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Piter Raw

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John lets Zoya in, and Sherlock does not stop him. If John’s sentimentality kills them, well then they die.

She comes bursting into the flat in a flurry of melting snow and rustling white puffa jacket, clutching a bag that appears to contain food. John instigates an awkward bumble to get the three of them into the graffiti room, where the light is best.

‘Um, do sit,’ John gestures at the least manky bit of carpet. ‘Um... yes.’

‘Why are you here?’ Sherlock asks.

Zoya doesn’t move, or immediately reply. Sherlock watches her expression in the dim, reflected-snow light. Amongst other things, she’s nervous, and he’s feeling a flicker of curiosity as to why. His brain sparks a little.

‘I know who you are!’ Zoya says, turning to Sherlock. ‘Gleb told me you are detective Sherlock Holmes, who killed Moriarty. And you are bachelor John Watson.’ She faces John. ‘I read more articles online.’

John rubs his hand over his face. ‘Yes... well, that’s true. How did you find us?’

‘I have contacts,’ says Zoya, and sighs. ‘My ex-husband, he helps sometimes. I have people watching for you. Kolyvanov pays, but nobody trusts him. But I am close to people.’ Zoya pauses and smiles rather bitterly. ‘We are that kind of family.’

‘Right,’ says John.

Perhaps John thinks it would be rude to ask whether armed thugs are about to break in and kill them. But mostly he just looks like he can’t quite rouse himself. Has he been awake since their conversation? Sherlock recalls the night, but as if through a film of gauze. His moods still shift, between mobile and immobile pain, and this is mobile. He will focus. He paces, feeling the shape of a truth through the fog.

‘Mama is close to people, isn’t she,’ Sherlock says. ‘Mama is close to Uncle Gleb, and she reported us.’

Zoya shoots him a look of blended respect and dislike.

‘Mama hates him, actually,’ she says. ‘But yes, he paid her five hundred dollars for information, and that is why the localtsy came. If I had spoken to Gleb first, that would also be risk for you but I would try to persuade him he can use you to kill Kolyvanov and become boss himself. Unfortunately Mama spoke first. I’m sorry, John,’ she says, turning to him. ‘I always try not to be involved, and always I am. If you stay in Piter after this, maybe you can meet some normal people, but my family are bandits, and they talk about honour but really it means nobody is loyal to anybody and people expect to gain from reporting others. I hate it, and I want to live differently, but maybe they are right – kto kovo. I am just fed up of being that “whom”.’

Zoya shrugs. John is looking at her as if expecting explanation of the Russian words, but they’re clearly not going to get it. Zoya seems to believe, perhaps honestly, that she’s making a moral stand of some kind. That doesn’t answer the question of why she’s here, but Sherlock can fill in the details.

‘So, Gleb offered you money to find us,’ he says, reaching the far wall and turning on his heel. He’s running on will and fumes; if he keeps moving, he will not seize up. ‘But you’re here talking to us, which means you didn’t take it. Either you think we’ll pay you more to keep quiet... No, there’s not enough money in that. You’ll pretend to be John’s little girlfriend until you can sell me to Kolyvanov direct.’

‘Oh for God’s sake,’ John protests. ‘Zoya, don’t worry, he’s not seriously accusing you of that.’

John is correct. Sherlock wanted to observe Zoya’s reaction, which he sees is indignant, and natural enough to suggest a clean conscience. Yet the idea of her deceit blends so easily with the darkness in his head that it becomes more arresting the more he thinks about it. Zoya and John are both human, and clean, of course they would join hands and leave him. The conviction gathers as a sick roil in his throat.

He is not thinking right. He must correct himself.

But that directive is abstract. The threat is real.

‘I know what you want!’ Sherlock snarls, snapping his head around towards John. ‘You and her.’

John stares back, uncomprehending. ‘That doesn’t make sense,’ he says with a careful calm. ‘We’ll talk about it later. Zoya, I’m sorry about this. Sherlock is... unwell.’

‘You told me,’ says Zoya says, her face in darkness. ‘But the articles say he is a genius and has helped many people. Also, he is right that Gleb offers me five thousand dollars to find where you are. But no I will not tell him, because I am a decent, normal person. If you want, I will leave and never say you are here, I absolutely promise.’

‘We appreciate that,’ says John. The words bubble and crack in Sherlock’s ears. A light snaps on in a window near the flat, and Zoya and John are both illuminated, and they match. They are small and firm and precious, and Sherlock is... Sherlock is death. John would not let him die when his moment came, and this is an after-time when what remains of him crouches out of reach while data piles and crumbles like dirt in his head. No deduction.



‘What else are you offering?’ Sherlock prompts. He is impersonating himself. He does a mocking tilt of the head towards Zoya. An ‘or’ was surely on the way before John interrupted her.

‘Or if you pay me ten thousand dollars I will help you kill Kolyvanov,’ Zoya says. ‘I should have offered before but I was afraid. It’s not fair that you come to me and I make things worse. Now I help.’


Nobody speaks for a moment. John is probably taken aback by the financial demand, as he likes to sentimentalise women. Zoya is glowering defiantly. And Sherlock... if Sherlock has to cradle his poisoned brain in his own hand to do it, he will deduce. Element by element he parses Zoya’s body: the glint of newly-bitten nails that betray increased anxiety, the contoured hip that speaks of a gun concealed under winter layers. All of it tells of her current undertaking, but none of it actually proves that she is on their side.

As if she would be. She’s on her own side, standing up for her idea of ‘normality’, by which she seems variously to mean a life free of post-Soviet social dysfunction, a preference for John over men like Kolyvanov because John smiles at her, and now support for Sherlock because the internet said he helped people. It’s feeble-witted, and human, and probably to a degree reliable.

‘And you’re not afraid now?’ Sherlock inquires. He expects to be contemptuous, but instead he remembers Molly again. Why are women like that?

‘Of course I am afraid!’ Zoya retorts. ‘But you know Mama is ill, and I love her. With ten thousand dollars, we pay off most of the debts my husband made. I will not work for bandits but we must have money and I believe you can afford it.’

Sherlock considers. John is nodding vigorously and gesturing at him to say yes. Sherlock perceives this passively, because he has run out of self to spend on appearances and it is possible that he is about to collapse where he stands. A gestalt moment has occurred, pivoting their situation from hopelessness into possibility, and he cannot react to it.

Bile and humiliation. A dog would function better than this.

Nu – well?’ snaps Zoya. She is obviously nervous. John is pulling faces.

Sherlock tries. He considers the world, and the remains of himself, and he tries to feel, and there is nothing. He deduces instead, building atom by atom the fact that he is glad. Zoya will, maybe, save them. It is logical to be glad. For John’s sake, he is.

Bolshoe spasibo, Zoya Andreevna,’ Sherlock says. He registers the sincerity in his own voice, and is surprised by it.

Then he breaks. His remaining channel to the world collapses in on itself. There is blindness, suffocation, and incorruptible awareness, as if his intellect was a camera recording after death. It is abstractly fascinating, like watching an elbow bend backwards. John did not let him die properly. Therefore, this.

Meanwhile Zoya’s eyes have widened in acknowledgement of Sherlock’s words. She inclines her head.

‘Without you, our chances are poor,’ Sherlock says. His voice curdles in his sealed head. It’s unbearable, it’s unremarkable. ‘I’ll transfer ten thousand to your account now and another ten after the job’s done. I want you properly motivated. Understand, however, I am...’ Sherlock gropes one last time for signifiers which could bridge the gulf. ‘Singularity,’ he says.

Zoya looks baffled.

‘He’s not really himself,’ John says. ‘We’re very grateful for your help, Zoya.’

Sherlock nods. John’s description is the direct opposite of the truth. Sherlock is utterly and only himself. Constructs shimmer and disintegrate. He records, he continues. Breath by unwanted breath by unwanted breath.



John feels dazed, as if they’d spent the night in hell but now there is hope again, which might not be so far from the truth.

After a few hours of sleep, Sherlock appears to be functioning. He’s walking around, and talking in a physically normal way, though his deductions are mixed with the occasional weirdness. When Zoya bustles off to her bag and comes back with three fat pastries she calls pirozhki, instead of refusing one as usual, Sherlock plonks himself cross-legged under the window and starts munching away like a man who knows his doctor will force-feed him if he doesn’t.

With Sherlock apparently stable, John turns his attention to Zoya. He knew she wouldn’t betray them, and he wants to say so, but she seems to have moved on, and John senses that’s probably wise; they need to leave the heavy stuff alone for a while. Currently she’s wandering around the graffiti room, holding her lit phone up to the walls and translating the Cyrillic scribbles aloud. It turns out that some of it is indeed at the ‘so-and-so is a cunt’ level, but a lot of it is about political change: lyrics and even classic poetry by names John doesn’t recognise but which Zoya pronounces with reverence.

In spite of their situation, he’s is fascinated. He knows so little about Russia, and cultural hotspots have not been a feature of this trip. What kind of city has teenagers who scrawl poetry on the walls and fitness instructors who expound on it?

‘You wouldn’t get this in London,’ he says.

‘Well, Russians love ideals,’ Zoya tells him. ‘Sometimes in the past we don’t have much else. My generation does not have energy to try for political change again, but perhaps the teenagers do.’

‘Highly edifying,’ Sherlock puts in. ‘Zoya, do you have a plan to stop us being enslaved or murdered?’

John glances at Sherlock with both relief and irritation. The sarcasm in his voice suggests he’s coping... and is also bloody rude.

‘I was going to ask that myself,’ says John. ‘If you have useful information, we’re all ears.’

‘All right, let’s talk business,’ says Zoya, pocketing her phone. ‘You need me, not just my information. I won’t turn up to work today, and that is because you ambushed me. I am your hostage. You demand a meeting with Kolyvanov in a park on the way out of the city, or you will kill me. Phone him and say that. I will scream behind your voice.’

‘Logical, as far as it goes,’ says Sherlock. He gets up and stalks towards Zoya, focusing intensely on her, as he always does when reclassifying someone from idiot to usable resource. ‘You’re a valid bargaining chip to use on Gleb, I agree. Now explain why Kolyvanov cares if we kill you.’

‘He doesn’t care, of course not,’ Zoya retorts calmly. ‘But he must show he is a powerful man who protects the interests of employees. The bandits have codes, Mr Holmes, that is how things run and are not chaos. Also, Kolyvanov wants you working for him, not killed by Gleb. So he will come, even if it’s a risk.’ Zoya sighs. ‘Maybe because it is a risk. He is bored working at a desk, I think. So would I be. I believe he wants you to do his paperwork, true?’

‘He seems to want a sort of trophy secretary to free him from the adminis-trivia,’ says John. ‘Couldn’t he get a Russian one?’

‘Not one with my intellect,’ responds Sherlock. ‘And I’m a foreigner with no local power base, who can be blackmailed into reliability. No; Kolyvanov isn’t a favourite among Petersburg intellectuals, I think. He trades on a mixture of the bond between ex-soldiers, and just being the most vicious dog in the pack.’

‘Right, fine, so he has a weakness.’ John appeals to Zoya. ‘Are you sure Gleb doesn’t want to shoot him and take over? I doubt Kolyvanov Securities’ civilian staff would cry.’

Zoya shakes her head. ‘Too much risk. Gleb has no, let me say, right to take over.’

‘Yes, by doing that he’d open himself to being legitimately removed by the next man down,’ says Sherlock, his eyes gleaming. Either he’s somehow recovering or he’s gambling his last energy reserves. ‘But if we kill his boss for him, in front of a retinue, then the next thing...’

‘OK, I don’t want to seem ungrateful,’ interrupts John. ‘But if I shoot Kolyvanov in front of a bunch of minions, then the next thing is that we’re on the run as murderers. I doubt even Mycroft can fix that.’

‘Probably not,’ says Sherlock, steepling his fingers against his lips. ‘But I suspect there’s nothing to fix. Zoya?’

Zoya smiles grimly. ‘Gleb will claim responsibility and not leave it on you, yes. His niece helped you, and he looks foolish if he admits he did not expect that. Do you think I just scream and wait? I know how to take a gun from a man.’

‘No doubt,’ says Sherlock, starting to pace again. ‘Then we go back to England, everyone realises the Rich Brook affair was a set-up and Kolyvanov was involved, and suddenly Gleb’s a bandit hero. He removed a weak and incompetent leader who was under foreign control, and the last thing he’ll want is to share credit for that. No. If we pull this off, we’re free.’

Sherlock wheels around and looks John in the eye.

John nods and swallows. Hope is rising in his chest, the lightness and the pleasure of it so sudden that they unbalance him – and he’s smitten by the contrast between that feeling and the blankness of Sherlock’s expression. It suggests nothing but rote calculation.

But John can’t stop and attend to that. For just a few more hours Sherlock must endure running on empty. They have hope, and it’s time to prepare.



John and Zoya lean silently against the rental car, which is parked on a track in a half-wild city park. It’s gone eleven at night, and nobody’s around except a gang of teenagers John can hear in the middle distance. They’d better not come blundering over.

The choice of night is a calculated gamble. There’s certain to be plenty of bandits, and it will be harder for them to track Sherlock and John in their dark clothes. John has positioned himself and Zoya to take best advantage of the available light.

Snow is not currently falling, but a six-inch layer of it covers the open ground and heaps the branches of the nearby copse that they may use as basic cover when shooting begins. It’s a clear night, with illumination from the moon in addition to the city light haze reflecting off the snow, and there is nothing to do but wait and watch the distant stream of cars beyond the gardeners’ hut with a curious bumpy roof that Zoya declared would be a good landmark for a rendezvous, as it’s visible from the main road but not on it. They are in her hands now. John does not like that, but he also dislikes it surprisingly mildly. It is necessary. This is the final throw. His hand tightens on the grip of his pistol ten times a minute. An hour has passed, somehow. Very little has been said.

‘Have you found anything useful?’ John asks Sherlock, who has been minutely examining the apparently featureless snow of their environment.

Sherlock looks up, and his expression is as blank as it was when he snarled and blustered his way through the ‘hostage’ call to Kolyvanov. His aggression then was superlative acting, and John is pretty sure that his current scrutiny of twilit pebbles is equally a front.

‘Mm,’ Sherlock says vaguely, and moves out of conversation range.

OK. Sherlock’s reversion to mute suffering might break John’s heart, except it’s already in pieces, and he’s learnt how to keep going anyway. He’s so keyed up and exhausted that he only has feelings for the challenge in front of him. After that, they can rest.

Sherlock, of course, very possibly equates rest with death at the moment. Win-win situation, then, eh? Oh God, John is wishing for his army mates. They psyched themselves up for a thousand fights with gallows humour like that.

‘Will you marry him?’ Zoya says.

John jumps. ‘What?’

‘I read online, in England now homosexuals can marry each other,’ Zoya says, sounding a bit dubious but nothing worse. ‘Civil partnership.’

John rubs his face. Zoya has been very quiet. Her face is in shadow but he can tell she’s scared, which probably accounts for the digression. Her version of making death jokes.

‘I doubt it,’ John says. Would he accept? flickers through his head and is buried. ‘Big ceremonies and bits of paper aren’t really us. Anyway, I thought you didn’t approve of gay people, let alone gay marriage.’

‘Things happen whether I approve them or not,’ says Zoya. ‘Sometimes I don’t know what I think and I have to work it out, like anybody.’ She points at Sherlock, and John has now been in Russia long enough to realise that this is not a polite gesture. ‘I do know that if I was married to him, I would beat him too. Though I would try to help him first.’

‘Yeah,’ says John. There was humour in the ‘beating’ comment, and if she doesn’t see how she’s being offensive, then what she does see isn’t entirely imaginary either. ‘Sherlock can be difficult. He...’ John pauses, and then goes on in a rush: ‘He’s suicidal. Last night I found him about to jump out of a window.’

Zoya nods, hikes her elbows onto the roof of the car and seems to think. She doesn’t look shocked, and John has some thoughts about inscrutable Russians that he recognises are probably as subtle as Zoya’s opinions on gay sadomasochism.

Then she says: ‘Mama feels bad that she’s ill and I have to look after her. That’s not fun. But we both know that when she dies I will find a different life and more people. With a man, it’s different. You have to decide if he hurts you so much that this is not worthwhile.’

‘It is worthwhile,’ protests John. It’s not right that Zoya’s talking about Sherlock hurting him when Sherlock is the one in trouble. ‘I mean, he’s not always like this, he’s brilliant, he’s...’ John trails off, caught between what he loves about Sherlock and the fear that Zoya will scoff at it.

‘Yes, for you I can see that is true, although I don’t absolutely understand. Maybe if I saw Sherlock when he is not ill, I would understand.’

‘No, he’s an arsehole when he’s well, too,’ says John, treacherously relieved at making the admission. ‘I just love him. He’s amazing, and maybe there’s a price for that. I don’t know.’ Stereotypes of mad genius are not John’s comfort zone, but he could hardly have avoided thinking about them, this past month. ‘I wish it didn’t work that way.’

‘People break,’ says Zoya. ‘The deal is not in being clever. I think you are both brave though.’ She nods towards Sherlock, who is sitting on a hummock now, looking ordinary and lost amid his layers of winter clothes. ‘To fight Moriarty and his people so far, and carry on even now. But I read much of this online and I don’t know what is lies. When all this is finished, tell me some of it?’

‘Yes,’ promises John, wondering what he’ll say, and how she’ll respond to it. Does she guess that Sherlock didn’t so much fight Moriarty as woo him, and they’re still dealing with the consequences?

John,’ Zoya grips his arm.

Ahead of them, Sherlock is lurching to his feet. A series of one, two, three silvery black cars is peeling off from the main road and heading up the snowy track towards them. Their headlights fade as they halt in a clump and a dozen men in overcoats covering suits and tracksuits climb out and blur into a dark huddle, brandishing shotguns and rifles, the occasional ring glinting as someone points at the bumpy-roofed hut. One of them is Kolyvanov. Zoya hisses, and indicates a balding man with a mobile in his hand: ‘Gleb.’

It’s happening.



Sherlock is frozen over. The dreadful upswell that broke the ice of his depression has receded, and he is faintly but consistently aware of his own actions, as if manipulating a keyboard with numb fingers. Meaning does not reach him but there is a structure, a plan agreed with John, and he has programmed himself to complete it.

Sherlock draws his Makarov, checking his position against the tops of towerblocks that are just visible over the trees, and backing into the precise spot John chose, which gives him the advantage of the available light as well as access to easy cover. John and Zoya are in place, with his arm around her throat; they’ll act out a thug-with-hostage routine while Sherlock puts on a show of thwarted, egotistical pseudo-genius. Once all eyes are on Sherlock, John will shoot Kolyvanov. What happens next will probably be up to Gleb.

Sherlock waits. Zoya screams as pre-agreed, to ‘give away’ their location.

Ten seconds later, multiple firearms are pointing at Sherlock. Gleb and Kolyvanov have entered the area at the centre of two separate groups of what Zoya would call localtsy. These form half-circles around the bosses, rifles trained in the half-light as competently as if they were operating in summer sunshine. Sherlock observes them as best he can in the twilight, the sheer mass of human data impacting on his damaged attention. One of them has a distorted skull, another is missing two fingers, and a third has a mass of scars as if a bullet had taken off his cheek flesh. Not normal, as Zoya might say... but in reality normal enough for men of a certain stratum. These are veterans of conflict in the Russian ‘near abroad’, loyal to money but more to the afganets who’s been through the same hell as they have.

Kolyvanov himself stops twenty yards from Sherlock and stands with his arms crossed, looking out of his human defence wall. The glint of his eyes in the moonlight gives him as fierce an expression as he had in the Vyborgskiy Bar. A stain pattern that shows dark against his overcoat speaks of negotiation with city authorities, while the mottled bruise on his chin can only have come from boxing to keep in shape. Whatever haunts him, he long since cauterised himself functional. Sherlock could respect that, if respect had meaning.

Watching the Russians take position, it occurs to Sherlock that if they succeed then his fight will truly be over, the way he has dreamt of since Bart’s. The thought is freefall.

‘OK, what is the problem with you?’ Kolyvanov breaks the silence of the stand-off, sounding genuinely interested. ‘Yes I threaten you, but if you just accept, you have a good life.’

Sherlock’s body is crawling with fear, demanding he run. The dark topmost windows of the towerblock behind Kolyvanov are staring like eyes, and he is aware almost routinely that, if fired from their current positions, localtsy bullets will perforate his brain, throat, heart and liver. Kolyvanov’s will burst his eye. The thought is soothing – and that indulgence is impermissible, because guns are also pointed at John. Trusting Sherlock brings John to this pass, and if Sherlock could trade his life for John’s safety he would. But that is not their plan. He must remember it.

‘Shut up! She told us everything, Kolyvanov. Every naughty thing you’ve ever done, it’s all on here, and my brother in London has it too.’

Sherlock is shouting his lines. He observes a couple of teenage boys and a girl emerging from the trees behind the bandits; they break and run as gun barrels swivel towards them. If this was London, one of them would call the police... Well, it isn’t. Sherlock cannot guess what will happen.

Trying to keep his gun steady, with his other hand he holds up his mobile and a printout. ‘If you kill us – well, don’t think Mycroft’s naïve enough to simply send it to the authorities. But Ruslan Alkhanov? Magomed Aushev? How much do you think they would pay to know every pie you have your finger in? And what would they do with the information?’

It’s a bluff. But the claim that Zoya is a leak is enough to get Kolyvanov briefly side-eying Gleb. Some of the localtsy glance towards him as well. For a second Sherlock hopes John has a window to fire at Kolyvanov, but when he glances around John is fully occupied with bandits who are trying to outflank him. Sherlock realises, in lucid despair, that it was of course vanity to think that John would eliminate the sniper assigned to him. The world is not made of patterns like that.

‘Anyone tries to get round behind us and I shoot her!’ John shouts, and movement stops.

‘OK, stalemate,’ says Kolyvanov, turning his attention back to Sherlock. ‘One problem, however. If you have such good information as you say then are you not able to leave and threaten me from London?’

Kolyvanov is sharper than they expected. Sherlock does not particularly care, because a new plan is forming: to simply get close enough to shoot and be shot by the Russian. That leaves John and Zoya out of this broken equation altogether. But Sherlock, with his feeble marksmanship, needs to get closer in, so he tries a prepared distraction, pressing a button on his mobile so that all the bandits’ phones go off, lights glowing through the fabric of their pockets like fireflies.

Although they barely react, it wins Sherlock a split second of surprise, which he uses to take several paces forwards without being shot. He is almost within the black and silver semicircle of bandits now, close enough to hit his target. I want to die fills all of him, an unthinking pulse. John wants him to die as well; he knows that, or is too exhausted to un-know it.

‘This is your confession, Kolyvanov,’ he says, waving the printout, for John’s sake. John must not know this was suicide. ‘You’re going to sign it. Then, if you don’t tell anyone about Graf and Zagami, I don’t do anything with my insurance document here. Or with my hostage. We’ll dump her on our way out of town.’

Kolyvanov looks unimpressed. ‘You would have been smarter to run away. I can’t work out what you’re doing, and I don’t tolerate that. So we kill you now unless you put down your gun.’

Now, thinks Sherlock to himself. He’s sighting on Kolyvanov’s forehead, and he expects to fire. It seems odd that this hasn’t already happened. It should have... it doesn’t... the dark windows behind the Russian seem so close, as if the city itself was standing in judgement... and as another second ticks by the knowledge forms that Sherlock cannot shoot. Graf was his once and only kill, a mania-fuelled perversion.

The only needful thing is his own death. He cannot change that any more than he could change falling, although John tried. Sherlock’s skull is a vice of acid, and he is poisonous to touch, and if John were here he would end him in mercy, but Sherlock no longer has John, he only has the last of the snipers.

I’m sorry, Sherlock thinks vaguely, at no one.

‘Kolyvanov – just fucking shoot me!’ he shouts, dropping his gun, and holding his arms out. ‘Please!’

In front of Sherlock is a Russian, ex-military, slightly built, with fine, dark hair, and in the moonlight his expression is clearly one of surprise tinged perhaps with compassion. He steps forwards as if to investigate something, and his face is that of a man who has both endured and mastered. Sherlock shrinks from it, turning away to withhold his own taint as the last dignity he can manage... and sees, stark against the snowfield, two more small figures.

Zoya dives away from John, and in one graceful motion he sights, aims and fires.

Shouting breaks out all around them. As his body takes over from his drowning mind, Sherlock drops and rolls, knowing that Oleg Kolyvanov is dead.



Shots whistle overhead as John hits the ground. The localtsy are firing at him... too late to protect their boss, he’s fiercely sure of that.

Zoya threw herself forwards when he gave the sign. Now in a blur he sees her roll and bounce up right in front of Gleb, confused bandits making way for her. She barks something at her uncle in Russian and he raises his hand and shouts, causing the men around him to cease their fire, which was already ragged.

Off to the side, Sherlock is sitting in the moonlit snow with a few localtsy guns trained on him. Most of them seem more interested in making sure that the large hole in Kolyvanov’s neck is as fatal as it looks, however. When one of them uncertainly redirects his weapon towards John, Zoya kicks it out of his hand.

They have won, John realises. Gleb is acting as Zoya said he would, visibly assuming command. Zoya herself looks disturbingly at home, if not exactly happy. They have won.

John himself is feeling a little out-of-it... This may be due to the fact that when he touches his thigh his hand comes away wet. Oops.

But they’re safe. Sherlock is safe. Sherlock is safe. Just fucking shoot me, echoes in John’s head but no, no, he’s not going to take that on board, he’s just not, not now, not when he’s finally... anyway, it was Sherlock acting weirdly that distracted Kolyvanov, and John is finally... Hell, the wound on his thigh is basically superficial, but he’s lightheaded.

John lurches to his feet. His leg supports him, just about. All he wants to do is collect Sherlock and get back to the city centre and sleep – probably in a hotel room. Going back to Zoya’s would be too dangerous, in case any Kolyvanov loyalists do decide on revenge.

‘Sherlock, let’s get out of here,’ he says, his voice a bit croaky. ‘We’re done. We did it.’

Sherlock nods mechanically and gets up. His expression is vacant, which is probably down to shock and certainly to exhaustion. It doesn’t matter now. John will fix it. John has killed. John has killed for Sherlock again, and Sherlock belongs to him, and John will protect him, after some sleep.

‘Zoya!’ John demands, more curtly than he means to. ‘Can you drive us back? I don’t think either of us are fit for it.’

Zoya looks around. Her face seems to have set into a different shape since she started talking to her uncle, and John realises, with a qualm that briefly overtops his shock, just how vulnerable they still are. But she finishes with Gleb and comes over to him.

‘Yes,’ she says, quietly. ‘You are lucky; my uncle sees things your way. Kolyvanov Securities is no longer interested in you if you agree, so to say, to move out of local affairs. But I don’t think all these men are your friends. I will take you away from here now.’

‘Right,’ says John, back in practical mode. They owe Zoya money, which still guarantees her loyalty. He suspects there’s plenty she’s not telling them about the opinions of the bandits, however, and they are taking more and more of an interest in Sherlock, who is standing passive and apparently unseeing in their midst.

‘Come on,’ says John, going over to him and taking him by the arm. Unease is tickling at the back of his mind but there is no time for it, they just have to get clear.

Which they do. The rental car has had one of its back windows shot out, which means Sherlock has to sit alone on the side of the seat without glass shards embedded in it while John goes up front with Zoya, but they make it down the track, and out of the park, and then they are on one of the wide, potholed trunk roads leading back into the heart of the city.

John lets out a long, slow breath. He’s watching Sherlock in the rear view mirror and Sherlock appears to be watching nothing, but John is not going to panic; one thing at a time. He thinks of a bath, and a bed in a warm room. Now the fight is over, if necessary he will just bloody well hold Sherlock in his arms until some lights come on in that incomprehensible brain. Moriarty’s snipers are dead. They have time again.

John is wondering whether Zoya thinks she’s taking them back to her place, and if so whether he has the energy to object, when she speaks, the first of them to do so since they left the park

‘Well, I don’t do that every day!’ she says. She sounds like their earnest, slightly worried landlady again, which he has to like.

‘I try not to make it a habit myself,’ John agrees, aware that blood from his leg is soaking into the seat. ‘What can you do, though? People will take against Sherlock. Hope, Zagami, Tabone, and now some barmy afganets...’

He lets his voice trail off. He hates the bravado in it – for fuck’s sake, where did that come from? He is a barmy afganets. That’s a parallel he’s simply left alone, because there’s nothing useful he can do with it. And now Kolyvanov is dead. John killed him. John will deal with that like he always does. Posturing won’t help.

He wishes Sherlock could help. The wish makes him feel exposed. And selfish.

Zoya has stopped at overhead lights. She is just pulling away again when Sherlock opens his door and steps out of the moving car.

John is frozen for a full second, unable to process what just happened. Zoya turns around wildly to look until a blast of horns and squeal of brakes forces her to go back to driving. John jerks open his door and has to slam it shut a second before it’s smashed off by a lorry. It’s half a minute before Zoya fights her way to a spot on the road where John won’t be killed if he gets out; and when he makes it onto the snowy pavement he tries to run and of course he falls over, because there is a fucking great bloody hole in his thigh.

‘Shit!’ snarls John, scrabbling back upright by holding onto the bonnet. ‘Go after him!’

‘Where?’ demands Zoya. ‘I didn’t see! Dark!’

They are on a poorly-lit stretch of icy pavement with multiple courtyards and alleys leading off it. A few pedestrians stare at them.

They search for half an hour. They don’t find Sherlock.