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Off the Deep End
St. Bartholomew's rooftop, 2010
"Keep your eyes fixed on me! Please, will you do this for me?" he said frantically into the phone.
John squinted to the roof. "Do what?"
"This phone call... It's, er...it's my note." He pressed his lips together to regain composure. "It's what people do, don't they... Leave a note?"
John lingered on his reply, and took the phone away from his ear in disbelief. After a shaky breath, he brought it back. "Leave a note when?"
The words fell like a weight on his chest. "No..." He shook his head and stepped back. "Don't."
John looked on in horror when his friend's only reply was discarding the phone behind him before spreading his arms out to his side.
Three floors below, 1989
Jim pressed his hands over his face, letting the water cool his eyes and forehead. He turned off the faucet and stared ahead to the mirror. He no longer recognized this person, whose pallid countenance struck a contrast with the dark undertones beneath the eyes. And the expression—it was as if fate had dealt him a bad hand in the final round of the game.
He looked at the hue of the light that streamed between buildings and through the hallway windows; it was already nearing mid-afternoon. He knew he had to leave soon, but he couldn't stand the thought of abandoning that hospital room. Hell, he had even debated against going just now. Maybe he could leave something behind... Someone would be bound to find it and give it to John when the time came.
Jim stopped walking. If it came...
Regardless, he had no intention of severing the bond that they had made even if only one of them remained holding on. Just then, he heard his name from behind him.
"There you are," said Cole. "Friedman's looking for you."
His heart skipped a beat. "It's too early to leave."
"No, it not that. There's a...detective who wants to talk to you for some reason."
Jim stared at him for a moment before reluctantly turning his feet to follow him. Looking out through the windows, his eyes glazed over at this sight considered "freedom". He clenched his fists. Nothing would sever this bond.
Sherlock walked with his head down; the light in his step he had earlier was now gone. Did he believe he could do this himself? True, he was still a child, but he had never before realized how helpless he really was until now.
When he heard the familiar music streaming through the open door, he leaned behind the frame and popped his head into the room. "You know, I never caught your—?"
He lingered on the last syllable at the sight of the empty room. Well, technically it wasn't. Sherlock leaned back out and glanced to both ends of the hallway before deciding it was alright to invite himself in.
"Sorry for he intrusion," he said, pulling out the clipboard at the foot of the bed. "Mr. John H. Watson. Oh look, we're the same age." He put it back, and stood closer to the bedside. "Well, I trust you'll tell me what the H stands for when you wake up." Sherlock put his hands in his pockets and looked around he room, rocking back and forth on his heels as he did so. He stopped when his eyes fell on the matching jacket and sports bag on the chair near the entrance.
Sherlock closed the distance between them and looked down at the belongings. The bag hadn't been touched since he was last here, but the letters on the jacket's back had become somewhat obscured. He reached down and felt where the pockets were, but they were empty. On the other hand, the sports bag was nearly filled to bursting. Wow.. What kind of swimming does he do anyway?
But something pricked at his attention. Sherlock turned toward the bedside table and eyed the Discman that had been repeating the same song since he arrived—actually, since the first time he came to this room. Persistence, he thought, raising his eyebrows.
"I know this song," said Sherlock as he tapped at his chin. "I almost had it earlier...hmm...ah! 'Sleepers, Awake'!" He turned to the patient. "Hear that, John? I figured out your favorite."
John's only response was his rhythmic breathing falling in sync with the beeping monitors. The steady rise and fall of his chest showed he still had the strength to inhale independently despite the layers of bandages wrapping his head. Sherlock followed the wires stemming out from under his shirt and down his arms when he noticed the most peculiar thing. He bore down at the sight with observant eyes before slowly looking back to John's tranquil face.
"So you do have something to tell, after all."
"Now, your classmates call you Jim, is that right?" Lestrade sat with his hands clasped on the desk of the nurse's office. Across from him, a boy, who was smaller than the others behind Ms. Friedman, stared out the window at his side. He hadn't made a single sound though the depth in his eyes told the sergeant he had quite a lot to tell.
"Do you know why I called for you?" he said, leaning forward.
"I don't have to answer," Jim said quietly.
Lestrade raised his eyebrows; he didn't realize kids brushed up on their legal studies so early. Or maybe he was just an exception. "I know you don't. That's your right. But you are old enough to be in court and silence could also be used against you." Jim narrowed his eyes at that.
"Did you know Carl well?"
Jim sighed and looked at him directly. "Too well."
"Can you elaborate?"
"We were in the same school, got on the same swim team, and even had to room together."
"Right..." Lestrade would have called out his sarcasm, but the bitterness in his answer held him back. "Now did you notice anything off about him this morning? The accounts of your teacher and classmates said you weren't present during the time of his event."
"I was having some issues."
"Care to explain?"
He waited as the boy reached into the pocket of his trousers to present an inhaler. "Asthma," he said simply.
"Hm," he nodded. "So you didn't see him?"
"I was using the toilet."
"Alright, alright," said Lestrade. He was getting annoyed with the situation; these questions were leading him nowhere. "What about last night?"
The change in expression on the boy's face told him he hit the nail on the head. "Yeah, I know. I know about the one comatose patient here, and I know you were both rushed here from the pool."
"I...found him like that."
"And how did you know he'd be there?" Jim opened and closed his mouth as if to say something but gulped instead. Lestrade noticed, pressing on. "Do you know what happened?"
"I told you," Jim emphasized. "I found him like that. I didn't see anyone."
"Did that kid do something to make you angry?"
Jim blinked back. "What are you saying?"
"Was the same person who did this to Carl, do the same to that boy?" Lestrade spoke quickly, but pronounced the key words clearly.
Jim gripped the edge of the desk. "What...?" he said weakly. His breathing had become audible as if he were exhausted. "Did what to Carl?"
"You tell me," Lestrade said sternly, never taking his eyes of him. "From how things look, it wouldn't be surprising if someone got a little bit too competitive for this swim meet, right? It's one of the biggest in the year, after all. Now who are you protecting? Is it someone on your team? One of your friends?" The questions had come in a rush like an unstoppable current he had no hope of holding back.
Jim looked down to his lap, his gaze lacking focus. He was losing his control. The same surge of adrenaline he felt when he killed Carl had returned to flow through his veins again. He looked up to the sergeant and identified the emotion in his eyes: Ruthlessness. Pure ruthlessness. And to a child no less. No...he wasn't a child anymore. In less than a day he had taken his innocence, tore it to shreds, and left the massacre at his feet. But the darkness was warm, and it wrapped Jim in a comfort he had never known. If this is how the world will see him now, then he would not disappoint.
"You want to know what happened to poor Carl?"
The melodic rise and falls of the question snapped Lestrade out of his focus. "What?"
"Why the country's champion swimmer sank to the bottom without so much as a struggle?" Lestrade slid his arms off the surface and and down to his lap. A sudden chill ran up his spine as he took a new look at the boy in front of him. It was like he had begun conversing with a completely different person.
Jim leaned his arm on the desk and looked at Lestrade from the side, reveling in the other's fear and uncertainty. That's exactly the reaction he wanted. Oh, and he loved it; he loved being the cause and the center of attention. This was entertainment. He wished this thrill would never end.
A cruel smile twisted the corner of his lips. "The one who—"
The door had swung open, causing a loud clang in the room. Sherlock looked from the sergeant to the boy across from him with surprise. But before he could ask his question, Lestrade shot up from his seat. "You!"
"Come quick!" said Sherlock, thinking fast. "Um, the Chief Inspector is here to see you."
"Hurry! He's just about fed up looking for you." Sherlock stepped aside to clear the path.
"Say what?" With a constrained expression, he looked down at Jim and pointed at him. "You stay here."
Once Lestrade was out of earshot, Sherlock went back inside. "Follow me."
"What is it?" Jim asked, stopping at the doorway of John's room. His eyes followed Sherlock who walked to stand beside the bed.
"Your friend didn't fall by accident, you know?" Jim felt his eye twitch, and his lips pried apart revealing his grit teeth. However, before he could say anything, Sherlock continued. He pointed down at John's hands, and looked to Jim. "There's blood under his fingernails."
Jim quietly let out a sigh, but a realization dawned on him that renewed the tension. Things were beginning to add up. This person before him wasn't as he seemed; he should have noticed it before. This boy had walked into the hospital room and immediately knew he and John were on different teams. To be so certain about an unlikely situation—did he ask around? Or did he just figure it out himself? He also seemed to be acquainted with the sergeant, so what kind of connections did he have? But that wasn't the tipping point. He suddenly remembered what the sergeant had said ever so quickly. What was his phrasing? Oh yes: "the one comatose patient here".
So, he, himself, wasn't the only liar in the room. Someone else was running their own show.
"So I figure you and I can go to the police and get them involved. I mean Lestrade keeps refusing me, but maybe we can go directly to Scotland Yard," he continued. "And why were you with Lestrade anyway?" Sherlock turned around, but he had failed to notice that Jim was already standing behind him.
He had the most piercing gaze, but the rest of his body looked calm and relaxed. Sherlock was startled to the point that he stumbled backwards and bumped against the bedside table, causing the Discman to skip and stop.
Jim and Sherlock stared at each other in surprise, realizing that neither of them had made that sound. Their heads whipped around to the person on the bed, whose eyes were slowly opening and closing.
Sherlock quickly moved aside and back to the doorway as Jim dragged the seat close to the bedside. "John..."
"What happened?" he said groggily.
"Don't worry about that now," coaxed Jim, tears pricking at his eyes. "How do you feel?"
"Um...fine. Tired, but fine." John craned his neck toward Jim, still blinking back sleepiness. "Where are we?"
"St. Bartholomew's... Not too far from the pool." Jim followed John's eyes, which fell on the Discman. "Oh, here," he said, turning it on to play that song. His hand lingered on the 'Play' button, and he closed his eyes in relief. "I'm so glad you're—"
"I've heard that song before. This one, right here." John looked to the ceiling and furrowed his brows. "Hm...but I can't seem to remember from where." Shaking his head, he looked back to the side. "Hey, um...you mentioned the pool. Does that mean we've gotten to London yet? I was... I was supposed to come down for a meet with my school, King Edward's. Do you know them?"
It was then that John's smile faltered. The boy next to him had turned to face him with an expression he couldn't define. His eyes were shiny and his bottom lip quivered as he gaped at him open-mouthed. "Sorry, are you alright? If, um, you're a volunteer here would you mind finding my coach? I have to phone my sister, and my dad's—"
"Gone," said the boy abruptly. "...abroad. I'll get him." He quickly got out of the chair and headed for the exit.
John's concerned gaze switched from the boy to the curious music player beside him. "Oh, and, uh, this?"
He came to a halt with his back to him. "It was left here."
"An admirer," the boy shrugged. "...maybe."
"Uh...hey..." But before John could stop him, he had already turned out the doorway.
Sherlock had watched the entire scene and stood frozen. Jim had gone past him so quickly that he hadn't even prepared anything to say. In fact, he had walked out without taking all his belongings. Sherlock grabbed the jacket and ran down the darkening hallway. "Wait!" He stopped, to his surprise, but didn't turn to face him. "Look...he was in a coma for nearly twenty-four hours, right? I read somewhere that sometimes...these things..."
Sherlock winced at the resolute tone. "Well...here," he said holding out the jacket. "You forgot this...um..." He read the tag on the collar. "James, is it?"
He reached back to grab it and swing over his shoulder while adjusting his heavy sports bag. "It's not James," he struggled to say. "It's Jim."
Sherlock remained and watched until that shrinking back turned the corner and out of sight.
I remember that day well, Sherlock.
Who wouldn't remember the day they died? I went off the deep end for someone who didn't even bother to remember. It was just one little push; that's all it took. Before then I was doing just fine, you know! Yes, I carried the toxin with me preparing for that day, but think of it as just a precaution. And then John waltzes in and shows me what my life could be only to snatch it away just as quickly. Maybe Carl Powers could have lived; maybe I could have just let it go on my own. Then maybe, I could have been like you. Back then, I believed that if I had never met John, I wouldn't have felt the loss that pushed me to the edge.
But you know, I realized something. It would have been boring to be just like you. What if we were on the same side? I shudder to think! Perhaps John's role was to dictate fate and set us both on opposite ends. Oh, he's the true villain here, always has been. I'm sure he and I were both disheartened when he returned from war...alive. But John is so funny. He likes that sort of thing. Out of the fire and into the frying pan for him. And now, here he is running around with you of all people. It's just all so laughable. I wonder, do you have the same disregard for his life as he does?
Ooh, and I have to tell you what I did at the pool. I just have to tell you: I told him my secret. I showed him my true face. I don't know what it was, Sherlock, but there was just the teensiest glimmer of hope that he would know. But he got it right away. To him, I was just "Jim from IT". A small part of me wanted to blow us up right there, but it just was not possible without reuniting with you. It simply wouldn't have been the same without all three of us.
If you think about it, Sherlock, you're the true final pip while John would be the one to see you fall. And although he may not show it, oh, he'll cry buckets and buckets. It's him that I worry about the most. That wife! I'd really like to think that I didn't just find John only to pay him back in the end, to have him know true loss. But the stage it set, my dear, and we all have our roles to play.
"But, sir. I believe there's a case here. If you can just give me—" Lestrade was silenced by the roaring voice of the Chief Inspector on the other end of the line. He had already infuriated him with his previous questions, bringing nothing but confusion between them. "Okay, alright," he said dismayed. "I...understand."
Lestrade closed the phone and shook his head at the pavement. He had rushed down to the entrance in hopes of catching his superior, but when he called him, it was like he had never even arrived in the first place. What the hell was that? But Lestrade looked up in disbelief when it hit him. Oh, no... It was that kid!
"Damn!" He spun around for the entrance, but something caught his eye from the periphery. Down at the far end of the street, a bus was loading a group of students in white jackets. But Lestrade fought the urge to chase after them for there had no longer been any point in doing so. Everything had already been called off, and so he stood staring hopelessly after his last shred of evidence until it was driven off into the sea of traffic.
It was as if all his energy had been drained out of him, which forced Lestrade to sit down on the curb, pressing his face into his hands. Just then, a ring emanated from his pocket.
"Hello?" he groaned into phone.
"Oh no..." The voice was beckoning with a hint of condescension; it could only belong to one person. "Mycroft Holmes... You know, I've had a pretty bad day, and I—"
"Any progress with the investigation?"
He tilted his head to the side. "And how did you know about that?"
"Word gets around."
"Yeah, you have eyes and ears everywhere, don't you?" he scoffed. "Well, to answer your question: no. And now my superiors don't even want me to continue." Lestrade pinched at the space between his eyes. "Might as well just hand in my resignation right now."
"Nonsense," Mycroft said firmly. "You're persistence is precisely why I recommended you in the first place. Although you do sacrifice efficiency."
"Alright, it was going so well. Don't make me want to hit you." He paused. "Wait, are you asking for a favor?"
"More like relieving you of your debt. I believe you're acquainted with my brother."
"You mean that brat, Sherlock?"
"Well, it certainly isn't the other one..." muttered Mycroft.
"Nothing. Don't concern yourself. What I was meaning to say was that when you become Detective Inspector, I want you to to take my brother under your wing."
Lestrade looked up and furrowed his brows. "I'm sorry, I understood nothing."
"Of course. I realize who I'm speaking to now." Mycroft cleared his throat. "I want you to allow my brother to assist in your future investigations."
"Do you realize what you're asking and how today has gone?" he snapped. "He's done nothing but interrupt every step of the way."
"Believe me, under that unscrupulous exterior he is surprisingly insightful. He is my brother after all." Mycroft's voice softened a bit. "Though after today, he may not want to be. See, I may have disappointed him, and this is my start to making amends."
Lestrade exhaled loudly from his nose in concession. He half-believed in what Mycroft's was saying, so he felt half-obligated to carry out his promise. "Alright, fine. But only if I make it that far."
"Oh, and do go easy on him. I've just been informed one of our family members has taken ill."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Are you gonna be alright?"
"I am barely concerned," he said with emphasis. "But it's Sherlock who won't take the news well."
"Well, okay. I'll send him home then."
"You have my gratitude."
Lestrade scoured the floors for Sherlock, but after a quarter of an hour, the boy was nowhere to be found. He even debated whether he should inspect the mortuary. But just when the sergeant thought he was down on his luck, he saw a group of kids in red crowding around one of the rooms. He stepped closer and saw that the patient was surrounded by nurses and doctors, who were busy checking his eye movements.
"It's a miracle." Lestrade turned to the side and saw a man dressed in the same red jacket. "I'm still speechless about all this."
"You're his coach? Did this just happen?" The man nodded. "Then—"
"But he doesn't remember anything." The coach eyed him warily. "I know who you are, Inspector. However, the entire trip has been wiped from his memory."
"Well, that's convenient," shrugged Lestrade. "And it's 'Sergeant', by the way." He walked down the hallway, but turned back after a few steps. "Oh, you wouldn't happen to have seen a curly-haired brat wearing a blue muffler, would you?"
Lestrade pushed open the metal door and rested it against the cinder block that had sat there previously. And as expected, he saw Sherlock overlooking the streets below that basked in the light of the setting sun. On any other occasion, he would have chastised him for sneaking to the roof; but after all that happened, he was sure the boy felt just as worn down as he did.
"Hey, kid. What's wrong?" he asked, reaching into his breast pocket.
"I guess the investigation in over." Sherlock sighed and kept his half-lidded eyes on the stalled cars.
Lestrade lit the end of the cigarette and puffed at his much needed smoke. "Did you see the victim?"
"I wasn't allowed in the mortuary."
Lestrade shook his head in amusement. Perhaps he knew this brat better than he thought. "No... I meant the other victim—the one that just woke up."
Sherlock bit his bottom lip in contempt. He saw everything he needed to in order to solve this case and he knew it, but he just couldn't bring himself to piece it together. He wanted to, but something inside told him he wasn't ready for the answer. Not yet, at least. He felt that if he did give himself the chance to figure it out, he would no longer want to be on this side of justice. And that worried him. Therefore, he had no choice but to do his best and forget. "These kind of things happen to too many people, Lestrade—people not important enough to remember."
Lestrade blinked back at Sherlock's unexpected dark tone. It was as if something had broken in the boy, and he had failed to see the cause. "Don't say that," he said, grabbing his shoulder. "Come on, keep up your spirits. A case is only closed if you give up."
"Oh, I may be on the side of the angels, but don't think for one second that I am one of them."
Jim held Sherlock's gaze, looking from one eye to the other as he tried to dissect this ominous aura he got from him. "No, you're not."
He closed his eyes and what came to the surface were memories of the days that shaped his life—this life. And when he opened them, he saw a mirror. It was so clear. "I see," he said softly. "You're not ordinary. No... You're me."
He could barely contain his excitement. "You're me! Thank you!" He had nearly reached up to touch him but couldn't bring himself to taint this perfect representation. Instead, he held out his hand.
"Sherlock Holmes..." He was the only one awful enough to steal the weapon he used and the only one scary enough to use it against him. Yes... This person here was the only one capable of living his life, to drown in the darkness. Jim was almost on the verge of tears. For the second time in his life, he didn't feel alone.
"Thank you," he nodded. "Bless you. As long as I'm alive, you can save your friends. You've got a way out." He held Sherlock's hand tighter to distract him from the envelope he slid into his coat. He then retrieved his hand to reach for the cool metal beneath his own.
"Well, good luck with that."
There's only one ending I desire, and if you have read this then you have brought me to it. Thank you, Sherlock. Thank you. I only ask one thing. Just one favor from you.
Don't tell John. This may be perhaps the only good thing that I have ever done and ever will do. After all, he doesn't belong in our world. And you know why.
But I suppose that's why we were so attached to him in the first place. It's awful, isn't it? This thing they call a heart.
So don't fear it. Pain. Heartbreak. Loss. Death. It's all good.
Remember my words, Sherlock. Someday you'll forget because you'll think they're unimportant. But one day that hard drive of yours is going to be in trouble, and you'll find me in the darkest pit of your mind. Then you'll ask why I, the world's consulting criminal, had never felt pain. Well, now you know. You always feel it, Sherlock. So lock me inside but don't throw away the key because you can't afford to forget this time.
Very sincerely yours,
"I was so alone, and I owe you so much." John let his hand drop reluctantly from the tombstone. "Okay."
He had begun to walk away, but a sinking feeling in his chest forced him to turn around. "No, please. There's just one more thing...one more thing—one more miracle, Sherlock, for me. Don't...be...dead. Would you do—just for me. Just stop it. Stop this."
For once, the soldier had lost composure. But just as if he were called back into the line of duty even without his troop, he carried on. About face. Forward march.
Sherlock watched John go in stride; and when his form had disappeared behind a tombstone, he, too, turned for the opposite direction. The letter in his hand felt heavy, and he kept his firm gaze set forward.
I wonder if those words could have been for you.
The flame of the lighter clawed at the corner of the envelope and grew to consume it entirely. But you are right. About John, that is. The floating bits of black paper disintegrated from between his fingers.
And for the first time, Sherlock did not desire to deduct through this mystery—Moriarty's final riddle. Perhaps its answer would be best kept submerged. But that was just fine with him; he had never learnt to like riddles anyway.
Off the Deep End.
Lennox Case: When it came to writing this story, I wanted to portray the parallels between Jim and Sherlock. I believed it was plausible that they could have lived the same life, but one thing happened along the way that caused Jim to turn from the side of the angels. And because John is so indispensable to Sherlock, I thought why not for Jim, too. Perhaps if things had turned out differently, he and John could have been the ones solving crimes instead. Anyway, thank you for giving this a chance, and thank you again for reading!