The Ninth Muse - Baker Street Series Book 1

Chapter 4

"You didn't tell him about the letter." John said quietly. "Isn't there a chance this is still sitting in the mail room on this floor somewhere, you know, going between offices in the Met, rather than outside the building?"

"Yes. And we'll be looking for it as soon as the bleeding stops," Sherlock said breathlessly. It had taken a lot of his energy to keep a front up for Lestrade. He pulled up his knees and sagged to the wall now. His face was shock white.

"Drink this." John opened a sugary orange juice that Sarah had thoughtfully thrown into the bag. She'd dropped in a four-pack and Watson knew they'd need every bottle.

Sherlock cracked an eye open, took the container, and held it in his hand, cradled between his long thighs and his chest. He shuddered as Watson cleaned and disinfected the wound.

By the time he was binding the injury again – this time with bandages on the skin, and a second bandage over the shirt for added pressure, and to protect the coat as he'd been asked – Sherlock was finishing the drink. He tossed the empty into a pail a good distance away.

John found himself surprised. "Ah. That's good. Did you play basketball in school, Sherlock?"

This seemed to mystify Holmes. "No."

"You have the energy for it."

"I do?"

"You do," John laughed at the incredulous look on his friend's face. "And the aim."

"Organized sports-"

"Not your area." John guessed, and then, seeing from the look on Sherlock's face that he was correct, added. "Other people. Notyour area."

Sherlock's unfocused green gaze found the door to the Men's room and stayed there.

"Doesn't matter," John said lightly. He pulled down Sherlock's coat and put his hand down the left sleeve. There was some small trace of dampness there, but it was nothing a good dry-cleaning wouldn't manage. He pulled his hand out, missed Sherlock's glance at his fingertips, and pulled the coat back into place. "You do fine, Sherlock."

"Do I?"

"You know you learn quickly. I think you get better with practice."

His lips compressed a moment. Then he said. "Thanks."

"Try standing. Go slowly."

Sherlock got down from the counter with some care. Some, for him, was a greater amount of respect for his situation than he would normally ever demonstrate. He leaned on the counter. "Coat."

"What about it?"

He shut his green eyes. "Heavy."

"You're getting weaker." John told him. "We need to get you a drink of water." John looked around him for some kind of container, searching the bag, not noticing that Sherlock took the juice bottle back out of the garbage, uncapped it, and filled it with water.

John pointed out, "That's filthy."

"So is sharing needles," Sherlock said. "And yet I live."

Now John's arms fell limp beside him. It was best not to press him on that. Over time, he got the sense that Sherlock would tell him. Whatever it was, John would keep it in confidence. He could be trusted with secrets, particularly the shameful ones.

Holmes' downed two full bottles of water before chucking the bottle back into the bin from which he'd fished it. "Let's go."

"We're supposed to wait for-"

"I know," Sherlock caught the door handle and paused. "If we did, he'd be disappointed." He smiled happily and pulled the door open.

"Get back inside, Freak." Donovan stepped in the way.

Sherlock shook his head, "I need a hospital. Take me outside for a cab."

"Oh my God, he can be taught." Donovan peeked around the side of Sherlock at John. "Or did you type him up some new command lines or something?"

John looked from Sherlock to his shoes. Holmes was, of course, lying to her, but it was plausible, given how frail Sherlock was acting – and in fact was. So the Sergeant led them along toward the front of the building. Sherlock deviated from her course so suddenly, he had to reach around the corner, grab John and pull him down the same hallway. They travelled at a quick clip from there.

"Mailroom," Sherlock said quietly. He waited for an officer on her cellphone in the room to depart before he and John slipped inside together. For a moment a kind of dysphoria seemed to pass over Sherlock. He was in pain, weak, and leaned to the wall heavily.

John looked around the large, square room. It was heavily shelved, white, and badly lit. The pitiless glare from bare overhead bulbs made Sherlock's bloodless skin seem iridescent. Watson walked further into the piles of outgoing and incoming mail, glancing at the packaging, tape, and labelling station. "What's his name?"

"He wouldn't put it on there." Sherlock panted from the doorway. "Just the office address. He's worried anything with his name would be intercepted." He pushed from the wall and brought up the directory of offices in the building. He tapped on his cell to find the requisite office address, and then tossed the phone to John.

They spent 20 minutes in searching, sorting through a room stacked high with mail. At that hour of the night, the mailroom was deserted. Sherlock certainly helped to narrow down the candidates, quickly discounting envelopes with typed addresses, even though John checked through them all, surreptitiously. Sherlock shook his head. "He didn't sit at the computer and print an envelope, he wrote these addresses. It's either gone, hasn't been mailed within the building, or…. We need to go to his office. At worst, this thing may still be tucked somewhere on his desk. He's meticulous and detail oriented. Even in trivial actions there was forethought. Did you see how he laid out his clothes and towels in the shower room?"

"No, Sherlock," John guffawed. "I was distracted by the honking big pool of blood he left on the floor. You're unbelievable."

"Steadily." Sherlock smiled and diverted through the door.

Sneaking around the building after Lestrade has been looking high and low for a sign of you was a difficult proposition. For one thing, Donovan didn't, for a moment, believe they'd exited and gone to any hospital. She'd also checked in with the area hospitals for a newly arrived gunshot wound. Finding nothing, she'd reported them loose in the building. Sherlock had already realized this, and texted Lestrade to come meet them on the way. He looked relieved when he saw Sherlock's swinging coat turn a corner in front of him.

"You look ghastly," he told Holmes. "Dead pale."

"I'm working on it." Sherlock said in retort.

"I'mworking on it." John corrected, and there was no argument there.

"Need to go to the dead man's office. Need my list of names." Sherlock would have rubbed his hands together, if he had been using his left arm anymore. Its most comfortable position was in his pocket, which was where he left both of his hands at the moment.

"Done and done," Lestrade handed Sherlock a folded slice of paper from his pocket. Sherlock took it in his left hand and unfoldedwith his right. The names were handwritten, but that was about all John could see before Sherlock folded the paper again. Lestrade said. "Follow me."

"I know where it is." Sherlock told the man distractedly as they started out. "I'm just using your company for the simple security it-"

An Officer clocked Sherlock hard on his right shoulder as they walked through a narrow hallway. He blew past John with a grumble of 'Freakshow'.

Sherlock glanced after the man. "Who was that?"

"Sergeant Dalton Hayes." Lestrade's distrust was something to behold. When the man vanished into the desks, he glanced over Sherlock. "You okay?"

"No… not involved. Let's continue." Sherlock noted.

John ducked inside and pulled even with Sherlock on the left. Holmes moved to admit him, and, shoulder-to-shoulder, they tookup the entire hall, but John wasn't about to risk Sherlock taking a knock on his left shoulder akin to the one he'd taken on the right. It would start the bleeding again, and very possibly render Sherlock unconscious. John glanced up, "They'd have really tipped their hat there."

"And it's the wrong shoulder." Sherlock said quietly.

Only when they arrived at the office did John finally find out the name of the psychologist was Jerry Ballard. He paused by the door to read the nameplate. "Jerry. Jerry Ballard," he said aloud.

"Does knowing his name help you, John?" Sherlock straightened from the desk he was already rifling through. He said it like he'd been wondering about that from the very beginning of the case.

"A little. Yes."

"Good. Get to work." Sherlock directed toward a line of cabinets along the wall. But he didn't look up. He was too busy checking for any envelope that met his deductive expectations.

"His case files?" John glanced at Lestrade, "I can't look at those."

"You're a doctor," Sherlock said, "consult. Find out if any of these names have files." He laid the folded list of names – one list the people involved in cold cases, particularly the year the box with the crowbar had arrived, and the other the list of names of police who had been assigned to follow him.

"Everyone has a file." Lestrade opened his hands.

"Then no one's will be missing." Sherlock's fingers flicked in air, "John, if you please."

John got it that he wasn't diving into the files, just confirming none of the following had been removed. Now, if the file was empty, that would be something to report.

"Here," Lestrade said. "They might have taken their last entry. Look for anything ripped out of the binders."

No pen impressions.

Notepad removed or disposed of.

John glanced at the noise as Sherlock pushed a bunch of notepads onto the floor. Holmes had dismissed them. He swept around the desk to sit in the chair and plant his elbows in the armrests as he stared across at the psychologist's empty chair. His fingertips balanced against one another, right under his lips.

Chair level at highest setting.

Seated person short.

Sherlock got up, unsteadily.

"You're looking pale." John said quietly. Sherlock meandered over to look at the lists Lestrade had written.

Melody Doyle.

Sherlock glanced up at John. "Anyone missing?"

"Nothing so far." John shook his head. His voice dropped. "You need a break, Sherlock."

Sherlock went to sit in the psychologist's chair. He pulled the shrink's laptop across the desk toward him. It took him tens of minutes to put together the password. A thrill went through him when he saw an IM window minimized on the desktop. He maximized it to the Desktop and read.

"John."

John walked over and leaned over Sherlock's shoulder.

MDoyle: Hey, Jerry. You still in?

JBallard: Yep. You need something, Mel?

"M Doyle?" John didn't have the list with him.

"Melody Doyle. And look at the timestamp. Ballard had seen her before, so he was comfortable shortening her name." Sherlock checked the appointments and closed the laptop. "They were on good terms. She walked in without an appointment."

"I'll check for her file." John headed back to Lestrade and the cabinets. Sure enough, when he checked the papers, Melody Doyle was on there under the heading Assigned to SH.

Sherlock rose and turned to look out the window. John could see his smile reflected in the glass. As dizzy and muzzy as his head had to feel, he had the thread they would pull to unravel this whole messy affair. Then Sherlock shut his eyes.

And John had him around the ribs. He really wasn't much aware of moving, just that Sherlock pulled himself to rights in a swirl of coat and was forced to drop to his knees on the carpet. Lestrade hurried across the office to close the door.

"He can't take much more of this." Lestrade exhaled heavily, glad all the blinds on this particular glass office had been closed. "Neither can I, really. Is he awake?"

John listened to the rasp of Sherlock breathing. He was in pain. "That was bad," Sherlock said between unsteady breaths.

"I don't think anyone noticed," John noted. "We've been in here a while and not drawing much attention." He reached down and pulled back the collar of Sherlock's coat.

Sherlock blinked away stars and sat back on his heels. He let the coat slip down so he could check the bandaging on his arm. It was clean. If he was bleeding, John noted that it hadn't made it through the first bandage yet.

"There's no colour to your lips, at all." John noticed. "You're like paper. Sit in the chair and do nothing." He pulled a sugary drink from the bag beside the desk and slid it to Sherlock. "This isn't rocket fuel, Sherlock."

Sherlock snapped the cap. "How long do you figure I have?"

"Two hours," John told him. "Tops. After that, if you can string words together into a cogent sentence, we'll be very lucky. You need a transfusion."

"I'm actually starting to like these." Sherlock sank into the psychologist's chair with the drink and frowned. "And John?"

"What?"

"Needing a blood transfusion is dreary."

John turned away with a chuckle. "Welcome to the human race, big boy."

"We need to round up Melody Doyle," Sherlock said after getting through half the drink.

"No one on the list is missing from here." Lestrade closed the last cabinet drawer and saw Sherlock had spread the contents of Ballard's briefcase on the desk.

"Nothing terribly helpful to the case here," Sherlock cocked his head. "Unless you want to know something about his political affiliations, his personal filing system, preference for milled paper, or his fixation with," he picked up a pen with a floating wedding party inside, "the royal families of Europe." Sherlock dropped the pen with a thud.

"Anything else?" John asked.

Sherlock blew out a puff of air and said. "He's not a bad hand at origami."

"You're right. Not helpful," John dusted his hands and tugged his jumper down. He turned to Lestrade. "Will Doyle be in at this hour?"

"No," Lestrade said. "We can go across town to get her."

"She won't be home." Sherlock said flatly. "She's with the others." He got up slowly, carefully, and found that it wasn't so bad as long as his depleted blood was filled with sugar. His fingers flew across the keypad of his cellphone. "Though… she should be heading by soon."

John looked down onto Sherlock's cell phone, and sucked in a breath. "Are you sure?"

Sherlock had paused at: 'I know you didn't want JB to die. Come to the Yard. We should talk. –SH'

"She could run." Lestrade said. He'd also come to Sherlock's side and was looking down at the same phone with a worried expression.

"Really? One of her colleagues just killed two men. I know she's involved. One of us is going to get to her. Where would she run?" Holmes, whose pain seemed to have made him restless, got to his feet. "The question is Will she be able to get away from the others before her shift begins?"

"So… we may have time for you to rest." John suggested.

"I should read personnel files on the others."

"While resting," John agreed with this idea. "It would be great if you would do this in a hospital while getting a transfusion."

"Not a good idea for me to leave this building. If we were to," Sherlock got to his feet slowly. His head did a serious loop. Words failed. He lost the thread of his sense. "John."

"Right here." John told him. "Do you know your blood type?"

There was a second's hesitation. It even made Lestrade turn around on his way to the door. Sherlock blinked, "Universal recipient."

"Any problems with Rh D antigens?" John asked.

Sherlock shook his head.

"You probably won't be able to tell me this by the time we get you in for a transfusion." John sighed and headed over to join Lestrade. "Personnel records? He's going to need a general background on these people."

"He's not doing so well," Lestrade stopped with his hand on the doorknob. "He knew the answer to that one, and he couldn't put it together."

"Can we also get water up here?" John rubbed his eyes. "And coffee?"

"Yeah," Lestrade looked back at where Sherlock had slumped in the chair, his green eyes half-closed, and his eyelids damp with sweat. "Yeah, sure. Donovan will be outside this door. No one will disturb you."

John spent about 45 minutes seated at the opposite side of the desk staring at Sherlock. Moments before he'd started this vigil, he'd called home and woken Sarah. She had fallen asleep on the couch watching television. They exchanged a progress report regarding Sherlock's condition. John ended the call and sat monitoring Sherlock. He was asleep. The water, coffee, and personnel records came, but it didn't wake Sherlock.

Donovan pushed a cart in and whispered a confidential, "Would you know if he was dead?" as she stepped back outside.

John closed the door with his foot and wheeled the cart across the office. He set the water in front of Sherlock and sipped his coffee. Half-way through the cup he took Sherlock's pulse a third time and Holmes' green eyes slid open.

"The personnel files are here."

"They've been for a while." Sherlock leaned forward stiffly. He reached for the top folder on the pile. John uncapped his bottled water and pinned the file down with one hand. He pulled it toward him and gave Sherlock the water instead.

Seated across from the genius, he started reading the file.

"Six years on the force, and he's never worked a cold case," John said.

"Throw that one on the floor, we're done with it." Sherlock told him. "Next."

John laid the file on the floor, and recognized this as Sherlock's system at home in the apartment too. He started the next file. Pretty soon, they had cross referenced the list down to six people. Melody's file sat under Sherlock's right hand. She also had no tie to cold cases, not to mention the fact she was only 5'5 and wouldn't have had the height advantage indicated by the skull fracture in the psychologist's head.

"Do you like any of these guys?" John asked, "As suspects?"

Holmes reached forward to the pile of six folders, but before he chose, his phone made a soft ping that indicated an incoming text message. He leaned back and flexed his left hand. "She's written me back." He laid the phone down and slid it across to Watson.

'not in the yard. if I'm seen there, I'm done. meet at the pink case. come alone.'

"The pink case," John looked up. "Where you found the pink case belonging to-"

"The 'pink case' as in A Study in Pink from your blog, Watson – that same building in Brixton where Jennifer Wilson was found, murdered. Remember Donovan? They all read it?" Sherlock cocked his head a little. "Come alone. Do you have the gun?"

"They tried to snipe you." John shook his head. "I'll never even get to draw the Browning."

"Then we'll need Lestrade to pull a team together. What's keeping Lestrade? We have to take her in, John. Her face will betray most of our enemies here." Sherlock smiled and finished his bottled water. He typed a text out to Lestrade, and then replied to Melody Doyle.

'Will be there within the hour.'

A moment later the reply came. 'One hour.'

John got to his feet. "I really should have brought my gun."

The door opened as if to punctuate the feeling. John took a step back and right. It put him between the door and Holmes. Lestrade hurried in. "Grab your coats, boys. We have to go. I've heard Commander Snow is having a conniption over this case. He's firmly on the side of accidental death. He's on his way. I'll probably lose my job if you're in the building when he arrives."

"Excellent timing. We need to head across town," Sherlock got up with a wince and picked up his coat with his right hand. However, his eyes prickled with the effort just putting the coat on again.

"Melody Doyle wants to meet at the abandoned place from A Study in Pink. Or so we figure from her text message reply to Sherlock." John said confidentially. He rubbed a tired eye and glanced back at his friend.

Sherlock sighed, hands on his hips. The left hand trembled a little. "We'll have to take the risk. Donovan and Lestrade will be enough."

"Well, let's hurry up about it," Lestrade said. "Snow is close, I'm told. I would consider it mild to say that he despises everything you stand for, Sherlock."

They hurried out of the office, Lestrade signalling that Donovan should follow. She rolled her eyes but hurried behind them. Sherlock held his own, having rested and hydrated some. On an overhanging staircase, Lestrade froze. "I can hear him below. He's in the lobby."

Sherlock slumped against the wall. "Mm. Stairs. The fatter the cat, the less likely the stairs." Almost as soon as he said this, the bells summoning the elevator down to the first floor sounded. Sherlock started coolly down the stairs. There was no sign of the Commander or his men by the time the foursome reached the lobby and made their way, calmly, to the parking garage.

By the look on Lestrade's face, he wasn't accustomed to anyone speaking that way about the police brass. He wasn't precisely entertained, but John already knew there were times when Sherlock's utter lack of respect for unproven authority was pure liberation.

When they got into the car, Sherlock took the back seat. John climbed in beside him and watched him slump to the headrest in front of him.

Lestrade paused on the way up the ramp. "Eh, look alive back there, Sherlock."

"It's best if I don't." Sherlock said quietly. "They'll be watching the building."

They wedged lower behind the seats as Lestrade pulled out onto the street. It was their good fortune the nearest lights were with them. Sherlock crawled up into his seat again and slumped on the headrest. John reached out and pushed the collar of his coat aside. His skin felt cold. The big artery in his throat fluttered. "This is such a bad idea."

"Keep it clean in the back seat, Freak." Donovan snapped. "Don't go bleeding on the leather."

Sherlock's tone was acid, "Stop the car."

"What?" Lestrade began to slow.

"Stop the car. I've decided there is less risk going in with one sidearm and focused than two with Sergeant Donovan running on at the mouth."

John shook his head. "Let it go, Sherlock."

But he didn't. His green eyes glanced up at the woman, full of the same stamp of simmering resentfulness he usually reserved for Mycroft. "Honestly, you should save some of that energy for Anderson. He's much more likely to appreciate your efforts."

Donovan's teeth flashed. She started to swivel in her seat and swing an arm to reach for Sherlock, but as she turned, her gaze bounced off John. Whatever she saw there stopped her cold. Good enough for John. He levelled with her, "Tonight he's been shot, spent who knows how long evading armed assassins, and refused a transfusion to solve this case. So help me… don'ttouch him."

Sherlock's eyes were wide with surprise that even Donovan couldn't ignore. "See that, Freak?" You've made a friend." She turned to John. "He's not worth it."

John leaned away from her and returned to monitoring Sherlock, whose steady green gaze watched him with childlike intensity. It was unnerving. "You've got to try to calm down. You're burning through blood sugar and your pulse-"

"I'm thinking," Sherlock replied. "I need all that blood and sugar in my head."

Lestrade poked at the glove box and tossed something in the back seat. John caught it without the benefit of really seeing it. It was a chocolate bar. He tucked it in his pocket. Sherlock wasn't going to eat it, and arguing about it would waste his energy.

"Slow down," Sherlock told Lestrade. He directed the car as they closed on the house. They parked a couple of blocks back. Sherlock got out onto the street and scanned the still, silent houses. He shut his eyes and thought for a moment. "This way."

"This might be," John turned from where he jogged after Sherlock, "a little unorthodox."

Mercifully, now that they were close to the scene, Donovan went eerily silent and slunk in their wake with her gun out and down. She was remarkably nimble, John thought, like some kind of heavily armed stoat. He felt better seeing her concentration. But he just didn't trust her to protect Sherlock. So he clung close to their medical case as Sherlock slid through the dark edges of gardens, more shadow than substance on his approach. They stole quietly through gates together. Sherlock flicked his long body over a fence with catlike grace and kept moving. John swore to himself and found a way to follow after. Sherlock couldn't keep moving like that. It would tear the injury. Inside his arm, either the big vein or artery was weakened and leaky.

Back steps loomed ahead of them. They'd been moving faster than John suspected. They kept to wells of shadow and gloom in the back of the house, Sherlock waiting for the cloud cover to billow so the jagged patchwork of streetlights could get no help from the moon. Then he crossed to the house. Lestrade was beside him, gun out at the ready. It was very dark when they went.

John and Donovan skirted the dilapidated garden wall next. In the back of the house, Sherlock ignored the door. He first checkedcarefully through windows.

It was Lestrade who opened the door. He did this according to police procedure while Sherlock rested his mistreated body against the peeling and cobwebby wood house slats. The door made a protracted creek. Lestrade was inside, clearing the downstairs with Donovan. Because he wasn't armed himself, John caught hold of Sherlock and assisted him inside in a great hurry. It was best to stay with the people who were armed, though this drew a strange look from Sherlock.

"Where is she?" John asked as they wandered the ground floor. He interrupted Sherlock skulking along the walls and staring at the floor as if it were a holographic picture that changed with each angle of view.

Glitter.

"She's upstairs," Sherlock said quietly. He indicated the knobby wood post at the foot of the stair, but Watson didn't have any idea what he saw. Then he truly looked at the post. The dust there was disturbed. Sherlock pointed at a tiny flicker of light on the fourth stair. It shone, if you moved just so.

John didn't get it until Sherlock leaned in and said in his ear. "She's picking her nail polish. There's a small trail of glitter through the front door, leading up."

Nervous.

Lestrade jerked his chin at the staircase and took the lead. John followed Sherlock with Donovan right behind him. The stairs were stout, as he remembered them, but there was no way to avoid all noise. If she planned to kill them – John slipped around Sherlock's shoulder and flanked Lestrade. God forbid anything happened to the man that would cause him to drop the gun, but if it did, it was best John be there to grab it.

But there was no gunfire.

Melody Doyle stood on the top floor. She was small, slender, and dressed in blue jeans and a white, long-sleeved blouse. Her runners were set in the same place where, months ago, a woman had taken her last gasp. The toe of her shoe balanced on Rache, which held a double meaning now, both Rachel, and, thanks to Sherlock, the dying woman's ultimate revenge. Though perhaps that last part's more due to me, John thought. In any event, though she heard them coming, Melody had her back to the door as they came through.

"Mel," Lestrade exhaled quietly. With that one utterance he looked sapped.

Melody turned as if struck by a blow, horrified to see no less than the Detective Inspector coming into the room with Holmes. "Sir," she said breathlessly. "Why are you here? I don't-" then she saw Donovan and gawped. "But you hatehim, Sally."

"And Jerry's dead," Sally Donovan's dark eyes were flintier than her almost breathless voice. "And that's on you, Mel."

Tears blurred the woman's features for a moment. She ducked her head and said, "Yeah, I know. I know!" She dissolved into childlike sobs and struggled out to say. "I had no idea he could – I was ready to sit in prison, Sally! Pleasebelieve me."

Sherlock glanced over the woman. Her hands shivered; glittery paint on the nails pocked and incomplete. But she held his gaze as he spoke to her, "It's why you went to Jerry Ballard. You'd had enough. Why?"

"I'm no innocent," she clapped a hand to her chest. "But I just didn't see it coming, Mr. Holmes, believe me. I didn't dream Jerry would die tonight. Me? It… that would make sense. But I'd convinced myself I was being careful with him. How could they be so sure what I was doing, so fast?" She sobbed and wiped her dripping nose with a tissue she pulled from her jean's pockets.

Socio-emotional.

"Stop that," Sherlock waved the waterworks away since, no matter the intention, the police psychologist was dead. "Look at me." He reached out both hands and set them gently on the woman's upper arms. "Look at me now."

She could hardly avoid it, with him looming so close over her.

Sherlock stared at her face as if there was nothing more pressing, "Danny Palmer. Vincent Lloyd. Look at me. David – no Dave – Graham."

"What are you doing?" she asked him, feebly.

"Don't have time," his gaze flicked back toward the hall and John knew, at once, that Sherlock had seen something – had some indication – of the trap they'd stepped in.

"Shut the door," John scurried past Donovan to close and lock it and then looked frantically around the space Jennifer Wilson had died in for another way out. Just the windows. That was all, and the curious had stripped them of the paper that had once covered them.

"Tony Butler-"

The first shot caused the tinkle of glass. The round skated between Sherlock and Melody. The next cut through Melody Doyle from just under her ribcage, up through her diaphragm, into her lungs, and out between two ribs.

In the war, John had discovered that his somewhat short, square frame was capable of irrational strength. Right as he reached Sherlock, caught him by the coat and fairly flung him to the most sheltered wall, John was feeling unnaturally strong. A bullet buzzed his forehead. Melody pawed at her side arm as her mouth poured out blood. She looked like an ornamental fountain in some vampire movie, almost unrealexcept John had seen this horror movie before, in the middle of combat. He caught her as she started to fall to the floor, and he took her gun for her.

Second bullet passed right over the curve of his back as he got to his feet and rushed the window. He'd seen the muzzle discharge and shot straight down it without thinking. A pair of bullets flew by him. The one just below his ear burned like a bee sting. The other was far, far worse, even if it was about 10 centimeters off his left shoulder. An explosion of pain through John's shoulder and chest rocked his memory. He snapped upright and shot down a muzzle flash, unable to determine if the enemy had changed position since firing, unable to hear anything above the roar of combat that had scooped every other awareness out of his head.

"JOHN!"

Except for that deep, belling voice. John threw himself flat on the wall between windows. Holy crap! What was I thinking? Nothing. He had committed a cardinal sin – he hadn't thought. Sherlock was bound to be nearly catatonic on the couch for days trying to work this out. Shots still striped the room, making John's position seem very insecure. He, alone, was standing. He wasn't sure the wall behind hisback had enough stopping power for a bullet.

Speaking of which – how were the others?

Donovan was crouched down like a cat, half over Doyle. She had bead on the door, though they weren't taking fire from there. Lestrade was at another window changing his clip when the firing stopped.

"John," Sherlock said breathily. "Really?"

"Sorry, sorry," John bent low and scurried to the wall at the base of which Sherlock huddled, very pale, and very terrified.

"What kind of theatrics…" he couldn't continue. "They won't come in. They know they succeeded with Doyle. They suspect they hit me-"

"What?"

"A bullet slid over the back of my neck. It happened right as you picked me up and tossed me here," Sherlock's voice had the quality of entertained disbelief, "like a paper plane."

John caught hold of Sherlock's hair and yanked his head forward. He stuck his hand down the back of the coat and felt for blood. He'd seen men shot who hadn't realized it at first. "Honestly! Let go my hair, John!" Sherlock groused, but his incredulity almost made it into amazed laughter. "I'm fine."

"Shut up, Freak!" Donovan hissed. "How can you laugh?" She opened her bloody hands.

Sherlock wasn't bleeding. John let him up and crabbed to Donovan next. She looked hazardous. John thought it best to keep speaking to her calmly. "Easy. Easy Sergeant, he doesn't mean anything by it. People react differently to stress. Some cry, some laugh-"

"Do something for Mel." The woman said urgently. John ignored the demand. Donovan had blood from elbow to wrist – not her own. He checked around her, quickly, and found a hole in her jacket, but it was dry. There was no wound and no blood to accompany the bullet hole. Shooting into a darkened room was neveras easy as it seemed, not even with night vision goggles.

"Do something for Mel, Dr. Watson."

John moved on to Lestrade who looked up from his phone call for a terse. "I'm good. Mind Sherlock." But he didn't try to hinder John in looking for wounds either. Lestrade didn't have a single scratch or drop of blood on him. John found this remarkable. He'd crossed the room only shortly after John had charged the window…. Then again, having a fool drawing fire away from you did help.

"Please," Sally Donovan said thickly. John turned in her direction. She rocked to settle back on her heels and look down at the small blonde woman who must have been a friend of hers.

"I'm sorry," John said quietly. He'd seen the light go out of the woman's eyes as he eased her to the floor. John knew death when it stared him in the face. He put a hand over Donovan's shoulder and squeezed. "I'm truly sorry."

Sherlock sat with his back to a wall. His eyes were lightly closed. John crossed unsteadily back to his friend. His leg ached in dull throbs. His head spun with pain, putting him slightly off balance. John had never experienced anything like the storm that had struck when the bullet soared by his shoulder. It shook him that a round that hadn't come near hitting him, could cause him this much trouble. And... and it was amazing how running through a hail of gunfire will make muscles ache. Or maybe he owed that to catapulting Sherlock across the room like a dart to a board.

John picked up Sherlock's hand and took a pulse against his wrist watch. Sherlock didn't open his eyes. He murmured, "They could not rest until Doyle had been executed. They'd figured her out, of course. Look at her, John – glittery nail polish; hearts all over her jewellery; she's got a unicorn tattooed on her ankle. The woman had a white-hot core of naiveté. There were clear signs she broke ranks and ran to the shrink, physical signs." He indicated the body over which Donovan silently wept. "Her nails are new. She had them done tonight to celebrate."

"Lower your voice Sherlock," John muttered to him.

"Have I not?"

He had, actually, but his words had the potential to ignite a firestorm in this room. He redirected, "So Melody Doyle saw herself as a canvas of sorts. How she was feeling was reflected in what she wore, or how she styled her hair."

Sherlock looked up at him, "Very good. A person like Doyle should not be involved in a cabal of any kind. She's a book, even to an amateur. She fundamentally misunderstood her environment."

John's fingers moved in response to the glide of Sherlock's tendons. He flexed his hands. John watched as Sherlock squeezed a fist and stretched his fingers absently… because his hands were going numb and his pulse growing fast. John asked the man. "Didn't understand what?"

"That while she was right – culture is vexingly built upon personal relationships," his eyes drifted open, "she was wrong. Every relationship is a balance sheet. The losses are cut."

John worked to wrap the coat around Sherlock. His temperature would be dropping. It was important to keep him warm.

"John."

"Not much longer. We won't be much long-"

"It has nothing to do with the time," Sherlock's eyes glittered with the onset of shock. "What you did there… you must never do again."

John ducked his head and nodded.

Sherlock eased himself into a corner like a miserable animal biding its time.

John left him and returned to Lestrade. He cut a wide circle around the pool of blood soaking the floor, and seeping into Rache. "Units are coming," the Detective Inspector said when he looked up.

"I need to get him lying down somewhere, Lestrade. He's going into shock."

Lestrade fixed his stare on John and grumbled. "I'mgoing into shock. What in the hell was that, Watson."

"She dropped her gun-"

"And you sure as hell knew how to use it," Lestrade said. "You're aware that was suicidal?"

"No," John shook his head and would have said more, except for the fact he was cut off by a loud rap on the door downstairs which caused John to whip the sidearm back out in its direction. He lowered the gun slowly and made to hand it over to Lestrade.

"No keep it," Lestrade told him. "But keep it out of sight, John."

John went to sit beside Sherlock. "I think it's time we took you to hospital, Sherlock. An ambulance will be coming here, almost certainly. We're going to get you aboard and start a transfusion."

"No, thank you," Sherlock sighed. "I'd rather lose a little blood than have my head blown off in a London hospital. These officers aren't geniuses, John. I'll round the rest up soon enough. They are clever though. Police have the best minds for crime."

The police entering the upstairs fell silent as they found Melody Doyle lying dead. The stiff faces and outpouring of regret made the perfect cover for Sherlock. Hand against the wall to support him, he crept out of the room. John walked behind him, a hand buried in Sherlock's coat lest he black out on the stairs. It would be a shame to break such a good nose. Molly Hooper, for one, would be devastated.

Lestrade caught up to them as they reached the porch. "Don't wander off, boys," he told them both. "You're marked men. Well, maybe not yourself, Dr. Watson."

"I need to go back to my notes," Sherlock muttered. He reached up to rub his blurry eyes.

"Yeah, well it's going to be a while." Lestrade pointed at the ambulance that had pulled up. "Take him there."

"Thank God," John sighed and leaned heavily on the rail on the way down to greet paramedics.

It was well into the night when they were able to leave. Sherlock actually slept in the back of the ambulance. He'd long ago passed the point of simple irascibility; now his exhaustion laid waste to all resistance. John snoozed seated beside the pallet where Sherlock had collapsed. John, however, woke at every sound and passing voice. The scene was busy, and they were well guarded, but it was a bad situation. John was aware they didn't know which police were hunting them. Lestrade stayed outside with several of his most trusted officers. Donovan even opened the door at one point – John had gotten up to change over the intravenous bag to blood, something the paramedics were comfortable with him doing. The long red line extending into Sherlock's arm stopped whatever she'd been about to say while it was still in her throat. She set down a steaming cup and shut the door.

Tea. She'd brought him tea.

John's hands shook on the Styrofoam, but the warmth invaded his cells and sustained him. He waited, watching the bag fade slowly into Sherlock's body.

When the door opened next, John was checking Sherlock's blood pressure. The so-called Consulting Detective was awake and finishing off the last of John's tea – cold as it was. With blood back in his system, he was thirsty, even hungry. Sherlock glanced up at Lestrade's face in the doorway. John looked too, and marvelled that Lestrade didn't look tired. It was amazing.

"How are you?" Lestrade asked Sherlock.

"Ready," Sherlock replied. He picked up his coat and pulled it on. "Shall we?"

"He's okay?" Lestrade asked John.

"No. He's doing better," John said, "but that's one pint, and he needs more than one. We need to keep him from bleeding."

"That's what I had in mind." Lestrade said. He opened the door more widely. "Come with me, both of you. And don't talk to anyone."

John wasn't sure what this meant. He climbed out of the warm ambulance that had been his shell for two hours, and foundhimself crossing behind the ambulance away from a news crew. What time was it anyway? Didn't people need sleep anymore?

Sherlock took a deep breath. His arm wouldn't be hurting as badly. His head would be clearer. Watson had injected some painkiller into the IV. Not much. He had avoided pain meds that would dull Sherlock's senses appreciably, but he'd found something to take the hard edge off the pain.

"Don't police want to talk to me?" John fell in beside Lestrade, both of them trailing Sherlock, who had a hard time being led. "You know, about firing the gun like I did?"

"Keep it down. I told them I'd deal with it. Keep that gun out of sight until this is over. There. Dealt with," Lestrade glanced over his shoulder anxiously. "You're a good hand with a sidearm, Dr. Watson. Looks like your time with the military drummed that much into you."

"You could say that, I suppose," John had been considered a marksman in the army. When it came to protecting people, he didn't do things half-way. He spotted the car. Hard to miss. Sherlock, who had gotten past them, now paced impatiently beside it. Donovan stepped out of the driver's seat and walked around to get in the passenger side. She didn't look at Sherlock or speak to him, which meant he had no cause to be blunt with her. Donovan's grey face was rigid, and her downcast gaze, dazed.

There was not a word in the car on the way back to the Yard. Whatever other considerations they were lost in, John needed only to look aside to realize that Sherlock was in a space all his own. The landscapes of his thoughts – what must they look like? Would they be chaos to John? Would he stand a chance of puzzling them out?

Continued in Part 5.

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