“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world,
which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime,
and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay
Author note: Part 5 of the "No Heart For Me Like Yours" series. This story contains quite a few spoilers for the rest of the series, so it would probably make much more sense to read the series in order, as it tells how John and Sherlock got to this point.
This chapter could not have been written without the help of two marvelous fic writers, abundantlyqueer and AfroGeekGoddess. Thank you both so much for your ideas and feedback on the character of Moran and his backstory. You are both amazing.
Enormous thanks to my incomparable beta reader/editor/mentor/friend, Skyfullofstars. I can’t believe how much time and effort you put into encouraging me, despite everything going on in your life. You are the best.
Disclaimers: Sherlock belongs to Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock Holmes originally belonged to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I own nothing. This makes me very, very sad.
Warnings: Sherlock/John. Slash, slash, somewhat graphic slash. Major, major spoilers for Season 2.
Trigger warnings: Suicidal ideation; references to previous abusive relationship, references to non-con, references to sexual assault, references to child prostitution/abuse, references to homophobia.Please read and review!
Trigger warnings: this chapter contains references to child prostitution/abuse and references to homophobia
Chapter 15: The Man Behind The Curtain
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
My heart pounds wildly in my chest, I can’t breathe, and everything around the edge of my vision has gone a sparkly grey. I stagger a bit as the room seems to spin.
Sherlock – the one in the doorway – lunges forward to seize my elbow. Barking, “Get out,” at the others, he manhandles me into a nearby wing chair. He drops to his knees in front of me, takes my face in his hands and presses his forehead to mine.
“Breathe, John. It’s just the decoy…Deep breaths, John. I didn’t realize it would already be in here, I never would have put you through that after everything...For God’s sake, breathe!”
My fingers are fisted tightly in his silk shirt, and my head is pressed so hard against Sherlock’s that it hurts. I struggle to draw a breath, then another, and now I can’t stop panting, gasping for breath, and I can’t get enough air, there’s no air in the room…
I become aware that Sherlock is still speaking to me, murmuring in a soothing, nonstop monologue, and his fingers are stroking my hair and the nape of my neck.
“…here, I’m here, John, and I’ll never leave you again, we just have to get through with Moran, then we can go back to Baker Street and be together until we’re old men, then we can retire to some country cottage, John, and you can pester me to get more sleep and you can feed me up, and we’ll bicker over the newspaper, and I’ll keep bees, and we’ll have our own honey with every meal, and we’ll go for long walks together and laugh, and it will be so good, John, you’ll see, I’ll make it up to you, I’ll prove to you that I can be your husband, that we’re so much more together than as individuals, you’ll be fine, and we’ll be amazing, remember?”
I manage to loosen my grip on his shirt and ease the pressure on his forehead. I force myself to open my eyes, and find myself staring into those exquisite, seaglass eyes. Sherlock slides a hand down to cup my cheek, then gently lifts my chin to press soft lips to mine in a tender kiss.
“Sherlock,” I manage to gasp out, “What the bloody hell is going on?”
I pull back a bit, releasing his shirt altogether, suddenly remembering Mrs Hudson, Wiggins and Edwin. I straighten up, trying to collect my dignity – and realise that Sherlock and I are alone in the room, except for that…that…thing…on the settee.
Sherlock strokes my sweat-damp hair again, saying, “I sent them out as I was getting you to the chair, John. I know you don’t like to lose control in front of others.”
“You stuck around to witness it, though.” My voice is too shaky to sound as cross as I’d like. The fact is, I’m relieved he stayed and anchored me. Panic attacks like this are very difficult to pull out of on my own – I simply dissociate and shut down, sometimes for hours, like I did after Sherlock…fell…
“Don’t be obtuse, John. You needed me to ground you. I was the original source of the trauma, and my effigy over there was the trigger for your flashback. It was a natural solution to stay in close contact with you, letting you focus on the fact that I’m here, I’m alive, I’m real.” He pauses for a moment, then adds, softly, “I’m so sorry, John. If I could have done things differently –”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ve been over that,” I say, brusquely, gently pushing him back so I can stand. “We don’t have time for all of that right now.”
Sherlock slowly rises to his feet as well, and reaches out to grip my shoulders.
I nod shakily. “Yeah.”
“Ready to meet my doppelgänger, John?” he asks, looking closely at my eyes, monitoring my reaction.
“Okay, seriously, what the fuck?”
Sherlock grins wolfishly.
“I should let Edwin show it off – it’s his creation, really.” He lets go of me, reaches to open the door. “Edwin! Get in here!”
Mrs Hudson is the first one to appear at the door.
“Really, Sherlock, don’t shout at the boy, I think you frightened him a bit.” There’s that motherly streak showing again – give Mrs Hudson a waif and she’s an absolute marshmallow, can’t protect them enough. I guess Edwin’s bedraggled appearance has roused her inner mother hen.
“Edwin!” bellows Sherlock, ignoring Mrs Hudson’s reprimand. “You already caused Dr Watson enough stress – get in here and show off your masterwork!”
First Wiggins, then Edwin, appears behind Mrs Hudson, and it’s obvious that Mrs Hudson is right. Edwin looks like a whipped dog, walleyed and wary. Wiggins looks concerned, but not intimidated. I suppose that, if Sherlock’s account of her history is anything to go by, not much can scare her.
Edwin steps cautiously into the room, and I note that he is holding a ridiculously light and slim laptop in his hands. Combined with his scruffy clothing, I can only imagine how quickly he and his laptop would attract the attention of the police.
“Are…are you all right, Doctor Watson?” he asks, shooting a nervous look at Sherlock before he turns to face me.
I take a deep breath, then slowly let it out.
“Yes, I am – well, I will be.”
“Sorry ‘bout givin’ you a bit of a fright, Doc,” he says, earnestly. “Mrs Hudson and that posh bloke – pardon me, the other Mister Holmes – both saw me bring it in, so there was no chance to test it out on them. I just wanted to see if I could fool a person into thinkin’ it was Mister Holmes. I didn’t realise it’d give ye such a turn.”
“It’s all right, Edwin,” I say, noticing suddenly how impossibly young he looks, despite his streetwise appearance.
“Yes, yes, John’s fine, stop fussing,” Sherlock interrupts. “Edwin, introduce Doctor Watson to my understudy for tonight’s performance.” He looks pointedly at us, then at the settee.
I’ve been avoiding looking at it, but everyone’s attention turns toward the settee, so I reluctantly do the same.
Stretched across the cushions, immaculately dressed in one of Sherlock’s bespoke suits, is the not-Sherlock. It’s astounding in every detail. Long, lanky limbs clad in expensive wool repose the length of the settee, slim, pale artists fingers steeple together beneath a perfect chin. Eyes closed, the face looks amazing, the splendid planes and angles of Sherlock’s unearthly visage seem perfect at first.
Yet, the longer I look, the more I see that it just isn’t…right. There’s something slightly off about the proportions of the face, nothing I could name, exactly. It just isn’t Sherlock.
Suddenly, not-Sherlock’s eyes open, and despite expecting it this time, my heart pounds in sudden panic. Empty grey eyes staring at an empty grey sky…
My Sherlock slips his elegant fingers into mine, twining them together in a reassuring grip. And I need it – when not-Sherlock’s hands drop from his chin and separate to rest flat on his chest, adrenaline surges through me, and I have to fight to keep it together.
“’Ere’s ‘ow it’s done, Doctor Watson,” says Edwin, and I see that he has the laptop open, and while balancing it on one hand like a waiter holding a tray, he uses the other to type. He nods to direct my attention toward the decoy, and I look back to see the head turn from side to side, slightly jerkily, and the eyes blink.
The deeply disturbing feeling increases, and I have to look away. To distract myself, I look at Edwin, who seems more confident now that he is showing off his creation. His fingers fly over the silver laptop, and while it should still look odd and incongruous with his straggly appearance, somehow it doesn’t any longer. Looking at him, I see a glimpse of a brilliant boy with extraordinary talent, and I wonder how a kid like this has wound up as a member of Sherlock’s homeless network.
“How did you do this, Edwin?” I ask.
“I took a mould o’ Mr Holmes’ face and ‘ands, and used that to sculpt the animated parts of the replica,” he says, “And o’ course, under that face and ‘ands are a bunch o’ servos and motors. As for the rest – Mr Holmes, if ye ever want to change careers, ye’d be a perfect fashion model. Finding a mannequin in your size was easy peasy.”
The sense of nausea and dizziness subsides a bit, and I let go of Sherlock to step closer to Edwin’s creation, looking closely. The amount of intricate detail that Edwin has crafted is extraordinary. The skin tones are beautifully done, the fine lines around the eyes are almost perfect, and the lips are a work of art.
The hands are especially remarkable, perfect in every detail. As I watch, Edwin puts them through their motions, and they lift up, press together, separate again, and even fold together, fingers interlaced. The movement of the hands is a bit stiff and robotic, but if I didn’t know Sherlock’s elegant grace like the back of my hand, I’m not sure I’d notice on casual observation.
Edwin seems a bit unhappy, though, and keeps turning the head side-to-side, then nodding it up and down.
“Still a bit jerky,” he mutters to himself. He looks up at Sherlock. “Is there somewhere I could lay ‘im out and work on ‘im a bit? Only, ‘e needs a bit o’ fine tuning, smooth out the motions.”
“You can work on it in the library, Mr Haley,” says a new voice, and we look up to see Mycroft in the doorway.
Edwin seems a bit nervous, even frightened of Mycroft. I understand; Mycroft can be intimidating as hell.
“Right…okay then,” he says after a moment. “Wiggins, can ye grab my case from the corner there?”
He closes the laptop and hands it over for Wiggins to carry in her free hand. Then he steps over to the sofa and lifts not-Sherlock into his arms like a bride, and turns toward Mycroft.
“Where’s the library, then?” he asks. Mycroft’s eyebrows lift, and he gestures for Edwin to precede him through the doorway.
The next moment, only Sherlock, Mrs Hudson and I are left in the sitting room. Mrs Hudson says, “Sherlock…this plan of yours…you’re not going to be putting that poor boy in any danger, are you?”
“None, Mrs Hudson. Edwin will be operating the decoy from a remote location.”
She sighs in relief. “Thanks be to goodness for that, then.” She turns toward the door, saying, “I believe I need a cuppa after all that. Can I bring you anything, boys?”
“Tea would be lovely, thanks Mrs Hudson,” I say, suddenly aware of how desperately I could use a cuppa of my own. She bustles from the room, and Sherlock reaches for my hand.
“You should sit down, John,” he says. “We have a lot to talk about.”
Understatement of the year.
“Mycroft’s intelligence network indicates that Moran and Adair are in London, searching for me,” says Sherlock, as he sips a steaming cup of tea.
We are seated on the settee that so recently held the not-Sherlock decoy. Mrs Hudson has left us not only tea, but a plate of pastries as well. I’ve already devoured a cream cheese brioche, and am now blissfully enjoying a chocolate éclair.
“How do you know that tonight is the night?” I ask, as I place another éclair on a plate. I pointedly hand the plate to Sherlock, and he just as deliberately puts it down on the coffee table. I sigh in temporary defeat.
“We know they are searching for me. Now it’s simply a matter of leaving a trail that will lead Moran back to Baker Street tonight. My homeless network is already on it.”
I reach for Sherlock’s abandoned éclair and take an ostentatious bite, waiting until Sherlock is watching me to lick the cream from my upper lip. His eyes dilate a bit as I lick the chocolate from my fingers.
“Okay, that makes sense, I guess.” I take another small bite and allow myself a little moan of pleasure, as I set it back down. I hide my triumph as Sherlock reaches for the éclair and begins to eat it, and then am mesmerised by the way his pink tongue chases the cream on his own lip.
Shaking myself, I ask, “How does the decoy figure in?”
Sherlock smirks, perfectly aware of the direction my thoughts have taken. Never mind – I still tricked him into eating breakfast.
“We’re going to use the decoy to bait the trap,” Sherlock says, “and then we’ll be waiting to take Moran and Adair.”
I frown at this, thinking about logistics.
“So, how on earth do you expect to fool Moran with a Sherlock Holmes that can’t walk or talk? Surely he will be able to smell a rat.”
“Smell a rat – really, John, the phrases you use.” Sherlock snorts. “It is quite well known that I spend long hours lying still, organising my thoughts. If I’m lying on the sofa in 221B, clearly visible through an open window, Moran won’t find it unusual at all. He will have studied my habits, like any good hunter researching his quarry.”
The plan seems like a good one, but I can’t help but worry about how we will execute it. What’s to keep Moran from picking us off as we enter the building? Won’t he notice that we are carrying an extra Sherlock? Why is Sherlock so certain that Edwin won’t have sold him out to Moran? Or Wiggins, for that matter? I have to ask.
“Sherlock, there are a lot of people in on your plan, now. I know you have to trust somebody, but what makes you think we can trust Edwin?”
“Wiggins found Edwin and took him under her wing about a year ago. She knows him. She trusts him.”
“And that’s good enough for you, the man who always needs evidence?”
Sherlock sighs, and sets down the delicate cup and saucer on the immaculately polished coffee table in front of us.
“Of course not, John. I know everything there is to know about Edwin Haley. He’s extraordinarily intelligent and extremely talented, as you have seen. He spent his young life being tutored and indulged in his every intellectual or artistic interest. He was always top of his form, skipped several forms altogether, was always involved in STEM and AV clubs, and his parents couldn’t possibly have done any more for his education than they did.”
“How is a kid like that living on the street?” I think about his distinctly unkempt appearance, tangled, unwashed hair, clothes torn and dirty. It’s hard to reconcile that image with the boy Sherlock is describing.
“Oh, John, surely you of all people don’t need me to tell you what happened. You lived through it with your sister.”
“Christ…are you telling me that Edwin’s parents threw him out for being gay?”
“It’s certainly not a new story, John.”
I’m silent for a moment, remembering the screaming matches, the declarations of ‘No Daughter Of Mine,’ the horror of finding my father’s body along with a note declaring that Harry was to blame, watching my mother grow so remote and distant that it was like living with a stranger, watching Harry lose herself in booze and women as a means of dealing with her misplaced guilt…
No – definitely not a new story.
I pour two more cups of tea, and add milk to mine, watching as Sherlock puts an obscene amount of sugar in his own cup.
“Wiggins found Edwin after he had resorted to prostitution and had been beaten by a…customer,” Sherlock says. “She took him under her wing, and when she discovered his talents, brought him to my attention. Having an artist and expert of his caliber is an advantage in my field of work.”
“In exchange for Edwin’s assistance on this project, Mycroft has agreed to help me arrange for Edwin to attend the University of Stratchclyde in Glasgow’s National Centre for Prosthetics and Orthotics,” Sherlock continues. “I’m fairly certain of Edwin’s loyalty.”
“Fine, I can certainly see your point there,” I concede. “But what about Wiggins, for that matter? I know you said she’s loyal to you, but…she spies on people for money. Why do you think you’re exempt from that?”
Sherlock’s serene self-confidence can be so infuriating.
“How can you be sure?”
“I’m quite certain that I will always have Wiggins’ loyalty. I did a certain…favour…for her, and she’s not the sort to forget a thing like that.”
“What sort of favour?”
Sherlock sips his tea, and is silent for a moment, considering my question. Finally, he speaks.
“Her surname was Macdonald, John.”
I wait for more, but he’s silent.
“I provided evidence against a certain person of some…repute, who shared the surname, as well as DNA, with Wiggins.”
He’s giving me his patented do keep up, John face. I study him, baffled for a moment, then the penny drops.
“You don’t mean, Dennis Macdonald?”
Jesus. Dennis Macdonald.
Eight years ago, the biggest news story in London was the one of Dennis Macdonald, who was discovered to be running a child prostitution and pornography ring out of his basement. The children – his biological children as well as others picked up in illegal adoptions – were living in the most horrifying conditions imaginable. It was all that the papers could talk about; the brutal squalor of the “dungeon” where they were kept, the violent acts recorded in the professional-quality video studio, the horrifying physical and mental condition of the children rescued.
And Wiggins must have been one of them. How had she escaped? And Sherlock had been responsible for securing the conviction of that monster – how did I not know this?
“You…Sherlock, how is it that no one knows that you are responsible for solving that case?”
“I wasn’t looking for fame, John,” he murmurs, studying the empty teacup cradled in his elegant fingers, as though he could divine his fortune in the dregs. “I was seeking a bit of justice.”
How anyone could ever believe Sherlock’s sociopath persona is beyond me. His loyalty and passion for the few he allows into his life is amazing. He would do anything for them.
He would die for them.
I set my cup down, reach for Sherlock’s hand, and turn him to face me.
“Sherlock,” I say, as I reach up to cradle his face in my hands, gazing into those endless eyes, “I’m sorry about overreacting earlier, when we were upstairs. It caught me by surprise, and I wasn’t ready to process that idea.”
Sherlock is staring at me, an expression on his face that I haven’t seen since that first night that we spent together; so open, trusting and vulnerable. I stroke my thumb across his lips, gently, and his eyelids droop fractionally, as his pupils dilate and he unconsciously leans a bit closer.
“Sherlock, I was wondering –”
“Beg your pardon, gents, but I’m needin’ Mr Holmes for a mo’,” says Edwin from the open doorway.