Title: The Side of the Angels
Characters: John, Sherlock, various
Word Count: 8207
Warnings/Spoilers: basic spoilers for all the episodes except Scandal in Belgravia (I have yet to find a way to reconcile that episode into my headcanon, so I am summarily ignoring it until I am able to do so). Nothing too specific, but it does mention TRF and pokes speculation at S3.
Summary: Written for the watsons_woes 750 members party, for donutsweeper's prompt: Five times no one noticed that Sherlock took care of John, and one time they did.
AN: This was never supposed to be this long, but it got out of hand, and after wrestling with it for over a week I've decided to just go ahead and post it.
Five times no one noticed Sherlock took care of John, and one time they did
The first time, Sherlock surprises himself, which is an extraordinary feat, because he has to swallow his pride and ask his brother for a favor.
For the first time in over twenty years.
The last time he asked Mycroft for a favor was when he was, he believes, about ten years old, the occasion he asked his seventeen-year-old brother (1) for - he laughs to this day thinking about it - fashion advice. Mycroft's three-hour lesson on personal grooming had been both awkward and bizarre in the extreme, but the lesson has stuck to this day; he is quite aware of his fashion sense and how stunning he is capable of looking if it suits his purpose.
But shortly after that, Mycroft deserted him for University, and Sherlock had retreated for his own mental safety into the shell which had become his mind-palace, his haven for the last two decades. Despite all overtures, he had never quite forgiven his brother for not coming home over the holidays for three Christmases running, abandoning him to a family who did not, and did not try to, understand the strange younger child. Murmurs of Asperger's and sociopathic tendencies, whispered behind well-bred hands at estate gatherings, had haunted him from childhood, exacerbated by his elder sibling's apparent perfection, or at least his lack of glaring social ineptitude. To be abandoned, in his immature mind, to face the world alone had changed him, hardened his already impenetrable exterior, thickened his already impassable shields.
And then Fate in the person of an amiable idiot named Mike Stamford had dropped a small ex-soldier with a superfluous cane and a dark smile into his life, and John Watson turned his entire world on its head.
Practically overnight, he found that yes, there actually did exist one person in the world who did not see him simply as Mycroft Holmes's not-quite-right younger brother, one man who apparently was too gullible to dismiss his theatrics and too intelligent to scorn them, one incredibly unusual person who did not seem to loathe him at first meeting - and whose refreshingly honest opinions of him did not change after days and weeks and then months of co-habiting. John Watson was intelligent, frank, interesting, unassuming, annoying, placid, frustrating, fascinating, and completely and utterly dangerous.
Sherlock briefly considered the idea that the author of the old adage wise as serpents, harmless as doves, had not encountered a viper on a dark night. One in a cable-knit jumper, no less. Here, living with with this unbelievably fascinating man, even angels would fear to tread.
John Watson was an enigma, possibly the most intriguing one he had ever encountered.
And, to his and everyone else's perpetual shock, John was totally oblivious of his own unique brilliance, and the sheer power that gave him over Sherlock's brain's requirement of being constantly occupied.
He still does not much like the idea of ceding such power to another individual, but he has the strange feeling that John is the one man in the world he could trust enough to not abuse that power - and it is that trust which necessitates his actions now. Sherlock is still wary of this unusual man he lives with, but he is no fool - he knows a good thing when he sees one, and it would be folly to sabotage a relationship he already has little hope of being a satisfactory participant in.
This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that John has been utterly furious with him for three days now, and for the first time in his life, Sherlock actually is worried about someone's emotional state of mind.
This is cause for alarm, as it signifies a major change in his thinking processes. Nonetheless, one cannot argue with fact - and the fact is, that he does not want John to be angry with him. A large component of this is due to the fact that when John is angry he refuses to do the shopping, and Sherlock is tired of ordering groceries online and having them delivered for an exorbitant price. But the remainder of his reasoning is simply that this is the one person whose opinion he actually believes he might care about, and it is worth a small swallowing of pride to patch up his error in this case.
Said error being the ASBO John has a hearing about next week. (2) Sherlock at the time had had absolutely zero sympathy, as he was still smarting over John's correction of their relationship when talking with that smarmy git Sebastian; but after John's explaining that he did not much appreciate being displayed to a total stranger as the platonic version of a trophy wife, and after a bit of not-really-apologizing-but-as-close-as-either-of-them-would-get, that had been settled satisfactorily. John's abduction, injury, and Sherlock's panic attack over the same (he was never going to admit to that, thank you, but he could hardly be blamed for a minor freak-out over caring for the first time about what happened to his Only Friend) trumped all else for a day or two, until John got over the concussion and remembered Sherlock had left him holding the bag (literally) during the early investigation of the case.
John is still angry with him, and Sherlock is tired of having to wash up his own tea mug of a morning.
Mycroft is on the telephone with the Honorable Who-Knows-What when he strolls past the protesting secretary into his brother's office. He receives a surprised glare that could incinerate stone, as well as an unspoken threat of imminent deportation should he do anything which could be overheard, but in the interests of his agenda he decides to actually behave himself, much to the harassed secretary's gratitude.
Mycroft hangs up five minutes later, and breathes a sigh of relief; no doubt that Sherlock did not steal chocolates from the jar on the desk nor tried to read state documents upside-down.
"To what do I owe this unheard-of and dubious pleasure, dear brother?" he is asked, and rolls his eyes at the tone. Before he can answer, Mycroft prattles on with all the smug satisfaction of a man who enjoys being a know-all far too much. "It wouldn't have anything to do with this recent business with your quick-to-escape graffiti artist?"
He resists the urge to put his head in his hands at taking this horrible ill-advised leap of faith. "You've already taken care of the ASBO," he sighs, because one's surname need not be Holmes to deduce as much.
"Of course," is the reply, far too kindly delivered. "It would not do to drive the fellow away just when he is proving to be, shall we say, very interesting. And good for you, too, Sherlock, if his refusal to find safer lodgings after the events of this week are any indication. Besides, I am certain I will find a way to extract a favour from you in return, eh?"
He gives a curt nod and stands to leave, because he got what he came for (thankfully with less damage to his pride than he had planned). Mycroft leans back in his chair, a disgustingly self-satisfied smile on his face. "Do give my regards to Doctor Watson when you take credit for this," he calls smugly after Sherlock's retreating back, and he resists the urge to make a rude gesture behind him at his sibling.
Just for spite, he does take the credit for the ASBO's removal, because it is the thought that counts, correct?
John is at first skeptical, then cautious, and finally grateful, and by the time Sherlock shells out a fraction of his fee from Sebastian on an expensive dinner out by way of unspoken apology, the man is back to his cheerful, tolerant self.
Until Sherlock appropriates the remainder of his apricot tart with cream while John is in the lavatory; but that is an entirely different story.
The second time Sherlock remembers quite clearly, for the simple reason that he is extraordinarily proud of himself for remembering.
It is also enlightening, in that it is the first time he realises that John has somehow gone from being merely a cozy, convenient little nook in his mind-palace, to being quite the largest room there - surpassing the hitherto all-encompassing Work Room. John is no longer a breakfast nook (sunshine through crisp curtains, no head in the fridge, small space cleared on the cluttered kitchen table for the traditional full English breakfast and coffee with no sugar, spare chair with a Union Jack cushion for Sherlock to perch in when he feels like it), but rather a pervasively huge library (shelves of medical and self-help books, file cabinets full of discharge papers and blog excerpts, curio cabinet in the corner with the wondrously fascinating minutiae, overstuffed armchairs with cable-knitted afghans, large gun cabinet near the triple-locked door).
How, he has no idea, but facts are facts, and the fact remains that it is John's Room, and not the Work, which is now occupying the most square footage in his mind-palace.
Fascinating, but food for thought at a later date.
He remembers the occasion vividly, however, because he is simply not in the habit of Caring about other people, and certainly not of Caring About Common Everyday Needs Like Breakfast. That he does suddenly remember he probably should, and that he then acts on that thought, is cause for both mild concern (first times are always memorable) and great satisfaction (sociopath, indeed!).
No one notices except John, and even his flatmate/PA/Everything-Imaginable has absolutely no clue what a revelation Sherlock has just had.
It has been a long week, even aside from the five-pips drama and the ever-increasing thunderous threat which looms on the horizon, distant and, for now at least, ethereal. John has been irritable and impatient (only twice before in their flatshare history has he retreated to his not-quite-girlfriend's rather than simply chucking something of solidity at Sherlock's head and stomping upstairs), and they have just been up all night chasing after the fourth pip.
His revelation comes at a most inopportune time, namely as he is hovering over Lestrade's shoulder while they finish up the details of the Monkford disappearance report, somewhere after midnight. He is mid-sentence in a grammar correction, ignoring Lestrade's feeble groan of protest, when he looks up in time to see his flatmate slump over onto Dimmock's empty desk, head cradled on his folded arms.
He blinks in some mystification, because it is barely after two in the morning and they have certainly had later nights.
"Actually, ignore that," he mutters, drawing back from Lestrade's personal space-bubble. "Write it however you like; it will be your career on the line if your misplaced modifiers make the criminal out to be the wrong man."
Lestrade folds his arms and glares at him, which he ignores, and he starts to leave. "Oi, now you can't just -"
He crouches down beside his quietly snoring flatmate - more than just flatmate now, though he has no real idea when that happened - and gives his shoulder a brisk shake.
John makes a small snort and bolts upright on the instant, honed soldier's instincts already assessing possible threats.
"Whugh," is the surprisingly articulate mumble Sherlock receives for his trouble in saving his friend from a terrible crick in the neck.
"There is a couch in the lounge down the hall," he says, and watches the slow march of adrenaline/relief/dread/exasperation/so-tired-I-can't-think-straight-what-insane-thing-are-you-going-to-ask-me-to-do-next across John's expressive face. "Or you should go...home," and he is relieved by how natural the word sounds as he tries it. "Knowing Lestrade's level of competence in paperwork, I most likely will be another hour or longer."
"But the third pip," John mumbles from behind his hands, where he's trying to hide a yawn. "Should be coming in any time, yeah?"
"I'll wake you if it does," he promises, and is slightly amused by the fact that John doesn't even bother to ascertain details about anything except the general direction of the Yard's employee lounge.
He and Lestrade finish the reports within twenty minutes, but he waits four hours (Lestrade is no fool and never turns down a chance to show him cold cases) before waking John up and hauling him out to a nearby cafe for an admittedly one-sided breakfast.
"Feel better?" he asks as John inhales an omelette, and is oddly proud of the fact that the words come naturally to him.
John, busy stuffing a second piece of toast into his mouth, obviously has no inkling about the immense epiphany of this situation; but it is satisfaction enough for Sherlock, to know he has succeeded in doing a Good Thing.
The third time Sherlock doesn't have to make a conscious effort, because he knows if he is literally shaking with reaction then his friend - because John has now graduated into such, being strapped into a bomb vest for your sake will do that even to a self-diagnosed sociopath - has to be ten times more so. He has been greatly anticipating the confrontation, was thrilling with quivering excitement for the past six hours - and it only now occurs to him that those selfsame six hours had to have been hell on earth for John, trapped in the clutches of the second most dangerous, and the foremost mentally unstable, man in London.
The idea of what could have happened - did happen? - in those six hours turns his stomach, and he admits for the first time that he cares about this man, because why else would his first reaction be concern for what had or might have happened rather than inquiring if John had noticed any clues which could be of use in tracking Moriarty down again? The reaction has now become reflex, which means it is becoming a part of him - and the change in mindset is unsettling at the least. Nevertheless, it does exist, as the proof is before him in the form of a racing pulse and even more racing imagination. He knows this Moriarty's mind, knows what drives a man to walk the fine line between psychopathic and just brilliantly bored genius, knows how thin the barrier is between angel and fallen angel. What the criminal mastermind is capable of has been proven time and again in the last few days - and this man had John, his John, for six hours tonight.
But now, Moriarty has vanished into the night, his sniper(s?) with him, presumably to take someone up on a more diverting offer than offing Sherlock and John. The door clangs shut, the lasers disappear, and they are left alone in a deserted swimming pool, staring at each other in blank shock.
Then John exhales in a horrible, shuddery sort of gasp, and slides completely down the wall to sit on the floor, wisely putting his head between his knees. The sound and sight twists something oddly in the vicinity of his chest, and he hastily flicks the safety onto John's gun before pocketing it and crouching in front of his shaking flatmate. John is unresponsive at first, breathing heavily, and when he hesitantly touches the man's hand he feels that it is cold as ice - shock, what he wouldn't give for one of those accursed orange blankets - before John grabs his fingers and clutches them like a vise.
He has no idea what to say, as Sorry your association with me got you and your latent PTSD strapped into Semtex by a madman decidedly lacks acuity, and so he says nothing, because he knows by now that an attempt at voicing what he is so unaccustomed to feeling inevitably leads to a conversation that is usually a bit Not Good. Instead, he lets John come to himself in his own time, which is a surprisingly few seconds. After a shaky breath, John lifts his head, and the ghosts in his eyes haunt them both for a few seconds.
Sherlock swallows. "An intelligent man would leave immediately and find a safer association and lodgings," he finally says, and the words stick in his throat due to their Truth and also the fact that he would not know what to do if John did just that.
To his surprise, John smiles a very little. "Well, it's good for both of us that I'm an idiot, isn't it?"
Unable to make light of it, he settles for nodding and a murmured, "Quite," and receives a swat to the arm as John struggles to his feet. Once there, his friend sways unsteadily, face pinched and paper-white, but rights himself without accepting Sherlock's awkwardly-offered arm.
"All right?" he asks, hoping the affirmative he knows he will receive is at least not a complete lie.
John nods, rubbing the back of his neck with an unsteady hand. "I never want to smell chlorine again," he mutters, and casts a baleful glance at the pool and the still-blinking bomb vest. "And what are we going to do with that?"
Barely are the words out of his mouth when the doors burst open to admit a black-garbed team of men who most certainly are not standard police.
"Mycroft," he sighs, and rolls his eyes as they are surrounded by three men and one impeccably dressed woman, who does not at all look as if she's been rudely awakened in the middle of the night for a search-and-rescue.
"Our surveillance team roused your brother at nearly one o'clock in the morning, after a late night spent averting national incidents. He's out for blood, by the way, preferably yours," Anthea remarks casually, and John's hysterical giggle is so pathetic-sounding that it provokes an unaccountable urge deep inside him, to run Moriarty through a meat grinder. Slowly. "Shall I take you home, then?" she continues blandly, tapping away at her mobile. "We've already swept the flat for traps and incendiaries and moved the landlady out of town for the remainder of the weekend."
"What?" he asks indignantly. "Whatever for?"
"I believe the words 'unconscionable stupidity' were used," she replies dryly, indicating the pool scene with an all-encompassing wave of manicured hand.
John's face is rapidly greying as the adrenaline fades into deeper shock, and Sherlock is not oblivious to the fact that his flatmate is edging closer to him, almost leaning on his taller figure. He refuses to be baited, knowing everything he says will probably be repeated to his brother via text messaging.
"Home would be lovely," John mutters faintly, and does not protest when Sherlock retrieves his overcoat (stashed in the hall before entering the pool) and wraps it around him.
"Dinner first?" Anthea asks, surprisingly looking up from the phone to spare John a glance.
John shakes his head, lost in the coat. "There's risotto at home in the fridge," he says wearily, no doubt wanting to simply go to a familiar place and crash.
Sherlock clears his throat nervously. "About that," he begins, trying to sound casual.
John knows better, and fixes him with as steady a glare as he can manage. "Yes, about that?"
"I...ate it," he admits, fidgeting with his jacket button.
John stares at him. "All of it?"
"Well, all but the bits stuck to the rim." This much is the truth, though he is at a loss as to why one of the men in black snorts a laugh into his gloves.
"You ate a two-thirds of a pan of risotto before coming to confront a psychopathic criminal mastermind, but you refuse to eat anything of legal substance while on a 'normal' case?" John's look is highly skeptical, as if he expects to come home and find the food plastered to the ceiling as an experiment on how sticky the various components are in the frigid atmosphere of their windowless sitting room.
He fidgets, and then nods, because it is impossible to deny.
"Sherlock. Why on earth...?"
"...It was...quite good?" he tries, for it is the truth, although it is not an overly believable reason.
John stares at him as if he's grown a third skull, before starting to laugh. He has no idea what is so amusing, and wonders if John is full-blown hysterical.
"So you keep me around for my cooking, is what you're saying," John says with a grin, looking up at him. He seems strangely tiny in Sherlock's overcoat.
"That, and you are able to shut Anderson up when I need silence," he replies airily, waving a hand. "Also you buy the milk," he adds, as an afterthought.
"Meaning that you didn't get it," John returns, amused.
"Ah..." he rocks backward on his heels for a moment, and then shakes his head. "No."
"I should really be furious with you, you know."
"For not buying the milk?"
"For setting up a rendezvous with a maniacal mob boss, Sherlock!"
"Ah, that. Yes, you probably should be." He glances around the pool for a minute, and then clears his throat. "Are you?"
John sighs, deflating visibly. "Yes. But I'm not going to punch you until tomorrow."
"It is after midnight," Anthea points out angelically, and ignores Sherlock's glare.
He would have made no move to defend himself had John chosen to punch him, because even he can realise now that his confrontation with Moriarty was not worth it, not if the person's life at stake was John's and not some faceless unknown from the community. But John only sighs tolerantly and shuffles off after Anthea, trailing two inches of overcoat on the concrete floor all the while.
But Sherlock knows he has been forgiven already, because this is John, and John will always forgive him.
The fourth time, it becomes reflex and not conscious action, another step along this journey of self-discovery. By definition, reflex is an action taken before the brain - even his magnificently unsurpassed one - has time to respond to a stimulus. It is action, not reaction, and to say that a command bypassed the supercomputer which comprises his brain is high praise, indeed. He should feel rather proud of himself, he believes, though no one recognises the feat except possibly John himself, and he only belatedly.
They have been back from the events at the Baskerville facility for a few weeks now, during which he has had precisely two disturbing conversations with his brother (making a deal with the devil, so to speak, as he is firmly ambivalent about the side of the angels), four cases (all of which were solved within the day of acceptance), and one spectacular argument with John (spiking a friend's drink as an experiment evidently rankles weeks past a handsome apology). Besides these tiny illuminations on the dark pathway of his life, he has been spectacularly bored for well over a fortnight, unable to do more than wait for Mycroft's information-feeding to Moriarty to blow up in their faces (quite possibly literally, given the man's history). (3)
And then Lestrade yanks him in over a terrorist threat, of all things, which has this week turned from governmental business into police business when a police car is the second vehicle hijacked and summarily destroyed by incendiary explosives. Nothing like a good car-bomber to liven up a dreary London, he mentions off-the-cuff at the scene, and belatedly realises from everyone's disgusted looks that possibly that was a Bit Not Good.
John delivers a glance which clearly says you are digging yourself out of this one by yourself, and he decides the matter is not worth noting, as he is far more concerned with the case than society's apparent disregard for his brain-engine rattling itself to pieces without diversion.
So, to work then.
Two days later, they are closer to a solution but not by much; he has names and a network out looking for the bomber (completely un-Moriarty-related, much to his disappointment, though the coincidence is rather peculiar - he suspects it is a thinly veiled warning of something portending), and it will only be a matter of time. But he cannot make bricks without clay, and due to the tardiness of the police calling him in and the hash the bomb squad made of the crime scenes, he is fairly helpless until another clue is found.
A fourth carjacking one late evening is certainly a large enough clue, and his suspicion that Moriarty is essentially flirting with him only strengthens when he just 'happens' to be within a few streets of the fourth explosion, while he and John are walking along Oxford Street en route to a discount electronics store which is a front for one of his old dealers.
The explosion is quite loud, and though it is a cloudy day thunder cannot be blamed for the noise - they take one look at each other and sprint off into the twilight, headed for the scene.
It is utter madness when they reach it, the street blockaded by a kaleidoscope of flashing lights and fluorescent-hued emergency workers. People are being that disgusting portion of the population known as gawpers; fighting for a glimpse at the wreckage and eagerly trying to capture something on their camera phones in the feeble hopes humanity continually nurses of becoming a web sensation on stolen footage at someone else's expense. The rotting smell of carnage chokes the oxygen from the evening air, and the still-smouldering wreckage mocks him with its burning skeleton of shrapnel and sense of failure.
They have no hope of getting close until the police arrive, unless John can get them through the cordon under authority of being trained in combat-conditions triage. Quite a good idea, actually, and he turns to issue orders accordingly -
And John is nowhere to be seen.
At first he is indignant, thinking that the man took off into the wreckage without even bothering to wait to get Sherlock in as well under medical authority - and then he sees the shadow of a thick knitted jumper melting into an alley across the street. Puzzled, he starts after John, narrowly missing being struck by a gawking motorist. As the wind kicks up, swirling a new wave of nauseous vapor his direction, he spares a moment to hope that the smell of burning flesh will not linger on his coat, as he has already been forced to have it cleaned three times this month.
Finally he makes it across the street, after sending a text to Lestrade about the new developments, and cautiously (even he knows the difference between intrepid and foolhardy) edges into the alleyway, eyes alert and hands held loosely before him, ready for a trap.
But there is no trap, unless it is a ploy to make him feel like an utter imbecile for not realising that the smell and sight of a seconds-old car-bombing might just be a little unpleasant for a man not yet eighteen months back from his tour in Afghanistan.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! He resists the urge to swear at his own inexcusable idiocy. He cannot believe how foolish he has been, how blind, how unforgivably senseless he has been, to not realise.
John is...well, not precisely freaking out, he would say, but nor is he all right, or even close. Sherlock has seen him have an attack before, but only once; in the early days of their association, when a deranged murderer had opened fire on them and a police contingent with a military-issue sniper rifle during a hostage negotiation.
Now, there is none of the full-blown, wholesale panic, nor the mistaken belief that John is in a combat situation - the disawareness of reality as the mind relives a horror no human should be forced to endure. But his own senses tell him his friend - and the word is rapidly becoming second nature rather than an awkward definition - has already been sick in the murk of the alley, and looks about seconds from being so again. John's face is white as a sheet, stark pale against the brick of the building behind him as he leans against it, the back of his right wrist covering his mouth and nose as he breathes heavily.
"John," he begins, somewhat helpless, because he has not really learnt what will make things better or worse in these situations (this, from the man who rashly decided to test a hallucinogen on the same army veteran, without thinking of the long-term ramifications of such trauma).
"I am not going back out there, Sherlock," he hears, and John's voice is shaking more than his left hand is, clenched at his side. "You can go back and talk over things with Greg when he gets here. You don't need me and I. Am. Not. Going."
"I do need you," he replies, and surprises himself with the calm truthfulness of the statement. John flicks him a quick glance, wild-eyed, and he amends hastily, "but that is not the point." Police sirens fill the air, drawing nearer by the moment, and he glances back toward the mouth of the alley. "If I send you home in a cab will you promise me you'll actually go home and...watch mindless telly or something?" he asks. "Not sit in the hall and stare at the carpet until I come back or call up your horridly insensitive sister to spend an hour wallowing in sordid politics?"
Something eases instantly in John's haunted expression, some subtle lessening of tension, some relief filtering through the stubborn panic and the arguments he knows John has already prepared against Sherlock's expected cajoling him to stay. The fact causes a twinge of hurt, as he would hope that by now he would not think of forcing or guilting the man into staying when he is not well - but he knows that John's fear is unfortunately justified by experience (even he was inexperienced and stupid at some point), and he makes a mental note to that effect.
"No, no, wait, I've a better idea." He fishes into his pocket and flips through his wallet, finally locating a fiver for the cab and a business card, which he then tucks into John's breast pocket, as the man's hands are still shaking. "Go to this address and wait for me; mention my name and you'll eat on the house. The owner -"
" - owes you a favour, yes, right, just like ruddy half of London," John finishes, breathing shakily, and conjures up a small smile from some hidden reserves whose depths Sherlock has not yet fathomed. "You're sure?"
"Sure I want you to go, sure you will get a free meal, or sure I will meet you there?"
"All three, I suppose." John inhales slowly, exhaling through his mouth after holding the breath for four seconds.
"Then a triplicate yes," he replies, buttoning his coat back up and flicking the collar into submission. "Go on, then. I do not need the distraction of worrying about you while I attempt to pound some sense into Lestrade's barely-competent bomb squad, not to mention those dolts Mycroft sent out last time for damage control."
John has a bizarre look on his expressive face which appears to be completely unrelated to his minor 'episode,' and Sherlock has no idea what, precisely, he has said which could make the man look so surprised and yet pleased at the same time.
He has forgotten about it by the time he is finished dealing with Lestrade's men and furnishing them with the information they need to track down the bomber, but John appears to be perfectly fine when Sherlock walks into the restaurant (fending off the usual effusive greeting from the establishment's owner) two hours later - and so obviously, he did the right thing.
Well, then; practice does make perfect, and as a violinist he should be well accustomed to such.
The fifth time the whole world notices, and yet no one does - because no one except Sherlock knows the full truth. All the world watches his suicide leap from blurry footage coincidentally caught on a gawky youth's camera phone, all of London and John's reading public know and see and read and weigh in on his actions - and yet no one, no one in the world, knows the entire truth, knows why he did what he did. The playing pieces in the Great Game had no idea they had become such, and only he knew how to win the game.
Moriarty had finally realised that Sherlock was not the King in the game - but the Queen. Take the queen off the board, and the rest of the pieces can easily fall without that strong offense. Sherlock had been the queen, and had performed that hardest of all chess moves - a massive sacrifice. One could still win a game without the queen, however, and he had faith in the other playing pieces to do just that without his direct appearance until it was time for an exchange, for him to reappear into the playing field after the majority of the enemy's pieces had been removed from the battle.
Lestrade is a knight, he thinks, because the man constantly surprises him at every turn and is his primary defender against the riff-raff of the pawn police force. Molly is a bishop, loyal at his side and surprising him with non-lateral moves. Mrs. Hudson is his favorite rook, his castle, his strongest defense to retreat to when he needs predictable but steadfast courage. Mycroft is his other rook, more because it is the second most powerful piece after the Queen than because Sherlock trusts him for a strong offense. Sherlock himself is the Queen, the piece around which the others take their strategic cues, the most valuable and powerful player in the drama.
John is his King.
The capture of the King signifies the end of the Game - and that is an eventuality that Sherlock is determined to never have happen again. There had been a check, back at the pool that day - and from that moment he knew he would never permit his King to be in check again. The other pieces he would not wish to lose, but could if necessary; definitely not a preferable scenario, but not this crushing, encompassing certainty of Loss were he to do so.
And now, watching from afar as the King weeps at the farcical grave of the Great Game's Queen, promises to never stop believing in Sherlock Holmes - he knows he has succeeded, however high the cost, in removing the King from the danger of checkmate. If that means sacrificing the most important piece in the Game, then so be it.
He will have his chance, when he can be part of an exchange and return to the playing field. Until then, the Game goes on, must go on, without him. One can still win a game without the queen, if one has the strategy to push through the disadvantage - and while Moriarty removed the Black Queen from play by his own suicide, the fact that the man's own Dark playing pieces remain veiled from disclosure makes him the more dangerous even in death. Sherlock must wait from the sidelines as the game progresses, identify these unknown risks, and remove them by manipulating what he can of the remaining pieces, before coming back into play to finish the game once and for all.
And all throughout, John will remain safely protected from check by the presence of these other pieces, by the line of pawns Sherlock already has set in place as guardians, watchmen, over the most important and crucial piece. His homeless network is more than happy to watch over "the good Doctor," as they call him, because his compassion and loyalty to Sherlock has won him friends in every arena - and this is no exception. They are his pawns, to front between the King and his attackers, to warn of danger and protect from harm when possible.
The other pieces, his knight and bishop and rooks, will do so automatically; such is the nature of the Game.
No one knows that they are all players in the Great Game, but they are safe for the moment from check - and that is all that matters to him.
But as he turns away, he realises that he has most likely sacrificed more than just his life temporarily with this move - he has sacrificed John's unwavering, unending, unshakeable-even-when-the-world-refuses-to-believe trust in him. Whatever his reasoning, he knows he will need to do more than just win the Game to regain that. In the meantime, he is relegated to the inglorious position of an unseen, imperfect guardian angel.
A Fallen angel. The wordplay is highly apt.
He never thought that caring could ever hurt quite this badly.
The sixth time, it could really read quite like a movie script, because it could hardly have been more theatrical if he had planned it to be so. Sherlock knows it will go down in history at New Scotland Yard, if it doesn't go viral on John's blog first, because he vaguely registered Anderson and that ridiculously enthusiastic young upstart Hopkins filming the scene on their mobiles and they gossip like a pack of predatory adolescent girls.
He really hadn't planned on such a dramatic, and public, reappearance, but then his life of the last two months has not adhered to original plans in any respect. He had anticipated being forced to remain incognito for considerably longer, because while Moriarty had removed himself from the game, his remaining players had been so carefully concealed that it would take months, years even, for Sherlock to eliminate them one by one and so protect his own playing pieces permanently.
He had not counted on the fact that one Mycroft Holmes was the most dangerous man in England.
Brother the elder had come to Sherlock not six weeks after his disappearance, as he sat in his dingy flat plotting how to take out the Black Knight (Sebastian Moran) and had calmly informed him that the primary threats (six in all, four in England and two abroad) had all been "dealt with." When he had expressed incredulity, his sibling produced the photos to prove his claims, and casually chided him for not trusting anyone's plans but his own. Evidently Mycroft had simply not appreciated Moriarty's bid for power, and had 'eliminated' the threats left behind by his organization's collapse.
Sherlock shuddered, and stared at the dossier for two hours after Mycroft had left, barely daring to believe the war was over before he'd even had a chance to fire a shot of his own.
In some small way, he felt cheated, robbed of The Work and his purpose for surviving. All that was left for him now was to clean up the vestiges which remained from the Moriarty syndicate, and see that his name was cleared legally so that there would be no repercussions at his return...but then...
...then he could go home.
And possibly, he could be forgiven an absence of eight weeks instead of years, as he had originally been prepared to spend.
And so it transpires that he finds himself apprehensively walking up to a house in the East End on a blazing summer day, actually nervous for the first time since the day he entered boarding school. He's actually been by the Yard already, as he rather thinks John might be inclined to kill him and it would be good to have an ally on the inside should he take it into his head to do so. Unfortunately, Lestrade was apparently out on this odd strangling case, and he'd had to settle for Dimmock, as he could not leave the building once a laboratory technician recognised him and shrieked loud enough to shatter glass.
Dimmock spent ten minutes doing his best impression of a pondless goldfish, before grinning wide enough to split his head in half and slapping Sherlock on the back in the most disgustingly congratulatory manner possible. Sherlock plastered a polite, bland smirk into place and endured the platitudes until he could make his escape, but not before swearing Dimmock to secrecy and appropriating the address of Lestrade's murder case.
He had counted upon the DI being surprised, maybe even (he secretly, forlornly hoped, a bit pleased) when he walked calmly into a crime scene as if he belonged there.
What he did not count on, is Lestrade staring at him for a solid five seconds before the man's eyes roll up in his head and he drops like a rock onto the floor of the murder room.
However, there is a second problem. Namely that, unfortunately, he has neither counted on one John Watson being in the room as well (crimino-medical consultant, he hazards).
John's face turns a peculiar shade of red and then drains to pasty grey, as he inhales and stumbles back a step, staring at him with eyes that Sherlock thinks might dry out soon if he does not blink a bit. Realisation slowly creeps into his friend's expression, followed by what looks to be a combination of bone-melting joy and bone-breaking fury.
If he stands here sheepishly for another ten seconds, Donovan will most likely be extracting his teeth from the nearest wall. It is a simple application of psychological understanding, coupled with the very obvious tell of a fist being clenched. He is about to know what it feels like to have a broken jaw, courtesy of a too-patient man who has been done a grievous, if unavoidable, wrong.
And so, in a purely logical act of self-preservation, he crosses the room in three long steps and throws his arms around John in the most ridiculous, awkward hug he has ever been party to.
John yelps a little and freezes, stiff as a plank (a small one, given that his hair is barely tickling Sherlock's chin), before growling something into Sherlock's coat and struggling to free his arms. Carefully aware of the fact that John can inflict far more damage with a well-placed knee should he truly wish to cause harm, Sherlock calmly tightens his grip, squeezing firmly as he has seen is typical in such situations (at least on the television programs he's watched for hours on end out of sheer cabin fever the past few weeks).
John makes a sort of strangled squeak as the air is forcibly removed from his lungs, and Sherlock draws back slightly in alarm. But then John's arms snake around him lightning-quick and holds on for dear life, both hands clenched in the back of Sherlock's coat. Stunned - because why on earth could John want to forgive him, so quickly? - he hears incomprehensible rubbish being half-sobbed into his lapel, and realises for possibly the first time that it is really and truly over.
The war, their war - the Great Game - is over.
Inexplicably, he finds himself laughing, just a quiet, private bubble of amusement muffled as he bends over John's smaller, slightly unsteady form. Laughing because he has won, in such a short time, without having to really fire a shot, and because after it all he has this to come back to. John, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, all of them - they have never stopped believing in Sherlock Holmes, and that belief has, literally, brought him back to life.
They have won.
John is laughing too, giggling like Sherlock remembers so fondly - or possibly crying, Sherlock can't tell with the man's face mashed into his shirt like that - and he grins as they sway back and forth like a slow, reassuring metronome in the still-stunned silence.
Over John's head he sees poor Lestrade finally blink and lurch to his feet, his subordinates blissfully unaware in their gap-jawed shock, and stumble a step his direction, rubbing bleary eyes in an effort to fixate Reality.
"The reports of my death were highly exaggerated, Inspector," he tries, hoping to sound casual. He does not think he succeeds in sounding anything but slightly giddy or just plain high, but Lestrade does not appear to notice.
The DI's shadowed eyes are lined with a few more worry wrinkles than he'd sported months ago, but they crinkle at the corners with a very real, very warm regard as he folds his arms and glares. "Y'know if you didn't have an armful of John I'd be biffing you a good one," he offers with a congenial nod.
"Get in queue," John murmurs, turning his head to grin at the inspector before looking up. "S...Sherlock," he adds, and the name evidently sticks ever so slightly in his throat. "Really, Sherlock - what? This is - this is insane, where have you been?"
"I will tell you everything...but you're not going to hit me?" he asks cautiously, only half-joking.
John takes a reluctant step back and shrugs, eyes still suspiciously bright. "I should, though."
Behind them, he sees money changing hands between Anderson and Hopkins; obviously Dimmock had someone text a warning to the minions before he arrived.
"Well, then," he says cheerfully, stepping back and straightening his coat. "Shall we -"
He barely has time to hear the "Well if you're not going to I will, Sherlockyoubloodygreattosser!" before he's sprawling on the floor, spitting out grime and dust and a bit of blood.
Anderson helps him up with a badly-concealed smirk, handing him a tissue for his lip.
John is regarding Lestrade with something akin to impressed gratitude. Sherlock frowns, dabbing at his lip. "Are you quite finished, then?" he asks, striving to sound bored and not guilty.
Lestrade flexes his fingers, a tinge of healthy colour starting to return to his face. "For now," he replies waspishly. "Maybe more when we hear the rest of the story. Where've you been skulking about for the last two months, then?"
He does not fancy telling the whole world why he did what he did, in a murder room with a half-dozen far-too-eager forensics personnel listening in on his most private thoughts, but he owes it to both of them to tell the truth, after so long. And so tell them he does, to the last detail.
John looks like he's about to be sick by the time he's finished, and Lestrade regards him for a long, very long moment in utter silence, his eyes dark and brooding.
"So what you're saying is, that you really saved both our lives by disappearing - you didn't plan to off yourself just to get rid of Moriarty," Lestrade finally says, brow creased.
"I was prepared for that eventuality, but no, Lestrade - had my goal merely been to take myself out of the picture there would have been no need for such theatrics as I was forced to put the world through." He flicks a glance over to John, who still looks ill at the memories no doubt forcing themselves to be relived. "Had Moriarty not forced my hand with his snipers, I should have been able to either leave the roof after dealing with him personally, or fake my own suicide and later allow you in on the deception. As it stood, however, it was not a risk I was willing to take. No matter what you may think of me and my methods, I no longer gamble with anyone's lives but my own." It is a simply massive admission, but it is true, and he hopes that veracity will be evident at least to these two all-important people.
Lestrade regards him for another moment, and then nods, apparently satisfied. Sherlock is then startled to receive a very brief, one-armed hug before the man steps back, grinning from ear to ear.
"I suppose you're going to be insufferable for weeks now once this gets out," Anderson drawls from behind them, though without his usual rancor.
"I know, yeah?" Donovan adds, smirking. "Can't even stay dead like decent people, that one."
John is writing in his pocket Moleskine, and glances up for a moment. "If any of you even begins to tell a zombie joke to me for a month, I swear I will shoot you where you stand," he states casually, producing a mass laugh from the wound occupants of the room.
Sherlock's mobile beeps suddenly, and he opens the message (from Donovan, to his surprise), which consists solely of a picture one of them must have snapped just now of him and John, and his impromptu epic-hug-in-order-to-avoid-a-broken-face.
He saves the photo carefully. And in that simple click of a button, he realises he has both forgiven and been forgiven.
Perhaps even Fallen angels are capable of redemption.
(1) In ACD Canon, Mycroft is seven years older than Sherlock; I see no reason to change that until we're told otherwise in BBC Canon.
(2) See The Blind Banker
(3) There's a boatload of theories out there about Mycroft's involvement with Moriarty in S2, but one I find very logical is that Mycroft fed Moriarty all the information about Sherlock's private life with Sherlock's permission (namely, that exchange being the favour Sherlock called in when he needed back into Baskerville the second time). Whether that's true or not, it's an interesting theory and, I think, a logical one.