Disclaimer: I don't own anything and bow to the genius of Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and everyone involved in creating Sherlock.
Author's note: Hello guys, this is my first fanfic and I hope some of you like it. It's a story of some length, but it's completed and I'll post a chapter a day, so hopefully no delays.
The Silence before the Storm
He was going to die.
He woke up to that thought in his mind. There it was, crystal clear and without doubt, startling him out of his fitful sleep as if someone had whispered it into his ear. It was not a premonition; had it been, he would have dismissed it. Sherlock believed in facts, not foreboding, and he could distinguish between hard knowledge and irrational fear washed up by his emotion-plagued subconscious. This was fact.
He knew it was going to happen today.
His mind told him he had missed something – there was always something.
He sat up slowly, taking in his surroundings: not Baker Street; a featureless London flat that provided anonymity. He had refused to stay at Mycroft's house.
He moved his legs out of bed and carefully rose to his feet, doing a quick physical inventory. He dismissed the cacophony of aches and pains from the bruises, but acknowledged the fact that the mundane chest cold was definitely developing into pneumonia; he could not avoid seeing a doctor about it much longer. Unless, of course, his prediction turned out to be correct and he did die today, rendering any medical treatment superfluous.
So, no rush.
Anyway, he had no time for indispositions: there was a killer to catch. And so much more.
Normally, this prospect would have fuelled him with enough energy to work at manic speed for days, not sleeping, hardly eating, barely registering anything not case-related in his frantically processing mind. Not now. A lot of things were different now. None of them were good. Now he needed more sleep, but it was plagued by nightmares and left him exhausted instead of refreshed; he tried to eat regularly because John wanted him to, but everything tasted like ash and upset his stomach; he maintained his routine of personal hygiene, but it had become a huge effort and made no sense. He only did it to keep John from worrying too much, but that meant John thought he was fine, leaving him alone.
Alone did not protect him anymore; it had become his greatest enemy. All he had done in the past had been driven by one motivation: to protect his friends. How had he become so dependent on other people? Sentiment had sneaked into his heart, and now he could no longer live without affection and caring and warmth and all those mundane human emotions.
Simple fact was: he did not want to continue his existence as it was. He wanted John to be with him – or at least to be there for him. But John was married now, and this was Sherlock's own fault since he had left him in the first place and then taken too long to return, so that in the meantime a woman had recognised John Watson's worth and secured him for herself while Sherlock was away hunting his enemies. Clever girl.
It was much worse, to be honest. Mary Morstan was not only clever, she was highly intelligent, appallingly warmhearted and infinitely generous. Worst of all, she had saved John Watson. In her own way, she had done what Sherlock had attempted to do – only, it had not taken a swan dive from a rooftop, just a smile, a kiss and a promise of happiness. Sherlock could have done that – surely, he could? But he had been too busy playing games with Moriarty, resulting in the destruction of their lives. Had Mary not come along and dragged John Watson out of his misery, the doctor might have lost himself in depression, and Sherlock knew he had to give Mary credit for that.
He did, for about half a second. But then resentment took over. She was so much better for John than he could ever be, she made him happy, she gave him confidence, she took care of him – and most of all, she could give him what he could not: a family. The promise of children. Love, sex and the prospect of growing old together. That, he knew, outweighed chasing killers and hunting madmen.
Back then, when he had learned about Mary, while still on the run, with his sanity rapidly deteriorating, he had even considered not returning at all, just leaving John in peace with his little bit of happiness, knowing he was safe and content. But he had seen that John was still wounded and would always be scarred from the fall, and that he was tearing himself apart over this stupid notion of being somehow responsible for Sherlock's suicide. It may not show now, he was so swept off his feet by love he even smiled benignly at the telly reporting an oil spill in the Atlantic, but it would catch on later. He knew John. And he knew himself: he wanted John back in his life, and if he could not have that, he didn't want a life at all. It was selfish but he didn't care, he had prior rights. Mary had to make room for him.
And that was the crux of the matter: she was willing to do so. It was him – he was the problem.
Sighing, Sherlock trudged into the small kitchen. He put the kettle up, spooned tea into the pot (for two, but he would drink it alone) and forced himself to focus on the problem at hand – the tiny detail he had missed, nagging him at the back of his mind, whispering danger.
They had set up an elaborate trap to catch Moran today, and within the hour he would be meeting John, Mycroft, and an entire special forces unit dedicated to bring down Moriarty's second in command. But the treacherous detail he had missed remained elusive, swamped by the quagmire of feelings clogging his rational mind. He was compelled to analyse them – thanks, John, this is your fault, I fared better without sentiment!
He realized much to his dismay that he did not really feel resentment towards Mary or John or Mycroft or anybody else – except, maybe, himself. What he truly felt was simple, dull misery. Resentment would have been better, giving him energy, sparking him into action, but he was just an empty shell. Frozen in sorrow. Pathetic.
This was Moriarty's victory beyond the grave.
Destroying Moriarty's legacy and ensuring the safety of his friends had left him wounded in a way he had never thought possible. He was losing himself to the darkness creeping up around him, and he was both unable and unwilling to fight it, languidly watching as his soul choked itself to death through inaction and silence, failing to talk to John, failing to explain, failing to express his feelings.
If he made one more effort, if, maybe, he talked to Mary – she was no fool, she understood what John needed, perhaps even what he himself needed, but the blackness was weighing him down, clinging to him, turning even the most mundane activity into a huge, pointless struggle. He knew, in the end, the darkness would obliterate all emotions, and perhaps that was a good thing; but it would also be the end of hope. And hope dies last.
He curled his lips in disgust: clinical depression. Of course there was a name for it, a label, a way of categorizing his mental state, degrading the apocalypse of his mind to some banal affliction that troubled millions of people, like flu.
It was so much worse. His mind palace lay in ruins: a firestorm had raged through it, burning memories and scorching recollections, reducing the most recent bits to ashes and rendering older pieces unrecognisable – charred remains that could not be restored, leaving him to brood over what they were.
He had lost his memory. Large parts were missing, or jumbled up and torn to shreds, taunting him every night – mocking him, the master of deduction, crippled by his inability to reconstruct the events after he had been captured, failing to make sense of his shattered memory.
The had taken him, and they had all but destroyed his mind.
There was a way out of this nightmare, though: if he had the facts, he could fill in what was missing. He knew that certain knowledge and cool logic would not take away the terror, but it would give him a chance to rationalize it into something he could cope with. But the nightmares, the guilt, the devastation he felt since his return were smothering him.
Mycroft kept urging him to commit himself to a psychiatric hospital, but that would never happen. What he really needed was the bloody phone. The phone, not a hospital.
More precisely, he needed the diary he had kept on it. Of course, his notes ended when he had been captured, but that didn't matter – the nightmares supplied him with sufficient information about that period. Logic easily filled the gaps. Mycroft, naturally, wanted the phone, too – the data he had collected was highly sensitive and would have any secret service shouting for joy, but he himself was purely interested in the diary. It contained not only the events of the hiatus, but also his thoughts, fears, and hopes, and it was brutally honest: he had written it for John to read, in case he didn't make it home.
Of course, he hadn't thought he'd make it home with half his mind torn away.
He needed that phone. Desperately. It was the only way to retrace his steps and make sense of his memories; and more importantly, it was the only way he could make John understand.
Perhaps he was lost anyway. Sometimes he wished his enemies had succeeded, killing him, making him a hero in John's eyes. Had he died, John would have been told the truth about his faked suicide. He had Mycroft sworn to that – John could not be left behind believing Sherlock had killed himself and John had failed to prevent it. So, suicide was not an option: he had seen what it had done to John.
But he wished himself dead.
He might die today.
Strange how a simple thought could give you energy.
The kettle clicked.
Sherlock poured boiling water over the tea leaves and watched as the dried shreds swirled around, quickly unfolding and changing back into their full green shape.
He smiled. Everything would change today.
He drank his tea, savouring scent and flavour, relishing the illusion of comfort and domestic bliss: the steaming cup in the morning light, the milk turning the auburn liquid into burnished gold … but then, this was not Baker Street. Not home.
Sherlock put the cup down. No more sentiment; he was running out of time. He went to the bathroom to prepare for the day.
Shower, shave, get dressed.
Coat, scarf, and the gun.
He was ready.
He stared at the mirror – his face did not look that much different, did it? The lines were a bit deeper, the features more sculpted, his shoulders broader. A bit of bruising under the left eye, but soon it wold be invisible. He knew there was one major difference though: his guarded look. The arrogance was still there, as was the hint of boredom and the sharp intelligence in his vigilant eyes, but curiosity had been replaced by suspicion, and audacity had yielded to caution.
Subtle changes. Most people only noticed that he was a bit older, his hair a bit shorter, his body – surprisingly – a bit stronger. John saw so much more. The doctor may not have been the most observant person when it came to facts and evidence, but with regard to Sherlock's moods he had proven to be a veritable bloodhound.
He was not looking forward to meeting him.
Sherlock gave his own reflection a cynical grin. What an irony of fate: for three years, all he had wanted was to see his friend again. But was John still his friend? After what Sherlock had done – he stopped that train of thought instantly, but just brushing the memory made him wince.
Pointless. Sherlock turned away from his reflection. It was time to go.
A black car was waiting for him, thanks to Mycroft. He got in without bothering to look at the driver. Slumping in the corner, he took out his phone and started typing. The phone was new, given to him by Mycroft, just like the replica of his beloved Belstaff, a welcome home gift. Only, nothing felt like home. Again, pointless.
He let himself be taken across London, on his way to where it had all begun: a court room in the Old Bailey.
He owed the world a resurrection.
He had poured the coffee too hastily, the hot liquid slopping out of the cup and over his hand, burning his skin and drenching the table cloth. Now he was furiously trying to mop up the mess, but he had knocked over the crystal vase with the daffodils instead, sending a gush of water across the table.
"Goddamnit!" He jerked the vase upright, scattering the daffodils and staining the white damask with yellow pollen. "Shit," he hissed, scrambling for the flowers and smudging the cloth with more water, pollen, and slime from the stems. "Great, green, yellow, mess."
"Stop it, John." Mary stilled his hands with a light touch on his shoulder. "It's okay. Don't worry."
"Mary, I'm sorry, I'm so clumsy today, I don't know what – Jesus, if you think I'm a surgeon and I can't even pour myself a cup of coffee without causing a catastrophe …"
"You're nervous, John, that's all. Most people wouldn't be too keen on going out to meet a killer either." She raised a finely arched eyebrow at him.
John sighed. "I was a soldier, Mary, going into battle was part of my routine. That's not what's freaking me out."
"Then what is?" she asked softly, placing her delicate hands over his, sending a soothing warmth through his body. John closed his eyes, struggling with himself, feeling Mary touch his face.
"It's Sherlock, isn't it? Meeting him makes you more nervous than hunting down Moran."
John huffed. "Right." He looked at her, taking in her slim figure wrapped in a mauve dressing gown, even barefoot half a head taller than him; dark curls cascading down her back, pale skin with a hint of freckles, and the warmest eyes he had ever seen. He still did not understand what this beautiful and fiercely intelligent woman had seen in someone as ordinary as him, but she had pursued him with a stubbornness and determination that reminded him of Sherlock.
A lot about her reminded him of Sherlock, he realized.
"It's the whole thing, I guess, going back to that court room, hearing the case again, trying to prove Sherlock's innocence and then staging his resurrection. The day will be hell. The press will dine on us. And then there's this thing between us … This silence." He sighed deeply. "I really don't know Sherlock anymore."
"It will be all right, John. We'll sort this out, somehow, when this madness is over."
"How?" John moaned, not expecting an answer.
"I don't know," Mary raised her brows. "I don't think marriage counselling is the right thing for the two of you," she chuckled, "but something along the lines. There must be a way to mend this friendship."
"Can't see that happening," John groaned. "He won't speak to me, he just – stares, God, it's creepy! And that whole thing about not allowing anyone to touch him, I mean he's never been one for hugging, but this is – it scares the hell out of me!"
"You know what this is, John," she said quietly, "you of all people. You know exactly what's going on."
"Yes," John admitted. "Post-traumatic stress disorder. Textbook. But how to help him is another matter. I don't think Sherlock can be persuaded to see a therapist." He barked a humourless laugh at the idea. "I wonder who'd be more traumatized by the end of that session."
Mary smiled wrily. "He needs you, John."
"I'm not sure he sees it that way."
"He sure has a strange way of expressing it."
"Well, ordinary wouldn't do for him, would it?" She smiled reassuringly and rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand, calming him without words.
"No, ordinary wouldn't do for Sherlock," John sighed. Frowning, he tugged at the silk shawl Mary had wrapped around her neck. He knew what it was hiding. Gently, she moved his hand away. "I'm fine, John."
John tried to say something, but stopped before a sound escaped his lips.
"What?" She asked.
"Nothing. No, it's … it's just – how can you be so forgiving? How? I feel like a real prick when I–"
"It's easy, John." She gave him a mischievous grin. "I can forgive Sherlock almost anything, for one simple reason: if it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have you." Her smile vanished. "You wouldn't be alive and I would never have met you. And if he hadn't left you, I would never have come near you. So, no Sherlock, no John for me. Whether he can forgive me snatching you away is another question."
"As if he had any reason for a grudge," John growled.
"John," Mary poked him gently in the stomach, "leave it for now. You have to focus. I don't want you to get harmed today, okay?"
"Sure, sure. I'll be careful, Mary," he promised.
"No, you won't," she grinned. "Just stay alive, okay? That'll do."
"Yeah." He pulled her into a hug and buried his face at her shoulder, inhaling her scent. "Hm, you smell so good."
She laughed. "Well, a perfume worth several hundred pounds should smell good!"
"You also smell wonderful without perfume," John muttered, placing a kiss on her neck.
She chuckled. "Yeah, that's just my luck, getting a ridiculously expensive fragrance from that rich chap as a reward for my efforts when I had really wanted a donation for the university library."
"I have to admit," John murmured, nuzzling her neck where the scent was strongest, "that rich chap has really good taste, and I don't care for the library at all."
She kissed him back. "And that's as well, 'cause now you smell of it, too," she giggled. "A bit feminine that fragrance, for a soldier-doctor, don't you think?" Her fingers gently wove into his short-cut hair.
"I don't mind," John mumbled. "It reminds me of you." He held her a bit tighter and wondered whether there was enough time for some real snogging and maybe a bit more when he heard a car pull up outside. A moment later, the doorbell rang: Mycroft's minions had come to take him to the Old Bailey – to assist in Sherlock's resurrection. He sighed and Mary pulled away; he released her reluctantly, quickly kissing her on the tip of her nose. She smiled and leaned into him again, kissing him properly on the mouth.
"Now," she smiled, gently turning him towards the door, "go and work a miracle, doctor. Make a man return from the dead."
John smiled ruefully, and the doorbell rang again, decidedly impatient now.
John nodded at the dark-suited security man at his door. "Morning."
"Good morning, Sir," the man replied and opened the car door for him, eager to get him out of the line of fire. John raised his brows and climbed in. He felt safe – Mycroft had turned this lovely Kensington steet into a fortress, despite the illusion of tranquility with its flower pots, French windows, stuccoed walls and colourful fanlights. There was no danger now; Sherlock had devised the plan, and he knew Moran as no one else did – he understood how his mind worked. With Sherlock as the mastermind and Mycroft doing the reconnaissance, there was no chance for Moran to outwit them.
John calmly settled into the seat and took out his phone. He sighed: no message from Sherlock. Normally, he would have had at least five texts, increasingly impatient, culminating in some sort of insult. Now there was just silence. He tucked the phone away and looked to the window, staring at his own reflection.
Those three years had taken their toll, despite his recent happiness thanks to Mary. His hair was mostly grey now, the lines on his face were deeper, and the deepest ones had been etched into it by grief, not laughter. Mary had saved him as much as Sherlock had; and if he could just get Sherlock to accept help, they might be able to mend their friendship. God, how he missed the arrogant git – that brooding Sherlock he had encountered a week ago scared him. There was a silent menace surrounding him, and it seemed Sherlock had shut everyone out. John was desperate to get through to him, but if this great, stubborn mind did not want to move, it could not be made to. Sooner, a mountain would shift.
Sighing, he pinched his nose to stop the growing tension headache. Why had it all gone so terribly wrong? How?
His thoughts drifted back to the fateful day of Sherlock's return, the day that should have been the happiest of his life. Instead, the miracle had turned into a nightmare.