So this is the last chapter. Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed, and thank you to Pat and Christina and my Lu for reading it over and over all these months and helping me along the way. Especially to Lu for the constant beta.
For those interested, there is a short companion piece to this from Mycroft's PoV in the second chapter, that one of my dearest friends is working on. Once she is finished (which might take some time as she's pretty busy right now), I will PM it to whomever wants to be informed of it. So, if you would like that once it's posted and don't feel like sifting through the new updates, you can send me a PM with how you would like to be contacted. Other than that, I hope you enjoy the last of this, and once again, thanks so much for your support.
John hadn't been wrong.
A restless, eye-opening night's sleep has brought Sherlock to one very important conclusion: There is a murderer on the loose and it's Sherlock's job to find him. How could he let his emotions get in the way as they had? It's the very thing he normally condemns.
Normally. But why should this be any different? This shouldn't be any different.
"New theories, then?"
Sherlock flips through the folder that Lestrade had conveniently "forgotten" last night on his way out (Sherlock's no fool) and silently scolds himself for even dreaming of the possibility that John had been murdered by this particular serial killer. He shuts the folder and throws it down, reaching for his mobile on the kitchen table.
Need to see a picture of the wound from autopsy. Send a text. SH.
"You know, you could always leave this to the authorities."
Sherlock snorts, glancing at his phone when it vibrates in his hand.
I'm not going to try and change your mind, but are you sure you're up to it? Don't lie to me, Holmes.
Eyes rolling, Sherlock shakes his head. "I would if I thought they were competent enough, John."
Wound, Lestrade. I don't have time for this. SH.
John shrugs, flopping into the armchair that Sherlock will think of as John's for the rest of his life.
"So," John begins, eyes still sad, "you're on board with the mugging?"
Sherlock stares at the picture of the wounded torso on his mobile phone, pushing down the nausea with a deep intake of breath. "I gave you my card that morning, for the shopping. You asked to borrow some money until pay day, so you had money in your wallet which was missing. Explains the mugging, I can't believe how stupid I've been. This—" he shows John the picture of the wound after his phone vibrates in his hand once again, "is the work of an amateur. It's sloppy."
John grins. "Welcome back, Sherlock Holmes."
Sherlock returns John's smile while reaching for his coat. "Come on, we have a few things to do."
"You don't think it might be a little strange, talking to someone only you can see?" John asks, straightening his bloodied jumper.
"Not really," Sherlock answers, ignoring the blood as he closes and locks the door behind them. "I used to do it all the time before you came along. Besides, people tend to stay out of your way when they think you're insane."
It's been three days since Sherlock's mind has cleared. Information that hardly made sense before had been reexamined under a more careful, calculated eye and, with much encouragement from his loyal flatmate, Sherlock had found the man they had been searching for. The thief. The killer.
John Watson's murderer.
Sherlock stares intensely at a dark-eyed man in one of the interrogation rooms who is fidgeting, nervous, and sweating all over himself. His focus is non-existent as he runs his hand over his forehead, talking in a low voice to no one but himself. The amount of hatred that burns through Sherlock's bones can never be fully described.
"Can I—" he starts, abruptly cut off by Lestrade who just walked into the room.
"No. You know the deal."
Sherlock swallows hard, his mind quickly racing through a thousand different scenarios of how to cause this man the most considerable amount of pain he will have ever felt in his entire life. None of which would compare to...
"Sherlock, are you sure this is him?"
A firm, dead hand rests on Sherlock's shoulder, clearing the doubt and wiping away his distress for the moment.
"His right hand will have a cut on the forefinger," he points out. "Once Donovan comes back with the knife I'm positive you'll find in his closet, he'll confess. Look, Lestrade, if I could just—"
Lestrade pulls him away from the glass and searches his face for something. He's prying. "You can't. You understand this, don't you? Understand it was—"
"An accident, yes. Unintentional. Wrong place, wrong time." Sherlock moves out of Lestrade's grasp, but the Inspector's eyes are still searching. Sherlock suddenly feels vulnerable and Lestrade's face smooths over.
"I'll be here when you're ready, and you'll be welcome back any time," he says. Sherlock's face has betrayed him, so he turns to leave without another word.
He won't be back for a long time.
"That was brilliant, Sherlock. I knew you would find him, you're absolutely brilliant!"
The cab driver glances in his mirror at the backseat, clearly uncomfortable with its occupant(s), but Sherlock doesn't care. He can't help the twitch of his lip at the sound of John's praise, or the short chuckle at the adoring look upon his face. John—cheerful, encouraging John—at his side. Smiling. Breathing. Though John's voice begins to sound a bit distant.
As Baker street draws nearer, Sherlock's throat feels thicker and John's face, no longer beaming, becomes more and more solemn. The flat will be empty, a realization Sherlock had chosen not to face until now.
Once out of the cab and up the stairs, Sherlock's palms begin to sweat. The air feels hot, his vision hazy and his mouth so dry that he's practically panting outside the door to his and John's flat. His, and John's.
Hesitant, he stops with his hand on the doorknob and whirls around.
But John isn't there this time. John, murdered John, isn't there. John was taken from him.
Light-headed, Sherlock isn't quite sure how he makes it inside and over to the sofa. His fingers lace together at his chin as he stares at the empty armchair that longs for John, so perfect for John, still smelling of John. Eyes closed tightly, he imagines his dearest friend smiling. He longs to hear the sound of his voice and opens his eyes, emptiness still greeting him.
John was murdered.
Sherlock's chest begins to hurt so badly that he's sure it's a heart attack. He tries to push it away, but his body will have none of it.
John Watson, his John Watson, murdered.
"Oh, God," Sherlock whispers, putting his hands to either sides of his head. He's panicking.
You just solved John's murder.
This time, the voice inside his head is his own.
"Oh my God," he repeats, rocking slightly on the sofa. Still staring at the empty armchair, Sherlock forgets how to breathe. Short bursts of air come in and out of his mouth, tightening his throat and bringing up the urge to vomit.
An hour passes, panic attacks taking over as his body violently protests all movement. He's close to passing out when he pulls his mobile phone from his pocket with an unsteady hand. Fumbling with the keyboard, he makes it quick.
Come get me. SH.
Less than a minute later, he has his response.
I'm already downstairs. MH.
Sherlock waits a few minutes with no intention to move. They have an unspoken agreement, many unspoken agreements, actually, so he waits because he doesn't trust his legs.
The door pushes open slowly with a wretched creaking that feels as though it's boring into Sherlock's head. He clutches it in his hands and watches Mycroft sweep across the room through the cracks in his fingers. He hates when his brother sees him like this.
Reading Sherlock's mind, Mycroft says, in soothing tones, "Don't fret over the state you're in, Sherlock. Let's get up."
"Please, Mycroft," Sherlock hears himself say. Pitiful, and he can't control it.
"What's that, now?" Mycroft asks, pulling Sherlock along gently.
Sherlock stops, grabbing onto his brother's shoulder and holding his gaze. "Fix it," he begs. He begs.
Mycroft looks a bit stunned, but only for a moment, taking Sherlock's arm in his. "We'll sort it out when you've had a proper night's sleep."
They continue to the door, Sherlock giving everything in the flat one last glance. His things and John's things were scattered around, intertwined. They were together. This place will always be his and John's.
Sherlock knows John won't return to him, just as he won't return to Baker Street. Not without John. Because John just is, and always will be.
He has to.