Author's Note:

You know… this fic really should have been finished back in, oh, I'd say June. Sooner than that, even. Instead, these last few chapters have given me nothing but grief. This one, in particular, refused to be finished until one night weeks after it had been started… and it wasn't finished until after midnight. *sigh*

On a brighter note (for me, anyway), this is the last chapter! After this, just the epilogue (which itself is also being a pain), and then I'm ready to write the bonus material! (I'd break out the hats and streamers and all, but I'm a bit too fatigued for that right now.)

As a warning, however: I'm actually going to college this fall, and I'm planning to get an Associates degree in graphic design. This does mean that, yeah, I'll be busy. Maybe, though, the extra activity will encourage my imagination to relax and thereby work better—I really think this whole "going-back-to-school" thing will be good for me. I need something positive in my life right now (reviews are lovely, but Mortality has not been helping me battle my depression for a very long time).

To my reviewers!

Guest: I'm sorry—if you've reviewed before, I'm afraid I can't place you. The site listed you merely as "Guest". =( But thank you very much for the review! Ha-ha, yes, Moran absolutely had that bullet coming. It's one thing about the Canon that's always bothered me: Moriarty died and Moran remained alive in prison. Granted, Moriarty had more blood on his hands, but Moran had to have had a lot, himself, and far more directly than Moriarty. Besides which, I blame the Great Hiatus on Moran. :P No, Moriarty hasn't suffered for his crimes yet, but give it some time—I think the sequel will not be very kind to him. ^_^

j3ntheninja: Thanks very much! Tee-hee, Mycroft. Actually, "Little John" is meant to refer to Mycroft, in this instance, as a subtle reference to the brothers' childhood—maybe a bit too subtle. *blushes* I'm so glad you liked the scene between them—I really love it as one of the few scenes between them that takes place in reality and real-time in the fic. ^_^ And, yes, I really like how Holmes came out in that chapter, his nobility (nice way of putting it, and totally true!) and his courage. Lol, Moran absolutely deserved what he got. No, I don't think it's bad that you're rooting for Mycroft to punch the, ahem, living daylights out of Moriarty—he certainly wants to. Thanks for the suggestion regarding Moran—I'll keep it in mind! =) Anyway, thank you again!

Ennui Enigma: Wow, thanks! I'm so glad you think I still managed a quality chapter last time! =) Oh, I love writing scenes with Mycroft and Sherlock—there's a great dynamic there, and it's one I can never get enough of. Aw, I'm so glad you liked that line, and thank you again for everything! *blushes*

Rachel G: Lol. Enjoy!

Ranger-Nova: Well, from what I've seen of it, the classic (pre-90s) Doctor Who is very fun, and I really like the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee). Mm… I tried both those links and they appear to still be… not fully there. Either that or obsolete… Ah, it's okay, really—just never mind. =) Aw, phooey upon your bandwidth! =( Ooo, yay for being a Mycroft fan! ^_^ I wasn't really a fan of him, myself, until I watched Mark Gatiss's portrayal in Sherlock—and Sherlock fans will certainly see where I'm channeling his performance in this chapter. ;D Lol, high-five on loving that one line! …so much fun to see Sherlock's snarky self making a comeback. xDDD Moran getting shot was the only way the entire affair could have ended without somebody dying (and thus going into massive AU territory)—either Sherlock would have died or Moriarty would have had Moran executed for failing his job again. The only other option was for Moran to be incapacitated—Moriarty wouldn't kill his lieutenant for getting shot, especially when he would probably be well aware that Holmes and Watson are good shots. Ha-ha, well, I had to end the chapter somehow, and that seemed like a really good way to do it, especially since I haven't had many actual cliffhangers in this novel. Thanks so much for the love and support, hon! *hugs*

Belphegor: Thank you very much! I'm really glad to hear that you can enjoy this story despite all the torture… That sounded really weird. O.o Anyhoo… ahhh, another Aragonite fan! High-five! Re Lestrade: Oh, I know—I can't imagine his having any name other than Geoffrey, either! It's just too perfect. I'm thrilled that you like Lestrade and Gregson's antagonistic friendship so much and that you love Sean Youghal being one of the former Irregulars! (You're also one of the very few people to comment on that second bit, so thank you very much!) Yeah, I meant to have a lot more of Bradstreet, and he just kind of faded out of my focus as the story went on. For that matter, Hopkins was supposed to have had a more substantial role. Hopefully, they'll get more screentime in the finished product. I'm so glad you like the characterizations and interactions of the Holmes brothers, and you're right: it's not a relationship explored very much in fanfiction (not on the canonical side of things anyway—Sherlock is another matter entirely). And I'm really so very thrilled that you love what I've done with Holmes and Mary and their relationship! That's one of my favorite things in writing this story. =) Ah, thank you for the French correction! I do have two BFFs who know French very well—I don't ask them for help as often as I should. *blushes* I just might have to take some classes… YES, the titans clash, indeed—that is exactly what I call that scene in my head! =D Thank you again!

MadameGiry25: D'aw, at least you finally made it! =) Lol, I think you have mentioned your love of the Robin Hood references, but I'm glad you're still enjoying them! *grins* It just struck me as something cute the brothers might have done when they were kids. I really love getting to bring Sherlock back now (and is it wrong that I'm hearing the Doctor's Season 4 theme when I think about it?). Ha-ha, Mycroft and Sherlock—I'm so glad you like their scenes together! And my combo!Mycroft thrills you? Squeeee~! I'm glad you thought the transition between the brother's POVs was smooth—that was something that had me concerned. Originally, that conversation went on to its conclusion, and that was actually holding up the rest of the chapter, because I couldn't figure out how to make a viable transition from the conversation to the action following. But as it turns out, the continuation of the conversation didn't fit into this chapter when all was said and done, so it will be returning, edited, to the previous chapter. It'll make an appearance in the coming collection of missing material, don't worry! You think the Moran scene was scary? Really? *tilts head* I thought it was, well, not enough—not at all—but I do have a difficult time writing action-movie-type scenes like this. I just might take you up on that offer—thanks, hon. =) I honestly don't mind any delay in your review—it sure took me long enough to post up these last few chapters! And thank you so much for all the praise and encouragement! *big hug*

2ndbestdetective: Thank you! I'm glad that you think my story is unique! =) Of course, I know that there will always be people who disagree with my rather more emotional portrayal, but, with all due respect, I believe that I am staying true to the Canon in this regard. Sherlock Holmes was quite an emotional man, for all that he professed to the contrary, and he was pretty sentimental, to boot. Mm, I can't wait to get to Reichenbach, and you're right—few people come close to getting it right. I would say that the BBC came the closest to having something truly heart-in-your-throat, even if Sherlock's survival was still a forgone conclusion. Ha-ha, so glad you like Watson's heroic role! Thank you again!

© 2012 by Aleine Skyfire.

All rights reserved.

==Chapter XXVI==

All Those Little Problems

Sherlock Holmes stood in the rain, arms outstretched to embrace the weeping skies. He shut his eyes, tilted his head up, and let the rain wash over his face. He inhaled deeply, breathing the dark, wonderful scent of the earth being scrubbed clean.

He felt alive, alive, alive.

He felt seventeen again, dazzling and invincible, his entire life stretching out before him. He could almost, almost trick himself into believing that Annie and Breandán were out there somewhere, past the trees, and that they would be coming 'round after the rain. He could almost trick himself into believing it.

But wishful thinking, no matter how heartfelt, could not overcome the precise, analytical nature of his mind. Annie was dead, and Breandán, for all he knew, was still in Ireland. Even so… even so, he could picture them running over the grassy rise, hand in hand, Breandán calling out to him in Gaelic and Annie singing "Scarborough Fair".

And he could picture Mother dancing with him in the rain, because Mother was special, so very unlike the insipid women of her status… Mother had given him his zeal for life, his need to reach for the highest heights, never to settle for an ordinary existence.

He opened his eyes, and there she was before him, smiling sadly. Her smiles were never without a hint of sorrow in his dreams. It hurt to see that—it was not unlike seeing John or Mary smiling with sadness in their eyes.

"Go on, Sherlock," Mother said gently. "You have lingered here long enough. The time has come for you to return to living your life."

He blinked rapidly, hoping that the water rolling down his face was rainwater only. "I know," was all he could manage.

She reached for his face and stroked it, brushing away droplets that were now undeniably tears. "You have such a magnificent life, darling."

He exhaled in a hiss, nodding. "I know," he said, more firmly this time. "But I am missing you already."

"You can always find me again with that wonderful imagination of yours." She tilted her head, smiling more fully at him, her grey eyes warm. "You simply do not make a concentrated effort."

He meant to say "I love you, Mother." What he said instead was, "Merci beaucoup, ma mère."

She stroked his cheek again, leant in and kissed his forehead.

He blinked.

She was gone, and he was back in Mycroft's house. Rain and snow pattered gently against the window, and the fire was out, leaving the bedroom a dim blue-grey. He pressed his face into his pillow and silently wept.

The envelope resting unobtrusively on the table was very distinctly French and of the finest quality.

To say that Mycroft was unhappy and Watson concerned at the arrival of this letter from the French ambassador would have been a severe understatement. Mycroft rather resembled a thundercloud, and Sherlock could not suppress a smirk at the sight. "Sherlock," the elder brother said in a tone that managed be stern and longsuffering simultaneously. "Do not even consider it."

Sherlock sighed and shook his head. "Rather late for that, brother mine."

"I forbid you to—"

Sherlock barked a laugh that sounded altogether too harsh and bitter in his own ears. "When was the last time you 'forbade' me to do anything and actually managed it, Mycroft?"

Sometimes, he did well, felt optimistic about his recovery, rattled off plans to Watson during the Doctor's visits. Then the wind would shift directions, and he would feel decidedly claustrophobic, morose, frustrated… and, yes, bitter. He would have asked for his seven-per-cent solution (yes, even from Watson—such was the extent of his depression), but… he knew it would be months before he could so much as look at a syringe without shivering.

"Holmes, please," Watson murmured.

Mycroft's eyes narrowed. "Even for you, it would be remarkably foolhardy to attempt a case whilst recovering from such serious illness and injury, let alone such an assignment from the French government."

The younger Holmes rested his chin on his palm. "I may be safer in France than I am here in London—I cannot remain in this house forever, and even the finest security in the British Empire might falter when the empire's greatest criminal fraternity is at work."

Mycroft opened his mouth, but Sherlock cut him off. "In any case, I've not lived this long by trusting to the tender mercies of any of my foes, least of all Professor James Moriarty. France may not be outside his reach, but his power is invariably weakened once it reaches the Channel."

"That much is true," Watson admitted, running a hand over his face and his returning moustache. The man looked entirely too tired, and Sherlock felt an entirely too familiar ache of guilt in his chest. Watson was wearing thin, and it was on Sherlock's account.

"It is out of the question," Mycroft insisted.

Sherlock glanced at his friend. "Watson?"

The Doctor sighed. "Holmes, I… I am torn. As a medical man, all my instincts are telling me to keep you here under supervision until you are fully recovered. Assassination attempts aside, you have come quite close to dying not once, not twice, but several times." He paused.

"And yet," Sherlock prompted.

"And yet… you would most likely be safer there." Watson smiled ruefully. "London may be your city, my dear fellow, but it was Moriarty's long before you arrived on the stage."

Sherlock chuckled, then laughed outright when he noticed Mycroft's sour expression. "Brava, Watson. My dear Mycroft, you of all people should understand the importance of rising to the occasion when a government calls."

Mycroft took a short but deep breath, and Sherlock knew he was counting to ten in his head. "Sherlock. You are not. Leaving. London. I have had some news of this matter, and, if I understand it aright, it requires more energy than you are yet able to give. If you so wish, I can convey your regrets to the ambassador myself."

His eyes narrowing, Sherlock leant back and pressed his hands together beneath his chin. "It would seem that anything I have to say about the matter is entirely futile," he said acidly, plans already forming in his mind. "Do what you will, Mycroft—you always have. Why should I stop you now?"

Watson winced.

Mycroft's eyes took on that steely, near-frightening look with which Sherlock was quite familiar. "I do this for your own good, mon petit frère." He rose from his seat on his settee. "There is a time for everything, do recall—and now is not yet the time for you to be gallivanting across France." He turned to Watson and said, "Do stop by my study before you leave, Doctor? Perhaps we could trade insights on my brother's obstinacy."

Watson waited, wide-eyed, for Mycroft to shut the sitting room door behind him before he spoke. "Holmes, that was quite out of bounds."

"Watson, I shall thank you not to comment upon my dealings with my brother," Sherlock said in a low tone.

But the doctor was having none of it. "After all he has done for you! And surely his weariness has not escaped your notice—the stress of your plight wore him quite thin. Literally."

Sherlock was not quite angry, but he was indeed more than a tad frustrated. "Of course I can see that!" he snapped. "I am well and truly sorry to have been the cause of so much distress for him, but I shall not be ordered about as if I were a child. You don't know my brother, Watson. He has always been overprotective, and he has never fully understood my constant need for mental stimulation. I. Need. A. Case."

"You've not been coherent for even a fortnight yet!" Watson protested.

"And one more fortnight idled away would drive me mad!" Sherlock shut his eyes then and focused on taking deep breaths, trembling as he felt his heart pound at a dizzying speed. When he opened his eyes again, it was to behold a very concerned friend.

"Holmes, please."

Sherlock shook his head. "Watson, you don't understand."

"Then explain it to me."

Sherlock grimaced, remembered pain twisting his features.

"Holmes, please," Watson said gently. "Tell me."

"Very well." Sherlock took another deep breath. "I once told you that my mind rebels at stagnation. Do you remember that?"

Watson nodded, a sad smile playing about the corners of his lips. "If you'll recall, that conversation appears in The Sign of the Four."

Sherlock felt obligated to make a sour expression, which, in turn, made Watson chuckle. The detective counted it a victory. "That remains true, now more than ever. I… I am afraid, my dear fellow. I have spent a month in a void—a place without light and warmth and time." He turned his gaze to the window, to the rain starting to fall once more, because he could not keep his eyes upon his friend's horrified expression.

He couldn't. He remained just one wrong word away from a deluge of memory, and he could not keep his head above that kind of flood forever.

Determined to have this out, he finally murmured, "I was going mad." He had not yet told anyone just what his time in Moriarty's gaol had done to him, but he felt instinctively that his dearest friend must know. "Truly mad, Watson. I had lost nearly all sense of identity: I could scarcely remember life before that prison, and what I could recall seemed to belong to another man."

He smiled bitterly, feeling the tug of tangible memory and pushing it back. "I was a pet. A plaything. I was their 'Little Detective', but I was not even that. I'd lost all sense of deductive reasoning—my mind was reduced to pure intuition. In a very real sense, my dear Watson, the Sherlock Holmes you know entirely ceased to exist in that dungeon."

"Not entirely," Watson said quietly, unexpectedly. He caught Holmes's inquisitive gaze and nearly smiled. "You could not have come back to us otherwise." He paused. "In essence, you are afraid of mental inactivity because you have already been subjected to it for far too long."

Holmes cocked his head. "Essentially correct, yes."

Watson nodded. "Well, then, when do you leave?"

Holmes blinked, shocked into a one-word question. "What?"

"I know you, Sherlock Holmes—I know you all too well. Once you have your mind set on something, there is no stopping you. I have reservations, certainly, but what can I do? To hem you in would be as dangerous as letting you roam free, perhaps more so."

Holmes arched one very aristocratic eyebrow. "My dear Watson, shall I ever reach your limits?"

Watson arched an eyebrow in response. "I shouldn't think any more than I could reach yours."

Holmes threw his head back and laughed, a real laugh that felt so wonderful to make. "A distinct touch, Watson! Ah, I shall have to take Wiggins into confidence, but I should like to leave New Year's Eve. Even the British Government and the greatest British crime family are not quite as efficient as their wont on holidays."

Watson nodded slowly. "What can I say but: be careful, Holmes. Be extremely careful."

The word "always" was poised on Holmes's tongue, but he stopped himself. The last time he'd promised that, he had been kidnapped less than two days later. Instead, he gave Watson a sad smile. "I shall do my best."

"And how is your younger brother, Mr. Holmes?"

The casual observer could not have deduced any animosity between the two men, much less outright hatred on Mycroft's part. The elder Holmes wanted nothing so much as to wrap his hands around Professor Moriarty's slender neck and strangle the life out of him. Alas that such an action would cause more problems than it could solve.

"He is doing quite well, thank you." It was no more than courtesy, of course, for a man of high social status to inquire into the health of the brother of another man of high social status. In actuality, it was condescension, as Mycroft's only title should have been that of a country squire, and James Moriarty was rather higher in the pecking order as titles went.

And in the subtext, of course, Moriarty must have wanted very badly to know how Sherlock was faring.

Mycroft allowed himself a brotherly frown. "He came down with quite the illness, do you know—so dreadful that, for a time, we actually despaired of his life." That would have been the correct place to pause and allow the listener to make some obligatory denial or claim of concern.

Mycroft did not pause.

"But he has recovered," he continued in a satisfactory tone. "He is quite his old self again, with no long-term damage to his health or his mind."

"I am glad to hear it." That same casual observer would have noted nothing more than solicitousness in the Professor's voice. "It would be a tragedy and a shame to lose one of Britain's finest thinkers."

Mycroft allowed himself a completely shallow smile. "Yes, would it not be? But he is quite safe and sound, and he shall continue to be so, I assure you." He knew that his eyes said what his mouth did not: Stay away from my brother.

Moriarty simply smiled and nodded once. "It would seem that we firstborn never do stop worrying after our younger brothers, do we? A happy New Year to you, Mr. Holmes."

Mycroft nodded back, wishing that he could burn the man up with his gaze. "And to you, Professor Moriarty."

My dear Watson,

I pray that you shall not be angry with me for taking my leave without saying goodbye. I simply could not. I have never enjoyed farewells, and I should have liked this one less than is my wont. Forgive me, Watson.

Do give all my love to Mary, won't you? Of course you know that my warmest regard lies with you.

No, it truly does, Watson—do not frown at the paper that way. Consider me a coward for not having the courage to tell you this in person. But I do remain, my dear fellow, most sincerely yours,

Sherlock Holmes

P.S. If you are looking for a case to write up into another one of your romantic novels, might I suggest the Baskerville Case? It presents some points of interest to the criminologist (to which I hope you shall do justice), and it certainly ought to satisfy the morbid demands of your gullible public. Do try it, there's a good fellow?

My dear Mycroft,

I know that you shall be utterly furious when you receive this letter. Forgive me, brother mine, and understand. Remaining in your house much longer would have killed me as certainly as any assassin could. Perhaps more so. There are, after all, fates worse than death.

But I shall take unprecedented caution, and I have a loyal bodyguard in the form of a certain Baker Street Irregular. I believe the change shall do me good, and I shall try to get some sea air, which is, after all, all the vogue with physicians everywhere.

I shall be in contact with you soon, and until then, I remain your disobedient, horrid petit frère,

Sherlock Edward

During the winter of [1890] and the early spring of 1891, I saw in the papers that he had been engaged by the French government upon a matter of supreme importance, and I received two notes from Holmes, dated from Narbonne and from Nîmes, from which I gathered that his stay in France was likely to be a long one.

—John Watson, "The Final Problem"

Author's Note:

Let it be said that I really like Sherlock's P.S. in his note to Watson—it sounds just like him, a feat I don't often achieve. "Your gullible public" is a nod to The Secret of Sherlock Holmes by Jeremy Paul, originally performed on-stage by the great Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke! And, of course, there's Sherlock's sign-off to poor Mycroft, calling himself Mycroft's disobedient, horrid little brother. =) Ah, Sherlock…

As for the long-awaited conclusion of the scene with Mycroft and Moriarty… the other day, I sat back and looked—really looked—at it. I wish I'd been able to write that second part sooner, because I know there's some extra dialogue that was lost, and I just kick myself when stuff like that happens… But even so, I really like this scene. Poor Mycroft is really trying to get at Moriarty any way he can, and nothing he says can faze the man. And then Moriarty makes a seemingly innocuous comment about brothers, and it's such an "ouch" moment. The Moriarty brothers have a very bad relationship, and of course Mycroft would know that, so of course Moriarty would know that he knows. And Mycroft does not appreciate the implied comparison at all.

Mycroft and Sherlock ended up sounding a lot like their modern counterparts, which isn't entirely a bad thing. Both are under an enormous amount of stress, and they always have had a tendency to snap at each other (at least, going back in time in this 'verse). This time, it results in some more "ouch" moments on either end—I like having poor Watson in the background, because I just see him wincing practically every time one of the brothers opens their mouths.

Hope you liked Holmes finally confiding in Watson like that, because I sure did. And did you notice the transition between names? =) He's definitely back, our Great Detective. (I must admit that the "What?" was a shout-out to something specific, but if you don't get it, I won't explain the joke. *slides down in seat*) And he laughs. Still makes me smile.

My favorite scene, though, was the very beginning: Sherlock's dream. Standing in the rain, able to picture his friends coming… and Cécile Holmes. That was just… so, so special. I really love that one.

Epilogue coming next, along with the missing scenes/bonus material in the form of Deliver Us from Evil: Beyond Mortality! Stay tuned!

Please review!