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There has been a complication in securing the services of the preferred lead surgeon for the operation. – MH

~o~o~o~

John looked with fond exasperation at Mycroft, visiting in his new flat. John shook his head and tutted. “Really, Sherlock, of all disguises – your brother? You can't stand him. You do a brilliant impression, by the way.” John laughed, inviting his friend to share the joke. “Of course.”

Mycroft's thoughtful expression did not change. He tapped his umbrella, considering. Finally he rose and moved towards the door. Incorporating this development into the plan would require more thought than he had time to devote just now.

John escorted Mycroft to the door. “That's right, Sherlock. Come back when you are done with disguises, and ready to be yourself again. You know I can't stand Mycroft any more than you can.”

Mycroft smiled politely, “Good day, John.”

~o~o~o~

Have encountered difficulties in conveying details of the patient's circumstances. – MH

~o~o~o~

It isn’t that John doesn’t trust him. He does. It’s just that hindbrain fear he can’t quite shake. It made him feel much better to leave the house knowing that Sherlock was safely bound hand and foot to his bed, behind two locked doors, away from his mobile or a computer. And Sherlock had understood. Of course he had been a bit hurt, but he seemed to accept it as his penance for the greater hurt he had done to John.

~o~o~o~

Dr Agyeman invited Sherlock to choose from any of the comfortable chairs or sofa in the psychiatrist's office. Sherlock remained standing, glancing about impatiently. Unperturbed, the doctor sat down behind the desk and said, “I will remain throughout this first visit between you and Dr Watson. The patient has expressed some trust in my ability to help him determine which of his experiences are grounded in reality, and which were products of his hallucinations. My hope is that my presence will assist during what may be a very traumatic encounter for him.”

“Yes, yes,” Sherlock waved his hand dismissively. “Can we get on to the visit?”

The door opened, and John came in slowly. A few steps inside he stopped and stared at Sherlock. Sherlock could not read his expression – John's face seemed strangely blank. The slow movements, the flat aspect – side effects of the anti-psychotics prescribed to reduce the delusions.

“So this is really you?” John asked flatly. Sherlock didn't respond and Dr Agyeman merely nodded. “Well, if it's another hallucination it's a new sort.” John shuffled closer. “Can I touch you?” Sherlock nodded. “You're warm.”

“Of course.”

“You were always cold. I was always trying to warm you up. Guess that should have been a clue to me, huh?” John tried a smile but failed. “So, why are you here, then?”

Sherlock frowned, puzzled. “I came to see you, naturally.”

“But why?”

“I – You are my friend – ”

“Was.”

Sherlock wished he had chosen to sit.

John shook his head. “A brain-damaged delusional criminal – I can't think of a less appropriate 'friend' for the great Sherlock Holmes, who rises from the ashes of his own death – who can resurrect himself at will. Of what possible use can I be to you?”

Sherlock scoffed. “The same as ever. Your reasoning, if that term can be applied to such maudlin self-pity, is certainly as flawed as ever. Your appeal never lay in your brilliant intellect, John. Leave the thinking to me, shall we?”

John sat down in the nearest chair. “I am tired of your fucking mind games, Sherlock. I can't do this anymore.”

Sherlock sat next to him. “Those were the hallucinations, John. I wasn't responsible for those.” He placed a careful hand on John's arm. “I haven't played any mind games on you.”

John uttered a short laugh of incredulity. “You killed yourself right in front of me! And if this isn't all the most elaborate delusion yet, that is the most horrible trick to play on anyone! You had told me that Mrs Hudson had been shot – you had me knocked over by a cyclist. You even drugged my coffee! And that was long before the rest.”

“I never drugged your coffee.”

“You thought you did!” Abruptly John turned away, already tired of the argument. “I don't know why I bother.”

Sherlock gripped his arm. “Because you are my friend.”

John turned back, frowning. “I don't... I don't know anymore. I don't know who you are anymore – I'm not sure. I don't even know who I am. Do you know – Has anyone told you what I did? The things I actually did. Let alone what I thought I was doing. Oh god.” John closed up his face. “I can't stand even to think about it. And you still think I am your friend. I wasn't. I'm not.”

“You are.” Over John's protest Sherlock continued forcefully, “You may not know it right now but I do. I know who you are – you are my friend, Dr John Hamish Watson, formerly of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers and still a doctor, a very good one, by your own assessment. As for me, I am Sherlock Holmes, still the world's only consulting detective. My abilities remain unimpaired – improved, if anything. So as for what exactly you may have done, and what you thought you were doing: that is precisely what I intend to discover.”

~o~o~o~

Oh god. Oh no. Is he gone already? How did he get away so quickly, without John seeing? “He was right there on the be--” John gets to the doorway and looks.
It’s not Sherlock on the bed. He’s wearing Sherlock’s coat, and Sherlock’s scarf, but he’s much too short to be Sherlock.
“Jesus Christ, Greg. He was just here, I don’t know what he’s up to, but Sherlock was just here. It’s a trick, it’s a magic trick, just like when he fell.”
Greg lowers his head for a long moment and sighs. “John Watson, you are under arrest for manslaughter in the death of Sebastian Moran, unlawful interference with a corpse, and obstructing a coroner.”

~o~o~o~

“Manslaughter.”

“Well, we couldn't make a murder charge stick, could we? But John was responsible for those deaths.”

“The deaths of three snipers. One of whom had targeted John himself, and another one you.”

“Yeah, I heard that from Mycroft too, but I don't have any evidence that anyone was in immediate danger at the instances of their deaths – not John or me or Mrs Hudson either. We frown on vigilante justice around here, especially of the pre-emptive nature. Look, I hate this whole thing too – I like John. But he was dangerous! I didn't want to believe it – took three deaths, you know, you ought to be calling us idiots, took us too long to see what was right in front of us. He wasn't safe, Sherlock!”

Sherlock ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “He's not a danger to anyone now.”

“He is better; I'm glad of it. I've visited him – he doesn't hold a grudge against me. Seems to feel guilty as fuck, poor sod.”

“He was delusional, having hallucinations.”

“Yeah, that much was obvious, yeah.”

“So how did John, in such a deranged state of mind, execute the murders of Moriarty's top three assassins?”

~o~o~o~

John’s heart races. Sherlock means to leave the flat. He means to go outside. He can’t, not yet. It’s too soon, much too soon. “ I can go while you stay here. Wouldn’t that be safer?”
“John,” Sherlock is reproachful. “You can’t expect me to stay cooped up forever.”
“No, not forever,” John says, smiling. “But just for now? For me?”
“For now,” Sherlock agrees. “Come here. I can at least send you on a little bit of reconnaissance...”

~o~o~o~

“These are all accidents.”

“Made to look like accidents, yeah.”

“No, not 'made to look' – actual accidents. 'Slipped' – at midnight – 'from the facade of a building when a loose brick fell.' At two am: 'Brakes of a car stolen from a maintenance yard failed.' And the third: 'Victim fell through floor of an abandoned building' – two hours before it was scheduled to be demolished. The last squatters having been evacuated the previous day. All these people died when they were in places they weren't supposed to be at times they weren't supposed to be there. There's no way innocent people would have been hurt.”

“Well, sure. We already agreed that the victims weren't nice people. But that car was in maintenance to have filters replaced, not for a cut brake line – the line was freshly cut, too, within a few hours before it was stolen, and after the mechanics had all left for the day. That brick – deliberately worked loose, then replaced, but not securely. The abandoned building wasn't in great shape, sure; but the supports for only that bit of flooring had been removed. Again, recently – just a few hours before the 'accident'. These weren't accidents, Sherlock; someone knew that the victims were going to be in those places at those times – times and places they shouldn't have been, yet were, and the murderer knew it. They were planned 'accidents'. That doesn't make 'em accidents in my mind; that makes it murder.”

“Murder by John, you claim. And how could John have possibly known that the victims – the assassins – would be in those places at those times? Did he tell you? There's nothing about how he knew in the case files.”

“No, he didn't say. Didn't know. Didn't really know what he was doing, he says; I mean even apart from the hallucinations which he can't tell apart from reality, looking back. He says he was told to do those things at those times, but not why he was to do 'em.”

“Who gave him those instructions?”

Lestrade looked long and considering at Sherlock. “Wouldn't say. Says it's obvious now it was all in his mind anyway, so no point in saying. Can't trust his own memory; doesn't remember. No point in unreliable witnesses pointing fingers at innocent people. That's what he says.

“But here's the thing, Sherlock: if you ask him, I'm sure he'll tell you you were the one who gave him those instructions.”

~o~o~o~

“You always leave again. You come back and you come back, and then as soon as I turn away, you leave.” Why doesn’t Sherlock understand? “Three times, Sherlock!”
“What?” Sherlock looks uncertain. Is he pretending, or has he actually forgotten? “John, I don’t--”
“Three times!” John should lower his voice, but he can’t. He clenches his fists in frustration. It always comes to this. He stands up, but can’t bring himself to turn his back on Sherlock, as if he’ll vanish like mist if John does. “You can’t keep doing this to me, Sherlock. You come back, and you start sending me on errands for you, and within a few days, you’re gone.”

~o~o~o~

“You told him about the cyclist. Why?”

Mycroft frowned. “I told John that you had survived, that you had indeed planned to survive, and provided an outline of your methods. He filled in many of the details on his own.”

It was Sherlock's turn to frown. “Not that one – he'd have no reason to suspect that particular one.”

“I warned you against the manoeuvre, as you will recall. Introducing too many variables dramatically reduces the predictability required for accurate planning.”

Sherlock waved a hand dismissively, much as he had done at Mycroft's initial warning. “It had to be done. John undeceived would have been disastrous. In his right mind he would not have been fooled.”

“Perhaps. But now John may never be in his right mind again.”

~o~o~o~

“What's this, then?” John's hands had travelled along Sherlock's face to the hairline above and behind his ears.

“It's a scar resulting from the fall. I walked away, but not entirely unscathed.”

“Yes, yes, I know it was from the fall. I mean, you showed me before. But it wasn't like this – the scar wasn't. It was different. Smoother.”

“John,” said Sherlock gently. “This is the first you've seen me since the fall.”

“Oh yeah, right then. I guess I imagined the scar too. Sorry.”

Sherlock flicked the apology away. “When I would return – the Sherlocks you hallucinated – would you discover me on the street, or would I show up at your flat?”

“Can we please not talk about this? I'd really rather forget all about the not-Sherlocks.”

Sherlock looked intently at him. “It's important.”

John sighed. “You always came to the flat. Sometimes I would think that I saw you when I was out, but I would always be mistaken. I went into this bookshop once –”

Sherlock waved the rest off. “I don't need those details, thank you. The instructions when you were assisting me – the imaginary Sherlocks – were they provided in person, at your flat?”

John nodded. “Yes, always.” He frowned, and ran a hand along the lapel of Sherlock's Belstaff. “Your coat – it's new.”

“The old one became permanently stained.”

“Yeah, I saw. The stains are not too bad, though. You could tell only if you were looking closely.”

Sherlock's fingers fluttered that aside. “It was time for a new coat anyway. Pocket linings were tearing; there were these strange persistent odours.”

“I know those odours,” John chuckled. “It smelled like you. I miss that coat.”

Sherlock wrinkled his nose and returned to the subject. “So I would show up at your flat, and you knew it was me because...”

“You would be wearing your coat, and your scarf. And you might be in disguise, but I'd always recognise you. Or I thought I did...”

“Never mind that. If you had my coat, how could I suddenly turn up wearing it?”

“I never had your coat.”

“But you said you knew about the stains, that almost washed out but didn't quite –”

“Because you would show up wearing it!”

“Except it wasn't me. You did see my coat – Lestrade recognised it as well, when he came to arrest you. How did my coat get on someone else?”

~o~o~o~

“The murderer was sophisticated enough to know when Moriarty's top people would be where, when. But clumsy enough to leave all the evidence of the tampering behind. John would have to have been given instructions by someone who would have all that information, and want those men removed; yet be unwilling to do the tampering himself, and be willing to employ John and able gain his trust – this moral former soldier, and temporarily unstable John.”

“So who could that be?”

“There is only one person who fits all criteria.” Sherlock sneered. “Someone who doesn't like 'legwork'.”

~o~o~o~

Sherlock stormed into Mycroft's office. “Why? Why did you set him up?”

Mycroft continued his unruffled perusal of a report at his desk. “It was your idea to involve John in the dismantling of Moriarty's web. I was merely executing your wishes.”

“By allowing an unstable man to clumsily leave evidence implicating himself? By planting the corpses in his flat?!”

Mycroft sighed and stood, facing the long window, hands behind his back. “John was unstable, true, but in a very particular way. He was functional, for the most part, as long as he thought you were around. That is, as long as there was a person he could project 'Sherlock' upon. If he was not kept supplied with such a figure, he would project onto anyone: myself, a stranger in the street – he once accosted an old man – even Mrs Hudson. In addition, he was at his most focused, his highest competence, when he thought he was assisting you – as you yourself desired.” Mycroft turned to face his brother. “The alternative was to have him sectioned, which would have required a long, bitter battle, as John would not understand why, and no doubt you also would be furious with me, as you could not see for yourself John's state. Admittedly, the end result has been similar, in that John is now sectioned. However, he understands why and is in complete accord with his need for treatment; and you have returned earlier than you would have without John's very material assistance – an outcome that should make both of you happy.”

“Or you could have arranged for John to receive competent treatment from the start, and employed one of your many capable minions for John's tasks, without leaving such obvious trails of evidence that even Anderson couldn't overlook them!”

Mycroft spread his hands. “You vastly overrate my authority to command 'minions' – flattering, but untrue. I have limited scope for ordering staff about, and that does not include performing illegal tasks.” Sherlock scoffed. Mycroft continued, “Nor was it my idea to give John a head wound, or even to involve him in the destruction of Moriarty's web. I fulfilled as best I could your requirements, within the confines of your plan, brother.”

“And left John psychologically scarred! I don't know which he abhors most – what he did to those corpses, or that he thought he was doing them to me.”

“The damage done to his brain –”

“Yes, I heard you the first half-dozen times, thank you! The delusions could have been treated medically – are being successfully treated so, now – and he only became so paranoid about my leaving because I kept 'disappearing', as each corpse was removed.” Sherlock glared at Mycroft. “Our childish feud is not quite buried, is it? This deliberate mishandling of John's situation – is that payback? Are you still angry about the cake plate I threw at your head years ago?”

Mycroft glared back, lips tightening. “You persist in this notion that I am trying to hurt you somehow – trust me, brother, should I ever wish to you will know it beyond any questioning. It seems to me that no matter what recourse I took, you would find a way to criticise it. I consider my handling of the situation to be quite elegant –”

“Elegant! Yes, elegant if you want to throw my choices back in my face! 'Sherlock, you shouldn't render John disoriented'; 'Don't involve John, Sherlock, it's too dangerous'.” Sherlock stalked back to the door. As he opened it he turned back to Mycroft. “You tell me that any negative consequences are of my own making – the result of my choices. I will tell you this: John will be in his right mind again, but I do not know if your heart will ever be right.”

~o~o~o~

Epilogue

Mrs Hudson met Sherlock and John as they came up the front steps of 221B. “Oh, Sherlock,” she greeted. “Oh, John!” she cried, throwing her arms around him. “Oh, you poor boy,” she murmured, hugging him close. “So good to have you back home again.” John squeezed her in return, then let go. Sherlock smiled fondly at them both.

In the sitting room John walked about with satisfaction. “It all looks exactly the same.” The knife was still pinning the Cluedo board to the wall, the steer skull still wore its headphones. “Same stacks of books and magazines, same rubbish strewn about, same... mould cultures growing in the kitchen...”

“Don't touch that! It's almost reached the critical stage.”

“Wouldn't dream of it.” John smiled at Sherlock, face relaxed for the first time since Sherlock's return. “Still can't believe you're willing to have me for a flatmate again.”

“Who else would know to leave my mould cultures alone? I'd hate to have to train up someone new.”

“Yeah, well, someone else might be tempted to kick you out, but not likely to tie you down and then lock you up.”

Sherlock dismissed this with flick of his hand. “Your mind only imagined doing that because I kept 'disappearing'. Won't happen. In any case, in reality you couldn't secure me in such a way that I couldn't escape – nor would I let you.”

This last bit earned a narrow-eyed glare from John. He turned the kettle on and went in search for two clean mugs. When the tea was ready he found Sherlock stretched out on the sofa in his thinking pose.

“Bored,” he said, accepting the mug.

“What, already?”

“Haven't had a new mystery to solve in almost a day. What do you expect?”

“I could tie you up,” John offered. “Let's find out if you really can escape. I've had a bit of practice lately, you know.”

Sherlock first side-eyed him, then turned to look full on. John's face was entirely open, no trace of anger or guilt or self-deprecation. In fact, about the lips there may be – yes, definitely that particular twitch.

Sherlock let one side of his mouth curve up. One shared look later and they both dissolved into giggles.