John couldn't help it. He rolled back away from the torture-chair in the middle of the room without even thinking—it was purely instinct.
Moriarty was obviously delighted, because he laughed. "Oh, Johnny boy, if you could see your face! And just think, it's only going to get better!"
He snapped his fingers, as if expecting a horde of henchmen to come barreling into the room, ready to manhandle John into the monstrosity … but none came. A look of mild displeasure crossed the man's face as he muttered, "It's so hard to find good help," and snapped again.
Still, nothing happened and Moriarty wheeled around to glare at the curtain. "That means NOW, you cretins!" he screamed.
Then, he slapped his hand to his neck and spun, appalled, to stare at Sherlock holding a tranq gun and then dropped to the floor, unconscious.
John breathed a huge sigh of relief and looked behind Sherlock. "About time. I thought you were going to let him actually put me in that bloody thing."
He looked at Sherlock, who beamed as John relaxed that extra bit of tension to reveal Anthea and several other of Mycroft's minions who had invisibly spread throughout the room to take down Moriarty's men.
"John, you're brilliant," Sherlock told him. "However did you manage to fool him into thinking you were injured?"
John just glared at him. "That's because I am, you idiot. Though luckily, my leg's not actually broken. We just needed the chair to carry the weapons since we were pretty sure he'd have some kind of security. Believe me, the concussion and contusions are entirely real."
John wiped his hand down his face and grimaced at the hint of blood on his hands. His headache was back and had brought a nosebleed along for good measure. Obviously facing down a madman while hiding a cadre of secret agents on top of a brand-new concussion hadn't been the best idea.
Anthea had released Sherlock from his handcuffs and was tapping into her Blackberry as the rest of the team released the hostages and took Moriarty and his men into custody. Sherlock's attention was focused on John. "I didn't mean for … why didn't you look for cars before you crossed the street?"
John closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples, trying to will the headache away. "Because I was trying to save my best friend from being an idiot and giving himself up to the madman who tried to kill him a week ago?"
"He wasn't trying to kill me, John. I was just keeping you safe."
"Right, so safe I was almost flattened by a car. It seems to me I'm in more danger when you try to keep me out of it, Sherlock, than when you tell me what's going on." Sherlock really was an idiot, he thought, but he softened at the stricken look on the man's face. "Don't worry, Sherlock. It's nothing a hot bath and a good night's sleep won't mostly fix. I just need to get rid of this headache."
Sherlock made a humming noise and then asked, "Why did you have me shoot Moriarty?"
"Didn't you want to?" John kept his hand over his eyes, but his lips curved. "Seriously, we didn't want him to know about … this. We figured it was best if he thought you'd concealed the gun and his goons had missed it, so we smuggled it in for you. It might not matter, but … why show our cards?"
Another noncommittal noise and then Sherlock stepped closer and said, "You went to Mycroft?"
John opened his eyes, startled when he saw how close Sherlock was, leaning forward and watching him intently. "No, his people were driving the ambulance that scraped me off the street. I didn't have much of a choice—though we agreed that it was probably best if we worked together to get you back."
He couldn't help another smile at the grimace on Sherlock's face, and added, "He seems to think that he won the bet, though."
Sherlock's eyebrows rose. "Indeed? It's only 10:00. It seems to me we're more than halfway there."
John just stared at him. "You're kidding? Now? I'm in a wheelchair, Sherlock, and have the mother of all headaches. I can't do this for another nine hours."
"Funny, I thought the army taught tenacity," Sherlock said with a sniff. "But, of course, if you want to give up and start working for Mycroft…"
"I didn't say that, Sherlock. I just pointed out that I'm not at my best right now."
Sherlock patted him on the shoulder as he walked around the back of the chair. "No worries, John. Just help me get out of sight until we're safely out of the building and I'll do the rest."
Sherlock pushed John's chair down the hallway and pressed the call button for the lift. "Mycroft has men downstairs, I'm sure?"
John nodded. "I don't think we're going to be able to just walk away, Sherlock. And obviously some of them know about my gift—they'll be suspicious if the lift comes down empty."
"Of course. You said your leg isn't broken. Can you walk on it?" Sherlock's voice was intent.
"Yes, but badly," said John. "The car grazed my hip so I'm really not very mobile. I had a cane back at the office, it should be on the chair. The cast comes off, though—and I've got my other shoe stashed here somewhere."
Sherlock looked down at the chair. "Ah, excellent. They're right here, under the seat. Good." The lift chimed and he pushed John's chair through the doors. "Okay, John. Now would be a good time."
John nodded and after a few seconds said, "Okay," and tried not to wince as Sherlock pushed him back into the hallway just as Anthea came bustling toward them, barely missing the doors as they closed.
They stood there quietly as she punched at the lift button and cursed, punching at her Blackberry. It was a curious sensation, Sherlock thought, knowing she was looking for them when they were right in front of her. Knowing that any break in John's concentration would give them away.
When the next lift arrived, they silently slid in beside Anthea and rode down to the ground floor to find modified chaos as Mycroft's people milled about. "According to the GPS on their mobiles, they are still in the building," she said aloud, eyes on her mobile.
Sherlock and John exchanged glances and Sherlock started pushing John toward the back of the lobby, farther into the building. He maneuvered down the hallway and into an empty office with a sense of relief "Turn your…"
"…Mobile off. Yes, I know," said John, panting a bit from the strain as Sherlock scanned the room. John was clearly near exhaustion. And was that … traces of blood at his nose. A nosebleed on top of a concussion and whatever effort it took to use his gift? That could not be good. He cursed to himself. "Take a few minutes to catch your breath, then tell me which you think is better—front door or back—while I get this cast off."
"Oh God, yes, please," said John. "I've got more paracetamol in my pocket, too, though the anti-inflammatory from earlier is obviously wearing off." He heaved a sigh of relief as Sherlock peeled off the fake cast and slid his shoe on. "I'm clearly not as young as I used to be."
"Even twenty year-olds lose when they try to fight automobiles, John," Sherlock said with a quick smile as he tied the laces.
"I'll try to remember that," John said. "Just be glad it wasn't a bus."
Sherlock couldn't keep the horror from his face, but John just grinned tiredly at him, rubbing his temples again. "It's not usually this hard," John said apologetically.
"You're not usually concussed and exhausted, working on too little sleep after being drugged unconscious, either," Sherlock told him. "Have you eaten at all?"
"At Mycroft's. I figured the food had to be safe if he wanted my help to find you."
"He's so predictable," Sherlock said
John just shook his head. "I swear, this childish one-ups-manship between the two of you is going to be the death of me. So—exit strategy. Won't a back alley be harder with a wheelchair?"
"It depends on the alley. On the other hand, they seldom have CCTV cameras."
"Most alleys aren't behind Jim Moriarty's hide-out. I would assume there are plenty of cameras," John pointed out, and Sherlock had to agree.
"Right, front door then. I'm sure dear Jim left lots of security measures, so we're probably best leaving along with Mycroft's people. Did Mycroft tumble to your tricking the CCTV cameras?"
John shrugged. "He didn't say anything, but … it's Mycroft."
Sherlock grimaced. If Mycroft was involved in planning this, he probably knew far more about John's talents than they would like. "Okay, first order of business is to get out of the building and then find transportation."
"Not a taxi?"
"No, Mycroft knows I like taxis. He'll suspect that and send one or more with his drivers to cruise the streets."
John sagged in his chair, face pale. "Christ, it's been too long a day. All I really want to do is go home and sleep for about twenty hours."
Sherlock gave him a long, measuring look. The point of this entire day had been to keep John safe, yet he didn't think he'd ever seen his friend look so drained. John was right, too—between them, he and Mycroft (not to mention Moriarty) had cost John far too much. To hell with Mycroft and his bet. "So, let's make that happen. It's the least I can do for my blogger."
Sherlock looked up as the quiet tap came on the door, smiling to himself as he stood and walked quietly to the door.
"You're half hour early, Mycroft," he greeted his brother. "You're alone, I trust? No men with nets or tranq guns waiting on the pavement?"
Mycroft gave him a measuring look with one eyebrow raised, but only said, "I'm glad to see your latest confrontation with Moriarty led to no lasting harm."
"None at all," Sherlock said, gesturing toward the teapot. "My compliments on your raid. It wasn't nearly as inefficient as they usually are."
He watched as Mycroft glanced into one of the mugs on the counter and made a face, but poured some tea anyway. Making more of an effort than usual, then. "Please, I believe you're confusing my men with the Met. My people are very efficient."
"When you have John's help, at least," Sherlock said, sitting in his chair. "And don't think I'm going to let you wake him up just so you can pretend to win this so-called wager."
"I did win, brother," Mycroft told him.
"Because you found him unconscious after being hit by a car? Hardly fair play, Mycroft."
Mycroft just smiled at him and sipped gingerly at his tea. "No, Sherlock, it just seemed better than letting Moriarty near him. The crime scene was so obviously bait for the two of you—neither of you would have been safe. Nevertheless, you needn't worry. This morning's visit is entirely social. I had several opportunities to declare this wager over, after all. Did you really think I would not detect your coming back to 221B last night?"
Sherlock pulled his feet up on his chair, trying not to think of how exhausted John had been as he helped him up the stairs last night, barely clinging to consciousness. "I assumed you would, but John wanted to sleep in his own bed last night and it was the least I could do. He'd suffered enough on our behalf for one day, don't you think?"
"I agree. He's indefatigable in your defence, Sherlock. Even barely able to stand yesterday—dripping blood on my Axminster carpet, I might add—he insisted on helping. I was really quite moved."
A nod. "He has that effect. He's unassuming, but a force of nature—like an oncoming flood. It might not look dramatic on the surface, but it's inexorable. He just looks calm and placid." He glared at his brother. "You're not getting him, you know."
"Oh, I know. I never expected I would," Mycroft said with another hesitant taste of his cup. "This is dreadful, you know."
"Why do you think I let John make the tea?" Sherlock asked. "So this whole thing was a test?"
Mycroft gave a small shrug. "Well, Moriarty's interference was unexpected—as was the car that sideswiped Dr. Watson. Do you know, for once when a driver claims the victim 'came out of nowhere' and that she didn't see him, I actually believe her? It wasn't good of you, Sherlock, to put him in that position."
"To try to keep him out of Moriarty's hands again? He barely survived the last time, Mycroft. And did you see what Moriarty had planned for him?"
"I did. Not much for subtlety, is he?"
Sherlock put down his cup with a splash. "That's all you can say? That man plans to hurt John."
"But we won't let that happen, will we? Like you said, Sherlock, this was a test. I needed to know what John was capable of, yes, but I also needed to know how far you would go for each other. Oh, I confess that I would indeed enjoy having him in my employ—his strategy for hiding the team to get you out last night was brilliant—but I'm not fool enough to tear him away from you. I saw his loyalty the night I met him and it's only grown stronger in the months since."
Mycroft looked across at his brother. "No, Sherlock, what I needed to see was how loyal you were in return. It's really quite remarkable, you know—seeing you show real concern for someone. Though, you know that caring is a weakness, brother."
"So you say, and yet…" Sherlock paused, searching for the right words. "I find that he adds … savor … to life that was missing before. I had never understood the concept of sharing making things … more."
Another moue. "We've never been good at sharing, you and I."
"No. Nor is that likely to change any time soon." Sherlock sipped at his tea and grimaced. "This really is terrible. I wonder how much longer he's going to sleep."
"Not as long as I'd like, but I thought if my future was being discussed, I should be here," John said from the doorway. "You didn't try making tea again, did you, Sherlock? I swear, for a genius, you'd think you could grasp the concept of brewing a cuppa."
John walked stiffly through the room and into the kitchen without another word. He swallowed two paracetamol and then filled the kettle and rinsed out the teapot, measuring tea leaves before limping back and leaning on the door jamb. "And it might only be 7:20, Mycroft, but don't get any ideas about taking me with you. Not if you want a decent cup of tea."
A small smile. "I wouldn't dream of it, John, and I would very much appreciate a decent cup. How are you feeling this morning?"
"Stiff all over, but my head feels almost normal, so … as good as can be expected after being hit by a car." He turned back as the kettle clicked off and then asked, "What were you two saying about sharing? Because if you're talking about me…?"
"Not to worry, John," Mycroft said. "I was saying I was willing to count our wager as a draw since the three of us work better as a team rather than rivals."
"So you don't want me to work for you, then?" John asked with his disbelief clear.
"Only if you want to, Dr. Watson," Mycroft told him. "Though as I said earlier, I would be grateful if you would consider occasionally lending your talents on a freelance basis. Despite your injuries, you were quite helpful last night. I can only wonder what you could do had you been unharmed."
John gave a long, slow smile. "And don't forget—I started yesterday with too little sleep and a hangover from your tea the night before. You haven't seen me at my best yet."
Sherlock was delighted to see Mycroft blink, suddenly uncertain, and then practically flinch when John handed him a cup of tea. "Don't worry, I promise there are no pharmaceuticals in there. Just milk and sugar."
Mycroft took the cup gingerly. "Yes, yes of course," he said, gearing himself up for a sip.
Recognizing the mug he liked to mix his chemicals in, Sherlock met John's eyes across the room, and waited.
NOTE: Coming soon-the sequel: "Still Invisible." As if things weren't complicated enough, here comes Irene Adler...