Okay, I've dragged this angst out for as long as possible. Enjoy and R + R =
The orchestra begin their tuning; their weapons at the ready as the commotion of the late arrival dies down.
The familiar sequences of music transport me back to my time spent with him and I am lost within the days of before; bashful days of finding ourselves and mapping the other. Boundaries prodded, tested and evaluated. He would stand at the window finally at ease enough with my presence to play these pieces softly, the sorrowful notes falling about him like dead leaves. It was all I could do not to console him when he was in such a mood and I wished I had had the courage to do so, knowing now what I do about our hidden desires disguised as secrets. I wonder if he would be sitting with me now if I had taken a step towards him on those dark nights, or indeed not lost my nerve upon the kitchen floor the night after our dinner all those months ago.
The movement ends before I am ready to see it leave and the applause is offensive to my ears. The Londoners re-animate and clamber from their seats, gathering coats and pushing towards the exits all at once. They will return to the outside catching buses, tubes and taxis, a world I feel so far removed from these days.
I sit not wishing to leave just yet, the noises of life ebbing away with the crowds. I had been here countless times before with Sherlock, but I had never really seen it. I would prefer to watch his expressions from the safety of the shadows surrounding our seats; the golden balconies and red velvet seating making beautiful frames for the stories that we were yet to share.
After a few minutes I give in and turn on my phone. It takes not a second for it to ring. "Mycroft. Look, I'm sorry, I just decided to…." He cuts me off.
"Never mind that John, I thought you would wish to know immediately. Around twelve hours ago a body washed up upon the shores of Peru. He's dead John. Moriarty is dead."
I don't feel anything.
"John, do you hear me?"
"Um, yes. Was it…..?"
"Murder? Most likely yes. Where are you John? I'll send a car for you."
"No it's fine, thank you Mycroft. I just need a while."
I turn off the phone and let it drop to the floor. Months ago I would have longed for this charge out of the blue, but now it is a redundant detail with no ripples from its insignificant magnitude. I feel hot all of a sudden; my hands clammy and my head light. Oh God really? A panic attack here of all places.
"Are you alright Sir?"- comes a sweet voice from the orchestral board. When I've shielded my eyes from the stage lights, I see a beautiful redheaded girl packing away her Stradivarius alone on the vastness of the stage. I recognise her as the First Violinist introduced at the beginning.
"Sir, do you need me to call someone for you?"
"No, No. I'll be fine in a minute and then I shall be out of your way."
"Was it bad news?"
"The phone call, did someone give you bad news over the phone?"
"Yes, well no. I do not know anymore."
She smiles at me in concern and continuous to pack away her equipment upon the lonesome stage. When she is done, she looks over to find me still sat as before and comes to join me perching on the edge of the blackness.
"Are you sure you're okay Sir? They will be shutting the doors soon. Do you not have a pretty young lady to take you to dinner?" -she says sweetly. "Or a gentleman"- she adds quickly, looking embarrassed.
"Neither" I say trying to smile. The muscles of my face are not willing to do what I ask of them just yet.
"London can be a lonely place can't it, especially after the holidays and like. Something happened to you didn't it? Oh I am sorry, I've said too much. My mother scolds me for it."
"No, it's okay, you are right Miss. I did, quite a few months ago now lose someone close to me, although it is really time that I start to wake up I think."
"This place." – She gestures to our beautiful surroundings -"It meant something to the person you lost yes?"
"Yes, how could you tell?"
She just offers a smile in return and packs up the last of her things. "You can learn a great deal of someone just by observing them, especially those that stay behind after a performance such as this."
"My friend would have agreed with you"- I say, smiling at the memory for the first time. It takes me by surprise. "Well, seeing as I am now the only customer left this evening I had better be on my way."
"Oh, you are not the only one left. There is another gentleman a few rows back from you. Good night Sir."
I turn in my seat, struggling to see through the rows of poorly lit chairs. Sure enough there is someone left sitting immersed in the shadows a number of rows back, his lurking stance quite disturbing to me. Retrieving my stick, I make my way towards the door. Passing him I see what must have caused the commotion when he had arrived; the light crossing long, bruised trembling fingers smeared with dry blood.
I quicken my walk and hear him stand, stepping out into the isle behind me.
I do not know why I stop.
"John." – A familiar voice pained with anxiety. The stick falling from my hand as I turn to take in a face I almost don't recognise. Although somehow, I had known it.
"I have planned this moment in my brain over and over John, but once I saw you I was unable to say any of it." He takes a step towards me, reaching out with trembling hands. But the world goes black and I hit the floor.
"John? John?" His thin arms help me to sit upon the carpet offering me a drink from a small silver flask. I bat it away.
I grab his face instead, taking in his dishevelled features, his arms resting upon mine. He looks as though he could have been dead; a large scar reaching down from his jet-black hairline littered with healed cuts. Some are not so healed. His clothes are dishevelled and sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He must be so cold. He watches my gaze as they land on the countless needle marks about his forearms and quickly pulls down his sleeves.
"You're…dead."- I say shakily.
"I was only half dead." –he says.
"Did you… kill him?"
"No, but I set up the game for someone else to finish it." He hangs his head in what appears to be shame. "May we go home now John? I am so very, very tired."
I call Mycroft asking him to send that car and request him to be in it, feeling unable to explain the last ten minutes over a phone line. I believe it will be the most emotion anyone will ever see pass between the Holmes brothers; Mycroft's strong hand on the younger's bony shoulder as he steadies him into the car.
Once back at the flat, Sherlock lays down the missing data for his brother with 'Anthea' taking notes upon a computer. The Detectives that had been involved in Sherlock's 'missing person's' case from the safety of London's river banks have also been gathered.
I sit in the corner with a brandy, staring at the floor. I am torn between wanting to hear the details and needing them all to leave so that I may prove to myself that he is physically here. His eyes flit over me, reading my thoughts.
The cold facts spill from his lips with no emotion. He had been 'kept' like an animal: First upon the lavish boat, then moved to a locked room once Moriarty had established his hold. After a few months had passed and Moriarty had been sure that he wouldn't stray, he was put to work; setting up a number of deals and slowly weaving a web of contacts that would eventually enable him to cross Moriarty with some very dangerous men.
The fact that his death had not physically been achieved by Sherlock himself, had apparently allowed him to 'win the game'. I did not voice my opinion that there had been no 'winners', no 'game'. As soon as the body had been reported, he had cashed in his contacts and caught the first flight home with an illegal passport. He almost had been refused the flight due to his physical appearance.
What he did not have to describe however, was how Moriarty had stood over him whilst he had been 'encouraged' to inject his older adversary, adding to the criminal's hold over the Detective. His agitation and clear beginnings of withdrawal were taking much of his energy to hide and I couldn't hold back any further, thinking nothing of our present company as I cross the floor, briefly taking his face in my hands and skimming watering eyes with a thumb under my shirt sleeve. I run fingers over the nasty looking puncture marks; some would have to be dressed and treated for infection. I turn and glance at Mycroft.
"I think that will be enough for now" – I hear the older Holmes say quietly. "We can finish this up tomorrow. I believe my brother needs his rest."
Once they are gone we sit in silence alongside each other upon the floor, our backs to the cold wall. I steal a glance at his shaking hands upon the empty whiskey glass.
"What do you need Sherlock?" – I ask him.
"Nothing" - he says without hesitation. "It is different this time. I will wait it out; the effects will be gone in a few days."
"Mycroft will want to help." – I offer.
"No." A slight jab of anger. "I can do it on my own."
"You shan't be on your own, you know that. Whatever you need."
The silence between us becomes thick and I play with the heavy glass in my own hand.
"It wouldn't have stopped"- he says quietly. "He would have kept on going until he had his wishes John. The most effective way of terminating his reign was to allow him to believe he had my contract. From inside I was able to ensure his end. Eventually. He was every bit the adversary."
"You sound like you admired him." I say angrily, getting to my feet and placing my brandy glass in the sink.
"Of course I did."- He says following.
"He was evil Sherlock."
"That does not stop him from being brilliant."
"He did unimaginable things and you become Milton in all of this? Allow me my anger, please. We believed you to be dead; you were pulled from me by those…..those thugs." I'm losing control.
"Oh, I wasn't forced into going with him John, I chose to go"- he says with ease.
"What?" He'd held on to me, had been forced from me!
"I chose to go." –He turns from the counter, confused at my expression.
A tide of anger within me brakes and I take a swing at him, not knowing myself in those red seconds. He manages to duck, but we tumble to the floor as he tries to still my hands. He is silent as we struggle and eventually rolls on top of me, strength all present compared to my own efforts. Despite all he has been through, he has no difficulty in pinning my hands to the floor, hot breath combining in the small space around us.
"Are you done?" He asks breathlessly, not releasing my hands. The newest of my shoulder wounds twinges and I nod my head in shame, letting it fall back with a hard thump upon the wooden floor. We catch our breath, making no effort to move.
"He could just have easily have killed you. How could you have gambled with your life?"
"You forget John. Not to do so would have been gambling with your life."
Guilt seeps in to the cracks between us, suddenly aware of every single part of my body upon which he leans. He lifts himself upon one elbow, a hand trailing down my cheek, down my neck and resting on the beginning of my shirt buttons, a few open revealing my short breaths.
"May I see it?" – He asks quietly, taking in every part of my face. There is no need for me to answer. It would mean my attention being deviated.
He removes the rest of the buttons and runs his fingers lightly across my chest until he finds the gathered ugly flesh beneath it. New territory to map. He studies it with his fingers, briefly watching my face from above with long eye lashes making it difficult to see his expression as he studies me.
He places his hand back upon the floor beside me and lowers himself down placing light lips over angry flesh. It is the electricity and fire that I had missed unbelievably and never thought I would have again. I shift underneath his angular frame. His kisses become harder and I lift my free hand to his neck, scrunching his shirt in my fists and feeling his chest heave unexpectedly. He begins to tremble and I feel wetness upon my skin. When I try to lift his face to see it, he relinquishes the last of his strength and collapses on to my chest. I have no idea how long we lay there, my arms tight around his thin frame as he composes himself and we catch our breath.
"I'm sorry John. I took the chance that you would survive the bullet and that you would then stand a better chance me not being there. I couldn't contact Mycroft as it risked jeopardising the entire plan. I do know what it has done to you. "
When he's ready, he lifts himself from the floor, pausing slightly as he crouches to let the first wave of withdrawal make its mark. He waves off my concern as I scramble to my feet, placing a hand upon his shoulder to steady him. Before I can ask what he needs, he silences me with that look, stretching out a hand for me to help him to the sofa. I refill a whiskey glass on his request and relight a fire that has been cold for 6 months, settling in beside him with a blanket to hold the shivers at bay. He closes his eyes in exhaustion and brings his feet up, laying his head upon my lap to get warm.
I wake in the early hours of the morning when the cold starts to seep in through the walls; its icy fingers prodding exposed shoulders and toes. He is no longer under the blankets where he had fitfully drifted off and for a horrid moment I believe the whole of yesterday to be a product of the empty whiskey bottle upon the coffee table.
Following the faint sound of running water, I knock slightly upon the bathroom door. "Sherlock, are you alright?" There is no answer immediately so I press my ear up against the door. I hear movement within; muffled breaths and the unmistakable sound of wrenching. "Sherlock, can you answer me please."
"I'm fine John." – says a weak voice from the other side.
"You do not sound fine Sherlock. You have to let me in and help you, you can't go cold on your own. Let me give you something to help, please."
"Leave me here."
"You know I won't. This isn't the worst of it, let me in."
"There is no need, I have your medical bag."
"You what? Open this door or I will break it down and call your brother."
"You call my brother I will leave via this window and you shan't see me for the hours this takes. I believe that is not the desired out come? I don't want you to see this part of me John. It's an ugly, old part of me that I wish you to have no dealings with."
"I'm a Doctor Sherlock"- I plead. "I've seen it. I know."
I slide down the door with a thud, my head hitting the hard wood; the prospect of a new torture hanging over us for the next few days. Moriarty's cold fingers reaching us even from death. Were we ever to be free from him?
"How about a deal?" – I hear from the other side of the door. "I let you in here to put a cannula in my arm for fluids; which I may add I would be able to do myself under normal circumstances, and you promise to let me do this on my own. My way."
I rub my eyes with the palms of my hand. "Deal."
After an agonising minute, the door lock clicks open. Our large bathroom is full of steam, the shower on full power and I make him out curled up on the cold bathroom tiles. He is stripped to the waist having been sat under the water and shakes violently; ragged breaths and pain ripping through his veins like fire.
"I can't…. get warm…. John and ….my hands don't seem to be….working properly"- he stutters quietly.
I step over him and turn off the scolding shower, picking up the contents of my work bag strewn across the floor. Taking my hands underneath his arms, he stifles a groan for his joints as I lift and lean him against the tub, wrapping some of the towels about his shoulders. He watches me as I tie the tourniquet and place the line, having a little trouble in keeping him still, but otherwise with success first time. He smiles weakly as I hang the bag of glucose upon the shower curtain.
"Not my first time." I offer back.
His hand stops mine as it dips back into my bag.
"Just the fluid John. My way remember." He believes it to be his punishment.
The following forty-eight hours somehow manage to surpass the last six months. But as I sit at the kitchen table the next morning, the sun peaks round the thick red curtains and bathes the flat in warm light. He appears at the door, freshly showered and dressed impeccably. He still leans heavily upon its sturdy frame, but has gained his strength back quicker than I could have hoped.
"So, where were we?" he says with a wink, some of his old edge shining through.
I can't help but laugh out loud at his flippancy and grab his scarf from the hook.
"How about a walk and some lunch at the Royale?"