A/N: This is my first fic for BBCs AMAZING Sherlock. If you've wandered over to this fic because you're on my alert list and haven't watched Sherlock –run, I say, RUN out and watch this show. You will love it.
A/N II: Since that moment at the end of A Study In Pink, I have been thinking a lot about John—the crack shot who was more than a marksman, a man accustomed to violence—that was the starting point for this…
The Red Circle
It was something he always forgot, something right in front of him every day, but the reality of it just slipped past. Right there in front of his eyes, day in and day out and he let it go, conveniently deleted because it was just John.
Sherlock paced the length of the hallway again. It was forty-three steps to the lift, five to the wall then forty-three back to the closed door. He stopped long enough to scowl at the door, as if the white wood could give him an answer. His eyes drifted down, there was a spot of blood on the floor by the bottom hinge. That spot disturbed him, it haunted him. It was his fault. It was John's blood.
He turned and paced towards the lift again, the background noises of the hospital annoying like a fly buzzing at his head. He couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus on anything. After eighteen hours of intense concentration, of total focus, this lack of action was driving him mad. It was like boredom but so, so very much worse. He was back in front of the door again, let his eyes slide down to the blood on the floor and paced off again.
How had he let himself be lulled into that false sense of complacency? How had he let himself conveniently forget the man that John Watson was? John had saved his life with a shot that maybe one man in a thousand could make, and still he let himself forget. There was iron there, strength and skill that Sherlock hadn't really even acknowledged until this happened.
It started simply. Things usually did. Sherlock had left John at the flat and had gone out to give Lestrade a hand with a murder scene that a dimwitted child could have figured out. It was laughably obvious, and once again Sherlock was amazed at just how blind the police were. Everything was there in front of them, and they were standing around staring at the ground as if it could give them the answers—which of course it could, if you had a brain in your head. Sadly, none of them seemed to be equipped with a brain.
His phone rang as he walked away, he could still hear Anderson swearing behind him. Sherlock smiled as he answered. "I'm on my way back."
"That didn't take long," John answered.
"It was obvious."
John laughed. "Did you annoy them?"
"Only a little."
"I knew I should have gone."
"Nonsense, you have a head cold, it's bad enough I have to share the flat with you. Being stuck in cab with your continual sneezing would be too much."
"Thanks," John said—and sneezed.
"I'll bring Chinese with me, it will help," Sherlock said. "I'll see you in half an hour."
It was twenty-eight minutes later when the cab pulled up at 221B. The instant he was out of the cab, Sherlock knew something was wrong. There was a new scratch on the door. He set the food down and silently grasped the doorknob. Without even turning it the door opened. The lights were on as he stepped in, listening for any sound at all. Nothing. Mrs. Hudson was visiting friends out of town, but if the television was on, as it had been when he left, he should be able to hear it. All that met him was an enveloping silence.
Slipping along the wall, making the smallest target he could—it wasn't the first time an assassin had waited in the flat for him—he eased himself towards the stairs up to the flat. He walked carefully up, stepping over the fourth step that creaked. As soon as he could see into the living room he stopped.
"John!" he called, even though he knew he would get no answer. The evidence of that was there in front of him. There was the lingering scent of a gunshot or shots. The table was overturned. John's computer was on the floor, a broken glass leaking liquid on it. The rug was displaced, the corner of the desk that Sherlock had glued back on after a little mishap was broken again, the piece several feet from the desk itself. There was a splatter of blood on the papers that littered the desk. Looking down, he saw blood on the floor at his feet. There was a red hand print on the wall, as if someone had tried to grab at it and been yanked away.
Still at the door, he crouched down to get another view. The glint of metal caught his eye—John's gun was under the couch. He stood and walked over, then knelt down so he could look underneath. The gun had been fired. Reaching into his pocket, he fished out a glove and carefully picked the weapon up to avoid smearing any prints other than John's—although he doubted there would be any. The gun was still heavy, dropping the magazine out he knew why—only one shot had been fired. After sliding the magazine back in place, he bent over to put the gun back.
Sherlock leaned back on his heels and let his eyes roam over the flat again, wondering who had come and how many—there had to be more than one or John would have managed to stop them, of that he was sure. Even if there had been more than one… His eyes went immediately to the blood splattered on the desk. John had been hit. The time it had taken him to recover from that had cost him. It had to, if not John would be there with a body, calmly waiting for Sherlock to get home.
He got up and walked over to the desk. John's papers were scattered, not as if someone had gone through them. It was more like something—or someone—had slipped over them. The right hand drawer was open a fraction, Sherlock carefully pulled it out, John's phone was missing. He had to fight the sudden relief that caused—how long could John hide the phone?
He was still going over the room, looking at the same things over and over, noticing each thing still in its place and each thing out of place. There was a surprising lack of evidence. No dirt on the floor, no footprints. The blood was left and the evidence of a struggle. He walked back and looked at where John's gun had been. That was an odd place for the gun to end up, almost like it had been placed there on purpose. So what was the purpose?
And there in front of him was the answer. At the corner of the couch was a circle drawn hastily in what looked like blood. John had left him a message. Sherlock knew who had him.
He didn't even realize his hands were trembling until he pulled his phone out to call Lestrade.
"What?" the man snapped when the connection was made.
"Someone broke into my flat. John is missing," Sherlock said. It sounded so simple, so easy. John is missing. The blood on the floor, the red handprint he'd found on the wall spoke volumes more.
"On my way," Lestrade said.
Two hours later, the police had cleared out, leaving Sherlock and Lestrade alone in the empty flat. Sherlock hadn't said anything as the police had crawled through his flat looking for any evidence that might help locate John or his assailants. Sherlock knew they wouldn't find anything. The blood had been left to let him know that someone had John, someone had hurt John and they would again.
When his phone rang he answered it without thinking. Before he could speak, a voice came over the line—John, screaming in pain. It went on for thirty seconds, then the connection broke.
"Sherlock?" Lestrade asked, looking concerned.
"It was John." His voice broke on the name.
"What did he say?"
"Nothing." Sherlock turned away, his heart hammering in his chest. He needed answers, the call had come from a blocked number.
"He was… screaming."
"We'll find him," Lestrade assured him.
Sherlock looked at him, a bitter smile on his face. He knew the truth. "No, you won't."
"Then why call us?"
"It might increase the chances. You saw the circle?"
"You think that means something?"
"It means everything." Sherlock said, walking over and staring down at the corner of the couch.
The next call came exactly three hours later. Sherlock was trying to trace the GPS in John's phone, still hoping he'd grabbed it when he'd been taken. This time the scream went on for forty seconds, broken halfway through by a sob. In the background he was sure he heard someone ordering John to beg, but he didn't. The scream did get louder, pulsing with agony.
"I'll find you," Sherlock shouted into the phone, hoping he would be heard.
His phone rang forty-five minutes later. Sherlock glanced at the caller ID automatically. "What?"
"We have a body," Lestrade said.
"I don't have time."
"John's mobile phone is in his pocket."
"Where are you?"
When he arrived, the crowd of police parted before him. Not even Sally stopped him, she just lifted the police tape and pointed to where Lestrade was waiting. Sherlock walked with his head down. There were footprints on the ground, uneven as if the person had been staggering. As he reached Lestrade he knew why. John's one shot had been a killing shot—it had just taken a little time. The shirt was drenched in blood.
"It was a good shot," Lestrade was saying. Sherlock realized the man had been speaking at him for some time.
"What was that?"
"It was a good shot, only a little higher and we would have found him at your flat."
"Give me the phone."
"No." Sherlock met his eyes. "It's not."
Lestrade waited for the space of three heartbeats, then handed over the phone. Sherlock immediately checked it. The last call made was the one before this all began. There was one new text, he hit the button and a picture of John appeared, blood on his shirt, his left eye swollen closed, and a dark purple bruise on his neck. Sherlock swallowed and slid it in his pocket, it felt heavy. Ignoring the weight of the phone, he turned back to the body. Bending down he turned the left arm over—a red circle was tattooed on the man's inner wrist. "The Red Circle," he said.
"The Red Circle?" Lestrade asked, shaking his head. "No, Clement is in prison."
"There was a circle at my flat as well. Remember?"
"You think…?" Lestrade broke off in horror. The Red Circle had appeared several years before, a terrorist group at first thought to be political, it turned out to be a crime syndicate that was willing to use any means to get what they wanted.
"No, I don't think. I know." Sherlock strode away. The body had been dumped as a liability. They'd left the phone behind as a personal message.
When his phone rang two hours later, he was braced for a scream, this time there was a voice. "Are you enjoying your calls? We came for you, you know. This is more fun," the voice said. "Although, we're not sure how long he'll last at this rate." The man laughed. "He insisted we take him and not you. How noble. Shall we make him dance?"
"I know who you are, Hughes." Sherlock kept his voice carefully neutral, listening to the sounds in the background of the call.
"Then you know we are serious."
"Let me talk to him," Sherlock demanded. There was a shuffling noise.
"Talk," Hughes said.
"No," John said, his voice muddled, sounding like his mouth was full of something.
"John," Sherlock said urgently. So they've drugged him as well.
"Sherlock?" He sounded confused. "Don't come, don't…"
"Where are you?" Sherlock asked, even though he was sure they were listening.
"I'll find you."
"No, you won't," the other voice said and the line went dead.
He started to process the sounds he'd picked up from the background of the call. Four people and John, a wooden floor, it was raining, the wind was lashing the rain against a window. There was nothing else. No sirens, no traffic, no airplanes—they must have him somewhere in the country. No, that didn't make sense. Even considering the time, they would still be in town, the Red Circle had once controlled buildings all over London. It had been two and a half hours from the time he'd spoken to John until the first call, they had to be some place where John's screams would go unnoticed or unheard, but that could be anywhere considering the resources they could draw on.
Leaning back in his chair, he steepled his hands and focused on the wall. Knowing they had come for him didn't make it easier, the evidence of the fight that John had put up was disturbing. It was hard to keep his mind focused when his eyes continually found their way to that bloody handprint.
Sherlock was trembling again.
When the door to the flat opened and a familiar step tread up the stairs, he managed to rein himself in so he could look up at his visitor with what he hoped was an emotionless glare. "What you do want?"
"You had to be expecting me," Mycroft said, glancing around. Sherlock knew his brother was taking note of the damage, the blood, the furniture still out of place.
"I expected a call—somewhat sooner."
"Ah, yes," Mycroft said, sitting in the chair across from him. "We had to verify a few things to be sure."
"Calling would have confirmed it," Sherlock replied, making sure he kept his voice even. "Do they want me, or just John?"
"They have said they will trade him for Clement. Of course that's impossible."
"Of course," Sherlock said. "They didn't ask for my head on a plate?"
Mycroft laughed, that irritating mirthless laugh that had tormented Sherlock for most of their childhood. "I rather think they have that already."
"They came for me."
"Yes, and they got John," Mycroft said mildly. "They seem to think he is worth bargaining for."
Sherlock glanced over at his brother. "This is because of you. They came for me because of you, they got John."
"Are you blaming me?"
"I am pointing out the obvious. Clement was arrested and the Red Circle broken because of me—you asked me to help with that as I recall, and I did."
"Yes, and Clement is in prison, where he will remain. We have no intention of bargaining with them."
"Why are you here?" Sherlock heard the snarl in his voice and forced his emotions back down.
"While the government will not release Clement, we will not dissuade them of the idea immediately."
"Ah," Sherlock said. "So I can use it? Why?"
"As you said, Clement is in prison and the Red Circle broken because of you. We—I—owe you something for that. We cannot give you long, hopefully it will be long enough." Mycroft rose. He took a breath as if he were going to speak again and then shook his head. After a final glance around the flat, he walked out, his steps even and the door closed with the smallest sound.
Sherlock returned to his contemplation of the wall. He knew Mycroft's offer had nothing to do with John's welfare. The government had been after the five remaining leaders of the Red Circle for more than a year. Four, Sherlock corrected himself. John had taken care of one of them. The Red Circle must be proving a threat again and they wanted it dealt with as quietly as possible. What Mycroft's visit meant was they were turning a blind eye and Sherlock needed to make use of that time.
His phone ringing startled him. The unknown caller again. "Just making him scream won't do you any good, Hughes."
"Sher…lo…ck?" John's voice, broken, the pain nearly unbearable to hear.
"John!" He sat up, every fiber listening to the call. "Why did they let you call?"
"Didn't…I…" He paused to cough. "I… left."
"Left? You escaped?"
"Yes, they…" He coughed again. "Took his phone."
"How badly are you hurt?"
"Not good… I… they…"
Sherlock closed his eyes, trying to dispel the thousands of images that popped into his head. "Where are you, John?" he asked, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.
"I don't know… Was out for… woke up there…" He paused. "Hear them… Need to move… Call back…"
"John! No, don't…" The connection was broken. Sherlock stared at the phone, willing it to tell him more. He replayed the conversation. John was injured, there was noise in the background, what was it? Wind? No. Traffic? No. What? What was it?
When his phone rang again, he almost made a fatal mistake, as the connection was made he heard something that stopped the words on his lips. "What do you want?" he snapped instead.
"Your brother told you, we want our leader released. It's a fair trade, John Watson for Lucas Clement."
"That's a fair trade?"
"Not really." Hughes laughed, it sounded forced. "I'm afraid you will be getting very damaged goods."
"I need proof that he's alive," Sherlock said, trying to decipher the noises in the background. Someone was groaning in pain, but the voice was a lower register than John's. He smiled, the good doctor must have done some damage in his escape. "Put him on the phone again."
"Oh, so sorry, I can't right now, our last discussion left him… unable to chat right now." The forced laugh again. "Clement for Watson." He broke the connection.
Sherlock was up the instant the call was over. If they knew about his brother's visit it meant someone was out there, right now watching the flat. He walked down the stairs and out onto the street, the traffic was surprisingly heavy, even so he spotted the man leaning too casually against the wall across the street. The sheer stupidity of people never ceased to amaze him. He waved down a taxi. The man stood, pulling out a phone. Sherlock got in the taxi, had them turn the corner at the end of the block and then he slipped out. He paid the cabbie to keep going for another fifteen minutes on a round-about course. Once the cab pulled away, he stepped quickly into the shadows. Sure enough, a car whipped around the corner and slid in behind the taxi. Sherlock waited until they were out of sight before waving another cab down.
He had his hand on the phone when it rang. "I need time," he said.
"It's me…" John said.
"Where are you?"
"Trying to figure that out." He laughed softly. "I could turn on the GPS."
"No!" As much as Sherlock wanted that, they couldn't. "They could track you, too."
"Right… Sorry… Not thinking…"
"Anything, John, please," Sherlock said urgently. "What do you see? Hear? Smell?"
"Smell blood. Ears ringing…Can't see. I'm in…" John's next words were lost in a roar of noise. "Building."
"Big. Hiding. Hear something, call… " And the line was dead again.
Sherlock stared out the cabs window watching the lights go by, thinking about the call. What had caused that sound? And the soft whisper that sounded like wind or traffic. He closed his eyes, slowly going through the catalogue of sounds in his head, discarding each as they popped up, the list getting shorter and as it did he realized he was starting to panic, to lose focus. No! He shook himself. Now was not the time. He had to stay focused, this was just another case. But it's not.
"Stop here!" he called and the cab pulled into the curb. Sherlock waited as the vehicle pulled away, checking to make sure he hadn't picked up a shadow before he walked down the street to a man playing Vivaldi on a beat up violin. "Johnson," he greeted the man.
"What brings you here?" Johnson asked, setting the violin aside.
"I need to find someone."
"Don't we all."
Sherlock stared at the man. "John Watson was taken from my flat eight hours ago by the Red Circle. He's escaped, but I don't know where to start looking. I need to know."
"The Red Circle?" Johnson asked. "And he's still alive?"
"I'll need time."
"You don't have much." Sherlock turned away, then paused. "This information is worth more than usual," he added. He started walking back towards Baker Street, speaking to everyone he knew along the way. Letting the police know about John was only one way to find him. He was getting ready to hail a cab when a soft bark stopped him. Turning, he saw the brown dog that accompanied Blind Helen. Sherlock walked over to her, making sure they were alone.
"Helen?" he said, petting Rex, a singularly boring name for a dog he'd always thought.
"I've heard something. I don't know if it has to do with John's disappearance or not," she said softly. Sherlock smiled, his network was far faster than the police. And he knew Helen knew and liked the doctor.
"What is it?"
"Jack told me that he saw signs for filming down by some of the warehouses. He went down to see if he could 'borrow' anything worth selling and said there were no trucks or crews there. A security guard told him it was a horror film and they were still making the sets."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Well, it's what Jack told me that made me think. As he was walking away he swears he could hear someone screaming."
"What warehouses? Where?"
"Jack wasn't so clear on that, you know how he is," Helen said, shaking her head. "I wish it was more."
"It's more than I had!" Sherlock grasped her shoulders. "Thank you, Helen." He pressed money into her hands and gave Rex another quick pat. "Thank you again!"
Warehouses, it was a start. The Red Circle had imported items from around the world when they were most active. Which one would they choose? Industrial? Storehouse? Sherlock shook his head, it was a beginning, but it wasn't enough. There had watching for the next cab that was available. Several passed by, he finally spotted one coming as his phone rang. He pulled it out, waiting for the caller to speak first.
"Sherlock?" John said.
"John," he answered, waving at the cab.
"I… I think I might be in a warehouse."
"By the river?" Sherlock asked, getting into the cab.
"Maybe, I don't know. I…" He coughed. "The last time… after they left…" He was pausing to take a breath as he spoke. "I ran as… much as I could. Got turned around."
"Are you someplace you can stay?"
"For now, found a coffin. I'm in it to stay."
"Not funny, John," Sherlock said, willing the cab to go faster.
"I'll find you."
"I know," John said. "I hear something." The connection went dead.
Sherlock debated with himself for several minutes before he dialed Lestrade. "I think they are in a warehouse. One that's been marked off for filming."
"Do you have any idea…" Lestrade began.
"Yes, so if you get started now, you can find them that much faster." He hung up before the man could say anything else. The sounds he'd heard in the background of John's calls were playing in his head, sifting through without a conscious thought on his part. A crane. The answer presented itself. The loud noise had to have been a crane. So wherever John had managed to get to was close to a working dock. That doesn't narrow it down much. He was hoping that either the police—or more likely the homeless network—would come through with more information. Going back to the flat was the fastest way to get information, people knew where to find him, but he wasn't sure he could face that handprint again.
The phone rang again. "He's dying," Hughes said.
"Then you won't have anything to trade with," Sherlock said evenly.
"Oh, with medical care he could be saved."
"Put him on."
"Sorry. Our last little game seems to have left him unable to communicate. We want Clement."
"I told you, I need time."
"You have an hour."
Sherlock got out of the cab and stood outside the flat. An hour—did that mean they were closer to finding John? Why put a timeline on it, when they knew they had nothing to exchange? Of course, Sherlock knew they intended to kill both him and John as the exchange was made. There was no question in his mind about that. Since Clement wasn't going to be released it wasn't really a problem. They would kill Sherlock on sight as well, which meant he had to stay out of sight while he was looking for John. There had to be a way to narrow it… Wait—did John say he was in a coffin?
He opened up the door to the flat and bounded up the stairs, opened his computer and started a search. There weren't that many options, but if he chose the wrong one, it could cost John his life. He'd heard it in his friend's voice on the last call, John was barely hanging on—he had at least one wound, probably more and they'd drugged him at some point as well.
Which one? Where to start?
When the phone rang he answered without thinking. "What?"
"They found me, had to move," John said, sounding much worse.
"John, what happened?" Sherlock heard the desperation in his voice.
"They're down to two." John laughed softly.
"Where are you?"
"I'm… Same building,.. Other end. I guessed they would think… I left."
"Good thinking," Sherlock said.
"Thanks." There was a long pause, it sounded like John was moving. "There's a green crane."
"Green? Does it have a name?"
"Yes… but can't see it, sorry."
"John," he said, the words coming even though he tried to stop them. "How bad?"
"Hurry if you can, Sherlock. The… battery on the phone…might be dying."
Sherlock read a lot into that statement. The pain in John's voice, the way he had to take a breath before he could speak. It wasn't the battery on the phone that was dying. "I'm coming," he said. "John?" he said when he got no answer. "John?" The connection was still live, but there was no answer. Sherlock looked at the computer again. There were only two choices with a green crane nearby. "JOHN!" he shouted into the phone. Nothing, he could hear the crane again. He ran down the stairs and was greeted by a scruffy man with a piece of paper. An address was scrawled on it, confirming one of the warehouses his search had brought up. He handed the man some money and waved down a cab.
As he settled in the back of the cab, he kept his phone on, set to speaker, then pulled John's out of his pocket and called Lestrade. "I have an address for you." He read it off the paper. "I'm on my way."
"Let us do our job."
"Of course, Lestrade, I wouldn't dream of interfering." He broke the connection. "John?" he said into his own phone. There was a small groan. "John!"
"Hide, but don't hang up."
"Do it!" he snapped and immediately regretted his tone. "John?"
"Moving… I…" John broke off again, Sherlock heard the fall, the grunt of pain.
"Moved… Think it was… rat."
Sherlock looked out the window. They were almost there. He ordered the cab to stop. There was no need to call attention if he could avoid it. "John?" Nothing. "Answer me."
"Tell me what you see," Sherlock said. "Tell me what you see."
"Can you see a name on anything?"
Sherlock was running towards the warehouses, the weight of John's phone in one pocket, the weight of his Browning in the other. There were three that could be the right one. He was starting towards one when he spotted the sign for a film company. It was the furthest from him. If John had made it out of there that meant… Sherlock raced towards the building. In the distance he could hear the shriek of sirens approaching. No! No! What are you thinking. Lestrade!
"John?" The phone had gone quiet. Sherlock slowed to listen—and his heart started hammering in his chest. He could hear John's pained breathing and Hughes calling him to come out and play.
"They're here," John whispered.
"So am I," Sherlock answered and slowly eased the door open.
"Good." The connection suddenly broke. He hoped John had hung up.
In the dimly lit warehouse he could see a figure walking slowly between the containers calling John's name. Another man was waiting by the door at the far end of the building. Sherlock put his phone in his pocket as he pulled out the gun. He couldn't hit them both and he had no idea where John was in the huge space. He looked around and spotted several blue crates, one of the men was heading straight towards them, Sherlock recognized Oliver Hughes.
"Got you," Hughes said. He reached down and a moment later dragged John into view. John struggled weakly, but fell back against the floor. The man at the door was walking towards them now. "You're going to pay for this."
"Sure," John gasped.
Hughes had him by one leg, John struck out with the other, kicking him squarely in the knee. Hughes shouted in pain, dropped his hold on John and staggered back. The other man was running now and was almost on top of them when Sherlock fired. The man dropped a few feet from where the doctor lay.
"Not smart," Hughes said. Pushing up from the floor, he grabbed John and dragged him up. John couldn't stop the grunt of pain. It looked like he could barely stand on his feet.
"Let him go," Sherlock said, his gun still extended. He kept his focus on Hughes, but part of his brain was cataloguing John's injuries. The black eye, bloody wrists, dark prints where his feet were, the blood that soaked his shirt, part of the wound showing where the fabric had torn away.
"You're all that's left of the Red Circle. Clement is still in prison, everyone else is dead."
Hughes laughed "Don't be so sure of that."
"John had nothing to do with any of it," Sherlock said, gauging his shot.
"Maybe not initially. But I lost three men to him."
"Three? Good work, John," Sherlock said with a smile.
John nodded with a pained half-smile. "Thanks." The next moment he screamed in agony and hung limp in Hughes' grasp.
"That was a fatal mistake," Sherlock said calmly.
"Oh?" Hughes laughed.
"Yes." Sherlock fired. Hughes dropped to the floor, the back of his head blown out.
"Sherlock!" Lestrade shouted from outside.
"In here!" he answered, running towards where they had fallen. Sherlock dropped to his knees beside John, reaching out to check for a pulse with a trembling hand. "No! John, no!" he said desperately. CPR, he knew the basics, didn't he? How could he not know that?
"Sir! Let us," a medic said, pushing him away.
Sherlock stood and stumbled back. He bumped into someone, surprised to find himself steadied by Lestrade. "He has no pulse," he said, feeling dazed.
"They'll save him," Lestrade said, pulling him further away. Sherlock tugged against him, wanting to be near—just in case. "What happened?"
"What?" Sherlock said, watching the medics. He couldn't see John, just his feet. Bare feet, battered and bloody.
"Sherlock!" Lestrade shook him. "What happened?"
"I got here, he had John."
"This one's alive!" someone called from beside the first man Sherlock had shot.
It all swirled around Sherlock. He knew he was answering Lestrade, his voice cold and clinical. It was odd listening to it—rather like having the radio on in another room. They picked up the surviving member of the Red Circle and loaded him onto a stretcher as well. As he was talking, Sherlock realized he had been moved into a car and they were racing through town behind an ambulance. He didn't remember getting into the car. He was watching the medic, talking to Lestrade and then he was here. He blinked as they pulled up at the hospital.
"I have to go back. I'll call," Lestrade said, stopping the car to let Sherlock out.
"Thank you," Sherlock said. Not knowing what else to do, he wandered into the building.
Now he was here, pacing the hall. The tiles at the west end were half a tone lighter than the ones by the elevator. The pictures on the wall were crooked. Each one was different, not like they had all been "straightened" wrong. Each one was at a different angle. The elevator opened every ten minutes. He stopped and stared at the door again.
"Sherlock?" Lestrade asked from behind him.
"Why do you think all the pictures are like that?"
Lestrade glanced at the wall, then back to him. "We found the other two—one in the building next door and one in the other room of the warehouse you were in." He shook his head.
"To escape from there, Sherlock… He…" Lestrade broke off. Sherlock hadn't been in the other building. He had no intention of leaving John until he was sure everything was okay. And it would be okay. "I never thought about him as…" Lestrade continued.
"I don't know exactly. We found the remnants of what they'd given him, so he had to have been unconscious for at least an hour."
"Two, that's when they made the first call."
"Right. Then to escape… He had to have worked his wrists free of the rope inch by inch, the rope was covered in blood." Lestrade swallowed and looked away for a moment. "We found one of the Red Circle there, by a table. He had a piece of broken glass driven into his eye. John had to have gotten out of there before Hughes got back."
"John took his cell phone," Sherlock said, surprising himself with that clinical voice again.
"Yes. There was another body, too. In the warehouse where we found him—John used what he had—a length of chain. Sherlock, to do that, to get out of there and to hang on until you got to him. It's… It's remarkable."
"Yes." Sherlock said and opened his mouth to stay more, stopping when the door opened.
"You can go in, he is…"
Sherlock was across the hall and heading into the room before the doctor could finish. He stopped in the door. John looked so small on the hospital bed, eyes closed and so still. He ran his eyes over the monitors—oxygen, heart, the IVs, the bruises on John's face, his hands. His wrists were bandaged. Sherlock thought about the effort it had taken for John to work his hands free. The bulges showed where his bandaged feet lay under the sheet. For the first time in a very long time he didn't know what to do.
"You can come in," John said, his voice rasping.
It was three steps to the bed. John lifted a bruised hand and Sherlock took it. "John."
"Took you long enough," he said.
"I know." That would haunt him for years.
A smile played on John's face. "Good shot," he said. "Powder burns?"
Sherlock wrapped his other hand around John's as well. "Taken care of."
"Good." John closed his eyes.
Four days later the cab stopped in front of 221B and Sherlock helped John out, being careful of his injured feet. He handed him his cane then hurried to open the door. John limped slowly towards him, a smile on his face. He stepped in and put his hand on the bannister, Sherlock took his elbow and helped him up the stairs and into his chair, settling him and bringing over a foot stool. He noticed John's eyes linger on the handprint that was still on the wall.
"Is it yours?" Sherlock asked.
"Yes," John answered carefully.
"And the floor?"
"Only some of mine." He was being cautious. When Sherlock had learned the full extent of his injuries, he had promised himself that the Red Circle would pay for all of them.
Careful questioning by the police had uncovered the fact that the Red Circle had been recreated, and had a new leader at its helm. While no one would say a name, Sherlock knew who was behind it. He just wasn't sure what Moriarty would use the group for. He was waiting for them to play their hand, he knew they were still out there. The man the police had in custody had disappeared. No one knew anything, but he was gone—and Sherlock had sworn revenge, no matter what John said.
"Tea?" Sherlock asked.
"Yes," John answered, smiling at him.
Sherlock smiled back. "Just don't get used to it. I'm not your housekeeper."
A/N III: My latest novel The Sail Weaver is available on Amazon dot com in both Kindle and Paperback. Be the first to message me about it and mention the Red Circle and I will send you the Kindle edition for free