{I just want to thank you guys for your support and your patience through the last several months, above everything else. This update has taken so long because of a lot of unfortunate personal circumstances, including but not limited to: finishing my undergraduate degree (I wrote 40,673 words for my degree alone between March and May), being accepted at my dream university for my MA and a lot of horrible/unexpected/emotionally exhausting immigration issues... It's been a ridiculous year, to say the absolute least, and I'm so sorry that I had to put VH on the backburner for so long.

I really appreciate everybody's patience, and I will do my best to keep up with constant updates until this beast is done with! I am finally settling down at my university and I should have more time to write and focus. The rest of the fic has been thoroughly planned out - it's just a question of writing and finishing at this point.

I have also decided to slice this chapter in half. I took a small poll on tumblr about it and those who responded seemed in favour of an update now, so here it is. This means that there will be 3 more chapters after this to wrap up the fic, and I am 900+ words into Chapter 12 already.}

John fell asleep on the train the next morning, and it took a few nudges from one of the cleaners to draw him back, blinking and dazed, into the swell of London's morning commute.

It was one of those bright, otherworldly December days, where the wind bit hard into the apples of his cheeks and no matter how often John wet his lips, they still felt bone-dry. The cold didn't bother him, and when he emerged from the clustered heat of the Underground into the sharp, crisp weather, he carried his coat on one arm as he headed back to the bedsit. The drag and pulse of the Tube had served as a welcome comfort, and his room felt as though it was only around the bend.

Every breath he took felt new.

Harry had paid for his tickets, his room at the Swan, and she had pressed a little extra into the flat of his palm just before he left for the station. She told him to use it on food, and to only pay her back when he could. He could call her, if he needed to. He told her to quit smoking, and she gave him a wry, thin, Watson smile in reply.

Every step he took was automatic. He shelled off his coat and shoes as soon as the door clicked shut behind him, and took his second shower of the morning to rid himself of the entire situation.

They had all given their statements, and it was over. He had met Alice for the first time, and she had seemed too tired for finger-pointing. He'd appreciated that. He had caught Violet just as she left the station, and, even though she wasn't nearly as worn down as Alice had been, the resemblance was striking. They mirrored one another in appearance, mannerisms and sheer exhaustion.

"I knew he wouldn't have sent just anybody," she'd told him, one hand fondly clasping over his good shoulder. "Give him my thanks, when you see him next."

He had promised that he would.

The hot water peeled away the grime of yesterday's clothes, of repetitive questions, of cold sweat and phantom grass stains that still seemed to linger on the heels of his palms. He washed his hair, dragged his fingers down the glass, scratched pink lines along his forearms with his blunt fingernails, and let himself think.

Mr. Holmes had been completely right - John already knew what he was going to do. He had made up his mind when Violet had turned to correct him in the hallway. He was sure of it before Mr. Rucastle burst in, before the dog lunged forward and onto his cane, before he pressed the phone to his ear, and he was still sure of it now.

"Having fun with your new toy?" he asked as he perched on the edge of his chair, hands steepled before him. He didn't get an answer, but then again, he hadn't expected one. Sherlock's attention was on the laptop again, and John watched his eyes dart across the screen. Finally, he spoke up.

"Could have done with a warning."

That was an understatement, and he knew that he ought to be angrier, that he ought to lash out and let Sherlock know that he was more than a piece in whatever game he was playing, that he should not be placed into dangerous situations without his complete knowledge and prior consent, but…

He had been placed in that situation, and he had conquered it. He had gone into Silver Beeches blind, and he found his way back to London in one piece, standing taller and stronger than he had done for months. Harry and Alice were back together, Violet was safe, the incident had been filed away.

He was still capable, and that simple, solid comfort was worth more to him than anything in the world. Part of him wondered if Sherlock had always known, or if he had been hedging his bets from the safety of his bed.

He didn't ask. He didn't really want to know. Sherlock had glanced up at him again, and John was almost convinced that he saw his nose wrinkle. Their eyes met, and then he glanced away to his laptop.

Irritation frayed in the pit of his stomach, and he pushed it back as well as he could. With a long, slow sigh, John leaned forward. "Alright," he said, "I'll bite. What's so interesting, then?"

From where he was sitting, he could scarcely see the screen for the glint of the sun across the laptop. Absentmindedly, he leaned back to tug the curtains shut. Sherlock's eyes flickered across the screen and John watched the cursor slide down the page, past reams of notes - '65% ethanol gett molly to checjk compoasites. sister alibi faaked hdressr-'

Slowly, painstakingly, 'much better' was spelled out across the screen, and John stared at it for a full ten seconds before he realised that it was directed at him.

"What is?"

Sherlock glanced back at the curtains over his shoulder, and then back at John.

"Oh, right." He paused, wondering if that was meant to be a 'thank you' in some form or another. "…You're welcome?"

Silence stretched and spread between them, and Sherlock turned his attention back to his laptop and his scattered notes. For a moment, he wondered if they were actually going to have something that resembled a real conversation, but when he checked the screen again, Sherlock was back to rapidly typing up his notes. 'work hstry needed befoire takng further actiobn on csse send asap-'

"On another case already?" he asked dryly, and Sherlock didn't answer. Despite his typing speed, Sherlock's accuracy seemed to range from decent to abysmal, possibly depending on how enthusiastic he felt about the topic at hand. John couldn't help but wonder if Sherlock's eyes could ever hope to keep up with the thoughts that had to be racing through his mind. After a few moments and with a measured flick of his eyes, he scrolled down the page to the bottom of his document.

'only thw simple ones. Yard seemes tohire idiots.'

John's lips quirked up slightly. "Except you, right?"

'havent hired me per se'

He paused for a moment, and he could feel Sherlock's eyes on him as he processed that simple phrase. When he spoke next, his voice was almost painfully dry. "Then how did - why did the police show up last night? You sorted that out, didn't you?"

'my brothr tends to interfere whethr i want hium to or not'

John looked up sharply - incredulously - but Sherlock continued to type.

'i heard tht you performd well enoughg under duress.'

There was a brief pause as Sherlock gave him a once-over and looked back to his laptop again.

'you lft your cane in hampshre'

"I tried to choke a dog with it, actually."

Those eyes rested on him again, and John saw the corner of his lips twitch.

'youre welcome. now twll me everythng'

And he did. From the moment that he had stepped out of the taxi on Dockenfield Street to the empty room at the top of the stairs, from fighting off the dog to the surreal drive back to the Swan Hotel where he met up with Alice and Harry - not a detail was left out, save for his conversation with Mr. Holmes. Sherlock didn't need to know about that.