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Recorded (Sherlock)

Title: Recorded
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Sherlock
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: When each of the three men screams, all Sherlock can do is listen.
Historian's Note: This was originally written as a standalone story. If you wish, however, you're welcome to read it as a companion to the ficlets "Enclosed" and "Imagined." The story takes place after the Sherlock episode "The Great Game."
Author's Note: This was originally written for the "evil Moriarty, give me chills" prompt at sherlockbbc_fic.
Warnings (Highlight to Read): Offscreen violence, torture, suicidal themes, and possible character death(s), open to interpretation.



Approximately eighteen hours after the most important men in Sherlock's life disappeared, the first text arrived. It contained a link from which Sherlock downloaded a single audio file.

***

Each of the three screamed. Unsurprising, really. To use Moriarty's turn of phrase, that's what people do. Such a natural physical response could only be repressed for so long, even by the strongest of wills.

With concentration enhanced by adrenaline and desperation and multiple nicotine patches, Sherlock strained to listen. He identified the sound of various implements used on or in the human body: the impact of whips and canes and various blunt objects, the hiss of a blowtorch, the throb of naked electricity.

He noted the click of fingernails against readied hypodermic syringes. He imagined the smooth glide of depressed plungers forcing unknown substances into vulnerable veins.

From the acoustics of the facilities, Sherlock could glean little. No additional background noises provided further insights into the men's location.

Cataloguing the data, setting the information aside, he focused on the voices – at first mere grunts and gasps and hisses, but later, much more.

The audio clips, he determined, had been recorded over many hours.

There were growls, rumbling, guttural protests first swallowed, then torn from the depths of a chest. After a time, the sound degenerated into hoarse moans. His detective inspector.

There were shouts, inarticulate and angry, first bitten off, then granted whole fury. Eventually they crumbled into little more than the whistling rush of air in a shredded throat. His flatmate. His blogger.

There were muted howls, imprisoned behind teeth and lips, then escaping as full-fledged cries. As time passed the wails gained urgency and volume, rising in a tragic crescendo. This seemed to continue for a very long time indeed.

Then there came a harsh gasp, and stuttering, troubled breaths, and at last eloquent, vacant silence.

Of course his brother had possessed the concealed means of taking his own life; after all, he was the nation's secret-keeper. How clever he had been to frustrate Moriarty's undoubtedly thorough searches.

But not quite clever enough, it seemed. The recording ended with the echoes of an emergency resuscitation conducted by an efficient staff, followed by the rhythmic beeps of monitors and thrum of a ventilator machine.

Sherlock could deduce what had occurred as easily as if he'd watched the events unfold from inside the very room. Yes, he had resented Mycroft, even hated him at times, and yet envisioning the familiar frame trapped in unwanted limbo, emptied of that magnificent mind, left Sherlock folded over in his chair, shaking.

Such weakness as this was a key reason why Sherlock had sought to avoid personal attachments.

He had failed, however. How badly became obvious to him as he replayed the file and listened again and again to the involuntary sounds of suffering.

***

Moriarty's instructions were clear. If Sherlock left the building for any reason, Mrs Hudson would vanish – and reappear one piece at a time, along with rather vital bits carved from the three captive men.

Sherlock was certain that every method of communication he possessed was now monitored. If he so much as attempted to conduct a simple internet search or text his recommendations to others or summon anyone to 221B to make plans, his actions would only assist Moriarty, mapping for the man the path of his pursuers.

He forwarded the audio file to Sally Donovan and the woman he knew as Anthea, but that was the full extent of his interactions with them. The search had to be theirs alone. Once they had listened to Moriarty's orders, he knew they would understand.

Just as Moriarty understood that helplessness for Sherlock was the cruelest torture of all.

Trapped as he was, Sherlock was dumb and blind. If only he were deaf, as well. But he wasn't.

Another text arrived, announcing a new recording.

***

"If you could say anything to Sherlock Holmes right now, what would it be?"

Jim Moriarty's words rose and fell with false empathy, a camp parody of the quintessential talk show host.

"I'd tell him" – the dry husk of the detective inspector's once-rich voice, now as brittle as fallen leaves in winter – "I've seen preschoolers throw better punches than you."

The file played on as Lestrade's pained chuckles turned to choked sobs.

***

When Mrs Hudson asked why Sherlock wasn't out searching for John and the others, he told her the truth. Her eyes went wide with horror, guileless as a child's.

Moriarty made no additional demands. Sherlock's repeated texts asking what Jim wanted, what would make this stop, remained unanswered.

***

"If you could say anything to Sherlock Holmes right now, what would it be?"

"I'd warn him" – this time John answered, his words emerging high-pitched and reed-thin from the wreckage of his throat – "that the milk in the fridge has probably gone off."

He paid for his cheek with fresh agony, just as Lestrade had done.

Each man had bought a brief respite for the other. Purchased time. But where was rescue? Where was Mycroft's staff? Where was Scotland Yard?

***

Too late, Sherlock discovered that Mrs Hudson had listened at the door to John's ordeal.

***

The next recording took its time in appearing. As it played, Sherlock added page upon page of new information to those mental files he maintained as a matter of habit on John Watson and Greg Lestrade.

Odd, that he would learn such things only from afar, through the distortion of tinny speakers, as each man struggled to retain some kind of sanity in the face of torment.

John spoke two languages and could muddle along for a bit in a two more, but he could curse emphatically in eight. Lestrade's curses came mostly in English, but with a creative infusion of street slang and several idiosyncratic local dialects.

As blows fell and blades cut and wires burned, each man found a temporary escape in his memories until lucidity deserted him. An imperfect comfort, but a worthy show of non-cooperation, nonetheless.

Lestrade recounted the aliases and personal histories he'd used in his younger days on undercover assignments, the set lists of concerts he'd attended as a teen, and the details of the first three murder cases he'd worked that eventually went cold and remained unsolved.

John recited the medical terms for various parts of the human anatomy, the nicknames of mates on various rugby teams, and the full names and ranks of wounded soldiers he'd tried and failed to save in Afghanistan.

Unsolved cases. Lost patients. Sherlock paced as the recording continued, wondering that both men should carry their perceived failures so closely, remember them so keenly.

As the two fought and floundered, Sherlock tried to focus.

Each man knew of the other's pain.

This was evident first in Lestrade's outrage as he called, "Get off 'im, you sick bastards!"

Later, it was obvious in John's cold fury as he ground out, "You'll kill him if you don't stop."

Against his own wishes, Sherlock's mind filled in the silences between the vile sounds, reconstructing the details of what had taken place, what horrors and violations each man had experienced simply because he'd allied himself with the consulting detective.

Sherlock's makeshift kitchen laboratory disintegrated around him as he shattered and smashed everything breakable at hand.

The audio file ended much as the first had done, with the beeping and whirring of medical equipment, the very presence of which measured the absence of Mycroft Holmes.

The silence, when it followed, was thunderous.

***

Every face outside of the windows seemed to watch the flat with malignant intent. Figuratively, if not literally, Moriarty was breathing down Sherlock's long neck. Laughing, even.

Sherlock could not sleep, he would not, but after so many hours – days now? – his body grew disloyal, collapsing, shutting down for minutes at a time like a computer in hibernation mode. Once, when he came back to himself from this unintended rest, slumped over his keyboard, he realized Mrs Hudson had been in the flat.

He found her downstairs, sitting on her bed, dressed in her finest silk pyjamas and favourite dressing gown. The glow from her herbal soothers shone high in her cheeks. She held John's service pistol in her hands.

"I don't have enough pills to do the trick," she explained with something like pity. "And I don't trust myself to do things properly with a knife."

"No," Sherlock said.

"Don’t fuss, Sherlock. I've had a full life. Those brave men are young enough to be my sons. They need rescuing, you know."

She patted his cheek as he knelt before her. "It's my choice, dear. This way, I can't be used against them or you – or hurt, for that matter. Go on now, please. No need to watch."

Sherlock felt himself fraying at the seams, unravelling in all directions.

Even if Mrs Hudson hadn't been threatened, even if he'd been free to hunt, he had next to no data on which to base a search.

Moriarty had made certain the recordings were antiseptically devoid of almost any clue. John and Lestrade, both of whom might've succeeded in smuggling random information to him in their babblings, stubbornly had said nothing that might enable Sherlock to risk himself on their behalves.

If Sherlock saw no leads, how could he expect the Yarders or Mycroft's minions to find any on their own?

But no, not Mrs Hudson.

Not her, too.

"No," he repeated.

It's this caring lark, Sherlock thought, prying the gun from her firm grasp. Too many emotions, too few thoughts.

Observe, you fool, don't feel.

Despite his self-recriminations, the moment ended with Sherlock still on his knees, his head on Mrs Hudson's lap and her hands in his curls like a benediction. The last time he could recall shedding tears from pain rather than for subterfuge, he had been a five-year-old boy with a broken arm.

Even then, he hadn't felt so powerless.

***

The cavalry did not come. Another recording did.

Moriarty's voice sounded positively gleeful. Perhaps he'd already pulled the plug on the British Government.

Sherlock swallowed.

"You've had some time to think of a better response than your last, Detective Inspector," Moriarty said. "If you could say anything to Sherlock Holmes now, what would it be?"

Lestrade's breath escaped in uneven, ghastly wheezes. Broken ribs, certainly. Other more severe internal injuries, as well.

"I'm proud," he panted, "of the work" – a shallow sip of air – "we've done together." So exhausted, he sounded. Every lungful was obviously a herculean effort. "And proud of him."

Sherlock turned in place, looking for… anything. Nothing.

Lost.

"And what would you say, Johnny Boy?"

"Goditwas…" John's faint words slurred. Serious blood loss. A concussion, too, most likely. Shock. And more.

Apparently John had to gather his failing strength even to finish the thought. "Worthev'ryminute."

Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut.

Wavered on his feet.

"So very touching," Moriarty cooed. "But was it, Sherlock? Was it worth it? Are you proud of yourself?"

I am going mad, Sherlock thought.

John's gun was a reassuring weight in his hand, cold and present and heavy with promise.

Brutally wet coughing stole the air from Lestrade's chest. John murmured, as if trying to offer comfort, but his fragile syllables bled together, unintelligible.

Sherlock listened with his whole heart, and it burned.


THE END

Note: Read kiwi_jam's terrific "Alternate 'Cop Out Ending'" for this story here.

Vital Stats: Originally written in August 2011.

Originally written for this prompt at sherlockbbc_fic.

Comments

( 75 comments — Leave a comment )
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amedia
Oct. 20th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
*incoherent wail* Oh, this hurts, but it hurts so good!

I thought I was through the most gutwrenching part when I got to the scene with Mrs. Hudson. ZOMG. You had me believing she was going to do it, you know that? Within the logic of the story, it would have worked--no easy outs, here--so it was a genuine relief when she didn't.

And the horror was conveyed in such lovely prose: you had me at "the throb of naked electricity" but then "medical equipment, the very presence of which measured the absence of Mycroft Holmes" was a showstopper. Lestrade's voice sounding like brittle leaves--so many well-turned phrases in a style that made the content bearable.

Sherlock's desperate attempts to learn from the recordings, what he can't learn, what he does learn (about Lestrade and Watson personally), so very deeply IC. You never actually show us the room they're in, but we're there anyway, in Sherlock's fervid mental reconstruction of it.

And the ending--honestly, as much as I would have loved a rescue scene or even a funeral, the ending you chose was the right one. The reader feels that continuing strain just as Sherlock does. (Of course, it wouldn't spoil anything if you wrote a sequel. I'm just sayin'.)
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, whew! I was quite nervous about this one (which is why I sat on it for two months before posting it here), so it's wonderful to hear that it "hurt so good." I looked on it as something of an experiment in style, so it's especially thrilling to know that the prose worked well for you.

It's tremendously gratifying to know that the sequence with Mrs Hudson made you genuinely worried for her, as I'd hoped - and relieved, when Sherlock couldn't let her go through with it.

Sherlock's desperate attempts to learn from the recordings, what he can't learn, what he does learn (about Lestrade and Watson personally), so very deeply IC.

Oh, thank you so much! It feels foreign and plain wrong to imagine him as helpless, so I'm grateful that his reactions here still seem in character to you. I'm doing a little internal "happy dance" now, knowing that the ending struck the right note of heightened strain, too.

All of this is so helpful as well as heartening. I can't thank you enough for this terrific feedback. Thank you so much, my friend, for reading and commenting! It's lovely of you.


Edited at 2011-10-21 09:52 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
Augh! *hugs you tightly*

I'm glad you found this to be effective. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting! You're the best.
2ndskin
Oct. 20th, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
I second Scoffy's shredded comment. Left more coherent praise on AO3. Still speechless.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much for this - and apologies for the shredding! *hugs*
sabrinaphynn
Oct. 20th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
Third-ing the shredded comment. I am a big ol pile of mozzarella cheese here.

Sherlock is certainly dancing under Moriarty's thumb here, yikes!

(great.... Now I want pizza, too!)
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:04 pm (UTC)
Mmm... pizza...!!!

Apologies for the shredding! Yes, this is as close to helpless as I can imagine poor Sherlock. Moriarty is a bad, bad man.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Have a bite of mozzarella for me, okay? ;)
leone.dreamwidth.org
Oct. 20th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
I think amedia said it best. That was very powerful, and tragic, and I think the ending was exactly right. Moriarty is no fool. He's not missing anything important in the philosophy that caring makes a person weaker--because it does. It can also make a person stronger, but Moriarty knows that too. He's not missing it--he's working around it, and in that way he does bring Sherlock down. Brilliant.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this. It's wonderful to hear that the ending struck the right note.

Moriarty is no fool. He's not missing anything important in the philosophy that caring makes a person weaker--because it does. It can also make a person stronger, but Moriarty knows that too. He's not missing it--he's working around it, and in that way he does bring Sherlock down.

Oh, this! THIS! You've stated it so clearly and eloquently here. That's exactly what I imagined happening. Thank you so much for underscoring this. I'm thrilled it came through in the story, especially the part about working around it: John's and Lestrade's caring truly does make them remarkably strong here, but Moriarty knows how to use their heroism to his advantage to torment Sherlock further -- to, as you say so well, "bring Sherlock down."

I'm so happy that this worked for you. I can't thank you enough for your lovely comments, but I'll try: thank you!
brighteyed_jill
Oct. 20th, 2011 05:26 pm (UTC)
I should know better than to click on these things while I'm at work! You keep making me cry! This is so painful, but so appropriate. All three of the captive men respond in ways that are perfectly in character: I loved how Lestrade and John are both defiant, and progress to saying goodbye in as dignified a way as they can. And Mycroft, god, Mycroft. What he did is absolutely true to form, but also terrible. Moriarty has devised the perfect torture for Sherlock in making him helpless. And noble Mrs. Hudson, determined to remove herself as a barrier to Sherlock's rescue of them.

"So very touching," Moriarty cooed. "But was it, Sherlock? Was it worth it? Are you proud of yourself?"

Oh honey, this is devastating! I mean that as a compliment, of course.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC)
Oh noes! I'm sorry! *hugs you* That said, thanks for letting me know you found this to be properly moving. That means a lot.

I'm thrilled you found this to be in character, especially for Mycroft (whose sections were tough to write, I must say) and Mrs Hudson (what an amazing woman she is). It was difficult for me to imagine Sherlock helpless, so I'm glad this worked for you as the "perfect torture" for him. I couldn't think of anything worse, from his perspective - even the heroism and loyalty of John and Lestrade would become weapons Moriarty could wield against him to torment him more.

It's good to know that Moriarty's final mocking questions struck the right note. I definitely take "devastating" as a compliment in this context - thank you so much, my friend!

Now, virtual tea and scones and cuddly little puppies...! *g*
ascendant_angel
Oct. 20th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
Exquisite agony. You just ripped my heart out and stomped on it. I'm too broken for further comment, except to maybe ask for a rescue.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't want you to be broken! That said, I can't thank you enough for the "exquisite agony" comment. Considering the prompt from which I was working, I can't think of a higher compliment for the story, and I'm grateful. I was a bit nervous about this one (which is why I sat on it for a couple of months, to be honest), so it means a lot to know you found it to be properly moving.

I wanted to leave the ending a bit ambiguous, so you're more than welcome to imagine whatever conclusion (including rescue) you like.

Thank you so much for reading and for commenting. It's lovely of you, and it means a lot to me!
fanbot
Oct. 20th, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC)
Damn. Very potent.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! I really appreciate it.
kcscribbler
Oct. 20th, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC)
I'm torn between wanting to hate you and worship your magnificent ability to burn more than just Sherlock's heart out.

This will be staying with me for a while. Going off to look at pictures of kittens now, kittens are good... *shivers*
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
Kittens! Puppies! Baby bunnies with fuzzy ears! *g*

Seriously, though, thank you so much for saying that you found this to be moving. That means a lot to me, and I'm grateful to you.

I appreciate it!

Edited at 2011-10-21 07:55 pm (UTC)
ghislainem70
Oct. 20th, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
*sobbing helplessly*. I am a complete wreck. What majestic agonies. Thank you for bravely guiding us to this dark place.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:45 pm (UTC)
Oh noes! *offers you virtual tissues and tea* I am sorry - but, selfishly, I'm also grateful to know that you found this to be properly moving. I really appreciate your willingness to go to this dark place with me. *hugs* Thank you, my friend!
(no subject) - ghislainem70 - Oct. 21st, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
pony_rocks
Oct. 20th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Terribly and terrifyingly good.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm delighted that this worked for you! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind feedback. I appreciate it.
archea2
Oct. 20th, 2011 07:04 pm (UTC)
Beautiful. Your horror stories are always so neatly written, with a sort of elegiac elegance that doesn't make them less potent but produces the "exquisite pain" someone above was mentioning. Mycroft's fate is where horror gathers, but Mrs Hudson's quiet resolution is even more heartbreaking, because it seems that Mycroft would have taken the possibility of suicide in stride when he became powerful, but Mrs Hudson is such an ingrained survivor that with her, it becomes even more poignant.

And Sherlock's men's last words are both predictable and so sad. (I'm so glad you made Sherlock weep this time.^^)
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)
You always leave such incredibly lovely, not to mention insightful, comments, and I can't thank you enough. It thrills me that the writing style worked here. (I had to pause and flail about a bit at your your "elegiac elegance" description. What a wonderful compliment! I can't even... Thank you.)

I'm especially pleased that the layering of and implied comparisons between Mycroft's action and Mrs Hudson's resolution seemed fitting. I agree wholeheartedly that Mycroft would always hold suicide in his mind as an alternative of last resort due to his position, but for Mrs Hudson the survivor, it seems to me even more horrible to contemplate -- and much more of a sacrifice, in a way, because she never before would have considered such an option.

(I'm so glad you made Sherlock weep this time.^^)

Oh, I'm so glad this seemed fitting! It felt right here, after this long period of helplessness, devoid of all of those he'd normally turn to for help (John, Lestrade, Mycroft) save one, that he would find the prospect of losing her, too, to be the final almost-blow that broke him. I get the impression that he's willing to be more open in front of her as a general rule, as well. Poor, poor Sherlock. I'm always wary of going over the top, though, so I'm glad to hear this was enough, but not too much.

I appreciate your reading and commenting so much. As always, I find your feedback to be wonderfully helpful and encouraging. Thank you!

Edited at 2011-10-21 08:16 pm (UTC)
maggie_conagher
Oct. 20th, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC)
my stomach hurts and i think i might throw up.
well done.
thank you.
shy smile.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
Ack!

I'm sorry. But I'm also glad you found this to be affecting/moving. I do hope you feel better! *offers virtual tea, scones, and a smile back at you*

Thank you so much for reading this and commenting. I really appreciate it -- and you!
annietalbot
Oct. 20th, 2011 10:07 pm (UTC)
Jesus, this is good. And horrible. And awe-inspiring.

The thing that gets me with your stuff is how well you know your characters. Each and every one of them. So nothing's wasted. And everyone, everything counts.
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 08:23 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, thank you so much! I'm so pleased that this worked for you and that you found it to be properly moving.

The thing that gets me with your stuff is how well you know your characters. Each and every one of them. So nothing's wasted. And everyone, everything counts.

Well, now you've left me speechless and rather teary-eyed. Honestly, I can't think of a better compliment to receive. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate this. Thank you for your generous words.

You've made my day! Thank you!

Edited at 2011-10-21 08:23 pm (UTC)
prettybirdy979
Oct. 21st, 2011 12:32 am (UTC)
.......*cries* My heart! That was utterly heartbreaking and yet... I'm glad I read it.

You've captured the relationship between Sherlock and the three most important men in his life (to quote you) so perfectly. The devotion they have for him, and he has for them... Perfect.

I did love John and Lestrade's cheek- just like them. =)
morganstuart
Oct. 21st, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC)
*hugs you* I'm so happy that you're glad you read this, even if you thought it heartbreaking. (And, selfishly, I'm glad you felt it was properly moving, too.) It's wonderful to hear that the relationship between Sherlock and the others seemed right and in character. And I'm delighted that the way John and Lestrade talk back to Moriarty worked, as well. Thank you so much for your kind comments! I really appreciate them, my friend.
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