Epilogue: Life Continues
Clipboard in hand, Molly makes her way toward John, who is standing at attention near a wall in the morgue. He's unobtrusive, watching Sherlock examine a body. These are the preliminary stages of an investigation, and John has already given his opinion on the cause of death.
"Hey, Molly," he smiles as she stops in front of him. She smiles back, a little uncertain. She's never really talked to John one-on-one and, despite the fact that everyone else seems to like him, he intimidates her a bit. Not as much as Sherlock, of course, but his natural extension from the overbearing man has created a sort of aura she finds hard to cross when she's on her own.
Also, she never found out how he felt about her knowing Sherlock was alive the entire time.
"John. How are you?"
"I'm great." John's smile widens briefly. "It's nice to have a case again, something for Sherlock to focus on other than me."
"Oh?" Molly raises an eyebrow, eager for a glimpse into their personal lives. Too timid to bring up the subject herself, she is curious enough to pursue the topic further. "How's that going, then?"
"We're fine." John pauses. Smiles. "Great, actually," he glances over at Sherlock, who is still completely focused on the corpse. "Just…don't tell him I told you, but for a couple of weeks…after, he was kind of needy. I think it really messed with his head, as much as he'd hate to admit it." It feels good to share that, John realizes. To feel as if, just for a moment, he isn't entirely responsible for Sherlock's well-being.
"So…" Molly struggles to understand. She glances at Sherlock, noting how his normal attire of a casual suit completely covers any scars from his ordeal. "Has he started pushing you away, now?"
"Oh, no!" John's mind takes him back to just last night. Sherlock finally got rid of that cast, and he wasted no time making the most of the situation. John smirks. "Nothing like that. We've just settled into a healthier pattern, I'd say. Less dependency upon one another."
Sherlock looks round, searching for John. They make eye contact and Sherlock resumes his examination.
John laughs when he sees Molly watching, her eyebrows raised slightly. "Bad timing, that. We're good, I promise."
"He has always been nicer to you." Molly sighs, the barest trace of wistfulness in her tone.
"Not really." John grins and observes Sherlock's movements fondly. "I've just learned to speak his language."
"Maybe you should give lessons. Greg sure could use them."
John notices, slightly amused, as Molly blushes at her informal use of Lestrade's name. "I mean, the Detective Inspector, he really – "
"Molly, stop stuttering, everyone knows." Sherlock strides up to the pair of them, pulling off his disposable gloves.
"O-oh, they do?" Molly looks down at the clipboard in her hands, avoiding Sherlock's eyes. She and Greg hadn't intended to take it public quite yet – they'd been very vague when telling people they were each seeing someone new – but she should have known that Sherlock would have it figured out.
"Yes." Sherlock says shortly. Then he glances at John and his face softens. "You shouldn't be embarrassed; he is obviously very interested in you."
Molly looks up in surprise to see the very warm gaze of a content Sherlock Holmes smiling at her. Tentatively, she returns it.
"Th-thank you, Sherlock." She curses inwardly at the stutter, but she's never seen him this way. John really is good for him¸ she marvels to herself.
"You're welcome." Sherlock nods shortly and then starts walking forward, his hand reaching out slightly.
John takes the cue and links their fingers together, falling into step next to him.
"See you, Molly," he says with a wink, and then they're out the door and on their way.
The two men head toward Scotland Yard so Sherlock can speak with Lestrade.
"Based on his physique and tan lines, I would say he's an outdoor worker." Sherlock says as the cab takes them to their destination. "Very fit, so long hours of moderate to hard labour."
"So he was strong, right? How would someone be able to strangle him?" John is having a hard time getting the marks from this man's death out of his mind's eye. He looks at Sherlock's neck, healthy once more, to reassure himself. "Unless…maybe they gave him something to keep him from fighting?"
"Possible." Sherlock catches John's eye and offers his hand. John takes it gratefully. "I'll see what Lestrade's men have; any clues to motive will help identify the type of killer we're looking for."
"Of course." The two fall silent, both musing on the case and the unfortunate similarities is exhibits to Sherlock's torture.
When they arrive at the Yard, both Lestrade and Donovan are waiting for them. John braces himself for a slew of derogatory comments, but Sally stays silent.
This is Sherlock's first case since his incident, and he hasn't seen most of them since it happened.
"You look good," Lestrade says, handing over the file.
"I appreciate your insight, but I disagree," Sherlock replies, flipping through the pages. John sighs quietly.
"He means 'thank you'," he tells Lestrade, offering a half-smile and a little shrug. Explaining Sherlock's feelings toward his scars would take too long and, frankly, it isn't John's right to tell.
Sally looks between them, standing an appropriate distance apart for a workplace, and her eyebrows constrict. They seem comfortable around each other, just as familiar as ever, but there is something…different about their stances. She can't put her finger on it.
"Were you the ones who removed his wedding ring?" Sherlock asks, snapping the folder shut and looking up.
"Yes, it's with his personal effects. Would you like to see them?"
"Please." Sherlock hands the folder to John, who takes it and starts looking through. Married, no children. 27 years of age, construction worker for a company John has never heard of. Time of death estimated in the early hours of the morning this past Tuesday…
He scans over the rest, but nothing strikes him as unusual.
Sherlock is now looking through the man's wallet, taking a couple of cards out and setting them on the table.
"I'm sorry!" Sally bursts out, causing all three men to flinch.
"What?" Lestrade and John say at the same time. Sherlock, unnoticed, sighs and continues looking.
"I'm sorry for what I said. I didn't mean it; it was thoughtless." Sally seems unaware that two-thirds of her audience has no idea what she's referencing.
John decides to take the easiest path. "Sherlock, what is she talking about?"
Sherlock stops examining the cards to answer him. "I believe, based on her posture and the way she's looking alternately at you and my chest, that she regrets the comment she made about you being 'whipped,' considering," he pauses, "…considering what then happened to me."
John and Lestrade both look to Sally for confirmation, and she nods slowly.
"I wasn't thinking. I was just…trying to get a rise out of you, I guess."
"She doesn't understand you, John." Sherlock translates, his attention now on the man's watch.
"Doesn't…understand me?" John repeats, confused. "Sally, what…" He doesn't know how to phrase the question.
"You're so…adaptable!" Sally throws her hands in the air in frustration. "You come home injured from the war, and instead of doing what others would do and settle down, maybe have a family, you find Sherlock Holmes, of all people, and get caught up in his mad way of life."
John bristles as she speaks, but Sherlock puts a calming hand on his shoulder. He lets Sally finish.
"And then when people warn you away or – or taunt you," she blushes here, but she keeps on, "you just shrug it off. It's like you know something we don't. Like we're all just idiots bumbling around, but you've got the map."
John blinks, a little disconcerted by this view of him.
"And now," Sally's voice is exasperated. "Apparently you've entered into some kind of romantic relationship with him, and instead of being disgusted or put-off, I find myself feeling jealous."
"Jealous?" John repeats, suddenly wondering if there was more of a past between her and Sherlock than he'd ever thought before.
"Not of either one of you specifically, but of what you have. I don't understand how two people can be so bloody perfect for each other."
There is an awkward silence for a minute as three of them look at each other and Sherlock studies the soles of the dead man's shoes. Then Sally leaves, her heels clicking rapidly as she escapes down the hall.
"Ummm…" John says, unsure of what to make of that revelation. "You're forgiven?"
He makes eye contact with Sherlock and the two of them start laughing. Lestrade watches curiously, starting to see what Sally was going on about. They seem to have reached a sort of mind-meld, like something between them has synced. Has he ever witnessed Sherlock laugh before?
Lestrade blinks rapidly, clearing his head, and then coughs, getting their attention. They look at him at the same time, moving in tandem. "Bloody perfect," indeed.
"Can you tell us who did it, then?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "I need to see the crime scene, first. But I have some ideas."
"That's more than I have," Lestrade grumbles. Then he straightens up, adjusting his collar. "Right, well, do you want to head over now?"
"We'll meet you there."
As they leave, John asks, "How did you remember what she said?"
"The irony was not lost on me when I realized what they were going to do; I just chose not to dwell on it." Sherlock drapes an arm around John's shoulders; remembering is far easier when he has every sense confirming John's presence. "I didn't think of it again until I saw Sally's behavior and I deduced what she must be thinking."
"I still don't understand how you can do that." John shakes his head in awed disbelief. Sherlock smiles, pleased.
"I merely observe, John."
"Yeah, sure." John elbows him lightly in the ribs. "You're a genius and you know it."
Sherlock remains silent, letting the statement stand.
Anderson is already there when they arrive at the crime scene, keeping watch since the body has been moved. Lestrade has yet to arrive.
"Maybe you can make some sense of this," Anderson sneers. Sherlock ignores him, and John decides to follow that example. Sometimes all a bully wants is attention.
Sherlock begins pacing the scene, hands clasped behind his back as his eyes dart around. John looks around as well, but he's not getting much. The victim was killed outside his workplace, a large structure that was having some remodeling done. He was left in the dirt in front of their makeshift entrance.
"Looks like they didn't really think it through," John remarks, looking at where the body is indicated to have lain. "I mean, you could hide a body better than that, right?"
"Unless you want it to be found," Sherlock replies, now looking at angles from which the body could be viewed. Suddenly he runs off, taking the stairs so he can look down at the spot from above.
Watching Sherlock lean over the railing with little thought for his safety makes John slightly dizzy, and he tries to ignore how his heart rate has nearly doubled from remembered fear. Sherlock is not going to jump.
John closes his eyes and takes a steadying breath, then looks over at Anderson. As unpleasant as his conversation is, it would be a good distraction.
"How are you, Anderson?" he asks, ignoring the surprised looks from several other policemen who are milling around.
"Fine." Anderson is very confused. He and John have never made any attempts to speak with each other. Why now? "…You?"
"Peachy." John puts his hands on his hips and looks to the ground, shaking his head. He will not have a panic attack. He will not.
"Done anything interesting recently?" he asks desperately, doing his absolute best to smile normally. Anderson can tell something is off, but doesn't know what or why. "Gone on holiday?"
"Not yet, but me and my wife will be going to America in a couple of weeks." Anderson decides to be civil – while he was relatively nicer to Sherlock after his return from the dead, the apparently new relationship between doctor and detective has made him rather uncomfortable. He tries to put that out of his mind. "We'll be visiting Florida."
"Good," John nods, crossing his arms in front of his chest and standing straighter, almost unconsciously going to military stance. "I've heard it's rather hot there."
"It is," Anderson agrees, tilting his head forward. "Have, uh, have you gone on holiday recently?"
"No," a half smile crosses John's face. "But, you know, it may do some good to get out of London for a bit. Explore."
Anderson nods, not really sure how to keep the conversation going. Luckily, he doesn't have to.
"John," Sherlock is back and John turns to face him, the relief evident on his face. Sherlock's eyebrows constrict as he reads what just happened and he steps forward, wrapping his arms around the shorter man's frame.
Anderson looks away as they embrace, embarrassed. They are only hugging, and yet it feels like he's intruding on a very intimate moment.
They pull apart slightly and Sherlock looks down, his eyes searching John's face. John nods, some of the tension fading. Sherlock lifts his head to view Anderson, not completely letting John go. "Tell Lestrade it was the boss."
"The – what?" Anderson asks, perplexed. "How do you know?"
Sherlock begins to stitch together the story. "He was killed here, but he was wearing his normal attire. A wedding ring and a nice watch? He would take those off before working in construction. So, not here for work – to meet someone, perhaps? Killed in the early hours of the morning, so no witnesses, but he was left somewhere obvious so he would be found quickly. Looking through his wallet, I noticed several copies of a competitor's business card and a note from one of his coworkers asking about quitting; it appears he was helping everyone leave this particular group. Now, he was also very fit, so it would have taken someone who was either stronger or smarter to kill him through strangulation."
He uses his grip on John's waist to turn him and then very lightly places his fingers around John's throat. John, trusting him, does not try to break away. "Normally strangulation occurs from the front, but the marks I saw were similar to what I'm doing here. So it was someone the victim knew well enough to let them get close, and who could call him here at that time of night, but also someone smart enough to give themselves that extra amount of time by coming round the back."
Releasing John's neck, he points toward a concrete wall several feet away. "That wall is crumbling, it's intended to go down, and if you look closely you can see where pieces fell away when the murderer smashed our victim's head. The recent rain washed away the blood, but the evidence is still clear. I noticed the contusion when I was in the morgue, but I needed to be here to be sure. So – he grabbed the victim from behind, hit his head hard enough to disorient him, and then strangled him to death."
Sherlock's hand moves to point upward, where he was looking over the edge. John, who had been following the process thus far, averts his gaze. "The other workers' set-up is centered there, and the victim's dead body was placed within optimum view from that point. Left as a warning. The only person with motive, means, and opportunity is the boss."
He looks at Anderson expectantly
Anderson's mouth opens, then closes, then opens once more. He doesn't say anything.
"Do stop gaping, it's offensive." Sherlock is ready to get John away from the crime scene, make sure he really is okay. Stupid. I should have realized.
"How – how can you be sure?"
"I just walked you through my deductions, but if you get Lestrade to bring in the boss, I would be happy to interrogate him for you. Shall I get you a bag of popcorn, as well?"
"Sherlock," John cautions, voice low. A very large, fake smile appears on Sherlock's face.
"Thank you for letting me examine your crime scene." He bows slightly and whirls away, his hand finding John's to ensure he follows. He needn't have bothered; John is more than ready to leave.
They do not part, however.
Anderson watches them go, a little dazed by what just happened. Lestrade appears next to him, huffing about the traffic.
"What happened?" he asks, still frowning. Anderson turns to him, shrugging.
"When do I ever know?"
"Are you sure you're alright, John?" Sherlock asks once they're a sufficient distance away, searching for a taxi.
"Yeah." John rubs his free hand over his face. "I wasn't expecting that kind of reaction."
"It's my fault; I didn't consider what it looked like."
"No, it was – " he's cut off by a long dark vehicle pulling up next to them. The door opens and John sees the familiar brunette of Mycroft's assistant.
"Sherlock is right here with me!" he exclaims, annoyed that now they're being kidnapped together. "Why couldn't Mycroft be bothered to meet us at the flat?"
Anthea smiles pleasantly. "Mr. Holmes does not always share his reasons with me."
"Of course not." John shakes his head and glances at Sherlock, who is glaring at the car. He nudges him. "What do you think?"
Sherlock blinks, and John can see him rearranging his thoughts. "I think we are grown men who can make our own decisions." He pulls on John's hand to get them walking again, leaving Anthea sitting in the car, surprised.
Sudden energy infuses John from doing what he's always wanted to do when he sees that car pull up. He grins. "Fantastic!"
Startled, Sherlock looks over at him. "Have you never walked away from my brother, John?"
John shakes his head; why would he? Meeting with Mycroft usually leads to some insight about Sherlock, which he is eager to get – it is just the method that always puts him off.
Sherlock laughs. "Well, don't ever feel obligated to put up with his theatrics. And if there's anything you want to know about me," he stops, pulling them to the side of the walkway and out of the path of others. He lowers his head so it's closer to John's, "you can just ask."
John raises his eyebrow suggestively, and for a moment it appears they will kiss. Then John pulls away, a grin on his face, and asks, "What were you like as a child?"
Sherlock, looking a bit put-out, lets John pull him forward so they rejoin the flow of pedestrians.
"I was always reading." Sherlock answers, casting his mind back to the parts of his childhood he hasn't deleted. "Although I also had an abundance of energy, so I explored outside, as well."
"Did you play pirates?" John asks.
"How – Mycroft." Sherlock's question cuts off before it can really begin, and he says his brother's name like a curse. "Yes, I did. Did he tell you that I always made him walk the plank?"
The sudden image in John's mind makes him laugh. "No! Really?"
Sherlock nods. "Indeed."
"Isn't he seven years older than you?"
Sherlock shrugs, although there's a smile fighting at the corner of his lips. "It was how he rewarded me when I said something clever."
"How old were you?"
"Three, maybe four."
That puts it in perspective in John's mind, and he imagines a small boy with bright eyes and curly dark hair, commanding his older brother to walk the plank. He grins.
There's a sudden hesitancy in Sherlock's words, like he's not quite sure he believes he's actually going to say what comes out of his mouth next. "I do have…photographs. If you would be interested in seeing them."
"Of course I would!" John's step quickens, and Sherlock chuckles.
"We may have to ask Mrs. Hudson where they are. I haven't gotten them out in years."
"Mmkay," John hums in agreement. They walk in silence for a minute. "Oh, so do you know what your brother wanted back there?"
"I have a couple of theories, but none of them interest me at present." Sherlock's fingers tighten in John's.
John considers this answer. "Do you think they'll interest you in the future?"
"Doubtful, seeing as I do not anticipate losing my primary distraction."
"Which would be…?" It's not that John is stupid – he just finds it hard to make himself the center of Sherlock's focus, to believe this brilliant man is not yet bored of him.
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "You."
Mrs. Hudson is waiting for the two of them to arrive, eager to congratulate them on their status. They never made it a priority to tell her, seeing as other events occurred, although in hindsight John realizes it was a rather egregious omission. She was for it from the beginning.
Regardless, Mrs. Hudson has tea and biscuits awaiting them when they appear in their kitchen, laughing at a shared joke and hands clasped together.
Mrs. Hudson smiles with joy, her eyes glistening with unshed tears as she takes in the scene before her. Oh, how she has longed for these men to be happy, after all they've been through! So much pain and suffering, both together and apart. And now, as they look from each other to see her, the expression of love she finds in their eyes makes her feel as if it has all been worth it.
"Boys, I'm a little disappointed in you!" she says good-naturedly, motioning for them to sit and join her. They do, John looking contrite, Sherlock lifting an eyebrow in that questioning way she always finds so endearing. "I should have been the first you told!"
"To be fair, Mrs. Hudson," John says, "we never actually 'told' anyone. We just kind of…stopped hiding it."
Sherlock nods, reaching out and wrapping his long fingers around a warm cup. "We have been diverted; we would not purposefully keep such news from you."
Mrs. Hudson nods. "I'm just so happy for you," she makes eye contact with both of them, conveying the truth of that statement. She reaches out her hands to grasp at theirs, connecting the three in a makeshift triangle.
"My boys," she squeezes their fingers gently.
"We are hardly children," Sherlock says, but his tone is soft.
"You are still my boys." She releases their hands and returns to her tea, taking a sip but watching them over the edge. John smiles at her while Sherlock helps himself to a biscuit.
Then John remembers Sherlock's offer, and he decides now is as good a time as any. "Mrs. Hudson, do you know where Sherlock's old pictures are?"
Mrs. Hudson is surprised; both at the question and Sherlock's reaction. A faint blush appears, barely perceptible except to those who know him well.
"As a matter of fact, I do," she says to John, standing up to go get them. "You boys leave such a mess, but I knew those were special, so I hid them away soon after finding them." Here she pauses, like she realizes this may have been a breach of etiquette. "Sherlock, dear, you don't mind, do you?"
"Of course not," Sherlock waves a hand. "You have kept them far safer than I ever could."
Mrs. Hudson beams with pride and bustles out in search of those photos.
John nudges his shoulder against Sherlock's. "That was nice of you to say."
"It's the truth." Sherlock replies, although he's smiling slightly. "You live in this flat, do you not?"
John tilts his head forward in acknowledgment. Mrs. Hudson is not, in fact, their housekeeper, which means that often things do not get tidied up. So long as experiments stay contained, however, John doesn't mind.
"Here they are!" Mrs. Hudson returns with a small, scuffed box. Written neatly in her handwriting over the top on a piece of tape is simply, "Sherlock."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock reaches to take the box but John beats him to the punch, leaning quickly and snatching it from his grasp.
"Ha!" John grins, pulling his prize close. Sherlock sighs, but even Mrs. Hudson can hear the patience in his tone.
John just lifts his eyebrow in an impression of his flatmate and lifts the lid, pulling out the top photograph. To their surprise it is the picture Lestrade took of them on his phone, from the hospital.
"What is that doing in there?" John asks, handing the photo to Sherlock. His eyes narrow.
"Lestrade, am I right?" he addresses Mrs. Hudson. She nods from the doorway, intending to excuse herself as soon as possible to give the boys some alone time to go through the pictures.
"He sent it to my mobile, and I just thought it had to be a part of your collection."
Sherlock nods, but then he sighs. "Please, don't put your copy on the fridge."
Mrs. Hudson blushes but nods, now having another reason to leave them be. "Of course not, dearie."
Sherlock just shakes his head slightly and returns his attention to John, who is looking at the next picture. It's of the two of them at a crime scene, though John cannot recall any details of that particular case. The angle is from the back, though part of John's face is visible because he's turned toward Sherlock. His mouth is parted slightly as Sherlock gesticulates, so obviously some sort of deducing is occurring.
"Lestrade again?" he asks Sherlock, handing this photo over, as well. Sherlock shrugs and glances backward to ask Mrs. Hudson, but she has disappeared down the stairs, closing the door behind her. He smiles slightly. Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.
"Let's move," he suggests, standing and taking the box from John's hands. John follows him to the couch, where they sit side-by-side and continue to go through the pictures.
Over time they gravitate toward each other, until they end up sprawled across the couch, Sherlock propped against the edge and John reclining on his chest. Sherlock's arms rest comfortably around John's torso while he holds the photos up so they both can see.
"Here we go!" he says as they reach the baby pictures. Sherlock rolls his eyes and rests his chin atop John's head.
There are only three of these pictures. The first is just of Sherlock, probably four years old, wrapped up to go in the snow. He's frowning, obviously hating the restrictive clothing being forced upon him. John can see the man he'll grow to be in the twist of his lips and the shape of his eyes. He's struck by how bright those eyes are, indicative to the intelligence hiding inside.
In the next he is even younger, perhaps two or three, and he's riding on Mycroft's back, brandishing a stick like it's a sword. John is amazed, not only at how cute Sherlock is, but how different Mycroft looks with an honest smile and a worry-free expression. They may not get along now, but at least they had each other for the early years of their relationship.
The final picture is from before Sherlock could walk. He's sleeping, his tiny hands tucked under his cheek, lips parted in a perfect little 'o.'
John notices how his parents are not in any of the pictures, and he's not sure if that's by Sherlock's design or because they never posed with their children.
"You were an adorable child." John says, nestling back into Sherlock's embrace. Sherlock chuckles, the sound reverberating through his chest and into John's back.
"Would you say anything else?" he lets his head fall back from John's, eyes closing. "After all, I cannot imagine seeing pictures of you and having anything negative to say."
"That's new." John teases, setting the photos aside and resting his arms over Sherlock's. "I can't imagine you seeing anyone else's pictures and having anything positive to say."
"Irrelevant. I would not waste my time looking at pictures of anyone else." Sherlock shifts down on the couch, adjusting so he can reach John's neck. John's reaction to Sherlock's lips is to tilt his head to the side, giving him better access.
John's verbal response, if he had one, gets lost in the sensation and he finds himself having to resist flipping around and reciprocating the action – or more.
When Sherlock's lips reach his jaw he stops resisting, shifting to the side and twisting his neck so he can kiss Sherlock properly. They enjoy that for a moment, fingers tangling in each other's clothes as they hold close, reveling in the experience.
John pulls away first, breathing quickly, and opens his eyes to see Sherlock's penetrating gaze staring straight into his soul.
This is him, he realizes, with absolute certainty. This is everything.
Sherlock smiles and nods.
A/N: Well, this is a bittersweet moment. I did it. I finished my first multi-chapter story for Sherlock. I'm sad to see it end, but I'm also very impressed with myself.
I have specific people I would like to thank, for their constant presence as readers and their very kind words:
But, I could not have done it without allyou fabulous readers. Your feedback and support have kept me going this whole time, inspiring me when I don't feel like writing and encouraging me when I'm not sure the story maintains interest. Every single one of you is important to me (even those who did not review), as I recognize that you are each individuals with lives and joys and pains and dreams. The fact that you took time out of your life to read my story is amazing to me. Thank you.
I already have another idea for a multi-chapter fic (I'm hooked) but I want to try my hand at more oneshots before I jump into that. So, if you have any ideas, or requests, I would love to write something for you. Just PM me. ;)