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, PTSD 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)
“Any idea what you want to do now?” Anthea asked as she and John sat down on a bench at the train station – the meeting place they’d agreed upon with Mycroft and Sherlock.
“I think…” John sighed, wondering how to put this. The decision didn’t seem particularly momentous, even though he knew it was – it was as though it was been slowly coalescing inside him for the past two weeks, and seeing Sherlock had just brought it into perspective.
In many ways, John suspected they’d both been using his recuperation period as an excuse to put off making any kind of decision about their respective Holmes’, and now that it was over, it was time to bite the bullet and decide whether they were going to walk away or if they had it in them to try again.
John was almost sure he was going to try again. After he made sure Sherlock understood that he had to trust him, at least a little, that they had to talk about these things and if this ever happened again John was going to kick his arse across London. But still, he was willing to try and put it behind him.
Even now, he was wondering if he could exploit Sherlock’s guilt to get him to do the shopping or make tea occasionally. Which was probably a little mean, but John felt entitled to some compensation.
“I think I’m going to go back,” he said slowly, testing the idea. “To Sherlock, I mean. I’ll lecture him until his ears ring, enjoy him grovelling for a bit longer, and then I think we’ll try again.”
“You can really do that? Forgive him, I mean?”
“I think so,” John said honestly. “Maybe it’s because we were in a relatively new relationship – you’re always testing the boundaries at that stage. It usually doesn’t happen in quite that fashion, but still…”
“You’re going to give him another chance.”
It wasn’t a question, but John nodded anyway. “It’s all about risk versus reward, right? How about you?”
“I don’t know.” Anthea’s voice was subdued.
John nodded again. They hadn’t exactly discussed their respective relationships but from some of Anthea’s comments, he gathered that her relationship with Mycroft had been going on for years, and that kind of betrayal, after you thought you knew your partner inside and out and they knew you equally…John couldn’t really imagine it.
“Do you want me to punch Mycroft again?” he offered.
Anthea smiled, just a little. “If there’s any further punching going on, I’ll be doing it myself.”
“Thought so. Still, I felt I should offer – that’s what friends are for, right?”
“I don’t know,” Anthea admitted. “I’ve never really had a friend like you.”
“Me neither, Rosy,” John grinned. Then, taking her hand, “Listen, no matter what happens, don’t be a stranger, okay? Don’t vanish into the ether and make me track you down – I’d be absolute rubbish at it.”
“I don’t know,” Anthea laughed. “I think you’d succeed eventually, if only by virtue of sheer determination.”
John chuckled a little at that, and put an arm around her. She leaned into him with a sigh, resting her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes.
And that was how Sherlock and Mycroft found them.
“Hello,” John said cheerfully, just for the pleasure of disconcerting them.
His arm around Anthea tightened reflexively, because for all that he’d chosen to forgive Sherlock (because it was a choice, John believed it was always a choice), he didn’t know if he’d ever manage to forgive Mycroft. If Anthea did, then he’d make an effort for her, but for now he simply hated the man.
Or maybe not hated, exactly – John was sparing with his hatred. But he really, really resented him.
“We have a plane waiting,” Mycroft said, in the tone of voice a man would use to give a report to his superiors.
John hoped his face wasn’t showing how surprised he was. He never liked being surprised in front of Mycroft – he always felt like the man was taking notes on his moments of vulnerability to use later – but really; a plane?
Sherlock was quiet, but then he’d been unusually silent since they’d walked up to them on the beach – a sure sign he was honestly upset. When Sherlock was truly distressed, he either stammered and babbled (as John had witnessed at the pool) or just pressed his lips together and refused to so much as cough.
“Shall we, Rosy?” John asked, honestly curious. His decision about Sherlock aside, if Anthea decided she didn’t want to go back to England just yet, then John would stay with her.
She sighed, and stood up. “Let’s go.”
She put out her hand to help John to his feet, and John took it.
Sherlock knew it was neurotic and useless and idiotic and everything he’d promised himself he’d never be, but he couldn’t stop staring at John.
John had fallen asleep on the plane, barely fifteen minutes into their journey – the kind of restless sleep that meant he was stressed, but didn’t know when he’d next get a chance to rest, so was essentially forcing himself to sleep.
Sherlock had never known people could do that before he met John.
And if Mycroft thought he was being subtle about the glances he kept sending his former assistant, Sherlock had woefully overestimated him. Though perhaps that was the point, to let her see how distressed he was – she was certainly looking at him often enough to detect it.
Under other circumstances, Sherlock would have given in to the urge to taunt Mycroft about it, but that would irk Jane, and she’d probably tell John, and then John would be unhappy with him. Well, more unhappy with him.
And of course, it would give Mycroft ample opportunity to point out Sherlock had been doing the same thing with John.
At least he could stare as much as liked without fear of discovery – John was fast asleep, and would probably remain so until the plane landed again.
So Sherlock watched. John usually murmured and shifted in his sleep, flexing muscles every now and then like his subconscious was ensuring they all remained functional, but now he was completely still. The only movement was the expansion of his chest with each inhalation, and the flicker of his eyelids as his body entered the REM stage of sleep.
John suddenly grunted and twitched, arching his back as though straining away from something, and Sherlock barely had time to become concerned before John was opening his eyes on a choked gasp. For a moment, he stared directly into Sherlock’s face, and Sherlock recognised the wide eyes and white lips of utter terror before John shut his eyes, shook his head and ran for the tiny bathroom.
He left a very pointed silence in his wake.
“He has nightmares,” Jane said quietly, as if she needed to explain anything about John to Sherlock, as if Sherlock didn’t already know.
“Yes, thank you!” he snapped, already rising to follow and ignoring Mycroft’s admonishing glare.
The sounds emanating from within the bathroom suggested John was splashing water on his face, the way he did after a particularly harrowing nightmare had woken him in a cold sweat. How many times had Sherlock seen John come down from his bedroom late at night, face carefully blank and shoulders straight? Since they’d been sleeping together, he’d been woken twice by the sudden, almost full-body jerk that seemed to signal John waking from one of the nastier dreams.
Seemed to, because Sherlock hadn’t possessed enough data to corroborate the hypothesis, and now it seemed he never would – John certainly wouldn’t be sharing a flat with him again, let alone a bed. With anyone else, he would have argued, manipulated, explored every avenue to get them to return to the status quo, but now…now he just wanted to know John was happy and safe, even if he was happy and safe away from Sherlock.
At least John hadn’t locked the door – that indicated he felt safe, at least, even if he wasn’t happy right now.
The latch clicked as Sherlock slid it back, and the first thing John said when the door opened was, “Rosy?”
It was clearly instinctive to ask for Jane after a nightmare, not Sherlock, and that made his throat burn like he’d aspirated something.
John’s eyes looked distant, unfocused, but he seemed to realise it wasn’t Jane who’d followed him into the bathroom, and he blinked sharply.
“You can’t come in,” he said, freezing Sherlock at the doorway. “There’s not enough room.”
Sherlock knew there was enough room if they pushed it, but he also knew what John had really meant by that comment; there wasn’t enough room for Sherlock to enter the bathroom and give John the space he needed to feel comfortable.
Before this, John had been comfortable with Sherlock crowding him – more than comfortable, he’d actually seemed to enjoy it. But before was the key word wasn’t it? Before Sherlock chose to believe Moriarty’s doctored evidence over him, before John logically decided that Sherlock was not to be trusted, not again.
John splashed some more water on his face, and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes, swearing quietly under his breath.
It was unpleasantly reminiscent of the first time Sherlock had seen him awake from a nightmare, and though John’s order to stay out kept him where he was, he couldn’t help asking, “Is there anything I can do?”
John made a strange sound that resembled laughter, but there was no humour or joy in it. “Nothing anyone can do – just got to wait for my brain to wake up properly and realise I’m not actually being tortured.”
Sherlock swallowed, and quelled the urge to put his hand on John’s shoulder – John wouldn’t want Sherlock to touch him, not now.
“You can have the flat,” he blurted.
“What?” John blinked at him, looking completely bewildered.
“You can have Baker Street,” Sherlock clarified. “I can pay the rent for a few months while you find another flatmate.”
“But you love it there,” John said, and he was even developing the little fold between his eyebrows that appeared when he was confused and Sherlock had to look away before he leaned in and ran his fingers over it.
“You seemed happy there,” Sherlock shrugged. “I’m willing to move out, and you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding another flatmate.
John snorted. “You do remember I tend to have screaming nightmares, and they’re probably going to be much worse for the next few months?”
That made Sherlock scoff. “Yes, but you make tea so regularly people could set their watches by you, you have an almost compulsive urge to clean and tidy everything, you’re refreshingly non-judgemental about everything and you smile at people like they’re wonderful and…”
The surprised look on John’s face made Sherlock realise his assurance had perhaps run on over-long.
“…you’ll have no trouble finding a flatmate,” he finished.
“Right,” John sighed.
He closed his eyes again, looking pained.
“Are you alright?” Sherlock asked, and that was stupid, idiotic – any moron could see John wasn’t alright.
“Not really,” John said absently, staring at his reflection in the tiny mirror. “The nightmare…well, that one’s always the worst. The one where all of this – killing him, the hospital, the holiday – was the real dream. That I hallucinated the whole thing, that I’m still there and he’s still got me.”
Sherlock managed not to wince, but for a moment it felt very much like someone had punched him in the sternum. John was clearly trying so very hard to be stoic, to appear unaffected, but he was breathing just a shade harder than he should have been, and his fingers were trembling almost imperceptibly.
John dropped his head, letting it loll against his chest like he just didn’t have the strength to hold himself upright anymore, and Sherlock’s hand was covering the back of John’s neck before he realised he’d moved.
John tensed, the muscles and tendons beneath Sherlock’s fingers tightening reflexively, and Sherlock was about to step away when John sighed and leaned back into the pressure. Slowly, ready to stop as soon as John indicated he didn’t want Sherlock touching him, Sherlock moved his hand in a cautious caress, rubbing across the prickly hair at the nape of John’s neck, feeling the ridge of a small, pink scar where the tip of the whip had caught him.
It was useless to apologise, but he couldn’t seem to stop. “I’m sorry, I-”
“Here’s the thing,” John interrupted, turning around and shaking Sherlock’s hand off his neck, his expression determined and almost harsh. “It’s no good to say sorry unless you actually try not to do it again. So you need to trust me for this to work.”
Sherlock could have sworn he felt his heart lurch painfully. Could John actually mean…?
“I do trust you,” he said hastily. ‘Of course I do, it’s just-”
“No, you don’t trust me to make my own decisions,” John went on, voice calm and implacable. “To be with you because I want to be with you. And I understand you have a bucket of self-worth issues – I’m not exactly light in that department myself – but if something like this ever happens again Sherlock…”
John trailed off and shook his head. “Then it’s over. I can’t be with someone who doesn’t trust me. And this is not a threat or an ultimatum, this is me telling you how it’s going to work, because it can’t go any other way.”
Sherlock knew he was staring – probably gaping with his mouth wide open like an idiot, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t help staring at John, who looked so normal and unremarkable but was really most extraordinary person who’d ever breathed. John, who laughed when he should have been offended, who followed Sherlock when he should have run in the opposite direction, who forgave when he should have hated Sherlock for the rest of his life…
“I love you.” The words were out of his mouth before Sherlock even realised what he saying, which was very disconcerting.
John smiled, slow and content, the smile that said everything was well with the world. “Thought so. I love you too, by the way – you think I’d go through this much trouble for just anyone?”
And maybe they needed to discuss boundaries or going slow or something, but Sherlock had to kiss him after that.
It was like coming home.
Anthea knew she was glaring at Sherlock when he and John stepped out of the bathroom, but felt she had good reason to be. She knew what had happened – the cubicle wasn’t exactly soundproof, and even if she hadn’t heard them she would have been able to tell from the way they held themselves, as if they wanted to lean close to each other but didn’t quite feel comfortable enough.
Sherlock noticed her glare, of course, and she did her very best to communicate non-verbally that if he hurt John like that again, she’d make it her life’s mission to make his as miserable as possible.
John followed the direction of Sherlock’s stare, and for a moment Anthea wondered if he’d be irritated. But he only grinned at her and winked, and she remembered the way he’d punched Mycroft – of course he understood.
She’d half-expected him to sit with Sherlock, but at the same time she wasn’t truly surprised when he sat down next to her. He even took her hand and smiled at her, gentle and understanding in a way that would never cease to be slightly eerie. It was like he was seeing straight into her brain, seeing her wariness about Sherlock and the way some small, selfish part of her resented him for forgiving his Holmes, when she still couldn’t even bring herself to consider it.
Mycroft was still glancing at her every twenty seconds – Anthea had timed it – and she wished she actually had the guts to do something about the simmering resentment percolating in her veins. Maybe if she did something about it, then she’d feel better. After all, John had punched Mycroft (his nose was sporting a magnificent bruise, and it didn’t make Anthea want to fuss over him, it didn’t), and he’d found himself forgiving Sherlock only a few hours later.
People might say that time healed all wounds, but Anthea felt that a punch or two in the faces of those who had wronged you probably helped as well.
John squeezed her hand as though he’d felt her tensing and Anthea squeezed back almost reflexively, a silent indication that she was alright, just keen to be on the ground, off the plane, and away from Mycroft. At the very least, she was sure some distance would stop her from feeling as though her intestines were about to climb up her ribs.
When the plane landed, she’d go straight to her apartment. Which was fairly empty, granted, but it was large and spacious and better than checking into some hotel. It had really been held for appearance’s sake only, so enemies wouldn’t know at first glance what she and Mycroft were to each other.
Had been to each other. Had been – past tense, past tense…
John squeezed her hand again, smiling at her in a way that had probably put hundreds of frightened patients at ease, and Anthea suddenly realised that they were going to go their separate ways in an hour or so. She’d had the vague idea that they’d be splitting up once they returned to England, but now she knew that John was going back to Sherlock, while she was going to her own apartment, and it didn’t sit well with her.
She knew she was being irrational – she and John had been separate before now, for Christ’s sake. But that had been for little things; to go to the hotel bar for a meal or a drink, or the shops for some sunscreen, never for more than two hours since they’d escaped from Moriarty. They’d stayed close, any holiday activity one of them wanted to do the other came along for, they’d left the doors to the bedrooms in their suite open at night so they’d hear if the other was in trouble…
Anthea took a deep breath, and told herself she was being foolish. She realised her free hand was fiddling with her phone and forced it to still, focusing on selecting some stupid movie on the screen in front of her, trying to be nonchalant.
Given the fact that John didn’t let go of her hand, she didn’t think she succeeded.
John couldn’t deny he’d felt…lighter, since he and Sherlock had sorted things out. Much happier, too, though the kiss might have had something to do with that.
Still, he wouldn’t be going home with Sherlock quite yet. He thought he needed another day to get used to being back in London and not on the run before he tackled going back to Baker Street.
“If we pick up some pasta and sauce on the way, I’ll make spaghetti bolognese when we get to your place,” John offered to Anthea, because if she was going to put him up, then he would make the dinner – wasn’t that some kind of rule?
Anthea looked surprised, and for a moment John thought he’d made a mistake, that she didn’t want him coming home with her.
“I thought you were going with Sherlock,” Anthea said quietly.
Truth be told, even if John had miraculously felt secure enough with Sherlock again to go back to Baker Street, he probably still would have attached himself to Anthea. He just didn’t like the idea of them spending the night separately, though that was probably the paranoia talking.
Still, they’d been shot at only a few hours ago – he thought he had a right to be paranoid!
“I’m with you,” he grinned. “At least for tonight.”
He felt relieved when she smiled back at him, apparently not at all irritated that he’d essentially invited himself to her house.
“I should have known – he looks rather irritated,” she commented, nodding to where Sherlock was watching them.
“I don’t see how you could have figured it out from that – he’s always irritated.”
He waved jauntily at Sherlock, almost teasing, and for a moment, Anthea was so furious she actually trembled. It just didn’t seem fair that this was the relationship Moriarty wanted to tear apart yet was the first to sew back together, while the devastation he’d wrecked with her and Mycroft was just ‘collateral damage’.
“Do you think I’m being unreasonable?” she asked quietly.
John turned to look at her, seeming puzzled but, as ever, he knew what she was talking about. “I don’t think I’m the right person to ask about that – you do remember that I punched him, don’t you?”
Anthea shrugged. “Yes, but you and Sherlock…do you think I should forgive Mycroft?”
“I think you should do exactly what you want to do. Me and Sherlock…well, there are always hiccups in the beginning of any relationship, while you’re feeling each other out. Ours was just more dramatic and bloody than the norm, which is actually a fair approximation of our relationship in general, I suppose. But you and Mycroft…that was different. You’d been together for years, and he…well, it was different.”
Anthea nodded. “Now, I suppose we should go tell them that we’re most certainly not going home with them, and if they follow us, they’ll be in trouble.”
Anthea had never cooked anything more complicated than a toasted sandwich in years – she simply hadn’t had the time, and Mycroft’s house came with a cook. So the smell of cooking mince and pasta sauce drifting through her kitchen was a new experience.
“What kind of salary would tempt you into becoming a part-time cook?” Anthea asked, glancing over John’s shoulder at the pot the pasta was boiling in.
“You do not want me as your cook,” John laughed. “Trust me on this one. I can make spaghetti and stir-fry’s, but anything more complicated than that and I’m in trouble.”
Anthea chuckled along with him, glancing out the window. Anyone else wouldn’t have seen anything amiss, but Anthea had worked with Mycroft for years, and she knew his surveillance teams at a glance.
“We have company,” she muttered.
John sighed. “To be expected, I guess – neither of them looked happy when we left.”
Anthea grimaced, remembering the way Sherlock had looked petulant and faintly hurt until John had said ‘remember what I told you about trusting me? This is where it can start’. Mycroft had only looked resigned, which had only fuelled Anthea’s resentment – he did not get to play the guilt-trip card!
He’d started to say something about the risk of retaliation, but she and John hadn’t wanted to hear it. They’d got this far on their own, it was unlikely anyone else would try to kill them, and she didn’t want the Holmes’ brothers sticking their noses in her business anymore.
So she yanked out her Blackberry and dialled the number she’d memorised but could never actually enter into her contacts list.
Mycroft answered on the first ring.
Anthea spoke over whatever he’d been going to say. “Get them away from my house.”
There was a pause, and when Mycroft resumed speaking, his voice was carefully atonal. “We need to take necessary precautions-”
“These people spent over a week hunting me down,” she snapped. “I don’t want them around me!”
She could hear him inhale slightly harder than usual, a sign he was preparing to argue his case, but Anthea had worked with him (loved him) for years, and she knew exactly what he was about to say.
“If you think Moriarty’s people are still out for our heads, you can assign one of your oh-so trusted people to watch the CCTV of the street outside my house, but if I see any of your people outside in fifteen minutes, then John and I will start kneecapping them. And he’s an excellent shot.”
She hung up without waiting for a reply, and resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room.
She’d thought she was better, that she could handle it, that a plane ride consisting of boredom and frosty silence was proof that she’d managed to bring her anger at Mycroft under control. Apparently it was much easier to be furious at him when she couldn’t see the kicked-puppy look he was affecting (it was subtle, she didn’t think even Sherlock had seen it, but it was there).
And that was exactly what she didn’t want to be – it wasn’t that she didn’t want to be angry, because she was and did and felt she was damn entitled to it, but she didn’t want to let Mycroft see how he affected her. It felt too much like admitting weakness, showing vulnerability to the enemy.
She hadn’t meant to put that emphasis on ‘trusted’, she hadn’t even realised she was doing it until it was out of her mouth. But she couldn’t deny that it still rankled – that Mycroft had trusted…whoever had brought him the information over her. Granted, it had been expertly set up by Moriarty, but didn’t he consider the possibility of planted evidence?
And she’d made sure to say ‘your people’, because they certainly weren’t ‘our people’. Not anymore. Maybe not ever again.
The caveat of ‘maybe’ was automatic, because some part of her was quietly bewildered at the idea of walking away from this, from Mycroft. They’d had years together, years, and whatever she could say about trust, she knew he loved her.
But that sounded frighteningly like a battered wife, and Anthea refused to be the sort of person who returned for more abuse just because it was familiar.
“What’s the matter?” John asked, turning around from the stove to frown at her. “Is he refusing to remove them?”
“He’d better remove them,” Anthea muttered darkly, digging into her cutlery drawer.
John grinned. “Yeah, I heard that bit about kneecapping them.”
With anyone else, Anthea might have felt embarrassed at that melodramatic threat, but with John – whose eyes were crinkled in a way that seemed to say he understood exactly why ridiculous threats were sometimes necessary – she only laughed.
“Do you want to watch anything while we eat?” she asked, setting out two bowls on the kitchen counter.
“Don’t laugh, but I could really go for some Doctor Who right now.”
Anthea bit her lip to hide her smile; tea, jumpers, Doctor Who…sometimes John was very much the living embodiment of the frumpy Englishman stereotype.
“I see you smiling,” John said, mock-glaring at her.
“But I wasn’t laughing.”
John was tired, but unwilling to go to sleep. They’d watched three episodes of Doctor Who (which Anthea had on DVD – John wasn’t the only one who liked it!) and John had found himself missing long stretches of the final episode between blinks. He belatedly realised his head had listed over to rest on Anthea’s shoulder, and he hoped he hadn’t drooled on her. But he wasn’t concerned enough about it to move – if he was drooling, surely she’d shove him off?
“John, I do actually have a spare bed, you know,” Anthea said quietly. “You don’t have to sleep on the couch.”
John heard himself give a vague, affirmative mutter.
He felt Anthea’s hand in his hair, smoothing it like he was a sleepy child. She was one of maybe a handful of people who could touch him when he was like this and not send him rocketing back into wakefulness, tense and alert.
“I know,” Anthea sighed, as if he’d answered her. “I kind of don’t want to go to sleep either. Not when you’re leaving in the morning.”
John mumbled again, slowly easing into a coherent state – this conversation probably required participation from both parties. Anthea stroked his hair again, and he sighed.
“Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” he asked eventually, assured that Anthea would know he was only inquiring out of curiosity, not out of a desire to pressure her.
“Not really,” she admitted. “I keep thinking I need to go back to work – to do something – but my work…”
‘Was with Mycroft,’ John silently finished. He nodded to show he understood.
Anthea shrugged the shoulder he wasn’t resting on. “What about you?”
“Well, me and Sherlock are going to take it slow,” John huffed. “Not sure about anything beyond that. And I’ll call you.”
“Do you have my number?”
John paused to consider that. “Actually, I don’t think I do.”
He glanced up at Anthea, and in the next moment they were both laughing helplessly. It just seemed utterly absurd that, after all they’d gone through, they still didn’t have each other’s numbers. John felt his head rocking with the vibrations of Anthea’s laughter, but he felt no need to move.
Their giggles trailed away into silence, and John sighed again. “I’ll admit, I don’t like the idea of leaving, but-”
“But it’s what we have to do,” Anthea finished. “This…isn’t healthy.”
John nodded against her. “Co-dependent and all that psychological stuff.”
“We’re used to leaving each other for a few hours at a time,” Anthea pointed out. “Right now, we could probably get away with frequent meetings and phone calls – we’re not breaking out in a cold sweat as soon as the other leaves our line of sight. If we attach ourselves at the hip, this will only get worse.”
“I know,” John said quietly. “But…we don’t have to separate right now.”
In the end, they slept on Anthea’s couches, which were uncomfortable and not at all good for their backs or necks, but neither felt like going to separate bedrooms.
AN: Thanks so much to my beta, ginbitch!