Characters: Sherlock, John, Sarah Sawyer, Harry Watson, Mycroft, Lestrade, Moriarty
Words: ~15,000 [in two parts]
Beta: The amazing pocky_slash, who was moving house and still wanted to edit it. That is friendship, right there.
Summary: A fourth episode, beginning where the third ended. In which Sherlock and John play the cards dealt to them; featuring running, puzzles, running, a card game analogy, and more running.
Edit: Now available as a podfic, read by the incredibly talented pandarus. Click here for the iTunes audiobook, which now includes the coda, The Ten Gunmen. Click here for the mp3, which is standalone. Both links lead to their respective pages on the Jinjurly audiofic archive.
“You can’t be allowed to continue. You just can’t. I would try to convince you, but -- everything I have to say has already crossed your mind!”
“Probably my answer has crossed yours.”
John Watson sat in the half-dark of the swimming pool and listened to the whine of panic in his ears. There were ten eternal seconds to watch his gun at the end of Sherlock’s arm, to trace the trajectory from the muzzle to the bomb and back again; sure aim, who could miss? An absolutely clear shot, completely vital if they were going to end this here. The pinpoints of red light from the hidden gunmen crossed and jagged on Sherlock’s back, and John took one deep breath and waited for the blast to come, refusing to look at Moriarty’s smug expression. If this was his last moment, it wasn’t going to be marred by that bastard.
The shot came.
And he was up, off of the ground, Sherlock gripping his arm and pulling him, running until John found his own legs and he pushed faster, with the bang alarmingly loud and still rattling between his ears, echoing off of the pool walls. They slipped through wet patches and kept going, emerging into the confusion of streetlights and taxis and people, running hard, every sound whited out by the amplified gunshot except for the loud pounding of his heart. They kept moving, kept sprinting through the streets, dodging into alleys, Sherlock leading every turn, climbing up fire escapes and jumping narrow gaps between rooftops, flying down a set of emergency stairs --
And, finally, ending up in a tunnel, alone, in the dark.
John leaned against the curved stone wall of the tunnel and pulled air into his lungs, coughed it out again, chest leaving, legs burning and nearly buckling beneath him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sherlock bent over his knees, gasping.
“It’s a good thing you’re a crap shot,” John managed after a minute, turning to slide down the wall of the tunnel and sit on the damp ground.
“I’m an excellent shot,” Sherlock wheezed, still bent at the waist. “I was trying to miss.”
“Then it’s a wonder we aren’t dead.”
Sherlock straightened up. “I said I’m an excellent shot.”
John laughed, half-hysterical. “Yeah? The Golem was, what, seven, eight feet tall? Broad-shouldered? And you couldn’t hit him from a few meters?”
“It was dark,” Sherlock said, waving a hand and checking the gun. “Loud. I’d just been strangled half to death.”
John shook his head. He rubbed both hands through his hair. “What did you do back there?”
Sherlock dropped the magazine out of the gun. “I fired the shot next to the bomb,” he said. “While Moriarty and the men with the guns were distracted by the certainty that they were quite dead, I pulled you out.” He pushed the magazine back in with a click. “No need to thank me, all part of the plan.” He held the gun out to John, butt-first.
John took it. “Pardon me if I’m not convinced that was the plan. Why the look?”
“The look! The ‘what do you think’ look before you pointed the gun at the bomb.”
“An act,” Sherlock said simply, crossing his arms. He looked amused. “Although apparently not for you. This makes twice tonight you’ve been willing to die for the greater good. What do they teach you in the army?”
John sighed and held up a hand. Sherlock took it and pulled him to his feet. Then he smiled slightly.
“I may have missed by a few centimeters.”
John stuffed the gun into the back of his trousers. “Not an act, then.”
“I take my chances as they’re given to me.” Sherlock started off down the tunnel. “Come along, Dr. Watson. There’s a Detective Inspector just waiting to hear about our eventful evening.”
John started after him. Their shadows stretched tall along the curvature of the stone walls, and John watched them move, wondering what was next. This was only a temporary reprieve. If Moriarty wanted them dead, then he wasn’t going to stop until it happened. He didn’t seem the type to give up, particularly not on two people who continued to give him so much trouble. John could tell that Sherlock was thinking the same; he was quiet, walking ahead, head down and not looking where he was going.
There was a chime from Sherlock’s pocket when he was halfway down the tunnel. He stopped, then reached in and pulled it out to look at the text message.
“What is it?” John called. He hurried to where Sherlock was standing, and Sherlock turned to him. He held the phone out to him, the screen washing both of their faces blue in the dark.
Watch the news. --M
“Watch the ne-- Hey!” Sherlock was already running down through the tunnel, off towards the road. John chased after him, stumbling onto the pavement amid groups of people coming out of the pubs and the late-night shops, girls in clothing inappropriate for the cold, tourists looking at maps and glancing at him fearfully. Sherlock’s head and shoulders were hurrying away to the right, and John followed, skirting drunken college students and teenagers with headphones plugged into their ears, entirely oblivious to the world around them. John wondered how Sherlock managed to easily avoid crashing into anyone as he accidentally knocked a packet of crisps out of some poor bloke’s hands. He apologized while moving and saw Sherlock duck into an all-night sandwich shop. He caught the door, making the bells chime loud, and stood in the doorway, breathing hard.
Sherlock had the remote control to the television hanging above the counter and was flipping through the channels, the man at the cash register staring at him, along with most of the patrons.
“What do you think you’re bloody doing?” the man asked, Welsh vowels rounding out the words. He was so surprised that someone would just storm into his shop and start changing the channel on his television that he failed to notice a customer trying to pay him for their meal.
“Turning on the news,” Sherlock murmured. “You don’t mind, do you? Of course not.”
“There’s Top Gear on! I was watching that!”
“It’s a repeat, I’m sure you’ll see it again -- aha!” He stopped. The BBC News watermark floated in the bottom left corner of the screen. Sherlock turned up the volume.
”--deemed responsible for the series of abductions taking place over the last several days. New evidence has been delivered to New Scotland Yard clearly identifying two major suspects in the kidnappings of at least three people, including a ten year old boy.”
And then they flashed up two photographs. John’s stomach pooled at the level of his shoes. It was them -- him and Sherlock. His was a formal military photograph, standing at attention in uniform with his cap in the crook of his elbow. He looked distant. Angry. The perfect photograph for a wanted man. Sherlock’s was much less formal, a random snap caught at a crime scene, face smoothed with the neutral expression he took on when dealing with the police. Their names were below the photographs. The anchor continued over them:
”Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are considered armed and highly dangerous. Any sightings of these individuals should be reported immediately to New Scotland Yard, at the number at the bottom of the screen, or by dialing emergency services at 999.”
The man behind the counter was now pointing at the screen. “That’s you two.” He looked frightened, and he wasn’t alone. Other customers were now watching them with fear, or pulling their mobiles from pockets and purses and dialing while the number was still on the screen.
John grabbed Sherlock’s arm. “Come on,” he said. He pulled Sherlock to get him moving, and they hurried out of the shop and onto the street, then into an alleyway.
“He gave them false information,” Sherlock said. He was gesturing angrily in the air. “Damn it, John. He gave them false information to make it that much harder for us move around. They’ll be looking for us, now.” He drew a hand through his hair, pacing back and forth across the pavement in short strides. “All right,” he said. “All right.” He stopped. He looked at John.
“Would Sarah mind if we came round for tea?”
“We could be putting her in danger. I don’t know why I let you drag her into this.”
“I’m not dragging her. She seemed perfectly willing on the phone.”
They were in Sarah’s building, walking down the hall toward her flat, voices hushed with the automatic reverence of one o’clock in the morning. The bright hall lights hurt John’s eyes as they went, a dramatic difference from the dark outside, and he squinted against them. “How do you even know where she lives?”
“Simple,” Sherlock said. He rapped twice on Sarah’s door. “I looked in your address book.”
“My personal address book.”
“It isn’t personal if you leave it out.”
The door opened, and Sarah stood framed in the doorway, looking a bit frazzled. She stepped back to let them come in. “I didn’t know what to think when John didn’t turn up,” she said, watching as Sherlock swept into the flat and looked around with an appraising eye. “Then I saw the news. What’s going on?”
John shook his head, closing the door. “It’s dangerous to tell you,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Sarah seemed about to argue when Sherlock popped his head in from the lounge. “Some tea would be lovely,” he said. He had his mobile pressed to his ear. “Maybe some biscuits. Ah, Lestrade! What on Earth do you think you’re doing?” He walked out of view.
Sarah looked at John, her lips twitching with a smile. “I’ll get the tea, then, I suppose.” She turned to go to the kitchen, but John caught her hand. She looked back at him, and he squeezed it gently. She smiled, shook her head, and kept going.
In the lounge, John found Sherlock pacing with the mobile. “I don’t care, Lestrade. You being on our side hardly helps when all of Great Britain is prepared to lynch us without a moment’s notice.” He listened, still pacing. John sat on the sofa and tilted his head back, closing his eyes and relaxing for the first time in hours, blocking Sherlock out.
He opened his eyes and looked over when he felt the seat shift and watched Sherlock settle himself on the arm of the sofa, his feet on the cushion, then drop the phone into his pocket. “Well,” Sherlock said, resting his arms across his knees, “Lestrade is useless. The information was delivered to Scotland Yard at about ten this evening, just as you were being kidnapped by our mutual friend. How was that, by the way? I never asked.”
“Terrible, thanks. What are they claiming?”
Sherlock waved a hand. “They have evidence connecting you and I to the scenes of crime and to the explosives used to make the bombs. Lestrade wouldn’t go into any more detail. He doesn’t believe a word of it, obviously, but the others--” Sherlock sniffed. “Well, I never liked them anyway.”
John glanced toward the kitchen. “Is it safe, being here? It isn’t quite a secret that I’m dating Sarah.”
Sherlock shrugged. “If his network is as wide as he’d like us to believe, he’ll be able to find us anywhere. This is safer than Baker Street, at the very least. We wouldn’t want to put Mrs. Hudson in danger, would we?”
“But my girlfriend? That’s perfectly acceptable?”
“Really, John, you should try to refocus your priorities.”
John sat back and sighed at the ceiling. “At least with you here I may be able to sleep in the bed for once.”
“There’s always the lilo.”
Sarah came in from the kitchen, carrying a tray with three cups of tea and a plate of biscuits. She walked over and set it on the coffee table. “Sorry it isn’t a better spread,” she said, sitting in an armchair across from the sofa and tucking her feet up. “I really wasn’t expecting anyone but John tonight.”
John shook his head, smiling. “It’s fine,” he said. He leaned forward to take one of the cups. “We were the ones who dropped in unannounced. And possibly brought death and destruction to your door,” he added in a mutter, glancing sideways at Sherlock before lifting his tea.
Sherlock reached out his arm to stop John from bringing the cup any higher.
“How interesting,” he said.
John looked at him. “What?”
Sherlock was peering at the cup. “Fine granules of a white crystalline substance clinging to the rim.” He took it out of John’s hands and peered closer, slipping his small magnifying lens out of his pocket and sliding it open with one hand. “And some floating at the surface, as well. Not very carefully dissolved.”
“Sugar,” Sarah said. She was staring at him, uncomprehending. “I must not have stirred enough.”
“What sort of tea is this, Sarah?” Sherlock asked, bringing the cup right up to his eyes.
“It’s Earl Grey,” Sarah said. “I really don’t know what you’re--”
“Sherlock, really,” John said. “What’s the problem?”
“She’s trying to poison you,” Sherlock said softly.
John sat up straight. “What?”
“And not just you.” Sherlock set John’s cup down and picked up the other one. “She put it in mine, too. Cyanide. Powdered. Can’t you smell it?” He held the cup out to John. “Bitter almonds. Pleasant before you die, I’m sure.”
Sarah watched them, one hand fluttering at the base of her throat. “Why would I try to poison you?”
Sherlock peered back at her, his head tilted with interest. “Maybe it’s because of that scar.” She looked politely puzzled, so he continued. “The one there, on your chin. Almost hidden by your jaw, isn’t it? Virtually undetectable in most lights. Good thing I enjoy detecting the undetectable, eh?” He paused. “Well. Good thing for me.”
John looked back and forth between them. “Would someone,” he said hotly, “please explain what is happening here?”
Sarah stood out of her chair. Her hands were in fists at her sides, her mouth pulled tightly into an angry frown. She dropped the act. “I don’t know how you do it,” she said, her voice trembling with rage, “but I honestly wish you wouldn’t.”
John watched as Sherlock turned to him. “She was a trap,” he said. “A very elaborate, very believable trap. And we fell right into it.” He nodded his head toward Sarah. “That scar on her jaw indicates an abusive relationship in her past, most probably a lover, male, one or two heads taller than she is. The jagged edges of the scar suggest a punch or a back-handed slap from a hand with a jeweled ring on it, maybe something from a team or a university. The jewel tore the skin along her jaw, leaving her with a very small, very important mark. When was it, Sarah,” Sherlock asked, turning to look at her, “that you hired Moriarty to help you kill your abusive boyfriend?”
Sarah cocked the gun in her hands. “Two years ago.”
John was out of his chair with his hands visible the second he saw the gun, seemingly drawn from thin air. Sherlock still sat, legs crossed, hands folded in his lap. John glanced down at him, then back at Sarah. “Why--” he started, but he stopped. Her hands on the gun were shaking, a child’s hands wrapped around an adult’s toy.
“I liked you, John,” she said, her voice trembling. “I really did. But you’re never really out of James’ debt. You can never get away from him. When he needs you--” She broke off. Raised the gun a little higher, aimed at the center of John’s chest. “I have to.”
John watched the end of the gun. He was thinking hard, trying to find anything he could do, anything to get the gun away from her. He felt his own weapon against his back but didn’t dare reach for it -- and what if he could get hold of it? She knew he couldn’t shoot her. This was a person he had spent weeks thinking and caring about. And Moriarty knew that.
John seethed silently.
“This isn’t going to end terribly well,” Sherlock remarked suddenly in a lazy drawl. He was looking up at both of them, passive and only vaguely interested in what was happening. “I mean, certainly, Sarah has the gun now. She has the advantage. But does she? Really, when you’re looking at it from above. Do you have the advantage, Sarah?”
The gun lowered slightly when Sarah turned her head to look at Sherlock. “What do you mean?” she asked, wary.
“Well,” Sherlock said, drawing out the vowel into nothing. His eyes took on a hard shine while he looked up at her, past the gun and right at her face. His smile was wicked. “You seem a bit useless. It’s no wonder why he hit you.”
The gun was up fast with her strangled shout, and John acted without thinking, incapacitating her arm and pulling the gun away so fast that she hardly had time to react before it was pointed back at her from the end of John’s locked arm.
“I’m sorry,” John said.
She watched him with her lips pressed tight together, hands clenched at either side of her, eyes wide and angry and staring at the gun. “Are you going to shoot me?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
And Sherlock hit her from behind.
She toppled to the floor, unconscious before she hit the carpet.
Sherlock and John looked at each other over her body. “Well,” said Sherlock, shaking his hand out as though his knuckles hurt, “that was distasteful.”
John lowered the gun. “You got her to try and shoot you so that I would take the gun.”
Sherlock crouched and put his hands under Sarah’s shoulders. “It worked, didn’t it?”
John took her feet. “If I’d been any slower, we’d both be dead right now.”
They lifted her up, and Sherlock’s voice was strained with the effort. “Well,” he said, labored, “I was banking on -- your military training -- as well as -- your desire not to see me die.” They put her carefully on the couch.
John stared down at her solemn face, frowning. “She was a plant,” he said. “Right from the beginning.” He watched her chest rising and falling slowly. She looked as if she was only sleeping. A few hours ago he’d been speaking to her on the phone about their plans for the evening. A few minutes ago he’d been apologizing for the inconvenience.
Sherlock folded his arms. “This flat is too nice for a woman who makes what she must in a month. It was strange, but I didn’t say anything, because you do seem to get so upset when I point out faults in other people’s partners. He must have been paying her to spy on you.” He sighed. “He and Mycroft should have drinks.”
John was looking at him. “You could tell there was something wrong with her because of the price of her flat?”
Sherlock met his eyes and paused for a moment. “And I did think it was strange that she wouldn’t sleep with you.”
“How did you -- oh, honestly, nevermind.” John pinched the skin between his eyes and held out the gun. “Take it. I’ve already got one.”
Sherlock reached out and plucked the gun from John’s hand. “We’re certainly playing the criminal mastermind angle to its full potential,” he murmured vaguely. He dropped the magazine into his palm and examined it. “Ah, well!” he said. He waved it in front of John’s face. “At least you know she was quite serious about killing you. Full clip.” He slid it back in place. “That ought to be worth something.”
“I’m touched.” John was still staring at Sarah.
“We should be moving on,” Sherlock said.
“Can I please have five minutes to take in the fact that my girlfriend is a spy who just tried to kill me?”
Sherlock laughed. “I wouldn’t call her your girlfriend if she made you sleep on the--”
John’s phone chimed.
He fumbled for it in his pocket, and Sherlock was already starting around the coffee table and looking over his shoulder when John flipped it open and read the message.
How’s your sister? --M
John’s heart stuttered. “He has Harry.”
Sherlock took the phone to read the message again, then quickly handed it back. “Call her,” he said. “On her landline.”
John dialed the number with two thumbs, misdialing twice before he managed to get it right and pressed the phone to his ear to hear it ring. Once. Twice.
An answering click.
“One thousand eight hundred,” said a strained voice on the other end, familiar even after weeks without speaking. “One thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine. One thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight. One thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven--” Sherlock pulled the phone away and put it on speaker. “One thousand seven hundred and ninety-five. One thousand seven hundred and ninety-four--”
“A countdown,” said Sherlock. “Sixty seconds to a minute, times thirty minutes, eighteen hundred seconds. Less than half an hour to find her.” He handed the phone back to John and looked at his watch. (“One thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven. One thousand seven hundred and eighty-six--”) “Hang up,” he said. “If we distract her she’ll lose count.” John broke the connection. “Right,” Sherlock said. He looked up to begin speaking with John.
John was already gone. The front door banged loudly against the wall.
Sherlock followed, running.
Sherlock’s knowledge of the layout of London became invaluable when flagging a taxi was no longer an option. John didn’t think he would have been able to take the stillness of a car ride, anyway; the drumming of fingers on knees, the tense countdown of seconds against his watch. It was much better to be running, he knew, with his heart pounding in his ears and always one step behind Sherlock, keeping with him through changes of speed and direction. He knew it was easier to be acting than to be waiting, despite the delay.
900 seconds, fifteen minutes, found them pounding up the stairs to Harry’s flat with the lift out of order. 820 seconds and they were standing at her door, but Sherlock pulled John away and spoke to him in a very low voice.
“This is important,” he said. “We are assuming that she is wired with explosives like the other victims. Along with that, we are assuming that if she makes a mistake, the bomb will be detonated. Therefore we will not talk. Not one word to each other. If we distract her and she loses count, that will be the end of it. Do you understand?”
John nodded. His eyes were on the door.
“Starting now,” Sherlock said. He mimed zipping his mouth closed, then waited.
John kept watching the door for a moment, then looked at Sherlock’s expectant face. He rolled his eyes, then angrily mimed zipping his mouth closed and gestured toward the door in a get on with it gesture.
Sherlock went to the door, drew something small and cylindrical from his pocket and placed it against the peephole. He gestured John over and made him look through. It was a reverser; the flat inside was plainly visible, if dark. It was cluttered, but nothing seemed out of place.
Except for Harry, sat in a chair in the middle of her lounge, facing the door, decked in explosives.
John reached for the doorknob, but Sherlock grabbed his arm and put up one finger, moving to open the door instead, slowly, and slip inside once the opening was big enough. John followed, and walked into Sherlock’s back.
“Seven hundred and eighty, seven hundred and seventy-nine--”
Sherlock, looking at John over his shoulder, was gleeful. He pointed, seemingly at nothing, just the air close in front of him -- but then John saw it. Fishing line, strung between the two walls of the entryway. Crossing and overlapping like the laser security systems in museum heist films, but almost invisible, anchored into the wall in some way that John couldn’t see. The gaps between crossings were just about wide enough for a man to duck through, step over or crawl under. John would have walked straight into them if not for Sherlock blocking the hall.
Through the neat crosshatching John could see Harry, and Harry could see them. She kept counting out loud, watching them with large, round eyes, completely unmoving but for her lips. On either side of her, balanced on two end tables, were two lamps with pull strings. One with a red bulb, one with a green bulb. Attached to the pulls on each was a delicately balanced weight. Attached to the weights -- two ends of fishing line. The setup was becoming clearer by the second, and the countdown made it hysterically easy to keep track of those seconds.
Sherlock put a hand on John’s arm to get his attention, then began to explain the puzzle without talking. He reached out as though to pluck one of the strings in front of him, but stopped short, and pointed at Harry, and to the weights. If you touch a string, he was saying, one of the weights will fall. He help up two fingers, nearly touched two crossed strings, and pointed one finger toward the green bulb, and the other toward the red. There are two strings. One turns on the green bulb. One turns on the red. What happened if the red bulb was triggered didn’t need explaining.
“Seven hundred and fifteen, seven hundred and fourteen, seven hundred and thirteen--”
Sherlock stepped back and shrugged off his jacket, gesturing for John to do the same. They dropped them on the hardwood floor just inside of the door, then Sherlock reached up and began to trace a string of fishing line down from where it started, knotted around a small metal loop drilled into the wall. John scanned the opposite wall for a similar loop, and when he found it he began to trace the line, mimicking Sherlock, keeping an open palm underneath of it, not touching but not losing it. It started: Sherlock followed one strand of fishing line, while John followed the other. It was impossible to tell so early which one would lead to the red bulb and which one would lead to the green one. It was difficult for John even to keep track of the string he was working on, the crosses were so complex; halfway through the entryway pain began to pulse behind his eyes with the concentrated effort.
The countdown dragged lower and lower.
It was agonizing work, moving painfully slow in to order to not even vibrate the strings. John held his breath and ducked between two strands, lifted first one leg and then another through a gap, kept his eyes constantly trained on his strand. He couldn’t look at Harry, couldn’t look at Sherlock, could only look at the fishing line, staring as he moved his palm below it.
He was only just inside of the lounge, where the fishing line crossed at much wider angles but was that much more complicated, when Harry began to count down through the three hundreds. Five minutes. A little over five minutes and there is no way that we will make it to the chair in time. His body ached with holding himself still in awkward positions and with the effort required in moving so carefully. He snuck one very, very brief glance at Sherlock. He was making steady progress, further into the room than John was, and he looked almost -- was he bored?
It was then that John noticed. Harry was no longer counting.
“This -- is -- dull -- now,” she said, and the choked words were jarring after almost ten minutes of numbers. Sherlock and John both stood perfectly still, watching her, watching her face as she received the words through her earpiece. “Let’s -- see -- some -- dancing.”
Sherlock and John met eyes through the gaps in the near-invisible wire.
Sherlock had half a second of shock on his face--
--before he started to think, started to look back at the entry hall and follow his own course just by looking. John watched him, waiting, his mouth dry, his heart crashing against his ribs--
--as Sherlock began to follow the string in front of him with his eyes, tracing it to the ceiling, to the floor, back and forth over the walls.
His gaze made it to Harry’s chair, then he looked back and did it again, unblinking, fast, so fast--
--his head whipping in every direction as he followed the intricate weave of fishing line throughout the entire room.
He paused for just one second.
“Yours!” Sherlock shouted across the room. “It’s yours, pull yours!”
“John, for God’s sake, the wire!”
John look at the wire, suddenly terrified that he had lost track and the wire hovering above his open palm was no longer the one he’d been following from the foyer, but it didn’t matter because if he didn’t do it now--
John pulled it. A weight fell.
Both bulbs came on. The blinking lights on the explosive vest stopped.
Harry let out a sobbing breath, and John turned. Sherlock let his hands fall back to his sides. “Well done,” he breathed.
“Can we--” John gestured to the rest of the wires, to the chair where Harry sat, watching them and crying.
Sherlock started. “Oh. Yes.” He ducked through the weave of fishing line, no longer careful to keep from touching the strands, and John followed his lead, picking his way through the room toward Harry, who was trying to pull the vest off. When he reached her, he pulled her out of the chair and unclasped it. When it hit the floor, she pushed him angrily, but curled her fingers into the material of his shirt to keep him from moving away, both hands trembling against his chest as she tried to keep herself together.
“You bastard, John,” she said, half-sobbing, trying not to lose control but close to failing. “What the hell are you into?”
“I’m sorry,” John said. He looked away from her face and towards Sherlock, who stood uncomfortable at a safe distance and only raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “I’m really sorry,” John repeated, looking back at Harry.
She pulled away, turning to look at Sherlock. “You’re him, then? The detective flatmate from John’s blog.”
“Oh, that blasted--” Sherlock pointed a finger at John. “I’m burning your laptop when this is over.”
Harry walked over and pushed him, hard, sending him back into the crosshatching of fishing line. A small woman in striped pyjamas, her hair mussed and her eyes puffy and red from crying, she made him lose his balance and tumble into the tangle of wires behind him. “You got him into this!” she shouted. “You almost got me killed, and you’re joking about it? Who the hell do you think you are?”
John came up to put a hand on Harry’s arm. “Harry,” he said. “Let me make you a cup of tea. Sherlock will get this mess out of here.” He caught Sherlock’s eye. “Won’t you, Sherlock?”
Sherlock looked about the flat, preparing to argue, but stopped at the combined heat of their withering glares. He plucked at a wire with distaste. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll do that.”
The kitchen was lit only by a aging bulb over the sink. John leaned against the counter watching Harry, her hands clasped together over the scratched surface of the table. The electric kettle clicked, and John turned to pour boiling water into three mismatched cups.
“I didn’t want to believe that it was really like that,” Harry said behind him. “The way you were writing it. I didn’t think it could be.”
“You thought I was lying?”
“Come on, John,” Harry said, laughing in an altogether unpleasant way. “If I wrote about dead women in pink coats and a Chinese smuggling ring mistaking my identity, would you believe every word of it? I knew you had to write a blog for your – for your therapist, so I thought--” He looked over his shoulder to see her shrug, rubbing at the scratches on the table. “I thought you were making it more interesting.”
John walked over and set her cup down in front of her. “Well,” he said, taking his own seat, holding his own cup in both hands, “I wasn’t.”
She watched him, her eyes on his face, her frown concerned. “This is your life now, though, John. I mean, it’s your life. Explosives and puzzles and tall, smart men with stupid hair.” She shook her head. “Real people don’t have enemies, John. Real life isn’t like this.”
John smiled into his tea as he sipped it, not meeting her eyes. “I know,” he said.
“I thought by now, with the war behind you and everything – I thought you’d settle down, get a good job, find a good girl--”
“He found one,” Sherlock said from the doorway. He was dusting his hands. “She tried to kill him. Is that tea?”
John waved him to his mug on the counter. “What did you do with the fishing line?”
“Dumpster. I’m keeping the explosives,” Sherlock said, lifting his cup and leaning against the counter to look at them, grinning. “Experiments.”
“If you blow up the rest of the flat--”
Sherlock waved a hand, bored. “Nothing dangerous. I value our landlady just enough.”
“So you’re Sherlock Holmes, then,” Harry said. She was looking hard at him, eyes narrowed very slightly. He’d put his jacket back on, John noticed. Left John’s in the hallway. How kind of him.
“That’s me,” Sherlock drawled. He was moving his eyes over the walls of the kitchen; cracked paint, dead plants, stuffing showing through the threadbare chair cushions, dirty white lace curtains strung over the window. John felt immediate embarrassment for his sister, as though Sherlock kept his house any better.
“If John hadn’t met you, this wouldn’t have happened to me.”
Sherlock sighed. “If John hadn’t met me, he’d still be walking with a limp and waking up in fever dreams. Priorities, the two of you; work them out, would you?” He moved to the window, twitching the curtain to get a view of the street. “Now, the only interesting question, which neither of you have managed to ask, is why is he doing this?”
Harry looked confused. “Who?”
“A man,” John said. “A criminal. He tried to kill us, then framed us for – well. Lots of things, I suppose.”
“’Lots of things’, indeed, John,” Sherlock said scornfully over his shoulder. “Use your words. Abduction. Murder. Theft of top secret military documents -- do you watch the news, Harriet?”
“I’ve been sleeping,” Harry said hotly. “It’s three in the morning. And don’t call me that.”
“Oh, you people and your full six to eight hours,” Sherlock muttered, pressing his fingers to his forehead. “Fine. The question stands.”
“You thought it was the plans,” John said suddenly. Something was tickling at the back of his mind, something half-forgotten. “You were waving the memory stick around at the pool because you thought it was all a distraction to keep you from finding them.”
“Yes,” Sherlock said. “Why else would he do any of it? It’s too much of a risk, exposing his perfect crimes as imperfect, losing thirty million pounds, drawing the police in just as much as us.”
“He threw them in the pool.”
“The plans,” John said. “He threw them in the pool.”
Sherlock looked annoyed. “Yes, John, I know he--” He stopped. His face cleared. “Now why would he do that?”
“What are you--” Harry started.
“Shut up.” Sherlock began to pace the small room, the light of the sink catching the buttons on his jacket, his hands gesturing wildly. “Why would he throw the plans into the pool? They were priceless. He can’t get them anywhere. As much as I dislike my brother, he runs a tight ship – oh, I do so hate nautical sayings – and at the first sign of interest in the plans he would lock them down. When Adam West was killed, he must have substantially increased security. It would be next to impossible to acquire them again. He’s brilliant, he wouldn’t throw away--” He stopped dead in the middle of the room. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, oh, oh!” His smile was growing huge, and he turned his gleaming eyes to John. “I’ve got it!”
“What is it?” John asked. He was already standing.
“Our Dear Jim is a card player!” Sherlock cried. Then he ran from the room, and John heard the front door open and slam shut.
John looked down at Harry. She was staring at him, mouth pulled into a frown.
“This is mad, you know,” she said.
John nodded. “I know.”
She looked uncomfortable. “Be careful. All right? Be safe.”
John smiled. “You, too. And, I’m sorry about--” He waved toward the lounge, but Harry interrupted him.
“Go,” she said. “Hurry up or he’ll leave you.”
John laughed. “No, he won’t.” Then he ran.
The pool was still silent and cold; four o’clock in the morning, the low emergency lights shining weak, rippling reflections on the walls. Sherlock crouched at the edge of the water, peering into it, eyes moving slowly along the surface as it lapped against the concrete sides. John stood behind at a distance, his hands in his pockets, watching. “So,” he said. “A card player?”
“Yes,” Sherlock said. He kept staring at the water. “You’re an army man, I’m sure you’ve played a card game or two. Poker, blackjack, go fish – they all depend on the cards you’re holding. The right sequence of cards, the right timing, makes all the difference in the game, whether you go home richer or poorer. The cards in your hands. Do you see?”
“Not a bit,” John sighed. “And, go fish? Really?”
Sherlock let out an exasperated breath. “One day, I am going to say something, and you are going to immediately understand it, and that will be the greatest day of our lives.” He stood and started to walk around the edge of the pool. “There are two ways to win a card game. One – you win by chance, using the hand dealt to you. That way is less fun, in my opinion.”
“Of course it is,” John muttered. “And who is it that you play cards with?”
“The other way,” Sherlock continued, ignoring him, “is to cheat. I assume you have a reasonable idea of how to cheat at cards?”
John shrugged. “Ace up the sleeve, that sort of thing.”
Sherlock pointed at him from across the pool. “Exactly!” he said. “So.” He took a pool strainer from where it sat against the wall and dipped it into the softly glowing water. “A man who plays the game to win at whatever cost comes to the table with his pockets lined with cards. He palms them into play wherever they’re useful and whenever he won’t be found out.” Sherlock carefully began to lift the strainer out of the water again. “Which brings to mind the thought – it isn’t really playing, is it? Knowing you’re going to win. Sure, outsmarting a table full of people unnoticed is fun for a while, but it isn’t interesting.” He plucked something out of the strainer and came back around the side of the pool with the thing dripping in his hand. He stopped in front of John, then held it up in the dim light.
It was the memory stick. No. It was a memory stick, but—
“That isn’t the same one,” John said, staring at it. “It’s different from the one Adam West lost.”
Sherlock twirled it in his fingers. “A classic palm,” he said. “Dear Jim could be a magician.”
“He switched the memory sticks. While he was talking to you. He switched them and threw a fake into the pool.” John was still staring at the memory stick as Sherlock wove it between his fingers. “So he has the real one.”
“Ah,” Sherlock said slowly. “Now wouldn’t it be interesting,” he continued, tucking his other hand into his pocket, “to be sat at a card table with another person playing to win?”
And he pulled out the original memory stick, holding both up together before him. John watched them catch and reflect the rippling underwater lights, a smile forming slowly on his face.
“With two cheaters,” Sherlock said, grinning, “isn’t it just another kind of game?”
They paused in the exit to the pool, Sherlock stopping short, almost causing John to walk into him.
“Oh, well that’s just profoundly unpleasant,” Sherlock muttered to himself, still looking at the memory stick.
“What is?” John asked.
“We’re going to have to see my brother.”
Dawn was blooming cold and colorful along the south bank of the Thames as they walked down the now-familiar stretch of litter-strewn beach where the body of Alex Woodbridge had been found. The water glowed pink and orange and the dull grey-blue of a London sunrise, and John pulled his jacket tighter around himself. “It’s freezing,” he muttered.
Sherlock looked at him. “The weather? Really? That’s what you choose to talk about?” He had his own arms crossed tightly over his chest. “Whole lists of topics available to you, not the least of which is my astounding brilliance which you failed to comment on at the pool, and you pick the temperature?”
John said nothing. He kept picking his way beside Sherlock along the dirty shore.
“It is freezing,” Sherlock said finally.
“Your sister,” Sherlock said. “She hates me, yes?”
“Don’t feel too badly about it,” John said, watching the ground in front of him for things he might stumble over. “That tends to be her default reaction to people. Particularly if they get her flat rigged with explosives.”
“I didn’t put them there,” Sherlock said. He glanced at John, then away. “She didn’t seem to hate you.”
John laughed. “Trust me,” he said, “no love lost there. This was the one in a million chance to see my sister without a bottle. I’m almost grateful.”
Sherlock was watching the opposite bank of the Thames as though with great interest. “You could help her,” he said. “Get her into some sort of program.”
John shrugged, uncomfortable. “She’s a grown woman, she can make her own decisions,” he said, and looked at Sherlock. “And since when do you have an interest in my relationship with my sister?”
“I’m just making conversation,” Sherlock said airily.
“Yeah, well, no need now,” John said. He stopped and nodded ahead of them. “Here comes our rendezvous.”
Mycroft was walking along the beach toward them with a look of extreme distaste on his face. As he came within hearing distance, he called, “You always take me to the nicest places, Sherlock.”
“You’re a bit out of breath, Mycroft,” Sherlock answered as Mycroft came closer. “Are you certain your diet is going well?”
Mycroft stopped in front of them, frowning. “You aren’t terribly cute at five o’clock in the morning, Sherlock. What was it you wanted to see me about? I do hope it wasn’t just to insult me. I’ve a lot of work to be doing.”
“Yes, yes, there are heads of state in Russia to be quietly assassinated.” Sherlock drew the real memory stick out of his pocket. “I believe you were looking for this,” he said.
“Indeed I was,” Mycroft said, looking pleased. “I was beginning to think you were ignoring the case.” The gleam in his eye made it clear that he was absolutely certain that Sherlock had been ignoring the case, for the most part. He reached out a hand to take the missile plans, but Sherlock pulled them back.
“There’s a man after these,” he said. Again he started to twirl the memory stick between his fingers. “He’ll have realized by now that the plans he took from me are actually a few rich text files of some of Mrs. Hudson’s delightful fairy cake recipes.”
“We know about this man,” Mycroft said, sniffing and pulling his suit jacket straight. “We’re doing what we can to take care of him. He won’t be a problem.” He held out his hand. “The plans?”
Sherlock stopped twirling the memory stick. He froze, looking at Mycroft’s outstretched hand. “You’re doing what you can,” he said.
“Well, yes,” said Mycroft. “He has himself grafted into the works rather deeply, but we’re--”
“Doing what you can.”
Mycroft was starting to look annoyed. “Yes, I said. He won’t be a problem, we’re taking care of him--”
Sherlock turned to John. “Run.”
John frowned, confused. “What? I--”
Sherlock grabbed him and pushed. “Run!”
But it was too late.
There was the sound of the wind being cut by something small and fast, and John clutched his neck, even as he was turning, trying to get away. Pain exploded beneath his hand, but then a sort of drowsiness began to fog around the edges of his mind. He fell to his knees, his body too heavy to hold up. His tongue was asleep. His eyes were closing, taking in a last glimpse of the river, the Thames lapping its shores like the water at the pool. His head hit the grey sand.
In his last few seconds of consciousness, he could hear dulled shouts, then another droning dart.
Then the sound of Sherlock hitting the ground near him, no longer struggling.