"You can't be allowed to continue. You just can't," says Moriarty, and as solemn as the words sound, Sherlock can hear him laughing. He's not 'changeable'. Sherlock sees now, this was always how the plan ended. To make him and John think, just for a moment, that they had actually got out of this alive. It was pointless, malicious and so very, very Moriarty. This might be the first time they've ever met, but Sherlock feels as if they've been locked in this battle of wills for decades.
He glances at John Watson; the ex-soldier, loyal as always, nods. Do it.
"Then probably my answer has crossed yours," he says. Moriarty smiles that little smile of his. He doesn't think Sherlock will shoot him. He has no idea.
Sherlock lowers the gun, and aims the barrel briefly at the bomb. He meets Moriarty's eyes.
This is it. Checkmate.
Everything goes black.
"Sherlock. Can you hear me? Sherlock? "
Sherlock Holmes knows it's not the first time the question's been asked but...this time, that voice stirs a memory in him. Something happened... something bad. Moriarty, the pool...John...
He starts awake, hands flying out and gummy eyelids pulling open of their own accord. He calms instantly as John Watson's face floats blurrily in front of him. Everything else is painfully bright; Sherlock winces as his eyes try to focus, and squints them shut with a groan.
"Yeah, I know," says John quietly, with sympathy. "Sorry about the light, it's a public ward. How's the head?"
"You tell me," Sherlock mumbles. "Is it still even attached?"
"More or less," his friend answers with a little smile. "You'll be alright. Although," he adds, "you might be down enough brain cells for Mycroft to beat you at chess at last."
Sherlock snorts and John moves round the bed. A small dart of agony shoots down Sherlock's neck as he tries to follow the movement; John looks like a dark shadow against the whiteness of the hospital walls. Sherlock's mouth tastes like smoke; he gives a little cough and notices there's a cup of water sitting ready on the low table next to his elbow. It's heavenly.
"Go easy on that," warns John, "Or you'll be seeing it again far too quickly."
Sherlock doesn't care. The nausea is already there, competing fiercely with throbbing in his head. He touches hesitantly at a patch of pain on his forehead and his fingers brush a medical dressing. "Feels like a building collapsed on me."
"Well, it blew up first, and then collapsed on you," John corrects. Sherlock suddenly remembers little red spotlights twinkling on skin, the smell of chlorine, feels hard cold metal of the gun's trigger under his finger, then a sound so loud it's like being at the centre of the end of the universe...
He clenches his eyes shut, and when he opens them again, John's stepping aside to let a nurse bustle past to Sherlock's side. She's walked to work today, a natural brunette but dyed her hair blonde for her boyfriend; he left her anyway. Dull. The detective forces her from his mind and focuses on what's important, focuses back on John.
"Are you alright?" Sherlock asks, as a strange hollowness claws at his gut, a feeling he'll forever associate with the echoey sound of John's voice in the dark (well this is a turn up, isn't it Sherlock?) He thinks that this feeling is what other people called fear.
John smiles again, and the clawing lessens just a little, though Sherlock thinks now that feeling's taken root inside, it might never go away entirely.
"Yes," John answers. "I'm fine, now. More than fine."
It transpires Sherlock wasn't unconscious all that long, a mere fourteen hours (which is nothing really after being in an explosion big enough to level a sports centre).
Sherlock's got bruised ribs and surface burns on his hands and arm, as well as, most impressively, an actual crack his skull. It damn well feels like it too, and Sherlock knows it's only the fact that John probably understands how his brain feels like it's about to dribble out of his ears that the other man manages to keep any comments about hard-headedness to himself while the hospital doctor is showing them the x-rays.
There won't be any permanent damage to his mental capacities, says the hospital doctor (he's married, one kid, just cancelled the family holiday, probably because of the wife's elderly mother but Sherlock can't be certain). The crack in his skull will heal up on its own so long as he doesn't get hit by any girders again in the near future. In the meantime though he's suffering a concussion, and the hospital is reluctant to release him until he can actually focus his sight and until the unpleasant need to puke every half hour has died down. Sherlock is desperate to protest, to get off this atrophying ward, away from the noise and stinking antiseptic and cloying emotion in the air; all these saccharine plastic nurses, and too many dying people, sick and decaying and forced into this giant tin-can hospital like diseased sardines...John just looks at him, a little disapprovingly, and Sherlock shuts his mouth again. The hospital doctor smiles absently, hands him a basin and walks away, and Sherlock knows the man has forgotten them before he's even got to the door.
They're left alone for the time being. Well, alone apart from the ten other sick people on the ward; Sherlock will probably be able to tell John their diagnosis, employment history and God damn shoe size if he has to look at them all much longer. He starts to twitch, but to his relief, one of the nurses pulls the cheap pastel curtains around his bed closed. The pain in Sherlock's head eases a notch as some of that sickening, distracting stimulus is cut off, though the nausea is still coiling in his stomach. He taps his fingers on the blankets a little and meets John's eye. John Watson just pulls up a chair and sits down beside the bed before Sherlock can tell him he doesn't have to stay. Sherlock's absurdly grateful.
They don't talk about what happened. What is there to say? It happened. It's over for now, though John tries to tell him they're on a countdown of ten days. Sherlock doesn't want to know, and switches on the little telly instead of listening. Their corner of the noisy ward flickers to life with some crap afternoon soap rerun. Hospital telly is priced to be little short of extortion, but Sherlock doesn't really care. Mycroft will pay for any expenses he manages to rack up while he's in hospital, and Sherlock is quite surprised he's still suffering the NHS at all rather than waking up in an absurdly expensive private hospital. Perhaps this is Mycroft's idea of a punishment for that thing with the missile plans. It is, Sherlock concludes, in both of their best interests that his stay there is not free, after all. Otherwise his brother might feel that his ridiculous idea of what 'caring' for Sherlock entails is not being fulfilled and might actually feel it necessary to come by and visit.
John, it seems, isn't the only one who didn't go home last night. Sherlock's only thrown up twice more before a cough at the end of his bed announces Lestrade's presence. The DI enters the little curtained alcove, looking tired and dust covered. He's clearly been working on the fallout of the explosions all night. There's blood on the toe of one shoe too, and the stench of burning plastics coming off his coat doesn't quite hide the smell of cigarette smoke. No patches today then. Interesting.
John stands with a yawn and stretch.
"I'll leave you to it, for a bit if you don't mind...gonna grab some coffee." The doctor throws Lestrade a vague smile and slips away.
Lestrade hovers a little awkwardly by the side of Sherlock's bed, and the detective realises his first deduction was incorrect. Lestrade's not just tired, he looks bloody exhausted.
"So..." Lestrade asks, sitting down in John's vacated chair, and gesturing to the dressing on Sherlock's left temple. "What's the prognosis?"
Sherlock looks at him out the corner of his eye. "Cracked skull, concussion. I'll live."
Lestrade flinches a bit at that. Sherlock guesses the inspector is thinking how close it was that he might not have done. He puts a hand into his coat pocket and pulls out a lump of charred grey plastic and metal. Ah. The source of the smell.
"Found your phone," the DI says. Sherlock snorts, but accepts the useless half-melted mobile anyway (his own, not the pink one. That monstrosity somehow survived unscathed). He puts it on his bedside table.
"Thanks," he says, and tries for it not to sound too sarcastic.
"Anything else you need?" asks Lestrade.
"A new phone?" Sherlock suggests, and it's a testament to how crap the last few hours have been that the quip seems a lot funnier than it should have been.
Lestrade sobers first and takes a deep breath. He looks away, out of the window. "Sherlock, look... I'm sorry..."
The consulting detective interrupts. "He got away."
Lestrade pauses. "Who?"
"Moriarty," says Sherlock. His tone is sour, and that dark, ugly thing clawing at his gut gives a twist at the sound of those syllables in the air. "The bomber."
Lestrade pauses and gives him a look Sherlock can't read. "We think so, though we got three bodies out..."
Sherlock shakes his head, and repeats himself. "He got away. Tell me about the bodies."
"Snipers we think, both dead. One looks like he was ripped to shreds." Even Lestrade, hardened as he is looks a little green. "Sherlock, I hate having to ask, but I've got to hear from you what happened yesterday night."
Sherlock gives the retelling of events up to the explosion in under two minutes. If Lestrade knows the detective's missing out some of what happened between him and John and the bomber, he doesn't call him on it. He looks a little relieved when it's over.
"Alright...We'll need an official statement eventually, but it can wait for the time being. Sherlock..."
The tone in the man's voice surprises him, and Sherlock looks up.
"We're all glad you're alright. And it wasn't your fault, okay?" says Lestrade, in a way that suggests more than insignificant feelings of guilt on his part too. It's a little unnecessary, Sherlock thinks, and why on earth should he, Sherlock, think it was his fault? But he nods anyway.
Lestrade's hand is slightly outstretched, as if he's trying to decide whether to pat Sherlock comfortingly on the shoulder or not. But they both know gesture would be odd, awkward. It's not really in Lestrade's nature, and it's certainly not in Sherlock's.
Yes. Well..." says Lestrade, dropping his hand.
He hurries out.
The NHS being what it is, Sherlock hasn't quite reached critical boredom levels before his space in the ward is needed by someone sicker. The hospital nurse (a different one from before, this one a gambler with money troubles) brings his clothes and discharge papers just as John returns from the cafeteria.
"They throwing you out already, then?" John asks him, leaning against the wall. Sherlock grimaces as he pulls on his torn and burned suit jacket.
"You don't need to stay in another day," answers the nurse, but not defensively. "Just make sure you have plenty of rest and no physical exertion for several days, and change your dressings tomorrow morning. You'll need to sleep a lot, don't worry about that, but please don't drive anywhere. If the pain or nausea gets worse, you'll need to see your doctor. It says here, Mr Holmes, you haven't asked for a next of kin to be called? Is there someone you can stay with for the next 24 hours or so, just to keep an eye out...?"
John smiles a little, and Sherlock throws the nurse a sardonic look. "My flatmate is my doctor. I think I'll live to see tomorrow."
Neither of them speaks again until they're in the taxi heading home.
"What did you tell Lestrade?" asks John, nonchalantly.
Sherlock looks out of the window. "The truth."
"All of it?"
"Well...not the bit about me ripping your clothes off obviously, but apart from that..."
Sherlock catches the odd look the taxi driver throws him in the mirror and both of them snigger like children until they turn onto Baker Street.
It's the only warning his broken ribs get before he's almost smothered by his motherly landlady-not-housekeeper.
"Mrs Hudson..." he starts, with a slight grimace for his aches, and throwing John a helpless look. John just smiles. The bastard is actually enjoying this. Sherlock isn't, he never has liked being hugged. But from Mrs Hudson, he can cope.
"It's alright, Mrs Hudson," John finally says, when the woman doesn't look like she's going to let go. "He's alright."
Mrs Hudson finally steps back and sniffs, smiling bravely. She's clearly been crying before he arrived, given the redness of her eyes and the number of tissues tucked into the sleeve of her dress. She's lost one of her earrings too, Sherlock notices. Her smile turns into a frown as she takes in his appearance.
"Oh Sherlock, you poor lamb!" The woman pulls his head forward to examine the bandages on his forehead. "Look at your head, all bandaged...and with your suit torn as well, they should never have sent you home like that, it's a disgrace! You should be in the hospital, what if you collapse..."
Sherlock backs away from the woman, before she smothers him again.
"He will be alright, Mrs Hudson," John reassures, "it's just concussion, it's quite common. He just needs some peace and quiet for a bit. And I'm sure you could look after him..." Sherlock shoots the doctor a dagger-filled look over the woman's head.
"It's just a small cut. I assure you, I will be quite fine..."
"But Sherlock...it's so horrible! That terrible, terrible man...when I think of what he did to you, and John..." Her hands tremble a little and Sherlock wonders if she's either about to cry or try and hug one of them again, but thankfully her steel core shows, and she straightens up with a little smile.
"Well. I'm just glad to see you're alright, and that's the main thing." She shoos them forward into the hall with her hands, "Now go on upstairs now, and I'll bring up some tea up."
There's not much else for Sherlock and John to do but carry on up to 221B. Sherlock hates the fact that each step shoots pain through his back and head, and through cramping joints, and that he has to hold onto the banisters. He's not used to hurting, being slow and impeded. John's horribly patient though, and waits calmly for Sherlock to conquer the stairs before following him up. Sherlock hates that too, that he understands.
The flat seems... odd, and it takes him a moment to work out what it is causing the feeling. Somehow, Sherlock has forgotten that it was going to look different, and it's a bit of a shock after the momentous everything that's gone on in the last twenty or so hours to come back and find home was all broken too. Everything had happened so quickly after the first explosion there hadn't been a chance to really get the flat back to normal. The light is different, brown and muted through the temporary boards Mrs Hudson had put up over the glassless windows. That explains why the temperature is wrong too, and all the furniture is pushed about into odd configurations. Most of the small familiar knickknacks, his experiments and artefacts, John's odd few mementoes are gone; broken and binned or swept up into boxes. The comfortable chaos of home is no more. Sherlock feels wayward shards of glass crunch under his shoe as he slowly walks inside. His throat tightens up.
"My God..." murmurs John, as they look around. "I'd forgotten what a mess it was."
"You mean before it blew up, or afterwards?" Sherlock retorts, kicking moodily at a box containing a smashed conical flask and then collapsing gratefully onto the sofa. John wanders around for a minute, poking at cracks in the wall, before sitting down in his own chair with a little sigh. Sherlock smiles to himself and closes his eyes. John always sighs when he sits down in that chair. Sometimes it's pain, and sometimes worry or frustration, and sometimes it's contentment. But he always sighs. Today it's somewhere between the middle two. One familiar part of home hasn't gone then.
"Well, both I suppose." John finally replies. "It just looks...wrong. Well, I suppose at least it is just mess. Pretty superficial, apart from the windows. Shouldn't take too long to get it back to normal."
"No. It's not."
"I'm sorry, what?" asks John, confused.
"It's not superficial," mumbles Sherlock, with his arm over his eyes. "It's different already. Things have changed. This is the start of it, right here."
John pauses. "I suppose you're right. Things will be different. After all, you've got the presence of a new and exciting arch-enemy in your life..."
Sherlock sits up suddenly, looking at him with hard eyes. "Don't. Don't even dare."
John throws his hands up. "Alright, fine. But we're going to have to talk about it sooner or later. Just go to sleep will you, Sherlock? You are concussed after all, and you need to be over this in nine days. I'll wake you up when Mrs Hudson brings the tea, and then you can go to bed. Everything will look better in the morning."
"I doubt it," Sherlock mutters, but lies back down. He's asleep before his head touches the cushion.
Sherlock sleeps through most of the next day, aware only of snatches of voices in the flat, Mrs Hudson's or John's, the taste of tea that he must have drunk at some point. His dreams are filled with a deep burning fury and the stench of fresh blood pouring over his hands. Then he wakes up and realises for the first time he can't remember what happened at the pool after he fired the gun, and is filled with a fear so intense he can hardly breathe.
Molly Hooper appears at the door of the flat two days after they get back from the hospital. She's carrying a plastic bag and looks a mess; swollen red eyes, hair loose and dull, and wearing an expression that's even more like a kicked puppy than normal. Sherlock vaguely wonders how many sobbing women he's going to have to put up with before this is over. He stands awkwardly in the doorway of the living room, with one hand resting on the door handle, ready to close it at a moment's notice. The door to their flat is not normally closed, but even the distant sound of Mrs Hudson's television is making his head hurt these days. When Sherlock opened the door to the soft knock to find Molly on the landing outside, he really wished he hadn't. Sherlock decides in that moment that he needs to start giving Mrs Hudson a list of people who are not to be let into the building under any circumstances. Molly's picture would be there, right underneath Anderson's, and at this point, possibly even above one of Jim Moriarty.
"Oh!" Molly says, a little surprised, though Sherlock's not sure why. "Sherlock...hi."
"Hi," He greets her, cautious. She looks upset and he's never quite got the hang of that, in females especially. Irrational behaviour invariably follows.
John comes over to join them from where he was watching telly."Molly!" John says, and actually manages to sound pleased to see her. "What a surprise...uh...Come in. Do you want a cup of tea, or a coffee?"
"Actually," Sherlock interrupts firmly, "We were just on our way out."
John gives him the look that means Sherlock, be nice.
"Oh. Um, okay," she says, and gives a little twist of her too-small mouth as if she's trying to smile but can't quite manage it. "Well, I just came round to leave this for you...thought you might be asleep..."
'This' turns out to be a large red helium balloon with "Get Well Soon!" daubed on it in garish letters, accompanied a small and exceedingly ugly teddy bear. Sherlock observes the gifts for a few seconds, made mute with utter disbelief at their inappropriateness. He finally takes them from her in silence just because he knows John is watching and will yell at him if he makes Molly cry again.
"Oh," he manages. "Thank you," and puts the bear down gingerly on the sofa. He lets the balloon go; it floats up and bobs nauseatingly off the ceiling. John turns away as if to admire the bear, and Sherlock tries to pretend he doesn't know the other man is probably sniggering silently. It's all rather tragic.
"Well," says Molly, and twists the empty plastic bag in her hands a little.
"Yes," says Sherlock, and glances past her to the staircase.
There is silence for a few more moments.
"Molly," says John, who seems to have recovered a straight face and comes back up to join them. "We're really sorry about Jim." He looks horribly earnest, and nudges Sherlock with his elbow.
"Um, yes. Sorry –" Sherlock starts, and only then decides not to add – that I didn't manage to blow up your psychopathic criminal-mastermind boyfriend into a million small bloody pieces.
"– about Jim," he echoes lamely, and is as horrified as John when Molly's face crumples up.
"Oh Sherlock!" She wails, and before Sherlock can move out of the way, she's has fallen onto him, throwing her arms around his chest. Sherlock stiffens automatically but Molly doesn't seem to notice, too busy sobbing incoherent words into his shoulder and wiping tears and snot from her face onto his shirt in the process.
"I'm sorry, it's all my fault and if I hadn't been so pathetic he wouldn't have come to the lab and he might not have been able to find you and John and none of this would have happened and it's all my fault and I'm so sorry..."
Sherlock looks to John for help desperately; the man has a sister and a girlfriend after all, but John has backed off slightly and just throws him a look that Sherlock classifies as; you're on your own, mate.
Suddenly, Sherlock can't take any more of Molly's noise and proximity and touch and he doesn't do hugs, unless it's Mrs Hudson who reminds him of something comforting from long ago. He pushes Molly's arms off him and steps back, only just slowly enough that it's not a shove and thank God, because Mrs Hudson has heard Molly crying and has come upstairs to help.
"There, there dear...it's alright love, here's a tissue, why don't you come downstairs and have a nice cup of tea with me? I'm sure Sherlock's very grateful, he just probably has a headache..."
Molly nods, still crying too much to speak and attaches herself to the landlady like a limpet. Mrs Hudson ushers Molly downstairs, and as they turn the bend in the stairs, gives Sherlock a smile that's a lot more sympathetic than he expects or probably deserves. He manages to nod gratefully before retreating speedily back into the flat.
John is perching on the arm of the sofa, looking a little sheepish.
"Is she alright? I thought she looked like she'd been crying when you first opened the door."
Sherlock is too busy trying to get rid of the disconcerting feeling of being hugged for a second time this week, of having another person too close. He folds his own arms around himself, trying to blame the action on the ache in his ribs that the hug exacerbated, and retreats to the armchair, bringing his knees up with a scowl.
"You shouldn't have mentioned Moriarty if you knew she was going to react like that."
John tugs a little on the string of the balloon; it bobs lightly. "Well, I suppose it's probably tough to discover your boyfriend is both gay and a mass-murderer all in one day."
Sherlock prods the ugly teddy, suspiciously. "Why on earth did she bring this?"
John smiles. "I think she was trying to be nice."
Sherlock sighs. "If she was intent on bringing a gift, I would have preferred a severed limb. She does work in a morgue after all."
John lets out a little snort. "Given that her boyfriend just tried to kill us both, she probably considered that that might not be terribly appropriate."
Sherlock prods the bear again. "Appropriate be damned," he mutters."Some people have no taste."
On the fourth day since the explosion, they start trying to tidy up the flat. It's slow and it's boring and neither of them seem to actually be getting much done at all. When John suggests they take a break and do some research on Moriarty, Sherlock quickly announces he's not feeling too well and why don't they just watch a film or something instead? John looks a little suspicious, but thankfully doesn't push it. They spend the rest of the day watching a load of mind rotting crap about time-travelling killer robots and both trying to pretend Sherlock isn't flinching a little every time something blows up on the screen.
At some point, the head of Molly's bear becomes detached from its body and ends up joining the skull on the mantelpiece. Sherlock rather likes it there.
Sherlock hears the footsteps on the stairs but doesn't get up. He's too busy sulking about the fact that he's out of nicotine patches, and John won't go and buy him any more; (You're turning into a hermit, Sherlock. Get out of the flat and go get them yourself). At Sherlock's insistence (and John's frown) they've started keeping the flat door closed in case of any more unwelcome guests like Molly, and the detective doesn't get up when the knock sounds at the living room door.
Sherlock scowls. Mrs Hudson, the betrayer, has already let the knocker in this far, despite the list he pushed under her door that was entitled 'People you should not let into the house' and started with 'Number 1) MYCROFT!'
"Sherlock. I know you're there. Open the door."
Of course you know I'm here, he wants to shout. You probably have one of your staff video me in the bath. He says nothing.
"Sherlock, this is childish. You'll have to talk to me sooner or later. It's been five days, I just want to know you're alright."
"Then go home and watch it on one of your surveillance screens." Sherlock mutters, but into the sofa cushion so no-one can hear. His head hurts, a lot.
"You can't keep me out, Sherlock, and this can't go on. Apart from anything else, we need any information you have on Moriarty. I can help you find him Sherlock, but you can't do this without my resources."
Exactly, He thinks, viciously. That's the whole point.
"I am prepared to leave you alone for tonight, but I'm coming back tomorrow," threatens Mycroft outside the door, "And I expect you to be behaving more sensibly."
If he's trying to get a rise from Sherlock with that, he'll be disappointed. Sherlock listens to the sound of his brother's footsteps on the stairs (lighter than he expected, perhaps that diet is working after all.) He finally sits up when he hears the murmur of Mycroft bidding Mrs Hudson goodbye, and finally a movement in the kitchen catches his eye. Sherlock realises John has not gone to bed as he thought, but is sitting quietly at the kitchen table with a mug in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Doubtless he has observed the whole exchange.
"He's right you know," John offers, unhelpfully.
"Shut up," says Sherlock, opening the flat door yell down the stairs. "Mrs Hudson! Do not, under any circumstances, let that man into this house again!" He leaves the door open though in case she wants to bring him some nicotine patches and stalks back into the room. "Right about what?"
"Well, everything actually," John wanders into the lounge and takes up his usual seat. "I'm told siblings always are. Though it was Harry who said that, so maybe it doesn't always apply...She came round, by the way, this afternoon while you were asleep. Wanted to know if we'd remembered about Thursday."
Sherlock blocks John's chatter out, he doesn't care, is not interested in the Watson family dramas. He lies back on the sofa and throws and arm over his face instead. John won't be swayed.
"You should talk to Mycroft. He probably could help."
"I'm not talking to Mycroft," Sherlock snarls, and is very glad he hasn't got round to buying a new phone yet. At least that way he doesn't even have to go to the effort of ignoring his brother's calls.
"Well, alright not Mycroft. How about Lestrade?"
"No. Don't be such an imbecile."
"Don't be such a drama queen," John retorts. "Talk to Lestrade. Or someone."
"I'm talking to you," says Sherlock, sullen as a seven year old throwing a hissy fit.
"No, you're arguing. And I don't count anyway, I know what happened. I was there."
"Maybe I should get a therapist," Sherlock mutters sarcastically, glaring over at the doctor, but John just snorts.
"Yeah, and it's only about twenty years too late for the kind of psychological help that would do you any good," John answers, but doesn't press the issue further.
Sherlock notices a cup of tea and sandwich that are lying on the coffee table. He pokes at the bread with some suspicion; it's got some of Mrs Hudson's homemade dangerous pickle on it.
"It's for you. Eat it," says John, wearily. "You can't survive on sarcasm alone."
Sherlock doesn't make any comment about the pickle being more likely to kill him than starvation. He eats the sandwich, and washes the vinegary aftertaste down with a sip from the tea. It's stone cold and disgusting.
"So, have you got any leads yet?" John asks, unfolding the paper again.
"Leads on what? I haven't got any cases," says Sherlock. He lowers his aching head into his hands, and lets his thumb rub over his eyebrow, over the crack in his skull he knows is lurking there below the skin.
John looks surprised. "What do you mean, no cases? What about Moriarty?"
Sherlock is on his feet in a moment, dressing gown swirling behind him in a way that he'd be quite impressed with if he wasn't so angry. The creature in his guts twists, as it always does at the sound of that name.
"I'm not discussing him, John."
John's angry now too. "Are you actually telling me that you're not going after Moriarty? The most dangerous criminal you've ever crossed paths with, and you're just going to...what? Do nothing? Rot inside this flat? We've only five days left, Sherlock. If you don't do something, he'll win!"
"John, he's already won, don't you see?" snaps the detective.
"He won a battle," John argues, "Don't sacrifice the rest of the war. This matters, Sherlock! You have to catch him. People have died!"
"I know! Do you think I don't know that?" They're nearly shouting now.
"So is that it? You actually don't care! What will it take, Sherlock?"
The mug explodes against the wall when Sherlock hurls it. The crash of the shattering ceramic takes them both by surprise, but the silence afterwards seems even more deafening.
John looks impassively at the tea dripping down the wallpaper bare inches from where he sits. Then, he stands up quietly and walks over to the open door.
"Where are you going?" Sherlock demands.
"Sarah's," answers John, shortly. Sherlock can tell he's absolutely furious. "Don't wait up."
"I do care!" Sherlock says after him. "I do."
But John's still gone.
No cases to run through his mind, no flatmate to annoy. Nothing but heavy guilt and boredom, the fear lodged deep in his gut, the feeling that something's wrong, so, so wrong, and his amazing brain going round and round and round...Sherlock goes up to John's room and takes down the doctor's old army medical kit. He opens it, and removes the bottle and syringe he hid inside after John first moved in (and really, what better place to hide a needle that in a stack of needles, so to speak?)
Lestrade really is thicker than two short planks nailed together.
Four and Three
He's not aware of much after that, though when he next properly regains consciousness, he's lost two days and someone had carried him onto the sofa, covered him with a blanket, and thrown all his drugs and needles away.
It's more through luck than any success on the part of John's bullying tactics that means Sherlock is actually conscious, sober and dressed when Lestrade arrives at Baker Street hotfoot from a crime scene the next evening, a Wednesday. The police inspector marches in through the door that Mrs Hudson left open earlier, without knocking.
"Theft and a homicide," he says, by way of greeting. "It's a weird one too. Interested?"
Sherlock's not, but he doesn't respond. For the first time he really, really doesn't want anything to do with a complicated, gruesome crime. The come-down from the cocaine is harder than he remembers. John Watson makes the decision for him instead in his silence, emerging from the kitchen at the sound of the inspector's voice.
"Don't mind Sherlock, he's sulking," John says, "but yes, he's interested. Did anything else turn up from the pool site? We're running out of time."
"I tried to call a few times before, about some leads, but I couldn't get through," says Lestrade, as he glances at the tea-stain on the wall. Sherlock mentally applauds. "Did you get a new number?"
"No," says Sherlock, and doesn't add that his phone is still a lump of charred plastic. He made arrangements to ensure that the pink phone Moriarty sent is lying at the bottom of the Thames. He didn't tell John about that either, though he's probably guessed.
Lestrade takes Sherlock's monosyllabic answer as a cue to elaborate.
"Not much left of the wreckage that was identifiable, after the bomb, but we think we've got an ID on one of the snipers. Had a juvenile record in Ireland. And the bomb squad have found a few unsolved bombings across Europe a few years back that match the type of explosives Moriarty was using ..."
Sherlock twitches so violently at the sound of that name, Lestrade stops short.
"Oh," he says, as if slowly adding up the glaring clues from Sherlock's silence, the fact he hasn't left the flat in over a week and hasn't touched his laptop.
"He's refusing to investigate," John said, and he sounds weary rather than angry. "I keep telling him, it's the only way for this all to be over. Moriarty's just going to keep hurting people unless he's stopped. No-one can beat him but you, Sherlock."
"You're...you're not investigating Moriarty?" Lestrade states, sounding confused.
"No," says Sherlock again, but he's getting a little annoyed. "I learned my lesson the first time, thank you."
"But..." says Lestrade, and he clearly doesn't get it. "I thought, after what happened..."
"Well you thought wrong," Sherlock snaps, "as per usual. Tell me about the Wimbledon crime or go away."
Lestrade doesn't look happy, but does as he is bid. "Locked room mystery. Well, a locked safe mystery. Killer got in and out with no-one seeing, stuffed the dead guy in the empty safe. A bit weird, we can't make head nor tail of it." The DI mentions that last part very casually, but he's trying too hard. He's nervous, Sherlock thinks. Why? Nervous that Sherlock will refuse to help? That normally makes Lestrade pissed off rather than nervous.
Sherlock doesn't say anything in response, just stares at the ceiling, thinking.
"So, um. Are you coming?" asks Lestrade.
"Yes, of course," says John, standing up. "Come on, Sherlock."
Sherlock sighs, and stands slowly, strangely reluctant.
"Fine," he agrees, and then to Lestrade. "But not in a squad car, you go on ahead."
"Thank you," the inspector says, with relief.
"Where's the crime scene?" John asks him. Sherlock's glad someone seems to be capable of asking the questions his mind can't seem to produce. Maybe it's too soon since the cocaine.
"Here's the address, and you were right; it is Wimbledon. I'm not even going to ask..." Lestrade lifts Sherlock's discarded coat and tucks a yellow post-it with the address scrawled on it into the pocket, before holding the garment out. Sherlock moves forward to take it as if in a fog.
Lestrade turns away and strides to the door before stopping in the doorway and turning back.
"I'm glad you're okay, Sherlock...we were worried. You, uh, look better."
John snorts. "No, he doesn't. He looks like shit."
Lestrade's serious look twists into a wry smile. "Okay, you look like shit. But thank you again, for agreeing to help. Especially with tomorrow. I nearly didn't come..."
"It had better be interesting," says Sherlock, tying his scarf. "I have a lot of doing nothing to catch up on."
It takes him and John a few minutes to flag a taxi down, and the cold air outside makes Sherlock's headache worse than ever.
Once the cab's on its way to Wimbledon, Sherlock tilts sideways in the grey taxi seat and leans against the cool window. He pushes his hand against his forehead, but the pressure doesn't ease the pain.
"Is it still bothering you?" John asks, watching him.
Sherlock sighs. "Yes. I don't like knowing it's there. The fracture. "
"It'll start closing up in a few more weeks. Let me have a look?"
Sherlock leans back and lets his head rest against the top of the seat. John moves onto the bench seat beside him, and leans over for a moment to inspect the scar on his brow. Sherlock knows even nine days after the explosion, it's still bruised and swollen over his eye. John cool fingers dance ghost-like over the skin.
"It'll heal," the doctor says, returning to his seat. "There'll be a scar, but it will heal, in time."
"Well it still hurts," Sherlock says, and is aware it sounds childish.
"I didn't say it wouldn't hurt," John shrugs and looks out of the window. "It might hurt for a while yet. I just said eventually it will heal. You were lucky though. It was pretty damn close."
Sherlock snorts. "Too close. Anyway, I wasn't the lucky one; you were."
John is silent, and looks guilty.
They arrive at the Wimbledon address Lestrade gave Sherlock only about fifteen minutes behind the inspector himself. It's a private house, old school Victoriana, large, very expensive. Porsche 4x4 in the drive. Banker, Sherlock guesses at a glance. Or an accountant.
Sally Donovan is waiting by the police tape; Lestrade had obviously warned her they're on the way.
"Hey," she says, as they approach but doesn't add her usual insult.
"Hi," John smiles, a little confused.
"Sally." Sherlock nods, looking passed her. He looks relaxed, but there's more than a little tension in the air.
"I'll take you through, if you like?" she says, courteously lifting the tape. John ducks underneath, followed by the consulting detective.
"So, what's going on here?" asks John, indicating to the house.
"Body's in the office," Sally says, leading the way into the panelled hallway. "Lestrade thinks it's an interrupted burglary, but, um...I'm sure another opinion can't hurt."
John catches Sherlock's eye behind her back, and the detective raises an eyebrow. The sergeant's attitude has certainly had a bit of a readjustment recently. It's more than a little disconcerting.
They reach the doorway of the office, and Donovan stops, suddenly, turning back to the two men.
"I just wanted you to know..." she says, after a deep breath. "I'm sorry about what happened. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, but..."
John looks stunned and Sherlock half turns away, uncomfortable with the words, her forced sympathy. She's being nice, and that's changed their relationship into something he doesn't know how to deal with.
"Yes, let's just see the dead body, shall we?" suggests John, to cover the awkwardness.
"Sorry," says Sally. "I'll show you the crime scene."
Lestrade is crouching over the dead accountant's safe when they enter the room. While he pulls on a pair of white nitrile gloves, Sherlock notes from the contents of the office that the dead man, who is quite probably committing low level fraud on behalf of his employer, has two adult kids, a boy and girl both away at University, and has remarried a much younger wife, sometime earlier in the last year.
"That was quick," Lestrade greets them. Anderson, who is taking photos of the carpet under the window, looks up and even nods at them.
Sherlock feels an unreasonable flutter of panic. Everyone is treating them wrong, like disaster survivors. Their reactions are...unexpected, uncomfortable. He wonders if this is what it was like for John at the start, after Afghanistan. He can smell blood.
John steps past Sherlock into the room and crouches down by the safe, Sherlock following a step behind. John points to the inside. "Is that him?" the doctor asks.
"The wife and cleaner found him," Lestrade says, and it's clear now why they called on Sherlock. The leaking body of the accountant has been folded up into a tiny ball and wedged inside, like a gruesome jack-in-the-box. All that can be seen is the curve of a suit jacket, one pale hand and pool of blood flowing out onto the already bloody rug.
"Derek Arkwright, fifty-four. Best bit was, the safe was locked with him inside it," adds Lestrade "Seems the robber somehow got it open, took whatever was inside, killed Arkwright when he interrupted, stuffed him in, then made his escape..."
Sherlock tilts his head, looking the seam of the jacket. There's something there, in the dead man's pocket. He kneels down, reaches into the safe. A piece of paper containing a short string of numbers; 24 6 18 7 9 30, the code for the safe, of course. But an accountant would have to be good with numbers, why would he need the combination of his own safe written down? Sherlock glances at the paper again, and oh. Oh.
His gloved hand is coated with blood.
"What's that?" asks John. "Are those numbers?"
"Anderson, get him an evidence bag..." the voices sounds odd, distant and sort of echoey.
Someone's holding up a yellow evidence bag and Sherlock lets the paper flutter from his fingers. It might have fallen into the bag or it might not, he doesn't care because the thick, red blood is sticky across his palm, and it's too familiar, the way the stuff smears around his fingers and down his wrists. He stares.
"Sherlock?" asks John, touching his arm lightly. "Are you alright?"
"Fine," Sherlock mumbles, but he can't take his eyes off that blood. He's cold, dizzy.
"What?" says Lestrade, turning back to look at him. Then a pause. "Sherlock?"
"I'm fine," the detective repeats, trying to pull his eyes away from his bloody hand. "Arrest the wife. That's...that's not the accountant."
"It's not," says Lestrade. And then; "It's not?"
Sherlock shakes his head, though it's more of a sway. The smell of the blood is intense, and it's making him feel sick. Odd. A new reaction.
"That's the thief. Probably the wife's lover. They were going to rob the husband and take off with his money. The wife gave the combination to the lover earlier, then she waits at some other meeting place for him to steal the money. Meanwhile the husband has found the lover emptying the safe and attacked in a fit of rage; bashes the lover's head in with that silver sports trophy on the mantel..." Everyone's eyes swivel to the fireplace and they miss Sherlock swaying again dizzily. He grips the wall; can't stop talking now though, even if his eyes are being drawn to the smear of blood his gloved hand has just left on the magnolia paper.
"You can see the trophy has been well cleaned but there's a faded outline on the wallpaper behind where someone has moved it recently. The wife, realising something's gone wrong, comes back home and finds her lover dead and the husband panicking that he's killed a burglar. The wife agrees to help him hide the body. Where can they go, it's the early evening in a posh neighbourhood and they're both covered in...blood, so they stuff him in the safe, lock the door and plan to dump the whole thing at a tip in the morning. The wife has other plans however, she hates this man now, really hates him. So while her husband's distracted, she kills him too; there's a second murder scene somewhere in this house, probably the bathroom as that's the easiest to clean. She has to dispose of the body right now as she's on her own and it's the middle of the night, try somewhere on Wimbledon Common, maybe Hookhamslade Pond given by the dirt and twigs I saw on the tyres of the car in the drive on my way in. Her plan now then is to pass off the lover's body stuck in the safe as that of her husband, the face is probably damaged and forensic examination will clearly show he was killed by a man, not a small young woman. There'll be no suspicion on her, no reason to doubt her identification of the body as that of her husband, or her story that he was killed by a burglar who fled the scene. So the dead man would become Arkwright, the police would search for a mystery robber who never existed, and the wife goes free with the money. The only problem is, she's run out of time by dumping her husband's body, and the cleaner comes in this morning just as she's opening the safe to arrange the 'crime scene' for the burglary scenario. She does the only thing she can think of, improvises. Pretends she's just seen it for the first moment herself, probably screams, they call the police, you call me, voila."
There's silence as Sherlock stops speaking.
"Well," says John, dryly. "I suppose that's one possible explanation of some of the facts."
"Sherlock, that was..." Lestrade's still talking but his voice fades to nothing in Sherlock's ears, and all he can see is the red blood his hand, and why does it smell like chlorine? He clenches his fist but it doesn't help.
"You might have to say that all through again, and slower," he hears Lestrade say, distantly. "And actually explain it too, for those of us who aren't psychic."
"I'll get a pen," says Sally.
"No," says Sherlock, suddenly sick to his stomach. "No, I...I have to go." The room has faded out to blue rippling water and the echo of voices and gunshots and anger and the intense blinding deafening light of the explosion and a drowning suffocating flow of chlorine and blood and burning and something wet on his hands...
Someone's grabbing at his arm and talking to him, but he shakes them off and stumbles away. He hears John's voice, calming, but everything fades a little more and there's nothing but blurring for a few minutes, with just a few snatches of cold colour and sound. It's such an odd juxtaposition from the startling clarity of deduction earlier. The beast that took up residence inside his gut is twisting and clawing and Sherlock's pretty certain he's just thrown up in a flowerbed outside a crime scene but he can't be certain.
"Go away. Leave me alone," he says to someone, maybe Lestrade. The man calls after him, but Sherlock turns and walks away.
"Easy, it's just me," says another voice; John is still with him, has followed him from the house. "It's alright, we'll go if you want."
They leave. At some point the crime scene gloves have been pulled off his hands and the smell of the blood fades by the time they're a few streets away, but for Sherlock, the images remain and he's blinded by them. The blood. The pool.
"John," he says, "I think I killed somebody."
"It was just vomit, Sherlock, I think that constable will recover."
"No," he says, "Before. Something happened before, at the pool."
"It wasn't your fault," says John, "and keep your voice down, we're in public. Here, there's a taxi. Come on."
He is aware of getting into the taxi and speaking, but he doesn't really remember anything more.
Sherlock dreams about the pool, in more detail than before.
He dreams about the bewitching, rippling light reflected off the water, the odd echoes of their footsteps. He sees John's wide eyes, the design of Moriarty's tie pin, hears the odd, singsong voice that put his teeth on edge. He remembers, properly for the first time, the explosion. The realisation that there was really only on course of action left that flickered through his mind as he aimed the Browning handgun at the bomb vest. The dip of John's head (do it) and the tilt of Moriarty's (I dare you). The detonation that ripped through the air like a living thing, the concussive light and sound that felt as if he was being torn apart until suddenly, instead of fire, the was freezing pressure and pain as they struck the pool surface, water forced itself up his nose and into his eyes and mouth...
"Sherlock. Can you hear me?"
Sherlock Holmes opens his eyes.
It's a desolate scene, especially at night. An urban blasted heath. The empty wasteland of the explosion site, flanked by the surviving buildings looks like a pulled tooth, a rotting sore with black debris of bricks and tile and cement scattered across the ground. Metal girders rising from the shell of the building are silhouetted against the midnight cloud and glint slightly with the orange street lighting, a ghost of the fire that burned out ten days ago. A fragment of discarded police tape flutters slightly in the cold wind.
The whole site is a wound, a scar on the city. Like the cracks in the wall at Baker Street, or the fracture in Sherlock's skull. These things Moriarty has done. But there's something else here, this rubble speaks of another memory...
John wanders past Sherlock and kicks at a brick. He pushes his hands deep in his pockets.
"Well you know how to show a sidekick a good time. You do know it's nearly midnight don't you?"
"Is it?" Sherlock asks, distractedly. He hadn't noticed. He kneels down, pulling out his hand lens and examines the ground. Ashes and dust and more ashes. He doesn't know what he expected to see. Clues to whatever it is that he's lost. Sherlock stands with a sigh and stares further into the ruins of the pool building. There's something...something he needs to remember...John's voice summons him back to reality.
"Sherlock, why are we here? Not that I'm not pleased that you seem to be showing in interest in the Moriarty case at last, but well...you have insinuated more than once that you have no intention of investigating."
"I'm not," says Sherlock, gritting his teeth. "I'm not. I don't know... But there's something else going on that I don't understand...it's distracting. I thought coming here would help get it out of my head but I was wrong. Let's go."
He turns to leave the ruins, to head back out into the London of bright lights and taxis and normality, but John's voice halts him. Sherlock stops but doesn't look back, staring out over the rubble, the scar that he helped to cause.
"Sherlock, this isn't over. Life doesn't work like that. You can't just pick and choose the bits you like and the bits you want to ignore."
He hears John approach, and he's so afraid. John is relentless.
"Why won't you fight him, Sherlock? He's the most dangerous man alive, and you might be the only person who can take him down. Why won't you? You clearly don't care about any of the other people he might kill or destroy. You won't hunt him for Lestrade, or even for Mycroft. Is this the point where I have to learn you won't even do it for me?"
"For God's sake, John!" Sherlock shouts, spinning around, and his voice echoes off the rubble. "Do I have to spell everything out? It's because of you, don't you see? You heard what he said that night, and fine, so there are very few people in the world that I do care about, but he knows that. And I know him. You're the one he'll destroy. I can't take that chance. I won't. Not if ten thousand other people have to die. I'm not sorry for it."
"Oh, Sherlock," says John, quietly. "You stupid, stupid man. It's a little late for that, don't you think?"
Sherlock has never really understood what people meant about their blood running cold until now. "Why?" he whispers, faint, dizzy. There's a roaring in his ears, like he's just stumbled into the chasm of a great waterfall. His knees feel weak, and suddenly he's looking up at John from his knees in the rubble.
"What's happening to me?" He asks, empty and hollow.
John stands by Sherlock, and puts a hand on his shoulder, a touch so feather-light Sherlock could believe he had imagined it.
"Haven't you deduced it by now? You're grieving, Sherlock. That was the great game, the final problem. Only two of us were going to make it out of there. You survived. Moriarty survived." He smiles a little. "I didn't."
They look out across the desolate wasteland, and Sherlock shivers in the cold. "I don't understand," he replies at last.
"Yes, you do," counters Watson, quietly. "You understood from the very first moment. You just didn't want to. Didn't you wonder why you couldn't even bear to hear Moriarty's name? You knew the facts would be undeniable if you chose to look."
Sherlock thinks back to that very first moment and every one that has passed since he fired a gun into a bomb and woke with his hands covered in blood. He remembers the apologies and the odd looks, the beheaded teddy, Sally, cups of cold tea, cocaine and the pink phone. Little facets of a larger denial, that centres on the smell of chlorine, and the feel of pressing on warm flesh, hot blood and gaping wounds that could not have been stoppered. Looking into still, empty, brown eyes.
What is there to say?
A night breeze whispers across the blast site. The police tape flutters in the dark and ash swirls across the burnt ground like drifting ghosts made of empty air and dust. The sound of a distant bell is dreary in the night sky.
"Midnight over London town," John says.
Sherlock frowns. "You said ten days...Everyone kept saying it. It's midnight now. What happens on the tenth day?"
"We part ways," says John, with a half-shrug. "It's going to be awful as hell. Harry will cry at the funeral and drink herself unconscious at the wake. Everyone else has been expecting it since I was drafted. I don't have that many friends left...you ought to go too, but I know you won't."
Sherlock is feeling numb and sick and spiteful. He wants to stand up and use all his height to tower over John, speak harsh words, push him away with a scowl. But he can't raise the will to stand; somehow, nothing matters any more. He tells John so. "It doesn't matter. Why should it matter? It's just a ridiculous societal custom to appease the grieving, it has no relevance. Ten days or a hundred won't make the slightest difference."
"No," said John, and he sounded stern for the first time. "It does matter, and it matters because this is the moment you make a choice. Everything changes, or nothing does. This is your test. It won't all be for nothing if you don't let it."
"I can't," Sherlock says, "I don't know how." And then, after a long time he can only say. "I'm sorry."
There is silence and a ghostly touch in his hair. "I know. Don't let it be for nothing, Sherlock."
He closes his eyes and doesn't move for the longest time. He's lost in the one mystery he can never solve, of something too complex, too infinite and too ubiquitous for even his brain to comprehend. There are no clues to understand, no data to analyse. He is left in ignorance and guilt, and it seems as if ages have passed while he kneels in the ruins of his aberration, his failure and knows that he is alone once more. There is a name on the wind.
His name. Sherlock opens eyes he didn't know had closed. Daylight burns between his eyelids into his retinas and they swim. The desolate scene before him is lost in a blur of dull colours and harsh light and it's more beautiful than any clarity.
"Sherlock," says the voice, closer, and a hand touches his shoulder. He dashes at his eyes, they're wet, and stands up slowly. His joints have seized up with time and cold and Mycroft has to help him up. Neither of them are surprised when Sherlock shakes him off as soon as he has his balance back.
"Have you been out here all night?" Mycroft says, and his voice is quite calm. "The Detective Inspector said you didn't go back to Baker Street."
"I thought I'd find some answers," Sherlock says staring out over the rubble, and his voice sounds strange to his own ears. "There's nothing here."
"I don't think there are any answers, Sherlock. Not for this." Mycroft seems to know what he's talking about for once.
There's silence for a long time, before Mycroft finally breaks it again. "Come on," he says. "It's time."
Sherlock glances over to the gap in the metal fencing. Lestrade is there, dressed in a cheap black suit, slouching against a car that he could never afford.
"No," Sherlock says, slowly, pushing his hands into his pockets.
"Sherlock..." Mycroft says warningly, but Sherlock won't listen this time. He shakes his head, puts his back to them and walks away.
"Sherlock!" Mycroft calls after him. "These ceremonies are important. He was your friend!"
"I know. I won't let it be for nothing. I won't let him be for nothing." Sherlock says and he doesn't turn back.
Sherlock feels the creature inside him wake again as he walks away from the swimming pool, from Lestrade and Mycroft. He's finally recognising that beast though and it's not fear anymore. There's nothing more to be afraid of. Now, it is anger, pure burning rage. He smiles at the space at his side, where John Watson had once walked, and turns his attention out into the world. Somewhere out there was Jim Moriarty with blood on his hands, and it was John Watson who had taught him how much that mattered.
Everything changes, or nothing does.
Endgame, Moriarty. Be ready.