Historian's Note: The following takes place during events depicted in the opening scene of the second-series Sherlock episode "A Scandal in Belgravia."


I'll Live to See Another Day


The Operator picked her way through the smouldering rubble with precise, economical steps, slender arms outstretched for balance as the charred debris shifted beneath her feet.

Her presence made for a surreal sight, as if a renowned supermodel had walked directly off a runway and into a war zone.

Concentration forced her gaze inward. She was in the moment, but not of it.

"This one is dead," her partner said. She knew it already, of course, but Steel's even, dispassionate voice provided a welcome distraction from the groans and hisses of the tortured building as it spasmed all around them.

Sirens shrieked in the distance.

There was no need to look behind her, to see Steel's shaggy blond hair turned grey by angry ash and the settling dust of crushed concrete. In her mind's eye she easily could imagine the lifeless body he inspected: the elegant suit, the designer shoes, the gory crater where a smirking face once had been.

After a few more steps she found what she sought.

Framed and pillowed by twisted metal and jagged fragments of breeze blocks, two men lay entwined and unmoving, pasted together by their commingling and congealing blood.

"This," she said with conviction, "was not supposed to happen."

She paused for several seconds before kneeling, balking at the prospect of opening herself to the violent echoes of what had transpired, to the fierce wrongness of it all.

"And what did happen, exactly?" Steel asked from the other end of the room.

Of its own accord, one of her long-fingered hands reached out and brushed against a small patch of short, sandy-coloured hair that wasn't stained dark crimson.

She turned her eyes to the slender man (the detective, she divined) without removing her touch from the older one curled around him (the doctor-soldier-protector). "This one fired the weapon that detonated the explosives. He meant to stop the man you found, and he was willing to sacrifice himself and his colleague to do so.

"And this one agreed with his decision." Reconstructing the scene heartbeat by heartbeat, she considered the second figure, so very still beneath her fingers. "At the moment the weapon fired, he rushed forward, hoping to use his momentum to propel both of them to the relative safety of the pool. His body took the brunt of the explosion. He died… after brief minutes of agony."

Sapphire prided herself on her professional detachment. Usually it was easy enough to maintain distance where these humans were involved. But something about the man breached her defences.

She felt it with him, this doctor-soldier-protector, his awareness and acceptance of his own rapidly-approaching death, his gratitude that the sacrifice held meaning, his relief that his companion survived.

She heard his very thoughts, his emphatic We stopped him, his agonised It hurts ithurtsithurtshurtshurts, his final, earnest mental cry of Please, God, let him live.

For reasons she could not articulate, she felt the need to pause before continuing.

The air smelled and tasted of smoke and chlorine.

"The one who fired the gun survived a few minutes longer," she said, her attention once more on the detective. "He was blinded by the explosion, but he suffered little pain; his back was broken by his impact against the debris, and he felt no sensation from the chest down." She turned her head on one side, straining to catch something fleeting and faint.

In a softer voice, almost a whisper, she added, "His final thoughts were of wonder: at his companion's valour, at the mechanics of his own failing body, at what would come next."

For a moment Sapphire lost herself in the vision of the detective with the sightless eyes and the scalded chin and nose and cheekbones. She observed as he dragged his shredded arm toward the shuddering body that held so stubbornly to his own. The doctor-soldier-protector was haemorrhaging from half a dozen mortal wounds, muffling his sobbing breaths against the detective's shoulder, but Sapphire knew that the dying man had felt the embrace nonetheless, and that he had understood the gesture for what it was before he breathed his last.

"Take us back, Sapphire," Steel huffed as he made his way to her side. "I want to see."


The detective aimed the pistol. His friend gathered himself where he crouched, preparing to launch his body forward.

Across from them, on the other side of the Semtex vest, their antagonist stared in something like morbid fascination, his head undulating like that of a snake's.

Everything happened at once: one shot and three gasps, a mighty explosion and a desperate lunge.

Time shivered.

"Did you sense that?" Sapphire asked, her voice all but lost in the din. "The slip in Time."

"Yes," Steel affirmed.

Pieces of the outraged building rained down around them. As three bodies collapsed to the tiles – one instantly dead, one knocked breathless, and one choking in pain – Steel raised a small electronic device in his hand. The contraption began to vibrate and wail.

"I may have found the source of the disruption," he said. "I took this from the pocket of the one over there."

The villain, Sapphire thought.

"A mobile phone?" she asked. "It's an anachronism?"

"The music," he explained, brow furrowing as he accessed the menu of the archaic device. "Yes. A cover version of 'I Will Survive' – recorded, it appears, for the first reunion album of the band R.E.M. in 2015."

"And this is 2010," Sapphire noted. "That's it."

As Steel purged the phone of the problematic file, Sapphire turned her face away from the tableau before her, unwilling to watch the tears leak from the detective's wounded eyes as the doctor-soldier-protector struggled, faltered, and went still.

"There," Steel said at last. "Take us back again."


The detective aimed the pistol. His friend gathered himself where he crouched, preparing to launch his body forward.

Across from them, on the other side of the Semtex vest, their antagonist stared in something like morbid fascination, his head undulating like that of a snake's.

Everything happened at once: one shot and three gasps, a mighty explosion and a desperate lunge.

This time, the doctor-soldier-protector's low tackle carried the two men into the pool.

His body absorbed the worst of the explosion before it hit the water. His terrible wounds left him gasping, unable to hold his breath, and he drowned before they once again could claim his life. But as he had hoped, his companion survived.

The sirens grew shriller. Soon others arrived on the scene.

A frowning, silver-haired man, desperate with concern, broke free of the gathering personnel and plunged into the water himself. He bodily pulled the detective clear to safety.

Aside from bruises and cuts and burns, and the obvious inhalation of water, the detective was unharmed.

As the paramedics tended to their semiconscious charge, and other emergency responders began to secure the premises and prepared to search the rubble, the same man retrieved the broken frame of the doctor-soldier-protector from the pool.

Sapphire drifted toward this new arrival as he relinquished his second burden, stumbled to his knees, and failed to regain his feet. Hunching his shoulders and shivering in his dripping clothing, he turned a dark-eyed, bewildered gaze on the ruin all around him.

The seeker, she mused. The man's horrified grief was tangible, a physical presence every bit as real as his own.

"I said," Steel repeated, "something is still wrong."

Yes, Sapphire thought. Very wrong indeed.

Dimly she realised the mobile phone was playing music again – and had been doing so for a good while.

"The song?" she asked.

"'Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough: The 2013 Funked-Up MJ Tribute Remix.'"

"Ah."

"Give me a moment," he said, frustration deepening his voice to a growl as he worked over the device, "and then take us back again."


The detective aimed the pistol. His friend gathered himself where he crouched, preparing to launch his body forward.

Across from them, on the other side of the Semtex vest, their antagonist stared in something like morbid fascination, his head undulating like that of a snake's.

Yet another song sounded from the mobile phone.

Ah, ah, ah, ah,
Stayin' alive,
Stayin' alive.

"That is by far" – disdain dripped from each syllable Steel uttered – "the worst music yet."

Sapphire allowed a small smile to tug at her lips. The rightness of the moment flooded her senses, filling her up, making her whole.

She felt an Operator's satisfaction – of course she did; they had accomplished their mission and restored the correct order of Time – but also something more. Indefinable and instinctive.

Perhaps such close proximity to humankind was affecting her in ways she hadn't anticipated.

The dark-eyed seeker would not grieve. The slender-boned detective would not weep. The sandy-haired doctor-soldier-protector would not suffer. These facts were good not only because they reflected the proper, intended chronology of the universe, but also because…

… because the men themselves were good.

Curious. What an odd thought.

"We are needed elsewhere," Steel said.

"Of course we are," Sapphire agreed.

And so are they, these good men, she added to herself, and then she disappeared.


"What happened there?" John asked.

After a pregnant pause, Sherlock replied, "Someone changed his mind."


THE END


Notes:The title is taken from lyrics to "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees, which serves as the ringtone for Jim Moriarty's phone in "A Scandal in Belgravia."

This is a stealth crossover with the British science fiction/fantasy series Sapphire and Steel (1979-1982). I assumed not many are familiar with the programme, and so I tried to provide all needed information for this to work simply as a Sherlock story.

This was inspired by the wonderful "The Lost Time Affair" by Maggie Flynn, as published in the fanzine The Kuryakin File #15 (1996).