My sincerest apologies for the delay. Finding an appropriate ending has always been a bit of a struggle for me, and this time hasn't turned out to be any different. I've got at least ten different versions of this part saved on my computer, and finally, after rewriting, and exchanging bits, and more rewriting... I decided to settle on this one. (The length, in comparison to the other chapters, got out of hand, too, but I couldn't help it.)
Therefore, I do hope that you will like what you are about to read and that you'll be able to consider it a at least halfway decent ending.
We Keep Falling
Three Months Later
"You're not real," Sherlock attempted to tell Moriarty, but found that he couldn't speak. Couldn't utter a single syllable, his mouth sealed, his head submerged in water, pain in lungs, unable to suck in air.
"How do you know?" Moriarty asked him.
Sherlock didn't know.
"Even if I'm not real… why do you think that this makes any difference? I can still torture you. I can still do everything I like with you."
The grin on the man's face made Sherlock sick to the stomach. "You're not real," he wanted to say again, wanted to protest, to make Moriarty disappear.
He didn't, neither did the grimace on his face.
Dream, dream, dream, nightmare, Sherlock's brain screamed at him, but, just as Moriarty had said, it didn't make any difference. He couldn't move, he couldn't escape, he couldn't even breathe.
"Where's your John now?" Moriarty teased him. "Go on, Sherlock, tell me! Where is he?"
Sherlock didn't tell him. Couldn't. Didn't want to.
Moriarty's hollow laughter sent shivers up his spine, almost caused the churning of his stomach to escalate.
"He's gone," Moriarty explained to him, his nose only inches away from Sherlock's, his foul breath tickled, irritated his uvula, took his breath away. "He's gone," Moriarty repeated, "gone to his date, with his nurse, and he won't come back, because he's found someone better! He doesn't need you, Sherlock, nobody needs you, you're just…"
Sherlock whimpered, but it did nothing to stop Moriarty. No-one could stop Moriarty, no-one but John, and John wasn't…
Moriarty leapt at him, growled, bared his teeth.
Sherlock's heart threatened to burst in his chest.
And as always in the depth of the night, in the claws of memories or dreams, haunted by Moriarty, Sherlock suddenly began to doubt his own sanity, began to doubt if he had ever made it out of this cellar, or if he was still there, fighting not to choke on his own blood, fighting to go back to his life, to see John and Mrs Hudson and Lestrade again. Or if maybe he was a ghost, had died long ago, was only lingering here because he had nowhere else to go.
Suddenly, there was pain exploding in his abdomen as Moriarty drove a letter opener through his skin, through his organs, ripped his blood vessels. Pulled it out, licked the bloody surface.
Sherlock could only stare in horror, everything hurting, his limbs frozen.
"Look what I've done to your army doctor…," Moriarty went on and the scenery changed, turning into London, into some cellar in London, revealing John, bloodied and…
This time, a scream tore itself out of Sherlock's throat.
John hadn't been asleep upstairs, tossing and turning, too fretful to relax.
It wasn't the first night, of course, nor would it be the last.
And it wasn't the first night since they had been back in 221B that John fought the persistent, the nagging urge to check on Sherlock. He succeeded, some nights, convincing himself that everything was fine, that Sherlock was fine without his hovering. Other nights, he couldn't help it, couldn't bear the thought of not knowing whether Sherlock was fine in that exact moment, whether he was still here, and safe, and sleeping, resting, if everything had been real, or if Sherlock had never come back and John had long slipped into insanity. Couldn't help it, but had to get up, sneak downstairs, open the door to Sherlock's bedroom ever so quietly, not daring to inhale until his ears perceived the sound of even, slow breathing.
Some nights, when his heart didn't want to stop hammering panickedly nonetheless, when his brain wasn't entirely convinced that his mistake had not had more severe consequences, he even tried whispering Sherlock's name, followed by an equally quiet: "Are you okay?"
Most of the times, Sherlock didn't hear him, simply slept on, breathing so perfectly soundly, but then, other times, he would raise his head a little, blink at John in the dark and croak, voice thick with sleep: "'course."
Only then John allowed himself to go back to bed.
Then, of course, there were nights like this one, nights John wanted to forget and nights that stirred the fears in him that he had tried to bury. The fear of not being enough, of failing Sherlock again, of betraying his understandably frail trust, of letting him down.
When he heard a scream from downstairs this night, a horrified, strangled scream, he was out of his bed within seconds. He knew that kind of screaming, knew it far too well, knew what it meant.
Nightmare, another nightmare, or flashback.
He almost tripped on the way to Sherlock's room, but he didn't care.
Sometimes, Sherlock's own screams woke him. Then he found himself lying in his bed, sweat-soaked and trembling, his voice hoarse, his stomach heaving.
Not this time.
He heard his screams, he knew that it was a dream, nothing more but a frightening, horrifying dream, and yet he didn't wake up.
When he finally snapped back into reality, with sudden force, trembling as usual, panting heavily, there were hands on his face, strong hands, rubbing over his cheeks, and a voice in his ears, not in his head, but in his ears, John's voice, telling him firmly, very firmly, to wake up.
The first thing Sherlock did was to throw up.
"Are you with me?" John asked him calmly, not removing his hands, one arm even wrapped around his back to keep him from slumping again.
Taking flat, hasty breaths, Sherlock nodded curtly. With John, yes. Or rather, John was with him. "'m fine," he mumbled. John was with him.
"Doesn't look like it," John commented darkly, not letting go.
Thankfully not. Moriarty was still luring in the back of his head, Sherlock knew from experience, ready to attack again.
"Do you think you can keep down some tea?" John asked him softly, attempting a frail smile.
Tea. John's tea. The smell of John's tea. Home.
"Yes," he croaked, still trying to catch his breath. "Give me five minutes."
"On your own?"
John's voice, thick with worry, hoarse, only ever hoarse when he was tired, so, not having been asleep either, not able to sleep, probably, having run downstairs as quickly as possible without the delay of hearing screaming, having to wake up fully, having to understand what's going on…
"Hey, Sherlock," John addressed him again. "You with me?"
Sherlock blinked. On your own, John had asked. How often had they done this now, how often since they had moved back in together, almost causing Mrs Hudson to faint?
Sherlock, rushing upstairs to John's room and waking him from a nightmare in nights Sherlock couldn't force himself to find any sleep, and John, storming downstairs for him when Moriarty and his henchmen captured him over and over again in the nights.
Too often, he realised. Far too often.
"Yes," he agreed quietly, rubbing a hand over his temple.
John's hands were almost steady by the time he had put the kettle on and waited for the water to boil.
On his own, Sherlock had said. Five minutes.
Long enough to make tea.
The anger that was constantly simmering in John suddenly threatened to explode into an outburst of pure rage, making him want to shatter the entire interior of the kitchen.
Breathing heavily through his nose, John managed to control himself. Enough, at least, to spare the kitchen and only kick violently against one of the cupboards.
He didn't count the nightmares, didn't want to know, probably, but… they were so frequent. They were frequent, and they always left Sherlock worse for wear, pale, sweaty and shaky.
John swore under his breath, viciously slamming his tightly clenched fist against the side of the fridge.
And he couldn't do a single thing against them.
Nor could anyone else, as it seemed, because the one and only therapy session… No, better not think about that now.
Calm, he had to remind himself, he had to stay calm. For Sherlock.
Deep breaths, deep long breaths and straightening himself to his full height helped. A bit.
His hands still weren't entirely steady.
He couldn't do anything, except to be there for Sherlock, and to make tea.
Whether it was enough, John didn't know.
Sherlock wrangled his way out of his sweat-drenched tee, with weak arms, and made it to the kitchen, wobbled there, on utterly shaky legs, his head throbbing and his chest still aching.
John was there, still, pouring tea into a cup.
For a moment, Sherlock feared his legs might give out on him before he could collapse into the nearest chair.
"I'm sorry," he muttered when John placed a steaming mug in front of him. It smelled good, it really did, but Sherlock knew that if he picked it up now, he would drop the mug, cause it to shatter into a thousand pieces, drop it with his shaking fingers.
John's face hardened at his words. Hardened because, as Sherlock had learned after John had told him countless times, he still blamed himself, he still felt hot rage towards Moriarty's men who had done this, as John put it, to Sherlock. Hardened because he insisted on Sherlock not apologising for something that wasn't his fault.
Sherlock couldn't help it.
They sat in silence for a while. John because, as Sherlock had found out, he always barely managed to control himself, Sherlock because he didn't know what to say.
"Better?" John asked carefully as soon as Sherlock had taken the first sip from his mug, balancing it without spilling too much.
Better, yes. He nodded, inhaling the scent of the tea.
Where's your John now. Moriarty's startled him, all of a sudden, leaping at him. Gone, with his nurse, and he won't come back, because he's found someone better…
His nurse. Mary Morstan, the nurse from the hospital. The tolerable one. Who liked John, and whom John liked. And who had been exchanging hundreds of texts with John, John basically drooling whenever he received another one.
Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut while his heart was hammering against his ribs.
"Sherlock?" John's voice addressed him. And again, even more worried now: "Sherlock?"
"It's fine," he told his mug, not opening his eyes. Darkness didn't make things better, though. Without John, he was vulnerable, so vulnerable for Moriarty. Who was dead, but as he had pointed out in various dreams, it didn't really make a difference. He could still torment Sherlock in his dreams.
And then, suddenly, there was a hand on his, a warm hand, John's, and his eyes opened, on their own account. "No, it's not," he insisted, softly.
Sherlock sucked in air. "You should go out with Mary," he blurted out and hated, once more, how weak, so weak, he sounded, how nights like that one always left him. He didn't want to, wanted to shake it off, told himself that he was supposed to be fine with that by now, supposed to be used to it, but… it didn't work. His body did things he couldn't understand, and his mind kept clinging to the images from the dreams, or the other way round. He felt… disgusting, disgustingly weak, but he couldn't do anything against it.
"Sherlock," John said again, cleared his throat,took a deep breath. Everything in his face, in the brightly lit kitchen, was tight and tense as he shook his head, determinedly. "I'm not going anywhere," he stated and did, Sherlock could see that, his best to produce a smile. "Absolutely not."
He knew that, theoretically, of course, knew that John was his friend, that John valued him, appreciated his company, still, after everything, even liked him, maybe, but… it was difficult, so difficult to keep that in mind while Moriarty was talking to him, inside of his head, voicing his darkest fears, in the darkest hours of the night. It was so hard to believe in anything in those minutes, in anything at all. But with John, with John here… everything always appeared brighter. Easier. Almost… good.
"You're not?" Sherlock made quietly, and it came out as more of a question than a confirmation than he had intended.
There was something in John's smile he couldn't quite name, but John only shook his head again and squeezed his hand. "Of course I'm not."
Moriarty shut up all of a sudden.
Sherlock breathed out, closing his eyes for a moment. "Good," he made.
John chuckled softly and retrieved his hand, but… it was fine, probably. It was, if John was with him.
"You couldn't sleep?" Sherlock finally muttered, hoarsely, staring into the bright liquid, red tinged with milk.
"Too much going on in my head," John replied, the lines once more present in his face. So many lines.
Sherlock took another gulp. Too much. John blaming himself once more. "Was it…," he began, haltingly. "Was I loud?"
"Yes," John confirmed almost immediately, his eyes searching Sherlock's. Another ritual they had developed. Rating the volume of their - mostly his, in fact - screaming. "But I doubt you woke Mrs Hudson. She's almost deaf now without her hearing device."
Sherlock sighed, closing his eyes and enjoying the steaming warmth of the tea on his face.
"Moriarty?" John wanted to know, almost growling the name, threateningly. Sherlock had no doubt John would have killed him, would have stormed off immediately to find him, if Moriarty hadn't taken care of that himself already.
So he nodded, contemplating for a moment, a short moment, whether to elaborate. "And you," he finally added, quietly, talking to his mug rather than to John.
They had made a deal, once John had agreed to allowing Sherlock to leave the hospital, plasters everywhere, where the drain in his lungs had been, where all the IVs had been, where the central venous catheter had been, a deal to tell each other the truth. Always.
And Sherlock did.
John's mug hit the table with unnecessary force.
"I don't think I'm tired anymore," Sherlock remarked eventually, taking another sip of his tea. His way of saying: I don't want to go back to sleep. Because he was scared, stupidly and irrationally, but truthfully scared.
"Neither am I," John agreed. John's way of saying: I don't want to sleep either. Or maybe: I don't want you to go back to sleep.
"Cluedo or telly?" John wanted to know.
Silence or mindless chattering.
"Telly," Sherlock decided.
John's throat narrowed as he watched Sherlock make his way to the living-room, slowly, still too thin, not entirely steadily, but... successfully, in the end.
They settled on some pointless TV programme, pointless and tedious, even to John, but loud and trashy and in bright colours, exactly what Sherlock needed right now. Just something to distract him, something to disturb the silence, to keep his mind off darker things.
They didn't talk much, they never did, sipped their tea in silence, stared at the telly, aware of each other's presence. Sherlock's hands were still shaking ever so slightly by the time John had already finished his cup of tea, and, not for the first time this night, John's heart gave a painful lurch.
"Do you...," he began, talking over the woman on telly. Sherlock never appearedd keen on talking, and John… he had never, never in his life been good with these things, and he definitely wasn't a therapist. But… he wanted to help, and if Sherlock wanted to, then…
Of course Sherlock knew immediately what he had intended to say. He curled both of his hands tightly around his empty mug before he replied: "No." Then, seconds later: "Yes. I don't know."
John's own fingers tensed around his empty cup. "You don't have to," he reminded his friend.
"I know," Sherlock answered quietly, giving something very close to a sigh. "It's just... it won't go away."
For a moment, John couldn't breathe.
That was, in all of its simple brutality, the closest he had heard Sherlock come to admit defeat in the past weeks.
And John couldn't do anything. He was a soldier, a doctor, and yet…
Sherlock inhaled deeply, setting his mug aside and clenching and unclenching his fists a few times. "I'm fine, John, really," he said, a little more convincingly than he had earlier.
Most days, John still despised himself for having disappointed his best friend immediately after his return, for having sent him away. His fault, and Sherlock suffered because of that.
Some nights, however, his pure hatred for Moriarty's men droned out his self-pitying loathing until there was room for nothing else but consuming rage, devastating, hot fury for what they had done to Sherlock. For what they had turned him into, him who was supposed to be arrogant and composed and brilliant, and not... frightened and struggling and haunted by memories.
"Could you…," Sherlock began, taking a deep breath.
Both of them had changed, John realised not for the first time. Changed so much in these three years.
"I'm not going anywhere," he repeated, not even waiting for Sherlock to finish his sentence, and settled on a grim smile, fighting the urge to smash something, to break something. He liked Mary, the nurse, and he did text her rather frequently, but… it was too early, he had realised weeks ago, for both him and Sherlock. Too early.
The woman continued chatting on the telly, but to his surprise, and astonishment, Sherlock's lips curled into a frail smile. "Good," he made.
"Yes," John agreed, and for a short moment, a few seconds, both of their smiles seemed to lose weight, seemed able to make them forget.
Then John pursed his lips, stealthily, just as Sherlock's expression faded, too, and composed himself. "More tea?" he wanted to know.
The only thing he could do, maybe.
Gradually, John's second cup of tea securely in his hands, the familiar flavour surrounding him, Sherlock felt himself calming down in John's presence. The shakiness diminished, the urge to jump at every sudden movement or sound, the tightness in his chest and his throat. Normality helped, he had found out, the smell of home, of tea, noises in the background, and John, of course. Always John.
Sherlock didn't know how much time had passed when John's face appeared directly in front of him, his eyes soft, one hand resting on his shoulder.
"John...?" he mumbled, blinking his eyes open.
John's voice reverberated in his ears. "You've fallen asleep sitting up," it said, and the familiar tone lured him with a promise of peaceful, undisturbed silence. "Go to bed, Sherlock."
Bed. His room. Dark, alone, cold. An echo of the painful pressure on his chest he had grown so accustomed to lurched at him.
"It's okay," John's voice soothed him. "It's okay."
He was on his feet all of a sudden, on his still shaky feet, John's strong hands guarding him, leading him. The drowsiness of a few nights without restful sleep didn't want to leave him alone as he stumbled on, relying on John, always John.
"How long has it been since you've got any proper sleep," John muttered darkly under his breath.
He didn't sound as if he expected an answer, and Sherlock felt too tired, too... fuzzy, to bother with one. It was fine, anyway, because John was here, with him. Only now, he allowed himself to relax fully.
The soft cushions of the sofa gave in under his weight, Sherlock realised dazedly, and John's steadying grip disappeared.
"John...?" he mumbled, forcing his eyes open.
John was still here, hadn't disappeared, wasn't a hallucination, wouldn't simply dissipate as soon as Sherlock opened his eyes.
"Sherlock," he whispered, a dark shadow against the bright contrast of the telly. "Are you okay?"
Sherlock let out the breath he had been holding. "Of course," he murmured, raising his head a tiny bit. "You're going out with Mary?"
John gave a gentle chuckle. "Maybe," he replied.
"Good," Sherlock mumbled, and finally let his body close his eyes. "And you'll stay?"
John seemed to huff a tiny bit. "Of course I'll stay."
Sherlock didn't dream of Moriarty that night.
Mrs Hudson found them in the next morning, a tiny bit offended by the silence from upstairs. Silence hadn't meant any good in the past three years when Sherlock had been-… hadn't been here, and John had had moved out, and she still found it unsettling, unsettling enough to take upon herself the journey upstairs to check on her boys.
They were in the living-room, both of them, a blonde woman blabbering merrily on the telly.
John had left the sofa to Sherlock, of course, as he always did nowadays, and was kipping in one of the armchairs himself, facing Sherlock who was curled up on the sofa, almost as if hugging himself.
Mrs Hudson tutted quietly and shuffled to Sherlock's bedroom to retrieve two blankets, encountering the stain of vomit on the floor on her way back.
Another nightmare, then. Sherlock, this time, as it seemed.
Covering both of her boys with the blankets, taking the remote out of John's limp hands and making her way back to Sherlock's bedroom to clean up the mess, Mrs Hudson wondered if they were ever going to tell her what had happened between the two of them. Something had changed, after they had moved back in together, with the help of that nice inspector, something in their attitude towards each other. Whatever it was, she was just glad that they were back.
Both of them.
Here we are, then, finally.
It's been quite a long journey, but everything has to end sometime, doesn't it?
A huge thank you to everyone who has reviewed, followed, favourited - and read, of course!
An even more enormous thank you to anagogia whose idea and prompt has made this story possible!
There were so many things I had intended to address, but now that I'm actually sitting here, supposed to write them down, I can't think of a single one, except for - again - thank you. I'll leave it at that, I think.