Title: Touch to the Psyche
Summary: Post-Reichenbach. John has dreams that he doesn't want to understand, Sherlock is haunted by noises and everyone realises the importance of the most basic sense.
Disclaimer: Don't know, don't own, don't sue.
A/N: Full title "Touch is to the Psyche what Oxygen is to the Brain". From the quote "Basic human contact - the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words - is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain" by Martha Beck.
I am aware "unbreathed" is not a word, but sometimes I have to bend the English language to get the word I'm looking for. It's not like it's already filled with thousands of beautiful, real words that make sense or anything :)
He draws a line from one side of the page to the other. Perfectly straight, no curves or jolts. A flatline. Then he twists his hands around the ends of the pencil and snaps it, quickly and cleanly, the parts broken and torn from their other halves. For a second he looks at the splintered pieces in his hands, his jaw tightens in tension and the muscles in his fingers contract involuntarily, but it is only for a second. He rolls the pencil out of his palms into the bin and doesn't turn back as he gets up from the desk and leaves the room, a ghost that was never there.
He stays in Baker Street for a couple days because why would he go anywhere else when he's waiting. Just holding back, stalling, on call for when Sherlock walks through the door with that smile of his and that incredulous voice telling him of course he's not dead, it was all an experiment, entrails in the fridge that he doesn't dare touch for fear of being yelled at later and some music sheets that he looks at longingly every now and then, wishing Sherlock would just hurry up and come home because he's actually missed that racket at three in the morning and he never thought he'd say that.
On the second night after he saw the fall, when he's sitting in the chair like he's always done in the evenings, the skull catches his eye. The white glints in the dying sunlight that filters through the window and he looks at it for a while. The longer he stares, the more this feeling builds, his whole body stiff as he tries to push back the stinging he's beginning to feel inside, like acid on an open wound. The shadows in the sockets draw him in, darkness in the bright white and the mouth grins, taunting him until all he wants to do it smash it, until he's loaded like a spring and ready to break it into a million pieces. Death cannot provoke him. He's seen enough of it. Not death.
And with that the skull breaks him, like it's got a vengeance for his thoughts. He doesn't cry, not straight away, but he shakes, trembling, his hands first and then the rest of his body, rocking back and forth irrepressibly. He can't still himself and all of a sudden he doesn't want to. He lets himself come undone, and that feeling that he's kept at bay comes rushing out, through him, winding around his chest and releasing itself in his tears.
John Watson hasn't cried for eighteen months. Not since the nightmares ended. But now he does. It's like he never stopped.
After the funeral he goes and stays with Harry. She doesn't give him a pitying smile or false cheeriness, which is precisely why he goes to her. She knows how hard sympathy can be and so her understanding extends that far. However when he arrives, before he puts down his suitcase and enters the door, she encircles her arms around him and embraces him tightly. He doesn't move, or respond, and after a moment she lets go.
"This way," she says, and he follows. There's nothing left to do now but follow.
Harry's trying really hard and John guesses he feels grateful. He has to guess at what he's feeling often, emotions aren't clear cut anymore. He catches her pouring a bottle of wine down the sink but not after seeing the trail of a tear inch down her cheek. That he can understand. It's difficult to let go of something that's been part of your life for a long time. But she's doing it for him and it's almost amusing that after years of trying to convince her to live a better life, it's only after viewing his own that she stops. Still, hope is hope and sometimes, when they sit together in the evenings in silence, out of the corner of his eye he sees her expression, a look of helpless vulnerability that says when will you be my annoying older brother again? He can tell that she'd give anything for things to go back to the way they were, when they barely talked and didn't get along, because it's hurting her to see him like that.
And he does care. She's his sister.
But everyone else is associated. And she's not; she's detached from it all. So he has to stay.
John doesn't really have dreams. He used to have the nightmares, the war, but since then he's only slept in darkness and he likes it that way. With so much light in his days the nights are perfect and peaceful.
This night, however, he knows even as he submits to sleep that he's not going to have a rested mind. He's had that feeling all day, like his thoughts never quite finish and are in a tumult to get over one another and override what he wants to block out. The sensation of his mind not fitting inside his body, the overdrive not big enough, makes him realise it's going to run on, into his sleep, and he can't do anything to stop it.
He's right, and then he's standing in white, so much white, he thinks maybe this is heaven, except he is alone. He laughs bitterly. Lonely heaven. Typical. No chance of seeing Sherlock then. If he's in hell he's going to kill him. Sherlock's never where he's supposed to be.
When he concentrates on his surroundings a bit more he realises the ground below him has a texture unlike the infinite endlessness of everything around him. John crouches down and brushes his fingertips against it, feels the slight bumps and contours and frowns. The scent that drifts up reminds him of school and the local library and the papers on Sherlock's desk, so he stands up sharply and puts his hand on his forehead, trying to figure it out. He can't though and his brain feels like mush and oh there's something in the distance that gives him a chill of fear but still he doesn't move.
"Come on," he mutters, ignoring the prickling sensation of a warning that raises the hair on the back of his neck. It's more important to work out where he is than to work out where to run to because you can't run blind unless you want to lose your life. Something makes him look up though, at whatever's forcing him to be scared, and now he's really confused.
A black line, barely a dot, is snaking its way forward from an immeasurable distance, in twists and turns, a rivulet creating grooves in the ground beneath his feet. His frown deepens as he watches, and still he does not move. The darkness gets closer and closer, bigger and bigger, and now the grooves are trenches, channels, canyons, and his stance is fixed. The warning becomes a scream for him to escape but he cannot, all he can do is watch, he has no control. The ground beneath him trembles and ripples as the rushing substance gets nearer and now, now he wants to run. He turns to flee, to get away but it's too late. The white collapses below him and he falls, the darkness capturing him and swirling around him, heavy and opaque. He goes under liquid like water, but this is denser and more malicious, with a poisonous intent that he can hear thundering through his ears. The smell encompasses him and now he knows what it is.
Ink that is suffocating him, drowning him on a page that had been blank. When he parts his lips for his burning lungs it fills his mouth, licking the roof of it in a bitter iron coating.
That's when he realises. The ink tastes like blood. Dark blood, running blood, spilt blood.
He's dying in blood and there's nothing he can do about it.
Somewhere else, whilst John is curling up in his bed and submitting to the fatality, Sherlock is sitting on the edge of a settee with a silent Molly next to him. She gives him a weak smile when he meets her eye and he quickly looks away when this happens. Her smile turns to a grimace and she shuts her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose in a regretful way.
"Come back Sherlock," she murmurs quietly, barely more than the silence from before. "It had to happen. You did the right thing."
He's told her everything. She just nodded and bowed her head and it made him wonder how many other secrets she's kept beneath those nervous stutters and unsure demeanour. He speculates this again now, how much has she seen to be able to deal with everything he's putting on her. This time he can't figure it out, or maybe he doesn't want to, so he just accepts her and sighs.
"I'm sorry," he says, for putting her in this position and for never realising how strong she is before.
She seems to understand and takes his hand, both of their hands cold but alive. Covering half of his with her elegant fingers, the fingers of a pianist, he thinks, she smiles again.
"John will wait for you, you know he will."
And there she's got it exactly, that's what he's scared of. The faith that John had, right up until the last moment and beyond, is too courageous for him. His bravery doesn't compare, not to him.
Molly notices this sadly. She hopes one day he'll see what a great person he's become from this act. What a good person. She'll always hold out that hope.
Anger is what drives John to visit Mycroft. It's taken a week or two to figure it out but now he's got a grip on what the main emotion he's feeling coming through is. Fury at the injustice of everything that's happened, how Sherlock could let it happen to him, how Mycroft could let it happen to him. Betrayal is the main word that runs through John's head as he goes to meet him in one of the various offices Mycroft appears to occupy. Betrayal, betrayal, betrayal. He storms through the door, slamming it behind him to emphasise his anger and stands before the man sitting there, regarding him calmly.
"This is all your fault," John cuts, blunt and unforgiving. He notices the slight tension in Mycroft's posture at these opening words but all he sees is a cold, uncaring man who sold out his brother and guaranteed his death, someone who he wants to hit and hurt until he feels every bit as lost as John does right now. Mycroft stands up so he isn't so backed down into a lower position and places his hands on the desk in front of him.
"Hello, John," he welcomes him, his voice soft, "I've been expecting you."
John erupts into movement, striding forwards and putting his own hands on the desk. He'd shake it if it wasn't near impossible to move.
"Hello," he clenches his jaw, "hello. Is that all you're giving me after, after…this?"
Mycroft gazes at him steadily, levelling himself against Johns glare.
"Is that not how you greet acquaintances?"
"You're not an acquaintance," John spits out, leaning back ever so slightly, "you're nothing. Only someone that low would ensure their own brothers downfall. I hope you blame yourself, because you know what? You were the one who signed his death warrant when you associated with Moriarty. I know Sherlock wasn't a fraud. He was innocent. And you are to blame."
Mycroft laughs, unnaturally and forced, and this shocks John, an unexpected blow after his confrontation. He frowns and leans back in again, watching Mycroft closely. He was angry and now he's uncertain, because despite his contempt he was sure Mycroft had cared a little for his brother at least and with that inhuman laugh he's lost his footing.
"Oh, John. I can see now what he saw in you," Mycroft says, closing his eyes. It's now that John realises that he's more bracing himself on the desk, holding himself up, than exercising a professional stance. "Innocent is not a word most people would describe him as."
"Well I believe in him."
"I know you do, I know you do. So do I."
There's a silence, whilst John waits, waits for the explanation or reasoning or whatever other excuse Mycroft's going to throw his way to pacify him and redeem himself. Mycroft opens his eyes and looks straight at John.
"I do blame myself. Every waking moment," his voice wavers, for the first time since John has known him, "every waking moment I know it's because of me. He was my brother."
John doesn't know what to say. He wants to laugh, roll his eyes and show Mycroft just how much he can't manipulate him, but there's something in Mycroft's eyes that stops him. There's this terrible truthfulness and hurt and John can see he needn't have told him he should blame himself because he already does, he already knows that if either of them was dead it should be him. It's the same feeling John has had constantly since Sherlock went away. That survivors guilt. He never knew you could feel that way from watching a suicide but apparently that's what happens when the bond runs that deep.
He sighs and releases some of the strained atmosphere in the room.
"I know what you mean," he says, for that's all he has to say, and Mycroft gives him a smile that could almost be construed as grateful. He pauses for a moment, then extends his hand and they shake on their mutual understanding. "Goodbye."
After John has left the room and there's been enough time for him to have left the building too, a voice sounds behind Mycroft.
"That was a very impressive show."
Mycroft turns and looks at the intruder blankly.
"I wasn't acting."
His companion gives him an arch of an eyebrow to indicate his puzzlement.
"But you know I'm alive."
"You could so easily not be. You put yourself in danger all the time. I'm always worrying about you," Mycroft sits back down, leaning his forehead on his fingertips, "If you were really dead, where would I be?"
"Probably the same place you are now," comes the cool reply.
Mycroft laughs again, but quietly this time, barely audible. He remembers Moriarty's name for him and the advice he's given his brother many times.
"Oh Sherlock. If only that were true."
Most of the time Sherlock can find something do to, some experiment Molly's brought home for him or some reported crime that he can solve based solely on the facts written in the same newspapers that helped bring him down. He spends most the time in her kitchen, moving everything around and storing things where they shouldn't be. She often comes home to find post-its flurried everywhere, covered in crossings out and scribbled lines.
Having something to do, no matter how trivial, keeps him from boredom, from being driven insane. That's what he tells her. That's what she believes. But it's not entirely true.
The first time he hears the noises is the day after his "death".
He's leaning on the wall, slouching into an elegant bend, and his fingers tap with irritation against the floral wallpaper. The need to do something is so strong, a pull that he can't follow, and it's infuriating him to a level he'd forgotten about. He wishes John were here because John could always shake the frustration away with some exasperated comment or a well brewed cup of tea and conversation. Then he banishes the thought from his head as quickly as it comes. No regrets are allowed.
The flat is still, even Molly's cat has disappeared, and he is utterly alone. Alone is a feeling he's going to have to become accustomed to but for himself he doesn't care. Just John…
He slaps his hand against the wall sharply, the sound making a crack in the silent air and the impact reverberating up his arm painfully. Sherlock winces and shut his eyes.
Then he hears it again. The same crack, the same snap into the empty air. And then another time. Again and again, over and over, until it's no longer a solitary sound but multiple echoes, harmony's and relays. He reaches out for his violin to distract him and take him away but it's not there, he's on his own and there goes the shot, bang, bang, bang.
Bang, bang, bang.
He knows what it is now, it's weapon fire. It's a single gunshot repeated over and over, fixed in his mind. All around him, ringing in his ears, whispering in the walls. It's on him and through him and now it's in his brain and he can see it.
He can see that solemn thanks, that manic smile, the victorious glint in the eyes of the man who mirrored him. He can see the shine of the steel on Moriarty's gun, hears the "good luck with that" and then the shot, the crack as a bullet drives through the core of his consulting criminal.
His consulting criminal falls, is falling slowly and gracefully and then there's a blur, gunshots all the time and Sherlock sees John, his hand outstretched, his name on his lips as he falls, down, down.
And it's gone. Sherlock inhales shakily and digs his fingernails into the wallpaper, as if that would keep him afloat. The noises are gone but he's scared. Terrified. Images from the H.O.U.N.D investigation filter through his memory and he pushes them away vigorously.
It only happens twice more after that and by then he's learnt not to let the silence surround him. He works and he thinks and he moves and Molly thinks it's to stop the boredom.
But really it's so he doesn't have to hear the killer, feel the fall and see John's face when helets go.
It's taken him a while to have the strength to open up his laptop again and look at his blog. There's the last post he wrote, short and to the point, "he was my best friend and I believe in him". He remembers the force of having to write was when everything told him to write is but he's glad he did now. Glad that he can show the world he's got closure when that's the last thing he feels.
Then he scrolls down. Reads every entry, from newest to oldest, every comment, every conversation. Details that bring back memories of the little things he thought he'd forgotten. The sardonic snipes at other people from Sherlock, who seemed to be able to make disdain and sarcasm come though on the internet like no one else could. He smiles as he remembers the different cases, some terrifying, some mystifying, some that baffled him no end, all of them solved by Sherlock, by them. Together.
Once he's read through "A Study in Pink" and all about his new flatmate, his smile fades. He sees his first posts, the ones from the hotel, the ones from the dark days. Nothing. That's what he wrote. Nothing, pointless, how do I delete this? It sounds like a mantra in his head. Nothing, pointless, how do I delete this? Nothing, pointless, how do I delete…
John sets his teeth together and ignores the faint tremor in his right hand. He doesn't want to remember anymore, it's been such a long time. Why should he remember? He's not there anymore.
Except you are, a voice whispers in his head, you're alone again. Who's going to stop the nightmares now?
"I'm not alone," he mutters to himself vehemently but the voices don't listen.
You were unhappy and that changed. But now that part of you is gone again. You are blank once more. A blank page.
Blank, blank, blank, blank…
"No!" John shouts out loud, his fists shaking, "I am not blank, or empty. I'm different."
Why? comes the silky voice, you didn't have him then and you don't have him now. What's the difference?
John takes in a shaky breath to match the tremors and wills the voice away. But not before he's given his answer.
"Because I hadn't lost him then. I have now. And that's the difference. I didn't know and now I do, and that means it hurts so much more. There, I've said it. It hurts."
Then he grabs a spare sheet of paper out of the printer tray on his left and a spare pencil on the desk and draws over the white space. With no waves or dents. He draws a perfect circle.
"Lestrade's putting on a brave face," Molly tells Sherlock after she's visited him one day, "he looks like he's holding it together but he's not. It's understandable."
She gives him a look as if to say I'm finding this really hard too you know. Sherlock knows lying to everyone is hard to cope with but he thinks she's stronger than anyone else might have been. She may hate it but she'll stick by it. He feels a twinge of guilt, as if he's using her again, but it's short lived because he knows he half is, because she's essential, the key, and feeling remorseful won't achieve anything. He makes her a cup of tea anyway.
"Oh?" he questions as he waits for the kettle to boil, his back to her.
"Yeah," he can hear her flinging her coat down on the settee where she always does, can tell she's shaking her hair out and rubbing her face like usual after she's been out, "he's on a probation of sorts."
"Yes. For incorrect conduct on police cases and breaking procedures."
"Because of me," Sherlock states it rather than asks it and accidentally spills some hot water on the surface. Molly doesn't reply, which is sufficient confirmation, and he sighs, softly enough so she won't hear. Stirring the milk in, he twists halfway around to see her. "What's he like? He must hate it."
"He doesn't care nearly as much about his job as he does about you. To say he misses you would be a massive understatement."
The bluntness of her report halts him for a moment. Lestrade misses him. Well, of course, where would the police be without him most the time? But…Lestrade misses him. He's unprepared for the sudden tightness in his chest and the constriction of his throat so he has to turn back to hide the evidence of how he feels on his face. Tapping the side of the cup and swallowing the sensation down he picks up the cup and goes to her, hands it over. She looks pleasantly surprised, a less bittersweet version of how he feels, and thanks him.
After a few minutes in silence, her sipping the tea and casting him glances he chooses to ignore, she gives him a brightened smile like she's trying to cheer him up.
"He knows how much you've helped him. He respects you."
Sherlock gives a short bark of a laugh and nods.
"Good to know," he says, and then adds, not as an afterthought but as the truth, "I know how much he's helped me. I respect him."
Molly reaches out and touches his arm. He moves to take her hand and this time he'd be happy if she never let go.
The white is taking his oxygen again. John sighs as he prepares himself. This time he knows what's coming. The paper beneath him is thick and uneven and seems sturdy but he doesn't trust it. He knows the flood will come and he's not sure if he can handle the hurt as his lungs fill with fluid again. He watches the horizon warily, but deep down he knows he won't be able to escape this time either. That's not how it works here.
Something compels him to look down at his feet and when he does he sees something that wasn't there before. A scratch, weeping in the colourless floor, is knitting over like a scab on the empty earth. John frowns and is about to lean down and inspect it, a mixture of natural instinct and curiosity, when he gets that feeling again. The prickling on the nape of his neck. The niggling warning in the corner of his mind. He twists to look behind him and sees that black line spreading out from the distance, branching out like a disease, advancing in a swift, almost military form. He moves this time, determined to get a head start. The end is inevitable in his mind, but prolonging the race seems to be the only thing to do.
He runs. He runs and runs, faster and faster, and when he glances around the first time it seems he's getting further away. A thrill of relief shoots through him briefly but not for long. When he looks around the next time the black has gained, sending it's tendrils of toxin forwards.
He doesn't appear to be running out of breath, which he's thankful for he supposes, but his legs burn like fire, lit with the exertion of the constant sprint for his life. He won't stop though, he can't now. He nearly trips at one point and when he looks up he sees black in front of him too. Panicking, he doesn't have the time to veer around it. John shuts his eyes and braces himself for the consuming liquid to catch him and seep into his core. It doesn't come and when he opens his eyes to check his mistake he sees the pool of black has moved to one side. Moved for him. He doesn't have time to marvel or wonder why but he sees as he hurtles past the shape it's warped into.
Wings. Wings of a fairy. Wings of an angel.
He can't understand so he doesn't try and carries on running. The blazing in his muscles gets stronger and more ferocious, clawing at every part of him but saving his lungs. Probably for the ink to finish off with, he thinks. It's not long before he feels like dying and is contemplating stopping and letting the darkness take him. He doesn't though, for he can see another pool ahead and this time he's not scared. He wants to know what this will become.
As he rushes past he sees. It's a crown, spiked and sculptured on the ground.
He keeps on going. Sees more and more.
Hands, entwined. A gun. A teardrop. A phone. Dice, rolling on a risk. A cross.
A black sun pushing away the rain.
Finally, after what feels like hours of running but has probably been barely ten minutes, John has to stop. He can't continue. Not when his body feels like it's been lit on fire. He kneels down and puts his hands over his thighs trying to soothe the pain. That's when he notices the seam before him. The split in the white earth, healing over the cut, the same one he saw at the start.
He's back where he started. He's run a full circle.
John keeps his eyes fixed on the wound before him. He lets the chasing torrent catch him.
The next day he moves out of Harry's and back to Baker Street. He takes the little he's brought with him and before he leaves he kisses her on the cheek.
She smiles, her eyes full of tears.
"Take care," she says, and when she hugs him this time he wraps his arms around her too and sighs.
Ever since Anderson's ex-wife left him Donovan has stayed over on a Saturday night. It's a routine thing and although it makes them feel childish sometimes, oh, I'm staying over there Saturday because it's not a school night, it's perfect for them. Donovan loves the jokes Anderson makes but she doesn't know if she could live with his obsessive neat habits. Anderson loved his wife but they couldn't live together and he doesn't want to ruin what he has with Donovan just because they were with each other all the time. Independent is a word to describe both of them, and while they love each other, they don't need each other, not yet. So Saturday nights it is, and Sunday's too, and that's the way they like it.
This Saturday evening has them playing Bryan Adams CD's and drinking red wine, while Donovan curls her legs up beneath her on the chair and Anderson sits on the floor before her, looking up at her as she hums along to the tune of Everything I Do. He chuckles slightly and smiles as she kicks him for laughing.
"You're a pain. Undeniably annoying."
"Annoying? Me?" he pretends to be offended. "I can't be the most annoying person you've met."
There's a silence as the song dies out and they both think of the same person. Neither of them are smiling anymore. After the silence has stretched out too long to be comfortable, Anderson decides it's too late and they might as well delve into the conversation waiting to be started.
"Do you ever feel guilty?"
Donovan exhales, wrapping her fingers tighter around her wine glass.
"Why should I? I didn't…kill him," she seems to have trouble getting the words out, "and all we did was show Lestrade how he was lying."
There's another silence. Anderson watches her shift her position.
"I never wanted him to die," she murmurs softly, "I didn't think he'd kill himself when we found out."
Anderson nods, he understands completely. He knows he shouldn't feel responsible and he says so, but there's still that part of him that wonders if they hadn't said a thing, if Sherlock would still be alive today.
"If you went back in time and knew he was going to jump off the hospital roof if everyone found out, and you suspected he was a fake, would you tell anyone? Would you want the world to know the truth?" He knows he's asking difficult questions but they've ignored it long enough. He wants to know his answer too.
Donovan looks at him for a moment, searching his face, before she answers.
"I honestly don't know. I'd be torn between justice and feeling like I'd inadvertently caused his death," a pause, then a sigh, "I'd probably tell people. I wouldn't believe that someone like him would kill themselves. When has he ever wanted to waste his genius?"
"That's true. I still can't believe he killed himself."
Anderson takes a sip of the wine. He really can't. A part of him thinks Sherlock's probably just pulled off some elaborate fake death scheme and buggered off in hiding somewhere. Then the logical part of his mind tells him that of course that isn't true, there was a body and a fall, and Sherlock was just an ordinary person after all and no one ordinary could do that.
"It's John I feel most sorry for."
"If he hadn't have gotten famous it wouldn't be half as hard for John. It was the Reichenbach case that started the press off. Now the nation hates a fraud and his partner. And really it wasn't John's fault at all."
"Yeah, and he's getting it pushed in his face the whole time," Anderson mutters. He's only half concentrating because he's getting that feeling, the one like standing on the edge of precipice, ironically, before some realisation hits hard. He knows there's a connection somewhere but with what and who and what it's even about he has no clue. He just knows he has to hold onto that feeling, grab it with his mind, so the new idea won't fade away.
"I like John. He's a good man. God only knows how he put up with Sherlock for so long," she doesn't call Sherlock "freak" anymore, Anderson's noticed, because she's a good person too. Not perfect, but good. The thought makes him smile, his Sally, but he jolts himself and concentrates on that pre-comprehension feeling again. And then it turns out he needn't have. He even lied to him. "Do you know what happened to that actor, that Richard Brook?" she breaks off and sighs, "Oh, it doesn't matter now. If only John could deal with it without the publicity. If only Sherlock hadn't showed off with Reichenbach."
And there it is. Like a collision, it hits him hard and it was not what he could have even guessed at. Anderson learnt German in school, he even took it to A-Level, and although he's a bit rusty he can still figure out most words. Rache. Freund. Lügen. Wahrheit. It takes the two things to be said near each other for him to put two and two together and he has, and he's most definitely made four. Reichenbach. Rich Brook. Reichenbach. Richard Brook.
He turns away from Donovan quickly, rubbing under his eyes and making a sound in his throat.
"What is it?" Donovan asks worriedly, placing a reassuring hand on Andersons shoulder.
"I don't know," he confides, "and it's really weak, probably coincidental…"
He waits for her to get it. She knows a vague bit of German was one of the first things they ever talked about. He remembers reading her a poem in German on their first date. Right now he can practically see her brain working, going back over what they'd just been talking about. Anderson sees the point where she makes the same connection. It's one of the things he loves about her, that she's on the same wavelength as him, that they understand each other. He and his ex-wife never did.
"Phone Lestrade," she says, "He may not be working and it may be a ridiculous link but it's worthwhile. And he'll care."
So Anderson does. He taps the number into his cell phone and waits for Lestrade to pick up. While the phone rings he looks at Donovan and asks,
"Why are we trying to clear that man's name? The evidence is overwhelmingly against him and it's not like he was our best friend. We believe he's a fraud."
Sally smiles, her eyes knowing.
"If you really believed that then you'd never have made the connection," she shrugs, "And I guess I feel a bit guilty after all."
Anderson smiles back and reaches out with one hand to take hers.
"Hello, Lestrade? Yes, it's me. I know this is going to sound far-fetched but hear me out. I've found an unusual association…and yes, it's to do with Holmes."
Before the day when Sherlock fell, if you'd asked John to describe darkness he might've said night, the absence of light. The robbing of a heavily relied upon sense. The sharpening of every other protection and paranoia in the mind. And, if he's honest, the daylight hours are the opposite of these points. Walking down the streets that are once more filled with strangers, going nearly everywhere that has been previously touched by them, when the door to the flat closes, where everything is bright, sight not stolen from him but rather defined, filed, pointed until it's so cutting and keen that every movement is noted and flickering like a warning. It could be said that this new level of heightened suspicion is a double edged knife. Being that much closer to the living, the working, the hidden incarcerated, means seeing it all and paranoia could be the push to leaving them or joining them, and he's not sure which is worse. He used to think light was an insight but now he knows what it really is.
Too much light will blind you. Seeing is the darkness, someone told him once, long ago, and he thought they were crazy, but that notion has been chased out of him too.
No, daytime is bright and bare, an eternal light, but it is his description of darkness. You can't see it, it's overpowered by everything revealed in it and that's what darkness is, a cloak over what should be seen.
This is how John feels inside now. He feels like there's too much in the world that he can see. Unfamiliar faces, harassing letters from the press, reminders of Sherlock's death. He hides it well but he knows. Night is where everything is better. There's less distraction. He can talk to Sherlock then.
So sometimes John walks alone at night. He takes advantage of the stillness and the clarity of unbreathed air and let's himself think of his friend, his best friend. He doesn't choose a path or go in the same direction each time but he always finds his way back home. Sherlock is there, and with Sherlock there he can't get lost.
He was so hopelessly lost before he met him. Wandering aimlessly, detached and adrift. He likes to think Sherlock was too. That one step away from humanity, the track running alongside normal life but not quite touching it. He likes to think he helped bring him closer, moor him in, give him a way as well. In the daytime he thinks that's not true, Sherlock was still gone, otherwise he wouldn't have jumped. At night, however, he knows differently, he knows that Sherlock was so much more than people thought. So very, very human.
While he walks, he talks to him. Occasionally Sherlock replies. It doesn't matter if he doesn't, John can feel his presence anyway. Everybody else is sleeping, the city's gone to bed, but they're there together. Together. That's the main word. What they are together. John tells Sherlock about his dreams and how proud he is of Harry, even if he can't show it how he'd like to. He talks of the times they had and how boring watching crap telly is without him and how hard he's going to hit him when he comes back. There's barely a part of his life that he doesn't relay to him, and in a way he's glad he isn't really there to hear it all and say "John, you are just like the rest of them sometimes".
Because he knows it's all in his mind. Not for a second is he mistaken in thinking this is real. He's not talking to Sherlock, he's talking to himself, but he doesn't care. He likes it; he needs it, and nobody's there to tell him he's insane.
This night is clear and cool for the dimming summer months. As soon as his fingers leave the latch of the front door behind him he lets out a sigh and instantly feels more relaxed. He turns right, strolls down the street, feeling his muscles loosen as he walks. There's something so peaceful, so calm tonight, it makes him smile. He walks for five minutes before he talks.
The city is alive still, of course, London strives on the pulse of life around the clock. But there are less loud noises, slightly less cars and the stars are beautiful tonight.
"Hey," he says.
"How are you?" he says.
"I've missed you," he says.
There's no response and he guesses it's one of those nights but he doesn't really mind. Sherlock only replied to him half the time before so there's no point him starting now. John just smiles and puts his hands in his pockets.
"I had a nice conversation with Mrs Hudson about you today," he chuckles, "Well, I say nice, we had a good moan about how untidy you were and the mess you made of the flat. She was more concerned about the walls, I was more concerned about the edibleness of the food we ate. You never were clear about what you had experimented on."
He's by Regents Park now, and he can just make out the boating lake through the fence. It's shut and he doesn't feel like going terribly far today so he stops, sits on a wall and takes a break.
"Oh Sherlock," he muses, his tone sombre and pensive, "why did you have to leave? I felt like nothing and you made me feel like something again. You were –you are, my best friend."
He's looking ahead when he sees the man. Dressed in that god-awful wonderful trench coat that he wore whatever the weather, his hair in slight disarray from the light wind, he's just a silhouette. John freezes, he can't move again, like in his dream, and he watches, watches the man turn away, stride away in a familiar gait.
Yes. No. Yes, come back, no, don't be an apparition.
"Wait!" John yells, standing up, "Don't leave me."
He starts running, and he sees the figure running too. Why are you leaving me? Again? He pushes himself faster, sprints harder.
"Don't you dare fucking leave me again, don't you dare!"
It's too late, the ghost disappears round a corner and he feels stupid. People are watching him on the other side of the street, laughing and drunkenly swaying into taxi cabs while they mock the gasping man who calls out crazy things. They probably think he's mental. To be honest he wonders the same thing.
He puts his hands on either side of his face, pressing his fingertips against his temples and closes his eyes. You have an uncanny knack of being able to make me feel like a complete idiot, Sherlock Holmes, and I don't know how the hell you're doing it from beyond the grave but you are. Never happy 'til you've proven you're the smartest. John laughs, softly, to himself. This is progression, he supposes. Ella would say that. Now he's talking to him in his head, getting mad at him in his mind, that's one step away from derailing and one step towards letting go.
"That's it," he breathes, "that's it. I've got to let go."
He looks up at the sky, the stars, and imagines Sherlock's up there. Got to get your information first hand.
"Goodbye," he whispers, voice hoarse. "I'm a million miles from actually letting go Sherlock, and an infinity away from forgetting, but I can't pretend like you're coming back. If you ever walk through the door again, I'll…well I'm not sure what I'll do, but I'll be there. I can wait for you. I just can't wait for that moment anymore Sherlock. It hurts too much."
He doesn't mention that it also makes him look deranged when he chases after random strangers but the thought makes him laugh, an uplift to his words. John holds out his hand once more, as if he's waiting for Sherlock to materialise and take it, take his hand and whisk them off on another brilliant, fantastic, mystifying, amazing, awe-inspiring, terrifying, beautiful adventure. Then he lets it drop to his side, empty, and turns to walk back the way he came.
Sherlock can't go out in the day, for obvious reasons, so he's taken to the night. It isn't hard, he never was an early riser, because he never went to bed early before, and sometimes he just skipped sleep altogether, captivated by an experiment or an interesting case. It makes Molly a little uncomfortable, when he calls goodbye and slips out the door at midnight, but she's too tired to care much by then anyway and she figures Sherlock can look after himself.
It irritates Mycroft though.
"You're risking everything."
"I have to get out. I'm not confined and caged in like you."
Mycroft ignores snarky comments like this as he's always done and hammers home his point.
"Someone will see you."
"No, they won't. Do you think I like sneaking around like some hopeless, ignorant teenager? I'd rather go out in the day."
"You can. Once we've got the second tier of Moriarty's syndicate."
"We? I'm taking them down. Myself. I have to."
"Then why aren't you? What's keeping you here?"
To that Sherlock has no reply.
So in between blanking Mycroft, ruining Molly's flat and racing his brain, he goes out in the dark. Less risk, less press, more peace. He finds his mind works better against a silent backdrop so he takes advantage of this and uses the nights to devise strategies, how to get to Moriarty's second in command, how to keep his mind off John, Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, even the police force. He doesn't stroll, he strides, power in his body, power in his mind. The nights are good.
But now he wonders if he's been failing in not thinking about his friends. Because they are his friends.
And because he can see one, resting against the wall of Regents Park, murmuring indistinguishable things. Sherlock wonders if his mind is playing tricks for a fleeting second, then disregards the thought. His mind doesn't fool him; it doesn't lie, not without outsider input. Second thought is drugs. Third is reality.
John. Oh, how can he have walked here? How can he have been so stupid? His brain gives him some forgiveness in the fact that it's not entirely expected, or indeed average, for John to be wandering the streets at this hour, but it's not really compensation because, oh how he wants to talk to him right now. See the curve of his nose, the tales on his skin, written in lines and planes and those eyes that hold more than should be possible. The safe openness of John, the net, the wings, the home. Sherlock stands there, stands and stares, and all this takes three seconds. Three seconds too long.
John sees him, and though he's too far away, Sherlock can practically see the hope in his face. It hurts to think of it. He has to turn away, leave, because this is not supposed to happen, he's dead and he's staying it until everyone's safe. His life for theirs, that's the price he paid, and that can't change, not yet.
He hears John's footsteps, the even pace like a heartbeat that he knows better than his own, quicken and run, so he has to run too. It feels so wrong to be running away. When did right become wrong? he wonders, and he realizes it's when emotions got involved. Of course. He can hear John shouting too, "don't leave me again" and he has to run faster or he might collapse. I never left you to start with.
Sherlock spots a small road without lights, dark and shadowed away from streetlamps, and darts into it, presses himself against the wall and regulates his sharp breathing. John's yelling has ended and the silence clouds around him like a danger warning. He's not walking, he's not thinking, he's still, and the noises are coming for him again, executioners to a prison cell.
A car backfires far away and the gunshot resounds from the engine. Bang, bang, bang.
No, no, no.
He shoves his hand in his pocket, drags out his phone. Calls the first person he thinks of, after John.
"Come and get me."
"I'm coming now."
They're in Mycroft's nearest office and neither of them are talking. Mycroft pours himself a drink, and Sherlock too, whilst Sherlock sits in one of the chairs and thinks about not initiating the conversation. The room is lit up by the soft light of the lamp on the desk as they both don't like the harsh main light, but the curtains are open at the window and Sherlock can see the moon outside, the same moon that shines down on Molly, probably asleep at her flat, and Lestrade, probably asleep at his, and John, who is unlikely to be asleep after the nights events. He always overthinks things.
It's Mycroft who breaks the quiet by being only slightly less stubborn.
"This was always going to happen, sooner or later."
"Oh yes, please enjoy the smug delight this is giving you," Sherlock says sardonically.
"Sherlock," Mycroft gives him a sharp look, his eyes serious, "do not take this lightly."
"By what stretch of the imagination do you think I am? I didn't want him to see me."
Sherlock rolls his eyes and lays his head back, exposing his neck and the faint tremor in his jaw. His tone may be flippant but his body betrays him and it doesn't go unnoticed. Mycroft sighs, sits down opposite him and hands him a drink. Sherlock pointedly ignores him so Mycroft sighs again and puts the glass on the table. He reclines back a bit and settles his clasped hands on his lap.
"Why are you staying Sherlock, if not for them?"
Sherlock waves the question away with his hand.
"Sherlock," Mycroft raises his voice, "don't pretend this conversation isn't happening."
"It isn't," Sherlock retorts.
Mycroft sees the shadow of smile pull at Sherlock's lips. He stops himself from rolling his eyes at the immaturity of the enjoyment Sherlock gets out of baiting him but can't help smiling himself. Some things never change.
"If you can't figure out what's stopping you from going then you should just tell him you're alive. It would help clear up his grief."
Sherlock jerks his head back to the normal position and gives his brother a cold look.
"First of all, you can't clear up grief," Sherlock overlooks the raise of Mycroft's eyebrow and continues, "and secondly, you know I can't just tell him."
"And why not?"
"Because," Sherlock utters incredulously, as though shocked by Mycroft's stupidity, "if he knows I'm alive, if any of them know, and more people find out, they'd be in danger. An eye for an eye. I don't think Moriarty's men would like it if he died with no loss on our side. And those snipers only took their guns off John, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson because they saw me fall. If they knew I was alive…"
Mycroft inclines his head, still smiling.
"And so you can never tell them you're alive until there's no threat to their lives. And that means…?"
Sherlock narrows his eyes as he realises the simple set up he's walked into. He mentally hits himself for being bested by Mycroft and winces as he replies, knowing he has to say what Mycroft wants him to because damn, this time he's got him.
"I have to get rid of the threat before they can know."
"So," Mycroft asks, "I'll ask again. Why are you still here? Unless you want my help, which personally I think would be a very good idea. But as always, you seem determined to do this alone-"
"Yes," Sherlock interrupts, "I have to. I owe it to Moriarty. I owe it to John. I owe it to my friends."
He leans forward and puts his elbows on his knees. He gazes at Mycroft and at last his expression is closer to his actual feelings, half despairing and half resolute and completely sincere. His hands fidget and play with the material of his trousers but he doesn't pick up the glass to busy them.
Some things never change.
"I know I've got to go find them. Just give me a week more."
At Mycroft's inquiring glance he elaborates.
"I don't know why, okay? I don't know."
"Seems to be quite a common state of mind for you recently," Mycroft remarks and Sherlock lowers his eyebrows into an angry, sulky glare. Mycroft laughs. "Of course. I'm not forcing you to do anything, Sherlock."
This seems to be a halfway meeting so Sherlock deems it not to be surrendering to drink, and he's unexpectedly thirsty so he finally accepts the glass and looks away from Mycroft and out of the window at the clear early morning sky.
When he's done and he decides to return to Molly's, he says goodbye to his brother, not in a sarcastic way, Mycroft reflects, for the first time in ages. After he's turned down the offer of a lift and before he walks out the door, he looks back at Mycroft and says,
"I've changed my mind. If you could find out about a man called Sebastian Moran that'd be useful. From my research I've managed to gather enough information to affirm he's Moriarty's second-in-command but everywhere else I'm hitting dead ends."
"Certainly," Mycroft replies.
"And one more thing," Sherlock looks him straight in the eye, tone grave, "look after John for me. Look after them all."
"I've been doing that since day one."
And with that he's out of the door in a flurry. Mycroft shakes his head slightly and pinches the bridge of his nose. A noise disrupts his thoughts and he looks back up at the doorway. Sherlock's looking around it, staring at him again in that upfront way he's seen more in the past ten minutes than in the past ten years. Mycroft looks at him questioningly.
"Look after yourself," is all Sherlock says and then he's gone again so quickly Mycroft wonders if he imagined it.
But he knows he didn't and smiles once more, before picking up the phone and calling the best contacts he knows to tell him more about Sebastian Moran.
He'd think it were ice, the ledge of white; cold, numbing ice that is intent to freeze him, stop his heart. It's hard and unforgiving and down below all he sees is more, more and more and more ice, white, white, white. No shade of ivory, no hint of cream, just an endless expanse of absent colour. Yes, he'd think it were ice, if it weren't for the fact that by now he knows better. White means blank. White means nothing. White means the paper he draws on every night.
The only reason he knows he's before a drop is because his toes are curling around the edge, holding on. In the back of his mind he vaguely wonders about shoes, but it's a distant thought and is soon lost amongst a rush of new ones.
He'd drawn the hospital that evening. Drawn the roof, drawn the pavement, drawn every single window he could remember.
And then he'd drawn himself. Standing on top. Looking down. Falling.
Now he's remembered, he knows what's coming. John wants to laugh at how predictable his mind is. Sherlock would laugh. Sherlock probably is laughing. If he's watching him from the sky. The little voice in the back of John's mind, the one who taunts him, asks if he's one hundred per cent certain Sherlock's dead. Of course not, John thinks, clenching his fist as though he can knock the voice out. The voice snickers and tells him he's a fool to believe that he hasn't gone, and even if it's true, Sherlock hasn't come for him, so that shows how much he cares. John has to shake his head hard and yell at it to shut up in his mind before it goes away, sniggering into the silence.
There's no ink this time, there's no imminent danger. No chase, no exhilaration, no fright. Just a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, a pain that reminds him of when he has to do things he doesn't want to, just to make things right. It grows and grows, it spreads like a disease throughout his body. In the hollow of his throat there's that ache, so acute it makes him feel sick. He knows what he has to do but he doesn't know why.
John glances down. There's nothing below him, just space. He wonders if he'll fall forever, plummet until the end of time. The thought doesn't disturb him and that disturbs him. When did he stop caring? he asks himself, and the answer's simple. When the only person who truly mattered was erased from existence. He wants to rebuke himself for that thought. There's Harry and Molly and Lestrade, they all matter.
They just aren't him. He could walk away from any of them, if he absolutely had to. He could never leave Sherlock.
So why did Sherlock leave him?
He takes a deep breath, stretches his arms out. He imagines Sherlock's there, waiting for him, and it makes him smile. Would he be proud of him now? He's following him, following the light, the light that banished the dark days and the nightmares. He sees Sherlock's hand, outstretched. That touch he's missed, the long fingers that curled around his, cupped his face when he got hurt, that flinched away from almost all physical contact apart from his. John hopes that wherever Sherlock is that he's learning to appreciate the most important sense.
It's never missed until it's gone and he can recall every touch.
Every part of him wants that feeling again. He urges himself to continue, to reach for Sherlock's hand. It's not a difficult decision. He already knows what to do.
He falls. Tips himself forwards and lets gravity take him away. There's nothing left to tie him down so he lets go.
Letting go is the one of the hardest things he's ever done.
It's still not as hard as living without his best friend.
It's an odd assortment that has convened at one of the many pubs lost in London's city centre. Lestrade and Mycroft and John, Mrs Hudson and Molly and Mike, even Donovan and Anderson. Most surprisingly, perhaps, is Henry Knight, who John used to keep in touch with but has neglected to talk to recently. They're all sitting around in an enclosed booth, sipping at the drinks they ordered while they waited for everyone to arrive. The pub is noisy but they are not. It seems everyone's waiting for someone else to start the conversation.
It's another surprise when it's Anderson who does, putting his lager down and clearing his throat. John watches him take Sally's hand, resting on the table and decides he is very close to hating them both.
"We're all here because of Sherlock," he starts, and he looks around the table.
"Yes, dear," says Mrs Hudson. "What is it about him we are here for? It sounded very important on the phone. Are we having another remembrance get together? My sister-in-law did that a few months after my husband died. I didn't go but I remember thinking about it."
"No," Anderson interrupts hurriedly, smiling at her briefly and then fixing his gaze firmly on John. "It's about his part in the crimes."
John tenses and closes his fists under the table. He wants to hit Anderson, hit him so hard he'll forget who is for a few days. He can already feel anger building up and he has to really try to make his tone civil.
"In what crimes?" he forces out, "He didn't commit any crimes. Look, I'm not going to sit here and listen to you tell us what a bad man he was and that we have to forget him. Forget it."
John stands up abruptly and sends him a look that makes up for all the vehemence and fury he had to keep out of his tone. He waits for Anderson to pull that face, the one that says oh poor John, so oblivious, so loyal, so stupid he can't see the truth but it doesn't come. Instead he looks like he agrees, which is enough of a shock to loosen the tension in John's muscles and drop his glare into confusion. Anderson nods, and indicates he should sit down again. John pauses for a moment, torn between his pride and protectiveness and the curiosity he feels at what he'll say next. After a moment he sits back down.
"What about it?" comes Molly's worried voice from next to him.
Anderson spreads his free hand on the table like he's demonstrating plans of action. It reminds John of the army.
"Everyone thinks he made it all up. That he was just a fraud. A fake."
John can feel his anger rising again and if Anderson doesn't get to the bloody point very soon it's extremely likely he'll have a broken nose to worry about later. He's very lucky there's a table between them right now.
"But he wasn't," Henry says, and the resolute tone of his voice makes them all turn to look at him. "What?" he shrugs, "He wasn't. I mean, do any of us believe he was?"
John looks straight back at Donovan and Anderson and dares them to say they do, but they just watch Henry.
"I mean, he saved my life. I was haunted, for years. He helped me. And I do not believe for a second that he could have faked all of that just to sound clever."
"And even if he had," Mycroft's soft, clipped tone adds, "it would be exceedingly clever to think up these ideas in the first place."
"Exactly. He might as well have just used that intellect to actually solve them."
"And I don't think anyone could be quite like him and not really be him. I don't know anyone else who could wreck a flat so easily just because they were bored," Mrs Hudson smiles at John, her eyes twinkling. "And John says he's innocent, don't you dear, and he spent so much time with him. John knows best."
"We all think he's innocent of what they say. But the rest of the world doesn't," Lestrade speaks for the first time.
"And that's precisely what we wanted to talk about," Donovan says. It brings John's attention back to them and the secret looks they're giving each other, and now he's all ears. Whatever they've got to say, it'd better be good. After a small nod from Lestrade she continues. "If we can get enough evidence we can prove he's done nothing wrong. Well," she amends her sentence, "nothing that they say he's done."
"And how do you propose we do that?" Mycroft asks coolly. John can practically hear the undertone of you were the one who got this whole ball rolling, you were the one who first got taken in by Moriarty's lies and made them public. He feels a rush of gratitude towards Mycroft for not being the only one angry at them, despite the fact he knows Mycroft's using his annoyance at Anderson and Donovan as a redirection of his own regrets. Sally goes a bit red, she's heard that implied sentence, and John feels a bit bad, because she's only human and she was up against the mastermind of Moriarty, and even he had had that nanosecond of doubt.
"Well, we've got a few things," she mumbles. Anderson's grip on her hand tightens to encourage her and she squeezes back gratefully. "We've found a connection. It's really vague but…it's odd."
There's a silence around the table as they all look at her expectantly, waiting for her next words.
"Reichenbach," she says simply. "Reichenbach Falls. Richard Brook."
No one speaks and nearly everyone has the same expression, that sort of half baffled, half trying to cover it up and look like they understand sort of expression. John notices Mycroft raise his eyebrow a little, so clearly he gets it, but John doesn't have the slightest idea what she means. They all wait for her to elaborate.
"Rich Brook. Translates in German to Reichenbach. The case that really made him famous. The Reichenbach Fall."
Fall. Now John gets it. He breathes out and closes his eyes. Fall, fall, fall. Oh, Moriarty was good. He'd been planning this for a long time. Oh.
He hears Molly make a little squeak and Mike and Mrs Hudson both whisper something under their breath. Lestrade picks up from Donovan and continues.
"We discovered this connection so we went back over some things that should have been gone over before. The footprints at the school in the missing children case, they matched Sherlock's size but…the length of stride looks different. Shorter. It's not solid evidence-"
"Then what use is it?" Mycroft asks suddenly. Everyone looks at him and he gazes steadily back. "The public aren't going to believe that. Especially coming from us. Of course we'd want to make it seem like he isn't what they say he is but all we're going on is a coincidence of name and the distance between footprints? Nobody in their right mind would ever even stop to listen to us."
"We want to prove his innocence."
"With such a feeble link? It's ridiculous."
John stares at Mycroft, mouth agape, as if he can't quite believe what he's hearing. And he can't. Finally, finally there's something, some vague light, and Sherlock's own brother is telling them not to bother. He wants to hit him like he wanted to hit Anderson earlier. He flexes his hand instinctively.
"What the hell is your problem?"
John doesn't recall opening his mouth to speak his mind and he's even more astounded to see Henry standing up and directing the words at Mycroft, giving him the darkest look he's ever seen on him. Mycroft looks shocked too, which gives John a little joy.
"We're trying to help Sherlock here. Why are you so against the idea? Who do you think you are?"
"I'm his brother."
"Then act like it."
Henry's retort is like a slap in the face. Mycroft just freezes up and inhales sharply. Everyone looks away awkwardly and winces. Henry sits back down and sighs.
"Look, I'm sorry. I just can't bear to see a man who changed my life so much have his name dragged through the mud."
Mycroft accepts the apology with a wave of his hand and the conversation carries on. They discuss how they can change the views on Sherlock. Where is Richard Brook now? The names, the fall, the footprints. All the people who will back him up, all the people who he's solved crimes for, Lestrade's been in touch with them all. He may not be working currently but he still knows who to contact. John feels the best he's felt in ages, surrounded by people who don't think he's crazy, who care. Even Mycroft slips in the names of a few people he can call to help. They're a team, dedicated to clearing Sherlock's name, and finally John feels like he has a purpose again. He smiles properly for the first time in a while.
When they all leave, hugging and shaking hands and making arrangements to meet again soon, John is struck by the little group that has been pulled together by Sherlock. His own network. The thought makes him happy. He kisses Molly on the cheek and nods at Anderson and Donovan, a sign to show his respect and gratitude. He figures they've proved themselves more than ordinary. Then he takes Mrs Hudson's arm and is about to leave when someone else grabs his other arm and pulls him to the side. John looks up at Mycroft and now they're nearer each other he really wants to hit him. Only Mrs Hudson's kind voice in his ear telling him she'll wait outside makes him refrain from throwing a punch Mycroft's way.
"I didn't mean that I don't believe Sherlock's innocence, John," Mycroft says neutrally. John laughs.
"Hmm? Oh really? That's what it sounded like to me."
Mycroft lowers his tone and leans in a fraction closer. He frowns at John and gives him a look that clearly tells him he's about to divulge something important.
"He just doesn't need the attention on him."
"He doesn't…wait, what? What do you mean by that?" John's eyes widen as he takes in the words. The implications. He's never been as quick as Sherlock but he gets this straight away. Mycroft looks at him, his own eyes trying to convey a message.
"Nothing, John, nothing," he says, but that's not what he means. He shakes John's hand, lingering a second too long and he gives him another look. A moment later he's walking briskly by and putting up his umbrella to protect him from the rain in the five second walk from the doors to the sleek black car waiting for him.
"Wait!" John calls, spinning around and following quickly, running out after him. It's too late and Mycroft's already got in the car and Mrs Hudson's waving him over to a taxi she's caught and John had absolutely no idea what to think now.
Except for bloody hell, Sherlock.
He can't seem to get past that.
John thought he'd left his anger at Sherlock behind him, all that rage, how dare the brilliant man leave him, how could he, was their friendship worth less than the truth?. He thought he'd moved past those feelings, that he'd accepted there was some unseen reason for his death, an explanation that John couldn't see and perhaps never would. He thought it'd stopped once the cruel ache had come, the hole in him that couldn't be filled, the punch in the gut when he accidentally made two cups of tea. He thought the anger had dissipated.
But as he lies awake at night he realises he was wrong. He's gotten his mind around Mycroft's words and now he understands, now he's furious.
You selfish, selfish git. You want me to believe you're dead. You inconsiderate, cold, unfeeling bastard. Do you know what it's been like? The numbness, the dreams, the hurt? Do you even care?
He grips the sheets in his hands so tightly his knuckles go white. He wants to rage and scream and yell at Sherlock, because as much as he wanted him to be alive, he also can't understand why Sherlock would want him to believe he's dead.
I had to find out from Mycroft. Your fucking brother cares more about me than you do. You complete arse, you know how many times I've heard Mrs Hudson cry because of you? You know how hard everyone's trying just to clear your name and all you give us is nothing? What could be more important than your friends? Do we not count to you? Does no one matter to you?
Shaking, he let's go of the sheet and turns onto his side, facing the wall. John knows he's being irrational, he knows, but he doesn't care. When there was nothing this wouldn't have hurt so much. He's seen countless people die. But Sherlock made there be something and then he took it away and John can't, doesn't want to see, the reason.
You're a self-centred, thoughtless idiot. He sighs and just like that his anger is spent.
But you're my friend. My best friend. I trust you, God knows why. I miss you. I need you.
I love you.
Sherlock's expression reminds Mycroft of an instance when they were younger, much younger, and he had borrowed Sherlock's favourite book at the time for some research he was interested in and his brother had found out and almost looked ready to kill him. Somehow in the twenty-five year gap, his moods and dark looks have barely changed, except perhaps now he looks as if he actually is going to kill him, because this is about John and John is a million times more important than that book. It brings a faint smile to Mycroft's face, thinking how his brother values a human above information, he never thought he'd have evidence of that so obviously laid out before of him.
Sherlock paces in front of him, paces, his anxiety and anger showing through, and normally he'd care but right now he can't think of anything he cares about less. He wants Mycroft to know just how furious he is with him.
"You know, you know, the risks of him knowing I'm alive. You know it risks everything."
Mycroft watches this unravelling before him, leans on his umbrella, smiles a bit more.
"What?" Sherlock snaps, halting his movements and glaring at him, "What are you smirking at?"
"How worried you are. It's touching."
"Worried? I can't believe this. No, I take that back. Of course I can. It's you," Sherlock narrows his eyes and to anyone else, if they were near enough, it looks as if he utterly hates his brother. "Why would you tell him I'm not dead? Are you trying to get one up one me? I wouldn't be surprised."
"Don't be childish," Mycroft chuckles softly, "I have no desire to, or indeed need to, 'get one up on you'. And I did not tell him anything, I merely hinted. Very heavily perhaps-"
"In a manner that couldn't be understood any other way."
"Yes. But your anger is misguided. Think about how you really feel."
Sherlock takes a step closer, shaking ever so slightly, his eyes ablaze in emotion.
"Don't tell me how I feel."
"Then figure it out for yourself. Why haven't you left yet, Sherlock? You can't tear yourself away from watching them, watching him, deal with your death. You're torturing yourself. Because you feel bad? Because you want to know who cares? Or is it because you care so much? You were prepared to die for them, essentially, and now you can't bear to see them go through that grief, because they careso much about you too. You're staying because you really, really want to help them, make it better. And you can't. Because you're dead."
Mycroft watches his words take their effect on Sherlock. His bared emotions from earlier fall away before him, the anger sweeping off his face and the intense air slips, steadies, until all that's left is that mask, that blank, cool expression that is like a canvas, waiting to come alive with the next feeling streaking across his face, like an insight to a miracle. Sherlock stares at him as if waiting for Mycroft to continue, to guide him through what he's feeling because he can't quite grip it himself.
Mycroft does, in the end, because it's clear Sherlock won't say anything.
"They were all discussing how to prove your innocence. They're all planning to show the world you were telling the truth and it's Moriarty that's to blame." He laughs, "Not that they have very much reliable evidence, but they're dedicated."
Sherlock's eyes seem to soften and maybe it's the light but they suddenly seem much more blue and much less grey.
"It's not my reputation I'm staying away for."
"Then leave them behind."
The whole of his face visibly relaxes and for the first time that day Sherlock smiles. It's a private smile, one that's just for him; it's one that appears when he understands something, when he's got it. Then he smiles at Mycroft too, which Mycroft is still getting used to, and this one looks almost thankful.
"I can," he murmurs and Mycroft nods in encouragement.
"Because now John knows I'm alive he won't hurt so much. He'll wait."
And suddenly John waiting isn't such a scary idea. John will be angry, John will be upset, but John is brave, like he's always known. And now he won't have to grieve, now he can just wait for the moment when they see each other again, and maybe John will have moved on, maybe he'll welcome him back, but he'll still be there. John is his rock. The net, the wings, the home.
He still has one more question for his brother though.
"Why did you only tell him? Why not Lestrade? And Mrs Hudson?"
"Because you're right. People knowing would be risky. Moriarty's empire is vast, clever, always watching. And maybe it would come out by accident, maybe they'd suspect something and get the information out of someone, but in the end they'd find out. And you know they'd kill them," Mycroft answers smoothly. Sherlock nods. "With just John…it could still happen. But he's good at pretending."
"No, he's not."
"Maybe not to you," Mycroft smiles, "but he is. And I didn't tell him anything. I can feed him any information on your whereabouts if it's appropriate, in the form of mutual condolences and comfort. It'd be a lot harder for them to find out if only he knows. But it'll put his mind at rest, not to mention yours. And you'll get that pleasure of making an entrance, like you so love to do, whenever you come back and reveal your existence to everyone else."
Sherlock rolls his eyes but he shows his agreement.
"That's why you can't talk to him, Sherlock," Mycroft warns, "they will notice that."
As much as it hurts, Sherlock has to agree again.
"I'll still have to tell him what's going on properly. I don't want it all going through you."
"That's fine," Mycroft shrugs, "just be careful."
This makes Sherlock smirk, and now Mycroft knows he is finally ready to take down Moriarty's syndicate and tie up the loose ends. He's back to his usual self and nothing else would work. Only pure Sherlock.
"I'm always careful," he laughs.
He ignores the raise of Mycroft's eyebrow.
He doesn't wait for Molly to come back to her flat after work. He's never been good at goodbyes and he doesn't know how to articulate what he feels. Instead he leaves a note, short, brief, where he thanks her for letting him stay and putting up with his experiments and apologises for putting so much weight on her shoulders. He puts it down on the side, looks at it for a moment and then quickly adds on the end, in his slanted scrawl, seven words.
You're special, Molly Hooper, don't forget it.
Sherlock means every bit of that note. He knows she'll know that too.
He's given his letter addressed to John to Mycroft.
"Make sure he reads it," he says, "I'm not going anywhere until I know he has."
So Mycroft slips the letter into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, it's safest on his person than anywhere else, and goes to visit John, who lets him in and tells him he has a lot of explaining to do. Mycroft inclines his head but says nothing, merely handing John the letter and taking a step back. John frowns, and gives Mycroft a suspicious look as he uncertainly slips his thumb under the fold in the envelope and tears it open. As soon as the letter's unfolded and he sees the familiar writing his legs seem to go weak and he has to sit down because this is the final proof, the confirmation that Sherlock's alive.
He pauses before he reads it, torn between the need to read the content of the whole letter as quickly as possible, to know as quickly as possible, and the want to savour every word written, each line coming from Sherlock's mind, his living mind.
I am not dead, as is obvious from this letter. I feel the need to write it down because that's exactly how I've been feeling these past few months. I don't know how much my brother has told you but I need you to know this; that I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted to leave you. I had to, and now I've got a job to do and maybe this is me finally taking proper responsibility for someone else's life and I haven't had to do that before, and it's terrifying, if I'm honest. I suppose I am trying to follow in your example, face fear and still carry on. Fear is still a raw feeling, John, and when it was for me I could repress it but when it's for you, your life, I have to fight it. I can't let the devil win, not when it's your life at stake. I just want you to know that for you, I'd do anything.
If I've learnt anything about you, John, I expect you're probably still making two cups of tea. Don't stop. I promise I'll return. Whether or not you still want to know me by then, I can't tell, and if you don't want to see me again, I'll understand. And if I can't I'll at least respect your wishes.
That's the thing about you, John. I don't know if I constantly underestimate you, or tally you in with the general population too often, but you surprise me a lot. Even your little habits surprise me. The fact you always take your shower hot in the summer and cold in the winter. How you always tap the spoon against the cup twice after stirring in my sugar. See, I won't forget them. I notice them all. I have no idea how mundane little things like that stay fixed in my mind but I never forget them. I think it's because they're you. You are intriguing and human, so very, very human, and I respect that.
Molly said once, whilst talking to me after my 'death', that we're like two parts that can't survive without each other. She said you are the heart, I am the brain. I am the mind, you are the soul. I think her romanticisms were going to her head a bit, but what she said struck me, despite it being a slightly ridiculous comparison. I've spent most my life avoiding needing anyone, relying on anyone, being with anyone. But since knowing you, I've remembered what it's like to miss someone. To want to phone them and hear their voice. To have the company. I didn't think that would be a good thing, people let you down, but you never have.
I feel like I've let you down. I meant only to protect you, and I stand by what I've done. I have to finish this off.
I just want to say that I'm not forgetting you, John. I'm still with you, even if I'm not next to you, and one day I really will be by your side again. I can't tell you how much I wish that day were today. I wish you could be by my side, that we could do this together but I have to protect you, as far as I can. Mycroft will explain everything fully.
Look out for Lestrade and Mrs Hudson and Molly and the others. Don't let them do anything stupid. They don't deserve to be forgotten either.
This letter is far too long and I am being far too sentimental. All I really wanted to tell you was that I'm alive, I'm coming home someday and I'll always be there for you. You've been the best days of my life. Thank you.
John lets out a shaky laugh and closes his eyes. He doesn't know how to feel. Exultant, wretched, every emotion on the spectrum in between. He focuses on the words again and rereads the letter. I never wanted to leave you. I just want you to know that for you, I'd do anything. I promise I'll return. Two parts that can't survive without each other. I'm still with you, even if I'm not next to you.
And then at the end, the signing off of his name, the scrawl scripted in a beautiful flow of a practised signature.
John can't stop the tears from coming, he lets himself cry. He doesn't care that Mycroft is there, he just lets himself come undone once more and cries, holding on tightly to the letter like a lifeline and laughing like it's his last chance. But it's not. It's not because Sherlock isn't gone, Sherlock hasn't left him and the dark days are gone once more.
That night he takes a box out of his bedside drawers and removes the papers within, the lines, the scribbles, the circles. He throws them all out, tears them up until they are so small and inconsequential they are worthless. Then he folds the letter up, Sherlock's words, and places it there instead. He smiles as he closes the box, puts it in the drawer, keeps it near him. It'll be his anchor, his reassurance. He'll leave it there until he sees Sherlock again and can hear his words out his mouth, feel his touch first hand.
John doesn't dream that night. There is no ink to drown him, wound to taunt him, ledge to fall off. Just darkness, the kind of peaceful darkness that is light, the kind of darkness that is refuge, prepares him for another day. The kind where he doesn't have to be lost anymore.
That night John doesn't dream and that night, neither does Sherlock.