Chapter XXIX: Into vinceres
Die alone, by Ingrid Michaelson
I woke up this morning with a funny taste in my head.
Spackled some butter over my whole grain bread.
Something tastes different, maybe it's my tongue.
Something tastes different, suddenly I'm not so young.
December 12, 2013 - Enniscorthy
A dog was running on the patio, yapping and barking so the sun would go. So the sun went at last and all lights but one died, remembrance of things past. One glimmer kept shining, that on the dog's collar, reflecting the moon's rays before he jumped and dashed to the nearest cellar.
Shrouded in darkness, Sherlock Holmes followed.
He too was wearing a name tag, so he would not forget what others had called him once in another life. Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective – the only one in the world. The only one, walking past the shadows enveloping the street, and joining the pup in his homely den, which smelt of patches and of cellophane. In the hearth a fire was burning.
On the rug before it lay the dog, now panting, looking up at the man with familiar pupils. Were they blue? Were they grey? Or even green, perhaps? The man could never tell. The dog would never say.
Sherlock sat in a chair and extended his hand, so the pup would come up and lick it faithfully. Up the pup did come, but the hand he bit, drawing blood and a cry from his tall master's lips.
The dog puled and the man kicked it off, with rage in his eyes and pain in his heart.
Something did not feel right, Sherlock thought. He would never kick John.
Up to the pup went the man, and he kicked him again. And again. And again. The dog was wailing now, and he began to run, far and farther away, far into the darkness of the street and the engulfing shadows. Sherlock ran after him.
Howling with pain the dog kept fleeing, until suddenly all became quiet. Sherlock froze in the night. The cold silence dampened his ardour and he stepped carefully to the small, still form lying on the pavement. It was the headless carcass of the dog.
Sherlock turned hastily just in time to receive in his hands a bloody, abhorrent ball sent by the dark alone. Someone's scream ripped the dream and its shreds were scattered like the detective's tears as he dropped Watson's head and let it roll on the asphalt. The cry took the shape of a name.
Sherlock woke up with a gasp. His jolt pressed him further into the lips of the man kissing him. The man kissing him... Sherlock's eyes widened in horror and a moment later Sebastian Moran found the canon of a gun pressed to his left temple.
"What do you think you're doing?" Sherlock growled dangerously.
"You were having a nightmare, and you just seemed so lonely and so desperate... You cried out his name again."
"What are you talking about? Get off me. Now."
"Fine, fine, relax! It was just a kiss, after all. Was I any good?"
"No," Sherlock deadpanned.
"That's not nice."
"Who goes around kissing people in their sleep?" Sherlock snapped back.
Sebastian simply shrugged and went to the fridge to get a beer.
"Jim did," he informed.
"Is that it, then? You're trying to mirror your master?"
Sebastian's mouth curved into the most crooked of smiles.
"What are you saying, Sherlock? You're my 'master', now."
Sherlock's gaze turned to ice and his face was smoothed under a sudden wave of indifference.
"Do not ever touch me again."
I'm just a stranger, even to myself.
A re-arranger of the proverbial bookshelf.
Don't be a fool girl, tell him you love him.
Don't be a fool girl, you're not above him.
December 17, 2013 - Dublin
The pastas weren't as good as Angelo's, Sherlock thought as he tasted a bite of his dish reluctantly. The mental remark sent a jolt of pain through his chest, and since he couldn't decipher why, he became annoyed.
"Is something wrong?" asked the woman sitting across from him – a lovely ginger head, almost as well-dressed as the Woman. But Sherlock could not put her under the same category as Irene Adler. This one here was in the file 'I.O.U.', on the island 'Urgent matter' in his mind archipelago.
"Not at all," he replied smoothly with a charming smile. "I was just thinking this isn't the best Italian restaurant I've been too."
The woman wrinkled her nose slightly, and gave an aristocratic pout.
"It is the best in town," she said.
"I'm sure," Sherlock replied, his lips curving so clearly perfunctorily his comment was all the more insulting.
"They have very good apple pie for dessert," she informed off-handedly.
"Are those poisoned as well?" he inquired, leaving the pastas and trying the wine instead. It was insipid, and he wondered if perhaps something was wrong with his mouth, rather than with the food.
"Poisoned? No, I've told you: I do not fling that way."
They exchanged a knowing look, before she went on.
"But some people do, you know."
"I had gathered as much, yes," he retorted, his tone laced with sarcasm. She smirked.
"There is someone, someone trying to set everyone against you... Someone who considers you to be a threat."
"And do you think I am?"
She shrugged non-concomitantly.
"I don't like to be bothered with such stories. But I guess I do get their point. They don't trust you, you see. You've been helping some, but you still used to be a detective, and you have a brother in the British government... You come from the other side. Surely you must understand how suspicious you appear to most of them. You must admit it's quite fishy."
"And not to you?" Sherlock insisted graciously.
"I like fishy."
Sherlock understood what she meant when he found himself face to face with two assassins later in the evening. They were idiots, though, and as Moran shot one, the other was distracted and Sherlock easily put a bullet in his head. He'd found that it was by far the best way to off someone: one did not have to see the gaze in their victim's eyes.
"You're too soft," Sebastian commented teasingly once he'd joined him. "But to be fair, Jim never got his hands dirty," he added with a mocking smirk.
Sherlock looked at him coldly.
"Getting my hands dirty means less people involved. Less traitors. Less risks to be shot in the back," he finished pointedly. Moran gave him an innocent smile.
"What about John?"
"What about him?" Sherlock echoed, his tone utterly indifferent, as if the subject itself was boring him to death.
"Are you going to be able to touch him with those hands?" Moran inquired slyly.
Sherlock did not even take the trouble to stare back at his henchman, as he replied unconcernedly:
"Why should I ever want to touch him again?"
I never thought I could love anyone but myself.
Now I know I can't love anyone
You make me think that maybe I won't die alone.
Maybe I won't die alone.
December 19, 2013 - Edinburgh
"Kazimir! Such a pleasure to see you again!" Eliska exclaimed as he sat across from her at the table.
"Ms. Šárka," he greeted back, his smile enthralling.
She smirked, and lay back into her chair again, pushing the restaurant's menu towards Sherlock.
"No, thank you," he declined regally. "I shall only have wine."
"Oh? Trouble in paradise?" she joked pleasantly.
"Oh no, not at all! Quite the contrary, in fact."
She arched an inquisitive eyebrow.
Sherlock's lips curved up mordantly.
"Were you expecting to hear there were any?"
"No, no... I had just heard –"
"One should be wary of rumours, Ms. Šárka," he interrupted in a cavalier fashion. "So how are things going?"
"Fine, quite fine; thank you. I am very glad indeed to see you today. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"There is," Sherlock confirmed with a winsome smile. Eliska shivered.
"Someone has been trying to discredit me among those who owe me. I've had some very bothersome cleaning to do, and it would be great if you could provide some information..."
"As to who is behind all this?"
"I need names. From China, especially..."
She smiled thinly. "I see. So you already have an idea."
"Of course. This must be done before tomorrow."
"You will have everything before midnight, if you let me go around ten," she replied obligingly.
Sherlock answered her smile.
"You are perfect."
"Perfect to hold the role of the Evil Queen," he told Moran a few hours later, once he'd left the restaurant. Sebastian looked at him in the car mirror, and chuckled.
"Did you get the names for China, though?"
"Will have them tonight."
"That woman... Was she your female version to Moriarty?"
Sebastian blinked, dumbfounded at the question. Then he burst out laughing, and Sherlock had to scowl so he would focus on the road again.
"Haha, sorry mate, that was just so random, and out of the blue! You're not quite right, though. I thought you would have noticed by now. The symmetry."
"Don't be stupid. Of course I have."
"Then do you have a female version of John Watson?"
The image of Molly Hooper flashed before Sherlock's eyes, but he remained quiet.
"See? Nah, she's nothing like that. In fact, she's nothing: she was never anything to him."
"I see. Well, that explains the hatred," Sherlock commented casually. Moran grinned.
"Precisely. She was rather Jim's Irene Adler: a woman quite desperate to make an impression. But I guess she wasn't as talented... Or maybe Jim wasn't as easily impressionable as you are," he added sweetly, his taunting eyes sparkling as he enjoyed his own little cutting remark.
But Sherlock smirked back, his gaze even more fiery and self-imbued, the confidence blazing in his grey pupils.
"Then I really must have had something special."
Seb laughed, and nodded, recognizing he'd been beaten.
"But anyway, you probably knew all that already, didn't you? Isn't that why you contacted your Woman again in the first place?"
"Maybe," Sherlock answered, elusive.
Speaking of which... He took out his phone and typed a text.
I will be in Shanghai before the end of the week. I expect you to have everything I have required.
It hadn't been five minutes since he'd pressed the Send button when his phone vibrated, indicating an answer.
I am delighted. By the way, have you heard of John's wedding?
Sherlock's face remained completely blank as he read the message. His hand did not quiver, and nothing flashed in his gaze. He pocketed the phone again. A few minutes later, however, it vibrated a second time. He picked it, and read the new message.
Would you like to have dinner?
Kiss the boys as they walk by, call me their baby.
But little do they know, I'm just a maybe.
Maybe my baby will be the one to leave me sore.
Maybe my baby will settle the score.
December 22, 2013
Water was pouring on the moor. In the distance a beast was howling to death – a hound, perhaps.
Sherlock was walking, only draped in a sheet, white as a ghost roaming the barren land; a luminescent phantom in the dark. There were shrubs here and there, taking fantastic heights in the silver glow of the rain pierced by the moonlight.
Along a road that never seemed to end, Sherlock was struggling under the cloudburst, always more shivering with each step in the mud of the path. He was calling no one, but a name hovered on his lips as he went on, and on, and on, down the road as if he knew it led to the person he sought.
He did not know.
And the road never ended, and the rain never stopped – soon he was drowning in the downpour swallowing him. He fell down the path and the landscape was upended. Engulfed by the water no longer falling down the sky, he dived in a sea of clouds and shadow, the water penetrating his every pore, burning his eyes and deafening him. He screamed. He screamed the only thing he could think of, the only possible word in a world of murk and hollowness.
But the word died in his throat as the water surrounding him silenced his cry, flooding his lungs and ripping the last bubbles of air out of him. Where are you..?
The water embraced him tightly, catching him in a vice-like grip, entering him, merging with him in such a way that Sherlock no longer knew who was the water and who he was – whether they were two separate entities, or one.
I was always here, the voice resounded. His voice. John's... I will always be here. With you. Within you...
Sherlock let out a last desperate cry before darkness fell over him, and he felt himself being stifled to death by the desired flow and the familiar voice.
He woke up abruptly, choking, coughing, gasping for air, and grabbed the first thing his hand came in contact with: an arm.
"Sir! Are you all right?" he heard a feminine voice ask in the distance.
Not the right voice, he thought automatically, still confused and hyperventilating.
"Get him water!" another voice next to him ordered. Definitely not the right one... Then Sherlock suddenly seemed to come to his senses, and he realized just whose arm he was holding. He let it go and took his hand away with disgust, horror flashing across his face.
"Hey, mate, are you all right?" Sebastian inquired worriedly.
"Here, sir. Is everything all right?" the air plane hostess inquired. Sherlock nodded stiffly.
"Thank you," Moran answered in his stance. "He just has very bad nightmares sometimes."
Sherlock glared at him, but was only met by a honeyed smile. Sebastian leant in closer and whispered in his ear:
"You didn't cry out his name, this time. What happened?"
A shiver of rage ran down Sherlock's spine, and his hand mechanically snapped up to Sebastian's throat, squeezing threateningly. He looked him in the eye.
"Enough of your theatrics, Seb. Do not make me lose patience with you."
He let him go and this time it was Moran's turn to cough and gasp for air. Sherlock turned back to the window, and fixed his gaze on the pitch black sky. Behind him, he missed Sebastian's mouth curving into a sardonic grin.
I never thought I could love anyone but myself.
Now I know I can't love anyone
You make me think that maybe I won't die alone.
Maybe I won't die alone.
December 23, 2013 – Shanghai
"So you want me to keep an eye on Eliska Šárka?"
"That's what I said, yes," Sherlock snapped back, irritated because Sebastian always acted like an idiot and made him repeat each and every order.
"But that means I won't be able to stay with you!" Moran whined.
"Fine, fine," Seb amended, raising his hands in surrender. "Your wishes are my commands."
"Don't try to be funny. You just end up sounding even more foolish."
Sebastian grumbled something about mad geniuses and their bad tempers, but did not press the matter any further.
"Here is your plane ticket."
"Whaaat? So soon? Did you make me come all the way here to shoot just one man? You're sending me away already?"
"I am sending you away for two days, Seb. Stop complaining and just go."
Sebastian pouted sulkily, but obeyed. Once he was gone from the room, Sherlock took out a letter from his jacket's inner pocket, and unsealed it. More poems from Wiggins.
His eyes scanned the encrypted news, but his features betrayed no emotion whatsoever. Somewhere farther away from his mind palace – no, archipelago – Sherlock could hear a storm brewing, and the sea getting agitated. But the tempest had no name, and did not frighten him.
John Watson had just got married to a certain Mary Morstan, a woman he'd just met two weeks prior to his wedding.
Shinwell Johnson was currently dating Molly Hooper, and had even moved in with her. He'd told Wiggins that he hadn't said a word about his link to Sherlock to her.
Mycroft was getting more and more worried and suspicious, and was starting to seriously believe that Sherlock might never come back when this was over.
When this is over, Sherlock mused as he put the letter down on a plate and set fire to it with his lighter. It wouldn't be too long, now; a little more than a year,perhaps. Soon he would have gathered all the necessary information and evidence to expose each and every I.O.U. People on the surface of the earth – or to manipulate them, which was probably more what Mycroft had in mind, considering his character.
Yes, he thought as his eyes burnt from fixing their gaze on the flame too long before he'd managed to dismantle the whole web – not I.O.U., but all of it. It was easy enough, making the criminals mistrust each other, breaking the bonds... Sherlock had become quite talented at this task.
A year or two, perhaps...
...and then, what would he do?
What have I become?
Something soft and really quite dumb.
Because I've fallen, oh, 'cause I've fall-fallen, oh 'cause I've fall-fall-fallen
So far away from the place where I started from.
December 25, 2013
The air whistled in his ears as he felt his body fall, and fall, and fall... Jumping hadn't been easy, but falling came naturally. You didn't have to do anything, you could just let go, let go of everything...
Well, that was bothersome. His voice. But it wasn't so bad, after all: getting to hear John call his name one last time...
...before smashing the ground.
Wait, how did that happen? Sherlock thought. It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. That wasn't part of the plan. And it actually hurt.
Sherlock could feel his fractured skull and the blood on his face. The coldness of the pavement. The whiteness of the sky blinding him. I want to see you.
Before I die... Because he was dying. This hadn't been part of the plan, either, but he could feel the life flow out of his body like sand running out of a shattered hourglass.
Shattered... He was shattered, quite literally so. The thought made him want to chuckle darkly, but he realized his body was already cold and rigid. Was he dead, then? But it didn't make sense. He could still feel. He could still see. Watch...
And watch he did, when John came running to him and cried out "Let me through! He's my friend...". He watched his face as he leant over him to take his pulse, and suddenly he wished, desperately so, crazily so, that he could grab John's wrist and hold it back. Stay! Please stay... Don't leave me... Don't leave me here to die...
But he found that he was unable to do so, and John was taken away, letting go of his hand, letting go of him... Sherlock just lay there like a broken doll, incapable of moving, incapable of calling him back. He was frozen. Dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead...
This time he did not wake up abruptly. His eyes simply opened, automatically, as he died for good in the nightmare. His face was cold, and he thought stupidly at first that it was because of the moonlight flooding it. Soon, however, he became aware of the wetness. Something was falling again.
Tears, he realized with surprise.
He was breaking. Why?
Sherlock could no longer remember. Because he had deleted everything about John, everything except John himself, he could not understand why this man had such destructive power on him. Like a typhoon, he was wrecking havoc, separating the islands of his mind palace; he shattered him, scattered him around, and the shreds Sherlock had been torn into no longer made any sense at all...
Lost, he drowned in his own tears of meaninglessness. In the distant of the dark room surrounding him yet feeling so far, Sherlock heard the door open and somebody's steps come closer to him.
"Hey... I'm back. What's happened to you? Sherlock..."
Sebastian sat on his bed, and Sherlock felt too exhausted and too cold to push him away – too occupied with the emptiness that was filling him, and with the paradox it represented.
"I leave for two days, and this is how I find you? Really, Sherlock..." Moran petted his hair soothingly, relishing the smoothness of the black curls – relishing the iciness of the ear and cheek, revelling in the silent cries.
"Shh... It's going to be all right. You're here. I'm here. You're alive, and he is alive. And you're not dead to me, Sherlock..."
Sherlock still did not move, and gave no sign of acknowledging Seb's presence.
"It's fine, it's all fine... Shall I tell you a story to lull you to sleep? It's a fairy tale. A nice one, too. It teaches you something, so you should like it. Want to hear it?"
He stroked the soft spot behind the earlobe and played with a silky curl. Sherlock did not reply, so he went on.
"Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme
And monkeys chewed tobacco,
And hens took snuff to make them tough,
And ducks went quack, quack, quack, O!
All the birds of the air came to the magpie and asked her to teach them how to build nests. For the magpie is the cleverest bird of all at building nests. So she put all the birds round her and began to show them how to do it. First of all she took some mud and made a sort of round cake with it.
"Oh, that's how it's done," said the thrush; and away it flew, and so that's how thrushes build their nests.
Then the magpie took some twigs and arranged them round in the mud.
"Now I know all about it," says the blackbird, and off he flew; and that's how the blackbirds make their nests to this very day.
Then the magpie put another layer of mud over the twigs.
"Oh that's quite obvious," said the wise owl, and away it flew; and owls have never made better nests since.
After this the magpie took some twigs and twined them round the outside.
"The very thing!" said the sparrow, and off be went; so sparrows make rather slovenly nests to this day.
Well, then Madge Magpie took some feathers and stuff and lined the nest very comfortably with it.
"That suits me," cried the starling, and off it flew; and very comfortable nests have starlings.
So it went on, every bird taking away some knowledge of how to build nests, but, none of them waiting to the end. Meanwhile Madge Magpie went on working and working without, looking up till the only bird that remained was the turtle-dove, and that hadn't paid any attention all along, but only kept on saying its silly cry "Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o."
At last the magpie heard this just as she was putting a twig across. So she said: "One's enough."
But the turtle-dove kept on saying: "Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o."
Then the magpie got angry and said: "One's enough I tell you."
Still the turtle-dove cried: "Take two, Taffy, take two-o-o-o."
At last, and at last, the magpie looked up and saw nobody near her but the silly turtle-dove, and then she got rare angry and flew away and refused to tell the birds how to build nests again. And that is why different birds build their nests differently."
Sebastian massaged the tense scalp gently, fascinated with the silvery shine the moonlight merging with tears gave to Sherlock's complexion. He watched as the porcelain eyelids fell on the clear pupils; slowly, Sebastian's face split into an amused rictus.
I never thought I could love anyone.
I never thought I could love anyone.
I never thought I could love anyone,
But you, but you, but you, but you, but you
But you make me think that maybe I won't die alone.
Maybe I won't die alone.