The Solitary Hunter Series
Series Four: Hiraeth
There's something too sure to say
I was too afraid
It was just hard to let you know
Now it's all too late
What we had was beautiful
I didn't want to wreck it all
Every day I think about the truth
I wish I was
I wish I was
Brave enough to love you
Brave enough to love you…
Stripped away the walls I built
But no one ever has
The hardest part is never known
If we were meant to last…
From Brave Enough, Lindsey Stirling
“Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.”
From The Great Game
Chapter One: Irregular Opening
“Good morning,” John reached over to run his fingertips lightly over those sharp cheekbones, still in awe of the fact that it’s OK, I can do this now, touch him like this now. “Did I wake you?”
“Mmmm, part of me,” the sleepy, smoky voice informed John while long, white arms snaked around John’s shoulders and torso.
John huffed a gentle breath of laughter while pushing back the coal-black fringe to place a kiss on his brow. John could most definitely feel which part of his body was fully awake as the owner of the robust baritone nestled in closer to him.
“Oh really?” John smoothed back the curls again to plant another kiss.
“Obviously,” was the mildly amused reply. His voice was sleepy but still rich and resonant. Like honey and whisky, it is, John knew he could listen to That Voice for the rest of his life. And he hoped to God he could.
Then That Voice demanded, with eyes still closed, “What time is it?”
“It’s about nine o’clock.”
“In the morning?”
“Mm, yeah,” John lazily skimmed his palm down the scarred back, no longer horrified by the ridges of scar tissue. Saddened, yes. Always. Horrified, no. Never again. The whip marks were just as much a part of him as the bullet-wound in his own shoulder and the dog-bite marks in his arm and calf were a part of John.
“I should kill you now,” Sherlock grumbled, dipping his head into the crook of John’s neck and shoulder, “Waking me at this ungodly hour.”
“Says the man who thinks sleep is boring,” John reached down to tease the Part of Sherlock that was Fully Awake, ghosting it with his fingertips.
“I never said sleep was boring,” Sherlock’s voice strained against John’s skin, creating a pleasant vibration. “I said slows me down. Big. Difference.”
“Mm, OK,” John now lightly dragged his fingernails up and down Sherlock’s back. He had learned just last night this was something that made The Great Detective absolutely weak in the knees. “Whatever you say, love.”
“Ugh. Pet names,” he snarled but his body betrayed his harsh words, indolently rubbing back and forth against John. He muttered, “Insipid,” against John’s throat before mouthing kisses up and down his neck.
“Mm-hmm,” John hummed before seeking Sherlock’s mouth. “Yeah,” he pressed a soft, lingering kiss against his lips. “Yeah,” he breathed before bequeathing a second kiss, a little less lingering, a little more insistent. “You’re right,” he flicked his tongue against Sherlock’s mouth until he parted his lips. After that, the kisses became hot, wet and unrelenting, almost needy.
“Pet names,” John gasped when he finally needed air, “Stupid, completely daft.”
“Knew you’d see it my way,” Sherlock panted. Then he finally opened his eyes.
John knew he could live a hundred years and never cease being surprised by those kaleidoscopic eyes. Eyes that saw everything while revealing nothing. Almost revealing nothing, John amended to himself. He had learned over time to spot the little signs, to observe the emotion emitting from those mercurial eyes that other, less observant people wouldn’t notice.
This morning they were the softest blue-green John had ever seen them. The gold was nearly absent from his irises, except for the tiny aurous starbursts that would never completely diminish.
Sherlock had pulled away just enough to study John’s face with his usual intensity. John, very used to this by now, merely dropped his head to the pillow. He reached up to push a black curl off Sherlock’s sweaty forehead. Well, mostly black. “Found another grey hair, love.”
“You did not,” Sherlock muttered, sounding like the child he could still be sometimes.
But John saw it, that flash, that split-second of emotion. No one else would have spotted it, but John knew… knew him. Sherlock was clearly trying to work something out. Since it probably involved feelings, he most definitely was struggling for an answer.
Before John could ask though, Sherlock blurted out with his usual lack of tact. “What were you thinking? Before I fully awoke this morning?”
“Aren’t you going to deduce it?” John teased. But when Sherlock scowled, a real scowl, a You-hurt-my-feelings-but-I’m-too-bloody-proud-to-admit-it scowl, John sobered. “I’m sorry.”
“You were watching me sleep. You were thinking… but what were… err…” Sherlock trailed off.
“I was thinking… that I love you. And that I led you down a long hard road to get here…”
15 January 2016
Somewhere in London
John Watson cracked open an eye.
He could only open one eye. The other had swollen completely shut.
Please don’t let me be hallucinating… he thought as the all-too-familiar crushing sensation of panic and anxiety enveloped him. He knew he was febrile, didn’t have to be a doctor or a genius to deduce that. Dried blood and feverish sweat coated his body. He had been stripped of his winter coat and jumper before Professor Moriarty (because that was how Mr. Kincaid, the old lion had introduced himself this time) gave the order to Holy Peters to start beating the ever-living shit out of him. The Professor had filmed the beating on his camera phone. John’s last coherent thought was he knew they would send the video to Sherlock and he wished to God Almighty that they wouldn’t.
Things became hazy when Peters got tired of using his fists and brought out a bat, an aluminum one, like the ones Americans use in baseball.
He came to later, lying in his bloody T-shirt and jeans in an unheated, damp cellar of some abandoned building. Obviously they left him to die. They left him because they wanted Sherlock to find him. They also apparently wanted his death to be slow and painful.
So it was no real mystery whether or not he was running a fever.
The mystery was why he was feverish, in other words, where was the infection?
He knew he had internal injuries. He had felt a rib give way when the aluminum bat connected with his torso. He also knew that his left fingers and wrist were shattered. Before John had passed out from the beating, Peters had made sure to stomp down on his hand hard as he strolled out, as a sort of a farewell. John heard the crack, felt the hot, sharp pain radiate from his fingertips up his arm then he had slipped into unconsciousness after one last gasp of pain.
(…fucking bastards, I’m left-handed, of course they’d make sure to break the left hand...)
He parted his lips, wincing as he felt them crack and bleed anew. He attempted to sit up then immediately collapsed as he felt fire rip through his left side, roaring from beneath his rib cage all the way up to his left shoulder. He also immediately felt the dirty floor beneath him dip and weave. His stomach clenched but there was nothing to bring up.
It’s not been three days yet… he thought blearily. One can only go three days without water and my last drink was… his thoughts trailed off as he became acutely aware how parched his mouth and throat were now. I don’t want to die thirsty… dear God, let me live…
He tried to call out, tried to form words, tried to shout, but even that slight pressure from his diaphragm, to draw a deep breath in order to have enough air to shout brought another wave of burning pain throughout his left side while the dirty cellar started to spin again… spleen… there’s an injury to my spleen… ruptured? Dunno… hurts though… God it fucking hurts… Jesus Christ... please, make it stop… I can’t… I can’t…
“Oi? John? John Watson? Where are you?”
A different voice, but no less comforting: Greg Lestrade.
Of course Sherlock would rally the troops. Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if Sherlock had recruited Mrs. Hudson or Molly in the search as well as Violet.
Violet… Violet is in trouble… Mycroft wants to deport her to America, so she can testify against… someone…but… she can’t leave, she’s ill…. except I don’t remember what… again John’s thoughts tapered off as his heart rate started to race while his blood pressure began to plummet.
Sherlock’s voice again, sounding more anguished and desperate than ever.
John licked his lips, on purpose for once. He did his best to call out but only managed to rasp, “Here, I’m here, down here…” as he closed his eye. Even keeping one eye open was too much effort. “I’m here… please…”
Sick with pain and fatigue, John had forgotten Sherlock’s eerie wolf-like hearing. Before he knew it, a pair of leather-clad hands carefully cradled his bruised and battered face. “John?”
“Sherlock,” John wheezed as he opened his good eye.
The combined look of relief and panic on Sherlock’s shadowed face made John wonder if this possibly was a hallucination after all. A comforting dream his fevered brain concocted before certain death. Dream or not, he watched Sherlock shout over his shoulder for medics and a stretcher and to hurry the bloody hell up because Dr. Watson obviously had a splenic rupture.
“I knew you’d find me,” John’s voice was little better than a strangled whisper.
“Shh, shh, shh, don’t speak, it’s too taxing…” Sherlock used his teeth to tug the glove off his right hand then started carding John’s filthy hair that now looked completely grey instead of the usual silvery-blond. “Just… keep your eyes on me, can you do that?” He continued to cup John’s cheek with his gloved, left hand.
But John couldn’t, not even for Sherlock. His eyelid drooped shut again. God, I’m so tired…
“No, no, no, don’t. John, don’t. Stop this. Stay with me, please.”
John idly wondered why he felt little drips of water splashing on his face.
He started rambling, whispering hoarsely again that he knew Sherlock would find him and it was OK, really, everything was OK now, maybe it was meant to end up like this, that the universe was sorting itself out and he didn’t have to worry about Sherlock being alone because he had Violet now and she loved him as much as he did… because I do, you’re my best friend, the best man, the best everything… the best thing to ever happen to me…
“Stop it, you’re talking nonsense, you’re being stupid.” The words were harsh, but the voice, That Voice, that resonant, authoritative baritone trembled.
“Just… promise…” John felt his strength ebbing. Awkwardly, he reached up with his right hand, wanting to touch Sherlock’s face. Instead he weakly clutched at lapel of the Belstaff.
“John, you’re going to be fine, you’re going to be alright…”
“Promise me you’ll find her, find Maisie before Mary does… find her and raise her…”
“… as your own child.”
“You and Violet, together, be her parents. Her mum and dad,” John finished before passing out.
15 January 2016
The Royal Hospital of St Bartholomew
Detective-Inspector Greg Lestrade studied the paper cup of tea in his hands as if it were the Holy Grail. He didn’t look up until he heard footfalls coming closer. Only then did he raise his head to see his wife, Molly Hooper-Lestrade and John’s wife, Mary Morstan-Watson approaching.
Both women’s faces were as white as snow and they carried their winter coats now that they were inside. They had both obviously dressed in a rush. Faded jeans and jumpers normally not worn outside the house. Mary wore an old jumper of John’s, the hems of the sleeves fraying. Molly had a spit-up stain on her cardigan, the one Lestrade liked, the one with the cherries. Molly’s shoulder-length auburn was tied back in a messy pony tail. Her soft doe-like eyes were wide with concern and worry. She had her arm firmly around Mary’s shoulders, as if she was afraid Mary would bolt at any given moment. Mary had made some sort of attempt to smooth her short platinum hair down but like Molly, hadn’t bothered with any make-up. Her cornflower eyes were glassy and her mouth was drawn tight.
“Hey,” Lestrade put the paper cup on the hideous coffee table and stood up. He furrowed his pewter-grey brows together. “Henry settled in alright at Mrs. Hudson’s?”
“He was a bit fussy, but Mrs. Hudson said she could handle it.”
Lestrade would have preferred to have the child be minded by MI-6, the entire British Army and Mary Poppins, but Mrs. Hudson would have to do. His stomach twisted, thinking about what had happened to John; how he had been tortured mentally and physically just to get to Sherlock.
Jim Moriarty’s words haunted him still:
See, your child was bought and paid for, Sherlock, before he was even born. I was actually supposed to deliver him today but it may be prudent to wait a bit, let him grow up a little. I’m sure I can convince the buyer of that. Tell him to wait until the boy is… seven? Before taking possession that is…
Little did Lestrade know that (per Sherlock’s request) MI-6 had set up surveillance on Lestrade and his entire family. Agents currently babysat Baker Street as Mrs. Hudson minded the baby.
“How is he?” Mary could barely get the words out as she reached up to clutch Molly’s hand.
“Mary, please. Sit down, just for a moment,” Lestrade gestured to the uncomfortable waiting room love seat he had been occupying. “Let me get you a cuppa, you’re white as a sheet.”
Blinking back tears, she shook her head. Both Greg and Molly knew Mary would have been at the hospital the minute she got the call that John was found alive and being rushed to St. Bart’s, but she had been staying with Mrs. Hudson ever since she found out John had been abducted. No one wanted her alone at the terrace house she shared with John, plus she was still recuperating from her own horrific injuries, when Jim Moriarty returned from the dead and stabbed her in her pregnant belly, causing her to miscarry later that awful night. She still couldn’t walk very fast nor could she drive yet. Mrs. Hudson kindly had offered to drive, but she was one of the worst drivers in London, if not England. Just as she was about to damn the expense and try to hail a taxi, Molly came to the rescue. After he had contacted Mary, Greg had called Molly and told her to fetch Mary.
But one cannot come to the rescue quickly when one had a two and a half month old infant. In agony, Mary had limped back and forth in Mrs. Hudson’s lounge as Sweetie, the bait dog she had rescued, followed her around whining. Finally Molly arrived, carrying an unhappy and howling baby (which was what she considered “a bit fussy”) along with all the necessary infant paraphernalia. Mary longed to scream Hurry the bloody hell up as Molly had handed the caterwauling infant to Mrs. Hudson while issuing instructions.
Mary, however, managed to restrain herself. A tiny bit of logic had punctured through her cloud of agony and terror. John was in surgery. There wasn’t a damn thing she could do while he was on the operating table. The surgeons wouldn’t allow her inside the theater to watch. She was no longer a nurse, she was Next of Kin.
“Greg,” Mary’s voice wobbled.
She looked so small and pitiful, Lestrade wanted to scoop Mary up in his arms and hug her until all this misery passed. Both he and Molly were oblivious to Mary’s dark side, that the woman they pitied was also the same woman who’d tried to end Sherlock’s life.
He cleared his throat, “He’s still in surgery, Mary. It… it’s bad, I’m afraid,” Lestrade fumbled through the specifics, only half-comprehending the medical gobbledygook the A&E doctor had spouted off as he explained the extent of John’s injuries. Greg Lestrade was not a stupid man and had more than just an elementary understanding of medical terminology, thanks to his job and his wife. But exhaustion and shredded nerves had turned his brain into Swiss cheese. “He’s got a broken rib, a ruptured spleen, a broken hand, and, well it’s going to be a long road, but,” he leaned forward and put a comforting hand on Mary’s shoulder. “We’re all going to be traveling the same road together, yeah?”
Mary tried to be brave. She started nodding her head but her lower lip began to shake. Then her face crumpled and she sobbed uncontrollably into her hand. Molly pulled her closer for a cuddle. As Mary buried her face in Molly’s shoulder, Molly mouthed to her husband, Where’s Sherlock?
He shrugged. Molly frowned then asked out loud, “Where’s Violet?” as she stroked Mary’s hair.
Greg hesitated. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Molly’s frown deepened. “She and John were close. She wouldn’t just… I mean, surely she would have…”
“Excuse me?” a pleasant tenor voice with the slightest hint of an Indian accent interrupted them.
The three of them turned and saw a short, stocky man with coppery skin wearing the dark blue scrubs of a surgeon. His hair was hidden by the surgical cap. The surgical mask dangled around his neck.
Molly recognized him and smiled, “Hari.”
Dr. Hari Sodhi smiled, “Hi Molly,” he said, always pleased whenever she said his name, as she was the only one who came close to pronouncing it correctly. Everyone else seemed to want to say Harry instead of Hur-ree. “Greg,” he nodded at the detective-inspector. “Are you Mrs. Watson?” he asked Mary gently. “You are also employed here, yes? In the A&E?”
“Yes,” Mary mopped her face. “I am. How is my husband?” But she didn’t sound as desperate as she had earlier. Surgeons don’t make pleasant chitchat if an operation went wrong.
“Doing splendidly considering he just underwent an emergency splenectomy,” Dr. Sodhi assured her. “He’s a fighter, Mrs. Watson. Mind you, this is just the beginning of a long recovery process. We will also need to go back and properly set his broken wrist and hand later.”
“Why didn’t you take care of that while you were in there?” Lestrade demanded.
Bone-tired and dead on his aching feet, Dr. Sodhi still managed to explain patiently, “The ruptured spleen and other internal bleeding caused by the cracked rib took top priority. Now that he’s stable, rest and pain management are the new top priorities. The hand and wrist can wait a bit since that’s not life-threatening. Also we’ll need to refer him to an orthopaedic surgeon. The damage was… rather extensive I’m afraid. I’m a trauma surgeon. Orthopaedics really is not my specialty,” he added almost apologetically.
“Oh,” Lestrade cringed, unconsciously flexing his own, healthy, unbroken hand.
“Can I see him?” Mary whispered.
“Yes, of course, but… ah… well, this is a bit awkward…” Dr. Sodhi scratched his nose.
“Is there a tall, thin, unpleasant man standing sentry over Dr. Watson?” Molly asked with half a smile on her lips.
“Black, curly hair? Kind of bluish-green eyes? Rude as all get out?”
“Yeah, that’d be him,” Lestrade sighed. “How many nurses did he make cry?”
“No one, but he’s… a bit terrifying,” Dr. Sodhi confessed. “He’s been hovering by the surgery doors the entire time and once we brought Dr. Watson to recovery, he has refused to leave his side. I know it’s against protocols bu-”
“No, it’s fine,” Mary searched her coat pockets for a tissue. “He’s his best friend. They’re very,” Mary choked, “Close.” She pressed her hand to her heart, “May I see him now?”
“Please,” Dr. Sodhi gestured for Mary to follow him.
Once she was out of earshot, Molly asked, “What do you mean you don’t know where Violet is?”
“Molly, you’re going to be pissed at me.”
“Because,” Lestrade sank back down onto the uncomfortable loveseat. “I’ve been keeping something from you.” He patted the seat next to him. “Violet’s not what she seems to be.”
“I don’t understand.”
“What?” Molly dropped her coat and scarf in shock.
“That’s not all…”
As Lestrade proceeded to explain that Violet Smith was actually Violet Hunter, an American federal agent in hiding because she was framed for crimes she did not commit, Mary blindly followed Dr. Sodhi down the hallway towards the recovery ward. She did not see the cheerful, inoffensive pictures on the wall, nor the nurses checking clipboards, nor the doctors checking their smart phones. She didn’t hear the wheels of a gurney squeaking on the floor or a concerned loved one asking the doctor the same question over and over, hoping for a different answer. She was deaf, dumb and blind to everything and everyone. She felt numb but not the comfortable numbness she felt right before a good kill.
She felt dead.
Bit by bit, her world had been crumbling ever since Charles Augustus Magnussen had summoned her to his office that fateful day, that horrible day that set all of this in motion…
“Here he is,” Dr. Sodhi used that hushed tone people use only around seriously ill people. He drew back the curtain.
Mary tried to stifle her sobs when she saw her husband, the love of her life, the last bit of light in her ever-darkening world, the last fucking good thing in her world. “Oh John,” she breathed as she took in the sight of him, hooked up to machines, tubes running in and out of him, a cannula under his nose to help him breathe. His left hand was splinted and rested suspended on a sling. His face, his dear, sweet face, so expressive, so open and honest, was a mess of bruises.
On the left side of the hospital bed, Sherlock Holmes sat studying him, legs crossed, fingers steepled. His coat, that damn swishy Belstaff, was filthy and he was wearing the same suit and shirt he had been wearing two days ago. His face was sallow and gaunt, like a half-melted candle, the flame about to go out. He needed a bath and a shave.
He flicked his eyes up at her and they were just as eerie and bright as ever. Blue. Green. Gold.
“Thank you, doctor,” Mary whispered and Dr. Sodhi nodded and left them in peace.
“Greg said you found him,” Mary staggered to the chair on the right and sunk down.
“Mm,” Sherlock fixed his eyes on her, never blinking.
Mary wanted to snap at him that this wasn’t the time for him to be making his little deductions. Then she remembered that John had said “he can’t turn it on and off like a tap, love.”
She burst into tears again. “Oh Sherlock,” she wept, hugging her coat to her, at a complete loss. “He actually believes we’re decent people, you and I.”
“I know,” Sherlock bowed his head. “He’s an idiot.”
“Can we,” Mary leaned forward to gently rest her hand on top of John’s unbroken fingers, careful not to disturb the IV catheter stuck in the thin skin on top of his hand. “Can we pretend for tonight that you’re a kind man and I’m a good wife and we deserve him?”
“We can entertain that pleasant fiction for this evening.”
Mary tried to pull herself together. “Where’s Violet? Off to get coffee?”
Sherlock shook his head, starting to disappear into himself.
“Sherlock?” Mary tilted her head as Sherlock stretched out his long legs and crossed his arms. “Where is Violet?”