Forward:

Note:

Another fic that's been done and done, but I think this needs to be said: John Watson is not the sort of man to just fall to pieces. It really cheeses me off when people write John as this weepy-eyed Victorian heroine pining away for three years. Have we all forgotten the sheer BAMFery that is Doctor John Watson, professional badass? The man invaded Afghanistan. Come on now.

So, that's why I wrote this. I just thought it needed saying.

Overall, I'm pleased with this. I think I can do better, but overall, I'm pleased with it.

Warnings:

Some swearing (I've bleeped the worst of it for ye sensitive types). Pre-slash John and Sherlock if you squint and turn your head like... a lot.

Disclaimer:

Let's be real now. If anybody owns anybody, it's Grand Moff Steven and the Godtiss that own me.

Onwards then...


The Perils of Insulting Mrs. Watson

or;

The Adventure of the Empty House


John Watson is not impressed. But this cannot be. Sherlock glances down. There is the wig and the puffy jacket, exactly where he discarded them. And he is towering to his full height, no longer hunching to hide it. These are facts. These facts are incompatible with the bland expression on the face of Doctor John Watson.

Mere minutes ago, there had been a knock at the door, and John Watson had opened it to see an old man (white hair, puffy down jacket, approx. 1.75 metres tall) asking to borrow his phone to call a tow truck. John (being John) invited the man into his home, showed him the phone, offered to make tea. John had turned away for a second and turned back to find that the stranger had transformed in a matter of moments from a doddering, wispy-haired man into the looming, dramatic figure of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes, presumed dead for the past three years.

John has just seen the impossible. And it does not impress him.

A moment of silence falls as the two men stared at each other. Sherlock does not know what to make of this calm reception. Is John in shock? Angry? Overwhelmed? Sherlock must test the waters. Gain more data. "Hello John," he says at last, breaking the silence.

"Hello Sherlock." John's face shows amusement. Resignation? No surprise that Sherlock can detect. "Right then." John speaks crisply, going all military. "Tea?"

Sherlock tries (and fails, he knows) to hide his surprise. His shock. He feels himself deflate slightly. He starts to speak, trips over his own words. He coughs and changes tack. "Yes please."

John nods with the same crispness as before and turns towards the kitchen. "PG Tips alright?"

"Fine." Sherlock frowns after the retreating shape. "John?"

His doctor does not slow down, but vanishes around the corner into his kitchen.

"John!" Sherlock starts after John, unable to shake the feeling that he must look like an oversized dog trailing after his much shorter master. He knows that an explanation should be necessary (an apology?) but John gives no indication that he requires one. Perhaps the expectation is an unspoken but still imperative one. "John, I came as soon as I could. I expected to find you in Baker Street, but you'd moved out, so I had to track you down and I couldn't ask Mycroft, so Molly had to do.."

"How is Molly?" John's voice is pleasant. Not a hint of anger or frustration, just genuine curiosity about a mutual friend.

"She's fine." A suspicion grips Sherlock as he comes around the corner into the kitchen. "Did she tell you I was alive?"

John shakes his head and glances over his shoulder at Sherlock as he fills the electric kettle. "Never a word."

"Oh." Again Sherlock feels there is a need for explanations, answers to questions that John has not asked. "Mycroft has been looking after you. I told him to, in the event of my death. That way I could-"

John is chuckling. "Yeah, I know about Mycroft. I've seen his goons about. I may be an idiot, but I'm not blind."

"You're not an idiot!"

John fixes Sherlock with his most condescending look.

"Alright, you're less of an idiot than most."

John nodded in acknowledgment of the quasi-compliment. The water is boiling, so he gets out a teapot (dark blue) and adds two bags of tea (PG Tips from a partially empty box). Sherlock catalogs these facts, finds them unhelpful in solving this small (but very important) mystery. Why is John not upset? (Is John alright?) Further questioning is required.

"John," Sherlock shifts uncomfortably in the doorway, watching as John steadily pours water over the tea bags. His hands are not shaking. "John, you know this isn't a dream, don't you?"

John sets down the kettle and turns to Sherlock with one eyebrow raised and an odd smirk on his thin lips. "Oh is it really? Thank goodness for that."

"Sarcasm?"

"Well spotted." John opens the overhead cabinet, fumbling or mugs. "Really, Sherlock, why would I be dreaming about making you tea?"

John's back is turned, so he cannot see Sherlock's infinitesimal pout. "And you know this isn't a trick?"

"Only you can be this dickish, this brilliant, and this stupid all at the same time." John turns, mugs in hand (his chipped army mug and a larger one with painted tulips). His eyebrows are raised and he has that same bland smile. No amazement. No cries of "fantastic!" "incredible!" Sherlock tries not to let his disappointment show.

"Oh," says Sherlock, drawing himself up to his full height. "Well. You're taking this very well." Surprisingly well. Impossibly well.

"Am I?" John pours the tea. "Bully for me."

Sherlock waves a hand elegantly as he crosses the kitchen and takes the flowery mug. "Yes. I mean, I did fake my own death. I was certainly concerned. I was..." Sherlock stops. Changes tack. "I was very involved in tracking down various criminal elements in Moriarty's web. Keeping my head down. I wasn't following the news at home. Consequently I couldn't completely assure myself that you were... well."

"I was fine, Sherlock." John is smiling, almost fondly, in amusement. "What did you think would happen?"

"I was surprised that you'd moved out of Baker Street. I did make provisions in my will. You could have stayed there indefinitely." Sherlock thinks he's doing a fine job keeping his tone neutral. Not offended. Not childish. For some reason John grins at that.

"You really do have no concept of how we human beings recover from loss, do you?"

Sherlock frowns, but the doctor is stirring milk into his tea and doesn't notice.

"No, Sherlock," John continues, "I wasn't sat in 221B for three years eating jam and haunting the rooftop of St. Bart's. Who the f*** d'you think I am, mate? Not as if you were the first friend I've lost. You pick up the pieces and move on. Course I missed you. Course it was hard. It's not like I was going to just fall to pieces though, was I? That's just not me."

"Of course it isn't." Sherlock is thinking of John at his grave, a mere week after the fall. John crumpling, shoulders turning in, head falling into hands. Remembers John straightening, pulling himself together. Military John. Strong, steady, soldier-on, stiff-upper-lip John Watson. Of course he hadn't fallen to bits. He wouldn't. "Good. Glad to hear it." Sherlock is holding tea. He hasn't drunk any. He's not thirsty.

John sips his, watching Sherlock over the rim. "You on a case then?"

"Case? Yes! The Adventure of the Empty House. There's a title for your blog."

"Books now. I'm a published author. Didn't you hear?"

"Didn't. Congratulations."

"So. Case?"

"Yesss," Sherlock smiles in a way he has been told is "predatory" "creepy" and "gut-wrenchingly terrifying."

John smiles. "Need a hand with it?"

"Naturally. Two hands. Steady ones. With a gun?"

John nods. "That I can help you with."

Sherlock spots an opportunity to impress John and leaps at it. A childish impulse, but one he will persist in indulging. "It may take a few days. Will Mrs. Watson mind?"

John pauses mid sip. Finishes the sip, sets down the mug, not meeting Sherlock's eye. "Excuse me?"

"Well, it's only politeness, isn't it? To tell one's wife when one is planning to run off with a friend for a few days."

"How-"

"Tea pot, John. Tea pot instead of mugs. A single man uses mugs. And he emphatically does not use clean mugs with painted tulips on them."

"Sherlock-"

"Cushions on the couch too. Accent pillows, but they match. Not the d├ęcor of a single man. And this is hardly the sort of house a single man would buy. Two cars in the drive, but one is for sale. Thinking you'll only need one from now on? Unlikely. One of you is leaving. Newspaper ads. Only the single flats for rent are circled. Looks like your handwriting. Not to mention the tan lines and indentation on your left ring finger." Sherlock winces unsympathetically. "So sorry your marriage is in trouble, John." (He doesn't bother to pretend to be actually sorry.) "But nevermind, eh? Perhaps a little excitement will spice things up for you at least. Is she leaving you, or are you leaving her?"

Sherlock feels pain explode on his jaw a second before he realizes that John (Doctor John Watson) just sucker-punched him in the jaw. He has just enough time to register this fact before he crumples to the tiles, unconscious.


John Watson, doctor and soldier (though not always in that order) shakes out his fist, staring down at his friend crumpled on the tile. It is oddly satisfying to see him there like a puppet with the strings cut, and extremely satisfying to know that he can still knock a man out cold, even if his hand hurts like blue bloody blazes after.

But he is still a doctor, so he satisfies himself that Sherlock will be fine before coldly stepping over six feet of consulting detective and going upstairs to bandage his own injury and pack.

Minutes later, he has to step over Sherlock again to fetch his tea from the counter. And no, he does not drag the man out to the couch or arrange him into a more comfortable position, because Sherlock deserves every ache and bruise.


When Sherlock finally does come to, John is sitting on the sofa, finishing his tea. His Browning and an overnight bag are sitting on the coffee table, and Sherlock is looking sufficiently pained and abashed as he leans on the door frame, peering out from the kitchen into the living room and focusing with some difficulty on John. John will keep an eye him, but he's reasonably certain the concussion isn't too severe.

Sherlock clears his throat. Straightens up. "Don't know how I could have missed it," he says with a good attempt at dignity. "Obviously you're moving out. But not leaving anyone. Downsizing. Two cars, one for sale, and it's a woman's car. And cards by the door. Unopened. Not birthday cards then. Condolences."

John's not sure if the last word is a statement, or if Sherlock is in fact offering his condolences. Probably the former.

"Are you alright?" asks Sherlock, with the same genuine concern he'd used after John shot the cabbie killer.

"Yes of course I am," says John, just the way he did then, a little too quickly.

"John." Sherlock clearly doesn't believe a word of it.

"I'm fine Sherlock." John's tone is unmistakably one of "leave it alone" but Sherlock has never been one for leaving things, so he keeps talking.

"Do you need to..." Sherlock looks vaguely ill. "Talk about it?"

John cocks his head slightly, staring Sherlock down with warning eyes. "If by it," his tone is accusatory and he knows it, "you mean her, and by her, you mean my late wife, then no." John flexes his freshly bandaged hand, wincing. "No I've gotten all the therapy I need for the moment, thanks."

Sherlock's mouth twitches like it wants to smile. His pale fingers touch the bruise blossoming on his jaw. "Glad I could help."

"Much appreciated. So. The Adventure of the Empty House? Sounds a bit dull, really."

"Won't be."

"If you say so."

"Could be dangerous."

"You promise?"


Sherlock does not disguise himself as they leave the Watson's suburban townhouse. John does not make a fuss about it, but he knows he won't be coming back, the same way he had known he wouldn't come back to 221B. Had thought he wouldn't come back to 221B. Sherlock is making a fuss about being seen (in the street, at the station, on the train) sweeping about like a modern day grim reaper with all his customary flair for the dramatic. John paces beside him with all his soldierly steadiness, hands grasped behind him, not quite able to keep a contented smile off his face. Things are, of course, different, but for this moment, John is enjoying the pretense that they are not.

Sherlock folds himself into a seat on the train, staring out the window dourly. John sits beside him and checks his watch. An hour and a half since Sherlock's return. They'd be in London by 6, and then Baker Street and then... what?

John's phone buzzes.

"It's Mycroft," Sherlock notes absently.

And of course, it is Mycroft. Tell Sherlock he is expected at our parents' house for dinner next Thursday. He could have at least told me what was going on. MH

John relays the message to Sherlock, who snorts derisively. "Oh please. He's far too old to play coy like that. It's not as if he didn't have his suspicions."

John tilts his head in acknowledgement. "He actually seemed pretty cut up about it Sherlock. He even tried to talk to me. Not that I was having any of it, of course. But we bumped into each other at... well, at your grave. Once or twice. Gets pretty crowded there around the anniversary of your death."

"Really?" Sherlock seems genuinely shocked. Not pleased. More confused.

"Lots of people miss you, Sherlock." John shakes his head and stares down at his phone. "Surprisingly enough."

"I see."

John chuckles. "No you don't."

"No, I don't. Sentiment?"

"Bingo."

"I see." He still doesn't. "Well. Mycroft has had feelers out for years looking for me. You don't look for someone if you know they're dead."

"Maybe he hoped you weren't."

"Mycroft is not you, John. He is me. We don't hope for things." Sherlock steeples his fingers and stares at the back of the seat in front of him as if trying to burn little holes in it.

John nods and texts Mycroft back. He missed you too.

"No I didn't," says Sherlock sharply without moving a millimetre.

"Course you didn't." The rest of the train ride passes in silence. John naps lightly. Sherlock bores into the seat in front of him with his pale eyes.


Back at the flat, Mrs Hudson about dies of shock when Sherlock sweeps in through the front door as if there hadn't been a three year interval (and a funeral) since his last visit. This is irrelevant to Sherlock. He sweeps upstairs, leaving John to calm Mrs. Hudson's distasteful but flattering hysterics. Things in his flat are just as he ordered. Just as he left them. To his delight, they haven't been dusted in what looks like three years. Mycroft did have his uses, then.

Sherlock swept downstairs and kissed Mrs. Hudson on the cheek in a display of inordinate affection. "Mrs. Hudson, you absolute treasure. You haven't even dusted."

She wrinkles her nose unhappily. She seems to have calmed substantially, to Sherlock's relief. Her eyes are still moist, but she's no longer sobbing and clutching. "Your wishes were quite specific. Not that I didn't want to, mind. Very eccentric requests, too. What would you have done with the place if I'd died, eh?"

"You? Die? Never." Sherlock is feeling energized, effusive. He has his flat. He has his (not a) housekeeper. He has (his) doctor. Most importantly, he has a case. "Now. I have a few tasks for you-"

"Sherlock!"

"- if, of course, you feel up to it?" Sherlock acknowledges John's doctorly concerns.

"Well I was about to pop down to Tesco's. We're out of milk."

"John will pick up the milk, won't you John." It isn't really a question.

"I suppose-"

Sherlock barrels on, regardless. "But it'll take him an hour or two. Long before he gets to the Tesco's, an unmarked car will take him to see my brother. But if he tells her to, his assistant will have some milk bought for you while you are visiting with dear Mycroft, and I'd say it's the least he can do." Sherlock rolls his head to look at John.

John rolls his eyes. It's useless to fight it and he knows it, so he grabs his coat with some muttered expletives and heads for the door. "Just... be nice, Sherlock. She's had a bit of a shock."

"And you haven't?'

John favors him again with the bland, unimpressed look. "Getting shot for the first time is a shock. The first human cadaver you dissect is a shock. Seeing an IED blow up the truck ahead of you or having a vest full of explosives strapped to your chest by a madman; that's a shock." John raises an eyebrow. "Discovering that you're too fond of yourself to commit suicide and too damn stubborn to die? Not a huge shock, no." John rolls his eyes and closes the door behind him.

Sherlock smiles, a faint one that tugs the corner of his mouth. He looks like the cat that ate the canary. "Now Mrs. Hudson," he called, turning back to her kitchen. "I'm going to need you to pop over to a furniture store near Madame Tussaud's..."


Mycroft is heavier, slightly balder, and obviously annoyed. John can tell from the way he holds his umbrella stiff at his side. He's not leaning on it, or twirling it. It isn't hanging off his arm or tapping impatiently on the damp concrete, it's just there.

John gets out of the car, but only takes a few paces towards Mycroft, leaving a good few metres of angry empty space between them. "You knew he wasn't dead."

"I suspected."

"And you didn't tell me?"

Mycroft's mouth twists into a sneering sort of smile. "I recall it was you who told me, in less than friendly terms, not to contact you again."

"Damn whatever I said. You've been watching me- I know you have, keeping an eye on me as per instructions- and you never said a bloody word. Who the hell does a thing like that?"

"I do. Sherlock does." Mycroft's statement, in his posh accent, cuts right through John. "I knew that if he was indeed alive, he would have reasons for not communicating the fact to you."

"Damn his reasons! He had reasons for not telling you either!"

Mycroft's mouth twists again, and there's something self-mocking in the smile this time. "Yes, he did. He knew full well that I would figure out he was alive whether he told me or not."

"Then what are you so pissed about?" asks John, crossing his arms over his chest.

Mycroft frowns minutely, as if surprised by John's observational abilities. Even after all his time with Sherlock? Some of it had to rub off. Mycroft purses his lips, considering his words carefully before continuing. "John, do not imagine that I am... sentimental at all, but do try to grasp the basic empathetic concepts here. Imagine, if you will, how you would feel if your brother had faked his own death and then deliberately failed to inform you of the fact whilst fully aware that you would, eventually, work it out for yourself. Imagine how you would feel if that same brother, knowing full well that you knew (or suspected) he was not in fact deceased, chose to seek the far inferior assistance of Molly Hooper, instead of a brother who, in his own words, is the British Government." The self-mocking sneer is back, as if deriding itself for feeling anything at all. "Add to these tidbits one final piece of intelligence: Moriarty had three snipers that day. Did you know that?"

John shook his head. He had no doubt what Mycroft was talking about, but John had been too proud to ask Sherlock about that day.

"Well, there were. Three snipers, ready to shoot if he didn't jump. One for you." John's stomach lurched. Not that it was hugely surprising that he was one of the things Sherlock would kill himself (or at least fake his own death) to protect, but it was... what? Flattering? Well, if flattery could sucker-punch you in the stomach, then yes, it was like flattery. "One for Mrs. Hudson." John feels a sudden surge of fondness for Sherlock. The old softie. Mycroft sighs heavily. "And one for Detective Inspector Lestrade."

"Oh." Silence falls heavily in the abandoned factory. John can hear the faint, incessant clicking of "Anthea's" Blackberry. Lestrade, of all people. John frowns, re-evaluating Sherlock and, to a certain extent, Lestrade. And it changes his view of Mycroft, certainly. He can't deny that.

"Quite," Mycroft says into the silence. He glances down at his feet for a moment, then looks back up to meet John's gaze. He rolls his eyes at the pity on John's face. "Well. While I feel free to ignore them whenever it suits me, I don't have any difficulty seeing what Sherlock's wishes concerning me are."

John does pity Mycroft, but the feeling bears a more than passing similarity to the pity he feels for certain invertebrate life forms. "If you're expecting sympathy..."

"I don't require sympathy. But I would like to have some kind of assurance that you will... look after him. Now that he's back in the firing line as it were."

"Better than you would. Sorry," John shakes his head with a falsely apologetic smile. "Better than you did." John turns on his heel and heads for the car.

"You should know," Mycroft calls after him, "That he did not... adapt well."

At the car, John grips the door, ready to step in. At the last second, he turns, barely able to contain his indignant fury. "Excuse me?"

"To life alone." Mycroft raises his chin and his eyebrow. "Not half so well as you did." His phone buzzes and Mycroft pulls it out of his pocket. He checks the message. "Believe it or not..." He frowns minutely. Korean elections again? "My brother is not so good at dealing with..." Mycroft looks up, and lets the sentence trail off into nothing. "Well, you know. I'd strongly advise you to check his arms. And certainly check the flat."


Sherlock is gone when John gets back, and there's some kind of figure lying in the hall (either a mannequin or a dead body) draped in a sheet. John rolls his eyes, ignore it, and heads upstairs. He puts milk in the fridge. He is about to head for his own room upstairs when suddenly he changes his mind and heads into Sherlock's room at the last second. He is always surprised (given how chaotic Sherlock generally is) at how orderly the room is. It would probably be easier for Sherlock to hide his stashes if his room was as disordered as the living room and the kitchen always are, but Sherlock's still very good at hiding his stashes.

John hopes that finding a stash is like riding a bicycle, because he used to be very good at finding Sherlock's stashes. Never good enough to be certain, and never good enough to stop worrying, but very good nonetheless.

Perhaps it is, or perhaps Sherlock's years alone have made him less adept at hiding his habit, but John finds the case after only a few minutes. It is tucked neatly on his bookshelf behind his chemistry periodicals and the skull. The leather is both alien and familiar to John's hand, and when he opens the case, the modern, sterilised needles contrast with the worn velvet interior. The bottle is half-empty. John carries the case out of Sherlock's room and into the living room. He sets the case, open, on the table by his chair and sinks into it, thinking hard.

The case itself has always niggled at the back of his brain, for many reasons. It's an anachronism, for starters; an aged Victorian leather thing with brass hinges and latch. And it's always the same bloody case, no matter how many times John confiscated it, gave it to Mycroft to get rid of, threw it in the bin, or (once) off a bridge into the Thames. Maybe it was the same case, painstakingly retrieved and cleaned, and maybe they were all different cases, but they were all along the same oddly archaic, Victorian lines. Such an incongruous detail, that. How odd for such a modern man to use that particular case; a man who texts instead of calling, who is on the very forefront of scientific knowledge. But then again, how odd for such an intellectual man, such a rational man who prizes his mind above all his possessions, to indulge in such an irrational, mentally detrimental habit.

He hears Sherlock's steps thundering up the stairs. The door bursts open. "John, I-" Sherlock stops short.

"Here's the thing." John is speaking calmly. He doesn't turn to look at Sherlock, just starts talking. "You've been on your own. Which is fine. You didn't need my help. Got it. Got... that. Living on your wits. Fine. So what... the hell... is this?"

Sherlock strolls into John's view, deliberately flippant and aloof. "I don't know John. What does it look like?"

John runs his hand over the case. "Looks like something an idiot would use if he wanted to poke his brain full of holes."

"Excellent deduction, John. Well spotted." Sherlock pulls off his scarf with a few violent jerks and throws it on the sofa. "Any other thoughts?"

John jabs his finger at the case. "I can't believe..." His voice is cracking with barely contained anger. "You were out there on your own. Up against God knows what. And you fill your veins with this... shit? Do you know how irresponsible that is? How dangerous?" His voice is rising, shaking with anger, but his hand is steady as a rock. He hasn't been this angry in three years.

"Well," said Sherlock with a frosty sneer. "I didn't have my blogger, did I?"

John snorts. "So it's me or heroin?"

"Yes," hisses Sherlock with tetchy vehemence.

John stares at Sherlock, with the sense that he is seeing him for the first time. Sherlock, annoyed or uncomfortable or (more likely) both, tugs at the sleeves of his coat. Would there be track marks under there? John, despite his war experience, despite his surgeon's training, is vaguely disgusted by the thought of those purplish stains in the crook of his friend's elbow.

John shifts in his seat, pursing his lips and tilting his head as he attempts to subdue his anger. He actually does feel bad for Sherlock, more than for his brother, certainly, but he's still furious and can't resist a little verbal barb. "I guess you really did have more trouble than I did," he says, in a good imitation of Sherlock's aloof flippancy.

"Ugh, that sounds like Mycroft." Sherlock sweeps off his coat and flings it dramatically over the sofa. "And don't kid yourself. You had at least as much trouble as I did."

John surges out of his chair, aware that he must look ridiculous, like a terrier standing up to a Great Dane. "Excuse me? I got on with my life."

Sherlock sneers down at John. "You got on a life, John. It wasn't your life. You ran away from your life." Sherlock's face takes on a mockingly contemplative expression. "And just how long was it before you latched on to Mrs. Watson? I mean, your co-dependency on me was sad enough, but to actually marry a woman-"

Sherlock is leaning in, almost as if he expects John to take a swing at him. And he's tense, as if he's ready to duck out of the way of said swing. Just the sort of move Sherlock would plot.

But he does not expect John to grab his shoulders, lean in and fill Sherlock's world with intense, blinding pain as John knees him- hard- between his lanky, trousered legs. Sherlock collapses to the floor, making small, very not Sherlockian sounds of pain. For the second time that day. John steps over his semi-comatose roommate.


John sits and reads the paper in his chair, listening with un-doctorly satisfaction to the low groans coming from the incapacitated detective. It's ten minutes before Sherlock can stand again, and he chooses to lie stretched out on the carpet for ten more, as if he's lying there on purpose. As if he meant to be lying there the whole time. You know. For reasons. A case, maybe.

"Will you still help me?" he asks at last, still stretched out on the floor with his hands behind his back.

"Of course," John answers instantly without any particular emphasis. He doesn't even look up from his paper. "Unless you mean you need help getting up, in which case, no. You deserve to lie there and suffer a bit longer."

"I meant with the case," says Sherlock, mustering every scrap of dignity left to him.

"Then yes. Of course. Always."

"Thank you."

It's as close to I'm sorry as John's going to get at the moment, so he lets it slide.


For course there is a case. There has to be a case. And such a case. He is crouching now in a dark flat, empty save for a bare table on its side. The thrill of the chase is thrumming through Sherlock, occasionally interrupted by John's inanities.

"So. Madame Tussaud's," he says. Again.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "As previously stated."

A moment's silence. John is thinking very loudly, and not very well. It's extremely distracting.

"It's very good."

"Of course it is. It's Madame Tussaud's."

"Oh. Well. Obviously."

Sherlock glances over at John in the gloom. The doctor has a profoundly disturbed expression on his face. "It's just a model, John."

"Yeah, from the darkest part of the uncanny valley."

Sherlock glances out the window. Across the street they can see the yellow glow from the window of 221B. And there, in his customary seat in front of the window, sprawls the unmistakable figure of Sherlock Holmes. Or rather, an extremely precise, full-size animatronic replica of Sherlock with a wax model of his face and a wig of real human hair.

Sherlock cannot see why John finds the model so upsetting. "I think it's very realistic. Should fool anyone." Sherlock couldn't be more pleased with the craftsmanship.

"It breathes," says John, obviously unnerved.

"Oh for god's sake. Of course it has to breathe, John." So obvious. Can't he see?

"Well, you haven't actually told me why we're here. Just saying."

Sherlock closes his eyes for a moment, sighing. "We're here because this house is empty and has been for weeks. We're here because this is the only window properly hidden from the street that still has a clear view of the opposite building. We are here, John, because this is the best spot."

"Best spot for what?"

"Murder."

John's eyes dart nervously to the man crouched next to him in the darkened townhouse. "Right..."

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "We're not going to murder anyone."

"That's a relief."

"No, we're going to be murdered. Well, I am."

"Oh." He doesn't see yet, but moments later he does, and Sherlock can hear it in his changed tone as he says: "Oh. Oh right." Sherlock hears him shift. Watches from the corner of his eye as John looks from the real Sherlock to the fake one and back. "You know who's going to be murdering you today." It's not a question.

"Sebastian Moran," says Sherlock, unable to keep the hateful vehemence out of his tone.

"Old friend of yours, is he?"

Sherlock chuckles; a low, dangerous sound. "Oh we've known each other for about three years. We're very well acquainted now." He glances over at John, whose brow is wrinkled slightly with those odd lines of concern. He really has changed, in a thousand tiny ways. The lines are deeper. The hair is more speckled with silver. The eyes seem darker, somehow. Still blue, but darker. "A sniper, John. The best in the world. The sniper, actually."

"From the pool?" asks John hesitantly.

Sherlock waves a hand and goes back to staring at the window. "Possibly, but given that there were several at the pool, I doubt it. No, he was more important than that. He was Moriarty's right hand. He was Moriarty's..." Sherlock stops again, glances at John, shifts uncomfortably. John frowns as Sherlock changes tack suddenly. "He was behind the gun at St. Bart's. I'm sure."

"Which gun?"

"The one meant for you."

Sherlock doesn't need to glance at his friend to know that John has been stunned into silence, a silence that Sherlock fills with his low baritone, his voice low but impossible for John to ignore.

"I caught up with Adam Worth after two weeks. He was the easiest to catch because he'd been at Scotland Yard so long. That was child's play really. We had a little tussle on a ferry. His body was never recovered. He was the one who went after Greg. Obviously. Then it was Newcombe. That was harder. And once I tracked him down, I couldn't kill him. Worth disappearing, that could have been coincidence, but if Newcombe went too, well then, Moran would know I was alive. He would know, and he'd have to finish his last assignment. You." Sherlock glanced at John again, and looked away. "So I had to track down Moran before I could take care of Newcombe. Newcombe was the one after Mrs. Hudson."

"He's dead?"

"He fell out a window," said Sherlock blandly. "Onto a spiked iron railing. I can be reasonably certain he didn't survive it. But Moran. Moran is different. Moran is a hunter, and I knew he'd come after one of us, so I've done my best to assure he comes after me first. Because I am a hunter to, and by god, I'm going to catch him. Sebastian Moran is going to live with what he's done. He's going to live the rest of his life powerless and alone. Or I'll kill him myself." Savage glee is a familiar feeling to Sherlock, and John would have seen it on Sherlock's face before, but the doctor is still staring, obviously unnerved.

"Well," John says.

Sherlock sighs, expecting a lecture. "Yes John?"

There's a long moment of silence. Was Sherlock right to tell his story? Surely John understands (he must) that until the rest of Moriarty's network was gone, no convictions would stick. And since no crimes had actually been committed, no charges could be pressed. Sherlock had done what was necessary. He studies John in the half-light. John, so easy to read (too easy, his face a mishmash of expressions, like light flitting over landscapes, too fast to follow) is oddly unreadable. Fear? Surprise? Gratitude? Anger? Sherlock feels apprehension. If John is horrified (if John rejects him?) or asks him to confess to the murders, or demands Sherlock turn himself in...

"I'm glad you're on our side."

Now it is Sherlock's turn to stare. On the side of the angels, Moriarty had said. But not one of them, Sherlock had countered. And Sherlock could admit (to himself) that it was... gratifying to know that the angels were pleased to have him around.

Silence falls between them again. People pass below the window, and Sherlock identifies and dismisses every one of them. A banker, coming home late from an affair (with is secretary? How pedestrian.) Three women, mothers all, hurrying home after a girl's night out (boring!). Another banker, a recent divorcee, and three young women, two of whom are in love with each other, but unable to express their feelings (dull).

"You can nap if you'd like," Sherlock says after John's third yawn. "He's not going to be here for at least another hour."

"Then what-" (yawn) "-have we been sat here for the last two hours for?"

"It's a stake-out, John. Not a casual trip to the store."

"Oh well, my mistake then." John shifts, wedges himself between the table and the wall. In seconds his breathing is deep and even. John has the remarkable ability (of the soldier in a war zone, of the doctor in the on-call room) to sleep whenever, wherever, for any amount of time possible. Only deep sleep brings the nightmares, and Sherlock has known John to go days with only his "cat naps" sustaining him. Sometimes for a case, sometimes in the wake of particularly bad nights (John does not call them nightmares, he just has "bad nights"). It would be a useful skill, if sleeping wasn't a phenomenal waste of time and brain power.


Precisely forty-five minutes later, Sherlock shakes John out of his doze and presses a finger to his lips. There are footsteps in the downstairs hall. John nods grimly, his Browning ready in his hand. He ducks behind a table. Sherlock rises to his feet, slides smoothly into the shadowiest corner and hides his pale face with his scarf.

The door opens to Sherlock's left. A figure creeps past, a long case strapped to his back. A lithe, slender man with the sturdy grace of a soldier and the calm efficiency of a professional killer. He kneels by the window. Opens the case. Sherlock listens to the quiet clicks and rattles of a sniper rifle being assembled. The window being opened. The rifle being lined up. A savage hiss of pleasure as the sniper steadies his hands. Then the loud pop, like a sneeze. A distant noise of shattering glass and a shriek of surprise from the street below.

Sherlock steps out of the shadows, dropping the scarf from his face. "You missed."

For a moment, Moran stares at Sherlock. He has an angular, blade-like face, with (Sherlock notes this inconsequential but somehow important detail) very dark blue eyes. Then (faster than even Sherlock can react) Moran swings the gun around so the heavy butt strikes Sherlock across the face. Pain explodes against his face (again) and he goes down, with Moran launching himself onto Sherlock (like a tiger onto a downed gazelle). In an instant, Moran is straddling Sherlock's chest, pinning the detective's long arms and wrapping his fingers around Sherlock's throat. For a moment all Sherlock can see is an angular face twisted with wordless grief and rage. All he can feel is the fingers tightening around his throat, cutting off his air. Moran is fast- faster than Sherlock's observations had suggested. Note to self: Sebastian Moran moves faster when motivated by revenge.

Then there is a thump of metal on flesh. The fingers tighten convulsively (Sherlock gags and chokes, his mind swimming) then mercifully the fingers go slack and are pulled away from Sherlock's throat. As his vision returns, he sees another face twisted with grief and rage, and for a moment he thinks Moran is still there.

"Sherlock?" Not Moran. Not, not, not Moran. John.

Sherlock shoves John aside, coughing and wheezing as air finds its way back into his lungs. Blue lights are flashing outside, and heavy steps are thundering on the stairs. Sherlock pulls himself upright, straightens his coat, wraps his scarf loosely around his neck and pulls himself together, ignoring John's insistent (and annoyed) calls of Sherlock!

"Jesus Christ!" shouts another voice (not John). Sherlock straightens and turns to see Lestrade leaning heavily on the door frame, uncharacteristically like a fainting heroine.

"Pull yourself together, Lestrade. You have a suspect bleeding on the floor there." Sherlock clears his throat again (he sounds wheezy, out of breath). "You can book him on attempted murder at least, but I think you'll find his ah... rather unique rifle here matches a number of other unsolved cases in your district. Congratulations."

"Sherlock?" says Lestrade weakly.

"Yes it's really him." John turns an accusing eye on Sherlock. "You didn't tell him either?"

Sherlock sniffs loftily. The wheezing impairs dignity, but he attempts it anyway. "Mrs. Hudson was kind enough to inform him that there might be trouble here tonight. Your name may have been used. I saw no need for mine to come up. Would have complicated matters unnecessarily."

"Sherlock," the exasperation is familiar and... surprisingly pleasant to Sherlock.

"Dear god," Lestrade gasps, still pale with the shock.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "A simple thank you suits me perfectly well," he grates out through a rough throat. "Evening."

He sweeps out past the still-stunned Lestrade, past a choking Anderson and a near-fainting Sally Donovan. Behind him, he hears Lestrade speaking to John.

"Christ. He hasn't changed, has he?"

"You're telling me." Sherlock can tell from the way John sighs that he's kneeling down to check Moran's pulse.


Sherlock is violining when John finished consoling Mrs. Hudson. John always called it 'violining' when Sherlock scraped and plunked at his violin without real lyrical intent. He certainly wasn't playing music.

John recognizes the vacant expression on Sherlock's face, and knows full well that the man isn't really in the room. So John grabs a paper to stare at while he waits for Sherlock to get back from... wherever he is.

An object catches his eye. It's the mannequin, shoved carelessly out of Sherlock's chair. Moran's shot was certainly a kill shot. The wax front of the mannequin's face is disturbingly mangled. The bullet ripped out the fake Sherlock's right eye and most of his wax nose. One pale ball stares sightlessly straight at John, and the lips are still unnervingly perfect. The damned thing is still breathing too, it's animatronic chest rising and falling with freakish regularity. John forces the sight out of his mind, raising his paper and pretending it isn't there.

It actually all feels strangely comfortable. Strangely familiar. Sitting here, listening the the violin wheeze and pop across from him. And it wouldn't be the same without the freakish mannequin (or a jar of human eyeballs, or a partially dissected goat) in one corner, making things... bizarre. It's almost as if Sherlock had never jumped. As if John had never left. As if Mary had never happened.

John frowns minutely. He doesn't like that thought as soon as it occurs to him. He doesn't like the thought of just slipping back into his old life like nothing has changed. Because things have changed. With a sigh, John lays aside his paper.

"You," he says abruptly to Sherlock. "Up."

Sherlock doesn't move at first. It takes a moment before he blinks twice (slowly) and glances up. "What?"

"You. Up," John repeats with the all-business tone that he perfected as a Captain, and maintains for special occasions. To both of their surprise, Sherlock complies. In a few efficient shoves, John switches their chairs around so Sherlock's is facing the window and John's is facing the kitchen. With a sigh, John settles into his chair again and grabs his paper, leaving Sherlock standing a few steps away, looking baffled and a little lost.

"You moved our chairs," he states.

"Yes I did."

Sherlock frowns, his violin and bow hanging limply from one hand. "Why did you move our chairs, John?"

"Because things have changed. I don't want to forget that things are different now from what they were before."

Sherlock straightens. "Well. That's true, I suppose." he doesn't sit in the chair, choosing instead to bring the violin to his chin, preparing to play. "Since they," John understands this refers to the masses of idiotic public, "believe me to be a fraud. Should make our caseload more... manageable." The word is spoken with a sneer and just a hint of regret.

"You'd be surprised how many people believe in you, Sherlock."

Sherlock hums. "You. Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade. Molly Hooper. Have I missed anyone?"

"Mycroft."

"Ugh. Anyone who matters?"

"There's more than just us, mate."

Sherlock frowns skeptically. "Moriarty did a very convincing job creating Richard Brook." Sherlock watches John smiling and shaking his head and drops his violin from his chin with a sigh. "Honestly, John, I certainly don't care what people think of me. I could spend the rest of my life proving that I am in fact as clever as I appear, and most people still wouldn't believe it. People are very, very stupid, John. And Moriarty... For all his insanity, he was very thorough." Sherlock doesn't bother to hide his admiration.

"So am I."

"Hmm?" Sherlock is making minute adjustments to his violin.

"Thorough. So am I. A Study in Pink? The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes? The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes?"

Sherlock is staring uncomprehendingly at John. The doctor throws his paper aside. "Jesus, Sherlock. Didn't you read any of my books? They're bestsellers, for Christ's sake."

Sherlock blinks. "Bestsellers are dull."

John raises his eyebrows and shakes his head. "Not according to my paycheck, they aren't."

"You wrote a book?"

"I wrote three books."

"And people bought them?"

"Lots of people bought them."

"And people believe them?"

John shrugs. "Not everyone. Enough though. People want to believe, Sherlock." John is smirking. "You know, you said once that Moriarty's lie was preferable to the truth, but you were wrong about that." John enunciates the last three words very clearly, as if worried Sherlock might miss the meaning. "People want to believe in you Sherlock. They just needed to hear your side of the story. I gave them mine. Hope you don't mind."

Sherlock blinks. "How?"

John frowns, slightly thrown by the question. "What d'ye mean how? People were jumping on me to publish hours after you died. Sorry, faked your death. I'd love to hear how you managed that."

"It's not important. I meant how did you write three books in three years? Given your average words per minute, John, that particular task should have taken you three lifetimes. I mean physically how did you write three books in three years?"

"Mary typed them up for me." A faint smile is playing across John's face. "Point is, once word gets out you're back, you'll have plenty of cases. Should be able to spare the wall for a while at least." Still smiling, John picks up his paper again, flicks it open.

Sherlock's pale eyes flicker over John, noticing that he is wearing a plain gold band on his left hand ring finger. It fits neatly in the pale indentation. He hadn't been wearing it earlier, but obviously John hadn't gotten rid of it either. What had he done with it? Perhaps on a chain around John's neck? With his army tags? But now it's on his finger again. Sherlock sinks into his rearranged chair cautiously, testing the new angle it gives him on the room, wondering what it means.

"She must have been an extraordinary woman," Sherlock says at last.

"What makes you say that?" John asks warily. Sherlock must know now that any flippant remarks about Mary Morstan Watson will not be well received. But then, Sherlock can be phenomenally stupid at times.

"Because you married her. You have fine taste, John, but we both know it runs to the extraordinary." Sherlock tucks his violin under his chin but does not begin playing immediately. Instead he watches John while holding the bow loosely in one elegant hand.

John knows his face is expressive. He's trying to maintain an expression of tight amusement. He knows there's grief behind his eyes. He knows Sherlock can see it with those piercing pale eyes. John sniffs loudly (not to cover tears, but the sniff he does when pulling himself together, the one that makes his chin jut out) and sets his paper aside again. He doesn't look up at Sherlock, but keeps staring at the folded paper, as if reading his thoughts printed there.

"She helped me forget you," he says at last.

Sherlock might be stunned, but he certainly is silent. But John's voice falls into the silence between them, steady now, but with emotional cracks running just beneath the surface, telling his side of the story. "She helped me forget, and she helped me remember. Forget you falling off that roof..." John clears his throat. "And remember you playing that stupid violin and chasing madmen down dark alleys. Remember what following you had been like. Helped me forget what standing at that grave was like. Helped me remember that I wasn't the kind of man who falls apart when bad things happen. Helped me remember who John Watson is. And she..." he sighs. "She was ordinary. Ordinary and lovely and one of a kind." He swallows, reaches for his paper, opens it. "They don't make them like Mary Morstan anymore."

Sherlock doesn't know what to say. That didn't happen vary often. There were many things he wanted to say, but none of them seemed right. None of them were enough. You're ordinary and extraordinary. They do make them like that, they made you. I'm so sorry for your loss, John. I did what I had to but it was all wrong. All wrong. Didn't cover the depth of how sorry he was. John, you should never have to suffer like that. Twice. There's only one word in the English language, and it's just not enough. Sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.

Unable to find the right thing, instead he doesn't say anything, and John says something instead.

"She made me very happy. You'd have hated her."

They chuckle together, knowing it's true. But when the chuckling dies away, Sherlock's smile fades into seriousness. "I would have liked her if she made you happy," he says.

John arches a skeptical eyebrow at him over the paper.

Sherlock sniffs with dignity and puts bow to violin. "Well, I would have tried. For your sake."

"You know I don't think I ever stopped hoping," John admits. "I mean, I didn't just run away. I really did move on," he glares at Sherlock meaningfully, warningly. "But. I never stopped... hoping. I wasn't surprised when you came back because..." John shifts uncomfortably under the cheesiness of it all, but it needs to be said. "Because I believe in you, Sherlock Holmes," he finishes, grudgingly. "You're a prat. But I believe in you."

Sherlock swallow. Clears his throat. "Well. That's... Ah... thank you, John."

"Don't mention it. Really don't."

Sherlock nods crisply. He begins to play. At first John thinks it's Beethoven, but that's not quite right. After a moment he frowns and folds down his paper to look at Sherlock perched on the edge of his chair, brows furrowed, high cheekbones and pale skin contrasting elegantly with the dark red curved of his instrument.

"That's new," said John.

"Yes," Sherlock replies without stopping.

"You wrote it while-"

"Do shut up, John."

And John does shut up. He also sets down his paper and watches Sherlock play, the haunting melodies filling the apartment with sound. Two distinct melodies. One low but fast, like a dark stream over pebbles, like the play of dark thoughts behind pale eyes. The other complex; steady but shifting between high notes and low, reassuring but powerful, and it reminds John of the play of light and shadow across English hills. They blend well, but they seem desperately sad, somehow. As if the music speaks of things gone by and lost.

Sherlock's sleeves are rolled up. And there are track marks; painful, purple splotches marring the pale skin of his elbow. Things have changed, John reflects. He's changed, and Sherlock has changed too. There are lines around his mouth, lines that hadn't been there before. There's a crease between his brows, and shadows under his pale eyes. And his hair is long, but not carelessly elegant, just overgrown. Lank. Sherlock looks older, thinner, more tired. The music is easing some of the tension out of his lanky frame, smoothing away some of the worry. But Sherlock is undeniably changed. Three years haven't been kind to him, and the music filling the flat speaks to that more plainly than any of the words Sherlock didn't deign to speak.

John picks up his paper. "You are so sentimental, Sherlock."

The music pauses. "Am not," Sherlock lies.

~ fin ~

Author's Notes:

Hope you enjoyed it. Yes, it is a one-shot, but I can be petitioned for further adventures. No promises, mind. I'm thinking of doing a prequel with Mary. But in reality, it's easier to write about how awesome she was than to actually write her as awesome.

An acknowledgement. If you don't mind totally awesome and extremely hot John and Sherlock slash, you should go, right now, and read ivyblossom's "The Progress of Sherlock Holmes." Fabulous mastery of Sherlock's voice, which inspired me to write this. It's a very different story, but much better writing than you'll find here :/

Note: The two other killers that Moriarty hired are named Adam Worth and Simon Newcombe. Newcombe and Worth were both real people (a vindictive astronomer and a criminal mastermind respectively). A. C. Doyle supposedly used them as inspiration for Professor Moriarty.