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Bullpup Press
A Creative-Writing House


Ch. 1    Ch. 2    Ch. 3    Ch. 4    Ch. 5    Ch. 6    Ch. 7    Ch. 8    Ch. 9    Ch. 10    Ch. 11    Ch. 12    Ch. 13    Ch. 14    Ch. 15    Ch. 16    Ch. 17    Ch. 18    Ch. 19    Ch. 20    Epilog


Event Horizon: Chapter 17

by

Carole Manny & Lynn Walker



"I left orders that you weren't to be allowed in," Mycroft said coldly when Sherlock strolled into his office just three minutes after his own arrival.

"Which is why I used the service entrance," Sherlock said. "A moving dolly and a couple of cartons for props…Your people are no more observant than the national average."

"What do you want?"

"Nothing. Well, I say nothing. I want something, but in proportion to what I'm going to offer you, what I want in exchange really is nothing."

Mycroft eyed him sceptically. "Well?"

Sherlock eyed him back, his expression bland.

"I can't agree to anything unless I know the terms, Sherlock," Mycroft said impatiently.

"Mary Watson," Sherlock said.

"What about her?"

"She's in real danger."

"Magnussen's dead."

"Magnussen wasn't the only one who knew who she used to be and who her enemies are."

"Sherlock, if you're suggesting that I-"

Sherlock laughed, but there was no humour in it. "I think you would, if the motherland required it, but no." He couldn't stand the tension any longer and began pacing the room. "Mary's enemies have been informed of her new identity and told where to find her."

"How do you know that?"

"Because Magnussen's dead. He didn't acquire the information about her in a vacuum. It was given to him years ago. Whether it was sold to him or just put in his way I'm not sure, but it's irrelevant. The same person who provided the information to him killed him four days ago. Mary Morstan used to work for James Moriarty as a sort of bodyguard. She had eyes and ears on him at Barts two years ago, and she's been working ever since to destroy the person she holds responsible for his death."

"By insinuating herself into John's life and killing him and then you."

This was why Sherlock liked talking to Mycroft: He so rarely had to explain himself. "I believe so. But now that Magnussen's dead-"

"His murderer needs you alive for the same reason Magnussen did. Power over me."

"And that brought Mary into conflict with Magnussen's killer, who has informed her enemies where to find her. It gets her out of the way and keeps me safe. I'd like to protect her from that if possible, but even if it's not the important thing is that when they reach her she's nowhere near John."

"Of course," Mycroft said. It was always about John. "And how does he feel about that? Oh-I see. He doesn't know."

"He knows enough," Sherlock said. "He knows that the marriage is over."

"Does he."

Sherlock turned to look suspiciously at him. "Yes. He does."

"And you know this how?"

"He told me-look, none of that matters right now."

"Very well. Continue."

Instead Sherlock took a few more turns up and down the room.

"And if you could sit down or at least stand still. You're giving me a headache."

"I want to offer Mary a-an arrangement," Sherlock said, continuing to pace. "Her enemies will find her now. That's already in motion and I can't stop it. Neither can you," he added.

"Not sure that I would," Mycroft said with a shrug. "With an eye to the fact that she shot you, I'd be inclined to ease their way."

"I don't want her dead."

"Why on earth not?"

"Because it would hurt John!" Sherlock cried impatiently.

"I see. Is that your New Year's resolution? 'Stop hurting John'?"

"Dammit, Mycroft-"

"Fine. Get on with it."

"I want to offer her a new identity and prison out of the country. That will keep her safe from-from her enemies."

"For a time, perhaps. The bratva have a long memory."

That was cause for a second glance, but of course Mycroft had his own avenues for discovering anything Sherlock could. "It will give her a longer life expectancy that she has now, which I estimate is no more than three days, on the outside."

"Three?" Mycroft said, amused. "I think rather less than forty-eight hours."

"If you can arrange for her to be housed with other high-value prisoners and if she keeps a low profile she could measure it in decades. Her alternative is a sniper's bullet."

"And what will you do when she inevitably refuses?"

"Why would she refuse?"

"Would you take prison over a bullet to the brain?"

"I can escape from a prison," Sherlock said. "It turns out bullets, not so much."

"You think she's a flight risk, then?"

"No. I said I could escape. She's a versatile, intelligent, dangerous woman, but she's not that good. Her options are fairly limited. Prison and life, or the bratva and death."

"Yes. Those are indeed her options. Well. And what will John be doing when the Russians come calling?"

Sherlock stopped pacing.

"You haven't thought of a way to keep him out of it yet. Sherlock-"

"It has to stop, Mycroft. This, where I cut him out, make decisions about his life without consulting him. Letting that charade go on for two years. None of this would be happening if I'd-"

"It was for his own safety. We went over this. Repeatedly. You agreed."

More nervous pacing. "I agreed. I agreed. He didn't agree."

"He couldn't agree because he couldn't know. Why after all this time are you still agonising about something you can't change? It's not rational, and neither is blaming me."

Sherlock turned with an icy glare. "I don't blame you. I blame myself for listening to you." He waved dismissively. "It's neither here nor there now," he said impatiently. "What matters is that I can't risk him being anywhere around her if she rejects the deal. If he's with her when the bratva find her, they'll kill him too. You know how he is."

"I could have him detained."

"No. If he spends another afternoon in your custody I won't answer for your safety. Or mine," he added as an afterthought. "No. He's working today. She's not. I'm going to meet with her this afternoon. If she accepts I'll bring her to MI6. Then if he likes, John can make his good-bye safely, and that will be the end of it."

"I very much doubt that," Mycroft said dryly. "In any case, you haven't accounted for the fact that she's carrying his child. People tend to attach a great deal of sentiment to-"

"She's not."

"I beg your pardon?"

"She's not pregnant."

"You said-"

"I know what I said. I've suspected for some time, but John confirmed it yesterday. I believe she obtained an abortion shortly after she shot me. She and John were separated by then so it would have been a relatively simple matter for her to carry out the deception. Faking the pregnancy after that allowed her to retain potential leverage over him without actually handicapping herself physically. Alternative theory: She deliberately deceived me at the wedding but was never pregnant in fact. However, the first explanation accounts for her apparent dismay when I made the observation at the wedding, and I believe it's the more likely."

"Interesting," Mycroft said, sounding bored. "However, to return to my original question: What if she refuses your offer?"

"Three days, on the outside. If she refuses…John will come with me on the pretext of a case. I'm sure I can find something to catch his eye. The Russians will extract their revenge while we're out of the way, and…"

"He'll return home to pick up the pieces." Mycroft didn't look like he approved.

"Well what do you suggest?" Sherlock shouted.

Mycroft shrugged: He didn't really care. "What you're asking for can be arranged. What are you offering in exchange?"

"Cherchez le femme."

"If you could be a little more specific."

"James Moriarty's sister."

ooooo

Breakthrough on your case, Sherlock typed into his phone. Baker St. 2 pm. Alone.

From his post at a first storey window of the Chalfont Court building directly across the street from his own flat, he commanded a view stretching nearly a half mile south down Baker Street and north to the point where the road converged with Allsop Place and Park Road. Whether Mary took a cab to the front door or walked part of the way he would see her coming, and in case she was as circumspect as he would be in her position he'd covered Sutton Lane and the Park Road end of Baker Street with his homeless spies, as well.

He sent the text and settled in to wait. At intervals the building shook with a bass rumble that he felt more than heard as Underground trains arriving and departing the Baker Street station rolled under the building's south facade.

The solution he was about to offer Mary was not ideal, although considering the circumstances it was by far his best option-and hers. Prior to Magnussen's death he'd opposed John's suggestion to turn her in to the authorities because doing so virtually guaranteed her exposure to her enemies, but with Magnussen dead she had nothing left to stay her hand against John-and her identity was already revealed. Prison and a solid ID from Mycroft was the only lifeline he could still offer her.

He deliberately arranged their meeting during business hours to ensure that John would be at the clinic, safely out of the way. John would be angry that Sherlock wasn't including him-again-and that too was less than ideal, but there was nothing for it. The marriage and his love for Mary might be over, but he was still John Watson. Unless she was in custody the Russians would reach her, and when that happened John would find a way to stand between them. Short of having him arrested, as Mycroft suggested, Sherlock thought he'd chosen the best way to keep John safe.

ooooo

"Baker Street," Mary said to the cab driver, and leant back for the fifteen-minute ride. She'd been expecting Sherlock's summons ever since Magnussen turned up dead four days ago. Whatever he wanted to see her about today didn't concern her over-much because there was nothing he could say to her that could possibly undermine what she had planned for him.

She wondered whether Sherlock himself killed Magnussen and decided that he didn't have the stones for it. He talked a good game and he'd apparently had Jim convinced of his steel, but she'd seen much more of him than Jim ever did. Oh, Jim knew about his soft spot for the doctor, of course, but he hadn't known the half of it. Jim hadn't spent six months watching Sherlock defy his own nature to plan a wedding, of all things; hadn't watched his anxiety mount as the date approached and the loss of his only friend impended. All that was good fun, but it was nothing to the elation she'd felt on her wedding night as she watched him take himself out of John's life. You'll hardly need me around now that you have a real baby on the way, he'd said. Jim would have loved that, she thought. Utterly and completely adored it to see Sherlock Holmes, the soulless calculating machine, take all that pain just so his friend didn't have to feel a twinge. She'd never regretted Jim's loss like she had at that moment.

She wasn't a superstitious woman in the slightest, but if she did believe in a higher power she'd have sworn that Jim was guiding events. Even that whole debacle in Magnussen's offices had worked out in the end. She definitely hadn't seen that one coming and for a while she thought it had destroyed everything she'd worked so hard for. Surprises kept things interesting, though, and the adrenaline spike she'd felt that night had been one for the record books. Good choice, it turned out, not shooting Sherlock in the head. Of course if he'd died anyway she'd have fallen back on Plan B, enjoying John suffering through Sherlock's death instead of Sherlock suffering through John's-but really a second round of that moaning and whinging would have been just too tedious. She'd have had to put John out of her misery pretty quickly if things had gone that route. In the event, however, Sherlock survived, and his long, painful recovery meant there'd been grief and to spare for John: Between his best friend's injury and the torment of watching his marriage fall apart, his emotional distress was just as acute and prolonged as Sherlock's physical pain. Considering the way she was about to bring their little saga to an end today, the last three months had been like eating the icing before her cake. Maybe it was true what idiots said, she thought with a smile: Everything works out for the best.

She had more than a year invested in clinic duty, pretending to care about the problems of whining, snotty-nosed patients, carefully maneuvering John Watson into marriage-and she shuddered at the thought of how close Sherlock came to ruining that for her, showing up at the restaurant just as John finally sacked up enough to propose. If Holmes had revealed himself one minute earlier all that effort would have gone down in flames. And if he hadn't taken as long as he did to gad around the globe, if he'd returned while John was still in the early stages of his grief, she'd have had to find another way, but as it was things fell into place as though James Moriarty himself was clearing a path for her.

John talked a good game about Sherlock's brilliance and even Jim had respected his abilities, but personally she'd found him underwhelming. She had it on good authority that John was neither gay nor the least bit interested in Sherlock romantically, so what accounted for the hero worship? Oh, she knew why he hung around the guy: adrenaline junkie, and all that. But all that rubbish about brilliance bordering on prescience? She didn't see it. He was cleverer than average, granted, but Jim outmaneuvered him on the rooftop, forcing him into faking his death and leaving England. Sherlock's departure paved her way for avenging Jim, and she often wondered whether Jim planned it like that. It wouldn't surprise her; he was always a step or two ahead of her and miles ahead of everyone else, including Sherlock. He must have known that she'd pick up where he left off.

So Sherlock came off second-best to Jim, leaving her an opening with John that she could have driven a 747 through. She shot Sherlock and the fool still wanted to help her because he was besotted with her husband. It was no surprise to her that John threw what he thought was her entire criminal history into the fire unread; she'd counted on him backing down, trying to put his life with her back together, and choosing avoidance over confrontation, but Sherlock wasn't acting like a man who had viewed the drive, either, and she was confident that she'd be able to tell. In his position she'd have read it in a New York minute. Sentimental idiots, the pair of them, and more pathetic together than they were apart, because they cared so much.

Still, she gave Sherlock credit for one thing: Few other men she'd met would have had the focus, the skills, and the single-minded drive to wipe out Jim's enterprise. But Sherlock had been abroad then. Without John. Every opponent had a weakness, and John Watson was Sherlock's. Threats to John focused him, it was true, but as she knew from watching him with Jim in the pool building and on the hospital roof, if he was pushed just a little bit harder, if the threat became just a little more immediate, then all of that vaunted self-possession and lofty reserve cracked, and he started making mistakes. Like meeting with her now.

ooooo

Sherlock leant forward in the chair and grimaced: Three months on the pain in his side, while improved, nevertheless persisted, frustrating him profoundly despite John's warning that it might continue far longer. The meds often, but not always, eased the pain, but they also planed away his mental edge and consequently he'd skipped his last dose. Now he wondered whether that was the wisest course, but if he ever needed to be alert and focused, it was now.

Eight cabs had passed by his post since he sent the text. A ninth turned onto the street from Park Road and as he watched it pass out of his field of view to the south his phone chimed with an incoming text. On foot, his watcher reported. Northbound on Allsop. Quickly he dialed Mary's number.

"Mary? What are you doing?"

"Just testing a theory," she said brightly.

"What theory?"

"That you posted spies up and down the road."

"Of course I did. You're in real danger. You need to get inside so we can talk."

"But we are talking, Sherlock," she said pleasantly.

"I'm trying to help you, Mary."

"That's sweet of you to worry," she said, "but I've been in what you call 'real danger' most of my life. In any case I'd rather not meet in your flat. Too many people know about it. Why don't you meet me across the road? Two thirty-six Baker Street."

"Why?"

"It's more secure. Discreet, if you like."

"Where?"

"Room seven nineteen."

He disconnected the call and bolted from the room, racing for the stairs at the north end of the hall. She believed he was in his flat and would be counting on the extra time, but if he could get upstairs before she did he'd maintain his advantage.

Almost immediately it became clear that wasn't going to happen. He hadn't tried moving this fast since before she shot him. Momentum carried him up three flights before his lungs and legs were on fire, but on the sixth floor landing he had to stop, hanging on to the railing and fighting not to pass out from the pain: Every breath he drew was a knife-thrust in his side. His head swam as he climbed the final flight and arrived on the 7th floor landing, where he sagged heavily against the wall, furiously willing himself to recover.

Angrily he wiped his sweating face on his sleeve. He couldn't face her like this and he fought to calm himself, but it took an eternity and he knew he'd lost any small advantage he might have held. At last, with his pulse still pounding but his breathing just under control, he stepped out into the hall.

He was at the north end of the building with a clear view of the entire corridor, but there was nothing to be seen. Nothing to be heard, either, except for the usual muffled sounds of the three businesses that operated from this floor. Two insurance companies and a nail salon. The door of the salon stood propped open, but the rest were closed. The far south end of the corridor ended in a glass and steel door that led to the fire escape.

All the suites on the floor were commercial, converted from residential units nine years earlier and except for the three businesses all were currently unlet, locked, and empty. Sherlock knew this because he'd been through all of them. The layout of every building within a one-mile radius of home was intimately familiar to him, just as he knew every street in London.

Midway down the corridor he passed by the lift. The lights showed the carriage passing the third floor on the way back to the ground level: As he feared, Mary had arrived first.

The door to 719 was unlocked-or, to be strictly accurate, the lock had been picked. The tampering was evident well before he reached it. Standing a little to one side of the doorway he eased the door open but didn't enter. Some of the business suites were remodeled to suit the companies using them, but 719 retained its original configuration: a large, airy main room of about seven square metres, a small kitchen to right of it, and a single bedroom with a closet and en suite bathroom to the left.

The thin layer of dust on the straw-colored wood floor revealed a line of footprints leading toward and then away from the left-hand window of the main room. Beneath the window stood a little side table with an open laptop computer and a small aluminium attache case. Other than that the room was empty. Mary not only beat him upstairs but she'd obviously anticipated the meeting.

Turning, he faced the door across the hall.

"You can come out, Mary," he said.

The door opened and she stepped into the hall, discreetly holding her Beretta down along her right thigh. "And you can go in," she replied, motioning with her head to 719.

His eyes flicked from the gun to her face. "You won't need that," he said calmly. "I'm not here to hurt you."

She smiled. "Funny you say that, because I'm here to hurt you." She eyed him approvingly. "You probably wanted to take the lift, in your condition," she said. "Not that I mind seeing you like this. I'd say it'll be months before you're back to normal-or wherever it is you started from-but your life expectancy is just a few more minutes. Go on," she added. "Take a look. I've got a great video queued up. You'll love it."

"There isn't time for this," he said with a touch of impatience.

"Oh, it won't take long," she assured him, and made a little 'go on' gesture with the gun.

She had a history of being willing to kill him, so he backed into the room, watching her warily.

"Oh, for God's sake," she sneered, "I'm not going to shoot you in the back. Where's the fun in that?"

He stopped in the center of the room but she waved him on. "The window," she said, gesturing toward the little table there. "You made good time getting here," she added in a conversational tone.

"But then I was already in the building."

She smiled, appreciative.

"Mary," he said carefully, "you're in real danger. Let me help you."

She cocked her head. "Gosh, that sounds familiar," she said. "Where have I heard it before? Oh, that's right: Just before I shot you. The first time. Magnussen's dead," she added coldly. "I don't need your help any more."

"You're wrong," he said. "You need it more than ever."

"How do you reckon?"

"I know about Irkutsk. I know why you said you'd go to prison for the rest of your life. I know who your enemies are, and I know how Magnussen found out." He frowned, then asked, "Did you really kill the dog?"

She shrugged. "I hate dogs. It doesn't matter how Magnussen found out. He knew. And now he's dead. The only people who know now are you and John, and neither of you are going to see tomorrow."

"Now you're being disappointing," he said. "It matters because he was told, and the person who told him has told the Russians. They're coming." He let that sink in for a second. "I can help you. Get you out of London, get you a new identity, and make sure they never find you."

She looked sceptical. "In exchange for…?"

"No exchange," he said. "I just want to help you."

"Then what's the catch?"

"Just one condition. You go to Canada. Serve your time. I know people who can arrange it so no one associates you with your actual crimes. You'll be safe there."

"Let me think about it. No."

"Decisive. Generally I consider that a virtue, but in this case I really think you should reconsider."

"Why's that?"

"Because unless you let me help you this will end only one way. The Russians know now, but soon all your other enemies will, as well." When she remained silent he assumed she was waiting for him to convince her. "I've given you reason to underestimate me," he continued. "I was slow, just as you said. But I also needed you to think you could manipulate me the way you manipulated John. It was important that you think that, because psychopaths have a problem. They need people they can use, but anyone they can use is by definition unworthy of their respect. You couldn't manipulate Moriarty and you respected him for it, but when you don't respect people you underestimate them."

"You should talk," she said. "Manipulating people is your job description, and 'women underestimated here' ought to be on your business card.

Sherlock just smiled. "It should be on yours, as well."

"What are you talking about?"

"Janine Hawkins," he said. "You met her when you approached Moriarty for your new identity. You befriended her because she was useful to you, but you never once noticed how she was using you."

"Because she hasn't been."

"Oh, Mary. I thought you were cleverer than that. Who do you think let me in to Magnussen's office that night?"

"She would never do that."

"If she and I were dating, she would."

Mary laughed. "You? Dating?"

"Me, using her to get access to Magnussen. Just as you did. Odd that she never mentioned our liaison to you, don't you think?"

"She'd be crazy to admit she dated you."

"That's certainly the consensus," Sherlock agreed. "But she was using me just as thoroughly as I was using her. Immediately after she buzzed me into the office the two of you staged her incapacitation and John and I walked in on it. Now, why do you suppose she let me in knowing that I'd interrupt you? Personally, I think it was for the entertainment value of making you dance. Shoot me in the head and lose all chance of your little revenge fantasy playing out, or hedge your bets with something that was probably but not necessarily lethal. Which would you choose? Your goal has always been to make me suffer for Moriarty's death, but you weren't quite ready to spring the trap yet. You couldn't risk having John learn of your involvement with Magnussen and you had to decide quickly. You settled for making him suffer through my death-again-while still leaving yourself the outside chance that I'd survive."

She shook her head. "You've got that all figured out, but I still don't believe you about Janine."

"You really should. She was the power behind James Moriarty and Charles Magnussen. The one time Moriarty stood trial for his crimes I described him as a spider at the center of a criminal web. I spent two years taking it apart, strand by strand, but you know what's interesting about spiders? The females are larger and stronger and more dangerous than the males. Janine's the spider queen at the center of a web so vast that I didn't even know I was looking at it until yesterday.

"So don't feel too badly about not seeing it yourself. Even I took my time about it, and Magnussen never did understand the role he played." He considered her. "You don't believe me. I'll give you just one example. The bonfire that Magnussen trapped John in. That was her idea. She put the thought in his head, and you know why, don't you? Her little joke. Moriarty swore that he'd 'burn my heart out,' and what a clever little double entendre the bonfire turned out to be. You knew he said that because you were listening at the pool that night, but how do you suppose Janine knew? She knew because she was even closer to him than you were. Of course Magnussen saw it only as a test case, which is how she presented it to him: Just how far would I go for John Watson? You thought Magnussen was sending the texts that night, but it was Janine. She was in the crowd acting as his eyes and ears, just as you were the eyes and ears of Moriarty for all those years."

"Magnussen called me," she said, not fully believing him. "Not Janine. He wanted to know where John would be that afternoon."

"I know," Sherlock said. "You were the only possible source of that information. John hadn't been home for months. No one knew he was going to be in Baker Street that day. He didn't even know it himself until the last moment. Probably argued with himself all day long whether to come and apologize to me for being a stubborn arse. Magnussen sent his goons, but Janine put the whole thing into motion. I'm amazed you and Magnussen didn't figure it out," he added, "as closely as you both worked with her. But the clues were all there, if you'd bothered to look."

"What clues?"

"Why would any woman stay employed by a sadistic animal like him? A lowly PA didn't have power and influence he could exploit, so what hold could he have on her? The CMNews dental plan? No sane, normal woman would tolerate an employer like that-unless she wanted something from him. What she wanted was to use his power and money for her own enterprise-and she did, for years, without him even guessing-but when the countess's campaign against him hit the company's stock price, and when he refused to step down and it threatened to destroy the entire company, he became more of a liability than an asset and she killed him. Now I'm her asset, and that means you have to go."

"Are you seriously trying to tell me that Janine the PA's been running that whole company? She's an idiot."

Sherlock laughed, infuriating her. "Magnussen beat me, Mary. Completely and thoroughly beat me. He was a step ahead of me at every turn, and the night John and I went to Appledore he destroyed everything I thought I knew about myself. But Janine spent seven years as his PA and he never once suspected her real role in his organization. She subverted his security detail, used proxies on the board to exert her influence unseen, and when he started costing the company a lot of money she killed him. In a really interesting way, too. 'Idiot' is not the word I'd use."

Now it was her turn to laugh. "Janine Hawkins killed Charles Magnussen. Seriously, Sherlock, you should be the one writing the blog, with a flair for storytelling like that."

"It's true. And with Magnussen dead I became her only remaining leverage over my brother and it's now in her interest to keep me alive. She knows your commitment to killing me and she whistled for the bratva. The problem of Mary Watson goes away and her hands stay clean. True confession," he added, holding up his hand in an 'I swear' gesture. "With the information I had when Magnussen died, I did not anticipate that result. If I had…well, I would have talked John out of that whole scheme."

"John."

"It was his idea to approach Magnussen's victims and call his bluff. And it worked a bit better than we'd hoped. I know you think he's stupid, Mary, and to be honest that makes me wonder just how perceptive you really are. Oh, he doesn't give an instant impression of brilliance, I grant you, but you lived with him for over a year. You must have seen it."

"Considering his infatuation with you, I'd say 'no,'" she replied dryly. "How do you know she killed Magnussen?"

"Fountain pen."

"What?"

"The documents Magnussen was working on when he died were signed with a fountain pen. In the drawer of his desk were spare cartridges for that pen, and on the middle finger of his right hand was a tiny speck of ink-the same sort of ink that was in the cartridges. But there was no fountain pen in the office and the pen found next to the body was a rollerball."

"So?"

"So Magnussen had the nasty habit of occasionally nibbling on his pens. The fountain pen he'd been using was smeared with batrachotoxin, one of the deadliest poisons in the world. Janine couldn't risk the pen being found by the criminalist, so she exchanged it for the only other sort that was in the drawer: the rollerball."

Using his right hand he drew his coat a little to the side, showing her that he wasn't reaching for anything dangerous, then reached in with his left and drew a fountain pen from the right breast pocket of his coat.

"Recognize it?" he asked, holding it up for her to see, and her expression told him that she did. "You took a pen very like this one from Nicholas Andrews in the car park of the Crick Institute after you shot him in the back of the head. Janine gave you that assignment, but she presented the job as something Magnussen was 'requesting,' didn't she?

"It's why you kept that LineToo account, so you could arrange the jobs in secrecy. She commissioned a lot of little jobs like that over the years, each time telling you it was on her boss's orders-and of course considering the power he held over you, you were in no position to refuse. Maybe you even enjoyed it. Got you out of the house once in a while, kept the old skill set sharp." He shook his head. "All her doing, Mary. Magnussen didn't have the first clue about any of it."

She sighed impatiently. "Sherlock, you're confusing me with my husband. I haven't got all day to swoon over you while you grandstand. Tell me how you know she killed him."

"I told Janine that the police believed her boss had been poisoned and that they were putting together a team to search the offices for traces of the toxin, which, I said, they thought might be a contact poison of some sort, possibly introduced on his pen. Complete lie, of course; the police haven't the first idea what killed Magnussen and never will. But it was enough to flush her out. She retrieved the pen from where she'd temporarily hidden it, walked outside, and dropped it into the nearest bin as she passed. Trash removal: a completely innocent behaviour committed by thousands of people in the city every day, but Mycroft's people were watching her. Of course it was entirely possible that she'd thrown the pen in the river immediately after the murder, in which case that little scheme wouldn't have worked, but as it happens I was right."

"Janine killed Magnussen."

"She played you, Mary, like she played everyone. You knew her as some woman who worked for Moriarty and later Magnussen. Befriended her because you could use her, but you never suspected who she really was."

"Who was she really, then?"

"James Moriarty's sister."

She burst out laughing. "Oh, Sherlock. That's really the sort of thing you should save for poor credulous John."

"I ran the DNA test myself."

She considered him coldly, apparently neither stunned nor worried. Just calculating. Finally she tossed her head in an impatient gesture. "Doesn't matter. Blood doesn't make a family."

"That wedding telegram from 'CAM,'" Sherlock said. "'So sorry your family couldn't be here to see this.' Magnussen was taunting you because he knew you considered Moriarty your family. Stung to have that read by the man you blamed for his death, didn't it?"

"Yeah. Jim was my family," she admitted. "Like John is yours. You see how this works?"

"Mary, I understand what's motivating you. Truly, I do. Is revenge really worth dying for?"

"You tell me. You're the one who's about to die for it."

"Neither of us has to. Let me help you."

"By offering me life in a Canadian prison? You think that's going to protect me from the Russians?"

"You'd have a new identity, one created and backed by the government."

She laughed. "And your brother wouldn't have a thing to do with arranging that, would he?"

"Of course."

"You really are much thicker than John leads people to believe," she sneered. "You know what Jim called him, don't you?"

"Iceman. Yes, I've heard."

"And that doesn't suggest to you a little flaw in your plan? That he might just accidentally leave a teensy little hole in the new ID he prepares for the woman who nearly killed his little brother?"

"He gave me his word."

"Why would he do that?"

"Because I asked him to."

"Why?"

"Because if the Russians find you when you're with John they won't spare him just because he didn't murder nine people in Irkutsk."

"Oh, God!" she cried with a bitter laugh, "it's always about John Watson for you, isn't it?"

"He doesn't want you dead, Mary. Neither do I. Neither does Mycroft." Frowned. "I'm fairly certain about that last one."

"I'm not going to prison, Sherlock. I'll take my chances with the bratva, but you won't be around to see the outcome because I've invested far too much time finishing Jim's work."

"The outcome is that they'll kill you."

"People in this business don't expect to tap their pensions," she said. "I haven't made any long-term plans past today, because today's the day you watch your friend die just like I watched mine."

"That's not going to happen."

"Let me tell you what I learned about John Watson over the last eighteen months," she said. "He thinks you walk on water."

"He knows I don't."

"No. I know you don't. And here's Exhibit A: You're here and he's there." She nodded at the window to indicate 221.

"John's at work," Sherlock said.

"I thought you'd say that. Wake that computer up, would you?"

He eyed her warily, but tapped the keyboard and a live surveillance image of his living room appeared. From the angle it was clear that the camera was concealed in the buffalo skull to take in the entire main room. While distorted by the fisheye lens, the image showed John sitting in his armchair, tapping his foot and clearly annoyed because he'd been left waiting.

Sherlock went white. "John," he whispered, then looked at her, his expression wild.

She laughed delightedly. "Oh, that's perfect," she cried. "That's exactly what I was looking for. That shot of adrenaline that makes your heart feel like it's going to pound its way out of your chest? Makes it hard to breathe? Just wait, it'll get better. I told him you'd phoned and needed his help. Told him you said it was urgent. It's like throwing a stick for one of those retriever dogs. They'll run after it over and over until their hearts explode and still die happy. His cab got here just a few minutes ago."

She was smiling now, relaxed because she was steering events back where she wanted them to go and because he was reacting the way she'd hoped. "Jim had contacts, of course," she said lightly. "He knew people, so naturally I met people, too. People with useful skills like, oh, what's a good example? Setting fires. Doesn't take much in these old buildings if you know where to apply the charges. That flat of yours? The one where your dearest friend is sitting waiting for you? Hah-what am I saying? Your only friend. It's been mined with remote-operated charges for weeks now."

Sherlock started toward her and she snapped the gun up. "Before you take another step I can put three between your eyes," she said, her voice cold. "You're going to watch him burn, Sherlock, the way Jim intended. I'd like it to be in person, but real time is the next best thing, and I can't risk you doing something boring like saving him."

ooooo

John tapped his foot in irritation, then got up to pace the flat. According to Mary, Sherlock wanted John to meet him here and no doubt he'd show up eventually, but John just fobbed his last three patients of the day on to Dr. Simpson, and the idea of owing that battleaxe a favour was obnoxious in the extreme. He reached for his phone and dialed Sherlock's number. "'Urgent,' my arse," he muttered.

The Vodafone customer you're trying to reach is unavailable, he heard, and glanced at the phone in surprise. Ruddy thing said it had three bars, so what was the problem? "Bloody network," he growled. Disconnecting and redialing produced the same result. The landline didn't give him an annoying recording, but it didn't put the call through, either. It just rang repeatedly without even going to voicemail. "Dammit." Not much point in trying a text, he supposed, but he did it anyway: Where are you? I wasn't busy or anything. J

Bloody typical, all of it: Sherlock's insufferable confidence that John would drop everything when he called; the fact that he did in fact drop everything when Sherlock called; and Sherlock subsequently leaving him sitting around without a clue, as usual. It was a toss-up which was most annoying.

He threw himself onto the sofa with a sigh, picked an old copy of the BMJ from the coffee table, and tried to leaf through it but quickly abandoned the project as pointless. Tapped his foot, glared at Sherlock's chair. After three more interminable minutes he swore again, got up, and went to the refrigerator: If the great prat had anything edible in it was his now. Partial compensation for the aggravating presumption.

ooooo

"Mary," Sherlock said, "you hate me. Get in line. But John didn't have anything to do with Moriarty's death. You know that. Let him go."

"It's sweet that you're trying to bargain for his life."

"I'm trying to reason with you."

"It's not just that I want to kill you, Sherlock. It's how I want to kill you. John's the key to that. He stays in play. Besides, he likes this sort of thing, too. You said it yourself. He's an adrenaline junkie, just like the two of us. Everyone should die doing what they like, don't you think?"

"No. He's not. You heard what you wanted to hear that night, just as you have since."

"Of course he is."

He shook his head. "He asked you what he'd done to deserve you. Do you remember what I told him?"

"Remind me. Unlike John I don't hang on your every word."

"Everything. Everything he's ever done is what he did to deserve you. He was a trauma surgeon, an army doctor, the sort of man who runs toward the danger-not because he's addicted to it or to dangerous people, but because that's where he can help. I've met as few people as possible in my life, Mary, but over time they add up. John's the only one I ever called a friend. Everything he is, is what he had to be before I could say that. You had to rely on his virtue just to get him here: 'Sherlock needs your help.' You targeted him because he matters to me, and he matters to me because he's good. I'd be dead without him. Everything he's ever done is what he did to deserve your hate."

She frowned at him. "If this is supposed to give me second thoughts I have to tell you it's not working. Lovely eulogy, though, and you'll be pleased to know that the feeling's mutual. You should have seen him, Sherlock. A year after he thought you died, and still it was all tears and moaning." She clapped the back of her hand to her forehead in a mock swoon. "'The best man I ever knew.' Ugh. Do you know how hard it was to sit there without smacking him, knowing the whole time that you were busy destroying everything Jim built?

She glanced at the computer screen. "Oh, look at that," she said. "He's trying to make a call. Probably to you, to find out why you're making him stand around for no reason again."

The angle wasn't great and the distortion of the fisheye lens didn't help, but Sherlock was morally certain that she was right, and that John was dialing his number. Yet his phone didn't ring.

As if she guessed his thoughts Mary reached into her pocket and withdrew a black device the size of a cigarette pack. "Oh, and I should tell you," she said casually, "I'm jamming your mobile signal. In case you were thinking of dialing emergency services or something." She cocked her head at the image on the screen. "He seems kinda peeved, wouldn't you say? Well, he won't be waiting for you for too much longer." She dropped the jammer back into her pocket and held up a device like a small walkie-talkie. "Because I also brought this. A remote detonator," she explained. "The audio on that computer's set so you'll be able to hear him once the fire really takes off. Which should be, you know: immediately."

"You're a monster," he snarled.

"I'm offended," she said with feigned distress. "Here I was, about to offer you a way out." She nodded to indicate the table near the window, where the laptop stood. "In the case. Open it."

With another suspicious glance at her he opened the box. Inside lay a forty calibre Sig Sauer P-226. Beside it in the case was the magazine. He looked back at her for an explanation.

"There's just the one round in the magazine," she said. "You can put a bullet through your brain and make it all stop. Use it whenever you like. Now, before John starts screaming. After. I'm not picky. But you will use it."

"If I don't?"

"If you don't…" She shrugged and gestured with her own pistol. "You got off Bart's roof alive because I had orders, Sherlock, but you're going to leave this room in a zippered bag."

"What if I use it on you?"

"You can try," she said, greatly amused, "if you think you can reach for it, seat the magazine, chamber the round, and point it at me faster than I can pull this trigger. Besides: You're no killer. All these months and you never even tried the obvious solution: Kill Magnussen yourself. So tough. So ruthless. So pathetic."

"Mary, you're not thinking clearly about this," Sherlock said urgently. "Janine needs me alive and you know what she's capable of now, but if you stop this I can still help you."

"And yet I don't want your help. Isn't that odd? Besides, Janine doesn't care what happens to John. But you do. Well," she added brightly, "this has been better than foreplay. You'll have to trust me on that one. Pick up the gun, Sherlock. You're going to need it."

She pressed the button on the detonator.

ooooo

The fact that Sherlock had not yet consented to make an appearance still annoyed John as he stood spooning Chinese leftovers into a bowl, but the food's provenance-the Plum Garden restaurant-reminded him of their first case together and he smiled in spite of himself. Sherlock sometimes exercised his unconventional sense of humour by carelessly delivering remarks that made John laugh as much for their quality of being unexpected as for being in the strictest sense funny, and his deadpan advice when after that first case they went for Chinese was a good example: Try the pork flied lice, he'd said. Over time John realized that those little quips were proof not just of high spirits but of contentment and, in a way, intimacy: He'd never heard Sherlock produce them for anyone else.

John shook his head-and an instant later he was curled on the floor against the cabinets, his arms covering his head, dazed and deafened, his body having taken command and moved faster than his conscious mind could follow. It had happened to him before, but the phenomenon always surprised him. The word bomb flashed through his brain in the time it took him to open his eyes. Both exits to the landing were blocked and sheets of flame engulfed the windows.

ooooo

It went exactly as she knew it would: He was completely out of options and nearly out of control: frantic, breathing hard, teeth bared in a feral snarl of rage and despair. Although his reluctance was evident he'd picked up the gun and seated the magazine, and while he'd not chambered the round he was obviously warring with himself over whether to risk shooting her-because he knew that she'd shoot him if he tried. She knew he didn't care for his own sake, but because it would put an end to even the theoretical chance, however remote, that he could save John. What he did next, however, surprised her.

"Fire!" he roared. "Fire! Call nine-nine-nine!" Instinctively she leveled her gun at him, but it was instantly apparent that if she shot him now she'd have to start a lot more killing than she had bullets for: Doors began opening in the hallway and people were looking out. Sherlock continued to yell, and she struggled to keep an eye on him while sorting out the situation with the tenants. She shifted the gun to her left hand so it wouldn't be visible to them, kept it aimed at him in case he changed his mind about shooting her, and leant back, peering around the jamb at the office workers.

"I'm sorry!" she called with a friendly wave. "Sorry! It's just a joke. A bad one. Really. Estate agent. Got a client here who likes to mess about. I'm so sorry." Even as she was speaking the shouting stopped, and when she looked back into the room Sherlock and the gun were gone.

ooooo

Sherlock knew every street in London and he was intimately familiar with the rooftops, ingresses, and egresses of every building within a one mile radius of home. More than once he'd used these routes to evade detection by criminals and the police alike. The layout of Chalfont Court was no less familiar to him. Each of the top floor suites contained a closet with a metal roof access ladder bolted to the wall below a panel set into the ceiling and opening onto the roof. That was where he needed to go, as quickly and as quietly as possible. He'd closed and locked the bedroom door behind him, of course, but it wouldn't take Mary long to get through once she'd handled the tenants.

Standing on the ladder, he threw the simple bolt and gave the panel a shove-but to his horror the heavy metal door didn't shift. The last time he went through one of these hatches it was a simple thing, but his strength wasn't what it was then. Each time he strained against the panel the pain hit him like a hammer while the panel scarcely moved. He stepped higher on the ladder, turned to put his back to the wall, bent double, and pushed with his shoulders, letting his legs do the work. Starbursts coruscated behind his closed eyelids and he was terrified that he was going to pass out, but he just pushed harder, quickly running out of air and strength-but suddenly the panel yielded. He stepped up to the next rung, groaning with the effort, and slowly, far too slowly, pushed the hatch open. As it passed vertical it suddenly fell open with a great clang.

He scrambled through the opening onto the roof and raced for the edge of the building, for the fire escape that would take him to the alley, but there again his body betrayed him. His intention was to swing himself over the edge of the roof and make a controlled descent to the fire escape landing below, but as he hung by his fingers from the roof the pain made him cry out and in spite of himself he let go, landing on his feet, fortunately, but only just, and he was noisy. Mary would have heard it. He didn't bother ducking as he went by the door that led from the corridor to the landing, and plunged down the stairs.

Before he reached the next landing the door above him opened with a crash, followed by the snap of her pistol as she fired at him, a strangely subdued sound outdoors, not the sonic boom of Hollywood's imagination. The bullet struck the metal somewhere behind him: She might be a dead shot but lead wouldn't penetrate steel. If he could keep the right interval between them he might make it to the alley alive. After that, well…You can stand up or you can curl into a ball but the fire finds both kinds of people and you don't have a choice about that. The only thing you get to decide is what you're going to be doing if it finds you. Sherlock Holmes would be running for John Watson's life.

"I'm coming," he said.

ooooo

"Time to go, Watson," John said to himself, and since he was already on the kitchen floor he reached under the sink and ripped the fire extinguisher from its bracket; the equipment was de rigueur when one's flatmate liked his science 'interesting.' Grabbed the hand towel from the rack-no time to wet it-and clapped it over his nose and mouth. Curtains of black smoke rolled up the walls, hitting the ceiling, billowing out, and cascading down: microbursts in reverse. In seconds it would reduce the visibility to zero and already his eyes burned from the toxic fumes being released. Cyanide gas, among other things.

Crouching low to remain in the cooler air he hurried toward the north living room window. Already the temperature had shot up and the word 'flashover' crossed his mind: Would that happen before or after it got hot enough to kill him? On his way to the window he stopped to grab the poker from the hearth, but he couldn't carry it and the fire bottle and keep the cloth over his face, too. He could hold his breath for maybe a minute, probably less, while he fought to get out, but the first unprotected breath he took would be his last. The super-heated air would sear his trachea, his lungs, and then it would be over: The heat, smoke, or fumes-or all three-would kill him. He took a deep breath and dropped the cloth.

Beneath the window flames streamed from the gaping hole where the power outlet used to be, flaring up well past the sill. He pulled the pin from the extinguisher, squeezed the trigger, and in the respite that granted him swung the poker back-handed and smashed the window. Another shot of halon, but he couldn't clear the glass and glazing bars from the frame as well as he would have liked because he had to breathe and he had to do it now. He held the trigger depressed as long as he could but he was desperate to get out and soon dropped the bottle. Heedless of the glass slicing his hands and the splintered wood scraping his back he scrambled out onto the tiny decorative ledge, and after his first grateful breath of the cold fresh air he had time to be surprised that the ledge held up to his weight. Hoping the rail did the same-it did-he lowered himself until he was hanging above the pavement, then let go, hitting the concrete in a crouch. At once he sprang up and raced back into the building.

In the foyer the smoke and heat were less than they'd been upstairs, but that wouldn't be the case for long. Without slowing he raced straight through to Mrs. Hudson's flat.

So little time had passed since the explosions that she was still standing shocked in the middle of her living room, looking ludicrous with her eyes wide and one hand clapped over her mouth. His appearance must not have inspired confidence, though, because she screamed when she saw him. Without pausing he caught her by the arm and she squawked in protest, but he pulled her along with him, leaving bloody handprints on her sleeve, out the back door to the alley and snapping orders as they went. "Call Fire and Rescue," he said. "Go to Mrs. Turner's. Get as many people out of her building as you can. Hurry!"

Back inside he caught up the extinguisher from her kitchen, intending to attack the blaze on the staircase, but the fire had spread too far for the single extinguisher to be very effective, and in any case the dense black smoke was filling the foyer too quickly, so he dropped the bottle and staggered out the front door, then stood coughing on the pavement, doubled over with his hands on his knees, his eyes watering, and the acrid taste of smoke in his mouth. Already he could hear sirens approaching.

As he straightened to track their progress by ear the unmistakable pop of a pistol reached him and he instinctively dropped into a crouch, glancing about to locate the source. Movement in the alley across the street: He brushed at his watering eyes, but he couldn't fail to recognize the billowing greatcoat and the tall, slim figure it enveloped: Sherlock racing down the fire escape of the Chalfont Court building. Above him on the stairs a flash of red coat-blond hair-Mary. "The hell?" he muttered, and then she raised her arm, pointing at Sherlock, and there was another pop. Then he was running, not conscious of having crossed the road, springing for the gate stretched across the entrance to the alley.

"Sherlock!"

ooooo

Relief-John was alive-followed instantly by dread: Everything Sherlock had tried so hard to avoid was bearing down on him now with nightmare inevitability. "Stay back, John!" he yelled fiercely, knowing it was futile. John would keep coming because that was what John did. With a clash of metal he hit the alley gate at a dead run, grabbed the top bar, and swung himself over.

Now it was Appledore again: the same abyss yawning under Sherlock's feet and no way to stop his fall. None of this was supposed to happen. He'd not wanted John here, he'd not wanted Mary to defy him, and no matter how this ended he was afraid that one of them was going to die. But it was not going to be John. He drew the pistol from his pocket and stepped out from behind the intervening scaffolding, facing Mary squarely and giving her a clear shot at him. It was a simple calculation: John would be her goal now; she'd get to Sherlock in good time, but right now it was John she was after and John he was going to protect with all the time he had left. "Stay back, John!" he yelled again, not daring to turn around.

John paused where he did not because Sherlock told him to but because there was nowhere else for him to go. Not three metres in front of him the alley surface ended. It was at least a four metre drop from the edge of the pavement to the train tracks below, where the Baker Street trains dove under the Chalfont building. He was fully aware of the untenable nature of his position in the narrow alley, scarcely wider than the fire escape itself, with no cover available-the classic 'fatal funnel' so execrated by tacticians-unarmed, and with no clear idea of why Mary was shooting at Sherlock, nor caring, knowing only that somehow he had to make her stop.

"Mary, for Christ's sake, what are you doing?" he cried.

She had her pistol up, trying to aim around Sherlock so she could target John, and there was only so much real estate Sherlock could use to stay in front of her and prevent that, but when she snapped impatiently, "Get out of the way," he knew it was working.

"Mary, stop this," he said, gripping the gun but not raising it because he didn't want to shoot her and he didn't want to get shot. "Let me help you."

"Dammit, Sherlock," John cried, "use the gun!"

"You said I wasn't supposed to kill people!"

"That doesn't apply if they're shooting at you!"

"There's only one round," Sherlock noted, and added under his breath, "and make up your mind."

"Then use it!" John yelled, but Sherlock hesitated and John had rarely felt so helpless. "Mary, God, stop it!"

"But John," she said sweetly, "this is what you like. Tell me this isn't more fun than driving a Volvo."

"Throw it down, Sherlock!"

"I can't!"

"Why the hell not?"

"Don't you get it?" Mary said, still in that same light, careless tone. "He's not the target. You are. As long as he's between us, you're safe. Well, 'safe' in this situation is relative, of course. If he gives you the gun you'll expose yourself to my fire. He doesn't want that-but I do. Husbands are supposed to give their wives what they want, you know."

John didn't understand why she was doing any of this and just then he couldn't afford to care, but whatever she said about her priorities Sherlock seemed to believe. John did not. "Sherlock," he said, and there was a diamond-hard edge to his voice that neither his wife nor his best friend had ever heard before. "There are two of us in this."

Sherlock swallowed. "Yes."

"Did you chamber the round?"

"No."

"Drop it."

And Sherlock did.

John caught the gun, racked it as he slid one step to his right, lining up his shot as she did the same, as the barrel of her gun swung away from Sherlock, and the Sig's deep voice was followed so closely by the crack of her Beretta that the sounds merged into one. John took a half step back and Mary made a quiet 'oof' noise and hunched forward, dropping her gun; it clattered to the asphalt below. Behind her a crater the size of a tea plate appeared in the brick wall, followed instantly by the sharp report of a rifle. John dropped the now-useless Sig, scooped up the Beretta, and darted against the south alley wall in a crouch. A moment later Sherlock joined him.

"The hell's going on, Sherlock?" John gasped.

"Sniper," Sherlock said. "Russians. Across the street, probably in the old bell tower on the two-nineteen building. He doesn't have the angle now. We have a little more time, but not much." He raised his voice so Mary could hear. "It's over, Mary," he called. "They're here."

She'd already gone over the railing to the alley level, not bothering to pinpoint the source of the sniper round, and as he called to her she peered down at the tracks: Too far to jump, but she swung herself over the rim and clambered down using the conduits that lined the brick wall of the rail passage. As she landed in the rail bed she went to her knees. Blood was quickly soaking her shirt. She was well-sheltered from the sniper, however, so far below the alley level and in the lee of the buildings, so she pushed herself up slowly and stood, not entirely steady, and gazed smiling up at them.

"You surprised me," she said breathlessly to John. "Thanks for that. So fast-and I really thought you'd hesitate. Honestly, I did."

"Mary, you're hurt," he called down. "Whatever this is about we can fix it later. Just let me help you now."

Her face twisted into a sneer of contempt. "'Whatever it's about'? Didn't you tell him, Sherlock?"

"I don't care!" John cried. "Just stop this."

She looked from him to Sherlock, smiled, and said, "You were right about him, you know. Watch this." Her determined expression softened as her eyes met John's again. "Save me, then," she said. "That's what you do, isn't it?" She looked down at herself, then back at him and said plaintively, "Help me."

John started forward at once but Sherlock caught his arm. "No!"

"Sherlock!" John cried, outraged, and struggled to wrench himself away. "She's-"

"No!" Sherlock said fiercely. "The rail. The second you touch her she'll make contact. She'll kill herself to kill you."

John stared at him, saw the truth in his eyes, then looked at Mary. There was truth in hers, too. Maybe for the first time since he'd known her. He couldn't think of anything else to say except a hopeless, baffled, "Why?"

"Because I owed him," she snarled.

"Owed…? For what? What are you talking about?"

"He killed Jim."

"Jim?" The given name meant nothing to him in that context.

"Moriarty," Sherlock said.

John couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Moriarty committed suicide!"

"Technically," she said. "But your big hero forced him into it. You were there in the pool building. You heard what Jim said. 'I'll burn your heart out.' That's you, in case you haven't been paying attention."

John couldn't process that much evil. "God, Mary, let it go. Please," he said. "Let me help you."

"Get off the tracks, Mary," Sherlock said.

"Do it," John said urgently, still straining against Sherlock's hand on his arm. "Get off the tracks and I can help you. Hurry."

"It's over, John," she snapped. "Mission accomplished. Now I just want to savor this."

"Savor…?" he said helplessly. "What are you talking about?"

With a knowing, confident expression she knelt down among the cinders and drew the palm of her hand over her bloody shirt, then held it out over the rail. Her eyes met John's. "See you in your dreams," she said, and reached for the steel.

"No!" he screamed, plunging forward, but Sherlock stepped in front of him, taking the shock with a grunt of pain. John fought to evade him but a wave of light-headedness swamped him and there was an odd sort of watery looseness in his limbs. He tried to straighten and then the pain hit him and his knees went like the tendons had been cut. Sherlock's strong arms caught him, eased him down, and he curled onto his side with an agonised groan.

"John? John!" Sherlock cried. "What's wrong? What's wrong?"

The pain took John's breath away and he couldn't answer at once, but after the worst passed he checked himself: fumbled with his shirt, lifted it, found the little entrance wound, just above the leather of his belt. Virtually no blood, which explained the pain. The hemorrhaging was internal. "Shit," he muttered.

"God, John, you're hit. You're shot. She shot you. Tell me what to do. Tell me how to help! John!"

"Not much…" John gasped, squeezing his eyes closed against the pain. "Bleeding's internal…surgery's…" He broke off, groaning, and at one remove he was aware of Sherlock calling emergency services, snapping out orders on how to reach the alley, but he devoted most of his attention to keeping his breathing shallow and the pain at bay. It wasn't working.

"They're on the way," Sherlock said. "Tell me how to help you."

The pain made it nearly impossible to focus or think clearly, but John's answer was automatic. "Look for…an exit wound."

"Of course…Right…Okay…Uh…Yes."

"Bleeding?"

"Yes."

"'kay," John said. "Direct pressure."

But when Sherlock whipped the scarf from his neck and pressed it against John's back he writhed away from the pain with a gasp. Sherlock started back, appalled, but John caught his wrist. "Don't let go."

"It's hurting you!" Sherlock cried, beyond distressed.

"It will do," John ground out. "Go on." Gingerly Sherlock tried again and John did his best not to react-it was just upsetting Sherlock-but in spite of himself tears seeped from behind his closed lids. "Sherlock."

"Yes?"

"I don't…Why was she here? Why did she…"

"It doesn't matter now," Sherlock said, his voice hoarse. "What else? There must be something else I can do."

John shook his head. "EMTs."

"They're across the road with the fire," Sherlock said angrily. "Should have been here by now. I told them how to get out here using Chalfont. Why must I do everyone's thinking for them?"

"You're…cleverer," John said. Sherlock liked to be flattered about that. "What'd she mean…'Right about him'?"

"Hm?"

"You heard me."

"Nothing. It doesn't matter."

"Sherlock."

"I, uh…I told her nothing she did would have worked-her plan-if…if you weren't what you are."

"Great," John said. "Always…always my fault. What am I?"

"A good man."

If he'd not already known how much it would hurt he'd have laughed at that. "That a truth?"

"The truth," Sherlock said. "Of course, it takes one to know one."

"Knew you were gonna say that."

"No, you didn't."

"Did."

"She had to rely on your virtue, John. As do I."

"Scarf's ruined," John said. "Sorry."

When Sherlock didn't answer John opened his eyes and looked up into his white, anguished face; he was shaking badly. John squeezed his hand tighter but when he spoke his voice was little more than a whisper. "It's okay, mate. It is. Trust your doctor."

Sherlock's eyes filled. "Don't."

"Tell…EMTs-"

"You tell them."

"Permissive…hypo…" Dammit, he couldn't do it. In the distance Sherlock was shouting at him, frantic, but fainter and fainter with each iteration of his name as a loud ringing filled his ears and the grey fog creeping in at the edges of his vision segued to an impenetrable black.


– End Chapter 17 –

Ch. 1    Ch. 2    Ch. 3    Ch. 4    Ch. 5    Ch. 6    Ch. 7    Ch. 8    Ch. 9    Ch. 10    Ch. 11    Ch. 12    Ch. 13    Ch. 14    Ch. 15    Ch. 16    Ch. 17    Ch. 18    Ch. 19    Ch. 20    Epilog



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