"You can't take this case."

"I have and will."

"Taking this case means going against what Mycroft had ordered you to do."

"I am not investigating this case for you, I'm doing it for Lestrade. That clearly doesn't fall under the juridiction of dear old Mycroft."

"It's the same damn thing and you know it."

"Is it, really?" Sherlock twisted around on him, sneering. "Then explain it to me, dear Watson. Lay it all out for me, why this particular individual is more dangerous than anything I've been exposed to. I've chased murderers, rapists, drug lords and human traffickers. Explain to me why this man is off limits."

John kept his mouth dutifully shut.

Sherlock huffed. "I thought so." He turned away. "If you don't want to help me, John, then don't hinder me."

()

On some level, this felt very much like betrayal.

Fucking hell, why bothering sugar coating it- it was betrayal. This was something John knew Sherlock would never forgive him for. He will not understand but at least he will be alive.

John burst into the waiting room of Mycroft's office, ignoring Anthea's protests. She followed him, telling him now wasn't the greatest of times, he shouldn't be here, don't-

John flung open the doors of the main office. He half-expected Anthea to still follow him, but she abruptly stopped from stepping over the threshold. John didn't give the action much thought. He should have. "Mycroft!" He said loudly upon seeing the empty desk. "Where are you?" He turned and spotted him off the to side, standing by a window.

Mycroft wasn't looking out the window. Instead, he held up a silver frame. In it was a photograph of Sherlock. Sherlock was younger in that picture, his hair shorter and his cheeks with a little more fat in them. Mycroft put down the photo and turned to John. "This is a very bad time, John."

"Mycroft, I'm here to tell you, Sher-"

"Stop talking."

There was fear in his voice, great fear. It made John want to ask what was wrong and he instinctively reached for his gun inside of his jacket.

Though it was only two in the afternoon and the sun shone brightly outside, it suddenly became very dark in the room, as if someone had drawn all the blinds. A tingle of familarity itched at the back of John's throat and he slowly pulled his hand away from his jacket.

His head was like a dead weight, refusing to move. He didn't want to look, he didn't want to, but he turned his head just enough to peer over his shoulder.

There he stood, just barely in John's peripheral, by the corner of Mycroft's large mahagony desk. He raised a pale white hand, and for a moment John thought he was going to wave at them. Instead, he dragged the hand across the air and John stiffened, feeling the press of fingers across his belly, passing along his skin.

"He's here for me," Mycroft said, patting John's shoulder and bringing John's attention back to him. He was trembling. "I... I do not know if I'll come back this time."

"Mycroft-"

"You know my wishes."

There was a gentle push against John's shoulder, forcing him to move towards the door. "Don't look back," Mycroft whispered.

John took a step. Then two.

From behind, Mycroft sucked in a lungful of breath and was immediately silenced half-way. There was a noise like something heavy falling to the ground and John twisted around, expecting the worse.

All there was was Mycroft's brolly. It stood erect on its tip, very much like the severed legs in John's dream. It held for a second, then the umbrella dropped, crashing to the carpeted floor with a muted thud.

()

John was in a panic. What was it Sherlock often said? Once was an accident, twice was coincidence, three times a pattern? The tall man was pushing them somewhere and only he knew the end game.

John pulled out his phone and called Sherlock. No answer.

He tried texting. The text didn't go through.

He called Mrs. Hudson. She told him Sherlock left the flat a half-hour ago.

John nearly threw his phone against the wall in frustration. Sherlock had to be working on the case. So that left John- where? He was so busy trying to keep Sherlock from investigating the tall man, he didn't bother to pay any attention on the actual crime. What did Sherlock say about it? Gang related?

John's next phone call went to Lestrade. "The case? Yeah, Donovan was able to track down the gang responsible to a warehouse near the river. We don't know how that mysterious tall man fits into all of this, but I am gathering men to go down there right now."

Lestrade and the others were at least a half-hour away from the warehouse. John was only ten minutes away, if he ran. "That's where Sherlock's gone to."

"Sherlock?" Lestrade repeated. "Are you telling me he's not with you?"

"He's gone ahead. So am I."

"John, no, wait-"

He hanged up.

()

John ran. His sides burned and his lungs ached with every breath. He didn't have his gun, he had nothing to protect himself. What was he planning to do when he confroted those gang members? Use foul language?

Maybe he didn't have to. Maybe he could drag Sherlock out of there and let the police do their own damn job for once. If he could get Sherlock away, then maybe John could stop this domino affect the tall man was clearly trying to start. Problem was, John couldn't see the end game.

The address of the warehouse burned hotly in John's mind. He dind't have a torch with him and yet he navigated through the quiet, empty streets like he'd been here a million times before. When he saw the warehouse in sight, he slowed, considering his plan.

The lights were on, that was something. He was tempted to text Sherlock, inform him he was here and resisted against the urge. It wouldn't be a good idea to text him if Sherlock was hiding and the notification sound give him away.

John jogged closer with full intentions of staking out the place when his phone suddenly dinged with a text notification.

He whipped out his mobile to check the message.

There was only a picture. Sherlock kneeling, a gun pressed to his head, execution style.

COME ALONE said the text.

How? How, how, how, how, fucking how? Dammit, Sherlock could break into the fucking White House and get away scott free, how the fuck-

It didn't matter. It didn't matter because now Sherlock was in trouble and John had to do something.

He could stall. Yes, Lestrade knew they were going to be here and if John could stall long enough...

It was still too much of a risk. Lestrade was still at least twenty minutes out. Anything could happen in twenty minutes.

But what other choice did John have?

He took a breath, giving himself a second to strengthen his resolve. Shoulders back and head high, he walked right up the warehouse doors. He considered knocking, bit down on his tongue at the stupidy of it and let himself in.

The scene before him was something he'd not been expecting.

The gang members were all surprised to see him. Surprised. Four of them were playing cards. Another one was eating. Three of them were watching a rugby game on a portable television and drinking beer. They all turned their heads towards John, their eyes widening, their actions pausing in mid-movement.

That was when John knew he'd been duped.

He tried to run. Maybe if they thought he was a random bloke, stupidly stumbling in a place where he shouldn't be. That had to happen once in a while, right?

A man ran up next to him, swung a length of pipe and slammed it into the side of John's leg. There was an audible crack and John fell with a yell. The man didn't wait for John to even grasp at his leg in pain. He grabbed John by the hem of his jumper and dragged him to the center of the room, dropping him when he got there.

"Now who the fuck is this arsehole?" One man cried out. "Who the fuck are you?"

John was in too much pain to respond. He was also too busy trying to diagnose himself, to figure out what bone was broken and what he could to lessen the damage. He glanced down, looked at his leg, and was mildly satisfied to see the bone- though broken- was not sticking out at a strange angle. There was also no blood to be seen, which meant the bone did not break through skin. Conclusion: He could run on this leg if needed.

He was kicked in the back. "Oi! I'm talking to you! Who are you?"

His pockets were searched. They took his phone out of his pocket and turned on the screen. John lifted his head up, expecting to see Sherlock's execution picture on display.

Instead, all there was a picture of John. He was nine years old in the photo.

The man turned off the phone, dropped it, and it clattered to the floor. The man lifted his boot and brought it down, smashing the phone over and over until it all there was broken pieces of plastic.

John was kicked again and he kept his mouth shut. If Sherlock was really here, John was going to do his best to keep the attention on himself instead of Sherlock who was probably hiding in the shadows.

"Last chance," the man hissed. He brought out a gun and aimed it straight at John's head. "Tell me who you are."

"His name is John Watson and I suggest you back off."

Sherlock's voice filled the entire warehouse, sounding like he was speaking through a megaphone. The men looked around, staring up at the ceiling, the rafters, around the boxes and finding nothing. "Who the hell are you?"

"The police have been called," Sherlock continued in echo. "They'll be here in any minute. Best to leave before then."

The lights suddenly turned off. John immediately threw himself to the side, away from the direction of the gun and forced himself to his feet. He stumbled, his leg not giving him any leeway. He seemed to be temporarily forgotten as the gang members scrambled to find torches and the circuit breaker.

John dragged himself in a random direction, unable to tell where he was going. When two hands grabbed at him, he tried to throw them off. "John," Sherlock hissed. "It's me!"

"Oh, thank God."

John let himself be pulled up. With one arm over Sherlock's shoulders, they half-ran, half-limped towards what John presumed was the exit. Every step felt like his leg was breaking all over again and it took everything he had not to cry out in pain. He stumbled a few times, Sherlock forcing him to stay upright and moving. "C'mon," he hissed in quiet frustration. "John, move!"

From behind, the gang members finally found their torches. Beams of weak yellow light flashed everywhere, searching for them.

"There!" One man yelled out. "I think I see them!"

A beam of light fell on them and at that moment, Sherlock moved, throwing them both to the side. There was a loud BANG, a flash, and Sherlock fell with a grunt, bringing John down with him.

Sherlock was bleeding. John pushed himself up on his hands and confirmed, yes, God, fuck, Sherlock was bleeding heavily from his side. Sherlock curled his hand around the wound, tried to press down to slow the bleeding but his hand was shaking too much to be of use.

John dragged himself across the floor. His leg felt like it was hanging from his knee, and immediately he thought about his dream, about his mother's severed legs. He thought if he looked down, all he would see was a stump.

He got to Sherlock, pulled him close. He was bleeding too fast, too heavily. He was going to die, John was going to die, killed by a hail of bullets.

In that moment, John made a decision.

He curled a hand around his stomach, around the hand print and thought so hard his brain hurt-

HELP US.

And immediately regretted it.

One of the gang members, the big tall balding man, began coughing. It started out as a simple clearing of his throat. He loosened his collar, shifted his neck, and his coughs became wetter, harsher by the second.

"Jeffery?" One of the other men said. "What's wrong?"

The coughing soon became gagging. His eyes bulged, and his mouth fell opened as he leaned forward, smacking the back of his neck trying to dispel whatever was blocking his air passage. His gun and torch clattered to the floor, forgotten.

Something big slowly pushed out of his mouth. It was pale, almost white in colour, and it looked like a deformed rubber ball. But then it uncurled, revealing fingers. A hand was pushing out of his mouth.

Everyone in the room screamed and stumbled back.

The hand kept moving out of Jeffery's mouth. Knuckles, wrist, forearm. At this point Jeffrey collapsed to his knees, his eyes rolling to the back of his head. An elbow followed out of his mouth. A shoulder.

A head emerged, white and blank. His other shoulder pulled out, freeing his arm. Despite an entire torso was now sticking out of Jeffery's mouth, his jaw never widened any further. Jeffery was dead now, John was sure of it. He stopped making noises a while ago.

"Are we hallucinating?" Sherlock asked, his voice filled with more confusion and hysteria than pain. He kicked his heels and tried to move back. "Are we hallucinating?"

The tall man stepped out of Jeffery's mouth, standing up. He took a moment to adjust his suit. This was it.

"Don't look, don't listen," John hissed, curling his body over Sherlock's. He clamped his hands across Sherlock's ears, pressing down hard.

What happened next John could only described as an orgy of violence. With both of his hands blocking Sherlock's ears, he could not block his own. First he heard the men screaming at each other to shoot 'it.' Gunfire exploded all around as horrible, wet noises and the smell of bile filled the air. The sound of heavy bodies struck against the floor, the walls, clanging against the ceiling.

John could feel the spray of blood splash across his face.

He didn't know how long he kneeled there, his hands clamped around Sherlock's head, holding on for dear life. He didn't let go until he felt someone shaking his shoulder, calling out his name. "John! John!"

John lifted his head. Lestrade was standing over him. "John? Are you alright? Is that Sherlock? HEY!" He yelled over his shoulder. "I NEED A MEDIC OVER HERE!"

They were outside. How they got outside, John didn't care how. Instead, he was too busy focusing on trying to keep Sherlock from bleeding out as the emergency personnel ran over. Half of the police force must be here. Lestrade really took his phone call seriously.

He saw one of the lieutenants reach for the door to go inside the wearhouse. John reached out, tried to say, "No," but his voice was too weak to be heard. He watched in helpless horror as the door was opened.

The lieutenant's eyes widen for a brief second, then he turned, fell to his knees and started vomiting on the side. Another officer ran over, asking what was wrong, and she too looked inside and started retching at the sight.

Finally Donovan looked inside. She paled and slammed the door shut. With one hand pressed against the door, she barked out orders to the surrounding men.

"I'm a doctor," John said as the medics maneuvered Sherlock out of his arms. "I can help-"

"John," Lestrade held him back. "Your leg is broken. Let the medics do their job."

"No, I need to-"

The handprint on his stomach tightened, as if the fingers itself were clenching. He didn't know if it was a warning or not, but he immediately ceased his talking. Instead, he watched while the paramedics lifted Sherlock into the ambulance and closed the doors behind them.

()

The next three days everything was a blur. Sherlock was in and out of surgery. The bullet had torn through his smaller intestines, nicking his bladder and imbedding itself into his hipbone. It took multiple surgeries to remove the shards of metal out of him.

John had his leg plastered but not before a fever set in. A part of him was grateful for his burning forehead and cramping stomach because it meant Lestrade could not get his report on the violent deaths of those gang memebers. It gave John some time to fabricate believable enough lies. In the end though, he would not need them.

On the fourth day, around two in the morning, John woke when he felt someone standing over him.

It was Mycroft. "What have you done?" He asked.

He looked awful. Mycroft visibly lost a good deal of weight in the past three days. His skin was a sickly colour, there were bags under his eyes, and he was sweating profusely. "Mycroft, how-?"

Mycroft suddenly surged froward, gripping John's arms tightly, ignoring where the IV sat. "What have you done?" He repeated wildly. "I told you to protect him, not get him involved!"

The IV dug in deeper. "What should I have done?" John hissed. "They shot him! Should I have let him there to die?"

"YES!" He pulled away abruptly, his hand going to his mouth as if saying that poisoned him. "He would have been better off dead." He added quietly. "But now... you invited him, John. This is what he wanted!"

That didn't make any sense. If the tall man wanted Sherlock, he could have easily taken him. Why bother with the manipulation? "If the Operator-"

"I am not talking about him!" Mycroft hissed. "Sherlock is the one who wanted this! As long as he kept a respectable distance, as long as we didn't pay more attention to him than to the Operator, he would have been fine. But now... Sherlock got his wish. What is the saying, John? You stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss will stare back."

Mycroft pulled back finally. The gauntness of his face reminded John of victims of turberculosis. He looked like he could keel over at any minute, crash to the floor and explode under the weight of his own sweat. This was how the tall man showed his favortism?

Maybe... maybe John should have let Sherlock die.

The dull silence of their thoughts was cut off as a sharp horrifying scream echoed in the night. First it was the scream of a woman, then it was followed by Sherlock's.

John and Mycroft both knew what this was and Mycroft took off to the next room. John fumbled with the IV, ripping it out of him, tossed off the heart monitor, swung his broken leg over the edge and followed as fast as he could limp.

John found Sherlock fighting against Mycroft, who was trying to keep his little brother in bed. Sherlock was desperate to get away, pushing against his blankets, forgetting about the injury in his stomach. "What the hell is that? What the hell is that?"

He pointed.

John followed the finger and standing by the window, against the corner, was the Operator. This was the tallest John has ever seen him, his head lightly bent to accomodate the room's ceiling. He was playing with something in one of his his hands, rattling them in his palm. He turned over his palm and one by one, human teeth tumbled out.

John eyes watched the descent of the teeth to the floor and there, slumped against the wall, was a nurse. Her jaw was slacked opened, pushed beyond the limitations. Her eyes were rolled back in her head and though John knew she was dead (he hoped she was dead) her arm twitched.

When John heard Sherlock retching behind him, he finally turned his head away. Mycroft wasn't looking at the Operator either. His gaze was drawn down, like a dog showing his submission. His left eye had blown a blood vessel and streaks of red ran down his cheek.

Sherlock hadn't noticed but on his upper arm, a shadow in the shape of a hand, was forming across his skin.

Sherlock surged forward, still fighting against Mycroft's grip and yelled, "John-! RUN!"

John tensed as he felt long fingers move down his back. Not hurting, yet the touch was like ice, stabbing deep into his flesh. He tried not to recoil away.

"Sherlock," he gasped, his throat constricting from the cold. "Welcome to the family."