Title: Breaking with Tradition
Author: Jessie Blackwood
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Fandoms: Sherlock
Rating: PG-13
Note: This is for all the soldiers I have known, admired and loved, for those who have passed, those who are retired and those still serving, in particular Dudley (2 Commando, WW2, one of the originals, sadly now passed, father of my best mate), Tony (Dudley's son and brother of my best mate, retired), Phil (currently in the TAs and still serving), Steve (ex-para, retired), and Frank (SAS retired) in the UK and Mike (Tank Sergeant) in the US. Thank you for your dedication, guys. Heroes all.
Disclaimer: Characters owned by Moffat, Gatiss and the BBC. I don't own any of it, except maybe the idea for the story, etc. etc. etc., no infringement of copyright intended, no money being made, etc, etc. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental.


For once in his life, post Afghanistan, John broke with tradition. For once he had no desire to attend the marches, the parades, the Cenotaph or any wreath laying. John was planning something quieter, more intimate. Just him and his best friend. Him and Sherlock, together for Remembrance Day.

It did not matter that his best friend had died in the worst way possible. No matter that John had witnessed the cruelest joke ever played or experienced the most helpless feeling of his entire life (and that including watching friends bleed out on the battlefield or on the operating table when there was nothing more he could do). No matter that he had been forced to watch someone actually take their own life. Something had made his friend act like that. Something had forced his hand. John had to believe it because nothing else made sense. No matter what the cause, Sherlock would remain his best friend, the person he loved more than anybody else in this world, even if he wasn't there to experience it.

"John, mate, what you doing for Remembrance Day this year?" Mitch asked when he phoned John at the beginning of September. The doctor rolled his eyes. Trust the logistics expert to plan ahead.

"Nothing, Mitch. Sorry, I'm not going to be here."

"Not going to be...Why the hell not? You never miss..."

"Visiting a mate in the US. I'll be away a couple of weeks." That had seemed to satisfy the man, especially when John said the mate was an ex-army buddy.

"John, man. We meeting up on the 11th then? What about a bevvy at the pub?" Findlay Murray called a couple of weeks later. He sounded slightly forced, as though someone had put him up to calling.

"Sorry, Fin. Not going to be here. Didn't Mitch tell you?" Or did he decide to see if I'd forget and tell you a different story? John told him about his plans to visit Mike in Maine; Mike Gracella, out in Portland. Didn't Murray remember him, from Sangin? No? Oh well, he remembered Murray alright... Somehow, Murray bought the story and left him alone after that.

Madoc called last, quizzing John the same way. He also displayed incredulity and then annoyance and then disbelief. None of it made a bit of difference. Jack was also firmly rebuffed.

Now each of his mates knew what John's problem was. None of them had been living under a rock after all, and each one knew John very well indeed. Thus they did not buy his excuse that he was visiting the US. They knew a politely phrased rejection when they heard it, but they did not push things, realising that John Watson could not be pushed, deceived or cajoled into anything. However, each man knew their friend would either come out of it in his own time, or not, and more than one ex-comrade had gone that way.

If there was one thing John could rely on, it was his mates; to leave him alone as long as he stayed relatively sane or come running if John displayed any danger signs. In a new world where everything John had relied on had crumbled, knowing his mates were there in the background stopped him taking a nosedive in front of a tube train or jumping from a bridge. Despite rebuffing their well-meaning attempts to make sure he was safe and sane, their care was a slim lifeline but it was there.


As the day dawned, John was all for staying in bed. He was just weary, tired of the everyday fight to maintain sanity and keep his head above water. However, John Watson being John Watson he couldn't and wouldn't ignore the date. So he rose early, then showered, dressed and breakfasted quickly, aiming to be out of London before the crowds choked the tube or the buses. He was aiming to go alone, wanting to stay solitary. His plan, though, reckoned without the intervention of the annoying presence of the elder Holmes.

A sleek dark car was waiting by the kerbside as John exited 221b. He had eventually returned to the familiar flat with all his best friend's things in, left as it had been, save for a clean fridge and an empty bedroom. John knew Mycroft was discreetly maintaining payments on the flat but said nothing about it. If Mycroft chose to expunge any guilt he might feel by making things easy for John, John was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He neither demanded acknowledgement of the donation nor did he force John to put up with his presence so John left well enough alone. However, it was obvious that he had been unable to stay away on this, the most poignant of days.

The immaculate form that was Mycroft Holmes was leaning against the car, which for him could be classed as a casual pose despite resembling a GQ photoshoot. He was toying with his umbrella as if he belonged there. He probably did, John thought. The British Government did have a right to be standing on the roadside of a London street, after all.

"Mycroft..." John stopped in front of the man and huffed an irritated sigh.

"Please, John," Mycroft wouldn't meet his eyes. "I wish you would allow me this one small gesture." He looked hesitant, obviously expecting a rebuff, but honestly John could not find it in his heart. He sighed again but it lacked rancour.

"I'm going to the grave and nowhere else. Today..." He could not go on. His voice failed him. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I always ho...honour my...fallen comrades, and...and he is no different."

"I do understand. I had anticipated as much and I am also heading there, so if you wouldn't mind company, we can share a car. I also thought a spot of lunch afterward but if you want to return home that can be arranged. However, there are a few people who would like to accompany us as well, should you be agreeable."

John realised Mycroft wasn't alone in the car. He sighed when Findlay Murray leaned out the door and sketched a wave. Behind him, Alex Mitchinson leaned to give him a thumbs up. On the other side, John could see Jack Madoc in the shadows purposefully keeping back. "They contacted me, via a roundabout route which was frankly frighteningly ingenious, and asked me if I still had contact with you. I had to say no, because we have not spoken in a long time, but they were...very persuasive..."

"Told him I'd fucking break his legs unless he arranged this visit..." Madoc said. He wasn't joking, even though his tone was light. John knew him well enough to realise he meant every word.

"Since when did you let some Scouse wanker intimidate you, Mycroft?" John wanted to know.

"Oh, never, John," Mycroft replied airily. "However, he also told me you were avoiding making plans for today and that set my alarm bells ringing. I admit I was more worried by what they told me concerning your good self rather than being in the least intimidated by their empty threats."

"Fuck off, they were not empty," Madoc growled.

"I do assure you, while it may be that you are convinced of your own intentions, I am not intimidated in the least. Your words concerning John's welfare, however, did disturb me and for that small motivation I am most grateful, which is why you still have your liberty following a tirade that should have earned you immediate incarceration pending investigation..." Mycroft smiled coldly, then turned to John with rather more warmth. "I am glad that you are still with us, John, you have to believe me."

John regarded him for a moment, then allowed a small smile. "I do," he said, gently. "One thing I do know, he wouldn't have wanted me to remain enemies with you. So..." John extended his hand. Mycroft hesitated before shaking it but when he did it was sincere. "Shall we?" John indicated the car.

"By all means. I have taken the liberty to arrange some lunch for us at the Oak and Crown in the village, but if things get too much for you, please feel free to let me know..."

"No, that's...that's very generous, thank you. I'm sure I'll be fine." John got in and sat back as Mycroft slid in to the warm interior of the vehicle after him and rapped on the glass screen between them and the driver. The car began to move and they settled in to a surprisingly comfortable silence.

The graveyard was full of people. John frowned and held back but Mycroft shook his head. "Not my doing," he reassured. "There is a war memorial here, and I have no influence to stop the proceedings," he said. "Nor should I. This is a local event and my ancestors, mine and Sherlock's, served in all the major wars." He sounded quite proud. "Our great Grandfather served in Bomber Command during World War Two, his father in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. Great, Great Grandfather on mother's side served in the Boer War and in India. I assure you I am the last person to interfere in the proper show of respect at these gatherings."

Mycroft did lead them a circuitous route down the paths though, circumventing the small knot of men and women sporting medals and bearing poppy wreaths who were gathered around the simple stone memorial. He raised a respectful hand to them as he passed. The leaden sky overhead was still dry but depressing as they wove their way along the cinder paths between dense clumps of yews, finding the spot under the trees where Sherlock's black granite gravestone was located. Madoc and the rest hung back, silently giving John his space. Even Mycroft indicated he should proceed without them, and John nodded gratefully and limped the last of the way there.

Madoc watched his mate go, a frown pulling his brows together. "Bad business," he said, voice low. Murray nodded.

"Really thought he'd found a reason to stay with us," the Scot murmured sadly.

"What do you reckon?" Mitch asked. "Will he stick around now his best mate's gone?"

"No idea, Mitch, no fucking idea," Madoc said gloomily, catching Mycroft's pained expression. "Sorry, mate. I know he was your brother but..."

"It's quite alright," Mycroft replied, cutting him off. "I too worry for the good doctor. I am keeping him under close scrutiny but I fear even my attempts to keep him safe could amount to nothing if John is determined. I hope for all our sakes that I can react quickly enough if such an incident presents itself." He watched Murray wander off, something taking his interest a little way off, then dragged his attention back to the forlorn figure who had by now reached the graveside. "Dr Watson is nothing if not stubborn," he observed. "If he gets an idea in his head, then nothing will dissuade him. We can but hope he finds something to...give him hope, as it were."

I was so alone and I owe you so much... John came to a halt before the stone, the words he had uttered the last time he had visited still echoing in his mind. Just one more miracle...Don't. Be. Dead. He bowed his head and sighed heavily. That hadn't happened, had it?

"So, still...dead then," he murmured, conversationally. "I dunno, Sherlock, you're being a right git, keeping me waiting." John sighed heavily. "I should stop coming here, you know. I mean... things are not going to get better are they? You're gone. For whatever stupid reason, and it was stupid, Sherlock, nobody will convince me otherwise, no matter how noble you thought you were being. You didn't have to...to jump..." John's voice faltered. He breathed deeply again and sniffed. "I miss you, you daft sod. Come home, please? I'm...I'm just not sure how long...how long I can..." He had to stop. His eyes were welling and it was painful, damn it, physically painful to say the words. Abruptly he laid the flowers he had brought-he had made Mycroft stop at the florist's shop in the village-down on the damp ground and stood, straightening his back and shoulders. He saluted smartly. Turning on his heel, he walked back to where the lads were standing waiting for him.

Murray had wandered away from the small knot of men, his attention caught by sudden movement under a nearby tree. A dark shadow passed just beyond the tree's trunk, through the undergrowth. Murray stalked closer, ears straining for any indication that his quarry had seen him. When the hind end of a deer flashed through the greenery beyond the tree, its brown hide almost hidden by the dappled shadows of leaves and branches, white tail upended in alarm, Murray was unsurprised. He grinned, glad to see life in such a place of death. He stopped beneath the low bows, swallowed by the shadows beneath them, watching the place where the deer had gone. Pausing to look around and assess his surroundings, Murray realised that he could see the grave from his position but was shielded by the bushes in front of him. John could not see him. His foot cracked on something and he looked down, surprised to see a large amount of cigarette butts on the grass. He sniffed the air, the unmistakable aroma of smoke meeting his nostrils. Someone had been there recently, very recently. Kids probably, bunking off and hiding from the parents; it was probably a known spot to grab a quick fag without being found out. Murray grinned, remembering doing the same thing himself. He was about to leave when he saw the thing he had stepped on, a bright red pencil. He picked it up, realising that it was only the blunt end that had snapped. The two parts were still connected, but slightly bent. He pocketed it and went back to the others, where John was now waiting.

"Right, lads, we ready?" John asked and received nods of agreement, so he lead them all toward the memorial. The small knot of veterans had laid their wreaths, and were listening to the Vicar voicing something appropriate. The foursome stopped some way off, but still garnered curious looks from one or two of the veterans, but Madoc ignored them as the four friends gathered in their small knot. This time they all waited for John to begin. He glanced around at them, one after the other, then took a deep breath. "Sherlock Holmes," he said, without a trace of a tremor in his voice.

"Will Morstan," Jack said. "Tom Heaney, Dan Hereford."

"Liam Conlan," Findlay added.

"Alex Fairburn," Mitch offered. They went through their list then, adding names from years previous, remembering them all. Mycroft stood by, respectfully silent. When the last name was said, the church clock struck the hour. Eleven o'clock. Madoc snapped "Atten...shun!" Each of them came smartly to attention as if the years hadn't intervened, and they all saluted, then stood to observe the two minute silence. "At ease!" Madoc ordered when the allotted time had passed and they all stood down, rejoining Mycroft who lead the way silently out of the graveyard. The veterans watched them go.

The pub was filled with patrons, most notably more of the veterans from the churchyard as well as the obvious regulars. John elbowed his way to the bar and caught the bartender's eye, asking if there was a table booked in the name of Holmes. He smiled and nodded and lead them through to the dining room and showed them to their seats.

"Your ritual is rather poignant, John," Mycroft murmured. "But very fitting, all the same. I am...touched that you honoured Sherlock so. He wasn't a soldier, after all."

"Mycroft, you once said to me that most people blunder around London and all they see are streets and shops and cars. You said that if I went with Sherlock that I would see the battlefield and I did. In his own way, Sherlock was a soldier. No matter his motives, he still fought for the truth. He still solved crimes and combated enemies, just like I did. I just did it with a scalpel and a gun, he did it with his mind, but nevertheless, he deserved to be included in our...ritual. He should be remembered for the man he was, and he was not a fraud."

"I know how hard you campaigned to make the police review the cases and find him not guilty, and you won," Mycroft said. "I might have helped a little but the motivation was yours. For that alone you are to be commended. You do him honour with every breath you take, Doctor. Take comfort in that."

The lunch was a generous one, although they didn't speak much. Other than Jack inviting John to stay with him for a few days he and Fin and Mitch chatted among themselves. John wasn't in the mood for conversation and Mycroft was obviously not up to his usual erudite offerings. When one of the veterans from the church appeared by their table as they were finishing their coffee, it was Jack who acted as their spokesman.

"Scuse me for interuptin', lads," the old man said, well-polished medals in a bright row across his left breast. "I 'ope I'm not disturbin' you, but we saw you at the graveyard. The lads want to know what service you're in and I drew the short straw."

Jack grinned. "Were," he replied. affably. "We're all retired now. John and Findlay there were invalided out a couple of years ago, Mitch and I decided to retire this year. We're all late of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers."

The old man nodded. "John Campbell, 4th Battalion, Royal Artillery. Me and the lads would like to know if we can invite you for a drink? All soldiers together?"

Jack smiled. "Jack Madoc," he said as they shook hands. "Pleased to meet you, sir. We'd be happy to join you, wouldn't we, lads?" He glanced around and saw the agreement on everyone's faces and stood, following the old gent back to where his cronies were gathered around the bar. They spent the next hour absorbed in conversation and only when Mycroft tapped his watch at John did they down the dregs of their pints and make ready to leave.

"You've got an email address, right?" Murray dragged his pockets for something to write with and found the pencil he had stepped on. He grabbed a napkin from the bar and wrote the email address down that the man he had been chatting to had just given him. He thanked the old man-Albert-and stuffed the paper back in his pocket, but when he looked up he found John was staring at him.

"Fin, where did you get that?"

"Get what?"

"That pencil..." John's voice was shaking.

"Why? I mean, it is nay special..."

"Where did you get it?" John's voice sounded urgent.

"In the graveyard, by the tree we were standing next to while we were waiting for you."

"The...?" John grabbed for the pencil and stared at it.

"Look, there were a lot of cigarette butts around, it was a den of sorts...Christ, John, it's just something some kid dropped..."

"No, it isn't." John was scrutinising the pencil, carefully. "I'd know that pencil anywhere...You don't believe me? You think I'm going nuts? Okay then, see that burn mark? Acid. He used it to poke at something in one of his experiments. It's a 2b, Sherlock's favoured grade of graphite, he says nothing else makes enough mark and anything softer wears down too fast. The brand, only bought in a small art shop around the corner from where we live. The end is stained brown and I'll bet good money it shows up as blood..."


"Yes, blood. Sherlock stabbed someone with it once. It was the only weapon he had on him...It's a sign...he dropped this for me..."

"John..." Murray was concerned. His mate was staring at the pencil feverishly. Mycroft took John's arm and propelled him gently to the car. Once inside, John looked beseechingly at the elder Holmes. "Did you know?"

"Know what, John?" Mycroft said softly. "It's a pencil. Some child probably dropped it." Mycroft's intense gaze settled on John's own. John swallowed and something unspoken passed between them. John sighed heavily and pocketed the pencil.

"Sorry...sorry, you're right..." he mumbled. "I'm...forgive me, Fin. I'm grasping at straws."

"Nay problem, laddy. Understandable. Keep the damn thing, just stay safe," he said gently. John nodded and they drove to the railway station in silence.

Once the men had gone, Mycroft turned to John. "Doctor Watson, if you will take a little advice, do not speak of this to anyone and keep your little...momento...safe and concealed."

"It's true then?"

"I have no idea, truly." Mycroft gripped John's shoulder firmly. John was surprised to note that his fingers were trembling slightly. "If it is, and at this moment it is only a very tenuous if, then his safety will rely on our continued silence and your continued belief in his demise. Do not do anything to compromise that, John, whatever you do. I will begin some tenuous investigations, feelers, nothing more. If this is a sign, then he will get in touch with us, not the other way around, and knowing my dear brother only when it is the absolute right time and not before. Do not expect miracles, John. Years might go by yet. You must be both patient and wary. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly," John nodded.

"How sure are you, John?"

"Around ninety eight percent?"


John held out the pencil. "Test the end for blood, then you'll see why. Details, Mycroft. Sherlock doesn't do things carelessly nor does he make mistakes. This wasn't dropped. He left it for me to find. He knew I'd be there today of all days."

"You're so sure."

"Yes. Test it for me, Mycroft. Find out. If that is blood on the end, I rest my case."

"What good would it do?"

"Yes or no, I just need to know for sure. If the answer is negative, I'll mourn him and move on. If it's positive, then I can wait, forever if need be."

"Forever is a long time, John."

"Forever is no time at all, Mycroft. Forever is what being stuck in Afghanistan feels like. This...this is merely a hiatus, nothing more."


His phone binged with a text alert later that evening. Whatever facilities Mycroft had access to must be 24/7 because one word sat glaring at him from the screen. John sighed softly, then let the tears fall.

Positive. MH