Sherlock was with Lestrade when the call came over the radio, a mere three streets away from where the situation was unfolding. The officer who made the call sounded young, frightened, and ill-equipped to handle a gunshot victim and an armed suspect.
“I have to get over there,” said Lestrade. “You’re going to follow me, aren’t you?”
Sherlock didn’t even dignify him with a response; he merely began trotting down the pavement with his long distance-eating strides. Lestrade sighed and jogged to catch up.
The crime scene was obvious to even the dullest idiot, marked by a crowd of spectators being frantically pushed back by a handful of PCs. No one was shooting; in fact, the spectators seemed unaware that their lives were in danger. As Sherlock drew closer, he began sorting through the details. The body lay in the mouth of an alley. It died of a single gunshot wound to the chest; more specifically the heart, judging by the blood volume. Prior to the shooting, there was a brief scuffle during which its nose was fractured via an elbow to the face. The source of that gunshot was a man huddled halfway down the alley with the gun still held in his hands; he had likely tried to flee but had been trapped by a garden gate that blocked through passage.
The man was military, army judging by his thighs, but had been out for some time. He was on guard but not threatening. His clothes were dishevelled; his shirt was only half tucked into his beige chinos and he was covered in dust. There was something unusual about the way he was watching the street, but Sherlock would need to see his face more clearly, and it wasn’t safe to intrude on the man’s territory.
“Move back,” said Lestrade. “We’re moving in to speak to him and I want you safe.”
“Inadvisable,” stated Sherlock.
“Tough,” replied Lestrade, misunderstanding. He physically moved Sherlock back behind a car.
It was disgusting how the others were looking to Lestrade for guidance as though they were incapable of independent thought. Off they trotted like cattle to the slaughter.
Sherlock could hear the constables speaking to the man, demanding that he disarm himself but Sherlock was watching the man’s body language. It was almost animalistic, pure adrenal response: a mixture of instinct and panic. The man stared at the approaching constables, exchanging swift glances at both of the blocked exits. The rapid movements of his head made the sun reflect off of his short blond hair. He pressed back against the maroon brick wall, crouching on the balls of his feet to present a smaller target. His fingers flitted rapidly over the gun before he raised his arms to take aim at the officers.
His stance, his actions, the wounds on the dead body all screamed efficiency and skill, but there was something- and here Sherlock tilted his head with interest- automatic about it all. Abruptly, everything fell into place: the deceased, the scuffle, the soldier. Sherlock estimated that they had mere seconds before one of the officers was shot, probably killed.
“Congratulations, Lestrade,” he called out sarcastically. “You’re traumatizing a war veteran.”
Lestrade swore, and ordered the other men back away from the entrance of the alley. The man let his hands fall back to his thigh, but the gun remained pointed in their direction.
“So why did he kill that man?” asked Lestrade, with a glance at the body.
“Self defence,” replied Sherlock, absently, not taking his eyes off of the armed man.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s clearly a mugging gone wrong. Probably to be expected, given how dim he,” Sherlock waved at the body, ”was. Imagine robbing a man who had no money.”
“And the gun?”
“Not his. He’s adjusted his grip twice since we arrived. No, the gun belongs to the dead man.”
Lestrade studied the body of the victim again.
“That’s not an accidental injury, Sherlock.”
“Of course, not. Ex-military. Flashback. Do keep up.”
“So you’re trying to say that someone just happened to mug a veteran who had a flashback and killed him in self-defence and is now armed and dangerous.”
“Not trying to, am.”
Lestrade ran a hand through his hair as he sighed.
“I should have stayed in bed this morning,” he muttered under his breath. He glared at Sherlock as though the situation was Sherlock’s fault.
“What now?” asked one of the constables.
“We’re unarmed, there’s not much we can do but wait for CO19 to arrive.”
No one looked very pleased.
“And clear these people out of here,” barked Lestrade with a wave at the crowd behind them.
Sherlock glanced back at the soldier. He had taken the opportunity while they were distracted to slide further down the alley. He was kneeling now, holding his weapon at rest.
The wind shifted, carrying the smells from the neighbouring restaurants. The man began to tremble, shifting around as he became more agitated. Sherlock cocked his head to the side, watching. He sniffed the air, again.
“Ah,” he said.
The man jerked; he brought the gun up aiming it around him.
Sherlock calculated the distance to the nearest stations adjusting for the rate of flow of traffic for this time of day. He took a few steps closer to Lestrade dropping his voice so that the others wouldn’t over hear.
“We’re running out of time.”
“You think I don’t know that!”
“I have an idea.”
“I’m listening,” said Lestrade looking at him suspiciously.
“I need to speak with him.”
“Absolutely not.” Lestrade shook his head, backing away from Sherlock.
Sherlock shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away. He gritted his teeth.
“Oh, I don’t know? Maybe because he has a gun and your brother would kill me?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes, frustrated that Lestrade was being ridiculous. He tried again, spelling it out with simple words so Lestrade would understand.
“He’s completely lost touch with reality. I think I can snap him out of it.”
Lestrade sighed, staring up into the sky. His body language drooped and Sherlock knew that he had won.
“Go,” Lestrade waved down the alley. “Wait.”
They stared at each other.
“If you get shot, I’ll kill you,” he said, finally.
Sherlock adjusted the collar of his shirt, giving a Lestrade a brief smirk. He strode into the alley, slowing as he drew the man’s attention. He took slow, steady steps towards the soldier, pretending to ignore how the gun unerringly followed his progress. From up close, it was easier for Sherlock to identify the weapon, a Russian self-defence pistol exported from Germany. The 8mm Baikal was intended to fire rubber bullets or gas, but they were simple to modify which made them popular with London’s criminal class. He did note the faint tan lines along the man’s wrists that confirmed his earlier deductions.
“Careful,” warned Lestrade from the mouth of the alley.
Sherlock threw an annoyed glance over his shoulder but stopped several strides away from the gentleman. He knelt down, pressing his splayed hands against the rough concrete. The man’s eyes met his, showing fear and confusion but little awareness. A trickle of blood oozed down his cheek from a tiny cut on his temple.
The man blinked, his head shifting at an angle.
“Yes, I know it’s the wrong language, but I don’t know any Dari.”
The man blinked again and drew in a shuddering breath. He opened his mouth, as though he was going to speak, but then closed it again.
“Yes, I’m English. Most people in London are.”
The man managed to look both amused and ashamed as reality finally began registering with him. Sherlock watched in fascination as the man visibly began to pull himself back together. He took deep even breaths that spoke of training in a therapeutic setting. Then he moved his hand, just enough to call attention to the gun-though Sherlock was sure it was more the fact that it wasn’t his gun than because he was armed- and everything unravelled.
The soldier moved from his kneeling position to crouch on the balls of his feet in a single smooth shift. Every muscle was taut; Sherlock could almost pluck his tendons. His breathing became elevated. He appeared to be on the verge of a panic attack but while the man was definitely afraid, the mindlessness from earlier did not return. His hands on the gun were steady and his eyes flickered back and forth between Sherlock, the police, and the gun, desperately trying to piece together what was happening. Sherlock was glad that he could no longer see the corpse behind Sherlock or his reaction might have been worse.
Sherlock held his hands up spread in the air.
“Calm down. You’re quite safe, more so than I, seeing as you have a gun.”
The man focused on Sherlock, his gaze wandering over Sherlock before returning to his face. He must have read something that he liked because he relaxed infinitesimally. He glanced at the gun, his fingers twitching slightly, before looking back at Sherlock.
“I will explain but you must remain calm,” warned Sherlock, wishing that there was someone else, who was not an idiot, to handle this task. Sherlock rarely saw the need to be reassuring.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes. I’m a consulting detective; I work with the police. I should clarify that I’m here in an unofficial capacity. Well, I say unofficial… It’s more happenstance that brought me here today. I’m not actually working your case, too simplistic.” Sherlock waved his hand vaguely in the air.
The man was staring at Sherlock with the slightly vacant, surprised expression that people usually wore upon meeting Sherlock for the first time. He blinked a few times and glanced around him, shuddering lightly as the gun caught his attention again.
“Right. You had a panic attack, flashback, one of those psychological things. Thought you were in Afghanistan for a while.”
The man’s brow furrowed.
“It wasn’t your fault,” said Sherlock, trying to be reassuring. “You were mugged first. I’m sure it was very traumatic.”
The man jerked back staring at Sherlock with wide eyes.
“Don’t worry. You dealt with him.” Sherlock paused, weighing the risk against the odds of the man having a more violent reaction when he saw the body unprepared. “Permanently.”
The soldier glanced quickly towards the police but otherwise showed no reaction to the news that he had killed a man. He had had some experience with killing then.
“Don’t worry about charges. Self-defence will be easily proven.”
The man closed his eyes, taking deep regulated breaths. Sherlock drummed his fingers along the side of his calf as he waited.
“Do you think you might let me have the gun?”
The man tensed, bringing the weapon back up, the light flashing against Sherlock’s face as the sun glinted off the steel. Sherlock stared down the barrel; it never wavered. Behind him, he could hear Lestrade swearing.
“It was merely a suggestion,” stated Sherlock calmly. He sat back on his heels. “We’ll be crawling with AFOs soon and we all know how trigger happy they can be once they’re let out of their cage. You’d think they were Americans.”
The man’s fingers tensed on the trigger, not pressing, but threatening enough that Sherlock felt the beginnings of worry. His eyes flickered up over Sherlock’s shoulders to the rooftop behind him. He held the gaze just long enough for Sherlock to get the message and then focused back on Sherlock’s face. Sherlock turned slowly, scanning above him, catching the brief reflection of light.
“Mycroft,” muttered Sherlock, bitterly. He turned back to the soldier who was watching him for an explanation.
“I’m impressed,” said Sherlock. “Not many would have spotted him. He’s not my doing, I’m afraid, nor the Met’s, though possibly the MDP. An unfortunate hazard of one’s over-protective, meddling brother being the British Government; his response time is significantly faster than an ARV. Still, you’re in no more danger than I am. Have you changed your mind about the gun yet?”
Sherlock gave a close-lipped smile that quickly changed into a frown.
“You can’t, can you?” He watched the soldier, carefully. “You’re not being stubborn at all. You’re using the gun to hold yourself together.”
The soldier’s shoulders shifted, and his hold on the gun relaxed slightly. A hint of relief mixed with the ever present fear in the man’s eyes. Sherlock thought rapidly.
“What about the bullets?” he asked, gently. “Do you think you could give me the bullets?”
The man cocked his head to the side, considering.
“Please,” said Sherlock, uncharacteristically obsequious. “I wasn’t joking about the situation becoming very tense soon.”
The man nodded once, a brief twitch of his head. He shifted slightly, so that his movements were hidden from the police by Sherlock’s body and the sniper’s only shot would be through Sherlock’s head. He took a deep breath. His fingers moved rapidly to engage the safety and eject all of the bullets. He held out a trembling hand. Sherlock cupped one of his palms, their fingers brushing as the bullets dropped down into his hand.
The man shook and he clutched the gun to his chest. His fingers rhythmically closed around the brown handle of the Baikal. His breath came in quick pants.
“Shh, you’re safe. You’re here in London, and I’m going to clear up this misunderstanding, you’re safe.”
Sherlock waited until the man was calmer before he stood and backed towards the police.
“Here,” he said, thrusting the bullets at Lestrade, making sure that Mycroft’s man had a clear view. “Do ensure that no one shoots an unarmed man.”
Lestrade grabbed his arm as Sherlock moved to return to the man.
“What do you think you’re doing?” hissed Lestrade, leaning in so close that Sherlock could feel his breath on his neck.
“Defusing your situation,” replied Sherlock as he removed Lestrade’s hands from his person with a disdainful flick.
“You could have been killed.”
“You can’t just recklessly risk yourself like that. This isn’t one of your cases and you don’t actually work for the Yard.”
“Are we finished?” asked Sherlock, impatiently. He glanced over Lestrade’s shoulder at the man, watching his hand that was still clutching the gun begin to tremble.
“No, we’re not finished! I want to know exactly what kind of game you are trying to play.”
“I don’t have time for this. He is getting antsy.”
“Exactly. And since when do you care about such trivial details?”
Sherlock took a step away drawing himself up to his full height.
“You people really should make up your minds,” he said, coldly. “You keep bleating at me about respecting people’s emotions, but when I do, you’re not happy with that either.”
He ignored Lestrade’s protestations, stalking briskly across the small alley. Half way to the man, he stopped abruptly, forcing himself into a calmer pace that would not alarm the soldier.
The man watched Sherlock silently. Sherlock wondered what he saw. The man was perched on a proverbial tightrope, yet he still allowed Sherlock close. In fact, he seemed almost relieved that Sherlock had returned. As Sherlock stood in front of him, he settled back against the brick wall, sitting with his knees pulled up to his chest. He glanced to his right and shifted slightly to his left.
“Thank you,” said Sherlock, softly, taking it as an invitation. He gingerly placed himself next to the soldier, stretching his long legs out in front of him.
Sherlock twitched his toes in his shoes, wondering what to do next.
They sat in oddly companionable silence.
“So…shall we talk about the weather?”
Sherlock could feel the man twitch beside him. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the man tilt his head back and stare up into the sky. His shoulders began to shake. Sherlock turned to him, askance, but the man wasn’t upset; he was laughing.
The absurdity struck Sherlock. He brought a fist up to his mouth, biting his lip to keep himself under control. It was completely inappropriate, even he could see that, and Lestrade would be appalled, but Sherlock began to giggle.
Sherlock felt the tinges of embarrassment across his cheeks as the two sat there still breathing unevenly from the faded hilarity. He knew that the police were staring at them; well, staring more because they were under constant observation. The other man reached out and patted Sherlock on the knee. They glanced at each other, quickly smothering grins.
“You are a very singular individual,” said Sherlock. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so relaxed in the presence of another living being.
The man didn’t seem offended.
His phone dinged.
[The AFO is willing to let this play out. We’re still waiting for the ambulance. Try to get his name, an emergency contact, any information. ]
Sherlock rolled his eyes and locked his phone. The man watched him shove the mobile back into his pocket.
“They want to know your name.”
He looked at Sherlock for a second before letting his gaze drift slowly towards the street where the mass of police officers were gathered. He glanced down at the gun still clutched in his hand and sighed, one hand coming up to scratch at the back of his head.
“Not a chance,” said Sherlock.
The man’s head jerked up and he stared at Sherlock with wide eyes. Sherlock felt a brief spike of glee; he always enjoyed shocking people.
“You were contemplating the possibility of someone simply allowing you to go home.”
The man’s lips twitched into a thin smile.
“I don’t know what the exact protocol is for a case like this. I presume that eventually one of those idiots will figure out that you have a therapist and demand his or her name.” Sherlock scoffed and then continued, exasperated because the man was staring at him again. “Of course, you have a therapist.”
When the soldier’s eyes shifted quickly towards the police officers, Sherlock realized that he had slightly misinterpreted the man’s expression.
“You forget that I work with them. There is no exaggerating their incompetence.”
The man looked around the alley, his gaze stuttering over the dead body, taking an inventory of everyone’s location. He glanced back at Sherlock, seeming to make a decision. He scooted, fraying the hem of his trousers as they dragged along the rough ground. Sherlock moved, turning away from the wall to place his back to the police so that he was facing the man. The man waited and adjusted his position again. When he was obscured by Sherlock’s body, he twisted onto his hip and reached around behind him, pulling a phone out of his back pocket. He handed the phone to Sherlock.
Sherlock activated the touch screen: a message was already open.
[ My apologies, but I do not speak.
Please do not be alarmed. I am having a panic attack. You do not need to contact anyone. I will be fine. If possible, allow me to rest somewhere quiet and please, do not touch me.
My thanks, John Watson ]
The message was very formal, definitely written by the therapist. He’d shown someone the message recently because it was still on the screen. Sherlock looked at the man- no, John Watson- with new respect and understanding. He had already had one public panic attack that day only to be mugged before he could properly recover; it was no wonder the poor man was in this state.
“John Watson,” he said, holding out his hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance. My name is Sherlock Holmes, but please, call me Sherlock.”
John Watson seemed bemused and hesitant, but he reached out and shook Sherlock’s hand with a warm, firm grip.
“May I call you John?”
John stared at him, silently. Sherlock brushed absently at his lap.
“Yes, well, I shall call you John until you protest.”
Sherlock nodded, considering the matter settled. John still stared at Sherlock but this time his eyebrows were too inches higher on his brow.
Sherlock turned his attention back to John’s phone. There were two personalized widgets on the phone in addition to the preloaded applications. He tapped on the first, confirming that it was the message he had just read. The second was named In Case of Emergency.
[ The owner of this phone is John Watson, a veteran who suffers from progressive mutism and post-traumatic stress disorder that presents with periods of disorientation and acute panic attacks. If he appears to be in distress, guide him to a quiet area with ample privacy and personal space. Contact Ella Thompson before initiating any further intervention. ]
Underneath, Ella Thompson’s full credentials and contact information were listed. Sherlock wrinkled his lip, contacting her would be worse than useless, but Lestrade wouldn’t see it that way. Reluctantly, he fished his phone out of his pocket.
[ Contact Detective Inspector Lestrade regarding John Watson upon receipt of this message.]
Sherlock added Lestrade’s phone number and pressed send. He quickly composed an additional message with the information that he had learned. There, let Lestrade deal with her.
Sherlock continued to fiddle with John’s phone scrolling through the text history. Dull, dull, dull. Nothing but messages from his brother Harry warning to expect a visit, appointment reminders from the therapist, and the occasional request for milk from someone named George. There wasn’t a single outgoing text, odd that, not what he would expect from a man with selective mutism.
“So how does a mute speak?” asked Sherlock as he shoved the phone into his jacket pocket next to his own. He could see the muscles of John’s shoulder bunching together and he wouldn’t look at Sherlock. Touchy subject.
“Notes? BSL? Morse code?” Nothing, just John staring at the ground blankly.
“Ooh, I know,” he said sarcastically. “Charades!”
John became ice, stone, an impervious statue that gave nothing away. The response was intriguing. Sherlock replayed their interactions in his head.
“Or perhaps, nothing,” he said softly. He leaned forward, pressing closer to tilt his head and look up into John’s eyes. “That’s it, isn’t it? You say nothing at all, ever, in any way.”
John closed his eyes.
“Well,” said Sherlock, shifting back to his former position. “I’m sure your therapist was thrilled to be assigned your case. Think of the time she saves.”
There was a brief flicker of amusement hidden within the otherwise utterly impassive mask.
“Still, that’s a bit severe: no communication at all. You’re lucky you have such an expressive face.”
John opened a single eye, looking at him clearly exasperated. Sherlock just shrugged.
“You’re not panicking,” he pointed out.
John held out a single shaking hand with his palm spread.
“Much,” acceded Sherlock, feeling amused. John was very witty for a man with nothing to say. “You’re not panicking much.”
They waited in silence. Sherlock could feel the seconds slipping away with the lengthening shadows. He knew the calm could not last; they could not sit here forever. John felt the same, judging by his ever more frequent glances towards the police.
Sherlock’s phone rang. They both startled, exchanging sheepish glances with each other.
Sherlock turned his head towards the street. Lestrade stood in the street with his phone pressed to his right ear, facing the oncoming traffic. The image was rose tinted from the late afternoon sun. Lestrade seemed concerned- Sherlock peeked at John- rightfully, so.
John was watching Sherlock’s ringing pocket. His brow wrinkled.
“I prefer to text,” said Sherlock, airily. Once the phone fell silent, he began to type.
[Keep the ambulance out of sight. I am uncertain of John’s reaction. -SH]
John observed him suspiciously.
Sherlock tried to smile at him reassuringly.
John’s eyes narrowed; suspicion not averted.
[Are you in danger?]
Sherlock hesitated but John’s growing restlessness could not be ignored.
[But you might be. – SH]
The response was immediate.
[I want you back here now.]
[I’m not joking, Sherlock.]
[I will revoke your crime scene access.]
“They want to speak with me,” said Sherlock apologetically.
John froze, a look of terror crossing his face. His right hand darted out to clinch Sherlock’s sleeve. He stared at Sherlock, pleadingly.
“Okay,” said Sherlock, gently. “I’ll stay.”
John rocked back. He bit his lip, blinking rapidly.
Sherlock rang Lestrade, pressing his phone against his cheek. He answered immediately.
“So sorry, Lestrade,” said Sherlock, blithely. “But it appears I’m being held hostage.”
He raised his arm with John’s fist still twisted in the fabric.
Lestrade had a few choice words to indicate his distinct lack of amusement. He shared them while pacing and glaring at Sherlock from the mouth of the alley. The man beside him stood stiffly in full uniform and body armour, with his arms crossed in a much more official show of disapproval.
“You can’t say things like that, Sherlock,” admonished Lestrade once he finally wore down. “Ingleson is fully prepared to shoot Mr. Watson to ensure your safety.”
“Overkill, as always,” replied Sherlock. “What is your plan? I presume you do have one.”
“He’s not currently being charged with any crime, but he’s not safe to leave on the streets. They’ll take him to King’s until he can be released into the care of his therapist or another guardian.”
“That’s an awful plan.”
“You’d prefer we arrested him?”
Sherlock huffed and hung up on Lestrade.
“Morons,” he muttered.
John barely noticed. He was watching the police, who were being stupidly obvious in their preparations, with growing apprehension.
“They’re not going to hurt you,” said Sherlock, not really believing it.
John ignored him.
Sherlock pulled at his hair, feeling frustrated and trapped. He didn’t have another answer to give Lestrade; he just knew this plan was going to end badly and John was the one who would suffer. Sherlock closed his eyes and watched the possibilities unfold: John hurting himself trying to get away, the police hurting John trying to subdue him, John hurting an officer and the police extracting their vengeance, John being arrested and locked away…
Sherlock shook his head; this wasn’t helping. He needed alternatives. He tried to remember everything he knew about the Mental Health Act but it had rarely been important so the details were faded and filed away. He didn’t have time to think properly.
Someone shouted. Sherlock’s head snapped up, sending a twinge down his neck, as he refocused on his surroundings.
John was poised on edge, like a bird-dog that has spotted its prey, completely focused on the pair of paramedics loitering by the armed response vehicle, their green uniforms standing out amongst the bright yellow jackets of the PCs. Sherlock could see fine tremors rippling down the muscles of John’s arms.
Lestrade was on the phone again but he didn’t look happy. Ingleson was watching the conversation intently as he dispersed orders to the rotation of men who appeared and disappeared from his side. Sherlock wished he could have been present for Ingleson’s arrival; it was difficult to read a man when he was only seen from a distance. Lestrade raised his head, looking across at Ingleson; he deliberately shook his head.
Sherlock drew in a sharp breath. Ingleson made a gesture with his left hand and his men fell into formation. Lestrade stared at Sherlock, mouthing something that was indistinct from this distance. Sherlock shook his head, not caring what Lestrade wanted. From the corner of his eye, he could see John shift as the officers began to move towards their position.
John stood. He had the loose stance of a trained fighter but the toss of his head hinted at something less refined. The gun lay discarded at his feet. He wasn’t a large man, but he looked powerful and dangerous, fully capable of administering severe damage with his bare hands.
Sherlock pushed himself to his feet.
“Hey,” he said, trying to catch John’s attention, but the man was too focused on the advancing officers. “Hey, no.”
“Look at me.” He reached out and grasped John’s jaw, forcefully turning his head until Sherlock could look into his eyes. Madness stared back, a mixture of fear, anger, and deep, burning resolve. John Watson was not going to go quietly. Sherlock met his gaze, unmoved. “I will handle this.”
Strong fingers came up gripping his wrists painfully; Sherlock never flinched.
“I will not let them take you away.”
John let his fingers slip away, still tense, still wary, but giving Sherlock his trust. Sherlock felt light-headed. No one had ever given themselves to Sherlock like this man just had. Sherlock steeled his shoulders and jerked his jacket back into place. He glared at the assembled authorities, calculating how to bow them to his will; John Watson was depending on him to win his freedom. He stalked forward and for a brief, heady moment, Sherlock felt like he was marching into battle.