Warning - in the words of the Motion Picture Association of America: strong violence and thematic material.
Something in his arrogance never let him believe it could actually happen.
It was like a game, almost. (And now that it's happened, how awful even to think it.)
How far could he push? How much of a rush could he get? The risk of losing the game ... more of a thrill than the most wicked high. Such a perilous path to take.
"No no no stop," he'd always blurt at the last second. Quiver of the lip. Hand over your control. "Stop. I'll ..." Buy some time, draw it out. Hesitate and shuffle and don't let them see you know exactly what you're doing. "Please."
The word 'please'? Pathetic. Even for the purposes of convincing an opponent they'd gained the upper hand, Sherlock hated letting it leave his lips. A plea, how humiliating. (Not that he ever made it sound like anything less than a demand.)
And then, after the rush, after the plea, after all would seem lost ... then always swelled the victory, a come-from-behind conquest. Blah, blah, villain locked up, Sherlock sent home like a dog caged until its next target approached the fence. It was damn well near inhumane, the way the world strung him out on hours of nicotine and then let him rail through days of boredom.
But he supposes now that he deserved it, with the gambles.
They weren't even his to make.
Of course, it simply never occurred to him that the path he walked had a fork:
Down the left fork, we have our usual tangled way, the route elucidated by Sherlock's intimate knowledge of how this man (the opponent, who goes by only his first name Will and who has murdered six women) functions. With a single glance, we know whether or not Will really wants to shoot (he does); we know whether he is in it for the money (yes), in it for the sex (yes), in it for the glory (no); we know exactly how much time will elapse before his patience wears clean through (twenty-one seconds from the plea). We have Sherlock playing him like a violin, a tender press of the right string and he sings just like he's supposed to -
Yes, it was me, I'm the murderer, a gloating admission, and once he's said it, Sherlock pleads.
"No, stop! Don't do this. Don't ... please."
Twenty-one ... twenty ... nineteen ...
Under Will's disgusting look of satisfaction, Sherlock devises the method of attack that will most surprise his opponent: he's trained in horseback (those boots, Christ), clearly formal in demeanor (accent, posture, grooming, mannerisms); he knows what is proper. So the most effective method is to play improperly. To play the coward.
Sherlock makes a break for the door, and without thinking, Will swings the gun away from the center of John's forehead, where it's been sitting, threatening. He fires at Sherlock. The gun buries a bullet into the plaster wall - Sherlock's dived out of the way. John, on the other hand, is back on his feet. He slams his fist into the murderer's jaw. Will is out before he can even say 'Oh dear, what an irritating development'.
Sherlock and John exchange breathless half-smiles and set about contacting Lestrade.
Down the right fork of the path, however:
With a single glance, we know Will wants to shoot. We know his habits and hobbies, what he was doing this morning and what his plans are for the evening. We know we have twenty-one seconds from the plea. We have Sherlock saying, "Yes. Clever killings. Well-planned," a truthful concession he's willing to make, because as arrogant and obnoxious as this murderer is, he's good at what he does. He's not the best - were he the best, Sherlock wouldn't have caught him within five hours - but you can't have everything, can you?
Yes, it was me, Will says, I'm the murderer. A gloating admission, as planned. And once he's said it, Sherlock pleads.
"No, stop! Don't do this. Don't ... please."
Twenty-one ... twenty ... nineteen ...
But then Will shifts in the light, and Sherlock gets his first look at the man's left hand. The scar tissue all over that palm. And something startles him. Something buried deep in the recesses of his extraordinary mind.
Eighteen ... seventeen ...
John gives him a would-you-get-the-hell-on-with-it? look. After all, as much as John enjoys cases, the part where the murderer uses John's life to threaten Sherlock always does a number on his nerves. And the barrel of the gun is digging right into his forehead, which is bloody uncomfortable, thank you very much.
Sherlock shifts his head almost imperceptibly downward. A nod. Time to make his move.
Sixteen ... fifteen ...
But what the hell is that, buried in his mind - ? Will ... burned hand. Six women. Will. WILL, W.I.L.L.? No, it's Will - William, burn - !
Jesus Christ, the man is William Hendricks.
Fourteen ... thirteen ...
William Hendricks, a man who, six years back, attempted to murder a woman using only his right hand. She grabbed a scalding hot pan and slammed it against his other palm, escaped - and as for him, he was proven mad, sent to Broadmoor Hospital, a high-secure mental facility -
Will Hendricks: borderline, antisocial, mild schizophrenia -
Physical indicators unreliable for deduction of character if influenced by imagined external forces -
Sherlock's internal countdown is at twelve when Will Hendricks pulls the trigger. The bullet tears through the front of John Watson's skull. It rips through his cranial tissue, destroying first the delicate connections of his frontal lobe. It proceeds down and backward, plowing through the diencephalon before destroying the cerebellum, before splintering the knot of hard bone at the back of John's skull, before tearing an exit hole in the skin and the soft brown hair.
As his friend slumps face-down, embraces the wood floor, deductive miscalculation is the phrase that drifts through Sherlock's mind. But the blood pooling around John Watson's head does not look like a deductive miscalculation. It looks like a broken heart. It looks like a hole in the fabric of the world, and Sherlock's thoughts are draining through it. Trickling through it. Can't think. I can't think. I can't -
William Hendricks lifts the gun, points it at Sherlock. The detective considers for a second that he might not mind dying here, dying now. But then something cracks across Hendricks's face, some realization that manifests itself in an appearance of dreamlike melancholy, and after a few minutes of silence and what seems like placid consideration, Will places the gun to his temple. Shoots himself dead. No reaction from Sherlock Holmes.
Lestrade finds Sherlock three hours later. He is still standing there, looking at the two dead bodies before him.
Greg Lestrade is crying before his knees hit the ground beside John's body.
"Sherlock!" the DI yells, and Christ, his voice is doing so many pathetic human things. Waver. Rasp. Crack. "Sherlock, what did you do? What did you do?"
Lestrade turns John over and lets out a horrible hoarse moan. It rubs through the air and makes Sherlock cold. John's body is too pale, a hole drilled above its left eyebrow. Blood has trickled down and congealed in the lines of his kind eyes. One eye is half-open. His cheek is dipped in crimson; his lips are white. He is a tableau of grief in himself, a man who was clearly unassuming (frayed sweater) and kind (laugh lines on the eyes, smile lines like parentheses around his lips) and loyal (scars, well-kept old shoes) and loved (john, john, john, john, john): He is a man who was stolen too soon.
"How long have you been down here?" Lestrade whispers. "What happened?"
"How could you ... how could you let this happen?" Voice rising. Fists clenched. Everything unforgiving. As it should be.
Lestrade rocks back on his heels and roars. "How could you let this happen?"
"FUCKING ANSWER ME!"
(the words are ringing the words are ringing in his head clutching to his earlobes and pinpricks of light are bursting in his eyes how long was it since he took a breath)
"He's dead, Sherlock, don't you get it!"
(he's not coming back sherlock, he's gone and you'll never get to show him the appreciation you owe and you'll never find another human being who'll be so good to you)
"We all trusted you with him," Lestrade says, backing away. He looks a decade too old. Tears drip onto his coat but his voice doesn't betray their presence. "We trusted you. You bleeding idiot. You've killed him."
(stop it stop looking at me i don't want to feel your eyes on me i don't want to feel)
He pulls the door open. "I'll be back in ten minutes. You'll be gone by then or I'll have you locked up."
(and there'll be no one to get you out
He stands there for five of his last ten minutes.
Sherlock is used to denial. He does not acknowledge when he is wrong and he does not acknowledge his own faults. He knows them on an intrinsic level, so he does not see the point in mentioning them, and when others do, he recoils. Yes; Sherlock knows denial.
But Sherlock also knows the truth, knows the facts. Always. And he knows that John Watson is not one to make miracles.
Caring is not an advantage.
He is gone.
The body remains. It will be under Molly's hands soon. It will be in a coffin and then it will be in the ground and Sherlock will not stand over it with flowers as if something of John Watson remains there. John will be in the grain of the table at home; he will be in the sharp scent of tea with sugar. But he will not be in a grave labeled John Watson. Nothing is more foolish than love for the dead.
Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
Sherlock wonders if he breathes more quietly, will Lestrade even notice he's there - perhaps if he were to burn the room with himself inside - perhaps if he did something foolish and drastic John might come back to help him -
Sherlock is used to denial, Jesus Christ, he knows he is: he's used to pushing back against Mycroft, he's used to claiming he's always right without exception, he's used to locking himself in his flat and pretending idiots don't roam the streets, he's used to denying how distressingly human he feels sometimes. How he feels sometimes. How he feels.
His knees slam to the slippery floor and give way. He's lying on the floorboards, his limbs splayed; he is prostrated before whatever god has forced this on him, his fingertips stretching out and hunting for John's hand in the darkness. "John, John, I did this, it is my fault - I am at fault - why are you paying for it, why, you stupid man, why?"
I have no shame in the darkness and alone, John.
Sherlock Holmes curls up and in on himself and screams into his blood-soaked sleeve until it hurts, or until it stops hurting. He doesn't quite know which is which anymore. "I was wrong," he says, crippled and riddled with humility, and he chokes it out a few more times. If only he'd not waited until this to make a mistake that truly mattered, but no, no, "I was wrong, John, I'm so sorry."
He touches John's hand, but he has to let it go. The feeling of his skin makes Sherlock want to throw up.
He staggers to his feet. He flings himself step by step. His hands slam onto the back of the door, leave smeared handprints.
"Goodbye," he pants to himself. "Goodbye, John."
He straightens up.
Turns stiffly. Composes himself. Flounders for a minute.
You owe him the words and you'll pay your debt.
Sherlock speaks past the tightness in his throat, facing away. "I shall remember you exactly as you were. Exactly. I can't promise you anything more. I am myself - the truth is all I have to offer. The truth, and it is this: that you were the best friend I could ever have wished, and that I shall miss you so immensely that I can hardly imagine what I'll do."
He takes a deep breath.
By the time he walks out, his pale face is perfectly impassive. His curls are heavy with blood. His clothes are heavy with sweat. And his body is heavy with the inevitability of the next day, and the next - because minutes will pass whether or not he wills them along. Because time does not sympathize, not even with a man whose leaden heart has cracked.
Sherlock's steps falter once as he trails down the hall. But he does not look back. Does not glance back on the paths he could have taken, the words he could have said, the actions he could have chosen. Some roads are best walked only once.
Thanks for reading.