The house looked ordinary from the outside. It was terraced, with a small front garden that was fairly well maintained. Like most of the other houses on the street, its curtains were drawn for privacy, except for those of the front room. If you were to peer inside this room, you would see only a sofa and television with a large pile of DVD's beside it. Essentially it was a typical living room.
The man who lived there also looked ordinary from the outside. He was in his early thirties, with hair that was already beginning to grey. The neighbours liked him well enough – they would chat politely if they saw him on the street, asking him how work was going (he worked in some kind of office, also perfectly normal).
So when police raided the house it was a complete shock to everyone who had ever known either the house or its occupant. Except of course for Sherlock Holmes, who could have told you straight away that something was off. For one thing, the thick, black out curtains were always shut in all of the rooms except for the front one, even in the hot summer. The front room itself was neat and perfect, and never changed. Moreover, the occupant was never in it, except occasionally when he came in to pick up a DVD to watch or to hoover. The television was never, ever turned on.
The police had raided the house after Sherlock had seen the occupant standing outside the cordon of two different murder scenes, wearing disguises that could not fool the detective. The serial killer occupant of this house had committed at least three murders in total – if Sherlock had been invited to the first murder scene this case would have been over far more quickly; lack of forensic evidence or not.
What they found inside the house was certainly not ordinary. In fact, DI Lestrade had never seen anything quite like it. The house was filled with tributes to different killers and terrorist organisations – from Jack the Ripper to the modern day Taliban. There was a KKK costume in the drawer and mannequins and life sized dolls 'killed' in different ways. The occupant had clearly been a fantasist for years before he had got up the nerve to do some real damage. There were guns and knives piled up on one of the beds, along with piles of ammunition.
"This is a good catch Sherlock." Lestrade complimented. He was standing with the consulting detective, Sergeant Sally Donovan and Doctor John Watson.
"It was much too easy. The man was dull – an amateur." Sherlock sighed, "At least his house is mildly interesting." He added, sounding unenthusiastic. Donovan gave him an irritated look. She resisted the urge to comment. Anderson, who was standing across the room, didn't.
"Is that the only reason you're here, because it's 'mildly interesting'?" He sneered, "It's not like we need you anymore."
"I'm here, Anderson, to find the things that you will, undoubtedly, overlook." Sherlock replied, as though it were obvious. Sensing the future confrontation by the expression on Anderson's face, John decided to intervene.
"Sherlock." John asked with exaggerated patience, "What have you found?"
"The DVD's." Sherlock said simply.
"What about them?" Lestrade said with a frown. They were the only normal thing in the house – they weren't even particularly violent films. Sherlock just gave him a look.
"Sherlock, could you take us through why the DVD's are important?" John cut in, still with exaggerated patience, as though he were talking to a small child. He was tired after a bad day at work, and his latest girlfriend had just broken up with him. To be honest, he just needed a cup of tea and a biscuit.
"Why does he need all of those DVD's? We were watching the house and he never used the television." Sherlock elaborated.
"To keep up appearances?" John suggested.
"No. He came in and took certain DVD's out – obviously to watch them. So why didn't he watch them on the television in the living room?" Sherlock prompted.
"Because then people would have been able to see what he was watching." John said with understanding.
"There's something on the DVD's." Donovan, Lestrade and John said in unison.
"Exactly." Sherlock said eagerly. "So let's go and find out what."
The four of them went down into the living room, leaving Anderson upstairs. Sherlock scrutinised the DVD rack, before pulling out 'Finding Nemo' and 'Ice Age'.
"They're a bit young for you." John pointed out, sniggering slightly. God, he really was tired.
"These are the most worn." Sherlock explained, without further prompting necessary. "They were his favourites." He pushed the disc from 'Ice age' into the DVD player by the TV. As he did so Lestrade drew the curtains. He didn't want anyone to see… whatever they were going to see.
The film that came on was grainy and unprofessional, obviously from a hand held camera of some description. It showed a woman, who looked absolutely terrified. The four of them stood in silence as they watched her crying and begging, before she was shot. The scene changed to show another woman, bleeding from the neck, moaning as she died. It carried on, showing different murders in grisly detail. It was the most horrible thing that Donovan and Lestrade had ever seen. Even John found it extremely difficult to watch, and he was far more seasoned in trauma than the others.
After about five minutes, Donovan ejected the disc. Her eyes were red. "I think that's enough. Someone will have to go through it, and all the rest of these discs, back at the station." John and Lestrade didn't object, but Sherlock (who looked unaffected), did.
"This disc is more important." Sherlock explained, gesturing towards 'Finding Nemo', "He watched it more." He placed the disc in the player.
The film that came up was very different from the last one. John recognised the Taliban straight away, and a soldier from the British Army, who was blindfolded and had his arms tied behind his back. Despite that he was still also recognisable to John.
"That's private Keith Peters. Killed after he was taken prisoner by the enemy in Afghanistan. He's about to be shot in the head." John said rather bluntly. He was surprised at how distant he sounded.
"I remember him from the papers." Donovan said, looking confused. "It never said he was taken prisoner, just that he died in a fire fight."
"It was covered up." John explained. "They didn't want the bad image or the crash in morale that would have come with the truth."
"Mycroft's doing, no doubt. I am sure he'll be very interested in the source of this video." Sherlock muttered thoughtfully.
"John? If it's secret, how did you know about it?" Lestrade asked, looking confused.
Before John could say anything, the reason became clear on screen. The camera zoomed out, and three more British soldiers became visible, sitting against a wall. Despite the fact that they were all blindfolded the same way as Keith Peters, one of them was very obviously Captain John Watson.
Donovan gasped, and quickly looked at John. Lestrade also gaped at John. The doctor himself was stony faced, his expression remarkably similar to the one he held on the video. Nobody said anything – no one knew what to say.
On screen subtitles came up as somebody off camera began talking in a foreign dialect.
'If you do not give in to our demands we will kill all of them. We are serious. So you do not doubt, we will show you how serious we truly are.'
On screen the three other soldiers flinched and gasped as a gunshot rang out. Peters had been shot in the head, just as John had said. John felt sick, seeing the whole thing from a new angle. He remembered how loud the shot had seemed, shocking them in their enforced blindness. He remembered the smell of blood and the confusion, the uncertainty of who had been shot and if he was next. More than anything he remembered the anger at how useless he was, unable to fight back as a soldier or help as a doctor.
The camera flickered off, and the scene changed. Now there were only three soldiers, looking unhealthy and slightly bearded, hands tied to metal loops on a wall. There were two masked men standing next to them. John had heavy bruising all down the right hand side of his face, and looked unbelievably pissed off. He was glaring at the man behind the camera as though he was going to kill him.
'You have still not catered to our demands. Negotiations clearly need some encouragement. We are serious, yet you still doubt us.'
One of the masked men untied the soldier on the end. The unfortunate man started shaking with fear. He was pulled to the centre of the room and pushed down onto his knees, a gun held against the back of his head. John started to struggle against his ropes.
"For God's sake, he's got a wife and kid!" John yelled. "Damn it! I'm the bloody Officer here, so you go through me before any of my men! Don't you dare ignore me!" He kicked out at the man nearest him, getting him in the leg and knocking him over. Another man rushed out and whacked John in the stomach with the butt of his gun. Winded, John gasped and curled inwards, but still continued to struggle fruitlessly.
'We will not be lenient. You will meet our demands or they will all die.'
Everyone but Sherlock and John averted their eyes as the man on his knees was shot in the back of the head. In the video, John was shouting streams of profanities at his captors, eyes blazing with raw fury. Then the video cut out.
The next scene was clearly a while later. John was even worse shape, and appeared to be unconscious. Apparently his captors had decided it was easier this way. The other soldier looked practically catatonic. Back in the living room, John flinched as the young man was pulled up and shot in the chest twice, his blood running over the floor and pooling next to John's unmoving body. He had never seen this execution; he had never wanted to see it. The blood on his clothes when he had come around had been enough.
John looked left at Donovan and Lestrade, whose eyes were fixed to the screen. They looked shell-shocked. Sherlock's eyes were also fully focused on the screen. They were all clearly wondering what was going to happen now – they knew Captain Watson had not met the same fate as his friends. Perhaps they thought he was about to be shot in the shoulder.
On screen, John was conscious again, but subdued. He was more bruised than before, and looked weak. He was once again tied to the wall, and was leaning against it like he couldn't support himself.
'This man's death will serve as an example to you. You cannot expect mercy from us. Next time, you will do as we say.'
"You are pretending." Sherlock observed, speaking for the first time since the video had started. He sounded impressed.
"Clearly not well enough, if you can tell." John murmured. He sounded shaken.
On screen John was untied and pulled across the room, to give the cameraman a better view. But before the man holding him could push him onto his knees, John acted. He pushed his elbow back into the man's face and, using the moment of shock, pulled the man's gun out of his grip. He brought it round and shot the second masked man in view, then two people off camera, clearly before they could react. Then he clubbed the man he had elbowed with the butt of his old gun.
Captain Watson sat down, hard, against the floor. He was breathing heavily, staring wide eyed around him. "Oh God." He muttered to himself. "What the hell do I do now?" He laughed quietly to himself, the laughter about as close to sobbing as possible. Then he stood up, pulled ammunition from one of the dead captors, and reloaded. He sighed, and left the room.
The DVD finished. Nobody spoke for what seemed like a long while.
"Right then. Well, you've seen that now…" John felt and sounded uncomfortable. They had, after all, just seen him kill three people, as well as a part of his life that he kept very private.
"Did Mycroft attempt to reason with them?" Sherlock sounded icy.
"It's war, Sherlock. You can't lose the war for a few soldier lives." John said wearily. "You don't need to shout at him. He isn't the entire British government."
"With a cover up like that it was most definitely Mycroft on this case." Sherlock said shortly, "I can't believe Mycroft was involved, and neither of you told me!"
"Not everything is your business Sherlock!" John snapped.
"You can talk about this with my brother but not me?" Sherlock said sharply. John didn't answer, which Sherlock knew was a confirmation.
"You must have known that I knew about this. But I thought you didn't talk about it with anybody – so I didn't ask. Then I find out Mycroft is involved!" Sherlock retorted, his voice harsh. John could tell he was hurt at the lack of trust. This wound John up even more, because it was just so Sherlock to make everything about him.
"We discussed it once – I think he just wanted to see if I was friends with you as part of an elaborate revenge plan against him. I told him I didn't blame him, and that was it. We also talked about places where you like to hide your drugs at the same time! Would you like me to tell you everything we ever say to each other?" John countered. "It's not like I picked Mycroft to be involved – with his quite frankly astonishing lack of empathy, which rivals even your shortage, he would have been my last choice!" After this outburst Sherlock looked slightly chastised.
"You're right John, I'm sorry. Please forgive me." Sherlock said in his 'emotion' voice. While he didn't sound completely genuine, John appreciated the effort. He rolled his eyes.
"It's ok, Sherlock."
"I'm going to call my dear brother. I'll see you back at the flat." Sherlock said, voice low and dangerous. John was really glad he wasn't Mycroft right now.
Donovan and Lestrade had been staring at John for the entire confrontation. They both felt sick.
"Let's go to the pub." John said quietly, using his calming doctor voice. He really didn't want anyone other than him to have nightmares about his past, and Donovan looked like she was about to turn hysterical. The first murder tape had been bad enough, but seeing violence of such an extreme nature with someone you knew made it much more intense and prevented any emotional distance.
John drove them to the pub in silence. Neither Sally nor Lestrade had said anything since the video. John parked and the three of them walked inside, and ordered drinks. It was still early, so the place was quiet. They went outside so they wouldn't be overheard. John drank his beer quickly – while it wasn't a cup of tea it was as good as.
Sally spoke first. "What happened?"
"We were ambushed. The four of us were cut off and surrounded. But they didn't want to kill us. To this day I don't know what they wanted. To be honest, I don't want to know; it would trivialise the whole thing somehow." John started. He paused, not quite sure if he could carry on.
"How long?" Sally prompted.
"We were there for three weeks. Well, I was. Keith only made it to three days." John sighed, "After he died, we all sort of lost it. Nick, the second guy you saw, he just cried a lot – talked about his son a fair bit too. James, he was the third, he just blanked everything out and didn't speak. I, well, I just got angry."
"How did you get all bruised up in the Video? None of the others were hurt." Lestrade questioned, uncertainly.
"I told you I got angry. I tried to attack one of our captors; I knew that it was pointless, but I just got mad, I suppose. Afterwards they knocked me around a fair bit. But it was fine, because it meant they left the others alone." John explained, looking at the floor. "This isn't something I ever really talk about. It was covered up, and to be honest it makes me uncomfortable. I prefer to just shut it out."
"Have you never gone through it all?" Lestrade probed, looking concerned.
"I did, during my debrief. But presumably they had the camera footage to back up my story and they only got me to go through it once." John was about to carry on, when it started to rain gently. He sighed. Today really wasn't going that well.
"Let's go back to my place." Sally suggested. "It's freezing out here and I need something stronger than beer. It's just round the corner from here – five minutes' walk." Nobody objected, so the three of them quickly walked to Donovan's flat. Once inside, Sally poured them all Whiskey, her hand shaking slightly. While John was not usually a drinker, he drank his quickly, hoping it would help him to pour the story out. He noticed that both Donovan and Lestrade had done the same. Sally smiled weakly and poured them all another, larger glass.
John sighed and started to talk again. "After Nick died, James and I were both certain we were going to die. Rescue wasn't feasible, nor was the idea of any form of bargain. When you think you're finished, you act differently. It's difficult to explain what it's like, knowing you could be shot in the head at any moment. They killed the others first because I was the most important – both an officer and a doctor. When it was just me left, I just decided that there was no point giving in without a fight. I pretended to be more injured than I was, and… well you saw what happened next. After that I took a gun and shot my way out, grabbed a mobile. Walked across the mountains until I got reception and called in help."
"God. I'm sorry." Sally said, pouring them more whiskey.
"Don't be. It wasn't your fault, it was mine." John said with a bitter half-smile.
"You can't honestly believe that." Lestrade said, staring at John.
"I was in charge. If I'd acted sooner, the others might not have died. As an officer they were my responsibility." John explained. Neither Sally nor Lestrade knew how to respond to that.
"What was all that about Mycroft?" Lestrade finally asked.
"A large scale hostage situation and possible propaganda disaster – of course Mycroft was involved. That's why Sherlock got so upset, I think."
"He wasn't upset, he was just being selfish." Sally interjected.
"Him being upset about the fact that I hadn't told him is selfish." John pointed out.
"Hang on. Didn't you get shot, or something?" Lestrade asked with a frown.
"In the shoulder, yeah. But that was later and not related to this. After I got back, and had a couple of weeks of leave I was cleared for duty again."
"They sent you back to Afghanistan after that?" Donovan was horrified.
"They didn't send me. I wanted to go. I said I was fine, and I passed all relevant psychological and physical tests. Since nobody really knew what had happened, bar a few important people, it didn't seem like an unreasonable. I was a special case, so I suppose somebody up top agreed I could go back." John rationalised, "It's not a decision I regret. I still miss the army; when you're out there, you're part of something bigger. Things just aren't about you."
All three of them drank again.
"What was it like? Killing them all afterwards?" Lestrade asked, more comfortable asking questions thanks to the alcohol.
"Elbowing that guy in the face was one of the most satisfying moments of my life." John said with a slight smile, his voice now beginning to get a little slurred. "Killing them not so much. I don't think killing can ever be a good thing – but I can't say I felt bad about it."
The three of them looked at each other and cracked up, laughing at the absurdity of the whole situation. It became slightly hysterical, until eventually they managed to calm down.
"You are a bloody good shot!" Lestrade complimented. The whiskey had made them all feel at ease, if not slightly giggly.
"It wasn't really a fair competition. None of them were particularly competent at short range, and none of the other people in the compound came to investigate because they were expecting the gunshots." John admitted.
"I can't believe you went back to Afghanistan after that." Lestrade muttered. "Was it for revenge or something?"
"No. I think I got enough revenge…" John pointed out, "Now can we talk about something else. I don't want you to see me differently, and this conversation is hardly cheerful."
"We could play cards…" Lestrade suggested.
Five hours later, John's cab pulled up at 221b Baker Street, and he got out. He made his way up the stairs slightly haphazardly, a great deal more Whiskey having been consumed during cards. He hadn't been this drunk for a long time.
"John. You're back and you are intoxicated." Sherlock observed – although, admittedly, it wasn't a difficult deduction. He was standing by the window, having stayed up to speak to John. "How was Lestrade's flat?" For once, John didn't ask for an explanation – he just didn't care how Sherlock knew.
"Did you talk to Mycroft?"
"Extensively." Sherlock said with a slight smirk.
"I don't think I want to know." John replied, honestly.
"Do you want to talk about… what happened?" Sherlock said, rather woodenly. John raised his eyebrows. "Mycroft told me to ask after I calmed down." Sherlock admitted, "He likes to give me social advice – it's just another way for him to tell me what to do. But it is a convention, is it not."
"There's not much to tell. You saw the video." John said slowly. Sherlock was, strangely, trying to be nice, and he didn't want to spoil it.
"Being in that situation was where you got your need for adrenaline, wasn't it." Sherlock said, "I mean, it was there before, obvious by your career choice – but not as prominent. Now you like to live in the moment, you don't dwell on the past at all if possible. You rarely get afraid for yourself, mostly for others. You find release in helping others like you couldn't help those who died. You feel responsible for their deaths, by some very flawed logic."
"How is it flawed?" John asked with a frown.
"You think it was your responsibility to keep your men safe as the officer of the group, but since they died you failed. Yet you followed orders well – there was no way you could have known that there would be the ambush, and once you were captured you resisted on multiple occasions to the best of your ability. You protected your men from any harm through making yourself a deliberate target; none of them were beaten or tortured, while the same could not be said for you. What you have is typical survivors guilt; another reason why you throw yourself into dangerous situations. You don't want to die, but, deep down, you think you deserve it." Sherlock rationalised.
John opened his mouth to say something, realised he didn't have a response and promptly shut it.
"Go to bed John." Sherlock said, not unkindly. "Sleep it off."
John followed instructions, still thinking about what Sherlock had said. The blunt, honest way in which Sherlock had essentially mocked John's sense of responsibility for what had happened had somehow released him. He smiled to himself. Sherlock was never wrong, and he had told him it wasn't his fault. John closed his eyes, and slept peacefully for the first time in many years. He didn't dream of Afghanistan.
Please, please leave a review telling me what you thought about this – it would be really appreciated! I was planning on leaving this as a one shot, but if you want I could extend it… Just tell me in the review if you think that's a good idea or not. Anyway, thanks loads, and I hope you liked this story.