It was freezing, next to the Thames; the water clopping against the base of the dock. Sherlock pulled at the ropes – tightened even further with the damp soaking through the fibers. He was forced to stop at the violent pain that awakened in his left arm with his movements and he whined in the back of his throat.
The dock lights weren't terribly bright but they were enough to cut through the vanishing dusk – creating flat shapes of the men surrounding him. The tallest one, a man who appeared about Rudy's age, not to mention his charming character, paced back and forth with a mobile to his ear and a cigarette between two fingers. Sniffing a restricted breath, Sherlock bit against his gag and followed the movement until the call, apparently, went through.
“Mr. Holmes; you may come collect your brother, now. We thank you for your cooperation.”
The mobile slid back into the elderly man’s coat. The cigarette he indulged until it reached the filter – the stub he flicked into the water.
Sherlock, as much as his skating attention were capable, kept his eyes on the older man. Between the beatings and the drugs forced into his system, his focus was, at best, bleary. Tremors shook through his limbs where he'd been forced to kneel. Four days of repeated methamphetamine injections had left him over-stimulated, wildly manic, and, frankly, out of his head. He had little memory of what he’d said, shouted, at his captors but one of his blistering observations had led to that morning’s assault on his person.
The old man stepped in front of him – leaning a bit too close and puffing the stench of nicotine and denture gum into his face. “I would like to apologize, once more, Mr. Holmes. I respect the work that you provide. However, business is business and your brother has cost us considerably with his involvement in those certain… transactions… which you’d so enthusiastically detailed this morning.” Leaning back again, he dug another cigarette from its pack and lit it – taking a long inhale before letting his hand drop to his side. “As it is, we cannot allow his meddling to go unchallenged. He needs to understand the full weight of what he has brought upon himself.” Stepping back, he nodded to the two muscle-bound lackeys on either side of where Sherlock still knelt. “I suggest you don’t attempt to hold your breath. You’ll only suffer longer if you fight it. Farewell, Sherlock Holmes.”
Steel gripped hands grasped his biceps and dragged him backwards. Sherlock howled in pain as the fingers curled into his damaged limb. Panic was a knot at the base of his skull and he dug his bare heels into the wood below – splinters sliding into his flesh but doing nothing to impede his progress. Then, with a coordinated heave, the two men threw him from the dock.
The wild shout was muffled behind his gag – cut off as he struck the water and immediately sank. As the murky waves of the Thames whirled over his head he could swear he heard gunfire...
He knew better than to thrash; it would only spend the last traces of oxygen in his blood. Knew better in theory, yes, but in practical application his body chose to ignore sound advice and thrashed anyhow. Though his legs were free, the hands bound so firmly at his back impeded any attempt towards the surface. The heavy rag in his teeth; already saturated with spit and blood now soaked in the Thames and he had no choice but to taste the filth of the river on his tongue; knowing only seconds remained before reflex would pull fetid water into his lungs. Just another casualty to a river that had carried hundreds to their deaths.
He didn't know if the closing dark was consciousness slipping or his body drifting deeper. The water was so cold that everything had gone quite numb. All but for his lungs – convulsing under the desperate craving for oxygen. He didn't want to die but if this was his last moment of life, he supposed water was preferable to the spill of blood. And then he wondered why it mattered. And then he didn't wonder anything as his body finally forced the issue – lungs heaving and pulling him down into the dark.
Nearly a week missing; John could kick his own arse for letting it go for almost a full day before allowing the whispered concern to grow loud enough to make that first call. He should have gone with him, dammit! But Rosie had still been recovering from chicken pox and John hadn't wanted to leave her with anyone for a case that Sherlock had insisted was “a three at best; if I wasn't so bored I'd hand it over to Lestrade, God knows he could use the challenge...”
No point ringing the idiot, Sherlock would more likely cut off his own thumb than be bothered to answer his bloody mobile. However, after an hour of texting, John had resorted to just that – no surprise when he didn't pick up.
At 8pm he'd called Lestrade – who hadn't seen a sign of Sherlock all day and had presumed he'd skived off the case for being uninteresting.
Two minutes later John had been on the phone with Mycroft. He couldn't stop himself from remembering a dank cellar and what they'd found... He'd swore to Christ nothing like this would ever happen again yet here they fucking were and...
What followed had been two full days of diligent investigation and ruthlessly swallowed panic. On one side had been Lestrade and the Met. On the other side had been Mycroft and the weight of the British Government. Stuck in the middle had been John – 24 hours gone with only an hour of sleep caught leaning on his arm while scanning a block of CCTV footage taken outside Barts where Sherlock had last been spotted the day he'd disappeared.
Just past the 36 hour mark, they'd received the first message.
While John, Mycroft, and Greg had crowded around John's laptop, Anthea had been busy somewhere behind them rapidly tapping on her mobile.
The message had been sent to John's blog. The sender was anonymous and, given the savage mumbling from Anthea, it was clear they'd blocked their IP somehow. The message itself was addressed to Mycroft – which, that alone had raised red flags. Few enough who knew Sherlock even had a brother. Of those who did, there were vanishingly fewer who would dare go up against the British Government.
For all the cloak and dagger the message had been somewhat banal: “We have your brother and you'll never find us, etc, etc.” The attached video, however...
John found his hands clenched so tightly, around the back of the chair Mycroft occupied, he nearly dug grooves into the wood. Alongside him Lestrade swore – softly and at length. Mycroft... Mycroft went very still.
On the tiny screen, a hooded man was beating Sherlock with rounders bat. Sherlock was hung from his wrists by a short chain attached to a beam overhead. His face was already heavily bruised by a previous assault and one arm looked... wrong. Likely broken. It was his eyes, though, that took John's focus. Wild and skating; rimmed red... it was a look that was all too familiar.
Mycroft made a soft sound. “Though unlikely by choice.”
Behind them Anthea suddenly gave a victorious crow. “Got you...” she hissed. John turned while Mycroft replayed the three minutes of recording – leaning closer to the screen.
Anthea was still tapping as John approached and she spoke without looking up. “I've narrowed the IP address to a decommissioned power station just outside of Chelsea.”
John hadn't heard Mycroft stand but suddenly the man was at his shoulder. “The car is ready. Detective Inspector, I presume you will be coming along?”
Greg was already shoving his hands through the arms of his coat. “Oh, you're damn right I am. Just need to make a call.”
Mycroft closed the laptop and tucked it beneath his arm. “I suggest you do so on the way.”
The drive was fraught. John sat in silence, arms wrapped tight across his chest while Anthea tapped at her phone and Mycroft spoke into his with every marker of the Iceman fully in place. Lestrade followed in his own vehicle; presumably in a similar state to John.
Darkness had well settled in when they arrived a scant 8 minutes later – the power station giving every indication that it was anything but – the only illumination coming from the torches each of them carried. Anthea, Mycroft, and his security detail made for the interior. John and Greg, with the promise of more bobbies on the way, skirted around back where the Thames was lit in the greenish cast of dull sodiums.
They had only just cleared the building when they both reacted to a nearby scuffle – the diminished sound of voice and then, quite clearly, a heavy splash.
John was racing towards the sound before he'd even identified the throbbing emotion of terror beneath his chest.
There were four figures on a quay about fifty feet on from a rail bridge spanning the river. Enough light for John to see one man reach for something in his coat. More than enough light for John to retrieve his weapon from his back pocket and halt long enough to fire – all on instinct. The body dropped to the wood planking and the other two figures scattered while John raced through the center of them and beyond – offering no hesitation as he peeled his coat and leapt feet first into the waves.
His mobile rang just as they entered the structure; Mycroft continuing towards the staircase even as he lifted the phone from his jacket and answered.
And then he stopped at the nasal Welsh accent he'd heard once before.
“Mr. Holmes; you may come collect your brother, now. We thank you for your cooperation.”
There was a beep, followed by a text alert. There was an empty text field and a single attachment. It was a picture of Sherlock: battered and gagged with a span of dark water at his back.
Mycroft was reading the timestamp, holding the screen close to his face, when they heard the gunfire.
The cold tore through John like ice daggers. Teeth clenched around the impulse to gasp he was immediately struck by the inky black – so dark not even his hands were visible and the horror of that realization was followed on the heels of utter desperation.
Hands sweeping wide he kicked into the current that, as the only boon they'd been granted, was somewhat placid in that spot. Shoes dragging him a bit but no time to remove them he muscled forward – ignoring the burn building in his chest until the black was no longer just the water but likely edging into his vision from hypoxia.
He gasped on the surface and found he'd drifted roughly 30 feet downstream from the dock. Mycroft and Anthea were racing down the embankment while, up near the station, Greg and Mycroft's security team had stopped the fleeing kidnappers.
“He's in the water!” No time nor need to clarify more and Mycroft was already shedding his jacket as John dove for a second time. A high metallic clink registered in his ears. Flotsam and underwater plants impeded his sweeping fingers – feeling so much like cloth or even flesh and too many times that hopeful rise was dashed with mounting terror. He kicked himself forcefully into deeper water – swallowing as his lungs shuddered.
He nearly sobbed as he crested once more – drawing in shattered breaths and preparing for a third dive when shouting finally pulled his attention back towards the dock.
He whirled about and scrubbed the water from his eyes. Mycroft was struggling through the water back towards the shore and pulling something dark in his wake. John made no hesitation and dug at handfuls of water on his way back to the group.
Angling towards the shore, as well, John felt his limbs shaking from cold and muscle fatigue and he was forced to lean over his knees at the threatening wave of tunnel vision. Nausea loomed close and he took several gulping breaths until he could get himself under control once more. Then, sparing not another second, he dashed towards the small group that had huddled on the stony embankment. Flashing lights near the power station announced the arrival of backup far later than needed. John, however, had narrowed his attention to the single figure curled up like a sleeping child. A bloody gag lie on the ground near Sherlock's head and Mycroft was rapidly sawing through the rope twisted around his brother's arms. Unsnapping his own knife from the sheath on his belt, John grasped the bindings on Sherlock's wrists – pulled so tight that his fingers had gone purple. In moments that felt like days they finally sliced through the last of the heavy cord – flinging it away and carefully pulling Sherlock's arms to his sides.
“On his back, quickly!” Together the rolled the detective; John leaning over Sherlock's mouth. Difficult to be certain so he next laid a hand on the sodden chest. He shook his head. “No respiration.” His fingers curled around a slack wrist. He mentally counted the seconds down. “No pulse. Can you do CPR?” Were Mycroft less visibly panicked he may have mustered constricted offense. As it was he only nodded.
Without further assurance, John pinched Sherlock's nose and gave two quick breaths. Turning his face sideways, he counted out as Mycroft expertly placed his hands and gave thirty compressions. And thus they began a cycle; John breathing and Mycroft compressing until the black he'd fought off began to close in around John's vision and they traded positions. Mud caked their clothes. More light brightened their grim surroundings as a number of officers, including Lestrade, gathered close. John paid none of it any mind. At one point, while he was waiting through Mycroft's compressions, he heard a muffled snap of bone giving way. Mycroft immediately stopped, his face agonized. John pulled him back by his sleeve. “It happens. Keep going.” By the time paramedics were finally on scene, Sherlock fractured two more ribs under their efforts.
But it was worth it.
Thirty seconds before the ambulance arrived, John felt the thready return of a pulse. Still no voluntary breaths but by this point a paramedic had skidded her way down the slope and placed the mask of an ambu bag over Sherlock's nose and mouth – manually providing oxygen while two more medics gently shifted the detective to a scoop before lifting him and rushing him to the ambulance.
Without hesitation, John climbed in after – glancing out at Mycroft while the medical team resumed working on Sherlock.
“There's room if...”
Mycroft swallowed; seemingly, and uncharacteristically, indecisive.
“I... perhaps it would be better if...”
John slid several inches to the right. “Come on. He'll need someone to snarl at once he wakes up and I'd rather that not be me.” He smiled, though, and after a long moment Mycroft nodded – pulling his long frame inside.
Out of the way, as much as could be managed in the tight space in the back of the ambulance, John closely watched as Sherlock was worked on while next to him Mycroft sat, unusually inactive. Unaccustomed to providing reassurance to the elder brother, John approached it much in the same way he handled a fractious Sherlock. By providing context.
“His blood oxygen levels are looking better. They were at 88 when he was first hooked up but now they've moved up to 93. Still a bit low but we're heading the right way, now.”
A moment later Greg leaned in through the open back doors – glancing between the men inside. “So how is he, then?”
Of course, Sherlock being Sherlock, seconds after the question was asked the detective heaved in a violent fit of coughing and was rolled on his side just in time to vomit about half the Thames on the floor of the ambulance. Greg backed up rapidly, though he was well out of the line of fire. John just managed to avoid most of the spatter whereas Mycroft was less lucky – his shoes and the lower half of his trousers taking the brunt of his little brother's upheaval. As it was, he didn't so much as glance towards the ruin of his clothing – instead taking a step towards the trolley with one hand briefly out held before pulling back.
One of the nurses leaned over Sherlock once his gagging subsided. “Sir, can you tell me your name?”
What issued for a reply was a watery gasp and another round of rough coughs. Apparently deciding the cognitive testing could wait, the same medic turned towards the cab. “Okay we need to roll.” Meanwhile the other medic reached out to pull shut the back doors – Greg hovering just long enough to comment. “I'll meet you at... where you headed?”
“King's,” offered the medic before closing the doors on Greg's sharp wave.
Dropping back down, Mycroft made a weak gesture to where Sherlock was now gasping into an oxygen mask. “Will he...?”
Sitting down alongside the older man, John nodded. “He should be fine, I think. I would expect they'll keep him a few days – watch his oxygen levels and keep an eye on his bpi. Because he had to be resuscitated he'll be at risk for several conditions like acute respiratory distress syndrome. They'll attach him to an ECG as well as test his serum electrolyte levels. He'll likely have a grand strop about it all.”
If he'd been hoping to waylay further concern it was a failed effort.
Mycroft was well versed in everything said as well as everything left out of a conversation managed to impart the weight of his query in his steady tones. “You said conditions – plural. What are you leaving out, Doctor?”
The use of his title, alone, was enough for John to nearly fidget where he sat. When he wanted to, Mycroft could make any interaction feel as though one had been asked to explain to the Queen herself what they'd been doing with the dirty mag while in the loo.
“There is also the chance... there's a small risk of...” he breathed out through puffed cheeks, “brain injury.”
Mycroft flinched, though it was barely perceptible even if one were looking. “I see.”
After that they spoke no more for the remainder of the drive.
Anthea was waiting when they arrived at King's and Sherlock was carted out and into the trauma unit.
Mycroft paused to speak with his assistant while John jogged inside after the trolley carrying his best friend. Spotting one of the doctors assigned to the unit, Henrik James whom John had a passing acquaintance, he was finally able to hand over the details of Sherlock's injuries beyond the drowning itself.
“He has several fractured ribs acquired during resuscitation as well as what appears to be a comminuted fracture to the humerus in his left arm. He has numerous contusions and abrasions sustained after several beatings and I wouldn't be surprised if there are other fractures present. He may also have experienced blunt force trauma to the abdomen; I haven't had a chance to fully check him over...”
Henrik briefly clasped John's elbow in a light squeeze. “We'll look after him. Would you like to stay and observe, or...?”
What started out as a nod swiftly became a near swoon as John suddenly felt the press of exhaustion bleed through his muscles and he nearly wobbled into the wall. Alarmed, Henrik grasped his upper arms and helped guide him to one of the nearby stools.
“Alright you sit right there. I'm going to have someone fetch you some juice. I'll let you know when we're ready to move your friend to surgery.”
John could only manage a long blink – understanding that there was some passage of time when his next blink brought one of the ER nurses into focus as she held out a carton of orange juice as well as a a few biscuits. Gratefully sipping at the juice, John soon felt some of the disorientation fade back. He had just begun picking at one of the biscuits when Mycroft rounded the corner. Standing with only a slight stumble, John intercepted the taller man.
“He's being prepped for surgery. His doctor will be out in a minute to talk to us. At the moment all we can do is wait.”
Mycroft nodded. “Thank you, John.”
It was only then, the two of them standing alongside one another in an awkward sort of silence, that John truly took in the other man. Mycroft looked... wreaked; though John was certain he didn't look a good deal better. Neither one of them had had time for a change of clothes and John, at least, was squirming in discomfort. He could only imagine how Mycroft felt in the tatters of his bespoke suit. At his study, however, the other man pulled himself a bit straighter.
“A change of clothes will arrive shortly. I took the liberty of having some of your garments collected from the flat. I trust this is acceptable to you?” Asked in that way that assumed any answer other than “of course” would be utterly ludicrous.
And anyhow it wasn't as though John would have preferred roaming the hallways in his damp underwear. He gave a short nod – too tired for anything else.
True to his word, Mycroft's requested clothing arrived within the next few minutes and he and John made use of a couple of empty rooms to freshen up. While he longed to make use of the staff showers, John made due with a quick splash of warm water from the tap in the gents before heading back out. He found Mycroft standing in the cubicle along with a very drowsy Sherlock who had since been changed into a hospital robe and attached to various leads. Henrik was also there and it was evident he'd been waiting for John to arrive.
He wasted no time.
“You were correct in your evaluation of the fracture to his humerus. There is also a dislocation of the left shoulder which, considering the previous trauma to that joint, will need more thorough examination of the labrum before we can risk moving it back into place. Three ribs show partial fractures; the forth and fifth ribs on the left as well as the third rib on the right. However what concerns me most is the blow to the head. Whether sustained during his assault or from striking something after falling in the water it's uncertain but there are some signs of intracranial hemorrhage. I'll be better able to evaluate the proper treatment once we get some scans.”
“Will he...” Mycroft's fingers flexed and clenched at his sides in an anxious gesture that was very like his brother. However he rapidly gained control of the movement and clasped both hands at his waist. “Will Sherlock suffer any lasting effects from his injuries?”
Henrik rested his hand on the rail of Sherlock's bed – the woozy patient rolling his head to squint at the appendage.
“I wish I could provide an easy answer but it's too early to tell, at the moment. We need to see what we're dealing with, first, and then get Sherlock into theater. I can promise you we'll provide updates as soon as we have some concrete news.”
“M'fine.” Sherlock suddenly offered in a blurred mutter. John moved to his side immediately – unable to help the impulse to a quick pupil check. Both eyes were dilated though one was noticeably larger than the other.
“Yeah, far from 'fine' I'm afraid.”
Soon after this Sherlock was bundled off, first to Imaging, and then into surgery – John following in his wake.
Meanwhile Mycroft, uncharacteristically, was forced to remain behind and wait.
John offered the man a single, sympathetic look, as they were headed out. Face once more impassive and cool, Mycroft looked back; he mouth a firm line. And then the door closed and he vanished from sight.