At Right Angles (PG-13), Part iv

Jun 24, 2012 11:44

Title: At Right Angles
Characters: Joan, Sherlock, Molly, Mycroft, others
Rating: PG-13
Length: 4400 words this part
Beta: the brilliant & talented yalublyutebya
Summary: In which Joan's world is turned upside-down, Mycroft and Molly are nosy, and Sherlock is the last one to find out (for once). Preg! Fem!John.
Notes: Originally written for this prompt on the meme. Click for disclaimer.

Once they were settled in the back of the cab, speeding in the direction of the cinema (“If you can get there in under ten minutes, I’ll pay you double fare!” Sherlock had told the cabbie), Joan turned to Sherlock.

“You have questions,” he said, before she could open her mouth.

“Right. Yes.” She licked her lips. “What did you mean by ‘cardboard’? No, actually-start from the beginning. Why a film?”

Sherlock crossed his arms. “That was your idea. You said that a normal date includes ‘dinner and a film.’ Don’t you remember?”

“Yes,” Joan replied. “But I don’t see what that has to do with the parcels.”

“It’s a riddle, a visual metaphor. The parcels represent a meal: the body parts are the meat, the salt and gunpowder are salt and pepper, respectively,” Sherlock explained. “The connotation is obvious. The criminal has been sending me ‘dinner’ for the past day, albeit in abstracted form.”

“Okay,” Joan said slowly, taking it all in. “I think I get it. So, after dinner, you go to the cinema?”

“Exactly,” Sherlock agreed. “The salt was also a clue to the film title, ‘Salt’, which is conveniently opening in theatres tonight.” Sherlock pulled back the cuff of his coat to see his watch. “In seven minutes, in fact.”

“And the cardboard?”

“Another clue.” Sherlock let his hand drop back to his lap. “The London IMAX is located in the middle of the Waterloo roundabout. Do you know what that area used to be called, before the cinema was built?”


“It was called ‘Cardboard City’,” he replied. “Because it was covered in cardboard boxes. Homeless people used them for shelter during bad weather.”

“I’ve never even heard of it,” Joan said.

Sherlock looked out the window. “It was closed down in 1998, when the British Film Institute bought the land. Even before that, most of the homeless people had moved on. The authorities weren’t very agreeable towards squatters.” His voice was bitter.

“How do you know so much about this?” Joan asked curiously. “It’s not something I’d expect you to know much about.” Sherlock was still facing the window, but she didn’t think he was looking at the passing cityscape. His gaze was distant, unfocused.

“I have a number of contacts among the homeless,” he replied finally. “I find it useful for my work.”

Joan got the sense that there was something more to it than that. Sherlock’s bitterness, and his unusual reticence on the subject, spoke volumes, but she was sensitive enough to know when to stop pushing. This wasn’t the right time for a personal conversation anyway. Maybe there would never be a right time-sometimes, it was better for the past to stay in the past.

“Alright,” she said, deciding to change the subject. “So, cardboard boxes to signify Cardboard City, I get that. But I still don’t understand the connection with our thief.”

“It’s part of the riddle, Joan,” Sherlock grumbled, turning back towards her. She was relieved to see that the emptiness was gone from his eyes. “We’ve been focusing so much on the salt and gunpowder that I didn’t even consider the cardboard boxes. I thought they were merely a way to transport the body parts, but they were part of the message themselves.

“Each parcel is a double metaphor: first, dinner-the meat, the seasoning, et cetera. Secondly, the film-salt for the title, the cardboard box to indicate the location of the theatre: the London IMAX. The timing of the rendezvous is easily deduced by fact that all three parcels were received today. Clearly, the sender intends our ‘date’ to occur soon, and as the film in question is opening tonight, the logical conclusion is that he means to attend the midnight showing.”

“Wait a minute,” Joan said, her voice rising. “Are we on our way to meet a possibly mentally-unhinged body snatcher? At the cinema?”

“I hope so,” Sherlock replied.

Joan stared at him. “He’s-he’s flirting with you,” she whispered, shocked. “The sender. Or body snatcher, whatever you want to call him.”

“I doubt he considers it flirting,” Sherlock scoffed.

“No,” Joan corrected, shaking her head. “He’s definitely flirting with you. Jesus, Sherlock, you attract all the weirdos, don’t you?”

“You realise you’re including yourself in that statement.”

Joan’s eyes narrowed. “Right. Clearly, there’s no point in telling you how weird this whole thing is,” she sighed, rubbing her face tiredly with one hand. “So why don’t we just move right along to the important stuff, shall we?”

“Excellent idea, Joan,” Sherlock agreed. “You have your gun, I trust?”

“I-what?” Joan exclaimed, blindsided by the sudden question.

“Your gun. A Sig Sauer P226R, judging by the size and shape of the bulge in your pocket.”

Joan clapped a hand to her pocket, feeling the solid bulk of plastic and metal through the fabric. “How did you-” she broke off, shaking her head. Of course Sherlock knew about the gun. He’d probably known ever since they’d left her flat, some subtle twitch of her hand or change in her gait giving away the existence of the illegal firearm.

“Actually, it was my insufferable brother,” Sherlock remarked. “His reaction to you was most informative.”

Joan made a mental note to bring that up with Mycroft later.

“As I was saying,” Sherlock continued, “That gun would do both of us much more good loaded.”

Joan glanced in the direction of the cabbie. He hadn’t made any indication of overhearing the conversation going on in the backseat, but his presence made her nervous. “I’m not sure this is the best time, Sherlock.”

“On the contrary, this is the only time. We have no idea what might be waiting for us at the cinema.”

Joan frowned at him. “What does that mean?”

Sherlock shrugged. “We may simply be meeting the sender in person-he could, as you say, just be ‘flirting’ with me. But I doubt it.”


He smirked. “Because of the gunpowder, Joan. The gunpowder, which has been increasing with each parcel as the salt has been decreasing. What does that say to you?”

“I don’t know.” Joan’s forehead wrinkled, bemused. “Nothing. Is it supposed to mean something?”

“I believe it is the final piece of the message,” Sherlock said, his smirk widening to a grin. “Everyone knows what gunpowder is good for.”

“And what is that?”


The taxi arrived with two minutes to spare. Sherlock dashed from the car as soon as it stopped moving, leaving Joan to pick up the tab.

“He your boyfriend?” the cabbie asked, sounding unimpressed.

“No,” Joan said, passing over her last two twenty-pound notes with a sigh. She needed to go to the bank.

The cabbie shook his head. “Don’t bother with prats like him. Nice bird like you deserves better.”

“Right, thanks,” Joan said awkwardly, sliding out of the taxi. She glanced towards the entrance to the cinema. Sherlock was already at the ticket desk.

“Hey, wait a minute!” The cabbie called, smiling through the window at her, and holding out a small business card. “I’ve got my own car service-call if you ever need a ride. I’ll give you a discount rate.”

Deciding that arguing would only take longer, Joan took the card and pocketed it without a glance. “Ta.”

The cabbie winked. “Have fun, luv!”

When Joan caught up with Sherlock, he was arguing vociferously with the ticket vendor.

“I’m sorry, but the show has already started,” the spotty teen at the desk said.

“Cinemas show an average of eleven minutes worth of previews before the actual film begins,” Sherlock retorted. “It won’t make any difference if we’re a few minutes late.”

The kid shrugged. “That’s the rule.”

Joan came up behind Sherlock. “What’s wrong?”

Sherlock’s eyes fell on Joan, lighting up in a way that said he’d just had a really bad idea. Joan couldn’t even be surprised when Sherlock suddenly wrapped a protective arm around her waist, pulling her close to his side. He turned back to the ticket vendor, his expression beseeching. “Please, it’s our anniversary, and my wife really wants to see this film.” Joan tried to look disappointed.

“Well…” The ticket vendor’s forehead wrinkled, like she was thinking hard. “I guess it’ll be okay. Just this once.”

Sherlock whipped out a credit card before the girl had even finished her sentence, and moved forward to slide it across the desk, dragging Joan alongside him. The loaded gun in her pocket dug into her hip, caught between their bodies. She could practically feel the bottled-up energy rolling off Sherlock, as the ticket vendor slowly slotted his card into the machine, and waiting for him to enter his PIN, then printed he tickets. As soon as she’d passed them over, he released Joan and sprinted into the theatre. She jogged along behind, ignoring the girl’s confused stare.

Despite the ticket vendor’s words, the lobby of the cinema was still full of people milling about chatting or buying snacks. Joan scanned the crowd from their vantage point near the entrance, but no one stood out. Sherlock seemed to be equally frustrated. “Why are there so many people here?” he whinged, lip curling.

“Well, it is a cinema, Sherlock,” Joan snapped. If Sherlock’s deductions were correct-and she’d known him just long enough to appreciate that they usually were-there was a bomb planted somewhere in this theatre, a bomb that might go off at any time. They had to get these people out fast.

Sherlock seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “We have to get them out of the way,” he said.

“Yes,” Joan agreed, straightening to attention as a plan formed in her mind. “We’d better find the management first, let them know about the threat, then we have to call the police-”

“No,” Sherlock interrupted. “If we call the police now, we’ll never be able to find the body thief. What we need to do is get rid of all these people so we can flush him out into the open.”

Joan stared at him. “What about the bomb, Sherlock?” She licked her lips. “Don’t you care about these people at all?”

Sherlock made a careless gesture with one hand. “I said we’d get them out of the way.”

Joan pressed her lips together silently, but her accusatory stare spoke for her. Sherlock rolled his eyes at her.

“Oh, have I upset your soldier’s morals, now?” he asked, tone scathing.

“No,” she answered quietly. “I just thought you were better than that.”

Sherlock’s eyes widened, but his reply was cutting. “Don’t turn people into heroes, Joan,” he said. “Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.”

Joan bit her tongue. She didn’t need Sherlock to tell her that heroes didn’t exist. She’d been to war.

“This isn’t about being a hero, this is about being human,” she said finally. “I know you don’t do this for purely altruistic reasons, but I figured you were motivated by some concern for human life.”

“Do you think my motives matter to these people?” Sherlock turned to look out at the crowd again. “Do you think they’ll care whether I save them out of some misplaced concern based on our common species classification, or whether I do it because I just like the work?” He let out a humourless laugh. “I don’t think so.” He glanced back at Joan, taking in her guarded expression. “Are you not going to help me now?” His voice was carefully indifferent. “Not much cop, this caring lark.”

“Of course I’ll help you,” Joan retorted.

His shoulders relaxed slightly at her response. Joan wondered if he even realised it. “Good.”

Joan stepped up to stand beside him, looking out at the mass of people. “But I still think you’re wrong about caring.”

Sherlock sniffed, but didn’t say anything. Joan licked her lips again. “So, if we’re not going to tell anyone about the bomb, how do we get everyone out of the cinema?”

“You’ll see.”

He headed in the direction of the bathrooms, Joan trailing behind. In the corner, beside the women’s toilet, was the emergency fire alarm. Joan’s eyes widened as she caught on to the plan, and she moved into position to shield Sherlock with her body as he reached for the lever.

As soon as he pulled it, a deafening shrieking noise sounded, accompanied by flashing white lights. The people in the lobby froze, momentarily confused. Joan sucked in a deep breath and cupped her hands around her mouth, drawing on her military training.

“Fire!” she bellowed as loud as she could, and she saw several people jump and start whispering in distress. “Fire! Everyone to the exits!”

People began to flood out of the cinema, heading towards the doors. “Well, that was easy,” Joan said, raising her voice so Sherlock could hear her over the combined din of the crowd and the fire alarm.

Sherlock looked down at her, a smile touching his lips. “It was.”

Then his expression changed, hardening and sharpening, and Joan knew he was already thinking of the body thief lurking somewhere in the theatre. “There,” he said, pointing at a door labelled “Employees Only” just to the right of bathroom.

The door led to a narrow staircase, illuminated by a strip of lights set just above eye-level. It reminded Joan of an airplane-the same stale, recycled air and muffled quiet of wall-to-wall carpeting. After a brief climb, the staircase ended at another door, this one with a large sign reading: “PROJECTOR ROOM. Do not open while film is in progress.” Sherlock reached out towards the handle.

“Sherlock.” Joan nudged the detective, pointing towards the crack under the door. “Look.”

Despite the dim light, it was still possible to make out the glitter of a few dark, metallic particles spilling out onto the carpet. The muscles in Sherlock’s jaw tensed and he gritted his teeth, his hand tightening around the doorknob. He pushed it open.

The projector room was far larger than Joan had expected. A window set into the left hand wall afforded them a bird’s eye view of the darkened theatre below, the screen blank and grey. The room was also extremely cold, and Joan shivered as they stepped inside. The whirring of the overtaxed air conditioning unit drowned out all other sound-even the not-so-distant shriek of the fire alarm barely registered. The gigantic machine set into the floor at the centre of the room, on the other hand, was still and quiet.

“Is that the film projector?” Joan asked in a hushed voice, staring at the white plastic monstrosity. It looked like a cross between an MRI scanner and a carwash, complete with rubbery black hoses and tubes disappearing into the ceiling.

“IMAX films use 70mm film, which requires a specialised projector,” Sherlock whispered back without looking up. He was ignoring the projector entirely in favour of the floor. Joan followed his gaze down. There was a faint sparkle to the floor where they stood, and when she ground her foot into it, the resulting sound was rough and gritty. “It’s a trail,” Sherlock announced before she could say anything. “More gunpowder.” He was already moving, eyes still glued to the ground, leaving Joan with no choice but to follow. She did of course, sliding one hand into her pocket to palm the Sig Sauer still hidden there.

The trail of gunpowder wound around the projector, leading to yet another doorway on the far side of the room. This one was open, and Joan could see that the room beyond was filled with storage units. Sherlock forged ahead, his black coat billowing out behind him as he swept a tight corner around one storage unit, whilst Joan paused in the doorway.

“Film reels,” she muttered to herself, staring up at the massive wheel-shaped canisters. They were each nearly two metres in diameter, balanced in stacks of six on round metal platters. The whole system appeared to be automated-Joan could see a space in the wall where the machine fed the reels through to the projector next door.

“Joan.” Sherlock’s tone snapped like a taut violin string, and Joan’s head jerked up immediately.

“Sherlock?” She hurried in the direction of his voice, drawing the gun from her pocket as she went.

Sherlock was crouched over two bodies-or, more accurately, one body and one partially-butchered corpse-lying atop a heap of gunpowder. The first was the body of one of the theatre employees, the logo on his uniform bloodied, but still clearly visible. The second was the rest of Jane Downing, with her torso wrapped modestly in a plain white sheet like some grisly parody of the Venus de Milo.

“He’s dead,” Sherlock said, rising to his feet. “Must have stumbled across the criminal while he was working.”

Jane lowered her gun, moving closer to examine the man on the ground herself. “Blunt force trauma to the back of the head, then knifed in the chest,” she told Sherlock, pointing at the wound. “He bled out.”

“Given the angle, he was probably already unconscious when he was stabbed,” Sherlock commented. “A mercy killing, or insurance against witnesses?”

“He probably would have lived if he hadn’t been stabbed.”

“Insurance, then.” Sherlock circled the bodies, frowning. “There’s something off about this.”


“This isn’t nearly enough gunpowder to be dangerous,” Sherlock said, indicating the pile of black particles. “Gunpowder is a relatively weak explosive. I thought its presence in the boxes was non-literal, shorthand for a more powerful incendiary device.” He stopped pacing to scrutinize one of the film storage canisters nearby.

Joan stood. “Isn’t that a good thing? Maybe he really is just playing a game with you.” It’s time to end this farce, she thought. A man was dead. She couldn’t put off calling the police any longer. She patted her back pocket, where she normally kept her mobile, only to find it empty. Damn, she thought. She’d given it to Sherlock earlier and he hadn’t returned it. “Sherlock, could you give me back my phone? I need to make a call.”

Sherlock didn’t make any indication of having heard her. He was now hauling at the cover of one of the film canisters, trying to open it.

“Sherlock?” Joan moved closer. “What are you-”

With a snap, the plastic cover cracked open. Sherlock froze, staring into the depths of the film canister. “What is it?” Joan asked, coming up behind him and reaching towards the container.

“Stop!” Sherlock shouted. Joan jumped and yanked her hand back.

“Christ,” she gasped, heart pounding. “What was that for?”

“Don’t touch it,” Sherlock said tensely. He slowly eased his hand off the container and reached into his pocket to withdraw a mobile-Joan’s mobile, in fact-and hold it up over the opening. The glow from the screen illuminated the interior of the container, and Joan could see it was filled with a thick, oily liquid.

“Nitroglycerin,” Sherlock answered her unspoken question. His face was grim. “If every film canister in this room is full of this, then there is more than enough explosive to decimate the entire cinema.” Joan felt her blood run cold at the words. “This must be the reason our criminal didn’t shoot the intruder-nitroglycerine is extremely shock-sensitive. In fact, given the volatility of the material, I’m surprised opening the container didn’t cause it to ignite.”

Joan swallowed. “Sherlock, this would be a good time to call the police. Or…” she hesitated, then plowed ahead, “Mycroft.”

Sherlock’s face creased in distaste at the name, but before he could say anything, a loud buzzing noise sounded overhead and the machines surrounding them came to life.

Both Joan and Sherlock automatically flinched away from the open film canister, but, luckily, it didn’t move. However, one of the reels nearer to the ceiling did. It began to spin in lazy circles, feeding film through the wall into the room next door. Sherlock, recovering first, pushed Joan aside and sprinted back through to the projector room. Joan took a deep breath and hurried after him.

She caught up as Sherlock was bending over the projector. It was ablaze with energy now, and the frigid temperature of the room was finally explained: even from a few feet away, Joan could feel heat rising from the machine. She glanced up to look through the window into the theatre. It was showing what looked like the start of an old-fashioned countdown, the kind of thing they used to have at the beginning of black and white films. The number “10”, surrounded by a white circle, was currently frozen onscreen. The image itself wasn’t what caught Joan’s eye though. There was something moving in the theatre, down near the edge of the screen. Or someone.

“Sherlock,” Joan hissed, nudging the detective. “Sherlock!”

“What?” he snarled, finally looking up.


He followed her finger, pointing out into the theatre. His eyes lit up at the sight of the moving figure, and in a second he was whirling away from her in a flurry of coattails, racing to the stairs. Joan was about to follow, when a loud beeping noise made her look back through window once more. To her shock, the image on the screen had begun to change, the white circle around the “10” quickly filling with black. It was indeed a countdown, and Joan was suddenly struck by what that meant.

Eventually, the countdown would end, the reel would be finished, and the projector would move on to the next film in the storage room. The only problem was that the next film in the storage room was not a film at all.

Heart in her mouth, Joan ran after Sherlock, down the stairs, through the lobby, into the theatre. Her hands were cold and clammy with adrenaline, but their grip on the pistol was steady.


He was down at the front of the theatre already, his figure thrown into relief by the light from the screen. Above him, the number taunted her.





“Sherlock, we have to get out of here!” she called, panting as she jogged down the aisle to his side.

“He’s gone,” he groaned, cursing. “It will take forever to track him down again.”

“We have to go,” Joan repeated, panic rippling through her veins. “Sherlock, the countdown, look!”

“Oh, dear,” an amused voice echoed through the theatre, and both of them stilled, listening. “It looks like you’re running out of time, doesn’t it? I’m rather disappointed in you, Sherlock. I thought this was going to be the start of something beautiful.”





“Come on!” Joan cried, one hand tugging on the hem of Sherlock’s coat. “Forget it, he’s just trying to distract you.”

“No!” Sherlock tried to wrench out of her grip. “He must be manipulating the sound system, we have to get back up to the projector room.” He finally managed to pull away and began to run back up towards the exit.

“You idiot!” Joan hissed, rushing after him. There were only seconds to spare, going by the timer on the screen.

Meanwhile, the voice continued its monologue.

“I thought we were made for each other,” it moaned dramatically. The voice was male, Joan noted, neither particularly high-pitched nor low. Neutral. Dangerous. “We were made to play this game.”

“Show yourself, then,” Sherlock called out into the empty theatre, slowing as he reached the final row of seats. “Show yourself to me. You can’t play a game from the shadows.”

“But you’ve let me down, Sherlock,” the voice replied, taunting. “You’re one of them. Boring.” It blew a raspberry into the microphone. The sound was loud enough to make Sherlock wince.

Joan ignored the voice, focusing on the distance between herself and Sherlock. They needed to get somewhere safe-safer, some obnoxious part of her brain insisted, because there was nowhere truly safe in the cinema, given the amount of explosives upstairs. If only she had her phone, she thought. If only Sherlock weren’t such a stubborn git. If only they had more time.





Joan finally caught up with Sherlock and seized him by his coat collar, throwing all her body weight into the move. They fell together, rolling beneath a row of seats. Joan braced herself above the detective, as she’d been taught to protect civilians from gunfire or roadside bombs, with her body stretched to cover his longer torso. She couldn’t see the screen from her new position, but she could feel the beat of the countdown in her bones.





Sherlock grasped her arms, snarling below her.

“What are you doing?” she tried to argue, but before the words could pass her lips, he’d flipped them roughly over. The sudden movement and collision with the hard floor of the cinema smashed the wind from Joan’s lungs. Sherlock’s face was millimeters away, his breath hot and fast against her cheek, but despite their compromising position, his eyes remained trained on the seconds ticking by on the digital display of the mobile still clutched in his hand.

Ridiculous as it was, she couldn’t help thinking, thank god no one’s here to see this.





“I’m sorry it had to end this way.” The voice was back, just as overdramatic as before. It sighed. “The great consulting detective and his pet, destroyed in the prime of life. Such a tragedy.”

Joan couldn’t contain a snort of gallows humor. “The real tragedy is that I’m going to die in a cinema listening to some nutter’s idea of a good voice-over. You’d think they could at least hire Morgan Freeman.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at her, and suddenly they were both laughing hysterically. Sherlock’s arms were actually quivering as he shook with mirth.

“Don’t fall on me,” Joan cautioned him, calming herself.

“Never,” he replied with a crooked smile, bracing himself yet again to provide some futile protection.

Joan smiled back momentarily, before her gaze fell to the illuminated number on the mobile in his hand. Two seconds left. Her hands curled instinctively over her stomach, cradling the almost-imperceptible curve. There was no logic to her thoughts, nothing as coherent or articulate as a last wish-just a jumble of emotion, fragments of sensation, images flashing before her eyes and away again before she could understand what they meant. And below it all, a deep, sorrowful awareness that she wanted this little life, that she’d always wanted it, that she regretted only coming to that realisation now.

Joan chanced another look up at Sherlock. His eyes were closed. She gritted her teeth and closed hers as well.

Maybe it would help.






sherlock bbc, au, friendship, casefic, genderswap

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