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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 1


Carole Manny & Lynn Walker

"In layman's terms, an event horizon is defined as 'the point of no return,' i.e., the point at which the gravitational pull between two objects becomes so great as to make escape impossible." - Wikipedia

"Men are designed for greatness, a greatness that few ever achieve. True human happiness consists, simply put, in living virtuously. And virtuous living is the fundamental requirement and the necessary context for that deepest of human longings: true friendship." - John Cuddeback


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas.

In his first forty-one years on earth John Watson heard and expressed that sentiment dozens-perhaps hundreds-of times, nearly always with unalloyed pleasure. Sherlock Holmes ruined it for him. Of course he did. Burning himself into people's memories was what Sherlock did, just by virtue of being his singular, extraordinary self, generally while more or less obnoxiously demonstrating his brilliance.

Not this time.

As a man Sherlock was flawed, but as a detective so rare were his failures and so dazzling and remarkable his successes that John's confidence in his powers-his ability to perform apparent miracles-was very nearly absolute.

Until now.

This time, in answer to John's question, We have a plan, right? Sherlock replied with a tacit but unequivocal No. This time, on the patio of the estate called Appledore, Sherlock Holmes plunged to a low that John would have furiously denied was even possible, had he not witnessed it.

In a way John blamed himself. He hadn't grasped the extent of Sherlock's stark desperation. Not then. Not until it was far too late. Despite all the evidence he'd amassed, despite knowing Sherlock better than he'd known anyone else in his life, John never fully understood the depth of his friend's humanity until that night, when Sherlock abandoned it.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

As a boy, John Watson's favorite chore was mowing the family's small patch of lawn and the lawns of as many neighbors as he could coax into giving him access to theirs. The money he earned in this way was charming, but what he really liked about it was that the results of his work were instantly apparent. Once he settled on medicine as a career, the decision to specialize in trauma surgery was an easy one. Every action he took and every choice he made produced instant results. Better still, and in contrast to the necessarily solitary nature of mowing, the process of leading other highly skilled professionals who matched his intensity and focus led him to discover the profound satisfaction of fighting for something valuable as part of a team.

He was younger then, less inclined to introspect-which is not to say that he was entirely thoughtless-but he'd not fully understood how vital to his happiness that sense of teamwork was until he'd lost it. Ahead of him when he returned to England after his discharge from the army stretched empty decades of civilian life, bleak, futile, and inconsequential.

Then he met Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock infused everything he did with passionate intensity and his own particular brand of integrity-when he could be bothered to bestir himself from the sofa. In his friendship John rediscovered what he thought he'd lost forever: the joy and peace of fighting for something without reserve beside a friend whose intensity and courage matched his own. With Sherlock, John regained what he lost when he left the service, and he regained it tenfold.

None of which was to say that their friendship fell into place at once, fully formed, or that it always advanced smoothly, or even at all. Still, while Sherlock spent an inordinate amount of time trying, generally successfully, to convince the world of his sociopathy, and while John had been inclined to agree with him at first, he'd finally amassed too much evidence to the contrary to entertain the notion any longer. Sherlock could be focused, ruthless, and unsparing of himself and others, and he was an artist at subordinating his feelings to the facts-but he did feel, and passionately at that. No one immune to emotions would be so desperate to prove that he didn't have any. Presenting a cold, anti-social front to the world was how he protected himself. It took time and patience and no small measure of forgiveness on John's part before he saw the truth of who Sherlock was, but 'sociopath' was not it.

All of which made what happened last night even harder for John to grasp, and he was already hopelessly lost, because last night he'd discovered that the woman he'd made his wife never existed.

By now the ICU staff no longer took much notice of him. He was as much a fixture about the place as any of them as he sat with a clear view of the monitors arrayed behind and around Sherlock's bed, waiting and watching. They'd got used to John last week during Sherlock's first ICU stay, when he'd spent three days there after Sherlock was shot during the break-in at Magnussen's offices. No. Not 'after he was shot,' John thought angrily. After Mary shot him. Sherlock flat-lined on the operating table; the surgeon called time of death. How he'd clawed his way out of the abyss mystified and baffled the doctor, and although to be fair the man had no way of knowing Sherlock's history of performing miracles it mystified John, too.

Aside from Sherlock's life there was nothing John wanted more desperately than answers to the questions that tortured him. Answers, however, would not be forthcoming until Sherlock recovered. Maybe not even then. Meanwhile, John had all the time in the world. He closed the sliding glass door of the room less for Sherlock's benefit-the sedation rendered him insensible to the noise and tumult of the ward-than for his own. He needed to think.

At Leinster Gardens and in Baker Street he'd been kneecapped by what he'd just discovered about Mary; the ride to hospital in the ambulance, time spent filling out paperwork, and the anxious hours of the surgery kept his thoughts fragmented and effectively incoherent. He'd been incapable of examining critically everything Sherlock said to him yesterday, starting, to take just one example, with the idea that Mary shot him 'surgically.' The very idea was idiotic, John knew; Sherlock knew it, too, and if Mary was what Sherlock claimed she was she'd know it as well. Why would Sherlock say it, then? For that matter, why would he say any of the things he had, so many of which John knew to be false?

Is everyone I've ever met a psychopath? John had asked. It was a rhetorical question born of anger and profound distress, but Sherlock chose to treat it literally. Yes, he'd said. Didn't deny the accusation, either, although John had never heard him pass up an opportunity to correct people with 'I'm a high-functioning sociopath.' Semantics aside John still knew it was rubbish.

All the same, Sherlock decided last night to insist upon the point, and he'd included Mary in that category, as well, claiming that John was drawn to them both because of their psychopathy. You're drawn to a certain lifestyle, he'd said. You couldn't last a month in the suburbs without storming a crack den. It was true that the comparative sterility of domesticity weighed sadly on John, but he'd done enough introspecting in therapy to work out why he loved working on their cases and to know what he missed about them. That month-long hiatus resurrected the old feelings of loss he'd endured on his return to England, but while he'd longed for something more interesting than his vanilla suburban life, he'd not gone to retrieve the neighbor's boy with the aim of picking a fight, either.

Sherlock's brother once accused John of missing the war; John knew that he'd be a psychopath himself if that were true. As for Sherlock, much of his knowledge about human nature was paint-by-numbers stuff that didn't always serve him well when he was confronted with the nuances, vagaries, and irrationalities of real human beings, but he knew himself and he knew John well enough to know that the 'you're attracted to psychopaths' idea was rot. Therefore, John decided, he said it for a reason other than its truth.

And now that he thought about it, John realized that while Sherlock didn't introduce the topic he did run with it. If he didn't do so for himself and he didn't do so for John, then he did it for Mary. For some reason, Sherlock wanted Mary to believe…what? That it was John's fault that he married a serial killer? Sherlock made a point of aligning himself with her. Having a problem with betrayal and assassination made John the unreasonable one, while she was just the client Sherlock wanted to help. John couldn't reconcile Sherlock's behaviour with what he knew was true and what he knew Sherlock knew was true. Nor could he reconcile the Mary Morstan he'd known for the last year with what he discovered about her last night. Check your premises, John, Sherlock was fond of telling him. Contradictions can't exist.

What drew him to Mary, then? Psychopathy, as Sherlock said? Like hell. When he met her he'd been mourning Sherlock's apparent death for over a year. Still shell-shocked. He'd spent a good deal of that time half-believing that the suicide was a trick, because self-murder was so horribly, unutterably wrong for the most vibrantly alive human being he'd ever known. Yet Sherlock plunged off that building right in front of him. After a time, when no hints to the contrary emerged-no cryptic messages, no clues, no hope-John descended into an even darker place, although with the image of his friend's shattered body burned into his brain he'd not believed a darker place existed. There would be no miracle. Sherlock was not coming back. His death, like all the others John had seen, was real and it was final.

A year after Sherlock's suicide John was desperate for the pain to stop. His decision to return to work was intended to help him alleviate it. The new nurse at the clinic said "I'm sorry for your loss" just like everyone else did when he returned. When she smiled at him it was without guile or an agenda; she never obtruded herself into his notice. She was professional; kind and competent with the patients; and at all times bright, personable, and buoyantly confident. When he asked her out for coffee she'd seemed surprised but pleased. She never pressed him to talk about his loss. Never pressed him to speak of anything at all, but as his affection for her grew he shared more of his inner self, although he didn't speak of Sherlock until they'd been dating for three months, and then only because she discovered Lestrade's shoebox full of memorabilia.

She'd found it stowed in the TV cabinet when she was looking for a movie they could watch together. Of course she'd asked about the odd collection of items in the box. Anyone would have. His face must have reflected the stab of pain he'd felt, because she apologized at once and urged him to forget she'd even asked, but he thought it was important for her to know, or at least important for him to share with her, so he told her about the items in the box, about why Greg had brought them round, how Sherlock had come by them, and how John became friends with a man firmly believed by all who met him to be utterly incapable of friendship.

They never got around to watching movies that night. John spoke of Sherlock to Mary as he'd not spoken even to his therapist, and he'd talked until he was hoarse. Mary had listened, sometimes laughing, sometimes with tears in her eyes. Speaking about Sherlock still hurt, but somehow it felt like a tribute, too, and John understood that trusting Mary enough to share his loss meant that he'd reached a milestone in his recovery. When he made love to her that night it was with a sense of peace that he'd not known for more than a year. In wondering the next day why he'd been so willing to let this woman see his heartbreak he realized with a shock that it was because he loved her.

Eight nights ago she killed Sherlock.

John dropped his head in his hands as his eyes filled. God, what the fuck was happening to him? Abruptly he was brought back to the present when Sherlock exhaled audibly. The sedation kept him from waking fully, but his eyelids fluttered as he resisted it.

Roughly brushing his face with the heels of his hands John sat up, flicking his gaze over the monitors. Except for HR and RR, slightly elevated because Sherlock was stirring, nothing had changed. He gave Sherlock's forearm a pat. "All right, mate," he said. "It's okay. Rest while you can. You know we hate it when patients aren't sleep-deprived."

The thoracic epidural Sherlock received in the operating theatre was keeping him pain-free for the moment so John wasn't concerned that he was uncomfortable. There was no evidence of occlusion in the chest tube drain line. He peeled back the dressing from around the tube: still securely in place. Relief when he'd made triply sure there was no evidence of crepitation that would indicate sub-Q emphysema. Breath sounds normal. He arranged the chest tube drain line so it was more nearly vertical, and having satisfied himself that everything was as it should be he twitched the pillows into a better position to keep Sherlock's airway clear, lowered the head of the bed incrementally, and adjusted the blanket to keep him warm.

Sherlock muttered something unintelligible and his eyes opened uncomprehending, but he relaxed and drifted away again when John took his hand. He would not remember anything that happened to him while he was sedated, but John believed that in the moment, at least, he would understand that he was not in this fight alone.

Jesus, Sherlock, he thought despairingly, what the hell are we going to do? Such a profound betrayal. Such a massive fraud. To what end? Why? It was just the first of a thousand questions John couldn't answer about his wife.

Sherlock taught him the value of looking for the motives behind words and actions, but it was not something that came naturally to him even now, and very often he neglected to do it because his default was to take people at face value, just as he presented himself. On this as on innumerable other things Sherlock had an opinion: He maintained that it was an error rooted in John's tendency to ascribe his own virtues to others.

So: Motives. Sherlock himself never did anything without a reason. Everything he did and said last night, then, was by design. Everything he said and even how he said it. He was bleeding out. He was running out of time and he knew it. Whatever he knew or suspected about Mary, he didn't have time to share it with John and he wasn't willing to say it in front of Mary. His words were designed to buy himself time. "Time for what?" John wondered aloud.

'I can't tell you everything yet,' Sherlock said when John met him in Leinster Gardens. 'Not now. Maybe not for a very long time. You're going to wonder what the truth is and I won't be able to answer you.'

'You never tell me everything,' John replied. 'How is this any different?'

'Because this time it's going to hurt you.'

'So how is this any different?' John asked again.

'John, please. There isn't much time. What happens next will hurt. When it does you need to remember that I told you the truth of that, because in a few minutes everything will depend on it. Everything. Your life. Remember that I'm telling you this now. Please.'

Remember. John hadn't understood him then, but now…Remember who lied to him. Remember who did not. When he was standing knee-deep in the ashes of his life, when Sherlock couldn't explain because he'd nearly killed himself to warn him about Mary, when the fallout was at its worst: Remember who told him the truth.

Leinster Gardens was true. What Sherlock said in the flat was a lie. A lie not for John, apparently, but for Mary, and for an end John couldn't begin to guess. Did it work? he wondered. Mary could always tell when Sherlock was lying, or said she could. Did she believe that he was taking her side last night? That she was his 'client'? That he forgave her for shooting him? That last one might even be true, John thought. The great muppet might very well think that it was the rational thing to do, in the circumstances. But then why did he make a point of revealing her culpability at such a terrible cost to himself, and why now? No. No, he must have a chase in view, and he wanted John to know of the danger while still convincing Mary that he was working for her. Whatever he said last night was what he wanted Mary to believe, not John. Why? John couldn't begin to conceive of a reason.

I won't be able to answer you. John looked down at Sherlock's hand in his own. You will, he thought. I believe that.

Last night he'd thought Mary was being stoic in the face of his rage-after all, how could she defend the indefensible?-but now he wondered. Was that courage or calculation? She never even apologized to Sherlock for shooting him. She never did a lot of things that he'd expect someone to do in the circumstances. Like explain herself or at least act like she was coming clean with him. Wouldn't anyone else caught in a lie that massive and accused of a crime that egregious beg to be forgiven? In fact, she hardly said a word, now that he thought of it. She offered nothing: neither confirmed nor denied most of what Sherlock said about her. She just stood there, still and listening like a…like one of those ambush predators that lies motionless until its prey wanders into range. Taking it all in like she was just gathering information. To what end, though? Christ, he was back to that.

Reasons, then. Motives. Mary never offered any. Her only flicker of emotion came when she angrily defended the idea of killing Magnussen. People like him deserve to die. That's why there are people like me. People like her. What is she? Sherlock kept asking him yesterday. John's answer was different from Sherlock's: She's a liar. A liar who faked everything about herself to the man she claimed to love. Could someone who genuinely loved him kill someone he loved? Everything she knew about John's desolation didn't stop her from shooting Sherlock herself. She was willing to put John through that agony again, by her own hand. John angrily dismissed the idea that she'd wanted to protect him. Even in his distress it was hard for him to face those kinds of emotions comfortably, but of the two, his wife and his best friend, which one had acted like someone would who loved him? With what he knew about her now could he imagine Mary nearly killing herself for his sake, the way Sherlock did last night?

For that matter, could he imagine Sherlock lying to him about the very essence of what he was? He faked his death to save John, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson, and as usual he made an over-dramatic production of the whole thing and prolonged it well past its sell-by date, but that was Sherlock. Whatever he understood now about his value to John, he didn't understand it two years ago. Vapor-locking when John asked him to be his best man proved that. But Sherlock never, not from the moment they met, misrepresented to John who he was. He had a very take-me-or-leave-me attitude with everyone, and seemed just as pleased when people chose option B. At all times John had enough information to make an informed decision about whether to continue the friendship or not. Mary, though. Was anything he knew about her true?

He got up, went to the sink, splashed cold water on his face, then stood there with his elbows on the rim and the water running, his head hanging over the basin.

He'd been in love with a fraud. She spent the last year lying to him for reasons he couldn't even conceive of. The woman he thought was his wife didn't exist, but more devastatingly she couldn't exist. Not in the person of an assassin, an unrepentant killer. A killer who was carrying his child. He shut off the water, not bothering to dry his hands, staggered into the bathroom, and closed the door. Leant back against it and let his feet slide out from under him, and then he sat on the floor and wept.

– End Chapter 1 –

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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