Six Months Later
John watched the second hand tick on the wall clock, tracking its movement with his eyes. In front of him, he could feel Dr. Thompson's eyes on him, her clipboard no doubt perched on the arm of her chair. He counted thirty-four more seconds before Dr. Thompson broke the silence.
"What's wrong, John? You're quiet today." Her chair groaned quietly as she shifted her weight forward. "Has anything else happened recently?"
John shook his head, finding his eyes inevitably drawn to the desk calendar just underneath the clock. The words "December 23rd" were surrounded by dancing elves and thickly decorated pine trees, but it all seemed so disorienting to John. Summer and fall had flown by so fast he'd hardly had time to notice, and now Christmas danced on the outskirts of his vision and he couldn't believe it.
"You've been seeing me for almost six months now," Dr. Thompson continued, and John wondered where this was going. Dr. Thompson never said anything simply for the sake of small talk—there was always some objective. "How do you think you've progressed in that time?"
John shrugged, moving his eyes from the calendar to the carpet and then to the area just slightly left of Dr. Thompson, where a wide window looked out onto the city. "I feel better," he said, feeling the words ring empty inside him. As soon as one monster had left him, another had crept in and taken over, usually gripping firmer than the last. While his parents' memory no longer sent him into hysteria, the thought of returning to Scotland made his stomach twist.
And then there was Mary.
Something must have flashed across John's face, because Dr. Thompson slid her clipboard into her lap and uncapped her pen. "Tell me what's bothering you," she said, not unkindly.
John glanced out the window again, watching cars weave past for a moment, before letting out a small breath. "It's been six months, and I still don't know if I did the right thing."
Dr. Thompson said nothing, sitting back and waiting for John to continue.
"I thought for the longest time that it was her I couldn't handle, but I was wrong." He swallowed. "I couldn't handle myself. But every time I wonder what I would do if I could go back, a small part of me still can't tell her to stay." A hand flitted to his wrist, where long, parallel scars ran the length of his forearm, and his fingers brushed the scar tissue for a brief moment before retracting. "I love her, but I can't look at her, and because of that I've hurt her."
"What do you see when you think of her?"
John had heard this question dozens of times—it seemed every session ended at this—but every time he still pictured her, her pained expression forever frozen in his memory. He could only hold the image for a few seconds; it slipped away unintentionally, like something within him was withdrawing instinctively. "Pain."
Dr. Thompson slid her clipboard onto her desk. "I'm afraid our time is almost up."
John stood, slipping his arms through his jacket. "Thank you," he said, like he said after every session, even though Dr. Thompson had told him countless times that he didn't need to thank her.
"Have a good Christmas, John," Dr. Thompson said warmly, and John murmured returned well-wishes before departing, letting the door swing shut behind him. As soon as it closed, he let out a long breath to calm himself; then, he exited the building, the winter air turning his cheeks red on the brief walk to his car.
The streets bustled with pedestrians, more than usual due to the influx of Christmas tourists, all sporting warm winter jackets, their breath clouding in the air. John's breath mixed with theirs as he cautiously crossed the heavy stream of traffic with a sort of practiced dexterity. If London had felt like home in his first couple of weeks here, now it felt like his reality, like there couldn't be anything different.
John pushed away thoughts of rolling countryside and pulled out into the street, beginning the 20-minute commute back to the flat. As he drove, he let the tension seep out of him, finding calm in the steady rhythm of wheels on pavement and the clockwork of London's streets. Almost counter intuitively, therapy tended to leave John tense and on edge, and the drive home always helped John relax.
As John parked outside the flat, he cast a quick glance at the door, noting that the doorknocker was straightened and letting a small sigh of frustration ghost from his lips. Lately, Mycroft had been stopping by the flat more and more frequently, straightening the doorknocker every time, and John had begun to dread his visits—not because he disliked the older Holmes, but because each visit inevitably resulted in secret, hushed discussions that halted every time John drew close enough to hear. Frankly, John had had enough of being treated like a child; he thought, after everything…
John shook his head and exited his car, ducking his head against the cold until he entered the front lobby of the building, the door swinging shut behind him. He passed Ms. Hudson's door, pausing briefly outside it; then, when no quick greeting emanated from her flat, he continued to his own flat.
He could hear the muffled sounds of conversation leaking out into the hall, and he didn't bother trying to listen in; instead, he noisily entered the flat, giving Mycroft and Sherlock plenty of time to end their conversation and migrate to opposite ends of the room. As John swung the door shut behind him, tossing his car keys on the side table by the door, Mycroft cleared his throat. "John," he said by way of greeting.
"Hey, Mycroft," John said, letting just a hint of venom seep into his words—enough to elicit a slight shifting of weight from Mycroft. He hardly glanced at Sherlock, instead brushing past him indifferently as he made his way into the kitchen.
If he was frustrated with Mycroft, he was exasperated with Sherlock. John didn't know exactly when it had begun, but ever since the end of June, Sherlock had grown more and more distant until it was like John was living with a statue instead of a living person. Sometimes, John would catch Sherlock staring at him from across the living room; as soon as their eyes met, however, Sherlock would actually stand up and leave, like he couldn't stand to even be in the same room as John. At first, it had stung, leaving John's stomach twisted and his hands shaking like they did when he was upset; now, John had come to expect it, which just pissed him off. Sherlock had been the one to set John up with a therapist, not two days after… that, and now he was treating John like a disease, like he couldn't handle even being near John?
John let a long breath out through his teeth, opening one of the kitchen cupboards and pulling out a small bag of green tea. He didn't even know why he was still here, living in 221B and putting up with the secretive conversations and shunning. When he'd asked, Ms. Hudson had assured him that he could move elsewhere—closer to the hospital, perhaps, or maybe even out of London—but every time he'd begun to pack his bags, he'd stopped with only a few T-shirts gripped in his hands.
The conversation between Sherlock and Mycroft started up again, filtering into the kitchen in the form of garbled whispers, and John dug his fingernails into his palms, trying to keep calm as he started the kettle on the stove.
Then, he heard his name, uttered clearly through Sherlock's lips, followed by more words that he couldn't quite make out, and months of accumulating frustration finally crashed down on John's wall of self-control, collapsing it quite suddenly. He forgot all about his tea, spinning on the balls of his feet and stalking out into the living area. His sudden entrance cut through Sherlock and Mycroft's conversation, and Mycroft—who had been in the middle of saying something about Sherlock handling things himself for once—trailed off mid-sentence, fixing John with a flat look.
"This is bloody ridiculous," John growled, glaring first at Mycroft and then at Sherlock. Sherlock, as always, averted his eyes when John glanced at him, which only helped to fuel John's rage. "I have been putting up with this for six fucking months, and I'm tired of it. If you two are going to talk about me behind my back, fine. Just don't do it in my home while I'm standing six feet away. In fact, I take that back—don't talk about me behind my back, ever." John affixed Sherlock with a biting look. "Can you explain something to me, please?" Without waiting for a response, he continued, "Why, after everything, are you treating me like I'm some idiot? I thought…" He trailed off, a sharp spike of hurt cutting through the anger. "I just thought we were over that." John swallowed, hating how Sherlock wouldn't even look at him. "I guess I was wrong." Then, when Sherlock's eyes—glinting a vibrant blue-green in the sunlight—still didn't meet John's, John turned and started towards his bedroom, his heart throbbing with each step.
"John. What are you doing?" Sherlock said—the first time he'd spoken to John in weeks, maybe months. It almost made John turn back around, if only just to see if Sherlock was looking at him, or if he still refused to.
"Packing," John bit out, and then his bedroom door slammed behind him.
Sherlock stared at John's door, hearing him bustling around angrily inside, and then glanced over at Mycroft. "This is your fault."
Mycroft gave Sherlock a flat look. "Quit acting dense. It doesn't suit you."
"As I recall, you're the one who insisted that we not tell John."
"And as I recall, you're the one who came to me in the first place about him."
Sherlock turned, stalked across the room, and collapsed into his favorite armchair, sending a sharp glare in Mycroft's direction. "Yes, but I never wanted this!"
"What did you expect would happen?" Mycroft shot back, taking a few steps closer to his brother. "You won't even look at John, yet you expect him to somehow understand the feelings you have for him."
"I don't expect him to understand anything!" Sherlock snapped, gripping the arms of his chair. "He never understands."
Mycroft remained silent for a moment. Then, he said, "Are you aware of the reason I insisted we keep this from John?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Because you thought he couldn't handle it."
"Always wrong, little brother." Mycroft took another step towards Sherlock. "I knew you couldn't handle it."
"You're talking nonsense."
"Why do you think he's leaving? It's not because he's frustrated with me; it's because he's hurt, and we both know whose fault that is."
The tension in the room thickened, and Sherlock said through tight lips, "Get out."
Mycroft straightened, impossibly. "Why must you be such a child?"
"I said get out!" Sherlock shouted, loud enough that the rustling in John's room paused for a moment before continuing.
Mycroft rolled his eyes, grabbing his umbrella from where it sat propped against the couch and making for the door. Just before he left, he turned and said, "Lestrade's going to call you in five minutes about a case. Take John along this time, Sherlock."
Sherlock ignored his brother, steepling his fingers under his chin. With an exasperated sigh, Mycroft left the flat, letting the door slam shut behind him.
Sherlock's cell phone rang exactly five minutes later, and Sherlock let it ring a few times before heaving a sigh and grabbing it off of the side table. "Is the body at the station or the crime scene?"
A pause on the other end, and then: "We found her."
Sherlock glanced automatically at the door to John's room, dropping his voice. "Station or crime scene?" he repeated, the words ringing with a slightly different meaning.
"I think you know," Lestrade said, sounding slightly pained, and Sherlock's lips pursed.
"I'll leave right away."
He was about to pull the phone away from his ear when Lestrade spoke quickly. "Bring John with you. He deserves some closure."
Sherlock wanted to argue that John didn't deserve anything to do with Mary, but instead he hung up and stood, taking a step towards John's door. A flash of John bound by ropes to a chair flashed through his mind, but he pushed it away impatiently and turned the doorknob, letting the door swing inwards. "John?"
John looked up from his laptop, snapping it shut quickly. All around him, haphazard piles of clothing dotted the wooden flooring, none of which were actually packed into the gaping duffel bag that sat by John's left side. "Don't you knock?" he muttered, pushing his laptop off of his thighs and fixing Sherlock with an irritated look. "What? It must be pretty important if you're actually talking to me."
Sherlock ignored the twisting of his stomach and said bluntly, "Lestrade found Mary."
John stood so quickly he almost knocked over the piles of clothing, his face flashing with a multitude of strong emotions before settling on apprehension. "What?"
Sherlock sighed. "Honestly, John. Come on." He turned and started towards the door, but John rushed to stop him, putting a hand on his shoulder and turning Sherlock to face him. The contact burned, and Sherlock quickly shook of John's hand, trying to ignore the flash of hurt that shot across John's face.
"I… I don't know if I can see her," John admitted, shaking his head. His hands were trembling by his sides; Sherlock recognized it as a sign of John's distress. "Every time I picture her, I can't hold the image. Seeing her in person… I don't think I could handle it."
"Because you still love her." The words were clipped, with a very empty, forced emotionlessness. When John looked up in surprise—surprise that did nothing but confirm Sherlock's deduction—Sherlock turned away from John and opened the door to the hall. "Come or don't come—I don't care."
Still, despite his words, Sherlock felt a small squeeze of his stomach when he heard the soft pitter-patter of John's footsteps follow him down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.
Arriving at Scotland Yard, John behind the wheel and Sherlock sitting shotgun, gave John such a sense of déjà vu that he would have laughed had the memory not been tainted with such pain and death. Instead, he coughed, the sound loud against the absence of a car engine, almost expecting Sherlock to say something. When—predictably—he didn't, John sighed and exited the car, hearing Sherlock's footsteps follow him inside the station.
They found Lestrade in his office, waiting for John and Sherlock. Lestrade looked over John's shoulder at Sherlock, and John turned just in time to see Sherlock nod at Lestrade, his face blank.
"John," Lestrade began. "Before I take you to see Mary, there's something you should know."
John sank down into one of Lestrade's plush black armchairs, rubbing a hand over his face. "Is she dead?" he asked, his voice strained.
Lestrade and Sherlock exchanged glances. "No," Lestrade said cautiously, and John felt a breath he didn't know he'd been holding leak out slowly through his lips. "Look, John…"
"She's going to be serving a lifetime sentence in jail," Sherlock cut in, bringing Lestrade's rambling to a sharp halt.
John's head jerked up, and for the first time in ages, his and Sherlock's eyes met, icy blue on warm brown. "Excuse me?"
"We arrested her on multiple counts of murder," Lestrade said quietly, and John's stomach dropped. For a moment, he flashed back to the warehouse, Mary's dead eyes when he asked her how many people she'd killed.
Fifty? One hundred? I lost count, but don't think that I don't regret each and every one.
"If she tells us where the rest of her prior organization is, there's a chance she'll get her sentence reduced, but even then she'll be on parole," Lestrade said, approaching his office door. "She requested to see you before we send her to Bronzefield Prison."
John sucked in a rattling breath. "Okay." He met Lestrade's eyes. "I… I'm ready."
Lestrade led John and Sherlock to the holding cells, and as soon as John caught a glimpse of Mary's blonde locks—now grown out to her chin and cut diagonally from her chin to the back of her head—her name slipped out through his lips, tumbling into the open air clumsily.
Mary, who'd been sitting on the small twin bed with her elbows on her knees, sat up straight at the sound of John's voice and turned, her wide grey eyes meeting John's and her lips forming his name. She stood and approached the bars, stopping a couple of feet away from John as the chains around her ankles protested, snapping taught from where they were anchored in the wall. "I didn't think you were going to come," she said, her eyes searching John's, and John felt it—the pain, building slowly within him, protesting the sight of Mary.
He fought it violently, attempting the best smile he could for Mary. "I had to come. I have to apologize."
Mary's eyebrows turned down slightly on the outside corners. "John—"
"No," John said, cutting her off. "I overreacted back then, and I didn't take you into consideration, and for that I'm sorry."
Mary was silent for a moment. Then, she said quietly, "I didn't ask for you to come so you could apologize."
"I know, but that doesn't change anything."
"You're right. It doesn't." Mary bit her lip, glancing down at the handcuffs on her wrists. "You asked me how many people I killed?" She looked at John, her face slowly melting into something just short of accepting. "Enough to know that I deserve this."
"No, John. I'm not saying that because I want your pity, or because I pity myself. I'm saying that because I've done horrible things, and I understand that I have to pay for those things. I didn't understand that before, but now I do." Mary swallowed, taking a small step back from John. "There's something else that I understand."
John managed a quiet, "Okay?"
"I understand that your parents' deaths were not on my hands, but your pain right now is, and for that I am truly sorry."
Mary gave John a tight-lipped smile, one that held no warmth, and before John had a chance to say something back to her, Lestrade stepped back into the cell block—John hadn't even noticed that Lestrade and Sherlock had stepped outside into the hall, he'd been so absorbed in his conversation with Mary—and said, "I'm sorry, John, but you're out of time."
John took one last glance at Mary, her hands and feet in chains and her face interrupted by bars, and swallowed sharply. He wanted to tell her that he still loved her; the words tickled their way up his windpipe but got stuck in his throat, choked down by fear and the realization that it didn't matter, not anymore.
"Goodbye, Mary," John mumbled, and he let Lestrade guide him out of the cellblock, locking the area down behind them. He said nothing as Lestrade showed him out of Scotland Yard, barely hearing himself wish Lestrade farewell, and then he approached Sherlock, who was leaning against John's car in wait.
"John," Sherlock said, straightening and taking a step towards John. "Are…" He cleared his throat, the words coming difficultly to him. "Are you okay—?"
John's fist flew in a blur, slamming into the car just to the right of Sherlock. Sherlock cut off with a surprised inhalation, watching as John pulled his hand back, leaving a fist-sized indentation in the back end of the car, and shake it, his knuckles red. He cradled his hand to his chest and sucked in a long, shaky breath, pushing his tears back and back until he was shaking from the effort. Then, he looked up at Sherlock, saw a quick flash of concern move across Sherlock's face, and for just a moment, he forgot the fact that he was planning on moving, and that he was angry with Sherlock, and that Sherlock had been ignoring him. He collapsed, falling into Sherlock—despite everything, the only constant in the last six months, the only thing John could hold onto when his entire world continued to spin out of control—and fisted his hands in the back of the other boy's jacket, holding on tightly as if letting go would send John tumbling into the whirlwind. After a startled moment, Sherlock relaxed slightly and brought his hands cautiously to John's shoulder blades, holding John to him gently, as if the slightest touch would break the other boy.
John let out a long breath into Sherlock's navy blue trench coat, feeling the other boy's warmth like a beacon in the dark. "I don't know what to do, Sherlock."
Sherlock tightened his grip on John. Another voice floated to him, whispering those same words to him over the phone, sounding scared. Sherlock said the same thing now that he'd said back then: "Go to sleep. Wake up. Let each day run its course, and hope that the next is better than the previous."
The words sounded strange coming from his mouth—like an eight-year-old suddenly rattling off facts about quantum theory—but he let them sit in the silence until John sighed, his breath tickling a tiny strip of bare skin between the top of Sherlock's jacket and his scarf, and said, "I'm sorry."
Sherlock frowned as John pulled away, his eyes still red-rimmed and his hands still shaking, but successfully pulled from the edge. "Excuse me?" He knew, of course, what John was attempting to apologize for, but he just couldn't understand why John felt the need to apologize for Sherlock's rudeness.
"For yelling at you, back in the flat, and for threatening to move." John ran an ashamed hand through his hair, and Sherlock felt his stomach twist. "Granted, you were being an asshole, but I shouldn't have went off like that."
"You don't have to apologize, John."
"Yeah," John said, and something flashed across his face, something not entirely attributed to the situation between him and Sherlock. "Yeah, I do." Then, before Sherlock could say anything else, John unlocked the car and climbed into the driver's side, starting the engine.
Sherlock glanced at the indentation left by John's fist, his fingers twitching; then, he got in the car with John and let a strange sort of silence envelop them as John drove home.