A/N: So, when I wrote The Red Circle, I had intended it as a one off—however I have received several requests for John's POV. So I thought I'd give it a whirl. To my British readers: I am trying to keep the conversations in British, if I make a mistake (like cell phone in the first part) please let me know. I am trying to keep the dialogue in British, and am discovering we are Two peoples separated by a common tongue.
A/N II: My novel, The Sail Weaver, was just released. (On Amazon dot com and other places). Be the first to message or comment on this story with a note about the book and I will send you the Kindle edition
The Red Circle
The flat was quiet, which was something of a relief. Sherlock had been driving John to the point of insanity for the last three days. The detective had been bored and John had a head cold. He quickly discovered that Sherlock was not good company when you were dying from a head cold, especially when he kept pointing out that he had run through the same icy downpour and wasn't sick at all. John was seriously considering sending Sherlock off on a wild goose chase just to get him out of the flat when Lestrade called.
"I doubt I'll be long. They are probably looking right at the solution," Sherlock said.
"Sherlock?" John chided.
"I'll try," he replied as he headed towards the door.
John breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed. He had become convinced that Sherlock's occasional lapses into nearly immobile silence—which could last for days—were balanced by days of very verbal energy. It usually wasn't that much of a problem, but with the cold, John was just not really in the mood. He waited for a few minutes to make sure Sherlock wasn't going to be romping back to demand his presence, then got up and made himself a cup of tea. He carried it to the desk and sat down, opening his laptop and staring at the page.
After staring at the page with "The Case of" typed into his blog for five minutes, he decided his head was far too stuffy to produce anything readable. Of course, Sherlock would say none of it was worth reading, and that an idiot could have spotted the clues the instant they walked into the room. It always seemed obvious once the detective explained it, but John had to admit sometimes the leaps his friend made in his deductions were astounding. The irritating thing was they were also at least ninety-nine point nine percent of the time correct. There were the small things he got wrong, the things that didn't matter, but in everything else Sherlock was annoyingly correct.
John leaned back in the chair and took a sip of his tea. At least the cold was getting better. Sometimes he swore that getting shot was better than a head cold—and he should know—having unluckily experienced both. Maybe today just wasn't the day to catch up on his blog. He looked around at the flat. The place could really use a good cleaning, but that would all go to hell the instant Sherlock came back in and started looking for something. John had very quickly discovered that the piles that looked like unkempt pieces of nothing were in actuality vitally important files kept in precise order. Of course, just leaning back in the chair, enjoying the peace and quiet was nice too.
He waited another twenty minutes before ringing Sherlock. The detective was just finishing up his part of the investigation, sounding a little smug about it all. John shook his head. He should have gone, he could usually act as a buffer between Sherlock and the police—either that or Sherlock behaved better when he was around. Whichever it was, things always seemed smoother when he went along. Too late now, Sherlock had undoubtedly annoyed everyone and was on his way home.
Sherlock arrived earlier than John expected. He heard the door open downstairs and someone come in. It took a nearly fatal three seconds for him to realize the heavy steps coming up the stairs at a fast clip weren't Sherlock's. John reached for the drawer where he kept his gun and was just bringing it up when the shot slammed into him. Even though he could feel the white hot burn of a wound, he managed to get off one wildly aimed round before someone grabbed him and tossed him across the desk, John felt the corner break as he hit it. His gun dropped out of his hand and skittered across the floor. He managed to kick back, hitting one of the men in the chin with a well-placed kick and the man staggered back, crashing into the table.
John struggled to his feet only to be punched again, this time in the wound in his arm. He shouted in pain, and struggled against the oncoming black spots, but stayed on his feet. A second blow caught him on the side of the head.
"Where's Holmes?" one of them demanded, his hand closing on John's throat.
"Wrong flat," John said.
"No it's not."
"He's not here and won't be back," John gasped, the hand was shutting off his air.
"We should wait," another said.
"No." John was getting desperate. "Take me."
"Not a bad idea." The hand loosened on his throat.
John took advantage of that brief lull and lunged forward, getting in one more solid hit before he felt the bite of a needle. One of the men swept his legs out from under him and there was no way John could stop the fall. He hit the coffee table hard, and then found himself staring under the couch. His gun was right there, he slid his hand up and managed to hide the gun under the edge of the couch. The men were tearing through the flat looking for something, and in the drugged haze, he caught view of one of their wrists and the red circle tattooed on it. Using the last of his energy, he drew a rough circle on the floor by the gun with his finger, pleased when he noticed the blood left a clear mark. Should I be pleased about that? Sherlock would find the gun.
One of the men picked him up. John tried to struggle free, but the drug was working fast. He vaguely remembered reaching out for the wall, just to get something to hold on to before everything went black.
He was lying on something hard as the silence eased away. There was light on his eyelids and John could hear the quiet mumble of voices. After concentrating, he counted for distinct voices. There had been five men at the flat. I guess my shot did do some good. He stayed still listening, keeping his eyes closed, trying to figure out where he was. There were some sounds in the distance, maybe it was rain on the window? And something else, more consistent—almost mechanical. Trying to move, he discovered he was bound hand and foot, and judging by the way the bonds cut into his skin, it was some kind of rope rather than handcuffs. He found that comforting, it gave him hope. A cold draft blew against his feet—he vaguely remembered having slippers on at the flat, but they must have taken them.
"Is he awake?" one of the men asked. John held perfectly still not even daring to breath.
"More than likely," another said. "I'll make the call."
"Where'd you get the number?"
"On the phone we left with Almont."
John heard the distinct sound of a phone being dialed. It was quiet for a moment. He still didn't move or give any sign of being awake when suddenly something slammed into the soles of his feet. The pain shot up his legs, there was no way to stop the scream of pain as the rod hit him again and again. There had been several men rescued from a splinter group in Afghanistan that had been tortured by continued beatings on the soles of their feet. John tried to force the memory of their battered and bloody feet out of his mind as the pain slamming into his own feet suddenly stopped.
"That will give him something to think about," the first voice said.
"What good will that do, Hughes?" the second voice asked.
"It will make him lose focus, it's something to throw him off balance."
John knew in a flash who they were talking about. "No it won't," he heard himself say, surprised that it sounded almost coherent. A rough foot kicked him over so he was facing upwards. John opened his eyes and blinked at the bright light. "It won't."
"Of course it will," Hughes said.
"He doesn't care," John said. "We're just flat mates."
Hughes laughed at him. "We've been watching him for almost a month. Sorry, doctor, you can't fool us. And when he comes to get you, we will solve one big problem."
"Holmes, of course."
"They'll trade him for Clement," one of the others said.
"Shut up, Kilen," Hughes snarled.
John watched the interplay with interest. Of course he knew who Clement was, even overseas they'd heard about the Red Circle. When the leader of the group had been arrested and the rest disappeared, the British government had announced the case closed. There was never any mention of who had been behind the breaking of the Red Circle. He should have known who was behind it, the thing was, they never really talked about the old cases unless they came up somehow in their everyday life. It was a little like John's experiences in the war which he rarely shared with Sherlock. It was as if their lives began in that room at Bart's—and for John it had. He'd been so ready to just… quit and then his life was turned upside down by Sherlock Holmes. Even if he died here, it would have been worth it.
"Wake up," Kilen said, shaking him.
John opened his eyes, unaware that he'd drifted off. He was thirsty and his hands ached from where they were bound behind his back. His feet—he didn't even want to think about his feet. As he slowly became more aware, he realized he could hear someone dialing the phone again. Even though he braced for it, he wasn't ready for the lashing on his feet, and try as he might, he couldn't stop the scream.
"Beg me to stop! Beg!" Hughes demanded.
John ground his teeth together, and refused to answer. The pain increased and he could hear himself sobbing as he screamed, but somehow over it all he heard, clear and concise, Sherlock shouting, "I'll find you!" John took comfort in the promise before he blacked out.
"…and after we kill him," Hughes was saying as the world came back to John. He felt sluggish and he wondered if they'd given him something to keep him down for a while. His feet didn't hurt nearly as much.
"Do you think he'll come after this one?"
"Of course he will, you heard him on the phone, and when he does, he's ours."
"What about Clement? I thought we were trading him for Clement."
"You're a fool, Kilen," Hughes said with a laugh. "They'll never trade, we're just stalling for time. We want Holmes." There was a pause, the sounds of the phone again. . "Are you enjoying your calls? We came for you, you know. This is more fun. Although, we're not sure how long he'll last at this rate." Hughes laughed. "He insisted we take him and not you. How noble. Shall we make him dance?" There was a pause while he listened to the answer. "Then you know we are serious." There was another pause. "Bring him over."
John was lifted up; the instant weight hit his feet he had to bite back a groan. He was hauled over to Hughes. The man looked at him for a moment before holding the phone out. "Talk."
"No," John answered. His tongue felt thick, they had definitely given him something.
"John?" Sherlock asked, his voice low and urgent. John could hear the emotion behind the single word.
"Sherlock?" No! No! It's a trap. His brain screamed the words, but his mouth was slow to catch up."Don't come, don't…"
"Where are you?" Sherlock snapped, sounding cold and professional.
"I…" John tried to say everything he could think of. "Out…" He knew he was missing words, but wasn't sure which ones they were. He knew that Hughes was listening and didn't want to give too much away.
"I'll find you." It was a promise. John recognized it for what it was, even though it was uttered without the tiniest betrayal of emotion.
"No you won't." Hughes snapped the phone closed and nodded at Kilen.
John was dropped to the floor. He hit it hard, but thanks to whatever they'd given him, it didn't seem to hurt as much. He had to figure a way out of this before Sherlock came looking for him. Because he knew, without any doubt, that Sherlock would be doing everything he could to find him. The urge just to wait crept into his mind, as well as the enormity of trying to escape. If he wasn't here, Sherlock would have a better chance of getting to him.
For a moment he was overwhelmed by everything, then reined it all in with the discipline that had seen him through the war. "Always start with the things you can handle first, John," his friend Bill Whitman told him one day when they were swamped with casualties. "Start small." Small he could do. The first step was getting his hands free, that was all that mattered. He'd landed so his back was turned away from them, so he began to methodically work on the rope, ignoring the bite of the rough cord as he slowly worked it free. He stayed as still as possible, all the while narrowing his focus to his hands. Even though the drug they'd given him was making him slow, it was also dulling the pain. He knew he was tearing his wrists to shreds, but for now that didn't matter.
Time passed. Hughes left John with Kilen while he and the other two went out. Kilen sat down and turned on a small TV. The time had come. It had been an eternity of working on the rope, tiny triumphs, but each one tiny. Finally, he had managed to win not only the battle, but the war. In a few moments his hands would be free. Taking a deep breath John eased his left hand free of the ropes. Once moving, the blood helped to slide the sisal over his hand, as soon as his right was free, he looked around—without moving—trying to find a weapon of some kind. Kilen was drinking a beer. It would have to do.
Bracing himself for the coming pain, John pushed himself onto his battered feet and over to Kilen in one move. The man was so surprised by the attack, he was immobile for a moment. It was enough. John wrenched the beer from his hand, smashed the bottle and just stabbed straight ahead, hoping he would hit the man somewhere it counted. Kilen screamed and reached for his face. John grabbed the man's phone off the table and moved as quickly as he could towards the door.
Once outside, he realized he was in a warehouse district. He had no idea where. Sherlock knew the city by heart, and John relied on him most of the time. What caught his eye was the door to the warehouse next to the one where he'd been held. It was partially open. John hobbled forward, feeling glass and other things cutting at his battered feet. He went through the door, pulling it closed behind him and sliding into the shadows of some boxes near the door. He moved as far back as he could and then looked at the phone. His hands were shaking, his heart was pounding and he could barely dial. It took three tries to connect.
"Just making him scream won't do you any good, Hughes," Sherlock drawled in a bored voice.
"Sher…lo…ck?" John said, trying to stop the wild pounding of his heart.
"John? Why did they let you call?" he asked, sounding suspicious.
"Didn't… I…" He glanced around the warehouse, his voice stopped by a coughing fit that sent pain up and down his body. "I left," he said with as much of a smile as he could muster.
"Left?" For the first time in a long time, Sherlock sounded puzzled. John's smiled nearly became a grin. "You mean you escaped?"
Well, you don't have to sound that surprised. "Yes, they…" Talking was making the coughing worse. "I took his phone."
"How…badly are you hurt?" Sherlock asked softly.
"Not good…" John said truthfully. Lying never got him anywhere with Sherlock anyway. "I… They…" He stopped, not even sure what he was planning to say.
"Where are you?"
"I don't know… Was out for… woke up there…" He paused when he heard a shout of anger from the building he'd left. They must have found Kilen. He had to get further in and hide someplace they couldn't find him. "Hear them… Need to move… Call back…" He closed the connection before Sherlock could say anything and slowly slipped from behind the boxes. They were still searching next door, he could see lights coming on and going of as they walked through the space.
Across the way from him was a pile of cartons. It looked like it was miles away, but if he could make it there he could get a good look out the window, and still stay hidden. They were outside the building now, if he was going to make his move, he had to do it now. Steadying himself, he quickly crossed the empty space, pressing in between two large cartons and pulling at another so he was hidden in the deep shadows. The door to the warehouse opened and a light swung through. He waited for them to come in, but they moved on further down the outside of the building. They seemed to think he was hiding outside somewhere and were focusing their search there for the time being. John waited until he was sure they had moved far enough away so he wouldn't be heard before he hit redial.
"I need time," Sherlock snapped.
"Where are you?" Sherlock asked in an entirely different tone.
John looked out the window. "Trying to figure that out." An idea suddenly occurred to him. "I could turn on the GPS."
"No! They could track you, too."
"Right… Sorry… Not thinking…" John sighed. He really wasn't thinking.
"Anything, John, please. What do you see? Hear? Smell?" Sherlock sounded desperate.
"Smell blood. Ears ringing…Can't see. I'm in…" A huge grinding noise suddenly filled the air, shaking the building as something started moving. "Building."
"Big. Hiding." There were voices getting close to him again. "Hear something, call…"
He didn't even finish, the door to the warehouse was pushed open again, and a light came on briefly at the far end of the building. He could hear Hughes swearing as he tried to turn on the various banks of lights. One of the men came through and kicked the boxes where John had been hiding. He said something to Hughes and the three of them walked into the building. John waited until they were past him before he started moving towards the door. He made it without being seen and once outside ran as fast as he could along the outside of the building until he reached another door. Was this the same place or a new one? He wasn't sure. Glancing around, he couldn't find a point of reference and, hoping he wasn't making a bad choice, opened the door and went inside.
It was storehouse, various crates and carriers lined the walls and filled parts of the building nearly to the ceiling. Rather than waiting by the door this time, he headed straight towards a huge tower of crates at the center of the building. At the back of the pile, he got lucky. There was a collection of various sizes of coffins. He opened one and got in, closing the lid before pulling out the phone. John needed to hear that calm voice, the one that had promised to find him. "Sherlock?" he said a few seconds after the call connected, but there had been no response.
"John," Sherlock answered, the relief apparent in his voice.
"I… I think I might be in a warehouse."
"By the river?"
"Maybe, I don't know. I…" Was there water out there? "The last time… after they left…" He paused, trying not to worry Sherlock, but feeling his energy quickly going. "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," he half-joked
"Not funny, John."
"It's true." He was in a coffin.
"I'll find you." The promise again.
"I know," John acknowledged it. There was a scratching noise nearby. He froze. "I hear something." He broke the connection and listened.
The noise grew steadily louder. John couldn't tell what it was. He tucked the phone in his pocket and eased the lid of the coffin open. Staying in the shadows, he moved from his hiding place to get a better look. In the dim light he could see one of the men who had been with Hughes heading towards him. John wasn't sure if he'd been seen or the man had made a lucky guess, whichever it was, he needed to be ready. As he tried to slide into the deep shadows he brushed a length of chain, the tiny noise nearly deafening in the silent warehouse.
"You're mine," the man said, heading straight towards him.
"No I'm now," John said. He reached back and grabbed the chain. He waited for a shot, but it didn't come. The man was still heading his way, the gun out, but not aimed at him. Maybe they had a no-kill order? Whatever the reason, John didn't care. He swung out with the chain and caught the man in the face. It hit him hard enough to drop him and he went down in a limp heap. John took a moment to look at him, wondering if he'd killed him or just stunned him. Whichever it was, it didn't matter. He turned towards the door, then changed his mind and ran towards the far end of the storehouse, sticking close to the walls and the deep shadows there. When he had finally wedged himself into a small space, he pulled out the now precious lifeline and hit redial.
"They found me, had to move," John said, trying to get his breath. The drugs were wearing off to the point that pain was getting the upper-hand.
"John, what happened?" Sherlock's voice was worried.
"They're down to two," he answered with a laugh, feeling giddy and desperately afraid at the same time.
"Where are you?"
"I'm… Same building,.. Other end. I guessed they would think… I left."
"Good thinking," Sherlock said.
"Thanks," John answered, feeling a warm trickle of pride. He turned around, trying to find something to let Sherlock know where he was. There was a tiny window, he looked out and saw something. "There's a green crane."
"Green? Does it have a name?"
John squinted. There was something written on the side, but the yellow letters were hard to read. "Yes… but can't see it, sorry."
"John," Sherlock said, his voice was trembling. "How bad?"
"Hurry if you can, Sherlock. The… battery on the phone…might be dying." John leaned back against the wall, his energy was slowly seeping into the floor.
"I'm coming," Sherlock said. "John? John?"
"Here," John answered, but it was only a whisper of sounds and the phone was gripped in his hand.
"JOHN!" Sherlock shouted. There was a pause, he thought he could hear Sherlock talking to someone else, then came the comforting words, "I'm on my way."
He was on his way. If he hurried he might just get there in time. John watched a spider walk up the box in front of him.
"John?" Sherlock said.
"Here," he answered.
Obviously the detective hadn't heard him. He lifted his arm—it felt like it weighed a ton—and held the phone steady by leaning his arm against the wall. "Sherl?"
There was the sound of something moving behind him.
"Hear…" John whispered.
"Hide, but don't hang up."
"Do it!" Sherlock ordered. "John?"
The order triggered some part of his brain to make his body move despite everything. "Moving… I…" He tripped over something, the phone nearly sliding from his grasp. A large rodent jumped in front of him, then raced across the floor.
"Moved… Think it was… rat."
"Here," he said.
Taking a deep breath, John forced part of a word from his throat. "Sor…"
"Tell me what you see," Sherlock said. "Tell me what you see."
"Crates," John replied, looking up at them. "Blue."
"Can you see a name on anything?"
In the distance, John could hear the wail of a siren. He wanted to hope it was there for him, but he was past that point—past everything but just enduring. John almost lost all his resolve when the lights came on in the building. They weren't very bright, but he wouldn't be able to hide for long. He looked out, Hughes and the other man were walking through the empty space in the center of the building.
"John?" Sherlock's voice, tight with worry.
"They're here," John whispered.
"So am I," Sherlock answered.
"Good," John said calmly, relief flooding his body. He broke the connection right as a draft blew through the warehouse. A door had been opened somewhere. John's relief didn't last long as he saw Hughes headed straight towards him.
"Got you," Hughes said, grabbing John and dragging him out of his hiding space. "You're going to pay for this."
"Sure," John agreed, then kicked out as hard as he could, hoping to break the man's knee. Hughes grunted and staggered back.
There was a gunshot and John heard the sound of a body hitting the ground behind him. "Not smart." The next moment Hughes grabbed him and yanked him up. There was no way he could stop the grunt of pain as he was slammed onto battered feet.
"Let him go," Sherlock said, his voice cold as steel. John looked up at his friend, Sherlock had a gun aimed in their direction his hands steady. "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."
"Maybe not initially. But I lost three men to him."
"Three? Good work, John," Sherlock said with a smile.
John nodded, smiling. He had taken out three, not too bad. "Thanks."
Hughes growled and with a swift move ground his hand into the wound the first gunshot had made on John. The agony was almost unbearable. John saw dark spots, he struggled against if for a moment, then with the tiniest glance towards Sherlock, went completely limp in Hughes's grasp. He heard the man grunt as he had to balance the dead weight. John just hoped Sherlock would do what needed to be done, he had the opening now—and it was an easy shot.
"That was a fatal mistake," Sherlock said calmly.
"Oh?" Hughes laughed.
"Yes," Sherlock said. There was a gunshot, then John was falling. He hit the ground hard, the white-hot pain filling his body to the point of overflow. He was going to lose the war this close to the end. No. He tried to hold on as the darkness started to creep towards him and cold began to claim his feet. He heard people shouting as his eyes closed. A moment later Sherlock was beside him. "No! John, no," Sherlock said. John had never heard that particular tone in the man's voice before. He wanted to hold on but he couldn't, before he could even try to muster the strength to answer that desperate plea everything faded away.
The room was finally quiet. John didn't usually mind hospitals—he was a doctor after all—but after being checked on and prodded and checked on again he was nearing his fill. He just wanted some time, to be quiet, to let what happened process so he could let it go, to just be in the moment, safe and warm.
His feet were still aching. Luckily, they hadn't broken anything major and he hadn't done any serious damage as he'd run from them. His wrists were numb and well bandaged. He hadn't even gotten a good look at them before they had been swathed in white. The gunshot had been dealt with, the loss of blood was being dealt with and everything was settling into calm.
Everything except the footsteps.
He could hear them, the measured pace of them, the precise count of the person walking the length of the hallway, turning, walking back, pausing by the door for a count of ten, then pacing off again. John glanced up at the clock. The pacing had been going on for several hours—or so the clock on the wall informed him. He'd been in and out for part of that time. It was a comforting sound to wake up to, however, that pacing. He knew what it meant, or more to the point who it was, and as long as he was pacing out there, it meant he was okay, unharmed and waiting.
John knew the owner of those footsteps hated waiting.
He smiled as one of the many doctor who had been in checking on him wandered into the room. As the door closed he caught a glimpse of a black jacket on its way down the hallway. The doctor asked him all the same questions the last three had, offered him counseling, poked at him, prodded him, checked the machines, then made a small hmphing noise. John closed his eyes. Finally the doctor turned away and walked towards the door. John breathed a sigh of relief and the pacing steps stopped.
"You can go in…" the doctor began.
The steps, so measured and careful before became a quick staccato, only to stop at the door.
John waited. Nothing happened. "You can come in," he finally said, opening his eyes and lifting his hand.
That was all it took. Sherlock was across the room in three steps and gently took his hands, his eye roving over the machines, then back to John as if making sure it was really okay. "John?" Sherlock asked, it was a weighted question, one that would take a lot longer to answer than they had right now. John could already feel the drugs pulling him away, now that he was completely sure he was safe.
"Took you long enough," he joked.
"I know," Sherlock replied, his eyes haunted.
That would never do. John smiled at him. "Good shot," he said with a grin, then added slyly. "Powder burns?"
Sherlock wrapped his other hand around John's and smiled. "Taken care of."
"Good," John said as he started to drift off. He was nearly asleep when something occurred to him, he opened his eyes. "I'm going to need a cane for a few weeks."
"I know," Sherlock said with that same haunted look.
"You aren't going to make me race through the streets of London just to prove I don't need it are you?"
Sherlock smiled, then started to laugh. "No, not the streets, I was thinking rooftops…"
John laughed, comforted by the warmth, he let himself sleep.
The End-I mean it this time...