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All That's Left Of Me Now Is A Cigarette Burning Bright

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Given that in Book's business no one ever quit, he wasn't surprised to get the call to place him back on active duty. He was surprised that it wasn't actually a call, but a personal meeting. "Events are happening rather quickly, and I need someone to keep an eye on a certain situation for me," the man, who had introduced himself as Mycroft, said.

"A situation," Book repeated carefully.

"Well, my brother," Mycroft replied.

"So this isn't official?"

"Anything that affects me is official."

Book knew better than to argue with people who thought they had that kind of authority. Every once in a while they were right. Book just nodded.

"I'll arrange for your passage to Persephone." Mycroft leaned more heavily on his umbrella as he removed what looked like an ident card from his pocket. He handed it to Book.

"It has my name on it." Book said.

"Of course. It should also take care of any," Mycroft waved his hand here, "difficulties you might encounter. It's important you not contact me directly, but I'll be in touch."

"That's all?"

"Yes. Take care of Sherlock. My brother. That's all you need to do. John can take care of himself."

"Who is John?"

Mycroft tilted his head, like he couldn't believe Book had asked. "A friend."

"God damnit, Mycroft," John muttered under his breath as another person stumbled into him. Of all the places John would choose to transfer ships at, Persephone was neither friendly nor particularly safe. He kept a careful hand on his wallet and an even more careful eye on the cryochamber Mycroft had given him. John was more than a little disturbed about the fact that he didn't know what was in the cryochamber, but Mycroft had promised that it be pivotal in helping break Sherlock out of that place he'd been sent to.

John hadn't yet found a line he wouldn't cross for Sherlock, and Mycroft tended to be right about the sort of things that would help.

So John looked for the kind of ship that would fly under the radar but not be too unsavoury. The Firefly with the young woman dressed in bright blue sitting outside seemed like a decent option. John wished he had Sherlock here to tell him that he always was too quick to give in to a pretty face. Then Sherlock would tell John which ship was the right one, but it wouldn't even matter because Sherlock would be safe already.

The captain of the Firefly is about what John expected: brusque and quick make sure everyone knew he was in charge. John didn't think they'd have much of a problem, he knew how to get along with authority figures. He supposed that was one reason to be glad Sherlock wasn't around.

Mycroft's plans always involve disaster for John, but this one was a little more overt than usual. John could honestly say that he'd never before been punched before. The having a gun drawn on him was more worrying, even if John had experience with that. "I'd hate for you to shoot me," he said, because it felt like he should say something.

"You're a gorram fed," Captain Reynolds spat.

Before John had the opportunity to point out how that wasn't true, the Shepherd interrupted. "I hate to say it Captain," he said, and that sounded like something Mycroft would say, because few other people took such relish in disagreeing but tried to pretend they didn't, "But you've got the wrong man."

Then Dobson, the man John had pinned as most likely other than Kaylee to be one of Mycroft's people, was holding a gun on the captain and trying to arrest John. John kind of had to agree with Mal's sentiment that this wasn't the best day ever.

"Lawman, you are making a mistake," John said, because that was just the way things worked. Mycroft had failed to protect Sherlock, and he had made a promise to John that he wouldn't fail again.

John believed Mycroft, because he had to.

Then Dobson shot Kaylee, the ship's engineer.

People weren't supposed to die because of John, or around John. Not anymore. He already knew that he would do everything he could to help save Kaylee.

But Mal didn't know that, and John would take every advantage he could get. So he threatened not to help her if Mal didn't run from the law. John just wished he knew what Mycroft's plan was.

John had no idea what was in the cryochamber, but he knew Mycroft. It wouldn't be something Mal would like.

When the chamber opened, before it was supposed to, dammit, Mal just stared at the contents. As soon as Jayne let John go he was at the side of the box. "Huh," Mal said, and John couldn't muster up a reaction, because that was Sherlock in the box and John wanted to hate Mal for having opened it early, but if he'd known it held Sherlock he would never have been able to resist.

Mycroft was a bloody bastard.

John stood there, waiting for Sherlock to make some brilliant deduction, demand clothes or tell Mal off for having hit John. Instead, Sherlock didn't meet his eyes, looking lost and more than a little frightened.

"John?" he asked, after a long pause.

"I'm here," John replied, closing his eyes briefly.

"John," Sherlock said again.

John glanced at Mal, seeking his permission before moving closer to Sherlock. If Sherlock was experiencing sensory overstimulation to such a degree that he hadn't locked on John yet, he needed to get out of the crowded cargo bay as soon as possible.

As soon as John had Sherlock somewhat settled in the infirmary, with its relatively stark walls and complete lack of conscious people, he knew he had explanations to give. If anyone was willing to hear them.

"Sherlock is smart. So incredibly smart that he makes everyone else seem like an idiot. It's just what he does." No one looked impressed, but Inara did look sympathetic. John supposed that would be because his fondness for Sherlock radiated with every word he said, though he wouldn't be surprised if Inara had picked up everything about John's relationship with Sherlock from the single scene in the cargo bay. Her eyes said that she understood most of what there was to understand about people.

"He solved crimes in an unofficial capacity for the local authorities on Osiris for several years. He almost always had an answer, and that answer was always right. There was an offer of a government position. Top-secret, the kind of thing that required background checks of everyone he'd so much as smiled at in the last five years.

"Sherlock was always looking for a challenge." This talking, explaining everything, wasn't John's area; he wasn't comfortable with it. "His family was careful, but everything seemed to check out.

"And then he just disappeared. Didn't come home that night, but that wasn't unusual. Still, he usually kept in almost-obsessive contact. And then he didn't come home for a week, and his brother started looking.

"It turns out the Alliance was experimenting on him, and a number of other Gifted people. Mostly children, but then, Sherlock always acted like a child." No one met John's smile. "His brother got him out, I don't know how. I'd like to think he took all the people out then razed the place to the ground, but my concern is and has to be Sherlock. What he needs right now is medical help."

"What's your connection to him?" Mal asked.

"I was...I am his partner." Sherlock would be so disappointed with John, he'd given away practically everything there was to know with a single sentence.

It was too painful to watch their faces turn to judging or sympathetic, so John closed his eyes briefly.

Mal decided to continue on with the job. John wanted to promise that Mycroft would take care of it all, but he couldn't bear for someone else to be disappointed if Mycroft fell through.

Sherlock's in the infirmary.

Space ship, Firefly. Owned and operated by a browncoat, otherwise there would be an Alliance flag in the infirmary. It would mean they had more medical supplies too.

They're near the rim now.

John was the one to stitch up the patient lying in the bed next to him. She's also awake, but pretending not to be. To be fair, so is Sherlock.

He sits up. Her eyes flicker but she doesn't open them.

Mycroft's not on the ship, but one of his agents is. And there's John, somewhere.

There's a needle heading for Sherlock's -

No. Traumatic flashback. Not actually happening.

Footsteps moving towards the infirmary. Male. Not John's.

Sherlock springs from the bed to his feet. Where is John?

The footsteps are threatening, not even making an attempt to be quiet.

Unless that's another aspect of the trauma, to see danger where there isn't any.

Where is John?

Sherlock stumbles towards the doorway,

The footsteps are threatening, belonging to a man who's half a head shorter than Sherlock is. The man has two guns, both of which are drawn. The girl in the infirmary bed won't be able to stop them.

Sherlock doesn't know whether he's supposed to be worried or not.

The man grabs Sherlock.

No opportunity to escape just now, but there will be. The man is frightened. He didn't mean to shoot the girl before. He's willing to shoot her again. He's not willing to shoot Sherlock. He'd rather die than have Sherlock dead, but he's surprised at how things have gone so far. He's not adapting to the circumstances fast enough.

Not a real threat.

Sherlock goes with him.

John hadn't spent much time in the cockpit of a ship, but he thought Sherlock could use to not encounter his anxiety as soon as the injections wore off. Besides, John had been selfishly hoping to distract himself from the anxiety by engaging in conversation with the pilot, Wash.

"Whitefall ain't exactly civilisation in the strictest sense," Wash said, following up his recommendation that John ask Mal to drop them somewhere else.

"Yes, but it would be safer," John responded.

Wash shrugged. "From the Alliance, could be. From finding yourself with a bullet in your head, by accident or deliberately, what do you think?"

"The captain has already done more than enough," John said.

"He really hasn't. Look, I can understand that you're reluctant to ask for more help, but you'd feel really bad if that reluctance killed you. Mal, well, Mal pretends to be more hard-hearted than he actually is. What-"

The comm crackled into life. "He took him," came Kaylee's voice. "He took Sherlock."

John was half-way to the deck when he realised that he lacked any kind of weapon. It was too late to make up for the deficit.

When John saw that they were on below him already, he didn't even think before dropping on Dobson. Sherlock would be so disappointed, but at least he would be fine.

John jumps on Dobson, who lets go of Sherlock and drops the gun. It was an inelegant plan of John's; Sherlock doesn't approve.

Sherlock wonders if he should go after the gun.

He doesn't. It isn't important.

The captain will be back soon. Dobson could take John in a fight, but only because he's more desperate, more focussed on causing pain.

Correction, Dobson should be able to take John in a fight. John always has the capability to surprise Sherlock.

"You wouldn't shoot me," Dobson says, and oh how much he has missed if he really believes that. How can people be so oblivious? "You wouldn't shoot a lawman in cold blood."

John's eyes flicker to Sherlock. Sherlock can't tell John what he should do here, can't tell him that the captain will be back soon, that there are Reavers, that the lawman is as good as dead already, so why not just finish the job? Wouldn't that be mercy?

John shoots.

The captain - browncoat, obviously, but also wishing he could let the war go but feeling obligated not to, feeling too guilty that he's still alive to refrain from making stupid risks, clinging to the ship because it's the only family he has left - returns. (John needs to convince him that he and Sherlock would make good additions to the family. This ship is safe in so many different ways.)

He and the hired muscle - brusque, not as strong as he would like but plenty strong enough, the wrinkles around his mouth indicate a softness of the heart that still makes him harder than most other people but not so hard that he can't wish someone else would see the softness - can throw the body off.

Sherlock doesn't know what will happen with the Reavers. They don't make sense.

John didn't think there was anything he could do to help, and he loathed the feeling. Mal had shot him a glare and told him to stay out of the way, so John held Sherlock with steady hands and followed Inara to her shuttle.

Inara took one glance at both of them and seemed to understand, heading for the front of her shuttle and leaving John with Sherlock.

"Are you all right?" John asked when he couldn't bear waiting for Sherlock to speak any longer.

"All right?" Sherlock repeated. "Yes, I'm fine."

They both paused to grab a hold of something strong as the ship spun. John tried to catch his breath, but when he shot a glance at Sherlock, the other man was smiling.

"We're good, people," Mal said. "We're out of the woods."

John exchanged another grateful glance with Sherlock.

"I like this ship," Sherlock said. "We're staying."

John didn't know how he was going to manage to talk Mal into that, but he couldn't afford to let Sherlock down. "Okay," he said.