Disclaimer: If you recognise it, it was probably created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and/or the BBC's talented Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
Author's note: Well, thank you for all the encouragement to continue this story. Really glad you guys are enjoying my ramblings. I'm not as certain about the quality of this chapter – it doesn't seem to flow as well, and seems... incomplete somehow. Not entirely sure why though. Constructive criticism gratefully accepted.
"I'd wondered if you'd actually come. You have a reputation as a cold, heartless bastard, but watching the two of you together this last week, I'd wondered."
Sherlock held himself still as the man they'd been pursuing for more than a week stepped out of the shadow of a stack of crates. He prided himself on keeping his gaze dispassionate at the sight of the woman dragged forward as well, although he heard John's horrified gasp beside him. He ran his eyes over the pair of them.
The man was known amongst the criminal fraternity simply as "Mack". He was a smuggler, a money launderer, and occasionally an assassin. That last was what had pulled Sherlock and John onto the case, with several government officials dying in creative and tortuous ways. It had taken quite a bit of digging and the calling in of several favours, but he'd finally managed to determine whose modus operandi the killings were in. Mack was around the same height as John, but more heavily built and with little neck. A diamond stud sparkled in one ear, and his suit was obviously well-tailored. For all that he looked like a thug, he was obviously possessed of a certain amount of vanity. Perhaps that could be useful?
One large, meaty hand was clenched around the upper arm of the young woman Sherlock had allowed to creep past the barriers he usually kept between himself and the world. Her hands were cuffed behind her back and she looked even smaller beside the muscled hulk who had captured her. Frail, even. Her clothing was torn and dirty and the dark smudges of newly-formed bruises at her throat suggested that she'd been choked into submission. His breath caught as he noted the gun barrel pressed firmly against her temple.
"Seona..." He whispered her name, too softly to carry over the distance. Yet she raised her eyes to meet his for just a moment. He could see the tears sparkling in them, but also an apology. She thought she'd let him down. He swallowed the bitter laugh that welled up in his throat at that realisation, and instead replied in his usual tone of barely-veiled boredom, "You've been watching me, then. I'm impressed. I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary."
Mack grinned, showing a couple of gold teeth. "What can I say? I'm good. So are you, though. That's why I had to find a way to stop you poking your nose where it didn't belong. Originally planned to take your friend there." He nodded his head towards John, who tensed but said nothing. "Changed my mind, though. This one's prettier though, and far more... entertaining."
A slight tightening of the jaw was all that Sherlock allowed himself. He wouldn't - couldn't - think about the implications of that statement. Not yet. "So let me guess," he drawled. "I agree to drop my line of investigation into the recent murders, and you release the young lady and we all go on our merry way. Is that the idea?"
He could feel the heat of John's glare but didn't dare break eye contact with Mack. He'd explain to John later, when this was all over. He hoped.
His opponent shook his head with a mocking smile. "Oh no, Sherlock. Not up to your usual standard, are you? A touch distracted perhaps?" He chuckled roughly and jerked his captive closer to him, laughing again as she struggled to keep her balance. "You're going to drop your 'line of investigation', as you so charmingly put it, and I'm going to walk away with my new little friend here. I've grown quite fond of her, you see."
"And if I don't agree?"
"Well, then no one gets a happy ending, do they?" Mack pressed the gun barrel deeply into the side of her head. "You try anything stupid right here and now, I shoot her. After we walk away, if I find that you're still on the hunt, I shoot her. Hell, maybe I'll shoot her anyway, eventually. When I get tired of her. But play your cards right and you can at least go to sleep at night with the knowledge that she's alive and well somewhere."
Sherlock snorted. "Alive, perhaps, but I doubt it fits anyone else's definition of 'well'." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her raise her head to look at him again. Instead of the sorrow or reproach he was expecting (he was, after all, apparently humouring the man), he saw calm resignation. Then she slowly winked at him.
A bolt of raw emotion sliced through him as he thought of all the possibilities that she might be considering. The fact that he couldn't predict exactly what she had planned distressed him. John's breathing stilled for a moment, which meant that he'd seen it too and was preparing for whatever might happen.
What happened a moment later was that Seona went limp against Mack's side, folding up as if in a dead faint. The man's grip on his gun slackened as his arm came down to catch her weight. That was all the cue the two friends needed. They both rushed forward, John to snatch her out of harm's way and he to tackle Mack to the ground. Physical altercations were something he usually saw as an occasional necessity, but this time he felt a surge of satisfaction as his fist connected solidly with the man's jaw.
Mack was a brawler, though, and probably close to twice Sherlock's bulk. Good as the punch was, it didn't lay him out for the count and as the struggle continued it became clear that it was a fight the detective was unlikely to win without a hefty dose of luck.
That luck came in the sound of a sharp click a few moments later. Mack froze as he felt the metal of his dropped gun pressed against the back of his neck. "Get off him now." John's words were quietly spoken, but the tone suggested that while arguing might be an option it would be a rather short-lived one. As would be the person doing the arguing. Mack hesitated for a fraction of a second, then rolled aside.
John kept the gun in position as Sherlock twisted to his feet and looked for Seona. She was standing a few feet away and holding out the cuffs that had been around her wrists. "You might find these useful," she said with a wry smile. He raked his gaze over her, pleased to see that while she was paler than usual she didn't seem to be injured too badly. She seemed to be holding together, too, rather than collapsing into hysterics, which also impressed him.
He took the cuffs from her with a grin, then swooped down on Mack to haul his arms roughly behind his back. The man started to struggle, but John pressed the gun barrel more firmly against him and murmured, "I wouldn't." Mack didn't. The cuffs closed with a reassuring snap.
Sherlock pulled out his phone. Within moments he'd mobilised the police to come and arrest the assassin and wrap up the case. "Where's the key?" he asked John as she slipped the phone back into his coat pocket.
"What key?" John looked puzzled and Sherlock suppressed a sigh of frustration. Why were people so slow?
"They key you used to unlock the cuffs! I daresay the police will be wanting it when they take him into custody."
"I didn't unlock the cuffs." His gaze locked with John's for a moment as they both considered the implications of this, then turned to look at Seona.
She rubbed at the raw skin on her wrists and gave them an unsure-but-game smile. "Would it completely ruin your opinion of me if I admitted that I've had experience getting out of handcuffs?"
Still riding high on the adrenalin of the last few minutes, Sherlock studied her for a moment and then burst out laughing. John joined him a moment later. "No, no it wouldn't," he assured her, bounding forward to grasp her lightly by the shoulders. "But I will be asking you for the story at some point."
She regarded him silently for a few moments, then grinned. "I might even oblige you," she replied with a raspy chuckle, which turned into a cough. Raising a hand to her throat, she added, "Possibly not tonight though. Tonight I want a drink. Possibly a very large drink." Despite his careful observation, he was fairly sure he wouldn't have detected the faint shudder than ran through her if not for his hands on her shoulders.
"Well, we still have those two bottles of wine you were sent after the last case," John suggested as he came up to stand beside them. He left the sentence hanging, but his look was expectant.
Sherlock nodded, a small smile quirking the corner of his mouth at his friend's transparency. For once, however, he wouldn't call it since it coincided with his own decision. "Brilliant. We'll deliver this sorry piece of humanity to the Yard's finest," - he glanced disparagingly at the bound man on the floor a few feet away - "then we'll all head back to Baker Street for that drink. Maybe pick up some Chinese on the way."
Her hand shifted from massaging her throat to brush softly against one of his. "Thank you. Both of you." Her gaze shifted to John for an instant, then her head cocked as the faint sound of approaching sirens reached them. Glancing at the man who had taken her captive, she chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "He's probably got a few bruises, between my struggling and the fight you two just had, right?" Sherlock nodded, his lips twitching as he anticipated the line her thought had taken. Sure enough, she asked, "So one more wouldn't really be noticeable, right?"
John's eyes widened slightly as he realised what she was asking, then he turned away with a cough that clearly masked a chuckle. "Shall we go and meet the police, Sherlock?" he asked, his voice deceptively mild. With identical grins, the two men fell into step beside each other and headed for the door to the warehouse.
From behind them, they heard a muffled thud and a grunt and shared a grin as they waited for the police to arrive.