Not again. Well, of course, again. That was sort of the point, The Great Game and all. Games aren’t over until someone wins. But Moriarty is still masterminding crimes, and Sherlock is still trying to stop him. So, by definition, the Game is still on.
Sherlock found himself sitting on a cold metal chair in pitch blackness, with no reference point to figure out where he was, or how he got there. He attempted to stand, but found that his ankles seemed to be tied to the chair’s legs. No—scratch that. A jingling sound when he moved told him that handcuffs were more likely. Someone (someone doubtless working for Moriarty) had cuffed his ankles to the chair legs. Good to know for later—if the chair were to fall over, there was a chance he could get the cuffs off of it. But knocking over the chair wasn’t a good plan, immediately. Not enough information about his situation. Better to wait, observe some more. Observe things like the fact that his arms wouldn’t move. Not that he could see them not moving, or even feel them (whatever was binding him was tight enough to cut off his circulation), but not being able to feel his arms was as good as a letter informing Sherlock that his arms were not currently under his control.
The detective shifted his position slightly, testing how much he could move in each direction. He also wiggled his fingers, bringing blood flow back to them as a way to gauge exactly what position he was in, but even before they started to swell and ache with feeling Sherlock deduced that what was holding him to the chair was, in fact, a straightjacket. It was obvious really; when one was tied with traditional bonds, one could expect significant chafing against the skin while struggling. In this case, attempts to move were met with more widespread pressure and an aching in his shoulder muscles consistent with having his arms pulled around his front and behind his back. Therefore, straightjacket. Doubtless, there were some extra straps holding the device to the back of the chair, although he didn’t doubt he’d be able to unfasten them when the time came.
It made sense that Moriarty would enjoy using such paraphernalia on others; he’d doubtless seen the inside of a mental hospital at least once. Probably during childhood, before he had the experience to keep himself away from such places.
Next, Sherlock tried to remember how he’d gotten into this situation. The last clear memory he had was of waiting for a taxi on the way back from the mortuary. None of them were stopping; taxi drivers seemed to have an extreme bias against passengers holding clear plastic garbage bags full of frozen human feet. He had just decided to walk home when one cab started to pull over. The problem was that it didn’t slow down as it reached him, and the next thing he was aware of was losing consciousness flat on his back on the pavement with the wind knocked out of him, surrounded by ice and feet. The pain in his ribs would certainly bear out the story that he’d been hit by a cab. Vaguely, he wondered what the feet had come to.
“Sooo nice to see you awake, Sherlock Holmes!” The hair went up on the back of Sherlock’s neck. He’d known this was a plan of Moriarty’s, but actually hearing the sing-song, horribly sweet voice didn’t bode well for his current situation. Often, Moriarty acted through third-party agents, agents likely to make mistakes which Sherlock could exploit. If Moriarty was being direct with this one, careless errors were significantly less of a possibility. Of course, Moriarty wasn’t actually in the room with him; the voice was coming from a rather low-quality speaker somewhere behind his chair, although it was difficult to tell through the significant echo as the sound bounced around the now-apparently small, probably concrete-walled room. Still, the consulting criminal hardly ever used his own voice to communicate. If this particular scheme was exciting enough to Moriarty for him to participate in such a personal manner, it would definitely require more than the average brainpower for Sherlock to puzzle his way out of it. Just the thought of it gave him an adrenaline rush.
John didn’t like it that Sherlock loved solving violent crimes. Seemed to be under the impression that Sherlock enjoyed the fact that violent crimes took place. Which perhaps he did, because otherwise everything would be so incredibly boring, but that didn’t mean that, if no one else were a violent criminal, he’d take up the job. Not any more than John would start stabbing people for a lack of patients at the surgery. It simply wasn’t the point. Sherlock had tried to explain this to John, once at least, but the good doctor had just made an indeterminate sound in the back of his throat. Which was still closer to understanding than most people ever got, so the detective supposed that counted for something. At least John hadn’t moved out of the apartment yet, so all must be well as of now. Or, as of the last time Sherlock was at the apartment and could factually verify that John hadn’t moved out. Which had been roughly two and a half hours before the cab-and-frozen-foot incident. How long ago had that been, Sherlock wondered? Well not more than twenty-four hours—he didn’t feel the overwhelming need to add another nicotine patch quite yet. Sherlock twisted his arm slightly in the straightjacket’s sleeve—yes, there was still the one patch from before on the inside of his right arm—he felt it brushing against the fabric of the restraint. So he could have a full day before withdrawal symptoms set in. Or another hour, all depending on how long he’d been here. Sherlock was too impatient to wait that long for an answer, so he twisted his torso around sharply, waiting to gauge the response from his ribs. It came, of course, making Sherlock wince a little, but he’d learned what he’d wanted to know. Judging from the extent to which his muscles had already stiffened around the afflicted area, it had been at least six hours since the taxi had hit him. Sherlock had noted that most people seemed to judge time by how hungry and/or tired they were, but this method never worked for him, as a case-related adrenaline rush could keep him going awake and unfed for days.
“Sorry about the taxi,” the sing-song voice went on, not sounding sorry in the least. “We had to get you here, and alone, for all of this to work.”
So Moriarty had obviously seen Sherlock cringe. Even if he were in the room, there was no way his eyes were that good (Sherlock had been awake several minutes, and his eyes still hadn’t been able to pick out more than a line of less-dark blackness roughly two meters in front of him, doubtless the strip under the door to this room). Moriarty must have a camera trained on him, then, and one with night-vision capabilities. Good to know, don’t delete.
But if Moriarty had a camera trained on him, doubtless he also had a microphone.
“Why did you need me alone?” Sherlock enunciated to the ceiling.
Moriarty positively giggled. “No questions, not this early. I’ll leave you to puzzle it around in that brain you’re so proud of.” Then, he paused. “I doubt you’ll figure it out, but you won’t be able to keep yourself from trying. Don’t worry though—I’ll tell you soon enough!”
Then, there was the crackle of a speaker being turned off.
And the crackle of a speaker being turned on again.”
“Soon enough for you?” asked the voice, with an inordinate amount of glee. Honestly, thought Sherlock. Moriarty takes such pride in being unpredictable, but it will be possible to predict his actions soon enough just by choosing the least rational option available in a given circumstance.
“What do you want?” Sherlock asked the air in front of him, rather more softly this time. It would be good to know the sensitivity of the microphones in this room.
“From you?” asked the consulting criminal, as Sherlock noted the sensitivity of the microphones. “Nothing! I want absolutely nothing from you, Sherlock Holmes. All you have to do is sit there, and the rest will just fall into place!” Sherlock could practically hear Moriarty grinning.
“You see, the important part is that you’re alone. And that you’ve been kidnapped. And that no one knows where you are. But the real point of this exercise is for you to see what I’ve known all along: The people out there aren’t worth your time!”
Sherlock was finding it difficult to follow the madman’s reasoning, which, he imagined, shouldn’t come as a surprise. It was always more difficult to predict the trajectory of a bullet from a damaged gun than one from a gun in good shape. Not that an incomplete understanding of Moriarty’s thought process was much of a concern at the moment; the consulting criminal’s need to gloat over his accomplishments insured that he’d make his meaning plain before very much longer.
“You see, “ Moriarty went on, and Sherlock allowed himself a grim smile. “You seem to be under the impression that you’re important to the outside world. That the people there need you, Even, “ his voice became simpering, “That they care about you.”
“Which they do, if only because they don’t know any better. But that won’t help them find this place; not with all of their abilities put together will your acquaintances be able to come to your rescue. And so, they will start to get on without you. And that is when our fun can begin.”
It was very easy to imagine Moriarty rubbing his hands together with glee during that last statement. Sherlock was hard pressed not to sigh with exasperation, aware that it was extremely likely that his every activity was being recorded. This was, apparently, another attempt by Moriarty to convert Sherlock to his cause. A cause which could only really be described as ‘world domination,’ as cliché as that sounded. The madman simply did not understand Sherlock at all. Not that anyone did, but at least no one else was quite so presumptuous about trying.
It was already dark by the time John got home. He’d been out at the surgery all day, followed by a trip to the grocery store and a stop at an ATM before finally returning home to 221B Baker Street. He’d known immediately that Sherlock wasn’t home, but that was hardly unusual. John knew that his flatmate wasn’t off solving a case, because Sherlock would have texted him about that—probably. Unless he’d left his phone at home, or forgotten to charge it, or had forgotten that he hadn’t texted, or had simply been unable to take the time to do so. But still, Sherlock usually managed to text, if only to have someone there to say “Brilliant” when he finally deduced whatever undoubtedly brilliant solution would solve the matter at hand. No, it was more likely Sherlock was off at the mortuary again, collecting body parts like some modern-age Dr. Frankenstein for his somewhat disturbing experiments.
Two hours later, Sherlock still wasn’t home and John was getting concerned. It wasn’t that it was so unusual for a capable, reasonably responsible adult to come home late now and then, and it wasn’t that Sherlock Holmes was in the habit of keeping his flatmate posted about his comings and goings. It was just that there was nowhere John could think of where Sherlock would be at this hour. It wasn’t like he had a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, or even a platonic friend to go out with in the evenings, and there was nothing in the way of entertainment outside their apartment that the detective found any less dull than sprawling over the couch and blasting holes in the opposite wall. No, if Sherlock was doing anything at all, it was related to either a case or an experiment.
John thought that a case was more likely, as no one else would be in the mortuary after six and Sherlock had lost privileges to be there alone after his experiments with “exploding casket syndrome.” So, he got out his cell phone and pushed the speed dial for Detective Inspector Lestrade.
“H’lo?” asked the Detective Inspector blearily. It wasn’t much past ten pm, but he’d fallen into a habit of going to bed earlier between cases.
“Hello. Sorry if I woke you—is Sherlock there?”
John Watson. Ever the gentleman. Although Saint was more like it, really. True, Lestrade didn’t have quite as strong a dislike for Holmes as most people seemed to, but Dr. Watson actually had to live with the man. If there was a heaven, Lestrade couldn’t think of a better way to qualify for admission.
“No?” The unspoken question was evident. Should he be here?
“Sorry then.” John didn’t speak for a moment. “Text me if he shows up, alright?”
“John?” Lestrade was getting mildly concerned at this point.
“Sherlock hasn’t come home,” he said. And then, in response to the silence on the other end of the line, “Which is weird for him.”
Lestrade wasn’t overly concerned by the news. He took a breath.
“Look, I know you know the man best, but are you sure you aren’t overreacting? I mean, we are talking about Sherlock Holmes here. He may be crazy, but it usually isn’t dangerous. Chances are, he just saw someone whose love life he couldn’t deduce from their fingernails and decided to follow them around to expand his knowledge base, or something.” Lestrade was a bit disturbed with how easily he’d come up with that scenario, and by how plausible it seemed. It just seemed to prove that he was spending altogether too much time with the consulting detective.
“You’re probably right,” responded John, sounding annoyed with himself. “Sorry to bother you. Good night.” He hung up.
John threw his phone against the couch. For the umpteenth time, he realized just how much he’d bitten off when he’d become flatmate to Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t enough that he followed the man everywhere when he was on a case, now he was going to worry like a mother hen between cases as well? Sherlock wasn’t his responsibility!
Except, John admitted to himself, that he was. Sherlock was a genius, but he had little to no sense of self-preservation and if John didn’t keep the detective from getting himself killed, no one else would. Ergo, John worried about him.
He knew that there was little to nothing he could do at that point. It was nearing eleven at night, and John didn’t have his flatmate’s ability to predict what any given person would be doing at every hour of the day. And Lestrade hadn’t seemed worried, so it was unlikely John could get Scotland Yard out looking for the consulting detective, even if that didn’t seem a bit extreme at this point even to John.
Just then, the bleeping sound of a received text message filled the apartment. John looked down at his phone, but it wasn’t the one responding. So, Sherlock had obviously left his cell back at the flat. John felt his shoulders relax even as he filled with exasperation, and started in the direction of the noise, digging through the permanent piles of notes that covered their dining room table until he found the phone in question.
He was a bit surprised to see that the text was from Mycroft; in John’s experience, the Holmes brothers avoided direct contact with one another at all costs. Chances were that Mycroft was contacting his brother over some case of massive importance to British Government, a case which Sherlock would doubtless declare too dull to merit his attention, but John flipped open the phone anyway. Normally he wouldn’t read another person’s text, but he was annoyed at Sherlock, and he had the sneaking suspicion that the self-proclaimed sociopath wasn’t aware of social taboos regarding privacy anyway.
The text message was all it took to lodge a stone firmly back in the pit of John’s stomach. It read:
John—Sherlock in trouble.
Sherlock Holmes was bored, as well as annoyed with his captor. This certainly wasn’t what the Game was all about, sitting in a room with nothing but a low-key struggle with nicotine addiction for entertainment. No, he wanted to be doing things, deducing things, fighting Moriarty in a battle of wits. But it seemed that the particular lesson the criminal was trying to impart had less to do with Sherlock himself and more to do with the people around him. Moriarty had come right out and said that he was trying to prove to Sherlock how useless his companions were, which indicated that he was setting them a challenge instead of the detective himself, setting them challenge at which Moriarty had already decided they had no chance of success.
So, the detective was alone, and he was bored. He’d already figured out the dimensions of his cell (four meters by six), his placement in it (roughly central), and its components (entirely concrete, run through with a steel frame, and fluorescent light fixtures in the ceiling). His eyes were certainly accustomed to the lack of light by now (he’d been there for at least eight hours, and conscious for two of them), but he couldn’t see much if only for a lack of visual stimuli. Currently, the only objects that broke up his field of vision were his own knees and shoulders, although he could see a set of speakers behind him if he craned his neck back far enough. Sherlock was also aware of a small black box mounted above the door in front of him, and imagined it must be a security camera. Chances were that it wasn’t the only one in the room; he’d have made sure to install at least three if the tables were turned.
Just then, the gray strip of light under the door became blinding, and Sherlock was aware of footsteps coming down a concrete hallway. It was Moriarty of course—the man had a very distinctive walk, especially when as gleeful as he obviously was now—and the detective shut his eyes tight just in time for the door to swing open. It wouldn’t do to be blinded when the criminal came in.
Even still, the sudden light burned through his eyelids, leaving a negative image of the flamboyant madman who was already speaking.
“Good news, Sherlock Holmes!” Moriarty seemed to enjoy saying his full name, reminding himself exactly whom he had captured.
“It would seem that your little pet has finally realized that his master isn’t coming home of his own accord, and even now is planning your rescue. Phase One is underway,” giggled the madman.
Sherlock slowly opened his eyes, unobtrusively taking in as much as he could while he had use of the light pouring in from the open door. He spared only a cursory glance at Moriarty, who was flouncing about the room in spite of his usual suit. He’d already had ample opportunity to analyze the consulting criminal’s mannerisms during past encounters, so now there were more useful observations to be made. For example, observations regarding the box above the door. It was, in fact, a camera, although the LED that signaled whether it was on had been painted over. Clever, thought Sherlock. I never know whether I’m being observed, so I’m forced to act as though constantly under surveillance. He wasn’t surprised at this precaution. In fact, if he’d been able to see such an obvious indicator as a power button’s light, he’d have never trusted that it wasn’t a ruse.
All the other deductions he’d made about the room and his manner of restraint in it were correct, of course, but it never hurt to check one’s work. Curious, he glanced down at the handcuffs about his ankles. The second cuff of each set was attached to a leg of the metal folding chair on which he was seated, but they were fixed not only around the leg, but also about the metal bar that fixed one leg to the other. So tipping the chair wouldn’t guarantee escape. Mental note: adjust preliminary escape plans for new information.
That wouldn’t be hard, of course, as said escape plan didn’t have much of a structure yet anyway.
“Phase One of how many?” asked Sherlock, judging the width of the hallway he could see through the open door of his cell.
“Three,” replied the madman conversationally. Moriarty seemed pleased that his audience was actively engaging him.
“Phase One is looking for you, Phase Two is giving up, and Phase Three is forgetting that you’d ever existed.”
Sherlock recoiled slightly at that last statement, a physical reaction Moriarty picked up in an instant. He swooped around the back of Sherlock’s chair, hands digging into the detective’s shoulders and face just centimeters from his right ear.
“You don’t like thinking about that, do you? Yes, your Johnny-boy will cry to his psychiatrist for a few weeks, perhaps, but he will get over it. He will realize that he’s better off with a normal life anyway, and he will get over you. And then you’ll be alone again.” Moriarty was speaking in sing-song. “Alone with no one to even think about you.”
Now Moriarty’s lips were brushing Sherlock’s ear, and the hiss of madness was in his voice. “None of the useless wastes of life even thinking about Sherlock Holmes, whose mind could destroy them in an instant. No respect for what you are, what we are. You will see that they are useless, and you will join me as I take control.”
Sherlock knew it wasn’t wise, but he couldn’t help himself at the moment. He strained his neck as far as he could from Moriarty’s face, then smashed his head hard into the other man’s nose. Moriarty sputtered, blood gushing.
“So you don’t like my idea,” Moriarty coughed, the light of triumph in his eyes in spite of the blood dripping from his chin. “Too bad. You don’t really have a choice in the matter. John will forget you, whether you want to believe it or not.” He moved to flounce from the room, turning only as he reached the doorway.
“You’re probably wondering when I’ll see fit to feed you. I won’t, not until Phase Three. Best hope that’s soon.” Moriarty gave a mocking wave, and slammed the door, submerging Sherlock in darkness yet again.
The consulting detective closed his eyes slowly. Moriarty certainly didn’t understand him, or his association with John, at all. The best he, Sherlock, could do was find a way out of this particular plan before Moriarty could involve anyone else from the outside. Because while Sherlock could take whatever the criminal threw at him, he wasn’t sure if John could. No, amend that: John could, but Sherlock didn’t want him to. John wasn’t part of the game, didn’t even approve of it. And he shouldn’t suffer for its sake. Sherlock Holmes didn’t have much in the way of a sense of justice, but he knew with complete certainty that John was off limits where his enemies were concerned. And the detective knew beyond all doubt that he would do whatever it took to keep him that way.
At 221B Baker Street, a war council was being held.
Not that it could in any way be compared with Afghanistan. No, thought John. The people at play here are certainly more dangerous.
Just then, Anderson gave a little shriek as the petri dish he’d been snooping around burst into flame.
John rolled his eyes internally. Well, some more dangerous than others.
“Anderson!” Lestrade rebuked his inferior. “This isn’t a drugs bust, so stop poking around or you’ll get us all killed.”
John was grateful that Lestrade had said something, as his own mind was rather occupied with other matters. Besides, disciplining Anderson felt rather awkward, like reprimanding someone else’s whining toddler.
Anderson pouted. “But what if I find drugs?”
“You won’t,” responded the remainder of the room’s inhabitants in unison.
John looked around the hastily-cleared dining room table. Detective Inspector Lestrade, now seated on his right, had come over straight away. John had been slightly disappointed to see that Lestrade had brought Sergeant Sally Donovan and Forensic Investigator Anderson, two of his extremely frustrating subordinates who certainly had no love for Sherlock, along with him. John had been about to say something when the Detective Inspector explained his reasoning.
“Technically, this is a kidnapping, so I’m treating it as such. That means that I have more leeway as far as investigation is concerned, and more resources. But it also means that the matter couldn’t stay . . . private.”
John had understood. Donovan and Anderson were the price to pay for police support. And while he might not like them, John wasn’t about to give up the significant benefits Scotland Yard could provide. Not when his friend’s life was in the balance.
Besides, there was always the extremely slim chance that one of them might prove useful.
Which brought him to the fifth character seated at the table, who John liked very much but severely doubted would prove useful in a fight.
“Stop looking at me that way, Dr. Watson,” chided Mrs. Hudson gently. “I’ve already told you, I’m not leaving.” She stood up to pour everyone some more tea.
John sighed internally. He’d gone into war zones countless times, but never accompanied by an elderly landlady. Well, beggars can’t be choosers. And who knows? Mrs. Hudson was married to a murderer for most of her adult life, and she’s the one who brought Sherlock in to stop him. So she’s certainly not frightened of hostile situations, no matter how she might act.
John knew full well that he was grasping at straws, but he wasn’t about to stop. He took a breath, and called the ersatz rescue team to attention.
“Okay, here’s what we know. This morning, at seven-fifteen, Sherlock was here, at 221B Baker Street. He arrived at the mortuary of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital at ten, according to lab employee Molly Hooper, and left with some spare body parts by one pm. But by eight this evening, he wasn’t home yet, and there are no new body parts in the apartment.”
John realized exactly how odd that phrase would have sounded to him a few months ago, but still he pressed on. “And at eleven-twenty-two, I received confirmation from a reliable source that Sherlock had been kidnapped.”
“And that’s all we know?” asked Detective Inspector Lestrade. “It isn’t much to go on.”
“I know,” responded John, sagging a little against the table.
“You don’t usually consider someone missing until a few days have gone bye,” added Sergeant Donovan. “Why are we even investigating this yet?” She turned to Lestrade. “It’s not like the freak would do us any favors.”
“How do we even know he’s missing?” asked Anderson, jumping on the bandwagon with altogether too much enthusiasm. “This would probably be his idea of some sort of joke!”
“No,” said John, flatly. “It isn’t a joke.”
When neither of the junior detectives seemed prepared to take his word for it, and even Lestrade continued to look skeptical, John continued. “Sherlock Holmes is always here. Always. Sometimes he gets bored and starts mixing mad concoctions, or firing bullets through the walls,” he directed an apologetic look at Mrs. Hudson, “but he’s always here. And I have it on the authority of a member of the British Government that something has gone wrong. That proof enough for you?”
The icy silence that followed was broken, most unpredictably, by Mrs. Hudson.
“It would seem to me,” said the landlady, “that you all just need a little more information.”
Everyone stared for a second. Even Anderson stopped snooping to look puzzled.
Mrs. Hudson continued. “Well, if there’s nothing extra gory about here, then Sherlock mustn’t have gotten home after the mortuary. So he must have gone somewhere else. That Molly girl was very helpful, and maybe someone else around the hospital saw something. Though we should probably wait for morning to ask them, it is getting awfully late.”
After a stunned silence, John blinked several times and stood up, once again taking control of the situation.
“A good concept, but one that will take time. Or, a lot of people.” He turned to DI Lestrade. “Can you put some cars on that? Canvassing the area between here and St. Bart’s to see if anyone noticed something?”
Anderson straightened, horrified. “That would be a waste of police resources! Legally, there isn’t even a missing person yet!”
John did his best to screen the forensic investigator out, keeping his eyes on Lestrade.
The Detective Inspector gave a doubtful, apologetic shrug. “I’d do it, of course, but getting clearance for something like that takes time. Weeks, sometimes.”
“Or you could just watch the CCTV footage I’ve just e-mailed to Dr. Watson’s laptop.”
Anthea stood in the doorway of the flat, focus on her BlackBerry. Ignoring the other four startled faces in the room, she flicked her eyes up at John.
“Mycroft is otherwise engaged, so he sent me.”
“What do you know about all of this?” John had zeroed in on a lifeline, a miraculous, deus-ex-machina lifeline, and he was about to use it.
“Nothing, really.” Anthea’s eyes were back on her BlackBerry as she made her way to the couch and perched neatly on a cushion. “But I have been given instructions to provide your investigation with the resources at my employer’s disposal. Provided they leave, of course.” She flicked her eyes up again, indicating Donovan and Anderson.
“Done,” responded John, without taking even a moment to consider.
Sally raised her eyebrows and looked to Detective Inspector Lestrade. He nodded, and the sergeant rose uncomplainingly to retrieve her coat, all too glad to leave the flat. Anderson, however, was more petulant.
“Who’s she? She can’t just order us around!”
Lestrade answered him automatically. “She can’t, I can. Go.”
After Anderson finished his production of storming out in a huff, Lestrade turned to John. “Her help is worth it, right?” He indicated the vapid-looking young woman, who was still favoring ninety percent of her attention on the device beneath her thumbs.
John, still dumbstruck, nodded weakly. “Yeah, her help’s worth it.” He crossed to Anthea. “The CCTV footage? Of the whole track between Bart’s and here?”
“Already on your laptop,” Anthea repeated, obviously distracted by whatever she was typing.
John grabbed the device in question from an endtable and turned it on, gritting his teeth at the delay, while Mrs. Hudson and DI Lestrade attempted to acquaint themselves with their new companion. The landlady’s offer of tea was met with a mild “Thanks,” and so Mrs. Hudson set about to find a clean mug, chatting all the while about not actually being John and Sherlock’s housekeeper, while Lestrade tried in vain to catch the young executive assistant’s eye.
“Here we go,” John exclaimed, drawing Mrs. Hudson and the Detective Inspector to watch the laptop screen from behind John’s chair. They were met with an awkwardly angled black-and-white video of a London streetcorner. John recognized it as being hardly half a block from the entrance to the St. Bart’s Mortuary.
Seconds after the clip began, a figure walked into the frame. John recognized his flatmate instantly; the distinctive dark halo of curls and dramatic long coat all he needed to identify the world’s only consulting detective, although the large bag of human body parts did lend credence to the theory. Mrs. Hudson gave an admonishing click of the tongue, and started saying something about how Sherlock might just give knitting a try if he needed a hobby so badly, before John shushed her. His flatmate, his friend, was in danger. Good Tenant John couldn’t help him, so Soldier John was in charge.
On the screen, Sherlock was attempting to hail a cab, one hand raised, when one of the passing taxis broke away from the traffic and full-out ploughed into the detective, drawing a little shriek from Mrs. Hudson.
John ignored her entirely. Although the footage had no sound, the doctor could almost hear the strain of human ribs, the crack of head against pavement. In spite of himself, he half stood up, all instinct telling him to go, to help the man on the computer screen. Lestrade saw the movement and put a hand on John’s shoulder. “Watch,” he said, not unkindly.
There was a small crowd gathering around Sherlock now, the few passersby obviously torn between wanting to help the gasping figure on the ground and trying to avoid the human appendages now strewn over the sidewalk. Then, an ambulance pulled up and two people dressed in white lifted John’s friend onto a gurney. They clearly weren’t medical personnel, that much was obvious from the careless way they handled Sherlock. They hadn’t even avoided putting pressure on his ribs! Indignance joined John’s concern, and he seethed. But the footage on the screen went on, as the two not-professionals loaded John’s best friend into the back of the ambulance. Then, it pulled away, and the screen went dark again.
John folded the laptop and stood up. “Call the local hospitals,” he instructed Mrs. Hudson as he looked about for his coat.
“No point,” interjected Anthea without looking up. “That ambulance wasn’t hired by any hospital in London. The corporation that hired it out has it down as being used by St. Bartholomew’s, but they don’t know anything about it.” The executive assistant was still typing away on her phone. “Relevant information is on Dr. Watson’s laptop.
As she said that, John’s laptop gave the little ding of a received message. The e-mail contained links to the records of local ambulance corporations and hospitals, as well as additional video footage from both the streets around Bart’s and the security cameras of the largest local ambulance corporations.
“Alright,” said John, swallowing his surprise at the breadth of information Mycroft had at his disposal. “We’ll be needing more computers if we’re going to sort all of this. Mrs. Hudson, do you have a computer downstairs?” She nodded, and John continued on. “So then you should go turn it on and see if you can track the ambulance. Detective Inspector, you find out who hired the ambulance. I’ll look through the records for anything unusual there.”
John turned to Anthea, who shook her head. “Busy,” she responded to his unasked question as she continued to type. He didn’t push the matter, as it was about as useless to argue with her, he’d found, as it was to argue with her employer.
When John got back upstairs after setting Mrs. Hudson up with the CCTV footage, he found DI Lestrade already pouring over the film, a little notebook and pen in his lap, and Anthea still on the couch where he’d left her. John settled down next to her with Sherlock’s laptop. She was obviously aware of his proximity, and raised her eyebrows slightly, but John wasn’t interested in flirting. Instead, he asked her the question that had been bothering him since this whole affair started.
“If Mycroft knew that Sherlock, that his brother, was in trouble,” the doctor asked quietly, “why didn’t he do anything about it? And why is he too busy to fix it all now?”
Anthea still didn’t look up, but her expression changed slightly and, when she spoke, her voice was softer than usual. “Because he’s being blocked. Mr. Holmes was handling some negotiations abroad when half the diplomatic issues he’s been keeping an eye all blew up at once, all unexpectedly. There didn’t seem to be any connection between the cases, except that he was involved. So, he deduced that it all must be some way of trying to distract him from something else. After checking on a number of other possibilities, he had me try to locate Sherlock on the CCTV. I, of course, found the footage you saw before. But it’s all my employer can do, at the moment, to keep half the political stage from imploding. There simply isn’t time to look into a missing person, whoever that person might be.”
Anthea looked up then, catching John’s stare and holding it. “Whoever has your friend has found a way to keep Mycroft from finding him. But my employer has a high opinion of your abilities, so he sent me to assist you here.” Anthea looked as close to upset as John had ever seen her. It couldn’t have been easy for Mycroft to give up her help, or for her to leave him to sort out whatever international affairs on his own. And now, everyone was relying on John to see that the sacrifice was worth it.
For the first time since he’d gotten Mycroft’s text message, John realized that, if Sherlock was going to be found, it was only John who’d be able to find him. Mycroft couldn’t help, and Lestrade wouldn’t have the resources until it would almost certainly be too late. So, it was up to John. And John wasn’t about to let his best friend in the world down.
Sherlock was getting slightly concerned. He was still in his little cell, but as to how long he’d been there, Sherlock could no longer say. That, he recalled was one of the withdrawal symptoms for nicotine addiction: time seems to stretch. But the thing that was really concerning the detective was the trembling. That, unlike his pounding headache, was not a symptom of withdrawal from nicotine. It was related to hypoglycemia, which was caused by going too long without food. Sherlock cursed internally. Usually he could go days without eating with no affect but hunger, which was easily ignored, but these affects of low blood sugar, trembling, muscular weakness, and sluggish motion, were always more of a distraction. The detective had no patience for physical needs, putting them second to whatever he found more interesting. And, for the most part, he was able to treat his own body however he saw fit without any negative side effects. But sometimes, things like hypoglycemia would happen, which was eminently frustrating. Under normal case circumstances, this was the point where Sherlock would begrudgingly accept John’s offer of toast before returning to work. But toast wasn’t an option here, so what was normally just an annoyance became an outright problem. It would certainly be more difficult to escape a straightjacket without being noticed when one was taken to shaking uncontrollably every time one attempted even the slightest voluntary movement.
It would be one thing if the shaking was random, Sherlock thought to himself, but it happens to a far greater extent when I proactively try to move. Moriarty will certainly notice the discrepancy, and will inevitably use more secure precautions if he gets any indicator that I’m trying to escape.
The consulting detective gave a mental start. Discrepancy. The human mind is designed to perceive changes in status quo, which meant that if Sherlock could keep moving, could keep the visible symptoms of low blood sugar at a constant, even his brilliant captor would begin to ignore them. Which might even be helpful, as false twitching could eventually be used to hide some of the more obvious motions of escaping a straightjacket. And he did have to escape it soon; the detective knew that his motor control was more likely to get worse than better, so his best chance at slipping the knots was now. Not that this was the time for all-out escape, no, not enough information for that yet. Still, escape was something better done sooner than later. Because Moriarty was wrong; John would never forget Sherlock. It just wasn’t in his nature. No, John would continue to torture himself for the rest of his life if Sherlock didn’t escape, and John didn’t deserve that. He wasn’t even a part of this game, and it wasn’t right that he suffer for it. But if his flatmate was never seen again, John would blame himself. Sherlock needed to get himself out of here, for John’s sake.
Just then, the strip under the door became blindingly bright. Sherlock Holmes screwed his eyes shut again, marveling at how even normal illumination affected his dark-adapted eyes. Something interesting to note, might be useful in the future. For the present, squeeze eyes shut to minimize impact when the door is opened.
The door was opened, of course, and Moriarty came in. His walk had changed, as it was wont to do, and so, when he spoke, had his manner.
“So, Mr. Holmes . . .” he drawled on, sounding bored.
Sherlock opened his eyes and waited for the painfully bright blur to resolve itself into shapes. It seemed that Moriarty had put on a more serious, less flamboyant persona for this particular visit, and this one exuded not glee, but power. The detective was reminded strongly of Mycroft.
“You don’t look well at all. A meal would probably help, but your Dr. Watson is still being far too persistent for my tastes.
Sherlock met his captor’s gaze with a look of ire. Of course John hadn’t given up; he never would. And this particular mind game of withholding food, obviously intended to make Sherlock long for John to stop trying, was utterly pointless. For one, John would never stop trying. And second, how Sherlock felt about the matter had no bearing on anything, as he had no way of communicating his opinions to John. No matter how much he might wish, at this moment, that Dr. John Watson had never even met him, because if John had never met him then John wouldn’t be feeling as guilty as he doubtless was. The knowledge that there was another human being who cared whether Sherlock lived or died was pleasant to have, more pleasant than Sherlock would readily admit, but it still wasn’t worth it. Wasn’t worth causing that person, causing John, pain. But there was no opportunity to explain this to John now, even if the doctor would listen. Which he wouldn’t, because not caring wasn’t in his nature, so there was no point in the whole hypothetical endeavor in the first place. There were also more useful things to be thinking about.
“Have you spoken to John about it?” Sherlock was careful to keep his voice level.
“Of course not,” the criminal snapped. “That would be entirely unnecessary.” Then, Moriarty’s voice became low and conspiratorial. “Pets are known for their loyalty, after all. And besides,” he continued, “there’s always the offchance that someone might figure out something helpful from one of my messages. A very small chance, in the case of your colleagues, but a larger one with regards to whatever member of government you have in your pocket.” Moriarty’s manner peaked again, his voice filled with unholy glee. “You didn’t know I knew? Oh don’t be silly, detective. I know you’ve had help. But you won’t be getting any now. I’ve made sure of it.”
Sherlock kept his face impassive. So Moriarty knew that he had an affiliation with Mycroft. That wasn’t too dangerous, as he obviously didn’t know Mycroft’s exact identity, or that he was Sherlock’s brother. So, then, Mycroft was safe, just immobilized somehow. Probably in a manner having to do with his work, as that was all Moriarty seemed to know about him.
Fine, then. No need for that particular family chat after my escape. Mycroft had a tendency to use such situations to attempt to guilt Sherlock into doing things, like taking boring cases for the government or attending family dinners.
Still, it would be better for John if I escaped sooner. Prolonged absence is more likely to result in psychological damage. How much more likely, I’d know if I had an internet connection. Sherlock longed for his phone, not for the first time. Being deprived of research was as bad as lack of food and nicotine withdrawal put together. He had managed to create the perfect network, access a perfect web of information, just to be cut out of the middle of it and put in a box like any other spider a schoolchild found interesting.
The consulting detective was pulled out of his reverie by Moriarty, who had switched personalities again and had put himself nose to nose with the detective, barely contained rage evident in the mastermind’s face. No wonder it was so difficult to analyze this man; every time one got a handle on him, Moriarty became a different person. Like trying to read a kaleidoscope.
“What,” seethed the madman, “are you thinking?”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “If you haven’t figured it out, why should I tell you?”
Moriarty let out a strangled exclamation of rage. Then, he composed his features. “Fine. If you won’t play nice, I’ll just have to change the rules.” He flounced out, a disturbing spring in his step.
Sherlock closed his eyes in the darkness. He’d have to get out of here soon. Hiding the movement under a hypoglycemic twitch, the consulting detective pinched his nails around the fabric at the seam of his straightjacket sleeve. Then, with uncharacteristic patience got to work shredding the restraint, one string at a time.
If John had thought Baker Street had been a war room before, it was a regular army base now. After only a few hours’ sleep, Mrs. Hudson was again on her computer downstairs, video files on the screen and city maps beside her as she cross-referenced CCTV footage. At least half of the cameras had blacked out seconds after Sherlock was loaded into the hijacked ambulance, but the remaining footage was good for confirming where Sherlock wasn’t. Detective Inspector Lestrade had settled himself at 221B’s kitchen table, listening in on a police scanner and calling in personal favors with his cell phone. After a lifetime on the force, there were a lot of favors to call in. Anthea was still on the couch, typing furiously and silently. One could almost think she was utterly uninvolved with their endeavor, except for the e-mails full of extremely pertinent information that kept appearing on John’s laptop. John, for his part, had taken up the table’s entire surface, covering it with notes, images, and anything else he could think of that pertained to Moriarty as he tried to turn their points of data into a cohesive narrative.
And there were a lot of points to consider. Besides what Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and even Anthea found out, John had taken the liberty of utilizing Sherlock’s usual unorthodox method of information gathering—the homeless network—as well as dropping in on Angelo at his restaurant. Moriarty had better hope that it wasn’t any of Angelo’s friends that found him, as sweet-talking rarely helps when one is being torn limb from limb.
All together, they were making progress. John had managed to black out entire areas of London where they were sure Sherlock wasn’t, as well as tentatively deciding that he was most probably still somewhere in the city. Although he couldn’t be completely certain about this, Anthea assured him that the comings and goings of London were of particular interest to Mycroft. Somehow, this was reassuring. But then another message from Anthea highlighted most likely spots for holding a hostage, and that undoubtedly useful data was information John didn’t want to wonder why Mycroft possessed.
It had been nearly twenty-four hours since John had gotten Mycroft’s text, thirty-two since his flatmate had been hit by a cab and summarily abducted, and although their progress since then had been significant they weren’t yet at the point where John could take to the streets looking for his mad friend.
Although the doctor wasn’t far from trying. The last time Moriarty had tried to get to Sherlock, John had ended up wrapped in explosives. Which hadn’t distressed John overmuch (he was good with life-threatening situations), but it simply was not a fair thing for Moriarty to do to Sherlock. The great detective’s lack of regard for his own wellbeing was legendary, but to use the closest thing to a personal relationship Sherlock had as a weapon was nothing short of inhuman. John knew, or at least forced himself to believe, that Sherlock Holmes was not a true sociopath. But how could he possibly admit to having feelings about another person if they were only used to torture him?
It was cruel, and John ached for his flatmate. But Lestrade, sensing the turn John’s thoughts had taken, dissuaded him from taking his illegal Browning to the streets.
“You’ve got next to no chance at this point. And if you get too close by accident, they’ll move him. And then we’ll have nothing.”
At that, the Detective Inspector’s face softened a bit, and John remembered who it was that took on the brilliant addict in the first place.
“We’ve got one shot, John. We’ve got to make it count.”
At that the doctor nodded, making way for the soldier once more.
When Moriarty made his move, it was Lestrade who noticed it first. Or rather Lestrade’s police scanner, which veritably went insane. John wouldn’t have been surprised if the sheer quantity of angry and panicked voices coming through the machine caused the little black box to vibrate off the table. It sounded like every car in London was calling for support at once.
Anthea was the first one to speak. “Violent crime has skyrocketed in the last ten minutes, reaching nearly ninety times average levels for a comparable timespan this year. It would seem that an anonymous member of an online forum offered a substantial reward to anyone apprehending a police officer.”
“Wait, what?” Lestrade was looking between his scanner and the young woman on the couch, one hand on his jacket and the other on his gun.
“It’s the same plan used to divert my employer.” She was typing more rapidly again.
John spoke up, turning down the volume on the police scanner as he did so. “What you’re saying is, someone is trying to run the police ragged so they can’t help find Sherlock?” His mouth went dry as he was speaking.
“Well yes, except that this someone is almost definitely Moriarty, and that this is an attempt to run you ragged as well.” She nodded her head towards John’s pager. “Expect to be called in to deal with emergencies presently.”
John dropped his head into his hands. The idea that someone could do this, could hurt so many people because of a vendetta against one, left the doctor numb. But what hurt is that it just might work. John had sworn an oath to save lives, and when the hospital called him, as they surely would, could he bring himself to turn them down?
Yes, he thought. Yes, he could. Because it was for Sherlock. There were other doctors who could help everyone else, but his best friend needed him. But John wasn’t even sure he could help Sherlock, and there were people, bleeding people, who he could save for certain. It went against the very fabric of John’s being to leave anyone in need, friend or stranger, and whatever he did, Dr. John Watson knew he would be haunted by it.
Just then, his pager went off. John sat for a long moment, as if he could avoid the inevitable choice by refusing to acknowledge the passage of time. But he knew he couldn’t, and the adrenaline in his blood reminded him that every second spent doing nothing was a second he was helping no one at all. What sort of person was he, to be so selfish?
“Tell them ‘no,’ Dr. Watson.” Mrs. Hudson had entered without his noticing, and was standing at his elbow with empathy in her eyes.
“Tell them ‘no,’ because this won’t end until the criminal responsible learns that he can’t force good people to stop doing things he doesn’t want them to do.”
She smiled at John, sadly, and patted his arm. “I’ll just call in for you, then.” Mrs. Hudson reached for John’s pager.
“No.” John stopped her. “I’ll call.” He was shaking, but determined as he silenced the pager and typed the number on his cell phone. John would be haunted, but he could deal with that later. There were more important things to think of at the moment.
Sherlock was dangerously close to being bored again. True, he was in the middle of an escape attempt, but pulling strings apart was never cerebrally engaging, no matter how much his head was hurting or how dire the consequences of discovery.
Progress had gone significantly more quickly since the bout of hypoglycemia had run its course and the detective regained complete control over his hands. Of course he was still shaking, or pretending to, but even faking tremors wasn’t really a distraction. And this endeavor didn’t promise to be over quickly; the stitching of the straightjacket was well-reinforced and each loosened strand of stitching was a struggle. Sherlock had made a gap in the seam big enough to fit one finger through, but that was all. And he needed at least two fingers if he was going to start on the other sleeve.
The detective made a slightly more exaggerated twitch of one shoulder. Feigning muscular spasms wasn’t too difficult, as lack of food, water, and sleep, in addition to nicotine patches, had left Sherlock in a questionable physical state as it was. If John could see him, Sherlock knew he’d have that brow-wrinkled concerned look right about now. Chances are he had it anyway, wherever he was. John was a very loyal person, and could not be comfortable if he knew his friend was in any sort of danger.
Which was why Sherlock was currently shredding the seams of the straightjacket’s offending fabric. He almost laughed to himself—wasn’t it just a few hours ago that he’d compared himself to a spider, and here he was pulling the anchors from a polyester web?
It really wasn’t as amusing a thought as it seemed, and the detective knew that he was becoming rather desperate. But he wouldn’t try to rush, couldn’t afford to make a mistake and let Moriarty, or whatever henchman he had watching his monitors, see what Sherlock was up to. How many criminals had panicked under the pressure of doing virtually nothing, and been summarily caught? Sherlock knew John wouldn’t agree with the comparison, but that couldn’t be helped. Capture was capture, and deception was deception, and he’d be a fool to ignore the very mistakes he exploited on the other side of this equation. Moriarty would have more trouble trying to keep this spider in check.
John was having trouble keeping his eyes open. He’d been staring at a map of London for hours, and didn’t seem to be seeing any more possible places where Moriarty could be keeping Sherlock. But since earlier that night, when he’d told Sarah, his employer and friend, that he couldn’t help with the emergencies at the surgery, John hadn’t been able to bring himself to give up in even the smallest of senses.
Lestrade had gone home a few hours ago, promising to be back in the morning. Mrs. Hudson and Anthea, too, were both asleep, the former in her flat and the latter on John’s couch.
John looked over at Anthea, who was sleeping like a perfectly normal stick-person with her head on a cushion, looking so different from how Sherlock did when he took over that particular couch. The detective could sleep in any position, whether sprawled like an emaciated starfish or curled up on one side with his face in the pillows like a little child, but he never looked ordinary.
The first time John met Anthea, he’d attempted to flirt with her. And why wouldn’t he? He was single, and she was, well, unbelievably beautiful. But right now, with the gorgeous young woman asleep on his sofa, for god’s sake, John couldn’t spare her a thought. He smiled to himself. Sherlock didn’t eat when he was on a case, perhaps John didn’t flirt in that scenario. Or perhaps it was just that this particular case, this particular missing person, was too important.
Which explained why John wouldn’t let himself sleep, either. Sherlock needed him. Wherever his mad flatmate was, John was his only real hope of getting home again. Of course there was always the chance Sherlock would escape, but John didn’t think it would pan out. The detective was certainly clever enough to get out of any scrape, but he was too stubborn to try. If his friend’s near-suicide with the cabbie didn’t point that out, nothing did. No, Sherlock would stubbornly try to work his way through whatever hell he found himself in, with no thought of self-preservation. Which is why, if his flatmate were to survive the ordeal, it would have to be due to John’s interference.
Just like that, the doctor felt his exhaustion recede. With this second wind at his disposal, he would go over the map of London again, look for anything he’d missed. And at first light, he’d reach out again to the homeless network, this time with specific addresses that were worthy of investigation. There were still about twenty of them, more than he would have liked, but that seemed to be as small a number as they were going to get at this point. He sent out a silent call to Sherlock, willing the madman he’d become closer to than anyone in the world to just sit tight and keep himself alive for a little longer.
Even if the detective had been clairvoyant, he probably wouldn’t have heard John’s plea. Just staying conscious had become enough of a battle to effectively keep Sherlock distracted, although he could dimly appreciate that at least he wasn’t bored. His headache had increased to skull-splitting proportions, and he felt slightly dizzy. It was impossible to say how long he’d been in the little room, although it seemed an eternity. Still, as far as escape was concerned, progress had been made.
Sherlock had effectively weakened the stitching of the straightjacket to a point where the seam would pop free at relatively little force (handy—he didn’t know how much force he could muster at the moment), and now he was working on the handcuffs at his ankles.
The detective was capable of picking any lock with his tools, and a fair few without them, but escaping handcuffs without the use of either of his hands was proving slightly more difficult.
He didn’t doubt that he’d be able to undo the cuffs with one hand, even if it was shaking, or that he could completely free the hand in question without drawing attention to himself. The trouble was his ribs.
They still felt like they were on fire, more so because he’d had to brace the straightjacket’s cloth against his middle while working at it. And Sherlock didn’t entirely trust that he wouldn’t lose consciousness if he were to aggravate them more by bending down.
So, he waited. That was boring, but the detective entertained himself by observing things about the room. There was nothing new to observe, of course, but that made it slightly more challenging.
By the time the pain in his ribs had reduced to a dull throb, Sherlock had determined the age and make of the speakers and visible camera in the room, the chemical composition of the concrete walls and how it differed from the floor, and the approximate iron levels in Moriarty’s blood (a few drops had fallen on Sherlock’s shoulder when he’d broken the criminal’s nose). But most importantly, the detective had determined the age, brand, and level of wear of the handcuffs about his ankles.
Sherlock took a steadying breath and twitched his left shoulder, pressing gently at the stitching of the straightjacket’s right sleeve with his other hand under the cloak of the former motion. His efforts were rewarded as the final line of stitching gave way, and the detective fought down the urge to start clawing at his bonds immediately. Instead, he allowed his torso to fall as far forward as it could over his knees, doing his best to appear exhausted as his ribs twinged painfully. So I’ve been here for a little over two days then, thought Sherlock as he assessed the sensation. It certainly seemed like longer, but that was always the case when one was going through substance withdrawal. But John probably felt like it had been more than two days, and he had no vices more extensive than tea. Well, tea and danger. And caring about people. That would be the one driving John up the wall right about now, the caring about people. The ex-army doctor could never relax when there was someone he felt he should be helping, and he’d definitely feel that way about Sherlock. Feel that way more than he would about most people, if Sherlock was honest with himself. Which he most certainly wouldn’t be. Thinking about John caring about him wouldn’t help John, only escaping would do that. So, back to escaping. With one last hope that John had at least considered shooting the wall to minimize the side effects of caring (he’d find it an effective emotional release, and Sherlock had already drawn the target and everything), the consulting detective snaked his arm down one leg and got to work. That was the only permanent way to make sure John was alright.
John walked purposely down the early morning street, looking for the man with the scraggly beard he’d seen earlier. He’d given the man a significant sum of money along with a list of addresses and instructions to look for anything suspicious. The doctor was usually quite careful about money, but this was a special case.
He found the man and took the note he’d surreptitiously passed to him. John’s first instinct was to read the note immediately, but he fought it. If Moriarty had caused the CCTV to go offline, John could be fairly certain he was being watched. And, thought John as he heard a police siren in the distance, if he could cause such an increase to violent crime, I can be sure I have a target on my back. But such thoughts were hardly helpful. All John could do was get back to Baker Street as quickly as he could, and trust the gun in his belt if anything went wrong. The doctor was usually hesitant to use his illegal handgun, hesitant to even bring it out in public, but these were not the usual circumstances. As he rounded the corner and opened the door to 221B, he just hoped he wouldn’t be too late.
But by the time John was back in the apartment, the scrap of paper open in one hand and his other resting on the map-covered kitchen table, he allowed himself a small smile. Not long to wait now.
He looked over one shoulder, from Lestrade to Anthea.
“How many of your people can you have here within the hour?”
Sherlock was waiting, eyes closed. The cuffs at his ankles were both undone, and the straightjacket sleeves only appeared restrictive. The detective was certain he could detach the jacket’s straps from behind the chair in seconds, so the only real barrier between himself and the hallway beyond was the (doubtless, locked) door in front of him. So, Sherlock was waiting for Moriarty to make another of his visits.
The criminal had come twice in two days, and it was the third day now (as an entirely uncomfortable jab to his ribs showed him), so it was not unreasonable to assume the madman would be back today. So all there was to do now was wait. Sherlock entertained himself by assessing what he’d say to John when he got back.
It would have to be something sarcastic and cutting, otherwise the doctor would be racked by unnecessary guilt. But if he were to do anything outright cruel, John would see it as anger at his own inaction and would feel guilty at that, too. So, the usual manner then. John would be frustrated, would say something emotional, Sherlock would counter with a rational reason why John had no reason to feel guilty, John would sigh and stomp about, and everything would be back to normal by dinnertime. A dinner Sherlock would eat, as there probably wouldn’t be a case on and the lethargy of early starvation was rather distracting.
Just then, the detective heard the speakers crackle to life.
“How? How did you get a message out?” Moriarty’s voice was rushed, but the intrigued madness within was readily audible.
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” Sherlock replied honestly, if with his usual derision.
“Don’t lie to me!” Moriarty’s voice was growing more hysterical. “On their own—they couldn’t have—those useless—You! Get Holmes, he’ll answer our questions later, whether he wants to or not!” There was another crackle, and the speaker was off.
Sherlock smiled to himself. He had no idea what Moriarty was referring to, but it was obvious the madman had become desperate, and desperation was easily exploited. All the better for John.
The detective wouldn’t allow himself to dwell on Moriarty’s threat in the latter part of the message. If all went according to plan, it would never be carried out. And if all didn’t go according to plan, he didn’t doubt he’d be able to manipulate a message out to John before the criminal invariably ended Sherlock’s life. It would be more damaging than if the detective were to get home and reassure John himself, but it would be better than nothing. Sherlock wondered, not for the first time, what Moriarty had meant yesterday when he’d said he’d be changing the game. The consulting detective hoped it had nothing to do with John. His flatmate was such an emotional person, he’d be highly susceptible to psychological methods of inflicting harm. Another reason John was off limits.
Just then, the detective heard the sound of heavy, running feet and the gap under the door burned. He only just had time to close his eyes before the door was thrown wide and one of Moriarty’s thugs was screaming incoherently into his face. Sherlock pulled out a few phrases, like “how dare you” and “no one’s that smart,” but the huge man’s raving was cut short when, with a scream of rage, he drove one massive fist into Sherlock’s side.
The detective saw stars for a moment, but after he could see past the haze of pain being punched in broken ribs produced, he realized that he was now lying flat on his back, as the thug’s blow had knocked him clear over the back of the chair to which he was theoretically still bound hand and foot. That explained why the bit of hired muscle in question was now looking at Sherlock as if he were some sort of ghost. Or rather, as if Sherlock had simply confirmed his suspicions that he was, in fact, some sort of ghost. At any rate, it was a particularly handy supposition, as it sent the larger man practically running from the room.
Sherlock sat up and undid the last knot anchoring him to the chair with one hand. Then he stood, balanced for a second, and made his way out into the hallway. The detective stumbled a bit, blinking in the light, but anchored himself against a wall and started making his way in the opposite direction from that in which Moriarty's hired help had gone. It had been patently stupid for the thug to leave his captive in such a manner, and Sherlock thought it would be a good idea to be gone before anyone else pointed this out to him.
But he hadn’t gone more than a few meters before the consulting detective heard running footsteps coming down the hall towards him. Sherlock readied himself for a confrontation. He might be weaponless, and not in top physical form at the moment, but the running figure was probably unaware of his presence, and that counted for something. He analyzed the sound of steps down the hallway. Male, small, controlled pace. Probably trained to run for long periods of time, like an athlete or a soldier . . . Wait!
Sherlock had just enough time to look surprised before John came careening around the corner.
It had been a long time since John felt quite the way he did at this moment. Here he’d been expecting to find his friend in some life-threatening predicament, one from which only the intervention of John’s common sense could have saved him, and here the man was standing in the middle of the hallway, a very damaged straightjacket hanging from his shoulders and bruises on his face. One did not have to be Sherlock Holmes, World’s Only Consulting Detective to see that John’s closest friend had clearly fought his own way out of whatever predicament he was in. John felt glad, of course, as Sherlock was alive, but also frustrated, concerned, angry, and vaguely proud.
Dr. Watson rushed to his best friend, gripping his shoulders with more than professional concern. “Are you alright?” he demanded.
Sherlock attempted a shrug. “Of course. Not mine,” he added when John started at the dried blood on the detective’s shoulder.
Just then Sherlock swayed dangerously, and John caught him, mindful of possibly damaged ribs. “How long since you’ve eaten?” the doctor asked, more than a bit concerned as he moved his closest friend into a sitting position against the nearest wall.
“Since Angelo’s,” Sherlock replied, sounding a bit dazed.
John looked his friend square in the eye. “You know that was a week ago.”
“Five days, John. Hardly a week.” His usual nonchalant nature was belied by the hypoglycemic shakes wracking the pale man’s figure. John wished he had thought to bring along some orange juice.
The doctor got down on his knees and held Sherlock’s face while he shone a pen light in the taller man’s eyes. “How you escaped a concussion is beyond me.”
As John went to return the light to his pocket, Sherlock cut in, voice swaying along with the rest of him.
“You found this place on your own. Found it,” the detective ran his eyes over John once more, “and led a team here.” Then Sherlock looked up at John’s face, a rare honest smile on his features. “Brilliant.”
Then, the detective allowed his eyes to close as John continued to methodically check him for injuries, only a slight blush on the smaller man’s features.
An hour later, both inhabitants of 221B were sitting on the back of a parked ambulance, both inexplicably wearing orange shock blankets and watching the completely unnecessary number of secret service people with guns currently swarming around the abandoned building in which Sherlock had been held.
John didn’t mind the blanket. He didn’t need it, but the doctor reasoned that if he calmly accepted the blanket, perhaps Sherlock would be a bit less morose about drinking the bottle of pineapple-banana smoothie one of the secret service agents had happened to have on her. And although John completely believed his flatmate when he said the drink was vile, it also had enough salts and sugars to make Sherlock stop shaking.
“Mycroft always has this many people at this disposal?” John asked, gesturing to the swarming figures. Anything to keep Sherlock from thinking about the juice.
“Yes. How else could he keep tabs on everyone he’s watching?”
“And . . . we’re two of those people?”
John looked around, a bit disconcerted to know that a good number of the black-suited figures surrounding them had probably been following him on CCTV footage at some point or another. No wonder Anthea hadn’t had to give anyone directions to Baker Street when she’d called that mysterious number on her speed dial. Actually, come to think of it, she hadn’t had to tell anyone anything. She’d just pressed a button, and the cast of every action movie John had ever watched had appeared on their doorstep. Suddenly, John wondered where Anthea had gotten to. Everything had sort of sped up after Rescue Force One had shown up, and Mycroft’s PA, as well as Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, had sort of been swept out of the way. The latter two had descended on them the minute John led Sherlock out of the building, the officer shouting and the landlady sobbing and both somewhat hysterical. But Anthea was nowhere to be seen. John decided to ask Lestrade about it as soon as he and Mrs. Hudson were done writing up their official statements (on which Lestrade himself had insisted, although John was quite sure this matter would never reach official channels beyond Mycroft’s personal army).
“Mycroft’s PA is on her way back to her employer at this point. After she called in the backup, there was no reason for her to stay.” Sherlock still somehow managed to look dignified while drinking neon yellow pineapple juice.
John couldn’t help but stare as Sherlock explained.
“Of course she was helping you. You were in charge of this whole operation, that much was obvious from the angle of your shoulders as you ran down the hall.” He caught John’s eye, recognizing the need for elaboration.
“The area was obviously secure, but you were holding your head back a bit, listening for sound behind you. Ergo, there were others present and you felt responsible for them.” The detective stopped again, apparently recognized from John’s expression that this was enough explanation, and so continued to elaborate on his previous deduction.
“Lestrade was outside, so the others clearly weren’t his, even if the uniforms had been police. The only other person you know who could summon such a force is Mycroft, but Mycroft would never let you take the lead, he’s far too stubborn. So the clear answer is that Moriarty was correct in asserting that Mycroft was otherwise engaged. But he’s never been one to let alone so, in lieu of taking care of this whole business himself,” Sherlock waved a hand at the general situation, “He sent his most immediate inferior. Who would have hastened back to his side the moment the situation no longer required her attention.” There was a hint of pride in the detective’s eyes as he took in John’s somewhat amazed expression.
Then, the consulting detective continued. “But you have a question. You may as well ask it.”
John shrugged, taken a bit off guard, but he began. “When I got to you, you were already in the process of escaping on your own. Why?”
Sherlock didn’t look at him. Whatever personable light had been in his expression before hid itself, and the detective’s face was stone. “Isn’t that what you’d expect a person to do, John? Try to escape?”
“Most people, yes, but not you. I mean, of course you could, but this was Moriarty! ‘The Game’ and everything!” John stopped, took a breath.
“You wouldn’t even walk away when that cabbie handed you a suicide pill. Why this time?”
Sherlock gave a put-upon sigh and shrugged off the shock blanket. He seemed to have forgotten about the juice.
“It wasn’t a suicide pill, and he didn’t hand it to me; that’s what made it a puzzle. I’d chosen correctly, and was therefore in no danger. Please, John, at least try to remember things correctly.”
The detective still wasn’t looking at him, which was probably why John didn’t back down. He kept watching his friend, determined.
After a long moment, Sherlock gave in with a frustrated sound.
“Fine! I escaped because if I hadn’t, you’d have started limping again! Is that the answer you were looking for?” The detective tried to bring his knees up to his chin, but was prevented from doing so by his broken ribs and had to settle for folding his arms petulantly instead.
John was stunned.
“You escaped . . . for me?” It wasn’t a question so much as a statement, but John still felt the need to express it aloud.
“You’d have gone all guilty—” Sherlock made a wild gesture with one arm, knocking over the last of the juice drink onto the asphalt below.
The detective looked down at the offensive yellow puddle, before finally raising his head to meet John’s eyes.
The doctor looked dumbstruck. “Thanks.”
Sherlock looked at him, puzzled, so John felt compelled to continue.
“I mean, I’m . . . I didn’t think you . . . That was . . . good,” he finished with a smile.
Sherlock half-returned it, and they sat in companionable silence for a few moments, watching the buzzing about of secret service agents the way some people watch snow fall.
Chapter 13: Epilogue
A few hours later, back at 221B, John became aware of movement at the other side of the couch. The doctor abandoned his book and turned sharply, concern for his flatmate’s wellbeing already close to the forefront of his mind.
Sherlock was looking at his own damp fingers in confusion, returning them to his cheek as if to determine that the wetness he was seeing was, in fact, tears. He seemed to sense John’s anxiety and dismissed him with a wave.
“It’s nothing.” Sherlock’s confusion was edged with a bit of panic. “Happens, sometimes. Stops eventually.”
But John was not to be put off. He scooted himself sideways over to his flatmate, earnest if not graceful.
The flatmate in question was already protesting, shaking his dark head. “I’m fine—don’t even know why it happens.”
By this time, John had reached the other man’s side.
“Well I do, and this helps.” With a determined air, John put his arms around his friend’s shoulders and squeezed gently.
Sherlock looked confused and stiffened for a second, then relaxed a little in his John’s arms.
“It does help. Why?”
John sighed. Most people didn’t question such things as hugs. But most people weren’t Sherlock Holmes. So John, as always, attempted to give his unusual friend as honest and complete an answer as he could come up with.
“The body has different ways of dealing with danger. One of them is to ignore it, leaving the mind free to face whatever situation until the danger has passed. Then, it hits you with everything it had been holding back whether it makes sense in the new context or not. Well, when someone hugs you, they’re doing their best to prove to you that you’re safe now, and promising that they’ll keep you that way.”
John was rather proud of himself for finding a way to vocalize that so quickly, but Sherlock pressed on.
“But you can’t keep me safe, not all the time. If you could, Moriarty wouldn’t have captured me in the first place.” There was no presumption in the words; the consulting detective was just stating fact.
John internally conceded the point and returned to his earlier statement, looking for a way to amend it. Finally, he spoke to the side of Sherlock’s neck that he could see at the moment.
“Then if the person can’t keep you safe, and they know it, they’re telling you that whatever happens, they’ll be right there with you. That you won’t be alone, even if it looks like you are.”
Sherlock lifted his head and seemed to ponder this for a minute before looking at the top of John’s head, twisting as much as he could with two broken ribs.
“You’re saying all that?” It wasn’t really a question, but John answered it anyway.
“Yes.” Sherlock seemed more together now, so John dropped his arms but did not move away. Sherlock didn’t seem to notice. He hadn’t taken his eyes from the doctor. He had a look that was at the same time pleasantly surprised and knowing.
“Good.” A beat later, he continued. “You can be very surprising, John Watson.”
John knew that this was about the highest praise the self-proclaimed sociopath could give, and felt something in himself glow accordingly.
“Very surprising. Why don’t you explain exactly how you figured out where Moriarty was keeping me?”
And John grinned, going on to bring his best friend in the world through every single step of his deductions.