A Study in Grey

The text read, "Hello, Sexy. You must learn that I keep my promises. Watch live in 15 minutes."

Sherlock set aside his latest experiment-in-progress and turned his full attention to the summons. He forwarded the attached URL to Lestrade and, after only a second's hesitation, Mycroft, as well. He sent yet another text to John, the third since his flatmate had left for Tesco's. And then he settled himself before his laptop, fingers steepled beneath his chin, nicotine patches on his arm. Suppressing the flare of annoyance when only Mycroft responded to his message. Refreshing the page every few seconds. Waiting.

Exactly on the hour, a video box appeared inviting him to stream live footage. Sherlock clicked on the option and braced himself.

The room was the soulless grey of old concrete. A thickset man in a tailored suit and a dark ski mask stood before the camera. He held a sign lettered in ornate calligraphy that proclaimed "Time to Say Goodbye."

After several moments the man retreated from the frame, leaving Sherlock an unobstructed view of a bruised and disheveled Gregory Lestrade.

The detective inspector sat on the bare floor, legs straightened before him and bound at the knees and ankles. Ropes held him fast at the waist and chest to a wooden support beam. His left arm was tied behind him; his right arm was stretched above his head, secured to the post at the wrist.

The muscles at Lestrade's jaw worked and his brow furrowed as he followed the movements of his captor. Then, as the threatening figure walked forward into Sherlock's field of vision once again, Lestrade looked directly into the camera.

He licked his lips and spoke in a rush, his husky voice low with strain. "Sherlock. This is Moriarty's doing. His fault. Not yours. Remember that."

The unknown man knelt beside him with a blade in his hand. Lestrade rocked against the ropes futilely, outrage flashing in his dark eyes. From somewhere off-screen came muffled exclamations, desperate and panicked.

Sherlock's fingers curled into fists. He did not breathe. He did not blink.

Lestrade gave a shout as the point of the knife burrowed beneath the rope and stabbed deeply into his wrist. As his captor traced a line from wrist to elbow, parting cloth and flesh, muscle and artery down to the white bone, the detective inspector gritted his teeth and growled out his agony and protest.

When the masked figure was done with his gory work, he rose and disappeared without ceremony, leaving his victim alone in the frame. Bright red blood soaked Lestrade's sleeve from his wrist to his shoulder, seeping down to stain his side as Sherlock watched.

The consulting detective hunched toward his monitor and anchored his hands in his hair.

"I don't... I don't know how long..." Lestrade's chest rose and fell rapidly with his gulping breaths. "Listen, Sherlock. John's here." He jerked his chin toward the left, off-screen. "He's bound and gagged but unhurt so far... You've got to find him and get him away... Then stop Moriarty."

Letting his head rock back against the pillar, Lestrade swallowed hard as he scanned his surroundings. After several seconds he cleared his throat and then forced out his words with grim-faced urgency, scarcely louder than rough whispers. "I don't know how far we travelled to get to this place. They drugged us for the drive... It seems to be underground. An unfinished basement. No windows. No outside access... Poured concrete, wood support beams..."

It was obvious to Sherlock that Lestrade understood his situation. Moriarty's henchman had elevated Lestrade's arm to make the ordeal last longer, to prolong this grotesque farewell, but it likely had bought the detective inspector only minutes at most. The stubborn man clearly intended to spend his dying moments assisting Sherlock as best he could.

Hissing through his teeth, Sherlock arranged a split screen view on his laptop, keeping the video feed open while generating search parameters based on the detective inspector's observations. The dimensions of the room. The dampness of the walls. The style of the doorknob on the lone door.

"I counted six men," Lestrade continued. "Thick accents – Czech, I think. Seem like organized crime types... Clear pecking order. Possible family ties."

Sherlock stabbed the keys furiously as he typed.

"Never saw Moriarty. They communicated via mobile... Must not be too far below ground, then. They could get a signal."

A new text alerted Sherlock to the fact Mycroft's people were monitoring the transmission and synching their search with his. A second confirmed that they were handling the coordination with Scotland Yard. No, no, of course they couldn't trace the URL. Sherlock spared each message a brief glance before returning his attention to the live footage.

"I know you'd see more... what am I missing?"

Sherlock called up a variety of maps, calculating how far Moriarty's men might have taken their hostages in the length of time since John had left the flat. He superimposed lines marking a series of zones over the satellite images.

Shaking his head weakly, Lestrade frowned and gasped for breath. "Look, Sherlock... I realize you and Sally... you're not exactly best mates... But you want the same thing... Cut her some slack, yeah?"

"Shut up, you stupid man," Sherlock breathed. "Conserve yourself. I understand."

"I've left instructions... top drawer of my desk... Asked her the same... She'll work with you... Please help her, the team... Stop this bastard."

Lestrade's face was all but colorless save for the bruises. Blood ran freely down his side and pooled on the floor at his hip.

Sherlock scrutinized the man's surroundings: the texture of the wall, the grain of the wood. More data. More.

"You knowit, o'course, but you're a marvel, Sherlock... An'John... such a rare one... Togetheryou... youtwo... bloodybrilliant..." Lestrade gathered himself with a visible effort. Pronouncing each word with painstaking care, he said, "It's been a privilege."

"Don't," Sherlock choked. "Don't you dare."

A muffled voice made unintelligible sounds, and Lestrade's head lolled back against the supporting beam. "SaveyourstrengthDoctor," he slurred. "'Sokay."

As precious minutes passed, Lestrade sagged in his bonds, fighting for air. Sherlock received a list of structures to be considered of interest in the geographic zones he had defined, and another of those to be disqualified. He repeated a constant refrain of "No, you cretins, no!" as he edited the descriptions and returned them to the teams.

"'Scold," Lestrade muttered. Sherlock could see that he was shivering.

After several heartbeats, however, the detective inspector roused, turning an unfocused and glassy gaze back toward the camera. "Lights...downhere... oldstylefluorescent... specialforlabs... loudhum... mightbeuse... useful... findJohn."

The effort cost Lestrade. His head fell forward and stayed there, despite several dogged attempts to lift it. "Gottomust... think..."

Sherlock made new notes and revised earlier ones. More clues. Useful indeed. Concentrate. Cross-reference. Mine this data, so dearly bought.

"Ah... Jenny..." Lestrade's breath stuttered, and an impossibly small sound escaped from the back of his throat.

Sherlock bit through his lip and tasted blood. He fired texts like bullets.

Soon Lestrade's mumbled syllables became more infrequent, his shallow panting more uneven. The shivering eased.

The rasp of harsh breathing seemed louder, irregular and laboured and almost broken, even as Lestrade weakened and quieted. Sherlock pressed his fingertips to the monitor. With sudden insight, he realized that he was listening to John, gagged and tied and grieving helplessly as Lestrade bled out in front of him.

The feed at last went dead. Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut, trapping the final image behind his eyelids until it faded to blackness.

"I will burn the heart out of you," Moriarty had said.

But there was no fire in Sherlock. Only the grey of the concrete, the grey of Lestrade's bowed head, the grey of midwinter frost chilling his veins. His heart was ice, an unforgiving weight in his chest, heavy and sharp-edged as a weapon. Frozen.

The End