The breeze on Las Vegas Boulevard is mild and foreign, as soft as air conditioning in the October evening light. Sherlock strolls past the huge jutting leg of a half-scale model of the Eiffel Tower just as neon radiance floods up its length. He threads his way among the tourists and sees and deduces: gum-chewing adulterous somewhat incompetent mugger grew up in Botswana dropout has three kids lost his car keys fucking her history tutor…
Four months on from public suicide, Sherlock still has his mind. Violently, literally, he threw the rest of himself on to the rubbish heap that grey afternoon in London. What he kept is what he needs, the discipline that has carried him through the underbellies of Marrakech, Rio, New York and Montreal to finally unearth three identities: Jordan Graf, Oleg Kolyvanov and Philip Zagami, the snipers hired to kill his friends. Moriarty’s network, which consisted mostly of cells connected through the mastermind, seems to have decayed quickly, but these men have motive enough to target Sherlock for self-protection if his survival becomes known. Zagami is a mafioso, Kolyvanov is still an unknown quantity, but Graf is a simple thug, and Sherlock has discovered that he is coming here soon, flush with the proceeds of a hit.
Sherlock restrains his lip from curling as he strolls through the technicolour absurdities of Vegas, no longer surprised to see his image reflected in the window of a passing bus as ginger-haired, sun-hatted and dressed in an ugly yellow t-shirt. He sucks a few facts from a poster advertising the World’s Greatest Hynoptist! then mounts an ornate footbridge via an outdoor escalator that would seize up after two days of London weather and crosses the boulevard, looking down at the grimy tops of palms, the rush of traffic, a patch of the perpetual Vegas construction where piles are being driven in a pattern that suggests a palatial building which Sherlock erects in his mind then deletes as irrelevant. His focus is contemporary data and as he walks he files in his head the day’s acquired resources: casino layouts, security camera locations, miscellaneous ephemera gleaned from maids and croupiers engaged in conversation by Sherlock’s confused tourist persona. Filed in his head are dozens of balconies, walkways and scaffolding towers, all viable sites from which to shoot a man in the casino, street or forecourt below. The endless security cameras of this paranoid town are a problem, but one that must be chanced. He has mapped and assessed their locations.
Since flying into LAX he has focused on this goal. After research online he purchased a 1907 Smallbore target rifle for his intended killshot and a .22 Colt pistol in case exigencies oblige him to shoot close up. He filled the trunk of his rental car with ammunition and in the arid scrub of the Mojave he practised for two days straight, primarily on cacti and also a coyote which he hit more by chance than judgement. Its screams merged with the lancing desert sunlight like an audio-visual club to the brain until he searched for it among the scree of cartoon-like boulders and shot the creature dead to shut it up. It only occurred to him afterwards that he could simply have driven away and resumed elsewhere, an error attributable to the dreadful heat.
After his practice sessions, he is still not as good a shot as he would like, but the level of skill he has achieved should suffice for a medium-range target. And while gunman and sniper are words for the kind of men whom in London he would either hunt or disdain entirely, here he finds his normal methods so cramped – his deductions blindsided by cultural differences, his access to resources barred by anonymity – that he does not entertain the idea of an elegant kill, only one with a verifiable, immediate result.
That is logic.
John called him that, just before what Sherlock has now filed on his hard drive as The Trick, and it needs to be true. Any emotions he may have experienced were deleted after the call and the jump, during the minutes his body spent convulsed with reactive weeping in a Barts storeroom while Molly stood guard. In this exile he has become himself again. A pure intellect, focused on its goal.
Every morning, John makes tea. He drinks it, and eats an apple.
The difference today is that he makes a cup for Sherlock too. Strong, with a couple of sugars, the way he always liked it. John places it at Sherlock’s empty seat, opposite his own at the Baker Street kitchen table. It goes unacknowledged, which is how things always used to be as well.
How would a man crack in peacetime? Would he do what John is doing now? Every day for the past month the thought of making a second cup has surfaced inside him, and until today he has let it sink back again under its own weight.
John, as a rule, does not crack. He copes. And today it seems he copes this way.
He sips his own tea and watches the steam from Sherlock’s rise and lose itself in the air, vigorously at first and then in slower, lazier strands. Everything comes to an end, and John himself is no longer begging for miracles, only seeking a détente with the memories that are always with him… a familiar voice struggling unthinkably with tears; the moment he realised that he was trapped watching a suicide; dark hair sopping with blood, and a head lolling gently around to reveal eyes as vacant as glass. The hands that cradled Sherlock as he died were not John’s. A close friend died in Afghanistan while under his care, as John held him, and he had not even felt about that man the way he felt…
John stops. There is a place in his head where he can’t go.
Wrapping his hands around his Armed Forces mug, he thinks of the conclusions he’s reached over the last four months. Other people, the unthinking and the well-meaning alike, believe that Sherlock was revealed as a fraud and killed himself to avoid the disgrace. They even tell John meaningfully You’re stronger than that, of course, and he forces himself to nod, but he can’t think in those terms. Life has made it quite clear to him that people fail and die in a thousand ways, and for a man as emotionally mercurial and intellectually rigid as Sherlock mental breakdown must be a possibility. But lifelong hypocrisy?
He remembers the oddness in Sherlock’s voice as he denounced himself. And Moriarty’s body was found on the roof. Of course the press framed Sherlock for killing Richard Brook and then himself, but if Moriarty forced him to make the phone call and offered the choice of being shot or jumping afterwards – either of which would look like suicide – then a logical man like Sherlock would choose the less certainly fatal option. As for why Moriarty killed himself, well, the man was psychotic and for some reason fixated on Sherlock as the only challenge worth living for. Having removed that challenge, he realised his mistake.
How banal of him, Sherlock seems to comment in John’s head. John though is just relieved the bloody homicidal lunatic’s gone. Amongst other things, it gives Sherlock’s death some shred of purpose. And it means John can at least mourn in peace rather than having to hunt Moriarty down.
As he looks out of the window at the sunny street he’s glad he stayed at 221b. Carrying on is what people do, and this is his home, and there’s Mrs Hudson to think of. Financially she’s OK, as Sherlock transferred substantial sums from his inherited family wealth both to her and to John. Which is of course another thing people do – arrange their affairs and perform small kindnesses before inflicting devastation. Sherlock seems to have realised he was going to die… does that undermine John’s theory?
John closes down on the thought. Another day battling unanswerable questions won’t change anything. Instead, he looks at Sherlock’s old red mug, steaming itself cold on the bare tabletop, and knows what he wants to do today, although it will hurt him. Sherlock’s science kit and many of his books have long since been cleared away, not to a school, because Mrs Hudson couldn’t face that in the end, but to his bedroom. The result is a mausoleum which neither of them dares to enter, and that’s not helping anybody. John knows that the way forwards is through, however painful. After all, you invaded Afghanistan, says an echo in his head.
He’s going in.
Since coming to America, Sherlock’s rhythms have changed. His previous irregular sleep average of five and a half hours a night is diminishing further, and he wakes more often and to instant alertness. When he neglects to eat, the consequences seldom catch up with him as they did in London.
It’s almost as if the lunatic desert sunshine has fused with his intent. Rising early on his second morning in Vegas he feels impelled from the bed by internal pressure, as if purpose itself were a combustive fuel. This is a day for action. He dresses, pocketing the phone which he keeps locked Irene Adler-style (if far more securely) and via which he occasionally allows himself to visit, late at night, the blank page with that one line He was my best friend and… he will not think about that now.
He leaves his anonymous motel room to begin the hunt.
However, there is a difficulty, in that even Sherlock cannot deduce that a tattooed man walked down a particular street two hours ago simply by looking at the pavement (the ‘sidewalk’). Clad in sunhat and shades, sweating through layers of vests that make him appear to be of more standard build, he uses his Midwestern accent (perfect, while his approximation of a Southern drawl is too inconsistent to risk so close to the South itself) to accost bellboys and reception staff in search of his ‘friend’. One youth loading suitcases into a coach at the back of a Strip hotel misinterprets his deliberately awkward questions as a come-on and for a moment Sherlock eyes him up and down – stocky, dark-haired, sloe-eyed – and does consider the invitation. That receptivity shocks him in the moment of thinking, and still more in the aftermath, because it is utterly inefficient.
(Once John challenged him to waste an afternoon and they did so together, in Regent’s Park. Sherlock has archived his astonishment at his own behaviour, and also the brief 4.30pm impulse, left unacted-upon, to kiss his flatmate.)
The risk of personal contact pays off. At the Paris, the Strip hotel with its own Eiffel Tower, a croupier tells him that a man with Graf’s tattoos has been splashing money at the blackjack tables; a receptionist confirms that he is staying upstairs.
Sherlock retires to an absurdly palatial lavatory and for thirty-five seconds sits head in hands on a rhinestone-inset toilet lid. If Graf is going back and forth from the elevator bank to the gaming floor, he will of necessity pass through the Provence village, an indoor plastic warren of kitsch food outlets. All of which have fake upper stories, except for Le Crêperie, whose plastic window is not entirely false, opening instead on a narrow space containing cleaning materials and enough room for a man to crouch and wait.
Sherlock returns to his motel room to collect the smallbore rifle.
The room at the back of 221b is crammed with all that was or is Sherlock. It’s dusty, of course, if only a little, and the thing that strikes John most is the disorganisation. It’s piled with boxes and boxes of flasks, test tubes and books, all left where Mrs Hudson set them down.
Sherlock would never have put up with this mess in his bedroom, whatever he did to the living room and kitchen. The framed periodic table is covered with a thin film of grime, the bust of Goethe seems to be peeking at John through a gap in the boxes that are piled up on the smart mahogany-frame bed and the whole place smells stale, with hints of nicotine, aftershave, preserving agents and some other elusive element, some essence of Sherlock that sends a bolt straight to John’s hindbrain. But he’s ready for that, or trying to be. He steps quickly over boxes to fling open the window at the back of the room.
At some point everything around him, the visible sum of Sherlock’s life, will need to be sorted through and mostly thrown away. John acknowledges that thought then skirts round it; he has a marginally less painful purpose today and he needs to get stuck in. Sherlock’s second-to-last request of him was that John should drag his name through the mud. That nonsense was surely forced out of him by Moriarty, but there was a real earnestness in his voice. He was pleading for something. To have any chance of finding out what, John needs to look for clues.
John gets his mind as right as he can, then begins to sort. He doesn’t stop until hours later, when his hands and eyes are rasp-dry with dust. By then he’s found nothing suspicious among the beakers and clothing and books, just endless chemistry notes, an exercise book filled with indecipherable code, a cache of family photographs of the kind Sherlock stubbornly denied having, and at last a set of leather items which John puts quickly aside because what they taught him was painful enough even while Sherlock was alive.
But the memory won’t let go that easily. It was late evening, and John had had a drink, and he told his flatmate, ‘I could give you anything she could’. Sherlock responded with one raised eyebrow, then for an excruciating half-hour he lay mute and abstracted under the clumsiest attempt at domming John had made since medical school.
John stands in the sunny autumnal cool of the bedroom, and knows that he was – is – in love with Sherlock. And the man was gay, and masochistic, and gorgeous, but he’d preferred text games with a woman over all the care and tenderness John could have offered.
John knows that, and he’s somehow still standing, with his arm wrapped round his waist like he’s holding himself in, and it isn’t quite working. He feels he might physically choke with loss and longing, and he covers his mouth with his other hand, telling himself he can and will get through this, for Sherlock, he will not break into pieces, but apparently that’s what’s happening as he half-sits, half-falls onto the side of the bed, dislodging a box of chemistry kit, and the only thing that comes to him when he casts around for strength is the image of Sherlock’s dead and bloodied face.
A gout of wracking tears bursts out of him, and he slides to the floor to curl up with his knees against his chest, hating the pain and welcoming it because Sherlock is dead. Perhaps if he can make himself smaller the pain will shrink too?
John cries. And cries. Then he gets up and dusts himself off, because what else do you do? And he carries on searching.
Sociopath, an imbecilic psychiatrist labelled Sherlock at the age of 15. Now, as he assembles his rifle in the narrow space above the crêpe shop, generating a series of metallic clicks as counterpoint to the hum of voices below, the diagnosis comes back to him. Although clearly a side effect of doctors’ fear of superior intellect, the terminology seems not entirely inauspicious. Sherlock has never deliberately killed before, but the dispatch of a worthless individual like Graf can present no problem to a truly logical man. In any case, John shoots people, so it can’t be very difficult.
Sherlock has already waited for two hours to ensure that his entry into this secret area has not been observed, crouching beside his locked suitcase ready to play the ruined gambler seeking a place to get his head down without paying. No security guards have come for him, but to his frustration he saw Graf pass among the ambling crowds under the fake plastic window. In the flesh, the man seemed almost impossibly solid, his muscular torso scantily covered by a ridiculous yellow vest, in the company of a woman who seemed to consist fully five per cent of implants. Sherlock could only watch, and preview the twitch of his finger on the trigger, rehearsing the moment when intent would cross into completion and his first target would be dead.
Now he passes another hour, and one more, waiting motionless behind the opaque plastic window with one pane cut out, the rifle bipod resting on a dusty stool and the endless roar of conversation, purchases, beeping slot machines filling the stuffy air. He holds himself so still that a feeling of remoteness sets in, as if his intellect were drifting above his body, loosely tethered, capable of jerking back at any moment. It’s a form of rest, and it allows him to escape, for a moment, the fullness of what he’s doing and contemplate instead how a soldier, how John might approach this work, with its heat and waiting and the need afterwards to emerge from a side door and melt into the casino crowd before anyone even considers investigating the fake window. John would in fact be more suited to this than Sherlock is. But John is so very far away, and for some reason he appears now to Sherlock with almost hallucinatory clarity, first at the kitchen sink making tea in a horrible jumper, and then pulling rank at Baskerville. At six months’ and five thousand miles’ distance, that second memory sparks an unmistakable thrill in Sherlock’s groin. How odd: why now?
Graf wanders into view again, arm in arm with the implant woman.
It’s impossibly soon. Sherlock jolts back to himself, his throat closing with panic. He fumbles for the trigger, trying to sight efficiently. He is in control of himself, his tireless work of four months has led smoothly to this moment, and he will not weave with the gun like an utter fool, but his hands are slippery with sweat and why won’t the damn crowds get out of the fucking way so he doesn’t hit them, and Graf is strolling, onwards and onwards, talking to the woman who’s mincing along beside him in ridiculous shoes and there is data, data, risk assessment, calculation of angles but no shot. Until Graf has gone past.
Sherlock takes his hands slowly off the rifle. He stands up in the tiny cleaning space, looks around at the stained walls, files what has just happened, and as far as possible resets. He wasn’t ready to shoot. There’s no excuse for that, and he has only increased his danger, but still he is occupying an excellent vantage point. Next time he will be prepared. The situation is under control. He only has to wait.
Some minutes later, one of his phones vibrates. It’s a message from the anonymous contact he pays via the internet for ‘any unusual information concerning the late Sherlock Holmes’. The woman reports a New York underworld rumour that Holmes is alive and has been seen there, asking questions.
Sherlock’s heart falters in his chest. Obviously that cannot be happening as such, but for a moment he feels it. He must speed up his operations. He must kill Graf and move on to hunt down Kolyvanov and Zagami. He must allow no more lapses. He must concentrate. He does concentrate.
But there is no sign of Graf for the next seven hours.
Sherlock’s vision swims with watching. Ten thousand people amble, prance and blunder by, stopping at the ‘outdoor’ tables of the crêperie or keeping their eyes on one another, so wrapped up in their secrets of sex desire fear money which Sherlock sucks from them automatically until he’s beyond surfeited with minuscule humanity. The fake Paris sky, an unchanging soft luminescence, glows above them and it crosses Sherlock’s mind that he could shoot someone, anyone, at random, just to change something in this utterly sterile dreamland.
The thought circles him and returns, eventually settling into place among the options that are utterly unacceptable but nevertheless creeping gradually over him – shoot at random, shoot himself, forget his mission and go home, simply close his eyes and give in to the dream that John is here and he has someone to talk to, someone to smile at him, someone to tell about this.
Graf is in view.
The assassin is wandering along with his woman again. She is blatantly only with him to fund her cocaine habit, but she’s smiling at him, and he is smiling at her, as if their counterfeit of a connection somehow made him special – and surely Graf believes it does. His shaven head catches the light as if commending itself as a target, he steps into an open space between two untenanted plastic tables, and Sherlock is prepared, the gun in position, his hand steady, his purpose set, needing only the twitch of a finger to translate judgement into execution, which will merely be the application of necessity, no violation of any rational moral code, because this man, this thing would have dared to harm Martha Hudson, and the thought of her bleeding to death on the floor of Baker Street brings Sherlock to the point where… where…
His finger still will not move. The sensation of it, tense and rigid, fills Sherlock’s mind, terrifying and absolute. He would damn this worthless creature to the ends of the Earth, but he cannot, it seems, take the small, final, rational step and shoot him dead.
Sherlock is, after all, not John. Who knew that could be a disadvantage?
Graf is gone.
Sherlock leans back against the wall. He finds himself sliding down it – thinking as he does so how very odd, how histrionic, I really can’t be doing this – until he’s sitting on the floor, trying to control his breathing. Succeeding. He is controlling his breathing.
Failure is not an option. He will find another way. He will return to his motel room for the night now and tomorrow… tomorrow he will not feel that he is unravelling, unravelling, unravelling…
Sherlock packs up, slips out, heads for his motel room. He will force himself to think.
Sherlock observes as if from outside as he clenches his hands, kneeling on the gritty motel room carpet. He observes the tourist towers soaring outside the uncurtained window, observes their lights which pulse and flash as if signalling. He registers the sensation of his hand trying to clutch at his hair – hair which is cropped now and unfamiliar.
He is not himself.
This irruptive malfunction has been worsened by his irrational decision to view a particular picture which sits under the headline ‘Shame of “genius” liar’ on a popular tabloid site. He himself stands in the foreground with his mouth open, and John is behind and to the right, smiling as if he understands something about Sherlock that nobody else does.
Sherlock believes in nothing outside the rational, nothing that transcends the supreme power of his intellect… yet he is afraid, finally, that this exile, this life of fear and gadgets and guns with the end of it all only murder, exceeds his endurance. He could not kill Graf. He must kill Graf. The two propositions are equally true and the deadlock must be broken. He would, finally, ask John for help. He cannot ask John for help.
His mind is churning, churning, churning in search of the answer, the stratagem that will prevail. With the Trick he forced a desperate situation to his own ends, and logic saw him through the jump, the crash into rubbish sacks, and the fall from the lorry to lie ‘dead’ and genuinely half-stunned on the pavement; but the sound of John begging, Let me come through, he’s my friend, please! opened a wound that no intricacy of planning can assuage. The memory is agony, the memory is useless, so Sherlock sealed it away and now it has taken him again, when what he needs is strength and focus and insight into how to kill, into how John does it. Sherlock has seen men die in front of him and cared nothing for them, but he was not implicated then. He was pure detached intellect. Has John broken him in some way?
Sherlock gets up and paces the room. It’s strange, but even the irrepressible memory of pain doesn’t sap his mounting energy. It’s three am and blasts of adrenaline crackle through him. He’s ingested nothing illegal – not now, on what amounts to the biggest case of his life – but he’s never felt more alert, more blackly focused. He catches at the edge of the cheap desk as he passes it, pulls it almost out of the wall for the sheer vehemence of exertion. This is not normal for him. He can’t make himself care.
Speed and power possess him, and they are useful. Perhaps logic is not the key to this particular puzzle. He is a lone man with a gun, like in John’s ridiculous films. He will pursue his adversary to a quiet place then shoot him in the chest, fast and slick, with no option to back down. Simplicity is the answer. Graf will surely party into the night so Sherlock will go out mid-morning and resume the hunt. When the deed is done he has only to return to his rental car, drive out into the desert and burn his ridiculous disguise of hat, platform shoes and cotton wool cheek pads, leave the Yaris in Salt Lake City and fly to Europe in search of Zagami and Kolyvanov. In search of John.
A simple plan. As good as complete already. Sherlock reviews each step, pacing his hotel room, pacing and turning, fire in his brain, hurling the pillows from the bed to the floor, pacing and clutching his forehead, nails digging into his scalp to calm down, he is in control of this, he is outmanoeuvring the fear, he is riding it. He is a machine. A part of his mind reports incongruities, but he has no time to indulge it. He is not a machine. John loves him. John loves him. And Sherlock…
Sherlock paces his motel room until dawn.
For three hours he slides into an inchoate welter of dreams that leave his conscious mind a quarter awake, watching and wondering. At 10.13 he snaps to full awareness. He is not shaking, and that seems good. He assembles his disguise and goes out to hunt.
John gets by. He goes to work in a pleasant, airy surgery in Kilburn, a location that has no associations for him whatsoever. There’s a friendly nurse who flirts with him, and one day he finds he can flirt back. He’s slightly shocked at himself, then he thinks: who would I help by stopping?
He found nothing among the boxes of books and test tubes that could shed any light on the ‘note’ conversation. That evening he sat staring at Sherlock’s empty chair and asked himself: was he a fraud? But his instincts responded with absolute denial, and he’s both relieved by and resentful of that, because there’s nothing he can actually do with his convictions. Molly avoids him, Mrs Hudson can’t or won’t think in terms of proofs and deductions, and Lestrade is busy fighting for his job.
Things could have been even worse; John holds on to the knowledge. For someone like Sherlock, a quick death was preferable to survival with brain damage. Drinking his morning tea one day by the tall front windows of 221b, John finds that, in the teeth of everything, he is glad Sherlock was spared that. Nothing more can hurt him. Like many people, he found life difficult. Now he is dead… and John understands the fact. Physically, finally, and without redress.
John stands in the home they shared, looking at the empty sofa, and he doesn’t break, because he rebuilt himself after Afghanistan with help from Sherlock, and he will not let that be undone.
All anyone can hope for in the end is that somebody stands by their grave and says their time wasn’t wasted. John has done that for Sherlock. He will go again at some point, and reply to the words Goodbye, John. He couldn’t accept them before; one day he must.
Not yet, though. Not never, but also not yet.
Sherlock is unencumbered, and intent. He has only his Colt pistol with him; the rest has been stowed in the boot of his rental car, awaiting his getaway. He is at the ‘upstairs window’ of La Crêperie, watching again for Graf, and the hours tick by, and their passage seems easy. Sherlock hasn’t eaten, has barely slept, and is alert to an unprecedented degree. He has experienced this fervour before, if never so intensely, and it rarely ended well, but now he needs only to flow with the passing time towards his goal. Everything is in place. The intensity of his focus is an expression of his efficiency and determination.
At six-thirty, Graf emerges. Sherlock reads the past two days on him; pizza, one moderate blackjack win, many losses, sex with the cokehead. Graf strolls like a man contented with life, moving slowly, so Sherlock is easily able to slip out of his hiding place and join the crowd a few metres behind him.
Trailing suspects is a skill Sherlock has long mastered, and in elevator shoes he is able to see over many of the surrounding heads and keep Graf’s shining pate in view as they thread through the casino floor with its flashing lights, cascading graphics, whooping buzzing slot machines that seem now less an irritant and more an accompaniment to the intensity of Sherlock’s purpose. Vegas is a place that reinvents itself in periodic convulsions, and the city’s arbitrary extravagance harmonises with Sherlock’s renewed determination and internal resource. Out on the Boulevard warm dusk air bathes him, posters serenade him with ridiculous promises, fountains in a hotel forecourt shoot up higher than trees, their power an extension of his own.
The Colt in his pocket presses against his thigh, symbolising one thing only now: return to John. Sherlock’s longing for this remains acute, although it has receded to bearable levels, the surfeit recycled into the hum of his heightened senses. The intensity of sensation eludes explanation, as Sherlock consistently declines emotion – a man who did not would have shaken apart when he fell from the rooftop, would have ripped and bled out at the seams – and yet it is. His moods have always plunged and soared, fuelling the work or prevented by force of will from hindering it, but never to this pitch of transformation.
He must concentrate on Graf. The man is always just a few paces ahead, a lumbering body in a crass Hawaiian shirt that clashes with his tattoos. Sherlock feels dispassionate or even well-disposed towards him, now that he is a resolvable problem. Graf cannot help his grossness, his self-satisfaction, his patent delusion. These things adhere to dull minds as the world no longer adheres to Sherlock, underlining the simplicity, for him, of both murder and homecoming. Sherlock will return to John, and he will kill Graf, by walking up to him and shooting him through the heart with the tiny, quiet Colt pistol that creates no exit wound and ejects no shells. All they need is a place where onlookers will not fuss and the shot will blend in with background noise.
Then Graf leads Sherlock into, of all things, a London-style double decker bus. It’s the Deuce, a tourist service, and as night falls it carries them down the Strip to the Fremont Street Experience.
The place is perfect. It’s a huge cavern, thronged with people, but all of them will soon be looking upwards, at the screens that cover the ceiling. A light and sound show is scheduled to begin in minutes. Sherlock hovers in the crowd, keeping Graf in view, careful to appear casual and unconcerned. Bodies mill around him, the proximity of half-clothed young men and even women exuding a pervasive sensual overtone that mingles with the rush of calculation, with approaching triumph, with the endless possibilities of death sex homecoming revelation, all of which are his for the taking.
After eleven minutes, the vast canopy overhead darkens and then bursts into colour and noise. As the image of a busty guitarist gyrates across the ceiling, all eyes turn upwards. Sherlock picks through the crowd until he is three rows in front of Graf. The man is slack-jawed, gazing at the irrelevance overhead; his eyes glisten with it and the floor shakes, vibrating Graf and Sherlock and all the people around them, although Sherlock alone can harness that power. He is unstoppable and exalted, he is without John, he is longing, this unparalleled pitch of life will break him, what is happening?, Graf is so close, the gun is clenched in Sherlock’s hand inside his pocket and any suggestion of discord is overwhelmed by the force of his will, the thundering rock music, the compulsion of this task, the heat in his brain. He is exhausted. And Graf is almost within touching range, smiling blissfully upwards as if watching God. The set of his ear tells Sherlock that he has a sister, the pattern of his shaving that the cokehead dislikes men with beards.
Time to do this. God no. Yes.
Sherlock’s mind ignites as he lifts the pistol from his pocket, holding it still concealed under the edge of his shirt. Thought shatters the walls of self and expands to encompass the sybaritic labyrinth of Vegas, the vast sweep of the US and outwards, chasing through the night towards John. Sherlock cannot bear what he has to do. He has no means to carry its weight, no core to absorb its stain, no god to approve its justice. There is only the fact that a man loves him. There is John. Sherlock finds him, in thought. Sherlock prays.
Lights strobe wildly. In his padded disguise Sherlock is burning up. Vegas pulses to his rhythm: louder, faster, my will end this –
He reaches Graf, jams the pistol into his diaphragm, and fires.
On the other side of the world, John turns over in bed. He often sleeps badly, dreaming of too many deaths, but tonight the pills keep him far enough under to allow him some rest. Also, he’s having one of his pleasanter recurrent dreams, the one where he makes dinner and Sherlock eats it with relish.
Trawling through the psyche isn’t John’s bag, but the meaning here is pretty obvious. He wanted to be enough for Sherlock. He wasn’t looking for anything sentimental, just to keep his friend from actual fucking madness and death.
Dream John smiles, clattering pans around in their cosy kitchen. Underneath his feet pounds the rhythm of grief. He wanted so little, and he couldn’t even have that.
Out in the desert, Sherlock burns his disguise. The night is blackness streaked with purple and dotted with stars. Cactus trees loom skeletal around him. The fire crackles and beyond its lighted circle the desert is alive with the rustling of night creatures.
Sherlock is pacing. Back and forth beside the fire, and inside his mind. Never before has he done something and not fully understood it, never before has he followed a rational course and then afterwards felt his actions settle on him as an inscrutable dead weight. He must process this, must assign it to its place in his mental files, but he can only see the flash of terrified realisation in Graf’s eyes, only hear John’s voice break on he’s my friend.
Sherlock paces, trying and trying to bear this, to be what he must. There is another truth, and it is that he is unstoppable. Exalted by survival. No food, no sleep, only will. Fire, heat, sand, direction, control, empty night. Grief. Moths flitting above the sluggish fire. His head has begun to tremble, how odd.
‘John,’ he says, and his voice is harsh with disuse. ‘John.’ The word is an endearment and an unravelling. ‘John!’ Sherlock shouts at the darkness because he is alone and there are no boundaries. He circles on the spot.
His mind is speeding ever faster. His thought is purification and putrefaction, a meaningless coalescence of phonemes, phenomena and oh god the fear. Novas of marvel explode in his brain, and outside him there is only fire and darkness, his car silhouetted, a bare patch of desert scrub, no data, nothing to catch on, nothing to hold. He wants to hold John. He is triumphant and untouchable, so why can’t he have John? Sherlock doubles over with wanting.
When he straightens up, something has decoupled inside him, frightening and free. He has the power to reshape the universe with a twist of his hand, to transform rocks into John’s body, oxygen into his breath. That is impossible, but Sherlock can do it. He just needs John to hold him. Hold him down. Kiss him and promise this will pass. Because Sherlock has done right – hasn’t he done right? Isn’t the price paid enough now? He has killed a man. Salvation-damnation screeches and clamours in his brain, transfixing him like the moment of deduction or the sweetest climax of music extended beyond human limits, bestowed on him alone, because he has the power to both feel and understand it, to withstand it, if the vastness of his own consciousness, the speed the grace the isolation the power out of control do not break him.
Sherlock is terrified.
Rustlings, scrabblings, a screech come from the desert around. His heart beats: John. John. John.
There is one bar of reception on Sherlock’s mobile; it’s enough. He hears a beloved voice, matter-of-fact: ‘This is John Watson. I can’t take your call at the moment but please leave a message and I’ll get back to you.’ Of course, it’s the middle of the night in London. Sherlock sees John so clearly, sleeping in peace. Sherlock reaches out a hand to stroke John’s hair.
‘I did it, John.’ His voice is hoarse with disuse, and then the words take him, spilling over each other. ‘I did it I killed Graf I love you John, Jesus I know I never said it, I can’t quite…’ Fuck, listen to yourself he rages internally. Whatever’s gone wrong, part of him is still passing judgement. ‘I can, John. I’ve done it. He died, I heard people screaming as I left. But I want you. You’re good at this.’ The wanting; he will choke on the wanting. ‘I’m going to Malta next, for Zagami – come with me. Please. I’ll explain. Only at present I’m…’ He doesn’t finish that. His voice is strangled with tears. Only twice in his lifetime, and both for John. He cannot bear this. His thoughts race and slide, unlimited power and range, stumbling incoherence. Please. ‘I’m all right, but…’ Jesus Christ, I’m not, help me. ‘Please come, John. I am so tired. I am just so tired.’
Sherlock rings off. His little fire is dying down. He sits, gathers his knees to his chest and lets the starry desert night cradle his babbling, raging mind.
John stares unseeing at the rain outside his bedroom window, pressing ‘replay’ over and over, and hearing the rambling, fervent, desperate voice of the man he loves. He can’t begin to understand Sherlock’s message. He only knows that his miracle is here, and that the world has changed utterly overnight.
Sherlock is alive. That means John is needed. John is loved. John may soon be angry. John is alive.
John is ready to fight.
Chapter 3: Fic trailer banner by Eldritchhorrors
Raw html link as AO3 formatting is being insane on me -