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An Empty House

Chapter Text

One day John Watson received a key in the mail. A perfectly ordinary house key. The envelope was addressed to him, with a return address on the other side of London.

He did not recognize the handwriting. Which was to say that it wasn’t Sherlock’s handwriting, because that was the only handwriting he would have cared about.

John told himself it would be stupid and risky and dangerous to try to figure out what the house key meant on his own. He should tell someone. Lestrade, maybe, who would make it into a police case even if he didn’t make it into an official police case. Mycroft would be even worse about it; it would be a matter of international diplomacy if he asked Mycroft about it.

Not that John had any idea what to do about it anyway. The only thing he could think to do was to go to the return address on the envelope. This was, yes, a stupid and risky and dangerous thing to do, but it felt a bit like the old days, chasing down deductions.

The address was in a shabby part of London that had seen decidedly better days. It wasn’t a slum, but it was on its way down, not up. The house itself was several stories, part of a terrace, and John would have said it was abandoned, it looked derelict and uncared for. He knocked on the door but no one answered it. He considered.

And then had an idea. He took the key and fitted it into the lock on the door, and it opened smoothly and easily, and John found himself in an empty house.

***

Mycroft Holmes was having a good morning. Truthfully, lately he tended to have good days in general, but this morning had been a particularly good one.

“And now I’m going to be late for the meeting with the Home Secretary,” he said, trying to both catch his breath and care about this.

“Was the Home Secretary going to ravish you?” asked Greg, unrepentantly, rolling out of bed.

“Probably not.”

“Then tell him you had a better offer.”

The Sherlock-emergency-only mobile chirped with an incoming text on the dresser. Mycroft felt rather than saw Greg go over to it. “You are literally a threat to national security,” Mycroft informed him.

Greg’s face swam back into his vision, all mussed hair and dark eyes. “That’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me,” he grinned at him. He kissed him briefly but thoroughly and left the mobile on his chest as he moved away.

Feeling lethargic and not particularly interested in meeting the Home Secretary, Mycroft glanced at the text. And froze.

“Mycroft?” said Greg, confused, clearly catching his reaction.

Mycroft sat up slowly, staring at the text. “Did you read this text?”

“No. Why? What is it? What does it say?” Greg walked over to stand beside him, looking at the mobile in Mycroft’s hand.

Possible slight miscalculation made. Please check on John.

***

They were quarreling, which they almost never did. Lestrade felt out-of-practice with it, almost as if he were being a troublesome toddler, and he felt even more so that Mycroft was being a troublesome toddler. Lestrade had phoned John immediately, ascertained that he was in his flat, and told him not to go to work. He had done that willingly, because John, he had assumed, would be more inclined to answer a call from Lestrade than from Mycroft.

But Mycroft and Lestrade were quarreling now over what to do next.

And Sherlock was not returning either calls or texts, which was both worrisome in and of itself and frustrating because what, exactly, needed to be checked on with John was uncertain.

“I can put him under surveillance,” Mycroft suggested.

“If you’re going to put him under surveillance you have to tell him you’re putting him under surveillance. You can’t do it secretly.”

“Why not? He’ll never know.”

Lestrade felt like this was one of the lessons he sometimes had to have with Mycroft. Just Because You Can Do Something Because You Are the British Government Doesn’t Mean You Should Do Something was the overarching theme of these lessons. Mycroft seemed to be particularly unable to take these lessons to heart. “Because you can’t just spy on our friends, Mycroft, without their knowledge.”

“Why not?” asked Mycroft again.

“Because it’s…rude,” said Lestrade, helplessly.

“We’re not at a garden party. And if we were at a garden party, I don’t think you would be the maven of etiquette, anyway.”

Lestrade frowned and let that pass. Mycroft was vicious with words when they quarreled. At first, Lestrade had gotten goaded into meeting him blow for blow, and that had been a terrible idea. Lestrade had learned it was much better to ignore the jabs. They were Mycroft’s most effective weapon, and ignoring them helped defuse the argument. “You’re not going to spy on him secretly. I won’t let you. I will immediately go and tell him what you’re doing.”

“Well, what’s your suggestion?”

“Tell him.”

“Tell him what?”

“That Sherlock is alive, has apparently done something not good, and that somehow, for some reason, as a result, John would seem to be in danger.”

Mycroft shook his head. “Absolutely not.”

“Why not?”

“Because I think Sherlock should have to tell John he’s alive. In fact, this whole thing could be an elaborate ruse designed to force us to be the ones to take the brunt of delivering the news.”

“You’re not going to take that risk,” Lestrade informed him, calmly.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not dealing with your guilt if you turn out to be wrong about that. And because you’re Mycroft Holmes—stop behaving like a coward.”

Mycroft brought his thumb up to his mouth and worried absently at the nail, which was something he very seldom did. He said, abruptly, turning back to Lestrade, “What if you do it for me?”

“No.” Lestrade shook his head.

“John likes you more than he…Well, he doesn’t like me at all,” Mycroft pointed out.

“Which is exactly how I would like to keep things.”

Mycroft frowned.

“That sounded meaner than I intended, but you know what I mean. Listen, this is really your story to tell, all of it. And I know you know it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I know that look on your face.”

Mycroft’s frown deepened.

“Go. Tell John. Set him up with surveillance. I’ll be extra nice to you when you get home.” Lestrade turned, looking for his badge in the pile of belongings heaped on his dresser.

“Where are you going?” Mycroft asked.

“Work.”

There was a long moment of silence. An unsettled silence, and Lestrade, locating his badge, turned to glance at Mycroft, who looked out of his element by the French door that led to the balcony off the bedroom. His expression was inscrutable, which was not a good sign, because Lestrade had come to know what most of his expressions meant, but this one was…hesitant.

“I’d rather you didn’t go,” Mycroft said, finally.

Fear, thought Lestrade, that’s what the expression was. Why it was inscrutable to him. He had never seen Mycroft afraid before. Lestrade fought a wave of instinctive fear in response, paused, and tried to consider what to say. “I’m sure I’ll be fine,” he decided, finally. “Sherlock didn’t say anything about me—”

“Sherlock wouldn’t think about you. Sherlock isn’t in love with you. But you were his friend and you’re my…And if I were them, that would make you doubly appealing as a target. And I’d rather you didn’t go.”

Lestrade knew that Mycroft was struggling to maintain this level of politeness, that it went against his desire to simply forbid him to leave the house until everything was resolved. “I’ll let you put surveillance on me,” Lestrade offered, to meet him halfway. He hated surveillance, hated the presence of it and the constant pinprick of unease at being watched. It had been one of their earliest quarrels, Lestrade’s insistence that he didn’t need to be followed at every moment of the day, that he would continue to come home safe and sound every evening. But that had been a casual quarrel, a secondary quarrel, compared to this one.

“What good would that do? So they’d take out the sniper after the sniper took you out.”

Lestrade leaned heavily against the dresser, still holding his badge, thinking. Because Mycroft had a point. About all of it. He looked across at Mycroft, who looked fearful and uncertain and never looked either of those things. “Fine,” he agreed. “I’ll stay home today.”

Mycroft closed his eyes briefly in obvious relief, then opened them, crossed the room, and kissed Lestrade fiercely. “Thank you,” he said, clearly meaning it.

“It isn’t a permanent solution,” Lestrade warned him. “Just for today. We need to figure something else out.”

Lestrade could tell that Mycroft, having won this round, had already decided he would win whatever other rounds needed to be fought over this. He still had him pinned against the dresser, an arm on either side, but he was barely paying attention to him anymore. He gave his ghost of a shrug. “Sherlock will get back in touch. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

“And the surveillance isn’t going to be enough for John,” Lestrade pointed out.

Mycroft looked as if his thoughts had moved on to other things. Lestrade watched him backtrack to what Lestrade had just said.

“You’re right, the surveillance isn’t going to protect any of us,” Lestrade continued.

“I suppose,” allowed Mycroft, “I could make sure John’s flat is secure—”

“You should invite John to stay with us.”

Mycroft looked startled, straightening a bit, putting some space between them. “What?”

“This house is a fortress. The only place safer than this would be Buckingham Palace.”

“But…”

“It’s just until Sherlock gets hold of us, and we can figure out a better game plan. But for now it’s the best we can do. And you have, like, thirty-two spare bedrooms or something ridiculous.” Lestrade needlessly adjusted Mycroft’s perfect tie.

“Not thirty-two,” said Mycroft.

“You have some absurd number of spare bedrooms.”

Mycroft looked as if he were trying to make up his mind whether or not to say something. Lestrade waited, watching him patiently, and eventually Mycroft ventured, carefully, “I don’t really like to have…people in my house.”

“I know,” said Lestrade.

“You do?” blinked Mycroft.

“Did you really think you were keeping that a secret, Mycroft?”

“I…” Mycroft considered. “No, I suppose not.”

Lestrade actually did understand this about Mycroft, the intense privacy with which he lived his life. Mycroft had a Public Image. It was not that he was completely different behind the closed doors of his life, because Lestrade always thought that he remained undeniably Mycroft Holmes, but there were subtle differences, a slight relaxation to him. He laughed in this house and flirted in it. Sometimes his hair was tousled and uncombed. Sometimes he stretched on the floor by the fire and read poetry out loud, from a wide and varied list of poets he liked, stretching over centuries. Sometimes he was exhausted and procrastinated pressing international problems. Sometimes he shut off his work mobile and made Lestrade talk to him about light, frivolous things for hours—plots of movies and television shows, stories of uni or police station antics—and lied about having had something else urgent to deal with when he finally turned the work mobile back on.

And, aside from losing the ability to forget about being Mycroft Holmes, British Government, Lestrade knew also that Mycroft dreaded the idea of guests in his rooms, asking questions about his things, or, possibly worse, even looking at his things. Lestrade was well aware that it was perfectly okay for him to leave a glass on the antique sideboard and put his feet up on the arm of the expensive leather couch, that Mycroft didn’t even notice anymore, that it was all the package he’d decided to allow into his life because he was in love with him. That had not been a decision Mycroft had made lightly, and Lestrade knew it would not be easy to have people other than him putting things out of place.

“Please,” he said, and played a card he seldom played with Mycroft. “For me, hmm?”

Mycroft sighed heavily.

“He’s our friend,” continued Lestrade. “This is what people do for their friends.”

“My life was much easier before I had friends,” Mycroft told him.

“Easier, possibly. Better, no. I’ll make sure he’s nice to you.”

Mycroft looked offended. “I’m not worried that he won’t be nice to me. Please don’t be absurd.”

Lestrade smiled a bit. “Thank you.”

“You don’t get to go to work, though, for as long as John’s living here. If it’s not safe for John, then it’s not safe for you.”

“I’ll agree to that.” Lestrade settled his hands on Mycroft’s lapel, pulling him a bit closer for a kiss. “And in exchange,” he said against Mycroft’s mouth, “you also have to ask Mrs. Hudson to stay.”

Greg,” said Mycroft.

***

John ended his call with Lestrade and considered his flat. Then he walked into his bedroom and carefully packed a suitcase with some clothing. The last thing he added was the envelope with the key to the empty house. He retrieved his gun, made sure it was loaded, and settled it at the small of his back.

Then he waited, until Mycroft Holmes’s very proper knock sounded on his door.

John looked through the peephole, just to make sure, then opened the door.

Mycroft looked as impeccable as always. He stood in the doorway, leaning casually on his umbrella, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He smiled, and John thought that he really planned on breaking this news while smiling.

John said, “Sherlock’s alive, isn’t he?”

Mycroft looked surprised. “Oh,” he said, which was so uncharacteristic a thing for precise Mycroft to say that John was reminded of the day he’d confronted him about giving Moriarty the information. Had Mycroft known, even then, what was being planned? “Who told you?” asked Mycroft, suspiciously.

John stared at him, smug in his stupid suit, and thought of him coming to Baker Street to assure him that Sherlock would want him to take the detecting money. Oh, yes, Mycroft had been sure, because he’d probably bloody spoken to Sherlock that bloody day. And then he had taken the bloody violin. And somewhere, for eight months, one week, three days, and twenty hours or so, Sherlock Holmes had been blithely playing his violin. And Mycroft had known, all along, the whole time John had been doing silly things like following the advice of websites on how to be happy, the whole time, and John, without really knowing he intended to do it, punched Mycroft in the face.

Mycroft clearly hadn’t been expecting anything like that. He reeled backward, off balance, and the shock on his face, as he lifted his hand up to the trickle of blood on his cheek, was immensely satisfying…

…For the three-tenths of a second it took before a special ops team broke through the front door and barreled up the stairs.

Chapter Text

There was a period of time when John was handcuffed and thrown in a cell, and that was followed by a period of time when the handcuffs were removed and he was led to what was clearly an interrogation room. Other than that, John had no idea where he was, because the special ops team hadn’t exactly been gentle in getting him there.

John sat in the interrogation room and, after a few minutes, Mycroft walked in. He closed the door behind him, leaned against it, and lifted an eyebrow at John.

John glared belligerently at him, because he really wasn’t in the mood.

“Don’t worry,” remarked Mycroft, languidly, from by the door. “We’re not going to have you executed. I’ve intervened and begged for leniency on your behalf.”

“Oh, have you?” said John. “Thanks so much for that.”

“Do you feel inclined to attack me any further?”

John sighed and looked at the room’s mirror. “No,” he told whoever was watching.

“There’s nobody watching,” Mycroft told him, as he walked over to the table.

Special ops, Mycroft?” John asked, as Mycroft sat. “Isn’t that a bit overkill for protection for a man who occupies a minor position in the government?”

Mycroft smiled, which John considered to be fairly brave considering it kind of made him want to punch him again.

“You knew all along, didn’t you?” John demanded. “A fraud of that scale, he couldn’t have done it without you. My God, I should have figured this out so long ago.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Mycroft responded, calmly. “That was the point, in fact, that you wouldn’t.”

“Why? Why wasn’t I allowed to know? Why did he do it in the first place?”

“I could tell you the reasons he told me. Or you could ask him yourself.”

“Did you even try to talk him out of it?”

“Of course I did. I’ve never been able to talk him out of any foolhardy thing he wanted to do. I’ve only ever been able to pick up the pieces afterward, which was the exact role he called upon me to play again. The only person who has ever been capable of convincing Sherlock to do something he didn’t want to do was you, and I was expressly forbidden to ask you for help.”

Why?”

“Because you were going to die, John. Your life was in danger, and Sherlock wouldn’t have it. If I hadn’t agreed to help him fake his death, I half-feared he would simply go through with it for real if it was the only thing he could think of to save you. Now, you can take him to task for that, if you so desire, but please don’t quarrel with me over it. It was out of my hands.”

John sat, still and frozen, trying to process everything. Sherlock was alive. John had been in danger, apparently grave, fatal danger. Sherlock was alive. Sherlock had been ready to die to save him. Sherlock was alive. Sherlock was alive. Sherlock was… “You could have told me,” he said, his voice hoarse. “You could have told me at any time…”

“For what purpose?” Mycroft spoke less harshly, almost gently. “You would have wanted to be with him, and you couldn’t be. You couldn’t be. He was as good as dead to you; it had to be that way.”

John didn’t like the gentleness because it drained him of the pugnacity that had been driving him. Sherlock was alive, and he wasn’t angry about that, he was so many things that weren’t angry about that. He put his head in his hands. He was actually shaking. Because he had wanted for so long for this to be true, and he had told himself it was insane to wish for it, that it was unhealthy, that he had to move on. And now Mycroft was speaking of these things so calmly, and he could barely comprehend it. Sherlock is alive. John lifted his head and looked at Mycroft. “Can I see him?”

“Eventually. I don’t know where he is. But eventually, yes, I’m sure he’ll come home, and he’ll want to see you.”

“Eventually?” John echoed. “Where is he now? What’s he doing?”

“Moriarty’s web was always much bigger than Moriarty. He was merely the spider at the center. His influence was practically boundless. As long as Moriarty’s web exists, Sherlock has to pretend to be dead, to make sure you’re safe. So he’s been destroying Moriarty’s web, strand by strand.”

“And he’s been successful?”

“So far, I believe. He calls me in sometimes, to help with clean-up, but not very often.”

“But he sounds…well? When you talk to him?”

“He texts, John.”

“Of course he does.” It was the most ridiculously annoying and frustrating thing, that he would continue to insist upon texting even while on the run and pretending to be dead. It was so Sherlockian. “Of course he does,” John repeated, and giggled. He couldn’t wait to be this annoyed by him, endlessly, the way he used to be. He could not stop giggling.

“I think you’re hysterical,” Mycroft commented, sounding half amused and half appalled, and stood. “Pull yourself together; it’s time for us to leave. I took the liberty of gathering the suitcase you packed. Very thoughtful of you.”

“I suspected, when Lestrade said I was to stay put, that I wasn’t going to stay put for very long.” John stood as well. “So where are we going? If you don’t know where Sherlock is?”

“My house,” said Mycroft, holding the door to the interrogation room open. “It is, it appears, the only safe place at the moment. Unless you’d rather stay here. I imagine you’d be safe in here, too.”

“Your house?” repeated John.

“You sound more shocked at the idea that I have a house than you did to discover my dead brother is really alive,” remarked Mycroft, wryly.

“I never really believed Lestrade when he said you had a house.”

“Where, pray tell, did you think I slept?”

“I didn’t think you slept. Or, I don’t know, maybe you slept hanging upside down in a cave.” John grinned at him. He was in a wonderful mood. He was teasing Mycroft Holmes. Sherlock would so enjoy this story.

Mycroft frowned at him. “You are so very lucky Inspector Lestrade is fond of you, or I’d just leave you here.”

“You do call him Greg when you’re alone with him, right?”

“Please stop talking, Dr. Watson,” Mycroft sighed, pushing past him, “before I change my mind.”

***

Mycroft’s house was in an area of London that John would have predicted: posh and stuffy and flooded with old money. Not fashionable and proud of not being fashionable.

He followed Mycroft through the front door and they were met immediately by Lestrade, who looked at the bruise blooming colorfully on Mycroft’s cheek and said, in disbelief, “What happened?”

“John,” answered Mycroft, his voice dripping sarcasm in a way that John thought the Holmes brothers had perfected, “our friend and houseguest, attacked me.”

Lestrade looked at John in astonishment.

“I didn’t attack him,” John defended himself. “I only got a single punch in before his secret army of bodyguards came bursting out of the woodwork, and anyway, he deserved it. Did you know about this, too?”

There was clearly no mistaking what John meant by “this.” “I figured it out,” said Lestrade, and added, looking annoyed, “Are you going to throw a punch at me, too?”

“No, you’d be clever enough to block it.”

“Ah, yes, clearly this was all my fault for failing to learn the art of street brawling—” Mycroft began.

Lestrade cut him off by saying, simply, “Reynolds.”

John looked at him, trying to figure out if that was some sort of code word between them, but then a man in a suit came scurrying up to him.

Lestrade spoke to the man who had appeared. “Can you bring us something for…” Lestrade gestured to Mycroft’s face.

“Yes, sir,” said the man in the suit, who then scurried away again.

“A butler,” John realized, staring at Lestrade. “You have a butler.”

Lestrade actually blushed. “Mycroft has the butler, I just…use him.”

“A butler,” John repeated.

“Hey, don’t mock the usefulness of a butler until you’ve tried it,” Lestrade told him. “Now, it’s clear the two of you have had a lovely chat.”

“Charming,” said Mycroft, shortly.

“Mrs. Hudson and I are having tea in the dining room,” continued Lestrade, ignoring Mycroft’s commentary.

“Mrs. Hudson?” echoed John.

“Yes,” said Lestrade, as if he had tea with Mrs. Hudson in this house all the time. Maybe he did, John thought. The latest in the unprecedented string of the day’s surprises. “Come join us.” He turned and walked familiarly down the hallway, confident they were going to follow, passing the butler on his way to Mycroft with accoutrements for ministering to John’s punch.

John decided that he much preferred tea with Mrs. Hudson to staying while Mycroft tended to an injury John himself had given him, so he hastened to follow Lestrade down the hallway. He kept him in sight because he didn’t want to get lost in what was obviously a massive house. The sheer scale of the rooms was breathtaking. And the dining room was no exception, filled with an enormous table that nonetheless did not overpower the room. In fact, the room wasn’t even overpowered by the presence of two horse suits of armor.

John probably would have stared at the horse suits of armor for a while except that Mrs. Hudson, upon seeing him, jumped up and ran to him and hugged him tightly.

“Oh, John, did they tell you? Sherlock’s alive. Isn’t it wonderful?”

“It is wonderful,” John agreed, because it was, but now that the initial shock had worn off, he was growing impatient. Sherlock was alive, and that was wonderful, but he wanted to see him or hear him. It was nice to know he was alive, but it suddenly made John miss him more keenly than he had in a while. And he had never stopped missing Sherlock keenly.

Mrs. Hudson drew back, sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “Oh, I haven’t been able to stop crying. It’s just so wonderful. I’m just so happy. Haven’t I just been saying over and over how happy I am, Inspector?” She looked to Lestrade for verification.

Lestrade smiled at her the absently charming smile he had always used on Mrs. Hudson, and said, “Sit and have some tea, John.”

“Oh, I meant to tell you,” Mrs. Hudson told him, “we’ve finished the pot.”

“Oh,” said Lestrade. “I’ll tell the cook to make us more.”

“Why don’t you ask the butler to tell the cook to make us more?” John asked him.

“Hilarious,” Lestrade replied, and left the room with the teapot.

“But it’s all so strange, John,” Mrs. Hudson said, conspiratorially. “Inspector Lestrade’s been saying that we’re in danger, and we all have to stay here. I don’t understand.”

Lestrade re-entered the room, without the teapot.

“What sort of danger?” John asked him.

“Mycroft didn’t tell you?”

“Mycroft didn’t tell me much. For instance, why all of a sudden now are we allowed to know that Sherlock is alive?”

“Because it does seem that you’re in special danger at the moment, and it isn’t fair for you not to know now. Have a seat, and we’ll discuss this.” Lestrade sat as if this were a perfectly normal room and a perfectly normal discussion.

Mrs. Hudson followed suit.

John sighed, but saw no other option and so sat at the table, next to Mrs. Hudson, opposite Lestrade.

“Mycroft received a text this morning,” Lestrade began.

“What did the text say?”

“That Sherlock has possibly made an error and that we should check on you.” Lestrade met John’s gaze.

“Me? It said to check on me, specifically?”

“Of course it did,” answered Mycroft, entering the room. “Don’t be daft.” He walked over to John and handed him a mobile.

John glanced at it. Possible slight miscalculation made. Please check on John. “A slight miscalculation,” John read. “What does that mean?”

“No idea.” Mycroft sat in the chair next to Lestrade. “He has refused, thus far, to deign to elaborate further.”

“This text is from Sherlock?”

“Of course,” said Mycroft.

“It’s just that it isn’t signed. The two of you always sign your texts, because you’re…weird.”

“Yes. Thank you for that assessment. I asked him to stop signing his texts, in case they were being intercepted. But it’s definitely from Sherlock.”

John thought for a second. “This text doesn’t mention Mrs. Hudson,” he pointed out.

“No, but the reason Sherlock was required to fake his death was because three people were in danger. It seemed wise to have the three of you together.”

John looked from Mrs. Hudson to Lestrade, and then back to Mycroft. “The three of us. But not you?”

Mycroft smiled tightly. “Moriarty shared your view that my brother wouldn’t much care whether I lived or died. The three of you, however…”

John winced a bit, because it seemed a cruel thing to have ever implied. John actually suspected that Sherlock would have been upset had Mycroft died, that Sherlock secretly relied upon the existence of Mycroft Holmes. Hadn’t his actions in apparently turning to him for help proved that? “Mycroft—” John began, but the butler entered with a fresh pot of tea, and Mycroft started pouring, and the moment, John felt, had passed. John said, instead, “But Moriarty’s dead. How would we still be in danger?”

“Moriarty’s reach was far and wide. It was immortal. Sherlock had to be disgraced, and he had to be dead.” Mycroft sipped his tea, as if nothing going on were of any interest whatsoever.

“And that’s why you didn’t correct the stories in the press,” John realized, and felt even worse about everything that had happened since he had thought Sherlock dead. “But the day I confronted you, and you told me that you’d made a mistake with Moriarty—”

“I did make a mistake with Moriarty. And, once I realized it, I did what I could to correct it. Which was this.”

“Leaving the impression that you weren’t close to Sherlock,” Lestrade contributed suddenly.

Mycroft looked at him in surprise, but Lestrade spoke to John. “It was a mistake, telling Moriarty as much as he did, but Mycroft deliberately left the impression that Sherlock would never turn to Mycroft and that Mycroft would never help him.”

“Well,” remarked Mycroft. “An older brother giving away the secrets of his little brother’s life to a known criminal mastermind? It didn’t seem much of a stretch that Moriarty would think us unlikely to be first in line to save one another.”

“Which made you conveniently able to be first in line to save him,” John concluded.

Mycroft inclined his head slightly in affirmation. “One should never tell anyone everything. A few well-placed lies make all the difference. Moriarty did know that, he just didn’t seem to think I knew that.”

“It was clever of you,” said John.

“It would have been cleverer of me to just have him killed.” Mycroft paused and seemed to recall they were in mixed company, turning to Mrs. Hudson. “Were I capable of such things, of course.”

“Oh,” said Mrs. Hudson, hands fluttering nervously. “It’s all so complicated. I don’t understand why it can’t just be simple? If Sherlock’s alive, why can’t he just come home? And why don’t you just kill everyone who’s being difficult?”

Mycroft looked surprised, then said, smoothly, “Well, I’m working on that. In the meantime, Mrs. Hudson, perhaps you’d like to see your room?” Mycroft stood, an indication that the only correct answer to that question was yes.

“I really have to stay here?” Mrs. Hudson looked to Lestrade for confirmation.

“Sorry,” he said, with a sympathetic smile. “For a bit, until we figure this out. Don’t worry, the rooms are all very nice, and the cook is quite excellent. It’ll be nice to have your own housekeeper for a bit, won’t it?”

“I suppose,” Mrs. Hudson allowed, and, sighing, stood.

“It has a lovely en suite,” Mycroft was saying to her as he led her out of the room. “Perhaps you would wish to run a bath?”

John looked from the doorway through which they departed back to Lestrade.

Lestrade was studying him, his dark eyes cast with obvious concern. “Are you all right?”

“The only thing I’m really understanding here is that Sherlock is alive,” John replied, honestly. “That makes me better than all right.”

Lestrade smiled. “Good.”

“How long have you known?”

“Since before…” Lestrade trailed off, thinking. “Since the night we went out for pints, after solving the drowned man case.”

“Oh.” Recollection clicked into place for John. “When you went running off…”

“I pieced it together then.”

“And you didn’t tell me?”

“That was for your own good.”

“You let me go through everything I went through? You thought that was for my own good?” John demanded.

“We watched you, didn’t we? Mycroft and I? We tried to help. John, think about the scale of what he did to save you. I wasn’t going to be the reason anything happened to you. Sherlock would’ve tracked me down and murdered me very slowly and painfully, which I have no doubt he would know how to do.”

John licked his lips. He looked at the mobile, which had gone dark, but he could still remember the text. Please check on John. “Does he ask about me?” It seemed like a ridiculously selfish thing to ask at that moment, but it also seemed like the only question he cared about.

“Constantly,” Lestrade told him, one side of his lips tipping up into a smile.

John didn’t want to look as if this made all the difference in the world, as if it made his heart flutter absurdly, as if it caused him to feel flush with warm pleasure. He cleared his throat, aware that he looked exactly that way, because it was the truth. He tried to focus on something else, something other than What does he say when he asks about me? “But now he’s made this miscalculation. What’s this miscalculation?”

“He isn’t answering us.”

“Does he normally answer you?”

“What do you think?”

“I think he wouldn’t answer Mycroft. I think he’d answer me.”

“Oh,” Lestrade realized. “That’s an excellent idea. When Mycroft comes back we’ll propose it.”

John shifted uncomfortably. “Listen, I’m sorry I…” John gestured vaguely.

“Yes, I really wish you hadn’t. I convinced him to go to you by himself. I thought it would be good for you to hear his story, help redeem him a bit in your eyes. Now I’m going to hear complaints.”

“Strictly speaking he didn’t tell me any story before I punched him. I…knew.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you phoned, and you said to stay put, I…knew. I can’t explain it. But it was like, eight months of telling myself not to hope, and I just…knew. That moment was the first moment that’s made sense in eight months, like I finally woke up from a dream and people had started behaving properly again.”

“Well. I’d like to pretend you’re going to punch Sherlock when you see him, but we both know that’s not true.” The butler reappeared, clearing the tea tray, and Lestrade said a distracted “thank you” to him.

“Look at you,” John commented. “Lord of the manor.”

Lestrade actually blushed again. “Not really.”

“What is this place? How much does Mycroft get paid to be the British government anyway?”

“Truthfully, I don’t know. Enough, would be my guess. But this place is family money. Or at least, the house is.”

“Sherlock’s family had this much money, and he was looking for a flatmate?”

“Having you for a flatmate was never about the money, John.”

John allowed himself to acknowledge that. He’d always suspected that Sherlock had been well-off—it could be deduced in a million things about Sherlock, never mind the existence of Mycroft to confirm it all—and he had always half-wondered about his need for a flatmate. Sherlock, as antisocial as he could be, had craved company, and John had turned out to be ideal, and it had all been wonderful, and maybe it was all going to be wonderful again. They would fit together, the way they always had. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and his life would be too full again, the way Sherlock had always made it. John was going to make him talk for hours; he couldn’t wait.

To distract himself from thinking about it, he said, “Well, you’ve taken to this all quite nicely. You look very at home here.”

Lestrade looked amused. “It is home.”

“Greg, there are horse suits of armor over there.” John pointed.

Lestrade turned to glance at them, and the look on his face was…fond. There was no other description for it. And John knew Lestrade had no fondness for horse suits of armor, so the fondness was for something else entirely. “Yes, well,” said Lestrade, with a little shrug, turning back to John.

John stared at him, realizing it for the first time. “You really love him.”

Lestrade looked confused. “You didn’t think that I did?”

“I didn’t…I don’t know what I thought, but I suppose I never really understood how it was that you fit into his life. But you do. You fit here by being so perfectly out-of-place, and that’s what makes it work, isn’t it?”

“I have no idea—” Lestrade began.

“It’s as apt an explanation as I’ve ever been able to find,” Mycroft cut him off, walking back into the room.

“Oh,” said Lestrade, looking slightly embarrassed. “John and I have had an idea.”

“You mean one beyond the profound analysis of the workings of our relationship?” Mycroft asked, but without heat, and Lestrade clearly didn’t seem offended by it.

“You should have John text Sherlock. There’s no way Sherlock would ignore a text from John. Ever.”

Mycroft looked thoughtfully at John. “That is a good idea. What would you say?”

“‘Why are you being such a prat? Come back home’?” suggested John.

“Or ‘I love you, come back home,’” contributed Lestrade, and John glared at him.

“Or ‘What miscalculation?’” added Mycroft, dryly, as an epic gong sounded through the house.

John jumped a mile. “What the hell was that?”

“The doorbell,” Lestrade told him.

“Of course,” said John. “I suppose the butler will get it?”

As if on cue, the butler walked in with a violin case and said to Mycroft, “A package for you, sir.”

John didn’t know why but the sight of the violin case made Mycroft go white in a way that John had never seen him before. Not that he had ever really seen Mycroft react strongly to much of anything before, but apparently this reaction was alarming to Lestrade as well because he said, immediately, “Mycroft?”

Mycroft didn’t answer, merely put the violin case on the table and stared at it. Lestrade and John both stood, going to stand by Mycroft and stare likewise at the case.

“Is it Sherlock’s violin?” John asked, finally.

Mycroft still didn’t answer. He opened the violin case. There was a folded piece of paper inside, on top of the violin. Mycroft reached out, picked it up, and unfolded it. The note was in Sherlock’s handwriting, and John felt a pang in his chest at the sight of it, a sudden stutter to his breath. Mycroft – For safekeeping.

“He sent you his violin?” said Lestrade, looking from the note to Mycroft’s blank expression. “What does that mean? Mycroft.”

“He would never send a Stradivarius. Not like this. Never willingly.” Mycroft put the note back in the case and closed it. “Never,” he reiterated, firmly.

John was confused at the finality to the way Mycroft was speaking. “Why don’t I send him a text—” he began.

“Send him a text if you like,” Mycroft answered, picking the case up off the table. “He won’t answer.” And, with this grim pronouncement, Mycroft, violin in hand, turned and left the room.

Chapter Text

John looked at Lestrade quizzically and said, “What the hell?”

“I have no idea,” said Lestrade, and followed Mycroft out of the room.

John followed close behind him.

Mycroft was sitting behind a desk in a room that looked like a library. The violin case was resting on the desk, as were Mycroft’s elbows. He had his hands loosely interlaced, his lips resting against them, as he stared at the violin case.

“Mycroft,” said Lestrade, walking over to the desk. “What’s going on?”

Mycroft answered without looking up from the case. “He’d never send the violin ahead, Greg. Not if he was able to take it himself. Which means he’s not able. He sent this to me as a sign that things have gone awry. That’s why he’s not texting or calling. He may have even got rid of the mobile if he’s feeling the need to truly hide his tracks. When I first sent this violin to him, I sent it with a note telling him to bring it back safely. It was uncharacteristic of me, but you had me off-balance at the time, and it was an odd situation. I got a number of texts from him not only criticizing the sentiment of the note but also criticizing the fact that I had sent the violin at all. He has now sent it back to me with an extremely uncharacteristic note. Sending me something for safekeeping? He’d never do that. It’s a message. He’s in trouble. Please play host, if you would, I need to think.”

Lestrade hesitated, and John knew he was probably trying to think of some way to help.

John knew a way to help. He said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but, Mycroft, I think you should know: Someone sent me a key.”

Mycroft’s eyes left the violin case and focused on John’s. “A key? A key to what?”

“An empty house.”

“An empty house?” echoed Mycroft, incredulously. “What are you talking about?”

“I received a key in the mail, and it opens an empty house.”

“How do you know?”

“I went to the house.”

Mycroft looked at Lestrade and said, accusingly, “See? This is why you should allow me to have surveillance on people. He went off by himself and investigated an empty house.”

“It was an empty house,” John noted, irritated. “It wasn’t dangerous.”

“But it could have been,” Mycroft pointed out. “Where’s the house? Where’s the key?”

“I have the key. It’s still in the envelope it came in.”

“Could you fetch it, please?” said Mycroft, with an air of having made a command instead of a request.

John decided to allow the ordering around, because Mycroft was clearly worried, and John was worried, too, and arguing about it was probably not going to be productive. But he did say, “I’ve no idea where your butler took my suitcase.”

“Reynolds!” Mycroft called, but Reynolds the butler had already appeared, with John’s suitcase and John’s gun, both of which he carefully handed across to John.

“Thank you,” John said to him, and waited until he’d left the room before saying, “Is he, like, magical or something?”

“He’s merely a very good butler,” Mycroft informed him, sounding long-suffering. “The envelope, if you please.”

John fished around in his suitcase, found the envelope, and handed it to Mycroft.

Mycroft examined it very closely before opening it and pulling out the key. “How did you know where to bring the key?”

“The return address,” said John.

“Clever,” murmured Mycroft. “It isn’t Sherlock’s handwriting. Not even disguised.”

“He could have had someone else write it out for him,” suggested John.

Mycroft shook his head. “No. If he’d sent you a clue, he would have told us.”

“Maybe he was telling you. ‘Please check on John.’”

Mycroft put the key back in the envelope and the envelope on his desk and stared at it, deep in thought. Then he decided, “No. He’s been trying to keep you safe, all this time. He wouldn’t involve you.”

“I think we should check out the empty house,” said John.

“Absolutely not,” said Mycroft.

“But I think—”

“It’s probably a trap.”

John took a deep breath, struggling to keep his temper under control. He sat in the chair in front of Mycroft’s desk and said, as evenly as he could, “Mycroft. You’re worried. You’re telling me that Sherlock’s in danger. I just got him back. I just got him back, and I haven’t even had the chance to yell at him for everything yet. Please. This is the only lead we have. We have to use it.”

Mycroft looked at him. “This might not be connected to anything.”

Please,” said John again.

There was a long, tense pause. “What if I send the secret service in to investigate it?” proposed Mycroft, finally.

“They might miss something.”

“You’ve seen this house. Did it have any clues in it?”

“Not that I could see, but I didn’t really know Sherlock was alive then, I didn’t really…I need to look again.”

“I will send the secret service to the house. We will ascertain if anyone is in the house. If the house is safe then I will allow you to return to the house and make a closer examination.”

“Oh, you’ll allow me to do that?” said John. “Thanks for that, it’s very generous of you.”

“Thank you,” said Mycroft, with a cold smile. “I know.”

***

John thought everything about his current situation was excruciating. Sherlock was alive and possibly in trouble, and instead of being able to do anything useful to come to his aid, he was sitting in Mycroft Holmes’s house watching a Scotland Yard detective inspector teach his former landlady how to play chess. Even more unbelievably, Lestrade had referred to the room they were in as the drawing room, and had done it with a straight face, as if it were perfectly normal for people to have drawing rooms.

John thought it unsurprising that Sherlock had preferred having a flatmate to living in a house like this.

Mycroft was barricaded in the library, apparently thinking. John did not like this. He thought they should all be thinking about what to do next together, as a group. But, as John had no ideas about what to do next, as Mycroft had been in a terrible, snappish mood, and as Lestrade had suggested they should possibly not talk to each other for a little while, John found himself in the drawing room doing absolutely nothing. Well, he’d picked up a book from one of the room’s tables. It had turned out to be a collection of the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and John wasn’t interested in it, although he did have it open on his lap.

“No, no, the bishop can only move diagonally,” Lestrade was telling Mrs. Hudson, who said in reply, “Oh, of course, dear, you did tell me that.”

“It’s quite all right,” Lestrade assured her, and John’s mobile rang.

Lestrade looked up from the chess game, and John felt his gaze on him as he glanced at who was calling. He expected it to be an unknown number, but it was the clinic, which he told Lestrade. “Probably telling me that I’m fired,” he remarked.

“Well, don’t worry,” said Lestrade, going back to his contemplation of the board. “Maybe soon you can be a full-time blogger again.”

If only, thought John, and answered his phone. “Hello?”

“Dr. Watson,” said a voice he didn’t recognize on the other end, and that was confusing because he’d expected it to be his supervisor.

“Yes,” he confirmed.

“You should pretend that you are speaking to your supervisor,” said the voice.

John froze, then realized that his tenseness would be a dead giveaway and forced himself to relax. “Right,” he said, trying to watch Lestrade out of the corner of his eye. “Yes. Of course.” Lestrade had glanced in his direction, but was now answering a question Mrs. Hudson was asking him.

“Mr. Holmes is about to receive a gift,” continued the voice. “I’m sure you will recognize the significance of this gift. It is vitally important, Dr. Watson, if you wish to not receive more gifts of this nature, that you find a way to return to the empty house by yourself and without Mr. Holmes’s admirable entourage of semi-competent employees.”

John considered, staring unseeingly into the fire Reynolds the butler had lit in the room. “When?” he asked, casually, deciding it was a totally innocuous thing to say and wouldn’t pique Lestrade’s interest in any way.

“As soon as possible, Doctor,” said the voice. “I have it on the best of authorities that you should be clever enough to achieve this task.”

“Nice of you not to fire me,” said John, because he didn’t want to think about the implication behind that sentence.

“See you soon,” said the voice, sounding amused.

The line went dead, and John shut his mobile and mused into the fire.

“So they haven’t fired you?” Lestrade asked, from the chess board.

“No,” responded John, slowly, his thoughts very much on other things. “They said I could take as long as I needed.”

“Generous of them,” said Lestrade. “But, after all, you’ve only missed one day so far.”

“Yeah,” John agreed.

“Well, John, you appear to be correct,” announced Mycroft, coming into the room.

John shifted in the armchair by the fireplace so he could see him. “About?”

“The empty house is an empty house. You may go and search it yourself, if you like.”

“With an escort, I assume,” said John.

“Naturally,” said Mycroft.

An escort wasn’t going to work, thought John. Not according to the disembodied voice he’d just spoken with. But if he didn’t go at all, then Mycroft and Lestrade would both get suspicious about his behavior.

He was saved the trouble of coming up with a response by the gong of the doorbell sounding, and, even though Mycroft was standing close to the front door, he still waited for the butler to walk by him to open it.

The butler signed for something, then handed a large box over to Mycroft. Mycroft, frowning, turned and set it on the staircase, regarding it, and John followed Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson into the front hall. The box was tied with a string, as if it were a box of pastries from a bakery, but it was much larger than a box of pastries.

Mycroft leaned over and undid the bow holding the string together, then lifted the top off the box. He pushed aside a frothy pile of tissue paper and lifted out of it a heavy charcoal wool greatcoat, with telltale red stitching over the buttonhole at the top of the collar.

John felt as if he’d been abruptly pushed underwater. The world seemed to go very quiet all around him, sounds muffled by the rush of blood in his ears, and he didn’t breathe for fear he would choke on the thickness of the air in the front hall. He stared at Sherlock Holmes’s greatcoat in Mycroft’s hands. He wanted to snatch it away from him, to close his fists in it to verify it was real, to press his face into it to make sure it smelled like Sherlock, because it could all be an elaborate hoax—it wasn’t necessarily his.

Except that John knew that it was because the voice calling from the clinic had promised the arrival of a gift. Had promised the arrival of more gifts in this vein if he didn’t go alone to the empty house. More gifts of things of vast personal importance to Sherlock Holmes. Since they already had his violin and now his coat, John couldn’t imagine what would come next. The possibilities made him shiver.

Mycroft and Lestrade were talking, something about there being no note, something about what it meant. Lestrade was searching through the tumult of tissue paper the coat had been wrapped in, as if it was going to hold some sort of clue. An idea formed in John’s head, vague but the best idea he had.

He turned to Mrs. Hudson, whose eyes were fixated on Sherlock’s coat, and who was wringing her hands together. John paused, felt the comforting weight of the gun tucked into the waistband of his trousers, allowed himself the familiar flow of calming adrenaline through his bloodstream. Fear faded, tremors subsided, action loomed ahead of him, inevitable and inviting.

“Mrs. Hudson.” He leaned his head close to hers, speaking in a low voice, forcing her eyes to look into his, a hand on each of her shoulders. “I need you to do something for me, and I need you to not ask me why, just to do it.”

Mrs. Hudson looked terrified but she also looked steady, and he remembered that this was the woman who, confronted with CIA-trained killers, had hidden the object of their search down the front of her blouse. “Is it for Sherlock?” she whispered.

He nodded. “I need you to hit Mycroft,” he said.

“When?”

“Now.”

She nodded at him, squaring her shoulders, and, to his surprise, she leaned over and smartly picked up one of Mycroft’s umbrellas from where it sat in the umbrella stand behind the door.

“Mycroft,” she said, firmly.

Mycroft was searching through the pockets of Sherlock’s coat. “Yes?” he said, with absent politeness.

“Thank you very much for your recent hospitality. I’m sorry for this.”

“For what?” He looked up at her then, just in time to catch her whacking him hard across the shoulders with his umbrella.

Chaos broke loose. Lestrade said, startled, “Mrs. Hudson,” dropping handfuls of tissue paper to lunge toward her, but she evaded him and continued to land blows at Mycroft, who kept trying to dodge them, and the butler attempted to grab her, and Mycroft Holmes’s special ops team crashed through the front door.

And John Watson stepped through it in the other direction.

Chapter Text

John knew ways of moving through London with the minimum of CCTV surveillance. Sherlock had taught him, because Sherlock followed such routes out of habit, used to trying to deny his brother anything he could. Truthfully though, John didn’t see the point. As soon as his absence was noticed—which wouldn’t take long—Mycroft and Lestrade would know exactly where he was going. So John made a mad dash for it, hailing the first cab he came across, urging the cab to hurry, and hoping he could beat Mycroft to the house. A little piece of him thought Lestrade might help that along, give him a head start. They hadn’t communicated about it, but John thought maybe there was an invisible kinship between men in love with Holmes brothers: Sometimes you had to save them from themselves, and Lestrade would know that.

He sat in the cab and thought calmly and strategically. He had the gun, but they would surely take that from him right away. And it would do him no good to go in and start shooting; something terrible might happen to Sherlock as a result. He had his mobile, and maybe the GPS tracking would alert somebody to where he was going? But surely they would take the mobile and disable it, knowing that it would give away their location. He had his wallet, which did him no good at all. A few notes, his bank card, what was he going to do with any of that? He had the keys to his flat and the clinic, but he didn’t even have the key to the empty house. What was he going to do once he got to the empty house?

John ignored the rising sense of panic that was hovering secondarily, focusing on the most important thing, which was to get to Sherlock. Once he’d got to Sherlock, the rest of it would fall into place. It always had.

The cab dropped him off in front of the empty house, and John tossed money at him blindly and leaped out of the cab, bounding up the steps, as if he expected a helicopter sent by Mycroft to land on the street and stop him. He reached the door and, feeling like an idiot, knocked on it, just as a sleek black car pulled up next to him.

John stood in front of the house, watching the car’s back door open, but nothing happened. No one stepped out, least of all Mycroft.

John thought suddenly that it wasn’t just Mycroft who sent sleek black cars to people.

Taking a deep breath, John glanced toward the nearest CCTV camera. He wanted it to be crystal-clear who he was and which car he was getting into.

Then he walked over to the car and slid in.

There was a man in the car with him, older, dressed in a sharp suit and smoking a cigar.

“Dr. Watson,” he said, smoothly, as John closed the door behind him with barely a moment of hesitation. “It’s so lovely to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. Or, should I say, read so much about you. That would probably be more accurate.”

The car had begun moving, gliding smoothly into the traffic. John tried to pay attention to its route while simultaneously paying close attention to the man opposite him. “Read about me where?”

“Your blog, of course. It is a curious thing about those who pretend to spend most of their time chronicling someone else: It always reveals so much about the writers themselves.”

“Is that a convoluted way of saying that you can learn a lot about me from my blog?” asked John.

The man’s face twisted with a smile, and he puffed on his cigar.

“So,” said John. “What is it that you want? An autograph? I’d’ve been more than happy to oblige without the cloak-and-dagger act; that was really more Sherlock’s type of thing.”

The smile remained firmly in place. The man leaned over and knocked some ash off of his cigar into a nearby ashtray. “Still is Sherlock’s type of thing. Come now, Doctor, we both know the present tense is the correct tense when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.”

“Do we know that?” rejoined John, mildly.

“Yes, we do. You learned it fairly recently. I must say, it has been quite dull waiting for Mr. Holmes the Elder and Detective Inspector Lestrade to fill the rest of you in on this secret.”

“I suppose you knew almost immediately?”

“Ah, I wish I could claim such brilliance, but no, it has been a fairly recent revelation. Your…what would we call him? Your friend? Cohort? Lover? What would you prefer? The ‘lover’ term would be a misnomer, I see. That must have stung over the past eight months. Let’s go with ‘friend,’ seems easiest. Anyway, your friend was cleverer than I had been led to believe, which is less a testament to his cleverness than it is to the stupidity of everyone else. Nevertheless, now that my misunderstanding has been corrected, I am striving to rectify the error. As I’m sure you can appreciate. When you discover that a friend who was never quite a lover has come back from the dead, there are so many things that it runs through your head to tell him. And…do to him.” The man smiled even more widely and gestured with his cigar.

“Okay,” said John, unamused and refusing to be drawn into this conversation. “Who are you?”

“A difficult question to answer, Dr. Watson. Who are any of us, in the end?”

“Where are we going?”

“An empty house, Doctor.”

“An empty house where Sherlock is?”

“No,” said the man. He drew it out in a way that reminded John strongly of Mycroft.

The car drew to a stop. “I’m not sure how you expect me to believe that you have Sherlock if you don’t permit me to see him.”

“Oh,” said the man, smiling, and blew a smoke ring in John’s direction. “I don’t expect you to believe that I have Sherlock. Because I don’t have Sherlock. That’s why I have you, Dr. Watson. You see, you’re going to accomplish that for me.” John’s door opened, and he found himself looking down the barrels of several guns. The man puffed on his cigar again before adding, smile still intact, “Ta very much for that, by the way.”

***

It took a little while, after the umbrella had been wrestled away from Mrs. Hudson, for Lestrade to convince the army of bodyguards that Mrs. Hudson did not need to be arrested and taken in for questioning.

“Could you help, please?” he requested, finally, exasperatedly, of Mycroft.

“She broke my umbrella,” Mycroft said. “I liked that umbrella.”

“I will buy you another umbrella, please focus here.”

Mycroft sighed. “Yes. Fine. It’s fine, there’s no need to interrogate her.” He waved the bodyguards away and out of the house.

Lestrade, a protective arm around Mrs. Hudson, said, “Who are those people?”

But Mycroft, eyes sharp, said, “Where’s John?”

Lestrade looked around the front hall. Mrs. Hudson studied her hands carefully.

Mycroft narrowed his eyes at her. “Did John ask you to do that?”

“Yes,” she said, firmly, challengingly, meeting his eyes. “For Sherlock.”

Mycroft took a deep breath and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose as if a headache were coming on. Then he lifted his head and dropped his hand and said, “We need to stop him.”

“Maybe we don’t,” said Lestrade, and Mycroft paused in the act of taking out his mobile. Not his Sherlock-emergency-only mobile, his regular mobile. Mycroft, Lestrade knew, was about to call out the army to get John Watson back into this house, and Lestrade wasn’t sure that was so wise. John had gone to a lot of effort to get away, and maybe it was what they needed to gain an upper hand that they clearly didn’t have. The defensive posture of hiding in the house chafed against Lestrade’s instinct to force a confrontation.

“We don’t?” echoed Mycroft, looking at him in disbelief.

“Why not let him go to the house? You can’t win a chess game if the only thing you do is protect your king, Mycroft. They have us at a disadvantage.” Lestrade gestured to the coat in its acres of tissue paper, discarded on the staircase. “So far, they’ve been the only ones attacking. I say we counterattack. Let John go to the house. Call up your CCTV footage, and let’s see what happens. Follow him, but at a distance.”

Mycroft narrowed his eyes, and Lestrade could tell he was thinking, but whatever he thought of the idea he never knew, because that was when an unmistakable voice at the top of the stairs said, “I think it would be wiser not to follow him at all.”

For a moment of stunned silence everyone in the front hall stared at Sherlock Holmes at the top of the stairs, hands in the pockets of his greatcoat as he frowned down at them.

And then Mrs. Hudson said, “Oh, Sherlock.”

He glanced at her briefly as he descended the stairs, picking his way smoothly around the coat and the tissue paper and the box. “Hello, Mrs. Hudson,” he said, and leaned down and tried to give her a kiss on the cheek that Mrs. Hudson quickly turned into a fierce hug. Sherlock extricated himself from it eventually and said, “Close your mouth, Lestrade,” and then, “Dear brother, we need to talk.”

“But,” said Lestrade, which was the only thing he could think to say. “Your coat—”

Sherlock gave him a withering glare, and the thing was that Lestrade had thought he’d missed those withering glares until just that moment. “Was purchased by me in a London store, Lestrade. It is hardly the only coat of its kind in existence.” He looked back at Mycroft. “Can we talk now?” he asked, impatiently.

“By all means,” said Mycroft, coldly, sweeping his hand in the direction of the library. Sherlock walked past him and he followed. “We’re going to talk, and then I am going to have you killed.”

“It would have been easier for you to accomplish that before so many witnesses have clearly seen me very much alive,” Sherlock called back to him, without breaking stride, as he headed into the library.

“Wait a second.” Lestrade hurried from his position next to Mrs. Hudson, chasing them down the hallway to the library. “You think you’re doing this alone?”

Sherlock had already settled into a chair by the fire, his fingers steepled together. He smiled at Lestrade sarcastically. “Sorry, Inspector. Personal family business. Which I don’t think, technically, you are quite yet. Unless I’m mistaken.” He looked innocently at Mycroft. “Is there a happy announcement on its way?”

Mycroft, leaning on his desk, rolled his eyes and said to Lestrade, “It’ll make things worse, Greg.”

Sherlock looked startled. “You call him Greg?”

“It’s his name,” Mycroft responded, then straightened, walked over to the door, said, “Sorry,” shortly, and closed it firmly on Lestrade.

***

Mycroft was angry. He was angry in that special way that only Sherlock could make him angry. Which he knew Sherlock knew, and which made him even angrier. He shut the door on Greg and walked back over to his desk and leaned against it and refused to be the first one to speak.

“How will that work now?” Sherlock asked. “Will he get very cross and make you sleep on the sofa?”

“How did you get in here?” Mycroft asked, and then was annoyed with himself because he wanted to know, of course, but he also didn’t want to imply that it had been impressive.

Sherlock leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled again and pale eyes unfathomable. “You have several holes in your security, Mycroft; it’s really quite appalling.”

Mycroft smiled at him without humor and curled his fingers harder into the wood of his desk.

“You’ve made a mess of things,” Sherlock announced, finally, his voice brittle.

I’ve made a mess of things?”

“Yes. Where is John? Do you know?”

“I believe it was somebody’s suggestion that it would be wiser I not follow him.”

“Not following him doesn’t mean not knowing where he is.”

“I suppose you know where he is?”

“He’s with Moriarty.”

Mycroft tried not to look as if that surprised him, although of course it did, and of course it showed. He stood up, walked over to the library door, and opened it.

Greg, leaning against the jamb with his arms crossed, drawled, “Oh, excellent, I’m allowed to come in now, am I?”

Sherlock looked annoyed. Which maybe, Mycroft admitted to himself, had been part of the reason he had changed his mind about having Greg in the library with them.

“He’s just going to listen at the door anyway,” Mycroft informed him, “and I’m not re-telling this story. You’re telling all of us, all of it, right now.” Mycroft settled in the chair across from Sherlock and looked at Greg. “Where’s Mrs. Hudson?”

“Making Sherlock tea,” he said, dryly. He was leaning against Mycroft’s desk, and Mycroft had the impression he was still irritated enough from being locked out not to want to sit cozily by the fire with them. “She doesn’t trust our cook to make it for him properly.”

“Quite right, too,” said Sherlock, in approval. “Now about John.”

“Yes. What do you mean, ‘He’s with Moriarty’?”

“I mean it in much the same way that someone might have said, truthfully, earlier today, that Dr. Watson was with Mr. Holmes.”

“A brother,” said Mycroft.

“A much older and extremely tedious brother, yes.”

“An archenemy,” said Mycroft, sardonically.

“Just so,” agreed Sherlock, with a brief mocking smile. “This one’s a professor.”

“Rather less interesting than being the British government, wouldn’t you say?”

“Oh, you admit to that now?”

“If it makes me more successful than Moriarty’s tedious older brother, then yes.”

Sherlock looked sour. “Professor Moriarty is the one who was in charge all along.”

Mycroft couldn’t resist it. “The older brother was the mastermind? That frequently does occur, it’s true.” He heard Greg’s snort of laughter from the desk.

Sherlock looked even more sour. “Can we focus? This isn’t a competition. Professor Moriarty has John. He lured him in with a lookalike coat, and you allowed yourself to be distracted, and now we have to save him.”

“Was the violin also a lookalike?”

“No, that really is my violin. Things were…” Sherlock hesitated, clearly searching for a word that he liked. “Touch-and-go, for a bit.”

“Things were a disaster, you mean,” Mycroft translated. “What did you do?”

“It doesn’t really matter, does it? I got away, didn’t I?”

Mycroft looked at him, cataloguing. He didn’t look poorly, really. He looked much the way he had the last time Mycroft had seen him. The suit was still tailored to a quality that belied the casualness with which Sherlock tried to pretend he wore it; his hair was still dramatically riotous in its untamed curls; and the energy pouring off of him was as tense and coiled as it had been the night Mycroft had seen him off. Sherlock was nervous and frightened. Some of that was for John. Some of it, Mycroft deduced, was residual for himself. His eyes rested on a tear in the hem of Sherlock’s coat, fresh, the fraying threads still jagged. “Yes, but only just,” he concluded.

Sherlock self-consciously tucked the hem under so it was no longer visible. “What does it matter?” he asked, impatiently. “I got away. I did it once, I can do it again.”

“Do it again.” Mycroft studied his eyes. It had always been a source of annoyance to him that Sherlock had gotten those color-shifting eyes. It was an accident of biology that made him unfairly difficult to read, Mycroft thought. “What do you mean, you’re going to do it again?”

“Well, I have to go and rescue John, don’t I?” Sherlock drummed his fingers impatiently on the arm of the chair. “That’s why Moriarty’s taken him, of course. To lure me in.”

“So you think the solution is to allow yourself to be lured in?” Mycroft lifted an eyebrow at him.

“Yes. I’ll get in, get John, get out.”

“Do you have a plan for how you’re going to accomplish this?”

“I have my brain, Mycroft.”

“Yes, and your tendency to overestimate its capacity,” Mycroft clipped out. “Never plainer than in this moment.”

Sherlock glared, swept his eyes over Mycroft’s figure, then said, “Diet not going well, I see.”

Mycroft leaned back in his chair, because if Sherlock was goading him that meant he had the upper hand in the conversation. And also, Mycroft thought, it was glaringly obvious not only that Sherlock had no real plan, but that he had no real idea what to do at all. Sherlock was buying time to think about his next move whilst pretending not to, which was good, because Mycroft needed time to consider what his next move might be to counter Sherlock’s. He had no intention of letting anything happen to John, but he also had no intention of letting anything happen to Sherlock, either. “If your inclination is to go and save John, go.” Mycroft lifted his hands in a pushing motion, as if urging Sherlock out of the room. “I’m not stopping you.”

Sherlock glowered, his mouth twisting into a scowl.

Mycroft smiled at him benevolently.

Sherlock stood, threw his hands up dramatically, and said to Greg, “How can you possibly abide him?”

Greg didn’t answer. He looked at Mycroft, his eyes questioning.

Sherlock, pacing restlessly through the room, nearly ran into Mrs. Hudson as she entered with the tea tray.

“Oh,” she said, dodging him with old familiar practice as she placed the tray down on the coffee table.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” Mycroft told her, politely.

“You don’t have any of those biscuits Sherlock likes,” Mrs. Hudson chided him, as if he should have known Sherlock was going to drop by for a visit.

“That’s because he’s on a diet, in theory,” Sherlock retorted, from behind Mycroft’s desk, where he was rifling unabashedly through Mycroft’s drawers.

Mycroft was pouring for himself. “Greg, did you want tea?”

“I’d love some,” said Greg, clearly having decided to follow Mycroft’s lead.

“Mrs. Hudson?”

“Please,” she agreed.

Mycroft poured out four cups, enjoying the growing waves of sulky fury from the opposite side of the room. Mrs. Hudson and Greg both sat on the opposite side of the coffee table and accepted their cups of tea.

Greg said, conversationally, “We’re supposed to get a frost tonight, I heard.”

Mycroft looked across at him, at the enjoyable glint in his dark eyes, and decided he was going to snog the life out of him as soon as he had him to himself.

Mrs. Hudson looked startled by the casual topic, but Mycroft replied, “But no rain for the foreseeable future.”

“I saw that,” said Greg, thoughtfully.

Mycroft,” said Sherlock, from by the desk.

“Come and drink your tea, it’s getting cold,” Mycroft told him, mildly, sipping his own and glancing at him.

Sherlock looked absolutely murderous. “John could already be dead, while you’re sitting there having tea.”

Oh,” exclaimed Mrs. Hudson, looking at Mycroft with concern.

“John is not dead,” said Mycroft, “because you’ve just said that the objective is to lure you in, which they would never be able to accomplish if they killed John. Unless your theory is wrong?” Mycroft suggested, innocently, and sipped his tea again. “Anyway, we can’t rush headlong, we need a plan, which you know, or you wouldn’t be wasting time right now.”

Sherlock suddenly bounded energetically over to the coffee table, sat in his abandoned chair, leaned forward, and said, “Greg.”

Greg nearly dropped his teacup, staring at him. “What did you just call me?”

Sherlock sent him a curving, silky smile, the sort he used to use on the nannies when he wanted something. “Oh, we should be on a first-name basis; we’re practically family.”

“Are we now?” said Greg, looking amused.

“You could ask him for it. You like John, you wouldn’t want anything to happen to him.”

“Ask who for what?”

Sherlock’s veneer of charm cracked. “Ask Mycroft for the footage, are you really so stupid?” he snapped.

“Ah, Sherlock, it’s good to have you home,” said Greg.

“He needs the CCTV footage,” Mycroft explained. “It’s the only way he’ll know where they’re holding John. So he needs the CCTV footage so that he can engage in some foolish, impulsive, ill-considered rescue attempt.”

“Oh,” Greg realized. “Right. And you have access to it.”

Mycroft didn’t bother to confirm that. He looked at Sherlock. “There are new rules in place. The first of them being that you aren’t to pester Inspector Lestrade with acting as an intermediary between us.”

Sherlock bristled. “Don’t treat me like a child, Mycroft.”

“Don’t act like one,” Mycroft countered. “The second rule in place is that you aren’t doing anything without my full knowledge and consent right now. I've gone to quite a lot of trouble to keep you merely fake-dead instead of really dead, I’m not letting you do something recklessly stupid right now. No one’s dying today. I will not permit it.”

Sherlock stared stonily across at him for a tense moment, as if proclaiming that he should stay alive was an enormously offensive thing to assert.

“If I could just say something,” Greg inserted.

“I’d rather you didn’t use the oxygen in this room for such a purpose,” Sherlock said, still meeting Mycroft’s gaze.

“For someone so sure of his own cleverness,” Greg continued, smoothly, clearly ignoring him, “you’re exerting a lot of unnecessary effort. You don’t need me to ask him. Ask him yourself. He’ll give you anything you ask for, Sherlock.”

Mycroft watched Sherlock’s eyes narrow, knowing that he hated all of this, and Mycroft wondered if he realized that if he really had just asked, as soon as he’d walked into the room, everything would have gone so easily. Sherlock never took the path of least resistance when it came to him.

Mycroft knew that Greg would tell him the reverse was true, too. Which was unfair. Greg spoke from the safe, objective vantage point of being an only child.

“Mycroft,” said Sherlock, finally, flatly, “may I have access to the CCTV footage to see where they took John?” There was another moment of silence before he spat out, “Please?”

Mycroft smiled at him. “Absolutely.”

***

There was a room off their bedroom that Mycroft seldom used, because if he needed to do technological sort of work, he tended to just go to the office. But they went there now, all of them, and Mycroft sat with surprising alacrity and navigated through CCTV cameras. Lestrade leaned against the wall by the doorway and watched him, while Sherlock leaned over his shoulder and kept poking at buttons and saying things like, “No, no, no, what are you doing that for?” Mycroft was doing an admirable job of ignoring him.

Lestrade was wondering what Mycroft planned to do. The act of forcing Sherlock to request access to the footage had been less about the question and more about buying Mycroft time to develop a plan of attack, Lestrade knew. But he had no idea now what plan Mycroft had arrived at. He was hoping he’d be able to figure it out from Mycroft’s lead.

“There, there, there, stop,” commanded Sherlock, pointing, and the black-and-white image of John, standing by the door of a rundown-looking house, was unmistakable on the screen.

John stood uncertainly, looking at something that was out of the frame.

“Change the angle,” snapped Sherlock. “This is useless.”

Mycroft complied with the request with a barely repressed sigh, and it became clear that John was regarding a sleek, black car, then walking carefully over to it. There was a moment when John paused purposefully, looking somewhere. Mycroft shifted the angle again, and John was looking straight into the camera now.

“He was sending us a message,” said Sherlock, eyes shifting over the image. “He wanted to make sure we knew exactly what car he was getting into.”

“He was sending me a message,” corrected Mycroft, mildly. “He thought you were in danger.”

Sherlock ruffled with indignation but merely huffed his displeasure.

Mycroft, with an expertise that Lestrade knew was born of hours of spying on people and that Lestrade hoped did not include him all that often, scrolled through CCTV camera angles, carefully following the sleek black car through the streets of London, until it disappeared into an alley between two buildings.

“And?” Sherlock prompted.

“That’s it. That’s a private courtyard, no CCTV in there.” Mycroft leaned away from the desk and looked at Sherlock.

Lestrade glanced at Mrs. Hudson, who looked worried but was staying silent on the other side of the doorway.

Sherlock straightened away from Mycroft. “Who owns that building?”

“I’d have to make a call to find that out. Does it matter?”

“Not really, no. I know where it is, so now I can go get John.”

Lestrade stepped to the side to block the doorway and Sherlock’s retreat.

Sherlock sighed impatiently. “Lestrade—”

“You’re not going anywhere like this,” Mycroft informed him, evenly. “Haven’t I already said? I’ll not have you rush off at the risk of getting killed yourself. What good would it do John?”

“It would save John.”

“You haven’t been here for the past eight months. None of us wants to deal with a John Watson who’s grieving for you again. Mrs. Hudson herself will stop you before letting you risk that again.”

Mrs. Hudson nodded firmly.

Sherlock was silent for a long moment, looking from Mrs. Hudson to a spot over Lestrade’s shoulder at the bedroom through which he could escape. Lestrade braced, ready for him to make a move, but Sherlock turned toward Mycroft. “I have to do something, Mycroft.”

“I don’t disagree. I just don’t think you should do something foolhardy.”

“You know, I made a mess of your desk downstairs, and I’m not going to put it back the way it was,” said Sherlock.

Mycroft actually looked amused. He said in response, “I’ll manage somehow. Now. Let’s discuss ideas for a plan of attack.”

Chapter Text

It really was an empty house. Similar in size and scale to Mycroft’s house, but run down, dusty, and entirely empty.

“Sorry,” said the man in the suit, still puffing on his cigar, “but I don’t have anywhere to offer for you to sit.”

“That’s quite all right,” John replied, matching the man’s politeness, while trying to catalogue everything he could. The house was devoid of furniture, but it was full of people, a veritable army, all of them well-armed. Even if he could pull his gun without being shot first, he would be dead after the first shot, if he was lucky. That didn’t seem as if it was going to accomplish much. The best he could hope for, he thought, was Mycroft tracking him, either through the CCTV or through his mobile’s GPS.

“It seems to me,” the man remarked, conversationally, “that there are two options. The first is that Mr. Holmes the Elder tries to come to your aid. I’ve no doubt his rescue attempt would be clever and impressive in scale, but it would lack a sense of humor. Which is why I’m hoping for the second option.”

John said nothing in response.

“The second option,” continued the man, “is that Mr. Holmes the Younger tries to come to your aid. I admit that’s the option I’m rooting for. I feel he’d attempt it with flair. That much is evident, I believe, from his choice of coat.” The man puffed on his cigar thoughtfully. “You should be rooting for the second option, too. Aside from the fact that it would be romantic, of course, there is also the fact that should the rescue attempt come from the elder Mr. Holmes, I would have no choice but to kill you, really. You will have become far too much of a liability at that point. If the attempt comes from the younger Mr. Holmes, I may let you go. I haven’t decided yet. I suppose it depends on your Mr. Holmes’s powers of persuasion. I’m rather hoping that he argues passionately on your behalf.”

John crossed his arms, thinking, but he had no thoughts of any utility. He had walked into a trap, and he was either going to get Sherlock or himself killed. Unless something miraculous happened.

There was a knock on the front door. John looked over at it in surprise.

“Interesting,” commented the man. “Politer than I would have supposed.” He walked over to the window, looked through it at whoever was at the door, and frowned. Then he walked over to John, easily divested him of the gun under his shirt, and shoved him to the nearest heavily armed man, who immediately pressed the muzzle of his own gun into the hollow behind John’s ear.

John thought he could have done without that.

“If I so much as flinch,” the man commanded, evenly, “shoot him.”

John watched him walk over to the door, holding his breath. He hoped it wasn’t Sherlock at the door. He hoped desperately it was Sherlock at the door. John thought it was probably inevitable that he should clearly be losing his grasp on sanity at this moment.

John couldn’t see who was at the door. What he could hear was a voice—a teenager’s voice—saying, uncertainly, “Did somebody here order a pizza?”

There was a moment of loaded silence, then the man said, “I don’t suppose it’s already been paid for?”

“Er,” said the delivery boy’s voice. “No?”

The man sighed. From his vantage point, John watched him peel off a note and hand it to the boy and accept a pizza box. Then he closed the door, opened the pizza box, and smiled before pulling a note out of it, stained with grease. “See? Flair,” he said to John, holding it up so John could see it.

It was Sherlock’s handwriting. You have my attention. We should negotiate. SH

***

Professor Moriarty, much as Mycroft hated to admit it, had been clever to choose a building with an interior courtyard, because it took Mycroft out of the equation as much as he could ever be taken out of the equation, which was something Mycroft never liked to be. Mycroft, however, was refusing to be annoyed by this. If he was annoyed, then he would have to acknowledge he was uncomfortable, and from uncomfortable it was just a short leap to nervous, and before one knew it one would be outright panicked. Mycroft had learned long ago it was best not to think such thoughts. Caring was never an advantage, and things like annoyance and discomfort and anxiety were all hallmarks of caring too much. It was a chess board, he reminded himself. It had nothing to do with Sherlock rushing headlong into danger; it was just a chess board, like the game set up downstairs.

“There’s nothing for you to see,” Greg said, from by the door.

“No,” Mycroft agreed, nonetheless keeping his eyes on the image of the alley leading to…he wasn’t sure. Sherlock’s plan was to make contact, indicate that he knew exactly where John was, and then wait and see what happened. Sherlock was supposed to inform Mycroft of the next move, which would doubtless be a negotiation somewhere, but Mycroft didn’t trust him to do so. John made Sherlock even more reckless than usual, made him contemplate seventeen different danger-laden scenarios rather than anything that made sense, and that was because Sherlock cared far too much about John, and that was terrifying and definitely not an advantage. So Mycroft sat watching an unchanging image on a CCTV camera and trying to outplay both Moriarty and a headstrong, desperate Sherlock in his head.

He sensed Greg hesitate in the doorway before saying, “Do you want company?”

Mycroft considered this. He appreciated the fact that it was an honest offer. Not You shouldn’t be alone right now. Not Don’t shut me out. Just Let me know what you need. “No,” he decided, not unkindly. “I don’t think so.” He finally looked up from the monitor. Greg was leaning on the doorjamb, arms crossed, watching him with that open-book of a face he had. The story at the moment was half concern and half suspicion. He tried to lighten the situation. “As you say, there’s nothing for me to see, and nothing for me to do.”

“Which sounds not at all like Mycroft Holmes. What is your contingency plan, and what’s so terrible about it that you haven’t told me yet?”

“What makes you think I have a contingency plan?” he asked, mildly.

“I think you have three successive contingency plans, is what I think, because you’re you, and I know you.”

Mycroft’s work mobile rang from where it was sitting on the desk, saving him from a response. He glanced at it, registering the number as an office extension. “Strange, isn’t it?” he mused.

“What?”

“How things continue to go on in the world that manage not to revolve around my brother.” He leaned over and answered the mobile. “Hello.”

“Mr. Holmes,” said a voice he didn’t recognize. “I do hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Mycroft never forgot a voice. Ever. He looked at the CCTV image and said, evenly, already knowing the answer, “Sorry, who is this?”

“Oh, how rude of me,” answered the voice. “It’s Professor Moriarty. So silly of me, how would I ever have expected you to know that? Have you time for a chat?”

The Sherlock-emergency-only mobile chirped with a text. “Absolutely,” said Mycroft, smoothly, as he read the text. On the move. Change monitor. Down the block. SH Mycroft registered momentary surprise at the uncharacteristically helpful nature of this text and scrolled through camera angles, looking for his brother.

“I am, I think, about to have an interesting discussion with your brother.”

“Are you?”

“You don’t seem surprised that I’m having a meeting with a dead man.”

Mycroft found Sherlock, who was clearly following someone, and scrolled through to try to locate the object of his attention. “Nothing my brother does surprises me.”

“Yes, we have that in common, don’t we? Troublesome little brothers. Mine was good enough to simply die once he’d made a mess of things, but yours is rather more stubborn.”

“A flaw in his personality,” rejoined Mycroft, absently, realizing that Sherlock was following a pair of people who were moving swiftly through the pedestrian crowd and doing an excellent job of avoiding any head-on CCTV angles. Greg had moved from the doorway and was now leaning over his shoulder, watching what he was doing.

“Possibly a fatal one,” agreed Moriarty. “You have something I want, Mr. Holmes.”

“I would imagine I have several things you want.”

“Yes. True. Let’s focus on the one in particular. A file on my dearly departed brother, I believe. Interrogation records, things of that sort.”

Mycroft had combed through Moriarty’s interrogation records a million times and had never seen anything of importance. He had clearly missed something.

Professor Moriarty guessed the direction of his thoughts. “Don’t even think about it, Mr. Holmes. You’ll never locate it. I, however, am in need of that file.”

“That’s rather tragic for you,” Mycroft informed him, watching the progress of the pair of people, Sherlock darting through the crowd behind them.

“The scale of the fraud you’re perpetrating at the moment is quite astonishing. Were you anyone other than you, it would be difficult for your reputation to recover.”

“I am not overly concerned about that,” remarked Mycroft, scrolling through angles.

“I know you’re not. And I would have said, based on your recent actions, that your brother would be your weak point, but you’re currently allowing him to follow me through this crowd, and I know that you know I’ll kill him as soon as I get close enough to him, so your permissiveness on this point is telling.”

“As we’ve already established, he’s stubborn.”

“I am well aware that you know exactly where I am at this moment. You’re watching me on a monitor, no doubt. At the very least, you could have this call traced. You could have me killed easily, I am aware. You’re staying your hand because we both know you have a much bigger problem. There’s a detective inspector who works for Scotland Yard who knows a great deal about the way Mycroft Holmes’s mind works.” Mycroft did not move, but his eyes did shift from the monitor to Greg’s profile, leaning beside him and looking at the monitor. Moriarty kept talking. “Do you know how many terrorist cells would love to get their hands on information like that?” Greg, sensing his gaze, gave him a quizzical look in response. “I know that you do. I feel fairly confident that detailed information on exactly how valuable he might be would be released to many unsavory types, should I be killed.”

Mycroft leaned back in his seat, away from the monitor, his eyes on Greg, who, still looking puzzled, held his gaze, head slightly cocked. “Oh,” said Mycroft, coolly. “You’ve just made a mistake.”

“Have I?” asked Moriarty. He sounded amused, which Mycroft thought was another tremendous mistake on his part.

He spoke casually and lightly, watching Greg, who had by now straightened and turned and was leaning against the desk, his expression curious and confused. “I don’t share my brother’s penchant for noble self-sacrifice. If you’d like to declare war on me, that’s perfectly all right. Don’t be surprised when I win.” Mycroft ended the call without waiting for a response, dialing the second space in his speed-dial without delay.

“Mycroft,” said Greg, sounding concerned.

Mycroft was furious, which was a hallmark of caring, which was never an advantage, but Mycroft didn’t care about the bloody chess board or where any of his bloody pieces were. He wanted the entire board knocked over completely; he was through with this game.

His voice was perfectly even when he said to the person who answered his call, “I’m going to text you the address of a building in London. I want every single person in that building arrested. Accuse all of them of murder. And if they resist, shoot them.” Mycroft hung up on the yes, sir he received in response, swiftly texting the address of the building where Moriarty had brought John.

“What the hell,” said Greg, and now he sounded downright startled.

“That was my contingency plan,” Mycroft told him, without looking at him, striving to sound unruffled.

“What did he say to you?”

Mycroft considered, putting the phone down carefully and looking up at Greg. He had said nothing Mycroft hadn’t already known, nothing that didn’t keep him up at night while Greg slept, nothing that didn’t make him check CCTV monitors every once in a while, just to be sure Greg was still alive and safe and there in London. At a certain level, Mycroft’s job was keeping people safe—the right people. He had accomplished it for years with aplomb, and he wasn’t about to falter at it now.

“Mycroft,” said Greg, more firmly, “what did he say?”

Mycroft stood, pinning Greg against the desk and leaning into him. He was comfortingly solid and warm and, though he radiated bewilderment, he adjusted, letting Mycroft settle into him, brushing a kiss over his jaw in a gesture of soothing concern.

Mycroft closed his eyes and breathed into him. “The wrong thing,” he answered.

***

The man’s hand was tight on John’s arm, pushing him along and wending a brutal pace through the crowd, no matter how much John tried to stumble and trip to slow him down. He’d put the gun away, and John wasn’t sure if he’d really use it in a crowd, so at least that had become a bit of a non-factor. Which meant that if John was going to make a move he needed to make it soon, while they were out in public and he had a chance of getting away. He’d made a grave error and was serving as a trap for Sherlock, who, if his note was to be believed, was taking the bait. He had to get out of this before he got Sherlock killed. Why didn’t the man think he would make a move? Did the man think he was terrified that anything he might do would hasten his own death? Was the man really so stupid as to think that John wouldn’t, even after all this time, take every risk of his own death, unthinkingly, if he thought it would keep Sherlock safe?

Actually, John hadn’t really given thought to it himself, but it turned out that yes, that was still true, even after every single bloody thing that had happened in the past eight months. John was furious with Sherlock for turning out to be alive and, damn it, he was going to do everything in his power to make sure Sherlock stayed that way, even if it did turn out to be the last thing he did.

His mind made up, John paid attention, hoping that he would choose exactly the right moment. What happened, luckily, was that the man had to pause abruptly to try to cross a street, and his sudden halt loosened his grip on John’s arm just enough. In the pause, John swung around and punched him as hard as he could. Much harder than he’d punched Mycroft Holmes earlier that day, although punching people was starting to really bruise up his knuckles, it had to be said.

The man hadn’t been expecting that at all. His grip loosened even more, enough for John to pull his arm away and give him a quick shove. Still off-balance, the man stumbled directly into traffic. There was a general outcry from the crowd around them, but, true to a London crowd, only a couple of people seemed inclined to get involved, and John didn’t give them an opportunity to make up their minds. He took off at a sprint in the opposite direction, not sure what his plan really was. Maybe hail a cab? Maybe—

A shot rang out, and John ducked instinctively, but that had been a stupid move on the man’s part, because he’d missed John in the weaving of the people on the sidewalk and the shot triggered a chaotic stampede of people screaming and running in all directions and in the midst of all of this, a hand closed into John’s, tugging insistently, and somehow he knew not to throw it off, not to struggle against it. Somehow, his hand recognized this hand, automatically, instinctively, clasped around it. He turned toward it and met a pair of pale eyes that he felt like a physical blow.

“This way,” said Sherlock Holmes, who just that morning had been dead. And then took off, dropping his hand.

John had no moment to ponder how it felt to see Sherlock Holmes again. He could only react, following him at a mad dash. This was oddly appropriate, he thought. He had never had the ability to comprehend how he felt about Sherlock Holmes, he had only ever reacted, pulled along in his wake, always running hard enough that breath was fast and quick and life was a joyous blur skimming past them.

The crowds were thinning out, and Sherlock slowed and came to a stop. John had lost track of where they were because he had been so determined not to lose sight of Sherlock in front of him. He stood, leaning over, hands on his knees, and gasped for breath while Sherlock pulled out his mobile.

John listened to him, the cadence of his voice, clipped with impatience. He was barely out of breath at all, which reminded John that it had been a while since he had had to run anywhere, and Sherlock had clearly spent the last eight months running.

“Where is he?” he said. And then, after a pause, “But why would you do that?” And then, after another pause, “Never mind, I’m not interested.”

There was a finality to this that made John think Sherlock had ended the conversation, so he looked up, and Sherlock was indeed sliding the mobile back into his pocket.

“My brother is an idiot,” he announced, and then, “Have you got your breath yet? We have to—”

“Hold on.” John put a hand up to stave him off. “Sherlock,” he said.

Sherlock looked at him, deliberately obtuse. “What?”

John lifted his eyebrows at him.

Sherlock had the grace to look a bit uncomfortable, at least. “Well, didn’t Mycroft explain?”

“I would punch you, you know, only my hand’s sore at the moment from punching too many people today. But don’t worry, I’m going to save it for later.”

“Too many people? Who else have you punched today?”

“Mycroft.”

“Mycroft?” Sherlock looked delighted at this. “Oh, excellent. About time that happened. Why did you punch him? I bet he deserved it.” Sherlock was rubbing his hands together with obvious glee, practically bouncing with anticipation over this story.

“I punched him for lying to me about your supposed death,” John informed Sherlock, scathingly.

Sherlock’s face fell. “Oh,” he said, awkwardly, an expression John recognized on his face, the one he wore whenever he ran up against a situation that called for socialized behavior that Sherlock had never really bothered to internalize. Sherlock looked hesitant, sliding his hands into his coat pockets. John waited, resisting the impulse to give him a hint as to what he ought to say, resisting the impulse to fall into the pattern of that with him, immediately, automatically, the way Sherlock had clearly expected him to.

“I…thought you’d be happy,” Sherlock managed, finally.

“That everyone lied to me for eight months?”

“No, that I’m not dead.”

John stared at Sherlock, who was practically hiding in his coat. He stared at the familiar scarf knotted in the same old way around his throat. He stared at the dramatic line of those cheekbones, at the fever-brightness of those strangely colored eyes against his pale skin, at the dark hair worn slightly too long, its riot of curls kicked into cowlicks by the breeze as they’d run. He wanted to stop and make a list of every single thing about Sherlock in that moment, so he would remember forever when he’d walked back into his life, remember all the things he hadn’t realized he’d forgotten over the past eight months. He wanted to press his fingers against the pulse in Sherlock’s neck, to be sure of the steady circulation of his blood. He wanted to press his fingers against every single pulse point in Sherlock’s body, really, to be sure that he wasn’t a ghost. He wanted so many things that his mind was a tumult.

He said, a catch in his throat, “When did you get to be stupid?”

Sherlock looked torn between frowning thunderously and earnestly defending his intelligence, but John didn’t wait to see what won out, because if he didn’t do something quickly he was going to burst into messy tears all over Sherlock, and in order to do something slightly more dignified than that he fisted his hands into the heavy wool of Sherlock’s coat and tugged him forward and kissed that ridiculous bow of a mouth he had.

Sherlock froze, and John, feeling mortified, drew back. Not enough so that Sherlock could see him clearly, because he didn’t really want Sherlock to see exactly how mortified he was, although Sherlock could surely sense it. His hands loosened in Sherlock’s coat, but he didn’t let go, and he tried to think of what he could do, now that he had made this monumental error. Could he laugh it off? Achieve the right level of casualness in his voice? Say Just checking, yup, flesh and blood, good to know?

While he was deciding, Sherlock cleared his throat. “Oh,” he said, his voice pitched lower than usual, and John thought he should point out to Sherlock not to use that tone, it made people—even men who had previously thought themselves to be heterosexual—think wicked things. “That’s new,” said Sherlock, as if anything about this situation of returning from the dead wasn’t new.

John had still not decided exactly what he was going to do, but it turned out not to matter because Sherlock’s hands suddenly settled on the back of his head, holding firmly and shifting slightly, and Sherlock Holmes kissed him. Actually, to say that Sherlock Holmes kissed him was not strictly accurate at all. Sherlock Holmes kissed him. Kissed every thought out of his head. Flattened him against the nearest wall and pressed into him until he couldn’t breathe, and then kissed him some more, just for good measure.

Sherlock eventually stopped kissing him in favor of leaning down and sucking underneath his jaw, which was going to leave a mark but also felt divine, and he knew he said Sherlock’s name in a fluttery little way and drew him closer, and that Sherlock said, “Mmm?” in response, against the sensitive spot on his neck, and at that point John managed to struggle down a choking breath, and his brain cleared enough to realize that his hands were in Sherlock’s hair, holding him against him, and Sherlock’s hands were somehow under his shirt, and he was grateful for the curtain of Sherlock’s coat hiding all manner of things where they were half-collapsed against the wall together.

“Wait,” he managed, looking at the gray sky past Sherlock’s head. “Wait, wait, wait.”

Sherlock lifted his head, cutting off John’s view of the sky and filling it with him, his pupils dilated and his mouth, red and thoroughly kissed, turned down in a frown. “But you started this,” he accused.

John said the first thing that came into his head, the truth of it slipping out. “I didn’t think you would know how to kiss like that.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, and he looked as furious as John thought it was possible for him to look when his fingers were still absently caressing John’s chest. But whatever he was going to say was cut off by a mobile chirping a text alert.

Mycroft with his CCTV cameras, thought John, immediately, abruptly noticing one out of the corner of his eye. Bloody hell, that had probably been quite the show.

Sherlock removed a hand to retrieve his mobile, and John refrained from saying that he would have retrieved the mobile for him and there had been no need to touch John any less than he was currently touching John and quite a bit of need to touch him more. John was proud of himself for this restraint on his part.

Sherlock glanced at the text, replaced the mobile in his pocket, and took a long step away from John, straightening his clothing in smooth, unhurried motions that made it seem as if nothing interesting had just occurred. Meanwhile, John leaned against the wall and focused on trying to catch his breath.

“We have to go,” Sherlock informed him.

“Go where?” said John, hoping that the answer was somewhere without CCTV cameras. Maybe Baker Street.

“See Moriarty,” Sherlock replied, already striding briskly away.

John stared after him. Of course. Why would it be anywhere normal that they would go after snogging against a wall? Of course they would go see a man who wanted to kill both of them. “Would you wait?” John requested, crossly, thinking that Sherlock was already annoying the hell out of him. He had to half-jog to catch up to him, trying to tuck in his shirt along the way.

Really, he thought. This was turning out to be the best day of his life.

Chapter Text

John wanted a million things explained to him. It was a familiar feeling. And one he had missed acutely over the past eight months.

Sherlock hailed a cab with the ease with which Sherlock had always hailed cabs. John had missed that, too.

John started with what he thought might be the most straightforward question. “What are you talking about, ‘Moriarty’?”

Sherlock looked at him, that impatient how-can-you-be-confused look he had.

“Did Moriarty fake his death, too?”

“Oh. No. That man, back there, is also Moriarty.”

“Also Moriarty?” John echoed.

“Moriarty’s brother.”

“Avenging his death?”

“More likely looking for this.” Sherlock peered closely out the cab window while simultaneously casually producing a thumb drive from somewhere underneath his coat, holding it up briefly, and putting it back wherever it had come from.

“What’s that?” asked John, dreading the answer.

“Mycroft’s file on Moriarty. The original Moriarty.”

“How did you get that?”

“My brother leaves the damnedest things in his desk,” Sherlock responded, lightly.

“Sherlock. You’re just going to hand that over?”

“Of course not.” Sherlock sent him a brief, withering look of annoyance. “That would be stupid.”

“Why are we going to see Moriarty, then?”

“To negotiate a truce.”

“With top-secret files stolen from your brother?”

“Not entirely,” said Sherlock, and turned up the collar of his coat as if that were going to distract John from the line of questioning.

“You can’t negotiate a truce with a madman; he’s going to kill both of us as soon as he sees us.”

“No, he won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s a Moriarty, he doesn’t get his hands dirty. Anyway, if he kills me, or you, I won’t tell him where I’ve hidden the file he wants so desperately.”

John stared at him. “But you have the file with you.”

“He doesn’t know that, does he?”

“This is a terrible plan. What would the terms of this truce be? He’ll kill you as soon as you do reveal the location of the file.”

“No, because by then I’ll have everything in place.”

“You’ll have what in place?” asked John, exasperated.

Sherlock turned suddenly, closed the space between them, placed a possessive hand along John’s jaw, and kissed him.

Sherlock would use that strategically, John thought, and he really shouldn’t let him, but he kissed him back anyway, because actually kissing Sherlock was impossibly a million times better than any fantasy John had ever had about it.

He let Sherlock time the kiss, let him draw back to end it, and said, opening his eyes and finding them full of Sherlock still close in front of him, “Don’t think you’re going to do that every time you don’t want to hear what I’m telling you.”

“No?” Sherlock looked as if he thought that was a splendid idea.

John thought that he probably looked as if he thought that was a splendid idea, too. “Shut up,” said John, and when he closed his hands into that absurdly upturned collar and pulled him in for another kiss, Sherlock was smiling.

After too short a time, Sherlock sat back against the door, looked at John as if nothing interesting had just happened, and said, “I believe you have a key to an empty house.”

***

Sherlock had a theory that Moriarty wished to use the empty house as a rendezvous point. As if it made sense to have rendezvous with criminal masterminds who wanted to kill you. John didn’t like Sherlock’s plan, but had decided against wasting time trying to talk him out of it. It was more efficient to come up with a plan of his own, John had learned, and he was happy to be using that learning again. Now he just had to come up with a plan…

Sherlock reached into his coat and pulled out a gun, which he handed to John.

“Oh, thank God,” said John, because he’d been feeling a bit bereft without his. Time with Sherlock made you realize the comfort of having a gun at the small of your back. He accepted the gun with pleasure. “Where did you get this?”

“Mycroft.”

“Mycroft let you have a gun?”

“Mycroft thought I might need a gun. You’re the better shot though, and anyway, I’m going to have talking to do. I’d rather you keep the gun.”

“Plus, you’re bloody irresponsible with guns.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes,” said John, calmly, tucking the gun into his trousers. “You are.”

“We’ll talk about this later,” Sherlock decided.

“No, we won’t,” said John, thinking two could play at the snog-away-undesirable-conversations game.

“I need you to keep the gun on Moriarty, as soon as he walks through the door.”

“Well, that shouldn’t be hard,” John remarked.

“It should keep him from killing us while I negotiate with him.”

“Should?” echoed John.

Sherlock ignored him, and also ignored the chirp of his mobile with a text message.

“Is that Mycroft?” Sherlock didn’t need to answer, because it was answered by John’s mobile chirping with a text. John glanced at it. Make him phone me. Mycroft Holmes. “He wants to talk to you.”

“Of course he does,” Sherlock muttered, glancing out the car window at their progress. “He always wants to talk.”

“Sherlock, I don’t like anything about this idea. I think we should kill Moriarty right away and—”

“If we kill Moriarty right away, what happens to us as a result?” asked Sherlock, mildly.

“We get to go home, safe and sound, and live to fight another day.”

“Or Moriarty’s associates take us out immediately.”

“Sherlock—”

“Oh, look, here we are,” said Sherlock, pleasantly, as the cab drew to a stop.

Convenient, thought John. He hoped Sherlock’s luck was going to continue to hold and neither of them died today.

“I don’t have the key anymore,” John told Sherlock, as they walked up to the front door. “Mycroft has it.”

“Who needs keys?” asked Sherlock. “Keys are boring.”

“We’re going to break into this house, and Mycroft’s going to send the police after us.”

“No, he’s not.”

“Why not?”

Sherlock had made quick work of the lock, opening the door easily. John pretended that wasn’t sexy. “Really not Mycroft’s style.” Sherlock was walking swiftly through the house’s dusty hallway.

“I think it sounds exactly like Mycroft’s style,” John protested, following him.

“So it really is an empty house,” Sherlock concluded, reaching the back of the house and peering out the dirty windows at a small crowded alley. He turned abruptly back toward the front of the house, down the cramped hallway they’d strode down. “I assumed everyone had missed something, but it really is an empty house, Professor.”

John, confused, glanced back toward the front of the house, too, and the man with the cigar—Professor Moriarty, John assumed—glided out of one of the rooms off the hallway, still puffing casually on his cigar. John, startled, pulled his gun quickly, leveling it on him.

The man looked vaguely amused. “Really, Dr. Watson? Is that necessary?”

“I wanted to ensure we’d have an opportunity to talk,” responded Sherlock, smoothly.

“And discussions at gunpoint are always so fruitful,” said Moriarty.

“You have done extensive research into that proposition,” Sherlock replied.

Moriarty’s cigar glowed orange for a moment. “Indeed.”

“You’re looking for your brother’s file,” said Sherlock.

“I’m looking for many things, Mr. Holmes.”

“True, but the file is of paramount importance. And I know where it is.”

“So do I.”

“The difference being that I can get it.”

“Really?”

“Not without something in exchange, of course.”

“Do you imagine that we are bargaining with each other now?”

“No, I don’t imagine it at all. I have the file already.”

John was watching Moriarty closely, his gun aimed at his heart, so he could tell that this surprised him. “Your brother—”

“You’ll have done your research. The weakness in my brother’s security is always me.”

“True.” Moriarty walked slowly over to Sherlock, John keeping the gun level on him, his trigger finger ready to take a shot under the slightest provocation.

“Careful, Dr. Watson would love any excuse to kill you,” Sherlock said, mildly, holding his ground as Moriarty approached.

“Which would be a terrible mistake, as you know. For you and for Dr. Watson.” Moriarty drew to a halt only a foot or so away from Sherlock, regarding him with what looked like genuine interest. “You are a great deal of trouble,” he remarked.

“Thank you,” said Sherlock.

“A great deal of trouble to your brother. It is of no surprise to me at all that he has ignored the threat on your life should I die and stationed snipers outside to dispatch me. I am surprised, however, that he doesn’t value his detective inspector’s life more.”

John kept his gun steady but couldn’t help glancing toward the front door. Snipers positioned outside, he thought.

“Mycroft wouldn’t send snipers,” Sherlock denied, impatiently.

“You underestimate how little he values your life. Anyone’s life, apparently.”

John’s thoughts went whirling through his head. If Mycroft had sent snipers…Mycroft was calling Moriarty’s bluff.

“You have one week, Mr. Holmes,” Moriarty continued. “Now, you’ll excuse me if I exit by the back door.”

And if Mycroft was calling his bluff, thought John, if Mycroft was calling his bluff…

It suddenly burst over John exactly how much had been done to him and to Sherlock by the Moriartys. John thought of the suffocating emptiness of the Baker Street flat, of the experiments stalled midway through, of the sheet music going unplayed, of the conversations he’d never gotten to have and the blogs he’d never gotten to write. He thought of things he hadn’t let himself think of in months, thought of standing on a street and watching Sherlock leap off a building, thought of the stillness of his body and the shiny black marble of his gravestone. He thought of the times he’d cried when he hadn’t wanted to cry, and of the times he hadn’t slept when he’d wanted to sleep. He thought of long interminable days in which nothing interesting happened, and of nights when he woke up convinced Sherlock was up and about, in the next room, about to wake him to run an errand for an adventure. He thought of standing in the middle of a busy London street, searching for a cab, and feeling so crushed by loneliness that he couldn’t breathe. He thought of dragging himself to his flat and crumpling onto the sofa, exhausted with missing Sherlock. He thought of the weight of all the things he had never said to him, the weight of all the questions left unasked, and he remembered so vividly the suffocating pressure of all those words, withering inside of him.

And he thought how it had all happened because these men, these Moriarty brothers, had twisted the very best thing in his life until it had become a weapon. Whatever Sherlock’s feelings for John—and John thought they were too complicated to ever be put into words—Sherlock had done everything he could to save him. It had been the Moriartys’ surefire way of beating Sherlock Holmes, and now John saw it was their way of beating all of them, this ridiculous group of people who had all worked so hard to keep each other safe. Moriarty’s power only existed so long as they all placed keeping each other alive above all things.

Mycroft was calling Moriarty’s bluff, John realized, because if Mycroft didn’t call his bluff then the fact of their complex and tangled emotions regarding each other would stay twisted into a weapon that would only hurt them.

John thought of the bleak emptiness of the last eight months of his life. Here, he thought, in this empty house, he was going to take the first step to never being as empty as that again.

John thought all this in a split second, like being abruptly ducked under water. Moriarty was still speaking to Sherlock. “Your brother may wish to see what happens to you should I die. I, however, desire to keep you alive a bit longer,” he was saying, and then he turned his back, clearly about to depart through the back door.

“Moriarty,” said John, evenly, the gun’s weight steady in his hands, and Moriarty half turned toward him, looking politely curious. “You’ve got it the wrong way ’round,” John informed him, and then pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

John could have kept pulling the trigger. He felt capable of it. He heard Sherlock’s shocked “John,” which didn’t stop him so much as the front door coming crashing in.

John looked up, his arm still extended, the gun still raised, pointing at Moriarty’s prone body, as a special ops team stormed into the house, guns drawn. John dropped the gun, raising his hands over his head automatically. People swarmed over to Moriarty’s body. A single man, rifle held casually in his arms, walked over to John and said, “Dr. Watson?”

“Yeah,” he answered, because he couldn’t think what else to say, really.

“You should leave. Both of you.” The man’s eyes flickered past John’s shoulder, and John knew Sherlock was standing behind him. “You were never here, after all.”

Sherlock’s hand closed around his arm. “We’re going,” he said, and John didn’t know if he was talking to him or to the special ops guy.

Sherlock half propelled John down the close hallway, extra-crowded now that it was crawling with the special ops team. It was unreasonably bright outside in contrast, and John squinted back into the dim house. “Mycroft…” he said, trailing off.

“Oh, he’ll take care of everything, doesn’t he always?” Sherlock’s voice was flat, and John looked at him. His eyes were narrowed into slivers of displeasure, watching a sleek, black car pull to a stop in front of the house.

John looked from the car to Sherlock. “We should go,” he pointed out.

“Have we a choice?” snapped Sherlock. He frowned into the nearest CCTV camera, then stalked over to the car and pulled the back door open, ducking inside.

John followed quickly, and the car glided into movement as soon as he’d closed his door.

Sherlock was turned to look out the window, twisted dramatically so that John could mostly only see his back. It was a classic Sherlock sulk. John wondered if he should tell Sherlock he was so happy to be on the receiving end of a sulk that he could have wept with happiness. Instead he said, “Are you angry with me?”

“On what evidence are you basing such a deduction?” Sherlock replied, without looking at him.

Sherlock’s mobile started ringing.

John pointed it out. “Your phone is ringing.”

Sherlock rounded on him abruptly, so clearly furious that John automatically leaned away from. “What have you done? Why would you do that?”

“Sherlock,” he said. “I had to do that. We didn’t have any other options.”

“Yes, we did—”

“You were buying time, hoping that you came up with options later. Mycroft had the right idea, with the snipers. The longer Moriarty was alive, the more opportunity he had to kill you, or me, or any of us. I’ve removed him from the equation now.”

“He’s Moriarty, he’s never removed from the equation. Do you have any idea how enormous his web is? You just killed a man whose associates will not hesitate to kill you in return.”

John’s mobile was ringing now, but he didn’t care. “Fine,” he shouted back at him. “Let them try.”

“Have you gone mad?” Sherlock demanded. “You have utterly lost what little intelligence you ever had in that brain of yours.”

“Sherlock. Listen to me. Whatever happens next, it happens to us. Us, you and me, as a pair. We are through letting other people use us as a weapon, do you understand me? There is nothing that happens next that we can’t handle, as long as we handle it together. You don’t make choices without me to protect me; I don’t make choices without you to protect you; we do it together.” He was no longer shouting, but was speaking fervently, urgently, needing Sherlock to understand what he was saying.

Sherlock’s mobile had started ringing again, but John didn’t even think Sherlock heard it. He was staring at John, and his eyes looked frighteningly fuzzy, a look John couldn’t interpret.

“Say something,” John said to him.

Sherlock sucked in a slow, deep breath, and he said, “How do you exist?”

John had no idea what to say to that. He had no idea, really, what Sherlock even meant by that. So when his mobile started ringing again, he reached for it to have something to do. It was Mycroft, and John faltered, not really wanting to have a conversation with Mycroft, but he felt guilty for ignoring him when he was currently cleaning up John’s latest murder, so he answered the phone. “Hello?”

“I didn’t send a car for you,” Mycroft told him, immediately.

John looked around at the car they were very clearly in, not comprehending. “Wait, what?”

I didn’t send a car for you,” Mycroft repeated, and realization hit John.

He hung up the phone, looked at the driver’s head, cursed the fact that he’d dropped the gun at the empty house, and then looked back at Sherlock, who looked vaguely curious but still mostly fuzzy, and of course now, of all moments, would be the moment when Sherlock Holmes would be fuzzy. John glanced out the window. The car was moving quickly, sliding skillfully through traffic, and they were on a bridge, crossing the Thames. He turned back to Sherlock.

“Sherlock, pay attention to me,” he said.

It was the right thing to say, because Sherlock frowned at him, offended, his eyes clearing. “I’m always paying attention.”

“Good,” said John. “Because we’re jumping out of this car now.”

***

“Give me the car’s coordinates,” Greg said, as soon as Mycroft had hung up his mobile. “Its coordinates and its license plate.”

Greg had his own mobile pressed to his ear, and Mycroft wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the information, but he gave it to him anyway. Greg repeated it into the mobile, said, “Stop the car as soon as you can and hold everyone; it’s my case,” then hung up his phone.

“What are you doing?” Mycroft asked him.

“Going to work,” Greg answered. He pointed toward the CCTV monitor. “That car is my case now. Follow me.”

Mycroft did, mobile pressed to his ear, finding one of his PAs to follow the car on the monitors while Mycroft was en route. Greg was pulling a coat on, half jogging down the stairs, badge in his hand. Mrs. Hudson came out of the drawing room wringing her hands nervously as he passed.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“Not much,” Greg lied, jocularly, and paused and kissed her cheek. “We’ll be right back.”

Greg was a terrible liar; not even Mrs. Hudson was fooled by that. She looked to Mycroft as Greg disappeared through the front door on his way to his car.

“Get me a car,” Mycroft said to Reynolds.

“There’s one already waiting, sir,” he replied.

“Excellent. Thank you. Mrs. Hudson.” He forced his voice into jovial expansiveness. He was, if he did say so himself, a much better liar than Greg. “Everything’s quite all right. We’re going to retrieve John and Sherlock and bring them home. Tell the cook to have tea waiting.”

“I’m not making tea, I’m coming with you,” she said, staunchly.

He didn’t have time to have this argument, he thought. “Mrs. Hudson—” he began, as his mobile started ringing in his hand. He glanced at the ID, which flashed the PA he’d just spoken to. “Excuse me,” he said, and answered his phone.

“Sir,” she said. “Two passengers jumped out of the car you asked me to watch. The driver pulled the car over and exited as well, and shots were fired.”

“And what happened?” he demanded, walking out the door and down to the waiting car.

“The passengers jumped off the bridge.”

“They did what?”

“Or they fell. It’s unclear.”

Mycroft hung up without saying good-bye and looked at Mrs. Hudson, who had slid into the car next to him. “You’re not coming,” he said.

“Yes, I am,” she insisted.

He really didn’t have time. Exasperated, he told his driver to go and called Greg, but all he got out was his name before Greg cut him off.

“Yes. I just got a report on it. I sent squads to comb the river for them. I’m sure it was a calculated move on their part, Mycroft.”

“That driver,” said Mycroft, “I want him.”

“Meet me at the bridge,” said Greg, and hung up on him.

“You should tell me what’s going on,” Mrs. Hudson informed him, primly.

“I’ll tell you as soon as I know,” he clipped out, because he really wished he was alone in the car.

Mrs. Hudson astonished him by reaching out and taking his hand and squeezing it. Mycroft stared at it, trying to remember if anyone had ever squeezed his hand before. Mycroft could not imagine any circumstance under which he would have permitted anything so absurd. Save this circumstance.

“I’m sure he’s all right,” Mrs. Hudson assured him.

This was laughable. Mycroft wanted to say, I got him kidnapped, he’s being shot at, and now he’s leaped into the Thames. What he said instead was, gravely, “Thank you.”

***

What happened when John rolled his way out of the car was that he miscalculated and hit the road much harder than he intended, directly on the shoulder where he’d been shot years ago, and he was mostly no longer bothered by that injury, but the angle at which he hit it sent a shower of pain through him, and he realized, self-diagnosing through the haze, that he must have dislocated it.

Car horns were blaring around him, brakes squealing, and John picked himself up gingerly, wincing at a renewed wave of pain. He was on the verge of looking for Sherlock when he realized that the car they’d been in had parked itself across the bridge and that the driver was getting out of it, clearly cocking a gun.

“Seriously?” he said, out loud, because this was almost farcical at this point. And then he took off, because he couldn’t just stand there, a perfect target.

He had no real plan in mind, which was a mistake. His eyes were sweeping the path he was taking, looking for someplace he could duck for cover, but nothing was presenting itself, and he dashed faster, listening to the gun going off behind him, and what happened when he hit the railing of the bridge was a flash of understanding that the railing hadn’t been constructed with pedestrians in mind, that it was too low. He reached instinctively to stop himself, with the arm whose shoulder was dislocated, which made him dizzy with pain. He lost his balance, somehow, half tripping in his haste to slow down, and he pitched head over feet and found himself in empty air for a split second.

Before it occurred to him that he ought to hold his breath.

Chapter Text

Sherlock did not miscalculate. There was simply no way for a person to roll out of a moving car at that speed without getting the wind knocked out of him a bit. So it took him a moment or two to get to his feet, just in time to register that the driver of the car had started shooting a gun at John, who was dashing toward the side of the bridge as if that made any sort of sense at all.

Sirens were blaring from off in the distance. The police approaching. That was Mycroft. Or Lestrade. Or maybe they were one and the same at this point. The driver faltered, hearing the sirens, stopped firing, but it was too late, Sherlock saw that immediately. John’s pace and the angle at which he was approaching the bridge’s railing were a terrible combination. Worse, he’d done something to his arm. Difficult to assess from the distance Sherlock was at, but possibly a dislocated shoulder, he guessed.

Which was the moment when John tumbled over the railing and disappeared.

Sherlock raced across the bridge, calculating in his head. The bridge wasn’t that far above the Thames, the force of hitting the water would have been stunning, possibly, but not deadly. And, he thought, leaping over the railing and diving easily toward the river below him, he couldn’t have been more than seven seconds behind John. More like five.

Sherlock found him, solid dead weight, and dragged him upward and kicked his legs, trying to keep them both above the level of the water. His waterlogged coat was ridiculously heavy, and, shifting his grip on John, he shed it and, with a bit more freedom of movement available, started slicing through the water, striking for shore.

They had, luckily, been fairly close to the shore when they’d landed in the water, which was good because Sherlock, although a strong swimmer, had not had a lot of practice dragging unconscious men along with him. He stumbled onto the shore with John and half dropped him to the wet sand. Possibly not the most graceful of rescues.

Sherlock leaned over John, his fingers automatically at his pulse, which was comfortingly there. He was breathing, too, chest rising and falling. Just unconscious then.

“John,” he said, sharply, rolling him onto his side, trying to be careful of his shoulder. He felt his pulse again, just to be sure, and resisted the urge to shake him, which would accomplish nothing, he knew. “John,” he said again.

“Sherlock!”

Sherlock looked up as Lestrade skidded to a halt next to them, his eyes on John. “Oh, good. Lestrade. You should call an ambulance and tell them he has a dislocated shoulder and possibly a concussion from the angle at which he hit the water.”

“Is he…”

“No, of course he’s not dead,” Sherlock snapped at him. “He’s unconscious.”

There was a commotion from somewhere off to the side. Sherlock ignored it, leaning back toward John and checking to make sure he was still breathing, but Lestrade turned in its direction and called, “Let him through.”

“Are you all right?” came Mycroft’s voice.

Which was just what he needed at the moment. “Yes,” Sherlock answered him, shortly. “Really, no thanks to you.”

“Sherlock, don’t be harsh,” said Mrs. Hudson, “your brother’s been worried sick.” She came over to fuss at John’s head, and Sherlock looked at her in surprise, not having expected to see her. “What’s wrong with him?”

John started coughing suddenly, his eyes fluttering open and meeting Sherlock’s as Sherlock leaned back over him.

“Don’t you know the proper way to exit a moving vehicle?” Sherlock demanded. “Didn’t they teach you that in the army?”

“Sherlock,” said Lestrade, sounding a bit disapproving.

John closed his eyes and said, somewhat blurrily, “And I missed you. I really don’t know what that says about me.”

Sherlock didn’t get a chance to reply to that because he was distracted by someone clapping a hand on his shoulder, which he threw off in annoyance, looking up. A medic.

“Excuse me,” the medic told him. “But we have to—”

Sherlock stood, prepared to argue about what they were going to do, because what they were going to do was listen to him.

“Wait just a moment,” Mycroft interrupted, in that annoying imperious tone of voice he had perfected. “What, exactly, are your qualifications?”

Sherlock watched the team of medics look from Mycroft to Lestrade incredulously.

Lestrade stepped forward, between Mycroft and the frowning medics. “Okay, it’s fine, I’m going to vouch for them.”

You’re going to vouch for them?” Mycroft asked.

“I know them. Plus, this is, as you may recall, my crime scene. Possibly I should act as liaison between the official things going on right now and…your office.”

“Liaison?” echoed Mycroft.

“You could have a worse liaison,” Lestrade pointed out.

Mycroft flickered something that was half a frown and half a smile that made Sherlock narrow his eyes. “Kind of you, Detective Inspector,” he said.

“Don’t do this in front of me,” Sherlock commanded.

They both looked at him.

“Do what?” said Mycroft.

“This.” Sherlock waved his hand about distastefully.

Mycroft rolled his eyes, then said, “Inspector, Mr. Holmes will accompany Dr. Watson in the ambulance.”

Lestrade looked uncertain about that proposal, and Sherlock started to argue in favor of the obvious advantages of him going with John.

Mycroft held up a hand to silence him, his eyes on Lestrade. “My office would greatly appreciate your cooperation in this,” he said, carefully.

Lestrade sighed. “Fine.” He looked at Sherlock. “Don’t get in their way.”

“What a ridiculous thing to suggest,” muttered Mycroft.

“I don’t ‘get in people’s way,’” Sherlock protested, hotly. “They get in their own way.”

A medic glared at him, and he glared back.

“Sherlock,” said Mycroft, and Sherlock turned back to him and found him holding a mobile toward him.

“What’s this?”

“My mobile. I’m assuming, given the absence of your coat, that you no longer have a mobile in your possession.”

“No,” Sherlock agreed.

“Greg’s number is in the contacts. You are to phone him at the slightest suspicion on your part that anything is out of the ordinary. And if something happens and you don’t phone us, Moriarty’s men will be the least of your problems, do you understand me?”

Sherlock frowned. Naturally Mycroft would have shown up and immediately started issuing orders. Worst of all, orders that made sense. Sherlock especially hated when Mycroft was right about things. He would have liked to refuse the mobile out of pride, but John wasn’t in much of a state to fight at the moment if they came under attack. Sherlock hated to accept Mycroft’s help for him, but he refused to take chances with John. So he took the mobile. “Yes. Fine,” he agreed, but he made his tone as belligerent as possible.

Not that Mycroft let it ruffle him, because Mycroft knew he’d won. He continued, evenly, “And make sure you let them treat you as well. I’ll hardly have gone through all this trouble only to have you perish of hypothermia now.”

Sherlock frowned more deeply because he hated being spoken to in that tone of voice, and Mycroft always used that tone of voice, but he refrained from saying anything because he was realizing now that he really was freezing, and it might be a good idea to get dry at some point. Mycroft was right again. Sherlock decided it made sense to deal with the medics instead, who had gotten John loaded onto a trolley and were doing an appalling job of transporting him over the sand.

“Careful,” he called to them, “he’s got a dislocated shoulder.” He hurried to catch up with them, doubtful of their ability to accurately assess any of John’s vital signs.

He heard, behind him, as he left, Mycroft say to Lestrade, “Where’s the driver?”

Sherlock shivered, and he was wet and cold, but he wasn’t entirely convinced his shiver could be biologically explained. Sherlock hated most of Mycroft’s tones of voices, but he had to admit he was a bit relieved Mycroft never used that one with him.

Not that he would ever say such a thing out loud.

***

John’s shoulder ached, but not as much as his head ached, and really he didn’t care about either of those things because he really wanted to know where Sherlock was. He kept asking for him, and they kept telling him vaguely that he was being treated for his own injuries, which was alarming because then they wouldn’t give him any more information about it.

Eventually they settled him in a bed with some sort of IV that was dripping something that was blurring the edges of the pain and everything else, and that, of course, was when Sherlock finally made an appearance. He was wrapped in a blanket and, possibly, was wearing scrubs. But maybe that was just the pain medicine.

John wanted to say how relieved he was to see him, how he was happy that he was alive and seemed to be well, how he couldn’t imagine having to start anew with grieving for him now that he’d gotten him back, but what came out was, “What are you wearing?”

“Let’s not discuss it,” said Sherlock, and sat in the chair next to the bed, still wrapped in his blanket, his eyes sharp on John.

“How do I look?” John asked him.

“Like you’ll survive.”

“Good. The doctors said I’d be okay, but what do they know compared to you?”

“It took them hours to conclude you had a dislocated shoulder and a concussion, which was exactly what I told them when they first arrived,” Sherlock pointed out, dismissively. “And now they’re keeping you overnight for observation, which is utterly pointless.”

John ignored him. He really didn’t care what he was saying. It was comforting to just hear his voice. “And what’s your diagnosis?” he asked.

Sherlock looked disgusted. “They claim it’s a mild case of hypothermia, but I doubt the accuracy of their data.”

“Of course you do,” said John, and wondered how soppy the look on his face was, and wished he felt dismayed at the inevitable soppiness of it. But he was finding it very hard. The pain medicine was making him feel warm and drowsy and terribly affectionate. And Sherlock was alive. It really had been the best day. “You jumped in after me?”

“I had to, you miscalculated everything.”

“Have you spoken to Mycroft?”

“Not really.”

“You should tell him that if he would stop sending bloody cars for us all over the place, we never would have made that mistake.”

“Oh, I have every intention of telling him that,” said Sherlock, grimly.

“But be nice to him,” John added. “He acts that way because he loves you.”

“That’s the medication speaking,” Sherlock told him.

“I’m exhausted,” said John.

“They’ve given you a sedative. A strong one, apparently.”

A vague panic seized him abruptly, and it was illogical but it was there.

Which Sherlock, of course, saw immediately. John had almost forgotten how it was impossible to keep anything from him. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s ridiculous,” said John.

“What is?”

“This whole day has been…If I fall asleep, when I wake up, if you’re not there…” He wanted to say so much more, that he couldn’t put into words. Something like, If this has all been a dream, I’m not ready for it to be over yet.

Sherlock leaned forward in his chair, holding John’s gaze. “I’ll be here. I promise. I’m not going anywhere.”

“You’ll stay here.” It sounded, to him, needy and clingy and undignified, but he didn’t care. He cared about nothing so much as making sure he never lost Sherlock, not ever again.

“All night. Until these idiots let me take you home.”

“We don’t have a home anymore,” John reminded him. His eyes were closing against their will, the sedative pulling at him, blacking things out. He tried to force them open.

“Yes, we do,” he heard Sherlock say.

I don’t want to let you out of my sight, John wanted to say. He wasn’t sure if he did, though.

Chapter Text

Sherlock preferred morgues to hospitals. He supposed this was the sort of thing that other people might find alarming, but the hushed-breath waiting of hospitals irritated him. Dead people spoke a language he understood, a language that made sense and, while frequently intriguing, was never illogical. Dying people never made sense and never followed logic, they made choices and decisions that followed no rhyme or reason, and Sherlock didn’t find it intriguing, he found it dully predictable in its attachment to blind sentiment over anything else more interesting.

John wasn’t dying, and so he didn’t need to be in hospital, and the fact that they were still in hospital was a source of great annoyance to Sherlock. He had called Mycroft about this, which he knew Mycroft knew had cost him a great deal of pride, and, in response to his polite request that strings be pulled and John be discharged, Mycroft had merely replied that he supposed the men and women who had attended medical school for years might in the end know more than Sherlock about what ought to be done. To which Sherlock had snapped that Mycroft clearly had not met any of the imbeciles that medical schools turned out these days, which had earned him a far more punishing round of tests than he thought he had needed. And, the whole time he had been separated from John, he had been under the constant vigilant guard of a series of bodyguards that could only have been Mycroft’s doing, so that he couldn’t even sneak away to find John. It might have been somewhat comforting to know that John must have been subject to the same steady guard, but Sherlock would have much preferred to have his own eyes on John.

At any rate, his last conversation with Mycroft had not ended well, which was why when, in response to a knock on the door, he looked up from his contemplation of John’s face to find Lestrade there, he scowled and said, “Is he too cowardly to come himself?”

“No,” said Lestrade, entering the room as if he had been invited. “He’s fetching you clothes.”

Sherlock did not want to admit that that might be a useful thing for Mycroft to be doing, so he continued to frown.

Lestrade dragged the room’s other chair up next to Sherlock’s, sat in it, and said, “And how’s he?” nodding toward John.

Sherlock sighed, resigned to the small talk. “As Mycroft has recently reminded me, I am no medical expert, but it looks to me as if he’s sleeping.”

“And how are you?” asked Lestrade, pleasantly.

Sherlock hated when Lestrade was pleasant. “Quite well. Just stuck in hospital. No thanks to Mycroft.”

“Surely you can leave at any time,” Lestrade pointed out, smoothly, and Sherlock glared at him. Lestrade grinned back, and Sherlock thought he was having far too much fun.

“I suppose you’re going to want a statement from us,” Sherlock said, making sure Lestrade understood from his tone that this was an enormously tiresome imposition upon him.

“No, actually. There isn’t, technically speaking, a crime for you to give a statement on,” answered Lestrade.

Sherlock looked at Lestrade’s profile, because Lestrade was studiously not looking at him. “Mycroft,” he concluded. Lestrade said nothing, but Sherlock needed no confirmation of that. “What did he do to the driver?”

“I haven’t asked him,” said Lestrade.

The statement felt unfinished. “But you will?”

“Maybe. Someday. Not today.” Lestrade finally looked at Sherlock. “So Moriarty had an older brother, too,” he remarked, conversationally.

“Yes, we had that in common,” Sherlock replied, dryly.

“Not really. In fact, not at all. Sherlock, the day you jumped, Mycroft said you did it for John and for Mrs. Hudson and for me.”

“Oh, please let’s avoid a scene of melodramatic gratitude,” said Sherlock.

Lestrade had the gall to look amused by this. It was really the most annoying thing about Lestrade, how everything amused him. “By all means, let’s,” he rejoined. “But not Mycroft.”

Sherlock didn’t follow. “What?” he asked, impatiently, because he hated when he didn’t quite follow a conversational thread.

“Moriarty didn’t threaten Mycroft’s life.”

“Oh. No. Why would he? He had no reason to think Mycroft would help me.”

“A huge error on his part, and one that really only Moriarty would make. A tiny bit of research into your family history and it’s all there, that Mycroft basically raised you. Not help you? He’s been helping you for more years than you would care to recall. Where would anyone get the idea that an older brother really wouldn’t help save his younger brother’s life? Only Moriarty could make that mistake, with an older brother who really didn’t care about him. And, more importantly, who he really didn’t care about in return. Because don’t pretend, not for a minute, that you wouldn’t have cared if Mycroft’s life had been in danger.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes at Lestrade. “What, Inspector, is your point?”

“That we’re lucky Moriarty had the sort of relationship with his brother that took Mycroft out of his equation. That we won’t always be so lucky. That you’re a vulnerable point for Mycroft, and I would appreciate it if you would try to remember that for me.”

Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “I’m a vulnerable point for Mycroft? As if Mycroft didn’t call the cavalry because he was worried you might get a paper cut or something.”

“I try not to be more of a liability than necessary,” responded Lestrade, unruffled. “You might do the same. At least for me, if not for him.”

“Is this your job now?” inquired Sherlock, scathingly. “Erecting reinforcements around the vulnerabilities of Mycroft’s fortress?”

“I think so, yes,” Lestrade replied, staunchly.

Sherlock studied him for a long moment, trying to discern exactly what had happened while he was away to make Lestrade into the man sitting in front of him, steadfastly doing the unnecessary job of protecting Mycroft, who as far as Sherlock could tell did an excellent job of protecting himself. He sighed finally. “I think everyone went absolutely insane while I was away.”

Lestrade half smiled. “I have a few unsolved cases, you know.”

“That’s unsurprising,” Sherlock noted.

Lestrade’s smile widened. “I thought you might find them interesting.”

Sherlock couldn’t help finding that surprising. “Wait, really?”

“I’ve been saving them for you.”

Sherlock hesitated. “Mycroft wouldn’t help you?”

“He would, but he doesn’t enjoy it, and it’s more fun with someone who enjoys it, isn’t it?”

Sherlock recognized an impulse in himself to be pathetically grateful for the opportunity being offered to fall right back into a life he had missed quite a bit more than he liked to admit. He tamped down on it and took a deep breath before saying, as casually as he could, “Who’s your new sergeant?”

Lestrade looked as stern as Lestrade ever really looked. “A young kid named Colin, and you’re not to boss him around and frighten him.”

Which meant he could absolutely boss him around and frighten him. Sherlock smiled brightly. He couldn’t help it. “Well, this is brilliant, then.”

“Sherlock,” sighed Lestrade.

“You should have the files sent to Baker Street,” Sherlock commanded, mildly, because it was so much easier to ignore disapproval rather than argue with disapproval.

“You’re welcome,” said Lestrade, pointedly.

Sherlock scoffed. “Oh, please, you should be thanking me.”

Lestrade laughed as if this were hilarious.

Which was the point at which another knock sounded on the door, and Sherlock felt himself tense before he could stop the reaction. Not that an assassin would knock, really, so it was silly of him, but it also seemed to him exactly the moment that an assassin would choose to come rushing in, this moment when it seemed as if everything was on the verge of returning to the form of normalcy he liked best.

It was Mycroft, which was only marginally less frightening than an assassin, holding an impeccably folded pile of clothes and saying, “I don’t mean to interrupt.”

“No,” said Lestrade, standing. “You’re really not. I was just leaving.”

“No, you weren’t,” said Sherlock, both because it was true and because he had no real desire to have an awkward conversation with Mycroft.

Everyone ignored him, Lestrade walking toward the door. “I’ll meet you at home,” he said to Mycroft.

“There’s an escort outside for you. It would be splendid if you would take advantage of it.”

“Tonight I will,” Lestrade said, and looked back toward Sherlock. “I’ll send those files over to you.”

Mycroft watched Lestrade walk down the hallway, then turned back to Sherlock. “What files?”

Sherlock shrugged.

Mycroft, uncharacteristically, dropped it. Probably, Sherlock thought, annoyed, because he’d just ask Lestrade about it when he got to the home they now shared. Mycroft said instead, “I have brought you a change of clothes.” He sat the pile down on the foot of John’s bed.

“And a new coat,” said Sherlock, because there was no mistaking the heavy charcoal wool folded at the top of the pile.

“A gift from Professor Moriarty,” Mycroft answered. “Kind of him. And I thought you might enjoy it, now that you’ve won. A trophy, of sorts.”

Sherlock stared at the coat. “Have I won?”

Mycroft paused, then said, instead of answering the question, “Change. I’ll come back with tea.”

“The tea isn’t necessary,” Sherlock told him, as he left.

He glanced at him from the doorway. “There is never a necessity for tea. That isn’t the point of tea.”

Sherlock made a face that, sadly, Mycroft missed the benefit of because he’d already closed the door behind him. But Sherlock decided against sulking any longer, because any time spent sulking would be extra time in the terrible scrubs he was wearing. It was better to be back in the nicely tailored suit Mycroft had brought him. Most of the trick to navigating the world lay with the image one projected into it, and it was difficult to project any sort of image whilst wearing scrubs.

He did not put the greatcoat on. Sitting, he frowned at it at the foot of the bed and wondered whether he had in fact won and it was all over, or whether Mycroft wasn’t being terribly naïve.

Mycroft returned eventually with two paper cups of tea. Sherlock looked at them and thought it went without saying that he had never seen Mycroft drink tea from a paper cup.

“They didn’t have any proper china,” Mycroft informed him, and Sherlock couldn’t really tell if he was joking or not.

He took the tea Mycroft handed him, and Mycroft sat in the chair Lestrade had vacated, and the room fell into silence. Sherlock tried not to fidget while he drank his tea and considered what sort of mind game Mycroft was playing.

Finally he said, “Not that this uncomfortable silence isn’t telling in its own way, but did you have something substantive you wanted to discuss?”

Mycroft answered with the last thing Sherlock had ever expected him to say. “I’m sorry.”

Sherlock was so startled he actually looked at him without bothering to conceal it.

Mycroft was sipping his tea with a great deal more concentration than was necessary. “For the car. I feel that was at least partly my fault. So I’m sorry.”

Sherlock frowned. “What about for the snipers?”

Mycroft looked at him then. “What about for the snipers?”

“Aren’t you sorry for the snipers?”

“The snipers to take out Moriarty?” Mycroft actually looked confused.

“Yes,” snapped Sherlock.

“Why should I be sorry for those?”

“They made John think it would be all right to kill Moriarty.”

“As if John wouldn’t kill anyone who looked at you sideways,” said Mycroft, and sipped his tea.

“That’s missing the point.”

“How stupid of me,” Mycroft responded, with exaggerated patience. “Why don’t you tell me what the point is? I fear I will never reach it without your expert guidance.”

Sherlock bristled, straightening in the chair. “That wasn’t your decision to make, deciding to put all of us in danger by being selfish enough to—”

“Sherlock, I know it is difficult for you to imagine that I have amassed any wisdom whatsoever during the course of my life, but one should never try to negotiate with madmen. It is never a good idea. You end up years later in a morass, having lost everything you wanted and got nothing in return.”

“Oh,” drawled Sherlock, “I’m sorry, Mycroft Holmes the great strategist has pronounced this so, has he?”

“You got close enough to Moriarty that he almost managed to kill you, didn’t you?” Mycroft asked.

“I don’t see what that’s—”

“Because if you got that close, Sherlock,” Mycroft interrupted, sharply, “then you know much more than you were ever supposed to know. You know enough that we are not in danger, not from Moriarty. The only way he could try to regain the upper hand at that point was to make you believe we were. But you won. You won the instant you made yourself enough of a threat that he couldn’t just bat you away. You won long ago. Now maybe it’s not all quite over. Maybe there’s a bit of cleaning up left to do. So we’ll do it.”

“By killing all our enemies?”

“If I have to,” said Mycroft, calmly, and took another sip of his tea, then said, into Sherlock’s silence, “This tea is dreadful.”

“I took the thumb drive,” Sherlock found himself saying, not sure if he was trying to be malicious or honest.

“The one on Moriarty that was in my desk? Did you think I didn’t know? Really, Sherlock, it’s quite all right for you to assume a level of idiocy on the part of the general public but underestimating your own brother is simply irresponsible.”

“It was in my coat,” Sherlock told him.

“Which is in the Thames. Ah, well, there were other copies. You can go through it and see if we missed anything. Now, do you know the whereabouts of any known Moriarty associates?”

“Yes,” said Sherlock. “And a number of bank accounts. Although they’ll all have been moved by now.”

“But the trail won’t be cold. We’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” echoed Sherlock.

“Don’t you think you’ve had quite enough so far today? I certainly have. I’ve put a new mobile for you in the pocket of your coat. Could I have mine back, please?”

Sherlock leaned over and picked it up from where he had placed it on the table next to John’s bed. “Don’t worry, I didn’t look up any state secrets.”

Mycroft took it and slid it into his inner coat pocket. “You couldn’t have. It isn’t my work mobile; it’s your mobile.”

“What do you mean, ‘mine’?”

Mycroft looked a bit surprised at his confusion. “Where I keep all the information pertaining to you.”

Sherlock stared at him. “You have a separate phone for me?”

“Of course I do. It wouldn’t do to have everything about you on my work mobile. What if it fell into the wrong hands?”

It made sense, of course. Perfect sense. And for some reason Sherlock hadn’t thought of it. He watched Mycroft stand, clearly getting ready to leave, and wondered why it had never occurred to him that Mycroft would have had to do a massive amount of work to make sure his existence was a secret. He saw, suddenly, in a way he hadn’t ever appreciated before, that the secret hadn’t been one of Mycroft’s usual secrets, because it had been a secret about him, and that had required more care than a state secret.

“I’ve told Mrs. Hudson to expect the two of you at Baker Street tomorrow,” Mycroft continued. “In the meantime, she’s being quite well-guarded there.”

“Oh,” said Sherlock, thinking how all of the things Mycroft took care of so automatically must really take forever to arrange, and how that didn’t make it any less annoying, how much Mycroft took care of things, but nonetheless, it all took effort.

“And I’ve posted guards outside the room here. They’re under strict instructions not to let anyone in, not even doctors, so, should anyone get in, you ought to shoot first and ask questions later, I think.” Casually, Mycroft handed him a gun.

And sometimes, like now, when Mycroft’s incessant arranging of things left Sherlock with a gun to defend himself and guards to render the defense hopefully unnecessary, there was no mistaking the fact that at times Mycroft wasn’t all bad. “Oh,” said Sherlock again, taking the gun.

Mycroft peered at him closely, with something akin to concern in his eyes. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, briskly, trying to shake his mood off. Had his tea been drugged? “I’m perfectly fine. I don’t even think I ever had hypothermia.”

Mycroft looked amused. “Now that’s more like it. As I said, not even doctors are getting in here
tonight, so I’m counting on you to watch him.” He nodded briefly toward John’s sleeping form. “I assumed you were planning on that anyway. I’m merely making it explicit.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock.

“Good. We’ll talk tomorrow at some point.” Mycroft was walking toward the door, and the sentence had his usual air of annoying command to it, and it abruptly occurred to Sherlock that he was happy to be home, with all that entailed, including Mycroft, who was so comforting in his level of commanding annoyingness, as comforting in his own way as it was to have John back.

“Mycroft,” he said, and the words stuck in his throat when Mycroft turned back to look at him, because he wasn’t sure how he could say them now after so many years when he never had. If he said thank you, what was he even thanking him for? He said, instead, feeling like an idiot and hating himself for it, “I think you’ve lost weight.”

Mycroft looked surprised, and then he smiled at him. “Welcome home, Sherlock,” he said, and closed the door behind him.

Sherlock sat in the hospital room, feeling off-kilter, a cup of tea in one hand and a gun in the other and John’s even breaths the only sound. He looked at John and felt the exhaustion of an adrenaline rush crashing and considered whether it was worthwhile to try to force himself to stay awake or not. Mycroft had left him with guards. It was, frankly, the first time in eight months when he himself wasn’t the first line of defense against Moriarty. And John’s deep sleep looked so incredibly tempting that he decided he might as well continue on his out-of-character streak and go to sleep.

He stood up and locked the hospital room door and, for good measure, propped a chair underneath the handle. It never hurt to have several lines of defense. Then he stripped off his jacket and kicked off his shoes and clambered inelegantly into bed with John.

The bed was not nearly big enough for two, but John was so far gone that he barely stirred, and it was lovely as Sherlock had suspected it would be, nuzzling into John, falling into John.

Chapter Text

John woke wrapped in Sherlock. Literally. Arms and legs draped over him, such a heavy tangle that he could barely breathe and definitely couldn’t move, and his dislocated shoulder was pinned against Sherlock and felt tender and sore, but Sherlock was breathing evenly against him, chest rising and falling and breath on his neck, and John thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world. He kept his eyes closed and focused on the warm bundle of Sherlock, who was still here, who hadn’t just been a dream. He wondered if Sherlock always slept with this little regard for personal space, if John would have to get used to being clung to in this way.

If they were going to sleep together.

Maybe Sherlock, snogging notwithstanding, didn’t mean it the way John meant it. Or maybe he did mean it the way John meant it, and maybe that was even worse. This, John thought, was an ill-timed crisis in a decision about his sexuality he’d thought he’d already made.

“Whatever you’re thinking, stop it,” mumbled Sherlock into his neck. John actually felt his lips form the words.

“I thought you were asleep,” John said, because he had.

Sherlock hummed. “I’m not. You’re still thinking it.”

“How do you know what I’m thinking?” asked John, annoyed.

“You woke up and you were happy, and then a thought entered your head, and you got tense. So stop thinking it.”

“That’s rich, coming from you. You never stop thinking. You know that’s not how it works. You can’t just stop a thought,” said John.

“Watch me,” said Sherlock, and sucked on John’s earlobe.

John made a sound like a squeak.

“That’s better,” mumbled Sherlock, and John knew why he said it, because he felt as if he’d turned to liquid, and thoughts had vanished from his head.

Sherlock planted a line of leisurely open-mouth kisses down his neck, and John turned into a quivering mess. Because Sherlock was astonishingly good at this.

“You said that out loud, you know,” said Sherlock, lifting his head.

John tried to blink him into focus. “Did I?”

“No.” Sherlock actually grinned at him and then slid fully onto him, pinning him underneath him, and, for being so whippet thin, he was heavy and solid and felt wonderful. “But I could tell you were thinking it.”

Sherlock looked smug. And delicious. His mouth was begging to be kissed. John looked up at him, head pressed into the thin hospital pillow. And then he said, “Is there a gun under this pillow? Did you have us sleep with a gun under our pillow?”

“There you go with those annoying thoughts again,” said Sherlock, and kissed him. Deeply. Thoroughly. Slowly.

John had thought he’d been kissed by Sherlock yesterday, but he felt as if Sherlock had been merely going through the motions. He was very, very good at kissing. Which made sense, John supposed, fuzzily. Sherlock would be as compelling at kissing as he was at everything else he did.

He had thought, possibly, it would be unbearably strange to kiss a man, and maybe it would have been, to kiss any man who wasn’t Sherlock. But the truth was that kissing Sherlock was the most perfect kissing he had ever experienced, as if he’d been doing it wrong every other time he’d tried it. The urgent flash of his teeth, the persuasive slide of his tongue, even the scratch of his stubble—John fisted a hand in Sherlock’s shirt and held him closer, kissing him back, letting his taste flood through him.

Sherlock drew back, and John lifted his head off the pillow and nipped at his lower lip, which did convince Sherlock back into an earnest kiss, but only for a few seconds before Sherlock drew back again.

Sherlock looked down at him, braced over him, his eyes very dark and his lips parted, and John registered that Sherlock was actually out of breath. “John,” he said, roughly.

“What?” John asked, stupidly.

Sherlock kissed him again, harder and more fiercely and with much less finesse, and then darted away again. He moved so quickly he made John dizzy, his head whirling with him, drunk on him. He closed his eyes, giving up on the effort of making sense of him, of predicting him, in favor of feeling him. Sherlock’s hands were on his chest, and his fingers spanned his ribcage as if measuring, walking slowly upward and stacking over his heart, and he melted underneath him.

“John,” said Sherlock again. His lips were on his chest now, and he kissed and he nipped and felt so generally wonderful that John could barely manage a grunt. “What if I stopped?” said Sherlock.

John translated the words, said, “Oh, God, please don’t.”

Sherlock planted a kiss directly over his heart and stayed there, lingering. “John Watson.” He spoke into the skin over his beating heart. “You have a dislocated shoulder and a slight concussion, and I’m not sure your doctors would advise this activity.” Sherlock’s teeth closed around his nipple and John, not quite of his own volition, arched his hips toward him, feeling light-headed with arousal. “Then again,” said Sherlock, “what do doctors know?”

He moved with the suddenness that John was almost coming to expect, and his hand closed around John with perfect pressure, and John groaned and thrust against his palm before he could stop himself.

Sherlock stroked with teasing, excruciating slowness and kissed him, wet and messy, swallowing John’s gasps. John tried to either deepen the kiss or push Sherlock away, torn between wanting to get a breath and wanting to never breathe again. He made a sound of frustration, and Sherlock said, into his mouth, his voice so heavy and dark with promise that John almost winced with desire for him, “Tell me everything you want.”

The impossibility of that swamped John and swirled into the clearest pinpoint of his entire life. “You,” he said.

Sherlock stilled, pulling back. John took the opportunity to suck breath in, much too scattered to read Sherlock’s silence. Then Sherlock kissed him again, almost sweetly, which was lovely, but John moved restlessly against him, fastened his one good hand into Sherlock’s thick hair and tipped the kiss far beyond any hint of tenderness. Sherlock made a noise of surprise that made pleasure lick at the base of John’s spine, and, wanting him to make it again, he bit at Sherlock’s lip, which made Sherlock growl approvingly, pressing him back against the pillow and shifting to adjust their angle before pulling back. John opened his eyes, treated to the sight of Sherlock, red-lipped and hair-tumbled and looking thoroughly debauched.

“Try not to shout,” Sherlock told him, “there are guards at the door,” and his voice made the sentence the filthiest thing John had ever heard in his life.

He disappeared from John’s vision, which for a moment was annoying, until his mouth closed around John and firmly sucked. John didn’t so much shout as swear, low and urgently, unprepared enough that he arched at him and Sherlock’s hands went to his hips, pushing them back to the mattress. John swore again, reaching blindly with his one good hand, finding Sherlock’s hair and twisting into it helplessly. Sherlock hummed around him, which made John swear again.

Things were going too quickly, John thought, vaguely. Embarrassingly quickly. But pressure built inside of him, and he wanted it too desperately to even attempt to be dignified. “Sherl…” he tried, which he meant to be a warning, but he managed only half of his name before he slammed headlong into the climax.

Sherlock pulled him through it with an expertise that would have been terrifying if it hadn’t also been brilliant, and John sprawled bonelessly in a tangle of hospital sheets and tried to figure out what had just happened.

“Well,” remarked Sherlock, conversationally, “that took care of your tension, didn’t it?”

The sight of him, smug and predatory, calmly wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, was quite possibly the sexiest thing John had ever seen, and John wished he’d thought to look whilst the whole thing had been going on. He settled for gasping, “Bloody…” and then trailing off, uncertain of the appropriate adjective.

Sherlock grinned at him and stalked his way up John’s body. There was no other word for it. He settled over him and said, sounding pleased, “Not bad. For a first time.”

“Not bad?” echoed John, weakly.

“John,” said Sherlock, and now he sounded fond. He kissed him very lightly, which John appreciated, because he’d just realized his lips were tender from the bruising kisses of earlier. “You’ve met me. You really should have made the deduction by now that I’m going to be the most observant lover of your life.”

John tried to wrap his mind around the idea of an orgasm better than the one he’d just had, and, failing, noticed for the first time what Sherlock was wearing. “Where did you get a suit?”

Sherlock chuckled and rolled off him. “You’re not thinking clearly right now, so I won’t be offended that that’s the first coherent sentence you’ve managed to say to me.” Sherlock stretched like a contented cat. “Mycroft stopped by. That’s where the gun came from, too.”

John was confused. He tried to make his brain start working again. “I should…” he suggested, hesitantly, because it was the height of rudeness that it hadn’t even occurred to him until that moment that he really needed to reciprocate in some way.

Sherlock sent him a crooked smile. “Later. You’re not in any state right now.” He practically leaped out of bed, a sudden whirling dervish of energy. “Mycroft didn’t bring you any clothes. I’ll ring him to bring some by for you. And then I’ll ring Mrs. Hudson to get breakfast ready. Are you hungry? I’m famished.”

John blinked at him, watching him pull his suit jacket on and adjust the collar of his shirt, as if nothing interesting had just happened.

“Mycroft brought me Moriarty’s coat,” Sherlock continued, holding it up. “Well, I mean, the coat Moriarty bought for me. He says it’s a trophy, a symbol of my victory.” Sherlock regarded the coat. “I was skeptical last night, but I am feeling rather victorious this morning.” He laid the coat over the back of the chair by the bed and practically beamed at John.

John stared at him.

“Close your mouth, John, it just makes me want to kiss you.”

“I…” said John, unsure how to respond to that.

Sherlock smiled at him.

“If I’d known it was going to have this effect on you,” John found himself saying, “I would have let you do that ages ago.”

Sherlock looked amused. “I would have done it ages ago, only I was waiting for you to come to your senses. You were having all sorts of self-labeling issues in your head.” Sherlock dropped dramatically into the chair he’d just draped his coat on, putting on his shoes. “I won’t deny, it was a bit tiresome waiting for you to work through them.”

John thought of all the times he had denied having any interest in Sherlock other than platonic. All the times he’d done it in Sherlock’s hearing. And had Sherlock always been waiting for him to reach this obvious conclusion, just as Sherlock was always waiting for him to catch up to him? He hadn’t truly realized it until it was too late, how hopelessly in love with him he’d been, what an idiot he’d been about it, and he couldn’t imagine ever having Sherlock dismiss him as nothing but a friend. The thought of it alone made him shudder. “Sherlock,” he said, unsure what to say.

“It’s fine,” Sherlock assured him, cheerfully. “I think we’ve got you mostly past them, now. Not that I didn’t have a moment of fear when you woke up and froze with doubt.”

“How did you know that’s what I was thinking?”

“Actually,” said Sherlock, “with you, it’s mostly lucky guesses. That’s what makes you so fun. Now. How are you feeling? Better?”

“I feel bloody fantastic,” John said, honestly.

“Good.” Sherlock beamed again and stood. “I pronounce you totally cured and able to leave this abysmal place.”

“But I love this place,” John protested. “I love this room. I love this bed.”

Sherlock had been heading toward the door, but he turned and headed back to John at that, leaning over him. “This is a terrible bed,” he said. “Wait. You’ll see.”

“You’re a horrible tease,” John told him. He was honestly so off-balance from this playful side to Sherlock that he didn’t know quite what to make of it.

“Not a bit,” Sherlock protested.

“Don’t ever sleep with a gun under your pillow ever again. Or my pillow. Or in the bed at all. I can’t believe you don’t think you’re irresponsible with guns.”

“You’re saying that just to see if you can get me to kiss you again.”

“No, I’m not,” he said, honestly. “I’m serious. That’s a serious request.”

Sherlock had a look on his face that John interpreted as silly John, he’s so adorable, which was kind of annoying until the moment Sherlock leaned down and kissed him, and then John wasn’t as offended by the look anymore. He twisted his good hand into the fabric of Sherlock’s jacket and tried to pull him down onto the bed.

Sherlock pulled back. “Absolutely not,” he said. “We’re leaving.”

“If I had two good arms,” John called after him, as he was heading briskly to the door.

“We’ll come back here on our anniversary, and you can prove whatever it is you wish to prove with your two good arms,” Sherlock replied, without looking back, as he removed the chair from underneath the room’s doorknob. “Take out your IV so we can be on our way.” He disappeared through the door.

John looked at the IV he’d completely forgot about. Then he looked at the door Sherlock had just walked through. Their anniversary? John stared after him and tried to figure out when they had got an anniversary. John tried to figure out if he had ever supposed Sherlock would be the type to remember their having an anniversary.

John managed to get the IV out, and Sherlock came back in with a set of clothes and a paper cup of coffee.

“Mycroft was efficient,” he said, dropping the clothes on John’s bed.

“When’s our anniversary?” John asked Sherlock.

“The day we met, of course,” said Sherlock, and sipped his coffee.

John looked at him for a second, almost relieved that Sherlock hadn’t bothered to bring him coffee. That was Sherlock to a T.

“Knowing us, we’ll probably spend lots of our anniversaries in hospital,” John remarked.

Sherlock shrugged, unconcerned, and helped John get a shirt on, and he did frown in concern when John flinched with pain, even though John tried not to.

“How badly does it hurt?” Sherlock asked.

“It’s not bad.”

“You wouldn’t tell me if it was bad.”

“I wouldn’t need to tell you. You would know because Sherlock Holmes knows everything.”

“True,” allowed Sherlock, and pulled on the Moriarty coat. He paused, sticking his hands in its pockets and swaying a bit with it.

“Go ahead and twirl,” said John, amused, “you know you want to.”

“I don’t twirl in this coat,” Sherlock sniffed.

“Yes, you do. Let’s go home.”

Mycroft had sent guards and a car and a police escort on top of it all.

“Is it always going to be like this?” John asked Sherlock.

“No. Definitely not. Just until I chase down a few more Moriarty leads. In fact, I’ll have to meet with Mycroft later, but you’ll be taking a nap brought on by the pain medication I’m going to give you shortly, so you won’t mind.”

“Sherlock,” sighed John, and so Sherlock kissed him, which meant that the flush in Sherlock’s cheeks wasn’t entirely homecoming excitement when he finally swept back into 221 Baker Street.

He greeted Mrs. Hudson with a hand on each shoulder and a kiss on both cheeks, and she blushed in pleasure the way she usually did, and he took the steps two at a time, and John followed him a bit more sedately, thinking he might want a second to be alone in the flat. When John did walk in, Sherlock was standing fixedly in the middle of the room, eyes roving over every single surface. It looked exactly as it had when John had last walked out of it, after finishing his catalogue of Sherlock’s belongings, except that Mycroft had sent the violin back and it was sitting on Sherlock’s chair.

“Everything’s exactly in its place,” said Sherlock, clearly pleased by this.

“Except for one sock in your sock index,” John told him.

Sherlock looked at him.

“I couldn’t resist,” he explained.

Sherlock walked over to the windows and pulled at the curtains, flooding the room with light. “Mrs. Hudson!” he shouted. “You really must dust in here at some point!”

“Not your housekeeper,” Mrs. Hudson reminded him, even as she walked in with a platter heaped with the makings of a full breakfast.

John stood in 221B Baker Street and tried to imagine feeling happier than he did at that moment. He failed miserably.

Sherlock leaned over to clear space on the desk and paused, picked something up, then turned slowly toward John. “Did you do this?”

“Do what?” asked John.

“Leave this in the middle of the desk.”

John looked at what Sherlock held out to him. It was a fortune from a fortune cookie, one that Sherlock had received on the first night they had gone to get a Chinese together.

“I found it, when I went through your things.”

“Why were you going through my things?”

“I was cataloguing them,” John said, a bit defensively. “Mycroft said I could. Anyway, you didn’t seem to keep any other fortunes, so it seemed important.”

“Of course it was important, John. It was our anniversary.”

John smiled at Sherlock, and Sherlock smiled at him, and Mrs. Hudson smiled at both of them. Sherlock carefully walked over and attached the fortune to the mirror over the fireplace with a piece of Sellotape, where John saw it every time he walked through the room, never failing to stop and smile at it. It is all just beginning.

THE END