The first time she wakes up, she is alone. Her head throbs like she spent the entire evening listening to atonal violin music at top volume, and her mouth is a desert. Her hands are cuffed behind her back—one of the hinged sets, much to her chagrin—and her first thought is that she is going to kill Sherlock, because she really has to pee and she is not in the mood for this right now.
Phantom pins and needles sting her triceps as she scoots forward. The floor is concrete—so not at the Brownstone, then—and the walls appear to be white. They reflect the overhead light with an intensity that hurts her eyes. She rolls onto her back, and her delicate surgeon’s fingers bore holes into the top of her tailbone.
There is no seam between the ceiling and the floor. As her eyes adjust to the light, she sees that the walls are curved like the ceiling of a basilica. She is the unfortunate inhabitant of what appears to be a sizeable dome.
Her annoyance skyrockets.
“Sherlock!” she bellows as soon as she finds her voice.
His reply is immediate. “Watson! WATSON!”
The urgency in his voice steals her breath.
His first thought upon waking is that he doesn’t remember falling asleep.
Not that this is unusual, per se—Sherlock Holmes rarely slips voluntarily into unconsciousness. REM cycles tend to sneak up on him, launching covert attacks when he sets up shop at the kitchen table or when he dares to settle into the chair at Watson’s bedside.
The thought of Watson fills him with a warmth that almost offsets his discomfort. His shoulders ache as though he has spent the night applying pressure at odd angles, and the paste in his mouth is unpalatable at best.
Were it not for the handcuffs securing his wrists—a steel set, hinged, most likely the Peerless 801P model—the scene would remind him uncomfortably of the crash that follows a particularly delicious heroin high.
He presses the tip of his tongue curiously to the holes at the roof of his mouth, searching his sinuses for the familiar taste of oblivion. He tastes only a hint of rose hips and pomegranate—the remnants of last night’s tea—and his chest heaves in relief. He does not want to begin exploring how he would explain a second relapse to Watson.
Did Mistress Felicia leave me cuffed last night? No. The tension in his hips wouldn’t be so prevalent if they had agreed to meet.
His eyes scan the room rapidly, searching for clues in the lack of crown molding and the kiss of the concrete floor. Its surface is deceptively smooth, almost gleaming. He can barely make out the reflection of one hazel, bloodshot eye.
Immediately irritated, he nudges himself into a sitting position and begins to work at the handcuffs as he surveys unfamiliar terrain.
His fingers manipulate the laces of his right dress shoe as he studies the slope of the white walls and the strange dome of the ceiling. There are no doors or windows, nor can he find a trapdoor in the floor, but he knows there is an exit somehow. Any space that can be entered can also be left.
Using the plastic end of his shoelace, he seeks the pin in the cuffs and applies consistent pressure, listening for the catch. This particular model, while difficult to navigate, is one of his favorites. With exceptional diligence, he will be home with Watson within a few hours, barring any sort of interference by his captors.
He begins to hum as he works, pausing only when the click of steel against steel releases his left wrist. He rotates the joint with no small amount of pride. Less than ten minutes. Personal record.
Releasing the right wrist takes less than half the time. The exercise almost brings a smile to his face. He pockets the discarded Peerless cuffs as a souvenir. Hinged cuffs are quite useful; one can never have too many pairs.
Now, to search for the exit.
His search for the seam of a door is tactile, with the worn pads of his fingers pressed firmly to the wall. Occasionally, he knocks, listening for the shift in frequencies and the thickness of sound that would indicate a hollow patch of drywall. The knocks form a rhythm eventually, and he begins to manipulate that rhythm in the timeless language of Morse code.
The design of the room is quite ingenious, really, and he feels a reluctant admiration for whoever conceived his capture.
Equilibrium slips from the head of its pin and shatters in the silence that follows her voice. His world tilts. His chest seizes. His blood begins to boil with a combination of rage and fear he’s not felt since Mycroft stood on his stoop without his partner and delivered a third party’s ultimatum.
His voice, intended as a shout, is a breathless, tentative gasp, and he hates himself for it.
He liberates the handcuffs from his pocket and digs the serrated edge of the smooth steel into the drywall with a growl.
She retrieves the iPod from its hole in the wall with a crippling mix of fear and relief as her legs fold beneath her.
If he is not here, she cannot save him. Then again, if he is not here, perhaps he does not need to be saved.
She almost scoffs aloud. Come on, Joan. This is Sherlock. Sherlock ALWAYS needs to be saved.
She hears his voice, raspy and contemplative in the corner of her mind. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” *
(She knew it was a recording. She has heard him scream her name for five years, has learned to familiarize herself with the slightest variations in pitch. The shouts coming through the wall were tinged with excitement, not terror. The increase in volume mirrored that which he uses to summon her downstairs after a particularly thrilling break in the case. Someone has recorded them, which means someone has been plotting to take her.)
She presses play again, just to hear his voice. She closes her eyes as his shouts echo along the smooth, curved walls, and for a moment, she is back in the brownstone beneath the sheets she loves almost as much as the man behind the voice.
It’s clever, this blatant manipulation of her emotions. It’s also a clear indication that she has been taken. Sherlock is not this cruel.
She presses pause again and pockets the iPod, just to keep him close.
She studies the hole she has carved with the handcuffs. By her estimation, the wall is roughly eight inches thick. She hasn’t found a door yet, but she has spotted the seam of a panel in the ceiling that appears to be the source of light. If she uses the hole as a foothold, she can almost reach the roof.
Stairs, she thinks. I can use the handcuffs to carve stairs in the wall.
It may take days.
Or I can wiggle through the hole and see if there’s anything on the other side.
The alcove in which she found the iPod nestled seems like a promising place to start. Then again, if her captor wants to draw this out, the iPod could very well have been positioned opposite her exit.
Her gaze drifts to the other side of the room, where the wall is unmarred.
What would Sherlock do?
Flecks of drywall litter the ground like snow, dusting the concrete and obscuring the reflection that so mocked him before. The larger chunks of wall have been flung across the room.
His pulse throbs in his ears. Rage makes his hands shake. Blood seeps through the cuts in his palms.
(When the handcuffs failed to achieve maximum efficiency, he began tearing the wall apart with his bare hands.)
He has deduced that they are being recorded. The black foam behind the drywall suggests that his captors have attempted to soundproof the room, presumably because there are things they do not want him to hear. The wall is not so thick as to be indestructible, meaning that he is expected to tunnel his way out.
Normally, Sherlock would enjoy defying expectations and determining an alternative means of escape, but destruction feels good, like the tip of a needle in his veins. Ripping the wall out is safer than ripping his skin off, and he STILL CANNOT FIND WATSON.
He uses his fist to pound her name into the wall in Morse code. His knuckles leave a pink streak across the surface.
His throat is raw—either from the sobs or from shouting her name into a soundproof abyss. His face is streaked with tears, and he hates himself for this, hates himself for putting her in danger again, because he fucking enjoys these situations, but she must be terrified.
(He knows she is not terrified, nowhere near. Watson is much stronger than that. He is not.)
With a growl of frustration, he kicks at the hole in the wall, enlarging the edges until his whole person fits through.
He snatches the tape recorder from its perch on a small end table and hurls it against the wall. Its plastic parts splinter and scatter, and Watson’s voice grows distorted, then silent.
With a heavy sigh of defeat, Sherlock allows himself a moment—just a moment—to sit on the table and press his fists into his eye sockets.
Deduce, damn it. Deduce.
He searches this new room with tired eyes, cataloging the table on which he is perched, the wooden chair in the center of the room, the four blessed walls with a roof and corners, and the naked pillow-top mattress on the floor.
He cannot help but think that Watson would appreciate the bed’s extra padding. He walks gingerly across the room, listening to the way his footsteps echo against the stone floor, and lies down on the bed for a change in perspective.
(The bed makes him feel closer to her. If she were here, he thinks, this is where she would be.)
He rolls over onto his side, curls into Watson’s favorite sleeping position, and forces himself to think of anything but the needles that usually accompany a mattress on the floor.
Cameras in the ceiling, obscured by the brightness of the light. Soundproof walls and yet, a tape recorder bleating my name.
He cannot remember hearing that same note of urgency in her voice ever before.
Someone recorded Watson’s voice, which means that someone was in the brownstone with us, or she has also been taken. Someone knows the nature of our…connection and is using it to motivate me to…
His eyes widen, and his hands fall away.
The walls are not soundproof because they don’t want me to hear; the walls are soundproof because they don’t want someone else to hear me.
Watson is here.
She slams the steel core of a stiletto firmly into the drywall and thinks that Sherlock can never call her heels “impractical” again. When she is sure that the disassembled heel will bear her weight, she rises again.
She sees the camera first, but the well-concealed air vent is the thing that holds her attention. She pries the cover from the wall using the serrated edge of the handcuffs and the leg that hangs free. With more dexterity than anyone’s toes should have, she offsets the cover until it clatters to the floor.
Wrenching herself into the air vent is more difficult, but she manages. In order to climb the wall, she has strapped one of the stillettos to her knee. She tucks the other into her waistband and says a silent prayer of thanks that she hasn’t been captured in one of her cute little sundresses. Now THAT would’ve been insensible.
She crawls through the vents like a child playing hide-and-seek, slowly and stealthily and with no small amount of pride. This is why I jog, she thinks. So I can fit into small spaces.
(People think Sherlock’s heart is a small space, but she seems to fit there just fine.)
She passes an empty canister and wonders if it held the gas that first knocked her out. She pockets it, just to be safe. She imagines throwing it at Sherlock when she finds him, gleefully announcing her entrance with, “Could’ve been a knife!”
She will find him.
He cannot find a suitable means of exiting captivity in the larger room, so he returns to the domed room. He fashions an extended arm by turning two of the end table’s four legs upside down and fastening them to its surface. Using the extended arm, he reaches us and prods at the lit panel in the ceiling. His intention is to remove the lighting panel and escape through the hole that remains. Unfortunately, his prodding liberates his only light source—a shoddy stage spotlight that inconveniently rains glass all over the floor.
For a moment, the room is cloaked in darkness, and Sherlock’s frustration nearly chokes him.
He waits impatiently for his eyes to adjust, listening to the voice of his inner addict. Should’ve known it was a spotlight. Should’ve looked at the pattern of light distribution. Useless, useless, useless.
As soon as he can make out the blinking red lights, he destroys every camera he can find.
Without eyes or ears in the space of captivity, his captors will surely pay him a personal visit. Such an opportunity will allow him to examine more of this curious prison and search for clues as to Watson’s whereabouts.
(He will punch them in the face, string them up by the spotlight’s power cord, and slice at their skin with shards of glass until they BLOODY TELL HIM WHERE WATSON IS.)
He uses the serrated teeth of the handcuffs to carve footholds in the wall that will aid him in ascending towards the hole through which the spotlight once shone. Throughout the process, he acquires more wounds, which bleed in an aggravating manner that requires him to remove and systematically repurpose his shirt as a series of bandages.
Every so often, he shoots a forlorn glance toward the remnants of the tape recorder. He finds that he misses her voice.
Satisfied that he has removed or disabled all of the recording devices, he begins to deduce aloud. His voice creaks to life, hoarse and haunted in the wake of Watson’s absence.
“Two rooms—not connected in construction, per se, but clearly designed for the same purpose of captivity—and only one with amenities. It is as though I am being rewarded for leveling up, so to speak; navigate out of one room, find oneself in another, better room. By this token, there should be a third room and, ultimately, an exit…unless, of course, our captor follows the traditional rule of three, in which case the third room would be the last and the one from which we are ultimately expected to escape or capitulate…”
The rhythm of the words soothes him ever so slightly, but his voice sounds hollow without hers to echo it.
When she first hears the drone of Sherlock’s familiar chatter through the vent, her entire body sags with relief. Tears of gratitude spring forth, momentarily blurring her view of the tunnel ahead.
He sounds wrecked, but conscious, and she says a silent prayer of thanks that he is still alive and well enough to ramble.
She can’t see him—the holes are too narrow—but the cadence of his voice is too familiar, too stilted and arrhythmic to be another recording.
With a smile as broad as this new horizon of possibilities, she assembles her tools like found art and begins making quick work of the bolts holding the vent in place.
He hears the distinct clatter of metal against metal and the roar of aluminum bearing significant weight. His orations cease, but his mind is alight, lithe and nimble and racing with the potential consequences of this new aural stimulus.
The captors are coming. The captors are coming!
He descends gently, abandoning his perch and avoiding the scattered, glittering debris as he searches for a more appropriate place to conceal himself. Armed with a large shard of glass and the broken spotlight, he crouches beneath the hole he created and watches the ceiling warily. He is weighing his options—attack first, or demand to see Watson first?—when a mess of black hair and linen comes crashing down onto the unsoiled mattress.
(Moving it was a good call, he thinks.)
The painted sheet of metal skitters across the stone floor, the shrieking soprano accompaniment to a familiar female groan.
Surgeon’s hands attempt to comb through a familiar mass of black hair, and his throat feels impossibly heavy.
“Seriously?!” Watson mumbles incredulously. “I can’t believe they gave you a bed!”
He swallows an inappropriate amount of tears. “Technically, they didn’t. I had to crash through a wall to find it.”
She stands, dusting the remnants of her solo adventures from her slacks and looking…not unlike every other time he has roused her from the comfort of a bed. It is so terrifically normal that it seizes his chest and sparks his fingers, which drop their potentially dangerous bounty with a loud crash.
(He has probably shattered his single most useful piece of glass, but he doesn’t care, because Watson is here and alive and breathing, and they will figure this out together.)
She snorts, and her prominent cheekbones house the smallest ghost of a smile. “At least there was a room on the other side of your wall…”
(He hears her voice, small and slightly guilty, in the back of his attic. “I kinda feel like hugging you.” Now, two years later, he understands the feeling implicitly. His deltoids still tingle with the phantom press of her biceps, warm and sure after a relief-filled conversation with his unlucky barrister. He thinks a hug might be okay.)
She barely has time to take him in—the linen strips tied around his hands and dangling from his head; his bare, bleeding chest; his lace-less dress shoes, scuffed beyond repair—before she is awkwardly sandwiched between two skinny arms and pressed to a chest more solid than she remembers. He smells like sweat and drywall and something indescribably Sherlock, and she is touched (literally, my God) and confused all at once.
She wraps her arms hesitantly around his waist and presses her palms to his shoulder blades. “Are you okay?” she murmurs worriedly. “Did you hit your head or something?”
“No.” She feels his muscles bunch beneath her hands, but he does not let go. If anything, he squeezes her a bit too tightly. “Why?”
“You’re…hugging me. By your own definition, this is rash behavior.”
He swallows, and his throat bobs against her forehead.
“The last time you were…stolen and returned, I did…nothing.” His hoarse voice is full of remorse. “I didn’t touch you or hug you or…anything. Then you left, and I left, and I felt absolutely, horribly, irritatingly wrong for eight months.” He clears his throat, but the rasp remains. “It’s not an experience I want to repeat. Thus, the urge to hug was not one I wanted to suppress.”
She feels her biceps bulge against his ribcage as she squeezes him back.
“Are you getting sick?” she asks the crook of his neck. “You sound…”
He clears his throat again, to no avail.
“I was shouting your name.”
Her heart breaks open, and tears sting her eyes. “Sherlock...”
He steps back, and his fingers dance manically against his dust-covered slacks. Everything is dirty. Glass and drywall have left their Pollock-esque mark on the concrete floor, and flecks of ceiling indicate the path of the destroyed vent cover.
He cannot—will not—look at her. She has surely seen the broken tape recorder by now; he taught her to catalog such things. Shame colors his cheeks crimson.
“I know it was a recording,” he continues, his voice breaking over the syllables, “but it seems that my deductive skills and the logic from which they stem are…incapacitated in your absence.”
She initiates the hug this time, and his entire body feels like a live wire. His nerve endings are raw at each point of contact. She squeezes him tightly, and his chest is on fire.
Her hair still inexplicably smells like lilacs and honey. He inhales a garden and exhales a storm.
He sees a single teardrop disappear into her crown.
“They had a recording in my room, too,” she all but whispers. “An iPod, actually.”
He snorts. “I hope it fared better than my tape recorder.”
“It’s fine. Still intact.” The force of her inhale tickles the hair follicles on his pectorals. "I kept it in my pocket, just to hear your voice.”
I’m so glad you’re alive, he wants to tell her.
What he says instead is, “Watson? Did you scale the wall using your stilettos?”
I’m so glad you’re okay, she wants to tell him. I was so worried about you.
What she says instead is, “God, I could use a nap right now.”