"And here's your bag. I packed a few clothes in there for you as well as your perfume and whatever else you'll be needing," Greg explained, giving a duffel bag to Aryn as she sat on her hospital bed.
She was so relieved when the nurse had informed her the day prior that she could go home. No more day time telly, no more needles and check-ups, and no more hospital food. It also gave her a chance to get away from her thoughts. Even if John and Greg were able to visit every day, she'd still have times where all she could do was sit and think about where her life was going.
It would be hard to adjust back to being in Manchester after everything she had just been through. It would be even harder leaving Greg behind knowing how much she missed having her around. The one person she truly felt bad about leaving, though, was Sherlock.
Then again, why should she? Not once did he come by to visit her. Not once did he phone to see if she was alright. He didn't even send a card of some type to wish her a fast recovery.
On second thought, though, those are not things that Sherlock would do for anyone—not even John.
As she changed her clothes and began to fix her appearance so she'd look like her usual self, she looked at her face in the mirror. Every time she had gone into that bathroom, she looked at her reflection. This time, it seemed like she was looking at herself with fresh eyes. The soft face of the detective she once was had disappeared, replaced by experience, hardship, and broken memories. It would be a tough blow to recover from. Once she did, she feared she would never be the same person.
She walked out of the bathroom, her hair pulled up into a bun. "Much better."
Greg smiled at her as he walked towards the door. "Shall we?"
Aryn smiled as she walked towards the door. Greg opened it and the two walked down the various hallways and out of the building in silence.
Outside, the hustle and bustle of the London streets were as they had always been. People walked past without paying the pair a second glace. Everyone was off doing some kind of task and attending to their own agendas, unknowing of what had happened during the last few months. Only a few would know had they been reading the newspaper or the tabloids (Aryn had walked past a newsstand where one of the magazine headlines read "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: Dead or Alive?" She had shaken her head at it and walked away angrily).
The two took a cab to Aryn's apartment where a squad car was sitting outside.
"This is for your protection," he explained as the two walked along the front of the apartment building beside the car. "All of the targets have one or two of them posted outside. Just a precautionary measure."
"Well, you won't have to worry about me for long, Greg."
He stopped briefly as they stood outside the door to the apartment's lobby. "And why's that?"
"I'll be returning to Manchester tomorrow once I get my train tickets situated. The secretary at the other office is handling it for me."
"You don't want to stay here?" Greg asked, slight sadness outlining his tone, as the two walked inside and towards the elevator.
Aryn shook her head slightly as she watched the numbers above the elevator's entrance change in accordance to the floor it was on.
"But I thought that maybe…well…you and Sh—"
"There's nothing to be said about Sherlock and I," Aryn quickly cut off, sending Lestrade a glare that bore a million daggers into his being.
Silence settled once more on the two. The only thing that cut through it was the ringing noise of the elevator signaling that it had reached its destination floor. The doors pulled apart, allowing for the duo to walk inside. Aryn pressed the button labeled "5" and watched the doors close once again.
"You need to face him at some point, Aryn," Lestrade chided. "At least before you leave for Manchester."
"He never bothered to even see if I was okay after the incident," Aryn snapped, keeping her body faced towards the elevator's entrance.
"Well, you know damned well that that's not how Sherlock shows he cares." Lestrade's tone was getting more serious—more father-like—with every word he spat out. "You need to give him a chance to talk to you."
"There's no need." Aryn walked out of the elevator as soon as she could, walking briskly down the hall towards her room as she reached into her pocket for her keys.
"Aryn. ARYN!" Lestrade called from down the hall several feet away.
Outside of her door, Aryn was fumbling with her keys. She turned her head sharply towards Lestrade when he called her name, eyes full of frustration.
Not saying a word until he reached her, Lestrade grabbed Aryn's keys, found the proper key for her apartment, then opened the door for her. "Please…for me."
Aryn sighed as she pushed the door open. Everything was just as she had left it, aside from the papers that were now sitting unorganized on the floor after Lestrade had knocked them over. She walked inside and tossed her duffel bag on the couch. Her heart was racing as she walked deeper into her flat knowing that this was the place she had been taken from after being drugged. It felt as if one of her safe places had been violated—tainted with an evil that her memory could never wash away.
"Locks have been changed, windows have been secured with alarms. You'll be fine if you stay here."
"I was supposed to be fine before all that had been done to this place," she mumbled under her breath.
She walked towards her bedroom and pushed the door open. She looked around the room, checking to see if anything had changed. Her eyes landed on an unfamiliar object.
On her bed sat a black box, maybe a foot and a half long on each side and a foot tall. There was a folded note taped to the top of it with a single word on the outside: "Aryn".
Lestrade placed his hand on her shoulder, pulling her backwards out of the room. "That wasn't here when I stopped by a few hours ago." He had his gun pulled out of its holster, pointing at the mystery box before them.
Stepping cautiously into the room, Lestrade inspected the box at all angles. He noted that the paper was simply folded in half and the message had been written in black pen. It said:
Hyde Park. 8pm. Wear this.
There was no signature nor any other marking on the note aside from Aryn's name. Lestrade lifted the lid slowly on the box and stared at the contents. A black dress was wrapped in tissue paper on the inside. A scarf was folded next to it and beneath it was a grey pea coat similar to the one that Aryn had to sacrifice to the evidence lockers at Scotland Yard. She had never wanted it back because of the blood stains and traumatizing memories that came with them.
Aryn walked in and stood next to Lestrade, grabbing the note and reading it.
"I don't know what's going on, but I'm gonna call Donovan and—"
"It's fine, Greg," Aryn answered in a calm manner, still staring at the note in her hands.
"But Aryn, whoever this is could be—"
"Greg," she responded with a firmer tone. She gave a look of reassurance as she glanced down at the box he had open in front of him. "It's fine. I know who this is from. No threat. I promise."
7 o'clock rolled around faster than Aryn had anticipated. She had sent Greg away after vaguely answering all of the questions he had asked regarding the box and the mystery note. Of course, she didn't blame him for being overly cautious. She would have done the same thing.
Standing at the edge of her bed, she stared at the clothes that were in the box, now spread out on her comforter. In her head there was a never ending argument as to whether or not she should wear the garments, let alone show up at the park at all. Time was running out and she needed to make a decision.
A small knock came at her door, snapping Aryn's attention towards the sound.
Looking down at the clothes once more with a sigh, she left the room and walked to her front door, peering through the peephole. She smirked slightly when she saw who it was and proceeded to open the door.
"Mr. Watson," she greeted with a small smile. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"A small gift from Mary and I to you," John replied, handing her a brown paper bag.
Aryn opened it and smelled a variety of delicious aromas. There was stew and freshly made bread inside as well as garlic mash. Her stomach rumbled at the smell.
Looking back up at John happily, she said, "Thank you. This means a great deal. I can't thank you enough actually for everything you all have been doing to help me through this."
"Well, we all have our ways of taking care of you," John answered, his tone seeming to hint towards something more than the dinner he had handed off to Aryn. "Are you busy?"
She turned her head towards her bedroom, thinking about the note. "Actually, I might be. I'll take a raincheck for later on though."
"Just give me a ring. Speaking of which, Greg told me to give you…" John fished around in his pocket before finding a cell phone. He handed it to Aryn. "...this."
She smiled gratefully. "Thank you, John."
He nodded before turning and walking away from the woman.
She stared at the now empty doorway for a moment, then closed it and walked towards the dining room table. Setting down her dinner and her phone, she looked at the clock once more.
Sherlock walked back and forth at least a million times trying to set up the blanket correctly. A familiar scene was set, his violin case sitting on one side, the ring box on another portion, and a tape recorder sitting beside the two.
Admittedly, he was nervous—even more so than last time. He had no idea what he was going to say, nor how he would react when he saw her walk to him in that dress. Mrs. Hudson had been nice enough to come and help him pick it out after he had told her what he had planned to do.
Looking down at his watch, it was already 8:15. He glanced around trying to find some woman that looked out of place in her surroundings, but there was no one to be seen. He began to worry as clouds formed overhead, threatening to foil his plans.
Another 15 minutes went by and Sherlock looked down at his set up a final time. Reaching down for the ring box, he opened it and gazed at the band that sat within.
She had worn that ring for over 10 years. It was still a dumbfounding fact for him to swallow. She had felt so attached to him that she held on to their friendship for that long, unknowing of what would ever happen to them. Would she have simply remained alone for the rest of her life? Would she have eventually come looking for him? Would he have ever looked for her?
He sat down, his back facing the rest of the park, and stared out at the familiar body of water that always greeted him. This park knew many memories. Maybe too many memories for Sherlock's taste.
He felt someone watching him. Turning to his right, he could see Aryn standing and looking at the forlorn Sherlock.
There was an air of confusion about him, though. Her hair was down and she was wearing a t-shirt, jacket, jeans, and Converse, holding the black box that he had left in her bedroom.
He stood up and walked over to her, sticking the box into his pocket unnoticed. "Aryn? Why aren't you—"
"I came to return this to you, Sherlock," Aryn interrupted, holding the box out to him.
Uncertain of what had brought on her change in attitude, Sherlock grabbed the box and set it down next to him. "What's wrong?" He was purely in a state of misunderstanding. He had the set up correct: the blanket, the violin, the mystery box. Why wasn't this all working like it had before?
"I also came to tell you 'good-bye'," Aryn continued, attempting to make her face as stone cold as she could.
Sherlock's face twisted into an expression of disbelief. "Good-bye?"
"I'm leaving for Manchester tomorrow."
Aryn only stared at the detective for a brief moment, then turned around to walk away.
"Aryn?" Sherlock called.
She didn't stop.
The small footsteps stopped, Aryn still facing away from Sherlock.
At this point, he was at a loss for words. He turned back towards his picnic blanket, recalculating any way, shape, or form he could manage to save his plans and his evening.
"Sherlock," Aryn finally began, her voice cracking slightly. "I can't stay here."
He stood in silence, watching the frail girl that stood before him try to maintain her composure.
"Every corner of this city that I go to makes me remember things I had buried deep in my mind. I moved to Manchester to forget it all. I wanted no part in what my past had given me."
He felt the box in his pocket shift as he walked towards her.
"Then why keep the ring?"
She sniffled, tears running down her face.
"Aryn…" Sherlock stood behind her, unsure of what to do with himself. He looked around and saw that the park was mostly empty, people taking cover due to the clouds he had spotted earlier.
"It was a relic of a past that would haunt me no matter how hard I tried to forget it," Aryn said, her voice faltering. "Sherlock," she started, turning towards the detective, "I almost died. I was beaten until I had nearly no life left in me. I suffered through immense physical and emotional pain. The part that scared me the most, though, was the fact that through all of it, you were the only person I could think of."
Sherlock stepped back, slightly in awe of Aryn's statement.
"I told you that I loved you. I allowed myself to be the most vulnerable I had ever been in my entire life. After ten years, I finally told you what I had always wanted to tell you." She paused, still staring at Sherlock's bright blue eyes, his gaze searching for answers within hers. "And you never returned the sentiment. No visit, no phone call, nothing."
"You of all people should know that I'm—"
"—not that kind of person," Aryn finished, rolling her eyes and walking past Sherlock. She stopped at the edge of the blanket and looked down at what was on it. "I had just thought that maybe you would have changed that part of you for me. Even for just a second…"
Rain began to fall in heavy droplets around the two, neither one moving because of the change in weather.
He walked over to her, stopping just prior to his chest touching her back.
She could feel his warmth radiating towards her, inviting her in for some kind of contact or embrace.
"Sherlock, I can't go through the rest of my life like this."
Finally frustrated at his lack of handle on the situation, Sherlock forcibly turned Aryn to him, his grip tight on her shoulders. "Aryn, I can never love you."
The words that fell out of his mouth seemed to crush her into a million tiny pieces. He watched her heart break in her eyes, the tears still distinguishable from the rain that landed on her face. Her mouth had opened in slight surprise, not anticipating what Sherlock had told her.
He looked down at their feet for a moment before returning his gaze to hers. "I will put you in too much danger if I were to ever care for you more than what I already have." He thought back to when he and John first became friends, Moriarty finding their relationship to be easily meddled into. Putting John in danger was a tipping point for Sherlock. It was the very reason why he had never got close to anyone.
Aryn stared at him, waiting for more answers to pour out.
"I left you all those years ago for that very reason." His hands fell to his sides and went into his pockets as he looked longingly at Aryn. The rain that surrounded them was heavy and unyielding. "It's not a risk that I'm willing to take." His mouth said what he knew was the truth, but it wasn't the entire truth. Deep down, he knew she could handle the risk. She had already gone through an insurmountable amount of risk as it was. Looking down at her now, he felt the familiar tightening of his chest.
She didn't know who to be more upset with: Sherlock or herself. They had both been selfish, but Sherlock had been so in a way that made Aryn feel very ashamed of herself.
At that moment, he didn't know what took over him. It could have been the rain, the heat of the moment, or all of the rubbish movies he had watched on daytime telly, but Sherlock reached out for Aryn and did the only thing that came to mind: he kissed her.
At first, her eyes widened in surprise. She pushed against him slightly, but soon melted away in his embrace. One hand was around her waist and the other held her cheek, his fingers getting lost in the strands of her damp hair. One of her arms was tucked between herself and Sherlock, her other hand resting on his shoulder.
In that moment, she felt as if her problems had never existed. She felt like everything that she had gone through with Sherlock had all added up to that very moment. She felt a wave of relief wash over her like a wave crashing onto sand. She felt whole.
Breaking the kiss, Sherlock and Aryn's foreheads remained together, both of them catching their breaths as the rain beat down from them overhead. Their eyes were closed as they relished in the moment.
Deep down, Sherlock wished it could remain that way: Aryn safe with him always with nothing threatening to harm the people he cared about. He knew she was it. She was the only person he'd ever feel this way for.
Aryn opened her eyes first, gazing at Sherlock's features. He was calmer than she had ever seen him—at peace with some of his demons for the first time in quite a while. She suddenly grew very scared, remembering what he had told her earlier: he could never love her. Yet, what had happened in the last thirty seconds had contradicted that exact statement. With that, she knew that the kiss was meant to convey more than what he could never openly admit.
His eyes opened too, their gaze signaling that he had come to the same realization that Aryn had. He walked away from her, kneeling down to grab his violin case and the tape recorder, then returned to stand toe to toe with Aryn once more.
They exchanged no words, drinking in one another's presence for the last time.
After a few moments, they both turned from each other and walked away. The only remnant of their exchange was the blanket left on the ground.
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