Moriarty held the gun to John's head, grinning maniacally. He was enjoying this. The bastard.
"Tell me, or I shoot Doctor Watson in the head."
His voice was level. There was no indication that he was lying, or that he was telling the truth. But what would he have to gain from John's death? Sherlock wouldn't tell him either way, and if he killed John, he would lose his only leverage.
(Torture would likely be more effective than flat out murder, Sherlock reasoned.)
Sherlock looked to John. His eyes were wild with fear, but he was otherwise composed. He shook his head slightly.
"Don't do it," he begged. He'd told Sherlock before. If it was between him and others, others would always win. Hands down. It was one thing that Sherlock couldn't understand about him. He should value his own existence more.
Sherlock shrugged. "All right then." If that's what John wants... who am I to argue? Moriarty will be angry, because he'll have to get his hands dirty, either way, with killing John, or torture. But torture would give Mycroft more time to find us.
Moriarty grinned. "So be it," he sang.
Then he pulled the trigger.
Sherlock watched as John was shot in the head; a pool of blood formed around him where he fell.
And Sherlock felt empty.
Not... bluffing. Should have seen it.
Having slouched to the floor, Sherlock belatedly realized what had happened. What had gone wrong.
Because this was real life, not a movie, not a book, not a fanciful fiction constructed to make consumers happy at the end.
It was real. And real hurts. Real is never tied up neatly with a bow at the end. It's messy and unfinished and broken.
But Sherlock had been focused on a fantastical world where you say that, because you're supposed to say no to the villain. You're supposed to be brave, refuse to tell them, refuse to give in to the demands of evil. You're supposed to be self sacrificing. And it all works out.
But in real life, no one really means it. No one.
Because in stories, the hero doesn't accept that. They don't just let them die and save the world, but they don't save them at the risk of the world. After all, there's no point in saving them if they let the world go to hell.
But heroes manage to do both. Always.
So he saved the world, in a manner of speaking, but let he John die.
As the hero figure here, he should have realized, there's no point in saving the world if the sidekick is dead. But Sherlock never was the hero, was he?
They had their roles wrong. Moriarty did too. He'd mistaken them, much like the incident with the hairpin.
Because it's then that Sherlock realizes John was the hero. Not him.
If only they'd had the roles the right way round, maybe everything could have been fine.
Because Sherlock wasn't a hero.
And never could be.