He had used a knife this time, and there was a lot of blood.
He wipes his hands on the sodden front of his shirt, but only smears the blood. The shirt is damp with it and it clings to his skin, wet and cold and horrible. No matter how desperately he scrubs his hands against the shirt they stay crimson. He is covered in it: it is thick and red and everywhere. Blood on his face as well; he can feel it drying on his left cheek. The blood assails every of his senses at once, touch and taste and sight, but none so much as smell. The stench is overpowering. The room reeks of the blood – he reeks of blood - a strangely heavy scent, like a dense tropical mist, but one that speaks of rust and salt and iron and death. He gags. The smell of it coats his throat and nostrils; he staggers away from the bed where the dead man lies. The man he killed. He has to get rid of it – clean away the blood. Get rid of the blood. Get rid of the smell. But no, that isn't the plan, the man has to stay there, covered in his blood, they have to see him, that is the plan -
Why can't he remember the plan?
He still has that fever. Everything is hot, and his mind is slow, his vision blurred, his movements uncoordinated. It had taken him more than one stab to kill this man; he had not been able to finish it neatly. Hence the blood. So much blood. He can't handle it. It's clinging to him – god, make it stop, get it off him – He stumbles backward, away from the blood. It's even on the walls. It had sprayed onto the walls, vivid crimson on the white paper. It smells of blood. Everything smells of blood. He hides his nose in his sleeve, but with his shirt drenched in blood the smell only intensifies. He gags again, and nearly vomits. But he stops himself. He can't be sick, not in here. Not yet.
He is pressed against the opposite wall, gagging and trying not to throw up entirely. Stop this, he commands himself. This was supposed to be a quick job, a neat job. In, out. But now he's just making a mess of himself. He's feeling emotions – that certainly bears ill in itself. He must detach himself from this. Forget the emotion; forget the smell of blood. That is what he must do.
He needs air. He stumbles down the staircase and out onto the street, almost forgetting to grab his oversized jacket and zip it up over his bloodied shirt. Once outside he drops – almost collapses - to the curb, heaving for breath. A cab flies by on the street and nearly runs him over. New York City. America. God, how he hates it. An entire ocean away from 221B, in this city that is a bizarre pantomime of his own. The cold air is wonderful on his fevered skin, but it cannot completely erase the smell of blood. Under his jacket, the damp shirt is clinging to his skin. He puts his head down on his knees, gasping for air. His vision is going blurry again; he feels nauseous and dizzy. It still smells of blood. He smells of blood. God, he needs to change these clothes, he needs to get out of these clothes, get the blood off of him -
His thin body heaves as he throws up in the gutter, once, twice, three times, retching and gagging but bringing little up except for bile. When he is sick for a fourth time there is blood in the bile. More blood. How long has it been since he has eaten? He needs to eat. His vision is blurry. No, he needs to change his clothes.
When he stumbles to his feet the world spins around him, and he goes down hard on one knee. Look at him now. Pathetic. He's losing his focus, and he cannot afford to lose focus. He has to track down Moriarty's people. His spiderweb. He has to stop it. He has to keep John safe: John, Mrs Hudson, Lestrade.. only the thought of those three faces is enough to bring him back to his feet. He clutches a lightpole for support. John, Mrs. Hudson. Lestrade. For a brief, wonderful moment he allows himself to picture the DI: his salt-and-pepper hair and the warm gentleness of his smile. God, he misses that smile. Don't let him forget it. Don't let him forget.
His jacket is warm, but he is shivering terribly. He wraps his arms around himself and trembles. He lets himself take deep breaths, in and out, in and out, trying to erase the stench of blood from his throat and lungs. He feels dizzy. This fever is almost certainly intensifying, getting worse with each passing day. But he can't go to a hospital. He has not been able to go to a hospital all these two years he has been dead, even under a false name – what is his name today? He has forgotten. He self-medicates, stitching his own wounds, setting his own bones. He lives and he suffers entirely alone. He cannot go to a hospital. He cannot go to a doctor.
John is a doctor. John has taken care of him in the past, when he has been ill or injured. John sets his bones, cleans his wounds. John gives him medicine and brings him food and holds his head over the toilet if he should be sick. John is a doctor. John is a good doctor. He forces himself to his feet and imagines he is going back to 221B to see John, and that John will have him lie down on the couch and take off the shirt with the blood on it, and that John will gently clean his wounds and fix them. John will give him a cool cloth for his forehead, for the fever, and his vision will clear and nothing will smell like blood anymore. He sets off down the road, imagining that he is back in London and that John will waiting at home for him. Lestrade will be there too, and Lestrade will be so cross with him for trying to work when he is obviously so ill. Lestrade will stroke his hair and gently wipe the sweat from his skin, and Lestrade will hold him if he needs it. He imagines the touch of Lestrade's hand, the warmth of Lestrade's embrace. He turns round the corner and imagines he is going home.
He does not know how long he walks, lost in his desperate fantasy of 221B Baker Street. He only knows that by the time he has turned onto the street where Baker Street would be (if this were London, which it is not,) he is so dizzy that he can no longer see anything. He stops, and waits for his vision to clear. Pathetic. What is he doing, playing these games with himself? Childish dreams of going home are useless. Baker Street is an ocean away, and he can not return there until he has disposed of all of Moriarty's web. This will take several months more. He is not going home. Not for a long time.
Suddenly he remembers his name. He is Bruce, today. Bruce Thompson. Bruce Thompson has straight, light brown hair that is stiff from being dyed and re-dyed. He is native of New York City, thought he has no relations whatsoever within the city. He lives alone; he is alone. In a few hours, he will be leaving on an airplane. He has the ticket already. It says Bruce Thompson on it. He takes it out of his pocket and looks at it; tries to memorize the name. He must remember his name. His fingers leave bloody fingerprints on the edges of the paper. Soon Bruce Thompson will use this ticket to leave New York for good, and then Bruce Thompson will die and another man will take his place. It happened to John Sigerson, it happened to William James, it happened to Sherringford Russell, Arthur Doyle, Jeremy Bentham, Benedict Carlton and Holden Jones. Once upon a time it happened to a man by the name of Sherlock Holmes; but that was a very long time ago and Bruce Thompson can barely remember it. They died, and other men took their place. Bruce Thompson's fate will be the same.
He puts the ticket back into his pocket. When he has recovered enough from his disorientation, he hurries away back the way he came, down side streets and through alleys. No one sees him; if they do, they do not notice. He moves as a ghost. He is a ghost: the ghost of the late Holden Jones; the ghost of Benedict Carlton, of Jeremy Bentham, of Arthur Doyle, Sherringford Russell, William James, of John Sigerson and of Sherlock Holmes.
As a ghost, he finds the public bathroom he had already chosen for this and he drops his coat to the floor. The blood from his shirt has already begun to soak through the lining of the coat. He tears off the drenched shirt with shaking fingers, and it is heavy with the blood. It hits the filthy floor with a dull wet thump, and the sound makes him shiver. The skin of his chest is smeared with crimson. He fills the washbasin with water and desperately scrubs at his body, cleaning and washing and trying to eliminate all trace of the blood, of the smell, of the horror. The water runs pink and the basin overflows. Water hits the floor where the sodden shirt lays in a wet heap, once a white shirt, now barn red. He scrubs at his hands as though trying to take them off entirely, and he buries his face in the pink water to clean where the blood had sprayed onto his cheeks and dried there, and he works at cleaning his skin until he is soaking wet and the room is drenched in pink water. But he is clean.
He has a bag, and in the bag there are his passport and papers and clean clothes. He strips off his wet and bloody jeans and climbs into clean ones. Brand new. Store bought. He scrubs at his wet chest with paper towel before pulling a light cotton shirt over his head. His old shirt lies in a wet crimson heap on the floor, leaking red into the water like a dead thing. He can barely bring himself to touch it. It still smells of blood; he gags again. The wadded up shirt is heavier now, from the water. It stains his fingers pink again. He wraps it in cheap paper towels, and even then the red soaks through, deep and thick and disgusting. He shoves it in his bag and throws up into the sink of pink water. More blood, more bile. His head aches. The smell of blood does not help.
When he raises a hand to his forehead, to brush Bruce Thompson's brown hair from his eyes, his brow is burning hot. Fever. He cups his hands and uses them to pour water over his face, hoping to cool himself. He stands at the sink, shaking, pouring pink water over his face over and over. He is exhausted. Bruce Thompson has lost a lot of weight in his short lifetime, and he tires easily. Stabbing another man, and repeatedly, had been a superhuman effort. He can barely keep himself upright, tired as he is. But he does not let the exhaustion claim him. He has a job to finish. And he shuts off the water, and shoves the coat into his bag – he cannot wear it, it has blood on it – and he changes his socks and shoes, combs his hair. He moves the plane ticket from the pocket of his coat to the pocket of his jeans. He cleans the floor of the pink as well as he can, then he shoulders his bag and he leaves. He doesn't care if anyone sees him going. It's no matter. Bruce Thompson will be dead tonight.
It is cold on the streets, and he has no coat. He has nowhere to stay for the few hours until his flight leaves. Bruce Thompson has no home. He has never had a home.
Once there was a man named Sherlock Holmes who had no home and no coat. That was a long time ago, but Bruce Thompson can still remember it. Sherlock hadn't been able to meet his rent: he had spent all his money on cocaine. Self-medicating against boredom, against pain, against the world. So Sherlock had been cast out on the streets without a coat. He hadn't minded. But he had been cold.
And then Lestrade had come. They hadn't known each other. Had never spoken. But he had come, and he had given the man named Sherlock Holmes his own coat. Bruce Thompson pretends that maybe it will happen again tonight. Homeless and alone, he stumbles along the city streets and he pretends to himself that Lestrade will be there with his jacket, and he will be made warm.
He remembers that jacket. It was red. Red like blood.
He stops at the edge of the block. No, what are you doing, he scolds himself internally. Stop this. This isn't logical. Stop fantasizing. Stop pretending. Stop having hope.
He sits down in a little bus shelter and draws his knees up to his chest in an effort to keep himself warm. He imagines he can still see the blood on his hands. All that blood. It makes him sick to think about it. So much blood. He doesn't know why this one bothers him so terribly. He has killed before. He has killed so many people. Moriarty's people. His web. He has lost count of the bodies. There are other causalities, too. Civilian lives. Innocent men, wrongly convicted. He has killed them.
And then there are other victims, other men who have met their death by his hand. There was Sherlock Holmes, and later there was John Sigerson. He killed them, and he killed William James, and he killed Sherringford Russel, and he killed Arthur Doyle. He killed Jeremy Bentham and Benedict Carlton. He killed Holden Jones.
Four hours later, at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, he kills Bruce Thompson. He destroys the papers and the ID and he puts what remains in the bin outside the gate where he is boarding. When he gets on the plane Bruce Thompson is dead, and he is nameless once more.