Sherlock waited silently outside in the hallway until he heard John and Lestrade's conversation turn from the details of last night's events to more mundane, normal, conversation, before he re-entered the room.
"Dinner is on its way he announced."
"Great! I really am starving," John admitted. He didn't ask Sherlock what had taken so long, but hoped that he hadn't had to go far to find someone.
"I don't doubt it," Sherlock replied. "Did they feed you?"
"No. They weren't very hospitable at all actually. Didn't even offer me a cuppa," John said jokingly. He got the reaction he had wanted, but only from Greg who smiled politely. Sherlock stood stone faced at the end of the bed.
"Well, I'll get going and leave you two to catch up on everything," Lestrade said kindly. As he walked past Sherlock he caught himself from almost patting him on the shoulder – he didn't want to be hit again, but he was finding it incredibly difficult to remember that even the smallest, casual, and unexpected touch could startle and unsettle the great detective.
"Hope you get well soon," He added.
"Thanks," John replied with a nod.
"Good day Detective Inspector," Sherlock added politely.
"So, Lestrade filled me in," John said after Greg had left.
"You're a bloody idiot."
Sherlock was a little taken-aback by the adjective. He had been called a lot of things, but an idiot is one he'd never accept. "That's a little inaccurate, don't you think?"
"Nope, I'm pretty sure it sums up everything nicely."
"To what are you referring?"
"To the stunt you pulled – where you trying to get yourself killed?" John scolded.
"I was trying to save you."
"Yes, well, that's what we have police for isn't it?" John said the rebuke half-heartedly. He knew full-well that if the situation had been reversed he would have done the same.
"The police are useless."
John shook his head like an indulgent parent, and said nothing.
"So how come Mycroft came to the rescue?" John asked after a moment of reflection.
"As per usual, my brother chooses to shroud his actions in mystery rather than to give me the details we both deserve," Sherlock's tone was completely normal, but the bitterness he felt towards his infuriating brother threatened to rise up with each syllable. "From what I could piece together, the group had no idea who I was. They were involved in some plot threatening government security. I assume my brother has done something unforgiveable to their organization – probably attempted to stop them – and they wanted to force his hand."
"That's why they wanted you," John finished, "They thought that by threatening the only living relative – presumably the only close connection he has – he would let them do whatever they wanted?"
"No. I do believe they were going to kill me. There was never a plan to negotiate my survival. It was done purely for cold-blooded revenge. I like villains like that, so straight-forward – incredibly practical. They probably knew that my brother would not negotiate for my life."
John was stunned and appalled by Sherlock's aside. Was that true? Would Mycrfot really not have given into them even to safe his brother's life?
"We were surprised when they moved the meeting time up..." Sherlock added.
"Oh? Why did they do that?"
"Because you'd gotten yourself shot."
"Oh, right, it was completely my fault. So sorry that I inconvenienced everyone," John said sarcastically.
"They needed to have bait and didn't want you to die on them before they shot me."
"It was their mistake though, in the end."
"They moved ahead without waiting for their boss to show up, at least, from what I can gather from Lestrade... According to him, my brother was in a foul mood when they couldn't find a certain body at the scene."
"So they were disorganized," John concluded.
"Yes, they messed up. They fired too soon. They were skittish and ill-prepared and that is probably the only reason Lestrade and I both survived. So you see, your getting shot actually aided in your rescue," he concluded.
John had forgotten to breath. The realization of how close they had both come to death was choking him.
"I'd like to know something," Sherlock added suddenly, "Where did you go two nights ago? Why did you lie to me about going out with Stamford?"
"Oh, right," John had hoped the tpoc wouldn't come up. "I went to the last crime scene."
"To try and help you solve the case."
"But why did you lie to me?"
"I wanted you to get some rest. You didn't need to come with me. I wanted to prove that I could really help... That I could do some of this detective work on my own."
"Why do you constantly feel that you have to prove yourself?" Sherlock asked in confusion.
"I don't know..." John said honestly, "I just... want to be useful. I honestly want to be a help. I often feel that my contributions are worthless because you've already thought of them..."
"But John, you have always been important!" Sherlock scolded, "You have always added a fresh point of view and new ideas – you are my inspiration! I get most of my best ideas from listening to you! Remember? You are a catalyst for inspiring genius."
"Yes, but just once I'd like to think of something you haven't already thought of," he said flatly.
"John, I need you now more than ever. You know that," Sherlock was speaking in earnest and his gentle tone took John by surprise, "I could never solve crimes in this condition alone. You will have to be more brilliant than ever to help me. But we need to work together, on everything. You need to be completely honest with me because if I can't trust you this cannot work."
"I'm sorry," John said quietly, realizing that he had deceived Sherlock twice in a very short time. "I guess I'm not used to being able to lie. I usually get caught."
"Yes, well, unfortunately I can no longer trust myself to doubt your word. And I don't want to. I need you to be the one thing in my life that I don't have to think about. I want to be able to take whatever you say as the gospel truth. Can you do that? Can you promise me that you will be completely honest?"
"I've always been honest with you on the things that really matter," John hedged. Could he swear to never lie to Sherlock again?
"Yes, I know," Sherlock replied, "Your worst deceptions have always been a result of your attempts to protect me. That is what makes them so dangerous. Lying about how good my tea is, or how you don't mind me playing the violin, are relatively harmless – though in those cases completely pointless because my feelings would not be hurt by the fact that you hate how I make tea... But it all needs to stop. I cannot in good conscious continue working with you if I cannot trust you. It is a matter that affects both of our safety."
"Ok," John agreed, "I'll swear to stop lying, if you'll swear to do the same."
"What?" Sherlock asked in surprise.
"I know that you do it to. You have lied to and manipulated me more than once." The most important time being the deception regarding Mrs. Hudson just before Sherlock faked his death. He'd orchestrated both lies to save John's life, but it had greatly damaged their relationship for a time.
"Fine," Sherlock conceded.
"Shake on it?" John asked.
Sherlock offered his hand, and John took it in a firm handshake.
"Now," Sherlock said – all business. "What are we going to do about the hangman?"
"Hangman?" John asked in surprise, "Sherlock, there is no hangman."
"The hangman was the group of criminals who abducted me. It was all a ruse to get to you – though I imagine putting fear into the hearts of every man, woman, and child in London didn't hurt their cause. I heard them talking." John watched as realization dawned on Sherlock's face.
"That's why the fact weren't' adding up..." he muttered to himself, "multiple killers... it was sloppy work, but brilliant!"
John suppressed a groan – Sherlock really could be insensitive. "That's why I was so surprised to see you alive. I knew that you were coming and I couldn't stop you, I thought for sure that..." he couldn't finish his sentence. His relief at finding Sherlock alive had been so great. When he'd opened his tired eyes and Sherlock's face was the first thing he saw he had been so happy and relieved he could have hugged him. He'd sat in silence for a moment just watching the oblivious detective, before the confusion had settled in and he'd begun to ask questions.
"So there is no case," Sherlock said in disappointment.
"Not right now anyway, though to be honest, I'm happy that there isn't. It's going to take a while for this to heal, and I'm sure I'm going to need physio. Maybe we could just relax for a little while and get back to normal."
"Normal is boring," Sherlock retorted, much like a spoiled child.
"Boring can be good sometimes, Sherlock."
I want to thank everyone so much for following this very long story through to its conclusion. Your comments and support have been amazing, and I have really, really appreciated all of you. You've given me the confidence to get back into writing! I have loved writing this story and – though Sherlock and John's adventures are nowhere near complete – I have decided that my plans for them would not fit into this story. Therefore, I am currently writing a sequel, which I have been planning for some time, and which will pick up right where this one has left off and take these wonderful men in a very different direction. So one again, my sincere thanks for your support!