The Dancing Man
By GE Waldo
Pairing: John/Mary and Sherlock/OMC (sort of), and eventually Johnlock but probably nothing especially sexually graphic. Take warning though just in case!
Summary: Mycroft and John square off on a quest to keep Sherlock safe from what Mycroft see's as his brother's reckless judgement under what he decides if John Watson's ineffectual assistance that is endangering his brother's life. Plus two murder cases that not only challenge Sherlock's incredible abilities but pushes him to his mental limits. A continuation of The Glass Heart. (Slightly AU (In this universe Irene Adler and Moriarty are dead for sure and the story is set during a time of limbo after Sherlock is back from the dead but before Watson and Mary's wedding. Duration: several months at least)).
Disclaimer: Not mine but a fantasy never hurt anyone.
"...everything that kills me makes me feel alive; everything that drowns me makes me want to fly..." OneRepublic
"There are feet in the refrigerator." John said as he reached passed the offending appendages to reach the milk, wedging his hand into a shape as small as possible so as not to touch Sherlock's latest experimental 'visitors'.
Idly flipping through the morning paper Sherlock remarked "John Watson, meet John Doe."
"What are you trying to learn this time - how to turn my stomach before breakfast?" Despite himself John squinted at the dead man's even, trimmed toe-nails. There was no sign of yellowing. "This fellow was quite young," he said, "Car accident?"
"Irrelevant but one thing is for certain – he used to be taller."
With a twist to his lip, Watson added milk to his coffee and nodded to the paper. Cadavers were never his favorite part of medical school. Now he was surrounded by their smaller reminders weekly. Incredible the little vulgarities a soul can get used to providing the larger servings of life – John glanced at Sherlock in his snug-fitting black Italian suit and flawless complexion - were of the highest refinement. Nodding to the newspaper in Sherlock's hands - "Anything interesting?" he asked.
By way of answer Sherlock thrust aside the offending morning news as though the local editors were deliberately keeping the good stuff to themselves. "Drivel. Missing daughter, robberies, drunken brawls and one pathetic domestic murder – where oh where are all the intelligent criminals?"
Watson sipped from his mug. "I think you got rid of them all my friend. Perhaps you're too successful for your own good?"
Sherlock looked affronted by the insinuation that he might be responsible for his own boredom and rose from his seat like a man in a jack-in-the-box, as though he could not bear one more moment of stillness. Sherlock reminded John of a snake, his boundless energy wound into a tight coil ready to strike without warning. "What I wouldn't give for a Moriarty." Sherlock swooped into the kitchen and poured his third cup of coffee and asking wistfully "Do you suppose he had a brother?"
"I bloody hope not."
John frowned at the questions, and at the cup in Sherlock's hand. The last thing Sherlock Holmes needed was more caffeine playing on the detective's nerves and so, of course, his own. "Sherlock, why don't you ring up Lestrade? He might have something worth your while."
Sherlock stirred his coffee but had not failed to note John's use of the pronouns. "So you will not be attending today?" He asked keeping his tone carefully neutral. The sudden pang in his chest, however, he could not account for.
John suddenly realised how he had said it. "Well, of course I'll be going with you...if anything should turn up." One case had the previous week; the murder of two young men. Lestrade had insisted it was routine. "It's probably nothing..." The Inspector had said but in five seconds Sherlock had gathered up his coat and scarf and disappeared down the stairs so fast John swore there was left behind a little puff of smoke left in his wake.
When Sherlock returned he had photographs that he had taken with his own phone, some preliminary information from the coroner as to the times of death and probable cause, a single sheet of yellowed paper and, in his own words "a more accurate probable cause of death." They had been given overdoses.
Watson had been unable to supplement Sherlock's deductions and within minutes the man had huffed his disappointment through his perfect nose, and then sunk into silence; morphing into classic Sherlock Holmes in a deep funk and he had been that ay ever since.
John joined him at the kitchen table. "Sherlock what's wrong?"
Sherlock spoke without lifting his eyes from the page. "You say you are attending but are you not busy today with some or other pre-wedding activity? You were on your phone with Mary for twenty minutes."
"It's because she's visiting her friend in Cardiff and I wanted to tell her that I loved her."
"It takes twenty minutes to say I love you?" Sherlock asked his eyes on his coffee cup. Tiny vertical lines pinched his brows together. Something unpleasant twisted in his stomach. "You rang her yesterday as well."
John wondered if Sherlock was cataloguing his calls. "Sherlock, she is my fiancée and I enjoy talking to her and saying I love you. I also enjoy, in case you were wondering, helping you with your investigations. Now, are you going to ring up Lestrade or shall I?" Sherlock was approaching his insufferable stage of boredom where everything in creation annoyed him, especially other people's enjoyment of the simple things in which Sherlock himself declined to partake of because they were "boring".
Sherlock tapped one finger on the side of his cooling coffee mug. No matter it supposedly made him a lousy friend he hated to hear about John's happiness with Mary. The worst part was he did like her. She was clever and good to John and his own insight into human behavior – what he understood of it – told him that it was all perfectly acceptable. Only she was also taking John away to live with her and Sherlock found it more and more difficult to ignore how that made him feel.
There were so many aspects of his life that would be altered. John's chair for example, what was he supposed to do with it after John left? Who was going to sit in it and help him work through a case by making all the incorrect deductions but in doing so opened up to him the way to the light of investigative truth?
And, a sudden horror shot through him, would Misses Hudson rent out the upstairs bedroom to someone else? If so, to what mental dullard and for god's sake why would she anyway? She wouldn't really do that would she? How could he tolerate another set of unfamiliar foot-steps on the stairs each night and every morning? The absence of John's little feet padding around the flat for most of the week was already trying his nerves. John had already moved all of his things out and once Mary returned from Cardiff they would be settling down in her house on the other side of London for good.
What would he do then? With all the endless preparations going on for John's soon-to-be wedded life everyone had seemed to have forgotten about him. With John living elsewhere who would bring him home milk and food? And who would he eat it with? Who would cook him breakfast even if he almost never ate it? And what about going out to Angelo's between cases? And the take-away fish and chips John used to pick up for them? And who would make them their morning coffee and their afternoon tea?
Sherlock glanced over to the skull sitting on the mantel. He really didn't want to go back to having one-sided conversations with it. Plus John kept the flat nice and tidy. He seemed to know where to put things so Sherlock could easily find them.
And John snored. In most circumstances that would have been a deal breaker the first week but Sherlock had found the rhythmic rumble coming from up the stairs strangely soothing which bodily noise had lulled him into slumber on many of those difficult nights when his brain refused to slow down.
Inexplicably in only moments Sherlock had found himself in a black depression. After many minutes of silence he spoke and John jumped a bit in his chair, mistakenly thinking that his friend had gone into his mind palace to distract himself from the lack of cases. But apparently he had simply been doing some everyday "normal" musing.
"So if a worthy inquiry presents itself and I need you, you will not stop short with a dire requirement for 'a fitting' or an obligation to meet yet another assortment of Mary's friends?" Sherlock asked.
"I like Mary's friends and, no, as I said we're all set to go." The wedding itself was set to go. Whether he was set to be married was another story and his stomach performed back-flips every time he thought of it. "Now what about we chase down Lestrade for a case?" Then when Sherlock did not respond John's eyebrows shot up with an idea. "I've got it - what about the photo's from that case last week?"
Sherlock now looked up at him. The frost-blue eyes roamed over his features and John felt like he was being, to all intents and purposes, licked. Plus he got the distinct impression that Sherlock in answer to his last question was attempting to determine whether or not he was fibbing and was indeed about to rush out the door to arrange for more guest chairs or pick up an over-priced and largely inedible cake.
Finally Sherlock nodded once, seemingly satisfied and instead of taking up the idea of the photographs asked "I wonder, John, once you're completely ensconced in married life, whether or not you wish to continue our association? You will have after all the surgery, your new wife and, seeing how these things usually progress, the sound of little running feet only marginally smaller than your own."
"Doesn't mean I don't want to keep on assisting you and for the tenth time my feet are not that small. They're a size eight."
"A women's seven-point-five in fact. And despite what you want you must know that want doesn't always translate into able."
"Sherlock, I will keep assisting you whenever and however I possibly can."
John sighed, his shoulders first slumping and then squaring up. He left his chair and squatted in front of Sherlock - right in front of him - so he could stare his friend in the eye and give him no quarter to turn away. "Now what's all this about, hm? I thought you liked Mary." He asked.
Sherlock had not expected the move and having John so close without any warning made him...he could not classify the sensation, as though he was standing beneath a soft, warm shower. A spring rain - that was John. Extremely odd sensation to have while fully dressed but one he was reluctant to explore further with John right there, inches from him and staring up at him from his lower perch with concern. Always with John it was concern. Concern, care, kindness...
Sherlock thrust the feelings away. 'Spring showers' indeed! From what dreadful book of poetry had that memory arisen? Sherlock made note to search and delete such drivel as the soonest opportunity. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
Sherlock frowned at the profanity. Surly John remembers that I abhor such talk as the outward mark of the disorganised and dull minded? Yet Sherlock was forced to admit that when John swore, he himself tended to pay a bit more attention to whatever came after.
"I know you, Sherlock, you're upset about something. Is it because I'm leaving soon? At the end of this week I'll be living with Mary permanently."
John was also nobody's fool, at least not with human emotions. With case evidence that was right under his nose however... "Please, this has nothing to do with you." Excellent. Perfectly indignant without being dismissive of his feelings. And then Sherlock felt suddenly guilty for having lied, even in so round-about-way. John deserved better. John always deserved better.
John had an awful lot of those things – feelings - wore them on his sleeve most of the time if truth be told. Sherlock had to be careful of upsetting them or John might leave even sooner than Friday. "I'm simply trying to ensure that I have you – that you will belo - be present to assist me on this case – whatever case that may...come in." Not so good that last – a bit choppy.
John looked back at him, his expression surprisingly inscrutable. "Sherlock..."
Sherlock almost gasped as John took his hands in his own and held them. Sherlock's eyes fell, instantly locking on to the hands engulfing his own. How strong they were; a soldier's grip yet tempered by a doctor's educated touch. Warm and gentle. Then those kind fingers rubbed at his a bit and the thing that had been twisting in his guts came to life as though John had just stoked his belly. Electric fingers of heat spread up his arms and across his back, down his sides, reaching every part of him in a flat second.
His lips parted and he could not help it but gasp. A small noise, an almost not there peep, had escaped but enough for John to have heard it. "Sherlock, are you all right? You seem upset with me and I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong."
John was in his full good friend mode. It was the accident, Sherlock realised. He had been hurt. John was a doctor. John was his friend. So far it added up. What did not were the shivers that John's touch sent snaking over his skin.
With some difficulty Sherlock extracted his fingers from his friend's and stood up, standing and moving away from John as fast as possible but not so fast as to arouse John's instincts to follow, to help, to assess him and see if it was physical, this problem that he did not understand. "I'm fine, John, excuse me for a moment." Sherlock waved a hand over his shoulder as he escaped to the bathroom, hoping John would take the hint that he simply needed to empty his bladder and not follow. "Why don't you give Lestrade a ring as you've just suggested."
John watched him go. An irrational urge said to follow and force his friend to spill but instead he ignored it and fished his phone from his right front pocket. It went to the Inspector's voice mail. "Lestrade...John Watson. 'Was wondering if you might have any cases." He whispered hazarding a swift glance in the direction of the hallway leading to the bathroom (lest Sherlock appear out of nowhere as he often did and overhear the whole conversation), and then lent some urgency to his voice for the next bit "I've got a wide awake Sherlock on my hands with nothing to do." His inflection said And we both know what that bloody means! "For God's sake call me as soon as you get this."
Lestrade watched a bit nervously as Sherlock did his bit at the scene of the dead man, the body of a pudgy, balding middle aged man bludgeoned to death and set up against a small ferry container as though a trophy left behind.
John watched also, looking for any sign of the uncharacteristically emotive behavior Sherlock had displayed at the flat earlier. There was only Sherlock in all his genius, swooping around the body like a great black bird of prey, sniffing this and probing that with his coat billowing majestically. It didn't matter how many cases came and went by the wayside, Sherlock was a sight to watch and Watson drank him in.
Although as intent on Sherlock's antics Lestrade was decidedly less patient for results from the public spectacle called Sherlock Holmes. "Anything..?" He asked.
Sherlock threw him an unmistakable look that said interruptions were neither useful nor welcome. "The blood is newly congealed." He looked around the dock where the dead man lay slumped near the end of it. Tillbury* Docks had dozens of containers stacked on the thousand meter-long dock; its one long side reaching to the fences and gates where locks and office workers sat in a two-story towers, and the dark water of the Thames on the other.
Anderson called out from his squatted seat by his little blue evidence kit. "We've already gathered that."
"I would certainly hope." Sherlock quipped. "Clotting barely an hour old in fact." Sherlock said, his eyes skimming over the nearby stacks of containers ready to be ferried out. "Your killer is a worker of the docks and is still present, Inspector." Sherlock said.
Watson instantly saw Lestrade place his fingers on the grip of his side-arm, his thumb unbuckling the clasp that held it tight in its leather holster. He bent over Sherlock and asked in a whisper. "Are you sure?"
Sherlock nodded, speaking in his near normal voice. "Why are you whispering? The other workers present came upon the dead-man moments after the attack occurred - correct?"
"Therefore your killer, who is not obviously among us and would be unlikely to make his escape along the dock as the offices at the end overlooking the operations there would easily spot a man covered in blood. Not would anyone have given him a ride without noting the blood-stains on his clothing and hands as there is no wash station near-by for him to have removed it. It is also unlikely that a man on a docks-workers wage could afford his own vehicle and even if he did he would not be allowed to drive it passed the parking area designated near the entrance so any escape by vehicle is problematic at best. Certainly he would not, after committing murder, call for a taxi and if he had done so, his clothing would still be blood soaked and the cab itself would again not have been allowed passed the parking zone - I assume your officers are already interviewing the other workers and confirming this?"
Lestrade nodded again. "Yes, on all counts."
Sherlock nodded in a way that said I thought as much. "Therefore the only escape, albeit temporarily, would be for the killer to hide himself among the containers nearby and hope to make an escape once..." Sherlock checked his watch, "the evening shift has arrived as it is due to in nine minutes. No doubt the killer is hoping to slip out un-noticed by the others, in the meantime he is probably taking these precious remaining few minutes to turn his stained shirt and cover-all's inside-out-" Sherlock glanced at the morbid crowd, dock representatives among them, all standing near-by. "Most of the workers over-alls show signs of considerable wear therefore our killer turning his own inside-out would help to minimise the appearance of blood and he would go nearly un-noticed unless you were directly looking for blood stains.
"I suggest Donovan make her way through the crowd to see if our man is anywhere within at present. If not then he is still wiping his hands as best he can on his socks or pants and planning on leaving them behind tucked away somewhere – that is of course if he has any sense at all - and that I believe this is an impromptu crime of rage - probably over a women or some funds owed by one to the other - I then find that highly unlikely." Sherlock stood up and took a much needed breath. "No, the killer has not gotten away, he is here...somewhere."
As he listened to Sherlock's reasoning John felt the same amazement at his friend as he had that first time years ago. Oddly it seemed so much time had passed since that first case and yet not so much at all. Sherlock still seemed as young and as brilliant as ever, and he was still as thrilled as ever to be working alongside him. How his life had changed that day, meeting the curiously compelling detective for the first time and for the first time in months, not feeling like he was a bug on its back about to gasp its very last to the world.
Meeting Sherlock had brought him back to life and life back into to him again. He often wondered what, if any, positive influences he might have wrought over Sherlock since that day.
Lestrade asked "So doesn't it make sense to whisper and not alert him to the fact that we've figured out he's here?"
Sherlock's brows knit together at the word we've and Lestrade rolled his eyes. "Oh blast – fine - I mean now that you've figured out he's here?"
"If he knows we know then he also knows an escape attempt is extremely unlikely to succeed unless he is very, very careful. This is a sloppy, disorganised thinker, Inspector. He may be so distraught over what he has done that he might even give himself up if you use your-" Sherlock waved his hand lazily trying to and finally unable to locate the correct term "Blow-hard thing."
"It's called a Blow-horn." Lestrade reminded him.
Sherlock's hand now said Whatever! John was enjoying the little hand-dance his friend often employed to convey messages that occasionally his mouth could find no words for. Sherlock talked with every part of his body yet no one could mistake his meaning. Whatever Sherlock was, he was never wishy-washy.
Then John's mind went back to their earlier almost conversation in the flat. Almost never.
Watson decided his usefulness, even as he had only been Sherlock's silent partner this time, other than giving him encouraging looks whenever Sherlock had happened to look his way, which he had done a few times since arriving on the scene, had come to an end and he strolled over to the end of the dock to take in a bit of the river air. The Thames was running fast today and Watson could feel tiny drops of moisture alighting on his face.
He closed his eyes to it, letting the cool moisture bring with it relaxation. Sherlock had solved another and now it was up to Lestrade and his team to sniff the killer out from his hole.
"John!" His thoughts were interrupted by Sherlock shouting his name and then the whine of an electric engine pushed to its limits.
Shouts of "Stop right there!" erupted. It was Lestrade running after a vehicle that in no way resembled a cab. This was a large orange painted fork-lift and it was bearing down on John at full tilt, its lethal-looking double tines headed straight for his tender middle. By the time his mind had automatically calculated that he had seconds left before the thing reached him those seconds were already gone.
He had another half second to register the round eyes of a man at the controls who by his frightened expression clearly had no idea how to drive the thing, the man who was about to run the out-of-control machine right into him and send them both over the dock's edge into the icy water twenty meters below.
Only those events racing around in his whirling head were not what actually happened. What did happen was that another body hit him at full throttle, knocking the breath from his body and launching him sideways onto the concrete dock where he landed heavily. John lay there unmoving until his brain managed to re-set itself and start working once more.
After a moment he struggled to sit up and looked around. He saw Lestrade and a large mixed group of officers and dock workers bearing down on his location, all shouting and pointing at the edge of the dock. They all came to a halt en-mass and looked over to the water below.
It took John only a few seconds more to register that Sherlock was not among the crowd in question. He managed to stand, one arm pressed against his sore side and scrambled to the edge, looking below. "What happened?" He asked Lestrade. "Where's Sherlock?"
Lestrade began to take off his coat. "He's in the bloody water, that's where." John saw that the Inspector was about to take the plunge into the freezing wrath below until Anderson grabbed at his superior's arm. "Inspector, that's a sixty foot drop. You'll break something for sure."
John saw the suspect flapping his arms in the frothy stuff and trying to swim away to somewhere but he soon gave it up when he realised he would never last long enough in water just only above freezing to make it to any shore. So he began to call for help.
There was no sign of Sherlock or the fork-lift and John's stomach sunk like a stone, knowing that if Sherlock's clothing had somehow gotten tangled up in the machine, then he was surly headed to the bottom. And what's more –
John stripped off his jumper and stepped to the edge. Lestrade tried to hold him back. "Didn't you hear Anderson? You'll never make that jump without injury. If Sherlock's caught on that thing, he's on his way to the bottom right now if he's not there already." Lestrade looked around with faint hope. "Does anyone have some line!?"
The crowd spoke to each other but nothing was produced.
"Someone get a bloody life ring!" Another called. One person set off running back to the office areas of the dock. It would take minutes, John thought, minutes and minutes, to bring back anything that might help. Why in hell didn't they keep those things nearby?
Plus they didn't know...John wrenched his arm free. "That doesn't matter..."
Lestrade rubbed frantically at his many hours-old salt and pepper stubble, his voice shaking with false belief. "A couple of minutes and Sherlock'll have worked himself free anyway." Lestrade looked over the edge with sick eyes, the hope on his face fading even as he said the words. "Oh bloody hell!" It was a useless snarl of frustration when no Sherlock appeared.
"It'll be too late by then." John shouted back, tossing his jumper aside. "Sherlock can't swim!"**
He dove over the side.
The first thing John felt was a hard hit on bent legs. He entered the water with pointed feet in order to minimise injury to himself, hitting the surface below with a great splash and turning his ankle. Then the shock of the cold that immediately set up alarm bells in his body that screamed at him to surface and get out of the danger zone as fast as possible.
But he ignored them all. Amazing how swiftly his body returned to his training, his mind sharp and quick as he took a few seconds to hyperventilate and then a single massive breath - holding it - and then diving under the water. Once in the water his years of training as a soldier – including water survival techniques - returned in a rush.
As he kicked toward the bottom he calculated the best course. As he descended the darkness closed in but his mind showed him the way like a torch through the black. The forklift, with its size and mass, would go almost straight to the bottom. It was deep here and the Thames was running harder than usual, some inclement weather in off the Channel no doubt adding to its normally easy rhythms, but the forces pushing against his body were reduced to manageable levels if he simply kicked straight down. He should eventually be able to grope and find either the forklift itself or, even better, Sherlock who was still alive. Yes, definitely still very much alive.
It had been minutes now but Sherlock would have – must have – somewhere in his life at least learned to hold his breath. True he could not swim, admitting the embarrassing fact once while they had scouted out clues near the Cliffs of Dover and a kidnapping of a small town official that had occurred near there. But surely a man like Sherlock, who prided himself on knowing so much, would have taken the time to learn some water skills? John kept that thought clear in his mind as he kicked deeper and deeper. The pressure was just getting to be too much when his stretched out fingers brushed against something soft.
It felt for a moment like river weed but then he felt further down and his fingertips encountered hair and Sherlock's cold skin. Not making the mistake of any delay, John hooked his arms beneath Sherlock's limp arms and tugged. But something held his friend fast. John felt around in the near black, his fingers travelling down Sherlock's torso until he found one leg, which was turned out to be floating freely, and then the other. He grabbed a fist full of trouser-leg and pulled.
But whatever had hold of Sherlock would not yield. John felt around more, growing a bit desperate now as his own lungs were burning in their need to exhale and then expand to take in much needed oxygen. His ability to command them, to tame them, was nearing its end. In another few seconds he would need to kick to the surface, hyperventilate and try again and he did not need his doctor's skills to recognise that would be too late for Sherlock.
His left hand jerking around in the numbing water finally located the possible trouble. The forklift had sunk into the silted bottom tines-first, hooking the seam of Sherlock's wool coat – a heavy garment that would have only added to the detective's descent - on its way down. John tugged and tore at it but the threads refused to give way. His thoughts screaming in frustration John felt around and pulled and pushed here and there on Sherlock's unresponsive body until he could slip him free from the water logged coat, first his right arm and then his left.
Finally, with his friend floating free, John gathered Sherlock under his arms and kicked toward the surface, praying his own screaming lungs held out until he reached it.
When he broke the surface, a line was already dangling in his face. Coughing and sputtering, he hooked the loop under Sherlock's arms, tightened it snuggly, and then watched as his friend was hauled to safety by many hands from sixty feet above.
Once John was himself again safe on the dock, he could hear the siren of an ambulance in the distance. But there was no time to lose. He crawled over to where they had laid Sherlock out on his back, pushing Lestrade who had begun CPR, out of the way. "Let me."
Pressing two fingers into the left side of Sherlock's throat, the relief at finding a slow pulse was almost made him weep with gratitude. But the pulse was of course far too slow and John leaned over Sherlock, took a couple of deep breathes to get his own O2's up, tilted Sherlock's head back, trying to ignore the cold, slack features and the blue tinged lips under his hands. He pinched Sherlock's nose shut, clamped his mouth around his friend's cold lips and breathed life-giving air into him, watching his motionless chest rise. It expanded but not nearly enough and that told him there was for certain water in Sherlock's lungs.
So John stayed that way, bent over, his own lungs crying for air, for rest, his back muscles cramping from the cold and from over-use, but still he worked, breathing, watching, breathing, watching...When someone offered to spell him off he shook his head violently, ignoring their protests and returned to the motions, which had become almost a physical life mantra of breathe, blow, breathe, blow...begging God or whoever might be on their side – if it was the Devil then bloody fine - Just bring him back to me. Please, oh please bring him back!
Moments stretched into a terrifying infinity as John continued to breathe for his friend, the one they called genius and freak, psycho and weirdo. The man who had saved London from terrorists and murderers and all those that were vile from within its dark depths, and who had asked nothing in return – And received almost nothing either and suddenly John found himself silently railing against that unspeakable injustice. How dare they treat this man as some sort of circus side show? How dare they gossip about him when his back was turned and scorn his difference! How dare they! Sherlock's different-ness was one of the many magnificent things about him and served only to underline their own ordinary-ness. And the brilliant light in his eyes plus his glee for life made their own eyes dimmer and their mediocre spirits opaque.
Watson did not care what whispers might be making the rounds as the useless crowd of onlookers gaped. This extraordinary, brilliant, honorable man whom he counted himself privileged to know was his friend.
Was his friend.
Suddenly Sherlock was sputtering and then coughed up, literally, a lung full of murky water. John waved to Lestrade who quickly jumped to help John roll the prone detective onto his side where then more water came up, and then more. "Christ," Lestrade whispered, "he swallowed a lot."
John nodded. "Breathed in a lot," John corrected him, himself gasping for precious, precious air. "He drowned!" But his tone said what did you expect you fool!? But Lestrade was of course, not a fool. He was a friend to Sherlock, one of the few so John let it lie. Instead he kept his hand on Sherlock's convulsing back as the near-drowned man brought up yet another mouth-full of killing fluid onto the concrete.
Sherlock, who could not swim, had almost drowned right in front of them all. Drowned, but did not die, John reminded himself. Drowned but was not dead.
The medics appeared at his side and Watson brought them up to speed on his friend's condition, watching - observing - to make certain they put Sherlock on oxygen feed and spread warm blankets over him and then finally his own body, its left ankle aching terribly and he wondered if it might be broken, which body he had pushed to its physical limits, said he had done enough.
And he fainted.
When he awoke John knew instantly that he was in the hospital. He took a few deep breathes, luxuriating in the feel of clean air pouring into an aching chest. He sat up without too much difficulty and gazed down at his feet. Covered as they were by a crisp hospital sheet, he didn't need to toss it aside to know that his ankle had been professionally wrapped. Flexing his toes he knew his ankle was sprained but not broken.
He looked for and found the call button, pressing it until a nurse appeared, this one a tall young woman dressed in pale blue scrubs. "Yes Doctor Watson?"
Watson could see he was in a private room, arranged no doubt by Lestrade. "Where's my friend. I was probably brought in with him or soon after. His name is-"
"Sherlock Holmes." The young blonde woman with an easy smile said. "Yes, I know. He's next door but one. Doing well I hear."
I'll be the judge of that, thanks. "How well?"
"I'm not his nurse, but I can get him if you like-"
The door opened and an older man entered carrying a pair of crutches. Around his neck hung a stethoscope and he was holding a white clip-board in his hand. John knew the latter two accoutrements meant Physician. "Doctor Watson?" The crutches were rested against the mattress and the fellow physician held out his hand. "I'm Doctor MacEwan. Mister Holmes is under my care, as are you. How are you? Foot all right? Bandages not too tight?"
John waved away the questions about himself. "It's fine and I will be. How is Sherlock?"
MacEwan nodded reassuringly, his thin comb-over of silver hair flipping this way and that. "He is recovering well thanks to you or so I hear. That was brave, what you did."
Watson let himself relax a bit though not responding to the praise. It was what Holmes would have done for him - if the daft idiot could swim! Watson silently vowed to rectify that little deficiency just as soon as he could drag Sherlock into a public pool again. "What about his lungs? O2's all right? – I'm sorry I know you're the Attending and don't mean to question you it's just that-"
"Believe me, doctor, no need to apologise. I was made aware of your concerns for your friend by the Inspector. I assure you Mister Holmes will be out of here within the next twenty-four hours. We just want to be certain his lungs are completely clear before we discharge him."
"That's good news. I'd like to visit him, if he's awake."
MacEwan's genuine smile was now sprinkled with a large dose of patience. "Oh, I am sure Mister Holmes would appreciate some distraction." He winked. "As we woulda bit of peace."
Watson flashed MacEwan a knowing grin in return. "Yes, right. Sorry about that. He's not one for long stays, well, anywhere actually. Gets restless."
MacEwan handed Watson the crutches and opened the door to the hallway for him. "Please don't tire him too much."
Holmes, sitting up when Watson entered, flopped back on the bed with obvious relief that it was Watson entering his room and once Watson made himself comfortable in a stiff bedside chair, he whispered "I thought it was that nurse coming back to sponge bathe me or something. He's far too attentive for my taste."
Watson could imagine the temptation for some young thing, seeing who it was that was under their care, to take be granted that privilege if at all possible. Sherlock cut a dashing figure on anyone's radar. There's probably a flock of nurses somewhere drawing straws to see who was lucky enough to change the bandages of London's famous son John mused. But then John recalled how snippy and rude Sherlock could be when confined against his will and wondered if it wasn't the other way around and the straw was for who had the bad luck to nurse him. "How are you feeling?"
"Dryer, Watson, decidedly dryer." Sherlock looked down at the sheets tucked up to his middle and scratched his nose, the pronged air-way seeming to give him an itch. "Thank you by the way. I think that's the second time you've saved my life. I'm not sure when I'll be able to repay the accrued debt."
Watson reached out and covered Sherlock's fidgeting hands with his own right palm, cupping his friend's long fingers until they were still. "Let's just hope there's no more close calls like that one for a while." John said but was hard pressed to recall the first time he had saved Sherlock's life. He was about to ask when Sherlock spoke again.
"Um, John..." Sherlock looked down at the hands intertwined and then looked away, slowly pulling his hands free. Slowly so as not to hurt my feelings, John thought. Sherlock really didn't like to be touched but over time his manners had improved at any rate. With a kind nod of his head John accepted the gentle reminder to keep his hands to himself and leaned back in his chair, getting comfortable.
"Now that you and Mary will be co-habiting on a permanent basis, how are we...that is to say...when will..." Sherlock cleared his throat. "I'm not sure I will be able to..."
John frowned in his efforts to both concentrate and encourage Sherlock to continue. Seeing Sherlock at a loss for words was a rare sight. "Go on, I'm listening. Be able to what?"
Sherlock swallowed and then looked over at his friend.
John was certain, absolutely certain, that Sherlock was about to cry right in front of him. So certain in fact that he almost reached out once more, almost taking Sherlock's hands in his again, like at the flat a few days ago, but then as suddenly as the expression had ghosted across Sherlock's elegant features, it quickly vanished once more and the fleeting second of 'the sad man and his comforter' was gone. When Sherlock next looked over the cool dry eyes were as calm and as contained as ever.
"I believe from now on that I shall need another assistant."
Whatever Watson thought Sherlock was about to say, it was not that. "What...what are you talking about?" He asked, rubbing at his lips as though to somehow rub away the unpleasantness words of protest perched on the tip of his stunned tongue. "I don't understand your meaning."
"My meaning could not be plainer. You will no longer be able to attend to me as before..." Sherlock answered but finding it difficult to address John directly, look at him eye to eye. What was it Mycroft said? Lies are harder when you care - in this juncture Sherlock would for certain consider sentiment a disadvantage. "...Because of being very busy in wedded bliss..." Sherlock found it impossible to keep the sarcasm entirely out of his voice whenever the subject of Watson's impending nuptials arose, "with a wife and marriage and in time little clones of yourselves running around and I..." Now he found it easy to look at John. "I shall still need an assistant."
John sat forward and damn that it hurt his ankle to do so. "Sherlock, I thought I made myself clear before? I will still be here to assist you whenever you need me."
Sherlock turned disbelieving eyes to him. "Will you run out in the middle of the night? Will you drive us to Brighton if necessary to chase down a criminal? Dive into another river while your wife waits at home frantic for your return or frightened that you may not? Because I do not see how you can be both my full-time assistant and Mary's full-time husband."
John looked away and then back, his guts in a bit of a twist. Steeling his voice "I'll manage," he said.
Sherlock addressed him straight on. "You will not be able to and you know it. This thing you feel you must be – noble and all that – is not necessary. I can never repay you for what you've done for me over these years and it is time for you to – what do people say? – let go."
Watson chewed at the inside of his bottom lip. "Look, I don't know exactly what's going on here but if you're feeling guilty or something for me having to haul you out of the river, forget about it. There's no way on this earth you're going to get rid of me that easily. You are my best friend and that's all there is to it. Mary will learn to cope. She's a strong lady."
Sherlock stared back daring John to look away first but damned if the man's military bearing reared its square-jawed stoic head and bore down on him hard. John may have been a man on the small side of life but he could intimidate the shit out of someone when he put his mind to it so it was Sherlock who finally looked away. He fiddled with the top-sheet again, folding and re-folding the edge of it. And then "Ahem – thank-you John, I'm sorry but decorum said I had to try. You know –give you an out, be a good friend and all that."
John leaned back, sighing. God Sherlock could stress the baked beans out of him sometimes. "Sherlock, I love you dearly but you make me nuts, all right?" He shook his head, feeling the tension that a moment ago had thickened to the consistency of custard now melt away. "You do, you make me positively nuts."
When John returned to his room, it was to find Mycroft Holmes seated on the room's single chair. He was impatiently tapping the blunt end of his umbrella against the floor. "Good afternoon John."
With a cheery smile "Go to hell Mycroft," Watson said and perched himself on the edge of the bed, easing the ache of his foot.
Mycroft smiled falsely, and John figured the man was probably used to much more inventive insults, most of them probably involving his mother in a variety of unsavory situations.
The last meeting between them had been far too long. Watson intended for this one to be short and not very sweet either. "Get out."
Mycroft didn't budge, just stared at his polished three-hundred-pound shoes. "Sherlock almost died today John."
John held up a finger. "Almost, yes, almost, but he didn't because I saved his life."
"I suppose it's useless for me to point out to you that it was only because he was forced to save yours...again."
"Did I forget to tell you to piss off?"
Mycroft stared at John, his head tilted a bit, regarding him and although John had stared down many an enemy, he still found Mycroft Holmes's unblinking gaze a bit disconcerting. "And I also suppose there is no point in my asking whether or not you have given thought to our previous conversation?"
"You supposed correctly. Good for you." John crawled beneath the covers. Somehow sitting around in an immodest hospital gown when you were meeting the man Sherlock insisted was the British government and his sworn arch enemy, made his own bearing seem a trifle less threatening.
Mycroft stood, straightening his jacket. "Your wedding day is fast approaching John and despite the drivel you just fed to poor Sherlock – who we both know, somewhat inexplicably, trusts you - we also both know you will not be able to hold up your end of the agreement as you claim. But perhaps both our problems can be solved if we work together."
"A cold day in hell Mycroft, a cold day in hell."
"Or I could simply remove Sherlock from your life altogether. You would never see him again." Mycroft spoke it as though it were already halfway to becoming fact and John thought again that Sherlock's older brother was more snake than man and if there any sociopaths to be had, Mycroft topped the shopping list.
"Nothing more complicated than staying away. Go and be a husband, get 'busy' with producing offspring in the name of marriage, country and all that. Attend upon Sherlock as little as is feasible."
"You mean betray him? Lie to him? Be sort of like you in other words."
"Be smart." Mycroft twirled his umbrella as though even this conversation was a bore. John didn't believe it for a second. About his brother, Mycroft Holmes was nothing if not obsessed. "Tell me," Mycroft asked, "how did you feel when Sherlock was laying on that dock, his face blue, his pulse almost gone, dying in your arms for having saved your life?"
"Are you losing your hearing? I think I said go to hell." But John's guts were saying something very different; they were telling him that Mycroft Holmes, the frozen-blooded bastard, was closer to the truth than he wanted to admit. Sherlock had almost died yesterday. Would any of the after events have happened if Sherlock had not needed to shove his assistant named John Watson out of harm's way? Would Sherlock have almost drowned then? Probably not.
Mycroft nodded, knowing his words had struck a chord, and John wanted to smack the smarmy off the man's freckled face. "The watch-word John is minimize. Sherlock has already given you a way through. All you have to do is change your mind. You're good at that. Just accept his terms and you and I shall not need to meet again."
"Accept his terms?"
"Let him try and find a new assistant. I'll make sure he finds the best one for his needs."
"The one you choose you mean."
"Naturally since his best interests are at my heart."
"You have to have one first." Watson sighed, closing his eyes. "Let's say I agree to this and I'm not saying I will - how am I supposed to do this?"
"It's simple: reduce, delay, cancel, excuse, apologise and then do it all over again. Leave it to me to keep my brother safe."
"When it was just you in the picture he was a drug addict. He was on his way out not down."
"We had a contingency plan in the works but then, well...you came along."
"Too delighted to be of service then. What contingency plan?"
"One I hope I will not need to implement."
"You're bloody barmy, you are."
Mycroft gave a little snort through his nose and John wondered if it was the man's standard of laughter. Mycroft set his umbrella to rest against the chair by the bed and perched on the side of the mattress on one well-ironed trouser cheek, looking at John intently, his face for once entirely open – and about as close to human as he supposed Mycroft ever got. "Time for some enlightenment I think you have somehow missed."
Now it was John's turn to snort.
"Sherlock is in love with you."
John blinked and it took a few seconds for his brain to re-boot and produce speech. "I-I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"We both know you're no genius but I imagine even you must have noticed at least some of the signs." Mycroft sighed. "Or perhaps you have not taken time to observe now that you're distracted by Miss Morsten."
"Sherlock is not in love with me." John said, too loudly. It was the shock. Had to be the shock. "I'm about to get married." John then questioned himself as he denied it all. Not I'm not gay. Not You're wrong Mycroft. Hm. "Sherlock doesn't...he doesn't do that." Do what specifically John didn't feel up to discussing at that moment as his mind was fully occupied rewinding the last two years to try and discover the things about Sherlock Mycroft was insisting he had evidently missed.
"Doctor Watson, I know my brother thinks he's a sociopath-"
"- a high functioning sociopath."
Mycroft smiled indulgently. "And he is of course but even a sociopath feels sometimes. You've simply brought it out of him I'm afraid."
Watson closed his eyes, and then opened them. Yup, the whole nightmare was still present and accounted for. "Let's say you're right and I'm not saying you are – what am I supposed to do about it?"
"Nothing more than we've discussed. I would not have mentioned this except you seemed determined to stay in Sherlock's life no matter what upset it might cause him and I'm sure you know that unrequited love can be rather painful. More so for Sherlock. You must be aware by now that Sherlock's brain doesn't function the same as yours."
"Does it anyone's? Does it yours?"
Still that same mystery smile and John hated him for it. "Mine is more capable of, shall we say, differentiating." He replied cryptically. "Are we agreed?"
Watson settled down in the bed, looking forward to some sleep and to erasing the elder Holmes brother's visit from his mind. He wished he had a delete key like the younger Holmes. "I'll think about it."
Mycroft gathered up his umbrella. "Doctor Watson, I work for one of the most powerful governments in the world and have been given virtually carte blanche to use its vast resources as I see fit in the face of a threat. In this instance I wish to prevent any threat upon Sherlock. You are a threat to him."
John knew he was no genius but he could recognise a warning when he heard one and as a soldier all it did was get his back way the fuck up. "I think you're the threat." Watson said and then announced. "Bollocks to you – right? I'm not going to abandon Sherlock. My God, how could I leave him to those bloody icicles you call arms and that pebble you call a heart? This is your 'brotherly love'? Don't make me laugh."
Mycroft's face actually turned a bit of colour and Watson was gratified to see it. So the Great Mycroft Holmes can be gotten to - interesting.
"If you repeat these next words to anyone, especially to Sherlock, John, not only will I deny them but I'll make certain that your medical practise is shut down and you will never work as a physician again anywhere in Great Britain and probably not anywhere else either. Sherlock has been, and is, and always will be my first concern."
"I think you're insane." John accused. "I think you're a psychopath. How in God's name did someone as amazing as Sherlock come out of the same parents as you? I wish to hell I'd never met you. "
Mycroft smiled with the confidence of a man with the world at the push of a button and Watson was reminded of the smile the devil must have got when he convinced the world he didn't exist. "Believe me, John, when I tell you that if it meant my brother's life, I would exterminate every living soul on this island. So you see - you really haven't met me yet." Mycroft tilted his head. "And it's high functioning, Doctor Watson. I'm a high functioning psychopath." Mycroft clarified helpfully and then, believing he'd made his point, stood and gathered up his umbrella, saying his last words as he left the room. "You'll know what to do Doctor Watson. You're getting married and moving away so you're half way to our solution already."
Watson watched Mycroft go and noted once again that when Mycroft walked he walked as though he was a man taking a stroll through the garden of life; a man with no specific purpose in mind.
He had suspected it before of course but Watson now knew without a crumb of doubt that impression was as false as false ever could be.
Part 2 asap
*I've no idea if Lestrade would be going so far from his usual turf to investigate a murder (I'm guessing probably not), but for the sake of this story, let's say he is.
**Not sure if Sherlock can or cannot swim but for the sake of this story...he can't!