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All the King's Horses

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Bond isn't used to London. His time here is limited, consisting of long mornings filled with self-indulgence and sleeping-in to an intolerably late hour -- utter decadence. Afternoons lost in suit-fittings or getting his hair cut or the gunpowder residue and dirt picked out from beneath his fingernails by accomplished professionals. Evenings passing in a haze of alcohol, music just loud enough to be distracting, and sometimes the embrace of a woman or perhaps a man, if there's someone interesting available.

London is for downtime. London is for that increasingly tedious lull between one mission and the next. It's returning his equipment to Q-Branch and leaving, supposedly unarmed, to 'recover' or 'relax' or 'get himself together' or 'get some rest, for god's sake, 007'.

In short, London is boredom. Predictable, uninterrupted monotony. That rush of 'home' and 'alive' diminishing with a depressing rapidity that leaves Bond itching to escape the very place he would willingly, happily, give his life for, just so long as he is not called to live there for any length of time, which is perhaps why he is feeling particularly pleased as he ends the call that brings his evening plans to an abrupt end.

Two days back from a six month operation that took him through seven separate countries leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake and resulting finally, inevitably, in the rather thorough demolition of a drug cartel that had been branching out into arms dealing. Two days back and a phone call from HQ, which can only mean that there is something else for Bond to sink his teeth into, something that might take him away before the tedium strikes, as it always does.

He doesn't bother to change his clothes because the grey suit and white shirt is something he could have just as easily picked to pack for a mission. Bond makes a point of always looking his best. He doesn't even have to change direction as the call comes through to his mobile just as he is heading out his front door, keys already in hand.

"I'm on my way," he says, and rings off without breaking stride, locking his door as he goes.

The hour is late enough that traffic isn't much of a bother. It's not rush hour, though the streets are cluttered with people on foot and in vehicles, the pulse of the city picking-up as the predictability of a day at work is cast-off for the spontaneity of a night out. Bond feels a surge of fondness for this city in this country that he loves. The kind of fondness he can only fully experience when he knows he is soon leaving it behind.

"Evening, Moneypenny," he greets as he strides into the depressingly brown outer-office, his eyes instinctively landing on the sole occupant of the space.

"Bond," she answers with a tight smile. "They're waiting for you."

Bond pauses by the edge of her desk. Eve can almost always be counted on for a spot of flirtation, a mischievous grin at the very least, which is the reason he had taken such a quick liking to her: she is interesting. This abrupt business-like demeanor is revealing; an indication that whatever Mallory has called him for, it is serious. More serious than the drug cartel because if Bond recalls correctly he kept Mallory waiting a full five minutes while he indulged in a swift parry-riposte-parry exchange with the man's administrative assistant.

"Bond," Tanner says, opening the stitched leather-bound door that had replaced the floor-to-ceiling tinted glass door that the man's predecessor had preferred. Mallory had taken-over the running of MI6, taken the office space at the top of Vauxhall; taken Tanner, M's ever-faithful number two; taken the initial, even: "Smooth out the transition and all that". For her part, M had taken retirement. Bond is still unsure whether she went willingly or not.

Tanner nods in greeting, a tight grimacing smile on his face as he tells Bond to "Come straight through."

The first thing Bond notes as Tanner quietly closes the door is the other man in Mallory's office. He is seated in one of the high-backed club chairs that occupy the space by the window, bracketing a round coffee table. His back is perfectly straight, his arms resting on the arm rests somewhat stiffly, as if he has studied very carefully how one is supposed to sit in a chair of this sort but is not quite comfortable regardless. His eyes are sharp and his hairline receding, though what little he does have is carefully smoothed down and looks vaguely brownish. He is clad in a plain dark suit with a red tie; bespoke Bond thinks, though the cut of it and the slackness in the jacket suggest that either the man's tailor is inept or he quite recently lost some weight. The black leather shoes shined to a gleam are definitely expensive and the soles are hardly scuffed, which says all Bond needs to know about the man's importance if only in relation to his place of employment, which is almost certainly government-related though perhaps one of the more shadowy branches of power. This is the sort of man who enjoys pulling strings.

A black umbrella with a wood handle is propped against the side of the chair, though it hasn’t rained in the last two days. Either he prefers to be prepared for any eventuality or the item has some sentimental value, perhaps a sort of security blanket. Or maybe he is merely a pragmatist. When piercing brown eyes meet Bond's assessing gaze, unflinching and plainly scrutinizing, Bond thinks perhaps it might be a little of all three.

"Ah." Mallory looks up from where he has been skimming through a file, abruptly he flips the folder closed over the papers and gestures to one of the chairs opposite his desk. "007."

Bond sits down slowly, aware that the man in the high-back chair who has yet to be introduced is eying him carefully, fingers steepled beneath his chin. From the corner of his eye Bond can see Tanner standing just to the right of the door. "A bit crowded," he says, keeping his voice casual. Bond is all too aware that his chosen profession has made him necessarily suspicious of everything, whether it warrants concern or not. Better to be suspicious and unsurprised than trusting and dead.

"If I may?" The stranger looks to Mallory seemingly for permission and, when he receives a nod, withdraws something from a black briefcase set at his feet, which he fiddles with for a moment before passing it over to Tanner.

In turn, Tanner carries the item to Mallory's desk and sets it down. The device is small enough to fit easily in the palm of a hand and looks remarkably like a miniature portable speaker. It's four inches tall when popped up, perfectly round and completely black except for a strip of purple light circling the top.

Bond eyes the thing carefully, attempting to determine what it might be with little success. There is nothing visible that might provide a clue as to its purpose except that its small size suggests portability, and its lack of wiring indicates independence and so perhaps a level of security. "Interesting gadget."

"Mm, yes," the stranger answers. "Not exactly easy to acquire. This one was a gift of sorts, but I've found it immensely useful."

"Bond." The corner of Mallory's mouth quirks upward in that stiff, half-meant politician's smile as he says, "This is Mister Mycroft Holmes. Mister Holmes, this is James Bond, agent 007."

"Pleasure," Mycroft Holmes says, partially rising from his seat so he can extend his hand, which Bond takes, tightening his grip just slightly because he dislikes being at a disadvantage and also because Bond is a sore loser.

He has no idea who Mycroft Holmes might be, or why he should be involved in this meeting, or why Mallory would feel compelled to introduce Bond so thoroughly, but all of it just makes Bond curious and perhaps defensive. In his experience the best defense is often a strong offense, so he looks Mister Holmes directly in the eye and schools his features into a blank expression. In turn, Mycroft Holmes raises his eyebrows but seems to be neither intimidated nor impressed. If anything, the man appears to be placidly amused.

Having observed the exchange, Mallory clears his throat and casts a pointed look at Bond as he says, "I assure you he has the appropriate clearance." It doesn’t put Bond at ease but he retakes his chair and lets the issue drop, at least for the moment.

"This is unfortunate business, I'm afraid," Mallory continues, picking up the folder he had been looking at earlier, standing so he can pass it across his desk and into Bond's hand.

It's the standard dark folder that all of his missions have been delivered in since he transferred to MI6. The expected words visible at the top: Top Secret. When he opens it, however, it is rather startling to note that he is not being called to travel to a foreign country and track a rising arms dealer, or assassinate a political figure or anything of the like. It is a strictly internal matter.

When Bond looks up Mallory nods once, solemnly. "We're in trouble." He adjusts his suit jacket as he settles back into his chair.

"I imagine you'll recall, Mister Bond," Mycroft says. "The incident of approximately six weeks ago wherein the security of several rather prominent British establishments were compromised. Scotland Yard arrested the perpetrator and he is currently in custody awaiting trial." The man speaks with a smooth, arching cadence; each word enunciated but smoothed over with a posh drawling rhythm that has a curious undercurrent of smug self-satisfaction.

"At the time," Mycroft Holmes continues. "I believe they found him wearing several of the crown jewels, including the crown itself, and waving the royal scepter in his hand."

Bond sniffs because he imagines it would be inappropriate to laugh, especially as Mycroft Holmes is looking at him quite keenly, and seems not the least bit amused. "I must have been out of town at the time."

"Yes, well," Mycroft continues. "It has been a matter of some concern to myself and members of my department."

"And your department is…?"

"Irrelevant, at the present moment," the man answers, waving a hand dismissively. "These things are sometimes difficult to confine to a simple title. I'm sure you'll understand."

Bond is reminded why he so greatly dislikes politicians. It was the thing that he appreciated most about M: her directness, her forthrightness, her tendency to cut through couched words and embedded meanings with ease. For all that she knew how to play the game she never bored him with it.

Sighing and making little effort to mask his irritation, Bond asks, "Why am I here?" He is certain to add just the right amount of petulant impatience to his tone, which never fails to insight some sort of response from Mallory, usually a wry comment and a flash of sharp teeth.

Though Mallory huffs and rolls his eyes, Mycroft Holmes merely smiles as if Bond has done something terribly amusing. "James Moriarty," Mycroft says simply and waits a beat, as if the name itself should have immediate significance. Bond has never heard of the man. "As it says in your brief, he is suspected of running a rather formidable crime syndicate that does not, as far as we can tell, limit itself as to type of criminality, or severity or geographical location."

"Mister Holmes brought the matter to the attention of MI6," Mallory says. "But the investigation hit a rather significant snag recently." His mouth is pinched in that way Bond has noticed it does when he is mulling something over that displeases him. "We have reason to suspect that MI6 has been compromised."

The situation is not unheard of, and it easily explains the late hour and Moneypenny's briskness. Bond is intrigued because he has long-since learned what words to listen for in order to anticipate a truly stimulating mission. 'Syndicate', for instance means 'large' with the appropriate sub-clauses: 'lots of guns' and possibly 'organized', 'skilled', or 'a bit of a challenge'. 'Compromised' to Bond means 'complicated'.

Refocusing, he shifts forward in his chair. "A mole?"

Mallory nods. "At least one. Given the level of interference on any intelligence gathering we've attempted, we suspect it is someone within Q-Branch, but at the present moment we are not ruling out anyone with a high facility with technology, or the possibility that there is more than one corrupted agent in our midst. With the exception of Miss Moneypenny, the only people you should trust from this point forward 007, are in this office."

Bond flips through the file quickly, noting several suggested names of suspects and beyond that, a disturbing lack of anything relevant or remotely useful. "What do you want me to do?"

Mycroft takes a long breath. "I have people looking into Moriarty. At present, he is confined in prison but his trial is rapidly approaching and I suspect that the ease of his capture is an indication that it is part of some greater plot, on his part. I believe it safe to assume we are operating under some kind of time-constraint."

Mallory nods his agreement. "I want you looking into whatever you can find about the leak at MI6. Track whoever it is and use them to uncover as much as you can with regards to this Moriarty's dealings. Then take care of it."

Bond smiles. "With pleasure." Though, now that he considers it he can see one rather distinct snag. "I'm to complete this mission without making use of Q-Branch?"

"At the moment there is no way to know who has been compromised," Mallory confirms.

"My skills with computers may not be up to the requirements of this mission."

"Well then," Mallory says. "That will be your first point of business. I don't care how you do it, Bond, just get it done. And don't cock it up!"

"If I may," Mycroft says, raising a finger. "I have a contact who has consulted on this matter in the past. He may be willing to assist."

"Excellent." Mallory claps his hands together once, as if that settles things nicely.

Bond has a tendency to not count his chickens before they are even out of the egg. "Where do I find him?"

"You don't," is the rather ambiguous response. "I'm afraid I don't know what name he's going by these days. In the past, he has been the one to contact me with the relevant details."

Mycroft opens his wallet and withdraws a plain white business card, still crisp, which he promptly flips over. Taking a pen from an inside jacket pocket, he jots something down before returning both wallet and pen to their previous places, and then handing the card across the distance to Bond. "You might have better luck making the suitable inquiries at this address. I recommend being forthright and direct, and not taking anything personally."

Bond glances down at the name on the business card: Sherlock Holmes, and the address: 221B Baker Street. Then he flips it round to the back where he notes the hand-written addition: L. Q. H. in precise black print. "Are you certain this man can be trusted?"

"More than that," Mallory interrupts sharply. "If your contact with this informant has never been direct, and you can't even determine his name, how can you be certain it's all on the up-and-up? MI6 is prepared to make an allowance for a civilian given the nature of the current predicament, but there has to be some reasonable assurance that we are not allowing an even greater security threat inside than we are already currently dealing with!"

Mycroft chuckles and shakes his head, vaguely condescending. "I never said I didn't know his name. And while I can safely say that Mister Sherlock Holmes and my 'informant' are both reliable to the utmost, I am equally confident that neither of them is, strictly speaking, on the 'up-and-up'." He turns to Bond. "Don't feel obligated, of course. But I can assure you that, should you manage to make contact, you'll find yourself with a considerable asset indeed."

The briefing draws to a close because there isn't much more that can be said when they are at such a significant disadvantage in terms of information.

As Bond exits the office Moneypenny passes over a plain white envelope. "Tickets and passport," she says. "Enjoy Cuba, 007." Of course, Bond isn’t going anywhere near Cuba, which is vaguely disappointing, and Eve gives him a wink to let him know that she's well-aware that he isn't at all impressed with his current assignment.

Inside the envelope is a set of documents for a Mister David Winshaw, each with his own face printed beside the name: his cover identity. Nodding his thanks, Bond makes his way to the lift only to be stopped again.

"Mister Bond." Mycroft nods his head in acknowledgement as he settles his umbrella in the crook of one arm, stepping into the lift beside Bond and pressing a finger decisively against the button for the main floor. The doors close without a sound. "I'm not in the habit of sharing my contacts. If you decide to make use of that lead, please exercise the utmost discretion. In every regard."

Bond casts a curious glance sideways. "What was that device you had earlier?"

"Ah." Smiling, Mycroft pats his briefcase twice. "A clever little contraption that obfuscates sound within an established radius. It has the ability to render any listening devices and indeed any electronic device not cleared by the system completely useless while it is switched on."

"A gift from your contact," Bond guesses.

"Indeed."

"You're worried about him." He keeps his gaze fixed on the other man so as to catch any sort of reaction, but Mycroft Holmes does not seem the slightest bit surprised by the accusation. "He's not simply a resource, is he? You have some connection to him."

The other man tips his head back a little as he laughs. "You're very good."

"What is he, an old school friend?"

"No." Mycroft meets Bond's eyes carefully. "Something much worse, I'm afraid."

The lift chimes once, the doors sliding open. "Good night, Mister Bond," Mycroft says in such a way that makes Bond think the man would actually tip his hat if he were only wearing one. Then he steps off the lift and disappears down the hall.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The moment he returns to his flat Bond unplugs his computer from the wall and disconnects it from the WiFi, and then turns it off, setting it back on his coffee table and throwing a dishcloth over it for good measure. If MI6 has a mole, has possibly more than one mole, than Bond cannot afford to be careless. He searches every conceivable spot for listening devices or surveillance equipment and is not calmed when he comes-up with nothing. This address is listed in his personnel file, which means it is now officially an unsecure location.

Besides, he's supposed to be heading for Cuba on a flight that leaves in three hours according to the mission brief. Not that Bond will be on the flight. Still, it doesn't give him very much time to pack his things and determine just where he will be going. At least finances aren't an issue. Along with his identification, the packet Eve passed him at HQ includes three different credit cards under the name David Winshaw. There is also a yellow post-it with her familiar print: 'don't spend it all in one place'.

He packs a bag, leaves his mobile on top of his computer and locks his door on the way out, sparing a longing glance to his Astin Martin, which he leaves in the garage. Paranoia makes Bond hire a cab and head to the airport where he makes certain to check-in for his flight to Cuba personally. If Q-Branch has even one spy then when they view the security footage of Heathrow they will get one tedious hour of viewing pleasure: Bond sipping a coffee at the airport café and reading the newspaper as he waits for his flight. Eve will have to take care of the rest because Bond can't afford to actually get on the plane and go to Cuba. His mission is right here in London and he's put it off long enough. There's enough of a crowd at the airport that he makes it out and into a cab without trouble, and there's no reason to suspect a corrupt agent would be suspicious enough to look into Bond too closely at this point. After all, there's no reason to think he hasn't gone off on another mission in another country, business as usual.

It's not all been wasted time, because while he was drinking stale coffee at the café Bond has managed to settle on an answer to the most important question: where will he stay?

The Savoy is relatively central in terms of location and it offers ease of access to any one of a hundred crowded little places that might make a nice anonymous place to meet an asset, should he be lucky enough to actually acquire one. At the front desk he requests a suite. No one specified any sort of budget for this operation, and Bond's penchant for excess is not exactly a secret at HQ. He views Eve's handwritten note as a challenge.

Besides, the process of locating and eliminating one spy in an entire organization of spies is high-priority, this operation warrants more than a few concessions.

Settling into a hotel room is routine to him, by now. He has a hot shower, unpacks a few items from his bag, and then calls it a night. Anything more can wait until morning.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Bond doesn't manage to make it over to 221B Baker Street until midday, his morning eaten up with acquiring a burn phone and a laptop, and with an attempt to pursue the relevant information as far as his ability with computers can take him, which is depressingly not very far. Whoever this Moriarty is, his technical know-how easily outstrips Bond's own.

After lunch he takes a cab across town and jogs up a set of cement steps to the black painted door, rapping twice with the shiny brass knocker. It takes a moment, but eventually the door is opened by an older lady in a dark floral frock who immediately assumes, correctly as it happens, that he is here for the occupant of 221B. "Come in out of the cold, dear," she says, stepping aside. "Just up the stairs, there. I think Sherlock might have popped out, but Doctor Watson is in."

Thanking her, Bond climbs the narrow staircase, knocking at the door he finds at the top, which opens to reveal a man almost but not quite a whole head shorter than Bond, with blond hair and the stiff, precise posture of someone who has seen military service. Having perused the man's blog before lunch Bond knows precisely who has come to the door. "Doctor Watson?"

Watson tips his head a bit to the side, frowning. "Yes. May I help you?"

"I'm here to see Sherlock Holmes."

"Oh." The stiffness in the man's posture eases somewhat but not, Bond notes, entirely. "Is it about a case? Sorry, please come in."

He finds himself sitting in a chair opposite Doctor John Watson, holding a cup of tea that he doesn't really want but sipping it anyway because it distracts him from the way that Watson is plainly sizing him up. It's mutual. Apparently, they can both smell the military wafting off each other but are too polite to make a direct inquiry.

"He shouldn't be too long," Watson says, with a parody of an easy smile. "Though, I should warn you, he might be a bit abrupt. It's been a slow week and Sherlock doesn't handle boredom all that well."

The offhanded way John Watson says this leads Bond to believe that it is a warning he finds himself so frequently giving that he delivers it now by rote, despite the fact that he is not exactly at ease with Bond sitting in his living room.

Smiling, Bond says, "I hope he'll be able to help."

When he had run a search on Sherlock Holmes that morning Bond had been surprised by the sheer volume of hits he'd turned up; apparently the man is a sort of celebrity. There had been a rather tedious website titled, 'The Science of Deduction', which was filled with articles written by the man himself, each one making a more outrageous claim than the last, though Bond can not quite bring himself to doubt the legitimacy of any of the assertions.

The comment pages had been stuffed with cryptic notes that led Bond to think that Sherlock Holmes fancied himself some sort of crazed, unlicensed private investigator. Judging from the personal blog of Doctor John H. Watson this theory was not all that far from the truth. Watson's blog had included actual short stories detailing their various adventures (or misadventures as the cases sometimes seemed), which had distracted Bond long enough that he had almost forgotten about lunch entirely.

"Well," John Watson says, taking another sip of his tea. "Sherlock's standards when it comes to taking cases are sometimes quite high. They have to…"

When the man trails off, Bond finds himself smirking and supplying helpfully, "Intrigue him?"

"Well…" Watson ducks his head with embarrassment. "Yes. Do you think yours will do?"

"I have no idea." He doesn't think he imagined the hopeful tinge to Watson's question, which makes him wonder just how unbearable Sherlock Holmes is when he is bored that his flat mate should be so desperate to amuse him. "Mister Holmes was recommended to me."

"By whom? May I ask?"

Bond has a strange sense that mentioning the name Mycroft Holmes at this point might be a misstep. When he had first glanced at the card he had dismissed the surname as coincidence, Holmes was, after all, not exactly an uncommon name. But Mycroft's rather pinched cautioning about 'not taking anything personally' implied at least some level of familiarity, which Bond's instincts suggested might be down to an actual familial connection of some kind.

Apparently reading his reluctance, John takes another sip of tea and changes his line of questioning. "How about the case. Can you tell me a bit about that?"

Bond is not entirely certain how to explain his purpose here. Mycroft had advised that he should be 'forthright', so he says, "A missing person's case," because it's not exactly an untruth.

"Boring!" a voice declares from the hallway.

A moment later a fast-moving flapping shadow throws open the door to the room jettisoning coat, scarf, gloves, and what Bond registers as being an actual brass trident that looks, at least from this distance, ancient enough that Bond wonders if it should really be cast aside with such abandon. Each item flying in a different direction, the coat and scarf dropping somewhere in the vicinity of the sofa seemingly by chance but actually, Bond thinks, by careful calculation in combination with an abundance of practice. Judging by the carelessness of the gesture Bond suspects the scarf and coat would land in precisely the same places on the sofa whether someone were already occupying that space or not.

Watson observes the entire spectacle with a pinched crease between his brows. "Sherlock, did you go on the tube with that?"

"Of course not. I took a cab," the dark haired man announces, exasperated. "Why do you always ask me that question?"

Pursing his lips in disapproval, Watson ignores this as he points out, "We have a client."

"No we don't," Sherlock Holmes counters, waving a dismissive hand behind him as he rifles through a stack of papers on his desk. "A missing person? What is it, cheating girlfriend? Wife?" His eyes, a curiously green-grey color, skim over Bond's face, down his body and then back up again.

In an instant he stands away from his desk, the motion fast as any jackrabbit. "No. Wait. Look at you. It's something else." He steeples his fingers under his chin, his gaze repeating the pattern, down and then up Bond's body, this time slower. Under any other circumstance Bond would comment on being so blatantly leered at, but he has the distinct impression this man is hardly making note of his physique. He feels more akin to an object under a microscope.

"You work for the government, but you have a military background. Hmm, what is it, MI5? Did my brother send you?"

"What," Watson scoffs, and then confirms Bond's earlier suspicions by adding, "Mycroft?"

"Well look at him," Sherlock waves an irritated hand in Bond's direction. "It must be. He's paying someone with actual training to spy on me now."

Bond tries very hard to stifle his smirk, but despite his desire to get to the point of his visit, he finds this commotion of a man amusing. "If that's the case, I'm not being very clever about it, am I?"

Holmes narrows his eyes, prowling closer in such a way that Bond finds himself wondering if the man is making an effort to intimidate him or if this Sherlock Holmes is merely completely and utterly inept when it comes to basic social interaction. "Forgive me if I find it difficult to believe that a trained SIS operative has 'lost someone' and is genuinely seeking my help."

Watson sets his teacup down with a rattle, shifting forward in his chair as if he thinks he might have to run and fetch his gun. "Wait, SIS. Sherlock, are you serious?"

Bond and Sherlock both ignore the doctor. Bond says, "I was told to come here and make 'the suitable inquiries'."

"And what," Sherlock asks, prowling about in a way that suggests restlessness more than nerves. "Are the 'suitable inquiries'?"

In answer, Bond draws the card that Mycroft had given him and hands it over, enduring a rather suspicious, narrow-eyed glare as Sherlock accepts it, his eyes skimming over the front where his own name and address are printed, and then turning it horizontal to measure the width and undoubtedly the quality of the paper and perhaps also the curvature and then, finally, flipping it round to the back.

"No," Sherlock says, breathy, the words a whisper kept almost beneath his breath. "No, no, Mycroft, what have you done?"

"What is it?" Watson asks, up and out of his chair and at Sherlock's side in an instant. He glances down at the card but seems in no better position to make sense of the letters than Bond had been. "Sherlock?"

Bond is perfectly and completely aware that if he wants to track down Mycroft's mysterious source then he should not make any sudden moves. Sherlock is apparently genuinely disturbed by the message on the card and John, though clearly uncomprehending of the cause of his flatmate's distress, seems willing to turn violent should the occasion call for it. Bond would prefer not to kill anyone just yet, especially anyone who might in fact be immensely helpful once they stop being so infuriating.

All at once, Sherlock recovers himself enough to shove Watson aside and stride forward, brandishing the rectangular business card like a weapon and shouting, "Why! Why did he give you this?"

There are any number of responses that Bond could give in answer to the question, but he recalls Mycroft Holmes' advise and weathers the accusing glare coolly. "Because I need help from someone who can be trusted."

That this is precisely the correct thing to say is evident in the way that Sherlock's mouth clicks instantly closed. He backs off, still eying Bond but at least seeming to be willing to listen. Bond waits as the man settles onto the couch, tucking his legs up beneath him as he perches rather like a giant crow.

Hands on his hips, eyes switching from Sherlock to Bond and then back again, Watson demands, "Someone had better explain what the bloody hell is going on!"

"Is it a mole?" Sherlock's tone purrs low and smooth, like the prospect of a mole inside MI6 is positively delicious.

Bond is careful not to react to the question. "This information is highly classified."

Sherlock waves his hand as if Bond's words are a rather irritating fly that might be physically swatted into submission. "My brother is Mycroft Holmes," as if that were an actual answer. He steeples his fingers again, bringing them to rest against his lips, his eyes drifting away. "A mole."

"Do you understand what the letters mean?"

Again, that waving hand. "Of course I do. But my question remains unanswered. I repeat, 'why'?" Then sharper, "Why?"

Random letters Bond had wondered when he had first looked at the back of the card. A code, perhaps. Or initials? "Because the British government is under threat," he says. "Any number of lives are in danger if this threat remains unchecked."

"Oh dull," Sherlock sighs, the very picture of boredom as he flops back against the sofa.

Bond does not at all appreciate the implication that his work is in any way 'dull'. He rises from his chair and moves across the room, leaning over the sprawling form of Sherlock Holmes close enough that his breath startles the man's eyes open. "Because," Bond says, keeping his voice even and low. "There is every reason to believe that the spy, or spies, working within MI6 are part of an international crime ring that I have every reason to suspect you are greatly interested in."

There's an excited gleam in those green-grey eyes as they match Bond's gaze. "Moriarty," Sherlock says with a curious amount of relish.

Bond nods. "Yes."

"Very well." Rising smoothly from his chair, Sherlock declares, "I'll look into it, but I won't make any promises."

"Thank-you."

The taller man narrows his eyes when Bond settles back into his chair. "What are you still doing here? I already said I'd do what I can."

"I'm in no hurry." Holding out his cup to Watson Bond asks, "More tea?"

Startled, Watson refills the cup. Then he smiles brightly. "I don't think he plans to leave until he's certain you've actually made some effort, Sherlock."

The insinuation that he might not be true to his word has visibly ruffled the man's feathers. Sherlock flashes a grimacing frown Bond's way and glares at Doctor Watson, as if he is uncertain who has offended him more. "It's not a matter of making a quick phone call! I can't just snap my fingers and 'poof', have him appear!" He rifles his hands through his hair and then begins to pace.

Bond takes a casual sip from his cup, dimly aware that he hasn't consumed so much tea in a single sitting in well over five years. "Some assurance that the necessary steps are being taken would go a long way."

There's a rather irritated sounding 'whoosh'ing breath, and then Sherlock collapses onto his desk chair, prying open the top of his laptop with a vicious tug that Bond knows would make any one of the techs in Q-Branch cringe. Then he begins to type.

Bond is just finishing his tea when Sherlock announces, "There! I've updated my blog."

"Is that helpful, do you think?" Watson asks, though whom his question is directed to is not clear.

Sherlock glances pointedly between Bond and the door. "The 'necessary steps' have been taken. Either he'll come or he won't!"

"Because you updated your blog?" Frowning, Bond paces over and pulls the laptop round so he can read the screen. The more he reads the less he understands because as far as he can tell it's just another tedious article about the distinguishing characteristics of clay. For all his not inconsiderable training Bond is absolutely incapable of finding any indication of a cypher.

"The message isn't in the words," Sherlock says smugly, his gaze calculating as he turns. "I assure you the encryption is flawless and untraceable. You'd be impressed, if you had the capacity to comprehend the sheer elegance of the coding."

"I'm sure I would," Bond says. "Good afternoon, gentlemen." Setting his cup and saucer back on the little table, he nods at Watson and says, "Thank you for the tea. I'll show myself out." Then he turns on his heel and leaves.

________________________________________________________________________________________

It's raining when Bond steps down onto the street. He hails a cab, climbing into the back and then sitting a moment, trying to determine where it is he would like to go. He settles for directing it to a restaurant near enough to his hotel that he might manage to walk back.

Bond dislikes missions like this. There are hundreds of people employed at MI6 and without further information he can't possibly determine whom he should be investigating. In order to get that information, he has to find some link with Moriarty and, outside of reading the relevant articles in the online newspapers, Bond can't risk running a search because he is aware that his computer skills are vastly outmatched by his target's. That much is evident by the goose-chases any and all reports from Q-Branch have invariably become when the task at hand was tracking Moriarty.

Give him a clear target and Bond can manage just fine, but technology isn't what he was trained for. He has all of Q-Branch to manage the intelligence gathering, the hacking and the technological aspect of any operation. As a double-o, his job is primarily focused on killing people or blowing things up, and his intelligence-gathering capabilities are based mostly on subterfuge and manipulation. On this particular mission he is woefully out of his depth.

For one thing, he feels quite differently about running about on rooftops and setting off explosions when he's standing in the heart of London.

For another, if Sherlock Holmes proves unable to coax his source out of the woodwork, Bond will have to find someone who is both technologically competent and also adequately trustworthy if he has any hope of discovering the leak within HQ. A tall order indeed.

He briefly considers and then quickly discards the notion of calling Eve. She's his primary contact but truthfully he's on his own. If he keeps making calls and popping up where he shouldn't, he'll come to the attention of the mole, which might be a credible strategy to lure the traitor out, except that Bond suspects given the sheer amount of contaminated intelligence from Q-Branch that there is more than one of Moriarty's spies within MI6, and Bond can't possibly have the advantage given what little he knows of the situation.

Which leaves him here, having dinner alone. Though if the way that woman in the blue dress sitting at the bar keeps looking his way is anything to go by, perhaps his night won't be a total loss.

He takes the last bite of his steak, picks up his wine glass and is about to make his way over to her when his mobile rings. No one outside of Moneypenny is supposed to have this number. "Yes?" he answers, not trying to keep the mistrust from his voice.

"Mister Bond," Mycroft Holmes says.

Years as a field agent mean that he doesn't succumb to the impulse to glance over his shoulder, though he does check any and all reflective surfaces in his line of sight to see if someone familiar or suspicious is sitting in the restaurant. "How did you get this number?"

Rather infuriatingly, Mycroft chuckles. "Don't concern yourself. The number is still secure, I assure you. How quickly do you think you can finish your dinner and make it across town?"

Bond huffs, deciding not to waste time asking how the man knows he is eating dinner. "That depends a great deal on my incentive."

"Hm," Mycroft says. "A package has just arrived on my doorstep that might be of some interest to you."

In the background, Bond thinks he hears a man say, "A 'package'? Mycroft, really?"

"I'll text you the address, and I do recommend that you hurry."

"I'm not a package!" the voice insists.

Bond says, "I'll do my best," and spends the time it takes to disconnect the call and await the text with Mycroft's address flashing a disappointed look in the direction of the bar and settling his tab. His phone 'pings' as he slips into his jacket, and he steps back into the rain to hail a cab.