John strode in, caught hold of the downed guard's elbow, and pulled him easily out through the hallway. "Well, while I was in the closet, I found another of those garbage carts."
They walked the cart out through the freight elevator. Once they were outside, Sherlock cuffed the man to a steel bollard, popped the cap off a Sharpie pen, and wrote on the man's chest:
Ask me about – kidnappings and drownings.
He also drew an arrow across the man's shoulder pointing back at the building.
"All right." Sherlock sighed and listened to the stifled night air for a moment. "So they're going to expect me downstairs for a dip."
John's expression soured and he was distinctly aware of the nearby river sounds at those words. Then his attention caught on: "Downstairs?"
"He kept saying 'up here'. 'He's up here'. 'Come up here'. And 'fuck', incidentally. When he's in the nick, he should sit down with a Thesaurus."
"Sherlock." John growled.
"Right. He came from a level below the ground floor. There's only one according to the blueprints I looked at earlier. Of course, they might have concealed a sub-basement, but I'm going on material we know right now. The basement is used exclusively for long-term storage."
"Sounds perfect," John nodded. "Well… let's go back inside. There are a couple of things I want to take with me if we're going downstairs after all."
Sherlock got them back through a security door, proving the card was good. From there, John brought Sherlock to the little cache he'd made in the Caretaker closet and handed Sherlock a fire axe.
"Really?" but Holmes shouldered the thing and grinned like an idiot. It made John scoff with amusement and shake his head.
"Well, I don't have my gun." John picked up the other fire axe, the plastic packing ties that could double as flex-cuffs, and two cans of spray paint, one of which he gave to Sherlock. He carried a small sack of useful things. "No windows. If we get separated, use the paint to leave me a trail."
Sherlock shook the aerosol paint with animated glee, "John… that leaves everyone a trail."
"Then be tricky. Only leave the real guides… at my eye level." Not bad, right?
"Granted. We'll go into the plus and minuses later," Sherlock flipped the can over in air and caught it again. "It's been a long day. There's only one place to look here. Let's go get her, John."
As they started down toward one of the doors to the basement, or so the plans by the elevator designated, John could see the front of the office was lit with the silent, rotating lights of a police cruiser. He paused, crouched, and sprayed a green arrow on the floor marking their way.
"Lestrade," Sherlock said.
"He'll get in okay?" John asked.
"You don't think my would-be murderer, out front, gives him reasonable grounds to suspect there's evidence in the building that relates to the offense at hand?" Sherlock asked.
"I think he quite properly believes that he's gotten Sofia back, and you're rattling about in here, obsessed, attacking guards you cuff up to the building's security bollards, Sherlock. That makes you look even guiltier than the team already suspects you to be."
"Then we mustn't be caught by Lestrade before we've proven me right by delivering Sofia. So no more spray paint arrows for them, John, unless it's misdirection." Sherlock said coldly. He turned and stalked away, which left John awash in misgivings. This time… was Holmes going crazy? Or was he right? Then he could hear someone far down the hall rattling the front doors.
John had to run to catch Sherlock.
At the elevators on the back of the building, they discovered there were two doors to the basement.
"What if they take her up through one door while we go down another?" John worried.
"Then police are outside," Sherlock said. "I texted the SIO to hold the girl they have, if she's still there, that is." First he showed the text: 'Not Sofia. Hold her.' then Holmes made a determination and chose the door on the right side of the building. "They'll have someone waiting at the downstairs. It could be a fight when we come out. If they have guns… but if they had guns they wouldn't be talking about drowning me."
"Maybe, if they didn't want it to look suspicious?" John pointed out.
"Firstly, they aren't that bright, and secondly, they didn't know that I'd texted the Yard." Sherlock glanced down at John and his eloquent brows rose as if that should have been enough to explain. Then his lips compressed. "Come on, John. They could shoot the both of us and overnight us to cold storage in Sweden, there'd be nearly no trace we were ever here. Well… some discrepancies in card access, the guard I left outside, my coat upstairs, and your green paint arrows – most of which is rather easily covered up. But these people want to dunk me in the Thames, instead. They're not thinkers. If they had firearms, they'd shoot up the walls."
And so would you, John thought, uncharitably. "Well, if they have guns, we're dead as soon as we go through the door." John sprayed the graphic by the elevator so that the right door to the basement was circled.
"I said no more of that."
"And I never agreed." John noted.
"Idiot." Sherlock sighed, grinned tightly, and took his left hand out of his pocket. "That guard hit me in the stomach with a knuckle duster." A silvery ridged job that Sherlock now wore. "When we're down there, if I can get close enough, I can do some damage with this."
"And the axe, I suppose, is window dressing." John's tone was wry.
"You expect me to hack them to pieces?" Sherlock blinked.
"Never mind. Aren't knuckle dusters illegal in the UK?"
"Quite. So keep quiet about this. Solid steel. I'd rather like to keep it. And the matching police baton." He tapped his belt and nodded.
They walked down the stairs with John in the lead. He was in a state of anticipation. He could see the vast room beyond was dim. The stairwell, in contrast, was well lit. It was a very bad situation for them, but they sat it out until John felt confident he'd seen as much as he could, and they entered the room. It was, by now, the small hours of the night. A man sat sleeping at a desk that John couldn't have seen, off on the right. It was dumb luck.
"There's ether in the bag."
"Excellent organic solvent and good at getting rid of grease stains," John said clinically. "Maintenance closet had a little bottle. If you want to knock the guy out, there's ether in the bag."
"Then get it ready, and I must say you're chilling when you're efficient, John; quite the professional." Sherlock said as he walked to the man. He took out the baton, flicked his wrist to extend it, and shoved the tip of the thing into the man's throat. John circled around behind the chair, out of their victim's sight.
The Security guard made a gagging sound. His eyes came open in a hurry, but he couldn't sit forward without doing himself serious injury. Sherlock spoke slowly and clearly, "Don't. Scream."
As he reached for the baton in his throat, Sherlock smacked him in the side of the face, sharply. It happened at incredible speed! In bearing, it was oddly as if Holmes held a rapier.
"Shit," the man wheezed. "Are you him? What do you want?"
"Keys. And her location."
"Oh God," the man shut his eyes. "She said you'd come in here. I told her… she was crazy. No one but no one messes about with Ignis Ray."
"It's not Ignis Ray's neck," Sherlock said sweetly. "It's your neck. It's your neck I'll break."
"They'll kill me if I-"
"Really? Interesting. I'm right here, right now. And I won't let you die. Now where is Sofia Rothingham?" Sherlock's tone was frigid. When the guard didn't answer, he wrapped long fingers around the man's throat and squeezed until the portly guard clawed at Sherlock's arm, his lips going purplish.
John bit down on his urge to stop his flatmate. He only thought of Sofia. To that end, he opened a drawer and took out keys. "Which one is it, mate? He doesn't care about you. You'll die in some basement in Silvertown, and that will be all."
The man's flapping hands clawed the desk. The items on it sprayed everywhere, until he emerged with one set of keys that he flailed in air – trying to point in a direction. Sherlock let up at once and the man gasped and coughed. John felt numb looking at the ring of bruises on the guard's throat. Sherlock was strong. And angry.
John looked up into that pale green gaze across from him and froze at its steady calm. "Make him go to sleep now, John."
The guard was still struggling when John dosed him with ether. Slowly, his struggles diminished until he lay still. But his pulse was fast and strong. John bound his wrists with doubles of the plastic ties from the bag, looked up at Sherlock, and breathed, "Okay."
"Oh. Well isn't this nice."
Sherlock jolted beside John, and they both looked in the direction of the East-End accent.
A trio of men came from the direction the man had been pointing in. In the lead, the largest of them moved cockily; John thought this was probably due to the massive muscles built on the back of his no-doubt multiple gym memberships having crushed his brain. Aside from that, he was an unhealthy tan; his hair was short and slick; and when he saw the pair of interlopers he faced, he laughed and opened his arms. "You're not Barry. You're a scarecrow and a garden gnome, come to visit."
"Bad guy," Sherlock took off the Security hat and gestured. "A boxer of approximately 30-31; very possibly on steroids; look at the way that-"
"Not the time." John indicated in an aside.
Holmes took the news gracefully. "Of course. Carry on."
The huge and leering stranger snapped out one of the telescoping, stainless steel batons at the end of that. The dim fluorescent light along its quicksilver surface looked malicious.
But the two men directly behind the giant exchanged glances, perhaps noticing:
Barry was gone.
So was the man at the desk. Or so it appeared.
"Oh, hey," John nodded in greeting, reached over the side of the desk to where he'd leaned them side-by side, and picked up one fire axe.
"Don't mind if I do," Sherlock said as he picked up the other.
He gave it an immediate swing, but like a golf club. Forgotten on the desk, was a steaming mug of coffee that now shot through air and impacted Mr. Gym Box square in the forehead. It snapped in several pieces and spewed its scalding hot liquid all over the man's head. The giant howled and pawed his face.
John blinked, "Your dad took you golfing?"
"In Scotland. Boring."
"Ah. Well, they know we're here now." John lifted up the axe and lopped air, the blade making a deep rushing sound that set hair on end, as he did so.
Now that the giant's spray tan was mottled red with burn blisters and rage, he sputtered and bellowed, "You stupid, puffed-up, clever dick! You're dead!"
Honestly, as he came at them, John hurried out to one side. Mr. Gym Box looked like a charging bull. In response, Sherlock braced himself, set a foot on the corner of the desk, and gave it a violent shove. The hulking man slammed into it and tumbled over in a fountainhead of white-out, staples, and sticky notes.
Sherlock was nothing if not an innovator.
It really became a melee from there.
"Hey, short-arse. You might as well give up before-"
John caught the man making for him in the forehead with the back of the axe. One swing dropped him. He wound up crawling on the floor for the remainder of the fight, trying to do the little things, like remember his name, where he was, or reckon why people kept treading on him.
In fact, John had to chase down the other man, who howled like a beaten dog as he ran – having started a footrace the moment John had socked his friend in the head. This man didn't appear to like being chased with an axe, and, much to John's complete disbelief, turned out to be running to a toilet. He locked himself inside, screaming every time John knocked. John considered using the axe to snap the lock, but decided against it. The problem had taken care of itself, he supposed. He started running to get back to Holmes.
…. Who came sailing around the corner of the large storage shelves at a dead run. "Gogmagog, back there, took the axe." Sherlock said snappily. His mouth was bleeding, and John guessed he should be glad that was all that had happened to the man. They both fell into a companionable hustle through the long flank of the building. The giant-sized man turned the corner behind them, axe raised in his huge hands.
"He can't chase both of us," Sherlock noted breathlessly. His body was giving him fits of pain.
John wasn't any better. "Not leaving you. Think… of… a plan."
"Okay. Got one," Sherlock skidded to a stop, turned, and charged at the huge man hurtling in their direction. This caused John to wipe out on the shop floor while trying to loop around. He smacked his knees, bumped his chin, and shot up like a runner off blocks to power after Holmes, only just clinging to the axe.
Gym Box used the axe clumsily, really. John bristled, because the huge thug already had the axe raised in preparation to cleave open Sherlock's 'clever dick' head. Not to put too fine a point on it. In reply, Sherlock's baton came out and snapped back like a silver snake's tongue. John, who knew how to use an axe – thank you volunteer firefighting programme – was now at his best dead-run, and prepared a swing to counter. Sherlock shot to the left without warning. The axe would have pinned his longer coat to the ground if he'd had it on. As it was, the shock and steely ring spurred John faster.
John swore the next move he saw was like something out of an action movie: Holmes reversed the baton in his hand, darted behind the man, leapt for momentum, and swung. The connection was terrific. It slung Sherlock out and back a good five feet.
Wow. But there was no time to applaud that impressive move. John was – and he couldn't believe he was thinking this outside of some jousting re-enactment or something – parrying an axe blow. The shock of it went all the way down his arm through his shoulder and back, and ended up shooting through his heel like lightning. John yanked hard to the left and shouted. "My axe."
It shot out of the massive man's hands and clattered to the floor.
And the giant fell. Sherlock's blow had ended the mad dash through the downstairs. But like the nerves of a massive bull elephant, it had taken a moment for the signal 'pass out' to get into their attacker's brain. Once he hit the floor, quite like a sapped wall, blood spilled out from his nose.
John didn't have the bag with the plastic ties anymore. Bad luck, that! Instead, he hurried to snatch up the other axe and stood shaking with adrenaline, waiting… but no one was coming. All he heard was a steady knocking. And then Sherlock folded down to his knees. He sat back on his heels with a gasp.
"All right?" John broke from where he'd stood waiting and hurried over. "Sherlock?"
"One minute… just… a minute." He filled his cheeks with air he blew out.
Holmes closed his eyes and admitted, "Yes."
"Going to pass out?"
John winced. He laid one of the axes down and placed the flat of the other against the back of Sherlock's long neck. The cold had the best chance of helping him maintain. "Deep breaths, and squeeze your fists okay? Keep at it. Muscle tension will raise your blood pressure…. Still there?"
"Yes." Sherlock said. He started to struggle to his feet in spite of the fact his voice was thready. "Keys. I still have the keys. Listen. Do you hear it?"
John's attention turned from Sherlock – who he was supporting on his way up to his feet – to the outside world. He could hear something… dimly. Banging. But it was coming from the wrong direction for Hysterical Toilet Man.
Sherlock took a deep breath and headed in the direction of the noise. "Hurry. He won't be out for long." Their steps got steadier as they went. And they multiplied? No. There were more people running through the vast store room.
"It's Lestrade," Sherlock said almost to himself. "I hope."
As they came to a line of steel doors at the back of the room, the banging grew louder. John felt himself surge forward. When he could hear her muffled voice, his eyes began to sting with waves of relief. Sherlock had been right – Sofia was alive.
"Hurry, hurry! Keys," Sherlock shoved them at John and danced back to look around the row of towering storage shelves that shielded them. He panted noisily, wracked with pain, and John tried key after hasty key, gripped in a wordless passion. His focus came to a surgical point and filtered out the cries of 'POLICE!' and 'Drop the weapon!' behind him.
Right until a low growl came from closeby, "Drop the axe, Holmes! You're wanted for questioning. Don't resist. Don't-"
"The men down here were set to kill us," Holmes panted, "I've issued an Any Person Arrest."
"You have a badge, Freak!" This was Donovan's voice. "It's just a bloody arrest. Now shut up and drop the axe!" But, by the sounds of the activity behind John, she also began sending officers to search for Ignis Ray guards.
But that didn't stop them harassing Sherlock. John began to turn from what he was doing.
"Keys, John!" Sherlock barked at him. "Focus!"
Okay. Keys. Focus on the monster ring of keys. John blotted out the rest, only dimly aware of Sherlock handing over the axe, of police jerking him away from the wall and turning him on his unsteady feet, of them pulling his hands behind him and cuffing him. It had to hurt. But none of it mattered, because John had found the key.
He wrenched the door open and, from his vantage, a blur passed him by.
Sofia Rothingham – whoever else she was – collided with Sherlock's bruised and aching body with enough force to rock him back against the police. He huffed out a gasp. His tone was dry, "Hello again, Sofia. You might have told me about that monozygotic twin of yours. What's her name?"
Sofia squeezed him hard, until he wheezed, in fact. She managed to push out the name, "Vivien," but was clearly trying very hard not to sob. Sherlock would appreciate her restraint given his weakened condition.
His head sagged forward almost onto her shoulder now. "So… what did they do to your hair?"
"Cut it all off," she told him with a hiccup of air. "They said they didn't want the care of it." It was unevenly hacked away, and so short that it might have had two inches where it was longest.
John looked from the room, which was like some kind of third world medical affair – bare cot, IV pole, basin, bucket – to the girl. She had survived. He felt shaky. When John looked her over… she was all right and in one piece, though both of her arms were bandaged. John left the keys dangling in the door, their mission in this world, accomplished. Then he did what any Doctor would do. He walked to stand behind Sofia, reached out, and put a comforting hand on her back. He gave a little rub when she shivered.
But he also texted Sarah with his free hand. John added to this, "I suggest you take the cuffs off Sherlock, please. Not only is he an officer of the Met, he took a pretty good beating getting through those thugs. As his doctor, I'd like him off his feet."
Lestrade stepped in. "Get them off. I… I need to hear this from you, Sherlock. You… you all right, Holmes?" It was an odd tableau for anyone who knew Sherlock.
John opened his arms a little. "Let him catch his breath, man. It's been a night." He'd completed a text of: 'Alive. Police are here. Pls call - get Sofia's apt cleaned.' When he was done, he looked up at Sherlock and Sofia and blew out a long breath of air. Thank. God.
Sarah's text came back: 'I love you. Both.' It was… stunning. Confusing. John didn't know what to do with it, so he simply tucked his phone away. Okay….
"Uh…" John looked up. "Okay. I'd like to have a look at you, Sofia."
But there was nothing doing on that front. She wouldn't budge.
Sherlock's cuffs came off. The first thing he did was reach up and run his hand across her butchered hair. "Bloody short." His other hand came up to give her head a rub. "Feels strange."
She cringed against him.
"All right, Sofia?" Sherlock reached down to rub her arms. "Let go…. Let me go now." It was only when he started to flag that she stepped back and reached for John.
Her face was red with tears. "I'm sorry… I believe I… lost my composure. He's… he's bloodied." At some point, Sherlock's lips and chin had smeared her cheek and ear with blood. There was a small pool of it drying on her neck, staining her rumbled night-shirt. They'd taken her in her pyjamas, John scowled: a thin shirt and little shorts. She'd have died of exposure if they'd tucked her away outside.
"He's hurt," John pointed out the remnants of blood on Holmes' face.
Sherlock gave his face a wiping up with one hand. "He's fine. Sofia, pay attention. This man over here is DI Lestrade." Sherlock motioned at the DI who stared, incredulous, in her direction, but who also shrugged off his long coat and set it over her shoulders. Sherlock added, "He takes instruction well. I work with him frequently. That means you can work with him. And Lestrade, here's your girl. The one SIO Warren has is a duplicate, the sister Vivien. If I were you, I'd take Sofia to the Met for a statement as soon as possible. She's not safe until you have her story on record. And… I'm at the end of my tether. Evening." Sherlock's eloquent hands stopped painting his meaning in air, and he panted and took a few steps back. Withdrawing a little wasn't enough, so Sherlock turned and walked away from the scene. He was done.
"Sir," one of the police motioned at Holmes as if there was a problem. It earned him a glare from John, who followed Holmes away, astonished that it wasn't good enough, apparently, that he'd solved an impossible crime for the Yard.
Lestrade shook his head. "Let him go…. I'd say drive him home, but he wouldn't go in a cruiser. Someone order him up a taxi. Now."
Then Lestrade looked at the pale, huge-eyed, girl before him: the artist behind wave after wave of marvellous paintings in the loft. He, his squad, all involved, had trusted she was dead. Still, he and Charlotte had found the ties between Ark-Co and Ignis Ray, given the clues of 'Ark-Co' and 'fire', so they'd hurried here on the strange coincidence of a silent alarm, but they really hadn't thought…. It was her personal white knight – more of a Black Prince, really – that had scorned at the judgment she was dead. Lestrade turned to look after Holmes and caught John Watson's backward glance. He nodded at the doctor. Poor bastards looked exhausted.
"There's a lot I have to tell you, sir, uhm, DI Lestrade." Sofia said quietly. "I'm… I'm not hurt. Can we go to Scotland Yard and start in?"
John's glance showed Sergeant Sally Donovan trotting over to fall in step a few feet behind them. She touched John's back. "Axes? Really?"
"I didn't have a sidearm." John shrugged. "Wait until you see the big guy. I could have brought a cannon and he would have trashed me. Huge."
Sherlock was oblivious. His hand steadied his long frame on the casements full of crates.
John stepped out to walk beside him. God he was aching. "Where are you going?"
"Well, here's my master plan: upstairs to get my coat; home to get a shower; and then straight into my bed." Holmes told him with a quick quirk of a smile.
"Sounds phenomenal," John agreed and then turned to Donovan. "Oh. There's a bad guy locked in that loo, by the way."
"In the loo?" she asked curiously. And then she snorted, "As in he ran in, and locked you out?"
"He didn't take well to us running about with axes, I guess." John made a blithe shrug.
Dear God. Sergeant Sourpuss actually smiled.