Disclaimer: I cannot lay claim to the world in which this is set or the characters whom I use. However, I have enjoyed my time playing in their sandbox.
Summary: Post-Reichenbach. An unexpected encounter brings the media down on Sherlock as he hunts Moran.
Sherlock Holmes had a plan.
After three years of running, hiding, searching, the detective had finally tracked the last strand in Moriarty's web back to London, to Sebastian Moran. The ex-Colonel was the final key to Sherlock's freedom, to finally being able to go home.
As usual, Sherlock's carefully laid plans fell apart.
This time, it went disastrously wrong, and the secret of his survival fell into the hands of the media.
The event that changed everything wasn't exceptional; wasn't something that Sherlock could have anticipated. It was only a rebellious teenage boy, happily vandalising the abandoned house that Sherlock had chosen for his confrontation with the consulting criminal's right hand man.
Lost in his own thoughts, the detective had swept into what he thought to be an empty room, not having bothered refreshing his disguise. By the time he realised he wasn't alone, it was too late; the boy (punk clothing worn but well cared for, poor family but loving) had seen him.
Worse, the boy had recognised him.
Sherlock had beat a hasty retreat, only to be blinded by a sudden flash. Within half an hour, he was on the other side of London.
The next morning, he picked up a newspaper as he threaded through the peak hour crowds. He glanced at it briefly, then froze. His eyes slowly lowered to the paper to ensure that yes, it was his face staring back at him from the front cover.
"Boffin Detective Sighted: Did He Fake His Death?"
His throat tightened as his fingers clenched around the edges of the paper, slowly crumpling it. Realising what he was doing, Sherlock forced his hands to unclench, smoothed the paper with trembling fingers. A few quick steps brought him to an empty bench before his legs could give out; pale eyes scanned the accompanying article, picking out the details.
"Fraud detective Sherlock Holmes… jumped off roof of St Bart's Hospital three years ago… sighted in Camden… police mobilising manhunt…"
This was bad. Ever since his supposed death, Sherlock had been running from everyone. Even Mycroft had no proof of Sherlock's continued existence, though his estranged brother had no doubt found enough clues to realise the fact. Anonymity had ensured Sherlock's safety; his various disguises had shielded him, allowing him to take down Moriarty's web before they saw him coming.
Now, every Londoner would know his face. Scotland Yard would be searching, Mycroft would be utilising every CCTV camera in his own hunt.
Sebastian Moran was now warned that Sherlock was after him.
One chance encounter, and the whole game had changed.
His mind racing with possibilities, Sherlock snapped the newspaper closed and stood. Tossing the paper into a nearby bin, he once again joined the crowd, another nameless face for the moment.
His plans may have fallen apart, but he could always make new ones. He had come too far to let Sebastian Moran get away now.
Meanwhile, on the other side of London, a doctor was sitting down with his morning cup of tea, unravelling the day's paper, unaware of the revelations it would bring. Unnoticed, the cup tilted, hot liquid slowly dribbling onto the carpet as the doctor's wide eyes remained fixed on the headline.
In the end, Sherlock was able to successfully frame Sebastian Moran for murder, but not before a lucky reporter managed to snap a photo. With the sirens drawing ever nearer, he had no time to steal the man's camera. Faced with the prospect of being caught by Scotland Yard, he fled, footsteps echoing down empty alleyways.
The skies opened up above him; Sherlock spent several days huddled under a bridge, hoping for a respite. The media were going insane with further proof of Sherlock's current presence in London; the former detective could barely pass a TV screen without seeing his face reflecting back at him, more often than not wearing that stupid hat.
Having completing his objective of destroying Moriarty's web, Sherlock was faced with the realisation that he had no idea what to do next. Every bone in his misused body was crying out for rest, for home. At the same time, his mind was berating him for such foolish emotions; he was aware that returning to Baker Street would be a prison sentence, at best.
Besides, it wasn't really home any more. John didn't live there any more.
Of all the pains that Sherlock had been forced to live with, loneliness was by far the worst. He missed having someone to talk to him, worry over him; someone he could trust to watch his back. John had quickly become an integral part of Sherlock's life; losing him had felt like losing a large part of himself; the better part.
Had John missed him too? While Sherlock had no doubt that the doctor had grieved, he also knew that three years was a long time. So much could change in that time, including emotions.
What Sherlock feared the most, even above death, was that John would never be able to forgive his friend the necessary deception of his fake suicide.
After all, the detective had managed to driven away everyone else who had tried to get close. It was only to be expected that this lie would be John's breaking point.
Even so, hope burned in him, fuelled by desperation.
The next evening found him searching for John's new place of residence.
He had been staring across the street at the house for over an hour now.
The courage that had gotten the detective this far had failed him in the final moment; try as he might, Sherlock could not bring himself to cross the street, to knock on the door.
He could be sure that John was home. There was a fair bit of movement shown through shadows in the windows; lights flickered that could only belong to the TV.
For the seventh time, Sherlock began mustering his courage, rehearsing in his head what he might say; imagining what John would look like now. Unlike the previous six times, it didn't fail him; unbidden, his feet stepped off the pavement, eyes fixed on the dark wooden door rather than checking for incoming cars.
Immediately, his feet went ankle-deep into a puddle, soaking through the thin fabric of his shoes. Startled, Sherlock glanced upwards, taking in the dark clouds and heavy rain for the first time. Now that he had finally noticed the weather, he also noticed that his hair was plastered to his scalp, water running down his neck to dampen an already dripping shirt.
Unimportant, he decided, continuing across the road. He'd become very good at ignoring the little voice in the back of his head listing possible illnesses from getting soaked like this; it sounded too much like John for comfort.
The detective paused when he reached the door, one hand raised to knock. Fear was curled in his gut, tightening around his lungs. He had never truly cared much for what the media thought about him; John, on the other hand… he mattered, more than anyone.
He wouldn't be able to bear it if John turned him away now.
Steeling his nerves, Sherlock rapped his knuckles against the door.
The brief wait for an answer seemed to last an eternity; he could barely breathe for the anticipation.
Finally, the door opened, and John was looking at him.
His mind raced, eyes drinking in every detail of his old friend; from the baggy jumper - larger than his previous size, small weight gain - to the ink staining his fingers - spent the day at surgery, writing out prescriptions - and the bags under his eyes - heavy, hasn't slept well for at least three days.
Try as he might, the detective couldn't deduce the expression in John's eyes.
They stood in silence for a moment, Sherlock completely unable to think of something to say; all his previous ideas had gone out the window the moment he laid eyes on John. The other man was in shock, eyes wide, mouth slightly agape; but it was fading fast, and those clear blue eyes were narrowing, hardening.
With that, the door slammed in his face.
A solid ten minutes passed before Sherlock moved again. With short, careful movements, he stepped back from the door, before turning away and walking down the street.
It didn't show on his face, nor in his blank eyes, but it was an all-too-familiar sensation curling around his heart, constricting painfully.
The next day found Sherlock on a train away from the city, heading deep into the countryside. London had too many people, too many chances for discovery. With his reputation in tatters, there was nothing left for him there. The former detective wasn't sure what he could do with his life now that he had completed his mission, but he did know that rotting behind bars was not the future he wanted.
Several trains and a bus trip later, Sherlock was sitting in the corner of a pub whose name he didn't know, in a small village whose name he didn't care to remember. He could only hope that his movements had been sufficiently random to lose any followers.
By listening carefully to the conversation around him, he was able to obtain the names of a couple who rented out rooms in a nearby B&B. Upon searching out the couple (discontent, his eyes roved while she puttered about the garden), he was gratified to discover that not only were they discreet, they were cheap. His funds were stretched very thin at the moment; with no income in the foreseeable future, every pound counted.
They took his money, no questions asked, and Sherlock became the inhabitant of a small room, possessing only the bare essentials in furniture. However, it had a proper bed, his own bathroom and a roof above his head; that was far more than he had had so frequently in his exile.
Time passed; the former detective made no effort to keep track of how much. He passed the time alternating between hiding in his room for days on end and through long walks in the countryside, exploring the overgrown tracks and crumbled ruins. He met very few people in his wanderings, which suited him perfectly. Being a loner suited him.
But that had been before John, before he knew what it was like to be simply accepted. John had lasted longer that anyone else, but even he had a breaking point, so it was time to get used to being a loner again.
When the flu that had been making the rounds of the villagers finally caught up with Sherlock, it took him by surprise. It really shouldn't have.
Despite his infrequent contact with anyone other than his landlords, the illness found a ready home in the former consulting detective. Sherlock had been ignoring the needs of his own body for so many years that it had become second nature. Hunger pangs were suppressed, and sleep was a commodity that was so frequently disturbed by nightmares that most nights he simply didn't bother.
The difference was that now, there was no one to notice how thin Sherlock was becoming, or that the bags under his eyes were far too deep to be healthy.
The sore throat was ignored, the runny nose as well. When he began to get a slight fever, Sherlock considered buying some medicine, but dismissed the thought immediately. Medicine was filed in the same place as food: too expensive, not worth the effort. Besides, if he ignored it, it would go away.
That mindset continued right up until the morning that Sherlock woke from one of his rare bouts of sleep, to discover that he was too weak to get out of bed.
Every breath became a struggle; he kept coughing until the force of them shook his entire frame. His head felt heavy, and the room spun alarmingly when he tried to raise himself into a sitting position. The effort involved left him exhausted, panting as he fell back onto the pillows.
The shadows drifted across the room, then enveloped it. It was too cold in here; Sherlock lay huddled in as many blankets as he could find within arm's reach, shivering uncontrollably.
As he continued to get worse, instead of better, Sherlock came to wonder if he was going to die here. There was no one to look after him, no one who would check on him. His landlords' discretion was proving to be a curse instead of a blessing; they were so used to him keeping to himself for days at a time that they wouldn't bother checking on him, would assume he was in one of his fits where he didn't leave the room for anything.
Of all things Sherlock had expected to die from, the flu had never even made the list. He'd always thought he would go out with a bang, from a chase gone wrong or a criminal out for revenge.
Instead, he would die in a run-down house, in a village whose name he still didn't know.
Sherlock closed his eyes tightly, but one lone tear still leaked out from the corner of his eyes.
He drifted, not truly anchored to reality. At one point, he fancied he felt hands touching his shoulders, moving his blankets away. The cold deepened, and he flinched away, moving deeper inside himself.
There was movement, voices, bright lights that hurt his eyes. His existence was a blur of pain and fire; he just wanted everything to go away, to leave him be. Couldn't they just let him enjoy the darkness, to take the time to think in peace?
The first time he managed to return to consciousness, it was brief. Caught in the throes of a nightmare, he thrashed; distantly, he could hear the clatter of metal falling, of glass shattering. Pale eyes sprung upon, seeing only the cold stone of a Russian tunnel. He could still feel the metal cuffs around his wrists, blocking his movement; could still feel blood pouring down his head from where they had hit him. There was only one thing on his mind - escape.
His body betrayed him; his weakened limbs were no match for the hands pressing on his shoulders, holding him down. A needle pierced the skin on his arm, injecting some unknown substance into him. The effect was immediate, and Sherlock instantly succumbed to the beckoning darkness.
The second time he woke was gradual, senses returning one at a time. First was touch; he could feel the thick blanket covering him, the needle in his arm, the tube in his nose. Steady beeping came from one side, light breathing on the other. The distinct smell of disinfectant assaulted his nostrils.
Hospital, his mind identified, putting the clues together far slower than usual.
To confirm the theory, Sherlock forced his eyes open, wincing at the brilliant white of the ceiling. Involuntarily, he took a deep breath, only to start coughing again.
A plastic cup was held against his mouth; he drank greedily, relaxing as the water soothed his aching throat. All too soon, it was taken away; he wasn't able to suppress a small whimper at the loss.
His eyes followed the cup as it was placed on a bedside table. They then focused on the hand that had held it, up the arm, to find the person it belonged to.
Two pairs of pale eyes met. Shock shot through him like lightning, pain and joy, and the never-ending litany of please please please be him.
John smiled at him, smoothing out the tired lines of his face. This time, his expression was easy to read.
"Only you, Sherlock, would nearly die from the flu," he said, tone light but with an undercurrent of worry. "Please don't do that again."
As a weathered hand carded through the detective's hair, Sherlock closed his eyes, leaning into the touch with a sigh.
John had forgiven him. John didn't hate him.
There was still the matter of just how Sherlock had gotten to a hospital, or how John had found him. So many questions, not enough answers. But for now, they didn't matter; nothing else mattered except this one fact:
John was here.
Knowing this, Sherlock let himself drift back to sleep. John would still be here when he woke again.
A/N: This story has been knocking on the inside of my head for a few days, begging to be let out. While I don't believe my characterisation of Sherlock here can be considered entirely canon, people can change in the blink of an eye; three years is a very long time to be entirely alone.
My work is un-betaed; all mistakes are my own. Feedback is very welcome.
You can find some more of my thoughts on writing this piece on my blog; the link is in my profile.