It's stupid to run across London when we might need our energy. I hail a cab and we bundle in. There's this vague echo of our previous lives, the one where we crouched in the back of camouflaged vans and travelled across arid landscapes, guns in our hands, adrenaline in our veins. I look at Mike and he grins briefly. I smile back. I am still worried about Sherlock, angry with myself for letting him go so easily, angry with him for going. But I can't afford those emotions now; they make you slow, distracted. This is a chase, a hunt. We have to be the winners.
"Map." Says Mike, he was the most senior of us and we fall into order easily even after all these months. This is training; it's what helped us survive. For the briefest second, before focus, concentration shuts down all peripheral thoughts, I have the precious sense of belonging, the feeling of bonding and shared goal which I have missed without knowing. I hand him the map.
He spreads it out on the empty seat. Then he gets out his phone and connects to the internet. With both mediums he shows us the plan of attack. From the satellite picture from the web we can see our target is in a derelict office block.
"Right, Watson, you're going in here," the pointing finger stabs the paper. I'm taking our main route in, not the most obvious to a member of the public but to someone ops trained it's the route that makes sense. From here I'll be able to observe the lie of the land and how to proceed.
"We've no radios, how do you want to play this?" I ask. Mike looks up and then back to the map. He points.
"McMurray, you go in after Watson, stay back watch for his signals. I'll be here," he points on the phone to a building where the vantage point will allow him to see right into the office block. "Feed back to me anything Watson says. I'll keep you covered through these broken windows. First sign of hassle that we can't handle," he looks up at us both, face deadly serious. "We back the fuck out and let Mycroft's boys in. Right Watson?" He looks at me, captures my gaze for a heartbeat.
"Yes sir." I say. He grins and nods.
The taxi stops two blocks away from the office building. We get out. I go on ahead, a lone jogger just finishing his route home. The only difference is the hand in my jacket pocket, holding my Browning.
I reach the building, slow down and lean on the small fire door. I bend like I'm catching my breath but I take the chance to push the door and test the lock. It opens a fraction. I cram a stone into the door frame; we might need to get out in a hurry.
The front of the building used to be all glass but now it's mainly chipboard as the windows are broken and the whole place has the air of emergency evacuation. I take my hand from my pocket and get the Browning out, hand perfectly steady. My heart begins to beat louder as I move back the board on the furthest right, unobtrusive from both outside and in, and I slip inside.
The floor is strewn with shards of glass. It reminds me of places I've seen where bombs have gone off in the street, fractured and splintered. I pick my way down the side of the lobby; pictures hang askew and covered in dust so thick that their images are obscured. I choose the sections of floor where other objects have shielded the carpet from the glass. I barely make a noise. In a movement which used to be second nature to me I swing the muzzle of the gun before me, behind me, covering myself from every angle. It's amazing how easily I have slipped back into this mode. Once again I thank the Royal Fusiliers for the training which has saved my life more than once and I hope will save the man I love.
There's someone moving about upstairs. I crouch behind a large square plant pot, the dead flowers and spider plants inside the pit give off a rotting, sickening odour but I hardly notice it. I am listening hard.
Someone shouting, ranting from the sound of it. I strain my ears for Sherlock's voice but I don't hear him. Please don't let him be dead, I think in a moment of self awareness. Then the shutter of the operation comes back down. I turn back slightly and look for Jamie. He's removed a small section of the board, enough to wriggle under and he's peering beneath it. I gesture that they are up the stairs; he nods and turns to relay the message to Mike.
I dash from the cover of the planting to the stairs. I can't see another way up but to take the wide, white staircase which leads up from the lobby. It's exposed and dangerous but I can't go around the back because then I lose sight of Jamie. I turn to him and point up the stairs. He shakes his head and I shrug, the old unspoken eloquence comes back to us. The art of communication without words. He's telling me it's too risky, I tell him there's no other way. He glances to either side of the staircase and then nods, shrugs.
I turn and begin my ascent. The glass is not so littered here and it's easier to make silent progress but it's also right out in the open. All I need is for 'Freddy' to come out of that room at the top and I'm a goner. We know he's armed, Mycroft said as much, and we think he'll use it.
I make it to the top and, leaving myself three steps cover, I lie belly down and peer onto the landing. Nothing. Still the shouting which sounds more and more like that Hitler at the Nuremburg rally footage, possessed and manic. I can't make out the words. I turn to gesture to Jamie but he's gone. A moment's blind panic and then I look up to the bigger windows of the lobby, higher up and still mainly intact. I see Mike on top of the building opposite. He has a perfect view of the landing through a shattered pane through which the wind is blowing. He waves and gestures that he has a clear shot. I give him the thumbs up. Where the fuck is Jamie?
I take a glance again at the landing. Two double doors right ahead, obviously to some conference room, two more sets of stairs sweeping right and left behind me and nothing else. The dusty blue carpet shows footprints. Two, about size nine I'd say, too small to be Sherlock's. Beside them is something which makes my blood turn cold in my veins, the distinct imprint left by dragged feet. Was Sherlock unconscious when 'Freddy' got him here?
One of the double doors is slightly ajar; I wriggle across the carpet to the closed door and wait for my heart beat to still before I risk a look around and into the building. I was right, it is a conference room. Blue upholstered chairs with gold painted metal frames are dotted about the place, some knocked over as though the guests left in a hurry. Some of the large round tables still have the shreds of table cloth on them: once white, they hang like shrouds.
At first I can't see anyone but I follow the shouting, still incoherent, still angry, crazy. I glance back to Mike; he waves his hand to the side, telling me to open the door so he can see through to the room. I gently push it and it creaks. I wince, scramble into the room before anyone can react. The shouting has gone silent and I scuttle for cover behind the long blue curtains which hang on the back wall of the room. I hold the bottom of the material still so the flapping will not give me away. I feel, more than hear, footsteps crunching nearer and nearer. I raise the Browning, trying to gauge through the dark material from which direction my attacker is coming. If I have to shoot him through the curtain I will, it won't kill him but it will slow him down. The footsteps are so close I can hear him breathing, shallow, through his mouth. He stops and quietens his breath. I freeze, will myself silent, invisible, and he begins to walk again, this time away from me.
I give it a minute and edge a foot out and push the door open some more. I have no way of knowing if this movement will be seen but this is one of those times when you have to make things happen, you have to change the pace to one you're ready for and your target isn't. Nothing happens so he either didn't notice or he's waiting for me to make the next move. I count to a hundred and fifty and then crawl to my left, out behind the tables and down to where the shouting has now resumed.
From my angle on the floor I still can't see anything. But I can hear. I wish I couldn't. There are thuds and slaps which I recognise as being made by a hand or a boot hitting a body. And I can't bear to think of the body being hit by that fist, that boot. I feel the rage inside me, the urge to leap up and run down the room; firing the Browning until someone is dead and the awful noise stops. I speak to that creature inside me, make it pay attention and I tell it that there will be time for this later but right now we have to be in control because we have to get Sherlock out alive. A body being hit is still a live body.
"And now I'm dead!" Thud. "Now I'm gone! Freddy! Freddy!" The name becomes a chant and for some reason the memory of the teacher's voice reading 'Lord of the Flies' back at school when I was fifteen rises unbidden into my memory. The voice is wild, savage, each chant punctuated by a thud. Just when I am about to break cover, give it all up because I can't listen to that noise anymore, the noise of Sherlock being kicked, I hear another voice.
"Freddy! Freddy! What are you doing man?" It's Jamie, his voice more Northern in its softness as he talks to his long dead friend. The thudding stops, so does the chanting.
"Jamie? Jamie? What the fuck are you doing here? Have you finally realised what you've done? You've killed me, you've killed me." The voice is keening, wailing and I use the cover to wriggle closer to them.
From the cover of an overturned table I get a view. He is standing, shaking, his mouth open in a wide O of pain. The image is disturbing. His blonde spiky hair, the shape of his face, his stance, his uniform army t shirt are all Freddy, my friend, the man at whose funeral I cried. But this can't be him. Jamie is in front of me, he must have found a side entrance by the low stage area at the front of the room. But my eyes are drawn to the figure crouched on the ground between them.
Sherlock is dressed in his shirt and trousers. Although I know he mustn't have had time to put his coat on before he gave chase there is something shockingly vulnerable about him curled without that thick, eccentric coat on the floor of this freezing building. I can see he is shaking, rocking. His head is down and he's shielding himself with his hands. From here I can see, and the sight makes me want to scream, that at least two of those long, beautiful fingers are broken. I realise I am biting my lip.
Jamie takes a step forward.
"I never meant it to happen Freddy, it got out of hand, you know that. We aren't bad men, we just got it wrong."
"Noooooooo!" screams Freddy, hand whipping to his waistband. Jamie's hands go up; he's no gun I realise in a flash of cold horror. I watch as the world slows down and Freddy points the gun at Sherlock's head.
"Shall we put him on a lead? Your friend here?" His foot flashes back and he kicks Sherlock again. I grit my teeth. "Shall we stub cigarettes out on his body, shall we make him do things to us like we did before Jamie?" His voice is higher, screeching, mad and utterly inhuman. He cocks the trigger. While 'Freddy' is occupied Jamie darts forward, the blonde head comes up too late as Jamie barrels into him, the gun goes off. There's no time for me to react. 'Freddy' pushes Jamie's limp body from him and stumbles back. Jamie is bleeding, the vivid red of his arterial blood pumps from his stomach wound and I watch him fall limply to the floor. 'Freddy' points the gun; I watch his finger on the trigger. There is a noise, a small indistinct noise. It is the sound of Sherlock whimpering and I fire the Browning.
The shot seems to echo and then I realise that Mike has fired too. 'Freddy's' body lurches back at the leg, my kneecap hit swinging his weight back on his uninjured leg. But Mike's head shot pushes him back and he crashes onto the table behind him and the whole thing collapses in a disturbance of grey cloth, Formica and dead body.
I run to where Sherlock is still shaking and making that awful noise. He flinches when I touch him.
"Sherlock, Sherlock it's me. John." I stroke his back and kiss his head. I take off my jacket and throw it over him. He lifts his face. His eyes are massive, so pale that they are almost transparent, pupils like full stops. He's in shock and I don't blame him. I bend my head to look at his fingers. Two of them are bent painfully, he'll need them splinting if he's going to play the violin again. That's when it all hits me. I start to cry, with relief, with the absence of the overwhelming fear of losing him. This seems to bring him out of it.
"John?" his voice is weak, a whisper. He puts out his hand and winces. I wipe my eyes with my t shirt and put my arm around him. We sit there, just breathing together. We're like that when Mike and Mycroft turn up. Mycroft comes straight to us, bending and questioning me with his eyes.
"He's ok." I say quietly. "He's got two broken fingers and he'll have some bruising but I think there's no internal bleeding." Mycroft closes his eyes like he's saying a prayer of thanks. He stands sharply and gestures to three men in the doorway. Two of them carry a stretcher down the room and lay it on the floor next to Sherlock. I help him onto to it, shielding his injured hand as he lies down. The men pick the stretcher up, his eyelids flicker; he holds his other hand out to me. I take it.
"I'm coming with you." I say. The men look at Mycroft who nods. They begin to check Sherlock over, gentle hands run over his body, he winces.
The other medic has gone to Jamie's body. It's obvious from the angle he has fallen that he's dead, the bullet wound in his stomach made sure of that. There's something poignant, tragic, about the way his body lies, sprawled, helpless on the dusty carpet.
There is a gasp from Mike who is crouched over the body of the ghost. The bullet hole in the forehead is a testament to Mike's exemplary shooting skills, the wound neat, clear, even from the distance. The material of his trousers is ripped up at the knee where my bullet has shattered his kneecap. I follow Mike's gaze to the sleeve of the t shirt. There is something tattooed on the skin, Mike's hands, trembling now the danger is passed, lift the sleeve. Burned, scarred into the dead man's flesh is a scarlet star.
Five weeks later and Sherlock's fingers are nearly healed. It took five hours for him to get bored of the hospital, even though the doctors wanted to keep him in for observation for at least a week. I think they only let him out when I proved I had a medical qualification. It took three days for him to get bored of being waited upon by me, Mrs. Hudson, Clara and Art. By the end of the first week I caught him trying to sneak down to the lab in the night when he thought I was asleep. By the beginning of the second week he tried to convince me he could play in the Wii with his good hand.
Mycroft has been over; his look of worry and concern vanishing from his face before Sherlock can register its presence. He treats Sherlock like he's played truant from school. I stand back and wonder about brotherly love which drove one man to believe he was his dead brother and these two to bicker like children.
"Now, never do that again. It was just silly, very silly, Sherlock." He says this seriously while I stand behind him pulling my face and pointing at him, mouthing 'is he real?' to Sherlock who just grins. Mycroft takes this the wrong way and, after a lecture about the laws about having guns in this country, leaves in what might be described, if he wasn't the realm's leading underground political figure, as a huff.
It takes four days for Sherlock to try to instigate sex but it's obvious he's in too much pain from his ribs and the massive bruise on his thigh to move about much. Not to mention the strapped up fingers. He lies in the bed and I sleep on the floor even though he tries to convince me that he's ok.
"Come and sit here." He says plaintively, "I'm lonely. And bored." He adds in a dark tone. I smirk, shrug and get up from the makeshift bed of blankets. I perch on the edge of the bed. He strokes his good hand down my arm. "I think I feel better," he says hopefully. I smile.
"Really? Well as your doctor I think I might need to look you over." He sighs, resigned to my routine medical checks on his progress. I get the stethoscope from the lounge and come back. His eyes are shut and he looks really fed up.
I unbutton his pyjama shirt and he doesn't even open his eyes. The bruising is yellow now, still purple in places. The dark shading contrasts with his pale nipples. I lean with the instrument but instead brush those hard buds with my tongue. His eyes flick wide open. He sighs.
Encouraged I lick and suck, alternating from one to the other, head angled away from him. Down his body I can see the impact my mouth his having on him. I trail a wet and teasing path down his chest to his navel. He groans and shudders. His hands move and then he remembers the wounded fingers. He puts them carefully on the mattress, his body thrums with electricity.
He is hard and I ease the pyjama bottoms down, freeing his erection. The blood beats under that silken skin. I lick my lips and look up at him. His head is back and his face is more serene than I have ever seen him in the last, long month. I slide my mouth over him, he sighs and I commend myself on my excellent bedside manner.
So, there we are. the conclusion of 'The Mystery of the Scarlet Star'. I hope you liked it. This last chapter was a bugger to write, emotional, action which had to be precise and lets of stuff to get wrong. I hope it worked out ok?
I'm running out of ways to say thank you to the Baker Street Irregulars. We've been on quite a journey these last few months haven't we? Thank you for your continued support, friendship and love. Your insight into writing and plotting, your enthusiasm for smut and your unswerving loyalty to these characters is something I'm not sure I derve but thanks you anyway. PrincessNala( with us from the start) and Peachsilk (my friend) Darmed (here's the end of your story darling) Clubba Bear, Tasty- Kate (how's Italy?) ,2cajuman2, Tanya Zsa Zsa (don't feel you have to re rad it all!), Munchiees!, Aelfric's cat (book buddy), mrs winny, Despairandcupcakechild!, Mouserjb4 ,Tillif and Harpyquin and Jazzysatindoll (don't forget she takes requests... ),thegeekyprincess and Flabagash! I start 'The Case of the Puffer Fish' on Saturday!
Love you OHOB and Reggie Cx