A/N: Well here we are, the final chapter. Thank you to all who have gone through this with me. Special thanks have to go to Junejuly15, Evenlodes Friend and Atlin Merrick who have all been amazingly inspirational but extra special thanks need to go to my amazing best friend and beta WitchRavenFox who is quite literally the light in dark places for me right now – even if it is to sit through a rendition of Vivaldi when the 3rd violin is off key!
Anyway, thanks to all you lovely readers and reviewers, you make doing this worthwhile. I have to sadly say however that I don't know whether I will continue to write on this site given the recent enforcement of the previously ignored rules by the site moderators. Its their choice, its their site but I don't feel much like I have a place for it anymore. You can therefore find any subsequent works on witch_nova221 dot livejournal dot com and also on tumblr as witchnova221. You can also follow me on Twitter, name on my bio.
I hope to see you all there.Ashes to Ashes
It felt like mere moments when John next opened his eyes but a brief glance at the fire told him otherwise, the log well burnt down and the blaze low. He looked down at the sleeping form next to him, Sherlock curled on his side towards him, hands tucked beneath his chin in an almost childlike pose. He stroked a hand over the wild black curls, smoothing those that seemed intent on sticking out from the rest. Sherlock stirred, pressing into John's hand with sigh before he fell back into the depths of sleep. John would have quite happily have stayed watching the rise and fall of each of the younger man's breaths but the need that had awoken him reasserted itself and he clambered out of bed, shuddering in the chill of the room. He reached blindly for his clothes, locating his underwear and shirt, pulling them both on to guard against the cold.
He placed another log on the fire, stoking it into life until the blaze flared warmly in the grate once more. He headed into the bathroom, cursing the freezing stones beneath his feet as he hurried to use the meagre facilities. The water was tepid rather than warm but far from freezing as he washed his hands, a rarity in the cottage and John found himself worrying once more about leaving Sherlock behind in such a place. The feeling left him with a strong longing and he headed back behind the curtain to the bedroom.
The room was as he left it, the bed an unmade mess on the floor, strewn with their discarded clothes and the fret hanging on the windows in swirls of thick mist. The only difference was Sherlock who was sat up in bed, eyes trained on the low window.
"Lie down sweetheart," said John, crawling over to him and slipping his arms around his waist, the coolness of the younger man's skin causing him to reach for the blankets, "Its freezing, get back into bed."
"Something's not right," said Sherlock, his voice sounding distant.
John smiled, "You're dreaming love, everything's perfect," he said, trying to persuade him down onto the bed, "Sleep."
Sherlock shook his head, "No there's something wrong," he said, "The fret, it's not right, something's not right."
John turned his eyes back to the window, trying to work out what was different but unable to see anything, "You're half asleep, everything's perfectly…"
John trailed off as he saw it, the darker swirls in the mist and then the tiny red lights, sparks he soon realised, that tumbled through the fret. Sherlock was on his feet in a second, pulling on his clothes without a word. He had barely stamped into his shoes before he was flying out of he door, into the fret without a second thought. John scrambled to his feet, struggling into his own jeans and shirt; buttoning up his shirt as he ran out into the dark night beyond. The acrid smell of smoke hit his senses and he knew even without seeing anything that something large was alight.
"Sherlock!" he cried in the dark, "Sherlock!"
He received no response, the detective too far ahead or at least that was John's hope as he thought of how easy it was to get lost or fall in the fret. He moved as quickly as he could up the hill, the smell and then the eerie orange glow in the distance keeping him heading in the right direction. It wasn't long until he heard Sherlock's voice, the tone desperate as he cried out, the words too muffled by the mist and the growing crackle of fire. Other voices were starting to join the detective's but finally his cut through clearly and his words made John's blood run cold.
"Aoife! Aoife where are you?"
John's pace increased as his mind began to process both the sounds and the hazy images ahead of them, all but crashing into one of the villagers as he skidded to a halt, looking on in horror at the pub that had become such a centre piece of his life in less than a fortnight as it blazed. Villagers were hurrying from their homes, one frantically on the phone while others rushed with buckets of water but they were pointless against the fire that had taken too firm a hold. The fire belched choking smoke, heat not allowing anyone to get close but that didn't stop anyone from trying.
Without warning the building groaned before the nearside fell in, the arch above the main door the only thing that keep the stone wall upright. John didn't even have a chance to call out as Sherlock broke for the listing building, slamming bodily into the door and toppling it in on the second go. John heard his own cry as he watched Sherlock run into the burning building, instinct making him follow but two strong arms closed around him, holding him back from the flames. Padraig's grip was a force to be reckoned with and try as he might John could not throw him off. Another almighty crash rang out from the building as the doorway gave way, trapping both Sherlock and Aoife within.
The villagers continued to try and fight the flames as best they could but the fire continued to rage, the ancient building falling easily to it. John watched on helplessly, his heart shattering in his chest as he tried to fathom what he had just witnessed, convinced he would feel a familiar warm hand come to his shoulder and he would find himself mistaken by the mists as to who it was that had run into the flames. He barely heard the bang to start with, the noise indiscernible amongst the roar of the fire or the shouts of the villagers but whether it was chance or some connection he did not understand his eyes were drawn to the cellar doors, seeing them warp in a rhythm as though someone was pressing on them from below.
"Sherlock," he said, a mere murmur to himself before the soldier in him came to the fore, "Everyone, the cellar, get it open."
Most stood dumbfounded at the command, language or shock rendering it nonsense but a few took heed, following John as he ran to the cellar. The heat of the flames almost pushed them back but John pushed forward, getting as close as he could to the cellar and seeing it chained with the padlock within.
"Sherlock!" he called, "Are you there?"
"I've got Aoife," came the spluttered response, "I can't find the key. You'll have to smash it in."
"Get as far back as you can," called John, not knowing how far the flames had taken hold within.
John searched around him, finding several abandoned logs from a once flourishing woodpile. The others with him took heed and followed suit and he was glad of Padraig's strength as they set to work on the wood of the cellar door. The ancient panelling splintered and snapped but held stubbornly, each pause they took to survey their efforts being met by the roar of the flames and the spluttered coughs beneath them.
"Sherlock hold on, please hold on," said John, almost to himself as he continued to pound the door, finally seeing a substantial enough crack for them to get their hands in.
With a strength borne of necessity they took hold of the splintered door and wrenched it back off its hinges, the padlock ripped free and flailing wildly with their force. Hot, black smoke billowed out at them, blinding them for a moment but John felt the limp body being pressed into his arms. He looked up into Sherlock's fear filled eyes before he looked down to see Aoife unconscious in his arms.
"Help her," said the detective desperately, "Help her please."
John had been a battlefield surgeon, worked on friends, comrades and the enemy alike in the harshest situations but the sight of the petite Irish woman in his arms all but erased every coping mechanism he had and it was only the hands of the others that dragged them away from the burning pub that had him moving at all. Removal from the heat however seemed to bring back his ability and he settled Aoife as best he could on the ground, cursing the fact he had nothing of any medical value with him. The woman before him bore several substantial burns but it was the shallow, pained breathing that worried him the most.
He began to issue orders to fetch him whatever could be found in the village to assist but he was cut short by the sound of a helicopter overhead. His first thought was of Mycroft, the elder Holmes having finally traced him or Evangeline having given up their secret but soon the red emergency chopper came into view, settling in the middle of the world close enough that John felt himself being pushed back by the down draft.
He got to his feet as the paramedics hurried to them, quickly spouting off all he had assessed before he stepped back, knowing he would be more hindrance than help to them as they tended to the fallen woman.
"What are they doing to her?" said Sherlock desperately, "Aoife!"
John took firm hold of the younger man, forcing the pale eyes to meet his, "Everything they can," he said firmly, "She's in the best hands, better than I could do for her. They'll get her out of here as soon as they can and to a hospital where she can be helped. I'm sending you with them."
"Why?" said Sherlock his tone genuinely bemused.
"This for one thing," said John, turning his attention to the red, blistering mark on Sherlock's arm, "Its not a bad burn but it will scar if you're not treated, plus you were in that pub for far too long, you breathed in more smoke than you did air."
"I'm fine," said Sherlock waving him off, "Go with Aoife to the hospital, call me when you have news."
"I'm only going if you come with me," said John, "If you refuse to come then I'm staying with you, smoke inhalation is not something to be taken lightly. I'll give them my details and have them call when they have news."
Sherlock looked torn for a moment but then his strength fled him and it was all John could do to keep him from falling, guiding him to the floor as his legs went out. He pulled the grimy, tatty head to his chest, mumbling nonsense to him as he watched the adrenaline drain from him. The paramedics continued at Aoife's side as sirens rang out in the distance, the emergency services finally reaching the remote village. John watched as Padraig came over to them, the man looking drained and aged by the night.
"You were a stupid lad going in there Sherlock," he said, "Stupid but brave. You might have just saved her life. Do you know what started it?"
"We weren't in the bar," said Sherlock, "We left hours ago, the only people left were Aoife and…"
"Sullivan," said John, his gaze following Sherlock's back to the burning building, "Sherlock was he in there?"
"I didn't look," said Sherlock, attempting to get to his feet but John held him firm, "I didn't even think, he'd have been upstairs."
"Is this Sullivan the man with the car?" said Padraig, "He left not long after you did, saw him from the kitchen window, best as you can see anything in a fret like this."
"Left?" said John, seeing the horror that reached his friend's face, "You don't think he could of…"
"You were right John," said Sherlock, his voice toneless, "You were right."
"Are you lads alright?" said Padraig.
"Fine, fine," said John, helping Sherlock to his feet, "I need to speak to the paramedics. Stay here, I'll be back in a moment and then we can talk."
John wasn't quite sure how much had got through to the man before him, but Sherlock nodded at least and he headed towards the paramedics as they were loading Aoife into the chopper.
"Which hospital are you taking her to?" said John.
"Are you a family member?" said the paramedic, his face ruddy and lined before his years from years of work in such conditions.
"No but I am a friend and also a doctor, I just need to know where I can find her."
The paramedic soon gave him the details and John gave him his phone number, knowing at least that Aoife was in safe hands in transit. He turned back to the gathered crowds, seeing Sherlock sat once more on the floor, oblivious to Padraig at his side who was trying to coax some sort of communication from him. He saw the fire-fighters trying to contain the flames but there was little of the building left to save, wood and alcohol doing nothing to assist them. The Gardai had arrived also and were collecting names and details. John hurried back to Sherlock's side, wondering if the shock of the evening would have him forgetting his alias.
"Thanks for looking after him Padraig," said John, "How are you feeling Sherlock?"
The younger man was silent and Padraig looked up at John in concern.
"He hasn't said a word of sense since you went," said Padraig, "Kept mentioning a Moriarty but there's none by that name in this village, used to know a Moriarty in Tralee when I was a lad but he's been dead ten year at least. Its pretty common name round these parts thought."
John forced a smile, "He never makes much sense at the best of times," he said, slipping at arm around Sherlock's shoulders, "Come on, let's get you somewhere warm."
"John, what do we do?" said Sherlock quietly as the older man helped him to his feet.
"We get some rest and we talk in the morning," said John, "You don't need to be standing out in this vile weather, you'll make yourself ill…"
"Hush," said John, "Not now, not now Sherlock."
The words seemed to do the trick and Sherlock fell silent, leaning against John as he trembled with the cold and the adrenalin rapidly disserting his system. John knew they wouldn't get far past the Gardai without speaking to them, especially with some many of the villagers gesturing towards Sherlock with effusions on his bravery. John soon caught the attention of one young officer, recognising a new recruit if ever he had seen one and he soon had him satisfied with his details and Sherlock's false ones. He was glad for the distraction of the fire as it allowed him to lead Sherlock away without a fuss, the younger man inert and trembling in his grip as they navigated their way back to the cottage.
John was glad he had tended the fire before they had run from the cottage, the warmth providing a welcome embrace as they entered the cottage and he set Sherlock down on the bed, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders.
"Let me get some candles lit and then I want to take a look at you," he said, "I'm still not happy that you didn't go to hospital."
John set about his task but turned as he heard frantic shuffling behind him, seeing Sherlock hurriedly stuffing clothes into John's bag without pause to see who they belonged too.
"What are you doing?"
"Getting you out of here," said Sherlock, "The road won't be pleasant in the fog but you'll get to a town before too long."
"And why would I be going to any town Sherlock?" said John, folding his arms as his lover continued his frantic packing.
"Moriarty," said Sherlock, "You're not safe around me, not anymore."
John unfolded his arms and crossed to the younger man, holding out a hand to take the bag and tossing it across the room when it was handed to him, "I'm going nowhere."
"But John nothing," said the soldier, taking hold of Sherlock's trembling form and keeping him in place, "I am not going anywhere. We have no idea what happened at that bar and we have no idea who or what was behind it but if it is Moriarty or at least one of his vile lot can you seriously ask me to leave you? I am staying here and facing whatever comes, you don't get to make the choice for me this time Sherlock."
Sherlock shook his head, curls dampened by the fret sprinkling water droplets onto them both, "But you'll be at risk and I…Aoife…she was my friend and they…oh John everyone I love…everyone."
John caught him as he fell, shifting them both onto the ratty mattress as he wrapped his arms around the younger man. The sobs when they came were like a dam breaking, months even years of frustration pouring forth in a torrent that John was sure no one else had ever seen and if they had ever happened before it was on the pillows of the detective's bed and never onto anyone's shoulder. John felt both flattered and humbled that he was so trusted, that he could bear witness to Sherlock's pain but it hurt him that he could do little to help it. He wanted to speak, to find the words to comfort the broken man but he knew there was little that would help. The tears were harbingers of all he had suffered and seen, the taunts, the alienation, the understanding of the world that he could share with no one, the cold where he should have felt love and the fear that came when that love was threatened.
Sociopath. The word had meant little to John when he had first heard it from the detective's lips. He knew it's meaning, its scientific diagnosis but he did not know what it meant when Sherlock applied it to himself. Within hours of their meeting John had already felt his warmth, laughed at his humour and witnessed the kindness in him even if it was shown in such a roundabout way. He hadn't pandered to John's limp, he had shown him a way out of it, given him back his life and given him back a reason for living. He had never been a sociopath, John had never seen it even in the darkest moments or when Sherlock had tried his best to show it, he had seen love, love shown by a man who didn't know how to show it as conventions and the movies would have it.
"Sweetheart," murmured John into the black curls, "I don't know what to say to you."
"Everyone John," said Sherlock bitterly, "Everyone I care for and I throw them into harm's way. Aoife never asked to be part of this and now…what if she dies? I can't…Molly, she'd never forgive me."
"She's not going to die," said John, "I spoke to the paramedic, she's not well but she'll live. There are burns and she'll have some smoke inhalation but she's strong and she'll fight. Aoife Malone will not be a victim of tonight so put it out of your mind."
"What if we'd stayed there John?" said Sherlock, "If we'd stayed there and not woken…"
"Stop it!" said John as the tears began to tumble down his friend's cheeks once more, "What ifs aren't going to do anyone any good, especially you."
As if a precursor to the sound, John's words were cut short as Sherlock's sobs became a wracking cough that shook his slim form to the point where John had to release him for fear of his own injury. As the initial spasms subsided John helped him into a more comfortable position, propped against the wall with several pillows. He knew that the depression still had hold of Sherlock as he acquiesced without complaint, allowing John to manhandle him into position and then spend few moments checking both his pulse and his respiration.
"You're not wheezing, which is a positive sign," said John, "You're lucky you didn't breathe too much in."
"The cellar wasn't too bad until the last few minutes," said Sherlock, "By then I think I was holding my breath anyway."
"Well whatever you did it protected your lungs, you're not in any danger," said John, stroking back the grimy black curls, "You need a bath my love but first I want you to drink something and let me have a look at that burn."
"Yes Doctor Watson," said Sherlock with a small smile before his face fell again, "John, what do I do? I thought we were so safe."
John got to his feet, busying himself with fetching the prescribed drink before rifling through his bag and locating a small medical kit, "First you stop worrying until we know more for sure," he said, "There's nothing to say Sullivan had anything to do with Moriarty much less whether he had anything to do with the fire at all. He saw us leave, if he was after you why not come and burn down the cottage, God knows the bloody thing is probably flammable enough."
"But its what he did last time, threaten the people I care about…"
"You're forgetting that last time it was for the purpose of duress, he threatened us to make you act," said John, "We've had no threats, no demands, no nothing. What could he hope to gain by harming Aoife? Dead you would have nothing left to act on for her and now injured she is in hospital where it will be far more difficult to harm her."
Sherlock opened his mouth to answer but then dropped his gaze to the glass of water being pressed into his hand, "I should have thought of that."
John smiled, taking hold of his injured arm gently, "You've had a shock, only natural for the hard-drive to need a moment to reboot itself," he said, smiling at the look he received, "Don't look so petulant, its not permanent. Look if you can't have a little vulnerability around me what hope do we have?"
"Vulnerability puts us at risk," said Sherlock flinching as John tended the burn on his arm.
"And puts us on our guard," said John, "I'm not going to let you win this argument. It's the middle of the night, what you need now is some rest, look at this in the morning."
"Do you really think I'll be able to sleep tonight?" said Sherlock.
"No," said John, wrapping a bandage around Sherlock's arm, "But I'm not about to let you go around chasing spectres in a sea fret. Aoife is safe and we're safe here for the time. When morning comes we can go to the hospital, see if we can see Aoife and find out what she remembers and then start from there. I'm with you on this, every step."
"For tomorrow at least, you fly home on Sunday."
John shifted until he was at his side, throwing an arm around the slim shoulders and pulling Sherlock against his own, "I can always push it back, if Moriarty's people do know where you are there's no question of me leaving you here alone anyway. If we hear anything tomorrow that worries us then I'll stay or we'll both be leaving, to one of your brother's safe houses or no."
"That's not the life I want for us," said Sherlock, turning his face until it was pressed against John's neck, reaching for the discarded blankets to cover them both.
"Nor is this," said John, "You deserve more than this place, so much more."
"Baker Street?" said Sherlock softly.
John felt the smile on his lover's lips as they pressed against his neck, "Baker Street," he echoed, pulling him tighter still.
John followed Sherlock through the brightly lit entrance hall to the large hospital, not noticing the sick and suffering around him as all his being focused on the broken and almost desperate man in front of him. Every slightly deeper breath brought John's worry to the fore and he wanted nothing more than to hurry the younger man to a bed with all the equipment he would need to fully assess the damage the smoke had done to him. Sherlock on the other hand had other ideas; pale, determined eyes trained on the desk before them. The nurse behind the reception desk smiled warmly as they came to a pause, a gentleness almost inherent in her mannerisms.
"How may I help you?" she said, the small dimples in her cheeks heightening somewhat as she spoke.
John waited for them to be quickly wiped by Sherlock's barbed tongue, very few lucky to escape it when the detective was in a rush and concerned but what shocked John was not the fact that Sherlock's words were neither barbed nor impatient when he replied but instead it was the broad and accurate Irish accent he swiftly brought to his voice.
"I'm here to see Aoife Malone," he said, "She was brought in last night, burns."
The nurse swiftly turned to her computer but frowned as she looked up, "I'm afraid only family can see her right now."
"I'm her son, Connor Malone," said Sherlock, "Please I need to see her."
The nurse's frown deepened as she looked over to John, "And you sir?"
"My partner," said Sherlock quickly, "As much a part of the family as I am."
"She's in room five in ICU," she said, "She's conscious but they want to keep her under observation for the next twenty four hours or so before they release her to the ward. I'll get someone to take you down there."
John waited until the young nurse was out of earshot before he turned to the man beside him, "Sherlock be careful, you'll get found out and then too many questions will be asked."
"I won't do it again," said Sherlock, "I just want to see her, see if she can tell me what happened, then I'm going after Sullivan."
"No you bloody well are not," said John, "If this is anything to do with Moriaty then we are getting your brother involved and getting you somewhere safe."
"I've told you I don't want that."
John scowled, "Well you're not the only one in this relationship," he said, "I want you safe and if that means getting Mycroft involved then we will."
"Mister Malone?" said the nurse as she returned to her desk, "Nurse Tyler can take you down to see your mother. You'll have to keep the visit short though, she needs her rest."
"Of course," said Sherlock, the accent once more back in place and it disconcerted John no end.
They were practically silent as they headed through the quiet corridors and John could see Sherlock's shoulders tensing more and more as the rooms became more quipped for the higher dependency patients. They finally reached the doors marked for the intensive care unit and both followed the commands given to them before they entered, the sharp tang of alcohol rub filling their senses as they stepped inside. John felt a lump rise in his throat as his eyes fell upon the bed that seemed to dwarf Aoife's slight form, monitors beeping around her with their lights reflecting on the protective dressings that protected her burns. He was pleased though to see her breathing on her own and even more so when she looked over to them and smiled warmly. She reached out a hand to them and John held back as Sherlock crossed the room, seeing the relief in the younger man's posture as he took his friend's proffered hand.
"Could you give us a few minutes?" said John, turning to the nurse who had led them in.
"Of course," she said, "Though mind you don't excite her or stay too long, she needs her rest."
"We'll be brief," said John with a smile as the young woman closed the door behind her.
"You didn't have to come all this way," said Aoife, her voice scratchy and raw.
"Can't trust these Irish doctors," said Sherlock, "I wanted you looked over by a proper professional…but in the loss of that, I brought John."
Aoife laughed but it swiftly fell into a cough, "Oh don't make me laugh, its hurts," she said, "You're a wicked boy, I know for a fact that Doctor John Watson is one of the finest in his profession."
"That might be a little over zealous as a compliment," said John, joining Sherlock at Aoife's bedside, "How are you feeling?"
"Better than I should be all thanks to my heroes," said Aoife, "God and all His saints be praised that my lads were on hand."
"I'm only glad that we woke up in time," said Sherlock, pressing a kiss to the back of her hand, "Aoife I know you're tired and in pain but you must tell me all that you remember, so much depends on in. The sooner we can begin to track Sullivan, the quicker we'll catch up with him."
Aoife looked up bemused, "Why would you need to track him?"
"Padraig said he saw him leave just before the fire started," said John, "Your memory is bound to be hazy but try to remember what you can."
They both looked on in shock as Aoife's face fell before the tears began to roll down her cheeks. She tugged her hand out of Sherlock's grip to better cover her face, her sobs heartbreaking even to the detective's ears.
"What did he do?" said Sherlock vehemently, "Whatever he did you tell me now and he won't get away with it. I will do whatever is in my power to help you Aoife."
Aoife slowly calmed, fumbling once more for this hand, "My wonderful, amazing boy," she said softly, "When God took my Connor he repaid me with you. Michael Sullivan couldn't be any more innocent in this than if he were you or John. You don't need to track anyone when I was the one who started that fire."
John heard the words but their meaning took a moment to organise themselves into a pattern he understood. He looked to Sherlock, seeing the same confusion on his friend's face, the look at once as alarming as it was alien. He knew one of them needed to ascertain the truth behind Aoife's words and as he watched his lover attempt to find the words, he stepped in.
"What do you mean Aoife?" he said, "How could you have started the fire?"
Aoife blushed crimson, showing despite the rawness of her skin from the heat of the flames, "Isn't it enough to know that I was the one who did it?"
"Aoife if you're protecting him…" said Sherlock finding his voice.
"I'm not! I'm started that fire because I'm so fecking stupid and I nearly got the pair of you killed," she said, her eyes filling with tears once more, "You know I liked the look of the man Sherlock, you saw it and you saw that he liked me. When you'd gone I took a drink to him and we talked. We kept on drinking and talking until I thought that I might… I must have acted like a teenager and then he said he had a lass back in America and was just lonely. He apologised and he left though I begged him to stay, he had too much of the drink in him to drive safely. He was adamant though and he left. I'm not proud of what I did after but its done now. You've spent nights drinking with me Sherlock and berated me the next morning for the whiskey when you have given up on it hours before. I drank and then I decided that I wanted something to eat."
"Oh Aoife," said Sherlock, "That wretched stove, please tell me you didn't…"
"If words could make it go away my lad I'd use them. Even with the drink on me I knew the risks. I don't remember much. I put something in and then I forgot I had and went up. What happened next we can only guess at, all I remember is you lifting me from the bed and seeing the flames," said Aoife, "To think you risked your life for me when the whole reason you were with me was to keep you safe."
Sherlock cradled her hand in his own, stroking the undamaged skin where he could find it, "I'm only grateful I could be there," he said, "You're a fool Aoife but you're safe and we can fix this. I'll get everything sorted before you're even out of here, just let me know the details of your insurance and I can get Molly to make some calls on your behalf."
Aoife smiled sadly, "You would as well but you know that times have been hard and insurance premiums fell to the wayside gone eighteen months ago, there's no one for you to call. Its all gone," she said, "I don't mind the bar being gone or the furniture or everything else like that but when I went to bed the only thing I did right was to take off my apron."
"Connor and Jimmy," said Sherlock, sadly, "Oh Aoife I'm sorry. I won't give you any false hope that anything has survived the fire but I wish I could."
"I'd rather your honesty," said Aoife, "Its one thing I love about you my lad."
"Then listen to this and trust in the honesty in it," said Sherlock, "I'm going to put this right for you, whatever it takes, I am going to put this right."
Tears broke loose and tumbled down Aoife's cheeks once more, pressing Sherlock's palm to her cheek, "Then take care of yourself and take care of John," she said, "You have enough to worry about without doing so for me."
"Not possible," said John, setting his hand on Sherlock's shoulder, "You're all but family and you gave us the chance to find one another."
"Then look to one another John Watson," said Aoife, "I'll be alright. You take care of Sherlock and get his name cleared, I've come back from worse than this."
"I'll call Molly," said Sherlock, "Have her arrange things for you, contact whatever family she can to help you and I promise that I'll visit you until you're out of here."
"It will be good to see you."
"I'll come too, every time I'm back in Ireland," said John as the door opened and the young nurse stepped in once more, "Guess that's our cue to go."
"Have a safe journey home John," said Aoife before the cradled Sherlock's hand in both of hers, "Keep safe. Speak to Padraig and Eoin if you need to."
"I will," said Sherlock, glancing over his shoulder at the nurse before he bent down and pressed a kiss to Aoife's forehead, remembering his Irish persona, "Get well soon Maime."
"Slan mac," said Aoife, "Goodbye son."
John watched the look that passed between the two, knowing that despite Evangeline being all the mother Sherlock would ever need, his love for Aoife was just as genuine, two lost and lonely people who had found one another to cling to. They took their leave of both Aoife and her nurse, Sherlock still acting the son and enquiring about treatments and visiting times before they were finally ushered from the room. John watched as Sherlock's shoulders slumped the second they were out of sight of anyone in the hospital, immediately tugging him to a halt and sitting him down on a nearby bench that edged the hospital care park.
"What do I do now?" said Sherlock, his head in his hands, "What do I do John?"
John knew what he wanted to say, demand even. He wanted to call Mycroft, to tell him everything and make him come for them, safe house be damned but he knew it was not what Sherlock needed to hear so instead he reached over and took his lover's hand.
"First you call Molly," he said, "And then we'll go home, to Don Chaoin."
Sherlock nodded, seemingly happy with the response before he fished his phone from his pocket and dialling swiftly, "Molly," he said after a few moments, "Molly I need you to sit down, will you do that for me… good girl… there's something I need to tell you…"
The silence in the car on the return to the village was almost unbearable and John wanted nothing more to pull over to comfort his friend but he knew the sooner the reached the cottage the sooner they could hole up in it away from the world and Sherlock would be more comfortable than on the roadside. As they pulled into the village they saw the charred and scattered remains of the pub, the building barely discernable as it once had been. John felt a pang in his chest that Aoife had caused the disaster herself, nearly costing her own life in the process and leaving her without an income or any of her possessions. He mourned the loss of the precious photograph she had shown him, the pictures of her family consumed by the flames and he knew the pain all too well. When he had believed Sherlock dead he had clung to their pictures and the ones Evangeline had given him, reminding him of the man he had known even then that he had loved.
He reached across to the passenger seat, taking Sherlock's pale hand in his and squeezing it tightly, "We'll think of something," he said, "We'll help her."
"I encouraged her," said Sherlock bitterly, "I thought he liked her and I encouraged her."
"Aoife is a grown woman Sherlock, you are in no way responsible for this," said John, "Please see this for what it is, you don't need anything else on your shoulders."
Sherlock was silent again, his eyes trained out of the window and onto the landscape beyond. John parked the car beside the cottage and got out, moving round to the passenger side and opening the door for the younger man. He took his hand and coaxed him from his seat, leading him inside. The fire had died but the cottage was for once fairly warm as John sat down in the single chair, tugging Sherlock's hand in an attempt to get him to join him.
"I refuse to look so ridiculous," said Sherlock, keeping to his feet.
"Who's here to see you?" said John, "And who's to say I'm not the one who needs the cuddle?"
Sherlock looked certain to resist but then he all but fell in on himself, curling his lanky frame onto John's lap, legs hanging over the arm as he wrapped his arms around his lover's neck. John tugged him close, running a hand up and down the length of his spine as he buried his face in the mass of black curls. They stayed that way for a while before John felt Sherlock's long fingers reaching into his jacket pocket, extracting his phone before he dialled a familiar number. He held it out to John, the sound of it trying to connect ringing clear before Catterick's voice rang out.
"Catterick, John Watson. Is Mrs Holmes available?"
"I believe the mistress is entertaining sir but I can enquire," said the butler, "Is the call urgent?"
"Somewhat," said John, "But if she can't get away just ask her to ring me as soon as she can."
"Hold the line please sir."
John brought his hand up to Sherlock's hair, stroking gently as they waited, he'd begun to wrap the curls around his fingers when they heard the rustle of someone approaching the phone before Evangeline's voice came out frantically from the device.
"John, what's wrong?"
"Mummy," said Sherlock before John could speak, the tone his usual low baritone but laced with a sound any mother would respond to.
"Oh darling, what's wrong? Where are you? Are you hurt?" said Evangeline, "I can get Mycroft there in an instant if you need him, just say the word and we're there."
"Its alright, I'm alright, don't panic," said Sherlock with far more patience than he had ever shown with anyone, "We're at the cottage, John's with me and I'm fine. There was a fire last night and Aoife's bar burned down, she's got nothing left."
"Oh my, was she hurt? We're you hurt? I knew you working somewhere like that was a bad idea and now what are you supposed to do, she was meant to be taking care of you," said Evangeline before she caught herself and paused, "Tell me what happened Sherlock."
"A fire, the old stove in the kitchen needed fixing but she hadn't had it looked at. She drank too much last night, tried to use it and in finally gave up the ghost. We barely got her out alive. I'm only glad John and I woke up when we did and could see there was something wrong from the cottage."
"I have a legal friend who could help," said Evangeline, "Let you know how to word things so the insurance pay up."
"She doesn't have insurance," said Sherlock, "It was the first thing I checked. She's destitute, she's lost everything."
Evangeline was silent for a moment before her tone grew concerned, "How can she take care of you if she has nothing Sherlock?" she said, "Cold as it sounds you're my primary concern not her. Let me tell Mycroft and let me bring you home. You can stay here with me or we can send you to stay with Nana-May in Texas."
"No," said Sherlock, "You mustn't tell Mycroft and you're not packing me off to Texas, I'll come back ten stone heavier if I ever come back at all. I don't need a cage, gilded however it may be, from either Mycroft or my grandmother. I need to be here to help Aoife, she's given me so much Mummy I can't abandon her now."
"Oh my sweet boy," said Evangeline, "I understand I really do but we have to be realistic, darling. You've nowhere to work and Aoife can't live with you in that dreadful old cottage. Winter's not far off and you need warmth and food, you need to be home with the people who love you Sherlock. John agrees with me don't you John?"
John looked at the man in his arms, seeing the look on his face that dared his defiance in the matter, "Your mum's right love, a safe house might not be your first choice but at least we know you'll have everything you need."
"Except my liberty," said Sherlock leaving John's lap and beginning to pace the small area between the chair and their bed, "If you make me leave here then let the authorities have me and be done with it."
"Sherlock sit down," said John, "None of us want you to suffer but will you really be safe here without Aoife?"
"I'm not a child John…"
"No but you're acting like one," came Evangeline's voice from the telephone, a tone John had never heard in it, "Sherlock Holmes sit down and be quiet or by God I will be on the first plane out there and putting you over my knee without a damn for your age or company. Do you understand me?"
The effect was instantaneous and John looked on amazed as Sherlock not only stopped pacing but promptly sat down on the bed as quiet as a mouse.
"You have got to teach me how to do that Evangeline," said John, ignoring Sherlock's scowl.
"Years of practice," said Evangeline, "Now what are we going to do about this mess?"
"Am I allowed to speak about my own future?" said Sherlock from his place on the bed.
"If you do so in a manner befitting your age," said Evangeline, "One note of petulance though and all bets are off and I'm in charge."
Sherlock looked set to throw back a retort but thought better of it and sighed, "I don't want to leave Ireland, not yet, I've got my freedom here, I wouldn't have back in England or in America and you know I'd run mad," he said, "Aoife has been there for me all through these dark months, she's kept me going, fed me and given me a roof over my head; I may not have been all you ever hoped for in a son Mummy but you brought me up better than to be a man who would abandon such a debt. I needed her and now she needs me, I need to put this right."
"But darling how, you have barely anything out there," said Evangeline, "What will being out there do to help her?"
"I've got an idea but I want the both of you to listen to it in full before you interrupt me; promise me that?"
"I promise," said Evangeline.
Storm-grey eyes looked up at John, awaiting his response and he nodded in acquiescence, knowing that whatever was to be said would upset them otherwise the promise would not have been asked for.
"I'm dead," said Sherlock, "In the eyes of the law and anyone else that matters Sherlock Holmes committed suicide and was pronounced dead at the scene. You have a death certificate and witnesses aplenty to that fact. When my father died he left money in trust for me that I haven't ever touched, money that had I made a will would have passed to whomever I named in it but failing that passes back to the control of my mother. You can claim that money and use it, Mummy and I want you to do that for me. I'll stay here, engage builders under the guise of Aoife's son Connor, I'll pass the invoices to John and you'll give the money to him to bring to me. I owe Aoife so much, if I can rebuild her life in anyway I will…"
"But your Father left you that Sherlock, its your inheritance," said Evangeline.
"That I did nothing to earn, he left me all that when I was six years old and if money was the route of all happiness Mummy then where the hell did I go wrong?" said Sherlock, "I've been the most selfish of creatures since the moment I knew my own name but in this I won't be moved. The money in that account is vast, enough to fund this build and then some. You can refuse to do this Mummy and I couldn't stop you but I'm asking you to help me get something right for once."
"If its what you want," said Evangeline, "Then I'll do what I can but how will you live? How will I know that you're warm and safe?"
"From the money I'll ask you for enough to let me live comfortably here, I can still work with Eoin and Padraig might let me help him when needed. I don't need much," said Sherlock, "I need you to help one other person though. I'm going to ask a lot of John these next few months; I'll need him to come here as often as he can and I will need him to focus on my case along with Mycroft when we tell him. The hours he works at Barts to afford Baker Street will not help, so if he wants to, I want him to have the chance to reduce his hours there and still afford the rent. Give him whatever he needs."
"No," said John, breaking his silence, "I won't have you keep me Sherlock."
"I'm not keeping you, think of it as wages for the work I'll have you doing."
"I don't need wages to try and clear the name of the man I love," said John, "I'll bring money for you and for Aoife but I won't be beholden to you like that, not for something I will do anyway."
"Why don't we cross any bridges we come to when we come to them," said Evangeline, preventing any further discussion, "I'll release the money from the account and give it to John to allow you to get the pub rebuilt and for anything you need to get by. I'll speak to my lawyer first thing Monday morning. This is temporary though, very temporary. I want you home before Christmas darling."
"Don't set targets we can't meet," said Sherlock, "It'll take a while yet and I'd rather not set dates."
"At least let me come and see you at some point," said Evangeline.
"Its too much of a risk now John's been here," said Sherlock, "I promise I'll get into town when I can and find somewhere with internet so I can see you over the computer."
"Alright," said Evangeline though her tone barely concealed her sadness, "I will miss you all the more for it though."
"I'll miss you too," said Sherlock, moving closer to John's chair, "We should go, I've got no electricity and John will need his phone. I'll sort something out with Padraig before you panic."
"Be sure you do," said Evangeline, "John let me know when you're home, we'll have much to discuss."
"I will," said John, "As soon as I'm back at Baker Street."
"Until tomorrow then," said Evangeline, "We will put this right Sherlock, darling, I know we will."
"I know," said Sherlock, "I'll call soon."
As the final farewells trailed away, John ended the call and slipped from his chair until he was on the floor in front of his friend. He cupped one pale cheek in his hand, his thumb tracing a soothing pattern.
"Alright?" he asked.
Sherlock nodded even as a single tear escaped his eye and he clasped John's hand tighter to him, "Come to bed with me," he said, "Please."
John said nothing but got to his feet, taking the other man with him. Wordlessly he disrobed them both before he led him to the nest of blankets that had protected and cocooned them since they had been reunited and together they fell into the soft embrace and leaving the world outside forgotten.
"Here take it and don't make a fuss," said John, turning away from the cash point and stuffing a stash of euros into Sherlock's pale hand.
Sherlock scowled but pocketed the cash, "Now how are you going to eat?"
"Mrs Hudson won't let me starve and I get paid in a week so don't worry," said John looking over his shoulder at the growing crowd at the check in desk, "I need to get booked in or I'll never get on the plane."
"You make that sound like a bad thing," said Sherlock reaching out and taking his hands, "Can't you fly back tomorrow? Stay one more night, please Mo Chuisle."
John bit back the tears his words inspired, "I can't, I'm on earlies tomorrow and if I don't show they'll ask questions," he said, "Two weeks though and I'll be back, I'll book the flights as soon as I get home."
"Speak to Mycroft first, get him to pay."
John smiled, "Even upset you're Machiavellian," he said, "I'll pay my own way thank you very much Mister Holmes, even when I have told your brother about you. I really have to go sweetheart."
Sherlock's kiss when it came was desperate and spoke volumes of the pain that was racing through John's veins in equal measure at their separation.
"I love you," said Sherlock, his grip on John's hands unrelenting, "So much."
"I love you," echoed John as the final call for check in sounded around them, "I really have to go."
He pushed up onto his toes and kissed Sherlock once more, resisting the urge to lose himself in it and give up all chance of making his flight.
"I'll call as soon as I land," he said, as Sherlock released his hands and allowed him to pick up his bag, "Be careful getting home."
"You too, London cabbies can be murder."
John grinned, "That was bad."
Sherlock smiled weakly, "Best I've got right now. Remember what we agreed you'd tell My and don't forget to go to my grave, you need to act as though I'm still dead. As soon as you've made contact with my brother I'll be able to send over all the information I've gathered."
"I know," said John, "Don't hang around for me ok, get going or you'll have too long a walk back in the dark. I wish you didn't have to get a train."
"I'll manage, it's barely five miles from the station to the village," said Sherlock, stepping back, "Go on Mo Chuisle."
John kissed him once more, "You never told me the translation," he said, before the call rang out once more, "Speak to you in a few hours."
They neither of them said goodbye, the word seeming far too final and John turned and hurried to the desk, the attendant berating him but passing him through. He was quickly ushered to the small security area and passed through. As he waited for the guard to clear him he looked back but Sherlock was nowhere to be seen and John was glad he had chosen not to linger. His phone beeped almost as soon as it was back in his hand and he smiled as his text alert flashed Sherlock's name. He joined the queue at his flight gate and opened the message, smiling at the message therein.
"Mo Chuisle, Gaelic for my darling but literally translated as My Pulse. I love you. SH."
A/N: Well of course there'll be a sequel.
See you there.