Part Two: Ivory
Sherlock's not the same man that left Baker Street the night before. It's seven in the morning, and people are beginning their day as he's returning home and he finds the strength from somewhere to push himself from the car seat. He's surprised somewhat to find his key still in his trouser pocket. It sticks, as always, in the lock before the door is swung open. A sharp lump forms in this throat as he thinks of Mrs Hudson asleep further down the hall. He pushes the thought violently from his mind and staggers numbly up the stairs. The numbers run in sequence through his mind as he counts each step. It's easier than thinking about the loneliness which awaits him when he reaches the top. The door handle is cold and unwelcoming in his hand as he takes a step into the living room. It is silent and still. But he is not alone.
Stood in the centre of the room is his brother. Mycroft looks weary, concerned, and... old, Sherlock decides. He looks like their father. Sherlock wants to open his mouth to speak but he can't. His jaw is locked shut. Mycroft is taking a step towards him, and Sherlock doesn't recognise the strange sensation of having his brother's arms around him. A sudden, strangled sob escapes from Sherlock's aching chest, as his knees give way and his brother lowers him to the floor. Sherlock has never cried before, not even when their father died, and he didn't expect it to hurt so much. It really hurts. It aches his entire body as he curls up in Mycroft's lap and weeps. Long fingers stroke at the dark fringe, and the ivory skin of Sherlock's forehead. Mycroft is saying something in a low tone, but Sherlock can't hear it over his own haggard breath. He doesn't want to hear it. There isn't a word he could hear that would fix this. So he cries. It's what his body tells him to do. His mind has deserted him.
Eventually Sherlock wonders how long he's supposed to cry for. Crying is odd. It begins suddenly but is expected to fade away into nothing. The cause of the tears still remains. Surely he can't cry forever? That would be impractical. Instead, he feels his breath calming to a stagger on the inhale. The skin of his cheeks is tight from tears, and he rubs at his eyes in irritation.
"Stupid... Stupid," he mumbles, though he's not sure to whom. Does he feel better from letting the tears fall? Not really, and now his head is all stuffy and his vision unclear. Mycroft's arms are still around him, but Sherlock knows he won't speak. They stay there for some time on the living room floor, and Sherlock studies the grain in the wooden coffee table. He doesn't even register himself falling asleep.
It's a while later, when Sherlock wakes on the sofa. His brother is by his side in a light sleep. He looks just how Sherlock remembers as a boy. It's hard for him to comprehend that the boy from his childhood and the man beside him are one and the same. Mycroft has become so difficult and unwilling. So dull. It's a shame.
Sherlock moves carefully from the sofa and crosses to the window. It is now mid-morning, and the sun is attempting to show itself. He puts a hand on the wooden desk to steady himself, and his eye falls on a dusty photo frame on the shelf. John. A happy John. A drunk John, if Sherlock recalls correctly. His thumb moves slowly across John's face and feels the smooth, cold glass, not the warm touch of skin. The frame is placed down on the desk. If he's not careful, he'll fall apart again.
He has plans.
He fumbles with the drawer in the desk, before crossing the room. Stealing a glance at his older brother, he wonders whether Mycroft is really asleep; if he expects what is coming next. Either way, he doesn't stir on the sofa, and that is all the permission Sherlock needs as he slips silently out of the house.
The room Sherlock finds himself in some time later is dark, and grimy, and smells of damp. A torn, yellowing net curtain hangs in the window, and the light is attempting to find its way into the room from the dirty windows. Sherlock knows it's only a matter of time before the unkempt man lying on the grubby sofa in front of him wakes at the presence. A battered baseball bat hangs limply in the man's hand as he sleeps. It's thuggish and lacks intelligence or elegance. It makes Sherlock despise this man even more.
It takes a great deal of mental strength for Sherlock not to shoot the man as he sleeps, but he has a lot to say, so he waits for the sleepy eyelids to open. When they do, they reveal a frightened set of eyes, as the man scrambles up from the sofa, clutching desperately to his bat.
"I wanted to ask you if you realise that leaving my best friend to bleed to death in a putrid alleyway was the worst decision you've ever made in your life?" Sherlock speaks up, in a calm clear voice. The man is alarmed and dazed from his awakening. The fingers clutch tighter to the wooden handle of his bat, and Sherlock can see the white, desperate knuckles.
"I thought not."
The gun is raised steadily between them and the man's face pales. Sherlock's eyes search the man's expression for the slightest trace of regret, but all he finds is fear. From that moment, Sherlock's mind is set. The man emits a yelp as his knees buckle underneath him. He stammers out words that Sherlock is adamant he doesn't want to hear.
"I'd like to tell you about by best friend. John Watson; a wonderful man, loyal, brave, intelligent, funny... Very funny, in fact. I break people down, it's what I do. I'm very good at it. And in all of my life, I have never met a man quite like him...I'm certain I never will again." Sherlock is surprised at the steadiness of his own voice. He's ever-professional. He came here with a job to do, and he will see it through. "You see, John's the light on a particularly dark side of me. John stops me from doing irrational things; things that I might regret. If John were here now, I wouldn't be doing this..."
The gun is steady as he raises it to shoulder level.
"But John isn't here."
It doesn't please Sherlock to hear a human being pleading for his life. He does have some morals after all. He's not totally inhuman.
The man throws himself to the floor, shaking in fright as he pleads up at Sherlock.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he sobs. "... I never meant for him to die."
Sherlock scoffs loudly in disgust and his grey eyes become cold and hard as they fix the man with a stare of contempt. He's doing this for John; John who deserved to go out in a blaze of glory, fighting for his country. John who deserved to grow old with a wife and children. John who had been snatched away from him by this man and his brutal knife.
"That's even worse." There's no hesitation as Sherlock pulls the trigger.
Sherlock walks slowly home. He can't hear the sounds of the city around him. It's a strange sensation, like he's hearing it under water. He wonders if maybe he's drowning in the world around him. He tries to shake off the feeling of nausea, but his face becomes pale and clammy. Stopping at the nearest newsagents, Sherlock buys himself a packet of cigarettes and takes off the plastic wrapping with ease. Long, elegant fingers toy with the a little white stick. Sherlock relishes in a cigarette, followed by two more in quick succession.
The rest of the packet is tossed into the Thames along with the handgun.
Sherlock makes his way back up the stairs of 221b for the second time that morning, and his brother is waiting patiently for him on the sofa. A quick glance is exchanged and Sherlock knows that Mycroft is fully aware of what he's done. He doesn't care though. Mycroft knows better than to speak. The brothers meet again in the middle of the room, and Mycroft places his hand on Sherlock's shoulder and squeezes ever so slightly, before he heads silently to the stairs.
Sherlock stands in the centre of the room, alone for the first time, and breathes in the silence and familiarity. A ball of frustration builds up in his stomach. He's irritated. Highly irritated. So much time, effort – emotion too maybe – used and wasted on a person who has gone. It's like a complex jigsaw, missing the final piece. Sherlock should never have started it.
He lowers himself down into his armchair and grabs instinctively for his violin, plucking out a tune of random, discordant notes. He's pleased with them. His mind wanders to the hospital and the feel of cold, pallid flesh under his fingertips. He's never studied a lifeless face in such detail before. He doesn't want to forget John, but it's inevitable. It's how his mind works. Eventually, there will be nothing left.
Sherlock thinks of Harry, and a painted coffin, and a proper church funeral with servicemen and formality. It will all be very proper. John was always so proper. Sherlock doesn't like how his thoughts have taken charge again so he frowns and plays louder.
Upon the mantelpiece the domed skull grins down at him. Sherlock looks at it and knows he's neglected it for far too long. The violin is placed in his lap, and long delicate fingers steeple under his chin as he lets out a long slow breath, closes his eyes and waits for the purpose; the drive that Sherlock Holmes used to be about. Solely about. He was never much of a team player. There's too much to lose. He knows now that he's better off playing alone.
He waits for the phone to ring...