Monday evening

Shepherd's Bush Road, Hammersmith, London

It'd been a bloody long day and Greg Lestrade was completely done in.

It took the very last of his energy to trudge up and out of the Tube station and pop into the kebab shop across from his flat. Once at home and upstairs, he shed his coat and that infernal tie, unbuttoned the top three buttons of his shirt and settled down on the sofa in front of the telly to eat his kebab and unwind, with an episode of Top Gear.

Or he would have done had someone not clubbed him over the head as soon as he walked through his door.

Lestrade went down but rolled with it, trying to get his feet back under him and see who his assailant was. Unfortunately it was someone familiar with the self-preservation methods of a police officer and he found himself back on the floor again, his head aching and blood running into his eye. The intruder put one foot on his back in just the right position that if he moved it would hurt, and possibly do his spine a serious injury. Lestrade, no idiot, stayed still.

"Take whatever you want," he said. He could taste blood in his mouth and was fairly certain he'd have a concussion after this. "Got one of those Blu-Ray players over there by the telly. You can have it."

The man - it was a man, he could tell by the shoe pressed into his back - laughed softly.

"I don't want anything from you," he said. Lestrade's breath caught in his throat. He knew that voice, there was no mistaking it.

He was rolled over, kicked over more like it, so that he lay on the floor on his back. He looked up, and through the blood and haze of impending unconsciousness, his eyes widened when he saw the intruder's face.

Standing above him, smiling sharp and crooked, was Sherlock Holmes.

Late Monday night

221b Baker Street, Westminster, London

It'd been a bloody long day, and John Watson was completely done in.

Flu was storming London in a blitz of germ warfare, and a person under the train had caused him more than an hour's delay getting home. He'd barely made it up the seventeen steps into the flat before collapsing on the sofa (oddly bereft of Sherlock, for a change; it seemed that when they were between cases Sherlock became part of the sofa, all six miles of him), stretching out and closing his eyes. He was asleep before he could decide between a ready-meal or takeaway, and it didn't even occur to him to wonder where Sherlock might be at such a ridiculous hour. It wasn't as though it was unusual.

What was unusual was the sound of shouting downstairs that woke John from his sleep, and the crash of the door being kicked in.

"What the hell?" He lurched off the sofa as a dozen uniformed police rushed into the flat and started peering through doors, knocking things over, charging up the stair that led to John's bedroom. "Another drugs bust? Didn't we just do this last week?"

Sergeant Donovan appeared, murder in her eyes. "I'd sit down if I were you," she said, in a tone of voice that told John not to question it. He sat back down. "Tell us where he is, and this'll go a lot easier on you."

John blinked. "Where- Sherlock?" He shook his head. "Don't know. Wasn't home when I got in. I haven't seen him since last night, in fact."

"Lying won't help you-"

"Lying?" asked John. "Who's lying? I'm not lying!" He was becoming more agitated by the minute, with uniformed and plainclothes police officers making an absolute tip of their (admittedly already messy) flat, knocking over cups and looking in books, and Sergeant Donovan looming over him. "What the bloody hell is going on here?"

At that moment, DI Lestrade appeared in the doorway. He looked rough, clothes disheveled, and wore a bright white bandage wrapped around his head. John could see the faint traces of blood still flaking from around his eye.

"Jesus," he breathed, standing up again and starting toward Lestrade. "What happened to you-" He took no more than two steps before Lestrade had a hand out to stop him.

"Where is he?" he asked, his voice dangerous and low. "Where's Sherlock?"

John shook his head. "Haven't the foggiest," he said. "He was here last night, we had a curry for dinner. I went to bed. Got up this morning and he'd already gone out. Haven't seen him since." He stared at Lestrade, at the bandage. "What happened?"

"Sherlock happened," snapped Sergeant Donovan. She glared at John. "I told you this would happen, didn't I? I told you he was a psychopath-"

"Enough, Donovan," said Lestrade. "I've already got a headache." He waved her off.

"Sorry," said John, though he really wasn't, "but what did Sherlock do now that's got you all in a strop?"

Lestrade just looked at him, then gestured to his head. It took John a moment.

"Wait, you're telling me Sherlock did that?" John hoped he was jumping to conclusions, the wrong ones, as always, as Sherlock might say. "He attacked you?"

"Broke into my flat and fucking knocked me out," said Lestrade, wincing as he turned his head too quickly, watching his officers tear the place apart. "Didn't even give a reason, just stood on me and laughed and then left after I passed out."

John gaped. "That... doesn't sound like Sherlock," he said slowly. "Why would he...?"

"That," said Lestrade, voice dark, "is why I'd like to find him. So I can ask the very same question." He trained a hard, sharp look at John. "If I could, I'd haul you down and not let you out again until you told me where he is."

"I told you, I don't-"

"I know you don't." Lestrade tucked a hand into his pocket. "And be glad of it. But if you hear from him, or see him, or even smell him - you ring me immediately. Or I'll have you up as an accessory." He handed John his card, and turned toward the other officers. "All right, we're done. Let's get patrols out."

John stared at the card in his hand as the police made their way out of the flat, careless of the carnage they'd left behind. When the door shut behind them - precariously, now unable to latch after having been kicked in - John sank back down into the sofa. He felt dizzy, a little ill. Sherlock attacked Lestrade, he thought. In his own home. It made absolutely no sense, because for one thing, as often as Sherlock commented that Lestrade had 'all the observational skills of a mackerel,' the truth was that he actually had a bit of respect for him. 'He's the best of a bad lot,' he'd once said, as they'd walked out of a particularly grisly crime scene where Lestrade had been the only one (besides John and Sherlock) who didn't flinch at the sight of all that blood. Coming from Sherlock, that Lestrade was the best of anything, was high praise, indeed.

So why would he break into Lestrade's flat and bash him over the head?

John looked at the card again, then tore it in half and got up to bin it. When Sherlock turned up, he'd have a perfectly good, if slightly mad, reason for everything. John was certain of it.

By the third day of Sherlock's absence, John decided he wasn't so certain after all.

He'd managed a couple of hours' sleep after the police had gone, and upon waking up again he'd turned on the telly to the news of a fire at an abandoned warehouse in Spitalfields. The footage showed a massive blaze, the whole building gone up, and a police spokesperson (no one he recognised) said it was most definitely arson. A message had been found painted on the pavement in front of the building:

you ought to have known

John shuddered. He'd had enough of mysterious messages and ciphers, thank you much, but something about this one made his skin crawl. He shut the telly off and set about making himself a breakfast of the single egg and stale piece of bread left in the house. He made a mental note not to forget the shopping again.

In the evening John returned home from the surgery expecting to see Sherlock sitting at the kitchen table doing unspeakable things to a pheasant, but the kitchen was empty. Someone had been in it, however - there was half a cup of cold tea sitting on the counter that John hadn't left. He thought it might've been Mrs Hudson, but she takes her tea with only milk and no sugar. This tea, he discovered, after dipping a finger in and tasting it, was intolerably sweet. Which meant Sherlock.

Sherlock had been there.

It happened again and again over the next two days - John would be out of the flat, and Sherlock would slip in, have tea, and sometimes use the shower, and be gone before John returned. It was maddening, naturally, because he really wanted to know what was going on, but in an odd way it also hurt. Sherlock was clearly avoiding him, and as far as he knew John had done nothing to upset or offend him, so it had to be some other reason. One of Sherlock's mysterious, only-I-know-about-it-but-isn't-it-obvious-you-idiot reasons.

"Might be a case," he told the skull, which he'd secretly begun calling Gary. "Surveillance, he's disguised, can't blow his cover, that sort of thing - dear God, I'm talking to a skull." He dropped his face in his hands. He hated admitting it, and he wouldn't do it out loud - not even to Gary - but he was actually starting to miss the bastard. Or at least what little sanity he offered by dint of being human and present, because at least then John wasn't reduced to conversing with the dead.

Also happening over the course of the next two days were an assortment of bizarre and unsettling crimes, occurring all over the city. Another fire, this time a run-down school in Crouch End. No one was injured, but the place was gutted. Out in the playground was a message, painted on the concrete in the same, careful hand as the previous one:

just the start of it all, really

The next message, are you paying attention now? good, accompanied an abandoned suitcase in the middle of Covent Garden station. The resulting chaos of the bomb squad being called in, train diversions and crowds of commuters trying to all get home at once completely snarled all transport in central London for hours. John wasn't able to get home until well after dark, and when he found out why, he nearly put the remote control through the television screen. This, he decided, was getting ridiculous.

It was ridiculous, at least, until it turned into something else. On the third day following Sherlock's disappearance, six severed hands were found arranged in a line outside the front entrance of Scotland Yard. The media went completely apoplectic.

In the midst of it all, Lestrade rang John.

"Listen," he said, sounding exhausted and exasperated, "if you know anything, nothing will happen to you. I wasn't serious when I said that."

John sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. "And when I said I didn't know anything, I was serious." He hung up and stuffed his mobile under the sofa cushions and sat on it while he watched the gruesome report on the telly.

When they showed the hands, John dug out his mobile.

"Wait," he said, when Lestrade picked up.


"The hands," said John. He looked at the television. "They say wait."

Lestrade made a rude sound. "You've been hanging round him too long, mate, you're not making any bloody sense."

John rolled his eyes and understood Sherlock's frustration with the world just a bit more. "It's sign language," he said. "The hands, they're spelling out the word wait in sign language. Get someone else to confirm it for you, but I'm sure of it."

"How are you sure?" asked Lestrade.

"Because I can read it," said John. "I did a course. Thought it might come in useful as a doctor."

There was talking in the background, and John guessed that Lestrade just had it confirmed that John was, in fact, right. "It's come in bloody useful now," he said. "Another message - it's got to be the same bloke. Fuck me."

John hung up then, because he'd done his bit. He looked back at the television and the picture had changed now, to something else, but he could still see those hands, curled and bent in a word intended for only a few specific sets of eyes. Or perhaps just one? He wasn't quite convinced these crimes had anything to do with Sherlock, or his disappearance, but he wasn't quite convinced they didn't, either. Whatever was going on, he knew he'd seen something very important. Something he was meant to see.

He just didn't know what the hell it was yet.

The fourth night, he woke and found someone perched at the end of his bed, staring at him. He was up and shouting with his gun drawn before he'd opened his other eye. With his free hand he snapped on the bedside lamp.

"Christ," he said, sagging back down into his bed with a sigh of relief. "What the fuck are you doing in my bedroom?"

Sherlock unfolded his legs and stood. "Waiting for you to wake up," he said. "Did you know that you drool when you sleep? From the right corner of your mouth."

John held up the gun. "I ought to shoot you anyway," he said. "Or ring Lestrade. The whole of the Met is out hunting for you!"

"I know." He moved to the window but stood just to the side of it, peering out between the blinds. John knew what he was looking at: the patrol car that had been parked across the road from their flat for the last three nights. "Excellent."

"Excellent? What the hell does that mean?"

"It means Lestrade is paying attention," said Sherlock, coming back to sit on the edge of John's bed, a bit closer this time. He rested his hand on the barrel of the gun and gently pushed it down and away from him. "It means the police are doing their job, for once."

John hesitated, then leaned over and stowed the gun in the drawer of his nightstand. "By looking for you," he said. "Sherlock, what is going on? Where have you been the last four days? I've had police in and out of here, there's all sorts of bad news on the telly and-"

"Yes, you're paying attention as well." Sherlock smiled at him, and it was a disarming thing. It wasn't his normal, patronising smile or even the gentle smirk he sometimes got when John had been amusing or accidentally clever. There was something sinister in this new smile and John wasn't certain how he felt about it. "You got my message."

"Your message?"

Sherlock held up his hands and wiggled the fingers. John felt his stomach roll.

"It was you," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "The hands. The fires? The bomb?" When Sherlock's expression didn't change, John sank back against the pillows. "Christ."

Sherlock patted his knee. "Relax," he said. "I got them at Bart's. Regrettable, but essential to the plan."

John knocked his hand away. "And just what is the plan, Sherlock?" he shouted. "Go to prison? You assaulted a police officer – no court won't convict you." He ran a hand over his face. "What could possibly be worth risking your freedom?"

Silence. John could hear the distant whine of a siren, the hiss of traffic on the street below. Must have been raining. Sherlock just looked at him with a withering expression and John got the sense that he'd just asked a question with a terribly obvious answer, and at once he knew what that answer was.

"Moriarty," he said. "This is to do with him."

"Very good," said Sherlock. He lay back on the bed, his legs hanging over the side, and steepled his fingers together on top of his chest. "I've been a fantastic influence on you. Or a terrible one. Can never tell."

Sherlock stared up at the ceiling. "To get close to a man like Moriarty," he said, "I must become like him. That was ultimately his point, you know. That we are alike."

"You're not," said John, jaw set. "You're nothing like him."

Sherlock looked over at him with an indulgent little smile. "We are everything alike, John, except in our choices. Which is my plan. I am going to convince him that I have changed my mind."

John picked at his thumbnail. "That you've switched sides," he said. Something about this didn't sit right with him, but he didn't tell Sherlock. He probably already knew.

"Yes." Sherlock was watching him. "I will build a new reputation, and then send him the message that it would be in our best interests to consider a partnership."

"You're mad." John looked up, looked him in the eye. "Either he won't fall for it, or else you're setting yourself up to get yourself killed."

"Perhaps," said Sherlock, with a flippant wave of his hand. "However, I understand something about Moriarty that you do not. Moriarty will not be able to resist responding to my advances."

John frowned. "Why?"

"Because of the possibility that he was right about me." Sherlock grinned, but it wasn't a happy one. "Because that is what I would do." He paused. "What I did. With his little games. I had to be right. And so does he."

"No," said John. "You solved those to help those people." As soon as he said it he winced, because he couldn't keep the uncertainty out of his voice. He shook his head. "No. I know you did."

"It would be nice if that were true, wouldn't it?" sighed Sherlock. "But the fact is that I can't tell you if it is or not." A flicker of something passed over Sherlock's face; John thought it looked like sadness. "My motives are never completely clear, and also never completely pure."

John looked away. He could think of at least one moment when Sherlock's intent had been for one thing, and one thing only: getting that semtex vest off of him and flinging it as far away as he could. Sherlock had wanted him safe. John was certain of it, and he wanted to tell Sherlock, tell him that he was wrong about himself, but he couldn't find the right words for it. Everything he thought of to say was rubbish.

"I think," he said instead, "you underestimate yourself."

Sherlock sat up. "I hope not," he said. "Because then I would be underestimating Moriarty, and that would be problematic." He leaned toward John, his body urgent but still. "I need you to pay close attention, John. Things will happen, and people will get hurt - unless you pay attention."

"To what?" John asked, eyes wide. "Sherlock, you can't ask me to-"

"I can," said Sherlock, "and I did. I regret attacking Lestrade, but it was necessary. A necessary sacrifice. I must be believed. I must burn bridges, make enemies - new ones, at any rate, and there must be the potential for casualties."

John stared. "Jesus, Sherlock..." He swallowed hard. "If you need people to believe you've gone criminal, why tell me? Why not let me believe it, too? That would be convincing."

For a long moment, Sherlock didn't reply. He stared down at his hands, splayed across John's quilt, fingernails idly digging into the fabric. Sherlock lifted one hand, as though he were going to reach out, touch one of John's, make some sort of connection. Then he lowered it.

"Because I've disappointed you once," he murmured. His eyes met John's; they were bloodshot and pale and earnest. "I don't want to do it again."

John had no idea of what he could say to that. Sherlock didn't seem to need a response. He launched himself off the bed and began pacing.

"I also need someone on the inside," he said. He was back to his normal, brusque method of talking too fast while constantly moving. "I need someone I can count on to make the right decisions when necessary. You may have to do things you don't want to do, John, but that you must. It is imperative that you always do the right thing, no matter the cost."

Gooseflesh bloomed across John's arms. "Sherlock, you make this- you sound like we're going to war."

Sherlock looked to the window, expression grim.

"Actually, John," he said, "what we are doing is bringing the war to us."

Sherlock left just before dawn, but not before John managed to get him to eat something. He perched on the arm of the sofa and ate from a plate of beans on toast, looking somewhat chagrined and embarrassed at having to succumb to such a basic human necessity. He was still in his coat, and the way he was hunched over made John think of some kind of great bird, like a condor, or a vulture.

"Where do you go, when you're not here?" he asked.

"I have other situations," said Sherlock around a mouthful of bread. "Bedsits, that sort of thing. Best to have options, you see."

"Right." John frowned. He thought of Sherlock holed up in some horrid little tip, living off takeaway and texting, and then another, more disquieting thought occurred to him: was that how Sherlock lived before Baker Street?

Across the room, Sherlock burped softly. "Pardon," he muttered. "And yes."


"You were imagining how I must have lived before we got this flat together," said Sherlock. He polished off the last of his beans and set the plate on the coffee table. "I had a small kip in Montague Street. It wasn't very nice. There was never any hot water, and the landlord had a drugs problem." He paused, then smirked. "Of course, so did I, but it's not a trait you want in someone in a position to decide whether or not you have a roof over your head."

John nodded. "How much longer do you think this is going to take?" he asked. Sherlock shook his head and rose, brushing toast crumbs from his shirt and coat.

"Can't be certain," he said, pulling on his gloves and tying his scarf. "But I wouldn't wait up if I were you."

"Sherlock, wait-" John jumped up and darted in front of him, blocking his way to the door. "Take my gun."

Sherlock blinked. "No," he said. "I don't need it."

"Bollocks." John turned to go up the stair, to his bedroom, to fetch it. "I'd feel better knowing you're safe out wherever the hell you are."

"And I," said Sherlock, reaching out to grab John by the arm, pulling him back, "would feel safe knowing that your gun is right where it belongs, with you."


Sherlock squeezed his arm, in reassurance and in warning. "I'm fine," he said, and let go, turned up the collar of his coat. "I'll contact you. I meant it, don't wait up. I don't know when I'll be able to come back again."

John nodded, and Sherlock swept out of the flat. He stared after him, uncertain if he ought to be feeling bewildered, frightened or furious, or perhaps a bit of all three. Instead, he felt as empty as the flat seemed, with Sherlock gone. And no idea of when it would be over and they could go back to how it was - or even if they could ever go back. The game Sherlock was planning to play was designed to hurt, and John wasn't certain who - ultimately - would be the one to suffer the most.

There was no sleep after that so John fixed another cup of tea and parked himself in front of the telly, watching BBC News 24 with a sense of trepidation. What would Sherlock's next move be? It was impossible to know, because it was impossible to predict anything Sherlock would do. And if he was trying to get the attention of a man like Moriarty...

Shivering, John pulled a blanket over himself and slid further down into the chair, cocooning himself in familiarity. The blanket was the tatty one Sherlock liked to wrap himself in while answering e-mail on particularly chilly evenings, and it smelt of him. Chemicals, whatever Sherlock used in his hair, and the faintest trace of cigarettes, though John never said anything about that. He pulled the blanket tighter around himself and listened to a report on the latest round of political madness in America.

The next thing he knew sunlight was streaming in around the curtains and someone had touched his shoulder. He jerked awake, reached up and clamped his hand around Mrs Hudson's wrist, so tightly that she gave a little shriek.

"Sorry," he said, letting go, pulse racing. "So sorry, Mrs Hudson. You startled me."

Mrs Hudson drew back her arm and rubbed at her wrist, looking a bit flustered, but she smiled at him. "It's all right, dear - I ought to know better, sneaking up on a war hero like that."

John winced. He wasn't fond of being called a 'war hero,' because he didn't feel particularly heroic about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps other men came back from war and were better men for it, but all John was left with was a tremor in his hand, an ache in his shoulder, and an endless need to seek trouble wherever he could. Or, more accurately, live with it.

"It's fine," he said to Mrs Hudson. "Did you need something?"

"I was just wondering," she said, as she began to tidy up the sitting room - a nervous habit of hers, though one John didn't mind, "if you've heard anything from Sherlock. It's been days, hasn't it, and I've not heard a peep from up here."

"Nothing." John hated lying to her, but in this case it was probably kinder. "Not a dicky bird."

She sighed. "I hope he hasn't got himself into trouble." Mrs Hudson stacked up some magazines on the coffee table. "Honestly, dear - getting lazy in your old age? Not like you to leave plates about." She picked up Sherlock's plate from the night before and bustled into the kitchen to clean it.

"Don't worry about it," John called after her. "I'll get it-" He glanced at the television and stopped talking. Lestrade was on BBC, giving a press conference. John jumped up and scrambled for the remote, punching up the volume.

Have you any leads on who might have done this, Detective Inspector?

We have a strong lead but nothing concrete enough that we feel comfortable making public. You'll know more when we do. Suffice it to say, however, it would be in everyone's best interests to remain vigilant. Keep your eyes open, and if you see anything out of the ordinary don't be afraid to ring us up.

John frowned. He'd missed what had happened to require a press conference, but then the television showed images of tube stations, crowded with people, of the Circle line zipping past the camera. Something to do with the Underground, then.

A ticker ran across the bottom of the screen.

Threat to Underground discovered... possible bomb plot... more information as it becomes available...

That, he thought, as he picked up his mobile, was more than a bit not good.

It was strange to be at the Yard without Sherlock. Strange enough that people kept shooting him sly glances that they thought he didn't notice. They of course didn't understand that if you spend enough time around a man who notices everything, it begins to rub off.

"Weird, isn't it?" said Lestrade from behind his desk. "You here, without him."

"Was just thinking that, myself." John sat up a bit straighter. "But I want to help if I can. If it is him-" lying was coming easier now "-then I'm probably the best choice you've got."

Lestrade snorted. "You're the only choice," he said. He pushed a stack of photographs toward John. "Here you go. If you can make anything of this, by all means, clue us in."

John took the photographs, surveillance stills from CCTV. They showed Westminster station, and the time-stamp read 3.14am, 3.16am, 3.18am. Each one was exactly the same except for a tiny detail - words, appearing one by one, on the station floor. It was in full view of the cameras, so it was meant to be seen.

"Numbers," said John. He blinked, and flipped through the images again. "It's just numbers. It looks like a maths equation."

Lestrade nodded. "That's what we think, and we've got a fellow on it, but bugger if we know what it means."

John, as it happened, was no slouch with his maths in school. He frowned at the numbers, pulled a notepad and pen toward himself, and started working it out. "Whoever came up with it is smart," he said, "but wants people less smart than him to be able to get it. So it's not as complicated as it looks."

"I did better in football than maths," said Lestrade, leaning back and watching him. "Can't help you with your taxes, but I can take down the tax-man for you, if you like."

Chuckling, John finished the equation and held up the notepad. "24.765," he said. "The answer's 24.765."

"What the devil does that mean?" said Lestrade. He reached out and took the notepad, squinting at it, trying to read John's terrible doctor's handwriting. "You sure?"

"Get your people to check it, but I'm fairly certain I got it right." John shrugged. "I've no idea. Something to do with timetables, perhaps?"

Lestrade stood up. "I'll run this by the TFL, see if it means anything to them."

"Right." John rose as well. "So, guess I'll be off."

He was halfway to the door when Lestrade caught him, gently, by the arm.

"John," he said, which was unnerving as Lestrade had never called him by his first name before, "thank you. For your help." He hesitated. "Nothing from him, then? Between you and me."

John knew better. He shook his head. "Nothing. I've no idea where he is." At least that bit wasn't a lie. "But I'll let you know, if he turns up."

Lestrade nodded. "I don't know that it's him," he said. "Maybe someone like him."

With a sad smile John shook his head. "There's no one like him," he said.

Once outside, John walked toward the Tube, then thought better of it and got a taxi instead. When he got back to the flat, he could immediately tell that something was different. In the kitchen the kettle was still warm, and a cup with the dregs of tea sat on the kitchen table, where John was sure never to leave anything edible. Sherlock had been in. He'd been, and John had missed him.

"Damn," he said. He chucked his coat onto a chair, too annoyed to bother hanging it up. He threw himself onto the sofa on his back and stared up at the ceiling. Sherlock was keeping away, which meant he needed John to work this out somehow, needed to stay away so he wouldn't be tempted to give away the answer. It was oddly reassuring, being avoided, because it meant that Sherlock really didn't want these bad things he did to come to pass. He had to keep the plan believable, but at the same time he was encouraging John to think, to see, to observe.

John thought. 24.765 meant nothing to him. A seemingly random number that was clearly the answer to a question he couldn't think to ask. He reached under himself and found the remote, clicking on the television. BBC News 24 was still covering the threat; the preferred theory being that it was an elaborate bomb threat. A city accustomed to being blown up, whether by the Germans, the Irish, or the Taliban, London did not take bomb threats lightly, however nor did they panic. The images on the news were of commuters calmly walking to and from stations, and while a few glanced over their shoulders now and then, and the bright yellow jackets of police officers could be seen mingling with the crowds, London kept calm and carried on.

But Sherlock had already done a bomb threat, days ago, and Sherlock loathed repetition. It had to be something else, something that would hurt the city but not something so pedestrian as blowing something up. Something more insidious. Something more Sherlock.

24.765. 24.765. 24.765.

It was no use, he couldn't make a connection. Frustrated, John picked up the phone and called the kebab shop for takeaway. He couldn't be arsed to cook and there was nothing in, anyway. He hadn't got the shopping and if he was honest with himself, he didn't want to. Going back to shopping for one was too depressing to consider; without Sherlock to eat all the biscuits and eggs and beans, there just wasn't much point to it. Takeaway was fine for the time being, though it felt a bit wrong to ring up and have to add on drinks and starters in order to make the minimum charge for delivery. John tried not to think about it too much.

He was halfway through his lamb donar when the television announced another message had been reported, this time from the station at Holland Park. John went still as an image of a vandalised wall appeared on the screen, a series of letters and numbers scrawled across the tile in bright yellow spray paint:


It made even less sense than the last message, at first. He couldn't think of anything it could mean, and if it was some kind of cipher then they were completely fucked because he was useless at that sort of thing, couldn't even do the word jumbles in the newspaper. Had better luck with Sudoku. This wasn't Sudoku.

His mobile went, and he finished chewing before he answered.

"He's mad," said Lestrade on the other end. "He's fucking insane, you've got to figure out where he is and get him to stop all this. Before he kills someone."

"Hang on," said John. "What is it? What's happened?"

Lestrade sighed. John could picture him rubbing his temple as a headache started. "The latest message, you're watching it, yeah? Well, that little note is the chemical formula for bloody mustard gas."

John wished he hadn't eaten his kebab because now it threatened to come right back up. "You- you're not serious."

"Mustard gas, for Christ's sake." Lestrade sounded ill himself. "What the hell is he thinking? Why's he doing this? Donovan's convinced he's going to kill us all and I'm not sure she's wrong."

"Listen," said John, putting his food aside and switching off the television. "Don't- don't panic yet. I know this looks bad but- I don't think he'd actually kill anyone. I really don't."

"You might be the only one, mate," said Lestrade. "I've got to go, but seriously - one peep out of him, you tell me. Got it? Whatever's going on, we'll handle it."

John sighed. "Right." He hung up, put his phone on the coffee table and stared at it for a long, long time.

Once the answer to the mystery behind the second message broke, London descended into sheer bloody panic. The Underground refused to shut down and those who had no choice but to take it to work and home rode it with wary, weary faces. John felt like a coward when he took a taxi to the surgery the next morning, looking out the window and seeing people hurrying out of the stations, visibly relaxing only when they'd put enough distance between them and the trains. And at the surgery, panic was in full swing. His first patient was a pensioner who was convinced she'd been gassed.

"Look at these sores," she said, thrusting her arm in his face. "I've got the gas, don't I?"

Smells as though you do, thought John, and he immediately felt guilty for being unkind. "Mrs Walton, you've got a cat. You're allergic to it."

She blinked. "How'd you know about him?" she asked, bewildered. "I never said..."

John pointed to her blouse. "You've got some fur, just there. You've been letting him lick your arm and you've an allergy to his saliva. You ought to consider allergy injections." He patted her shoulder. "You haven't been gassed, I promise."

He sent her away with a promise to have the hospital send her an appointment with an allergist (and a prescription for a mild antacid to help with the smell, even though she hadn't even noticed it). It was going to be a long day.

Or it would have been, had there not been a third message.

"John," Sarah rushed in while he was giving a tetanus shot to a small boy. "Sorry, but you've got to come see this."

Sticking a plaster to the boy's arm and making his apologies, John followed her into the doctor's lounge, where the television was. It was tuned to the news and a flustered-looking journalist stood outside the Knightsbridge station.

"Another one," said John. He swallowed hard when the picture came up.


"Half-four," he murmured. This one was obvious. This was their deadline.

Sarah looked at him, pale and wide-eyed. "Three hours from now."

John was already pulling on his coat. "Sorry," he said to her. "I've got to- I have to go."

"It's fine," she said. She was shaking, and he wanted to go to her, put his arms around her and tell her it would be fine. Except he didn't know it would be fine, and he was getting tired of lying to everyone. "Just be careful?"

"I will." He offered her a weak but sincere smile and left, but he didn't go to the Tube or get a taxi. He wasn't going home, or to the Yard. He had no destination in mind, when he left the surgery.

Instead, he walked.

24.765. The first clue, the most important one. It had to mean something. The answer, the whole answer, was right there in his brain. And he knew, from what Sherlock had said, I need someone on the inside, I need someone who will always do the right thing, that whatever it was it was meant for him. Someone else might work out what the numbers meant, but only he would be able to apply that answer to something that made sense.

"Think, damn it," he muttered under his breath. 24.765. He tried adding all the numbers together - 24 - but that didn't make it any clearer. Too short for coordinates, and he'd already Googled that anyway and had only got random addresses nowhere near London. So not a question of maths anymore, and not a place. What the hell was it.

He walked for at least an hour - two hours left - and he could see that the police had increased their presence on the streets. Uniformed officers stood at every Tube entrance, gently discouraging people from using the trains and offering to help them get taxis instead. Shop employees stood in their doorways, looking out, wondering what was going to happen. The tension thickened the air, and John felt it every time he breathed.

John stopped at an intersection to wait for the lights to change. A woman walked past, and he glanced at her, not so far gone that he couldn't appreciate her legs. He forgot about them when he noticed the notions shop on the corner and an idea came to him. In all the ways he'd considered 24.765, he'd not considered it as a measurement.

"Pardon me," he said, bursting into the shop and startling the woman behind the counter. "Have you got a tape measure?"

"Got all sorts, dear." She pulled out a long, fabric one from a drawer. "Like this?"

John took the tape measure from her and held it up, counted off the centimetres to 24. "Have you got one that's a bit more detailed? I need to get down to a few decimal points."

She rummaged around, and produced a measuring tape that looked more like one you'd find in a hardware shop. "Try this?"

He stretched it out and found 24.765 centimetres. All right, he'd finally found a correlation between the random numbers and something in reality. But what did it mean?

"I've also got one in inches," said the shop clerk. "If you'd be needing it."

John looked over at it, stretched out in her hand. He held up his own tape measure. 24.765 centimetres was 9.75 inches. He frowned.

"Right..." He shook his head. "No, it makes no sense," he said aloud, more to himself than to the woman. "It's either 24.765 or nine-and-three-"

He froze. Because now he knew.

Months ago, before the business with Moriarty, when he'd just moved into Baker Street and they were just getting used to one another, Sherlock had found John reading in the sitting room.

"What on earth is that?" he'd asked, settling down on the sofa with his laptop. John had barely looked up at him.

"A book," he'd said to the page he was reading. "I'm sure you've heard of them. You leave enough of them lying about for me to trip over."

Sherlock had sniffed. "Yes, but mine are useful books. That looks trashy."

"Trashy?" John had looked up, then. "Seriously?" He'd closed the book (finger stuck in to mark his place) and held it up. "It's not trashy, just because it's meant for kids. Adults like it, as well."

"I'm not convinced you're an adult, now," Sherlock had said. "Unless that's some sort of lost work of literary art I've somehow missed."

John had gaped at him in shock. "You're telling me," he said, "that you've never heard of Harry Potter?"

"Thank you," John said, tossing the tape measures at the poor woman and darting out of the shop. He had his phone out and was so focused on dialing Lestrade that he nearly ran into traffic, barely catching himself before he was mowed down by a lorry.

"King's Cross," he shouted as soon as Lestrade picked up. "It's King's Cross."

"Are you- How can you be so sure?"

John growled. "Look, just trust me, I know what I'm saying - he's going after King's Cross. Evacuate, do whatever it is you do, just get people out of there, you've only got an hour!"

By the time he got to King's Cross the area was complete chaos, flashing lights and enormous crowds of confused Londoners - who couldn't see what all the fuss was about - and police everywhere. John fought his way through the throng, until he spotted a familiar silver head and bullied his way toward it. Fortunately, as he was stopped by an officer, Donovan spotted him and waved him over. He jogged up to meet her.

"They found a device," she said. "Stashed in the ventilation system. Bloody thing had a timer and everything. Went off as they were trying to remove it." Donovan stared at him. "How did you know?"

John shook his head. "Doesn't matter now," he said, bending to catch his breath. "Did you get everyone out? Was anyone hurt?"

Donovan nodded. "Two of our men," she said. Her mouth formed a thin line. "But not terribly so, they were pretty well-protected. They've been taken to hospital."

Lestrade appeared beside them. "Next time," he said to John, with a relieved smile, "don't cut it so damn close."

"I hope there is no next time," said John. He sagged against a lamppost, suddenly exhausted. "Do you need me? Because I really just want to go home and go to bed."

"I should bring you in for a statement," said Lestrade. "I should be interrogating you on how you knew, but... I won't, for now." He eyed John warily. "I think it's probably a good idea if nobody knows you're involved in this. Might set someone off."

John thought about that. If Moriarty got wind of John helping the police to stop Sherlock's crimes, he might suspect Sherlock was helping John, and then the entire thing would go south. "Yes, I think that's for the best," he said. "I'll ring tomorrow, tell you what I can."

John gave a little wave and made his way back through the crowd. There were no taxis to be had in the area so he walked until he was far enough away from the madness to be able to get one, climb in and wearily tell the driver the address. He sat back against the seat and stared out of the window, not seeing London as it passed by but rather seeing Sherlock sneering at his copy of The Philosopher's Stone, and then understanding why it had disappeared shortly thereafter. It hadn't been lost or thrown out. Sherlock had wanted to know. And then he'd remembered.

Something warm unfolded itself in John's chest, and he rubbed at it absently.

Once home, John was barely up the stairs before he collapsed on the sofa, the day catching up to him, tackling him and bringing him down.

John closed his eyes. He slept.

For the next five days, nothing happened. Nothing at all. John woke up frequently in the night, but no one was perched at the end of his bed, staring at him. There were no tell-tale signs of Sherlock having been in the flat, when John returned home from the surgery. And no more mysterious messages appeared anywhere in London.

The media still talked about the mustard gas scare. They'd begun referring to the person behind the messages as 'a monster,' and then it simply became 'Monster.' Monster was written about constantly in the Daily Mail, referred to on morning shows and whispered about in Tube stations and coffee shops. Everyone wanted to know who he was, what he might do next, and when the Met planned to catch him. John knew Lestrade was just as weary of hearing about Monster as he was.

"Gone and got himself a nickname," said Lestrade over the phone one evening. "Bet he's pleased with himself."

"Doubt it," said John, remembering the look in Sherlock's eyes when he'd told him of the plan. There'd been regret in there, which only convinced John further that Sherlock's claim of being a sociopath was nothing more than wishful thinking. Sherlock was far more human than most people, including Sherlock himself, gave him credit for. "We still don't know that it's him, you know."

"Who else could it be?" Lestrade sounded exhausted. John thought he heard the clink of ice in a glass. "He vanishes and all this starts, it's a bit suspect, you know."

John didn't want to hear any more. He begged off, claiming to be tired, and hung up, turning his mobile off for the night. He was tired but he didn't want to go up to bed. He hadn't been sleeping well, his bed uncomfortable. He'd kipped on the sofa the night before and woke up with such a crick in his neck that he didn't know how someone so impossibly long as Sherlock could sleep there so often. The fact was that John couldn't sleep because the flat was too quiet, too empty, without Sherlock.

He got up and wandered through the kitchen, intending to go to the loo, but instead paused outside Sherlock's bedroom door. John rarely went in there, save one time to see if he could locate the source of a very odd smell (which had turned out to be coming from the bath, and that was just a horrible day). He rested his hand on the doorknob for a moment, then took a deep breath and pushed the door open.

Sherlock's room could only be described as organised chaos. It wasn't messy so much as cluttered, his bureau covered in notes and books and artifacts from old cases, the floor littered with old newspapers stacked up waist-high. Sherlock hated throwing anything away. There was a row of test tubes on the window sill that glowed with every passing set of headlights. On the floor by the bed was a pair of slippers obviously from somewhere in the Middle East, and Sherlock's violin and bow rested against the bedside table. John felt a pang when he saw it, because somewhere Sherlock was thinking without his violin, and that couldn't have been pretty. Not to mention that he actually missed the three-in-the-morning concertos.

He stepped inside and sat on the edge of the bed, picking up a set of police-issue handcuffs from the bedside table. In any other bedroom John would know exactly what they were for, but Sherlock was more likely to have them for completely non-sexual reasons. He put them back down and, after a moment, scooted back on the bed, swung his legs up and lay down, head on the pillow, staring up at the ceiling.

Sherlock probably knows exactly how many cracks there are up there, he thought. He tried to imagine Sherlock lying there, that beehive of a brain buzzing with unending thought until his body was exhausted enough to sleep. John thought it felt rather lonely, and suspected that may have been why Sherlock would kip on the sofa so often; more often than not he would be there when John got in from work, or being down the pub, or a night out with a nice girl he'd met. They'd chat or bicker or simply sit in the same room together, doing completely different things and not speaking, just being. And it was nice, John always liked those evenings.

It'd never occurred to him that Sherlock might like them, too.

He hadn't noticed that he'd dropped off until he was awakened by the soft sound of someone opening the door. John opened his eyes and found Sherlock standing in the doorway of his own bedroom, looking completely surprised and not a little bit wary.

"You weren't in your bedroom," he said, voice soft and rough. "Thought you were out. Didn't think I'd find you in here."

"I didn't either," said John, sitting up. "Wasn't planning to sleep here, just happened."

"Ah." Sherlock moved into the room, shutting the door behind him. "And why were you in here in the first place?"

John looked at him, then looked away. "Don't know," he said. "Couldn't sleep. Just curious I suppose."

Sherlock stood at the end of the bed. "About?" he asked. "Want to see how the madman lives?"

"I know how you live," snapped John. "You live with me."

Sherlock's eyes widened. John hadn't meant to say it like that, but it was out and he couldn't take it back, so he just slid his legs off the bed and sat at the edge of it, yawning. "You put two men in hospital," he said. "With your little stunt."

"A miscalculation." Sherlock took off his coat, draping it neatly over the footboard. "I hadn't intended for anyone to actually be hurt."

"I know." John looked at him. "I got the message."

"Yes, you did," said Sherlock, and John thought he could detect a hint of pride in his voice. "I knew you'd come round to it, eventually. I couldn't be too obvious, lest certain people think I was just handing you answers." He nodded at John. "And you've kept yourself out of the papers, no mention of you anywhere. Good job on that."

John shrugged. "Wouldn't do you much good if I didn't, would it?" He bit his lower lip, looked down at his hands. "How much longer, Sherlock?" he asked, in a quiet voice. "How much more must you do, to get his attention?"

"Not long now," said Sherlock. He took off his gloves and scarf and tossed them on the bed. He smiled at John. "Why do you ask? Could it be that you miss me?" He chuckled.

"Yes," said John.

And there it was. The thing he'd been trying to avoid for a while now. He did miss Sherlock, he missed his presence, his voice. He missed them, the little life they'd put together out of the pieces of their own. John had never put a name to what he felt, but that was close enough.

He glanced at Sherlock. He looked surprised and, for the first time since John'd met him, speechless.

"John, I-"

"Yeah, don't." John held up a hand. "Don't." He stood up. "I'm going up to my room. You can make yourself tea and toast, this time. I'm tired."

He reached for the door. Sherlock clasped a hand around his wrist. His skin was soft but cold despite the gloves. John looked up at him - honestly, how did a man get to be so tall and not be part giraffe? - and swallowed hard. He didn't know what was coming, a punch, a lecture, an apology, but he braced himself for it.

He didn't expect to be kissed.

Sherlock's lips were cracked from the cold, but John found that he really didn't mind. He tensed at first but relaxed when he felt a tongue sliding across his lower lip, and let his mouth go slack. Sherlock kissed him for real then, a hint of teeth and the taste of cigarettes, he must have taken up smoking again. John twisted in Sherlock's grip, reached up and grasped at his shirt, pulling him down so he could kiss back more easily, moving their mouths together, inhaling sharply the scent of smoke, wind, Sherlock.

This was what he'd been looking for when he'd come into the bedroom. This closeness. The familiarity of Sherlock's skin and smell and hair. This thing between them that neither of them had noticed until it wasn't there anymore, when a great divide of their own making reminded them of exactly why they needed each other. John couldn't put a time frame on how long he'd felt this way, it just was. It was something he'd always been waiting for without knowing it.

Apparently that's what it was for Sherlock as well, going by the finally, finally, finally he kept whispering into John's mouth.

"Clothes," he mumbled into Sherlock's lips. Sherlock pulled at his shirt, and John felt the buttons give, heard them skittering across the floor. He shrugged his shirt off, letting it fall at his feet, and pulled away just long enough to get his t-shirt over his head. For a moment he felt self-conscious, stocky and a bit pudgy compared to Sherlock's lean length, but when it became apparent by Sherlock's soft moan that he didn't care, John stopped caring as well. He tried to focus on getting Sherlock's buttons undone but they were tiny and frustrating.

"Bugger this," said John. He pulled Sherlock's shirt open, sacrificing more buttons, and pushed it off of him. So much skin, warmer than it ought to have been, smooth and pale and pressed against him. He reached up and got his hands into Sherlock's hair, grasping fistfuls of it, tugging and pulling as he maneuvered them both back toward the bed.

Sherlock fell onto the mattress and pulled John down with him. "God," he said, hooking a leg around John's knees and hauling him up for another kiss. "John, I-" Sherlock gasped. "I think I miss you, too."

"Oh." John shivered, because he knew what an admission like that must have cost Sherlock to say. "All right," he said, smoothing a hand over Sherlock's chest. "That's all right."

In an awkward tangle of limbs they managed to get the rest of their clothes off. John hadn't spent much time thinking about what Sherlock must look like naked, but it wasn't disappointing. He was hopelessly skinny, more so than usual, his hipbones digging into John's sides, his elbows sharp when they accidentally connected with his sternum. He laughed and wrestled Sherlock until he was beneath him, straddling him, bringing their bodies together in wonderful friction.

"John," said Sherlock, licking his palm and reaching down to wrap his hands around their cocks, stroking once and grunting with it. "In the drawer. Not the purple bottle, the blue one. For God's sake, don't touch the purple one."

John reached over and opened the drawer, spotted the purple bottle and gave it a wide berth as he felt around for the blue one. "Found it," he said, holding it up. Garden-variety lubricant. He thought of Sherlock alone in his bed, this bed, having a wank, and it made him that much harder.

"Here," said Sherlock, holding out a hand. John opened the bottle and squirted the contents into Sherlock's palm. Sherlock smoothed it slick over their cocks and began to stroke with a steady pace, meeting John's eyes. John immediately dropped the bottle and ducked down to kiss him.

"Faster," he breathed, and Sherlock obliged. He could feel it like the beginning of a thunderstorm, building up all around the edges of him. "God, almost-" He licked at Sherlock's mouth, bracing himself against the bed with both hands, nipped at his lips. "Come on-"

Sherlock fell over the edge first. "Fuck-" he gasped, and that word in his voice nearly put John over as well. He looked down between them, watched how Sherlock's body tensed and rippled with orgasm, watched how everything got that much more slick between them. He started thrusting into Sherlock's hands, once, twice, and on the fourth push orgasm rushed up to meet him and he shouted, buried his face in Sherlock's neck. He might have even bit him, he didn't know, didn't care. All he could see was an impossible brightness, his body taut as a violin string, Sherlock the bow.

As the pleasure slowly receded, he collapsed on Sherlock, their bodies sliding together, a slick and sticky mess. Both of them were panting, Sherlock's heart like a captive bird beating its wings against the cage of his ribs, so hard John that could feel it in his own chest. He kept his nose against Sherlock's throat, feeling the pulse there against his eyelids. He couldn't speak.

"Can't breathe," said Sherlock, pushing at him gently. John rolled to the side, making a face at the obscene sound their bodies made when they parted. He kept one hand on Sherlock's chest, as if to keep him there. For a long moment, neither of them spoke. John wondered what Sherlock was thinking, looked at his face. Sherlock's eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted as his breathing slowly returned to normal. It wasn't often he saw Sherlock so relaxed, so he tried to memorise it. In case he never got to see it again.

"An unexpected turn of events," said Sherlock finally. He opened his eyes and looked over at John. "Stop looking as though you've lost your dog. I'm here, John." He reached up and rested his sticky hand over the one John still had pressed against his chest. "I'm still here."

"For how long," said John, swallowing. Sherlock winced.


"No, I know." John nodded. "You've got to see this through. He has to be stopped."

Sherlock offered him a small smile. "Yes," he said. "But when it's over, I will come back." He paused. "Come home."

"To me," said John. "You'll come home, to me. And we'll be all right again."

"Yes," said Sherlock, but he didn't sound as though he believed it.

It was fine. John wasn't sure he believed it, either.

They washed up and dressed, Sherlock complete with coat, scarf and gloves once more, John in Sherlock's blue dressing-gown that barely fit him but kept the chill away. They sat on the sofa, ignoring their cups of tea and just leaning against each other, looking off into middle distance.

"I don't know when I'll be able to return," said Sherlock. John nodded.

"I won't wait up," he said with a sad smile. "What can I expect this time?"

Sherlock shook his head. "That would be telling," he said. "But the truth is that I'm not yet sure. You'll know, though. When it happens. You'll understand."

"I hope so," said John. He bumped his forehead against Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock reached up and curled an arm around him, kissing the top of his head. "I hope to God I do."

"I have every faith in your abilities, John." Sherlock pulled away and stood up. "Because I taught them to you." He looked at John for a long moment, looked like he wanted to say something else. Instead, he merely nodded, and swept out the door without another word.

John went back to bed in Sherlock's room, but he didn't sleep for a long time.

Two days later, the police found a body.

"What did I tell you?" Donovan greeted John in the alley with a sneer. "He's finally done it, hasn't he? I told you, he'd get bored and here we are. And there he is, poor bastard. Shot in the bloody head."

She pointed at the body of a man, sitting up against the wall. He was dressed well, in a suit and tie, and looked to be about middle-aged. Nothing unusual about him, save for the bullet hole in one side of his head. John took a deep breath and ducked under the police tape.

"It's him," said Lestrade. "There's a message and everything." He looked pale, and he regarded John with disbelief. "I didn't think he had it in him," he said. "I never once thought he'd be capable-"

"Right, I know. Psychopath, and all that. Heard it before." John moved away, went to examine the body. He pulled on a pair of gloves and crouched down, mindful not to step in the blood on the ground.

He realised then that it wasn't just blood he stood over, but the latest message. He rose and stood back a bit, so he could see.

Your move.

For the first time since medical school John was afraid he'd be sick at the sight of blood. He staggered back, bend over and took deep breaths, in and out, in and out. He didn't do this, he thought. He couldn't have done this. It's not in him to take a life without reason. Without cause. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the Sherlock from the other night, the one who'd held him, kissed him, and told him he'd come home to him. Whole.

When he righted himself again everyone was staring at him. Ignoring them he moved toward the body again and looked. Really looked.

Businessman, possibly a banker or government, impossible to tell. Married, wedding ring on finger. Dark blue smudge on left forefinger as well. Expensive watch on right wrist. Tie slightly askew to the left. Most likely left-handed - takes one to know one.

John frowned.

The head wound was on the left. The man was left-handed.

He reached down and took the man's left hand by the wrist, lifted it up. Rigor had yet to set in, so the man's hand was limp. He studied the fingers carefully.

There it was. The tiny, faint trace of gunpowder residue.

John thought of Eddie Van Coon, the left-handed man with the bullet hole on the right side of his head. The obvious (once Sherlock pointed it out, of course) murder victim. Sherlock would remember that. Sherlock would know he remembered that.

The relief almost made him dizzy. John stifled a laugh and stood up straight, bracing himself against the wall with one hand. A suicide. The body had been moved, rearranged, but it was obvious from the position of the wound and the residue on his fingers that the poor sod had shot himself in the head. Somehow, Sherlock had found him (not surprising; Sherlock knew every deep, dark place in London where one might consider killing themselves) after the fact and rearranged it to look like a murder, but with a rather obvious clue that it wasn't one, one that John would pick up on faster than the others by dint of being left-handed himself.

It ought to have been disturbing, but for John it was quite possibly the best thing to happen to him in weeks.

Sherlock was not a murderer. There was still a chance for him to come out of this all right.

John looked back to Lestrade and Donovan, who were huddled together and talking, and shooting him glances. John rubbed a hand over his face and hoped he looked suitably subdued. He wasn't going to tell them. The longer they thought 'Monster' had graduated to murder, the better. Especially if it got out into the media.

"What do you think?" asked Lestrade, when he approached them. "Think it was him?"

"Can't say," said John, but he made certain to look as shifty as possible. "Rather hard to tell. Might be a copycat, you know. That happens with cases like these."

"Right." Donovan scowled, turned to Lestrade. "He's covering for him, you know he is. Has been the whole time. He knows it's the freak-"

"Enough, Sergeant," said Lestrade. He looked at John, eyes narrowed, as if he were trying to see into him, read his thoughts, but John had been trained for this. Keep your face blank, reveal nothing. And he'd spent enough time around someone who seemingly could read minds that he knew there wasn't any way Lestrade would be able to figure him out.

"Fine," he said, after a moment. "I'll have the lab get on it. But if I find evidence that it's him, and I find out you've been making excuses..."

"I know," said John. "You can arrest me, I'll go willingly. Until then, I'll be back at my flat." He turned around and walked off, knowing they were watching him, resisting the urge to look back.

He'd hoped, upon returning to Baker Street, that he could have a bit of time to himself to sort out his thoughts, but unfortunately things rarely went the way John wanted them to go. When he walked into the flat, Mycroft Holmes was sitting in an armchair, tapping the floor with his umbrella.

"Good afternoon, John," he said. His smile was grim.

"Mycroft." John nodded at him. He wasn't really surprised by Mycroft's appearance; in fact, he'd been idly wondering when he would get a visit. Surely Mycroft would have noticed his brother's disappearance ages ago. "I'll just put the kettle on, yeah?"

"That would be nice," said Mycroft. "I've been waiting for quite some time."

In the kitchen, John rolled his eyes. "Sorry. Was examining a body."

"I'm well aware." Mycroft kept tapping away. Tap, tap, tap. "The body of James Kepler, as a matter of fact."

John's hands shook as he filled the kettle from the tap. "Friend of yours?"

Tap, tap. "Colleague, actually," said Mycroft. "Worked for the MoD. A good man. He was currently engaged in a project of the utmost secrecy." John glanced at him. Mycroft wasn't looking at him, but rather off at the mantel, at Gary-the-skull. "It is extremely inconvenient that he is dead."

"I'm sure his wife would agree with you," said John. He lit the flame under the kettle and leaned both hands against the counter. "Not surprised you know about it already."

He could feel Mycroft's smile, even if he couldn't see it. "Yes," said Mycroft, "and I know you think it was suicide. I would suggest you reconsider that assessment, Doctor Watson."

John went still.

"Sherlock," said Mycroft, standing up and going to the mantel, picking up the skull, "has always been an interesting boy. We were quite certain he would do great things as he got older. We were also aware that he could do horrid things, as well. The problem was that we could never tell exactly in which direction he was headed."

"He's not-" John whirled around. "You don't know him like I-"

Mycroft turned and gave him a cold look. "Yes, because I know him better," he said. "He is my brother, after all. I've known him for twenty-nine years. You've known him for less than two. Don't profess to know my brother any better than anyone else who's encountered him, John. You do not know what he is capable of."

"He knows what he's capable of," John shot back. "And it's not what you're thinking."

"Ah, John," said Mycroft, with a condescending smile that made John want to throw the kettle at his head. "Your unwavering loyalty is refreshing, if misguided."

"I think I'll be the judge of that," said John. "Don't tell me how I think."

"Wouldn't dream of it." Mycroft replaced the skull and lifted his umbrella, studying the end of it as though it were fascinating. "Consider this merely a warning, John - you may wish to reconsider in whom you place your faith. It's only in your best interests."

John stared at him. "I can't believe his own brother's telling me to be frightened of him," he said. "I get it, I really do - anyone who thinks Sherlock's something other than a madman or a psychopath is an idiot, yeah? Well, then I'm perfectly happy being an idiot." He crossed the room to the door and opened it, looking at Mycroft expectantly. "Don't let the door hit you in the arse, Mycroft."

Mycroft frowned. "Fine," he said icily. "It's on your head, then." As he passed John he stopped, and pointed his umbrella at his chest. "If you know of anything about the death of Kepler, you will contact me." It wasn't a request, but John had no intention of honouring it. He simply nodded and stared Mycroft down, until Mycroft lowered his umbrella and finally left the flat. John didn't relax until he heard the downstairs door slam.

"Christ." John shut the door to the flat and sagged against it. "I can't take much more of this." He pushed off from the door and went back to the kettle, taking it off the fire and making himself a much-needed cup of tea. He'd need to pop out and buy more at this rate. Perhaps he ought to start buying tea in bulk.

The 'murder' hit BBC News 24 in the late afternoon. John watched Lestrade carry out the press conference, confirming that the message was indeed from 'Monster' and that they were now considering him armed and very, very dangerous. He also mentioned they were prepared to release a photograph of the man suspected to be Monster, but that they were awaiting confirmation from their investigative team before they did so. John knew that by 'investigative team' they meant him; Lestrade was waiting, practically begging him - on live television - to call and tell him that yes, Sherlock had snapped, gone mad, and was now killing people on the streets of London.

John wondered if that was what he was supposed to do.

It would change everything, he thought, staring into his cuppa that had long since gone cold. If they matched Sherlock's face to that of the mystery criminal, he didn't know how Sherlock could function after that. He was an unusual-looking man, memorable in that he was tall, handsome and intimidating. People did not forget Sherlock Holmes. People would not forget the Monster. And if the two were one and the same, their lives would never be normal – or occasionally approaching normal - again.

John didn't hesitate to include himself in that equation. He was irrevocably tied to Sherlock now, now that he understood what they'd been drifting toward all this time. It hadn't surprised him that he'd developed feelings for him, but he had been a bit shocked that Sherlock returned them. He hadn't seen that coming, figured it was a one-sided thing that would wear off after a bit, after they grew accustomed to one another. Though, honestly, he'd never killed anyone for a flatmate before, so perhaps he ought to have known then that theirs wouldn't progress like any normal relationship.

So what happened to Sherlock would affect him as well. They might have to leave London, once this was done. Or Sherlock might not come out of it a free man at all. What if Sherlock went to prison for the things he'd done, or wanted people to think he'd done? The mustard gas device was absolutely against the law, the trouble he'd caused, the people he'd hurt whether he meant to or not. Tampering with a corpse was nothing new to Sherlock but this time he didn't have permission from Bart's. Bomb threats, vandalism, robberies - all of these things were enough to put Sherlock away for a long time, if Lestrade elected to go that route. What would happen to Sherlock in prison? What would happen to John without Sherlock?

John sighed. You may have to do things you don't want to do, John, but that you must. It is imperative that you always do the right thing, no matter the cost. He could almost picture Sherlock in front of him, saying those words again, an urgency in his voice that John's never heard before. He knew what he had to do. It was the whole point of this, all along.

He picked up his mobile and dialed.

By evening Sherlock's face was plastered all over London. It was unnerving to see that face - dour, scowling, the only sort of photograph anyone could ever get of him - staring back at him from the television under the word WANTED ON SUSPICION OF MURDER, in large, capital letters. John stared at the screen for a long time, wondering what have I done until he finally fell asleep slumped in his chair.

He woke when the remote control slipped from his hand and hit the floor. When he opened his eyes, Sherlock was sitting on the sofa, watching him with an unreadable expression. He looked tired, though his eyes were wide open, awake and searching John like he was the greatest puzzle. John cleared his throat and bent to pick up the remote.

"I thought we agreed you wouldn't wait up," said Sherlock. "Not a very comfortable place to sleep."

"Wasn't waiting up for you," said John. "Just tired. Lots to handle, these past few days." He rubbed a hand over his face, up into his hair. "Tea?"

"None for me, thanks." Sherlock stood and swept around the room, picking things up and putting them down. He seemed agitated. John wasn't sure why, but when Sherlock picked up the skull John thought of Mycroft, we don't know what he's capable of. Immediately John was on edge as well; something was wrong. "Are you all right?"

Sherlock turned and grinned at him. It was a terrible smile, bright and gleaming and false at the eyes. "I'm brilliant," he said. He pointed to the television. "The city is terrified of me. It's absolutely marvelous."

John swallowed. "Are you... enjoying this?" he asked, though he really didn't want to know the answer. He was afraid he might already know. "Because that's... not good, Sherlock. You oughtn't be enjoying this."

"Why not?" Sherlock clapped his gloved hands and rubbed them together. "This is the kind of thing I used to dream about when I was a boy, John. The day when I was the one in charge. London knows I'm in control and the police are useless, completely useless. They're at my mercy. These people have no idea what I'm capable of."

"Jesus..." John felt cold, all the warmth and color gone from the world as the words spilled from Sherlock's mouth. "Mycroft was right, then."

Sherlock frowned. "My brother was here," he said. "Of course he was, can't keep his bloody nose out of other people's business."

"The suicide, that man, was one of his colleagues. He's a right to be concerned, Sherlock."

"Oh." Sherlock smiled again and this time, it was sincere. "You actually do think it was a suicide. That's lovely."

John felt ill. "It was a suicide," he said carefully. "I could tell, you knew I'd be able to tell." He stared at Sherlock. "It was."

"Of course it was," said Sherlock. He looked at John as though he were a simple child. "You're the doctor, after all."

This isn't how it's supposed to go, thought John. They should have been having tea, discussing the next bit of the plan, then perhaps moving into the bedroom where it would be warm and dark and close. Not this. Not John feeling as though the world was tilting heavily to one side, threatening to upset their already tentative balance of things. "Sherlock-"

"Oh, enough, John!" Sherlock's voice rattled off the windows. "Honestly, I don't bloody care that you disapprove of what I do, because I don't need or want your approval in the first place."

John's mouth fell open slightly in shock. "What is this?" he asked softly. "I thought we-"

Sherlock snorted. "One ill-advised shag," he said, voice full of spite, "and you think it ought to be sunshine and roses." He made a disgusted face. "Look, what I do out there has nothing to do with what goes on in here." Sherlock glared at John, as if he resented him for making him have to explain this. "If you can't separate my work from our personal lives then that's your problem, but believe me when I say I have no trouble with it at all."

"Your work." John shook his head. Sherlock's little speech replaced his shock with anger, a fury he could feel building in his chest, curling his hands into fists. "You bastard." He jumped up and lunged at Sherlock, shoving him. "I trusted you in all this! God, I helped you. And you've just gone and become part of it?"

"That was, you know, the whole idea," Sherlock said with a sniff, making a point to brush off his coat where John had touched it. "I merely decided it suited me better than the rubbish I did before. Don't you see, John? There's no boredom in it. And all the simple, ridiculous people I encounter, I can be rid of them easily." He smiled slightly, almost euphorically. "So easily."

"Shut up!" John shoved him again, against the wall, knocking things off shelves but not caring. "Just shut up, I don't want to hear it!"

"Of course not," said Sherlock. "It wounds your heroic sensibilities to know that you helped do this." He grinned, all teeth and terror. "I couldn't have done it without you, John."

That was all he could take. He took a swing and managed to catch Sherlock in the jaw, but Sherlock was fast, having anticipated the punch before John had even thrown it. He grabbed John by the arm and wrenched it around behind him.

"You shouldn't have done that," he said, forcing John to his knees, twisting his arm until he cried out. "I didn't want to have to deal with this, it's so tedious."

John hissed in pain, struggled to free himself. "Fuck off," he said, through gritted teeth. "Let me go."

Sherlock laughed. "And then what? You ring up that idiot and have him and his little minions come for me? How droll."

John reached back with his free hand. He'd taken to carrying his gun recently, not knowing what was going to happen at any given moment, though the idea of using it on Sherlock made him feel as though he would be sick. Or maybe it was the pain as Sherlock intentionally wrenched John's wounded shoulder, he couldn't tell. John managed to twist his other arm round until he could reach the waistband of his jeans at the small of his own back.

His gun wasn't there.

John looked up and found Sherlock staring down at him, a smile on his face, and John's pistol in his hand.

"Looking for this?" asked Sherlock. Then he brought the gun down toward John's skull.

A flash of pain, and everything stopped.

The first thing John became aware of, when he regained consciousness, was the cold concrete floor beneath him. Groaning and rolling onto his side, he opened one eye, tried to focus on his surroundings. It was artificially bright and cold, and he could smell the Thames. A warehouse, or an unused dock. A typical venue for that sort of thing, a kidnapping. Must have run in the family.

"Welcome back."

Immediately John moved, despite a wave of pain and nausea, rolling over again onto all fours. He felt something hard beneath him - his gun. He grappled for it, got his hand around the grip and lifted it in the direction of Sherlock's voice . He opened both eyes.

Sherlock stood several feet away, hands in his pockets, cheeks flushed with cold. "Are you going to shoot me, John?" he asked, completely calm.

"I'd rather not," said John, leveling the gun at Sherlock, aiming for center of mass. "But give me a reason to and I won't wait."

"What more reason do you need?" Sherlock took a step toward him and John hooked his finger around the trigger. "Clearly, I must be stopped. So stop me." Sherlock held up his hands, palms out, making himself a better target. "Stop me, John. Before I do something even worse."

John shook his head. "I don't know what your game is," he said, "but I'm not playing it. Just tell me what the fuck is going on. We can talk this out."

"Are you actually trying to negotiate with me?" Sherlock laughed. "You are ridiculous. I'm not going to negotiate, you idiot. Either you're going to shoot me and end all of this, or..."

"Or what?"

"Or you won't," said Sherlock. He smiled. "You won't shoot me. You haven't got it in you. You can't shoot me. I know why."

John couldn't help but shiver. It was cold, his head ached and he could feel the sick rolling in his belly. "Why?"

Sherlock tilted his head and regarded John with indifference. "You love me."

"I..." John couldn't finish the sentence. He didn't know how. He wasn't certain what he felt was love, not yet, but the potential was there. Or had been. He didn't know how he felt now, now that this brilliant, beautiful, terrible man had become something else that he didn't want to feel anything for. He couldn't fall for a madman, a terrorist, a monster.

Could he?

John lifted the gun a little higher, pointed it right at the space between Sherlock's eyes. "Beginning to question the validity of that statement," he said. "You're certainly doing your best to discourage me."

"Oh, I doubt that," said Sherlock. "I think you like me like this."

"That's completely-"

"True." Sherlock pointed at him. "You like me when I'm dangerous. You love me dangerous." He took another step forward. John's hands remained steady. "You helped me become the most dangerous man in London, John."

John shook his head, mindless of the pain. "That wasn't what I-"

"It was," said Sherlock quickly. "That was exactly what it was. So, either you're going to undo all your hard work, or you're going to let me live and let me continue. That's why I gave you your gun back. So you could make an informed decision." He looked at John expectantly.

It was too much. All of it - the words, the warehouse, the look on Sherlock's face (calculating, frozen, the look of a madman who had no human left in him). John's head hurt and the room was spinning, and he didn't know what to think. What the hell do I do? I can't kill him, he's right, it's not in me to kill him. He wasn't certain he had a name for what he felt, but he felt something, and it was enough to make the gun in his hand tremble. And even now, all John wanted to do was drop the gun and walk up to Sherlock, put his hand on his heart and kiss the sense back into him. What does that make me, he wondered, that I still want to kiss a man who's assaulted me, kidnapped me, told me he's changed into something wretched and unrecognizable?

"Actually, I think I might just hate you," he said softly, "for making me do this."

Sherlock nodded. "It makes things easier, doesn't it," he said. "To lie to yourself." He took another step forward.

"Don't," said John. He tightened his grip on the gun. "Don't give me a reason."

"I've given you several," said Sherlock, ignoring the warning.

John shifted. The gun faltered, for only a second.

Sherlock lurched forward, grabbing for it.

John pulled the trigger.

Crying out in pain, Sherlock slammed into John, knocking the gun from his hand and John to the floor. The impact turned John's body into a block of agony, and he lay on his side, unable to move, eyes squeezed shut. He thought he would actually be sick, the pain rolling in his belly, squeezing the breath out of him. John remembered feeling like this, once before. He remembered what he thought then, with a hot bullet in his shoulder.

Get up. Get up, keep fighting. It's not over. Get up.

John opened one eye. Hazily he could see the gun, only two feet away, on the floor. With a groan he stretched out for it, only to be stopped by a foot coming down hard on his wrist. "Fuck-" he gasped. He looked up, blearily.

Sherlock stood over him, panting, face flushed, clutching at his arm. John could see rivulets of scarlet oozing between his fingers. He stared up at Sherlock, trying to read him. Sherlock just stared back, and John thought he looked almost... impressed.

The silence was broken by the sound of slow clapping.

"Bravo," said a voice, one John would never forget because it haunted his nightmares for weeks. "That was so entertaining!" He twisted round as best he could and caught sight of a small figure in a dark suit, walking toward them. He stopped a dozen feet away, regarding John with what he could only describe as abject pity. "Top notch. You really are adorable, Doctor Watson."

"He is, isn't he?" said Sherlock, not taking his eyes off John. "An adorable little pain in my arse. And my arm, damn it." He gripped his bicep harder, trying to stop the flow of blood.

Moriarty sniffed, walked over and inspected the wound on Sherlock's arm. "Oh, don't whinge so much, my dear. It's superficial at best." He looked down at John, smirked. "I must say, I didn't expect you to follow through on my request to bring your pet to me. Suppose I thought it was the one line you'd never cross. You're so sentimental sometimes, Sherlock. It's nauseating."

Sherlock swallowed, licked his lips. "I keep my promises, Jim." He glanced over at Moriarty. "What did you have in mind for him?"

John closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. Having to listen to the exchange, listening to Sherlock being friendly with this lunatic, hurt as much as his shoulder did, if not more. "If you're going to kill me," he said, his voice rough and tired, "just bloody do it. Don't faff about or show off how clever you both are. I'm not impressed. Not interested." His little speech took a lot out of him, and he stopped, breathing hard. Sherlock's foot flexed against his wrist, pressing it painfully into the floor.

"Shut up," said Sherlock, looking back at John. "You don't get to make the decisions now. You had your chance and you botched it."

"I think," said Moriarty, "that I'm going to leave it entirely up to you, my dear." Moriarty looked at Sherlock with a bright smile. "I'd like to see what you can do to him. And I want his blood on your hands. I think it would go nicely with your eyes." Moriarty batted his eyelashes at John and giggled, then sobered quickly with a horrible, hard look he directed back at Sherlock. "I want you to make him hurt."

"Hm." Sherlock studied John, gave him that same calculating look John had become accustomed to their first week of flat-sharing. It was the look Sherlock wore when he was trying to figure out a particularly troubling puzzle, or when John had done something completely normal and thus confusing. It wasn't something John expected to see in this situation, and it was so much like the old Sherlock, his Sherlock, that for a moment he had the insane feeling that he might cry. Or worse, laugh.

"Just kill me," he said. He'd been reduced to an exhausted whisper. "Pick up the bloody gun and end it."

Sherlock clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Oh, John - don't you know that I know you better than that?" he said. "That's the coward's way out. You'd never allow me to do that. You'll go down fighting, of course. That's all you know how to do, you fight. Most people think it's the war, but it isn't, is it? You've been like this for ages. It's why you follow me around, get in my way. It's why you're so easily impressed with what I do. Your simple little mind gets off on it. Gets off on me. Even now, you couldn't do it. You're a soldier, you've killed people without a second thought, people more innocent than I, and yet you couldn't do it. Because you still want me, everything about me. Even though I can - and will - destroy you."

Sherlock leaned down closer to John's ear. "If you had any sense at all," he said, his voice low, syrupy, "you wouldn't have missed."

The pressure of Sherlock's foot against his wrist lessened slightly. It took John a moment to realise that Sherlock was no longer preventing him from reaching for the gun. He looked up, looked Sherlock in the eye, and thought of that night at the pool. The night they communicated an entire plan of action in a single nod. He looked for that, the thing that he saw then, that told him it was going to be all right. That Sherlock knew what he was doing.

When he found it, a tiny, upward twitch at the corner of Sherlock's lips, he nearly shouted in triumph.

"Right," said John, tensing up, preparing himself. "Except, Sherlock, if you really did know me as well as you think you do, you'd know the most important thing about me.

"I. Don't. Miss."

In a single motion, he slid forward, scooped the gun into his hand and swung round, firing a bullet into Moriarty's forehead. Moriarty hit the floor in a crumpled, undignified heap, and was still.

It was over. Even a criminal mastermind couldn't do much against a bullet meant for his brain. Moriarty, for all his bluster, was just as mortal as they were, if not more so.

After all, they were still standing.

With a groan John hauled himself to his feet. He staggered a bit, dizzy, but was able to see Sherlock moving away, approaching the body. He nudged it with his foot, rolling Moriarty over onto his back, his face frozen in a wide-eyed stare.

"Huh," said Sherlock, as John came up to stand beside him. "He was right."

"What about?" asked John, breathing hard, weighing the gun in his hand. He felt powerful, invincible, which was probably not the way one ought to feel after having just killed someone. He supposed that rule didn't extend to psychotic twats like Moriarty, though. It was probably okay to enjoy this one.

Sherlock snorted. "I do relish the look of surprise on his face."

He looked over at John then with a lopsided, weary little smile, swallowed hard and reached out to rest a gentle hand on his bad shoulder. "Are you all right?" he asked. He looked at John, his face all urgency and regret, and it sent a stab of something to John's heart. "It had to be believable. He had to believe I was capable of hurting you. I didn't want to. I swear it."

John winced. "You're capable, all right, but I believe you." He did believe him. He should have from the start, but Sherlock was a talented actor and John was a bit vulnerable where Sherlock was concerned. Trust issues, indeed.

He switched the safety on his gun and tucked it in the waistband of his jeans, then stepped up to pry Sherlock's hand away from his shoulder. "I tried to graze you," he said, inspecting the bullet wound. "I just wanted to frighten you, surprise you."

"You did," said Sherlock. He made a pained face as John prodded at his arm. "You bloody shot me."

"And you clubbed me in the head with my own gun," said John. "Suppose we're even now."

"Listen, John-"

Whatever Sherlock planned to say was interrupted by a commotion behind them. John turned and saw Lestrade and Donovan rushing toward them, accompanied by several uniformed officers. He could see the flashing lights of patrol cars dancing through the windows of the warehouse.

"We got the snipers," said Lestrade to Sherlock. "They were right where you said they'd be. How'd you know?"

Sherlock ignored him and gestured toward the body. "Anderson ought to come clean that up," he said. "I'm sure you'll find sufficient evidence to attribute the recent crime spree to him."

Lestrade's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. "Is that..." He leaned around Sherlock, peering at the body, already being swarmed by police officers. "That's the bloke you said blew up that swimming pool? Moriarty?" he said. "Almost did you both in?"

"One and the same," said Sherlock. "I'd appreciate a retraction by morning, so that I don't get funny looks when I pop round the newsagent's. As interesting as it was for a time, I'd rather not be one of London's most wanted."

"Right." Lestrade stepped up to Sherlock, looked him in the eye. "You're going on record, then? Saying you didn't do any of those things? The mustard gas? The bomb threat? The murder?"

"Not a murder, for God's sake." Sherlock looked disgusted. "Obviously a suicide. Even Anderson will be able to tell that. Eventually."

"Hang on," said John, looking from Sherlock to Lestrade and back again. "How did they know to find us here?" he asked, gesturing at the police.

"Your landlady," said Lestrade. "She saw Sherlock's face on the news, then saw him dragging your arse out of the flat and into a taxi. She rang us, and I didn't think that was a line Sherlock would ever cross, to be honest. Harming you." He smiled faintly at John, and John - surprised - smiled back. Lestrade knows Sherlock better than he thinks, he thought, and a damned sight better than Moriarty thought he did. "Then I got a message telling me to be here at this time, and to take care of a handful of snipers posted throughout the place."

He glared at Sherlock. "Next time," he said, "feel free to let the rest of us in on your bloody plans." Lestrade paused, then blinked. "Fuck me, you've been shot. Who was bloody shooting? Come to it, who shot Moriarty?"

John opened his mouth, but before he could speak Lestrade held up a hand.

"No, never mind, don't answer that. I don't want to know." He gave John a stern look. "You need hospital, mate."

Sherlock shook his head. "He needs to go home," he said. "Statements can wait, can't they? You'll get more from the snipers than from us, anyway. They've nothing to fear and nothing to hide behind with their employer dead."

Lestrade waved them off. "Get out of here. I'll do a press conference tomorrow, once we get something on this guy I can talk about. You won't have to worry about running from little old ladies at Tesco."

"He never goes to Tesco," muttered John. He would likely drop dead of cardiac arrest if Sherlock ever did the shopping voluntarily.

"You won't find anything on him," said Sherlock, "but it won't be necessary. With my help you'll be able to link him to half the crimes in the unsolved files, if not more."

John broke in. "After you've had a decent meal and a night's sleep," he said, taking Sherlock by his good arm. "Tomorrow, Detective Inspector." He started to pull Sherlock away.

"Wait," said Lestrade. "One more thing."

Sherlock turned toward him, just in time for Lestrade to land a smart left hook directly to Sherlock's jaw.

"Fuck." Sherlock staggered and it was only John that kept him upright. The rest of the officers stared in complete shock.

"That," said Lestrade, shaking out his hand, "was for bloody hitting me in the head, you bastard."

John steadied Sherlock. "Suppose that's fair," he said. "But we're going now, before Donovan and Anderson think it's a free-for-all." He practically frog-marched Sherlock away from Lestrade, away from the gaping officers, the body on the floor, the last few months.

John steered Sherlock toward a waiting ambulance, to get a temporary bandage put on his wound so he wouldn't bleed all over. Afterward he managed to convince a policeman to give them a lift back to Baker Street, since there were no taxis to be had at that hour, in that area.

"You going to punch me as well?" asked Sherlock, once they were in the back of the patrol car. He rubbed his jaw and pouted. "If so, aim for my right. Keep the bruising symmetrical."

"Don't tempt me," said John. He smiled at him. Sherlock looked up and tentatively smiled back, though it looked like it hurt to.

Neither of them said anything else for the rest of the journey across London. John had never before understood how Sherlock could think that someone's thoughts were too loud and annoying, but as they traveled across the city he could hear the sturm-und-drang of Sherlock thinking. What about, he had no idea, but that didn't matter. Sherlock silent and deep in thought was comforting. Normal.

Still, it would have been nice if Sherlock said something. Anything. It would be completely unlike him to do so, but John foolishly wished that Sherlock would break character for once and tell him something reassuring, reaffirm that everything was fine, now. It felt silly to want that sort of thing, but John was tired, and the last few months had been exceptionally trying. Reassurance was, he felt, not too dear to wish for.

And John could think of a thousand things he wanted to say himself, things about what was said between them, and what it meant outside the deception, and what it meant to them and what they were (hopefully, still) now. Things he needed to say, but had no words for. He kept trying to think of some, but couldn't.

But when Sherlock leaned his head against John's good shoulder, closed his eyes and let out a long breath, John forgot all of them. Instead, he reached over and rested a hand on Sherlock's knee, and kept it there until they were home.

"Perhaps we ought to have gone to hospital," said Sherlock, pressing a warm cloth to John's bad shoulder. "I could have seriously damaged you."

They were in Sherlock's bedroom, shoes off and stripped bare to the waist. John sat on the edge of the bed while Sherlock knelt behind him, working a wet flannel over his back. It felt so good that John bent forward, his head bowed and his eyes closed, groaning softly.

"I'm fine," he said. "Nothing a few paracetamol and a lie-in won't sort out." John reached back and patted Sherlock's thigh. "How's your arm?"

"Fine." Sherlock dipped the washcloth into a bowl of hot water and wrung it out. "You only nicked me a bit. I don't really notice it, not since you bandaged it up."

John snorted. "You're a terrible liar," he said with a laugh. "Or else you've taken more paracetamol than you were supposed to."

Sherlock was quiet for a moment. "Might have done," he said softly. He pressed the flannel to John's shoulder again, working at the tense, mangled muscle there. John could feel the hesitation in his hands, could sense something unsettling, but he didn't say anything. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk about it, yet. He still had no words for anything he felt.

He felt the flannel slide away, the backs of Sherlock's knuckles traveling up across the nape of his neck, and then a pressure at the crown of his head as Sherlock pushed his face into John's hair, inhaling sharply.*

"John," said Sherlock. "Those things I said-"

"Were true," said John quickly. Now he understood. "All of them."


"It's all right," said John. He twisted round with only a slight wince, so he could look at Sherlock. "You'd never have convinced him otherwise if you'd lied, made stuff up. You'd never have convinced me." He sighed. "Deception only works if there's a bit of truth to it."

Sherlock looked contrite. "I needed you to be defensive," he said, "so you'd be at your best on the offence." He paused. "The things I told Mycroft to tell you about me, those things were all true. I'm not normal, and nobody knows what I might do, one day. Not even me."

John smiled. "I was wondering why he'd come to see me," he said. He took the flannel out of Sherlock's hand and ran it over a spot of blood on Sherlock's chin. "So, then what you said about me, it was true as well." He put the cloth back in the bowl, looked away. You can't kill me. You love me. "Even that one bit."

"Which bit was- oh." Sherlock's eyes widened with recollection. "You- was I right? About that?"

"Suppose so," said John. He bit his lower lip, feigned fascination in his thumbnail. He hadn't realised it before, but that was what was was niggling at him, in the taxi. That he still felt that way about Sherlock, despite everything. It was disturbing, yes, John knew that, but if it was powerful enough to overcome the monster, then it was most definitely sincere. And that made it fine. "If not now, then likely very soon." He risked looking up at Sherlock, found him looking almost comically befuddled. "But mostly, yeah. You were right."

"Ah," said Sherlock. He was still, thoughtful, and John could almost hear the gears turning, that great mind processing what he'd just said. "I think... Yes, I think I may share that sentiment. Or, I will in short order." He smiled a bit shyly at John, clearly unused to admitting to someone a normal, boring thing such as affection.

John swallowed hard. Hadn't expected that. "Oh," he said, and then he was drawn into long arms and a warm chest, his nose pressed against Sherlock's clavicle, Sherlock's enormous hands splayed across his back and in his hair. John felt lips against the top of his head, against his temple.

"Sherlock," he murmured, against Sherlock's skin.

"Yes," he said, into John's hair.

Slowly, John felt all his tension, his uncertainty, melt away, drawn out by Sherlock's warmth and presence. He tilted his face up and caught Sherlock's mouth with his, kissed him slowly, carefully. Sherlock kissed back, just as delicate, slipping his tongue along the seam of John's lips until he parted them and let him in.

Sherlock lay back, pulling John with him, arranging them side by side on the bed with their legs tangled together. They kissed lazily, and though John was half-hard already he wasn't too fussed about it. He could appreciate a nice, leisurely snog, and after the day they'd had he wasn't entirely certain if they were truly up for anything else. It was enough, he thought, just to be here now, in this bed, in their home, with this man.

Sherlock, however, had other ideas.

A hand snaked down and cupped John through his jeans, massaging gently. John gasped a noise of surprise into Sherlock's mouth.

"I want this, with you," murmured Sherlock, not breaking the kiss. "You've no idea how much I need you."

Sherlock's voice made John shiver, gooseflesh spreading across his skin. "I probably do," he said, moving so that he was straddling Sherlock, ducking down to kiss his neck. "I need you too, of course." He sucked a mark into the pale, blank canvas of Sherlock's throat. "God, do I need you."

It was a wriggle, getting out of his clothes and getting Sherlock out of his, but once they managed it in a flailing knot of limbs John thought it was positively gorgeous. All their skin sliding together, Sherlock's mouth against the pulse point below his left ear, hands roaming everywhere.

"I need you to understand something," said Sherlock, licking at John's throat. "I don't do this. You're an exception. The exception." He swallowed audibly. "I was prepared not to live through that. I had concluded he would kill me, and so I planned to take him down with me. Then I promised you I'd return, and I had to..." He paused, mouth against John's chin. "I had to come to a different conclusion. I never do that, John. Except now. For you."

As a confession, it was overwhelming. John shook, and for a moment he could do nothing but stare down at Sherlock. He certainly never does anything by halves, he thought. Just never thought that'd include me.

"Hang on," said John, pushing Sherlock's arms up, pressing them into the mattress. "Just be still for a bit, yeah?" John kissed a path down the center of Sherlock's chest, pausing to nose at the sparse hair at the base of his belly. Sherlock kept his arms up over his head, gripping the headboard, looking down at John's progress with the same fixated fascination he normally reserved for corpses and clues. John shivered at the thought of being the center of that mighty focus, the only thought in Sherlock's incredible brain, and decided he'd better earn that attention properly.

He licked his palm and wrapped his hand around Sherlock, stroking once. Sherlock hissed and arched up into the touch. "Ah, fuck- John-"

John smirked, eased Sherlock's foreskin back and licked at the head, looking up and watching him. Sherlock jerked and gasped and shuddered, but never once took his eyes away from John's.

It'd been quite a long time since John had sucked someone off, but fortunately it was something that came quickly back to him once he got started. He descended on Sherlock like a man starving, making obscene sounds with his mouth in harmony to Sherlock's softly muttered curses and sharp breaths.

"John," said Sherlock, his voice gone rough and hoarse. "God, John..."

John chose that moment to take as much of Sherlock into his mouth as he could fit, and suck.

Sherlock's orgasm sounded almost painful. He gave a shout of gibberish, scrabbling at the sheets beneath them. John swallowed as quickly as he could until he had to pull off and breathe, and caught some of the mess on his chin. He chuckled, swiped at it and licked his fingers clean.

"Christ," said Sherlock. He lay flat on his back, eyes on the ceiling, wide and clear and empty save for the aftermath of pleasure. It was a refreshing thing to see, a Sherlock who couldn't think properly, even if it would only last a few more seconds. Sherlock gulped in huge lungfuls of air and came back to himself, that sharp focus slipping into place again. He looked down at John, and John crawled up to meet him, kissing Sherlock's own taste into his mouth.

"Let me," said Sherlock. He reached down and curled long fingers around John's cock. John was hard, achingly so, and leaking and just the brush of Sherlock's impossibly soft hand nearly did him in. He rolled onto his back, one arm stretched up over his head and the other hand sifting through Sherlock's hair before pulling him close for another kiss.

It didn't take long for Sherlock to stroke John to orgasm. John came with Sherlock's name on his lips, biting at Sherlock's mouth. When at last he relaxed, with Sherlock's head resting against the rise and fall of his chest, John looked down and ran his hand through Sherlock's hair. Sherlock closed his eyes and all but purred like an outsized cat.

They stayed like that for a long moment, listening to their shared breathing.

"Do you think I'm a monster, John?" asked Sherlock after a bit. His voice was low but almost childlike, and it stole straight into John's body and settled in his chest, where it ached.

John could feel Sherlock's heartbeat against his arm. Steady, sure and true.

"No," he said. "You're you."

And you've got me, he thought. And it's us, only us, against all the real monsters of the world.

Perhaps together, they could survive them all.