The usual applies; I don't own this, and it was beta'd by the magical Rosey.

Inspired by a kink meme prompt which I've lost, but said vaguely: Moriarty plays with Sherlock/John's heads by having John say certain things.

Sound in the pool echoes, bounces off the cold tile walls, makes it hard (but not impossible) to pinpoint the location of any particular noise. Chlorinated blue reflections on white walls, lapping waves disguising motion, high black rafters with balconies shrouded in shadow. A row of changing rooms, illuminated with harsh white fluorescents.

Sherlock reaches into his pocket, eyes trained for the slightest movement as he scans the pool, and draws out the USB. "I brought you a little getting to know you present," he says, and his voice mingles with the steady rhythm of the water, a soothing counterpoint to the tension building in his chest. "All those puzzles… making me dance… they were all to distract me from this." And now he will have it. But to get it, Moriarty will have to expose himself. The best, the only challenge Sherlock has had in years…and he is on the brink of discovering the man behind it.

Sherlock is rotating slowly on the spot, his arm outstretched, offering the Bruce-Partington plans like a sacrifice (which is really what they are, he thinks. Sacrificing the security of the missile plans for a glimpse of his equal). John's gun is heavy in his pocket, but John is miles away with Sarah, and Sherlock feels his absence notably. Amazing what a well-aimed gun can do for a man's confidence, Sherlock thinks. A solid presence, immutable and immobile, and a hundred other words for not leaving. Except for tonight—John's world and Moriarty's should never touch, Sherlock had thought earlier, listening to the slow chicken-peck of John's typing. Moriarty would ruin John.

A rusty creak—one of the locker room doors is opening, and Sherlock spins on his heel. For a moment, his mind rejects what he's seeing. John, staring up at him with his sorrowful blue eyes, wrapped in a thick parka with a fur lined hood (Sherlock's never seen him wear it before, if John ever had a parka like that he'd certainly never kept it at Baker Street), same jeans and shoes he'd worn when he left the flat to see Sarah, said he was going to see Sarah-
"John—?what-?" Sherlock had arranged to meet Moriarty—posted it on his webpage. Moriarty was the only one who communicated with him in that particular way, John had been working on his blog, had left before Sherlock had posted instructions, John's sister's phone has internet connection—conclusion John was Moriarty. Rejected, not possible, Sherlock is living with him, John had never shown a trace of guile, not a tenth of the wile, not an ounce of the cruelty Sherlock knew Moriarty had to have-
"Evening," John says, and John has never greeted Sherlock like this before, too formal, too cold, it's not right—"This is quite the turn-up, isn't it Sherlock? Bet you never saw this coming. "
Despite himself, Sherlock's stance relaxes. John's words are stilted, his head tilted to receive incoming messages. Moriarty has stolen another voice.

(If John were Moriarty, at least John would be safe).
John reaches down, unbuttons the parka, but before he even opens it Sherlock knows what he will see. Flashing lights, neon straps. Semtex. The reason for the parka Sherlock has never seen before.

(So much potential for destruction so tightly contained. A marvel).

John tilts his head up again, tiredly, exasperatedly. "What would… you like me… to have him… say…next?" Moriarty's words, John's mouth. Moriarty, toying with them both.

John is scared. Sherlock can see it in the line of his shoulders, the set of his jaw, the creases of his eyes. He is not shaking, he is not sweating; the usual tells don't work with John. Sherlock had to learn them quickly but he's still finding new ones, new ways of telling what John is thinking-

"Gottle O' geer, gottle o'geer, gottle o'ge-" John's voice cracks, the only break in his calm, and Sherlock snaps at the unseen bastard who's taken his obsession with Sherlock out on the one person that takes Sherlock away from his own.
"Stop it!"
"Nice touch, this. The pool… where little Carl died." John looks sick to his stomach, and Sherlock hates for him. Hates Moriarty because Sherlock's not sure that John even can, so Sherlock will do it for him.

"I stopped him," says John, confessing to a murder he didn't commit. "I can stop John Watson too—stop his heart." John closes his eyes briefly, then opens them again, locking with Sherlock's. Sherlock tries to nod, tries to be cool and cold and rational but he's afraid to move because he feels every pound of explosive on John as if it's hanging on his own frame, strapped to his own chest.
"Who are you?" Sherlock demands, the same tone with which he interrogates robbers, murderers, forgers.

"I'm—" John exhales sharply with an annoyed jerk of his neck that Sherlock is sure he sees more often than anyone else in the world "—John Watson."

"Very clever," Sherlock replies. He feels for the gun in his pocket, eyes traveling across the darkened balcony—movement, or just a reflection of the unceasingly fluctuating water? A back office across the pool, a door to another wing. Both lit from within.

"You're quite the…hero, aren't you, Sherlock?" John says, slowly, haltingly. It's not in John's voice but Sherlock can hear the mockery in it, and he knows John can too.

"I try not to be," he replies. Heroes don't exist. If they did, he wouldn't be one of them.

Heroes get killed.

Heroes get their loved ones killed.

"Why don't you save me?" John asks him, and Sherlock closes his eyes. The lights on John's chest are blinking red eyes, staring at him. They accuse him when John will not.

"What do you want? I brought the plans," Sherlock says, holding out the memory stick again. Fruitless. Moriarty could make a hundred missiles like this without any government plan. It had just been a calling card, an excuse to meet the man in the center of the spider's web.

"Dull," John says, Moriarty says. Sherlock looks at John, sees the horror in his eyes as he makes the connection between the two men he's caught in the middle of. "Let's talk about you."

"Fine, then," Sherlock says, slowly replacing the plans in his pocket even as the bile rises in his throat.

(dull)

"I'm thirty five years old, a consulting detective, and I live at 221b Baker Street with the man you're currently using as a radio," Sherlock says acidicly. "Now tell me a little about yourself."

"How…cute," John says. He's shifting his weight further and further off his left leg, leaving him unbalanced. Not his psychosomatic injury—it never comes back under stress. Preparing to move. Why? Sherlock turns—there is no one behind him. Moriarty's instructions then. "But I…like to play…hard to get." John takes one measured step forward. Not natural. John always takes a step and a half, likes to stand with his body at an angle to the person he's speaking to. "Do you…have any friends…Sherlock?"

It's obviously a question, but John's inflection is all wrong, more evidence (as if he needed it) that John is not speaking for himself.

"I don't see why that should concern you," Sherlock replies coldly.

"Is that a…no," John mutters. He won't meet Sherlock's eyes.

Two months ago. Grey-scaled bank.

"This is my friend, John Watson."

"'Friend'?"

"Colleague."

"Is this another game?" Sherlock asks the empty pool, his voice bouncing back to him from a hundred individual tiles.

"Of course it's a 'no'," John says. "You don't need people, do you, Sherlock?" John is getting better at speaking from Moriarty's instructions—the words flow quicker and easier now. "But you need me."

"'Me' who?" Sherlock asks dryly. His heart is in his throat; he swears he's choking on it.

"Me—" John exhales again, shaking his head sharply "—John Watson." His eyes meet Sherlock's, and he's telling Sherlock that he swears, whatever he's about to say he doesn't mean, please don't believe it. "I'm your only friend. And you could lose me."

Sherlock steps back before he can stop himself; a foolish move, Moriarty is watching, must be watching, saw him falter, knew he touched a nerve.

(This is a crime scene. We can't giggle at a crime scene!

They do anyway.)

"But not—because I'm going to die," John says, and the shadow of relief crosses his face. He's been impassive—John's a soldier, strong moral center, steady under pressure. "It's because I'm going to leave you…Who would want to …be with someone like you?"

Sherlock does not reply, sets himself to inspect the darkened corridor on the other side of the pool without moving a step. Gleam in the window of reflected light, past that lines as shadowed as a charcoal sketch stretching out—

"Selfish," John says. "Irresponsible. Immature. Morbid."

-individual tiles to faint to make out beyond—estimate—six feet beyond the door, beyond twelve feet too dark to reasonably evaluate, easy to conceal—

"Obsessive. And so—what?" John breaks off uncomprehendingly. Sharp, quick; his own words, the first Sherlock has heard since he'd arrived. "No, what?"

Sherlock's gaze snaps back to John, who is apparently listening intently to Moriarty, a frown creasing his brow. Not fear; worry and confusion, but not fear. That in itself is almost more frightening.

John swallows, reluctant to push Moriarty further, and stares at the floor. Sherlock dreads the next words; his mind races to fill in the blanks. And so—cynical? Hateful? Embarrassing?

"And so in love with me," John grinds out.

Sherlock blinks. Unexpected. Unfounded. Untrue. Random claim, to throw both himself and John off balance. Working perfectly.

"Isn't it…sad," John continues. His mouth works furiously as he speaks, as if dying to spill a hundred more words for each one Moriarty lets him say. "The tin man…finds a heart…in someone who will never give it back."

Sherlock bites the inside of his lip, tastes copper. He has no power. The cards (John) are all in Moriarty's hands—he has no choice but to listen.

"Have you quite finished?" Sherlock asks calmly. "Because I've got dinner sitting in the microwave."

"You..crash…my dates," John says. "Try to keep the girl away."

Again, unexpected, unfounded, untrue.

(true)

She interfered. He needed John for the case.

"The only person's opinion you care about is mine," John says, and he looks up. He doesn't look scared now—mystified maybe, like he's looking at a Polaroid that's just coming clear.

(true)

"You wouldn't know what to do without me." John's eyes are pinched shut now and Sherlock watches the emotions play across his face with a kind of horrified fascination he hopes he's not showing on his. He can't read them. He doesn't know why, but he can't read what John is thinking by his face, and it makes him feel more alone in his own head than he has in a long time. "I'm the order to your chaos. You'd be lost without me."

(I'd be lost without my blogger).

"What if I wanted to stay with you despite your flaws? What if I felt that way about you?" John asks. Moriarty asks, with John's mouth. John's closes his eyes tightly, grits his teeth. "I love you, Sherlock."

And Sherlock wonders if vomiting would disrupt Moriarty's plans, because it may not be a logical thing to do but it does seem the thing to do. His stomach is doing horrible things, turning, twisting, flashes of something akin to Wagner on the violin mixed in with things like (this is the worst thing, he's got nothing to compare it to) Mycroft telling Mummy about the rat carcass under his bed.

There's low pitched giggling echoing around the pool, bouncing off every wall. The laughter is coming from anywhere, everywhere, and it makes Sherlock feel even sicker because he's been laughed at before and he swore never again. Laughing at him because (of the too-short pants he'd outgrown in a month/he'd refused to take the girl in the pub back to his dorm/he'd invited himself to the crime scene for the first time and overruled the medical examiners/ he is in love with his flatmate).

Sherlock takes a moment to breathe, keep his eyes shut, breathe the chlorinated air, feel the drifting air patterns against his skin, a shift in one, a door has opened—he snaps back to his body.

A man in a slim cut suit, dark; he'd been so close the entire time, his voice coming out of John's mouth. "I gave you my number!" he crows. "I thought you might call!" He pauses, his hands deep in the pockets of his trousers, and gives Sherlock a gravely amused look. "Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?
He saunters along the edge of the pool, past the sign marked "Deep End" and if Sherlock hadn't been busy snatching John's gun from his pocket he might have laughed in the irony. "Both," he replies. Not everything is ruined. He's seen Moriarty. Now he just needs to get John out alive.
"Jim Moriarty. Hi!" He waves nonchalantly, a ridiculous gesture. "Jim? Jim from the hospital? Huh. Did I really leave such a fleeting impression?" He laughs. "But then—I suppose, that was rather the point- "

Sherlock's mind races—could he have known that? Should he have known that? Too late now, keep the gun level, John is still strapped to enough semtex to take out the entire building, let alone one man, and he's looking at his feet, he won't meet Sherlock's eyes—

Then there's a ruby red dot on his heart. On John's heart.

An old woman's voice cut out—a gas main explosion taking out two stories.
Sherlock glances up towards the ceiling; on the balconies, someone there, he can't see the movement, the flickering blue light reflected from the pool misdirects, confuses-
"Don't be silly, someone else is holding the rifle. I don't like to get my hands dirty." Moriarty pauses, gazing at Sherlock amicably. "I've given you a glimpse, Sherlock. Just a teensy glimpse of what I've got going on out there in the big bad world. I've shown you what I can do… and what I'm capable of if I don't get what I want. I'm a specialist, you see—Like you!" He strolls towards John and Sherlock shifts his weight, keeping his pistol trained on the man's forehead.
"'Dear Jim, please will you fix it for me?'" Sherlock says, and the smile on Moriarty's face grows wider. "'To get rid of my lover's nasty sister?' 'Dear Jim, will you fix it for me to disappear to South America?'"
Gleefully, "Just so!"

He plays with people. Toys with them. Puppets on strings, pull this one watch his arm go up, pull that one watch him dance.

"Consulting criminal…brilliant," Sherlock says. The light on John's chest. A risky move; a shot fired would bring down the entire complex.

(So much potential for destruction. A marvel).
"Isn't it?" Moriarty agrees. His own words, his own mouth.

John's breath is shallow—Sherlock can see it from the rise and fall of his chest beneath the explosives. He's watching the light on his chest.

"No one ever gets to me," Moriarty says. His eyes fall across John, up to Sherlock, to the floor, back to Sherlock. "And no one ever will." A sardonic smile. "That's the difference between you and me, isn't it?" He strolls over, pats John's cheek. John jerks away and Sherlock clicks off the safety.

"Did you like my little gift for you?" Moriarty winks. "Thought you might. "

Sherlock isn't looking at Moriarty, he's looking over his head and meeting John's eyes, dilated in the dim light, dilated from fear.

Staring down the pistol at Moriarty. Sherlock's never killed before, but he won't hesitate for a moment. "Yes, thank you. It was lovely."

Moriarty winks again. "If you two get out of here you'll have so much to chat about. You know, John here didn't know you're in love with him." Moriarty pats John's cheek a second time, and again John flinches away. "Did you, John?"

(stop touching him)

John presses his lips together in a thin white line. The red light on his heart shifts slightly. Sherlock half expects that if he were to look down, he'd see the twin on his own chest. He readjusts his grip on the pistol—humid air, tense situation, hands sweating. He shakes his head impatiently. Games, but he's tired of playing.

"You don't have anything to say about it? What a shame," Moriarty coos, and for a moment Sherlock has a bizarre vision of him sitting on a couch with Molly as she complains about the man at work who won't give her the time of day.

"As it happens, Sherlock, you've come the closest to me," Moriarty says, as if sharing a great secret. "But now you're in my way—"

"Thank you," Sherlock cuts in, keeping him talking. There's a clock running in Sherlock's head, a countdownto what, he doesn't know, but he knows that that vest on John is the only thing keeping him here now-

"I didn't mean it as a compliment."

"Yes, you did." Because if I'd said it I would've meant it as a compliment.

Almost bashful, Moriarty gives a toss of his head, a shrug of his shoulders. "Yeah, okay I did."

John watches the exchange with narrow-eyed alarm.

Well, I hope you two are very happy together.

"But the flirting's over, Sherlock. Daddy's had enough now," Moriarty sings. Sherlock recognizes his speech patterns; his voice isn't familiar but his words are, through the mouths of women and men and children and John. "I've shown you what I can do…cut loose all those people, all those little problems. Spent 30 million quid just to get you to come out and play."

Obsessive.

John closes his eyes; praying, planning, thinking?

"So take this as a friendly warning, my dear. Back off." Joviality gone. Sherlock's eyes flick between Moriarty and John almost faster than his mind can take in the details of either; one mercurial and as tightly wound as a spring, one solid and immutable.

"Although I have loved this, this little game of ours. Playing Jim from IT. Playing gay. Did you like the little touch with the underwear?" His expressions are fascinatingly elastic, bouncing from one extreme of emotion to another.

"People died."

The light on John's chest.

The vest could take out a city block.

Moriarty is here.

"That's what people do!"

Sherlock's eyebrows raise a fraction of an inch at Moriarty's outburst, his eyes flick to John's.

"I will stop you."

He told John he doesn't care about people.

"No you won't," Moriarty replies cheerfully.

Maybe he doesn't.

Shouldn't ask, should be paying 100% attention to Moriarty. Going to anyway.

"Are you alright?" Murmured to John when he can no longer stand it.

"You can talk Johnny-boy, go ahead," Moriarty coaxes, sliding a hand under John's jaw and grinning at Sherlock.

John jerks his chin out of Moriarty's grip, never breaking eye contact with Sherlock, and nods once.

But John cares.

Decision made. "Take the memory stick." Regret it later, maybe, Sherlock thinks, when the world is going to hell. Right now, John.

"Wow, missile plans."Moriarty plucks it from his fingers, kisses it, gazes at it innocently. "Boring. I coulda gotten them anywhere." He tosses it over his shoulder, where it splashes into the pool, the only thing that breaks the steady pattern of the waves.

A muscle twitches in Sherlock's cheek. Of course Moriarty didn't care about the plans. He'd figured that out for himself. The steady lapping of panic around the edges of his mind is starting to wear away his reason. He looks back to John, steadies himself.

Sherlock knows what John is about to do before he does it, sees the shift in his weight, the resolution in his eyes. He charges Moriarty, wrapping him in a grotesque parody of a bear hug. "Sherlock, run!" he barks.

Moving target, shift your weight, keep the pistol on Moriarty, away from John, look at the exit, cold and tempting and hold your ground.

(Would Moriarty sacrifice himself?)

"Oh, good, very good!" Moriarty says, like he's found out about a triple homicide committed in a locked room.

"Just like that. Say a word, Mr. Moriarty, and we both go up." They would. The red light would burst into flame. Or Sherlock could do it himself—be rid of Moriarty at the cost of John.

Silently, John is still telling him to run. Sherlock is still not running.

"Oh, he's sweet, I can see why you like having him around." Moriarty cranes his neck around, and John's nose crinkles. "But then, people do get so sentimental about their pets."

Sherlock's hands tighten on the pistol.

" So touchingly loyal." John's patience at an end, his arm clenches around Moriarty's throat, eliciting an almost celebratory whoop.

Moriarty laughs. "You've rather shown your hand there, John Watson."

The red light vanishes from John's chest, and Sherlock's eyes flutter briefly shut, allowing himself a full breath. When he opens them again, he knows he's the one marked.

It's written all over John's face, in the way he releases Moriarty and slowly backs away, arms raised, openly frightened for the first time that night.

He can't see the light—his forehead, then. Strange to feel death so close upon you, knowing it could be seconds away and yet feel only frustration.

"Westwood!" Moriarty says, sweeping his hands over his suit. Sherlock's aim grows sloppy; the pistol drops for a moment.

A pair of broad, tanned hands holding his, a thin line of bright red crossing the pale skin of his fingers.

"And what was it this time, Sherlock?"

"You know what happens if you don't leave me alone, Sherlock, to you?" Bored. Recited lines. Necessary.

"An experiment on the properties of plaster when mixed with—? no, no, I don't want to know."

"Oh, let me guess. I get killed." Sherlock imagines pulling the trigger. He's seen men shot before. A cloud of red, the patter of rain. He imagines that's what he'll look like, too, if Moriarty gives the signal.

Broad, tanned hands holding his, pressing linen over the trail of blood on his hands. It soaks into the white cloth.

"Kill you? Well, no, don't be obvious." Moriarty rolls his eyes. "I mean I'm gonna kill you anyway so there's that, don't wanna rush it though." He licks his lips.

Broad, tanned hands holding his, thumb sliding across his palm, tracing clouds, stars, nebulae.

"I'm saving you up for something special. Oh no no no no nono, If you don't stop prying, I will burn you. I will burn the heart out of you."

Broad, tanned hands holding his, fixing his.

"I've been reliably informed that I don't have one." John looks up. He said it.

"Oh, but we both know that's not quite true." Moriarty smiles like he knows something about Sherlock that Sherlock doesn't, and Sherlock wonders if he's right. Hadn't counted on putting John in danger. Hadn't thought John being in danger was much of a deterrent.

"Well, I'd better be off." Sudden change from soft threats to geniality. Like oil sliding across water, always changing, never still. "So nice to have had a proper chat."

"What if I was to shoot you now? Right now?" Sherlock would really like to. He knows he won't be able to, there'll be some reason why.

"Then you could cherish the look of surprise on my face, because I'd be surprised, Sherlock, really I would." Elastic face stretched into an exaggerated 'o' of surprise. Is he even real? "And just a teensy bit…disappointed. Now, of course you wouldn't be able to cherish it for very long." There. That was what Sherlock expected.

"Ciao, Sherlock Holmes." He strolls towards the door, waving over his shoulder as if leaving a party they were both invited to and both only pretended to enjoy.

"Catch you later." For every step Moriarty takes away, Sherlock takes one towards John. He doesn't look at him, just feels the warmth as he gets closer.

"No you won't!"

(His grin is the last thing to disappear).

Sherlock lets out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and drops the gun, falling to his knees at John's feet. "All right? Are you all right?" Ripping off the coat, buttons sticking, oh god, there was more semtex on him than Sherlock'd thought, straps, hooks, Sherlock's fingers bruised, ripped a nail, get the coat off throw it throw it-

"Yeah yeah yeah… I'm fine, I'm fine, Sherlock, Sherlock!" John staggers backwards and Sherlock reaches out a steadying hand, feeling him warm and sturdy under his palms.

Not yet, can't relax yet, check the doors, can't let them come back—he darts around the corner, seeing the door latched and the hallway beyond dark. He's back in a flash and John is sitting, leaning against the wall panting. Sherlock strides by him; Moriarty can't go back to Bart's, 'Jim from IT' isn't an option, where could he go, out of the country obviously, too obvious, why would he leave when he could-

"Are you all right?" John breathes.

Sherlock looks up. He wasn't the one strapped to a bomb. "Me? Yeah, I'm fine, fine ." Call in Mycroft? Ugh, God, no, besides he probably already knows; but there's a chance Moriarty is aware of Mycroft, shorted out his cameras, Mycroft could take John, relocate him—"That, that. That thing that you uh, you uh offered to do that was, uh….good."

Broad, tanned hands holding his.

"My God, Sherlock, that's still loaded!" John's taking the pistol from his hand, putting the safety on before handing it back.

"Sorry, what?"

"You were rubbing your temple with a loaded pistol!" John says indignantly.

Sherlock stops his pacing and stares at John. He's never looked more…John-like than he does right now, in his plaid shirt and jeans with the knees worn in because he hates breaking in new ones and his brown boots and tired eyes filled with worry and dishwater blond hair mussed, and Sherlock's not sure what that means or what its logical conclusion might be. He feels his fractured thoughts grow smoother, his mind slow.

"Well I hope no one saw that," John says finally. He exhales a laugh and falls back against the wall.

"Hm?" Sherlock breaks his gaze from the sleeves of John's shirt (he never made it to Sarah's before Moriarty took him) and meets his eyes.

"You, ripping my clothes off in a darkened swimming pool. People might talk."

A joke. Now. Break the tension, play on what Moriarty had made him say, to tell Sherlock he knew it wasn't true, doesn't change anything between them. A slow smile crosses Sherlock's face. "People do little else."

This is a crime scene. We can't giggle at a crime scene!

They do.

Sherlock's drinking in the sight, tension sliding from his shoulders and leaving him stooped and exhausted, when a bloom of red appears over his (John's) heart. John sees it at the same time; he seems more frustrated than frightened, but Sherlock feels that laser sight as if it's resting on him, and when he looks down he thinks for a moment he's gone crazy because it is.

Moriarty reenters. "Sorry boys! I'm sooo changeable!"

Sherlock turns on him, raising the pistol with one smooth motion as if he'd never lowered it.

" It is a weakness with me, but to be fair to myself it is my only weakness!" When he's close enough that Sherlock can see every freckle on his face, Moriarty's pleasant mask slips. "You can't be allowed to continue. You just can't. I would try to convince you, but everything I have to say has already crossed your mind!" He looks regretful. Sherlock wonders if Moriarty enjoyed the challenge as much as he did.

Sights on Sherlock's chest, multiple. More on John's.

The vest is on the floor by Moriarty's feet. The one on the old woman was enough to take out two stories.

(Where was Moriarty when that one went up? Not this close.)

Option: shoot Moriarty, get himself and John filled with holes. Impossible to survive with the number of trained snipers presumably watching them. Option: wait for Moriarty's next move; next move is mostly likely involves getting himself and John filled with holes, also impossible to survive. Option: shoot the vest, risk the explosion. Likely to injure Moriarty as well; aiming much more difficult, unlikely to be shot. Survival merely improbable.

His eyes flick to the vest, then down to John, who nods. Sherlock licks his dry lips, wonders if John knows what he does about the vest. He delays another moment, memorizing the determined curve of John's jaw, the shape of his eyes.

"Probably my answer has crossed yours," he tells Moriarty, and lowers the gun. If he shoots now, he knows what will happen; the vest will shudder under the impact and fire will unfurl from it. The moisture in the air will be sucked away, leaving them gasping in desert dry, hot-baked breaths. Shrapnel likely; a rain of broken tile, cut as sharp as knives by the explosion. Improbable that both he and John should escape unscathed.

When the impossible is eliminated, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

He pulls the trigger.