Title: A Good Man's Day
Pairing: Sherlock/John friendship (pre-slash if you're looking for it)
Word count: ~4,000
Summary: Deception from an unexpected source leads to a very different ending to the Fall. And John really is very clever after all.
Spoilers: Up to "The Reichenbach Fall," with spoilers for that episode, though mostly speculation.
Warning: Major Character Death, semi-graphic depiction of mortal injuries
Disclaimer: I am neither Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Steven Moffat, nor Mark Gatiss. No copyright infringement is intended.
When Moriarty is arrested, it feels as though the ground shifts under London. The threat of him has loomed large and unbearable for months now; the city holds her collective breathe, because this just might be the end of a threat they didn't know to fear.
Sherlock knows better. He has his deductions and his evidence. He has his confidence as well, though he's been told to watch that. Pride cometh before the fall and all. It remains nonetheless, if dampened by the quiet resignation John has taken to donning like a shroud each day.
He can't help watching his friend—his one and only, really—and wondering what his unquantifiable instincts tell him. John is a scientist to be sure, which makes him indispensible when he chooses to utilize those particular talents, but he is more soldier these days than he will ever again be mere man. He wears his weapon to dinner and to crime scenes. His kindness has become a mask to cover what Sherlock should not ask after, despite what he sees. John Watson is slipping away as Moriarty draws nearer.
Sherlock can't allow that to happen.
John is not clever. He's no fool, mind, but he isn't the mind of his generation. He isn't someone who'll be missed for his intellect and, now, as he thinks on it more, he knows he also won't be missed for his children. He hasn't any that he knows of and the future that stretches before him has suddenly shortened to a brief vivid expanse. No, he won't be missed for children, perhaps not even for friendship. However, he's confident, that somehow he will be missed.
John is not a clever man, no, but he is very, very brave.
To the contrary, Mycroft Holmes is clever, some would even say to a dangerous degree. Some men play chess with pieces of plastic, others of wood. Those who fancy themselves eccentric dare to nudge glass pawns to their places, wearing superior smiles that go no deeper than their vain, wasted intellects. Mycroft has often been thought vain and he doesn't doubt his own superiority—he's never suffered needless bouts of modesty and never shall on this. For that reason, he trumps the most stridently eccentric, for he plays with pawns, bishops, and knights that bleed. Many have said this makes him cruel. But Mycroft knows all the better that it makes him nearly kind, because it makes him incredibly cautious. Soldiers that fall leave trails of blood, and they are never forgotten. Mycroft doesn't want them to be.
And so, when John Watson steps out of Baker Street under the pretense of seeing his sister, Mycroft is waiting a block away.
John doesn't ask much of him. In fact, he asks nearly nothing, merely that Mycroft provide him with a credible clone of Sherlock's phone.
Mycroft taps his fingers on the handle of his umbrella for want of more telling gestures. John Watson is not a brilliant man. He is neither brilliant nor terribly above average, but, yes, he is very brave. Mycroft can see two dozen steps ahead of them both and knows with chilling certainty the outcome of this story. He sees his brother's vacant eyes and a casket adorned with flowers of dozens of the men that John Watson has saved. And he realizes that this can end no other way, save for the one he finds least acceptable.
He wants to say, to the man who has saved his brother's life and will again, "You are a very good man." But, coming from him, it will hardly have the meaning he intends. Consequently, the words go unsaid and the doctor doesn't seem to expect them. They part ways two blocks from Harriet Watson's flat.
The phone is waiting for Doctor Watson on her doorstep when he leaves an hour later.
John may be your average idiot, but he is a soldier, after all; he knows when a man is putting his affairs in order. He has noted Sherlock's carefully concealed correspondence with his personal attorney. He's felt the pensive contemplations that quiet the flat in lieu of Sherlock's usual restiveness. Sherlock isn't bored anymore, he's remembering, committing to memory everything he has ever loved. He's updated his blog and had tea with Mrs. Hudson. He's taken one of Mycroft's calls and actually, just once, attended a Friday pub night with the Yarders, where he was surprisingly personable.
Johns thinks it sad that Sherlock believes people think little enough of him not to note the change. But then, most don't, chalking it up to the oddity that has surrounded him all along. They're wrong, John knows, and for that reason, he doubts he'll miss them much at all.
Not as much as Sherlock Holmes.
When Sherlock is called to be a witness for the prosecution, no one is shocked. Sherlock takes it in stride, though John can see the gleam of pride in his eye at this faint bit of validation. Sherlock Holmes is amazing, now the world will know. John tries not to smile and fails. Sherlock grins.
He's been doing that more and more every day. John regrets already the ones he won't get to see. And there will be hundreds and hundreds more. He'll make sure of it.
It is the happiest either of them are for a very long time.
As they inevitably do, thing go awry shortly before the trial of the century is set to begin. Mycroft is watching without pulling strings. Even a hint of it will find him on the receiving end of his brother's wrath and there could not be a worse time for divided loyalties.
Moriarty wants a word with his brother. The press is after blood. One way or another, there will be unintended casualties and there is nothing Mycroft can do.
This is the job of brave men, now. Or rather, he should say, a very brave man.
Sherlock has his confidence and his pride. He also has a past worth mentioning, and mentioned it is. Repeatedly. Exhaustively. Ad nauseum. That the press's incessant harping on his past drug use nearly drives him back to it is the height of irony.
Yet, he can't enjoy it for the tension brimming in every person he sees with any regularity. Lestrade has surrendered all pretence of nicotine patches, stepping out with discretion but without shame for a cigarette every hour or so that he spends at Baker Street—which seems to be most hours of the day. There, the three of them pore over case files and logged evidence fervently, though Sherlock has long since memorized it all. John and Lestrade drill him constantly until he can answer any conceivable question concisely while demonstrating the least possible amount of condescension.
If they can't understand plain English, they deserve it, is not considered an acceptable response.
He could easily ignore them were it not for their respective dark clouds that have merged to become a veritable thunderstorm of bad feeling. They aren't angry in the least but expectant. They don't expect to see Moriarty convicted anymore than he. That it's so blatantly obvious infuriates him. All of the work he's put into seeing this man defeated and even the most blinding of idiots—though he considers neither John nor Lestrade that—can see that he will escape in the end.
Against an opponent unwilling to sacrifice himself, perhaps he would, but Sherlock believes any loss is worthwhile in the name of the Game. And he will win.
On the final day of the trial, Lestrade sends a car for them. It is the only time Sherlock willingly sets foot inside of a cruiser. Greying memories of occasions long past have kept him out till now. He hopes, irrationally, not to set foot in another. Having John beside him presses heavy feet against the door to those memories and he lets them retreat into darkness where they belong.
The streets to the courthouse sweep past in a blurred whirl. He can remember running them on dozens over dozens of separate nights with this very man. There is always a crime to be solved and they are only ever too glad.
London has loved them. It is the least he can do, and the most, he thinks, to love her in return.
John's shoulder has bumped Sherlock's before either of them realizes they've moved. He turns to his friend who has turned to him. They share a small, brief smile that does little to comfort either of them, but that is more than enough.
They sit in the middle of the backseat together, knees colliding gently as they take sharp turns, shoulders pressed together in solidarity. They are neither of them overly demonstrative, yet they don't move.
They don't say a word the entire way. They don't need to.
If John were another sort of man, he would reflect on his quick thinking with pride. He would call it inspiration. He's a realist, though; he calls it luck.
When they arrive at the courthouse, they're treated to a thorough search for weapons and forced to surrender their electronics and metal objects while they step through the metal detectors. John passes easily. Sherlock is not so fortunate, having ferried one of Lestrade's pilfered shields in his pocket on a lark. That requires some explanation. As Sherlock talks very quickly to one side, his mobile passes through the X-Ray machine with John's personal phone, as well the clone secreted underneath it.
John picks up Sherlock's phone and his own. The clone stays.
The number Jim Moriarty will call Sherlock from is carefully blocked. Sherlock will never know he tried.
John is not dramatic. At least, not in any sense comparable to the Holmes brothers. His comedic talent can be found in a pithy one-liner or an incredulous look. Where John excels in drama, however, is merely in the matter of timing.
When Sherlock testifies, he is damning. His certitude, his steady eyes, the utter sharpness of his being moves those in the gallery. The judge is riveted, so is John. Moriarty is enraptured. The fascination in his gaze makes John shift in his seat, his protective instincts switched to high gear. He's known people like that. There are people in the world who love and there are people who worship, but there are also people who obsess. Those who obsess want to possess the object of their fascination. They want to break it and reassemble it in the image of their desire to use as they'd like. They don't accept refusal; in fact, they don't hear it. All they hear is "yes."
That is, until someone says no.
What scares John most is that he isn't sure Sherlock can.
The trial recesses for lunch and the hour of Sherlock and Moriarty's meeting draws near. Sherlock is waiting for a call, the call. He knows Moriarty has his number as the meeting was arranged by text in the first place. When the first quarter hour goes by without contact, John cajoles Sherlock into the commissary for a truly terrible cup of tea. They grouse half-heartedly over it, eyes on wall clock and mobile , respectively.
Then, Sherlock's phone vibrates audibly on the hard plastic tabletop and he snatches it up, only to swear when he recognizes the hand the text is typed in. A word, brother? –MH
His first instinct is to ignore his brother's unwanted intrusion in favour of awaiting his belated meeting with Moriarty. This is much too important to be influenced in any way by his brother's machinations. He had thought his feelings on the matter had been made clear. It takes only a single look at John to change his mind.
John of pursed lips and hands folded very carefully around his Styrofoam cup of tepid, bleak water. John who gave up looking at him some time ago. And Sherlock thinks, What has he done, John? What has he roped you into? Because John has never been a liar, not to Sherlock, and he doesn't care to see that start now.
"My brother has attempted to draft you into a scheme. You disagree with it, but you believe his reasons are good, so you won't interfere." These aren't questions. John's flinch is answer enough. "When will you learn, John? Mycroft's reasons are never anything approaching 'good.'" He leaves his friend in the solemnly bustling canteen with these words of wisdom.
It doesn't occur to him, during the gallingly slow ride down in the elevator or at any point during his furious march out the side door of the courthouse to the black car waiting below, that he is quite simply wrong.
But then, it never does.
John is counting on that.
John takes Sherlock's mobile out of his jacket pocket to read the six increasingly irate messages Moriarty's sent. He answers just as the seventh arrives. Was incurably delayed. I'll be there shortly. - SH
He tucks the phone away and rises to dispose of their barely-drunk cups of sewage. After giving Sherlock a three-minute head start on the elevator, he makes for the stairs, and for the roof.
Sherlock Holmes is very, very clever, but he can be blind. He sneers at his brother, who says nothing for the first two minutes after his arrival. Sherlock would go so far as to say Mycroft wasn't actually waiting for him and doesn't have anything to say.
"What have you done?" The sneer is an additional effort he can't continue to make and it falls by the wayside with his brother's pursed mouth. Long, tapered fingers so like his twist his umbrella in a manner meant to seem thoughtful instead of anxious. The subterfuge fails.
"I've done nothing. For this very reason, in fact. I knew you'd throw a tantrum if I dared interfere. This trial will play out the only way it can."
Sherlock feels his mouth twist at the supercilious manner in which his brother speaks. Though he has been this way since university, Sherlock sometimes still wonders what became of the elder brother he so revered as child. Then again, he hardly knows what became of the child he used to be, thus rendering the entire line of questioning moot. They are men now, not boys, and these are no longer childish feuds. People have already suffered.
His brother's face, one that he knows much better than his own, pinches as though to say, And more will suffer still.
Sherlock does not have long to wonder whom he might mean.
The phone resting inconspicuously on the seat beside his brother is illuminated by a new text alert. Mycroft takes it up and reads through the message quickly. His expression shifts from surprise to acceptance to cool placidity. He locks the display and places it back at his side. His quietude is an act and not a convincing one. Sherlock narrows his eyes and waits.
"You may wish to check Doctor Watson's blog, brother."
Sherlock frowns, confused because he's noticed no such alert himself. "What?"
"Check it. I think you'll find it's been updated recently."
He is staring even as he is reaching for the phone inside his jacket. He scrolls through his most visited sites in the browser, of which John's is third, behind BBC International and the Scotland Yard Bulletin, but ahead of the Science of Deduction. He clicks the link and waits impatiently for the blog to load. It seems to take ages.
"This would all go much faster if you just told m—"
He doesn't get very far with that sentence before the badly pixilated page becomes passibly legible. Too much internet traffic, he deduces absently, scanning the newest post again for something more than the few lines readily tell.
You saved me. Now this is me saving you, the wisest man I have ever known and my best friend. I don't call you that enough, but you are, and I've been lucky because of that. Sherlock, don't regret this. I don't, not a minute. This is the way things had to end. It couldn't go any other way. But if it hurts you or distracts you from the Work, delete it, and me, if you need to. I don't mind. But whatever you do, whatever happens, I want you to live, Sherlock. I want you to live for a very long time. Do that for me.
It's been an honour to run with you and to watch you run. Goodbye and good luck.
Always your blogger,
Sherlock does not linger to hurl the threats his brother deserves for knowing and saying nothing. There will be time enough for that later. He is out of the car in moments, pelting towards a building standing on borrowed time, running towards a friend—his one friend—that he will never reach.
He knows all that, but still he runs.
There is nothing else he can do.
John doesn't bring a gun to this fight. His sits at home in a drawer where Sherlock will find it when the days are dark and puts holes in the walls that Mycroft will find himself inevitably responsible for. So long as that's all it does, John doesn't mind.
He has bypassed Moriarty's lawyers and his cronies, because there are none. They've all been dismissed to prowl the halls of the building in their well-dressed menace, leaving the courthouse corridors nearly deserted for ill feeling. But the roof is a better place. The raging winds cut around buildings and streets to ruffle his hair and muss his tie. It feels like London at his side, like Sherlock even, a living thing. He doesn't feel alone.
"This is a surprise," says the man he's come to see. Moriarty has his back to the sky and he is illuminated by the midday.
"Not really," John says in reply. He has always known he'd die for Sherlock. He'd simply hoped to have longer to live with him.
"The lapdog strikes out on his own." Moriarty draws his hands from the pockets of his Westwood to offer John slow, mocking applause. John allows a grim smile, even a bow.
The game was on. The game is over. He can almost breathe for the relief of it.
"It was bound to happen." He approaches Jim assuredly, refusing to drag things out further. They know how this goes, but he's certain they have different plans. Moriarty thinks he'll walk away from this alone; John doesn't plan to walk away.
"Ah, ah, Johnny boy. Let's not be hasty. You didn't think I'd make this that easy, did you?" Jim twists his heads in an absent fashion, all the while eyeing John like the reptilian predator he is.
It's this look that sends John's shoulders back and turns his spine to steel. He will not bend, not for this man, not for anyone who would hurt his friend and the city, the country John has spent his life defending. He will not yield, he can't.
He takes another step forward, heedless of Moriarty's warning. There's nothing easy about this.
Sherlock Holmes is very lucky in a way. He does not have to see his best friend fall. He is less fortunate in that he sees him land. There have been blood haloes of every circumference in his career, but never has one been so enchanting as the one John casts.
John is every sort of bone broken and fractured on the stones. He is bright, murky eyes displaced out of the kindest face Sherlock has ever seen. He is a carer's hands snapped and turned. But he is still John and, for just a moment, he is still breathing. Sherlock has luck enough; he is there for that.
He wants to shout at the man, a bloody soldier always in search of a war and failing to find it, making his own. He wants to shake him and kiss his face and call him fantastic, because it's all so clear now. You've been hiding your brilliance all along. The things we could have done if only I'd known. It's all been said or the opportunity lost. His blogger is broken beyond repair.
Instead, he touches his fingertips to John's abraded cheek and, looking into eyes that can't possibly see, he tells his brave soldier to stand down.
And, ever the army man, John does exactly as he's told.
Sherlock is still there when the Met comes with Lestrade at the forefront. He still there when his brother comes to cast his undesired shadow in the dusk. He is still there as they load James Moriarty's body into a coroner's van and when they come for John. Though he doesn't want to let go, he does, because John isn't there anymore, even if Sherlock is.
The Game has ended and the players have gone, but Sherlock hasn't won. In fact, he'd say he's lost worst of all. His mortal enemy and his friend. He has never been more adrift or more utterly alone.
Night falls with no end to a trial that now has no defendant, and Sherlock is still there, perched on the front steps of the courthouse like a vagrant, well-clothed and –housed, but no less transient. He can see his breath fog the air ahead and it's through that he views the dishevelled figure of his brother, sans brolly, approach. He would kill the man, has planned a number of gruesome ends for the nuisance that has plagued him since birth, but he can't find the might to lift his arms above chest-level. He'll never manage the arc to his throat.
Mycroft comes to his side, but he does not sit. He stands, leaning against a stone statute meant to embody justice while representing none. The irony does not escape them, though it goes unmentioned.
"His network has yet to be dismantled. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of criminals, minor to professional, need to be apprehended." It is the epitome of a peace offering; it makes Sherlock furious. It is a reason to go on; it catches in his throat where ill-grace might pour through.
Sherlock takes a deep breath. They pretend it does not stutter. They will be pretending for years.
He stands quickly, unsteadily and it isn't only his blood pressure surging. He is thinking again, remembering. There will be an empty place where he lives now. His meaning is not entirely literal, but he tries not to think of that. There is the Work again. He still has the work, as always.
"Bring the files to Baker Street this evening. I'll give them a look there. Just a look, mind," he objects on principle, walking at his brother's side so as not to note the void beside him. It is a ride filled to the brim with inanity and it is all Sherlock can bear.
Mycroft stays late with him to pore over the files his assistant retrieves. They don't speak; there isn't a need. It has been taken as read that Sherlock has found his new wind. There is nothing that will stop him tearing the life's work of one Jim Moriarty limb from limb. He will not allow him this final victory, however Pyrrhic.
Sherlock Holmes will go on and he will live for a very long time. He will have a great number of acquaintances and, eventually, a few friends, but never another best friend.
He will always have just the one.