pennypaperbrain: (Sherlock brain by redscharlach)
[personal profile] pennypaperbrain
Title: Always London (fourth and final part of Four Corners of the Western World) Chapter 2 of 3
Author: [livejournal.com profile] pennypaperbrain
Fandom Sherlock BBC
Betas: Chloe, [livejournal.com profile] eldritchhorrors
Rating: R for Chapter 2, NC-17 for the fic
Warnings for this chapter: discussion of bipolar disorder, references to kinky sex
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Wordcount: 5,844
Spoilers: All six episodes
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters. I couldn’t be trusted with them. There’d be kinky slash everywhere.
Summary: After their sensational return to London, John and Sherlock have to ride out press hysteria, not to mention encounters with old friends and enemies. And once the dust has settled, how does it leave things between the two of them?

Also on AO3

Each fic in this series is self-contained, and they can be read separately with the help of the intro summaries, but for the best experience they should be read in order.

Four Corners of the Western World
1: Vegas High (complete): LJ, AO3
2: Malta Bright (complete): LJ, AO3
3: Piter Raw (complete): LJ, AO3
4: Always London (in progress)




John

The statement is dry, but Sherlock’s acting skills make it compelling. By general agreement Mrs Hudson is being left out of this, but Sherlock’s voice bubbles with rage as he relates the death threats against John and Lestrade, then turns quietly tragic as he describes faking suicide and fleeing from country to country to avoid assassination by members of Moriarty’s network who saw through his plan. Finally he is steely and stern as he unveils selected revelations about the true nature of ‘Richard Brook’, such as the five occasions on which he was questioned by Home Office agents on terrorism charges. Further information, Sherlock assures the audience in Mycroft’s words, will be amply supplied after the conference.

The assembled journos are rapt. John squints from behind his mic into the blinking eye of a BBC camera and knows that this is going out live on the news channel and is likely to make it into most of the lunchtime bulletins. The broadsheets are here, the tabloids, the TV stations, the websites... even some foreign journalists looking like they half-suspect this is a Christmas wind-up. Everyone and his digital recorder-toting dog wants to have a good gawk at Sherlock Lazarus Holmes, and their reactions are visibly mixed, ranging from delight (because they support Sherlock or because think this is all a great joke?) to deep scepticism. The man from The Sun looks like he’s swallowed a lemon; good.

But John is starting to seriously appreciate Mycroft’s cover-up operation. The digging into what Sherlock did while on the run will surely begin the moment this press conference is over. Yes the killing of Kolyvanov could possibly be justified as self-defence, and the same might work for Zagami if it weren’t for the lack of witnesses, but Graf and Tabone?

Shit, John should not even be thinking about this stuff. At any one time, about a fifth of the eyes in the room are on him. It feels like they can read his mind.

He just wishes this was over.

‘I hold no ill will towards Miss Riley for her honest mistake,’ reads Sherlock as the cameras endlessly click and flash. ‘Her gullibility is not criminal, although it may have implications for her employment as an investigative journalist.’

John can practically hear the swearing coming from the Sun editorial office. The fantasy threatens to make him smile. But Sherlock is finishing his statement, so it’s time for questions, and John knows there will be some addressed to him.

‘You said you were travelling from country to country to avoid detection by Moriarty’s associates. Where exactly did you go?’ a serious man in glasses asks Sherlock.

‘I’ve been asked not to reveal that information as British special agents are continuing their operations to eradicate the network.’

‘When will we see the further evidence concerning Moriarty’s criminal activities?’ This from a waspish woman who sounds like she suspects the whole thing is a hoax.

‘A dossier containing comprehensive details will be distributed after this press conference.’

‘The scandal surrounding your apparent criminality and suicide had considerable repercussions for the Met. Do you have any comment?’ The journalist asking that question seems to think embarrassing the police is an amusing achievement.

‘I feel confident that the Metropolitan Police will restore Detective Inspector Lestrade to his post immediately.’

And so on. John’s gut tells him that most of the people in the room have been won over to the idea that Sherlock is back in business and that Moriarty was a bad lot, even if the six months in hiding is piquing their suspicions.

‘What next for you?’ asks a woman whose garb suggests she was yanked out of a party to come here.

‘I intend to return to my work as a consulting detective, ably assisted by my medical colleague Dr Watson.’ says Sherlock to the flashing, recording air. There’s another question, which John can’t hear but Sherlock clearly does: ‘Are Dr Watson and I in a relationship? All human beings exist in relationship to one another, Mr Abrams. You and I are in a relationship, albeit an extremely one-sided one.’

In his mind, John clearly hears Sherlock’s voice adding, ‘Yes, Dr Watson beats me for sexual pleasure, and my goodness what a pleasure it is.’ Of course he doesn’t actually want Sherlock to say that... but oh for a life where nobody would care if he did.

It’s been just John and Sherlock against the world for so long, and it still is, but now the world is staring and shooting questions instead of bullets. It should feel better. It is better.

John fucking hates it.

‘Question for Dr Watson. Why did you disappear and join Sherlock?’

Shit. Here goes.

‘I could have waited for him to come back, but he’s my friend and he’d been through a tough time. When he contacted me, I thought, well I’m a former soldier, and he needs a bodyguard.’

That’s true enough to shore up their story without giving anything away.

‘And you just told people you were going on holiday?’

‘I wasn’t going to advertise that I was off to join a fugitive in fear of his life, was I?’

God, he’s copping an attitude now – just what he told Sherlock not to do. There’s an appreciative murmur, though.

A reporter John recognises from ITV says: ‘Were you angry when you found out he’d faked suicide?’

‘Of course. But I understand why he did it. It’s fine.’

Immediately John knows he shouldn’t have added the It’s fine. He sounded too defensive. As if it matters – half the reporters will make up whatever bollocks they want, anyway. Fuck.

At least the police press officer is finally calling proceedings to a close. She’s really attractive, John registers. In fact they’ve been surrounded by pretty media types since they arrived and he didn’t notice. Is he still John Watson, or what?

‘I thought that went well,’ murmurs Sherlock as they get up and let themselves be steered towards a side door, hearing near-riot erupt behind them. Sherlock has the smirk he gets when he’s manipulated a situation. In spite of weeks spent longing to see him crack any smile, John is not pleased about this one. Hell, why do they have to deal with this at all?
Is there some parallel universe where they got to go back to Baker Street, unpack and have a cup of tea?

‘Do not underestimate the press, Sherlock,’ John mutters. ‘If you don’t know that by now...’

‘Of course I do,’ Sherlock responds, and there’s a flicker of strain around the edges of the smirk. Sherlock is acting himself, John realises. Much as he did when depressed.

Fuck’s sake. When can they go home?

Not yet. They have a slightly smaller escort of two ’Croft girls and four Met staff as they proceed down a back corridor and end up in a neglected-looking kitchen area where they are told they are going to ‘wait until some of the press have cleared’ before trying to leave. The police PR woman is eyeing Sherlock up. Sherlock sits on a wobbly chair and fiddles with his phone, face frozen into the imperious expression that used to be his default before... everything.

John wants out. Just for a few minutes.

‘Bathroom,’ he states in a voice that brooks no argument. He almost expects someone to follow him as he strides away down the hall, but nobody does.

He finds a gents, and takes his time, and when he comes out he doesn’t go straight back to the kitchen. After all, Sherlock can ring him, if need be. They’ve been glued to each other’s side for so long, and now John is wandering alone down a half-lit corridor between meeting rooms shut up for the season vaguely worrying that he shouldn’t have left Sherlock alone... until he analyses his own thoughts and it hits him: the fear that if John isn’t right there 24/7 Sherlock will die at his own hand or someone else’s is no longer justified.

Now what does John do?

He sees Sally Donovan.

She hasn’t seen him. She’s standing alone inside yet another little glass-walled office, working a photocopier, staring vacantly into the air as the machine hums and churns. John blinks; more than anything or anyone else he’s seen yet she is such a jolt back into his previous life that for a moment he feels nothing but displacement.

Then his old hatred wells up. He can’t get at Moriarty any more, but Donovan was Moriarty’s tool, as well as being a bitch in her own right. ‘Freak,’ she said. ‘Stay away from Sherlock Holmes,’ she said. And she couldn’t wait to believe the lies.

‘Not at the press conference, then?’ he says, pushing into the little room.

She spotted him a split second before he spoke. Her nostrils flare and she picks up her pile of photocopies as if to use it as a barrier between them.

‘I’m working. I’ve got a briefing in ten minutes,’ she says. Then, as if she can’t help herself: ‘My God, it’s really you. I thought you’d gone the same way as him. Except – but he’s not...?’

‘Yes, we’re both alive. No thanks to you.’ John won’t hit her but she’s obviously interpreting his body language as a threat; let her worry. ‘You may not have been at the press conference but I’m here to tell you that Sherlock faked his death, Moriarty was real and we’ve just given the proof to the media.’

‘Yes, I had guessed that much.’ Her sarcasm is brittle. ‘John, if you think I haven’t had any sleepless nights over it, you’re wrong. But the evidence looked watertight. And I’ve had a few other things on my plate as well.’

She cocks her head down towards her photocopies; they’re protected by an arm but John still glimpses the words ‘rape’ and ‘suspect’ at the top of the page. Should that give him pause? Maybe it does, but not enough. ‘You hated him, you wanted to take him down, and you took him down. Well done. Get promoted, did you?’

‘Come on. You think I’m down here doing my own photocopying because I got promoted? They moved me sideways, or that’s how they put it. We all worked with Sherlock...’ She shrugs.

‘Sherlock made it pretty clear that Lestrade’ll be getting reinstated or else,’ says John.

Sally stares, then says abruptly, ‘I'm pleased for him.’

She’s as good as asked What about me?

‘Lestrade’ll want his team back,’ John says. ‘The man’s loyal to a fault.’

‘You seriously want to look in the mirror before you say something like that. Yes, I know how decent Greg is. Either way, you needn’t worry I’ll come to Sherlock looking for favours.’

‘As if I thought you would.’ It’s not the right time for this, but then it probably never will be. ‘Look, why’d you have to hate him? Why the name-calling and the eye-rolling and treating him like he’s not human? Anderson’s just a tosser, but you?’

John half-expects a rude response, in which case he’ll let rip. But Sally just puts her photocopies on one of the untenanted desks, and leans against it.

‘Name-calling? You want to try getting nigger shouted at you every day. But Sherlock with that posh accent sticks out even worse than me round here so I tried to be friendly. Got that thrown back in my face soon enough. He decided to tell me what a bore Oxford uni was apart from the drugs.’

Nice. It’s easy enough to imagine Sherlock doing that. John might even have reacted the same way Sally did... to a point.

‘Well, hold the front page, Sherlock can be a twat,’ he says. ‘There are still things you don't do to other human beings.’

‘Like grass them up? Well, it’s not me who treats him like he’s not human. That’s all those people who ooh and aah at him, and they’ll be a hundred times worse now he’s back from the dead.’

‘Those people. You mean me?’

‘No!’ Sally looks like she can’t believe his stupidity. ‘You made him almost bearable. I appreciate that.’

It’s an olive branch. He should probably take it, for the sake of future cases. His heart isn’t in it, but he casts around for something to say.

‘I really didn’t know he was alive until he called me a couple of months ago. Bit of a shock.’

‘Well he wouldn’t care about that,’ replies Sally confidently. John immediately wants to contradict her, then he remembers that the old Sherlock really wouldn’t have cared.

He knows Sherlock has changed. He just can’t prove to himself that it’s permanent.

‘Look, if you actually want to know what happened, just watch the press conference,’ says John.

‘Yeah I will, if you don’t ask me to believe it’s the whole story,’ she says. ‘Look, I’ve got a briefing and I’m guessing you didn’t plan on hanging round here either. You heading back to Baker Street?’

John nods. There’s a mixture of sympathy and schadenfreude in her voice, and he’d expect to be disgusted by it, but he’s had too much of that in his life. She’s familiar; apparently that counts.

‘Yes, accompanied by half the press in Britain I don’t doubt,’ he says. ‘Jesus, can’t I shoot just one of them? I’ll pick the most annoying as an example to the rest.’

Sally sniggers. ‘If there’s three hundred photos of you committing murder, I won’t be getting you out of it.’

‘Fine, fine. I’ll ask Mycroft,’ says John.

Sally collects her photocopies and exits the room, cocking her head at him once.

Somehow John feels he’s finally been told Welcome back.


Sherlock

Sherlock is on a high from the press conference, or on as much of a high as the lithium will allow him; he’ll probably need to lower his dose before it impedes cases. He has the press on side. Venal and stupid as they are, they understand that the best, by which they mean the most tritely sensational, story is his fall and rise. It will crowd out the unwanted details, and then in turn it will pass.

John is nervous in the car. Their phones reveal internet reports of them being sighted in Malta and St Petersburg. But Sherlock reminds John in an undertone that the bases are covered: Kolyvanov claimed Russian responsibility for the Maltese men’s deaths as part of his trap for Sherlock, and they knew before they left Piter that Gleb Yevdokimov was claiming to have killed Kolyvanov. There is nothing to link them to the deaths, as the identity of Moriarty’s snipers was not generally known even in criminal circles – it took Sherlock months to identify them. Apart from the old underworld rumour from New York there are no sightings of Sherlock in the US, where he was alone and well-disguised.

They are going to make it. They almost have made it. Once they’ve shoved through the press pack to reach the 221 front door, Mrs Hudson talks them up the stairs at the rate of five words a second, then makes three separate awkward references to homosexuality, which she seems to believe is a recent cultural innovation that Sherlock has adopted in lieu of more taxing social norms... and leaves them alone. Her kitten heels clack away down the stairs.

‘Wow,’ says John, looking around them with a spacey grin.

Sherlock paces across the living room. He wants to check his bedroom but even more than that he wants to kiss John. It was easy to do that abroad. Here... there is so much more to his life. How does he manage the part of him that loves John?

‘Kiss me,’ he instructs abruptly. At this particular moment the gesture would be symbolic and thus containable.

John does so, briefly. But he’s tense, and he breaks off. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says, and his eyes go to the window. The sounds of some four dozen gentlemen and ladies of the press are plainly audible from below. ‘Just... uncomfortable.’

‘They’ll be gone in a few days,’ says Sherlock. ‘They bore easily.’

He heads for his dusty, box-strewn bedroom. He wouldn’t have cringed from the press in his own home, but he’s strangely OK with the fact that John did. Underneath his calculations Sherlock feels raw, and he isn’t supposed to. He was healed. They should both be fine now.

They just need time. It isn’t John’s fault that he’s seen parts of Sherlock that Sherlock now doesn’t know what to do with. Madness. Pain. Those parts will fade. With time.

It takes the rest of this day and all the next for Sherlock to sort out the mess in his room while John hoovers and dusts his way around the rest of the flat. Occasionally they kiss. John sleeps in the single bed in his own room. There is so much else happening that it seems easier.

They ignore their phones until on the morning of day three Sherlock’s ringer sounds with the tone that means Mycroft. After a teeth-gritted conversation, Sherlock admits one Times reporter for an exclusive at-home interview, which he devotes to emphasizing how much he wants to get back to work, along with some piquant observations on the imbecility of selected figures in the judicial and police establishments. John looks worried.

John keeps abreast of the latest reports. The Daily Star claims that Sherlock is really dead and has been replaced by a stunning transsexual body double who has enslaved John Watson through the influence of enormous tits concealed within the Belstaff. The Daily Mail says that decent people are right to be angry with this disgusting publicity stunt but that Sherlock was pushed into it by a combination of his obvious psychological peculiarities and Britain’s out-of-control crime levels, and all this proves that something must finally be done about black gang violence. The Guardian condemns the fact that Britain’s homophobic public is more obsessed with whether Sherlock Holmes is having sex with John Watson than the miscarriage of justice which was Moriarty’s initial acquittal and subsequent depredations, and concludes that we need a more open society. Of all the papers, The Sun plays the story straightest, with not a hint that its earlier coverage may have been substandard; Riley’s byline is notably absent from anywhere in the paper. Satire websites have a field day after John arranges for a Tesco home delivery and has to go down to save the driver.

Yet in spite of John’s furrowed brow, no serious accusations against them materialise. On the afternoon of day three, Mycroft’s people publicly find some more members of Moriarty’s network to arrest, with the result that the focus of the story shifts away from Sherlock to the criminal gang angle.

Things are going well. Although they are still under siege, the number of reporters halves. As well as camping around the front, the press still lurk behind Mrs Hudson’s bins, but in spite of that John appears late one night in Sherlock’s bedroom, says ‘I’m used to sleeping beside someone else now,’ and gets into the double bed.

Sherlock nods, tells himself his heart is not hammering, and continues paying attention to his forensics journal for two and a half minutes, which is the point when the bedding rustles convulsively – and a mouth makes its way inside his pyjama trousers.

The journal falls to the floor. Sherlock slides the waistband off his hips to allow John better access. John has not demanded the access himself, and that trend of non-assertion continues as he lays a hand on Sherlock’s thigh that seems to steady rather than steer. His tongue is insistent but soft, and Sherlock closes his eyes to let images of leather and metal and flesh play against the darkness, because he understands why John is tentative and doesn’t want Sherlock screaming the place down right now, but there are still things he needs in order to climax. Surely John needs them too, or at least wants them? Once the press are gone, will John’s inhibitions go as well?

Sherlock recalls the clenching burn of hot cream on his balls, the stretched swing of his arm in its cuff as John manhandled him... but his arousal has plateaued. There’s only so much that memory plus caresses can do.

Then John’s nails sink into his thigh. Ah. Sherlock allows himself the luxury of a groan.

When he comes, it’s almost gentle, and it’s accompanied by the slightly cushioned, lithium-haze feeling of watching himself without much interest. Yes we did this, and it wasn’t quite right, and I don’t care about that as much as I want to.

John sits up. He hawks semen into a tissue, gives a smirk that is tentative around the edges and says, ‘You really can’t come without pain, then?

‘I seldom try,’ replies Sherlock, sitting up too. ‘Can you get off without controlling or hurting your partner?’

‘Yeah, though it’s not quite as much of a trip. Guess I’m bisexual in more ways than one.’

Sherlock considers. He won’t insult John by fearing to lose him at this point, but there has been a blankness inside Sherlock since he returned. Lithium fog? He doesn’t know. It’s as if something is drifting.

‘I can’t scene right now, anyway,’ he says suddenly. ‘I need to stay focused.’

‘I know,’ says John, even though Sherlock’s excuse was feeble. Somehow the situation has flipped so that John, heroic John, is waiting for him again. ‘Well, with twenty journalists listening in it’s an academic question.’

The observation – and for John it does seem to be a real reason for inhibition – seals the decision. The awkwardness between them gradually fades into sleep, with John’s arm wrapped around Sherlock’s torso.

A few days later they wake up to find that the press have gone.


Sherlock

‘Wow,’ says John, staring out of the living room window over his steaming RAMC mug. ‘It’s actually like Baker Street instead of Piccadilly Circus out there.’

Sherlock is on his laptop. ‘Aha. I’ve got an email from a certain D.I. Lestrade here,’ he says, and feels himself grin. They managed drinks at an adjunct of the Diogenes club, and at the time Lestrade wasn’t certain his reinstatement would actually occur. Now... the news almost physically warms Sherlock. ‘He tells me there’s a serendipitous crackdown on obstructions to the public highway. I suspect he’s quite influential just now.’

John smirks too, looking around. ‘Any cases?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Well. I’ll have a clear run leaving the flat, at least. I wasn’t looking forward to laying about me with a brolly, Mycroft-style.’

To their mutual surprise John already has a job interview, this morning at a private clinic. John claims to believe that they want to gawp at the celeb sidekick, but Sherlock suspects the hand of his brother in a serious job offer. He’ll tolerate that, if John will.

‘And I need some body parts,’ Sherlock says, stretching. He has a number of experiments prepared, and Mrs Hudson ditched his frozen flesh supply in his absence. ‘Time to go to Barts.’

John glances around at him. ‘Barts,’ he says flatly. Neither of them have been back there yet.

‘I’ve texted Molly to get the stuff ready.’

‘Ah,’ says John. His watchful look continues for a moment, then softens into a smile. It’s the knowing one he uses when he thinks Sherlock is doing something uncharacteristically human. Well, as it happens Sherlock actually wanted to see Molly before this. But she is sure to have emotions at him, and he’ll feel awkward, and he’ll probably end up upsetting her. The thought of that is unpleasant. Nevertheless.

An hour later, Sherlock steps out of a taxi in front of the pathology building. He walks straight over the spot where he ‘died’, because to walk around it would be irrational, then into the building and up the stairs.

Molly is waiting for him in her lab. He sees her through the windowed door as she hastily bends over an instrument tray to look busy. As he closes in he reads her: broken sleep last night, make-up applied then wiped off and applied again this morning.

When he opens the door her ponytail swings jauntily as she turns her head with a bright smile.

‘Didn’t hear you coming!’ she exclaims. ‘Wow. I saw the TV coverage. So you succeeded then? Killed everybody?’

‘Yes.’ Sherlock replies calmly to her bravado. It’s safe to talk in here. It always has been. ‘Or rather John did.’ Though he owes her the truth, he cannot mention Graf. ‘I specified three testicles in my text message but if you have a fourth I’d appreciate it.’

‘Oh. Oh yes,’ says Molly. ‘They tend to come in pairs. So. Everything you asked for’s in the morgue in freezer three, if you want to go and – oh God. Seeing you again is a bit – well, it’s good, obviously. Are you OK?’

Of course Sherlock is OK. He just has a sense that his body is at a slight remove from him as he sits down awkwardly on a lab stool. ‘I... I killed one of the snipers,’ he says, almost testing the idea for its validity now he’s home. It seems detached from him; sinister and huge.

Molly nods, coming closer. ‘Um, if you didn’t kill him, it was his job to kill one of your friends, wasn’t it?’ It’s half a question; she’s out of her depth when it comes to violence.

‘Yes,’ says Sherlock. He focuses on her instead of the gunshot in his memory. He recalls her trying to smile as he climbed off the bloody stretcher, then guarding the storeroom as he wept. Was that when something broke and his mind sped up? ‘I wanted to see you.’ He feels gratitude, and it’s not unpleasant.

But Molly blushes, and Sherlock realises his misstep. His statement was literally true, but also like something out of one of John’s cheesy films. And while Molly’s crush was once convenient, the idea of exploiting her is no longer palatable.

‘I’m romantically and sexually involved with John,’ Sherlock says. ‘It began in Malta, and I think it’ll last.’

Molly freezes. ‘Oh,’ she says, then sits down clumsily on a stool. ‘Well. I knew that. I mean, it’s all over the papers, not that they... I... God, you must think I’m a moron. I am a moron. I go for the gay one every time. Every time!’

She seems to be appealing to the bench for an answer. It’s Sherlock who owes her one, but this is definitively not his area. Yet once she told him You always say such horrible things, and he doesn’t want to be like that.

‘It’s possible that gay men share some genetic or social characteristics which appeal to you,’ Sherlock says. ‘But since the biological origins of homosexuality are poorly understood, it would be difficult to define those characteristics. There must be straight men who have them, and your chances with such a man would be good.’

Molly looks at him sideways, raising incredulous eyebrows, but she doesn’t speak, so Sherlock forges on.

‘You’re quite feminine, and you’re about on a level with John for intelligence. That and your career choice will intimidate some men, but not the ones who’re worth your attention. I’ve observed low self-worth in many women, and in your case it’s unjustified.’

Molly nods once, slowly. She’s already a little more composed, he’s pleased to see. ‘Sherlock... that was horrible... and a compliment. You compliment me by telling me the truth, don’t you?

He considers that. It is and isn’t correct. He tells everyone portions of the truth, but the fact that Molly copes with most of it makes her worth bothering with. When he didn’t even have John, he had her.

‘Yes,’ he agrees. He can’t give her what she really wants, but this is still true: ‘I need you, as I said.’

Molly smiles a little sadly. ‘What for, now you’re back? To keep you supplied with eyeballs?’

‘Not just that.’ He pauses, wondering what he’s doing, then the words seem to claw their way up his throat: ‘I went mad.’

She blinks at him uncertainly. ‘You mean you had to do some pretty, um, hairy things when you were undercover?’

‘No, although I did,’ Sherlock replies. He’d better see this through now. ‘What I mean is that I have manic depression.’

Beat. She doesn’t react. Then she says ‘Oh, Sherlock!’ softly.

‘Jumping, or hitting my head, or leaving London, or something triggered a cycle, and it actually caused more problems than the snipers. John had to dissuade me from killing myself, which he probably found ironic.’ Sherlock studies the bench, waiting. Molly’s a trained doctor, so she should understand what she’s been told. If her reaction is silly, he will simply leave. It was a stupid risk to tell her at all. Stupid. But he wants her to react well.

‘Actually, I’m not entirely surprised,’ Molly says. ‘My aunt and cousin have it, and I’ve wondered a bit about you. But I thought you’d rip my head off if I said anything.’

Her mundane response is simultaneously a relief and annoying.

‘They’re pretty much OK now.’ She responds to his look as if he’d asked a question. ‘Auntie Em had to go into hospital a couple of times, but that was a few years ago, before they got her meds right. I know bipolar can be awful.’

Understatement. ‘Lithium seems to be working for me,’ says Sherlock. ‘Fortunately John can prescribe without involving anyone else. So my illness won’t be appearing in the tabloids. Nor will your involvement in my jump.’

He sees a shadow cross her face at John’s name. Her smile gets brittle.

‘I know,’ says Molly. ‘Sherlock, I...’ Suddenly she jumps up and wraps her arms around him side on, leaning her head on his shoulder. He can feel her tension, but her voice is level. ‘Sherlock, I’m your friend. Having a – a crush on you isn’t actually relevant, when it comes down to it. Just look after yourself, please. Let John make you happy.’

Sherlock has tensed up at her touch. This seems unkind so he makes himself relax. But he has no mental map for this, for caring about it. He makes himself put a hand up to stroke Molly’s hair, just the once. She feels soft, and she smells clean and practical like her lab.

‘I don’t know how to be fair to you,’ he says.

Molly laughs a bit shakily, detaching from him. ‘Life’s not fair, Sherlock. I’d rather have you rejecting me than Jim being fake, so we’re doing OK, right?’

‘Yes.’ She handled ‘Jim’ better than he did, all things considered. Strange thought. ‘You should have seen me in a manic rage, though.’ He should stop talking about this stuff. He can’t. ‘Or suicidal. I was not my best self.’ It feels like if she recoils he’ll have achieved something.

Instead she look at him with the shrewdness he ignored for some years. ‘I bet you were awful, yes. But Sherlock, who a person is doesn’t change.’ She looks down. ‘My Dad in his last few days, he was still my Dad. I can’t imagine you not you, if that’s what’s worrying you – God, I didn’t say that very well, but you know what I mean. I bet John feels the same.’

Sherlock is listening. He told John I’m still me even on lithium, so he shouldn’t need her reassurance. And yet. In spite of her awkwardness, a view seen through her eyes is a view refined in new ways. She sees his love, and it hurts her, but she doesn’t class it with his madness. She accepts their coexistence in him, and the affirmation is absurdly, shamefully powerful. How can people affect him like this?

Clearly some do, and he is not interested in denying facts.

‘John has been exceptionally helpful,’ says Sherlock. ‘You too. You’re honest when it matters. Very few people are.’

‘Really? Maybe I’m catching it off you lately,’ Molly gives a little waggle of her head. ‘I haven’t got much else going for me, have I?’

Sherlock considers. There must be a socially adept response to that, but wanting not to be horrible and achieving compassionate eloquence are apparently not the same.

‘Shall we go to the morgue?’ he says. He and Molly should both stick to body parts.

‘OK,’ she agrees, just as he realises that failing to make a response to her rhetorical question was worse than saying something inane. There is a huge, empty moment. Then Molly gives him a watery smile.

Sherlock smiles back. Not the reflexive, contemptuous smile, but the one he keeps for John, and in response the contours of Molly’s expression change. Her face lights up.

‘You are attractive when you smile,’ says Sherlock. There’s still an emotional mess here, but it seems to have become bearable for her, and that is strangely important to him. Stranger still, feeling that way feels in some respects good. ‘Now, corpses, please?’



John

John is offered the clinic job on the spot. ‘Mycroft Holmes is paying you, isn’t he,’ he says, considering whether to walk out. They don’t deny it.

And then he takes the job. Steady work on the CV is steady work on the CV, and they say they won’t mind him coming and going as his ‘consultancy’ for Sherlock demands. A man with something to prove might reject this arrangement, but John is no longer such a man.

As he walks into the Baker Street kitchen, Sherlock is – good grief, he is actually dissecting a human testicle.

‘OK, I like a bit of CBT too, but....’ says John, peering at the mess.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not Mycroft’s,’ Sherlock responds drily, moving to peer down his microscope. ‘Was he behind this job interview?’

‘Yeah, but I took the position anyway,’ says John, and shrugs when Sherlock turns around in surprise. ‘I have to be honest with myself: my day job’s not what I care about most, is it? I want a gig where they’ll let me help you on cases.’

‘Understood,’ says Sherlock. He looks appreciative, and John’s reaction is no longer surprise. Worrying that Sherlock might revert is futile.

Sherlock’s mobile, sitting on the tabletop away from the chemistry kit, vibrates. He stares at it, motionless, then grabs it. ‘From Lestrade. Case! ’ he lets the word out in a long, hard hiss.

Sherlock starts packing his experiment away. John picks up the phone and reads the brief details of what looks like a locked-room murder mystery with some unknown poison. Perfect for Sherlock. And him.

‘Get your boots back on,’ says Sherlock. ‘Looks like this one could keep us busy for a while. If we’re still functional afterwards, you can top the hell out of me.’

John’s stomach does a flip. He lunges for his discarded footwear.

They’re back, and their lives are going to fit.


***

Chapter 3 has been written but I'm still working on the epilogue and both will need betaing. So at present I'm planning to post both in a fortnight, but we'll see!
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