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Selfless Deceit

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He’d said it himself, the night he returned, and he said it with conviction.

 

“No, we’re not doing this, I don’t care what you say; I won’t listen to you. Don’t bother trying, I don’t believe you.”

 

He’d said a lot of other things too, irrefutable things, angry words he had every right to throw at him. He’d hurled all of his pain directly into that bastard’s face, and he’d deserved every syllable.

 

He didn’t want to hear what Sherlock had to say, nothing could justify what he had done. He knew the man would only try to manipulate him around to his thinking, like he always did.

 

But this time John didn’t want to knuckle under, because for him Sherlock Holmes is still dead in the ground and you can’t come back from something like that; they can’t just erase what had happened and go back to where they’d been.

 

The enormity of Sherlock’s selfishness was unbelievable; before now John could never have thought him capable of such an act.

 

The death of a loved one does terrible things to people, dark and irrevocable things, even Sherlock knows that, and to inflict that upon those who trust you, to win a game? That was crossing a line, a big line, even for Sherlock.

 

John had agonised over his death, blaming himself, Mycroft, and raging at the world. It wasn’t just his loss he thought about either, although that did seem to eclipse everything, it was the loss of such a brilliant mind, a man of such unique talents and genius.

 

Sherlock would never admit it, but he did make the world a better place, he did so much good in the grand scheme of things. There were very few great men and women in history whose lives had made a profound difference; and the world’s only consulting detective surely fell into that category. Sherlock’s life had seemed so much more important than that of anybody else.

 

His gifts were rare, and he shone so brightly, but of all the people in the world he could have chosen to stand by him; Sherlock picked John, and he never had understood why.

 

Maybe John had romanticised the man when he was dead, his subconscious editing and smoothing out the creases, censoring the bad bits and only remembering the good. He’d forgotten how terrible Sherlock could be; how clinical and abhorrent.

 

He had never deliberately harmed John, not without good reason anyway (no matter how unethical it might be), but this time? This time John doesn’t give a fuck for his reasoning; it’s not enough.

 

Sherlock has no right to decide how John does and does not feel, he’s the villain here, not that the bastard seems to realise it. He always somehow manages to put a new spin on the situation, making it look like John’s fault, even when he’d played him; mercilessly.

 

He doesn’t want him to have come back, turning John’s life upside-down all over again, and for what? He tells himself that it would have been better if he’d just stayed dead, but he can't quite make himself believe it.

 

Why did he have to go and do this now? Now of all bloody times! When John has finally convinced himself that he’s moved on, put Sherlock Holmes and all the destruction he’d caused far behind him.

 

He doesn’t want Sherlock in his life anymore, there’s no place for him. Maybe if he’d done it after a month, after six months even, maybe then he’d have listened, but not now.

 

Because he’d been forced readjust to life without him, to re-evaluate everything he’d known, and it had been the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. But he had done it; eventually. John had lived for two years without him, and he can bloody well live the rest of them that way too.

 

John Watson does not need Sherlock Holmes.

 

His resolve is already cracking.

 

~

 

John had not reacted favourably.

 

In all the scenarios he’d imagined, John had never been so loathing; so violent.

 

In hindsight, he had been incredibly naïve about it, projecting his own desires of homecoming onto the John in his mind. He hadn’t seen him in so long, and with the ache of missing him constantly deeply ingrained, his rational mind had been blind sighted as to how John would actually react.

 

The John in his mind palace had welcomed him home, yes there had been anger, but there was joy there too.

 

Despite having thought about their reunion endlessly, planning it over and over in his head until his mind was numb, desperately longing for this moment to come with every fibre of his being; when the moment had finally arrived, he had truly been terrified, with no idea what to expect.

 

All his planning and expectations evaporated upon seeing his face, his mind froze, defenses plummeting into the void, and all he could think was; I’m really here, this is really happening. But his joy had been short lived.

 

He wonders now if showing up unannounced on his doorstep had been a mistake.

 

But he just had to see him.

 

Sentiment.

 

Sherlock knows he is a selfish man, but this time he hadn’t meant to be, hadn’t spared a moment’s thought for his own comfort and safety. The past two years hadn’t felt like the actions of an arrogant, self-absorbed sociopath, no; this time he’d genuinely thought that for once in his life, he’d been doing some good.

 

Giving up one’s life for one’s friends out of love wasn’t selfish.

 

Seeking out and destroying every threat in the world that could harm them wasn’t egotistic.

 

Relinquishing all that he’d ever known, his home, his most treasured possessions, surely that wasn’t greedy?

 

Balancing his existence perilously on a knife’s edge for two years, not to prove he’s clever, but to save their lives; how could that ever be narcissism?

 

His only motivation, his only thought, in all that time, was to keep them alive, keep them breathing; their hearts beating in their chests.

 

He had not allowed himself the possibility of failure.

 

The threat of death hanging over their heads had been all consuming, nothing else mattered to him and he swore to himself that he would not return until the safety of their continued existence was concrete.

 

Sherlock had known that he might never return, and that if even one of his friends were to perish, that he never could. In that scenario he would have stayed away, would never see England again, he would continue as a ghost; flickering around the globe, a self-imposed banishment.

 

He’d been tortured extensively for his trouble, withstanding unimaginable pain whilst refusing to break, all in the name of their protection. He fails to grasp how that can possibly be deemed heartless.

 

He would never sacrifice John; they could kill him a thousand times, and still not have a scrap of information to show for it.

 

He did not have the luxury of breaking, or giving in; it was never an option for him. Any show of weakness, no matter how small, could compromise the people he cared about, and he had a responsibility to protect them; their lives were in his hands.

 

It was terrifying, but it was a strong motivator and it drove him relentlessly, he had so much to fight for, and everything to lose.

 

His fear for them was the steel that galvanised his resolve, and the ferocity of his protectiveness made him unshakeable.

 

If Sherlock was any other man, they might just call him selfless.

 

But he wasn’t, and no one seemed to see it that way.

 

The worst part is; he understands. To them he is the man who, without faltering, hurled himself from a fourth storey rooftop, committing violent suicide in front of the man whose life revolved around his.

 

And that’s all he is to them now, all he can be, for how could they forget something like that, how could they even begin to forgive it?

 

He had made John watch.

 

He had done that to him. The man who cared for him so deeply that his death caused John to shatter irrevocably on the pavement alongside him, all their miniscule shards combining to skitter away like slivers of broken glass, scattered; lost in the cracks and gutters of London, impossible to recover.

 

He made them mourn for him, attend his funeral, bear his coffin on their shoulders, cry over an empty grave, grieve needlessly for what they hadn’t lost.

 

Actually, in truth it was far worse than they knew; the grave hadn’t been empty at all. They’d attended James Moriarty’s funeral, and left tributes for the rotting corpse of a criminal mastermind, one responsible for ordering their executions.

 

His intentions, though honourable, meant little in the face of their suffering, and why should they? They had no way of knowing what he had really been doing in inflicting all of that pain, that he saw their loss as an acceptable exchange for their deaths.

 

Perhaps that on its own was unforgivable.

 

It had been a Catch 22, there had been no right choice, no promise of a happy ending, it had been a terrible decision, one that needed to be made, and he had not hesitated. He had been so cold, so logical in his execution; he can see why they think him heartless.

 

Mycroft had reminded him afterward, when he was emotionally wrecked and shaking with adrenaline, that sometimes one must be cruel to be kind, and Sherlock had almost throttled him for his condescending wisdom, it had not eased his misery in the slightest.

 

It was true that he’d had to hurt them only in order to save them, but after all that they have been through as a result, it is only natural that they not thank him, and he couldn’t bear it if they did.

 

He never needed gratitude, or applause, and no one should ever applaud him for everything he’d done afterwards. No; he just needs them to continue to live their lives without the constant threat of assassination.

 

He achieved that, which is the only reward he could ever want, he never was, or never will be a hero.

 

So of course they call him selfish, simply because he is, he was cruel, detached, unfeeling, dripping with apathy; a machine.

 

But God; he’s not.

 

He carries the guilt, the pain, the agonising remorse with him everywhere he goes; it clings to him, dragging him back so that every step is an effort. And they don’t see that, nor does he want them to, he cannot let them share the guilt for his own wrong doing, it is his alone to bear.

 

But how does he feel about it?

 

He would not retract his actions, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t regret them, because he does; with every fibre of his being.

 

He doesn’t even know himself anymore, was he being selfless or selfish?

 

Was he the protagonist, a lone combatant, struggling against a great force of evil? Or is he simply the architect of unmerited pain and misery? Perhaps both are applicable, but he finds no consolation in that.

 

There was no conscious decision in which he deliberately placed his interests and safety above those of others, he had no malicious intent. There was no moment of premeditation where he decided that he was going to knowingly force their suffering upon them, he never wanted that.

 

The decision had been made in a split second, thinking on his feet; there had only been one way out.

 

Perhaps he chose wrong, because in actually dying, they still would have been spared, wouldn’t they? That was the deal. Maybe it would have been better; cleaner.

 

Perhaps he had chosen cowardice in not facing his death, in saving himself.

 

He had never dared imagine that they would be so affected.

 

The suffering of his friends had been exactly what he had fought to prevent, but…you could also argue that it was a decision born from immense egotism and pride.

 

He’d not given them the freedom of choice, or any say in the matter whatsoever; he had simply decided that he knew what was best for them, regardless of whether or not they agreed.

 

Can there ever be an acceptable justification for such actions?

 

At the time he had convinced himself that what he was doing was the right course of action, morally; forgivable even.

 

Now however, that clarity is a distant memory; the line between right and wrong has blurred until they are indistinguishable from one another, and on which side of the line he stands…Sherlock is no longer sure.

 

He is not sure about a lot of things.

 

~

 

Finally, it’s John’s curiosity that gets the better of him; that urge to understand, the need to know why, to know how the one person that he’d been closest to in all his life could ever have done such a thing.

 

He can’t get the man out of his head, he’d flickered back into his life for a grand total of twenty minutes and now he can’t stop thinking about him, unwanted memories surfacing at the oddest of times, inconsequential moments, things he’d thought were long forgotten.

 

It’s driving him insane, he’s so angry, so hurt. He hates that Sherlock still has this power over him.

 

He thinks about Sherlock’s face at his doorstep; apprehensive, uncertain and lost.

 

He thinks about fake tears on a rooftop, of betrayal.

 

He thinks about experiments in the kitchen and late nights watching crap telly.

 

He thinks about throwing Sherlock against the fridge, about how satisfying it had been to hear the crunch of Sherlock’s nose breaking under his fist.

 

He thinks about the joy in Sherlock’s eyes after that first case, how hard he tried to be normal; the uncharacteristic effort he put in; going out of his way to be polite and civil, all to convince John to move in with him.

 

He thinks about Sherlock quietly encouraging him, whispering that he should hurt him like he’d hurt John, trying to manipulate him into a guilt ridden forgiveness.

 

He thinks about Sherlock curing his limp, and soothing his nightmares with a sonata.

 

He thinks about the hell that he put him through.

 

He thinks about Sherlock kneeling on his kitchen floor, covered in blood and unable to look him in the eye.

 

He thinks about cases, Cluedo, exhilaration, comfortable domesticity, a seemingly unbreakable bond.

 

He thinks about lies, grief, and earth shattering loss.

 

He thinks about all of Sherlock’s eccentricities, how human he was; everything he loved about him.

 

He thinks about all the things Sherlock never told him.

 

He thinks about how much he hates that man who was once his whole world.

 

He thinks about 221B Bakers Street, and his comfortable old chair.

 

He thinks about Sherlock’s broken corpse lying boneless on the pavement, rain drizzling down, mixing with his blood.

 

He thinks about how he’s been forced to live in a cheap flat that doesn’t feel like home.

 

He thinks about Sherlock’s brilliant deductions, about feeling valued, part of something grand; making history, the two of them against the world.

 

He thinks about Mrs Hudson and Greg Lestrade, crippled with grief.

 

He thinks about taking care of Sherlock, patching up his wounds.

 

He thinks about how he wants to cause him more.

 

He thinks about Sherlock, about how well he knew him, about how much he cared about him.

 

He thinks now that he doesn’t know him at all; maybe he never did.


The man let him think he was dead, for two years.

 

He thinks about confronting him.

He wonders why.

 

He considers the possibility, rolling it around in his mind for days before he just snaps, storming right out of the surgery, ignoring all Sarah’s protests and marching his way over to Bakers Street.

 

~

 

The first time he steps foot into 221B; no one is home.

 

This irrationally makes him even angrier, he’d waited for two years to do this on his terms, the least the bastard could do is show up.

 

Then he sees them; close to a dozen syringes, fully prepared in plain sight on the coffee table. Sherlock is back on the drugs, flouting it for the world to see, rubbing his defiant apathy in John's face.

 

That’s when he loses it; crushing them viciously underfoot in an onset of uncontrollable fury.

 

When he becomes aware of himself again, he’s three miles away, soaked through and empty handed, with all of his questions still left unanswered.

 

The second time is two days later, when he’s had a chance to cool off.

 

~

 

“Oh, John! I didn’t know you were coming.”

 

He gets the strange feeling that Mrs Hudson isn’t actually all that pleased to see him, caught off guard by his sudden appearance at the flat, and slightly wary, preoccupied with something troubling, or probably more likely; someone.

 

It was never a problem before, him turning up unannounced, it was still his home, even after he moved out, and she used to nag him constantly to visit more often. But they both know John isn’t there to see her.

 

“Is he here?” John replies shortly, and her eyes flick up the stairs nervously, which is all the answer he needs.

 

“John…”

 

He pushes past her, squaring his shoulders to climb the stairs, but she catches his arm solemnly, with surprising strength for a woman her age.

 

“I won’t have it John,” she says, and her voice wavers, but there’s a hint of steel there too;

 

“I don’t know what it is that’s going on between you, but I saw what happened…last time; Sherlock all beaten and bloody, and I won’t have you laying a hand on him, not a finger. Not under my roof. If you have to hurt him, you do it elsewhere.”

 

John stares at her; affronted, he thinks that she of all people should know how he’s feeling, and he’s annoyed that she’s taking sides.

 

But under her stern glare he can sense a hint of fear for the man she loves like a son, and he remembers how fiercely Sherlock protected her against the CIA men.

 

Sherlock had always had a soft spot for her, and he knows there’s some history between them, but quite frankly the way he had overreacted then had been frightening; he’d nearly broken the man’s spine.

 

It was hinted that her husband may have had a history of domestic violence, and right now, with her reception to him, he doesn’t doubt it. She’s a strong woman, and she knows when to put her foot down. She has that right, it is her home afterall. Not that this is in any way the same thing.

 

He nods stiffly, but her grip on his sleeve only tightens; clutching his arm, as she lowers her voice furtively.

 

“John he’s not…he’s not well, so if you could…”

 

He softens slightly, “Okay Mrs Hudson, it’s alright, I just want to talk to him. I’ll just…” He gestures up the stairs and she nods worriedly, watching him go.

 

The flat is silent, and eerily the same as it has always been, he hadn’t stopped to notice last time, his anger seeking only confrontation.

 

He notices that the broken syringes have been swept up, but judging by the rest of the room, Mrs Hudson hasn’t been in to clean it, so Sherlock must have done it himself.

 

There are no new drugs to take their place either, and he likes the idea that he shamed Sherlock into quitting very much.

 

It gives him a dull sense of satisfaction; Sherlock being forced to clean up after himself, to deal with his own mistakes, but it’s a fairly short lived victory, because something is off here.

 

All of Sherlock’s chemistry equipment is on the kitchen table, but it’s still packed systematically in boxes, exactly how he left it. There’s a protective sheet over John’s chair, but it has been cleaned; not a speck of dust in sight. All the rest of the furniture has been uncovered.

 

The music stand and Sherlock’s violin are nowhere to be seen, so Mycroft must still have them, it had been the only thing he’d taken, the day of the funeral.

 

On the couch is a rumpled blanket, the warmest one in the house, clearly recently used, even though it’s almost summer. That blanket, and the untouched tea tray (presumably supplied by Mrs Hudson), are the only signs of life.

 

He can’t see Sherlock’s laptop or phone anywhere, none of the books have been touched, and there are no dishes in the sink, or articles of clothing strewn about. His shoes are placed neatly by the door, and they do have a fine layer of dust settled over them, coat hanging ominously above.

 

Sherlock is home, but he hasn’t quite been living here, so much as existing within the walls of the building. A transient in his own home.

 

Everything about this picture screams wrong.

 

John abruptly realises that he isn’t angry anymore; it has dwindle to a dull throb in his chest. He’s done being angry with Sherlock, is so tired of it. He’s just hurt, hurt and confused.

 

He wants to know why, wants Sherlock to help him understand, because none of this makes any sense to him, and what good will continuing to be angry do? It’s exhausting, and it won’t help him get the answers he’s looking for, the ones he needs.

 

He makes his way down the hall cautiously, and it feels like he’s walking to the gallows, a slow sinking feeling of dread accumulating; he has no idea what he will find at the end. Somehow he knows it won’t be Sherlock having a Sunday lie-in.

 

Poking his head through the bedroom door, he finds his medical instincts taking over automatically; all he can see is Sherlock’s outline on the bed, but he’s a doctor, and he knows when he’s walking into a sick room.

 

It occurs to him that given the syringes he’d found, Sherlock is most likely suffering from withdrawal symptoms after shooting himself full of god know what, and isn’t that enough to bring his temper back into the fold?

 

Upon closer inspection, he finds that Sherlock is dreaming, and it’s not a pleasant one at that. His face is contorting periodically, his breathing ragged, limbs twitching, and his curls are plastered to his forehead with sweat; running a fever.

 

John realises he’s been holding his breath as he debates whether or not to wake him.

 

It’s getting worse though, strange semi-aborted whimpers and groans escaping Sherlock’s mouth before he clamps his lips shut again, his body constantly squirming and shifting as if in an attempt to liberate himself.

 

This doesn’t fit into the picture of the man he knew; the scientist, aloof and untouchable.

 

Then Sherlock starts writhing like someone has put fifty volts through him and he can’t contain the agony any longer, but the second he starts screaming John’s mind is made up.

 

His eyes are open and the screams sound painful, dry and rough in his throat. His cries are deafeningly loud in the quiet room, completely involuntary and unrestrained, shredding his vocal chords with their intensity.

 

His body is paralysed in a way that is the singularly most disturbing thing John has ever seen; frozen in position, spine arched up from the bed unnaturally, almost as if he were possessed, or in a constant state of defibrillation; eyes wild and glazed.

 

The instant John touches him he stops making that horrendous noise and he crumples.

 

There’s a split second of absolute stillness, where Sherlock’s head is turned towards John’s face, and yet he doesn’t see him, still lost in his own fear.

 

Before John can say anything, the moment is broken as Sherlock lurches forwards, only barely managing to lean over the side of the bed before he projectile vomits, clutching the side of the mattress in a death grip, an action born from pure terror; his body responding the only way it knows how.

 

John is thankful for the suspiciously well placed bucket, which seems to speak volumes. This was anticipated; not an isolated case, someone placed it there knowing this would happen. But the bucket was empty; used before but not recently, ruling out the possibilities of salmonella or gastro.

 

It takes something very deeply ingrained to trigger such an innate reaction without physical cause, something so bad that it can stress someone so intensely that it causes them to retch until they cannot breathe, as Sherlock is demonstrating now; his body disregarding all primary functions, screaming that he must expel his fear at all costs.

 

It’s a telling reaction, and one that John is now absolutely certain was not caused by withdrawal. What is afflicting him is definitely not the result of a chemical binge, or some drug induced nausea.

 

It’s much worse than that.

 

John almost wishes that he had been using.

 

Sherlock moans in pain, croaky and hoarse from the earlier decibels of his screams.

 

He looks small and weak, limply draped over the side of the bed and John takes pity on him, trying to ease him back onto the mattress, but Sherlock only flinches; shrinking away.

 

“Hey, it’s okay; I’m here to help.”

 

But his touch is clearly not welcome, so he stands back, hands half raised in a universal sign of surrender, even though Sherlock isn’t looking at him.

 

Sherlock inches agonisingly slowly back into the bed, and John doesn’t think Sherlock’s awareness extends to his presence.

 

But when he rests back against the bed his face contorts almost instantly like the mattress was composed of nails rather than soft memory foam, struggling to reposition himself onto his side as quickly as possible, breathing heavily, with that disturbed look back in his eyes.

 

He’s delirious.

 

John remembers himself and quickly fetches the med kit, which thankfully still resides under the sink where he left it. He does a quick inventory, and is satisfied to find it fully stocked.

 

“You can’t be here, you can’t be here, they’ll-” Sherlock murmurs frantically around the thermometer, with half lidded eyes, as John tries to measure just how bad the fever is.

 

It’s almost 40⁰C; A Bit Not Good.

 

There seems to be no sign of a viral infection he notes as he surveys the room for signs of a cause, or possible contaminants. No tissues, lozenges or other evidence of sinus congestion.

 

He roots through the drawer on the bedside table, and what he finds is alarming to say the least; large quantities of spare gauze, wound pads, several conforming bandages, and a hospital grade suture kit.

 

But what concerns John the most is the box of prescription medication; OxyContin, to be taken three times daily, the second of three repeats, made out to one Mr Mycroft Holmes. The script was written four weeks ago, with only twelve tablets missing from the box.

 

Oxycodone is damn heavy medication, one he typically only prescribed to patients who were post-op or were suffering from a long-term, painful illness.

 

For Mycroft to have willingly supplied Sherlock with opiates…something must be seriously wrong, worse still; Sherlock clearly hadn’t been taking them, at least not in the past four days, and by the looks of it, he really should have been.

 

John can’t convince Sherlock to swallow them, especially seeing as the man is that far gone that he seemed unable to recognise him.

 

Nor can he find an obvious vector, or enough evidence to make a sound diagnosis, which is further hindered by Sherlock being counterproductive, even violent towards John’s attempts at an examination.

 

Mrs Hudson isn’t able to shed any more light on the situation either, only that Sherlock has been like this for a couple of days, but he’d had her under strict instructions not to call a doctor under any circumstances.

 

“Oh John, I begged him, but he wouldn’t have it; you know how he is. He said it was too soon, no one could know that he was alive. Of course, he’s been unwell since he got back, poor thing. Always pale and wincing…he never would tell me what was wrong, but I’m not blind; he has no right being anywhere but a hospital if you ask me.”

 

John looks up sharply.

 

“He was injured? You never saw where?”

 

“No, he was worse than usual with not wanting me around, but a few times I saw that his back had been bleeding, all those ruined shirts…”

 

A sick feeling makes itself known in the depths of John’s stomach, growing stronger. He's going to have to turn him, and it is not going to be pretty; Sherlock will definitely fight it.

 

“Mrs Hudson, could you uhm…get some more cold towels from your flat? We’ve run out and his fever is starting to climb again.”

 

It’s a white lie, but a huge relief when she retreats downstairs, if this is what he thinks it could be, then he doesn’t want her to see.

 

Sherlock is too tired to fight him, which he can’t decide whether to be thankful for or not, but it certainly makes cutting off the t-shirt easier.

 

Sherlock’s skin is shrouded in stained gauze, and he tries to brace himself for what could be underneath; it’s going to be bad.

 

There are clear signs of infection, even before he’s removed most of the bandaging, and he has to force himself not to gag at the mess that has become of Sherlock’s back.

 

There are deep cuts and gouges everywhere, professionally sutured but still riddled with infection.

 

With no pattern or structure to it, it is as if someone just lashed out, over and over again with anything that came to hand, evidence of a vicious and drawn out assault, one without organisation or finesse.

 

Sherlock has been tortured; butchered by someone with no idea what they were doing, someone determined to inflict the maximum amount of pain possible; it must have been agony.

 

These wounds were over a month old, by what he could tell, but they hadn’t been able to heal properly, they were too extensive, and by his estimate, had not been treated right away.

 

In some places they had begun to scar, others were in the process of healing, but some were still practically open wounds, left to fester.

 

He’d been struck by a whip, repeatedly, hard enough to break the skin. There were long stripes, running from just over his right shoulder blade to his left hip, curling cruelly around the length of his body, so that the slightest twist of movement would reopen them.

 

Gashes in his side meant that reaching, bending down, or lifting his arms would be sure to test the sutures.

 

The surface area had been maximised like a canvas, so that in the places where his skin wasn’t torn or burned, it was swollen and inflamed, his whole back mottled and raw. Even the pressure from just lying down must be unbearable.

 

He finds a small patch of clear skin close to his spinal column that isn’t bruised or bleeding, and he reaches out, touching it with shaking fingers, overcome by emotion.

 

“God Sherlock, why? How did this happen? Who did this to you? How could I have-?”

 

He stops and chokes; it’s a mess, everything is a mess, and the thought that he could have contributed to this butchery makes him sick. He can see where stitches have been torn at, ripped out, presumably from where he’d held him up against the fridge…

 

“Why the hell weren’t you taking your pain medication? Why did you stop?” He half shouts through his tears, more angry at himself than Sherlock, but he can’t stop, he needs to get it out, and Sherlock can’t hear him;

 

“Why couldn’t you just tell me you were hurting? Why couldn’t you be responsible, for once in your life?”

 

He stops, muffling his sobs in his sleeve, his hand shaking. He has to get a hold of himself; there’s a job to do.

 

It takes him two hours, gently cleaning wounds, suturing, disinfecting torn skin, and finally re-bandaging, with Sherlock shifting and groaning sporadically; half aware.

 

It wouldn’t be so bad, if the infection hadn’t taken hold, but this has set back Sherlock’s recovery by weeks.

 

John is sitting on the floor, back against the mattress, still wearing bloodied gloves; just staring into space when Mycroft Holmes walks through the door.

 

John stares at him, completely open and emotionally undone, silently begging Mycroft to help him understand.

 

Mycroft sweeps his gaze over his brother’s sleeping form first, and seemingly satisfied, drops his eyes to John; face unreadable.

 

“You didn’t know.”

 

It’s not a question, but John shakes his head helplessly anyway, mouth refusing to form words.

 

Mycroft accepts this stiffly, but even John can see that he’s holding back a barely repressed fury.

 

“He wasn’t taking his medication,” John offers numbly, at a loss for what else to say, holding out the box he’d been cradling.

 

“No,” Mycroft agrees icily, “In more ways than one.”

 

Instead of taking the box from John, he drops a package loudly on the dressing table as if to stress his point. Sherlock startles slightly on the bed, but doesn’t wake.

 

John stares at it; it’s a plastic bag, a plastic bag containing a good dozen syringes. Exactly like the ones he destroyed three days ago.

 

“Intravenous antibiotics” Mycroft states in a clipped voice, “As a doctor, I’m sure you’re able to identify them on sight.”

 

John only just makes it to the bucket in time.

 

After he finishes gagging and stands up, Mycroft continues without faltering;

 

“I assume now that you have realised the repercussions of what it is that you have done, and how much your bullheadedness almost cost my brother. So tell me Doctor Watson, are you satisfied? Is this penance enough for you?”

 

“I don’t- I mean I didn’t…”

 

“Ah yes, you didn’t know. Which I suppose is your only saving grace, but…then again, ignorance is not a defence in the eyes of the law now, is it?”

 

Mycroft pretends to give it great thought, with mocking contempt, before focussing again on John’s face; his eyes hard and steady.

 

“Because it doesn’t look good, does it? A doctor caught destroying life-saving medication. Medication required by a man he knows well, the man whom that same doctor is caught on video surveillance not two weeks previously, beating to within an inch of his life.”

 

“Mycroft, I’m sorry, I-”

 

“You’re sorry? How very touching,” Mycroft snarls, eyes bright and murderous, but he freezes at the sound of his brother’s voice, eyes darting to the bed.

 

“J’hn?” Sherlock mumbles, shifting fitfully in his sleep, hand groping for something familiar.

 

He looks so thin and so lost in the large bed, deathly pale and shivering.

 

Mycroft sighs, but the softness he has for his brother soon evaporates upon looking to John.

 

John has never been afraid of Mycroft Holmes before, but right now he sees ruthless government official who has the authority to decide who lives and who dies. This is a powerful man, cold and calculating.

 

But John also sees the human side of him; the man who is fiercely protective of his family, who would do anything to keep his brother from harm, even if he ends up hating him for it.

 

Mycroft knows he nearly lost Sherlock, and he’d never admit it, but that scares him to death.

 

They have a cold and strained relationship, but Mycroft and Sherlock do care about each other in their own way. There’s an unspoken respect there, a sibling rivalry, and a lot of resentment, but they are family.

 

John almost killed Mycroft’s little brother, and he’s on the war path.

 

“If it were exclusively my choice, I would see you hanged publically for this. Metaphorically, of course,” he adds with a sharky sort of smile that implies precisely the opposite; “The British Government no longer subscribes to such medieval practises.”

 

He pauses before continuing with a pinched expression, like the words he’s about to say leave a horrible taste in his mouth, glaring at John with a dangerous intensity.

 

“As it is, however, for reasons beyond my comprehension, my brother values your existence over that of any other, his own included, and I believe that your exclusion from his life would only result in additional suffering on his behalf. I think he’s suffered enough, don’t you?”

 

John just nods dumbly.

 

“In that case, I am willing to offer you a choice, one you should think yourself very lucky to receive. As I see it, you have two options; leave now and avoid all contact with my brother. You will be allowed to live out your life with immunity, but you will not see him again.”

 

A life without Sherlock; he doesn’t think he can do it again, it almost killed him the first time, and he has no doubt that Mycroft would make good on his word, it would be permanent.

 

To live knowing that Sherlock was alive and well on the other side of London, just a cab ride away, but being unable to speak to him…that would be torture.

 

“What’s the other option?” John asks anxiously.

 

Mycroft regards him with disdain.

 

“You will remain here, and you will not leave his side until Sherlock is well, or until he orders you to leave. Then it will be his decision as to whether or not you remain in his life, and to what capacity.”

 

John feels a surge of relief.

 

“I’m sure,” Mycroft snaps, irritated at John’s reaction, “that it goes without saying that if at any time in the future you cause him further injury, physical or otherwise, there would be no defence, no advocating in the world that my brother could provide that would protect you.”

 

John doesn’t hesitate.

 

“I’m staying.”

 

Mycroft’s eyes narrow in disapproval, but it’s obviously the answer he’d been expecting.

 

“In that case, I will have supplies delivered later this afternoon.” He replies curtly, and moves to leave.

 

John shifts uncomfortably.

 

“For what it’s worth Mycroft, I never intended for any of this to happen, and I’m sorry, I really am.”

 

“I know,” Mycroft says with resignation, voice is softer now, “Take care of him Doctor Watson.”

 

It’s not absolution, but it’s a start.

 

~

 

“John?”

 

John starts awake, his back clicking painfully as he sits up. He’d dragged his armchair into Sherlock’s room, after the fourth night of sleeping on the floor started wreaking havoc on his joints.

 

Sherlock is lucid and staring at him, half propped up on his elbow.

 

“You came back.” He whispers, like he can’t quite believe it.

 

John jumps up.

 

“Lie down, you’re going to tear your stiches,” he orders as he eases Sherlock back down.

 

“John I’m sorry, I-”

 

“No,” John shakes his head, “No don’t you dare apologise to me.”

 

Sherlock shrinks back slightly at the rebuke, his eyes questioning.

 

“How can you apologise to me after everything I’ve put you through?”

 

“I don’t blame you.” Sherlock responds, far too quickly for John’s liking.

 

“You should. I mean God Sherlock, I nearly killed you! I’m a doctor and I…” He buries his face in his hands.

 

“You couldn’t have known,” Sherlock says softly.

 

“But I should have! I should have known Sherlock, I should have seen, but I didn’t even think, I-”

 

“It’s understandable.”

 

“Will you stop that? Stop being so gracious, so forgiving!”

 

“But I do forgive you.”

 

John sighs, “God look at you; you’re sick, we should talk about this later.”

 

“No, I want to talk about it now,” Sherlock insists firmly, face set.

 

“Damn it Sherlock this is the first time you’ve been fully conscious, you need to-“

 

Sherlock’s eyes narrow

 

“What? How long have you been here?”

 

“Well, I mean, since Mycroft…”

 

Sherlock’s face turns thunderous.

 

Mycroft?” He hisses angrily, wrestling the sheets off of him, “Is this him? Is he the one who called you here?”

 

“No Sherlock, calm down. I came here on my own; to confront you.”

 

“Oh,” Sherlock mumbles; “Oh, that’s alright then.”

 

“You didn’t want him to call me?”

 

He shakes his head.

 

“No, I didn’t want anyone to call you, to force or guilt you into seeing me. You had to decide to come on your own, you had to want it, otherwise it would be pointless.”

 

Sherlock looks him in the eye seriously.

 

“But I did want you to come.”

 

“Until I trashed your flat, destroyed your medication, and gave you a massive infection that nearly killed you.”

 

“Quite,” Sherlock quips back without hesitation, and just like that he’s smiling; grinning from ear to ear.

 

John can’t help but smile back, God; it’s so good to see him.

 

“We can’t giggle about this Sherlock,” he reprimands.

 

“Why not?”

 

John shakes his head at the inappropriateness of it all. It’s not funny, not even remotely, and yet he can’t stop smiling.

 

“Well,” Sherlock starts hesitantly; “I suppose you have some questions for me.”

 

“You’re still sick.”

 

“I slept through the worst of it; the infection’s gone, I feel fine.”

 

“I’ll be the judge of that.” John mutters darkly.

 

As he begins to examine him, Sherlock looks at him carefully, reading everything in the lines of his face.

 

“Mycroft told you about the snipers.”

 

John’s eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.

 

“Yeah, when he dropped off some stuff. How did you-?”

 

“It’s simple really; you’re not angry anymore, but that could be caused by a variety of factors, time and guilt being the most likely.

 

“You’ve seen the state of my back, so naturally you’d be curious, but it wasn’t strong enough that you asked for an explanation straight away, normally you’d be dying to ask me, i.e.; you know something of it already.

 

“You’ve seen Mycroft at least twice since you’ve been here, the first no doubt to threaten you, and judging by how well equipped you are; a second to deliver provisions.

 

“You’d have needed at least something of an explanation, enough to satisfy your immediate curiosity; so he gave you the basic facts. It’s only natural that he would stress that particular point, if only to further solidify your guilt, hence; snipers. He’s always so predictable.”

 

John stares at him in shock.

 

“That…was brilliant.”

 

Sherlock chuckles; pleased. But for a moment his eyes are wistful, almost sad, and he looks at John with surprising tenderness.

 

“What?”

 

“I’ve missed that,” he admits.

 

John sighs, and exam finished, he climbs onto the bed next to him, so their backs both rest against the headboard.

 

“Me too.”

 

And he has missed this; so much so. Their friendship had always been effortless, and he'd forgotten what it was like; easy banter, laughing together, giggling at crime scenes. When Sherlock died, it seemed like he'd sucked all the laughter along with him, leaving John's world a bleak and dreary place  all over again, as if he'd never been there at all.

 

“So,” Sherlock begins, “you know about my meeting with Moriarty on the roof…”

 

~

 

 

“There’s one thing I still don’t understand,” John says, hours later, when Sherlock has finally finished his long explanation.

 

“Only one?” Sherlock teases and John has to stop himself from smacking him playfully; he may be free from infection, but his wounds are still a long way from healed.

 

“Yeah, I mean, I understand why we had to believe it at first, but after you’d gotten the snipers out of the way then it would have been safe. You could have told us everything. But you never did. One word Sherlock, that’s all I would have needed, to let me know you were alive.”

 

Sherlock sighs, letting his head fall back against the wood.

 

“It’s really not that straight forward. Moriarty was thorough, and his network was vast, he would certainly have safe guards, we couldn’t have them taken out too soon, or they’d have known we were onto them.

 

“Even if we killed the primary, another would just have taken their place, to carry out their orders, like an understudy in a play.

 

“We had no way of knowing how many backups he had set up; waiting in the wings, or even who they might be, it was impossible to say. I’m sorry John, I just couldn’t risk it.”

 

“So if they ever caught on that you were alive…”

 

Sherlock grimaces.

 

Pop. Pop. Pop.”

 

~

 

“You really hurt me, Sherlock.”

 

“I know.”

 

He stares at John and his eyes are screaming that he’s sorry for what he’s about to say next.

 

“And I know that you want me to say that I’d change everything, that if I could do it again, I’d do it differently, but I can’t. I won’t lie to you John, I would never take back a moment.

 

“But that doesn’t mean that I don’t regret it, I hate that it happened, but that was the way it had to be. Don’t you see John? It wasn’t my choice, I mean…it was, I chose to jump, I orchestrated the lie, but he forced my hand, Moriarty left me no alternative.”

 

John wants to tell him that he knows that; to reassure him that it’s not his fault, but Sherlock doesn’t pause for breath, his words running into each other at break-neck speed.

 

“I was running for so long that I didn’t notice that I was losing pieces of myself, I frayed more with each step, like an old scrap of paper, being worn away, little bits tearing off until there’s nothing left.

 

“There are fragments of my heart in so many countries on so many continents; I don’t remember it happening so I don’t even know which bits I’ve lost. But I can feel them John; I’m empty, nothing inside my skin but flesh and bone, something is missing, something essential…”

 

Sherlock trails off; having worked himself into such a state that it’s like John has been transported back in time to Dartmoor. And when he continues, his voice is hollow;

 

“I was going insane John; the task was slowly driving me mad, dissolving my mind until I knew nothing but the work, until I was an empty shell, a broken machine, with the button stuck on kill.”

 

He spits out the last bit with such bitterness and self-loathing.

 

John just listens quietly, trying to process everything at once, until finally Sherlock runs out of words.

 

“Did you…have anyone? Was someone there with you?”

 

He’s given the question some thought, paying close attention; It's important to him. Sherlock hadn’t mentioned anyone else; a partner, or a contact, only Mycroft, and then only in passing. He thinks he knows, but he hopes he’s wrong.

 

Sherlock’s mouth twists and he looks away without answering.

 

“No one? In all that time?” John tries to contain his horror, can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like, how would he cope in that situation? Not well.

 

“It must have been…”

 

“It was,” Sherlock breathes, almost inaudible.

 

John wraps his arm around Sherlock’s shoulder;

 

“Come here.”

 

“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me,” Sherlock says, a little bitterly.

 

“Too bad,” John counters as he pulls him closer, gathering him in. “And for the record, I don’t feel sorry for you, I’m sad for you, someone has to be.”

 

“That person doesn’t have to be you, I won’t have you feeling obligated to take care of me, I don’t-”

 

He attempts to move away, voice rising in volume, but John won’t let him go.

 

“I want it to be me, you idiot. There’s no place else I’d rather be,” John mumbles into his hair; “I wish I’d been there for you.”

 

“It wasn’t-” Sherlock shifts in distress.

 

“I know it wasn’t possible; that you needed me to be here, but I still wish I’d been there to back you up, I hate that you were alone out there.”

 

“I…I wish you’d been there too, even though I’m glad you weren’t.”

 

Sherlock trembles as he says it, as though it were such a terrible thing to admit; wanting someone to be with you, though it meant putting them in danger, wanting not to be alone; it was very human.

 

“You did so much for us Sherlock, and as grateful as I am for all of it; you need to stop sacrificing yourself. Because what I need right now, most of all; is for you to get better. Let me look after you for a change.”

 

He strokes Sherlock’s arm gently.

 

“Because you running off into the fire to save everyone, being all self-sacrificing and heroic? That’s not what is best for me, you are what’s best for me.”

 

Sherlock grunts in dissent.

 

“That’s blatantly untrue.”

 

John huffs a laugh; “Well maybe it’s not true all the time, but in the grand scheme of things…”

 

“In the grand scheme of things John, I’ve nearly gotten you killed upwards of a dozen times.”

 

“But you saved me.”

 

“Which is completely irrelevant,” Sherlock exclaims in frustration, “seeing as I’m the one who put your life in danger in the first place!”

 

“That’s not what I meant, you twat, I’m not a damsel in distress for you to rescue. What I was saying, is that I’d be dead either way if I hadn’t met you.”

 

“John…” He falters, unable to finish

 

“You know it’s true, you deduced it the moment we met.”

 

John never understood why Sherlock hadn’t mentioned it at the time, he’d told him every other little detail about his life, but he’d held back on that one; uncharacteristically discrete.

 

“I’d be dead too,” Sherlock interjects suddenly, “one way or another.”

 

“Then it’s a good thing I’m here. You don’t have to be alone anymore Sherlock.”

 

"And neither do you."