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The Long Game

Chapter Text

For the second time in as many minutes, John Watson stared death in the face. He was either going to die when Moriarty’s snipers fired on him and Sherlock, or he was going to die when Sherlock shot the bomb-jacket so recently ripped from around his torso.

The thought that Sherlock wouldn’t didn’t even cross John’s mind. His immediate reaction was that Sherlock bloody well would. They had seconds. Sherlock wouldn’t shoot the bomb if there wasn’t a way out; he wasn’t suicidal, even to take Moriarty with him into death. Desperately, feverishly, John tried to think like Sherlock.

It hit him like a punch to the stomach. They were standing beside a pool. Water could save them from the brunt of the explosion, and would absorb the impact of any bullets Moriarty’s henchmen fired at the surface. Thank you, Discovery Channel, and its endless re-runs of MythBusters.

Sherlock shot him a glance: Do you trust me? Do you understand? John desperately tried to silently convey that he did. He saw Sherlock’s finger shift against the trigger and moved instantly. He couldn’t wait until after the gun fired. Waiting meant death. He had to risk the snipers.

He barrelled into Sherlock as the explosion blossomed at the edge of his vision. The force of it knocked them sideways as they fell and John felt something sharp – a bullet, a piece of shrapnel, he couldn’t tell which – drill into the flesh of his thigh. There was no time to analyse the injury. There was barely time for a flash of pain and a yelp of surprise before he hit the water and the last of his breath was driven from his lungs.

Sherlock’s hands grabbed his upper arms. The other man kicked downwards, driving them both deep into the water as pieces of masonry and tile splashed around them. Adrenaline was keeping the pain at bay, but the doctor in John knew that he needed to keep his leg as still as possible to prevent further injury. He was highly aware of the debris in the water, and also the red stain of his own blood. The chlorine would probably save him from the worst of infection, he thought dimly as he shoved a slowly falling chunk of roof away from them, but it could only do so much.

His lungs burned to take a breath as Sherlock kicked them along the bottom of the pool, his eyes open and turned on the rippling surface. John dared a glanced upwards. The worst of the explosion seemed to be over and the falling pieces of the walls and roof seemed to have settled on the bottom. There were still smaller bits and pieces drifting down, but nothing larger than his own fist. He looked at Sherlock and desperately pointed towards the surface. He needed to breathe.

Sherlock shook his head. He shifted his grip to the back of John’s head and, before John could think about what was happening, dragged him forwards. Sherlock pressed his mouth against John’s and parted his lips, sharing a breath. In any other situation, John might have balked at the idea, but as oxygen reached his starved lungs he could only be grateful. Sherlock pulled back after only a moment, focusing again on the surface as if trying to see if they still had company.

Whether they did or not, John knew that they would have to go up sooner rather than later. Buddy-breathing was all well and good, but it couldn’t last forever, not without fresh oxygen. He tugged on Sherlock’s sleeve and pointed more insistently. With extreme reluctance, Sherlock scanned the surface once more and kicked them upwards.

They broke the dust-scummed surface and John gulped down a welcome breath – followed by a mouthful of dirty, chlorine-tasting water as Sherlock immediately dragged them under again. He whirled around to glare at his flatmate. He understood the need for caution, because Moriarty and his men might still be around, but he would have liked a little warning. Sherlock held up a hand as if to silence the protest John couldn’t voice underwater.

When no red laser-sights appeared on the water and no bullets punctured the surface, Sherlock eventually nodded and allowed John to return to the top. He gasped for breath, kicking feebly with one leg while the other hung in the water and bled. Sherlock grabbed hold of him, somehow keeping both their heads above the surface.

“All right?” he asked between heavy breaths, his eyes darting towards the red water around them.

“Fine for the moment,” John replied, breathless from both lack of oxygen and the exertion of staying afloat. He glanced around the darkened swimming pool. There was no sign of Moriarty, though the lights had died in the explosion and the only lighting was now coming from underwater, giving the whole place strange shadows. “Let’s get out of here.”

Together, they somehow managed to reach the side of the pool. Sherlock levered himself out as gracefully as possible, then reached down to grip John’s hand. Dragging his injured leg up onto the side pulled at the ripped tissue and he hissed, clutching at it as feeling beyond a dull ache returned.

“Jesus,” he spat, his fingers digging hard into his sodden jeans. Sherlock was glancing around furtively. John recognised the twitchy motion from his days as a soldier. They were in enemy territory, out in the open, with one man injured. Sherlock was scouting for hostiles. Knowing that he would sound the alarm if he saw anything, John checked the wound.

He couldn’t see much in the dim, rippling light. A quick probe told him that the wound had cut deep into the muscle, possibly to the bone. Hissing, he withdrew his fingers.

“Can you walk?” Sherlock asked urgently. “We should take cover.”

John shook his head. “I should keep it as still as possible.”

Sherlock nodded and grabbed him under the arms, dragging him backwards towards the nearest poolside cubicle that was still whole. Undignified, yes, but John was willing to sacrifice a little dignity if it meant staying alive. Once inside, Sherlock straightened and stepped over John, who pulled himself back to the wall. Sherlock closed and locked the door, then pulled his phone out of an inner pocket. After staring at it for a moment, he scowled.

“Damn. It’s dead.” He looked at John. “I should go and get help.”

Panic rose like bile in John’s throat. He grabbed desperately at Sherlock’s ankle, the only thing he could reach. “No! Don’t. Safety in numbers.”

As he spoke, he managed to get his voice under control but he knew that Sherlock had heard the raw fear in his first syllables. What he might not know, however, was that it was not fear for John’s own safety – it was more a fear that Sherlock might run into Moriarty or one of his accomplices and get himself killed. The thought made John feel sick. If he had gone through all of this only for Sherlock to be shot now – it didn’t bear thinking about.

Sherlock paused, looking down on him with a slight frown wrinkling his brow. At last, he crouched down at John’s feet with his back pressed against the wooden door.

“We need to contact the police,” John said, though he had no idea how they might do it, with Sherlock’s phone out of action and his own taken by Moriarty.

“I sent Lestrade a text before I left telling him to check my website at midnight,” Sherlock said softly. His eyes were drawn to the blood stain on John’s jeans. “That should lead him here.”

“Yeah, eventually,” John snapped, pressing one hand to his bleeding leg. He needed to stem the blood flow, but it was almost too painful to touch, let alone put pressure on it. “What if Moriarty comes back?”

As if on cue, they head a door open. Both men froze. Suddenly John wished that Sherlock hadn’t lost the gun in the pool.

Footsteps entered the main pool area with caution. For a moment, Sherlock looked like he was about to stand. John leaned forward and grabbed his arm tightly, holding him down. The cubicles were an obvious hiding place, Moriarty and his men would know that and might decide to shoot first and check for bodies later. Standing would make Sherlock an easy target for a spray of chest-height bullets.

Outside, someone shouted, “Clear!”

More footsteps as others came through from the corridor, and near-silence as they padded around the room, probably checking the pool itself as well as the surrounding area for their bodies. It could only take so long before they came to the conclusion that they had survived and checked the cubicles. John’s heart pounded in a way that it hadn’t since Afghanistan.

Suddenly, a familiar voice called, “Sherlock? Sherlock, are you in here?”

Lestrade. Never had John been so glad to hear the man’s voice. He slumped back against the wall in relief, letting go of Sherlock’s arm so that he could stand and unlock the door.

Through the opening, John could see multiple armed police officers, the torches on their firearms casting long yellow beams across the dusty space. The nearest spun around at the sound and motion of the door, pointing their guns at Sherlock before they recognised him and turned them down towards the tiled floor again.

A moment later, Lestrade appeared in his line of sight and Sherlock started talking urgently, explaining Moriarty and everything that had happened. John strained to hear the words over the ringing in his ears. Now that he knew that they were safe, his body had relaxed – and with the relaxation came the full return of sensation to his leg. He had forgotten – how the hell had he forgotten? – just how painful a shot wound could be. He closed his eyes in an attempt to block it out, and slid into unconsciousness.

***

 

At some point, someone must have called an ambulance. John knew this, because when he woke up he was in hospital. The smell – the very texture of the air – was unmistakable. He would know it anywhere. For a long while he lay with his eyes closed, wondering what medication they had put him on to dull the pain.

Eventually, he said, “Hello, Sherlock.”

Someone shifted for the first time in the chair beside his bed and he smiled. It had been a complete guess that there would be someone there at all, but he had suspected. He had hoped.

“Good guess, John,” Sherlock conceded. He cracked open his eyes and was surprised to find himself in a private room. Sherlock smiled at him. “You can thank Mycroft for the accommodation.”

“I will,” John replied with a smile, turning his head to look at his flatmate.

Sherlock was wearing his dressing gown and pyjamas, suggesting that he too was a patient and that he had been in the hospital long enough to have had supplies brought from home. He also looked pale and bored out of his mind. John could see numerous small dressings where tiny cuts had been tended, but there were no large injuries visible, which was a relief.

“Did they catch Moriarty?”

He couldn’t resist the question. As soon as he asked he knew from Sherlock’s expression that they had had no luck. He hadn’t really expected them to have caught Moriarty. The man had got the better of Sherlock Holmes – it was clear that he was no ordinary criminal.

“They’re watching stations and airports, but they won’t get him,” Sherlock said darkly. “No one can.”

“No one but you,” John told him softly.

“Not even me,” Sherlock snapped, propelling himself out of the chair and starting to pace furiously. “I lost him, John!”

“To be fair, you were almost blown up,” he reminded him gently, only to have Sherlock round on him.

“And you were shot,” he shouted. “Because you know me. Because we’re friends.” He said the word with disdain. “This is why I don’t have friends, John.”

He broke off and stared at John. Unsure of what to say to that, John stared back. Then Sherlock turned and stormed out of the room.

He didn’t come to visit again, and a day later John learned from one of the nurses that he had discharged himself. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, while John recuperated from his injury, he was visited by Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, Sarah, even Mycroft, who brought grapes and a copy of every newspaper Sherlock usually had delivered to the flat. But Sherlock did not come back.

As he managed to get up onto his feet and take a few tottering steps, he was told by his doctors that he might be left with a permanent limp. The next time Mrs Hudson visited, he asked her with a heavy heart to fetch his cane.

Mycroft arranged for a sleek black car with blacked out windows to pick him up from the hospital when he was eventually discharged. He was wheeled outside with a bag full of painkillers and antibiotics on his lap, and then helped to his feet by Mycroft’s driver: a six-foot-tall man with muscles barely contained by his suit. He managed to hobble the few steps from the wheelchair to the car with his stick and gratefully sat down in the empty back seat.

Somehow, he made it up the stairs to 221B with his bag on his shoulder and without the help of Mrs Hudson or the driver. He found Sherlock on the sofa in his pyjamas, his black laptop on his knee. Leaning heavily on his cane but refusing to sit, John raised a hand in greeting.

“Hello.”

Sherlock grunted at him without looking up. John heard footsteps on the stairs and turned in time to see Mrs Hudson reach the top.

“Oh, John, dear – sit down, I’ll make you a cuppa.”

She bustled past him into the kitchen. With a final glance at Sherlock and a deep sigh, John sat down in his usual chair and stretched out his newly injured leg. Ironically, it was the right – the same leg he had limped on after being shot in Afghanistan. He let out a faint, humourless chuckle.

“Not so psychosomatic any more,” he muttered, and reached over to grab the newspaper from the coffee table, flipping to the cryptic crossword – one of the few things that left Sherlock stumped and made John feel vaguely clever.

He was just about to make a start when he glanced up and looked around the flat. The blown-out windows had been fixed. Sherlock was in his nightwear at three in the afternoon, sulking and poking at the internet. Mrs Hudson was clattering about the kitchen, doing the washing up while the kettle boiled. He had a crossword and his medication was blocking the pain from his leg admirably.

It was almost as if the past few weeks since the bomb spree orchestrated by Moriarty had never happened. Life seemed to be back to normal.

John knew better than to breathe a sigh of relief. Moriarty was still at large, and he would most certainly be back. Either he would come after Sherlock or Sherlock would go after him.

For the moment, though, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon and Sherlock was keeping quiet, giving him a perfect opportunity to focus on the cryptic clues of the Daily Mail crossword. He smiled to himself as he settled back against the cushions. For now, life was good.

It made sense that it was then that everything fell apart.

Mrs Hudson had just brought him his tea when there was a knock at the door downstairs, which she insisted on answering. John went back to his crossword, but by now he was used to listening out in case the visitor was for them. Sure enough, he heard Lestrade’s muffled voice downstairs followed by familiar footsteps on the stairs. He sighed and closed the paper. The man was hurrying: this wasn’t a social visit.

The policeman knocked on the open door before stepping inside and looking around. “John. Good to see you’re home.”

“It’s good to be here,” John said, but he could hear that the greeting was a cursory one. Lestrade was here to see Sherlock and before John had even finished speaking he had transferred his attention to the other man.

“What?” Sherlock said, not looking up. “I’m busy.”

“We have a body,” Lestrade told him. Sherlock continued to tap at his keyboard, disinterested by the thought of a murder.

“And?”

Lestrade folded his arms across his chest and took a deep breath. “The victim was male: Caucasian, tall, dark hair from what we can tell, below average weight. He was found at the side of a swimming pool, having suffered serious burns to the face and chest, which the pathologist tells me were probably caused by some kind of explosion. He’s also had his heart removed, after the explosion.”

Finally Sherlock looked up. John’s heart skipped inside his chest. The swimming pool and the explosion combined with the description Lestrade had given, which might as well describe Sherlock, made this murder a little too close to home. His mind immediately jumped to Moriarty and he could see that Sherlock’s had done the same, despite his aversion to guesswork.

“You’ve moved the body?” Sherlock asked after a few seconds. Lestrade nodded.

“Technically, this isn’t my case – it’s Gregson’s,” Lestrade said. Sherlock seemed to recognise the name though it was unfamiliar to John – but the tone the detective used told John pretty much all he needed to know. There was clearly some kind of feud between Lestrade and Gregson, probably purely professional. “He mentioned it to me this morning. He was talking about how strange it was that a man who’d been caught in an explosion should be found in an undamaged swimming pool he had no business being in.”

“You saw the similarities with the situation Moriarty contrived, and investigated further?”

“It’s hard not to,” Lestrade said bluntly, “Even for those of us of lesser intellect. Though I did wonder about the heart thing …”

“Hmm,” said Sherlock, putting his laptop aside at last and steepling his fingers.

“What does Gregson think?” John asked while Sherlock was thinking. Lestrade shrugged and shook his head, finally unfolding his arms.

“He hasn’t got a clue,” the detective told him. “Well, he hasn’t much to go on – there were no fingerprints, the CCTV was shorted out so there aren’t any images, and no one he’s talked to saw anything.”

“I need to see the body,” Sherlock said, standing and striding towards his bedroom. “Meet me at Barts, Lestrade. Text me if you find anything new.”

“Can’t,” Lestrade called, stopping him in his tracks. Sherlock turned on him. Lestrade shrugged. “Lost my phone, and your number with it.”

Sherlock glared at him, as if personally affronted that his favourite mode of communication was no longer an option. Then he rattled off his phone number, turned and swept out.

“I can give you his number,” John offered when he had disappeared. He pulled out his phone, found Sherlock’s number while Lestrade was finding his, and then handed it over. He watched as the detective keyed in the digits. “Do you think it’s Moriarty?”

The other man passed him his phone back and nodded, his expression grim. “It’s got to be a message for Sherlock. I doubt we’ll prove anything, but I can’t see how it would be anything else. Unless it’s a copycat, which I doubt because we’ve been keeping the press out of it as much as possible.” He shook his head. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.”

“No,” John replied darkly. “It doesn’t.”

There was a moment’s silence before Lestrade cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So how are you feeling?”

“Not so bad, but then, I only had my dose of pain medication an hour or so ago,” John told him. He glanced down at his leg, which he knew from experience would start to bother him in the near future. He had perhaps another hour or two before the ache started to return. He looked up at Lestrade and smiled. “I’ll be fine.”

“Good, good,” the detective said, returning the smile warmly. Another silence, then he sighed and looked at his watch. “I’d best be off – I should go and tell the morgue we’re going to need that body wheeling out, and tell Gregson that Sherlock’s on board with this one. He’ll probably wet himself with excitement.” Again, there was a hard line of probably-friendly animosity when Lestrade mentioned Gregson. John smiled, sharing the joke, as Lestrade turned towards the door. “I’ll probably see you later.”

“Bye,” John called as Lestrade stared down the stairs. He settled, waiting for Sherlock to return. A few minutes later, he clattered down the back stairs and swept into the living room to grab his coat. Sherlock turned to look at him as he put on his scarf.

“Don’t follow me,” he said firmly, almost glaring. John raised his eyebrows; he had been expecting the complete opposite.

“Well, I wasn’t going to,” he replied. It would be stupid to even try, especially since his leg probably wouldn’t let him get back down the stairs. Sherlock hummed doubtfully and John couldn’t help but snap at him. “I wasn’t! I can barely walk, Sherlock, let alone run across London with you.”

“Good,” Sherlock said, then without another word he turned and hurried out of the flat.

“Well, that was unexpected,” John muttered. He heard the front door open and slam closed. He had sensed from the fact that Sherlock had not visited him that he was keeping his distance, but he hadn’t thought that he would cut him off so completely. Still, he reasoned, perhaps Sherlock was actually trying to be considerate about his recent injury; perhaps Mrs Hudson had him under orders not to strain John’s leg. There could be any number of explanations.

He picked up his tea and took a long drink. At least the flat was quiet and he could do the crossword, he thought to himself as he reached again for the paper. However, as he started to read the clues, he found his mind wandering to the case Lestrade had laid out and wishing that he wasn’t forced to stay at home.