Rating: Probably an R
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: References to torture in this chapter
Summary: Written for a kinkmeme prompt: Moriarty frames John and "Anthea" of betrayals which cause both of the Holmes brothers to cut them off. Cue BAMF!John and BAMF!"Anthea" doing their best to clear their names. Both het and slash; Mycroft/Anthea and John/Sherlock.
John stared numbly at 'Avra Holmes'. He was finding it difficult to take anything in, as though he were somehow removed from what was happening. He remembered vaguely that he was angry with Sherlock, and now that he had managed to rip his gaze away, he focused on not looking back at him.
The adrenaline partly blocked the constant pain radiating from his mangled feet, but when he shifted his weight in an effort to take some of the strain off Anthea's shoulders, an unexpected rock or twig (he wasn't sure, only that it felt sharp and hard) dug into one of his open wounds. John clenched his teeth and managed to turn a scream of pain into the kind of hiss a startled cat might make. And although it was quiet, it cut into the silent tension like a chainsaw. Everyone focused on him, and Sherlock actually stepped forward with his hand outstretched, with a look on his face that was the most raw John had ever seen it (aside from the pool, of course).
But John didn't want to be anywhere near Sherlock right now. The fact that he and Anthea weren't being clapped in handcuffs suggested the Holmes brothers realised they'd been duped, but there was still a hard core of resentment in John's gut. Part of him would have been perfectly happy to walk away from Sherlock and never look back.
Well, all right, maybe not perfectly happy, but certainly viciously satisfied.
“Don't touch me!” John snarled, pulling back automatically and bumping sharply against Anthea.
Which he regretted instantly as the impact caused the bruises and welts along his side to flare up, and this time he was unable to hold in his groan of pain.
“John...” Sherlock began, sounding nervous and unsteady.
“Don't!” John hissed, squeezing his eyes closed. “Just...don't.”
Apparently Mycroft had approached them as well, because John heard his voice, ever-so slightly strained at the edges.
“Do not talk to me,” Anthea barked.
Clearly she was of the same opinion as John regarding their former lovers.
John took a deep, steadying breath, automatically tried to stand straighter, and then held in another sound of pain as the movement pulled at the scalpel cuts across his chest.
“The ambulance should be here within five minutes,” Avra broke in, her voice cool and steady.
John opened his eyes at that, feeling dazed and faintly grateful. An ambulance would be good, yes – he could feel himself trembling, and though the mountain air was chilly, he was probably going into the beginning stages of shock.
“Do you want to sit down?” Anthea asked, her face tight with anxiety.
“That'd be nice,” John sighed. “Fucker left my arse alone for the most part, so it should be all right.”
It was only when everyone stared at him that he realised he'd mumbled the last part aloud. Which, really, was a sure sign he needed the ambulance if ever there was one.
Anthea helped him to the ground, and John couldn't quite hold in a moan of relief as his weight was finally, finally taken off his abused feet.
Sherlock made a small, choked noise that somehow made John furious. He hadn’t even given John a chance to defend himself, had just dumped him out on the streets with some clothes and money without even taking two minutes to explain himself or to listen. He had forfeited the right to care.
“Are you all right, John?” Anthea asked, her voice soft. “Did he...do anything else to you?”
“Rape me, you mean?” John asked, too weary to hedge.
In his peripheral vision, he was aware of Sherlock flinching, his body tightening as though in anticipation of a blow.
“No. I think he was saving that for later.” A bitter chuckle twisted out of John's throat. “Sick bastard probably needed to me to get all bloody before he even started getting interested...”
His rambling tangent was cut off by a shudder so violent his teeth actually chattered. He was definitely going into shock – pity there wasn't a blanket around. Anthea made to wrap her arms around him, then hesitated, and the way her eyes skimmed him told John she was remembering the damage Moriarty had done and was wondering if it was safe to touch him.
There was a rustle of cloth, and John glanced up to see Sherlock holding out his coat, the expression on his face so foreign it took John two full seconds to identify it as 'timid'.
Because that expression was doing funny things to his gut, John dropped his gaze and carefully did not look at Sherlock as he took the coat. He suspected he was bleeding through the paper-thin material Moriarty had considered clothes. He found he couldn't care less if he got blood on Sherlock's precious coat.
“I assume you've finally realised we were framed?” Anthea said, in the perfectly level tone of someone who was controlling themselves with great effort.
John risked a glance upwards, to see both Sherlock and Mycroft looking truly, honestly guilty. At first, he was shocked, but then he just felt a kind of triumph.
'Good,' he thought savagely, allowing himself the indulgence of glaring at Sherlock. 'Feel guilty, you bastard! You left me on the street with no home and no explanation – you didn't even stop to hear my side of it!'
And there it was: Sherlock's great betrayal. He could almost understand the man believing he was Moriarty's lackey – after all, he could imagine that Moriarty faked up some pretty hefty proofs. Besides, in a strictly linear sense, he and Sherlock hadn't know each other very long.
But he hadn't even spoken to John – he hadn't taken the time to just talk to him, to hear his side of the story, to extend to John just a little of the faith he'd had in Sherlock. He'd just made his decisions and handed down his judgements; he'd hadn't given John the benefit of the doubt for even one minute.
All in all, the howl of the approaching ambulance's sirens was a welcome relief.
Anthea wasn't in any mood to let John out of her sight. As soon as John had been loaded into the ambulance, she'd climbed in with him in a manner that brooked no opposition. She'd barged her way into John's hospital room in the same fashion, brandishing enough of their collective cash funds to make sure John would be given a private suite.
Mycroft had tried to pay for it, but she'd simply developed selective deafness in regards to his offers. Unfortunately for both him and Sherlock, she also wasn't in any mood to pander to the Holmes brothers' moods. The only reason she wasn't demanding hospital security throw them out on the street was because a) she was grateful to Mrs. Holmes and the help she'd provided and b) she didn't trust Mycroft not to do something underhanded to get back in.
Once, she would have had faith that he'd trust her judgement. But not now.
Fortunately, John was on some rather heavy painkillers and was completely oblivious to the tension in the room, and actually seemed to be hovering in that drowsy, blurred world between sleep and full consciousness. He wasn't talking much, but his eyes would blink open and appear to focus on something before they slipped shut again.
Avra's phone beeped, and she glanced at it before announcing, “Moriarty's computers have been raided for information, and there is more than enough documentation to conclusively prove your innocence to any court in the world.”
“Was there anything on someone called Thomas Abbott?” Anthea asked, feeling a stir of curiosity in spite of herself.
Avra's mouth went thin and flat. “It appears his knife was left there deliberately in an effort to lure you and John into Europe, and his body was an attempt to get you closer to Switzerland.”
'Of course,' Anthea thought bitterly. 'Why waste manpower dragging us across the continent when Moriarty could get us to do most of the work for him?'
She supposed now that they'd escaped and were in the clear, so to speak, and John was getting treatment, that she should be relieved. But she didn't feel relieved, instead she felt almost numb. Well, except for simmering resentment directed at Mycroft – she was feeling a lot of that.
And if, underneath that resentment, was a tight knot of hurt, she certainly wasn't going to dig deep enough to find out.
“In fact, it's almost disturbing how much information they found on those computers,” Avra went on. “Enough to make one wonder why he he recorded evidence of so many obviously criminal acts-”
“Because that was his plan,” Anthea interrupted, her voice flat. “He was going to torture John into insanity, then drop him back in England with all the proof that he'd been framed.”
Both Sherlock and Mycroft had been quiet up until now – Sherlock because Anthea had the feeling he wasn't going to speak until John did, and Mycroft because he probably knew she was just waiting for an excuse to verbally tear into him – but at that pronouncement, Sherlock grimaced, and reached for John's hand. Anthea slapped it away.
The startled, wounded look Sherlock turned on her was too much, though; he had no right to be acting like the injured party.
“He asked you not to touch him!” she snapped. “The least you can do is respect that until he's conscious again!”
There were another few moments of tension-laden silence as Anthea pointedly took John's hand instead, rubbing gently at his wrists. It still unnerved her that, for all the damage Moriarty had done, John's wrists were unmarked – he hadn't been restrained in any way.
“It will be all right, dear,” Avra said bracingly. “The doctor said his feet were the worst of it, and even they'll heal up just fine.”
“That wasn't the worst of it,” Anthea muttered darkly, almost to herself.
More silence. Then Mycroft approached the chair she was sitting in, his voice tentative. “Jane?”
Anthea wanted to hold it in, she really did. She didn't want these people privy to her anguish – the only one of them who'd ever had the right had lost it a week ago.
But it bubbled from her lips without her permission, and she couldn't stop it. “He did it to protect me. Moriarty came in and made vague threats about how I'd regret killing his lackey, and John agreed to submit to whatever torture Moriarty devised if he left me alone.” Her laughter had more than a tinge of hysteria to it. “He endured that, all of that, because he wanted to protect me.”
Humiliatingly, her voice actually broke on the last word. She was about to devise some excuse to rush into the bathroom to collect herself, when John's fingers squeezed hers lightly. Anthea startled, and raised her eyes to find that John was conscious and grinning weakly.
“Don't discount spite and sheer bloodymindedness,” he slurred. “There was a lot of that as well.”
Anthea knew her choked-off laughter sounded more like a sob, which was why she stifled it so quickly. “John...”
“It's all right,” he whispered, his eyes losing focus as he once more slid back into the grip of the drugs. “My plan, remember? Not your fault.”
Anthea reflected that the fact that John could so easily strike to the heart of what was upsetting her even while strung out on analgesics was a little eerie.
On impulse, she raised her hand to his face and kissed his forehead the way mothers did for their children.
“Go to sleep, John,” she murmured against his skin.
He mumbled something that might have been an acquiescence, and drowsed once more.
And then Anthea really did move to the bathroom, and splashed her face in an effort to take away the hot burning under her eyelids and to get herself under control – she never just blurted things out like that, never.
In some ways, John's behaviour would almost make sense if he was her brother, or if he was in love with her. But now, she was his friend, probably not even his best friend, yet he'd still protected her like that...
Frankly, it boggled Anthea's mind.
Mycroft knew Jane wouldn't welcome his company, but she'd been so distressed...he had to make sure she was all right.
He found her in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at her reflection as though it had personally offended her. It made something in Mycroft's chest squeeze painfully, and he automatically put a hand on the back of her neck to comfort her – touching the nape of her neck always soothed her. When she'd had a difficult day, he'd ensure he stroked her neck when they went to bed together, and it always put her right to sleep.
But today, she went rigid. “A hundred pounds.”
For once, Mycroft didn't understand her. “I beg your pardon?”
“For my 'services', remember?” she spat, shoving his hand away. “One hundred pounds or you get nothing.”
Comprehension dawned, and with it, a wave of shame. “Jane, I know there is no apology that can be made-”
“Glad you understand, then,” she snarled, sliding past as she made to leave the bathroom.
“Do not call me that,” she hissed, each word very pronounced, and very cold. “You don't get to call me that. Not anymore!”
It was strange how she could flinch from his touch, could tell him not to talk to her, yet that rejection – her insistence that he not use her real name – was the one that sent almost physical pain through him.
He was left alone in the bathroom, forced to contemplate what he'd been trying very hard not to think about: what life would be like if Jane never came back to him. But it was as if his mind couldn't actually process it. When he thought of being without Jane, he didn't see any specific scenario marked by her absence, just an emptiness.
He remembered the way she'd kissed John when they'd emerged from their prison, and again just moments ago in the hospital bed. He'd dismissed the first instance as impulse because they didn't have the casual ease with each other's personal space that lovers had, but had he been wrong? It certainly wasn't unheard of for relationships to begin in adversity. Betrayed by their respective lovers and with both official and unofficial forces against them, had John and Jane turned to each other? Was it just that they'd been run so ragged there hadn't been an opportunity to consummate their new relationship?
Still, even if it was too late, even if Jane never wanted to set eyes on him again...he had to at least try to make it up to her. Somehow.
Sherlock had always disparaged that 'quest for redemption' storyline that John seemed so fond of. He'd asked him why, once, and John had mumbled that he often saw some parallels to his own life. Sherlock had laughed, because the idea that John needed redeeming for something came close to being the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard.
As for himself, he'd never really cared about redemption before. Putting that much effort into getting someone to forgive you had just seemed boring and stupid. Sherlock rarely felt regret for his actions, at least not enough to make such a lengthy business of apologising for them.
But now...now he could see why people would be tempted to devote their entire lives to earning forgiveness.
“I will burn the heart out of you...”
He'd known what that meant the moment Moriarty had said it – with John strapped to explosives mere feet away, it was painfully obvious. He'd known Moriarty intended violence towards John, known that he wasn't the type to make idle threats. He'd known...and he'd still made such a enormous, irreparable, stupid mistake. He'd fallen right into Moriarty's trap.
But it wasn't him who'd paid the price. It was John.
John who was now only half-concious at best, heavily drugged to mute the pain of his abused body. He was lying on his right side, likely the only comfortable position available to him – Sherlock had eavesdropped on the doctors and received the edited version of John's injuries. All painful, yes, but unlikely to be debilitating. Most wouldn't even scar.
It was actually rather horrifying; how very much the wounds smacked of 'prelude'. Moriarty obviously hadn't felt rushed in the slightest, had been fully prepared to have months, even years with John, up in those mountains...
He shut down that train of thought with vicious distaste. He should be happy, pleased that John's captivity hadn't left him with any debilitating injuries, that this disaster wasn't any worse.
Except that knowing that it could be worse didn't make it any better. John had suffered because of him. The thought was almost unbearable.
When they'd first reached the hospital, Jane had been furious enough and vocal enough to hiss that if John had died in Moriarty's stronghold, she would have made the rest of Sherlock's life a living hell. Sherlock had refrained from stating the obvious; that she wouldn't have had to try very hard.
He wanted to hold John's hand. But Jane's scathing rebuke held him back. With anyone else, he would have ignored it. But if John really didn't want it...
Sherlock had never quite understood that saying about letting something go if you loved it. After all, if you loved something, then wouldn't you want to keep it with you, where you could be sure it was (relatively) safe and sheltered and getting the proper amount of nutrients? But now, he thought he understood – if John was happier away from Sherlock, he'd let him go.
Avra had expected one of them to put the pieces together – and given John's current state of half-lucidity, she'd thought it would be Jane.
But she hadn't expected Sherlock to turn to her and say, without preamble, “You knew.”
Jane had returned from the bathroom and taken John's hand as he began to come out of his haze, both of them apparently doing their best to ignore the other occupants of the room, but at that pronouncement, their heads turned. Even Mycroft, emerging from the bathroom with a rather rattled look on his face, went still.
“I knew,” Avra agreed – she'd never prevaricated with her children, and she wasn't about to start now.
“Was there a...particular reason you waited, Mummy?” Mycroft asked, and she could hear in his voice how hard he'd struggled to make that question come out calmly.
Avra cocked her head, a gesture she knew her youngest often imitated. “Would you have listened? Before the anger had passed and both of you were sinking into depressive lethargy? Or would you have insisted that I didn't know what I was talking about, and sunk deeper into denial and shored your defences for the next time I tried to convinced you? I may love you boys beyond reason, but you can be quite stubborn at times.”
“We were on the run,” John said hoarsely, his words still slightly slurred but the restrained fury in them coming across clearly. “We were fighting off Moriarty's people, worrying about the police or governments agents getting hold of us...and you didn't do anything until it was convenient for you? Couldn't have sent some of your 'friends' to help us, or maybe directed us to some kind of handy safehouse?”
“Would you have trusted that?” Avra asked, honestly curious.
“It would have been nice to know it was out there!” Jane snapped.
Her hands were clenched, the knuckles turning bone-white even as Avra watched, and John was taking deep, unsteady breaths, clearly struggling to control himself.
“I want you to leave the room,” John said eventually, with all the thought and consideration of a judge delivering a sentence. “Now, please.”
Avra couldn't say she hadn't been expecting that reaction, and rose without complaint. Though she couldn't deny that she was slightly charmed by the fact that even under duress, John had been polite enough to tack on a 'please'.
“John...” Sherlock murmured, reaching out for John's hand.
John pulled his hand back against his chest and turned his face away. “When I said leave, I meant all of you.”
Sherlock jerked, looking for a moment as though John had slapped him, and his outstretched hand folded defensively against his chest. Jane, looking hurt, began to rise, but John's hand shot out grabbed at her wrist. He missed, his coordination still impaired, but the flat impact of his hand on top of hers at least halted her movement.
“Not you,” he said, looking as though it took a great effort to articulate himself. “Just...everyone else...”
Avra felt a stab of sympathetic pain for her son as Sherlock winced and backed away. She and Mycroft followed, just catching a glimpse of Anthea's hand stroking across John's forehead, smoothing the lines there, before the door shut behind them.
Both her sons were looking quietly devastated, gazing forlornly at the closed door as though trying to figure what they had to do to get back on the other side. In more ways than one.
She made them sit down in the hard plastic chairs that lined the waiting room and fetched them whatever passed for coffee here. They might have been out of her home for over two decades and less than pleased with her, but they were still her sons, and right now, they needed looking after.
“I feel boneless,” John confided to Anthea, who did her best to ignore the way his 's' dragged on a second too long.
At least he could talk coherently, which was an improvement on ten minutes ago, and certainly reason enough to smile. “That's good, right? Means you're relaxing.”
“Actually, it's kind of creepy.”
Anthea's lips twitched, and she probably would have smiled if she hadn't been remembering exactly why they were alone in the room.
“So what happens now?” John asked.
“I don't know,” Anthea admitted. “You need to get better, and then...I just don't know. I don't think I can bear to go back.”
“To England or Mycroft? Because I'm definitely going back to England and I'm not a rich man, and I hate to think I'll only see you once a year or whenever I can get the money to-”
“Mycroft, obviously. England I'm less sure about. And what was that, by the way? Trying to guilt-trip me into going back?”
Anthea didn't mention that given what John had done for her not six hours ago, there was probably very little he could ask for right now that she wouldn't give him. She knew that she wasn't responsible for Moriarty's psychosis or John's need to protect everyone around him at the expense of himself, but she still felt guilty.
John grinned weakly. “Not really, Rosy. I'm hoping you'll choose to settle down in a nice holiday destination, and that little spiel would have got you to pay for my travel expenses whenever I visit.”
“Has anyone ever said you have an inappropriate sense of humour?”
“Strangely, no. I guess most people don't see me after I've just killed a man, and Sherlock-”
He broke off, looking away from her as his face twisted into a grimace, then set his jaw and finished in a much softer tone. “He...I don't think he ever saw anything unusual about it.”
Anthea put her hand over his again, wishing she could say something comforting. But she suspected any attempt to relate to John's issues with Sherlock would swiftly degenerate into a ranting about her own issues with Mycroft, so she stayed quiet.
It was almost funny – she was angry enough to be toying with the idea taking out a contract on her former lover's life, but John just seemed resigned. Anthea knew the man seemed to have a problem with his self-esteem, but the way he was acting...it was almost as though he'd expected Sherlock to cast him aside.
“Are you all right?” she asked, then wanted to hit herself for asking such a stupid question.
But she couldn't shake the idea that John was a bit too adjusted for a man who'd just been tortured. Sure, he was difficult to intimidate and under pressure seemed to slip into some 'superhuman assassin and tactician' persona, like a meditative state, but Anthea's instincts were still telling her John should be having some kind of reaction to being beaten and whipped for over two hours.
“Not really,” John said, still not meeting her eyes. “I feel...numb. And I'm not just talking about the painkillers. Like some part of my brain can't quite process what's going on.”
Anthea nodded – she couldn't say she didn't feel the same way, though evidently not as keenly as John. “Like you can't believe that this actually happened, that we're safe.”
John's laugh had no humour in it. “I can't believe any of this happened. I keep expecting to wake up and I'll be back at Baker Street, with Sherlock shouting something about a new case from downstairs, and I...I want that, and then feel guilty for wanting it, because we've become friends and killed Moriarty, and that should be worth something, but I just-”
“Want it to be like this never happened,” Anthea finished. “I know, John. Believe me, I know.”
Another weak smile from John. “We're a pretty sad pair, aren't we?”
“Oh, I don't know,” Anthea said, trying to inject some brightness into her tone. “We stood alone against the combined forces of Moriarty and the police and did quite well for ourselves – as it stands, we could probably break into the covert operations business on reputation alone.”
“That a possible career path for you, then?”
Anthea's smile was starting to feel more real and less frozen. “For both of us, I should think.”
“Well, I'll keep it in mind.”
They fell quiet for a few moments, Anthea wondering just how feasible the jobs in covert operations (they'd do very well, she was sure, and the basic calculations she was doing in her head promised it would be very lucrative), while John attempted to find a more comfortable position in the bed.
“I wonder if we can find out their names,” John said, in the absent tone of someone vocalising an internal train of thought.
Anthea blinked. “Whose names?”
“The policemen. You know, that I...”
Even knowing that she should have expected something like this didn't dampen the wave of fury that crested within her.
“It wasn't your fault,” she hissed, perhaps just a decibel or so louder than was necessary. “You didn't know what Moriarty was going to do, you were defending yourself – you were defending both of us-”
“I know!” John interrupted. “I know. Well, sort of, anyway – when you think you're going to die, you come to terms with a lot of things.”
Anthea winced at the disconnection in his voice, some of that numbness he was feeling obviously seeping into his tone, and gripped his hand tighter.
“But I'd still like to know their names,” he finished quietly.
“Right.” Anthea took a deep breath, and prepared to step outside the little room they'd claimed as their sanctuary. “I'll find out for you. And about the...rest of it. How long your hospital stay will be, and then...then we can start dealing with things. Into the breach, right?”
John gave her a crooked grin. “That's kind of becoming our motto.”
AN: Thanks so much to my beta, ginbitch, for helping me perfect this chapter!
Also, there used to be a title page for this, but lj decided it didn't like it, so go to my master image post to check it out!