A/N: My first post-Reichenbach piece. Lots of feels. Also...murder (although not graphically so), mentions of hallucination-induced self-harm, feelings, feelings, and more feelings.
As usual, you can find me at my tumblr (same username) for more ramblings/thoughts/etc.
Throwing the last dregs of his energy into the movement, Sherlock Holmes sidestepped the knife, his hand bringing a syringe up and plunging it into the thick meat of the other man's neck. Panting he supported Moran, fighting to keep the sturdier man upright as his knees threatened to buckle. Their cat-and-mouse game had lasted six hours, and he was at the end of his stamina. It had been one of the longest chases of his life, spanning three years and thousands of miles, but he had done it.
He sank Moran into a chair in front of the overturned desk, taking a few moments to right enough of the room so that no one would question whether or not there had been a struggle. Pulling the gun out of his waistband, he stared distastefully at the steel for a few moments while performing a few necessary calculations. This was it, this was the last one, but it made them no less distasteful. He knew his brother would step in if he had to, but the routine had simply become automatic.
Wiping the gun down, Sherlock slipped on latex gloves before picking the gun up again. He watched the man's eyes flutter, the drug leaving him hazy but alert. It was distracting, their alertness, but it was necessary to move them into their place without them being completely dead weight. The drug was also untraceable. Pressing the muzzle against Moran's temple, Sherlock shut his eyes and angled his head away. "Fifteen," he whispered, the word feeling strange against his lips. He spoke so rarely that most of the time he forgot what he sounded like, what words felt like on his tongue.
The shot rang loudly in the room. Sherlock didn't flinch as blood hit his face and body, staining him red with the high-velocity splatter. He wasn't wearing his wool coat; Mycroft had all of his belongings in storage. What he was wearing was cheap and disposable.
Fifteen. The number swirled around Sherlock's head. That was how many lives he had taken in the pursuit of his goal. A number so small, so insignificant, yet it represented the entirety of the upper echelon of Moriarty's criminal organisation and three very complicated years of his life.
Mechanically he removed his shirt, using the cheap cotton to clean what blood he could off of his pale skin. Mycroft's assistant would be waiting near the back exit of the building with several bodyguards, ready to usher him to a secure location where he could change and restore himself to normal. As normal as he got, anyway. Ruefully he touched his stubble, several days growth at that point. There was little that mattered except for hunting down Moriarty's ringleaders.
Now that he was about to collapse, he realized exactly what condition he was in. His ribs could be seen against the alabaster skin, hipbones prominent above the waist of his trousers. His face was likely gaunt, purple smudges underneath the ice-blue eyes. He stifled a groan. Mycroft would insist on hospitalisation, likely for a week until he could be brought up back up to borderline underweight at the very least.
Sherlock had no time for that. He was done, his last mission accomplished. Hospitalisation was boring and inefficient and Mycroft had already had to settle four lawsuits over his past two hospital visits, and he had been in worse shape. It wasn't Sherlock's fault that everything but the case fell to the wayside when he was closing in on a key player.
He took a few minutes to clean up the crime scene, removing all evidence of his presence. The forensic techs that would be all over it would be buffoons, but it was still vital that Sherlock be as thorough as possible. It was but a matter of minutes before he was ready to leave. He took a deep breath, gathering himself and restoring his composure. Not that his expression or body language had changed, however. Sometimes Sherlock wondered if he had lost all ability to show emotion, for his face never changed, no matter what he did.
Sherlock turned around and looked up. Then the world stopped.
Someone stood in the door, someone who looked so familiar and so different at the same time. Sherlock narrowed his eyes critically. Rarely did his hallucinations change. They were normally the same image. John Watson, a phone in his hand, terror in his eyes. The last image.
A knife. He kept a crude pocketknife on his belt loops, for the times when such peasant tactics were necessary. It was rarely used for its intended purpose, however. He glanced down at the pale skin of his forearm, tired eyes taking in the four white scars. Parallel to each other, they matched the set on his other arm, evidence of a brain wanting something that it couldn't have.
He bit his lip as he sliced a fifth cut on his left arm, parallel to the four. It was shallow, this time, blood oozing slowly out of the red mark. He closed his eyes as the pain concentrated all on the cut in his arm, dispelling any tiredness by forcing adrenaline to surge through his system. For a few, brief moments, he felt like he could fly, like all of his problems had melted away and that nothing would harm him.
Opening his eyes, Sherlock was pleased to see that the apparition had disappeared. It was not the first time he had hallucinated his flatmate, often when on the border of complete, physical and emotional collapse. Each cut represented a time, Sherlock's way of driving the hallucination out of his mind by focusing on physical pain.
He frowned when familiar hands appeared in his view, in his personal space. His blood-stained shirt was tossed out the door and some kind of alcohol swab was swiped over the bleeding cut. Sherlock hissed as it burned, but did not try to jerk his arm out of the gentle grasp. John had disappeared, or so Sherlock thought. He frowned as he stared at the military doctor.
Sherlock could not read his face, could not tell what emotions were going through John's mind. He could not even tell if John was conclusively real or not. Sherlock still suspected that he was another hallucination. Gauze was placed over the shallow cut, eight centimetres in length, and medical tape was used to secure the edges.
Blunt fingers traced over the healed scars, and Sherlock watched, fascinated. The touch felt so real, so lifelike. The more conscious part of his mind wondered exactly how ill he was if his hallucinations had shifted to this level. Sherlock decided that he didn't care. He worked his sticky throat, trying to remember how to speak, to communicate. It was sandpaper dry, and Sherlock absentmindedly pondered when he had last had water.
"John?" he said. Or he thought he said. Confusion flashed over the hallucination's features, and Sherlock was left wondering exactly how accurate it was. Most of the time the hallucinations didn't respond to him. Or maybe Sherlock was hallucinating that he had said anything in the first place. It was all rather confusing.
The gentle hands tugged him out of the room and down the hall into another area, this time right next to the door. Sherlock was certain that he was moving under his own influence, guided by his own body, but it was nice to have help for once. The cut was probably not deep enough. Sherlock made a mental note to remedy that later, to restore the balance of endorphins to his abused brain.
He stumbled as his hallucination tugged on his shoulder, his body giving out despite his best efforts. The chase for Moran had consumed his life for the past two weeks, and as a result, his transport had been severely neglected. Sherlock felt warm arms wrap around his chest in a last-ditch effort to keep him standing just before the world went black.
Sherlock's eyes fluttered open and he recognised the sterile environment, registered the soft beeps. The ICU - he had outdone himself this time to qualify for such extreme care. Then again, Mycroft had no lack of money, and would not hesitate to assign Sherlock to a higher level of care if there was any thought that he might need it.
There was a scraping noise next to him, and he turned to see the chair next to the bed. The chair, with John in it. His hallucination. That he had gotten rid of. Irritated he glanced down at his arm, noting with trepidation that the cut had scabbed over and was starting to heal. Exactly how long had he been asleep?
"You're not hallucinating." John's voice was quiet, hoarse. Sherlock looked more closely at him, skeptical. His eyes were red-rimmed - tear stained? He had been crying?
"Yes I am." Sherlock looked at his other forearm, picking the correct spot for a cut to hopefully banish the hallucination once and for all. Then he paused, thinking. If his task was complete, then he was going home as soon as he was out of the hospital. Home to John. Hopefully. He realized that he didn't really know where John was. That was probably problematic, but he could worry about that later.
"Sherlock, you're not hallucinating."
"For a hallucination, you're awfully bossy."
There was silence, and Sherlock couldn't help but feel the slightest bit guilty. But it didn't make sense. There was no way this was the real John. He was hundreds of kilometres away from London, chasing Moran through the undergrounds of some European country he had forgotten the name of.
"When was the last time you ate?" John's voice was ragged, and when Sherlock glanced his way, John's face was hidden, the base of his palms on the temples of his forehead, shielding his face from Sherlock's view.
Sherlock glanced at the medical equipment. "Actual food or supplemental nutrition?"
"Actual food. And drank. And showered."
Sherlock noted with interest that he could tell that the blood splatter was gone from his skin. Good. It took forever to wash off on his own once it stained. The clothes were a given to throw away, however. "Irrelevant."
"God, Sherlock." John's voice caught on his name, threatening to break down into a sob. Sherlock's Wrongness meter bleeped a persistent red. Something was wrong, and it was very wrong, and he could not even think about how wrong it was. John was not the crying sort. He never cried. He was strong.
"You're not a hallucination," Sherlock said suddenly. His body felt like it was made of ice, and he couldn't move, couldn't think. If this John was real, if this was John Watson, MD, Sherlock's flatmate that had watched him die - his mind stuttered and blanked. He wanted to ask questions, wanted to interrogate. How did John find him? What was he doing? How did he even know Sherlock was alive?
There was a weight on the bed, and Sherlock's mind shifted to focus on it, focus on the depression as John's weight settled on his thighs. It wasn't his full weight - John could probably tell that Sherlock was too weak to handle it - but it was comforting, reassuring. Strong arms gathered his shoulders, one pausing to scrabble for the remote to prop Sherlock into a sitting position. Sherlock stared, his mind shorting out as he stared into the dark blue oceans that served John Watson as eyes.
John had pulled back, to look at him, to see, and whatever he saw on Sherlock's face must have been what he was looking for, because he pulled Sherlock forward, hugging him tightly as his body shook. Sherlock allowed himself to be held, closing his eyes and resting his forehead on John's strong shoulder. He didn't know what was going on, couldn't interpret the emotions that seemed to be flashing through John's mind. He had no idea how the army doctor felt, what he expected, anything.
"How did you find me?" Sherlock murmured, surprised at the strength of his voice. John's arms tightened and then relaxed, one hand drifting down to trace designs on the skin of Sherlock's back, naked underneath the flimsy hospital gown. The hand seemed to spent too much time on the sharp protuberances of Sherlock's bones, seemed concerned with how lanky Sherlock was, skin stretched over his skeleton with dips and contours for muscles.
"I left my fiancee at the altar, to come find you." John's voice was rough, and he spoke to Sherlock's neck, wrapped around him like he was. Sherlock could feel his body's interest in the goings-on, as weak as he was, and he mentally squashed any sort of arousal into a corner. It wasn't his fault that he had always found his flatmate attractive. It also wasn't his fault that it always seemed to emerge at the most inappropriate times. "Then I - god. You were covered in blood, and could barely stand, and.." John fought to find his voice, fought to continue, but instead fell silent, burying his head into the hollow of Sherlock's throat, reassured by the steady pulse. "Three months ago, I figured out you were alive."
"Fourteen," Sherlock whispered, then blinked, surprised by the sound of his voice.
"What?" John pulled back slightly, confused, and Sherlock shook his head, thin arms going to pull John back against him. Whatever was happening, whatever his words meant, Sherlock had spent too long in isolation to not want to take advantage of what was happening now. If this was the real John, and not a hallucination - Sherlock's body finally caught up with the information that his mind had been processing and the shock set in.
He had murdered fifteen people. He had drugged them and then staged their deaths to look like various suicides, never leaving a trace behind. He had spent two years talking out his plans with someone who didn't exist, a ghost of John that was a pale imitation of the real thing - but it was better than nothing. He had ruined the lives of countless more, people he could once call friends but now he felt he had no right to call upon them ever again.
He was not a fraud, no. He was something far worse. He was someone who sacrificed all that he loved to save the lives of a few. Some might call that bravery, some might call it valour. Sherlock knew it by its real name - cowardice. He had taken the easy way out, disappeared and left those he loved behind to grieve. Stronger men, better men would have shielded the others, would not have sacrificed their love and respect to live a shadow life. Lestrade's words echoed in his ears. 'Because Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day - if we're very very lucky - he might even be a good one.' And he had failed the few people he actually cared about. "I failed you."
It was when John tensed in his arms and drew back that Sherlock realized he had spoken aloud. "Why do you say that?" John pulled back enough that he could see Sherlock's face, and Sherlock kept his eyes to the side, staring at the sterile wall of the private hospital room. He tightened his lips, not wanting to continue his line of thought.
John, apparently, had different plans to make him talk. Sherlock jolted in place as he felt the barest press of lips against his, soft and plaintive at the same time, not pressuring but just there. The same warm presence trailed down to his jaw, dropping feather-light kisses as John's mouth trailed slowly up to Sherlock's ear. "I think you owe me the full story." John delicately nibbled on Sherlock's earlobe, and Sherlock shivered, the sensations firing off nerves up and down his entire body.
There was a polite cough from the doorway and Sherlock looked up, torn between irritation and embarrassment. Irritation won out when he saw his brother standing there, amusement lurking in his eyes as he saw John straddling Sherlock, his earlobe still in his teeth. "How wonderfully domestic," Mycroft drawled. John pressed a gentle kiss to Sherlock's frozen mouth and then the bed shifted as John crawled off of him, leaving Sherlock feeling cold and alone.
Warmth bloomed between them as John took one of Sherlock's hands into his. Sherlock felt grounded, not abandoned, and without realizing it he twined their fingers together. The look Mycroft gave him was so smarmy he wanted to punch the bastard, but he didn't. Deliberately Mycroft composed himself, all business as he looked at Sherlock. "That was the last of the web?" he asked.
"Fifteen," Sherlock confirmed. There was an inhalation of air next to him, John's indication of understanding. Sherlock squeezed his hand without looking at him, fighting down the shaking that threatened to consume him. He felt like he was balancing on a cliff, the precipice of something that had been and something that could be. And Mycroft had the gall to interrupt it. "All confirmed?" he asked, forcing his mind back to business.
"Yes." Mycroft turned his attention to John, a small smile playing about his lips. "I am pleased to see you found what you were searching for." He turned back to Sherlock, and his eyes turned clinical, deducing. "Dr. Watson, your security clearance is suitable to receive the information he is to bestow. I was surprised to discover that I had no need to interfere."
John flashed a razor-thin smile his direction, no humour but all deadly intent. "There are some things you aren't cleared to know." Mycroft smiled his polite, smarmy smile and turned around and left, leaving the two alone together.
"You have high security clearance?" Sherlock asked dumbly after the silence had dragged on uncomfortably for two minutes.
"Yes," John answered. "In Afghanistan, I was involved in a few missions that I needed it for. Extremely classified, but I was the best at what I did." John shrugged, not self-conscious in the least. What he said was true, and that was that. There was something in his movements, however, that worried Sherlock. Sherlock looked at him, and really looked. Then he swore for not seeing it sooner. John was strong, but he was as human as Sherlock was, and although he had had a few days to adjust to the new reality, he was not far behind Sherlock on the same precipice.
So Sherlock talked. He told John everything, about Moriarty on the rooftop to the past three highly classified years that he had spent chasing after the fifteen executives that were the ringleaders that could take over after Moriarty's death. Once he was done talking, it was John's turn. John spun the story of how he had met Mary, and decided to try to live a normal life. It wasn't until he was standing at the altar, about to say 'I do', that he realized that it was not the life he was meant to live.
Sherlock stared, horrified. That had never been his intention. He had freely given John up, convinced he was giving him a better, freer life. One worth living. Instead, it seemed he had merely shackled John to a more horrifying fate. His free hand clenched in the thin sheets of the hospital bed, and he fought to force his gaze away from John's face. He didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve John. He opened his mouth to say something, anything to push John away.
John's lips captured his, insistent, stealing Sherlock's breath away as the taller man gasped into John's mouth. He pulled away just long enough to whisper, "You're not getting rid of me, you know," before his mouth was upon Sherlock's again, tentative until Sherlock parted his lips. John licked his way into Sherlock's mouth, leaving the detective feeling like he was drowning, like he had lost his anchor and was swimming in a sea of sensation. He couldn't help but moan, even as he fought to gain the resolve to pull away. "Stop thinking," John breathed, trailing warm, sloppy kisses up Sherlock's jawline until he licked and nipped at the sensitive spot of skin just underneath his ear.
"John," Sherlock choked out. He vaguely registered a persistent beeping noise, and the crease of a frown formed in the furrow between his eyes. His breathing was speeding up, and he clenched his hand around John's, the force turning his knuckles white.
"Sherlock." John's voice was calm, reassuring. "Sherlock, you're having a panic attack. I need you to breathe for me, okay?"
A panic attack? How silly. Sherlock wasn't panicking about anything. Although his chest did feel a little tight, and he couldn't control the way his hands were spasming in the sheets, and...maybe it was a bit of a panic attack. He felt John's hand on his chest, steady and comforting, and he focused on breathing, eliminating all other variables from consideration until the waves of panic had calmed.
"Good," John murmured, pleased, and Sherlock couldn't help but soak up the small bit of reassurance like a puppy. He could barely believe he was in a hospital room, with his army doctor by his side, and that John wanted to be there, with him. Voluntarily.
John smiled, and then his gaze strayed to Sherlock's arms. "I'm not leaving you," he murmured softly. "So no more of these. Okay?"
Sherlock tilted his head to meet John's gaze, something shy and wonderful meeting his searching eyes. John seemed to be waiting for something, waiting for Sherlock to break the silence now that he had calmed down. Sherlock carefully weighed what he wanted to say, for he knew the words would be important, that they would matter, and could easily tip the two of them onto one side of the precipice or the other, kiss or no.
He looked away, unable to maintain the weight of the gaze in his current condition. Taking a deep breath, he summed up the courage to speak. "I was lost without my blogger." He hoped the words conveyed what he wanted, conveyed the maelstrom of emotions in his chest that he was just beginning to understand had existed for a long time.
John's smile was as tender as the kiss he bestowed upon Sherlock's cupid-bow lips. "I know," he murmured softly. "But I waited for you, and I found you. I'm never letting you go again."