AN - Finally able to fix the computer glitch and finish this. Sorry for the long wait. For those not familiar the case of the melting laptop is an unwritten entry in John Watson's blog.
Sherlock knew that it was entirely possible they might die here tonight. However, it was far more probable that Moriatry wouldn't want the game to end so abruptly. Sherlock liked to play the game but he liked the winning far, more. Granted targeting the bomb vest was a risk but it was a calculated one.
He could just imagine what John would say to that.
"Oh come on, it was a total gamble," John was likely to scoff. "You were betting on the fact that Moriarty wanted to live more than he needed us to die."
"As I said, it was a calculated risk," Sherlock would counter. "Gambling is just another branch of mathematics, John, determining the odds, working out the probability, as you might say, primary school stuff."
"Except you couldn't be sure Moriarty would jump the way you wanted," John would argue. "Serial killers aren't exactly known for their stable personalities. He might just as easily have called your bluff."
"That wouldn't have been possible," Sherlock dismissed the idea. "Since we all know I wasn't bluffing."
"I'm glad it didn't come to that," John's eyes got that little crinkle around them that he got when he was deadly serious about something. "The world might have been a much better place without Moriarty in it, but giving your life in return hardly seems like a fair exchange."
Sherlock paused. Some might make the mistake of assuming that John was speaking of the injustice of sacrificing his own life. But he understood that his flatmate was the type of man to die a thousand deaths rather than let an individual like Moriarty have free reign. So, the only logical conclusion was that John was actually thinking of Sherlock's own demise being the unequal exchange.
"Some would say it was poetic justice." He offered.
"You think all this is your fault," John realised, rather more astutely than Sherlock was truly comfortable about. "Because Moriarty's been doing all of these things, the taxi driver, the lost painting, all of it to draw you out. Sherlock, you do understand that you're not responsible for what he does?"
"Perhaps not entirely," Sherlock allowed. Except that, he and Moriarty were two sides of the same coin. He knew that there had been times when the thrill of solving the puzzle had meant more to him than the fate of the victims. The fact that such a realisation didn't sit well with him didn't change the fact of its existence. "But I am at least partly responsible for making him what he is. The game isn't really worth playing unless you have a worthy adversary. The more I built my reputation, the more incentive I gave him to build his empire in order to devise the prefect crime."
"And if he beat you, if he did defeat the great Sherlock Holmes, do you really think he would just stop?" John shook his head. "You're both geniuses, I'll give you that, with a streak of arrogance a mile wide and a mildly ridiculous obsession with designer labels. But that's it Sherlock. What you do saves lives. You don't take them. When you get bored you experiment on a bowl of eyeballs or .. shoot a few holes in the wall. You don't go out and kill people."
"Not directly, no." Sherlock said darkly.
"Still not your fault." John didn't pretend to misunderstand him.
"Oh please. Moriarty would never have targeted you if it wasn't for your association with me," Sherlock pointed out. "Sharing the flat, assisting me with my cases, all of which brought you to his attention. And let's not forget that it was you who killed the cab driver before I could take either of those pills thus rather spoiling his fun. Without all of that he would never have even known John Watson existed."
"Yeah, well don't expect me to feel sorry about that."
Sherlock's head came up sharply, pinning the other man with his hawk like gaze. He knew John liked the thrill of the Game. That he enjoyed the danger of the chase. But he also realised that John liked it because he felt like he was helping people, catching criminals so they couldn't harm others, providing closure to loved ones, all of it making the world a slightly better place. John believed in honour and duty and dying for a cause. None of that made him a man who welcomed death.
Please God don't let me die
"Risking you're life to prove you're worthy, are we John?" Sherlock pointedly used the other man's own words from that first night against him.
"Moriarty targeted me because I'm you're friend," John explained patiently. "Because he knew you would care about what happened to me. You're not going to be able to make me feel badly about that."
"Even, if that 'caring' is the cause of your demise?" Sherlock demanded.
"It's hardly the first time I've put my life on the line." John pointed out.
"Indeed," Sherlock was at his most cutting and sarcastic. "And look how well that turned out for you."
As John averted his gaze, his expression taut with some all too well remembered pain, Sherlock realised some people might claim he had crossed a line. Although, the doctor had never shared the exact circumstances of his injury in Afghanistan with Sherlock, the psychosomatic limp, the shaking hand and the nightmares, all suggested the incident had been traumatic. John's own silence on the matter might suggest he was being modest about some heroic act of self sacrifice. However, Sherlock's observations had led him to an entirely different conclusion.
So, Afghanistan was it?"DI Dimmock observed. "What happened to you?"
Sherlock didn't need to look away from his examination of the crime scene to see the flicker of resignation that passed across John's face. It was the question that everyone asked sooner or later. It seemed that as soon as they realised John Watson was a former Army doctor who had seen active service in Afghanistan they were just itching to know. Sherlock could understand their curiosity but he failed to see why the enquiry should be deemed to be socially acceptable when so many less invasive topics were considered off limits.
"I got shot." John answered simply.
Even with the majority of his intellect focused on other things, Sherlock still managed a small smile at his flatmate's ingenuity. John's neutral tone was neither offended nor defensive. But his words provided information in such a manner as to deter any further requests for information. Faced with such a baldly honest response most people quickly backed off as if they regretted asking in the first place. Unfortunately, DI Dimmock was rather young and brash and a little too awestruck by the prospect of heroics to take the rather pointed hint.
"Give you a medal, did they?" He pressed.
"No." John replied curtly.
"No?" Dimmock's tone clearly indicated his disbelief. "I would have thought that was pretty standard out there. You're always hearing things on the news about blokes getting some kind of award or other for bravery under fire."
"That's usually for saving somebody else," John pointed out coldly. "Not for being the idiot who got shot in the first place."
"Oh, right," Dimmock cleared his throat as he rather obviously changed the subject. "Mr Holmes, any progress with that vase?"
Even as he rattled off his findings, Sherlock was watching John out of the corner of his eye. For once the other man was demonstrating none of his usual fascination with Sherlock's brilliant deductions. Instead, his eyes were hooded as if he was miles away, about 3500 miles Sherlock surmised, as he observed the thin lines of tension around John's eyes, the taut line of his jaw, his slightly shallower and more rapid breathing and the tightly clenched fist half hidden by his body. As Sherlock watched a thin line of blood trickled between white knuckles and dropped, once, twice, onto the dusty floor. Sherlock told himself that if he was even more scathing with Dimmock than usual it was only because he wanted to wrap this up as quickly as possible.
As he stepped up behind the former soldier Sherlock deliberately kept his tone neutral, carefully telegraphing his movements. Even so, John flinched slightly, before he took a short, sharp breath and visibly forced himself to relax. Nonetheless, it was several seconds before he became sufficiently aware of his surroundings to notice the large linen handkerchief that Sherlock was holding out to him. And a beat after that before his nostrils caught the scent of blood in the air and his face grew red with embarrassment as the stinging pain in his palm made itself known.
Awkwardly accepting the makeshift bandage, John hastily wrapped the square of cloth around his hand, before shoving it firmly into his pocket. His swift look of gratitude indicated that he had noted the way in which Sherlock had used his own body to shield his actions from the prying eyes of those policemen and women still milling around. A quick twist of Sherlock's heel mixed the droplets of blood into the dust. Not that this part of the room was considered an actual part of the crime scene. But no point in attracting unwanted attention.
You're wrong, you know." Sherlock told him, as soon as they were alone.
"Don't," John told him wearily, as he rinsed the dried blood off his hand to reveal the four crescent shaped cuts made by his own fingernails. They were deep but nothing that some antiseptic and a light dressing couldn't handle. "Just don't."
So, Sherlock has spared him his observations that the circumstances of his injury were irrelevant. John clearly strongly believed that being unfortunate enough to catch a stray bullet wasn't remotely laudable. Sherlock didn't see the distinction. Just because he hadn't been in the process of saving another life at that precise moment surely didn't make the slightest bit of difference to the contribution he had been making? But he was quickly learning that John Watson was a very stubborn man, who was often resistant to simple logic.
Certainly, there was no logical reason for the soft smile that graced John's features at his harsh, some might say cold, words as he made reference to the physical and metal difficulties which had followed John Watson home from Afganistan.
"Some things are worth dying for."
Sherlock felt an unaccustomed tightness in his chest as the warmth of John's fond regard spread through him. Despite what Donovan might think he was not entirely devoid of personal acquaintances but he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people whom he would count as true friends. The fact that a man as genuine as John Watson would and had risked his own life for Sherlock's sake had been frankly astonishing.
"John," Sherlock hesitated "What I said before about hero's not existing, that wasn't right."
"Well, yes," John tipped his head one on side considering. "I suppose what you did tonight could be considered quite heroic."
"What?" Sherlock blinked.
"And you didn't mean you," John realised slowly. "Which is funny because from where I was standing, when you had the chance to run and save yourself, you didn't even think about leaving me behind did you?"
"You might be an idiot but your life is no less valuable than mine." Sherlock pointed out.
Sherlock watched as John averted his gaze, his lips pressed tightly together as he struggled with the feelings that welled up within him at such an overt expression of loyalty. The consulting detective had understood from their first meeting that a war hero looking for a flat share had few people he could rely upon. Joining the army had been his way of addressing that need. And everything about John Watson said he had never imagined that he could find the same level of friendship and commitment in civilian life.
Like most people John Watson had his limits. Unlike most people, John Watson's limits were boundaries that Sherlock Holmes could live with. He might swear and complain about the head in the fridge but he didn't ask Sherlock to remove it. He sometimes rolled his eyes when a mug of tea was ripped out of his hand and he was forcibly shoved into his jacket and pushed out the door in pursuit of a case, but he never refused to come. In return, Sherlock did his best to observe those limits that John could not accommodate.
"So,do I need to search the flat?" John had asked, that very first morning at breakfast.
"If Lestrade's eager little team of drugs busters didn't find anything, what makes you think you will?"Sherlock had wondered without bothering to look up from his paper.
"Because my sister is an alcoholic," John reminded him. "I seriously doubt there is any hiding place in a flat this size even you can think of that she hasn't already tried."
"Indeed," Sherlock put aside his paper and met John's eyes, the gesture itself something of an apology. "In the past I have occasionally used drugs when the boredom became too much to cope with, but I've been clean for quite some time. I won't insult your intelligence by promising that I will never use again. But it may reassure you to know that I find company something of a distraction from my own thoughts."
"Good," John had smiled. "That's good to know."
Another area where Sherlock had swiftly learnt he needed to consider John's sensibilities was ensuring that the other man took sufficient nourishment. Sherlock himself could go for several days without food, so at first he hadn't considered it relevant when John had left meals half eaten or almost untouched n order to keep up with him on case, until halfway through the case of the melting laptop when John had quite unexpectedly turned sheet white.
Even with 99% of his attention focused on the intriguing impossibility of the spontaneously combusting computer Sherlock had still managed to cross the room in three long strides and catch his suddenly boneless flat mate before John actually hit the ground.
"Damn," John had blinked in embarrassment as coherence had gradually returned and he had realized his head was cushioned on Sherlock's coat and Lestrade, Donovan and Anderson all peering curiously over him. "Sorry, sorry, bit light headed."
"When did you last eat?" Sherlock had intoned sternly, feeling oddly protective.
"You're seriously asking me that?" John had giggled slightly, causing his flatmate's expression to darken further, as he reached for wrist and pushed back the sleeve of his jumper, laying two cool finger's firmly across his pulse point. Feeling the blood thrum slow and weak against that light pressure John realised he was perhaps more than just a little light headed.
"Answer the question, John," Sherlock had given no ground, totally ignoring Anderson and Donovan's twin looks of incredulity at his obvious concern. "When did you last eat something?"
"Um," Watson hesitated, which he knew was damning enough in itself. "What day is it again?"
After that, Sherlock had taken care to see that John ate at regular intervals. Even in the midst of Moriarty's games the only reason they had stopped off at that greasy spoon was that Sherlock had noticed John was looking a bit grey around the gills. Watching the other man almost inhale the all day breakfast he knew he had made the right decision.
"Whilst we both know you don't need me to feed your already massive ego," As ever John was refreshingly direct. "You'll forgive me if I beg to differ. The world only has one Sherlock Holmes. And I happen to think he is well worth saving. We both know that if all you cared about was the challenge of the Game, you would have taken that Russian case."
"I told you before, it was Belarus," Sherlock corrected mildly. "And that man was unequivocally guilty."
"Surely that would have to be the ultimate challenge?" John pressed. "Getting someone off scot free when all the evidence indicates that they actually committed the crime?"
"What happened after you left the flat?"
Sherlock knew that his abrupt change of subject, was as good as acknowledging that John had a valid point. Maybe he was better than Moriarty after all. It was something of a concession, but one that he was prepared to make, because if he was better than Moriarty it was because of people like John, Lestrade and even Mycroft who all seemed so determined to make him recognise his potential. So, he was slightly surprised that instead of savouring his minor victory, John's expression instantly sobered.
"Remind me to give Mycroft my condolences," He spoke grimly. "It's never an easy to lose people under your command. And those men most probably had families."
It made sense. Sherlock was well aware that Mycroft had them both under constant and fairly high level surveillance, probably as high as level three. Therefore, in order to actually kidnap John, Moriarty's people would have to have gone through Mycroft's. For the first time it occurred to him to wonder just how long his friend had been in the arch criminal's clutches. Moriarty might usually prefer not to get his own hands dirty but there was no way he would have been able to avoid the temptation of toying with John Watson.
"What did he do to you?" Sherlock was suddenly seized with an urgent need to know. "What did he say to you? Did he hurt you?"
"Sherlock," John repeated. "I said I was fine. I am absolutely fine."
"You'll forgive me if I have found your definition of that word to be more than a little dubious," Sherlock countered. In just the few weeks they had known each other John's versions of fine had included, killing a man, being threatened at gunpoint, being dangerously ill and strapped into a bomb. And there was no way Moriarty would have wasted such a golden opportunity to accrue some kind of advantage. "He did something, said something, tell me!"
"He'd done some research on me," John admitted. "He knew some stuff. About me and my background, he taunted me, tried to use my weaknesses, my failures against me."
"Tried to?" Sherlock prompted.
"He murdered people in cold blood, for fun Sherlock, because he was bored. Do you honestly think I give a damn what he thinks about either of us?" John's eyes flashed dangerously.
"Obviously not," Sherlock allowed himself a lightening fast smile at this man's really quite remarkable resilience. "I suppose then I should feel flattered that you care quite so much about me as to point out all my failings."
"I'll bet you never did get the milk," John joked. "Or the beans."
"I'll go tomorrow." Sherlock surprised himself by actually meaning it.
"Maybe, I should come with you, keep you out of trouble."
"Don't be ridicolous, John. There's no point in us both being subjected to the horrers of the supermarket and despite what you might think I am capable of transacting a simple purchase."
"Uh huh," John wasn't agreeing. "Isn't there some Chinese proverb that says if you save someone's life you become responsible for them?"
"It's a fairly widespread belief," Sherlock acknowledged.
"Could be tricky." John grinned.
"Don't blame me," Sherlock pointed out. "You started it."
"No actually," John said quietly. He knew Sherlock was referring to when he killed the cabbie. But he had something altogether different in mind. "I think you did."
John didn't elaborate. But then he really didn't need to. With no family except his estranged sister, no Army career, no decent job prospects, not even anywhere to live, they both knew how little John Watson had had to live for on his return from Afghanistan. Sherlock opened his mouth to protest that a man with his qualities would have rallied eventually. But the words would have been a lie. A man with his qualities needed a reason to live. John Watson liked to be appreciated. He needed to be of service. He thrived on the thrill of danger and adrenalin, but it took another (a girlfriend was always a nice option, but he had survived well enough on the camaraderie of the battlefield) to draw out his best qualities.
"Perhaps," Sherlock considered his next words carefully. "We should declare it a draw."
Sherlock liked company when he went out. He needed an assistant to help him focus his thoughts and process his findings. He thrived on the theatre of deduction but it took an audience, (appreciative was best but he would take disdainful or contemptuous if that was all there was on offer), to draw out his best work. If he hadn't found John Watson he thought he might well have gone mad. There was more than one reason his brother worried about him after all. The words hung for a moment in the silence between them. Sherlock knew John wouldn't miss the inference behind his words. But he was equally aware that there would be no attempt at false comfort. No empty reassurances. They both knew what the other was.
And what they had the potential to be together.
"And that is why you are better than him." John spoke with conviction.
As much as it pained Sherlock to admit it, it would most likely be Mycroft who saved them. He could envisage the little red dots suddenly disappearing as the snipers were taken out one by one. Moriarty would escape, of course. But at least he and John would emerge physically unharmed and he would be able to tell his friend the most important truth.
John Watson was not his greatest weakness he was his greatest strength.