John must have fallen asleep, because when he jolted awake, the boy was gone and pale sunlight filtered in through high windows. John kept quiet for a moment, listening for any indication that the killer was still here; then, when only silence met his ears, he began to wiggle his wrists, trying to force his hands out of the ropes. After ten minutes of struggling and the beginnings of horrible rope burn, however, John sank back into the chair and let out a rattling sigh.
If you aren't here within 24 hours, I'll slit John Watson's throat.
John sucked in a breath and glanced down at his arms. His struggles with the ropes binding his wrists had reopened the gashes on his forearms, and blood stained his bandages a brilliant red, running down the sides of his arms and dripping onto the floor rhythmically. "Great," John muttered. "Bloody perfect."
How long had it been? 12 hours at least, John figured, craning his neck in an attempt to determine the position of the sun in the sky. That meant he still had 12 hours left.
A door banged in the distance, and John started, glancing around fearfully. "Hello?" he called, his voice froggy. He cleared his throat and tried again, louder: "Is someone there? I need help!"
No response. John began to wiggle in his chair, scraping it forward along the floor. "Anybody!"
"Now, John, I thought we had an agreement that you would keep quiet and I wouldn't kill you ahead of your time."
John froze as the boy stepped out from behind a teetering stack of moldy boxes, his suit just a shade darker than yesterday's and a crimson tie knotted at his throat. He had his hands in his pockets, an air of casualness about him. "Are you planning to renegotiate our terms?"
John shook his head mutely, focusing on the wall behind the boy. He couldn't look at him—not after what the boy had told him.
The killer shrugged and continued, "By now, Mary will have viewed my message and is probably on her way right now, running to come retrieve her favorite toy."
John wanted to disagree, but then all the times Mary had whispered I love you into his ear flashed through his mind and he pushed aside his protests.
The boy took a few lazy steps closer to John, narrowing his eyes at him. "I assume your newfound predilection towards silence is due to the fact that I killed your parents?"
John flinched but said nothing.
"It was one of my easier jobs," he continued. "They seemed so surprised when I told them why I was there. Usually, my assignments know what's coming for them and do their absolute best to protect themselves, but apparently your parents didn't get the memo."
Assignments? Jobs? Questions bubbled up inside of John, desperate to be spoken, but John forced them down, chewing the insides of his cheeks instead.
"You know, I was actually kind of offended when I was assigned your parents. They didn't tell me much, but I got the feeling that I was second choice—like someone had already been assigned their case and failed. And, there was the fact that they weren't even important." The killer shook his head, and John couldn't tell if the faint disgust in his voice was real or simply a façade. "Normally, I track ex-CIA agents or dangerous rough criminals—ones that would threaten the system. Being put on a debt collection—that stung."
Debt collection? Suddenly, John flashed back to a late December night, when John had stayed up late doing overdue homework and caught the hushed snatches of a worried conversation between his father and a faceless someone on the other side of the phone. The conversation had faded out of earshot as his father changed rooms, but John had caught something about overdue money and hurried promises of payment.
"I improvised." The killer straightened his tie unnecessarily, checking his watch in the process. "The plan was always to collect and kill—that's how they enforce the system and make sure all debts get paid on time—but it's such a straightforward job, not at all enjoyable. So, I let them think I was a friend of yours. They invited me in—turns out you were out on a date with Mary, ironically—and we talked. When I finally told them I'd come for payment, they actually seemed relieved. Apparently, my boss doesn't divulge the little punishment that comes with late payments when his clients sign into loans. They thought they could just pay and I'd leave, no questions asked." He laughed—actually laughed, a dry thing without an inkling of remorse—and said, "Imagine their surprise when I shot them."
John's fingers gripped the chair handles so hard he was losing feeling in them. The increased pressure made the blood flow quicker out of his forearms, and it ran in rivulets down his skin and puddled on the stone floor. The pain of the cuts slowly reopening kept him from screaming every curse he knew at the boy in front of him, but it didn't stop the boiling rage inside of him or the salty tears pooling in the corners of his eyes.
If the boy saw the dripping blood, he didn't comment on it. Instead, he continued, "My next case, however, was much more exciting." He started to pace back and forth, his footsteps lethargic, like he knew he had all the time in the world. "Mary Morstan." He drew her name out, letting the vowels linger on his tongue and savoring the consonants. "When I found out who she really was, I had to take her case. After all, she is my one piece of unfinished business."
"What." The word escaped John, falling flatly off his lips, ringing more like a statement then a question. His rage and pain had seeped away, leaving him numb and exhausted; the introduction of Mary only served to quicken the process of John shutting himself down and sealing himself away from the present. After all, what was the point? He and Mary—they were both going to die.
The boy raised an eyebrow, acknowledging the breaking of John's silence. "You think you're the only one with dead parents?" He stopped pacing, took another step closer to John, and John could see the boy's eyes harden in muted anger, the kind that festered for years and had the potential to spiral into madness. "I lost mine when I was 14. Their deaths were announced on global news, and people worldwide rejoiced while I sat in my grandmother's house and watched CNN call them terrorists and condemn them."
John remembered that news story—a couple that had smuggled classified government intelligence to Afghanistani terrorists and received the death penalty. His parents had clicked off the television shortly afterward, not wanting John to see the evil that infected the world.
"So when I ran away, found the organization, and tracked down the CIA agents that exposed my parents, I killed them. However, I missed one."
"Mary," John breathed, and suddenly, all the little hints and subtle clues the killer had been dropping in front of him clicked into place, slotting together seamlessly. "You killed Mary's parents."
"Finally," the boy sighed. "Your lack of basic understanding is beginning to irritate me. I much prefer working with individuals who think on my level. However, this was unavoidable, as Mary kept flitting out of my grasp every time I drew close."
"Good," John bit out.
The boy narrowed his eyes at John, drawing closer until he stood towering over John, casting a long, dark shadow over John's face. "You wouldn't be so loyal to her if you knew what she did."
"You're wrong." However, a small part of John faltered, curiosity rising within him—accompanied by a small portion of fear.
A corner of the boy's mouth crooked into a dry smirk. "She never cared about you."
Before John could protest, a sharp voice said, "That's not true," and out of the shadows stepped Mary, her grey eyes like shards of ice and her face tight with a strength John had never seen before. "Hello, Milverton. Or would you prefer Magnussen?"
Magnussen took a step back from John, and John felt some of his tension seep out at the increased space. "Mary. My apologies—you cared too much, as it happened."
Mary's eyes darted briefly to John, softening as they met his, and John felt a strange mix of relief and terror flood his system. "Let him go. I'm here now—you have no business with John."
Magnussen clicked his tongue against his teeth, shaking his head. "Actually, I do. He's a loose end, and we can't have those. You know that."
Mary's pale, porcelain face whitened even more. "We never break a deal, Magnussen. You know the rules."
"I don't believe I ever specifically said that if you showed up, John would live. Loopholes, Mary—you never were good at finding them."
In a flash, Mary reached inside her jacket and withdrew a pistol, pointing it without a tremor at Magnussen's heart. John's breath caught in his throat, and a wave of cold ran through him. "You let him go, otherwise, I will shoot you."
"Mary?" John croaked, unable to tear his eyes away from the gun in her hands, but if Mary heard him, she didn't give any indication, keeping her focus tightly on Magnussen.
Magnussen's clipped laugh rang through the abandoned warehouse, sending shivers down John's spine. "John has no idea who you are, does he? He still thinks that you're the victim."
Mary cocked the gun, her finger hovering over the trigger. "The only reason you're still alive right now is because of him."
"Because you don't want him to see the monster you really are?" Magnussen kept his eyes on Mary, but his next words were directed at John. "Ask her why she really started a relationship with you." His voice dropped, taking on a darker tone. "Ask her what was running through her mind when she first went to your house and met your parents."
Mary fired, the gun kicking slightly in her hands, and the impact of the bullet sent Magnussen staggering back a few steps, his hand flying out to the closest wall to brace himself. He stood there for a moment, breathing heavily, before a small chuckle resonated from deep inside of him and he straightened, undoing one of his dress shirt buttons to reveal a black layer of Kevlar just underneath his clothes. "I was expecting you."
Mary pointed the gun at him again, this time higher. "Unless you have a bulletproof skull, I can still shoot you in the head."
Magnussen smirked, and then he had a gun in his hand, cocked, loaded, and trained on Mary's forehead. "As I recall, I'm the faster shot, and you're out of practice."
Mary said nothing, but John saw her jaw twitch like it did when she knew she'd lost already. Then, she lowered her gun and let out a small exhalation. "Fine."
"Put your gun on the ground."
Slowly, with both hands held in an open gesture, Mary knelt down and placed her gun on the floor, straightening just as cautiously. "You've got what you want, Magnussen. I'm begging you—leave John alone. He's not a part of this."
Magnussen glanced at John. "Well? Are you going to ask her, or do I have to spell it out for you?"
John tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but he only succeeded in lodging it further. His eyes flicked to Mary, saw the fear in the soft lines of her face, but he couldn't help but ask, "What is he talking about?"
Mary let out a shaky breath, casting her eyes to the ground. "I- I can't—"
"Mary." John's world felt like it was falling apart, his entire life unraveling and revealing an existence built on lies and deception. "Please."
The word seemed to resonate through Mary, and she stilled, her breaths falling into shallow inhalations and exhalations. "I didn't know you when they asked me to do it," she whispered. "I didn't care that it would hurt you because I didn't care about you, not then." She glanced up then, her eyes dull pools of blue-grey, and John recognized his earlier numbness reflected in her. "I was supposed to…" She halted, struggling with the words, and placed a fist to her lips. "They told me to get close to you so I could collect your parents' debt and then kill them." The last few words came out as a sob, barely recognizable, but they still sent a jolt of electricity through John's nerves, making his stomach drop and his breathing drag to a rough halt.
"What?" he said, his voice haggard, and suddenly there was nothing. He felt nothing, he heard nothing, he saw nothing—nothing but Mary, standing at a distance but still close enough to see the pain spiking through her. His fingers, before gripping the chair arms tightly, lost their grip and slipped, and for a moment he thought the entire floor had dropped out from underneath him, leaving him briefly suspended in infinite space with nothing to anchor him before he plummeted, falling and tumbling and losing all sense of direction.
"But I couldn't," Mary gasped, and her words registered to John as if through a tunnel, fuzzy and distorted. "The more time I spent with you, the more I realized that I couldn't, because I love you! I thought if I quit the organization, everything would stop, but that was… I was so stupid to think it would be over that easily."
"Stop," John muttered, repeating himself a few times until the word overpowered Mary's and dragged her to a halt. "How many people have you killed?"
A strangled sob escaped Mary's lips. "John."
"How many?!" John was shouting now, his numbness quickly transitioning to red-hot rage, fueled by the sting of betrayal, the thought of his parents, lying dead on the floor, and the fact that their demise lay partly on the shoulders of the girl he'd been stupid enough to trust. "Stop lying to me!"
Mary tore her gaze away from his, focusing on the floor. "I don't know," she said quietly, her voice tortured. "Fifty? A hundred? I lost count, but don't think that I don't regret each and every one."
John couldn't look at Mary. Memories flashed through his mind like fireworks, lighting up for a moment before fading again: stolen kisses, shared laughs, countless dates, hastily snapped photos, family dinners, school dances—how much of it was a lie?
"John," Mary repeated, but John shook his head.
Mary took a small step backwards, and then, as if finally remembering his presence, she glanced over at Magnussen, her eyes hard and completely devoid of warmth. "If I go back, will you spare John's life?"
Magnussen paused a moment, as if considering Mary's offer. "Sorry. They don't want you back. You're compromised." He lifted his gun again, pointing it at Mary's forehead. "But I have to thank you. That was quite a show."
Despite it all, John felt a loud "No!" rip its way out of his chest as the gunshot echoed through the warehouse, and his vision blurred, turning the scene in front of him into a mix of colors and hazy lines. When a pair of steady hands began working to undo the ropes binding his wrists, fingers brushing up against his skin and lingering on the blood-soaked bandages, he could barely muster up the energy to lift his head from where it had lolled forward, much less comprehend the situation. It wasn't until all his bindings fell away, a pair of strong hands pulled him to his feet, and a low voice finally broke through the buzzing in his ears that John finally reentered reality, lifting his head just enough to see a pair of startling blue eyes staring into his, framed by creamy white skin and raven-black curls.
"John," Sherlock said for the twentieth time, squeezing John's shoulders in an effort to revive him from the shock-induced trance he'd fallen into. "John, wake up."
John blinked slowly, the rest of the warehouse gradually coming into focus. "Sherlock?" he muttered, and then a rush of terror shot through him and he pushed Sherlock's hands away, turning to stare wide-eyed at the body sprawled on the warehouse floor, blood pooling rapidly around its head. He sucked in a long breath and backed up.
"It's over," Sherlock said, and though one couldn't call his voice soft, it did ring less blunt and factual than normal. "Magnussen is dead."
Mary stood a few feet away from Magnussen's body, her face blank, and Sherlock knew the look. It was the kind of expression one took on when one was trying to hide a slew of powerful, destructive emotions. She looked up from Magnussen's body and glanced at John, her eyes betraying the emotionlessness on her face; the grey in them glistened like turbulent seas, filled with waves of pain and defeat. "I'm sorry, John," she said quietly, and he flinched like she'd struck him.
"Go," he said, his voice tight. "Go, and don't ever come back."
So Mary left, quickly receding back into the shadows; after a moment, John heard a door slam, and the noise made a nerve in his cheek jump. He said nothing, and neither did Sherlock; they simply stood, silent, until Lestrade and his officers burst into the warehouse, guns blazing, to find the three of them in tense silence.
When Lestrade approached them, sporting full Kevlar and gripping a semi-automatic, and asked in a low tone what had happened, Sherlock took over. He explained that he had made a plan with Mary to distract Magnussen while he got into position to fire a shot. He didn't mention that it took longer than expected, due to Magnussen's guards stationed on every corner of the building and his snipers watching from nearby buildings; he didn't tell Lestrade about Mary's connection with Magnussen; he only said that Mary had left, and the police should hardly concern themselves with her. Then, after informing Lestrade that he expected compensation in the form of a check by the next day for his troubles, Sherlock left, bringing a mute John back to the flat.
The day made way for night, and Magnussen's death faded into the past.
Author's Note: This will be the last chapter for a long time, as I will be gone until mid-August. I hope I didn't leave off in too stressful of a place. As the story stands right now, it's probably pretty close to completion as it is, but I can't be sure.