This is it; the very last chapter. And finally, the truth about what Moriarty forced Sherlock to do is revealed. Hope it doesn't come across as too OOC.
Epilogue III: Psychosomatic
Sherlock unearthed John's phone charger after a mere three minutes of scrabbling through the neatly packed boxes of his possessions. Quickly but thoroughly, he removed the cover and checked for bugs, GPS trackers and booby traps before finally plugging the mobile in and entering the pin number.
Harry's date of birth; so unoriginal. At least his laptop passwords have got a lot more difficult to guess these days; sometimes it takes me three or even four tries. He tapped quickly to the sent messages folder and scrolled down.
Moriarty didn't even delete them… he wanted John to read these texts, to know exactly the price I was prepared to pay for his life. He only depleted the battery to prevent John from phoning me and interrupting our 'date'.
Message sent to: Sherlock 10:38
Research all the John Watsons in London and text me the address of the one most similar to yours. M
There were a surprising number; Watson is not an uncommon surname. And I did have to research them all; I didn't dare do otherwise.
Professor John Watson, forty two. Married, one son aged fourteen. Lecturer in mammalian biology at Imperial College. Five foot eight, blue eyes, greying sandy hair, lots of laughter lines… and something indefinably John-ish, in the way he smiled in his Facebook photos. I could have chosen any Watson in London, but I picked him to be the victim.
Message sent to: Sherlock 20:45
Very good, Sherlock. The study, midnight. M.
The study could only mean one place… mirroring my request to meet at the pool, where we both began, with the place our current game started. Lauriston Gardens was also the very first crime scene I shared with John. 'A Study in Pink' indeed. 'The Case of the Serial Suicides,' or 'An Education in the Deductive Process,' would have been far more accurate titles for John's blog.
It was a terribly elegant setup, though; I must give him that. The other Watson positioned exactly as Jennifer Wilson was, draped with a cashmere-angora blend throw in exactly the same frankly alarming shade of pink she was wearing when she died. The blowtorch, already lit and placed conspicuously so I could not fail to grasp its purpose.
The shiny new 42" TV attached to a mould spotted wall, showing security footage of my John sleeping peacefully in Moriarty's cell. Utterly vulnerable to the identical blowtorch on the table by his bed.
Message sent to: Sherlock 00:02
John Watson will have his heart burned out in the next few minutes. Which one is up to you. M
There was really only one logical decision I could make.
The man had been poisoned before I arrived; the botulinum toxin was already affecting his breathing. He would have been dead before an ambulance got there regardless of what I did. My John had a chance of life; he was receiving treatment, as a valuable hostage… Had I refused, they both would have died.
I did what I could; compression of the carotid artery to render him unconscious, so he wouldn't feel anything… wouldn't have to smell his flesh burning as it melted.
He was put in that situation because I told Moriarty he reminded me of my John. His face, and that smell, will remain etched into my mind for the rest of my life.
My own skin seemed to split and char in sympathy as I… I, Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, applied the flame to his chest.
Does it really make a difference, if you kill a man who was dying anyway? Did it make John feel better, when he found out the taxi driver he killed had an aneurysm? I don't know if the other Watson was a 'nice man'. My research didn't turn up anything particularly indicative of criminal activity; but that doesn't mean he was a saint. Perhaps he just never got caught.
It was not the first time I have deliberately tortured another human being. I pressed all my weight onto the cabbie's bullet wound to make him give me Moriarty's name and I never felt even the slightest guilt about it. Why is this so different? Just because I was forced to do it, although it served no purpose except to satisfy Moriarty's twisted sense of humour? Because the other Watson was an innocent man? Because it could so easily have been my John, my friend, in his place?
Or was it because I've never killed anyone before?
Message sent to: Sherlock 00:23
Well done, my dear. We both knew you had it in you. Now run along home so I can clean up the mess. M
The mess was considerable, I must grant him that. His minions did an admirable job of moving the body to the pool site without detection and then making it look like the scene of the crime. They even successfully concealed the time of death; the police thought he died a good three hours later. Not good enough work to fool me, of course; but then, I was there.
I had barely walked through my own front door when the next text came in.
Message sent to: Sherlock 01:07
Confess to the next murder Lestrade phones you about. M
I had already committed the crime, leaving plentiful evidence of my guilt. It was not difficult to persuade Lestrade to arrest me, despite his shock. I wondered if this was Moriarty's idea of burning out my heart; by destroying my hard-won reputation and standing with the police, blackmailing me into committing a murder so brutally clumsy and inelegant. Having me sent to prison to force me into the blackest pits of boredom until my brain totally rotted into that of a gibbering madman.
But no. Doubtless, that is what he wanted me to think; to anticipate with dread… until Mycroft's unwanted intervention so altered the situation.
I need someone to tell me that I acted correctly. But the only individual I trust to be honest, right and not turn me in to the police is John himself; and I can't tell him. I just can't.
He has so much faith in me. No one has ever believed in me like he does before; not even Mummy. Lestrade tries; but he's too restrained by the letter of the law to approve of all my activities. John, as a doctor, understands that procedures can get people killed; and as a soldier, he also knows that sometimes circumstances demand rules are broken.
Would he understand, if I explained it to him? Would he hate me? Hit me? Leave me, as he threatened not ten minutes ago?
I don't dare risk losing him, not now, when I've just got him back. When I've had a taste of life alone again.
It is so illogical. I spent over three decades of my life without him, relatively content; but now the prospect of John Watson not being there any more is… distinctly unpleasant. It causes a sort of cold tightness in the region of my liver; I suspect I am developing some kind of psychosomatic disorder not unlike his limp. Perhaps they're contagious?
There is also the threat of Moriarty to deal with. It doesn't matter where John is; he will still be vulnerable to a criminal of that calibre. And if he is far away from me, I will not be able to protect him.
Yes. That is why he cannot be told. If he should react badly, the danger he is in will increase significantly. It would be irresponsible of me to endanger John like that.
Sherlock deleted the texts firmly, using a little trick he'd had one of his sources teach him to prevent even Mycroft's people from recovering the data. He reached for his laptop, to finally resume the process of his search… and hesitated.
Too quiet… should be movement, at least; John takes at least six minutes to undress because his army habits make him obsessively fold things; plus an unfamiliar bed, he'll need to get comfortable…
He left the computer starting up and moved silently to his bedroom door, prising it open to peer inside without a sound.
I am not checking up on him; I am simply concerned at the change in routine. He could have stopped breathing, for all I know; it would be typical of Moriarty to administer another slow-acting poison before John's release…
As his eyes adjusted to the change in light level, Sherlock observed the reason for the silence. John, usually the consummate military man, had forgone his nightly rituals and simply dropped his clothes where they fell before crawling into bed. He was lying on his right side, breathing heavy, deep and even as he slept the sleep of the thoroughly exhausted.
Why is it that the sight of John sleeping should be so compelling? I have a vast amount of highly interesting work to do, and yet I am standing here, observing the pattern of his breathing like an anxious parent. He is here, at home with me, and entirely safe. There is absolutely no cause for concern.
John stirred, turning over onto his back. Sherlock smiled as he began to snore softly. Well, I shall certainly know if he stops breathing now.
I must see to it that John eats more; he's lost so much weight that I can trace every contour of his skull beneath the flesh. He will need to gain at least a stone in order to return to his usual strength; I already have one human skull in my living room. I do not need another to look at.
Sherlock began to plot various strategies for this as he left the room, leaving his bedroom door open so he could still hear the reassuringly human sound of his friend's gentle snoring as he settled himself comfortably on the sofa.
Even as his fingers began to fly over the laptop's keyboard, pulling up the ownership records of the restaurant he'd just visited in order to investigate the 'little murder' Moriarty had arranged for him, the device chimed to alert him of a new email.
The lobster was delicious, darling.
We really must do this again soon…
Sherlock couldn't help himself. His lips curled, ever so slightly, as he read it.
Ready when you are, Moriarty. Unpleasant as most of this has been, now that you have removed John from the equation there is nothing that matters more than the Game.
And this is my turn to move, 'my dear'.
Done! Finished! Finito! Kaput! That's all folks!
I am not ruling out the possibility of a sequel, but it'll probably be a while, as there are some other projects I'm working on at the moment I want to post first.
For the very last time, I cannot tell you all how much I've appreciated every review, comment, PM and Favourite Story notification, not to mention the 184 (so far!) of you who've added this to their story alerts. It's hugely flattering to know that so many people enjoy my writing.
Fool Who Follows, 28/12/10.