Everything after that point happened so quickly. Abby was let out of hospital at half two and Mrs Warren took her home. John went to Baker Street to retrieve and load his gun (Sherlock nowhere in sight, but that was hardly a surprise) before going back to meet them at the hostel. Mrs Warren had managed to get rid of her other look-alike lodger and informed the rest that there might be a bit of a commotion that evening or the next. His gun heavy against his back, John avoided the eyes of the worried backpackers and tried to come up with some sort of plan with his client. The sky was growing steadily darker through the lacy curtains and John watched it dim, feeling his stomach flutter and his heart thunder as the day flew by.
He glanced at his hand. It was perfectly steady.
They knew it was unlikely that the child would come out before evening, even if John revealed everything he knew. Most likely, such intimate knowledge of the case would only convince the kid he was the enemy, which was the last thing he wanted. Should he have to play doctor at any point (though God forbid it), he needed the child's trust. So he left the door untouched, the kid inside undisturbed, and instead let a frightened Mrs Warren feed him a jacket potato at dusk. He was helping her with the washing up when his mobile buzzed in his pocket.
Text Received at 19.27 from [Sherlock]
Where are you?
Text Received at 19.27 from [Sherlock]
You've been out all day.
Text Sent at 19.29 to [Sherlock]
at Mrs Warren's
Text Received at 19.29 from [Sherlock]
Text Sent at 19.30 to [Sherlock]
Text Received at 19.30 from [Sherlock]
Obviously. When will you be home?
Text Sent at 19.31 to [Sherlock]
in the morning
Text Received at 19.31 from [Sherlock]
What? You're staying the night? Why? Is something happening?
Text Sent at 19.32 to [Sherlock]
tell you later
Text Sent at 19.32 to [Sherlock]
Text Received at 19.32 from [Sherlock]
John, tell me what's going on!
Text Received at 19.33 from [Sherlock]
John pocketed his mobile with a huff and turned to his ashen host. She was leaning against the worktop, looking a little ill.
"Are you alright?'
"Hmm? Oh, yes. I'm just... er, just nervous."
"Right, yeah. I don't blame you."
"Mmm. Was that... was that Mr Holmes?"
"Was that Mr Holmes texting you?"
"Yeah. I think I just worried him, but I'm not going to start explaining everything to him now. I'll talk to him later."
She nodded silently and glanced out the window. It wasn't quite dark yet, and he could see the unfinished building across the street, tinged with deep blue in the twilight. She wrung her hands a bit and he placed a palm on her shoulder.
"It's going to be okay, you'll see." He would never stop being amazed at how little of his own fear ever came through in his speech. He was very glad of it now, and so was she; she didn't believe the fearlessness in his voice for a second but she appreciated the illusion all the same.
Because he was very worried. He still didn't know who was chasing Emily M and her child, why they were chasing them, or what would be done with the two of them should they be captured. They were wanted alive, sure, but for how long? Where would they be taken? Who was responsible for all of this? Abby had said she'd been attacked by a gang of masked thugs, presumably ones for hire. Who had hired them? More importantly, could John take them? He was just one short man against multiple giants; even with his military training, he couldn't subdue a gang of heavies all at once. His hand flew back to the gun in his waistband and he licked his lips. He remembered the feeling of being alive in a fight and forced himself to let come what may.
John and Mrs Warren, both standing in front of the narrow window, turned. Abby was by the door, canting to one side and holding her abdomen in pain. A note was held in her extended hand.
"Miss Warren, what are you doing walking about?" John's doctor instincts flared up. He strode over and took her under her arm, guiding her out of the kitchen and back to her room. He barely noticed as the girl's mother took the note from her.
"Doctor Watson!" the woman called. Having reinstalled Abby safely into her bed, he emerged to find a note waved in front of his face. He took it and stared at the words printed on it.
Leaving tonight half eight
He looked up again and locked gazes with Mrs Warren.
"Tonight," he said, his tongue unwilling to form the word.
"What time is it?"
"Oh, my god."
"No, don't -- don't. We talked about this. You're going to stay in the kitchen, by the window, and no-one is to go anywhere. Okay?"
"Okay." Her voice was small and wavering and she looked away. He didn't like seeing her so frightened, so unsure.
"Mrs Warren," he looked her in the eye, "do you trust me?"
Her gaze snapped back up. "Of course."
"Do you trust me when I say it'll be okay?" He didn't want to know if he even trusted himself when he did.
"Of course." She tried to smile.
He straightened. "Right. Is there, er, is there a place I can keep a lookout from? Anywhere? A window or something?'
Within five minutes, Mrs Warren had found him a hard chair and set it beside the large front window in the sitting room, a little to the side so that he could easily see but not be seen. She drew the curtains halfway on his side, too, just to be safe. He checked his watch, and settled down in the chair with his gun drawn and his eyes on the street outside. John and Mrs Warren turned and locked eyes again, and he nodded slowly. She turned out the light and hurried out of the room and back into the warm kitchen, leaving John in the darkness.
He breathed deeply, trying to calm his heart. He was equal parts excited and frightened and adrenalin was already making him jittery. He held himself perfectly still, though, peering out from the darkness. Outside, the pavement was illuminated by a bright streetlamp, and the occasional pedestrians still flitted about. After some time, he checked his watch again. Five to eight.
Two to eight.
Three minutes past eight.
At six past, his mobile buzzed. He swore and dragged it out to shut it off for good.
Text Received at 20.06 from [Sherlock]
Lestrade called. Murder in Clapham. Body drawn and quartered.
John clicked the phone off. He didn't know if Sherlock was trying to entice him off to a crime scene or was merely informing John of his movements; at that moment, John couldn't be arsed to care. He stuffed the phone back into his pocket and continued his silent vigil by the window, his body tense, his hands on his gun. He continued to wait.
He checked again after some time: it was quarter past. Just fifteen more minutes...
He wasn't even jittery any more. He was as still as a statue, as still as a tiger waiting for its prey. He was hardly even breathing. Just ten minutes...
Eight twenty- five.
He flipped the safety off.
His breath caught in his throat.
What was that??
The building across the street was still under construction, and looked utterly deserted; so then why was there a light in one of the windows?
It was the window directly across from the kid's. He didn't want to lean forward to see if the kid was there for fear of revealing himself, so instead he stared at the light and waited for something to happen.
It was a torch, he could tell. And it was getting closer and closer to the window until it was almost pressed up against it. Vaguely outlined behind its glare was the shape of a person, and John realised in an instant that it was Emily's. She had come back for her child.
Slowly, she started to pass the light back and forth across the window, passing her hand over it with each motion. He could tell it was supposed to be a code, but it wasn't Morse and whatever else it was he couldn't begin to guess. It evidently made some sense to the mother and child, though, because after about a minute John heard the stair in the hall squeak.
The kid was leaving. John peered out into the street again. No thugs in sight, but that didn't mean they weren't nearby. He'd just crack the window open a little, just in case... he'd played sniper once before, after all...
But then, just then, John stopped with his hand on the window frame. The light in the opposite window had suddenly disappeared, and there was muffled sound from somewhere outside that could have been a scream. And then... and then there was a shot. Two shots. Three.
He was already up and running out of the dark room, gun in hand and no plan in mind. They'd found her, they must have, dear god... did the kid...? No, dammit, no! No!
"Don't open the door!" He bellowed at the child, a small boy, who jumped with his hand on the doorknob and turned to stare at John, terrified. Before John could speak to him, the door was wrenched open from outside and the boy staggered. Three enormous, masked figures were outside, already waiting for the little boy. He screamed shrilly, and the largest of the hitmen reached out a muscular arm and grabbed the boy by his tiny neck.
For a moment, John stood stock still. For a moment, he did nothing. For a moment, he just watched as a small child was dragged, choking, by an enormous thug into the black and cold night. For a moment, all the ex-soldier could see were masked killers with blind rage in their eyes. For a moment, all he could feel was the sand upon his stinging skin, all he could hear were his comrade's death cries, all he could taste was blood upon his tongue, and all he could smell was the viscera on his fingers where he'd let so many lives just pass right through, fall in pieces through his shaking, useless doctor's fingers that couldn't keep them alive--
For a moment, John Watson had let so many people die.
For another moment, John Watson wasn't going to let any more slip him by.
His feet moved of their own accord, taking him out of the building and into the street, where he threw himself at the boy's attackers and tried to pull them away. The biggest one snarled in surprise and whirled to attack him, but John got him across the jaw with a powerful fist that left the larger man reeling. Then another one was upon John in an instant. John got the man in the ear with an elbow, and twisted out of his grip. The man pounced again, ripping the skin along John’s temple, but John delivered a mad flying kick that knocked him away. John fell back onto the pavement and felt his muscles admonish him for the sudden strain. He pushed himself up with a groan. Then the first one was on him, twisting John’s arms behind his back and lifting him straight off the ground. The second one was rushing him again and, pinned as he was, John had no choice but to kick the second one again, this time getting him right in the mouth and probably dislocating his jaw. He crumpled. The first one roared and threw John back to the ground roughly. John felt the back of his head hit the pavement with a crack as the man landed on him, putting pressure on John’s ribs; his vision swimming, John brought his knee up between the attacker's legs with incredible speed and relished the answering whimper. Then he rolled away onto his hands and knees, gun still in hand, just in time to see a black estate car pull up and thrust open its doors in welcome for the little boy, kicking and screaming and held high off the ground by the third man and a fourth one in waiting for them in the car.
John surged up from the ground only to be knocked down again. The biggest man stood over him for a moment, deciding whether or not to kick John to death, before stepping out of the way with a foreboding grin. He raced back to the car, pushing himself in after the little screaming boy. The doors slammed. John was on all fours, his head pounding, and in the direct path of the car.
The tyres sang his death-song as the car shot right for him.
Later, he'd never be able to remember quite what happened next. He'd remember the tyres, squealing with delight as they rushed for him, he’d remember feeling his heart shudder in his throat, he’d remember the pain in his abdomen and legs and head. Then the next thing he knew, he was flat against the opposite kerb with his gun outstretched and the car was sitting smashed against a lamppost not 50 metres away.
"Dr Watson! Doctor, are you alright?? DOCTOR WATSON!" Mrs Warren screamed, running out of the building with her hands waving wildly. John pushed himself up, scrambling past the terrified hostel-owner and heading for the wrecked car. What had even happened?
Sagging against the car and panting, John groped for the door handle. He pulled the driver's door open, and saw, to his shock, that the man had a bloody hole right through his forehead. In the passenger seat, another one was bleeding out from a shot to his upper chest. Had John...? He wrenched open the back seat door and jumped back as a body slumped right out of the car and onto the road. He'd shot all three of the remaining hitmen, and the driver. All four were kill-shots. Bloody hell.
In the back seat, squashed between two bloody bodies, the little boy had given up on screaming. Instead, he was shivering violently, staring silently at John in the door with pure shock in his eyes. John was just as confused as he was, but he let his army doctor instincts take over from all the confusion in his head. He reached forward, lugging the dead man's legs away from the boy, and smiled.
"Hey. Are you alright?" The boy nodded. "I'm Doctor Watson, I'm here to help. Let me get you out of there." The boy hesitated for a moment before scrambling into John's arms. He lifted the child out of the vehicle lightly and carried him back into Mrs Warren's house, rubbing the trembling, clammy body soothingly. "Your mum was in the other window, right? I need to go find her. I'm going to hand you over to Mrs Warren, she'll look after you."
Mrs Warren followed them, baffled tears streaming down her face, and helped John lay the boy down in the sitting-room. "He's probably in shock," he told her quickly, "you have to keep him warm and put his feet up. Give him a blanket, but no tea or water. I'll be back."
"Are you alright, Doctor? Your head --"
"I'm fine!" he called back as he ran back out into the street. The windows all along the block were alight, and people were coming out to gawk at the smashed car in the middle of the road and the bloody bodies inside, and John was staggering across the street towards the unfinished building with blood on his face and hands and mind.