Actions

Work Header

A Knight to Remember

Chapter Text

John Watson faded in and out of consciousness. He couldn't tell if he was dreaming or not and his sense of time was muddled, which made it difficult for him to grasp how long it took him to wake up properly.

The dull pain which pulsated in his head and the rotten taste on his tongue, as if by accident he had consumed one of Sherlock's more inventive experiments instead of tea, were tell-tale signs that he had been drugged.

The air on his skin felt warm. Very warm. Although he was only dressed in boxers and a t-shirt he was sweating profusely.

Peeling his burning eyes open, John studied his surroundings. He occupied a small, rectangular room, faintly lit from a small, dirty window high in the wall. The room was sparsely furnished with the bed he was lying in, a closet, a wooden desk and a chair.

When John closed his eyes for a moment, hoping it would ease the headache, he became aware of the dry, frightfully familiar smell of the room. With a cry he jumped up and stood on the bed to look out of the window, not caring that the sudden movement caused the pain in his head to flare. Panting he looked at the wooden wall of a one storey building, the sole sight the view provided but John was in no doubt of is whereabouts. Never ever would he forget the smell of Afghanistan.

oOo

The October wind was howling through Baker Street, driving fat drops of unpleasantly cold rain against the living-room window. One resident of 221b Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes, was lying on the sofa, facing the wall. Curled into a tight ball, he had his knees pressed to his chest, while tremors were running through his thin frame.

Sherlock's brother Mycroft, clad in his usual three-piece bespoke suit, stood stiffly in the middle of the room and only someone who knew him well would recognize the concern in his expression as he regarded his younger sibling.

"I'm sorry, Sherlock, but I don't have anything to do with the disappearance of the good doctor," the elder Holmes said.

Mycroft stepped closer. The new angle and his height was enabling him to study his younger sibling's face. The rose-pedal shape of Sherlock's lower lip advertised, that he was in full pout-mode. Knowing a soothing touch wouldn't be welcomed, the politician settled for moving to the unoccupied end the sofa and with a sigh he sat down. A mere inch separated the brothers and Mycroft could only hope that Sherlock would react to his presence; perhaps to the warmth his body radiated.

The minutes passed and while neither men spoke, Sherlock slowly began to relax. Eventually the soles of the younger Holmes' feet made the first tentative contact with the expensive fabric of the bespoke trousers. Mycroft tried not to wince. Not only were his sibling's feet freezing cold, the soles were unbelievably dirty from walking around the flat in bare feet. Only God knew the horrors that strived to live in the carpet. Particles, that probably qualified as a biological or chemical weapon, got transferred from skin to textile.

Another thirty minutes elapsed during which Mycroft silently bid farewell to his trousers and regretted that he hadn't gone to the bathroom before sitting down. Banning all thoughts about the tea he had drunk earlier from his mind, he quietly tapped away on his phone, hoping one of his numerous minions would send the information concerning when and where John Watson had disappeared.

A part of Sherlock was immensely grateful for his brother's presence and would have liked nothing better than curl against Mycroft's solid form like he had done as a child, knowing he would always find comfort and encouragement in his sibling's embrace. Yet, another part despised this weakness. They were no longer children and the idea that the omnipotent presence of his big brother would keep the demons of the everyday life away had crumbled to dust a long time ago.

Mycroft only sat quietly on the sofa, offering his support, and although Sherlock himself had initiated the physical contact by having pressed his feet to the familiar body the younger Holmes began to feel oppressed. Suddenly appalled by is own need for comfort, Sherlock pulled back one foot and viciously kick his heel into his brother's leg.

Mycroft jumped up with a startled cry. Rubbing his abused thigh, he looked disappointedly at his younger brother. His keen eyes detected the slight movement of Sherlock's jaw and recognized it for what it was; an apology the man was incapable of voicing.

Sighing through his nose, Mycroft limped to the door and donned his coat. "I'll get back to you as soon as I have information about John Watson," he said before he took his umbrella and went downstairs.

When Sherlock heard the sound of the front door being closed he got up and looked out of the window. Although Mycroft's head and upper-body were hidden from view by the black umbrella, Sherlock could deduce the whole repertoire of his brother's current emotions.

He knew that the short outburst of violence had been unjust but Sherlock hadn't been able to help himself. If he had hoped that hurting his brother would make him feel better, he was disappointed. Mycroft would hardly ever reproach him but it had been as if the ever caring man's presence had drawn attention to the guilt Sherlock felt. Guilt because only after an almost twenty-four hour delay had he noticed that his best friend John was missing.

oOo

With his knees drawn tightly against his chest, John sat on the bed. His forehead was lowered onto his knees, his eyes were squeezed shut and the fingers of his left hand were curled into the hair at the back of his head. Years back, when Mycroft Holmes had confronted John in an empty warehouse for the first time, he had told him that he was not haunted by the war but was missing it. Of course, he had been right but of late the doctor was thoroughly satisfied by simply walking with Sherlock Holmes and seeing the battlefield called London.

John had no idea why he had been brought to Afghanistan or by whom. Did somebody expect him to fight again or work here as a doctor? Those questions could only be answered by those who abducted him but he could gather other information by using his brain.

Having spent several years with the clever consulting detective who John called his best friend hadn't left the doctor untouched. It took some effort but after mentally retracing his steps John remembered that he had seen a black limousine that had been idling at the curb when he had left Superdrug. That was the last thing he remembered before he woke up in this room. Could Mycroft be behind his abduction? John doubted that. Unless the man had suddenly developed suicidal tendencies, for Sherlock wouldn't take kindly to his flatmate's relocation and would turn positively malicious if he found out who was behind it.

Calculating how much time could have passed, John recalled that he had been amused that the time on the Superdrug receipt had been 9:10:11 and that he had paid ₤ 12.13. Among other things, John calculated the flight-time with approximately eight hours to Afghanistan plus four and a half hours time difference. Taking the time of day from faint light coming from the window into consideration and the stubble on his chin he conclude that about thirty-two hours must have passed since he, John produced a humourless laugh, had been drugged in front of Superdrug.

Doing the maths had somewhat cleared his head and he noticed that he was quite thirsty. Getting up from the bed John walked to the door and carefully tried the handle. The door wasn't locked and upon opening it he discovered a soldier who was standing just outside.

"Captain Watson, sir." The soldier stood to attention and saluted. John felt a bit silly returning the salute wearing nothing but his underwear but the young soldier didn't miss a beat.

"I'm Lance Corporal Jefferson, Sir. I was ordered to offer you my assistance."

Lance Corporal Jefferson told John that he was indeed in Afghanistan, in a camp near Kandahar, and that he would meet with Brigadier Bertram Limey, who would explain why he was here. First though he had time to shower and get something to eat.

Opening a door opposite the room John occupied right now, the soldier showed him a small bathroom with a shower and wash-basin. On a table rested a neat pile of clean army attire, that looked like it'd be John's size. On a stand next to the wash-basin he towels as well as soap and shaving tackle.

John's mood didn't improve on inspecting the bathroom as well as the clothes. Still, since he didn't have the option to take the next bus home, he decided to make use of what had been offered and see what they, whoever they were, wanted from him.

Less then an hour later, squeaky clean, dressed in what were probably his first bespoke fatigues and with his stomach full of stew that had been surprisingly good, John was led to the office of the camp's brigadier. Good food went a long way with John but if the Brigadier thought that John Watson could be bought with stew and a bit of buttering up he was very much mistaken.

Jefferson knocked and once he had heard "Enter!" from inside, he opened the door for John and left with a curd nod.

Bertram Limey was in his late fifties, his hair was short cropped, he was tanned and his uniform's fabric was stretched tightly over a bulky, muscular chest.

Limey remained seated behind his desk but he gave John a broad smile. "Captain Watson, have a seat. Might I call you John?"

"No," John answered, which clearly surprised the Brigadier. "I've been brought here against my will and I suggest we skip the pleasantries. I want to know who's responsible for my abduction and I demand that I will be returned to London immediately."

The Brigadier barked out a laugh. "Your deployment has been ordered from the very top."

"Right," John said, his voice dangerously low, while he drew his own conclusions. "From the very top? You can tell Mr. Holmes that he better return me back to London right away."

"Who?" Limey looked genuinely puzzled.

"Mycroft Holmes. Posh bloke, married to an umbrella."

"I can assure you, Captain Watson, I neither know such a man nor is he the one who ordered your deployment. When I told you it came from the very top I meant it. This mission you are here to carry out is highly classified and of utmost importance."

John wasn't sure if the fact that Sherlock's brother was not behind his deployment should alarm or comfort him.

"A classified, important mission and the only person the British army could find is an ex-soldier who has been taken out of service six years ago after having been declared unfit?"

"Actually yes." Limey folded his hands in front of him. "Believe it or not, Captain Watson, but you are the only person who might be able to accomplish this mission."

oOo

The office door was opened with so much force that it slammed into the wall, startling Mycroft enough that some of the hot liquid from his teacup sloshed onto his trousers. He hissed with pain. Today was not a good day for his thigh.

Sherlock strutted into the room, followed by a scrawny man who was wringing his hands. "I apologize, Mr. Holmes. There was nothing I could do."

"Actually you could have done lots of things, if you hadn't been engrossed in texting with your wife," Sherlock told him.

With an impatient wave of his hand Mycroft dismissed the bowing and scraping secretary.

"You're getting soft, brother. A year ago he would already be on his way to Siberia," Sherlock commented.

"Kamchatka is quite lovely at this time of the year," Mycroft growled. His hostile glare left it open if the information was meant for Sherlock or the scared minion, who fled in terror. Mycroft fished a napkin from a drawer and dabbed at the tea stain on his trouser leg before he declared a second pair of trousers within a day as a case for dry cleaning.

With a sigh he motioned for Sherlock to come round his desk. "Anthea will be back from her holiday, blessedly, by the end of the week," he told him. Pressing a few keys on his computer, the government official started a video that had been filmed by CCTV. It showed John Watson leaving a Superdrug store. Right before the blond doctor left the area watched by the camera, he slowed down and cocked his head to the side. It looked like John had spotted someone or something he was familiar with before he continued on his way.

"There are no further pictures of your doctor from any other camera." Mycroft said and replayed the video, knowing Sherlock would want to watch it again.

Sherlock was still replaying the video when Mycroft's mobile rang. Answering it the elder Holmes was surprised to have John Watson on the line.

"Doctor, how good of you to call." Sherlock's head turned so quickly upon his brother's words that Mycroft feared his neck would snap. "Sherlock is here with me. I put you on speaker."

"Hey, Sherlock," John said, "I'm just calling to let you to know that I'm okay. My journey came on somewhat short notice."

While John was talking, Mycroft pressed a button on his desk to have the call traced by the most nifty equipment Britain had to offer.

"What happened, John? Where are you?" Sherlock asked.

"Blimey, I wish I could tell you but I really can't. There is a job I have to do before I can come home. But my mate Murray always said, getting home is as easy as catching a cab in London."

The Holmes brother's exchanged a look.

A muffled voice could be heard in the background. "Sorry, I've got to go," John said.

"John!" Sherlock called out.

"Yes?"

"Take care, John."

"I will, Sherlock."

There was a slight pause before John hung up.

A few seconds after the call ended, Mycroft's phone rang again. The government official listened quietly to the caller. "I understand," he said and hung up.

"The call," Mycroft told his sibling, "was directed through a line in Whitehall."

Sherlock's eyes slanted. "Where in Whitehall?"

Mycroft shook his head. "They haven't been more specific but I recognized plenty of subtext in your doctor's speech.

"Indeed." Sherlock went to the other side of Mycroft's desk, sat in the visitor's chair and put his feet on the table. He placed his fingers underneath his chin, pressing the palms of his hands together.

"Bill Murray and John were together in the army. When John was shot he saved his live by bringing him back."

"Then this impromptu trip could be related to the army," Mycroft offered. "What else?"

"Catching a cab in London has never been a problem for me but it is something John has difficulties with."

"Meaning he expects problems coming back home from wherever he is."

"Precisely!"

For a moment both brothers were silent, processing the information they had. What about the voices in the background?" Mycroft asked.

The fact that the consulting detective didn't use the question to make a nasty comment on his older brother's decreasing hearing abilities, communicated his state of aggravation.

Sherlock only shook his head. "Two men, perhaps three," he replied. "Nothing useful."

To any other person Sherlock would appear perfectly calm but Mycroft recognized the supple signs which revealed that his baby-brother was quite upset.

"Concentrate, Sherlock," he demanded. "What about that curse? Usually Doctor Watson's expresses himself more colourful, doesn't he?"

"Blimey?" Sherlock hummed for a moment. "It is far fetched but could that be a name? Somebody in the army?"

Mycroft looked doubtful but began typing on his computer, logging himself into a database he had no business logging into. He typed Blimey but the search resulted in no match. Trying Limey, he struck gold though.

"Brigadier Bertram Limey," Mycroft read aloud, "is stationed in Kandahar.

"B. Limey," Sherlock said. "Blimey!"

"Blimey, indeed."

"So, John is in Kandahar on a mission for the army and that the call was traced to Whitehall means it was channelled by the Ministry of Defence."

Mycroft nodded his agreement. "The question that remains is, what could be possible the mission that they have to fall back on an ex-army doctor who has been rejected as unfit for service five years ago?"

oOo

John felt much better once he had made the phone-call. The Brigadier had told him that all of his belongings, including his phone, had been left in London. If he wanted to make a call he had to provide a number. Naturally John hardly knew his own mobile-number, never mind Sherlock's. In the age of speed dialling and saving phone-numbers on a sim card instead of memorizing them, it had been a close call – no pun intended. Fortunately, a few a month previously, John had learned that Mycroft Holmes and Greg Lestrade had changed their relationship from friends to lovers. On top of that it had turned out, that the so-called Iceman was in fact a closet romantic for he had changed his phone-number; now the last seven digits spelled out G-r-e-g-o-r-y.

John had been under orders not to disclose any information, other than the fact that he was still alive and kicking; and Limey had been quite clear that the reinstated army-doctor would face a military court marshall, should he disobey his orders. Lance Corporal Myles Jefferson, who was his assigned watchdog, had been told to listen to the call John made and report back to the Brigadier should need arise.

Once the call was completed to both John's and Jefferson's satisfaction, the latter took the doctor to a small conference room where Brigadier Limey and three British officers of various ranks were bent over a table, arguing excitedly among themselves. When John and Jefferson entered, all four men stopped mind sentence and turned around.

Limey gave a tall man with the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel a sharp look before he dismissed Jefferson and asked John to step up to the desk.

"This is Lieutenant Colonel Porco," Limey introduced one of the officers. "He had been in charge of the mission."

Needless to say John understood at once that whatever the mission had been, Porco apparently had screwed it up and was no longer in charge. "Colonel Green, who is in charge now, and Lieutenant Colonel Osborne," Limey introduced the other officers in the room before he walked to the door. "Gentlemen, I have a camp to run." The door slammed shut.

'What an abject coward,' John thought. 'He expects Green to fail too and has washed his hands of the matter by staying clear of the mission.

Crossing his arms in front of his chest, John studied the soldiers. "I think you have tried my patience long enough. I want to know what's going on and why am I so important that you had to force my cooperation by abducting me?"

With a nod Green assigned Porco to fill him in.

Porco began without preamble. "In 2008 the third turbine for the Kajakai Dam arrived from Kandahar under British leadership. Despite the turbine being delivered on site it has still not been installed. Several hundred tonnes of cement are required which cannot be delivered to the dam due to attacks by the Taliban. Completion is anticipated next year.

Many people have given up on the project and the costs are immense. Although nearing completion the project would fail without the private investors."

The Lieutenant Colonel pinched the bridge of his nose before he continued.

"Four day ago eight of the largest investors were invited to personally inspect the progress that had been made, essentially to boost their confidence. The visitation was top secret but apparently word got out nonetheless. Non of the investors were harmed but five of my men were killed and twelve were wounded. And, here comes the worst part, we had a high ranking VIP from London. The VIP and three other men have been captured by the group that attacked us."

"And who is the VIP?"

"We found evidence that the Taliban weren't responsible for the attack but a small tribe that lives in the northern district of the Zabul province. Those people are extremely poor. Selling the captives to the Taliban could be very profitable for them."

"You still haven't told me the name of that VIP but after four days the Taliban surely have been informed, haven't they?"

"Intelligence has provided us with the information that the tribe probably has no idea who they have captured. Nevertheless, time is of the essence. When the Taliban send someone to inspect the prisoners, they will know who it is and that knowledge will have an influence on the development of Britain's involvement in Afghanistan."

"You are beating around the bush," John said. "Who is the bleeding VIP?"

It was clear that Porco was unhappy to answer that question but he knew there was no other way. "The VIP is Prince Henry of Wales, better known as Prince Harry."

A member of the royal family in the hands of the Taliban would have serious consequences not only for Afghanistan and England but allied forces too. Still, John didn't see how he of all people could tip the scales.

"This is really bad but where do I come in? You probably don't plan to send me to wherever they're keeping him and ask if they wouldn't mind releasing him into my care."

Green produced a grunt and took over from Porco. "We don't know where he's held prisoner. Often we can make a bargain with somebody for information but not this time. We found a man who might know but he hates everything and everyone remotely British. Everyone but the man who saved his grandson's life. His name is Said Rahimi."

"I remember a woman called Leila Rahimi. One of our helicopters crashed in Malistan, where she lived with her family. I was there with my unit, the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers."

Green interrupted John. "Yes, you managed to save the girl but not her brother that day. Still Leila's father was so very grateful he even named Leila's son who was born about a year ago after you."

John's eyes went wide. "She called her son John?"

Green laughed. "No, that would be bad for the boy. She chose a name that is very close to your second name. Her son is called Hamid."

John decided right away that he liked the name Hamid better than Hamish.

"So, you think Rahimi will be willing to talk to me?"

"Yes," Green nodded. "And therefore we're going to leave tomorrow morning at dawn. There is no time to lose but travelling at night is too dangerous."

For another two hours the men planned the actions they would take and only when John was finally lying in his bed did he begin to wonder what they intended to do if negotiations should fail.

oOo

By the time the British Government went to his favourite café in Kensington, he could be certain that most employees of the Ministry of Defence were shaken to the core. Threatening the lot of them had been exhausting but he had to admit that he had also enjoyed it quite a bit and it had got him the information he wanted. Now he needed a break, which should preferably involve tea, a piece of cake and Gregory – not necessarily in that order.

For once fate seemed to look favourable upon Mycroft for, when he had climbed the stairs to the café's upper floor, he found his inspector already sitting at a table. Greg rose from his seat when Mycroft arrived, greeted him with a soft kiss and took his coat. A coat rack stood right behind their table and Greg hung Mycroft's coat right next to his Mackintosh.

When Sherlock arrived twenty minutes later, armed with a large piece of Dundee cake and an equally large coffee, he found both men with their legs tangled under the table, chatting amiably over their already empty plates and cups. Mycroft studied his brother's smug expression and the delights on his tray.

"I presume you told them I would pay for that," he said.

Sherlock bobbed his head for an answer before his Belstaff joined the other coats on the rack. Without a word he plonked himself down on the seat and began eating with his usual post-case appetite.

For a minute or so Mycroft marvelled at Gregory's fond expression, while the DI watched Sherlock shovelling down the cake. It was a real wonder that his prickly brother had found people who truly cared for him. All the more reason to bring back one of this rare breed who was currently in Afghanistan.

Knowing his sibling was perfectly capable of listening and eating at the same time, Mycroft was about to relate the information he had gathered in the Ministry when his look fell upon his partner. Although he trusted Gregory implicitly there were still some things he couldn't share.

"Would you mind fetching us more tea, my love." Mycroft wasn't a man who used endearments lightly and he hoped Gregory would understand.

The man's chocolate eyes regarded the government official's pained expression before he stood up. "Certainly." He kissed Mycroft's head and left the table, striding purposefully towards the stairs.

Washing down the cake with his coffee, Sherlock studied his brother's expression.

"What happened to caring is not an advantage?"

"It isn't. Otherwise things like this wouldn't be so difficult." There was no need to explain what he meant by 'this'.

"You love him," Sherlock stated.

"With all my heart." A blush coloured Mycroft's cheeks but then he looked into his brother's eyes. "As much as you love John Watson, Sherlock."

The fact that Sherlock didn't deny his statement was the final proof Mycroft had needed. Under normal circumstances this would have been the moment when one brother would have left because talking about feelings were really neither men's area of expertise but the situation as well as actions needed to be agreed on.

When Greg came back almost ten minutes later Sherlock knew that a member of the royal family needed to be liberated and that right now John Watson was the only one who might have a chance to succeed.

Greg sat down and squeezed Mycroft's hand. "Got everything settled?"

"Yes." Mycroft sounded relieved that his partner didn't harbour any hard feelings and that he understood.

"Not everything is secret. I can tell you this much, John Watson has been abducted and is currently on a top secret mission for the army in Afghanistan."

The inspector's eyes went wide. No wonder that Sherlock looked more than a bit frazzled.

"Anything we can do to help him?" Greg asked.

"My brother has assured me that he's doing everything in his powers to return him safely," Sherlock replied.

Sherlock's words translated roughly into 'Should Mycroft fail I will hate him for the rest of my life and will make his life utterly miserable'.

Before Greg could ask another question, Sherlock spoke up again. "I am taking a case in Yorkshire and since you have a whole week of holiday ahead of you, you might as well come along." He looked at the DI expectantly.

"So sorry, Sherlock, but I'll be flying to Italy tomorrow morning. My plane to Florence is leaving at nine." Greg didn't sound the least bit sorry that the consulting detective wouldn't be able to drag him all the way to Yorkshire for some obscure case.

"Unless the flight is delayed it will leave at five past nine but you won't be on the plane. I need your assistance and cancelled your holiday."

Mycroft covered his face with his hands while the DI's mouth fell open. "You did what?" Greg shouted.

"Don't worry, I told them your mother died so your travel-insurance will cover your expenses," Sherlock offered.

"That's not the point!"

"John is absent and I work better with an assistant." Sherlock shrugged his shoulders and rose to retrieve his coat. "On top of that you might learn a thing or two."

"Assistant? You cancel my holiday not because you need a bloody assistant but because you need me for my warrant-card!" the DI fumed. Standing up as well he blocked Sherlock's path and crossed his arms in front of his chest to prevent himself from strangling the younger Holmes.

Sherlock shook his head. "Don't be daft. I don't need your warrant card."

Had the curly-headed consulting detective not turned his back on the policeman that very moment, he would have noticed the slanting of the man's eyes as he was struck by realisation. It was the only outward sign Greg displayed before he rushed forward and manhandled Sherlock to the ground. The DI was used to stroppy customers and within seconds he unearthed one of his old warrant-cards from Sherlock's Belstaff.

Mycroft, who had seen the attack coming and was highly amused by his brother's startled yelp and following struggle, tried unsuccessfully to hide his smirk. It earned him a grateful wink from the inspector and a glare from Sherlock. Without another word Greg stood up, dusted off the legs of his trousers and gave the consulting detective an unimpressed look.

"Do you have any idea how much trouble you keep getting me in by stealing my warrant-card? Not to mention the paperwork that is involved getting a new one."

Sherlock picked himself up with as much dignity as he could muster. Producing an insulted sniff he turning up his collar and squeezed past the older man. Before he went down the stairs he turned though and regarded the DI with a surprising air of uncertainty.

"So, are you coming?"

Greg threw his hands in the air in exasperation. "When and where?"

"The train leaves at eight o'clock sharp from platform one, Kings Cross Station. Oh, and bring some clothes you could wear for outdoor activities like hiking."

"Hiking?"

Sherlock disappeared down the stairs before the DI could ask another question.

oOo

Before John had gone to bed he had been handed the typical bag the medics on military missions carried with them. Unpacking it had been a trip down memory lane and getting re-acquainted with the contents had evoked sounds, smells and feelings that troubled him greatly. John had finally fallen asleep in the early morning hours.

Therefore, when his wake-up call came in the form of Jefferson banging at his door, he was bleary eyed and more exhausted than he thought possible. Whatever they had drugged him with needed a very long time to leave his system.

The sky in the east was already turning the pretty shade of rosy orange that heralded the nearness of sunrise when John carried his bag outside to look for Green and the other members of his team.

"Doctor Watson, is that really you?"

John turned towards the man who had addressed him and found himself looking at an Afghan man in his twenties. Dressed in baggy trousers, shirt and vest that were typical for the male population here. He looked familiar.

"Ben … ah … Fani?" John asked.

The man smiled brightly, displaying a row of very white teeth. "Ben Islam Fani, right, Doctor."

John shook hands with the man. Ben had just turned eighteen when he arrived in the British camp all those years ago and John was still in service. As it turned out he was still working as a translator for the army. He told John, that he lived with his wife and two sons not far from the camp.

"What about you, Doctor, do you have family?"

John scratched his head. It was possibly not a good idea to tell the lad that he lived with another man who, as John had discovered only recently, he happened to be in love with.

"Not yet," he said instead, "but I have found my soul-mate and as soon as I return home I plan on turning our relationship in something more than friendship.

"That sounds very good," the young man replied.

"Come on, you two, we need to be on our way," Colonel Green called from the lorry that had been loaded with only a couple of men and equipment. They were travelling under the disguise of a mine disposal team.

Both John and the Afghan hurried to the lorry.

"So, you're coming with us?" John asked.

Ben nodded. "I speak a few dialects which can be useful."

They climbed into the lorry and the vehicle jolted forward. A journey of about six hours lay ahead of them.