Title: Semper Fidelis
Rating: Probably an R
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Angst, partner betrayal, aftermath of 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.
(Title page by mabivia)
“You can probably leave within the day,” Anthea announced when she arrived back in John's room. “Though the police will want to talk to you.”
John nodded wearily. “I was expecting that. Do you think it'll take long?”
“Hopefully not more than a day.” There was the slight issue of John having killed Moriarty, but given how clear it was that the man had been torturing him, Anthea thought that could be worked around.
Mycroft and Avra could probably circumvent the legal proceedings effortlessly, but Anthea wasn't going to ask them for help except as an absolute last resort, and she suspected John felt the same.
Anthea hesitated for a moment, wondering if there was a more delicate way of doing this, before she decided John wasn't going to appreciate sugar-coating. “And their names were Joseph Pearse and Thomas Selkirk.”
John knew what she meant of course, and his expression closed off, eyes going opaque and glass-like before they closed tightly.
He took deep breath. “Which-?”
“Pearse was the younger.”
John sighed deeply, then grimaced as the bandages on his ribs pulled. “Thanks for...for finding that out.”
Anthea nodded, and for a few moments the only sound in the room was the soft whirr of John's heart monitor. At least it was one of those silent machines that only started beeping when something was wrong.
“You all right, Rosy?” John suddenly asked. “You look tired – when was the last time you ate?”
Anthea opened her mouth, closed it, then shook her head in exasperation and opened it again. “You're lying in a hospital bed, swathed in yards worth of bandaging, filled with so much drugs you could probably open a pharmacy...and you're asking me if I'm all right?”
“Of course,” John said, guilelessly, blinking up at her. Anthea reflected that it was expressions like this that would convince people he was the gentlest man on earth, even if he was holding a bloodstained knife.
Honestly, that was the only reason Anthea could think of to explain why he'd gone undiscovered for so long. Someone would have noticed that a doctor was freakish good at target practice or unarmed combat, but if they had asked John he would have looked at them with the innocent blue eyes and blank, uncomprehending face of 'nothing-to-see-here', and they would have dismissed him, never realising the kind-natured doctor was likely the most dangerous man they'd ever meet.
And really, his behaviour now was only deepening that impression – John seemed too adjusted for a man who'd been tortured. It was true it was difficult to intimidate him, but surely John should be showing some mental after-effects?
“Are you okay?” Anthea asked.
John's mouth twisted ruefully. “I'm still feeling rather numb. When I was shot, it was all so quick – just a whole lot of pain, the realisation of 'oh, I've been hit', and the next thing I know, I'm waking up in the hospital. Not much time for brooding or philosophical reflections. But this time...for two hours, I was honestly expecting to die, and it's hard for anything to make an impression when you're convinced it's all about to end. And part of me seems to still be stuck thinking that, like I'm constantly waiting for the sword to fall.”
Anthea nodded, and laid her hand over his in what she hoped was a comforting manner.
John smiled, then broke into a yawn. “Do you mind if I go to sleep again?”
A weak chuckle bubbled up in her throat. “Go right ahead.”
“Also, don't think I didn't notice you didn't answer my question about when you last ate, Rosy. If you haven't had at least a muffin by the time I wake up, be prepared for my best lecture on the ill-effects of starving yourself.”
Sherlock couldn't sit still. Mycroft and Mummy were drinking the horrible excuse for coffee the hospital distributed, but he just couldn't bear to – he hadn't drunk anything except for water in over a fortnight.
John had always made the coffee and the tea back home. Largely because he was the one who wanted it so frequently, and if he thought Sherlock had gone too long without drinking he'd set a mug down in front of him and lecture about dehydration and how it affected memory and concentration.
Sherlock desperately wanted a cigarette, but there was no smoking in the hospital, and he wasn't going to set a foot outside the building until John did.
He knew he'd been rather unceremoniously kicked out of John's room, but Sherlock couldn't resist the urge to retrace his steps. He'd just take a glance, just to make sure John was all right...
John was lying motionless in the bed, curled on his side, and Anthea was nowhere to be seen.
Sherlock knew the small dart of unease was illogical. John was fine – Sherlock could see the monitor registering each heartbeat, the pace steady and peaceful – he was asleep, not dead, he was fine.
But John's death was exactly what Sherlock had feared for almost an entire day. Ever since Mummy showed how ignorant, how blind, he'd been, John's death had been both something Sherlock tried desperately not to think about and couldn't stop thinking about. John – wonderful, brave, good John – dead because Sherlock was an idiot. He hadn't believed in John and that had nearly killed him – because obviously, it made so much more sense for John to be an agent of Moriarty than to believe that someone like him truly existed.
He'd just check John's pulse. Just for a moment, just so he could feel John's heartbeat and know that the monitor wasn't lying...
But before Sherlock's fingers could touch John's neck, he found his wrist seized in a grip so tight the circulation in his hand was immediately cut off as another hand rose to his neck, fingers wrapping around the trachea as John’s eyes flew open.
John blinked, then cursed and let go as if Sherlock’s skin had burned him. “What the hell do you think you were doing?”
Sherlock couldn’t even muster a reply. He knew John was a solider – he saw almost daily proof of it, after all, but those reflexes…
They were the reflexes of a man under threat, who didn’t allow himself to sleep too deeply for fear of what might happen if he were caught unaware. Sherlock had seen John like this before, when he had first moved in and again, during those few horrible weeks after the pool. But it had faded, worn away by the safety and constancy of his surroundings.
But now it was back, and something in Sherlock’s chest shrivelled painfully.
“Well, Sherlock?” John’s voice was sharp and clipped. “What were you doing?”
His shoulders were tense, his tone wary. The idea that he thought of Sherlock as something he had to guard himself against sent Sherlock into a hideously stammering explanation, desperate to reassure him.
“I-I was just…just checking…”
John snorted, but relaxed slightly. “Yeah, you might want to remember that lately, someone looming over me like that meant Anthea and I had been found and were about to be attacked.”
For all that his voice was unaffected, there was a deliberate savagery to the words, and Sherlock couldn’t help the flinch that rippled across his skin.
His fault. His fault that John had been hunted, that once again, his first impulse was to attack when brought out of sleep. His fault that John was been hurt, first stabbed by some stupid thug of Moriarty’s and then tortured in that cold basement for hours. His fault, all of it.
And though John might, quite rightly, want nothing to do with him, Sherlock had to at least try to explain.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and almost cringed at those words coming out of his mouth – this was why he never apologised, because it was pathetic and empty and changed nothing. “I’m sorry, John, I really am, but it…it never made sense. I’m…the way I am, and you’re, you’re…”
Humiliatingly, he stumbled off into silence again – he could speak four languages fluently and ten passably, yet he’d never found a word to adequately describe John Watson.
“It never made sense,” he repeated. “But then-”
“Don’t,” John said, and the pained rasp in his voice made Sherlock’s explanation evaporate in his throat. “I can’t hear it now – just don’t. Please.”
John had asked favours of Sherlock before – he’d yelled and ranted and sighed and compromised, but this was the first time he’d even come close to begging anything of Sherlock.
It was sickening. The idea that after bombs and kidnaps and murderers, he was the one to reduce John Watson to pleading made Sherlock’s chest feel small and tight, as though his ribs were trying to collapse inwards and merge with his spine.
“Just go, Sherlock,” John said wearily.
Anthea didn’t feel particularly comfortable leaving John alone in the hospital room, but she knew he’d be asking if she’d eaten as soon as he woke up and right now he needed to focus on his own recovery, not on her.
So she’d gone down to the coffee shops that always populated hospitals, and got a coffee and some kind of breakfast roll. She didn’t know if it was good or not – she wasn’t really tasting it, just chewing and swallowing mechanically, aware that she had to at least get some sustenance into her body.
Footsteps behind her – painfully familiar footsteps – made her tense, sitting straighter in her chair. She didn’t turn around though, didn’t even glance at Mycroft before he sat down opposite her at the tiny table.
She was almost disappointed he hadn’t done that looming-from-behind thing he liked to do. It had never worked on her true, but it would have been a wonderful opportunity to punch him in the crotch.
“There will be no problems with the police,” he said quietly. “You and John may leave whenever you deem it necessary.”
It was what Anthea had wanted, but she couldn’t help but be furious at his interference, at his need to control, at his need to understand every single facet of someone as opposed to taking something on faith now and again.
But she wasn’t about to let her own spite and issues ruin things for John, so she simply nodded. “Thank you.”
She made sure her voice was as distant and icily polite as possible.
She watched Mycroft’s throat work as he swallowed, obviously uncomfortable, and for a moment vicious satisfaction replaced the dull ache in her chest. If she was suffering, he could damn well suffer with her!
“Jane-” he began, but trailed off at the savage glare Anthea sent him.
He glanced down at her hand, resting on the table, and she curled it into a fist, silently warning him against trying to touch her.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
There was such sincerity in it Anthea wanted to punch him because how dare he? How dare he think that could suddenly make it all better?
“I have no excuses,” Mycroft continued, and Anthea realised one of his hands was clenched so tightly in the material of his trousers the knuckles had gone white. “The only explanation I can offer is that…it made sense.”
“Made sense that I was traitor willing to whore myself out for the sake of whatever plans I was supposed to be concocting?” Anthea spat.
Mycroft flinched. “No! No, it…it was never logical for you to choose me. I could never explain it, and when they showed me…” He closed his eyes as if in pain. “It made sense.”
Anthea absorbed that quietly. “Well, your self-esteem issues aside, that still says you never really trusted me. So thanks ever so much for the explanation, now fuck off!”
It would have been better if he looked stunned or hurt, but he only nodded, as if he’d been expecting this all along.
“I am sorry,” he said as he stood up. “Which means nothing, I know, but I just wanted you to know that…I love you.”
Anthea stared at her cup of coffee, and didn’t watch him leave.
When John next awoke, vaguely aware that there was someone in the room with him, it was to find Mycroft sitting in a chair besides his bed.
“I pretty sure I told you to leave,” John pointed out. “Did both you and your damn brother develop selective deafness in the past week or something?”
That was probably much more aggressive than Mycroft’s lost expression deserved, but John just didn’t care. He was feeling very angry and hostile towards anything Holmes at the moment, and he thought he had a damn good reason to be.
“I was only…” Mycroft actually trailed off, and John couldn’t help staring.
He’d never seen Mycroft be anything but perfectly calm and articulate, even when Sherlock was in one of his foul moods. To see him at a loss for words was simply unheard of.
“I just wanted to…check up on you,” he finished, not meeting John’s eyes.
“Right.” John layered that word with all the sarcasm and disbelief that claim deserved. “You might want to do that at a distance from now on. I believe in fair warning, so I’m obliged to tell you that as soon as I can get out of this bed, I’m punching you.”
Mycroft actually looked startled, which only made John angrier. “What, don’t think I have it in me? You broke Rosy’s heart – I want to bash your head in!”
“That’s not actually her name,” Mycroft pointed out – and it must have been John’s imagination, but he could have sworn he heard a tinge of jealously beneath the bitterness.
“I know, but it’s my name for her and she likes it so you can just piss off out of our business.”
Then Mycroft just looked hurt and resigned, as though had confirmed some kind of disappointing rumour he really hadn’t wanted to believe. “I know. And I won’t…I won’t make trouble for the two of you, I promise, just…she is happy with you, isn’t she? Truly happy?”
John blinked. Mycroft couldn’t be suggesting what he seemed to be suggesting, could he? Maybe it was the painkillers…
But no, Mycroft’s expression hadn’t flickered in the slightest – still that kicked puppy look that was frankly ridiculous on a man who basically ran the British government. He honestly thought John and Anthea had hooked up at some point during their week on the run.
Maybe John should have let him suffer under the misapprehension for a while longer – it was only what the bastard deserved for treating Anthea like that! – but he’d never been one for lying.
“We’re not like that,” he said, remembering similar protestations he’d made about himself and Sherlock (before the assumptions were true) with a tinge of pain.
Mycroft blinked, just once, but John could see him mentally re-evaluating everything he’d seen and assumed.
“But don’t think that makes you safe or anything,” John added, just so everything was clear. “She’s my friend, and I take it badly when people hurt my friends.”
Sherlock was in the café, not because he was hungry but because the smell of warm bread reminded him of John making toast in the morning.
He had intended to just curl up quietly in a corner somewhere and see if it was scientifically possible for someone to die of heartbreak, but unfortunately, Jane was there.
“You went to see John, didn’t you?” she hissed.
“Yes.” There was no point pretending otherwise.
Jane’s hands curled into fists, clearly wrestling the impulse to punch Sherlock in the face. Sherlock rather wished she’d give into it – he’d gladly take physical pain over…this.
“Mycroft gave me some bullshit explanation about me being a traitor ‘making sense’, and I suppose your explanation is equally ridiculous, am I correct?”
“Yes.” Perhaps Sherlock should have denied it, but right now he just didn’t care – the only thing he cared about was two floors above them, lying in a hospital bed and doped on painkillers.
Jane took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. “Look, I’m trying to give you a nice, rational argument about why you should stay away from him, because god knows anything with emotions in it would be wasted on you…”
It was strange how many people believed Sherlock’s claim to be a sociopath. He’d only started saying it to stop people irritating him with criticisms about his social skills.
John had never believed it, though. Even when Sherlock had tentatively mentioned that he did indeed fit several of the criteria for sociopathic behaviour, John’s response had been a derisive snort and a ‘pull the other one’.
He’d always had such bright, bewildering faith in Sherlock. And look where it got him.
“He needs to get better without worrying about you,” Jane continued. “Why do you think I’m down here eating? Because this irritating habit of concentrating on what other people need rather than what he needs. So if you ever cared for him at all, you’ll leave him alone until he wants to see you.”
Jane was intelligent; Sherlock had to give her that. She’d hit upon the one argument that he might actually listen to.
The one argument he had to listen to, no matter how much he hated it.
Avra suspected John Watson was the type of person who was usually polite to the bitter end, but when he opened his eyes and saw her, he actually groaned aloud.
“Aren’t I meant to be resting? Can’t you people sod off?”
Still, he was certainly entitled to his resentment, and she couldn’t begrudge him it.
“I’m sorry,” she said – and she was, the poor man certainly deserved his privacy after what he’d been through. “But I think it’s best if someone else is in the room at all times. Just to be on the safe side.”
After all, just because Moriarty was dead didn’t mean his organisation was gone. And there would likely be plenty of people who resented John taking away their meal ticket.
But she didn’t want him thinking about that while he was still recovering, so she went on quickly. “And since this is really the first time we’ve met, I wanted to thank you in person for saving my son. In more ways than the obvious.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Avra prided herself on being unflappable, but the shout honestly startled her. She turned to find Jane standing in the doorway, her face thunderous.
“Apparently, she’s thanking me for all the times I saved Sherlock’s life,” John said glibly, before his expression abruptly sobered. “And on the subject of thanks, I suppose I have to admit that if you had told us who you were, we probably would have assumed you took Sherlock and Mycroft’s side of things and run in the opposite direction. So thank you for the help you did provide.”
Jane was still scowling, but she refrained from trying to throw Avra out of the room as she moved to John’s side.
“I have to admit, I still resent you a bit though,” John continued, his voice quite deliberately flat. “And if you think you’re going to guilt me into taking Sherlock back…”
“By no means.” It had crossed Avra’s mind, but she knew any manipulation at this point would do more harm than good.
She looked at them, taking in Jane’s stony expression, the way John was trying to hide his pain, and sighed.
“The problem with my sons is that they’re too much like me,” she said quietly. “They’re not good people, and they know it, so they can’t believe why anyone good would want anything to do with them.”
She wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Jane’s expression closed up even further, and John closed his eyes and turned his face away, as if he was just too weary to even pretend to listen to her.
“I know I don’t have the right,” she went on, a sliver of urgency trying to work itself into her tone. “But if you decide to sever ties with my sons…please, do it gently.”
“I’m not sure I can promise that,” John admitted, and Avra couldn’t help but admire his honesty.
She’d known Jane was perfectly suited for Mycroft since she’d met her, and it seemed John Watson was equally well suited for Sherlock.
She just hoped this realisation hadn’t come too late for them.
Sherlock had been fully prepared to wait days, weeks if he had to, for John to agree to see him.
He hadn’t expected Jane to find him within four hours, grim-faced and saying that John wanted to talk to him.
He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting when he opened the door to John’s room – he often had trouble predicting John, because he never behaved like an ordinary person – but he was surprised by the question John blurted out as soon as the door closed.
“Why did you do it?”
Caught flat-footed, for a moment Sherlock honestly couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Call me a masochist,” John went on, carefully studying the plastic clip that attached the heart monitor to his finger. “But I’d like to know. You clearly weren’t entirely prepared to hand me over to the police, so why…why didn’t you just talk to me?”
There was something raw and almost pleading in John’s voice. He was looking at Sherlock again, his face very calm, very set, but his eyes burning with the desperate need to know. It would have been so much easier if John had just screamed at him.
Sherlock would have liked to prevaricate, to tell John something that might have made him seem better, stronger…but he’d never been able to outright lie to John.
“Because I was afraid that if you tried to persuade me to go with you, I’d say yes.”
At least it got John to look at him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Before John came along, it had been years since Sherlock was honestly frightened. Now, he felt a little disgusted that something as mundane as talking could scare him.
“I’m sure you realised Moriarty’s opening gambit was all about getting me interested,” he said quietly. “All about persuading me-”
“To come play consulting criminal with him,” John finished, completing Sherlock’s train of thought effortlessly in a way that would never cease to be astounding. “And you thought I’d try to persuade you of the same. And that I’d succeed.”
Sherlock nodded. Because he would have succeeded – never mind that he hadn’t been what Sherlock thought he was, if John had stood there and asked Sherlock to come with him to Moriarty, Sherlock would have gone.
John’s eyes were narrow, clearly turning the problem over and over in his mind. “And why would you be afraid of that?”
“Because you wouldn’t have wanted that,” Sherlock said simply, staring at the stark white floor. “At the time, I thought you’d never really existed, but I still…I still wanted you to be…proud of me.”
He chanced a look at John, and was surprised by how startled, how devastated John looked. He’d thought John had wanted to know, thought he was helping him by telling him, not hurting him.
“I can understand that,” John said at last, his voice hoarse. “But that doesn’t mean I forgive it.”
He looked so small in the hospital bed, so small yet so strong, and Sherlock found himself remembering the last time John had been in the hospital.
I’ll burn the heart out of you…
Wouldn’t Moriarty be pleased to know he’d succeeded?
Anthea thought she was feeling some of that numbness John had talked about, the sense of being adrift and not really knowing what happened next.
She’d hovered outside the door while John and Sherlock were having their little discussion. She hadn’t been pleased about it, but John had said he wanted to know why Sherlock hadn’t even bothered to talk to him – that he needed to know – and Anthea had trouble denying John anything right now. She come in as soon as Sherlock had left, and right now they were both just staring at the tiny television suspended above his bed, watching some kind of foreign sitcom she wasn’t bothering to pay attention to and she knew John couldn’t actually translate.
“What do you want to do?” she asked eventually. “I think the doctors will be happy to let you go at this point – there’s not really a whole lot they can for you, anyway – so…what do you want to do?”
John sighed, closing his eyes. “To be honest, I just want to relax and get better somewhere nice and sunny and really, really far away from anything to do with Holmes.”
His eyes opened, and he cracked a small smile. “And I’d like some company, if you can manage. Do you think we can do that, Rosy?”
Anthea thought of all the money she now had access to again, of all the languages she could speak, of the fact that John had told her he’d never had someone take him on holiday…and answered his smile with a tremulous one of her own, resting her hand on top of his.
“Sure,” she whispered. “We can do that.”
AN: Thanks so much to my wonderful beta, ginbitch