LAX International Airport, Terminal 5 – 11:36 PM, December 24, 2012
To the normal crowd, crimson was a jovial hue that adorned nearly every corner of the holiday festivities. To the detective in hiding, the color was a grim reminder of those he had killed in the past six months. Those he would have to kill in the near future.
Sherlock Holmes bitterly sneered at the lively scene before him.
It was that Season. When everyone was obligated to gather family and friends and exchange well-thought-of presents or last-minute gifts. Those who did nothing to celebrate either disdained the meaning behind the holiday or found no significant reason to be merry of it. Surprisingly, the Eve of Christmas didn't affect the normal flurry of the airport that night. Businessmen moved on without a heed to the holiday, pressing cell phones to their ears in brisk conversations. Families teemed with anticipation, eager to get home or visit relatives. And airport employees cantered to and fro, keeping the place in decent order.
To lighten the grayness of the airport, tints of green, white, and crimson were embellished in all possible places. Streamers, ribbons, banners, little bells, candy canes, and Father Christmas (or Santa Claus as the Americans called him) icons.
Even some of the travelers thought it appropriate to wear the ruddy color.
Lounging in his seat, Sherlock tugged his pilot tie loose and tipped the cap over his eyes to appear as if he were resting, hiding from the prying eyes of curious onlookers or vengeful assassins. But as of December, he'd gotten more of the nosy crowd since everyone—even the people Sherlock had been tracking—considered Christmas as a vacation.
The 'dead' detective scoffed. What reason did crooks have to be merry? What reason did he himself have to involve himself in the festivities? There was no one to share sentiment with, even if he dared to do sentiment as it had messed with him that past particular June.
Sentiment. He wanted to gag with the place reeking of emotional behavior. Parents. Children. Relatives. Friends. Lovers. Acquaintances. Even strangers. Well, the cheerful ones. Almost everyone had some degree of it. But with the New York City flight in almost an hour and a half, Sherlock couldn't escape the suffocating atmosphere.
It wasn't just a thorn in his flesh; it was a reminder. Once, he had dabbled with it; then he found himself crippled by Moriarty—his equal arch nemesis who had used Sherlock's… friends as leverage to make the detective "dance" on the criminal's terms. Sentiment was a feeling, an emotion that many times was mistaken for a decision or intellectual reason. It was irrational, often blinding a person's thinking without his knowing.
And it was sentiment that landed Sherlock there at the airport in the first place. It was why he was in disguise. It was why he was on the hunt. It was why he was on the run. It was why he had jumped from that roof.
But it was why he was still alive.
It all tied to that first thread of Moriarty—the cabbie and his pills. Sherlock was saved because John had sentiment as soon as he had stepped into the younger man's life.
Sentiment had brought a certain dominatrix to her knees, yet sentiment had literally saved her neck.
Sentiment is a chemical defect found on the losing side, he'd told Her.
No, he hadn't lost; he wasn't losing. He had beaten Moriarty at his own game…
But Lestrade had requested a temporary leave and taken to heavy drinking howbeit he maintained his dignity.
Mrs. Hudson was anticipating any type of consolation though she carried on as a good Brit.
John had asked for a miracle...still pressing on, marching as the soldier he was.
And they felt like they were on the losing side.
In the end, was all this worth it? Back to his old life, back to his…friends?
Sherlock growled. The mind stream of emotions always ended up in circular reasoning. What was the answer? Where was the end point? Why did people think sentiment was a…necessity?
"Hey, you okay?"
Sherlock flinched from the sudden break of thought. The voice had belonged to a female. In answer, he tipped up his hat and lifted his chin to find the speaker.
The object of his attention, he found, originated from his right; five seats away from him sat a young woman.
Observation flew to him instantly, his eyes scanning her slim figure.
Wavy, blond locks tumbled over her shoulders, and sharp blue eyes glistened with unrestrained curiosity.
Single but not dating. No band on her left ring finger. Didn't seem to show interest in romance but curious enough to call for his attention. Late twenties. Hasn't given up style tastes. Casual though; older folk didn't wear a NYC sweatshirt and loose jeans. Boots from a particular brand endorsed for young adults. Writer. Aspiring. Shoulder bag revealed a small journal and a laptop. Had a novel in hand. Violinist. Left fingertips calloused. Short fingernails.
German with Welsh, a New Yorker. European by traits but accent associated with the East Coast. Dressed warmly since she was accustomed to climate patterns in New York. No living family but isn't poor. Two wedding bands on a necklace she wore. Fact that she was at the airport with an expensive notebook and brand clothing indicated she either had a well-paying job or a wealthy inheritance. More likely the latter since an earned wealth at her age was difficult to attain with the American recession.
Interestingly, he was drawn to her face…
"Hellooo?" the woman repeated, waving her free hand.
He blinked. All right, she wasn't that fascinating. "Yes, I'm fine," he answered shortly. Breaking eye contact, he slumped into his seat and crossed his arms over his chest to show he wasn't interested in company.
The guise of a pilot gave Sherlock the upper hand at finding his target, but he was in the open. Not only to the underground people but also to the general public. Meaning he had to be…sociable. Not that Sherlock had trouble acting the part. It was just almost repulsive. He usual façades and shallow smiles. He wasn't the only person wearing a disguise. And he wasn't socializing to attract attention but to only pass as ordinary like every other mindless being. Rarely did he ever attract someone's attention without effort on his part.
He knew that this particular woman had been on the same past two flights as him. They'd stolen glances at each other but never truly acknowledged the other's presence. Well, he hadn't.
"Got any plans for Christmas?"
Sherlock inwardly cursed. "No."
She smirked, marking her novel and stuffing it into her bag. "Well, I do."
Cocking his head at her direction, he narrowed his eyes and subtly scowled. "Need I hear them?" Clearly, she didn't get the message.
But his reply only made her beam from ear to ear. "You actually talked. Finally, I've been trying to say hello to you, but either you were too far or you weren't listening. You like snoozing a lot, don't you?"
Yet here, this woman was communicating with him…Gosh, he almost admitted missing casual interaction with another person since his Fall.
Why was he making conversation with this woman? A total stranger? He might as well take a session with a half-engaged counselor and three nicotine patches. He needed to stop acting…human. The logic side of his head (arguably 80 percent of it) protested against this gesture of normality, but strangely he wanted to press on.
"I…" He softened his tone, "I've been thinking a lot lately."
His next move. His every conscious step. The elusive movements of the assassins. The gradual crumble of Moriarty's international criminal web. Jim's face that still haunted him in minute-short dreams. The series of crimes that had gotten Sherlock involved with Moriarty. His past life before Moriarty had tampered with him. That first case with John…
Maybe he should've taken that pill sooner.
Sherlock hastily deleted the regret before it could lodge in his mind. No, he wasn't stopping. Not now. Not when he had come this far…
"Too many things," he whispered.
She hummed in agreement. "Makes me mad sometimes. It makes me want to blame something…someone…well, a certain someone."
"Your arch enemy?" He couldn't resist. John would've laughed at the underlying meaning.
She laughed without a questioning glance. "Yeah, something like that. Same for you too?"
A grin crept onto his lips, knowing too well. Before he dropped it and retained an emotionless face. "Yes."
No, he had to stop. Before…John happened all over again. Yes, he needed to move to another gate.
He moved to adjust his tie and—
"Want to get some coffee?"
He halted, half-risen from his seat. "Sorry?" He had heard her clearly but needed the confirmation.
Her white face turned a beet red. She stared at the floor and tucked a strand behind her ear. Nervousness around a person of interest—Him.
The woman thought him quite attractive for a sore-thumb red-headed pilot, but she had asked out of courtesy (or maybe obligation…for what though?), not out of flirtation. And though she had trouble keeping steady eye contact with him, she didn't have that wistful or hungry gaze he usually got from…infatuated parties.
At the same time, the detective was irked. When did a short conversation become a trigger or a hint of an invitation to coffee? He wasn't one to sit still and sip on a hot drink. Even Anderson in all his low I.Q. glory knew that.
"So how do you like your coffee?" She giggled at Sherlock's dubious look. "I'm getting and paying for our orders. My treat. And no objection."
He bit back a moan. "Black, two sugars," he relented before considerately adding, "Please."
His acquaintance beamed. "Be right back."
And she whisked away to the ordering counter of the vacant café they—well, she when Sherlock made no objections to preference—had decided on. It was only about five gates away so they could return quickly if needed to.
Sherlock groaned again.
Why was he letting this woman drag him wherever she pleased? She treated him as if they'd known each other for ages, and she didn't seem to mind his groveling mood. The fact was he was letting his guard down. Not that the woman proved to be shady; he had read her thoroughly, nothing screaming assassin or murderer. Or even deceitful. Just troubled but clever enough to hide her own tribulations.
He undid his tie and tossed his cap onto the table, running a bony-thin hand through his ginger cropped hair. Gosh, he hated sitting still when it came to domestics, but the disguise prevented him from lashing out frustration. John would have laughed if he saw Sherlock being ordered by a young (and single) woman to sit down and drink coffee; more likely he would have used that moment as future blackmail material.
Not only did the current situation irritate Sherlock, it placed a target on his back. It was dangerous to make an acquaintance for any reason. Whether to get the latest update on the assassins' movements from the underground other than Moriarty's or to keep in contact with Mycroft through his government cronies, who in Sherlock's opinion had been rather sore thumbs in the crowds. Of course, the ordinary people were ignorant. While he was the hunter, he recognized he was the hunted also. Being in the company of any normal civilian never lasted for more than a minute, but almost an hour with this woman was making him anxious.
Yet relaxed. Did he actually miss this?
He glanced over his shoulder to survey any movement at the terminals. Nothing. So far so good.
"Looking for someone?"
The detective twisted back around and found the woman standing next to him with two steaming cups. She placed them on the table as she took the seat across from him.
"No," he lied. The more she didn't know the better.
She smirked, sliding one cup to him. "Right, and here's yours. Just as you requested. Want something sweet too?"
"No thank you."
"All righty. So," she lifted her cup and motioned for Sherlock to do the same, "here's to Christmas and—"
"Every other stranger that you will invite in the future," he added drily, wanting to see her reaction.
She snorted, unaffected. "Cheers, Mister…"
"Crieff, Martin Crieff."
They bumped their preferences together in toast and took long sips, watching the moving masses of travelers and prompting idle discussions.
Subjects ranged from politics to religious beliefs, and interestingly crime. The last topic certainly kept the detective-in-disguise awake and entertained. Or at least for a minute. Her opinion on law offense had volleyed from downright heartlessness to a high reverence for life. Still affected by parents' deaths, he added to his list of observations. As midnight approached, Sherlock began to unwind when he found no signs of suspicious behavior. So he turned his attention to the woman, startling her by beginning the conversation thirty minutes later.
Albeit it was blunt.
"Why am I doing this?" she clarified. She shrugged. "Because I felt like it."
His eyebrows furrowed. "But this isn't what you normally do on Christmas Eves, is it?"
"No, not really. But I wanted to spend Christmas in some way. With somebody, anybody." She paused and looked at Sherlock with a softened expression. "Looked like you needed some company."
"There are over thousands of people who want company in this airport. Why me?"
"You looked sad."
He leered. But more at himself. "So I've been told."
By the one who did count—Molly Hooper. The little mousy pathologist.
He hardened his face and took another gulp of his black coffee. Emotion was getting the better of him, and he knew it.
Over a year ago, he found it easy to snap on and off his stage feelings like a light switch just to get what he wanted for a case. But when John literally limped into Sherlock's life, sentiment crept into the detective's sub cranium little by little, first affecting his actions without thought and then messing with his mind. The ex-soldier through his fierce loyalty and longsuffering for Sherlock prodded the younger man to muse over emotions as a mystery itself. And especially after watching John at the grave—Sherlock's grave, he had discovered a new level of sentiment. Sentiment after death. His death.
From listening to Mycroft's reports and the world's opinion of his 'false' detective work, Sherlock knew that his stunt was having drastic effects on the three people he…cared for, consequences he feared irreversible even if—when he returned.
Moriarty's goal hadn't been to bring down his rival through mind games. Sherlock was too smart for that. But sentiment— helping Mrs. Hudson, helping Lestrade…helping John became his weak point; and Moriarty saw that easily. From the first confrontation, Moriarty saw that John would become Sherlock's Achilles heel. And he clearly stated that at the pool.
I will burn…the heart…out of you.
Sherlock's heart had become the three people he unknowingly held dear. He used to call it instinct, impulse. Rash impartiality. Now he hated to admit that sentiment was the reason.
Sentiment found on the losing side. But he had won; he had defeated Moriarty.
Then why did he still feel at loss? Why did it feel like a shallow victory?
"You're thinking again."
He'd almost forgotten his female companion.
At his pointed stare, she blushed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
And since you're having difficulty with making conversation, stop forcing yourself and start walking away, Sherlock wanted to say, but he bit the inside of his mouth.
"No, it's…fine," he said instead. But he hoped that didn't sound like an invitation for her to snoop into his life more. "There's no need for you to beat yourself. Your efforts are…appreciated." He surprised himself more than he did her when he said that.
As much as she nagged him, she was a curious case, more than just a trigger to unpleasant reflections of emotions…something about her…
She blinked before letting out a short laugh. "Really?"
"Let me ask you a question then."
"Okay, then shoot."
Sherlock paused. "Do you think dying for your friends is worth it? Even if it hurts them?"
"That's thought-provoking, isn't it?" she laughed but continued. "Depends on the situation. Depends who."
"That's not a satisfactory answer." Sherlock winced when his reply came out more harshly than he would've liked.
"You want a plain yes or no." Again, she amazed him with her pardoning friendliness. She didn't seem to take offence to his sharpness. "Give me an instance."
"Threatening someone to jump off a four-story building by pointing a gun at his friends. Those he…really cares for."
She paused. "That's rather specific...If to save their lives, then yes. Hopefully, it never comes to that, but I would."
Sherlock paused, slowly digesting her answer. "That simply?"
She leaned forward with a knowing smile. "John 15:13."
A Bible reference. "And what exactly does John 15:13 say?"
"I got only one life, and I want to make sure it wasn't spent or taken in vain."
"That wasn't a quote, and you're avoiding my question." But much to his dissatisfaction...
"And love isn't blind. It simply overlooks. You'll have to find the reference yourself because you'll shut me out once I try to explain."
"Thank you very much. It was most explanatory," he mumbled.
"Hang on, did you say 'jump off a four-story building'? Sounds like that one man who…" Her eyes flashed in realization. "Are you implying that he was forced to commit suicide?"
"And are you insinuating that he wasn't?" he replied snidely. They had to go into that topic.
To his surprise, she shook her head and raised her hands in surrender. "You know about the movement afterward, right? I really hadn't heard much about the sleuth detective until the news hit about his suicide. I took it as passing until his…friend posted a comment on his blog."
"And then curiosity got the better of you, and you researched and then joined the crusade," he finished quietly.
She nodded and sent him a small grin. "Observant you are, Mr. Crieff."
Sherlock let himself smirk at her ironic compliment. She had no idea of whom she was talking with.
That was when he caught movement in his peripheral vision when he absently glanced back. His body tensed, and his throat constricted.
The man was less than ten meters away from the cafeteria, leaning on a pillar and giving Sherlock his undivided attention.
Has been surveying for the past ten minutes. Gray trench coat over black attire with matching flat cap. Unmistakably German with blonde cut and piercing blue eyes…he had a similar face to…Sherlock shook off the idea. British L9A1 in his coat stashed past police force. Rather appropriate weapon to choose for his special target—Sherlock Holmes. Vengeance.
The hired gunman grinned, a maniac glint in his eyes like a hunter honing in on his kill. Near brink of insanity. Conclusion: Kristian Richter, the assassin assigned to DI Lestrade.
"Why don't we take a stroll to security?" Sherlock suggested.
"Is something wrong?" the woman asked, unaware of the impending danger. She flinched when he swore under his breath.
He instantly regretted talking with the woman in the first place. He wasn't about to get an innocent bystander involved with an assassin, yet he couldn't just leave her alone. She was in danger too.
Sherlock rose from his seat, snatching his tie and hat. "I've forgotten to check in with them and report suspicious behavior from prior." He turned to her, motioning for her to follow. "I'd like some company too."
Much to his gratefulness, she obeyed as she hastily grabbed and slung her shoulder bag, falling into step with Sherlock who had headed in the opposite direction of the assassin. Doubtless the man would follow. Sherlock instructed the woman to cuddle him to appear as if they were a couple; she sent a skeptical look but complied as she slipped her arm into his crooked one. The way she stiffened told the detective that she was unaccustomed to touch…from the opposite gender at least.
"When you said suspicious behavior…" she began to turn her head.
"Don't look back," he ordered in her ear.
Again to her credit, she listened. "We're being followed, aren't we?" she figured out quickly. "But wouldn't the police have noticed—"
"Well, apparently, they didn't," he snapped. This wasn't the time to have patience any more.
Sherlock knew that Richter wouldn't be far behind. Just when he thought his search was getting tedious, Lestrade's killer decided to pop out and make things rather dramatic. Indeed it was Christmas.
The woman caught Sherlock's unrepressed smirk. "What's with that face? It's like you got your favorite present. And we're being stalked by a creeper."
"Then I believe I just got what I asked for Christmas." He couldn't hide that from her. He had been hoping he would get any action. And here was the opportunity on a golden platter except…
Sherlock's hair rose. Richter was less than five meters away, and his voice was gaining in distance.
He seized the woman's wrist. "Run!"
Sherlock dashed and swerved around passengers and airport personnel, guiding his companion with a steady lead and barking at occasional dazed policemen for backup. But security didn't prove to be of help as the pair went tearing through the airport. Going straight for the police officials was the best option to catch or kill a gunman. But with the speed they were sprinting, it would take more than fifteen minutes for anybody else to get hold of the situation.
His fellow refugee was beginning to struggle. Though the shorter of them proved to be athletic as well, she still had trouble catching up at Sherlock's unwavering pace and almost tripped twice along the way. Soon, everyone there was aware of the chase, and law enforcement was ultimately called for. Onlookers shrieked (and cursed, oh yes, on Christmas Eve too) and parted like the Red Sea for the two and even more so when the following black figure roared in angry German. The more exposed they were the more chance their pursuer had of hurting either of them. And anyone else standing in his way as he brought out his weapon and waved it in the air with no shame.
A threatening shot to the ceiling sent the packed hallways into more frenzy, many throwing themselves onto the ground and making Sherlock and the woman an open target. Yet the assassin didn't fire at either of them.
Yes, rather dramatic, the detective sneered.
They turned a sharp right corner to a vacant foyer and slammed themselves against the wall, Sherlock at the bend to get a view of the hall they'd just run.
"He couldn't see us for a moment," he informed between pants. "Still three gates behind." But where had the lunatic gone? He couldn't see the assassin…
"How did he get past the police?" She was gasping for air. "And what's taking them so long?"
"Again, ridiculous security."
"Oh not that again—"
"Once you get to authorized personnel, stay with them. Preferably ones with guns."
Her breathing hitched. "Say what?"
"Our pursuer is not here for you," he interrupted sharply, scanning the current horde of people.
At least, this area was unaware of what had happened eight gates down. The com overhead requested for authorized personnel to head to the arrival gates where he and the woman were resting at the moment.
Sherlock glanced back at the woman with all dead seriousness. "He's here for me, and you're in danger. Now go ahead and find the police while you can. They'll be five gates ahead."
The woman shook her head defiantly. "No, I'm staying with you."
"No, you're not. This isn't your problem—"
She yanked his right shoulder to get him to face her, keeping a firm grip on his arm. "Yes, it'smy problem as much as it's yours since you dragged me along."
"And I regret for dragging you along. He thinks that you're in it with me."
"I'm with you in what?"
Sherlock mentally punched himself. "Nothing. This is why I don't talk to people. Now get out of here before—"
"It's too late for me to go back."
"He can't see us right now."
"I'm helping you whether you like it or not, Mr. Crieff. So I'm not going to leave you!"
"You'll help me and yourself if you find the police!"
"And that's an order!" He tried to shove her towards a particular direction, but she clung onto him, refusing to acquiesce. At one final push, he managed to pry her off.
She reeled back with a guilty look, her focus on the ground. "I can't. He'll find me eventually." She hesitated. "He knows me too well."
"…What did you say?"
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I…I should've told you earlier, but I know—"
A gunshot rang in the hall.
Horrified screams echoed that certain section of the airport, those nearby ducking for cover. Sherlock, snapping out of his daze, had instinctively thrown his arms around the woman in a protective hug and dropped onto his knees. But there wasn't a following shot. He looked up past behind her. And realized his mistake.
Richter stood there in total arrogance. The weapon in the German's right hand was poised and smoking as an empty shell rolled at the man's feet. And on his pale face, a deranged and victorious smirk graced his thin lips. But only for two seconds as two different shots jerked his whole body and changed his expression into unending shock as he gracelessly crumpled to his left side, his wide-open eyes lifeless and his mouth screaming in silence. Sherlock knew one of the shots had hit the back of the skull with blood immediately pooling under the head.
Sherlock remained where he was, waiting for the impending pain from a bullet.
A quick mental pat-down revealed nothing on him…but that meant…
With dread, he turned his attention back to the woman, slowly drawing her back.
Her stunned gaze followed his inscrutable one to her blooming-red chest. "Oh."
Before she could even collapse backwards, Sherlock caught her and lowered them both to the cool linoleum floor so that he was cradling her in his arms, making his grip as comfortable as he could for her. Blood seeped from the corner of her mouth. Her throat constricted, and her chest shuddered as she weakly struggled for breath. But it was her eyes that nearly caught Sherlock off-guard.
She was scared. Those dimming yet still shining blue eyes were brimming with fear.
Her right hand sought his left one, and he clasped the trembling grip. He could feel something wet and warm begin to seep into his white sleeve, vaguely noting he had dropped his pilot's coat when he had caught her.
"It…it was him." She coughed. "I didn't think I would see him again."
Sherlock stiffened when all the facts came together. She had said she wanted to blame a certain someone; she had said that the assassin was her problem; …she had said that she thought she wouldn't see him again. His eyes trailed to the dead man lying a few feet away. Kristian had the same eye color, same hair texture, same facial structure…
The assassin's background instantly hit Sherlock with full force. Kristian Richter. German assassin hired by Moriarty to kill Lestrade. Twenty-eight years of age. Came from a good home background but decided to reject religious upbringing at 18. Discharged without honor from the US Army for recent history of mental deterioration. Trained himself at German underground. Prefers close-range shooting and hand-to-hand combat. Killed parents in 2009. Has one living family–a twin sister.
"I'm so sorry…I'm sor..." He swallowed an unintended lump in his throat.
She gave him a trembling smile. "Don't be."
He realized that he hadn't asked for her name nor had she introduced herself; he didn't know her own.
What she had said didn't register in Sherlock's mind for approximately three seconds. "Your full name is Kerstin Richter."
"Yeah." She paused. "You're really there, right?" Kerstin asked.
Seeing her dilating pupils, Sherlock doubted that she could focus on anything; vision was going black on her. He gently squeezed her hand but couldn't bring himself to send a comforting smile. "Yes, I'm here."
She tried to speak again, her darkening gaze traveling to the stucco ceiling and her breathing slowing. "I—I'm scared."
Sherlock uneasily hushed her, but that was all he could do. Lull her to sleep…lull her to death.
He had watched death before (and in cruel, inhumane ways that only the government and the Yard knew). But this time, there were no complicated pills or delirient aerosol drugs or hazardous hair products. No bombs or aluminum crutches. Not even death by bare hands. A bullet. That was all it took. The sense of loss and defeat he was experiencing was much like the blind old lady during the "Great Game" except amplified ten times more. It was disconcerting.
A small crowd had begun to form around them and the body a few feet away, but the police set up a perimeter before the cluster had gotten worse. The usual movements of a crime scene started to play in front of him. This time, he was personally involved. He held a form of relationship to the victim as a witness. That wasn't new to him, but…
"At least…he didn't get you," Kerstin whispered. "That's good to know... I'd rather it be this way than...vice versa."
Sherlock said nothing. He couldn't lie to her by saying she would be all right.
"And I'm...I'm glad I met you…Martin…"
Before he knew what he was doing, Sherlock bent down to her ear. "It's Sherlock Holmes." He remained there, his face close to hers. "And thank you…for everything." That wasn't the truth; there was nothing to thank her for.
Kerstin's breathing slowed, but her eyes flickered with recognition. He could see the pieces coming together in her mind. She figured who he really was. "Sherlock…Holmes," she repeated as if testing the sound. She closed her eyes and sighed in content. "One thing for you: my bag…keep my bag…"
"And…I believe in you…"
Sherlock bowed his head in respect as he withdrew.
Forever would Kerstin Richter die with shed tears and a peaceful smile on ashen lips. And for the rest of his life would Sherlock Holmes enshrine one room for her in his mind palace.
Kristian Richter. Kerstin Ritcher. He had missed something again. And Kerstin had been wrong; sentiment had made him blind.
The American police became aware of the British government's involvement, thus make sense of the crime scene. But to keep the crowds from arousing with major gossip (and to insure the safety and stability of both America and the United Kingdom), all airport personnel present at the scene were paid a generous bonus on Christmas Day to keep silent, police officials aware of the case were sworn to secrecy and ordered to write down the case as domestic murder (which wasn't far from the truth), and the SIS made sure in the news that it was only a family affair gone out of hand. At this rate, Sherlock knew the event would dim to nothing but another tragic story like every other murder on an unfortunate day.
The only positive outcome was a clear rise of security.
Much to the displeasure of the police investigation and to the chagrin of the British Secret Service, Sherlock kept the laptop bag and its contents after coldly informing that he owned per the victim's request. And to emphasize his point, he flashed Mycroft's 'acquired' ID.
Even after going through strained procedure with the local police and a drawling lecture from an infuriated Mycroft via pay phone, Sherlock didn't open Kerstin's bag until New Year's Eve. It wasn't even curiosity that caused him to open the bag. He was at an expensive hotel in New York City, and he finally thought it appropriate to go through the contents of the dead wom—Kerstin.
Kerstin Richter. Only an added name to the casualty list of Kristian Richter, now-deceased assassin.
Sherlock never figured out who had fired the bullets that ended the killer's life, but he didn't care at the moment. Lestrade's killer was taken care of. It didn't matter that the German had killed his only living relative; he was dead now, the world relieved of another evil-doer. One down, two to go.
The computer was on his lap, flipped open but turned off.
Sherlock heaved a tired sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. As much as he wanted to deny that particular night had affected him to some degree, he couldn't ignore the conflict in his chest.
Sentiment found on the losing side. Her sentiment for him had gotten her killed. If she hadn't—no, if he hadn't paid attention to her, she wouldn't have gotten involved in his problems. She wouldn't have run with him. She wouldn't have died—
Guilt and relief swelled inside his chest, and he bowed his head, shutting his eyes as gratefulness to the young woman washed over him. If Kerstin hadn't taken the bullet...if she hadn't been there…
Sentiment found on the losing side. It was sentiment that killed Kerstin, yet it was sentiment that had saved the detective again. Kristian had shot Kerstin first; it wasn't a misfire. Instead of dealing with Sherlock at that moment, he had taken care of family matters with demented sentiment until it was too late to finish off his initial target.
Sherlock growled. But what was the point of Kerstin's death?
What was he missing?
In frustration, his finger smashed the power button. He tossed the laptop onto the bed to head onto the balcony for a quick smoke while he waited. He needed to think of something else.
But he wasn't prepared for what he saw on the computer wallpaper five minutes later.
Typed in black bold italics against a pastel background were the words:
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." – John 15:13
June 15th, 2012 – I Believe in Sherlock Holmes.
Note: Love is a commitment, a decision. Not a feeling.
At midnight, dazzling fireworks exploded in the biting-cold winter air, and shouts of jubilation resonated from the New York Times Square. Two-thousand and twelve was no more, and Two-thousand and thirteen had begun.
Sherlock bowed his head and bitterly smiled. "Happy New Year, Kerstin Richter."
To the normal crowd, crimson was a jovial hue that adorned nearly every corner of a celebration. To the detective in hiding, the color was a grim reminder of those he had killed in the past six months. Those he would have to kill in the near future.
And the one who was killed instead of him.