Warning: Spoilers for The Reichenbach Fall.
Disclaimer: Characters, situations, backstory etc all not mine, and this is not written for profit.
Four paths to the afterlife (and one dead end)
Molly had wanted to watch, to make sure that everything went as planned. But when it came to it, stationed at a window overlooking the street, she'd had to turn away when the taxi pulled up with the one, vital member of the audience.
She spent the next three minutes with her eyes screwed shut and shortly-clipped nails digging into her palms.
The un-named, ghostly cast members had all melted away by the time she returned to the mortuary, leaving just the one ghost that was still very much alive. He sat there in silence, still in his coat, hair wetly plastered to his head with borrowed blood that was slowly congealing on his face.
She dug out some scrubs that she thought would fit him, and showed him to the staff toilet where he could clean up. The whole time he was gone she found herself shooting worried glances at the doors to the mortuary, convinced that John Watson would burst through at any moment – demanding to talk to his friend, seeing through the charade, laughing that they'd ever thought he'd buy it.
When he didn't, she moved on to worrying about where else he could be.
Sherlock emerged looking washed-out in the thin cotton scrubs, clutching a pile of bloodstained clothing that Molly took from him to put to good use. She shut him away in an unused side office where he wouldn't be disturbed – he took his phone, and she wondered whether he was going to call his brother. There was only so far she could go in disguising a body; someone would have to formally identify the spare in drawer 6B as Sherlock.
As she methodically dressed the unclaimed body in his clothes, she wondered how they would prevent John from fighting his way in to do it…
Later, at her flat after an awkward silent taxi ride, Sherlock sat on the edge of her bath, bare shoulders covered with an old towel as she tried to apply the dye evenly to his hair with gloved hands. The ammonia got up her nose and made her eyes water, and she pretended that was the only reason his eyes were wet and red as well.
She tidied his newly dishwater blond hair with some scissors, making it shorter at the back and sides. It was strange to see him without the dark curls framing his face; she thought it made him look younger.
There were some clothes left behind from the last time her little brother had visited – jeans that would be far too baggy on his thin frame, but there was a belt that went with them, and an assortment of ratty old t-shirts that Sam didn't wear anymore. Sherlock cast a disinterested gaze over the selection she brought to him, so she picked out the most inoffensive, commenting in as cheery a voice as she could manage that the blue would go well with his new hair colour. He didn't respond, so she left him to get changed.
As she began to pull the door shut behind her, she heard the first thing he'd said to her since the fall, in a small, sad voice that was as un-Sherlock-like as she could ever have imagined coming from him.
"Thank you, Molly."
She left quickly before he heard her start to cry.
It was not difficult to disappear in London, a city of nearly eight million people who all had their own lives and priorities and personal difficulties to contend with, and who typically took little care to observe their surroundings or their neighbours. His network lived amongst them, but apart, unnoticed; a valuable trait he had often taken advantage of in his work. Now he would join them and become unnoticed himself.
He'd borrowed an assortment of clothes from the lost and found box that Molly had unquestioningly fetched for him; the more ill-fitting, stained and worn the better. The worst of the fake blood was washed away with wetted paper towels and he covered his distinctive hair with a moth-eaten furry hat that he pulled down low over his face. It had ear-flaps, he noted with a detached recognition, although it was not similar enough to a deerstalker to risk an association being made.
When it came to leaving there was a moment of awkwardness as he struggled to find something to say to Molly, who had so unexpectedly become his close confidante in this endeavour. She broke the silence herself by wishing him good luck and pulling him into a desperate hug, turning away to hide the tears in her eyes. He made no effort to break away until he was certain her sniffing had stopped.
He had entered St Bart's as Sherlock Holmes on a blood-stained trolley. He left on foot through the doors of the A&E department as one of London's many unnamed and unnoticed rough sleepers.
He spent the first night walking and thinking, avoiding familiar locations, lost in a mental map of facts, figures, theories and possibilities. He might have to lay low until the media storm died down, but once Sherlock Holmes was buried and the newspapers and talking heads shifted their gaze to a new story, there was work to be done. Moriarty's associates had to be painstakingly dismantled and scattered to the winds before it would be safe for his friends to rest their heads without fear of retribution.
The homeless network of London was the perfect surveillance net – better than anything even his brother and all the technology of the security services could arrange – and he would place himself within it to strike when the time was right.
His contacts assisted with the transition. Home was now amongst the catacomb of tunnels on the South Bank. Food, clothing and toiletries was distributed regularly by churches, charities and businesses in different locations across the city – you only had to know where and when to go. He found himself sat in an empty multi-story car park eating day-old Pret A Manger sandwiches while discussing the movements of hired assassins with teenage runaways and an alcoholic Romanian schoolteacher, and he concluded that there was plenty to keep him busy in the afterlife.
But at night, bundled in a second-hand sleeping bag beneath a concrete bridge with the stone steps digging into his shoulders and hips, making sleep an impossible hope to grasp, his thoughts strayed across the city to 221B Baker Street and he wondered whether sleep was resisting John too, and what he might be thinking.
When he did sleep, he dreamt of his old life and of falling.
Less than an hour after an unfortunate incident at St Bartholomew's hospital was first being reported to the police, Mycroft walked into his flat to find his little brother stripped to the waist, leaning over the kitchen sink and hacking at his hair with a pair of kitchen scissors.
He took a seat at the kitchen table, weighed up his options and decided against asking how it all went.
After a few minutes of silence, broken only by vicious snips, Sherlock threw down the scissors, stood upright and brushed the stray clumps of hair away with his fingers. To Mycroft it looked like a haircut that was self-administered over a kitchen sink, but with his brother's cheekbones he suspected it would be interpreted as something fashionable.
"Do you have anything I can wear that isn't a suit or pyjamas?" Sherlock asked flatly.
Mycroft picked up the shopping bag he had brought with him and handed it to his brother, who quickly rifled through the clothes with a grunt of approval. He disappeared to the bathroom to change.
In the silence of the kitchen Mycroft laid his briefcase on the table and opened it, withdrawing several slim folders of information that had been collated that morning by his assistant. He also took his phone from his pocket and rested it next to the files – he expected to be receiving a call quite shortly.
Sherlock reappeared in the kitchen wearing faded jeans and an equally faded t-shirt advertising with manufactured nostalgia a children's television show from the eighties, looking quite unlike his 'public persona' as circulated in the newspapers. Mycroft made a mental note to thank Anthea for her thoughtfulness in tracking down some suitably non-Sherlock clothes.
His brother was holding the cheap prepaid mobile phone that had also been in the bag, shifting through the menus.
"I took the liberty of entering two numbers into the address book," Mycroft explained. "Mine and Ms Hooper's. Though I wouldn't recommend using either of them unless absolutely necessary. You have my secure email address and that is by far the safest way to get in touch, should you need to."
Mycroft's phone chirped to life and began vibrating softly against the desk.
"Excuse me a moment, I suspect this is about you…"
He picked it up and answered, to find Detective Inspector Lestrade as he had predicted. He kept his responses brief, monotone and asked a few factual questions. When the call ended he replaced the phone on the table with the lingering impression that Sherlock would probably be surprised at just how many people were currently grieving for him.
"Well, I have to go and formally identify your body." Mycroft stood and handed his brother the intelligence files. "A parting gift; do make good use of them."
Sherlock opened the files, eyes scanning the pages with a burning focus, and Mycroft suspected he wasn't going to get a reply.
"Well, I'm sure you can let yourself out..."
He collected his briefcase and phone before heading for the door, wondering under what circumstances he would next see his brother. As he reached for the handle there was a voice behind him and he paused.
"Goodbye Mycroft," he turned to see Sherlock still standing in the middle of the kitchen, looking up from the files with an expression that was difficult to decipher and a hesitant catch in his voice. "Do keep an eye on John for me."
"There will be mine and as many others as I can arrange without making the poor man too paranoid," Mycroft replied, earning him a tight smile and a nod in reply. "Goodbye Sherlock, and good luck."
With that he left the flat for an appointment with his brother's corpse at St Bartholomew's mortuary.
In clothes borrowed from the dead (Molly kindly, if unnecessarily, reassuring him that they didn't need them anymore) and an identity borrowed from one of Mycroft's little side-projects, the man who was Sherlock Holmes prepared to leave the country.
With his face all over the newspapers and Moriarty's associates standing by to fan the flames that were consuming his former life and reputation, it would be madness to stay and launch a counter-attack from London. Any suspicion that he was still alive must not be given a shred of evidence on which to grow, and with his live still-breathing self being the most glaring clue it was safer for him and for all those close to him if he went far, far away.
There was also the fact that dearly departed Jim had been the international jet-setting sort of consulting criminal, and so there were trails to follow through the back streets of half a dozen European cities.
With this in mind, Mitchell Bryant, 32, an IT consultant from Bracknell with one ex-wife and no children, likes watching motor sport, dislikes romantic comedies, was about to take an extended holiday to soak up the sights and culture of wherever Moriarty's blood-stained footsteps had fallen.
He was booked onto the 21:35 flight to Geneva and after browsing through the shopping area to supplement the basic supplies he'd packed into a small carry-on bag, he still had an hour until the flight was due to board. A nearby waiting area was two-third empty, so he picked a seat that was the socially-typical distance from the nearest other travellers; balancing between allowing for privacy and not obviously hiding away in a suspicious manner that perversely only drew more attention to oneself.
A discarded day-old newspaper made for a convenient prop, as he flicked his eyes up to the television that was tuned to 24 hour rolling news. The half-hourly bulletin included the flash of a familiar ridiculous hat with his face beneath, and a banner headline of 'FRAUD?' He studiously averted his gaze and made no reaction, as tugging the baseball cap further over his eyes would sound off an air horn-level alarm of furtive behaviour.
The notoriety would fade as the news headlines shifted to the new scandal of the day; by the time he was buried, the funeral might not even merit more than a passing mention on the regional bulletin. He hoped that might make it a little easier on those he had forced into attending and falsely-mourning the persona Moriarty had created.
His thoughts were interrupted as felt his phone vibrating in his pocket, and he frowned as he wondered why either of the two people who knew the number for this disposable pre-paid phone would need to be contacting him so soon. Then again, he reasoned, it was probably just a service update. He lay down the newspaper and dug the phone from his pocket, noting the unfamiliar number and revising his assessment. With the ghost of a smile, he clicked read.
Looks like someone took a tumble – do you need your scraped knee kissed better? PS I know a good restaurant in Salzburg if you're hungry.
Sherlock Holmes was dead, but his body still walked the streets.
The plan had gone without a hitch, but he now found himself directionless – what to do now he was deceased? In the midst of the turmoil and adrenaline of the last day of his life, he hadn't planned this far ahead, and when he tried to force his thoughts into a logical order he found his mind strangely foggy.
There was the taste of copper in his mouth; his fall might have been broken, but he'd still gained a few bumps and bruises along the way, as well as a badly split lip. He looked and felt like a man who had taken a beating.
He was conscious of receiving the odd stare, but with the hood of his borrowed tracksuit pulled up over his face they were the concerned stares of the please-don't-mug-me type, rather than quizzical hey-aren't-you-that-guy. He aimed to keep it that way, affecting a slouch and a scowl as his mind searched for direction.
A small portion of mental fog cleared, and he found to his dawning horror that as night encroached he had somehow made his way back to Baker Street. The streetlamps threw light onto the numbered doors, and 221B was just a few dozen feet away.
He couldn't stay here – this was the last place he should be. If he were spotted…
He walked closer, unconsciously reaching into his pocket for a key that was no longer there (it was in a mortuary drawer, with him…) There was a light in the window of the flat, and he fancied for a second that he could make out the silhouette of a figure sat in one of the armchairs (though that was nonsense given the angles of both himself and the window, and the position of the chairs, it was merely a sentimental illusion…)
He should turn away and walk as far as it was possible to get; lay low and formulate a plan.
The work he had to do was now clear to him. Moriarty might be dead, but he was not a mythical dragon to be slain so easily by chopping off its head. There were others in his organisation and they must be tracked down and squeezed dry and only then would it be safe – only then could he come back here, to this place and tell John the truth.
Until that work was done, no matter the cost to them both, he had to be dead and buried.
John might feel betrayed, he might feel used, he might grieve for his lost friend. But there was a hope that such feelings could be healed, given time.
A bullet to the brain had a much more certain and final outcome.
He reached the door, so familiar, and lifted the weighty metal knocker in his hand...
He lowered it again gently, the only sound being a choked sob.
The ghost that was Sherlock Holmes walked away and told himself it was a price that had to be paid.
I'm sorry, I don't usually do angst (hence why some of it may be overly sappy) so I'm not sure what came over me with a couple of those. It must be the one week Fall-iversary stabbing me in the heart with tiny angst-knives...
You may correctly point out that in a few of these scenarios, Sherlock does rather drastic things to his hair and discards his clothes or leaves the country. AND YET - you cry - he turns up looking and dressed like normal!Sherlock at his own graveside for the end of the Fall. To you I say hush, leave us poor fic-writers some artistic licence, and if you must keep pushing then I'll just come back with a claim that John was hallucinating him being there as his snarky, consulting detective guardian angel. Which is a post-Fall AU I would love to read.