The Finish Line
It happened too fast for John to process. One minute, he and Sherlock were running down cold London alleyways, chasing after people who had managed to retrieve the memory stick that Moriarty had so carelessly thrown in the pool, and the next, Sherlock was nowhere to be found and John was left stood in a puddle in a part of the city that he didn't even knew existed. That was not good. John knew everywhere. People rushed by and he stood in a back street, panting, the world muffled by exhaustion. But the next sound rang round through the dark night, and it made John's hair stand on end.
It must have been instinct, military knowledge or something, but John knew that he had to find Sherlock, and find him quickly. All other thoughts forgotten, he raced on through the winding roads, breathlessly calling out his friend's name, praying that what he had heard wasn't true.
"Sherlock? For god's sake, where are you?"
He stopped next to an abandoned petrol garage, and for one minute, he let his emotions run wild. What if Sherlock was dead, lying somewhere in a gutter, or what if he'd been taken by these people, hurt by them? He couldn't let that happen. So he ran on, shouting until his voice went hoarse. As he flew past yet another dark alley he caught sight of a long coat peeking out from behind a bin. He pushed it out of the way, and there lay Sherlock, clutching his side and gasping for air as a red stain oozed slowly outwards, staining his crisp white shirt. He must have heard John's breath catch in his throat, because he looked up, eyes wide and let out an involuntary whimper when he caught sight of the only friendly face he thought he'd ever see. The doctor could only stare for a minute. His eyes shone with tears that he never wanted to shed and Sherlock just grew weaker.
He ran to Sherlock's side and ripped his suit jacket off, not bothering for niceties. He would buy him another one when he knew he was safe. The stain was making its way across the whole of the shirt and John knew that too much blood loss wasn't good for a person, not even Sherlock. He pulled at the buttons and when he caught a glimpse of alabaster skin drenched in crimson, his shoulder twinged painfully. Something to do with a sight-sensitive memory, his therapist had said. Small reminders trigger big events, that sort of the thing. But he had no time for that now. Sherlock was gasping less, shuddering less, blinking less. Even the thickest of doctors knew that when it came to death, less was bad.
As he went to pull the rest of the buttons apart, Sherlock suddenly grabbed his hand with a vice-like grip. He gazed up at John with desperate, pleading eyes, his usual icy colour tinged with terror.
That was what scared John more.
Not the bullet – John had seen bullets, saved people from them, saved himself from them. Not the cold – John knew that it could be remedied. What scared John was that at that moment, as everyone else went on with their humdrum citizen lifestyle, Sherlock wasn't himself. He was shaking and he was scared. Sherlock Holmes didn't get scared. But evidently he did, and John knew that he needed a friend more than ever.
John's own hands were shaking as he pulled out his phone to dial 999 and Sherlock's grip tightened as another wave of agony swept over him. He looked over at the detective's face, so scared of what he might see, and his eyes were scrunched up as he gritted his teeth and shouted through the rest of the pain. John knew he had to do this. The pain wouldn't go away. As much as he wanted to, there wasn't some magic pill that he could give Sherlock that would take it all away. He pulled at part of his top that had caught while he was running and ripped a strip off, pressing it to Sherlock's exposed chest. He had to buy him time.
He shuddered. It was barely a whisper, something caught on the wind as it whistled through the trees. But it echoed around his mind like cannon fire. It was quiet, but to John it was too loud. He knew he had to be strong for Sherlock – when he was this fragile, John couldn't let him down. Sherlock might be crazy, unpredictable and slightly reckless, but he had the greatest moral compass that John had ever witnessed. And John had been in the army. The man would throw himself in front of cars for John, push him out of the way of gunfire. He was the greatest man that John had ever known, and he couldn't let him go to waste.
"It's alright Sherlock, you're safe. I'm here, nothing's going to happen to you."
He hoped that Sherlock had more faith in those words that he did.
The air was colder, the night was darker and the ambulance still hadn't arrived. To be fair, John hadn't given the most accurate description of where they were, but blind panic had forced him to scream down the phone, begging someone to help. Out of sight of Sherlock, of course. He couldn't let him know that John was scared. He was all Sherlock had, the only thing he could rely on, and John knew from experience that someone to hold your hand was one of the most comforting things in the world, no matter who you were. Not even if you were Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock seemed determined to fight back, determined to win. His eyes were clamped shut as he fought back the darkness that threatened to engulf him, and John knew how he felt. Alone. As if nothing could ever possibly save you. So he squeezed the detective's hand, just slightly, just to let him know that he wasn't going anywhere. His friend looked up at him, eyes beginning to glaze the tiniest bit, and gave him the smallest of smiles back. A quirk of the corner of his mouth, letting John know that he appreciated it, that he was the greatest person that Sherlock had ever known – everything in that tiny smile. And then John decided. Sherlock wouldn't die. He'd fight it, he'd win. God knows he did that with everything else: arguments, gangs, life. Sherlock would beat it.
John swallowed as the tall man began to shake again. He was scared. John never thought he'd hear that. He never hoped to. To John, Sherlock was this rock, this indefinable source of power, strength, stability. He felt safe with Sherlock, secure, like nothing could hurt him. That mind, that amazing, beautiful mind acted like a shield from the world, and now, as it lay in a damp back street, shuddering and panting, John had never felt more vulnerable.
The night went on, and John just held Sherlock; kept him warm, kept him safe, kept him alive. John only dared to hope when he heard the distant whine of the paramedics in the distance, and only dared to breathe a sigh of relief when he heard the ambulance crew calling his name as they blindly fumbled their way across the city towards him. Sherlock was whisked up onto a gurney, wheeled to the vehicle, oxygen mask on his face, shirt ripped well and truly apart as they took in the full extent of the damage.
John never let go of his hand.
As they sat in the ambulance, Sherlock stared up at him, eyes still so fearful; so pale, but so deep and they didn't need to talk. Silence was enough. In the hospital, neither of them dared break to the quiet of the ward, pierced only by the bleep of the heart monitor. Sherlock was stable, he would be back to normal in a matter of months, no lasting damage. That was enough for John. As long as he knew he was safe, that he'd have the genius back in 221b demanding tea by Christmas, he was fine.
He looked up. Sherlock stared at him with an intensity he had never seen. It wasn't fear, the fear was gone. It was something he couldn't identify.
"I'm here, Sherlock. Until the finish line, whatever that is, wherever it might be. I'm here."