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FIC: Fragments
softandwoollen
Title: Fragments
Author: softandwoollen
Rating: R
Word Count: 8100
Pairing: None
Warnings: noncon references and flashbacks
Summary: For a prompt on the kink meme. When John is caught up in another one of Moriarty's sick games, Mycroft is the one who notices first.




"Please, stop, no! Get off me! Don't!" The girl fights him, scratching at his face and hands, but she's slight. He has no problem pinning her down or forcing her legs apart. She shakes her head, eyes clenched tightly shut in denial.

He doesn't stop.

John knows he's asleep because he remembers this. He remembers this, and this isn't how it'd happened, in real life.

There are pieces missing - the bomb dangling from her neck, the camera lens embedded in the wall of the car. She hadn't fought him, hadn't stopped him, had only wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and said in a small, terrified voice as she stripped off her clothes, "Please, don't make it hurt."


He manages, eventually, to thrash himself awake, a shout caught in his throat and the scent of blood and gunpowder in his nose and mouth, so thick he can taste it.

His stomach churns and he lurches upright, forcing himself to take in several deep, heaving breaths. His nightmares always smell like blood, but it feels somehow worse now, now that the content's changed. He'd rather be dreaming of his friends bleeding out on the desert sands. He'd rather see the ghosts of those he'd left behind, wanting to know why he'd lived when they'd died.

Anything but this, but horror and guilt and disgust, and the memory of Will - will it hurt?, of Please, please, he'll kill me if you don't and He knows where my daughter lives. Her name's Gina, and I just - I just want to keep her safe.

It takes a few more minutes, but eventually his stomach calms and the world settles around him, separating into recognizable pieces. The window, the moonlight. The bedclothes, turning cold and clammy from his sweat. The strains of Sherlock's violin, threading upwards from the floor below.

It, more than anything else, helps John fall back into himself.

He breathes in through his mouth until the only thing he tastes is the chill of the night air, and his stomach no longer wants to expel its contents. Not that there'd be much to bring back up; he's already shifted his habits so he could eat dinner earlier, for just this reason.

His left hand is shaking. But that's okay, he tells himself, lying back down even though he knows he won't be getting anymore sleep tonight, not with the images bubbling just under the surface level of his thoughts. His hand had done that before, too. It's fine. He's fine.

Maybe.

He's pretty sure he's fine



except



John's left hand shakes when he offers Mycroft the cup of tea. Not very much, it's barely perceptible, a slight tremor in the surface of the liquid. This, in and of itself, is not unusual - John Watson's hand shakes when he isn't under stress.

What is unusual is that he's trying to hide it, moving his hand out of view whenever he has the opportunity - cleverly disguised as a more natural motion, but his attempts at subtlety are nothing in comparison to Sherlock in a mood. Mycroft can see right through him.

"John," he says. John's eyes widen slightly in alarm, when he realizes Mycroft's figured out something's off. "You seem..." Not uncomfortable, exactly. Not nervous. But close. "A bit on edge today. Are you feeling all right?"

"I'm fine," John says, clearly lying. He cringes slightly when Mycroft steps closer to him, though he stands his ground admirably. There are bruises under his eyes, and he's more protective of his hands than usual. Mycroft doesn't see any marks on them, nothing to explain his uncharacteristic unwillingness to be touched.

But there must be something.

"No," Mycroft replies, twisting the handle of the umbrella in his hand. "I don't think you are."

"He said he's fine," Sherlock interrupts.

His younger brother isn't looking at him - has chosen instead to hide his face behind a sheaf of music, as he had when they'd been children, but Mycroft doesn't need to see his face to know the exact shape of the petulant scowl on his face.

So possessive, but then, Sherlock always has been.

"Yes, Sherlock," Mycroft says patiently, "But that doesn't mean he is."

"Yes, it does," John says, more firmly. He's retreated to his armchair - clearly a retreat, subtle lines of tension easing out of his shoulders and back once he sat down. "You wanted to talk to Sherlock, I assume?"

"I'm not talking to him," Sherlock says immediately, and adds to Mycroft, "I'm not interested in any of your cases. Go away."

Mycroft hadn't seriously been expecting to convince Sherlock to assist him today. This was merely the precursor to persuading his younger brother to yield to him later in the month, when their mother puts it on Mycroft to retrieve Sherlock for a family dinner. Convincing Sherlock to do his bidding always requires fewer threats if Mycroft let him refuse several other requests first.

"Are you sure?" Mycroft asks, getting slowly to his feet. John's eyes track his movements - particularly, his hands and pockets. "It'd really be a great service to the Crown..."

"I'm sure. Go away!" Sherlock discards the sheaf of music and throws himself dramatically onto the sofa, turning his back. John startles at the sudden motion. His eyes go wide and tension flares, briefly, throughout his entire body, before he visibly gets himself under control.

Mycroft decides not to risk irritating Sherlock any further and wasting his efforts for the day. "Then I'll be seeing you, little brother. John, as always, it's been a pleasure." John's answering smile is strained.


"How was your visit?" his PA asks politely when he gets into the car waiting for him just outside the flat.

"Informative," he replies. "See to it that I have a copy of Doctor Watson's surveillance footage on my desk tomorrow, will you?"

"Yes, sir,"



and behind him,



Sherlock doesn't normally give much credence to what his brother says. Accurate he may be, but Mycroft is known to speak circumspectly when it benefits him, even at Sherlock's expense. Especially at Sherlock's expense.

And yet, he can't help but wonder.

"John," Sherlock says, forcing his voice light and casual. Some of John's tension had dissipated when Mycroft had left, but there are vestiges still, manifesting in the clink of ceramic as John puts away the tea and begins to do the washing up.

John has to raise his voice in order to be heard over the running of the water. "What is it, Sherlock?"

"You know," he begins, and has to stop until he can find the words again, swallowing his pride to ask. "Mycroft said -"

"What about what Mycroft said?" It's hard to tell anything from John's voice over the sound of the dishes and from such a distance, but Sherlock can't bring himself to get up and get closer, to crowd John in the way Mycroft had crowded Sherlock in the past.

He hasn't the right.

John had said he was fine, though. But what if that'd only been for Mycroft's benefit? He could ask. Would it be too intrusive to ask? He should ask anyway. John would forgive him that, if it was only the once.

"Are you all right?"

"Of course I am," John replies.

Sherlock closes his eyes and sees John, standing firm and brave and sure, a steady hand and a crack shot, who'd killed a man for Sherlock with no remorse, when they'd just barely met.

Of course he is,



but



the words are on the - no, that's not right, they're not on the tip of John's tongue. They're choking him. They're suffocating him and he doesn't know how to get them out, doesn't know how to take what's happened to him and put it into words.

Even thinking about it makes him feel as if he can't breathe.

It comes to him most in the dead of night, when the nightmares have woken him and he can't bear to close his eyes and see them again (the images, ever growing, of everyone he hasn't been able to save - of everyone he's had to hurt).

This thing that has been going on between him and Moriarty has lasted for weeks and somehow, Sherlock has no idea. John hadn't breathed a word of it to anybody, but he'd still half-expected Sherlock to take one look at him and know that John has been tainted by Moriarty's sick games.

But he doesn't.

He doesn't and part of him wants Sherlock to know, to find out about the near-weekly meetings and the victims and the blood on John's hands from the one time he'd thought Moriarty had been bluffing.

Because he's afraid that if Sherlock doesn't find out, it's never going to stop, because no matter what John tries, no matter what he says or thinks or plans, Moriarty is two steps ahead of him and ready with something worse if he doesn't give in.

And he just doesn't know what to do.

He doesn't know how long he can last, giving Moriarty's victims pieces of himself to save their lives, how long it'll be until he tries and there's nothing left of himself to give.

He should tell Sherlock. He knows he should tell Sherlock. But the cold, practical part of himself that John likes to pretend isn't there knows that Sherlock won't be able to help.

It's been months since Moriarty's made it onto Sherlock's radar and Sherlock's been hunting Moriarty with the tenacity of a terrier ever since. But he hasn't gotten any closer to finding the man, no matter how many traces of Moriarty's influence they uncover once they turn things over and give them a good look.

Sherlock's sure Moriarty will make a mistake soon. He thinks it's only a matter of time until they capture him. John is less sure.

Once, when Sherlock had contaminated a crime scene and inadvertently invalidated any evidence that might have held up against their suspect, John had asked, "But what do you do if you can't solve the case? You've ruined the evidence."

Sherlock had looked at him, and said simply, with the confident assurance of a man who'd never tasted failure, "I can always solve the case. The police don't need their evidence, once I've seen it."

He wishes he had as much faith in Sherlock as Sherlock has in himself



because



there is a lot of footage. Mycroft doesn't watch it all on his own. That would be ludicrous, of course. Instead, he delegates, and still manages to end with several hours worth of video, culled from the myriad of CCTV cameras that covered London. He'd already preemptively decided not to look through the surveillance footage of John and Sherlock together, as Sherlock's ignorance of the matter, whatever this matter is, had said more than enough.

He starts with the most recent, bringing it up at quadruple speed on one of the monitoring screens while he opens the report.

Subject left hospital at 5:15 PM, and proceeded along established route towards residence. At 5:26 PM, Subject received and viewed a text message, at which point he deviated from his established route towards a new destination. Subject entered a small alley in a CCTV blind spot at 6:13 PM and emerged at 6:41 PM, the report reads, and continues further, summarizing the rest of John's path until his arrival at 221B.

But Mycroft puts the rest of the report aside for later, because this, this is the anomaly in John's behavior. John had spent nearly thirty minutes outside the view of the CCTV cameras before emerging at the same place from which he'd disappeared.

He skips to the appropriate place in the surveillance footage to verify the results, but it's only a formality. The footage itself is so low-quality and from so poor an angle that any valuable nuance is lost in the graininess of the picture.

Yes, that is John Watson walking into the alley, hesitating at its mouth. Yes, that is John Watson leaving the alley, looking virtually the same as when he'd entered it, hands in his pockets and head down thoughtfully. Or it could be someone dressed convincingly like him, but John hasn't the skill for the level of subterfuge needed to perform a second swap in a second blind spot before his arrival at Baker Street).

The alley, handily evaluated in the appendix of the report, has four possible exits: the stores making up each wall, as well as the two mouths into the street. It is, Mycroft supposes, possible that John had gone into one of the stores by the side entrance for several minutes before emerging into the alley again, but the possibility is so low as to approach meaninglessness.

He entertains and dismisses several possibilities in quick succession, leaving just the obvious: a meeting, with someone who knew the map of the city's CCTV coverage, discussing something that could not be discussed in a more secure location, trading physical safety for the safety of anonymity.

A meeting with a criminal whose goal is to avoid detection. Done without Sherlock's knowledge.

But John is not generally given to subterfuge.

How suspicious.

Mycroft circles the relevant parts of the report (Subject entered a small alley in a CCTV blind spot at 6:13 PM and emerged at 6:41 PM) and adds his response.

More about these, please, he writes. Incidence rate, locations, who he's meeting and what they have to offer. Better footage, as well, though that's a long shot, dependent on John's meetings taking him to a location already being monitored



and



the first time had happened like this:

The man next to him, John realized as he walked towards the tube station, was trying to talk to him - subtly, quietly.

"Please," he said, and caught the edge of John's sleeve. "Please, John Watson. I need to talk to you."

John hesitated. "I'm sorry," he said, because something about the man was off, somehow. Something about the cadence of his voice or the look in his eye. It threw up all his red flags, making his subconscious tell him, danger. "I'm in a hurry."

"Please," the man repeated. "Please, he says he'll kill me if you don't." His voice cracked on the word 'kill'.

And then John recognized it, the thing about the man that was throwing his senses off, making him feel tense and wary. It was desperation. The sort of desperation you felt when something bad was going to happen, something so devastatingly bad that you'd do anything to prevent it.

John stopped. "Who says?" he asked.

The man stopped too, and he looked into the distance, eyes unfocusing. "He says you know who he is," and when the man turned his head, John caught sight of the receiver in his ear and knew.

"All right," John said, and let himself be led into a small, dirty alley. "What does Moriarty want?"

"I want you, Doctor Watson," the man parroted, stuttering through the words. His voice was thick with fear but otherwise without inflection, without the queer cadence of Moriarty's voice that sometimes echoed in John's mind, words punctuating the inarticulate screams and gunfire in his nightmares. John noticed the sweat on his brow, the whites of his eyes, the shaking of his hands. "I'm going to burn you."

His own hands weren't shaking. They were steady as rocks. He wasn't afraid.

"We'll find you," he promised, knowing Moriarty could hear him, might even be able to see him. "We'll find you and we'll stop you."

"But. Not. Now. Get on your knees, John." Moriarty must have said something else - some direction meant for the man he was speaking through, because his hands moved, then stopped. "What? No - No, I'm not going to -" The man flinched. "Okay, okay," he said, and began to take off his belt.

John didn't like the way things were heading. "No," he said, and wished for a second that he'd brought his gun. Even though he wouldn't have brought it out - he wouldn't threaten a civilian - it would have been a reassuring weight against the small of his back, a reminder that he could. "I'm not a part of your games, Moriarty."

"I'll kill him if you don't." It sounded ludicrous, Moriarty's threats coming out as a frightened whimper. "But if you just do this one small thing for me, I'll let him go. Promise."

John didn't see sign of any laser sights floating about, nor any other sign Moriarty's threat was a credible one. "No," he said and stepped backwards, back onto the main street. "This is between you and me and Sherlock. Leave innocent bystanders out of it."

Sherlock had been out of the country for a case that day, and for the three days following.

On the day before Sherlock was scheduled to arrive home, someone touched John's elbow on his way home from work, and said two things, before disappearing into the crowd. The first was a name, one he didn't recognize. The second, the name of a newspaper. The name belonged to the man Moriarty had sent and John had turned away. The newspaper had been the one with the article, tucked away near the back, about his suicide.

He'd left behind two children and a wife.

The next time, Moriarty picked a young woman barely out of uni, one with Harry's hair and Harry's eyes. Rather than speak through her, he let her beg for her life - beg John for her life, begging him to please, please, do what he says, because he'd let her go if John did what he wanted. She had a sister and parents who loved her, and she just wanted to go home, she just wanted to see them, one more time.

It was at about that time, his arm around her as she sobbed into his shoulder and begged him to keep her safe, that the terror sunk its claws into his chest and John realized that he had no idea what he should do,



until



several weeks after his most recent request, Mycroft has another report on his desk, detailing incidence rates, locations, who John's meeting, and what they have to offer. And, of course, better footage, bits and pieces scraped together from when he's passed through a monitored location on the way to his meetings.

Mycroft watches the new footage first, from the beginning. He watches enough to see the change - to watch John startle at loud noises, hand dropping automatically to a gun he isn't carrying, to see the narrow-eyed looks he'd cast at strangers, and the way he'd clench his fists, sometimes, when he received a text message.

The messages he receives (because of course Mycroft has access to those as well) aren't much. They are bits and pieces, times and locations already past, always sent on the day of, sometimes with no more than a few minutes' advance warning.

These aren't secret meetings to turn John Watson. These are something else - an attack, a threat, something that takes John and twists him, winding him tighter and tighter until, eventually, something will break.

The man John meets moves like a shadow, undoubtedly real and physical, but never seen, leaving no glimpse of himself in the city's ever present surveillance. He knows enough to not only hide himself from Sherlock (and that was the first thing the report had noted, that John was 'safe' as long as he was with Sherlock), but from Mycroft as well.

Most people dismiss Mycroft, never realizing that in comparison, Sherlock is the safe brother. Moriarty had not.

A worthy opponent.

But now, his worthy opponent, because above all, London is his city, and nothing is allowed to happen in it that he doesn't know.

Especially not to his baby brother, who may be young and impulsive but is still family.

He gives the necessary commands (a circled phrase, a highlighted conclusion, and marks from his own pen when the report misses what's most important), and sends them to the relevant people, knowing that in time, the situation will be resolved.

Which means, now that the wheels are in motion and an end is in sight, the only thing left to do is tell Sherlock



who



scowls, throwing himself so violently into the chair in front of Mycroft's desk that the legs squeal protest as they skid across the floor, making his brother wince.

"What do you want?" Sherlock demands. "I'm in the middle of an investigation, you can't just have your goons pick me up off the middle of the street like a common criminal!"

"Tell me," Mycroft says. "When was the last time you observed Doctor Watson?"

Sherlock had seen John just the night before, when he'd come home from the surgery. But that's not what Mycroft means. "He doesn't like it when I do that. Sometimes he yells."

Mycroft gives him a look, one that clearly says, as if you'd let that stop you.

"Several weeks ago, when he was writing a post for his blog."

Sherlock had watched John, out of the corner of his eye, long enough for the web of his actions to be laid bare, to see below the surface layer and touch on the deeper ones. He'd observed John's growing resignation towards his nightmares, his near-constant preoccupation with his sister's well-being, and the way Sherlock's influence had changed him, made him not less lonely, but less aware of it.

He'd seen other things, of course -- weight lost from running about London with Sherlock, the telltale lack of female companionship (he'd stopped bothering, after he'd lost his last girlfriend when he'd had to choose between her and Sherlock), dozens of small things that cause minute changes in the way a man stands, walks, or holds himself.

"Do you know where he's been going, when he gets home late from work?" It's asked smugly, Mycroft having an answer and dangling the knowledge just out of reach.

"No," Sherlock says, because he doesn't. "It's none of my business."

"Well, I wouldn't say that," Mycroft comments, and it isn't a lie, because Mycroft would never lie when the truth could be used just as effectively.

"What do you mean?"

"He's been meeting with Moriarty."

"Moriarty's not in London right now," Sherlock says, though Mycroft undoubtedly knows that as well. "Through a proxy then," he concludes aloud, and Mycroft's eyes glitter with pleasure because Sherlock is the only one who can keep up with him, and they both know that. "Moriarty has men in the city, and they're - what, kidnapping John to speak to him on Moriarty's behalf?"

"Precisely."

But that's not all they're doing, because Mycroft wouldn't have sent men to forcibly retrieve him for something so trivial as this. "I trust him," Sherlock says, testing the waters. "He's trustworthy."

"But he hasn't told you why he's been meeting with Moriarty," Mycroft says in a deceptively mild tone.

It doesn't matter why. John's a good man, a better man than he or Mycroft will ever be. "John wouldn't betray me," Sherlock replies, still cautious, because he knows he's being baited into something whose edges he can't quite see. "If you think otherwise, your mind must be going with the old age."

"Close." Mycroft folds his hands over the handle of his umbrella. "If he's not trying to turn John, what is he doing?"

Oh. Oh, oh, oh.

Hurting him.

Hurting him, to get to Sherlock, to burn John down until there's nothing left, until there's nothing left of him and, consequently, nothing left of Sherlock. It's obvious! So obvious, because John is the closest thing Sherlock's got to a heart, and Moriarty had promised.

"But how?" Sherlock breathes. John is a soldier, and Sherlock has no doubt that he's significantly more dangerous than any one of Moriarty's men. And in the crowds, in the streets, he'd be protected by Mycroft and the police and Sherlock's own network of eyes and ears throughout the city. No one should be able to touch him. He should be safe.

But he's not, Sherlock realizes, as his mind spins backwards, taking all his memories and stolen glimpses of John and re-evaluating them under the light of Moriarty's influence. He's not, he's hurting, ground down so slowly by Moriarty that Sherlock hadn't even noticed.

So, "How?"

Mycroft, the fat, worthless, useless bastard (what good is his influence, his sticky fingers on everything Sherlock touches, if he can't even protect John?), merely looks bored. "Your flaw, Sherlock," he says, "Is that you always think people are like you."

It's not an uncommon criticism. But it's important, this time.

So, think. How could Moriarty possibly hurt John, without being there - hurt him in a way that wouldn't hurt Sherlock, not really.

Threats - he'd have to threaten someone else, take advantage of John's natural empathy for human beings. But not Sherlock, not Mycroft, not Scotland Yard. Someone who couldn't defend themselves - but not family, because John otherwise would have acted, would have moved them to safety but he hasn't.

So.

"Moriarty has hostages. Someone John cares about, but not someone he loves. Someone important. Who? Friends? Fellow soldiers from his time in the army?"

"Strangers, actually," Mycroft corrects.

"Strangers? That's stupid, why would he use strangers?" Sherlock blurts out the words before he realizes what he's saying. He scowls at the smug smile Mycroft shoots him, the one he always uses when he's gotten the better of Sherlock.

Because John cares about strangers and Sherlock already knows this, even if he doesn't see why.

"So Moriarty is using hostages to torture John Watson," Sherlock says. "In a way that doesn't leave physical marks - I'd have noticed if he had - but is still somehow traumatic. John doesn't tell me because Moriarty will kill the hostages if he does, and..."

And why? Why is he taking John?

"He can't be only torturing them in front of him, or John would have told me and we'd have acted to save them. But he's doing something, something John hates.

"Moriarty sends the hostages to speak to John, and kills them if John doesn't do as he says."

"And?" Mycroft prompts.

"And what?" Sherlock demands, scowling.

"You tell me," Mycroft says.

"I don't know," Sherlock admits through gritted teeth. Moriarty. Hostages. John. Trauma. But not violence, not death, because Sherlock would have seen the signs if John had been coming home injured.

Something John hates.

But nothing seems important enough. No one's dying (well, likely one or two people, until John realized Moriarty was serious in his threats, but no more than that), No one's getting hurt.

"Nonviolent torture. Waterboarding, suffocation, low-level electric shocks? They have bombs on them - or a poison, poisons are creative, and only Moriarty has the antidote. He kidnaps children, and doesn't reveal their location until John does what he wants?"

Only, not. Sherlock can tell when he's close to a solution, and his intuition tells him he's only getting further and further from the goal.

"Not even close," Mycroft says with a smug, condescending flourish. "Rape."

Sherlock frowns. "Impossible. John's been coming home uninjured every day. He's -" Sherlock's about to say John's fine, except that he clearly isn't, and clearly hasn't been for weeks, now that Sherlock knows what he should have been looking for. But. It would make sense, fitting into the empty spot he has for how Moriarty has been hurting John. He frowns. "But that doesn't make any sense."

"It does," Mycroft says. "You just don't see it. He exhibits many of the classic signs of sexual assault."

"But it was only him and the hostage! Even if Moriarty forced them to have sex, it's hardly rape. No one got hurt. Why would John care? He's even bisexual, I already know that. Unless one of them was ugly or disfigured, but even then it's only a mild inconvenience."

"It's not a 'mild inconvenience'. It's rape. It's a violation," Mycroft says firmly, in a tone Sherlock's long-familiar with, one that brooks no arguments. It reminds Sherlock of all the times growing up when Mycroft had been his interface to the outside world, the one who'd taught him all the stupid, petty rules Sherlock would never have bothered to learn on his own.

Mycroft never speaks frivolously when he uses that tone. Sherlock's willing to believe him on faith despite his own expectations. Human irrationality isn't his strong suit.

Mycroft makes a tutting sound. "Violent or not, he was forced to do something repugnant against his will, and in that respect, he was deeply violated. It's only natural for there to be lasting emotional and psychological damage, even if his body is intact."

But he shouldn't be, Sherlock thinks rebelliously, a cold lump forming in his chest. It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense, or if it isn't possible. It only matters that it's true, and even if he hadn't been able to leap to the correct conclusion on his own, he's entirely capable of following Mycroft's deductions and seeing where they slot into place, each fact and event fitting perfectly against the backdrop of the evidence. He should have been fine. He said he was fine.

People are always so oversensitive about sex, like it means more than just rubbing compatible body parts against each other. It's so stupid.

"That's not fair," he mutters, but there's no anger in it, because he doesn't know who to be angry at.

"You should have realized something was wrong. You should have seen it," Mycroft says, not unkindly. Mycroft knows what John means to him, even if sometimes Sherlock isn't sure he knows it himself. "You did see it, but you didn't know what it meant."

"He said he was fine." But people lie. "How long did it take you?" he asks. "To realize."

"I suspected after I saw the pattern of his behavioral changes," Mycroft says. "But it took me several weeks to gather the necessary data."

Weeks. This has been going on for weeks - no, months, because Sherlock remembers, still, when he had first noticed the changes in John's behavior, and it would have started before then, lasting long enough for it to cause an impact on John's actions.

He should have seen it. How could he have been so blind, letting such a dramatic change slide by without knowing the reason, without considering all the possibilities?

"John would have known," Sherlock says numbly, mind rehashing the evidence over and over, wondering how he could have been so blind. Just one change, one tweak of his mental parameters, just one possibility that had never crossed his mind, and it's obvious now, as clear as if Moriarty had told Sherlock himself. "If it were me in his place. He did it to John because he knew I wouldn't see it."

"Yes, well. John's rather more astute than you are, in these matters." His brother levels a look at him. "And your areas of ignorance aren't exactly subtle."

Sherlock is silent, still thinking - still going over every memory he has of John for the past few weeks, still trying to see where he'd made his mistake, even though he knows it's a losing prospect. He'd started off wrong, and everything that'd come after had been flawed.

"I've dispatched a team to handle the situation," Mycroft says. "It's been resolved."

He dismisses Sherlock without another word, casting his eyes down, to a folder on his desk - a weapons program under development in the States. In that moment, Sherlock hates him. Hates him for bringing him here just to rub his nose in everything he didn't understand, for being the one who'd seen it when he doesn't even care about John, for acting once more to affect Sherlock's life as if he has the right.

But most of all, he hates Mycroft for fixing it like it's nothing, for helping John before he can. Sherlock knows that people's lives aren't a game. But if they were, Mycroft would be winning, always winning, because nothing Sherlock does is ever enough to catch up.

"Thank you," Sherlock bites out, because he has to, and Mycroft's lips curl into a smug smile that makes him want to be



sick,



retching into the toilet until there's nothing left, until the only thing left in his stomach is bile. He'd had one of the worse nightmares, this time. His hands on the girl who'd cried (not the first one, but the second, and it makes him want to die, that he has to clarify it in his thoughts because there's more than one), wrist deep in her blood, raping her while -

There's nothing left in his stomach. It contracts painfully as he gags over the toilet. He drags the back of his hand over his mouth (the smell is vile but it's not blood, and he prefers the former to the latter today) and turns shakily towards the sink to rinse out his mouth, flushing the toilet as he turns away from it.

He sees Sherlock out of the corner of his eye, standing at the threshold of the open door.

"Nightmare?" Sherlock asks.

John nods between mouthfuls of water from the tap. He stops when the inside of his mouth stops tasting completely vile and scrubs his jaw and chin clean. "Yes," he says because there's no use denying it, and spits into the sink.

"You've been having more of those, these last few weeks," Sherlock comments.

"I know," John replies, and looks down at himself. There's no sick on his bare chest or pants, but the sweat is starting to cool on his skin. He smooths his hair down with his palm. It comes back wet and smelling like salt. "I should take a shower."

Sherlock hovers still. "John," he says, then stops.

John pauses. "What? Can it wait until after I'm clean?"

Sherlock looks away. He steps back when John goes to close the door between them. "Right," he says. "Of course."

It takes five minutes to rinse the sweat from his body and another ten minutes, under water so hot it turns his skin red, before his brain stops registering the phantom scent of vomit. But it takes another twenty minutes, long enough for his fingers to start to prune, before the memories recede long enough for John to forget how dirty he feels, underneath his skin.

He steps naked into the hall, because it's only several steps to his room. He jumps when he sees the unexpected sight of Sherlock leaning against the wall, clearly waiting for him, and can't quite suppress his startled, half-aborted movement towards the bathroom door.

Sherlock's expression shutters closed, undoubtedly reading more into that half-made movement than John would like him to know. "Sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to -"

Frighten you? Scare you? Make you think of the last time someone's eyes had widened when you'd been forced to let them see your scar?

John interrupts whatever Sherlock may have said by holding up a hand. "It's fine," he says. He shoulders past Sherlock, who moves out of his way. "You just surprised me."

Sherlock follows John to his bedroom. John turns his back to get dressed, because it's five in the morning and he has no intention of getting back in bed or letting his memories get the better of him, now that he's managed to subdue them temporarily. "What did you want to tell me?" he asks, digging through his drawers.

"I talked to Mycroft," Sherlock says, voice solemn - too solemn, compared to how he normally sounds when his brother demands an audience.

"What about?"

"He told me what happened to you. What Moriarty did to you."

All the breath leaves John's lungs. He sits down heavily on the bed. Sherlock knows. "How long?" he asks. "How long have you known?"

"Four days. I - I saw the signs, but I didn't know what they meant," Sherlock says. "I never thought - I knew he'd be going after us, but I never thought Moriarty would do something like this."

"Well." John laughs harshly. "He did." He should be feeling relief - and, to some extent, he does - but mostly what he feels is dread. He doesn't want to know what Sherlock thinks of him now (and John already knows Sherlock would think he shouldn't have cooperated at all, that he should have let everyone die), or how it's rewritten Sherlock's perception of him. He doesn't want to talk about it, or explain it, or live through it yet again in his memories. "It was my choice," he says. "It was better than letting them die."

He'd do it again, if he had to. He'd hate every minute of it, but he'd do it again.

"Hardly," Sherlock says, and it's enough of a surprise that John looks at him, sees him looking vaguely concerned but stubborn as well. "Objectively speaking, you're in a much better position to put Moriarty behind bars than any of them were, so it makes no sense that you'd sacrifice your well-being for theirs when your well-being could lead to Moriarty's defeat."

John stares. "Did you just tell me that it would be better for people to die than for me to have to have sex with someone for Moriarty's cheap thrills? You can't possibly believe that."

Sherlock gets a distinctly confused look on his face. "Why not?"

"Because they're people, Sherlock! They're people with lives and families and friends and loved ones, and I - if there's anything I can do to save them, anything, then I have to do it."

"That's stupid. You don't even know them. How can you possibly protect all of London - no, the entire world - from one madman? The only way would be to stop him, and letting him hurt you impedes your ability to do that," Sherlock says, and John wants to hit him, because he sounds like all the worst commanding officers John's ever had, the sort that say "civilian casualties" like it's just a number, stats to put in a report.

Like it's not people - mourning mothers and orphaned children and hate, burning its way through a town with all the speed and intensity of a wildfire, polluting everything that'd been left.

"Yeah?" John demands. "So what would you have done? Just let them die?"

Sherlock's jaw clenches stubbornly. That's answer enough.

"And how long?" He presses. "How long would you have let it go on? What if he had ten hostages? A hundred? How many lives would you sacrifice?"

"It's not about sacrificing people," Sherlock says, a thread of irritation entering his voice. "It's about stopping it. Rolling over every time Moriarty makes a threat is only going to encourage him. Do you think you were winning? Do you think you were helping? You were losing, John. You were enabling him. He was taking you apart piece by piece and you were helping him do it!"

Sherlock is shouting by the end of it, looming over John as if he can make up with volume and physical presence what isn't getting through in words.

"So what?" John shouts. "There was nothing else I could have done. They would have died, and I did what I had to to stop it. I'm a doctor. I'm just a doctor, and if I can't save lives, I'm nothing. I'm not some irreplaceable tool that has to be kept under lock and key. You don't need me to help you take him down!"

"Yes I fucking do!" Sherlock roars back, then settles back abruptly, a stunned look on his face as if he hadn't realized what he was going to say until the words had left his lips. "It doesn't matter anyway," he mutters. "Mycroft's already taken care of it."

"Taken care of it," John repeats. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what it sounds like," Sherlock says. "When he found out, he took steps to rectify the situation. It should be resolved by now and if not, it will be shortly."

A small, frightened part of John is pathetically grateful that it's over, that he'll never have to get into a car and force a smile and make promises he can't keep but wishes he could. But dread curls in his chest, a sort of deep foreboding, because he wants to know



what



happened to the hostages, Mycroft?" John demands as soon as he opens the door to Mycroft's office, before even sitting down. How gauche.

"What do you mean?" Mycroft queries, even though he knows exactly what John means. He sets aside a file he hadn't really been reading. "Please, won't you sit down?"

John sits. Tension is clear in his frame, in the set of his shoulders and the way his knees press together. He fists his hands in his lap. "I talked to Sherlock last night."

Mycroft has already gathered as much. He looks expectantly at John.

"He..." John fiddles uncomfortably with the hem of his jumper. "He says you told him about what's going on between me and Moriarty."

"Was going on," Mycroft corrects.

John merely looks bemused. "Sorry?"

"I told him about what was going on between Moriarty and you."

"Right," John says with a nod. "And I want to know what happened to the hostages."

For a moment Mycroft wants to ask "What hostages?", but John already knows about the hostages and it wouldn't be productive, only entertaining. "They died in the raid on Moriarty's base," he says. "Their families will, of course, be provided for."

That hadn't been in the original plans, but Mycroft's willing to change his plans when the situation warrants. Sherlock is always so much more difficult to deal with when one of his toys is less than fully functional.

"And everyone else?" John asks. "The people you sent?"

"Ten casualties, three fatalities," Mycroft tells him. "But we captured six of Moriarty's men. We're hoping the information they provide will serve useful in finding him."

"So not Moriarty," John says flatly. "All the hostages and three of your men, and you didn't even get Moriarty."

"I'll find him eventually."

"But now he knows you're looking for him." John bites his lip. "And you're torturing them, aren't you. The ones you captured."

"John," Mycroft says gently, because John has become precious to Sherlock and that means he deserves some level of careful treatment. "He hurt you and in doing so, he hurt Sherlock. The moment that happened, the moment he hurt my younger brother, he declared war on me."

Mycroft hadn't minded when Moriarty had just gallivanted about London and set up elaborate plots like a schoolboy with a crush. That sort of thing was sport, and Sherlock deserved to be entertained once in a while. But in targeting John to get to Sherlock he had crossed a line and Mycroft doesn't like when people cross his lines.

"I don't like that." John frowns. "That's - that's not an excuse."

"I really don't care about your thoughts in this matter." John becomes visibly more unhappy at that, and Mycroft sighs. "I did what had to be done," he says. "While it's unfortunate that people had to die, it's better that his plan be stopped sooner rather than later. For each hostage he released, he took another one. What Moriarty was doing had to be stopped, and this was the only way."

"I know that. I'm not stupid," John says. "I just wanted to know what happened to them. Can you at least tell me their names?"

"I'll forward you the results from the forensic analysis," Mycroft promises, and opens a file pointedly, dismissing John who leaves as prompted, undoubtedly to return to his flat



where



Sherlock finds John lying on the roof that night, head pillowed on his crossed arms, peering over the low parapet. It affords him an excellent view of the city.

"You spoke to my brother today," he says.

John sits up when Sherlock comes near. He winces a little when he moves; he'd held that position for a while, probably thinking. His previous anger has drained, leaving only - something else, something Sherlock isn't used to seeing. He looks more than just sad.

"Erik Thompson leapt off the top floor of his workplace two months ago," John says. "The police ruled it a suicide. He had a wife named Mary and a pair of twins, James and Jenny."

"It wasn't a suicide, was it," Sherlock replies, and sits down next to him.

"No," John says, and continues. "He died because when Moriarty told him to open his pants and for me to kneel, I turned around and walked away."

"It wasn't your fault."

"I know it wasn't," John says, not sounding very much like he believes it. He looks at his hands. Sherlock looks too; John's hands are trembling, both of them. He curls them into fists. The trembling stops. "The next one was called Amelia. She reminded me of Harry - not her face, but she wore her hair the same way, and her eyes were almost the same color."

Sherlock knows what John wants him to ask. "What happened to Amelia?"

"Moriarty sent a car, that time, because she was crying too hard to go on the streets without attracting attention. He told me to fuck her, and I told him to fuck off. She begged me. She didn't understand what he wanted with her. All she knew was that if I didn't do what he said, she'd never be able to go home. She'd never be able to see her parents again."

"So you had sex with her."

"I raped her."

"If you didn't, she would have died," Sherlock points out.

"I know. But it's my face she sees in her nightmares."

And hers that you see in yours, Sherlock thinks.

John looks at him. "Do you want to hear about the others?"

"If you want to tell me."

So John tells him - about the men and women Moriarty had sent him, about how they had begged and panicked and sometimes cried, and how John had promised each one that they'd be all right in the end, even though he'd known they wouldn't.

John can't name the hostages who'd died, but he counts them too. Five innocent people, whose only crime had been being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Moriarty had been hunting for victims, caught in the perverse game between him and Moriarty.

After that, he switches to other names, quietly telling Sherlock about soldiers he'd served with, the ones he'd tried to save but couldn't. It's not a short list and he almost always remembers something about them, some small fact that marks them as more than just a name and cause of death.

Sherlock wouldn't have remembered those facts. If he'd been in John's place, he'd have probably deleted their names, too. But John doesn't even struggle to remember, just recites them as smoothly and casually as if he recited them in his mind each day.

Sherlock wonders if he does.

John opens his hands when he's done, turning them palm up. "I wish people would stop dying when I try to help them. I wish I'd never hurt someone who didn't deserve it," he says, softly enough that Sherlock isn't sure John's speaking to him anymore. "I know you don't understand because you don't think people matter if you don't know them personally. But they matter to me, and I just wish... I don't know."

John turns away, looking towards the city all around them, full of millions of stupid, petty people that seem to matter so much to him, when all Sherlock sees when he looks are puzzles and tools.

"If there'd been another way," Sherlock offers, after several moments have passed in silence, "one that wouldn't have led to any deaths. Mycroft would have taken it, if only for me. He's not needlessly cruel."

"Why for you?" John asks, and it's not an accusation or an attack. It's an honest question. "You don't care. You thought I should have refused and let them all die."

"I know," Sherlock says, and he still thinks that. But John cares, and John matters to him, and he matters to Mycroft. "But on occasion, I'll act like they matter to see if it sticks. I practice it, sometimes, this caring lark."

John looks at him sideways. "Does it work? Do you care more, afterwards?"

"I don't know," Sherlock admits. "I like to think so."

"I'd like to think so too."

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This is beautiful and terrible and sad all at the same time. You write both John and Sherlock so well. Your style adds a great deal to the mood of this piece. Wonderfully done.

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