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The Least of All Possible Mistakes

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George isn't actually sure how the tomblike silence in the car turns into a fight, but one minute her jaw is locked shut and Mycroft is looking pointedly in the other direction, and the next it's like someone lit a fire in a napalm factory.

She has no clue what the original plan is, but ten minutes into the drive Mark — poor bastard — is pulling abruptly off the side of the road in some grotty hellhole and George is shoving her way out of the car into what is probably a camera blind alley. She puts the Bentley between Mycroft and her overwhelming urge to beat him to death with her handbag.

"This is my job," George is snarling, "and I just barely got it back."

Mycroft is actually clutching at the door of the car, white-knuckled. "I came to you with this because I thought you'd be reasonable about it, Georgiana."

She gets dizzy she's so furious. "Reasonable? How is this reasonable?"

"It's a leave of absence, not a resignation," he tells her, with familiar gravity in his voice, that particular tone she's always believed when applied to other people. "And it's warranted given the circumstances. I can't give you the details, but believe me that — "

"I am not one of your lackeys or some stranger to be fobbed off with a shite excuse about Queen and county," George yells. She lived with him. She waited up to have meals with him and stroked his hair and loves him, haunts the house they made a home because of him. He owes her more than this: an argument under an Overground bridge. "I deserve to know."

"And then what? Then will you do what I've asked?" Mycroft asks savagely, but his face is in one of those ugly, petty frowns, so he must already know the answer.

If Mycroft had picked this fight in their bedroom, in the kitchen, if they were still together, she'd be bemused and annoyed but she'd hear him out, at least. Maybe she would even do as he says, because George is past the age of being so arrogant she believes she has the best judgment in any given situation, without all the facts. And those Holmes boys have snake charmer eyes and fortune telling voices, and George knows she falls for it too much — that she'll let them into the crime scenes and onto the guest chairs of her hospital room, that she'll let him keep her like a jealously guarded secret and run languid fingers through her hair until all the fight goes out of her.

But this isn't Lyall Street. This is some shitty alley in Bermondsey and that cold numbness that had taken root in the base of her spine has ripped open into something that tastes desperate and more than a little crazy on George's tongue. She's lost Sherlock and she's lost Mycroft and she's losing John and the directionless urgency, the helpless panic that is a constant hound at George's heels is difficult to articulate.

"Just tell me," George croaks. "Just — whatever it is. Tell me."

"I'm trying to keep you safe," is Mycroft's answer, and the elegant line of his words is beginning to fray, a static crackle seeping into his voice.

George asks, "Safe from what? What's happened to change everything?"

Because as much as Mycroft had fretted when she'd come home from cases wrung out or covered in soot, with cuts and bruises and scrapes he'd never hinted that she ought to stop, that it was anything other than the consequences of doing business. The fights she'd had with Tom a lifetime ago — the ones that had rattled the roof and the neighbors — had stayed safely buried, because Mycroft's worry for her had been as abstract a thing as George's for him: real, but formless, with unspoken acknowledgement that they'd read the fine print going in.

"It's beyond Met jurisdiction, Georgiana," Mycroft says through gritted teeth.

"Is it about Sherlock?" George asks, because it's pointless to follow his lead here. Mycroft will have plotted out this argument to every eventuality, and she learned from long years of dealing with his brother, from dealing with him, that to win she has to keep throwing everything at the wall until something sticks. She offers, "I'm not going to kill myself — " a pause " — although at this rate John might."

Mycroft blinks at her, a lazy sweep of lashes that would be a flinch on anyone else.

"Do you think people at the Met are going to give me shit when I go back to work?" she asks.

"Yes," Mycroft tells her, but he sounds unworried about it. "But you would hardly be the woman you are if that sort of thing affected you."

"Then what?" George says, past fury and hurt and operating on automatic, now. "What do you think is so dangerous about me going back to the mountains of reproducing paperwork on my desk? I'm not suicidal, Moriarty or Rich Brooks or whoever he is is dead, and — "

George freezes at the sudden look on Mycroft's face: blank nothingness, stress smoothing away from the edges and every fracture gone flawless.

" — he's not dead?" she asks.

Mycroft's mouth folds itself into a flat, angry line. "He's dead."

George narrows her eyes, because her face is a series of unavoidable tells anyway. "But he's still a threat somehow. Copycat? Accomplice? Partner?"

"Georgiana, taking drastic action — especially on someone with whom I've had such an involved relationship — is distasteful, but if you continue in this manner, I will," Mycroft warns.

He says it in that crisply threatening way that must work wonders on people who don't know him. His voice is all posh consonants and swallowed syllables, and married to the geometric lines of his suit, the chain of his pocketwatch and the ebony handle of his umbrella it's quite some rank to pull standing in a dark alley in London.

"Involved relationship," George says flatly.

He glowers. "I would prefer not to be crude."

Just say it, George wants to dare him. Call it what you think it was. If you say we were just fucking, that I was convenient, I won't believe you. You spilled too many secrets to me, and I'm greedy: I kept them all. You love me. You're terrified for me.

She doesn't say any of it. She says, "Do it then."

"I beg your pardon?" he asks.

"Drastic action," George invites. "Do whatever it is you'd do to someone else who's inconveniencing one of your operations."

"Georgiana," Mycroft growls.

"What's it to be, Mycroft? Private prisons in Yemen or do I just get disappeared?" she asks, because the petty, moral questions had always seemed so stupid in the face of how he stroked long fingers down her spine. Here, she doesn't have a moment to ruin. "What will you tell my mother, when she wonders where I've gone? Or will you play the coward to the very end and send Anthea with a box of my remaining possessions and no explanatory note?"

"This is life or death for more than you or I," Mycroft barks at her, voice rising in pitch now. "This isn't about your hurt feelings or whether I trust you."

"Good," George spits at him. "Great. Nothing messy and inconvenient then — you should be able to explain this to me bloodlessly."

It's lucky the car's in between them, George thinks, because Mycroft has a look on his face that sends a shiver up her spine. He looks like he wants to shove her up against a wall and loom, grind the back of her wrist into the brick until she listens. She'd like for him to try it. But he won't and she couldn't really hurt him anyway so they're at an impasse, and George can read the calculations on Mycroft's face, the consideration of every eventuality and determination of probabilities.

It's ages, eons after she spoke that he says finally, "It's not over."

That could mean anything, and George says so.

"My men found three sniper hide sites," Mycroft goes on, his tone flat now, mechanical. At Bart's, at Baker Street — " he stares at her, unblinking " — at the Met."

George's stomach turns. "When?"

"The day Sherlock jumped," he says, looking down to inspect his cuffs before he looks back up at her to add: "I assume that the likelihood of your, John, and Mrs. Hudson's murders were the reason he jumped at all."

Mycroft probably means it to be emotionally dismantling, the verbal equivalent of cutting off her supply lines and salting and burning the earth. It's stunning, George admits, it disorients her like absinthe long enough she lets herself get ushered back in the car and delivered to the Lyall Street house, Mycroft's familiar hand closed over her own on the leather seat between them.

He kisses the inside of her wrist before letting her go: a lingering thing, longing, breathing her in, George call tell. She waits until the car is long gone, until night's fallen and the street is quiet and Mycroft's spies have probably reported she's prostrate in their bed before she reaches for her mobile.

***

John manages to say, "What is — ?" in the entryway before George grabs him by the collar of his jumper and drags him in for a kiss. It's bruising more than anything else, but it keeps John's mouth occupied as she kicks the front door shut and drags him into the house, slides her hands up the back of his shirt and drags out the tails of his oxford as she pulls him toward the staircase.

"Okay," John says, when she breaks for air, and he has a flatteringly stunned look on his face. "Right, so this isn't as awkward as I thought the awkward sex would be."

"Shut up and follow me," George tells him, and she takes care to stop by a window so she can pull off his jumper before shoving him up the steps, dragging him along the landing.

John actually looks torn between concern for her fraying sanity and arousal by the time she slams the bedroom door.

"I find myself in the strange position of still thinking we shouldn't sleep together," John confesses to her, and he sounds horrified he's saying it, standing warily by the foot of the bed looking hard and hard-done-by.

"Good," George tells him, "because mostly I needed to get you into a bug proof room and tell you that the day Sherlock jumped it was because there were snipers Bart's, your flat, and my office."

***

It's not as if they really need records of the day or anything other than their own heads. No one in the world could know Sherlock's death or its circumstances better than John and George — even Mycroft with his wiretaps and zoom lenses can't tell her how it felt to be standing under a gray January sky watching the fall. John is plagued by the eidetic scar and George constantly dizzy with the echo.

"So he was pushed," John says.

It's the fourth time he's said it, and George imagines it must be a relief to direct his anger at someone other than Sherlock, to know that Sherlock hadn't wanted to leave him after all. John is getting that look on his face, the one with hard lines and right angles that speaks of the iron core in his spine that made him so perfectly tuned for the military, to the crack of a gun.

"By circumstances if not by physical hands, yeah," George says, perched at the head of the mattress and curling her fingers around the headboard for an anchor. "I just — if Mycroft's asking me to take a leave of absence — "

John scowls.

" — then it means there's still someone out there," George concludes.

"Why haven't they acted yet?" John asks, slumping down into the chair in the corner and clawing at the armrests.

George frowns. "Why would they act at all?"

"We're loose ends," John guesses.

"To what?" she asks, unfolding herself in the bed and feeling her left knee ache, her bad shoulder throb. "If we can agree that Sherlock was always the target — " John nods " — then what's the point of wasting further effort and resources on you and I?"

Rubbing a hand over his face, John says, "I don't know, but if Mycroft thinks we're in harm's way."

"Yes, that is worrying," George mutters, and flops back across the snowy duvet, staring at the gilded ceiling, the lozenge design in the center. "Do you think Moriarty had a partner?"

John laughs, low. "Must have done. Even Sherlock Holmes had a partner."

His face is tired and awful when she turns to look at him, and George has a momentary flash of doubt: maybe she shouldn't have told him. But she believes that disclosure, no matter how painful, is for the best, and in all the world the only person who can help her with this now — who won't try to stop her — is John Watson.

George reaches a hand out to him, waving him closer.

He looks curious, but he comes, and lets George lace their fingers together and sits down next to her, following George's gaze up to her stupidly posh ceiling in her stupidly posh house in the stupidly posh disaster area of their intersecting lives.

"I thought the sex thing was just a ruse," John says, straining for a quip where she can hear exhaustion in all the syllables.

"If you manage to stay awake for forty more minutes, you can have a go at me," George promises.

He's quiet for a long time before saying, "Christ."

She squeezes his hand. "You'll help me, right?" she asks, because Sherlock Holmes was the best judge of character she'd ever known, and he'd loved John with a consuming certainty in the rightness of him.

George has no doubt, no doubt, that Mycroft will find an answer and punctuate it with a wake of destruction, and he'll never tell them the truth. That's if he manages to overcome his sense of duty to the state and overwhelming paternalism to tell them anything at all. Maybe George and John can't and shouldn't know, for Queen and country, but they deserve to, have an sluggishly bleeding mark that needs to be staunched. George isn't afraid of what Mycroft might be doing; she's only afraid he'll do it and she'll never feel the hollow satisfaction of whatever it is.

"We'll figure it out," John says, to both of them, for both of them. "Sherlock would kill us if we left this puzzle undone, wouldn't he?"

For months now George has felt underwater, pulled by currents in directions she doesn't control, and when she wakes up the next morning to the sound of John Watson's quiet breathing in her ear, she feels sharp and perfectly in focus in a way that feels foreign from long absence.

She'd forgotten — in the midst of her grieving and her self-pity and her anger — that it doesn't matter what other people read across her skin. No matter where she lives or who she's fucking or what her job description, George is still the same woman who stares down murderers and knows how to take the recoil of an MP5. London is still her city and Sherlock is still her responsibility: a weight she doesn't mind.

"Yeah," George says. "We'll figure it out."

John clears his throat, and when George turns to catch his gaze, he looks uncomfortable. "Maybe you should take that leave, though, until we've sorted it out."

"And what would I do if I did?" she asks reasonably. "Sit here and wait it out?"

"Probably Mycroft's preferred outcome," John says, saying Mycroft's name in the vicious tone of a man with a grudge.

"Forgive me for discounting Mycroft's preferred outcomes from my own of late," George mutters. She's comfortable in her pettiness in front of John Watson, who once salted a dictionary with pop cultural terms for a violently bloodthirsty game of Scrabble with Sherlock, which led to a dozen 2 a.m. texts from the man asking things like, Is "butterbeer" actually a Scrabble-allowed term need reply ASAP and John says I've never heard of "vajazzling" because it's a female thing and thus I've deleted it is this true reply needed ASAP. "And anyway, we're going to need me to get access to any files."

With philosophical resignation, John says, "Funny. I wonder what Mycroft'll have me shot for first — shagging you or putting you in the line of fire."

Which sets George off laughing wildly, for the first time in a long time, and she curls up on her side still huffing giggles into the pillow as John lies down and drags her close, presses a kiss to her temple and slips an arm under her cheek in the blue darkness of the bedroom.

It's here, in the quiet, after all George hears is their breathing in synchrony, that John whispers, "Sorry. I've been a bad friend. I wasn't the only one who lost someone."

"It's not your fault," George tells him, because she can't say any of the other things welling up in her throat, the way she's so grateful that he understands, that he's here, so she just presses her face into his shoulder, seeking animal comfort.

It's telling of the type of relationship she and John would have had given drastically different circumstances that she says, "Anyway, you'll have to stay the night or else it'll look like it was bad sex," and his reply is, "You're going to need to limp a little in the morning."

***

John insists on putting on a show in the morning under the "fuck it, I'm probably already marked for death so I may as well enjoy this" codicil of his particular brand of madness. Which means that after a breakfast of demoralizing Alpen and Belvita biscuits he kisses her in the doorway of the house — with tongue.

"You are asking for it, John Watson," George laughs, when he breaks away for oxygen, because her happiness with John is an easy, uncomplicated one.

"Yeah," he agrees, and takes her hand for a reassuring squeeze.

She wonders if this is how he felt in his humvee in Afghanistan: perched voluntarily on the edge of disaster. George is too practical to have ever opted for this type of danger before, and she stares and stares into his worn face and his deceptively kind eyes and wonders what kind of person she's turned into that this isn't frightening — or what kind of person she's maybe always been, hidden just underneath a skin of boring prudence.

He hesitates before leaning in again, pressing a lingering kiss to her temple, and George draws him in for a hug because he always looks like he needs one. She whispers, "Meet you at mine tonight?"

"You bring the paperwork, I'll get the takeaway?" he offers, and sees her off to her Golf with a hand on the small of her back, charmingly solicitous. George doesn't at all blame the women who hope against hope John will actually stick around.

Weirdly, that's the least awkward part of her day.

Apparently, the only thing more uncomfortable than being back at work after a Christmas party where the entire Metropolitan police force watched your marriage disintegrate is being back at work after the entire Metropolitan police force watched you tarred, feathered, and subsequently exonerated and deified by the public relations department. There are actually fucking flowers on her desk, which George would almost by amused by except they're from Potter.

"Right," Davison says, pausing in the doorway of her office clutching a monstrous pile of folders and photographs and ominous-looking baggies of smeary red evidence. "Well. Good to be back, I guess?"

George finishes stomping the lilies into a white and bruised-brown mess in her rubbish bin and smiles serenely back up at him. "It is, Davison. It really is."

The backlog's pretty horrific, as if the Met and Crown Prosecutors picked over her cases for all the easy ones to bring to court and sandbagged anything that looked like it might have a smudge of Sherlock's involvement, and fuck the families and victims as long as they were keeping their own cowardly noses clean. The Met's been chronically short staffed since it was still the Bow Street Runners, but this is completely ridiculous: there're more than 50 cases that should been in some state of trial or prep, 20 have been pled out and the rest are buried under motions and delays and reschedules. She'd give Davison grief about it but he has tell-tale circles under his eyes and that nervy look every time he checks his mobile. George can put two and two together and reach long, desperate hours and angry wife well enough, no matter how out of practice.

"So should I ask where the fuck Sally and Anderson are, and why they haven't been helping you deal with this shit or push the prosecutors or just draw my own conclusions," George asks casually in a way that it's not really a question.

Looking bleak, Davison says, "Ma'am."

Kerrigan's door is soundly shut when George marches up two levels to yell at him, her heels sinking into the gray-purple carpet. Kerrigan relies on a combination of his legend and the presumed cowardice of his underlings to manage his time, and never actually locks his office, so George just barrels in both guns blazing, feeling steam coming out of her ears.

He takes one look at her before he's holding up placating hands.

"It wasn't me, George," he starts. "Nobody wanted to touch it."

"So that meant it was fine we're now literally three months behind and I've got a voice mail box overwhelmed with grieving families," she snarls at him. "Just because I was suspended didn't mean someone couldn't have picked up the cases."

Kerrigan frowns at her, kindly if that's possible. "A lot of those cases had Sherlock bloody Holmes's fingerprints all over them. You tell me if given your fucking witch burning it's reasonable anybody would have jumped in."

"Fine, fuck it," George retorts, because she's not going to get into the fact that they've left Davison in a hole and the people of London in a fucking lurch over bullshit workplace politics. She has nothing but time now to get this sorted. "I'd like to request some transfers then — or will you deny me further resources to carry out my sworn duties as an officer of the law?"

Rightfully, Kerrigan looks pained.

***

She and John eat in the garden that night, fragrant and oil-stained boxes from Sedap spilling out across the tables in the green, fairy-lit corners, hydrangeas still blooming dozy-headed and riotous along the high fence, and vines crawling up the back of the house. They'd started off trying seriously to fit the puzzle pieces together, but the wine is flowing and neither of them had a proper wake for Sherlock before. They end of trading stories back and forth instead. In between the dishes and flatware George has spread out her files — the personal ones she kept in a locked drawer in her desk, the official ones filed in with the Met — and she's telling John about Sherlock from before John was here, before he was the missing piece that made Sherlock's mad-hatter clockwork smooth to an elegant movement.

"And of course, that's when Gregson staggered onto the scene covered in bird shit and threw himself into the fray," George says, chasing the last few pieces of beef around her dish with the tines of the fork — heavy silver, Mycroft's grandmother's — and hearing the ceramic sing. "It really was accidental."

John is choking on his beer. "Oh, my God."

"So anyway, that's the story of how I got my taser, and Sherlock collected his data on what it's like to have one's testicles zapped," she concludes. "I'm surprised he never told you that one."

Wiping at his eyes, John says, "You know, oddly, for all he has no sense of propriety, Sherlock doesn't really volunteer stories about people electrocuting his privates."

"I only wish I'd done it," George says dreamily. "Gregson's Yard legend for it."

It's funny now, in retrospect with all the edges rounded out with the blessings of long acquaintance. But she supposes that if Gregson tells the story — as he often does in exchange for free pints down the Met local — it wouldn't be as fond. It had been a bitterly cold December night and Southwark had been a nightmare of black ice and narrow passes, and Sherlock could have just as easily gotten himself or another bystander killed as secured the culprit, in the end. And even though it's funny to think of Gregson swearing violently and deploying his taser at random upon the mess of black wool and dark hair that was rolling around furiously near the Golden Hinde, it's less funny now to think of how badly it could have gone — how badly it could have gone every time — how badly it finally went.

Sherlock had always talked of London like George only ever saw the surface, that just beneath the white noise of double decker buses and the cobblestones in SoHo, there was something roiling underneath. George always thought that was wishful thinking for Sherlock, that the perilousness of his everyday life was so crushingly dull he was hoping for something more sinister than the dead rivers of London could offer.

She wishes she'd been right.

John clears his throat. "I'm moving out of Baker Street."

"I — okay, all right," George says, faltering.

Just because she's tending a mausoleum doesn't mean John wants to, but she can't imagine him anywhere else. No other flat would have a jack knife in the mantel just so, or the right series of skull prints over eye-wateringly bad wallpaper. And who would curate all they have left over? Sherlock's strange library, his collection of silk dressing gowns and his sock index? But even George's mother had eventually given away her father's things, so she just swallows all her reflexive protests to ask:

"Where will you go?"

"To Harry's," he says. "Just for a bit. Until I get sorted."

George waves back at the house. "Could stay here," she offers. "I've got the room."

There is positively a twinkle in John's eye as he says, "Can't risk it — we'd never get out of bed," and George lets him off the hook by bursting into a full-throated laugh, one that bubbles out of her into night and compels her to open another bottle of shiraz. She feels sorry for whichever surveillance team has to report that piece of witty banter to Mycroft.

The next day she interviews two dozen candidates for her team while slightly hungover. Most of them are fine if not extraordinary, and George is grimly determined the make the best of it until Hatcher staggers in, sweating profusely and offering up his just-marked detectives exam. George hires him on the spot by handing Hatcher a sheaf of documents and telling him he's on point for family liaison work starting five minutes prior. His tearful, "Sir — ma'am," is weirdly heartening, and she takes the time to throw a pad of Post-Its at him to express her overwhelming affection. DC Hatcher indeed.

Mid-afternoon, she gets a series of texts all more or less along the lines of This is not what was meant by 'leave of absence,' until George gets sick of it and grabs a legal pad so she can scrawl IF IT BOTHERS YOU SO MUCH JUST SNIPE ME I AM SITTING RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF THE FUCKING WINDOW and prop it up on the sill backed by a figurine of Wenlock in all his surveilling glory.

The nosey marketers who work in the building across the street give her a wide berth — understandably — when they cross paths at the Pret during the lunch rush.

She finalizes the transfer paperwork sending Sally off to Dimmock and keeping Hatcher for herself that afternoon, and afterward she locks herself in the second floor ladies room to have a good cry about it. The worst is that for all Sally raged that Sherlock was spoilt, George had loved Sally, too, with a firmer hand and higher expectations and a constant need to remind herself that Sally was a colleague and a subordinate and not a woman to loop arms with and gossip. George doesn't want Sally to work for anyone else — wouldn't trust them not to stifle or waste her — but she can't keep her, either, not anymore. The best she can do is torture Dimmock with threats of abuse behind the scenes and spend the better part of the evening hiding in the Met's main basement archives sorting through case files involving Sherlock so no one can see her puffy eyes.

At half-eight, when the shadows of of the room have gathered close like a cobweb cloak, she feels a touch on her shoulder and jumps about a foot at it.

"Jesus fucking Christ," she gasps, clutching at her chest and pressing herself backward against the shelving.

Moran raises his hands, palms open in apology, all smiles. "Sorry."

George slumps against the document boxes, doubling over her knees and glowering up at him, because Moran has that cheeky grin like a naughty schoolboy — delighted for a new set of pigtails to pull. Worse, he drags a leering smile up and down the length of her, and she watches him watch her bare toes with some fascination, the nails painted the dark blue of scarab beetles and chipping badly.

"Yeah, all right, say it," she invites, just to get it over with.

"No, no, it's a good look on you," he laughs, waving at her feet, the deep v of her blouse, three buttons undone, the mad state of her hair, as if this isn't exactly what George had been expecting with resigned impatience to begin with. "Very sexy."

George doesn't scowl or frown or anything that'd give her away that easily, but the corners of her mouth flatten out and her face smooths to serene indifference. "Arch," Rachel had called it, a lifetime ago. "You look arch when you do that." Folding herself away too quickly would, too, be a sign of weakness, so she forces herself to move slow, casual, disinterested, toeing her feet back into her sensible black pumps.

"What brings you down to archives?" she asks, squatting down to begin gathering her files, earmarking the ones that need photocopying, the ones that seem like they might be suspect, the ones that could use John's privileged inspection.

Moran sighs. "Not even humoring my playful advances, I see."

George wishes Mycroft had asked to marry her, so that she could have told him, "yes." She would have worn his ring, and she would have held it up right now. Instead, she heaves folders back into their boxes and glances back up at Moran, asking, "Well?"

"I heard from the evidence clerks you were down here torturing yourself with old Sherlock cases," he says, offering her a hand up, and George takes it more to mend the lingering awkwardness than out of genuine need.

Traitors, George thinks. "I'm just reviewing notes."

"Don't blame them, Lestrade," Moran says. "I bribed them with cinnamon swirls."

George looks pointedly at where he's still clutching at her fingers, but it still takes him a half-beat before he lets her go. She frowns. "Is there something I need to know here?"

"I'm sorry?" he asks.

You're acting oddly, George wants to tell him, only she doesn't know Moran well enough to know what counts for odd. Maybe he's always been a casual sexual harasser and she's never noticed because they've usually been on opposite sides of a T-board from one another. Maybe his defense of her during oftentimes contentious back-and-forths with the professional standards panels was a quiet demonstration of his admiration. Maybe he just triggers every hackle into her, her grandmother's great grandmother shivering in her grave at Moran's waning-moon smile.

She levels him a blank stare. "Is the investigation still underway?"

"No," he says to her honestly. "Just a few lingering loose ends."

"That's why you're hanging around in the basement at half-eight on Wednesday?"

"You're why I'm hanging around in a basement at half-eight on a Wednesday," Moran says to her, brazen, and tipping his head to the side, he asks, "What are you looking for, Lestrade?"

George thinks about saying, nothing, or what does it matter? or maybe I'm just wallowing in my overwhelming guilt. She actually says, "What sorts of loose ends are you looking into, Inspector Moran?"

"Why he jumped," Moran says bluntly. "What happened that day." He looks up to catch her eyes: hypnotic, considering. "Why you're still looking, as if you think there's more to this story."

"Maybe I just wanted to spend some more time with him," she says, just so she can watch the calculations start in Moran's eyes. "Relive the good times."

"By my own research, it was mostly bad times," he argues.

George sighs. "What do you want, Moran?"

He looks down at the stack of files in her arms and then back up at her face with a thoughtful expression. Moran has the mathematical gaze of the best detectives but none of their human warmth, and George roots herself to her spot on the floor so she doesn't take any instinctive steps back or away. She tries to remember if there're any of Those Stories about him — the kind that get circulated in the women's changing rooms, about getting too rough with suspects or taking freebies from hustlers, and comes up blank. George knows fuck all about Moran's history in the Midlands and he knows her entire professional history inside and out, drank tea in her kitchen, and George is suddenly furious she let him into her house.

"I want to know what you know, Lestrade," Moran tells her after a long pause.

She arches a brow at him. "What is it you think I know?"

"I think you know lots of things," he returns.

"And here I thought your investigation was over," George says, feeling the chill of the archives and the late hour prickling against her neck now, along her collar bones, down her throat — over her exposed skin. She wonders why Moran is actually here in London then, what his masters in Professional Standards had sent him to look for if it wasn't a convenient body to burn at the stake of their public embarrassment. She wonders why he keeps looking at her, as if George is hiding anything underneath her clothes.

This time, when Moran smiles, it's purposefully bashful, ducking his head so he can tell her a secret. Except George has watched Garrett do that to men and women of all stripes with such convincing sincerity she doesn't believe it anymore, not after he's walked out of so many of those moments snapping gum and unmoved.

"Isn't it suspicious, don't you think?" he asks, voice lowered, inviting. "It's Sherlock Holmes. And if even fraction of what they say about him is true, well — wasn't this all just a bit too neat?"

Neat. As if there's any sense in George's echoing empty house and her mother's quiet pity, tinged ever deeper with resignation, and John Watson leaving Baker Street. Sherlock's death is the Blitz — unrelenting in its reality — and they're all making do in the constantly changing rubble. Neat. Her nails curl into the meat of her palms so she doesn't scratch them down his face.

"It must be wonderful to see it that way, Moran," George tells him, languid with rage, and turns back to the document boxes, their guts spilled out across the concrete floors.

"I didn't mean to offend," he says, but he says like he meant something, that he'd wanted something from her, inspecting her eyes too closely.

She glances up at him and back down again, putting away folders and matching up lids, hefting boxes to their rightful places and noting the way he doesn't intervene or offer to help. Bad breeding or purposeful snub, she can't tell and doesn't care.

"I'm sure you didn't," she says, shoving away the last box, April-June of 2009, and gathers up her coat and handbag. "Anyway, that's me done for the night."

He lets her pass without comment, and George's fingers are closing around the archive room handle when Moran calls out rom behind her, his voice an echo in the chamber, "You'd tell me, though, wouldn't you?"

George looks over her shoulder, face carefully blank.

"If you found something," Moran continues, his face all angles and bleak shadows in the dim track lighting overhead, and George notices the silvery scar down his left cheek for the first time — the gleam of too-smooth skin.

She smiles her candy floss smile at him, gauzy and sweet and weightless. It's the sort of look that — with practice — can make even the most dangerous women look harmless, and George has been cultivating it all her life.

"Of course," she lies. "Good night."

***

Harry Watson post-marital flat is an emotionally dead modern palace looming over the Old Street, and after John gives her the all clear, George pops into the Sainsbury's Local downstairs for a four-pack of Stella. They sit on Harry's curved balcony looking over the kebab shops the other side of the roundabout and George kicks her shoes off to curl her toes over the edge of the railing, the sky inky with promised rain and cold weather. It's November already, clear autumn skies sweeping over the city after a grimly endless shitshow of a summer, one she and John barely noticed. George just wraps her coat — don't think about Mycroft, don't — more tightly around herself and stares out over East London.

"Where's Harry?" she asks, watching John lip at his beer.

"Hah," he snorts. "Some sort of group counseling with Clara."

George grins. "Not optimistic?"

"As you've actually been divorced, you'd be better versed in whether or not that sort of thing works," John points out. Being the only one of George's friends to have run into Tom in a completely unrelated social occasion and flagrantly overturned a pint in her ex-husband's lap, he's allowed to talk about her divorce as much as he wants.

She laughs, "Ah, Dr. Watson, that's where you're wrong! Sherlock outed him for a cheater and he promptly filed for divorce. We never even made it to therapy."

"What a cock. I should have dumped a kettle on him," John says casually, but John also casually shoots killer cabbies and casually runs around the countryside chasing monster dogs with Sherlock, so. "So what's brought you to my sister's not-at-all humble abode?"

Wincing, George takes a long draw of Stella before saying, "Sebastian Moran cornered me in archives today."

John stills. "What?"


"Cornered me in archives today," George repeats, shuddering because no matter how much hand-to-hand training she gets and how intellectually confident of her ability to get out of a bad situation, there's something in her hind brain that hates being in a dark room with an unwanted man. She'll never shake it, and she probably shouldn't. "He seems convinced I know something."

John rubs at his mouth. "Jesus — like what?"

"No clue," George admits, taking another drink. "Something about Sherlock's case — " she grimaces " — his specific words were, the whole thing was too 'neat.'"

"Neat," John spits out, the way George had wanted to. "Is he mental?"

George thinks, Probably. Out loud, she murmurs, "There's something we're missing."

"Maybe he knows about the snipers," John suggests. "Or whatever secondary systems Moriarty set up to force Sherlock to...do it."

"Maybe," George concedes.

But it doesn't feel right. Moran works for professional standards, which spends its time terrorizing their own, not examining outside cases. And if the Met was opening a secondary investigation into Sherlock's death and treating it as anything but a suicide, she and John would have been the first people hauled into interview rooms and asked if they were aware of their rights and do they know they're being videotaped.

She feels like she's just missed it, whatever it is, that he's given himself away somehow and she's just been too distracted to knit everything to together.

"I've skimmed over something," she says, rubbing the heel of her hand into her brow, the skin slick cold from the beer can. "I feel like all the pieces are already there and I'm just missing something."

"You see," John quotes, making a toast at the air, "you see but you don't observe."

George finishes off her beer. "You know what? You're right," she says. "I should do some actual police work on this."

John hands her another Stella. "Meaning?"

"Meaning you get to see the unsexy parts of all of Sherlock's mysteries now," George decides, and cracks open the can.

John politely takes the couch so George can crash out on the guest bed, and when she steps out of the bedroom the next morning it's to Harry fussing with a French press, saying, "Who are you and what have you done with my brother? There's a heterosexual woman in my spare room and you're telling me you didn't put your penis in her?"

"Harry, for fuck's sake," John says.

George, filled suddenly with good cheer, chirps, "Good morning."

John puts his face in his hands, slumped at the breakfast counter over an uninspiring plate of beans steaming gently over toast. White bread, George marvels. She'd been living with Mycroft long enough she's forgotten that's a thing people are allowed to eat.

John's sister is a compact, curvaceous woman woman with his dishwater blond hair and expert eyeliner. She's wearing a gorgeously tailored tweed jacket and skirt in her bare feet in the kitchen, and looks the kind of put together that comes from long experience overcompensating for being a mess where no one else can see it. She and John have the same eyes and share a smile, which she extends to George along with a hand.

"Harriet Watson, Harry," she introduces herself. "I've heard so much about you, George Lestrade."

George grins and takes Harry's outstretched hand. "It's very nice to put a face to the swearing, Harry."

"Well, there's my appetite gone," John interrupts, and says to George, "Don't you have to go protect London from murdering scum? — " turns to Harry " — and don't you have to go defend London's murdering scum?"

"Oh, a defense barrister," George says, delighted. "Which Inn of Court?"

"Gray's," Harry laughs, adding, "Which, yes, means I know — "

And George chimes in here so they say together, "Bloody Nick Savage," before they burst into laughter.

John looks pretty traumatized by all of it. George's explanation that Bloody Nick Savage is the most terrible and handsome bastard ever to grace the UK court system as they're sharing a cab into central London doesn't seem to help.

"So you're telling me that this man is a monster, basically," John starts.

"A beast. A proper shit," George agrees.

"And yet somehow women of all stripes and apparently all sexual orientations find him completely irresistible," John continues.

George holds up a quelling hand. "Not irresistible, hardly irresistible. Resisting him is easy. But so is appreciating what a terribly, awfully fine specimen he is."

She would tell John about Bloody Nick Savage's affinity for cunning bespoke suits and silk ties and how his silvering hair is just making him more sexually alluring, but John looks a touch seasick already.

"Harry's right," John decides, slumping back in the cab seat. "I'm talking to my dead flatmate's ex-sister-in-law about the sexiness of evil lawyers. My life's a fucking mess."

Over the intercom, the cabbie says, "Fucking mess is right, mate," and George laughs until John more or less shoves her out of the taxi in front of New Scotland Yard.

George barely has a foot in her office before she's swamped with phone calls from CPS (murderous after she logged an official complaint), conference calls with Hatcher and family liaison (also murderous, but behaving so as not to scare Hatcher away), and Kerrigan (meekly guilty). She shouts at CPS (she can also play murderous), advocates for Hatcher's virtue with family liaison (they appear unconvinced), and capitulates within ten minutes under Kerrigan's unspoken apologies. He's already been divorced four times. If George doesn't love him, he really will die alone, unmourned, at the pub.

George is leaned awkwardly over her desk in a way that makes her back hurt, her ear sore and hot from the handset of her phone, writing a painstaking list of everything she remembers from the 48 hours leading up to Sherlock's death, when her desk phone rings for the millionth time.

"Scotland Yard, this is Lestrade," she says, distracted.

"This is Anthea," she says, voice blandly tired on the line. "What are you doing?"

George grits her teeth through her surprise. "Surely you can see me."

"I can see you're writing," Anthea replies. "And that your back hurts."

George forces herself to write, to distract herself. She writes down that two two days had begun — with a call with Anthea, spitefully eating Mycroft's hidden supply of summer fruits Alpen bars somewhere in a former Soviet satellite — and the call from the ambassador, half crazed on a red-eye flight into London.

"Thus proving my point and rendering any response from me moot," George says.

Anthea is briefly quiet. "No," she says, tense, dangerous. "You know we're looking, too?"

George writes down the way she'd taken Mycroft's car to Baker Street to fetch Sherlock, the tense ride under the green boughs lining the A roads of Godalming. She appends her interview notes from speaking with the school staff — doors/windows bolted; no signs of forced entry; between 50-100 adults in and out of building on leaving day — and she roots around her files until she finds a crime scene photograph, the linseed oil fluorescing in the blacklight.

"I imagined you might be," George tells her crisply, scrawling the way they'd all tramped back to the Yard, the frantic search for a site with CHALK and ASPHALT and BRICK DUST and VEGETATION and FUCKING CHOCOLATE?? "Will that be all or are we returning to a policy of radio silence where you forward all my calls to Mycroft's secretary at HMRC?"

George records the way her voice had echoed over the word quietly in the abandoned factory, and how Sally had swaddled the ambassador's daughter in her blazer and pressed helpless, desperate kisses to her sweaty temple, scrubbed dirty tears from her cold cheeks as they'd waited for the ambulance. George writes, Is there field treatment for heavy metals poisoning? George writes, daughter starts screaming.

The subsequent shitshow that was allowing Met politics and the unforgiving, suspicious part of Sally's good heart to take point is heavily documented already, and George doesn't bother to write down any impressions at all.

"Then why are you doing this?" Anthea asks over the phone. She sounds the way she did in the Lyall Street house's front hall, red-eyed and clutching a box of broken pieces, apologizing for something she hadn't done.

George rifles through her desk because she doesn't know how to answer, really. Because I want to? Because it turns out I'm not as incurious as I thought? Because I'm angry and I know you and Mycroft will only lie to me? The answer is: because Sherlock had seeped into her, his hunger to know, and they may have put him in the ground but George can't bury him until she's figured this out — the why, the who, the how.

"This is dangerous. You could get hurt," Anthea says into George's non-response as she realizes that the next thing that hasn't already been dissected to pieces by the professional standards board and the media is that next night at the morgue, as late afternoon dripped miserably into evening and George had sat dumbly in a waiting room chair while Molly wept on her shoulder. The next thing is Mycroft ripping her heart out of her throat in the morgue hallway, and the gut punch of the memory makes her vicious, snarling:

"I'm already hurt."

"He'd rather you hurt than dead," Anthea retorts.

"Tell your employer if he wants me to stop, he knows what drastic action to take on someone with whom he's has an involved relationship," George says, slamming the handset into its cradle and clawing at her notes until her hands stop shaking, until her breath comes out in smooth exhales. It takes ages, endless minutes until she trusts herself to put her pen back to paper.

At the bottom of the last page, she scratches out in angry block letters, SOMEWHERE IN HERE, MORIARTY WAS THREATENING TO SHOOT JOHN/MRS HUDSON/ME, and underlines it twice.

***

George starts with the string of London bombings, the first time Sherlock had sat in her office with glittery eyes in the whisper-echo of Moriarty like he'd just found his life's work. She adds in the last cases: the Tower, the prison, the Bank of England. The files — all three document boxes of them — make John's eyes cross. He leafs through a few pages delicately, with a faint moue of distaste, managing to hold out all of three seconds before asking:

"So what are we doing with these?"

"These cases," she says, with the patience she exercises at work for Hatcher, "are the ones we know involved Moriarty."

"And you think there's something in here that may give us a lead on his co-conspirator?" John asks, appropriating a file folder and frowning down at it in his hands. It's an inch thick, with pages fairly exploding from within.

"I think it's our best place to begin," George says, because if she's learned anything in her years of police work, it's how to beat a whole lot of nothing out of vast acres of bushes.

It takes two weeks for her to read through all the files with John's help, and once they've identified the key players, George starts calling in favors she hasn't already burnt on Sherlock. She calls Bill, the chippie, who's best mates with a load of the guards down at Pentonville, and he promises to have them all round for a some pints and to dig for information about what happened the day of the jail break. She calls Susan who is a PR flak down at the Bank of England lock-up room, who is shagging Rick, who owes her for not telling Rick's boyfriend. She calls Molly, who practically has a stroke over the phone when George asks her to let them have a peek at the morgue files.

"How do you know all these people?" John marvels, watching George go through her laundry list of contacts and debtors.

She hands her mobile over to John — Molly still stuttering painfully over the line — as she says, "John, I recognize it's hard to see this when you're faffing about with Sherlock bloody Holmes all the time, but I am actually a moderately competent detective," and adds, "Now go talk to Molly so we can get in there and look at her files.

During the day, George pulls new cases, plays tour guide through police procedure and detective work with Hatcher, who Davison has decided to abuse like a much-beloved younger brother and tell him an impressive number of lies about NSY politics. She's going to let it go — for now — or at least until she sees any indications that Hatcher is starting to fall for any of the more potentially explosive fabrications.

The evenings she tucks in with old cases, and late nights and free weekends, she and John exhume the long-dead corpus of Sherlock's work.

Bill eventually reports rumor at Pentonville was that the security failure and prisoner riot was an inside job, with all the internal CCTV cameras turned off too-precisely for it to have been been anything but an elegant crime. "That's all just drunk mates talking though," he tells her, handing her a cone of searing-hot chips and dousing them liberally with vinegar just the way she likes them, his face red from the fryer and beaded with sweat. "Apparently their superiors are too shit-scared of what might happen if they push it any further up the chain of command."

Susan drags her heels, enduring almost two weeks of George's harassment before she sends a series of comprehensible-only-to-the-media text messages that more or less translate to say that very shortly after the Moriarty fiasco, an IT security guy had vanished from the office. Rick — who is understandably slightly insane and extremely tense given the unfortunate situation involving the FSA and LIBOR of late — thinks they've been disappeared like those Latin American political dissidents, she tells George.

"What do you think?" George asks, when she traps Susan in an All Bar One in the arcade on Bishopsgate, perched at the far eastern edge of the City.

Susan attempts to drown herself in a poorly mixed whiskey sour. "I think that Asher was horribly bullied by everybody in the IT department," she mutters, scrubbing a hand across her face, "and that it wouldn't have been hard for someone to convince him to do something naughty for payout."

John turns up just as much nothing and hearsay as George does, slogging over to their designated pub with an armful of photocopies from Molly and no closer to any version of the truth.

"What about the guys from the tetanus case, then?" John asks, holding up Connie Prince's autopsy file. "They were arrested."

George grimaces. "And were found dead while still awaiting trial two weeks later," she says, and wishes she'd spared more than a passing moment of suspicion for it, or that there hadn't been a double murder at a council estate in Hackney that had embroiled her for 48 hours and completely pushed it out of mind.

"You're joking," John says, snatching the folder away and scanning the pages. "Hanging, Jesus."

She goes for the Vermeer case, where she discovers a note appended to the grainy pages saying that Ms. Wenceslas escaped custody six months into her incarceration and was never found. George supposes she could have made a clean escape, but it's far more likely she's been shot from a great distance, from a fourth hide blind.

Or, hell, maybe Mycroft had people neatly shutting down avenues of potential investigation, ordering his own assassinations on the surviving guilty. His mandate has always been the ends and never the means.

George hands the papers over to John and goes to have a lie down in the corner of her sitting room, where it's quiet and she can be panicked and furious in peace.

"If it makes you feel any better," John tells her later, "I think most likely it was Moriarty who had those people murdered and not Mycroft."

"That doesn't make me feel better," George informs him, and decides to put the Moriarty cases aside and look back even further, into the first splashy deductions that made Sherlock famous — lit him up on everybody's radar.

Apparently she and John are immediately recognizable to every human being in England now — "It's you! You're that inspector and that doctor Sherlock Holmes ran around with!" followed oftentimes with, "Were you shagging or was he having it off with that doctor fellow?" — so Sherlock's old clients are at least understanding of why they're wandering around asking bothersome questions. Anybody who ever crossed paths with Sherlock is always quick with an affirmation of their belief in him to John, which is cold comfort compared to how grueling it is to reopen the wound time and again.

Actively listening to everything someone says is an exhausting skill, one cultivated over years of detective work, and George isn't surprised by the way John falls upon a pint at the end of day wandering around Chinatown. It's dizzying. It's oddly boring, but the key is unrelenting focus, and a willingness to keep looking. But that's just ordinary crimes; as they're inspecting the mystery at the center of John Watson's broken heart, the process is considerably more fraught.

"Jesus, how do you do this all day?" John asks, hunched over his empty glass.

George has been trying to get the bartender's attention for almost five minutes, but the entire bar staff is glued to the telly, set to Sky News's live report about a massive human trafficking bust in Mexico. She waves again before giving up until the commercials.

"I did, actually, receive professional training on how to be frustrated, bored, and simultaneously stressed beyond words," George says.

He grins at her. "So this is what solving crimes is like without Sherlock, then?"

"Pretty much," George says, and the barmaid finally comes over to pull them another round of Staropramen. "Although admittedly there's less drinking on the job."

John rubs at his face. "We're getting nowhere."

"And a packet of crisps, please," George tells the barmaid, because if she's going to be demoralized, she wants salt and fats for it. She turns to John. "Possibly — what if we say fuck it to the old cases?"

"And?" John asks.

George rips open the Walkers bag and sets it between them on the bar counter. "Well, Mycroft did say something about snipers."

Everything George knows — probably inaccurately — about the military comes from reading body cues off of John, her ex-Royal Marine's post-coital mumbling, and crying without dignity when she'd watched Atonement and been forced to endure James McAvoy dying on a massive screen because Tom had felt the film would be a faithful adaptation of his favorite novel. Upon reflection, George wonders how she could have missed the signs that their marriage wasn't meant to last.

"Hm," John says. "Let me ask around."

His asking around turns up Keifer Maccelsfield, who meets her and John for pints at their local three weeks later, fresh off of an inbound flight from Location Undisclosed from Assignment Unrepeatable. He's clearly still riding the adrenaline high of it because instead of telling George and John where they can shove their curiosity, he consumes their mystery story in between a half-dozen pints of lager and the occasional playful leer at George. She can tell from the way he wraps an arm around her shoulders — friendly like — that Keifer is harmless to women and children and likes getting his ego massaged, that all of his danger lives in a locked room he tends with faithful care.

"You need to reconsider your actions here, Maccelsfield," John warns, deep into his second pint and laughing. He looks happier today than he has in months, and George can't know if that's because the wound of Sherlock's death is beginning to heal or if solving secondary mysteries with her is the emotional equivalent of methadone. "Because she has a lunatic jealous ex."

George says, "He does not need to reconsider. In fact he ought to continue as he has."

Keifer, who apparently met John at the foot of the Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan when they'd both been trying to relieve themselves on the same shrub, is not so much a soft target as just the right kind of mad. Of course he would be to be friends with John.

"I think I could take your ex-bloke in a fight," he tells George, who tries to imagine Mycroft in a physical altercation and bursts into laughter.

She buys them third and fourth rounds, until she finds herself leaning in, breasts flush with Keifer's forearm, listening to John tell the full story of his and Sherlock's adventures at Baskervilles. John's only so far as telling them about pulling rank to enter a sealed military facility before Keifer's desperate to engage in some classic one-upmanship, and it's only another two drinks and forty minutes of back-and-forth bragging before Keifer knits all the pieces together himself and says:

"Hell, if you show me these locations, I bet I can tell you something about your sniper."


***

You need to stop this, Georgiana.
MH

I can see you ignoring my calls.
MH

This is dangerous. Anthea said she's spoken with you.
MH

Don't force my hand.
MH

George texts back:

If you decide to have me shot, I'll be conveniently at the hospital. GL.

***
They arrange to meet the following weekend to visit one of the sniper sites, with John saying it was pointless to check around 221B, because — he'd said very casually — they'd been neck deep in eastern European assassins so it was all rather pointless.

"How the fuck has your life gotten more dangerous since you left Afghanistan?" Keifer asks reasonably from the backseat of George's Golf as they wind their way through the midday traffic swaddled around Smithfield. John, lounging in the passenger seat, just looks baffled by the question because he is a ludicrous human being.

George, because she didn't have any young siblings to torture in her childhood, calls over her shoulder, "Ask him about the time he and Sherlock had to dress up as ninjas."

"It was not that weird in context," John says, which triggers Keifer's cry of, "In what fucking context is that not weird?"

She takes them to Bart's first, and they spend as little time as possible there. Mostly because George hates the way John's face looks as they wander the building, the weight of the roof overhead suffocating with memory, his easy laugh from the car vanished. He keeps his shoulders squared so severely that George aches from the right angles, and nods with professional distance when Keifer picks out this hallway, that stairwell, a few potential hide sights — all with a perfect line of sight to where John had been standing in the parking lot, being gutted and left as a suicide note.

"Hospital could help us," George says a day later, when she and John are camped out at an anonymous pub morosely eating chips. "Hospitals are limited access, CCTV monitored, lots of sign-in sheets. We could pull the records from that day."

"Hospitals are also open 24 hours a day and have hundreds of people tromping through all the time. It's just not possible," John argues, thinking of tactical improbabilities the way you do as a soldier, versus grimly accepting the inevitable pain of watching a day's worth of CCTV and reading all the visitor logs like a police officer. He'd looked as pale and green as the waning moon when they'd left Bart's, and George strategically taken Keifer's obvious discomfort and John's barely concealed nausea to cry off for the day.

"Don't worry," she promises, "I'll do the boring bits myself."

"Oh, in that case, have at it," John teases, even though George thinks he'll be right there with her, watching every second of tape and checking every inch of paper.

On the bar telly, Fiona Bruce is wearing a frankly provoking kelly green dress as she talks about a series of seemingly unrelated deaths in China that have taken on a tinge of political murder. George tries to listen, but only a little, because Fiona Bruce has only just said, "...Interpol are crediting the discovery to…" when John asks:

"How do you deal with it? If you never figure it out?"

George thinks about telling him what she tells all the new officers that travel through her office, what she'd told Hatcher as they'd gone through the backlog of files today and he'd grown weary with it. She could tell John that more often than she cares to admit, they never find a culprit or a reason, sometimes most cruelly, they don't even find a body. But that doesn't diminish the value and obligation of their efforts, the duty to use all their available wits and resources to try, every time. But the Met's new officers and Hatcher feel a professionalized kind of grief, and when George tells them, "We do our best, and then we move on," she's telling them a professionalized kind of lie.

To John, she tells the truth:

"You don't deal with it," she says, because it's true and she couldn't bear to say anything otherwise.

John grins at the television, smiles at Fiona's dour expression and the image of dead political dissidents in China and says, "All right then. Okay."

***

Two weeks, three court appearances, another round of dick-measuring (that she wins) with Potter, and a painfully sympathetic dinner with her mum goes by before George is finally able to tear herself away from legitimate police business long enough to call Maccelsfield and John again. It's a bitterly cold autumn Friday with the sky steel blue and threatening rain overhead, and by the time George gets a ring from downstairs saying her guests have arrived, she's gone through three separate Pret brownie bars as a testament to her mood.

"Nice," Keifer laughs, looking around the lobby of the Met and winking at the Maureen in reception. Maureen in reception is all of 22 years-old, and so freshly graduated from uni George reflexively steers Keifer away from her and her bright future as he's musing, "I've never been in one of these of my own free will before."

"It's an adventure for us all," George agrees, and directs an unabashedly amused John and Keifer on the 10p tour of New Scotland Yard, including a turn about the library and Jack the Ripper archives. They stop by traffic, where Edith and Keifer strike up a worrying flirtation, and only after two more detours — for coffee and for John to check in on Dimmock, who John has decided is "fragile" — do they make it to her office.

"You weren't joking about your office being a bloody fishbowl," Keifer says, disapproving, glowering at the nosey marketers across the street.

George offers up a wan smile. "It's supposed to be modern."

Ignoring her, Keifer declares, "Your sniper could have been almost anywhere in that building across the street, or on the roof — " and barely sparing a look over his shoulder, motions broadly at the bullpen, fairly heaving with people at the end of a shift " — and obviously it could have been anyone in there."

John says, reflexive, "Donovan," and then revising, adds, "Anderson."

"They hated Sherlock, not me," George says, glaring at him before turning back to Keifer. "Those are all my people."

Keifer shrugs. "You're the one getting shot at, love," he says, frowning out at the Serious Crimes team, who appear to be frowning back at him, like schoolchildren suspicious of an unknown adult consorting with their teacher.

"Weren't you not even here, then?" John asks suddenly. "That night? Weren't you at that bloody reporter's flat?"

"Chasing your path of destruction," George ripostes, and says, more soberly, "Yeah, I was — but I was on my way back in when we got the call about Sherlock."

She would have been an easy kill in her light-colored coat, moving slow. The Met keeps its ugly halogen lights on all night, and her bloody glass office would have been a beacon against the still-shuttered offices banking it in. The bullpen had been buzzing through the night, too, everyone desperately trying to find Sherlock, people dashing in and out. And had she left Kitty Reilly's and gone back to the Yard, her last memory would be a shout and glass breaking and nothing else.

"Christ," John says, looking sick.

Keifer's still frowning at the bullpen, and he keeps frowning at them when he loops an arm round George's shoulders in a way that makes her raise her eyebrows at him. He says, "Indulge me," wheels her around to look out her windows toward the street, and starts reeling off potential sites with clinical disinterest, John coming up around her other side to follow the line of Keifer's pointing fingers with a frown on his face.

John is asking questions and Keifer is answering them and George guesses she ought to listen, too, but all she can really hear is blood rushing in her ears and her own voice asking, What am I doing?

Her father had laughed about it and Mycroft had admired it and her mother despairs of it but George is unromantic, really. She makes the practical decisions because flights of passion are only so good as the endorphin rush, and she's too smart to give in and be so easily seduced. So what the hell is she doing here? Chasing down a ghost that Mycroft can't pin? It's pointless, isn't it? Her and John's best intentions and broken hearts versus the vast network of resources that have probably already been brought to bear.

Except she's been thinking this since she'd called John over and she's going through the motions anyway because —

"Look," Keifer says suddenly to George, frowning down at her with his arm still wrapped around her, his touch gone protective. "I wouldn't normally do this, but we've got to talk about that jealous ex-boyfriend of yours."

"Oh, Jesus," John swears.

George blinks twice, refocusing. "What?" she asks.

"You really ought to be careful with that man," Keifer says, fearless, tossing a look back to the cubical farm casual as you like.

George stares at Keifer's five o'clock shadow and rough features. "I beg your pardon?" she asks, because while it's not inconceivable that Keifer has been ordered to shoot someone in the face at Mycroft's discretion, it's fairly unlikely he'd cop to it now.

"There's no point in being trying to be subtle about it if he's going to stare like that, Lestrade," Keifer says.

"They all stare, they're like horrible children," George answers, knee-jerk, because they do, overlapping John's, "Who's staring?"

Keifer laughs, tension breaking. "Yeah, but, Moran. He's a fucking mess."

George frowns, flicking a glance toward the cubes, where Moran is — where Moran is, bizarrely, leaning against a column and glaring furiously at a file, two floors away from Professional Standards. She says slowly, "...Moran."

"I haven't seen that arsehole since Desert Storm, but last I heard he'd finally washed out," Keifer tells them. "Watson was having a laugh, I guess, about the ex, but I'm serious about this, Georgie: that bloke is a fucking mentalist."

"She wasn't dating Moran," John says, because it needs saying, but more importantly, George asks:

"What do you mean Desert Storm? How do you know him?"

Keifer stares between her and John like they're idiots. "As in the Gulf War?"

"Yes, I'm aware," George snaps, suddenly frantic, impatient. "But why would you know — look, I've pulled Sebastian Moran's records. He's never served in the armed forces."

She had, just to figure him out, to put some history to his name and blandly unsettling smile. DCI Sebastian Moran, 46, born in Weston-super-Mare and worked as a PC first in Leeds before gravitating toward, marrying in, and divorcing in Bristol. He'd done distinguished work for a decade in Birmingham before being nominated to Professional Standards, at which point the glowing accolades had faded into silent resentment from his peers. Nobody knew him, but Scotland Yard was a bit oblivious to non-Londoners, never mind members of Professional Standards, who were widely viewed as dead to their former coworkers, so it wasn't surprising that he'd been a ghost in the wires, that he would appear out of seemingly thin air. And then the Met had exploded and he'd been waiting for George, grinning, in that conference room.

"Then they've wiped his bloody slate clean," Keifer retorts, "because that lunatic was infamous for taking his M25 out and practicing moving-target shots on any dog or cat with the misfortune of being outside. And he did it as infantry."

George's chest goes cold. "Oh, Jesus Christ," she whispers.

She thinks about him at the Yard. She thinks about him sitting in the office, with keystroke access to every file on Sherlock, every case note she ever submitted into the system. She thinks about him in archives that night, foreign and dangerous in the overhead light, the way he'd watched her with a predatory look. She thinks about him asking about Mycroft. She thinks about him sitting in her fucking house, drinking her fucking tea, touching her fucking hand — running his eyes down the length of her body, and it's everything George can do not to double over and throw up.

Keifer is saying, "Or at least he used to. I don't know how the fuck you lot let him in, because if you're too fucking crazy be a a sniper I don't see how you can work in law enforcement," but George isn't hearing a word of it.

"Oh," John says, "shit."

Her hands are shaking. She gropes for the Sharpie she'd dropped near Wenlock, clasps the legal pad still propped up against her window. She can hear Keifer say, "What the hell's wrong with you two?" and John whispering, "We're going to have to clear the fucking building."

But the ingrained fearfulness in her knows they don't have time, that they're on borrowed seconds already, so George lets her handwriting shake apart into bare legibility, scrawling wildly across the page and slaps it up against her window with a bang: 

IT'S MORAN. IT'S SEBASTIAN MORAN.

***

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