Greg Lestrade was in the middle of an absolutely heinous teleconference when his personal mobile buzzed on his desk. The tiny screen flashed Mrs. Hudson's name in white letters. That she never, ever called him during working hours sent a stab of worry through his gut. Something must have happened to John. Lovely, steadfast, amazing John, who had somehow become the sun that Greg's life orbited around, the best reason he had to take care of himself every day and go home to Baker Street every night.
He scooped up the phone, motioned for Sally Donovan to continue without him, and stepped outside his office. Cold sweat beaded on his neck.
"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson said, her voice breathless and high. "Oh, my!"
Greg turned to the windows overlooking Broadway, hoping for a shred of privacy from the scrutiny of his inspectors and other Scotland Yard personnel. The warren of desks was as noisy as usual with ringing phones and clacking computer keyboards, no one paying him obvious attention, but he didn't want to risk lip-reading or exceptionally keen hearing. Maybe he was paranoid. Maybe working around Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes had done that to him.
"What about him, Mrs. Hudson?" he asked. "Is John there? Is he all right?"
"You must come immediately," Mrs. Hudson said, her voice steadier. "He needs you."
The line went dead. Greg immediately considered the worst possibility: some kind of hostage situation at home, some awful calamity brought on by an obsessed admirer of the quite dead Sherlock Holmes. Even now, almost nine months after Sherlock's suicide, unhinged fans sometimes sent John emails, letters and packages. Some were rather graphic and upsetting, or would be if Greg hadn't hidden or deleted them before John saw them.
Donovan tapped on the glass partition separating Lestrade from his office. She made an inquiring face.
He gave her a hand signal that was meant to convey Be back soon and Carry on, but which probably looked like frantic finger spasms instead.
Without even grabbing his overcoat he left the building, hurried to the car park, and drove down Caxton Street toward Buckingham Gate. Traffic could be awful during the morning rush but now was the midmorning lull, if it could be said Westminster had any kind of lull at all. It took only ten minutes to reach Baker Street. Short enough to talk himself out of dispatching officers and ambulances or, worse, call on Mycroft and his terrifying resources.
All was quiet outside Mrs. Hudson's building. Greg stepped cautiously into the foyer. He heard nothing unusual or alarming. Twelve steps led to the landing of 221B, where the flat door hung open. He approached carefully, cautiously, calling, "John? Mrs. Hudson?"
His words dried up as he took in the sight before him.
No smashed furniture, no bloodstained carpets, nothing amiss as far as the decorations and furniture went. John was there, sitting on the leather sofa, clad in his favorite gray jumper and some old trousers, exactly as Greg had left him after breakfast. It was his day off, and he'd planned nothing more exciting than pay the bills and catch up on some medical journals. Now he was white-faced and staring at the floor, hands clasped between his knees. Mrs. Hudson fretted above him, wringing her hands in that uniquely Mrs. Hudson way.
Sitting by the unlit fireplace was Sherlock Holmes, surprisingly upright and alert for a dead man.
Greg sagged against the doorway and thought, What a cock up.
"I'm so glad you're here," Mrs. Hudson said, her face brightening. "We need a doctor."
Greg was too busy being caught up in a flurry of anger and disbelief to say anything more than, "We already have a doctor."
But John hadn't looked up, hadn't even seemed to notice Greg's return. Shock, then. Hardly unexpected. A shock like this would fell even the strongest man. In hindsight, however, it wasn't very shocking at all. This was exactly the kind of monstrous affair Greg should have been expecting. When you let Sherlock Holmes into your life you also admitted enormous amounts of strangeness and melodrama that better belonged to one of those crazy American shows on the telly.
Dead flatmates resurrecting themselves was a story definitely worthy of television drama.
"I don’t need a doctor," Sherlock announced, in what was perhaps the most obvious lie he'd ever told.
He was frighteningly skinny, for starters, stick-thin beneath a black trenchoat that looked like something nicked from a donation bin. His hair was short and tucked up under an equally unattractive cap. He appeared to be shivering, although the flat was certainly warm enough, and he was hunched in his favorite armchair as if he had broken ribs or some other injury. His gaze bored into John, who was steadfastly ignoring him.
"Where did you come from?" Greg asked, still too flummoxed to move from the doorway.
"Zurich," Sherlock said, gaze never wavering from John. "Bruges. Normandy. Ten thousand soldiers in one cemetery, have you ever seen it? I was in San Sebastian. Fell off a sea cliff. The Basques ate all the sharks."
He sounded delirious, or close to it. Greg understood Mrs. Hudson's concern. But as the power returned to him to move his own feet, Greg opted to go to John first. He sat on the sofa and reached for John's hands. His lover made no movement, no sound. His fingers were frighteningly cold.
"Quite a shock, it is," Greg said, voice low. "Hardly what you were expecting for today, is it?"
John didn't respond in any way. Sherlock coughed, loud and wet and hacking, and hunched further toward his knees. A few more degrees of inclination and he'd topple down to the threadbare carpet.
"What can I do?" Mrs. Hudson asked.
Greg had nearly forgotten she was there. He hesitated between several options. He prided himself on staying calm in any emergency but this wasn't a homicide or hostage threat or bombing. It was John, sitting like a statue and locked into himself. It was that arsehole Sherlock Holmes, looking as if he was ready to finally occupy the grave that was apparently filled by some luckless bastard's anonymous corpse, if it were indeed filled at all.
"Sherlock's bed needs sheets," Greg said. "And a pillow. We'll put him in there."
"I'm not staying," Sherlock said weakly.
"You're not going," Greg retorted. "You're sick as a dog."
Sherlock insisted, "I'm perfectly well."
"If you think you can waltz in here and waltz back out again, I've got a pair of handcuffs in my pocket that will prove you wrong. Shut up and follow orders."
Sherlock made a snorting noise and closed his eyes, but didn't argue any further.
Mrs. Hudson made up Sherlock's bed. John and Greg hadn't done anything to his room in all the months he'd been gone -- dead, Greg reminded himself, bloody well faked it, didn't he, made a fool of everyone with his deception and fraud, broke John into pieces without a care. The dresser and bedside table were dusty with disuse. Mrs. Hudson undid her apron and swiped them off with brisk, efficient strokes. It was up to Greg to get Sherlock from the armchair to the bed, a feat made difficult by the fact Sherlock could barely keep his feet under him.
"How did you make it this far?" Greg muttered, one arm wrapped reluctantly around Sherlock's skinny waist. Feverish heat poured off Sherlock's skin. "You should be in hospital."
"Assassins in hospitals," Sherlock responded through hacking coughs. "Poison in the needles."
Greg tried stripping off the trenchcoat, but Sherlock batted his hands away and sank to the mattress like someone desperately exhausted and in need of a week-long sleep. Which, Greg supposed, was exactly the case. Sherlock suffered to be separated from his boots and cap only because Mrs. Hudson did the separating.
"I've never seen you with such short hair," Mrs. Hudson said, tucking a thick brown blanket over him. "You're a whole new man."
Her voice wasn't quite steady. Greg didn't blame her for being shaken. He stared down at Sherlock's huddled form and went back to John, who hadn't moved. Greg crouched down beside him, knees creaking, and tried to make eye contact.
"I know this is difficult," Greg said. "And I know that 'difficult' is a wholly inadequate word for this mess. But he does need medical attention. Won't you have a look?"
No response. Nothing but a vacant stare aimed at the carpet. John's breathing was even, but his hands were still very cold.
Greg pressed a quick dry kiss to his cheek. "Right. I understand."
He wrapped a blanket around John's shoulders and left him on the sofa. Time for the big guns, then. He rang Mycroft. The call went directly to voicemail.
"You need to call me immediately," Greg said without preamble. "It's about Sherlock."
He hung up and counted. Forty-five seconds. Sixty. Seventy-five. Rain sleeted against the windows. The heat was on, stuffy and hissing, but Greg didn't turn it down. His mobile buzzed.
"Mr. Holmes is not available," said the smooth voice of Mycroft's female assistant. Andrea? Anthea. Pretty girl, a bit cold. She continued, "May I help you?"
Greg hesitated. "Is this line secure?"
She sounded amused. "Of course it is."
"Good. Because a dead man's sitting here in need of a doctor, but he won't go to hospital because he thinks it's full of poisons and assassins."
"I see," she said, and didn't sound surprised in the least. Maybe when you worked for Mycroft Holmes you were inured to surprise. "You're at Baker Street?"
"A doctor with a white umbrella will arrive in fifteen minutes."
She hung up without a single question why John couldn't handle the situation. Fourteen minutes later, the bell rang downstairs. A brisk, balding man with a white umbrella and a black medical bag gave Greg a sharp nod. Behind him, a taxicab sped off through the rain and puddles.
"House call," the man said. "I'm Doctor Jones."
Greg let him in. Jones marched right upstairs and deposited his raincoat on the coat stand.
"Don't know what's wrong with him," Greg said. "Fever and maybe his ribs, maybe pneumonia."
"I'll make the diagnosis, thank you," Jones said, and turned to Sherlock's room without needing instructions. If he'd noticed John at all, he gave no indication. His arrival in Sherlock's doorway made Sherlock give a shout of alarm. Sherlock tried to scramble back against the headboard, but the blankets and Mrs. Hudson's hand kept him from getting far.
"Now, then, no need to fret," Mrs. Hudson said. "Just the doctor."
Greg added, "Your brother sent him."
Jones deposited his medical bag on the edge of the bed. "You'll excuse us now, as I consult privately with my patient."
Sherlock eyed Jones with unveiled suspicion. "You're not trustworthy. No one is. The world teems with betrayal."
"Do what you need to, but you're not staying alone with him," Greg said firmly.
Jones raised an eyebrow but then turned, acquiescing, and extracted his stethoscope from his bag.
"Maybe some hot tea for everyone," Greg suggested to Mrs. Hudson.
"Maybe with some whisky in it," she agreed.
Greg watched Jones measure Sherlock's pulse, breathing and blood pressure. Sherlock glowered at him but didn't insult or taunt the man, which Greg supposed was a good sign. Or maybe a bad one. Perhaps Sherlock was terribly ill indeed, or maybe something vital had been stripped out of him all these months he'd been away. Greg was trying very hard to not to think about that. Focus on the present, he told himself. Focus on the immediate problem so that later he could give in to his disbelief and anger, to the simmering disquiet of being tricked and lied to.
He tried not to think about how John must feel—John, haunted all these months by grief and guilt that he hadn't saved his best friend. Only to find out that aforesaid best friend was alive and, if not well, at least not riddled with worms six feet beneath the ground.
The click-click of a phone gave away Anthea's presence in the doorway. She was as pretty as he remembered, yes, in a sleek South Kensington kind of way, dressed efficiently in black with discreet jewelry. He chided himself for not hearing the doorbell. Then again, she wasn't likely to have rung it.
"Where's your boss?" Greg asked.
"Unavailable," she replied, eyes on her screen. "How is Dr. Watson?"
"You saw him. You tell me."
"Saw him where?"
"Bloody hell," Greg said, once he'd pushed past her to the empty living room. There'd been no footsteps on the stairs up to John's room and John's coat was missing. Mrs. Hudson, busy fiddling with the tea in the kitchen, said, "He was just here--"
Greg hurried down to the street but there was nothing, no sign at all, of where John might have gone in his dazed state.
"Pneumonia," Jones announced when Greg returned, wet from a short, fruitless search in the rain. "Both lungs. I recommend hospital--"
"No," Sherlock said.
"--and respiratory treatments--"
"No," Sherlock repeated.
"--a course of steroids--"
"You're dismissed!" Sherlock thundered, or tried to. It was difficult to be loud and forceful when you were busy trying to breathe, Greg supposed.
From the corner, typing more messages, Anthea said, "Medication and equipment are on their way. I believe the tea is ready."
Jones tilted his head and excused himself. Greg was left staring down at Sherlock's huddled form.
"Where's John?" Sherlock asked miserably. "I want John."
"He's gone to the shops," Greg said. "He'll be back soon."
He felt no compunction about lying to Sherlock, not if it kept him from trying to toddle out of bed in fruitless pursuit. Greg could only handle one of them at a time. Under any other circumstances Greg would be inclined to let John have his walk, clear his head a bit, get his bearings back, but he didn't think John was in any condition to be alone. He rang John's phone. It buzzed out in the living room. Bullocks.
Sherlock ground his head restlessly against his pillow. "I want John."
"You can't have him right now," Greg retorted, and by right now he meant never, because Sherlock had left, had faked his death, had vacated John's life forever. Pity that Sherlock's definition of forever didn't match anyone else's…
Greg rubbed his eyes. No. He was not seriously wishing that Sherlock had stayed dead.
But he couldn't deny the fear that his and John's relationship might not survive Sherlock's return.
He touched Anthea on the elbow and beckoned her to follow him to the living room. Jones was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking his tea and chatting with Mrs. Hudson about the weather. Greg said, "Those cameras of yours. Can you put them to good use and figure out where John's gone?"
"I need a computer," she said.
John's laptop was on the coffee table. Greg typed in the password and let her have at it. It took an intolerably long time for her to start bringing up images, one after the other, so quickly he couldn't follow. She was still scanning them when clomping footsteps on the stairs announced the arrival of oxygen tanks and several boxes of medical supplies. Jones got to work installing it all in the bedroom. Sherlock's complaints rang past the open door but Greg didn't pay attention to them.
"He's in the park," Anthea announced. "St. Mary's Gardens. I can send someone."
Greg grabbed his spare coat. "No, I'll go myself."
If she had any objections or suggestions, he left too quickly to hear them. The rain was pelting down harder now, all the cars sloshing along with windshield wipers beating furiously. Greg turned up his collar and wished he'd brought an umbrella. His phone rang and it was Sally Donovan, wondering if he might be coming back to work today.
"John's a bit ill," Greg said, crossing into the park. "I'll have to tend to him."
She knew about their relationship. More or less. Knew that Greg had started kipping on John's sofa in the weeks after Sherlock's death because it was a bit smarter than stumbling drunk back to his own dismal, lonely flat. Later, when Greg had moved in more permanently, everyone understood it was a way for a divorced man and confirmed bachelor to save money. No one but John and Greg knew when commiseration and consolation had turned to something deeper, but the office Christmas party had clearly illuminated the nature of things to all sorts of people.
He almost blushed, remembering the party's embarrassing details, but instead the cold breeze and foul rain made him turn his head down and walk faster.
St. Mary's Gardens were lovely when in bloom, but today they looked shriveled and dead and suitable only for lonely pensioners. It wasn't hard to find John near the brown rose bushes. He was the only person sitting on a bench instead of hurrying toward someplace warm and dry. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets, showing a shred of self-preservation, but the rain had plastered his hair to his skull. His gaze was on the hedges and bushes where flowers would grow if spring ever returned.
Greg slumped down on the bench beside him. Water seeped into the seat of his slacks.
"Good weather for it," he remarked. "Catching pneumonia, that is."
No response. Of course not.
Greg sighed. "We don't have to go back. Not if you don't want to. All those strangers, all that hullabaloo. We can get on a train and go wherever you want. Maybe a plane, instead. Spain's lovely this time of year. I've never been to Portugal."
The rain slanted down sideways. It was absolutely ridiculous to be sitting here, getting progressively more drenched, but if John wanted to sit, they'd sit. Maybe they'd sit long enough that they turned into statues. Or dissolved into rivulets, flooded down through sewers, and went out with the tide of the Thames.
He could hear the distant sound of traffic and sirens, the omnipresent noise of London, but here in the winter garden Greg could pretend that Sherlock Bloody Holmes wasn't lying sick in bed, that John's wounded heart wasn't grieving in an entirely new way, and that there was some bright rainbow at the end of this relentless storm.
"Just for the record, I think I hate him," Greg said, eyes on the shrubbery. "And I feel sorry for him, because wherever he's been, it hasn't been easy. Let's admit that I am intensely curious as to why he felt it necessary to fake his own suicide. But I still hate him, and once he's well I'm going to punch him in the face a few times. You should seriously considering punching him as well."
Something squeezed Greg's arm. John's fingers were stark white but very strong. A soldier's hand, a doctor's hand. John's vacant gaze had been replaced by a bit of awareness and was focused now on Greg's face. Not much emotion there, nothing like what Greg was feeling, but for the first time since this had begun, Greg was sure that John's mind hadn't irrevocably snapped.
"Feeling better?" Greg asked hopefully.
John remained silent. Instead he leaned forward and kissed Greg on the mouth. His lips and breath were cold, but the kiss was firm and did a good job of warming Greg's insides.
He realized they were both shivering, though, and snogging in the freezing rain wasn't going to solve anything.
"Let's go home," Greg suggested.
But still he didn't speak.
End of part 1
John's still not talking.
Thank you for the kind notes and feedback! I appreciate all of it. More story to come soon.
Any hopes Greg had that John might open up once they returned home were quickly dashed. John took one look at the crowd cluttering up the living room, hooked his coat on the stand, and marched upstairs with water squelching out of his brown shoes.
"What's all this, then?" Greg demanded of Anthea.
"Stefan will be providing extra security," she said. "Joshua is my assistant."
Stefan was a beefy, square-jawed man, nearly bald, no doubt carrying significant weaponry under the jacket of his black business suit. Joshua was equally well-dressed, but much younger and so skinny he might disappear if he turned sideways.
"You've met Dr. Jones," Anthea continued blithely. "Miss Hastings is part of his staff."
Dr. Jones was reading a medical journal and didn't look up. Miss Hastings, a dark-haired woman in a nurse's uniform, nodded at him briskly from the doorway to Sherlock's room.
"All this fuss for one dead man?" Greg asked sharply.
"I'm sure there will be more," Anthea said, unperturbed.
"Where's Mycroft?" he asked.
"Unavailable," she replied. She had put her phone aside and was busy doing something on John's laptop again. Her assistant Joshua tapped industriously on a computer tablet. Stefan, the large security man, was standing by the windows, maybe planning to throw himself in the way of an incoming bullets or missiles.
Anthea continued with, "He does send his warmest regards and continued support."
"How about an explanation for just how is it that his recently dearly departed brother happened to resseruct himself?"
"No. None at all," she replied.
"But he thinks we're in danger, is that it?" Greg asked. "I saw two unmarked cars in the street when we returned from the park."
"Three," she said.
"Simple precautions," young Joshua added.
Anthea's hands paused on the keyboard. "I promise you things are well in hand if you'd prefer to return to your office."
Greg said, "Not bloody likely."
He was drenched, cold, and unwilling to deal with her anymore. Greg trudged upstairs, peeling his clothes off as he went. John was sitting on the edge of the bed, toweling dry his hair but still dressed in his sodden clothes. BBC World News was playing on the bedside radio. Greg couldn't remember the last time they'd even turned that radio on.
"It's like Paddington Station down there." Greg dropped his damp shirt in the corner and pulled on a gray Oxford shirt, well-worn but still presentable. "Rush hour for annoying government employees."
The radio droned on, some deep-voiced man reporting from Uzbekistan. Greg wasn't even sure where Uzbekistan was. He swapped out his wet trousers for jeans. The radio masked any noise from below, which was no doubt John's intention. Concentrate on foreign affairs, ignore the melodrama in your own home.
"Don't you want to change into something nice and warm?" Greg asked, eyeing John's clothing. John was staring at something interesting on the floor and didn't volunteer any kind of response. Greg retrieved John's favorite blue flannel shirt, a beige jumper to go over it, and a set of trousers. John's hand was icy cold when Greg touched it.
"A nice hot shower for you," Greg suggested. "Then a cuppa, and maybe some lunch."
John rose when Greg tugged on his arm. He was obedient and pliable until they reached the top of the stairs. Miss Hastings, the nurse, glanced their way before disappearing into Sherlock's room with a firm click of the door.
Greg said, "Don't worry about any of them. They're not worried about us, that's for certain."
He was perhaps a bit resentful that no one seemed to notice or care that John had gone silent. That both John and Greg's lives had been shaken, twisted and upended by Sherlock's return. Still, he wasn't eager to have that Dr. Jones come prodding at John at all, so he ushered him down to the bathroom, shut the door to block out the world, and turned on the shower. John fumbled at his buttons and zipper but his fingers were clumsy.
"I'll do it," Greg said, taking over gladly. "Any chance to get you undressed."
John's mouth quirked. Not a smile, and he wasn't quite making eye contact, but Greg took heart from it anyway. He made sure the water was lukewarm, not hot, and got John under the spray without too much difficulty. Under other circumstances he might have stripped down again and joined him, but it was difficult to imagine with Mycroft's people just outside the door. After some shaky attempts John got hold of the soap and took care of washing himself. Greg sat on the closed lid of the toilet and made a mental list of things to do:
- Call in sick for the rest of the week
- Call in sick for John as well (stomach flu, he'd say)
- Wait for Sherlock to get better, then kill him
Someone knocked on the door. Greg demanded, "What?"
"There's a telephone call for you, sir," said Joshua, the young assistant.
"Yes, sir. It's rather important."
Greg opened the door a crack and stuck out his hand. Joshua transferred a mobile phone into it. Door shut again, Greg breathed a noisy sigh into the receiver and said, "Lestrade."
"I appreciate your patience and discretion," said the smooth voice of Mycroft Holmes.
"Don't presume you know anything about my patience or discretion," Greg returned testily. "Why aren't you here in charge of this circus?"
"I trust Anthea has things well in hand. How is John?"
Greg had deliberately turned away from the shower. "Well enough. Did you know about this? That he was still alive?"
"Please know that any resource you may need is available to you," Mycroft said, and disconnected.
The shower curtain rattled aside and John reached for a towel. His face had more color to it and his hands were steadier. He showed no interest in the phone. Once he was dressed, Greg tried to steer him toward the kitchen. John was having none of that. He went back upstairs again.
"I've made some soup," Mrs. Hudson said, tray in hand, as she intercepted Greg. "I'll bring it to him."
"He's a little unsettled," Greg said.
Mrs. Hudson nodded. She looked more chipper than she'd been before, or maybe that was the whiskey-laced tea he could smell on her breath. "I expect he's getting used to the shock. Won't be long until he bounces back."
She carried the tray upstairs. Greg busied himself by staring gloomily at Sherlock's door. Anthea and Joshua consulted in low tones, their heads bent close together. Stefan the security man glared out the window a few times, though all he could see from there was the alley and the back of other buildings. When Mrs. Hudson returned several minutes later, the soup bowl was only half-empty and the biscuits untouched.
Greg followed her into the ktichen.
"Bit quiet, he is," Mrs. Hudson remarked as she placed the dishes in the sink.
"Just a bit?" Greg asked. He was selfishly relieved that John had stayed silent with her, too.
"Not to worry. My niece went through the same kind of shock once. Well, almost the same. Her husband left her a note one morning that he'd run off with his secretary. She didn't speak for three weeks." She dried her hands on a dishtowel. "Time for my favorite show. Would you like to come downstairs and sit with me?"
"No, thank you," Greg said.
Instead he went upstairs to sit with John, who was curled up under a faded green quilt while rain sleeted steadily on the window. He appeared to be sleeping. Greg smoothed the lines in John's forehead with gentle finger strokes. John didn't stir. The radio had shifted to an interview with an expert on Kazakhstan, wherever that was.
"Patience and discretion," Greg murmured. "The things those men value will never cease to amaze me."
Although he was definitely not tired, Greg stretched out on the bed beside John and pondered the what, why, when, and how of Sherlock's return. The radio was a soothing blanket of uninteresting news. Somehow Greg managed to drift off after all. He jerked awake in the mid-afternoon gloom to the sound of Sherlock shouting.
"Bring him here!" he was ordering, his voice cracking with desperation. "Bring me John!"
John trembled, squeezed his eyes shut, and buried his face against Greg's shoulder.
Something thumped, like a body against a wall. There was another muffled shout, and then footsteps on the stairs. A brisk knock on the door was followed by young Joshua saying, "Detective Inspector?"
Testily Greg asked, "Yes, what?"
"Might Dr. Watson be available?"
"Most definitely not."
A pause. "Might you be available instead?"
Greg wanted to tell him to sod off, but John pulled back and rolled away toward the wall. Greg recognized a dismissal when he saw one. He pulled himself upright, feeling dull and slow and old. When he opened the door Joshua gave him a tight and practiced smile.
"Perhaps you could reassure Mr. Holmes," he suggested.
Greg wanted to punch him in the teeth. "Reassure him of what?"
Greg stared at him. Joshua's smile faltered slightly. The young man said, "He's very upset and a familiar face might help."
"I'll tell you what upset is," Greg replied. "Upset is when you get a call that the most brilliant and maddening person you ever knew threw himself off a roof and got smashed into a pulp on the pavement. It's not something a round at the pub takes care of, you understand?"
The smile deflated. "Is that a no, then?"
Greg swore at him and closed the door. A moment later he heard Joshua's retreating footsteps. Greg went back to John, tucked the blankets around his more tightly, kissed his cheek. John didn't respond.
"I'll be back soon," Greg promised.
Downstairs, Sherlock's bed was now a white and blue oasis surrounded by hospital equipment. They'd dressed Sherlock in one of those ridiculous hospital gowns that afforded very little warmth or privacy. Nurse Hastings was re-inserting an IV into his arm while Dr. Jones listened to his lungs. Sherlock's eyes, fever-bright, fixed onto Greg at the foot of the bed. His splayed arms and upturned palms made him look like a bloody martyr.
"Where's John?" Sherlock demanded.
Greg said, "John is fine and you're to stop causing a ruckus."
"Hear, hear," Dr. Jones said, removing his stethoscope.
"You can leave," Sherlock said imperiously. The tone was ruined by his hacking cough. When he could breathe again he added, to Nurse Hastings, "You as well. Go and don't come back."
Greg never thought it wise to antagonize the people who wielded hypodermics and dispensed painkillers, but there were many decisions Sherlock Holmes made that a reasonable person would disagree with. Dr. Jones and Nurse Hastings didn't seem to take offense at Sherlock's tone. They also didn't depart.
Sherlock's feet kicked restlessly under the blankets. "I want to see him. I burned a museum for him. I scaled a mountain barefoot. "
You did not, Greg almost said. You did it for yourself.
"Four blackbirds in Trafalgar Square," Sherlock muttered. He tugged on the nasal canula. "The Queen smokes at midnight."
"Can't you give him something that'll make him make sense?" Greg asked.
Dr. Jones was preparing a hypodermic. "No, but this will make him calmer."
"I categorically refuse all psychotropic, psychoactive and psychopharmaceutical drugs." Sherlock's breath was stuttered, but the look on his face was unmistakably stubborn. "Insert that needle in my arm and you will be in breach of your medical ethics."
"I'll worry about that when you're coherent enough to give informed consent," Dr. Jones said.
Greg rubbed the grittiness out of his own eyes. "Here, now, you heard him. He doesn't want it."
Dr. Jones barely flicked Greg a glance. "He's in need."
"He's in need of you two to do what he wants," Greg replied. "Out, both of you. He already said it. The patient wants some privacy."
Sherlock's chin lifted. "I most certainly do."
"You're in no position -- " Dr. Jones started.
"Scotland Yard, doctor," Greg reminded her, putting some nastiness into it. "Official police business. Out you go, and go call your arsehole of a boss if you want to complain about things."
Dr. Jones departed without comment. Nurse Hastings lingered, her eyes on the equipment, but Greg said, "If there's a medical emergency, I'm sure I'll be able to yell for help, miss."
When the door was shut, he dragged an ugly green chair to the bedside and slumped into it.
"You don't do anything by half, do you?" he asked Sherlock. "Have to die with as much drama as possible. Can't slip back to life with a quiet knock on the door, that'd be too mild and sedate for Sherlock Holmes."
Sherlock's eyes were half-lidded with exhaustion. "I did knock. John answered."
"And you gave him the shock of his life," Greg said.
"I saved the Eiffel Tower for him. I delivered a child--"
"No one's listening to that rubbish," Greg said. "Leave John be. He's resting. Shock like that, you could have given him a heart attack. Human hearts aren't meant for that kind of uproar."
"I'm human," Sherlock protested.
"You barely look it," Greg said. "I've seen corpses who -- yeah, never mind that. Why isn't your infuriating brother around, hmm? The least he could do is show up to the party."
Sherlock tugged on the canula again. "He's on a top secret mission to China."
"You don't know that."
"His assistant was speaking Mandarin earlier." Sherlock's gaze narrowed. "You live here now."
Greg had hoped that Sherlock was too sick to deduce anything. "Yeah, well, we'll talk about that later."
"You and John," Sherlock insisted. "Cohabitating. Lustfully. You stole him from me."
"I didn't steal him!" Greg protested. "You were dead. The dead don't own anyone."
Which was not true, he instantly thought to himself, because Sherlock's hold on John had extended through time and space long past the moment his body (alleged body, fraudulent, there'd probably be an inquiry, more damn paperwork) had impacted the ground. It was a rare corpse that didn't leave behind someone to mourn, that didn't live on in memory haloed by regret or doubt. John's regret for Sherlock had been legion.
"You have to give him back," Sherlock said.
Greg stood up. "I was wrong. You are delirious. People aren't things you swap back and forth, Sherlock. John's not your prize for a job well done saving the Eiffel Tower or delivering babies or saving the world."
Sherlock's glare only deepened. "Says who?"
"That's the best you can do?" Greg almost laughed. "Says who?"
Hurt flashed across Sherlock's face. "I'm sick. My thinking is muddled."
"Yes, I'm sure it is." Greg spun on his heel, quite decidedly done with this nonsense, but Sherlock's next word stopped him.
"Stay," Sherlock said
"Why? I'm not the one you want."
Greg did laugh, then, a sharp bark that let out some of the awful churn in his chest. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes, refusing to meet Sherlock's gaze.
"Stay," Sherlock insisted. "Defend me against the tyranny of Mycroft's medical staff."
"You don't need me to defend you," Greg said weakly.
"I think I rather do," Sherlock said, and closed his eyes.
Greg didn't stay all evening in Sherlock's room. His back wouldn't suffer that chair, for starters, and he was determined to get some hot food into John. Anthea and her people had already ordered a feast of curry. Soon the flat filled with the smells of onion bhaji, chicken tikka and garlic prawns. Greg brought a plate upstairs, but John only managed a few forkfuls of spinach and tomato. Radio 4 was playing some kind of musical hour from Edinburgh. John had at least moved from the bed to the armchair, but was still utterly silent and did badly at meeting Greg's gaze directly.
It was difficult for Greg to keep up a one-sided conversation that didn't involve Sherlock or the interlopers downstairs. He didn't even know if John appreciated the effort. He tried shutting up for ten whole minutes, and John's gaze never left the middle-distance of whatever he was staring into.
They went to bed early, and Greg slept poorly. John was as still as corpse beside him, unmoving and silent. Near dawn Greg spent an hour just watching John's soft, ceased face, counting his breaths, feeling the flutter of his pulse in his wrist the way John had taught him to do.
Come seven o'clock, Greg went down to rummage up some breakfast for the two of them. As he descended, more boxes of medical supplies were being carted up from the sidewalk by anonymous helpers. Dr. Jones was gone, replaced by a tall, sharp woman with thick eyeglasses and steel gray hair. She was viewing lab results on a tablet.
"Not any better, then?" Greg asked, eyeing the supplies.
"And you are?" she asked.
"Fully briefed," Anthea said, from where she was bent over John's computer again. "That's Dr. Smith."
"He's not any better," Dr. Smith said, but no more.
Stefan was standing at the windows, as immutable as ever. Young Joshua was frying bacon and eggs, and a stack of pancakes was already on the table.
"Domestic, aren't you?" Greg muttered.
Joshua waved a spatula. "Thought you and Dr. Watson might be hungry."
The pancakes were ridiculously fluffy and tasty, the bacon crisp, the eggs fried just right. Left to their own devices Greg and John were certainly competent in the kitchen, but Joshua might as well be one of those contestants on a television show who could whip up a seven course meal with just three ingredients and a shaker of nutmeg. Greg took a tray, along with tea and juice, upstairs. John was awake and getting dressed. Greg was glad to see it. He'd been afraid, a little, that John would stay in bed all day. Economic news poured out of the radio speakers.
"Feeling better?" Greg asked, putting the tray on the bed.
John pulled a jumper over his head, ruffling his hair. He eyed the tray but didn't move toward it until Greg grasped his hand and pulled him down to sit.
"Can't you talk to me at all today?" Greg asked.
John stared past Greg with his shoulders squared. He opened his mouth slightly. Greg would have settled for an endearment, an obscenity, or even something in a foreign language, but nothing came out. Frustration flitted across John's face and he ducked his head, pink on his cheeks.
"It's all right," Greg said, though he wasn't sure how it could be. "How about this? Can you text me?"
He handed John his mobile. John gazed at it as if he'd never seen one before in his life. Greg squeezed the bridge of his nose.
"Sign language?" he asked. "Charades?"
John rose, his face flushed, and would have left the room if Greg hadn't quickly blocked him.
"I'm sorry," Greg said. "I didn't mean it that way. Will you eat something? Anthea's assistant might be a prat, but he can cook."
Reluctance on his face, John returned to the bed. He picked at the bacon and ate half a pancake while Greg puttered around the room, tidying up.
"Do you want to go out today?" Greg asked.
A brief nod.
"Movies, shopping, anywhere special?" Greg realized, belatedly, that there was no way for John to answer that. But John reached for his wallet and pulled out his staff identification card.
"You want to go to work?" Greg asked, surprised.
A firmer nod.
Well, then. It wasn't exactly what Greg had in mind, and he wasn't sure what good a mute doctor would be to his patients, but if that's what John wanted, that's what John would get.
Greg and John try for normal. It almost works.
I'm sorry for the delay. Thank you for reading!
"Poor Dr. Watson!" Greg heard one of the nurses say while he sat in the narrow hallway. The chair wasn't very comfortable, but at least he wasn't stuck out in the waiting room surrounded by sniffling children and cranky pensioners. He didn't like the smell of the office – disinfectant and bitter medicine everywhere – and wondered how John dealt with it all day long.
The nurse continued, "Such a terrible case of laryngitis."
"What's he going to do?" asked another.
"Scribble notes, I expect."
John was inside Dr. Harding's office. She ran the surgery along with her twin sister, the other Dr. Harding, and it was to Greg's continued embarrassment that he could never tell them apart. He gathered that the confusion had extended to patients and staff as well until some clever nurse had decided to color-code their stethoscopes, otoscopes, pens, paper clips and office doorknobs. The doctors had embraced the custom as well, wearing blue and purple blouses or shoes. That should have settled the matter except that Greg could never quite remember who was blue and who was purple.
Rather resentfully, he thought about how Sherlock would have no problem at all with differentiating the twins. He'd probably announce there was a fractional difference in the size of the their pupils, or maybe the angle of their noses, or maybe one had a slight scar that no one but Sherlock would ever notice.
Greg sighed and scuffed his right shoe against the brown carpet.
The door opened abruptly. Dr. Harding (the purple one) was speaking somberly. "--I'm sure you'll be able extra careful to document your findings, and I know you'll be as thorough as normal."
She strode off down the hall toward the reception desk, a brisk nod to Greg on the way. John emerged, rubbing his neck, looking a bit sheepish.
"You're going to stay all day?" Greg asked.
"I'll come by later to walk you home," Greg promised.
A hesitation, then another nod. John pressed a quick kiss to Greg's cheek and pushed on to his own office. Greg said, "Right," and wondered what he was supposed to do with himself all day. He supposed he could go round to the office but he wasn't sure he wanted to face questions about what, exactly, was going at Baker Street. Eight hours seemed like a huge gap to fill otherwise, however, and he certainly wasn't going to fiddle away the day in some cafe or bookshop. Or at home, under Anthea's relentless cold scrutiny.
He went to work. Donovan said, "I thought you were -- " and Greg said, "I'm not here."
Her mouth quirked. "You're not?"
He tried holing up with paperwork and a large cup of coffee. Considering he was being docked sick hours, he felt perfectly justified in ignoring the ringing phone. It was actually rather refreshing, to be able to concentrate without external distraction, but the internal distractions were even worse: worries about John, about Sherlock, about what Sherlock's return was going to play out in the media, about how all those long-ago inquiries and demands were going to surface again like shipwrecks rising from the sea.
His phone buzzed at eleven a.m: where's John? SH
And ten minutes later: bring him home the world is not safe SH
And fifteen minutes after that: bring him home I need him SH
Greg considered calling Anthea and telling her to rip that bloody cell phone from Sherlock's hands. He was supposed to be resting, not texting.
He's busy stop bothering me GL
I'm sick and in need SH
Greg turned his phone off and shoved it into his pocket.
A quick lunch, more paperwork, two personnel reviews. Greg couldn't concentrate very well, but he managed brief snatches of productivity. At three o'clock he couldn't bear it anymore and decided to swing by St. Bart's. Molly Hooper was in her office, frowning at a computer screen. She blanched when she saw him.
"It wasn't my idea," she said.
Four simple words that affirmed the suspicion in Greg's brain. Under other circumstances he might have been thrilled. He'd been drawn to police work partially in quest for justice but also for the thrill of solving mysteries. Instead he felt a chill unrelated to the drafty hall or lingering damp.
"Of course it wasn't," he replied. "Yet you agreed."
She gripped the edges of her chair as if she wanted to lift herself up but couldn't. "Who can ever disagree with him?"
"I can," Greg said, thinking of Sherlock's young, reckless days as an addict. "It helps if you're not madly blinded by love."
Molly's chin rose up. "You think you know me."
"I think I know your type," Greg said, and left her.
He couldn’t justify that cruelty, not in that moment and not as he walked away, but it was sodding typical for people to bend over whenever Sherlock walked by, and why? Because he intimidated them. He walked right over their reasonable objections, their respect for the law, and all shreds of common sense—
Greg stopped and took a deep breath. He suspected his blood pressure was higher than usual, and it wouldn't do for him to keep over in the street from a stroke.
It was too early to fetch John and so he found a pub, nursed a pint and some crisps, and watched some mindless telly until the clock ticked toward a more reasonable hour. The surgery was just closing up when he arrived, and the purple Dr. Harding was signing forms at the front desk.
"He's finishing up with a patient," Dr. Harding reported.
"How'd things go?"
"Surprisingly well," she said. "As it turns out, many people would rather talk than listen anyway."
John's expression turned from weary to bright when he saw Greg had come for him. He shrugged into his coat, nodded at Dr. Harding, and walked with Greg in the gloom lit by electric lights. Greg preferred the city at night, when the steady glow and impenetrable shadows hid all the dreary parts.
"Let's eat out," he said impulsively.
A small Italian restaurant had opened at the corner. The small interior made for tables and chairs almost uncomfortably close together, but the décor was cheerful and the food smelled heavenly. It was too early for a crowd and they got good seats near the wall. Greg didn't mention Molly, seeing no need aggravate that open wound. Instead, over shared plates of spinach ravioli and garlic linguini, he told John about some cases and gossip from work. John was attentive. He watched Greg's face constantly and occasionally touched his hand to urge him to continue.
Eventually Greg grew tired of talking, and he lapsed into the same quiet that enveloped John. They listened to the chatter of other diners, the sharp clink of cutlery, the waiters as they carried trays back and forth. Greg finished his food, but John's plate was half-full.
"We don't have to go back," Greg said finally. "Fancy a nice hotel? Room service, luxuriously big bed?"
John's gaze went to the window, the passing pedestrians, a woman who peered inside with her pale face and red lips and then moved on in the crowd. Greg watched a muscle twitch in John's jaw.
"No, then," Greg surmised.
They paid the bill and headed for home. John rubbed his side as they walked, a sign maybe that his dinner hadn't gone done well. But he didn't complain, didn't give any indication that he was beginning to feel poorly, and at Baker Street the person who was clearly the most ill was Sherlock.