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Fic: The Story-teller [PG] Sherlock (TV)

Title: The Story-teller
Fandom: BBC Sherlock
Alternate link: AO3
Rating: PG
Length: 4,036 words
Spoilers/Warnings: Canonical major character death and angst, with spoilers for 'The Reichenbach Fall'.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the BBC, Moffat, and ACD.
Thanks to: My betas, swissmarg and luzula.
Author's Notes: This fae AU of 'The Reichenbach Fall' and its aftermath is the third in a series of stories that began with A Story of Names. This story will make far more sense if you read that one first.
Summary: Being an account of the fall and rise of the name of Sherlock Holmes.

Stories are powerful. A story can give a child nightmares, end a marriage, or send a nation marching to war. Stories can kill. I am púca. I know this like the beat of my own heart.

This story began with a little girl's scream. I felt it in that hospital room as an echo from the shadows, the first step down a perilous path, a sign of things to come.

A police sergeant heard the scream. She had always been wary of the consulting detective's strangeness, of his delight at crime scenes that moved decent men to sorrow or pity. Was he the one that hurt that little girl? Her whispers spread through New Scotland Yard like wildfire across a dry woodland, sparks of suspicion carried by the winds of fear. Doubt crept into the hearts of those who had worked beside him for years.

The detective said it did not matter what others thought of him, but I could feel it; feel his name misshapen and wrong in their mouths, as the story grew.

The consulting detective's name, once known only to a few, had recently grown wild and bright in the public eye. Hat-man, The Boffin of Crime, The Reichenbach Hero: Sherlock Holmes. I had done my part by publishing the stories of our cases in my blog and pushing him into the spotlight. His name was a synonym for intelligence so sharp it cut down any criminal in its path. My own name was limned in his reflected glory. I was his Robin, his blogger, confirmed bachelor John Watson. But it was well worth it. Now, with his name become legend, Sherlock Holmes was safe.

He would have been safe, were it not for a black-hearted man with a name all feared to speak. Moriarty... He was a true story-teller, born with a gift that made men and women dance to his stories; puppets twirling across the stage, acting out bombings and blackmail and murder, greed and shame and death. The story-teller took the form of a frightened young actor, and poured his tale into the ears of a woman scorned. Her words appeared in bold headlines – 'Sherlock: The Shocking Truth'.

The evidence was there. Rehab records and psychological evaluations, DVDs and an IMDB entry. Police contacts were keen to confirm that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Sherlock Holmes, and to repeat the rumours circulating through the Yard.

Sherlock was well-practiced at defending himself against the malice of others, but this was something far more dangerous. His name was being twisted. Fraud diminished his brilliance to a dim, cunning glow. Junkie dripped long-quiet cravings into his veins. Sociopath replaced his unexpected kindnesses with casual cruelty. I held his name true in my mouth, in my heart, and I thought it would be enough.

Then came the call that Mrs Hudson had been hurt, and Sherlock didn't care. Of course he didn't. Everyone knew Sherlock Holmes didn't care about anyone, and they all said so, speaking the words aloud again and again by the hour, by the minute, on talk shows and blogs, in cafes and cabs, over the water cooler. I shouldn't have blamed Sherlock for it, but I did. I left him alone, stripping him of whatever protection my presence might have offered.

Sherlock must have felt the desecration of it; the corruption of his name turning Sherlock against his own nature, trying to make him Not Good. A normal human wouldn't have, but when had Sherlock Holmes ever been normal? He had walked the shadow lands with me as a child. Of course he knew what was happening. Sherlock would not allow the perversion of his soul to go any further. (OK, look up. I'm on the rooftop.)

And so - (Nobody could be that clever.)

And so he - (Goodbye, John)

And so he fell.

Sherlock Holmes was gone. Dead. Fallen.

Mycroft's betrayal had provided Moriarty's story with just enough truth to make the lies easy to swallow; he tried to make up for it now. He gave me daily updates on the progress of the dozens of appeals that had been filed in the cases where Sherlock had been consulted. He even arranged for me to be interviewed on a morning talk show. I was decked out in a dark suit he'd provided, make-up caked on to disguise the dark circles under my eyes. At the signal, I stepped out into the blinding hot lights and made my way to the couch.

"Doctor John Watson," the presenter said. "May I call you John?"

"Of course, Holly," I said, forcing a smile.

She leant towards me. "It's been a shocking few weeks. The revelation that Sherlock Holmes was behind the kidnapping of two young children, his arrest, escape, and subsequent suicide. You were his assistant and flat-mate for over a year, John. What can you tell us about the man who played us all so well?"

She said his name like it was filth. I cleared my throat and opened my mouth to speak. "Sherlock-" His name came out cracked and wrong. I could barely breathe, feeling the jaws of the trap closing around me. I had a part to play in Moriarty's story, and this was it. Sherlock Holmes' dupe, his victim, an object of pity. I stood up, grabbing at the fashionable tie around my neck and pulling it off.

"Sorry," I told her. "I can't." I stormed out of the studio, past a young woman with a clipboard and a very large man who tried to stop me, following the Exit signs down hallways and stairways until I burst out of a fire exit onto the streets of London.

I took off the suit jacket, dropped it to the pavement, unbuttoned the top two buttons of my shirt, and walked away. A few minutes later a black car slid to a stop beside me. The door opened. I ignored it. The car paced me for a dozen blocks me until I broke away down an alley and through the propped open back door of a kabob shop, out the storefront onto another street.

Sherlock had walked the city streets at least once a week, updating his mental map of London and her inhabitants. I walked through the day and into the night, with no destination or goal. I stumbled more and more, clumsy with exhaustion and low blood sugar and grief, until my foot slipped off the pavement and my bad leg went out from under me, sending me crashing to my knees on the cobblestoned street.

The bloody heel of my hand pressed into the grit of the street as I keened, human form not made for howling. And there, blood and stone, I felt the city grieve with me.

London. London would be my ally. Sherlock Holmes had always adored her, and she him. She was as ancient as I and as eager to reclaim him. Sherlock's name was a cacophony, everywhere shattered and wrong, a catch-word for deceit. I would need to clear his name; defeat Moriarty's story with one of my own. It was a war I was well-equipped to fight.

Once upon a time, there lived a Queen garbed, not in petticoats or pantsuits, but in garments of purest flame. She had crafted a story untrue and loosed it upon the world. Her once-loyal púca had combated her story with one wrought of iron truth. The púca's story won. The púca, himself, was lost.

Sherlock Holmes had saved me, gifted me with a name, and given me a place in the mortal world. I would save his name. Perhaps, then, Sherlock would forgive me. Perhaps he would return again.

Stories are powerful. A story can give a child joy, mend a broken heart, or bring a nation together. Stories can heal. I am púca. I know this like the beat of my own heart.

The first battle of this war must be fought, not in some high-priced TV studio or court of law, but along the alleyways, back streets and roof-tops of London.

I found my way back to Baker Street, heated a can of soup to eat, and then slept for a solid twelve hours. When I woke up the next day I pulled my army duffle bag out of the closet. There was still a faint hint of blood, pain, and cordite to it, remnants of war. These details were important. The beginning of a story requires a delicate touch.

I stood outside the National Gallery at dusk, duffle slung heavily over my shoulder, and lifted my face to the breeze. I let go of the friendly blogger and the conscientious doctor, focusing on an older part of myself - the soldier. The hunter. I stalked my prey through parks and under-passes, guided by sightings from Sherlock's homeless network, senses more acute than any man's, and hints from London herself.

When I finally cornered him, he was backed up against a concrete wall that smelt of fresh paint and old piss.

"Doc? You look like hell, mate," he said over the sound of his pounding heart.

I blinked at him. "Raz." Once I would have scorned it, not a true name. But I had learned that there was nothing so true as the name a man claimed as his own.

"What you doing down here, anyway?" he asked.

I took a breath. "You've heard the story?"

He shrugged. "Yeah. Load of shite if you ask me, but no one did."

I held up a finger, met his eyes, and focused what little power I had left. "Raz - I believe in Sherlock Holmes."

"Me too," he whispered.

I held up a second finger. "Moriarty was real."

He nodded slowly.

I held up a third finger, and tossed my duffle at Raz's feet. It landed with a metallic clatter. He crouched and opened the bag, revealing a dozen cans of Michigan spray paint, bright yellow, zinc-based with a hardcore propellant.

I held my breath as Raz considered. I wasn't here to compel. That was Moriarty's way, not mine. All I could do was make the offer, and hope that Sherlock Holmes hadn't just paid for Raz's help, but earned his loyalty.

Raz looked up at me with a feral grin, and said, "I'd best get started, then, eh? Sunrise is only a few hours away, and those fucks that messed with Sherlock ought wake up to a little surprise."

I pulled him to his feet, and for just a moment, as the new story was born, I felt the pulse of London quicken beneath my feet.

The story grew slowly, at first. Crazy Marcy, a member of the homeless network, stopped me on the way home to tell me how Sherlock Holmes had found her dear departed Da's stopwatch for her, when she'd lost it hiding from the aliens one night. The next morning, on the way to the clinic, I saw a shop-owner white-washing over some yellow paint. That evening, when I stopped at Speedy's to buy a sandwich, Mr. Chatterjee sharply reminded me that Sherlock Holmes might have deduced which clerk was skimming from the till, but I still had to pay full price.

A fluff piece on BBC Radio 4 mentioned the mysterious 'I believe in Sherlock Holmes' graffiti campaign that had sprung up across London. Raz and the DDS crew had painted a series of murals across every single train on the Metropolitan Line. A group of Sherlock's supporters organized a protest at the Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park that lasted an entire weekend.

I caught a cab back from Tesco's. The driver was a skinny young man with the dark skin and heavy accent of a recent immigrant. He refused to take money for the fare.

"If it wasn't for Sherlock Holmes I'd never have passed the Knowledge," he said.

"He helped you study?" I asked. That didn't sound like Sherlock.

"Not exactly. Three years ago, I was only licensed for Bromley. I picked him up late one night, in the pouring rain, and we got stuck behind a bad accident. His mobile ran out of power, and he got bored, I think. Asked me why didn't I have my green badge, and when I told him there were too many runs to memorise for central London, he rattled off over a hundred routes in the time it took for them to clear the accident. Said any idiot could do it if they bothered. I decided to prove him right. Damn shame what those vultures write about him in the papers. You make it right, yeah?"

The story spread from the streets of London to her electronic byways. There were hashtags and Facebook campaigns, petitions and a You Tube channel. Henry Knight spoke out publicly about the Baskerville case, and was arrested for violation of the Official Secrets Act. A celebrity solicitor stepped in to defend him, and suddenly you couldn't turn on the telly without seeing something about 'Sherlock Holmes, controversial consulting detective'. I sent a thank-you card to Mycroft.

At Sherlock's funeral, the handful of mourners had been reluctant to speak his tarnished name, but now I heard it everywhere, strong and new. It was time for me, in my widow's weeds, to step back into the public eye. I unlocked my blog and told the world the story of Sherlock Holmes.

It wasn't the story I wanted to tell. Not the story of Sherlock's brilliance, of his cases and chases and triumphs over the wicked. No. Mine was the story of the best man I'd ever known. A man who had hidden his great heart, even from himself sometimes, but not hidden it well enough to protect it from the cruelty of this world. It was a story of loss and regret. And while the story I told wasn't the whole truth, every bit of it was true.

Did you hear? Sherlock Holmes, that detective bloke? Turns out he was a genius after all.
I never believed that rubbish about Sherlock Holmes in the first place.
Did you ever see a single episode of that so-called Brook's children's show? Ever? Didn't think so.
That poor man, hounded to death by the press. They should be ashamed.

My blog was buried in supportive comments and emails. I organised the most useful statements and directed witnesses to New Scotland Yard for the internal review.

Lestrade had delved into the Yard's cold cases, going back over fifty years, to pull Sherlock out of one black mood or another. Even while suspended without pay, Lestrade was able to lead the review board through the chain of evidence, experimentation, and deduction that had allowed Sherlock to solve crimes committed before he was born.

Clients from Germany, Russia, Columbia and Australia Skyped their testimony, reading the emails they had sent Sherlock through his website and the terse, frequently scathing, but always accurate replies they had received where Sherlock solved their mysteries from across the world.

I was on my way to the shops when Kitty Riley ambushed me, shoving a recorder in my face. "I see you've finally dared to show your face," she taunted me. "What my readers want to know is, were you fooled by Sherlock's act, or were you in on the scam from the start?"

My hand curled into a fist. In two mortal lifetimes I had never hit a woman; then again, I’d never met one who so deserved it. But the story was more important than my rage. I took a deep breath and let it out. Turns out my therapist was good for something after all. As I focused on her I heard the nervous patter of her heart.

She was frightened. Not of me, or of any outside threat. Leads were running out. Rock solid witnesses suddenly had nothing to say. Contradictory evidence was piling up, and she was wondering if she had made a mistake. The woman who'd named herself 'Kitty' had clawed ruthlessly to the top of her profession, but underneath I could see the good Catholic girl who was afraid she had committed a terrible injustice.

"I've said all I'm going to say about Sherlock," I told her crisply. "He didn't have many friends in this world. So, Catherine Riley, if you really want to find out the truth about Sherlock Holmes, you'd better talk to his enemies. There are a few hundred in prison. Start with them."

Sherlock had been behind the convictions of some of the most infamous criminals in the country. Riley swept through Belmarsh Prison like a storm, arranging interviews with dozens of dangerous men. She offered to tell their stories and help them put forward an appeal if Sherlock had been responsible for their crimes. Some took her up on it, but they couldn't provide any evidence of their claims. Then there was a peculiar backlash. Within a week, an art forger, a bank robber, and three serial killers demanded the right to testify before the Yard's internal review, outraged that Sherlock might get the credit for the cleverest of their crimes. Genius does crave an audience, after all.

The Yard had brought in extra forensic analysts and consultants from Interpol and the FBI, all tasked with re-examining the evidence in all cases Sherlock had been involved with that had come under appeal. They had been specifically instructed to search for any weaknesses. They concluded that Sherlock was pants at documenting his findings, and had no respect for the chain of evidence, but they validated every one of his cases.

The steps outside of 221b became a shrine; candles, flowers, newspaper clippings, and an assortment of odd objects appeared each day, from a silver spoon to a ratty old teddy bear. I cleared everything away each morning so that Mrs Hudson could get down the stairs – her hip gave her too much trouble to be navigating an obstacle course. And every day, the shrine would be re-stocked.

The internal review board cleared Sherlock Holmes all wrong-doing, reprimanded Lestrade for not following proper procedure in vetting and hiring outside consultants, and published their findings to the world. There were a few mutters about a cover-up from the usual conspiracy theorists, but Twitter, daytime television hosts, and front pages across the country all heralded Sherlock Holmes as a tragic hero. Miss Riley resigned under a cloud.

The war was over. I had won. Sherlock's name was redeemed.

It helped. It just didn't help enough.

The clamour of Sherlock's good name crested, and then ebbed, as it must. Sarah urged me to take time off, but gave me all the locum hours she could when I told her I needed the money. I didn't. Sherlock had remembered me in his will, and whatever reason he'd had for needing a flat-mate, it certainly wasn't lack of funds.

I needed ... to be seen. To be known. To be named.

I stopped going to work. There was no point. The patients, the staff – they saw only the sad little doctor. They didn't know the rest of me. They didn't say my name properly. No one did. No one ever had. No one except Sherlock Holmes. I felt myself starting to fade, dull in mind and weak in body, the days slipping through my fingers. I only emerged from Baker Street to walk the streets of London at twilight, when the shadow land was close enough to touch, when I could imagine he was just ahead, up around the corner, waiting for me.

I was sitting in my chair. Mycroft was in the room, talking. He did that sometimes, showed up and talked, as if he thought I might suddenly decide to listen.

Mycroft shifted his weight to sit in Sherlock's chair. I looked up at him. Mycroft froze, his heart beginning to race. He moved smoothly to position the chair between us. Mycroft treated me like a wild animal these days, something wounded, cornered, and dangerous; he'd always been observant.

"Doctor Watson," he said carefully. "I understand you've missed the last three appointments with your therapist?"

I shrugged. Had it been that long? I wasn't sure. I'd only started seeing her again because Mrs Hudson worried so.

"She believes you to be clinically depressed, and a potential suicide risk. Is that an accurate assessment?"

I shook my head. Mycroft raised his eyebrow, demanding more.

I tried to speak, cleared my throat, and tried again. My voice came out hoarse and weak. "No. She's not gotten any better at predicting my reactions to stress since the last time I fired her." It wasn't her fault that a púca fading away so resembled a depressed, grieving, man.

Mycroft nodded crisply. "Good. If matters should become … acute, I will not hesitate to take steps. I've no desire to see you follow my brother into his grave." He studied me for a moment. I bared my teeth at him. He dropped his eyes, straightened his cuffs, and sighed. "Well. As always, please do call if I can assist in any way."

I nodded. Mycroft was already checking his phone as he let himself out the door.

Follow Sherlock into his grave. I scoffed. All I could do was wait and hope that Sherlock Holmes would return again. Last time it had taken decades, generations; I didn't know if there was enough of me left to survive that long. I didn't remember how to be púca, after all this time, and what was the point of being Doctor John Watson in a world without Sherlock Holmes?

No point at all.

I buried my head in my hands. "One more miracle, Sherlock, for me," I whispered. "Don't be dead. Don't - stop it. Just stop it. Come back to me."

The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I lifted my head, as if to catch a scent. Come back. Come back. Come back – from where? Sherlock Holmes had died once before, and returned. That meant he was somewhere in the years between. Not the mortal lands, no. But I needn't stay in the mortal, daylight world. Púca had walked the shadow lands, danced to the music of the spheres, trod secret paths under black stars. Sherlock Holmes was somewhere out there, and though I'd never yet met the souls of the mortal dead in my travels, I'd never looked for them before. Now I would look, I would hunt, I would follow, and I would find him.

Because I knew Sherlock Holmes. Every bit of him. The world's only consulting detective. A mortal who did not fear the impossible, but reveled in it. A bohemian who shammed at being a gentleman only when he must. The huntsman. The truth-seeker. Black moods and wild exhilaration. A caring heart hidden under the armour of arrogance. A man more addicted to the thrill of the chase and the rush of his own genius than any chemical. My friend.

I stumbled into the kitchen, gathered up a candle and matches, and set the candle on the mantle next to the skull. I lit it with trembling fingers, stared into the flame and told the greatest, most powerful, most important story of my life.

"Sherlock Holmes."

I closed my eyes and listened, listened with all my heart. Nothing. Nothing. Wait. Something. Not an answer, but an echo of him, distant and lost but there! I reached for the flickering candle-lit shadow as it reached for me, and I followed.

Emma Hudson came home a little after one and tutted to find John's daily milk delivery still sitting out on the stairs along with a lone, battered deerstalker. Some days it was all she could get the poor boy to eat, just a cup of milky tea sweetened with honey.

"Yoo-hoo," she called, climbing slowly up the seventeen steps to 221b. She knocked, but there was no answer. "John, dear," she called out as she opened the door. "I've brought your milk…"

There was a smudge of smoke from a candle on the mantle, as if it had just been blown out, but the flat was empty.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 13th, 2013 10:12 pm (UTC)
This was beautiful. Utterly wrenching, and true, and real. It's a rare story that makes me want more and yet for the told part of the tale to stop at the same time.
Mar. 15th, 2013 09:12 am (UTC)
Thank you so much, noirrosaleen! This comment made me very happy - I do love to leave a reader with the sense that the writing stops here, but the story goes on.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )