By Alecto Perdita
Chapter 14 - Crisis of faith
Posted: June 2, 2012
St. Ives is notably less picturesque and chillier in mid-October—John and his family once vacationed there during the summer when he was thirteen. During this time of the year, the surfers came in droves to replace the summer tourists that just vacated. During the day, the miles of beaches are dotted with surfers clad in wet suits and carrying colorful boards. Nighttime is an entirely different story. Since September, six people have vanished along these shores, whose acquaintances all noted a similar pattern of erratic and obsessive behavior in the days leading up to their disappearances.
John isn't the only hunter to come to the coastal resort in search of something wicked. He's gotten better at recognizing other hunters on sight. This time it's a mother-son pair from Falmouth; a fact that he will come to be eternally grateful for later. Because on the third night of their patrol, John spots the unmistakable form of Sherlock Holmes standing at the edge of a sea cliff and framed by the impossibly full moon.
He slips away from the other two hunters without a word.
John keeps his pistol leveled in front of him and the muzzle aimed at Sherlock's chest. His pulse hammers away in his ears as he greedily drinks in every detail: the same Belstaff greatcoat and blue scarf swaying in the Cornish wind, dark curls, and eyes as silver as the moonlight being reflected. It's as if he hasn't aged a damn bit—as if he just stepped through a time portal from the past.
If this is an illusion of some sort, it's a bloody perfect one.
The ends of Sherlock's lips twitch upward, "John."
A shiver races down John's spine. It's the voice—the voice that he hasn't heard in two years, five months, and nine days. It's the voice he thought he would never, ever hear again.
Sherlock takes a step forward and the world snaps back into focus. John steadies his Browning and snaps, "No, stay where you are. Don't come any closer."
Sherlock rolls his eyes and casts a familiar don't-be-an-idiot look his way. John's knees suddenly feel weak as nothing makes sense anymore.
"You have questions," the man who should be dead declares.
John swallows, "Yeah, a number."
Sherlock waves an impatient hand as he moves closer, urging John to continue. He doesn't even seem fazed by the weapon still aimed at him. It's...just so damn Sherlock.
"What are you really?"
The question earns John another sharp and irritated look.
"I should think that's fairly obvious. Sherlock Holmes, risen from the dead. Well, I was never really dead, had to fake it though. A bit inconvenient that."
"And why should I believe you?" Because John wants to believe; he wants to believe with all his damn heart.
Sherlock crowds into his space, an action so familiar that John doesn't back up in response. The barrel is pressed against the taller man's chest and John's hands start to shake. Sherlock is holding his gaze in that unflinching and completely focused way he always did.
"I told you, John," Sherlock's breath caresses the curve of John's cheek as he speaks. "I gave you all the clues that day at Bart's. It's a trick, just a magic trick."
The sharp and familiar uptick at the end of the word "trick" causes John to gasp.
Sherlock continues, his disapproval still apparent in the dip between his brows, "Surely, you've had enough time to work it out by now. Even the most moronic member of New Scotland Yard would have figured it out by now. Why on earth would I do something as stupid as throwing myself off a building without planning a contingency first? Don't tell me you actually bought into that 'disgraced and suicidal' act, John."
"I don't know!" John tightens his grip around his gun, letting the feeling of it digging into his palm ground him in reality. "You tell me! We buried you, Sherlock! I took your pulse and you were dead!"
"Moriarty was a spider at the center of a very large web. Just because the spider drops dead doesn't mean that the web will automatically disintegrate."
John can no longer distinguish between the sound of the crashing waves and his runaway heart. "The recent news about Moriarty and then the arrest of Sebastian Moran. That was all you, it was all you."
"Of course." So smug and so damn familiar.
"Then why are you here? How did you find me?"
Sherlock rolls his eyes, "It wasn't as if you were trying very hard to hide, John."
"The phone calls I've been getting that was also you, wasn't it? Why? Why didn't you say anything then?"
"Because I wanted to wait until I saw you in person."
"Why?" The desperate question is torn from John's throat.
A small, rueful and utterly genuine smile breaks over Sherlock's perfect lips. "I told you before. I'd be lost without my blogger."
Sherlock bows his head forward and presses his mouth against John's. John is shocked still as his arms and gun fall uselessly to his side. Of all the scenarios where he had imagined where Sherlock came back, this was not one outcome he had anticipated. He's torn between leaning in and pushing Sherlock away. Pain, then pleasure, laces through his bottom lip when Sherlock nips at it. John gasps and Sherlock takes the opportunity to push his tongue in. In that instant, all the noise and chaos tossing about fades to white. Relief uncoils and floods his body (because for the first time in over two years/in an eternity, the world makes sense again). His world narrows to just the centimeters where their skin shares contact, where John's free hand fist in Sherlock's coat, and where Sherlock's hands grip his hips and pulls John forward.
And John is falling into bliss—and he never wants to stop.
He pulls back at the sudden sound of his name. But he's too struck by the sight of Sherlock's angular face half hidden in shadows to turn toward the speaker.
"John, get away from there!" A woman demands this time.
It's Joy and David, the two hunters he's working with. They are standing less than a meter away and their chests are heaving in exertion (why were they running? did something important happen?). Both also have their weapons drawn and aimed.
"What's going on?" John asks as he automatically slips his hand into one of Sherlock's. Sherlock isn't wearing his gloves, so John marvels at the texture of the skin sliding against his fingers and palm.
The other hunters' expressions darken. John belatedly realizes they're still aiming their weapons at Sherlock. No, that won't do. He reluctantly drops Sherlock's hand to steps firmly in front of the other man and flicks the safety off his Browning.
A Mexican stand-off, he's never done that before.
"You need to step away," Joy pleads. "Whatever you think you're seeing, it's not real. Put your gun down and come with us."
"No," John has never been so sure of anything in his life. He will protect Sherlock. He won't lose Sherlock a second time. "I won't let you hurt him."
"Bloody hell, John," David interrupts himself by cocking his shotgun. "It's a siren. It's what's been disappearing all those people."
John scoffs. "Siren? Bullocks, what would a siren be doing in sodding Cornwall? Sherlock has nothing to do with any of these disappearances. In fact, he can help us find out what happened to those people."
A warm hand lands on his shoulder and squeezes. "Indeed."
Joy shakes her head vigorously. "It's the venom, it's messing with your head and your emotions."
John pauses to think. There is nothing new about the way he feels. He has always been willing to die for Sherlock's sake (Run, Sherlock!). He has always been loyal—to a fault, some would even say—from the very start.
"No," John bares his teeth. "Lower your weapons right now, or I will shoot you."
David makes a show of lowering his shotgun. He then approaches with both hands spread in the air. The gesture is meant to placate John, but John refuses to lower his guard. Not while Joy refuses to lower her weapon.
"Come on, John. We can talk this over."
The hand on John's left shoulder tightens and a jolt of pain racks through his old bullet wound. "Shoot them, John. They're working for Moran."
John shouldn't have turned to look at Sherlock. David, though lacking formal combat training, is still the size of an ox and built like a brick wall. The blow to his stomach rips the air from John's lungs and before he has a chance to recover, John is being pulled back and his gun thrown back into the dark somewhere. David grapples him to the ground and pins John to the rocky ground with the full force of his weight. John bucks and tries to toss the other hunter off, but David has done an infuriatingly good job of holding him down.
Joy appears at the edge of his vision; her expression is contrite and full of regret. "I'm sorry. It'll be over soon."
Her nails pry into his wrist and wrench his fist open. Something sharp drags and slices across John's palm. He's bleeding, he realizes after a long second.
David tosses him another apologetic look. "Sorry, mate. We're doing this for your own good."
The other hunter's fist hits like a two ton boulder, knocking John's head against the hard ground. John's vision goes abruptly dark, taking with it the landscape of moon and stars above.
"John! John!" Sherlock is calling him.
He pushes himself up on his elbow; head still swimming and breath still short. The pounding in his ears returns with renewed vigor and the moon tints his sight with white against black spots.
"John, don't let them kill me!"
The world snaps back into focus, tunneling in on the scene of Sherlock struggling against David's grip and Joy thrusting forward a bronze-colored knife that looks almost gold. John's gun is nowhere to be found, and the other hunters' weapons are out of immediate reach.
"No!" He screams as the blade strikes true and is buried in Sherlock's chest.
John can't lose Sherlock a second time—he just can't. He'll shatter and break into even smaller pieces than before, never to be whole again. Until there's nothing left of John Watson to salvage anymore, not by Mary or anyone else on this wretched earth.
The new rush of adrenaline pushes him to his feet and he races toward the body that David drops to the ground. Even before extracting vengeance, John is only intent on saving Sherlock (because John is a doctor, John will always be a doctor). He sheds his jacket and presses it against around the stab wound, trying desperately to stem the red spreading like wildfire across Sherlock's white shirt.
"Come on, Sherlock, you can't die. You can't leave me again."
But the body beneath John's hand gives a small shudder and stills with glazed eyes staring unseeing but accusingly upwards.
"You killed him! You murderers! I'm going to rip you both to pieces."
John stands and launches himself at David, throwing his shoulders in a rugby tackle. The momentum sends them both crashing down. John straddles the body and starts punching and keeps punching. All the nerve endings in his knuckles are raw and exposed, screaming in pain. All he can hear is the rush of his rekindled grief and rage. David starts to fight back, delivering a mean right hook to John's jaw. Then Joy swoops in and violently thrusts the butt of David's shotgun into John's bad shoulder. The blinding pain has him seeing stars bursting into supernovas again.
David's bruised face comes into view as John is forcibly dragged back to where Sherlock's body laid. Two meaty hands cradle John's aching jaw and turn his head toward the body.
"Look at it, John. It wasn't real. Nothing you saw was real."
It's not Sherlock. It's not even human. The gaunt white body, though vaguely humanoid, is hairless and its facial features are completely sunken in.
He scrambles away and retches.
John's room in St. Ives is paid up till the end of the week, but he doesn't bother to stay. He shares a terse and awkward goodbye with David and Joy before leaving town. Despite the horrible events of the previous night, John is grateful that they were there to handle the siren when he fell under its spell.
In the morning light, David's face is a mess of black and blue with one eye is swollen shut. John emerges from the encounter relatively unscathed with a tender bruise now forming on his jaw and a pained shoulder. That's to say nothing of his wounded pride (how stupid of him to fall for a trap like that!), or every shade of shame and embarrassment he'd stewed in for the rest of the sleepless night.
His insides feel hollowed out, as if someone had opened him up and scooped out everything with an ice cream scooper. The only place he can go now is back to London. He needs to ground himself in reality again. Reality being that Sherlock is dead. He despises this chink in his armor. Everyone—everything—seems intent on rubbing salt on those old wounds. John refuses to let anyone/anything to continue to use Sherlock against him.
Because it's going to be his undoing at this rate.
John is in Grimpen Village when he receives the call. He doesn't spend the night at the Cross Keys (too many memories), opting for the stars and his backseat instead.
He shouldn't have stopped. He should have driven right past the town.
Instead, he is trapped in memories while lying on the bonnet and palming his mobile for hunter business. The skull is pillowed on his chest and turned skyward as if stargazing. A shrieking ring pierces suddenly through the night. He jostles the skull and catches it before it hit the ground. He glances at the phone in his other hand. The LED screen is lit with the words: "Private Number."
He sighs and brings the device to his ear. "Watson."
There is a pause on the other end of the line, like someone shifting. "Good evening, John."
John's body seizes with emotions. "Mycroft."
It has been almost three years since he last spoke to Sherlock's older brother (not since that confrontation before Sherlock jumped—that bastard, that traitor!), but he isn't surprised by the torrent of rage that still manages to surface at the sound of Mycroft's voice. "What do you want?" he hisses through gritted teeth.
Mycroft sighs, still all patronizing and weary-borne. "It's time that you returned to London. Haven't you spent enough time shirking responsibilities and gallivanting across the British Isles?"
John is tempted to hang up on him right there. But he knows Mycroft is persistent and if he's calling John now, there's probably a reason. It doesn't mean it's a good reason though.
The older man tuts through the phone. "I know you're near Baskerville, John. Don't make me send someone to get you."
Don't make me order you.
"I don't take orders from you."
I'd like to see you try.
"As I am well aware of," comes another resigned sigh from the other end. John can already envision wiping that thin fake smile off Mycroft's face with a mean right hook. "I'll see you in four days, John, 221B Baker Street like old times."
John sputters in outrage at the dial tone that ensued afterwards.
John makes it back to London with three days to spare. Over the course of his stay with Mary, he considers forgoing his appointment with Mycroft all together. It isn't an option though. He's in London now, back in Mycroft's territory and subject to the infuriating man's rules. Every time he steps outside of Mary's house, he can feel every CCTV camera train on him as he passes. He hasn't been so carefully stalked since Sherlock's death.
I know where you are, is probably what Mycroft's trying to tell him.
But in the end, John goes. As long as the other man watches him, John won't be able to hunt effectively.
He takes the Tube once he reaches central London. He contemplates his fellow passengers for long moment. As the train pulls closer to his destination, he tries to distract from the homesickness with several attempts at deductions before finally moving through his list of supernatural warning signs instead.
The last leg of his journey from the station to Baker Street is nerve-wracking. What the hell did Mycroft want after all these years? When several cameras swivel to follow his movement, John is sure to direct several rude gestures at the lenses.
The door to 221 Baker Street is unlocked and he lets himself in. "Mrs. Hudson?"
There's no reply from the older woman.
Overhead, the ceiling creaked as someone moves across the second floor. John takes a deep breath and climbs the 17 steps to his old flat, where the front door has been left slightly ajar.
John is prepared for emptiness—bareness, the way it had been when he finally moved out of 221B so long ago. Maybe even new wallpaper to cover up the bullet holes and smiley face graffiti. But the sitting room has never seemed fuller before. There are boxes littered everywhere, including a stack by the sofa labeled with his name. He peers into the open one on top of his pile and finds the boxes are the ones he'd put away in storage.
He runs a hand across the leather of the sofa's arm. It looks exactly like the one Sherlock owned. Two familiar armchairs are arranged in front of the fireplace—as if they had never been moved or taken after Sherlock's death.
John doesn't understand what is going on. He feels insulted, sick, and unbalanced instead.
"Mycroft!" he roars.
He waits for the deceptively pleasant "Good afternoon, John" or the telltale tap of an umbrella against the floor. But there's only silence and the dust mote that settle in its wake. His knees give out under him and he slides to the ground.
He doesn't understand what any of this means: Why his old flat is suddenly filled with Sherlock's belongings and his belongings again; Why the flat seems completely oblivious to everything that's happened over the past three years...
The mobile phone in his right jacket pocket—his London number—gives a short buzz. A tremor shakes his hand when he fishes it out.
It's a text message from the same unknown number, followed this time by an unforgettable signature.
1:45 PM, October 18
Behind you, John.
He finally registers the faint footfall (probably barefoot) stopping behind him. There is the presence of another being and the weight of a gaze stabbing into John's back. He knows the feeling of that stare, like a scalpel peeling and dissecting him apart. He remains frozen, unwilling to put himself through the same hell twice.
He must be losing his mind. That's the only explanation. It's the best possible explanation given what just happened in St. Ives.
John can hear a multitude of things conveyed through the sound of his name: the impatience, the arrogance insisting the world immediately yields to his whims (turn around already), and what seems like a deep undertone of fatigue.
He doesn't stand, just twists his torso far enough to look back. Towering over him is the impossible man himself, his best friend in a bespoke two-piece suit accented by the blue button-down underneath. John's eyes rake over the body, desperate to deduce and catalog something—everything. Sherlock's hair is shorter, just slightly curled on its end (growing it back out?); his eyes still as sharp and as penetrating as before. John's breath catches in his throat, right next to where his heart has become lodged.
Then John remembers: the form tittering on the edge of a rooftop, goodbye John, a body falling into gravity's embrace, crunch like the sound of the worlds shattering, no pulse, so much blood, so much noise, so much silence...
But here he is, Sherlock Holmes, looking like he had just popped back from a trip to Bart's. As if he didn't vanish for three long years and leave John to suffer, suffer, suffer.
"Say something." The words are quiet but no less commanding.
But John also now knows there are worse fates than death in this world. He had suspected so before (in Afghanistan, after meeting Sherlock), but he knows for sure now.
"Christo," John nearly chokes on the word—the benediction, but a curse to the infernal—the prayer.
Sherlock doesn't flinch (thank God, he doesn't!), but he does raise one questioning eyebrow.
"You're not really here. You're dead," John continues. His eyes dart between the light streaming in through the open windows—yes, still daytime, spirits don't haunt during the day, usually—and the vision of Sherlock Holmes. "You're a hallucination. A test."
He has only eliminated demon possession (barely, he needs holy water) and ghost so far. His mind is racing through a list of other possible causes: shapeshifters, a witch's spell, sirens, changelings... Each just as difficult to verify without first stabbing Sherlock with the silver dagger tucked away in his left boot or taking an iron rod to the man's(?) head.
"John," Sherlock drawls in his deep baritone with just a hint of his usual haughtiness. "Honestly, you're being ridiculous."
His thoughts are quickly being driven off the tracks. "No, okay, a clone then, like from Baskerville."
The beginnings of a hysterical laugh bubble deep within John's throat.
Sherlock sits down, folding himself in one long and graceful movement that makes it hard for John to breathe. When the taller man tilts his head much like a dog, the short curls in his hair bounce. John stares, but his mind refuses to process the details. Sherlock always did accuse him of seeing but never observing. Sherlock reaches out with both hands and brushes against each of John's shoulders, before the fingers knead firmly against his back. John turns his gaze down to watch the thumb massaging tiny circles against the lapel of his shirt. Was Sherlock even aware of what he's doing?
For a moment, John fears Sherlock may kiss him—kiss him like that fake Sherlock had. Sherlock doesn't and John is grateful (because the real Sherlock would never kiss him).
But Mycroft himself had arranged for this meeting. Surely that must mean that this man is the real Sherlock Holmes.
"John, I'm here. I didn't die. I had to finish what Moriarty started. But I've come back now." The terseness of Sherlock's explanation betrays the anxiety he's trying to hide.
And John finally looks—really looks—into the other man's face. His gaze traces the bangs of Sherlock's hair against his temple, down the cheekbones to the tip of his chin. There are subtle signs of aging and a faded scar from a knife barely hidden by behind the fold of his right ear and curls. He's thinner, almost gaunt, with his high cheekbones jutting out like the cliffs John remembers from Skye. But Sherlock's eyes are still as brilliant and intense in all their focus.
"Do you believe me?" Sherlock has leaned in closer until their breaths mingle. There is a feverish quality to his eyes, insistent and all-consuming.
John nods ever so slightly, half afraid of being woken up by the alarm on the nightstand of Mary's guestroom. But Sherlock remains.
The realization hits John like a bolt of lightning.
John has his miracle now—two years and five months late—but his wish has been granted. His mind whirls with all the implications and consequences (second chances, lies, and all that heart-wrenching and soul-shattering agony over an empty casket). But one thing becomes startlingly clear in the eye of the emotional storm.
Grief can have a surprisingly clarifying effect, Mary once said to him. Sometimes we don't know what we have until we've lost it. We always think there'll be time until there isn't.
John is so utterly in love with this madman—this madman who faked his own death, who lied and hurt him in a way he never thought possible before. And Sherlock's come back.
He closes the gap between them and winds his arms around Sherlock's waist, letting his head fall against the other man's stiff shoulders. Sherlock's body tenses, muscles coiling in such a way that suggested he wants to break away. John tightens his grip. After several long and agonizing moments, Sherlock reaches around and splays both hands over John's back. Sherlock is hugging him back.
Please don't be dead. Just stop it.
The sound of his name courses through John's body in delicious tremors. He feels impossibly giddy, and his body feels lighter than in months and years.
There would be time for explanations later. There would be time for John to fully wrap his mind around this and to carefully consider all the tests he can put this Sherlock through to ensure he is real. He will probably cry later, may even threaten Sherlock life and limb. He will probably storm out of the flat before Sherlock can tell the full story and drag Mary out to drink or shoot things. But those are all events in his future (because he has the time now), and this is what John needs right now.
"Shut it, Sherlock, just shut up for a few minutes," he pleads.
Amazingly enough, the other man quiets after making a small affirmative noise.
They stay wrapped up in each other's arms for what seems like hours. John has become hyper-aware of all the points where their bodies come into contact. This is nothing like what happened with the siren last week. Everything is too bright and too quiet, and John is so terrified and so angry (he wants to hit Sherlock so bad, he probably still will). Yet completely relieved and ecstatic and scared. It's raw and it's real.
Please, God, let this be real.
(John doesn't know it, but God has other things to think and not think about other than the reunion of one hunter and consulting detective. Sherlock's return is not a God-given miracle, just one entirely of Sherlock's own devising. So John has no one else to hate and praise for this other than Sherlock himself, and he will probably remind Sherlock of that every day for many years to come.)
"Please God, let me have this," John mutters fervently. He will give anything for this to be real—soul, body, heart, life, servitude, blood, anything.
Sherlock's muscles twitch and his hands press harder into John's spine. "I missed you too, John."
Thankfully, God doesn't need to ask for more than what was already given.
To be continued in Burden of Proof, a WIP now accessible from my profile
That's it for Necessary Faith, which is John's journey in this post-Reichenbach universe! But this is just one part of the story, what happens after their reunion will continue in a separate fic (I am so over writing in present tense!). I know some people are eager to see Sherlock's reaction to what John has been doing (and I'm eager to write it too). Lots of plans for the boys still ahead, so stay tuned!
Thank you for everyone for reading, reviewing, favoriting, and alerting!