Tactical Retreat

He burst from the door of 221B with as much energy as his bum leg allowed him, cursing the pain and the need for the cane, inhaling in lung full of pre-dawn, fetid city smog. It gave him something to focus on, along with the bruised knuckles. Something that wasn't. . .



Twenty four hours ago he would have given anything for this, the miracle he had begged for, for the reprieve he couldn't ever deserve. Now, he could only allow the part of his brain programmed for survival to guide his action and keep him safe. He couldn't allow himself the luxury of thought.

The survival instinct nudged him and warned that it was only moments before the inevitable black limousine would pull up at the curb and he would be pulled in to another intrusive encounter with Her Majesty's chief fixer and he just couldn't bare it. . .not now. . .perhaps, not ever.

Survival and Evasion, those were his refuge now. He was a soldier, a veteran, he was trained for it.

He pulled up the hood of his parka against the rain and as a protection, a disguise against the ever present and all seeing eyes of the security cameras lining the street. He ducked into the alley between the Deli and the dry-cleaners and the adrenaline kicked in as it had in the past, and now, as then, the need for the cane disappeared.

He heard a familiar voice call his name.

He dropped the cane and was halfway over a garden wall when he felt the vibration of his cell phone against his thigh. . .he wasn't sure where it landed but it made a satisfying crunch as it lost the battle with a solid surface.

More walls, more alleys. . .escape routes they had worked out together before The Fall, back when he had been a colleague, a partner. . .a friend.

It wasn't often he was happy to be a part of the pre-dawn morning rush hour but today he welcomed the anonymity of the seething masses as he slipped out of the sour air of the alley and walked briskly the two blocks to the entrance of the underground station, his hood pulled tight and his face down

Still in stealth mode he used his bank card to make the maximum cash withdrawal from an ATM and purchased an all-zone ticket for cash, dumping his tube pass in the lap of a homeless man begging at the bottom of the escalator.

He needed space. To be right away. Far away. . .no phone, no email, no spymaster. . .no contact.

Away from grief. Away from betrayal.

Anger would be his companion on this journey, an unwelcome but inescapable burden that sat like a boulder on his shoulder and circling his chest in an iron band , crushing his ability to take a breath, leaving him breathless, lightheaded and in so much pain he wanted to howl. He didn't. Old habits, remembered patterns. Stoic in the face of adversity.

He wasn't about to make the spymaster's job easy, he changed trains three times, keeping his face away from the eye of the cameras. Before his last change he handed a fiver to a spotty youth in exchange for a battered baseball cap and scarf in the colours of a local football team.

At the end of the Piccadilly Line he made his way into Terminal 1 at Heathrow. He boarded the plane as Greg Lestrade, courtesy of one of the ID's picked from the DI's pocket at some long forgotten crime scene and kept in his wallet as a reminder. As the wide vista of London disappeared into the clouds he snatched a breath and then another and another until he was on the point of hyperventilating; an eagle-eyed stewardess produced a glass of iced water and took the empty seat beside him, her soothing voice an anchor for him to latch on to until he mastered his emotions by ruthlessly forcing them down and battening down the hatches to keep them contained.

Glasgow, a large enough city to be anonymous but he wasn't going to risk a hotel, not with the resources of the government at Mycroft Holmes' disposal to seek him out and exert his nefarious influence. He took a taxi, not to the city center but to small bungalow in the suburbs. When his knock was answered he staggered across the threshold at the very end of his endurance.

He slept for two days, barely moving, watched over by a comrade who knew his history and who had shared the very worse that the Afghan desert could inflict upon brave but mortal men. A comrade who knew the caliber of his unexpected but welcome guest.

John Watson was Good Man and a brave one, too often overlooked because of his mild manner and gentle humanity. A fine battlefield surgeon and a consummate soldier; quiet, patient and utterly faithful to duty; a self sufficient and often solitary soul.

A good man battered by circumstance and betrayed by those who he had entrusted with his loyalty.

He awoke to the pain of remembrance and the bitter tang of betrayal, to find his face on the front pages of the daily papers as a missing person.

He worried for Mrs Hudson, who he was sure was feeling as tattered as he was by recent developments, even as she would be relieved to have her favorite returned from the grave. She had been so good to John, so indomitable in the face of their shared grief. The only way to contact her without giving away the location of his sanctuary was to send a brief note through the mail, care of Sarah at the surgery, trusting the Doctor to dispose of the envelope with its tell-late postmark before passing on the message.

He had thought the pain of grieving for his friend had rendered his heart to stone, that nothing worse could possibly afflict him because he was already dead inside, immune to any more hurt.

He was so wrong, it was almost laughable that he had been so naïve. . .that he had been fooled.

Trusting fool. Idiot. Blind, stupid idiot.

It was another week before he could brave the courage to look back on that night. A whole week of ignoring the papers, the radio and TV news reports with their incredulous stories of the return of the fallen hero and there increasingly desperate pleas for news, for information of his whereabouts. A week of not stepping beyond the threshold of the small but tidy sanctuary, especially when it became clear that the spymaster had tracked him as far as the airport and that the Holmes' circus was in town, no more than a few miles from his bolt hole.

He circled around the outskirts of memory of that night; his double shift in the A&E dept at Bart's, missing the last tube and having to stand in the cold waiting for the night bus, buying a portion fish and chips and then gagging on the smell, the pathetic gratitude of the vagrant sleeping in the doorway of a boarded up charity shop for the unexpected repast, staggering up the stairs to the oppressive silence of the empty flat to find. . .

A Ghost. . .a living, breathing ghost. . .pale, emaciated, battered and undeniably, inexplicably real.

How is one supposed to react to the impossible?

He can't remember, the details are fuzzy.

He knows there was joy. He knows there were tears and hugs and several mugs of tea with milk.

He knows there was anger and bitter recrimination.

He knows there were explanations, excuses, justifications.

And near dawn there was the realization of just who had been a party to the deception; Mycroft and Molly joining Sherlock in a triumvirate of secrecy. He was pathetically grateful to know that Greg was not a party to the plot. Watching him grieve, watching him disintegrate, never knowing just how many times he had sat at the kitchen table with a gun in one hand and a bottle of pills in the other and the only thing keeping him from taking that final step, the thought of Mrs Hudson being the one to find him.

He knows he shouldn't have been surprised by Sherlock's complete inability to understand why an explanation couldn't just wipe away three long years of grieving, why the relief couldn't sluice away the pain and the hurt. Why John couldn't file away the difficulties of the past three years and why they couldn't just go back to how things were. Before The Fall.

Never before had John felt the unfathomable chasm of miscommunication between then, the total inability to comprehend each other.

And final straw. . .having his suffering belittled as irrelevant , being called an idiot for failing to comprehend what Sherlock proclaimed to be self-evident.

The red mist, the tsunami of betrayal, robbed him of breath, of speech, of control. He lashed out in blind impotent rage, fist connecting with pale jaw with a sickening and briefly satisfying crunch.

Every man has his limits and his poor battered heart simply couldn't take another assault.

He fled. A tactical retreat in the face of overwhelming forces.

John knows he needs time, he knows he needs the space to process both the miracle and the sense of betrayal. He also knows that there will come a time to talk and a time to forgive, because, at the end of the day, he has been offered a second chance when he thought all hope was lost.

Meeting Sherlock saved his life and Sherlock's Fall damn near destroyed him.

On a good day they brought out the best in each other and on the bad days. . .well, friends don't give up on each other, do they?

It's another two days before he comes to a decision and borrows his host's cell phone to send a text to the Sherlock's number

2pm Sunday. Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow.

Come alone. JW

He knows it won't be easy and he seriously doubts Mycroft bloody Holmes will be able to refrain from sticking his nose in but it's a first step, a tiny step to reclaiming his life. He may not be a genius and he may not know all the answers. . .but he knows a man who does.

John is a man of action, a warrior, and he has been in retreat long enough.

He has a new campaign, a new strategy and he has every intention of being victorious.


Shireling April 2012