One Fell Down
He scrambled up from the murky depths in fits and starts. When he finally broke the surface, every sensory input seemed so very wrong that he held himself still, feigning unconsciousness, groping for memory and explanation.
Coffee. Someone had brought him coffee. Who? Normally Detective Inspector Lestrade was the kind of man who insisted on obtaining his own beverages, thank you very much, but he'd needed it so badly – when had he last slept, really slept, since John Watson went missing? – that he hadn't thought twice about accepting the cup.
Yes, drugs explained why his tongue lay thick in his dry mouth, and his mind seemed every bit as slow as Sherlock always claimed.
Well done, you, he told himself with no little disgust.
He was nude, he could tell that well enough, and bound by some kind of restraints to a metal surface. He spared a second for the sheer humiliation of being stripped and laid out bare by unknown hands against his will, and then swallowed down the thought permanently. Lestrade was a practical man, and he knew there were far worse fates than being a bit embarrassed.
Ever so slowly, he opened his eyes.
Here, it seemed, was one of those worse fates. Christ.
The room was bare and antiseptic and coldly clinical. Several trays stood beside the stainless steel table on which he was bound, directly in his line of sight. Instruments lay sorted in neat order: scalpels, forceps, saws… Oh yes, the detective inspector knew the trappings of an autopsy when he saw them.
And now he had no doubt whatsoever who had arranged this particular scene. Only one mastermind had this kind of flair for the melodramatic.
Adrenaline bathed his nerves, begging him to flee or fight, but only succeeding in causing him to thrash uselessly against his many bindings in a blind animal panic. The storm passed mere moments later and left him gasping, grateful at least that the lingering clouds from the drugs seemed to be clearing, as well.
Mounted on the wall opposite of Lestrade was a camera.
He forced himself to swallow.
His options did seem very limited indeed. It occurred to him that this could very well be the room in which he breathed his last.
Come on, you sick and cowardly little bastard, he thought with sudden fury. You brought me to this party. Don't keep me waiting.
He closed his eyes and did his best to give his watchers as little entertainment as possible.
Lestrade had never met Jim from IT, but he'd seen the man's personnel file photo after his identity had been revealed. During his tireless efforts at tracking down the consulting criminal, Sherlock had found a few other pictures to show him, as well.
When Moriarty finally appeared, Lestrade knew him by sight.
Lestrade also knew the man with him, although he scarcely could believe it. John Watson was of a slighter build than Sherlock or Lestrade himself, but the doctor had never seemed small until now, as he stumbled like a sleepwalker, gaunt and blank-eyed and barely covered by a loose-fitting dressing gown.
He wore a chain choke-collar, the kind Lestrade thought of as intolerably abusive for dogs; colourful bruises and raw sores on his neck gave undeniable proof that it had been used vigorously. Moriarty, a stark contrast in his impeccably neat designer suit and tie, held the attached leash and dragged the man forward.
"I see we're awake, Detective Inspector! And that means it's show time." Moriarty's cheery voice and manic grin made Lestrade's flesh crawl. "I believe you know my pet, here."
He positioned John at the foot of the table as a shopkeeper might pose a mannequin. His glances at the wall above Lestrade's head suggested a second camera there.
Ignoring Moriarty, Lestrade said, "John. Doctor Watson." He cleared his throat and mentally cursed his hoarseness. "John, please."
John barely blinked as Lestrade studied him. Each patch of bare skin showed signs of brutal treatment: cuts and welts, bruises and burns, and angry, precise patches where electrodes had been secured. His pupils were enormous, nearly swallowing his irises whole. A plastic shunt protruded from the medical tape that held it in place over and into a vein on his right forearm.
The better to pump him full of whatever the hell Moriarty wants, Lestrade thought grimly.
"Yes," Moriarty said, more softly this time, obviously enjoying Lestrade's dawning comprehension, "his training is proceeding very nicely. Quite the good little soldier, our boy Johnny. Put up an admirable fight, as you'd expect, but he's my dog now."
John at last had noticed the naked victim before him. He seemed to be struggling to focus his eyes and his wits, wavering on his feet.
Lestrade knew the instant John realized what was happening. The doctor jerked, as if comprehension and horror had struck him together like a physical blow. Almost in slow motion, John's lips formed words without sound. The detective inspector could read them without difficulty: "Lestrade. God. No."
"I'm planning a surprise to be waiting for Sherlock, when I finally allow him to charge headlong into my trap," Moriarty was saying. "But you don't wait to take your test drive on the day of the big race, do you? I'm sure you understand. Nothing personal, of course. I just needed a trial subject for Johnny, someone expendable."
"He's. Not," John's voice sounded strangled. His neck muscles corded with effort; his wide eyes shone with unshed tears. "Not. Expen…"
Lestrade hoped John could see the gratitude on his face.
"Really, Johnny. Do shut up." Moriarty rolled his eyes with theatrical exaggeration. Lestrade kept his gaze locked on John's, holding it like a lifeline.
"As I was saying," Moriarty continued, "Johnny's going to demonstrate how one conducts an autopsy. Of course, the procedure's usually performed on the dead, but no worries; I'm sure you'll get there in the end." He patted his captive's cheek; Lestrade denied him a response. "I know Sherlock will find the footage most instructive."
To be cut through and opened up and pulled apart, all the while aware and agonized and, dear God, filmed…
Enough, Lestrade told himself, setting his jaw. Stop it.
"Before we get started, there's just one last detail to arrange. I want to be sure Sherlock appreciates how thoroughly Johnny's taken to his conditioning, how excited the good doctor is to be in my hands, as it were..."
Moriarty positioned himself behind John, waved at the camera, and then reached around the doctor, into his robe. The table on which Lestrade lay was waist-high, but he didn't need to see the perverse display in order to understand. John's eyes slid away to stare at the wall over Lestrade's head as Moriarty's hands worked.
The sunken face crumpled for several heartbeats, and then John's features resolved into a cold, hard mask, belied only by silent tears running down his cheeks.
Moriarty was whispering something into his ear, words with a singsong rhythm, too hushed for Lestrade to understand. Part of the conditioning, no doubt.
Sickened to the core, Lestrade closed his eyes. Helpless. He was so bloody helpless.
No, despair was just as pointless as panic. He took a deep breath.
With startling clarity, as random thoughts sometimes interrupt in the midst of crisis, Lestrade recalled The Lion in Winter. It had been Jenny's favourite film.
Jenny, he thought. How I've missed you. See you soon, love.
He'd liked the movie well enough, himself. It was a classic for a reason. A couple of lines had made a particular impression on him with each viewing, enough to remain with him all these years. Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, was chiding his brother, the future Richard I, the one they called Lionheart, for wanting a good and meaningful death.
"Why, you chivalric fool – as if the way one fell down mattered," Geoffrey said.
"When the fall is all there is, it matters," Richard replied.
Lestrade thought he understood it now, perhaps in a way he never had.
He didn't want to die. But who did? He'd have to someday. He'd have to today, apparently.
He could choose how.
With resolve, he set aside the things he'd wanted that would never be. After all, he'd had so much. And the things that meant the most to him now – mentoring Sally, consulting Sherlock, stopping murderers – would continue to yield fruit in the world long after his body was cold. It was enough. More than.
He opened his eyes.
"… there, nice and snug," Moriarty was positively crooning. "You can wear it while you work." He didn't bother to do up John's dressing gown. "Now it's time to get started, don't you think?"
The doctor's wet eyes, framed by the dark smudges of sleep deprivation, had gone blank again.
"I'll leave you to it, shall I?" Moriarty spoke more loudly this time, including Lestrade. "Thanks, Detective Inspector, for, ah… taking one for the team, as they say."
His smile turned feral. "If it's any consolation, I'm sure you'll make a very pretty cadaver. I may have to drop in and admire you in person. Johnny no doubt will be dreaming of you for a very long time to come."
With a parting pat to Lestrade's leg, he said, "Like any good director, I'll be watching from behind the camera."
He paused at the door. "John" – this was an altogether different voice, one with the authority of a commanding officer – "you know what to do. Do it." Then he was gone.
Lestrade's brief glimpse through the closing door revealed at least two armed guards.
As he expected. Nothing for it. He pulled a sense of purpose around himself like a shock blanket.
"John," he said. Pausing, clearing his throat, he tried again, "John. I know you can hear me. Just listen, yeah?"
With the shuffling steps of a pensioner in pain, John moved toward the medical tools.
"Sherlock, his brother, Sally: they're all looking for you," Lestrade said. "They'll find you. You've got to hang on and buy them time. Don't give up."
Reaching out, John steadied himself against the nearest tray. His hand shook. Every part of him shook.
"'Til then, do what you need to do. It's Moriarty's doing, not yours. Not your fault." Lestrade waited, hoping the words were finding their target somewhere inside this starved and tortured shell of a colleague and friend.
John began breathing hard, sucking air through his teeth. "Too many guards," he hissed. "Too many locks. Tried. Can't."
"Easy. It's all right." Lestrade said, gentling his tone. "Just breathe."
After a beat, he added, "I know I'm a dead man, John. Better by your hand than his. Don't give him cause to hurt you any more."
The doctor bent over the tray, peering at the scalpels. "I'll kill us both," he whispered, labouring for each word. "You and me. Together."
"No!" Lestrade strained his neck, trying to catch John's attention. "John, you can't."
Choosing the only argument he thought might hold weight with the floundering man, Lestrade said, "Losing you would destroy Sherlock. He won't rest until he rescues you and makes Moriarty pay. If he finds you're gone… think, John. Don't do that to him. Please."
A high-pitched keening sound came from John's throat, fragile and brief as a child's first whistle.
It wasn't lost on Lestrade, what he was asking John to endure.
Shuddering, John managed, in halting syllables, "Needs. You. Too."
Lestrade shook his head. "As long as he has you, he'll do. Losing both of us, though… Please, John. Don't do it to him. Don't let Moriarty win."
John flinched, and then began to rock slightly, like a traumatized toddler. His words came almost too faintly to hear. "Sorry. Sorrysorrysorry…"
"John. John. Look at me," Lestrade implored.
At long last, he did.
"I'm asking," Lestrade said. "Don't leave me for him. Just do it already, yeah? Get it over with. Please. Before he comes back."
Something flickered in those dull, haunted eyes.
"Do it," he continued, "and live to see the bastard dead. For Sherlock. For me. For you."
The doctor's fingers closed around the scalpel and lifted it. Although John moved jerkily, marionette-like, Lestrade could see that his left hand no longer trembled.
"Brave man," John panted. "Good. Decent." He was visibly struggling now. "I'll never forget. Never."
The scalpel moved to Lestrade's neck, hovering over his carotid artery, too high for the traditional Y-incision. Mercy killing, not extended torture.
"John, don't," he protested, praying that John could sense only his determination and not his fear. "He'll punish you."
"He'll do that" – John swallowed – "anyway." His nostrils flared as he fought for his own will. "I. Get. This."
And there he was, the Doctor John Watson whom Lestrade knew, bending so close their foreheads almost touched.
"Forgive me." John's breath stank of drugs and blood and other things Lestrade didn't want to contemplate.
Holding his voice steady, Lestrade said, "There's no need."
This wasn't surrender; it was the opposite. He wasn't on his feet, as he'd always wanted, but he was fighting all the same. For the good and against the bad. This he could do.
He felt the blade press against his flesh.
"Not your fault," he repeated, a ghost of a sound.
There came a crash, like a door thrown open wide.
Lestrade closed his eyes.
Vital Stats: Originally written in June 2011.
Originally written for the Rupert Graves Birthday Meme at the DILestrade LiveJournal community. Inspired by Rupert Graves's portrayal of Septimus Warren Smith in Mrs. Dalloway, and specifically these lines: "You want my life? I'll give it to you."