Note: New readers: If you haven't read the fics this follows, never fear. Relevant details from Sherlock's post-Reichenbach return in The Sign of the Four are covered in this story. More specific instances from Sherlock and Irene's relationship in What He Likes are referenced, but will be explored and explained in the course of this story. You just gain better insight into the angst right away if you've read WHL already.
Returning readers: Welcome back! I really hope everyone can enjoy this sequel. It's a bit of a mashup of the two kinds of stories: SotF's angsty bromance and casefic adventures combined with WHL's angsty introspective romance. But in all things, I hope it's fun, sad, happy, insightful, entertaining, and all the other strange mixture of things that this universe allows for. Though if you've only read SotF, please do note that unlike that story this one is rated M for sexual content. I can note what chapters are specifically M if there are readers who'd like to know that so they can skip them. If not, maintaining some surprise can be fun ;)
As with my other stories, I waited until I had quite a bit of this story written before I started posting (about 30,000 words so far... this is going to be a long one). I'll try to update twice a week.
Lecteurs francophone: Comme toujours avec mes histoires, je lis bien le français si c'est plus facile pour vous de répondre dans vos langue maternelle.
As always, reviews are extremely appreciated and I reply to every one of them. Conversing with you readers is my favorite part of being a writer, so I hope your PM capability is turned on. And now I will cease with the ridiculously long opening author's notes and let you get to the ridiculously long first chapter.
The black cab pulled up to the kerb outside 221B and, as it had a thousand times before, deposited Sherlock and John on the pavement in front of their flat. They were home, a fact which six months ago Sherlock would have embraced with fondness, but which now vaguely bored him. They were always home these days. "London's become so dull. What happened to all the exciting cases?" he grumbled. They'd just come back from solving a pathetically simple case of accidental lidocaine overdose at an unlicensed orthodontist's office for Lestrade. Which had done nothing at all to quench Sherlock's need for mental stimulation. Quite the opposite, really.
"Dried up a bit the last two years since we don't have an evil mastermind orchestrating people's crimes any more. You ask me, I like that kind of boring," John replied pointedly.
Sherlock sighed in begrudging acknowledgement and headed for the front door, opening it and leading the way inside. They'd been over this before. There was no real point in complaining about the easy cases any more. His body language was enough to convey the message to John. Nor was there a need for Sherlock to look behind him to see John's face to know that it held the familiar gentle look of 'you ought to be thankful you have any kind of case work'.
What was worse, it was a difficult point for Sherlock to argue with. Moriarty and Mycroft had sent him into hiding, that was true. But he had stuck the needle back in his arm, repeatedly and consistently for nearly a year. Him and no one else. And that more than anything was the reason for the caution Lestrade exercised in doling out cases to Sherlock now. And the caution John exercised in almost every dealing he had with Sherlock, to the point where it sometimes became unintentionally patronising. His friends truly cared about his recovery, a fact Sherlock never took for granted. But he hadn't actually died and come back to life. He wasn't going to disintegrate into dust if they looked away. Occasionally he longed for the days of being overlooked. Of doing his work and ignoring the rest. Because delving into the rest reminded him of how he'd got here in the first place. Reminded him of her. Then he'd find himself wondering what she was doing at the present moment, if she was thinking of him-
But he didn't want to get into all of that. So instead he simply trudged up the stairs, letting the scraping of his feet on the steps express all the frustration with both himself and his situation that he didn't feel like verbalizing.
Yet somehow, John understood Sherlock's mood and what his friend most needed now. Which was to say absolutely nothing more on the subject. The doctor simply clapped his friend on the shoulder once, without even the annoying intrusion of looking him in the eye. It was a moment of understanding that the two men never would have shared prior to Sherlock's death and resurrection. Indeed, it was a reminder that in spite of the hell they had both been through, ultimately their friendship had been strengthened for it.
Then the moment was passed, and John opened the door and led the way inside. Appreciating the brevity of the gesture, Sherlock followed his friend inside.
They entered 221B to find a dishevelled Mary Morstan curled up on the couch, sporting sweats, her dark blonde hair up in a messy bun, and a thick copy of her dissertation in hand while some sort of soft, piano-driven female vocalist music playing on the iPod stereo system. The psychologist glanced up at her flatmates with a smile. "Good evening. How's the case going?"
Sherlock crossed directly to the stereo and turned the music off. "Dinner?" he demanded.
Mary had, in the last six months as his second flatmate, become surprisingly immune to Sherlock's brusque manner. She merely gave John a small, knowing smile and said lightly, "Ah, he's eating, so that must mean you closed it." John smiled back and leaned down to give his fiancée a quick kiss in greeting.
"Yes," Sherlock said shortly as he hung his coat up by the door. Then, more insistently, "Dinner?"
"She's not your mother," John chided, heading towards the kitchen himself.
"My mother never made me dinner in her life," Sherlock retorted as he plopped down in his chair and picked his laptop up off the ground. "Though you two have developed a habit of treating me as if I were your child."
"When have we ever done that?" John asked as he set about tossing something frozen in the oven.
Sherlock didn't look up from the laptop. "Complaining about experiments left in the fridge."
"Because we got you your own mini-fridge," John interrupted.
But Sherlock kept on talking. "Berating me for quarrelling with Mycroft, even though he's never invited and stops over anyway."
Mary looked up from her work, instantly leaning forward in her attentive, therapist mode. Sherlock's cheek muscles twitched slightly in reaction. He'd had enough of therapy in his private rehab. And Mary already slipped into that role frequently enough as it was; who knew how annoying it would become once she was officially granted her PhD in Child Psychology in a few months. Then she'd feel even more entitled to treat him like a child in need of analysis. "We don't like having him drop round any more than you. But isn't it worth tolerating him to be able to keep your job?" she asked.
Sherlock hated being reminded of the fact that he owed Mycroft of all people for his official standing with the Yard without the official obligations of being a DI. Technically he was a Special Investigator for the Crown, though he distanced himself from that title as much as possible. He did his work, John wrote a half-arsed report and turned it in. In a way, it was very much like being an actual police detective. But as it gave them the chance to work with the Yard, even Sherlock wasn't churlish enough to complain about it. Usually.
Sherlock pounded the keyboard harder, pulling up his e-mail, and purposefully ignored Mary's question as he continued making his case. "And then there's the way you two make up elaborate excuses to both conveniently wind up in your room in the evenings instead of just saying you're going to have sex and leaving."
"Sherlock!" John exclaimed.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Oh for the last time, John, I don't know why you still believe I'm frightened of sex." In fact, he'd mentioned to John that he'd lost his virginity while in hiding, though he certainly hadn't mentioned with whom. John had kept what little he did know to himself, it seemed, based on the fact that Mary had yet to try to psychoanalyse Sherlock about it. So well, in fact, that Sherlock thought John sometimes forgot that his friend was not as naive as he'd once been. But as the detective shot him a pointed look, the doctor seemed to remember, clamping his mouth shut just as he was about to make some retort. John cleared his throat and looked away, and Sherlock's eyes went back to his computer.
John and Mary started talking about God knew what. Sherlock had already tuned out what was sure to be their usual banal couple's chatter. No, it wasn't only that it was boring, Sherlock had to confess, even if only to himself, that he wasn't annoyed by their interaction solely because of its banal subject matter. There was an understanding between those two which Sherlock might have missed in years past, but which he now recognized as a comfortable intimacy. On rare occasions, it called to mind certain mostly painful memories of his time away, of intimate and revelatory moments that he had never confessed to anyone, not even in his confidential drug rehab.
Oh, he'd related bits of the story; Dr. Sayers was annoyingly far too good to fool entirely. Sherlock had told him about a "friend" of his whom he had coerced into using her flat as a spot to shoot up under the guise of it being safer than being high on the streets. He knew Dr. Sayers had intuited that this person was more than a friend, but Sherlock had always shut down that line of questioning full stop. He wasn't stupid enough to believe that anything he said in therapy would be out of Mycroft's reach. His brother had had no trouble getting John's therapist's notes, after all.
Of course, Sherlock had also become irritated by Dr. Sayers' attempts to convince him of his "friend's" culpability in his relapse, and that she might have at least unwittingly driven him to greater drug abuse. That was a narrative Sherlock could not accept. He alone was responsible for his actions, and he'd stepped into relapse knowing full well where it would lead him. She might not have stopped him, but that hardly made it her fault nor did it necessarily make her a bad influence on him, no matter what the shrink said. It was the one area in which they'd never made much progress. Sherlock refused to think back to those painful moments, to her flat in Tel Aviv and everything that had transpired there. Instead he preferred to occasionally reflect on the much more pleasant time they'd spent together on the night he'd left for London, at that hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. Her sympathetic eyes, her surprisingly gentle touch, the comforting feel of her body entwined with his. He remembered the startling, somewhat frightening psychological closeness as much as the physical connection...
Sherlock closed his eyes momentarily, trying to force those thoughts away. John and Mary's intimacy had sparked these irritating reflections more and more frequently of late. Sherlock wondered at the reasoning behind that. The text messages between himself and his "friend" had neither increased nor decreased in frequency, but there were other contributing factors. An overall sense of cabin fever and boredom, for one. Since he'd returned from the dead, he and John had fortunately had a steady flow of cases both private and for the Yard, but many had been dull and none had taken them out of the country. Which was again partly Sayers' fault, since he insisted that Sherlock be clean and sober at least three months before considering travel. Something about a change of routine and the temptation of being on the road again. The Yard had forced another three months of frequent random drug testing on him, which they couldn't do if he was overseas. So he'd effectively been tied down to London for half a year, something he certainly hadn't anticipated when he'd parted ways with his much-more-than-friend.
But the worst part of his isolation was not, as he let John believe, a lack of interesting casework. Rather, it was the fact that he couldn't leave the UK and she couldn't come to the UK. For six months, there'd been nothing but text messages. He hadn't even wanted to risk calling her. If Mycroft's people happened to listen in... well, it simply wasn't worth the risks. The text messages were always promptly deleted and vague enough to maintain secrecy. Actually Sherlock was fairly certain Mycroft was actually leaving his phone alone, a small penance for the massive intrusion of privacy he'd committed by giving Moriarty (and consequently, the world) so many private details of Sherlock's life. Still, Sherlock hated talking on the phone, and had long since decided to save the talking for a time when it could be done in person. And just last week he'd finally passed his last random drug screening, untethering him at last.
Hence why Sherlock was now scouring his e-mails for a good overseas case. Something interesting, high profile enough that it would make sense for him to take it, but not so urgent that he'd be utterly bogged down in the work (as much as it felt nearly sacrilegious to put his work second. Sherlock decided not to dwell on the reasons behind this warped sense of priorities). Preferably it would be in the Mediterranean region. Easier and safer access for her. Side benefit of a pleasant climate.
Sherlock had been reading and deleting e-mail after e-mail for a good fifteen minutes before he froze, his eyes darting back to the top of the message he'd stopped on to re-read it. A feeling not unlike the joy of making a break in a big case fired through the synapses in his brain. Inwardly, he was buzzing with sudden innervation and the urge to leap from his chair and clap his hands with the excitement he normally displayed when hit by such a mental rush. Outwardly, he had been keeping this particular area of his life secret for long enough now that he was practised at maintaining utter calm.
Besides which, there was still her end of things to consider. Best not to get ahead of himself. Sherlock quickly pulled his mobile from his pocket and started typing the +972 number he had entered many times before but never saved or wrote down anywhere. He fired off a text. «Can you get to Florence?»
As soon as the message went through, he deleted it, as was his custom for any correspondence to or from that number. Sherlock shifted in his seat but remained otherwise placid. He noticed John and Mary had turned on the evening news and were sitting on the couch with plates of lasagne. He frowned, wondering exactly when that had happened. "Did you get me a plate?" Sherlock asked.
John stared at him blankly. "I asked if you wanted one five minutes ago when it got out of the oven. You didn't say anything."
"I was working," Sherlock countered with a half-hearted scowl.
"If you're hungry get yourself a plate," John replied lightly, taking a bite of his own lasagne.
"I'm not that hungry," Sherlock muttered, sinking back into his chair and looking back down at his laptop. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the message light on his mobile flash. He'd learned his lesson from the past and had set text notifications from unknown numbers to silent. He'd kept the silent flashing light as the notice for emails as well, so as not to mark out such texts as something out of the ordinary, either. John might never notice, but Mycroft probably would . Sherlock forced himself to pick the phone up and flick through the message as nonchalantly as possible, though his heart rate jumped when he read, «Yes. When?»
Sherlock deleted the message and slipped the phone back into his pocket. He steepled his hands together and pressed them to his lips, partly to keep his mouth from involuntarily forming into a smile. It helped, and the detective was able to force a casual air as he told John, "We're going to Florence tomorrow."
John stopped with his fork midway to his mouth, looking sideways at an equally surprised Mary for what looked like confirmation that he hadn't misheard their flatmate. "For a case, you mean."
"If Mum and Dad will allow it," Sherlock drawled in irritation, sitting up now and giving John a pointed look. "Lestrade did say I was cleared to leave the UK."
John set his fork down and shifted, obviously looking for the best response. "No, I know he did. And you've earned it," John said, clearly trying to be extra amenable now to counter Sherlock's earlier complaint. That bit of cultivated guilt was working out, then, Sherlock thought as John replied more affably, "It just surprised me is all. You hadn't mentioned anything about it before."
"Because I've only just received an e-mail about it," Sherlock said as he typed away on his laptop, not bothering to look up. He knew he had John in a tight spot now, one where he'd have to agree to Sherlock's plans in order to show how at ease he was with the whole thing, to prove just how deeply he trusted his emotionally distant, drug addict of a best friend. Guilt could be an extremely useful emotion. So he proceeded frankly, "I'm arranging to fly out in the morning."
Mary's tone was sharp and surprised as she asked, "Isn't it a bit expensive getting a flight on such short notice?"
Sherlock detected the movement of John reaching over to place one of his hands on one of Mary's, a polite way of telling her it was all right and that they ought not to react too strongly. Once again, very much like parents deciding how to deal with a difficult child, Sherlock thought. "The client is more than willing to pay it. The case will most likely be very high profile once it breaks and they're quite motivated to settle things soon. Before it becomes public knowledge, if possible," Sherlock replied, still without looking up.
"What kind of case?" John asked cautiously.
Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock saw Mary tense slightly. That particular sort of crime always sparked a bit of a reaction in her, given that she'd been through it herself. Her tone was one of deep concern as she asked, "Who's been kidnapped? Are they sure that's something that can even wait until tomorrow?"
"Oh, I should think the victim will be safe enough," Sherlock replied cheerfully, finally looking up as he closed the lid of his laptop and set it on the ground. "It's Galileo."
John and Mary exchanged confused glances. "Galileo," John replied in flat disbelief. "As in the Galileo."
"The physicist, yes," Sherlock confirmed.
"And astronomer," John pointed out.
"Who cares," Sherlock dismissed with a wave of his hand.
"Most people," John countered, sitting forward on the couch and getting that particular gob-smacked John Watson look on his face that always either meant 'Sherlock, you're a genius' or 'Sherlock, you're an idiot'. And the detective was getting the sneaking suspicion that right now it meant the latter. John continued, his voice elevated, "That's what he's known for. He was ostracised by the church for insisting that the earth goes around the sun."
Sherlock paused. Something in John's tone and the expectant way his friend was eyeing him led Sherlock to believe he was trying to remind him of a previous conversation they'd had on this subject. It did sound vaguely familiar. Sherlock gave his friend a sidelong look as he guessed at the response John was looking for. "Which... it does?" Sherlock ventured a guess.
John made a sound between a growl and a whine as he ran his hands furiously through his short hair. "How many times have we gone over this? Yes, the earth moves around the bloody sun." John seemed unable to restrain himself from ramming this point home, even as Sherlock sighed and gave a dismissive roll of his eyes. John sat forward on the edge of the couch now as he continued, "Galileo's got that famous quote, 'The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go'. Because at the time they all assumed the earth must be the centre of the solar system – or the universe, really – because obviously it was God's most important creation. Everything must revolve around it," he said, giving Sherlock a pointed glance.
The detective let out a long sigh of irritation. He may not care about astronomy, but he was not so foolish that John's point escaped him. It just bored him. "Well I certainly didn't think we were at the centre of our solar system because the Bible told me so," Sherlock replied grumpily.
"Hold on," Mary cut in, her eyes widening as she took in the exchange, "are you serious?" She looked Sherlock over and evidently decided from his demeanour that he was. Her jaw went slightly slack. "How is it possible for you not to know that? For anyone not to know that, really, but... you of all people, Sherlock?"
"Don't," John said with a shake of his head. "Trust me, it will only make it worse if you start examining how ridiculous it is. Let's just..." he let out the sort of long breath he used to calm himself down.
But they'd opened up this line of discussion now. Sherlock wasn't going to let John get the last word. He'd at least explain himself to Mary. "There are certain areas of knowledge that have no bearing on my work, and I make no room in my mind for them. If I want to go on thinking of the earth, the moon, or Saturn as the centre of our solar system, I will. Both my work and life will remain unaffected either way. I work and make my observations on this planet alone," Sherlock said. "I'm sure it's useful information for astronomers, but why it matters to anyone else is beyond me."
"Well, I don't know about that," Mary countered, in spite of John's warnings. Her tone was becoming dangerously philosophical. "I think it matters because sometimes we need perspective. To be reminded that every single star out there in the sky is a sun like ours with planets orbiting it, just like ours. In the grand scheme of things, we're tiny. Basically nothing. It's humbling. That's the sort of paradigm shift that affects how you view the world and your own life. It certainly lent some perspective to many scientists during the Enlightenment, after Galileo's death."
Sherlock considered that a long moment. Mary and John both seemed to eagerly await his response. Finally, he replied, "No, his physics are still far more interesting and applicable."
John sighed and gave Mary a pointed look as if to say 'I told you so'. Thankfully, she gave up the subject, and John quickly switched gears to avoid falling back into that quagmire. "Explain to me how someone who's been dead nearly 400 years gets kidnapped."
Sherlock sat back in his chair, picking his laptop up off the ground and resuming his earlier work. "Someone broke into Santa Croce, the church where he's buried, during the night, opened his tomb, and absconded with his body. The priests discovered it this morning and covered the tomb under the guise of art restoration, but I doubt they'll be able to keep it quiet for long. They received a ransom note in the afternoon and contacted me via e-mail. The Italian authorities are ostensibly looking into it, but the church doesn't seem to fully trust them. Who would?" Sherlock noted blithely as he clicked to confirm their flights and hotel.
"Well, that definitely meets the qualification of being an interesting case," John conceded. He looked to Mary. "I feel a bit bad leaving you here on such short notice. Especially when you're so close to finishing your dissertation."
"Bring her along," Sherlock said without hesitation. He tried to make it sound like a friendly spur of the moment suggestion rather than a calculated strategy. He knew there was no way for him to get to the continent on his own without arousing John's suspicions and recent hyperactive state of concern. If instead he could ensure that his friend would be too preoccupied in their down time to bother with where Sherlock was sneaking off to spend his own free time, the detective was certain he could manage both the case and his private business without John being any the wiser.
John and Mary both looked surprised by the suggestion. John wavered. "I don't know. Like I said, her dissertation-"
"She's proofreading. Surely that can be done anywhere. And when she finishes, you'll already be in an ideal location to celebrate," Sherlock reasoned. He could already see by the look in their eyes that this idea appealed to both of them, so he kept going. "The case won't take up all of your time. You've been just as tied to London as I have, and Mary's been working very hard on her dissertation these past six months. She's nearly done. You both deserve a holiday."
John looked at his friend like he'd grown a couple extra heads. "That's... very thoughtful of you," John said, sounding more confused than honoured. "But it sounds like you're saying I ought to spend our down time alone with Mary. Which would be great, don't get me wrong," John conceded, exchanging a glinting look with his fiancée. He looked back at his friend. "But if that's the case, what are you going to do?"
"John, it's Florence. The heart of the Renaissance, filled with museums, fantastic architecture, and all manner of interesting historical sites. Plus I have contacts at the University there. I think I'll manage to fill my free time," Sherlock pointed out. He watched John and Mary's reactions carefully, noting the way Mary's eyebrows drew together hopefully, and how John's eyes blinked with the realization that what Sherlock was saying made perfect sense. Of course it did. It was designed to. He'd had months to think over how exactly he ought to approach such an opportunity when the situation arose. He'd devised sound reasoning for a variety of different cities he might eventually take a case in. Florence was among the best candidates, and a real stroke of luck. Mary gave her fiancé a small nod and the detective smiled inwardly. He knew he'd won them over.
"Then yeah. That sounds fantastic," John said, unable to contain a full-fledged grin now.
"Good. Because I already booked flights and accommodations for all of us," Sherlock replied, setting his laptop down once again. He watched John and Mary's idiotic smiles grow, followed by them sharing a spontaneous, enthusiastic kiss. Sherlock refrained from rolling his eyes at the display, in spite of how undignified it all seemed. Surely there were better ways to show one's affection and sentiments without making yourself look moronic in the process. But the couple's excitement did at least serve to distract them from Sherlock pulling out his phone and texting that same, well-used number. «Flight tomorrow morning. Working a case. Convinced Mary to come along to distract John in our free time.»
Sherlock sent then deleted the text, remaining entirely passive outwardly, even while something deep inside his brain twittered with an unnameable energy. He pushed aside the notion of any correlation between his own, still rather foreign sentiments and the sort of energetic display going on between John and Mary now as they discussed all the things they could see and do in Florence. No, Sherlock was patient and calm and completely in control of his dignity. He'd given up far too much of that in the past to take it for granted these days.
When his text alert flashed and he calmly read the response, Sherlock prided himself on the fact that only one corner of his mouth ticked upwards in a smile. But he did indulge in staring at the screen a few moments. For all that Mary talked of perspective and feeling small in the universe, merely dragged along on one of a billion rocks around a billion suns, at this moment Sherlock couldn't help but feel quite the opposite. Because, in a way, if Galileo had never made a fuss about the earth and the sun, no one would have cared enough to kidnap him 400 years after his death. And certainly no one in the church would then have cared enough to think this a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes. And then Sherlock would never have been here now, with a plane ticket to Florence and a hotel in his name for the following evening as the bright screen of his mobile burned with the single most lovely word in the universe: «Dinner?»
For just a moment, the notion of all the planets being pulled around and then flung back off into space by the bright, burning, glorious sun did actually make sense. But then he thought, who was to say who orbited whom? Wasn't it merely a matter of perspective? Either way, Sherlock's heart rate most certainly did not stay within his own control as he texted back, «Precisely my thought.»