Title: Not Without Me
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Word Count: Around 4000 words.
Pairings/Characters: Sherlock/John friendship. Of course, this is always slash-worthy if you choose to see it that way!
Warnings: Character death, OC death, swearing.
Spoilers: The usual.
Summary: Halfway through Sherlock's Great Hiatus, Mycroft comes to him with the news that John has died. But all is not what it seems…
A/N: I have researched the locations of Tibet and Prague as best I can (and have been to Prague and its theatre), but as always, there could be something I have missed, so please do forgive any indiscretions. The same goes for the Czech language I use. Also, I used Swan Lake since I have seen Black Swan recently (spookiest film and one of the best I have ever seen), and became inspired. Go and see it if you haven't already!
Anyway, hope you enjoy!
He has come from nowhere and he has no name. That is what everybody is saying about the new stranger in the Jokhang Temple in Lhassa; that he is a no one with nothing, that he has appeared and has asked to be taught their ways and is, very quickly, showing a remarkable aptitude for them. He has perfect recall, an intense concentration. He is godlike, that is what people say. He is like a god.
Siger has seen him around the temple, mostly wandering the grounds with his head bowed in concentration, and, though he can seen where the whisperers are coming from, what with the man's height and his pale, sharp features, he always sees nothing but a human.
He finds the stranger one April morning sitting in a barren and sunlit courtyard, staring at the pool of water before him with a strange look on his face that Siger has seen before. He sits next to the stranger before he can properly think about it (later, his teacher will scold him about this recent lack of thought in his dealings).
"What is it you think of?" he asks.
The man looks up at him. He is wearing a reddish-pink robe that is a little too large for him, making him look even thinner than he is, and it slips off his shoulder slightly showing white skin, the collarbone sticking out almost painfully. That is another thing the whisperers say, that the stranger does not eat. At all, ever.
"What do you mean?" the stranger says in perfect Tibetan.
Siger nods at him. "Sometimes you wear a look on your face. As if you are somewhere else. You wore such a look now."
The stranger glances away, to the pool of water, watching his pale and thin face reflected almost perfectly inside it. The sun glances off the water, sending long stripes of weak light across his cheek, stroking along his long eyelashes. He looks deeply saddened, Siger thinks, on some strange incomprehensible level.
"I think of my friend," he says. "I think how he would have liked it here. It is peaceful."
"Your friend is gone forever?" Siger hazards.
The stranger shakes his head, a very slight smile touching the corner of his sunlit lips. "No. I will see him again."
Siger thinks about this. "Then surely this is a happy thought?"
The stranger smiles properly this time. It is quite a change; the smile lights his body up far more than the reflected sunlight can do, from head to toe he is smiling. "Yes," he says. "Yes, it is."
Siger smiles too, because it is impossible not to when such an entity beside him is doing it as well, and because he is glad that this stranger - who he thinks is more lost than anyone he had ever seen - is briefly home.
Somewhere, a bell tones, and the stranger stands up abruptly. "I must leave," he says. "What is your name?"
"Siger," says Siger.
The stranger nods once, slowly, thoughtfully, and then leaves the courtyard, and all the sunlight seems to go with him.
The next day, Siger learns that the stranger has moved on, to other weird and wonderful countries. His teacher says suspiciously, "Before he left, he told us his name. He said his name was Sigerson."
Siger smiles and says nothing.
It is July, and in the Old Town Square of Prague, two men are sitting down at an outdoor café. One is well suited and tall, with slicked back hair and an umbrella that sits always under his right hand, despite the sky being cloudless. The other is just as tall, but pale and thin and seemingly constantly alert. The first man drinks a coffee, the second nothing at all.
"Why are you here?" says the second man impatiently. "You could have told me all of this by email." He shakes a dark blue folder at the first man emphatically.
The first man looks grave. "There is something I could not have told you, Sherlock, unless it was face to face." He slides forward a new folder towards the man opposite him, who looks for a long moment at the man, and then down at the folder.
He reads the name on the folder and all the nervous energy, all the watchfulness, that has been pouring out of him - all of it immediately freezes.
"Mycroft, what's happened?" he whispers, in a voice very unlike the voice he has been using before, which has been thick with sarcasm and now is as brittle as a leaf.
"Sherlock," says the man called Mycroft gently. "John's dead."
Around them, the sun is blazing and tourists are walking in thick groups around the Square, laughing and chatting, and everyone is ignoring the couple because for them it is just an ordinary day.
Sherlock's fingers tremble on the edges of the folder. "I - How? He was meant to be safe - he was meant to be - "
"A hit and run. Nothing dramatic. Nothing extreme. There was nothing behind it. He just stepped out into the road without looking and was hit."
"There must be something - "
"Sherlock. I've looked into it. Extensively. There was nothing. I myself identified his body. He's gone, Sherlock."
Sherlock's face has gone so pale, his cheekbones are almost visible beneath his skin. "But he can't. He was meant - to be there. When I came back. He can't just - vanish."
"You mean like you did?"
They had never got to say goodbye to each other. Neither of them.
That is the main thought whirling around Sherlock's head as he stands in the Square later that night, clutching his coat around him to keep out the unusually cold breeze and staring up at the illuminated spires of the Gothic Týn Cathedral. There aren't many people out in the Square because of the cold, and Sherlock can just see the moon peering over the tip of one of the Cathedral's towers.
He thinks, John was meant to be there. It was the only thing he was going to go home for. He was going to come back in a blaze of glory and John was going to scream and shout at him and then he was going to get a hug, he knew it, he could almost feel it, had almost felt it since he had left. A shouting match and then a hug. And now there would be nothing but the same cold emptiness that he felt here.
The files Mycroft has given him had said that John had been the one to thoughtlessly step out into the road. And that, when he had made it to the hospital, he had put up almost no fight at all. As if he had just…given up.
Sherlock doesn't entertain the idea of suicide. John wasn't the suicidal sort. Even with Sherlock gone, surely he wouldn't just surrender. John didn't surrender. John wasn't meant to surrender. He was meant to have been there. He should have been there.
Sherlock wonders if John had been expecting to see Sherlock in whatever afterlife he thought about. He wonders how he had felt when Sherlock hadn't been there. Had he been worried? Angry at himself? He had better been angry at himself, because now Sherlock is alone here, on this planet, and now he has nothing left, no more ties because this last one had been cut and what is he going to do now?
John had never got to say goodbye, but that was okay because he was going to see Sherlock again, he was going to say hello again and so what was the point of goodbye? But Sherlock is never going to see John again. There has been no goodbye and there will be no hello. There will just be…nothing.
Maybe he should have died at the Falls, where Moriarty died. Maybe he had somehow cheated death there. Maybe he was meant to be dead because having one alive while the other was dead doesn't work, shouldn't exist. Maybe death had gone after John instead, when Sherlock had cheated it.
Maybe this is all his fault.
If he had been there, John wouldn't be dead. If John had known, maybe he wouldn't be dead. Sherlock had said nothing to try and protect him, but maybe his silence has caused it instead.
And now John is gone, he isn't coming back, and with him, so has Sherlock's home.
He keeps working at bringing down Moriarty's agents, because he has nothing else to do. Sometimes it helps him forget; and then sometimes he will think about going back to 221b Baker Street and sitting down near to the fire and demanding a cup of tea from John - and then the name brings it all back and he is left with a stark sense of hopelessness for the rest of the day, as if he is grasping for air. As if nothing matters.
Mycroft emails him three weeks into this loss, the simple words: Sebastian Moran. In Prague 7th August. Find Penelope Cadiz.
Sebastian Moran is the one Sherlock has truly been after; Moriarty's second in command, the second most dangerous man in London. Colonel Sebastian Moran, a crack shot and the perfect way for Sherlock to forget everything.
He finds Penelope Cadiz. She is an old ballet dancer, a former lover of Moran, and when Sherlock finds her in her poky little flat, she is already dying.
He gets to his knees on the floor, where she is coughing up scarlet blood onto a badly faked tan chest.
"Where is Moran?" he demands. "Tell me where he is!"
Penelope Cadiz, her black hair all over her face, her blue eyes already bloodshot, smiles a vengeful, crimson smile. "I didn't tell…him," she coughs in Czech. "And I won't…tell you."
She coughs again, and then her eyes glaze over and she goes limp, and that is the end of Penelope Cadiz.
Sherlock bangs his fist on the floor in frustration and spends the rest of the week racking his brains as to whom him could be.
He dreams of John. They're standing together on Baker Street but it is not the modern Baker Street, no, there are gas lamps and a heavy mist is falling, and somewhere he can hear the steady clatter of horses hooves on cobbles.
John is still himself though, all tired face and knitted jumper and he is reaching through the thick mist, trying to reach to Sherlock, and he is saying something, but it is lost in the clatter and whirr of Sherlock's grief and he misses it, and then John is gone, gone again without even saying goodbye, and Sherlock is alone once more.
Mycroft sends another email the next day, one which says Try Horace Winterpole. Horace Winterpole is a choreographer, another friend of Moran's, and when Sherlock tracks him down, he is alive but supremely uncommunicative.
"I will tell you nothing," he rages at Sherlock in his quick, thick Czech accent outside his flat door. "Nothing, I will tell you nothing, will you all stop bothering me?"
"All?" Sherlock picks up on this. "Who is all?"
"The lékařka," the enraged man says. "The lékařka, stop bothering me."
And he slams the door in Sherlock's face.
Sherlock stands for a moment outside and tries to think. Lékařka, he's heard the word before. Lékařka. He can't remember what it means. Chemist? He thinks perhaps it could be chemist, or pharmacist. Is this him that Cadiz spoke of also the lékařka? Is he a chemist? Or masquerading as one?
The only thing visiting these people is doing is raising even more questions.
He goes back to think.
He dreams again that night. He is standing on a stage and the spotlights are on him, and from somewhere in the dark stands beyond, someone is saying the theatre, Sherlock.
The voice is familiar, but he can't quite place it, it is a voice that is old, full of memories, full of warmth and comfort even though it is shouting.
He squints through the spotlights and says who's there?
The theatre, Sherlock. The reply is almost laughing. Come on, think.
He stares through the dark, sees something moving far beyond in the dark, and there is a flash of gold, of hair, blond hair -
Who are you, he shouts.
Not a chemist, is the reply, and then he wakes up, and he has the solution.
Penelope Cadiz was a ballet dancer, Horace Winterpole is a choreographer. They often worked together, as well as working with Moran. They were working on something together before Cadiz's death. They were working on Swan Lake, at the Hybernia Theatre, near Prague's Municipal House and not very far from the Old Town Square at all.
Swan Lake shows tonight and Sherlock would bet his life that Moran will be there. To watch his old friends, talk to his old friends, bargain, blackmail and kill his old friends.
Sherlock goes to the box office as soon as it opens.
"One ticket to Swan Lake, please," he says in Czech, turning on his indefatigable charm.
The seller smiles prettily back, but shakes her head. "I'm afraid I've just sold the last ticket, sir. To the lékařka."
Immediately, Sherlock is alert. "When?"
"Just now - he's over there - " She points behind Sherlock and he turns swiftly, but the crowds have swayed and mixed and though he squints, he can see nothing.
Nothing, except for a patch of blond hair that is gone as soon as it is spotted.
It doesn't matter that Sherlock has no ticket to the ballet. He doesn't need one. He sneaks through the back of the theatre, cheerfully knocks out the tallest theatre assistant he can find, puts him in a broom cupboard and steals his costume.
He makes his way to the backstage, which is bustling, the ballet already halfway through the first Act. There are people everywhere in the dark backstage, passing through patches of light and shadow like ghosts, people trapped between the real world and the world of imagination. There are people wearing all manners of clothing, single people, groups of people, everyone is rushing everywhere and the theatrical whispers of each conversation, in all different languages, brush past Sherlock's ear as he moves through them all.
"My shoes aren't - "
"The next dance should - "
"- didn't say she would - "
" - had a gun - "
Sherlock whirls around, but the whispers have moved on, the crowds rushing around him like he is a rock in a river, the music beyond the great velvet curtain rising to a deep crescendo, so that his ears are filled with music and his mind is a dizzying flurry of shadows and light, truth and lies.
He reaches the wings of stage left, the stage full of streams of red light, of whirling ballerinas, of curls of music, and peers through to stage right, trying to confirm that Moran is not there.
Moran is not there, but John Watson is.
Through the crush of white clad bodies, he can see John Watson.
He is standing in the wings opposite and peering along the stage, so he hasn't seen Sherlock yet, but it is him, it is John, it is his grey knitter sweater and his blond hair and his face full of concentration, it is John's gun that he is holding tightly to his side, it is John whether the white lights or the red lights or no lights at all are shining on him, it is quintessentially John. It is not an illusion, because no illusion could be that real, no illusion could put beads of sweat on his forehead, no illusion could remember that frown line, the one just a little above his eyebrows. No illusion could be as solid as John always was, always is.
Sherlock has an epiphany.
He thinks: lékařka doesn't mean chemist. Lékárník means chemist. Lékařka means doctor.
He thinks: I am going to kill Mycroft.
He thinks: John is alive.
The dancing bodies, slipping like fishes between the red and white lights, sway towards him, catching John's eye with the difference in motion, and he looks up, at stage right, and his eyes catch Sherlock's and they too - stop.
It's like one of the ghosts from backstage, one of the ones in that dark in-between state of real life and stage life, has materialised in front of him.
He didn't know Sherlock was alive either.
Sherlock can almost see the breath leave him, his shoulders dropping, drooping. He watches John's mouth twitch at the edges and his lips fall a little apart. He watches and catalogues every eye movement, every tremble in his hands, through the slide and spin of the dancers separating them, as if the world has slowed down half a degree.
He watches as John's mouth forms the word Sherlock.
He wants to stride through the whirling bodies around him and grab hold of him and shake him, shake him until he is sure, really sure, that John is alive, that his pulse is beating under his fingers, that the blood is still rushing through his veins.
He takes half a step forward, thinks better, thinks of backstage. He steps back a bit, flicks his eyes to the side, trying to convey to John (John, John, he's alive) that they must go backstage, and then tears his eyes away and gropes through the semi-world to where stage right (and John, and John) must be.
Someone finds him before John does.
A heavy hand lands on his shoulder when he is halfway through the flurry and bustle of the backstage world, spins him around and a voice growls, "Sherlock Holmes."
He stares through the half-light into the scarred, heavy face of Sebastian Moran, and then feels the cold slide of a gun barrel against his chest. In the dim light, no one can see it.
They stop and stare at each other, solid in the churning flow of people.
"I heard you were looking for me," snarls Moran. "I heard you killed Moriarty."
Sherlock thinks, I can't die now. Not when John - I can't die now. One of us isn't allowed to die while the other one is living. No. No.
"Come for revenge?" he asks. The gun barrel slides across his shirt, up towards his heart. I will not die while John is only a few steps away.
"I've realised what Moriarty didn't," whispers Moran, grinning. "That the only way to shake Sherlock Holmes off your tail is to kill him."
He presses the gun harder into Sherlock's chest. "Any last words?"
"Yes," Sherlock says, and smiles. "Watch your back."
And that's when John Watson shoots Moran from behind.
The shot rings out through both backstage and the stage beyond, and people stop and scream and panic, and somewhere between Moran dropping like a stone and people turning to find the source of the sound, John's hand lands on Sherlock's arm and he hisses, "Run."
They run through darkness, through half-light and through full light, they run like dancers, a constant swirling, spinning, twisting motion, they run through reality and fantasy and out of dreams, and all the time John's hand is warm and steady and real on Sherlock's arm.
When they screech to a halt, Sherlock realises they have slammed into an abandoned part of the clothes department, cramped in among racks and racks of costumes that glitter and glow in the bad light of the single swinging bulb above them. In this strange dirty light John looks more real than ever, and yet when he turns to face Sherlock, after closing the door behind them, Sherlock can't help but put a hand on his shoulder, his fingers just brushing his neck, feeling the thrum of life under John's shirt.
Everything goes wonderfully, splendidly still. He can't even hear his heart anymore.
"You're alive," he mumbles. He usually hates stating the obvious, but this is a special occasion.
"That makes two of us, then," John replies, and Sherlock glances up to see John is staring just as intensely at him. He's been gone for longer, he realises. For too, too long. He should explain, he should - apologise, but all he can care about, right now, is why John is here, why he is here when Sherlock thought he was dead. He supposes that makes him selfish. He doesn't care.
"Mycroft said you were dead. The car crash - "
"Faked, all faked."
"He said he identified your body."
"Oh come on, Sherlock, you believed that?"
Sherlock stays silent. It hadn't even occurred to him to not believe Mycroft. His utter shock over John not being there, not being around…it had chased everything away, it had rattled up his logic. He had been working on automatic, his dreams, his subconscious telling him what he should have already known. He had vanished, for a bit.
John is watching him carefully. "I've been working for Mycroft, I agreed to help hunt down Moran - Mycroft said he had others looking for him, but I had no idea - " His voice shivers and he cuts himself off. "God, Sherlock, where have you been?"
He sounds desperate, his voice thin, and Sherlock opens his mouth but doesn't know where to start, there is too much to say and it is too close, and he can't bear it here a second longer.
He takes John's hands, enjoys their warmth, their reality.
"We should go," he whispers.
And that is how they end up back in the Old Town Square, sitting right down on the cobbles in the middle of the Square, huddled in their coats, and staring up at the once more illuminated Cathedral. Sherlock thinks about how he stood here almost a month ago, more lost than he had ever been in his life. He draws his knees up to his chin, shuffles closer to John and, in a low voice, tells John everything. He talks of Tibet (he doesn't mention Siger, his fake namesake, but he thinks of him and smiles inwardly), he talks of China, of India, of Europe, he talks of all those of Moriarty's group whom he arrested or, in the extreme cases, killed. He feels the warm of John all across his arm and talks about his interview with Mycroft, about Cadiz, about Winterpole, about lékařka. He doesn't talk of his dreams; they're only dreams after all.
When he's finished, John speaks. "When you left - I - I didn't know what to do. It felt all wrong. Like you shouldn't be dead, like there was some big mistake. Mycroft kept prompting me to join him, to avoid - what it was like before you - so I did. It helped, a bit, but it wasn't - well I mean, of course it wasn't - it wasn't the same." He takes in a breath. "I didn't kill Cadiz. There was no reason to, I just went to her for information. Moran must have killed her - maybe to silence her, maybe they had an argument, I don't know. But I have killed others. I have - done things I wouldn't have done before. I think I lost me. Do - do you understand?"
Sherlock puts his head on John's shoulder, listens to the hum of blood under his skin. "Yes," he says.
But he's back now, he thinks. Sherlock is back now, John is back now. Sherlock can think now.
He thinks how rare it is that they could have found each other, not simply once but twice, and how many people never manage it, never find anyone even half as important in their entire lives. He thinks how they will die together, because dying separately is fundamentally wrong, as this has shown.
John sighs as if he is letting go of some great pain and drops his head into Sherlock's hair. "Can we go home now?" he pleads into Sherlock's soft curls. Sherlock feels his voice vibrate through his skull, shaking and warming him.
He thinks of Baker Street, of warm fires and skulls and tea and domestic arguments. He thinks of London, of the throb and swell of London and all its crimes, Moriarty or no Moriarty.
He has never been so happy in his entire life, or so exhausted.
"Home," he says, closing his eyes. "Let's go home."