The flames in the fireplace were gnawing on the gaily crackling logs of dry birch, the warmth of the fire expelling the cold of the late spring evening, causing a cosiness and homeliness that helped to chase away even the cold of the latest experiences and impressions of Sherlock and John.
The ex-soldier was resting his injured leg on a stool by his favourite armchair and the Consulting Detective was sitting opposite him, now dressed in his pyjamas and dressing gown. Both were holding a cup of hot tea in their hands, which, among a plate of still warm chocolate cookies, had been provided by the overjoyed Mrs Hudson. After a tirade of curses over their rashness and all the sorrow they were causing her, she had embraced them warmly on their return home and shooed them to sit down and relax, and, reminding them of her position as a landlady and not their housekeeper, she had rushed downstairs, only to come back after a while with a flowered pot of tea, the matching wide-rimmed cups and the sweet delicacies.
The two men looked at each other briefly, before taking another sip of their hot beverages.
"There's something you need to explain to me, Sherlock." John tried, hoping that his friend would be willing to talk.
Sherlock eyed John for a moment, then put his cup down on the saucer on his lap.
"I know exactly what you want to know," he replied and John pursed his lips briefly before raising his eyebrows invitingly.
"Arsine," he merely stated and the doctor nearly spat out his tea, choking on it on the attempt at trying not to spray everything within a fair distance with a mouthful of liquid. There was a long list of swearwords reeling off in front of his inner eye, but he refrained from speaking any of them out loud. He knew Arsine as a chemical weapon. It was quite easy to produce, very poisonous and absolutely idiotic to make use of in a surrounding that was covered with substances containing chlorine unless you were on a kamikaze mission as it became highly explosive in contact with the substance. Given that he had actually had Arsine at hand and would have used it, he would very likely have killed not only Mrs Campbell, but also Molly and himself, plus John and Mycroft, however without knowing.
Collecting himself, John scrutinized Sherlock for a moment before stating matter-of-factly, "So, you really wanted to kill her."
"I wanted revenge. I didn't want to kill her. Killing is a means of the helpless man. It would have just been the last resort, my life insurance, so to say."
"What kind of life insurance is it that kills the insured?! And Molly!"
"It was my luck - and her luck that the factory she had chosen was covered in bleaching powder. I... um..." he hesitated.
"You made a mistake, right?"
Silence. Sherlock lowered his eyes and stared into his cup.
"It wasn't part of your scheme that Molly would be kidnapped. Am I right?"
The Consulting Detective gritted his teeth. "It wasn't intended that she would be hurt. She was just to lure the... woman into her room and negotiate my murder. I would have recorded her confession and sent her to her fate: Mycroft."
"Does that sound any better?" John wondered, unaware that he had spoken aloud.
"Hm?" Sherlock probed.
"Nothing. - And then you had missed something..."
Sherlock ran his hand through his hair. "I don't know how it could happen; too much distraction, I guess, but I had assumed she had had her stooges to do the legwork and the dirty work. I hadn't thought she would recognize Molly. Nobody recognizes Molly."
"Sherlock!" John scolded. "She has just helped you catch the woman who had been hunting you for a while in order to kill you. She's just spent a couple of days in bed to recover from the concussion she took just to save you! You're ungrateful!"
"I'm not!" Sherlock burst out angrily. "I'm just stating a plain, objective fact. No personal assessment, just the truth."
"And still, it's exactly the thing that would terribly hurt her - and she would be right!"
"I won't tell her." the Consulting Detective suggested innocently.
"Pfff!" John shook his head. Sherlock would never understand such things. He didn't mean it in a hurtful way. He was just like a little child innocently telling you the cruellest facts straight into your face.
"That could have easily resulted in a fatal outcome!"
"It was a stalemate. If she had carried out her threat of using Tabun, it would have become ineffective instantly, so it was useless. The Arsine would have blown up the whole building, so it was useless as well. I wasn't on a kamikaze spree, really!"
"But she had a gun..."
"...that she didn't know how to use. The magazine wasn't locked. Everything had been perfectly ok until you showed up."
"Pah! Are you blaming us now for rushing to your help?!" John was furious. He put down his cup on the saucer and more or less slammed both on the side table. "How could I have foreseen that your brother was about to suffer a heart attack?!"
"He didn't have one, I told you so!"
"Yes, panic attack then. You said he was acting! You know, distinguishing a heart attack from a panic attack is a diagnosis of elimination and it's impossible do that from a distance, let alone through an half open door with a weapon at the ready to save your friend from being shot! Damn it, Sherlock!"
John exhaled deeply, closing his eyes and trying to calm down. He heard Sherlock rustle and, unanticipated, felt the sleuth's hand on his shoulder.
"I'm not blaming you for anything. - Thank you, John."
The flatmates looked at each other, and John was nonplussed about the sincerity in his friend's eyes. Still under the impression of their battle of words, he couldn't resist snapping back, though.
"For spoiling your scheme?" he asked?
"I was really afraid he would die," Sherlock admitted quietly, his voice calm and dark and his hand still resting on John's shoulder.
"We really couldn't know it was just a panic attack. The symptoms are very similar to a real heart attack. "
"Such a drama queen, he is," Sherlock stated mockingly. He took away his hand and went into the kitchen, leaving the doctor giggling.
"I know another one. - Seriously, Sherlock, you should really thank him. He wouldn't have panicked if he hadn't been under such stress."
"He's constantly under stress."
"You're doing pretty well in keeping him busy."
"I didn't ask him to be my nanny," the Consulting Detective shouted from the adjoining room.
The younger man returned from the kitchen, holding out a glass of whisky to the doctor, who took it gratefully. He dropped back into his armchair, keeping his own glass of the golden liquid level.
"You're drinking?" John wanted to know, remembering the last time his friend had been emotionally strained and had drunk too much alcohol, suffering from a terrible hangover the next day.
Sherlock didn't react but raised his glass to his flatmate and took a sip.
"I thought you would die," the younger man confessed, without looking up from his glass.
"I... was just a little... exhausted. Bit too much, all that. I'm not that easy to kill off, Sherlock. Don't worry."
Sherlock looked up from his drink, eyeing his flatmate intently.
"Good," he stated, giving him a brief but genuine smile.
"You owe Molly something. She has to stay in bed for another couple of days to recover from the concussion," John reminded his friend.
"Emotionally. I talked to her."
"Did you? When?"
"On the way to the hospital. You were out cold anyway, Mycroft wasn't responsive either, and she was more than happy to have a little chat," Sherlock reported drily.
"You're incredible, do you know that, Sherlock? What are you planning to make up for all the trouble - and the pain - you've caused her?"
"Hmmm, I guess, I should go shopping with her once more, buy her a nice dress and stuff. That's killing two birds with one stone. She doesn't have to run around in those quite ... tasteless clothes and she will have some fun."
John blinked his eyes, amused by Sherlock's explanations. "How would you know?" he laughed.
"You'd be surprised," the sleuth mumbled enigmatically into his glass, taking another sip.
John made a mental note that he would have to ask Molly about it. There was apparently something he had missed. For a while, they just sat at the fire, each man absorbed in thought, sipping at their drinks.
"She'll vanish," Sherlock interrupted the silence.
"I know. Mycroft had sworn that if one of their family ever set foot on the British Isles again, they would disappear. Will he kill her?" John kept staring at the dancing red and orange flames with the blue and white tips.
John looked up and scrutinized his flatmate, who was apparently also enchanted by the fire. He turned his head and they locked eyes. Sherlock granted his friend insight into his soul for a split-second, his eyes speaking volumes of pain and hatred, before losing their fire and returning to the familiar indifferent gaze that protected the sleuth.
John replied with a nod of assent. "Hm."
The idea of Mycroft Holmes as a cold-blooded killer seemed absurd to John, and yet he knew that the woman would never be seen again. Never get in a Holmes' way. Despite the warmth of the fire, John shuddered.
"Moriarty had his hands in all this, did you know?"
"I know. And he will not give up until he has destroyed me. This wasn't it, John. This was still playing. I could have died, yes, but I'm sure he had calculated very well the likeliness that I would survive. There's more to come."
John emptied his glass in one big gulp, the strong alcohol leaving a burning sensation in his throat.
"... and there's no way to prepare for it." John added, unable to shake off the icy cold that was crawling all over his body.
"No." Sherlock terminated their talk and both resumed staring into the fire.