"Your dress looks great, and you," Aryn commented, putting the finishing touches on her sister's hair, "are a beautiful bride."
They were sitting in her sister's room getting ready for her wedding. They were hosting it at their mother's house, a beautiful two story home with a large, spacious back yard. Numerous flowers graced its grounds and great trees provided the perfect amount of shade and light to have a wonderful gathering with friends and family.
"Aryn, I don't know what I would have done without you," Amy whispered, tears welling in her eyes. She stood up and looked at herself in the full length mirror once more. Taking a deep breath, she turned to face her sister. "I can't believe this is really happening!" The tears faded and a large smile spread across her face.
The smile was infectious, Aryn's face mirroring her sister's.
"Now, we need to talk about you for a minute. Sit, sit, sit," Amy ordered, gesturing towards the seat she was just in.
Aryn rolled her eyes playfully as she sat down, now looking at herself in the mirror. Her light blue dress matched her sister's bouquet that was on the table next to her. Her hair was curled and put up with a million and one Bobbi pins and her make-up was simple. It was the nicest she had made up herself since the night she had last seen Sherlock. It was a thought she didn't want to bring back to mind, but after looking at herself in the mirror, the memories pushed through.
"I know that since you're my maid of honor, and very single, you're most likely going to meet a lot of guys tonight."
"A lot of drunk guys," Aryn added. "I'm not going to be looking for a boyfriend tonight, Amy. It's just not happening."
"Can you at least get laid or something then?" Amy teased.
Aryn turned around and glared at her sister briefly before bringing her attention back to the mirror in front of her. "I'm not that shallow. I'll find love when I find it. This is not the time or place for it."
"Then can you, at the very least, take that ring off of your finger? I can guarantee that it's a deterrent to any many wanting to even think about a relationship with you."
Aryn looked down at the silver band she had received years ago. She twisted it around her finger as she sat in silence following her sister's comment.
Amy stared at her sister in the mirror and watched her actions. "Aryn, you need to move on."
It was the last time her sister had mentioned the subject. It was touchy and neither one wanted to risk a huge fight over it. Part of Aryn had wondered what would have happened that night had she taken off the band. There was no doubting that her brother-in-law's best man was the cutest guy in the wedding party, but the alcohol turned him into one of the rudest people Aryn had ever met. She remembered leaving the reception early, in fact. It wasn't worth the headache of trying to deter guys from "cheating" on her husband or dealing with her sister's drunk husband.
Aryn was lost in her thoughts after her captor had left her alone once more. The minutes felt like hours. All she knew was that the longer she waited there on the ground, the closer she was getting to her demise. She was finally able to turn herself over completely on her back so that she was staring up at the ceiling. Every part of her body ached in one way or another, and it was excruciating.
She had to keep reassuring herself that Sherlock would come for her. That hope, though, was starting to fade. The words her captor had placed in her mind were eating away at her thoughts. It was a horrible feeling: losing hope in the one person that could save her.
Sherlock and John watched Lestrade's press conference on the television that was in Lestrade's office.
"Thank you all for coming."
Lestrade looked as if he had aged 10 years in a matter of a few days. His eyes were slightly red, the bags resting under them getting more and more distinct. He wasn't clean shaven and his tie was slightly loosened around his neck.
"Detective Inspector Aryn K. Clarke has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in an unknown location. The only indication we have of her whereabouts is that she's in an underground room with a window to see to the street above."
Cameras flashed as Lestrade looked around the room.
"She was brought in from Manchester to assist with a murder investigation. She was taken seven and a half hours ago, the captor leaving us with 12 hours to find her."
"Why was she taken?" one of the reporters interrupted.
Lestrade paused in his speech, looking at the reporter with a tired look. He and Donovan had agreed to simply give Aryn's description to the media, but no details on the case. No questions would be taken.
"Miss Clarke is five feet, five inches tall, has medium length brown hair, brown eyes, and a slim build."
A picture of Aryn was posted up on a screen near where Lestrade was talking.
"She was last seen wearing a black pea coat, blue jeans, a white collared shirt, and black Converse shoes. Anyone with any information as to where Miss Clarke may be can contact police at Scotland Yard."
"What connection does she have to Mr. Sherlock Holmes?"
Lestrade looked at the reporter with a dead stare.
"Witnesses reported hearing her call out to him when she was streamed on the advertisement boards earlier today," another reporter interrupted. "Are they friends? Lovers?"
With that the room roared with questions and comments from reporters. The seal had been broken.
Lestrade and Donovan cleared out without answering any questions or even officially ending the conference. Time was ticking.
John turned off the television and looked back towards where Sherlock was sitting.
His eyes were still fixed on the blank screen, his mind seeming to be elsewhere.
"Sherlock? You okay?" John asked calmly, watching Sherlock's expression carefully.
Sherlock looked up at him. "I didn't go because I was afraid."
"Sorry?" John asked, sitting in the chair next to Sherlock as he had been earlier.
"I didn't meet her because I was…afraid." The last word came out with more hesitation than before.
John wasn't sure how to proceed.
"How much did she tell you about the night I had played her that song?"
His phrasing was spaced out and deliberate. He wanted to be very precise in his words.
"I...uhm…she told me about the dress and how you told her to go to the park. She mentioned your playing and then how you gave her the ring. And she mentioned the dance."
Sherlock looked down and smirked slightly. "That dance…"
John sat for a moment in the silence that followed before he said, "She said you're quite good. She enjoyed it immensely."
"I'd been practicing," Sherlock explained, looking up towards the empty television screen once more. "That night, John, is when I knew that Aryn meant more to me than I allowed myself to believe."
John took a deep breath and looked at Sherlock with a slightly puzzled expression. "So you were afraid of—"
"—how I felt," Sherlock finished, returning John's gaze.
Nothing more needed to be said. Many unspoken details were passed through their words and expressions, as it would be between best friends. John understood where Sherlock was coming from because of how much he cared for Mary. For Sherlock to have experienced that, considering the type of person he was, was not only a shock, but an accomplishment.
"Come on," John said, grabbing a list off of Lestrade's desk. "We have more places to look. No giving up now."
Sherlock looked up at his colleague who was waiting expectantly at the desk.
Sherlock nodded as he stood up to join John.
Four hours left.
"Four hours," he sang out to the nearly empty room. Her captor pulled up the chair she had been tied to earlier, placed it near her head, and sat down with his hands and chin leaning on the back as he gazed down at her.
She didn't move a muscle.
"Tsk tsk tsk," he said, looking her up and down. "Such a shame that you'll be put to waste like this. But if Sherlock doesn't want you, then I suppose it's his loss, right?"
Tensing up, her eyes flicked quickly to his. Her breathing started to quicken, her heart beginning to race.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of you until it's time."
"I don't find that very convincing."
The man sighed as he looked around the room. "In all honesty, I thought he would have been here already."
So did she.
"Maybe I'll just make this simple for you. I don't want to see you like this any more so…I'll put you out of your misery a little earlier than planned. How does that sound to you?"
She swallowed hard. Aryn didn't even bother hiding the fear in her face. Tears fell from her eyes as she shifted her focus to the ceiling once more, thinking about everything that had led up to that point. She thought of her family first.
Maybe it was okay to be reunited with them once more.
Maybe it was okay to finally escape everything that's been haunting her.
Maybe it was okay to die.
Three hours were left. Three hours and they had nothing to show to help find Aryn.
John and Sherlock had made their way to Hyde Park in silence, sitting on the park bench John and Aryn had sat on only a few nights prior. The open water before them greeted the two men like an old friend. They both looked out at it, minds wandering to different places, ideas, and thoughts.
The sun was setting, the sky changing into various colors as the daylight started to fade. Trees rustled with the evening wind, sending a chill through the air that caused Sherlock to turn up his collar.
Not many people were at the park that evening. John had only noticed a handful of people hanging around to go running, take a walk with their pet, or spend time with a friend or loved one. The happiness that floated through the air seemed to stop dead when it reached the duo.
He looked over to Sherlock whose eyes were focused on the scene before him. He, just like Lestrade, looked as if he had aged greatly in such a short amount of time. His usual sharp mind had been dulled by this sudden turn of events and John wondered how this all would end. At first, he contemplated what would happen if Aryn came back alive. She would probably return to Manchester to either get away from Sherlock or to tie up loose ends before moving back to London to be with Sherlock. It was a toss-up, but he knew that there was still a chance the two would be together. Time would need to mend those wounds.
As his mind drifted to the other outcome, he quickly stopped thinking about the subject. It couldn't be an option.
It shouldn't be.
Sherlock finally took his eyes off of the water and looked around at the place they had decided to rest. It was all too familiar. He remembered exactly where he had placed the blanket and where they had danced, the violin's song echoing in his head.
He couldn't let her die. He couldn't let someone who he had shown so much attention and care slip away from his grasp like a wisp of smoke. For many years, he believed what he had done the day they had graduated was right. He believed that maybe, just maybe, she would have given up, moved on, and had a successful life for herself. She needed someone to make her happy and ensure that she could have everything she wanted and more. It was what he felt she deserved, and what she could never find if she had ended up with him. Although she did have a great career, she never moved on. That was something Sherlock hadn't anticipated.
But then again, he never moved on either.
Small vibrations in his coat pocket brought him out of his thoughts. He grabbed for his cell phone without looking at the ID, assuming Lestrade was calling to either find out where they were or to give them new information about Aryn's location.
"What have you found?"
The person on the other end paused for a moment.
He could hear some rustling and he looked over at John, his brow furrowing in confusion. "Hello?"
His heart immediately began to pound intensely in his chest. His eyes widened slightly as he stood up to walk a few steps away from John. "Ryn?"
John's attention was immediately piqued, looking at Sherlock with great concern.
"Sherlock." She breathed out whatever air she had held in her lungs when she heard the phone ringing moments ago. "I'm so glad to hear your voice."
"Ryn, do you know where you are?" he asked, listening hard to any noise he could catch in the background of her phone call. He looked from left to right in an almost frantic way, as if thinking Lestrade would be there instantly to track the phone call for him.
"I don't know." Sherlock could hear her breathing with more labor than she should have been. She was hurt badly.
"Do you hear anything distinctive? See any people or lights or signs?" He needed her to focus. Turning towards John and looking at him with concern, Sherlock began to pace from the bench to the edge of the walkway in front of John.
"Sherlock, I don't know."
"Ryn, focus. I need to you to tell me if you can—"
"Sherlock." Her voice rose slightly. Hesitating before she continued, she confessed, "I'm going to die here."
He stopped dead in his tracks, looking down at his feet, then looking around the park. "No, no Ryn—I will find you."
"I don't know if I'm ready to die," she told him, ignoring his statement. Tears trailed down from the corner of her eyes down to the hair that rested beneath her head. She stared up at the ceiling trying to imagine Sherlock's face—trying to remember him so that maybe she'd be a little braver through everything that was happening.
John watched as his friend's face twisted into various expressions. First, it was one of determination—trying to figure out all of the possible solutions to the enigmatic situation they had been presented with. Next, he watched the hope fall from Sherlock's face as Aryn's words began to tear down the man he had known to be so strong.
"You won't die, Ryn," Sherlock reassured. "I won't let you."
He heard her chuckle, then release a sharp hiss of pain. Something was broken or ruptured.
"I just want to hear your voice." Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and relaxed her body. "I want to hear your voice until the end."
He stepped slowly towards a patch of grass to John's left. Kneeling, he reached for a handful of grass as if reaching for fabric. He could remember the blanket, his violin, and the ring placement as if it was yesterday. He closed his eyes tightly, fighting off the impending tears that were pushing against his eyes like strong water against a dam. He finally sat down, looking back towards the water once more. His legs were bent, bringing his knees up towards his chest.
"Sherlock," her meek voice began, "that night on the rooftop—I never really thanked you for saving my life."
He let his head hang low as his mind raced to think of their options.
"I wanted to tell you that I have never felt quite as safe as I did that night." She could still feel his arms wrapped around her shoulders and back and hear his heart beating at a million miles per minute. She could see his protective gaze following her for the rest of that night, ensuring that she wasn't going to get hurt while on his watch. "I've never felt safer than when I was with you."
The silence on the other end was deafening for Aryn. She knew that Sherlock wasn't a man of many words when it came to his feelings unless they were words used to rip apart other people. With her, she knew it was different, though.
"Where are you right now?" Her voice was fading more and more as her breaths deepened.
"Still go there to rid yourself of your frustrations?"
He heard her smile as she spoke. The tension fell from his shoulders as he looked around once more, noting John's expression as he continued to sit on the bench.
"Only out of habit. One that you formed for me."
"Better than some of the other habits you formed for yourself."
She coughed and doubled over in pain as she rolled onto her side, the phone now sitting right in front of her face.
"Sherlock…" Feeling the extent of her wounds as well as her blood loss, Aryn knew that whatever she needed to ask Sherlock, she needed to ask now. "…all those years ago, at Hyde Park, why did you do that for me?"
Sherlock stood up and walked back over to John as he pondered his answer. He stood in front of where he was sitting, facing the doctor. "I…wanted to do something nice for you. You were a great friend and I wanted to—"
"Sherlock—the real reason."
For once, John's eyes met Sherlock's and sensed nothing but uncertainty coming from the detective. He knew what Aryn had asked—it was hard not to judging by the fear that was slowly creeping over Sherlock's features—and he felt it was only right that Sherlock tell her what he needed to say.
John nodded to Sherlock in support.
Taking a deep breath, Sherlock walked away from John once more, stopping at the edge of the pathway. "I heard you a few nights prior, talking to Thalia."
"I never believed that anyone could care for me in the capacity that you were talking about, so I wanted to show you how much I cared for you." He paused, struggling to find the exact words he wanted to say. "I had grown rather fond of you and needed you to know that your efforts and friendship with me weren't for nothing. You…truly meant everything to me."
He could hear a muffled voice in the background, the phone rustling, then silence once more.
"He said to tell you that you have one hour to find me, Sherlock."
No. Impossible. Taking a two hour loss would make it nearly impossible to find her.
"Ryn? Ryn, listen to me—"
"I love you."
The phone rustled around again as Sherlock gained his bearings on everything that had happened in the last 30 seconds. He was stuck in a sea of emotions, swept away by anger, frustration, and fear.
Turning towards John with urgency, he said, "Phone Lestrade, we have one hour."
"An hour?" John asked in disbelief. He pulled out his phone as Sherlock attempted to get a hold of Aryn once more.
"No, what are you doing?" Aryn's voice was suddenly strong with panic. She was close to shouting. "No, no, PLEASE."
Her cries of pain rang through Sherlock's head. She cried out for him, for his protection, and he only stood there, helpless. He stared blankly across the park as he felt his chest tighten.
"If you find her alive in one hour, Mr. Holmes," a mystery voice said on the other end of the line, "the rest of your loved ones on my hit list will remain unharmed."
He swallowed hard.
"If you find her dead, I start killing everyone."
"You've made a big mistake—"
"Better hurry," the voice taunted, ignoring Sherlock's statement, "she might even be dead before time is up. Especially once I'm through with her."
The line went dead.