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The Great Inevitability
Dr John H Watson was sure he had never run this hard or desperately in all his life. His lungs were afire, his jugular vein throbbed wildly in his neck, and black spots were dancing in his peripheral vision. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, not from a physical standpoint, anyway, but John lived for it all the same. This, the adrenaline laced thrill of a chase, of defeating a criminal, of pounding through all of London’s back alleyways with a brilliant-minded, coat-clad Sherlock beside him. It was a shocking juxtaposition to their diurnal life at 221B, with consisted mostly of case research, experiments, new blog posts, frenetic violin compositions, and on very slow days, a quick mental skirmish with Sherlock’s well-loved Sudokube. In fact, John had been rather shocked that first night with the cabbie at how extremely cathartic it was to chase after felons in the darkness, certain only of his next footstep, unable to identify danger until it was directly upon them. It reminded him of Afghanistan and it didn’t. There was the unmistakable fear and doubt, but there was also a spark, a charge of electricity that made John feel infinitely powerful and enormously bold. It was intoxicating, and whether he admitted to it or not, John was positive Sherlock felt the same. You would have to be made of stone not to feel something in those heart pumping moments of pursuit.
Now, as he sprinted madly in Sherlock’s wake, a question pushed to the forefront of John’s mind.
“If we catch the killer, what do you reckon will be his sentence? He killed several men, yes, but it was partially in self-defense.”
“His final punishment will be up to the jury at his trial, John, and I don’t wish to imagine the asinine verdicts they’ll think up,” barked Sherlock. “England puts the punishment of its offenders into the hands of blundering morons; it’s no small wonder there are so many defects in the process of criminal sentencing.”
Sherlock was still brimming with the energy of an Olympic athlete, a fact that both annoyed John and filled him with fond admiration. For a man who could be so aggressively lazy, Sherlock had a truly enviable amount of stamina.
“Glass!” Sherlock cried, and John skirted the shattered remains of a whiskey bottle.
“Thanks,” he panted.
“Well,” Sherlock pointed out, “it would have terribly inconvenient for you to bleed to death just as we’re closing in on a serial stabber.”
“It—was—a—letter—opener,” John gasped, “not a sodding sword. But yes, stabbing in general is in rather bad taste.”
“Precisely,” said Sherlock, and quickened his pace, speeding down the narrow alleyway towards distant street lamps, coat flapping. “Stay on my right, John, and don’t do anything until I say.”
John opened his mouth to speak, but Sherlock seized him by the coat collar and pulled him roughly into a shadowed doorway. “He’s here,” said Sherlock. “I’ve just seen him.”
A tingle of foreboding danced down John’s neck and he glanced into the alley. “Where?” he breathed.
“Behind that skip.” Sherlock pointed swiftly to their right.
“I can’t see anyone.”
“You can see his shadow, John,” whispered Sherlock, sounding as though John was not a relatively intelligent thirty-eight year old with a valid point, but a toddler who couldn’t operate a crayon.
John counted to seven and did not retaliate.
Honestly speaking, the ‘shadow’ Sherlock spoke of looked like a weird, shapeless blob on the pavement; nothing like the shadow of a man. But John’s relationship with Sherlock was nothing if not a great deal of trusting in what seemed like utter rubbish. And fortunately for both of them, the rubbish was usually not rubbish at all.
“Sherlock,” murmured John, “I’m not going to stand here all night waiting for our killer to slink out of his little hiding place. You said you had a plan.”
“I was simultaneously conversing with Lestrade on the phone, adding marginal amounts of peroxide to my ammonia solution, and questioning the inner workings of doorknobs, John. I needed you to shut up.”
“Don’t do this,” hissed John. “Don’t slip into another one of your verbose little tirades about something entirely irrelevant and unreasonably insulting. That doesn’t work on me.”
Sherlock glared at the hazy night sky above them. “I’m quite skilled at functioning moment by moment. There’s really no need for a plan, John. It would only slow my mental processes and breed disaster.”
“In other words,” John muttered dryly, “we’re screwed.”
“Not at all. The killer has no idea we’ve seen him. It’s only a matter of time before he decides to—“
The rest of Sherlock’s sentence was cut off as an alarmingly large man appeared out of the darkness and closed his meaty hands around Sherlock’s throat.
John’s instincts sprang to life and he aimed a swift kick at the man’s groin while punching him deftly in the nose. The man ducked the punch but didn’t escape the kick; he cursed and tightened his grip on Sherlock’s neck.
Sherlock was dying, John could see it, and it was terrifying. It was undoubtedly the worst experience John had ever endured, his combat injuries notwithstanding. Sherlock was struggling, squirming to extricate himself from his attacker’s deathly grip, but the lack of oxygen acted quickly and ruthlessly.
Burning with a fury hotter than hellfire, John fought the assailant as he’d never fought before, and though he received many punches and blows, he felt none of them. It was as though his body was temporarily indomitable, as though rage had turned his limbs to iron.
He at last succeeded in breaking the man’s nose, heard the crackle of shattered bone and cartilage, saw the rush of hot blood dripping to the cement. John turned his attention to Sherlock, catching him around the waist as he collapsed weakly from his strangler’s loosened grip.
“Jesus Christ, are you alright, Sherlock?” He peered into the detective’s eyes, watching for the sharp flicker of life there.
Sherlock panted heavily and grimaced. “Idiot,” he rasped. “You can’t strangle someone by grasping them below the hyoid bone. I could. Have lasted. Hours.”
John exhaled shakily, horrified at the bruise blooming on Sherlock’s pale neck. The relief he felt at Sherlock’s survival was shocking, it rocked through him with the force of a lightning bolt. “Can you breathe properly?” he asked. “Any trouble swallowing?”
But Sherlock’s eyes were wide and he was staring at something behind John. “John,” he gasped—
John felt a pair of enormous hands encircle and squeeze his own neck; he lost his grip on Sherlock and was dragged bodily along the alleyway for several feet. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t see. Little blotches of colour burst in front of him and he was certain his neck would snap in two. Someone was speaking; John heard them as though from half a mile beneath the sea. There was yelling, swearing, and the grip on his throat got tighter still. He was beginning to slip into another dimension where everything was soft and still and very dark, where he felt so light he could drift away. It was pleasant and peaceful, and John was calmly aware that he might possibly be dying, and that not he was not afraid, and that the process was not half-bad at all. Just as he was making up his much-addled mind to fully succumb to the dark, the grip on his neck vanished and he was gasping, straining for oxygen and wondering how he was still alive.
He sank to the ground, wincing as his skull collided with refurbished cobblestones. The explosions of colour began to recede, but his neck still felt the unbearable grip of the strangler, tight and brutal.
Suddenly there were urgent footsteps and Sherlock flung himself down beside John, frantic. “Where does it hurt?” he barked. “Tell me where, and I’ll fix it. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve read numerous medical texts and I believe I could—“
“I’m fine,” breathed John.
“Your hyoid bone, does it hurt?” Sherlock brushed his fingers, impossibly gently, along the underside of John’s jaw.
“Sherlock. I’m perfectly alright.” John dragged an arm up to his head and rubbed the rapidly swelling lump there.
“You could have died,” murmured Sherlock.
“I know. So could you.”
Sherlock stared unblinkingly at John. “Highly unlikely,” he said. “With you there.”
There came a groan from somewhere to John’s left, and Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Ah, it appears our strangler is coming to,” he quipped, then promptly leaned over and administered a firm punch to the man’s skull with a dispassionate expression.
Suddenly John did not want to be on the ground. He needed to be upright, he needed to be eye to eye with Sherlock—or as close as possible; he needed to be standing. With a grunt, he endeavored to rise from the pavement, but only got about three centimetres before Sherlock laid his palm on John’s shoulder and said, “Absolutely not.”
“No,” said John, “I want to get up, Sherlock. Let me.”
“You’re not strong enough.”
“I am unquestionably strong enough.” John met Sherlock’s eyes and raised his brows. “I promise not to collapse. Now let me up.”
Sherlock removed his hand from John’s shoulder, perplexed, and John heaved himself to his feet. Beside them, their attacker stirred feebly, his collar scarlet with his own blood.
John inhaled, marshaling his thoughts. He wanted to thank Sherlock, but found himself utterly, hopelessly without words. As he floundered to speak, he looked up into the other man’s face. There was great worry there. Worry, anxiety, traces of panic, and a deep, powerful relief that had never before graced the detective’s pale face. John was pierced by the intensity of it; it drew him forward like a metal filing to a magnet. He was leaning closer, leaning in. It was suddenly a great inevitability, or had it always been?
Somewhere in the beautiful chaos that was their life, there had been a shift, one so gentle and natural it had gone unnoticed thus far. Unlike so many changes, it hadn’t triggered angst or questionings or lovesick arguments or uncomfortable tension between the two of them. They had merely gone on as it had always been, not yet recognizing the feelings, the attraction, the want that lingered within and inexorably pulled them closer. It was exactly like running through London in the lamp-peppered darkness, thought John. You could only be sure of your next footstep. You could never see what was ahead until it was upon you.
And it was upon them now. That John knew.
Inches separated his face from Sherlock’s. This was a fork in the road; John could turn away and they could plow on as they always had, as though they didn’t feel what they did, or he could surrender to the beautiful ache in his chest, and hope Sherlock that would not regret it. That Sherlock would not regret him.
With an immense surge of relief, John gave himself up to it and kissed Sherlock. It was strange at first—they both felt the rawness of it, the imperfection that made it real and human, just as it made them real and human. The kiss was all passion and hesitancy, bewilderment and warmth. It was, as John would later realize, so utterly them.
Sherlock broke away first, holding John’s face in his hands as though he had never properly looked at him before.
“John,” he said.
“Sherlock,” said John.
Something passed between them, an affection so bright it blinded.
Sherlock frowned for a moment, clearly struggling to disentangle his feelings from fear and articulate himself, but John stopped him. “I know,” he said, and he truly, completely did.
A smile ghosted Sherlock’s face. Then he leaned down and they were kissing again.