A/N: Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I hope you have enjoyed this little outing. After rewatching A Scandal in Belgravia (for research purposes, of course) I noticed just how many people might have been removed to save Irene Adler… And I felt better about what Sherlock has done for John…
Case of the Burning Heart
The screen of his phone had turned itself off several minutes before, and Sherlock was still staring at it. Protocol 1138, there was no way to escape it. That was the whole idea behind it in the first place. It had been created in case someone in the government was compromised—they would have 1138 to fall back on. No paper trail, no contact, no anything to tie the death to anyone. Mycroft couldn't recall the agent, he wouldn't even know who he was. Sherlock took a slow breath, killing Outler had been a mistake, but he hadn't realized how deeply the man was connected and how many in the government were in the middle of Moriarty's web until the man was already dying. He had known the death would draw attention, he had hoped Mycroft could cover it up, after all Outler was nothing more than a clerk—or so he thought until it was too late. Now he had not only Moriarty's attention but the government's as well. There was one more stop he needed to make, four more people he'd learned had been involved in the plot that led to John's shooting and the kidnapping by the Red Circle several months before. Once they were gone, he would have to disappear.
No. Sherlock paused. He would need to see John one last time, to explain everything before he disappeared. He needed time to say he was sorry about that experiment that had destroyed the brand new china John had purchased to replace the dishes that Sherlock had broken when unexpected company came to call and he had nothing within reach to defend himself except the plates. He needed to apologize for… Sherlock shook his head. He was lying to himself, he needed to say goodbye because he needed to say goodbye. There was no need to justify it. John would understand, he knew you had to say goodbye before you left—or in this case engineered your own death. Until he was dead, 1138 would be in place, and so the simple plan was to let an agent find him, kill the agent, but "die" himself and just disappear.
He needed to make a few calls to set that in motion.
Lestrade had a headache that would kill an elephant as he made his way towards his office. He noticed several of the men give him a strange look and had no idea why until he opened his door. Sitting in the chair, prim as Mary Poppins, was Mycroft Holmes.
"What do you want?" Lestrade growled, dropping into his chair. He was getting tired of the man—he had no emotions, his reactions were always off. If it had been Lestrade's younger brother and best friend going through this, Lestrade was sure he would be doing more to help… But then again, Mycroft was covering up a string of bodies that made Jack the Ripper look like an amateur.
"Good morning to you, too," Mycroft answered with that smug smile. God, Lestrade wanted to hit him. "We have a problem."
"Another one? I just got through getting the blood out of my clothing from the last problem."
"This is serious." The smile dropped as did Mycroft's shoulders. Something told Lestrade that despite the act, the man was desperate and nearing despondent.
Lestrade stared at him, he was sure it meant something. It sounded like it meant something. "Should I know what that is?"
"Not really, no one is supposed to know but a select few, I think five of us in total, but I am going to tell you."
"An agent has been sent to remove Sherlock. There is nothing I can do to stop it."
"Remove? Wait, do you mean kill?"
"Of course," Mycroft said with a sigh. "Sherlock will try to get in to see John before he disappears. We need to make sure he does."
"This might surprise you, Lestrade, but I do care about my brother, and he deserves to say goodbye to John Watson before he dies."
"What can I do about that?"
"Get some of your people in there. Sherlock has one of his own guarding the ICU, but a few more wouldn't hurt. I have no idea how he will get in, but he will. The agent will know this as well. He might wait for a while, he might kill him there. It depends on who the agent is. Some of them are rather sadistic in their game."
"Game. He's going to kill Sherlock and you call it a game."
"It is a game, the players change sometimes, but it's all a game."
Lestrade tried to keep from exploding. He wanted nothing more than to grab Mycroft and shake him until his teeth rattled, then toss him out the window. The fact that there was a death sentence on his brother's head didn't seem to bother him at all. Or… Maybe it did, because he was here, asking for help, although he hadn't phrased it exactly as another person might. "We can't trust anyone," Lestrade said. "We don't know who the agent is. I assume it's not you."
"Not in this case, no."
That chilling bit of information made Lestrade take a second look at the man sitting opposite him. "The only people we can trust are the ones Sherlock has guarding the doors…"
"Right, so we have to be there. I can't even trust my own people in this." Lestrade rose. "Your car or mine?"
The hospital was busy when Sherlock arrived. He watched the comings and goings for fifteen minutes, surprised to see Mycroft slip out the door and into a nondescript car. Sherlock was half-tempted to follow, but the need to see John outweighed the need to know what his brother was up to at this point. Things were in place for his "death" when the time came, of course. He had also left a letter and his will at 221B, in case things went wrong and the agent killed him. After another twenty minutes he spotted an inbound ambulance and slowly started working his way over so that when they unloaded, he could walk in with the medics. His timing was perfect and as they rolled their patient in—the victim of a crash, considering all the blood—he was through the doors and down the hall before the cameras had a chance to catch his presence.
There was a supply closet at end of the hall, using the ID he had borrowed from the doctor the night before, he opened the door and stepped in. The shelves were full. He took off his coat, slipped a white coat on and stepped back out again. There was no way to avoid the cameras, but he could do his best to not be himself. He changed his gate, limping slightly on his left leg, not enough to be obvious, more like someone who had an old injury that was acting up a bit. He opened the staff staircase and headed up, pausing to step out of the way of a pair of nurses, one female, one male on the way down. They were talking about one of their cases. From their tone, Sherlock could tell the male nurse was deeply worried about their patient, but the woman was bored. She was fidgeting with one hand, flipping a pen over and over, it was a common habit with her, that side of her shirt had small marks of ink on it.
When they were down another flight, he peeked over the edge. No one was coming up, so he continued on. The door on the third floor opened right as he got to it, and it took his quick reflexes to override his own natural reaction to strike out. The man was in scrubs, there were flecks of blood on one of his shoes. He looked a little wild and for a moment Sherlock wondered if he was, indeed, the man dispatched to kill him.
"Are you on the Balsis case?" the man asked. According to his badge he was Philip Borman.
"Balsis?" Sherlock replied, pitching his voice a little higher than his usual tones.
"Martin Balsis? I'm sure we consulted a couple of days ago?"
"Ah yes, Martin." Sherlock frowned. "What's going on?"
"Oh, he's rejecting that new treatment we discussed," he said, leaning on the wall. "I was hoping you might have another idea. I'm all out, and I really dread telling his wife there's no hope."
"We'll have to think of something else, Borman." Sherlock gave the man a pat on the shoulder—it seemed to be the correct reaction, because the man pushed himself off the wall with a weary smile. "I'm going to have something to eat, then go back, care to join me?"
"I'd love to, but I'm on my way back up, and they do frown on two meals in the same hour." He forced a chuckle—and again it was the right thing. Borman laughed, slapped him on the back and continued down the stairs. Sherlock watched him until he exited several floors below. His heart was pounding, having Protocol 1138 hanging over his head was making him jumpy.
Mycroft stood in an abandoned building, the wind was whistling through the pipes over his head. The building had a musty smell, musty with a hint of very expensive cologne. He looked at one of the men standing there. "Are you sure it's him?"
"Yes, sir," Myron answered. They were his hand-picked men, Sherlock had his secrets, Mycroft had a few of his own.
"I have to be sure."
"We're sure," the other—Mueller—answered. "He was handed over to us by a reputable source. It seems some of their contacts have gone down in Sherlock's attempts to take him out and they were more than happy to help." He grinned. "And we made sure—with a little encouragement."
"He can't lie with that stuff in him," Myron continued.
"Very good," Mycroft said, he crouched down by the man bound hand and foot. "If you had left John Watson alone, this would never have had to happen."
"You have no idea what I can do," he spat back.
"Your little games would still be intact if you had just left it alone."
"You will regret this."
"I don't think I will, but you will regret ever starting this war with Sherlock, Moriarty. It was a grave mistake."
"His," the man said, his voice dripping with venom.
"No, yours. None of this would have happened if you had left him alone." Mycroft stood. "Wait for my orders."
"Yes, sir," Myron said and yanked Moriarty up. They dragged him across the floor and tossed him, none-to-gently, into the back of a van.
Mycroft pulled out his phone and dialed. "I have Moriarty, sir."
"Very good, Holmes, I shall look forward to questioning him."
"What was that?" the man growled.
"I am offering you a trade."
"You are playing a dangerous game."
"As always." Mycroft smiled. "Moriarty for my brother's life, sir."
There was a long, long pause on the other end. "Once I have Moriarty, I will rescind the Protocol, but I cannot recall the agent that has already been dispatched."
"Understood, sir." Mycroft walked to the van. "Take him to holding."
Mycroft waited until they were gone before he returned to his car. He pulled out his phone and texted Sherlock Need to speak with you.
There was no reply.
Snyder and Fisher were standing in the ICU corridor when Sherlock stepped out of the stairwell. "Has there been another attack?"
"No, sir," Fisher said. "We're here to make sure your back is covered."
Sherlock nodded and headed towards John's room. He was stopped just outside the doors. "The doctor is in with him right now, they asked me to wait out here," Lestrade said.
"Something about pulling the vent."
"What?" Sherlock heard the dangerous note in his own voice as Lestrade took a step back, his hands up in a placating gesture. "What?"
"He said they were pulling the vent," Lestrade repeated, his face pale.
Sherlock's phone beeped, he pulled it out, a text from Mycroft. He shoved the phone back in his pocket. "Mycroft?"
"Yes, he felt it best in the situation," Dr. Seekins said, stepping out of the room. "You…"
Sherlock didn't wait for permission, he shoved past the man and into the room. John's face was gray, his eyes full of pain, still he managed a small smile. He opened his mouth to say something, but no sound came out, and he started coughing. Sherlock hurried to the bed and grabbed the cup sitting on the table. He held it to John's mouth so he could take a sip, then set it back down.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock said, knowing it was his fault that John was conscious right now—and judging by tension in his muscles—in enormous pain.
"No," John croaked. He reached out a hand for Sherlock.
"It's my fault," Sherlock said, taking his hand. It felt cold, and John was trembling. "It's probably why they are withholding meds, so you can talk to me."
"Why?" John's voice was barely there. Sherlock heard Lestrade come into the room behind him. John didn't say anything, but he looked at Lestrade for a moment then met Sherlock's eyes, searching them. "Stop."
"Lestrade, go get the doctor and…"
"No." John tightened his grip. "You." Sherlock was quiet, his heart hammering in his chest. "Greg?" John said softly.
"I'll be right outside."
"John…" Sherlock said surprised at the harsh tone of his own voice.
"No, you… have… to… stop."
Sherlock opened his mouth, closed it and looked away.
"You have to stop," John's voice was beginning to reflect the agony.
"You do," Mycroft said.
Sherlock turned without letting go of John's hand. He knew his brother saw it. "Tell them to give him pain medication."
"I already have, they will be in shortly." Mycroft stepped closer to the bed. "Good to see you, John. He's right, you have to stop."
"We have Moriarty in custody."
"You can't get to him, he won't get out, so stop."
"Mycroft, you know…"
"Sherlock, they have rescinded the protocol except for the single man already dispatched. If you stop this now, that's all we have to deal with. If you continue, I won't be able to stop it again."
"You?" Sherlock said. The tic at the corner of Mycroft's eye was jumping. "Why?"
"I traded them something they wanted."
"Should I ask?"
"I won't tell you," Mycroft said. "But if you stop, it is mostly over. Welcome back, John."
The doctor came in as Mycroft left. Sherlock knew the instant the drugs hit John's system. His hand stopped trembling and he breathed out a sigh of relief. He waited patiently while the doctor checked over John, noting the man's hands—he was left handed—and the stain on one shoe. There was a quiet efficiency about him that seemed to calm John, so Sherlock made no comment about the fact the man smelled of day-old whiskey or that his bald patch had been poorly combed over that morning.
"Will you stop?" John asked, his voice still raspy, his eyes closing.
"There are four…"
"No. Stop, Sherlock," John said, holding his eyes the way he had on the street as Sherlock waited for help to come. "Sherlock?"
He thought about it, listening to the clock ticking behind him. There were still four more left, four more who were personally involved, but the Protocol had been rescinded, John was alive. He could do this for John. "I'll stop."
Sherlock nodded, clearing his throat. He held John's hand until his friend fell asleep, aware of the wetness on his cheeks, but ignoring it. Lestrade was outside the door, no one would come in and he could pull himself back together before he walked back out into the world. Everything was almost okay, everything but the single agent who could not be recalled. He would deal with that later.
Sherlock sank down in the chair beside the bed. The hours since the shooting were catching up with him. He hadn't slept the night before it happened or since. He left his hand on John's bed and fell asleep.
It was good to be home. John sighed happily as he lay on the couch at 221B. Mrs. Hudson was busily making tea and had spent the day popping up and down the stairs to make sure he had everything he needed. She put the hospital staff to shame, and he'd made a point of telling her that on several occasions. She laughed, reminded him she wasn't his nurse, and went to get him more tea.
Sherlock was sitting in his chair reading, occasionally glancing over—as if he expected John to disappear. They had talked about what had happened. John had extracted a little information on what Sherlock had done while he was in the hospital, but he knew there was more. It felt like a gulf between them in some ways, a debt he could never repay. The damage Sherlock had inflicted to get to Moriarty because of the shooting was phenomenal—he had learned from Lestrade about the work he and Mycroft had been doing to keep it quiet.
John knew about Protocol 1138 as well. Sherlock hadn't wanted to tell him, so John had fired off a series of texts to Mycroft. He really didn't feel like they owed Mycroft for covering things up, after all, they had done him favors in the past. After the fourth text, Mycroft had finally called and explained in clipped tones what it was, and what it meant. John was horrified. Even with the order cancelled, there was still an assassin stalking the streets waiting for the right moment to strike. Mycroft had made it very clear there was no way they could recall the agent, that was the whole point of the Protocol.
"Nearly dinner. Chinese?" Sherlock said, closing his book.
"God, yes," John agreed fervently. Hospital food was not good, and the special diet he'd been on was worse.
Sherlock stood and grabbed his coat. "Never mind Mrs. Hudson, I'm going out to get something," he said as footsteps sounded on the stairs.
John would never be sure what it was that alerted him to the danger, but he was pulling his service pistol out from under the pillow as the man reached the top of the stairs. "Sherlock!" he shouted a warning then fired. The man grunted and dropped to his knee, and John noticed the bulk of a bulletproof vest under his shirt. Taking a steadying breath, John fired again before either the man or Sherlock had time to react.
The flat was quiet.
"Vests only work when someone aims at your chest," John said matter-of-factly as Sherlock looked at him. "They don't do any good at all for heads."
Sherlock smiled and pulled out his phone. "Hello, brother dear, John just solved 1138, can you get someone to clean up the mess?" He closed the phone. "So, Chinese. The usual?"
"Yes," John said, smiling back. "Don't let it get cold this time."
"I'm not running back just to keep your satay sauce from congealing." Sherlock pulled on his coat and walked to the couch, the smile dropped from his face and he met John's eyes. Everything he didn't say was there. He cleared his throat. "Thank you, John."
John shook his head, there was no need for thanks, no need for anything. He'd found the letter Sherlock had intended to be read if he'd been killed. He had very carefully put it back, making sure Sherlock would never know it had been touched. "You better hurry, I might die of starvation."
"On my way, Mycroft's people just pulled up. I'll be right back."
"Don't let my sauce congeal."
"I can't change physics." Sherlock grinned, stepping carefully over the body and bounded down the steps and out into the street.
John leaned back against the pillows. It was good to be home again.