Dark Night of the Soul
BBC Sherlock. Post Reichenbach Falls.
Don't own them, not making a penny off them.
Maybe a little slashy if you squint really hard!
Feedback always appreciated.
The key in the lock sounded loud, too loud in the silence. Gently he pushed open the door on the dim room. Mrs Hudson, he presumed, had pulled the curtains part way across the windows. Boxes littered the floor, with more resting on the kitchen table.
John swallowed hard, blinking furiously to keep the tears back. He almost turned and ran but at the last second he forced himself to take a deep breath, closing his eyes against the sudden, savage, ice-cold pain of loss in which all his senses were drowning.
After a couple of minutes of deep breathing, as his therapist had taught him, the anxiety attack faded a little, enough to allow him to think again, at any rate.
The room smelt warm and musty as the sun heated the still, dead air releasing hundreds of imprisoned scents from carpets and chair, dust and books, newspapers and Sherlock's dressing gown draped carelessly over the back of the sofa.
Slowly, moving like an old man, he closed the door and crossed the room, pulled back the curtains and opened the window letting in the busy sounds of the street below. For a few minutes he watched people rushing past, getting on with their frenetic lives, unknowing and uncaring of the tomb silent flat above them and the eviscerated husk of a man standing guard over it.
John turned surveying the room, his gaze wandering across half emptied bookshelves looking through the blizzard of dust motes he'd set free, swirling in their own motion, each picking up and reflecting their own tiny particle of light into the gloom laden space. No light reached John though. He existed in the full dark of the soul. He had a job to do, self-imposed but the most important job he had ever undertaken. No light would reach him to illuminate his spirit until it was completed.
Despite Sherlock's last words to him John steadfastly refused to believe he was a fraud and before he thought about shuffling off he meant to ensure that all the tabloid smut heaped on Sherlock's reputation had been removed even if it took him the rest of the life. Carefully he picked up Sherlock's dressing grown and folded it neatly, sitting down on the sofa with the garment on his lap, thinking.
He'd begun his task by talking to Lestrade who hadn't been much help, in public, that is. So Watson had gone to Mycroft. Mycroft believed him, wholeheartedly; he knew his brother, knew he actually was brilliant; knew, without meaning to, that he'd given Moriaty the ammunition to destroy his younger brother; knew how criminally insane James Moriaty had been but he couldn't reveal how he knew and certainly could not make a public statement about his brother.
'Besides,' he'd said to John, speaking gently, 'The Public will just assume I'm trying to save the family name from disgrace, nothing more. My words will have little effect.'
Watson had stomped away from Mycroft conscious of revulsion at the man, and, to a lesser extent, towards himself too because he could see Mycroft's point, all too clearly. And that did nothing to help Sherlock.
Indeed Lestrade had said something similar to him. His tired platitudes along with Sergeant Donovan's smirking, one track replay of, 'I did try to warn you, he was a psycho,' almost earned her a bloodied nose. He was sorely tempted to land one on Greg Lestrade as well, just as a matter of principle, but resisted, manfully. So he was surprised when later on that evening Lestrade tracked him down to his tiny studio apartment where he was staying until he could bear to re-enter 221b. He was carrying a large cardboard box in his hands and an apologetic expression on his face.
'Can I come in?' he asked.
Watson considered his request then slowly stood aside. Lestrade put the box down on the small table which served for both desk and dining.
'Sorry about… earlier.'
John waited, saying nothing.
Lestrade coughed and gestured to the box.
'His next of kin should get these but he said I was to pass them to you.'
Mechanically John took the lid off. Inside were a series of clear plastic bags, each one containing an item of clothing or a piece of property. Even through the plastic John could feel that the shirt was stiff with dried blood across the shoulders and the collar. Deliberately he took out every item and placed them on the table. Shoes, socks, underwear, trousers, shirt, wallet, coins, keys. The sum total of everything he'd been wearing when he'd... Or nearly everything.
'What happened to his coat and scarf?'
'Sorry, they must have been put in another box. I'll bring them to you later.'
Greg's lips moved in a semblance of sympathy as John croaked,
He nodded, looking distinctly uncomfortable before handing him a card and saying,
'Look if you need to talk to me, use the mobile. Easier to be private that way.'
Shuffling a little Greg then bade him goodnight leaving Watson looking at the unwelcome reminders of what he had lost. His hand rested on Sherlock's shirt, absently stroking the fabric through the plastic remembering images of his friend lying still on the pavement, balancing on the parapet, talking to him on his phone.
Phone. Where was his phone? Quickly now he pawed through the bags then pulled out his own mobile and dialled.
'Lestrade, where's Sherlock's phone?'
'What do you mean you didn't think it mattered, Anderson?'
As Anderson ducked his head, Lestrade continued on with the public bollocking.
'At best this is theft, at worst you withheld information from an investigation. Now which is it?'
'I wasn't withholding information, I was simply making sure that we'd extracted all the information before the investigation was closed. I've only just finished.'
'You mean you sat on it for over three weeks?'
'Well, he wasn't going anywhere, was he?'
Lestrade's lips tightened. 'Hand it over, with copies of anything you found on it,' he ordered.
Donovan and Anderson exchanged a look before Anderson retrieved an evidence bag from his desk drawer. The bag held Sherlock's slightly damaged phone.
Lestrade looked the phone over taking silent note of the cracked screen, whilst Anderson printed off the file of information he'd extracted from the undamaged phone memory.
To say Lestrade was surprised at the wad of printed paper Anderson handed to him was a slight understatement.
'This is all from his phone? What was he doing, writing War and Peace?'
'He recorded his last conversation with Brooks on the roof as well as his last phone call to Dr Watson.' Anderson paused then said diffidently, 'Not sure you should give those transcripts to his next of kin.'
'Let me be the judge of that,' Lestrade snapped as he strode away.
Some of the printouts contained details of text messages, received and sent, some of which were addressed to him, these he skipped over. Telephone calls, missed, answered and dialled.
'Donovan!' he bellowed from his desk.
'Get a copy of the list of phone numbers from your boyfriend and start running them,' Lestrade said, not lifting his head from the typescript he was reading. 'Don't contact anyone on that list or tell anyone about the list before you clear it with me first.'
'Of course I wouldn't,' she replied then dropped her eyes and had the grace to flush under Lestrade's steady, knowing regard.
Three hours later it was full dark and a long way past his finishing time when Lestrade recollected himself and thought that maybe Anderson had a point about the transcripts. He'd had a hard time reading it. He wasn't sure how Mycroft would take it but it would cut the heart out of John Watson. Looking over the quiet room he spied Donovan still working too.
'What have you got?' he asked quietly.
She jumped, startled. He didn't apologise.
'I'm about half way through. A couple of them are pay as you go mobiles, so no id.'
'Let me have what you've got so far.'
'Are you going to turn this into a murder investigation, Sir?' she asked as she waited for the list of names to be printed off.
'Murder? He jumped off a roof. Always was a touch unstable.'
Donovan looked at her boss, her mouth hanging open slightly.
Lestrade imperceptibly shook his head then went on in a louder voice, 'Just another suicide, Donovan.' He took the sheaf of paper from her and ambled back to his desk.
After availing himself of the contents of the typescript once again Lestrade knew it certainly should be a murder investigation. Sherlock Holmes was coerced into jumping from the roof in order to protect three people; Mrs Hudson, Dr Watson and himself. The perpetrator, Brooks, Moriaty or whatever his real name, was now deceased and from the sound of the recorded conversation recovered from Holme's phone, by his own hand and in order to force Sherlock to do the same. A macabre suicide pact executed with relish on one side and reluctance on the other.
For now the gunmen had been called off by Holme's selfless act but Lestrade didn't know how long that state of affairs would last if the case were re-opened as a murder investigation. Before that happened he needed to get the other two people on Moriaty's hit list under protection. Just one problem with that scheme though, he didn't know who to trust. Moriaty had been very sure he could have a serving police officer shot so that meant he had contacts, probably ones he'd paid off handsomely, to do the deed and he had no idea who or how many there were. Oddly enough, he didn't think Donovan had anything to do with that. She hadn't liked Holmes but she said exactly what she thought up front. First things first though, he needed to talk to Watson.
The sound of his phone buzzing in his pocket brought Watson out of his introspection. Unknowing he'd been sitting there for hours, not even noticing that the sun had set, and some time ago by the look of the sky.
'It's Lestrade, I'm at your apartment, open the door will you?'
Watson thought the other man sounded rather breathless.
'Yes, yes of course. Just a minute.'
In a daze Watson descended the stairs to open the door, confused when he couldn't see Lestrade.
'Where are you?'
'At the door to your apartment, where are you?'
'Oh, I'm sorry, I'm at Sher… I'm at Baker Street.'
'Right, stay there. I'm coming to you. And John…'
'Don't open the door to anyone apart from me. Is Mrs Hudson with you?'
'No. I've not seen her. I don't know where she is.'
'OK, just stay there.'
Incongruously Watson was still holding onto the neatly folded dressing gown as he made his way back up to 221b and it hadn't even occurred to him to ask Lestrade why all the mystery.
To pass the time he rearranged the boxes into neater piles which made it easier to move about the lounge. Then he did the same to the ones in the kitchen, finally he moved onto what had been Sherlock's bedroom. Here the bed had been stripped but all his clothes were still hanging in the wardrobe, as though he would walk through the door any second. He hung the dressing gown behind the door but the room just did not look right. He knew it was stupid as he was doing it, but he couldn't leave the bed like that. He'd just finished making it up to army neatness when Lestrade telephoned him again.
Watson's hands were shaking and his vision blurred with unwelcome tears when he'd finished reading the transcript. A glass, a good third full of amber liquid, appeared before him. He drained it and surreptitiously wiped his eyes as Lestrade turned away to refill the glass.
'We go public with this,' John said decisively, waving the sheets of paper for emphasis. 'It's exactly what I've been looking for.' John didn't add it was almost as if Sherlock was reaching out to help himself from beyond the grave.
'Not just yet. First of all I need to make sure you and Mrs Hudson have protection.'
'Why? Moriaty is dead. Sherlock… Sherlock died to keep us safe.'
'You think a slippery bastard like Moriaty is going to play by the rules? I need to have the investigation converted to a murder enquiry. As soon as I do that, if he's left instructions in the event of that happening, you become a target again. We need to get you somewhere safe beforehand.'
'You're on the list as well. How do you know someone within the force won't be waiting for you?'
'I don't. I don't really know if anything will happen, I'd just prefer, under the circumstances, not to take chances.'
Watson and Lestrade remained silent for a few minutes, each trying to find a way through the conundrum.
'I wonder,' Watson whispered. 'Can you delay things for a couple of days?' he asked.
Lestrade nodded. 'What are you thinking?'
'Mycroft. He's got more contacts than either of us.'
'You think he could find out all Moriaty's contacts?'
'It's worth a try.'
After Lestrade had left, John made arrangements to meet Mycroft later on that same night. Then he went to his old bedroom. Everything was just as he'd left it. He took his gun from his locked bedside drawer. He knew he shouldn't have left it there, but at the time he hadn't been thinking very clearly. In the kitchen he retrieved the materials he needed from a box under the sink and set about field stripping the weapon and cleaning it well, lastly he checked the clip was full and then filled a second clip. Finally satisfied he locked everything away again before setting off to see Mycroft. He could actually see some light at the end of this dark, lonely tunnel he'd been sleep walking through.
'What do you want from me John?'
In answer John sat opposite the other man and gave him the relevant pages to read. Mycroft read them through three times in total.
'Where did this come from?' he finally asked, his eyes glittering more than usual under lights of the club.
Was the ice man was thawing a little? John wondered as he said, 'Sherlock's phone. He recorded the whole conversation he had with Moriaty before he...you know.'
Mycroft was silent for a time. John lowered his gaze from the other man, willingly giving him as much space as possible to process this new information. When he finally lifted his eyes it was to find Mycroft regarding him intently.
'Sherlock thought a great deal of you, John.'
Watson frowned slightly. 'It was mutual.' Then he amended the sentence slightly. 'When I wasn't wanting to punch his lights out or throttle him, that is.'
'We were taught, from an early age, not to care for people, John. Sentiment was for others, not the Holmes boys. It's a lesson we both took to extremely well. Sentiment would make you weak, vulnerable. And love? God forbid you should ever encounter that emotion. That would indeed be the end.'
Watson waited for Mycroft to explain himself. Did he think Sherlock had fallen in love and that had contributed to his death?
Mycroft sighed then became his usual businesslike self. 'I expect you'd like me to find out if all three of you are still on anyone's hit list when this gets into the public domain? I assume that is what is going to happen? Do the police know about this?'
'Yes, yes and yes.'
' Very well. It may take me some days though.'
Taking that for the dismissal it was John stood up and held out his hand for the papers.
'May I hang on to these?' Mycroft asked.
Somehow, even though he didn't want to, John found himself nodding. He turned and was about to leave then turned back to ask,
'You said love.'
'Love? You think Sherlock fell in love with someone, with Moriaty?'
'Dear me, no, the thought never even crossed my mind.'
'Yes, right. Of course.' John was more than ever confused.
Mycroft waited but the exhausted man before him wasn't working out the puzzle.
'I don't imagine my little brother ever felt even a mild infatuation with anyone, male or female, which is all falling in love boils down to, not even with Irene Adler. But this typescript and his subsequent action tells me loud and clear that he knew what it was to love, in a pure and unselfish manner.'
Watson nodded, his lips turning up in a half smile. 'He half killed that CIA agent for hitting Mrs Hudson and he's worked with Greg for a long time.'
'Yes, that's true. I'm sure he did feel a deep friendship for Mrs Hudson and the Inspector. But I wasn't talking about them, I was talking about you.'
Watson's gaze was riveted to his face, tears gathering in his eyes.
'As far as he was able, I think my little brother loved you very dearly, John.'
The tears were flowing unchecked down Watson's thin cheeks now. His mouth moved but he wasn't able to speak, the words too weak to break through the thick wall of emotion. He swallowed hard then took a deep breath quickly wiping the moisture from his face. Still unable to speak he simply turned and marched purposefully from the club.
Mycroft's driver took him back to Baker Street, without Watson having to say a word. There was still no sign of life from Mrs Hudson's flat as he quietly made his way back up to 221b. Once there he poured himself a large drink and sat at the kitchen table. He stared into space for a long time after his drink was finished, then he got up, fetched his gun and gave it another methodical clean. When he needed to use the weapon he didn't want to run the risk of it jamming or failing in any other way. With the new information Greg had brought to him, and the clarity Mycroft had provided this evening he could feel the point coming where he would be using the gun and much, much sooner than he had imagined.
As was usual these days Watson went to bed late but awoke early and then watched the dawn breaking, steel grey and damp, over the London streets. When it was light enough to see he got out of his bed, showered, dressed and was taking an early morning walk by the time five forty-five was showing on St Marylebone Parish church clock. He crossed into Regents Park via York Bridge and continued walking along Inner Circle, eschewing Queen Mary's Gardens in favour of the asphalt, enjoying the cool morning and the relative quiet. A few people were about, mostly the sports minded and get fit brigade, whom he ignored. The suited ones were hurrying to their destinations whilst the others, like himself, who had no particular objective in mind, were content to wander and admire.
He'd past the open air theatre and St John's Lodge and Gardens then continued a little way on Chester Road, having decided to go back to York Gate via one of the park paths. He was on the last part of the path, passing Marylebone Green, when a man, or it could have been a woman - it was difficult to tell due to the number and general shapelessness of the garments the creature wore - lurched to its feet from between the trees ahead of him. John paid it little attention apart from absently cataloguing that, from its stumbling walk, it appeared to be drunk. He walked steadily forwards the exercise lightening his complexion from the pasty grey it had become just recently, due to lack of decent sleep and nutrition, to something approaching human.
With the community wildlife garden on his right, he was in sight of York Gate when he was conscious of a cloud of unpleasant body odour enveloping him then his world turned upside down as he was pushed to the ground and rolled off the path into the trees. After a brief tussle his assailant leapt to their feet and hared off between the trees and was soon lost to sight. John sat on the ground for a few minutes getting his breath back and cursing himself for his lack of attention. In Sherlock's words, he'd seen but hadn't observed. Slowly he got to his feet and brushed himself down, then went back towards the path. A streak of lighter colour on the tree bark to his left caught his eye. Alright, on the way in he had been rather pre-occupied with fighting off his would-be mugger but he hadn't seen that mark and he could smell the slight scent of fresh wood chips in the air, which meant that the gouge in the tree was only a few minutes old; the width of his little finger and right at his eye level with a downward slant. Curiously he traced the mark and could feel the dampness of oozing sap against his skin indicating its freshness. The soldier in John Watson had seen enough bullet grazes not to recognise another one. A high powered rifle and, as he hadn't heard the shot, it had come from some distance. From the angle it had been fired from somewhere high up. Slinking back behind the tree he looked for a likely building and found several with suitable lines of sight lining the edge of the park, including the upper floors of the Royal Academy of Music. Not taking any chances, he wormed his way back through the trees onto Inner Circle then left the park via Clarence Gate and swiftly down Baker Street to 221b. It was only when he was back in the flat that he realised he had actually been mugged, his wallet was missing.
Groaning silently at the administrative pain this was going to cause he started ringing around his credit card companies and his bank to get his cards cancelled. Once that was complete he cursed the thief roundly. Not only for his missing cards and the few pounds in cash he'd had on him but also his favourite picture of himself and Sherlock had been tucked into one of the billfolds. Now that really was irreplaceable. On the plus side though, the smelly thief had inadvertently saved his life. However that did look like either Mycroft or Lestrade had sprung a leak.
'We need to find where Mrs Hudson has got to,' Watson said.
'I'm open to any ideas,' Lestrade hissed at him over his cup of coffee. 'I can't exactly tell every copper in the district to start looking for her without knowing who's the bad apple. What did Mycroft say?'
'He's still looking in it. He doesn't think it's anyone in his department though.'
'He wouldn't. He does know someone tried to take you out this morning, doesn't he?'
'Yes,' John replied, patiently. 'He did also suggest that we shouldn't spend any time together, would make us easy targets.'
'That must be why we're sitting in Bart's canteen having a cup of tea together, then!' Lestrade replied trying for sarcastic but hitting worried instead.
John smiled. 'This is for Molly. It's only fair to let her know before all this hits the papers. She was his friend too.'
That was the first smile which Lestrade had seen on John's face since Sherlock had died and somehow it gave him hope that it just might all work out.
'Hello Inspector,' came the soft tones of Molly Hooper. 'How are you?'
'Fine, fine. And you?'
'I'm OK thanks,' Molly replied, not meeting Lestrade's eyes, instead she was shooting worried looks at Watson. 'Are you still having trouble sleeping, John?' she asked, coming straight to the point.
'She means you look like crap,' Lestrade translated.
Watson pulled a face at Lestrade and shrugged.
'You should go to your GP, take something to break the cycle. How long has it been now, three weeks?' she went on.
'Four weeks and two days,' Watson replied, correcting her. Every painful second deeply engraved on his heart. 'You sound like my therapist,' he added lightly.
Molly smiled politely at him but couldn't hide the worry in her eyes.
'We're here with some good news for a change,' Watson said.
'About Sherlock? Have you s…' she stopped suddenly, the excitement dying from her face at the sight of the two puzzled faces in front of her and then laughed nervously. 'Sorry, ignore me. I don't know what I'm saying. What's the good news?'
John's brows drew together before he hesitatingly told her about the recorded conversation. She was suitably ecstatic about the news, but that didn't soothe Lestrade's detective mind. When she departed to get herself a sandwich and a drink, Lestrade turned to John saying,
'A bit of an odd reaction at first.'
'Maybe she was nervous.'
'Why nervous of us, we don't tear her to shreds in public?'
They were unable to say more as Molly returned and sat down.
'With your news I almost forgot about mine. I started going through the facts in those newspaper articles, especially about Richard Brooks.'
'We did check that out Molly,' Greg interrupted her. 'We even got copies of the dvd and checked that as well. It was Brooks, or Moriaty, or whoever he really is.'
'It is on the new release of the dvd but not on the previous version.'
Lestrade was suddenly very interested.
'Go on,' he said.
'Well then I tracked down his previous agent, not the one listed as his current one. He'd apparently changed agents a couple of months ago and then I got a copy of his old CV from her. The pictures on the old CV and the new one don't match. They look slightly alike, same description, height and build, but it's not him. Look.'
She pulled some folded sheets from her pocket and spread them out on the table between them all. The man in the photograph bore a superficial resemblance to Moriaty but it wasn't the same man.
'This is the man who is in the old dvd,' she said, showing them another set of pages this time of several screen captures. It wasn't Moriaty. 'This Richard Brooks has a six month engagement on a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic. He's been out of the country for almost two months now.'
'Son of a bitch. How did he alter the dvd?' Lestrade asked, more to himself.
Molly answered him though. 'He would have got to the master tape and altered that. It was due for a new copy run, so all new copies show him, not the real actor.'
'Well done Molly, really well done. Don't suppose you want a job as head of forensics, do you?' Lestrade asked.
'Is Mr Anderson leaving?' she asked.
'He certainly could be when I get back to the station,' Lestrade threatened. 'Seriously, that is excellent work, worthy of Sherlock himself.'
Molly flushed but seemed uncomfortable about the compliment.
John nodded his agreement his lips curling into a satisfied grin. It was all coming together wonderfully.
Shortly afterwards Lestrade took his leave, anxious to add these new facts to the case. John sat with Molly until she finished her sandwich then walked with her until he reached the point where they had to part company; he to leave the hospital, she to return to work in the morgue.
The corridors were crowded with staff and quite a few visitors as it was just after the afternoon shift change and the first visiting time of the day was beginning. John turned from shaking hands with Molly and started to walk towards the exit. Ahead of him, through the throng of people, he caught sight of dark curly hair on a tall, slim man. The man was wearing a dark coat with the collar up and as he turned left to get to the car park his pale face showed in profile.
'Sherlock?' John whispered, unable to believe his eyes. Then louder, 'Sherlock!'
He began pushing through the streams of people coming towards him, desperate to get through and nearer to his quarry. Behind him he vaguely heard angry mutters and shouts as he forced his way forwards. Quicker and quicker he walked, paying no heed to the number of times he almost caused an accident until, like the red sea parting before Moses, a direct path opened up in front of him straight to the exit doors. Now, he ran, barrelling through the double doors, up the short flight of stairs ahead of him and out into the car park at the top. For a few seconds he looked about him wildly then he saw the man he had been following not more than twelve feet away, leaning down and unlocking the driver's side door of a purple Audi TT. Covering the distance quickly he jerked the man around, Sherlock's name dying on his lips as he got a good look at him. This man had brown eyes, his hair was flecked with grey and the coat was a different style when seen close to. His face bore no resemblance to Sherlock.
'I'm sorry,' John stammered out. 'I thought you were someone else.'
'No worries,' the man replied with a strong Australian accent, and smiled down at John's confusion. Then his face lost its smile as he asked, 'Are you OK buddy? You don't look so good.'
John couldn't answer but he heard someone else say something then felt himself being guided gently away from his mistaken quarry but he couldn't tell who it was through the roaring in his ears and his vision greying out. He almost fell as his legs gave out. He leaned his hands against the outside wall of the hospital, his head hanging down, his breath coming in great heaving gasps, his whole body shaking. The same person put their arm around him and led him inside.
Some time later he lifted his head from his knees and looked around. He was sitting on a plastic chair, Molly seated beside him. She was rubbing his back with a long soothing motion. It felt like she'd been doing that for quite a while too. His face felt cold where his tears had dried. His head was pounding and his stomach roiled uneasily. They were in a tiny room covered in files and notices, probably one of the ward nurses offices.
'John?' Molly said softly.
It seemed to take forever for his lips to form words.
'I thought it was him. I was so sure it was Sherlock.'
He covered his face with his hands as the roaring in his ears came back accompanied by the return of the whole body shakes. When he'd managed to control his breathing again, Molly pushed a glass of water into his hands.
'Here, take these,' she said, holding out two white capsules.
He shook his head.
'Please, John. I'm begging you, just take them.'
He looked into her eyes, which were frantic with shared pain and distress, and gave in, knocking back the pills with a gulp of water.
'I know I should have asked this before I took them but what were those pills?'
'Just something to even you out a bit. Takes the sharp edges off. Here.' She pressed a box of the same capsules on him. 'It's two…'
Reading the name of the drug, Watson finished her sentence for her, '…twice a day for week.'
She gave him a sad smile. 'Come on, I'll get you home. They'll start to work soon, you might feel a bit sleepy.'
'That's a nice understatement for they'll knock me out for the rest of the day and night,' he said. After a pause he added quietly, 'Thanks Molly.'
She smiled and dropped her eyes then gave a nervous laugh. 'If I let anything happen to you Sherlock will never forgive me.'
He didn't correct her use of the present tense, it sounded rather good to him.
By the time Molly dropped him at Baker Street and helped him inside, the sharp edges were indeed softening. The sight of Mrs Hudson's worried face in the doorway lifted his mood.
'Mrs H, where have you been? We've been so worried about you,' he said, slowly. His tongue and mouth didn't seem to want to co-operate together.
'I went to my sister's for a few days. You don't look very well, John.'
Molly answered her, but he was having trouble following the conversation.
'Lestrade. You've got to contact Lestrade,' he interrupted.
Things got rather blurry after that. He knew he was in his own bed, but he couldn't tell what were dreams and what was real. He was chasing many versions of Sherlock Holmes through Regents Park, along all the different paths and walkways but he could never catch up with any of them. Then he was looking at Sherlock standing in his bedroom with his own gun in his hand. Some wide awake part of John's mind knew that it couldn't really be his dead friend so supplied the information that it must be one of the assassins.
There was no fear in his mind, just a calm acceptance of what was to come. They stared at each other in the low light coming in through the partly open bedroom door. The man wearing Sherlock's face expertly unloaded the gun, even taking out the round up the spout. He also reached into the open bedside drawer and took out the spare clip and the rest of the box of bullets.
'How are you going to kill me with an empty gun?' John slurred, oddly interested in his drug induced calm.
The Sherlock look-a-like put the gun in one pocket of his coat and the bullets and clips in the other.
'Shush,' he said quietly, kneeling at the side of the bed and putting his hand on the side of John's face. 'You're just dreaming.' Then he began to gently stroke his hair.
'S'nice. You even smell like Sherlock,' Watson whispered.
'You smell of gun oil; your wallet, your hands, it's everywhere,' the man said softly. 'You only clean this gun once a month, generally on the 15th. Why the change?'
'Good order. Mustn't jam. Nearly there, just a few more days.' He was silent for a long time, as he fought against his eyes closing so he could keep looking at his friend's face. 'Miss you so much. Will you wait for me, just a few more days?'
Their faces were so close John could see the man swallow convulsively, his chin tremble a little then he nodded, his voice wavering as he whispered, 'I'll come to you. Will you wait until I come to you?'
'Alright,' John sighed. 'Don't be long though.'
'I won't,' the man promised.
Many hours later, when John finally surfaced, he felt terrible. His head was heavy, eyelids felt gritty and he was having trouble remembering anything. There was something he knew he had to remember but he wasn't sure what it was. When he saw Mrs Hudson he thought heknew. He was telling her that he and Lestrade were going to get her somewhere safe until after the press conference when she interrupted him.
'John, it's you who need to go somewhere safe. Mycroft came to see you earlier this morning. Don't you remember?'
Helplessly he shook his head.
'You wouldn't leave then either, you said you were waiting for Sherlock.'
'Did I?' Changing the subject quickly he asked, 'What did Mycroft say?'
'That you were the only target. The Inspector daren't announce the press conference until you're in protective custody, he's on his way over here, now you're awake. We need to get you to safety.'
Shaking his head, then, thinking the better of it, John said, 'Think it's a bit late for that Mrs Hudson. Someone's already taken a potshot at me.'
Mrs Hudson gave a little screech at that news, which didn't help John's head in the slightest.
Lestrade tried every method at his disposal to try and force John into protective custody, even the ultimate in dirty tricks, invoking Sherlock's name, but he refused to budge, even when Mrs Hudson added her entreaties.
'John, it's done and dusted. The case was re-opened as a murder, we have enough evidence to convict Moriaty ten times over, including his own confession of how he smeared Sherlock and we have the confessions, via Mycroft's contacts, that Moriaty is trying to bury you because you worked with Sherlock. Sherlock's name is clear. All we need do is the announcement. To be honest you don't even need to be there.'
'Oh but I do!' John replied, determination in every syllable.
'Yes, you were his partner…'
'Colleague, and it is right you should be there when his name is cleared but I really wish you'd stay in protective custody until we've caught the last one.'
'For the last time Greg, no. I'll stay here. I'll even promise not to leave the building until you come and pick me up tomorrow afternoon for the press conference. After that it won't matter. Alright?'
'It will matter but I don't suppose you'll take any more notice of me then.
'I'm not even sure why Moriaty is bothering to try and kill me. He destroyed the man who mattered, already,' he added bitterly.
'Complete destruction of the partnership is what the psychologists are saying. Someone like Moriaty wouldn't be able to bear the thought of leaving one of you alive.'
John walked Lestrade downstairs as Greg made one last attempt to get him to change his mind but it was a waste of time as John's attention was on a large black car which had just drawn up outside. He put his hand on Lestrade's arm to draw his attention to this fact.
'One of yours?'
Lestrade shook his head.
The driver came forward and opened the back door for Mycroft.
'Ah! Good day gentlemen. So glad I've caught you. We need to talk.'
Without further ado Mycroft ushered all three of them back inside, said a very pointed 'Goodbye' to Mrs Hudson as they passed her door then herded John and Greg up the stairs in front of him. As soon as the door was shut on 221b Mycroft launched into the reason for his visit.
'My people have picked up five men, the sixth has eluded us but we expect to have him by this evening.'
Lestrade opened his mouth to start asking questions but Mycroft cut him short by continuing smoothly on.
'Three of them are serving police officers; PC's West and Burnage and Sergeant Langley.'
'Langley? I went to Hendon with him,' Lestrade said.
'Did you perhaps know about his rather expensive string of mistresses as well?' Mycroft enquired pleasantly. 'Or the large gambling debts of your two PC's?'
Greg shook his head, struck silent.
'The other two generally pose as handymen, small jobs about the house, that sort of thing. They're also very handy with small arms and knives. The sixth member of this exclusive little hit squad is rather more professional. He changes his modus operandi for every contract. Rest assured though, we are closing in on him.' Barely pausing for breath Mycroft continued, 'John, please pack an overnight bag. You're coming with me.'
'What? No, no, I'm not. I'm staying here.'
Mycroft smiled as if John had just recounted a mildly amusing anecdote as he replied, 'That wasn't a request, Dr Watson. Your presence at the press conference, whilst not mandatory will be politically expedient. After that point you will be free to do as you will. Prior to that point I will be responsible for your safety.'
'I'd rather stay here, Mycroft,' he repeated.
Mycroft turned a rather cold expression on him before saying, 'Go to the window John and look across the road.'
A white van was parked with two extremely large individuals standing beside it looking up at the flat. Their folded arms in their vest tops making their biceps bulge. The blonde haired man was perhaps a shade taller than his dark haired companion but John didn't think either of them was below six feet five inches tall.
'Who are they?' Lestrade asked, having followed John.
'Membership salesmen for the local gym?' John said, facetiously.
'You can pack your own bag or Mr Rogers and Mr Webb will be more than happy to come in and assist you. Be sure to pack what you intend to wear tomorrow.'
There was a perfect silence at the end of Mycroft's pronouncement. When John didn't immediately move Mycroft, with his customary deliberation, took a step towards the window.
'Alright! I'll go and pack. Jesus!'
John knew when he was beaten.
Despite their intimidating size both Mr Rogers, the dark haired man, and Mr Webb, the blonde, were unfailingly courteous and polite to John. Before they entered the van, Mr Webb apologised for the less than four star travel arrangements. The back of the van was completely separate from the driving seat, and the back windows had been painted out, so John had no idea where they were going. He spent a less than comfortable hour sitting almost knee to knee with Mr Webb. It was too noisy to talk but Mr Webb had thoughtfully brought along a selection of newspapers, magazines and a thermos of reasonable coffee.
When the van stopped and the engine died Mr Webb produced a blindfold from his pocket.
'Seriously?' John asked.
'I'm afraid so, Sir.'
John closed his eyes and allowed Mr Webb to tie the broad piece of black cloth firmly but gently over his eyes. Then he heard two distinct thumps on the van side, a pause, then four more. He couldn't help tensing up at the noise.
'That's just the signal that all is well and we may debus.'
'Army?' John asked.
'Yes, Sir,' Webb replied. 'They prefer men of our build to stay out of ships, submarines and aircraft.'
Somehow John wasn't surprised. Given their build, high level of fitness and who they worked for he would have been more surprised if they hadn't served in a military capacity.
They were so careful handing him out of the van he didn't trip or stumble once. It was obvious they had done this before.
John heard and felt the change from outdoors to in. The wooden floor under his feet echoed slightly then they went through another door where he was treading on a wooden floor but the echo was less. The wood gave way to thick carpet. Or thick rug. The room felt warmer too. Although it was nominally summer it was quite cool outside.
'There's a chair just behind you, Sir,' Mr Webb said. 'There we are.'
John could feel warmth on his right side and could hear the sigh and crackle of a fire close by. He blinked as Mr Webb removed the blindfold.
He had been seated at the side of an open fire in a leather armchair. A large, thick rug covered a good proportion of the floor leaving a border of highly polished dark floor board around the edge of the room. A large screen modern television stood at the far end of the room. Behind him a set of bay windows, with the curtains closed and backed in blackout material. In the bay itself stood a round dining table of polished wood and four upholstered chairs pushed neatly in. The whole of the wall behind the fireside grouping of two chairs and two sofas was floor to ceiling dark wood book case filled with hard backed books of all kinds. The far end of the book case, nearer to the television was packed with slim cases containing dvd's. A large mirror, almost the whole width of the chimney breast, stood above the mantelpiece. The only other decoration were a couple of landscape prints hanging on the wall. The whole room shouted masculine comfort.
The door through which they'd entered was closed. The only other door was at the end of room.
'Please keep away from the windows, Sir. Your bedroom is through that door at the end where there is an en-suite bathroom as well. Would you like something to eat, Sir? I believe your haven't had a chance to get any breakfast this morning.'
The rest of the day was like a surreal dream. John was basically locked in a very nice prison with two very large guards cum butlers and cooks, both of whom tried to get him to eat at regular intervals. Every time he refused a particularly tempting morsel which had been lovingly prepared by Mr Rogers and presented by Mr Webb both of the big men's faces would fall until out of guilt he tried to force a bite of the food down.
Dinner was as well prepared as the other meals but again he only picked at the food. His appetite having deserted him some weeks previously.
Sighing Mr Rogers cleared the table then asked hopefully, 'Coffee?'
'Yes please!' John said. At least he could always manage a cup of java.
The coffee was delicious, so much so John accepted a second cup which cheered up Mr Rogers.
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough. John took a book from the shelf and pretended to read whilst Mr Webb put the television on low but didn't really watch it as both men were constantly going in and out of the room. John assumed they were checking the rest of the house which was very quiet.
After a while he put down the book and picked up one of the newspapers then swiftly discarded it when he found another rehashed 'Sherlock was a fraud' piece. Thereafter he took the path of least resistance and simply stared at the television until Mr Webb brought in a glass of water accompanied by two of the little white capsules.
'I'll give them a miss tonight. They make me feel terrible in the mornings.'
Mr Webb took the refusal well. 'Fair enough. How about a nightcap instead? We have brandy, wine or a very decent malt I can highly recommend.'
The malt came served on a silver salver with a small jug of highland spring water. John had the feeling that asking for ice would lose him bucketfuls of brownie points.
He sipped his drink slowly noticing that neither Mr Rogers nor Mr Webb took any alcohol. They had kept to water with dinner as well.
'You not having one?' John asked.
'We don't drink on duty,' Mr Rogers informed him quietly as he laid out a small platter of salty snacks to go with the malt.
Watson made a mental note to check his appearance in the mirror. Was he really looking that thin?
The whiskey had rather too much medicinals on the palate for his taste, he really preferred a softer more peaty flavour but he added some of the water and persevered. It reminded him strongly of the flavour of TCP and it was having a similar effect as the one and only time he'd tried gargling with it for a sore throat - it made his tongue feel numb. He was just finishing the last few drops when what was rapidly becoming a familiar buzzing sensation in his head crept up on him. He groaned and laid his head back against the chair.
Mr Webb nodded and made a sympathetic face.
'Sorry about that, Sir but Mr Holmes did insist that you should get some rest this evening. And a whiskey like that can hide any amount of strange tasting medicines. Here, let me help you with that,' he said, taking the glass from John's fingers.
'Would you like to turn in now, Sir?' Mr Rogers asked, smiling.
John nodded so Mr Rogers practically carried him to his room and helped him to sit on the edge of the bed.
'Goodnight Sir,' he called cheerily on his way out.
The world was shifting to pleasantly soft and fuzzy again so John lay back on the bed, his legs dangling over the side the better to enjoy the sensation. If people were going to take to drugging him he decided he was going to enjoy it, whilst it lasted.
As he was lying there he finally remembered some of his dreams from the night before and wondered if he'd be lucky enough to dream of Sherlock again tonight. He smiled at the prospect, closed his eyes and dropped into a deep slumber.
His watch told him it was near dawn the next time he opened his eyes and his bladder was protesting mightily. At some point he'd been efficiently undressed down to his underwear and rolled under the duvet.
He used the facilities then fell back into bed, reflecting that he couldn't remember dreaming of anything at all. The next time he woke it was an advanced hour of the morning. This second waking was also accompanied by a heavy head and a muzzy mind. He wasn't enjoying the after effects of his new medication at all.
After what seemed to take an inordinately long time he was finally showered and dressed then made his way into the other room. Mr Webb, now dressed in an immaculate suit, was sitting at the dining table reading a newspaper.
'Good morning, Sir!'
'Is it?' John replied gracelessly.
'Coffee. And toast, please.'
'Coming right up.'
John seated himself at the table and picked up the first paper from those laid out. After five minutes he realised he'd been staring at the headlines but not taken in a single word.
A peculiar shiver of excitement and apprehension shot through him giving him butterflies in his stomach. This was it. This afternoon Lestrade would announce Sherlock had been murdered, the perpetrator was deceased by his own hand and Sherlock was not a fraud. It had happened. With the help of a lot of people, Sherlock's name would be cleared in the public's mind and his job was done. Just one more day to get through and then he would be free to do what he wanted. The sensation was heady and he felt almost happy.
Mr Rogers entered the room with a tray which held a cafetiere of that delicious coffee, a tall glass of water, a toast rack and small dishes of butter, jam and marmalade. It was rather nice to be looked after like this, John decided. He looked up to say thank you and then noticed that Mr Rogers was also dressed in an impressive suit. Between them they were making John feel quite dowdy.
'What's the occasion?' John asked.
'We will be going with you to the press conference, Sir,' Mr Rogers replied pleasantly.
John put down the slice of toast he had been about to sink his teeth into.
'Mycroft hasn't caught the hitman, has he?'
Rogers pulled a face as he said, 'Unfortunately, no, Sir. Regrettably the gentleman in question has managed to evade Mr Holmes' security detail.'
'Brilliant!' John contemplated the toast spread thickly with marmalade, shrugged and then ate it washing it down with the water, which marginally helped to clear his head.
An hour later John was almost regretting the toast. The butterflies had multiplied alarmingly and waiting around doing nothing wasn't helping. He'd taken to pacing the length of the room to try and burn off some nervous energy, not being allowed outside or even near a window it was the best he could do in the way of exercise.
A stone cold voice at the back of his mind was sneering at him and asking why he was so nervous. Everything was in hand now. To be blunt it didn't matter if he were alive or dead at this point. The conference would go ahead, Sherlock would become a murder victim not a suicide and his fraudulent status would be lifted.
John admitted to himself it wasn't so much the press event which was making him apprehensive it was his intentions for afterwards. To an extent that's why he hadn't been worried about staying at 221b, it would make things easier for him if someone else pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger. However, he'd made his decision, he didn't want to back out of it and was happy about it. Once the public bit was over he'd be totally at peace with it too.
About one o'clock Mr Webb asked if he'd like some lunch. John shook his head. The other two men quite happily tucked into their repast. Despite John refusing food, Mr Rogers had brought in a fresh fruit salad to try and tempt him. Whilst the dish looked very attractive the thought of actually eating any of it made him feel nauseous. He excused himself and went back into his bedroom where he continued to pace, first going one direction around the bed, then the other. He could hear low voiced conversation from the next room but not exactly what they were saying. Another half an hour and he was about ready for screaming. He'd only been in this elegant prison for twenty-four hours and already he would cheerfully kill to get outside and some fresh air. He couldn't even look outside as there were no windows in this room or the en-suite. On the next perambulation he diverted to the bathroom to splash some water on his face. As he was drying off he took a critical look in the mirror. There were dark shadows beneath his cheekbones and around his eyes, and the lines between his nose and mouth were deeper. His face was thinner too. No wonder Rogers was trying to feed him up at every opportunity.
On exiting the bathroom he didn't resume his relentless pacing. Instead he sat on the bed and made an effort to calm down. There was literally no logical reason he could see for being this het up. He lay back and started some deep breathing exercises. Slowly he found his pulse was slowing as he pursued a calming breathing rhythm. Analysing his see sawing emotions it took him a little while to see it, but he wasn't actually feeling apprehensive because he was frightened. He was apprehensive because he was excited. Going a little deeper the reason hit him with the force of a speeding truck – he was excited because he hoped he wouldn't be missing the other half of his soul for much longer. If there was a God and he was a merciful Being, then later on this evening he wouldn't be missing Sherlock, he'd be with him. He smiled into the half light provided by the bedside lamp. That thought soothed and steadied him like the most potent anti-depressants couldn't.
A soft knocking on the bedroom door woke him from the most peaceful natural sleep he'd enjoyed in weeks.
'Sir, we'll be departing in around fifteen minutes,' Mr Rogers said, putting his head around the door.
'Yeah, OK, thanks.'
After performing a final clean and tidy-up John went through to the other room and handed his bag to Mr Webb who first handed John a flack jacket.
'Do you still remember how to put one of these on?'
John demonstrated ably that he did then he was once again blindfolded.
John knew the van had been changed as soon as Mr Webb handed him into the vehicle's interior. It smelt different and felt luxuriously different.
'We're travelling in style today,' Mr Webb remarked.
The car seemed to be quite large and a very smooth ride. Unfortunately because the windows were not blacked out, John was obliged to be in the dark, literally, until they got near to where the conference was taking place. Then Mr Webb undid the strip of cloth saying,
'You know this area quite well.'
John blinked a few times and saw they were passing Regent's Park. He spent the remaining few minutes of the journey looking avidly out of the rain lashed window taking in the sights like the most wide-eyed tourist.
The car swished around the back of the hotel avoiding the sea of journalists who were crowding the entrance and lobby. He was whisked into the hotel fast through the back doors which were guarded by armed police, and escorted along what seemed like miles of subterranean, uncarpeted corridors until eventually he was led past another pair of armed officers and into a reception room which appeared to be full of people. He recognised Lestrade and the Chief Superintendent, who had recovered well from his bloodied nose. Donovan was standing behind Lestrade both of them listening to the blunt Yorkshireman.
'Dr Watson,' he said, with his flat Northern accent. 'Good to see ya again,' which was said without a trace of levity. 'We're due to start at six-thirty. I'll kick things off then introduce Lestrade and you. There'll be a few questions and then that's it. Shouldn't take no more than half an hour. Any questions?'
'Yes, I do have some questions. Why did the police take well over three weeks to decide Sherlock had been murdered?' John asked with a smile. 'Or why didn't they do a better job of uncovering Moriaty's duplicity in the first place?'
The Chief Superintendent's face lowered as he replied gruffly, 'It was an ongoing investigation. We were being thorough.' He then favoured John with a dirty look and stalked away.
'Thanks!' Lestrade said quietly.
Mycroft choose that moment to ghost up beside them holding two glasses of orange juice one of which he presented to John.
'I trust you have been well looked after, John?'
'Fine, thank you,' John replied as he swapped his glass for the one he had just seen Mycroft drink from. 'Nothing personal but I'm sick of people slipping things into my drink.'
'You look more… relaxed, this evening.' Then leaning forward slightly he said for his ears alone, 'Rogers and Webb will be keeping an eye on you until the last man has been apprehended. If they tell you to do something, I suggest you obey with alacrity.'
'Are you expecting something to happen now?'
'Perhaps not precisely this minute, but, yes.'
Mycroft smiled as if he hadn't heard the last comment and moved languidly away. John slid his jacket off and began to pull at the tapes which secured the bullet proof vest only to have his hands pushed away as Mr Webb magically materialised at his side and refastened the tabs.
'Not yet,' he said. 'Keep it on until Mr Holmes says otherwise.'
With still an hour to go and the room filling and getting quite warm John found a quiet corner to sit in and sip at the cool orange juice whilst trying to maintain some of the serenity he'd found back at the safe house.
The press conference went on for quite a bit over half an hour with the members of the press having forgotten, en masse, how a few scant weeks ago they had vilified the man they were now mourning and praising. That and they were getting lots of mileage asking awkward questions about the police investigation. Three quarters of an hour later a young constable passed a note to the Chief Super who immediately interrupted Lestrade answering a question.
'We've had word within the last ten minutes that the final gunman has been apprehended with no further casualties.'
Immediately there was an uproar of shouted questions which no-one could hear to answer. Still standing the Chief waved his hands for silence.
'We have no further information at this time but a statement will be issued tomorrow. Ladies and Gentleman, thank you very much.' Not bothering to disguise his relief the Chief then ushered everyone off the dais and back into the room behind.
The first thing John did was to slide his jacket off and start removing the police issue one underneath. He was a little surprised when Sally Donovan started to help him.
'I just wanted to say I was wrong about Sherlock. I'm sorry.'
John didn't feel equal to the task of trying to keep his temper and make polite small talk with her. He just nodded, left her holding the discarded flack jacket and walked away towards the Gents. Too much orange juice beforehand was making itself felt.
Mycroft, wearing a thoughtful expression, was conversing quietly with Lestrade and the Chief.
'Where did your officers apprehend him?'
'He was going towards the roof opposite. He was dressed in overalls but didn't have id on him, so my lads grabbed him. Found a disassembled sniper rifle in his tool bag. Good catch I'd say. In fact, good result all round,' the Chief said, smiling broadly and exuding bonhomie.
'Yes, very good Chief Superintendent. Please excuse me,' Mycroft said, taking Lestrade by the elbow and bearing him away too.
'Thought this bloke was supposed to be the crème de la crème of hitmen?' Lestrade said.
'He is,' Mycroft replied. 'There is no way Collingham would have made a mistake like getting caught with a sniper's rifle on him, on a building which has no direct line of sight into either of these two rooms.'
'It's not Collingham then. This one's a decoy.'
'I fear you are quite correct and your idiot superior has stood down the operation.'
Lestrade gave Mycroft a questioning look.
'His appointment was political in the main.' Mycroft replied looking around the room then beckoning Rogers across. 'Where's Dr Watson?'
'Headed off to the bathroom, Sir.'
'Find him and stick to him. Whoever the police have in custody it isn't Collingham.'
John nodded at the two police officers still standing guard at the rear door of the hotel then slipped outside. He only had his suit jacket on but after being cooped up for a couple of days walking in the rain felt very refreshing. The hotel was only about a mile and half, two miles tops, as the crow flies, from the flat in Baker Street and he'd had enough of people. He wanted time to himself now, time to reflect and time for quiet.
He circled around the side of the hotel's delivery yard then struck off down a side street. He didn't have the encyclopaedic knowledge of London streets in his head like Sherlock, but he could navigate his way back home. Sliding into his habitual half march he covered the ground easily, crossing major thoroughfares when he had to but keeping mainly to the smaller streets with less traffic. The rain was also keeping people indoors or in taxis and public transport. It was a cool night but the exercise was keeping him from getting too cold. Once or twice he turned around thinking he was being followed but couldn't make out anyone clearly enough to be sure. The last time he told himself not to be so jumpy, they'd caught the last assassin.
The rainwater was building up at the sides of the roads now, the soft summer rain turning into a downpour in the last few minutes. A couple of times he'd narrowly avoided being soaked by cars passing too close to the puddles in the gutters. Turning down Glentworth Street he then turned into Siddons Lane, walking against the traffic flow, which would bring him out near enough the flat in Baker Street. He'd worked out the details on the way back from the press conference; quietly go into 221b. With luck Mrs H would be watching television. Go to his bedroom, retrieve the gun, silencer and a torch then a short walk up to Regents Park. He didn't want Mrs Hudson finding his body; that would be too cruel. Somewhere in the parkland would do. He spared a thought for the poor person who would find him, but it couldn't be helped. He had no intention of going the bridge route. That was a very unpleasant reminder of how Sherlock had been forced off the roof of the hospital.
Up ahead a couple of the street lights were out where Siddons Lane joined Melcombe Street so the road was pretty dark. Behind him he could hear a car coming fast along the Lane. Unconsciously he moved closer to the side of the road before his conscious mind caught up and he realised that the car was coming the wrong way down a one way street. He turned, expecting to see headlights but saw none. The wrong way and without lights.
The car was forty-five feet away when John's fight or flight response kicked in. Somehow he knew the driver's intention was to run him down. He looked to right then left for somewhere to shelter but in the blink of an eye he stopped looking. Why get out of the way? He turned and faced the vehicle head on. It was twenty-five feet away and accelerating when he closed his eyes.
Arms went around his body holding him in a bear hug and drew him to the left of the street. The car sped past just clipping him on his right hip but it was enough to spin then both around and then into a roll where they landed in a very large pool in the gutter, John still wrapped in his White Knight's arms.
Disorientated, dizzy, soaked down to his skin from top to bottom John just lay there, his rescuer lay half over him keeping them both down. At first he didn't feel anything apart from the cold and wet then a ball of fire blossomed over his hip stealing up and down that side of his body and across the bottom of his back. He took in a breath to yell but a hand was across his mouth preventing any sound escaping. Seconds later all he could feel was pain, robbing him of the ability to think, speak or move.
Voices, lights, the sound of a motorbike and another car. For one second, through his wavering hearing, John could have sworn he heard Mycroft but that was impossible, he was safely away grilling his suspect. He kept his eyes closed and gasped around the hand across his mouth, silently berating himself; as suicide attempts went, this was a bloody disaster!
'How badly is he injured? Did the car hit him?'
That was definitely the voice of Mr Webb, John decided.
'It just clipped him, Sor, didn't hit him properly.' The slightly muffled but strong Irish accent proclaimed.
His interfering White Knight?
'I'll get an ambulance,' Webb said over the top of his squawking radio.
'No!' John replied, struggling to sit up. Obligingly the Irish man assisted him.
'John, you need to see a doctor, you might have internal injuries.'
'I am a doctor. No ambulance. I think your partner needs your help more.' The sounds issuing from the radio were definitely requests for assistance.
Webb hesitated until Mycroft's dulcet tones issued forth from the radio.
'Webb? Webb, where are you?'
'I live on the next street, go on.'
'I can give him a hand across the road,' the Irish man said.
'And you are?' Webb asked shining his torch in the other man's face showing John a face muffled to above the nose in a scarf with a woolly hat pulled well down over the head.
'Patrick Neary, I'd be pleased to help yer man here.'
'Thank you Mr Neary. That's very kind of you. You sure you're OK John?'
'I'm sure,' John replied, lying through his teeth.
Webb grasped John's shoulder, donned his crash helmet, righted the bike which was lying on its side, brought it back to life and roared off. In seconds the street was back to dark and the sounds of traffic sighing past on Melcombe Street at the bottom of the Lane.
'Do you think you can stand, Sor?'
'It's John, John Watson.'
'And you're a doctor?'
'Yes, yes I am.'
'Well, do you need a hand there, doctor?'
'Yes Patrick, I think I do.'
The trip back to 221b was both long and arduous. Despite it being summer and the energy he was expending in trying to keep walking, with a lot of help from his new Irish friend, John was getting colder and colder. He'd also resigned himself to the fact he wasn't going to be taking any one way trips to the park tonight. And the least he could do was to make sure Patrick could get dried off and a hot drink inside him plus he couldn't actually walk without assistance.
They had been limping along together for around twenty minutes when John had to take a rest. Patrick leaned him up against the wall of the dry cleaners on the corner then his phone rang. He stepped a pace or two away to take the call and spoke softly, not that John could hear much above the sound of his own laboured breathing.
'Ready for the last lap, John?' he asked jovially when he'd finished his call.
John nodded, tired to death. 'The address is 221b Baker Street, just across the road there.'
He didn't think he'd ever been more pleased to see the door but before they entered he turned to his helper and said,
'If we meet my landlady just say I had a fall and twisted my leg. Don't mention the car. Alright?'
'Whatever you say, John. Is she a bit of dragon then, your landlady?'
'No, the nicest woman ever, but she worries. She's had enough worry in the last few weeks.'
'Umm, my flatmate, friend. He, umm, died, suddenly, just over a month ago. It upset her a lot. Upset us all, actually.'
'Ah! God rest his soul, John.'
'Not sure he believed but I hope he's at peace,' John replied with a small wintry smile.
The noise they made coming in brought Mrs Hudson from her rooms like a rocket.
'Oh my God, John! What happened?'
'He's just had a bit of a fall Mrs, twisted his knee I think,' Patrick interrupted smoothly, his brogue somehow thicker than it had been a moment ago.
'Are you alright? No, of course you're not alright, what am I saying?'
'I'll be OK Mrs Hudson, once I get inside and sat down.'
'Oh, yes, yes of course.'
'Would you have such a thing as a hot water bottle, Mrs Hudson?' Patrick asked. 'It'll help his leg.'
'Yes, I have, I'll bring it up.'
John and Patrick had just got inside the door of the flat when Mrs Hudson was there, holding out two rubber hot water bottles.
'Is there anything else I can do?' she asked.
'Could you bring some towels in here please? We're soaked,' John asked.
She piled the towels up on the kitchen table and after being reassured that John would be alright was finally persuaded to leave so they could get on with getting dried off.
Patrick handed John two large towels and helped him across the room to the sofa then he went back to the kitchen to get himself dry.
Gingerly trying to stand up straight against the pain in his hip, leg and back John turned to get a look at Patrick in the light, ready to thank him. The man had his back turned and was taking off what appeared to be several layers of sodden garments.
'You've been very kind, this evening, Patrick, I can't thank you enough. I don't know what I would have done without your help,' John said, using one of the towels to get the worst of the rain out of his hair.
Patrick didn't answer him. He was busy unwinding the scarf from around his lower face. He'd already taken off his woolly hat.
John felt the blood drain from his face.
Shocked dark blue eyes met the cool, watchful gaze levelled at him. Then slowly shock and delight turned to another emotion as the implications of the last month sank in.
'You bastard! You absolute, unmitigated bastard! You let me think, you... you...' John spluttered to a stop and limped as quickly as he could across the room.
He stopped in front of the silent man staring up at him then, unexpectedly, swung his fist, hard and fast, and connected with the pale face, sending his rescuer across the floor. The movement upset John's delicate sense of balance, his hip letting him down so he fell heavily to his knees. The man on the floor surged forward to support him as John's face screwed up at the sudden shards of agony which shot through the right side of his body.
'I can't believe you did this! Not just to me but to Mrs Hudson, Lestrade, Molly, your own brother!' he continued when he'd caught his breath, following up his words with a punch on the other man's arm.
At the mention of Molly and Mycroft Sherlock's eyes dropped briefly but he still held onto John.
'Of all the mean, selfish, despicable things you've ever done, this takes the biscuit!' he shouted, staring at his recently resurrected best friend from a distance of a few inches; the man he'd desperately wanted to see again for such a long time. And he knew the significance of the lowered eyes.
'They know don't they? Molly and Mycroft know you didn't die? Anyone else? Lestrade and Mrs Hudson? Do they know? Have you all been in on this, watching me fall apart and laughing?'
'No. John. It wasn't like that at all…' Sherlock's face showed his distress at the idea he'd done this deliberately to hurt John.
'You,' he snarled. 'You are… words cannot describe what you and Mycroft are.'
'I didn't mean to…'
'What didn't you mean Sherlock? What did you think was going to happen when I'd seen my best friend jump off a roof then find out he did it to stop me getting shot in the head. Just what didn't you mean?'
'I was protecting you. So was Mycroft, that's why he put his best guard dogs, Rogers and Webb, on you. I…I was trying to help you.'
'You were trying to help me? God help me when you're trying to hurt me then!'
Breathing heavily, John looked into Sherlock's eyes, searching for what, he wasn't too sure. Remorse? Sorrow? Suddenly it was too much for him.
'I tell you what, get out! Just get out of my sight! Go! Go on, I can't bear to look at you!'
John crawled away fighting his way out of the other man's grasp. He couldn't stand up, his leg and his hip wouldn't let him, but he'd be damned before he'd accept his help. He turned awkwardly and hauled himself up onto the sofa, his breath coming in short almost sobbing gasps. He sat down and turned his face away putting his hand across his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at Sherlock. The man who'd caused him more pain than he thought he was capable of bearing.
Sherlock swallowed, shocked at the vehemence of John's reaction to his reappearance. For once in his life he was uncertain what he should do. The oppressive silence of the room was broken only by John's sniffing and elevated breathing. Sherlock asked quietly,
'Do you really want me to leave?'
'No. Of course I bloody don't!' John burst out. 'Jesus Sherlock, I've just spent four weeks and four days missing you so damned much I thought I was dying.' Angrily John wiped at the tears which were running down his face. 'I was only hanging on until I got your name cleared.'
'Good!' Sherlock smiled, breathing easier in relief. He knew where he was now.
'Good?' John turned incredulous eyes on him.
'I thought you were planning something like that, that's why I stole your gun.'
'You did what?'
'I stole your gun the night before last when I spoke to you, asked you to wait for me and you thought you were dreaming.'
John stopped agitatedly rubbing his forehead. 'That really was you?'
Sherlock nodded. 'All I could smell around you was gun oil. I thought at first you were carrying it around for protection but it was always locked in your bedside drawer. The only other reason I could think of for why you were obsessively cleaning it, is because you intend to use it on yourself. That's why I was following you home tonight. I didn't know you'd change your mind and let that car try to kill you.'
John gave a short mirthless laugh. 'Neither did I, until I saw it coming towards me.' He stopped for a moment and thought. 'When did you smell gun oil on me?'
'If I tell you are you going to punch me again?'
'I might do.'
Sherlock prudently took a few steps back before saying,
'I smelt it nearly every time I walked past you in the street. In Regent's Park when I saw the laser sight on you...'
'That was you as well?'
He nodded. 'It was all over your clothes, your hands, your wallet.'
'Yeah, about that...'
'I couldn't let you, John.'
'Why? You did. Or rather didn't. How in God's name did you survive that fall?' he asked. 'You didn't have…' he stopped, swallowed hard and took a shaky breath. 'You didn't have a pulse.' Now his anger was wearing off he was starting to get cold again, this time shivering and feeling sick and faint.
'It's a long story. Come on, take your clothes off and get into bed,' Sherlock ordered, recognising the signs of shock setting in.
John lips quirked up at his directness and said, between chattering teeth, 'What a romantic proposition! You could at least buy me a drink, first.'
'How's the pain? Did you hit your head? Do you really want a drink?' Sherlock said, working quickly to remove extremely wet shoes, socks and jacket. Helping John to stand he said, 'Put your arm around my neck and let's get you into bed and have a look at that hip.'
John laughed and then grimaced when helped to stand. 'It's a good job we're on our own in here. And by the way, give me my wallet back.'
'Where did you get that photo of us?' Sherlock asked, ignoring the wallet request for the time being and helping John into his own bedroom, which was the nearest.
'You went through my wallet?'
'You've been through mine,' Sherlock retorted.
'Only when you said I could use your card, I didn't mug you for it first,' John protested.
Sherlock was surprisingly gentle and careful when helping John off with the remainder of his wet clothes. Then he went upstairs and fetched a warm sweatshirt, sweatpants, socks and all the pillows and the duvet from the bed.
When he returned John was examining the bruising which was developing nicely over his hip, leg and back.
'Do you need a hospital?'
John shook his head and carefully moved further back on the bed. 'Probably be peeing blood for a day or three but don't think there's any serious internal damage.'
Sherlock piled the pillows up and put the extra duvet over his shivering friend, settling him as comfortably as possible leaning on his left side.
'I don't sleep on this side,' John groused.
'Well you're going to have to for the next few nights.'
'I can't see you from this angle,' he complained.
'Wait a minute,' Sherlock replied, exiting the bedroom.
Against the background of rain falling on the bedroom window there came the sound of many boxes being opened and discarded and lots of annoyed mutterings. The kettle was filled and switched on, clink of glasses, more muttering, detour to the bathroom, sounds of water going into some kind of vessel. Then the lights went off and Sherlock returned with his bounty.
John half turned as one towel wrapped hot water bottle was pushed against his back and the other against his feet. The sensation of heat stealing into his cold limbs was heavenly. He sighed and closed his eyes briefly.
Sherlock climbed onto the other side of the bed, having put down a bottle and two glasses on the night stand, sat up against the headboard, his bare feet pushed under the covers to keep them warm. He handed John a glass, pouring in a decent measure of their favoured brand of whiskey.
'Thought Greg and me had drunk all this.'
'You had, luckily I managed to find another one in all those boxes out there. Who did the packing?'
'She's just shoved things in with no thought or logic.'
'Strange that, seeing as her tenant had just committed suicide,' John replied, sipping his drink and waiting for the tale to begin.
Sherlock handed John a packet of painkillers.
'You do know you're not supposed to take these things with booze, don't you?' John checked.
'Mmm, yes, I'd heard.'
'Although given the way your brother has been having me drugged over the last few days I'm assuming neither of you are that bothered.'
'It won't kill you.'
John decided to save the arguments for when he felt better, shook out two tablets and knocked them back. Then a thought struck him.
'You are still going to be here when I wake up, aren't you?'
'You're in my bed, where else would I be?' Sherlock answered, apparently oblivious to the other possible connotations of that sentence.
'Now tell me how you survived jumping off that roof.'
Sherlock faced the foot of the bed, his face illuminated strangely by the lamps. He seemed to be listening to the sound of the rain which had become much heavier again then he took a large sip of whiskey and began to speak.
'I'd worked out what Moriaty's end game must be and that he would have devised some method of making me go through with it, so I made my own arrangements. I spoke to Mycroft, then Molly. Molly took about a pint of blood from me and put it in a plastic bag and we attached it to the collar of my shirt.'
'So if anyone tested the blood it would come back as you.'
He nodded. 'Mycroft arranged for my 'body' to be picked up from the emergency unit and whisked away. And I arranged for a truck to bring a safety cushion and people to set it up then remove it quickly. Then I had someone ring you, telling you that Mrs Hudson had been shot. I wanted to keep you out of the way whilst all that was going on.'
'I suppose the kid on the bike was told to knock me down as well?'
'You couldn't come around the side of that building when everything was in place or you'd give the game away. The assassin saw me jump, by the time you got to me, the truck with the air bag covered over and back on board was driving away and all you saw was me on the pavement covered in my own blood.'
'But you didn't have a pulse. I checked.'
'Squash ball jammed under my arm, presses on the artery…'
'…and stops the blood flow. God, you're good!'
Sherlock half smiled as he said, 'You haven't said that for a while.'
There was silence for a few moments before John asked,
'Why didn't you tell me sooner?'
'We needed to catch the contract killers, all of them. I had to trust that Moriaty was telling the truth about calling off the hitmen when they saw me jump. I didn't trust that he'd leave it at that and I was right. He'd left orders that if you began to do anything to which would clear my name, you were to be killed.'
'Just you, because you worked closely with me. Moriaty didn't want to be beaten by me even after death. If you did nothing to recant the fraud charge then you believed I was a fraud and he had beaten me because he'd turned you against me. If you did anything to clear my name, then he was going to have you killed so, again, he'd beaten me by murdering you and completely destroying our partnership.'
'It didn't quite work. There's one more still out there and looking for me.'
Sherlock shook his head and glanced down at his companion. 'Mycroft rang when we were on the way back here. They caught Collingham. He had a little accident in his car, killed outright.'
'Ah! Was that before or after Rogers and Webb caught up with him?' John asked.
'I couldn't possibly comment,' Sherlock half-smiled.
There was silence punctuated by the sounds of the rain and familiar creaks and groans as the heating rattled through its cycle and the old house settled. There was still an awkward side to the quiet but also peace.
John shifted carefully trying to get comfortable. He could feel the painkillers starting to work, blunting the sharper edges of pain, all the different kinds of pain. Sherlock looked down at him wriggling and pulled the duvet further up so it covered his shoulders fully and tucked it in around him. He was being rather sweet. John wondered if it was due to guilt or some other not-quite-fathomable Sherlock emotion.
Sherlock finished his drink and reached for the bottle, which he shook. John refused another with a barely there motion of his head. It was somehow worrying and comforting at the same time just how quickly this most maddening of men had slid back into his life as if he were a part of him; a lynchpin, without which he could no longer function properly. And somehow that revelation didn't surprise John in the slightest.
'Where have you been living?' John asked, around a prodigious yawn.
'A few days at my old home, Mycroft's now. I stayed with Molly for a couple of days whilst I worked out how Moriaty had doctored the dvd's. She drove me mad,' Sherlock complained. 'Always twittering on and she does not understand most of what I say.'
John grinned feeling a little sorry for Molly Hooper, even though she'd lied to him by omission.
Sherlock went quiet for a moment before adding, 'Then she came home and told me what had happened with you at the hospital.'
'That wasn't you I saw then?'
Sherlock shook his head. 'Not that time. In between I stayed with Mycroft in town and kept you under observation.'
'And what did you observe?'
'You slept little, ate very little, walked in the early mornings and late evenings, sometimes very early mornings…'
'You could not have been observing me twenty-four seven, even you need to sleep sometimes.'
'I have my networks. Several were always very close to you at all times. You were never left alone, John.'
'You should have tried it from my side,' he replied quietly.
Sherlock swallowed and tried for a comeback, 'That was a horrible little pokey apartment you rented.'
'It served its purpose,' John whispered, downing the last few drops in his glass.
Sherlock took it from him then took hold of his right hand, paying it careful attention. 'Your hand is bruised.'
'It'll match the rest of me.'
Concentrating his attention on John's blue and swollen hand, Sherlock asked, 'John, will you promise me something?'
'Depends on what it is.'
'Don't ever think about committing suicide again.'
Sherlock waited a long time for an answer; hours. Even when John's breathing evened and deepened, signifying sleep, he still waited, holding John's bruised hand like the most precious and delicate of china ornaments. He fumbled his empty glass back on the nightstand and stayed awake listening to all the small sounds he'd missed hearing for the last four weeks and four days. Five days now. Imperceptibly he slid into sleep, still listening, still waiting, still holding.
The pre-dawn chill brought him awake, his feet were warm but the rest of him which wasn't under the blankets was cold. At some point he'd slid down the bed and turned on his side facing John. He tried to move to get under the covers but he was anchored. John had a fistful of his shirt sleeve in his bruised right hand and was hanging on to it. Sleepily Sherlock tried to disengage his hand but it was stuck fast. His hand felt oddly cool too. He lifted his head and saw John was awake, his eyes and his mouth open.
'Morning,' Sherlock croaked. 'How are you feeling?' He stretched the kinks out his neck then looked up again when he didn't receive an answer. 'John?' John hadn't moved or shown any sign he'd even heard the questions. Impulsively he reached over and touched the other man's cheek. John didn't react at all and his face was cold. Sherlock knelt up now, flicked on the light and took a good look. John was not only cold but pale, a strange waxy pallor, his hand still stuck fast in his shirt sleeve. Panicked Sherlock shook him whilst calling his name over and over again but John didn't move; couldn't move.
Sherlock had seen death before, was seeing it now. John had died at some point during the night. He'd reached out to him for help but he hadn't noticed and his friend had died. The car hitting him must have injured him far worse than either of them had realised.
Awkwardly he cradled him in his arms, tears streaming down his face. This could not be right, this wasn't fair. He'd only just got him back again, and now he'd been taken from him. It was cruel, too cruel. Sherlock called his name again and again, holding him tightly trying to force some of his own body heat into the still, cold form. How could John leave him like this? How? Why? He lifted his face to the heavens and gave one almighty, despairing cry, ripped from the depths of his soul.
Sherlock felt someone shaking him hard, but he pushed them away. Couldn't they see? Didn't they have any respect for his grief? Then a voice said very, very loudly,
'Sherlock! Sherlock, wake up!'
With a sob and gasp Sherlock opened his eyes. He was in his own bed, fully dressed, apart from socks, lying on top of the bedclothes and he was sweating and shaking with fear. A pale arm half covered with a sweatshirt sleeve was grasping his bicep, keeping him anchored.
'What the hell were you dreaming about?' John asked, when Sherlock turned to face him and he saw the tears dripping off his chin.
Sherlock took a deep breath, closed his eyes and wiped his face.
'You alright?' John asked.
He sniffed and nodded. 'Let me have those hot water bottles, I'll refill them,' he said, climbing off the bed.
He emptied both bottles down the sink, filled the kettle then went to the bathroom, locked the door and leaned on the edge of the sink, his arms shaking as he felt sob after sob forcing their way from his throat. He grabbed a towel and buried his face in it so that John wouldn't hear him.
What a bloody god awful dream! Thankfully it had been just a dream, for him. He wasn't, however, totally oblivious to the kick in the pants his subconscious had just delivered. For over four weeks it had been reality for John. And, he, Sherlock, had left him locked in that reality whilst intent on a pissing contest with a dead man. Little wonder John had taken a swing at him last night.
Then the 'What ifs' came crowding at him from all sides; What if John didn't feel able to stay with him any more? What if he couldn't stand the sight of him now, after the hell he'd put the man through? What if he moved out and wouldn't speak to him again? What if…
'Sherlock, I need to use the bathroom.'
Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut before saying, 'Just a moment.'
By the time John had finished the hot water bottles had been refilled and replaced in the bed, fresh coffee was made and waiting for them and Sherlock had changed his clothes for a soft t-shirt and a pair of old sweatpants, grey with age and fraying about the ankles and was sitting up in bed enjoying his coffee. John was rather pleased he hadn't stripped down to his normal sleeping attire!
'Shall I go upstairs?'
'Don't be ridiculous, you can barely hobble. Get in, or do you need some help?'
John waved a hand and carefully situated himself partly on his side, using pillows to prop the most painful parts in place. He reflected a few minutes later that it didn't feel the least bit odd or uncomfortable to be sitting up in bed drinking coffee with his best friend. Maybe all those people had seen something he hadn't.
'When are you going to tell Mrs Hudson?'
'That might be better coming from you at first.'
John nodded. 'Then you can make your grand entrance when I've prepped her. What about Lestrade?'
'Perhaps I should take an ad out?'
'Maybe you should!'
Abruptly with no lead in whatsoever, Sherlock said, 'Forgive me, John.'
He turned his head to look at Sherlock, but the other man wouldn't meet his gaze.
'What were you dreaming about this morning?' John asked. He saw Sherlock swallow hard before answering.
'I dreamt you'd died in the night. And it hurt.' The last part was said with overtones of confusion and pain.
Moving carefully and slowly John put his empty cup down on the nightstand then settled himself on his left side again. Sherlock was still facing the foot of the bed when John picked up his hand, squeezed it for a few seconds and released it. He watched a single tear fall slowly down Sherlock's face but still he didn't look at John.
'Get the lights would you?' John said, closing his eyes.
The room was plunged into early morning grey. He felt Sherlock move down the bed then he went still. Without even thinking about how, he knew Sherlock was looking at him. Opening his eyes he could see Sherlock's head turned his way. When he saw John's eyes open he gave him a tremulous smile which John returned with one of sleepy contentment before closing his eyes again and courting sleep.
A few minutes later, just as he was descending into the arms of Morpheus, John felt a pressure; gentle, warm and soft as swansdown, so it wouldn't aggravate his bruises, as Sherlock, shyly, took his hand and held it.
It was definitely getting lighter.