Every face outside of the windows seemed to watch the flat with malignant intent. Figuratively, if not literally, Moriarty was breathing down Sherlock's long neck. Laughing, even.
Sherlock could not sleep, he would not, but after so many hours – days now? – his body grew disloyal, collapsing, shutting down for minutes at a time like a computer in hibernation mode. Once, when he came back to himself from this unintended rest, slumped over his keyboard, he realized Mrs Hudson had been in the flat.
He found her downstairs, sitting on her bed, dressed in her finest silk pyjamas and favourite dressing gown. The glow from her herbal soothers shone high in her cheeks. She held John's service pistol in her hands.
"I don't have enough pills to do the trick," she explained with something like pity. "And I don't trust myself to do things properly with a knife."
"No," Sherlock said.
"Don't fuss, Sherlock. I've had a full life. Those brave men are young enough to be my sons. They need rescuing, you know."
She patted his cheek as he knelt before her. "It's my choice, dear. This way, I can't be used against them or you – or hurt, for that matter. Go on now, please. No need to watch."
Sherlock felt himself fraying at the seams, unravelling in all directions.
Even if Mrs Hudson hadn't been threatened, even if he'd been free to hunt, he had next to no data on which to base a search.
Moriarty had made certain the recordings were antiseptically devoid of almost any clue. John and Lestrade, both of whom might've succeeded in smuggling random information to him in their babblings, stubbornly had said nothing that might enable Sherlock to risk himself on their behalves.
If Sherlock saw no leads, how could he expect the Yarders or Mycroft's minions to find any on their own?
But no, not Mrs Hudson.
Not her, too.
"No," he repeated.
It's this caring lark, Sherlock thought, prying the gun from her firm grasp. Too many emotions, too few thoughts.
Observe, you fool, don't feel.
Despite his self-recriminations, the moment ended with Sherlock still on his knees, his head on Mrs Hudson's lap and her hands in his curls like a benediction. The last time he could recall shedding tears from pain rather than for subterfuge, he had been a five-year-old boy with a broken arm.
Even then, he hadn't felt so powerless.
The cavalry did not come. Another recording did.
Moriarty's voice sounded positively gleeful. Perhaps he'd already pulled the plug on the British Government.
"You've had some time to think of a better response than your last, Detective Inspector," Moriarty said. "If you could say anything to Sherlock Holmes now, what would it be?"
Lestrade's breath escaped in uneven, ghastly wheezes. Broken ribs, certainly. Other more severe internal injuries, as well.
"I'm proud," he panted, "of the work" – a shallow sip of air – "we've done together." So exhausted, he sounded. Every lungful was obviously a herculean effort. "And proud of him."
Sherlock turned in place, looking for… anything. Nothing.
"And what would you say, Johnny Boy?"
"Goditwas…" John's faint words slurred. Serious blood loss. A concussion, too, most likely. Shock. And more.
Apparently John had to gather his failing strength even to finish the thought. "Worthev'ryminute."
Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut.
Wavered on his feet.
"So very touching," Moriarty cooed. "But was it, Sherlock? Was it worth it? Are you proud of yourself?"
I am going mad, Sherlock thought.
John's gun was a reassuring weight in his hand, cold and present and heavy with promise.
Brutally wet coughing stole the air from Lestrade's chest. John murmured, as if trying to offer comfort, but his fragile syllables bled together, unintelligible.
Sherlock listened with his whole heart, and it burned.
Vital Stats: Originally written in August 2011.