This story has been sitting on my laptop in various forms since the end of S1 but it made more sense to rework it following the S2 finale. Endless thanks as always to my marvellous beta Lyrium Flower who inspires, encourages, reduces me diet coke spraying hysteria and banishes my adverbitis.
Set following the events of 'Five Times' - not strictly necessary for you to have read it although some references may whistle overhead. This chapter second person POV, subsequent chapters switch between first and third so if you don't like the style (which seemed to me more than appropriate for this chapter's protagonist) you're not stuck with it.
Rated M for eventual M-ness. Slash, Sherlock x John.
Chapter 1 - Prologue
If you ask John Watson any question he'll answer you honestly and to the best of his abilities, anyone will tell you that. He's pragmatic, insightful, one of those unique men who knows himself inside out and is quite happy with what he sees. An understated quality certainly, but very attractive to some. A self contained man, you think. Even more so these days, in fact the oyster epithet fits him almost perfectly. He's more serious, occasionally bordering on the earnest, but easygoing with a healthy dash of that gallows humour, a trait shared by doctors as a learned coping mechanism and army doctors most especially so, still in evidence. He'll insist that a recent pointless research paper backs this observation up. All the best doctors, the most empathic ones, find solace in the darkest of jokes, the jokes that are two shades away from pitch black. He still finds enjoyment in the surreal and faintly ridiculous albeit much less frequently than before. Both of these things, he might say, come in very handy if you have to spend any time with-
The awkward silence stretches and eventually you enquire how he is and wait. He purses his lips and looks away whilst you consider your conversational options in turn. Question, response, predictable, deducible. Perhaps his physical wellbeing..?
If you had asked him two years ago whether he thought he would ever fall victim to some weird thrill-starved psychosomatic disability he'd have probably snorted in disbelief and dismissed the question as ridiculous. Now he'll tell you, with a vaguely resigned expression, that doctors are worst at their own diagnoses. That he never labelled himself as any kind of adrenaline junkie and assumed that the injury, the brief foray into the shadow of death and the nightmares that followed, were the cause. If you're astute you may see his left hand tremble slightly as he answers or that his right shoe is wearing down unevenly. Your eyes may track his movements as he shuffles his feet self consciously, grinding small clumps of dark soil into the already grubby lino before he clears his throat and forces himself to relax.
He finds it hard to believe that all the symptoms were caused by missing something so much that his brain simply refused to function properly. Your eyes flick briefly to his hand again, the nails ragged and earth-caked.
He shoves it into his jacket pocket when he sees you looking and you reach for the stained teapot to cover a wince, dismissing that line of questioning as perhaps too intrusive and rifling once again through your mental armoury.
If you were to wonder aloud if he thought his blog, a task initially settled on him under some duress, would become an internet sensation, his face unexpectedly and quite charmingly may assume the look of a naughty schoolboy caught mid prank. His lips might twitch and his eyes twinkle with amusement, immediately scouring the grim lines of his face into a deceptive youthfulness. All those trendy younger generation things, he'd reply. Not me at all. Surfing, blogging, posting, texting, an ASBO for God's sake. No. Just...no. A grin tugs at the corner of his mouth so fast that if you were unobservant you might have missed it. No, he'd continue. Never expected that. Not with my life as it was. Quiet. Grey. Desperate. But then what I wrote about afterwards...well it wasn't my life, was it? Not really. It was someone else's. I was just a passenger, a hanger-on.
That's why people liked it. He rubs his face, suddenly rumpled again. Mysteries, death, derring-do and clever solutions. A Boy's Own adventure. Stories that were sometimes too good to be true.
You know they were, he insists quietly, straightening in his chair to fix you with a gaze both intent and pleading.
If you were that sort of person, if you had that sort of relationship, you could break the lengthening silence by asking him who he'd 'go gay' for; a jocular, oddly macho game played between bored, tense squad-mates which is never, ever referred to again on the parade ground. He would have answered you honestly, obviously he's used to questions coming from the left-field although he might not have been able to hide his surprise completely. Feminine qualities are frowned upon, no matter what the governmental non-discrimination policies may tell you, he'd smirk. Men aren't really his thing but if it had to be anyone…Daniel Craig, maybe. Or Al Pacino. Someone effortlessly cool and iconically masculine. Not some arch, anaemic looking attention whore who steals the middle out of the custard creams when he's run out of growth medium. There are few things more disappointing than a butchered biscuit, you'd observe and you both might manage a weak smile at this.
Sherlock always, always put them back in the packet afterwards.
But what you really want to ask him about are those terrible, confused final hours. You were intrigued he agreed to see you again after The Incident and still wonder what he hopes to gain from these infrequent, awkward meetings of yours. He mostly sits and nurses his cup of tea and when he does occasionally look at you he seems absent, an expression far more disconcerting than the grief or anger you would have expected from him.
Ask the question and John Watson will answer, anyone who knows him will tell you that. But you are not just anyone and the weight of all the unasked, unanswered questions hangs in the air between you, shrouding you both in heavy silence after the initial routine pleasantries every time. On several occasions a question is on the tip of your tongue but you always refrain at the last moment and this uncertainty, a state of mind you never permit yourself, is new and raw.
The weeks pass and whereas before you found you were mired in banal, one-sided small talk, trying to elicit a reaction, however unfavourable, you settle into simply observing him both face to face and by…other methods. Many of your questions are answered except perhaps the most important one of all and when he stops your little meetings you feel oddly bereft, although you tell yourself it's one less accusatory gaze to deflect.
You never can quite escape the harshest one of all, though, the one that mocks you for the way your suit jacket creases across your stomach and scores deeper furrows into your forehead when you try to stare it down. The man in the mirror does not forgive so easily.
He appears suddenly, collar turned up against the rain. His hair is soaking wet and he pushes past as your eyes flick over him, the hint of concern in your expression quickly hidden behind the necessity of folding and shaking out your umbrella before you follow him into the cafe.
"Thought about leaving you out here," he mutters eventually, hands cradling a stained mug. "But I know how bloody persistent you are. To what do I owe the pleasure then?" He sips, deliberately fixing his eyes on the tea rings decorating the table between you, expression guarded.
"How have you been, Doctor? It's been some time since we last met-"
"A year. Yes. Let's just avoid the pointless pleasantries, shall we? What do you want, Mycroft?"
You hesitate. This requires delicacy and tact and appearing to consider both of these things is important whether he is observing you or not. "There has been some...concern over your recent behaviour."
"My recent behaviour," he repeats evenly, one finger tracing the rim of the mug. "Go on."
"You haven't worked in three months."
"Needed a break."
"You have been ignoring Detective Inspector Lestrade's attempts to contact you."
"Oh yeah, to 'help them out on a difficult case' again." His mouth twists. "I don't need to be coddled and they don't bloody need me, I'm not him."
He raises his chin and the expression on his face all but hisses I don't need their sodding pity! but the belligerence is half hearted, at odds with his bowed shoulders, and he still doesn't meet your eyes.
"You've stopped posting on your 'blog'. You roll the word around in your mouth gingerly.
"Blog, Jesus." He snorts. "What's the point? No-one's reading it any more and I've got absolutely nothing of interest to write about," he flicks you a glance finally. "Don't tell me you were a follower."
"I have read it on occasion. Some of the entries were rather diverting. Of course after...what happened..." his eyes become opaque and he turns to stone in front of you, gaze again on the be-ringed table but mind so evidently elsewhere, "...your previous documentation of his cases was really quite useful to our cause. I believe we are on the cusp of clearing his name once and for all. The review comes up in two weeks, as you know."
He doesn't answer, his focus still inward, shadows dark beneath lowered lashes. He's hunched forward, small and very far away, and you resist the sudden, unsettling urge to place a hand on his arm. To your consternation you realise you're halfway there before he flinches and looks askance, lips twisting in a terrible approximation of a smile. "Careful, Mycroft, someone might accuse you of being sentimental." He moves his arm out of reach, drawing in on himself.
"I have never been averse to sentiment. Where appropriate."
"Didn't stop you from selling your brother out though, did it?"
The whipcrack of his voice surprises you both and there is a heavy silence- time and pain have quickened his feet. The slow, circling dance around the subject of your involvement, no, your culpability from your previous meetings has gone and you find you almost welcome the confrontation as he takes figurative steps towards you. This time the hesitation before you answer is not measured and the slip niggles at you but then again the subject of your brother always was a chink in your carefully layered armour and his jibe about sentiment stings more than it should.
"If you have something you'd like to say to me, Doctor, I suggest you save us both the trouble and simply say it."
"How can you sit there...how can you just sit there and ask me, no, tell me-"
"I thought we had already had this conversation, I myself have nothing further to add because my views on the matter have not changed even though the outcome was-"
"If you say regrettable, if you turn around to me and say something like regrettable, so help me I'll-"
He inhales sharply, effectively silenced, but there is no triumph in your expression when he finally drags his eyes up to meet yours because the loss belongs to you both, as keen a sword as the day it happened. His face, though. In his face you see long, empty days, the desolation of a blasted battleground, the last desperate struggles of a man forever falling. Something coils unpleasantly in your gut and for once you are the first to look away.
I hardly recognise this man.
Objectivity is the key. Objectivity is a necessity. Only then do observations remain unsullied and the patterns clear.
You hardly recognise this man.
"Key players in Moriarty's web continue to fall."
"Evidence is circumstantial but my agents are pursuing-"
"No." John shakes his head fiercely, eyes shut. "He would've contacted me. Afterwards. He would've told me. He wouldn't...just..." He lays both hands down flat as if trying to anchor himself. "Why are you telling me this? You think he's still alive, out there somewhere, saving the world?" There's a plaintive edge to the hoarseness and the sudden flicker of hope in his expression is somehow harder to process than the most brutal torture you've ever made yourself watch. But you will not lie to him.
"My brother is dead, Doctor Watson, but his victory over Moriarty is nearly complete. Thanks in no small part to yourself." You refrain from mentioning the long, hollow nights poring over reports, CCTV footage, documents looking for anything, even the smallest clue, that will tie the collapse of the overseas criminal cells with your brother but no matter how you try to fit the puzzle pieces of evidence together, the shape they eventually take does not resemble his. What little colour the flash of anguish has elicited in John's face drains away leaving his lips bone white and tense.
"So that's what this is all about? Everything tied off with a neat little bow? Pat on the head, is it?" He pulls at his hair angrily, a gesture so familiar it sends a pang through your chest. "Sod off you patronising bastard. You're not here because you're concerned, you get off on feeling guilty and you miss having someone to order around. Just like everyone else you're trying to squeeze me into the space he left behind and I'm sick of it. I can't- "
You do him the courtesy of looking away as he recovers himself, pulling his sodden jacket more tightly around him.
"On the contrary, Doctor Watson, I am keeping in touch simply because I believe Sherlock would have wanted me to. No other reason, I promise you."
Even the mention of his name, a collection of syllables you have both been treading carefully around for two years, seems to dim the ambient lighting and you watch him sink lower into his chair, damp, unruly hair falling into his eyes. He's still, so very still and when he finally speaks you are forced to lean forward to catch all of what he is saying.
"You know, when I first agreed to meet up with you I figured you contacting me was all part of his plan. He always had a plan, didn't he? Was always two steps ahead of everyone. Except you, of course," he smiles bitterly. "So I thought maybe you'd worked it out and you'd tell me once the coast was clear that everything was alright. The big reveal." His fingers come up to frame the words. "Pathetic. Good thing I realised eventually, eh? Took me a while."
"I'm sorry, John."
He looks up suddenly. "Are you?"
Something must show in your face, your tone, something you let slip without intending to because surprise flits through his expression; his eyes widen before he catches himself and stands abruptly.
"I need to go."
"Doctor Watson." He pauses, halfway to the exit. "Were you in love with my brother?"
Traffic splashes past outside, the rain gusts against the glass beside you, tinny sound from the mounted television set, the question, the only question you have ever wanted the answer to paints the air between you in shades of loss.
Eventually he shrugs wearily. "Doesn't really matter now, does it? Didn't make any difference in the end." His hand is pushing at the door as you call after him, face carefully neutral.
"Next week, then. If convenient?"
"Yeah," he says without turning around. "Why not?"
You watch him as he trudges away from the cafe, mindless of the sheets of rain flattening his hair, the black car which pulls up alongside as he passes, the low ominous sky. You can't quite shake the feeling that despite his parting words this will be the last you see of John Watson for some time.