"Christ on a stick, I'm tired." John huffed a quiet laugh as he threw himself into his chair. He was getting as bad as Sherlock, talking aloud to the other man when he wasn't even there. Sherlock gone was a bit not good, and, to be honest, a worry.
The last few weeks had seen a serial killer terrorizing London with a barrage of letters to the press threatening violence followed by grisly murders. Greg had turned to Sherlock and John for help and had even involved Mycroft, something he was loath to do now that they had started a romantic relationship. At first John had been amused by Sherlock's "gag me with a spoon" reaction to seeing their friend and his brother together, but lately had been well pleased that his lover had softened his objections and even seemed happy, if John could use the word, that Mycroft had finally found his goldfish.
With this case not strictly having a client, (what the Yard considered compensation for services rendered was a joke), John had continued to log hours at the clinic to bring in "milk money". Not bad on it's own, but it did leave Sherlock's uncensored mouth out there for the press to prey upon, and they had- scandalously.
The crimes had escalated in brutality and had a chilling theme: recreating the work of some of Britain's most heinous serial killers. There had been four to this point. First came a letter referencing Whitechapel. Soon a young prostitute was found there, eviscerated a la Jack The Ripper. "Hardly original," Sherlock had scoffed, "no imagination." The Daily Mail had seized that quote and run with it with predictable results. At least that had spurred the Yard to demand they and Sherlock be made aware of any subsequent letters.
The second bore the return address Apt. 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, London. After mere minutes, Sherlock had grabbed John shouting about the strangler John Christie and they dashed to the scene. When nothing seemed amiss, Sherlock had fumed. "Blind idiots! With your eyes wide open you still see nothing!!" To the shock of all present, he had grabbed a claw hammer and punched a large hole in the kitchen wallpaper revealing an alcove which cradled the body of the next victim. The headlines screamed - Sherlock Holmes: so smart but so late.
It had taken all of John's love and persuasion to calm Sherlock, while he wished he could go to those damn rag sheets and punch every one who dared insult his boyfriend. Unfortunately they had very little time to wait for the next clue. This letter was again to the point, offering the address 103 Lambeth Palace Road, with the snide declaration- 'Giving you a head start this time, Holmes.' Sherlock had immediately made the connection to Thomas Neill Cream, the Lambeth Poisoner. When they arrived, five members of one family lay on the floor in agony from strychnine. Despite John's efforts, before help could arrive, all succumbed to the poison. Sherlock was again angry, but this time in half shock. "This was deliberate, John. Somehow he knew how quickly we could respond and timed the killings so that we would find them alive but still too late. How? I need to think!!"
By now all the tabloids had jumped on the bandwagon bewailing and bemoaning the inefficiency of both Scotland Yard and Sherlock Holmes. The front pages screamed of mayhem and clues solved correctly but a rising body count. Letter number four was cloaked in vagaries hinting only at the 'sludge of humankind and the hard cold steel that awaits us all'. It was John who had shown a flash of brilliance then, suggesting the cold steel could be an operating or morgue table. Sherlock had cursed his slow mind as John remembered the morgue at Bart's was being refitted and painted. It was a Sunday, no one would be about.
The carnage that Greg and they found was enough to cause all three to become physically ill. On the autopsy tables lay the remains of four bodies, almost completely dissolved by acid. "John George Haigh", Sherlock had rasped out, his voice a defeated near whisper. "Who?", asked Greg. "He was known as the Acid Bath Murderer. I've failed again." That night, even John couldn't comfort The World's Only Consulting Detective.
The next day, against John's advice, (not that it mattered most times), Sherlock had agreed to a joint press conference with Greg. The duo had been peppered with accusing questions and cutting remarks. One theory put forward by the "genius" paparazzi was the killer was going century by century through his index of serial killers. Sherlock had tried to keep his own counsel, but that proved the tipping point.
"If any of you could be bothered to use what passes for your tiny little brains, you would see the murders are NOT chronological in nature. Unless of course you're suggesting our killer is in a time machine whizzing around the cosmos willy nilly through the space time continuum and somehow got things the wrong way round. Morons!!"
From the back a voice asked him to repeat that last, and before John could stop him, Sherlock did so, his voice laced with disdain and scorn. It wasn't a stretch to figure what the afternoon papers top story would contain.
That had been early this morning, and though it was only just past noon, John felt as if it had been days. Sherlock had gone to investigate a hunch which he wouldn't share and John suddenly felt a weariness that far outweighed his age. He fought against his heavy eyelids but soon fell asleep.
He became aware of someone shaking his shoulders and crying out, "Johnny, Johnny my sweet boy, wake up. Wake up!"
"Mum, just a few more minutes, I won't be late to school- promise.", he mumbled.
The shaking and pleading became more insistent. "Johnny! Wake up, son! Your Sherlock needs you, he's in terrible trouble!"
John fought the fog as his eyes cleared and he saw his mother's face. His very dead mother. "You can't be here. Go away."
"I am here, John Hamish Watson, and I need you to listen-NOW. My stay will be short. You need to remember three things for me my brilliant lad, three things. The Brompton time machine, the Egyptian God Anubis with his flail, and the Great Fire of London. You HAVE to remember Johnny. Repeat them to me."
"I don't understand, Mum."
"You don't need to understand, poppet, just repeat them and remember."
John did as instructed, his words slurred by fatigue and confusion. "But what do I..."
"Your friends will help you, Johnny, but YOU are the key. Sherlock's life depends on you." He felt her kiss on his cheek, her warm breath and her tears falling on his neck. "Never forget I will always love you, Johnny."
He was startled from sleep by the pounding on the downstairs door. John, reeling from the dream, suddenly recalled Mrs. Hudson was away, and he would need to go down and answer.
Throwing open the door, he was nearly bowled over by Mycroft closely followed by Greg, his arm in a sling, as they stormed inside.
"Greg what happened to your arm? What's going on?"
"Scrum with a would be rapist in the alley behind the pub where Myc and I were having lunch. Not broken, just a sprain, but bloody useless."
Mycroft, uncharacteristically disheveled and red faced, broke in, "John there's been another letter. This madman claims he has Sherlock. Gregory called me and we came straight here."
John snapped to attention at the news, "Tell me Greg. Everything!"
He signed this one John. Not his real name 'course, but Colin Ireland. He was called the Gay Slayer. Famous for BDSM murders of gay men. Always trussed them up in those color coded hankies the men used as code in the 90's. I've started squads of men checking all the gay bars but, shit there's so many. I don't know how we can..."
John couldn't hear him anymore, only the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears. From somewhere came a faraway voice that he realized was his own. "He's not near any gay bars. We need to get to Brompton Cemetery, he's there."
"Brompton Cemetery? John what the hell are you on about?"
Mycroft glared at him, "John on what evidence do you base this wild deduction?"
"Don't ask me to explain, Mycroft. If we are going to save Sherlock you have to trust me. Please believe me."
"As my brother has faith in you, John, so shall I."
As the Panda car raced through the streets, lights flashing, siren blaring, John kept repeating his mother's list over in his mind. He was familiar with the weird and fanciful idea that the mausoleum of Hannah Courtoy contained not only her remains but a functioning time machine. A quick check of Brompton Cemetery lore linked her to the crypt's designer Joseph Bonomi who was buried nearby. On his headstone was a raised plaque bearing the likeness of Anubis; above his head rested a flail, a threshing tool with a long handle.
When they reached the cemetery, John ran full tilt to the mausoleum and stopped. Breathing heavily behind him, Greg wheezed, "It's all you mate. What now?"
"We need to find another grave, Bonomi. It has Anubis on the front."
"The Egyptian God of the Afterlife?"
"Yes, Mycroft! Just find the damn thing!"
Shortly, Mycroft's voice rang out, "Over here, John!"
As the three man gathered around the stone, Greg put a gentle hand on Mycroft's shoulder. "Thank God you were here Myc. I wouldn't have known what to look for. John, how does this help?"
"Give me a minute."
"John," Mycroft said not unkindly, "what are you thinking?"
"He's in the tomb, I know it."
"How...never mind how", Greg snarled, "we have to get him out. We'll get the key from the caretaker."
Mycroft sounded defeated, "I am well informed there is no key."
"He's right Greg."
"Then I'll call the bomb squad, we'll blow it open."
"No, Gregory! If Sherlock is unconscious and near the door the concussion would kill him if he's still..."
John almost roared, "He IS alive, I feel it."
"Then how in hell do we get in, John?", Greg asked.
John looked back and forth from the mausoleum to the gravestone. "You see that shape high above the door?"
"Yeah, looks like a clock's been removed."
"Not a clock, Gregory, only eight numeral slashes, not twelve. More like a sundial."
John's brain was suddenly overwhelmed by a single thought, "Or a combination lock on a safe."
"A safe? Where then is the dial?"
"On Anubis. Greg get the pry bar from the boot of the car. We need to get this plaque off the stone. Mycroft, we'll need a tall ladder to get up there. Can you..."
"Recently, I had occasion to visit the main mausoleum here for an old "associate". There are extremely stable wheeled ladders there of a sufficient height."
Just then, Greg returned. "Myc, I'll..."
"Don't be foolish, my dear. With one good arm you can assist John but not push a large heavy ladder over rough terrain." Mycroft spoke softly with affection showing no embarrassment at having used an endearment around John. "I shall hurry."
Between their three good arms and hands, Greg and John managed to dislodge the metal from the marker. As they did, a panting Mycroft pushed the ladder into place in front of the door. "If you are correct, John, all that remains is the combination to this lock."
Greg gasped, "Damn that fucker! There must be thousands of possible combinations."
"Hundreds of thousands to be precise, Gregory."
"Shit sakes", John hissed, "don't go all Holmesian on me now Mycroft!"
"Yes, too right, John. Apologies. Nevertheless, we have very little daylight left and hypothermia must be a concern. I suggest we begin at least trying some numbers. Perhaps the birth and death dates of this woman or the architect."
Like a flash of blinding light followed by crashing thunder, his mother's voice boomed in his head, 'Remember, Johnny, remember! He's counting on you.' The tomb, Anubis, the Great Fire... that was it! The date of The Great Fire of London.
"I know what it is - 2nd September 1666."
Mycroft gawped at him, "The Great Fire? What makes you think..."
"Sometimes you just have to go on faith Mycroft. Greg hand me the plaque, Mycroft hold the ladder steady."
Once level with the "dial" John noted a round peg embedded in the center; the plaque bore a corresponding indentation. He placed them together and the apex of the flail pointed directly to the top slash. As a nod to his dominant hand he would try a left right sequence first and pray it was correct, otherwise precious minutes would be lost.
"Here goes, lads. Fingers crossed." Gingerly he spun the makeshift dial. Left 2, right 9, left 1, right 6, left 6, right 6. 2nd September 1666. The last entry aligned the flail with the bottom slash. For a moment, nothing happened and no one dared breathe. Then a loud groan, a creaking of metal and the door swung free.
John nearly toppled to the ground in his haste to get down and Mycroft struggled to hold the ladder upright. "Steady on, John. I'm not willing to explain to my brother that I allowed you to fall. Have a care."
Greg was shouting, "We have him boys, he's alive!"
As John and Mycroft's eyes adjusted to the gloom of the freezing structure, it was apparent it had been a very near thing. Sherlock was naked except for an obscene leather full body bondage harness that smelled of something putrid that was better not thought about. His arms, legs, mouth and eyes were bound with the colored hankies reminiscent of the original murders. At first, although wracked with chills and numbness, Sherlock tried to fight his rescuers fearing the return of his abductor. Then John caressed his cheek and he simply knew he was safe.
Several hours later, after a trip to A&E where Sherlock showed no mercy to anyone, the four men were seated around the fireplace at Baker Street. Sherlock had been able to identify the suspect as one of The Mail's own sterling reporters, Edgar Hawthorne, the very one who had asked for a repetition of Sherlock's angry quote.
"So, that set him off on you then, Sherlock?", Greg shook his head.
"Apparently he took offense at the Time Machine reference, hence his plan to dispose of me. I believe it was quite spur of the moment. Always happy to provide the criminal element with inspiration."
"Not to cast a pall on the occasion, brother mine, but kindly aspire to other endeavors if you please."
"Couldn't agree more", John added, "the arch enemies can do nicely without your help, thank you very much."
Greg winced as his arm began to throb. "I still don't understand how you figured all that out, John."
"Not really sure I know myself, Greg, and until I do, let's just call it luck."
Mycroft actually smiled, "I am generally not a proponent of luck, but in this circumstance I will gratefully accept that explanation. I am in your debt, John, we all are."
"No worries, Mycroft, but I WOULD worry about your boyfriend there. He's a bit worse for wear I think."
"Indeed he is. No...you are. I hope you will understand if we take our leave, and then you may tend to YOUR 'charge'."
"Ta, Mycroft. Let me see you out."
When he climbed the stairs, John went directly to the kitchen and ordered curry for them with all of Sherlock's favorites. Slipping under the blanket that covered Sherlock resting on the sofa, he took the taller man in his arms.
"So, no time machine in the mausoleum.?"
"None that was evident to me at first glance which was all I was afforded at the time. Excuse the pun."
"Only this once, sweetheart. You do know however that shooting your mouth off is what got you into this?"
"I am aware, but the experience wasn't entirely without merit."
"Without merit?! What the hell is meritorious about being trussed up like a butchered carcass and tossed in a freezing cold room with a dead body, you tit?"
Sherlock snuggled closer, pressing a cold nose to John's neck. "Well, under wildly different conditions with a willing partner, I would not be adverse to experimenting with wearing another harness. A new one that smells solely of you and perhaps sex."
"Only you, Sherlock Holmes. I'm not saying no, but give me some time to recover from freeing you from that death trap."
"I knew you would come."
"How could you possibly know that?"
"The lady who stayed with me told me you were on the way, and knew how to save me. I saw her before I was blindfolded and assumed she remained in hiding until Hawthorne left. He intended to come back and finish me off, but had to file a story on my kidnapping if you can imagine the cheek."
"At this point, I can imagine almost anything, love. So, this woman..."
" Philomena she called herself. She explained she couldn't free me, but would stay with me until you came. Did you not see her when you came in?"
John got up heading for the upstairs room, "I'll be right back, Sherlock. Stay warm."
Once again under the blanket, he pulled a worn photo from his pocket, handing it to Sherlock.
"That's the woman John, that's her. Who is she?"
The fact that John's next words didn't illicit any derisive remarks or disapproving faces from Sherlock was as other worldly as his story. When he was finished speaking, he waited for the inevitable response. Instead, he heard this:
"I believe you John. I believe she was here with you and I KNOW she was there with me. There is no rational explanation but I could feel her protection wrapped around me and I knew I would be fine. It was the same sense of safety that I have when I'm with you. Perhaps we aren't meant to understand some things, only accept them. For whatever reason, she came back TO you and FOR me. We may never know how or why."
John drew Sherlock into a deep, loving kiss, running his hands over the body beneath him to reassure himself and then settling one arm around a tapered waist and a hand in silken curls.
"How is only for a much higher power than us to ever fathom, my heart; but why? Of that I have no doubt, it was a mother's love."