Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not own Sherlock Holmes or any recognizable character and am not making any profit by using them.
Author´s notes: In my story "Stopping It" I have written about Sherlock returning after the Reichenbach Fall. Let me quote my own notes from that one: In the books, Sherlock needs three years to take down Moriarty´s web, I believe. Since Sherlock is set in modern times, I don´t think he´d need that long nowadays, and Mycroft (I´m convinced he knows that Sherlock is still alive) or his connections might be of help.
This story is very different from "Stopping It", as you will see in case you´ve read it, but what I am quoting above still holds true.
It´s another one of the "Sherlock comes back" stories; it doesn´t try to explain how he faked his death, it mainly deals with the aftermath. The story is set roughly eleven months after the last episode. Please note that there are spoilers for TRF as well as the series in general.
Furthermore, the story will contain Johnlock at one point.
I am no native English speaker and therefore apologize for any mistakes.
And now: enjoy!
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Part 1: The Key
John Watson snorts with frustration when he finds a sleek black limousine waiting for him at the curb in front of the surgery. It´s been a long night shift, he´s tired, and the last thing he wants is to put up with anything Mycroft Holmes might come up with.
Though John really has no idea what the man might want from him; now that Sher- that things have changed, he doesn´t see any need to associate with Mycroft at all, considering that the one thing they had in common is gone. And the last thing John needs is a reminder of that. So he ignores the car and walks on. He can hear one of the car doors open and rolls his eyes, but doesn´t pause.
To his surprise, it is Mycroft who falls into step with him. He has never before bothered to come himself, he has after all enough staff at his disposal to do the trench work. Yet now he is there, picking up John´s stride and looking his usual calm self, at least at first glance.
"John," he says, "it´s been some time."
Starting with amenities. Also out of the ordinary when concerning the older Holmes.
"Ten months," John replies tersely. Ten months, 21 days and 19 hours to be more precise, he adds in the privacy of his mind.
"Yes. Time has been flying." Mycroft´s tone remains neutral, making John stop in his tracks rather abruptly because he realizes that he can´t do it; he can´t talk to Mycroft. There´s too much anger and resentment on John´s part, and most importantly of all, it hurts. If he can´t have the one Holmes he wants, he won´t suffer the other, wrong one.
"What do you want?" he asks in a flat voice.
Mycroft regards him silently for a moment before he gets directly to the point, sensing that John is at the end of his tether already: "You are needed."
John shakes his head: "Could you be any more cryptic?"
"I am going to explain everything to you in the car."
"Of course you are. Except that I won´t get in."
"John, please. I am not asking for my own sake."
"Then who are you asking for, I´d like to know, because last I looked we didn´t have any mutual friends." He swallows, suddenly feeling a lump in his throat. He shouldn´t have allowed Mycroft to engage him in this conversation.
Mycroft doesn´t budge: "Please," he all but pleads, and there´s an urgency in his voice that sounds very unlike him.
John sighs, running a hand through his hair: "Okay. Okay. I will come. But this is the last time, do you hear me? And you´ll take me back home afterwards."
Mycroft actually looks relieved.
Ten minutes later, John has half a mind to jump right out of the moving car because of what Mycroft has just told him.
"I was there," he says, barely keeping his composure. "I saw him. He was d- . ... How could he possibly have survived? He looked-" He interrupts himself, taking a deep breath in order to keep back the tears which are still threatening to overwhelm him at all times, and simultaneously fighting to stave off the pictures which unwantedly and unbidden pop up in his mind. How he wishes that he could simply delete stuff, like Sherlock used to do.
Mycroft remains unperturbed: "How he did it is a slightly longer story. The fact remains that he had to fake his own death in order to protect you. Moriarty had snipers trained at you, Mrs Hudson and DI Lestrade. If Sherlock hadn´t jumped, you would all have been killed."
John stares at him in disbelief, eventually shaking his head: "He would have told me. He wouldn´t have let me believe it. He wouldn´t-" His voice gives out. Nearly eleven months and he still can´t bear talking about it.
"He had no other choice," Mycroft says softly.
"And you knew. He told you."
"He needed my help in certain matters, yes," Mycroft confirms. "Apart from that, I wasn´t one of those who Moriarty threatened. Which means I wasn´t in the same danger you would have been in, had Sherlock confided in you."
His face does not betray whether this actually pains him, but John would not have noticed anyway. He runs his hands over his face, leaves them there, hides behind them, trying to come to terms with what he has just heard. Sherlock is not dead. Sherlock lives. And Mycroft is taking John to see him. Today. Now.
He starts to shake, he is not sure if he is ready for this. At the same time, he longs for it. Has longed for it for ten months, 21 days and 19 hours. Sherlock. He has missed him so much that it felt like going mad at times. He has lost count of the occasions on which he has talked to him, simply because he couldn´t bear his absence.
He has stopped visiting the grave since it hurt too much, feeling as though the wound was being reopened every time . And he has been wondering, during the long nights in which he has lain awake, grieving, if he would ever be able to stop mourning and return to a state of normality. Only normality wasn´t what he wanted; he wanted to be back in 221B Baker Street with Sherlock. Sherlock, whom he is going to meet soon. Why now, he wonders.
And suddenly he recalls the exact words Mycroft has used earlier: you are needed.
"Why did you tell me now, why did he not tell me himself and why now? Is he all right?" he asks quietly, not trusting his own voice and not caring how he sounds. "Is... Sherlock all right?" God, he hasn´t used the name in the present tense for so long.
"He will be," Mycroft replies, sending a jolt of anxiety through John.
"Why, what happened?"
"He has spent the past ten months taking down Moriarty´s web. He has succeeded to do so a few days ago, and has returned to England only yesterday and in a rather bad shape, I´m afraid."
The worry which has been there before increases considerably.
"What do you mean by 'bad shape'?"
Mycroft´s voice does not betray any emotions. "The past ten months have been difficult and dangerous for him, make no doubt of that. He refused to take any more help than absolutely necessary, therefore he has been on his own for most of the time. Even I only have a vague idea of the extent of his deprivations, but one look at him is enough to make a good guess."
John can imagine that, knowing how Sherlock tends to neglect himself even at the best of times.
"My cook found him at my back door yesterday evening," Mycroft continues, "where he had collapsed, apparently. How he has gotten back I can´t say; he hasn´t been lucid enough to tell me anything, and hasn´t used the transport I have offered. Yet through other sources I have received intelligence that he has achieved what he set out to do. And now it´s left to us to pick up the pieces."
Which John translated into "make sure Sherlock is going to be all right".
"You still haven´t told me what is wrong with him," John says agitatedly; the shaking has decreased to a tremor.
"Forgive me," Mycroft says, for the first time showing signs of strain, "it´s all been a little much for me as well. I am quite glad about the recent developments, you see, but Sherlock has to remain my foremost priority. He seems to have sustained several earlier if minor injuries, which have largely been left untreated. Apart from that, there is a wound on his side which looks like the graze of a projectile, and he is running a fever. He is rather dehydrated and as you can imagine, appears to have hardly eaten anything."
John wishes that the car would go faster.
"Has he been treated yet?" he asks, just one of the thousand questions which reel around in his mind.
"I have a nurse in my staff who is caring for him presently, but I haven´t called for any other doctor, seeing as he would not want that."
"I take it she is sufficiently qualified or you wouldn´t have hired her?"
"Correct. More than sufficiently, actually; she is very capable and will be of further assistence to you, if need be."
The car eventually slows down and turns onto a driveway; a handsome iron gate opens and reveals a long drive, while the house is still hidden by the trees. When it finally comes in sight, after a drive through what looks like a park rather than a garden, John can´t but be impressed.
"The family manor," Mycroft provides, unnecessarily.
"And this is where you live?"
"Somebody has to keep it up."
John looks at the magnificent building and finds that at the moment, it´s nothing more to him than the place where he´ll see Sherlock again.
The door is opened by a butler, completely with a frock coat and white gloves, giving John the feeling that he has stepped back in time. There are suits of armour in the hall, and a grand staircase on each side. Mycroft leads John upstairs on one of them, along a corridor with thick carpets, and finally into a room to their left. John hardly notices any details like the intricately carved woodwork everywhere, he´s too nervous and excited and worried all at once.
The room they have entered is dimly lit and looks like it´s taken directly from Downton Abbey; rich fabrics and heavy, antique furniture everywhere.
A petite Indian woman in plain dark clothes is sitting in a chair next to the large bed; she gets up when Mycroft enters, and approaches them.
Mycroft introduces her as Surinder Singh, and John briefly thinks that he likes the name; it has a musical quality to it.
"Call me Surinder," she offers while they are shaking hands, and with a short look towards the bed continues: "Mr. Holmes hasn´t fully woken up yet, though he did seem to react to my voice a few times. His temperature is static at 39°C, despite the medication."
John´s gaze is drawn to the bed, and his heart jumps. He doesn´t even register how Mycroft and Surinder leave the room to give him some privacy.
John´s eyes never leave Sherlock as he approaches him, slowly, as though one false move could shatter this new-found reality; his friend seems to disappear into the bedding, looking insubstantial and small.
His hair is shorter than usual, his hairline sweaty with fever, a few dark strands plastered to the skin. Bruise-like smudges under his eyes and skin so white it almost looks translucent give him a dramatic appearance, emphasized by a wound on his temple, which has been stapled together expertly.
The detective is wearing a too large shirt, probably Mycroft´s, and an IV-line is attached to the back of his hand, the wrist of which is bandaged. His arms are thin and seem bare of any strength as they are lying on the quilt, just like the rest of him. He looks fragile and vulnerable, and his body seems tense even in his unconscious state. It feels wrong to see him like this, defeated and helpless.
John doesn´t realize that he´s crying until he tastes the salt on his lips. Sherlock seems barely alive, and the idea that he might not survive in the end is too horrible to bear thinking about.
Cautiously, the doctor sits down on the edge of the bed, taking Sherlock´s uninjured hand in his. The detective flinches ever so slightly at being touched, but John can´t talk yet, not even to reassure his friend. With his thumb, he gently strokes Sherlock´s cold hand in order to soothe him while he is waiting for his own tears to abate.
When they do, he clears his throat, wiping his face with his sleeve: "Sherlock, it´s John. I´m sorry... I was just... I hadn´t expected to ever see you again. I... I am so glad. I am angry as well, mind you, but that can wait until later. For now I´m just..." He sniffles, fresh tears threatening to spill. This is a lot more difficult than he could have imagined. Ever.
He is still wrangling with his composure when Sherlock moves. His head is tilted to John´s side, and John is sure that he has seen his brows twitch ever so slightly.
"Sherlock," he murmurs, reaching out to touch his face. This time, Sherlock doesn´t flinch as John´s fingers gently stroke his much too warm skin. He exhales somewhat strainedly, as though he has been holding his breath, and shudders, then slowly opens his eyes. They are glazed over and bloodshot, but Sherlock´s gaze focuses on John. His eyes widen a fraction as he recognizes him, and relief illuminates his exhausted features. "J'hn," he breathes.
"Yes, I´m here." John reinforces his grip around Sherlock´s hand. "I´ll stay with you, you´re safe."
Sherlock can´t keep his eyes open any longer, but he seems to relax. The tension in his body visibly abates as he drifts off.
John stays with him like that until he sure that Sherlock is soundly asleep.
Surinder helps him as he assesses Sherlock´s injuries; the wound on his side does need a few stitches and is slightly inflamed, but apart from that, the nurse has cared well for Sherlock. John is appalled by how emaciated he is, and there is too much evidence of violence altogether. There are at least two ribs which have been broken and aren´t completely healed yet from what John can feel, and the better part of Sherlock´s body is bruised and battered, his blood pressure low, if steady.
Sherlock remains oblivious throughout the examination, even when John sutures the wound. He is on medication for the fever and pain, which is probably enough to severely knock him out in his current state. John doesn´t know how Mycroft does it, but they are well-supplied. John certainly wouldn´t put it past him that the prescription drugs and equipment have been obtained through illegal channels, but who knows. It might either be a testimony of Mycroft´s more ruthless side, or he simply has got very good connections.
After they are done, Surinder exchanges the drip which provides Sherlock with fluids and nutrients, then goes to rest for a bit. Just like John and Mycroft, she has been up all night. John is equally tired himself, but he wouldn´t dream of leaving Sherlock´s side. He keeps cooling Sherlock´s skin with a cold cloth, struggling to keep his eyes open and himself upright.
When Mycroft looks in on them a while later, he finds both of them asleep. John has lain down on the bed next to Sherlock, one hand touching Sherlock´s shoulder .
Mycroft almost timidly reaches out to feel Sherlock´s temple with the back of his fingers; still too warm. But at least Sherlock is asleep now rather than unconscious, as Surinder has informed him.
He rather heavily sits down in the vacated chair, a little shaky, and beholds his brother. Sherlock looks very pallid and frail.
Without making a conscious decision, Mycroft reaches out and feels for Sherlock´s uninjured hand, which is entangled in the bundled-up edge of the quilt; when he touches it, his brother´s fingers nestle into his palm, just as they used to do when they have both been much younger. An eternity ago.
To his utter horror and surprise, Mycroft feels like weeping. He is seldomly aware how much he misses having a family, a real family that feels affection for each other instead of constant rivalry and contest. He wishes Sherlock and he were still close or that he could occasionally turn back time. He misses being important to Sherlock. It certainly feels like it now that he is sitting here, watching over his brother; at least if one does take into account that said brother is too ill to protest. Maybe he would do so if he woke up right now; Mycroft is fully prepared for that.
Sherlock gives a rather inaudible sigh and makes to turn over, which albeit would mean he would come to lie on the wounded side of his head. Again, Mycroft doesn´t have to think about what to say: "No, Sherlock, don´t. It will hurt. Turn the other way." His voice is gentle, so as not to stir the other unnecessarily.
Sherlock´s breath hitches as he indeed stops in his motion; for a second, his eyes open. Mycroft braces himself, but the younger Holmes only regards him rather unfocusedly, and the smallest of smiles ghosts over his haggard face before he slowly begins to turn to the other side.
Mycroft lets go of Sherlock´s hand as he´d otherwise twist the sleeping man´s arm; he waits until Sherlock has settled, then pulls the quilt up a little further, mindful of the IV-line.
However, without giving any indication that he is alert otherwise, Sherlock rather clumsily frees his arm from under the covers again and fumbles around on the quilt´s soft surface. It takes Mycroft a moment to understand, but then he almost timidly reaches out again, offering his hand to his brother. When Sherlock´s touches his, the younger man stills, content at the reassurement of human contact, no matter how small. His long fingers curl around his brother´s, maybe he thinks it´s John.
Mycroft doesn´t mind; with his free hand he pulls the chair right up to the bed, then sits down very slowly, never letting go of Sherlock´s hand, and leans back.
He is glad that he has gotten John here, he is convinced that the doctor is the key to Sherlock´s healing.
When John wakes up two hours later, he finds that Mycroft has fallen asleep in the chair; his arm is stretched out, and Sherlock is clutching Mycroft´s hand in his sleep. John smiles; so the rift between them can be overcome at times.
Slowly, John gets up and stretches. His gaze lingers on Sherlock, who is sleeping peacefully. John is still tired, but he will be okay for now. As long as he finds some food, that is. He slips into his boots and walks towards the door to look for the kitchen.
The huge house seems empty. John ambles along the corridor until he reaches the staircase. Now that he isn´t in a rush anymore, he can appreciate the décor. Yet it feels like a museum rather than a family home, and he tries to imagine Sherlock and Mycroft as children, running around and playing here.
Downstairs, John randomly opens doors and looks inside; he doesn´t feel like an intruder because there doesn´t seem to be anything personal, it rather gives the impression that anyone who has lived here is long since dead.
He comes across a library and enters it; a beautiful grand piano is situated in front of a large bay window, the rest of the room is filled with books; shelves are lining the walls. There is one big fireplace, the sort where a child could stand in, and it seems that it has recently been used. There also is a desk in front of another window; John steps closer to examine a number of photographs, which are being held by silver frames and displayed on the polished surface.
Most of them are black and white, showing people in dark clothes and with serious faces. Then there´s a wedding picture, probably Mr and Mrs Holmes; both of them are tall, and he can see that Sherlock resembles his mother. She has got the same thin face with those prominent cheekbones.
Then there´s Mrs Holmes with a baby, probably Mycroft but it´s hard to tell; and another one which shows two children: in this one, it is unmistakable who´s who. Mycroft, probably in his teens, clearly overweight but still (or maybe precisely because of it) trying to look imposing, and Sherlock. He can´t have been older than four or five; a surprisingly small boy given how tall he is now, pale eyes piercing the photographer, a head of curly dark hair. Neither of them smiles.
John, touched by how much sadness is conveyed through this picture, puts it down again and turns to leave. And jumps. He hasn´t heard anyone approaching, but now there´s the butler standing in the door, smiling minutely and bowing. "May I be of assistance, sir?"
John scratches his head: "Yes, er, I was wondering whether I could get a sandwich or something."
"Certainly, sir. Please allow me to show you to the dining room."
"D- but there´s no need-"
The hell. John follows the butler.
Half an hour later John returns to Sherlock´s room; he has been served a perfectly cooked omelette with fried tomatoes and fresh rye bread. The dining room turned out to be huge, just like the rest of the house, and had been decorated with life-sized chess pieces, or so it seemed. Which John found rather intimidating when faced with on his own. The whole house does not give the impression that one could feel at home in it, much less consider it cosy.
Luckily, he has counted the number of doors in the corridor, otherwise he might have had to search for the right room on his way back.
Mycroft has gone, and Sherlock is still lying on his side.
John perches on the edge of the bed to feel his temple; he is pleased to see that Sherlock opens his eyes when he feels the slight jolting of the mattress.
"Hey," John´s fingers rest against Sherlock´s skin for a moment; the fever is still there, he doesn´t need a thermometer to confirm that. So no reason for relief yet.
Sherlock watches him out of the corner of his eye: "J'hn," he murmurs, his voice barely audible. "´m s'rry."
"Shh," John doesn´t want him to overexert himself. "No talking just yet."
Sherlock sighs, and it does sound frustrated.
"It´s okay, Sherlock," John says quietly. "Mycroft has told me why you did it. We´ll talk later. Back in Baker Street, preferably."
He is being rash; maybe Sherlock doesn´t even want to return there. Yet John can´t help himself: he needs to have something to look forward to, something to help him keep up his strength, so that he in turn can be strong for Sherlock.
The detective, still weighed down by the drugs and his bone-deep exhaustion, struggles to keep his eyes open and mumbles something which sounds like I missed you.
"I missed you, too." John replies in a tender voice, his hand stroking over the unruly curls of Sherlock´s hair, and bends down to press a kiss on his friend´s temple. He has never taken any such liberties with Sherlock before, but it feels justified and not at all out of the ordinary at that. They are friends who have just overcome the frontier between life and death, after all.
Sherlock doesn´t seem to mind, on the contrary: he gives another sigh, this time sounding relieved, before his eyes close again.
John regards him, thinking that Sherlock might after all have to go to a hospital if his condition doesn´t improve soon; he is so very weakened.
John will talk to Mycroft about it, but for now, he is content to just sit with Sherlock and watch him sleep, allowing them both a moment of peace.
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To Be Continued
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