"Be careful up there! You might fall."
Naz kept climbing up the play structure. "I'm fine, Dad."
John sighed. Didn't matter that he'd fallen off it last week and cried the entire way home; literally nothing could dissuade Nazir Watson from scaling the play structure like it was K2. John tilted his head. Well, more like Kilimanjaro. It was kind of a walkup, he supposed. Why was he thinking in mountaineering metaphors? He needed a nap, probably.
His phone beeped. Keeping one eye on Naz's ascent, he pulled it out and flipped through to his email. Christ, Pfizer wanted another round of revisions? The last set had been absolutely up to EMA standards, so unless they were trying to hide all the major side effects--and he wasn't going to let them do that, thanks very much, if you hire a doctor to write your drug approval documentation you've got to expect they care a bit about the patients--they didn't need more finessing. He huffed. At least he billed by the hour. Maybe he'd have time to look at it after Naz went to bed. Mary's not home until seven tonight--no time before then.
He put his phone back in his pocket and reassured himself that Naz was still on top of the climbing structure and was neither upset nor somehow terrorizing other children. For a long moment, there was nothing in his head but the chill and the damp of the January day, and the noises of children in uproar on the playground in front of him.
"He's quite the climber," said a voice behind him.
It had been years; John was surprised that hearing Mycroft Holmes's voice could still make something burning and cold settle in his belly. He glanced over his shoulder warily. Mycroft was letting himself go grey, it seemed, and the hands wrapped around the umbrella handle were more aged, but his posture, the drape of his winter coat against the fine wool of his trousers, the vague and annoying haughtiness as he looked over the playground, they were all the same as ever.
John turned back to watching Naz. "What do you want?"
Mycroft settled on the bench and folded his legs. "I wanted to speak with you. And, frankly, I thought it more likely that you'd be willing to do so, or at least less…vociferous in your objections, were I to approach you publicly. My apologies for cornering you, John, but it seemed to be for the best."
Naz was negotiating something between two kids taller than him. John didn't let himself look over at Mycroft, because he knew what he'd be looking for if he did, and that hurt. He didn't want to start thinking about how Sherlock would have aged these seven years, because he's taken enough emotional blows to the kidneys in his life, he doesn't need any more. "I am not particularly interested in anything you have to say."
"I understand that. But, nevertheless." Mycroft cleared his throat. "How old is Nazir now? Five?"
John wanted to snap at him to stop playing stupid, but the part of him that wasn't wounded and hissing pointed out that this was Mycroft trying to act normal. He took a long exhale. "Five, yes. He's in reception."
"Ah. And is he enjoying it?"
John's smile was involuntary, but he caught it before he let it all the way out. "Very much. It's a good crowd of kids, and he's a bit of a social butterfly. No idea where he gets it from."
Mycroft nodded sagely, his sharp eyes following Naz as he led a bunch of kids over towards the swings on what might have been a raiding mission, or might have merely been a race. "And Ms. Murstani? I read her piece in Comment is Free last month. Her rhetorical skills are quite well honed."
John snorted. The mere fact that perfectly upright Mycroft was complimenting his bolshy wife's attack on government education policy--it was impossible to maintain the level of frigidness he wanted to, not in the face of this absurdity. "I didn't take you for a Guardian reader."
The face that Mycroft made at that was a pleasure to behold, but his glance over at John seemed to suggest this was a conscious game of back and forth. "Well. I have staff to take care of unpleasant things for me."
"Of course." John rested his elbows on his knees. "What did she do to earn your surveillance, then? I wasn't aware the Ministry of Education was in your sphere of influence."
"Mmm, only peripherally. No, John. Her surveillance is secondary to yours, of course."
John watched Naz as he wandered off from the group to fuck around with sticks for a while, and thought about that. The thing was, for Mycroft, surveillance was an act of affection. Fucked up as it was, John found that, on reflection, he was still touched that Mycroft thought of him as family. He took a deep breath and leaned back. "All right, then. Full marks for small talk. What do you want?"
Mycroft turned, so that his body faced John. John hadn't been looked at by a Holmes in a long time, and something painful echoed inside him to feel it--but those were good memories, if he could skate around the gaping loss in the middle. "I find myself, John, with a problem that I believe you are uniquely equipped to solve."
John barked a laugh. "I highly doubt that's true. I haven't fired a gun in seven years. I haven't revalidated my medical license since it expired four years ago. I am a part-time freelance medical writer whose major daily chores revolve around the social life of a five year old. So, unless you have a pressing argument about Legos to sort out, or possibly need someone write new copy for a miracle drug you've patented, my skill set is absolutely trumped by just about anyone else."
"I believe you sell yourself short," Mycroft said. John refused to turn to look at him full on, but threw him a glance. Mycroft leaned in slightly closer, and began to speak in a voice that, while not hushed, was designed not to carry. "You see, John, I have spent the last seven years working on a very peculiar problem, which has now come to a head. During this period, I engaged, alongside other projects more crucial to the national interest, in the eradication of the web of criminal enterprises tied to James Moriarty. Among my colleagues, my interest was regarded as an eccentricity, but accepted. Personally, I viewed it as a form of penance. So imagine my surprise when I noticed that I was not the only person engaged in the project of eradicating individuals tied with this network."
John turned to look at Mycroft sharply. "If you think I--"
"I did, at first, but no, obviously not. Your travel patterns alone precluded it. The eliminations I tracked were global in scale, but incredibly precise. More importantly, whoever was conducting them left no evidence behind, but did engage in symbolic markings on bodies or near them. While the actual events were carried out precisely, these were deeply personal actions, wherever they took place. There was also no thread that bound the criminals involved except Moriarty. So you see what I realized, John. The person who was engaged in this campaign was highly motivated, extremely skilled, and had profoundly personal reasons for specifically targeting Moriarty's network, and only Moriarty's network."
John felt a prickle at the back of his neck. He didn't know where this was going, but it scared him.
"It took years, John," Mycroft said, pitching his voice so it couldn't be heard by those not on the bench. "Eventually, I managed to locate the individual responsible, living under an assumed name--the last in a long string of them. Although it was not easy, my personnel have been able to retrieve and repatriate this individual, who is, for the first time in many years, on British soil yet again."
There was a buzz in John's ears that Mycroft's voice somehow cut through perfectly. "What are you saying?" he asked, his voice perfectly still.
"I'm saying," Mycroft said, "that my brother is currently being held in a military facility outside of London."
John gave himself a lot of credit for not passing out at that. For not collapsing at the words, and at the sudden rush of blood before his eyes--warm blood on the textured cement of the pavement, sliding through hair across a skull rendered pliant by impact, the still, still brush of skin under his fingers. It's amazing to him, when he can think about it objectively, how tactile his flashbacks are, how precisely he is recalled to a time or a place through the sensations his body can summon up. He dragged himself back into the body on the bench, where his fingers were going numb from the cold, and tried to make himself think. "That's not possible."
"Two years ago, I would have agreed with you. And yet, it is the case."
John stood up. He didn't quite know why; his body wasn't acting properly. He couldn't leave, couldn't make a scene, not with Naz here, and damn Mycroft for knowing exactly how to do this to keep him in line. He spun around and faced him head on. "I was there, Mycroft. I saw it. Tell me how it is even remotely possible that what you are saying is true."
"I cannot tell you how it is true, John. Merely that it is."
Mycroft's intense steadiness is almost disconcerting, but somehow provides what John needs to anchor himself back in this moment. "What does he say, then? If it's really him. If this isn't--Christ, Mycroft, if this is some sort of joke--"
"It is him. I did have DNA records compared, but, frankly, even before that--" Mycroft glanced down. He cleared his throat. "I was there when they took him off the plane. It's him."
John sat down in a way that fell just short of collapsing onto the bench. He took a deep breath. "Then--how. He has to have told you how he did it. Or why."
"And we come to it," Mycroft said.
John looked up in confusion.
"He's not speaking."
John watched his face for a moment. "Is it physical?"
"No. He spoke to me, briefly, when we deplaned him, though his demeanor was uncharacteristically flat. But since he was removed to the facility where he is currently be held, he has not spoken."
Through the ringing in his ears, John felt some edge of diagnostic ability creeping back to him. "Eliminations, you said. Meaning murders. Highly personal, which means bloody and violent. A delayed trauma reaction? What are they medicating him with?"
Mycroft's smile at this was bitter. "The problems continue. While he has not spoken, he has also refused any form of treatment. Not by any means as simple as verbal refusal, of course. One nurse's arm was broken in three places. A doctor's collar bone was shattered. Briefly, they were able to restrain him and run an IV line, but he removed it."
"Christ." John could see it now; a silent wraith, tearing a hospital room to shreds with his bare hands. And he knew why Mycroft was here. "You want me to treat him."
"Not, precisely, in your capacity as a physician," Mycroft said, quietly. "Although I believe your skills in that area will be relevant. Instead--" Mycroft cleared his throat. "I believe he will respond to you, John. In ways he will not to others."
The chill that ran down John's spine hurt. Because who was he, to this man who'd spent the last seven years murdering his way across the criminal classes? He was nothing. There wasn't anything he could be to a dead man. But at the same time, there was a tinge of hope that hovered around him, now that the fight-or-flight was gone. Because if this was true--if this wasn't some trick--then--then miracles were possible. And he'd do anything he could to make sure the miracle worked out.
"Tell me what I need to do," John said.
John looked up. He'd been staring blankly at his computer for an hour. Technically, the notes from Pfizer were open on it. Realistically, he couldn't bill for time spent with his eyes unfocused in the general vicinity of work. Mary was leaning on the edge of the door from the kitchen to the sitting room, a glass of wine in her hand, watching him with worry in her eyes. "Sorry. Did you call?"
"I just asked if you wanted a glass." She walked in and sat down in the other armchair, and placed her glass neatly on a coaster. "Is everything all right? You've been out of it all night."
He closed the laptop. He'd thought about what to say--been thinking about it even as he'd gathered Naz up from the playground, cooked supper, sent him to bed--but it wasn't easy to even concentrate enough to get the words out. "I spoke to someone today. Someone I used to know. From the government." Mary's face got that slight look of discomfort it always did when he referenced his military service. He knew it made her uncomfortable--and he didn't blame her, which is why he never talked about it any more--and he felt bad, now, in this moment, for making use of that fact. "There's someone, a friend. He was, um. On a mission. A long one. He's having trouble coping with--you know. The transition. Back to--" He made a gesture, as if encompassing all of London, normal life, something like that. "They've asked me to meet with him. Try to help get him back on his feet."
Mary toyed with the stem of her glass. "Why you? Aren't there people who are trained for this sort of thing? I mean, you're not a psychologist or anything."
"No, I know, it's that--well. More of a peer support thing, you know." John looked out into the back garden through the sliding doors, and tried to come up with a way to explain something about this. He was keeping back all the important bits, but that didn't mean he wanted to lie. "Just a sense that--that the world is still here. I thought I'd go see him. He's just outside London a bit. Just a day trip, to visit."
And Mary just have caught the edge of that, like he was asking permission, because she waved her hand. "I mean, of course you should. Do you want me to call the daycare to take Naz for a day after school, or--"
"No, I think--I checked the train, and I can be up and back before he's home." He was too dizzy to plan, but he somehow doubted that he was going only once. "I just. Yeah. Just something I need to do."
"Absolutely," she said. "Are you OK?"
"Fine," he said, and flashed her the best smile he could produce at the moment, which wasn't particularly enlightening but was something. "Just, you know. Preoccupied."
She smiled back. He liked her smile; it was one of the first things he found himself really liking about her, and he still liked seeing it, even if the fire that held them together had become merely a hum of familiarity. "Of course, love."
He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the back of the chair. "Rewrites aren't getting done tonight, I think."
"In that case, do you mind if I turn on the telly? Maybe it'll get your mind off it."
"Mmm," he said, nodding. Eyes still closed, he listed to the noise of the telly as she dug a QI episode out of the plus box, and let the sounds wash over him. Because there was only one thing he'd been thinking, all day, ever since Mycroft leaned close to him on a bench and murmured the impossible truth.