willing to work here, and don't run off like the last one.

He gets answers in the form of four applicants, one fresh out of medical school, one a doctor from Spain who speaks exemplary English with a sharp accent and two who are looking to move areas.

Dr Gareth Rodian is twenty six and still has some of that jadedness about him. He's a good doctor, it's true, top percentile of his class, but he's too slick for here, in a building that needs some TLC quite desperately. He should be somewhere on Harley Street.

Dr Carmen Boldy-Cruz is funny in a sarcastic down to earth way. She looks very Spanish, and her English isn't perfect, but it's good enough to pass the NHS test and her references are good. She comes from a small village in Spain, where her father was the village doctor and dealt with everything from births to deaths of all kinds. He hires her.

He can't yet get away with hiring one more, because technically, Dr Fryer is still on the books and he, technically is in charge of the place. But he can get away with hiring an intern. Michael Fleck is slightly bumbling, but with a GP's eye. Caring, calm and open minded, he has one of the best beside manners John has ever seen.

They manage to get a workable schedule planned out and into action just before the madness that is this summer's Olympic Games breaks out.

"Good for tourism, terrible for us," Mary says as she sits down in the Headless Anne. The pub isn't quite like The Queen Victoria in Eastenders, but it's the closest comparison. It comes complete with a landlady as bitter as some of her brews and lights that, like the rest of this area's, flicker in the summer storms, or any time there's a bit of a strong wind.

"I'll say," Sally says as she slides into the seat next to her, shaking the rain out of her hair. She looks tired and run down from a long week. She's lucky she has the Friday night off, but Saturdays are hell, always. Why would anyone want to be a police officer? What was she thinking? Yet still, after everything, she wouldn't change her job for the world.

They chat about this, and that, and their hopeless tries at romance, the both of them.

"We have a new doctor," Mary says, taking the first sip of a new pint and it goes down her throat a bit like relief. "Actually, that's him."

"Dr Watson!" says Mrs Lawrence, from behind the bar, "you sit yourself down." The snarky lady actually comes out to serve him herself. "I can't thank you enough for looking after Frenchie like that. You've worked wonders."

"Ah, no, I really haven't," John says as they take his order, Mira, Rashida, Carmen and Michael's too as well as Julie and Krishna, the two nurses. Mrs Lawrence just looks at him, sideways and unbelieving, a sort of 'come on dear, you know better than that'.

"No dear, the moment he found out about the medals, he was just, snap, so quiet and on his best behaviour, I think he's thinking of joining the army. I wonder, would you talk to him?" John slides sideways so that she can sit next to him.

"Mrs Lawrence, I will talk to him if you want me too, but I was an officer, not in the infantry like Frenchie will be if he does join. I can ask Bill to talk to him if you want; he was one of my medics."

"Would you doctor? Hey! Here, what are you two up to?" She turns and stands, marching on kitten heels to the two yobs in the corner, hitting at the flashing slot machine to try and get it to pay out. "Get lost you two." They mumble and run out into the rain, sticking to the mild shelter of the houses.

Sally sits very still. No matter her opinion of the psychopath (a currently stuck opinion, who the hell makes their best friend watch?) she feels sorry for Joh...Dr Watson but knows that he's the type who hates pity, which is what it comes out as.

"I've got to go," she says, ignoring the half finished pint in front of her. She doesn't go back to the neighbourhood for nine months. Mary comes to her.

The man sitting on the tired chairs is sleek and perfect, like a crystal polished smooth. He sits while Dr Watson comes out and sees to the patients crowding up the waiting room. It is 5:10, the peak of their busiest time, after school and the place is packed with crying children and snotty babies and parents trying to keep them under control. The toy box is scattered across the room. He is as out of place here as she is in his classical buildings with posh accents. They may share a city, but not a world.

"John," he says, and rises slightly, leaning on the handle of his umbrella. He is ignored as Dr Watson helps 94 year old Mrs Parkinson, the matriarch of her family and one of the more forceful voices in the community (everyone is expecting her to make it to an improbable 100) back to her granddaughter and holds the door open as they leave.

This happens for the next few appointments and each time Mira watches Doctor Watson ignore the man. Eventually, it rolls around to six o'clock, and she has around ten minutes for a cup of tea before the next person comes to sign in. Six is when they stop taking appointments over the phone anyway. If it's a real emergency, they all have Dr Watson's phone numbers, both landline and mobile. He's never begrudging and always goes to where he is needed.

"Dr Watson," the man says, and rises fully this time. Mira takes pity on him.

"Dr Watson is busy until 9 o'clock this evening. If you would like to make an appointment." Never has she felt more self conscious of her clipped Middle Eastern accent and Primark shirts as she is now, opposite this man who stands in a line of comfort and wealth and plumy voice.

"That will not be necessary Miss Husay," he says and, yes she's wearing a name tag, but he hadn't even looked at it.

"I'll take care of this Mira," Dr Watson says from behind her, in a language as familiar as her mother and the smooth umbrella man twitches slightly, nose wrinkled like he doesn't understand. He doesn't understand them and she feels a brief second of vicious triumph.

"Mr Holmes."

"Dr Watson." He looks around and sniffs in a disregard so strong it practically radiates off him in self contained disgust of the room he is in with its breaking toys and scribbled in books and fading paint, the social health posters on the wall with information for carers, and about STDs, contraception and using the emergency services. "You do realise that you could be working in a far higher class of establishment..."

"No," says Dr Watson. "Just no, Mycroft. Stop there and tell me why you're here."

"I came to give you this." He holds out an envelope, 'John' scratched on it in a black ink scrawl. "He willed it to you. It took me some time to find it."

Mira watches as Dr Watson takes the envelope, opens it with the penknife he keeps in his pocket and scans its content. His mouth thins slightly and his face goes from its usual tired countenance to this hard flint thing. "This is dated to four months ago."

"As I said, I had considerable trouble finding it."

"Like hell you did," Dr Watson snarls and then breathes deep, trying to calm himself. The man, Mycroft is taller than him, but Dr Watson is undoubtedly the strongest man in the room in all ways. Wolf in sheep's clothing is such a strange phrase. It's suddenly far more understandable.

"I think you had it straight away, because this said it was kept with his Will and you're the executor of that. I think that you kept it behind deliberately so that you could give it to me later in a misguided attempt to get back into my good books." He put it back in the envelope. "Oh," he says, very calmly, so awfully calmly. "I would leave now. I think some of the kids have keyed your car."

"John," Mycroft says, still slightly pretentious and disapproving and patronising.

Dr Watson strides to the door and opens it, holding it open in clear instruction. "Goodbye Mr Holmes. I would ask you to stop the surveillance, but I do realise that the chances of that are astronomical. Should you feel the need to interfere on my behalf please do so without talking to me."

He leaves.

Dr Watson takes another breath as she watches, and turns to Mrs Burnet. "If you could give me five minutes?"

"Of course Doctor. Gives me a chance to finish feeding this one." She gently jiggles the babe attached to her breast.

Three minutes is enough to re-boil the kettle and make him a cup of tea.

"Dr Watson?" She raps on the door. He's too kind, letting Dr Boldy-Cruz and Michael do the last house visits and go early, leaving him to do the last few hours of appointments on his own. The door is unlatched so she opens it, ignoring the squeak that they all keep promising to fix.

He is leaning over the sink in the corner, hands and arms braced and shoulders hunched. They are shaking in very small motions and she can hear the small hitches of bitter sobs.


He takes a deep breath and stops. She can almost see him realigning himself into the image she recognises, never mind his back is to her. By Allah, the strength of this man.

"I have tea," she offers, slipping into Dari automatically, the way they always speak alone or when they don't want patients to understand surgery business.

"Thank you," he says voice still slightly to unsteady for her tastes. "You didn't have to."

She gives that the exact amount of consideration it deserves- none. "Who was he?"

"The brother of a very dear friend." He starts drinking the tea, not seeming to notice the scalding heat of it. "He died, the friend, and I miss him greatly." Mira nods, not able to sympathise, but empathise to a limited expense.

"Sherlock Holmes was a good man," she agrees, knowing who he talks of. "Mum's bridal jewellery was stolen once, five or so years ago. He found it for her, no asking for payment or anything. He lived just where you are now."

"I know," Dr Watson says, almost fully back to himself now. "I can tell. You can never quite get scorch marks off the ceiling." He puts the half full mug on his desk, next to the jar of pens and a sheet of stickers for the children. He's good with the children. "I'll go and get Mrs Burnet and the youngling shall I?" He slips back into English, a good an indication as any that this is over and finished and doesn't need to be spoken of again.

The very first time Sally meet John Watson, before she even knew his first name, she told him that Sherlock Holmes would put a body down, and they would stand around it.

She never suspected it would be his own. She also never expected John Watson to react the way he did, like his whole world had been dragged out from under him and he had nothing left to stand on and yet still manage to make himself swim. She would have been relieved to have an excuse to leave the freak.

She doesn't see him again until a year after the freak's death, excluding that tense moment in the Headless Mary. She's driving though the Montague street area, on her way back from a coordination meeting with the local station when the call comes over the radio: five men trying to attack and mug one older man with a cane and a young girl- fifteen or so according to the callers. All officer response. She switches on the lights, is there in two minutes and finds herself the most senior officer at the scene, no matter the fact that she's a DS, not a uniform.

The scene itself is odd. There are the usual gawkers, the panicked community support officer, just out of training and in the middle of the pavement there are four men tied up and one just lying there. There are several more officers telling the two men who aren't unconscious their rights and handcuffing them still on the ground, untying the bandages that have been used as makeshift bonds. They're also hand cuffing the two unconscious men.

"What about the other one?" Sally asks as she walks over the road to the main body of incident. It's June and the start of a wonderful summer, the sun causing the kind of warmth that is perfect, gentle and all encompassing.

"Dead," the community support officer walking beside her says. "The coroner is on her way."

Well, she can't do anything about that now and turns to look at the victims for a second. The man is very calm but the young girl is a mess, her pretty blouse torn viciously. She's staying close to the man and Sally thinks 'father and daughter' and watches the man remove his shirt, a plain light blue long sleeved one and help the girl into it, gently doing up the buttons as she sobs. It leaves him shirtless and his chest is lightly tan in the sun. He has some kind of tattoo on his upper arm and a horrid sprawling scar on his left shoulder. She stays back for a few more seconds as the man, who is quite small with greying dishwater hair, holds the girl and turns her away from the men still in the street and helps her to time her breaths, controlling the panic in her system. The action of turning brings them to face her directly.

The man is John Watson.

She knows he recognises her. He ignores her, focused on the girl, and she thinks, oh, of course. She knew that he lived in this area. The local officers are all enamoured with him and think him some kind of angel. Once the girl, (and who is she? because John, Doctor Watson, she forces herself to remember, doesn't have any children) is calmed down some she continues walking over. When she is five feet away the girl panics again.

"No, you can't take him, he didn't mean to, he didn't mean to," she is babbling and despite her state, eyes red and wild and the too large shirt in length and shoulder, the cuffs flapping over her hands, she tries to stand in front of Watson, preventing her from reaching him.

"Bethany Miranda" Joh...Doctor Watson says in a voice that makes her stand taller and recall her days in the academy and also her cousin mimicking his army sergeant, but far more effectively "I did not intend to kill that man" he doesn't spit out 'that man', but it is a close thing, and his voice describes his disgust far more effectively. "But I don't regret it for a second." He still doesn't look at her, but Sally is in the midst of reaching out for Bethany when she launches herself at Watson, the sound of 'thank you, thank you' coming out from against his bare chest.

Watson doesn't say anything, but just holds her, and Sally finds herself in the awkward position of knowing what to do, but not how to. She should separate them, pass them onto separate officers for statements and arrest Watson.

While she's dithering, she looks at her watch, noting the time as 2:43. School hours. What's a secondary school aged girl doing out of uniform at this time?

"I'm not advocating truancy; Beth is shadowing me for work experience," Watson says to her for the first time in just over a year.

"How do you know that Fre..." The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them and realise she's talking to the wrong half of the amalgamation that the two of them, SherlockandJohn, had become over the short but seemingly infinite time they'd know each other. Sometimes, she'd looked at them, and the flowing way they'd moved around each other, the way they'd always know what the other needed, was thinking. She'd used to hope that she'd find what they had had. Now she looks at Doctor Watson properly and see how thin he is, despite the muscle and strength, and how tired he seems despite the hour. 'He's lost his heart and soul' she finds herself thinking, and then shakes her head to get the thought out.

"You looked at your watch and then at Beth. Simple." He looks her directly in the eye and his are darker than she's ever seen with something a bit like lust. But it's not, and after a second she recognises it. It's bloodlust, the type she's seen in killers and rapist and it's checked and controlled. Very, very dangerous. "And call him a freak once more and I will ruin you." He says it in the most terrifyingly pleasant voice she's ever heard. He's a dichotomy, cradling a young girl and coldly promising death. She remembers suddenly, on that very first night, the freak, Sherlock saying to Doctor Watson, "'well, you have just killed a man.'" And Doctor Watson telling him to keep his voice down, never denying it and giggling. The shot that had killed the cabby had been from the other building, from a hand gun through two windows. She doesn't doubt that this man could do it.

"Beth. Beth!" A man of around twenty one is hurrying across the street. He has the same colour hair as Beth and is almost as panicked as her. Beth turns around and clings to the man- brother, Sally thinks. They hold onto one another and the man looks around at the one attacker left on the floor, the blood from his crushed throat and the aluminium cane stained with the same lying on the ground beside it. He looks to Doctor Watson who is still standing there without his shirt and removes his own light jacket and swaps it for the shirt covering Beth. Watson takes the shirt back and seems just as relaxed clothed as he was partially unclothed. It's odd.

Finally, now she can do something. Sally steps forward, leads Beth and her brother, Tobi into one of the cars to the local station. Doctor Watson says exactly where he is, and only when the car is out of sight does he offer his hands for the handcuffs.

"Second time," he says placidly as Sally locks the cuffs behind his back. "Bring my bag please." She grabs the doctor's bag on the ground, open with bandage wrappers around in a kind of medical debris snow, and puts it in the car by his feet.

The ride to the station is smooth and not that long. It's what happens there that shocks Sally. The whole place is full. People with young children, prams shoved in corners. An old woman who looks near one hundred is holding court in one corner, surrounded by an extensive family. People are talking in many different languages- she knew this part was multi-cultural but this seems a bit much.

When they walk in, Watson possibly the calmest she's ever seen him, and that includes him standing as he twists a murder's arm behind his back and whispers something in his ear that caused him, someone who liked to gut his victims, to go white as he lets them arrest him. This also includes watching him drop down from a one story rooftop and rolling and coming smoothly to his feet. The whole place sees them and comes alive with protests and chatter. One woman, with Middle Eastern skin and liquid eyes steps forward.

"Doctor," she says, panic obvious. And then something Sally doesn't understand in a language, another bloody language that sounds both harsh and soft.

Dr Watson replies in the same language, and she can see him smirking slightly, even as he stands in handcuffs. The girl looks pleased and immediately repeats the conversation in English.

"He says it's fine," Sally hears as they move towards the interrogation rooms. "The umbrella man will come and get him out soon and it's a clear cut case of self defence."

How does he do this? She wonders, and looks around the door at a whole community sitting there. Someone, make that several someone's, including Sergeant Morstan, have brought food. Older kids, teenagers are gathered in the corners, happily entertaining the younger ones. It's crazy. It's like he's entrenched himself in the community and moulded it around himself.

She knows, as much as the rest of the police in London, how much the crime rate has gone down in this area, but to this extent? To the point where the two rival groups in the area abide by the hand annotated map on the wall in the entrance to the station, to the point where they are willing to sit in the same room for this one man. What was St John famous for again? Bloody hell, the apocalypse wasn't coming was it? Wasn't the saints coming down one of the first signs? Shouldn't all this of been happening last December if it was an apocalypse?

It takes an hour for Jo...Doctor Watson to be released without charges. She stands beside Mary, aware of the woman on her phone behind her as his hand is shaken by all the people in the room, and they smile at him. He looks, relaxed is the wrong word, because she'd only ever seen him on guard, but welcomed and loved in a strange way. Here is a group of people who need him and love him for it and John is very much a man who needs to be needed. In return for this, he gives them everything he is, and everything he has left.

Chapter Text

Of course, when John says surgery he means clinic, and when he says clinic he means urgent care centre and when he says UCC he means doubles as a Minor Injuries Unit on Friday and Saturday nights. It certainly keeps them all busy. You never know what is around the corner. So they take appointments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (except in the evening) and every other time it's just drop in and most serious goes to the front of the queue. It's not organised, but it does the job. It has to. They have no other options. They barely have enough staff. He needs two more nurses, but doesn't have the money for them. He could pay one and a half nurses on what Dr Fryer earns and wastes on alcohol every month.

There is of a solution to this. He could have the man declared unfit for practice by the General Medical Council, but that takes time, and he's so close to retirement. It would be an indignity, but would it be one he deserves? Can he pressure the man into taking early retirement? Is that more or less ethical? Technically, it should go to the board of the GMC, but for an old man, that seems wrong. Unkind. That's always been his problem. He would have made a terrible drill sergeant. Too soft.

Sighing, John leans forward to his desk in the box room of fifteen Montague Street, the walls staring at him in bland beige pity. He picks up two sheets of paper so often folded and unfolded that their four creases are soft like felt on the outside edges. It's not the original copy of Sherlock's letter of course, that is in the shortbread tin under his bed, but a photocopy. It feels a bit like having a security blanket, but his memories of Sherlock's speech patterns are fading, and his phone number has been re-issued, so he can't even let it ring through to voicemail so he can hear the cadence once more.

My Dear John

No, I'm going to have to do it this way, thoughts straight to page or I shall start editing and not say what's important. Today, I had tea with James Moriarty. That should give you a frame of reference as to when this was written.

These past few months, or years as I hope it has been, I sincerely hope it has been years in your company, because anything less is insufficient, and that this letter is unnecessary and drying brittle in the safe of Miss Utterson, my solicitor.

You will have to excuse the tangents. I'll try and avoid them, but you know how I am. I will be straightforward as to misstep them.

Knowing you has been the best time of my life. You've made me more me, in ways that I never contemplated and never let myself before. You are one of the only people who have taken me as I am, and not tried to change me to suit you. If I have changed, and ask anybody, I have, it is because I do not wish to disappoint you.

We rubbed each other up the wrong way sometimes and I do admit that most times it was mostly my fault. You will never hear those words again. Treasure them and take them while you can.

I hope you know how much you mean to me. Sometimes I'm sure that you don't, deluded of your worth, but other times I think you get it. I needed a centre and stability that is not quite stable and you provide both without question. I'm rubbish at emotional articulation, so I have to trust you to know. And I do trust you, in all ways, with everything.

There are some practicalities to take care of. Mycroft is my executor, at least that way it will be done properly, if not smugly. This letter is being kept with my Will, and you should receive it at the reading. If you don't, blame the man looking at you now.

On the subject of the man looking at you now, please do let the fat git look out for you. I know that you hate the surveillance as much as I do, but I have to say, and you will never hear this out loud, that it had its uses. But I've asked him to, so he has to, because I asked. Anyway, Mummy wants him to. You remember how much she liked you when I was dragged to her birthday party and you were caught up too.

Also under the heading of practicalities; you'll never want for anything again. As you realised in March, the Holmes's have plenty of money. My trust fund is substantial. Enough for you to comfortably live on with minimal work. I did genuinely need a flat mate when I met you. Despite the fact that it was highly illegal and utterly frustrating, the git had control over it and only released an insufficient amount each month. Not enough. I'd spent the last of January's on the repair work for Montague Street, where I was living at the time. Two months after we started living together, he released it to my control. I no longer needed a flatmate and I told myself I would see how things were at the end of the month. Then Moriarty happened and it didn't matter.

You were you and you are fascinating. Most people are predictable after a short time in their company and the first time I looked at you I thought 'tolerable' and then 'useful' and then you shot a man for me, John, and that was extraordinary because I didn't see it coming. The small things John, that you do, I cannot predict them. Shout or offer tea? Ignore or comfort? Infantile movie night with popcorn, or help me with an experiment?

Or the big things. Those are unpredictable too. Each time I think 'he won't save me this time', you do. By my count you've killed four people for me. Two bullets, one snapped neck and a slashed carotid and jugular, threatened more than I care to keep count of. You've offered your life for mine. I don't think that I've ever meant that much to anyone excluding Mummy, and biology is partly to blame for that. It is a strange feeling and not one I'm sure that I like. I don't want it.

You will have heard my Will by now. Please abide by it. Don't you have to, wishes of a dead man and all? I know you will. You are honourable.

The Network also is watching over you, because they want to. I did not ask. They offered. You seem to have endeared yourself to them remarkably quickly. They have never taken to you like another and every one of them you helped feels that they owe you something. I tried to explain how you hate that, but they wouldn't listen.

You are waking now. It is three am and you've been dreaming. I always leave you to dream and I am never sure if that is what you want me to do. You've never said anything about it, so I presume so. If in this I am mistaken, I am sorry.

I'll stop here, or I'll continue on fractal tangents and you are coming down the stairs, sleep shod footsteps in search of tea. You will notice me writing and be curious and I never want you to read this letter.

So, John, know that I am

Very sincerely yours,


He refolds the letter and stands to head to his bedroom, thankful that Carmen is taking the first shift tomorrow morning when his phone goes.

There is a reason this area has such a bad reputation with crime: gang, violent and otherwise. Despite the facts that the crime rate has gone down in the months that he's lived here (Not his effort, he constantly tells Inspector Morstan, even though it partly is. It's amazing how much less violent people are if you actually sit them down for dinner instead of accusations). It's eleven that evening (mid-October) when his mobile jarringly rings out. It's Tobi. He sounds a mess and needs a house call now. John thinks to himself, this is going to be a bad one.

It is a bad one. Tobi opens the door the small house that's identical to his. His eyes are red and he's in that calm state that comes after you've been crying, when everything is so obvious and terribly, terribly real and not real at the same time. Jessica, his fiancée is on the sofa in the living room, and she's been crying too. Beth is hovering at the top of the stairs. He looks at Jessica for three seconds and sees exactly how this is going to go. It makes his heart ache. He'd dealt with this in Afghanistan rarely, and not at all while doing locum work but a few times with Sherlock, on the trail of one of the crazed people they had chased.

He deals with everything calmly, sending Beth to make sweet hot tea to help with the shock and starting to deal with the few cuts and hand print bruises that didn't show up on Jessica's dark skin, but are there never the less. He offers to call Carmen or Julie but is refused. He does the necessary examinations as quickly as possible. She doesn't need any extra care, but the questions are uncomfortable. He asks if she wants him to call the police. The idea sends her to tears again, so he drops it.

Once all that is done he helps Tobi carry her up to bed and watches as she swallows enough to give her twelve hours of dreamless sleep. He leaves Tobi to watch over her and goes back down stairs to clear up and leaves an appointment card on their kitchen table for three days' time. He goes home (as much as it can be home) at half past midnight and sleeps badly, nightmares of bombs and broken women and chlorine and the damn sensation of falling playing tricks on his brain.

A month later, she shows up at the surgery, having missed her last two periods. He gives her the details of the abortion service the NHS offers, should she want to go down that route. He can do nothing else now. Sometimes, he hates his job.

But other times, he's glad that it lets people trust him. Jordan Abashek is sitting on his doorstep. He's smoking a rolled cigarette, a pouch of tobacco beside him on the concrete.

"Those will kill you," John says as the eighteen year old springs up, scuffing his trainers on the cracking path and the scrubby grass. He looks tired, but not too tired. Just working hard.

"I know," he says, and stubs it out. "Can I talk to you?" Something is twisting him up inside, nervous and almost ashamed.

"Of course," John says, unlocking the door and then leaning down to pick up his bag. Being a sounding board is an unofficial part of his job, but his job none the less. Not all hurts and ailments are physical. He is not a psychiatrist or a therapist, but people still need someone to talk to, or to provide impartial opinions. "Have you eaten?"

"No." Jordan takes off his jacket and shoes, lining them up by the door and hanging the jacket on the stair post.

"Are you hungry?" He heads for the kitchen. It's smaller than the one in 221B, but everything is around here. Emily and Ruben Collins across the road have four children varying in age from the oldest at eighteen and the youngest at twelve. Three girls and a boy. The boy has the box room, the three girls share the master bedroom and Emily and Ruben have the second bedroom.

Jordan sort of mumbles. John takes that as a yes. He heats up yesterday's lasagne, and takes two cans of beer out of the fridge.

"I don't drink." Jordan swipes his hair out of his eyes and John puts them back in the fridge and fills two tall glasses with orange juice instead. Jordan practically pounces on it. "Haven't had this stuff in ages," he says between gulps. He puts it down before he's drunken half of it.

"You killed that man, last month, the one who attacked you." It's not a question. The young man in front of him is just trying to find his ground, his starting point. John can tell that this is not the real point of conversation.

"Yes," John says as the microwave buzzes behind them. They are sat at his unvarnished kitchen table, at the mismatched chairs. "I am, was a soldier. I was trained to kill if I was in a fight. He was going after Beth. I'm afraid that I let myself go a bit."

"How do you do that? Kill someone?"

John stands to get the lasagne out of the microwave. The chair makes a dragging screech on the diamond patterned linoleum tiles of the floor. He ignores the heat of the plates as he considers his answer.

"Some people can't. Even in the army, you will find people who just can't pull the trigger. It depends on the situation how that turns out. It also depends on the person you're attacking. For me, I never point a gun at someone I am unprepared to pull the trigger on, or get into a fight I am unwilling to end. Have more orange juice if you want it."

Jordan stops questioning and eats, small fussy pieces. "That's not what I came here to ask."

"Okay." John moves his knife and fork on the plate, so that they line up. Jordan finishes the last bits of his and does the same.

"Have you ever had gay sex?"

"Sex with another man, yes," John answers. "Several times. But not penetration. Never quite the occasion. Is that what you wanted to ask about?"

Jordan nods.

"Well I did not expect to be doing this this evening." John gathers up the plates. "You dry, lad."

"Sorry," Jordan offers, picking up the tea towel.

"Don't be. I'd much prefer that you get your information straight than iffy ideas off of mates and other more dubious sources." He lets the dish that the lasagne was baked in soak in hot water as he starts on the cutlery, methodically using the sponge to wipe them on both sides. The water is hot, almost too hot, but he never really notices that kind of thing now a days. "I'm presuming you have someone you're involved with."

"He's called Andrew. He goes to the smart school on the hill, on half scholarship. I met him 'cause we were both mucking around on the tube. He was busking." Jordan is equally methodical with the tea towel.

"So what have you done so far? You don't have to say if you don't want to."

"Hand jobs mostly."

"Oral sex?" Jordan's answering blush is spectacular even through his darker skin. "Did you use a condom?"

"We got caught up."

"Try to remember in the future. It's easier for some diseases to be transferred through sex between men than other types. But I'm sure you know how that works." Plates now, swish and squeeze to clean them of sauce and lose scraps of vegetable. "What you have to remember is that full on anal sex is not your only option. Some people never like it, or never try it. There are other things to do."

"What does it feel like?"

"It's different for everybody. A mate of mine said 'odd but pleasureable'. I think that the plate is dry now." Jordan puts the plate aside in the pile he's starting and moves on to the next one.

"Have you told your parents anything?" John queries five minutes later, after going over the mechanics.

"Nope. They're not exactly supportive of, well, me anyway. No need to disappoint them anymore. You won't tell them will you?"

"God no. The Hippocratic Oath is there for a reason. You're eighteen. I can't tell them anything without your permission. What else would you like to know?"

John pokes his head out of the door to the consulting rooms. "Rebecca Collins?" Sugar stands up, twisting her hands in her dungarees.

"How many times do I have to tell you Doc," she mutters. "It's Sugar."

"Ah, that's not what your file says." John smiles at her as he holds open the door to room one, the brass slide set at ENGAGED. She sits down, and picks at the oil beneath her nails. "So what's wrong?"

Sometimes, what's best about living here, are the people. Every day, in and out, the little problems and making people smile again, or helping them feel relief.

The thing about trust, about the idea of lowering your defences around others, and especially for some of the girls he sees every day, is that it is so easily broken. The first time one of them lets him examine him, instead of asking for Julie or Carmen, his chest feels tight, like iron bands. It's about safety, and knowing the person in front of you won't hurt you, even if they can so very, very easily.

"Are you sure?" he asks as he steps back around the curtain. "It's really no trouble to get..."

"We all trust you, Doctor Watson. Especially since we heard about what you did for that girl." Her smile is tremulous, and she can't be more than twenty two. But he is a doctor, and being a doctor is more than learning and a title, it is a way of life, a way of thinking and being that is written into your every regenerating cell. He does not judge.

"I'm keeping it," Jessica says, showing him the small wriggling blob on the ten week sonogram. "We thought that you ought to know."

John is not quite sure what to say. What can you say in situations like this?

"Don't pull the worried face Doctor Watson. It will all be fine." She steps onward to the Londis on the corner, hand stroking her belly once. Tobi stays beside him.

"I keep thinking she's going to crash, but she's just gone on like usual since that first night."

"She will," John says slightly darkly. "The best thing you can do now is support her, and be there for her. Has she talked to the counselling service?"

"She doesn't want to. I called them up and the wait list is three months."

John frowns. "I'll talk to them, see what I can do. See you around Tobi." He watches Tobi run after Jessica for a few steps, and then continues to the Londis behind them. They need tea at the surgery and as he has half an hour until his next appointment, he might as well be the one to get it.

John doesn't really visit the grave much. When he does, it's usually with Mrs Hudson, who has finally accepted that he is not coming back to Baker Street. It's not much to look at, just black marble and gold letters. Nothing of the actual man is there. It may be his official resting place, but it holds nothing of him, of his him-ness. He has surrounded himself with Sherlock far more effectively by doing what he is now. He has people who knew Sherlock before he was famous and consequently believe in him. He has the Homeless Network who often rely on him for medical care and in return share stories of some of the cases that they helped solve from before John knew Sherlock. He has the man's notes and the few pictures that he has collected and he has the Work to do.

So he's fine. You can all stop asking now. Because really, he's fine.

Chapter Text

John wakes screaming. He doesn't do that often. More often he cries when waking, dreams and hopeful reality diffusing sepia like old fantastically imagined photographs and disappointment sets in. But although his subconscious is especially good at taking the worst memories of his life and mixing them into nightmares that would bother even Mycroft, it usually keeps war and Sherlock separate.

No so tonight. Tonight Sherlock is the one he's not fast enough for, haemorrhaging out before him, plasma and clotting factors not working fast enough despite the line directly into his sternum, feeding platelets, red blood cells and plasma through the bone marrow.

Sweat dries on his skin, making his t-shirt stick. Even now, in grey December with the coloured lights of Christmas draped over windows, nearly a year and a half after his death, he is still grieving in his own messed up way. He's always been crap at it. Grief, that is. Ask Harry. Ask anybody. John is a firm subscriber to the 'lock it up so tight and it will all go away eventually' method of coping. Most of the time he thinks it's healthier than Harry 'I'll drink all my cares away', but other times he's not so sure.

It is 3:47. Three a.m. he thinks wearily. We've got to stop meeting like this, I'd much prefer to sleep with you. It's from an old poster, and had been a common complaint Before Sherlock.

It's no use. Three a.m. is refusing to co-operate, so he swings his legs out of bed, and steadfastly ignores the cane propped by the door. He carries it as a form of defence first and foremost, reluctantly agreeing that it is slightly necessary as a support occasionally only after he slipped a couple of weeks ago on some of the untreated black ice and the cold had permanently steeped into the femur. Now that his right leg has a real reason to complain, he hasn't been able to get it to shut up. Short distances are fine, but anywhere further than around the house is painful.

Anyway, he quite likes the cane he has now. He found it in the pawnshop, old and mahogany, a proper gentleman's stick in shining brown. It gives him an even more harmless image. Respectability is never a bad thing. But god, does he feel old sometimes. He's only forty.

If there is one thing that John hates more than his own imagination, it's drugs and addiction. He's seen them destroy lives on two continents, and has no desire to keep watching it happen. Unfortunately, it's part of life here. You would think that with the British Museum just around the corner then the area would have some proper class to it, elegant white columns and classical frescos.

No chance. The closest to elegant here is the church, and that's run down, faded grey stone and some of the lead and copper stolen from the roof. John isn't exactly religious, but he likes the idea that there is something out there. Often, if he needs to detach he will go in and sit down, light a candle for his the list of the dead, those he couldn't save and those he didn't have the opportunity to and another for Sherlock and just be for half an hour before life takes him by the neck and wrist and any other exposed bit it can get its hands on.

But the drugs.

John himself has never struggled with an addiction that is not a chemical produced in his own body, aside from caffeine, like most medical students. Long hours in rotation and then straight to the books, the common pot of constantly brewing coffee was often the only thing keeping them awake in the small, small hours of grey and blood.

War taught him of the luxury of addiction. He could never afford to tie the wellbeing of his body to a substance of unreliable supply. But what was in plentiful supply for the right money, especially in Afghanistan was poppy, staining the hills with their own soporific colour, the promise of oblivion and forgetfulness. He could see the attraction.

But the thing about addiction here, back in the green and concrete of England and London, is that it seems far more raw. Harry took to alcohol because she glittered under strobe lights and laser beams, broken edges like glass hopes, prayers and cries. She left Clara first, so she would hurt less. John was also broken, but while he was learning to mend patients, he applied all those same techniques to himself, building a new whole, until he was cracked once more, not by a bullet, but by the paper cuts of his discharge papers. Addiction here is dirty streets, and kind oblivion and too much noise and like everywhere else, blessed, blessed escape.

And it is unpredictable. You can know that with Ecstasy, the most important thing to do is to control water intake, and with cocaine that the relapses are the best thing on earth, so coming clean is the hardest. But each human body is its own unique marvel, so each human being reacts slightly differently. Bad trips and good trips, encourage, discourage, what will be your poison this week?

Being him, he deals with the nastier ones, the violent ones, calming bodies and minds as almost overdoses leave the system and desperate need for more takes hold, preventing them choking on their own vomit, leaving instructions for aftercare and rehab numbers. At the moment, the Network is scared of a new supply, and the draining of old ones that were at least guaranteed to be good quality. The new supply is rough cut, and the chemicals added are nearly lethal on their own. John had been quite good at the pharmaceutical units of his coursework, and digging out his old textbooks, ignoring Sherlock's hand beside his own from the few quiet days at the start when the man had grabbed the books straight out of the box and curled up on the sofa with them, like a five year old with a new a toy, had almost felt awe when he had cross referenced the lab results with the information before him. Someone had access to a very good chemist.

He tells Sergeant Morstan this, hands over all the relevant information, and ideas about processing, because this is new management of an old, large operation. They would need access to refining equipment, proper labs, and even if the raw product was grown overseas, it was definitely being put together here.

"How the hell do you know all this?" Mary asks. They're sat in the small café on Museum Street that sells some of the best crêpes around. Sometimes, if he's not needed in the surgery until lunch, he will come here for breakfast, like he and Sherlock used to on occasion, if they were in one of their get out of the flat moods.

"Blood tests," John says, finishing his mouthful. The owners had been very helpful in pushing together two tables so that the files could be spread out and visible while they were eating. "They were high off something pretty new, so I made a note and asked the labs to keep an eye out when I sent the samples off. One set of rather in depth tests later, these are what came back. Looks like a version of LSD. See here, the rings of carbon." He points them out with slightly sticky fingers.

His mobile goes. It's Wiggins, the main contact for the Homeless Network. She is one of the few who have a reliable phone, and she'll often text him with small bits and pieces. She's been corralling the Network into rounding up more information about who's distributing this new high and he's been expecting her to text him a meeting place so they can talk. But this is a call and it's not Wiggins. Whoever it is rough due to panic and fear.

"Where are you?" John says clearly after listening for a few seconds. He jumps up and walks out the door without a word to Mary, a quick nod to the owners a promise that he'll come back tomorrow to settle the bill. He can hear them behind him explaining to Mary, who had half risen out of her seat to follow him. It takes him five minutes to get back to his flat, then two to add a few more items to his bag. When dealing with the edges of the underworld, you never know what you are going to find.

His car is a rusting burgundy, squat and ugly and he bought it very, very cheaply to help him get to the edges of the area the surgery covers for when he does house calls. It does the job, gets him from A to B if B is too far from a Tube station. Somehow, it never gets parking tickets and he's not sure if that's because Lucy, the street warden likes him after he took care of her daughter's tonsillitis or Mycroft's influence. He thinks it's him. The people around here don't really like Mycroft all that much. They tolerate him, when he's doing things like getting John out of jail, but John's distaste of the man comes across well enough in his icy politeness, and they seem to take their cues from him.

It splutters into life, and he follows the directions to one of the main squats that the Network has. It is musty, and filthy in the corners. No place for a patient to be. Wiggins is on a reasonably clean tarpaulin, scarf twisted and long hair falling out of its plait and sticking to her face. She is pale and small and curled into herself. Her coat is covering her, leaving just her boots and head sticking out, and her head is in the lap of the caller.

The caller is thirty something; he's gotten good guessing real ages under the grime of street life. He has scruffy auburn hair tied back and brown eyes with long fingers and a horrible orange parka, but John isn't paying much attention to him. The majority of his focus is on Wiggins and he puts down his bag and opens it, getting out the ear thermometer. 39.2 °C, dangerously high, and Wiggins is shaking due to fever, muttered syllables that come out grouped into words, laboured breath by spluttering breath.

"Sorry, Doc, sorry," she is saying over and over. "He made me promise, promises not broken, not for him."

"Nothing to be sorry for," John says as he snaps shut his bag. "What's your name?" he asks the man, who is mindlessly brushing the spun rough yarn fibres of her hair along the line of her hat, away from eyes squeezed shut against what little light there is.

"Sigerson," he says, head ducked and away. His accent is vaguely foreign in the way of the long acclimatised.

"Can you carry my bag to the car?" Sigerson nods and picks up the doctor's bag which had been a gift from Harry when he graduated Medical School, but before he told her he only managed to pay his way due to the Army paying for him, and then the cane that John had put beside him when he had knelt down. He runs his hand along it and then looks at John in a way that is vaguely assessing. John lays Wiggins on the back seat, Sigerson once again being used as a pillow. The drive is reasonably quick when the roads are clear, as much as anything is reasonably quick with the traffic in London, the cold bundling people into the tube and taxis instead of bicycles and walking. Now though, the roads are not clear and they're stuck. This queue is going to take minutes to clear.

He gets out his phone and swears as Mira doesn't pick her mobile.

"You okay, Doctor?" Sigerson asks. There is something in his voice, but John doesn't have the time.

"There's a water bottle back there. Try to get her to drink some. Mira!" he exclaims as she finally picks up and the traffic starts moving at the same time. "I need you to go to my house, and open it up."

"It's my day off and I'm in bed."

"I've got a woman in the back of my car with a temperature of 39.2°C. I need you to open up and change the sheets on my bed. Spare linens are in the airing cupboard."

He can hear her flip the covers back, rustling as she starts to dress. "I'm on my way. Cool bath too?"

"Lukewarm right now. Same temperature as your elbow. You have to go slowly if you don't know the causes, don't send the system into shock."

"Whatever you say, Doctor. I'll be at yours in five minutes. Is the key still under that ugly cat statue by the back door?"

John chokes back a rough approximation of laughter. "Yes. I'll be there soon."

It takes ten more minutes, breaking several speeding laws to get back to Montague Street and his shotgun house. He can hear Mira shaking out sheets as he and Sigerson get Wiggins out of the back of the car. Sigerson opens doors and carries John's bag and cane again as John carries her, putting her down on the fresh sheets, removing gloves, hat, coat, all layers down to her underwear. She has no visible hurts past the scrapes of a rough life. Stethoscope, and yes, the wheeze and rattle of mucus-burdened lungs confronts him. He starts jotting down notes: pulse, blood pressure, temperature. The last is the most urgent, so it's into the bath.

It's only after her fever is down enough that she stops shaking and starts coughing that he turns around, keeping half an eye on her so that she doesn't slide under the water, and sees Sigerson hovering in the doorway, looking back at the front door and the outside and John and Wiggins. The strangest of expressions is on his face, like someone is tearing him in two and he's not sure of his welcome at the same time.

"Is she your friend?" John asks, and turns back around as she slowly becomes conscious again. He can still see Sigerson's face in the cabinet mirror. There is something so familiar, but it's obviously just a trick of the light and he has better things to concentrate on.

"We keep an eye out for each other." John still can't identify the accent. He runs a hand through Wiggins' hair; loosening the plait and making her look like a very ill Ophelia. "You are a very good doctor."

John is taken aback. "Thank you. Go down to the kitchen. Help yourself to food. I'll be a while, but you're welcome to stay."

Sigerson nods. "I should go." He stares very hard at John like he is trying to fix him into his memory, like a parched man looks at the last source of water. "I should go. Thank you, Doctor Watson." His voice is soft, and curiously fond. He nods once more and turns and leaves, just footprints in his wake and a locked-away niggling sensation in John's mind.

Wiggins has her head leant on the lip of the bath attached to the wall and is watching them with the glazed eyes of the ill. He checks her temperature, gets some paracetamol into her to bring the fever down, glad to see some tension in her limbs instead of the limpness of before.

Later, once her fever is at safer levels and he has filled out a prescription of antibiotics for her, he sits down at his laptop in the chair by his bed to look through the new information that has been coming in for the past four hours, his phone gathering texts and his inbox filling rapidly. He doesn't like the picture being filled in, piece by piece like those bloody five hundred piece jigsaw puzzles. Too many factors and one, well, Sherlock would use the noun spider to describe the centre they all seem to be leading back too, but John is not Sherlock and this reminds him of hunting traps. Sitting in plain sight, but if you don't know what to look for, you're blind to them. At the same time, there is too much and not enough information. It's confusing in the extreme and he doesn't have the time to sort through it. Luckily he knows someone whose job it is to.

He calls Mary back, and she is irate after he's ignored all the calls and texts that she has been sending him. He tells her she can come and get all the information, as long as she is quiet and she grudgingly agrees when she hears why he rushed off.

It's utterly frustrating. He never seems to be able to do enough. He is never enough, not for anyone, no matter how hard he tries. He had thought that he was enough for Sherlock, but that proved to be not true. Stitching, sell-o-tape and string, that's all he has. He makes it stretch.

But that's enough of the self-pity. Because really, most of the time he is enough. He has a woman on the verge of pneumonia in his bed, he has all this stuff to sort through so it becomes readable for those who aren't used to regular dealings with the Network before he can pass it on to Sergeant Morstan and he needs to clean the bath of the dirty water mark that is currently pale grey brown on the enamel. Things to do. Always more things to do. He has to be enough for now. He's going to be.

Christmas is probably miserable by someone else's definition. By his, it's actually quite nice. He has gifts of food and handmade cards from patients and neighbours and colleagues, and he is invited to dinner at Mira's, but he thanks them and declines politely. Everybody else who works at the clinic has a family, so he takes the shifts on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day in return for Carmen taking New Year's Day afternoon when John takes the Eve and Morning as well. The entire area seems to make an effort, even if it just means a solitary strand of lights in the window or a small tree. Good will and joy to all and all that, but it is refreshing, and some of the kids decide that carolling would be a good idea, so the streets have a different kind of noise in the dark evenings.

Carmen tells him about the parades the village she grew up in in Spain used to have on the Twelfth Night, and Mira and Rashida get involved and then Julie and Krishna and god help anybody who gets in the way of their planning. The community centre is unlocked and mince pies baked under the watchful eye of Mrs Lawrence and cheap red wine is bought along with orange rind, spices and sugar. Everything is chucked in a large pot on the stove in the centre to be mulled, the one John was worried about exploding the last time he used it and a mulled wine and mince pie and bits and pieces session occurs three evenings before Christmas. He feels more alive than he has in ages, surrounded by people, a Styrofoam cup containing steaming mulberry coloured liquid between his hands and the third mince pie settling in his stomach.

This, he realises, is being happy. It feels strange to contemplate the feeling without a stranger man by his side, or without looking over the dust, but while it is not happiness, he is happy. It feels so odd that he laughs a proper laugh that stretches muscles not used in near two years. He could, he realises, stay here for the rest of his life and be, on the whole, content. Not perfect, Sherlock would have to be there for that to happen, but content.

After, he stays to help clear up, because that is the kind of person he is.

"Nice to see life in the old place again," Ben, who is the caretaker says. He leans on his broom and John turns from putting paper plates into black bin bags to face him. "Nah, not how you're thinking Doctor Watson, not like the Brownies on the Tuesdays or the kids at the pool table every night they can, but proper laughter. People happy here." He bends down to use the dust pan and then back up with a click of the back that has John wincing. "I saw you laughing. The first time I've ever seen you laugh." He points with the dustpan, miraculously not getting the debris over his clothes. "Are you happy, Doctor? Because every time that you laughed this evening, you kept looking over your shoulder, like you expected someone to be there that you could share it with." Ben empties the dustpan into the bin bag and stands up stooping and tall. His skin is the same colour as the old wood block floor. Here they are, two men in a sagging hall. Ben looks across the suddenly great expanse of swept floor with eyes more knowing and more kind that John's own father's had been.

"I'm as happy as I can be," he allows, and ties off the bin bag.

"That's good," Ben smiles at him and shows tobacco-stained teeth. "That is good. You go home, young man, I'll finish up here."

"Merry Christmas," John says as he does up his jacket in the doorway, before going out into the cold night.

"Merry Christmas," Ben says in return, raising a hand from his broom before continuing to sweep, humming the melody of Good King Wenceslas out of tune through the gaps in his teeth.

When he gets back, he hangs up his jacket on the stair post and creeps into his own house. Wiggins is still here, at the very tail end of the course of anti-biotics. She is stubborn, and is sitting queen like on the sofa, surrounded by the luxuries of a settled life- box of tissues, clean blankets, television. Not the original one, that one had been stolen and then sold only a month after he had moved in. This one he had gotten cheap from eBay. It is quite nice to have company again. Living in the army and then with Sherlock has made him at his most comfortable when co-habiting, when there is someone to watch his back.

"You've been entertaining again I see," he says as he goes into the living room after a trip for the kitchen for dinner.

"Mmm," she says, turning to face him. She's looking at paper on her lap, going over it word by word, carefully. The entire Network is literate, but John thinks that Wiggins has been on the streets since a young age, and so wordy things can be a challenge. She likes the stories on the radio, and for the past two weeks, the kitchen radio and the one in his bedroom has been constantly tuned to Radio Four Extra. He doesn't mind. It reminds him of the 6:30 comedy on regular Radio Four. Most of them are funny, but a few aren't. "Oh yes." She looks up. Her hair is the tidiest he's ever seen it. Obviously she's feeling better. "Sigerson popped over, he had some information for us."

"How is he?" John settles into the armchair with his bowl of stir-fry, the man coming before the information, as it always does with him. Sherlock had complained about that, but he had retorted that if he didn't want a trained doctor to come along, then John didn't have to come. That had been one of their worst fights.

"I am frustrated with him." Wiggins chews on the end of a pencil and studiously underlines a phrase before coping it out into a notebook balanced on the arm of the sofa. "He is not like most of us, who have nowhere else to go. He has people who would welcome him with open arms, if only he would go and see them." This is the most emotive he has ever seen her. Something about Sigerson gets her in a knot.

"Does he have a good reason?" John asks around a mouthful of noodles. Sigerson is the first person aside from the smaller members of the Network that he has ever seen her care for in any way aside from 'oh, you're there, I need to keep an eye on you'.

"The best reason," she admits and coughs. She takes a gulp of water. "That's the problem. He's so damn noble. Like a fairy story. We're scared Doctor Watson…"

"John," he insists for what feels like the thousandth time in these past few weeks.

"…Doctor Watson" she continues stubbornly, like always. "You have to be clean to be in the Network, that's the oldest rule, but they're offering good money, real money to test this new stuff and it's tempting."

"Sergeant Morstan is working on it. Narcotics are involved now, I have to give a statement in a couple of weeks." He finishes the bowl and washes it up under the hot running water.

"Doc! Your hands!" Wiggins is behind him, trailing blankets. She winces as she turns off the tap, the metal hot from channelling the water and then grabs his hands. He looks down, and the skin is that edging red pink like the sunset clouds. "Here." She turns the tap back on, cool water running in a thin trickle that bubbles bright in the winter kitchen. "You gotta be careful of your hands. They're your livelihood. How are you supposed to bandage me up or take down those that need taking down if your hands are burnt?"

Her hands cradle his in the stream of water, tan interwoven from two different continents . "I don't notice. I never notice heat. Or much pain. I've felt worse". He chuckles, the last of the evening's good humour evaporating with the heat from his hands. "Cold mind you…" He takes his hands out of hers and turns off the tap. The skin's just red, not proper burns. John doubts that it's even first degree. Just a scald. "I have work to do. I'll be in the study," John tosses over his shoulder as he climbs the stairs, the creaking like a rocking ship. Pirates, his mind suddenly tosses up like the ocean. Sherlock wanted to be a pirate. It's a funny image, a young boy, around five with wild curls, a wooden cutlass and a tri-cornered hat in school uniform, knees muddy. It hangs in Sandon Hall, the Holmes family home, in an out of the way corridor. He's seen it.

Later he rises from the chair at his desk, and goes into the spare room and the camp bed he is sleeping on while Wiggins is in his bed. The room is full of boxes of Sherlock, the man's life compartmentalised in a way that the real man never was. Sherlock was mad jumps of logic, not cardboard cubicles of divided knowledge. He gets ready for bed and switches off the light, plunging the room into memory suffused darkness. As he does so, he realises Wiggins never answered his question about Sigerson.

Chapter Text

"Mrs Jenkinson, there is nothing wrong with your liver. The blood tests came back completely clear, you are fit and well." John leans forward slightly to look at her as if by staring the information will stick permanently in her mind.

"But I looked up the symptoms online and it all fits." Mrs Jenkinson looks honestly confused that nothing is wrong with her and completely earnest, just like she has the previous times she's come in to the surgery with a complaint that turns out to be her imagination. But still, they have to see her each time because of the dreaded what if?

"There is nothing wrong." John can feel the already tight edges of his temper starting to fray. He keeps it in check, and as he can recall only a few people have been on the line when he was in a rage, and that was three bored nineteen year old lads who had been stationed with him and had endangered the entire camp with their antics. That time he had swung between the hard controlled ice and the raging fire of pure anger. He was told after that he had been more terrifying than the base commander of the time, who had had a reputation for tearing people to shreds. At the moment, it is only the small fraying edges that are coming loose. It's not really her fault.

"I'm sorry for snapping, Mrs Jenkinson, but I have an appointment I have to be at in half an hour that's in the city, so I really do have to get going." John starts writing up the notes of the appointment as she gathers her bag, bending like a pecking bird to pick up her jacket, and then again to pick up her scarf. She is the most meticulous woman John has ever met, a true nitpicker, and yet with some things she nitpicks too much.

"Well, thank you for your time, Doctor Watson." She has a funny way of shaping her vowels, almost the round extended sounds of a Welsh accent and she leaves, touching the door handle for the least amount of time possible. Over the swish of the door on the hallway carpet he can just hear the squirk of the handbag sized bottle of alcohol gel for hand sanitation.

He tidies up as slowly as he can while still giving himself enough time to get to New Scotland Yard.

"Look," he says to Mira as he is shrugging his left arm into his jacket. It's feeling stiff, but that's just the cold. "Next time Mrs Jenkinson comes in, give her to someone else. Please?"

Mira raises one finely shaped eyebrow. She's improving on the whole eyebrow-showing-disapproval thing; this time last year she couldn't do it without smirking or giggling. "That is most unlike you, Doctor Watson. Are you ill?"

"Nope. Just on my way to a place where the chances of seeing people who I really don't want to see rise substantially." He pulls a 'blah' face. He has butterflies of the type he hasn't had in years.

This is what's happening. Narcotics are suspicious. They want to know how an 'ordinary citizen' knows as much as John does about the current situation with the runners. Sergeant Morstan's assurances aren't enough, so he's been called in for questioning. It's not like he's not used to this, giving a statement about a case, and really, this is just another case.

He needs to come across right. He must be just 'Johnny bystander with a way of being in the right place at the right time'. He can't get in trouble. He has people depending on him. He puts a bit of extra weight on the cane to play up the limp slightly and carries the files with copies of information from the Network under his other arm and his bag as well, being sure to wince occasionally as he is jostled as he is guided up the floors. Overall, the image is that of 'harmless' and 'not worth paying attention to'. As Sherlock told him, the art to disguise is hiding in plain sight.

Sergeant Morstan has driven him here in a panda car and it's clear that she is just about as clueless as he is as to where everything is located. To be fair, he's probably been here more often that she has in the last few years. They head towards the floor plan by the lift, and stand looking at it for a minute, puzzling out the directions and the fact that the departments are listed floor by floor, not alphabetically, which would be far more helpful.

"Fourth floor," Mary points out, tapping the board with one short fingernail. They press the button for the lift, and wait as it comes up from the basement.

The paint inside is fading and there is a mirror along the back wall in an attempt to make the small metal box seem more spacious. It is empty, aside from one Gregory Lestrade.

Lestrade is still a DI, due to Mycroft's intervention. He stepped in to keep the man his job, but nothing can make up for respect lost, or the whispers that fan out from your back like the wake of a boat.

Lestrade looks tired, the kind of bone deep exhaustion that sits in your soul and colours your life in a haze of monochrome. It's not depression, but something similar, a close cousin. The only cure that John has ever found for it is a holiday somewhere new and different, with more sun. The old Victorian cure of 'rest in the country' is occasionally still useful.

The expression on his face when he sees John beside Mary is almost heartbreaking. He looks shocked, and does a peculiar kind of flinch back. "John, Doctor Watson," he says, as if he's not sure about his right to still call John by his first name.

Johns steps into the lift, cane going 'tap' on the flooring. "Greg," he nods, giving tacit permission. "I would shake your hand but…" He shrugs, being careful not to dislodge the folders.

"Oh, for goodness sakes." Mary forcefully takes the folders out from under his arm. "Shake hands and make up like big boys. Honestly."

John puts his doctor's bag down. They shake hands and stand in a reasonably awkward silence until the lift goes 'ding' to announce they're on the right floor.

Before all of this, before the shadow that was Sherlock's death and the resulting shame of his name being smeared in the papers, he and Greg had been quite good mates and had often gone out for a pint and to watch the football, or rugby, depending on who's sport was being shown that night. After, John just found it easier to cut himself off and start again, with the exception of Mrs Hudson, who had managed to insert herself at the dinner table of his new life through sheer force of will.

"So what brings you back to the mad house, John? Unless…" Lestrade continues. "You're, the source that has narcotics up in arms about this new ring. Hah," he leans back on his heels slightly, an old habit, and puts his hands back in his pockets.

"It's not new." John shakes his head. "New management of an old operation. They couldn't build from the ground up. Anyway, I'm not the source. I'm just the one who knows how to sort out all the information."

"You're the contact point for Sherlock's Network. Don't look at me like that. I'm a detective for a reason." Lestrade looks at him hard. "Well, at least you kept yourself busy. And what, they don't trust you?"

"Apparently, they want to ask me about my connections to the ring. It's not questioning per se, just a 'friendly chat'." John's face shows exactly what he thinks of that.

"You're going to be dragged over the coals, mate. That's just the polite way of saying 'get your arse in here 'cause you're a suspect'."

"Great. I don't have time for that."

"You're going to have to make time. They won't let go of you easily."

"They're going to have to," John says grimly. "I give it a minimum of two hours before someone calls me." Behind them John hears Mary swallow a snicker.

"We've already been gone half an hour," she points out. "My god, John, how do you carry all this stuff? These files weigh a ton."

"Oh, hour and a half then, and training," John shoots back of his shoulder and then stops in front of the double doors that have 'Narcotics' written on the wall that is a colour that used to be white.

"Look, I've got a bit further to go, but meet you for a pint sometime?" Lestrade looks hopeful, and doesn't look like a kicked puppy, but something tells John that he is expecting rejection.

"I can't. I'm on regular night duty for the next few weeks."

"Nah, that's fine." Lestrade shrugs and turns away down the corridor.

"Greg, that's not a no. A pint would be great sometime, but not this month. Text me and we'll arrange something." John smiles at him. He was disappointed in Greg for a while and angry, but all of it seems to have been lost in the knuckle-down hurry that is has been his life in the past year and a bit. He was just doing his job. In the end, Greg had less of a choice than Sherlock had on that roof.

The inside of Narcotics is much the same as the inside of Homicide. Same grey walls and grey-blue carpet, the same layout. Different photographs line the walls though and information boards hold facts about the drugs they are looking for and symptoms of someone on a high as well as maps of areas with the most links to the drugs trade. The docks are in bright red, and it all filters out after that across the badly printed map.

"Mr Watson?" The man approaching him is taller than him, much taller, and well-muscled. This man, John realises, has been specifically chosen to try and intimidate him as much as possible. Well ha. Good luck with that. "I'm Detective Inspector Armstrong. If you would follow me. Sergeant Morstan," he sneers down at Mary. "You're dismissed."

Mary makes sure that Armstrong can't see her face and then twists it in to a mimicked sneer. John keeps a straight face as she leaves, unceremoniously handing the files over to Armstrong on her way.

Armstrong turns, expecting John to follow and John does because he's curious as to how this is going to progress. The whole 'intimidation' thing that Armstrong's putting out would probably work on someone who hasn't lived John's life. But as it is, what with John's father and the army and then working with both Holmes brothers with varying levels of reluctance depending on the case Mycroft would hand them, it's putting John at ease. This man is a bug compared to them. John looks forward to wiping the windscreen of him once he's gone splat.

Armstrong holds open the door to one of the bland rooms with the one way mirrors and gestures John through. He moves quickly without dropping the limp and sits in the chair on the other side of the table, the one facing the door and the one Armstrong would have preferred to sit in. Now John has the power in the room, the angle of the chair and the table making it seem far more like this is John's office than the other way around.

"It's Doctor, Watson" he says, dropping the act a little, but keeping his face pleasant. Armstrong is older than Lestrade, Lestrade being six years older than John, and he knows that Lestrade has already been passed over once for promotion, beaten by a man called Gregson to the DCI spot. A man Armstrong's age and still a DI, passed over at least twice. A bitter man then.

"Doctor Watson then," Armstrong agrees flippantly, like he really doesn't care, except there is something suspicious in his eyes, as if he thinks that John is shoving it in his face, showing him up.

"I want to talk to my solicitor," John says under his breath.

"What?" Armstrong looks up at him from the file open on the table. It shows a picture of him taken by- he recognises that one, it's still on the military ID in his pocket. His last army ID photo, him nearly scowling at the camera because at that moment he had had seven patients for six beds and he'd really need to get back. The sun in his eyes hadn't helped either.

"Isn't that what they always say in the shows? I want to talk to my solicitor?"

"Those shows are complete bollocks." He scowls at the paper. He seems to do that a lot, scowling. "How many times have you been arrested? Here it says four and then someone has added in pencil 'ish'. How can you be arrested 'fourish' times?" He looks like thinking is a real chore, but John once knew a man, a sniper, who had had that same look and he could be cruelly clever sometimes.

For the first time, John considers that this could be fun. He's been so caught up in protecting everyone else that he's forgotten he's done this before, both in the army, and with the master of tangential diversions, Sherlock. They used to make a sport of it if the police had budged in on their case instead of the other, usual way around. How many ways to confuse the rookie? How many times can you make Donovan blush? How many times can we tie them in knots by completing each other's sentences? They had had a tally sheet pinned on the fridge, and were careful to update it if they were due another 'drugs bust'. It had had explosive consequences, literally, when Sally Donovan had discovered it and in her haste to confront them, knocked over half the chemistry set on the kitchen table.

"It depends on what you mean by arrest," John says, channelling Sherlock's 'honestly, keep up you fool' looks as hard as he is able. "Do you mean actual charges or 'For Christ's sake, just handcuff them in the corner so that they'll stay still for half an hour'?"

"Actual charges. The first one, 29th of October 2000, Drunk and disorderly."

John thinks back, and just about remembers. "I was twenty six, and on leave with a few of the lads from the Fifth and we met up with my sister, so it's understandable really."

"And the ASBO?"

Oh god, the ASBO. "What ASBO?" John says as innocently as he is able. "Because that was dropped before it was sent to court."

Armstrong grunts. "Punching the superintendent?"

John straightens in the chair and sets his mind firmly in the here and now. "I'd had a bad few days and he called my friend a weirdo."

"Huh," Armstrong goes, and John thinks he must have had more than a few snickers over his name and appropriate physique. "There's no paper work for that one."

"Ah" John goes and feels the cold and warming bite of metal around his wrist and a long-fingered hand in his. "While they managed to get the handcuffs on, they never managed to get me to the station to fill in the forms. I taken hostage, and in the..." here John chooses his words very carefully. Armstrong is watching him, waiting for just one slip up. " that followed, it was forgotten about."

"You punched the superintendent. You broke his nose." Armstrong says, more than a little incredulously. "You don't get away with that sort of thing; he's a rat bastard of a man with the memory of an elephant." He leers at John. "Just my kind of man." God, Armstrong is reminding John more of Colonel Moran by the second. When that man had been dishonourably discharged for things that didn't bear thinking about, the camp had thrown a party. Unlike Moran though, Armstrong is in no way charming.

"I didn't break his nose," John says, somewhat wistfully. "Even though I wanted to. I pulled the punch. If I had broken his nose, then I would have felt the cartilage give." He can still remember the red haze of anger at the gluttonous man's words, the swing of his arm, the pain in his fist at the contact and the crimson of blood on contact with air. The knowledge that being slammed into the car and cuffed to Sherlock was worth it.

"And this last one, Manslaughter. The charges were dropped, but you didn't deny them."

"Bit hard to, with half a dozen witnesses," John says mildly.

"And yet, the charges were still dropped?" Armstrong, John realises, despite his age and experience in the police force lives in a relatively simplistic world where things go the police's (his) way.

"Yes," John says simply.

"Are you going to elaborate on that?" Armstrong leans forward, still trying to intimidate him.

"No," John says, just as shortly and inside he smirks. Fun is the right word.

"And the other times?" Armstrong looks back of the front page of the file tapping at the 'ish'.

"They weren't official. I thought that you wanted to discuss the drug supply that's been getting in?"

"Yes." Armstrong closes his file. "You know a suspicious amount for a man who claims to be innocent of dealing. You're a doctor, that would be a handy cover, wouldn't it?" He is almost musing. "What happens, they come in saying 'oh Doctor I need some of X' and there you are happily prescribing it to them?" He raises an eyebrow at him expectantly.

John takes a second to process that level of insult, going still and quiet in a way that had made his medics freeze too and then very carefully back away in an attempt to not be there when things got cold, or used to make Sherlock turn away and then smirk as John tore the latest idiot to pieces. They used to take turns at that, the dismissing of the idiot. This level of calm is the calm of the hunter, of the predator waiting for the opportune moment. John has never met another man who can do it as well as himself.

"Be very careful Detective Inspector." And all John's men would be wincing, because he only used full titles when he was very angry. "I am a doctor. I do not prescribe or supply any drugs without due medical reason. I will say that once and not again." He keeps his voice level and placid and his face hard. Detective Inspector Armstrong, meet Captain Watson, the man who has told Generals 'with all due respect sir, sod off, I'm busy' within the ear shot of both Tony Blair when he was the Prime Minister and on a separate occasion, President Obama.

There are several ways to truly insult John. Doubting his integrity as a physician is at the very top of the list. Armstrong looks at him. John looks back, eyes hard. The larger man is pissed now; John can tell that he has just made the closest thing to a mistake so far. Armstrong was trying to pin this on him anyway, now he'll just be even more determined.

"Okay then John..." Armstrong is trying to belittle him. Have the past few minutes taught the man nothing? That kind of thing doesn't work on John.

"Doctor Watson," John insists again. He's going to be treated with some respect at least. He knows half the people here in this building think him a deluded idiot and a fool, but he is a titled fool, and they know it, and he's going to insist on it.

"Doctor Watson," Armstrong continues almost snidely. What happens over the next hour is a grilling from one side and many, many carefully worded responses from John's side. He's being careful; people's safety depends on how well he speaks. Most of the Homeless Network scattered across the city don't want to be known. They go over every piece of information that he's brought them. He puts up with insults aimed at a dead man's memory, the names the man calls the members of the Network. When his phone goes it's a relief.

"Doctor Watson," he answers, not recognising the number, which likely means that it's someone wanting a visit that's too urgent to go to the surgery for. This is why he brought his bag. Sometimes, in the rare moments of humorous thought, he thinks he should get business cards: Dr John Watson, 24/7 free emergency service.

"Why is your phone not turned off?" the large man asks, and stands to step round and take it off him. John finishes the call, jotting down the address on a torn piece of paper from his small pocket notebook.

"I never turn my phone off," John replies and stands. "If you'll excuse me, one my patients has had a seizure and I need to go."

"They can call an ambulance," Armstrong growls, losing his barely there in the first place patience and looming over John as he bends to pick up the bag.

"And sit in an overcrowded bay for four hours. I don't think so," he scoffs and stands up tall, shoulder squared and looks Armstrong directly in the eye. He's out stared Generals, both Holmes brothers' and his father. Armstrong is nothing in comparison. "I took an oath to treat everybody as best I can. That comes first." John keeps staring at him. "So unless I'm under arrest...?" He marches out of the small room, the cane accentuating the beat of his steps, like a metronome, or a conductor's baton.

"I asked my brother about you." Armstrong leans against the door jamb, arms crossed in front of his chest to make his biceps bulge slightly. "My half- brother. He used to be in the army, so when I was told I was going to interview you, I asked him. Do you know what he said?"

"No." John turns and stays very still, waiting in the corridor.

"He said 'Johnny Watson? You could crush him Dave. A waste of a man."

"Huh," John says. "His name?"

"Sebastian Moran. Colonel Sebastian Moran."

"I remember him. He was the one dishonourably discharged for the rape of both civilians and military personnel, wasn't he?" John smirks up at the man. "I would know. I'm the one who they came to afterwards, and then I'm the one who reported him." It's turned in to a battle of wills, the first one to look away, the first to give in.

"He also said 'get him Dave. Pin everything you can on him'. So, Doctor Watson." Armstrong's voice is mocking as he stalks towards him, looking more like his half-brother every second. John holds his ground. "Every little thing I can, I'm getting on you. For my baby brother."

"Detective Inspector," John says, even as Armstrong pushes his face right near John's. "You can try. But go and ask your baby brother about me again. Read my file, instead of just finding the bits you tried to belittle me with, the bits that you have the clearance for, anyway. And then see where you get."

A man who is not powerful on official paper, but is ridiculously so on unofficial paper, sits at the desk in his second office. He is turning over and over in his hand a phone.

From the looks of it, it's not that special, this phone. An iPhone 4S, a bit scratched up, nothing unique, or life changing. Except on the phone is a thirteen minute recording of events that happened over a year and a half ago now. The recording is thrilling and terrifying by turns, just three men talking and one gunshot.

The man presses a button, and speaks into a discreet microphone on the desk.

"Natalie, if you could come in here."

A woman with a name that changes by situation sashays into the room, glancing up from her phone to acknowledge him. "Sir?"

He looks up at her from where he is sitting and holds up the phone. "I think that it's time this made its way into the relevant people's hands. Arrange it please."

She doesn't take the phone off him. The file is also electronically stored; the phone is little more than a sentimental prop.

By three that afternoon, that same file is both in the inboxes of all major news outlets and the police, and also in hard copy on the desks of carefully chosen people.

By the morning, Sherlock's face is glaring at John from the covers of all the newspapers, and his voice is talking about word play and Moriarty is threatening and John's there, begging and Sherlock, Sherlock is there and then he's not. Sherlock is dead, like he has been for the past twenty months. Nothing, but nothing is going to change that.

Chapter Text

John is woken by the ringing of his phone five minutes before his alarm goes. Like always when he's woken like this the shrill ring shooting through his central auditory system, signalling shots of adrenaline, wake him up faster. He is alert within a second and answering the phone within three.


"Doctor Watson," Mira says down the phone, and she sounds panicked, reverting to Dari as she babbles to her family at the same time. In the background he can hear the rustle of paper. Her family runs the shop; around now is the time that they set out the day's newspapers. "It's the newspapers, you need to see them."

"I'll come over now." He stands and puts the phone on speaker, starting to dress quickly out of habit. Early morning calls are always the most urgent, the ones that just can't wait a few more hours for the surgery to open.

"No, don't," she says. "Uh." There is some muttering as she covers the phone with her hand. John pauses, cardigan in hand. "Just go on the website of The Sun. It will be there." Over the phone, Mira sounds regretful and it's the quietest he's ever heard her.

"Right." John takes the phone with him into the study, puts it on the pile of paper that means he has a desk under there, somewhere. No matter how hard he tries, when it comes to filing, he always seems to emulate Sherlock in the 'before tidying' phase.

"And don't look out the window."

John pauses, backtracks into his room and stands by the curtains. "Why shouldn't I look out the window?"

"John," Mira whispers into the phone.

"Tell me why Mira," he almost growls, going over the train of logic. Newspapers, a call before the shop opens, don't look out the window. "What's the headline?"

"Which one?" She sounds like she's almost crying; he hears her mother saying 'It's okay' and Mira insisting 'it's not'. She takes a deep breath. "Not So Fake, Hero Detective," she reads out loud in English. "Grimm Ending. That's just two."

John stands in front of the curtain, knowing what will be outside. The street will be covered in press, waiting to see him. He twitches the curtain aside and is practically blinded by the sudden flashes of the cameras. Recoiling fast, he sits back on his bed, fisting his hands in the sheets to prevent them from coming up to cover his face as his breath suddenly goes sharp and he swallows to avoid the really, honestly unnecessary grief. He sits there with his head tilted back, hands in the drab sheets looking at the drab ceiling in this drab house.

It's not fair. The deal he'd made with himself was no more crazy situations. He no longer has a partner in crime to get into them with. If he cannot protect his partner then he does not deserve them. Once more he is forced to creatively deal with the press for a reason that is not himself. The memories of dead men are far more potent.

There's no way that he's getting out the front without being seen and the back will be covered too.


John sits on the bed fully dressed and ready to go. There is the small matter of being trapped in the house, but now there's a plan in place to deal with that.

"Doc?" Sugar's muffled voice and a knocking comes from above him. "Doc?"

John stands and looks up at the ceiling. The loft hatch is shaking in a way it's not supposed to. Grabbing the elongating ladder he's unearthed from the under-the-stairs cupboard he clambers up, popping the hatch to one side as Sugar's head unfolds down like something out of a cheesy horror movie.

"Hello, Rebecca."

"It's Sugar, Doc, how many times do I have to tell you?" She grumbles as he slides down so that she can come down too.

"At least one more time."

"You're doing it just to wind me up."

"Guilty as charged." When he can, he likes teasing the younger people, they respond well and it helps them see him as person, not a man in a room who is only there for illness and painful vaccinations. He's worked hard to overcome Doctor Fryer's lax reputation and work and now it is easy to keep it up. "Now, your mother tells me you like playing pranks and you used to dress up all the time. This is what's happening..."

Montague Street is mostly terraced houses and No 15 is an end terrace. The really important thing is that they are old terrace houses and all share a loft space that runs the length of the row and is divided with curtains and boxes on the floor. The point is that you can go from No 15 to No 23 without setting one foot on the ground. That is what Sugar has just done to get here, and hopefully what he will be able to do to get out and then leg it along the back alleys to the surgery.

"So, what am I wearing?"

Sugar takes a deep breath and looks out of the peephole in the door. There are a lot of people, most holding cameras or microphones or those funny recording devices. She adjusts the flap cap that Doctor Watson had dug out of a box in the spare room. That room had been sad, and it's obvious that the boxes contain the belongings of Sherlock Holmes. She wonders what it must be like to have the material remains of a person in the room next to yours, to sleep there, because there was a camp bed in the corner that had looked regularly used.

Doctor Watson's clothes feel a bit funny on her, but this is going to be so cool, playing the biggest prank of her life. Her pocket buzzes once, the signal that the Doc is ready to go. She takes a breath. Opens the door.

Her first impression is of light flashing everywhere. She does as instructed, shields her eyes (and consequently face) from the glare and locks the door with the key he has given her. They are shouting at her 'Doctor Watson,' 'Doctor Watson, over here,' 'John,' and she keeps her back to them for just a second before she turns around. The ones closest to her get the sense something isn't right first and they shut up, spreading shocked and impatient silence like a ripple of air before a sonic boom.

"Hello," she says and takes the hat off as the flashes start up again. "No, I'm not Doctor Watson. Very Not Sorry to disappoint." She smirks at them and her stomach is twisting into knots, but good knots of excitement. Getting one over on everybody never gets old. She almost giggles at how captivated they are.

"You know." She twirls the cap on one finger and runs the other hand through short cut hair. It's not as ashy as Doctor Watson's but is similar to how she imagines his used to be, gold when not engine oily. "Doctor Watson did say a few things that I could tell you, and they most revolved around the theme of 'No comment' but I'm going to give you a different message of my own. Something from the whole community that all of you tasteless brutes are invading." A thought flicks into life like a spark plug. Doctor Watson has given her full reign over most of what she could say, as long as he has enough time to get away. He won't need that long; she's seen him running before, to that crash at the end of the street last year. For a short bloke he's fast.

"Though now you're here, do pop into the cafe, Sally Burnet could do with the money." She continues and pauses. "Oh yes, the message." Sugar narrows her eyes, sticks her hands in the pockets of the trousers. She can feel that they have a patch in the pocket and several other places have been darned. "Fuck off. Leave Doctor Watson alone." She shrugs, the shirt hanging off her shoulders a bit, the rolled up cuffs pushed up at the wrist where her hands are still in the pockets. "That's it really."

John sighs. It's been one of the longest days here, including the times he's gone from emergency call to emergency call to the surgery to another night of calls. But this is not the same type of exhaustion, this is visceral and affects him personally in a way that his art and science of medicine never does. He is running on empty in the same way that he was before, in the blank time, but now he has responsibilities and reasons to keep going.

This is not the practiced detachment that all good doctors learn. There is a reasons he is a very good doctor and his ability to separate himself from the more difficult situations and do his job is one of them along with the fact that he is, well not in comparison to the Holmes brothers or the reptile of Moriarty, very clever. He is versed in Medical Practice and that kind of knowledge is not something that can be put in anybody. It takes a special kind of person to become a doctor, clever and compassionate, and he thinks that people are forgetting that now a days. He wished the crowd outside would just let him get on with it.

"That's the last of them, Doctor Watson." Frenchie sticks his head round the corner of the door. It's pure dumb luck that the lad is on leave at the same time as this mess. He's been more than happy to put on the fatigues, beret and boots that he'd thought that he had packed away for the two weeks and play bouncer for the door of the clinic, turning away reporters trying to sneak in. He seems to think that he owes John something for making him think about the army as a career and for sitting down and talking so honestly about his experiences as one of the few doctors on the Forward Operating Bases. As if John would do anything else. If someone is joining that kind of life because of him, he's damn well going to make sure that they are going in fully informed.

When he'd left for basic, he had been nineteen and looking for something bigger than himself. Now twenty and looking the best John has ever seen him, Frenchie, Christophe Lawrence, the son of the landlady at the Headless Mary, has been a guard dog with his tongue happily lolling all day, charming patients and turning away with a stony face the press.

"Thank you." John looks up from the pharmaceutical paperwork that he needs to fill in each night, document what he has used and what he needs to order. "You've been a great help." Frenchie says nothing, just nods and God is he a young fresh-faced cliché.

"I can be here again tomorrow. And until I have to go, but they should be gone by then and Sergeant Morstan's officers will be at your house and here tomorrow, even if you need to sneak out the attic again." Frenchie has plonked himself on the chairs that patients sit on by the desk and is earnestly looking at him. "And a few others from the Shiners are coming over tomorrow." John holds back a start at the sound of the regimental nickname. The Shiners are the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

For the past two years John has been continually grateful for the people of Montague Street. Now he is just as grateful for the brotherhood of his old rough tough home. These soldiers are giving up precious leave for him.

"That's really not necessary."

"Nah, we want to. We're a vain lot when we can be, gives us a chance to show off. And I've been boasting about Mum's pies, they all want some."

"Vicky's pies are worth boasting about," John agrees and shuffles all the correct paper into a file and clicks save on the computer screen. Many an evening he has texted her and asked her to keep a slice warm in the small kitchen behind the bar when he's tired. "Well, for your Mum then."

"And I've been telling them about you, they want to meet you. Some of them had stories. Something about three continents."

"Oh God," John groans. He knew that would come back to bite him the arse eventually. His escapades around Europe, Asia and Africa had given him a bit of a 'legend' status among the Fifth. It seems the stories of his time there have spread to all of the Regiment. He prays for salvation.

None comes. "Some of them are crazy." Frenchie looks at him really hard, like he's copying the stares of his Commanding Officers. John shows him how it's done, stares him down properly. Frenchie looks away and leans over, hands clasped together, beret twisted between them. "I didn't believe them at first because I thought that you had told me about a lot of that, when we had that chat before I enlisted. But then you go and look like that and you change and it's just believable. But still," Frenchie grins at him. "Delivering a baby. Really."

"By my count, I've delivered over twenty babies. The majority while I was in the army."

"And that thing with the cousins?"

Talk about a one eighty subject change. John fights the blush but he can still feel it on the tips of his ears. "That, Private, is none of your business."

"Yessir," Frenchie mumbles in one breath and jerks upright out of reflex. "These are for you. Mira sent them."

Its Rashida's turn at the front (uneven table in the waiting room corner) desk today, Mira having a day off to go on one of her rare approved instead of sneaking off in the lunch break dates with Michael. What she's sent is a copy of all the day's papers.

"Read this one. It's the best." Frenchie passes him The Guardian and stands up, snapping a salute which John uncomfortably accepts. "And Doc, I believe in Sherlock Holmes."

An article in the editorial section of The Guardian by Oliver Marshall:

The death of Sherlock Holmes two years ago was one that sent many of us reeling, wondering how a man who had climbed so high in public opinion could fall so far. The revelation of him as a fake, a fraud who had created the 'cases' that he solved made us sure that a brilliant strange man was merely a brilliant strange criminal.

So the documentation that turned up on my desk at three yesterday afternoon was something of a shock.

No, that's a lie. Not a shock. That it was there in the first place, yes, but its content no. After all, there has been a dedicated campaign on the internet and underground declaring 'I Believe in Sherlock Holmes' or 'Moriarty was Real'. I'm sure you've all seen it.

The documents in the folder were the kind of thing that it takes specialist resources to find. Birth and death certificates, official police records of investigations dating back fifty or more years, before the birth of Sherlock Holmes, highlighting the questions that several of the private clients that spoke out were asking. 'How could he arrange it before he was born?'

He couldn't is the simple answer and last week the police were handed conclusive proof that he didn't. Richard Brook, also known as Rich Brook, a word play on the name Reichenbach, the case that made Holmes' name, is an entirely fabricated man, and Jim Moriarty (Born October 31 st 1979 and christened James Arthur Moriarty to an Irish father and a mother from Brighton) was indeed real.

The press was on fire with the news. My phone was ringing off the hook as I was trying to write this article, many journalists for other news outlets calling each other as we tried to verify the things that have been handed us, almost on a silver platter.

I went to my editor when I was asked to write this editorial to ask primarily, why? He said to me, 'Oliver, I want you to write a story about the third man on that recording.'

The recording (available in full on the website) is a copy of a file found on Holmes' phone, found on the roof of St Bartholomew's Hospital along with the body of Jim Moriarty. On the phone was a recording of two conversations, totalling thirteen minutes that alternate between thrilling and horrifying. The first is between Holmes and Moriarty and includes Moriarty's roundabout confession of how he broke into the Tower of London, The Bank of England and Pentonville Prison before he moves on to threatening Holmes' friends if he doesn't commit suicide. It's a simple exchange. Holmes dies or they do. Moriarty goes as far to point out that Holmes 'dying in disgrace' is 'the entire point'. At one moment, it seems that Holmes is going to get out alive, and then Moriarty shoots himself in the head.

It is the second part, and the appearance of the third man on the recording that I'm really writing about. Sherlock Holmes calls John Watson on the same phone that has been recording all of this.

Much has been said about Dr John Watson, but little is truly known about him. He has been our main source of information about Holmes, and before Holmes' suicide, many people read his blog about their adventures and cases. However, one thing was apparent from both his blog and comments from those who knew them: their partnership was a truly magical thing to see, by all accounts one for the ages.

One of the reasons that I was asked to write this is that I've know John Watson for over six years now. I am a war reporter; another reason I was so surprised to be asked to write what is, for all intents and purposes, a human interests story. I have worked in Afghanistan, reporting on the military engagements there. That's where I met this man who has been completely loyal and, aside from one post the day after his death, silent on the subject of Sherlock Holmes.

It is not very well known despite several mentions in the press, that John Watson, for the majority of his adult life, was an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving as a doctor on the Forward Operating Bases in many places that the armed forces are currently engaged. I met him when he was saving the life of myself and my wife, who is a photographer, in Afghanistan. To this day he remains one of the most honourable men, one of the most deservedly decorated, and one of the best doctors I know. When he left the Army it lost a good man, a highly skilled man.

The conversation between the two men in the recording is one of the most heartbreaking that I have ever heard. Holmes is crying as he tries to convince Watson that he's a fake. Why, we can only guess at after the previous part of the recording, but I think that he was trying to spare his friend the pain that would follow. Watson refuses to believe him with his trademark steadfastness. A couple of minutes later the recording ends with a beep as the call ends with the words 'Goodbye John,' and an answering 'No, don't' from Watson. What happens next is a fall from several stories high that killed Holmes on contact with the ground.

The Captain John Watson that I knew was a slightly short man who had a face that could go from smiling to blank in less than a second, from just one of the servicemen and women with a higher ranking insignia to very obviously in command in the same amount of time. I've seen him save more lives than I can recall and the stories that have cropped up around some of the predicaments he's found himself in are only slightly more unbelievable than the truth. He ran the hospitals and infirmaries on the Bases he found himself on to the very best of his ability with resources that he had begged, borrowed and reassigned. He once said to me that the motto of the RAMC should not have been In Arduis Fidelis (Faithful in Adversity) but Vestibulum! (Improvise!)

He was a good man for a drink, knew how to make your hair curl with tales of antics that gave no regard for personal embarrassment and from what I can tell he is the same man, just older, wiser and more life beaten that he was before.

This revelation of the innocence of Sherlock Holmes makes the story surrounding him go from 'evil realising how terrible it was and killing itself' to plain tragedy. We, as a society, lost a great man when Holmes jumped. But what I think that we should do is spare a thought for the man, who in the spirit of true Britishness, has Kept Calm and Carried On.

Chapter Text

On the Blog of Doctor John H. Watson:

Opening up a newspaper to read a story that is something that you've dreaded and hoped for at the same time is a strange feeling. I'm not really sure what to say. On the one hand, I want to leave it alone, on the other, no one will let me.

This is the only thing that I am going to say on the subject:

Sherlock Holmes was, and is, the best friend I will ever have. He was never, aside from when trying to sham to get information, a fake for a single day of his life. I don't think that he could be bothered; when he was in the mood he could be a lazy prat.

I am both disgusted and overwhelmed by the response. To those that think the memory of a dead man who is better than you could ever hope to be is fair game for insults and ridicule, piss off. To those that have now changed sides instead of using your heads and thinking about how insubstantial 'Richard Brook's story was, take this as a lesson and do your bloody research next time. You're journalists. Act like it. To those that have always believed in Sherlock and respected my right to privacy while I was mourning his death, thank you.

Doctor John Watson

Oliver, that is my only public comment. You can publish it. I owe you a drink if we're starting the tally again for a different country. If we're not, you owe me three. (That jaunt in Nawa-i-Barakzayi, the time in Maiwand and that really crazy night in Kabul where I still swear that you came back with a pair of pants that weren't yours. I'm knocking off Chaghcharan- you know the time I mean).


Sometimes Mira thinks that Doctor Watson is the saddest, loneliest man in the world. He has been here on Montague Street for almost three years now, picked up a shattering community and used parts of himself to patch it back together. She can see his skin on the spray painted roads, his tendons hold up the building she is in now, but never has she ever seen his heartstrings. She suspects that that they are the one part of himself that he has kept wrapped up and separate, within the shortbread box that she has only seen once.

There are the times like now. He's just come into the surgery by the back door, rubbing his hands over his face and collapsing legs sprawled out, and head leant back over the back of the chair in the tatty room that counts as the staff lounge. She starts towards him, but stops when he speaks but doesn't move.

"Five minutes. Please."

Oh. Of course. Today is the fifth of June. Not much of it is left. It's just past nine in the evening and Doctor Boldy-Cruz has finished the last appointment and gone home. Doctor Watson has just come back from the Chambers' after an emergency call out there at five this morning, and again an hour and a half ago. The middle child, Anthony, has Cystic Fibrosis and recently it has drastically worsened.

"Oh." She brings her hands up to her mouth and tears well as she realises what must have just happened. "How long ago?"

"Half an hour." He's up on his feet, pacing in a way that she has never seen. He is usually such a still man. "I thought I'd left that behind." He leans over the metal sink by the cupboards and the kettle. "Watching children die. But at least it was peaceful."

She hates to ask, yet for some reason, she still does. "Peaceful?"

"Just dreaming. He slept and then, stopped. No blood. No screams. I'd almost forgotten the death of a child could be like that." He turns and sags, and then all the tension returns and he becomes just as manic as before, circles the small room with the faded peach walls and low chairs of the type that she remembers being in the staff room at primary school on those few special occasions she was asked to take something there.

"Is that what you saw?" Mira asks him, reverting to their old worn lingual habit, speaking a tongue made of mountains, dust and sand. "There? Children dying, blown up?" Is that the normal for him? That this boy dying peacefully is for him an anomaly is almost repulsive.

"No!" Doctor Watson turns to face her suddenly, fixes her with everything that he has. "No. That was something that happened rarely. It was beautiful there mostly."

"Beautiful?" How can blood and death be beautiful? The gold bridal jewellery that she hopes to wear herself is beautiful; the prayer rugs that her fathers and brothers use are beautiful. The descriptions of the sky and stars that she has only seen in pictures are beautiful.

"Not that." Finally, he sits down, less manic and in what she, in the private depths of her mind calls the 'calm down and teach mode'. "But the silhouette of the mountains against the sun set, that was beautiful. The almond trees in blossom. Despite what they meant, the poppy fields in full flower, the doves taking flight, even when they left a mess behind. Minarets when the sun hit, even if most of them were partly rubble. When I think of the many places I have been in this world, and I've been to lots, Afghanistan is one of my favourites."

"What's your favourite place in the whole world?" Mira's not sure what makes her ask the question, maybe the surety of knowledge that tells her that if she doesn't distract him he will go back to the pacing with the darkness in his eyes.

His face closes off from the soft memories it had been open to seconds ago. "The right hand side of a dead man."

For the second time that night, Mira is shocked to tears that she refuses to let fall. Doctor Watson is already sad enough, he doesn't need to carry her pain too, because he would, and gladly, she is sure of it. He really is, even after everything that he has done for them, even after the things they have done for him, the loneliest and saddest of men.

"But there's no use going after things that can't be."

Doctor Watson bows his head for a second and then stands, heading towards the mugs that litter the draining board. Just as she tries to say, "No, I can do that," his phone goes.

"Greg?" he says after glancing at the screen as he brought it to his ear. The handsome detective inspector with the silver hair. Vicky Lawrence fancies him. Actually, the majority of the elder ladies blush when he talks to them at the meals at Doctor Watson's or at the pub in the seven months since the two men have started talking again. He's often around. She doesn't blame them. He is a bit, what's that phrase that Rashida used? Yummy.

Doctor Watson listens very still and pales white. "They can't," he says, voice on a live wire. "Greg, they can't. No, you don't understand, my licence is all I have left. Take that away and I have nothing." His voice softens abruptly and he leans against the sink, head bowed. He looks the closest to cracking that she has ever seen him, even when she saw him crying after that letter, even more so than a few minutes ago, coming in after Tony Chambers' death. He sounds scared, a sort of soul-shattering fear. "I can't do that again. It nearly killed me the first time; I won't go back to that. Fine? Hah." The laugh is bitter and not even a laugh, just a sound that should expand in the air like one, but doesn't. "Greg, I was a cripple with a gun and a medical degree and nothing else." Mira wonders if that is meant how it sounds. "How long until they're here?"

He hangs up seconds later, stares at the phone in his hand as if measuring its weight and worth. In a burst of movement sudden and strong he throws it at the opposite wall with a roar of no words, just desperation and anger.

She screams. She doesn't know this man, angry and on the verge of being lost. He turns to and snaps back into being Doctor Watson so swiftly that it's more frightening because it's just one fluid slide.

"I'm sorry. Oh God, Mira, afsos mekonam." He stands before her all still again, moving slowly so that she can see every move before it happens. Once he sees that she has calmed even slightly he is all action again, but cool and purposeful, not the caged desperation of minutes ago. He changes so fast sometimes. He crouches down among the shards of his phone, picks up the SIM card and places it in her hands, closing her fingers around it like those flowers that open in the night and close in the day.

"I need you to take care of this." He looks her straight in the eye, bringing his face down just a bit to her level, checks over his shoulder at the back door, as if by looking through the wood to the brick of the other wall of the narrow alleyway, he can tell what is coming. Then back to her. "In a minute DI Armstrong, the brute that has been sniffing around is going to come bursting though there with a load of lackeys. They're going to trash this place, especially my office. Mira." She looks at him properly, notes the calm in his eyes. He knows exactly what is going to happen to him. "I need you to get out of here. After they're gone you have to insert that in a phone and call Mycroft Holmes. Can you do that?"

She nods, takes a deep breath, nods again processing this. She needs to be brave like Grandfather, Padar-kalaan, was when the Soviets came and her family had to leave. He had carried messages. Now it's her turn. "I can do it."

"Good. The pass code is 0601. Got it?" He believes in her, she realises. John Watson may be the saddest, loneliest man in the world, but he is a great believer in people. He puts his faith in them.

"0601," she repeats and wonders how many times he has been failed, if that's one of the reasons why he is, well, himself. She is determined not to add to that list. Slipping the small piece of metal and plastic into the underside of her plait, tucked under the elastic band holding it together she goes to pack up her stuff. Doctor Watson may be able to let his few belongings be destroyed by what are likely to be thugs if they are under the command of Armstrong, the Bug Brute, but the things that she's tucked in the drawer, the photographs belonging to both her and Rashida stuck and re-stuck with drying blue-tack to the monitor of the computer at the front desk are not being touched.

"Don't worry."

"By Allah," Mira gasps and turns around. Doctor Watson is behind her, sitting in one of the chairs in the waiting room doing just that.

"Most of their evidence against me is invalid. I know too much and they want me out of the way. This is convenient for them, puts me out of commission for a few days, and if they're lucky, stops me practicing medicine."


"Biased. Hanging on the fact that Sherlock was a fraud. And the sort of things that he used to keep in the flat. Won't work unless they play their cards very carefully." Doctor Watson has never mentioned the man so casually before. If he ever has, it is always 'a very dear friend' or a 'very good friend' or even 'my best friend' in the present tense, always. "It's also personal. His brother has a rather large grudge against me. He wants revenge." Doctor Watson softens abruptly, weary, face lined like the maps of mountain ranges that she used to see in geography before she dropped it for history. He is old, she realises. Not old old, he's forty-one, but old enough to have a family of his own, a teenaged kid.

Fragile, Mira realises. Not the kind of fragile that they put warnings on packing boxes for, or the kind of fragile that makes you cradle small glass figures in the cup of your palm, but fragile in the way that could break him, if he lets it. He is so close to letting it. She doesn't want to leave him alone.

"Am I Judas?" she whispers into the fragile vacuum between them. It had been her first Easter at primary school when she had first heard that story, but only years later that she had truly understood it, asking her mum when things in the Koran conflicted with what she was hearing at school.

Her mum had explained that they believed different things; that the story was the same but the ideas were different. Mira remembers The Garden of Gethsemane well because she has always liked stories with characters that are pushed to the limit and balance there, stay true to themselves. The Right and not the Easy, the True and not the Lies. Doctor Watson is a study in this kind of personal strength. He reminds her of story books and that, she thinks, is one of the reasons she likes him so much.

"Betrayal? No, not at all. How is it betrayal if I'm telling you to go?" He looks at her, so placid it's unreal.

"Should I go out the back or front?"

"Front," Doctor Watson says. "Like it's a normal evening."

"If I go out the back I can collect the picture on your desk."

He cracks. Not obviously, but small lines riddle his eyes like they will in the glass of the frame by the end of the night if it stays there.

The picture is a superb example of 'in the moment, no planning' photography. It's good quality, taken by one of the evidence collectors at a crime scene; the flashing lights cast everything blue and red in the background. Doctor Watson is there, looking slightly up at another man, smile across his face, light racing in his eyes, looking so much younger, so much more alive .The other man can only be Sherlock Holmes, but different to how she remembers him, first the strange man who lived in the ghost house, then as someone who had found her mum's gold bridal jewellery stolen from their car for the price of a meal and then as an aristocratic man who sneered uncomfortably from newspaper pages in the morning. This Sherlock Holmes has a slight flush on his cheeks from exertion, some kind of glimmer in his eye that could, just possibly, be a smile. He is laughing. So is Doctor Watson. In this picture, the captured moment, they are laughing together and neither care for anything but the other. Mira imagines it torn in two, into more pieces, as it surely will be if it is left.

"Leave it."

"John." There is a pattern, she realises. She only calls him by his first name if things are bad.

"I know, Mira." There it is: resignation. "I know. You need to go now."

"It will take thirty seconds..." she protests.

"Now." He sharpens his voice, stands at the same time. "Go."

Mira leaves.

She doesn't go very far. Ten metres away on the other side of the road she puts her bag down on knee high wall and ducks into the shadows where the sun is setting behind the houses. She feels like one of the heroines in the movies that Michael likes, the old ones called the femme fatales. The fact that she can see through the windows is just coincidental.

So she watches as they throw the door back with too much force, as Doctor Watson stands to greet them like a man who is waiting calmly for the world to end, as he spreads his arms and Armstrong cuffs him, slipping once, twice and kneeing him in the stomach and Doctor Watson just takes it, lets them, as they start to split the cushions on the chairs in search of non-existent drugs. This is a move in a game she doesn't understand, someone's vendetta against the best man she knows. A fundamentally good man, even if he has- by his own confession after that brilliant article in the Guardian- stolen, even if they have seen him kill with the ease of one used to doing so. What can he have done to upset them so much? And who the hell has so much power over the police?

Power. The umbrella man. Mycroft Holmes. The strange, posh man who seems to control the CCTV and shows up now and again to be ignored by Doctor Watson. She doesn't like him because Doctor Watson doesn't seem to. Why, she doesn't know- if he's Sherlock Holmes' brother then surely Doctor Watson would be happy to see him, like she would be to see Michael's sister if he, Allah forbid, died. He certainly likes Mrs Holmes, a white haired woman who comes and drags Doctor Watson out to lunch at ridiculously posh places like the Ritz just to see him squirm and then tells him stories about, well, Mira doesn't know what, but does know that he smiles small and real when he comes back.

She picks at the back cover of her phone, gets it off, swaps out the SIMs, starts the phone up again, enters 0601 and finally gets the contacts up.

It's his second time in a prison cell. He's been in interrogation rooms on both sides of the table, but this is white painted, bars on the small window, heavy door; a proper cell. The last time (aside from when he was in one: that time in 1996) he'd seen one of these was Sherlock's description of the former occupants after getting him out, in the cab on the way home. Now he's the one inside and he's going to have to rely on Mycroft –Mycroft- to get him out.

That is all secondary. What is going through his mind, twisting like snare wire is the fact that this could mean the loss of his medical licence. Again and again he reminds himself of the fact that if he loses that, all he has are the possessions of two dead men. Because when he spoke that oath at graduation he became the man he had been building all though medical school. If they take that away from him, if they take Doctor like they took Captain, like they took Best Friend then who the hell is he?

He doesn't know who he is without the right to be Doctor John Watson. Johnny Watson was a child who was useful when his Father was sober and a reminder of his mother when his Father was drunk, unwanted in her place. He is none of those people now. He doesn't know how to be any of them anymore. He doesn't want to be.

If there is one thing that he hates Moran and Armstrong and Moriarty for doing, other than the obvious, it's calling him 'Johnny', because that just makes him think of his father's alcohol saturated breath and his voice sing-songing and hoarse as he flopped disjointed on the sofa, bottle in hand: 'Why are you here Johnny? Why you instead of my Bonnie?' And then of him peering with a weak squint in his face before leaning back and starting to sing ('My Bonnie lies over the ocean. My Bonnie lies over the sea. My Bonnie lies over the ocean. So bring back my Bonnie to me') slurred and out of tune.

It's cold in here. He wonders if that's some kind of special technique to make him more uncomfortable. A much as he'd love to be able to pretend that it's not working, that the years of winter nights in the Kush mountains and on vast plains have made him as impervious to the cold as they did to the heat, it would be a lie. He has been back for five years now. His body is reacclimatised. Cold just makes his shoulder ache, makes the places where metal plates had held together the bottom and top halves of his left scapula like wide stitches in bone leech ice into his marrow.

John leans back slightly, ignores the cuff trapping him in the chair and crosses his legs at the knee, keeps each movement small and purposeful, almost fastidious, to bring himself back through the cold, back through the panic of They can't take it, if they take my licence, who will I be? His work as a doctor has been his life line. His work is his life. God, he sounds like the sad type of man he swore he would never be in university. But his life is far from what he had imagined it would be then.

Back then, John Watson played pranks and laughed at the uninhibited freedom of university, was free with his help and time. He was still young, properly young and his eyes had shone as he had gobbled up every bit of knowledge accessible to him; his life plan had been quite different. Not that he'd had a plan, aside from live.

And he has. He has lived more in his forty-plus years than many people have, ever. He has climbed mountains and chased criminals and saved so many lives and taken several too. He didn't want to stop, but events had conspired against him. He has a decent enough placebo now though, he has thrown nearly all the bits of him that were the army's and Sherlock's into his job, into Montague Street and it seems to be enough. This is what they are threatening to take from him, his last refuge.

This wouldn't be happening if he hadn't gone up against Moran ten or so years ago now. For a brief second he wonders if it's worth it and then he thinks of the face of Corporal Sophie Hadley as she sat in the curtained bay in the tiny back-of-beyond field hospital and let him tend to bruises that she shouldn't have, of the boys who had been equally stoic as he examined them.

Then he thinks of the party they had had when Moran was finally gone, dishonourably discharged without right to use his rank of colonel, without pension, the bonfire burning the last traces of him, the smuggled alcohol brought out, the music created out of whatever they could get their hands on and they way that they had danced the way only those who live in the blended area between life and death every day can, every step cathartic, a release. His actions had caused the festering resentment between them, and even if he hasn't seen the man in the long years since, he can feel Moran's efforts to drag him down grabbing at him.

The heavy lock clunks, the door scrapes open. Two men stand in the doorway. They are similar in build and expression, both standing with arms folded. Armstrong stands to the left. Moran stands to the right. John sits handcuffed to the chair in a cell small enough that he can nearly touch the sides with his arms stretched out. His only weapon is the chair, which is stupidly not bolted to the floor and he could probably just about use it offensively with the handcuffs restricting his range of wrist movement. John waits.

"You've got powerful friends, Watson," Armstrong says and steps over to unlock his wrist. "I mean, I thought that Pater was powerful, being knighted and all." He leans forward and leers again. Over his shoulder Moran's face is stony, staring like he's a predator considering a meal. It's not a nice feeling. "But whoever you know, they take the cake."

John snickers. He doesn't mean to, it's a purely reflex reaction, because that's the kind of joke Sherlock would use to tease Mycroft. He can't help himself as he nods, "yes, yes he does," and the joke is entirely incomprehensible to these two and that just makes it better.

"The warrant was retracted just as we were about to break down the door to your house. Isn't that lucky?" The leer has mutated into a sneer, equally unpleasant to look at. In a surge of vindictiveness John thinks back to one of his original thoughts about man, something about him being a bug and a windscreen travelling at a high velocity and the resultant satisfying splat.

"Very," is all John says. He wants out of there.

"Sadly, nothing was found at your mockery of a Doctor's surgery. So, you are free to go, cleared of all charges." Armstrong looks disappointed, like he'd much prefer to see John in this cell for the rest of his life. Moran looks like he wants to see John dead. To be fair, John thinks with ice-cold thoughts, the reverse is also true. The DI steps back and John stands, rubbing lightly at his wrist to get circulation properly going again.

John steps past Armstrong and directly before Moran, who doesn't move to let him out of the cell. Moran is tall, with steel hair, lean muscle and sharp eyes. This is a sniper who has never missed a kill.



"Should have guessed you were behind this from the start."

John feels his spine turn to a titanium rod. "Behind what?"

"Well, you weren't happy with ruining my career in the army, so you help kill my boss and then you go and dismantle my nice little supply ring. You really have it out for me. Either than, or you're just a goody two shoes."

The floor is a horrible sparkly green lino, the type you see in the bathrooms of cheap offices. Out of the corner of his eye, Armstrong is still looming. "You ruined yourself."

"No. You did. Though, I do have to thank you. If I had never wanted to ruin you in return then I would never have met Jim. Didn't you guess?" Moran's grin is manic and cheerful. "Dear Jim, please will you arrange for the near fatal shooting of Captain John Watson, MO. In payment, I offer my services as a sniper and, well, you can guess what the rest said."

Something bubbles in John, a heat that coils viper-like in his gut, snakes up his oesophagus and spits poison out. Rage. "That was you." He thinks of the convoy he had been part of, of the initial blank pain, of the shrapnel scraping across his thigh, of makeshift bandages and not enough painkiller, of the other men who needed his help and the skating mentality of his adrenaline-saturated brain. He remembers some of the mind-wrecking hallucinations of the resultant infection fever, of the malaria caught after he constantly threw up the tablets to prevent it when his stomach couldn't hold anything. He just remembers the whispers of the doctors and nurses saying how he wasn't going to make it. He remembers waking fully already in the hospital in Birmingham and being told what had happened nearly three weeks ago, and then the secondary infection that took him down for another month. The notes on his chart and then the discharge papers, more wounds in the contrast of the words on paper than in his body. He thinks of the surgeries to get the movement back, the painful PT sessions, the skin grafts and the strange shine on the front of his thigh from where they took the skin and the front of his shoulder where the skin doesn't quite match. He thinks of the three other soldiers who died that day.

He thinks of the blank time as administration chased itself in useless circles as he got emptier in mind and spirit as well as hungrier in body.

John has never wanted to kill someone so much as he does now. He wants to strangle the man with his hands, feel the hyoid bone break, feel the crack of vertebrae, see his eyes bulge and become bloodshot and his tongue loll. He wants to gouge out his eyes. He could do it. He would do it if Armstrong wasn't here. But John knows when to leave a fight for another day.

"Though of course you had to go and ruin it by meeting Holmes and becoming all good again." Moran steps aside to let John out. "He is dead, isn't he?"

"What?" John turns sharply, on a sixpence.

"Holmes is dead, isn't he? Not that it matters. Well, it really does. Either way, Johnny," Moran says as John walks away down the corridor, "I'll be seeing you soon."

John doesn't know where else to go, because he really doesn't want to go back to Montague Street yet, he wants to walk and run and yell and fight and do something with all this...he doesn't know what this confusing mix of relief and so much anger is, but he hates it, almost as much as he hates Moran, almost as much as he hates Moriarty, as much as he hates Sherlock for going and dying on him.

So he runs. He runs as fast as he can, as far as he can, until he is shuddering to catch breaths, until all that matters is a desperate need for oxygen. Then he slows down and grabs himself a cab to the surgery.

It is dark as he gets out the cab and pays the driver with his reclaimed wallet. Only half the street lights work and the surgery lights spill out onto the street.

The place is a mess. This is like none of the 'drugs busts' that happened in 221B, here cushions are split with the stuffing torn out, bed curtains are torn down and pool like choppy algae-covered ponds on the floor, drawers are thrown around, their contents scattered like building rubble after a bomb. His office is the worst, everything where it should not be, pens scattered, the computer upside down. In the middle of the wreckage is the photo of him and Sherlock laughing, so victoriously happy. It is nearly torn in two and the glass of the frame looks like ice crystals about to break and shatter.

John looks around at the devastation, at the chair on its side in the corridor, at the fully broken hinge on the door, at the confetti like scraps of the photocopy of Sherlock's letter that make the room look like the scene of a wedding gone wrong.

He picks up the pens scattered across the desk, puts them right in their pot. He takes the photograph and a roll of sticky tape and carefully, the way that he handled Jessica's baby hot and slick from the womb, over a year ago now when she refused a midwife at the birth and refused hospital, ever so carefully realigns the two halves that split the two men and stick them back together. He rights the computer, the desk chair, swipes of the dust with the palm of his hand and stands there, blank.

Right, John thinks.

"Right," he says out loud. "Right."

Chapter Text

John hasn't slept, picking up the mess that litters the floor. He starts in the consulting rooms. Most of the medicines, the epi-pens, the anti-histamines, the lidocaine and other local anaesthetics, the nitro-glycerine, have been opened. All are now useless. Thousands of pounds worth ruined; the locked drawers and cabinets they had been in torn open and in splinters across the room. This has not been a 'drugs bust'. This is systematic attempted destruction of his life.

By the time people begin arriving armed with brooms and dustbin bags, he's made it out to the waiting room, putting all the stuffing from the children's chairs that now have gapping slits in the cushions into a big, black plastic bin bag.

"Doctor Watson." John finds himself pulled out of the chair he had sat down in an hour ago after leaving the waiting room to everyone else so that he could start to sort through the usable and non-usable drugs, and swept up into the maternal arms of Julie Aiken, one of his nurses. It takes him a second to respond even with his usual limited tactility, on edge after these past hours. He ducks his head when she releases him. He blames last night for making him so overemotional. "Now," she says, and John stands back to let her start to speak.

"I've spoken to Ruben Collins; you live opposite his family, lovely children, though Rebecca is a bit wild, that girl. He has the carpentry company, and his cousin does tiling and plastering. They're going to be here in half an hour to see what they can do about new cupboards. This whole mess is going to have to go if I'm any judge, and the whole place needed a good lick of paint anyway. I see that you've already picked up all the medicines from the rooms, they'll all have to go, so a new order needs to be put in. Marie who works at the British Heart Foundation, you remember her, broke her arm around a year ago, poor dear, she and Pat in Cancer Research are trying to get new chairs and desks. They're on the phones to the district managers right now, and are going to call back soon. Vicky and Sal have taken over the kitchens of your neighbours and seem to be operating out of them. Martha is helping them."


"Your Mrs Hudson. Now, what else? Ah yes. Sergeant Morstan and her officers have phoned for a skip, that's on its way. Your dishy inspector friend is looking into just what we can pin on that horrible, horrible man for doing all of this to you. And Ben has taken Mira, Carmen and Krishna as well as a small army to the community centre and they are scrubbing it down so that you can use it as a temporary base for a couple of weeks while we all fix up this place."

"A couple of weeks. Julie, what about the Scouts and Brownies, the people who use it?"

Julie smiles at him, a sly expression that he's never seen on her before. "Who do you think is doing the scrubbing?"

"It's Tuesday, a school day." John shakes his head and feels his hair just tickling the nape of his neck. He needs a haircut.

"And half of them have fallen mysteriously ill. Now, when did you last eat?"

John looks at his watch. He's not sure, counts back the hours. "Yesterday lunch," he admits and avoids looking at Julie who is the only one out of all of his staff who has the ability to make him feel like a naughty child.

"Well then, come with me. No, put those down," she frowns at him with disapproving eyebrows as he starts to protest that he really does need to continue with the tally lists of usable and not usable. "They'll still be there. You're eating."

Once outside he realises just how many people are here. Ruben and his cousin Jake are inside consulting with Michael, who John had hired as a full member of staff the moment he had passed his exams as to what needs to go and what can stay, and the skip is starting to fill. A pile of salvageable chairs and pictures from the walls are being created by Mary. A long table is serving tea and drinks headed up by Mrs Hudson and Sal Burnet. Vicky Lawrence is linked with Sal also; their tables end to end and Vicky's early offerings of the lunches from the pub are mixing with Sal's sandwiches from her café. On the table next to Vicky, un-latching boxes that release a fragrant Tuscan steam is...

"John!" Angelo, striding towards him and encasing him in a bear hug, refusing to let go. John hasn't seen the man since early January, when he and Mrs Hudson went for dinner. If the day they went coincided with Sherlock's birthday, well, he couldn't pretend it was a coincidence. All three of them have portable cashboxes and seem to be charging half prices for everything. The tea and fruit squash is a donation of whatever pennies that you have in your pocket, but the sign by the box saying, For Paint seems to be ensuring that most of the change going in there is either the entire contents of purses or pound coins at the minimum.

"John Watson," Angelo says as he looks at him from an arm's length away. "You are too tired. You need food, and a holiday."

A holiday. How long since John has had a holiday? Been somewhere other than London? Been past the boundary of the M25? Been to see Harry even? Never took one with Sherlock unless you count the cases that took them out of the city. Before, he travelled the world, but never really for a holiday, unless you count that safari while he was in Kenya teaching some of their doctors in Nairobi. Or that six week posting in Cyprus, half spent on the Mediterranean beaches.

"No time for a holiday now." John smiles up at the enthusiastic man. "But food is more than welcome." As if remembering it exists, his stomach gives a rumble. Angelo gives him a plastic plate loaded with ravioli and a thick tomato sauce and Mrs Hudson sits opposite from him, two cups of tea in her hands. She sets one opposite him and neatly eats her own sandwich before prattling on to him about Mrs Turner's married ones and their troubles with their new cat, and the old boiler that she needs to replace and her book club and the bridge club. It's just what he needs. Half an hour of what could be an ordinary day.

A week later he is standing next to Greg and using a roller to paint one wall of the waiting room a bright, sunny yellow over the layer of fresh plaster and laughing as the man gets spots of it in his hair and on his face.

"Shut up, Watson," Greg says, and flicks the painty brush that he is using to go around the edges of the notice boards in John's face.

"Greg, don't." Lestrade doesn't stop. "No, really, Greg, I'm on duty in half an hour," John protests to the man's continued efforts to get John with the paint. "I can't be covered in this stuff. Greg." Greg stops, and carries on touching up the edges. Across the small room, everyone has a paintbrush. One wall has been painted the same sky blue as the consulting rooms will be. The other two are the same yellow that John is managing to roll so that the splatter hits Greg and not him.

Giggling turns his attention to the blue wall. The year one class from the primary school is being supervised by parents who have volunteered and the class teachers and assistants. They've brought with them the thick brightly coloured poster paints they use for painting and are drawing all manners of flowers and trees and strange animals and blob people where they can reach. One finishes off a blob person with bright blue eyes and primary yellow hair holding the hands of several other blob children. As John watches the teaching assistant spells out words that the child, one of the many Lawrence cousins John thinks, painstakingly spells out in black clumsily formed letters: Doctor Watson.

John's throat feels tight.

"They really love you here," Greg says behind him, looking over John's shoulder at the same wall. "Really love you. Every time I come here, or wait for you in the Headless, its all 'Doctor Watson has done this' or 'my Susie says that Doctor Watson can'. They spill their hearts to you, because they trust you."

"I know." John does know, and tries every second not to break that trust.

"But, I heard them asking what your favourite colour is, and they don't know John. They know hardly anything about you. Come to think of it, I've known you for five years now. I know hardly anything about you."

"Green." John puts his roller down in the tray and steps away from the wall. It smiles at him. Already the place looks better, after only a few days. "My favourite colour is green. Like summer." He walks away, nodding goodbyes and waving to the children.

Once outside he looks up and takes a deep breath of the summer sunshine. It cuts bright through the buildings, turning them transparent, like Polaroid film at just the right angle. In the fronts of the houses, in the paint on the door and the curtains in the windows he can read families and lives. Like Sherlock had said to Lestrade once in a fit of frustration, anyone with adequate brain power can deduce, just use your eyes man, and think! John has been doing quick-fire diagnosis for most of his life. He can take the small clues of a human body and the external factors and put them together to produce a reasonably accurate diagnosis. It doesn't really take much to apply it to other things.

The community centre is the busiest John has ever seen it. They can only see half their usual number of patients, most appointments have been cancelled and it's drop in only. They've created three bays out of screens and taken all the bedside tables the charity shops had had around, disinfected them raw and used them as cupboards for everything. Each member of staff is responsible for cleaning equipment after use, boiling water constantly available along with the entirety of the Londis' stock of Detoll for sanitisation and the combination of the two is a trick he used in on the FOBs where real disinfectant was rare.

They are taking twice as long to get through everybody. Bedside tables taken from the consulting rooms in the clinic have been put in the bays and they are open for the longest they've ever been. Someone, be it Carmen, the fully-qualified Michael or John plus at least one nurse or one of the Health Care Assistants they've been assigned is always there. If possible, they do house calls. So far, it's working, but they're only one week into what Ruben says will be two weeks to sort out the surgery.

John goes to the sink, scrubs his hands, swaps out with Carmen in the first bay, and gets to his official work.

It takes time. Of course it does, but the surgery is re-made into something better. They get rid of what can't be mended, and repair what can. Donations of cups and curtains for the windows come in, the Staples around the corner give them the desks and matching chairs for free. Mira takes one look at the wheeled chair and the desk meant to go in the waiting room to replace the old one which had uneven legs and promptly sits on it, spinning around and laughing.

In the midst of it all, covered in dust from where he had been drilling holes in the walls, Michael gets down on one knee in front of everybody and asks Mira to marry him. John savours the look on her face, the surprise and the glee and earth-shattering joy as she says yes. He stands back to watch as they are both passed from person to person in congratulation and looks around at the place. It is nearly done, Ruben says the day after next they can get back to work. All that really needs to be done now is the cleaning, and the cleaners who clean the over-crowed primary school have promised to do that tomorrow.

Mira turns to him, face lit up like the sun, so wonderfully happy and John smiles back softly, genuinely pleased for the both of them. He watches as she tries to come towards him to say something but is dragged away by a bouncing Rashida. Mira looks back and he nods at her to say 'go on' before turning away. God, it's like something out of a movie. Has his life really turned into this? Angelo was right, he needs a holiday. But not right now. Still things to do.

John, Greg and Mary sit around John's kitchen table. The table itself is covered in paper, police reports and CCTV stills from the camera opposite the surgery. John's laptop is open and playback of footage shot from a mobile phone is frozen on screen, showing John, hands cuffed behind his back curling over as Armstrong's knee batters the breath out of him. John places his hand just below his sternum and rubs in remembrance.

"You okay, mate?" Greg asks, looking up from the report he is reading over and the breaking temporary silence.

"Yeah, fine." John doesn't even look up from his copy. "Just remembering."

"Looked like quite a nasty blow."

"Had worse," John shrugs and turns his attention back to the paper in front of him. He sees Greg and Mary exchange a loaded glance over their sheets. "What?" he asks, feeling himself getting defensive. "What?"

"Look, John, are you sure that you're telling us everything? All the evidence points to this being a revenge crime, which means that we can definitely get him for police brutality at the least. Is there anything that you could have done to piss him off?"

"Armstrong, no, never met him before the interview. What do you know about his dad?"

"His dad? John, are you changing the subject?" Mary looks at him over the tops of her reading glasses. She's nine years younger than him and he's glad that his vision is still at the top of its game.

"Not really. You wanted to know."

"Know what? John." Lestrade leans forward in his seat and takes a gulp of the coffee that he has sweetened and added milk to. John still takes his black and bitter. More of a kick. "If you're mucking us around."

"Really Greg, would I ever?"

"Yes," Lestrade immediately says. "You were as bad as Sherlock sometimes. At least I knew which buttons to press with him. You're a clam in all directions."

"Sir Augustus Moran, one of the Judges on the High Court bench. He's Armstrong's step-father."

"John, if you're just wasting time so you don't have to talk..."

"I am explaining, you're not listening," John says sharply, suddenly aware of how like Sherlock he sounds in those seconds. "Sorry," he adds. "But this is important. Armstrong's mother re-married Moran senior when he was just a year old. The happy couple had a new baby called Sebastian Moran. He's the one I 'pissed off'. Armstrong's baby brother."

"I've heard that name before." Greg starts shuffling through the paper. "Something to do with Moriarty?"

"Moran was Moriarty's sniper. Probably second-in-command. By his own admission, even."

"Let me get this straight. Moriarty was the criminal mastermind. Moran was his second in command. Moriarty was the one who 'pushed' Sherlock Holmes off that roof at the hospital, Moran was probably one of the snipers after you or Greg or Martha. And now Moran wants back at you for your part in the whole Moriarty eating his gun thing." Mary pushes a loose strand of hair behind her ear. John considers that had this been three years ago, he would probably asked her out for a date, skipping the first awkward few times she asked him before giving up. Not that it had mattered then. He had had no interest in dating then. Nor, strangely enough, does he now.

"Not really. Moran and I go way back. I got him dishonourably discharged from the army, he arranged for me to be shot. It's a long, nasty slide of resentment and hatred." John shrugs with his right shoulder and ignores the twin looks of incredulity on the faces of the two police officers. The expressions are so identical that John wonders if they teach them that in the academy.

His phone rings. He listens carefully, using the pen already in his hand to start jotting notes on a piece of scrap paper pulled from the piles on the table, craning his neck to hold the phone between his shoulder and ear.

"Right." He shuffles the papers in to a vague order and stands sharply. Within two minutes he is at the door with his bag in hand, adding a few last minute items. "Joan Porter has fallen over. Agnes Parkinson's daughter?" he says in response to the near blank look Mary's face. "To be fair, she is seventy-two. I'm going over. Probably won't be back for a couple of hours, the door will lock behind you when you go, so don't worry about that. If someone shows up that you don't recognise, it's probably the Network, even more probably Wiggins. I've been expecting her for a few days now."

"What?" Mary asks, confused at the mentions of networks and unrecognisable names.

"Greg, you explain," John says as he is cut off as he closes the door behind him. The two police officers hear his car splutter and start, wincing slightly at the whine. John is not that good a driver.

"Err. Right." Greg scratches his head and tries to think of just how to explain the entropic order that was and still is, The Homeless Network and the way that the city bends itself to first Sherlock's and now John's will.

"Look, I feel bad staying here when John isn't. Do you want to go back to mine?" Mary asks bluntly, and then realises what she just said when Greg grins at her. "No, not like that, it's just I have, well, cider, can't stand beer, and I really need a drink."

"God yes. Cider is fine by me." He holds the door open for her. "After you."

John gets back around midnight to find that Wiggins has helped herself to his fridge and sofa and television and is now asleep, head on the armrest and feet tucked up under herself. John sits in the armchair opposite and waits for her to wake. He likes that the Network feel safe enough here to sleep through him getting back from work, although that doesn't often happen, usually they're awake at the slightest noise.

" 'ello," she mumbles and rubs at her eyes, reaching over to take a drink from the glass balanced on the small table. "You look worse than I do."

"Thanks." John rubs at his eyes and silently agrees with her. He has deep bags under his eyes, his shoulders are drooping, the left more than the right, where he would usually hold them level. "So, you want to sleep or tell me about how far Moran's reach stretches?"

"I'll talk. You get food."

"Not hungry."

"Liar. God, you're almost as bad as Sh..." She cuts off abruptly, and then starts again. "Sigerson is."

"You were going to say something else." John feels something twist painfully in his brain, all the bits that say 'You never saw him hit the ground, stupid amnesia and stupid bicycle. Are you remembering right? Can you remember? Holmes is dead, isn't he? Because you know of at least one way you could fake your own death right here and now, don't you. Who's to say that he didn't do the same?' He shuts them down violently, tearing them away and stuffing them deep down, past everything else he doesn't want to remember. Unlike memories, the hope could actually kill him. John hates hope.

"Shaun. I was going to say Shaun. That's his first name."

"Shaun Sigerson. Nice alliteration."

Wiggins chuckles. It's a nice sound.

"When did you meet Sigerson anyway?" John leans back and looks at her. She is well, herself. Grubby nails, those funny, but highly practical gloves even though it's July. Stubby, button nose and plaited dark blond hair that seems to be more grease than actual colour.

"He helped me," she replies simply. "When I was first kicked out there were some men, and he stopped them. Then he took me under his wing so to speak."

"Huh," John says, barely thinking about what's coming out of his mouth. "I thought it was Sherlock that did that. Anyway, Moran's reach?"

"Getting smaller. He's taken over Moriarty's lot, building up over the past three years, but some fractions split off after he died and some of the major leaders have gone missing recently."

"Missing?" John asks, paying proper attention now.

"More like most turn up in rather secure custody and the others turn up dead." She shrugs and snuggles, that's the only word that can describe it, into the shock blanket Lestrade had once given the two of them for their second Christmas. So many possessions that seemed to have been mutually owned by the two of them. Now of course, they all belong to him.

John stands. "Do you want the bed?"

"Nah." Wiggins yawns, and John struggles to not copy her. "I'm fine here."

"Sure? I'm fine on the camp bed."

"Doctor Watson." Wiggins sits up straight. "Get yourself to bed before your eyes roll back."

"My eyes roll back?" John quirks an eyebrow. He hasn't heard that one before.

"Something mum used to say. Goodnight, Doctor Watson."

"'night." He's given up on the Doctor Watson/John thing now. It doesn't really make a difference. It was how Sherlock always introduced him to them, so it is how he shall stay.

John had forgotten what the wilds were like. He hasn't been back to Northumberland for years, had forgotten the colour of the heather in full bloom on the crags, the way that the clouds formed shadows on the hills, the way the burns ran smooth in some places and fast in others, light refracting off the surface in chinks. He's near where his father's parents used to live, their farm long gone and amalgamated in to another. But it is quiet, when the army are not on the ranges, and John can clear his head enough to think.

The sun is setting, letting the light rest along the hills, orange and pink under the few clouds in a way that the air in London didn't let it be. A clear sunset. He hasn't seen one of those in years. These past four days away from London, away from the constant movement, he can relax in a way that he hasn't in ages. He can see the sky.

Before, if he ever wanted to see the stars that he missed while cooped up in hospital, a clipped bird, all he had to do was tell Sherlock, who would put down his experiment if he could, or tell John to wait if he couldn't. Then they would get their coats and Sherlock would lead them to one of the buildings in the city, high about the light cover and they could see the skies far more clearly, and their reflection in the streets below. Now though, you can forgive him for being cautious about heights.

He has been thinking about all the things that he really doesn't want to think about. About well-timed coincidences and criminal with doubts. About angles of vision and the time it takes for sedatives to take effect versus was that body really too cold? How do you stop a pulse? So many conflicting ideas of how he could have done it, all the little things that people let slip. There is Wiggins' "You're as bad as Sh..." and then describing how Sherlock had taught her at the beginning, and then crediting a different person. There is the mysterious promise she could not break. So much data. Not enough sense.

Eventually, he comes to the same conclusion that he has the last few times he's thought about it. He will drive himself mad thinking of what could have been. Sherlock is dead, and to believe otherwise is to invite madness, because he knows himself, knows that if he starts thinking that way he will drop everything to prove it. He's better off moving on. And he is moving on. He has.

Sighing, John stands and picks his way back down the foot path in the growing gloom. There is only the half moon to light the way, and stars of the likes of which he hasn't seen since the last lightless place. Sherlock, John decides, would have hated it here. Too quiet, too peaceful, too wild and remote. John though, John can feel his roots reaching out and re-hydrating in the moorland soil. Here he is. Just him.

The lights of the B&B show up cradled in the land. Laughter comes from inside. He is not the only one staying here. A family of three, parents and their seven year old girl, Imogen, as well as two friends backpacking their way around in their gap year. They all get along well in the two nights that they have been here so far, the two girls, Alice and Meg, giggling together at the Sunday dinner table last night and the parents, Richard and Nicola content to join in with them, discussing the latest popular television and some movies. Things that John has not even realised he's missing. Things that he is content to miss. It's called crap telly for a reason. Anyway, it's not like he has the time. Even now, in late August, he's still slotting the little bits of the surgery back together. These four days are the first time he's had off in forever, it seems like.

"Doctor Watson," Margery Gray, one of the owners, welcomes him back in with smile that is as big as can fit on her face. She is a lovely woman, she really is, but John is not in the mood for company right now. He had booked with his card, so of course she knows his title, and insists on calling him it, despite his requests for "just John, please." John smiles back at her politely as he goes into the kitchen in search of water. The newspaper, the Daily Mail, headline up on the table. It screams at him LONDON BUSINESSMAN FOUND DEAD IN HOME. Despite himself, he sticks it under his arm as he takes a second glass upstairs. Once in his room, he turns on the lamp that casts stained glass colours all over the walls and reads the article about Ronald Adair. There, as an inset image is Greg's face, just like at the very beginning.

His phone beeps. Speak of the devil.

Armstrong arrested on accounts of police brutality. Help with evidence from higher quarters. GL

That means Mycroft helped. John doesn't know who else has enough influence to easily shove Sir Augustus Moran, judge in the High Court, out of the way for long enough to get a warrant through. For once, it seems that the elder Holmes is taking action instead of manipulating from the sidelines. The fact that Greg is now entirely forgiven for using Sherlock to help solve his crimes probably has nothing to do with the matter, no matter that everybody wants to, after all this time, be back in Greg's good books. John has enjoyed many of the cooked fruits of that labour. Some of the police really know how to bake a good apology cake.

John finds his breathing strange. He doesn't know whether to be grateful that Armstrong is out of the way, disappointed he never got to run him over (though he knows that in a battle of his rusty car versus Armstrong, Armstrong would win), or apprehensive about Moran's next move. John might have just declared open war. He's going back home in the morning anyway. Holiday over, decisions made. No more thinking about the coincidences and what ifs.

If I go for a walk in Hackney tomorrow, what will I find? JW

John sends back and Greg's reply is quick.


The next evening, he pulls up in a taxi outside his house. The lights are on, which doesn't worry him; it's probably Wiggins, the only member of the Network who knows the location of the real spare key. The fact that violin music is floating out the open front room window doesn't worry him either, he has several CDs of the stuff, though usually Wiggin's prefers the radio to the old CD player somewhere in the front room.

"Hello," John says as he opens the door, and the music cuts off abruptly with a discord that only one man had ever been able to perform beautifully. In his kitchen is a tall man, with dark hair tied back at the nape of his neck. The man is wearing jeans that have ragged knees and a shirt that is one of those hardwearing ones, designed for travel. It has certainly been hard worn, if the elbows are anything to go by. The sleeves have been rolled up his forearms, and in the man's hands are a violin and bow. The case for the instrument is open on the table. He turns around and quicksilver eyes cut into John, into all the decisions made and memories suppressed last night.

"Hello, John," says Sherlock Holmes.

Chapter Text

John turns around and shuts the door behind him; locking... him inside, slides down against the outside wall, feeling the brick snag roughly on the back of his shirt. He thinks that he is hyperventilating, so he very deliberately breathes...





...until he feels less lightheaded, less like he might really be sick on the scrubby grass by his front step.

John does not know how many minutes pass before a second body settles on the step beside him. Sherlock is a rough approximation of the man John once knew. He can tell by the tense energy running though him that something has changed and his first and only guess makes his heart break. After all, he's seen this before in so many different lands. Gone through it himself, even, though for him it was so easy, almost a non-event.

"Those will kill you, you know," John says easily, snatches the cigarette out of Sherlock's hand as he leans back to blow out the smoke, stubbing it out on the step between them. Sherlock lets him.

"Bit late for that don't you think?"

John makes a noise that is halfway between a laugh and a sob.

Sherlock stands, and unlocks the door with a key, holding it open for John. "Please, come back in." He holds out his hand, palm up so that when John takes hold of it he will be able to put his fingers on his wrist at the base of his thumb, feel his pulse. John ignores it and stays firmly seated, leaning back on his hands and looking up at the September sky above them. It has been a wonderful month, and an Indian summer of arching skies. Here are the storms. Sherlock gives in and sits back down, shifting stiffly.

John can do many things. He can heal people, and help cure people. He can kill them and sleep well after. He can deliver babies. He can die. He can pronounce people dead. He can't bring them back to life.

He doesn't know how.

Apparently Sherlock does.

John falls back on old habits; odd questions for odd situations. "How did you get the key?"

"I copied it. From the one you keep under that awful cat statue in the back garden."

"Oh," John says and continues to watch the clouds. "When?"

"Over a year ago now. Is Mr Clancy still the landlord? Anyway, they've changed the locks since I've lived here."

"You were here a year ago." Something unlocks in John's mind, a niggling sensation and the image of a man with auburn hair and a horrid orange parka spring to the forefront. It makes something that he can't name stir in his chest. "Sigerson. You were Sigerson." John looks at Sherlock sat beside him and transplants the memories of the homeless man who, oh god, Wiggins had said it; 'has people who would welcome him with open arms', over his current sight. "His eyes were brown."


"Hair dye?"

"Of course."

"And the voice?"

"An accent is merely correct manipulation of the vocal cords and the way the muscles of the mouth and tongue are used."

"Are you going to be a cold-hearted bastard about everything?"

"Am I ever anything else?"

John looks away all of a sudden, and doesn't answer with the first word that springs to his mind, a resounding Yes. Between them there is a widening abyss. A brittle bridge is the way over. Neither of them wants to take the first step. John isn't sure that he is able. Already he is processing this with practiced detachment. Anyway, he has a life now. No need for a shining, eccentric man to drag him out of the drudgery of a half-existence.

"Can we please go inside, John," Sherlock says, once more looking around, examining the windows and rooftops of each of the houses.

Please. That's rare, and for the second time. Sherlock must be scared or nervous or just really wants to be in the shelter of four walls. Or he's manipulating John, like the times when he had really wanted to smoke.

John stands. His bones protest in sharp whispers. He's not young anymore. John stopped being young when Sherlock fell. "What are you so scared of?" he asks as he unlocks the door this time and Sherlock pockets his copied key.

"The same thing that killed Ronald Adair," Sherlock says as he throws the deadbolt behind them and draws all the curtains in a whirlwind of manic energy.

"A single bullet from a hand gun," John says. "Greg texted me the ballistics, wanted to see what I would make of it. I was bored on the train."

"No," Sherlock says sharply, Sherlock fucking Holmes in the middle of his kitchen, dead Sherlock. "Wrong gun. Locked room, Moran had to be outside. I won't know where until I see the scene."

John turns to fully look at Sherlock for the first time in god, it's over three years. He'd stopped counting after a while. It hits him then properly. Here is Sherlock. Who had faked his own death. John gets why it was necessary, never let it be said that he is neither understanding nor empathetic, but still... "Three years."

"What?" Sherlock turns to face him and, if you ignore the fact that they are in a different building at a different table, they might as well just be before all of this, when things were right, not this cracked facsimile.

"That's how long you've been gone." John runs the calculations in his head, feeling his brow crinkle as he frowns. "Three years, three months, and, just under two weeks. That is how long you've been gone. That's around three years too much, especially as it seems that you haven't been dead all this time. What were you doing?" John turns away again, and turns back, checking that Sherlock, too thin Sherlock who stays on his side of the table and carefully puts the violin that he had been playing when John first walked in back in the case and doesn't close the lid, letting the instrument gleam under the fluorescent kitchen light, is real and not a mirage. The violin is not the one that John gave back to Mycroft at the beginning of all this, but a different one, less fine. "Come to think of it, there was an article in Nature, what, seven months back that sounded an awful lot like the kind of things that you were working on, that experiment with the ethers that mucked up the kitchen just after the second Christmas. Some chemist in Montpellier."

"That was a stop. A necessary one. I'd lost Moran there, and he had a few associates I could take care of at the same time. I made my way in as a chemist with lax morals and a low asking price. I need evidence that I was what they were looking for. The processes in refining many recreational substances are rather similar. It served as adequate proof." Sherlock is pacing as John sits down in the chair closest to the back door. John watches him the same way he used to watch him and it feels so very removed, and wrong, and he is angry, and angry for being angry. He can't deal with this right now.

John stands, pushing away from the table and feeling more than hearing the chair squeak across the lino of the floor. That one little thing sets him just over the edge.

"I have to work in the morning. I'm sure you can deduce where everything is."


"What?" John says sharply. "Because as I see it, however noble you were, it boils down to this: You aren't dead. You've never been dead, the whole thing was a magic trick, you made me watch you 'die' and then, and then couldn't be arsed to tell me when we were in the same fucking room."

"You were busy…" Sherlock starts to protest.

"That's never mattered to you before." John takes a deep breath, turning his back to wipe away the gathering tears of pain and anger. There is a reason he prefers not to think of That Day. 'Lock everything up and forget about it' has always been his coping method. It's never not worked and he's not going to break traditions of a lifetime. "Jesus, I thought I was… God, I'm a delusional idiot. Goodnight, Sherlock. You're welcome to stay as long as you need."

"For Christ's sake, John," Sherlock snarls. It looks odd. Wrong. Sits too comfortably on his face. "Of all the things to get in your way, sentimentality. It was logical."

John swings back around. "Tell me that without lying."

"What am I supposed to tell you? It. Was. Logical."

"Is that what you're telling yourself? Because it's so logical to not take a doctor experienced in urban warfare with you when you jaunt off around the world on a kamikaze dusting spree." This is the angriest he's ever been with Sherlock, vitriol dripping off his tongue like sweet honey.

"Better I die than you," Sherlock hisses right back. They're both furious, Sherlock because John is not listening and John because Sherlock doesn't understand, near spitting in the other's face. "Surely John Watson, who has lived his life with the morals of a saint, would understand that?"

"Give the man a prize!" John shouts, lifting his arms in mock celebration. "He gets it. I would rather die than see you dead. Does the word 'run' mean anything to you?"

"Not relevant."

"Stop trying to dodge. You made me watch you die, Sherlock. Imagine that I'd never met you. That I bled out on that operating table in Afghanistan. Or that in the field hospital the sepsis got to me. Or the malaria. Or even Moriarty with that damn bomb."

Sherlock crowds right into John's space; pushes him back against the wall and looms over him. "Do not make me think of that. Do not."

"That's what you did." John looks into Sherlock's flint eyes and that last little bit of him starts to crack. "You gave me a life and hope and a goddamn purpose again and then dropped me when I wasn't enough anymore."

"You can't save everyone John." Sherlock says dismissively as he swirls away, running his fingers lightly over the veneer on the belly of the violin in its case.

John freezes. "I know that. First thing that I learnt."

"Why did you assume I would be any different?"

"You are."

"Oh John," Sherlock says pityingly. "Did you really assume that I was? I am exactly like them, the squabbling nothing." He spits the last words. "You're not anybody's hero, least of all mine."

There is the crack, the splintering of everything they had.

John is very careful to keep a chair between them, rippling his fingers into a fist. He'd forgotten how much Sherlock could hurt. He wants to punch him. John wants to punch Sherlock. He won't though. Restraint has kept him company his entire life, he will not see it go now. But he has to leave before he says something he really regrets, like 'I wish you had really died'. "Goodnight, Sherlock," he repeats woodenly into the broken air between them.

"You asked for this. You asked for me not to be dead," Sherlock says quietly, the anger that has been flaring in the room fizzling away to nothing. "Have you changed your mind?"

John walks out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He ignores his room and heads straight to the spare room where he grabs the first box and flings it at the closed door with a muted yell. It hits the door with a hollow thud and all the contents spill out in a heavy shower of cracks and thuds as the objects hit the floor.

Among them, the glass of a pocket-watch face cracks inside the brass of the cover.

John wakes on the camp bed in a desperate tangle of sheets caught around his legs, fisting the pillow in his hand and breathing heavily. He is still mostly dressed, shoes and socks kicked off beside the boxes and his shirt and belt on the folding chair that sits beside the bed. Something is wrong.

Under the door he can see the thin crack of light from the landing. It is dappling in a rhythm that means someone is pacing back and forth, back and forth.


Alive and here. Well, not here, but close, very close, less than two metres away. Only a wall and door parts them. John untangles his legs and stops.

He can't go out now. Not like this, after another dream where he is the one to push and Sherlock drowns in the deceptively still River Helmand. "John?" Sherlock's voice is soft through the door, his feet blocking off light just to the right of the centre, like some kind of spectral new beginning morphed from the ruins left from hours before. John can picture him now, ear pressed against the door, hand hovering over the handle. "Can I come in? I know you're awake."

John doesn't say anything, just sits there frozen, bare feet pressing into the beige carpet. How come he's never noticed how awful it is before?

"It's okay for you to hate me," Sherlock says through the door, an inch and a half of plywood with no sound insulation properties whatsoever. "I expect that. It's… I need..." he breaks off.

"Need what?" John says. His voice comes out as a raw untamed thing.

"I need your help. The last gunman who was threatening you, and Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, he's the one who killed Adair, I'm sure of it. Gambling ring, you see."

"Why?" John asks and closes his eyes so that he doesn't have look around at everything that the man on the other side of the door used to be.

"One last case," Sherlock says slowly, as if the words have weight. "Then, if you want, you never have to see me again. But Moran... please John." Another please. Three in one night. "Damn it, John, let me in!" Sherlock grinds out all of a sudden, pounding his fist none-too-gently into the door, making it thud hollowly.

"I have to work tomorrow. I don't have time for..." John realises what he is saying and drops his head. He feels as raw as his voice is in the night. John opens his door.

Sherlock looks wrecked in the halo of the landing light. John raises a hand and lightly traces the trails that the blood took over his face. It hurts. He is still angry but he holds it all still, pushes it aside to be a distant thing as Sherlock trembles beneath his fingertips, a fragile creature of a man. There are so many aches that he feels. This one is in his hollow heart. "I buried you Sherlock," he says. "I stood by Mycroft as he identified your body, because I was your emergency contact, and I stood by your graveside until they filled it in. I mourned you. It's not all fine." The words take him back to their first second meeting. It's only appropriate. This is their second second meeting. You can't just come back to life and expect me to, to, to let you in like it's nothing." John's voice aches. He aches. "Was it even you?"

"It was me, in the morgue. The coffin had sandbags. As you said, Mycroft."

"Oh," John says. Well, that's really all the explanation that needs to happen as to the how this entire deception happened.

"No." Sherlock, like always, interrupts his train of thought. "Molly."

Molly. Molly who has skated around the peripheries of his life for these past three years. Molly who is quiet, and clever and so shockingly naive, really.

"Of course," John says, because there isn't anything else to say.

"You kissed me." Sherlock says it like an accusation. "I remember. I was on the table. It was cold. Molly took the sheet back and you said, 'yes, that's him,' and then you lent down and smoothed my hair and kissed me here." He uses John's hand to brush over the spot in the centre of his forehead. "Why?"

"Does it matter?" John says, and holds his hand in place as the muscles in his arm start to ache and Sherlock doesn't let him drop it.

"I can still feel it."

"Is that a yes?"


"I..." John says, and realises that he can't say it. "I need to be at the surgery in three hours Sherlock. No other doctors are there today."

"Ah yes," Sherlock says, sounding somewhat like himself. "The house that John built." Somehow, he has managed to manoeuvre them out of the spare room and into John's.

"You messed that one up. It's Jack, not John. And, for the record, your knowledge of nursery rhymes is a bit odd for a man your age who is not a father." John attempts a smile at Sherlock and Sherlock attempts a grins back at John and John realises, here he is. Here he is, a living, breathing, lying man.

Relief crashes through him, sweeping the reservoir of anger away for now. He is no longer alone.

"And you gave me flowers."

"Just once. Sweet peas."

"Toxic and genetically important. You do know me well John."

This confirmation, that he still knows Sherlock is the biggest relief of all. "They grow at the end of the alley down the back of the surgery. I thought you would have appreciated them."

"I did."

"I'm angry at you," John says. "I just don't know how to… I hated you."

"Be John. That's enough."

"I won't be able to help you. I'm busy, Sherlock. I have a life. The people here need me."

"I need you," Sherlock says immediately.

"Not the same."

"I need you more."

"You haven't needed me for three years. Why should it be any different now?"

They sit side by side on the bed in silence for a while. For longer than a while and that's okay. They both need to reacclimatise to the missing body beside them.

"There are some things you need to know about Moran," John says to the empty air, not to the suddenly filled space radiating heat beside him. "First is that we've known each other for a very long time." John outlines their clashes and the events of the past months and feels Sherlock winding tighter and tighter beside him. "It's okay," he adds. "They have Armstrong for police brutality. He's in custody this very minute. Mycroft is trying to pay off his debt to me by being extremely helpful behind the scenes."

"You are aware that all of this... mess," John decides on. "May as well be because Mycroft didn't think. You know that it was him who told Moriarty all of that stuff."

"The minute I saw the articles. It was either you or him and I knew that you would never, never..."

"I would never," John agrees.

"It's like those books you like," Sherlock says, sitting up a bit straighter. "The ones with the magic, and utter irrationality."

"Harry Potter?" John hazards. "When did you read those?"

"In New York. It was the American version, awful spelling and some of their odd words, which leave much to be desired, John. But they reminded me of you. The headmaster, with the strange hair and beard..."

"Dumbledore," John prompts, trying to hold back the giggles.

"Said something like 'as I am considerably wiser than most, my mistakes are considerably bigger.' The same applies to Mycroft. He can't get everything right."

"That's the nicest thing that I've ever heard you say about your brother."

They sit in silence for a while longer, but unlike before it is comfortable, like the old silences used to be.

"I used to wonder how you did it," Sherlock says. Both of them are talking to the darkness of the room now, but the conversation doesn't need visual acknowledgement. "Kill people."

"So did I," John says, leaning back on his hands and slouching with the curve of his spine as the mattress dips. "The first time I killed someone was in Kosovo. I was running a medical tent and god it was crowded, not enough hands, I was all on my own. A woman came in, armed to the teeth. She had a rifle and pointed it at a group of the orphans I was looking over, told everybody to stop and drop. I didn't think. I just shot her, straight in the forehead. Instant death. Then I carried her body outside and kept going. I didn't really think about it until the next day." It had been cold there. John can feel the biting wind on his cheeks. "I thought 'that's because of me', and moved on."

"How?" Sherlock's voice is little more than a crack in a ceramic vase.

"I'm made wrong."

"You're made perfectly" Sherlock protests immediately, putting his hand over John's like a bone cage. That one point of contact is shocking and grounding.

"Logic, Sherlock. What kind of man can kill, check that they're really dead, finish the job when necessary and then go back to treating the people in his care as if it's nothing? A messed up one, that's who. Whereas most people feel some kind of guilt. Look at you." Sherlock flinches. "No, that's good. That's good."

"It's like there's dried blood flaking on my hands," Sherlock finally whispers and John moves so his hand is now the one covering Sherlock's.

John's alarm goes, the annoying bleep rasping and too sharp, startling them out of the small confessional they have turned the room into. He turns it off and by the time he turns back around Sherlock is standing. He's pulled the hair tie out and his hair falls to his shoulders. It changes the shape of his face. A good disguise, John has to admit.

"You make coffee, I'm having a shower. Then it's your turn in there," John orders, grabbing clean clothing from his wardrobe and a towel from the airing cupboard on his way to the bathroom.

Once in the shower, with the hot water pouring down on him he lets just some of everything out. It materialises as tears and he must look like a lunatic standing under the spray with tears and a grin the size of a banana across his face. He doesn't care. He has his miracle.

Chapter Text

"Your turn," John says as he comes back into the room, buttoning his cuffs. He may have to roll them up in the surgery to prevent contamination, but it is late September and he's stubborn enough not to turn the heating on in the house till mid-October at the earliest. There is a mug of coffee on his bedside table, the steam still coiling in misty spirals above it. "Thanks for the coffee."

"Why coffee?" Sherlock asks. Well, John decides that he's asking, because it's really more of a demand for information.

"I've just had three hours sleep on what must have been the most emotionally wild night of my life, Sherlock. I need coffee to stay awake."

"That's plenty of sleep."

"For you. Just how much sleep do you think I've been getting recently?" Sherlock turns away and snatches up the towel that John has left on the bed for him. That can't be right. Did Sherlock - Sherlock- really just let John have the last word?

Toast is easy to make, and someone, Wiggins, according to the post-it note stuck to the pint carton, has put some milk and half a dozen eggs in his small, under-the-counter fridge. He has enough time so he take a couple of them out and a glass bowl and makes scrambled eggs, one of the few foods Sherlock will eat in the mornings that's not left-over dinners.

"John," Sherlock calls down the stairs and he turns off the gas, which reminds him, he needs to go to the shop and put twenty pounds on the electric, or probably thirty now Sherlock is here, and goes to the bottom of the stairs. Sherlock has stuck his wet head over the banister and is looking down. "Do you have any spare clothes that would fit? All mine need a wash."

"Your dressing gown is on the back of the spare room door," John says. "I'll sort something out after you've eaten breakfast."

"I have a clean pair of pants in the bag on the table," Sherlock says, and stares down imperiously.

"What do you expect me to do about it?"

"Throw them up and put the rest in the wash with yours."

"Why should I?"

"Save energy?" Sherlock gives a puzzled grin that is a confusing mix of 'thank god you're John' and 'why are you being obstinate about this?' "You're about to put your own load on." John sighs as Sherlock's head disappears in search of the dressing gown because, yes, the laundry is next on the list after breakfast. He roots around in the holdall that is perched on the edge of the table, next to the now-closed violin case. There is a small closed laptop, a basic toiletries case and a couple of changes of clothing stuffed in a plastic carrier bag aside from one pair of underwear which must be the clean ones. John stuffs them into a ball and lobs them up the stairs.

Back in the kitchen John puts his own clothes from the trip to Northumberland- god, was that only twenty-four hours ago?- into the washing machine, a great old clunky top loader that he has to pull out from under the other side of counter from the fridge and starts to get out Sherlock's clothes as well. At the state of the first shirt, small splatters of something along the forearm and the collar he stops and takes the whole lot upstairs.

"Are you done in the bathroom?" he asks the hall at large.

"Yes." Sherlock's voice comes from his closed bedroom door. John lets the taps in the bath run for a couple of minutes with cold water and leaves the clothes to soak in a mishmash of urban camouflage. He debates adding soda crystals, but decides to give the cold water a chance first. Thought the shirts at the least are probably done for, the stains have set into the fibres. Dry cleaning might rescue them, but John has to try first.

Sherlock comes out of the bedroom just as John is walking back down the stairs. His hair has been towelled dry and he is wrapped in the dressing gown that John has kept. John can see him out of the corner of his eye and this is just so… odd. It's odd. Sherlock is running his hand along the wall of the stairs as if this touch can bring back the memories of living here. He gives a strange snort when he comes into the kitchen and sees the ceiling.

"So that's still there."

John looks above the stove, at the faint dusting of scorch marks. "Yup. Eggs?"

"That one was honestly an accident," Sherlock says as he scrapes the last of his plate. John dreads to think when the man last properly ate if he is eating like this. Sherlock used to be sensible about food when not on a case, eating precisely at eight, two and eight again and nothing else except perhaps a biscuit (digestive or rich tea only) with a cup of tea around four. Unless they were eating out, in which case it really didn't matter. Right now though, John can see him forcing himself to slow down. "I was distracted while cooking. I can cook," he adds, somewhat petulantly.

"I know," John says as he takes the plates to the sink and quickly washes them under running water, leaving them to drain. "You cooked more than I did. You don't need to defend yourself to me."

"I do," John thinks he hears Sherlock say, quietly, miserably. "Where's your gun?" The non-sequitur nearly takes John off guard.

"No," he says, answering that question as it really is; Sherlock's request for John to drop everything that he has built and worked for and stay with Sherlock. "I can't. Michael is with his parents and Carmen is at St Patrick's with her children, and anyway, she never works Sundays. Only Julie can come in today and both of the HCAs that I have can't make it. I'm at less than half staff and the past few days' paperwork needs to be done too."

"Clothes," Sherlock reminds John and they go back up the stairs to the spare room. John looks at the boxes lining the wall, the remains of the man standing just behind him. John watches Sherlock look around at the few items that John had not picked up after throwing the box.

"Here." John opens a box with 'clothes' printed on it in Mrs Hudson's careful hand. Sherlock has his back turned to him and has something in his hand. Something brass and circular and monogramed with SH. "You should find something in here," John says brusquely as he takes it out of Sherlock's hand and leaves the open box on the floor.

In the kitchen he looks at the watch that he had properly packed away two years ago now. The cover is the same, but when he opens it and takes out the folded note the glass is cracked. John shuts it with a snap and puts it in his pocket. Leaves the note on the table, by the violin case. Doesn't want to think about it right now, about the depths of Sherlock's hidden ways, his use of the word 'loved'. John is a straightforward man. What you see in each individual situation is what you get. Wondering never gets you anywhere. Sherlock is the man of tangential leaps and John is grounded to reality, whether reality is crazy or monotonous. Wondering if Sherlock really meant loved is a waste of his time.

"I've got to go," John says as Sherlock comes down the stairs dressed in a pair of his old trousers and the black shirt with the fine pinstripes. It seems slightly too big.

"Do you have a pair of my shoes?"

"Look in the boxes. It's all yours, anyway."


"What?" John turns around, his hand on the latch. If he leaves any later he won't get a head start on the piles of unnecessary paper that are waiting for him. He hates paperwork, but is sadly used to it now. If there is one thing that his life, first being a medical student, then medical officer and then a plain old medical professional, has taught him, aside from the obvious, it's to do the paperwork when you have a chance. You never know when you're going to get a quiet moment.

"It's all yours. I left it all to you, in my will." Sherlock gives that strange half-smile of his, slightly sheepish, if that's ever a word that can be applied to Sherlock.

"And yet here you are."

"Here I am," Sherlock agrees, standing in his old clothes and stocking feet. "John, here I am." Slowly, as if John may freak, or snap, Sherlock mirrors a gesture John made in a death-scented room and bends to kiss John's forehead, a brush of chapped lips on lined skin. "May I have the watch back?" he asks in the closeness.

John shakes his head, feeling the weight of the pocket watch in his trouser pocket. "No."


John considers this. He doesn't reply.

"For God's sake, it's not like you're my widower." Sherlock says harshly, but keeps very still, close enough that John can feel the heat from his body.

"You know what." John steps out of the cage of Sherlock's body so that he is standing by the bottom of the stairs. "I might have well have been. Look at me." Sherlock doesn't turn around. "Look at me," John repeats, "and tell me how many people I've gone out with since you jumped off a bloody building."

Sherlock turns around. "None," he says hoarsely.

"Half-wrong. Two. Both women I picked up in different bars south of the river a couple of months ago, spent the night with and that I haven't seen since. And none since six months Before, so I might as well have been." John gives a dry, awful laugh. "I'm your widower, Sherlock. Get used to it."

Sherlock is leaning against the door, face intent and shocked. "Why?" he asks again, as if this is something that he has honestly never considered.

"Because I. love. you. There, I've said it and I really don't care how you take it." John finds himself backed up against the wall again as Sherlock once more leans over him, but there is none of the anger of last night.

"But why?"

John feels his breathing stutter and his chest tighten around the warmth in its centre. He's never actually stopped to think about this. "Because I do."

"That's not helpful, John." Sherlock whirls away from him and leans on the wall next to him. It mirrors a position held lifetimes ago.

"Well, that's all that I have. You are Sherlock Holmes, and I am John Watson and you might as well be asking why the sky is blue. I need to go, you crazy, miraculous man."

"John." Sherlock's voice stops him short. He turns back around. "I… I can't say it." He looks so frustrated, and it makes Johns' stomach clench with everything that he feels, all the emotions existing in one impossible moment. His skin feels too big and too small all at once.

"I know, Sherlock." And John does know, it is writ across the man's skin and face in easy to read letters. Remorse -and that strange one- love in equal measure.

"I'm not saying sorry."


"But I do. I honestly do."

John smiles softly and nods in small motions. Quickly, he opens the door and shuts it behind him just as fast.

"Pinch me," is the first thing that he says to Mira as she walks in. She looks confused but does as he asks, the pinch sending sharp points of pain from the folded skin on his arm.


"Needed to check something. How was everyone while I was away?"

"Fine. It was fine. Oh yeah, a man came in a couple of times, asked for you. Wouldn't see anyone else." Mira sort of hovers as he sits down in his office and starts the computer. "Look, Doctor Watson, are you leaving?"

"What?" John looks up at her, at how she is standing with her hands tightly clasped in front of her and her eyes so worried. Something twists inside him.

"It was a couple of months back, you'd gone to the loo while it was your break and I brought a cup in for you and your computer screen was still on and it had a website up, a visa application process and you've been holding interviews these past months. And now Carmen's, Doctor Boldy-Cruz's youngest is about to start reception full time…"

"I wasn't thinking seriously about it," John says, and kicks out one of the patient chairs for her to sit on. "We need more staff anyway, and." He hates explaining this. "It's like an itch in your feet. I suppose you could call it wanderlust, I've always had it. It's why the army was so perfect for me. I'm not leaving, Mira." He smiles at her as best as he can manage. "And even if I do, I'll always come back." John thinks about the man at his table right now and the pocket watch feels very heavy.

"You're not leaving?" Mira stands and raises her head like an empress demanding that her subject obeys her.

"Not now. Who was the man who came in?"

"Not sure," she shrugs as if it is something unimportant but John can tell that she is still watching him out of all of her eye, corner and otherwise. "He came in twice, yesterday and the day before. Friday Rashida saw him, but he said yesterday that he would phone you instead."

"What did he look like?" John asks. He knows most of the Homeless Network on sight or description and it's most likely to be one of them.

"Tall, around fifty, hair that was like dull knives. He looked a bit like the brute Armstrong. Oh," Mira smiles at him, suddenly happy. It is one of the things that he likes about her, her ability to throw away whatever dark thoughts suddenly cloud her mind. "Mary says that he's been properly charged and stripped of his job. He's going on trial."

That is good news, though John dreads being called as witness, which is inevitable.

"Did the man leave a name?" He already has a good idea of who it is. Either way, this has gone on too long.

"No, it was weird." Mira goes through to the waiting room, flips up the pad she uses to take telephone messages. "He left a number. Ten-oh-eight-oh-nine. Does that mean something?"

John feels his blood run cold, the confirmation of his suspicions. "Yes. I know who it is."

"What does it mean?"

"Nothing. It means nothing." He half turns his back to her, not meaning to be rude but wanting to cut off this line of enquiry straight away.

"It's not a phone number," Mira continues.

"It's a date," John says, uncapping his pen. No matter how much he hates some technology, paperwork is somehow still worse. Perhaps because it is a physical entity of its own. "Tenth of August, two thousand and nine. He'll be in contact soon enough. It will be fine."

He waits until she leaves the room before he admits to himself that it really probably won't.

Mira sees him coming through the door and knows exactly who he is. It is obvious. She's never forgotten him. It's a bit hard too, no matter how many years have passed since he sat at their dinner table after handing over her mother's strings of gold that afternoon. She had been so grateful that Sherlock Holmes existed then, but she is more grateful now.

Although she is furious too. Who is he to walk through the door like nothing has happened when he has left Doctor Watson behind all these years? He hasn't had to see the man every day, and Doctor Watson had said, on that awful night when Armstrong came, 'the right hand side of a dead man'. His favourite place in the world, the right hand side of this dead man who is neither spirit nor dead meat, but proper, animate, live flesh moving and talking and thinking and right in this room.

She finds her feet moving before she is conscious of the fact. Sherlock Holmes is tall and thin and is not wearing the long coat that she remembers he had treated better than himself. Her hand stings red as she slaps him round the face, the snap loud in the room.

"Miss Husay," he says, still composed, but automatically cradling his cheek. She can't see trail a of blood starting down his face, like red tears that don't originate from his eyes and he is lucky because she is right handed, her engagement ring would have caught him on the ridiculous cheek bone. Gold of the low purity that she and Michael can afford is harder than flesh.

She ignores him and marches back to the desk. The waiting room is, for once, empty. Mira doesn't think that she should call Doctor Watson down, he doesn't deserve to see him, but Doctor Watson has been so sad and lonely that once, after he had been arrested by Armstrong and after she had handed over her phone to the Umbrella Man and after she had gone straight to Michael's, she cried for him, because he wasn't going to. Someone, she had decided, should cry for the injustices that Doctor Watson faced, and if it wasn't him, it would be her. Sherlock Holmes showing up is righting one of the injustices, so she will call Doctor Watson down and leave them alone for few minutes.

"You idiot," Doctor Watson says, when he sees Mr Holmes. It's not the reaction that she was expecting, but it's something. "I thought that you weren't going to leave the house. I'll be home in an hour or so."

"I had to talk to Wiggins," Mr Holmes says, pacing back and forth. "She had some information about Moran. He's in London. He's the one who killed Ronald Adair."

"Hang on." Mira peaks through the crack between the frame and the slightly open door as Doctor Watson gets right in Mr Holmes' path, stops him pacing and holds onto his upper arms. She watches something cross his face, something that she has not idea of how to categorize and wants to romanticise, but knows that doing so will cheapen whatever the two men have that is strong enough to survive death. It is something very big and very good and occasionally very sad. That was in an episode of Doctor Who years back. It seems apt now. "Does Lestrade know that you're on the case?"

"Of course not. But I've solved it from the newspapers. The only thing that isn't obvious is the murder weapon but even that I know is some kind of modified rifle." A twitch of a smile on Mr Holmes' face and it is like a picture come to life, the two of them.

"Air rifle," Doctor Watson says, and moves to step away. Mr Holmes doesn't let him, hands coming up so they are both holding on to the other's elbows, forehead to forehead. "That was Moran's speciality when I was posted with him. He was always mucking around with it. Sherlock, I need to finish up the paperwork. There are no more appointments tonight."

Mr Holmes steps back and turns to look at the children's paintings on the blue wall, at the one of Doctor Watson. "I'll be there then. Mycroft may also be there when you get back; I have things to discuss with him."

"What's mine is yours, like usual." There is a strain of a vow in those words, Mira thinks. Despite the uncomfortable tension that dances between them, the both of them slightly unsure of the other, despite the fact that she has only ever known the two of them without the other, and Doctor Watson longer, imagining them apart now seems wrong. "Go home, you clot," Doctor Watson says.

"To Montague Street?"

"Of course." Something flashes across Mr Holmes' face, but it is gone fast enough that Mira can't identify it. Doctor Watson can.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Mr Holmes steps away with no fanfare, just easy movement between the two of them.


"Really, John, it's nothing. I shall see you in an hour." He disappears into the corridor towards the back alley.

"Closing early tonight then?" she asks as Doctor Watson comes into the kitchen five minutes later with his empty mug.

Doctor Watson stands by the sink and rinses the mug, water running smooth and sounding hollow on the metal bowl of the sink. "What? I don't know."

"You might as well. No more appointments and everybody knows your phone number. How long has he been back?"

"Who, Sherlock?"

"No, Elton John. Of course Sherlock Holmes."

"Last night. Since last night." That explains why he has been so distracted all day then. There is a small bleep as a phone goes in the room. They both have the same text alert; it has caused some confusion in the past. "That's me," Doctor Watson says and checks the screen before locking it and putting it back in his pocket. "Closing early then," he says, and something is slightly off, something is wrong.

"What is it?" she asks.

"Nothing." He looks at her, waiting for her to say something else. "I'm nearly finished here. You can go when you're ready. Really, Mira, it's nothing."

It's only when she's halfway down the street that she realises that it's the exact same turn of phrase that Mr Holmes had used.

Greg Lestrade looks once, and looks again. He very carefully thinks about whether he has had a drink tonight. The answer is no.

He looks again. Sherlock Holmes is still sitting in his chair, is still tapping his fingers impatiently against the plastic in what he suspects is the fingering for a violin, is still there.

"Do something that I could never imagine Sherlock Holmes doing," he demands, and runs a hand through his hair. Half the reason that it is grey is this… man. The other half is a genetic disposition but it's easier to blame…

"Greg," says Sherlock Holmes.

"You mad bastard," Greg gasps and can't help himself as he drags the younger man upwards into a hug. Sherlock stands awkwardly, vibrating restless and impatient in his arms until it's finished and then looks at him. It reminds Greg of a younger version, all bravado and hidden fear and loneliness.

"John hasn't come home."

Chapter Text

It should be a dark and stormy night. It really should. Instead, as John is pressed back into the wall with Moran's knife at his throat, it's drizzling a bit pathetically.

At least if the weather is not being professional about this, Moran is. The disgraced man isn't pussyfooting around. His knife is resting over John's right jugular and carotid, under the side of his jaw, not in the centre of the throat where all he will do is put a slash in John's trachea, ensuring that he asphyxiates instead of both bleeding out and asphyxiating. God, will he ever stop being a doctor? The curse of his profession- John knows exactly what will happen to him, in all the levels in his body: cell, tissue, organ, organ system, organism- when Moran inevitably uses his bodyweight to open his throat in a lurid smile.

No, is the answer to his earlier question. John's not going to stop being a doctor, ever. Consequently, he's not pussyfooting around either.

"You know what?" Moran looks down at him, blood clotting under his nose from where John had managed to angle his elbow just right. The crack of the cartilage had been one of the most satisfying sounds. John stares back, refusing to be the weaker of the two. If he's going to die, and that's looking more and more likely by the second as the knife sends a small singing note that brushes his skin like a fine caress, he's not going to go down easily, even if this position gives John a disadvantage; being left handed means that his arms are crossed awkwardly as he struggles to push Moran, older, more experienced, stronger, heavier Moran, Moran who had always mocked him for not being a proper soldier, away. "I'm feeling poetic."

This is not a surprise. The one thing, aside from his rifle, that Moran had always had with him was a small paperbound book of English poetry. Words, Moran had once told a younger John, can kill a man as easily as a bullet can. Moran had never been skilled enough with words to be his own poet and had contented himself with other's words instead.

It's terrifying, and easy to call Moran back after his text. John doesn't bother to ask how he has the number; it's everywhere, especially since Mira and Sugar had teamed up to give him the joke business cards for his birthday.

"Watson." Jesus, the man never changes. Same voice as months ago in a cold cell, as years ago on cold nights. "You going to drop that little tail of yours?"

John looks around, and sees out of the corner of his eye. Peripheral vision is much better for spotting movement. There. Wiggins. It takes him five minutes of back alleys, but eventually he manages it.

"Good pet," Moran's voice says, and John caves to the inevitable knowledge that Moran has been following him for the past five minutes as well.

"You want to try and be a bit more patronising? I'm sure you can manage it," John snarks down the phone. They are back outside the surgery.

"Cross the road and go on up."

"Why?" John plants his feet, aware that he is standing solid and unshaking. His heart is going; he can feel his blood under his skin. He hasn't felt like this for ages. Fucked up man that he is, he's missed it. Missed it so much. He only just realises now how much he's missed it.

"I'm calling this one the Reverse Rooftop," Moran says and John can see him through the holes in the wall of the upper story of the house across the road. "You come up here, and we finish this like men or people start having accidents. Old women for example, no one suspects a thing if they slip and fall down the stairs, especially with dodgy hips. If I was being really cruel," Moran continues, musing, "I'd make you call Holmes first. But no. I'm not Jim"

The blood that has been racing freezes. John knows why Sherlock did what he did, he can accept it. He knows the mentality, of loving someone so much that you would do anything for them. Any thing.

What does he have left to lose? Forty eight hours ago he would have said nearly nothing. Now? Everything. God, he has everything to lose. That hurts.

John raises the phone back to his ear. He must have lowered it while thinking. "Be with you in two minutes."

He walks slowly, texting as he does. Walking and texting is not a skill that he has ever properly mastered, unlike Sherlock. A text later and he is climbing the damp, creaking stairs. The house has been a half-burned wreck for longer than he's been here. He remembers the night it burned, one of his firsts with Sherlock and the insomnia that had plagued them both, he less, Sherlock more, had driven them out of the flat and across the rooftops to watch the flames lick at the sky. He'd never seen a house burn. He's seen them explode, but not burn.

The house is abandoned now, along with the two on either side of the terrace. Structurally unstable. Black, burnt out structures with weakening floors and partial roofs that show London sky through widening gaps. Opposite the surgery, it looms over them every day, changing its personality from benevolent to threatening dependent on the weather. John turns off his phone. Mycroft knows where he is, and if Wiggins has hidden herself correctly, Sherlock knows where he is too.

"So," Moran continues, and John wishes that Mycroft would bloody well hurry up, he texted him five minutes ago. Moran's grin is terrible, and for the first time John considers that this man is a little bit insane. Moran has always been a threat because he is sane, unlike the man he worked for. Sane men, men who have full control, are more dangerous than insane men. You can change the mind of an insane man; an insane man is as likely to turn the gun on himself as another person. A sane man will never be persuaded to turn the gun on himself. "We had a nice little foursome going on," Moran says, "You, me and the two madmen. Not that you knew that. Poor John Watson, third wheel always."

John feels the pressure on his throat increasing and a note sings along the tendons as Moran's knife nicks him. "So, you and I and the two mad-men, pairing off. We had our turn, then it was theirs, and now it's us again. You see; poetry." John doesn't dare speak. He's never known Moran to talk this much. He wished that he would just get it over with, or give up. Right now, with his chin tucked down and around to prevent the blade getting a good angle on the veins and arteries, it's uncomfortable.

Sherlock is manic. Manic in a way that Greg has never really seen before, not in the, Christ, it's approaching a decade that he's known the man, watched him grow from a strung out kid to this, this good, great man. His one wish for Sherlock Holmes, beside all the usual ones of health, and happiness (useless really, he's only ever seen Sherlock truly happy on three occasions, all when John was around) and it's come true, now, right in front of him. It's a shame about the circumstances really.

There is a bottle in the back of the bottom draw of the grey filing cabinet in the corner. It is full, the seal still unbroken, but by god does he want a drink right now.

"Don't be stupid," Sherlock snaps at him, throwing a hand out. "You can't have a drink, I need you."

Isn't that a turn around? Greg remembers Sherlock's words, because you need me, from years ago now, and here they are again, being thrown in his face with all the care of a wet rag and it takes him a few seconds to process them and in those few seconds he just looks at Sherlock, Sherlock bloody Holmes, here, in his office, when he should be in a box six feet under and he can't be anything other than bloody furious. Really bloody furious.

"Now, you need me now?"

"Of course now, John hasn't come back, weren't you listening?" Sherlock pauses to look at him, a mask of himself on his face. "No, of course not..." And Sherlock is off muttering to himself, a caricature of how he used to be. It's not right, and that is what makes Greg get up.

"What do you need?"

"Wiggins texted. John is, being John, and he's turned his phone off." Greg grabs his keys out of his pocket. He's been on enough of these mad chases that he knows the drill. It is a mark of how worried and wound Sherlock is that he doesn't object to the cruiser, getting in the passenger side and waiting impatiently. "Turn the sirens off when we get to Montague Street," he instructs, and Greg switches them on, screaming out of the parking lot.

It takes five minutes, with judicious siren and lights use. Sherlock flicks off the lights before throwing open the door, ignoring the text alerts that mean Mycroft is being and interfering prat. John does not get to do this to him. The pieces have been slotting together via the texts that Wiggins has been sending him in the car, something about John getting text and lying to the receptionist with the good right handed slap. John is being stupid, and idiotic and self-sacrificing and John, damn him, damn him.

The sirens are loud, and whiney.

Distraction. Moran shifts just minutely and John takes his chance, pushes with everything he has against Moran, one hand on the wrist holding the knife, one hand on the other wrist and twists. He feels the cold glance of the blade and the warm dribble of blood as he wriggles out and round, twisting Moran and snatching the knife as he goes. That doesn't stop him from getting punch to the solar plexus that leaves him wheezing. He marshals himself, ignores the fact that the small part of him that isn't in the placid, focused mind-set of the fighter is screaming for oxygen. Moran does not get to do this to him. He walked in here, open eyed. He's walking back out. He has too much to lose, and it feels wonderful, the stark opposite of the past few years.

"Vatican cameos!" Sherlock practically shouts and automatically John ducks, kicking out a leg as he does so, tripping Moran, who goes with it, rolls, dragging John down with him. The floor creaks with him, and they both pull themselves up, the floor squeaking under them as the rotting wood protests. John still has Moran's knife in his hand and he drops it out of the way.

Moran looks the worse out of the two of them, the most bruises, but John's lip is split and his right leg, why that leg, again? Is hurting where Moran got a good kick in. John can see Sherlock looking between the two of them, a length of pipe that had whooshed over John's head as he ducked held in his hand and the look of an angry raptor on his face. He looks like an eagle, the type that flies on flags, vicious and conquering.

They move. This is what John has missed, the working together, the feeling of something more. Moran is more than a match for John, John will carry a scar on his throat to prove it, he can already tell. Together, Sherlock and John together, knowing how the other moves and fights, it is almost easy. Like dancing.

Not that Moran isn't a challenge. The man has a lifetime's worth of experience on them. But it is quick, and as the floor groans a concerto as they move, each creak a note that becomes a backing track, Sherlock manages to swing the pipe just right, catching Moran in the chest. John winces in sympathy, in the certainty that that will be nasty.

The floor gives as Moran lands, thirteen stone of muscle too much for the rotting boards to handle. Moran falls down and through and groans. John doesn't care. All he can see is where Moran got a hit on Sherlock's temple, red dripping again. It is so frightfully similar that he freezes.

Sherlock drops the pipe and skirts the hole, ignoring Moran's moans. His hands are warm, alive, dextrous and gentle as they touch John's throat. His fingers come away red and he very purposefully wipes them on the lapel of his jacket.

"You need gauze," he says, hushed.

"Luckily, I know where some is," John breathes back, equally quiet, nearly reverent as his breath catches him and the tension in the muscles from the breath expelling hit relaxes. He was prepared to die, he was, but he didn't want to. Doesn't want to do to Sherlock what Sherlock did to him. No matter what, he isn't that cruel. He could never be that cruel.

"Oi, you two, if you've finished having your moment, I have handcuffs on him, and the response unit is here." Greg looks up through the jagged gap, a smile on his face. A murderer he has been after, indirectly and directly for the past year, has literally just landed in his lap.

"A minute," Sherlock says down, not taking his eyes off John's face. It is suddenly apparent to John that he isn't the only one who's been alone these past years. Sherlock has been alone. He's been so alone, with no-one to stay with, and no-one to trust. No-one to be himself with. That's sad. So sad, and if John has been lonely then how must Sherlock have felt, looking in and unable to touch. When Sherlock had stood in his bathroom, dressed as Sigerson and not able to be himself, not able to say anything out of character, he had sounded so strained. Hadn't trusted himself, John realises, hadn't trusted himself to stay and not spoil everything.

"I need to get to the clinic. I can sort it out there," John says, gently lifting Sherlock's hand away from where it has migrated back to his neck. He can sort out more than his neck. Sherlock needs somewhere to… meltdown, for lack of a better word. Not Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West style, but nuclear crisis style, John can tell. Sherlock is calm, instantly calm.

"I should have killed him," Sherlock whispers, once more examining the clotting red of John's blood on his long fingers. "I could have killed him, three months ago. He was in Delhi, and I was so close." It is dark, and the air is close. The light of the streetlamps is reflected off clouds that fit together across the sky like giant jigsaw slabs. Between the cracks, moonlight pushes through.

"Not here, Sherlock," John instructs, and they go down the creaking stairs, past the street filled with flashing lights and noise and inconvenient cameras. Past police officers who do nothing but ignore them, or gape, and photographers who looked too shocked to try to operate their cameras. Past Moran being bundled into a van by men in black, Mycroft's men, handcuffs on his wrist, past Lestrade and Mary directing officers everywhere, past the paramedics and down the side alley to the back door, which John unlocks. They don't bother with flicking the light switch, the emergency lights enough to navigate by.

It stings when John uses an anti-septic wipe to clean the cut. It's not deep, and the way he moved and held his head means that the blade didn't get anything important. Sherlock watches his every move, and John places sterile strips to hold the two edges together and Germolene over it and gauze and then a bandage wrapped round his throat to hold it in place like a macabre cravat. In the mirror John watches Sherlock watch him as he tends to himself. He guides the man to the chair, makes him sit and wipes the blood away from the small gash.

"Head wounds always bleed a bit," he says. Sherlock knows this, of course, but something needs to be said to fill the silence.

Sherlock is shaking, slightly. A low level vibration that comes from his core and turns his eyes dark. It takes John back to watching Sherlock be slowly betrayed by the people he had come to trust, how Sherlock had stayed quiet as he wound tighter and tighter until he had snapped, flaring out at the only person who could take it. The only person mad enough to stay, to voluntarily stand beside him. It is the same now.

"You never do that again." Sherlock stands, leaning over to speak into John's ear as he takes the tails of the bandage and ties them again, more neatly. "You never leave like that; you never leave me like that."

"Like you did?" The thing about John is that he gives as good as he gets. Sherlock wants a fight, wants a release. So does John.

"I had no choice. He threatened you, John. I will live in a London where you have moved away, I will live in a London where you are married with two point four children. I will live in a London where you hate me. God knows why you never did before. But." Sherlock spins John around to look right in his face. "I will not live in a London where you are dead. That is it."

"Oh really. Funny what you're willing to put others through and not yourself."

"You can handle it," Sherlock says flippantly, brushing it off.

"Really?" John doesn't think he's had cause to be so sarcastic for years. "I can handle it. I can handle my best friend, the only one who truly knew who I was, who had trusted me with some of his deepest secrets and been trusted in return, throwing all of that away? Good to know. Essential life skill, that."

"We've already established that you're not my widower John. Isn't this getting a bit old?"

"No, we established the exact opposite. And while we're on the subject." John digs in his pocket for the watch. It is heavy and warm in his hand, dully reflecting the stark florescent lighting in the consulting room. "Your phrasing in the note, why?"

"Not relevant."

"Very relevant. So immensely relevant, in fact, that what you say decides whether I walk out of here right now."

"It was true, then." Sherlock mutters, still all twisted and wrong.

"And now?" It's stupid, John knows, to be this unsure of himself, of Sherlock, because he has already made his feelings clear on John being dead. That should be enough, and John hates, hates that it isn't, that he needs this clarification.

"Hell, does it matter?" Sherlock spins round again. "God, John, I thought you were clever. Do I ever say anything I don't mean?"


Silence hurts. It aches, loaded with nights of pain, and terror and the inability to sleep because what was waiting was too terrible to contemplate it. The silence is weighed down with too much coffee to stay awake and tea for one and the fact that Baker Street lies empty.

"I would have taken you with me if I could." It is this admission, spoken quietly, into the spaces they both once occupied within the other. John looks around at the evidence of his new livelihood, at his old one slap bang in the middle of it, out of place, but really not, because where John is, Sherlock should be, and where Sherlock is, John should be. This is an acknowledged truth. This separation has been a trial, a mistake in the book of fate that neither of them believes in.

"Why didn't you?" There is no more anger, burning out as quickly as it had come, as it always does, did, between the two of them. It is a shy resting state. Here the true re-establishment begins, old wounds knitting together in asymmetric patterns.

"It would have been so easy." Sherlock is musing now. "Another faked suicide. People would have believed it; they would have believed that you had followed me to the grave. Star-crossed-lovers, it would have been portrayed as."

"I would have done it," John says immediately. It's true. He would walk through fire for this man, follow him to the ends of the earth and back, through the gates of hell, never to return and never regreting a single second. John considers those words, oft used phrases of devotion and finds none of them hyperbole, or lacking.

"I know." Sherlock touches the bandage once more. "That's why I never asked. And I couldn't take all three of you with me."

"Greg," John says, fully understanding.

"And the indomitable Mrs Hudson. An out of shape Detective Inspector and a sixty seven year old lady. They couldn't come too, and then it would all be useless. Everything, for nothing, if they were dead because I was not strong enough to do this alone. Sentiment."

John washes his hands in the sink, carefully working up lather between his fingers, and scrubbing out under the nails. Sherlock, as he so often used to, is watching his every move, as if it is something to be memorised and stored and displayed like something precious. John dries his hands with blue paper towel before wadding it in a ball and chucking it in the bin.

"I have spent three years, John, doing things that make me a monster." Under the florescent lights Sherlock's cheekbones are too sharp, too unreal. He looks fey; ancient, wild, beautiful and terrible. "A proper monster, not the type that lives a cosy life under the bed. I did not do all of that so that you could die another way tonight. I would have burned London to the ground." He is looking down at John, and John believes him.

"No need for that," John says, and gently, carefully, washes Sherlock's hands too, fingertips thorough over the knuckles and between the fingers and slightly ticklish on the palm. The slight stain of John's blood disappears down the plughole in a spiral of water and the tension in the room follows it, leaving them both washed out.

"Why would you leave me?" Sherlock says, changing again. John wonders if it's a left over reflex, changing as a disguise, self defence while on the run, on the hunt.

"What, like you left me?" John say automatically, half still on the defensive. "No, sorry, that was uncalled for."

"It wasn't," Sherlock disagrees, drying his hands. He fidgets afterwards, fingers drumming on his leg. He looks washed out, and wired on tiredness.

"When was the last time you slept?" John knows Sherlock didn't sleep last night. He seems to have spent all of last night that he wasn't sitting beside John pacing outside his door, arguing with himself. John wonders what he was thinking, what arguments he was providing as a reason to stay out, to go in. If there was ever a man that could argue with himself on more than two levels that wasn't diagnosed with schizophrenia it was Sherlock Holmes.

"Does it matter?"


Sherlock's strings unravel on their own, his limbs lose the manic tension and now John can properly see how thin the threads holding him together are, the toll taken. Sherlock was never a man to kill. He always had underestimated the price taken on the human soul where killing is concerned. John knows it well, but knows how to deal with it. This man has no such defences, skating by on the assurance that it would all be fine when he got home, and now here he is, the last man arrested, and probably in a cell as uncomfortable as the one John had been in, and no real purpose, and no idea about where he fits.

They walk slowly along the back alleyways, avoiding police and civilians alike. They slip in the back door, and leave the lights turned off as if the darkness is their last defence against the other, toeing off shoes and socks in the dark of John's room. John tries to leave Sherlock there, but the man refuses to let go of him, so he lies down too, curled symmetrically under the covers, each facing the other. John can feel Sherlock's breath across his face with every slow exhale.

"Three assassins," Sherlock says, barely more than a breath. "One for Lestrade, Greg; the man in his office who was always talking to Sally. Planting doubt in her head." There is a story, somewhere, of how Sherlock and Sally met and why she is the only police officer that Sherlock calls by first name. John lets Sherlock speak. He recognises this state, sat many men through it, often after their first combat or kill. Sherlock needs absolution. "Mrs Hudson, it was the repair man; you, a sniper across the road. Overseeing them all..."

"Sebastian Moran."

"Sebastian Moran," Sherlock agrees. "The ultimate back up plan. If they failed, he would have killed all of you, gladly. I had underestimated the effect of his past with you. And his determination." Sherlock chokes on something that John is hesitant to name. Sherlock has never been good at rollercoasters. John remembers a case that took them to Alton Towers, and Sherlock had looked at them slightly suspiciously. John has always loved them, adrenaline junkie that he is. This has been a rollercoaster of the emotional kind. No wonder Sherlock is so messed up over it.

"You did the right thing, Sherlock." John once more traces the trails that the blood, too red against his pale face and grey eyes, had taken. He will never be able to forget that image. But this needs saying, Sherlock needs to hear it. Sherlock who had offered to go, again, if the sight of him offended John too much, who had offered himself up to John with the words 'it's okay for you to hate me' as if he had already resigned himself to it, was expecting it. Silly Sherlock, who can't comprehend that it's impossible for John to hate him, truly, who never could comprehend why John stayed, who had called him mad for staying, originally, and then stopped saying it, when it became apparent that John wasn't packing his bags up in disgust. Even after that, every now and again he'd look at John with such surprise on his face. Sherlock who has not asked for forgiveness, as if for him, it is inconceivable that he will receive it, and is saving himself the disappointment. "I would have done the same." The last of the night's tension falls out of Sherlock's body, and he relaxes, and closes his eyes. "I'm keeping watch," John says, and Sherlock's eyes fling open again. "I'm here."

"You are," Sherlock says, and closes his hand around John's wrist, reassurance for them both. John remembers not sleeping, remembers insomnia because there was no one to watch his back while he was resting, because he lived alone in a sad beige room, remembers his first night of rest that wasn't the catatonic sleep of the exhausted, in Baker Street and waking up to see the world alive again.

Not that any of this makes Sherlock's words forgivable. 'You're not anybody's hero' is still circling his brain, making him unable to sleep. Sherlock, John decides, is like a beautiful knife with no sheath. Extraordinary, and you have to take the cuts that go along with it. He'll take them gladly, John decides. For Sherlock to be here, he'll take them gladly.

Chapter Text

They're woken by Greg Lestrade pounding on the open bedroom door without care for the sleep of the exhausted. Sherlock grumbles, but like John is immediately awake and looking around. There is an awkward moment where they both try to get between the other and the doorway and Greg pulls the same face that he had in that case with the killer in the clown suit that they had had to arrest still in the stupid outfit, big shoes, red nose and all. The one that says that he really can't believe what he's seeing. John glares at him as he flips back the covers.

Looking down at his legs, still in yesterday's trousers, reminds him that he should have been shopping instead of facing down lifelong enemies this past evening. There is nothing in the fridge except the milk and eggs Wiggins put in yesterday and he has a dinner this evening. Too much to do, especially as he's going to have to give a statement. Sneaking off yesterday evening had been the best option for all involved, but the consequences have to be faced today: talking to the police they had left last night.

"You want first shower?" John offers Sherlock, who says nothing, but stands and looks around, avoiding Greg's eyes. "Christ, you can't, your clothes are still soaking." John rubs his eyes, feeling unaccountably old standing in his room in yesterday's clothes, his best friend on the other side of the bed and Greg watching from the doorway. The oddness is settling into the practiced 'go with it' mentality that has made his life easier in all ways, from, 'Christ, will they stop shooting at us?' to 'head, there's a head in the fridge' and 'are you wearing any pants?'.

Sherlock shrugs a shoulder and raises and eyebrow towards the radiator. There, spread across it, are a pair of trousers and two pairs of underwear as well as a couple of stray socks. The trousers are his. The socks and pants aren't.

"You did the laundry?"

"I was bored."

"And wanted to see what new clothes I had acquired."

"That too." Sherlock pushes past Greg once more and closes the bathroom door with a small but decisive click.

"Sherlock does laundry?"

"He cooks too." John stretches, rising up on his toes and stretching his calves before rolling his shoulders. The left is painfully stiff and the ball and socket sticks slightly before clicking into place. Greg winces.

"Sorry, hate that, clicking."

John shrugs as best he can, long ago having become used to all the sounds that a human body can make. The need to say something is plastered across Greg's face, letters as big as his nose and just as clear. "Out with it."

"Do you know how domestic you two are? You haven't seen each other for three years and here you are, talking about the washing! Does he even know what he did to you?"

"No," John finds himself hissing, and forces himself to relax. "And he's not going to. What do you want to know about last night?"

John's statement is bland, and to the point, no description aside from 'I did' and 'he said'. Simple, plain, clear, no tangents. A near perfect statement. He stands after and leaves the kitchen to shower without a word when they hear the bathroom door open and Sherlock's footsteps across the landing. Greg has never seen this version of John before. He's very contained. Very similar to the first few weeks after, well, Greg doesn't know what to call it now; it's no longer Sherlock's death. Greg had only seen John once, and that had been across the street in those first few hours after, grey and small and absolutely resolute. John had been contained then, according to Mrs Hudson, contained and very sad as he methodically packed belongings into separate boxes and left Baker Street within the month.

Sherlock, as he comes into the kitchen and the teapot that John has left in the centre of the table, is a slither of his old self, to Greg's eyes. Better than he was yesterday, but now it is obvious how much things are just that bit wrong. Greg may not be as academically clever as John or a genius like Sherlock but he is rather good at people, and doggedly sticking to it.

"Odd being back here," he says, not asks, because it is for him too. This has become John's house, and seeing Sherlock here brings back memories of a younger, skinnier man who was just on the edge of something, but not as far over as he liked to make people think. The house had been shabbier then, and far less welcoming.

"John's here," says Sherlock, as if that explains everything. For him, it probably does. It makes quite a bit of sense to Greg too.

"Listen, Sherlock." God, it feels weird to say that again. "Do you know what John's been up to while you were… away," he decides on.

"No," Sherlock says shortly, and doesn't sit down, even though John's chair is still at an angle to the table. "In the past three years, three months and just under two weeks, John's exact words last night, I have seen the man exactly once."

"Not like you." Reality is adjusting itself around this strange situation and slowly clicking back into place.

"No. Exactly like me. When I stopped cocaine I didn't go to one of those facilities for the helpless masses for a reason. Cold turkey, not 'oh, here, something else to bind your life to, it will help, honest'. Wrong," Sherlock snarls. "Seeing John would have been... too much."

"As I recall, you spent the majority of withdrawal curled on my sofa."

"Temptation, Lestrade. My greatest vice." Finally, Sherlock sits, hands wrapped around his mug. "By all accounts though, John has been magnificent. I was wrong."

Greg can't help himself. He splutters, chokes on his mouthful of tea, and feels it come out of his nose. Talk about words that he had never even considered hearing. It is like something out of a movie, him dabbing with kitchen towel at his shirt and Sherlock sitting back and watching him.

"About what?" Greg asks once the damp paper towels are in the bin and he is sitting back down.

"Heroes," Sherlock says, and seems almost smug, self -satisfied.

"Sherlock," Greg looks up. "You didn't. Tell me you didn't insult John like that." Greg knows that when Sherlock is feeling insecure or uncomfortable he tends to lash out. He can imagine the other night, Sherlock desperate and angry and John stubborn and angry and neither of them listening to the other. Can imagine the stoic mindset that both of them were trying and failing to find. "Have you apologised?"

"Not yet," Sherlock mutters, and Greg can see him pushing it to the side and sitting straighter, hands wrapped around the mug on the table. Sherlock looks like he used to when Greg would wake up in the morning and come down to find him in the kitchen, dulled and vibrating at once. "You were going to tell me about John." He wants to know, Greg can tell. Sherlock needs to know what John had been up to, if he's been okay, at least.

"Tell what about me?" John stands in the doorway in khakis and his red shirt. He comes over and puts his hand gently on Sherlock's shoulder, reassurance for them both. This close John can almost feel the fine hairs on Sherlock's face. It's good. Concrete warmth emanating from the man solid beneath his hand. Sherlock shoots Greg a look that clearly means piss off.

Greg doesn't know everything about these past three years, about what Sherlock wants to hear. He doesn't know, for example, that for the first while, John kept scalding himself because he forgot what heat felt like on his skin. He doesn't know how many nights John has spent replaying last conversations and wishing he knew exactly which words to change to prevent everything. He doesn't know how good -because nobody has ever been able to see through his paper maché masks- John is at pretending that everything is fine. Greg doesn't know why John barely speaks to Harry anymore; because her platitudes of 'oh, it hurt when I left Clara, but it was for the best and we both moved on, I understand' were insulting and useless.

But Greg knows enough. Greg knows how he sounded when he called to warn John that Armstrong was coming to the surgery. He knows how little John truly sleeps, because he will have a pint with Ruben Collins from across the road and Ruben will tell Greg how rarely John's bedroom light goes off because he can see it from his house where John's bedroom curtains don't properly fit. Greg knows what John was like before and what John is like now, and John wants to spare Sherlock this, if he can, or at least be the one to tell him. John isn't pushing for details of Sherlock's little jaunt, Sherlock shouldn't be pushing for details of his past three years alone.

"Okay if I use your loo?"

"Yeah, sure."

Sherlock waits as Greg goes upstairs to the toilet and the door clicks shut before he speaks.

"I'm sorry." John can't see Sherlock's face but he knows it is screwing up in the expression he makes when he's doing something he doesn't want to do. It's a bit like someone has cast Sherlock in wax and then purposefully made his eyebrows twisted and his nose wrinkled and his chin sideways.

"I never asked you to apologise, Sherlock." And John never would, because he knows Sherlock's rule for apologies and it's this: never apologise if you're going to do it again. That doesn't mean anything. It sounds like something John's grandmother had tried to drill into him during the trips to Northumberland in his childhood.

"Not for... that." Sherlock takes John's hand where it is on his shoulder and pulls John round so he is sitting in the chair Greg has vacated. It seems for a second like a slow motion, rather ridiculous version of musical chairs. Sherlock doesn't let go of John's hand, turning it over back to palm, back to palm. John doesn't take it away. Sherlock's fingers are light on his palm, along the lines where the fist forms and it reminds John of last night, of washing his own blood off Sherlock's hands. "I was wrong," Sherlock continues, taking a breath and not looking up to meet John's eyes, looking at their hands, to the side, to John's collar to avoid looking. Then he does look up and it is electric.

John thinks that the entirety of their lives together can be charted in two types of moments: The roaring adrenaline ones and the ones like now, quietly confessional. "About heroes, John. And you." John stays quiet. Sherlock is rubbish at talking. Not talking, he does that all the time, can, if necessary, chatter for hours, but actual proper talking, not often. Neither of them does, actually. "You..." Sherlock stops and shakes his head; raising John's hand, pressing it to his cheek hard and leaning into it with eyes closed for a long second before letting him go. Nothing more needs to be said.

"I'll be home after lunch, short shift today," John says, stepping out of the kitchen confessional.

"Mycroft will be here this time. He's bringing paperwork." Sherlock shudders, an actual genuine dramatic shudder, and John is glad that Sherlock is comfortable enough to be playful for a second.

There is quiet for a long moment, and John could stay like this forever, the two of them close and quiet, with a Detective Inspector hiding upstairs.

Shit, Greg.

John had forgotten about him in the moment.

"It's safe to come down, Greg," John calls and Greg comes down the stairs.

"Good, you two haven't murdered each other."

"We'd be a bit louder if we had. You still coming for dinner tonight?"

"Dinner?" Sherlock snaps his head around, before looking across at John. "Oh, those dinners."


"Wiggins," Sherlock confirms.

"I can't," Greg says, and looks disappointed. "I'm on duty. Have a good time though. Sherlock," Greg comes over and takes Sherlock's hand, shakes it firmly, warmly, smiling at the bewildered look on his face. "Good to have you back. See you, yeah."

"Ahh, John," Mycroft says as John opens the door, turning to bring the bags of shopping inside and putting them down again to close it. Mycroft has stood up from the chair he was sitting in, umbrella propped by his side. John remembers before, and that umbrella and an impromptu trip to Paris when Sherlock was bored and Mycroft was being irritating. They had taken the umbrella, caught the Eurostar to Paris and then, as it was raining, used the umbrella before leaving it at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Of the many things that the two of them used to do to prevent Sherlock from falling over the edge of hapless ennui was Bother Mycroft. It always worked. That had been a good weekend.

Bringing himself back to the present John puts the bags of food on the counter and starts unpacking them, ignoring the paperwork spread over the kitchen table and the simmering cold tension between the brothers. Seeing them like this, across the table, the similarities have never been so obvious. Their differences are even more obvious though, and for that John is grateful.

"Mycroft is bringing me back to life," Sherlock says, standing up and fiddling with the pen in his hand. Anxious then, nervous. In need of nicotine. John's surprised Sherlock's lasted this long; he had all of yesterday to smoke. He hadn't smelt of smoke last night though, so John is hopeful.

"I didn't know that you know CPR, Mycroft. Thought you had minions to do that sort of thing for you," John says as he puts the cold items in the fridge. He still doesn't like Mycroft; in fact John has never liked Mycroft. Tolerated him, for Sherlock's sake, but that is all. Mycroft, like all geniuses, can be monumentally stupid. Like Dumbledore, that was the comparison Sherlock had made. John can't get his head around the fact that Sherlock has read Harry Potter.

"Some things require the personal touch, I have found." Mycroft gives the patronising grimacing smile that he forms so well, lips not quite peeling back to show teeth under his aquiline nose and the upper part of his face not moving at all. It looks uncomfortable, like someone has told one of the Roman statues in the British Museum to say 'cheese!'

"I don't want to," Sherlock snaps, as John closes the cupboard door after putting the rice in.

"Do what?" John asks, straightening up.

"Mycroft wants a press conference," Sherlock scowls, and turns away from his big brother.

"I can, of course, do this quietly, but it will be indefinitely easier if we control the press from the start. Sherlock, I only want what is best..."


"Excuse me?" Mycroft turns and John stands straighter, digging his heels in.

"You have no right." John is amused to see that Mycroft has forgotten this John Watson, the same one who sat in a room at the Diogenes all those years ago, a ball of simmering anger and incredulousness that such a clever man could be so monumentally idiotic.

Mycroft draws himself up, looms over John. "I am his brother."

"I am his widower," John hisses straight back, using the title as claim and defence all in one.

"You are, aren't you." Mycroft looks pitying.

"I am still in the room," Sherlock bursts, snapping the biro that he has been twisting in his hands, the cheap plastic brittle. It feels like a metaphor.

"Get out, Mycroft," John says, and feels unaccountably tired. He feels tired so much of the time, really. It seems to be his natural state. That's not right; he should feel something other than exhaustion all the time now Sherlock is here, alive, standing behind him fairly vibrating.

"Sherlock," Mycroft nods. "Get those back to me, if you would." The unease that has always sat between the two brothers is solid in its certain presence. Sherlock has always trusted Mycroft, John knows this. Trusted him to be there even when Sherlock doesn't want him to be. Especially when Sherlock doesn't want him to be. But there are things that Mycroft doesn't know and the depth of the silent bonds between Sherlock and John is one of them. John knows everything, from the reason the rift between the two brothers started: Sherlock not censoring himself at the dinner table and revealing their father's affair coupled with Mycroft's hatred of discord, to the date of Mycroft's birthday and the last present that Sherlock ever gave him: the fragile, delicate skeleton of a mouse, hesitantly glued back together with time and care to make a present for an idolised big brother. He also knows exactly how this present was received. John doesn't like thinking about it.

"I will." Now Sherlock sounds tired, and sad too, as if he knows he can't hide it from the two people in the room and therefore can't be bothered, even for appearances sake. In this moment John thinks that Mycroft has never more earned his title of 'archenemy'. The last time he saw Sherlock like this was in the lab at Bart's, out of the corner of his eye.

"John, a word?" Mycroft is in the kitchen doorway and John realises that he and Sherlock have been staring at each other to the exclusion of everything else.

John steps into the hallway after Mycroft and folds his arms over his chest, waiting.

"You gave something to me and now is the time to return it." John isn't sure if Mycroft is smug, or stuck up, or has another toothache. "Give it to Sherlock, would you?" Whatever the expression on Mycroft's face, he taps the tip of his umbrella to the violin case propped up against the banister. John picks it up by the handle, and recognises it. It is the case for Sherlock's violin, not the one that he had been playing when John first arrived.

John nods sharply, dismissively. He's had enough of deciphering the moods and wiles of Mycroft. One Holmes is enough for him. He can follow Sherlock, and the brother's mother is just a lovely woman anyway.

Christ. Mrs Holmes.

John leaves Mycroft to see himself out, and turns very calmly. He waits until the front door has closed before putting the case on the table.

"John," Sherlock breathes, and immediately turns the case to face him, flicking open the latches and lifting the lid. "This is what Mycroft gave you?" Sherlock already has the violin in hand, plucking at the strings and pulling faces as he finds them out of tune. "At least he took decent care of it after you gave it to him," he adds, concentration already taken by twisting the pegs to tighten the strings. There is a pattern- pluck, minute twist, pluck, minute twist. "So much better than the other one." Oh, the violin that Sherlock had announced his arrival with the other night. "Picked that one up in Tokyo. Not nearly as good, American rip off."

"Sherlock," John says, and why should this, this be the last straw? "What about your mother?"

"What about Maman?" As always, when Sherlock isn't thinking about it, the French slips out. Violet Holmes is half-French herself and whereas Mycroft always refers to the woman as Mummy, when Sherlock isn't concentrating he calls her by the French. Before, John used to catch Sherlock muttering to himself in French, or sleep-talking in the same. John had always thought that the language had suited the man, as much as a language can suit anyone.

"Does she know? That you're alive?"

"What?" Sherlock looks up from the strings. "Yes, of course. Told her last week when I came into the country."

"Was I the last to know?"

"Of course not." Sherlock looks utterly impatient with him. "John." Sherlock is almost chiding, but, god, so many things that they're both holding back. John takes his annoyance off like a worn out overcoat, imagines destroying it stitch by stitch until all that remains are shapeless pieces of cloth. He feels better. "I told Mrs Hudson this morning."

"You did?" John wishes that Sherlock had waited, just so that he could see the look on Sherlock's face as Mrs Hudson first slapped him, then whacked his arm and then offered him tea, and a fridge to raid. "Wish I could have seen that."

"She still has a good arm on her," Sherlock muses and rubs his arm almost fondly. "Nearly as good as that time with that interviewer and the ladle."

"I do recall the words 'get out of our home, young man' and something from the kitchen being waved threateningly."

"A ladle."

"I'll take your word for it. Look at this, Mycroft has given you half a rainforest to fill out."

"She offered me 221B again."

"Where's a pen, I can do some of this for you, I don't need to start cooking for a while yet." John's heard Sherlock, of course he has. Oh god, Jesus, 221B. The thought hasn't even fully sunk in before he's suppressing his instinctive answer of 'god, yes'. He can't be instinctive about this. He can't.


"Pen, Sherlock?"

Sherlock looks at him and John makes himself hold the gaze for a long uncomfortable second. This must be what everybody else feels when Sherlock looks at them.

"Here." Sherlock hands a pen over, another of the cheap biros that John keeps scattered everywhere and that Sherlock must have been using purely to annoy Mycroft.

"You don't need to do that." Sherlock puts down the violin carefully before snatching the pen from John's hand ten minutes later when he's finished for now. "Those forms are unnecessary, Mycroft has all my information in a file somewhere and I'm pretty sure that he's ensured none of it, not my national insurance nor my NHS number, none of it, can be re-used and it's all useless anyway." The last bit is said at a mumble.

"Well then, if this is all useless, why don't you take it up to the shredder and get rid of it?" John gathers up the papers and prods Sherlock in the right direction. Shredding useless or one better, confidential, documents was the one chore that Sherlock had taken childish glee in. It gives John a chance to give the kitchen a rudimentary once over anyway.

Sherlock is five minutes, the shredder upstairs whirring regularly as it eats sheet after useless sheet. John clears the counters of the empty shopping bags and stuffs them in the closet under the stairs before starting to straighten the living room, with the books and the skull on the shelf. Looking around, he realises how much is Sherlock's, how much is theirs, mutually. There are traces of his life alone too, presents from patients and colleagues and his tentative friends. No photos, but then he's never been a photos man.

Sherlock has finished trimming the hair on the bow and tightening it to a shallow sweeping concave dip when John gets back to the kitchen. He takes his time chopping the peppers and shelling sweet peas, ignoring Sherlock's hand sneaking out to steal a few every now and then. Mushroom extra finely chopped, if Sherlock's going to be eating, and the sweet potato cut into cubes. He's saving the garlic, and the onions till later. Onions make him cry.

"I've invited Molly," Sherlock says, looking up from his phone. He's been texting someone back and forth for the past few minutes.

John puts down the knife, and thinks about how he feels. Molly, sweet yet not so innocent, not so naive Molly who had once told the most shocking stories about her sister's high flying life with no resentment and then rounded off the night with tales of morgue horror. Molly. Molly who had helped Sherlock when no-one else could. That, at least, she deserves something for.

"That's fine. Tell her to be here at six."

"She wants to know if she should bring anything."

"Whatever you think, Sherlock." John goes back to chopping turkey breast for the stick-it-in-a-pan-paella-thing as Sherlock hesitantly, gently, as if it is a first touch to a long lost-and-found-again lover, draws the bow across the string. The violin gives a lovely sigh.

For a while, John had resented Molly, Molly who had no right to mourn Sherlock, she was only infatuated with him, had never loved him properly, had never lived with him. Avoiding her had been easy; they live in different parts of London and John has had no reason to go to Bart's at all. Now he finds himself wanting to say thank you. Thank you for doing what I could not, what I was not allowed to.

"How many?"

"Hmm?" John replies as the turkey sizzles in the small amount of olive oil at the bottom of a frying pan.

"How many are coming tonight? Mrs Hudson, she told me. Who else?"

"Tobi, Jessica, Beth, Tyrone," John counts off. "Mr Dilhew, Jane Jenkinson, Mrs Hudson, Jordan, Andrew, you, me, Molly. Twelve in total."

Sherlock looks around the room. "I did used to live here. You cannot fit twelve in here."

"Fifteen." The pan spits and John neatly sidesteps. "My record. Twelve is easy. You going to help me or what?"

"No," Sherlock says and puts bow to strings properly. John's eyes itch and he tells himself it's the onions. He doesn't fool himself. He's just so wonderfully, achingly glad that the music exists. The rusty imperfections just make it better, so much more real, even if this is going to have to end.

Later, after Mrs Hudson had dithered over the two of them and flitted from one to another with a smile in her eye that hasn't rested the whole evening and Jane Jenkinson has fussed over the state of everything but is so obviously glad to have company for the evening and Mr Dilhew and Molly have exchanged horror stories about the worst they've ever found; Mr Dilhew as a dustbin man and Molly as someone who does autopsies, and Jordan and Andrew have spent the entire time teasing Beth about the person she spends half the evening texting under the table and the other half openly showing the affection they hide every day and Tyrone the terrible two year old lives up to his name.

After Jessica tells John that she is pregnant again, but that this time it's Tobi's, and planned because they want Tyrone to have a younger sibling and Beth another nephew or a niece, and after Sherlock has pulled faces because he wanted to be the one to tell John that, not that John didn't already know, he pointed out to Sherlock, he's a doctor, it's his Job to notice these things. After, after first Jessica and Tobi and Beth and Tyrone had gone because Tyrone was grumbling and it was time for his bed, after Mr Dilhew had offered to drive Jane Jenkinson back, and after Mrs Hudson had left with them, swept up with gallantry and possibly a new beau.

After Molly has lent up and kissed Sherlock's cheek as if this is something that she does and Sherlock holds still, after she smiles tentatively at John and bravely repeats the action and the pile of washing up has been done and left to dry on both the draining board and on tea-towels spread over the counters, John sits down with Sherlock in the kitchen chairs and tells him that he's not coming back to Baker Street.

"I know." Sherlock is on his feet, pulling away the moment that John has said the words. "The moment you censored yourself. Stupid, stupid, shouldn't have let you have the dinner, seeing them was too much."

"What? Sherlock. I live here, my job is here. My home is here, they need me, here. Mrs Jenkinson won't see any doctor aside from me. Beth has just passed her A-levels with flying colours and been accepted to Nottingham to study medicine because I introduced her to it, I delivered Tyrone because Jessica would trust no one else. These people are my life, Sherlock."

"I need you more."

"Oh, so now you need me." Sherlock spins and John hates this, hates that they can only communicate in glimpses of how they used to be, fights and half-words.

"I came back for you. Not Greg, not Mrs Hudson. I jumped for them. I came back for you." John wonders how much it costs Sherlock to admit this. Why now? Why not a year and a half ago? Then he would have dropped everything and run, run to wherever Sherlock had wanted him to go. Now, he cannot.

"Sherlock," John feels his throat tighten and arranges his sentences in his mind in clear, clean lines. "I need you to listen to me, please."

Sherlock sits down, slowly and leans back, fingers steepled at his lips.

"All my life, I have belonged to something." It feels like Before, evenings in front of the fire in 221B, secrets revealed evenly between the two of them, one from me, one from you, each with the other's full attention. "First it was my family, crap though it was, then it was medicine, and the army. And then I had no one. And then I had you. And then I had no one, again, Sherlock. I didn't belong to anybody and it was lonely. The loneliest I have ever been, worse than when I thought that I really wouldn't make it through each night. Don't look at me like that, you know this."

"I do," Sherlock murmurs, and hasn't moved.

"I would come in and you would be everywhere, and I would just sit and nothing." John stops, and closes his eyes. He's never really spoken about this; despite how hard Ella tried therapy was never any good for him. It's John's life, not something to be analysed for meaning and symbols. He's surprised at how much this still hurts, even with the man in front of him, alive, here, present and staring and trying to understand. Maybe it hurts more because of that, John doesn't know. "There was nothing." John feels himself beginning to cry and doesn't try to stop. "It felt like I had known you all my life and then you died, Sherlock, blood across your face and your eyes staring and I will never forget that, you died and I had nothing anymore and everything was you and I hated it, and I hate that still."

Sherlock doesn't move, just watches impassively, a near perfect impression of Mycroft.

"So I am staying here, Sherlock, where I have something, at least, and I can trust that it won't abandon me."

"I need you," Sherlock repeats, very still and it is so like please, will you do this for me that it makes everything clearer in John's mind.

"Do you remember at the start of the Blind Banker case?"

"Of course."

"I was going to ask you for money, and you were confused because my pension came in literally the week before."

"You never said why."

"Because of the GMC membership fees. That's what I spent the pension money on. So I could practice again. I spent my pension on General Medical Council fees so I could be a practicing GP. You were just a man then, a strange, enthralling man, but just that. All I had left was doctor and I couldn't do that until I had paid. You're a detective, Sherlock." John sits up and wipes his cheeks. "A magnificent detective. The only one of your kind in the world. I am a doctor. That's who I am, and all I am now. The Montague Street doctor. It's good enough."

"I see."


"Yes. You never asked me to stop. Why should I?" Sherlock raises his eyebrow John scrubs at his eyes.

"Right, good." John stands, but Sherlock is already sweeping into action, has his phone out and is texting.

"I know a mover, proved his company wasn't smuggling a few years back, he should be able to be here tomorrow."

"Fine," John says and knows what he's put in motion. Anything of mine is yours he'd said, and he means it. "Most of your stuff is still in the spare room, but some of it's in the living room. And Good Housekeeping is in the kitchen. Goodnight." An hour. He just wants an hour to comprehend what he's done, sending Sherlock away, why, why has he done this? Too late to turn back and he already knows the answer to that question, it's not a question really.

His room is too big and everything is wrong and what, aside from the right thing, has he done to himself?

"Come in," John calls out to the knock on his office door. He sees his first patients at eleven but for now the first part of Tuesday morning is filled with the paperwork that, as head of practice, he has to complete. "Thanks, Mira," John says without looking up.

"John," says Sherlock, "my powers of disguise are considerable, but even I cannot look like a five foot three Middle Eastern woman."

"Sherlock." John spins the chair round to face the man, who is holding a cup of tea in John's second favourite mug. His favourite is currently half-empty and cold by the keyboard. "All packed then?" An obvious question and Sherlock's castigating look is an obvious answer.

Sherlock puts down the mug on the edge of the desk and John moves it just a bit more inwards.

"I put the key back under the cat."

"After taking a copy?" Sherlock waves a dismissive hand. It seems neither of them knows what to say.

"Well," Sherlock says, breaking the heavy silence. "Goodbye, John." He seems to debate something before putting out his hand.

John takes it and they clasp hands in a handshake that doesn't move but lingers strong, fingers unwilling to let go.

"Goodbye, Sherlock." They let go, hands down by their sides, controlled. "You're always welcome, you know," John says as Sherlock reaches the office door. "I'm always happy to see you, Sherlock, no matter what."

"I know, John," Sherlock turns back around, a fond smile in his eyes, and for a second John isn't a stubborn man and Sherlock isn't equally as stubborn and they both aren't testing the other to see how far they can stretch. "I know."

Chapter Text

Doctor Watson hasn't called any patients through in the ten minutes since his last appointment. It's odd, not like him at all. Mira glides backwards on the wheels of the chair, which is still a glorious novelty and doesn't stick to the carpet like the old, uncomfortable wooden one, and goes through to see.

The corridor is silent, just the hum of clunky computers. His door is open a crack, as is his habit when there are no patients in the room.

He isn't doing anything. Doctor Watson, from the little she can see, is staring at the taped together photo on his desk, the laughing one with him and Mr Holmes, whom she hasn't seen for three days. Mira pushes open the door. The hinge doesn't squeak.

"Doctor Watson?"

"Hmmm?" He turns around in his chair to face her in the doorway. She can practically see the way he drags his eyes away from the photo. He looks like he should be crying, something written deep into the lines on his face. He looks too lost in the picture of the past to take any note of how he is now. "Yes?"

She doesn't know what to say. What the hell does she say to this man? This locked up man who she can't comprehend anymore. She used to be able to, a bit. Sympathise, even if she couldn't empathise. There is no template, Mira realises, for the reversal of grief. She tries to imagine a metaphor that would work for this situation. It must have been like having the stars, and then having them taken away from you and being given LEDs in the stars' place, and then having the stars shoved in your hands again, just when you'd gotten used to placebo light. It still doesn't fit. It is something entirely unknowable.

She can't help him. For the very first time she can't do anything. She can't provide newspapers, or messages, or paint, or a recipe for the spiciest meal her grandmother had ever made. This time, she can't help. She doesn't think anyone else can either.

It feels wrong to keep on intruding on this backwards process, but she can't leave without having a reason for being there.

"Tea?" she offers.

"Thanks," he says, and smiles in that 'I'm trying but my face won't move properly' way that everybody does when they're uncomfortable.

She leaves him and debates calling his house where Sherlock Holmes will hopefully be. Should she? Would that be what's best for Doctor Watson?

She doesn't know.

When she returns with the tea five minutes later there is no evidence of distress on his face. If she hadn't seen then she wouldn't have known. It makes her wonder, as she leaves the door open just a crack behind her, how much else of himself Doctor Watson hides and how much he has left behind over his life and is now reclaiming.

The text sits on the screen of his phone, innocuous and just there, waiting to be replied to: Half of these textbooks are yours. S

You used them more. J, John sends and sees the scrawl of Sherlock's notes on his pages.

When John gets in, Sherlock is sitting at the kitchen table and has paper spread out around him like a blast radius. Half has been torn into pieces and the other half appears to be pages covered in the careful, deliberate print that Sherlock uses when he is writing for others. It's almost childlike in its shape on the page. Sherlock writes, in situations like this, as if he's going to be told off for a misformed letter. When he's scrawling his own notes the words and letters are pen scratches all over the place.

It takes John a few seconds to acclimatise once more to two facts. 1) Sherlock is alive and 2) he is sitting at John's kitchen table even though he has moved back to Baker Street. Then he sits down and steals the mug Sherlock has dangerously close to both his left hand and the edge of the table. He takes a sip. It's coffee, and hours cold at that.

"Have you been drinking this?"

"Mmmm," Sherlock says, or rather doesn't say, because that hum is the sound Sherlock makes when he's coming out of his head and starting to pay attention to the outside world again.

"This coffee, how long have you had this cup?" Sherlock shrugs. "Then when did you get here?"

"Around one?" Sherlock offers. His hair is its old length, cut so that the curls just rest on the back of his neck as his head bends down when he writes. It brings back memories of cases, of mutual understandings on long nights where the exchanges of idea was what kept them going. Things that John thought he had forgotten, because that's what humans do: forget. It's like he has a small slice of the past stuck in the now and John can't get over how disjointed that feels.

It would be easier, John suspects, to accept and get used to the fact that Sherlock is alive, get used to the old-newness of this situation that they have themselves in if he'd given into the immediate instinct of yes when Sherlock had asked him back to 221B two weeks ago. But this doesn't deserve to be easy. If anything can be salvaged out of the mess that they have themselves in it is going to be hard and worthwhile. John thinks, when he lets himself imagine this new future once more with Sherlock, that it could be better than what they had before. And that was pretty damn near perfect. A sort of understated perfect with exciting bits and awful bits and quiet bits and all sorts of bits really. Good. Just plain good and the potential for this to happen again makes John's diaphragm tight.

John pours the half-drunk cup of cold coffee down the sink. It leaves a thin brown residue of liquid on the metal, like a semi-permanent trace of where it has been until the water washes it away.

"What are you writing?"

"Mycroft. Wants reports of specific events because we tore up those forms," Sherlock nearly growls, impatient and irritated. The two brothers seem to have fallen into a vicious cycle of one upmanship. Sherlock tears up forms Mycroft undoubtedly has copies of already and Mycroft pushes Sherlock into writing up reports of events that happened a couple of years ago.

"You hate writing," John says as he sits down at the end of the table. Sherlock will makes notes, proper ones and messy two-second ones but he prefers to type for longer pieces.

"It's easier to destroy," Sherlock says, and then nearly jabs the biro through the page. This is true, John considers. You can burn paper. You can't burn bytes. The sight of Sherlock surrounded by tangible words brings back more thoughts, and the ideas written in a letter that lives in a shortbread tin under his bed.

"Should I burn the letter then?" It makes John ache to consider turning Sherlock's proper goodbye, because that phone call was not goodbye, to ash. He likes having a record of Sherlock's sentiment on paper, written with ink. It was out of character for Sherlock, that letter. Very sincerely yours. The words run through his head as Sherlock looks up.

"If you want to," he says slowly, and he is closed off, almost like the beginning. Wary. Sherlock shouldn't be wary of him. Oh god, John is tired.

There is something John needs to ask, something that has preyed on his mind in the small hours for the past three years. He's not quite sure if he can actually ask until the words come out of his mouth with a mind of their own.

"Why did you write it?"

Sherlock puts down the pen, and scrubs his hands through his hair and over his eyes. He doesn't look like he's been sleeping. It's been just as hard for him, John realises, but in different ways. "I wanted you to have something," Sherlock says. "I wanted to leave something. Mycroft was to give you that letter only if things went completely wrong. Like they did."

"Completely wrong?" John stands up and paces across the small kitchen floor. "That wasn't completely wrong. The complete balls-up would have been if you had actually died."

"I have eyes, John," Sherlock burst and throws the pen at the wall. It leaves a small black mark. "I can see what I've done to you. For Christ's sake, you've lost more weight in these past few weeks than you have since I had to call you as Sigerson."

"Like you're one to talk," John snaps right back and then somehow they are giggling like old there in the kitchen.

This is how the healing starts, John thinks later, after Sherlock has gathered up the handwritten report and left. With awkward, inappropriate laughter. But then, that's how they always have been.

John has a full staff at Montague Street for the first time. It's a miracle that has taken two rounds of interviews and an eventual decision on a young doctor named Charlie Verner and the fact that several of the district nurses are now going to be based there. It means that with the Moran/Armstrong trial looming heavily in the distance John can take the time off without feeling guilty about leaving them there. They are all fully competent intelligent adults, skilled and liked by everybody. They can do their jobs.

So he doesn't feel anything other than every single form of anticipation when he goes back to Baker Street for the first time. It's in response to a text; Sherlock has taken to texting him several times a day with small, often ridiculous titbits. This one reads Mrs Hudson is trying to kill me with cottage pie. Help. S

How can John resist a plea like that?

"Mrs Hudson, I honestly couldn't eat another bite," John says as he leans back in his chair, stretching out his legs. They kick into something. Sherlock's legs, but Sherlock doesn't say a thing, just kicks back slightly and doesn't smirk with his mouth or his eyebrows. He is smirking though. John can tell these things.

"It's lovely to have my boys back," Mrs Hudson says as she starts to gather up dishes and plates. "Look at you both." John and Sherlock look up at each other, and then away, and then hold each other's gaze for a few seconds. It feels far too close to a courtship dance for John's liking.

John stands suddenly and takes the plates out of her hands. "Let us. You cooked." Sherlock pulls a face behind her back, but helps anyway, snatching the sponge out of John's hand before he can start running the water. Sherlock always prefers washing if he has to do one of the washing/drying combo, leaving John to dry up every time. The little things haven't changed. He's still Sherlock who hates being handed plates that are slimy with soapy water, so he prefers to make them that way himself. It is very like him. If Sherlock is washing, he's causing the mess, leaving John to clear up after him, or dry up, and since when has doing the washing up for Mrs Hudson turned into a gigantic metaphor for their lives?

John is tired, and drunk, in his own house, not 221B. Sherlock is sitting across the kitchen table from him. Between them are a couple of empty bottles of wine and the dregs of a half bottle of Glenfiddich. Their heads are going to kill them in the morning. John cannot think of a time that he has been more grateful for not having the morning shift.

He doesn't care about that at the moment. Right now Sherlock is across the table from him, flushed and soft with alcohol and open and desperate to share. John isn't drunk enough that he won't remember this and he is so fiercely glad about that. He needs to hear this, Sherlock's tale while he is willing to tell it. Dragging it out of the man against his will would spoil it. Trust. It's all about trust. You have to trust someone to drink around them, trust them not to ruin you with the careless words and actions that intoxication can cause. Sherlock is trusting John, like he used to, like he still does and John is trusting Sherlock, like he used to, like he somehow is still trying to, and if it takes a bit of liquid courage to get them going, so be it.

"I was wrong," Sherlock has finished talking about far off lands and has moved on to being in London. "I told Lestrade and he knew what I had said straight away. How did he know?" A drunken Sherlock is a garrulous Sherlock, all relevant rambles and a slight lisp.

"He's known you for a decade," John says and smiles down at the last thin layer of amber in his glass.

Sherlock half leans over the table, propped up on one hand and examining John. John looks back, not sure if it feels odd or ordinary to be examined once more.

"When I said you weren't a hero, John. I was angry at you because you weren't listening." Sherlock turns away as he speaks, doesn't look John in the eye. They're back to the oldest form of communication, glances and not-glances. "I've been watching you. You're everybody's hero. I can't move without finding someone who adores you. It's like the Doctor Watson fan club around here."

John feels like blushing, and holds it back mostly; swallowing against the fact that Sherlock has admitted that other people need him. It's a form of acceptance that means they can only go forward.

"It's quiet without you," Sherlock says, as if it's some kind of great secret that can only be shared in this liquid-bolstered environment. "Too quiet- the upstairs doesn't creak, and there's no-one to complain about the kitchen."

"John. I'll be fine." Carmen stares down at him along a proud nose. She's an inch taller than him. "You told me everything that I need to know." She shuffles the papers on her desk, hand flicking over the picture of her children. "Julia and Alberto are both in school. I have the time and you've been, how do you say- preparing? - grooming? - me for this for the past year, I can tell. Go and put that hijo de puta in cárcel, prison? Yes?"

John smiles. Carmen is fiercely protective. He thinks that she and Sherlock should meet, they would tolerate each other. She is also surprisingly vulgar when the occasion demands it, swearing fluently and without impunity in her mother tongue. He trusts her, and he trusts her with his surgery and patients. She will make a fine temporary head of surgery. He wouldn't be surprised if she surpasses him in some areas. The only reason that he became head was because Dr Fryer retired and there was no-one else.

John stands in the witness box and resists the compulsion to smooth down the lapels of his jacket. It doesn't quite fit him properly. That's what you get when you lose weight due to grief. Three years is a long time though. He should have regained at least some of it. In the depths of his mind a little voice whispers, I was prepared to mourn him for the rest of my life. No one would have noticed if I was quiet about it and made it the normal me. That's not healthy; John knows and doesn't quite care. Sherlock is back, and he is here. Not here, in the court room, because they had agreed that it would be too public. But he is back. He is here.

The judge on the bench in this case of The Crown v Moran is not Sir Augustus Moran, who has taken a voluntary (forced) leave of absence while the entire affair is happening. Justice Brinkley has the roots of a Jamaican accent in his low tones and is practically the opposite of Moran. John is not sure if this is good or bad. Good, he thinks tentatively.

The lawyer prosecuting for The Crown is a woman called Ruth Instone who looks like she's seen everything and knows that she's seen almost everything. There is a difference between thinking that you've seen everything and knowing that you've seen almost everything. It's a difference that John is intimately familiar with and he's glad that she is too. You fall into fewer traps that way.

"You are," says Ms Instone, and looks up at him. "John Hamish Watson of 15 Montague Street."

"Yes," John says, remembering to say so, and not just nod.

"You graduated in July 1997 from St Bart's Medical school."


"You joined the army as a doctor where, over 12 years of service you received a Military Cross and a George Cross as well as numerous mentions in dispatches."

John fights the quiver across his skin. He hates his decorations being pointed out; it goes against his every modest bone.

"Yes," he says once more, softly. He know why she is establishing this, a base of honesty and bravery, setting up the picture of a good man for him to stand on and use to portray himself as someone to be believed. There are twelve people sitting across from him who should be hanging on his every word if he's doing this right. John's always hated public speaking. He's rubbish at it.

"You received Medical Discharge after being shot." And now he has their pity. He loathes pity. The jury now see him as a washed up veteran rather than a man who can stand on his own.

"Yes," John says and feels slightly uncomfortable. Talking about when he was shot he will have to do, because Moran was involved, but after, the consequent infection and care it took to get him on his feet again, he hates thinking off, and talking about. There is only one person who knows more than the basics who wasn't involved in his medical care or is Mycroft and he is not here. He should be tucked safely away in 221B. He is… sitting in the gallery.

John, in an unparalleled feat of self-control, doesn't bury his head in his hands. Sherlock is sitting in the public gallery, in a brown suit with his hair combed and slicked to the side and a pair of thin, wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose as he pretends to scribble notes. He could strangle that man. They'd agreed. Agreed that Sherlock wouldn't come to watch even though he'd wanted to because he didn't want the press, of which there is quite a bit, to see him. They've kept his return confined to government back offices and cold-cases from Lestrade so far. Sherlock and John have no desire for the major public eye at all.

Slowly, ever so slowly, over the course of three days, John talks his ways though his encounters with Moran, in both desert and city. He tells the court of the soldiers and few brave civilians he had treated in the wake of Moran, he tells of the night spent in the cell, he speaks of the burnt out building across from the surgery where he had been prepared to. Sherlock sits through it all, watching John. It is a staggering reversal of the opposite circumstances, when near four years ago now they were in each other's seats.

So long. It's been so long.

Late on the third day Ruth Instone stands from behind her table to address Justice Brinkley. "Your Honour," she says, face sure. "I would like to present one last piece of evidence concerning the defendant. The court has already hear how he plotted, and carried out, with the assistance of the late James Moriarty, an attempt on the life of Doctor Watson. I request permission to play a recording of the confession of Piers 'Skinner' Tyler, one of the men who, two years ago, attacked Doctor Watson and Bethany Lonski in another attempt on Doctor Watson's life.

"We were given the doctor's description and a photograph, nothing more. He looked a bit small and old and we thought no trouble. Mr Moran told us he had been in the army, and so to watch out, but that he would have a girl with him, and we could do what we liked with her. Mr Moran gave us half the money then and promised us the other half after. We thought that it would be easy 'cause of the way Mr Moran was smirking at us. Never been more wrong in my life. The doctor was a scrapper, and a right menace with that cane of his that he was using to help him walk.

"This is yet another offence that Sebastian Moran committed against the person of John Watson." Her red hair is scraped back into a tight bun at the base of her neck; sever against the neck of the dark grey suit jacket as she turns her head to look each of the jury in the eye, securing their attention.

John glances up at Sherlock, just one of thousands of such looks over the past three days. Sherlock has been sitting up there like an over-protective hawk even though he really shouldn't have been. John hasn't spoken to him about it because he hasn't seen the man outside the courtroom; he comes and goes without John seeing, even though he's looking. John knows why he's avoiding him, he doesn't want John to talk about how he really shouldn't be here even though he so utterly grateful that he is. Having Sherlock sitting up there makes it better once John has resigned himself to the fact that Sherlock isn't leaving. It lets John pretend that he is talking to Sherlock only, that everybody else are just incidental intruders in their private little world. Sherlock is there, and listening. Such a small shred of knowledge that makes this entire tiring experience seem that little bit better.

When John turns on his phone late that evening, having gone out the back of the Old Bailey to avoid the crowds of press and is ensconced in the hotel room he's in for the duration of his time as witness, his inbox is full of texts. Most of them are from Sherlock, with the exceptions being from Harry, Mike, Greg and Mira. Theirs are all asking how he is. Sherlock's are a strange list when read backwards as they appear in his inbox, newest at the top of the list.

John, answer me. Say no.

Would you have let them? Say no.

Including yourself.

You're very good at pretending to be fine. You fooled everybody.

The girl, wasn't it. The one at dinner. Only for her. John. Answer me.

Did you think yourself not important? That is perhaps the most moronic thing. S.

Did you pay her off? S.

Why didn't Wiggins say? S.

Did they hurt you? What did they do? S.

John? S.

John? S.

Why didn't you say? S.

Read in reverse, they paint a picture of panic that wrenches something in John.

Come here. J.

He sends the text, and waits.

Sherlock shows up at the door, not bothering to knock, just opening and walking in. His suit jacket, brown and slightly ill-fitting, goes with the colour scheme of the room, the beiges and the whites that seem universal in every average hotel across the globe. John closes the door behind him as he sinks into a chair in a way that seems entirely wrong.

"So," John says, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"I appear to have underestimated the entire situation," Sherlock says slowly, and removes the thin wire frame glasses that have sat on his nose, changing the shape of his face, obscuring his eyes. He puts them in his pocket, and runs a hand through his hair, messing up the way it's been combed back and aside. It falls oddly across his forehead, sticky and straight. "You. Moran and you. And you would have let them, if Miss Lonski hadn't been there. I can tell- the way you were talking about it gave it all away."

John says nothing. He doesn't really think of that time. Doesn't let himself. John Watson is very good at pretending, and he had just been pretending to be fine up until the attack, and even after,until the second Christmas where he had realised that he could be reasonably content living in Montague Street. Before then he wouldn't have cared really. He would have been fighting, if he had died that night. An honourable way to go, no shame in it, and most definitely not with it being five on one. Not that Beth hadn't been a scrapper, kneeing two of them in the balls as they tore her blouse, but still, not a bad way to go.

Would he have let them? Would he have fought half-heartedly and welcomed any sort of peace and darkness? It's not something that John likes to think about, mainly because the answer is a dangerous road to go down.

"I don't know. Maybe," is all John says. The air is thick and stuffy, entirely wrong for late November in a badly heated room. "Why did you go without me?"

"What?" Sherlock stares at him. It is strange, Sherlock's eyes burning mercury out of the wrong costume, but it is wonderfully similar at the same time. John has seen Sherlock in disguise before. It's just another time with a different reason.

"Your 'dusting spree'." John quotes himself. "Why did you go without me?"

"I've already explained this," Sherlock says, looking slightly annoyed. It's a relief. Up until now, it's been as if Sherlock doesn't dare to get annoyed with John, for fear of driving him away. He's trying so hard. "If you had come, Greg and Mrs Hudson would have had to too."

"You said it yourself; we could have faked a suicide for me. In the first week people would have believed it. Or put out that I was volunteering for MSF in Africa, god knows I've worked in Kenya before, so the story would have held up." John sits very still, not looking at Sherlock properly. He can see him in his peripheral vision clearly, but they are not eye to eye. John twists, brings a leg up onto the bed so he can face Sherlock, perched on the uncomfortable wooden chair by the desk that John has been using to dump his clothes on for the night.

"I didn't want you there," Sherlock says finally, and John has a sudden and intense burst of homesickness for the living room of 221B, the fire and the chairs and co-operative closeness that felt right in all ways. It's definitely homesickness and not nostalgic longing, John knows the feeling well. "I didn't want you there. I did. I talked to you constantly, even in my sleep, according to I..." Sherlock breaks off, his face wrinkled and uncomfortable in new ways that John is learning. "I didn't want you to see me like, that. My worst." The scoffing laugh is bitter as it leaves Sherlock's throat and enters John's ears, mocking.

"You didn't want me," John says, and sinks into himself. It's only confirmation of what he already knows, but it still hurts. Did Sherlock really have to say it? Couldn't he spare John just this once? Though really, John doesn't want to be spared. That's half the point.

"No." Now Sherlock moves and sits facing John on the bed. John looks up at him, his newly lined face and his eyes and thinks I have never loved anyone more. More than Harry, more than any of his girlfriends, more than his mother. It is an uncomfortable thought, but a welcome one. "If you died John, if you died in front of me as I did in front of you, I would not be able to bear it as you have. I wouldn't give a fuck about the rest of the world, about anybody. It wouldn't matter. And that is why you couldn't come with me. Because I am a weak man, and you, John, are the strongest man I know, the only one who would be able to bear it. I could not. I could not, if you were to die..." Sherlock bows his heavy head, the skull that is covered in dark curls and holds all that is important and cradles John's face in his palms, pushing them forehead to forehead. He's crying, small hitching breaths and tears to match. "Look at me. Tears, no purpose to them, unnecessary physical response really, and I can't help it. I'm just a man, John."

John holds Sherlock's too close gaze, holds it steady as a burden he is happy and willing to carry for the rest of his life. He wants to, he realises. He wants Sherlock in the rest of his life, wants him there desperately.

"Everybody needs a good cry now and again," John says, smiling and running his fingers over the back of Sherlock's head. Look at them, getting places. It makes John happy, happy to know that they can talk, that they are approaching normal and kicking it out the window to create something better. He can feel it building in his chest, smoothing the knots and helping his shoulders carry the load.

"All rise." The court shuffles to its feet, the witnesses and the defendants and the prosecution and the jury and those in the gallery all standing, kicking items on the floor as they stand. The room is packed.

Justice Brinkley looks down at the papers in front of him, and then across at the jury. "Sebastian Moran has been brought before this court on five charges- the murder of Ronald Adair, the attempted murder of John Watson, possession of a Class A substance with intent to supply, receiving of stolen goods and smuggling. How have you found him?"

The foreman stands. She is small and seems slightly scared. Her hair is obsessively neat. She speaks.

John hadn't been expecting the relief, the visceral flood of endorphins that saturate his brain and colour everything pale for a second. He doesn't feel safer, knowing that Moran will be pretty much permanently incarcerated, with Armstrong soon to follow with the charge of Police Brutality, but knowing that the Homeless Network will be in less danger, the kids on Montague Street will have one less way to muck themselves up. Jesus, that's a strong feeling. This is a gift of one less thing to worry about and John is so grateful.

Sherlock catches John's eye and offers him a small smile, a quirk of the lips. John grins back, fully and properly, in a way he hasn't in ages. Jesus. Jesus. It's over.

His phone vibrates in his pocket. It's Sherlock.


221B is warm, and there is a fire in the grate, not doubt thanks to Mrs Hudson. Sherlock is framed in the window, playing, sounds smooth from the strings, the vibrato hovering between them as his fingers vibrate over the fingerboard. It's amazing what John remembers, late night lessons when neither of them could sleep. He's playing In the Bleak Midwinter, which is John's favourite carol and Sherlock's too. Sherlock lowers the bow, leaves the violin resting on his shoulder.

"All done then."

"Yup," John agrees and goes straight to the kitchen. Everything is in the right place, but as usual it is half lab and half actual food preparation area. Tea is needed.

Over the course of the evening Sherlock floats his way through all of John's favourites and John listens, entranced to have Sherlock playing for him again, a private concert once more. That little snippet when he first saw Sherlock again doesn't count.

John watches, tea just cool enough to drink and heating his oesophagus as Sherlock loses the tension in his shoulders and the slight wrinkles in his forehead and the corners of his eyes smooth out. It is something miraculous to watch, the real man coming out of the shell of the other man, like a butterfly emerging crumpled and drying to show shining wings.

"John. John." John wakes to Sherlock kneeling in front of him, his hand on John's knee where he was shaking it to wake him. John isn't sure when he'd fallen asleep, somewhere during The Aquarium he thinks, because the slide of the strings in that piece is recognisable without the other instruments. It had been a lullaby of the subtle kind. John hadn't meant to sleep. "You're about to miss the last tube," Sherlock says softly. The way he is kneeling means that he is looking up at John for once. It is an unusual state of affairs.

This isn't the first time. John would fall asleep in his chair Before, because he can fall asleep anywhere, and Sherlock would wake him with an admonishment of 'honestly John, your shoulder', but this is the first time After that the same thing has happened. Once more, it is incredibly odd, the past muscling its way into the present.

John stands and feels lightheaded for a moment, the result of too little food over the past few days and too much worry. He gets over it quickly. If there is any person used to working on 'grab it while you can', it's John Watson. Since the age of twenty, when he started clinical training he has lived on that mentality. Grab sleep, food, drink, five quiet minutes when he can because he never knows when a patient will come in, or he'll be called out or if he'll get shot at or get any sort of break of a decent length or if Sherlock Holmes will come into his room at three in the morning, rip off his covers and say, with an indecent grin that drips with anticipation, 'John, case.', and drag him out of bed.

"Right then," John says, casting about for his jacket. Sherlock lifts it from the hook on the back of the door where it has hung all evening next to Sherlock's own greatcoat. Seeing Sherlock wear it had given John shivers the first few times, unease sitting heavy on him. The last time he had seen that coat, it had been cleaned of blood and folded neatly on a mortuary table. The time before that, holding Sherlock's fallen body together, collar turned up as always.

"You could stay," Sherlock says quietly, suddenly, not looking at John and then right in the eye. They hold the contact; let it stretch, comfortingly familiar. "Mrs Hudson keeps your room aired. There are still linens in the cupboard."

It is so easy to give in and John is so tired, and has been for the past three years.

"Right then," John says and takes his jacket out of Sherlock's hands and hangs it back up.

John wakes in a remarkably familiar room to his phone ringing. Mira, the screen tells him, as well as the fact that it is six thirty in the morning. The last time she called him like this, oh Christ, oh fuck.

"They saw him, didn't they, yesterday," he says before she can get a word in edgewise. "Jesus." He casts around for his jeans, and looks in the drawers on impulse. There's a pair of underwear in there, and a pair of neatly balled socks and yes, in the small wardrobe a shirt is hanging. He can't help but choke out a laugh, despite the situation.

"Cheh? John, why are you laughing?"

"The lunatic's only gone and stolen a set of my clothes so that I can have fresh ones in the morning. I wore this shirt last week."

"John. You're both everywhere. Plastered across the pages. Are you at Baker Street?"

"Yes." He peaks through the outer gap in the curtains. Cameras have gathered. John's window looks over the street, on the third of four floors and no attic. Baker Street is absolutely useless for tried and tested escape methods. "Jesus," he repeats, slipping out of Dari to blaspheme and then back in. "Thank you, Mira. Christ. I'm due in at one today, I'll see you around twelve."

"John." John can hear Sherlock taking the stairs to his room two at a time, rushing. "John, outside."

"Vaghean?" John says, in the wrong language and twice as sarcastic.

"What?" Sherlock says, face screwing up. John had been teaching scraps of the Middle Eastern language to Sherlock in the quiet times but John's Dari has only improved over these past years, the benefit of regular meals at the Husays.

John forces his mind to switch languages. Unlike Sherlock, he's not able to jump lingual tracks effortlessly; it takes him a couple of seconds to get back into it. "Really," he repeats, "I hadn't noticed."

"You're getting up." Sherlock looks put out. John suspects it's because he wanted to be able to wake John up, like Before, with a case or problem. On one occasion because Sherlock had forgotten to remove the batteries from the fire alarm before starting an experiment that lived up to its smoky potential and then didn't know how to detach it from the ceiling in the hall to turn it off.

"Not like you to state the obvious."

"Yes, well." Sherlock looks away as John hangs up on the call and grabs the hung up shirt. "How did you get out last time?"

"The attic. Like in The Magician's Nephew." Socks, and then his shoes are downstairs. "I'm going to have a shower. We can talk about what to do after."

The bathroom is the same as always, but with a slightly greater need of a scrubbing. Sherlock uses his soap. Or at least the soap he had used Before. John had used Dove soap, because that's what he had used as a child and then as a teenager and then that was the type that came in the wash kits and he could never be bothered to change. For the past three years however, he has used the plain Imperial Leather that Sherlock had used in what started as a desperate attempt to preserve some part of his scent and turned into comfort. It seems Sherlock has done the same, because in the soap dish sits a curved white bar of Dove soap. It's nearly ironic really, the lengths that each of them have gone through to keep the other even slightly present in their lives, even thousands of miles distant.

There is no good way to get it over and done with. A consultation with a quietly woken Mrs Hudson confirms that her back door is a no-go too- the entrance to the alley at the road also has a few cameras waiting in hope.

They stand, facing the front door. Mrs Hudson is behind them, all of them dressed as smart as is appropriate. John's run an iron over his suit jacket and has changed his shirt. Sherlock looks as put together as ever and Mrs Hudson, who five minutes ago had been fussing about her roots, is looking like a hidden battle-axe. If worst came to worst, they had joked, she would get her ladle out again.

"We should have waited for Mycroft," John says, playing devil's advocate. He fully supports Sherlock's decision to address the collected press without his brother, but he wants him to think it through properly, not do it as an unplanned impulse.

"I'd prefer this over and done with." Sherlock fiddles with his hair, and then drops his hand to his side. "Confirmation that 'yes, here I am' and then tell them to piss off."


It is mayhem, it is a nightmare, and Sherlock is coiling tighter and tighter as the days go by and more questions are shoved in his face and people want to see him. John can tell. It's written in the creases around his eyes and the fact that he will flop over the sofa of 221B and then pace, hands flying. It's the fact that when Mycroft comes over, Sherlock doesn't turn bitter towards him and doesn't play the violin and is silent except for when he needs to speak. John goes from Montague to Baker Street, back and forth and gets more tired, and more wound right alongside him. They both turn into a mess of agitation and when John nearly decks a photographer he knows something has to happen. They are people and they have lives.

Then news happens. John has never been so indecently grateful for the kidnapping of oil workers in Africa in his entire life. They are left alone as the papers scream about the growing number of militants in Africa and terrorists.

Sherlock is silent as John puts on his coat to head home to Montague Street from 221B. John thinks that he still wants John to move back in. Well tough. He as Montague Street and the surgery. Sherlock knows this and also knows that John is not giving them up.

"'Night Sherlock," John says over his shoulder to the flopped shape that lounges over the sofa. "Try to actually eat something tomorrow."

"John." Sherlock twists to look at him, smiling and indulgent. "I did actually survive for more than thirty years before I met you."

"Whatever you say Sherlock," John tosses over his shoulder as he goes down the stairs. "Whatever you say."

Why is my brother such a git?

Because you're an equally melodramatic sod, and you know it. Punch him for me. Dinner?

No. He puts me off. You know this.

Coq au vin.

Sherlock calls. Calls. "Where?"

John stifles a chuckle. He can hear a terse sigh in the background. Mycroft. Sherlock is making this a call when he could be texting; he prefers to text, purely to annoy his brother. John doesn't blame him. He still doesn't trust Mycroft, and never will, especially concerning Sherlock. He may have motivations and justifications but John will never trust Mycroft again.

"Marseille's, that little place in the corner of…"

"Great Russell Square, yes. You finish at seven."

John thinks of the state of the waiting room. It's half three, but things will get worse. "More like seven thirty." He's getting a cup of tea in the midst of a mess; the staff room covered in files that a week ago, during an inspection, had been neatly hurried away. His neck is craned to keep his phone in place against his right shoulder. "Lots of people. Winter flu. Meet you there?"

"No. I'll come to you." John is presented with the sound of Sherlock abruptly hanging up as the kettle starts to inform him that it is really boiling, right now.

"It's seven thirty five," drags John out of his angry sad fugue of paperwork. He is filling in a referral to the local food bank. A mother has come in with her young boy, who has an ear infection. Her partially sighted partner has just been declared fit for work by ATOS, but no one will hire him, and she's on maternity leave. They have no money for Calpol, so the child is past screaming. He's more concerned about the mother though, she's pale and exhausted and she and her boyfirend are taking it in turns to eat on alternate nights due to lack of funds after paying for rent and electricity and gas. It's is nearing worst case scenario and it makes John want to go somewhere very far away where the worst thing that he can face is bullets and too much blood.

"Ah." Sherlock sits in the chair the patient usually sits in. John watches him scan the papers in front of him, reading upside down. "St Patrick's?"

"Mmm hmm," John agrees. "The second referral this week. January is the worst time after summer holidays." Sherlock has been back now for almost two months, quietly fading back into his life after that blip with the papers. The detective is once more a detective, working on small cases quietly for the police and a few private ones that John has heard of and in some places, helped a bit with. Greg has also told him that the cold case folders at The Yard have been finding their way to Sherlock one at a time, via various different senior staff, and have been coming back with both insulting notes and solutions scribbled on them. John knew about this before Greg told him over a pint in the Headless Mary, because Sherlock had been complaining about the paperwork that he had to do, signing off on each and every move he made.

John scrawls his name on the forms, dating them as Sherlock watches. He is very glad that Sherlock hasn't said anything past questioning the food bank to which John will refer the young family. He doesn't think that he could bear it. John has never gone hungry in his life from lack of resources, but he knows Sherlock has when he was a few years out of Cambridge and spiralling down a dying, drug-ridden drain. John doesn't like to think of Sherlock like that, so the train of thought revolving around poverty and hunger is thrice damned: Sherlock, some of the areas he had served in and now here, in Montague Street.

John has always been most comfortable where others fear to tread. He wonders what that says about him.

Marseille's is a small restaurant tucked in a corner, a bit like a French Angelo's, if John was searching for a comparison. They serve, by Sherlock's reckoning, the best Coq au Vin in Zone 1, though the pair of them had only gone once or twice Before, because Sherlock had only proved that it wasn't the chef, but the waiter hired six months earlier, who was infecting certain costumers' food with strains of an unpleasant but non-lethal strain of E-coli in revenge for firing his uncle the month before that, after the whole mess with Irene Adler had been cleared up. It is cosily lit and coal smoke music filters out of the speakers hidden in the corners.

A candle is put on their table. John doesn't have it in his heart to complain.

They wait, and then eat for the first few minutes in a silence reminiscent of old evenings. John doesn't feel up to talking after the last part of his day and Sherlock seems quite content to just eat. He likes the coq au vin here, said that it reminds him of how his grandmere used to make it, thick sauce and flavour heavy in the meat.

"You still have Teleological Response of the Virus," Sherlock says, after swallowing a mouthful.

"Not surprised," John says, setting down his knife and fork, picking up his water glass and watching the clear liquid swirl. "You left quickly. I was surprised you managed to find movers at that time of night."

"Well, they owed me a favour. Smuggling charges. I did say." Sherlock fiddles, fingers wrapping around the stem of the wine glass. Sherlock actually staying still except for in several very select circumstances is about as likely as a snowball having a chance in hell.

"You left very quickly," John says, and starts eating again. He knows that to anyone else his agitation would be invisible. Sherlock Holmes is not anyone else.

"You weren't coming back to 221B. You made that remarkably clear." Accusing him, Sherlock is accusing him of a crime that John is not sure of committing. Having a life? Is that a crime now? Being forced to move on against his will and settling into it when it became apparent that dead was dead?

John pushes it aside. He doesn't want this to degenerate into sharp arguments that hurt. They both know too many secrets of the others for the attacks to become anything less than entirely pointed.

They move on, settle back into companionship and small comfortable comments like "pass the pepper," and "here, your spoon, it's about to…" and "thanks."

"Speaking of an entire community wrapped around your little finger," Sherlock says and puts his coffee cup back on the saucer with a 'clink'. "I was talking to your receptionist, Mira."


"Mmmn. Fascinating conversation."

John looks up, and smiles slightly. It feels a bit like they are back in the beige hotel that he had been put in during his tenure as witness during Moran's trial. Sherlock has been keeping this aside, building up to it. A bit different from his usual 'dive in the deep end' approach, but his is a different man. Three years does a lot to a person. They're both proof of that.

"Go on then. What did she say?"

"The night that farce of an arrest happened, with Armstrong. She seemed to think that I needed to know. I had forgotten how tenacious she was." John can't help but freeze, memories of everything he said that night, especially to Mira, the non-stop evening, being wound up from the two emergency calls to the Chambers' and then the full day and then the invasion and all on the anniversary of the Jump. It had all been too much at once.

"'The right hand side of a dead man', John?" Sherlock is incredibly serious and a bit sombre and desperately wants to know why John would say this. It's written all over him.

"Well, me standing to your right meant our dominant hands were free to pass stuff to one another..."

"John," Sherlock protests, leaning forwards slightly, following John, who has leant back in his chair, wanting some sort of protective distance. John really doesn't want to discuss this. It seems he may have to.

"You were dead, and I was having a bad day. A young boy had just died. Cystic Fibrosis, entirely expected, but still. Never good seeing a child die. And it was the fifth of June. I was having a bad day, and no-one was there, and Christ…" John passes a hand over his eyes, and sucks in a breath. "And I was happy with you, not happy, but it was good, it was approaching everything I wanted and maybe that's rose-tinted spectacles colouring everything pretty but it was a damn sight better than that day and I wanted to be back there. So yes. Your right hand side." It's far more than he would usually say to anyone, about anything, let alone his emotions, and his feelings. He's an Englishman, an Englishman who was in the army, who's a doctor, who knows about the importance of distance.

"Well," Sherlock looks down, lets the small spoon clatter against the mug. "I'm sorry," he offers. "It was flawed logic, John," he says, low, impassioned. John has always known that Sherlock's farce of emotionlessness has always been that, a farce. Anyone who says differently can't be bothered to look properly.

"It was the best you could have done," John reassures him.

"Still, flawed," Sherlock sighs. "Love has always been. Why else would the world be so obsessed with it?"

John sighs, and closes his eyes, takes two seconds, and then smiles, just a bit. It feels good. Nothing more needs to be said on the subject now.

"It's fine, and thank you. I've said it before, Sherlock, and I'll say it again 'til the sun goes out. You did the right thing. I may not have liked it, and I hate that it was necessary, but you did the right thing."

Sherlock smiles back, like he believes John when he says that for the first time. It makes John's stomach clench and his ribs tight and makes him think that it's all going to work out like it should in the end.

"That everything?"

Sherlock looks up from the bookcase, where he is slotting Teleological Response of the Virus into place, sideways above the other medically related books.

"Looks like it." John checks around the room. The majority of their shared belonging are in their proper places. John has a few changes of clothes in the upstairs room, a toothbrush and shaving kit in the bathroom. Now he is no longer using the second bedroom at Montague Street for storing Sherlock's belongings, it's looking like a proper spare room, with a bed, and essentials for any of the guests he typically gets, the Homeless Network and the like. Sherlock also has a toothbrush, and they have spread themselves unequally, but with fair agreement on the placing of most items, between the two homes. This is going to work, John thinks. This is really going to work.

They stand there, Sherlock in the corner by the bookshelves, John in the sliding doorway to the kitchen, grinning at each other. Here is John's life, slotting back into place with a click and a grumble as the pieces settle back into place, old mingling with new and falling back into a glorious harmony. He feels like himself, his proper old-new-before-after-doctor-soldier self all in one and nothing conflicting.

Predictably, Sherlock's mobile breaks the moment.

"Lestrade," Sherlock says, and his eyes are sparking properly, like they should be. "Mother and infant. Mother's dead, and the infant heading that way. They don't have a clue." The impossible man strides across the room, grabs his coat from where it was slung across the back of his chair, performs the scarf, coat, gloves preparation for going out dance that was once so familiar and will be again. Sherlock pauses in the doorway, by the pile of magazines. "Aren't you coming? It's likely to be poison, from what Lestrade has sent via text."

"I'm on call," John reminds him. He wants to go, he really does. It would be good, and this is the kind of thing that he can help with, properly help with. He can calculate the effects of mixed medicines and post-natal vitamins faster than Sherlock can. Sherlock has always respected expertise and that he is still Sherlock's medical expert is flattering, and wonderful.

"Then if they call you can leave, why wouldn't you?" Sherlock looks honestly confused that John is concerned about this. "You never stopped me being a detective, why would I stop you being a doctor? It's who you are." He hands John his coat.

"Okay then." John puts on his coat, feels the anticipation building in his gut. His heart is steady and his mind is clear and he is by the right hand side of an alive man. "The detective and the doctor. Jesus."

John can keep his bag with him; put it in Greg's car if he needs to put it down to help or examine.

"Wait." Sherlock turns back to look at him. John digs in his pocket, tosses something across the room to Sherlock who catches it without effort, just his gloved hand flashing out to snatch it from the air. Sherlock Holmes brushes his thumb over the re-faced watch, with the message from one to the other inside and tucks it in one of his many pockets in his greatcoat.

"Want to see some more?" Sherlock asks and smiles in that same way, soft and sure and sharp and glinting.

"Oh god, yes," John says, and doesn't limp out the door, picking up his bag from by his chair.

The detective and the doctor. This is their city, and they take care of it.