Title: Fear Itself (3/3)
Characters: John, Sherlock, misc. unmentioned (ACD and BBC canon in-jokes, speculation regarding post-Season One miscellanea)
Word Count: (this bit) 4016
Warnings: general creepiness, mild snark, shameless h/c and fluff, poetic license with universe-blending...my usual, in other words.
Summary: John is accustomed to being kidnapped at this point in his London residence, though he never expected someone else to adopt Mycroft's signature abductions in order to lure him in without a fight.
A/N: Written for the Challenge 018 at watsons_woes, my first challenge entry in I think well over a year. I set as my goal, to write a fic which fulfilled the requirements of creepiness/scariness without resorting to supernatural phenomena - and without physically laying a finger on any of the main characters.
Sherlock would be so proud, is the most idiotic thought which flitters through his mind as he jumps the distance between two adjoining flats without a twinge for the four-story drop into (because it would be into, not onto, at that distance, his medical mind observes with grim humor) cracked pavement beneath his feet. Unfortunately, even his admittedly impressive histrionics in escape have not deterred his stalker, for while he can hear no sounds of pursuit his instincts have always served him well, and they are screaming that he is no closer to being out of danger than he was on the street below.
He finally takes shelter in the ebony shadows cast by a massive, ancient chimney system. Shrugging out of his coat (he's so cold now, a bit more isn't really going to matter), he tosses it over his head in front of him and then and only then, under safety of black melting into black on the darkness of a rooftop, unlocks his phone.
41 Missed Calls
He snorts a nerve-ridden laugh, and moves to the messages. There is only one.
New Message (1/1)
If still alive when I find you
am going to kill you John
He fires off a reply with a speed that would make Sherlock's fingers envious, and in moments has his answer in the form of a vibrating mobile.
He answers it mid-ring, in time to hear Sherlock promise the cab driver a twenty-pound note if he will ignore the traffic signals.
Knowing that the cabbie will have enough sense to not do so on fear of losing his license or being killed by a bus, he refrains from telling Sherlock off for his lack of concern for people who would be involved in the traffic accidents he would cause. He has no time to speak, anyway, for the man is shouting into the phone loud enough that John is certain the sniper will hear. Keeping the coat over his phone arm, he shifts about so that he can watch for approaching danger but still keep the blueish LED glow from being seen.
"You are a dead man, John Watson! Where are you?" Sherlock demands.
"Roof," he murmurs, quiet as he can. "Never quite made it to Brixton Road." He on purpose slightly lisps the sibilant in Brixton, knowing it is the most easily-overhead sound in whispered language.
"Why?" The detective's tone is curt, angry, and the unsaid you can't even do this one simple thing, John? annoys him.
"Sniper," he snaps back curtly, for Sherlock has no call to be irritated with him. "Sound familiar?"
There is chilly silence on the line for a moment. "…You took a ridiculously foolish risk and ran, then."
"Brilliant deduction, that one," he agrees. He freezes, eyes flickering across the street to the opposite rooftop, as the sound of glass crunching trickles in from somewhere in his vicinity.
"I am still five minutes away at least, John." He can fairly hear the nervous energy vibrating from the man, and even though he's still admittedly petrified that knowledge is somewhat comforting. "My grandmother drives faster than this gentleman apparently can!"
John hears an indignant Oi from some distance away, and laughs silently at the idiocy that is his life.
Said laugh then chokes out a violent death in his throat.
Sherlock picks up on it instantly, of course. "What's wrong."
"Besides the obvious?" he murmurs, trying to slow his racing heart. At this rate his hair will be entirely grey before he returns to Baker Street.
"The CCTV camera posted at the corner of this building," he whispers.
"What about it? You said they were all off."
"Well this one just came back on," he snaps nervously, rubbing a hand over his mouth. "And it's…turning towards me." Like a horrible visual effect of a poorly-rendered film, the camera swivels dramatically and slooooowly around…around…and then fixes its tiny glowing eye on his hiding place. The still-not-hysterical-thanks-very-much part of his brain registers that his inner five-year-old is now whining Sherlooooock, it's looking at me, make it stop!
"Sherlock, I think it can see me!"
He makes a low dive out of his hiding place – no time to pick up his discarded coat, and barely enough to shove the phone in his pocket rather than let it go skittering across the rooftop – and if that wasn't a silenced gunshot that just ricocheted off the chimney behind him he'd take back every nasty thing Sherlock had ever said about Anderson.
Sweat chilling in the near-midnight air making him shiver violently (good, not hypothermic yet, that's a plus), he makes a dash for the edge of the roof facing the next flat – and skids to a halt when that cursed laser sight suddenly flickers into being on the wall of the alcove next to him, blinking and bouncing in the darkness as its owner tries to get a bead on him. Without slacking pace he swerves and dashes toward the back of the roof, moving in a non-straight line and ducking low, hoping that the darkness will afford him enough cover to save his life.
He reaches the edge of the roof and teeters for a moment, looking down the four stories to the filthy pavement far below, and debates the wisdom of his venture.
Then he sees the flicker of red on his sleeve and, taking a deep breath, jumps to the balcony one story below.
He's not an idiot, and knows enough to tuck and roll so as to not break his legs when he lands, and yet the impact jars him to his very bones, which feel all the more brittle due to extreme cold and stress and the fact that, ex-soldier and blogger of Sherlock Holmes or no, he's pretty much at this point on his last nerve for the night. He is done with this, thank you, and no one can blame him for starting to lose said last nerve at this point in events.
He wastes no time in trying to get his breath back, because if he doesn't move then it probably won't matter if he can breathe or not, and instead scoots into the deserted flat (flimsy lock, one good kick to the outer door handle snaps it like a twig), and dashes inside, through the dingy room and out to the inner stairs. Down and down and down, until his leg is aching with an entirely non-psychosomatic pain and his shoulder beats a steady accompaniment of pain and cold to the sound of his pounding feet, and down he pelts in the darkness until he lets himself out the front door, immediately vaulting the railings into the shadows by the building.
He's just in time to flee the sniper's sight, as it dances mockingly over the door and pavement, following him.
At this point, he's beyond pride both personal and military, and would admit to anyone that he is, quite simply, scared half to death. While even ten minutes ago he might have been capable of fighting back or at least holding his own, at this point he has been drugged with an unknown substance, kidnapped and left in no man's land, and is now chilled through, without his coat, and has been running (literally) for his life from a madman with a night-scope and sniper rifle, someone who can also command CCTV cameras at will.
He thinks he can be forgiven the fact that he has no idea now what to do but run, run like his life depends on it – because it does – sprint at the top of his speed along uneven pavement until his side is hurting and he's shaking with adrenaline and he's no idea where to hide where he won't be found, all the time watching half over one shoulder for the red dot which will tell him he's not fast enough and that the sniper is on his tail, taking aim between his shoulder blades, and he can practically feel the tiny dot of heat burning through his shirt and why hasn't the sniper fired yet he's been dead in sight for who knows how long and he doesn't think he can run much farther without having a heart attack –
He dodges around a set of phone boxes and slams directly into something – someone – on the other side. An entirely undignified yell of terror escapes his chattering teeth, and he lashes out with the honed instinct of a soldier fighting for his life.
The ooorf of pain as elbow and then fist connect with side and stomach (not hard enough, his mind supplies woefully) is vaguely familiar, he thinks as he stumbles back against the phone box, dazed from the impact.
Then strong hands are on his arms, gripping tightly but not brutally, and a hand leaves one to latch onto his chin, tilting his face toward the light of the nearest street-lamp.
He blinks into worried – worried? Will wonders never cease – steel-blue eyes and a mop of rampaging dark hair, and for a second daydreams about how nice it would be to just faint with euphoric relief right about now.
That would just fuel public rumors which he really doesn't need, however, and so he settles for his legs buckling under him (since he really can't control that, he just rolls with it), and a half-gasped exclamation of relief murmured into that infernally dramatic coat, which comes out sounding far too much like a sob than any self-respecting man should make.
"All right, you're all right," Sherlock is saying fuzzily from over his head, one hand still on his arm and the other moving up to cover his exposed neck briefly. "John, you're fine. You're fine."
He's being propped against the glass and glossy red of the phone box, and he doesn't realize he's breathing far too quickly until Sherlock's hands are on his face, forcing his attention into that mesmerizing gaze just as he had on the night John found all that graffiti and the detective was afraid he wouldn't remember it all. "You're all right," Sherlock repeats, as if it's the only thing he is really sure of, and John believes him – always does, despite his better judgment half the time.
"Aren't you still on the other side of the river?" he mumbles stupidly. Wasn't it just two minutes ago that his flatmate was still five minutes away? Surely even Sherlock Holmes isn't capable of teleporting.
A dark eyebrow quirks at him. "The cab was far too slow in this traffic. I got out and ran for it," Sherlock says, shrugging. His breath, rapid and controlled due to his exertion, puffs into the air, crystallizing. John stares at the smallish cloud in fascination, brain still sluggishly catching up to the words. "Got a few odd looks from late-night theatre-goers, I can tell you, but ultimately – success."
John feels a giggle bubble up and he swallows it, because the portion of his brain which is still wired correctly realizes if he starts he may just not be able to stop again. Sherlock bends down, eyes on level with his, and he resists the urge to squirm under the man's worried look. He can't repress the shiver which results from the touch of warm fingers on his half-frozen cheek, however, and Sherlock's eyes darken.
"You told me your possessions were intact," the detective snaps severely.
John looks up at him muzzily. "What?"
"They took your coat, and you didn't see fit to mention that to me as a pertinent detail?"
"Oh," he realizes, blinking. "No, 's up on the roof. Took it off to cover up the light of the phone when I called you. Sherlock. Sherlock, what are you…doing…?"
His flatmate – friend, because anyone doing this is definitely part of the Friends status – has already shrugged out of his coat and is in the process of tucking John into it.
"Going to bloody freeze to death, s-stupid git," he mumbles, though his body is screaming stop arguing with him and take it you idiot. What was that saying about looking a gift coat in the mouth? No, that was wrong…
"And you are more than halfway there already, judging from the fact that I'd not trust your gun aim right now to hit the side of the Houses of Parliament," Sherlock returns calmly, and before he can justify that with an indignant response his freezing hands are folded between soft gloves and held up to illustrate. They are shaking rather badly, he notes with detached interest.
He vaguely thinks that Sherlock should carry a portable shock blanket; God knows they would find uses for it most of the time because they are out late at night so often and usually it's wet and somewhat disgusting wherever they are and Sherlock has them crouching in a skip or something equally squishy and a bit of comfort afterwards or even just a fleecy cuddle in a cab would make things much better than freezing half to death just because blankets don't come in travel size, okay.
Sherlock is looking at him oddly, and quirks a tender sort of smile which lets him know that he…said that out loud.
Lovely. As if he hasn't embarrassed himself enough for one evening.
"Don't mind me," he adds as an afterthought, because heaven only knows what he will come up with next in this adrenal let-down that comes of pure survival.
Sherlock laughs softly, and lets go of his trembling hands to button the coat all the way up to his chin. John believes he looks rather like a hobbit playing dress-up (or an extremely well-dressed scarecrow), as it almost drags the ground and the sleeves fall over his hands, but it is warm and soft and far more expensive than anything he's ever had on and why on earth did Sherlock need someone to pay half the rent if he can afford a coat like this anyway?
"Needs are not necessarily monetary, John," he hears in his ear before Sherlock is pushing him into the relative safety of the space between the two phone boxes.
He did it again. He mentally zips his mouth closed and takes a deep breath to clear his shock-addled head.
"Sniper was tracking me down the street," he whispers into Sherlock's scarf, because the man refuses to move out of his personal space, planted between him and whatever danger lurks (except that these phone boxes are made of glass and snipers can shoot equally well through glass, but it's the thought that counts and he feels stupidly warm and fuzzy inside at the idea).
"No signs of him now, though," Sherlock murmurs over his shoulder, tense as a coiled spring. "No signs of anyone, actually."
"Did you receive any message from Moriarty?" he asks, and he's pleased to note that he can actually start to think again. His heart rate is falling, and he feels much less terrified of the unknown – a natural effect Sherlock has on everyone he meets, no matter how rude he is. People instinctively know that he sees what they don't and knows what to do when they don't; John loves it, and just that knowledge relaxes him.
"Not a peep, which does not tend to lend credence to the idea that he is the instigator behind tonight's activities," Sherlock replies, eyebrows knitted. "Were he behind this, I would have expected to receive some summons to Lauriston Gardens, along with a typically cryptic and melodramatic cliché about 'where it all began' and so on."
"And your cabbie probably would have been another serial killer," John mutters darkly.
"Precisely. The whole business, snipers and all, smacks of Moriarty's artistic flair, but he is not one to sit silently by when he could be receiving recognition for his work." Sherlock's voice is, for the first time, John can tell, uncertain. "Something does not fit here, John."
A car approaches, sleek and dark, license plates obscured and windows tinted (drug dealer, his brain supplies unhelpfully, and he resists the urge to ask Sherlock if they are friends of his, because that would be a bit Not Good since he's wearing the man's precious coat). It purrs to an idling halt in front of them, parking illegally along the street without a care.
John squeaks as he is fairly squashed further into his hiding place by six feet two inches of overprotective consulting detective.
He feels more than sees the tension bleed from his flatmate's stiff figure when a familiar click of heels taps onto the pavement, followed by five feet six inches of gorgeous legs and Blackberry. Mycroft's personal assistant glances up from her phone, unperturbed by the area and time of night. John wouldn't be surprised if her suiting separates were part Kevlar.
"I'm to take you home," she says, and John is scrambling into the heated back seat (blissss) before Sherlock can even voice a token protest.
There is a package waiting for them when they return. Plain parcel, wrapped in plain paper, and labeled with a typed address label and no return address.
Sherlock insists upon making certain it is not a bomb, soon immersed in a dozen tests of the outer wrappings before he even touches it, and John decides if it is a bomb he is at least going to die warmed and dry, and so he goes and has a scalding hot shower and wraps himself up in the warmest pajamas and fluffiest bathrobe he can find – a horribly furry green monstrosity, a gift from Harry last Christmas – before returning to the lounge.
He decides a hot toddy ranks higher than unidentified packages and whatever Sherlock is using to melt – melt? – the adhesive tape off the parcel, and so sets about to fix himself a hot drink with added sedative properties. He makes a double portion, sets one on the table beside Sherlock, and then curls up into the opposite chair, slippered feet tucked up under him, and waits.
Sherlock has by this point got the package open, apparently satisfied that its contents are not going to blow them to kingdom come or produce unpleasant smells and surprises (like that pair of mismatched severed ears which Lestrade had brought round from Croydon last month, now that was ghastly).
"Drink," he reminds the man fondly, for Sherlock has low blood pressure anyway and tonight's outerwear donation could not have helped.
He watches with fascination as his friend drains the cup in one swallow, apparently above such trivialities as burning one's tongue, and opens the package. He extracts a letter – one sheet of paper folded twice over – and a small cylindrical item which rolls across the table toward John.
He picks up the silver cylinder, and stares at it.
It's a pocket laser pointer. He presses the button, and a suddenly-tremored hand drops it back on the table when a far too familiar red light winks into existence on the kitchen wall.
Sherlock is white to the lips as he reads the letter, and passes it across the table when he is finished. He stares at the wall, hands steepled against his thin lips, seeing everything and nothing. John looks worriedly at him, and then glances down at the letter. It has no heading, greeting, or signature, and needs none of them.
A lesson, brother mine, for against all odds I do not wish to see you or Dr. Watson in an early grave:
If I can orchestrate events such as those tonight so very easily, how much easier do you think it will be for your real archenemy? One foolish underestimation is understandable; two will most likely cost you both your lives.
A storm is coming, Sherlock. If you do not prepare, you will not weather it, either of you.
John looks up, and meets a sober gaze. Sherlock's eyes are bleak, full of hatred for the man responsible for tonight's escapade and also for the reason behind the somewhat drastic lesson.
"He's right, you know," he says quietly. "It was too easy, and there's no excuse for that kind of carelessness. We know better, Sherlock."
"There is no excuse for Mycroft's infernal meddling," Sherlock snaps, slamming a hand flat-palmed down on the scarred table. "He has overstepped his bounds this time, John. I will not tolerate it."
"But if it had been Moriarty, there's nothing we could have done," John presses, because he can see that, perhaps for the first time since the aborted attempt at the pool, Sherlock seems to have realized that this is not a grand game. If one night of terror has accomplished that, then it is more than weeks of remonstrating from John himself have done, and he is grateful.
That isn't going to stop him from clocking Mycroft as hard as he can next time he meets the man, however.
Sherlock's lips twitching show him the detective has divined his intentions. "You have my full blessing," the man says dryly.
"Don't need it, but it may make me less likely to hold back," he snorts, taking a warming sip.
"He is correct, though," Sherlock muses, arms folded wearily on the table. He leans over them, hunched into himself. "This cannot continue indefinitely."
"Do you think we should leave London for a bit?" John asks hesitantly. He does not say Taking me with you is not an option, and Sherlock does not bother to deny it – they both know that this is as personal for John now as it is for Sherlock, and the detective's separation from him is not going to negate Moriarty's interest in the doctor. They are in this together now, and they will either sink or swim together.
"No. Moriarty's network extends to the Continent and beyond, and while we are closing down each cell even as we speak, there is no guarantee of our safety in any country under British or European rule. We are safer here, in the eye of the storm."
"But when that storm breaks?"
Sherlock does not answer, only shoves the chair back and paces a tense, twitching line to the sink and around the kitchen, returning to the table after a moment. Running a slim hand through his hair, he sighs, and shifts uncomfortably. "I regret dragging you into this, John," he finally says, almost sadly, and it as if the entire weight of the world drags at his voice.
"I don't recall you dragging so much as chivvying me to keep up," John replies dryly, half into his cup. He eyes his friend over the chipped rim, and sees the vulnerability the man is trying so hard – too hard – to hide. The cup clinks back into the saucer, and he looks up. "And if me getting scared half to death one night is going to be enough of a reality check to save our lives the next time around, I think it's rather worth it, don't you?"
"As usual, John, you entirely miss the obvious," Sherlock says loftily, though the tension fades a little from his face, melting like snow on a spring wind. He putters into the lounge and retrieves his violin from its case, obviously intent upon wailing the rest of the night away. Creative stress management, and John can't complain really since the method of choice could certainly be worse (and louder. And messier).
"Oh, and what's that then?" he asks, yawning behind one hand as the night's stress begins to take effect.
Sherlock pauses, dark head still poked around the edge of the door frame to his bedroom. "You were not the only one tonight scared half to death," he says quietly, and closes the door before John can say goodnight, or thank you for finding me, or you're an idiot but there's nowhere else I'd rather be but behind you in this, or anything else he wants to say but probably never will.
There's no need, really, because anything he has to say has already crossed Sherlock's mind.
And, of course, his answer has already crossed John's.