Greg Lestrade woke to the sound of his mobile ringing. The number was witheld. Not work then.
"Detective Inspector. I need you to fetch John Watson from Baker Street, and bring him to the address I will text you in a moment. Will you do so?"
"Mr Holmes? Is there something wrong with John?"
There was a momentary silence.
"There has been something wrong with John Watson for seven months, twelve days and nine hours. I hope to put that right today."
Lestrade thought that over for a moment.
"By which you mean...?"
"I will see you in four hours. And thank you, Detective Inspector."
Lestrade flopped back onto his bed for a moment. What the hell was that all about?
Lestrade had been itching to *do something* for his friend for months. Seven months, twelve days and nine hours (plus a couple of minutes), to be precise. Because there was no question that Mycroft Holmes knew precisely how long ago it was that his little brother had thrown himself off the roof of Barts, leaving a gaping hole in John Watson's world, and coming closer to breaking his brother than anyone else knew. Lestrade had been the one to visit Mycroft Holmes the next day, to take his statement as to Sherlock's state of mind. Instead, he'd ended up sharing a bottle of whisky with Mycroft, and witnessing something that in anyone else he'd have called a breakdown. He'd helped Mycroft up to his bedroom, gently rejected the suggestion that he might like to stay, and let himself out of the opulent flat as quietly as possible. They hadn't met since.
He jumped out of bed and dressed hurriedly. He'd had a lot of practice at waking up quickly, but it never got any easier. He briefly considered making a coffee for his travel mug, but it seemed unfair to John. If Mycroft was going to fix things for him (and Lestrade hesitated to think what that meant), he shouldn't be made to wait.
The carphone rang as he pulled away from the kerb. No question who it was that time.
"There is even less time than I thought. Telephone Doctor Watson, and tell him to wake Mrs Hudson and leave the flat. Pick him up as quickly as you can. I'm sending the address through now."
The call ended abruptly. Lestrade quickly dialled *2 for John (the *1 speed dial spot on his phone being vacant).
"John. No time to chat, you need to wake Mrs Hudson and get out of the flat. Head for the park, and keep walking. I'll pick you up. I'm in the blue Jag."
He rang off before John could ask any questions. He didn't have any answers, and it would waste time.
John rolled out of bed and grabbed his gun from the bedside table. It wasn't that he'd been expecting this, exactly, but he'd planned anyway. There was a small backpack by the bedroom door, with two passports, money, and a change of clothes. If there was also a blue silk dressing gown, well, it didn't take up much space. John dressed quickly, and ran downstairs to wake Mrs Hudson.
Mrs Hudson was as well prepared as he was, if not better. John had always had his suspicions about Mrs Hudson's past, but it never seemed polite to ask. In a surprisingly short time, they were outside the flat and walking towards the park. It was raining lightly, but there was no talk of umbrellas or raincoats. John glanced round constantly, hurrying Mrs Hudson along. He was relieved when the large car pulled up alongside.
"Taxi?" Lestrade enquired with a smile.
John ushered Mrs Hudson into the passenger seat, then climbed into the back.
"What's going on then?"
"Would you believe me if I told you I have no idea?"
John's heart sank. Mycroft.
"But you must know where we're going."
Lestrade consulted his phone.
"Sussex. On the Downs, near Brighton. Holmes says you'll know it."
"Their house. It's... I know it."
Mrs Hudson seemed to be asleep. John settled back into uncomfortable silence, listening to the rain pattering on the windows and the rhythm of the wiper blades. He didn't want to be doing this, but there didn't seem to be much choice. He didn't want to argue with Greg, who'd done his considerable best to stay friends, despite shouldering a fair amount of the blame for what happened to S...
They were crossing Hammersmith Bridge. John glanced around and saw a large black Bentley close behind. Apparently they were being followed. Greg's phone beeped once - a text message. John leaned forward to read it. "Friendly escort. Three cars ahead, also."
"Mycroft's fucking creepy sometimes, isn't he? Don't worry, you'll get used to it."
"You're back on his radar now. He won't let you go easily. Might as well resign yourself."
The journey passed in a blur of motorway lights and heavy rain. John tried not to wonder what might be happening. He couldn't change anything anyway. Mycroft would do what he would do, and John would be a pawn in whatever game he was playing. Again.
The escort peeled away as they turned into the familiar gravel drive. John swallowed hard. He didn't feel ready for this.
Greg pulled the car up outside the huge porch, and helped Mrs Hudson out of the car. John picked up the bags, but they were soon taken from his hands by a familiar figure.
John found he was surprisingly pleased to see the young Holmes family butler.
"Dr Watson, it's good to see you! Been far too quiet around here lately."
John stilled for a moment, remembering the mayhem Sherlock had wrought in the house on their last visit. His heart hurt. But James was already back in the dry hallway, and he was standing in the drive like a pillock. He took a deep breath, and headed inside.
"If the Detective Inspector and the lady would like to come this way, I'll show you to your rooms. Doctor Watson knows the way."
John nodded. He wasn't really ready for sleeping in Sherlock's old room, but he couldn't think where else he'd rather be. Certainly not the guest room he'd stayed in occasionally. He followed James up the stairs, turning left when the others turned right. To his surprise, the light was on in Sherlock's room and he could see two or three figures moving about. He stopped in the doorway, taking in the unsettling scene.
All the heavy furniture had been removed, making the space look huge. In the centre, under the enormous light fitting, was a hospital bed. And in the bed was a tall person with curly black hair, hooked up to a bank of monitors and an IV drip. The people moving around were a nurse, and that other woman was probably a doctor, and John didn't take in anything more just then because his knees gave way and everything went black.
He came round sitting in a chair (which certainly hadn't been in the room before) next to the hospital bed. John didn't really want to look over at the bed, because he knew it couldn't be Sherlock, but he wanted *so badly* to see him he was afraid he'd hallucinate.
"I'm sorry John. I didn't mean for you to find out like this. James is a great believer in being direct, and less of a believer in following orders."
Mycroft. John risked a glance at him.
Mycroft's appropriately natty tie was slightly off-centre.
The world must be ending. The apocalypse. Four horsemen, all that. And if there were horsemen, perhaps there could be...
Sherlock. It really was Sherlock. Looking scrawnier than ever, with a long cut along his right cheekbone (and yes, John had loved that face enough to take care punching it), and there was a heart monitor and the IV was still going and...
"He's been shot, John. Right shoulder. And it was my fault."
John tried to stand, but he thought he might pass out again and decided to sit still.
Mycroft came closer.
"He was trying to save you, John. And Mrs Hudson. And Gregory Lestrade. Moriarty had snipers on all of you, and if they didn't see Sherlock jump, it would have been the end. So you see, he really was your friend."
John wanted to say that he was a hell of a lot more than that, but reflected that he'd prefer to have that conversation with Sherlock first. He took the offered notes and charts from Mycroft. He flipped through them, shuddering. The wound had been close to a carbon copy of his own. He knew exactly how painful it would have been, what the surgery would have meant. Sherlock might never play his beloved violin again. Might never... That thought had to be stopped right now. He looked up.
"Did you know?"
"I suspected. But I realised he must have a good reason not to reveal himself. Not to want you to know. And it was my fault, and I didn't know how to reach out to him. So I left it. Let him get on with hunting down Moriarty's men. But then you..."
Oh God. Mycroft knew. About the episode with the gun. It had been tempting, so tempting. But then Mrs Hudson had received a call at her sister's to say that the plumbing had leaked in 221C, and she'd called to ask him for help, and that was probably Mycroft as well, wasn't it? He looked up. Mycroft was nodding sadly.
"I had to try to reach him then. I had to let him know what he was doing to you. But I made a mess of it. I compromised him. And this was the result."
He gestured towards the bed.
"He is still sedated. We had to move him immediately after the surgery."
"Believe me, I would not have done that if it could have been avoided. But it wasn't safe. Moriarty's deputy is hunting him now. I brought him here because it's secure, but the facilities are not ideal. I couldn't... I can't... There isn't anywhere else."
Mycroft looked at John.
"Will you help me take care of him here? I trust the nurse and the doctor I brought with us, but they can't be on duty all the time."
John stood up.
"Of course I will, you great idiot."
Mycroft's face was a picture.
"Go on, get that doctor in here. I want to talk to her about the surgery and Sherlock's condition. And you're in charge of telling Greg, and Mrs Hudson. If she slaps you, I'm not patching you up."
Mycroft nodded, and left the room.
John went over to the bed.
"It's all right, he's gone. You can open your eyes now."
Sherlock opened his eyes a little.
"I'll sort that out, give me some time."
John went to move away, but Sherlock's good hand shot out and grabbed his.
"John, I'm sorry."
"Don't be an idiot. Just get better."
Sherlock didn't let go.
"It's all right, I'm only going to the door."
"It really is all right, Sherlock. I understand now. I didn't then, and it was hard. But, I'll get over it. As long as you promise you will as well."
Sherlock was falling asleep again, but he was still holding on to John, who felt no inclination to pull away. He stood right where he was, throughout the conference with the doctor, the medication review, a new IV bag for Sherlock, lower lighting, and some more drugs too. Then there was a quiet knock on the door, and James appeared with a leather recliner chair. He pushed it round behind John, then pressed lightly on his shoulder until John sat. John spoke up as the man went to leave.
"James? Thank you. I appreciate the direct approach. I'll make sure you aren't punished."
James grinned unrepentantly.
"Don't worry about me, Doctor. Mrs Holmes wouldn't let anything happen to me."
"Where is Mrs Holmes, anyway? Not here, I assume?"
"She's on a yacht somewhere in the Caribbean. Don't worry, she's with the Dubai Royals. Safer than any of us, I'd bet."
John felt relieved. He was always very intimidated by the Holmes matriarch. He had a lot of adjusting to do, and it would be easier without her around.
But she was Sherlock's mother, and he certainly wouldn't want anything to happen to her.
John twisted his hand a little so he could monitor Sherlock's pulse with his finger (so much more reassuring than the softly beeping monitor), then sat back in the leather recliner and closed his eyes.
He woke to find slate eyes staring at his face. Watery sunlight seeped into the room.
"You're real then?"
"Do try not to be such an idiot. Of course I'm real. Do you think we'd be meeting again here, with me stuck in a hospital bed (albeit not in a hospital), if I were a dream?"
Mycroft cleared his throat noisily.
"Bugger off Mycroft, I'm busy."
"I can see that, brother dear, but we do have things to attend to. The current whereabouts of Colonel Moran, for example."
Sherlock tried to twist and sit up in response to that. He didn't get far. John caught him as he flopped back with a small cry, and lowered him gently back to the bed.
"Sherlock, keep still you idiot. Mycroft, upset him any more and I'm banning you from this room. Understand?"
Sherlock snorted. Mycroft grimaced. John meant it. And noticed, with amusement, the red mark on Mycroft's face. Mrs Hudson was awfully predictable. She'd probably given him a hug after the slap.
"John, would you give us a moment?"
John stopped stock still. Sherlock caught the hand that was coming up to his face, and held it tightly.
"No!" He said firmly. "John stays. Whatever it is, you can say it in front of him."
"Very well. Tell me everything you know about Sebastian Moran."
Mycroft and Sherlock talked quietly for about ten minutes, about assassins, and Prague, and Johannesburg, and that Moran character he'd never heard of before. John tuned them out. He had a lot of thinking to do. A lot of... getting used to having Sherlock back. It wasn't going to be easy.
He excused himself for a moment to pop into the tiny ensuite bathroom. He found his bag waiting for him there. A quick wash and fresh clothes helped a lot.
Sherlock was alone when John returned.
"OK?" asked John.
"I will be. But we have to catch Moran, or none of us will be safe. I've told Mycroft to bring Molly here. If Moran knows I'm alive, he'll want to know how I did it."
"Yes, about that?"
"I'll tell you all of it, John, I promise. And I promise I didn't mean to hurt you so badly. But right now, Moran is what matters. Can you fetch Lestrade?"
Lestrade was summoned by the simple expedient of John shouting his name from the doorway. He ran up the stairs and burst into the room.
"What, what is it? What's the matter?"
He didn't look surprised to see Sherlock, so Mycroft had obviously done as John requested. Sherlock was amused.
"It's nice to see you again too, Lestrade. And nothing is wrong. We just wanted to talk to you, and John's not ready to leave me just yet."
"It's quite understandable. But we have to talk. I'm being hunted by Colonel Sebastian Moran, Moriarty's deputy. He's now the second most dangerous man in the world. Don't look at me like that John, I'm not dangerous. I'm a pussycat compared with him. And with Mycroft. But we have to kill him, or none of us will ever be safe. Mycroft is after him now, but he might not be enough."
John flinched at the word "kill."
Sherlock turned his head to look at John. "Merely catching Moran will be about as effective as catching Moriarty was. He learned from the master. It's a risk we can't take. Mycroft knows that; I believe we can rely on him when the time comes. But we have to catch Moran first."
Lestrade nodded slowly.
"What do you want us to do?"
"We have to lure him here. No John, it's the only way. We have to lure him, and be ready when he comes."
"And what does Mycroft have to say about this plan?"
"I don't think much of it, John." Mycroft walked in. His tie was still slightly off-centre, and his left cheek was darker red. "But I don't have a better one at this point. We've lost track of him again."
Sherlock nodded, then winced. "That kept happening to me. He's like a ghost. I could only find him by anticipating his targets - he was taking out Moriarty's network himself, to stop me getting to information. Now he's out of targets, save for me. Hence the trap."
John went to add some more painkillers to Sherlock's IV bag, but Mycroft stopped him with a small shake of his head.
"We're going to need Sherlock as ready as he can be. Can you give him something lighter?"
Sherlock nodded. John wasn't happy; he knew exactly what Sherlock was going through, and it was bad enough with high doses of morphine. Without it, well. He wasn't sure Sherlock would be a lot of use when he was in that much pain. John hated to put him through this, but with Mycroft and Sherlock both against him there was little choice.
"All right, I'll talk to Dr Willis in a moment and see what she's got."
The preparations felt familiar. Plans were consulted, and weapons accumulated. John was grateful he'd brought his gun and ammunition. James brought him an earpiece, and showed him how to use it. John had always known there was more to James than buttling. He smiled to himself. There was talk of teams, and patrols, and perimeters. John never saw any of the other teams, because he refused to leave Sherlock's room.
Mrs Hudson arrived, rushing over to Sherlock's bedside to pat his cheek and give him a gentle hug. There was none of the fussing John might have expected, which was more than could be said for Molly. She wouldn't stop crying, though of course she'd known all along that Sherlock was alive. She apologised over and over, and wouldn't be convinced that she'd done the right thing. In the end, John had to drag her away to the window.
"Look, Molly. He's alive. He'll be all right. And that's thanks to you. I'm thanking you, not blaming you, for keeping him safe when I couldn't."
He handed her another tissue. She nodded.
John decided that if all these people were going to be in the room (and they were - best to keep all the civilians together), they'd better have some more furniture. Sherlock was out of immediate danger, and he was getting fractious with all the attention. So James organised for some easy chairs and a table to be set up in the corner, away from the bed and the window. Molly, Mrs Hudson, and Greg settled in, with a kettle and tea-making kit. Doctor Willis and Nurse Susan joined them. John stayed with Sherlock, who had gone into contemplative mode as soon as he was (relatively) alone.
James explained the plan to the others. Ideally, Moran wouldn't get near Sherlock. But they couldn't guarantee it. So he and John would be the last line of defence. John was pleased with that plan. He'd love the chance to take out the bastard who hurt Sherlock, and he trusted James.
The waiting was painful. Molly was so self-effacing it grated on everybody's nerves. Doctor Willis fussed over Sherlock until he insulted her so badly she refused to speak to him again. Mrs Hudson made so much tea they were drowning in it, and with only one bathroom available that became a problem. Greg said it was better than getting dehydrated, but John wasn't so sure. He wanted to talk to Sherlock, but not with so many people around. And Sherlock had disappeared inside his own head.
Mycroft came in once, to confer with Sherlock, John and James. His tie was on straight again, and the bruise on his cheek was darkening.
"There's no sign of him. I'm not sure this is working."
Sherlock looked stressed. "It has to work."
But after a very uncomfortable night, and another day, it was apparent that it wouldn't. Mycroft was reluctant to relax the security ("That's what he's waiting for, John.") but a serious conversation about Sherlock's convalescence and the effects of stress calmed him down a bit.
Mrs Hudson, Molly and Greg stayed in the house, but they were allocated their own accomodation on the understanding that they stay away from the windows, and were to retreat back to Sherlock's room at the first sign of any trouble. James kept them all well fed and watered. Dr Willis and Nurse Susan returned to their homes and work, on the basis that Moran already knew where Sherlock was and had no reason to attack them. John never left Sherlock's room. Sherlock reluctantly slept for hours on end, callously dropping off in the middle of John's explanation of the way the healing body required sleep and proper nutrition.
They managed to have a terribly awkward conversation about exactly how Sherlock had pulled off the fall, and how much they'd missed each other. But Sherlock dropped off to sleep again before John could say anything important. He decided to postpone that until they were back in Baker Street.
After two weeks, Sherlock was driving everyone round the bend - especially John. He needed physical therapy, but refused to talk to any medical personnel unless they were Doctor John Watson. John gave up trying to reason with him and recalled as much of his own therapy as he could. A quick Skype call to a colleague for advice yielded some more information, but Sherlock was still being sulky and difficult and John wanted to hit him. Eventually he snapped.
"What do you want me to do, Sherlock?"
"I want to go home, John. To Baker Street. I've been away seven months and twenty seven days, and I want to get back there. Where it's just us."
"It's just us here, Sherlock, because you won't see anyone else. And it's safer."
"I don't care. Moran has gone to ground. I can hunt him with Mycroft when I'm better."
"We. We can hunt him."
"And me," said Lestrade from the doorway. "Can I come in?"
The last time he'd entered uninvited, Sherlock had thrown a brussels sprout at his head. As James believed in cooking vegetables lightly, if at all, it had given Lestrade a black eye. This time, Sherlock beckoned impatiently.
"Talk to Mycroft. Make him let us go home. He'll listen to you."
"I've come to tell you to be ready tomorrow. I've already talked him into it, on the basis that your mother would probably like the house to remain standing until she returns."
John and Sherlock breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The journey home was uncomfortable, even painful, for Sherlock. John had surreptitiously upped his painkillers, hoping Sherlock wouldn't notice. Which was dumb of him, really. The second pill was handed back with a scowl. But as Lestrade's car approached London, Sherlock looked brighter and brighter. Even excited. He must have really missed London.
Sitting at the table drinking tea and musing over his blog, John decided the time had come to attempt that uncomfortable conversation again. He was agonising over how to begin, when Sherlock beat him to it.
"Yes." said Sherlock irritably.
"Yes to whatever you want. I missed you, you clearly missed me. We have something, but I don't know what to call it or how to start."
The irritation was gone from his voice, replaced by an uncharacteristic vulnerability that made John's heart hurt. John moved over to the sofa, sitting down next to Sherlock and taking his good hand.
"We could start with a kiss?"