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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 7

by

Carole Manny & Lynn Walker



As a trauma surgeon at the head of a team of highly-trained professionals, John Watson learned to lead. As a soldier he learned to follow. In both cases he'd been used to giving or receiving clear, explicit information and direction and to knowing unambiguously the right course to take. Regardless of the role he assumed at any given moment, the army had been a way of life for him and he loved it, flaws and all, because it gave him a measure of certainty. He'd have remained there for the rest of his life if an Uzi round hadn't changed his plans.

Neither information nor direction were as forthcoming from Sherlock as John considered optimal. The detective's long-standing habit of self-imposed isolation explained part of it; his flair for drama explained still more; and the delight he took in amazing John with the solutions to cases dispensed with the rest. To those tendencies was now added his refusal to give John more information than was safe for him to know.

John's trust in his friend was entire: He was confident that Sherlock had an end game in mind and that its success depended in part on withholding or even misrepresenting some information, but more important he was confident that underlying and justifying his methods was the friendship Sherlock felt for him. It wasn't always obvious, but even when his solicitude took the form of jumping off a building and disappearing for two years, Sherlock was motivated by what he judged to be John's best interests.

It was a measure of that trust that John tolerated the uncertain situation in which he now found himself as well as he did, because success in his former life had depended on his knowing: knowing how to treat and repair a given injury or how to carry out an order-in short, it depended on seeing a clear path for action. This chronic state of not knowing left him tense, unhappy, and emotionally flayed. Added to the uncertainty was the problem of his indeterminate status: neither Sherlock's flatmate nor Mary's husband, because while Sherlock's recovery was advanced to the point that not even by the most tenuous reasoning could John justify remaining in Baker Street to look after him, neither was there any question of going back to the house he'd shared with Mary, because he certainly would not be returning to her.

Whether he could forgive what she did in the past was irrelevant; the fact was that he couldn't forgive what she'd done in the present. He'd meant to spend his life with her, just as he'd meant to spend his life as a soldier, but other people kept taking those choices out of his hands. The man on whose decisions had depended the lives of his fellow soldiers passionately resented that loss of control, but whereas he could tolerate it from Sherlock because he was confident of his friend's motive, he now knew that whatever Mary's reasons were for deceiving him they were not based on love. Despite what he'd intended she was never the woman he would have raised a family with, never the woman he would have grown old with.

On a wintry, wet, and raw morning three days into December, Sherlock sat reading the newspapers at the living room table as wisps of steam rose curling from his tea cup. He glanced at John as he came downstairs, observed the tension in his shoulders and the set of his jaw-neither of which was new but both of which were more pronounced than ever today-and while he judged these signs unpropitious considering what he was going to introduce as a topic, Christmas was just three weeks away and John would need every bit of that time to adjust to what Sherlock was going to ask of him.

John found a bagel in the bread bin, toasted it, spread it with jam, and stood eating it over the sink. When he finished he brushed the crumbs from his hands, poured a cup of coffee, and brought it to his chair, where he considered Sherlock: His appearance, while perfectly usual, suggested none of the lively tension typical of the detective when he was making progress on a satisfying case. Therefore he had some other reason for being up this early in the day. "What's going on?" John asked with resignation.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "Why do you say it like that?"

"You don't have a case. You weren't up all night, so the fact that you're up now means you're out of bed a good two hours earlier than usual. Therefore something's up, and the track record of the last two months strongly implies that it's going to suck. So what is it?"

Sherlock couldn't entirely suppress a little smile at this. "I'm going to trade the information about Mary for something Magnussen would much rather have."

John nodded. "Great. Shall I phone for the ambulance now or…?"

"It won't come to that."

"Uh-huh. And what are you trading?"

"It's better that-"

"That I not know. Fine. When are you going to make this offer he can't refuse?"

"At Christmas dinner."

John blinked. "You're having Christmas dinner with Magnussen."

"Worse," Sherlock said. "With my parents."

"Seriously?"

"Desperate times, desperate measures," Sherlock said, then explained. "I need Mycroft's physical presence to make this work. The only way to get that is to get him out of London, and the only way to get him out of London is to agree to it for him. My mother's annual campaign to make us both go home for the holiday is going to kick into high in about-" glanced at his watch "-four days. If I call her and accept on Mycroft's behalf, nothing short of a nuclear blast centered on Parliament will allow him to back out, and I very much doubt that she'd let him off the hook even with that lame excuse. You and I will drive from there to Magnussen's and I will present him with-with the trade goods."

"Wait. 'You and I'? You want me to come to Christmas dinner with your parents?"

"No, I want you to come to my parents' house on the pretext of dinner and then go with me to Magnussen's. Aren't you listening?" He looked curiously at John. "Why do you look so shocked? You've been dying to gossip with them about me ever since you learned of their existence. Gossip which, I'm sorry say, you will not have time for, as Mary's coming too."

John's face closed off like a door slammed shut. "Forget it."

"John."

"No." Then, a second later, "What the hell for?"

"Magnussen's knowledge of her enemies is a risk to Mary, correct?"

"Yeah," John said impatiently. "We've been over this."

"It's a risk," Sherlock said, "but not an immediate one, because he's keeping that leverage in reserve."

"For what?"

"You know that Magnussen's big on what he calls pressure points. If he controls Mary he ultimately controls Mycroft." Sherlock waited as John connected the dots.

"She's not my pressure point," John concluded after a minute, his voice low. "Not any more."

"Magnussen thinks she is," Sherlock insisted. "If that changes he'll wonder why. If he wonders why it means he's spending too much time thinking about what I'm doing. I don't want him to spend any time thinking about that."

"Because…?"

"Because it would increase the risk to you. John: Mary's enemies won't discriminate between her and the people standing around her. If Magnussen pulls the trigger they'll kill you as well, just to send a message. But he won't pull the trigger, or at least not yet. For now he's got too much leverage to actually have to use it. Right now he thinks he controls Mycroft through Mary, you, and me. If he realizes that Mary's not part of that chain any more, then the danger to you becomes primary, not secondary. You'll stop being potential collateral damage and become the actual intended target, always in the crosshairs, never knowing when your time is up."

John thought about it, but he couldn't find a hole in that logic so he made a hopeless gesture designed to convey the sentiment, 'If you say so.' "Why do you want her to come to dinner?"

"I want you to reconcile with her."

John received that almost as well as Sherlock expected him to. Fortunately both of them were already sitting down and John had no way to punch him for even suggesting it. He clapped the mug down on the end table, slopping coffee everywhere.

"Are you-are you out of your mind? No bloody way. Forget it. Sherlock, you just got through saying that being around her makes me collateral damage!"

"It puts you at risk of being collateral damage," Sherlock corrected. "If it were certain I wouldn't propose it, and of the risks to which you're currently exposed I calculate that it's by far the smallest. Although frankly that's not saying much."

"Oh, good to know," John cried sarcastically. "Because for a minute there it sounded like you were suggesting a suicide mission. An extended, indefinite suicide mission. Because I'm telling you, Sherlock, I can't do this for much longer, this-" vague hand wave "-where we're not husband and wife, not divorced, not anything."

Sherlock was shaking his head. "John, listen. It won't be indefinite. She's got time constraints. For a start, she's pregnant. Given what I suspect her of intending she won't be willing or able to let that advance too much farther before she acts. Also given what I believe she has planned, keeping you close to her is the easiest way to anticipate what she does. It will keep her options relatively delimited and far more predictable."

"Options for what?"

"I can't-"

"Tell me yet. Dammit-" He stopped. They'd been over this. He knew why Sherlock wasn't willing to fill him in yet, and he was getting all emotional over something that wasn't going to change. He sighed and made a little 'go on' motion with his hand. "Sorry."

"Time constraints," Sherlock said again. "Reconciling with Mary is risky, yes, but it's manageable risk because from her perspective it will put her back in control and that's always going to be safer than the alternative. Right now she's still waiting to see how we're going to resolve all this, but if she believes that you're beyond her control for good the danger to you will increase exponentially and become far harder to predict."

John already knew that Sherlock wasn't going to tell him what this risk was, but he couldn't help himself. "You do realize that I can't make an informed decision about this unless you, you know: inform me."

"I know. I'm sorry," Sherlock said, and he meant it.

John sulked at the fireplace. After nearly six minutes of sitting there brooding in silence he said, "I can't, Sherlock. I'm sorry. You have to find another way. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do, but I can't make a marriage work with a serial killer. I can't reconcile with her."

"You don't have to," Sherlock said. "You just have to make her think you are."

"How the hell am I supposed to do that?" John cried. "You said yourself I'm no good at lying. Hell, she sees through you half the time. Anyway, we haven't even spoken since that night. How's it going to look if I just suddenly decide out of the blue that everything's all better?"

"Don't worry. I've prepared the ground quite carefully."

"The hell does that mean?"

"She's my client, John. I've kept in regular contact with her for the last two months, just as I would with any client who needed to be kept informed of the progress of her case. Everything she's prepared to believe, I've told her: that you miss her; that this has been a very painful experience for you; and that you'll do just about anything to make things right. All true in one sense for you but another for her. Given all that it will seem perfectly reasonable when I tell her that it would mean a lot to you if she came out to the house with us. And yes," he added, anticipating John's next objection, "I will tell her not to expect too much from you. That should stop her wondering why you're so…you know."

"What?"

"Tense?" Sherlock offered after some consideration.

"Why the hell would she even believe me?"

"She already believes it. That's half the battle. She believes you're a romantic, and so you are."

"Not feeling very romantic right this second," John replied.

"No. That would be weird. But she's ready to believe that you want this all to be over with."

"I do."

"Yes, exactly: It's the truth, which works in our favor. And she underestimates you, which is also in our favor. She believed you were too conflict-averse to read the thumb drive. That you're too conflict-averse to dig into her past. She has no idea that you know about Irkutsk or anything else. From her perspective-"

"From her perspective I'm the chump who'll go crawling back because I'm too afraid to face reality."

"Exactly!" Sherlock cried, delighted that he grasped it. And at John's chagrined expression, "Well, you're not, obviously."

"Yeah, thanks."

"Don't you see? It's exactly what she needs to think, and because it's also what she wants to think it will make your job easier. Christmas is the perfect setting for a reconciliation, exactly the sort of milestone date a romantic would use to make a grand gesture like that."

"You're the one who's always reminding me what a rubbish liar I am, and you think I can pull that off. An acting job like that."

"Are you certain you'd be acting?"

John couldn't believe he just heard that. "Oh, I really need for that to be some kind of devil's advocate crap, because if you think I could actually go back to her, knowing what I know now, then I just ran fresh out of friends. Sherlock, two months ago I found out that she's a serial killer. I found out that everything she ever told me about herself was a lie. I found out that my wife, the woman I fell in love with and married, never actually existed."

"Yes, and you processed that information very quickly. Skipped denial and went straight to anger."

"I 'processed' it quickly?" John cried, a dangerous light springing up in his dark eyes. "How long should it take? What the hell do you want me to say? That I'm still 'meh' on whether it's a good idea to raise babies with someone who executes people for fun and profit? Should my next step be acceptance? Don't you think that would make me a psychopath?"

"Yes," Sherlock said in the low, calm voice he so often used when John was agitated. "And you aren't." He paused, and when he knew that John was ready to listen he continued.

"We've done a lot of dangerous things, you and I. Separately. Together. None of them more dangerous than what we're facing now. Mary successfully manipulated both of us for over a year. She's a woman with lethal skills and an agenda that puts you in real danger. Unfortunately every alternative I can project puts you in more, but if you really think you can't do this then there are alternatives."

John glared at him. "I'm getting sick of hearing about the risk to me. What about the risk to you?"

Sherlock shrugged. "That doesn't matter."

"It matters to me."

"I know. Which is why you need to be sure about this. Absolutely sure."

He never answered John's question-What about the risk to you?-and John knew what that meant: It was as bad or worse than his own.

After two months Sherlock was finally offering him what he'd been looking for: A direction. The certainty of one of two outcomes, just as John always had in medicine and in the army: He would either save the patient or he would not; he would either complete the mission successfully or he would not. Now they would either win as Sherlock defined it or they would lose. Either way, the time of inaction was over, and that was what he'd been waiting for.

"John," Sherlock said again. "You have to be sure."

He was peering straight into John's face with his intense, pale eyes, assessing, evaluating, and John faced him squarely, letting him see what he was looking for. She killed you, he thought. "I'm sure," he said.

"Do you still have it?" Sherlock asked.

John blinked at the non sequitur. "Sorry?"

"Your wedding ring."

Sherlock glanced down at his hand, and John followed his gaze. "I took it off," he said.

"On the fourteenth of October between three and half four in the morning. I can't pin it down more accurately than that, I'm afraid, as I was asleep, but let's say a quarter past four, give or take ten minutes either side."

John glared at him. "Four twenty-eight. I suppose you knew I was going to do that, too." He wasn't pleased about it. "How?"

"The night of Leinster Gardens," Sherlock said. "You failed to do a very particular thing."

"What's that?"

"You never asked her to give you a reason to stay."

John swallowed, shook his head. "I can't live like that, Sherlock. All that lying: That's not love. Of course, at the time I still thought there'd been something real between us. How long have you known there wasn't?"

"Not until she shot me."

"That was your first clue?"

"Actually, no. But it was the first one I wasn't too thick to notice."


– End Chapter 7 –

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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