John had the giggles again. It was approaching 11 p.m., they were headed back out to Shoscombe Old Place after a truly bizarre dining experience at the inn, and he and Sherlock kept getting lost. They both had headlamps and Sherlock insisted he knew where he was going, but then they would head through some brambles down the wrong path and now Sherlock was standing in mud up to his knees because he had found the river. Again.
"Yep, there's the river," John said, pointing helpfully and standing on the bank laughing.
"I really don't see what's so funny about this, John," Sherlock said, trying to pull one of his feet out of the mud. "Help me out."
But as soon as Sherlock grabbed John's hand, instead of trying to pull himself out, he pulled John halfway in. John had one foot on the bank and another in the mud, awkwardly straddling the bank.
"You bastard!" John hissed, which then made Sherlock crack into rumbling laughter. They stood there, pulling each other's hands and nearly falling over, for a full minute before Sherlock managed to push John back onto the bank. They eventually got Sherlock out, his feet making loud slurping sounds as they popped out of the mud. They tramped back the way they came, trying to find the right path again, this time with three muddy feet, squish, squish, squish, plop.
This was just par for the course for this evening, as far as John was concerned. It started with Sherlock deciding at dinner that he was going to pretend he remembered the last time they were at the inn and that he and John were still a couple. At first, this thoroughly annoyed John, then it horrified him, but Sherlock was so ridiculous with his absolute cluelessness of what real couples were like that Mr. and Mrs. Barnes were completely baffled and John was soon near hysterics.
"We're really not together any more," John said to the Barnes as the couple sat and visited with them during dinner. "It's a long and complicated story, but —"
"What are you talking about, munchcups, of course we are," Sherlock said with an affectionate smile and then batted his eyelashes — batted! — at John.
"No, Sherlock, we really aren't," John said with his head in his hands. Mrs. Barnes just looked back and forth between them confused. Eventually Sherlock couldn't keep it up any longer and their eyes met and both John and Sherlock devolved into laughter. From then on, Sherlock mostly dropped the whole thing, except every once in a while he'd call John "sugar cube" or "snookums" or something equally ghastly. Eventually even Sherlock couldn't take the atrociousness of the whole thing and started to shudder after each affectionate gesture.
"How awful," he finally said after the Barnes' had left. "Please tell me we were never actually like that."
"God no, Sherlock. I would have killed you. You would have killed you. We would have both been dead within a week."
"Oh thank God," Sherlock said and took a sip of coffee.
And John couldn't help but feel this huge weight lift from him during the evening. It was so good to actually be laughing with Sherlock again that John had started to feel drunk even though they hadn't had a sip of alcohol. It had been years since they had laughed together, and now that John finally understood and accepted what had happened to Sherlock, the anger was slipping away like water through his fingers. It was nearly impossible to be angry at a Sherlock who could not remember the sins and misdeeds and betrayals of his past, and John found that as his anger lifted, it was as if he was letting go of an immense burden.
It made him lightheaded and giddy, and now they were covered in mud and tromping through the woods on their way to break into somebody's family crypt. He couldn't remember the last time he had had this much fun.
"Ah, this way," Sherlock said as they eventually found what he guessed was the bridle path along the trees. They followed it until they came into the open and could make out Shoscombe off to their right. The lights from the main house were on and the central courtyard between the buildings was well lit.
"We need to get to the other side of the house," Sherlock said in a low voice and then made for the fence of the large pasture between them and their destination.
"Wait! Sherlock!" John whispered loudly and rushed behind him. "I'm sure this fence is electric. And what about the horses?" John said and then looked into the dark field, making out some black lumps that may or may not have been large animals.
"Then I guess we'll have to take our chances," Sherlock said with a devious smile as he turned off his headlamp. John did the same and the world was suddenly plunged into darkness. He could barely make out Sherlock ducking between two slats in the wooden fence, and John followed, trying not to touch anything.
"I'm surprised at you, John," Sherlock said as they began walking across the field. "You don't hesitate to rush into a gunfight but you're squeamish about a few sleeping horses."
"Only because I know what they can do," John answered. "Harry and I used to go riding as children, and they're big animals. It's no fun getting kicked. And I'm not a big fan of electric fences either. I once tried to slide under one when I was about 5, and I grabbed a wire to duck underneath and a burning pain shot through me. I learned that lesson quickly."
Sherlock chuckled. "Little John Watson. Everything's so big and dangerous!"
"Oh shut up."
Sherlock laughed again and they continued walking. As John's eyes adjusted to the blackness, he was suddenly aware of the huge, moonless sky over their heads.
"Oh my God, look at the stars," he said as he stopped, his head tilted back to take in the entire expanse of the sky above them. It looked as though he could count thousands of stars surrounding the soft glow of the Milky Way.
"We're outside the light pollution of London," Sherlock murmured next to him, and John could feel the warmth of Sherlock's body as they stood next to each other looking at the immense night sky. "I've never been one to admire the stars, but I suppose it's hard to ignore just how bright they are when one is standing out in a field."
"It's breathtaking," John said. As they stood there in the eerily still night, a noise on John's left made him look over. One of the large black shapes was slowly moving towards him, the soft clump clump of hooves sounding against the earth. A tall horse came up to John and blew out its nostrils loudly. It sniffed John's jacket, and he reached up to pet the forelock between the horse's ears.
"Heya, fella," he said softly, feeling the velvet nose and then patting the horse's neck. "We're just passing through."
The horse nodded its large head up and down as if in agreement, and then tried to get into John's coat pocket with its dexterous lips. He chuckled and gently pushed the horse's nose away just as he felt Sherlock's hand on his lower back.
"I think we should keep moving," he said quietly, and John could see Sherlock's eye glint with reflective light as he looked towards the house. John gave the horse one last pat and they continued walking, the horse clomping behind them. When they reached the fence on the other side of the pasture, they ducked through and the horse gave a quiet snort and then stood by the fence, watching as John and Sherlock approached the small graveyard on the other side. They could barely make out the headstones and a small building in the center, but soon they had trees between them and the house and Sherlock turned on his headlamp again. The ancient white stones flashed brightly before them with the names of ancestors long dead.
Sherlock turned his headlamp to the small trail that lead through the graveyard, and he kneeled down to examine the ground.
"Look here, John. It looks like Sir Robert has been visiting quite often, and with a friend. There are two different sized footprints here." He stood and walked a little further along until Sherlock leaned down again and pointed. "And look at this. It looks as if the larger pair is walking backwards. You can tell by the way the heels pull."
He stood up and looked at John, his light shining down and partly obscuring his face.
"Now why do you think he would be doing that?" Sherlock asked.
"I dunno, maybe he was backing away from someone? Or… or maybe he and another person were carrying something?"
"Such as a body, for instance?" Sherlock said, and the two of them turned and faced the small building in the middle of the graveyard. John took a deep breath and followed Sherlock, careful not to walk on the path and disturb any evidence. They slowly approached the white marble monument with a door between two decorative columns. Sherlock pulled his gloves out of his pocket and put them on, then took out his magnifying glass and began to examine the door.
"Scrape marks on the ground where it's been opened recently. They had to pry the door open because no one had been in here for years before about a week ago. But fortunately for us, they didn't bother to try to relock the door."
Sherlock slowly pushed the door open, and John immediately put his hand to his face.
"Oh yeah, there's something dead in there," John said, and Sherlock's face became more grim. He pushed the door all the way open, and inside were steps leading down. Sherlock stepped in, followed by John, and they carefully stepped down into a small room that was covered in dust. The walls were made of plastered rock, and several old ceramic vases were lined against the far wall. On either side of the small room were two coffins, one wooden on the left and one that was stone on the right. It was clear that the stone coffin had been disturbed, as big hand prints had swept away much of the dust.
Sherlock took a torch out of his pocket and turned it on, setting it in the rock wall so it shined down on the sarcophagus. Then he and John moved down to either side of the sarcophagus lid, grabbed it by the edges and slowly pushed it halfway off until it hit the wall.
Inside was the decomposing body of a middle-aged woman.
"Lady Beatrice, I presume," John said, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket to hold it to his face.
Sherlock immediately started to examine the body.
"What do you think, John?" he said, his face bent down to look closely.
"Judging by the black color of her skin and the blisters, also the protruding eyes and tongue, I would say she's been dead at least a week," John said. He leaned down closer to look at her face, her neck, her nightgown and shoeless feet. "She doesn't show any signs of obvious trauma, although of course it's difficult to tell without doing a full autopsy, but I would guess that she died in those night clothes and they just took her straight out here."
"Yes, she has mud on the back of her left heel, perhaps where they had dropped a foot while bringing her out," Sherlock said from the other end of the coffin. John pulled out his phone and took a few photos, then put on some blue medical gloves and continued to examine the body, testing the skin and looking closely at her hands and face, looking for signs of cause of death. The old habits of examining crime-scene bodies came back quickly, and he opened her mouth and looked at her fingernails, trying to take in any of the tell-tale signs of death through foul play.
After a minute or so John noticed that Sherlock was standing at the end of the coffin unmoving, and John looked over. Sherlock was looking at John, his pensive face glowing in the artificial light.
"What happened, John?"
John started to answer but then stopped, looking at Sherlock's face. Sherlock wasn't looking at the body. He was studying John.
"Uh…" John looked back at the woman in the sarcophagus and then back to Sherlock. "I really can't tell without an autopsy, but…"
Sherlock just knit his eyebrows together.
"... but that's not what you meant, was it."
Sherlock was standing perfectly still, his body tense and erect.
"What happened to make you move out?" Sherlock asked.
John took two steps sideways away from the body and lowered his voice.
"You really want to do this now, Sherlock? We've got a body."
"She's not going anywhere," Sherlock dismissed with a wave of his hand. "I need to know. What could take you away from this?"
"You're serious. You want to talk about this now?"
John took a deep breath and walked away from the body. He took off his gloves and leaned against the wood coffin, facing Sherlock and holding his hands together in front of him.
"Ok," he said, trying to figure out where to start. "So you know the story that you told the papers, right? About Moriarty? He reappeared after he had apparently shot himself in the head and the two of you plunged right back into the twisted games that you played, just like the good old days. Cat and mouse, cloak and dagger, all that good stuff. So one day, he must be bored and he decides to up the ante and he kidnaps Mary. He takes her to a warehouse and ties her to a chair and…."
John took a deep breath and held it for a second, letting it out slowly. He looked at the floor.
"And he starts sending you texts and little clues. Pictures. The usual. But this time, just to make things more interesting, he starts sending me clues too, taunting us both and luring us in separately. By the time I got to the warehouse, you were already there. But you weren't expecting me, apparently I wasn't supposed to be there, and when you saw me, everything started to go wrong. You moved to Moriarty, he pulled out a gun, he shot Mary, and then he shot me before you finally got to him. I'm not sure what happened after that, but when I woke in the hospital, Mary was dead and you had killed Moriarty."
John folded his arms and then nodded his head again. He looked back at Sherlock, holding his eyes steady.
"At least, that's what everyone thought happened. That's what you told everyone, including me. And I would have thought that for the rest of my life if I hadn't found her phone. About a year later, I was finally going through all of her stuff, getting rid of most of it, sorting through, the usual things one does when letting go. I found her phone and turned it on for the first time and up popped a text. Any guesses as to who it was from?"
"John…." Sherlock said and then took a step forward.
"It was from you," John continued. "It was a text with the address of Moriarty's warehouse, and her response back to you: 'OK.' Now, at first I didn't know what to think about that, because God knows, I'm not the great Sherlock Holmes, so I'm a little slow, you know? Not quite as quick as you might have been. It took me a little while to wonder to myself, 'Wait, why would Sherlock text Mary with the address of where she was going to be kidnapped later?' "
John paused and waited to see if Sherlock would say anything. But Sherlock just stood there watching, waiting for John to finish his story.
"I confronted you. I handed you the phone and asked what it was about. I was really hoping that maybe I misunderstood, maybe it was a mistake. But you just sat there looking at the text, and then you said to me, 'Mary and I had a plan, but things went wrong.'
"It turns out that you and my wife, Mary, the mother of my child, the woman I married and wanted to spend the rest of my life with, my two most trusted friends decided together to come up with a brilliant plan to take down Moriarty by yourselves. She was going to be the bait, and once she was inside, you were going to rush in and the two of you were going to do some sort of ninja shit and take him out. Apparently, you both decided I didn't need to know about it, that you didn't need me as part of the plan and you could take him out by yourselves."
Finally John stood up from where he was leaning against the coffin and put his hands on the top of his head, pacing back and forth in the small room.
"My wife. And my best friend. That's you, by the way," John said and then pointed at Sherlock. "Decide to carry out a plan behind my back to get her kidnapped by the most deadly psychopath we've ever known. And surprise! It went wrong. Who could have possibly seen that coming? So she ended up dead.
"And the thing is, I might have forgiven you both for it if I had known about it. Who knows? I was never given the chance. Because to cap it off, over the following year, you nursed me back to health and then became my lover and a parent to my daughter and you never thought it important to tell me the truth. The whole time I thought Mary had just been a victim, that all three of us were victims."
John stopped pacing and dropped his arms, where they hung limply at his sides. He felt numb and cold, remembering the betrayal and heartbreak from three years ago.
"I couldn't believe that either of you would do that to me, and then that you would lie to me about it for a year. It made me doubt everything we had together. I was convinced that it was all your fault, that you had gotten her killed, that it was all your plan. I couldn't forgive you. It was just like your fall from Bart's all over again, and I couldn't believe that you would lie to me in such a monumental way for a second time."
As John's voice faded, Sherlock took another step forward.
"John," he said, "I'm sorry. I don't know why we decided that or what happened, but it couldn't have been a total surprise to you, knowing what you did about Mary and Sherrinford. You must have known that she was trained for exactly that sort of operation."
John looked at Sherlock with confusion.
"What does this have to do with Sherri?"
"No. Not your Sherrinford. My Sherrinford."
John just shook his head.
"Sherrinford. My brother," Sherlock said. "Who was killed."
John just blinked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," John said, his hands on his hips and his face becoming harder with each breath. "Your brother? Who was killed? You're not making any sense."
Sherlock looked at him closer and then comprehension dawned over his face. "Oh," he said, and then his face opened up in surprise and his hands came up. "Oh! You don't know! But how can you not know? You must have read her files."
"Mary's files? No, she gave me a pen drive, but I didn't read it. I burned it in the fireplace at your parent's house that Christmas."
"But I have the files in my Internet archive…."
John just shook his head and laughed humourlessly.
"I see," he said. "I should have known. You lifted them off me, didn't you? You stole the drive and copied the files, even though they were meant for me. Unbelievable. All this time you knew Mary's past and I didn't."
"John, why didn't you read the files?"
"Because she told me that if I did," John said, suddenly intense and pointing his finger at Sherlock and breathing hard, "I wouldn't love her anymore, and I desperately wanted to love her, Sherlock. She was the mother of my child," he said, his voice cracking.
"John," Sherlock said and took the final few steps to stand in front of John. "I can see why you wouldn't want to know the truth, if that's what Mary told you. But if you and I are going to have any sort of relationship at all, anything at all, we cannot keep secrets from one another any more. I can't do it."
He took John by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes.
"I know I have done many unforgivable things to you, but if we are to move forward you must make a choice. Do you want the truth or don't you?"
"I wouldn't mind it," said a deep voice from the top of the stairs, and John and Sherlock turned and immediately put their hands in the air. There, holding a shotgun in both hands, was Sir Robert.
"You can start by telling me what you're doing with the body of my dead sister."