49 Balcombe St.
Mary woke up to a buzzing sound and a rush of air beside her. She felt John sit up and turn on the lamp as he fumbled with something.
“Christ,” she heard him swear softly.
“What time is it?” she mumbled. She still hadn’t opened her eyes, preferring to lie in the warm darkness.
“Half past two. I’m needed at the hospital.”
“Right now? They never asked for you this early before. Isn’t there someone else?” Mary reached out to stop him from leaving, but he just tucked her arm under the blanket again and slipped out of bed. She drifted off listening to his quiet shuffling downstairs.
Mary stirred awake again when she felt warm lips against her forehead. She turned her head and blindly caught his lips in a kiss. He tasted of coffee and toothpaste and she could feel him chuckle against her mouth. He pulled away and leant down to kiss her pregnant belly.
“Go back to sleep. I’ll be back for dinner.”
“I’ll get takeaway,” she yawned in response and promptly fell asleep again.
Mary awoke again when her phone began to beep incessantly. She cracked open an eye and snatched it from the bedside table. Her eyes were too blurred with sleep for her to be able to read the screen, but judging from the darkness outside it was entirely too early for her alarm. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up heavily, massaging the kinks out of her back. She looked down at the alert on her phone again and felt her blood turn to ice.
House Alarm Disabled.
Mary first met John and Sherlock when she came to them after her research partner had suddenly committed suicide. She introduced herself to the two men in the living room of 221B Baker Street that morning, and by the evening, the head researcher had locked her and John in a walk-in freezer in her laboratory. Mary went home that night with John’s number and the head of her lab in jail. Three months later, she received a text message from Sherlock telling her to come to St. Bart’s. By the time she got there, John was sitting alone in the trauma ward, staring at his blood flecked hands. Sherlock’s funeral took place three days later.
More than a year had passed since then. Mary and John married and moved to a house just a short walk from Baker Street. Mary remained at her laboratory in King’s College London and John at his surgery position in Royal London Hospital. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was published two months ago; much to the consternation of his publishers, John had kept a free version on his blog and donated his share of the book’s proceeds to various charities. The book was an unprecedented success, but even though the spotlight that shone on Sherlock’s life was much more positive this time around, it had brought John more heartache than happiness.
Now, Mary was five months pregnant, and on occasion she and John still opened doors to a DI Lestrade seeking unofficial consultation, but more often just to Greg who came over for a cuppa. Mrs. Hudson and Harry dropped by regularly, and CCTV cameras continued to follow Mary every time she set foot on the street. At the urging of Mycroft (who had somehow battled his way back into John’s tentative good graces), their house security system had also been outfitted with enough warning bells and alarms to put Buckingham Palace to shame.
It was one of these warning bells that woke Mary up. She had no doubt that Mycroft’s people were reading the same message she was and were scrambling together some crack team made of MI6 agents and Royal Navy commandos, but as of now, she was completely alone.
She stood up slowly and pressed a number on her speed dial. Then she walked over to the closet and took out a strongbox from the back. Mary felt detached, like she was dreaming - she watched as her fingers typed out the combination by the light of her phone and removed the gun. John had taken her regularly to the practice range used by Scotland Yard. She had become a pretty decent marksman by the time she had gotten pregnant. The gun settled familiarly into her palm, trembling slightly with the force of her thundering heart.
You have reached John Watson. He is unavailable right now. Please leave a message after the tone.
Mary could hear herself breathing raggedly into the speaker of her mobile. She considered saying something (I love you I don’t want to die please save me save yourself it’s not your fault this can’t be goodbye I love you I love you I love you), but hung up instead. John had to say goodbye over the phone once before.
In the darkness, she could hear soft movements downstairs. Mary shuffled back towards the loo, slipping silently inside. The tiles were ice-cold against her bare feet. She stood there for several long moments, slowly breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. Then she flipped the safety off on her gun and tucked it into the back of her pyjamas. Her pyjamas lately consisted of t-shirts and shorts, ever since her nighties stopped fitting properly. With a bit of strain, she climbed on top of the toilet and unlatched the window. The window was barely big enough for her - with more grunting and swearing than was probably appropriate for the moment, Mary managed to push herself through the window feet first.
Maneuvering herself out, she felt her toes grasp the miniscule ledge below. In the soft glow of the street lamps, she could barely make out gutter pipe a few feet away. Two stories below her was a bit of grass and the small alley that separated the houses. She edged on her tiptoes as far away from the window as her arm allowed and stretched painfully to grab the pipe. Her face and belly scratched against the side of the building. When she had a good grip, she eased away from the window and latched onto the pipe. The pipe groaned and creaked under her weight and Mary felt her heart seize. She climbed down gingerly, wincing every time another metal groan broke the nighttime stillness. By the time she reached the ground, Mary’s feet were covered in scratches and welts and her legs were trembling. She fell down, the gun digging painfully into the small of her back.
She scrambled to her feet, pulled out the gun, and took off down the narrow alleyway, bare feet slapping painfully against the asphalt. Her body felt heavy and ungainly and her heart hammered painfully in her chest. About twenty yards out, she saw the main street. Mary broke into a full sprint, her legs screaming in protest.
She was no more than ten yards away when she was yanked backward and a black bag was shoved over her head. Mary’s scream was cut short by a firm hand clamping over her mouth. The gun clattered to the ground as she was dragged away.
Mary was shoved into a car and a strong gloved hand pushed her to lie down on the seat. The black bag stretched tight over her face and threatened to suffocate her. She struggled, clawing at her head, until a hand loosened the fabric from her nose. She went still after that, trying to even out her ragged breathing and resisting the urge to scream in desperation. Tears prickled at her eyes, but after a few rough exhales, she forced them away. Don’t cry, lie still, and wait, she chanted to herself until the roaring in her ears stopped.
The car ride was slow and windy; Mary tried to listen for anything familiar, but she couldn’t hear anything besides the muffled roar of the engine. Whenever they would stop too long and panic would begin to gnaw at her, she pressed a hand to her abdomen and tried to think about home, about John and the baby, or, when those failed, about how she was going shoot every single one of these bastards if they give her half a chance.
The car finally slowed to a stop and she felt herself being gingerly moved into a sitting position. She clumsily stumbled out of the car with a swimming head and numb legs. Someone was behind her, carefully guiding her with a firm grip on her upper arms. No other footsteps but theirs could be heard. Her kidnapper gave her arms a squeeze and she stopped, unsure. He then nudged her foot with his and she lifted it up and placed it in front of her. It connected with a cold iron step. Fire escape, she realized. Their ascent was slow, but eventually she was guided through a window. When her feet hit the threadbare carpet, Mary froze.
She had been in this room before. The smell was stale and musty, but the feel of the carpet against her feet was so familiar, it could have been a year and a half ago when they first started dating. I’m in John’s old room. He’s led me into 221B. What the hell is happening? Mary was guided towards the stairs. We’re going into the living room - but why? Is he going to kill me there? Shoot me in the head and let John find my body? She started to feel like she was in freefall, her thoughts tangled up in one another. Don’t panic. Concentrate.
Her only hope was to catch him unawares. Besides shooting, John had taught her several moves that went a league above the self-defence classes she took while at uni. The problem was that she was pregnant and not exactly able to throw her weight around against someone a foot and a half taller than her. All she needed for him to do was to let go of her arms - even one free arm would work.
They had reached the first floor now, and by her estimation, were standing somewhere between the kitchen and the armchairs. Mrs. Hudson never moved any of the furniture, even after John had moved out. It was how she kept them closer to her, she had confessed to Mary.
Mary felt her kidnapper take a step back, loosening his grip on her upper arm in the process. She didn’t hesitate. She ripped her arm free and drove her elbow back. She heard a loud grunt as he doubled over and she took the chance to savagely kick him in the knee. He collapsed heavily on the floor. Mary tore the bag off of her head and turned around prepared to deliver another hit. Her fist stuck in mid-air as her brain and her eyes attempted to reconcile what she was seeing.
Sherlock Holmes was on his knees before her, hand protectively over his stomach and coughing up a storm. His eyes flicked between her bewildered face and her fist. He raised his hand in a supplicating gesture.
“Mary -,” he wheezed.
She hit him again.
221A Baker St.
Sherlock sat across from Mary at Mrs. Hudson’s table, tissues stuffed up his nose. A lonely lamp cast a dim yellow glow in the dark room. Mary’s face was buried in her hands.
“You absolute prick. You. Absolute. Fucking. Prick. I can’t believe you. How did you even do it? Why did you do it? I can’t even begin -,” she cut off with a groan and raked her fingers through her hair.
“The how and why are not important,” Sherlock answered, sniffing as he removed the bloody tissues. “The where is so much more relevant.”
“Where? Where what? I’m not John, remember - I don’t speak your strange cryptic code.”
Sherlock leaned forward across the table to give her a piercing look. He’s changed so much, Mary realized with a stab of guilt. Dark circles had appeared under his eyes, and his face had turned thin and wan. His expression no longer held the intimidating cold intensity that she had grown accustomed to, but rather seemed all too human.
“Where is John?”
“He’s at the hospital. He went to work during the night. I don’t - do you think something happened to him?”
Sherlock stared at her, his jaw tightening slightly. “Was he ever called to work that early before?”
“No.” Mary’s throat felt dry and tight. “Is he -” She couldn’t finish the question without wanting to throw up.
“Dead? No. The only ones meant to die tonight were you and Harry Watson.”
“Harry?! Oh God, no...” Mary clamped her hands over her mouth.
“She’s alright. Harry lives, thankfully, on the other side of London, so my brother was able to speed her away before Moran’s men came.”
“Jesus, Sherlock,” she whispered, stumbling over his name like a forgotten language. “What the bloody hell is going on?” Except for the pounding pain in her head, Mary felt like she was dreaming, cushioned by a thick blanket of unreality.
“A loose end. The last of Moriarty’s network. Colonel Sebastian Moran arrived in London before I could intercept him or the message to his men.”
“So that’s what you’ve been doing. You’ve been hunting them down. Convenient, since they all thought you were dead.” She let out a dry laugh. “So how do we come into this?”
“You and Harry were a warning. Meant to die so that I would play by his rules to save the rest.”
“Wait, what rest? They have John - ” Mary’s eyes widened in realization. “Where is Mrs. Hudson?” She had completely forgotten that they were at her apartment, having come down to get some ice and tissues for Sherlock.
The corners of Sherlock’s mouth twitched upward into a humourless smile. “Now you are asking the right questions. Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade were kidnapped earlier tonight, and are being held in two separate locations. They, along with John, will be used to bait me. So far, Moran is under the impression that I am working alone, and it is paramount that he remains convinced of this as long as possible.”
“He doesn’t know Mycroft’s helping you?”
“If Moran knew that, he would not be in London.”
“Then why am I with you? Why did you come get me and not Mycroft’s men?”
“Believe me when I say that the rescue mission was hastily planned. I had arrived at your house, hoping to intercept you and John. I assumed they would make the awful mistake of trying to kidnap John by force, but I seem to have given them too little credit. When I saw you sprinting towards the street - where, by the way, you would have been shot as soon as you stepped out onto the sidewalk,” he said, waving dismissively, “I had to revise my initial plan. One of Mycroft’s men brought us back here.”
“Yeah, thanks for the black bag treatment. Didn’t terrify me at all.”
“I’m afraid we couldn’t exactly stay and chat about my sudden resurrection, so I...expedited the process.” Sherlock had the decency to look ashamed. “In any case, John taught you well.”
“And, if I’m following you right, the reason I’m talking to you right now is because you needed to know where John is, since Moran spoiled your grand plan by getting to him first.”
“In so many words, yes. Well done - I can see why John married you.” Sherlock’s tone was so perfunctorily sarcastic that it almost sounded sincere.
“So what’s the plan now? I assume you know where everyone is being held, so why are we still waiting around? Does Mycroft need a midnight snack?” she laughed. It sounded very wrong in the quiet room. She clenched her hands to stop them from shaking.
“Like I said, it is paramount that Moran thinks I work alone; otherwise, the game plan will drastically change. Having my brother show up right now with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men would be counterproductive.” His voice was unnaturally gentle. Sherlock Holmes being sympathetic - tonight really is the most fucked up night of my life.
“What will you do then?”
“What?!” Mary started. Her hand shot out across the table and grabbed Sherlock’s wrist in a death grip. “You can’t be serious -”
“I am perfectly serious,” he replied, extricating his hand from hers. “It will be a feint, of course. I will arrive at one of the locations, unarmed and unaccompanied. Moran is more of a hunter than an assassin - he will not give up the chance to kill me himself. I will be brought to him, and once his attention is diverted, it is only a matter of three well-timed ambushes by His Majesty’s finest armed gunmen to lay the whole matter to rest.”
“And what make you think he won’t call your bluff? He must be pretty familiar with your repertoire by now.”
“I have died for my friends once. His plan rests on the idea that I will do it again.” He steepled his fingers and briefly dropped his forehead to rest against them. Then he looked up at her again, the light from the lamp casting deep shadows across his face. “That and his assurance that no other souls in London know that I am alive.”
“Little does he know that your brother doesn’t have one.”
Sherlock chuckled at that and Mary couldn’t help but join in. She was sitting at a table, pregnant and in her pyjamas, with a resurrected genius madman, having just survived an assassination attempt, with her husband and two of her closest friends kidnapped by a desperate gunman, and she was laughing. Is this why they always laughed at inappropriate moments, she wondered, because no matter what, they somehow trusted each other to do the right thing?
A loud sharp honk came from outside. Sherlock stood up so fast he nearly toppled his chair, and leapt over to turn off the lamp. The room plunged into darkness. Mary was yanked out of her seat and steered backwards until she was crouched against the wall with Sherlock by her side. She could barely make out his silhouette in the street glow filtering in through the blinds.
“What’s happening?” she whispered, her voice barely audible even to herself. Cold sweat gathered at her temples. Sherlock’s hand tightened on her arm as he leant forward to murmur in her ear.
“We’re not alone.”
Mary’s chest felt like someone had clamped it in a vice. It took her a few moments to try and focus on anything but the roaring in her ears and difficulty of breathing.
“I don’t understand,” she managed to choke out, even as a shrill scream inside her head told her she did.
Sherlock’s fingers dug painfully into her arm in response. It helped a little. They crept quietly out of 221A and towards the stairs. When she felt him let go of her, Mary stopped, refusing to go any farther.
“Mary, go up the stairs,” he nudged her. “Go back down the fire escape and away from here.”
She didn’t budge. “What about you?”
“I’ll leave by a different door - now, go!” He started to push her, but she batted his hand away.
“Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. You’re not facing him alone.”
“Duly noted. Now go, or you will get us both killed,” Sherlock hissed, before melting away into the dark.
Mary reluctantly made her way upstairs into 221B, stepping slowly and silently into the apartment. She started to make her way slowly, her hands groping for support. Something warm and scratchy brushed against her and she nearly yelped. It was Sherlock’s coat, left hanging on one of the chairs. Mary slipped it on without thinking, feeling warm for the first time since she left her bed.
She made her way outside, staying close to the wall and peering intently into the gloom for any sign of movement. Greyish early morning light was just illuminating the street, but in the back of the building it was still dark. When her feet hit the cold pavement again, Mary realized belatedly that she would have benefited much more from taking Mrs. Hudson’s shoes than Sherlock’s coat. Up ahead she could see the car - its driver’s side door ajar, the alert system beeping away.
I should run, she thought, run the other damn way and call for help. Instead, she made her way over to the car. The driver was slumped over, cheek pressed against the dashboard. His eyes were open. Mary pressed two fingers to his throat, but she couldn’t feel anything.
“Sorry about this,” she murmured, reaching over to close his eyes. The keys were still in the ignition and somewhere out there Sherlock Holmes was battling an assassin. Mary had no time to waste. She grabbed the dead driver by his suit and dragged him out of the car, sparing a moment to arrange his limbs in a more dignified pose. Her investigative experiences with Sherlock, John, and Greg had left her very tolerant of dead bodies.
Mary backed up until she exited onto a side street, where she promptly swung the car around and headed towards Baker Street. She could see the blood stains near the steering wheel in the faint light, but resolutely kept her eyes on the road. In the distance, the yellow glow of the street lamp showed two dark figures fighting. Mary silently thanked the fact that the road was deserted and stamped down on the accelerator.
There was a loud thud followed by the squealing of tires and the smell of burned rubber. Mary’s fingers were clenched so tight around the steering wheel that the leather creaked. She managed to loosen the grip of one hand and open the passenger side door. Sherlock stood outside, disheveled and panting.
“Good timing,” he complimented airily. “Did you mean to hit him?”
“I think so,” Mary answered. She leaned back in her seat and let out a long breath. Sherlock slid into the car and gave her an amused look.
“What is it?” she asked, frowning.
“You’re wearing my coat,” he said, not losing the strangely pleased look his face seemed to have adopted.
“I was cold - what of it?”
“Absolutely nothing. You just reminded me of someone. Now hurry up and drive.”
In the car, Sherlock wasted no time in getting into a heated exchange with his brother over the phone. Mary attempted to listen in, but her body was betraying her. Her seatbelt scratched uncomfortably at her abdomen, and the buzz of adrenaline was wearing off. She couldn’t focus beyond the nausea and the aches and pains of her body, so she kept her eyes fixed on the road and prayed they would stop soon.
“Take a left.” Mary flinched, startled out of her reverie, and turned. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Sherlock stare resolutely ahead.
“Where are we going?”
“To save Mrs. Hudson.”
“Wait, what?” She nearly steered the car into oncoming traffic trying to come to grips with that statement. “Why us? Where’s your brother?”
“There’s no time. The man that came for us had a mobile on him. He has already informed Moran that Mycroft is involved. We have precious little time to act before he slips out of reach again, this time with Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and John in tow.”
“So he’s letting you and a pregnant woman go up against Moran’s men? And what are we armed with? Intellect and hormonal rage? It’s a wonder England still stands with your brother at the helm.”
“It’s our last opportunity,” Sherlock continued on, ignoring Mary’s protests. “Mrs. Hudson is the closest to us. Mycroft will ensure Lestrade’s safety.”
Mary brought the car to a screeching halt by the curb.
“What about John?!” she practically screamed. “The London’s only ten minutes away - we can make it. Mycroft can get Mrs. Hudson.” She tried to drive back, but Sherlock pulled the handbrake.
“Mary, look at me and think!” His voice was clipped and tense, and his hand did not release the brake. “If you were Moran, who would be your top priority? Who would be the most well-guarded?”
“John,” she answered softly. “It would be John.”
“Moran will not risk killing him - not if he wants to get to me. Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade, on the other hand, do not get that same honor. Their lives were in danger as soon as they learned that my brother is involved. He is desperate, and if some of his bargaining chips have to die so that I don’t have the advantage, he will not hesitate.”
“So we’re just going to leave him?” Hot tears slid down her face, and she wiped at them viciously with her coat sleeve. “Sherlock, no. I can’t -”
“You can and you will. We must salvage what we can while there is still time to do so.” He released the handbrake. Mary took a shuddering breath and rubbed away fresh tears. She had to refrain from asking, is that what you did?.
“Where are we going?” she said finally, her hands firmly gripping the steering wheel.
Hackney Downs, London
The ‘where’ turned out to be an old apartment complex in Hackney Downs. It was the dawn by the time they arrived. As soon as they stopped, several streets away, Sherlock pulled out a gun from the glove compartment and tried to get out of the car. Mary locked him in.
“You’re not going without me,” she stated simply.
“I’m sorry?” Sherlock seemed equal parts confused and frustrated. “What do you hope to -”
“I hope to get us both out alive. Put a gun in my hand and you won’t regret it.”
“You can’t. You’re -” He waved a hand expansively towards her stomach. “Indisposed.”
“I believe the word you are looking for is ‘pregnant.’ I assure you it has no influence on my ability to use a firearm.”
“Mary, you will get hurt. And I’m not even considering the fact that you have never killed a man before.” He unlocked the door and got out of the car. She followed.
“I don’t know if you missed it, but I ran a man down just this morning. And I’ve been training to shoot for more than a year. And as for protection, I have -” she unlocked the boot and took out a Kevlar vest. “This. Help yourself, compliments of Mycroft.”
“How did you know they would be in here?” Sherlock looked almost impressed.
“I got a lift home once in one of his cars. I went to put the groceries in the boot and found them.” She slipped the vest on, adjusting it until it settled awkwardly, but completely, over her. “I’m coming with you, whether you agree to it or not, because I am not sitting here in the car like a useless accessory. There is no ‘safe’ for us anymore - so we might as well make it a team effort, yeah?” Mary grabbed another vest and handed it to him. Sherlock put it on with reluctance and then fixed her with an incredulous look.
“I’ve only met one other person as stubborn as you, and you’re married to him. Tell me, what happens when you argue?”
“The unstoppable force and immovable object conundrum?” She smiled upon seeing Sherlock’s puzzled look. “It’s nothing like that. I always win. Let’s go.”
They made quite a pair walking down the street - a pregnant woman with Kevlar under a greatcoat and no shoes, and a man who looked like a reject from a gay hit squad. Mrs. Hudson was in for a surprise.
One of the guards stood by the back entrance into the bottom of the building. They crouched noiselessly behind the bins just around the corner. He was dressed in regular street clothes, but beneath his jacket, Mary could make out the bulge of a gun holster.
“Deaf in left ear. Go around - I’ll draw his attention,” Sherlock whispered to her after a brief look.
Mary stole away softly and made her way around the block. Coming back towards the building, she stopped just out of sight and tossed a beer can - it made a satisfying ‘clang’ against the storm drain. Two brisk footsteps followed, cut off by a crunch and a sharp grunt. She wasted no time going around the corner and running towards the guard, who was embroiled in a fistfight with Sherlock. Sherlock landed a swift kick to his ribcage, which sent the guard stumbling back towards her. Mary took the opportunity to kick his legs out from under him and to slide the gun out of his side holster before he could stand up again. She flicked the safety off and pressed the muzzle to the back of his head.
“Nose to the ground. Hands on your head.” Her voice was as calm as if she had been ordering a coffee. Before he could comply, Sherlock walked over and cracked the butt of his pistol against his temple. The guard collapsed like a ragdoll.
“Don’t waste time. Now grab his feet.”
They made their way into the house, stopping to lock the unconscious guard in the supply closet. The basement floor of the building looked empty.
“Two upstairs on the fifth floor, one by the front door,” Sherlock said, answering her unspoken question. “We don’t have long - they’ll try to contact the other one soon.”
As soon as he finished the sentence, they heard footsteps descending into the basement. Mary backed up close to the stairs and aimed the gun above her. She placed her finger on the trigger as soon as she saw feet. Shoot now, she thought, get his legs. Her finger refused to budge. She watched him go down the stairs, no more than ten feet from her gun, but she couldn’t shoot. Her hands were slippery with sweat and her arms trembled. He reached the bottom of the stairs and turned around to see her hiding spot. He raised his gun. Mary’s field of vision narrowed down to its muzzle, until all she could see was the dark chasm of the barrel. A muffled snap broke the spell. The man fell in a crumpled heap, his head turned at an impossible angle. Sherlock stood over him, his hands clenched.
“I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely, “I wanted to, but -”
“Stay down here,” he cut her off. His face was completely impassive. Mary watched him go up the stairs and close the door. She pocketed her gun and wiped her clammy hands on the coat. Her cheeks burned and her head began to ache again - had she done the right thing or the wrong? I did nothing, Mary decided, but I can do something now. She went upstairs.
By the time she reached the fifth floor, she was ready to collapse. The door at the end of the hall was open and yelling was echoing up and down the corridor. Mary slowly made her way over - through the door, she could see Mrs. Hudson, standing in her nightie with a gun pressed to her head. The guard was yelling at Sherlock to get down on the floor. Mary turned her head to get a better look and saw that the other guard was face-down on the floor next to the door. Sherlock’s gun was on the floor and out of his reach.
With a deep breath, she lined up the shot. She saw him jerk Mrs. Hudson back, pressing his arm dangerously tight around her windpipe. Mary exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The sound was deafening in the small space and the recoil jarred her shoulder. A spray of blood coated the wall and carpet, and a large pool quickly began to form under the fallen man’s head. Mrs. Hudson turned ashen when she looked behind her.
“Oh dear,” she moaned, covering her mouth with her hands.
“Come along, Mrs. Hudson. It’s alright now,” Sherlock urged gently as he put a hand around her shoulders and escorted her out the door. He gave Mary a small nod.
“Fine shot,” he commended. “Are you alright?”
She let out a breathy hysterical giggle. “Oh, God no. I just killed a man.”
“If it’s any consolation, he wasn’t a very nice man.”
Mary started to laugh helplessly even though she was practically vibrating with tension. Sherlock smiled broadly.
“Are you alright, Mrs. Hudson?” she asked when she felt slightly calmer.
“Mary, dear, it’s so good to see you,” Mrs. Hudson answered, suddenly remembering her courtesies. “Oh, you’re in your pyjamas too. Did they come for you as well at that ungodly time of night? There’s no honor in the criminal class these days - coming after pregnant women and old ladies. Just horrible.”
“Let’s go, Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock cut in, patting her on the shoulder.
“Don’t you dare order me around, you awful man,” she burst out angrily. “I make it a point not to take orders from tenants who fake their death and avoid paying rent. I sincerely hope when John finds out, he knocks some sense into you. Come along, Mary. Let him think about what he’s done.” She threaded her arm through Mary’s and started off down the stairs. Mary gave Sherlock a jaunty wave and followed.
Mrs. Hudson finished her endless procession of inquiries into Mary and the baby’s health by the time they reached the first floor. By the front entrance, a team of suited men headed by Mycroft and Anthea waited for them.
“Lestrade?” Sherlock questioned as he strode up to meet his brother.
“Perfectly fine. He has been dropped off at Scotland Yard as per your request. Everyone is well on your end, I hope?” Mycroft gave Mary and Mrs. Hudson a cursory glance over his brother’s shoulder. “I think this conversation is best continued in the car.” He turned around and walked off, the team parting before him and Anthea like the Red Sea.
They were ushered into the back of a large black Jaguar. Anthea stopped Mary before she could sit and handed her a pair of flats. Mary felt like hugging her.
Inside the car, Mycroft sat across from them, umbrella resting against his knee. His expression was slightly strained, as if he just found something unpleasant in his breakfast, if he had it all.
“I am deeply sorry about this situation, Mary. I sincerely wish something more could be done.”
“Don’t tell me that,” she snapped bitterly. “We’re not abandoning John.”
“No one is saying that. But, I’m afraid, a new plan is necessary.” He sighed and tapped his fingers on the umbrella handle. “According to outside surveillance and an aborted emergency phone call, Royal London Hospital is under new management, courtesy of Colonel Moran and his men. It has been completely sealed off as of 5:26 this morning, with Dr. Watson still inside.”
A thick silence descended in the cabin. Mary felt cold dread grip her heart. She looked over at Sherlock, who was staring intently out of the window. He was frowning, the corners of his mouth pulled down in an almost comical fashion. The tightness around his eyes made him look like he was suffering some terrible pain. He made no attempt to speak. Next to her, Mrs. Hudson made small broken noise.
“What do we do?” she asked softly.
“That is between you, my brother, and the fine men and women of the Metropolitan Police. When this situation becomes public - and it will - I cannot be seen helping you. It will raise far too many questions and the press can be so fickle,” he lamented. Before Mary’s indignation could reach boiling point, Sherlock turned to give his brother a look that probably disintegrated lesser men. Mycroft’s expression quickly soured even more.
“Shame on you, Mycroft Holmes,” Mrs. Hudson huffed sharply.
New Scotland Yard
The rest of the ride was spent in silence. When the car stopped, Mycroft spoke up again.
“Sherlock, do be careful.”
“Goodbye, Mycroft,” he replied, opening the door. The sun was already up and the streets of London had filled up again. For Mary, it felt like it had been a week since she’d last seen her bed.
“Mary, come along.” Sherlock stood by the open door, impatiently tapping his fingers. She didn’t hesitate to follow, saying a quick goodbye to Mrs. Hudson. She was still in her pyjamas and swallowed by Sherlock’s coat, but had traded in her Kevlar for shoes. Sherlock’s shirt now bore some questionable stains, but otherwise he still looked magically unruffled. They went in through Scotland Yard’s front entrance.
The second officer to see them dropped his papers with a loud ‘Jesus!’ People gathered around them with shocked gasps and murmurs, but Sherlock strode towards the elevators, slicing through the crowd like a hot knife through butter. Mary struggled to keep up, wondering the whole time if John had to jog behind him as well.
The elevator stopped on the 20th floor and Sherlock powered through the doors like a charging bull.
“Lestrade!” he bellowed loud enough for the whole floor. Everyone froze. Anderson’s cup tumbled from his hand. Donovan, who was sitting next to someone covered by an emergency blanket, looked ready to be sick.
“Jesus fucking Christ...” Lestrade’s mournful wail came out muffled by blanket. Sherlock took it as an invitation.
“Close, but no. I’ve been told we have some similarities,” he said, looming over him. By this point, Donovan had sought shelter in the nearest cubicle. “Get up - I need your help.”
Lestrade dropped his hands away from his face and gave him a long-suffering look. “Are you serious? Did you say need my help? You’ve just come back from the dead and - Do you even know the night I’ve had? I can’t -”
“My phrasing didn’t invite argument. And don’t dare to complain about your night - Mary is five months pregnant and has already escaped from two assassins and killed two more. You’re a seasoned police officer, detective inspector - you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Morning, Greg,” she waved sheepishly.
Lestrade’s mouth opened and closed several times as he looked between them. Then he stood up, letting the blanket drop.
“What do you need?” he sighed heavily. Donovan made a strangled noise of protest in the background. Sherlock looked smugly pleased.
“Your office. Bring the competent ones.” He treated Donovan with an icy stare and stalked off towards Lestrade’s office. Mary remained, standing awkwardly under the gaze of the entire Homicide Division.
“Where’s John?” Lestrade asked, after looking around in confusion.
“Hostage,” she answered, the word tumbling heavily out of her mouth. Lestrade inhaled sharply in abject shock and several officers suddenly looked anxious. He then rapidly cleared his throat and rolled up his sleeves.
“Go with Sherlock - I’ll meet you there,” he said, waving her on.
The competent team ended up being Lestrade, Donovan, Dimmock, and two of the younger sergeants, Hopkins and Clarke. Donovan remained by the door, which was as far away from Sherlock as the physical space of Lestrade’s office allowed her to be. Clarke brought Mary a sandwich that she gratefully accepted. Outside, the rest of the division was exchanging hushed whispers and furtive looks.
Lestrade stood up at his desk with a heavy sigh.
“Alright, apart from the fact that Sherlock is back from the dead, we have an issue that needs to be dealt with right now. I realize for some of you,” he alternated between looking at Donovan and at Sherlock, “this is not an ideal arrangement. Tough luck, but I need you both, so sort it out now.”
Several minutes were spent in uncomfortable silence, until, mercifully, Donovan spoke up.
“Sherlock, I apologize. What I said about you caused consequences that I was not expecting,” she gritted out.
“Accepted. Moving on,” he replied coolly. The look he gave her was slightly less contemptuous than before, so Mary counted that matter as settled.
“Good,” Lestrade continued, taking a seat. “Now, Sherlock, fill us in.”
“Colonel Sebastian Moran has taken Royal London Hospital hostage,” he began. “He is James Moriarty’s second-in-command and the last of his network. A deadly marksman and military man, Moran should not be underestimated. His exact plans and the number of men
working for him are unknown. What I can tell you is that his priorities don’t lie with the patients, but rather with John Watson. He plans to use John against me, so that I will have no choice but to surrender myself to a more final death this time.”
“Right now, Moran is cornered and desperate, and that makes him all the more dangerous. He planned to use Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade as hostages as well, but that fell by the wayside when he learned that I was getting help from my brother. He has only one real bargaining chip left and will not cede ground easily.”
Sherlock was cut off as the door flew open and Anderson burst into the room.
“You have to come see this right now,” he urged anxiously.
Everyone had gathered around the television that hung on the far wall. Mary pushed her way to the front of the crowd, Sherlock and Lestrade close behind. On the telly, the breaking news banner for BBC News had come on. The camera panned to a discomfited presenter.
Breaking news coming in from Royal London Hospital. According to police, a hostage situation has been developing there since 5:26 this morning. We have just received word from the group responsible. I must warn you, the video we are about to show you is quite graphic.
There was some static and then a group of five men appeared on camera, dressed in heavy black uniforms and ski masks. Several of them held assault rifles. Another stood among them, still in his scrubs, with his hands bound and a black bag over his head. He was being held by two of the men. Mary fought back a sob. Next to her, Lestrade let out an uneasy breath and ran a hand over his face.
There are bombs planted in the building, a distorted voice began, any attempt to take the building by force, and they will be set off. We have one demand - Sherlock Holmes, alone and unarmed. If this demand is not met, we will set off the bombs. In light of recent events, I’m afraid a time limit for completion has to be established.
One of the men tugged the black bag off of John’s head and dragged him forward. Exclamations and gasps filled the room around her. Mary could see a deep purple bruise blooming under his eye and a small trickle of blood escaping from his split lip. One of the men took out a handgun and approached him. Mary’s mind turned to white noise as she stared, paralyzed, at the screen.
Which leg was it, Mr. Holmes? The man pointed a gun down to John’s knees. Behind her, she felt Sherlock tense. The left or the right that he limped on? I rather think it was the right.
Mary’s scream drowned out the gunshot. John pitched forward, his leg collapsing under him. Blood smeared on the floor and formed a large dark stain on his scrubs. Two men held him up to the camera. His face was pinched with pain, but he remained completely silent, save for the harsh shallow sound of his breathing. Errant tears slipped out from his tightly shut eyes. A black bag was placed over his head again.
You have less than two hours until he bleeds out, Mr. Holmes. Fail to appear, and we will blow up the hospital as well.
The presenter appeared again, but Mary couldn’t hear anything besides the sound of her own sobs. She sank onto the floor, burying her face in her arms. The last few seconds of the video had branded themselves in her mind, replaying over and over again. She felt someone shaking her gently and repeatedly calling her name. Her arms were pried away from her face and she saw Lestrade, his features blurred through her tears. He pulled her into a hug and gently patted her back while she tried to compose herself.
“It’ll be alright,” he murmured reassuringly, “he’ll be alright, Mary, I promise.”
When she stopped trembling enough to stand up, Lestrade pulled back to give her some space. She turned around to see that Sherlock was still rooted in front of the television. His hand clenched and unclenched, the same way John’s did in moments of extreme agitation.
“Sherlock,” she called softly. Mary wondered faintly if this feeling was new to him, if he had ever stood by helplessly while someone he loved suffered, if he had watched John stoically break apart in front of his headstone like she had. His refusal to acknowledge her presence told her everything she wanted to know.
“Sherlock.” More demanding this time.
He turned his head slightly in response. His hand was fisted so tightly the skin around his knuckles looked ready to rupture.
“Don’t let him down again.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Sherlock had spent the last ten minutes staring at the second hand of the clock above the television. He could feel Lestrade pacing anxiously next to him. In seven seconds, he was going stop and ask him if he had come up with a plan yet. Sherlock wasn’t sure what his reply would be. It was an odd feeling, to not know what to do next. Moriarty’s game had been different - more complicated and insidious, but, in that way, so much simpler. The problem was that Moran wasn’t playing a game - he didn’t know how to. And the real problem was that Sherlock didn’t know how not to.
Someone more poetic would probably say that every second gone was another drop of John’s blood. Sherlock would not agree. Seconds were inexhaustible and he had more of them than he knew what to do with. John’s blood, on the other hand, was not. It was an infinitely more precious resource and it would be a travesty to compare the two. Perhaps, if he had been a metaphorical man, he could imagine the steady drip of blood coinciding with the tick-tock of the clock. Sadly, he could only imagine real things, things like the floorplan of the hospital, its weak structural points, the types of weapons Moran’s men were holding, and the extent of John’s pain and ability to stay conscious.
“Sherlock, say something damn it! What’s the plan?” Seven and half seconds. Almost perfect.
“I need a computer equipped with a webcam.”
“What the -? Try my office computer.”
“Are you calling someone?” Mary’s voice piped up. She came over to stand next to Lestrade.
Sherlock had grudgingly admitted to himself, shortly after Mary and John started dating, that she was actually tolerable company and that her presence didn’t interfere with the work too much. Therefore, he had made an effort to be considerate to her lest she leave and John become permanently depressed, or worse, leave with her. Still, he had expected her to be an obtrusive or, at best, useless presence in this morning’s events. She had defied his expectations; in turn, he had made her his partner in crime. He imagined John would be pleased.
“Precisely. I’m calling someone who can give us a look inside.”
Back in the office, Sherlock opened a porn site on Lestrade’s browser and started to scroll through list of available live webcams. Lestrade was less than pleased.
“This better have a point,” he muttered while demurely covering his eyes.
Sherlock finally saw the one he was looking for. Instead of the advertised busty fake blonde, the screen requested that the user enter a password and turn on their webcam. He logged on, turned on his webcam, and stared directly at it.
“Sherlock Holmes,” he enunciated. A small unshaved man wearing glasses appeared on the screen. At that, Mary let out a small ‘huh.’
“Joseph! It’s good to see you.” Sherlock hoped a casual tone was appropriate. Joseph’s eyes were comically wide behind his glasses and his mouth was hanging open. Sherlock tried a smile. It didn’t help.
“Is it really you?” Joseph finally whispered, leaning in close.
“Yes, I’m quite confident it is,” Sherlock replied tersely. “Joseph, I need your help.”
“How about you first tell me why you’re callin’ from the Yard and why you have two plods standin’ there?”
“Friends. You don’t have to worry about them. Now, I need you to get me the video feed from inside the London.”
“What’re you on, mate?”, Joseph balked, “Maybe you want me to get you one of the Queen’s bleedin’ loo while I’m at it? I think what we should discuss instead is that one,you’re supposed to be dead, and two, fuckin’ terrorists are going to blow up that hospital because of you!”
“Joseph, calm down. Nothing will get blown up if you get me that feed. Get it to me in under an hour and I will personally get you a video feed of the Queen’s bathroom.”
“Mate, I don’t know if I can do that. That’s a lot of work.”
“Then you better get to it. Contact me in an hour.”
“Wait! How much will you pay?”
“Irrelevant. Get. Me. That. Video.” Sherlock turned off the webcam and logged off the computer.
“And you trust that man?” Lestrade asked, pointing to the computer.
“I do. In my own way.”
“So that’s it? We just wait?” Mary looked perplexed.
“Yes.” With that, Sherlock left to go watch the news.
The story was now the main headline on all the news channels, with the outside of the hospital being covered by several aerial cameras and several more eager presenters. The cameras panned around the unfinished addition to the London and the deserted streets around the hospital. Whitechapel Road was cordoned off a block in either direction and all shops and residences had been evacuated. Still, a large crowd had formed by the barricade, seemingly heedless of the officers urging them to leave. The police were at a standstill - BBC News had reported that negotiations were not able to be established.
As a result of the lull in events, Sherlock’s picture suddenly populated every single news network.
The Reichenbach Hero returns? What is the real story -
Did Sherlock Holmes fake his own death? Possibilities include -
Where is Sherlock Holmes? Time is running out -
Click. Silence. Lestrade appeared over his shoulder.
“You know that some of the men want to hand you over? Cuff you and dump you in front of the hospital?”
“Can’t say I’m surprised.”
“All I’m saying is, you need to start looking a little more...busy,” Lestrade whispered uncomfortably. “More than two hundred lives depend on you, remember?”
“I am aware. Nagging me will only work to their detriment.”
“Alright, alright, I’m just making sure -.” The buzz Sherlock’s phone effectively put an end to whatever fretful train of thought Lestrade had boarded at that point.
A small crowd had gathered around Lestrade’s computer when Sherlock turned on the video feed. The feed showed two guards were posted at every major entrance to a wing of the hospital and all other doors were simply barricaded. The patients, doctors, and nurses were locked inside.
“There can’t be more than twelve of those men in the whole hospital!” Hopkins exclaimed once they had gone through most of the feed.
“It’s the bombs we have to worry about, not the men,” Lestrade muttered, which started a chorus of conversations. Sherlock contemplated homicide.
“Can you see John?” Mary’s voice cut through the noise. A hush fell over the room.
“Joseph,” Sherlock prompted. Joseph’s face appeared at the bottom of the screen. “Where are they holding the captive?”
“Eh? How’s he look like?”
Sherlock’s teeth ground together in frustration. “It’s not that difficult. He’s the one that’s bleeding.”
“Oh yea, right. Back of the pharmacy. I’ll show you.”
A grainy black and white image filled the screen. John was sitting on the floor, propped up by one of the shelving units, with his hands still bound and an overturned stepping stool serving as makeshift support for his injured knee. The black stain of blood soaked the bottom half of his right trouser leg. His eyes were closed and he was completely still.
“Is he breathing? Sherlock, is he breathing?” Mary’s fingers dug painfully into his shoulder as she leaned in, almost touching her nose to the monitor.
“I need you to zoom in, Joseph.”
“I’m not sure -”
“Now!” Sherlock snarled. Joseph ducked his head and started typing rapidly. A blurred image of John’s upper body took up the whole screen, the light rise and fall of his chest just noticeable under the bad video quality. Mary’s fingers eased their grip on Sherlock’s shoulder.
“Right, it’s - it’s ok,” she exhaled, wringing her hands. “We don’t have to keep watching.”
“Oh, but we do. Something’s wrong.” Sherlock was staring intently at the screen.
“Wrong? What do you mean wrong?” Mary leaned over to look at the image again. The rest quickly followed suit, crowding around the computer like pigeons around the last breadcrumb.
“Look at the right corner, really look. What do you see?”
“Some pill bottles that were knocked over. Five of them, to be exact.”
Mary looked closer. “I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t. The bottles have smudges on the labels and the lids. Judging by the dark color of the smudges and their shape, somebody tried to grab these bottles with bloody fingers. There’s only one suspect in this case, I’m afraid. The question is what does John need with five pill bottles?”
“Maybe he was looking for some painkillers,” Donovan suggested.
“Excellent idea, Donovan. Anderson taught you well in my absence. How do you propose he do take said painkillers with his hands zip-tied behind his back? And unless he was going to speed things along, why would he need five different kinds of them? The pills are a message. Joseph, I need to you to get me as much resolution as you can of those labels.”
“Yea, I’m on it,” he replied, rapid typing picking up again. “The first one is Prozac. For the next one I got O - something - artan. Looks like Olmesartan, but I’m not sure. I think the next one’s Wellvone, but the last few letters are cut off. The last two are Enbrel and Repaglinide. Mean anything to you?”
“Oh,” Sherlock chuckled delightedly, “it means quite a bit. I need you to loop the last ten minutes of video from this camera and use it to replace the actual feed. Wait for my phone call. Thank you, Joseph. Money will be wired to you at the end of the day.”
“Pleasure doin’ business with you again, Mr. Holmes.” He disappeared from the screen along with the video feed. Sherlock leaned back in the chair and steepled his fingers under his chin, already lost in thought. Behind him, everyone exchanged bewildered glances.
“Sherlock? Care to clue us in?” Lestrade spoke up. Sherlock spun the chair around and glared at him in annoyance.
“Are you all actually this slow, or is it just easier to ask me questions rather than attempting to think for yourself? Tell me, were you able to any solve anything -”
“Sherlock!” Mary cut him off mid-tirade. “Enough.” Sherlock couldn’t help but remember times when the same phrase had been spoken to him in that familiar tone of exasperation and worn patience John had perfected. Her voice wasn’t like his at all - it was angry and broken and terrified. By all rights, it should have annoyed him, yet Sherlock felt only sympathy. He supposed that made her somehow special.
“The first letter of each name spells a word - power,” he began, turning towards Mary. “Now assuming John isn’t using his last few hours on Earth to make a grand political statement, the only logical conclusion is that he wants us to do something with the power to the hospital - namely cutting it off. An incredibly risky, but surprisingly elegant, solution.”
“They already considered that,” Lestrade countered. “Not counting the fact that the backup generator would kick in, it wouldn’t grant us any advantage. It only takes one man to set off the bombs whether it’s light or dark in that hospital.”
“And therein lies the solution, inspector.” Sherlock was outright smiling. “You said it only takes one man to set off the bombs. I would argue that it will only take one man to disarm them.”
Lestrade opened and closed his mouth several times before he could spit out a coherent sentence. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to run that one by me again. Your plan is to let John disarm those bombs?”
“Yes. Well, technically, John’s plan. I give credit where it’s due.”
The officers in the room spent about five seconds in stupefied silence before erupting in a cacophony of confused shouting. Lestrade’s sharp whistle managed to restore some order to the proceedings.
“Sherlock, what you’re suggesting is absolutely bonkers,” he continued, rubbing a hand across his face. “I don’t even know where to begin, it’s so mad. How can you even know that this is what John had in mind?”
“John has spent the last forty-five minutes bleeding onto the floor. I think he has fully acquiesced to the fact that no cavalry is arriving to save him. When he wasted precious strength arranging those pill bottles, he did not count on you to see them. He’s not a fool - he knows I’m alive. The message was meant for me, meant to be seen by the one person who will know that it’s not a cry for help, but a plan of action.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Because I know John.”
Lestrade turned to Mary, obviously seeking a saner opinion on the proceedings. “Mary, is he right?”
Mary looked at Sherlock for a long moment and then turned back to Lestrade. “He is,”
she said, nodding. “You should cut the power.”
“Not you too,” Lestrade groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose like he was trying to stave off a massive migraine. “Christ, are you two even aware that he was shot in the leg? Even if he does have some grand plan, who’s to say that he’ll even be able to go through with it? John will be one injured man against twelve armed killers - it’s suicide.”
“Never underestimate the power of love as a motivator, Lestrade,” Sherlock answered.
“The power of love? Are you actually listening to the utter tripe coming out of your mouth? And if you think he’s motivated by any love for you, you are sorely mistaken.”
“Not me.” Sherlock looked over at Mary. “Her.”
Mary looked back at him in confusion. “I don’t understand. He’s going to stop Moran because of me?”
“Not because of you, but because of what he thinks happened to you. Do you really think Moran would tell him that you’re safe and sound in my company? Mary, John thinks you’re dead. Knowing Moran, he’s probably also under the impression that his sister, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade are dead as well.”
“No,” she whispered, shaking her head. “God, no, don’t say that.”
“That was Moran’s mistake, don’t you see?” Sherlock was practically beside himself with excitement. He leapt out of the chair and started to pace around the room. “Moran’s plan was to demoralize, to drown John in grief so he wouldn’t cause trouble. What he did instead was give him nothing to lose. And right now, John is trapped in the same building as the man who killed his family and friends. Moran and his men don’t stand a chance.” Sherlock looked around the room expectantly, but was met with only concerned frowns. He realized he was waiting for a voice by his side to call him brilliant.
Lestrade broke the silence. “And you’re confident he can do this? Disarm the bombs?”
“Yes. He said that where he was posted, defusing explosives was mandatory training.”
“And when did he say this?”
“After I had opened one of Culverton Smith’s ‘presents.’”
“Alright, then,” Lestrade said suddenly. “Alright. We’ll do it. We’ll cut the power.” Behind him, everyone else started to hesitantly nod. “I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to convince the chief, but we’ll do it.” He gave Mary’s shoulder a comforting squeeze and left the room, the rest of the officers trailing along behind him.
Sherlock and Mary were left alone in Lestrade’s office. She sat down heavily in one of the chairs and looked up at Sherlock. Her eyes were baggy and red-rimmed from lack of sleep and crying, but she looked at him directly and unflinchingly, something a select few ever dared to do.
“Am I going to see John again?” she asked. There was no pretense or build-up, not even any tears - just a simple question. There was only one answer Sherlock considered.
The reference to Culverton Smith completely shoehorned and John's skills widly inflated by yours truly.
Royal London Hospital
Your wife is dead. Two shots - head and belly. She screamed your name before we did her in.
Your sister’s dead, too. We slit her throat when she tried to make a run for it.
That nice old lady - we broke her neck. Her bones were as thin as a little bird’s.
The inspector, though, he gave us trouble. It took a quarter of an hour until the knife in his liver did the trick.
Now what do you say, Johnny boy? What should we do for Sherlock?
John opened his eyes. The fluorescent light stung and he had to blink a few times to be able to see properly. He looked down at his leg which throbbed painfully in time with his pulse - the blood was still spreading sluggishly across his scrubs. He slowly sat up, feeling the tingling pins and needles in his arms, and looked up at the surveillance camera. John wondered briefly who was watching him right then - was it Sherlock or Moran? Then he realized that, quite frankly, he didn’t care.
He leaned back again, trying to ease the tension in his arms and back. The lights above him hummed softly while he stared at them. Strange colorful patterns began to dance in front of his eyes. One of them looked a little like the pattern Mrs. Hudson chose for the baby blanket she was making. When she had shown it to them, Mary looked slightly ill. John was of the opinion that they should make the whole nursery gypsy-themed in honor of the blanket. A spot of red blotted out his vision. He thought of waking up with Mary’s auburn hair draped over his face. She refused to sleep with her hair tied back, so everyday John would wake up with a faceful of red hair. She also had a habit of sleeping with her mouth slightly open, but it was something he loved too much to tell her about.
Pinpricks of blue danced around the periphery of his vision. When Harry was eight, her dress had 562 small blue polka dots. He counted them once when he was bored in church. Swirls of yellow and orange were pub nights with Greg. They only talked about Sherlock a few times, when they were too drunk to really care. Black was mixing with green now. It looked like the wallpaper in 221B and the bored genius who had once shot holes in it. It was cases in progress, midnight violin concertos, and beakers filled with questionable substances in the kitchen sink. It was the time Sherlock threw a CIA agent out of the window, and the time he threw a fit because Mary tried to change the focus on his microscope.
Tears were slipping down John’s face and his eyes burned. He wondered if this counted as crying. It should hurt more, the knowledge that Sherlock lied to him, betrayed him, and that John would never see his wife or friends again as a result. It should have hurt more, but it didn’t. The situation just seemed oddly backwards - dead is alive and alive is dead, and John was stuck somewhere in between. His body felt empty, everything scraped out but memories and a last purpose. John watched the lights and tried to recall the last moments before his heart had stopped, as he bled out all over the sand in Maiwand. He decided that they had been quite nice, and that he will have something to look forward to once he was done here. John continued to watch the lights, lost in thought. Then, with a loud pop, everything went dark.
It’s time. He pulled himself up, ignoring his dizziness and aching back.
A minute later there were footsteps outside. The door opened and the bright beam of a torch bounced around the front of the room. John slowly slid back further into the dark. He was pleased to note the guard still had his mask on. When he had made his way around to the other side of the shelving unit, John clawed his way to a standing position, bound hands throwing him off balance. Through the spaces in the shelf, he could see the guard’s torchlight advancing on the other side. He moved silently with him, circling around to come up behind. Each step on his injured leg felt like someone had set fire to his nerve endings. It could have been worse, he mentally comforted himself, could have blown out your whole knee.
The torchlight suddenly froze, pointing downwards. Pain forgotten, John took two great leaps and tackled the guard from behind, driving his shoulder into his back. They fell and there was a loud crunch as the guard’s neck connected with the overturned stool. The torch rolled out of his slack hand. John rifled through his pockets, coming up with a knife that he used to cut away the zip tie from his wrists. Leaning over to take the torch, he checked the guard’s neck for a pulse, strictly out of habit. For once, he was relieved to find none.
John ripped the pharmacy apart looking for gauze, stitches, and painkillers. The lights still had not come on by the time he had finished dressing his wound. Only a few more minutes remained until the generator would turn on the overhead lighting. He switched clothes with the guard, putting on the ski mask and earpiece, and sat him up against the shelf. The lights flickered on. John silently prayed that Sherlock had sabotaged the surveillance camera. The fact that no one was breaking down the door to shoot him probably meant he did.
He walked out of the pharmacy, careful not to limp. The SA80 rifle in his hands felt so familiar he almost expected to open the door and find himself in the scorching desert heat. He headed for the stairs - considering no one in the hospital raised the alarm before it was too late, the bombs were most likely in the basement level. He was halfway down when a tinny voice came over the earpiece.
Remain at your posts. Keep watch for any movement outside.
John picked up the pace, his leg throbbing despite the heavy dose of morphine. He found one of the bombs strapped to the main gas line and the others to the foundation columns. They were simple devices, Semtech strapped to a charge and a remote trigger - the same type Moriarty put on him. He painstakingly removed the triggers and cut the charges. He’d always been complimented on the steadiness of his hands, whether it was bomb safety training or surgery practice. Good to know it was actually true.
John headed upstairs and exited on the second floor. He took comfort in the fact that the voice over his earpiece was still silent. He considered contacting the police, but the phone lines had been cut and the mobile in his coat pocket was stuck behind locked doors and two armed men. Finishing this alone was preferable anyway. Walking as calmly as he could, John passed the two masked guards. It was getting difficult not to limp on his leg; he could feel that the gauze was already wet with blood.
“Where are you going? You’re supposed to be back at your post.” One of the guards walked up behind him. John didn’t reply.
“I said, where are you going?” The guard pressed the muzzle of his rifle against John’s back.
Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted.
John spun around, bringing the butt of his rifle down against the man’s head. He reeled back, dropping his gun. The ski mask blocked John’s peripheral vision, but he heard the surprised shout of the other guard. John turned and fired, and he fell, riddled with bullets. He turned back and fired again. The first guard crashed to the floor before he could reach his gun.
John looked down at the two men he killed and felt nothing. Over the earpiece, someone barked out an order to find the intruder. He looked up and shot out the security camera.
Close to Whitechapel St.
Police report that shots have been fired inside the hospital. It is so far unknown who the victims are, but we are told that they could be hostages. Stay tuned for more updates as this story unfolds.
Lestrade’s car was racing along London streets, a tiny flashing light and siren the only excuse for its flagrant abuse of the speed limit. Donovan was in the passenger seat, manning the radio, while Sherlock and Mary were in the back.
“What’s the status?” Lestrade asked, somehow managing to use the bike lane and a bit of sidewalk to pass a car.
“More shots fired. They can’t get a grasp on their location and they seem to come at random intervals,” Donovan answered while listening to the garbled radio talk.
“Definitely John’s handiwork,” Sherlock chimed in. “I would say no more than half of Moran’s men are left by this point.”
“Christ, Sherlock, we need to get our men in there!” Lestrade yelled.
“John has it under control. Trying to approach the building will only get your men picked off by sniper fire. Don’t think Moran will just let you waltz in.”
“And why do you even think he’s still alive?”
“I don’t think, I know. Moran is clever and doesn’t fight unless he has to. Now drive faster.”
While Lestrade sped up, cursing at everyone in his line of vision, Sherlock glanced over at Mary. She was staring out of the window, her bottom lip chewed bloody.
“Why didn’t you take John’s last name?” he inquired out of curiosity.
She shook her head in disbelief. “Of all the things to ask me right now, this is what you chose?”
“Call it further education in human relations.”
“Fine - if you really want to know, it was to avoid confusion.”
“Because I got my doctorate before we married. If I had taken John’s last name, we would both be Dr. Watson.” She smiled sadly at Sherlock’s concerned frown. “Lucky for you, no such travesty occurred.”
There was more garbled talk on the radio as they pulled up to the police barricade - shots had been fired on the first floor, but no activity has been heard for the last five minutes.
Lestrade and Donovan started to shove their way to the front, but Sherlock stayed back with Mary, remaining as unnoticed as possible by the side of a building. It was his idea to come to the hospital in the first place, an idea he justified to Lestrade out of Mary’s earshot, saying that he could be given over to Moran to spare the hostages in case John died. Sherlock had no intention of being traded - if John died, his intentions involved a gun to Moran’s head and little else. Being close to the hospital gave him the means to do that quickly and efficiently. He tried not to think about the toll John’s injury would be taking on him. John’s determination would only carry him so far and Sherlock was now growing frighteningly aware of that fact and what it entailed. It was strange to realize that despite working alone for a year and a half, he had automatically placed all his trust in John Watson.
A camera crew and a reporter walked by, forcing Sherlock to duck his head. He forgot how much he hated the media. Next to him, Mary fidgeted nervously, craning her head to try and get a better look at the hospital. Some sort of comforting platitude would be tactful, but he respected her too much for that.
Suddenly, shouting rang out from the front of crowd. Onlookers started pointing excitedly. Sherlock found himself moving away from his hiding spot to look out on the street. There was a man running clumsily out of the front entrance of the hospital. The distance made it impossible to identify anything but a white coat and a marked limp in his right leg. Sherlock could barely breathe.
It would seem that Mary saw the same thing, because she mouthed what looked like ‘John’ and started sprinting towards the police barricade. Sherlock chased after her, heedless of how many people he bowled over on the way. The man was still limping frantically down the stairs when Mary tried to get through to the front of the barricade.
“John!,” she screamed, shoving away an officer. Sherlock froze. One of the windows on the third story had opened. There was movement and the glint of a scope. He barreled through two officers and had just managed to grab Mary’s arm when the gunshot rang out. Sherlock pulled her back against him in an attempt to shield her as the man collapsed on the sidewalk. Mary froze in his arms, her body heavy like a dead weight. Sherlock stared at the spot where the man fell, but he saw nothing. His mind was wiped blank, its gears churning in empty air. Someone was screaming again, but the blood pounding in his ears was too overwhelmingly loud to know who.
He felt a jarring push against his chest and stumbled back. Mary wrenched free from his grasp and made for the street again.
“Mary, no!” He grabbed her before she could get any closer.
“Tell me it’s not him,” she sobbed. Her breath was coming in great heaving gasps. “Tell me!”
Sherlock opened his mouth uselessly. He tried to replay the last moments exactly as he recalled them - the man running, the window, the shot - but he could only picture John’s face, frantic and pale. He was running from Moran, but why? What made him so frightened that he risked running outside?
Wrong. Moran was in the third story window, but John - no, the man - ran out from the front entrance. The shot was only fired after Mary had yelled John’s name, so Moran had no idea who he was. The man hadn’t been running from Moran, but someone else, someone on the first floor. Sherlock knew that could only be one person.
“It’s not him,” he said hurriedly, “it’s not him. John’s still inside.”
From around the corner, John could see the shadow of a gun. There were two left, and he was certain that Moran was not among them. Why have twelve men with you if you’re not going to put them to good use?
But these two were waiting him out, which was quite clever. John could barely stand anymore without support and he had to abandon his assault rifle because he couldn’t bear the weight anymore. He tasted blood in his mouth and his stolen uniform was soaked through with sweat. It didn’t take a tactician to know he didn’t have long. Fortunately for John, that’s what they were counting on.
He collapsed on the floor in full view of the corridor, taking care to hold his gun loosely. After a brief pause, they advanced on him. He was nudged with the muzzle of a rifle.
“Don’t,” one warned. “Moran still needs him alive.”
“Fuck that,” the other replied, “I ain’t playing games with this one.”
“Kill him, and Moran will have us both. Now step aside.” The guard bent down to take away John’s gun. Bad move.
John fired, the bullet hitting the guard square in the chest. He rolled over and shot the other in the right knee, while the man was still aiming his rifle. The guard fell back, rifle slipping out of his hands as he clutched at his ruined leg. John kicked it away and stood up shakily. Limping over, he pointed his pistol at the man’s head.
“You were right. You shouldn’t play games with me,” John panted through labored breaths. “Now get up.”
They made it to the lobby, the guard shooting fearful glances at him the entire way. John grabbed a lab coat from one of the hooks and tossed it to him.
“Put it on.”
“Fuck you,” the man spat, blood dribbling down his chin.
John calmly raised his gun level with the man’s head. “You have two choices - put it on and get a chance to live, or don’t and be certain you’ll die.”
The guard slipped the coat on. John forced him to walk towards the doors.
“Leave the hospital.”
“So you can shoot me in the back?”
“It’s your colonel you have to worry about. Run fast.”
The guard’s face twisted in realization and he barrelled through the doors, his right leg crumpling under him with every step. John stood by the entrance and watched the street.
Moran would take the bait. All John had to do was watch for the shot that would give away his position. He was close - close to dying, close to Moran dying, close to an end. One last bullet and he could rest. There was only one person left that he needed to say goodbye to and he had said it to him a year and a half ago.
John! Gunshot. Third floor, left wing.
John barely restrained himself from running outside. It couldn’t be Mary, but it was. He could still hear her screaming his name. The guard lay bleeding on the sidewalk, his head blown open. John sank down onto the floor and buried his face in his shaking hands.
“I’m here, Mary,” he laughed brokenly, “I’m still here.”
In a tragic turn to the hostage situation in the London, an unidentified man was shot and killed while fleeing the hospital. Unconfirmed reports say that the man could have been Dr. John Watson. We will update you with further developments as we hear more about this.
“I’m sorry, Mary, but the chief isn’t sending anyone in until he’s absolutely sure it’s safe. If he can wrap this business up with no loss of hostages or officers - well, let’s say he can almost taste the knighthood.” Lestrade punctuated his explanation with a defeated sigh.
“And John? What about his life?”
“The chief says that without the brave efforts of Dr. Watson, this would have been an unprecedented catastrophe. He hopes for his safety, but he can’t help him.” Lestrade shifted uncomfortably. “He told me to tell you that England will honor him as a hero for his courage and sacrifice,” he finished, wincing.
Sherlock did not even consider stopping Mary’s incensed rage. Though he expected as much, the words felt like a heavy weight had dropped on him. He should never have let John do this alone. It was a impressive trick, to send a decoy to suss out Moran’s position, but tricks would not take him far against Moran in single combat.
He didn’t know what had possessed him to think that John could take on Moran in his condition. In truth, he did know, though it wasn’t anything remotely logical. It was faith, or as close to it as Sherlock could come. John had believed in him, believed him capable of cheating death. It would seem that Sherlock believed the same of John.
The ringing of Lestrade’s mobile broke him out of his thoughts. Lestrade took one look at the screen before turning as grey as his hair.
“It’s John,” he said stunned.
Sherlock grabbed the phone before Mary could get to it and pressed it greedily to his ear.
“John!” he blurted out excitedly. There was a low chuckle on the other end. No. Wrong. Idiot. IDIOT.
“Now, isn’t that sweet?” Moran’s voice was soft and dangerous. “But I’m afraid Dr. Watson is not available to pick up your call. If you want to see him alive, come to the front lobby. Just you, mind. No police, no phones, no guns. I see anything I don’t like, and I put a bullet into that pretty blond head you treasure so much.” He hung up the phone.
A small group gathered around Sherlock, waiting with bated breath. This is the part where he used to awe them with simple deductions and clear-cut logic. Instead, he handed the phone back to Lestrade.
“I have to go. Moran will kill John if I don’t.”
“No!” Lestrade looked aghast. “As long as Moran is busy with John, I can convince the chief to storm the building, we can -”
“He’ll kill John before your men set foot in that building. Let me through.”
“He’ll kill you if you do!” Lestrade pleaded, not budging from Sherlock’s way.
“How fortunate that I’m already dead,” he quipped half-heartedly. Lestrade’s grim desperation remained. “There is nothing to be done here, Lestrade. Let me pass.”
Lestrade wavered, ready to argue more, but then reluctantly stepped aside. He gestured for the other officers to do the same. A path was cleared for Sherlock all the way to the edge of the barricade. Past it, there were no clever plans, no illusions - just a deserted street. Prepared to do what ordinary people won’t had been his words. Prepared to burn. Back then he hadn’t understood the full extent of their meaning. Moriarty had.
Sherlock looked briefly over his shoulder at Mary. She was the only one that hadn’t prevented him from leaving. He received a small nod in return. Perhaps she also understood.
His first step past the barricade, Sherlock felt all eyes turn to him. Cameras swiveled in his direction, the helicopter appeared overhead, and a loud buzz of voices started up behind him. He kept walking. He passed a payphone, half expecting it to ring with Mycroft’s insistent advice. It didn’t.
By the stairs, Sherlock stopped short in front of the expanding pool of blood under the dead guard’s head. He resisted the irrational urge to flip him over and look at his face to make sure he was just a guard. Instead, he walked deliberately around him and headed up the stairs to the front entrance. Sherlock could feel his pulse thrumming rapidly despite his best efforts.
“Come in,” a faint voice spoke from inside. Sherlock pushed open the doors and stepped in.
Moran stood by the front desk, holding John up in front of him like a human shield. His pistol was pressed lightly against John’s temple. A show of good faith - jamming the gun against your bargaining chip’s head never boded well for the bargain. A more likely reason was that John was no longer a threat. He was as pale as a sheet and breathing with difficulty - if not for Moran’s unyielding grip, he wouldn’t even be upright.
At Sherlock’s approach, John lifted his head slightly to look at him. Sherlock could barely tear his eyes away from him for a moment to assess the surroundings. Moran would certainly be watching for his reaction and he wouldn’t be disappointed.
“How nice to see you after all this time, Mr. Holmes,” Moran mocked. It was a pitiful imitation of Moriarty’s dangerously playful tone, and it made Sherlock’s skin crawl. “You’re certainly much taller than that decoy you put up in Budapest.”
“I’m here, as per your request. Now let him go.” Sherlock didn’t not want this banter to continue longer than it had to.
“I’m afraid our Johnny isn’t going to go far even if I did. So why don’t I keep him comfortable for now? He and I have business to discuss as well after we’re through. I hope you’re that doesn’t upset you too much, but to be honest, your head won’t contain enough brain in a few moments for you to really raise any objections.”
“If you value your life, killing us both would be a dreadfully bad idea. It is only a matter of time before the police arrive and presenting them with two dead bodies is ill-advised.”
“Sadly, Mr. Holmes, that is not the situation. I’m not too concerned with my life any longer - I would just rather not go out alone.”
In a swift motion, he pointed the gun at Sherlock and pulled the trigger.
John jammed the gun how clever was the only thought that Sherlock was able to register before the next series of events. John started to drop to the floor, knocking Moran off-balance. A small syringe slipped out of John’s sleeve and into his hand. Then, with a speed a man in his condition should not have reasonably possessed, he spun around and brought the syringe down hard against Moran’s neck. Moran stumbled back, letting go of John and the gun, and sank down onto the floor. He moaned, his head rolling back and forth a few times in confusion, and then fell unconscious. John lay in an ungraceful heap by the front desk, breathing heavily.
It took a few moments, but eventually, Sherlock got his feet to work. He walked over to Moran and rifled through his pockets for the zipties, using them to bind Moran’s hands and feet. With that done, he ran over to John, who was struggling to sit up. Sherlock hooked an arm under his shoulders and brought him up to rest gingerly against the desk. John’s eyes were dangerously unfocused as he looked back at Sherlock.
“John?” He tried to keep the panic from his voice, but his fingers had already latched onto John’s shoulder. “Are you alright?” Of all the inane things to say.
“Mary, she’s...?” John was clearly fighting hard to keep himself coherent.
“Yes, fine, they’re all fine. You’re the one that’s not. We need to get you to a hospital.”
At that, John started to giggle, gasping for breath. Sherlock chuckled despite himself. Hearing John laugh made him feel absurdly relieved.
“Yes, quite ironic, but -” He was stopped mid-sentence by John’s finger prodding his nose.
“Mary punched you, didn’t she?” John slurred. “You deserve it. Bastard.” His smile had twisted into a look of deep hurt, but his words didn’t hold any real venom. Sherlock had never seen him look so tired.
“John, I -” Sherlock floundered for a reply. There was no word combination that could undo the last year and a half. He would have preferred that John be angry, upset, crying, laughing, anything to help him understand what to say. Instead, they sat across from each other like two ghosts, each waiting for the words that would bring them back to life.
“I owe you -” An apology? A thousand apologies? Owing something was never the same as giving it. “I’m sorry.”
John closed his eyes and remained quiet. Sherlock shook him roughly.
“John! Stay awake.”
“Not all of us can stay up for a week,” he mumbled, eyes still closed. His head lolled forward and came to rest on Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock could feel spots of wetness on his shirt. He wrapped an arm around John’s back and hauled him up so they were face to face again.
“You’re not making any sense,” Sherlock bit out angrily. Tears were slipping down John’s cheeks, but his expression remained unnaturally apathetic. No, not apathetic - accepting. He thinks he’s going to die. The thought felt like ice had trickled deep into his chest.
“There’s an ambulance outside,” he continued, using his sleeve to wipe John’s face dry. “Now get up.” Without waiting for any objection, he put John’s arm around his neck and yanked him up to his feet. John grunted in pain, fingers digging painfully into Sherlock’s side as he fought to keep his balance.
Sherlock took a few tentative steps forward. John followed, leaning almost all his weight onto him. They made it to the doors before having to stop. Against his side, Sherlock could feel John’s rib cage expanding and contracting like a belllows with every struggling breath.
“How opposed are you to the idea of being carried down the stairs?”
“Cameras?” John wheezed.
“Possibly fewer than at the royal wedding.”
He shook his head.
John huffed dismissively.
In an unprecedented turn to this day’s events, Sherlock Holmes, the detective who was thought to have committed suicide more than a year ago, has entered The London. The current situation remains unclear. [a roar goes up] Well, it seems that the surprises haven’t stopped yet! Sherlock Holmes is currently exiting the building with someone by his side - I am getting word that the unidentified man is Dr. John Watson. There is no word as to what this means for the hostage situation, but we will keep you updated on the conclusion to this shocking development.
They had managed to make down the stairs without incident, but John could barely move anymore without Sherlock’s help. The SCO19 officers were rushing through the crowd with EMTs at their heels, but their progress was slowed down by the sheer mass of people that had gathered. A helicopter hovered overhead and, in the distance, Sherlock could see a line of cameras eagerly pointed towards him and John.
“Seeing as how we’re already on display, we might as well meet the paramedics halfway.” Against his shoulder, he felt John nod slightly in acquiescence.
John was no longer walking forward as much as shuffling minutely on his good leg - it took all of Sherlock’s effort to keep him upright. As they approached the center of the street, the shouts of the police and the crowd mingled with the drone of the helicopter. The endless barrage of noise felt like it was planted inside Sherlock’s head, making it hard to concentrate on anything. John began to feel impossibly heavy in his arms; suddenly, his unrelenting grip on Sherlock’s side went slack and Sherlock felt himself start to tip over. He landed hard on his knees, managing to catch John before he hit the ground. Everything went absolutely silent.
“John, wake up.” His fingers found a thready pulse on John’s neck. “Wake up.” He shook him roughly. John continued to hang like a rag doll in his arms, cold to the touch.
“Please.” That usually worked. “Please open your eyes.” Nothing. What a terrible and useless word. It would have looked like John was too deeply asleep to hear him, if his head hadn’t rolled back awkwardly. Sherlock lifted it so it could rest against his chest. John was so cold. He needed a coat.
“Sir?” Someone was shaking him. Pairs of hands appeared and started to move John away. Sherlock tightened his grip reflexively. “Sir, you need to let him go. It’s going to be alright.”
Why should he? Ah, the paramedics. He watched as they put John on a stretcher. One of them put a blanket on his shoulders. Sherlock shrugged out of it.
“Sir?” The medic looked confused.
“Force of habit.”
He trailed after John’s stretcher, following it past the police barricade. Cameras and microphones were shoved into his face. Reporters yelled his name and tried to grab him to get his attention. At the front, constables struggled to clear a path through the crowd. I’m a private detective, John, the last thing I need is a public image. Camera flashes exploded around him. He didn’t bother covering his face.
Mary was waiting by the ambulance; around her, Lestrade and Donovan were busy shoving away reporters. A constable had to hold her back from the stretcher.
“He’s my husband,” she pleaded. “Let me go, I need to see him!”
“I can’t, Mrs. Watson -”
“Morstan,” Sherlock interrupted. “Let her go.”
The constable shrank away - clearly a new recruit, fed stories of Sherlock Holmes from the rest of the Met. Judging from his reaction, they had kept his memory alive and well. The paramedics had already loaded John into the back of the ambulance, but Mary continued to stare unblinkingly at it even as it was driving away. The reporters, the cameras, and the helicopters might as well have not existed.
“Did you kill Moran?” she asked softly once the ambulance had completely disappeared from view.
She looked up at him and a small smile tugged at the edge of her lips.
“What is it?”
“Look at us both.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
[Private Hospital - Undisclosed Location]
John stirred awake when he felt a warm hand on his forehead. Through bleary eyes, he saw a flash of auburn hair.
“The nurse told me you would be up soon.” Mary’s voice was a soft murmur against the steady beeping of the heart monitor. Her hand closed tightly around his. “How do you feel?”
“Alright,” he rasped. His tongue felt weirdly uncooperative.
“Liar.” She grinned. “You look like a mess.”
John tried for an amused snort, but ended up coughing instead.
“Shh, it’s ok.” Mary settled closer to him, squeezing his hand tighter. She felt warm and solid pressed up against him, her soft pale fingers entwining with his. She was still smiling even though her eyes were wet.
“I thought I’d lost you,” John mumbled. “I’m sorry -”
“Oh, shut up.” Mary leant down and kissed him hard. John felt some of her tears splash on his nose. “Stop apologizing, you martyr. You’re fine, I’m fine, the baby’s fine, everything is fine, and I’m so fucking glad for it that I probably terrified the nurse a bit.” She kissed him again, gentler this time. John clumsily kissed her back, mouth slightly numbed from the painkillers. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and pulled her down to rest against his chest. Mary pressed her face into the side of his neck - her breath came in warm gusts, punctuated by the occasional sniff. It couldn’t have been comfortable for her, considering she had to lie awkwardly to one side because of her stomach, but she didn’t seem to care and John wasn’t about to let go in any case.
They lay that way for a while and John drifted back asleep. He woke up again when he felt something vibrate against his hip. Mary shuffled groggily and managed to extricate her mobile from her pocket.
“Who the hell - Oh, that utter git. He’s actually put himself back in my contacts. With a picture, mind you.”
“What does he want?” John tried not to let his tone sound cold, but Mary’s pained expression told him it didn’t work.
“He’s asking if you’re up. He wants to talk.”
“Don’t answer.” The words felt like razors slicing across his mouth.
“John!” Mary sat up, letting the chill creep back along his body. “Don’t be cruel.”
“Mary, don’t -”
“Why do you think he’s here?” she interrupted his objections. “For a brief chat and a cuppa? Sherlock’s been pacing outside your door the whole night like an abandoned cat. I don’t pretend to understand what you’re going through, and I sure as hell don’t expect you to forgive him any time soon, but you owe it to him to hear what he has to say.”
John suddenly found it hard to look at Mary.
“He saved my life. Mrs. Hudson’s too. And no matter what happens now, he was your closest friend and you were his only. Don’t just throw it away because you’re in a snit. I’ve heard what he has to say and I won’t let you.”
John sighed heavily. “Can it wait a bit?”
“It doesn’t have to be right now, but today. I think you two held it off long enough, don’t you?”
“Sherlock?” Mrs. Hudson tapped him on the shoulder. “Do you want to talk to John now?”
If this was any other occasion (with the exception of his particularly moody moments), the answer would be yes. But this wasn’t any other occasion and this wasn’t just any talk. It was some dreadful tightrope dance between honesty and forgiveness, and the worst part was that he needed to do it. There was something waiting for him at the other end, some elusive sensation, without which his world would remain slightly off kilter.
He tried to enter the room humbly, to slow down his gait and avert his eyes - it was easier than expected. John regarded him quietly, propped up against some pillows. The tension in his face make him look like he was mentally steeling himself for some inevitable pain. He was marginally less pale and tired as when Sherlock first saw him, but that wasn’t a difficult improvement. The greenish-yellow bruise under his eye still remained the only spot of color on his face.
Sherlock took a seat on a nearby chair before realizing its startling proximity to the bed. His immediate urge was to slide it back, to make his presence less intrusive and win some points of favor with John, but stopped short. The distance between them was already obvious, and to make it even more literal would not be an improvement. He remained where he was. John didn’t react at all.
“I knew Moriarty was going to kill me,” Sherlock announced abruptly. He wondered if it was too late to go back out, come back, and start again. John’s jaw gave an irked twitch.
“He owed me a fall, John.” Too insistent - worse and worse. “I needed to die to complete his story, but I thought I could prevent that. I thought I could catch him, but I was wrong. The code was a fake, a trap he set up for me. The plan for my suicide was only in case I should fail.”
“Was it Molly who helped you?” John asked bluntly.
“I needed someone I could trust.” Sherlock wanted nothing more than to eat his own tongue at that moment.
John looked like he’d been slapped. “Get out.”
“John, let me explain -”
“I’ve heard enough. Leave -”
“No. I won’t.”
John reached over to the nurse call button, but Sherlock covered it with his hand.
“Don’t, please.” His stomach felt like it was rolling inside out. “Please.”
John slowly put his hand back down. Sherlock nearly sagged with relief; he wasn’t sure if it was possible to love a word more.
“I needed Molly to make the plan work - it had to be someone innocuous but trustworthy, someone without whose help it would not be possible. If I was to go through with it, John, you could not be involved.”
“How do you think I managed to stay undiscovered for so long? Faking one’s death only works when as few people know the truth as possible. Moriarty’s men were not fool enough to believe in my death just because they heard it on the news. They were watching - above all, watching you, looking to see if you knew.”
“And what would happen if -” John stopped short of finishing his question. “I see. And you’re sure it’s over?”
“Yes. Moran was the last.”
“He died on the rooftop of Bart’s.”
“Did you kill him?” John’s question didn’t hold any accusation - merely curiosity.
“No. If I had, we would not be having this conversation.”
“Then what -” John was frowning in confusion now. “Why did you have to do this? If he was dead, why did you have to jump?”
“I - He gave me a choice. The terms of an exchange, really. My life for yours, Mrs. Hudson’s, and Lestrade’s. He killed himself so I would have to go through with it.” Sherlock looked expectantly at John’s reaction. Surprise, understanding, guilt, conflict, sadness - it was a wonder that a face could express all of these emotions and not have a spasm. There also seemed to be something about his own expression that made John look at him as if he was the one lying in the hospital bed.
“You may have cheated a bit,” John pointed out. There was a ghost of a smile on his lips.
Sherlock smiled back involuntarily. Inappropriate - they didn’t joke anymore. Or did they? He wasn’t sure. John didn’t seem to mind.
“Why did I have to watch, Sherlock?” First name usage is progress, acknowledgement. It sounded so strange after so long.
“So you would believe. You know me and my methods far too well to sit back and accept a cold body and some story.”
“You wanted to me to see it - otherwise, you wouldn’t have distracted me with something so clumsy as Mrs. Hudson being shot. I would have either been there to watch you succeed or to watch you fall.”
“I had rather hoped it would be the former.”
“Did you plan that phone call and the tears as well?”
Sherlock’s internal conflict must have shown on his face, because John gave an exasperated sigh.
“You can tell me the truth. Believe me, nothing you say now can hurt me more than you already have.”
“I needed to give you a plausible explanation -”
“Didn’t work too well, did it?”
“Like I mentioned, you’re harder to fool than you realize. I had to sound sincere.”
“It’s your best performance to date.”
John’s mocking tone made something in Sherlock break. “It wasn’t as challenging as you think,” he snapped. He couldn’t help but feel a certain satisfaction at John’s guilty expression, even though the antagonizing might cost him points in the long run.
“I’m sorry,” John said. “That wasn’t very good.”
“A bit not good, yes. Is the morphine wearing off?”
“Wore off about thirty minutes ago. I’ve been considering amputating my leg for the last ten.”
“I know the lock-out code.”
“Keep it to yourself. Tell me how you faked your death instead.”
“How will that help?”
“Being angry at you is the next best pain reliever I have.” John smiled weakly.
“I fell onto a truck loaded with hospital laundry. The fall I took from the truck was quite real at least. If the biker did his job right, you weren’t in a position to see any of this. One of the paving stones on the sidewalk had been made pressure sensitive - when I landed on it, it released the blood. The rubber ball under my arm took care of my pulse. The rest was just looking convincing.”
“And the people?”
“Those who appeared when I pulled on all the strings I had left. Very few knew what was going to actually happen.”
“How about in the morgue? When I insisted on seeing your body?”
“Drugs, ice bath, and some light makeup. When you tried to take my pulse that time, you were the closest you’d ever been to finding out the truth.”
“Molly stopped me.”
“Yes. She told me about it afterward, and I’m using ‘told’ loosely. ‘Yelled and screamed’ is more accurate.”
“So it was all just a magic trick.”
“Jesus, that’s amazing. Horrible and cruel on so many levels, but underneath it all, really quite amazing.” Underneath the shock and frustration, John seemed to be sincerely impressed. Sherlock tried not to look too flattered.
“You should know that I don’t blame Molly for what she did,” John mentioned suddenly, “for lying and covering up for you. I would have done the same if I was in her place.”
“Thank you, John. For that,” Sherlock added lamely.
“So what was your plan yesterday then?” John continued, looking expectantly at Sherlock. “How were you going to take down Moran?”
Sherlock grasped for a good answer, but his mind seemed to have deserted him. There was no plan, he wanted to say, you saved us both. Somehow his hesitant pause answered everything, because John sat up so fast, he nearly pulled out his IVs.
“No. You’re not serious. Tell me you’re not.”
Sherlock remained quiet.
“Why would you - you can’t - what would’ve happened if I hadn’t -” John looked at Sherlock as if the other was lying bleeding on the pavement again.
“I think you can draw your own conclusions.”
John buried his head in his hands.“I feel sick.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, John.”
“No, I sat up too fast, I actually feel sick,” he groaned.
“Let me get the nurse.”
“Sit down,” John protested, collapsing back against the pillows. “You’re not getting away that easy. Sherlock, what you tried to do back at The London, you can’t do it anymore.”
“And what makes you think you can dissuade me?”
John closed his eyes and sighed deeply. “Absolutely nothing. Wishful thinking.”
“That’s what I thought. Not like you to be a hypocrite, John.”
“Sometimes the thought of knowing the true extent of your affections makes me terrified.”
“I don’t blame you.” John answered quietly. “How many was it?”
“Eight dead - well, nine, if you count the one you shoved out the door. Three wounded.”
“Jesus,” John said. His voice sounded odd, like there was something strangling him. “You used to put men like me in jail.”
“Utterly false. I have never put men like you in jail.”
“Oh? What a shame.”
“John, stop it. You had reason.”
“So did Moran.” He exhaled a small empty laugh. “Reason has nothing to do with it.”
“Reason has everything to do with it!” Sherlock yelled, slapping his hand down on the bed rail. He was pleased to see that the flash of shock and anger that passed over John’s face momentarily displaced the regret.
“Love’s an acceptable reason to you now?” John retorted.
“I find that the best proof lies in personal experience.”
“And your experience?”
“I don’t think that makes us very good human beings, Sherlock,” he said with a broken smile.
“I never said it did. Human human beings, yes.”
John sat up again, leaning forward to regard Sherlock closely through narrowed eyes. “You complete berk. Don’t assume I don’t know when my own graveside speech is being quoted at me.”
“They were good words, John.” Sherlock tried to keep an innocent expression.
“I am really considering punching you.”
“Your blood pressure and heart rate are already peaking; raise them anymore and the nurse will kick me out.”
Sherlock closed his eyes in preparation. His face continued to stay remarkably pain-free. He opened them to see John shaking his head in disbelief.
“You’re an awful friend, you know that?” he laughed tiredly. Sherlock could see the excess tears pooling in his eyes. It was hard to look away.
“And yet out of all the people I’ve lost, you’re the only one who came back.”
“Does that make me special?”
“Forgivable?” he ventured. John didn’t reply, opting instead to look away and lie back down. Sherlock wondered if the punch would have been more efficient, if not less painful.
“I read your book,” he said quietly. The sun was beginning to set and they would make him leave soon, even though his brother knew the head of the hospital. Probably because his brother knew the head of the hospital.
“Hmm? Oh, right.” John seemed to snap out of his reverie. “So? A travesty? A waste of time?”
“Well-written.” He watched John tilt his head as if waiting for further explanation. “For a romanticized version of the events.”
“Ah, there it is. I’ll make sure to include that on the back cover,” John huffed in amusement.
“Speaking of the back cover - why did you have to put the silhouette of that ridiculous hat there?”
“Count yourself lucky. If the publishers had their way, the silhouette of that ridiculous hat would have ended up on the silhouette of your ridiculous face.”
“Truly you are a saint among men, John Watson.”
“I couldn’t just ignore what was practically your dying wish.”
Sherlock tensed a little at the phrasing, but John remained contently placid.
“I should leave.”
“Stay,” His hand came up to rest on Sherlock’s arm. “You can stay.”
And that was it. In the broad scope of possible occurrences, they were such small insignificant words and it was such an innocuous gesture. Falling is just like flying, except with a more permanent destination. He had fallen for a year and a half before finally reaching his.
I was thinking of an epilogue of sorts to make up for the abrupt ending, but it will probably be a while before it's posted. Thanks for reading!