AN: OMG finally! I thought I might never finish. I appreciate everyone's patience and I hope the length of this makes up for the wait.

This chapter feels rambling to me but it should explain some things and bring Sherlock back into character a bit. Or perhaps not. I'm so afraid I hit my peak in chapter 2 lol!

Please forgive my somewhat unimaginative 'pool scene'. I know the real writers will have come up with something far more clever though why I keep comparing myself to real writers I really don't know. Let me know what you think! As always good and bad (as in constructive not cruel) criticisms are greatly welcomed. Thanks all!

XXXXXXX

He'd been in a similar situation in Afghanistan. A grenade had gone off near his position, the blast sending him flying and knocking him out cold. He'd woken in an army hospital, disoriented, memory cloudy as to how he'd arrived there. It hadn't lasted long and other than a bump to the head and a broken bone or two he'd faired quite well. Still it had been none the less unpleasant.

Waking up now he was brought back to that moment, made worse by the fact that he couldn't seem to get any part of his body to move. This included his eyes, which refused to open. Training overcame panic though; medical, military and the education that comes with working alongside the world's only consulting detective. He used the one thing currently available to him – his hearing. He noted the steady (though rapid) beat of what must be a heart monitor next to his bed, the sound of a woman's voice paging Doctor...well, a doctor anyhow. He heard an ambulance siren sounding from outside.

He deduced he was in a hospital and reasoned that whatever the cause for it, he was probably in the best possible place to be cared for. This knowledge calmed him further and he felt his breathing slow. This made him realize that he was breathing, and on his own, so he couldn't be paralyzed; at least not as completely as he felt. No doubt then it was the lingering effects of sedation and he had no choice but to wait it out. Still, he was without answers as to why he was there.

He didn't wonder for long. Memories of the night previous came to him in an assault of mental images: the men in the car, the decrepit building, a gun pointed at Sherlock...

He'd been shot. The sharp pain in his chest confirmed that fact. But even sharper was the memory of Sherlock's face when he'd watched John fall.

There was little that could really scare John off with all he'd seen on his tour of duty and as a doctor. It wasn't that he had no response whatsoever. When faced with a threat he'd feel the unavoidable rush of adrenaline, fear, panic. Long ago he'd found that giving over to them dispelled the feelings much faster than fighting them. So he would allow the sensations to engulf him then use them to his advantage, always finding the eye of the storm as it were to do what needed to be done. But the look on Sherlock's face in that moment was enough to make him very nearly forget he had a bullet in his stomach. Even in battle he'd never seen rage as what transformed Sherlock's features. It was so powerful, like it was tangible. John could practically feel it emanating from his friend.

Without preamble, without any warning at all in fact, Sherlock swept toward the shooter and struck the man upside the head so hard that he went down and stayed there. John almost felt sorry for the poor bastard who didn't seem to be moving at all now.

Sherlock didn't stop there, though. With unexpected strength from his deceptively lanky limbs, he grabbed the shooter by the collar, flipped him over and began raining blow after blow upon the already subdued man's face For a time all John could do was watch in horror. But when he saw Sherlock spot the man's gun lying just within reach and then make a move to grab it, John summoned the strength to shout out a raspy but solid, "Sherlock!" He wasn't about to sit by and allow his friend to commit murder, certainly not on his behalf.

The detective started at the sound of his name. Turning to John, he looked animalistic, his eyes cold. They met John's wide, fearful ones and he stilled. Then with a sharp intake of breath, Sherlock returned to himself.

He suddenly dropped the shooter to the ground, staggering backward. His hand absently gripped his hair as he clearly struggled to process his own unhinged actions.

A stab of pain ran through John and before he could stop it he let out an anguished cry. Sherlock's head whipped toward him again and he rushed to his side.

The rest was a jumble of Sherlock's voice and ambulance lights. He couldn't recall the ride to the hospital. He wondered how long he'd been out.

Someone to his right cleared their throat, bringing his attention back to the room with a jolt. If he could've, John would probably have jumped a mile at the noise. He knew instantly who it was of course, even from that brief sound.

What was Sherlock doing here? His friend was most certainly not the type to sit by someone's hospital bed. In the past he'd even mockingly suggested that John do the same for others in hospital since he was such a bleeding heart. So what was keeping him here now?

Before he could arrive at an answer he heard Sherlock stand and approach the bed. He felt thin fingers encircle his right wrist. Was he checking for a pulse? A rather strange endeavour seeing as the heart monitor was sounding every beat of his still working heart. That seemed to be his purpose at first but the fingers soon relaxed, lowering John's wrist back to the bed without letting go.

"So I suppose this is you teaching me a lesson, is it?" Sherlock spoke, his voice sounding like he was catching a cold, not at all carrying its usual arrogance or condescension. John had never heard him so exhausted.

"You think I gamble with your life and so this is what? Pay back?"

John wished he could smack him. Only Sherlock would believe his getting shot was an act of retribution.

XXXXXXX

It was ludicrous. Sherlock could scarcely believe he was attempting to talk to his unconscious friend. A nurse had told him it might help both of them. If he hadn't been so distracted he probably would have brought her down a peg or two for making such an asinine suggestion. Instead here he was, so inexplicably desperate to hear any words from John that he was stooping to what felt like a new personal low. He knew it was pointless, knew it wouldn't achieve anything but still he was doing it. Speaking to an unconscious man. Now he'd started he couldn't stop.

"I told you I did what I did to save you. What you're doing is just spiteful. Not to mention ungrateful. I save your life for you to practically throw it away..." He trailed off. Watching John's face for the slightest acknowledgement, Sherlock recalled the night at the pool.

There was nothing on the USB drive. Moriarty would know this of course. He would no doubt believe that Sherlock was trying to trick him – that he wanted Moriarty to think he had the missile plans and would attempt to use the empty drive as leverage. What he didn't realize was Sherlock knew full well that he couldn't care less about the missile plans, that they were merely a misdirect. Though he pretended otherwise, it was far from surprising to Sherlock when Moriarty tossed them away, He knew what this was truly about.

Sherlock was good – too good. He'd piqued Moriarty's interest all those years ago when little Carl Powers was murdered at this very pool and the criminal had carried a torch since. He'd been put to the test. Sherlock's most memorable cases with John had been the machinations of Moriarty's enterprise and he had solved them both, getting him uncomfortably close to the evil genius and infringing on his hard efforts. So Moriarty had next arranged the 'game' for him. He'd wanted to see if Sherlock could be thrown and just what was the detective's Achille's heel. He'd challenged him with a hysterical woman, a male youth with plenty of life ahead of him, a blind and bed ridden old lady and an innocent, helpless little boy. Sherlock had saved all but one of the victims. Even the death of the elderly woman had barely slowed him down.

When there was a delay in the taking of a final hostage, Sherlock soon deduced what Moriarty had in mind. He'd almost not done it, allowing John to leave the house that night and knowing the oblivious fool probably wouldn't make it to Sarah's. But it was for the sake of the game and he couldn't stop when he was so close to gaining advantage. He'd pushed doubt aside and done what was needed.

He deserved an award for this performance. If he dropped his act for a second Moriarty would know. John, ever the valiant hero, nearly mucked things up trying to save Sherlock from harm. He saw John's face fall as his companion held Moriarty by the neck and he realized he must have a red dot aimed at himself too. His jaw clenched. He didn't like the idea of a gun trained at his head, his brain, his livelihood, even if he knew the gunman would not cause him harm. He told himself that at least Mycroft's men were playing their part well.

It wasn't easy for him to pretend he had been bested, mainly because he never had been. He thought smugly that if Moriarty were truly brilliant, he would know that since Sherlock had arranged this meeting, he would never create a situation he couldn't win or from which he didn't have multiple avenues of escape. Clearly the man's hubris was clouding his foresight and he believed taking John was a masterful move against his opponent.

After much posturing and threatening that Sherlock supposed was meant to frighten him greatly, Moriarty left. But it had been too simple. They weren't done yet. Sherlock knew they only had minutes, rushing over to John and ripping off the vest with urgency incase Moriarty behaved precipitously. Then he began pacing, debating whether or not to divulge the details of his plan.

But before anything, Moriarty re-entered. The game resumed.

So there they stood in a stand-off, neither blinking, each completely confident they had the upper hand. Sherlock decided the time was now. He glanced at John, trying to convey that he should simply sit tight, unsure if he understood. He could only hope the nod in response meant he followed. Sherlock lowered the gun.

"Well," he said loudly, "you were right Jim. This has been a rousing game and I too enjoyed it. I'm afraid though that you've already lost. From the very moment you took an interest in me."

Moriarty gave him a calculating stare.

"And how've you drawn that conclusion my dear? I believe it's you who is surrounded by over a dozen sharp shooters ready to take you out at a second's notice. You can shoot the bomb but I don't think you can bring yourself to take the life of your darling pet. Your only options should you continue to cross me are death or," he giggled obnoxiously, nodding at the bouncing laser points, "death!"

Sherlock's mouth quirked up. He looked again to John speaking as though they were alone.

"How've I done, doctor?" He asked.

John looked confused, his mouth agape.

"What?"

A genuine smile spread across Sherlock's face, so pleased was he by his own cleverness.

"I am a damned fine actor."

He returned his attention to the mad man before him.

"I choose my third option."

Moriarty studied Sherlock before talking, hesitance betraying the fact that he was concerned Sherlock had a plan he wasn't prepared for. He shook his head.

"You're bluffing. You have no other option."

"You're sure of that?" Sherlock asked with a slight tilt of his head. He raised two fingers in the air and watched the red dots dancing on John's body whip over one by one to land on Moriarty, followed by the one's on himself. It took the psychopath a second longer to notice as well. When he did he sobered immediately, glaring at Sherlock.

"No." He growled.

"Just so." Sherlock was positively giddy. "You know I think this may be one of those rare moments I can appreciate my relation to Mycroft." He quipped to John, who's head was whipping between both men as though at this point he wasn't sure who was more insane.

'So." Moriarty sneered. "Big brother took out my snipers did he?"

Sherlock beamed.

"No need. You've a penchant for sharp shooters, I made sure you hired the right ones, as provided by Mycroft. You gave me plenty of time to do so."

"I see. And the drive?"

"Empty of course."

"Of course."

"Which you knew already."

"Of course."

Moriarty bowed his head, still eyeing Sherlock with scrutiny. He made a sound in his throat as if deciding what to do next. Then suddenly he gave a sharp clap and lit up with delight to match Sherlock's.

"Oh you're good!" He gushed. "Bravo, Holmes, bravo indeed! I knew I found you fascinating for a reason."

Sherlock feigned a flicker of unease, concealing his confidence that Moriarty was behaving just as expected. It was time to bring it home.

"Here's how this is going to work." He declared. "I won't bother to keep you until authorities arrive since you'd probably slip away before they could put you in a squad car. So you're free to go. Leave, now, without incident and I won't have them," he indicated the red dots, "decorate you with bullets. Come after the doctor again, or anyone else of my acquaintance and...well...now you've had a glimpse of what I've got going on, I think you know it wouldn't be worth the trouble. Are we clear?"

Moriarty replied with a mock pout.

"Hardly seems fair, what's in it for me? You'll still be in my way."

Sherlock shrugged.

"So try harder."

Moriarty gave him an admiring grin.

"Brilliant. Got every angle covered then, have you?"

"Always."

"Except one."

All mirth disappeared from Moriarty's visage and he reached behind himself to pull out a gun of his own from beneath his jacket. 'That's what you think' Sherlock thought, while outwardly adopting an expression of shock.

Moriarty pointed his gun at the bomb just as Sherlock had. The detective would have rolled his eyes if it wouldn't have exposed his facade. He'd hoped for better from his self-appointed playmate and was almost bored by his own brilliance at being able to predict a person's behaviour.

No matter. Point was, he was ready.

"Third option, eh lads?" Moriarty winked. "Cheera!"

The gun went off and the bomb ignited. In that instant, Sherlock took John by the arm and pulled him into a sprint to the other end of the pool, covering a remarkable distance in such a short time. It was partly adrenaline-fuelled speed and partly luck (or so it seemed) that they weren't more seriously hurt.

Not to say that the bomb didn't achieve a respectable amount of damage. Chaos rained down around them, windows shattering, concrete cracking and chipping, water everywhere. The blast sent them both crashing into a wall and then the floor where they remained until calm was restored.

Moriarty was gone.

When the dust and debris finally settled, Sherlock popped back up with a whoop of exhilaration, jumping to his feet.

"I say, that was certainly close, wasn't it John?"

Silence.

"John?" Sherlock scanned around for the doctor.

"Here." Came a wary reply.

"Ah." Sherlock smiled, spotting John several feet away and shuffling through the destruction to offer him a hand.

"All right?" He enquired, looking John over as he stood.

"Peachy."

Sherlock smacked him cordially on the back.

"Splendid. Right then, we should be off. Lestrade will most likely be here soon and I'd like to avoid him as long as possible. Dinner perhaps? You were going to eat at Sarah's weren't you? How about Portuguese food instead? I know a place that's halfway decent..."

"Sherlock!" John was slack-jawed with exasperation as his friend made his way to the exit. The younger man looked back over his shoulder, confused.

"What is it?"

"What is it!" John's shout echoed in the demolished pool room. "We've just nearly been blown to bits! We've survived by the grace of God, that – thing has managed to get away and you're suggesting we grab a bite?"

Sherlock mulled this over.

"Not good?"

"Oh for the love of-!"

Sherlock sighed impatiently.

"Really John, there's no need to be so dramatic. As I said the gunmen belong to Mycroft, they never posed a threat."

John was seething, his arms stiff and hands fisted.

"And how the hell was I supposed to know that? And what about the bloody bomb!"

Sherlock swatted the air dismissively.

"Oh another product of Mycroft's. A lot of sound and fury but relatively harmless."

"It's brought half the building down!"

"It is still a bomb."

"Which was strapped to me!"

"Which is why I removed it from you obviously, do keep up John."

He made to leave again, but John was far from finished.

"You couldn't tell me any of this? You knew Moriarty's plans, made plans of your own and you didn't even warn me. You threw me out as bait! And some plan it was too, run and hope we don't explode?"

Sherlock grimaced.

"Don't be crude. I had to improvise a bit, I knew he'd make an attempt I just wasn't entirely sure how. Besides, I could hardly tell you anything, you're a terrible liar."

"Excuse me?"

"Look." Sherlock was becoming edgy, wanting to get away from here before they couldn't. "I needed to see the man. I had to meet Moriarty face to face and I knew this was the only way. So I grudgingly turned to Mycroft, who agreed to assist me. His lot has been onto Moriarty for some time for obvious reasons. This was the perfect way to draw him out. If I'd let you in on it, you would've unintentionally given something away and your life would be at risk along with the whole operation."

That must have been insulting as John's face became steadily more flushed with anger.

"Well, a lot of good that did! He's escaped anyway incase you haven't noticed!"

"True but the important thing is he was here, in person. I've upped the ante and he won't be able to stand it. I told him to try harder and that's exactly what he'll do. He'll want to be sure he misses nothing from now on. He won't trust just anyone to carry out his little games anymore, may even be liable to get his own hands dirty. He'll be so desperate to show me up the he'll be forced to expose himself. I'm slowly taking him away from his element of hiding behind hired hands. We just have to wait for him to slip up John. They always do, no matter how talented. When he does, we'll be there."

John was unreceptive to his speech.

"In the meantime, while you two have your pissing contest, innocent people get hurt." He pointed to himself. "Exhibit A!"

"I am sorry for that," Sherlock said, actually appearing to be slightly remorseful. "but if we stop him, he won't be able to harm anyone again."

He stared hard at the doctor, daring him to refute such logic. Before John could say a word, a police siren sounded outside.

"Damn it." Sherlock cursed, turning to the noise. "He'll have us stuck in questioning for hours..."

As it happened, Lestrade let them go within an hour after assurances from Sherlock that John was perfectly capable of treating their injuries as well as a promise that they'd be at the station the next day to give their full account of events. John had, of course, gone alone.

His colleague had recovered from the ordeal remarkably well, Sherlock found. He observed a few sleepless nights, a broken dinner plate that had slipped from shaky hands, and the purchase of a new winter coat in the days that followed. But a month or so later, John had returned to normal. Sherlock never failed to be impressed by the resilience hidden beneath the common exterior. The man had been shot twice and was still going.

If only he would say something...

"Fine," Sherlock said with annoyance. "Don't speak then. I can hold a conversation with my skull, this can't be much different."

The topic he wished to discuss was out of his mouth in one breath.

"I kissed Molly again, here in hospital, just minutes ago. Well, when I say kissed..."

He shifted in his seat, remembering.

As he walked the hall to the mortuary, his irritation rose with every step. Something was wrong with him, more than the stress of the evening, and it was her fault. He'd had himself in perfect control until Molly had showed up. What business did she have being there? Who was she to try and offer him words of comfort? She had no right to make him feel guilty over her understanding when he'd always been such a brute – brutish in the name of science and deduction, mind you, but that never seemed to matter to normal sorts. Point was she must be toying with him for reasons unknown.

How he hated not knowing.

At least he knew he would figure out her game eventually.

He was held up at the door when he arrived at her lab. Molly was darting about in a fretful fashion, visibly tense. He noticed a tear roll down her cheek and she absentmindedly wiped it away. It was much like the first night he'd seen her here after the incident with Moriarty. That time he'd behaved as he'd seen people do in those situations, asking how she'd been holding up. She'd kept working, merely replying, "Fine thanks. Whatever it is you're after it'll have to wait, I have a job to do."

Her voice had wavered but she hadn't once looked up at him.

She'd been that way with him ever since and ever since he'd been struggling to discern why.

Tonight, however, Sherlock would not be dismissed so easily. Tonight she had pushed him too far and he was going to find out exactly what she was playing at.

He began by disarming her with gratitude and was a touch unsettled by how much he actually meant it all. Nevertheless, when she was adequately flustered he moved in for the kill, hitting her with the questions he truly intended. She had clearly learned to hate him these past few weeks for numerous reasons. So why, after so much avoidance and pushing him away, had she this sudden change of heart? Why be so generous to him? Not to mention, from the moment they'd met she'd been turning the other cheek. Had it always been a farce? He needed to hear her say the words, that she hated him and only meant to hurt him. Then this would all make sense.

She told him the exact opposite.

Even worse, he believed her.

He moved in close, searching her over for signs of deception. All he achieved was the pleasant numbness her nearness provided him. He tried to keep clarity through analysis, noting that she seemed rather frightened of him. This observation made her laugh and his stomach drop.

She wasn't out to destroy him. No matter who he was around her, she'd only ever cared about him.

He wanted to resent her for the ever strengthening feelings of ruefulness he could no longer deny. He hoped having her as close as possible would ease his discomfort. In his own way he tried to tell her not to settle for himself, that she deserved better. It was the most charitable thing he'd done in his life. But she would not be discouraged. She wanted him and he couldn't fathom why. She showed him with a kiss.

It was illumination.

John was his muse, his back up, his guardian angel forever at his side.

Molly? She was his sanctuary. He needed her.

Was that what she meant? Did she feel the same? His heart leapt into his throat and he had to pull away, get away.

Then she apologized. He may have been out of sorts but irony was never lost on him. As she went on it sounded as though she regretted her actions. He found himself disappointed by that. Perhaps if he kissed her again she would see it wasn't a complete mistake; and really what was one more little kiss?

Not a mistake exactly, more a slight miscalculation. Desire welled up unbidden and spilled out through his actions. Before he'd even considered it they were up against a work top and entwined like their lives depended on it.

When they were rudely interrupted his impulse to leave resurfaced but for different reasons. If they didn't stop they might end up in a compromising position he'd rather no one would stumble upon. That and he had to admit it was a tad disrespectful to his injured companion.

He really had meant to leave, but Molly's fussing with his hair and clothes was so damned endearing he was struck by another surge of wanting. He yanked himself away from this kiss by sheer will and made haste before it could happen again.

"I know, I know," Sherlock said as though John had tried to protest, "but I'm telling you it's not my fault. Perhaps Molly injected me with something without my knowledge or spiked my coffee."

He became defensive though John had yet to contribute.

"It's not paranoia. What other answer is there to all the facts? I've never wasted time on the frivolity of romantic or sexual exploits. You know that's not my area, and for good reason. It's a pointless endeavour and my energies are far better spent. Anyway, if I had suddenly decided to start, why would I begin with Molly of all people?"

He paused.

"That may be harsh but that doesn't mean it's without merit. The woman is plain looking, was painfully shy until recently and is of only moderate intelligence. She encompasses nothing I myself would label as even remotely stimulating."

His words hung in the air as he leaned forward to rest his elbows on the bed. He scoffed gently.

"Here you are lying wounded...and she's all I can talk about."

Sherlock fixated on John's face.

"You know," he said in a grim tone, "you are...absolute rubbish at faking unconsciousness."

"Well maybe if you weren't holding my wrist so tightly I'd do better," John retorted, opening his eyes to look at Sherlock. "Are you trying to sever my hand?"

"Sorry."

Sherlock loosened his grip, still not letting go.

"Do you know where you are?" he asked John.

"Hospital. St. Bart's."

"Correct. Do you know why you're here?"

"Someone tried to use you for target practice and I got in the way?"

"In a manner of speaking." Sherlock raised an accusatory eyebrow. "You're awfully chipper for someone who's just taken a bullet."

"Sherlock I work with you. Getting shot is only the tip of the iceberg. It's almost a welcome break."

"Très drôle." His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why were you pretending to be out?"

"Well you were finally being honest with yourself, I wasn't about to spoil that."

"Please that was all for your benefit, I knew you were listening."

"No you didn't."

"Yes I did."

"Didn't."

"Did...eventually."

"That's not – oh, I'm too tired for this and it can't possibly be healthy in my condition. Find a nurse, will you? They'll want to know I'm awake."

Unable to help himself, Sherlock grinned at that.

"You're awake."

John chuckled at his friend's warm expression.

"That I am. Sherlock?"

"Hm?"

"Wrist."

"Right."