In the weeks (which can now safely begin to be counted in months) since Sherlock’s Return (he is starting to get comfortable with blogging again and the writer portion of his brain sometimes provides capitalization where it is technically inappropriate) John has almost grown used to the fact that Returned Sherlock is more subdued than his former self. It is so far not clear if this will prove a lasting state or if it is a direct result of the fact that the wound sustained in the severing of Holmes and Watson is still tender to the touch. It is also possible that Sherlock has experienced such a surfeit of revenge-induced activity during his absence that it will take him a while to work up to a state of plaster-assaulting boredom again. Or perhaps he is simply content, for the moment, to be home once more.
Whatever the reason (and for however long it ends up lasting) once he stops finding it unsettling he is able to enjoy it. Really, it is sort of Christmas every day for John. The pieces which are coaxed from the violin by graceful, elegant hands are soothing and recognizable rather than shrieking jagged metal edges of noise chasing him through (and out of) the flat. His friend languidly drapes his long limbs across the sofa instead of curling himself into a petulant ball of whinging snark upon its cushions.
He even actually brought home a bag from Tesco the other day; true, it had contained thirty two blocks of different cheeses for an experiment also involving an exquisitely violated electrical socket and the severe scorching of one of John’s socks (One. One bloody sock. What the hell is he meant to do with the other? [And why Sherlock couldn’t use his own blasted, indexed sock is another question for which he has yet to receive a satisfying response.]), but it had also brought into their lives a small container of milk which had arrived just in time to make John’s morning cuppa a touch more pleasant (Also, soothing, for after he’d discovered the sock theft.).
John ignores the slight air of unreality this calm lends to life at Baker Street because, deep down, he knows that it will eventually fade back to epic sulks over ear hats and the nature of the solar system. And no matter the fact that he would have gladly shared out half his own life span in order to have jagged, snarky, petulant, doesn’t-even-know-what-milk-is-if-it-isn’t-marinating-eyeballs Sherlock returned to him at any point during the last three years, he finds he is content to enjoy the calm between storms.
This is the state of things when they are called in to consult after a body has been found dumped inside an exhibit at London Zoo.
It is a crisp sort of day and Sherlock’s coat dances with the breeze; it snaps and swirls merrily around him as they make their way to the crime scene along a path lined with giraffes, zebras and warthogs. Greg is waiting for them and takes them along the convoluted route necessary to access the animal area.
John winces at seeing what is left of the victim. “What’s been at the body then?”
“African hunting dogs. We’re waiting on surveillance footage to confirm, but it seems pretty clear it was left overnight and the dogs were at it between then and this morning at six when the first keeper arrived on the scene.”
Sherlock is crouched near the body, folded in on himself as he peers at the gnawed remains, and his voice is somewhat muffled by his body’s position as he informs them, “He’s been held for eleven days and starved during that time. He was severely beaten over that time period as well; beaten to death, in fact, but that’s fairly obvious.” John fails to see how anything can be obvious based upon what little is left. “You’re looking at someone who was reported missing last Tuesday, having been taken the previous day.”
Greg makes a note on his pad. “That’s helpful. Anything else?”
“You’ve not opened the envelope yet?” Sherlock sounds just faintly surprised as he indicates the envelope which had been pinned to the body’s sleeve and which remains mostly intact.
“Course not, you annoying git,” the detective returns fondly. He has also been enjoying the novelty of a Sherlock who behaves like a stroppy toddler slightly less often than the previous incarnation. “I rang you, so I waited for you. Go on then,” he allows as he hands him a pair of latex gloves.
After drawing the gloves on, Sherlock pulls the envelope from the thin edge of cheap metal and carefully slits it open. He takes out the single page it contains and frowns as he surveys what is written there. Looking over his shoulder, John sees that what he would consider to be an incomprehensible, though short, message has been typed onto the paper, and he is confused when the jumble of letters causes a complex series of expressions to dart across his partner’s face. He is even more confused when Sherlock rises, drops first paper then envelope into the plastic bags Greg holds out for them and remarks mildly, “A cipher of some sort. You’ll want to have someone attempt to decode it.”
John blinks in surprise. This is very definitely Not Good. This is Sherlock not telling Greg everything he has just deduced. This is the first time he has seen that since The Return.
Greg, it seems, has picked up on this undercurrent as well because he narrows his eyes suspiciously and asks, “You don’t want a copy then? You trust us to decode it?”
Sherlock scoffs in response. “Of course I will need a copy and of course I don’t trust Anderson and his brethren. Do stop being absurd, Lestrade.”
Seemingly mollified by this token display of Sherlockian temper, Greg hands off the evidence to one of his juniors. “Anything else then?”
“No.” He hesitates just slightly. “There may be more bodies, though.”
“You think it’s a serial killer?”
“The killer clearly has a message to deliver. I do not believe this is the entirety of that message, just the opening paragraph.”
“Right. I’ll have the zoo patrolled nights in case he decides to leave another body here.”
Sherlock turns on his heel and stalks off. After a second’s hesitation John nods to Greg in farewell and trots to catch him up. “What was all that about?”
“That was about my giving Lestrade information which should have been obvious to any idiot child who happened to wander by his crime scene and glance to the right.”
“Yeah, not that bit. I mean the bit where you didn’t give Lestrade all the information you actually got from that piece of paper.”
He finds himself on the receiving end of an eagle-eyed, measuring look before his friend once again turns his gaze forward and states evenly, “The victim was a government worker. I’d already given him enough information to identify the body. He didn’t need that additional piece of trivia.”
John knows this isn’t all there is to the point, but he also recognizes the signs which tell him he’ll be given no further information at present. This is confirmed when Sherlock changes the subject.
“Come on, we don’t want to be late; that would be terribly unprofessional.”
“Yes, because professionalism is always your greatest concern when meeting with a potential client.” John rolls his eyes but goes along with the increase in pace as they near the street.
They end up arriving back at the flat a good ten minutes late to find that their potential client had arrived, then promptly disappeared upon finding them not in residence; though presumably temporarily because she has left behind her handbag.
Well off - Sherlock deduces at a glance - smoker - lesbian - cat owner - orphaned at a young age - clearly extremely disturbed by the matter which has brought her here - oh - resides in the country - perfect. He is considering if it is worth going through the contents in search of more specific information on this last point when there are quick footsteps moving up the stairs and the woman in question bursts into the room.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I should have knocked; but when I realized I’d left my bag I rushed back without thinking.”
“There is no need to apologize, Ms Munro. We were expecting you, after all. Do sit down and tell us about the matter which is lately keeping you up nights.” This earns him a glance from John; he is not normally this polite. As of precisely thirty minutes ago he has been given good reason to take this case, no matter how dull it may be, hence the extra effort to keep the woman from fleeing the room.
Their visitor sits on the sofa and pulls her bag to her side, fiddling with the strap. “It’s all so awkward to talk about. I’ve never needed to speak of such an intimate thing with strangers before.”
Patience thinning rapidly, Sherlock finds himself snapping, “Do give me the facts of the case, Ms Munro. I assure you we have handled many delicate matters in the past.”
John gives a small sigh off to his left and adds soothingly, “It will be fine, really, just start at the beginning please.”
Another twist of the leather and then a flood of words is unleashed. “My wife, Effie, she’s keeping some sort of secret from me.”
Sherlock almost cannot suppress the groan which this statement causes to form in a corner of his brain. He’ll never be able to convince John he is willingly taking on a case involving nothing more interesting than infidelity. He focuses all the power of his brain into a laser-like beam of concentration and wills the infuriating woman to Be More Interesting. He is a little surprised when this actually seems to work.
“She loves me, and she isn’t cheating,” comes the inevitable insistence, but what comes after is in fact more interesting. “It’s just all so very strange. It started when she casually mentioned setting up a new bank account and asked if I would mind if she moved some of our savings into it. We’ve shared our bank accounts and a single credit card since we bought the house together, and she was nervous about telling me, I could tell; but the money is hers as much as it is mine and she wasn’t asking to move the bulk of it so I couldn’t see any reason she shouldn’t have a separate account if she wanted one. She was vague about what had prompted it, and I didn’t like to push too hard for an explanation because I didn’t want her to think I don’t trust her.
But the next thing I know she’s slipping back into bed with me after clearly having been out of the house for some time. That did make me suspicious and I confronted her. She denied having an affair, and I very definitely believe her. She won’t tell me where she went, just begs me to trust her. I do trust her, but we can’t go on like this. She’s refusing to reveal whatever this secret is so I decided I would come to you. If you can discover what is causing her to act this way, then Effie and I can deal with the problem together; that’s all I want. I want my wife back instead of this stranger.”
“I see. Where in the country do you live, Ms Munro?”
Oh, very good. A nice long train ride. “Would you excuse us for just a moment please?”
“Yes, of course.”
He rises and steps into the hallway; John is just an instant behind him.
“So what do you think?”
Sherlock very carefully looks thoughtful. “It worries me. It sounds like a rather bad business for Ms Munro. I’m concerned that her wife is being blackmailed and that both of the women may be in danger of physical harm.” He adds that last quite truthfully; blackmail is the most likely scenario and it has been his experience that blackmailers turn violent in more cases than not when the money runs out.
John nods. “Fits with the moving of the money, I suppose.”
He makes a noise of agreement deep in his throat. “I think you should go to Norbury with her and report back on what you find. I need to stay close in case Lestrade’s killer continues to produce bodies, but after that is cleared up I can join you if the situation warrants it.”
Immediate suspicion - he hasn’t set it up well, but must move quickly. “Do you object?” he challenges pre-emptively. “Both women will be safer for having you there.”
The suspicion is still there but his partner wavers slightly at this, again truthful, reminder.
“I don’t like to leave you if you really think there’s a serial killer on the loose.”
He waves away this concern as if it were a tissue-paper butterfly purposely set loose to annoy him. “I’m certain it won’t come to that. I will very likely apprehend the culprit long before that is a concern. You will go, then?”
Still hesitation - he meets John’s gaze calmly, willing him to agree because he will breathe a sigh of relief once his partner is on a train travelling out of London.
He gives in and nods. “All right, I’ll pack a bag.”
“Thank you, John.”
After John has gone, Sherlock sets to work.
It doesn’t take him long to find the man who dumped the body and the abandoned warehouse he currently calls home; this is as expected since the entire scenario had been a plan to lure him to this place. The morning after John’s departure he tracks the criminal to his chosen lair.
He is intensely curious. Someone wants to use him to get to Mycroft, and anyone actually following through on this plan of action is so very unlikely that it is an engaging puzzle on its own as to what sort of buffoon has done so. The additional fact that any sort of buffoon who is actively engaging Mycroft will inevitably prove both deranged and dangerous, is reason enough to get John out of harm’s way, but not to pass on the puzzle. He is contemplating what sort of entrance he wants to make when a text comes in from John and he responds testily.
Absently returning the phone to his pocket, he returns his attention to the building before him. There are many possible points of entry. He reflects that there doesn’t seem to be any advantage in playing coy in this situation. He has been sent for at the cost of a man’s life and all (still living) parties involved know that he will answer the summons. He decides to walk in through the main door.
The warehouse is nearly empty. The building feels open and airy because the ceiling is far above his head and parts of it have been propped open to invite the elements inside. On the far wall is a chest freezer, roughly the size of a coffin but a bit taller, and in the middle of the room is a small round table set between two chairs. On the table, overlapping its dimensions, in fact, is a very large wooden chess board. The pieces upon it, he discovers on approaching the board, have already begun a game; his lips quirk up in a half smile when he sees White is working through the beginnings of the Orang-utan Opening. How quaint. Black has set out to counter it moderately aggressively. The board itself is quite beautiful, hand carved and very old.
“Care for a game, Mr. Holmes?”
He turns. The man who has joined him is American, which is surprising. What this surprise immediately tells him is that this is no lackey, no disinterested third-party. “I am always eager for an engrossing game.”
“Will you play white or black?”
“As the opening has already been chosen and the game begun, I prefer black.” Sherlock sits in the chair appropriate to his choice.
“By all means.” The American joins him.
As he decides on a strategy, Sherlock says conversationally, “May I ask what my brother has done to merit your attention?”
“There was a small matter last month involving a weapons cache which belonged to me.”
As he makes his move, he informs his captor, “Weapons are dull.”
“Perhaps. The crux of the matter was more that they belonged to me. Before the weapons there was an incident in which he arranged for ninety-six of my soldiers to be executed, and before that he blew up three of my planes. You can see how the weapons became the straw that broke the camel’s back, I’m sure.”
“Hm. He did choose to purposely devastate the psyche of his chess tutor. It wouldn’t surprise me that he hasn’t outgrown the impulse.”
The response is incredulous. “Mycroft Holmes refused to study chess?”
Sherlock smiles and butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth at this moment. “Nonsense. He could have thrashed Kasparov. He found chess boring, though. People are much more interesting to move around.”
After a second spent digesting this, the American emits a sharp bark of laughter. “Yes, I suppose they are.”
“Is there more to this plan of yours than playing chess and awaiting Mycroft’s arrival?”
“Tsk. Did you not get the entire message?”
“I was rather hoping the rest was strictly for the dramatic flair of it all. I don’t actually fancy being either starved or beaten.”
“I’m also going to store you in the freezer for long periods of time.”
Sherlock raises an eyebrow at the man across from him. “How long are you imagining it will take Mycroft to arrive?”
“Why are you imagining a swift trade is my intention?”
Sherlock pushes violently away from the table. He is ready to take on this man but not, it turns out, adequately prepared to take on the resources at his disposal, because with a casual movement of his right hand the American summons sixty - no, sixty-five - soldiers. Each man is armed with an M4 carbine and as a group they rapidly form a circular swarm which advances inward from the many entrances to this building (those he had so recently contemplated from the suddenly unattainable outside of it) so that within seconds Sherlock stands surrounded by death clothed in distressed matte black.
Now his adversary moves quickly, and there is nowhere to run. Scattering the pieces, the American snatches up the heavy chunk of wood which is a priceless antique chess board and violently smashes the corner of it into Sherlock’s skull; he is instantly plunged into the black fog of unconsciousness.
On the train to Norbury, Ms Munro becomes Grace and Dr Watson becomes John. He tries to suss out if there are any shadowy or sinister figures in Effie’s past.
“She was widowed five years ago. She married her childhood sweetheart and he died in a fire. She came here – she’s American you see – to get away from a lifetime of memories. We met a year after she arrived and we’ve been together steadily since.
Unhappily, he reflects that this unhelpfully leaves a boatload of possible blackmail scenarios. The woman could have done anything in America that she doesn’t want Grace to know about.
When they arrive, Grace drops him at a farmhouse B&B which happens to be within walking distance of her home and he takes a little while to settle in and text Sherlock.
*Arrived in Norbury. Any news on the killer?*
So much for that. John sighs and gets himself some supper before setting himself up for the night’s stakeout.
He is fortunate that the night proves dry because there isn’t anywhere to secrete himself that offers shelter from the elements. He watches all night but no one leaves the Munro home.
*No late night activities. Anything going on there?*
*Working, John. Stop bothering me.*
He relieves his feelings by chucking his phone at the wall before turning in.
The second night the temperature drops enough to cause the rain to turn icy and he takes the risk of skipping surveillance in favour of not contracting pneumonia; still peeved, he doesn’t even bother with a text.
The third night he is finally rewarded with some action. A woman, not Grace, steals from the house and, with a key, lets herself into one of the other houses just down the lane. It is a small, unkempt-looking cottage.
John creeps around the building, checking each window to see if he can get any sort of visual. He has absolutely no luck until the very last one, at which he is severely startled to find a leering mask of humanity meeting his gaze. He starts away in fright, but after a heart-pounding moment during which the other figure remains perfectly still, he tentatively takes a closer look and finds what seems to be a child’s art project taped up for display. He snorts softly to himself and shakes his head in derision. So much for his soldier’s instincts; he’d been frightened by a crayon drawing.
Backing off to his previous position, he observes the house closely, but nothing of note happens until the woman leaves just before dawn and goes back to the Munro home. Once he has seen her return he goes back to his room for a nap.
When he wakes up, he tries Sherlock again.
*I’ve found where the wife goes at night. It’s small cottage just down the lane. Seems odd.*
When there is no response he tries again.
*You did instruct me to report the situation, remember?*
There is still no reply. He frowns at his phone intently, suddenly imagining all sorts of dodgy situations into which Sherlock could have worked himself by now. Decisively, he resolves to finish up here as quickly as he can and get back to London. Accordingly, he sets out to break into the cottage which Effie had visited the night before.
Six hours later, John sits in a room with a tearful Effie as she explains to Grace that she’d had no intention of abandoning her daughter. Upon her move to England she had left the infant with her own mother because she had been so depressed over the loss of her husband that she feared she might do the baby unintentional harm. Then she had fallen in love with Grace, a woman so traumatized by being orphaned at the age of five, that she was violently opposed to having children. When the child’s grandmother had begun the slow descent into the fog of Alzheimer’s she’d had no alternative but to send the girl to her mother in England. Having kept the secret so long Effie couldn’t think of any way to reveal it once her child had been returned to her.
“I may not be the very best of women, Effie, but I think that I am a better one than you have given me credit for being."
John takes great pleasure in texting Sherlock the news that he’d got it pretty much completely wrong for once.
*Case solved. No blackmail or violence involved. On my way home.*
He has just finished packing his duffel when his phone rings. He frowns, because there is no possible way Sherlock is ringing him if he’s not even answering texts. He frowns more deeply when he sees that it is in fact Greg.
“John, where is Sherlock?”
It is such a fucking cliché, but his blood really does turn to ice in his veins because he knows what comes next when he has let Sherlock out of his sight and it is his partner falling through the air and a pale wrist with no pulse.
“What do you mean?”
“All right. Don’t panic. I’m sure he’s just misplaced himself.”
“What the buggering hell are you talking about - misplaced himself? Why don’t you know where he is? Why are you worried about him?”
“We deciphered the code.”
God, that fucking code; he’d known there was more to that. Why had he let it go so easily?
“What does it say?”
“Mycroft, this is what I do when I take someone.”
John hears Sherlock’s voice in his head, “He’s been held for eleven days and starved during that time...beaten to death, in fact…the victim was a government worker…”
“Christ. Bleeding buggering christ. Greg, you have to find him. I haven’t heard from him since the morning before last.”
“Where are you anyway?”
“I’m in fucking Norbury but I’m leaving right now.”
“What the hell are you doing in Norbury?”
Grimly, John realizes exactly what the hell he’s doing in Norbury as everything in his head finally slots into place. “That fucking wanker sent me here. The bloody prick did it to me again. He knew it was something to do with Mycroft and he sent me away to keep me safe. I’m going to find him and then kill him with my bare fucking hands.”
Furious beyond measure, John ends the call and dials the man who would be king.
“Get off your arse and find your wanker of a brother who is somewhere being starved and beaten right now because of you. While you’re at it send your helicopter for me. I’m in fucking Norbury.”
By the time John swings himself off the helicopter into the whirlwind created by its rotor blades he is a mass of emotion and flashes of blood-laced memories. The doctor in him is frantic to see Sherlock, lay hands on him, treat the breaks and bruises; the soldier in him is the icy hot edge of a perfectly quenched samurai blade, ready to kill for him.
In this state only Greg could have kept him from - completely on his own and armed only with his pistol - storming the building containing Sherlock and his captors. As it is, Greg has a job of it and is forced to put him into a choke hold while he explains the situation.
“John you can’t help him this way. They have M4s – they’ll mow you down without a second thought. They’ve already taken down three men.” He stops struggling. “Mycroft went in. He’s going to try and get them to send him out, or at least buy time for the heavier artillery to arrive.”
Sherlock thinks to himself, not for the first time since he miscalculated so badly in setting out for this warehouse alone, that once he’s rescued him, John is going to kill him.
Somewhat unfortunately, death at John’s hands is a distant threat. Oxygen deprivation is really more of a concern at the moment, or at least it should be. He doesn’t know how long he’s been confined in the freezer this time, but the air he is breathing in and out very definitely tastes stale and the unrelieved black of the space around him is beginning to be enlivened by the flashes of light behind his eyes which he has learned signal he is about to lose consciousness again.
Suddenly, this becomes a moot point when the top of the appliance is flung open above him and he is hauled out by one of the men who had very likely performed this action, and its reverse, several times already. He does so by yanking Sherlock’s hands, bound behind him with wide, tight cuffs of iron which had been soldered to each other after being clamped around his forearms, and rolling him up and out onto the floor. Sherlock winces because, with the exception of his hands which he can no longer feel, everything hurts by now; his head wound is a constant knife-like pain, the muscle trauma resulting from repeatedly leveraging his body’s weight on the fulcrum point of his bound hands has created a band of burning insistence across his shoulders, and the rest of his body maintains a steady throbbing hum of hurt.
He is now hauled up from the floor and propped into a chair. When his vision clears he sees that Mycroft is secured to another a short distance away.
“Hello, Sherlock,” he says in that infuriatingly disappointed, oh-so-superior tone of voice which he has spent years perfecting. Sherlock turns his body’s treacherous weakness into a lurch toward his brother; deciding a show of antagonism may be helpful, and if he incidentally manages to remove that smirk from his brother’s face at the same time, then that would just be an unlooked-for boon. He is unceremoniously hauled back into his own chair and his ankles are cuffed to it, though that wouldn’t stop him from dragging the silly thing behind him if he can summon the energy for another go.
“Well there’s a thought. Apparently I can just let you have at each other and save myself the trouble.”
“My brother has always been unnecessarily dramatic. I assure you that he is much more trouble than he is worth.”
Oh, christ. Bringing this up means they’re meant to stall for time. Sherlock concentrates on restoring oxygen to his bloodstream by breathing evenly, and does his best to marshal the strength which is left to him to put on the show which is being demanded. He dramatically affects an offended sniff. “Mummy always said I could go on the stage if I wanted. She considered my Ophelia the best she’d ever seen.”
Mycroft glares at him severely. “You were complete rubbish as Ophelia. Everyone could clearly see you were breathing after your death scene.”
“At least I didn’t miss my cue to fall dead from behind the tapestry, forcing Hamlet to ‘make a pass through the arras’ eight times.”
“It was only twice, Sherlock, and you know it.”
“It was eight. Cousin Lotta nearly had a heart attack over the damage done to that tapestry.” Sherlock barks out this last bit, finding he is over straining his cracked ribs if he raises his voice.
“Do you really want to start totting up damage claims, little brother? I seem to recall your managing to run Father’s brand new Aston directly into a tree, despite the fact that your legs weren’t yet long enough to reach the pedals.”
Sherlock snorts. “Not before you’d put a mace through the Degas.”
“That was a fake.”
“Which you didn’t prove until after you’d destroyed it.”
Mycroft rolls his eyes. “A mere technicality. Need I remind you of the priceless Quing Dynasty -,”
“I broke the first on accident. You purposely shattered the second!”
“Certainly. What use is only one of a matched pair?”
“Oh, fine, but you were the one that set fire to the Turkish rug in Father’s study.”
“The result of your claim to be ‘gasping for a fag’ though you’d clearly never touched one before.”
“You shaved Mummy’s spaniel!”
“You felled a three hundred year-old Oak tree!”
“You cut the electricity to all of London for seven hours to avoid sitting a maths exam, Mycroft!”
“You blew up the glasshouse and the kitchen garden, along with an entire season’s worth of veg the day before the fete! Everyone in the village was wading through pulverized swede and broken glass the entire day!”
“That was a valuable science experiment! The data it yielded -,”
“Was complete and utter codswallop!”
“How dare you! The gardener concurred that -,”
“The gardener was permanently deafened by the blast! He was so frightened he would be inside the potting shed the next time you blew that up - for the eighth time, mind you, little brother -,”
“That is entirely too much, Mycroft! I most certainly never damaged the gardener!”
“Never damaged – Sherlock, the man was owed two months’ wages but fled in the dead of night rather than collect them!”
Sherlock imagines crossing his arms across his chest huffily and looks pointedly away from his brother. “I never damaged the gardener,” he insists sulkily.
“Oh, for the love of Plutarch-,”
“Don’t you dare bring Plutarch into this!”
“He was my dog too! I can bring him up if I like. And before you start in on it – yes, I still deny ever laying a finger on your precious violin!”
“Boys, boys,” their captor finally interrupts, “as entertaining as this is -,”
He in turn is interrupted by the sound of an explosion, and the warehouse is suddenly full of miniature fire fights between small groups of men with machine guns. Sherlock finds his chair being dragged along the ground on its two rear legs and since ‘away from the gunfire’ seems a sensible direction he decides it isn’t a terrible idea to go along for the ride. He does his best to wrap his semi-responsive hands around the seat behind him to keep from bouncing off and being dragged along the ground after the chair. Soon he is out of the building and being dragged through alleyways. They have travelled a good distance; the sound of gunfire has faded considerably and he begins to contemplate what the hell he is supposed to do now, when they emerge into an abandoned lot and he suddenly hears John’s welcome, dulcet tone warn (presumably) the man dragging him along, “I will kill you if you don’t let him go.” Instantly, there is a machine gun barrel pressed to Sherlock’s temple and his chair abruptly lands on all four legs. His captor swings him around and there is John, steely-eyed and in his element.
“And I’ll kill him if you don’t kick your gun over here.”
John does as he is told.
He then launches himself at the man holding death to the head of his best friend as if he himself has been shot from a gun. Employing every last bit of his mass he manages to tackle the much larger man away from Sherlock and pays the relatively small price of two bullets through his left thigh; the rest of the spray is spent uselessly into the ground. Still, blood loss isn’t generally the best way to begin this sort of thing. There’s no time to secure the wounds, nor is there any way to determine if the artery’s been nicked but to wait; it won’t be a long wait.
Both guns have clattered away and John sinks his fist into the face of this hired thug a couple of times. His opponent rolls violently, twisting John’s wounded leg and using his advantage to throw him off. John rolls to his feet and the two men circle each other warily for a half turn as he tests his leg. He decides on - two flesh wounds which appear to have avoided arterial complication.
“Sherlock, you okay?” He can’t quite keep himself from checking.
Sherlock considers quickly but carefully how best to respond. He settles on, “Well enough for now.” He hopes this statement is honest but not worrying; John has quite enough to be getting on with without being distracted by the fact that Sherlock is fighting to stay conscious as he works to detach himself from the chair, even if he has no real hope of freeing his arms completely.
“You sure? Because you look like shite.”
“Really? And here I am just back from holiday with Mycroft. Oh, wait, that explains it.”
Suddenly, John rushes the man opposite and snaps his head back once with each fist then follows up with a knee to the groin. The Marquess wouldn’t approve, but his friend doesn’t sound good and he himself has two fucking bullet holes in his leg. Also, his only hope is to be quicker because he is definitely not stronger. Accordingly, he presses his advantage and shoves his shoulder up and into his opponent’s chest; heaving him into a jarring fall backwards. The bigger man hits hard with a grunt, and John decides that if there is any possible chance to end the fight here he should take it.
“Look. I can’t let you take my friend. Just stay down and we’ll be gone before you know it. You’re lucky not to have been rounded up with the rest of your gang and you should just slip off quietly, all right? We won’t say anything about your having slipped the net.” He’s checked that neither of the guns is in reach so he turns his back and moves toward Sherlock. He’s not an idiot, and he feels as exposed as he knows he is, but what he’s said made sense. Also, he’s losing blood more significantly now and really can’t afford the fight this man is capable of giving him. So he hopes for the best.
This turns out to have been a mistake.
John hears him coming and whirls in time to drop his shoulder a touch to afford himself a bit of protection for the rush. This isn’t enough to keep him on his feet, and it doesn’t do anything to soften the impact when he lands on his back with about fifteen stone of angry thug adding to the experience. Momentum alone causes the back of his head to hit the ground hard and his rib cage is uncomfortably compressed; he feels something give with a sickening crunch. Possible concussion, cracked rib.
Before the man on top of him can follow up with more than a glancing blow to his ribs John is slithering out from under him, employing a handy twist of his legs to use all that weight against his opponent, and rolling to his feet with a wince as his leg again twists uncomfortably and the open wounds stretch, tear, and continue to weep blood which he almost slips in on his way to standing.
Fuck. He gives his head just a beat to clear, to catch up before he instinctively aims a vicious kick at the head which is just at the right level as his attacker moves to rise from the ground. This seems to enrage the man, because he is on his feet in an instant and bellowing a wordless, snarling battle cry. He pummels John, who takes a handful of paces backwards to duck and weave with the blows to lessen the severity of their impact. He watches for openings, and though they are few he takes advantage of each one. They dance like this for a little while and it almost feels like a sparring match for a few seconds, but then he doesn’t move quite quickly enough, steps to his right when he should have moved left, and is stunned by a strong blow which snaps his head back violently.
When he can think again, he finds himself in his second choke hold of the day; this one much less friendly than the first. He doesn’t waste energy struggling, just goes limp and waits it out. He’s just beginning to think he’s going to have to try some other tactic, when release comes in the form of an unceremonious drop to the ground and then roughly a dozen kicks to his stomach and chest. This is when he starts to feel a little panicky. He curls around himself as best he can but there is some real damage being pounded into his body; despite this, the blood loss is making him feel light and uncaring, and this is a bad sign. There is one last especially vicious kick to his back. When it is clear that was a parting gift, he once again gives himself a beat of recovery, because he hasn’t been able to take in a proper breath for a while. His body coughs in protest as he pulls air into his burning lungs. One breath. Two. The oxygen helps him focus again. Bruised trachea. Bruised kidney. Broken ribs. More blood pooling on the ground than he cares to think about.
When he staggers to his feet the hulk is hovering over Sherlock. Shit. “I’m not done yet.” He’s starting to wonder how true this is, but his soldier’s bark does not betray him. “Come back here.” The massive man looks surprised that the little one has managed to get up, but obligingly turns and heads back. The enormous wanker has the temerity to look amused, so John launches himself at him again. With a bit of a running start he manages to take him off his feet for a second time, and he’s going to have to re-evaluate his casual regard of the C of E because this is surely a miracle. Again, he knows he has to press any possible advantage; so, painfully, he scrambles up to go at him with his good leg, paying him back for the ribs in kind. He lands a solid hit to the side of his head, and John begins to think that maybe he’ll actually stay down this time; and the idea of stopping now, of being able to stop this horribly wrong opposite-of-healing-a-body, and maybe sit still for a little while is so blissful that he hesitates for a split second.
This is his second serious mistake.
Suddenly he finds his foot yanked out from under him and he hits the unforgiving pavement really hard this time, the air is completely knocked out of his body and he is flat on his back, stunned and helpless. His head hits twice, once on initial impact and the bounce. His vision blacks out to leave only bursts of light sent out by a bruised and distressed brain. Definite concussion, possibly cracked skull.
The time he spends prone, utterly unable to move, is long enough for the behemoth thug to pick up a sturdy wooden board which he apparently spotted at some point during all this. As thugs tend to, he knows exactly what to do with it.
“John!” Sherlock is becoming increasingly frantic as it becoming increasingly clear that if something is not done he will be forced to watch his best friend beaten to death mere yards from him. He has finally managed the cuffs but there is simply no way to free his hands, and he is not steady enough on his feet or in his head to make kicking alone effective at anything other than sending him to the ground; distraction is something though, even if it is not as helpful as actual backup. Shakily, he inserts each leg back through the circle of his arms and brings his bound hands to the front of his body. Standing proves elusive and his first attempt has him sinking to the ground in a heap when he loses consciousness in a flood of painful sensation.
He isn’t out long, he swims hard to get back to reality and blurry vision tells him not much has had time to change. John is still down and on the wrong end of a sturdy piece of wood being wielded as a weapon. His body moves only involuntarily in response to the blows it is absorbing. Sherlock uses the chair to painfully gain a standing position then he incontrovertibly asserts his will over his body. He only needs a few steps, and there will be no negotiation at all about whether or not he will be getting them. He takes hold of the chair, painfully and carefully manages the necessary steps, then bashes this orang-utan upside the head with the wretched thing. The momentum takes him to the ground again, but it works; it blessedly works and the man-ape turns on him with a roar.
“I’m the one you wanted badly enough to have dragged out of that warehouse,” he reminds the enraged gorilla.
Apparently this is true - for some reason he cannot fathom in this extremity of physical distress - as his statement causes this thuggish chimpanzee to grab hold of Sherlock and shake him violently, forcing him to once again clamp down hard on consciousness. Then, after one last kick at John’s limp body he turns and re-commences dragging Sherlock along the ground, much more slowly than previously, he notes with pride in his friend. He finds he is perfectly fine with this turn of events because it means the tool-using primate armed with a plank of wood has now stopped assaulting John, though he admits that the pain throughout his body is intense and he is losing copious swathes of fabric and skin to the rough ground now that his friend the chair (he finds he is definitely feeling more friendly toward that object now) is no longer positioned between him and it.
John’s mind vaguely registers that his body has rather abruptly been given a reprieve. In response, his brain begins foggily insisting that this fact requires some reconnaissance. He argues with it for a second before it finally barks at him in his Colonel’s that-was-a-really-stupid-move-soldier warning tone, “And where exactly is your downed man right now, Captain Watson?”
Sherlock. Shit. Tentatively, he forces open the eye which seems as if it may still be capable of performing this task. When he does manage to get a visual he really, intensely wishes he hadn’t because what he sees is Sherlock being bodily hauled away from him, and though it is not actually Sherlock falling toward him it is still the same thing.
Not again; jesus, not again. Moriarty just stole three fucking years of Sherlock – ripped them right out of John’s heart, one day at a time.
With a groan he summons every shred of anything he can possibly find within himself and lurches into motion.
He is not letting anyone else take Sherlock from him. It is simply not going to happen; not today, not ever again.
Painfully slowly, John manages to pull himself into what might generously be called an army crawl, and now the pain is everywhere and only one leg is responding to commands. He hisses out a breath and tells his body to go to fucking hell because it’s fucking Sherlock.
Stubbornly, he begins to drag himself across the ground, because if he can just get to his gun he can still stop this dead; he can still fix it, and christ but it hurts and he feels a sob fighting to work its way out but he is a soldier, goddamnit. He can and fucking will do this. He grits his teeth against the sound and inches forward. An alarming rattling in his chest distracts him for a second. Fuck. Punctured lung. Jesus. He’s going to fucking kill Sherlock when he gets his hands on him.
The patch of matte black which is the Sig is both despair-inducingly far and hope-inducingly near. It would be so fucking ridiculous if his body collapses, gives up just inches from the thing. It would be enough to see him dying on this patch of unremarkable London pavement with laughter still caught in his throat. And wouldn’t that finally fucking teach him not to giggle at crime scenes; laughing with his last breath at the most personal crime scene of his life.
With one last agonizing reach, his body does not fail him. Battered and bleeding knuckles cannot stop him from wrapping the familiar grip with his palm. Despite the fact that reaching the gun has taken a lifetime, he had at least slowed the bastard down with his earlier efforts and his quarry is still in sight, still within shooting distance. John aims carefully, as he was trained to do. His skill proves as reliable as his body and his training. He aims and shoots and the offending figure obediently falls. Upon seeing the completion of the familiar sequence his gun clatters to the ground. This startles him because he had meant to keep hold of it. He doesn’t have time to worry about this, though, because he needs to get to Sherlock and check him over.
Accordingly, he makes an attempt to continue pushing himself forward, but he almost immediately feels something give in his working leg and his forward motion comes to a very definitive halt. Damage to the patella.
Fuck. Just fuck. He really can’t think of anything else to think. No, that’s not entirely true; he wishes he’d managed to crawl further toward his friend while he was still capable of crawling.
Sherlock. Fuck. John’s vision is greying around the edges, but he can still make out the fact that the two figures, some distance away, are completely still. Sherlock would be making his way to him if he could. Frantically, his brain pushes back the unconsciousness. Suddenly, stopping Sherlock’s motion away from (falling toward) John is no longer enough.
Think, John, he orders sharply; if his friend could get over here to him, what the hell sort of utterly mad and completely brilliant Sherlock manoeuvre would he pull off to get them out of this alive? His brain stubbornly refuses to give him a solution of any kind, much less a brilliant one worthy of Sherlock; instead it seems insistent on pointing out how many bits of him are now suffused with mind-bending pain. It then unhelpfully points out that there doesn’t seem to be a roof to jump off - which might at least make the pain stop. Fuck. This is why Sherlock’s brain is so much better than everyone else’s, it must be; his doesn’t come up with this completely unhelpful bullshit at the worst possible moment.
And then it’s so simple, really, when Sherlock’s voice finally deigns to coalesce in his head with the answer. It patronizingly offers in the BORED tone which has been so very absent of late, “Ring Lestrade, you idiot.”
God, you’re an irritating bastard, even when you’re just in my head, John thinks. He groans through an agonizing shift in position, fumbles awkwardly when he discovers his left hand isn’t functioning anymore, and finally manages to get to the phone with his gun hand. The speed dial is hard because his vision is going and any remaining coordination must have been used up by the shot, but everything is now riding on this, and since it’s Sherlock’s idea he knows that it must be not only brilliant and amazing, but also possible; so eventually he does manage it.
He has finally, though, lost his clutching hold of the threads of consciousness left to him when Lestrade’s frantic voice rings tinnily from the speaker.
“John? Where the bloody hell are you two? John?”
Mycroft winces as the American is shot between the eyes and topples inelegantly across his lap. He dislodges the body with a crook of his knee and a sneer. It is not long before a petite figure has shot its way to his side and is slicing his bonds neatly.
“Come on.” She tugs him down into a crouching run; after a few strides she whirls and shoves him roughly behind her to exchange shots as he stumbles out the door in response.
He takes a moment to mourn the loss of yet another suit in the line of Sherlock, brushing instinctively at his sleeve though he knows it is a lost cause. He despises field work.
The car pulls up and he opens the door. She bounces past him and he hears the safety lock into place as she slides over to make room for him. “Office or home?”
He spares another glance at the state of his cuffs and decides, “Home.”
He rings Detective Inspector Lestrade. “I presume my brother is on the way to hospital?”
“He can’t have got far, and John was definitely on about finding him so they’re together somewhere.”
“Fine. Thank you for your help, Detective Inspector. I am sure we will see each other again soon.”
Beside him, Anthea is once again attached to her Blackberry rather than her M4. He prefers this for the most part.
Once they arrive home, though, she becomes delightfully free of all accessories and emerges from the shower in a cloud of steamy softness and scented alabaster which he reverently enfolds within a length of silk.
“mmmmmm,” she purrs. “And chocolate.”
Unfortunately, his phone chimes.
“Yes, Detective Inspector?”
“I need a location on John’s phone. Now.”
Both John and Sherlock move through the flat gingerly for quite a few weeks after this rather epic assault upon their persons. This doesn’t bother Sherlock. His activities during his death taught him many things; one of which was that while physical wounds do heal even if one’s favourite doctor cannot see to them as one might have liked, he would occasionally do better to allow his body a beat of rest, as he might choose to put into a composition; if inserted into the precisely correct measure it provides just the right counterpoint of emptiness to fullness of sound.
What does bother him very much is the fact that the easiness which he and John had fumblingly regained since his return has vanished. John is not precisely angry, but he is very definitely – Sherlock has no choice but to call his state - distracted. Aside from checking his injuries each day to be sure his body is healing on a Dr Watson-approved timeline, he isn’t paying a jot of attention to Sherlock.
Whenever he tries to talk to him; no matter what words Sherlock tries, (and he has tried some very strange combinations of words in an effort to get a real response) he invariably finds himself on the receiving end of a murmured, “Hm? Sorry, did you need me? Are you in pain?” and when Sherlock admits that he isn’t actually in any real physical pain, John drifts off and he finds himself once again asking an empty room, “What’s upset you, John? Did you need me? Are you in pain?”
He doesn’t understand in the least, so he makes cup after cup of tea and offers up one after another as if upon an altar in an endless, wordless litany of, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not sure what I’ve done, but I’m sorry. Please talk to me and let me explain whatever it is that has upset you. I didn’t mean to upset you so I’m sure I’ll be able to explain.’ With each teacup he hopes that John will ingest a bit more of his message; or at least the, ‘I’m sorry,’ part and the ‘Please talk to me,’ part as those are the most important bits.
Finally, one Tuesday which had dawned brightly but has devolved into a soothing London drizzle with evening’s approach, he is pretending to read the paper after having delivered a still visibly steaming teacup of ‘I’m sorry’ when John looks up and actually sees something other than his injuries for the first time since they arrived home from hospital. He looks confused. “Sherlock, this is the eighth cup of tea you’ve brought me in the space of an hour. I didn’t even drink the last two.”
His hands fidget with the paper unconsciously. He has perhaps increased the intensity of his apology just lately without fully realizing it. He sets the paper aside and leans forward, engaging in the conversation. “You’re upset with me.”
John sighs. “Well, yeah. You went and did it again. You sent me off to fucking Norbury while you walked into the pool, into Moriarty’s web of death, into that bloody warehouse.”
Sherlock blinks in surprise and yet again repeats his mantra, “I did it to keep you safe.”
John is agitated now and when he sets the teacup down sharply, liquid sloshes over the sides. He stands abruptly and paces a few steps. “Yeah, I get that, but it’s unbelievably insulting and unfeeling of you to keep doing this to me, and I thought you understood that after you came back. At least you had a damned good reason for leaving, but just wanting me out of the line of fire of some random criminal isn’t any sort of good reason. Why the hell do you think I run around London with you? I don’t do it to feel safe, that’s for certain. And you know that, Sherlock! You know that and you did it anyway, and if you’re going to keep on doing it I don’t know if I can or want to live like that.”
Sherlock processes this. “I’m sorry, John.” He pauses. “I didn’t enjoy working on my own again while I was gone, but it seems that perhaps I did get used to it. I’m also afraid that the aim of protecting you has now been my companion for longer than you yourself have been. It had not occurred to me that I may have to make an active effort to put it aside.”
John blinks. He takes a breath then pauses; he then huffs the air out in apparent frustration. He pauses again. Takes another breath; hesitates yet again; lets out a noise that is definitely indicative of frustration, and finally in a rush of words, speaks. “You infuriating sod. I had more shouting saved up, but that actually makes perfect sense so now I can’t go on.”
Sherlock considers this and offers, “If it will make you feel better, please continue anyway. I don’t mind, and I do deserve it.”
“Oh christ. I can’t shout at you once you’ve admitted you deserve it. That would be unfeeling.”
Sherlock files this information for future use.
“I would prefer your shouting to your silence.”
“Hm? Oh, yes, I guess I’ve been a bit distant. Sorry. I’ve just been – well.”
“Upset with me,” Sherlock supplies.
“Yes, I suppose.”
Sherlock cocks his head to the side as he regards John thoughtfully. “There’s more.”
John chews his lip and indulges in quite a lot of additional hesitation. When he begins to speak, his tone is slow and careful; he is choosing his words with the greatest of care. “Sherlock; look, if you ever purposely put me into another situation where I cannot get to you when you need me, I’m actually going to shoot either you or myself instead of whichever irritating git is trying to kill you. It upsets me that much. Can you understand how upset I am now that I’ve gone and just said it straight out?” His words have been speeding up and now they are coming quite quickly and he seems to be going on instinct; the words are choosing him rather than the other way around. “Can you imagine how you would feel if I locked you in the flat and then went off to – I don’t even know – I can’t think of anything mad enough – but something almost certain to ensure my death; I’ve trapped you in the flat and gone off to certain death. You’d be upset, yeah?”
Sherlock can’t help that the corner of his mouth curls up into a half grin. “You wouldn’t be able to secure the flat well enough to keep me here, John.”
“Oh, that is so not the point, you irritating wanker!”
He sobers instantly. “I’m sorry, John, I know. I do understand what you’re saying. I promise I will not purposely exclude you when I am in danger.”
His friend’s face clears and the light of humour he is used to seeing there finally returns as he obviously makes the realization that this really is all Sherlock can promise. “Right, good, so the next time you’re being kidnapped, make sure you text me. And be specific, mind. I’m talking about exact locations – where they snatched you, the route they’ve taken, and the address where you’re being held. Oh, and detailed descriptions - eye colour, tobacco preference, which one was born in Wales and which is a secret ginger, dog owner or not - you know the sort of thing; so I know who to shoot when I storm the place.”
“Of course; I will expect no less of you in return.”
“And I would be able to secure you, you know.”
“Yes, John, I know. You had bad days.”