The Dancing Man Part 5

By GE Waldo

Rating: Mature.

Pairing: John/Mary and Sherlock/OMC (sort of), and eventually Johnlock but probably nothing especially sexually graphic. Take warning though just in case!

Summary: Mycroft and John square off on a quest to keep Sherlock safe from what Mycroft see's as his brother's reckless judgement which he believes is endangering his brother's life. Plus two murder cases that not only challenge Sherlock's incredible abilities but pushes him to his mental limits. A continuation of The Glass Heart. (Slightly AU (In this universe Irene Adler and Moriarty are dead for sure and the story is set during a time of limbo after Sherlock is back from the dead but before Watson and Mary's wedding. Duration: several months at least)).

Disclaimer: Not mine but a fantasy never hurt anyone. Edited though I'm confident I missed things. Please do tell and I shall repair.

Warning for this chapter: Secondary character "death". Plus not heavily edited so please be gentle! Health problems lately, makes it hurt to sit at my computer.

XXX

The final body was presented to them with a directional nod of Lestrade's head. The inspector's expression was of a man sick of bodies and no one to call to account for them.

Watson watched Sherlock's usual proceedings from beside the stressed detective inspector who appeared as though sleep was a distant memory. This body, that of a young male, had been found in a grimy laneway - dark, sweaty alleyways had become the norm for this investigation – his limbs posed in a certain fashion, his head sporting a deep wound that had come from an especially vicious attack to the skull with a blunt object, crushing the flesh of the scalp and actually cracking the bone beneath. Brain matter could be seen if one looked close enough, which Watson had and then retreated to let Sherlock do his incredible big brain thing, including scouting around for a single letter message in paint or grease.

Watson smelled coffee brewing somewhere nearby and checked his watch. It was already the late hour of the night an undoubtedly whatever coffee shops were within olfactory distance were making preparations for the early AM crowd. "Fancy a coffee?' He said to Lestrade who glanced at him gratefully and nodded "Christ yes."

By the time Watson had returned with two paper cups of the divine liquid, Sherlock was taking pictures of the body's display with his phone and looked around for his partner with a quizzical eyebrow but John shook his head. The cause of death was obvious and he'd had his fill of close-ups for the week. Perhaps catching John's discomfort with the gory scene, Sherlock instead himself walked over to them and addressed Lestrade. "Who found the body?"

Lestrade took a great gulp of the burning beverage. "Someone called it in. Anonymous."

"For the second time..." Sherlock added and John heard an inflection of something in his voice.

"What's that mean?" He asked both detectives. It was Lestrade's investigation after all.

Sherlock pursed his lips. "What about your suspect?" He asked Lestrade, ignoring John's question.

Lestrade didn't miss the unspoken. It was not Sherlock's suspect as the consulting detective was holding out for a different killer. "We've got his finger prints on the knife and the wounds on the previous victim match the depth and width of the blade. The poor girl's skin was underneath his fingernails and one of her hairs was caught on the man's shoe. He's the killer, at least her killer."

Sherlock shook his head and if Watson was not mistaken he looked flustered. "This doesn't make sense." Sherlock insisted.

Wow. Watson could count on one hand the number of times he'd heard Sherlock use those words during a case in the nearly three years he'd known him and the words were a dozen rugby sized fields away from being comforting. Trying to be helpful and to waylay his friend's growing frustration with the case, offered "Well, not all serial crimes are perpetrated by one person."

Sherlock threw him a look of utter scorn at the suggestion that his thought processes were in any way stuck on the possibility of only a single killer. "I'm speaking of the evidence. This youth appears to have been killed by our perp' and yet Lestrade's evidence toward his suspect seems incontrovertible. The kills are close together, if this were a team, the method of killing would have had to have been altered – most team killers never act alone and even if this one proved unique in that regard there would have been at least some delay between the last victim and this one. Nothing of these killings suggests a pair of killers working together."

Lestrade, bags beneath bloodshot eyes and weary to his bone marrow shrugged. "It is what it is Sherlock. Maybe we're still missing something."

Sherlock snapped "Of course we're still missing something." He heaved a soft sigh. "Call me when your team is finished – if they find anything I missed which I seriously doubt."

Lestrade raised his cup of coffee to Watson in thank you and Watson returned it with a nod, running to catch up with his fleeing partner. And it was fleeing, Watson knew. He'd witnessed Sherlock doing so before when the twists and turns of a case refused to add up. Sherlock would retreat to his flat and into his head to think, sometimes for endless hours, forgoing food or sleep. Watson hoped this was not one of those times.

Once back at the flat Sherlock did not flop on the couch of retreat into his head, he went straight to his lap top and loaded the crime scene photos onto the computer from his phone. Then, printing them up, at one end of the wall over the couch he tacked them to the wall until he had a virtual kaleidoscope of bloodied bodies in chronological order as to time of death. Then he pasted up a street map of London, which took up nearly the rest of the wall within reach and spent the next hour or more marking where the bodies had been found and when, and then scribbling notes directly onto the map of who, if known, had called in the discovery of the body.

When his work was done, he stood back and studied both for many minutes. Steepling his fingers he slipped into his Mind Palace and opened a "drawer" where the effects of Lestrade's suspect's pockets he had stashed. A ring of keys, a pen, a pocket knife, coins amounting to under one quid and two rolls of pound notes each with a rubber band around it, one equalling forty-five pounds and the other over two hundred. "Oh..."

Watson heard the by now familiar exclamation. It was a sigh but sounded like more. A spark perhaps, the light of an idea making its escape from the darkness of obscurity through sound. Almost sexual. (Definitely sexual if Watson allowed himself to indulge in the fantasy of said noise repeated combined with sweaty bodies tangled together in orgasms.) The Oh was nothing less in fact than the breath of revelation, the warm exhale that, after the ecstasy of enlightenment (or orgasm), might escape the lips of a man to caress his soul (or his lover's throat.)

It was a noise that always made Watson's skin tingle all over. He tried to talk and found his throat had closed up a bit. Clearing it discreetly – "What?" he prompted.

"He was her pimp and he had come to confront her when he found the weeks take a little short. Two rolls of notes in his pocket, one given to him originally, and one he had forced her to hand over later on, all that is obvious, but this man did not act alone, he could not have. He may be a killer but still he is an idiot. Kills one of his only means of support – because he is not dressed as a pimp who has many girls working for him, no this man has corralled in his stable only two or three prostitutes - and for only a few measly pounds. And then holds up in a house a short distance away, leaving a trail of blood. Even drunk or high a sane man tries to hide, tries to get away. But this man, drunk or high not-withstanding, leaves himself wide open to discovery – therefore an idiot.

"The 'wet work', yes he is certainly capable of that but this whole game of posing the bodies, no, that is not the invention of this man. The messages in shapes painted in grease - a body made into a letter - at first hidden nearby and then revealed to us in paint, that is not the work of a crude imbecile. There are two people working here, but not two killers. Two individuals not working in tandem, no, but working together none-the-less."

Watson forgot the tea in his cup and the novel in his hands. "How do you mean?"

"Someone is using the dead to their own purposes, to make a puzzle."

"For the police? A taunt?"

Sherlock strode across the room and stopped by John's chair, looking down on him with a smile of triumph, as though the puzzle was as good as solved. "A taunt – of course – obvious - what else could it be? But one not for the police, that is why the messages were hidden at first, no these messages are not to attract the attention of the police but, as I have previously stated, to attract mine."

"What do the letters mean?"

Sherlock smiled keenly as though things were finally getting interesting. "I have no idea."

XXX

"The murders were not committed by this one idiot man they were committed by several criminals for different reasons. The murders are only related in that they were murders, everything else is secondary, the messages and the one behind them is our real puzzle. That is the mind we need to look for."

"So bringing one or several murderers to justice is not our goal?"

"Lestrade and his team can take care of that end of things, they are I suppose somewhat capable. Our puzzle is the message in the letters or, more importantly, the one who made them."

Leaving for now Sherlock's casual dismissal of the killings and their human importance, Watson turned his attention back to his note book. "So, we have an M, two S's, a T and an H." Watson was marking them down on a small pad of paper. "No vowels so the letters could mean almost anything."

"Of course they don't mean anything, they may be a puzzle but they mean a very specific something to our puzzle maker. All we have to do if figure out what they mean to him. And we don't yet know if there are no vowels intended, we may not have the complete puzzle yet."

"So more bodies?"

Sherlock stopped his pacing, although this wasn't the restless, stumped for more data pacing, this was Sherlock excited, anticipatory, thrilled at the chase sort of pacing, where he ate up miles of carpet without ever leaving the room. "Perhaps, yes."

Watson frowned down at the paper. "Are we sure this is an M? It might be a W."

Sherlock waved away the, for now, cryptic letters. "Not yet enough data to know for sure."

Watson raised his eyebrows and, though knowing Sherlock despised it, repeated the letters, saying them aloud. "M or I suppose it could be a W...S...S...T...H...hmph...an acronym."

"Don't waste your breath John, while you were boiling the kettle for tea I isolated seven possible matches for an acronym that includes those letters, the lowliest was a deplorable –and armature - porn-site called 'Sexy Simians WiTh Hard-on's' and the most obscure 'SMall StreTched Hide'. Similarly none of the other possibilities appear to have anything to do with the murders of five street persons. Plus Lestrade will no doubt have his circus of computer apes feed it into their cryptogram program or some such uselessness. We need not concern ourselves with that just yet. No, what we need is the underlying reason for leaving the message in the first place; a message tells us something, shows us something – or leads us to somewhere – a message in and of itself has no purpose other than to lead us to the message maker. He is the real puzzle."

"What if there is no other message? Or the message maker is just some... He had been about to say 'freak' and substituted the less Donovan sounding "creep who likes to screw with the police?"

Sherlock shook his head. "No, our messenger has a purpose. Think, Watson, he not only had to hunt down bodies already, or in the process of becoming, dead and that means a network of eyes keeping an eye on the more dangerous areas of London. That takes initiative, manpower, money, and a certain form of egotism with a possible sprinkling of criminal insanity. And it's elegant use of resources. Using murders to convey what will no doubt prove to be murderous message to the police and to me without actually committing those murders himself. It's quite brilliant really. Moriarty level of intelligence but without the accompanying blood lust."

"Resources?"

"Yes, yes, yes, cry for the already dead if you must, I'm trying to solve our case."

"I thought our case was the murdered?"

"Our case if where-ever it takes us. At this juncture the case is the messages. Lestrade can deal with the unrelated wrongfully dead. Five murders over three weeks are not a statistical aberration."

"So we don't want to, you know, avenge the deaths of five innocents, or bring the killers, however many, to justice?"

Sherlock shook his head, swiping a hand through his hair as though to rid it of the fallen debris of words like 'justice' and 'innocents'. "Oh don't be a cliché John."

Watson set aside the note book. "Fine, it's all fine. If the case is the messages, we're stalled anyway so we'll resume our conversation from last night then."

Sherlock stopped in the middle of the suffering carpet and looked at him sideways, but without his gaze quite falling upon the return of his irritatingly calm colleague, the twinned blue moons of his yes unblinking and a bit dark with annoyance. "John, we have a case."

"And you just told me not to worry about the cryptic message so we do have a few minutes to spare to talk about last night. You never answered my question."

"I believe I did."

"Not entirely and don't think I've forgotten that, you crafty git."

Sherlock perched himself on his over-sized leather chair, much like a flustered cat, and smoothed down his jacket with a few long, languid strokes of his pale fingers. Watson could well imagine a feline perched there in much the same pose trying to shake off the irritations of its human by smoothing down its mussed fur with a few rough licks of its tongue.

And then he imagined Sherlock's long, pink tongue and his thoughts nearly derailed onto other much lovelier scenarios. "Sherlock-"

Sherlock's phone trilled for his attention.

Damn! Watson sighed and gestured for Sherlock to take it.

Sherlock threw him a look that conveyed in a no uncertain expression that was exactly what he intended to do no matter-what anyway, so don't bother offering him permission as if he needed it. He spoke into the tiny receiver while keeping an eye on John, as though he expected that, while he took the call, John might pitch his note book at his skull. "Sherlock Holmes here..."

Tiny speaker or not, Watson recognised the speech pattern of Lestrade at the other end; a quick greeting but then short and to the point.

While Sherlock sat straighter with a glint in his eye, Watson slumped, deflated that once again that The Work had usurped their moment of peace and the opportunity to wring out a confession of love from his reserved, and occasionally insane, flatmate - not that The Work wasn't important, it was. Watson loved chasing down bad guys every bit as much as his eager flatmate – plus he thoroughly enjoyed watching Sherlock's flights across building tops with his great dark coat flapping around his slender form like the wings of some deranged black raven in the night, but he also contemplated other times and much preferred and less public locations where he could witness (and partake in), the sight of those long, tight muscles undulating, more slowly, more luxuriously, in a kind of horizontal hypnotic dance.

"Another body - splendid!" Sherlock was saying while twitching in his seat as though he was suffering a sudden rash on his plush cheeks. "Address? We'll be there in twenty minutes."

XXX

"This is not related to the other killings." Sherlock stated as they entered their (still theirs, even though Watson still felt as in limbo as he had months back), 221B Baker street home.

Watson heard the sharp as a blade anxiety beneath Sherlock's simple statement of fact. There had been another dead woman, beaten to death and stabbed repeatedly for good measure, but no messages of any medium splashed onto a wall or pavement anywhere nearby. Sherlock had increased the search grid to include two blocks square and he, John and Lestrade's team had found nothing.

Watson resisted stating the obvious; that not all murders are related anyway but choose to keep his own counsel.

Sherlock approached his wall of notes and photos and perused them with sharp eyes. After some twenty minutes he shook his head as though ridding his brain of the problem and starting anew. Another half an hour and he turned his back on the wall and took his chair by the fireless grate, steepling his fingers together and ignoring John's offer of tea.

Watson knew it was best to leave well enough alone and any further misgivings on the thought were put on hold as his phone vibrated in his pocket. Taking unhurried steps back toward the kitchen worktop with Sherlock's un-touched tea cup in his hand and using the excuse of running the water to rinse it out, Watson took a quick peek. A message from Lestrade. Wasn't often the inspector texted him for any reason he could think of.

Knew the body was unrelated to the crypto' murders. Sorry, figured it out as you and Sherlock were arriving at scene. First evidence seems to support this. Don't tell him. Don't want the git distracted from the crypto' killings. GL.

Watson shook his head at the message. A random murder of some woman would hardly be a distraction to the detective anyway. Sherlock would dismiss it with a bored wave of a manicured hand.

"Lestrade?" His own phone had chimed impatiently at him ten times in the last fifteen minutes and from the frequency (and the sheer high and mighty snobbery of its electronic tone); he knew it had to be Mycroft. Therefore he had ignored them all.

Watson left off this time being gobsmacked at the man's ability to seeming mind read at will. Still gobsmacked of course but he was getting practised at no longer showing it on his face. "Yup." He congratulated himself on keeping his voice level perfect. "Wants to know if you've come up with anything more."

Sherlock was nothing if not a trifle paranoid about any communication between Watson, who was merely his assistant, and the World's Only Consulting Detective in Charge and asked "Why would Lestrade text you instead of me?"

"He's worried about - and I quote - "distracting you" from the case." Quite literally true so that was an easy lie-but-truth.

"Mmm..."

Not exactly an agreement but it had not sounded suspicious either. "How about dinner out tonight? Angelo's or somewhere?"

Sherlock was finally shaken from his mental chambers while a small frown formed over his eyes. "Is this so we can talk some more?" Sherlock, as he was wont to do when faced with an unpleasant subject of which he'd rather stick a railroad spike through his head than engage in, let his tongue come down hard on the K in'talk'. The man possessed a refined panache for drenching innocuous one-syllable words with unadulterated disdain.

Watson was no slouch when it came to insinuation either, though, and pulled out his big guns by letting out a soft but audible sigh, one that, for all its quiet delivery, spoke of a thousand mile journey filled to the proverbial brim with weariness and disappointment. "I was hoping..."

Sherlock was not so easily manipulated and answered with a lung full of his own stale breath, only his signifying his boredom with not only Watson's attempt to manipulate him but his own fatigue with his flatmate's sentiment. There was no time for sentiment when there was The Work to occupy his mind.

But still John was a very good flatmate (and there existed other potentially excellent nouns by which he might deign to describe John in the future: Assistant With Benefits; Titillation Partner; My Lover Who Kills Bad Men For Me; Mate Of The Stout Heart; Dweller Of My Soul And Perhaps My Bed Too..? (It was difficult to find a single word that would enshroud all that John had become to him), and Sherlock was not so frivolously inclined as many would believe over their importance. John was very important. John was The importance.)

Sherlock watched John tidy up a few dishes which was also important because John liked to do the boring things that would send Sherlock's brain spiraling down into a bottomless chasm of lead-lined dullness.

John was also kind to him and, other than his parents and occasionally Lestrade (in his old gun-oil and thick coffee-ed, thunderously frowning way); the first person to ever treat him as normal (even when it was obvious to any idiot who bothered to pay attention that he was far above normal), and Watson seemed to attached importance to the impression that Sherlock is normal and that others accept and treat him as such. It was an emotional but endearing sort of thing, though superfluous to his character (already well and goodly complete as is thank you) plus ultimately futile.

Sherlock felt the tiniest twinge of guilt over his recent neglect of John's emotions. The man did seem to possess a salad of them. And it was he himself who had originally broached the subject of feelings, fondness, affection, love...whatever word fit best he supposed. And therefore he really did owe John over it. "Fine. Angelo's, eight o'clock for one hour and no garlic."

The first reward was John's shy smile at him over one rounded shoulder.

XXX

Dinner was a fine affair. Sherlock actually ate (to please John, not because he was hungry. It was a repayment, or part of one), although he ate sparingly and declined both appetizer rolls and dessert endings. His chicken Marsala was excellent (Angelo's sauces spiced with his personal touches were superior to any served in the high priced establishments). He ate half the chicken and three or four of the whole mushrooms while John picked off the remainder.

The walk home was pleasant, the evening fair and clear, a rarity for November.

And then the calm of their pseudo-date was brought to a bone jarring halt when Sherlock said. "Oh, what is my brother doing here?"

Watson followed Sherlock's deeply irritated stare at the long, gleaming Bentley parked out front of 221B. There goes any chance of Sherlock's mood hovering anywhere in the vicinity of good John thought.

He walked up to the Bentley and opened the rear door to greet Anthea or whoever might be attending upon Mycroft of the evening. "Hello, Mycroft upstairs alre- Christ!" Watson almost jumped back when he saw what was waiting for his eyes in the rear of the vehicle.

Anthea was slumped in the seat, her head thrown back but not enough to obscure the bullet hole in the center of her forehead. Her eyes were closed and her hair was fanned out messily around her skull. Watson's medical instincts took over and he reached in to check her carotid pulse, waiting for a full fifteen seconds.

There was none.

It was just at this second he remembered Sherlock heading up the stairs without him to confront Mycroft alone. Was the killer up there? "Jesus –Sherlock! Wait, Sherlock!" Was the killer with Sherlock and his brother? Watson raced up the stairs and threw open the door, not caring about stealth or that he did not have his service weapon with him. All that mattered was finding Sherlock safe.

The scene was one out of a Sunday night horror movie.

Mycroft was seated in Sherlock's chair, in his skull there was also a hole, but this one in his left temple area. Not much blood but enough back spray on his pressed white shirt collar. An umbrella lay on the floor nearby. Mycroft's eyes were closed. He appeared to be at sleep.

"Is this a joke John?" Sherlock asked, and Watson turned his head to look with his peripherals at his friend, who was posed ten feet behind him over his left shoulder. Sherlock's fingers were steepled and pressed against his slackly open mouth and staring at his brother. Sherlock was standing as straight and as still as a post, not twitching, not blinking, maybe not breathing either. John couldn't guess.

"This could be a joke. It would be crass coming from Mycroft," Sherlock added in a whisper "but not out of the realm of possibility."

Watson walked forward to check the pulse at Mycroft's throat, not finding any there either. He left the body when he heard the distant wail of sirens. Someone heard the shots then, and had rang up 999. John returned to stand facing Sherlock, and looking him in the eye, watching for any reaction out of the norm, at least the norm for Sherlock given the circumstances. "Sherlock, I'm...I'm so very, very sorry."

Sherlock's eyes went from the body of his older brother to John's deeply sincere blues and back again. "It's all right John. No need to concern yourself. I have seen death before as you know."

"Damn right I'll be concerned if you don't mind." He answered softly, the seeming none-too-gentle words wrapped in tenderness itself because John knew that Sherlock may have seen dead bodies, been up to his elbows in them in fact, but not this kind. Not this sort of death and not the death of this man. Not a relative and not just a relative but his only living brother whom Sherlock, despite what appeared to exist a decade of feuding between them, had surely loved anyway. Yes, John thought, knowing what he did of Sherlock, he felt he was correct in that. Sherlock had loved his brother deeply. He just hadn't had any idea how to express it, how to get passed the old familiar resentment long enough to say it.

So no, there was no chance in hell that Sherlock had ever faced this sort of death because this isn't the sort of death you read about in the paper, about an aunt or an old college buddy whom you hadn't seen in years. This was the kind that slammed into you out of nowhere to suck your breath away and shake the foundations of you; that took your insides and blended them into a quivering, nauseous mush of disbelief, shock and sorrow. So life impacting, so overwhelming – like a flash flood that uproots trees that had stood strong for centuries – that the world itself dissolves and you are left the sole survivor, abandoned to the horror of it, the only thing still standing.

John had seen this sort of reaction before in victims of horror or violence during his years with Sherlock and his tour in Afghanistan. A survivor, one half of a marriage or a sister or father – whoever but the one left behind - standing alone in shock. The eyes empty of emotion, of life, although the body still walking and still capable of rudimentary speech. Physically numb. Emotionally mute.

John gently took Sherlock's elbows and tried to steer him toward the couch (it was farthest in the room from Mycroft's body). "Sherlock, you need to sit down." The sirens were much closer now. Only moments away. Sherlock moved as instructed for a few seconds and then his legs bent and he stumbled, but then recovered almost immediately. He took a seat obediently on the couch and once more steepled his fingers to his now closed lips. He didn't say anything else until the sirens stopped but his eyes never left that of his brother's dead body.

"Lestrade?"

Watson nodded. He had texted him the minute he saw Sherlock was settled and not moving. "He ought to be here shortly too."

"Good."

One severely official looking man and several medical professionals entered the flat along with medical personnel carrying a gurney. A coroner appeared behind them and, after what John decided was an over quick examination, announced Mycroft Holmes dead by bullet wound to the head ("Obvious" Sherlock would have said had he been speaking at present). Two police officers entered now and moved to question Watson with glances at Sherlock, their experience with this sort of thing written across their features. Sherlock was definitely (their sober faces said), the relation.

But they moved to question him anyway. Watson announced to the officers that he was a doctor and that should Sherlock should not be made upset...but the officers stated they would need to question him alone and would you wait-over-there-please-thank-you.

But Watson hung out as nearby as possible but not so close as either of the officers would ask him to move away again, keeping his eyes on Sherlock. Sherlock answered their questions without rolling his eyes or throwing his hands around in agitation at their mental slowness and sloppy investigative techniques. To Watson it was the surest composite sign that the detective was in shock.

When the medical tech's moved to lift Mycroft onto the gurney, Watson intervened. "Wait a minute. The inspector isn't here yet. Lestrade...he's on his way."

"This is Mycroft Holmes." The well dressed official now spoke and Watson realised that in all the hustle of people and the police officer's questions and his worry over Sherlock he had forgotten about him.

"Yes?"

He looked bored with him already. "So the body of Mycroft Holmes does not wait for a tardy inspector. We have this well in hand, Doctor Watson. This is government business now. Stand aside please."

Watson glimpsed the Sig Sauer tucked into a holster under the man's expensive suit jacket and did as he was told.

Sherlock's silently watched the stern gorilla-man in the pricy suit and his helpers maneuver the gurney through the door to carry his dead brother away from his breathless, naked eyes.

XXX

"I don't know how he is," Watson said to Lestrade, arriving minutes after the others had cleared out, and chancing discreet glances in Sherlock's direction, the tension inside him swelling exponentially. They stood together far across the room from Sherlock and spoke is urgent whispers. "Not really. We need to call his parents, or he does, if he's up to it."

Lestrade tried not to stare at the newly minted sight of a near catatonic Sherlock Holmes who had not moved or spoken since finding his brother's gun-shot corpse. "Doesn't seem to me like he's up to anything but you never know with him, do you?"

Watson rubbed his chin with two fingers, wishing he had some idea of where to begin. "I don't even know where they live. Phone number, full names...nothing."

"Where's his phone?"

"It's right here inspector."

They looked over to see Sherlock holding his phone out to either of them. He looked...calm. Usual. Himself.

He appeared as though he had not just walked in on his brother's murder scene. "Where is your team?" Sherlock asked Lestrade with some impatience and Lestrade and John exchanged wary looks.

"Well, we're not on this case, Sherlock. And in case you were thinking...you aren't either. You're too close –"

"-A frankly moronic regulation." He snipped rudely. "Who better to solve my brother's murder than me, who knew him best and understood where his enemies might lie?"

"Moronic or not, you're not in on this one Sherlock and I'll be sure to let all the division heads know the same. You need to go home."

"I am home."

"Your parent's home, Sherlock" John clarified although he knew the detective understood. "They're going to need you now."

Sherlock's eyes did a tiny side to side and for some reason it made Watson's heart fearful. He suddenly had a picture in his head of two eagles circling a rabbit caught out in the open and the look in the rabbit's eyes was exactly the same. "She." He corrected.

Lestrade asked John "You're going with him?" and relaxed a little when John emphatically nodded his answer. "I'm bloody not letting him out of my sight."

XXX

John supposed he should not be surprised that Sherlock used the door knocker at his own parent's house. From what he had gathered from Mycroft, this was an old, respectable family of some tradition. Therefore he had also expected a uniform-clad servant to open it, but instead it was the woman he recognised as Violet Holmes who swung it open for them, Sherlock's white haired mother.

She stared at her younger son and John suddenly felt the heat of tension coming off Sherlock in waves. Standing very straight the detective stepped forward and said very respectfully - "Hello mummy."

Her face white with the shock of tragedy and her eyes pink from crying, yet her hair was coiled into a well arranged bun and her white blouse wrinkle-free. Violet Holmes stepped back so they had room to enter the foyer. John closed the door behind him and waited his turn to formally greet the woman who had raised two very different sons - different like Venus was from Neptune, both magnificent in their own way yet dissimilar that you could never mistake one for the other. The younger, smaller son raged as hot as an open flame with not even a single moon to annoy it, and the elder son moving through the universe in a zone of cold; remote and chilled with a dozen tiny worlds orbiting it in complete obedience. Violet Holmes had named them herself: Mycroft, the older by seven years, and Sherlock who had come the year of her forty-third birthday.

John considered himself lucky to have befriended the younger, hotter world named Sherlock. No moon but me, that is.

Mother and younger son stared at each other for a fleeting moment and then without warning her left hand whipped out, slapping her younger son hard on his right cheek, making John actually recoil a good foot on the expensive ceramic floor. The crack her palm made when it met her son's flesh had sounded like a gun-shot in the echoing space of the hallway.

"My son is dead," She announced, "because of the people – because of the criminals – you are involved with."

John, a bit shaken from the scene that had just transpired before him, felt the need to defend Sherlock who was standing there as still and mute as a statue but for some quick respirations. "Now Misses Holmes, with all due respect, Sherlock is not involved with criminals – he only works to bring them to justice."

Violet Holmes looked at John, her eyes searching for he knew not what and then switched back to Sherlock where they underwent an immediate transformation. She stared at her younger son, horrified at what she had just done, covering her mouth with both hands in self-recrimination. Sherlock's left cheek was bright red – John already knew it was on its way to a bruise. Sherlock had not moved an inch, accepting his mother's disciplinary hand with what seemed to be stoic habit.

But as she awoke to the wrongness of her action the lids of his mother's eyes pooled with tears as she then drew Sherlock into a fierce embrace, almost leaping into his arms and sobbing into his shoulder. "Oh Sherlock, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean that...you know I didn't..."

John heard his friend's gentle murmuring in return. "I know mummy, I know. It doesn't matter..."

"Oh Sherlock-Sherlock...oh my beloved boy...my son...oh God my sweet Mycroft, oh my son, my dear, dear son Mycroft-Mycroft - what will we do without him Sherlock? What will we do without him?"

John, for the first time in all the years he had known him, saw Sherlock partake of not only a warm embrace but watched, mesmerized, as actual tears rolled off Sherlock's cheeks. They came freely and yet in a manner any tear would want to do when falling from the frosted blue eyes of Sherlock Holmes; silently, without sniffing or sobbing and utterly ignored as though he had no idea where they had come from, why they were there or where they were going. Wild drops of water alighting without invite onto a statue made of flesh and bone.

"I-I don't know." Sherlock said - his own voice muffled as he buried his face in her fleshy shoulder as well. "I'm sorry."

XXX

"You must understand, Doctor Watson, that I am in no way trying to dismiss the friendship that you have somehow developed with my son, but as well as you think you know him, there is much about him you do not."

John listened politely, nodding his head while reining in a dark urge to tell her that he knew her son pretty damn well, "Mummy" and in many ways probably a hell of a lot better than she did.

Violet Holmes pulled a large bag of dark raisins from the cupboard and shook out a good handful into the dough she had been stirring. The bowl she was using could accommodate, Watson was convinced, enough mixture to feed a Rugby team.

"Mycroft-" Her voice broke on the second syllable and once more Watson felt a surge of fury at the killer responsible for subjecting these people – but Sherlock the most - to the grief they were now feeling.

"Oh...my poor son..." She regained her composure and cleared her throat. "Mycroft, we soon learned, was an exceptionally intelligent boy. He was bright and inquisitive and studiously kept to his books, skipping years ahead, and then skipping again. He loved to learn, John, and he loved facts and swiftly came to understand that scholastically he was well above his peers in every respect. He gave us no trouble what-so-ever. He was a jewel of a child - oh he loved politics and was voted leader of the school council all four years. By the time he left university he was practically running the place. We knew he was destined for greatness." She smiled warmly, the memories returning – at least momentarily - years of youth to her worn face and John thought again of a mother's ability to ignore her own misgivings over a child far too perfect to be normal. And remembered by said parents as perfect far too emphatically for it to be true. He had met Mycroft Holmes after all, and to him the man had always come across as an ice demon trying not very hard at all to pass for human.

"And then, in my middle age, Sherlock came along..."

Watson could hear the pitch in her voice falter and the etchings across her brow resumed with a vengeance.

"Sherlock was a surprise you know. I was forty-three years old and we did not expect to have another child. My physician assured me I could not - idiot man that he was." She glanced over. "Please take no offense Doctor Watson, I have a great respect for your profession but Sherlock...well let me just say that no two children could be so alike - and so un-alike in the Queen's whole Kingdom.

"We loved Sherlock of course, we adored him – I spoilt him something terrible...those dark curls and that pearly skin-" Her eyes warmed over again, sparkling with robust memories. "He seemed so terribly delicate..." She broke three eggs into her mix, taking up a large spoon and expertly whipping them in. "It was funny, you know, Mycroft was as hearty and healthy as a spring foal and yet he loathed the outdoors or sports of any description. But Sherlock, as thin and sickly as he was always with a cold or a cough – and do you think we could get that child to come in at the end of day? It played on my nerves I can tell you." As much as she sounded like she was complaining, her gaze told a different story as they strayed over and once again to her son sitting in the next room, the circles beneath her eyes deep with concern over her second child. "Thank god he grew out of all that illness."

John decided now was not the venue to bring up Sherlock's habit of skipping meals for days, going without any sort of restful sleep and the nicotine patches he wore like merit badges up and down his arms whenever he was on a case.

She lowered her voice. "Sherlock still worries me, you know. He's so...so...mercurial sometimes. I never know what he's thinking."

Despite his misgivings over her attempt to paint herself as the adoring mummy of an extra special child, John still felt a budding empathy. 'Sherlock' plus 'mercurial' wasn't even half of it.

"As a child he was often sickly like that yet somehow packed with energy – it was simply impossible to get him to bed, to make him eat or do his normal school work; he was always off and running somewhere, exploring, coming back with cuts and bruises or soaking wet from the rain or puddles. And grow- my word he veritably molted clothing every week! I was quite beside myself with worry for most of his growing years."

Considering Sherlock's strikingly handsome features he could imagine the boy that had once been and whose tender beauty must have been breath-taking. Watson could almost see in his mind the little dark-haired angel/devil reflected in each of his mother's pupils, the child smiling like a saint all the while planning mischief as his mother looked on with unabashedly adoring, yet fretting, eyes. Now he added to it a child of coughs and illness coupled with an indomitable spirit to run and seek adventure. The man of now well matched the child of then. Little had really changed.

And then mother Holmes' face returned to its former lines of worry. "And, to our fright, he was every bit as sharp as his brother only he lacked the discipline Mycroft possessed. You know by the time he was seven Sherlock had taught himself four languages and had invented two more of his own making. He'd collect and dissect -" she made a distasteful noise "- dozens of dead animals and birds that he'd find. I'm sure you can understand we were terrified. The television is always saying that is one of the signs of a mind that is 'disturbed' is the word I think I heard most often. It quite frightened us I can tell you. We took him to a psychiatrist once hoping for some insight." She finished mixing and wiped her hands on her apron. "Sherlock refused to say one word the entire hour. Later the psychiatrist telephoned us and forbade we ever bring him back."

Watson could also imagine the things Sherlock had said but not admitted to. He had probably dissected the psychiatrist too, pointing out the man's latent homosexuality or his penchant for fluffy sheep.

"It took many years but finally Sherlock settled down somewhat – enough to get through Uni'. He graduated top of his class in chemistry and then right after graduation moved away to London - we hardly saw him after that. The only news we heard was through Mycroft who himself was already well on his way to Parliament. Mycroft had tried to be Sherlock's mentor -" she dropped her voice to conspiratorial whisper "- unsuccessfully. But at least they were both in London. I begged Mycroft to take care of his younger brother and he did..." Her eyes tear-ed up again "for many years, he did, bless his dear departed soul. I shall never forgive myself for putting that burden on Mycroft's shoulders."

John thought he ought to say something. "You know, I don't think Mycroft ever considered it a burden. They fought of course, all the time, like brothers do, but I think...I think he loved Sherlock."

"Oh, yes, yes he did." She agreed softly. "Deeply." Her eyes, softening and watering once more, turned toward the sitting room where Sherlock sat curled up in one corner of an ornate sofa, smoking cigarette after cigarette. Bad for his health – yes, but right then John knew it wasn't Sherlock's physical health that was paramount. His friend had spoken barely a word in two days.

"And I shall never forgive myself for striking my son." She wiped at her eyes. "I don't know why I did that – only...well, it doesn't matter anymore; my Sherlock is home to stay. Normally I would never allow the cigarette in my house but, well, of course it's different now. But at any rate my Sherlock is home and I shall never have to fear for him again - thank God." She said with the finality of a woman who fully expects her own private prophecies to come to fruition even if the gods themselves protested.

John felt his stomach go cold. "Sherlock's...he's staying here?"

"Naturally." She said as though it made perfect sense to her if no one else. "Well, I've been talking your ear off, you'll have to excuse me, I'm certain Sherlock is hungry." She took up a plate of dainties and walked them into the sitting room where Sherlock had set himself on one corner of the floral couch tucking his legs beneath him. He was staring at his phone and out the window into the garden, back and forth, and had been for hours.

Watson watched through the door crack as Sherlock nodded his thanks to his mother but the tray of already baked goods remained untouched.

XXX

Strangers came and went though-out the day. Violet's cousins (must be, he could see the resemblance in the cheek bones and the striking paleness of the eyes), local friends, men and women, and the ladies from her book club, all drifting in and out of the kitchen and dining room where the matron of the estate continued to bake furiously, turning out all manner of breads and confections. John wondered how many cakes and cookies she had turned out the day her husband had walked out the door a year ago. Was it Sherlock who had mentioned it, or Mycroft? He couldn't remember, so astounded at the time at the jarring thought the two brothers had such an ordinary thing as parents.

None of the visitors approached Sherlock, still inconspicuous nested, huddled up and speechless on a couch in a remote crook of his mummy's world.

John escaped into his room up the stairs and dialed home. "Mary? It's me. Listen I've been invited to stay for another...for a w-while and I think it's a good idea. What? No, Sherlock's doing as well as can be expected I suppose. He's...sad I think. I mean it's always hard to tell with him. He isn't saying much. Hm? Yes, I'll give him your love. I ought to be home by the end of the week. I love you too. Bye."

He had not been precisely invited to stay a week (although no one had specifically told him to go home), but he felt it prudent to do so. He suspected Violet Holmes might approve of the arrangement if he stayed in one of the guest rooms on the other side of the manor, or perhaps the servant's quarters – if there were any. Did she have servants? Just how flush was Mummy Holmes? He had no idea other than Sherlock had once or twice mentioned a pending respectable inheritance fund.

John returned to the main floor and decided it was time he got to the bottom of whatever Violet Holmes had meant earlier. Sherlock was still curled up on the sofa like a lethargic feline which was so remarkably like – and unlike - him it was giving John nausea and butterflies. "Sherlock..." He sat down opposite his friend in an enormous leather chair, the kind with winged arms and a high back that an average sized person could get lost in. "Thought I'd check up on you." He said lamely.

Sherlock drew a long puff on his cigarette and slowly let out a long train of smoke. "You don't have to stay here John. I don't need checking up on, thank you but I'm fine."

John nodded, entirely unconvinced. "Sure, right, I'm sure you are. Your brother is killed and you decide to leave London for good, sounds downright normal alright."

Sherlock closed his eyes and when he next opened them he was looking away. "Mummy is alone now. I have to be here."

"Why?"

"Because she needs me."

"London needs you." Yes, lame again, but he had to try.

"Oh please..."

John sighed, looking around. "What are you going to do here Sherlock? Garden? Paint? Help mummy with the washing out? You'll be crawling out of your skin in a week."

"Mycroft was the dutiful son who was to inherit the estate. Mycroft is dead therefore it falls to me."

"And you'll hate every minute of it. You're not built for this sort of life and you know it."

"Oh it doesn't matter John," Sherlock said in a tone he normally reserved for facts about the heavens. "I don't have a choice."

"You always have a choice."

"Sentimental piffle will not change the fact that Mycroft is dead."

Watson clasped his hands together, resting his elbows on his knees. "I understand that; you want to be a good son. Very laudable and I'll support you any way I can during this time, but for how long?" What about The Work? What about our flat, our friendship? What about me? It was selfish of him John knew, but recently he had almost gotten Sherlock to speak openly about his feelings – so close! - and where those might lead them, if anywhere, and then with the swish of an opened door here they sat in Sherlock's mother's house, mourning the loss of her eldest boy and Sherlock's only brother. It seemed the universe refused to give them a break.

Ironically his own amorous feelings toward Sherlock had finally solidified into Yes. He loved the crazy bastard and, ever since finding his brother dead in their Westminster flat, that tinkling bell had swelled into a clanging crescendo, backed with a chorus of John Denver type Colorado-Rocky-Mountain-High-Fire-In-The-Sky fucking revelation!

But here Sherlock sat polluting his lungs with fag after fag, stuck in some sense of son-ly duty the likes of which John had not witnessed, well, ever. By anyone.

It seemed the Holmes' were a bit old fashioned. A family that, as far as John could understand what he was seeing, clung to some rather outdated traditions. The eldest son being now deceased, the youngest must come home to hold his mother's elderly hand and take charge of the household; to be the representative of the line; to rule the manor and make a socially acceptable appearance that would last a life time.

"Sherlock, are you saying you're not ever coming back to London?" Can't be true. What in God's name was Sherlock going to do in a rambling old house with nothing but dusty books and a fussing old woman to keep him occupied? He'd be insane within a week.

"Yes, John, that's what I'm saying."

John studied his own hands. His fingernails needed a good scrub. "But what about...look we never finished..." He sighed, biting his lip and swallowing, which was getting more and more painful to do. The lump in his throat felt the size of a boiled egg. "Sherlock what about...us?"

Sherlock butted out what had to have been his hundredth cigarette of the day. "Thank you for your friendship John. I can never repay you for it."

"Friendship?" John looked away and back. "You know I'm not speaking of only that."

Sherlock lit another smoke, carefully with long, elegant fingers in a dance of methodical precision, possibly to keep his hands from shaking John reasoned. How many hours had it been since the man had eaten a morsel or sipped at a cup of tea? Twenty hours? More? "Yes I...I know, but...that's simply impossible now." He whispered and then added with a touch of gallows humor "Unless you're inclined to take up residence under my mummy's roof, not a wise decision."

Watson plunged ahead. "Would you welcome me if I did?" Fuck The Work. Without Sherlock it meant less than nothing.

Sherlock turned bloodshot eyes, squinting from fatigue over to look back at the kindest eyes he had ever known in the wide world. Eyes that held his own with a ribbon of caress; a look so gentle and so loving it near took his breath away. "She would not accept it, John...us. She barely accepts me."

God this is so wrong. "What will you do here?"

"Whatever she asks. Father left a year ago, her favourite son has died. I'm all she has left you see." Sherlock sighed, cracking his neck a bit. "Whatever else I am, I am not the absent son she assumes me to be. I cannot – will not - abandoned her. I owe her that much."

John is angry at the words but careful not to let any of it go astray onto Sherlock's shoulders, the man appeared to be barely holding himself together and that was a rare event indeed. Why do you owe her anything? What the hell happened in this family? "Sherlock, you deserve some happiness."

"That appears to be the lot of others."

"You've never before been a cynic."

Sherlock passed him a thick book he had not noticed stuffed into between the cushions of the couch Sherlock rested on. He handed it over clutched in his cold white fingers. "Here John, a gift from me to you. Put it in your suite-case and take it home. Something to remember us by."

"Sherlock..."

"You're welcome to stay the week, if you can stand it. I'm going to bed now. Goodnight John." Sherlock stood to remove himself and a ghost would have made more commotion across the carpet than his soundless, willow-the-wisp steps. But still he was gone swiftly, like a mist, and even if John wanted to go after him and talk sense, he realised he didn't even know where his friend's bedroom was.

Later than night, sitting up in a bed in a bedroom off the dining hall that John suspected once upon a few decades past belonged to a kitchen-maid, John studied more closely the book Sherlock had gifted him. The detective had taken a moment to underline in faint pencil a few passages and then had book-marked the page with a fine leather insert.

The book was old and although the binding was rubbed and scuffed its spine was elaborately gilt with yellow morocco on-lays, the endpapers beautifully marbled, the papers edged in gold, and the etched plates protected by fine rice paper. John studied them at leisure, each one a depiction of a Christian religious scene; Adam being created, brimstone from heaven over a wicked city, Jesus on the cross, but the one that struck him the most – Satan being cast from heaven.

Inside the publishing copyright was dated 1866. He turned back to the underlined words, deeply curious now as to what Sherlock Holmes, scoffer of all belief in things religious, would care to take note of in such a book. Was Sherlock, deep down, a poet?

"Whereon I live, thy gentle looks, thy aid,
Thy counsel in this uttermost distress,

My
onely strength and stay: forlorn of thee,
Whither shall I betake me, where subsist?
While yet we live,
scarse one short hour perhaps,
Between us two let there be peace, both
joyning,
As
joyn'd in injuries, one enmitie
Against a Foe by doom express
assign'd us..."*

No, John decided. Sherlock did not see himself as a poet.

But was the passage speaking of Sherlock and himself, or the two brothers, the one now forever bereft of the other? John turned out the lamp and rolled over, tucking the heavy cotton quilt up around his neck. A strange bed of a strange time in a strange house full of, but for one, strangers.

Sleep eluded him.

XXX

*Paradise Lost - Milton

Part 6 asap