Actions

Work Header

What's Inside

Chapter Text

Sherlock was late, he realized. 

He had promised that he wouldn't be gone for more than two years, because he knows the effects of loneliness on the human psyche, and surely John-

Delete.

It's been three, now, and he's not done yet, nowhere close, and it isn't safe, and he doesn't even know who the sniper on John was, but, when he looks at his (not his, the woman that has contacts to the third sniper and talks with a lilt and is having an affair with her doctor) phone and sees a text from Mycroft for the first time in seven months, he gets on the next plane back to London.

 

Sherlock texts John when he gets back, as soon as he finds his phone. (He wanted to stay out for longer, to remove any traces of Moriarty's web, to burn down the forest so that something else, something weaker and less insidious could grow in the fresh soil, but Mycroft wouldn't have it, and Sherlock found that it was never really in his advantage to argue with Mycroft.

He still tried - his first stop out of the airport was to Mycroft's. Mycroft had proceeded to threaten Sherlock with telling John himself/)

He doesn't remember what he said. He deleted his message, both in his mind an on his phone, though he logically knows that he must have said something. (He always deduces why, and then deletes it. Soon, he'll remember to stop remembering.)

He likes to think it was something nice, like, "You wanted a sign. Here it is." Or, "I owe you a thousand apologies."

He doesn't know, though, which is what makes the rest so infuriating.

He doesn't know, and he doesn't know why.

He kept John's response: "I'm coming over."

He does remember throwing out a half-sincere prayer before making a pointed effort not to run.

 

It was not nearly as fun as Sherlock hoped.

Sherlock had expected something hot, something red. He had expected fury. He had expected an angry lonely veteran to publicly attack him and for Sherlock to take it, because that was exactly what he deserved. Sherlock deserved a cleansing by fire, because, after the burn, things always grew anew, grew whole, grew clean. (And, besides - frustration, passion, tends to bleed over, spill over-)

Delete.

Sherlock had prepared himself for that, because that was the only reaction he could (would) logically foresee. Because John was not a nice person, but John was a good person, and that was what people like John did, resentful and blunt and full of something to prove to someone that wasn't there, someone that no-one had told them couldn't hurt him anymore.

Sherlock was not prepared for nothing. Sherlock was not prepared for John meeting him on the way to 221B and realizing that John no longer lived there and both of them coming to his flat and trying to ignore the solid inch of dust caking what was left after John gave everything away and John sitting down on his chair (he hadn't taken it, why?) and looking up at Sherlock for a quick second before turning away and saying absolutely nothing, because the words had dried up.

Sherlock deduced John in the millennium it took him to speak. He was married to someone that lied, and the lies had hurt, but John didn't know the half of it, yet. John had a daughter. John had a stable job. John had not gone back to Scotland Yard for a very, very long time. John had not spoken to Lestrade in months. That was fine. 

John was not happy, but was trying very hard to hide it. John was being nice to people, and hated that, because he was not a nice person. John knew that Sherlock could deduce everything about him, and was scared, because there had been nothing in his life since and would never be anything else quite like it.

"I mourned you," John said, after both of them had died.

Sherlock knows how to respond, because he has thought about this exact moment a thousand times, and he knows how it will play out. (Or, at least, he knows how he wants it to play out. Sherlock knows, by now, how deeply emotions can fog judgement - delete.) "I know. I can explain-"

"I don't want an explanation." (That could mean anything. He wants you to have never left/to forgive you/to be mad at you/to feel anything/no more excuses/time to think/you/nothing to do with you/to hurt you/help/his life to make sense for once. Anything. Data inconclusive.)

They force themselves through an entirely pointless conversation about what Sherlock missed since he left which Sherlock deletes later, but Sherlock remembers how it felt like trying to see through a veil, like trying to look a blind man in the eyes.

 

He sits down and looks at his living room thoroughly after John leaves. The dust makes his entire home (*home*) a fuzzy gray. It's been at least a month since anyone last entered his apartment, and four since it was last cleaned.

 

When Sherlock got back to Scotland Yard, Molly had already told Sally.

It was Sally that punched him after dragging him into the lab after he walked in after hours, and that felt satisfying, because he had permission to explode at her because she held a portion of the blame, and he had been out of Britain far too long to have had solid practice at being repressed. (It hurt his back so, so much, and he didn't mind that either, because physical pain is much easier to deal with than emotional pain, and any possibility to change the second to the first is a good opportunity.)

He didn't say anything that wasn't true. He did say that everything horrible that had happened to him in the last three years was partially her fault.

She replied by telling him exactly why she did so, and why she wouldn't undo her actions if you put a gun to her head. Because, in her situation, that was the logical thing to do. Because she wasn't an idiot, and because Sherlock was a pompous asshole that treated everyone like trash, and because he was dangerous and why had he been gone anyway? And because Moriarty made right points, and because if he didn't have a brother that was the British government he wouldn't get away with being himself.

He hates admitting that he respects her logic. He hates admitting that she isn't a complete idiot, because that's a nice way to ignore people.

He vaguely wonders what else Sally isn't telling him, years too late.

 

He broods when he gets home. He's good at that - he's made up of sharp angles and black curls and an intense stare. He looks like a bird.

He doesn't move, because his world has been destroyed, and there is nowhere to go.

 

Sherlock's attempts to replace John were amusing, and Sally let him know.

He tried Molly first. It was hilarious, because Molly was uncomfortable around him and he thought he knew why and didn't, and it was hilarious watching her squirm. Sally knew why. Sherlock did not. 

This drove him crazy. He did not tell Sally this. 

Sally knew why he was trying to replace John; she wasn't an idiot. Sherlock wanted company. Sherlock wanted the ability to remain astoundingly other and still have company. To be himself and be respected.

Sally hated admitting that she found some sort of sick pleasure in watching him fail, in watching the world realize that Sherlock Holmes was a person, not an act, and that that person had done things they weren't comfortable with. (She also liked watching Molly squirm, writhe, try to escape what she had done. Call it karmic revenge. Call it fate. Call it luck.)

Sherlock went through five more people before he tried Sally.

They solved the case in record time, because Sally has spent an entire lifetime mirroring people. She found that, if she focused, she could guess Sherlock's deductions before he said them.

This troubles her.

She calls him freak and heads home and does not think about it, because that is what you need to do to stay at the top.

 

Sally quits working with Sherlock after he insults her again. After he calls her boring.

Doesn't he see, with that great big throbbing brain of his, why she's boring? 

(that it's a defense mechanism against being an outsider that she's scared scared scared that she has no other option that just look at her a bisexual black woman is not going to get away with being fascinating, because she'll be lucky to be alive tomorrow, so shut up white boy)

Sally does not cry, because Sally likes to be productive. She likes to be strong. She uses her energy to clean her entire flat when she gets home.

She hates how he can get away with being an outsider, how he can get away with waltzing back in and being considered an unstoppable force, something uncontrollable, like a hurricane. She hates how she knows if she tried to pull that off, she would be fired or worse. She hates.

She does not hate him. Not yet, or maybe not anymore, because she can see how he knows that being a hurricane has hurt him. She can see how badly he wants to be human in the way he acts like a robot.

He wants to no longer be weak, to be that force of nature, to, he thinks, transcend.

This amuses her, because she knows, now, that he is not a psychopath. She started calling him that as a sarcastic tease. She was too subtle. Sherlock seems to like the label. It represents what he wants to be, she thinks - brilliant, emotionally-detached, with no weaknesses, as controlled as Mycroft. He wants to be in control, and he does this by being detached, insane, an outsider.

She knows that she could not pull this off, and this does not make her cry.

 

Sherlock visits Mary and John. John seems off. Sherlock finds himself lost, lost in the way that Mary and John look at each other, the lazy secure glow, lost in the way that John seems so nervous, with Sherlock around, as if he feels obligated to him but hates that.

Sherlock tries not to feel. He tries to be strong, cold, there only in the vaguest sense, even as he knows that this is not what he wants. He wants his life to be normal again. He wants John to tell him how brilliant he is, to humanize him.

He wants John to know why Sherlock left, to forgive him.

Instead, he is left sipping at tea in Mary's house, feeling the gap between them grow and grow and grow and being able to do absolutely nothing about it.

He excuses himself without saying goodbye when John leaves to use the restroom.

 

When Sherlock shows up to Scotland Yard the next morning, Sally decides that she's had enough of him.

She solves the case before Sherlock is fully debriefed, because how could anyone not see that there was no way for the killer to escape unless she was in possession of a trained dog, and this person had that -

Sherlock does not say anything, because Sally has broken the world open.

 

Sally does not make eye contact with anyone for the rest of that day. She lets her eyes hang low and scrape the floor, and does not see how the rest of Scotland Yard looks upon her with reverence, because this is the woman that talked back to Sherlock Holmes and lived to tell the tale. 

 

Sherlock went home and tried to deduce Sally and realized that his decade-old impression of her was completely, astoundingly wrong.

He does not wonder what else he got wrong.

 

Sherlock calls John the next morning and asks him to accompany Sherlock on a case. John takes a day off work. They do the case, and, for a few glorious hours, the world shifts back into place. Things go back to normal.

John goes back home. So does Sherlock. They let the space between them ripple like waves.

 

Sally stands over him, after the next case. He's sitting on the curb, smoking.

"You aren't a psychopath," she says, and Sherlock wishes that there was no context to that statement, wishes that he hadn't just tried not to cry after he saw someone after he realized that his boyfriend had run away and not died.

Sherlock doesn't respond, because he doesn't need to. Sally has broken down the veneer, and there's no point in trying to put it back up when Sally's already seen what's inside.

 

He went to talk to John, and things did not go as he planned.

He had planned something grandiose.

Instead, they spent another hour sitting on John's couch trying to find each other again, through glances that they both hoped were significant and mumblings about John's blog and the looks of betrayal on both of their faces.

 

Sherlock sees Mary the next day, when he deigns to go shopping for food, and she is smiling, because she has won John/she has beaten Sherlock/Sherlock is projecting/he doesn't know/he doesn't know.

He flips up the collar on his jacket and keeps walking. 

 

Sherlock hated Sally because she wasn't always wrong, now. She had grown to take his place in his absence, and, though she acknowledged that Sherlock had superior powers of deduction, she did not have the crippling insecurities she once had. She had changed. The world was orderly.

She knew, now, that she was smart enough to handle it, and she let him know.

Sherlock was not strong enough to admit that she helped. Sherlock was not strong enough to admit that he was far too insecure to feel safe not being in charge.

Bust Sally caught the Waters-

 

John does not start accompanying Sherlock on cases again. Sherlock compensates by getting high.

This ends, a week later, when he hasn't responded to anything Scotland Yard has sent to him in three days and Mycroft starts texting him about where's the list.

Mycroft ends up coming to 221B, and finds Sherlock staring out the window at the rain, high out of his mind.

"I'm sorry," Mycroft says, because there is nothing else to say. He knows what it is like to have nothing to push back against, to be bored and unfulfilled and underwhelmed by life itself. (Mycroft knows that he has always been controlled, in control, whatever the difference is, and that Sherlock has not, that Sherlock needs to put his blinding force on something so that it isn't himself, because he can destroy anything he sees. Mycroft knows that Sherlock wants to be overwhelmed where Mycroft himself wants to overwhelm. Mycroft knows he should have stayed, that this was a terrible idea, that he never should have agreed to Lazarus. Mycroft wishes that he had stayed, that they had grown up as twin sins, as yin and yang, and hates that they grew up running parallel, antagonistic, separate, when they could have been glorious. Mycroft knows that this is entirely his fault.)

Sherlock laughs and hands Mycroft a list. Mycroft calls the ambulance.

 

Sherlock is thankful, at least, that Mycroft prevented anyone from searching his apartment for drugs in the following week.

He goes back to Scotland Yard and solves all of their cases and goes home to play the violin and is *bored* because boredom is better than sentiment.

He shoots the smiley face some more. Ms. Hudson panics. Sherlock deduces a lifetime of domestic violence and feels guilty.

He waits for cases like a vulture, hungry, looming.

He does not let himself think of John.

 

Sherlock apologizes to Sally, in the roundabout way that people do when they really don't want to apologize but know that they should.

Sally responds by looking him dead in the eyes and being shocked and calling him "freak" entirely insincerely, roughly in that order.

Two days later, she ends up texting him the story of her little sister, of Janet and bullying and becoming another transgender/black/other/pitiable suicide. Of how she had to hide, because if you're lower and you're better you don't fit, and if you don't fit, bad things happen.

Sally feels guilty because of what she hasn't told him, but wants to - about how Molly left her the same way that Sherlock left John: for protection that she didn't want.

She does not tell him how Molly became a sellout and left and burned every bridge. She sees Sally in Sherlock's eyes, and does not bring herself to forgiveness. 

She does not tell him how she came back and saw Molly and how things never were quite the same. About how they both grew twisted to hide their deformities.

 

When he went to see Molly again, she seemed unnerved by him, as if he reminded her of something terrible she had done, once, long ago.

"Molly, I assure you that the damage done to John by my absence, which you helped to facilitate-"

Molly looks at him with a sort of nod and a smile that lets him know that he's completely wrong, and he breaks off before he has to keep thinking about what he was saying.

 

Sally and Sherlock catch themselves talking to each other more. About nothing, and, in between that, everything. About what Sherlock missed, and what Scotland Yard missed about him.

About Sherlock and John. "We had a betting pool, before you died, on when you and John would finally hook up, that we only stopped after John got engaged." Sally laughed in the way she did when she was trying not to cry.  "I mean, we started off just wondering how bad it would be, because what do you expect when the repressed insane brilliant sociopath with a brother that was the goddamn government falls in love with the dependent desperate suicidal PTSD victim with no money? It turned into something else, fast. Molly took her bet down last. That was... that was how I knew. Because I knew that Molly would've been the first to try to get over you if she thought you were dead, the first to burn her bridges leading to dark places, and that she would've tried to keep hope alive for as long as possible if there was any reasonable doubt that you weren't."

She doesn't tell him about the other bet, the bet between her and Molly and a few of Sherlock's homeless support group (Sally finds herself both disgusted by and thankful for Sherlock's generosity) on when he'll be back. Surreptitious, written on the backs of notes sent to each other. Hopes, dreams that neither of them really expected to come true until they did.

Sally fixed the bullet holes in her apartment with the money.

 

It wasn't that John didn't want to be friends with Sherlock, it was that... there was nothing left. 

John had moved on, and Sherlock was asking him to move back, because Sherlock had stayed, and the whiplash was dizzying. Jumping tracks, timelines, and things didn't work anymore because they weren't the same people. 

(but John remembers just how much he wanted Sherlock back, after he died, and - ) 

 

Irene Adler laughed at him, when he went to visit her. (Not like that. It had never been like that, between them, but it was a beautiful game between two beautiful minds. It was fun. They understood each other. A game, a game, a game, that both of them now knew how to play, because they both could cover up their weaknesses - a need for affection, for appreciation. Ignored and shoved under the rug for the sake of understanding.)

They talk about John, because she knows that is what he wants.

"What is love, to you? And what about that definition did you not throw away when you died?" Her words are pointed, sharp, exactly what Sherlock knows is true and does not want to hear.

"Love is protection," he says, because that is what he told himself in Serbia, at the two year mark, when he was so broken he was almost ready to come home.

"But we both know that's not true. You and John both hate safety. He'd've been happier if you had taken him with-"

"He would have died!"

His voice echoes. Irene Adler sits very still, trying not to smile. Pity. Sentiment, and Sherlock feels disgusted with himself for being weak.

"Him or you, Sherlock."

 

This ends badly for everyone, Irene knows. Imagine a broken - not broken. Broken implies that there was once a fixed state, that, once, he was whole. No, he grew this way, grew twisted - shattered genius leaving the one person he could make whole. That made him feel like he mattered in a way that wasn't a direct function of what he did for people.

Imagine this genius wanting nothing more than to make it safe to go home. Imagine this genius wanting nothing more than to go home. Than making things right. Than apologizing. Than fixing everything he caused when he started an intellectual love affair with a psychopath.

Imagine that one person giving him sideways glances and finding excuses not to visit. Imagine his chair (his chair!) being empty, not useful enough to be taken home, even. Imagine that one person with a wife he doesn't trust and pinned with a child and waiting for something that isn't him. Imagine that that one person had moved on from him, if not to happiness, then at least to something stable and safe enough that he doesn't want to move away.

She knows that Sherlock remembers something about John not liking safety. But, she supposes, anyone can get used to their environment. Adapt or die, because migration wasn't an option.

Imagine someone wanting nothing more than forgiveness. Some sort of recognition. To come back. because he's been gone and lost and empty for so long.

Now, imagine this:

Imagine the one he left behind. (There was really only one, only one person that he loved enough to leave and not tell. It doesn't make sense, but it does, because the genius knows that the chance that John will try to come is unacceptable.)

Imagine that he's mourned and burned out the scars, cauterized them, cleaned out his emotions until there's nothing left but empty and mortality.

Imagine spending a small lifetime learning how to live without someone you learned to need.

Imagine watching yourself grow cold and impulsive and twisted. Imagine your heart setting crooked like a broken nose.

Imagine being fine.

And then imagine the person you used to need driving out of a fog like... (find a metaphor, because what is happening to you doesn't quite make sense except through the lense of something that isn't real, fiction) Gatsby. Coming back to a world in which they no longer belong. In which they never really belonged, because it grew without them, independent of their interest, of their passion.

What do you do little Daisy? When what you learned not to need comes back, showing you everything you ever wanted and the cost of everything you hate?

John is a good person. He is a courageous person. He is a *soldier*.

But he is not brave, and he is not wise, and all he knows is that, maybe, the price isn't one he's willing to, or should, pay. Because he's married to a Tom, and he is not really for the abuse those two things can inflict. Because leaving for what he wants carries risks, and he's not sure they're risks he wants to take.

He could be strong, because survival is more important than obedience, no matter who you get the orders from.

(One thing the army didn't teach him, as a soldier-)

Irene feels sorry for the both of them, because not even her genius can push them back together. A pity, because she is so very, very good at telling what people want, and they both want this, this beautiful twisting spiralling dance that neither of them knows how to commence, to lead.

 

Sherlock tried to explain things to John, after that. It went badly.

"How", John said, "do you have the gall to try to come back? To just leave and try to work your way up? You were important enough that I had to restructure my entire goddamned life around your absence, and you are not important enough for me to destroy my life twice."

A pause. He breathes.

It occurs to Sherlock that John has no idea who he is trying to convince of this.

"We can build something new. But things can never be the same."

John says nothing about Mary, about who he knows she used to be and what he knows he doesn't. Asks no questions, despite the fact that he doesn't know why Sherlock left/why Sherlock didn't tell him anything/that Sherlock was tortured/that Sherlock didn't care for anyone, not in that way/how Sherlock felt-

Delete.

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Victor Trevor laughed and said, "Never let someone break your heart twice."

"Sherlock," and the whiplash makes him want to flinch, "we can build something new. We can. Things won't be the same, but we're not the same."

There's a break in eye contact. A measure of rest in the song, and Sherlock starts the next phrase.

So he follows the melody, because he knows what John wants to hear, and he deserves to give John a lifetime of happiness.

"But we both know that's not what either of us wants."

 

There's another case. Sherlock calls John up.

"I'm going to Scotland Yard. It will be dangerous-"

"If you're trying to guilt me into convincing you not to go-"

"I'm inviting you."

John finds an excuse to pry himself away from Mary, and they go and have a wonderfully horrible time chasing down murderers.

When they both fall back into 221B, high on adrenaline and magnetized and somehow holding hands still, when John sees the soft look in Sherlock's eyes and recognizes it, even if Sherlock doesn't, not yet, John tells him about Rose.

John does not tell Sherlock that he thinks that he might be gay, that his sexuality has been so repressed that he doesn't know which way is up, but that he would really quite like it if-

End that thought right there before you say it. Your baby's burning enough bridges.

 

Sherlock found that Molly unnerved him, now. She was far too similar to him; she held her guilt at loathing high, sad, never proud, and Sherlock felt like she was singing an elegy at his resonance frequency, begging him to let the sound overwhelm and shatter him, make him erupt.

And Sherlock had worked hard enough to be made of glass and ice to risk breaking.
he said that they didn't click to spare her feelings, because, as much as he loathes to admit it, he needs her.

 

John sometimes got time off to go on cases with Sherlock, for a few months, after they talked. Sally followed Sherlock on the others. The two people that treated Sherlock like a human, by his side, never together, the same and different and indespensible, even if he doesn't want the specific relationship he has with either of them. (He wants Sally to leave, on some level, to admire instead of challenge, and he wants John-

Delete.)

He knew it couldn't last, which is why Sherlock breathes in all of his world around him for the few months he can.

Because, when Mary shoots him, the entire world starts to end.

 

***

 

Two weeks before the shooting, Sally asked Sherlock what he meant to him, after the case, after the genius and a half had gone home and won and were trying to get their strength back. After Lestrade had thanked them and said something entirely unwanted about how well they worked as a team. They find this amusing, because they spend about 90% of their time together fighting, and most of the last 10% either moving or not looking at evidence. There's bits of reverence and camaraderie, but they're sandwiched in between glares and annoyances and "how can you possibly be so stupid goddamn"s. 

Sherlock had responded with a ten-second pause and a long, slow blink, and Sally can see John in the space between his eyes. 

Sally doesn't question it. She's seen how Molly looks at her when she thinks Sally can't see her. She knows how badly the deserter wants to stay.

 

One week before the shooting, they fuck, somehow.

Sherlock's slightly terrified, because he (accidentally?) deleted everything leading up to it and after it, and all he remembers is how bad he was at it and how good it felt and how scared they were that they'd be caught and John's face and reaction and acceptance and the thought that maybe, just maybe, things would work out in their favor.

Not the important things, like how either of them was convinced to do this or what John's reaction was, afterward, though he doesn't think it was very good or very important if John pretends it never happened.

He can tell it did, though, because the next time John comes over for tea with Mary he makes a point of not looking Sherlock in the eyes.

He hopes that Mary doesn't know.

He goes home and smashes his skull. Named after who he might have been if Mycroft had never forged his mind into something drawn inexplicably to pain and crime, if he had never learned the science of deduction.

He wonders what it would have been like, if he had been normal. Would they be together? Would they have knitted themselves into something like what John and Mary had now?

He wishes to have been born a hundred and a half years before, back when he could blame not having John, not being together on the strict illegality of it, instead of John not wanting it, wanting safety, not loving Sherlock, just loving what he sees, prepared to leave as soon as things start to go south. (Sherlock, even then, didn't believe that John loved him. He didn't know a thing about sex, about love, about sentiment, about John. He didn't know how rare it was for John to lie about feeling things, how completely unprecedented. Still doesn't.)

He regrets smashing his skull immediately after he's done, and realizes that that was the absolute opposite of the point. It's too late now, to wonder.

 

On John's first anniversary, Sherlock saw a magpie. He remembers something else, told to him by someone who left too soon and had too many stories, a rhyme for him back when he was too scared by the nothing between his parents to find solace in his mind.

Remembers Victor Trevor telling an eight-year-old Sherlock, "One for sorrow, two for joy..."

Remembers that exact rhyme playing on repeat when Victor Trevor left, saying that "nothing felt right, anymore". 

 

Sherlock kept a small part of his mind figuring out what would've happened if he had come home earlier.

He kept a running tally of the differences. A lot, too much, was the same. He still shot Magnussen. He still lived alone and talked to himself. He still saved John from being burned alive, because that had always been at Sherlock, not at John. He still did this while Mary clutched to him on a motorcycle, texting God knows who. Ms. Hudson still talked about her marriage. Sherlock still went back to talk to his parents, and they were still awkward and broken.

It was just the people that had changed. Three years was enough time for everyone to have hardened their shells after his absence. Three years was enough time for people to change. Three years was enough time for him to be forgotten, for conspiracies to die, for people to lose hope in him and make their own, and now Sherlock was obsolete, incompatible with the version of this realty in which he had not existed for long enough.

He knows that he can't have John. Not anymore, possibly not ever.

He gets high again and doesn't make a list.

 

Sally finds him, this time.

She arrests him, because goddamn it if this is the only way she can convince him not to destroy himself, she will do it.

She calls Mycroft, too, and tells him to hurry the fuck up or she will personally find out where he lives and give his address to Lestrade.

Mycroft bails him out, of course, and Sally almost forgives him for that.

 

Sherlock apologizes, when he comes to.

"Sally... I'm sorry."

She accepted his apology.

They go home, together. She doesn't know where John is - work?

Sherlock asks about him, tries to subtly ask how Sally thinks he can get him back, because Sally's the closest thing to an expert in this field.

Sally sighed. "That's the problem, Sherlock. Even when you get them back, they never really return, and you can never really trust them, because you know, now, how much you don't know, and most people don't like staring into abysses, because they don't know what's staring back. The unknown is terrifying. It's why people fear death."

Sherlock nods and thanks her.

Sally is terrified.

 

One day before the shooting, John and Sherlock talk and it is beautiful, and, for a split second, both of them think that what they want might be possible. The illusion is destroyed by reality. It always is.

 

Mary does not have to shoot Sherlock. There is no reason for her not to leave him alone. She has won John, and she knows it; she can see that everything between them is ghosting, is vague, undirected hope, going nowhere.

She still shoots him.

John does not know. John goes to comfort Mary. John does not question her actions.

 

Things went as they should've. John forgave him. Mary shot Sherlock. John forgave her. Sherlock pretended to for John. Sherlock shot Magnussen.

Things just... felt different. (Sherlock knows what would've happened by now, that after a miserable month things would have gone back to something that spun close to normal.)

The house feels so, so empty.

 

Mycroft couldn't bail Sherlock out, this time.

Go to Eastern Europe, he says. I have a job for you, both of them knowing that it will kill Sherlock, both of them knowing that that's the only way Mycroft has for Sherlock to squirm out of incarceration, neither knowing if Sherlock is ready for death.

He went and yelled at Mycroft, later, on the phone, for not holding his place.

"You should have done a better job at keeping one, then," Mycroft said, and Sherlock didn't bother reading him out of shame of what he'd find.

He pretended to pack his bags for the trip, knowing that he wouldn't return.

 

Sherlock's life had taken on a curious spinning quality by now. He was not longer in control, and he hated it.

 

He looked for a resolution, because that was what the world had taught him to look for. He always tries to forget that the world isn't what people want it to be.

 

There was a point where Sally realized that everything that Sherlock had done since he had returned and seen how unwelcome he was was entirely to limit the damage, to minimize the pain felt when John finally woke up and saw how completely insane Sherlock was.

That was the point she called Mycroft and told him that she was coming with Sherlock, because that was the very least of what Sherlock deserved - if he couldn't have a world that made sense, he could have someone to stand by him as he died.

 

Sally watches Sherlock forgive Mary, and a part of her is thoroughly unconvinced.

She gives Sherlock and John their privacy, however. So does Mary.

Sally knows, then, that Mary knows, and wonders what her game is. (She doesn't know what Sherlock and John know, by now - what she did, who she was. She just knows that John and her seem torn apart, that Sherlock is wary of her. She knows something happened, and doesn't want to know what.)

 

No matter what Sherlock says to Mycroft, he is thankful for leaving. Thankful, because, when you're dying, you can run any risk you want.

This time, Sherlock doesn't try to hide, because, this time, he knew he wasn't coming back. He had faked his death once, and had planned on returning with a hero's welcome. Now, he was leaving forever so he could live. He's not sure which is worse, yet, but he wishes that he didn't have to find out.

"John," he says. And John looks up and Sherlock can see a twinge of absolute panic cross his face.

He doesn't look into it, because Sherlock knows that would be suicide. Because Sherlock knows that there isn't time anymore for dancing around what he wants to say.

He doesn't remember the situation surrounding their sex. He doesn't remember how drunk or scared or high one or both of them were. He doesn't know how deep he has to go to find where John's buried his 

He doesn't know if they exist, if John is just desperate and miserable and full of pity. If John hasn't quite forgiven Mary yet, and the loneliness of waking up beside someone he doesn't know is killing him.

Don't think.

"I'm in love with you."

 

There's a pause that's a thousand miles wide, and Sherlock doesn't force himself to look. There are 17 different ways this conversation could go, and none are anything close to acceptable. (The inevitable alternative is worse, because Sherlock knows, now, how bad of an idea it is to try to hide for safety.)

He lists them off in his head. Five involve John being angry at him (at himself, at Sherlock, at his own sexuality, at the concept of love and friendship) to the point of abandoning him, because John would do that.

John is good. John is not nice. John is not wise, and John knows how important survival is over obedience to one's deepest instincts, against doing what's right. Another three involve emotions that wouldn't end well for their relationship, emotions caught in a sick tangle of not-quite-forgiveness and denial and obligation to the little girl that trumps everything.

Another four involve John doing something stupid out of desperation, out of *the only person you trust will leave you if you do not do something*, and Sherlock doesn't know if love would have anything to do with it. If love ever had anything to do with it, with John. (How, after all, would he know that it wasn't just a soldier's duty to save Sherlock that first night? How would he know that John didn't stay with Sherlock entirely out of pity?) One of those four involves (more) marital infidelity. Three of those four lead to Mary shooting Sherlock again. Two of those three lead to Mary shooting John, too. In the last one, Mary shoots Mycroft instead of John, and then shoots John.

Two involve Mary finding out, and twisting it into blackmail, curling Sherlock around her fingers and using him because that is how you win the game. Neither of those end well, because Mary does not like to lose, and Mary likes to lie.

One involves them forgetting that this ever happened and letting Sherlock's feelings die on the tarmac. Another one is almost the same, except for that John's feelings die, too.

The last one is John finally cracking down, because no-one deserves to deal with this. No-one deserves to deal with their world breaking apart.

Sherlock realizes that that would have been number three, and feels guilty.

Sherlock doesn't know what the best is.

After a second's thought, Sherlock realizes how stupid of an idea this was.

Stupid, stupid, stupid-

 

Sherlock starts counting the seconds, after a little. One, two, three, four, and John blinks and the world stands still.

Sherlock wonders what John is thinking. Wonders how his doctor, his soldier, his John could stand the irresistible force of the world falling apart, because John has always been the unmovable object, the steadfast, the loyal, the dependable.

Sherlock doesn't know if he wants to know. Five, six, seven, eight, nine.

Sherlock stops counting and slows his breathing down to something manageable.

 

He thinks that he deleted the rest of that conversation, a chunk of heartbreak, the rest of the sound of the world imploding on the tarmac, because he doesn't quite believe that John would have said so little.

He remembers this:

"Sherlock."

A pause, because that was how they did things. They were British. Dramatic pauses were just ways of admitting trauma without actually admitting that they had feelings.

"Sherlock... Look, I..."

John's eyes flick away, around the corners of Sherlock's face, sticking at the curls and cheekbones. Sherlock does not look away. Sherlock stays.

"I've moved on. I have a life now. With Mary. And I know that-"

"That the world is plotting to collapse on us any minute now?"

He breathes in and looks Sherlock in the eyes. There's something scratched into his face, something exasperated and hopeless, something that Sherlock didn't wish he recognized. "But, whatever there was before you left is gone now, and we need to move on."

Sherlock does not cry.

(But he knows, *knows*, that it is the last quiet talk they will ever have-)

 

***

 

Sherlock wonders how he's going to deal with Mary. Dealing with her has always been like playing a game of chess wherein her king is John and his is his own sanity (i.e. John).

Considering he managed to lose without Mary even being there, he doesn't think that things are going to go well for him.

 

***

 

When he gets on the plane, Sally is there, sitting in the back. Close to the aisle. (Maximizes chances of surviving a plane crash, Sherlock thinks, because that is how he knows how to deal with pain. You do not think. You just become a magnifying glass. You stop existing and become a mirror to the world, because that means that you do not need to feel obligated to exist.)

Sally doesn't touch him for the first five hours of the flight. She knows not to mess with him, look at him, think about him when his face is a tangle of unspeakable emotion and weakness, when he's pretending to sleep while trying to deduce Mary while trying not to deduce Mary because if he did so his entire world would be torn apart, because nothing made sense anymore, because the order of the world was broken when John moved on, moved away.

She does not ask him what John knows. She does not ask him if he has come to her conclusion about Mary. She does not ask him how lonely he must be to be completely blind to the logical conclusion about her. She does not ask how Sherlock is doing, because she knows.

She does not ask him how she thinks John and Mary's marriage will end, because *she* sure as hell knows that it's going to end *awfully* and doesn't understand how Sherlock hasn't caught on sooner. She reminds her of Sherlock's landlord, in a way, with the terrible, whirlwind marriage, and she hopes and prays that things will go well for him but doesn't have the mental strength to convince herself that they will.

She does not make a sarcastic comment that suggests that everyone that Sherlock has talked to in the last year is a complete asshole. Including John. Including herself. (Even though she knows it's true.)

 

***

 

Did you know that, in the original Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock and John slowly drifted apart?

Can you imagine that?

Just pause for a second. You're Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes. It's 19156here. You're alive, but only just.

World War I is winding up. You don't call it World War One, of course, because you don't have a second one to compare it to. You just know that there's a war on, and everyone has machine guns and no-one knows how to use them.

You don't know that this will happen a second time. You won't know how useless this waste of life and talent is, because, by then, you'll be dead.

You, instead, call it a waste of men, a waste of time. (You are too old to go fight, for now. But you know how it will end. You're Sherlock Holmes. You could escape. You could.)

You also know about the Armenian Genocide, because your brother is Mycroft, and Mycroft, you're convinced, knows everything other people don't want him to know. I don't know what you think of that,

Sherlock, but can you just imagine what something of that scale would do to someone with a world carefully constructed around the idea that the world was ordered? The world made sense? That everything had its place and every place had its thing, and, if you just knew enough, things would make sense?

Can you imagine having no-one to talk to as you watch your world blow itself to pieces?

You are not a young man. You are a lonely man. Can you imagine, sitting in your room, the world too afraid to make cases for you, with your only companion gone and married (after 33 years!) and you will never speak to him again and you know it?

Can you imagine knowing that your life is in its endgame? Being ready to take your last bow, your last vow?

Can you imagine looking at the world and seeing glass shatter and not knowing whether it was you or the world that was irreparably broken?

Can you imagine sitting in your room, high out of your mind, waiting for a draft, waiting to lose the war, the war against Germany, the war against yourself?

Can you imagine knowing the order of the universe, and knowing that it has told you that you are to be alone?

 

***

 

Sally and Sherlock stay in Eastern Europe for a month. It's not enough. It's far too much.

Sally watches Sherlock's mind slowly spin out of place. She watches the kaleidoscopic fractal of Sherlock's every waking constant thought try to contain itself. She watches him as if he's been broken, as if he's a shattered mirror instead of a burning torch. Bits of glass skitter across the floor. Sally has to watch him, now, with everything - no razors in the bathroom unless she's watching him. No guns, ever, unless Sally gives one to him. No antihistamines unless Sally gives them to him one at a time. 

She watches him leave his shell more than he ever has, because he no longer has anyone or anything to impress. Moriarty, Mycroft, John. No-one can see him here, so he can be himself. (And the bit about his inevitable death? All the better. No responsibilities. No ties to the world, anymore, except for a sarcastic bitch that tagged along that he can convince himself that he didn't like in the first place.)

Sally takes John's place, in a way that she didn't know she could. She's not as desperate as he was, so they fight, often, but there are spaces in between the running where they curl up next to each other, being human for what they know might be the last time.

 

***

 

Of course, Moriarty isn't dead, and that ruins Sherlock.

Sally watches him get high as a kite on the plane ride back to 221B. Wonders what he's thinking about. Does he think about Mary? Does he think about John? Does he think about Moriarty?

Does he think about her?

 

Chapter Text

 

John remembers everything Sherlock was too scared to.

 

John remembers the night they fucked and how absolutely *terrified* Sherlock was, how little experience Sherlock had. The sheer volume of emotion he could see, breaking out of the glass prison that Sherlock had locked it into.

John felt like a god. John felt his life locking back into place. John felt adored, worshiped, powerful. 

John remembers the way that light caught Sherlock's eyes in the quiet minutes after. John remembers what Sherlock looked like when he cleaned up the bedroom, destroyed the evidence. John remembers Sherlock's smile, rare and sweet and quiet, warming John like sunlight. 

John remembers the promise that Sherlock made, the promise that things would go back to normal, would be fixed, that they would get through this together, mumbled, true in the way that most promises are - in spirit, in sentiment, less than in fact. He trusts Sherlock, just the same.

John remembers the look of complete panic on Sherlock's face when he heard the front door unlock twenty minutes later. John remembers the look of a dreaded realization, of fear that John has never seen before. John remembers Sherlock looking at John and saying, "I can't do this to you."

John does not remember saying, "Please do," even though that was what he wanted to say. "Please destroy my life for me, because I am not yet brave enough to do it myself." He wanted this, even if he was too scared to ask for it. He wanted it so, so badly.

When Sherlock showed up completely unruffled for tea three days later, John's heart broke. Because if Sherlock didn't think it was possible, then it wasn't, even if it was.

 

Things go back to normal, lock back into the uncomfortable spot they were before Sherlock had left to go die.

John hated it, but it was safe, better than breaking himself again. 

Not better, but less scary than. 

 

John remembers how Sherlock had looked at him on the tarmac. He remembers how completely shocked he was by Sherlock's confession, because it meant that Sherlock had deleted more of what had happened between them than he had thought.

And if Sherlock had deleted it, John didn't know what else he had deleted. John didn't know what he didn't know.

And he doesn't know why he said no, but he knows that he did.

And John is so, so scared.

 

When John sees Moriarty's face again, he is relieved, because it means that Sherlock is coming back.

He doesn't give himself the luxury of thinking that they have another shot together, but being able to admire Sherlock just being is enough. Both of them could dance around each other, thinking about what they wanted and could not have, and it would not be perfect, and their relationship would be stolen glances and suggestive Christmas cards and both of them trying not to forget and a "thank you for not dying in Eastern Europe," and it would be better than nothing. It would be torture, but it would be better than this. 

"You're not haunted by the war. You miss it." 

Goddamn right, he thinks, and pushes through.