Author's Note: Let me just begin by saying that this has been one truly enjoyable and at times maddening experience. I have received such a lovely reception for this story and I extend my sincerest thanks to all of you who have so faithfully reviewed and followed my work. Alas, all good things must come to an end and I hope that this final chapter meets all of your expectations. That being said, there will be a sequel, hopefully in the very near future, in which most of this fic's loose ends will be tied up.
I don't know what else to say – I'm feeling a little emotional right now, haha. So I've written you an extra long chapter to finish up with here, and I beg that you please leave me some feedback and let me know what you'd like to see in the sequel since most of that plotline is still up in the air.
A final note: I realize that a lot of what was thrown in towards the end of this story (mainly Moriarty's role in all of this) doesn't see a lot of resolution in this chapter. I assure you that this is intentional. I realized after a read-through that this story is almost entirely made of angst and I didn't want to delve into another whole set of issues just as the story was coming to a close. Most of the conflict involving Moriarty will be seen in the sequel. My primary goal with this final chapter was A) give Sherlock his memory back and B) resolve what I found to be the biggest conflict between John and Mycroft and their differing views on Sherlock's safety. As you can obviously tell, this story has been rather morally and psychologically based – in the sequel there will (hopefully) be more action.
Again, thank you so so so much, and I can't wait to see you on the other side!
Later on, what John would recall was how fast everything had happened. Later on, what he would try not to remember was how close he had come, that very day, to giving up on Sherlock altogether. Sitting in his old armchair, staring out the window and realizing that if the detective had really gone, had chosen to go, what was the point in waiting for him to return? Later on, John would recall how the sky was gray and everything was quiet and silent and dull when it all … happened.
First, there was the text message. A blocked number (wasn't it always?) with the simple message:
The game's no fun without my favorite pawn. Come out and play?
John stumbled – fell, really – out of his chair and had barely gotten to his knees when his phone was ringing off the hook. Naturally, Mycroft was first. John tried to organize his thoughts, tried to contain his fear and quell the violence that threatened to overwhelm him when he thought of the text message and its implications…
"John? Stay where you are; I have reinforcements on the way. Keep your weapon handy. I'm having Ms. Hooper delivered to the flat so that we can keep an eye on both of you at once. I will call when I can."
No sooner had the phone clicked off on Mycroft's end than there was a second incoming call.
Lestrade this time. "John? What's going on? Just got off the line with Mycroft's bloody secretary, of all people. Andrea, is it? Said I should meet you at Baker Street. Wouldn't tell me a damn thing – just said it was vital I get to where you are. Everything all right, mate? Did they find Sherlock?"
Before John could answer, Mrs. Hudson was in the room. "John?" As always, the good landlady seemed only mildly flustered. "John dear, what's all this then? That lovely girl Molly just called and told me to make sure you were still here. Are you quite well? What's happened?"
And they arrived in the same order in which they'd called. First Mycroft's "reinforcements" – six dizzyingly tall men in pristine black suits and earpieces; second, Inspector Lestrade, gun in hand but unsure where exactly to point it; and third, a pale Molly Hooper in flannel pajamas and a frown.
Later on, John would recall how they waited only three hours and how it felt like days. Later on, John would realize that this was because no one knew quite what to do with themselves. Mycroft hadn't told anyone anything, leaving the women pacing and anxious and the men thirsty for any type of action at all. Outside, the London evening marched on in a dull haze of drizzle and fog. Inside, John paced from the kitchen to the sofa and tried not to imagine all the horrific ways in which Sherlock's nemesis might currently be abusing him. Later on, John would recall feeling so useless he could have wept.
And then, just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Mycroft was in the living room – the now very crowded living room. He towered above everyone and his eyes were like steel as he held on to John's shoulders and looked down on him sternly, sadly. John stared, dazed, at the taller man's lips as Mycroft told him not to worry – it looked bad, yes, but they couldn't risk taking him to hospital and they needed John's help fixing him up.
"Fixing him up?" John asked weakly, feeling faint and not understanding a word of what was being said to him.
Then he heard Molly gasp and the sound of Mrs. Hudson's sniffles. The be-suited men were trying to pull the women from the room and Mycroft was issuing orders. But as the chaos subsided somewhat, John noticed that there was a body on the sofa that hadn't been there before.
He said "body" and not "person" because "person" intimated some sort of conscious, living, human state. The body on the sofa was rather closer to the "corpse" end of the spectrum. John should have recognized him immediately – of course he should – but the good doctor's brain seemed to be functioning barely at sustenance level. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale…
It wasn't until he felt Lestrade's heavy hand on his shoulder and heard the comforting words: "Steady on, John, he's still alive and that's what counts", that he realized the corpse-body belonged to Sherlock Holmes.
John's knees hit the floor and his hands went instantly to his friend's face. Somewhere in the background he heard Mycroft begin to protest – something about time being of the utmost – and Lestrade scold him for being a heartless twat.
The doctor drowned out all other noises and tried to focus on the man before him. He was cataloging injuries – four broken ribs, fractured skull, internal bleeding, third degree burns – when he heard a familiar voice beside him.
"What do you need?"
Molly Hooper was pale and there were tears in her eyes, but John could think of no one else he'd rather have beside him in such a moment. Mycroft's men were all good with guns and smartphones, certainly, but another doctor – another level head and another pair of steady hands – well, that was far more valuable. Molly sniffed once and awaited John's instruction.
"Sutures kit – in the kitchen," John managed through gritted teeth, "heavy bandaging, a split, fuck, two pints of type O blood if we can get it, burn cream, and-" he groaned as he said it, "morphine … lots and lots of morphine."
Molly nodded briefly and spun on her heel to deliver her demands to Mycroft. If John hadn't been so preoccupied, he might have found a moment to appreciate the way Molly Hooper issued orders to the man in charge.
Unfortunately, John had little time for amusements as he was currently staunching the flow of blood from his best friend's skull with the only thing immediately at hand – his jumper. Two fingers at Sherlock's throat told him that while the detective was indeed still alive, he was only just barely hanging on. The pulse was faint, the eyelids were fluttering, and there was blood leaking from between Sherlock's lips.
"Shut up, Mycroft."
John dealt with wounds as supplies became available to him. The sutures kit in the kitchen allowed him to begin sewing up the more minor wounds first. When Molly and two of Mycroft's men retuned with hospital supplies, he was able to move on to the more appalling injuries.
It felt like hours before the work was complete. Every stitch John sewed and every bone he set seemed only to lead him to some new wound. There was blood everywhere – under the doctor's fingernails, seeping into the sofa cushions, running over Sherlock's eyelids. It's hue and abundance brought John back to that day when it had all begun – the day of the Fall, when John had had to hold his friend's bloodied hand and accept that it was over – that there was no way a human body could withstand so much trauma. Of course, the detective had been fooling him then; John was certain even Sherlock Holmes could not deceive him this time.
Finally, John ran his hands over Sherlock from the crown of his head to the tips of his long toes. There were all manner of bumps and lumps in places there shouldn't have been, and many planes of skin bruised and burned into unnatural colors, but John knew he had done his work well and that all he could do now was sit back and will the dark-haired man to heal.
As John let his shoulders slump, as he let the room fall back into focus, he was keenly aware of the others around him. No one spoke or moved a muscle, but they were all there – watching him, watching Sherlock, contaminating everything with their breathing and their staring and the fear that John could not escape.
There was Lestrade, hovering in the doorway, still with his trigger-finger twitching, head reeling because these Holmes boys sure knew how to make enemies. There was Mrs. Hudson, in her nightie and with tears streaming down her aged face, sniffling and whimpering. There was Molly Hooper – perhaps the least irritating of them all – standing watch behind John's left shoulder and trembling out of worry and a crippling, stomach-churning guilt. And there was Mycroft.
Mycroft. Standing tall before the hellfire glow of the fireplace in the dim living room, umbrella like a saber, tip digging into the carpet, his jaw set firm against the emotion tightening his chest.
John knew that Mycroft was hurt – knew that the pain of what he'd done to his own brother was choking the life out of him. That the man who was the entirety of the British government was only still standing on two feet thanks to the aid of that bloody awful umbrella…
But John Watson was on his knees and frankly, he didn't give a damn how Mycroft Holmes felt.
"John…" Mrs. Hudson scolded gently.
"No," John shook his head resolutely. "No, nope, absolutely fucking not, no way. Get out. Everybody."
Lestrade cleared his throat uncomfortably. "You shouldn't be alone right now, mate…"
John heaved a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose: a perfect imitation of the unconscious consulting detective attempting to dispel a room full of stupid. Why did no one ever listen to him?
Slowly, deliberately, John dragged himself to his feet and turned to face the crowd. Everyone's eyes were sad, pitying – only Mycroft was watching him with a calculating eye: a chess player predicting his next move.
John kept his gaze locked with Mycroft's for perhaps twenty seconds before the taller man's anticipatory gaze drove him clear over the edge. John swore he felt his blood boil. The doctor, it seemed, had checked out entirely; even the cold precision of the soldier abandoned John in that moment, leaving behind only a broken, sleep-deprived, nearly insane man standing over the body of his best friend.
The four shots that John fired into the living room wall had exactly three side effects.
First, Molly and Mrs. Hudson screamed and were hastily escorted outside and into the street by an ashen-faced Inspector Lestrade.
Second, all six of Mycroft's minions trained their weapons on the doctor as a chorus of guns being cocked was heard over the screams of the women.
Third, Mycroft Holmes blinked twice.
When the dust settled, metaphorically speaking, Mycroft dismissed his men with a silent wave of the hand and only he and John remained in the flat, glowering at each other over the body of Sherlock Holmes. There was silence as Mycroft waited for the doctor to say his piece, but John was trembling from head to foot and could no sooner think of any words to waste on the arrogant sod in front of him than he could have fired those last four shots into the helpless man on the sofa.
"Dr. Watson," Mycroft ventured cautiously, "put the gun down." He could not forget that he was dealing with a soldier – a trained combatant and a crack shot – who suffered extreme PTSD.
"I want you to leave," John ground out, the effort leaving his muscles aching and tense with forced civility.
Mycroft nodded understandingly. "And I shall concede your wishes – you see, I have much work ahead of me, in light of recent events. But I would ask you to allow a few concessions."
John shook his head fiercely, pushing Mycroft and everything else violently away, wanting only to collapse on the living room floor beside his battered friend and simply breathe. But before he could voice his protestations, Mycroft was speaking and John did not have the energy to stop him:
"I would ask that you allow Mrs. Hudson to return to Baker Street – it is her home, and she has been away for far too long already. I also need someone here to keep a friendly eye on you, John, and I am certain the good landlady's presence would prove far more palatable than anyone I might appoint for the position."
John nodded once, wearily, the gun now dangling by his side, sapping his energy. "Fine."
"I would ask that you allow me to reactivate the surveillance to this flat, that I might keep watch without disturbing the tranquility of my brother's recovery."
Again, a curt nod from the doctor.
"I would ask that you give Sherlock this," Mycroft proffered a flash drive from the pocket of his jacket. "It is a video confession of sorts, made presumably within the last twenty-four hours. Sherlock had it sent to me when he realized how desperate his situation was."
"Yes," John nodded, taking the drive and slipping it into the pocket of his jeans.
"I ask that you return this to my brother when you believe he is … able to watch it."
"Is there anything else?" John demanded irritably.
"Yes," Mycroft drawled, betraying himself with a worried glance towards the sofa. "I ask that you not let him escape again."
John was about to protest that that was hardly his fault and that none of this would ever have happened in the first place were it not for Mycroft, when the taller man held up a steadying hand and said, "The score is now tied, Dr. Watson – we have both lost him once. But I," Mycroft gestured himself wearily, almost humbly, "am offering you a second chance – a courtesy you never extended me."
"I am trusting you to keep my little brother safe, despite both our mistakes." Mycroft clasped his hands behind his back and looked John up and down. "You care too much, Dr. Watson, and that has proved your greatest failing up to this point."
John frowned, sighed, and felt suddenly weary beyond words. Giving up, he indulged Mycroft's apparent desire for a tête-à-tête. "And yours? What is your… 'greatest failing'? Why can't either of us keep him safe when that's all we've tried to do?"
Mycroft sighed heavily, casting a long look out the window and into the night. He looked as if he were going to say something, but changed his mind at the last. With a hastily retracted gaze, Mycroft began: "Suffice it to say, I am a cold individual. There are … sacrifices I have made to achieve my position – a position my brother mocks, but which was attained only so that I might better protect him. The result, as you can see," Mycroft held his palms face-up, "has been neither pretty nor kind."
John wanted to take a step forward; to place a hand on Mycroft's shoulder – the pity he couldn't feel earlier suddenly resurfacing – but Mycroft halted his motions with a step backwards.
"Do not mistake me, Dr. Watson," he said suddenly, the firelight behind him distorting the shadows at his feet, "I am quite serious when I say that caring is not an advantage. Were it possible, I would rid myself entirely of meddlesome emotions and be stronger for it. Unfortunately …" Mycroft's eyes strayed to the sofa, "the level of care my brother requires is beyond the ability of most."
John frowned. "You can't really believe caring to be such a disadvantage when it's saved his life."
Mycroft sighed again. "It is complicated, John. Perhaps more complicated than you understand. I have spent my life protecting Sherlock because no one else has been able to do so. It wasn't a choice – it was a necessity. Every decision I've ever made – everyone move, every promotion – has been undertaken with the intention of placing myself in a position better suited to shield my younger brother; he is all I have. This single-minded determination has made the man you see before you," Mycroft chuckled, "a man you have come to despise for his … bitter detachment."
John was revisited by the urge to touch Mycroft – to make contact – but the taller man continued, seemingly lost in his own thought, unaware of his audience.
"There was a time when I might have been capable of …" Mycroft placed a hand in the center of his chest – signifying love, sentiment, emotion – John couldn't be sure, "but that time is long since past. I care for my brother out of necessity – it is my job and I am capable; you care for him freely, by choice, and therein lies a world of difference."
John's eyebrows furrowed in the middle. "How?"
"We both care, and that is our flaw. My love of Sherlock has consumed me and cost me my humanity. Your love has overwhelmed you and rendered you incapable of seeing his flaws. In both our cases, this love has proven a disadvantage. I didn't trust him enough – you trusted him too much. We must try to learn from our mistakes, John. I," Mycroft gestured himself, "must refrain from disassociation to the point of harm. And you," Mycroft smiled warmly in John's direction, "must learn that while my brother may seem superhuman, he is far weaker and far more fragile than perhaps any of us."
John sighed, "I know that," he said, but his shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Do not be so disheartened, doctor. I said that caring too much was your greatest failing. It is also perhaps your only failing … and I could pose no higher approbation to anyone."
John looked up from the floor and the corner of his mouth twitched – an almost-smile that did not escape his companion's notice.
There was a moment of shared sentiment, and then-
"This is irrelevant." Mycroft checked his watch and straightened his vest. "Remember what I've told you, John."
John nodded, feeling as if he had been abruptly pulled from a dream, a daze. "Yes."
"And remember also," Mycroft continued, "that we do not yet know what Moriarty's intention may be. He had Sherlock completely within his power and then decided to give him up? He's playing an intricate game, John, and we do not yet understand the rules. The safest place for both you and Sherlock is within these walls."
"Keep him rested and calm – I trust your medical expertise concerning his physical injuries. The rest of him might prove more … challenging to repair."
John nodded, understanding.
"I will be in contact when we know more."
And just like that, Mycroft Holmes was gone.
In the morning, John awoke to a sun-soaked living room. He hadn't meant to fall asleep – and kneeling on the carpet holding Sherlock's hand wasn't the most comfortable position to fall asleep in – but once again, John hadn't really had a say in the matter. After Mycroft had left the previous evening, John had only been able to preserve approximately ninety minutes of consciousness. Fifteen of those minutes had been spent pacing – shaking and shedding the nerves and grueling anxieties of the past few hours. The remaining seventy-five minutes had been spent clasping, kissing, grasping, sobbing over Sherlock's hand. The detective never regained consciousness – nor had John expected him to, with all the sedative in his system – but the lack of a chastisement over John's excessive show of "unnecessary" sentiment had saddened the doctor yet further.
When John woke the following morning, it was nearing seven o'clock. The dawn was bright and clear despite the London smog, and the smell in the air was clean and pleasant after the previous night's rain. About to stretch and disengage the crick in his neck, John was shocked to find that he was not the first one awake.
Sherlock Holmes retained his position of the previous evening, but his eyes were wide open and staring at the ceiling. His expression was so entirely blank that for one ungodly moment John was certain that he must be dead. The doctor's breath must have caught at that moment because Sherlock said, "Good morning, John," in a voice that was deep and full and only a little pained.
John stayed perfectly still, paralyzed. "Morning, Sherlock."
A pause and then: "You can move, John, I'm sure that position is not at all comfortable. You have, unwisely, fallen asleep on your bad shoulder."
John obeyed only to the extent that he straightened his spine and cracked his neck – his hand he kept firmly entwined with Sherlock's. He didn't know what to say to this man who was now so completely broken but who was speaking with all the poise and elegance of the old Sherlock.
"Did Mycroft catch him?" Clearly, Sherlock had little time for pleasantries.
And how dearly John wanted to nod and tell his friend that yes, of course Mycroft had caught all the bad guys, and hush, everything is alright, and all you need to worry about is resting and a full recovery. But…
"No," John admitted, and bit his lip. From here on out he determined that Sherlock would hear nothing but the truth, at least from him.
The detective sighed, then winced at the pain it caused in his chest. There was a moment of silence, and then John asked, tentatively: "What happened, Sherlock?"
The dark-haired man looked towards the window and said only, "Moriarty has played a far greater hand in all of this than we had suspected, and for much longer than anyone has realized."
John swallowed, afraid to ask for any more information than Sherlock was willing to volunteer. He could feel his friend's grey eyes on him and so tried to arrange his face into any expression that might appear more reassuring than the fear and sadness that he knew was there now.
Sherlock chuckled at this sudden bout of self-awareness and John might have scolded him for reopening the split in his upper lip, but the doctor instead returned the smile and brought the still-damp rag up to wipe away the blood that was now trickling from the open wound. "Well…" he said distractedly as he dabbed at the cut – this one action prompting his hands to roam over Sherlock's body, instinctively adopting their doctor's work, "how are you feeling?"
"Rather spectacularly, given the circumstances – but I assume I have the morphine to thank for that. Once an addict, always an addict."
This last was delivered with a rather devilish grin and John laughed and choked back a sob both at once. "Don't joke," he chided halfheartedly, "don't. Not about that."
Sherlock obediently kept his lips pressed tightly together – only the ghost of a fond smile as he watched John check his pulse, feel his forehead, prod gently at his bruises and ask how badly they hurt.
"John," Sherlock said after several minutes had passed and it was clear that John was not only performing an examination but also avoiding his eyes.
"Yes?" the doctor asked, now distractedly re-folding and stacking clean bandages.
"You can stop pretending to be calm and just ask me already."
John kept on with the bandages, just as if he hadn't heard at all. But his jaw was set very tight and the lines around his eyes were deep and distressed.
Sherlock sighed sadly and answered the unasked question. "I remember everything," he offered, watching John's face carefully.
John shook his head, still keeping his hands busy and refusing to look up. "No," he said stoutly, "nope. We've been here before, remember? And I'm glad your mind is clear now, but you're going to relapse again, so just…"
Sherlock sighed an exasperated sort of sigh, and John tried not to wish so hard for the words that followed…
"Do keep up, John. I was never … clean, if that's the word, from the moment Mycroft administered my first dose of medication. All those times we thought I should have been getting better, and all the time Moriarty was involved. He was here, John, when I was relapsing – he was the one still feeding me the drugs."
John groaned at his own blinding inability to take care of the one person who mattered. "He … all the time?"
Sherlock nodded, "It would appear so."
John wanted to ask so many more questions, wanted to hear everything, but he could see that Sherlock was already getting tired and so reigned in his questions to form one last: "But you're … better now?"
The confusion on John's face made Sherlock's chest feel tight. "Yes," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "There are moments that still feel hazy, of course, but … yes, I think I am."
John kept his face neutral – tried not to think about the many times this hope had surfaced before being violently quashed.
"John," Sherlock cautioned, and his voice was low, "I know you have been through perhaps even more than I have in these last few months. But you must believe me now."
John's tongue was doing that thing – that thing it always did when he was thinking very hard about something. Sherlock could see the gears turning – could see the hope and weariness battling behind his eyes. But in the end, as he always did, John Watson stood with a massive sigh, threw his hands above his head, and asked resignedly with an almost-smile, "Right. Of course – well, you tell me then, Sherlock bloody Holmes … what's next?"
Sherlock's grin was wide and beaming. "Brilliant John," he said, both approvingly and affectionately. "There is a dangerous consulting criminal on the loose; I'm going to need my blogger."
John chuckled, incredulous, and looked his friend up and down. Horizontal on the sofa, blood on his lips, one eye swollen shut, naked torso heavily bandaged, IV running from his left arm. "Sherlock," he knelt beside his friend, "Whatever sodding crazy idea you have in mind … it's going to have to wait."
"You aren't going anywhere and we aren't doing anything for at least two weeks."
Sherlock huffed, "Two weeks? What for?"
"Rest," John began dangerously, feeling the old exasperation bubble up from some unused place, "and recuperation. Have you seen yourself?"
"As I am rather incapable of leaving the sofa, I should say obviously I have not."
"Right," John nodded, "my point exactly."
"Very well, doctor," Sherlock sighed, "you have two weeks."
John had his mouth open and ready to argue when he realized that the detective had, in fact, agreed with him. "Ah," he stumbled, "right then. Well … yes. Good."
There was a moment of suspended silence when Sherlock looked up from the sofa. "John?" he said with a taunting grin. "I could die for a cup of tea."
And so John made tea. And Sherlock lay on the sofa and watched the sun creep across the ceiling. And somewhere, out in the vast expanse of London, there was someone planning a new game – a game with obscure, intimate rules that would come to baffle the still-recovering genius and destroy the stout-hearted doctor.
But that didn't matter – not yet, not quite yet – because Sherlock was home and the kettle was set to boil and the morning had dawned clear and bright on that ancient, iniquitous city of theirs. And when John returned from the kitchen to find Sherlock already fast asleep, he sent up a silent prayer of thanks before surreptitiously tucking the detective's scarf beside him on the pillow.