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The Deadly Web

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Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my fortune,

Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider,

Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?

Fool, fool, thou whet’st a knife to kill thyself.

The day will come that thou shalt wish for me

To help thee curse that poisonous bunch-backed toad.

Richard III, Act I Scene 3

 

“This is it, then?”

Anthea nods, poised and sleek as she always is, seated opposite Mycroft. “Inspector Lestrade and his team are already en route. We should have a twenty minute window after his arrival before he contacts Sherlock for support.”

Mycroft nods. They’d been expecting this for some time. A case that is such obvious bait that Sherlock will be unable to refuse it, even if he recognizes it for what it is. Perhaps especially if he recognizes it for what it is. Anthea has devoted hours of her time to this particular project, despite it being entirely unofficial and decidedly off-books. She handles it for him, so he can focus on the needs of the government and the prickly matter of tracking down James Moriarty.

He likely owes her a generous raise.

Again.

“Thank you, Anthea. Will you arrange for Doctor Watson to be brought here?”

“Of course, sir.”

He smiles, one of his rare moments of genuine affection he allows from himself. “What would I do without you?”

 

***

 

Like many of the chats Mycroft Holmes arranges, this one occurs within the hallowed and secure walls of the Diogenes Club. But the man he has… arranged for the delivery of… is not so fortunate as to have graced this building before. 

“So total silence is traditional, is it? You can’t even say, ‘Pass the sugar.’”

Mycroft levels an indulgent gaze toward John Watson. “Three-quarters of the diplomatic service and half the government front bench all sharing one tea trolley. It’s for the best, believe me.” John is… unique. He is one of the rare few who find Sherlock’s particular peculiarities endearing rather than troubling. Or irritating, not that Mycroft could begrudge anyone that.

And fortunately, Sherlock seems to enjoy John more than any other human Mycroft has ever seen him interact with. Which possibly, to an outside viewer, does not say much.

To Mycroft, however, it is a feat beyond measure.

He directs John’s attention to the newspaper. ’Sherlock: The Shocking Truth; Close Friend Richard Brook Tells All.’ By Kitty Riley, a former blogger apparently trying to carve her way into mainstream journalism with the most sensational drivel she can find. “Have you heard of Richard Brook, John?”

“No. Should I have?”

“Well, he is claiming to be a friend of Sherlock’s….” But we both know Sherlock only has a very small number of those. Mycroft smiles flatly toward the good doctor. Get there yourself, John, you’re intelligent enough. It won’t do to explain things outright either. John doesn’t trust him enough to assume he isn’t manipulating facts.

Not without good reason, either. Mycroft would be the first to admit he usually is.

He can see the cells firing. John has always had an extremely expressive face- the man does not hide much. “Moriarty?”

“The man himself, I would venture to guess.”

“Alright, so what? We know he likes to play games, this is just… more. Of that.”

Mycroft purses his lips. Don’t be willfully ignorant, Doctor Watson, it doesn’t suit you. “Very well. What about these?” He pushes a set of folders across the table. John opens the first, looking at the photograph.

“Who’s that?”

“Don’t know him?” 

“No.”

“Never seen his face before?” Mycroft leans closer. 

“Ummm….” Perhaps it had been asking to much to expect John to be this observant, but John is dismissive of the first file, flippantly casting it aside despite Mycroft’s revelation that the man is an assassin. The second photo finally gains at least a mild look of concern. “Um, actually, I think I have seen her.”

“Four top international assassins relocate to within spitting distance of your flat and Moriarty is taking a very public stab at Sherlock in the papers. Are we following?” 

When John’s eyes lift from the photo Mycroft feels a knot in his belly release. Finally. It’s far easier if John gets there himself. There are only so many ways to say this is an obvious trap without sounding overly dramatic. The other person has to already believe it. 

A bit of worry lurks in the back of John’s eyes, mixed with the steely soldier’s resolve that had made him such an excellent companion for Sherlock in the first place. He’s getting it now. “What do you want from me?”

“I’m having Sherlock brought in. Here. There’s a case coming, my contacts have already been alerted. As soon as Inspector Lestrade cannot locate Sherlock in your flat he will call. John,” Mycroft looks at him earnestly, “Sherlock does not listen to me. You’ll have to convince him.”

“Of what?”

“Not to go.”

 

***

 

Another conversation, occurring at nearly the same moment, is in a desolate, dusty warehouse, between a tall, broad and muscular man, and a slimmer, smaller one. Anyone watching might find it strange, as the large of the two is kneeling, letting the clearly more dominant member of the pair play with his hair, much to his irritation. “This wig. Is arse. Why am I doing this again?”

Jim Moriarty adjusts the artificial mop of deep brown curls on Sebastian Moran’s head once more, fluffing it into a semblance of obedience. “Because I asked, Bash-er.”

The sniper sighs. “I swear to god if you ask me to fuck you in this-“

“Well, now that you’ve brought it up.” Jim smiles that feral smile that always makes Sebastian uneasy. Or aroused. He sometimes has trouble telling the difference. “Though I think if you were wearing that, I would be fucking you.”

Sebastian lifts a brow. “I look ridiculous.”

“Mmm.” Jim shrugs. “It’s close enough. They’re too young to tell properly anyway. Kids, you know. Useless little humans, but everyone does care about them so.” His eyes widen and he smacks Sebastian’s ass. “Go on then, love. Be scary.”

“I’m… fucking… ugh.” Sebastian pulls on the Belstaff. “Fine. Bloody mindgames….” 

He sweeps into the room and looks at the two kids. The girl already seems terrified. Right, this shouldn’t be too hard, he makes weapons dealers piss themselves when they get uppity. Kids, however… kids have more to fear from their imaginations than anything else. 

“Hello there. My name… is Sherlock Holmes.” He looms over them deliberately, massive, blocking out the light, pitching his voice into a slow, posh drawl. “You’re going to stay right here in this warehouse- there’s chocolate for you, see? But let me tell you what will happen to your parents if you don’t behave….”

 

***

 

Mycroft should have known that once children were mentioned he would lose John as an ally. The man is too inclined to bravery and a certain self-righteous sense of self to permit any wrong-doing to innocents, and now both the good doctor and his brother are shouting at him. Ah, well. At least he’d gotten them both in the room. Arranging the players is half the battle. 

Sadly, he has to concede on the dramatics, which have now become necessary. “You realize this is far too convenient to be anything other than a trap of some sort? Remember the assassins, John.”

“They’re missing children!” John says in surprise. “Can’t really waste time worrying about us when it’s kids.”

“They are bait.” Mycroft’s gaze slides to the doctor, just as remote and chilly as it is for the detective despite their earlier accord. This is precisely why he’d had his cars intercept them before Lestrade reached Baker Street and they were able to run off to the school. “That’s the point. He knows enough about you two to know that you’re incapable of restraining yourselves. John, you are unable to resist the rescue of innocents and Sherlock cannot resist puzzles.” He taps the phone on his desk. “You can solve it remotely. From here. Out of sight of whatever Moriarty is planning.”

“I cannot deduce without-“

“There will be pictures, video, what have you. Be grateful that Lestrade is willing to work with you from afar. Though I suppose he might take it as a blessing that for once he’s capable of hanging up when you call his team idiots.”

Sherlock whips his coat around, whirling toward the door. “I will not be dictated to on how to solve cases. Come, John.” He tries the door. 

It does not open.

John looks back at Mycroft with some surprise. “Are we locked in here?”

“I anticipated that my brother would be less than pleased with any suggestion that he not do exactly what he feels like, so, as is my professional purview, I made a contingency plan.” Mycroft taps the phone again. “You can still solve it. From here.”

“Ridiculous,” Sherlock sneers, beginning to take a very hard look at the windows. 

“Er,” John steps between him and the glass. “Maybe not the best idea.”

“It’s bulletproof glass, so the best you’ll get is a serious concussion. Perhaps break something. Mummy will be upset if you mar your nose,” Mycroft adds mildly. “Now. Would you like a case or would you prefer to continue toward the inevitable strop?” 

He only lets himself relax back in his seat when John finally comes over and pulls up Lestrade on speakerphone.

“Been wondering where you two were!” Lestrade’s voice comes through grainy, edged in static. 

“Just- talk us through it,” John says, warily eyeing the Holmes brothers.

 

***

 

On the pretense of ordering food- a pretense Sherlock does not pick up on, since he is engaged in an audio-only shouting match with Anderson as the hapless technician attempts to send him video recordings of the children’s bedrooms- Mycroft discreetly lets himself out of his office.

And locks the door behind him.

The phone system is not working as well as he had hoped. It had been worth the effort in terms of distracting Sherlock, but the fact of the matter is Moriarty can and will kill those children to prove a point. Just as he would do something far worse to Sherlock if Sherlock went. Mycroft may not be sure precisely what, but he is sure of that. The man is obsessed, and has been far too successful in baiting Sherlock into obsession in turn.

 Mycroft may be referred to as the Iceman, but that does not mean his heart is unbeating. Children are at risk, and for that he feels some sympathy, but the greater matter as far as he is concerned is that if the case is not solved quickly Sherlock will intervene anyway. Mycroft cannot hold him indefinitely. Legwork, despite his distaste for it, is necessary.

He has his driver escort him out to the school, flipping through camera footage as they go. The abductor had been very prudent in avoiding the school’s cameras, and even some cameras he shouldn’t have known to avoid. Everything the police have access to would show nothing at all.

Mycroft Holmes, however, is not the police. 

Apparently the sight of his black government vehicle at the scene of the kidnapping of ambassador’s children is enough that the officers at the perimeter simply wave him through. Word must have been passed on, however, as Lestrade is bounding out of the building as Mycroft gets out of the car.

“As I live and breathe. He make you come out for this?”

Mycroft suppresses a smile. As if he could. “I am afraid not, but circumstances as they are….”

“Right. Well. You, uh.” Lestrade rocks from one foot to the other. “He usually likes to see the scene first, do you…?”

“Oh. Yes, certainly.” It never hurts to acquire additional data.

The confused stares from the other officers offer a quiet source of amusement, but he keeps that to himself. “Right, well. This is the girl’s room.” Lestrade holds open the door.

How chivalrous.

Mycroft paces in, hands behind his back still clad in leather gloves. The common police officers give him a wide berth, and he can hear Anderson (and more distantly, the phone-deadened tones of his dear brother) farther off in the building. There isn’t much to go on in this room. The girl was frightened out of putting up a fight, that’s obvious. But Moriarty thinks this is a game. The man likes leaving clues. Supposedly clever clues, though Mycroft disagrees with his definition of the word. He’s not nearly as subtle as he thinks he is. There should be an indicator somewhere….

His eyes skim around the room and land on a trunk. A brow meaningfully arched in Lestrade’s direction asks for him to open it- Mycroft is not interested in putting on any of these blue crime scene gloves.

Lestrade crouches when he opens it- Mycroft cannot help but be slightly aware of their proximity below his waist as he peers over Lestrade to see the contents. “The package.” It contains a book. Fairy tales. “That will be from him, but you will not find anything of use on it.”

“From who?”

“My brother’s favorite playmate.” Mycroft takes one more visual pass about the room and nods. “Where is the second location?”

Sherlock’s voice grows louder as they draw closer to the boy’s room- the lights are out and Anderson and Donovan are being berated over linseed oil. Mycroft sighs. That is not a battle he plans to wade into, particularly not with Sherlock being as obstinate as possible with anything that may even potentially have to do with Moriarty. Besides, Donovan is more than capable of giving her own back to Sherlock when he gets into a strop. “Very well. You have this in hand, Inspector-“

“Wait a sec,” Lestrade chases after him. “You aren’t going to…?”

Mycroft lifts a brow. “To do what?”

Lestrade flushes, looking a bit embarrassed. “Ah, you know. Deduce?”

“I’m afraid I am not so inclined to my brother’s theatrical tactics…” He glances at Lestrade, who is looking at him almost… hopefully. I suppose an exception can be made. Besides, Mycroft does not show off his own skills with nearly the frequency that Sherlock does. “Come with me.” Lestrade follows him out to the car. Mycroft gets out his laptop and sets it on the trunk so Lestrade can see. 

“The only datapoint I needed was the approximate exit point from the school. There were four cars picked up on surveillance- not theirs,” he notes before Lestrade can protest that the school’s cameras didn’t find anything useful at all. “This institution is popular with enough high-profile individuals that certain persons… more in my area of things… had already bolstered its surveillance. Two of the cars detected were unlikely to begin with. Moriarty wants to play with Sherlock, so he’d take them to London where Sherlock can reach the scene more easily. One went to Bath, the other headed north, my guess is Scotland. The other two went back into the city.” He runs the tapes- dark cars, not unusual for those associated with this particular school. “The girl was obtained first- likely assumed that because she was older she would be more easily swayed by threats to her brother, but she has a nervous disposition- didn’t try to fight him off. She was half-dragged down the hall- there’s scuff marks by the walls, recent, they’d be cleaned quickly in a place like this. The boy had more spirit- the linseed oil that Sherlock’s harassing your technician about. It’s hardly visible but it’s shiny when it dries on wood, illuminating the path they took in the hall. The path indicates that they exited on the east side of the school, which leads me to…” Mycroft selects one of the surveillance videos and expands it. “This car.”

When he glances over at Lestrade, the man’s hand is slowly running through his hair and his lips are just slightly parted. Mycroft carefully places his own tongue between his teeth and bites it to kill the flutter of pleasure in his stomach at having stunned the detective into making that particular expression. Lestrade is undeniably handsome, but Mycroft generally maintains a policy of not mixing business with pleasure. A policy that he reminds himself of as Lestrade turns those lovely dark eyes toward him. “So- where’m I sending people?”

“Pardon?”

“You’ve got the car, so- where are the kids?”

“Ah.” Mycroft plays the combination of feeds, following the car to a petrol station. “This should be the next stop. It was not visible the entire time, so it’s possible there was an exchange of vehicles. The car itself….” They follow it as it speeds through the city, making one other stop at a Tesco, then cutting south. “Heading across the border, I’d imagine. They exchanged either at the petrol station or the Tesco… petrol station is more likely. Fewer potential witnesses.” 

“Alright- listen, I’m gonna ride with you, if that’s alright, Sally’ll take the car to the Tesco with Anderson.”

“Er.” Mycroft blinks. “Acceptable.”

“Great. Oi, Sal! Actually, Mycroft, can we use these tapes as evidence? They’re not in some super secret government bollocks I need to worry about?”

“Ah. Well.” Technically. “Arrangements can be made.”

“Great. I’m gonna get a warrant out on that car as well. Catch them before they hit the Chunnel.”

Anderson comes out, still holding the phone away from him like it’s contaminated, and unsuccessfully trying to hand it off to any of the uniforms. Finally spotting Mycroft, he approaches slowly. “Aren’t you his brother? Please- please don’t make me talk to him anymore-“

“Mycroft?” Sherlock’s sharp tones snap into focus- they’ve got it on video chat now, apparently, him in the foreground and John hovering behind him. “Why are you there, did someone promise cake?”

“No,” Mycroft smiles benevolently, “but if you look round I’m sure Anthea’s been in to leave sandwiches by now.”

“She can’t have, the door didn’t-“ Mycroft can almost hear John’s brain glitch as he spies the sandwiches. 

Mycroft smiles. “Yes, I’ll give her your thanks.”

“Brother, make this imbecile take a sample of the linseed oil on the floor to Molly- there should be traces, a roadmap to anywhere he’s been-“

“Quite an assumption to say he’s already been where he’s taken the children, brother mine,” Mycroft says benignly. “Honestly, I think you may be slipping.”

He retreats into the car with a private smirk to await Lestrade, letting Sherlock sputter and rage at Anderson safely on the other side of the door.

Greg is rather giddy when he joins Mycroft in the car. “You actually locked them in a room together? Alone?” Greg grins at him, laughing. “Oh my god, don’t tell anyone what they’ve been doing in there, it’ll throw the whole pool off.”

Mycroft lifts a brow. “Pool?”

“Please, like you don’t know about it.”

He purses his lips in mock seriousness, but it only lasts a moment under Greg’s jovial, knowing smile. “I can neither confirm nor deny that Anthea is managing a similar board in our office,” he concedes. “I thought it ill form to participate, myself.”

“Still, you don’t think they’ll, like, have a go on your desk or anything?”

Mycroft shudders. “Fortunately I do not believe they have acknowledged the obvious to each other, which would seem a necessary first step to desecrating my belongings.”

“True, true.” Greg’s eyes glitter. “Still- you’ll give me advance warning when they do, yeah? Gimme time to make sure the pool goes to someone who likes to buy rounds.” He pauses, and Mycroft can see the gears turn as he realizes whose office they are likely to desecrate directly after his own. “And probably to get a better lock on my office door as well.”

Mycroft looks out the window to hide his smile. “That might be wise.”

 

***

 

In another part of London, matters at the warehouse having been left in capable hands, Moriarty paces a room, his fine, shining shoes never touching the stains of blood on the carpet. “Why isn’t he there?”

“We’re not sure, sir. Our source on-site says he’s speaking with the detectives remotely.”

Jim Moriarty draws in a breath and runs his hand through his hair, shaking between fury and intrigue, neither of which seem to perturb his companion. “No. That isn’t right. Someone has… interfered. Sherlock wouldn’t have been able to resist. Or his little soldier either, not with children. Speaking by phone? Pah. No, not if they had a choice… ahhh.” His head tilts, eyes wide and unfocused. “Big brother. Interesting.”

The companion shifts, but it is not a motion born out of fear. She wipes a smear of blood off of her heel on a dry bit of the carpet. Disgusting. Jim does like to relocate- she usually makes an effort not to visit him until he’s had whatever flat he feels like coopting professionally cleaned. Not that she has any issues with the dead- simply a preference not to interact with their fluids. “We’ve known he might be a factor.” Meaning I did tell you. Not that one tells Moriarty, precisely. But the suggestion had been made that the elder Holmes had perhaps been overlooked. Disregarded, in favor of Moriarty’s preferred plaything. 

“Mmm. The Iceman tends to keeps his hands clean. I’m sure he knows precisely how many of his colleagues I can ruin with a word… risky, risky.” Moriarty taps his fingers against the window in a haphazard rhythm. 

The woman checks her phone. “Our source says he’s there now.”

Jim whirls to face her, grinning. “Sherlock? Escaped from custody?”

“No. The other one. Mycroft.” She waits as Moriarty’s face flickers between irritated and amused and finally lands somewhere between the two. “It appears he’s standing in for his younger brother.”

“Hmmm.” He runs his tongue over his teeth. “Big brother thinks he can just swoop in and stay untouchable, doesn’t he. Thinks he’s as interesting as Sherlock to play with. Have to disabuse him of that notion.”

“And the rest of the plan? Sir?”

“Adjustments,” he huffs. “Boooring. Handle the fiddly bits- our media package stays as is.” He pulls out a cell phone, taps in a number. “Bash-er, darling. Change in timetable. There’s something else I want you to do first.”

The companion steps over another damp, deep red rivulet to reach the coffee table and opens the laptop stationed there. A few emails are quickly sent off, some banking funds quietly redirected, a few online histories adjusted in the relevant databases. She lifts her eyes to find Moriarty staring at her, head slightly cocked, smile lopsided.

She doesn’t flinch.

“The media package is ready, sir.”

“So quick, aren’t you, darling.” He smiles wider, a Cheshire Cat grin. “Let’s find me a nice, tame jumper. Richard Brook has appointments to keep.”

 

***

 

The petrol station is a quick stop. Mycroft gets out, tracking the angles of the cameras (and pattern of the satellite he had liberated much of his footage from) to find the blind spot, Lestrade following him with a mild look of amusement. “What?”

“Nothing, just- I never really saw the relation before.”

“Lord. I do hope you are not saying I resemble Sherlock.”

“Well.” Lestrade grins. “If you took the arsehole out of him, maybe. Just- I can see your brain working now. S’interesting.”

Interesting. Tricky word. Many meanings. Mycroft catches himself looking rather consideringly at Lestrade out of the corner of his eye. No. Sentiment. That he would consider doing more than look is a biological impulse. He can rise above that sort of base behavior. “Right. Well. The car must have pulled up around… here. If there was already a car waiting it would have to be… there. So… with exit points….” Mycroft gets the laptop and sets it on the trunk of the car, Lestrade at his shoulder as he rips more footage out of the petrol station’s archive.

“What’s that- did you just- do you have a warrant?”

“Mm? No. Your lot can deal with the official procurement of the footage later.” 

“Er. I’ll just- I’m gonna go ask for it, officially, while we’re here. Keep it… legalish.”

Mycroft nods, supposing, technically, that even for the police what he’s done does not have the appearance of legality. They’ll want to prosecute. Mycroft is a bit less concerned with public justice. One way or another, Mycroft is certain Moriarty will not be prosecuted again.

Greg returns with a flash drive of footage. “Keep one in my pocket for emergencies.”

“Very forward thinking, inspector.”

“Greg.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s Greg. I’ve known you for years, Mycroft, we can probably dispense with the title.” One of his gray brows is playfully arched. Mycroft’s nails bite into his palm.

“Greg.” He turns back to the computer. “Here- it’s one of these- hard to say which, as they left at almost the same time.” He runs it one, twice, more. 

Lestrade- Greg- leans closer. “Can you zoom?”

“Mmmhm.” 

“That bit, yeah?” He points at one of the car’s plates. Mycroft gets as close as he can. “It’s that one.”

Mycroft lifts a brow. “How can you tell?”

“Plate’s a fake.” Blinking, Mycroft peers at it. It does not appear to be anything unusual to him. Greg grins, pleased with himself. “I did do a bit of time as a uniform, you know. Lots of bad plates out there. Easy traffic stops. Prol’ly beneath your pay grade.”

“I see. Well.” He turns back to the laptop, hiding a faintly surprised smile. “Then we shall follow that one.”

 

***

 

Two hours later, Greg’s assembled most of his team outside the row of warehouses and Mycroft has been informed that Sherlock has attempted to break containment at the Diogenes three times, the last with John’s help. Anthea’s most recent text indicates that she has darted the pair of them into unconsciousness and she sounds perhaps overly pleased at finally having the opportunity to do so, but Mycroft cannot begrudge her the little pleasures in life.

Donovan leads the group in, having returned from the Tesco with Anderson. The abandoned factories are vast, and while Mycroft’s surveillance measures cannot pierce them, he is prepared to retask a satellite to acquire heat signatures if the police are unable to find the children. 

He paces behind the police, who are quietly moving through the space. Mycroft very seriously doubts that Moriarty will be there personally- if anyone remains with the children it will be some lackey. Someone expendable.

Lord knows Moriarty seems to have quite a lot of those.

Surprisingly, only the children are there, and they seem utterly terrified at even the suggestion that they leave the room. Mycroft purses his lips and watches, taking in the space, the detritus, the sweet wrappers…. More fairy tales. Such dramatics.

The wrappers are interesting. Bright. Shiny. Guaranteed for the children to eat them, of course, it’s candy and there are no adults around to stop them…. “Les- Greg. Get them to a hospital.”

Silver brows furrow. “Why?”

“The sweets are almost certainly poisoned.”

Everything accelerates, cars and flashing lights and running feet. It’s rather a rush. Mycroft hasn’t felt so alive in years. 

 

***

 

Some hours later, and Molly Hooper has returned a result on the wrappers- mercury. Both children are in hospital under close watch. And Greg Lestrade is chasing after Mycroft down the steps as he leaves New Scotland Yard. “Wait- the kids’ father, the ambassador, he wants to say thanks-“

“No- I think not. In fact, it’s better if my name is kept out of things entirely. Take the credit yourself.” He attempts a mild smile over his shoulder. “Good old fashioned police work, that sort of thing.”

“Hey,” Greg catches him, hand clasping over Mycroft’s shoulder. Mycroft feels his pace stall instinctively. “What if I say thank you, then?”

Mycroft’s mind flashes through the various possible meanings of that phrase. Roughly half of them elicit feelings he would rather keep quelled somewhere in his core. Sentiment, still. Bothersome, that it will not simply turn off. “I am- was- simply stepping in for Sherlock, Inspector.” He smiles blandly, reaching for the car door. 

Greg gets to it first and holds it open. “You saved those kids, you know.”

“Consider it my good deed for the year.” If there is a small swell of pride about it, Mycroft will be keeping that to himself. 

“Will you be doing that again? You know, so long as you’re trying to keep Sherlock from going at Moriarty directly.” 

Mycroft lifts a brow in Greg’s direction. “Hopefully not.” 

Is- it’s dark out, but he could almost swear Greg is just bit more flushed than usual. Don’t read into it- he’s been running about all day- “Well. Wouldn’t mind if you did, is all.” His lip quirks into a wry grin. “Nice not to have anyone called an idiot. Well, except Anderson, but he’s got to be used to it by now. Least Sherlock doesn’t say it to the papers.”

A ripple of guilt courses through him. He’d nearly forgotten, caught up in his worries about Sherlock, what those upcoming press pieces, all that tabloid garbage Kitty Riley is preparing to spew, would do to the Met. To Lestrade. It will be a nightmare. 

He turns back. Lestrade has been good to Sherlock… and to Mycroft. Far better than many others, and for a very long time. He owes Greg a warning of what’s coming, at least. “Actually… not to put more on your plate, but you may wish to take a look at the cases you’ve worked with my brother. Ensure the paperwork is in good order. Watertight.”

Greg frowns. “What, is there-”

Mycroft shakes his head. “Moriarty has- something in the works. A plan to… discredit Sherlock rather permanently. I’ve seen signs of it already. His cases will no doubt be affected. We both know it’s a ploy, but that won’t matter if there’s a public enough outcry to call everything into question.”

He can see the line of thought run through Greg’s head, the frown deepening. “Shit.”

“Quite. I am doing what I can to mitigate it, but I doubt I shall be able to intercept it entirely.” Mycroft considers staying for a while, helping Greg go through his files and pick out which cases are the most likely to require review- but he has to focus. Sherlock cannot be trusted to deal with Moriarty rationally, and he’ll likely be waking up from his dart soon, raring to chase the psychotic little monster through the streets. 

He sighs and reaches for the car door. “Have a good night, Inspector.”

 

***

 

Greg watches Mycroft take off in his dark, ever-present car with an odd flutter in his stomach. Even though Mycroft hides it well, he’s worried. Greg has seen it before. It’s the same face he makes when he thinks Sherlock is heading into a danger period, all those times when he needs more minding than usual and Mycroft has quietly asked him for help. 

For some reason, it doesn’t feel like this set of nerves is entirely to do with Sherlock.

Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. He’s always found Mycroft… a bit charismatic. Attractive, if he’s being very honest, but he never gave it much thought when he was still married. Since then, sure, he could tell himself he rather enjoys how finely cuts Mycroft’s suits are, or the aura of power that he carries whenever he lurks on the edge of a scene. Thinking that whatever unease Mycroft has is anything to do with himself, though…. Nah. Just the ego talking.

It could be something to do with the security services- Greg has known the “minor position” claim has been utter bollocks for ages. Being pulled into a warehouse in a suspicious dark car, and then having all the related footage wiped from the network of CCTV the Met can access will have that effect. But he’s never dug- Greg knows Mycroft cares deeply about Sherlock and he’s pretty sure Mycroft only lets Sherlock keep on with the Met because Greg is there to supervise. That’s been enough. For years, it’s been enough. And when they have met, it’s been cordial, if not very personal.

Maybe he shouldn’t overthink it. 

“Sir?” One of the sergeants, a new one- Crawford?- is by the door, a smile on his face. “You aren’t headed out for the night, are you?”

“Nah- got some paperwork to manage yet.” The sergeant looks relieved, and Greg checks a grin- no doubt Sally has told the lad to make damn sure the inspector means to come back and finish that shite so it doesn’t land on her desk next. “Be a good lad and get us some coffee? Ta.”

He heads back in, not noticing that Crawford stays out a little longer, shooting off a quick text.

 

Iceman departed. Holding position. Further orders?

 

The response comes seconds later.

 

Continue hold. Expect action tomorrow. Keep alert.

SM

 

Chapter Text

“LESTRADE!” The Chief Super bellows across the room. Greg’s been waiting for it. Thank fucking god for Mycroft Holmes. He’s been up all night, compiling paperwork, evidence logs and all the rest. Seven years of Sherlock showing up at crime scenes and Greg is only skimming the surface of the mountains of paperwork they’d generated in that time, but at least he’s had a chance to prepare. He’s loaded up on coffee at five in the morning, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Half of him wants to leap on the closest desk, brandish a sword and call “I am ready, sir! To battle!” 

One more cup and he might’ve done it.

He can feel Sally’s eyes on him as he walks into the Super’s office, approximating his usual friendly grin even as he waits for the barrage. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“What the fuck can you- you know what, Lestrade, if this comes back on this department, you can just forget about everything you’ve got on, because you won’t even be in any shape to hand out parking tickets-”

Greg assumes a concerned face, because plausible deniability is likely better for him here. “I’m sorry, sir, I’m afraid I don’t-”

“This!” Edwards throws a copy of the morning paper at him, the headline prominent. Sherlock Holmes: Is It All A Lie? “Christ, don’t you even check the news? And you call yourself a copper-”

“With all due respect, sir, Sherlock Holmes is not a fake.”

Edwards is turning a bright shade of red, heading toward apoplectic with little prompting. Fortunately, Greg has been around long enough to know to just let him yell for a bit before you can squeeze a word back in. “I’ve got calls from the media, MPs, bloody everyone with a tongue to wag breathing down my neck asking if it’s true. Your pet psychopath could ruin the lot of us if we aren’t careful. I want his arse dragged in here in cuffs. Show them we take it seriously.”

“You want him arrested?” Greg left the second half of the question unspoken. What for?

“I want him to bloody well explain himself before we get caught with our knickers any further around our ankles! Years of cases, Lestrade, all under question because you couldn’t be arsed to solve them your bloody self, and some of these papers are even saying he’s done them all and his enemy Moriarty isn’t even real-”

“Well, sir-”

“No, Lestrade, I’m putting you on suspension, you aren’t to touch this-”

“Sir.” Greg drops the subservient attitude and switches to his copper’s voice, same as if he were talking to a suspect. The Chief Super is a lot of bellow and bluster but he’s not used to be shouted back down. “You want to drag him around, make a show of it, without even reviewing our own evidence first? I have files, years of them, noting every suggestion he’s made and what evidence was proven to support it. No convictions were ever made on Sherlock’s word alone- or have the papers started to think he plays at being a judge too?” Edwards glares, but keeps his mouth shut, letting Greg go on. “He made suggestions, but he didn’t mock up the evidence out of nowhere. Plenty of people he aimed us toward even confessed. And unless you think the entirety of the forensics team is working for him too, and I think Anderson in particular will be happy to tell you they are not, then you’re also saying he’s managed to fabricate evidence so well that for seven years our own people haven’t noticed.” He pauses, runs his tongue over his teeth while he lets that sink in. “If that’s the case it won’t only be his cases in question, it will be all of them.”

He can see the gears turning in Edwards’ head. Greg has to give him time to process- Edwards hates being talked back to, but in this case Greg is absolutely willing to fight him. “You’re saying-”

“I’m saying I believe in the skill of this department, and I believe in Sherlock Holmes. Do you, sir?”

Greg walks out of the office half an hour later, exhausted and with a promise to draft a report for his superiors and their superiors and just about everyone up the chain until the Queen as far as he can tell about the nature of his work with Sherlock with examples of the best cases to reference in a press release about the issue. Sally’s waiting for him, lurking around with Dimmock and Crawford like they’ve been watching the door. “Yeah, alright, show’s over, hope you enjoyed it, now get back to work.”

“Told you, boss, one day the freak wouldn’t be content to watch- s’all over the papers-”

“Listen, the lot of you,” Greg cuts her off. “If you really think that somehow this entire unit has bollocksed up seven years worth of arrests, then remember that it reflects on you too. I’ve got no idea what this Brooks or Moriarty or whatever-he’s-calling-himself is on about, but personally, I don’t think everyone I work with are so rubbish at their jobs that no one’s noticed Sherlock apparently planting evidence all over the place and faking crimes. Or do you want to be the one to tell Anderson that New Scotland Yard thinks he’s an idiot too?”

Sally’s mouth snaps shut. The rest of the onlookers wisely look away against the onslaught of Greg’s glare as he casts it round the room. 

“Right. Now get back. To work.”

He wheels into his office and slams the door. He can see them all from his desk, and he leaves the blinds open deliberately, daring them to keep the chatter going where he can see them.

Wisely, they do not.

Christ. 

The caffeine’s wearing off. He’ll need more soon, if he’s going to fake his way through a functional work day that will be spent on anything other than dredging up every case Sherlock’s worked on and fine-tooth combing it himself.

Fuck. What would he have done if Mycroft hadn’t mentioned? He’d have been utterly blindsided. Probably demoted. Transferred to the bloody Orkneys. 

And Sherlock would be in prison just because no one else knows how to deal with him.

Well, Sherlock can owe him one later, once he’s got this managed and it’s safe to bring Sherlock around again. And he’ll have to owe Mycroft. 

A drink, maybe, for saving him from getting seven years of cases dumped back on his desk at once without warning, alongside a suspension to boot. 

Seven drinks might do it.

 

***

 

Mycroft lets out the quietest possible sigh over his paper. It is generally accepted as the only noise other than breathing- and the very occasional sneeze or cough- permitted at the Diogenes. 

The newspapers, the magazines, the talking television heads all agree, climbing over each other to have the hottest take of the morning. Moriarty, or Richard Brook, as he’s claiming to be in interviews (all the same, pre-recorded scraps, Mycroft has noticed) is not guilty, and they’re beginning to twist round Sherlock looking for his flaws, for signs that the great detective is not so great, based solely on his word. And Moriarty doesn’t even have to be in the same room as these fools, he’s releasing bits and pieces carefully filmed and edited and they’re eating them whole.

Mycroft had expected this, but it’s still unnerving to see it happening. Not even all the favors he’s owed, all the power of his name cannot stop this kind of public trial once one paper decides to run with it- then it’s fair game for all of them regardless of what Mycroft can do. Sherlock could alleviate it himself, if he could interact like a reasonable human with the press for five entire minutes, but that’s not going to happen. 

Kitty Riley will have to be dealt with- she seems to be the source of all the stories, the only one interviewing Moriarty directly. No surprise that he’d found one sympathetic ear and stuck to it. She probably thinks she’s defending the virtue of a poor, wronged man. 

Typical. So easy to become an idiot when one thinks themselves the hero in the story.

At least Sherlock is safe, for now. Mycroft has increased the surveillance on both his brother and Doctor Watson, and in fact the entirety of Baker Street given the assassins in play. Curiously, they don’t seem eager to do much assassinating. They are also, as far as he can tell from the most recent reports, not Moriarty’s hires, at least not directly. They’re foreign government operatives. He has not yet worked out what they’re waiting for, but they seem to be professionals- more interested in keeping tabs on each other than on Sherlock. 

Very interesting indeed.

His phone flashes once- his silent sign for a text. 

 

Te moriturus saluto. 

 

JM XxX

 

Mycroft’s eyes narrow. He shouldn’t have this number. Moriarty, of course. He’d intercepted more than a few texts between him and Sherlock’s phone, all very untraceable. And very irritating.

Intriguingly, that’s not the correct quote, at least not as Mycroft remembers it. Gladiators said it, didn’t they? Morituri salutamus. 

We who are about to die salute you.

It’d been some time since he’d give much thought to Latin, but if remembered his grammar correctly, this was more like…

I salute you who is about to die.

Another text comes in. Then another. And another.

 

10

9

8

 

Mycroft’s mind takes off. Countdown. Death. Bomb?  No- a bomb would be external, the Diogenes has too many protections to walk one in.

 

7

6

 

The same protections extend to up close attacks, unless he recruited someone who is already a member. Unlikely. Besides, none of them are moving, no one is giving him any signs of guilt or fear or anticipation of an attack.

 

5

4

 

External attack, then. Mycroft gets up, searching through the windows, looking for- yes, there’s a glint far off, something metallic. Sniper? He glances at his phone, swiping a command that sends an emergency alert to Anthea as the phone flashes again.

 

You didn’t play fair so I won’t either :)

3 2 1!

 

JM XxX

 

Far, far off though the window there’s a small flash, and a low, distant, metallic pop. 

Seconds later, the bulletproof glass installed on the Diogenes windows makes a sad, cracking sound as a bullet imbeds itself in it, warping the glass directly in line with Mycroft’s head.

He swallows.

The glass begins to fracture, slowly, the strain of the impact too much on the sheets of glass and the polycarbonite between them. High caliber round. Armor piercing. Just one of those bullets is enough to start the chain reaction- hairline cracks trickle through the window like cracking ice, striking loud in the dead silence of the Diogenes.

Mycroft takes a step back, and utters the first word spoken by a member in that space in ten-odd years. “Run.”

The mostly white-haired members of the club scatter. Mycroft himself dives to the floor just as the second bullet hits. It’s enough to break the pane, sending glass and thick plastic flying in shards. He rolls across it, heedless of the cuts he’s receiving, until he reaches a span of wall between the windows. There are men screaming and running, some of the white-gloved staff leaping in to help drag out those that need canes.

His hands raise to the level of his face, steepled but not touching. He has to think.

Angle of impact- likely distance- rate of fire indicative of sniper rifle, custom model-visual field: routes to doors visible, no cover- likelihood armor piercing rounds can penetrate walls-

A bullet flies through the shattered window and a man nearly through the door drops, leaving a spray of red along the wall. Lewis, Mycroft thought his name was. An MP. Someone else follows, a man who falls with a howling noise, sharply cut off when his body catches up with the realization that there is now a hole where several major organs should be. Mycroft absorbs it all, shaking with his back pressed against the wall. The sniper is picking off other targets in the absence of his primary goal. Me.

He can’t make it to the egress doors, but if he’s very, very quick, he may be able to reach his offices. If he’s looking at me, he won’t be shooting at them. Another, darker thought follows. 

If I am dead, he won’t be shooting at them.

Inhaling, he shoves himself onto his feet, glass crunching beneath him. Another bullet flies through and catches one of the staff in the throat.

Mycroft runs and slides through the door, a bullet slamming into another window, starting to crack it too. Most of the Diogenes members are out now, clear to the stairs- he wonders if they’ve got out of the building, or if someone had the sense to tell them to get in the basement where the sniper can’t hit them. Anthea would. He starts to reach for his phone, but it’s… on the floor back amongst the glass. 

He almost laughs. 

All that reliance on one device, one device that can start a war or summon an army if he needs it, and it’s out of reach.The urge to laugh turns into a wracked sort of sob as he collapses to the floor, crawling on his knees to the corner.

Well, says the part of his brain not occupied by pain. At least this is public. More or less. Someone must have called the police already.

 

***

 

Sally intercepts Greg as he's coming back from lunch. "It's an all-hands call, sir." She loads him straight into the car, even as he shoves the last of a sandwich into his mouth. He's still a bit pissed with her, and no doubt the feeling is a little mutual, but both of them are too professional to ever let that interfere with work. “Someone’s shooting up a building with a bunch of government types in it. Sniper.”

“What?” he sputters around the bread. “Westminster?”

“No, some sort of club. Got a funny name- Diagon, or something like that. Like the Alley.”

Greg blinks. “Diogenes?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Know it?”

“It’s Sherlock’s brother’s club.” His phone is already in his hand texting Sherlock and John- faster that way, considering how often they seem to trade devices. 

 

shooting @ diogenes, on way now

 

“That scary government bloke from yesterday? No shit.” 

“Yeah.” That is definitely the image Mycroft presents, though Greg much prefers the man behind the curtain. He can’t let himself think about it too much, but he is having quite a hard time processing that Mycroft could even be injured, let alone- 

“Might get lucky, sir- maybe he wasn’t there.”

“Right. Yeah, I don’t know-” Don’t know what hours he keeps, what he does for work, not really. Something important. Greg clears his throat, works a finger under his collar to loosen it. Don’t know anything at all, I suppose. “What’s the status on the sniper?”

“MI-5’s on that, in case it’s terrorism. We’re on scene preservation and victim processing. Their team’ll take it over soon as they can, I reckon, but we’ve got the manpower in the meantime.”

“Right.”

His phone pings. 

 

Holy shit. We’ll get right over.

 

Greg sighs, pushing away the slight shake to his hands. Maybe not the best idea, John.

 

Why not?

 

Because it could be bait, John. Lestrade is being protective. SH

 

The fuck do you mean, bait?

 

For me. Brother in peril, etc. SH

 

Mycroft is not answering his emergency line. Please report back swiftly. SH

 

They pull up in a convoy of flashing lights and sirens, rolling out in an array of tactical shielding to get into the building. One team works on getting forensic-style tenting up to block the sightlines, but Greg goes in with the others- Armed Response is out liaising with MI-5, defending the perimeter and looking for the shooter. Most of the Diogenes members have fled to the kitchen- a bunch of politicians camped out nervously with kitchen staff they’ve never spoken with, stress-eating through the stock of petit-fours. 

Mycroft isn’t with them. 

Greg skims over the shocked faces, looking for whoever seems to have it the most together. There’s one younger man handing out whatever snacks they have on hand who seems to be alright, so Greg makes a beeline for him. “Hey- Mycroft Holmes, was he here today?”

“Yeah- brought him his tea earlier.” The lad is still whispering- must be beat into them, the need for silence, even at a time like this. “Heard he was the one who told the others to run. I, er… didn’t see him come down.”

Something in Greg’s heart feels like it’s tearing, but he has to keep on- he hasn’t gone up yet, hasn’t seen… “Thanks, lad,” he manages, his policeman’s veneer holding him together, the old strategy of work now and bury whatever he’s feeling in a bottle later. “Sally, come on,” he says, marching toward the stairs. 

“They haven’t cleared us to go up yet- it’s too dangerous, you don’t even know if the shooter is still-“

“Then you watch from the stairs. I just have to….” Find him. I just have to find him. Greg picks his way up the debris on the stairs carefully, Sally warily at his heels. 

The big sitting room is a nightmare. Two bodies near the stairs- neither Mycroft, he notes with an alarming amount of relief. Glass and shards of wood, blown out bits of wall and paint are everywhere, along with scattered newspapers and books, plates and half-eaten lunches. 

A heavy looking wood door is ajar at the far end. Greg’s only been here once before, but he thinks he remembers that room, the high windows within it, Mycroft sitting across from him drinking tea and asking him if he might fancy visiting Baskerville. 

He’s moving slowly into the room before he can really think about it.

“Sir!” Sally protests behind him. “Keep your head down at least!”

“Stay there- just… let me look-” Greg moves low, creeping as far down as he can toward the door and hoping that if the sniper is still out there he doesn’t have a good enough angle to see him. 

He spots a phone just below the broken window, its screen shattered. Someone trying to call for help, maybe? Doesn’t look like it would work too well now. 

This is the most dangerous part- the one place where he won’t have any extra cover, going past the open panel, wind drifting in from outside and billowing the curtains. 

Greg just runs for it. 

He reaches the door without incident, carefully nudging it open. “Mycroft? It’s, uh- Greg Lestrade. You in here?” There’s smears of blood on the door, on the floor, and he can feel his heart clench, his breathing still… his eyes follow the line to a curled up mass of suit and legs and hands, coiled in the most defensible corner the room has compared to the angle of the shots. Oh, fuck, don’t be dead- just you don’t be dead- “Mycroft?” He creeps closer. The figure shifts, exhaling shakily and Greg feels his lungs start working again. Oh thank fucking Christ. “Mycroft, it’s just me, alright? Just Greg. You okay?”

The hands unfurl and he can see one of the problems immediately- both are laced with shards of glass. Steely blue eyes peer out from between pinstripe-clad knees. “Lestrade?”

“Yeah. You alright?”

“I’d rather forgotten adrenaline makes things hurt less… hadn’t even realized….”

“That’s alright- I’ll help you, just, uh….” Greg scuttles back toward the door so he can just see through it, still out of sight of the windows. “Sally! I’ve got Mycroft Holmes here- he’ll need some medical when they’re ready to come through. Let MI-5 know, would you?”

“On it!” she calls back, vanishing down the stairs.

“Okay- you got a first aid kit or anything in here?” Greg asks as he looks around hopefully. Mycroft shakes his head. “No? Alright. Well….” 

Not a lot to do for it, is there? But at least he’s alive.

He sits down in front of Mycroft and holds out his own hands. “Can I…?”

Mycroft tentatively extends his hands. Greg gently takes them by the wrists and holds them up, over the level of their shoulders, balancing his elbows on his knees. It takes Mycroft a moment to process it- Greg can see him, blinking, the gears of his impeccable mind whirring out of their stunned state. “Over the level of my heart?”

“Yup. Some of these look deep- so’m not gonna pull them. Just gonna sit here with you until the paramedics can come up, alright?”

“Alright.” Greg has never seen Mycroft this thrown- he wasn’t aware it was a setting this particular Holmes came with, though he’d seen Sherlock get there a time or two. He won’t even meet Greg’s eye. Doesn’t want to look weak. 

He feels his phone vibrate in his jacket pocket. “Can you keep your hand right here for sec, Mycroft? I think your brother’s calling. Gonna put him on speaker.” Sliding the phone out of his pocket, he taps to answer and puts it on the floor between himself and Mycroft so he can go back to elevating Mycroft’s hands. The phone says it’s John, but that really means Sherlock, even if John is the one speaking- it’s not like they can be pulled very far apart from each other. “John, you’re on speaker with me and Mycroft.”

“Oh thank Christ-“ he hears in Watson’s voice, before a deeper rumble forces it’s way in.

“I trust you were not so careless as to be shot, brother mine. I would be rather disappointed.”

There’s a distant protest of “Sherlock!” as Mycroft’s stunned gaze begins to crystallize into a sort of chilly focus. 

Christ. It’s like he’s got a switch in there. 

“Your concern is noted, Sherlock, thank you.” Mycroft inhales. “It was Moriarty.”

All three of the rest of them speak over each other. “You saw him?!” is Greg, a very startled “What?!” is John. Only Sherlock seems calm about it. “Interesting. Due to your interference?”

“Likely. He offered a countdown before the shot was taken.”

“Of course. Games.” Sherlock sounds scornful. Greg wonders how much of it is a cover for real worry that Mycroft was hurt. 

“You like games, Sherlock.”

You do not.”

Greg has gone quiet- he doesn’t fail to notice that John has well. Don’t get to see the genius double-act very often. 

“Well, I would question the definition when applied to what was certainly meant to be a kill shot.” Mycroft says it cooly, but Greg can see the way his eyes close, feels the slight shake in his hands. “Military grade armor piercing round. If we’d had anything other than the top-of-the-line bulletproof glass it would have gone straight through.”

“Christ,” John breathes quietly.

“He won’t have taken the shot himself. There must be a sniper in his employ. I shall make inquiries.” Sherlock sounds brusque, but Greg’s cottoned on to that charade too- he’s definitely worried. 

“Don’t do anything stupid, either of you,” Greg chimes in. “Stay somewhere else for a bit, yeah? No bullet proof glass on the flat.”

Sherlock makes a dismissive noise. “He won’t be shooting at us. There are already assassins staking out the flat.”

“Not his, Sherlock,” Mycroft says curtly just as Greg starts into Hang on, what the fuck? “Those are independent hires. Foreign powers. Different problem, despite Moriarty being the likely impetus.”

“What-“ Greg tries to start in again.

“Noted. We’ll be in touch.” The phone clicks off, muting the start of a protest from John on the other end. Mycroft’s head almost immediately sinks, chin to his chest. Greg feels the litany of questions he was about to ask flutter away.

Made himself strong as long as he had to, didn’t he? Can’t even be weak in front of his own brother. 

“Hey. You alright?” 

Mycroft glances up, seeming surprised that Greg is still there. He smiles ruefully. “Not really a luxury of my position to consider it. I’ll have to take this on personally- as soon as my assistant gets here, I’ll just-” He breaks off, staring at his damaged hands.

“Mycroft. No one’s here yet. If you want to be… not alright for a sec. S’just me.” The way Mycroft looks at him makes Greg think maybe no one’s ever said that to him before. Greg smiles at him, though the thought breaks his heart a bit. “It’s okay.”

There’s a flicker across Mycroft’s face, a brief flash that Greg thinks might be a hesitant, confused smile- but it’s gone just as quickly, vanishing as the sound of boots echo on the other side of the club. “Help me up, Lestrade, will you?”

Greg does, of course, carefully helping Mycroft up by the elbows. The MI-5 guys sweep in with guns drawn, though those are stowed as soon as they see Mycroft up and well. “Sir, let’s get you down to medical. Inspector, you too, we’ve got this under control.” He’s an afterthought, shunted aside as Mycroft is extricated down the stairs and out past a new erected shield of opaque tarp and into a tent they’ve set up to check out the Diogenes VIPs (which looks like pretty much everyone other than the staff) for injuries before they’re released into a fucking convoy of waiting dark sedans and the like. The press won’t get a single thought of a picture, not with the security services blocking off their every shot.

Though it’s not a camera shot any of them are worried about.

Greg hovers awkwardly, watching the medical team start to lift the glass out of Mycroft’s hands. By the second hiss of pain out of the elder Holmes he decides he probably shouldn’t be fluttering about- not really sure what he’s trying to accomplish, anyway.  

Meandering back to the rest of the police division, he spares a look back to find Mycroft’s gray-blue eyes following him. He grins, lop-sided and encouraging.

You’ll be alright, mate. 

Wandering back up to the second floor, he watches the forensics team get started, photographing and documenting, the click of camera and bright flashes of yellow evidence marks and red pins noting bullet holes in the wall.

He stands in front of the window looking out at the buildings beyond, trying to imagine where the sniper stood. It’s not his area, but that doesn’t stop him wanting to know.

Sally calls for him and it’s as he’s turning to go that he notices the phone that had been on the floor earlier is missing.

Huh. Must be logged in evidence.

If it belongs to any member of the Diogenes, he has a feeling it won’t be there long- after all, nearly everyone there has some sort of security-access position.

And good luck to whatever forensic tech doesn’t want to give it back.

 

***

 

Sebastian clears the scene in a police officer’s uniform, smiling amiably, his rifle carefully disassembled and tucked into the panels of what appears to be a bulletproof vest. Running is always far too obvious, people forget that. Much easier to blend in with the first responders. 

Jim is waiting for him in a car nearby, blending in amongst all the other dark government vehicles coming to retrieve their men and take them home to sob in their whiskeys. Or not. He’d managed to kill a few of them.

“Have fun, Tiger?”Jim doesn’t scoot over- he makes Sebastian crawl over him and cops a feel when he does so. Typical.

“Oh, you know me. Love a little chaos and carnage in the morning.”

“Wasn’t expecting that first shot to miss.” Jim’s tone makes Sebastian slow his movements and look up carefully. It’s the sort of tone that can come before one of several moods, and he’s never quite sure which iteration of Jim is going to follow. Cheerfully deferential usually works best until he’s sure. 

“Didn’t miss. They just sprang for the high-end glass. I can do it with a rocket launcher, if you like- less precise, but then they won’t have a wall at all. Seems less sporting, boss.”

Jim looks at him for a long, concerning moment. Then he smiles. “Very true, Bash-er. Well. Let’s get set for the original project.” He gets out his phone, typing away. Sebastian reads it out of the corner of his eye.

 

Go for phase two.

 

JM 

 

Only a little flicker belies his small twinge of jealousy. Sebastian has known for a long time that he isn’t the only wing of Jim’s operation, much as he might like to think he’s involved at every step. There’s simply too much to do, and lord knows neither he nor Jim are cut out for the tiny necessities, not when they can pay someone to handle it. “We’re on for tomorrow?”

“Mmm. Might not be tomorrow, but… soon. You’ll need to get ready.”

“How early do you want me to start?”

“As soon as possible, love. Need ample coverage. Your best two are on our other incentives?”

“Yeah. I’ll take Watson myself.”

“Good, good.” Jim drums his fingers on the car door. He’s nervous- or what passes for nervous in his world. Why the fuck is he nervous? “Come back with me. The Ice Queen is probably out of commission for a bit- I’d like to ruin a colleague or two of his while he’s down, and you know I think better when I’ve got you tied to something and bleeding.”

Sebastian lifts a brow. For Jim that almost sounds needy. Jim doesn’t do needy. “Yeah, sure. Whatever you like, boss.”

Jim’s fingers continue to drum a steady rhythm, his eyes unfocused, looking through the window at nothing in particular. “That’s my tiger.” 

Chapter Text

Mycroft is tended to quickly- the first responders do what they can, stabilize him, and shuttle him into a private ambulance which routes quickly to a private hospital. Anthea rides in the ambulance with him and no one even thinks about stopping her.

A small part of him wishes Lestrade- Greg- was able to come with him. Mycroft could have asked, really. He’s certain Greg would have joined him. He had been… kinder than expected. 

Kindness is not something Mycroft is entirely used to. 

He allots a portion of his mind to the concept as they work on him, placidly separating the matter out from the pain. Greg had been pleased to see him. Welcoming, even. Despite whatever Sherlock had told him over the years, despite Mycroft hauling him off to a warehouse to ask him about his intentions toward Sherlock. Despite all that, he was… friendly.

Unusual. Mycroft does not have friends.

Then again, neither did Sherlock.

Mycroft sighs. His hands are numb, now, and the pattern of stitches unfurling across them hardly feel like anything at all. It gives him time to think.

He closes his eyes, directing his attention to Moriarty. The sniper is an unexpected angle. He’d known the man had protection, of course, but that sort of shot is difficult, and to break that glass the bullet had to be of superior quality. Military. Possibly American, they seem to have a great surplus of it and less scrupulous about “losing” it.

Picturing the bullet strike makes him… uncomfortable. Nauseous, even. A biological response to stress. Ignore it. Still, it’s challenging to focus. He finds himself struggling to parse the… fear… from the data.  Be logical. There is nothing to be afraid of.

His body will not behave- he can feel his pulse increasing, the spike in adrenaline that marks a slide toward a fight or flight response. A panic, though he dislikes referring to it as such. Ground yourself. His mind races, seeking the sources of comfort that had alleviated this problem previously- bastions of security in logistics and planning and careful preparation.

Instead, he finds himself focusing on how warm Greg Lestrade’s hands felt as they cradled his wrists.

“If you want to be… not alright for a sec. S’just me.”

He cannot think of a time he has been encouraged to simply feel. To not turn into the automaton of organization and knowledge that has saved the nation- many nations- without the expectation of reward. 

Yet Lestrade- Greg- offered it to him, offered him comfort without a second thought.

Considering Greg’s handsome face looking him over with a combination of both warmth and worry is… indulgent. His eyes. Mycroft could lose himself in them for hours at least. Potentially days.

He doesn’t even realize they’ve finished his stitches until the nurse offers him a glass of water with a straw to sip out of. 

“Sir?” Anthea is beside him as soon as they finish, likely having anticipated all of his imminent needs as far as work is concerned. She’s good at that. “I’ve secured you three days leave from the office and had your most pressing files moved to the house.”

“Excellent. Do let them know that I shall be available should anything urgent come up.”

“Of course.” Her tone may be light, but he has the feeling she likely suggested if it was anything short of the country being literally on fire they are not to call at all. “We’ve obtained a replacement phone as well. The old one has not yet been recovered, but we have a trace out. Would you like me to restrict your calls?”

In his case, that typically means only herself and Sherlock can call him directly. “Yes. But please add Doctor Watson to the approved list, Sherlock has taken to using his phone with some frequency.”

“Already done.”

“And… Inspector Lestrade, as well.” That elicits a brief lift of the woman’s eyebrows, but her otherwise impassive face quickly schools itself back into position. 

“I’ll take care of it. Groceries are in and your parents have been given the usual notification. Your mother is expecting a phone call at your earliest convenience.”

Mycroft rolls his eyes. “Very well.”

If it were Sherlock who had been injured, she’d be in the room already, not waiting for a call. But then again Mycroft has enjoyed being able to pawn her off on his brother whenever he can. Obvious favorites are useful like that.

Anthea gets him home in one of their usual cars, a bodyguard riding up front with the driver, both armed. She probably is as well. Though Mycroft has never pressed her about it he knows she’s taken the firearms course for non-field personnel. He supposes it’s all meant to make him feel safe, though frankly very little feels like true safety even when he’s fairly confident no one is actively trying to kill him. She sets out his phone and some light food he can carefully manage with the little use of his hands he has. 

The phone has his attention first. There will be much to deal with- many disparate arms of the government attempting to weigh in on the attack, both those likely in Moriarty’s pocket as well as those who now see Mycroft’s presence as a risk.

More importantly, he finds there are several voicemails from Greg Lestrade. 

“Hi Mycroft, just checking in- hope they’ve taken good care of you. ’Spect they have, considering Anthea’s with you, but, uh- let me know if you need anything. I make a decent delivery service. Food or- whatever you need. Just give me a ring, yeah?”

“Me again, hoping someone’s convinced you to nap or something… yeah, just- making sure you’re alright. Give me a call if, you’re, uh, up for it. No pressure.”

“Hey- gonna meet with John for some drinks, but I’ll still come over if you need me after. Hope you’re alright. I’ve been… ah. Just hopin’ someone’s checkin’ in on you. Yeah. Gimme a ring when you can.”

Mycroft is smiling by the third. It is… endearing, to learn that Greg cares, perhaps more than he’d thought. Well, he is remarkably tolerant of Sherlock. But the way Greg had looked at him, that earnest look of interest when he explained the car’s path at the school and his lovely dark eyes….

Bollocks. Not yet. Perhaps sometime soon, but… not now. He carefully taps out a response.

 

Thank you, Greg. Your concern is appreciated. I am at home and will be resting shortly.  MH

 

This is not the time to be giving in to romantic thoughts. It would be a far better time for a whiskey, or a decent scotch, but he is, officially, not meant to imbibe any alcohol while taking the painkillers they’ve given him. He doesn’t think he’ll need them, but Anthea refused to leave until he took the initial course.

Tea it is. 

Managing the kettle is a challenge. He can only hold things well with his finger tips, so he resorts to leaving the kettle itself on the stove and steadily filling it with a measuring cup. 

It doesn’t occur to him until it’s already quite hot that he’s not  entirely sure how he’s going to pour it.

“Brother mine, this is rather depressing,” Sherlock’s voice pierces the otherwise silent house.

“Breaking and entering, Sherlock? Terrible habit.”

“So is casual abduction and unlawful detention, but it’s nice to know some things never change.”

Mycroft wafts his hand in the vague direction of his brother’s skulking shadow. “Tea?”

“Acceptable. But I am not considering it an apology.”

“Good. You shouldn’t.” When the kettle boils they both stare at it for a long moment. Mycroft caves first, turning off the burner as Sherlock comes over to pour, neither of them acknowledging the necessary favor. That’s the sort of power game they’ve always played. Battling for dominance even when it means nothing at all and ignoring it entirely when any act might be considered fraternal or altruistic. 

Sherlock paces the room until he comes to rest by the window, staring out into the dark. “Your windows have been refitted.” 

“Mm. Same glass as in the Diogenes. Well. Plastic. But one does make concessions for safety.”

“You knew an attempt might be made because you already had plans to… interfere.” Sherlock turns his scowl Mycroft’s direction. “Why?”

“They were redone well before Moriarty- I do have matters other than your baiting of psychopaths to contend with- but yes, I did. It pays to plan for every possible eventuality. Have you had your own windows redone, Sherlock? Security system on the door, cameras on the street?” Sherlock scoffs and Mycroft lifts a brow. Obvious. 

“You do not have an interest in playing with Moriarty.”

“Certainly not.” Mycroft does not bother holding back a sneer. Moriarty. He really should have done something about the man far earlier, but the truth is Mycroft had taken far too long to recognize the gravity of the threat. Games and rumors have never been his area. He deals in facts, not shadowy figures, and Moriarty had done far better than most at keeping himself and his organization a thing of legend, hidden behind layers of individual operators. Even when he’d begun to realize that people in his own world were being pressed by an external force, a nefarious criminal organization had not been the first place he looked. Foreign powers were far more likely. But Moriarty himself had proved to be far more formidable than anyone calling themselves the “concierge of crime” had a right to be.

He’s not entirely sure now that the price of taking Moriarty in will be worth it.

“He won’t kill me, you know. Not until the end of game.”

“I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that, Sherlock. You assume the man will follow rules. Logic.”

“Of course he will. He’s creating these puzzles for me-”

“He’s creating them to watch you fail. What would have happened if you’d gone out to that school, hm? He was angry that I introduced an unexpected variable, otherwise he would not have attempted any harm to my person, not if everything was still going on according to his plans. Meanwhile he’s vilifying you in the press to anyone who will listen and you-”

“I won’t take this into the media. Not until I know what his goal is.”

Mycroft groans in exasperation. “It’s to hurt you, isn’t that obvious enough?”

“No. It’s too easy. There’s no game in it.” Sherlock turns and contemplates the window again. “There must be something more.”

 

 

***

 

“Think we should start on beer or just go straight for whiskey?” John sounds worn. Greg feels a flash of pity- if anyone has had a more trying day than himself it’s John, because he’s been subjected to an entire day of Sherlock acting out to ensure no one thinks he might be genuinely worried about his own brother. 

“Beer for me. Gotta work tomorrow. M’getting too old for proper hangovers. Ta.”

They take places on stools at the bar. Neither of them quite seem to have it in them to discuss the Diogenes, not when the mess of it is so fresh, though John does mention Sherlock’s gone to see Mycroft. Greg feels a pang. Mycroft’s message had seemed… distant. Perhaps he was hoping for something a bit warmer, though of course Greg can make allowances. Mycroft’s been injured, he might not have the energy to give Greg a call back.

He can always try again tomorrow, when Mycroft’s had a chance to sleep. Maybe bring him some carry out- thought it’s just as likely that a man like Mycroft would staff a bloody chef if he needed to eat and couldn’t manage to cook himself. If he cooks at all. He certainly seems to have the money to avoid it. 

Maybe Sherlock is already there, offering his particular form of… brotherly comfort. But he doubts Sherlock is there to offer anything in the way of tangible assistance, given the usual state of his own flat. He’s more like to be pissing Mycroft off while he’s not in a fit state to retaliate in kind.

John seems to sense his disquiet. They slide easily away from the thornier subjects and onto the dramatics Sherlock got up to when Mycroft locked them in the Diogenes. John had apparently thought Anthea darting him was utterly hilarious until he realized he’d been hit as well.

“She probably thought it was hilarious too. Imagine she was thrilled not to have Mycroft tell her to lay off Sherlock for once.”

“Oh god, yeah. Don’t think he holds her back too much though.” John laughs, his easy smile glinting over his pint glass. “So, what was it like, having Mycroft solving the case? Did he tell everyone to shut up so he could think, or did black cars just swoop in and handle the whole thing?”

Greg huffs a laugh. “Only one black car, actually. It was… different. Like Sherlock, sort of, if you took out the arsehole commentary. He’s got a lot of… presence. Think people just respect him off the bat, but they don’t… engage with him.” He swirls his own pint thoughtfully. Charisma, maybe? Greg wouldn’t mind seeing him more often. He’d enjoyed it. Still need to ask him for a drink. When he’s better. “Kind of weird seeing someone else do the deduction thing, you know. Felt like if I hadn’t asked him to explain, he wouldn’t’of, he would’ve just… I dunno, dealt with it himself.”

John nods. “Yeah, sounds about right. He doesn’t always share his, I think, but Sherlock told me once- once, mind- that Mycroft actually does it better.”

“Bollocks. Was he drunk?”

“High. Not the drugs sort- at least not intentionally.” John amends at the sight of Greg’s stricken face. “More like the accidental inhalation of chemicals while experimenting sort. Apparently turning a fan on or opening a window would have upset ‘the delicate balance.’” John rolls his eyes. “At least he got affectionate that time, told me that he thinks Mrs. Hudson actually makes decent biscuits and he doesn’t really mind it if I get toothpaste on the faucet. It’s worse when I have to go round and hide the cutlery before he starts flinging it into walls because he likes the sound it makes.”

Affectionate. There was a term Greg hadn’t ever really expected to hear in association with Sherlock’s name. Not until John Watson showed up, amiably limping into a crime scene like he’d always been at Sherlock’s back. Now it somehow seems far more plausible.

“You’re a braver man than most, John Watson.”

John snorts. “You know Mycroft thinks that’s a kinder way of saying someone’s stupid.”

Greg nearly spits his drink. “S’not what I mean. When the hell did he say that?”

“Warehouse,” John says simply.

Ah, right. Greg flaps a hand. “You know he’s in battle mode at those things. Armor on, umbrella at the ready, full-on intimidation bollocks.”

An eye roll states John’s opinion of the matter. “He isn’t that intimidating.”

“Eh, you don’t count, s’far as I can tell you’re not scared of a damn thing, John.”

John half-smiles. “Maybe a few things.” He smirks. “But if I remember right, you told him to piss off too.”

“Well, yeah. Told him I was gonna arrest him for attempted bribery of an officer, kidnapping, whole slew of charges.”

“I would’ve paid to see that, honest,” John laughs. 

“Probably could, I’m sure he’s got video of it somewhere. Flirt with that assistant of his some more, see if she’ll get it for you.”

John just laughs more and shakes his head. “God, no, I think that ship’s well sailed. Christ.” The bartender comes round again and they put for an order of chips. Greg’s been trying to eat better but he’s been on his feet all day, he can manage the extra calories. “So that was it, you drove around in silence all day, found the kids, got to play the hero?”

“Well, it wasn’t that silent.” Greg scratches at his stubble. He needs a shave- he’s surprised Mycroft even let him in his fancy government car with a bit of scruff, and he never got around to it today either. “He got more talkative as we went on. Focused, y’know, but he’s alright. Even a sense of humor lurking in there somewhere. Didn’t call anyone stupid, though he did dodge dealing with Anderson at all- can’t blame him on that count, ‘course.”

“So- Sherlock, but nice.”

“Sherlock saves all his niceties for you, mate.” Greg takes a long draw of his beer. “Can’t spare any for the rest of us.” When he catches John’s face out of the corner of his eye, the smaller man looks a bit stricken. “What? He not as nice at home, then?”

“No- that’s not-” John gazes into the amber depths of his ale. “Don’t worry about it.”

Greg stares, worrying one of his teeth with his tongue. Didn’t make detective for nothing. “You’re worried about it. Him. More than usual.” And usual, for Sherlock, could be quite a lot.

He watches John work through it, the muscle in his jaw twitching like he can’t decide if he’s angry or not. Not unusual, that. Greg’s often found for all of John’s affability there’s an undercurrent of fury there that just never quite shuts off. Probably why he gets on so well with Sherlock. Neither of them actually know what a placid mind is like.

“I….” John starts, stops, starts again. “Mycroft told me that this might be- fuck- I didn’t take him seriously-”

“Yeah. Yeah, he warned me too- all this shit in the papers. Christ. Listen, it’s Sherlock- whatever the papers throw at him, he’ll figure out a way to prove them wrong. Always does.”

“It’s not-” John inhales, steadying himself. “He didn’t mention anything other than the papers?”

Greg’s brow furrows. Surely that had to be the most important bit? The potentially life-ruining bit? “Nah, just that I’d have to be on the lookout, the cases are probably gonna get dragged out and ripped. I’m already bracing myself for tomorrow.” He watches John closely, not liking what he sees there. He’s worried. Deeply worried. “Was there more?”

“There’s, um. More of a physical threat. Close by the flat. Not sure what they’re up to yet, but-”

“Then let’s go, we’ll get Sherlock, we can pull him into protective custody-” Greg is already reaching for his coat. John, on the other hand, takes another swig of beer.

“He won’t go, Greg. You know he won’t. He thinks this is all part of the puzzle.” John drinks. “And even Mycroft can’t keep him locked in a room for more than a few hours. Half of those were only because Anthea tranqed him.” Greg cants his head in a nod. That’s true enough. “Had a good nap out of it, at least.” 

Greg slowly sits back down. “So… what, he’s just gonna wait it out? See if someone tries to shoot him?”

John huffs an uneasy laugh. “He doesn’t think they will. Moriarty would do it in person, apparently. Distance means he doesn’t really think of the target as a threat and Sherlock- Sherlock says he’d want to see his face.” There isn’t much Greg can say to that. They both know Sherlock’s obsession with Moriarty isn’t healthy. Not even a little. “I don’t- you know, after the pool- I’m not worried about me, alright, I’ve made my peace with that. Long time ago, really. Moriarty or some arsehole with a bomb in the desert, that’s- I’m not worried about me.”

The next pause is sufficiently long, with John draining the rest of his ale, that Greg tentatively noses in. “More worried about him, yeah?” John sighs and nods, looking at the counter. “Can’t say I blame you. His self-preservation instincts are…”

“Nonexistent?”

Greg snorts. “Yeah.” 

John leans over the counter, face in his hands. “Fuck. Why can’t I be flatmates with someone sane.” 

Patting John’s back, Greg signals for another round. At this rate he’s just going right back to the station. Fuck sleep. He can sleep when Moriarty’s locked somewhere very dark and very secure. Maybe after Greg’s gotten a few kicks in for him shooting up the Diogenes. “You’d be bored, John.” He tries to smile. “Besides, you like him too much.”

“Yeah,” John groans behind his hands. “Yeah, I do.”

He sets his drink carefully down on the bar. “Thing is, I’d venture he’d say the same about you.”

“That I’m pants at self-preservation?”

“Maybe a bit. If I look at- you know, certain things we both keep pretending I don’t know about involving illegal firearms.” Greg turns on his stool to face John more directly. “S’not what I mean though. He doesn’t care about himself either.” Just you, John. We both know it’s just you. He waits for the shoe to drop, deciding that it has when John breaks his gaze and shifts. “Talk to him about it.”

“It’s not-”

“It is, really.” He debates a moment whether to let John keep stewing in his own frustrations, then decides they’ve had enough to drink to justify a more aggressive popping of the balloon John seems to think he lives in. “Or you could just pull him into bed and tear his clothes off, think the memo would be pretty clear that way too.”

John chokes, sputtering beer. “That’s not- we’re not-”

“Yes, I know you’re not, but maybe you should be. And you’re already well past Donovan and Anderson’s entries in the Yard betting pool for how long this would take, so you don’t need to feel bad about that, y’won’t be making them any money.”

John gapes at him, jaw working into little o shapes with no sound coming out until finally his vocal cords catch up. “You aren’t, ah- that’s not- weird?”

“Weird?” Greg stares, then laughs as he realizes. “Oh my god, you thought I would be put off that you like blokes?” John squeaks a hesitant affirmative and Greg only laughs harder. “Christ, the one time Sherlock actually keeps his mouth shut- no, John, I play for both teams myself. Thought Sherlock would have said something to you after I had the brilliant idea to try both dating apps and clubbing in a single weekend when Lori finally moved out. Bit of post-divorce freedom. Sow all those pent-up oats, like.”

“You-” John blinks rapidly, his mind stranded between the ale and actually processing this as reality. “Really?”

“Oh yeah. I was hemorrhaging glitter for weeks.” John stares harder and Greg has the decency to look a bit sheepish. “Prolly went a bit, you know. Overboard. Just for a bit, mind. S’all fun and games ’til you think maybe it would be a good idea to refresh your infectious disease test results and the nurse asks if that sort of lifestyle is really the right choice at your age. 

That came out a bit more irritated than he’d meant, but maybe he was still irritated about it. If he wanted to party all weekend, he could absolutely still do that. Probably. The hangovers just hurt a lot more now than they used to. 

He’d just realized, while good for shaking off the cobwebs of sexual frustration, it wasn’t really what he was looking for.

“Anyway. I just mean- you two want to sort yourselves out, you’ll get no argument from me.”

John blinks at him again, lets out a little “huh”, and then motions to the bartender for two more.

“Oh- we’ve both got work tomorrow, is that-”

“No, no, we definitely need another,” John says authoritatively. 

 

***

 

“Then we are agreed the end game is your death, yes?” Mycroft keeps his bandaged hands in his lap. They hurt, after his efforts with the kettle, and as with most things he’d rather his brother not sense his weakness.

“The final piece, certainly.” Sherlock has pinned an array of papers to Mycroft’s wall to write on. Mycroft has already added acquisition of a white board to his mental list of items he ought to keep in his own home for occasions on which hurricane Sherlock decides to tear through.

Sherlock has listed out every possibility he can think of for what Moriarty really wants, and Mycroft has added a few of his own. Sherlock’s focus on torture- he seems to think Moriarty wants to hurt him, physically, or perhaps intellectually, creating puzzles Sherlock will not be capable of solving.

Mycroft has been gently trying to let him imagine the other option, but Sherlock is fixated on his battle with Moriarty, their psychological tete a tete. “He did say he would burn the heart out of you, did he not?”

“Mmmm. What about a poison? Something slow acting, painful- time to solve a case while it acts, but barely….”

“He’s going to target John Watson.” Mycroft delivers it bluntly, watching Sherlock’s response closely. Sherlock blinks and looks at him like he’s lost his mind. “Your heart, Sherlock.”

“My-” His brother’s scoff is so sincere it’s painful to hear. “My heart- sentiment is not your area, brother mine.”

“No. But it is yours. 

They stare at each other, two men who have spent years denying anything of the sort. Mycroft is patient. He can wait out Sherlock in silence if he must. Between them, Sherlock is fire, entirely impulse and spark.

Lord knows Mycroft is called the Iceman for a reason.

He cautiously picks up his tea and drinks it, sparing his palms from wrapping the cup. It hurts, but he doesn’t let it show on his face. He’s certainly not going to engage in the indignity of using a straw, as advised.

At least not while his brother is present.

“I have to solve it,” Sherlock says eventually, almost too quietly to hear.

“You need a contingency plan.”

Sherlock stares at the wall pensively. “St. Bart’s.”

“What about it?”

“That is where I’ll tell him to meet me. The roof.” Sherlock smiles in the Cheshire way he has. If Mycroft was anyone else, he would have missed the worried sadness in it. “He’ll find it poetic, I’m sure.”

“Taking a life where ones are normally saved?”

“No,” Sherlock pulls out his phone, pointedly avoiding Mycroft’s gaze as he finds the number he needs. “It’s where I first met John.” He whirls, acquiring his Belstaff in a single fluid gesture of twirling dark fabric. “Have your snipers there when it’s time. Molly,” he intones into the phone as he walks into the hall. “Yes, I do know the hour. I require a favor.”

 

***

 

“I’m beginning to despair of him, Basher, really I am.” Jim draws idle shapes along Sebastian’s back, the skin shuddering under his touch. Sebastian grunts. He has a decided preference for Jim to kindly refrain from bringing up Sherlock mid-coitus, but he can’t really control when the boss gets ideas. At least Jim’s not actually in him and talking about Sherlock this time. “Letting his brother get between us, then he doesn’t even bother coming to the station… I’m beginning to think he doesn’t care.”

Sebastian glowers in the direction of the pillows.

“Oh, don’t be jealous, tiger. You know it’s not the same.”

Isn’t it? He knows- he does know- it’s not entirely the same. Jim doesn’t want to fuck Sherlock. It’s “intellectual stimulation.” But he flirts and teases and plays, and, yeah, sometimes Seb gets jealous. He huffs his silent frustration.

Jim winds his hand around, drawing the gag out of Seb’s mouth with a single hooked finger. “What’s that, tiger?”

The cotton leaves his mouth dry and grainy. “You are going to kill him, right?” He looks over his shoulder, but he can’t quite get a good view of Jim’s face from this angle. “That’s the end game. He dies.” And then you’ll just be mine. 

Won’t you?

“Mm, well- haven’t really decided yet, Basher. Need to see how badly he breaks first. I did promise him a fall….” 

Seb knows. Jim’s gone through it a hundred times where Seb can hear him, probably a thousand more in his own head. Is that literal, he’d asked once, and Jim simply smiled and said, In every possible sense would be preferable. “The cops aren’t buying it as easily as you’d thought.”

“No. Lefty’s working on that. They will. We don’t need to push that hard… reasonable doubt. That’s all we need. He won’t be able to run anywhere but straight to me. And then I’ll tell him what he needs to do… to save his little friends.”

“And what if he won’t?” Seb feels Jim’s hands still on his back. Careful, tiger. “What if he really is like you and he doesn’t care if you torch his landlady and the cop and his doctor?”

He hisses as Jim trails his nail over one of the welts along his back. “That. Is exactly how I know. He does.” The nail presses in and Seb clenches his teeth to stop himself from howling. “If anyone hurt you, Sebastian Moran, I would devise a death for them that the most creative torturers would shudder to think of. Your pain…” he twists the finger and Seb can feel blood welling to it in a hot, tingling way. “…is mine to enjoy.”

Jim’s hand reaches around again and draws the gag back into Seb’s mouth, adjusting the straddle of his hips over Sebastian’s. “Just trying to get me riled up again, aren’t you, tiger. Success! Good on you. Hope you’re ready for round two.”

 

***

 

 

“You have it?” The woman’s heels are oddly quiet, Crawford hadn’t even heard her coming. That’s how it is dealing with the Network. The higher ups are all ghosts.

This is the one he thinks of as His secretary, not that he’d tell her that. Anyone who works for Moriarty could be the sort to shiv you for that kind of comment. Or any comment, really. Or breathing.

He hands her the remains of the phone, carefully sealed in an evidence bag. “They’re on the lookout for it.”

“Have you turned it on?”

“No, course not.”

“Good.” She carefully turns it on with her leather gloves ensuring she doesn’t touch the packaging, not bothering to extract it from the bag. “We have two and a half minutes. After that we are within their response window.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Just an evidence mixup.” He tries for a smile. He’s not bad looking, right? It’s usually disarming, smiling and nodding and acting normal. 

The lady doesn’t even pretend to smile back. Fuck, SHE better not be Moriarty. He’d heard the rumors, of course- Moriarty is a myth, a legend. The sort of story criminals tell their kids- either as the thing they should aspire to or the creature that will eat them when they fail. But he knows Moran- the man vets everyone he expects to kill for him. And Moran seems to think Moriarty is real, so Crawford does too.

Safer that way.

She has a device with her, something that’s rapidly searching the phone as it makes pinging noises. “Is that, uh- should it be making that sound?” 

A brow lifts in his direction that suggests maybe he should stop talking. “Their remote wipe protocol activated as soon as it turned on. I’m extracting everything I can before it’s fully deleted.” The phone sputters and makes a sad noise, the screen flickering. “Hmm. That’s a bit more aggressive than I expected.” The screen goes dark. “No matter.” She tosses the evidence bag back to him. “You know what to do?”

“Play dumb, play happy, give them what they want.”

“Good boy.”

She vanishes somewhere deeper into the precinct just as a pair of polished shoes round the corner and an MI-5 badge is unfurled angrily near his face. Crawford smiles again. “Gosh, really? Sorry- I just thought I’d see if this showed who it belonged to, so I could let them know- no, of course you can take it- god, s’all above my pay grade, isn’t it? Say- you lot aren’t hiring are you?”

He keeps them occupied for a full two hours.

When he gets home there’s a hefty bonus in his bank account, courtesy of “Mor Productions.”

Transfer memo: Keep it up.

Chapter Text

The first thing Greg does upon arriving at work, a little sleep-deprived and uncomfortably hungover, is try to look into the Diogenes shooting. Unfortunately, MI-5 have completely taken over the investigation and no one at Scotland Yard seems to know anything- there’s nothing for Greg to do but give a statement and get chastised over “recklessness” and “wandering in” to a possibly active shooting area because of “personal connections.”

He takes his lumps, as always. The call was the right one to make- Mycroft needed him. 

The rather extreme amount of concern he felt in the moment… that, Greg has to admit, is a bit greater than what he’d feel for any colleague, even a close one. Sally is a colleague, after all, John and Sherlock as well, though they don’t wear badges. 

Mycroft, on the other hand… he might be a bit more fond of Mycroft than that.

Or.

The or is not something he is willing to give himself time to consider. Besides, he sent one “Hey, just checking that you’re alright, let me know if you need anything” text this morning that hasn’t been responded to- he isn’t even sure Mycroft can use his hands yet to consider responding, but he figured he shouldn’t press the issue. Maybe he’s not interested. Maybe he doesn’t get interested at all.

Greg needs a distraction. Fortunately, he knows another Holmes who’s quite good at those, and in need of a police officer’s… influence.  “So who is it you’re being a nuisance to now?” John has plied him with coffee in exchange for his presence- not necessary, but always welcome, especially when it’s better than the swill the police always have on offer.

We are being a nuisance today. Kitty Riley. She’s behind all of this.” Sherlock gestures flippantly toward John’s laptop as John cycles through tab after tab of Richard Brook Tells All and Sherlock: Consulting Liar? 

“What, all of them?”

“They’re all citing her interview with Moriarty- sorry, ‘Richard Brook.’ She’s sold it all to them.” John shrugs as he closes the computer. “She’s probably making quite a bit off of it with no idea who she’s dealing with.”

“You both realize she’s entitled to protect her source, right? Even if it’s him. I can’t arrest her over that. Can’t arrest him either, not unless you’ve got some evidence for his involvement in the Diogenes, or something else.” Much as I’d like to throw him at Mycroft’s feet in cuffs.

“Yes, I know.” Sherlock rolls his eyes and grabs his Belstaff. “You’ll be there for… gravitas.” Greg just barely catches a flicker in Sherlock’s expression.

Worried. His eyes slide to the doctor. But John isn’t. No, John’s eyes keep sliding to Sherlock when he thinks Sherlock isn’t looking. He’s not worried because he can keep an eye on Sherlock himself.

Ahh. I’m not here for the case. It’s suddenly so obvious to him. Perhaps this is what it’s like to be a Holmes, seeing things that no one else can. He’s protecting John. I’m here to protect John so Sherlock can work.

Well, that’s fine. The next time he catches Sherlock’s eye he gives him a little nod. Course I’ll watch him. Course I will. It’s John.

It’s hard to read Sherlock’s look in response, but he eventually offers a nod in return. 

Greg shrugs his coat back on. “No time like the present.”

 

***

 

Kitty’s apartment building doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Decent, but probably not too pricey. So she hasn’t been spending this money in advance. It’s a good sign, as far as veracity is concerned… or a bad one, if Moriarty’s really nailed the job of lying to her. 

They wait awkwardly as Sherlock knocks.

“You sure it shouldn’t be me?” Greg whispers to the tall detective. “Didn’t you say you shouted at her in a loo?”

“He did.” Kitty snaps open the door, glaring. “Bit late to go on the record.”

“Please. You could have both sides as an exclusive. Isn’t that every reporter’s dream?” Sherlock holds her gaze for a long moment before she opens the door fully and gestures inside. 

“I did give you an opportunity.”

“I’m happy to take another one. Where is he?”

“Who?” Despite her glare, Kitty puts on the kettle. 

“Richard. Brook.” Sherlock snaps the “k” in Brook unnecessarily hard. Greg has to admit he likes watching Sherlock like this. It’s the human equivalent of a large cat stalking its prey, waiting for just the right slip-up to pounce. “You wouldn’t have only spoken to him on the phone- no-one trusts the voice at the end of a telephone. You have to be able to trust him. Meet in person. Learn his… credentials.” The detective’s eyes narrow. “What are his credentials, Miss Riley?”

“You can read all about them, Mr. Holmes. But you should know them, shouldn’t you?” She picks up a printout from the small desk and tosses it at John, who catches it on his chest. Greg peers over his shoulder. Sherlock’s a fake! He invented all the crimes! “After all, you hired him.”

Hired him?” John’s scoff is loud. “Hired him to do what?”

Greg’s eyes slide to Sherlock, who looks pensive. Eyes narrowed, focused- it’s the sort of look he gets when he solves something and doesn’t like the answer. “I don’t think you understand, Miss Riley- there’s plenty of evidence for all the crimes Sherlock has ever assisted us with. You can’t fake that much evidence.”

“Oh, he didn’t need to- the crimes are real, in a way.”

John’s eye twitches. “You just said-”

“Yes, but listen to me, John. The crimes are real because Sherlock arranged them. All of them. He planned them, carried them out, or paid someone to manage it for him, and then he solved them.”

Greg feels it when both he and John turn to Sherlock.

Sherlock says nothing. His face is unreadable. Shit. No wonder this is playing so well in the papers. Holmes won’t stand up for himself.

Why?

The door opens with a quiet decisive, click, and Greg feels a sudden lurch in his chest when he sees who’s on the other side. “I remembered the cream this….” Greg’s gaping. John’s gaping. Even Moriarty, holding the shopping bags on the other side of the door in a truly hideous jumper, is gaping. But Moriarty doesn’t even sound like himself. This is a weak, scared man, not the vicious little snake they put on trial, not the one that they arrested happily sitting amongst the Crown Jewels. What the bloody hell is going on? “You said they couldn’t find me here- you said-”

“They can’t hurt you, Richard. I’m a witness, and Inspector Lestrade has an oath, doesn’t he? He’d stop them hurting you.” Greg turns his gawp to her. Fuck. Dammit.  She’s right. And he has to put his hand on John’s shoulder hold him back, because if anyone in that room is going to do any hurting, it’s Doctor Watson.

Sherlock, as far as he can tell, hasn’t moved an inch.

“That’s your source.” John sounds like he’s one step away from considering putting everyone in the room in some sort of military hold and Greg is well inclined to agree with him, even if he can’t actually let John pummel the little shit. “James Moriarty is Richard Brook, you know that and you still-”

“Other way round, John. Moriarty is the role. Richard is his real name. Look him up! He’s got a CV and everything.” Moriarty has slipped past them to skitter behind Kitty, looking terrified.

“Listen, Miss Riley, that fucking arsehole strapped a bomb to me-”

“Oh, I’m sure it looked real, Doctor Watson. But Sherlock’s smart enough to fake anything. Isn’t he? You’ve said so in your blog, you know. It’s because he can spot them. Fake victim, fake deaths, fake dog… fake villain.” It’s oddly enthralling, watching her. She’s passionate. And she believes it. 

No wonder she managed to sell it to so many people.

Christ, even I would believe her if I didn’t know better.

“Now- come on, let’s go for reasonable tones, here,” Greg directs mainly to John, along with a look to remind the doctor that there are things Greg would be forced to arrest him for if he did end up trying to chin someone. “Miss Riley, we put this man on trial. The entire country recognized him as Jim Moriarty, that’s not something you can just fake.”

“It is if Sherlock Holmes is the one faking it.” She reaches for a stack of papers and pulls out a CV. “Read it- Richard is an actor. Sherlock Holmes paid him to take the rap for his crimes- told him he’d rig the jury. And he did, didn’t he? Richard is off now- even if he has to be in hiding because if anyone found out, well… Sherlock wouldn’t be too happy with that.

Greg skims over the document. Theatre, television… even an award for a kid’s show. “Seriously?” He can’t- this doesn’t make any sense. “A kid’s show?”

“Yes!” Moriarty clasps his hands looking strangely… grateful. “You’ve seen it? I’m the Storyteller, I’m The Storyteller.” There is indeed a picture of- well, he’d almost say it isn’t Moriarty, except it is- the man purporting to be Richard Brook in a set of publicity photos, dressed in that hideous sort of warm and non-threatening attire those kid hosts go for- apparently a fashion sense that stuck, judging by the jumper he’s wearing. Greg flashes the paper at John and Sherlock, and Moriarty is suddenly next to him with his hand on Greg’s shoulder, pleading. “You have seen it, haven’t you? Tell them- just tell them-”

Sherlock is moving before Greg has a chance to say anything, striding catlike toward them and Moriarty dives behind Greg, pushing him between Moriarty and the consulting detective. 

“Don’t you touch me! Don’t hurt me!” 

Greg puts his hands out, trying to block them both from going any further. “Hold on, no one is going to hurt anyone-” Moriarty bolts back out the front door, pushing Greg aside, Sherlock tearing off after him with John at his heels. “Stop it- all of you- there’s nothing to arrest him on!” Greg lets out a low growl of frustration as he rights himself only to sees the flash of coats vanishing into the back stair by the time he reaches the door. Too damn old to be doing any of this running about.

“You see it, don’t you?” Kitty Riley is still standing as she was, sipping her tea. “What he’s really like.”

“Moriarty?”

“Sherlock.” She cocks her head to the side. “Might be something in it for you- Tricked by Sherlock: Detective Tells All. I could sell that, give you a decent cut.” 

Nope. Greg absolutely cannot handle this shite right now, not if he might have to arrest Sherlock and John for beating Moriarty senseless. He marches down the hall, adjusting his jacket, glowering at the peeling floral paint on the walls and stubbornly refusing to look at the reporter lurking in the door behind him. 

“Call me if you change your mind!”

Greg marches out, making a cursory round of the building and finding no sign of any of them before taking the tube back to the station. He’s unsurprised that neither John nor Sherlock will text him back despite his own escalating series of text-yelling that they sure as fuck better not kill anyone. Idiots. Bastard idiots. He’s shot Mycroft a text as well, letting him know his brother might be running after Moriarty in person. Also no response there, but he has to trust if anyone had the situation in hand it will be Mycroft and his people. To be honest he’s kind of hoping the little shit outruns Sherlock and John, at least until there’s police or Mycroft’s enigmatic people around backing them up. They don’t need another incident like the pool.

And I sure as fuck don’t want to arrest John for putting a few holes in him.

Frankly, if he wasn’t already gray, he’d be watching his hair go silver right now knowing there are at least three idiots running around London trying to out-game each other with a combination of murder, explosives, and guns.

“Oh, there you are!” Crawford is just outside the perimeter of the doors, smoking. “Boss was looking for you.”

“Was he?”

“Yeah- sounds like something’s been run up the chain on that, uh, consultant of yours.”

Shit. Shit. Oh, this is just what he fucking needs right now. Someone actually believing all this crap about Sherlock while the idiot is off playing mutually-assured-destruction games with Moriarty. “Anything particular?”

“Latest new reports, innit. People calling in to talk about how he was to his clients. Sounds a mess, really. Mean I knew he was a git, but- You alright, sir?”

Greg steels himself as he walks into the precinct. No, don’t think I am.

Crawford remains outside as he finishes his smoke, pulling out his phone.

 

Eyes on target.

 

Start countdown. SM

 

***

 

Mycroft is not supposed to be working, but he cannot help himself. He’s spent the morning making plans, and contingencies for plans, and contingencies for his contingencies. Sherlock will be safe. 

He has to be.

His phone dings a few times while he’s on other calls, and when he is finally free enough to scroll through them he realizes, with a faint churning sensation in his stomach, that one of them was Greg Lestrade. He is worried about Sherlock as well. Trying to help.

Bandaged fingers tap to return the call. Greg has been nothing but- friendly. Amicable. That is what friends do, isn’t it? Ensure each other’s well-being. And if there might- perhaps- be a chance for- anything else, later- friends, first, would be useful.

A quiet smile fades into a frown as it goes to voicemail.

“Thank you for letting me know, Greg. I shall have my people look into it. Your concern is, as always, very appreciated.”

There is likely more he could say- courtesies and niceties he has little practice with outside of the false charm necessary for dealing with politicians, but Greg deserves better than that. He rings off, still debating with himself, and is so startled when the phone immediately rings again that he nearly drops it in his haste to answer.

Disappointingly, it is not Gregory’s voice on the other end.

“Is it ready?” Sherlock’s is, as ever, rather brusque, and they’ve never been the sort to employ customary greetings. 

“Yes, brother dear. Miss Hooper had something adequate, my people have offered some assistance in the setup.” Mycroft has resorted to drinking juice with a straw, barricaded in the privacy of his own home with none to witness his shame. Fortunately he only requires the use of one finger to operate his phone. “You did indicate we ought to have a day-”

“Change of plans. Look at the news.”

He pulls it up on his laptop- he hasn’t ever bothered with a television- to see the wall of press outside of 221B. Mrs. Hudson is trying to peek out a curtain without being noticed but he can see her instantly- the poor woman isn’t very subtle. “-live outside the infamous detective’s home. Now, as we’ve said, there are allegations coming out today that he has faked all those crimes he’s meant to have solved. There’s no word yet from the detective himself, nor anything from his blogging partner, which many people are taking to mean that there might be some truth in it.” Mycroft rolls his eyes. Good lord, people will believe anything. “We’ve set up a report line if you have ever been a client of Sherlock Holmes and want to talk about that experience. We already have a few concerned members of the public reporting in- this is Stanley. Stanley, you say you brought a case to Sherlock Holmes?”

“Oh, aye- I did, and he wouldn’t take it.”

“I see, and why do you think that is?”

“Well if he was faking’ ‘em, he wouldn’t want any real cases, would he? Jus’ the ones he made up.”

“Very insightful, Stanley.”

Mycroft huffs and mutes the feed. “There’s still time to make a statement and defend yourself.”

“No- he wants me ruined, I’m sure of it. He might- This is the safest way.” He can hear the quiet edge in Sherlock’s voice. This is serious. Perhaps the most serious Sherlock has ever been. Yet he cannot stop playing the game.

He wonders if it would be the same if Doctor Watson had never stumbled into Sherlock’s life, giving him a reason to survive the game at all.

“The plane is ready, as is your path to it. Everyone involved is vetted.”

“Good.” There’s a breath, a long inhale. If they were other than themselves, there would be brotherly feeling discussed. Encouragement. Sentiment. Reassurance. “Your team has fifteen minutes to clear the building. I am contacting him now.”

“Very good. Don’t deviate from the plan, brother mine.”

Sherlock rings off with a derisive snort. Mycroft sighs, sips his juice through the disgraceful straw, and makes another call. “Set everything in motion. Full contingencies. Get the perch ready. And Anthea-”

“I’ll get you a car. Finish your juice.”

He permits himself a smile as no one is nearby to see the breach of decorum. No one has a PA as good as him, he’s sure of it. The woman is practically psychic. “Thank you.”

 

***

 

“You sure it’ll be here?” Seb watches from a high window, one of the many he evaluated for his sniper’s perch.

“Yep! Thinks he’s so clever, but really, very predictable. You’ll get a good view from here.”  Jim stares out the windows, eyes dark and menacing in the direction of St. Barts, but when he turns around to Seb he’s all smile and teeth. “Big brother’s nosed his way in again- his people have been here all morning, I can smell them. What’s he say? People are goldfish? It’s like they don’t realize that when they move through the water, the whole current changes. Anyone can still see them.”

Jim’s hand wraps around his waist, slipping his shirt up to touch the skin beneath, deliberately playing over the marks he’d left there. Sebastian tries very hard not to twitch at the little bursts of pain. “Yeah, well. I’ll clear out the other snipers for you. Then-”

“After that you worry about Doctor Watson. I’ve no doubt he’ll wriggle his way over here.” 

Sebastian nods. He’d prefer it if he were watching Jim’s back the entire time,  but an order is an order. “How’re you gonna mange with- him? If he’s armed?” he asks cautiously. 

“Then I suppose I’ll improvise.” Jim grins. There’s something mad in it, as there has been in great and great quantities ever since he started playing with Sherlock. 

It makes Seb’s teeth clench, the way Jim just doesn’t quite seem to care about the risk. If they were dealing with Eastern European crime bosses or the most underhanded members of Parliament Jim could be very cloak and dagger, very cautious, setting up all his pieces before he makes a move.

With Sherlock, it’s as though he can’t maintain a shred of self-control.

“Aw, Basher. You’re worried about me.” Jim’s finger flicks out and taps Seb on the nose. “That’s very sweet. But I don’t pay you for sweet, Basher, I pay you to shoot whatever I tell you to shoot and do it well.”

“Yeah, boss, I know.” He can’t quite shake the feeling though. Back when he was shooting people for queen and country if he got a feeling like this it always meant some shit was going to awry. 

He doesn’t want Jim getting hurt. Actually hurt, not “whoops I was playing with a knife” or “do it Sebbie I need to feel it.” 

Medically hurt. 

Against everything that should say otherwise, Sebastian cares.

“I just-”

“Basher, darling, if you’re about to say you have a bad feeling about this, I will throw you out of that window myself.”

His mouth closes. Goddamit, Jim. Don’t be like this. Just once, don’t be like this.

“Besides, I’m bringing a gun. Does that make you feel better, Basher?” He lowers his lashes, maliciously flirting. “If the big bad Sherlock pulls something on me, I’ll just shoot him. Far less fun, of course, but needs must.”

“Sure, boss.”

“Good boy, tiger.” Jim looks out the window again, tapping his fingers in that off-kilter way. “Good boy.”

 

***

 

Mycroft paces nervously, though he would be very loathe indeed to admit that nerves had any part of it. The entirety of his security team had attempted to dissuade him from actually coming to the building they are using as a staging ground a few blocks away from St. Barts, instead trying to convince him to secure himself in a building much farther away that conspicuously lacks windows. 

They hadn’t been successful. 

This is his brother, after all, and Mycroft doesn’t care if Moriarty has made him a target. Perhaps his presence, if Moriarty learns of it,  will be enough to keep him from fully focusing on Sherlock. 

He flexes his hands as best he can- they’ve started to itch in the bandages, which he keeps telling himself is a sign that they’re healing, and not a sign that he should rip them off and tear his skin to pieces, which is what he’d desperately like to do. “Any sign?”

“Nothing yet, sir.” They have a sniper and an apparently talkative spotter in one of the windows, primarily for visibility- the better sniper perches are all higher up and more isolated. “Sir, he’s not- he wouldn’t just walk into a hospital, surely? He has to know people must be watching.”

“He’s counting on it,” Anthea responds without looking up from her phone. “He’s not wanted, there’s no court case- Sherlock is the one that would be getting attention going in.”

“And we can’t, just, you know. Stop him before he goes in?” 

Mycroft raises a brow at the spotter. “This man claims to have a key that can get him through any lock, and you don’t think he has people of his own watching? Let alone those from any of his prospective buyers that would leap in an instant to protect him?”

The spotter wisely shuts up. 

“He’s there,” one of the analysts calls out, freezing the CCTV footage. “Moriarty, sir. Just entered through the main doors.”

Mycroft strides closer, sneering at the frozen smug smile of the man as he glances back at the CCTV. He’d known he would be seen and flaunted it. Mycroft cannot tell if that is more or less worrying than if he’d attempted to sneak in. “Sherlock?”

“Nothing yet, but we’ve got a tail on John Watson. He’s at their flat. Seemed in a bit of a state.”

His mental analytics whir. John, alone. Separating them. Deliberate choice. 

It will be soon.

“He’ll be here shortly. Remember the backup plan, everyone. If Sherlock gives the signal, we switch to Lazarus. No questions asked.” Mycroft glares out the window in the direction of St. Bart’s. “Otherwise Moriarty must be taken down.”

In his pocket, he can feel the weight of his phone. A part of him would like to text Greg again, to call him just to hear his reassuring words on the other end of the line. Were he to tell anyone what they were doing, it would be him. Part of him still imagines he can feel the heat of Greg’s hands, holding his wrists up, gentle yet firm. 

After. I can speak with him after.

Until then it must be assumed Moriarty has eyes everywhere. 

“Get me a closer feed,” he orders, touching the outline of the device in his pocket as though it can give him strength.

He has to ensure Sherlock is safe. Then… then he can tell Greg everything. Invite him over. Offer him a drink.

Just as soon as they’re all safe.

 

***

 

Sebastian watches Jim wander the rooftop, alone. Waiting. Impatient. It’s the closest he’s ever seen Jim to anything that could be described as “on-edge.” Come on, boss. He’s just a plaything. Doesn’t really matter if he’s dead.

Except it does, for whatever reason. It apparently matters a great deal. Sebastian’s not an idiot, but he can’t make claim to the same sort of smarts that Jim has. The same sort he says Sherlock has, and the other one. The elder brother he’d nearly shot a new hole through. 

But it’s Sherlock that Jim’s always obsessed over. Sherlock and those damn sneakers. Sebastian has tried to encourage Jim to get past it. Made that kill as a kid. Sherlock didn’t even solve it. Just let it go. 

Sebastian’s never taken any of his kills personally. Maybe that’s the difference. It’s just a job, or business, or because it has to happen. Convenience. He’s never felt driven to make a kill. That’s not what he reserves his passion for. 

Jim, on the other hand, can make his kills very personal.  

Hopefully Sherlock would be one, to later be a happy memory. But that bad feeling won’t quite leave Sebastian alone. 

His pocket pings. The tracker he’d stuck on John Watson’s coat is moving. Just like Jim said. Heading this way. Which means Sherlock must be nearby…. 

Ahah. There he is. 

They’re talking. Moran frowns through his scope. It would be so damn easy to just take Sherlock out from here. So easy. And god he wants to, because maybe then Jim would get back to being Jim and Sebastian wouldn’t be out here trying to figure out what about this was making everything feel so damn wrong.

Jim’s face turns and it’s enough to momentarily shock Sebastian. He’s furious. Screaming. 

What the hell?

Sherlock actually looks confused, lost in the face of whatever Jim is saying. That makes Sebastian a bit happier. Knew he was smarter than you, you pretentious git. 

His phone pings again, updating him on John Watson’s position.

Maybe everything will work out after all.

 

***

 

“Sir-”

No, Lestrade. We’ve had it down from above. Distancing ourselves from Sherlock Holmes is essential.” The super holds up his hand to stave off further shouting. “The public would take any suggestion that we’re still working with him until this is all sorted as the deepest sort of betrayal.”

“And what about us betraying him, sir, what about that? We’re going to give up someone that’s cleared us the worst of our cases for, what, some points with the media-”

“It’s not some points, Lestrade, it’s credibility, and I think you of all people should have some respect for that-”

“And what the fuck is that supposed to mean!”

A great deal of shouting later, Greg is storming out of the super’s office sans his badge, seeing as he’s been suspended without pay pending the rest of the investigation into Sherlock. Apparently his stance is too vigorous of a defense of Sherlock, and the force can’t tolerate that if there is a full inquiry into his work with the police.

And still, none of them will return his fucking texts. No one but Mycroft- and he can’t call Mycroft back yet, not when he’s this pissed off. Fuck. Need a smoke. He slams open the stairwell door with a bang, the metal crashing off the rail. “Fucking hell.” There are steps after his. Low heels. “Go ‘way, Sal.”

“Are you actually suspended, boss? Over Sherlock?” She steps down to the landing, trying to grasp his shoulder, though he shrugs it off. “You know what, he’s like, Greg, you know it’s possible-”

“It’s not, really, Sally. Honestly, am I the only one with eyes in this whole bloody precinct? You think everyone in this building is that fucking stupid?” He turns, and her eyes look hard. “You think that little of yourself?”

“I think if anyone could pull it off, it’s him. But boss, you don’t have to do this. Go back, apologize. Just- stick it out. If you believe he’s not guilty it won’t matter, right?”

“Sally, it will.” Greg can feel the emotion, raw in his throat. He can’t say when it became so important to him that Sherlock be trusted, that he be treated decently for his contributions, but it does. It does matter.

Maybe it was when he saw Mycroft do the exact same thing. 

I’ll know, Sally. I’ll know I let him down. That I let myself down by even entertaining this load of bollocks.”

The line of her lips draws thinner. “Well right now you’re letting us down. You have an entire team that needs you. Be a DI, Greg. You’re not his keeper.” Her heels slam into the stairs as she marches back up, the door clanging heavily behind her.

Greg runs his hand over his face, dragging it back through his hair. He still needs a smoke. Desperately. 

His steps feel heavy as he drags himself down to the parking lot. He’d go over to 221b, but the media’s been camping the place and if he’s spotted there he’ll probably go straight from suspended to fired. 

“Bollocks,” he mutters at no one in particular.

Mycroft, then? He could go to his house, maybe… though he’s not sure if Mycroft would even let him in if he’s busy doing whatever he normally does. Saving the world. Managing Sherlock, or trying to. He doesn’t need Greg interrupting. 

“Sir?” Crawford steps out from the opposite stair, cigarette in hand. “I- uh, sorry. It’s all they’re talking about upstairs. D’you… want a light?”

“Christ, yes.” God. Well at least there’s someone in this building who still seems decent. 

Greg inhales, letting the nicotine rush through him with a deep burn. Fuck. He’d been trying to cut back, but seeing as he’s suspended he might as well go buy a bloody carton and smoke them until the ceiling of his flat turns black. 

“It’s, uh- I think it’s decent, sir. What you’re doing.”

“Y’do?”

“Yeah. He’s gotten you all those cases solved, hasn’t he? Course you trust him.” Crawford smiles, and there’s something almost nervous in it. Shy? Or is it… oh. Greg runs a hand through his hair. It’d been a while since a male constable had taken a shine to him, but the younger generation is less closeted than his had been. Nice to know he’s still appealing, at least, but he can’t flirt with constables. That has to be a breach of ethics.

“Thanks mate. Might be the only understanding ear here. You ought to go back up ‘fore they catch you with me and put you under the gun too.”

“Nah, sir. Just ‘avin a ciggy, aren’t I? Can’t take the piss if we’re just smokin’ in the same place.”

Greg huffs a laugh, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes to savor the spread of the nicotine through his system. Fucking bliss.

He doesn’t see anything as Crawford slips his phone from his pocket and checks the timer steadily ticking down. 

Chapter Text

“What are they doing?” Mycroft, Anthea, and three analysts are jammed in front of the surveillance, each attempting to read lips. Sherlock and Moriarty standing off, although if it were anyone other than them it might just look like a casual conversation.

The angle is atrocious. “Don’t we have another feed?”

One of the screens shifts, a watcher in one of the adjacent buildings trying to zoom. He catches it then. “Kill yourself.” It’s still chilling, though he is relieved to find Sherlock was right. The ultimate act, to secure the utter ruination of Sherlock’s name and reputation. “Is everything in position for Lazarus?” 

Anthea looks to her phone. “Yes. Ready as soon as we have the signal. Backup plans in place in case he has to jump… preemptively.”

“Good.” Mycroft keeps his own gaze fixed on the screen, willing his brother to move so his shoulder no longer quite blocks Moriarty’s mouth. “Incentive… friends will die… John.” Mycroft purses his lips. He’d beenOf course John. Anyone can see that John is Sherlock’s greatest pressure point. It’s the perfect incentive. Sherlock will, of course, leap from a building for John. Only… friends. They might be far away and judging without sound, but Mycroft is certain that was a plural.

“Hudson.”

“Anthea.”

Lestrade.”

His heart leaps into his throat. Though it makes his fingers ache and flashes of pain leap from every stitch, he reaches into his pocket and withdraws his phone. “Get in touch with our watchers at 221b. There is an assassin coming for Mrs. Hudson. Send someone from the reserve team to Scotland Yard as well.”

He forces his fingers to work, though between the pain and the bandaging they resist. Pick up. Please pick up.

“Mycroft, hey. Everything alright?” Greg sounds worn and weary. Mycroft can tell just from his breathing that he’s smoking. Rough morning. He’d like nothing more than to ask about it, if only he had the time-

“Greg- a threat has been made against you. You must proceed to safety immediately.”

“A….” There’s a shuffling noise, the sound of voices and a door chime. Shop. Cafe? “Against me? Why?”

“Sherlock. Because you are his friend, Greg-”

“I don’t-”

“Sir?” The analysts are all on comms, putting things into position. Sherlock is on the ledge. Damn it. If ever there was a time Mycroft might wish he had all the omnipotence people attribute to him…. Sadly, he cannot actually be in two places at once.

“Greg- I’m sorry, I have to run, things are moving quickly. Call me when you are safe, yes?”

“Ah- alright, Mycroft. Thanks.”

Mycroft rings off with an uneasy feeling in stomach just in time to see Sherlock turn back from the ledge. “What is he doing?” Mycroft hisses. “He should be triggering Lazarus.” They have a plan dammit, this will be easy if only he’d stick to it-

“Sir, we’ve lost comms with perches two and three. Four reports a possible silenced rifle.”

Shit. That bloody sniper.

When this is all done he’s going to go through all the records of precision snipers they have and work out who the fuck is being quite so interfering. 

But now it’s shifting, always shifting, and his mind churns the possibilities as he realizes James Moriarty is holding a handgun. “Does perch one or four have a clear line?”

“Sir, I- perch one has relocated position to move on the other sniper-”

Mycroft turns, furious. “Does four have a shot?”

 

***

 

She watches alone. Her position is not nearly as obtrusive- she has no need of a sniper’s perch, nor the security risks of an entire MI-5 operation. It hadn’t taken her long to quietly work her way into the building opposite, which has plenty of windows that look directly across at Jim and Sherlock’s little game. 

No one minds a lone, smiling woman. She’s never out of place, and certainly no threat to anyone.

She’s been watching this exchange, watching Jim gloating over getting one over Sherlock. It’s a tremendous display of ego that Sherlock believed Jim’s ploy in the first place. The man is certain Jim is his equal- the only reason he believes that nonsense about the ‘key to any door’ is that he thinks with sufficient study he could come up with it himself. 

Ridiculous.

Though she has to admit that it’s been amusing, watching Sherlock string along after the crumbs Jim’s given him. It’s not her sort of game, of course. She’s never enjoyed playing with her food just for entertainment’s sake. Such things ought to have a purpose. But Jim likes this sort of… stimulation. The feeling of a challenge. Probably the same reason he likes to fuck a military boy who could break him in half if he really wanted to.

It’s another difference between them. He likes a bit of a struggle. He likes being surprised.

She likes obedience. 

The lines of communication are easily monitored from her phone. The ones she set up are organized, efficient, and quiet. Moran is handling his little pack of killers, of course. Jim has to throw him a bone of authority once in a while, and she does admit the sniper has better contacts than she when it comes to looking for slightly unstable killers with prior military training. And she’s honored Jim’s preference that Basher handle that by not hacking the man’s phone to micromanage his systems.

She hacked the other two instead.

Their audio feeds are boring- small talk. The pointless efforts of humans to feel a minimal bond to strangers. Pointless. Neither of these kills should be difficult. It’s just about choosing the right location. No witnesses.

She leans in the window, watching them. It is vaguely amusing to watch Sherlock step to the ledge and falter, looking back, striving to find a way to get one over on Jim. It’s more amusing that from here she can see the elder Holmes’s supposedly discreet team setting up below. Trading out dead bodies, are we? 

Ah, well, she can’t begrudge them a bit of theater. Sherlock attempting to fake his death just means Jim will make it far more painful for him when they’re done measuring themselves against each other. Jim will be able to keep his game up a little longer. He’ll be thrilled. 

But as she looks back up, her eyes narrow. Neither man looks… stable. A familiar warning sort of buzz begins in the back of her head.

Hm.

Her mind runs through it, quietly calculating. 

The odds always end up the same.

She taps through her phone, accessing the contingency planning frequency that Jim’s more… physical… enforcers favor. This is an outcome she cannot allow. And there is someone better situated to intervene who will be even more concerned with the direction this is headed than she is. Yes. Time to manage this. They’ll all thank me later.

“Sebastian,” she breathes as Jim waves his gun. Her mind is analytical, it cannot help but count down the estimated time she has until the trigger pulls. 

Ninety seconds.

 

***

 

Sebastian Moran is close enough that he could watch, if he wished, but he has had his scope trained on John Watson since the good little soldier arrived, wandering below in a state of palpable distress. Whatever else happens, John is his target. Jim had been quite clear about that. Either Sherlock dies. Or John does. 

But things are not going according to plan. He hears the click of the emergency channel in his ear.

“Sebastian,” her voice is clear, calm, and quiet. He recognizes it, though he’s only met her in person once. “Right hand man, meet left hand of darkness,” Jim had said. The smile she gave him reminded him of Jim. It was unsettling. 

“Lefty,” he quietly breathes so he doesn’t disturb his scope.

“In about eighty seconds, you are going to make a choice. You can shoot the gun out of Jim’s hand. Or you can shoot John Watson.”

He pivots the scope- he does have an angle to the roof from here, just as well as he can see to John. “But-“

“Your choice. Orders and keeping him happy, or he lives. Happy or alive. Pick.”

Sebastian pivots the scope. Yes, Jim does have his gun out- and not aimed at Sherlock. Sebastian’s been in the field, he knows that look. The decision to end it. The point at which a suicide feels like a victory.

He can see it, the gun coming up under Jim’s chin, the slightly crazed smile like he’s won something and it’s violent-

“Bash-er.” She manages such an alarming imitation of Jim that he doesn’t think twice. 

The bullet flies, the shot echoing off the stone walls, and punctures the pistol’s barrel. Jim’s hand flies off it like he’s been stung, shooting a glare that Sebastian can feel even through his scope. He’ll be paying for this later. For a brief moment even Sherlock Holmes looks surprised, and Sebastian feels a coil of jealous pride unfurl in his gut. Yeah, I can get one over on you too. Prat.

But then there is a flurry of movement, the billow of a coat, and Sherlock Holmes is on Jim, each of them laying into each other with hand and fist. Sebastian takes a breath, lining up the perfect spot. There’s at least one more opposing sniper up, after all, and those will be trying to kill Jim outright. If they’re worth their wages they’ll be able to do it without mussing up precious little Sherlock either. Fuck. Should’ve made sure I had time to take care of all of them. Well. In for a penny, in for a pound….

He breathes, lining up, and fires again. There’s a slow heart beat before the bullet hits. He’s always enjoyed this part, the sort of quietness of it as the bullet hits and his target shudders with the impact. 

Or targets, in this case. Sorry , Jimmy. You have to live today. He’s shot straight through both men in the core. Surgical and precise, at least as far as where he’s shot Jim. Probably a punctured lung, maybe a cracked rib or two. An easy fix, as long as it’s fast. They’re on top of a hospital, after all. Treatment will be immediate. But Sherlock… he’s quite a bit taller than Jim, he’ll have caught it in the gut. Likely some key organs involved for that, but Sebastian doesn’t care. Yeah, Jim is probably going to kill him later either for shooting him or for marring his favorite toy. But at least he’ll be alive to do it.

The radio clicks. “Good boy, Se-bash-tian,” she sounds vaguely impressed. “Run along now. They know where you are. I’ll be in touch.”

He drops into an old dumb waiter he’d put an escape ladder into earlier exactly ten seconds before several plainly dressed folk that no doubt belong to the elder Holmes come through the door.

He’s pretty sure the live grenade he left behind will keep them occupied.

 

***

 

Greg is near the end of his cigarette when his phone buzzes. MH. “Fucking finally.” Crawford had offered to accompany him to a nearby coffee shop, pick him up a coffee. Probably still flirting, but frankly it’s nice just to have some offer of decency after the day he’s had. Greg stepped out of the shop to take the call.

By the time he’s off the phone he feels like the world has dropped out from under him.

“What the fuck?” He stares vaguely at his mobile, feeling his heart race in his ears.

“You okay, mate?” Crawford asks, looking concerned as he hands off a hot cuppa. 

“Yeah, s’just… I dunno.” Greg pockets his phone, mind racing. A threat. The fuck does that mean? With Moriarty, it could be fucking anything. Bombs and snipers and poison. S’not exactly methodology there to follow. And where the fuck is actually even safe from that fucker? He finds himself skimming the windows of the buildings nearby, looking for the telltale glint of a gun. “Just a weird day today.”

“Sure, sure.” Another ping sounds and Greg can’t help but jump slightly- just Crawford’s phone, though. Shit. Making me paranoid. He sucks his cigarette deep. Need to get back to the Yard. Maybe Sally can shove me in an interrogation room. She’d like that. But- fuck, they probably won’t even let me in, will they. “They realize you’re gone? You should get back- Super’s gonna be pissed. Might be looking for you already,” he adds with a nod toward Crawford’s phone.

“Eh, not really worried ‘bout him. M’sure you need to get back to your car, though? Not sure they’re gonna be real keen on letting you back in just now.”

“Yeah.” Where. Where to go? The best option is probably 221b. With all the press outside and Mrs. Hudson’s near-constant presence, it’d be damn hard for anyone to get to him without being seen. Fuck, what about John? If Greg is at risk, John must be worse off. He’s publicly known to be close to Sherlock, after all. Go for him first, won’t they?

Yeah. He should go for John. Sherlock trusted him to keep an eye on John at Kitty’s, and Mycroft is no doubt watching Sherlock- and god only knows how that’s going, considering the strain he’d heard in Mycroft’s voice. I can do this. Don’t need to worry about me.

“Y’sure everything’s alright?” Crawford asks as Greg’s pace picks up, winding the quick way back to the Yard’s garage. 

“Yeah. Yeah- gotta get out of here. Think a friend of mine’s- having a rough time.”

Crawford laughs. “You get put on leave and you’re worried about someone else? Fuck, you’re something. No offense, sir.”

Greg can’t help but smile in return. “Yeah, they keep telling me that.” Crawford sees him to his car, making sure he has his coffee with a smile and resting his hand on Greg’s door.

“Take care, yeah? The rest of us want you back on asap.”

“Yeah, well, you’re gonna have to listen to Sally in the meantime.”

Crawford sighs dramatically. “Yeah, but she’s not as nice as you. Drink up, yeah? Look like you need it.” He winks as he closes the door, letting Greg drive off toward Baker St. Greg has his phone out before he’s out of the garage, texting Mycroft. Should just let him know I’m alright. M’sure he doesn’t need anything else to worry about.

 

Leaving the Yard. Think I’ll try to meet up with John. No problems here.

Are you okay? 

 

A sense of tiredness washes over him by the time he’s at the first light. Not a surprise, really. Fuck, when’s the last time I slept proper? It’s fine, though. He’s fine. 

Mycroft and Sherlock will handle Moriarty, and then they can all get back to their lives.

Everything will be fine.

 

***

 

Crawford checks his phone as Greg pulls away. No alert. The timer is at zero. What a pity for Inspector Lestrade.

He’s been pleased with the way this one has played out. Shooting people is so messy and there are nearly always witnesses, someone’s mum peering out of lace curtains. This way he won’t even be in the vicinity. He can even keep his cover, keep pulling a nice paycheck for every little thing he’s asked to do on the side.

It’s nice work if you can get it.

He jogs back up the stairs, pausing in front of a glaring Sally Donovan.

“And where were you?” 

“I- sorry, ma’am, I’m trying to cut back on the cigarettes-”

“I don’t need excuses. With the boss off we’ve got ages of paperwork to go through.”

He looks down, surveying the stacks. Most of them he doesn’t recognize- before his time. Not a fresh case, then. “What’s this?”

“This is us covering our own asses. Pick a file, make a note of every interaction Sherlock had with any member of our team, forensics, PC’s, anyone.”

Fuck. It’s the one thing he dislikes about this cover- actual police work is far too much paperwork. But this might work- the Sherlock cases are things he’s been asked to peek at before. Good. This is good. He won’t even need an alibi if there’s this much paperwork. He’ll be here for days. No one will even think to ask.

Drink up, inspector.

His eyes flick up, all eager and earnest. “Happy to help out, ma’am.”

 

***

 

The explosion in the sniper’s perch has taken two lives, injured six more, and Mycroft has to set dealing with any of that away because the most pressing thing he now must do, according to everyone who works at his level, is damage control with the media. He’s co-opted a small waiting room in St. Bart’s to manage it all, where he can keep an eye on his injured staff as well as wait for reports on the surgery Sherlock was rushed into. Moriarty too, though it would be disingenuous not to admit he is rather hoping the man dies on the table.

The government- those few who actually know what he does, at any rate- are furious. His private line is being inundated with demands to an extent that Anthea has rerouted the number entirely, generously ignoring the slight shake in his hands whenever he tries to wade into it. Surely they cannot expect him to manage things and be screamed at simultaneously, but he imagines some of them are used to simply yelling while everyone else carries on around them regardless. And they have no consideration at all that these are his people who have been wounded. Killed. His brother who had been targeted. No, they’re simply mad they were not consulted in this ‘scheme’ against Moriarty.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer him that Moriarty’s reach into the government is more far-reaching that even he had expected, but that is the very reason he had not made this a matter for MI-5. If Moriarty were a problem that could be simply solved by arresting him, Mycroft would never had been involved in the first place, and it is likely Sherlock would not have been interested either.

And now we are here. With Sherlock in emergency surgery and Moriarty’s plans no clearer.

Without the full use of his hands he cannot even redirect his attention into solving things- working on finding Moriarty’s damnable sniper himself, for example, or tracking down relevant CCTV. Fortunately he has Anthea to help him with that, though he’s been trying not to micromanage her too much lest he find himself tranquilized and locked in a closet.

“Any sign?” he asks as Anthea scrolls through the feeds. He trusts her with the delicate sort of work no one else can manage, and hunting for this sniper is one of them. London cannot know there’s a man with that sort of precision marksmanship on the loose. Everyone always thinks themselves a target in such scenarios, even if they’ve never done a single interesting thing in their lives. 

“Brief catch on CCTV, but he’s been good at dodging the cameras. A bit too good, really.”

He ponders, running his tongue over his teeth. “Insider information?”

“Possible. Potential past work with the services or other infiltation work. We’ve added it to the profile. With current parameters I believe we can narrow it to four potentials, three if my assumptions about the skill of today’s shots are accurate.”

“Send me the names. I’ll look over their files personally.” It will be one of Anthea’s picks, he’s sure of it. She is nothing if not thorough. 

He groans inwardly as his phone pings again, signaling another batch of texts and missed called finally approved by whoever Anthea has designated to review them to move into his hands. The groan quickly turns to a gasp as he spies one name amongst the others.

Greg.

Good god, he’d put Lestrade out of his mind entirely. And Mrs. Hudson. Even John, who he is well aware has been carving a path of fury steadily upwards since Mycroft’s people initially intercepted him outside, has shifted out of his field of view. Everyone but Sherlock. 

He breathes, letting the air flow through him. Five in, hold for five, five out. Focus. I simply must focus. He’s been off his game since the incident at the Diogenes, he can see that. The phrase emotionally compromised runs through his head. 

Pull it together.

He swallows as he types, trying to feel neither excited nor overwhelmed that perhaps Greg might come to him, that perhaps Greg might again with his mere presence soothe the woes that Mycroft cannot truly allow himself to acknowledge.

 

John is with myself and Sherlock at St. Bart’s. Join us here? My people can get you to a safe house.

 

A spate of shouting cuts in from outside, and Mycroft waves a hand at their minder on the door. Let him in. He composes himself as John Watson, looking rather reminiscent of his Army days, storms in. “I have to see him.”

“He’s in surgery, John,” Mycroft says in his most supportive, gentle voice. It’s easier to be concerned with John’s feelings. Anyone else’s feelings, really. So long as he does not need to acknowledge his own.

“I can scrub in! I’ve done bloody field surgery before-”

“John. You can’t. You’re too close to him.”

He’s never seen John Watson look so lost. He’s a mess of pain and worry and anger and Mycroft is not yet sure who the good doctor is going to try and kill first for putting him in this situation, Moriarty or Sherlock. 

“Sit down, John. Have a coffee. You know these doctors. You know how skilled they are. Dr. Stamford is an excellent surgeon.” Stamford, as a senior instructor in surgery, had been the lead to stabilize Sherlock, while telling his staff who to call in from the trauma team to deal with the more delicate elements. 

Moriarty is in surgery as well, but initial assessment says the bullet was near surgical and won’t do any sort of permanent damage. As soon as they are both stable enough to move Mycroft intends to get them into a private hospital. Very private. With a significant amount of armed staff who won’t mind if he interrogates a man cuffed to a cot. 

Anthea brings over a coffee for John that he sips from, still pacing, as she returns to cycling through the reports on her phone. He has no doubt she’s laced it with a mild sedative, which is likely best for all involved.

“Doctor…. Watson?” A younger doctor lurks in the doorway, looking at Mycroft until John turns and he realizes which of them he’s meant to be speaking to. “Doctor Stamford is wrapping up now- Sherlock is stable for now, but we’re not out of the woods yet.” He pauses a moment and Mycroft is certain it’s instinctual- a space in case anyone bursts into tears. It’s not needed. Both himself and Doctor Watson are not inclined to hysterics, and Anthea is if anything even more stoic than himself. “I have some paperwork I need you to sign, and our team would like to discuss next steps. If you’ll come with me….”

“Just me?”

“Er- yes, Sherlock only has you listed as his medical proxy. If you’ll be needing support, of course, you might bring whomever you like.”

John turns to Mycroft, the muscles of his jaw working. Mycroft offers him a nod, his face deliberately impassive. He is a doctor. He will make the right choices.

It’s not surprising that I’ve been removed.

Sherlock never would have voluntarily added him in the first place- Mycroft had assumed the role by virtue of a blood relation and several drug-related trips to the A&E, but Sherlock had never chosen him. He’s chosen John.

One day he won’t need me at all.

If he lives.

“Mycroft?” John looks at him, something broken and barely held together in his expression. Oh. Sherlock, you didn’t tell him, did you. No, why should he tell Doctor Watson that he cares enough to make the man his medical proxy? Sherlock Holmes, feeling something more than disdain for another human? Preposterous. 

He sighs to himself and nods once more. “Anything you require, John. Whatever I can do.”

John’s jaw works. He nods in turn, then sets off after the doctor. Mycroft takes it that he is to follow. “Anthea- can you ensure Greg Lestrade and Martha Hudson are well? Greg should be en route but… a second pair of eyes is always useful. ”

She barely glances up from the arrangement of equipment before her, but the glance he is spared is supportive. “Of course, sir.”

 

***

 

Fuck. Tired.

Greg rubs his eyes as he parks. Getting old, that’s all. Blearily, he stares at the press still packed outside Baker St, shaking his head. Fucking vultures.

He knows the way through the garden though- certainly gone that way enough, especially when Sherlock’s on a bender. The door opens before he even reaches it. “Oh, Inspector! You look exhausted, darling. Have you eaten?” He smiles as Martha Hudson offers him a kiss on the cheek. “Come in, come in, before they see you. I keep having to shoo photographers out of the bins. Cuppa?”

“Ah, sure- I was hoping to try and catch John-”

“Oh yes, he ran out a while ago. That’s how they are, always rushing off looking serious- but you know that. Here, dear, I already had the kettle on- milk or sugar?”

“Dash of each, ta.” He should be getting on, if John’s not here- but god, he could really use a sit-down for a bit. Greg wanders through to the kitchen, knowing the layout will be the same as always- it’s not the first time he’s been in her flat, though. She’s let him and Sally and even Anderson in before, times they’d been up to see (or drugs bust) Sherlock and Sherlock had tossed them out yelling. Greg’s even waited out a couple detoxes in her flat, when the thrown objects upstairs got a bit much. Course none of that’s happened since John moved in. “You having some work done?” he asks, nodding toward the big man kneeling by the door.

“John hired him, isn’t that nice? Sherlock’s been fiddling with the locks again.” 

“S’pose you need that with all those cameras out there.” 

She scoffs. “Rats, the lot of them. No one wants to talk about all the people Sherlock has helped. Everyone he turns away has other options. The police, or friends- anyone, really.” She shakes her head, loading scones onto a tray with a bit more force than necessary. “I know he says he only takes on interesting cases, but that’s not true- mine wasn’t interesting at all, you know, and he flew all the way to Florida for that. Have a couple, dear, you look like you need it.”

Greg nods, taking two scones. It’s not something he’s dwelled on too much, but he is aware that Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock bonded primarily over what was effectively the legally arranged murder of her husband. He’s been very careful to ensure Sally never hears about that one, otherwise she’ll really amp up her insinuations that Sherlock will kill someone one day. “Well, he’s got to learn tact at some point, Martha, or the papers will never leave him alone.”

“He’s much better than he was, you know.” She offers him a scone, which he takes- Greg’s never really been a man to turn down baked goods of any sort, especially not hers- and swoops on to the man in the doorway. “How about you, dear, would you like a scone?”

It happens so quickly that Greg almost doesn’t process it. Mrs. Hudson makes a low startled noise. The scone tray falls, clattering loudly. The workman reaching for something in his bag. 

Something prickles the hairs up at the back of Greg’s neck. What’s wrong with the workman? Why is his adrenaline kicking in?

There’s a sound, a sort of rustle of linen and metal. A click.

He moves before his mind can bother processing why. His hands fly, knocking a silenced pistol against the wall just as it goes off. Mrs. Hudson shouts, yelling up the stair- who for, Greg has no idea, since Sherlock and John aren’t there-

The man is big. Too big. He must have three stone on Greg, at least, and Greg feels every kilo of it when one of those big paws swings back and clocks him right in the face while he’s using both of his own hands to keep the gun pinned. “Martha, run!” he barks, the iron taste of blood in his mouth. He gets his elbow up for the second blow, but it still rocks him into the wall.

No time for fair play.

Greg kicks. He punches. It feels like striking a brick wall. He manages to keep out of the way of the gun, but that hardly matters when one of those big mitts grasps him over the face and whacks the back of his head into the wall, leaving him blinking away the feeling of having his bell very firmly rung. 

Dimly, he realizes there’s another pair of shoes running down the steps from upstairs, someone in a suit- for half a second he wonders hopefully how Mycroft got here so fast, but the hair’s too dark- then he hears a cracking thud from he other side of the thug.

The workman slowly crumples, releasing Greg to likewise slide down onto the bottom steps. Mrs. Hudson stands on the other side, holding a heavily swinging handbag. 

“Is that a brick in your bag?an unfamiliar voice asks incredulously. 

“You never know when you might need one, young man, and you were late. Inspector- oh, look at your face, poor dear. Andrew, will you get me a bag of peas from the freezer? There, there, we’ll get you over to Bart’s, dear.”

Greg laughs, the entire mess of it- Mrs. Hudson with a handbag and him lying bloodied in a mess of broken scones- so ridiculous that he finds he can’t quite cope with it. He giggles to himself until they get him in the car, Mrs. Hudson bringing a tin of the remaining scones with her. They keep mentioning a concussion, but he can’t help himself. Today is simply too ridiculous to actually exist.

 

***

 

As predicted, John sees to Sherlock’s care management with a dutiful eye. He is struggling, Mycroft can see that, but he holds it together through the end of the meeting when they tell him Sherlock can have a visitor now, even though he’s not awake. 

John looks at Mycroft like he expects to be excluded, but Mycroft shakes his head. “You sit with him, John. Your presence will be much more calming than my own.” And you need this more than I. Mycroft is not ideal for… bedside manner. He would rather take on tracking down the sniper who harmed his brother than linger in worry and distracting emotions at his side. 

Anthea approaches him as soon as they’re out of the meeting, a slight glint in her eye already telling him she’s about to say something he will not like.  “Sir,” she says quietly, “we’ve had word about the other two targets.”

Greg. He inhales, forcing calm to radiate through his body. Please let him be well. “Yes?”

“The assassin at 221b was disguised as a handyman- he told her Doctor Watson had paid for his presence, to repair damage done by Sherlock, which reportedly seemed plausible enough. Our watcher was reviewing the surveillance equipment upstairs when Mrs. Hudson spotted the gun in his bag, and having been warned already that she was under threat, she reacted accordingly.” Anthea pauses, just a slight hesitation, but enough for Mycroft’s eyes to narrow in concern. “Inspector Lestrade had recently arrived and engaged the attacker, holding him off. Reportedly, Mrs. Hudson ‘walloped him over the head with a handbag containing a brick.’ Apparently an American tactic to stave off burglars, ” she says with a note of appreciation. “Wait until they ask for money, reach for the bag and smack them with it.”

“And Greg?” Mycroft asks, his normal mask of indifference fracturing just a little. Why mention him second? What’s wrong? Something is wrong, he can tell immediately, as he feels his heart rate pick up sharply. 

“They’ve brought him here. He’s been given a room- possible concussion, some injuries.” She looks a bit pitying after taking in Mycroft’s stricken expression. “It’s minor, all things considered, sir.”

“We’ll need to move them all someplace safe until we know the assassins are dealt with. Moriarty could have left orders for… thoroughness.” He rubs his temples. They are low on numbers for those that report to him, especially with the other security services suddenly far too interested in his business- and most of them untrustworthy, at least until he can ascertain exactly how many government pots Moriarty had his hands in. “John can be counted on to mind Sherlock personally, our people can watch them both. Mrs. Hudson should be relocated to a safe house. One of the decent ones, if you please.”

“And Inspector Lestrade, sir?”

I should have told him earlier what Sherlock had planned. He might have been with me instead, and not…. Mycroft frowns, nodding to himself. Greg is a strong man. Perhaps a proud one. Mycroft does not think he’d take too kindly to the offer of a safe house. But, if he grants the very small flicker of fiery hope he’s been burying in his core a voice…. “I shall speak with Inspector Lestrade myself about accommodations.”

A flicker of a smile crosses Anthea’s lips and vanishes, but it’s the same as if she shouted with excitement. “Of course, sir.”

Chapter Text

“M’fine, y’know, this is- ow!” Greg glares at the nurse treating him, suspecting she’d prodded just a bit harder than necessary to make a point. 

“You are going to sit tight until we’re certain you don’t have a concussion.” 

“Inspector, behave and I’ll give you another scone.”

He glares at Mrs. Hudson as well. Traitor.  She smiles in return, having already ingratiated herself with the nursing staff by distributing baked goods. Andrew, who is apparently one of Mycroft’s men, is lurking in a corner, looking like he rather expects something terrible to happen at any moment. 

Terrible, it turns out, might be Mycroft himself, whose appearance in the doorway makes Andrew’s face drain of color as he is subjected to a Mycroft-patented disdainful look. “Greg- ah, Mrs. Hudson.” Greg watches a brief shift on Mycroft’s face, something he can’t read too well with the ice pack he’s still holding over one side of his face. His hands are behind his back, and Greg does not doubt he’s hiding his bandages for appearances sake. “I am glad you are both… here.”

“Mycroft Holmes, what on earth is going on?” Martha says in her best accusatory tone, as though it is his fault all this is happening. “This is to do with Sherlock, isn’t it- where is he?”

“I’m afraid we’ve had a… unfortunate turn of events. Sherlock has been shot.” Mycroft’s jaw works a brief moment as Greg makes a strangled noise and Mrs. Hudson gasps audibly. Shot- oh my god, why didn’t he ask for help? Could’ve had the whole Yard out watching his back- “He is upstairs, with Doctor Watson,” Mycroft says quickly, staving off any interjections. “We believe he will be fine, though recovery will be slow. You were both, in addition to Doctor Watson, specifically targeted to induce him to cooperate with Moriarty.”

Martha clucks, but Greg’s got more of an interest in that. “He didn’t cooperate, then? Got himself shot instead?” If that’s the case, I’m not sure whether I should be congratulating him or punching him for putting himself in that kind of danger.

Mycroft makes an indeterminate humming noise, quickly cut off by Mrs. Hudson thwacking him in the arm. “And where were you, Mycroft Holmes? All that surveillance you do, and….” Martha sniffs, struggling to compose herself. “He’s your brother, you know. You’re meant to take care of him.”

Greg can see Mycroft visibly steel himself not to react. Come on, Martha, that’s not kind. “Why do you think he’s here, Martha?” he says gently. “We all do the best with Sherlock that we can, and Mycroft’s been doing it longer than either of us. You know what Sherlock’s like.”

“He’s not any good at looking after himself, really. Someone has to,” she sniffs, holding back her tears with the tried grace of British steadfastness.

Mycroft puts on a thin smile. “Why don’t you go up and take them some of your scones- Andrew, will you see her up? Anthea will be by to discuss a temporary safe house, Mrs. Hudson, just until this is all over.”

They leave, the door closing them off into silence. Mycroft looks at him, that flicker crossing his face again. This time, Greg sees it better. It’s worry, and fondness, and something uncertain. A low flame unfurls somewhere near his heart. You too, maybe. Just maybe. You might feel it a little. “Hey,” he says, his heart rate picking up a bit. Thank god they don’t have me on one of those monitors, else I’d be beeping at him the whole time. “Are you alright?”

Mycroft’s face stays stiff as he nods, his eyes drifting to the floor. “It’s… there’s quite a lot to manage, but- he did make it through the surgery, so I can focus on….”

“Mycroft.” Greg is pleased that his voice can draw Mycroft’s eyes back to him, a crack of that same vulnerability he saw in the Diogenes peering back at him. “C’mere.”  He pats the cot, watching as Mycroft draws closer and finally sits gingerly on the edge, like he expects to need to run off. “Are you alright?”

It kills him, how Mycroft looks once again like no one’s asked him that, like no one has bothered to check on him. Like his own well-being is always the least important. “I am… managing.”

“That doesn’t sound alright to me.” Greg puts down the ice pack and Mycroft makes a quiet hissing sound, looking at what must be a fairly spectacular bruise. “M’fine. Not the first time I’ve gotten punched, if you believe that. You, on the other hand,” Greg holds his hands out, palms up, gazing at Mycroft, “are not fine.” He waits until Mycroft gently places his still-bandaged hands in Greg’s own, just holding them for a few long breaths, sharing heat in the few spots his fingertips can touch skin. “Tell me about it?”

 

***

 

Oh god. Inside, Mycroft’s heart is racing. He can’t explain it- now is surely not the time for flights of fancy- but it makes him feel both excited and comfortably content all at once. How is that possible?

“I do not usually have time to be not fine, Greg.” He exhales, feeling some of the stress of keeping that very thought in leave him. “The sniper that shot both Sherlock and Moriarty is in the wind. We must locate him, quickly.”

S’that a good thing, though? Sniper’s turned on his boss? Should make things easier for you, yeah?”

Greg’s fingers have found their way to the lines of bone along the back of Mycroft’s hands and settled into gentle circles that are both immeasurably calming and so intimate that he has to resist the urge to instinctually recoil. Close contact has never been something he’s cultivated. There’s too much risk in it. Too much danger in allowing anything… potentially compromising. Were it anyone other than you…. “Maybe, maybe not. Our review of the footage suggests it was a tactic to prevent Moriarty from taking his own life, or perhaps to prevent our snipers from executing a kill shot of their own. A gun was shot out of his hand, a second shot was taken when Sherlock and Moriarty engaged each other physically.”

“Alright. But you have Moriarty, yeah? So the sniper will be acting on his own.”

“Yes.” Mycroft relaxes into the zen pattern of Greg’s touch, finding his mind calming the longer it goes on. “Anthea is trying to identify him. We should have a name soon.”

“Good. Then you won’t have anything to worry about.” Greg is smiling at him, and dammit but Mycroft is very seriously considering what it might be like to kiss the man. 

He swallows as his thoughts lead him back to an option he’d considered earlier- it will ensure Greg’s safety, though it may in fact be… terribly indulgent of him. “We still do not know how many men were dispatched against yourself and Mrs. Hudson. John will remain here, with Sherlock, under guard. Mrs. Hudson, as you’ve heard, we shall relocate to a safehouse. With your position, of course, things are a bit more difficult-”

“Nah, actually.” Greg’s face falls a bit- Mycroft can see a flicker of anger behind his eyes, a trace of hurt. Of betrayal. “M’on leave.”

Mycroft’s brow furrows. “Over Sherlock?” Normally, he would have known already. Possibly even before Greg- and he could have stepped into fix it. Distracted. Dammit. It will be more difficult to rectify now that the decision has been made public at Greg’s level.

But not impossible. Never impossible.

“Yeah. All that new shite in the papers this morning. Can’t be seen looking allied with someone who made up all the crimes of the century, apparently.” He rolls his eyes, but Mycroft senses that he is stung more than he’d like to admit by it. We’re not so different in that, you and I.

It’s yet another mark in favor of his rapidly forming plan. The pros and cons of entertaining his fancy flutter quickly through his mind, but his mouth is already moving. “Ah. Well… in that case, if you’d rather relocate to a safehouse, that can be arranged, but… perhaps… you might be amenable to more local quarters, and a temporary secondment to my team. Until your position is restored, of course.”

Greg blinks. Mycroft’s heart pauses for a moment as he watches the inspector take that in and review it. “I’d ask you if you can do that while I’m on leave, but that’d pro’lly be a stupid question. What d’you mean by local quarters?”

Mycroft hesitates, willing with every fiber of his being to keep his face impassive and free of any optimistic flushing. “The safest place I am aware of.”

“Don’t think they’ll let me in Westminster, Mycroft.”

Against his will, Mycroft’s lip slants up into a quiet smile. “I was thinking of something with a bit more convenience.  If you might consider- I have a ample space in my own residence, as well as a number of security measures in place. It is, ah- quite secure.” Good god, why is he so nervous? His heart rate is increasing, his hands suddenly feeling quite warm under the bandages, where is he is still keenly aware of Greg’s gentle hold. Christ. Just think of it as work. This is simply to ensure his safety, not for- any alternative reasons.

“You want me to stay with you?” Greg is not helping Mycroft’s flash of nerves, not with his easy charming smile, nor the way he looks deeply pleased by the question. “Yeah, alright. Sure that’s sensible.”

“Yes. Quite.” Mycroft feels something unlock in his chest, like letting out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding- but there is also something fragile in it. His emotions well, threatening to overwhelm him, though he’s had too much practice at burying them to let them out now. Not in public. Never in public. He slowly retracts his hands, putting them back in his lap and turning the bandages down. “I shall ask Anthea to arrange a car for you when you are released. Provide her with a list of anything you might like from your residence and it shall be brought to you.”

He has to retreat. Now. Before he does anything else foolish. Find somewhere private where he can think for a moment and Gregory’s deep brown eyes aren’t on him.

“There are several things I must attend to in the meantime- rest a bit, Inspector.”

“Greg,” Lestrade corrects again, with one of those silvery brows half-arched. 

“Greg,” Mycroft allots. Then he slips out the door and finds an empty room in which he can just breathe, emptying his mind as much as he can. He's not nervous. He's never nervous. This is fine. Everything is fine. 

I am fine.

 

***

 

It doesn’t take Sebastian too long to clear out the important things from his flat. It’s not in his name, of course- almost nothing is since he’s been working for Jim- but he’s had enough of a presence in it that it might be traced to him anyway. Assuming that they get it together enough to track him at all. Ah, well. Better safe than zip-tied in the back of an MI-5 van. He’s used to moving around a lot at this point. No big loss.

Sebastian bobs and weaves through the streets, blending with crowds when he needs to. It’s easier as night falls. He’s had quite a lot of practice in dodging far more aggressive surveillance measures in other countries. It’s a side effect of working for a government that knows how well he can kill. Most shots can’t be taken from the middle of a desert, after all. Cities and towns and cars, some of them never even reported because it ended up being better for both sides to lie.

Death is always useful to someone. 

He pauses in a shop that he knows has fake cameras just meant to deter burglars to change his shirt, switching from a black and hooded sweatshirt to an logo t-shirt and jacket, a ‘just going out to the clubs’ look. Sometimes a tight t-shirt and ripped jeans are better cover than anything else. The cashier doesn’t even notice- her eyes are fixed on the telly behind the counter.

“Live from St. Barts, where Sherlock Holmes has reportedly been shot. We are still awaiting word from inside, but there are rumors there was a second victim-”

A victim. Sebastian snorts. Jim would be furious to hear himself called that. 

Besides, he’s not that hurt. Just one little bullet.

Still, Basher might feel slightly bad about that. Slightly. Sherlock, on the other hand, might be bad off, and the thought of the great detective lingering on the edge of death makes him smile. Serves him right. Arrogant git. Thought he could get one over on us. Sebastian imagines Jim will be pissed about that too, something like “he was mine to kill” but honestly as long as Jim is alive to punish him thoroughly for it he finds he doesn’t care too much. Frankly, if Sherlock dies it will probably save them both a lot of grief. Jim can get back to himself again. Back to normal.

There’s a flat Jim’s always told him to go to if things go sideways on a job, a place entirely unconnected to either of them. He’ll regroup there and then set on the problem of getting Jim out of that hospital. There are doctors in their own employ, after all, he doesn’t need to leave Jim there to suffer while he heals in the company of men who don’t see a problem in torture when it suits their informational needs. The Iceman is one of them. He’ll be a problem, no doubt, but as Jim has always said, when someone has so many ties to duty it’s always easier to find and pull their strings.

Sebastian enters the flat to the reverberating sound of bass echoing from another room down the hall. It’s a glorified bedsit in a shitty neighborhood, but that’s all part of the charm. Inside the flat, it’s soundproofed and secure, the only windows papered over to hide the greater protections within.

Heaven help anyone who makes the mistake of trying to rob it. 

He sets his weapon aside to be thoroughly cleaned, as is always his ritual after he fires it. Pristine working order is essential. Stripping off his shirt, he turns on the shower as well, hot enough to steam the first second it hits the floor. He’ll be thorough, needing to get any trace of gunpowder off his hands. The clothes he shot in will be laundered. They’re plain and quite useful for his needs in the city. 

As he waits for the shower temperature to even out to something slightly less than scalding, he opens the secure phone that Jim had placed in this flat for his use. Only one number is programmed in, that of one of Jim’s personal burners.

Won’t do me a ton of good now….

That’s the start of the solution, though, isn’t it. He needs Jim. Which means Sebastian needs to work out how to get him out of St. Bart’s. He’ll have to regroup his people. There’s contacts in the web as well- hackers and other people more clever than himself.

Although….

There’s apps on this phone. Not pre-set ones. Clever ones, meant for discreet communication. Contacts. But only for someone who knows what they’re looking for. Clever, clever Jim. He taps open a banking app on the phone, frowning as he watches it load.

When he sees the number on the account he gasps aloud. “Holy fuck.”

 

***

 

“John?” Greg pads quietly into the secure wing, bearing coffee. He still feels exhausted, but the caffeine is helping. Walking around feels better- his head still aches, and he’s a few issues with dizziness, but being confined to a hospital cot makes him antsy.

John is sitting in the small room head in his hands, practically curled into his own lap. The quiet beeping of Sherlock’s monitors is the only sound. If it wasn’t for all the cords and tubes Greg could almost believe Sherlock is in his mind palace, waiting to erupt from it at any moment to tell them they’re all idiots and he has the perfect plan to track down the rest of Moriarty’s men.

If only.

He can hear John sigh as he draws closer. The doctor’s muscles contract, then slowly roll him up, only the clenching of his hand around his knee giving away the amount of pain he must be in. Always acts up when Sherlock’s hurt, doesn’t it. His face almost never gives it away though- anyone who didn’t know John would take it as the very British, very military stiff upper lip. It’s probably exactly what he wants everyone to think.

Greg takes the seat next to him, holding out the paper cup until John is ready to take it, offering a smile when he does. “Ta,” John breathes, running his hand over his face like he’s trying to wake up. When he actually looks at Greg his face contorts in sympathy even as he exhales a huffed chuckle. “You look like shit.”

“Ta to you as well. S’just a bruise.”

John isn’t shy about grabbing Greg’s chin and turning it to get a better look. Greg rolls his eyes but lets him- he’s a doctor, after all, he can’t help himself, and it’s probably giving him something to think of other than the man lying in the bed before them. “You’re lucky that’s not an orbital fracture.”

“Should’ve seen the size of his fist. M’lucky I still have a face.” He’s kidding. Mostly. It is a spectacular bruise though- he’d finally gotten a look at it once they’d let him up near a mirror.

“On a case?”

“Ah- no. At your place, actually.” He’d thought about leaving out the details, but the last thing John probably needs right now is someone lying to him. “I was looking for you, got invited in for scones. Nobody with sense turns down those scones.”

“Oh.” John’s face crumples a little, the guilt of not being there for this clearly evident. “Well-”

“Not a problem, John. You went after him. It was the right call.” It’s him, John. I know how you feel. Everyone knows.  Greg keeps his meaningful glances for his coffee cup. He’s not sure how well John would take it. Not now. “There were some threats made. I only knew there was one against me, but there was a man in the hall, fixing up the doors- he had a gun in his bag. Just- bit of a scuffle. Mrs. Hudson hit ‘im with a brick. Think his bell’s going to be ringing into next year.”

“Fuck.” Greg can see John’s eyes shifting, that smooth calm he has as a doctor hardening into the soldier. It pulls the anxiety out of him, makes him somehow stronger. Sturdier. “I talked with that guy. Was he- was there for-” His eyes slide to Sherlock, so still and quiet, his aided breathing a soft hiss in the small room. 

“He was after Mrs. Hudson, we think. Or you, maybe. Mycroft said all three of us were named. Trying to force him to do what Moriarty wanted.” Greg nods to Sherlock, feeling strange about discussing Moriarty’s plans without the lanky detective leaping up to tell him all the ways he’s wrong.

John’s hand opens and clenches again. It quivers for a moment before stabilizing into a white-knuckled grip. “Your people have him?”

“No. Mycroft’s.” 

The doctor makes a grumbling noise. “Won’t let me near him, then. I’ve tried- pretty sure I know where they’re keeping- him, you know.” Greg nods. He’s got no idea how much self-control John is exerting to not force his way wherever Moriarty is being kept and pummel him into a paste.

“You can see him, Doctor Watson.” The voice nearly makes Greg jump out of his skin- Mycroft can be terribly silent when he wants to be, slipping into the room apparently undetected and making Greg slosh coffee on himself in surprise. As far as Greg can tell, Mycroft’s gaze only pauses for a brief moment on Sherlock, but it’s enough for Greg to understand. Doesn’t want to show if it affects him. Not even here. “But it will gain you nothing. He’s only semi-conscious, and when he has been lucid he refuses to speak.”

“I could fix that for you,” John says rather darkly. 

“I’m sure you could. While I appreciate the offer, Doctor Watson, there are several experts in that art I am considering summoning once Moriarty is considered…medically fit.” 

One silvery brow lifts in Mycroft’s direction, offering him a rather pointed look. It’s not that he doesn’t think Moriarty might deserve having the shite kicked out of him- but as a rule Greg’s not a huge fan of torture. Or murder, which is likely what John would get up to considering that if he starts kicking the shite out of Moriarty Greg’s not sure he’d be able to stop. 

If Mycroft’s seen the glance he does a good job pretending he hasn’t as he presses on. “Your physician is looking for you, Inspector, when you are ready.”

“Uh. Yeah. Sure. Be right down.” Greg blinks. The day is still all rather surreal, and adding in that he’ll be spending the night in Mycroft’s no doubt excessively posh digs is just adding to the feeling that he’s trapped in a very strange dream. That Mycroft’s put back on his frosty mask isn’t helping either- it makes Greg feel like the softer, more vulnerable version of the man, the one Greg is actually looking forward to getting to know better, might be an illusion too. Or a secret that he guards too well.

“A car will be waiting for you downstairs as soon as you are released.”

Mycroft is gone again before Greg can come up with a reasonable response. Come on, Mycroft. Just let me in. He must be staring rather stupidly at the closed door, though, because he hears John huff beside him. “Greg. Mate.”

“What?” 

John shakes his head. “God, we can pick ‘em.”

Greg laughs. “What are you on about?”

“You are probably an idiot, Greg Lestrade. But that’s alright, because so am I.” John laughs, rising and walking over to Sherlock, bracing his hands on the bed. “You like Mycroft. You are interested in Mycroft.”

“Well.” Greg hasn’t had much time to process it, but yeah. He does like Mycroft. As to how much…. “Okay, yeah. But s’not like I know him that well yet, John.”

“Don’t know that either of them do knowing people, Greg.” John’s smirk is dry, but Greg can see the touches of sadness behind it. “We just wing it, Greg. Like normal people. Get in where we can.”

 “Sure, but-”

“Why’s he sent a car for you?”

“I’m, ah… going to stay with him. Safe house, like.”

John lifts a slow, disbelieving brow. “Right.”

What, Watson? This is not us moving in together right off, unlike some people-”

“Christ, you actually think that, do you?”

“It’s not!” Greg feels… oddly defensive about it. Even if, yeah, maybe he was thinking it might be nice to see if Mycroft might want to go to dinner sometime. Sometime where they don’t talk about work. Or Sherlock. Or sending Greg on secretive trips to Dartmoor. He’d just like to see… more of the man. Whatever that means. 

“Fine, if that’s what you want to think. You just- you’ve got to promise me, alright? If you think you know- anything, right? Anything at all. You’ve got to tell him.”

Greg sighs. “John, it’ s not-”

“Just promise me. You’ll tell him.” 

There’s a second part of that sentence left unspoken, but Greg can feel it down to his bones as John settles on the side of the cot and takes Sherlock’s limp hand. 

Because you might not get another chance.

Greg nods, slowly, his throat suddenly feeling awfully tight. “Yeah. I will. I promise.”

 

***

 

She enters her flat calmly, having made her way back by her circuitous, camera-avoiding path without issue. No one ever really pays close attention to her, after all. She’s good at blending. When she wants to be. It was the same outside the hospital, watching Jim’s little game without anyone the wiser. At least she had a good view of John Watson crying as he ran in.

Silly boy. He didn’t even see me.

No one is observant these days. It’s one of the things she understands when Jim complains about it. It’s just so boring.

There is a heavily encrypted laptop in her residence, one that she uses for all the arranging of Jim’s stratagems, the fiddly bits he doesn’t want to handle himself. The boring parts. 

She’s excellent at boring. Boring and ordinary can be so useful.

Men like Jim forget that.

She opens the files. There’s a special program she’s had installed for ages- anyone with half a brain could tell that Jim doesn’t expect to live long, especially with Sherlock dead. He’d be bored, after all. He doesn’t do well with bored. But thanks to her he gets to live and keep playing his little game. Me. All down to me. 

 Bank accounts unfurl before her, databases of thousands of hacked emails, burner cell numbers, contacts for all of the tiny little threads that make up Moriarty’s web. It will be perfect. In his absence, she will improve it. She will make it stronger. And when he returns, she will have it ready for him.

She opens the document that functions as his will. He’s set a time-locked transfer on all his worldly goods, dependent on him checking in at certain intervals. 

She watched earlier as he set it for today, knowing that he would not necessarily make it off that roof. Time would be a factor. And she’d helped him set up the automatic transfer system, after all, all that intricate computer business he hadn’t been interested in managing himself.

Only… the forwarding accounts have changed. She had set them all to generic ones she knows the passcodes for initially, expecting to manage the distribution of funds as needed to consolidate their various holdings in the wake of his potential death. All the authorities and permissions are spread out over various identities, just in case of a breach or an insurrection. Such things always happen when a great leader dies and there is no official heir, but she’d never once questioned that she would easily be able to pick up those strings and retune the web in his honor.

Yet all the accounts, every single one, are now set to transfer over to one name.

Sebastian Moran.

His sniper. His fuck-toy. 

The man she’d goaded into saving his life.

She growls a note of despair. “No.” No, Moran is a brilliant shot, but he’s not trained to run a business. And that is what Moriarty’s network is, at its core. A system of favors and leverage and cash, for which certain services are produced. 

Moran cannot possibly know what to do with such power. Not nearly as well as she does.

“No,” she exhales again, an echoing noise in an otherwise silent flat. The anger ripples through her. She wants to shout, wants to tear the flat to pieces just to let the rage out. Jim does not want this. He only thinks he does. He is blinded by sex and sentiment. 

It is hard for her to even conceive that this man who had imparted so much wisdom could be undone by the trappings of emotion. He’d hid it well enough, to be sure- she knew he favored Moran, of course. But this is far beyond favor. One does not leave an empire to an unleashed dog for favor. 

James Moriarty is in love.

The thought draws her back into the icy waters she normally constrains her own emotions to. She exhales slowly, letting the rage flow out of her. No, she should not be angry. Jim is to be pitied for this show of weakness. She sneers, the light of the monitor glowing over her, catching her necklace and making it sparkle. One mustn’t fall in love with tools, Jim.

No matter. She will fix this for him, and when he arises again he will be grateful for her work. Moran will have to go, in the meantime. His influence is too pronounced. Jim will need a clear head to run his kingdom, and Sebastian is obviously a hindrance to that.

If he cannot rule, then she will put him down as well. History has shown how dangerous a mad king is. Murder, death, mayhem- these are things of trade, things to hold their position, not the workings of passion.

Love has no place in it.

Her kettle boils as she calmly sets to breaking the passwords Jim has placed on the accounts. She knows him, after all, and she now knows his weakness. It won’t take her long undo his mistakes. 

Then the work can really begin.

Chapter Text

Mycroft frowns as he opens his secure correspondence. There’s notes from Anthea and his team- medical updates on Sherlock’s status, which are far easier for him to manage than seeing his younger brother… so quiet. Even when he had overdosed, it was usually a violent turn, and stillness had little part of it. This is… disconcerting. It hurts him, in places he normally tries so hard to shield.

Weak. 

He’s still off-balance from events at the Diogenes. Anthea is likely only an hour or two away from revoking his access to secure systems until he can prove that he’s attained at least four hours of sleep. He can override her, of course, but in this case… she’s probably correct. She always is, really.

Moriarty is reportedly awake again, though he won’t say a thing, he only stares at the ceiling. That bullet had been very precise. Very precise. 

The sniper wanted to be sure he lived. 

Sherlock had been little more than a casualty of convenience. 

He’ll hate that. His poor brother, relegated to an accidental target? Never. Sherlock always considers himself the center of all attention. 

Mycroft looks forward to rubbing it in… once Sherlock is awake. 

He flips through alerts, the vast network of the security system all spooled up by Anthea to search for any additional assassins. The foreign ones on Baker Street will need to be dealt with soon. He has a team of analysts trying to determine if there are any other suspicious persons lurking near Baker Street or Greg’s apartment. Nothing has been found yet, but they are an efficient lot. It’s only a pity the man who had infiltrated Baker Street has proven to know too little to be useful. He’d been hired by someone calling himself Conduit, and though he’d heard of Moriarty he only knows the gossip of the darkest of criminal circles, which still isn’t much. He’d been more interested in elaborating on how he was apparently meant to place Mrs. Hudson in her own oven when he was done, a detail which Mycroft knows originated with Moriarty (fairy tales, again), even if he cannot prove it. A thug, plain and simple. Clearly they did not think Mrs. Hudson would prove much of an issue to handle.

Never underestimate a woman who is used to Sherlock’s antics.

If that had been an error on their part, they would’t try it with such simple efforts again. Whatever plans had been in place for Greg and John had obviously been more subtle- or at least those killers had the sense to retreat when Moriarty was struck. It is likely the sniper who has proven to be so very problematic was meant to kill John. What, then, had the plan been for Greg? Moriarty is not the sort of man to make idle threats.

Fortunately, he’s certain they are all secure now. Greg most especially. And I have no plans to let him out of my sight.

Then there are his usual alerts. Terrorist activity, traffic on certain black market websites and communication platforms, the sort of thing he assists with in his daily employment. Flags on various chatter, the sort he is usually asked to review because of the likelihood it contains some manner of code, as these things usually do. People talking about the weather when they actually mean chemical weapons. He’s long since stopped being surprised by any of it.

The phrasing on a few stand out. Very innocuous- really it’s a wonder they’ve been flagged at all. An order to reroute some bank funds, after which the funds themselves seem to have… vanished.

I’ve seen this before.  

He sits down, letting his mind drift back. The stores of his memory are vast, though he does not normally spend as much time in them as Sherlock does. What had it been… something else to do with… organized crime….

His mind sorts and filters until it brings the text to the surface. About two years back, in a coded transmission located by his team regarding the arrival of Black Lotus to London. Later, the message they’d found after the fact alerting certain individuals not to purchase his carefully arranged plane and communications with foreign powers offering the sale of Irene Adler for increasingly exorbitant rates. All known to have ties to Moriarty.

He blinks. Moriarty is in the hospital. He has not moved. He has had no visitors. Yet someone is still running things for him.

Who?

Could it be a bid for operational control? Or simply a loyal servant? Thugs, assassins, and snipers are easy to come by- freelance labor, in effect. Administrators- real administrators, who can manage the kind of sprawl Moriarty purportedly has- those are in short supply. 

He will have to interrogate the spider and see what he can learn about his web. Mycroft will see that every bit of information he can offer is sucked out, by force if necessary. Any plans, any additional assassins, any silent partners- Mycroft wants it all. 

Profiles will be developed. It must be someone in Moriarty’s inner circle. Until he talks, that is a group they do not know well. Based on his interactions with Sherlock Mycroft had heretofore been convinced that Moriarty was inclined to manage things himself- he’s not the sort of man to tolerate equals.

But there must be someone. Someone who has his respect. Enough to control things in his stead.

Fortunately there are a few things they do know. One particular point of interest comes in the form of a deep dive Anthea has done into the archives of the birth registry in conjunction with a DNA search. 

James Moriarty has family. And, as Mycroft knows well, a loyalty born of shared blood can be very strong indeed.

“Sir?” Anthea is not quite to the arms-folded and cross expression stage of ordering him about, but she’s close. “It would be prudent if you took a break for a bit, sir. We can manage things overnight.”

“I’m sure I can continue on a bit longer-”

“Inspector Lestrade is on his way, sir. I’m sure he would appreciate it if you paused your work to welcome him into your home.”

Ah. “Quite. I shall, um-”

Anthea’s face flickers into a brief smile that immediately vanishes again, though her eyes continue to glitter. “I shall contact you immediately if there are any changes in your brother’s status, or with any of our other individuals of note.”

“Yes. Thank you.” 

A different sort of nervousness slips into his blood as she takes her leave, letting his concerns about Moriarty and his network fall aside for the moment. 

All he has to do now is manage to welcome Greg Lestrade into his home without descending into fanciful thoughts. Mycroft can manage entire government coupes. Surely he can manage this.

 

***

 

“Fuck me.” Greg stalls outside of the car, looking over the posh building, his bags being unloaded by the driver. He’s not really surprised that Mycroft lives in a place like this, though he’d pictured something a bit more… modern and spartan. This place looks like a small version of a country manor, compacted and shoved into the city. 

Right. He ruffles his hair. Just temporary. Don’t get used to it. He’s not sure he could, in all honesty. He’d known Sherlock had some money- Christ knows he always seems to be able to come up whatever obscure thing he needs for his weirdest cases, regardless of the cost. 

“Shall I assist with your bags, sir?” Greg blinks, taking a second to process being in a position where someone in a sleek black uniform asks questions like that of him. He hadn’t even packed them, they’d simply been in the car already when it arrived to retrieve him.

Yeah, they’re probably going to revise that assessment of me not having a concussion at this rate.

“I’ve got’em, mate, thanks.” He really didn’t have much to bring- clothes, a couple books, some old case files he’d been authorized to bring home, and his computer should get him through however long he’ll be here. It’s not like he needs much, especially if he won’t be going to the Yard for the foreseeable future. 

The door opens before he gets all the way to it, Mycroft standing in it, a quiet glow of gentle light behind him. He’s just in a waist coat and sleeve garters- it’s the most relaxed Greg has seen him, dressed down and… comfortable. Greg feels his heart pull. Did you take that mask off again? For me?

God. He really hopes that’s the case.

“Inspector-”

Greg, Mycroft.”

Mycroft’s mouth twitches. “Greg. Please come in. How are you feeling?”

“Alright- still got a bit of a headache, but otherwise, yeah, alright.” His immediate stumble over entryway rug rather contradicts the point, though, the bags yanking him off balance.

He’s both surprised and a bit pleased to find Mycroft’s hands suddenly under his arms, holding him up… followed by a deep sense of guilt when he sees the flash of pain across Mycroft’s face. “No- god, Mycroft, your hands- sorry, I-”

Mycroft smiles- it’s a complicated expression, tinged with another wince as he helps Greg back to his feet. “It’s fine. A bit of unsteadiness might be expected after a head injury, Greg, even if they do not suspect a concussion.”

“Christ, Myc- let me get you some ice at least. Or your painkillers- they must have give you some, yeah?”

Mycroft’s brow flicks up at the shortening of his name. “I’m sure I shall manage.” He considers for a second, and Greg has the feeling he’s under a microscope. “Put your bags down. I ought to give you a tour.” Mycroft offers his elbow, keeping his injured hands well away, and Greg finds himself very suddenly convinced that he may in fact need help walking after all as he cautiously wraps his hand into the bend of Mycroft’s arm. “You aren’t too tired, I hope?”

“Ah- no. Nice to move around a bit, get a stretch.” Except in the places that moving around a bit still hurts, but he’s got painkillers for that. And holding onto Mycroft’s arm is giving him an odd surge of nervous adrenaline that makes the pain feel like hardly anything at all. They head into the kitchen first, which is… possibly a repurposed dungeon. Greg bites his lip. “Bit dark, innit?” 

“Mm. Yes.” Mycroft shifts slightly, his elbow pressing into Greg’s hand. Shit. Was that rude? “The house has some odd… character. I inherited it from my uncle, who enjoyed some unique aesthetic inspirations.” Greg’s lip quirks up. Mycroft and Sherlock almost never talk about other family. As far as Sherlock is concerned he might have spawned from an egg, and if it weren’t for the pair of them actually admitting to a relation from time to time he’d be inclined to believe it. “I’m afraid I do not typically stock much, given the hours….” Mycroft pauses, looking into the fridge, and then opens the door further. “I am going to guess this is yours?”

Greg blinks. It does, in fact, appear that the entire contents of his fridge have been relocated, save several items that were probably expired. “Um. Yeah. Why is my stuff in your fridge?”

“Anthea likely wished to ensure you had adequate sustenance.”

“Anthea was in my flat?” Oh, fuck, she didn’t pack my clothes, did she? Because if that woman has seen anything of his quiet little adult toy collection he’s not going to be able to look her in the face for months at least. Oh, no, what about my computer? He can only imagine the horror of someone doing a security sweep on his computer and encountering the more sordid parts of his browser history.

Mycroft lifts a brow in a sly way that seems to say “you think she hasn’t been in your flat before?” “I wouldn’t worry. She always locks up after.”

“Right. Okay.” Greg runs his free hand through his hair, scruffing it up. He’d known that Mycroft’s world would be different than what he’s used to, but casually having his array of half-eaten take-out appear elsewhere was not on his list of expectations.

God help him if Mycroft’s pantry is now also full of his own half-eaten bags of crisps.

“Okay, so food is here. Got it.” Greg slides closer to the sink, finding a cup and putting some water in it. “Where’re your pills?”

“Gregory-”

Ha. Gregory. Only Greg’s mum ever called him that, and that was usually just after he’d done something stupid. Strangely, on Mycroft’s lips it sounds far more dignified and… prestigious. “C’mon. They’ve got to be hurting.”

Mycroft sighs and nods toward a cabinet, where Greg finds an array of vitamins as well as the prescription. “Mycroft… this is almost full. Haven’t you taken any?” The taller man’s eyes drift to the floor. It only takes Greg a few seconds to work out the problem. He can’t open it. It’s got a tamperproof cap, meant to keep kids out of it, which necessarily means it requires a degree of strength and pressure to open- something his hands can’t manage yet. Must’ve hurt too much when he tried. If he tried. It doesn’t surprise him at all that a Holmes would be that good at quietly managing their own pain rather than ask for any assistance, but Greg restrains himself from rolling his eyes in exasperation. Mycroft’s had enough to deal with. “Here,” he pops the cap and holds out two, not to Myc’s hands but just before his mouth. “Tongue, please.” Mycroft’s eyebrow twitches again and Greg thinks he spies a rosy tint in the man’s cheeks. No need to be embarrassed. Not with me. “And drink.” He holds the cup carefully, tilting it so Mycroft can get a mouthful.

Mycroft is definitely faintly red-tinged in the face by the time he’s swallowed. “Thank you.”

“Not a problem.” Greg puts the cup on the counter, with the pills- lid still off- beside them, already starting to wonder how Mycroft’s been managing for food. Takeaway? He seemed surprised there was anything at all in his fridge, though. Has he been eating at all?

The elder Holmes clears his throat. “You are supposed to be resting, so I shall show you the cinema room next…. I fear I lack I proper television, but there is quite a good internet connection.”

“M’sure it’s fine. Cinema room sounds fancy.” Greg smiles. C’mon. Relax a bit. S’just me.

Mycroft, however, still seems a bit thrown. “It is… suitable for its purpose.”

Greg stands by his original assessment after seeing it, and it does not escape him that Mycroft seems pleased by Greg’s approval of it. Never expects people to like him. To like his things. Sherlock is the same, in his way. Preemptively abrasive. If people are all idiots, their opinion doesn’t matter when they call him a freak. Mycroft’s methods are more diplomatic, of course, but now that he’s thinking about it the suit, the car, the seeming omniscience… it’s the same, really.

“This is all really nice, Mycroft. Shame you can’t enjoy it that much.”

“Well… things are what they are. Shall we ascend? You can arrange the guest room to your liking and then I expect we should arrange for dinner.”

 

***

 

Mycroft is not panicking. That would be silly. Why should Greg’s mere presence in his home make him nervous? It is simply that he is unused to company, that’s all. More than any other his most constant companion has been silence. Having the footsteps of another human, a voice occasionally calling out something with a laugh, is simply new. 

That’s all.

And it’s certainly not the result of nerves that Mycroft has left Greg to sort out the guest room on his own as he retreats.

The cuts in his hands itch as he takes his assortment of takeaway menus down, but the dull ache that had been in them since he’d caught Greg- and before that, if he’s being honest- has faded. Some of the shallow cuts had not required any stitches at all, and those have begun to heal over, scabbing in jagged little lines. He’s refrained from scratching at them as they do. The deepest of the cuts, the ones that required stitches, will take far longer. 

He has worked out how to cautiously hold a spoon or fork, or cups with handles- not that he’d mind letting Greg feed him, which he’s fairly certain the man is considering. Good lord. No- he has to stop thinking like that. There’s always the chance Inspector Lestrade is simply being amicable. Given the circumstances that would also make sense. Humans are always inclined to increased degrees of bonding after a trial.

As he flips through the takeaway menus, he summons recollections from the mental file he has on Greg and combines it with the newfound contents of his fridge. Mycroft keeps one on everyone he meets, abetted by his very nearly eidetic memory. He shall probably enjoy something more substantial than my usual fare…. He typically orders a burger, or something larger he can eat for a few days, such as a pizza, despite a perfectly respectable cooking ability. It’s the odd hours, Mycroft is sure, as he runs into the same issue. 

He finds a few things have been added to his inventory of Greg Lestrade that he had not parsed and sorted and catalogued as he usually does. The exact texture of his hands as they gently encircled Mycroft’s wrists. The kindness in his voice. Something about deep brown eyes and how they looked when-

“Mycroft?”

He blinks and reality rushes back at him. Not only has he let himself be caught up in a reverie, but he has managed to walk all the way back upstairs bearing the takeaway menus. Bollocks. It’s too late to slow the damnable flush creeping over his skin, which is in his opinion the greatest flaw of a pale complexion. It took him years to work out how not to do it, and suddenly it’s out of his hands once more. “Ah- Greg, I thought you might like a choice of-”

“You know it’s all my food in your fridge. I can make something.”

Mycroft purses his lips. “You’re meant to be resting, and you are a guest.”

“Yeah, and I bet you’re s’posed to be resting too. Seriously, it’ll just take me a sec-” 

The corner of Mycroft’s lip twitches. “Duly noted, but as the host I must insist. You may cook for me tomorrow, if you wish.” I am afraid if you did it tonight I might find myself too overwhelmed to eat, Greg Lestrade. “Now. What would you like?”

He watches as Greg runs his tongue over his teeth,  obviously debating protesting further before he elects to give in with a shrug. “Oh, I’m easy. Whatever you usually go for.”

“Well, as both of us might need to refrain from cooking for a time, we may as well keep it simple and easily reheated. Pizza?”

Greg lets out a beautiful chuckle. Mycroft catalogues it immediately, as he’s never previously heard this iteration. What can I do to hear that again? You eat pizza? You, Mycroft Holmes, eat pizza?”

“A thin crust margherita, certainly. Or a proper Neapolitan.” Greg continues laughing, and Mycroft cannot help but smile quietly in return. “Contrary to my brother’s protestations otherwise we do eat, inspector.” 

“God. Sure. Pizza, though. Didn’t expect that.” Greg finishes setting out some books on the nightstand and comes round, taking Mycroft by the elbow, which momentarily stuns the elder Holmes into freezing in place. “You’ve got to leave off with calling me inspector, though, Mycroft. ‘Specially if I’m staying here.”

Mycroft inhales, forcing his body to move and his face into a neutral alignment. “My apologies. Force of habit.” He backs away, still feeling the heated indentation of fingerprints on his arm. “I’ll order. It shouldn’t take long.”

Once in the hall, he all but runs back to his room. 

This is ridiculous. It’s going to kill him. 

What was he thinking, letting Greg Lestrade into his house when he is clearly compromised by the man’s mere presence? How is he supposed to track down the remainder of Moriarty’s network in such a state? 

It’s a trick of biology. Surviving shared hardship tends to lead to abnormally strong bonds. I experienced a high degree of stress and he was there. It’s nature and hormones. Nothing more.

It is not the time to be focusing on… romantic ideas.

Especially not any romantic ideas involving a handsome man sleeping in his guest bedroom, or deduced knowledge that Greg tends to sleep shirtless, if not in the nude.

Damn.

He is well and truly done for.

 

***

 

We should meet. 

 

Sebastian eyes his phone. He doesn’t recognize the number, but there’s only one person who might have the knowledge to contact him directly on his personal line. Interesting she doesn’t have the burner number though. This safe house must have been set up without her. Typical Jim. Keeping all his little pieces separate, just in case.

Though knowing Jim, whether than “in case” is more in regard to someone betraying him or him getting bored and killing them is even odds. He runs his tongue over his teeth as he types back. There’s a warehouse he’s used for certain more forceful reminders of authority- of anywhere he knows, that’s the place that is the most his.

It should suit fine.

He slips back onto the streets, incognito in basic street clothes. As far as he can tell they haven’t found his name yet, which means his face won’t be tagged by all those little CCTV tricks he knows the government enjoys employing. That said, he obscures himself until he reaches his destination anyway- it would definitely not do to have anyone immediately work out where his safehouse is by a careless CCTV capture.

He hears her heels before he sees her.

“Well this is cheery.”

Her hands are in posh coat pockets, looking like some rich young mum going out to the shops and about to tell off a shopkeep. Adaptable. The last time they’d met she’d looked entirely different. “It’s useful.”

“I’m sure.” She looks around, taking the same inventory he assumes he would if they were in a new place to him. “So. I’m sure you’ve seen the transfers.”

“Yeah. It’s, ah. A lot.”

“Yes.” Lefty’s eyes narrow in on him and Basher has the feeling of being analyzed closely. “Do you have an understanding of what I do for him? What my function is?”

He pauses. There’s an undercurrent here, like he’s being tested. Well, he was probably the same with her, wasn’t he? Only give out some of the pieces. He wanted to be the one to hold them all. “Administrator. The business and finance side.”

“More or less. And you’re the… hands-on side.” Her smile is thin. “But it appears you’ve been promoted, until he’s back on his feet. So I have to ask, first- do you plan to get him back on his feet, or are you more inclined to power, Basher?”

Basher lifts a brow, but he’s not offended by the question, blunt as it is. That’s the sort of world they operate in. Not everyone is loyal, not like he is, not so that it seeps down into his bones and into his soul. “My first order of business is getting him out of that damn hospital before they hide him away somewhere.”

Her smile evens out. So that was a test too. Perhaps she is like him, loyal to her core- though he can’t imagine Jim taking her to bed, that’s not the only route to loyalty. “Good. I expect you are better equipped to manage that sort of infiltration. Anything you require on the technical side- cameras, layouts, schedules, cover identities- I am happy to provide. It would behoove both of us to extricate him as soon as possible.”

“Right.” 

She hands over a SIM card. “This will give you access to all of my contact information. I expect you to delete it when Jim is back in play.” 

Sebastian is not without his own analytical skills- he never would have lasted doing what he does if he couldn’t tell when he was about to be shot at, or when someone who looks like they’re cooperating is secretly waiting for the opportunity to stab him in the back. Lefty is an interesting girl. She reads to him almost like Jim does- always churning mentally, but even more quietly in her case. Counter-test. It’s the only way to ensure balance, like spies from different nations trying to share intelligence. 

Of course, he’d mostly shot the ones who had the misfortune of being assigned to him, but she likely already knows that. “What about you?”

She lifts a brow. “Hm?”

“Far as I can tell, you hold a lot of cards yourself. So do you want power, Lefty?”

Her lip twitches. “Sebastian, in Jim’s web, we are not flies- we offer those to him, sometimes, we wrap them up and present them, or stick them in their proper place while we run across the silk. But only one of us can sit in the center.”

So she has his penchant for dramatics. Fine. It’s good enough. “Alright. I’ll be in touch when I’m ready to move on the hospital. Send me the building plans in the meantime.”

“Of course.”

He’s already planning as she walks away. 

 

***

 

Boring. Lefty doesn’t know what Jim sees in him, not really. Aesthetically there’s merits, of course, for those inclined to such things. Muscle and height and a pleasing sort of symmetry. 

But anyone truly worthy of Jim’s place would have killed her as soon as she asked if there was to be a coupe, and he would have made it hurt.

It simply reinforces her position. Sebastian is not fit to hold Jim’s mantle. But the man does has his uses- chief among them his experience at infiltration and murder. He has always been a useful tool, and he will continue to be useful until he is no longer needed. Once he frees Jim and the natural order of things is restored, she will ensure his influence is no longer an issue.

One way or another.

In the meantime, she must set a few things in motion.

Ripping all of Sebastian’s temporary power away from him in one fell swoop would be easy, but it would also give away her hand. Subtlety is key. The man can’t know that his position is so tenuous. The rocks beneath him must be slowly mined away until it collapses under him. And it must be his own doing- with Jim so compromised, she cannot guarantee he will not take offense to such an obvious improvement in his life. His emotions may blind him.

Fortunately, she has always been very good at subtle. 

From the secure laptop she uses for such things, she carefully reviews the information gleaned from Mycroft Holmes’s phone. Much of it is piecemeal, but the detail she is most interested in made it through clearly.

Who does the British Government rely on the most?

It’s the contact that he uses the most, the one on rapid speed dial, the one so intrinsically tied to the phone’s usage that even a remote wipe cannot fully erase it’s presence. 

She smiles at her screen, comparing the results to the footage of St. Bart’s she stole before the security services swept in and locked down the cameras, no doubt on big brother’s orders to protect his precious Sherlock. Forty-five seconds of security services personnel walking in, their little boarding party flanking Mycroft Holmes. A woman walks a half-step behind him, her eyes on her phone, face a bit obscured by the angle. It is you, though. Unobtrusive you. 

Lefty pauses the footage, studying, watches it play, then pauses again. Her counterpart looks posh, her hair smooth and styled even after all the chaos of the shooting, her dress formal and businesslike, heels and a pencil skirt. It’s obvious in the way the others defer to her- there’s respect, a healthy degree of fear even, save from Mycroft Holmes, who looks at her with a degree of relief he is likely entirely unaware of whenever she is in the room. 

One sharp nail caresses the screen as she smiles wider.

“Hullo, Anthea.”

Chapter Text

After the elder Holmes makes his escape- and it is an escape, Greg’s pretty sure of that- Greg elects to give the man a few minutes of space. If his own experience is any indication- and there was a time in his life where he had lots- that wasn’t a “gay panic.” Greg remembers loads of blokes from his younger years who went through that, torn between self-loathing and desire. Even Greg did, here and there, when he was first sorting out who he liked and what it meant.

That’s not Mycroft. Mycroft may wear a mask in public, even a thick one, but that’s not about him hiding being gay. 

No, if Greg is reading this right, this is more about who in particular he’s feeling attracted to.

Gonna owe John a drink too, he thinks as he answers the door and acquires the pizza, a soft smile on his lips. He finds the plates, setting the dining room table, and even locates a pack of straws that he assumes Mycroft is meant to be using. 

Hiding any weakness. Again.

Actually, that might extend to the pizza as well. It hadn’t occurred to him at the time, but Mycroft probably shouldn’t be eating much with his hands. He shouldn’t be risking food on his bandages or his healing cuts. Was it for me? Getting me something I’d like, forgetting about himself? Putting himself second?

It wouldn’t be surprising, considering all the man gives up regularly and without fail for Sherlock. Well, Greg’ll have to break that habit, and he shifts the plates around to enforce it. “Mycroft? Pizza’s here!” He waits with a steady smile as he hears Mycroft padding down the stairs.

As predicted, when he enters the room Mycroft looks a bit thrown. “Ah- Greg, you’ve-”

“Yeah, thought this way would be easier. Not into any of that passing the cheese across three meters of table bollocks.” Greg pulls out the head chair, where he’s placed Mycroft’s things, including his cup of water complete with straw. His own seat is just next to it, off the corner. “C’mon, it’s gonna get cold.”

Mycroft shifts toward the seat like a skittish animal. Greg has the distinct sense he’s about to feed a wild deer out of his own hand. He puts a slice on each of their plates, and keeps an eye as Mycroft picks up his fork and knife to cut it. The fork he does alright with, but he keeps wincing whenever the knife presses into his palm, and Greg is reaching over within seconds and confiscating Mycroft’s utensils. “Let me.”

“Greg-”

“It’s hurting you. You’re giving me a safe place to stay, the least I can do is cut your pizza for you.” He holds out a small piece on a fork. “Yeah?”

Mycroft eyes him, but opens his mouth all the same to accept the first bite before gently stealing the fork back and holding it with the tips of his fingers. Greg lets him, though he might have happily kept feeding Mycroft otherwise. “You should eat yours. As you said, it will get cold.” Mycroft doesn’t quite look at him as he speaks, though Greg can see him sneaking glances. 

Cute when he’s shy.

Greg eats with his hands, too used to standing around and wolfing his lunch at work to bother with cutting it up. He laughs when he catches Mycroft raising a brow his way. “What? Too uncivilized for you?”

The flush on Mycroft’s cheeks might be written of as something else, but Greg is looking, now, and he knows. Ah, maybe you like a bit of uncivil. “I did not say that,” Mycroft murmurs.

“S’alright. You have to eat dainty. Keep those posh suits clean.” He takes a bit of pity on Mycroft as they go on, turning to something he imagines is firmer ground. Don’t want to scare him off, after all. “So- I’m on secondment to you, then?”

“Yes.” He can see Mycroft relax a bit- work is easier for him. Same as his brother with that, really. “Seeing as your superiors have let their foolishness get the better of them.”

“One man’s trash, eh?”

Mycroft’s mouth twitches, sticking into a half-smile. “Quite.”

“You want me to look into anything? Files, or whatever, I can catch up on?”

“The official files on Moriarty and his ilk are… somewhat lacking. Though I do have my own notes- and you are familiar with some of the lines Sherlock drew between the man and those he… sponsored.”

Greg nods. “Yeah, he made it seem like it was- I dunno, this huge- thing.” Very smartly stated, Greg, good job. At least Mycroft doesn’t seem put off by his lack of eloquence. 

“It goes beyond Moriarty, certainly. Even with him in hospital and under guard, I’ve seen evidence that they continue to organize.”

Interesting. From the way Sherlock had talked about him, Greg always thought Moriarty was too… well, psychotic, really, to share power. Generally people like that don’t let other people on their thrones.  “So, what, you think he has a… like, a following?”

Mycroft looks thoughtful as he delicately spears another bite of pizza. “You mean like a cult? Not precisely- but Moriarty has a wide enough spread in his dealings that we knew there must be others assisting him. Crimes supported all across the globe, and the man cannot physically be everywhere at once. It’s more like a business, really.”

Some fucking business. “Okay, so… I’m sure your people are trying to track financials and all that- what do you want me on?”

Another little smile flits across Mycroft’s lips. “People, Greg. I’d like for you to talk to people with me. There is… I have some reason to suspect certain areas I would normally rely on for such things have been compromised. Infiltrated. I would like to keep this investigation as… in-house as possible.” He looks to his plate, carefully cutting another line down his slice. “And I can think of no one better qualified.”

Greg grins. Was that flattery, Mycroft Holmes? “Yeah, alright. Gimme your files after dinner, then. Sure it’ll be more interesting than whatever shite television I usually watch.”

“One does hope.”

 

***

 

Mycroft’s nerves have more or less calmed themselves by the time they’ve gone up, each to their separate rooms. Gregory went over the case files with him while they listened to some of Mycroft’s favorite selections of classical music, asking a number of insightful questions regarding the elements that had been generally kept from the public eye.

“Brilliant,” he’d said about Mycroft’s Bond Air idea, smiling that damnably gorgeous smile. It makes Mycroft’s heart flutter every time he thinks about it. He’s already stored every minute detail- the glitter in Greg’s dark eyes, the way the glow of the lamp had caught the silver in his hair-

Bollocks.

How is he meant to go on like this, with Greg so close, and yet… work must come first. It must. This is his brother’s life, and beyond that, Moriarty’s network could threaten the fabric of the nation itself. 

He sighs, looking at his bandaged hands as he slowly unwinds the outer wrappings to change them. At least the stitches still look clean and uninfected. It will take him a while to rewrap them, but he can still manage alone. He’s always been able to manage alone.

“Mycroft.”

The sudden voice in his own bathroom nearly sends him leaping into the ceiling, but the quick function of his brain is enough to tamp it down to an indecorous noise and a slight flush in his cheeks that even he can see in the mirror. “Inspector. You startled me.”

Greg. Honestly.” Lestrade shakes his head. “Nearly as bad as your brother.”

“Hmph.”

“Anyway. I’ve brought up your pills.” He shakes the bottle, holding a glass of water where Mycroft can see it in the reflection. “Pretty sure you’re meant to have one before bed.”

“Er-”

“Yeah, I know, you haven’t been- have one anyway. Here.” He holds out a pill. “Tongue, please.”

Mycroft’s face twitches. Must you phrase it like that. Greg’s smile has just a hint of cheek in it when he turns to dutifully extend his tongue as bid, which makes his cheeks flush again. Teasing me is not fair, inspector. He cannot know, of course, how wrought Gregory’s mere presence makes him. 

“And drink. There you go.” Greg sets down the glass, leaning against the counter and eyeing Mycroft’s hands. “So are you going to let me help with that as well, or were you planning to be difficult about that too?”

“I am not-”

“Yes, I know, you’re a Holmes, you lot can always get on by yourselves. Your brother gives me that speech a lot. Well, bit less now that he’s got John.” He picks up the clean wrap, gently but firmly plucking up one of Mycroft’s hands and holding it steady. 

Warm and soft. Only rough in certain places. Mycroft swallows, resisting the urge to rock back and forth on his feet. He’s only being kind. Kind and helpful, because that is how he is.

“You’re allowed to let other people help now and then too, you know.” Greg is careful but thorough with the wrapping, tucking it in neatly and starting on Mycroft’s other hand. “It’s alright to ask.”

Is it, though? Mycroft glances up, chewing the inside of his lip, studying Greg’s face while the inspector is occupied. How much would I ask of you, if I could?

Would you be willing to give it?

“There. Can you still wiggle everything?”

“Mm. Yes. We are perhaps even a bit improved on the wiggles front.” He smiles, gazing across barely a handspan of space into Greg’s warm, welcoming eyes. Mycroft can even see how he’d do it, how he’d reach across, fingertips just grazing the scruff of his cheeks. Pull them together, their lips meeting as Greg wraps his hands around Mycroft’s hips-

“Alright- well, I s’pose I should get off to bed.” 

Mycroft’s gaze refocuses- Greg is looking askance into the mirror, scuffing his hair, and still Mycroft’s heart is beating into his ears. Why? Why can’t I bring myself to dare it? Heaven only knows what Greg thinks- possibly even assuming  he doesn’t want-

“Don’t imagine you’ve been sleeping too good, with those, so if you need a hand- well, you know where I am.” 

“Er- yes. Good night, Greg.” He blinks rapidly at Greg’s retreating back. Had that… been an invitation?

He stares at himself in the mirror, struggling to deduce his own mind.

Moments pass, then minutes, and nothing comes. There is no absolute truth to be divined here. Only feelings. Only desires.

“Christ,” he exhales, hating himself just a little as he carefully carries the water glass over to his nightstand and cautiously climbs into bed.

 

***

 

In the morning, Greg slips downstairs first- though the slip is nearly literal, as he takes a tumble on the stairs and barely manages to catch himself. “M’not concussed!” he growls at unyielding wood and his own untrustworthy legs. “Knock it off.”

He doesn’t know why it keeps happening- there’s a sort of dizziness that almost comes in waves, slow and steady. Each time it feels a bit longer, a bit harder to break out of. Just tired, that’s all. Just got a little punched in the head. Nothing to worry about.

Fortunately, in his breakfast supplies there is enough to make omelets for two, and he has both of them nearly complete by the time Mycroft appears, already in one of his full battle suits.

“Oh, you’re sharp. Should I be dressing up today too?”

“Whatever would constitute your usual work clothes should be fine. Is this….”

“Scallions, ham, and gruyere. Simple, but simple’s nice sometimes. Coffee?”

Mycroft sighs. ”Greg, you are a guest, you need not-“

“Yeah, and you’re letting me stay in your fancy guest room for free. S’like a nice hotel in there! ‘Course I’m making you breakfast. Now, coffee? Or do you do tea first? Tea, innit.” Greg’s smile erupts when he receives a cautious but amused grin in return. “Knew it! I’ll pick up some of this deducting business yet.”

“Would you want to?”

“Would I what?”

“Would you like to learn about deducting?”

Greg’s eyes snap from the stove as he puts the kettle down. He’s picked up a thing or two here and there watching Sherlock, but the consulting detective makes a habit of keeping things close to the vest. “Can you learn it? It’s not just- I dunno, some mystic shite it takes years of training to figure out?”

“Part of it is instinct, certainly, but it’s more about reading between the lines. Some things are obvious, of course- lines of wedding rings, pet hair, the sort of things people forget about  because it’s such a daily part of their world. But if you’re looking for, say, a thief caught on camera wearing a wig and a black catsuit, if you saw them going to work in a baggy sweater with dog hair all about their shins that won’t tell you a thing about the robbery. You have to find ways to look between the lines.”

He nods, plating the omelets and setting them on the table. The tea will take a bit longer, in the meantime there’s water, and…. “Would it count as reading between the lines to note that you’ve left your pills upstairs? Dare I ask if you’ve taken any today?”

“I don’t- it’s truly fine, Greg, I’d prefer not to rely on them.”

It clicks for Greg, then. Not just that you couldn’t manage the bottle. It’s that you don’t know if you’d end up like Sherlock. Craving it. Two sorts of weaknesses, there. And Mycroft never likes to look weak. Never easy on yourself, are you. “Fine, but we should take the bottle when we go out. In case you do need one.”

From anyone else, he might get a yes, mum, but Mycroft just nods. “Very well.”

Breakfast is a quiet affair after that. Greg has the sense Mycroft is offput about something, but he doesn’t want to push- not when he’s pretty certain he’s the only one Mycroft’s opened up to in a long time. When he’s ready. Can’t force it.

One of Mycroft’s posh cars pulls up, the driver already ensconced on the other side of the closed partition- apparently he knows where to take them. Greg flips through the file again, reviewing their interview subject. “So they honestly have the same name?”

“Mmm. Yes. From birth, apparently.”

“That’s… really fucking weird.”

“I quite agree with you, but considering the selections made by my own parents I cannot find too much to criticize about naming two children James.”

James Moriarty- the elder, according to the file- is a station master for the British rail system. Beccles. Quiet town, off the main lines. The photo is a little unnerving- they’re clearly related, he and his psychopath younger brother. Not twins, but close enough. It’s the eyes, Greg thinks. Just a bit more intense than average people. 

He glances over, about to ask another question, but when he does he realizes Mycroft’s eyes are closed and his breath is quiet and even. Something about it makes him smile. Didn’t sleep well, did you? S’alright. Two hours in the car will help. 

I’ll keep an eye on you. Keep you safe.

 

***

 

“Mycroft?” 

He inhales himself awake, feeling an awkward pull in his neck from having his head against the window. Mind reorienting quickly, surveying the scene outside, he pulls himself back into work mode. “Are we here?”

“Yeah. D’you need the file?”

“No- but you might hang onto it. There’s also a notepad in the bag, if you could….”

“Sure. ‘Course. M’your Watson today, hm?” 

Greg’s smile is so open and earnest that Mycroft can’t help but flush slightly. He can’t fathom why- the man has likely been bored out of his mind while Mycroft slept, of all things, something he almost never does in cars, not with all the possible risks and contingencies and plans constantly running through his head. He’s never calm enough to manage it. “Yes, I suppose you are.”

Mycroft carefully extricates his phone from his pocket and checks it. Updates from Anthea on her inquiries into possible snipers, which he will read on the way back, and an update from the hospital on Sherlock’s condition, which as of yet remains unchanged. Stable. Even if he might be in a coma. Even if John has not left his bedside more than a few times, one of which was just to shout at some of Mycroft’s team at three in the morning to just let him in to see Moriarty alone for five minutes. 

He’s instructed them to let John yell, to help him in every way he might possibly need, except bloodying up either Moriarty or his thug from 221B. For now, their healthy must remain intact. Well, as intact as it was when they arrived at St. Bart’s. 

They leave the driver behind as they step into the station. It’s quiet, as Mycroft knew it would be- a train went through minutes ago, and it will be some time until the next arrives. 

He approaches the desk with Greg at his shoulder, keeping his hands behind his back. They must look a pair, he in his bandages and Greg with his black eye, which is bad enough that the attendant flinches when he looks at them. “Hello. Will you kindly guide us to James Moriarty?”

The other Moriarty is in a small office. It is tidy, a shared space, though Mycroft can pick out place it’s likely this man has had an influence. Control. Cleanliness. An emphasis on order and proper place corresponding with his prior military service. It is a marked contrast to the chaos that swirls about his brother. 

He looks up, dark eyes quickly studying them. Clever too, then. “You’re here about my brother.”

“Yes.”

“You’re, what? Not police.”

“Scotland Yard, actually,” Greg says, supplying his badge with a smile.

“How did you find me?”

“DNA partial match. Through your military records.”

Mycroft watches as the man goes through an intriguing series of emotions. The human face can reveal so much more than anyone realizes, with the exceptions of the highly trained- and this man is not one of those. A shift of something defensive crosses above his eyes, followed by a flicker of anger. Guilt- that one is particularly interesting. He sighs when he’s resigned himself to it, all in the span of a few seconds. 

“Sit down, then.” He doesn’t offer tea, but then again Mycroft wouldn’t expect him to. “I know what they said of him, after the trial. I don’t know what game he’s playing, but that man they- that man that Sherlock Holmes made him out to be, he isn’t that.” 

Mycroft turns a quiet glance to Lestrade, who seems to have already guessed why he will do better speaking with this man than Mycroft will. He’s already leaning forward in his trademark easy you can trust me mode. Mycroft purses his lips, swallowing down a faint sense of jealousy. Not mine. It isn’t sensible to be jealous. 

Lestrade goes through a police-standard opener, getting the details of James’s data, his employment, all the usual bits. “So… you have the same name. Bit unusual, isn’t it?”

“S’pose it is.” James sighs, looking at the ceiling. “Not sure who to blame for that. We’re half-siblings, really. Same da. Managed to get his wife and his mistress pregnant within a few months of each other.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. That didn’t got particularly well for him. My mum went first, named me after him to make a point, and then Jimmy’s mum did the same.”

“Same point, I’d imagine.”

“Didn’t matter in the end, seein’ as dad ran off instead of dealing with it. ‘Course we started in the same schools and all. So I was James and Jim was Jim.”

“And were you friendly growing up?”

“For a while. Strength in numbers, I suppose. The mums didn’t like it though.”

Greg taps his pen against the notebook, watching James closely. “Now there was an alleged incident with a Carl Powers in 1989. Were you still friendly at that time?”

James leans back, folding his hands on his knee. Mycroft absorbs the data as it comes, every little shift of his face. If he didn’t know, he suspected. And justified it. Thinks poor little Jimmy was in the right. It will make it harder to get anything out of him if he persists in seeing Jim as a victim- though there may be leverage there as well. Jim Moriarty’s hospitalization has not been made public. Perhaps his big brother would be willing to leverage useful information in exchange for a visit. Risky, but an option. 

“Don’t remember anything about that, sorry.”

“It was in the papers, at the time,” Mycroft interjects with a bland smile. “You might have heard of it. Boy drowned in a London pool, while on a school field trip?”

“Huh.” They meet gazes for a moment, and Mycroft’s smile notches a degree upward when he realizes they are both calculating. Not quite your brother, but not an idiot, are you, James? “Maybe. Long time ago.”

“Of course.”

“Besides, it was right about then Jimmy’s mum died. Cancer. He went off into care.”

“Did you want him to stay with you?” Greg asks, disarmingly pleasant though Mycroft is certain he has felt the tension in the room rise as well. “Proper brothers, like.”

“Sure, I did, but my mum wouldn’t have had that. She was remarried by then, anyway. Little ones around. No room for another kid.” 

“Did you keep in touch?”

“Time to time. Jimmy’s self-sufficient. I enlisted, soon as I could, did my time and came back.”

“So you haven’t heard from him much lately.”

“No. Like I said. Self-sufficient.”

“You too, it looks like. This must be a good gig. Quiet-like.”

“Pays the bills alright, yeah.”

“So- we are looking for anyone who’s had recent contact with him. You know anyone he might be close with now? Boyfriend? Girlfriend?”

James’s face tightens, his defenses going back up. “Nah. Not close enough now to ring up just for a chat.”

“Anyone a bit further back, then? From his days in care, perhaps?”

There’s a long enough pause that Mycroft is certain he knows something. Anything, any detail, I will take it. “Why is it you’re looking, exactly?”

“I’m afraid Jim has been involved in a bit of an accident. We are attempting to locate any witnesses, any friends, to assist in finding the perpetrator.”

James’s eyes widen in surprise, then instantly narrow. “The second victim. The one with Sherlock.” He nearly spits the name, his disdain obvious. “That’s him, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” 

“Fuck.” He leans back, closing his eyes and running a hand over his face, through his hair. He cares, Mycroft notes. So he has the capacity for emotion. Good. This won’t have been his doing- it would wound him too much to cause his brother harm. 

“Anything might help, James,” Greg says in his kindest, softest voice. Mycroft feels another low sting of jealousy. Desist, he tells his emotional cortex. “Really. I know you don’t have any reason to see the law is on his side here, but we want to catch whoever did this.”

“Yeah, for Sherlock. Don’t pretend you care about him.” James inhales, stilling whatever bile must be rising in his throat. He is angry now, but containing it- another way he seems to differ with his brother. 

Greg’s voice is an anchor of kindness. “For both of them, James. Really. Anything you can think of- anyone we can talk to, who might know him better.”

James exhales, eyes still closed as he thinks. After a long moment, he nods. “Yeah, fine. Two things- I am pretty sure he’s seeing someone. But I’ve not met them.”

“Why d’you think so, then?”

“I’ve got a number for him- he never answers it, an’I don’t blame him, not with what people say about him, even though it’s all bollocks- but I leave messages every now and then. Checking in, like. He actually called back. Thought I could hear someone in the background.”

Mycroft makes a mental note to have James’s call logs pulled immediately, both for his personal numbers and the station’s line. “Any name?”

“No. A man, that’s all. I only thought it was maybe someone he was seeing because… whoever it was said something that made him laugh. I mean genuinely laugh. He doesn’t do that much, not because he thinks something’s funny, anyway.”

“Okay, that’s great, James. We’ll try to find him. Is there anyone else you can think of who might have kept in touch?”

“There was, uh.” He glances to the floor briefly and Mycroft tightens his analytical gaze, preparing for an impending lie of some sort. The only question is what the lie will be. “There was a girl in care with him. She was… a bit obsessive? He indulged her, I think.”

“Why do you say obsessive?”

“Well- I mean that wasn’t romantic, or anything, it was more like- I don’t know, she wanted to be him. He’d told her about me, and she started saying she’d wished she’d been one of us. Like, another Moriarty, by blood. Saying she’d change her named to Jamie Moriarty when she was old enough. Jimmy liked her- she’d do whatever he wanted, anyway. Think they rather had the run of the other kids, least from what I heard about it.”

Greg blinks. Mycroft purses his lips. Well that is…. They do say like attracts like. “Did she, in the end?”

“Oh, god, no- I mean, that was when we were like- I dunno, fifteen? We’re all a bit idiots at fifteen, an’ she might’ve been younger. Think she grew out of it.”

“Are they still in touch?”

“Maybe- but I only heard him talk about her, really. Don’t think I heard him mention her again after I got back from abroad.”

“And do you remember her real name at all?”

“Oh, god. It was something dull. Kathy, maybe?  Katey? Something like that.”

“Surname?”

“No idea. The family was Irish, I remember that, but she wasn’t theirs either.”

Mycroft runs through his memory of Jim Moriarty’s file in his head. Care had not been mentioned, which seems a glaring omission. That is not something his people should have missed. It should have been top of the list. “James, might there be any reason Jim’s care records would be… sealed?”

“Oh, ah- I dunno, but there’s always mixups between the two of us. I got parking tickets for him when I was overseas, actually. Bunch of bills too, before he could get it sorted for me.” His smile is just a little off, a little too disarming. “Just shoddy paperwork, I guess. Wouldn’t be surprised if that got lost in the shuffle somewhere.”

“Right.” Greg looks at Mycroft, and they exchange a brief, silent exchange. “In the interests of tidy paperwork, then, can I ask you a few more questions about the years you were abroad?”

Twenty minutes later they’re back in the car, and Greg has his notepad out, adding a few more things he no doubt did not wish James to see him write. “Boyfriend and girlfriend, do you think?”

“Possible, but unlikely. That Jim is capable of maintaining a single relationship is remarkable in itself. I should have thought the emotional nuances beyond him, given what seems to be a psychopathic nature. Though he may be able to fake such things for a time.”

Though people said the same of Sherlock, did they not? And that is patently untrue.

He does not will it, but he cannot help the small voice in his head that whispers and what do they say of me? Greg’s presence beside him suddenly seems so… charged. Like standing next to a bonfire, he can’t help but be aware of the flame, even if he would rather not be. It’s so much easier to push it aside. Not to feel.

But what if he did?

“Mycroft?”

He swallows, not turning his head. If he doesn’t look he can almost pretend that he wouldn’t like Gregory to sit even closer. “Hm?” 

“You aren’t doing that mind palace thing, are you?”

Mycroft huffs a low chuckle. “No, that is more my brother’s strategy.”

“Alright, cause you didn’t answer my last question.”

“Apologies. I do lose myself in thought from time to time, even if it is not in a palace.” He wills himself to smile placidly as he turns. Greg’s bruise is looking worse, which is to be expected- they always look worse before they begin to heal, but he’s also looking a bit paler than he did at breakfast. Must remember to be cautious with him. He does still have a head injury. “What did you ask?”

“What we’re doing next.”

“Paperwork, I think.” He smiles when Lestrade makes a face. “Don’t worry- research, this time, not your usual forms. If we are to dig into our prospective boy and girl, we must do it out of the eye of anyone who can pass it back to them. So it must be you and I.”

Greg sighs. “Joy.”

They drive in silence for a while. Mycroft can feel Greg’s eyes occasionally burning on the side of his cheek. It takes a significant degree of effort not to turn to him, not to let that lovely warm gaze wash over him. 

Yet his heart won’t stop racing.

“Mycroft?”

He swallows. Dare he risk a glance? “Yes?”

“How are your hands feeling?”

“Ah- as well as can be expected. Thank you.” Glancing down, he turns them over in his lap. The bandage has undone one one side, quietly unravelling. He reaches for it with his other hand, ready to tuck it in as best he can, only to be intercepted by a broad, warm hand that is not his own.

“Let me.”

Mycroft freezes as Greg gently rewraps it, just watching his fingers work. “Probably didn’t quite wrap it right last night…. Sorry that I’m not much of a decent nurse.”

“You are… better suited than I.” Why does his mouth feel so dry?

“Yeah? Should I tell John to sign me up for some courses?”

“I believe you would miss chasing the criminal element, Greg.” Mycroft looks over without thinking and finds himself adrift, staring with an increasing sense of warmth on his cheeks into a fond, open smile and earnest eyes.

“I might. John manages to do both though. S’possible.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” 

Greg smiles further, looking pleased with himself.

It takes Mycroft far longer than he’s willing to admit to realize that Greg hasn’t let go of his hand, even though he’d done with the bandage. That they are, in fact, just sitting in the back of a car, with his hand resting in Greg’s, the warmth of it soothing even through the bandage.

This time he doesn’t let go.

Chapter Text

Lefty lies on the bed of her show apartment, the one that reflects so little of her true nature, and thinks. Strategy must be carefully considered. Every tactical advantage weighed. Detriments are to be eliminated. As she cuts the strings keeping Moran above water, she must equally reinforce her own position. Even cut off, even alone, he will be challenging to manage. 

Data will be her castle, her fortress.

To secure it she must operate on multiple fronts. At least until she has the piece she most desires in her hands. Queen takes queen. 

As she slides through financial systems, managing all those little fiddly bits that shall make up her foundation, she taps through to a number she had very cautiously saved, thinking it might again prove useful. 

Of course she was right.

“I understand you have been looking for a particular piece of… information. I believe we can make an exchange.”

She listens for a while, red-tinted lips pursed together. “Of course. Why don’t we meet?”

Needy. They’re always so needy. It’s why she doesn’t bother with ordinary people. Boring. Tragically boring. Jim would never bother with this reach-out. It would be beneath him.

She will manage everything herself. No task is too petty. There will be no underlings when there is something of import- she can do it herself. Why bother with them? She is the most trustworthy person she knows. There is little point in outsourcing except when one needs to distance oneself. As is the case here.

“We can meet in public, but it will be challenging to speak in specifics… of course, if you are willing to risk someone hearing about-”

The voice on the phone grows excitable, surging in volume. Lefty purses her lips but does not let her frown show in her voice.

“Perfect. I shall see you there.”

As she hangs up, she watches the shift in light from incoming emails. Interview requests for Richard Brook, for Jim, have been flooding in. Perhaps it might be time to arrange for Kitty Riley to write another article, this time about poor sweet Richard, trapped under lock and key, viciously injured under mysterious circumstances and still being called by the wrong name. Oh, isn’t it a tragedy how the even the security services believe Sherlock’s lies now- haven’t you heard he has a brother? Abusing his power, clearly….

Yes. That should do nicely.

 

 

***

 

Mycroft looks down at his hand. He can’t stop looking at it, so nicely tucked into Greg’s, a thumb that is not his own tracing warm lines along the spans of unbandaged skin. It doesn’t quite seem real.

He should say something, shouldn’t he? That would be the done thing. Something encouraging- make it clear that he is enjoying this, that Greg is welcome to- welcome to anything at all, really, and doesn’t that thought make him blush. He has to turn away to the window to compose himself again, ensuring his cheeks are not overly flaming. Thoughts of Greg, gently easing him into bed- helping him with his buttons, his shirts, for the sake of his wounded hands. Perhaps- perhaps even his trousers….

Swallowing it down does little to actually bury the impulse, but it’s not as though he wishes to have a rambunctious snog in the back of a car while he can scarcely feel Gregory properly due to the blasted bandages. 

A little self-control would be useful.

He clears his throat. “Greg, I-” A quiet buzz in his pocket cuts him off into a frown. “For goodness sake,” he mutters, trying to slip his hand between the seat belt and the fabric of his jacket and getting it stuck again.

“Here- can I?” 

Mycroft barely trusts himself to nod, but Greg is gentle as he frees Mycroft’s hand and sets it back in his lap, retrieving the phone quickly with his own currently far defter fingers. “S’John. You want me to hold it for you, or-”

“Speakerphone is fine, thank you.” He swallows again as the phone connects. “Hello, John. Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, just- m’not sure if you’ve already heard from your people, but they think Sherlock might wake up in the next day or so. Seems to be on the verge of coming out of it.”

“God, John, that’s great news!”

Mycroft can hear the small pause as John takes in that he’s on with both of them. “Hi, Greg.”

“Hey mate. So he’s looking alright, then?”

“I think it’s about as good as we can expect. Mike’s been up, says everything looks like it’s healing the way it’s meant to, and I’m inclined to agree.”

“Very good. I do hope you are prepared for him to be an utter nightmare while he is healing- he does not like having to wait, nor offer himself time to heal.”

“Shocking. Yeah, I’m ready. Just tell your people to keep me stocked in coffee and we’ll be fine.” There is another pause on the line, behind which Mycroft can just make out the low beep of monitors. “You two, are, ah, looking into the sniper, yeah? Any news there?”

Mycroft’s eyes drift unbidden to Greg, who is looking back at him almost as though he is checking to see what they should share. Is he unsure if any of our findings would cause Doctor Watson more distress? It is possible. Greg seems to be a remarkable individual when it comes to emotional insights. “We have determined it is likely Moriarty has a romantic partner, and possibly a rather devoted follower. It is quite possible one of them is our sniper, particularly given the… extremely delicate nature of the shot. The sniper is skilled, obviously, but attempting to cause the least amount of damage to Moriarty that they could speaks to some degree of loyalty, if not affection. Lestrade and I shall be reviewing records as soon as we are back in London, and should we find anything of note we will get you the information immediately. In the meantime, my people will be ensuring no unauthorized persons gain access to Moriarty.” He can almost sense John rolling his eyes even as he feels Greg’s gaze land on him, silently chastising him for failing to use his Christian name. “We don’t need him giving orders from his bed.”

“Are you holding up alright, John?” Greg asks, likely preventing John from muttering something homicidal about Moriarty. “Get any sleep?”

“Heh. Well. A bit. Enough. Not that you’ve got room to talk- aren’t you both supposed to be recuperating, not running off outside of London chasing leads?”

Mycroft lightly clears his throat. “The incapacity of my hands has not deterred my brain, Doctor Watson-”

“An’ they said I’m not concussed!” Greg adds indignantly.

“Right- listen, Greg, no offense, but you’re meant to have followups on that for a reason. Mycroft, does he look alright? No dizziness, no confusion, nothing like that?”

Mycroft glances over, facing a very indignant Lestrade, who does look a bit pale, and perhaps a bit tired, but the massive bruise on his cheek is likely not helping matters much with creating a cheery, bright-eyed appearance. 

However, if there is anything he has learned from minding Sherlock, it is that honestly in medical issues is terribly important. “We did have a few stumbles last night.”

Greg scoffs, but John is quick to interject, his doctoral concern mixing with his solder’s tendency to order. “Greg, you’ve got to take that seriously. You can finish work today so long as you’re sitting- paperwork and the like- but come back tonight or tomorrow, and let Mike or I have a look at you.”

“It’s fine, m’not-”

“Yeah, I’m not taking any arguments on that on that, you’re coming in. Mycroft, you’ll bring him, yeah?”

Mycroft suppresses a smile as Greg grumbles beside him. “Yes, Doctor Watson, I think that would be wise.” 

“Good. Keep an eye out, both of you, okay? Be safe.”

The sound of Greg’s grumbling eases instantly as Mycroft finds his hand again and quietly puts his own back into it. “We shall, John, thank you.”

 

***

 

In the waiting room that has been converted to something akin to a war room, Anthea strolls behind a set of laptop screens, watching a team of analysts work. Much of this work- the very particular parts of this work, the ones that relate to Sherlock in specifics the rest of the security services need not be aware of- those cannot be trusted to anyone but a select hand-picked few. 

At the very top of that list is herself. 

These analysts are combing through data on snipers, British and otherwise. That facet of events is known within the wider security services, there is no reason to hide it from them. No one should be inclined to dig too deeply into their interest there, even if Moriarty does have moles in the wider services, as both Mycroft and herself expect he does.

But as they work, she is digging through other data quietly on her phone. The international assassins ensconced around Baker Street must be handled with a great deal of tact and silence. Foreign powers tend to look down on the elimination of their citizens on foreign soil, regardless of whether the individual in question is there to deliver flowers or a fatal shot with a silenced pistol.

Fortunately or not, the data Mycroft had earlier acquired on them, now further augmented with her own research, does not indicate any of them might be the sniper in question. These are close-up extraction agents, meant to carry out strategic break-ins, data hacking, and murder, as the job requires.

It’s a bit of a conundrum. So many players circling around Sherlock. Circling around them all, really, surrounding the people who try to keep chaos at bay. 

Sherlock had said it on the roof- she’d been able to tell, reading his lips at a distance. The side of the angels. It made her wonder who exactly he meant. It wouldn’t be her. It wouldn’t be Mycroft, he would be the first to say so. John Watson? Perhaps, if one accounted angels as those who can execute a murderer through two windows across the distance of a building. The justice of the heavens, if such a thing exists- but Anthea is certain John would dispute it.

No, of all of them, the closest to angelic would be Lestrade, which is why she has been more than happy to encourage Mycroft that way. If either of them had any idea how they looked at each other they would be horrified, but god knows they’ve been through enough. Both of them could use a touchstone of someone loving to come home to at night. 

One can hope.

“Ma’am?”

Andrew, who has been exiled from the strategy room as punishment for his inattentiveness at 221b, peers through the door. She levels a stony gaze at him that invites him to very cautiously continue.

“There is, ah- a very persistent woman downstairs. Came in through forensics so our people didn’t catch her right away. She’s, um….”

He doesn’t have to say intimidating. But then again Andrew thinks everyone is intimidating. It’s a wonder he passed his field exams. 

“Very well. Let us see if she is a problem.” She gestures for him to walk on, and he scurries ahead, her clipping along just behind in her heels. “What is she claiming to be? Tabloid?”

“Uh- no, ma’am, she’s ah- it’s her byline, on all those news stories, ma’am. The ones about Richard Brook.”

Anthea’s eyes sharpen. Kitty Riley. Interesting. So Moriarty’s network has managed to tip his little media machine about his presence. 

Perhaps that will be useful. Reporters are notoriously difficult to deal with, always willing to martyr themselves for the names of their sources so interrogation is typically a lost cause, but Anthea might be able to extract something of use without Kitty’s knowledge. 

“She entered through forensics?”

“Yes ma’am. Reportedly she was in conversation with a, ah, Philip Anderson. He… assumed she was new and didn’t see any issues in her questions.”

“He was flirting.”

“That is… likely, ma’am, yes.”

Anthea rolls her eyes. Some things never change. “And?”

“A Doctor Hooper overheard the conversation and called Doctor Stamford to ask him to alert our team. She then proceeded to lock Mr. Anderson and Ms. Riley in the laboratory by engaging the biohazard alert system and utilized the PA system to play music at a great enough volume that further information could not be divulged.”

Anthea’s lip twitches. Oh, I like her. “What was her choice?”

“Pardon?”

“In music.” 

“Oh. Ah- ABBA. Ma’am.”

Her lip twitches again. I definitely like her. “Alright. Let’s sort out what Ms. Riley knows.”

When they reach the lower levels of St. Bart’s Anthea permits herself a brief smile as she catches the tones of Gimme Gimme Gimme echoing in a muffled fashion off the not-quite-soundproofed laboratory walls. “Doctor Hooper?”

The woman, petite and so young looking, turns with a vague look of surprise. “Oh- yes. You’re, um- you work with Sherlock’s brother?”

“Yes. Apologies if we startled you.”

“Oh- no, it’s just… no one ever uses my title. Sort of forget I have one, I think.”

“They shouldn’t. You’ve done a great deal of highly competitive training.”

“But it’s still- you know, sort of a junior doctor.”

“I’ll note you did say doctor, at the end there.”

 Molly blinks. “Right. Um.” She nods through the lab window, where she’s apparently been keeping an eye on Anderson and Kitty as they glare back with their fingers in their ears. “So- he’s an idiot, and she was asking loads of stuff she shouldn’t have been.”

“Do you remember any specifics?”

“I think she was trying to get him to say what floor they’re on. Sherlock and. You know. The other one.” Molly rather pointedly looks away. Anthea shuffles through her mental files. Oh, yes. They dated. That’s unfortunate. 

“Did he tell her?”

“He’s not meant to know, but yeah, I think he did- it’s hard, even with all of your people floating about- I mean you basically closed half a floor, people are going to realize it’s either royalty or, like. Spy stuff.”

“Of course.” That’s not a problem, in and of itself. Often it allows them to provide strategic leaks of data- and of course they would move Sherlock and Moriarty days before reopening the floor, just to ensure no one was paying too close attention to any ambulances departing that day. Anthea watches them a minute longer before nodding to Andrew. “You’re on guard at the door. Doctor Hooper, if you will kindly shut off the music… I’d like it if you would join me.”

She squeaks, ponytail bouncing. “Me? Oh, I’m not-”

“You know Philip Anderson, I just want you to be able to tell me if anything else seems off, alright? You seem to have good instincts for that.”

“Alright, sure. Yeah.”

Anthea offers her a brief, reassuring smile and marches through the door.

 

***

 

Sebastian runs through the floor plans for St. Bart’s as though he’s staging a military op. In a way, he is. Hostage rescue, extraction of a resource, hostile forces, bystanders. It’s all the same, really. Just a different setting.

He’ll need to do a dry run.

Hospitals- teaching hospitals especially- are easy to infiltrate, to an extent. New faces are not unexpected, a white coat is all the pass you need to get behind the first lines of defense. But Mycroft Holmes has people upstairs, no doubt people who would be very close to Sherlock, and if he knows the security services, as he does, he’d expect Jim to be nearby. It’s easier to share security than split them up, let them cover each other additionally. 

There’s a bit of insurance he has to see to first- namely, that the Iceman’s team is not entirely incompetent, and he can only risk so much visibility of his face. But as hospitals tend to to frown on balaclavas, he makes a few other aesthetic changes. He lightens his hair, adding a few carefully whitened strands, which ages him a fair bit. All temporary, of course- Jim never likes it when Sebastian messes with his hair. Glasses, designed to interfere with cameras, making them buzz and flicker with mild static. Not enough to raise alarms, just enough to make some security tech complain about the shoddy equipment. It’ll have to do.

Right, so. Step one- lab coat.

That’s easy- he goes in first as a worried family member, he’s heard so-and-so was taken here, can they check please? And after he gets the no he is expecting he makes a show of being on the phone, ensuring that his presence becomes like the furniture of the room, expected and unimportant, circling closer and quieter toward the door until he is able to slip through it.

The laundry is easy to locate, and he swipes a coat without issue. Really, they ought to start guarding laundries at this point. If he went by films that’s how nearly every major robbery occurs- someone in a uniform that doesn’t belong to them. 

Step two- access pass. Technology has not left St. Bart’s behind, not at all- like many major hospitals their staff now have to swipe between areas, passing through a card reader. There are ways to dodge that, of course, but it will be easier if he has a pass. 

Standard ways of acquiring such an item require speed, because it might be noticed that they are missing sooner: picking pockets, usually, which does not work at all if the person whose pocket you just picked is about to walk through a door that requires their own card to access. 

It’s better to find one that won’t be moving for a while.

He moves toward surgery. The locker room there is adjacent to the scrub room, and it is likely that many of the surgeons do not take their cards in with them. He’ll be guessing a bit, but if he’s very lucky he can slip back down and drop the card in a corner later, so even if the one he ends up with has noticed it’s missing they’ll just assume it was dropped.

He plucks up the most innocuous card he can find, trading his lab coat for scrubs. Thomas Price. Hopefully no one who knows Nurse Price will be looking too closely. 

Sebastian would really hate to have to hide a body today.

The moment he reaches the correct floor he can feel it. There’s a sort of shift in atmosphere, a change in the very air that breaks hospital from clandestine. 

God. He’d missed this. The adrenaline that comes from reading a room, wondering if anyone knows what you’re there to do. Wondering if your identity has been broken yet. Wondering how many cameras are recording right now. 

Wondering how many people here he could kill before they get a shot off.

He smiles amiably as he walks into the hall, pacing down it like he’s absolutely allowed up here, even though he’s noting the camera positions and carefully keeping his face off-center. Nodding to the obvious security is helpful, it shows he knows they’re meant to be there and that he isn’t intimidated. The layout is clear enough- there is a waiting room entirely cordoned off, a few patient rooms that look like they’re for rotational security to sleep in- and two rooms that seem to be well guarded.

Have to guess.

Jimmy or Sherlock. What’ll he do if it’s Sherlock? He could always smother the man with a pillow. That would certainly save him a lot of trouble later on.

If only it would draw a bit less attention.

He takes a guess, approaching the guards at the door closer to the elevators, the room he would deem harder to protect, at a glance. “Hey- I’m just supposed to check his fluid levels, is that alright? Won’t be a mo.”

They nod him in with little fanfare and he wonders what karma he’s traded to make that this easy- until he goes in and the door closes on him, Sherlock Holmes, and John Watson sitting in a chair by the bed.

Well, fuck.

For a brief moment he thinks he’s in the clear- Watson is so still he might be sleeping, Sebastian can just slip right back out-

“What do you need?” 

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Watson is an actual doctor. This is going to be a problem. He reaches into the back of his mind, all the times he’s been stabbed or stitched, and casts a prayer up to whatever god of assholes and bastards is listening. “Just checking his fluids.”

He paces carefully around the bed, shooting a couple discreet glances at Holmes before reaching up to look at the saline and trying not to exhale too obviously when he realizes he won’t have to actually try and change out the drip. 

Holmes looks bad off. Good. Sebastian’s eyes slide to Watson. He’s not quite looking up, but he can feel the quiet, burning volcano in him. Sebastian is supposed to kill him- Jim had said, if anything were to happen to him, or if Sherlock refused, the targets must all fall. Ashes, ashes, they all fall down. Sebastian hopes he’ll be forgiven for taking his own initiative with this one. It’s something he hadn’t quite been able to grasp, looking at John only through the end of a scope- at range, Watson is unassuming. Oatmeal jumpers and pleasant little smiles, despite the incident with his gun and the cabby.

Up close he’s a different animal.

He channels roles he’s played before, polite and kind and caring, driving the killer down as far as he can. John can’t sense that side of him, not if Sebastian wants to get out of here in one piece.

Of everyone he’s seen so far, John Watson is the most deadly man in this wing. Besides himself, of course. But he has no doubt if push came to shove, even though he has at least a head on the small doctor, Watson would push back like a hunting terrier. The sort that, if he ran out of weapons, would bite.

It’s not something he’s inclined to test.

“Didn’t mean to intrude.” Shouldn’t say anything. Should just shut the fuck up and- “Do you need anything? Coffee? Tea?” Fuck. Self-control has never been his strong suit. It’s probably something that caught Jim’s eye, but that had been the fun sort of chaos. Killing. Maiming. Punching someone without warning. Sadly it occasionally applies to his mouth as well. 

Watson shakes his head, his eyes still on Sherlock. Lovers, then? Not so different, are we, doctor. “No- thanks.”

Well, a bit of cordiality will serve him. Courteous people often fade into the background. Rudeness is remembered. “Keeping guard, are you?”

Watson’s mouth shifts, a smile flashing briefly across before the serious look returns. “Something like that.”

“Well. Good luck to you on that, Doctor Watson.”

 

***

 

“Philip, sit down or I’ll have to consider bringing someone in who can take responsible charge of you. Your wife, for instance. Or Sergeant Donovan. Both?”

Anderson stomps into a corner, petulant and glaring, and huffs back into a chair. 

Anthea turns a cool gaze back to Kitty Riley. “Now. As I was saying, Ms. Riley-”

“Richard is citizen of this country with rights, you can’t just hold him here-”

“And no one is saying that Richard Brook is present at this hospital.” Anthea holds Kitty’s gaze, neither of them smiling, long enough that she can feel Molly start to fidget on her lab stool. “Regardless of any journalistic desire, you cannot interfere with patient care.”

Kitty glares, crossing her arms. “You aren’t a doctor. You won’t even give your name, or whatever job you’d pretend to have, so I don’t see why I should listen to you. You’re some sort of- snake, part of this attempt to keep Sherlock Holmes from the day in court he deserves for what he did to Richard.”

“Jim.” Molly’s voice is soft, but there’s an undercurrent of strength to it that draws even Anthea’s attention. “He was Jim for me. And Richard for you. And Moriarty for Sherlock.”

“I have evidence, I have his CV-”

“You have what he wants you to see. That’s what you’re accusing Sherlock of, isn’t it? Of making it all up. There’s plenty of evidence for his side too, by the way- I’ve seen it. I’ve verified it. Your Richard? He’s the one making it all up. Just like he did for me.” Molly shrugs, and the small gesture contains more disdain than anything else could. “You aren’t special, Kitty.”

There’s a brief flash of anger in Kitty’s eyes that’s so dark and feral that Anthea takes a half-step closer to Molly on the off-chance she’s about to need to break up a fight. Kitty doesn’t move, though, she just runs her tongue over her teeth. “Alright. You believe what you want. But when I prove he’s here- and I will- I really hope the both of you will enjoy being raked over the coals.” She stands and stomps toward the door. 

“Ms. Riley, you can’t-”

“What, are you going to detain me too? Shove me in whatever locked room you’ve got him in? Just try it.” Andrew is nearly hit by the flying door, jumping out of the way at the last moment. Anthea gives him a nod to continue after Kitty, ensuring she actually exits the building. They’ll need to put surveillance on her. Cautiously. Journalists can be such a nightmare.

Her eyes slide slowly back to Molly, who seems to be staring rather pensively at the dark surface of the lab table. Hm. “You wouldn’t do badly in interrogations.”

“Oh.” Molly laughs nervously. “You’re just being nice. I- shouldn’t have said anything-”

“No, that was good. You pushed her buttons. That’s good information to have- what buttons people have. Where the weak points are.” Anthea considers thoughtfully. Molly is on their safe persons list. The side of the angels, as it were. “Would you like to see him?”

She squeaks, eyes widening. “Jim? No, no, I don’t think-”

“No. Sherlock.” Anthea tilts her head, watching Molly’s face. “You haven’t been up to visit, even though you could. You have clearance, you arranged Lazarus.”

“It’s, um.” She looks to a cabinet, reaches in and starts to organize it, turning the labels to face out. “You don’t really need me, I’m sure. Better to keep out of the way.”

“Because John is there?”

Molly’s hand pauses briefly, just for the slightest fraction of a second, then keeps going. “He’s not conscious, anyway.”

“And it’s complicated.”

This time her hand doesn’t pause. Interesting, that. A bit more of steel in her will than she otherwise lets on. “Yes. It’s complicated.”

“Mm. Well. Come up and visit me sometime, then. And then you can decide.” Anthea smiles. “I think you might be an asset we’ve overlooked, actually.”

Molly shoots a surprised look over. “Me?”

“You know them both, Molly. Personally.  How many people can say that?” She steps closer, putting her hand on Molly’s narrow shoulder. “Come up. We’ll talk about it. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s complicated. That only means you’re human.”

A mildly confused smile flits across Molly’s face. “Um. Alright.”

“Good.” Anthea drifts toward the door, her heels tapping on tile. “Make it soon, if you can. These things are always better managed early.”

Molly blinks as the door begins to close. “…kay. Um. Thank you!”

 

***

 

Greg doesn’t want to let go.

He has to. They have to get out of the car, after all, and he’s sure Mycroft wouldn’t want to walk up the path to the house hand-in-hand. But god he wants to. His heart feels like it’s singing, pounding away happily in his chest. It’s almost enough to make him light-headed.

“Can we do all the research from here?”

Mycroft nods over his shoulder as he unlocks the door. “It may be safest. With two adversaries in play it would be most prudent to keep ourselves secure until we know more about their identities.”

“Sensible.”

The door opens, yielding to Mycroft’s hall. In Greg’s pleasantly comfortable mind, he almost imagines it as a wider manor entry, the sort that ought to be filled with servants calling Mycroft ‘sir’ and taking their coats. The thought makes him giggle. 

“Something amusing?”

Greg closes the door, smiling and shaking his head. He’s just a bit giddy, having finally gotten up the nerve to creep closer to Mycroft, to hold his hand. To think of kissing him, and perhaps hope it might be reciprocated. He’d thought about it in the car- but the car isn’t the right place for a first kiss. Not with Mycroft Holmes. “Will we be researching all day, d’you think?”

“I suppose that shall depend on how forthcoming the data is.” 

“Right.” 

They hang up their coats, Mycroft walking off toward the study as Greg pauses, feeling off-balance again, though this time it doesn’t bother him much as he catches himself on the sideboard, his feet unsteady. The light shifts in the hall, all romantic and dim, as though the room’s been suddenly filled with candles, and Greg sees nothing wrong with this. Glowy. Like it knows that he’s feeling all warm and comfortable. 

And tired, actually. 

“S’just the head talking… all those healing bruises, innit.”

His fingers reach out, tracing the lines of a candle he doesn’t remember being there a moment ago, passing through a fire with no heat and watching the imaginary flame spark and die, the glow settling into spots in his vision. A distant alarm bell chimes somewhere in the back of his head when he presses his fingers down and he realizes they’re actually going through it, that there’s nothing there to connect with, but that’s only enough to make his heart race faster. “What….”

“Greg?” Mycroft is down the hall, and Greg sees something flicker over his face. He’s moving, moving swiftly, all handsome in his battle suit. “Greg-”

Greg feels so warm and affectionate, really, like he could fall into Mycroft’s eyes and stay there…. Or Mycroft’s arms, because he’s closer to the floor than he remembers being before, tilting into Mycroft’s chest, the taller man’s arms under him and both of them folding lower-

“Greg? Are you alright? Tell me what’s happening.”

“Mm? Course I am, I’m not concussed, I’m…” His hands reach out, reaching for Mycroft’s face. “You’re jus’ pretty….” His fingertips brush over Mycroft’s cheek, and the look of shock he gets is enough to shift the whirl inside him. He inhales, and realizes it hurts, it hurts, somewhere deep inside him, slowly washing out to the tips of his fingers and his toes. Wrong. Wrong. Something is wrong. “M’croft? I don’t- I’m-” The soft light is fading, steadily, fading into dark, and Greg feels a faint flicker of fear as his biology resists. His fingers curl, hooking onto Mycroft’s collar. Hanging on, curled in Mycroft’s lap.

“I know- I know, I’m getting you help- Fuck. Anthea, I need medical immediately. No, for- yes, immediately.

John’s going to be mad, his mind whispers. Told him. Told him I would.... But nothing feels like it’s working, even his mouth feels too dry, his tongue too foreign. “S’just- s’posed to tell you-” Fuck. Panic slips in between the fading, warm haze, just like the moment a few drinks turns to blacking out. It’s a slog to even get words out, and his hands- his hands let go after all, gently drifting to the ground, all that candlelight he’d pictured rapidly fading. “Fuck- Myc….”

“Gregory Lestrade, don’t you dare fall asleep on me. You will stay conscious.” 

 

“Greg- stay awake- they’re coming-”

 

“Greg!”

Chapter Text

 

For the duration of the ride to St. Bart’s, Mycroft is nearly catatonic. 

The medical team that Anthea has sent is meant for discreet transport of security, military, or political persons to hospitals. It’s is an ambulance, even if the outside appears to be nothing more than a black van. 

Mycroft is asked once to relinquish Gregory’s hand. It is the only time he moves at all during the trip, and the technician who inquires is faced with a glare so stern and unwavering and bereft that she has the vague sense that if she asks again her skin may begin to spontaneously melt off.

They work around him after that.

The hospital staff finally gets him to let go. Gloved hands and masks, white coats pulling Greg away on a rolling cart. Stamford’s soft voice, guiding him to a chair. It feels, for the longest span, like his heart beat is louder than any voices around him. He tunes them out. Mycroft can’t- he cannot-

Slowly, steadily, the walls go up in his mind, slamming into blissful, echoing silence.

 

***

 

Now isn’t this convenient.  

Sebastian watches the rush as the hospital staff shifts, running down the hall. He’s been lurking in the canteen, trying to decide if it’s worth it attempting to slip into Jim’s room. 

A little chaos will be just the thing.

The guards are hovering, watching the situation with fairly nervous gazes. Now why is that? Oh…. The elder Holmes is in play, looking positively ruined as his assistant and Stamford intercede to walk him away. A flicker of rageful optimism flutters in Sebastian’s chest. Did baby brother finally die? No- he’s not quite that lucky- but he recognizes the hair as the cart is dragged into a room. The detective. Ah. Excellent work, Crawford. That will get the man hired again later. And a nice pay bump.

He schools his features into something a bit anxious, a bit sad, as he approaches security.“Hey- sorry, I’m supposed to check his fluids while the rest of the team is….” Basher glances down the hall, biting his lip a little, playing nervous. “It’ll just take a minute.”

“Yeah,” one of them waves him on with far too brief a glance, his eyes mostly still down the hall. “Go ahead. He should still be asleep.”

“Great, ta.”

Sebastian slips into the room, closing the door behind him. Jim looks- well, he’s looked better. Just a tiny little bullet wound. He’s got an IV, standard pain drip, bit of bandaging. Sleeping. Basher’s always liked him sleeping. His face relaxes. Sometimes he even looks vulnerable. 

Jim usually sleeps behind layers of protection: locks, lasers, alarms. These days, Basher considers himself one, unless Jim gotten a bit too robust with his evenings entertainments and put his favorite tiger out of commission. It’s surprising he can sleep in this sort of environment at all, but there is something to be said for the structure of rules here. No one on Mycroft’s side will kill him outright. Not if they think theres’s anything to be gained from keeping him alive. 

“Jim?”

He doesn’t move. Well, shit. Getting a fully unconscious Jim out of here is going to be much fucking harder than having his help. Okay. Today is just a trial run. He might be up by the time I can do this for real.

Only… slipping Jim out while the rest of them are all puttering around the old inspector is a tempting thought. Basher glides closer, close enough that he can reach out and brush back some of the hair that’s gotten lank and dirty since he’s been here.

He’s cuffed to the bed, of course, which makes Sebastian laugh to himself. “Letting them get kinky, Jimmy.”

A hand snaps up and grabs him about the throat, squeezing hard enough that his chuckle is choked into silence. “Basher.” Jim’s voice is a little hoarse, like he hasn’t been speaking much. “I believe we have something we need to chat about.”

Sebastian’s voice rasps into a squeak, but he forces it- this is hardly the first time. “Sure thing, boss.”

 

***

 

Anthea is beginning to think her luck is wearing out.

Mycroft’s name and a brief suggestion of her credentials, as his assistant, can acquire her entrance almost anywhere. Hospitals are one of the exceptions. Nurses, above all, are quite loathe to bend the rules for someone claiming importance, even when it comes to national security. How many people must say they are, after all? Her people have already caught three journalists of merit even more questionable than Kitty Riley’s attempting to slip in to Sherlock and Moriarty’s newly private wing.

It seems adding yet another patient to the mix may be a step too far, and frankly if she doesn’t get some sort of answer soon she’s not sure they won’t be ending up with yet another invalid in the form of a very distraught Holmes.

“I assure you, Inspector Lestrade’s status is a matter of national-”

“Listen, ma’am, you’re not family. I know you’ve got your special permissions, but there’s nothing to tell you yet. Wait in your lounge. We’ll let you know when there’s anything to relay.” 

“You’re, uh- aren’t you with Mr. Holmes?” She turns, surprised to see that it is not a nurse but Sally Donovan. “Are you… you’re here to see Greg?”

“Yes, though that is apparently proving somewhat difficult….”

“Nah, I’ve got this.” Sally moves and Anthea follows, a bit stunned that Sally of all people should be sweeping in with a look of stern confidence. “Patricia- she’s with me, love, ta. It’s a coppers thing, you know,” she adds as they pass through the previously forbidden doors. “Cops can always get in to see each other. S’part of the code. Specially here.”

“Oh?” Anthea is so profoundly relieved she can scarcely trust herself to speak. Sally walks like she knows the way. There’s something in her confidence that’s easy to latch on to. 

“Yeah. Cause of the forensics and pathology. They know us an’all.” They pause outside Greg’s room, watching through glass as a number of people work on him, not quite looking at each other. Anthea expects she knows far more about Sergeant Donovan than Sally has ever learned about her- just a shadowy figure at the side of another shadowy figure inclined to show up and steal her crime scenes. “So, you’re, uh.” Sally glances at her sideways. “You assist Sherlock’s brother, yeah? It’s… Andrea?”

“Anthea.”

“Right.” The sergeant shifts her weight. “Is he, um. Alright, then? Your Holmes?”

“He’s… concerned for Inspector Lestrade’s welfare.” To put it mildly.

“How did he even hear? I mean- I just got the call myself and it was pure luck I was even in the area.”

Ah. Anthea registers it. Of course. Sally is his emergency contact. He would have changed it just after his divorce- Anthea imagines John Watson is on the list as well, but Greg wouldn’t have put him first- he would’ve seen it as an imposition to bother anyone with it. He figured if he was injured it would be at work. Sally would already know. No one else to worry about it. “Inspector Lestrade was included in a threat made to Sherlock, just before- I’m sure you’ve heard about the shooting.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I thought about calling Greg to see, but, uh….”

“He’s on leave.”

“Yeah.” 

Sally runs a hand over her hair. Anthea feels a bit sympathetic- she looks… guilty. Partner. Wishes she had been there. “Mr. Holmes was with him. When he collapsed.”

“He was?” Sally looks surprised for only half a second before huffing a laugh. “Course he was. Still trying to help the fr- Sherlock.”

“Mmm.” They watch a bit longer, waiting for one of the nurses to exit so Sally can ask about his status. “Does… Inspector Lestrade have any family that should be called?” Embarrassingly, the thought hadn’t even occurred to her until just now- bringing in family is hardly ever an issue in Anthea’s world, because most of the time family cannot be informed anyway. When the worst happens they’re told their loved one died in some sort of tragic accident. Car wrecks, usually. Perhaps it’s a bad idea- Mycroft would hardly be able to cope with seeing Greg if there’s a whole cluster of Lestrades that will all wonder why he’s here, why Greg matters so much to him.

“No one local- parents emigrated to Australia a while back, but they’ve been notified. He’s got some siblings up north somewhere, but I think they’ve all got kids- probably couldn’t just drop everything and come….” 

“Ah,” she says softly. 

“It might be a while. I’ll, uh… gonna grab a cuppa. Do you want anything?”

More hospital coffee is likely a bad idea for her digestion, but any port in a storm…. “Yes. Black is fine. Thank you, Sergeant Donovan.” 

Anthea watches as they work. Greg seems almost to be asleep. There are tubes running beside him, into him, and the system whirs gently, keeping him going. Just hang on. Hang on until we can solve this.

 

***

 

His eyes do not truly open- he knows this. He rarely employs this sort of device, it is far more Sherlock’s fashion, but it does have its uses, particularly when he needs to shut everything out. 

This manor he has constructed in his mind is spartan. The walls are bare, the rooms vast but unoccupied. He has not assigned memories here. Not yet. Here he can simply lie in his thoughts, and let himself cry- on the inside. Only on the inside.

Strong hands wrap around him and he shakes within them, sobbing. 

“Mycroft. No one’s here. If you want to be not alright for a sec. S’just me.”

“You’re not real,” he mutters, not daring to look at whatever his mind palace has spawned to incarnate Greg Lestrade. He buries his face in his hands. “You aren’t real and I can’t help you.”

“Always believed in Sherlock, Mycroft. I believe in you too.” A hand rifles through his hair, soft and tender, exactly as he’d always imagined it would feel. Will he be so fortunate as to feel it in truth? “You’re too hard on yourself, you know. Need to take better care.”  

“You slipped my pain pills into my pocket in the car.”

“I did, yeah. Maybe give yourself permission to take one, love.”

“I don’t know that I deserve it, Greg.”

“You’re brilliant, love. But you’re human. Body doesn’t run on brilliance.” The hand withdraws from his hair, and he feels his memory-Greg glide around him, walking on down the hall. Mycroft chances a look up- this is Greg as he was when they first met, with his rumpled suit and two day’s unshaved stubble, but smiling like Mycroft has offered him the whole of the moon. 

“Greg- I’m sorry, I can’t- I cannot just step in and make this right-”

“Well you won’t be a doctor overnight, love, no. But it’s okay, Mycroft. I trust you.”

He walks on, leaving Mycroft and the sound of his own breathing as he pulls his shuddering sobs into a more even keel. Trust me with what, Greg? What can I do?

Piece by piece, his thoughts start to coalesce. There is the medical side- symptoms and such- though the doctors are better equipped. They will be running tests. He’s missing something. Something useful, something- if he can just focus, breathe and focus, he can figure it out, he always figures it out-

But even here he is not entirely alone in his thoughts. No, his subconscious, for that is what it must be, insists on tormenting him. Which apparently comes in the form of James Moriarty tapping on his window.

“Go away,” he orders that part of his mind. It should obey him- it is a testament to how unsettled he is that it refuses to behave.

“Oh, poor Mycroft. Aren’t you quite the damsel in distress. And where is Prince Charming? Oh, that’s right. Dying, because you were too busy thinking about kissing those soft lips to even consider a poison apple.”

“You are a manifestation of my own mind, and you will depart!”

“Mmmmm- no, don’t think I will.” Jim raps his nails against the glass, the sound sharp and too loud.

Mycroft inhales. Think. Thinking is the only thing you are good for. Think! “If you are part of my own mind, then my mind’s subconscious is attempting to relay something of use.”

“Might be, might be. Assuming that your brain is working right at all.” Moriarty spins his finger in the air beside his ear. “Might’ve cracked! And if the British Government has a great fall I just can’t see anyone putting that egg back together again.” He scrunches his nose. “Might be for the best, really.”

“You play games. Riddles. Puzzles. Set the rules and break them.”

“Right. Changeable, me. And?”

“Games have rules.”

Moriarty leans on the windowsill, shredding a flower and scattering the petals. “Rules are boring.”

“Yes, but.” Mycroft thinks, pulling his brother and everything that makes up his knowledge of Sherlock into the manor library. Barren shelves suddenly encompass volumes, all carefully labeled. Archived slides and vials and tests fill a counter. In the center, set on a reading stand, is a leather-bound tome reading Sherlock and Moriarty. “You broke the rules for me- an outlier for an outlier. Sherlock played the game. He was given rules.” 

“As I said. Rules are bor-ing.” Moriarty’s nails scrape on the glass. His fist strikes it, suddenly, the glass cracking with the same sad noise it made when the bullet struck it at the Diogenes. Mycroft huffs. Only in my mind would the windows still be bullet proof. Moriarty slaps it again, snapping his attention back. “It’s only fun to watch rules when they break. Just like you and your precious little club.”

“Yes, but you want to feel special for breaking them. You want Sherlock to break his.” Mycroft turns where he stands, eyeing the tiling on the floor as it shifts black and white. “To be broken, the rules must exist to begin with.” He stares, frowning. The floor is almost…

A chessboard. 

“Gregory was a target, so he is part of the game.” The manor begins to fold, vanishing back into his mind as he shifts in the real world, taking Moriarty’s snarling face with it. “I must learn the rules if I am to win.”

His eyes snap open and he stands, startling the orderly who’s no doubt been assigned to watch him. Anthea doesn’t flinch, but she looks up from her phone with a bit of worried concern in her eye that is quickly tucked away. 

“Status?”

“It’s a poison of some sort. They’re running tests. Nothing obvious, I’m afraid.”

“No, it wouldn’t be.” Mycroft rolls his neck, letting every bit of strength he’s ever used for political negotiations flow back into him. He’s terrified, yes. Utterly. He would prefer to run in and sit by Greg’s bedside, hold his hand and think of nothing other than what he can do to offer the man comfort. 

Comfort, however, will have to wait on information. 

“Ask Doctor Watson if he might join me, Anthea.”

“Of course, sir. Anything else?”

“Yes.” His eyes harden, and the steel of his plan flows into his spine, where it must remain. There is no other choice. “Ready Mr. Moriarty. We need to speak with him and he has to remain conscious this time.”

Her brow flicks up for merely a second before it locks back into place. “I’ll see to it, sir.”

 

***

 

“You shot me.”

“I d- did, yes. Fuck.” Sebastian can feel his eyes watering under Jim’s grip.

“Why did you do that, Basher?”

You know. You know why, you bastard. “Kind of- Jesus, can you ease up?- kind of prefer you alive, boss.”

“Funny way of showing it.”

“Then you admit it is a way to show it.”

Jim glares at him for a long while. “Setting that aside- though we are going to discuss your little transgression further later….” He eases his grip and Sebastian wheezes, trying to force himself to breathe slow. “If this is a jailbreak I must ask how you got rid of the Iceman and all his loyal little followers guarding the hall.”

“Wasn’t meant to be.” Sebastian rubs his neck. “Not yet. Scouting.”

“Boring.”

“Necessary.” He glances back toward the door. They haven’t turned yet, haven’t come in with guns raised. Still in the clear for the moment. “Thought I might have an opportunity now, but even that isn’t getting them off the door.”

“Need a bigger boom, Basher?”

“Maybe not a boom… but I have an idea, yeah. A bigger distraction.”

Jim smiles, one of his feral half-glares. “Good. Make it quick. Being here is endlessly tedious.”

“Will do.” Sebastian glances at the door again and looks down,  flicking his tongue over his lower lip.

His lover arches a brow. “Really, Basher?”

“What?”

“Don’t be sentimental.” 

“Fine. I’ll aim for a lung next time, will that make you happy?”

“Hmph.” Jim tilts his head, listening to the movement in the hall. “Better run, tiger. I’m not allowed conjugal visits.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Jim yanks him down by his shirt collar once more. “When I get out of here, we are going to ruin them, aren’t we, tiger? They’re all going to burn so prettily.”

Sebastian seizes him with a fearsome kiss to stop from hearing any more. Leave it. Why can’t you leave it? Why can’t this stupid obsession ever end? If anyone is to be killed, it must be Sherlock. He doesn’t care about the rest. Collateral damage. But Sherlock gone is the only way Jim might stand a chance of being himself again, and Sebastian would kill a thousand men to get that Jim back.

Half a minute later, his mouth feeling bruised from the force of the snog, Sebastian slips back out into the hallway and smiles pleasantly at the woman he passes, her heels aimed with purpose toward Jim’s room. Don’t worry, boss. I’ll be back.

 

***

 

“Oh, ho, well. Aren’t I a lucky boy. The tin soldier and the sentient snowman turning up to play.” Moriarty pulls a mock-surprised face that would work better if the bags under his eyes were a bit less severe and his color something a step up from pallid. “That’d be a great movie deal. How much do you think the mouse house would give me for it?”

“You trying to make up for having to go a few days without hearing the sound of your own voice?” John has his arms folded, glaring, a steady low boil set on his somewhat homicidal intentions. If this doesn’t work- if Greg… if anything were to happen- Mycroft will be more than happy to give John free reign. Homicide included. “God, that’s gotta be hard for you.”

“We make our entertainment where we can, little soldier. Speaking of, thought for sure you’d be dead by now.” He leans forward. “Are you sure you’re not? That’d be much more interesting.”

Mycroft watches closely. Having all the machines hooked up to his captive psychopath help- they’re almost like a lie detector, if one knows how to read them. The problem is, much like a proper lie detector, they can be beaten- if one is quite good at regulating their own heartbeat and ignoring pain. “Yes, I suppose that was a bit of a shock. Having a sniper turn on you- and not just turn and abandon the target, but actually shoot you- well, that must have been unexpected. But you like surprises, don’t you?” 

Moriarty’s eyes snap over, dark and flashing fury that merge seamlessly with a toothy smile. “Little brother got it worse, though, didn’t he? Otherwise he’d be the one in here. Gloating.” His eyes widen, faux-surprised again, turning back to John. “Oh, he’s not dead, is he? No- no, if he were dead, I’d be in the care of Big Brother’s favorite black bag team in a basement somewhere, gunshot wound or no. But- ooh, not looking good, is it? Well that’s fun. Always a bit of chaos in watching Mother Nature take her course.”

“Shut it,” John says bluntly, but Mycroft can see his hand flexing. They only have a limited time before he’ll need to end this, or Moriarty will be able to goad him into doing something stupid.

“Do you imagine your sniper was offered more money? We’d be happy to hire him, if that’s the case.” There it is, another flash of- something. Something not just wrathful. Hm. It’s an obvious choice to press the matter. “Oh- domestic troubles? That’s a shame. I’m given to understand a gunshot wound is typically a rather final way to exit a relationship.”

“And what would either of you know about that, hm?” Moriarty smiles his too-wide smile. “The detective’s sad puppy, following him around and wistfully hoping- that’s a tragedy, not a love story. And the Iceman- well, the moniker alone is enough to dissuade, don’t you think? I like my hearts warm. And bloody. The sort you can take a bite out of.” His head tilts, eyes narrowing in on the two of them. “You’re not telling me something,” he breathes in a low sing-song. “Oh, I wouldn’t try to play games with me, boys.”

“I assure you the only one in this room playing is you,” Mycroft says flatly. He will not give himself away on this. Not for these stakes.

“Hmmm- so I am still playing. How fun.” Moriarty’s eyes drift back to John. “Which game, Johnny boy? Should I guess?” 

“You should just tell us everything you had planned. Might be enough to keep me from coming back here without supervision.”

“So angry, little John. It’s getting boring. You know they do ther-a-py for that, don’t you?” Moriarty leans back against his thin hospital pillows. He’s calculating, Mycroft can tell. Reading himself and John as best as he’s able. This is another reason he did not want to bring John in to see him. John is an open book, remarkably free of secrets.

And in this case, he’s a also providing a bit of bait.

“They do if your boyfriend shot you too.” Mycroft had worked out a few things with John- buttons to press, if they came up, but not in specifics enough, hopefully, for Moriarty to realize he’s being guided. “Want me to get one of the hospital therapists? Sure they’d love to analyze you.” 

“Fixated on that, are you? Think I might be on the market now?” Moriarty makes a show of licking his lip as his eyes run over John. “Sure I can find a spot for you, Johnny boy, though I’m not us-u-ally a fan of sloppy seconds. Or- not so sloppy, in your case, hm?”

They spar and Mycroft watches. Watches and tries to absorb, tries to learn. John is doing well enough- he’s not an idiot, and his instincts for managing Moriarty’s attempts to lure him into doing something more violent are strong. 

But they aren’t learning much of use. The sniper and the boyfriend are the same, that is certain, but Moriarty does not seem inclined to spill the man’s name. Still thinks he’s loyal? Or unsure yet. Not certain enough to have him killed. That is interesting. It means he has the capacity to, if not care, exactly, to feel committed to someone. The sniper is a thread he doesn’t want to cut.

John is still trying though, bless him. “You’re here, Sherlock’s here- not sure what game you think you’re still playing when all the pieces are down.”

You’re not down, are you, Johnny boy? Or- ohhh, that’s what’s gotten your panties all in a twist.” He grins, squeezing his sheet and blanket like an excited child. “Inspector Lestrade. Well well. Lestrade’s little timer went tick-tick-tick and now you’re waiting for the boom.” Mycroft feels his heart clench, but he cannot show what this is doing to him. He cannot. Not if he expects to learn anything of use. “That’s a shame.”

John sighs. “What’s he been dosed with?”

“Don’t see why I should tell you. Where’s the fun in that?” He leans back further, closing his eyes. “Think it’s time for a nap. Run along, you two.”

John exchanges a look with Mycroft, nodding toward Moriarty’s IV line. “Shall I pull his painkillers?”

“Ooh, Watson. Didn’t think you were that kinky.” Moriarty winks. 

“Not yet, John.” Mycroft is already cataloguing the things Moriarty has told them without telling them. Is it enough? Please, let it be enough. He strides toward the door, John moving to follow after throwing what must be a rude gesture toward Moriarty, judging by the injured man’s chuckle. 

“Say hiiii-iii to Sleeping Beauty for me.”

The door closes to the sound of laughter.

 

***

 

They assemble something of a team in Greg’s room. John and Stamford and Molly, to speak to the medical side, Anthea and himself to analyze psychology and motive. 

Greg is so quiet. They’ve intubated him, ensured his lungs are getting air, but the tests are telling them nothing.

Please. Please. Let this be enough.

The doctors are debating types of poison via symptoms and ease of access. It’s washed over Mycroft in something of a blur as they’ve debated. He can feel Anthea watching him, from time to time. Think. Think.

“Sleeping Beauty.”

He blinks. “Fairy tales.”

“Pardon?” Stamford asks gently.

“He keeps utilizing fairy tales. The book, the children’s treats. He called Greg Sleeping Beauty.”

“Oh!” Molly perks up. “He knew it wouldn’t kill Greg, then. Not right out. He expected a coma.”

“It might be a old poison as well then,” Anthea adds. “To fit in his theme. Not a modern engineering. Nature over chemistry.”

Stamford grabs a clipboard, flipping to a blank page and starting to list. “So- belladonna?”

“Mercury,” Molly adds, “those kids were given mercury, weren’t they?”

“Wide variety of mushrooms. Hemlock too- these would all react too fast though, wouldn’t they?” John crowds in next to Stamford, looking at Greg’s chart. “He didn’t fall ill for-”

“Twenty-four hours, give or take.” Mycroft steeples his fingers in front of his nose. “Unless Moriarty managed to breach my home or knew we would find his brother, which seems unlikely- if things had gone to Moriarty’s plan he would have been targeted without knowing to reach out to the other James. It must have been before he arrived at 221b.”

“Poison plus a delaying agent?” Molly pulls a prescription pad from a cabinet to write on. “I don’t know how many of these would be widely accessible-”

Anthea waves her hand. “Assume that’s not an issue. He’s well-funded, he’d have people everywhere.”

Think. 

Mycroft lets their voices blur as they debate the efficacy of different plants-derive drugs earlier. If this were as simple as a hospital diagnosis, would Moriarty consider that too easy? His puzzles are childish and trivial, but they are puzzles. 

Oh. Perhaps….

He’s been looking at this all wrong. They are not just puzzles. They are puzzles for Sherlock. Special riddles meant to torment him more than anyone else. So….

Mycroft looks at Greg. Breathing through a tube, pallid and sweating. He lets his hand slip free while the others are occupied. Mycroft can’t manage it well, not with his bandages and Greg’s tubes, but he slides his hand in beside Greg’s all the same. I’m sorry, Greg. I should have seen… I should have known. A muscle in Greg’s forehead twitches and Mycroft brushes back a stray lock of hair without thinking.  Why. Why you?

Sherlock would not feel for Greg as he does, he wouldn’t feel like his heart had been ripped from his chest watching him collapse. Sherlock would be wroth, of course, but- 

Oh, no. It’s not about Greg, really. 

It would be about solving it. Making Sherlock solve it.

Timing.

Mycroft closes his eyes again, letting his fingers linger just beside Greg’s. He pulls himself back to the rooftop, watching his brother and Moriarty. He’d watched the video, over and over, cobbled together bits of words. 

“Okay, let me give you a little extra incentive. Your friends will die if you don’t.”

“Not just John. Everyone. Three bullets; three gunmen; three victims. There’s no stopping them now.”

“Unless my people see you jump.”

He opens the many doors of his own mind, the scene shifting like the set of a film. How would it have played? Sherlock refuses to play- a sniper kills John in front of him. Mycroft’s snipers down Moriarty as he laughs. Sherlock devastated, calling for help, sending people to warn Mrs. Hudson and Greg of shooters-

Metaphorical bullets.

Mrs. Hudson, bludgeoned in her own flat well before anyone could arrive, with half on London’s press outside, all watching without realizing it. With her goes the safety of home. 

Then why would Greg be delayed?

He’s work, really. Sherlock’s security net against drugs. Moriarty has little reason to think their relationship any deeper. 

His mental film plays on. Greg collapses, probably with Sherlock, trying to help him find the sniper or at least trying to stop him from doing something rash in the absence of John’s influence. The obfuscation of the poison must be deliberate- hiding from the doctors as well as him. So why- what about this would make Sherlock suffer, truly suffer-

Mycroft’s eyes open. His voice slices into a debate over methanol and amanita. “John. It has to be you.”

John blinks at him. “Pardon?”

“Whatever Greg has been dosed with, it will be something you know about. Something you’ve dealt with before- or spoken with Sherlock about.”

“Me? But Moriarty doesn’t- “

“It would have been to punish Sherlock, John. You were meant to be dead. Sherlock was meant to fail because he lacked your assistance. Your particular assistance, that he relies on far more than most people realize.”

Mycroft’s hand is shaking. His voice is barely hanging on to an even pitch. He can’t meet any of their pitying eyes. 

“Please, Doctor Watson. It must be you.”

John’s mouth opens, closes. Opens again. “Fuck.” He exhales. “Okay. Me. Right.”

“Not something we test for regularly, then,” Stamford offers gently, his eyes on John. “Something you’d have seen separately- outside of school. While you were overseas?”

“Middle eastern poisons?” Anthea suggests. Molly pulls her phone out, searching and starting to write a list of options. 

John rubs his hand over his face. “Fuck. I mean- I mostly did wound triage. And I’ve tried to forget most of it.”

“Even once, John,” Stamford says softly, having apparently grasped that Mycroft is incapable of further encouragement. “Even if it was just near you. Something you’d heard of. Anything nearby? Maybe- not even our soldiers-”

Mycroft cannot help but feel like the room’s clock is steadily ticking down Greg’s time, and pulling his own heart along. As though it’s beating slower. 

Please. Please.

“It would have to be something Sherlock knew of too, for it to matter. Something he would have realized after the fact.”

“Realized… after….” John murmurs. He looks at Greg, his brow furrowed. “Maybe… were any tests run for thallium?”

Stamford shakes his head. “It’s not a standard lab test.”

“Doses are all over the map, mind- people react to it differently- and the sleep would be from mixing it with something else. But it usually takes a day or so for symptoms to hit.”

“Custom poison?” Molly chirps with perhaps a bit more appreciation than would typically be allowed, given the circumstances. “That sounds like him. His games, I mean.”

“Thallium is painful though, isn’t it?” Anthea asks. It’s a question Mycroft should have asked himself, but his mind is singing, sparking with hope and fear and the feeling that if he lets himself feel at all relieved it might all wash away in an instant. 

“So a combination drug including some sort of analgesic. Delayed onset. Masking the thallium’s effects until he collapsed.”

“Opium,” John murmurs. “Or a derivative.” His eyes slide to Mycroft. “That would have ruined him, because he should have guessed it.” He inhales, steadying himself- Mycroft can understand the impulse. This must be nearly as miserable for John as it is for himself. “And some combat medics carry it, for use in emergencies.”

Mycroft inhales. The concussion. I thought it was the concussion. Did that mean… did that mean Greg never truly wanted him in the first place? That all his soft smiles and the warmth of his hand around Mycroft’s was the result of… a drug?

Stamford is already making some calls to have the tests done immediately, rush order. Mycroft doesn’t move, he just lets the room shift around him- people running in, IVs and blood draws- until Anthea puts her hand on his shoulder. “Sir? Let’s give them a little room to work. John, you too.”

She guides them, nearly lifting them as needed, escorting them out and to a room just off her co-opted waiting room where she’s set up cots and soft lighting. “I don’t need sleep, Anthea-”

“That is debatable, but you do need rest. And quiet. You’ll be the first to hear of any changes, I promise. You too, Doctor Watson. Both of you need rest.”

“What about the sniper?”

She pauses. “Are you certain you want to deal with that now?”

“Don’t think either of us are made for sitting about,” John remarks.

Anthea purses her lips. “One hour. Rest for one hour, both of you, and we’ll go over the snipers. I’m not having anyone collapse from stress and lack of sleep, alright? We’re already dealing with enough.” She closes the door before an argument can be offered, and Mycroft is unsurprised to hear a lock click.

“Did she just lock us in?”

“That she did, Doctor Watson.” Mycroft lays down. Sleep might be an impossibility, but he will allow that his mind is not at maximum efficiency, not when half of it and the entirety of his heart is still uneasily waiting for word about Greg. No matter if Greg’s feelings- or what Mycroft thought they were- might turn out to be a fantasy or no.

John flicks the door handle, sighing when it fails to move. “I thought PAs were supposed to take orders.”

“I would not suggest as much to her.”

“No, probably not.”

They’re silent for a while, the room quiet other than the shifting of fabric as they accept their fates and each claim a cot.

“John? I should-”

“There’s no need-”

“No.” Mycroft looks over, feeling his heart wrench. If he is saved- I shall owe you everything, Doctor Watson. “I must thank you. Truly.”

“Well. You’re, uh. Welcome.” Neither of them are given to discussion of feelings. Mycroft can feel the tension ease, however. “He’ll be pissed he missed it.”

“Sherlock? I assure you I shall not rub it in too much.”

“Heh. You might.” John smiles cautiously. “Just a bit. Play up my brilliance if you like. Give him a taste of his own medicine.”

Mycroft lets his face ease in turn, offering as close to a smile as he can manage right now. “Precisely.”

Chapter Text

Lefty is not the sort of woman who hopes things will turn out alright. She ensures that they do, with careful action and a great deal of forethought.

Forethought that currently leads her to a sad little cafe, the sort covered with knick-knacks and trinkets meant to feel homey and cozy. 

It disgusts her, this false veneer that pretends to be normal. Normal is merely a fiction the majority have agreed on. It’s a weakness, really, this clinging to uniformity. They never see it, they think it makes them part of some pack- the civilized- the ones who believe they are by the nature of their cohesion immune to the predations of anyone they see as an outlier.

In reality they are only marking out the sheep from the wolves.

Her contact, however, has chosen this cafe for their meeting due to the very banality of it. Here, they will blend in easily. 

If no one suspects a lone woman of being threatening, two are even less so. Traveling in a pack, for safety, of course. Safe cafe, safe outfits, boring safe lives.

Although that cannot be said of either of them, whatever masks they might wear.

She spots her contact immediately, sitting at a small table, looking over the menu with the refined pout of a woman who might be considering asking the manager where the artisanal oatbread is sourced. “Hello, Miss Evans.”

Auburn hair, tidy and wavy in an artificial fashion, bounces when she looks up. “Kate, please.”

“Kate.” Lefty is less than subtle as she skims her over. Pretty enough. Irene Adler is another great mind who let herself be tied to a lesser mortal, but as with Moran, Lefty cannot quite see the appeal. The sex must be good, but sex can be found anywhere. Romantic entanglements- that is asking someone to come along and cut their favorite toy’s neat little strings. 

Perhaps it is another mark to Mycroft Holmes’s esteem that he alone has remained immune, like her. Or perhaps it is a sign of the threat he poses. She can almost feel a thrill, at that, a tickle of indulgent emotion she usually remains immune to. It must be what attracted Jim to Sherlock. 

There may be room for a small indulgence, a testing of equals. 

But only when the work is complete.

“You’ve… had word?” She is so poised, but Lefty can hear the shuddering threat of withheld tears in her voice. Love. Of course. These favorite pets experience the same hardships as their masters, when it comes to loss. But that only makes them easier to ply.

“Mmm. You know it’s difficult, of course- so many… security risks. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yes.” Kate swallows. “But she’s….”

“Alive? Oh yes. Of course. She’s a terribly resourceful woman.” Lefty analyzes as she speaks, watching the micro expressions shift on Kate’s face. Her tone adjusts in turn, oozing more sympathy, more understanding. “I’m so sorry she hasn’t tried to contact you, but I’m sure she feels it’s the best….”

“I thought she was dead.” Kate nearly whispers it, her hand clenched tight around the handle of her cup. “I really did. I mean- everyone was-”

“I know. I know, darling, it’s okay.” The endearment rolls off Lefty’s tongue with ease as she amends this version of herself further, fine-tuning the mask. Playing pretend. She needs not feel the emotions to know what they’re meant to look like, what the appropriate responses are, all those little assuring noises humans make to each other. “Here- might we have a refill, please? And- one of those chocolate croissants too, thank you.” It’s silent as the tea is refilled, Kate composing herself once more. Lefty splits the croissant in half as the waiter glides away. “I think chocolate always helps, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” Kate sniffs once more, but with another sip of tea the weakness slides back into place behind her careful managed exterior. “You, ah. Aren’t what I expected.”

Lefty lets herself smile, as though Kate has found out something no one else gets to see. Our little secret. “We all have to conform to certain… standards, for work. You understand, I’m sure.”

Kate nods. “It’s- how things go.”

On the inside, Lefty mentally rolls her eyes at the lack of eloquence. “Exactly.”

“But you- you can get in touch with her for me? Send a message?”

“Certainly.” Lefty smiles, all specially shared fondness. See how well I understand? “You’ll want to think of  your message carefully. It’s not the sort of thing that can be passed entirely in private, you understand. Secrets are too tempting. Someone may wish to steal it, just on the off-chance it may be valuable, and it will not reach her.”

“There’s not- I don’t know, an email? Even a post address?”

“If you were to contact her directly, anyone still looking for her would have a direct line. Everything is traceable save carefully crafted word of mouth. She’s looking out for your safety, isn’t she? We have to look out for hers as well.” Lefty smiles, glancing down, evoking the shame a lesser mind might feel. “I’m afraid I have to ask you to do something for me, in exchange. It’s not- I’d love to simply help you out, of course- it’s terrible that she just left you and- well, that’s not my place. I’m just saying I would understand if you were hurt.” She clears her throat, giving Kate time to think about. Giving her time for the seed she laid to fully worm it’s way into the manure-laden fields that no doubt passed for her mind. “But there’s principles to be upheld. Nothing is ever entirely free.”

“Yes, I- of course. I understand.”

“Right. It’s something small. As soon as it’s done, we’ll get your message to her, safely. Well away from his eyes.”

“And you’re sure he won’t-”

“I’ll see to it myself.” Lefty smiles again, warm and just a little bland.

“Alright.” Kate breathes, shifting as she steels herself to it. She’s been out of the game for a while, but that sort of thing never really leaves your blood. “What do I need to do?”

 

***

 

The door unlocks precisely an hour after Anthea left Mycroft and John. She peers in quietly, but neither John nor Mycroft waste time pretending they truly slept, though Mycroft had been grateful for the space to turn off for a span. Now, however, there is only one thing on his mind.

“How is he?”

“Stable.” 

“The results for thallium?” John has snapped up as well, ever the military man, ready to go at a moment’s notice. 

“Positive. They’re keeping him unconscious while they- well, the treatment isn’t pleasant, let me put it that way, but he will be fine.” She shoots Mycroft a reassuring look, as if to say I promise. I promise he is.

John seems to already know what to expect. “Prussian blue?”

She nods as Mycroft’s mind processes the term. Synthetic pigment utilized in heavy metal poisonings. It attracts the metal, if he remembers rightly. He hasn’t had much cause to become intimately familiar with it before. “And, ah. Clearing out everything from his intestinal tract. He’ll be something of a guinea pig for a treatment our people have been working on for field use. Doctor Stamford has given his approval. Give it a few hours before they’re even thinking about getting him conscious again, but… he’ll get there.”

Mycroft feels as thought everything inside him is unfurling, relaxing. He’ll be alright. Soon, he can take some time to go and sit with Greg, perhaps hold his hand- perhaps the things he might have done, if Greg had not been too much under the influence of opium or one of its derivatives. Mycroft cannot let himself be overly optimistic about that yet. For now, he must think of protecting both Greg and Sherlock. And the best way to do that is pinning down their elusive sniper.

He clears his throat, glancing pointedly at the stack of files in her arms. “Well. If Doctor Watson and I are both cleared for work…?”

“For now.” She shuts the door. “Your sniper.”

“Yeah, please tell me you’ve got a name on that berk.”

“I think we’re close, John.” She spreads out the files, some of which are notably thin. “Now, several of these have been eliminated, but in demonstration of our thoroughness we are cross-checking some of their whereabouts anyway. Most of the top military snipers- the Shiekh, the Americans, Furlong, that woman China doesn’t think we know about, and three of the Russians, in addition to our own people- we know where they are as they are in the field in a military capacity.” A few of the files are nudged to the side, and Anthea lays her hand over the remain bundle. “That leaves retired personnel, or personnel that were never on-books to begin with. A bit trickier to track down.”

Mycroft skims the names. It’s not a long list. One Russian woman. An Australian likely to be too old, unless he’s very much misjudged Moriarty’s taste in partners. Another Canadian. 

And the locals.

“Do we have photos of any of them?” He’s looking for type- who would Moriarty be attracted to? Is it a question more of personality, or-

“Holy shit.”  John picks up one of the photos and stares at it. “He was here.”

“Who?”

John points to the file name. Moran, Sebastian. Anthea’s eyes narrow- it’s her way of quietly, subtly calculating- not as dramatic as Sherlock nor as overtly introspective as his own methods. And she, of course, has read all of these, and her memory means she does not have to consult the file to recall it. “Lord Moran’s brother. Estranged. Discharged without disgrace, but it was a near thing- frequent insubordination, fighting, etcetera. Always managed not to be charged with any crimes, so he must be clever enough. And violent.” 

Mycroft hums. That would fit the profile. “Where did you see him, John?”

“In Sherlock’s fucking room.” His eyes are wide when he looks up- he doesn’t even have to ask, they just move, running in tandem and smashing through the door-

Sherlock is fine, lying there calmly. In fact, the only one they manage to startle is Molly, who shrieks, leaping out of the chair at Sherlock’s side to swat at John with one hand. “What is wrong with the lot of you?”

“Yes,” a rough voice languidly drawls from the bed as Sherlock’s eyes open and skim them all, one by one. “Whatever took you so long?”

 

***

 

Four text messages go out. They are identical, all equally vague, all from a generic burner number. If they are for any reason intercepted, it would seem perfectly ordinary- the exact sort of message one would expect to see from an unusual number. 

 

Your package has been delivered to St. Bart’s Hospital. Please pick up at your convenience. Product is perishable after 24 hours.

 

Sebastian, fortunately, does not need much time to prepare, not with the arsenal Jim built into his- their- safe house. All he’ll have to do is set his gear and wait for the window of opportunity to open.

Speaking of…. He must remember he’s in charge- for at least a little while longer. Orders he’d normally not worry about giving must be made. 

One more text goes out, to a highly secured number.

 

Get one of our doctors on standby. SM

 

Shall I ready a safe house as well? L

 

He smiles. 

 

No. Taken care of. SM

 

Very well. I’ll prepare a report on our activities for his arrival. Do you require anything else? L

 

That is smart of her- Jim will want to be caught up immediately, make sure every little peg of his empire is still in its correct place. Have to let her in, though. He thinks about it for a moment- this safe house was obviously set up without her input, but in this case he hopes Jim won’t mind too much that the left and right brain are playing nice together. Better than letting him out of my sight in some safe house he doesn’t know.

 

Have the doctor prep fluids, pain meds, whatever he thinks a gunshot would need. I’ll send you the address. He should remain on standby until I am in touch with you again. SM

 

There’s two more contacts he should summon, as if there’s one thing he’s learned and learned well, it’s that you can never have too many distractions. Magician’s secret- eye on one hand while the other does the magic. It works even better the more hands in play you have. The first is easy, at least, obedient chap that he is.

 

Need you to do a hospital visit. I’ll send a time. Bring the tools to finish the job. SM

 

On it. C

 

The second always puts up a bit of a fuss, but there’s nothing for that. One way or another, Sebastian is getting Jim out. Even if it means sacrificing a few pawns in the process.

 

I am coming and I will need an exit plan. I don’t care how. SM

 

I would prefer not to blow my cover.

 

Then don’t. You’re supposed to be smart, aren’t you? You’ll manage. SM

 

Short of an entire private army- which it seems he does in fact have the monetary sum to order in- this is the best he can do. Sebastian rolls his neck as he assembles his bag. He’ll need to be a ghost getting in, and fortunately he has the tools to do it.

It’s walking out that’s going to be difficult.

 

***

 

Lefty looks up the address immediately. 

It’s not one of her safehouses, the ones she picked out with careful consideration, which instantly irritates her. Weren’t the ones she prepared for Jim enough? He had to go out of his way, around her, to make a special one for his up-jumped fucktoy? 

Further proof. He’s compromised.

It may even be worse than she thought. Fortunately, she is always ready to plan. 

She waits across the street calmly, the recently deceased inhabitant of a flat with a good vantage safely tucked in the closet. The neighborhood is a dirty little slum, the sort of place Jim frequented when he was making his initial connections. One does not create a criminal empire overnight, after all. There’s quite a bit of networking involved. 

It doesn’t take her long to load in her own contingency plan. Sebastian will leave soon. He’ll need to- he would never trust Jim’s safe recovery to anyone else. And now that he’s uploaded her contact information, all laced with a very quiet little trojan code, she can keep track of him and all his efforts at planning, such as they are. Once he’s out and focused on his mission, she will move in and secure hers. 

If she had a different disposition, she might be sad that it has come to this. The dethroning of a king is the end of an era, after all. One ought to pay proper respect.

Instead she is merely disappointed. 

Should she be proven right- should he be past his prime, all the ingenuity he’d demonstrated compromised- at least it should be quick. She can allot him that, after all, in the honor of the man he’d been. 

It will not be easy to step into his shoes. A few high level contacts know him by face and will never accept her as Moriarty. Some will take it for what she will make it into: a migrating title, to be passed to the worthy. Or perhaps a ghost in the shadows, never seen. That may be better. She’s always done well as the woman behind the curtain. 

All worth it in service of something far greater.

 

***

 

At Sherlock’s bedside, a number of things happen in quick succession. Molly shrieks (again), this time shouting at Sherlock to ask him how long he’s been awake. Anthea reaches out a hand to steady Mycroft, who is becoming concerned that his heart cannot bear any additional surprises.

And John Watson glides like he’s suddenly sprouted wings, straight to Sherlock’s side. His heart has burst and shattered with joy and relief and a million other fractured emotions, none of which he can get a clear grip on. But his face, he knows, simply smiles rather stupidly. “You’re up.”

“Obviously.” He grunts as John wraps him up, just short of climbing onto him and pinning him to the bed in a hug. It’s the gentlest yet firmest he can be.

“Don’t you ever do that again, you great idiotic berk.”

“You will have to more specifi-” John cuts him off with a tighter squeeze.

“Shut it and don’t ruin the moment.” He buries his face in Sherlock’s shoulder, dark curls brushing over his nose. His voice is scarcely a whisper in Sherlock’s ear. “You had us worried. Had me worried.”

He can feel more than see Sherlock lift one curious brow. “Mm?”

“Later. We are going to talk. But I think they need your brain just now.”

He glances over his shoulder, pulling back enough that he can drop into the chair he’s claimed at Sherlock’s bedside for the duration of his stay.

Mycroft graciously pretends he has not witnessed this little display, but in his heart he feels a great deal of fondness for the good doctor and his brother. If there should be anyone in the world that could bring Sherlock happiness and a touch of peace, John may be it. “How are you feeling, brother mine?”

“I suspect rather like I’ve been shot, seeing as I have.” He shifts a little, feeling his bandages. “The cellular healing process proves both egregiously boring and notably painful.”

“Yeah- your drip can be increased now that you’re up-” John offers, already looking up at the IV.

“No need. I suspect you need me at full functionality or you would not have rushed in here as though the building was burning down and startled Molly.”

She pinkens, glaring at him. “You were listening to me!”

“Yes. Your voice is rather soothing, as it happens. Besides, it gave me the chance to orient myself. Data points. Very useful. Far less jarring than waking up without any companionship.”

“Oh.” Molly’s brow shifts, her mouth working as she tries to work out if that was in some way a compliment. “Thanks?”

“To the matter at hand,” Mycroft says smoothly, “we believed you might be in immediate physical danger.”

“From Moriarty? You haven’t lost him already, have you? Oh, no- the sniper. Of course. I take it there was a failure to secure that particular asset.”

Mycroft sighs. Sherlock’s personal interest and the pain he must be in is already starting to make him a bit tetchy. “Moriarty is secured down the hall, but we do have a name on his… compatriot. People have already been sent on to an apartment we believe to be his.” He glances to Anthea, who nods and earns a brief smile in return. She is remarkably efficient. Who else could be relied upon to send in a strike team while jogging down a corridor in heels in pursuit of a potential killer?

“They’re on premises already. Breach is imminent.”

“Name?” Sherlock asks, still trying to fidget his way into a more comfortable position.

John offers it in a tone that suggests the man has already been added to some mental list he keeps of people he’d like to murder slowly one day. “Sebastian Moran.”

Shaking his head, Sherlock finally manages to push himself up to a more comfortable seat. “Not familiar. I assume you have someone engaged in research- I shall require the file, and a method of forcing this damnable cot to become more comfortable before I am forced to correct matters myself.”

John purses his lips and acquires a spare pillow, rearranging Sherlock’s sheets to tuck it under his knees. “Better?”

“…yes. Thank you.”

Mycroft keeps his brow from doing anything more than a slight flick as he watches them, his heart clenching when he realizes it’s Greg he’s picturing in the bed and his own hands carefully adjusting his pillows. But he remains asleep and I remain… dexterously challenged. Assuming he would even let me- that it is not all some mistake, some- misplaced affection of a chemically altered mind. He refrains from sighing as he tucks his bandaged appendages behind his back once more. 

Anthea shifts beside him. “The apartment is empty, sir. They’ll confirm biometrics, but there isn’t much.”

“Of course. Get our people on the cameras, going back to day of the shooting. See if you can catch anything.”

She makes a humming noise of agreement, already typing away. 

“Alright,” Sherlock finally tears his eyes away from John and looks back to his brother. “I inferred a great deal from Molly’s discourse, one-sided as it was. Catch me up on the rest.”

 

***

 

“Well, brother mine, this is indeed inconvenient.” Sherlock steeples his hands before his face, taking in the information, processing and archiving into his mental stores. Mycroft grants him more time than he would normally require to do so, seeing as his mind is no doubt still slightly slowed under the influence of the hospital’s ample pharmaceuticals. “He had almost removed himself as a problem for us. And as they know I am alive, everyone who has ever so much as spoken to me is at risk.”

“As they know what?” John cuts in, eyes narrowing. Mycroft makes an effort to break off that line of questioning before the dots can be joined, but he knows the feeling of an oncoming storm when he sees it. 

“His minion has been here- it is possible they have further orders now. We must exercise extreme caution.”

Sherlock flaps a disinterested hand. Caution and prudence have never been his areas. Those are Mycroft’s domain. “If we must, we can always plan a secondary Lazarus. Molly can acquire another body- can’t you?”

She blinks, shifting her weight with a sideways look toward John. “Well-”

“Right, that’s settled. We won’t have an unbiased witness this time, apologies John, but I’m certain you can see Mycroft’s people for instruction on how to lie more convincingly-”

The rage in John that normally remains so carefully controlled is palpably boiling. Mycroft is quite frankly shocked Sherlock hasn’t yet managed to scald himself on it. The doctor leans forward, speaking in a very soft, quiet, and deadly voice. “I’m sorry, you were going to do what?” 

Mycroft shoots his brother a look. Only Sherlock would have the gall to seem surprised that John would be aggrieved at his intentions to fake his own death for an indeterminate length of time to ensure the dismantling of Moriarty’s network. “I anticipated a threat against you- it would be the only way to ensure your safety-”

“Safe, sure, but you weren’t going to tell me?”

Rolling his eyes, Mycroft gives a passive nod as Anthea nudges Molly and the two of them back slowly out of the room before John reaches what is likely to be a volcanic explosion. “Regardless, that is not what occurred-”

“And you know, did you? You knew he was up to this?” 

Mycroft’s eyes steel. Much as he can sympathize, he is not entirely appreciative of being subjected to the full weight of Doctor Watson’s misdirected ire. “I assisted in ensuring the plan was executable, but you may credit Sherlock in entirety for its creation.”

“He wished to see me dead- John, it was the only way, and it would have been temporary-”

Temporary.” John spins, running his hand through his hair and marching to the window as though he cannot bear to look at either of them. “Do you even hear yourself? You would have convinced me you were dead, Sherlock, it doesn’t matter if it would be temporary-

“But I would have come back! As soon as it was safe-”

“Safe would not make up for it! What were you expecting me to do, just- sit there and wait for you, or, no, wait- I was supposed to think you were dead-”

“If I may.” Mycroft finds two sets of eyes on him, one wrathful and one a mixture of irritation and confusion.  “John, I would request of you that after you converse you do not leave the floor.” Regardless of the outcome. “For now we have many of our pieces in one identifiable place. That should make the protection of all of you easier, at least until Sherlock and Greg can be moved. Sherlock… qui me alit, me extinguit. Sonnet 71. I trust you have not deleted your Shakespeare.” It is John’s turn to look confused, then, as Mycroft takes his leave without further fanfare. 

Despite John’s anger, Mycroft is… optimistic. It is that optimism that leads him back to Gregory’s room, and the quiet spot at his bedside. Now you, please. Please wake for me.

He nods off himself to the slow rhythm of monitors and the hum of equipment, marking out the beats of Greg’s slow and steady pulse, and does not wake when Anthea slips in later to tuck a blanket in about him.

 

Chapter Text

Greg awakens to lights that are too bright and the sort of rhythmic beeping that is so easy to recognize after years of popping in and out of hospitals to visit victims of violence. Fuck. Things hurt. Many things hurt. And he’s hungry. And nauseous. How. Fuck.

A noise escapes him as he tries in vain to carefully adjust to any position that is more comfortable. It’s wheezing and pained. Moving just makes everything hurt worse.

“Greg?”

Oh, good, and now I’m hallucinating. Because Mycroft wouldn’t be here, not in his hospital room, not after Sherlock-

Wait. No- there was a case. The brother. They’d been in a car, hadn’t they? And he’d fallen-

Looking over to Mycroft again, Greg takes a closer look- the usually pristine suit is a little crumpled, there are dark circles under his eyes, but he looks like he’s only just woken from a nap, still hazed over with sleep. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Several hours. Your sleep schedule will be unforgiving, I think. It’s just after midnight now.”

Midnight. If only that pleasant warm feeling he’d had before it all went sideways had stuck around. That would be perfect for midnight fairy stories. “You alright?”

“Am I- am I alright?” Mycroft sounds incredulously. “Greg, you were poisoned.”

“Yeah, an’ you ate all the same stuff. It wasn’t the pizza, was it?” Mycroft blinks at him. “What. Did I miss something?”

“Ah- no, it was the not the pizza. We are fairly certain it entered your system before you were concussed.”

“Huh.” There’d been so much going on- Greg’s not sure what even ate that day, he was running around so much. He shifts, hearing his stomach growl in a way that ripples through him like a cramp, making him wince.

“That’s your medication. I’m afraid your system is probably protesting the cure as much as the cause.”

“Always the way, innit?” He shifts again- no position is wholly comfortable, though as his head clears a bit he feels slightly less like he’s been run over by a lorry.  “Why’re you sitting all the away over there?”

Mycroft looks down, fussing with his bandages. “Between your concussion-”

“I wasn’t concussed!”

“-and the amount of- substances- found in your system- it would be only logical if-”

Oh, you great big fool. Greg’s head might be aching, but he can spot all the same signs, all that underlying nervousness, that he did before. “C’mere.” It pleases him that Mycroft blushes a bit as he inches close enough for Greg to reach. Means I’m right. “You know I was waiting ’til we were out of that car to kiss you?”

“Nnnehm- yes?”

“Yeah. An’ when I find out who kept me from doin’ that I’m gonna give them a right piece of my mind.” He gently cups Mycroft’s hands and brings them onto his thigh. “Now- m’not gonna subject you to hospital mouth, because I could really use a toothbrush, but I am gonna promise you that when I’m out of this bed I plan to snog you absolutely senseless. Would that be okay?”

“Mmmehheh.” Mycroft blinks and Greg’s smile grows a little smug. Don’t fall to pieces on me already, gorgeous. Let me get you in bed for that. “Erm. Yes.”

“Right. Now- how are these paws doing? Still healing up nice?”

Sitting forward, Mycroft turns them round to show off the change in bandage- he’s had a few fingers freed up, no doubt the ones that had the shallowest cuts. It’ll be better for him- it was his palms that took the brunt of it, after all, and he needs his fingers more to simply get around and live. “Doctor Stamford replaced the bandages for me. He says they are doing quite well.”

“That’s good. Mike’s one of the best. Sure he’ll keep you in fighting shape.”

“I’d very much prefer it if both of us refrained from that.”

Greg grins. “I’ll try.” 

 

***

 

The day’s light is fading again. The hospital does not shift much- Sebastian’s been keeping track. Even though those precious important patients are kept away from the windows, careful flitting about the surrounding buildings has told him a few things of import- namely that Sherlock is awake, the old inspector continues to fail to be dead, and Jim is waiting.

He’d even swear the last time he looked through the binoculars that Jim looked back, straight at him, which was impossible. 

He’s probably imagining it. Probably. 

As soon as the light slips from the sky they begin to assemble. He can pick them out easily from his perch, though he has some advantage in that- he knows all their faces, and how they move. Jim would never let assassins into his territory- let alone on the prize he considered Sherlock to be- without knowing them. 

They’ll be pissed when they realize Sherlock never had the key. Worse if they realize there was no key to begin with. But Sebastian can worry about that later. 

The end of a cigarette dangles from his lips. He takes one last full inhale, letting the smoke ripple through him, hot and burning. The ember falls, a lone glowing cherry falling in the dark like a small comet. The rest gets tossed aside. His hands find his new toys, presents courtesy of Jim’s borrowed bank accounts. Metal and leather and cloth, their sound a muffled shink. 

He takes a few steps back. Assuming this works as planned, he’ll want a running start. It might have been easier to go in as Nurse Price again, but he knows his old apartment has been raided. Someone knows his face. And what a shame that would be, to march into St. Bart’s and get taken down an arrested, like some petty thief trying to steal painkillers from the hospital pharmacy.

No, if they’re going to catch him today, they’re bloody well going to have to work for it. 

At a full-tilt sprint he leaps up to the ledge of the roof and jumps. His arms expand, fabric rippling between his wrists and chest until it catches the air. This is a military prototype, some Mission Impossible or James Bond toy Jim stole somewhere or other. Technically it’s meant for low drops out of a plane or helicopter, but he only needs it to get him above the security perimeter of the hospital. Second floor or higher. Preferably higher.

His angle is good- he aims toward the brick portion of the wall, pivoting at the last second and losing the air current, starting to drop just as the crampons extending from his hands like claws slam into the building. Sebastian lets out a muffled scream through clenched teeth. He’s not using these things for their intended purpose like this. There’s no impact padding in them and he can feel the reverb of it in his bones all the way to his shoulders. 

But he’s there. Third floor. Good. 

Pain can wait. For now he’s got a mission to accomplish.

 

***

 

They come by various ways and means, slipping through the cracks of vision and security like ghosts. They’re all professionals, after all. And this hospital is hardly a tough egg to crack, even with MI-6 swarming it. A building that has not been built with security in mind will always have flaws to exploit.

There’s an unspoken agreement amongst them not to eliminate the competition unless they reach the target first. Call it professional courtesy. Effectively, until they locate Sherlock, this is very nearly a team effort.

They move as visitors, as patients, as doctors- until they hit the right floor. The closed ward. They’ll be suspicious there regardless. 

The Russian darts ahead, gliding in a nurse’s uniform, a surgical mask over her face. There’s a look of glee in her eyes. She’ll get there first. She’s smart. 

One of the men is less willing to play it safe- and it’s all fair game now. He reaches into his bag and the other two, spotting it, dart away, diving for cover.

When the gas canister hits the floor, pinging loudly, there’s scarcely time for the front line guards to react. They’ve only had to keep out the most daring members of the press and a few hospital staff members wanting a peek. It’s made them complacent.

Smoke rises in the corridor and they drop with matched wheezes. It won’t kill them. Though these four are killers, those they work for will be less likely to be pursued if the body count remains low. The MI-6 team does not have the same orders. Erupting from the back room, the small squad races out and are met with a larger burst of darker, thicker smoke that quickly spreads to fill the entire corridor.

Somewhere in the fog, a shot goes off.

 

***

 

Anthea has never seen John Watson move so quickly. The man is by the door, gun in his hand, peering through the small window before she even has time to mentally catalogue the array of sounds in the hall. She puts down her laptop, where she’s been transcribing Sherlock’s recollection of the conversation on the rooftop. Any little detail may be important for their eventual very thorough interrogation of Moriarty.

John ’s eyes are sharp and cold when he turns back. “We need a barricade,” he says bluntly, the soldier that lives in him snapping into position without the scantest degree of fanfare. 

“How many are there?” the agent in Anthea answers.

“Not sure- there’s a smoke grenade in play-”

Sherlock coughs from his bed. “Four.” He earns two lifted brows in his direction for his troubles. “Moriarty’s people would be wiser to wait until he is in transit to lift him, and last I recall there were four assassins in the vicinity of Baker Street for me. Word may have travelled that I am awake.”

“But not to kill you.” John doesn’t leave the door, his gun still ready.

“No. They believe I have his key. Possession of my person, intact, would be the logical goal.He shifts again, wincing briefly- though his pain levels have subsided somewhat, Anthea understands he has a bit of a tolerance for opiates. He still isn’t as comfortable as he could be. “There is no key, so I imagine they will be a touch disappointed.”

Anthea skims her notes, then saves them into the secure drive before locking up her laptop. If anyone manages to run off with it and attempts to crack it, it will happily erase itself, but she’s always been a believer in having a backup plan- she shoves the whole thing in a cabinet, behind a stock of gauze and wrappings. “Where do they believe you are keeping it?” 

Sherlock taps the side of his head. 

“Hm. That’s inconvenient.”

“True, but they will not kill me so long as they believe I have it.” 

John has taken the barricading on himself, dragging the chairs over and propping them against the door handle. “Estimates on them trying to kill the rest of us?”

“Mm. Mixed. Though they are trained, John, they don’t have to kill you to remove you from the playing field.”

“Yeah, your brother showed me the files, thanks.” There’s a shout outside, and the impact of someone against a wall. Anthea has the sinking feeling that was someone on her team. She sighs and kicks her heels off, stretching the balls of her feet. “I suppose we could hide you in the loo, perhaps- I’ll switch with you, I can shoot from the bed. Anthea, what are you-”

“John, you’re the best protection he’s got- the loo is a good idea, but they’ll expect it if they get through you. Sherlock, I’m sure you can come up with something more effective. Do that.” She finds a mask next, a little surgical one, and pulls that on as well. Hopefully that will be enough for them to overlook her at first. Especially if there’s smoke.  “John, you’ll have to reset these chairs after me, alright?”

“Yes ma’am.” The soldier in him is officially on duty. That had been an order, and he knew damn well to obey it. 

“Good.” She pulls back her hair with a rubber band and pulls the chair away from the door. For the last bit, she turns her bulbous little black earrings up and tucks them into her ears. She doesn’t know if he is listening, but on the off chance he thinks of it, it would never do to waste a resource. “Once more into the breach, then.”

 

***

 

“You have to have a bite too.”

“Greg, I do not need-”

“Yep, you do. Open up. Both at full strength, remember? Don’t make me do the airplane noise, because I will.”

Mycroft makes a face, but opens his mouth all the same. Greg isn’t allowed much complicated food yet, while his system readjusts, but he seems determined to share what he has with Mycroft. “This is liquidated cardboard.”

“Mike says it’s nutritious. Honestly though I’d eat anything at this point.” 

“You’re only saying that because you were promised pudding if you finished it.” Mycroft’s eyes narrow. “Am I enabling your quest for pudding?”

“That may be a factor. But you need whatever this nutrient paste is anyway. I know you’re not eating proper because you’ve been lurking in here every time I’ve been up.” 

He’s not wrong. Mycroft has been napping beside him on and off, watching as Greg’s color steadily improves. He will be arranging a very large and very anonymous donation to the research team working on the Prussian Blue chemical applications that had designed the more potent version in testing with the security services. “We can both eat properly when you are released.”

There’s a bang outside, immediately followed by shouting and the distinctive sounds of fists meeting skin.

And a lone gunshot.

Mycroft’s thoughts go immediately to Sherlock. They’ve found him- Moriarty’s people- oh, god-

“Myc-” There’s a hand wrapping his arm, pulling him back toward the bed. “I know. I know- but what are you going to do if you just march out there? Look under the door.”

Greg’s right- there’s a distinctive curl of smoke edging in, and not the sort that’s caused by fire. “Damn it.” This means something on the level of a military operation, an option that is, if anything, far worse than a lone assassin. 

“What about your team?”

“They will try.” It depends very much on how much of his team is truly his, or whether, as he’s suspected, they have been subjected to a mole. 

“Do we have any weapons in here?”

“We can improvise, I’m sure.”

“Great.”

Mycroft turns back to find Greg extricating himself carefully from the majority of his equipment, even disassembling his IV tube and taping off the cannula into his arm. Apparently he has been paying a bit of attention. “Gregory, what are you doing?”

“Gregory, is it?” He looks up with a charming smirk.

“Stop that. You need your medication.”

“That bag is a saline drip, mostly, I’ll be fine. You can’t hold things for shit, so that’s gonna have to be me.”

“Greg-”

“Not asking, gorgeous.” He swings his feet off the cot, wincing as he flexes his muscles and pushes up into standing. “Alright. Everything works. See, we’re fine. Talk to me about weapons and surveillance. You must’ve put up some. Can we access it?”

“Ah- yes.” Work. Yes. He can focus on that. It’s odd that for all of the distraction he’s found Greg over the last few days that the man can also bring him right back to what he ought to be seeing, like a human divining rod, guiding the eye to where it needs to look. The surveillance is less useful. The main corridor is smoky, so real picture is out- which leaves the heat signatures camera, and that is… disturbing. He can see the standoff occurring, multiple exchanges of fists, but without full vision, the parties cannot be identified. It’s all a blur of colors. Somewhere near the back of the mess he can make out what must be some of his people, armed, but unable to see their targets. One of them is down, farther up the hall, weapon on the floor.

It’s a mess. Half of his team present are analysts and administrators, not field agents. They’ve all received training, of course, but against whoever this is… would that even be enough?

“More than one.” Greg is behind him, his warm chest touching the blade of Mycroft’s shoulder. A figure enters the hall from a nearby door- Sherlock’s door, if Mycroft’s estimation of space is correct in this dim, colorized mess- and starts grasping those closest to her, shoving some of them out of the way the gas and back down the hall. “Who’s that?”

“Anthea.” He knows it as instinctively as he knows his own skin. He fidgets with his watch. She’d held back a laugh when they’d gotten these- so very James Bond- but if he knew her, she always came prepared. Tucking in against Greg’s chest so he can best see the phone while Greg holds it up and trusting he’d be forgiven the indulgence of it, he peers at the screen and holds the watch up to his lips. “Ahead of you. Ten steps, one to the right. Two contacts.” 

He sees the figure move, a blur of orange and red against the black screen. It’s the best way to appreciate her skill. She has not been a field agent in years, but when she was, she was one of the best. 

“Holy fuck,” Greg breathes, resting his chin on Mycroft’s shoulder.

“Quite,” Mycroft agrees, feeling a swell of pride.

 

***

 

When the elevator pings, Crawford is almost disappointed to find he’s late to the party. He’d brought flowers and everything. And a gun to hide behind them. A classic move, really, and he’d always wanted to try it. Pity. 

This way is likely better, though. He won’t need to rely on having an unmemorable, vaguely friendly face. He slides a police-issue gas mask from his pocket and pulls it on, pulling his black beanie down over his ears. Assuming Lestrade is even awake, this would be a cakewalk in all this chaos, and he’s rather missed chaos. Hardly ever get a good dust-up on this island. The Middle East, fuck, even America- that’s more his speed. His own people have always been far too polite. 

He’ll just have to be cautious. Both sides here might take him for an interloper. Slow and steady would be best. Sebastian had given him an idea of where he’d need to be. Grabbing a cart from near the elevator, he climbs onto the bottom and slowly pushes forward, the top shielding him from any fighting around him. He doesn’t need to wade into that. Not unless he wants to have some fun on the way out. And he might! A good fist fight is hard to come by. 

But he has a job to do first, and a bullet with Lestrade’s name on it. 

He smiles as he rolls slowly down the hall, wading through the smoke like a shark in deep waters.

Ready or not, here I come.

 

***

 

Anthea smiles beneath her mask. Of course he’s there. Mycroft is always there, that’s what makes him such an effective boss. 

Her body remembers these motions, though it’s been some time since she’s had another person to use them on. She never gave up her training, not even when she was placed as Mr. Holmes’s assistant. In this line of work it could be fatal to assume a desk job always meant a desk, and Mycroft receives threats with a fair degree of frequency. Not that most people know who he really is, or how much power he wields- often once they do, those threats would die on quickly chastised lips. 

As she finds the members of her own team she guides them away, out of the blind fighting where they have no advantage. Her own blows dodge and weave- there’s more than one, so she has to be cautious not to be flanked. A large fist flies past, narrowly missing her face after Mycroft shouts a warning into her earpiece. Her own hand flies forward, impacting against fabric and muscle. It gives her a better idea of where he is, his height, since she cannot see it. Solar plexus. Throat. Groin. All’s fair. 

She’s rewarded for her efforts by a fast strike to the ribs- something might have cracked, but she does little more other than grunt. Her palm slams into his nose and he growls, a shadowy mass into the already thick fog. One hard backhand sends her spiraling into the wall.

“Oi!” Anthea glances back in time to see a fat black truncheon whipping a path through the smoke and slamming square into the side of the thug’s head. The brief part in the haze outlines a leather jacket and a mass of curly, tightly coiled hair just as the man hits the floor. “Alright?”

“Nice swing, Sally.”

“Yeah, m’on the squad cricket team.” 

She’s probably smiling, but Anthea can’t see it. She wheezes as she rights herself. That rib is definitely at least bruised. “Can you guard the elevator? No one in or out.”

“M’on it!” 

Anthea grunts, turning back into the fog and listening. “Mycroft- how many?”

 

***

 

“Four,” he answers. “Three now. Thirty degrees to the right and straight ahead.”

“How can you tell?” Greg’s been quietly watching this entire mess, and frankly he can barely keep track of which flying shape is Anthea. 

“It’s the assassins from Baker Street. I am almost sure of it.” Mycroft’s jaw is set, and he looks worried. It’s in his eyes, though if it were anyone else he’d merely look stoic.

“He’ll be alright,” Greg murmurs. “John won’t let anyone get to him.”

“Doctor Watson will try-”

“John would do anything. You know that. They’ll have to go through him and I kinda doubt he’d be willing to go down without a fight.” Besides, if Greg knows John at all, he would’ve found a way to get his gun in here. John doesn’t go places unarmed unless he has to. 

“Anthea, ten feet in front of you- three parties, all engaged, unsure which are which.”

“Understood,” her voice quietly crackles from the watch. Greg worries at his lip, preparing to shut the fuck up in case Mycroft has to talk through the positions, but the sound of his door slamming open jolts him into a sharp turn.

Quite luckily, since the first thing he sees is the barrel of a pistol. 

His hands fold around Mycroft’s waist before his lungs find the word. “Down!” 

They fall as the first bullet flies, Greg dragging Mycroft against his chest, putting his back to the weapon, diving for the back of the cot. From the floor he shoulders it up and over, sending it crashing to the floor like a steel barricade as the next shot meets the glass of the window.

“Okay?” Mycroft looks dazed, but uninjured as far as he can tell. “Alright- stay here. Keep low, yeah?”

Greg’s shunt is loose, there’s blood on his arm, but that’s not gonna deter him. He takes a steadying breath and moves, just missing Mycroft’s hands closing on air behind him and the hiss of his worried voice. “Gregory Lestrade, don’t you dare-”

Sorry, gorgeous. Got to. He goes over the cot and up, hoping the shift in height will keep him from encountering any more bullets. This one time, let me be fucking lucky. 

This one time, he is. The man in the gas mask overcompensates for being charged at, shooting too high and chipping the ceiling tile. He slams into his target, both of them crashing to the floor. His strength won’t be doing much for him here, not when he hasn’t had real food in an age, so Greg is mostly relying on weight and momentum. It’s a move better executed in body armor and a stab vest- and fuck, he really should have thought about whether or not the guy might have more than a gun- but it’s too late now, he’s in it and hoping fists will be enough to stave off bullets.

His hands wrap the shooter’s wrist. All he has to do is hang on. If he can keep them there, if he can keep the shooter pinned- 

But the shooter is fighting back.

Not good- fuck-

Greg is only barely hanging on, but all he can manage is shoving the gun away as it fires up and into the ceiling, then nearly letting go as the man elbows him in his already bruised face.

There’s a glimpse there, briefly- something about the eyes, something familiar- before a quick fist raps him in the gut. Greg punches back, wherever he can reach, but he can feel a vest under there, something preventing him from getting through. Doesn’t matter. Just need to keep the gun up. He can’t count the blows- they don’t matter, the pain doesn’t matter, just as long as he-

The next one catches him below his still healing black eye.

He reels, falling, and there’s the barrel, and he only has time to hope that Mycroft will keep quiet enough that Greg’s killer will forget he was ever there-

A winding whir behind him grows rapidly louder, and his eyes shift from the gun just in time to watch Mycroft diving from the side to slam a charged set of defibrillator paddles into the man’s chest.

The gun fires. The man tumbles backward with a yelp. He rolls out the door and into the still foggy corridor, smoldering slightly.

Greg flies from the floor, shutting the door and dragging a chair in front of it. On second thought, he marches over to the overturned cot and disconnects the safety rail, using that to pin the door handle. “No one else is fucking getting in.” 

“Greg.” Mycroft’s voice is strained, and when Greg turns he sees the shattered look in his eyes, like all his nightmares have just come true.

“Hey. M’fine. Fine, love. He missed. S’just a graze.” Shite. Mycroft’s mind has apparently reached the limit of its processing power on this mess and sent him into a full panic, and that’s not going to help either of them. “Come on- Myc, c’mere. I’m fine, I promise, now get away from the door.”

 

***

 

“Sounds like quite the party out there, Basher.” 

Sebastian looks up from the floor, having just slid in through the window. His arms ache. It’s been too long since he’d had to exert himself by climbing that much, but needs must. “Told you I needed a good distraction.”

“Think it’s good enough that we can go visit my favorite detective? I wonder if we can take him with us… he’d be fun to play with, all on his own….”

“No.” Sebastian is nearly taken aback by the force of his own growl. Even Jim’s face flickers with surprise before narrowing down into his usual dangerous, unblinking stare.

“Basher, you aren’t trying to give me orders, are you?”

“You know what.” Sebastian rips the crampons from his hands and tucks them into his bag. “Yeah, I fucking am. I am ordering you not to do anything that gets you killed until after I get you out of this hospital. Then if you want to, I dunno, circle jerk each other in your fancy coats you can bloody well go right ahead.”

Jim blinks. Sebastian has the vague sense he might be murdered in some bloody, slow, and creative fashion later, but fuck it, he did not fly over here and climb a building to see the man march into Sherlock fucking Holmes’s room just to get right into whatever intellectual masturbation he’s looking for. Not when Sebastian has no doubt in his mind that John Watson would immediate kill him with the nearest instrument available. “Basher….”

“Shut it. Rescue time is my time.” He taps out a quick message on his phone.

 

Path clear? SM

 

Barely. Be quick. They’re handling this better than expected.

 

Two minutes. SM

 

“So you can walk, yeah?”

“Oh, am I allowed to speak now?” Sebastian shoots a look at Jim, who glares back petulantly. Though petulant is probably better than actively homicidal, so Basher will take it. “Yes, I can manage.” 

“Great. Get this on.” This is a simple black jumpsuit, easy to fit on over Jim’s hospital clothes and whatever of the bits and bobs that connect him to the machines monitoring him have to come along when they leave. Basher cracks both his handcuffs easily, then the secondary restraints keeping Jim to the bed. Overkill. Jim makes them nervous. Even though he’s still pissed about Jim’s ridiculous obsession, the thought makes him smile. Keeping them scared. Good on you.

He’s a little off-balance getting out of the bed, and Basher holds out the jumpsuit to help him get into it until Jim can hold it up himself- he’s still not able to bend much- and sets hospital masks for both of them on the bed. “Soon as we disconnect you from the heart monitor we’ll have to move in seconds, alright? So tell me if you need more time.” He kneels, tucking Jim’s feet into a pair of plain black sneakers. “Apologies for the casual fare. Figured a suit was a bit too conspicuous.”

“I suppose.” As Sebastian stands, Jim’s fingers dart out, and for a brief second Sebastian thinks great, this is it, he’ll just kill me and leave me here. Instead those fingers hook under his chin, almost delicate in their softness, and Sebastian can see a trace of… something in his face that he’s only seen once or twice before. Something complicated and conflicted, but still, somehow, warm. On anyone else he might think it was affection. “Basher. You’re trying to be very helpful, aren’t you.”

“Yeah, if you’d let me.”

“Hm.” Jim leans up, and Basher’s arms wrap him, the motion natural as breathing. “Your efforts are noted. I shan’t need to make you into shoes yet.”

“As long as you promise that you’d be the only one to wear them, I wouldn’t mind so much.”

Jim huffs a laugh, muffled as he tucks back into himself, any trace of warmth ebbing away to make room for the mastermind at full force. “Very well. Off to the races, then?” He yanks his monitor free with little fanfare, the IV line getting a similar treatment. “I could use a good run.”

“Hope you’re in the mood for stairs, then. Masks on,” he mutters as he eyes the vapors in the corridor, the sound of an alarm going off klaxoning away on the other side of the door. “Here we go.”

Chapter Text

His body is screaming.

Crawford imagines this is probably what a heart attack feels like. God fucking damn it. He better not be actually dying. He has a fucking paycheck to cash.

“Oi, you alright?” The voice comes from near the elevators- Sally fucking Donovan, no less. Shit. She shouldn’t even be here, and she can actually fucking recognize him.

Worse and worse.

He forces himself to straighten and breathe. The mask is still on. There’s a chance she won’t recognize him. If he can just keep moving-

“Crawford- is that you? You alright?”

Shit. 

He turns, pulling the mask off. Both of them have to shout over the alarm. “Bit of a mess, ain’t it?”

“Fuck, yeah.” The fog is clearer over here, and it seems she’s guarding the elevator, which also means he’s guarding the stairs he’d been aiming for. Great. “You hurt? You’re, uh- you look like shit.”

“Got caught in it a bit. Can I get down? Don’t think I’ll be getting a doctor up here for a while.”

“Sorry- everyone’s got to stay here, orders from the security services. We’ll get you patched up.”

“Alright.” Well, today is absolutely going to hell. Might as well make it worse. He shoves his mask into his bag. He could shoot her, but at this rate he’ll just end up drawing more attention, and he doesn’t trust his luck to hold right now, especially given the sounds coming down the corridor. His fingers close on his backup plan. 

“Crawford-”

“Sorry.” The taser meets her chest with a sharp sizzle and she falls, her body curling defensively against it. When she stops spasming he detaches the taser wires and taps the elevator button, leaning into the wall. “Sorry. You’re alright, for a copper.” 

“Sally?”

Shit. Another voice, and the elevator isn’t coming fast enough. Come on!

A man emerges from the smoke- a doctor, by the looks of it- some fool trying to make a difference, even in this mess. “Oi!” The doctor shouts as he spots Crawford. “What did you do?”

“Don’t make me do it again,” Crawford wheezes, aiming the taser. “Just stay there.” Behind him, the elevator dings, and he steps backward, keeping the weapon out. The doctor glares, dropping to his knees beside Sally to take her pulse. 

When the door closes, he nearly drops the taser gun out of relief. Adrenaline can only take him so far- pain is catching up. Slumping against the wall, he lets the agony he’d pushed down ripple through him. Fuck. Okay. New plan. Need to get the fuck out of here right the fuck now. There’s no way he’s gonna get out on his own. For one thing, he’s definitely bleeding, and for a another, he feels like he’s been hit by a fucking truck. 

He checks the security of the gun in his waistband as he wheezes, attempting to catch his breath. Someone’s managed to trip an alarm. People are evacuating. That means there’s people to hide among. The parking lot is filling rapidly with evacuating personnel, which means getting to his fucking car is a no-go. They’d have closed that off first thing.

Damn it. 

Okay. Sebastian had called him in, so Sebastian is obviously… busy with whatever the rest of this is. And hadn’t bothered to fucking warn him about this chaos, so also fuck him. Nice to know I’m expendable, arsehole.

He needs a backup plan. Dragging his phone from his pocket, he fires off a text as he stumbles into the lobby and the crowd of people trying to get out.

 

Blown. Can you get me an evac from St. Bart’s? C

 

Smithfield and Hosier. 10 minutes. L

 

***

 

“You’re injured, Gregory-” Mycroft protests as Greg drags him toward the loo by his lapels, ignoring all protests to return to the room, or worse, go into the hall. 

“I was grazed-”

Greg’s not making sense, obviously, because there’s blood, and Mycroft’s mind has all but aborted normal functions to scream at him about it. Even if Greg refuses to listen, Mycroft can help- he has to help, he can’t let Greg be hurt again, not this time. “-but I’m sure I can work out stitches, if you insist on refusing to find a doctor. You’ve barely recovered, I don’t see why-”

“Because we need to stand outside of the line of fire.” Greg closes the loo door, and as soon as he does Mycroft tries to open it again, his mind irrationally telling him they must acquire a doctor for Greg, which only leads to Greg snatching his wrist and pressing it to the door.

Mycroft’s breath catches. 

A unexpectedly high number of brain cells leap to ascertain that Greg has him pressed against a door, in the middle of an armed conflict, in a hospital, and that the contact alone has driven enough blood southward to render him half hard.

Fuck.

He inhales, counting to ten and willing all of his blood to settle. Greg’s breath is warm, each one just the subtlest shift of temperature between them. “Mycroft.” His voice is lower, more of a rumble, and an absolutely firm, steady rock for Mycroft to anchor himself to. “I do not need stitches. I am not dying. Someone is, however, trying to shoot you. Or me. I didn’t exactly get to ask. So can we stay in here where there are less bullets for a bit and then worry about whether this little nick is actually doing anything serious?”

Mycroft shifts his weight, his tongue wetting his lips. Yes, he is being… foolish. This close he can easily see that Greg is about as hale and hearty as he could expect. Panicking. Stress. Lack of sleep. It makes him blush, that he’s let it invade him so. “I… do not wish you to be additionally injured.”

They stare at each other for a long moment. Greg worries at the inside of his lip, looking- well, to be perfectly honest, Mycroft has no idea what that look means. He unwraps his fingers from about Mycroft’s wrist and takes a step back. “Just a scratch, that’s all. Besides, if you go back out there you could get hurt again and I do not want that.”

“Then we are are at an impasse?”

“When it comes to either of us getting shot, stabbed, or poisoned, yeah, that’ll be a no.” Greg gestures for Mycroft to please shift to the other wall. “Speaking of, if you’re done trying to pull a runner, this side is less likely to be a target.”

“Ah. Yes. Of course.”

There’s a crash in the hall and Greg shifts, covering Mycroft and wrapping him up to shield him. 

Mycroft blinks. His hands have instinctually shifted to Greg’s chest, fisting the fabric, drawing him closer. 

Greg looks down. “Mycroft- your hands….”

“Do not hurt. At the moment.” It’s true. Mycroft is not entirely sure if he is currently capable of feeling pain. Adrenaline response. Fight or flight. Chemical alteration of the mind- His eyes follow as Greg pulls back and marches to the sink, pouring a shot of mouthwash into a little paper cup, tossing it into his mouth, and spitting it into the sink. “Greg-”

“Sorry. Had to get that out of the way. Can’t do this with hospital mouth.” Greg’s hands cup his cheeks, drawing their lips together with passionate determination. Peppermint permeates the air between them, overwhelming everything but the feel of soft, warm skin and the gentle press of a tongue.

Mycroft melts.

 

***

 

The next target tries to bloody stab her with a proper machete, and Anthea would be mad about that if she had the time for it. Instead she’s all reaction- muscle and mind and motion blended, no time to analyze, she just has to trust herself to move and move in the right way. A few small cuts don’t matter. She’s in a hospital. Stitches are easy. And this isn’t her first time. 

It takes her longer than she’d like to disarm and down him, but she manages it, turning the machete against him and forcing him down. 

One more, yes? There should be one more. 

She listens, trying to locate him, but there’s no distinct sounds, no obvious fighting.

And no Mycroft in her ear.

“Mycroft?” She breathes. There’s no response- not good. Definitely not good. She glides back down the corridor. The smoke is dissipating, the outlines of plain white walls and doors slowly making themselves known. 

“Mycroft?”

She slides up to Greg’s door and gently tries the handle. It doesn’t give- and if they’ve barricaded themselves she should go on to Sherlock. It’s what she’s meant to be doing anyway, especially if he’s the target they’re there for. 

As the door numbers appear, she jogs down the hall. Sherlock is just three ahead- two- one-

A shot echoes as she reaches it and watches a figure stumble back out of it, collapsing to the floor at her feet. Her heart seizes- if she’s failed Sherlock- failed Mycroft-

But she doesn’t know this face, and when she peers around the corner of the doorframe it’s John Watson holding his service pistol out with a steady hand and a cold eye. “Is that all of them?”

“I’m not sure. Mycroft was keeping count for me but he’s gone silent, and his door is barred.”

“Worrisome. My dear brother likes the sound of his voice too much to voluntarily be silent.” Sherlock has gotten on some manner of loose hospital trousers and a t-shirt, but somehow manages to make it look like he’s simply swanning around his own home in pajamas with his hospital gown as a robe. “John?”

“Yeah, on it.”

He takes point and Anthea is happy to let him- after all, he has a gun. One should always point their best weapons forward. 

“Stop.” 

Anthea freezes, her muscles tensing. Of course, on occasion, the actual threat is behind you. The voice is Russian and female, and Anthea can picture her even without looking. Four. It was four. Dammit. 

“Turn around. Slowly please. I would drop the gun, Doctor Watson, unless you’d like this to get… messy. Kick it away.”

There’s a low whimper behind them, soft and feminine, and Anthea’s eyes shift faster than her slowly revolving body. Molly. The Russian has her wrapped in a tight hold, held in front of her like a human shield, one hand about her mouth that must have kept her from screaming and giving away their position. Anthea cannot see if it’s a gun or a blade held behind Molly, but the doctor’s stiff stance would say it’s something pressed against her. “No one need be hurt,” the Russian says smoothly. “A simple trade. The key for the girl.”

“Or?” John growls.

“Or Sherlock for the girl, and we sit with some of my people until he hands it over to us anyway. I imagine one of those ways will hurt a great deal more than the other.” She shrugs. “Or I can just kill her, and I come back and we discuss this again, later. But you are good people, aren’t you? You don’t want that. You don’t like death.”

Anthea can hear John’s breathing over her shoulder, the slow steady breath of a man who must be very strongly considering if he can move fast to enough to make a shot before the Russian can pull Molly in front of the small amount of space she’s peering through. He can’t. Too close. And he must know that as well, or he would have gone for it. 

Her eyes shift. “Sherlock…” she breathes, trying to communicate the only obvious plan in the silence, letting down all the defenses against letting her face be read that she’s built up over the years, all the quiet little shifts that would normally mask her so well. I know you’re smart. I know you’re not your brother, you don’t know me, but read me. Read me.

She watches his eyes as his brow furrows and he nods almost imperceptibly. All she can do is hope he understood. 

“Alright,” Sherlock says, as ever sounding rather put-upon. “But we shall do this fairly. I will walk toward you, you will release Molly, and she and I shall cross in the middle.”

“Closer to me than middle, if you please. It would be a shame if your lover thought it would be a good idea to leap for his gun.”

So it’s a gun, then. It must be, or she wouldn’t be threatening John at range. 

Sherlock walks slowly toward the Russian, pacing himself steadily with his hands up. “Release her.”

The Russian unwraps Molly’s mouth, her hand sliding free. “Walk slowly-”

She doesn’t have time to finish, as Molly snaps her head down and then sharply back, effectively head butting her assailant squarely in the nose. Anthea blinks. Not part of the plan, but let’s work with that. She runs forward, grabbing Molly’s lab coat and pulling, dragging her out of the way as the woman’s gun rises. Sherlock’s hands snap out- Anthea knows he’d had martial arts training, it’s in his file- all he needs to do is buy time and space for-

Another shot rings out and the assassin screams, falling to the ground and clutching her leg as Sherlock wrenches the fun from her grasp. John looks madly pleased with himself, having retrieved his gun from the floor with even more speed than Anthea had expected. 

The shots have drawn her people out, and with the smoke dissipated they move swiftly in to take all of the fallen assassins into custody. “Are you alright?” she asks Molly, helping her up from the floor.

“Oh, yeah. Just- startled me, is all. When I heard the alarm I knew it had to be something up here- I mean of course it would be, right? Especially since Jim, is, um, also up here.”

Shit. “Has anyone checked on Moriarty?” Anthea calls to her various minions, all of whom look about with a vague sense of surprise. “For fuck’s sake. John?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Sherlock is already moving, and John follows, as ever.

“If he runs try to aim for something non vital!”

“No promises!”

Fine. She’ll just have to hope Mycroft forgives her if John ‘misses’ and happens to land a bullet in Moriarty’s head.

“Molly, come with me.”

“Oh, um- yeah, that’s fine. Do you know you’re bleeding?”

“Am I?” Anthea glances down- there are a couple cuts. Small ones. She hopes she would have noticed if any were very large. “This is nothing.”

“You should let me clean them, at least. You don’t know what was on that blade.” Molly smiles earnestly. “Unless it was one of our surgical tools, then it’s probably sterile.”

“Right. Okay. Just after we check on Mycroft. I lost contact with him during the fight, and he doesn’t break a radio connection for no reason.”

She gets back to the door and jiggles the handle again. No joy. “Okay- who’s got a shoulder they can spare?” One of her team comes over, a woman with a rugby background, by the look of her. She hits the door at a run, and Anthea can hear something shift on the other side. It takes three tries before they get it open far enough for Molly to slip her narrow little wrist through and touch the metal blocking the other side, and a bit more maneuvering after that to get it out of the way.

It’s a war zone. The cot’s flipped, there’s clear evidence of bullets in the walls… and no sign of either Mycroft or Greg.

“Mycroft?” She approaches the only door in the room, the small one leading to the loo, with extreme caution, gesturing for Molly to stay behind her. Her fingers land on the handle and push slowly. “Mycroft? Are you-”

Her mouth closes rather abruptly as the door widens enough for her to see in.

“Oh for heaven’s sake.”

 

***

 

Greg freezes, his brain caught between realizing the door has been breached and telling him that he is about to be shot, and the half that’s processing Anthea’s voice and suspects he is still about to be shot… just for other reasons. 

His lips close, pulling off Mycroft’s. He knows he looks sheepish as their eyes meet, like schoolboys caught under the stands, but there’s also promise there, in his and in Mycroft’s. Soon. When we’re on our own.

Clearing his throat, he turns to face the firing squad. “All square out there, Anthea?

“Hmph. I believe it’s handled, but someone stopped responding to the emergency channel-

“Oh,” Mycroft whispers in a soft tone. “Yes, I- apologize. I was distracted.”

Anthea’s brow lifts dangerously. “Were you.”

“Well- Gregory was shot.” There is a yelp outside, and Molly Hooper’s head peers under Anthea’s arm. 

“Greg! Are you alright?”

“Yeah, Molls, minor injury- barely scratched it-”

“Well let me see it anyway. Honestly, you lot haven’t a shred of self-preservation between you, do you?” She gestures, and Greg marches out of the loo, ducking under Anthea’s baleful eye. He keeps his eyes down as Molly guides him to the only upright chair in the room and peeks under the shoulder of his hospital gown. “Okay- yeah, this isn’t too bad, but let me get it cleaned up and I’ll double check whether or not it could use a stitch. You too, Anthea, don’t think I’ve forgotten you.”

“Is, um,” Mycroft murmurs, pausing, and then standing up straighter in a gesture Greg recognizes as the man pulling himself back into his usual schooled and structured form. “Sherlock...?”

Anthea nods. “Fine. He and Doctor Watson took a different segment of the team to check on Moriarty.”

“Who isn’t there.” John’s voice comes from the door, irritated as he shakes his head.“He’s gone.”

“Damn it,” Mycroft growls. “Anthea-”

Her phone is already out. “We’ll pull all the tapes. There is no way in hell he got out unassisted, even in that mess of fog.” 

“It was Moran. Fuck!” John looks like he’d like something to hit. Preferably someone. “I should have shot him. Knew something was funny with him.”

Sherlock strolls in behind him, looking pensive as his eyes skim the room. “You’re not allowed to shoot civilians, John, and there’s no way you could have known he was anything else,” Sherlock casually intones. 

Greg blinks. He’s awake. He rises without regard for Molly’s continued gentle cleaning of his injury, marches straight over to the great tall idiot, and wraps him in a firm hug. “You bloody bastard.”

“That is one of my titles, I am told.” There’s a brief pat on Greg’s own back, which he supposes is she closest he’s going to get to a hug in return. “I understand you have taken some injury on my behalf.” 

A normal person would add a thank you there at the end, but Greg’s going to go ahead and assume it’s implied. “Something like that. M’glad you’re awake.” As they separate Molly gently tugs him back to the chair so she can continue, rolling her eyes as Sherlock’s keen gaze studies her and then Greg.

“Lestrade, why are you wounded?”

“Guns do that, I’m told, that’s why we’ve generally banned them.” Greg hisses as Molly’s cleaning of the wound begins to sting and she shrugs apologetically. 

“No, you specifically. This is….” Sherlock steps into the room, eyes darting about, taking in the furniture the same way Greg’s seen at a thousand crimes scenes. “Targeted. What happened? The poisoning should have been the only attempt.”

“Don’t know if this one was about me, mate.” Greg explains, noting with a bit of pride the stunned nature of the looks turned Mycroft’s way when he mentions the clever use of the resuscitation panels. “Fell out the door after that- and we barred it, like you saw.”

“You think he was….”

“Well, looking for Mycroft. They’ve already tried to kill him once, haven’t they?”

“Possibly. But here- once you ran at him, he only focused on you?”

Greg’s brow furrows. “Well- I charged him, so yeah-”

“I don’t believe he came to kill my brother, as much as I could understand the impulse.” 

Mycroft rolls his eyes. “Charming, brother mine.”

“But he was also not one of the group of assassins in the hall.”

There’s a low feeling of unease growing in Greg’s belly. “How can you tell?”

“There were only four of them- I recognized the ones I saw from your brother’s files,” John notes, glancing to Mycroft, who nods in turn. 

“Quite right.”

“Our four are accounted for.”

“Then we have a problem.” Sherlock steps to the window, looking to the crow of nurses and doctors and patients in the street below. “Moriarty wasn’t the only one who escaped.”

“You’re right,” Sally’s strained voice comes from the door. She’s being supported by Mike Stamford, barely able to stand on her own, her face a contorted, grimacing fury. “And we know who did.”

 

***

 

One of her most integral skills is being able to move about the city with speed, while seeming to be everywhere at once. Some of it is accomplished with Moriarty’s connections- after all, cabbies make excellent couriers for certain off-market goods- some of it with well-honed knowledge of local transit. 

Some of it is a propensity for hacking surveillance. 

Jim is alive and escaping, no doubt- Sebastian is good within his skill set, even she can admit that- but there are messes to clean up before she can remind him of the gratitude he ought to feel about it.  One of her trusted cabbies pulls up near St. Bart’s, well away from any coming sirens. She opens the back door as another figure draws close, moving slowly. “You’ve made a mess of yourself.”

Crawford wheezes, weak from whatever they’ve put him through. At least he’s had the sense to get himself out without further problems. “Yeah… he fights dirty for an old fuck. And he had help.”

“I can see that.” She doesn’t get out to help him- it’s not worth getting her face on any of the cameras. It’s so much more of a hassle to erase footage than it is to break into it and silently watch. “Your fare is paid, you will be transported to one of our medical contacts. This identity is no doubt blown- consider it burned in entirety.” She hands off a burner phone. “I will contact you on this.” His old phone is plucked of his pocket and tucked in her purse. “They’ll use this to track you. I’ll ensure the trail leads nowhere useful.”

“Okay.”

Thugs like this- especially military-trained ones- never question her. It’s one of the things that makes them so useful. “Good. I’ll arrange alternatively housing until a new identity for you can be established. The address will be texted to you when it’s ready.”

“What about- uh, my original contact? Can he- will he be able to reach me?” 

Lefty traces her tongue over one incisor. She can sense the edge of fraying loyalty like blood in shark-infested waters. Poor Crawford. Feeling a little abandoned by Moran? Let me take you in, then. “It may be best if he does not for a while. I’m…” She plays at vulnerability she’s never felt, letting it read so easily on her face that any idiot could read it there. “I’m concerned. He’s- he has a lover, but- his judgement’s been…. I’m not sure our, ah… highest echelons are still confident in him.”

She watches him weigh that over, considering. “Is- is the… boss… unhappy with him?”

On the inside she smiles. Oh, what a trap Moriarty has laid for himself, spreading his name but not his face. And anyone can be Spartacus. “Yes, I believe he is.”

“Right.” Crawford looks out the window, sighing, worry in his eyes. There’s a tie severed. Good. When she handles the problem Moran has turned into, it would be beneficial not to have any angry little minions coming after her with some idiotic idea of vengeance.

She’ll already have enough to deal with if Jim- when Jim- realizes she’s eliminated his little fucktoy.

The cab pulls up not far from Sebastian’s bolt-hole. She’ll need to return to her purloined vantage on that little lovenest while she waits to see exactly how thoroughly she’s going to have to amputate the problem and cauterize the wound. 

“Rest up, Crawford. My people will take care of you.” She exits the cab without looking back, trusting the driver to take him on as planned. Strict orders work wonders for that. 

No questions. No doubt.

If only the rest of the world would be so orderly.

 

***

 

Sebastian knows just enough first aid to manage tidying up the remnants of Jim’s IV lines in the back of the van they’ve hidden in. It’s moving slowly to navigate the otherwise closed perimeter of a messy evacuation, but that’s a consequence of securing an escape route no one will look at. 

“Keep your heads down,” the driver mutters. “We’re almost past the police line.”

“Never mind our heads.” Jim is irritable- Sebastian imagines his painkillers are wearing off, though he’s not going to point out the problem. “Get us past that line or it’s your head you’ll need to worry about.”

Sebastian leans back into the dark of the van as they pull up, and the driver flashes an ID through the window. They’re let past- that’s the point, after all, of having someone on the payroll who has one of those nice little “special security clearance” badges. They can get in anywhere.

The driver can’t take them all the way- not with the GPS in the car. His bosses will be able to pull that later. Sebastian has parked his own car nearby though, anticipating the problem, and when they pull up to a stop sign the driver lets them out. “Quickly please. They’ll check if I’m gone too long.”

Jim, halfway out the car door, turns back with a glare. 

Sebastian sighs.

He doesn’t interfere as Jim’s hand snaps out, pressing the driver’s windpipe hard enough to force his neck against the headrest. “Andrew. Your service is useful, but never make the mistake of finding yourself irreplaceable. You aren’t paid to give orders. You’re paid to take them.” Sebastian watches as Jim waits for Andrew to choke out an appropriately contrite, if mostly tacit, choked gasp of apology, holding on just a second longer with one firm extra squeeze before he lets go. “Come on, Basher.”

Andrew wheezes in the front seat and Sebastian claps him cheerfully on the shoulder as he gets out. “I recommend a good scarf for the bruising. You’ll need it.”

Chapter Text

Crawford?” Greg can’t quite get himself to believe it. Even after Mike had ushered Sally away for treatment, he’s still sitting a bit shocked. He’d liked Crawford, if not quite in the way he’d thought Crawford like him. Crawford was nice. He flirted, even! People don’t flirt with… assassination targets.

“It’s not your fault, Inspector,” Anthea tells him during a brief lull when she’s on Greg-guarding duty, having convinced Mycroft to take a shower and an uninterrupted nap. “People like him are trained to gain a target’s trust.”

“I can’t believe that fucker poisoned me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to bear coffee again.”

She huffs a laugh. “Yeah, that won’t last, I’ve seen how much you drink the stuff. Just brew it yourself for a while.”

“I’ve been off it since I’ve been in here- might be I could give it up!”

“Right, and I’m next in line to the throne.”

Greg rolls his eyes. “Honestly, that’s not the most unbelievable idea. ‘Minor’ officials and all.”

“Mmm.” Anthea sips her tea. “I’m sure I have no idea what you mean.” A low knock at the door draws both their eyes, and there is a palpable pause as Greg feels both of them assess what the likelihood is they’re about to get shot again. With a long inhale, Anthea pulls her shoulders back, angling so she can charge if she has to. “Yes?”

“Oh, good,” Molly’s ponytailed head pops into the room. “I was hoping you’d be in here. I wanted to check that cut.”

Greg’s lip twitches. He’s rarely seen Molly apply that sort of eager attentiveness to anyone other than Sherlock, and it’s a nice change. His eyes slide to Anthea. He doesn’t know her as well, but seeing as she works for Mycroft… well, Molly’s kind of an open book. One doesn’t need deduction to read her.  Anthea’s much more restrained, but she looks a bit… softer, when she talks to Molly, or gently holds her clothing out of the way for Molly to look over the healing bits. 

It’s nice. 

“And what are you smiling at, Lestrade?” Anthea asks, having caught the direction of his gaze.

“Just wondering if Molly’s having a nice time helping to stitch up the living for once.”

“Some of the living are not rude and inconsiderate. So they get a pass.” Molly flashes a smile at him too. “How are you doing? I heard your parents have been ringing.”

Greg winces. Yeah, they have. And his siblings. All happy to lecture him at length on why he shouldn’t be doing anything risky at his age, and has he considered retirement? “Convinced them not to fly up. S’long as someone’s trying to kill me n’all. Seems like a bad idea to offer up any other targets.”

Molly scrunches her nose. “Well if you’re going to put it like that….”

“Got to, Molls. We’ve got no idea what Moriarty’s going to do.”

“Well, you’ve just locked him in a room for days, in pain, and his lover broke him out.” Molly shrugs. “He’s going to be busy for a while.”

Anthea lifts a brow. “Everything we know about the man says he favors chaos. There’s no reason he shouldn’t launch another offensive immediately, especially if Sherlock thwarted him.”

“I’m not sure. He’s not… quite his image, you realize. For all that, he’s human. Somewhere in there.” She doesn’t look up from changing the bandage on Anthea’s arm. “If he wasn’t a little bit, he wouldn’t be able to fake it so well. And even he will need time to heal from a gunshot wound.” 

The expression on Anthea’s face is more difficult to read, but Greg can sense something beyond professional curiosity lingering there. “And how long do you think we have?”

Molly half smiles. “I don’t know. That’s really going to depend.”

“On?”

“How interesting he thinks his boyfriend is versus how much he wants to tear Sherlock to pieces.” She looks up. “It’ll be better for all of us if his boyfriend is very, very interesting.”

 

***

 

Stamford insists that everyone stay at St. Bart’s for a few more days- doctor’s very insistent orders. As one of the only entirely uninjured parties, John ends up manning the operation to start shifting the operational control center Anthea’s built up in the waiting room back to an MI-5 building, taking the security of the operation very seriously. 

Mycroft also gives John leave to ‘assist’ with the interviews of the surviving assassins. If John wanted, he could join Mycroft’s team as a medical consultant by the end of this, but Mycroft expects he wouldn’t be capable of keeping any secrets from Sherlock, and he does not need the stress of his brother’s interference anywhere near matters of national importance (except, of course, by Mycroft’s own request). 

Sadly, the international assassins know little. Sherlock was their only end goal, and Moriarty’s games are not their concern. Mycroft takes a bit of joy in ensuring that the appropriate information is “leaked” to their respective governments that Moriarty lied about the existence of the key, like the evil little imp he is. That should do enough to disrupt Moriarty’s network in those countries- most of them don’t particularly care for being played with. In the meantime both the sniper and his psychopathic boss are in the wind, as is the erstwhile Crawford, much to the chagrin of Scotland Yard. Mycroft had personally ventured to the Met to discuss that particular problem, making it clear that while the force will not be punished for being duped by a professional, it would be in their own best interests to use whatever they knew of the man to track him quickly. In the meantime, they are relegated to their own purgatory of reviewing every case the man has touched, a fate he is glad Greg is spared from. 

The rest of the supposed “side of the angels” has taken to using Greg’s room as their headquarters, though Mycroft suspects Sherlock has been encouraging that as Mycroft has twice encountered John asleep in Sherlock’s room, resting his head on Sherlocks’s shoulder as Sherlock works on his phone. It’s nice to see his brother able to sit still for that long- and it gives him hope that the two of them may yet sort themselves out to mutual benefit.

Stamford, meanwhile, has borrowed Doctor Hooper for a chemical project, including some “supervision” by Sherlock, that has yielded quick if disquieting results. “We’ve been analyzing the sample of thallium Greg was infected with. Doctor Hooper has been tracing the chemical signature to see if we can tie it to any local laboratories.”

Sherlock’s hands are already steepled, having claimed the only other chair on the basis of ‘needing to think.’ “Any luck?”

“We’ve narrowed it down to two- both engaged with military contracting.”

“Moran,” John grumbles. Mycroft has no doubt that, in addition to taking offense that he actually spoke to the man without realizing it, that he feels Moran gives the armed forces a bad name merely by existing. 

“It’s possible. Either through his former connections, or he simply broke in. We’ve asked them to check and see if any of their stock is missing.”

Doctor Stamford folds his hands behind his back. “The other quirk we’ve worked out has to do with the duration of the poison. There was indeed a chemical to stall the effect of the thallium, but Greg was likely inadvertently increasing the potency of the painkilling element without realizing it- caffeine is effective that way, and while I would normally say you have far more than is wise, Inspector, in this case it provided you with a great deal of insulation. Otherwise when the effects of the thallium hit, the opium should have worn off. It would have been… quite painful.” 

Mycroft’s heart tightens, his lips pursing. It was meant to hurt. That makes it even worse than he had expected. Moriarty would have had Sherlock watch Greg suffer before slipping into a coma.  One hand, now down to the most serious of the stitches only, closes over Greg’s. “Safety is going to be paramount once we leave here. Sherlock, I know you would prefer to go after him directly, but so long as he is out there both John and Greg may be targeted again.” 

“I will be cautious.” Sherlock looks up, meeting Mycroft’s lifted brow of mild incredulity with a serious gaze. “I will not put John in danger again.”

Ah. So things are advancing on that front faster than he’d thought. Mycroft cannot tell if they’ve talked, his younger brother and the good doctor, but it is obvious something of an understanding has been reached, as John does not seem very surprised that Sherlock has suddenly become capable of exercising restraint. Good. He will be genuinely happy for both of them to find something pleasant in each other. Something warm.

He feels a squeeze on his hand and glances over to find Greg smiling quietly back at him. He cannot help but feel a flutter of warmth in turn, the heat of it gently sliding to his cheeks, as is ever the curse of those with ginger in their blood. It is a struggle to keep his own face on the serious side. “Anthea will coordinate a screening of 221b, if you must return there, but I would recommend one of our safe houses. Or one of your bolt holes. Something with a few less windows and paparazzi around.”

“Wouldn’t the reporters help?” John asks. “Might be harder to slip someone in there after us if we’ve got a dozen folks with camera staring at the front door.”

“They let that thug in with Martha,” Greg points out. “My face is still sore over that.”

“Yes, but Mrs. Hudson had no reason to be suspicious. We do.” Sherlock looks to John, some silent exchange happening between them. “We shall inspect it and see, as well as taking Anthea’s recommendations into account.”

“Very well.” Mycroft does not miss the quiet pleased expression that crosses Anthea’s face. For once everyone is actually trying to make her job easier. That must be a nice change. “For now caution must be the rule. For all of us. Even Doctor Stamford and Doctor Hooper could be targeted, for having helped Sherlock. My people cannot be everywhere. If either of you are amenable to additional security either here or at your homes, Anthea can arrange the discreet redirection of local CCTV.”

“Fine with me,” Doctor Stamford says with a pleased shrug. “I don’t believe in being overcautious.”

Molly shrugs. “I’m in a big building, but yeah- if you think it would help, I don’t see the harm.”

“Excellent.” Mycroft looks back to Stamford, lifting a brow. “If you believe we might all be cleared to return to our respective fortifications, then…?”

“I’ll check you all over once more- and give you some written instructions that I expect you to follow. Yes, you too, Sherlock. You especially, in fact. Gun shot wounds are nothing to sneeze at and you must give it time to heal. Greg, we’ll get you a prescription for the rest of your meds, and I want you to keep resting as much as you can. If you experience any other symptoms let me know immediately, but I believe we began treatment before any of your other systems became too compromised. Mycroft- mild stretches on your fingers are good, but don’t overtax it and be careful of those cuts, or you’re going to end up needing to have them restitched.”

“I’ll be in touch if any of our cameras pick up something useful, but we’ll be combing through the footage of the attack for at least another day. Get some sleep,” Anthea adds in a tone that does not broker argument. “No doing anything foolish.”

 

***

 

They’re holding hands again in the car, but looking at each other seems to proving more of a struggle. Greg keeps battling the horrible urge to giggle. Even though he’s still hungry, and tired, and sore, his heart is thrumming like a schoolboy with a crush that he gets to hold Mycroft Holmes’s hand in the back of a car.

A month ago he would have told himself it was stupid to think something like that. Even if he knew he wanted it- and he did- he would have thought getting so giddy about it was idiotic. 

Somehow nearly dying has changed his perspective on the matter.

The door closes behind them as they enter the house, and Mycroft turns the lock and sets the code. 

“Fortifications intact?”

Mycroft smiles at him. His smiles have been shyer and softer since they kissed, and usually accompanied by a faint blush. Greg’s heart thrums. Gorgeous. “We are now quite secure.”

“Mm.” Greg slips closer, hands in his pockets. “No hooligans can get in?”

A gingery brow lifts. “I suppose one may have already passed the gates.”

Fondness overtakes Greg’s heart, and he steps closer still, within a hairsbreadth of Mycroft, crowding him back against the door. “Does this count as foolish?”

Mycroft’s cheeks have flared full-red, his eyes wide as his tongue flicks out and wets his lower lip. “Very.”

“Good.” Greg presses closer and kisses Mycroft firmly, his hands finding the taller man’s cheeks and pulling him close. It’s how he wanted their first kiss to go, what he should have had as soon they came in the last time. And god, Mycroft is responsive. The younger man probably doesn’t even realize that he’s making the softest noises of pleasure as he parts his lips, letting the kiss deepen.

It feels like breathing and drowning all at once, and coming up for air only makes him want to go back in. But this is not something Greg is going to rush. “Can I make you dinner?”

“Gregory. You’re meant to be resting.”

“You said that the last time and look where it got us.”

“Fine. Dinner.” There’s a faint flutter along Greg’s belly. His lip twitches when he realizes it’s Mycroft’s fingers, brushing along his plain jumper like it’s the finest silk.  “I shall help.”

“Actually help, or….”

Mycroft huffs, the heat of it radiating between them. “You must eat. I ought to as well. Then… we shall see what else I might assist with.”

A faint low throb echoes in Greg’s cock. “If you insist.”

They eat efficiently. Greg has the sense both of them are doing it mostly out of duty and a sense of responsibility (or, possibly, fear that either Anthea or Mike Stamford will melt out of the walls and force them). There’s a degree of anticipation lingering in the air, only acknowledged through the occasional quiet gaze or the low huff of a chuckle at nothing in particular. Greg keeps catching himself doing it every time he remembers this is all real. Mycroft Holmes has kissed him. And he seems to want even more, which would make Greg a very lucky boy indeed.

“Would you, ah-” he starts to ask, just as Mycroft says, “Might we-”

Their awkward chuckles are matching. Greg waves Mycroft on. “Go ahead, you first.”

“I was going to suggest, if you are, ah, amenable- perhaps a film? Seeing as we are both meant to be resting….”

“That’s a grand suggestion. I was thinking something similar.” Greg smiles. “Popcorn?”

 

***

 

By the third time their hands brush in the bowl, Mycroft is certain Greg is doing it deliberately. Flirting. A skill set he has let lapse with disuse, much to his chagrin- he can only respond to Greg’s charming efforts with blushing chuckles. Wittiness has abandoned him entirely. 

A strong arm slinks over his shoulders. Biting his lip, he leans in until his shoulder hits the side of Greg’s chest. He’s keenly aware of the shift when Greg sets the rest of the popcorn aside and rests his hand on Mycroft’s knee instead.

“Myc…”

Mycroft drags his gaze from the film. He’s only been sneaking the occasional glance- each one has made him feel too nervously fluttery, so focusing on the screen has been easier. Meeting Greg’s soft, dark eyes feels like tumbling in a well. He swallows, hard. “Gregory.”

The hand on his knee glides up, finding the edge of his jaw and holding it reverently. “Been wanting to kiss you again.”

“Have you?” Mycroft exhales. His heart accelerates from a metronome’s pace to a motor, driving him lord knows where.

“Mmmhm. S’getting distracting.”

Mycroft forces himself to keep breathing. “Some distractions are meant to be addressed.”

The edge of Greg’s lip curves up enticingly, the shifting glow of the screen coloring all the pale silvery strands of his hair. “Was hoping you might say that.” 

His hand is gentle as he guides Mycroft’s lips to his own. It’s soft- exploratory and tender. Mycroft can feel himself relaxing into it, savoring it as Greg’s other hand caresses his back. One tongue slides against the other, a trace of salt from the popcorn lingering.

The longer they kiss, the more right it feels, like diving into crystalline waters of the tropics, precisely the right temperature, where everything seems brighter. It makes Mycroft feel more daring, daring enough to climb closer still, right onto Greg’s lap. Greg lets out a soft, sighing noise when he does so, and Mycroft is not unaware of the burgeoning thickness his thigh skimmed over. His own length stirs in turn, warmed by the solid knowledge that he is wanted in such an intimate manner.

You want me. I want you as well.

Oh, god, is it that easy?

Greg’s lips leave his, and the stubble that he’d started in the hospital brushes against Mycroft’s cheek with gorgeous sensitivity as that sweet mouth finds his jaw, his throat. “S’been hard to keep my hands off you, you know.”

Mycroft lets out a contented sigh, his fingers winding into the fabric of Greg’s shirt, tracing the path of muscle and heat. “There does not seem to be anything keeping your hands from me now.”

“Mm. Just gentlemanly conduct.”

Tongue tracing his bottom lip, Mycroft pulls back far enough to see those deep, dark eyes, pupils wide with desire. His heart swells with boldness. “What if I would prefer… something less than gentlemanly?” 

Watching the pulse of arousal that rushes through Greg’s expression is deeply satisfying in a corner of his mind that has remained dusty and vacant for many years. Wanting- and letting himself have- this is a sweet delicacy he’s gone so long without that he nearly forgot how thrilling it could be.

Greg’s hands slip down his back, finding his arse and pulling him in even closer. His lips brush Mycroft’s cheek, his breath hot against Mycroft’s ear. “Can I take you to bed?”

Mycroft smiles, pleasure uncurling in his core as blood shifts in the direction it shall surely be needed. He feels almost light-headed, giddy with anticipation. “Please.”

 

***

 

Greg feels like he might be flying. In fact, he could probably simply pick Mycroft up and carry him up the stairs, that’s how potent he feels. It’s that or doing something entirely foolish, like lifting up a car.

Fortunately his cock does not have complete control of his brain, much as it is trying. He has the sense to walk like a perfectly normal man, albeit one with a pretty fervent erection, up the stairs, Mycroft’s hand in his. By unspoken agreement they end up in Mycroft’s room, toppling onto the bed for another round of hearty snogging. 

And what a snog it is. 

Kissing Mycroft is something Greg could probably do happily for hours. It’s easy for them to get into a rhythm with each other, no awkward clattering of teeth or overeager bruising. And as Mycroft relaxes- god. Having Mycroft Holmes daringly nip his lower lip while grinning smugly and blushing might slay him, and he’d die happy.

Somehow they end up on their sides, his hand on Mycroft’s hip, his fingertips brushing the skin that has scandalously dared to reveal itself as his shirt’s ridden up. His thigh slots between Mycroft’s, sensing the undiscovered prize there, pressing up to rub against it. Mycroft’s moan is heavenly, as is the sudden grip Greg notices on his own arse. He smiles. “Like it when you make that sound, Myc.”

“Mmm.” Mycroft squirms gently, clearly unable to resist rutting a little against the stimulation offered by Greg’s thigh. “Do you?”

“Mmmhm. Wondering if I can hear it louder.” His fingertips skim to the zip of Mycroft’s trousers, skimming the soft flesh of his belly. Greg wets his lip. “Want to touch you, gorgeous. Make you moan for me all night. That work for you?”

Mycroft curses softly, closing his eyes. Greg’s ears have never heard a more arousing sound. “You know I am trained to- ah-”  He groans as Greg shifts his thigh again, smugly pleased by the reaction. “-resist nefarious methods, Gregory.” Mycroft opens his eyes, a challenge in his eyes despite the obvious flush of his cheeks. “You might have to work for it.”

A pulse of eager tension runs through Greg’s cock. “You’ve a teasing side, Mycroft.”

“I may.” A brow lifts in Greg’s direction, that daring look still there.

“That’s alright, gorgeous.” Greg smiles widely. “I like a challenge.” 

He takes his time about it, ensuring every inch of Mycroft’s throat has been thoroughly kissed as he rubs his leg into Mycroft’s cock. Pushing up his gorgeous lover’s shirt further, he explores all that soft posh skin with his hands, from his back to the soft patches of chest hair. Mycroft is iron hard and nearly quivering by the time Greg even considers freeing him from his trousers, smugly proving that he can be teasing too.

Unfortunately, that means he’s also been teasing himself, and Mycroft has not been without strategy of his own: he’s managed to work his own thigh in between Greg’s legs and is offering much the same manner of rubbing, warm stimulation to his own eager length. 

If he doesn’t take matters into his own hands soon, one of them’s going to be coming in their trousers, and frankly Greg isn’t sure which one it’s going to be. Which makes it only fair to level the playing field. 

One hand in Mycroft’s hair, kissing him hard, Greg releases both of them from the confines of their trousers. Gasping into each other’s mouths when they shift together, hot and stiff, feels like they’re trying to breathe the other in, like it’s the only air they need.

He wraps them both in one hand, and that’s when he feels Mycroft finally relax entirely, melting into the bed, unable to do a single solitary thing other than feel. “Greg....” Even his murmur sounds sex-softened, his hands gently flexing where he last left them, around Greg’s hips.

“Don’t worry,” Greg whispers, softly tonguing at his lover’s earlobe. “I’ve got you.” He might’ve guessed it has been a bit for Mycroft- they sort of skipped the dating bit, or the talking about prior lovers bit. None of that matters, though- Mycroft is putty in his hands, and Greg means to lavish him with every care. “You relax.” He strokes upward, his thumb rubbing over Mycroft’s frenulum and head, spreading the precum that’s slicked the tip. Mycroft arches, moaning. “That’s it, love. Close, aren’t you? Keep moaning for me, gorgeous.”

He abandons his own cock entirely to focus on Mycroft’s, stroking with a determined focus. Mycroft’s face contorts, and his hands drop to fist into the sheets as he grows visibly desperate, his moans growing louder. “Greg- oh my god-”

“Mmmhm. You look gorgeous like this, Myc. All flushed and pretty. Are you gonna come for me, love? Show me how pretty you look coming in my hand.”

With a final, broken cry, Mycroft’s hands clench down. His toes curl. He spills across Greg’s hand and onto his own belly, almost whimpering with how hard he’s panting. 

Greg’s never seen anything as beautiful. 

He presses a kiss to Myc’s cheek and rises, straddling Mycroft’s thighs and taking himself in hand. His pace is fast- there’s no need to hold out and wait- and the slick of Myc’s seed in his hand accelerates matters drastically. Out of instinct he rocks gently, his hips rolling like he’s riding a cock- and god, if that thought isn’t enough to send him right up to the edge. He might ride Mycroft’s cock, with him looking all flushed and wrecked like he does now, with his gorgeous eyes watching Greg like he’s pulled the damn moon out of the sky.

His eyes flutter shut and he’s lost to a spinning well of sensation as he comes, his mess joining Mycroft’s. Greg knows he cries out, he can feel it, but that it’s anything coherent escapes him, so lost is he to the internal explosion.

He sinks back to the bed and topples over onto his back, panting. He’s pleased to find Mycroft’s arm and leg winding over him, and a head of auburn hair nudging into his shoulder. Slipping his clean hand under Mycroft’s shoulder, he pulls the taller man closer. “Wasn’t sure you’d be a cuddler.”

“Hmph. I admit nothing.”

Greg grins. “So I shouldn’t tell your brother.”

That earns him a healthy swat to his chest. “Gregory Lestrade, don’t you even consider it.”

He laughs, kissing Mycroft’s forehead. “M’just teasing you. M’not gonna tell your brother you like a good cuddle. B’sides, he’s probably experimenting with cuddles of his own.”

Mycroft wrinkles his nose. “As much as I appreciate Doctor Watson’s well-meaning nature and encourage their ongoing… intimacy, I decline to think of it any specific terms.”

“You realize he’s going to figure that out and tell you things to gross you out, right?”

“Ugh. Refrain from mentioning him while either of us are nude, please.” Mycroft nuzzles closer. It’s sweet, really.  Greg could get used to this. Sleeping like this… waking up like this. He’s grinning like an idiot, but he can’t stop himself. He’s just far too happy.

“We ought to clean up.”

“Mmm.”

Neither of them make an effort to move, and Greg kisses Mycroft’s forehead again. “Alright. Just a bit more of a cuddle first.”

 

***

 

The hospital tapes are… illuminating. Lefty plays them. Pauses. Plays them again. All these little pieces, so scared of James Moriarty that they don’t even see him flee. Pathetic. But it gets worse, doesn’t it? There’s Sherlock and his little doctor, of course. She’d known about them, but that was no accomplishment. Everyone knew about them, save themselves. 

But the Ice Man… that is a surprise. And she is so rarely surprised. 

She watches the inspector in the infrared feeds the security services had so helpfully set up, all protective, the knight in shining armor. So masculine. Maybe there’s something appealing in that. Mycroft is, after all, not the traditional definition of an alpha male. Perhaps there’s something about contrasts? A psychologist would know. Lefty could as well, if she watched long enough, but in truth she doesn’t care why. Only that Mycroft has shown a weakness, and such an obvious one at that. She’s torn between disappointment and and a sense of relaxed ease.

Oh, Mycroft. You’re going to make this so easy for me.

She scrolls through the footage again, switching cameras to gain a better view of the fight in the hall, watching all those heavily armed men, assassins and agents alike, fall. Isn’t that the way of it. Men think they’re being very protective, guarding with guns and fists, and meanwhile a woman did all the work. Anthea is nothing short of glorious. Fast. Smart. Lefty watches her until she has each graceful, fluid motion memorized. “Gorgeous.”

Anthea will be more of a challenge.

Anthea will perhaps be… fun.

Is this what Jim sees in Sherlock?

If it is, she could almost grasp the appeal. His favor for Sebastian remains nearly unforgivable, but this is… something decidedly more interesting. 

Perhaps it is nice, on occasion, not to be boring.

Chapter Text

“…and our contacts in the Baltics are getting a little antsy. They have been advised to exercise patience, of course, along with a reminder that we don’t care for rudeness in our business dealings.” Lefty folds her tablet into her chest, watching the doctor inspect Jim’s injuries. He’d apparently only needed a few stitches redone after their exodus from the hospital. The British Government treated him quite well. Or, rather, they hadn’t gotten to any real forms of torture yet, which is, Lefty has to admit, sensible, if a waste of time. Mycroft Holmes would never carry out torture where it could be seen by onlookers from a hospital that is not entirely under his control.

She does wonder what he would do if left entirely to his own devices. Free of consequence, as she is. Torture is just an expedient method of gathering data. He would probably see that, in the end. He might even agree.

Jim watches her unblinkingly, looking a little rough, a little bloodshot in the eyes, but otherwise good enough. “You’ve been a very diligent girl, haven’t you.”

“Am I ever otherwise?”

“No.” Jim waves off the doctor, easing himself up. He must be in pain, but his teeth bare in a smile. A pity she’s never found him terrifying. The experience must be thrilling. He steps closer, beside her, looking out the well-guarded window. “You don’t approve.”

It isn’t worth pretending she doesn’t know what he means, that he isn't also clever enough to know how many problems he'd caused by handing the reins to Sebastian Moran, of all people. Last chance, Jim. This will prove it. If he is too far gone, this is how she will know. “I did not think my approval was necessary.”

“It isn’t.” Those feral eyes turn, staring at her openly.

She stares back. 

“You want to know why it wasn’t you.”

“It should have been me.” His lip curls- there’s too few people willing to speak back to him. His ego has made him think he is untouchable. But she’s known him for far too long to bother indulging his little games of power and ego. “This is a business. It ought to be run as a business. Power and profit.”

“And that’s why it was never going to be you, kitten.” Her face doesn’t shift, but she can feel the low undercurrent of rage she typically is so proficient at tamping down beginning to make itself known. 

“You have a criminal empire. Empires require order.”

“Order is boring, Lefty. You know this.”

“It’s necessary.”

“It’s really not.” He grasps her chin, studying her eyes. Jim has never had a common sense for personal space. “You think this is an empire? All my connections, all those sad little people who come whinging to my door, begging for help. Help me kill, help me steal. Help me die.”

“You reach out to them too.”

“So I do! For the interesting ones. The Cabbie was a treat. People are so much more interesting when they’re dying. Suddenly so honest! All that talk of morality, hand-wringing over heaven and hell… doesn’t matter at all when it’s suddenly their own neck in the noose. But even he was just bait for something better.”

“Sherlock and his brother will dismantle everything you’ve built. Will it matter who wins your game then?”

“Oh, you really don’t see it, do you.” His fingers close tighter, clamping onto her jaw, hard enough to hurt but not to bruise. She resists the urge to break his wrist. Moriarty is never someone to be trifled with in a fistfight, particularly when the room contains anything sharp. “The Network- my empire- doesn’t matter. It never has! That’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all bait. It’s all for the game. Nothing else has ever, ever mattered. “

Her breath stills for a moment, some little protest in her mind whispering surely not. “Nothing else?”

“He was my equal, for a moment, you know. Just for a moment. And I would have died there, knowing I’d made him like me.” The tendons in his wrist are popping, his eyes wild. “I can do it again. That rush… is worth a thousand empires.” His gaze tightens. “So no, Lefty, I don’t care about your bills and your banks. You can’t mold someone. Not like that. But Sebastian- oh, Sebastian knows all about pain and pressure and who to shoot that will hurt the most. That’s why he gets it all. Understand, poppet?”

She holds his gaze, waiting to a count of five before she reaches up and gingerly takes his wrist, making it clear this is not an escalation, merely a method of ensuring she can speak better. Prick. How dare he? He built- had her build on his behalf- the largest, most potent criminal network the world had known, and he thinks it is nothing?

The thought almost makes her rage overflow. It was never your precious little fucktoy. It’s you. The problem is you. 

Whatever small scrap remains of her heart hardens like molten lead has been poured it and tossed into a frozen pond. 

“You’ve made yourself quite clear.” She takes a long, steadying breath to quiet the muscles in her aching neck. “So you will continue playing?”

“Of course! Sherlock is still alive, after all- and won’t that be fun. Poor boy took a bullet, all for me, and he has so many lovely little friends I can kill in front of him.” His grip tightens again. She can feel the places small, fingertip-sized bruises might form, mapping out the shape of Jim’s hand. “Sebastian kills so beautifully. And I only have to worry about burning the fields and running off with my prizes. You can keep cleaning up- inventorying and allocating and investing- I don’t care. You aren’t really a part of it.”

Their eyes meet. A predatory sort of smile curves the edge of her lip. “I never did want to play your games, Jim.”

“No, you didn’t.” He leans closer. “I’m not real-ly one to get in the way of initiative, kitten, but I took a look at my accounts- or, rather, Sebastian’s accounts, which are still mine. Put my things back, kitten, or I’ll have to get my ruler out and rap your grasping little knuckles.”

“Everything alright?” Sebastian’s made coffee, and it’s mildly amusing to see him carting in a full tray for it. Ever the good housewife. He looks between them with a gaze that is not so much concerned as wondering which set of blood he’ll be cleaning off the carpet. 

“Just peachy, tiger.” Jim releases his hold on Lefty and skips across the room, flapping a hand at the doctor. “You can go now, bye!” 

Wisely, the doctor does not elect to argue the point. He gathers his equipment and shuffles out, trying not to meet Jim’s gaze. Jim has that effect on weaker people. 

Inside, she feels the rage burble and boil. It’s worse than she suspected. So much worse.

Her hand closes on the contingency plan in her pocket. She doesn’t have much time, but she manages to place it discreetly as she bends to pick up her purse and slip her tablet in.

“You too, kitten.”

“Of course.” Her heels are soundless on the carpet, but the eyes that follow her feel like clanging bells in the back of her mind that must be silenced. On your own heads be it. You bring your empire down on no one but yourselves.

They won’t be seeing a penny of it again. Not one. Never. 

The Network is hers now. 

She is the spider.

And she is hungry.

 

***

 

“Basher….”

Jim seems to be in a “marking his territory” mood. Sebastian doesn’t think he’s had this many bite marks on his person in years, even when Jim’s being particularly aggressive with him. He’s settled for just lying on his stomach, naked, to try and get some work done while keeping an eye on the external security cameras. Call him paranoid, but Seb has no interest in giving Jim back to the Iceman and his little friends so quickly.  And the nudity keeps Jim from doing stupid shite like tearing his clothes with his teeth for amusement. 

Of course, that doesn’t Jim keeps doing distracting shit like biting him on the fucking arse.

“Do you need a chew toy? Raw steak? I can go out and get something.”

“I have a chew toy, Basher. Right here.” He flicks Seb in the bum. 

Sebastian rolls his eyes. “You are an endless distraction. Don’t you have work to do? Someone’s dismemberment to order?”

“Boring. Besides, someone shot me. I’m supposed to be resting.”

Lifting a brow, Sebastian rolls on his side. “You call this resting?”

“It’s restful.” Jim lays his head on Sebastian’s hip, big eyes wide and supposedly innocent, as though Sebastian doesn’t know any better. “You know I find taking you apart relaxing.” 

“You need to work some energy off. Try having a walk on the fucking treadmill, then have a fucking nap.”

“Naps are boring.”

Sebastian runs his tongue over his teeth. Jim is rarely in a playful mood that doesn’t result in someone’s imminent torture. But, seeing as his own tendencies lean toward thinking peril is arousing…. “S’pose I’ll have to run you down myself then.” It only takes a quick maneuver of his legs, a wrap and flip, that puts Jim on his back and Sebastian on top of him. The edge of Jim’s lip coils into a dark smile.

“Why, Basher, am I being too distracting?”

“Always.” At least Jim hasn’t gotten back into his suits while he’s recuperating- he doesn’t need to show off in from of Seb, and the doctor would have made him take it off anyway to see the wound. That means it’s far easier to yank down his trousers, leaving them at his thighs to keep him from moving too much- partially for Sebastian’s benefit and partially to keep Jim from injuring himself further by accident. Sex has always been something of a combat sport with him.

His injury hasn’t done a thing to his libido. Jim’s already mostly hard. Well, of course he is. He’s only been trying to gnaw my bloody thighs off for an hour. Normally Sebastian would forcibly tie him down for something like this, but seeing as he’s still recovering…. “Hands over your head.”

“Ordering me, Basher? Boring.”

“Terribly boring, yes, and also not having you rip your stitches out. Hands up or no fun for you at all.”

Jim frowns. “I will go get the knives, Tiger, and not in the fun way.”

“You can try it, but I’m maintaining a ‘one injured part at a time’ policy here, and let me assure that I can and will tie you to the bed for days until that party is not you.” Jim growls and Sebastian snaps his teeth back, inches from each other’s faces. Always feral with you and sex. Feral and bloody. “When you can manage your own protection and escaping again you can carve as many decorations in me as you want. Now.” Sebastian flips into his dark, military, I’m not actually fucking kidding voice. “Hands. Up.”

Satisfied that Jim can in fact get his hands over his head without pulling anything, Sebastian reaches into the nightstand and pulls out a pair of cuffs, deftly snapping them about Jim’s wrists. They aren’t made for pleasure, and they will hurt, but only his wrists, not the hole Sebastian’s bullet had punched in him. 

“Now then.” He rolls his hips, feeling Jim’s prick under him, steadily hardening. Jim’s not one for moans unless he’s very far gone, but his widening pupils and the slow way he licks his tongue over his teeth speak volumes. “Let’s see about tiring you out.”

He doesn’t know how long they go on for, as he slow-rides his way toward sending Jim into a nice sleepy oblivion, when he realizes Jim’s gone entirely still. He isn’t looking at Sebastian, either, his eyes narrow, head slightly tilted like he can hear something. 

“Jimmy?”

Jim exhales. “Oh, she’s going to war, Basher. Brilliant girl.” His eyes snap up, meeting Seb’s, that wild, feral look he usually reserves for Sherlock there in full force. “Tick tick boom.”

Shit. Sebastian doesn’t even have time to ask. Shit shit shit. He snatches Jim from the bed and runs for the bathroom, slamming the door and launching them both into the tub. The low hiss is scarcely audible, but now that he’s not distracted with fucking he can hear it, getting steadily louder, like a kettle boiling over. Jim is laughing like he’s never seen anything more amusing, hands still cuffed. “I didn’t think she had it in her.”

“What-”

The living room explodes.

He can hear it as the door takes the brunt, then several other explosions as part of the stock of ammunition in the living room catches, popping like a small war. That cracks the loo door, wood chips flying and carrying the scent of gunpowder. Sebastian feels several catch in his back, and he presses himself over Jim, shielding as best he can. Pain is minor. He can deal with pain, as long as Jim isn’t hurt again.

When it ends the living room is smoldering and singed and the bed is quietly on fire. The whole place might as well be cratered and he’s not even sure the neighbors in this shithole would hear it, that’s how good the soundproofing is. Well, that and the incessant partying down the hall where someone is selling hallucinogens. 

She, he’d said. “Lefty did this?”

“Oh, yes, Basher.” Jim still looks thrilled. It's strange, but Sebastian almost feels relieved he has something else to obsess over. At least she isn’t Sherlock. “She always wanted to play war. This is going to be fun.”

 

***

 

Mycroft feels the distant pangs of fear before he is even fully conscious. A foreign presence, so close, someone in his room-

Someone wrapping their arms about him and pulling him in, tight.

He exhales, his body suddenly and sharply awake. Not a dream, then. Greg Lestrade is actually in his bed, his nose nudging against the back of Mycroft’s neck, hanging on like a particularly determined koala. 

Which means, by association, that he did not imagine the… sex. Nor the cuddling after, or the tender way Greg insisted on tidying them both up so as not to risk any infection in Mycroft’s still-healing hands.

The gentle press of Greg’s morning-hard cock is a fairly good indicator of the reality of the situation as well. Mycroft huffs a quiet laugh. All real. All perfectly real. 

He feels a bit delirious about it, like he’s just proven some previously unsolved equation. Gregory is here, and wants him, and once Moriarty and his ilk are safely dealt with-

“Stop it,” Greg murmurs grumpily into his hair.

Mycroft lifts a brow and half-turns his head. “Hm?”

“You’re thinking. S’too early. No thinking allowed.”

You are not entirely awake.” Mycroft rolls in Greg’s arm, nudging his lover onto his back and draping over him like a human blanket. Do we merely qualify as lovers? When does one inquire about monogamy? Exclusivity?

A breath exhales into his hair. “Still thinking. Stop it.”

“Hmph. Hush.” Yes, perhaps he is overthinking. Mycroft should enjoy the moment more and allow himself just a little time to simply revel in what he already has, without always looking to what comes next.

Fortunately there is a delight to be enjoyed quite immediately, and one he thinks might bring them both pleasure. 

Grinning to himself and ignoring Greg’s little noises of protest at the interruption of their cuddle, Mycroft pulls the covers over his head and slips beneath them, kissing all the way down the trail of silvered hair until he reaches his prize. Greg shifts, his body recognizing what’s occurring before his mind does, legs parting to allow Mycroft’s mouth better access. “Mm- Myc- what’re you- oh-

Mycroft nuzzles against Greg’s cock, softly brushing over it with lips and nose, memorizing the feel of it, the shape, the scent, before he allows his tongue to gently trace the same path. This he can take his time with. 

Greg moans, soft and sleepy, his hands shifting through the sheets, shoving them aside until he can reach Mycroft’s hair, lacing his hands through it. It’s soothing to have hands his hair, just as it is to take Greg into his mouth and hear him moan. A thrill of pleasure ripples through Mycroft’s heart that he can offer this to Greg at all. Bring joy to him. Make him feel cared for. 

He laves his tongue around the thickness of Greg’s cock, listening to Greg quietly gasp. Every little reaction is more potent like this, in the otherwise still morning. Mycroft cannot take him into his throat yet, but there will be time to practice. He rarely sets himself a task he is incapable of accomplishing. 

“Myc…” On of Greg’s hands tightens, pulling in a way that goes to Mycroft’s own cock. Desperate, Gregory? More? Mycroft is happy to oblige.

It only takes a few minutes to bring Greg to a squirming, panting climax, pinning down his hips in the end to keep him from bucking up. The taste is one Mycroft had long forgotten, but his mind recalls it unbidden- tiny university beds and scarcely used secure bedsits, hotels and, on one daring occasion, someone’s piano study. Not quite like riding a bicycle, but close enough. And far better when he can hear his own name moaned from Greg Lestrade’s mouth.

“Mycroft Holmes, you utterly glorious bastard.” Greg is still panting, spent and sated. “M’going to have to get back in shape if you’re going to be like this. My heart can only take so much.”

“Ah, yes. Well, we wouldn’t want to wear you out too quickly at your age.”

“Cheek.” Mycroft lets the man draw him up and press a hard kiss to his lips. “Interfering with my beauty sleep, you are.”

“I can let you sleep next time.”

“I’d really prefer it if you didn’t.” Greg’s arms wrap Mycroft so easily, warm and strong, twining them together like they’ve never been anything other than lovers. They fit together so perfectly it’s a wonder than they ever lived apart.

Breakfast is a slow, savory process, primarily because Greg keeps pausing to offer Mycroft fruit that’s meant to be going into the crepes he’s making. Not that Mycroft is going to object. From the moment they returned from the hospital everything has felt like an easy dream, the world hazy and brightly colored, like a field in the height of summer.

But nothing in his life can be easy for long.

The phone pings with Sherlock’s name on the screen, and Mycroft sighs as he answers. “Hello, brother mine.”

“Mycroft. Have your people alerted you yet?”

“My people have been fairly insistent that I am to rest for once, so no, they have not.”

“Your assistant is rerouting your alerts.”

“That is entirely possible. What is this about, Sherlock?”

“An explosion in Tower Hamlets. I think you’ll be interested. Awful lot of guns at the scene.”

Mycroft sighs. “Sherlock, domestic terrorism is in fact handled by other departments on occasion-”

“Yes, but that aside, John and I have been studying how precisely Moriarty was extracted from St. Bart’s. There are claws here matching those used by Sebastian Moran to gain access to the building.”

Greg is watching him with a lifted brow, two travel mugs already acquired and set by the coffee maker. Mycroft smiles at him. “Intriguing. We’ll be there shortly.”

 

***

 

The explosion is tidy, all things considered. It’s possible no one would have noticed at all if the next door neighbor hadn’t been home and had all her picture frames knocked off the wall. “Thought it was one of them dealers finally blowing themselves up! Guess we’re not too lucky today. It’d help the bloody neighborhood if they fucking did.”

Greg tries not to let his face shift. “I’m sure, ma’am.” He leaves her with one of the uniforms to take her statement- he’s not here as part of the Met, which he has to keep reminding himself of. He’s still officially on secondment to MI-5, even if some of his team still act like he’s in charge. Speaking of…. “Sally!” She’s watching Anderson turn over his notes to the MI-5 forensics team, everyone playing nice with each other for once. “Did I hear right that you called Sherlock?”

“Shh,” she swats his arm. “Don’t say that too loud. I’ve got a reputation to keep up.”

“Still, Sally. Sherlock?”

“Well, I told DI Jansen my suspicions, but he didn’t think it was worth anything- just some dealer with a big arsenal, right, trying to protect his supply.”

“And you didn’t believe that?”

“I saw those claw marks too, you know, and there’s way more weapons here than some knobhead dealer could afford. This shite s’not ours to be handling. But since he wouldn’t call in your, ah… boss….”

“You went for a loophole.”

“Yeah.”

“He isn’t my boss, you realize. Not really.”

Sally grins mischievously. “On paper he is though, yeah? Bet you’re into that sort of thing.”

“Sally-”

“D’you call him sir in bed? Go for the full power trip thing, that’s always fun.”

“Har, very funny. Shoo and take Anderson with you, sergeant, the security services are here now and we can’t have common officers about.”

“Cheek. Up one step in life and forgets all about the little people.” She claps him on the shoulder, her voice dropping. “Good luck, boss. You’ll get them.”

“Thanks. I hope so.”

He surveys the room. It feels almost like any other crime scene- Sherlock and John puttering near some of the blast debris, Mycroft standing off to the side on his phone. Except none of these people are really his, they’re all MI-5 specialists, and usually they’re after a murderer. Not chasing the intended victim. Shaking his head, he downs another swig of coffee. “Alright, Sherlock. What do we have?”

“Clever little explosive. Time delay with acid on the fuse, set off quite a lot of the ammunition as a secondary explosion. Some of the rounds were insulated by their secure storage, otherwise this may have been much worse.” He marches to the bed. “The targets were mid-coitus, but had sufficient time to escape into the bathroom, where they sought refuge in the tub.” Sherlock gestures- there’s still a bit of blood. “As they are not present, it is likely both of them survived, if somewhat injured.”

“So the sniper was probably here- was Moriarty with him, or did he set off the explosion? Moran displeased him somehow?”

“Doubtful.” Sherlock walks back to the bed and opens up the nightstand. There’s- toys. Lots of toys. And restraints. And knives. “If we continue on our earlier assumptions that Moran and Moriarty are an item, I would wager it would be relatively suicidal for Moran to engage in coitus with anyone else, and doubly unlikely considering his companion’s recent egress from a secure hospital bed. The real question, inspector, is whether one of them alone was the target, or both together.”

“It’s a hell of an arsenal to leave behind.” John is, unsurprisingly, looking over the weapons. Greg makes a note that he’s probably going to have to have someone frisk the man on the way out to ensure he hasn’t wandered off with one. The last thing Sherlock needs is access to a second gun. “Must’ve been running in a hurry.”

“Worried about second attack?” Greg asks.

“It would be prudent. Especially if they though the flat was being watched.”

“We didn’t even know they were here, though. So who would have?”

“It was not governmental,” Mycroft says, joining them as he hangs up the phone. “But there is an unusual face on CCTV. One carefully hidden. She knew where the cameras were.” He turns the phone to face them, and there is a woman- hair hidden under a hat, sunglasses on, a scarf and upturned collar shielding her from a clear view. “We don’t have enough to match her to our databases, but she does not appear to be a local.”

“So… Moriarty’s brother said there was a girl, right? What if she’s the jealous one? Taking out Moriarty’s lover?”

“Or removing them both.” Sherlock whirls and stalks the room, finally dropping to the carpet, his face almost pressed against it. “Here- she entered and walked to here, stood here for a while. Giving a report. She works for him- he’s out of the hospital, she must be reporting on his business. What he missed.”

“How’s he doing that?” Greg whispers to John.

“Heels!” Sherlock shouts from the floor. “Imprinted in the carpet. Mycroft, have one of your minions lift any trace and send it to Molly.”

“We do have our own people, you realize, brother mine.”

“None that I trust. Send it to Molly.”

“So she reports,” Greg cuts off the rising brotherly dispute. “That’s good soldier behavior, though, innit? Tell the boss what’s been going on in his absence.”

“Not if she got a taste for it,” Mycroft adds. “We have been tracking Moriarty’s known business ties- none of them have faltered. Moriarty himself has been out of commission for long enough that we should be seeing more of a holding pattern in some areas, chaos in others when they cannot get what they need. This has been orderly. She was likely managing things for him. Expanding, even. Our data would suggest their profits are increasing.”

“So it’s a coup?” John looks at them, nodding to the weapons. “She didn’t just take them out, she removed most of their reserve. Harder to go after someone when she blows up your guns.”

“Quite. So we have two matters to deal with.” Mycroft rubs the bridge of his nose. “Sherlock- even without the Network, Moriarty is still a massive threat to you in particular. He may liaise with his foreign contacts if the domestic ones have been compromised. You were already researching the links in his web-”

“John and I will pursue it.”

“Carefully, if you please. I do not doubt he would still take the chance to kill either of you, regardless of who else has his attention at the moment. Gregory and I will trace every woman we can find who has interacted with him. If someone else has stolen the Web out from under his nose this might be the best chance we’ve ever had to burn it out of London in entirety.”

“And what if we catch him again?” John asks, just a hint of the soldier’s edge in his voice.

Mycroft lifts a brow. “Try and exercise good judgement, Doctor Watson. That is all I can ask.”

 

Chapter Text

Lefty watches from her array of cameras, a row of hacked CCTV and private businesses on small screens. The explosion had hardly been noticeable, which is something of a pity. Leveling the entire block would probably be doing the city a service. 

Jim’s accounts are empty. Sebastian’s name has been wiped from them. Every cover she had ever arranged for them is gone. They have no money, no identities, and it’s doubtful anyone is going to believe Moriarty is who he says he is with nothing to back it up. There are those who’ve actually met him before, albeit few and far between- they’ll be easy enough to kill, one at a time as he shows her where they are. 

He’d be better off running, but she knows him better than that. 

She taps her fingers on the desk as she contemplates. Jim Moriarty does not have friends, and his brother is too far and too unsubtle to be of use. Jim would be more likely to burn the city down rather than let anyone take it from him, he would rather show up at Baker Street expecting a bullet in the head than seek shelter.

So. Sebastian. 

Where would precious Sebastian go? He still has a few military contacts, a few acquaintances forged in field of blood. 

Ah. And.

Oh, this will work nicely.

She places a phone call, the man who answers clearly confused about how she has his number. She offers some instruction. He negotiates, of course, wanting more. Those in positions of power are always looking for more. Fine, for now. His job is easy. If he does it well, she’ll let him continue playing with his own aspirational machinations. She might even support him, when the time comes for a special seat to be filled. Having the Prime Minister in her pocket would be nice.

He’ll tie things up nicely, of course. Politicians are excellent liars. And in the meantime, she can gather up all her other little pieces and set them on the board just before she overturns it. 

After all, there’s something nice about being able to look a defeated foe in the eye as they die.

 

How are you feeling? L

 

Well enough. C

 

I have a target for you. You’ll have to be quick. Sending a special car your way now. Take that one and no others, the driver will explain why. L

 

Mysterious. Alright, weapons? C

 

Unobtrusive. You should be in and out in a snap. L

 

And back before the end of the match. Yes ma’am, I’m on it. C

 

She smiles. Deference is addicting. You were his, and now you’re mine. Jimmy doesn’t want to wear the crown? That’s fine. 

It will look better on her anyway. 

And where are my other little mice?

Mycroft Holmes has his residence secured against the intrusion of cameras other than his own, and his are quite hard to get into. Lefty doesn’t need them, however- she can tell her plans are working from the scurrying of the other little mice. Sherlock and Doctor Watson are running about, chasing shadows in an effort to find Jim, and honestly she’s not sure whether it will be more amusing if they find him just as she snatches him away or if they are left with whatever she leaves of his corpse once she’s eliminated him.

Of course, if they find him first, perhaps she’ll have the joy of eliminating Sherlock Holmes as well. After all, once she secures her position, she has no doubt he will become a more drastic problem. It’s in his nature. He can never leave well enough alone.

She dials a number, permitting herself a small smile. “Andrew.”

Oh- you’re- you’re not supposed to call this number-”

“Shut up, Andrew. I’m informing you that there has been a change in hierarchy. You enjoy being paid for your services, don’t you?”

She can hear him swallow. “He’s- I don’t believe that, he’d never-”

“He’d never what? Fall?” She waits. “Would it better convince you if I meet you at that posh little flat of yours? I’m told I’m far more convincing in person.”

“No! That’s- you don’t need to do that.”

“Good. I have a job for you.”

 

***

 

Much as Sebastian enjoys bleeding in back alleys, a little triage is required. Jimmy hails them a cab, still smiling an unreasonable amount as they make their way to Belgravia. The building is fine and old, as Sebastian remembers it. Unchanged, which doesn’t surprise him. Being boring on the outside is a family trait. Of course, their father had used it to mask a rather… challenging… home life, while his brother disguises far more interesting hobbies behind those staid walls. 

He loses Jim somewhere in the foyer as some piece of art catches his eye. Jim’s rather fae tendencies ensure he likes sparkles and gold and coin, but folks forget that the fae could be violent little shits when they felt like it. If any of them were ever real, Sebastian is sure Jim would be of their line.

The guest bath is sufficient for his needs, and he knows his brother stocks it well in case of incidents in his own extracurricular activities. It’s hard to reach the wood in his back, but with Jim swanning off to explore, but he makes do.

Footsteps pad in that are too heavy to be Jim’s, but Sebastian knows them well enough not to turn and blow a hole in his visitor.

“Sebastian. What a surprise. Do help yourself.” 

Sebastian doesn’t bother looking up from the mess he’s making in the bathroom of antiseptic and alcohol and discarded bandages. “Already on it, thanks.”

“I can see that.” Augustus- Lord Moran, properly, after the death of their father- leans in the doorway.  “Why are you here?”

“Your housekeeping staff is decent. Keeps a nice full stock. Afraid mine’s been acting up.”

“Stealing your bullets?”

“Setting off explosives.” He tapes the last fresh bandage into place and turns to face his elder brother.  “How’s politics?”

“Tedious. Scotch?”

“Gladly.” He doesn’t bother cleaning up. Augustus has people for that, especially in this flat, a flat not even registered amongst his other properties. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“No. You set off my motion alarm.”

“Did I? That’s new. Getting paranoid?”

“Merely prudent.” They sit across from each other, Augustus in his impeccable suit, Sebastian shirtless and stuck all over with white cloth, sipping as though this is perfectly usual. In a way, it is. After a fairly public estrangement- Augustus felt in his position it was best to distance himself from his dishonorably discharged brother- their only meetings have been about a few mutually aligned business interests. “Your… boss… is in some trouble, I’ve heard.”

“Have you?”

“Something to do with a sniper.” Augustus sips slowly, his eyes very sharp. “You wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would you?”

“All part of the plan.” Jim grins from the doorway, Cheshire-like. “Hiya Gus.”

Augustus blinks, barely containing a sneer at the abbreviation of his name. “Mr. Moriaty, I presume.”

“Hiii-iii.” Jim’s head tilts, eyes unblinking. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for a while, you know. Basher didn’t think you’d be home. Busy boy like you, always on the go.”

“Such is the call of government work.”

“Ah-ah. Not that. Though that’s fun too, I suppose. No, I mean your little side project.” Jim smiles wide and Sebastian takes a big swig of scotch, since usually that sort of look precedes him needing to severe limbs and his brother really hasn’t earned an exception to that policy. “You think you can negotiate with any black market dealers in London and I won’t hear about it?” Augusts opens his mouth, but Jim simply walks over and places a finger across it, digging his nail in just under Augustus’s nose. “Now now, I’m not offended. Even though I could be. Business is business. The Koreans, though.” Jim scrunches up his nose. “You realize they’re just trying to get you to do the work for them? The UK in chaos, all of that. Knock one of their rivals big allies off the board for a while. Takes some balls to do that, just to get yourself into the big shoes.”

Augustus leans back, but Jim’s finger just follows, pressing harder until his head is pinned into his chair. If they weren’t brothers, Sebastian would barely recognize the rage he’s quieting right now, but Augustus has always been too British for his own good. Pity. He would be fun if he’d ever let it out. “What do you want?”

“I know you haven’t gotten all your little toys yet. Takes time to source things like that. Very, very big boom and all. Has to come in so quietly. But you’ve gotten a sample, haven’t you?” Augustus nods, just a scant motion restricted by Jim’s finger, and Jim smiles even wider. “We’re going to need to borrow that.”

 

 

***

 

“Molly-”

“It’s rude, Greg!” Molly tears about the lab, doing her job just about as violently as possible. “Do you know how many people have come around asking about him? We barely even went out!”

“I know, Molls, but-”

“Yes, it’s important, I know that, but-”

“Molly.” Anthea’s voice is smooth in the air, seeming to slow down Molly’s pace a fraction with its kind steadiness. “We don’t need to know anything you don’t want to tell us. We’re just trying to figure out if he dropped any hints about friends, or companions. He made up a character, but that sort of character is always best if there are grains of truth to it.”

“Sherlock said he was gay.”

“And that is likely, yes. Or at least he isn’t opposed to men.”

“He has a boyfriend?”

“Yes.” Molly makes a grumbling noise and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “always gay.” Anthea coughs delicately. “We’re more interested in any women he may have mentioned.”

“Well, like I said- it was just a couple dates, I didn’t exactly go to his place and meet his parents or anything.”

“Anything at all, Molls. Could’ve been innocuous. Did he mention any names?”

“Mmm. I don’t know. He said he liked John’s blog- that’s how he told me he’d heard of Sherlock. That blogs are more honest, that people tend to show more of themselves when they only have a few readers because there’s no filter yet. He’d seen my blog too. He liked my cat pictures- I think that was a lie, though.”

“What about… family?”

“Um. Oh, yeah.” She pauses in her work setting the pipette she’s working with aside. “There was a cousin, I think? He had to leave once, urgently- said there was a family emergency. Someone had an accident. A car came for him, and I thought I heard the driver say something about traffic. Traffic was… miserable on the A13 and did he want to go around, and Jim said no, he needed to go to Whitechapel first to pick up….” Her face scrunches. “I’d thought I’d misheard him at the time, it was just through the window- driver had the passenger side cracked a bit, but I don’t know that either of them noticed. I think he said his bank.”

“Anything else?”

“Sorry. We didn’t spend much time… talking about him, to be honest. He was always just asking about me, and police things.”

Greg nods, glancing to Anthea, who eyes are unfocused as she rapidly thinks. “There was a- some sort of messy deal, around that time,” she murmurs. “We hadn’t tied it to Moriarty, but there were a number of bodies found, with signs of others having been injured. It could have been Moran, encountering someone attempting a double-cross.”

Molly’s nose crunches, worry in her eyes. “That sounds bad.”

“Bad for them, yeah.” Anthea puts her hand over Molly’s. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, though.  Moriarty’s got plenty more to think about than you.”

 Greg’s lip twitches. “Yeah… listen- Molls, how about we have Anthea check on your security arrangements, alright? M’sure she’ll be happy to double check on your safety.” Anthea shoots him a glance that openly inquires as to whether he has ulterior motives, and he just smiles back. C’mon. Not quite as subtle as you think.

“If you think that would help-”

“Oh, that’s brilliant! Anthea, maybe you can help me with one of my window latches, it’s sticking. You aren’t allergic to cats, are you?”

Greg smirks, hiding from Anthea’s I see you and I did not need your assistance with this as I was managing fine on my own look by sipping his coffee. “I’ll leave you to it, then. Enjoy!”

 

***

 

Lefty lifts a section of dark hair, smoothing it. “Perfect. Now, let’s review. Name?”

“Anthea Fromm.”

“And you assist?”

“Mycroft Holmes.”

“Good. And when you are in?”

“Activate the skimmer, obtain whatever hard files I can. Stay for five minutes, then leave.

“Excellent.” Lefty strokes Kate’s hair. Soft. Soft things always remind her how easily destroyed they are. But this version of herself has to be supportive and caring and thoughtful. “You are going to do wonderfully, I’m sure of it. Then we’ll get you in touch with Irene.”

Kate wrings her hands, staring at herself in the mirror. It’s a darker look than she used to have- darker hair, darker brows, darker makeup. But it’s nearly perfect. Even the clothes help, broadening Kate’s very slim figure just a bit, adding a little more curve to the shape. “Do you…. Do you think she’ll come back?”

“I’m not sure.” Lefty makes her voice softer. She’s heard this conversation before, in a thousand cafes and bars. Watching other people is how she learned to pretend to be one. A useful skill. She can even do nurturing when she needs to. “She’s in a lot of trouble here. But maybe… I’m sure if she really loves you, she’ll find a way.”

The girl smiles, lip a little wobbly and eyes glassy. “Thank you. For helping to try, anyway.”

“Of course dear.” Lefty gently places a finger under her jaw and pushes up, watching her face. “Don’t smile once you’re inside. Your smiles are different. Yes? Good.”

She sends Kate off from the car a half hour later, watching from the exterior cameras. Lefty can’t crack this building- it’s far more secure than the average CCTV system. She wouldn’t even have known it was there if it wasn’t for Mycroft’s phone. And ta for that, Ice Man. It’s so nice when everyone makes things easy for her. 

Kate exits precisely ten minutes later, walking in a clipped manner toward the car. She gets inside, closing the door and exhaling, a smile blossoming on her face. “How is it that easy?”

“I know, they never really think, do they? Let me see the skimmer.” It’s a Chinese model, something Jim bought or stole somewhere along the line from their very efficient security services- no matter now, as it’s all hers now. She plugs it in, watching the data stream in. It’s exactly what she needs. Wonderful.

“Is it enough?” Kate murmurs beside her, back to hand wringing. Honestly. How do these sad little people cope? One human goes away and suddenly they lose all their control over their emotions. And it’s even worse when they’re dead. Lefty’s never felt any of that. There are only useful people and not-useful people. And, very occasionally, not-boring people.

Kate is, at the moment, verging very close to boring.

“It’s- almost there, dear. I’ll have to check some things. How about this- you do me one more little favor, and then no matter what I’ll get you in touch with Irene, hm?” She can see the shift in Kate’s face, the start of a protest she certainly doesn’t have the patience for. “Even a video call, if you like. It will be difficult, but I’ll find a way to ensure you’re connected to her.”

“I- really?”

“Of course. You’re helping me so much, and I know- I know this is important to you. I just wish Irene could see how hard you’re working, all for her, hm? Then maybe she’d- well I think she ought to appreciate you a little more, that’s all.”

Kate folds, sadly smiling again, looking out the window. Easy. Lefty opens up one of her email accounts. And for my next trick….

 

***

 

“I think they’re flirting.”

Mycroft laughs. Greg sounds far too delighted at the prospect, though as Mycroft is also making them sandwiches, it might just be additional excitement about the food. I have been blessed with a man who enjoys a healthy appetite. “Do you?”

“I do! Anthea definitely is, m’just not sure Molly’s actually cottoned on yet.”

“Does Doctor Hooper even like women, Gregory?”

“She might!” 

Mycroft raises a pointed brow. 

“Well, I think she does but she’s never actually dated one. I think. But Anthea sees things just about as well as you and I think she’d notice if Molly wasn’t at least a little open to the idea.”

“Hm. Well, if that is the case, I am pleased for them.”

“You’ve already decided when to start the office pool, aren’t you.”

“Nonsense! That would be entirely inappropriate for my position.”

Greg’s arms wrap his waist, his head nuzzling into the crook of Mycroft’s neck. “But you’ll let it slip to one of the drivers.”

Mycroft huffs. “Gregory Lestrade, you are a cheeky boy.”

“Nah, love, this is a cheek.” Mycroft can feel Greg smiling into his neck as he reaches down and pinches Mycroft’s bum, causing a rather undignified yelp. 

Gregory. I am going to eat both of those sandwiches and leave you to fend for yourself.”

“M’not gonna stop you.” Greg nuzzles him again, and Mycroft feels something stir in response, low in his core. 

“Why, are you hungry for something else?”

“Might be.”

Mycroft turns in his lover’s arms, kissing him firmly. “You are insatiable.”

“Mmm.”

“Incorrigible.”

“You’re going to give me a thing for you and big words, love.” Greg smirks as he nudges Mycroft back against the counter. “What about nefarious.”

“That for a certain.”

“What if I have nefarious intent upon your person.”

“In my kitchen, Gregory?”

“Don’t worry, love.” Gregory winks, and Mycroft adds that to the growing list of things Greg Lestrade can do that will instantly drive the blood in his head toward his cock. “I’ll keep it very tidy.”

Having Greg on his knees in Mycroft’s kitchen is so surprisingly erotic that Mycroft has to work to keep himself from loosing it all in the first minute. Perhaps there’s something domestic about it- something that feels like a shared home. A shared bed. Permanency. 

Mycroft swallows another moan as he feels himself slide into Greg’s mouth to the root, those soft lips wrapping him at the base while his head presses down the back of Greg’s throat.

We haven’t even discussed exclusivity yet, I doubt the right time is when he has my cock down his throat.

“Don’t keep quiet,” Greg murmurs around his cock. “Shout for me. Wanna hear you.”

Fuck.

He whimpers as Greg’s tongue traces his frenulum over and over. “God, Gregory-” He feels like his legs might buckle- if he didn’t have his elbows on the counter he might be in a heap on the floor already. Greg’s hands keep him pressed back, making up for his shaky balance. “Greg- fuck-”

If anything his cursing seems to make Greg pick up the pace, sucking and lapping like it’s his sole job in the world to make Mycroft come. Or to make Mycroft cry out, which he does, over and over, chanting Greg’s name like it’s the only thing tethering him to the world until he comes in a blur of explosive pressure, hanging on to the countertop for dear life.

Greg is nuzzling against his belly when he comes back to himself, kissing him softly. “I like watchin’ you come, Mycroft.”

Mycroft huffs a laugh. “I think you enjoy ruining me. Ridiculous man.” He cups Greg’s face in his hands and draws him up, kissing him hard. He can feel Greg’s erection nuzzling against his thigh. “Hmm. Not quite hungry for sandwiches yet, are you?” Mycroft reaches down, stroking it though his jeans. “Is all this for me, Gregory?”

“Mmmhm,” Greg murmurs against his mouth. “You’re gorgeous. Why shouldn’t it be?”

“My handsome slattern.” Mycroft squeezes, listening to Greg’s breath catch, his low whimper. “I am going to take care of you, worry not.” He pushes, walking Greg back until his hips hit the table. “Lay back.”

He lowers Greg’s trousers and pants to the knee, bending over to better attend to the lovely cock before him. Greg has wrapped his hands about the edge of the table over his head, clinging, and it’s luscious how nice he looks stretched out like that, all tense muscles and flushed skin. Mycroft lavishes attention over every inch of his cock, shifting lower to offer the same to Greg’s bollocks, which take little time to pull up and taut. High strung. It’s not too much of a surprise- haven’t they had enough stress to deal with? It’s perfectly normal for them to work it out in alternative ways. 

Normal and very pleasurable. 

He makes an effort to get Gregory deeper in, to take him further. Mycroft will learn this, for a certain, as the reaction it compels in Gregory is… intense. He moans freely, never shy with his cries, squirming as he draws close. When he finally comes it’s with a low cry of Mycroft’s name, broken off with a gasp.

Mycroft crawls over him, kissing him until he’s sensible once more.

“Now, you feral creature, may I feed you something that contains nutritional value?”

“There’s protein, I read that in a mag-”

Gregory.”

“S’true!”

Mycroft shakes his head, returning to the counter to find his phone quietly lighting up. He knows something is wrong as soon as he sees Anthea’s name. She wouldn’t be calling unless it was urgent, not when she’s been so dedicated to trying to make Mycroft actually rest. 

“Anthea?”

“Sir- you’re going to want to look at the news. We have a massive problem.”

 

***

 

“-reporting now that Sherlock Holmes’s brother-”

“Is it a GCHQ coverup? We have more with-”

“-another breaking story from Kitty Riley, the investigative journalist who blew the lid off the Moriarty trial-”

“-citing matters of national security, but that just reads as a political coverup, doesn’t it-”

“-with today’s question: who is Mycroft Holmes?”

 

Shite. Greg keeps sneaking sideways glances at Mycroft, who is watching the coverage with an expression so blank that Greg is beginning to suspect he’s somehow rerouted his capacity for emotion entirely. Plugged it all into his brain, maybe? Can he do that? If anyone could, it would be Mycroft. 

“Myc?”

Mycroft doesn’t even twitch. Bollocks. 

“We didn’t think Moriarty would make things this public.” Anthea, at least, is still capable of acting like a human, albeit one that keeps pacing behind them and periodically stress-eating through Greg’s stash of crisps. “Sir- we may need to move you to a more secure location.”

“There is nowhere more secure,” Mycroft breathes, though his eyes do not shift from the screen. Okay, so he is listening. Greg’s not sure if that’s good or bad, seeing as he’s been getting ignored for the last twenty minutes. 

“Mycroft, you could be compromised within the service! Your position relies on-”

“I know what it relies on, Anthea, thank you.” Mycroft inhales, or so Greg guesses from the rise and fall of his chest. His own hands are in his pockets, keeping them there so he doesn’t… do something stupid. With the look on Mycroft’s face he’s not sure if a hug or a reassuring pat would be welcome. “The house is owned by a trust unassociated with my name. The press will not find it.”

“They will be looking.”

“Not hard enough.” Mycroft purses his lips. “I will suggest to Sherlock that he temporarily relocate here. 221B will not be easily protected.”

“Of course.”

Finally, Mycroft’s hands move, rubbing his eyes. “They’ll be calling for me soon. Smallwood. Edwin.”

“Yes.”

When Mycroft’s eyes open again, Greg sees, just for an instant before the mask of blank expression covers him back over, a real sort of worry. A fear and a sort of sadness. He chews the inside of his lower lip, daring finally to step forward. “You two, uh- you need to talk about higher clearance stuff, yeah? Shite I’m not meant to be in the room for?” Anthea nods, but Mycroft’s eyes only get sadder, like- like he expects I’ll just leave. Leave him on his own. Swallowing, Greg kneels in front of Mycroft’s chair. “M’gonna make us some coffee, alright? An’ you two can talk about the big stuff that’s all over my pay grade, yeah?”

Plucking one of Mycroft’s hands from the air, he pulls it down and kisses the knuckles. M’not going anywhere. Not gonna leave you. Whatever this means for you. Alright? He tries to say it with his eyes- Mycroft’s good at reading that sort of thing, and Greg’s not sure what he’s told Anthea yet, or how personal Mycroft wants to get in front of her. Mycroft’s face shifts, a subtle softening as his fingers tighten around Greg’s hand. A gesture of thanks. Greg smiles. “Should I make any extra coffee, love? Are we gonna be expecting anyone else?”

“Mm. Possibly.”

“Either way it wouldn’t hurt.” He takes Anthea’s tone to mean she will happily drink the rest herself if no other takers appear. “Thank you, Inspector.”

“Course. Back in a bit.”

He’s slow about brewing. They need some time for all the security stuff- Greg can’t imagine the details of it, but he’s pretty fucking sure supposed Minor Government Officials who are very obviously Not Minor aren’t really supposed to be covered in the press. 

Which does beg a question. How’d Kitty know? Moriarty would’ve had to have told her. Which means she’s seen him since he vanished. Had to have. Is she outside the Web then? Someone who didn’t abandon him in the coup?

Hm.

Shouldn’t someone be tracking her? That seems like something Mycroft’s people would be on. Obvious, as Sherlock would say. Greg frowns. Something else is off, if he could just… put his finger on it, something….

He frowns and jogs upstairs, digging through his things in the guest room until he finds his notebook. Flipping to a blank page, he sits on the bed to write before it all leaves his head. 

 

What We Know:

 

Kitty Riley’s met with Moriarty recently

He fed her Mycroft’s name

Motive?

 

On the following page, he tops it with Crawford. Sally’s been after him with the broad support of the Met, and she’s pissed. The Met is, officially, searching for a “missing officer”- apparently Crawford’s credentials had not been entirely faked, so at least they didn’t hire a man who doesn’t exist. Sally had copied the file for Greg and dropped it at the hospital, proper procedures be damned. She doesn’t really care who grabs him as long as she can watch him in cuffs.

 

Military background.

Knows Moran? Ask Anthea to check records

 

That would make sense. Military men. Like finds like, one skilled assassin might know another. Would they be hiding out together? Perhaps not- Moran had broken Moriarty out, and if they were lovers….

His brain niggles at him again, and he flips back in his notebook. Lovers. Two acolytes. Moran and the one Mycroft pieced together- the one James mentioned- the girl-

Greg blinks. 

The girl.

Shit. Shit shit shit-

“Myc!” Greg flies around the corner, past the smell of coffee growing potent in the kitchen. He skids into the room and nearly trips on the rug as Anthea and Mycroft stare at him. “Fucking hell. Listen- I think I’ve got this. I know who the fuck is running things.”

Chapter Text

“Greg? Do you need to sit down?” Anthea is looking at him like he’s lost his entire mind, and maybe he has- fuck, is this what Sherlock feels like all the time? No wonder it’s addictive.

“No- listen. All of this shite- the news, the blog posts, Mycroft’s name getting leaked. That’s her. That’s not Moriarty.”

“Kitty Riley is in Moriarty’s pocket, Greg- you know that, she tried to bait Sherlock for him because she believes that Richard Brook nonsense.”

“No, she doesn’t. She created it.” Greg flips open Mycroft’s laptop and opens her blog, the one all the big papers cited for the Moriarty trial. “She used his bloody playbook and we didn’t even notice.”

Mycroft’s brow steadily furrows. “Explain.”

“Kitty has been gaming us the entire time. The break-in to the hospital- happened at the same time Moran was getting in upstairs, didn’t it? We were looking in the wrong place because she knew she’d get caught. Every story that comes out has been a benefit to Moriarty and we never looked past it because we already knew they were in touch, we knew it would benefit him. But this one- Moriarty is on the run, as far as we know. What good does targeting Mycroft do him right now? Not a bit. It’d amuse him, sure, but this won’t get him the Web back. This only benefits whoever is holding the Web now, someone that wants us off their backs while they get their things in order.”

“But Sherlock met Kitty. Twice, as it happens,” Mycroft protests, still frowning. “He would have noticed. He was in her home, for goodness sake, it’s nearly impossible to fake a lived-in home.”

“Not if she was actually living there. In character, well before Moriarty was even caught. He knew he’d be caught, didn’t he? And Sherlock isn’t perfect- in fact, I think she used a tactic that she already knew worked to evade his deductions.”

Anthea tilts her head. “Which is?”

“When Sherlock first met Moriarty he didn’t recognize him either, right? Because he was pretending to be an IT guy, pretending to be straight. He laid the obvious clues for Sherlock to pick up that he was gay, knowing Sherlock wouldn’t have any reason to look deeper if he already thought he had the secret sorted out. Remember how he told us he met Kitty?”

“She was pretending to be a fan.” Mycroft blinks. “A fan with ink on her skin, indentations on her arms from typing, and a dictaphone in her pocket. A deliberate test of Sherlock’s skills, because it was too obvious to be anything else.”

“Unless it was just to confirm in his mind that she was only a reporter. He didn’t look deeper.”

Mycroft’s eyes close, pulling from the no doubt vast stores of his mind “He said she was hungry to be noticed. Untrustworthy. Looking for a big break.”

“And she was. Just like he thought. But not in the right context. She wanted something from Moriarty- recognition, or something. Maybe she is jealous of Moran, I don’t know. But whatever it was, she didn’t get it. So she took it instead.”

“Shit,” Anthea breathes. Her phone is already in her hand. “I’ll get people to her flat-”

“That won’t be her real one,” Mycroft mutters. “It’s a cover, like any MI-6 agent. A good one, too. We need to find her real address.”

“We aren’t even sure that’s her real name. 

“Then we need someone who does know who he’s dealing with.” Mycroft plucks up his phone and starts a text to Sherlock. “We need Jim Moriarty. My brother has to work faster. And, Gregory,” Mycroft grasps his hand and pulls him close enough to kiss him softly. “That was genius.”

Greg grins, a quiet flush spreading on his cheeks. “Nah, just earnin’ my keep.”

Mycroft squeezes his hand, smiling. “My genius detective, today. Sherlock can relinquish the title until he has Moriarty in hand.”

“We might have a lead on that as well,” Anthea murmurs, judiciously ignoring any ongoing displays of affection. “Some oddities in our surveillance at the flat Lord Moran does not believe we know about.”

“The sniper’s brother. Of course. Acquire the car, quickly.”

Greg calls John, Mycroft texting Sherlock as they all race for the door. 

 

***

 

“And are you going to tell me why you need to borrow my new toy?” 

Sebastian has to hand it to Augustus. His brother definitely has balls, challenging Jim head-on like that. Especially with Jim’s hand so close to vital, soft bits of flesh. Most people would quake.

Then again most people have the sense not to go into politics. Sebastian’s never been sure whether crime or politics is the greater bloodbath. He shakes his head and keeps drinking. The scotch is going straight through him, which is a little unusual, though he supposes it has been a bit since he’s eaten properly. Dinner, after this, maybe. Just us. His face twitches as he suppresses a smile. Bollocks. C’mon, brain. Don’t go getting romantic on me.

“Generally, Gussy, one uses a bomb to make things go boom.” 

“So very true.” Augustus glares at Jim, apparently heedless of the potential consequences. “As it happens, however… no. You may not borrow my things.”

Jim turns slowly and Sebastian wonders exactly how many walls he’s going to need to clean his brother off of. “I’m sor-ry, Gussy, but are you making the mistake of thinking any of this is a choice?”

“No. In fact, I’m quite sure you’d be happy to take my things, co-opt this residence for a bit, and probably fuck with my corpse in the room, given what I’ve heard about you. But a new friend let me know you might be stopping by.” He smiles dangerously. “Nice to have friends who look out for you, isn’t it? So safe and sound.”

Sebastian’s head snaps up. Augustus can be dangerous when he wants to be. “Auggie-”

“No nicknames, Sebastian, please. We’re far too old for that.”

Jim’s hand find’s Augustus’s throat in the blink of an eye and squeezes. “Oh, Augustus, have you been a bad boy?”

“Careful, Jim,” Augustus hisses out, strained and harsh. “My new friends will be here soon and my darling little brother is in no shape to greet them.”

“‘Scuse me?” Sebastian makes to get up and immediately finds that his sense of equilibrium is all gone. He stumbles, catching himself on the arm of the chair. “Did you fucking drug me?”

Augustus shrugs under Jim’s tightening hold, despite his purpling face. Needs must, he mouths. Jim looks infuriated. Augustus smiles at him, tight and vicious. Me or him. Company’s coming. For a long moment Sebastian thinks Jim really is going to dismember his brother with his bare hands- but then Jim throws him into the chairs and Augustus gasps, clinging to the side as he sucks in the air. “I’ll kill you later, I think. Slowly. Keep your calendar clear, love.” He turns to Sebastian and ducks under his arm, steadying him as they shuffle toward the stairs. “Basher, I do believe we shall need an exit strategy.”

“Company?”

“Mmm. He’s a little more clever than expected, but so boring.

“Who’s coming?”

“Oh, MI-5, maybe. Or the police, if he has someone on his payroll.”

“How?”

“Depends which of our enemies got smart first- oh, that’s irritating.” Sebastian glances up- he’d been trying to concentrate on his footing. It’s hard enough. His head is swimming. Seeing Sherlock’s ridiculous curls on the other side of the window is unbelievable enough, but he feels the sharp sting of reality when he sees Watson and his gun passing the next one. “Hmm. Change of plans, Basher. I think we’ll need a different door.”

Sebastian can barely keep track of where they’re going. Old servant’s entrance? Kitchens? There’s a blur to it, a soft glow on the image. Shit. Shit, shit shit. Why did Augustus have to play games with them now? He didn’t even have to come home- he should have been in his office, working, Sebastian would have used his first aid supplies, and they might have regrouped and left. 

But he always did like being the center of attention.

He’s still confused when he looks up to find them outside, and a car with the backdoor open. “This way, sir! Go on, I’ll carry him.”

“Crawford?” Sebastian blinks. He didn’t call Crawford. How the hell is he here?

Crawford takes his weight as Jim dives for the backseat, kicking the door closed as one of Watson’s bullets pings off of it. “Sorry about this, Seb. Jus’ business. You understand.” Crawford moves fast, yanking Sebastian’s arm back before he has time to process, the cold click of a set of cuffs swiftly connecting him to the iron fence. The git even winks before he sprints back to the car.

 He can see it, for a moment, a look of surprise on Jim’s face as the back of the car fills with something foggy. The door handle shakes but does not give. Sorry, Basher, Jim mouths, his eyes wide and mad, before his face vanishes in the smoke and the car peels away, tires screeching.

Sebastian’s throat is sore when Watson reaches him, pinning him even though he’s shouting, screaming, for Jim, and yanking on the damn cuff for all he’s worth-

Then one of them finally slams the butt of a pistol against his head and everything goes blissfully silent.

 

*** 

 

“I assure you, Lord Moran-”

“I don’t want to hear excuses, Holmes. Isn’t it your responsibility to ensure things like this don’t happen?”

Mycroft inhales slowly. Lord Moran is the type of politician he loathes dealing with. Narcissistic and self-aggrandizing, and clever enough to be dangerous. At least the stupid ones, while often obstinate, can be guided. The smarter ones think they ought to be doing the guiding, but most of them have no idea what that really means. They simply think that if there is power to be had that it should belong to them.

“To an extent, Lord Moran. But he is your brother.”

“I meant that psychopath that- changed him. Sebastian wasn’t like this before. I expect you to treat him-”

“With the same respect you showed him when you drugged him? I shall keep that in mind. Do you regularly keep that sort of drug in the house Augustus? Only… it does lead one to think of rather unsavory motivations.”

“How dare you!” Moran looks downright wroth, though he’s so well-practiced at concealing his emotions that it barely registers as more than a slight hint of scarlet. “I was protecting Sebastian!”

“From who, I wonder? Jim Moriarty favors your brother. Sebastian is in no danger there- at least not from anything he hasn’t already been acquainted with. And I hardly think you would drug him to protect him from yourself.” Mycroft leans closer. “So who? Did you know someone was coming for Moriarty?”

“Why should I? He’s supposed to be some sort of crime lord, isn’t he? Making all sorts of enemies, I expect.”

“Not many that should have known precisely where he was.”

Lord Moran huffs and refuses to say aught else without an attorney or a very public inquiry, which leaves them at a bit of an impasse, at least as far as expressly legal channels are concerned. “Pull his phone records,” he directs Anthea as they shift down the stairs. “He’ll be trying to erase them. Or she will.”

“You’re certain it was her, sir? John’s description of the man they saw matched our wayward constable.”

“She was pulling the strings, I’m certain of it. This is her coup. She wants to cut out the spider but keep the web intact.”

“And do you mean to let him?”

He chews the inside of his lower lip. The woman presents complications, and Crawford’s presence at the scene would indicate a more solidified handle on the wreckage of Moriarty’s network than he’s entirely comfortable with. “She likely called Moran directly. If we can get a fix on her position, perhaps we can snatch both of them. That would be the optimum result. Ah,” he fixes a stern gaze as Andrew appears in the doorway, looking his usual harried and slightly terrified self. 

Anthea rolls her eyes, though as she is looking down at her phone it is doubtful anyone but he is aware of it. “I’ll deal with him, sir.”

“Thank you.”

He turns into the parlor, where the others have pinned down the younger Moran. Greg half-grins at him, coming to stand a little closer than professional propriety would generally permit- but here Mycroft hardly minds. The closeness is, in its way, comforting. “How are you faring?”

“Fucking thrilling in here, ta.” Greg’s jovial nature can hardly be deterred by a little sparring, though it looks as though he’s had to hold John off from Sebastian a time or two, and the Doctor is now pacing behind them, cooling off in the hall. They’d gagged Sebastian after he started wake up and resumed the shouting John and Sherlock both said he’d been doing before they knocked him out, and now the man just sits there, glaring at the lot of them. 

“No one turning to fisticuffs?”

“Well, there might’ve been a brief discussion as to whether John needed to fire next to a residence-”

“I didn’t hit them, did I?” John appears behind them, eyes narrowed. “Though if I had, maybe Moriarty wouldn’t gotten away.”

“We shouldn’t be trying to kill anyone, John-”

“Sometimes it’s better, Greg.” The doctor pushes past them, off to stand in his usual position in Sherlock’s orbit, and Greg sighs. Mycroft slips a hand onto his back.

“He’s just tense. I’m sure he knows you’re right.”

“Yeah, just….” Greg scruffs his hair, turning to grin almost apologetically at Mycroft. “Sometimes I think he’s right too. If they were dead it would make all this a hell of a lot easier.”

Mycroft’s fingers glide up and down the back of Greg’s jacket, soothing with each pass. “It isn’t a bad thing to have a moral compass, Gregory. It wouldn’t sit right with you, not if there were any other way.”

“No. That’s on me, though, innit?” He sighs, and leans a little into Mycroft’s touch. “Never was gonna be easy.”

“I’m afraid not.”

They watch Sherlock pacing in a circle about Moran, who remains securely handcuffed. He’s deducing. Supposedly. He’s been quieter for far longer than usual, and there’s a thoughtful look in his eye rather than his usual manic gaze. 

“The drugs are wearing off,” he says after a while. He crouches in front of Moran, watching his face. “This is easier, actually. We should gag them more often, John, make a note.” Sebastian makes a growling noise behind his gag and Sherlock holds up a hand. “No- don’t, I can concentrate better if you’re silent.” He ponders, hands steepled, staring in his unblinking, fashion. Unlike so many of those who know they are being deduced, Sebastian doesn’t flinch. 

Used to it, perhaps. Mycroft is aware Moriarty possesses a not-dissimilar skill set, though he has not had to chance to analyze the specifics of the variation. Perhaps there is something in that, once he is safely locked up. A study, to work out how people like him work. How people like he and Sherlock and I even happen. They are all statistical outliers, after all. Beyond the level of even the standard genius. After. When we have time. His hand catches on a rough part of the fabric and he hisses quietly as some of his recently-stitched skin pulls.

“Hey. Careful.” Gregory murmurs, taking his hand and kissing the knuckles. “Told you you’re not allowed to get hurt any more.”

“Could you two engage in your incessant osculation out of my line of sight, please?” Sherlock glares at the both of them. “You are putting me off the investigation and as you continually remind me, we have limited time.”

“Fine, fine,” Greg chuckles, separating their hands. But he doesn’t move, he keeps standing at Mycroft’s side, shoulders touching and grinning. It makes it hard for Mycroft to continue being serious, and he feels his lip twitch a time or two before he gets the urge to smirk under control.

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but apparently accepts that he won’t be getting more than that as he launches into his deductions instead. “Sebastian Moran, military trained sniper, as we all know. You’ve continued to hone those skills, I estimate… six precision kill shots in the last three months, including the attack on the Diogenes, which used heavier ammunition than you usually employ, otherwise you would have been slightly more precise. Since the end of your service you have expanded your methods of killing, hence the scars on your hands- knives, fights, etc, not always to the death. There are a number of other scars that were administered in the… consensual pursuit of pleasure.” 

Sebastian’s lip curls into a smirk around his gag, likely trying to make Sherlock uncomfortable. His brow cocks daringly. 

“We know the woman meant to be a pillar of your organization- I would infer the more logistical side to your operational expertise- attempted to murder you both in your safehouse. You came here expecting not to run into your brother, his presence was a distraction and his drugging of you was the worst of the surprise.” The bound man’s eyes flick away. That still stings a bit. Mycroft can understand that. He’s a trained killer. Obviously he feels he should have seen it coming. “And now she has your lover. But Crawford didn’t kill him outright- he could have, easily. Why is that?”

Sebastian’s eyes slide back to Sherlock. His face is challenging, but without words to go along with it, much harder to read. “Ungag him,” Mycroft suggests. “Let’s get a real answer.” 

“Fine, but if he starts screaming again….” John leaves the rest of the sentence unfinished, though Mycroft has the strong feeling there’s something about ‘bashing his head in until he’s quiet’ lurking in there.

John steps behind the man and pulls out the knot from his mouth, eyes hard. Sebastian rolls his neck. “Was wondering if you’d get sick of talking to yourself.”

“Let’s stick to you answering my questions. Why didn’t she kill him?”

“I don’t know. We weren’t ever too friendly, she and I.”

“What do you call her?”

“Lefty.” 

“Hm. You know her real name?”

“What’s a real name, these days? I’ve no idea.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “You are familiar with her identity as Kitty Riley.”

“Yeah. Jim made good use of that. And you met her, didn’t you? In a schoolgirl outfit. Flirting.” Sebastian barks a laugh. “Would’ve liked to see that.”

“Where did she take him?”

“I’ve no bloody idea. Don’t suppose you’re planning to let me out of here to go look?”

“Sir?” Andrew murmurs behind Mycroft. “Ms. Anthea is wondering if you might accompany her to speak with Lady Smallwood. 

Bollocks. The news reports. Those with Ultra and higher clearance no doubt want to assess whether Mycroft’s position is compromised. 

He’ll have to buy time. 

“Ask her to go on without me, please. I will follow when I am ready. Sherlock? I suggest we move this conversation somewhere else before anyone else Lord Moran has notified makes an appearance.” Or MI-5 comes to take me off for a little chat.

Greg squeezes his hand, murmuring softly. “Are you alright?”

“Fine.” Mycroft sighs. “I’ll explain shortly. But we need to move.”

 

***

 

Greg sits nervously, watching as Sherlock and John manhandle Sebastian into a different chair. He knows this warehouse- it’s the one Mycroft uses for “friendly chats” regarding his brother. But despite the familiarity, Mycroft doesn’t really seem comfortable here. He’s on edge, his fingers wrapping his umbrella handle until he winces from the strain on unhealed tendons and muscles. Greg gently wraps his own hand over Mycroft’s. “Hey. Tell me?”

Mycroft wets his lip. “My superiors want to discuss the papers.”

“Kitty Riley’s shite? But they know it’s all bollocks, don’t they?”

“Of course. But it is now public bollocks. Unfortunately. The truth does not always matter once something is in the public sphere. We use that to our advantage all the time. Attention pointed one way or another, as needed. But attention should never be on me.

“Is that where Anthea’s got to?”

“Yes. I hope she may be able to buy us enough time to… sort this.”

Greg nods. He hadn’t seen her slip off from Lord Moran’s, but he knows there is nothing she wouldn’t do to try and help Mycroft. Hopefully it won’t get her in too much trouble if she’s making it difficult for them to find him. “You know it’s okay, yeah? If you have to go talk to your people. Sherlock and John and I will keep working. Moran’s got to know something useful.”

“It could be- if they think it is a problem, Greg, they could ask me to be away for… some time. I….”

“S’alright.” His other hand cups Mycroft’s face and tilts it down. “M’not going anywhere. I can wait.”

Mycroft starts as one of the rolling doors to the warehouse shifts and a car pulls in. Greg can already see the familiar shape of Anthea’s hair inside, even before she slips out, face buried in her phone and hair falling over her face. She must be busy, as it’s Andrew who jogs over from the driver’s seat, keeping his hands close to his chest, almost like he’s afraid of being struck. “Er, sir, Lady Smallwood….”

“Yes. I’ll come. Gregory-”

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on things here. Make sure none of these idiots start any fights.” He presses a gentle kiss to Mycroft’s lips, not really caring that they’re in the presence of his staff. “We’ll be fine.”

“Good.” Mycroft blushes faintly, squeezing Greg’s hand before he heads to the car. “Sherlock, behave,” he calls behind himself, though Sherlock waves a dismissive hand, acknowledging that he’s heard it and is ignoring it all in one go. Anthea slips back into the car before Mycroft gets there, and Greg frowns as it pulls out. There’s more gesticulating going on in the backseat than usual, seeing as neither Mycroft nor Anthea are particularly demonstrative, but… maybe it’s more serious than Mycroft had let on. 

He walks to the tiny canteen hidden to one side. “Coffee, anyone?”

“Ta!” John’s yes means Greg is making three cups. Four, if he’s feeling generous to the sniper. Sherlock seems to vary wildly in whether he wants any depending on whether he’s eating or not on a given day, but Greg would rather make it than get shouted at about it later. Listening to it brew is meditative. He nearly nods off by the time he’s ready to pour, though he only gets one into a little paper cup before he hears the warehouse car door again.

“That was fucking fast,” he says cheerfully, poking his head out to glance at one of the black security-standard cars he’s come to know so well. “Decided you were-” he breaks off as it is not Mycroft who emerges, but a woman in an expensive looking suit with blonde hair going white pulled back. 

“Lady Smallwood,” Sherlock murmurs as he appears behind Greg, frowning. 

“Sherlock,” she replies with a brief nod. “Where is your brother? I’m afraid we must take him in for debriefing and his security tracker last registered here. It’s not like him to hide out like this.”

Greg drops the coffee.

 

***

 

Sebastian watches them fall over themselves. Being tied up is actually a good vantage for this sort of thing, though no one seems to be very concerned that they’re holding a man here at all. Lovely respect for personal rights, our spies. No one mind the man in the corner. The security services vanish as soon as they realize what’s happened- apparently no one else in the warehouse has the clearance to know what the posh woman plans to do about it. Even Sherlock’s arguments are put aside. All of them are too close. Security liabilities, etc. The usual government bollocks.

The little doctor holds up the inspector, who’s trying not to cry. Yeah, doesn’t feel great, does it. He has to hand it to Lefty, though. Both Moriarty and Holmes went right into those cars, not expecting a thing. He respects the initiative. He’ll still kill her, but he respects it. 

When all the black suits are gone, scurrying off to do whatever it is they do with CCTV and satellites and highly efficient tracking, Sebastian clears his throat. “Not that I particularly want to play nice here, but it looks like you and I both have dogs in this fight now.”

John huffs a bitter laugh. “You’re lucky you’re not a corpse in the Thames right now, don’t push it.”

“No,” the inspector growls, looking up with reddened eyes. He marches over to stare Sebastian in the face. It puts Sebastian in mind of commanders he’d had in places with a lot more sand and screaming. Old, tired, but furiously committed. Not so different, really. Any of us. We all bleed. We all die. “You have a plan?”

“I have a… suggestion. Several, really.”

“And why should we believe you?” All three of them stare at him, glaring, but he can see the spark of hope in Lestrade. That’s his in. Lestrade wants Mycroft- obvious, given that they were practically snogging earlier. Sebastian wants Jim. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

“Don’t suppose you fucking should, but we’ve got goals aligned here, mate. And that group that just left here is gonna leave you in the dark, because they’re government. I should know. They won’t care about anything but covering their own asses, and if that means killing your Ice Man instead of risking having him talk, well….”

C’mon. C’mon, you know I might be right. All he needs is a sliver of doubt. 

Lestrade’s jaw works. His eyes are hard, but determined. That’s it. You need me, don’t you? Let me in. Let me come.

Let me snap her insolent little neck.

“Alright,” the inspector says, sighing. “If, hypothetically, we were gonna listen to this shite of yours- what do you have in mind?”

Chapter Text

This is not the sort of confinement Anthea is used to. 

She’s been in the field, of course. Though never taken by any hostile forces, she’s seen their prisons and dungeons and basements, the residue of torture and pain and long days spent in the dark. But this is… posh. Clean. Spotless to a fault. The chair she’s bound to is… comfortable, even.

It’s more unsettling than it should be. 

The heels that announce her abductor’s arrival sound slow and languid. Not nervous. Steady and even.

She thinks she’s already won.

It’s a dangerous spot to be in, a secured victory. You have to be absolutely sure you’ve accounted for everything. Any detail that slips through could end it all in an instant when it comes to espionage and intelligence.

Anthea just has to hope she herself is one such detail.

“Anthea. I’m so glad you’re awake. How’s the head?”

She half-smiles. Andrew had made a deeply satisfying noise when she’d cracked a few of his ribs before whatever the other woman- the woman dressed like her- had dosed her with kicked in. That had been unsettling too. Even her wardrobe had been matched to a tee, her hair looking just like Anthea’s had that morning. 

Andrew had hit her back to knock her out of the front of the car and onto the backseat, and she can feel a slight ache on one temple along with a cool sort of dampness- alcohol or antiseptic, most likely. Kitty had cleaned her up. Weirder and weirder. “Fine.”

“Good. I would have hated for you to be damaged before I could speak with you.” Kitty perches on the table, head tilting. Her eyes are cold and a little too wide- an affectation she picked up from Moriarty, perhaps? It’s hard to tell. This version of her isn’t the Kitty Riley who’d slunk after Sherlock into a loo, nor the version who’d leaked all those stories to the press. That eager reporter, so desperate for the truth… that’s been a cover. This hard, cold iteration must be the real one. 

She’s seen something similar with spies before. People that spend so much time in false identities that when they have a chance to be themselves there’s simply… not much there. Just a stern suit and a few sharp pieces of jewelry. If it weren’t for the big gaudy floral ring on one finger, Anthea would even say Kitty is… dressed like her.

Anthea puts on a vague and amicable smile. Politeness and wit to start with. At least until she knows what the fuck is going on. “I didn’t know we were due for a chat, Kitty. You could have called.”

“I could have, but timing is everything. Your team did such a lovely job ensuring Jimmy dropped in my path- you understand why I had to take advantage.”

“Of course. We did work out that you are… taking over from him.”

“Mmm. The king is dead, long live the queen. Perceptive lot, you.”

“Big empire to run.”

“So’s a country, but you manage fine, don’t you?”

Anthea blinks. “I’m not sure what you think my position is-”

“I know what your position is. Personal assistant to Mycroft Holmes, the Ice Man. The British government. The man behind the curtain.”

Oooookay. “Right. So I don’t-”

“You run the man that runs the country, Anthea. That means you run the country.” Kitty smiles, but there’s no warmth in it. “I was the same, you know. Jimmy relied on me for everything. And yet in the end he was willing to give the whole operation over to someone else. Someone unqualified. He wasn’t thinking clearly. I’m going to make sure he’s aware of that, before I kill him. That’s how it is in this business. And yours too, isn’t it? If Mycroft Holmes went out of commission, no one would call you to fill in. Even though you already do his job simply by doing yours.”

Anthea’s brow furrows. “Are you… sorry, are you trying to tell me to ask for a promotion?”

“Oh no. Don’t ask, for one thing. You’re qualified, you take it.” Kitty leans forward, a concerning glimmer in her otherwise emotionless eyes. “You take your end, I take mine… I’ve seen your work, Anthea. If you were the British Government, you could do anything you wanted. Anything at all. Your power would be absolutely immense. Between the two of us… I’d give it a year to take the continent. Five and we could have fingers everywhere. We’d manage things so much better than they are now. Any trouble, any political strife, would only exist if we wanted it to.” Her lip curls into a deadly smirk. “Twenty years and we could probably solve world hunger and poverty too.”

“That’s not-” Does she actually think that’s how any of this works? Anthea can’t tell if the woman is brilliant or insane. Probably both. “You’re a criminal, Kitty. This empire you’ve seized is built on murder and extortion and lies.”

“Can you think of a government that isn’t? A country? They’ve all stomped someone down, wiped someone out, even if they’ve culled the mention from the history books. Every last seat of democracy on the planet is a specter on a bone throne. People like me are just honest about whose throat we cut to make a better deal. To make someone happy.” She hops off the table, stalking around it like a predatory cat toward the door. “Think about it. I need to have a little chat elsewhere in the meantime.”

“The answer is no, Kitty. We don’t negotiate with- whatever you are.”

“Mmm. See, the issue with that, Anthea, is that I rather like a carrot and stick method.” Kitty strides back, leaning down to whisper in Anthea’s ear. “Because I have your boss in the next room. If you agree with me, I’ll let him go fast. Painless. It’s business, after all. I’m not a sadist. Alternatively, give me all your access codes, and I’ll make it quick for both. But if you make this difficult for me, Anthea, I will make him suffer, and I will make you watch. And then I’ll take you with me to see what I can make of the world.” She smiles in that predatory way, delicately stroking a bit of stray hair out of Anthea’s face and tucking it behind her ear. “Either way, the British Government will be joining my network. You get to decide how bloody the transition is, dear.” 

Kitty departs without bothering to look back, only calling “Think about it!” behind her before a heavy metal door closes. 

Anthea exhales.

Bloody fucking hell.

 

***

 

Mycroft awakens in a cold room, tied to a chair. His instincts recognize it immediately for what it probably is- though he detests legwork, he does not lack training. Interrogation by hostile forces had been covered. 

The hands next to his, similarly bound judging by the feel of them against his own, had not.

For a terrible moment his breath catches. It’s Gregory. Someone she’s acquired him- brought him here- oh, god, what if she-

“I know you’re awake, Myyyyykie. You don’t have to fondle my fingers to prove it.”

His heart seizes, half in relief and half in an entirely different sort of worry. “Moriarty.”

“Hiiii. I was hoping we’d get to have a little chat, but I didn’t quite think this would be the circumstances. Pity, since it’s really both our kind of scene. Nice big warehouse like this, convenient grates in the floor for any pesky blood. I bet we could go in on a share of one!”

The door rolls open, creaking with rust and disuse. Mycroft catalogues the sound. Containment. Freezer? Meat packing, possibly. Or fish. Old metal. Smells of damp, mold, mildew- near the river? Not that there’s anyone to relay it to, anyone who might be able to track them on a satellite straight to where she’s brought them. He tamps down any lingering traces of fear and worry as the footsteps- heels- draw closer. He’s been trained. He has. This can be treated as simply another exercise. And somewhere else, somewhere far away, Gregory is safe. 

The woman’s voice drips with false charm. “Jimmy, you aren’t making friends, are you?”

“Oh, always, love. You know me. Friendliest man around.”

“I suppose, though you do tend to greet people knife-first. I’m told that’s frowned upon, generally.” She circles them. “Oh, Jimmy, you nearly got out, didn’t you? Let me fix that for you.” Mycroft listens carefully as there’s movement behind him, Moriarty quietly grunting in a pained way as Lefty- Kitty- must tighten his bonds well past the point of comfort, though he conceals each bit of discomfort in a laugh. Either he isn’t afraid or he doesn’t want to look it. 

She comes around to stare at Mycroft next. Without her eager journalist mask, he can tell there’s something… not quite right… about her. A sort of deadness. Sociopath? Psychopath? He’s no psychologist, but the signs of something abnormal are there. Certainly her history with Moriarty’s organization alone would indicate a repeated disregard for social norms and morality. “Ah, but you’ve been a good boy, haven’t you Mycroft? No struggling.”

In truth, that was only because he hadn’t been conscious for long enough when she came in to do anything more than begin to assess the room. Mycroft rarely acts without careful planning. He meets her gaze with even and calculated indifference.

“Not feeling talkative? That’s alright. For now you two just listen.”

“Not interested, kitten,” Moriarty drawls. “Think I’ll pass.” Her lips thin into something that might have been a smile on someone else, and she walks out of Mycroft’s vision. He still knows what happened when he hears a slap echo off the concrete and metal. Moriarty, of course, just starts laughing. “Been waiting to do that a long time? Feel better now, love? All big and strong and so clever, aren’t you-” he cuts short with a sound that Mycroft associates with something being pressed hard into his throat.

“Quiet, Jimmy. Your time for speaking is done now. Your opinions do not matter.” Mycroft hears a choked sound- she must be pressing extremely hard. “Now, both of you can give me things that I want, but I will be clear- I do not need either of you. You will still be dead, in the end. I realize with average people that would end the bargaining chip- selfish little fools will do anything to save themselves- but neither of you would qualify for that, would you? You’d just lie and scurry off if I did something as stupid as let you go. So I won’t. I think we can all agree that’s more honest.”

Mycroft considers. More analysis is required. All of their previous information had indicated that she wanted Moriarty’s network, certainly, but that wouldn’t bring her to snatch Mycroft as well. Well, he can play the diplomat. “What is it you want?”

“Ah.” There’s an wheezing exhale- she must release Moriarty’s throat to come around and look at Mycroft. “I want your clearance, Mycroft.”

He lifts a brow. “That isn’t possible.”

“Oh, I know you think that. But it’s all data in the end, isn’t it? You know that better than anyone. Access is just numbers and codes. You can transfer your clearance to your assistant. I know you can because you’ve done it before. There was record of it in your phone. Not a good idea to leave those lying around, you know.”

“But it would still be Anthea’s. Not yours.” 

She smiles, and he can feel the temperature of the room lower by ten degrees. “We’ll see.”

“And what about me?” Moriarty coughs. “Do I get to play with state secrets too?”

“No, Jimmy. You get to tell me about all the little accounts you’ve squirreled away. Everything you ever kept from me. I want all of it.”

Even with their backs to each other, Mycroft knows Moriarty is smiling that feral smile of his. “You know I’m not going to do that.”

“I think you are.”

“Because you’re going to kill me? Everyone dies. That’s what people do!” He switches from joking and casual to rage in seconds and Mycroft wonders how much of it is an act. How much of it is meant to force her to kill them right there, because the alternative….

The alternative….

“What is the consequence?”

She circles back. “What’s that, Mycroft?”

“You said you would kill us regardless. As discussed, that rather precludes the weight of our own survival on our choices. Logic would suggest you feel there is something of greater weight than our own lives in play.”

“Well deduced, Mycroft. Such a smart boy.” She stands where she can see both of them, looking at them closely. “Both of you have been foolish, wasting your minds on men who scarcely qualify as ants. They’re strong, they perform their duties, but in the end… unimportant.” Mycroft watches her closely. Years of training, of anticipating, of avoiding this exact circumstance have not prepared him for what it would be like when he knows. He knows exactly what she mean. Who she means. “Give me what I want, or your pets will be gutted and tossed out with the trash. And I’ll record it so you can watch, over and over, while I kill you slowly.” That false smile returns, beaming out like  a reality show housewife offering up her best pie to guests she’s planning to poison. “Think about it! I’ll be back soon.” Mycroft watches out of the corner of his eye as she bops Moriarty in the nose, a gesture that would be almost amusing if she didn’t do it just a little too hard. If what she’d just said didn’t make him want to scream, and cry, and quake. “Don’t go anywhere!”

She leaves them in the dim light provided only by a single, sad fluorescent and a glow that might be a crack in the ceiling far above. 

Mycroft’s throat aches. His body wants to do something, anything, to relieve the feeling that a knife’s been pressed into his heart. At least Moriarty can’t see the tear or two that escapes him, and if the man feels the shift in Mycroft’s shoulders, he doesn’t comment. After a while there’s just silence, and breathing. 

And Moriarty’s pensive breath doesn’t sound much different from his own.

“You know….” Mycroft can hear Jim popping his lips, like he’s chewing gum. “The one thing I regret here is that she’s probably going to kill Sherlock, and even if I’m dead I really, really wanted that pleasure to be mine. You too, Ice Man, eventually.”

Cold steel pours down Mycroft’s throat. Speaking is fine. He’s managed burying his emotions for years. He can last a little longer if it means he keeps the depth of his feelings away from any of the psychopaths in this blasted place. “Didn’t anyone tell you not to play with your food?”

Moriarty laughs. “Oh yes. Never quite stopped me.”

“Obviously.” Mycroft tests the weight of his bonds again, calculating the probability they are being overheard. He’s aware that Moriarty is doing roughly the same, their knuckles colliding as each of them shift. “As you know our captor better than I, Jim….”

“If you’re about to ask if she means it, the answer is yes, absolutely.”

“I did expect as much.” He swallows. He will not get frustrated with Moriarty. Here, Moriarty is an asset, and Mycroft does not leave assets unused. “What is the likelihood she has this room under surveillance?”

“Mmm, she does like her cameras- think she learned that from you, actually. Like our own lovely little murder child all grown up.” Jim’s chair shifts, sliding Mycroft’s with it. “Why so interested, big brother? Plotting already?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jim. You’re plotting too.”

“Mmm, plotting, planning a murder, potayto, potahto.”

“She is going to kill us, you do realize.”

“Oh yes. One little bullet, straight into the brain, but only if we behave.” Mycroft feels the chair shift again. Is he trying to wriggle out? He might be able to manage it. Moriarty is slim-boned, and if he can fold his wrist enough to slip free…. “Who do you think she’ll kill first?”

Mycroft doesn’t need to think about it very long. “She knows you. Killing me is… impersonal. Business. The question is whether she’d like to savor it or not. I believe she would.”

“Mmm. Kill me sloooooowly. I mean, I would.”

“I’m sure.” He weighs his options. Scylla and Charybdis. On one side, a swirling pit of death. On the other, a monster. Odysseus chose the monster. Death is death. Monsters can be tamed. “We have him, you know.”

“Do you? Though- ah- you don’t. Unless you’re hiding him under your seat.” Intriguing, that Moriarty isn’t going to pretend he doesn’t know who Mycroft means. “Suppose they’re awful mad about poor baby brother, hm? Sebastian will be off to the gallows no matter who claims him.”

“I’m willing to make a deal.”

“A deal? Mycroft Holmes, do pull the other one. You want me dead. You want all of us dead.” He clicks his tongue. “Seems like I’m quite dead either way, so you can take your deal and fuck it.”

Mycroft rolls his eyes. Must he be so overdramatic. “You do realize I have a degree of power in the world, I’m sure? I can keep them from ending your distressing existence.”

So generous of you, Mykkie.”

“More importantly, if you refrain from killing me, I will ensure your beloved sniper is returned to you.”

Moriarty scoffs. “If I refrain from killing you?”

“You’re already halfway through wriggling out again, I can feel you. Narrow wrists, I’d imagine. I’m sure that’s come in handy before. Alas, I am somewhat lacking in dexterity due to someone’s rather unfortunate assassination attempt, or I would assist you.”

He feels Moriarty still behind him, weighing it. “And whhhyyyy should I believe you, Myyykkie?” That he’s asking the question at all is enough of an answer, for now. Mycroft can worry about the potential knife in his back later.

“Because when you can see me, you’ll know I’m telling the truth. Just as I can read it in you. Just look, for a moment, before you try to kill me or leave me to her tender mercies. We can be useful to each other.”

There’s another pause, and then Moriarty begins shifting again, working his way out of his bonds. “I suppose I can give you ten seconds.”

 

***

 

Sherlock is pacing, turning and whirling as he maps city streets in his head. 

As he does not have a complete and infallible map of city streets, Greg satisfies himself with standing over an actual map, John on one side of him and Sebastian still bound in a chair next to them. “So Molly said Moriarty was heading east on the A13 to visit his bank. That’d be her, yeah?”

“Yeah. That’s what he called her before I met her. “ Sebastian wiggles closer. “Let me think he had an actual bank in his pocket for years. Git.”

Greg catches both himself and John vaguely nodding and his lip twitches. Different sort of genius, maybe, but the playbook isn’t that far off. All the same, he has to steel himself. Mycroft needs him. And if he has to work with Sebastian Moran to make that happen, he will. He’d do anything to get Mycroft back. Working with assassins is hardly going to stop him.

“But you didn’t know her as Kitty, yeah?”

“No. Just Lefty. Not much for reading the papers. Definitely don’t give a shit about blogs. No offense, Doctor.”

Focusing on the mission at hand helps Greg be more direct. His police instincts are driving, there’s no time to wallow in emotions, no matter how strained his heart feels. “Do you know of any properties Moriarty has on the A13?” 

“Nothing he would have handed over to someone else.” 

Sherlock’s steps pause. “He’d want something secure. Easily accessible and easy to flee.”

“Not his choice though- she’s got her own place, somewhere.”

“Let us assume her mind works like his, then. Or mine. Her meeting place with him would be visible from her real perch. Added security. She knows who’s she dealing with- she was loyal, that doesn’t mean she trusted him. Especially with his tendency to dispose of people who displease him.” 

Sebastian shrugs. It’s a true enough statement, and it seems Moriarty and Moran aren’t the sort to lie about what they really are. Greg can respect that, in a way. Owning the life they choose to lead.

“Perch like a sniper?” John asks.

“Not necessarily. She likes cameras. CCTV.” Greg turns to Sebastian, lifting a brow. “What? She’s a decent hacker, I think, and you lot don’t protect your cameras very well.”

“So… surveillance, but not too much. She wouldn’t put Moriarty on camera unnecessarily, and I expect she’d want to keep her own face off. Cameras that people who she approved could bypass… control of directions of approach.” Sherlock’s hand flits through the air, drawing invisible lines of streets and alleys until it sharply stills. “There’s several places near Canary Wharf. I’ll need to slip into the cameras myself and see where the blind spots are.”

“Fine,” Greg pulls his phone out. “I can ask for access-”

“No need. I keep a copy of my brother’s current identifiers in my mind palace for whenever I require access to his clearance level.”

“You what?”

“He doesn’t mind, Lestrade, if he did he would work harder to keep me from breaking into his files. John, laptop?”

It only takes a bit of searching to find one in Mycroft’s spartan warehouse, and John diligently types in the strings of seemingly haphazard numbers and letters Sherlock gives him.

As he does, Sebastian leans closer to Greg. “Don’t suppose you’ll consider untying me yet?”

“No.”

“Fair enough.” They’re silent for a bit, watching Holmes and Watson work, until Sebastian breaks it. “I am going to kill her, you realize.” There’s an edge in Sebastian’s voice, a sort of posh lilt that he must usually drop. Greg wonders if it only comes out when he’s feeling murderous.

“Yeah. F’you see her first.”

“If I see her at all.”

The thought’s been percolating in Greg’s head since he realized what happened, but he hasn’t really let his mind voice it. Not until now. “Will she hurt him?”

“She might. If she thinks it will get her what she wants.”

Greg grits his teeth. The pained anger worming into his heart is nearly too much to bear. “Then I suppose if you get her first… I won’t feel too badly about it.”

“Ta. I’m looking forward to it.”

 

***

 

Lefty steps back through the heavy door, smiling to herself. This is more fun than she had expected. She supposes that is one of the benefits of being at the top: one can indulge in enjoying things and relax knowing a plan is going exactly as she wants. No one can step over her or ruin her strategy with wild, frivolous ideas.

With room to relax into herself, however, she’s finally starting to understand the appeal in having an equal. If Jim had truly converted Sherlock- broken him and taken him, made him into something… new… Lefty would have understood. But Sebastian was never Jim’s equal, and that continues to irritate her. 

When she kills them she’s going to make it hurt. Just for annoying her.

But Anthea… there are possibilities in Anthea. She’s been stunted, just as Kitty had, trapped behind a man losing his judgement to sentiment and affection. 

In time, she’ll come to appreciate what Lefty is doing for her. 

She watches the back of Anthea’s head for a long moment, studying her inhales. “So, what do you think, love? Will you come and play with me?”

It amuses her to watch Anthea try not to jerk in surprise. The heels didn’t announce Lefty this time. She’s changed to flats, something silent, because heels wouldn’t be practical for what she has planned. Besides, scaring people has always held a vague sense of amusement for her. “You know I won’t.”

“I know you think you won’t.”

Lefty loops around the chair, watching Anthea closely. Her hair is falling out of its normally careful coif, her makeup is wearing. Her clothes are shifted, just a little.

She’s been up to something.

Predictable, really. Which is a pity, because Lefty’s prepared for this. Her fingers turn a little piece of plastic and metal in her pocket. “Anthea. I know you don’t want to watch him suffer. He will, now. He’ll have to. And that will be your fault.”

She sees Anthea’s hand move, spares half a second to consider how exactly she managed to break the bonds at her wrists, and snaps her own hand forward. The electrical current meets Anthea’s skin with a loud, buzzing snap, and the woman collapses from the chair down to the floor with a series of twitching spasm. Her voice sounds hoarse, the noises she’s able to make a caricature of speech.

“I’m sorry.” Lefty brushes Anthea’s hair back into order with her fingertips as she speaks. “But I’ve seen you, you know. All that graceful work at the hospital… you’ve had training. I’m afraid I haven’t, but I can appreciate the art of it.” She sighs as she puts the taser back in her pocket. “It’s too bad you have to make this difficult for me. You see, I know you would have the better of me in a fight. And there’s only one thing to do if you know you can be beaten.”

She rises, righting the chair and setting to pulling Anthea back into it, her lips next to her opposite’s ear. 

“When in doubt… don’t bother fighting fair.”

Chapter Text

“Sherlock, you’re sure?”

“Quite. Mycroft was right.” He turns, whirling his coat to glare properly at Greg. “Never tell him I said that.” 

Greg smirks, as he is absolutely going to tell Mycroft that… as soon as they get him back. His smile falls, drifting back into the frown he’s been wearing more often than not of late. “Right about what?”

“At St. Aldate’s, my judgement that the abductor’s footprints would indicate where he was going instead of where he had been was… flawed. I assumed Moriarty would do his own dirty work, but clearly there were others involved. This time, however, I can be certain. Kitty Riley is cautious, methodical. Organized, but paranoid, and well aware she was planning something exceptionally dangerous to her own health if she were found out. She would require working on familiar ground. Even if it’s not somewhere she brought anyone previously- she would have been there. She would have to. She’d need to ensure it’s suitability, and she is herself the only person she trusts enough to do that.”

“…alright. Sure.” Greg glances at John and Sebastian. The former seems, as usual, entirely enraptured, while the later is simply quietly amused. “And that relates to this how?”

“Her heels. She wore them to Moriarty’s flat, and she had no reason to change them in the interim, particularly as she was intending to blow the place to bits. Samples were sent to Molly, and I trust she has enough interest in the situation to expedite the analysis.”

“Does she know about- all of this?” John asks cautiously. “I don’t know if we really ought to be bringing in-”

“Certainly. I texted her to request her assistance with particular inclusion of the fact that my brother’s PA has also been taken. Given the fondness of the looks Molly has been directing that way I felt it a personal stake would expedite matters.” Greg’s eyes narrow, and Sherlock looks between him and John as he takes in two sets of glaring eyes and one amused huff from the man still tied to a chair. “Bit not good?”

“Extremely not good, actually, Sherlock, but we’ll talk about that later. Greg, could you-”

“Yeah, yeah.” He’s already got his phone out and dialing. Molly answers with a slightly broken note in her voice, though she sounds more together than most people would upon hearing anyone they know has been kidnapped. “Hey, Molls.”

“Greg- I’m sorry, I’m sort of in the middle of-”

“It’s fine, I’m calling about the same thing Sherlock wrote you about. You alright?”

“I’m- yeah, this is- I’m being helpful, so that’s- it’s fine. Are you- he said, ah, Mycroft-”

Greg’s throat tightens. He doesn’t have time to dwell, to risk Mycroft’s safety by letting himself feel. “Yeah, Molls. Him too.” Fuck. Is this what he felt like, all those years of minding Sherlock and never able to say how much it hurt?

He won’t let himself go down that road. He’ll get Mycroft back, and they’ll talk about it for as long as they can. Tell him that I care, every single time it comes in my head. Tell him I want him to care too.

Maybe, one day, tell him I….

“Well- I have some results, but I don’t know how useful they’re going to be.”

“Alright, hang on- okay, I’ve put you on speaker, go ahead.”

She rattles off an array of soil details, mold and mildew and algae.

“Riverbank?” Greg offers, only to be cut off by Sherlock’s hand flying through the air in his usual hush I’m thinking way.

They watch as his hands hit his temples, eyes closed, mapping something impossible. Sebastian lifts a brow, half interested and half incredulous. “He always like that?”

“Shut up,” John and Greg intone simultaneously. 

“The net is still too wide,” Sherlock mutters eventually. “But it is narrowing. And if we compare to the footage….” They all watch as he seamlessly loads in Mycroft’s credentials to the computer and spins through an array of cameras. He pauses, here and there, seeing something none of the rest of them can. “One of these. Yes. It must be.”

These appear to be a set of warehouses, right off one of the Thames tributaries. 

“Direct access to the river. If one of them has a dock, or even an old runoff- that’ll be it.” Three of them turn as one to eye Sebastian Moran, who’s looking very pleased with himself. “I’m not an idiot, so you can stop gaping. It’s the easiest way to dispose of a body quietly. Dump it, let the river take it into the Thames proper, if it pops up no one will be the wiser where it came from. Just because she avoids killing doesn’t mean she’s never done it. It’s a necessity, in our line of work.”

“She dislikes killing?” A flicker of hope flutters in Greg’s heart and his soul cradles it. 

“She dislikes mess. Killing… it’s efficient. And often prudent.” He eyes meet Greg’s. “She’ll only make them suffer if she’s trying to make a point.”

“And what point would that be?”

“Probably just that she can.”

 

***

 

Sherlock marches into Lord Moran’s office and Sebastian follows, well aware that John Watson is behind him with a gun. Whatever. For now, their interests align. If a gun makes John feel better, Sebastian’s not going to stop him from carrying it. 

As Sherlock blathers something distracting to keep the attention of the staff- and he is good at that, Sebastian has to admit, because no one seems to know what to do with him when he really gets rolling on his deductions, and soon enough affairs are being exposed and dirty laundry aired and no one remembers why he was there in the first place- Sebastian slips into his erstwhile brother’s office, the good doctor just behind him.

“You’re sure it’ll be here? He must have a safe at home.”

“Yeah.” Sebastian feels along the back of a filing cabinet. “Several. But you don’t keep explosives where you sleep, as a rule. Or, well, normal people don’t. I’ve slept on C-4, so I suppose I shouldn’t judge. But my brother is tragically traditional, in his way. If something were to go wrong, and his little toy went boom, he’d want it somewhere he could claim was an attack on poor little him.” He fondles the inside of the desk, glances under paintings on the walls. Come on, it must be here somewhere. 

“Do I want to know why an MP has explosives?”

Sebastian’s mouth twists. “Probably not if you want to sleep at night. Let’s call that a card I’m holding, shall we? If I’m not dead after all this, I might tell you about my brother’s ridiculous aspirations.”

“…alright.” He hears John playing with the obvious safe, one big hulking monstrosity behind a painting of an orchid. “You sure it’s not in here?”

“No, his underlings can access that one. That’s for legitimate business. I doubt he’s told his secretary why he’s suddenly taken an interest in things that go boom.” Sebastian turns in the middle of the room, frowning. It’d have to be somewhere unlikely to be touched, somewhere safe, somewhere the temperature wouldn’t shift too much….

Dropping low, he slides his hand carefully under the mini fridge in the corner, a discrete black unit that holds his brother’s snacks and ice for watering down the drinks of his visitors. He smiles when his hand hits plastic. “Ahhah. Clever.”

“I’ll take that.” John is beside him in an instant, one hand extended, the other quietly nudging a revolver into his back. It very nearly makes him smile. Sebastian is wired all wrong, or so he’s been told, part of him sees this as a challenge- he could turn and fight right here, set off the explosives, take them all out in a blaze of glory.

The side that respects Watson’s firm resolve also reminds him that Jim is at stake in this. If Sebastian goes out, who will guarantee anyone ever gives a shit about Jim Moriarty again?

“As you wish, Doctor Watson.”

Greg is waiting for them when they slip back out, holding open the door to get Sebastian into the back seat where he is promptly recuffed. “Starting to think you lot have a fetish.”

The inspector rolls his eyes in the rearview mirror as Sherlock dashes out of the building and into the car. “Pot, kettle, Moran. You know we did see get a glimpse at your flat after it went all crispy?”

“Yeah, see anything you like? I can make a lot of recommendations.”

“Will you lot focus?” Sherlock huffs in the passenger seat. John, of course, remains in the back, gun casually still pointing at Sebastian. “I need to calculate the damage. Be silent.”

“You’re sure of what you’re doing here, Sherlock? We’ll only have one shot,” the inspector murmurs. He’s interesting to watch, especially as he has almost as much stake in this as Sebastian does. Fraying at the edges, but the core is strong. He’s determined.

He’s the best shot at an ally Sebastian’s got.

“I’ll help.” He watches Lestrade’s eyes flick to him in the rearview mirror. “I did some explosives ordinance training. You tell me where to set it, I’ll make sure it works properly.”

“You won’t be able to cover us if you’re working on the charge.”

“Right, because you were going to let me point a sniper rifle at you? Try again. Unless you’ve got one in the trunk that’s not even an option.”

“Hush, all of you. I can map this out in my mind palace, but I need to concentrate, if you all are capable of being silent?” The three of them do shut up- never something Sebastian thought he’d be doing for Sherlock Holmes, but needs must. The man puts his fingertips to his temple, muttering.

It’s going to be a long car ride.

 

***

 

“Do you know, Myyykie, this is a rather novel situation.” Mycroft tenses as he feels the chair behind him shift, hears the sound of plastic hitting the floor and creaking bones as Moriarty rises and stretches. “See, you’ve been pursuing me all this time, and here you are, entirely at my mercy.”

“True enough. Though, as I said….”

“Yes, yes. My sniper. Hmm.” Moriarty paces around, close enough squat in front of his chair, that slightly mad look in his eye. He’s disheveled, and there’s a sizable bruise on his face. Someone hit him- possibly to keep him knocked out, at some point. He can understand the impulse, Moriarty being Moriarty. “Suppose I’d rather have you, Ice Man? I might rather like to tear you to pieces. Seems like the sort of thing that could get a man’s rocks off even better than my little sniper friend.”

“Quite possibly, but you won’t.” Moriarty is hard to read- dangerously hard to read, but Mycroft is growing certain of his position. The most dangerous man in London is capable of sentiment after all. “We would both be better served by a swift escape.”

“Hmmm. A truce for now, then. I make no promises for later.”

“Of course.”

“Now. Assuming you do not want the flesh ripped from your hands any further, I think I’ll try to find something nice and sharp to cut that tie.” The smaller man winks and skips to the corners of the room to look around a bit, trying to find something suitable. “Don’t suppose she’s been so foolish as to leave any knives in here….”

“Undoubtably not.”

“Well, aren’t you two being naughty.” The voice piping in over some sort of old address system is far too masculine to be Kitty, but from the way Moriarty’s head snaps up Mycroft is sure it’s someone from his Network. 

Moriarty runs for the door, clawing at the handle and finding it firmly locked. He punches the metal angrily, glaring out into the dark through the small viewing window. “Crawford, when I get out of here, I am going to flay you and make you wear yourself as a jacket.”

Mycroft inhales sharply, his eyes narrowing as his mind finally, finally, rouses in full and commences the ability to observe and analyze that had been dulled since his abduction. Crawford. This man hurt Gregory- had nearly killed him.

He finds it reduces his moral compunctions against murder significantly when it comes to people who have harmed his silver-haired inspector. Go ahead and flay him. No one will find the body.

“Bold of you- but no one’s listening to you anymore. See, people don’t actually like being told they’re going to be made into shoes, or gloves, or jackets.” Metal clicks, something like chain ringing, the sound of a heavy door or gate being opened somewhere.

And water.

“She wants to torture you, so I’ll do this slow, but I’m not about to let her back in there with you off the leash, Jim. Everyone knows you’re a dog that bites. I’m sure she’ll understand, seeing as she’s actually a decent boss. People actually like her, for one. Not that you’d know what that’s like.” Mycroft can almost feel the man smiling. “Anyway. Gotta dash. We’ll be sure to shoot your corpses a few times when this is over. Just to be sure.”

Mycroft looks down as the sound of water draws nearer, a gentle trickle widening and washing along his shoes. It smells of the Thames, and rust, and disused pipes. His mind runs. Room below the level of the river. Human adjusted tributary offshoot- pipes used to run off from here, waste or excrement, but the pumps are gone- the water just runs back in.

Bollocks.

“Jim,” he calls, trying not to sound overly concerned. “I realize you’re upset, but if we might prioritize and expedite achieving my freedom from this chair….”

Moriarty looks downright dangerous- this is the man, then, who casually bombs and kills and maims. His eyes are near black with wrath, and Mycroft remains moderately concerned that he is so focused on vengeance that he will forget to assist Mycroft at all. 

Drowning is not particularly the way I should like to exit this mortal coil.

“Zip ties take time to loosen,” Moriarty grumbles as he stalks over and clasps the back of Mycroft’s chair, dragging it toward the wall with his teeth clenched in irritated exertion. He’s not insignificantly strong for a man of his size, and Mycroft is grateful for that as his height means he is not a negligible weight to move.  

“I realize.” There’s a crumpling noise as Moriarty slams his foot against some disused piece of machinery, and Mycroft feels his hands placed against something that, if not quite sharp, is not exactly dull, either. 

“I take it you know what to do.”

“Certainly.”

“Great.  I have to admit heroics are not quite my milieu, but it’s a bit hard to murder people when you’re dead. So thanks for the will to live, Crawford!” 

Moriarty marches toward another bit of ancient machinery, surveying the pulls and levers. Mycroft watches as he scrapes the ties against the metal, slowly wearing it down, but nothing is working- whatever was here predated electronics, and the mechanisms it must have once linked to are long since disabled. 

The water creeps up past his ankles, then halfway up his calves, before another sad creaking noise makes both their heads turn. It flows faster, all of a sudden, reaching his knees with much greater force.

He tries his best to shuffle his wrists faster, feeling the plastic slowly fray. 

“Whatever grate he’s opened is fracturing further-”

“I realize that!” Moriarty actually sounds a bit manic- perhaps that’s his method of displaying nervousness. It’s hard to say. 

“This building predates the adjustments made to this tributary,” Mycroft notes stoically. Facts and figures have always been a calming point. “The water level is higher than it was. The system wasn’t built for this degree of pressure.”

“Yes, thank you for your memorization of the local building codes, I’m sure that’s quite helpful.” Moriarty does a second pass around the room, then a third as the water crests Mycroft’s hips. “You won’t have any leverage if buoyancy carries your chair up.”

“No.” Mycroft has been making a concerted effort not to think of the physics of it, but he will lose the pressure of his chair leaning against the metal, and then there will be no chance. He’ll be floating, his chair will tip-

And he’ll die like that.

“Much as I’d usually like to see that, Ice Man, I’m cashing in your chit early.” 

Mycroft’s brow furrows. Does he mean- His mind flashes for a moment, expecting Jim to just snap his neck, but the smaller man plants his feet on the chair, pressing back with both of their combined weight into the small bit of sharp on the wall. 

“Don’t like swimming much. I expect you to get me to my sniper for this little reunion you’ve offered.”

The plastic frays faster. Mycroft grits his teeth. Jim isn’t really looking at him, just watching the water rise. “Carl Powers?”

“Oh, yes, what a star Carl was. Little brother only found his awards. And those damn trainers.”

Mycroft can see it, so easily now that Moriarty isn’t bothering to hold his usual maddened mask up. “He held you under.”

“That he did. Children can be such evil little shits, really- and people say I’m deranged. Though I suppose someone might think my response was a bit of an overreaction.”

Almost there, almost there…. “I can swim.”

“Good.” 

“If it gets high enough- don’t struggle. Just hang on to me. Yes? Struggling brings us both-”

“Yes, yes. Fine. Play the hero and we’ll never speak of this again.”

Mycroft can’t imagine the effort it must take this man, of all people, to accept help. There ought to be something profound to say about it. 

Instead, they’re silent until the water hits Mycroft’s shoulders, when the zip tie finally gives up it’s struggle- just as another great metallic grinding noise announces another wave of water rumbling down a channel never meant to handle a river. He reaches up, grabbing one of the old lengths of rusted chain and ignoring the pain as he clamps down on unhealed scars. “Hang on!”

The water hits like a wave against rocks.

If he had less adrenaline in his system, Mycroft expects it would hurt more. Endorphins are a glorious drug indeed. He turns his face away, trying not to inhale the rush of river water. Moriarty is choking beside him, fingers wrapped too tight in whatever of Mycroft he can grab- clothes, skin, it doesn’t matter. 

Survival is the imperative. 

After the first wave it’s not quite as aggressive. Mycroft hauls them up further, climbing the chain with the water’s buoyancy as a help instead of a hindrance. His face is wet, but he squints into the flickering light of the room, the electric, such as it is, struggling as though somewhere in the walls a line as has been damaged. 

“There!” He hopes Moriarty can see where he means- a duct, not far from the door, an old one probably meant to keep air circulating if the room was sealed. “Swim it!”

“I can cross on the chains,” Moriarty mutters in response.

“Not if a fuse gives out and electrifies the water.” Mycroft shakes the water out of his eyes. “Hang on to my foot if you need to. I don’t think I’ll be able to pry the grate off.”

“Oh, I see, it’s just because I’m usef-” Moriarty breaks off in a yelp as Mycroft dives into the water, grasping for his ankle. As his shoulders pull, Mycroft grimaces into the water. 

Not dying yet. Not here.

I utterly refuse. 

 

***

 

Lefty drags the wheeled chair she’s placed Anthea into down the hall and into her secure mainframe room. “I’m afraid we’ll have to expedite matters. Pity, because I’ve never had the joy of dragging these things out, and I so wanted to see how you handled it. That’s the best way to understand a mind, you realize. Break it, and put it back together.”

The chair goes in front of a set of screens, all showing the water filling her improvised interrogation room. “Is he a good swimmer, your boss? Jimmy isn’t. Hates water, actually. It was something I thought of when I bought this place. Loyalty is one thing- and he had mine, I assure you- but one does always need a contingency plan. Especially in my line of work.”

Anthea glares at her, mouth too occupied by the cloth gag Lefty stuck in there to prevent her from shouting any more than she had been. Or biting. She’s a bit feisty, but Lefty likes that sort of thing. She just needs to get the teeth turned the right way- namely, at anyone other than herself. Lefty watches the woman’s muscles tense and unfurl and tense again, testing the strength of her bonds. 

“Behave. You won’t be getting out this time. Best accept that now. But let’s see what else is on tv, shall we?”

Lefty changes one of the screens, and a woman very much like Anthea appears, outlined in CCTV’s standard level of blurry excellence. “That must be odd, hm? Looking at yourself, when you’re right here. Only they don’t know you’re right here, do they? And they won’t, not without getting very close.”

Anthea’s brow furrows. She’s enjoyable to watch when she is thinking, Lefty realizes- all those gears turning, all that brilliance united in one solitary effort to try and work out a puzzle. “Shall I give you a hint?”

Lefty leans close enough that her lips nearly touch Anthea’s hair. “It was one of the last things you wrote to him about. Classified email. Just data- but when is data just data?”

She watches, wanting to see how long it will take Anthea to realize. “People know his name more than your face- no one was too concerned with a followup request, not when it comes from Mycroft Holmes. Nothing is classified to him. Or you, really- well, almost nothing. I still want all those boxes I can’t yet access, every last little bit of information you can claim- and I will have that. But this is enough to start with, and I want you to understand.”

 

***

 

Anthea has no idea what the fuck Kitty is playing at, but she must have a goal. She squints at the screen, hoping to glean something, anything useful, because while there must be a datapoint she’s meant to see there are always others in this kind of footage, little tells that reveal more than they’re meant to…. “A bank? I thought plain robbery was beneath you.”

“Oh, it is. Can you tell which bank?”

Kitty rolls the footage back and runs it again. Anthea focuses on the architecture, the stonework- “Ah.” 

“Say it.”

Saying what she believes Kitty wants her to say will be an admission of sorts. It’s not a good idea. “It’s a Bank of England.”

“Technically correct, but for every answer that is not the information I am seeking I will add an hour of suffering to Mycroft Holmes’s eventual demise.” She smiles, flat and cold. “Try again.”

Anthea shifts. She has to play this carefully. Press enough that Mycroft isn’t at risk while she plays for time. That little shit Andrew might not have been the only mole, so she won’t be able to rely on the services. 

Fortunately, if Kitty got Mycroft, that means Greg Lestrade is looking. Which means Sherlock is looking. And for as much of an utter arsehole as Sherlock can be, he’s not the sort to leave his brother in nefarious hands. “It’s a prime account bank.”

Kitty smiles dangerously. “Good girl. Yes. Yes it is.”

Anthea understands more than she’d like to. This particular bank, along with a few others, contains source routing accounts that start the chains leading through back channels and fake companies all they way down to the operatives using them as a cover. It’s how they get money to agents that need it, even those in cover so deep they can’t break it. Mycroft had even devised a coded method wherein communication could be managed by the memo lines and amounts of deposits and withdrawals.

She doubts Kitty’s gotten to that yet. But the woman is clever, and if she has enough time to sit with it until she breaks the code… the entirety of the security services could be at risk, not to mention all the identities that could go in a flash on the black market.

Play for time. Keep playing for time.

“If you have all this than I hardly think you need any of my codes, do you? Clearly you got your information somewhere, you have her,” Anthea nods to the screen at the false version of herself. “What more could you need?”

“That’s a silly question, Anthea. I thought you were smarter than that.” Kitty crouches before her, and Anthea finally gets a good chance to study her eyes. Now that she can really see them, so close, she can tell there’s something of the same mad look Moriarty seems to have from time to time. Like a cat’s predatory gaze trying to manage on a far weaker human retina. “I want everything.”

Somewhere far off, there’s an explosion, and a tumble that sounds like the collapse of metal and stone. 

“Well, well.” Kitty rises, head cocked as though she’s listening for more. “It seems someone is going to be interesting today.” She taps a button on an intercom. “Boys, we have company. Do arrange a suitable welcome.” 

A hand strokes through Anthea’s hair as Kitty glides to the door, and she jerks back instinctively- even if she can’t get very far. “Take some time to think, dear. Maybe you’ll have the chance to speak with dear Mycroft after I handle this.” She glances at the screen and smiles. “Assuming he doesn’t drown, of course. Watch close! If he does, you won’t want to miss it.”

Chapter Text

Greg waits with Sherlock, watching the smoke clear from around a corner. “You’re sure this is a good idea?”

“Good? No. But it is in service to our goals, so….”

“Right.” They all make sacrifices, Greg supposes. If his are to let a murderous assassin run amok in exchange for Mycroft’s safety… well, he can have that chat with his moral compass later. “Ready?”

“Wait….” 

Greg has no idea what Sherlock is waiting for, but lord knows the man is usually right about these things, so he holds position until Sherlock suddenly and without any warning darts forward for the side door Sebastian had so conveniently blown open for them. Sebastian’s meant to be going for any defenses Lefty- Kitty- might have placed around the old building. Lord knows if she has tech or guards or anything at all. 

He follows Sherlock, truncheon in one hand, gun- the same one Mycroft had provided him with for Baskerville- in his back pocket. He’s no crack shot, and he’d prefer not to use the thing unless he has to. Sherlock has some idea of how the building might have been modified from its original, more industrial, purposes, and he picked out a few likely places for someone to be held while Greg raced them over in the car. The idea is that Sebastian causes a bit of a distraction while he and Sherlock slip about, trying to find Mycroft and Moriarty. Sherlock has managed it before, getting into crime scenes unseen, slipping into suspects homes when he shouldn’t.  Greg trusts that if anyone can do it, it will be Sherlock.

Though perhaps he should have been more skeptical. 

As they round a corner, Greg hears a click behind them, and only just manages to yank Sherlock out of the way by the collar of his Belstaff as a bullet clips into the wall, chipping old brickwork, though it hardly matters as just around the other side of the corner there’s two black-masked guards, each with guns pointed at them. Fucking shit bollocks-

“God, are you two the cavalry? That’s a disappointment. And here I was, preparing for MI-5.”

Greg’s nostrils flare, a quiet rage that he’d almost forgotten about returning at the sound of Crawford’s voice. His real voice, then, not the fawning persona he’d put on. Boots shift on the old floor, getting into position- three, maybe, or four sets, including the ones they can see.

He lifts a brow at Sherlock. How many? he deliberately mouths.

Five, Sherlock silently answers back. 

A gun cocks. Then another. 

And a heavy door opens, immediately followed by the sound of a what Greg can only think of as a human growl. Crawford yelps, and Greg peeks around the corner just in time to see the man hit by the leaping, angry form of Sebastian Moran. “-gonna give you to Jim to skin, you bloody little-”

“Take them out!” Crawford yells from the floor. Greg tenses, ready to throw himself at the guns, because surely Sherlock has a greater chance to find Mycroft than he would alone-

He doesn’t need to.

Two rapid shots ring out, shattering the glass of the old windows and dropping the two guards in their line of sight bonelessly to the floor. Oh thank fuck. “I thought we agreed,” John Watson half-shouts as he glares through the empty pane by an ancient fire escape, “that you’d stay where I can see you.”

“Yes, thank you, John.” Sherlock calls back, a note of admiration glittering in his eyes as he casts one of his rare smiles toward John. Greg rolls his eyes. In the middle of a gunfight and they can’t even stop flirting. Though of course he had snogged Mycroft during one- and he’ll damn well do it again when he finds his Holmes in all this mess.

Another shot rings out around the corner, and Greg peeks again. Sebastian is stumbling back with one of the other guards in a headlock when Crawford levels a ferocious kick at him, knocking him into another corridor. A second guard follows, running and firing, and Crawford closes the door on all of them, spinning the massive wheel locking mechanism into place and cutting them off from Sebastian. 

Suddenly it feels much more dangerously quiet. Greg swallows, lifting his finger to trigger. Alright. Don’t like killing, but sometimes it’s necessary. I can do this. For Mycroft. I can do this.

But his hand doesn’t quite move in time. Crawford’s eyes meet his. Greg can see the man’s face is bloodied, one eye horribly red. Crawford grins as his gun rises, and Greg leaps back again as another bullet hits the wall beside him. 

He can see John racing about overhead, no doubt looking for a better angle and growling when he can’t find one. “Get him in my line of sight!” he calls as he vanishes from view again.

Greg hears Sherlock inhale. It’s one he’s heard before, a slow, steady inhale, usually preceding him either saying something brilliant or doing something vastly stupid. “So you’ve switched to bullets from poison?” Sherlock intones, his voice deliberately calm. Buying some time, Greg thinks. “I thought you were more interesting than that. Poisoning requires real skill, you know- but I suppose you didn’t blend it yourself.”

“Nah, that’s someone else’s purview. Hardly needed it though, did I? Little bit more time and I might’ve convinced your nice Inspector to take me home, shivved him calmly in bed after a good shag. Wasn’t s’posed to, mind, but- man’s gotta snatch the small pleasures in life where he can.”

“Wanker, I would not have-”

Greg realizes a second too late that they’ve been baited. The last guard dives round the corner at him- but Sherlock must have seen him coming, because his bony fist flies out and knocks the guard back with a quick series of blows, keeping the man between him and Crawford, but just too far into the corridor for John to get any kind of vantage.

It’ll be alright, he tell himself. Sherlock’s had training in martial arts. He can hold his own.

But not against a second gun. 

Greg aims, trying to breathe, trying to time it for Crawford’s attempt to get a shot off on the more obvious target Sherlock is presenting-

His hand is shaking.

Dammit. Okay. Backup plan. He sprints toward Crawford. A tackle worked before- 

He’s swiftly intercepted by the side of the pistol meeting his jaw. 

“Throwing yourself at every threat isn’t a strategy, Inspector,” Crawford chuckles, looking maddened with his bloodied eye, his pistol’s barrel aimed easily at Greg. “Don’t worry. This time it’ll be fast.”

No.

Greg slams one foot out, his heavy police boots connecting with the bones just above Crawford’s ankle. He can hear a satisfying crack as Crawford shouts in pain, the gun shifting involuntarily just as he pulls the trigger and Greg rolls, another ricochet bouncing harmlessly off the concrete floor. Then Greg attacks again, jumping up with an aim toward smashing Crawford’s gun hand off the wall a few times. 

“You know what, Crawford, you can get fucked.” Greg grins madly as his hand closes over Crawford’s wrist. “But it won’t be by me.” 

 

***

 

Sebastian stumbles down the hall, trailing red in his wake. It’s hardly the first time he’s been shot, but this one definitely clipped a rib, and he knows too well the dangers of a bone floating unattended by all those soft, defenseless organs. 

The guard that he’d been locked in with hadn’t managed to put up much of a fight, even making an effort to punch Sebastian in his obviously damaged side. 

On the upside, Sebastian now has a high-end military pistol, which is a step up. The other boys hadn’t wanted him to play with guns on this trip, even if they did let him play a bit with the explosives. He’s not supposed to be looking for Jim and Mycroft Holmes, in particular, he’s supposed to be one big moving distraction.

But he’s always been a decent multitasker.

Now, if I were a conniving, scheming little traitor, where would I keep my hostages?

He rounds one of the corridors- there’s too fucking many in this complex, which has to be deliberate. Like a maze. Trapping anyone who breaks in like mice. There’s another group of guards ahead of him, mundane thugs, some men he recognizes. Some men he’s hired.

Too bad for them he’s not prone to guilt or bonding, because he gets off three shots before they even realize he’s there. 

And behind them, yelping and scurrying out the way, is that little shit Andrew. 

Jim had put such effort into recruiting him. Baiting him, luring him, compiling just the right amount of blackmail on him to get someone in the right place to keep an eye on the Ice Man’s operations. It had been so much harder to get someone in with Mycroft’s little fiefdom that it ever had been to turn someone more directly in MI-5 or MI-6. 

But if anyone would know where the hostages would, it would be that little duplicitous arsehole.

Sebastian darts around the corner, quietly reloading. “Lads, I know most of you know me. I know you’ve been told you’ve got a new boss now. That’s fine. I don’t blame you for wanting your money.” The bullets click into place in a way Sebastian’s always found deeply satisfying. Almost his way of meditating, really. No use in being panicked in a gun fight. Anyone who overthinks it is already dead. “I’ll give you to the count of five if any of you would like to rethink your choices.”

“One,” he says, loud, hiding the sound of his first steps around the corner with his gun leveled at the average chest height of a British man. “Two,” he drops his voice slightly, so it will almost sound like he’s still in the same place. 

By three he’s on them. 

 

***

 

Crawford’s arm is broken, Greg’s certain of that, but irritatingly it turns out the man can use either hand equally well to pull the trigger. Just when Greg thinks he has the man pinned, he squeezes off one last shot, well wide of Greg. It shatters one of the high windows, raining down glass, and is answered with a very clean, very precise, bullet through the man’s head.

John Watson is not a man to be trifled with when Sherlock is in danger, and though Greg laments any loss of life, he’s not really that sorry to see Crawford slump to the floor, never to trouble them again. 

In the meantime, Sherlock has fought off his attacker, knocking him out with a rapid series of punches. Greg looks him over as he stretches out, feeling for any sore spots where Crawford managed to catch him in the ribs. “Everyone alright?”

“Fine,” Sherlock says bluntly, still aloof despite the obvious thrill he’s getting from so obviously being right in which warehouse they’ve invaded. 

“Bit less than,” John intones dryly as he meanders down from the window Crawford shattered, following the narrow ladder from a catwalk and holding his arm at a rather odd angle.

Sherlock moves faster than Greg has ever seen him, leaping over a railing and sprinting up to meet his Watson, eyes focused dangerously with concern. “You’re bleeding.”

“Yep.” John winces as Sherlock tries to assist him, waving him off. “It’s a through-and-through. You won’t be able to do much. Might’ve chipped the bone, but. Bullet’s out, so that won’t be doing anything.”

“I shall mock up a splint,” Sherlock says tersely, reaching to shred the nearest guard’s clothes.

Greg shifts his weight. He needs Mycroft, but he won’t sacrifice anyone else to the cause. “John, if you’re-”

“I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine, I can tell him what I need.” He nods toward Greg, face a little paler than Greg is comfortable with, but not dangerously so. “Go on. Moran’s running off on his lonesome, and we don’t need him getting to Mycroft first.”

A deep breath steadies him. No. That’s the last thing Greg wants, to be worrying about the psychopath, the sniper, and the web all at once. “You sure you’ll be alright?”

Sherlock’s eyes meet his, dark and serious. “I’ve got him, Greg.” He means more than that. Infinitely more, even Greg can feel it. No need for deductions required. “You remember the probable layout?”

“Yeah. Yeah.”  Greg checks his gun. It still feels like a foreign weight in his hand, but it’ll have to do. 

He needs it if he wants to see Mycroft again.

And I do. I will.

He opens the heavy wheel that Moran had been shut behind earlier, and looks down a long, dark corridor. Only a faintly flickering light marks the end, a swinging, dim bulb over a body. Moran’s been busy. He inhales. One step at a time. One step closer. “Alright. Stay safe, you two.”

John nods at him as Sherlock begins wrapping his arm with whatever non-bloody scraps he could find. “Good luck, Greg. We’ll be right behind you.”

 

***

 

Sebastian picks his way over the bodies. “Andrew. Come out and play. I promise I won’t blow your miserable face off.” Yet. 

He can hear scurrying as Andrew darts around somewhere in the catwalks above him in the wide room ahead, a few shots ringing not far from Sebastian’s face. So he does have some security services training after all. Sebastian smiles and listens, quietly tucking himself in behind a column. Old metal is hard to sneak around on. Too many little creaks, stresses on joints that can’t bear the weight anymore, which is exactly what he’s looking for. His gun tracks as Andrew glides unseen from one to another to-

Sebastian unloads his purloined weapon at the catwalk after a particularly loud creak, the metal shearing in a grinding scream, sending the catwalk and its occupant straight to the ground. Andrew screams- his leg looks broken, possibly in more than one place. “Hi Andrew. How’s the neck? Healing up nice?”

There’s footsteps behind them, and Sebastian raises his gun only to see the Inspector slam through the open door. “Ah. See you’ve made it.”

“Yeah, you left a hell of a trail.” Lestrade runs over, glancing at the wound Sebastian’s been staunchly ignoring. It’s not that surprising, that a cop would be able to follow a bloody path, it’s just irritating that much of it is his own. God but getting shot is annoying. “You alright?”

Sebastian grins. He’s not about to show pain, not to these two. “Never better.” He nods toward Andrew. “Was just about to ask this prick where our men are.”

“Oh good.” Greg crouches in front of the miserable little git as Andrew looks back at them, pale-faced and panting. “Andrew, right? Listen. I’m not a medical man, but that looks painful. You know I’d help you- have to, s’part of the badge. We even try to make sure criminals don’t die. But this is out of my realm. Doctor Watson’ll be through in a bit. Could probably stabilize that leg right up for you. But he’s also not feeling terribly generous with his expertise right now, so if you want that to happen in a way that doesn’t hurt more, I’d really recommend you start talking.”

Sebastian smiles wider. Lestrade would’ve made a decent enforcer, if he didn’t have so many morals. “And I’ll remind you, Andrew, that I have none of the Inspector’s compunctions about making you scream, so you’ll probably want to talk fast.”

 

***

 

Mycroft and Jim spill out of the air duct into the corridor, sodden and coughing. “I’m going to… have this building… condemned,” Mycroft chokes out, trying to catch his breath.

“I’m going to save you the trouble- and demolish it myself,” Jim hacks. 

A soft click echoes at the other end of the hall. Mycroft inhales. Even Jim stills. “I have to give you both credit. I didn’t realize you would be so irritating. Especially together!” Kitty- Lefty- whatever she is in the process of becoming now- watches them with cold eyes, the water gently sloshing at her shoes. The gun she holds is no mere pistol- no apparently, they merit a larger deterrent. This one is a high volume rifle. “Jim, you haven’t even killed him. I’m disappointed. I thought if you escaped at least I’d get a show.”

“Come on, Kitty, love. You know I never care what my audience wants.”

“Oh, I know. Unless it’s darling Sebastian.” Her head tilts. “Hands up and walk, please. I will shoot you if you so much as breathe out of place.”

Mycroft calculates as he picks himself up off the floor. She shouldn’t want them to live. She shouldn’t want them anywhere near her plans, unless… unless Anthea is still holding out. Unless there’s something she needs from each of them that she does not yet have. 

What? What could she need if she truly does have all the codes?

Unless….

Mycroft’s lips part. He glances sideways at Jim, who looks back curiously. She wouldn’t- she would have to be absolutely mad to-

Oh, but that is rather brilliant.

He watches the path as they walk, looking for cameras, devices, protections, and he can sense Jim watching him in turn. There. A camera in the ceiling, mostly hidden. He has to take a leap on this one. But if she is clever, really clever- yes. 

It’s what I would do.  

He inhales, steadying himself. “Not having much luck, are you, Kitty?”

“Luck never has much to do with it, Holmes, you know that. But if you mean your unintended little bath, well. Overeager underlings will always be a concern.”

“I mean your greater project.” Mycroft mentally crosses both his fingers and toes that, wherever she is, Anthea has an audio feed. “All those networks you’re laying claim to. Or, well. That you say you are.”

He feels Jim tense, briefly, then the younger man barks a laugh. “Oh, well done.”

“Jimmy, do shut up. I’ll tear your head right off, and I won’t leave enough even for precious little Basher to mourn.” She’s smart enough to stay far enough from them that neither of them could turn quickly on her without taking a bullet, but Mycroft listens for the change in pace in her feet, easily tracked by the quarter inch of water that’s seeped out of the room they’d been held in. There’s just enough hesitation- yes. Yes! He must be right.

Even if he keeps a smile from his face it’s hard to reduce the smugness in his voice. “I’m sure you’d like to. But you can’t yet, can you? You can’t. Not either of us. Not if you really, really want everything you claim to have.”

“Stop.” 

They both do. Jim is still chuckling quietly to himself, like this is all a truly hilarious joke. Perhaps for him it is. Mycroft takes note of the room they’ve drifted into- mid-size, with a steep stair that leads up to room not unlike a factory’s observational area. Another high level leads somewhere else, but it seems like a catwalk that’s been deliberately cut off. All the windows have been replaced and darkened- or mirrored, perhaps. New. New construction. 

There. That’s where she actually lives in all this mess. 

The center of the web.

And if he’s very, very lucky….

“If you’re about to threaten us additionally, you might just skip the process. I believe we are both aware you’re not above torture, certainly. But death? No. Not yet. Not when there still might be something to be gained. And to torture us you’d need to get a touch closer than you are. Where are your minions, hm? You must have some- Crawford, at least.”

“As I said, Crawford suffers from a lack of self-control.”

“Oh, please,” Jim smirks. “He didn’t get in trouble for that little stunt- Crawford can barely tie his shoes without someone ordering him, he’s not a threat to anything that isn’t in front of him, and if you really wanted us dead the room would’ve been cleared of any equipment we could climb on.” He tilts his head. “Smoke and mirrors, kitten.”

Mycroft feels it, then. Two of the three brightest minds in London, and they both know, the pieces falling together like rain. 

He almost wants to laugh.

“You don’t have anything on me, do you?” There’s a whole wing erecting itself in his mind palace. He’ll have to analyze all this in detail later. He’ll have to be sure. Absolutely sure. But for once, and with the shadow of Greg Lestrade’s endless trust and confidence bolstering him, Mycroft trusts his gut. “You have enough to fake it. Enough to hack phones and cameras, enough to show us the layer you want us to see. But you don’t have the skill to break an MI-6 bank. Oh, you’re to be commended for even figuring out its location, but to actually get the names you’d need to work through firewall layers even my best people can’t break. You’d need an access code. A real one. Mine or hers.” Mycroft feels a ripple of hope as the final piece lands. “And she hasn’t given hers up yet, or else you wouldn’t need to play games with us at all.”

“She’ll turn it over fast enough when I show her what I’m willing to do,” Kitty snarls.

“What, by killing me?” Jim sounds interested. He’s smiling and over-curious, like he already knows the answer. “You know I rather resent that. Especially when you’d be giving up everyone loyal to me.” He shifts so rapidly into a rabid snarl that Mycroft is impressed Kitty doesn’t flinch- but then he’s back again, all courtesy. “Because you can’t have them all. There’s not nearly enough sad little people standing around in here for you to have everyone. You only took the ones you knew would turn. The rest are still mine, and even with me dead- there’s always Basher.”

Kitty stares at them, eyes narrowing. Mycroft can almost feel the gears turning. “Well.” She sighs. “Sometimes, Jimmy, you have to show off the severed head to let them know the king is dead.”

Time almost seems to slow. Mycroft and Jim both turn, preparing to dive behind the cracked old steel beams holding this monstrosity of a building up. There’s a creaking noise above, a sad metallic whine, as a large blonde man leaps over the side of the catwalk rail, gun out and firing.

Kitty sensibly runs, firing back at them, as the man crashes to the ground, knocking both Mycroft and Moriaty out of the way and grunting audibly as the first bullet clips him in the shoulder. 

“Basher….” Mycroft can hear the murmur as Jim wraps up his sniper, cradling him and dragging him behind one of the pillars with Mycroft following. “That was foolish.”

“You never did pay me to be smart, boss.” Sebastian’s voice is strained- Mycroft would guess a shattered rib, possibly a lung puncture. 

He’s about to try and roll out to run for it, because Kitty’s gun is still in play and this beam is not large enough to shield all three of them, when another series of shots, imprecisely fired but successful at suppressing her bullets all the same, chases her the rest of the way up the stairs and into her darkened rooms above. 

Mycroft glances up. 

His eye settles on Greg Lestrade, illuminated by a single dim bulb like some of noir hero, with a pistol gripped in his hand. A second later Sherlock appears beside him, saying something quietly out of Mycroft’s range of hearing, and tears off down the walkway with Doctor Watson marching steadily behind him. Dear lord. They’re all here. Mycroft has never been so glad. His face may crack from the force of his smile.

Greg’s voice is shaky, but Mycroft can tell he’s trying to put on a confident persona. Being brave for me? “Mycroft! You alright?”

“Entirely thanks to you, my love.” He swallows. Did he mean that? He must have- even if it’s not what he intended to exit his mouth, and there’s Greg staring back at him like he’s a bit stunned. “Are Sherlock and John-?” 

“Yeah, your brother’s looking for a path that isn’t jumping off the damn catwalk. Think she built this place as a bloody maze. Is Moran okay?”

He looks over at the psychopath and the sniper, whatever words Jim is murmuring to his large enforcer not quite audible. Moran is conscious, but looks pained. “I believe he could use Doctor Watson’s assistance.”

“Got it! Hang on, just-”

“Greg- Kitty went up there.” He points at the darkened mirrors. “There may another way in, but it’s possible she has defenses. It is also likely to be where she is keeping Anthea.”

“Myc, that’s fine-” Greg’s expression opens, full of hope. “M’gonna call in some people, get the Met’s help-”

Mycroft steels himself. Greg’s cavalry will not arrive in time. I am sorry, love, that I must ask this of you. “Greg, if she absconds with Anthea, she will have unlimited time to torture the one person who knows nearly as many codes as me until she finally gives them up. No one- no one is capable of holding out forever. They mustn’t leave this building.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Greg breathes, running his hand through that lovely silvered hair. Mycroft can see his expression flicker as the desperate hope of an easy victory subsides in favor of bravery once more. “Okay. I’m on it.”

“I shall endeavor to pincer her with you, darling. We can enter through two points and seize them.” He peers around the corner of the column and leans over to reach for Moran’s gun. “Do you mind if I borrow this?”

“As long as you know where you’re aiming,” Moran murmurs back, voice strained. 

“Thank you.” It’s been a long, long while, but Mycroft feels something in him shift as he adjusts the safety and checks his remaining supply of bullets. He glances down at the pair of killers as he rises. “Don’t move. Your lung is compromised.”

“I know,” Moriarty growls back with a sort of protective anger, clutching his sniper closer. “We won’t.”

Mycroft nods. For Moriarty, it’s as good as swearing on Sebastian’s life. It’s the one thing Mycroft doesn’t believe he would lie about. “Alright. Gregory- I shall see you soon.”

Greg nods, half-smiling, though he still looks worried into the very depths of his soul as they both shift closer to the darkly mirrored interior fortress. Mycroft wishes he could reach out and touch him, but he has to breathe more steel into his spine. There’s more things at stake than just themselves. You shall be fine. We’ll both be fine. “See you soon.”

Chapter Text

Greg races along the catwalk, John and Sherlock’s voices growing faint behind him as he looks for another door. It’s fine- someone will need to keep an eye on the murderous duo, injured as at least one of them is. John can manage them and his own injury, and Sherlock won’t leave him unattended.

Greg will be fine on his own. 

Mycroft called him his love. God, yes, please- just let me get you out of here and we’ll- we’ll do everything together, I fucking swear it. The sheer force of his devotion gives him something to hang onto other than terror. Yours. All yours. 

As soon as we’re safe.

His heart is pounding as he runs, hunting, the cold, unfamiliar weight of a weapon lying heavy in his hand. Door. There must be a door. He finds one, eventually, far into the darkened catwalk, with another spinning hatch like a submarine. 

It turns slowly, a gentle scrape the only sound it makes as it swings open. 

The room is a sharp contrast to the the warehouse-esque deathtrap that exists around it. Spartan, sure, but well-appointed, all clean finishes and simple design but very much a home. He steps softly, listening hard for words, gunshots, breathing, anything that will tell him where Kitty or Mycroft are. 

There’s nothing, which is worrying. If she has this whole place carefully soundproofed… it’ll be really hard for either him or Mycroft to hear her coming. Dammit. He shouldn’t have let Mycroft go in on his own. He should’ve told Mycroft to wait, wait for them to go in together-

What if she has the place rigged? Trapped?

Shit. He isn’t cut out for this spy shit. Greg is good at domestics and murders, at reading people-

He stops moving entirely. Okay. Okay, just- calm down. If this were a crime scene, what would I do? Greg steadies his heart rate and lets his eyes open. Just take it in. There’s furniture, there’s mirrors, there’s… cameras in every fucking corner. 

Fuck.

Alright, so- maybe she can see him, but she hasn’t done anything yet, so- maybe Mycroft has her distracted. 

He creeps forward carefully.

The camera moves.

His brow furrows at it as he stops hard, afraid to even breathe. 

It pauses for a moment.

He’s just standing there, so it’s not tracking him, but, there it goes, gliding across the room and aiming at the opposite door. Greg shifts closer, trying to get a closer look at it, and watches it swing back like it’s looking right at him. 

Then it turns for the door again.

He weighs his options. Could be a trap. Maybe. Could be help. Lord knows Mycroft could always seem to get into the Met cameras when he felt like it. Maybe his people are finally turning up and making themselves fucking useful. 

He follows it.

There’s a hallway, another camera that guides him, and then one last camera that points him toward a door with a very sturdy looking lock. A heavy door, newer than the others in the building, probably specifically meant to keep fire out. It looks nigh unbreakable, which Greg supposes is the idea. No one would think they could even get through it.

There’s always a way.

Greg’s gaze slides to the door hinges and he pins his tongue between his teeth, thinking. He’ll have to do this carefully. Ricochet is a real risk, even if the handgun is too weak to shatter the hinge in one shot. He doesn’t have much in the way of extra bullets. 

He presses the gun up against the top hinge carefully, wishing he’d actually brought Sherlock or John with him, because they’d be better equipped for this. But Greg Lestrade’s always managed with what he has. 

He ducks his face into his bicep for protection and pulls the trigger.

Eight bullets later, one firm yank drags the door off its hinges entirely, warping the lock and giving him enough space to slide into the room where Anthea is waiting, tied quite firmly to a chair and looking quite proud of him despite being tipped so far forward that the chair is balanced on two wheels and her face is practically on top of the control console’s keyboard. “Well done, Inspector.”

“You’re lucky I’ve seen so many spy movies.” It doesn’t take him long to get her out, explaining what’s been happening as he goes. “You good to walk?”

“Good enough. I’ve been watching the cameras enough to have an idea of where Mycroft is.”

“Great,” he exhales, openly relieved. “Then you lead the way. Oh, and you should take this too.” He holds out the gun. “Limited shots left, but I’d imagine it’s better in the hands of someone who actually enjoys target practice.”

“Ta.” She grins dangerously, checking the remaining number of bullets. “Alright. Let’s go end this.”

 

***

 

Mycroft ducks behind a couch as a bullet whizzes past his head. So much for keeping all of us alive to torture. He fires back without really looking, just enough to keep her shots suppressed. A very precise shot would perhaps have been in his wheelhouse years ago, but age and desk work have left him out of practice. Diplomacy has always been more of a strong suit.

“I am sure the security services would be interested in cutting a deal, Kitty,” he calls out, making sure his head is well out of view. “Someone like you, someone who’s been on the inside of Moriarty’s organization- you could be an asset.”

“I’m not interested in being your lapdog, Holmes.” He hears the distinct sound of reloading and sighs inwardly, preparing to run if she starts blowing through the couch. “And I’m freeing the one you think you own. We’ll make this country run efficiently, for once.”

“Not a fan of the democratic process?”

“People are idiots. Idiots don’t get a say. They get to keep breathing and be happy about it.” He creeps to the edge of the couch, tracking her voice as she must be changing her angle, trying to get a bead on him, and darts around behind a wide armchair. “You could have killed Jim earlier and been done with him, but you and your kind are far too worried about leverage. What does he know, who does he know it about. All just grasping because your people want to know too, want to use that information the same as he does, to force people to do what you want.”

Mycroft inhales. He has to keep moving. Keep her off balance. “Generally I believe we’re meant to encourage a lack of fatalities.”

“A useless notion. A few deaths could do a lot more than playing mind games for years on end. Jim’s the same way, really. He’d rather play games with your little brother than simply kill him. It’s enabling a distraction. Procrastination on all of the things he could be doing to close his fist around the country, perhaps even the world. Instead he’s too caught up weighing his mind against Sherlock Holmes.”

Mycroft quietly checks- there are less bullets left in his borrowed gun than he’d like. He can’t afford firing any more as a distraction, because he might need the last few to hit. “Haven’t you been playing games as well?”

“I don’t play.” She’s shifting again, and Mycroft inwardly curses. He’s running out of places to take cover. “And I always have a contingency plan.” The gun clicks, far too close and far too sudden, cold metal connecting gently with the side of Mycroft’s head.  “I can make do without you, if I must.”

Mycroft holds very, very still. “And Anthea?”

“Anthea will be fine. You’ve been holding her back. I am giving her the opportunity to become something greater.”

“And if she resists?”

“Then I will have learned something.” The gun nudges against him, firming up its location. “But you will still be de-”

“Oi!” 

Mycroft blinks, holding his hands out defensively as he is wrenched to the side, Kitty shifting behind him to level her gun at Greg. “Lestrade. This is foolish of you.” And she’s right, isn’t she, because Greg isn’t cut out for this, and oh god, what if she shoots him- it would Mycroft’s fault that he’s even here- oh no, no-

Greg’s lip turns up, something confident in his grin as his eyes land on Mycroft’s. “Yeah, well. Fools do rush in.”

The crack of a gun echoes loudly somewhere to Mycroft’s side. Kitty spasms, letting go of him, and Greg is already moving, running toward him. Mycroft reaches for him, diving forward until strong arms wrap him up and drag him toward the corridor. “Are you alright, love?”

“Yes- yes, fine. Was that John?”

Greg shakes his head, his joy evident in a grin that spreads all the way to his eyes as his hands cup Mycroft’s face. “Anthea. She’s fine too.”

“Oh. Alright. Good.” His hands land on Greg’s chest, and there’s warmth there, and the faint pulse of a fast-beating heart. “So. You came to rescue me. Again.”

“Stop getting caught up with nefarious arseholes and I won’t need to.” 

Mycroft huffs a laugh. “We’ll see.” He lifts the gun he’d taken from Sebastian and holds it out to Greg. “Shall we ensure there’s an end to this first?”

Greg takes the gun up and shifts into a crouch, ready to peer round the corner. “Happy to help.”

 

***

 

Though it’s not something she lets herself feel often, sometimes Anthea finds it cathartic to vent her rage. Usually the target is a punching bag or a trainee that has made the poor choice to try and show off in the kickboxing ring, but it’s nearly as therapeutic to listen to Kitty Riley scream as Anthea pins her to the floor, kicking Kitty’s gun away and well out of reach. Bullet wounds do tend to hurt, after all, and Anthea’s not being particularly kind with how she’s holding her wriggling target down.

“Anthea?” Lestrade peers around the corner, gun aimed down until he spots them, Mycroft peeking just over his shoulder. “Ah. You’ve got this under control.” 

“Mostly. Find me something to tie her up with? There must be zip ties somewhere around here.” She watches them dig through the kitchen until some ties turn up, keeping Kitty pinned despite her protests and general thrashing. Only a few extra blows are necessarily to keep her mostly in place. “Stay down or I’ll put one through your kneecap next.”

“I wouldn’t,” Kitty growls back, dark confidence still in her voice despite the obvious amount of pain she’s in. “Or you won’t like what happens next.”

Anthea can almost hear Mycroft’s brain whir up into his most analytical mode. She does as well, letting Greg take over to secure the zip ties. “Why not?”

Kitty wrenches her head off the floor, grinning bloodily at him. “I told you. I always have a contingency plan.” Her smiles swings to Anthea. It’s alarmingly confident. “You’re going to beg me to take you in when you find out.” Her eyes are wild. She looks utterly mad. “You’ll beg me.”

They’ve missed something. Sometimes obvious, something key- 

Anthea looks her over, eyes finally landing on the oversize ring resting on one finger, the flower design twisted from where it had been. She pulls it off and turns it around, finding telltale electronic markers that have been disabled, spun off at their connectors when the flower turned.

Oh. Oh, bollocks.

“The fucking bank!”

She explains it to Mycroft as they drag Kitty back through the little fortified residence out to where Sherlock and John have assembled the rest of the miscreants in a neat little row of zip-tied triage. It’s a rapid-fire information sharing, much like they’ve done on any number of terrorism threats. “She won’t know. That woman playing me probably has no idea what she’s doing.”

“I agree. But we can’t cover everyone.”

Anthea calculates.

She calculates again.

“You and Greg go. Take his car. I’ll call Smallwood and get this handled in official channels.”

“Are you sure? Anthea, she could arrest you for-”

“I realize, but Greg is the most cut out for this.”

“For stopping an unknown threat in a public space up to and including a bomb?” Mycroft asks incredulously. 

“For talking to people. Besides, if she’s dressed like me, having a second me show up may attract too much attention of the wrong sort.”

Mycroft grimaces, but he’s cut off from any further protest by the voice of Lestrade himself. “I’ll do it.”

“Love, this could be- extremely dangerous-”

“So was coming here to get you. S’alright. Protecting the public is actually in my job description. John, Sherlock, you’ll be alright?”

“We’ve got this.” John is a flurry of activity, keeping the injuries of everyone with blood still pumping as stable as he can. “Go.”

 

***

 

Greg drives like the wind, taking the fastest routes Mycroft can come up with, all carefully timed to avoid any traffic lights. He’s seen Sherlock do that before, but it’s still impressive. 

The bank knows Mycroft’s face, but he doesn’t know if his face is now compromised. “My presence may set off alarm bells, Gregory. I’m not sure how much of an asset I can be.”

“You’ll be an asset to me, Myc. Worse comes to worst, someone’ll need to tell them to evacuate the building. You’ve got more authority for that with these people.” They jog up the steps and in. It’s not the busiest it could be, but there’s still more people than he’d like. “Who’re we looking for?”

“A close match to Anthea, right down to the clothes….”

They wander around the lines, skimming everyone waiting. Without knowing what instructions she was given, it’s hard to imagine where…. “Mycroft, did I catch right that there are- accounts, like- for your sort of people here?”

“Mmhm.”

“Where are those? They wouldn’t be out front, yeah? Is there a special manager, or….”

“Ah.” Mycroft grasps his hand and leads him around back, into a hallway that looks like it only contains lavatories and a Staff Only door. He opens that and continues in toward another office, his hand warm and solid in Greg’s, like a tangible lifeline. We’ve got this. We do. Together.

A man at the reception desk stands as they approach. “Sir, I’m afraid you can’t be-”

“Mycroft Holmes. I am looking for my assistant. Where is she?”

The receptionist’s face twitches. “Um- the server room, sir, per your request-”

“Not mine,” Mycroft growls. “You need to begin evacuating the secure side of the bank. It can be cordoned from the main portion, yes?”

“Of course-”

“Then do it. Don’t let the public know, but get our people out and get your GCHQ contact on the line. They’ll want to come in as soon as possible to review the files. Now, move!”

Greg lets himself be led down a staircase at speed, through another corridor until they find the server room. “This is it?”

“Yes. Now, Gregory-”

“I know, love.” He cups Mycroft’s face, pulling him in for one solid kiss that almost feels like getting a breath of fresh air, filling his lungs and giving him all the strength he could need. “Cover me?”

“Of course.”

He eases the door open quietly. Rows of electronics greet him, probably the servers in question, but Greg’s knowledge of that sort of stuff is limited to what he’s seen in movies. He walks quietly, so as not to startle anyone, just as he would at a crime scene where the suspect is still present. The room is silent except for the hum of the equipment, and he finds her sitting perfectly still in the back of the room, a purse carefully held in her lap.

Shit, they didn’t do a bad job on that makeup. She really does look like Anthea. From a distance, he doubts he’d be able to tell the difference. The hair is the same, even the bone structure of her face is similar, but the closer he gets the more he can tell that the hair and brows are freshly darkened, not quite… worn-in enough, or something like that, to look natural. 

“Hey.” He keeps his voice soft and unthreatening, his hands out of his pockets so she can see he isn’t armed. “You alright back here?”

She looks up, eyes briefly widening before she huffs quietly to herself and looks back down to her purse. “It’s Inspector Lestrade, isn’t it?”

“Yeah….” He steps closer. She doesn’t seem threatened by him, just… scared. “D’we know each other?”

“Not directly. You were, ah…. I used to work for Irene Adler. She was aware of you. We kept tabs of a sort on Sherlock, before she- left.” There’s a way she almost winces when she says Adler’s name, that makes Greg think….

“You aren’t in touch anymore?”

“No, she’s… meant to be dead, I suppose. Keeping up the illusion by staying far away. I thought she was, but-” She inhales shakily. “I don’t know what to be sure of anymore.”

Greg thinks. John had told him about Adler, in their drinking sessions, especially when John wasn’t sure if he ought to be jealous of her or not. “It’s Kate, yeah?” She nods. “You’re… in a bit of a precarious spot here, Kate, you know that?”

“Yes. I imagine I am.”

“Can I ask you to come outside with me?” He steps closer, close enough that he’s just a few feet away. He can sort of see into her purse now, and there’s something in there with wires and metal that he doesn’t like the look of. “Don’t think either of us are really meant to be here.”

“I- I’d like to, Inspector, but….” Kate looks up again. “It’s the only way she’ll put me in touch with Irene. I just- I need her. It’s been-” Her grip tightens on the bag. “I just- it’s only information, isn’t it? It won’t hurt anyone.”

“What’d she tell you about it, Kate? The woman you met with. What did she say you were doing here?”

“Getting… leverage. That the security services want Irene dead too, because she knows to much, and if we wipe out all their data they’ll forget about her- she’ll be able to come back, once we can get in touch and tell her.”

“Kate- I’ve got a friend here with me that I think you might know of. Mycroft Holmes? I’m sure Irene told you about him, he’s high up with the security services, yeah?” She nods again, eyes red-rimmed. “He knows an awful lot. He might even know where Irene is. Is it alright if I ask him to join us?”

She assents, and he beckons Mycroft out of the shadows he’s been lurking in by the door. “Mycroft, do you remember Kate?”

“Yes. Hello, Kate.”

“Mr. Holmes.” She looks at them, one by one, considering. “Is it true? You know where Irene is?”

“I have a fairly good idea.” Mycroft folds his hands before himself. “It is a beneficial trade. I pretend I am certain she is dead- twice over now, actually- and she tries not attract any further attention that would suggest she isn’t.”

“Why did she- why hasn’t she been in touch?”

“Kate… when Miss Adler departed, it was on my strict instructions to convince my brother she had truly gone. A necessary part of death is leaving the ones you most love behind to mourn, at least for a time, especially when so many people had a vested interest in her death. It is a form of protection, you see. Someone genuinely, truly mourning, would obviously not know anything about a possible faked death to make themselves a target.” A gentle smile crosses Mycroft’s face. “She wished to protect you, though it would also hurt you for a time. I am certain she intended to contact you once your departure from the city would no longer arouse suspicion.”

Kate sniffs, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand. 

“We’re happy to help you get in touch, Kate,” Greg continues, voice still carefully calm. “But I am going to have to ask you what you have in the bag first. Is it dangerous?”

“I, um. I don’t know.” She stares down into it, chewing the inside of her lip. “She said it would just- shut everything down, you know. And that when it booted up, the system would be vulnerable, and it would just- get in and take all the information.”

“Do you think that’s what it does?” Greg asks gently. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone had been lied to about holding a bomb.

“She had- a sort of device that did something like that, before, so I thought- I thought maybe she could.”

Mycroft slides closer, carefully slow even as he uses his height to get a peek in the bag. “Kate, may I see it?” She nods, and he slides closer, crouching in front of her. “What exactly did she tell you to do?”

Kate walks them through it shakily. She came through the security services entry and signed in as Anthea, then she came down to the server room and hooked up a little drive directly into one of the servers. “I was supposed to hid the purse in the server bank too, but- um. It didn’t feel safe.”

“That’s alright, Kate. Why were you meant to sign is as Anthea?”

“Because they’d recognize me. I went somewhere else for her, that’s how she figured out about here- but I was Anthea there too. She said it’s possible some of the same people would be here, so I should be Anthea again, just in case.

Greg furrows his brow, glancing toward Mycroft, who’s still looking over the purse. “Why’s that important if it’s just stealing data?”

“I do not believe it was just data she was intending to steal.” Mycroft reaches in, lifting out the top component as Kate and Greg both instinctually tense. It’s got wires and lights, but… once he draws it out, it doesn’t go anywhere. “Kitty is a decent hacker, and a connection to the server itself would be enough to get anything she desired- albeit heavily encrypted, and that’s if it even managed to transfer through walls that certainly wouldn’t permit a wireless connection. She’d be set up well, if it went through- we will have to search her personal servers later to determine what, if anything, she successfully uploaded. But more importantly….” He pushes down the sides of the purse so they can all see the brick of C-4 inside, studded with sharpened metal. 

“She intended to frame Anthea for treason.”

Greg’s heart rate increases so sharply that for a second he’s worried he might actually faint. “Mycroft-”

“It’s alright.” Mycroft’s eyes stay laser focused on the purse, but as he sits back on his heels his hand finds Greg’s and squeezes. “Kate, I’m going to need you to stay very still, yes? And Greg…” He looks up, finally, and while he is worried, yes, there’s a confidence there too. This is his area, isn’t it? Greg sits up straighter, letting it buoy him as well. Eats terrorism for lunch, doesn’t he? Mycroft Holmes, the savior of Britain. He’s got this. “Greg, you’re going to have to be my hands.”

Greg blinks. “I’m what?”

“I don’t have the dexterity to manage the wires.” He squeezes Greg’s hand again. “This isn’t going to be hard. We just need to do it carefully. And I’m going to guide you.”

“Okay,” he says, because what else is he supposed to say to that? No thank you, I’ll just be letting a bomb go off today? Sod that. “Okay. Yeah. What do I have to do?”

Mycroft guides him, a soft voice in his ear as he readies his hands, Mycroft laying his own on Greg’s back, steadying him. All they have to do, apparently, is disrupt the circuit. Which sounds easy when Mycroft says it, like it’s hardly anything at all. “Bombs are fragile things, really,” he murmurs as Greg gently separates the wires so he can get underneath them. “Not like the movies. Most of these wires are just for show, to distract you. All you really need to do is remove the blasting cap- yes, there. Get your fingers tight on it, make sure you’re touching the metal and not the wire. Alright- this will be one swift motion, but longer than you expect, because the cap will be in there a ways. Just like a meat thermometer. Yes?”

Greg nods, and looks over his shoulder. Mycroft’s gaze is so… lovingly confident. He tries to keep breathing. “You know I-”

A soft kiss on his cheek interrupts him. “I know.” The hands on his back tighten, and Greg can feel it, feel everything they’re not quite saying, half-smiling at each other over a bomb. “Are you ready?”

Yeah. Yeah, I’m not dying today. “Yeah. Let’s do this.” 

“Good. Deep breath- and pull-”

 

***

 

Four hours later, after a lengthy debriefing with what feels like every single person who might have even a vague interest in a security services data breach, and an even lengthier chat with Lady Smallwood about his current role versus the media’s interest, Mycroft is released to the waiting arms of Greg Lestrade. He buries his face squarely in his lover’s shoulder, too exhausted and brittle to do much other than inhale, wrapping himself in Greg’s warmth and scent. 

“Hey.” Greg’s nose nuzzles into his hair as he pulls Mycroft close. “Missed you.” 

“I missed you too.” His hands fold around Greg’s waist, holding him just as tight. “You were- incredibly brave today, Gregory. Truly. I have seen well-trained agents fold under less pressure.”

“Yeah, well.” He can feel Greg smile into his hair. “Maybe they didn’t have someone like you right there beside them to keep them steady.”

“I mean it.” Mycroft lifts his head so he can look into Greg’s earnest dark eyes. “You- you came for me, and you went above and beyond to make sure no one else was hurt. I can’t- I’m not sure anyone can adequately thank you-”

“You can. You are, just by being here. You know that? S’just you. Happy just to feel you with me.”

For the first time in a very long time, Mycroft is rendered speechless. 

There is only one thing for it. 

He leans forward and kisses Greg soundly, pouring himself across his lover’s lips with every sentiment he does not quite say. “I believe I have fallen for you quite soundly, Gregory Lestrade,” he murmurs when he finally breaks for air. 

“Good. Because m’pretty sure I’m in love with you already.” Greg kisses him back, cupping Mycroft’s cheeks, and there’s promise in it. For a future, for safety, for love- endless, unwavering love, that can bear all manner of struggle. 

Mycroft exhales, the significance of it very nearly overwhelming. “I- I love you, Greg. I don’t want to wake up without you.”

“Then don’t.” Greg pulls him closer. “Let me take you home.”

Chapter Text

It takes far longer than she’d like, but the papers are eventually dealt with. Anthea slowly leaks stories and has her people write steadily more erratic pieces on Kitty’s blog until the narrative becomes clear: Kitty was simply a spurned fan of Sherlock, assisting in taking him down alongside a criminal she’d never met. As much as she hates doing it, Anthea lets social media work for her- a few carefully timed tweets and a sudden deleting of one’s account says more than any press release could. 

People read between the lines.

She’d have more guilt about it if Kitty hadn’t tried what she did at the bank. Anthea would have been dead and disgraced as far as the government was concerned, with no support network and no one to turn to except Kitty. Mycroft would have been out of the way, the papers doing their jobs, and Sherlock’s position in the press was still shaky enough that no one would have believed him either.

It may well have worked, if Kitty had taken time to consider the determination of one very loyal detective inspector when it comes to the welfare of someone he cares about. Or that he’d be willing to bring in a semi-stable sniper with an equal axe to grind to see it through.

“Kitty” releases one slightly shaky request for privacy at this time, recorded by Kate just before her flight out to Switzerland, where Irene Adler is currently residing under another identity. Anthea doesn’t doubt that with Kate in hand Irene will likely relocate again, this time somewhere out of the UK’s reach. Even without Moriarty’s web after her, there are those who would prefer her to be completely out of the picture. Blackmail material stored in the brain is just as concerning as her phone, to some. 

But that is not Anthea’s problem. 

She works, and works, and works, until the day the papers finally cease mentioning Mycroft as anything but Sherlock’s brother and a very minor civil servant. They strengthen his cover through it, sending him off every day to an absolute shithole office in the far reaches of the Department of Transport, inventing a quiet position about security that justifies the papers earlier reaching but ensuring that everyone knows he’s just in charge of analyzing traffic patterns as they might relate to terrorism. It’s the sort of thing that’s easy to play off as unsung heroics, something that will gain the public’s sympathy and added pressure for the papers to leave him alone. Really, it’s the least they can do for all he’s done for them.

Mycroft seems to relish it. The last photographer to abandon his home is treated to a lengthy lecture on the exact timing of street lights and how they might effect emergency response. He’s left alone entirely after that. 

For the first time in five years, Anthea takes a long weekend.

“I found one!” Molly practically bounces on the beach, gleefully holding up a rock with the clear imprint of an ancient fossil in it. 

Anthea peers over the edge of her sunglasses. “Well done.” It’s too cold for proper sunbathing, but Anthea is still laid out on a comfy rock, albeit in a fluffy jumper. She’s bought a nice camera for the excursion and as she rolls she sneaks a quick glance through it, snapping a picture of Molly and her trophy with the rest of Dorset and the Jurassic coast in the background. “Proper scientist like you, you’ll be putting all the tourists to shame.”

“Hush,” Molly protests, but she smiles anyway, blushing lightly as she returns to hunting through stones.

They’ll be going to Corfe Castle tomorrow. A nice dinner. 

Anthea can’t think of anything more relaxing in the world.

 

***

 

“Wager.”

“No.” 

“C’mon, do it. Just for laughs.” 

“Basher, if they take away our television privileges again only one of us will be suffering. And it won’t be me.” 

Sebastian grins at Jim, who is laid out rather decadently on the bed, flipping through a magazine. A thick plastic band, glinting with a series of lights on one side, rests on one ankle. Sebastian bears a matching one. They’re the absolute finest MI-5 has to offer in prisoner security, and even Jim hasn’t figured out how to crack it yet, not that he’s been trying too hard while the bullet holes in Sebastian are still healing. Being on MI-5’s dole is almost… relaxing. The meals are decent, the accommodations fair, and each of them given suitable stimulus in the form of MI-5  “projects” to keep them from clawing through the walls. 

Though perhaps not quite enough to keep Sebastian from finding occupations for himself like sharpening up plastic spoons and devising an impromptu target out of wine corks. 

“They won’t. Have to keep up my skill set somehow if they want to make use of it.” Sebastian hasn’t been allowed out yet, only asked to consult on targets- likely directions, positions, etc, all things he can work out from maps and a limited amount intel. But they’ve been nosing around. It’s only a matter of time before they ask him to do some of the dirty work for him, albeit in what is probably a much more heavily supervised capacity than he used to. 

He’s fine with it, so long as Jim is fine with it. At least he's not bored.

Jim lifts a brow, pointedly spreading his legs. “I have something else you can keep up.”

The improvised blade thunks pleasingly into its target. Sebastian grins smugly. “Do you now.”

The little flat they’ve been given- because it is more flat than prison cell, even if it’s one they can’t leave- has surveillance everywhere. 

Sebastian imagines anyone with even a touch of squeamishness about sex had been let off watching those cameras after the first three days. Neither he nor Jim have ever been shy about performing with an audience, and if they know who’s on duty sometimes they play it up just for fun. 

He strides over to the bed and crawls over his lover, pressing their bodies together as his teeth find Jim’s neck. “We are going to get out of here, aren’t we, boss?” he whispers as Jim arches against him.

“Mm.” Jim answers him back, pulling Sebastian’s ear between his teeth with equal abandon. “Eventually.” He rolls Sebastian over, pinning him and grinning that mad grin Sebastian will never fall out of love with. “There’s no rush.”

 

***

 

Kitty. Lefty. She wonders when the two became so split in her mind. 

And now she’s neither. 

Curious.

She’d seen Andrew once before she was transferred, quaking in the bowels of some MI-5 black site prison. He can’t be released, not when he’d abused his clearance as he had. He’d cried, quite a lot. 

It’s just a pity she couldn’t study his suffering. There’s always so much to learn in watching people crumble.

The cell they’ve given her in this new prison doesn’t have much in the way of privacy. Translucent plastic, somewhere far enough off shore that no one will come looking for her. No devotee of her blog will find her here. She has to commend the ingenuity of it. It’s pure isolation. 

But she is allowed certain classic books, and a television set behind a wall that only plays calming, vapid shows. It might be more interesting if she was particularly inclined to discussions of baking or food. Still, it is something to watch. People to learn from. The guards, even the other prisoners behind their plastic walls, they can all serve a purpose to her. It will be useful. She’ll figure out where she went wrong first. What error she made that caused all her plans to collapse around her. What element she overlooked.

Then she’ll figure out how to fix it. 

Of course she will.

All she has is time.

 

***

 

“So… what’re you calling it then?” Greg leans over his pint, watching John, who’s been more or less blushing since Sherlock’s name was even mentioned. “Cause it kind of sounds like a sex holiday.”

“It’s just a holiday, you prat.” 

“Right. I mean, posh hotel, nice Mediterranean beach- are you getting some of those little swim shorts? Is Sherlock getting some of those little swim shorts?”

John kicks him in the shin from his stool and Greg holds his hands up in defeat, laughing. “There may be swimming, it may be nude, and I will tell you about it in very exacting detail if you keep this up.”

“Fine, fine, I concede. But I am happy for you.”

A sly smile creeps up John’s lip. “There also might be a case there.”

“There’s- no, tell me he’s not using your holiday time for a case, John.” Greg shakes his head, downing another swig. Trust Sherlock to be physically incapable of ever slowing down. He’s been trying not to nose in too much, just as he suspects John and Sherlock have been more respectful than they might be of intruding on him and Mycroft, but that’s just a bridge too far. “Do you need someone to explain to him what a holiday actually looks like?”

“No- actually, I’m… kind of pleased.” John glances down, grinning with red-tinged ears into his beer. Greg just barely manages not to bark a laugh out loud.

Oh my god, he’s actually into it. He wonders if Sherlock knows how lucky he is, having managed to pull the one man in London who thinks running after his wild antics on cases is actually endearing. Good god. 

“As long as it’s your sort of holiday too, then. Keep in mind you can always punt him into the sea if you need him to slow down.”

“I will, yeah. Cheers to holidays.” Their glasses clink. “And how’s work?”

Greg’s been back at the Met for a week now, his suspension cleared from his record and the Chief Supervisor suspiciously absent from any conversation about it. Most of them have been remarkably contrite about Crawford, but no one wants to admit that he’d been among them for so without any of them noticing, not that Greg blames any of them for that. He hadn’t noticed either.  It doesn’t matter now, anyway. Crawford’s not a problem any longer.

“S’’good. Donovan’s taken on terrifying the rookies with a nice fervor. Think she’s letting me play good cop for a bit. Oh, and you won’t fucking believe this. She and Anderson are on the outs again, and she said she might give Mike Stamford a ring and ask him to dinner. Apparently they’ve been talking since he helped her after she was tased. She says Mike’s a decent bloke, and also, you know, not married to someone else, so-”

“Oh my god.” John looks delightedly incredulous. “That’s bloody perfect. Wow, yeah. Let me know when she does, cause I’m going to have to get him round for a pint or nine.”

“Absolutely.” Greg holds his glass up. “To luck in love?”

“To luck in love, mate, absolutely.”

 

***

 

Mycroft hears the door open and close as he’s stirring the vegetables and he can’t help but smile. Greg hasn’t slept his own flat in ages, but it still sends a pleasant thrill through Mycroft every time he arrives for the night. Coming home to me. “Hello, love.”

“Myc.” Greg slips in behind him, wrapping his arms about Mycroft’s waist and making him grin further as his neck is thoroughly kissed. “What’re you making?”

“Seafood stir-fry. Something nice and healthy, considering someone ran off with three of our croissants this morning.”

“They’re good croissants!” Greg kisses his cheek and shifts to set the table as Mycroft shakes his head. It’s been odd, seeing Greg off to work for his long hours while Mycroft himself has been, officially, working a very boring desk job for the exact prescribed hours necessary each day. Which doesn’t mean he hasn’t been working, really, just that it’s been narrowed down to simple things he can accomplish without a trace of his presence anywhere near it as a few of those political forces who think they have a say in such things yell at each other about their previous ignorance of what he does in the first place. 

He’s been bringing in books to pass the time, and watching films and television he’d never had the time for. At home he has time to cook real meals. He feels more relaxed than he has in years. 

They’ll be having him ease back into his real job soon enough, of course. No one with clearance of his level can truly stay out of the game for long. The media has settled, Smallwood will get the politics settled soon enough, and then he’ll be back in. But this time, people will know him. That’s the trade-off. They’ll figure out some way of giving him an official, public promotion that matches with what the media’s been told, he’ll return to his real office

In the meantime, he’s enjoying what time he has been given.

“How’s John?” he asks as they sit down, stripping off the grip-assistance brace he’s still wearing after a bit of additional surgery ended up being required to sort the last few damaged ligaments in his dominant hand. It’s healing well, but quite slowly. Fortunately, now he has the time to be patient with it.

“Good. He and Sherlock are going to Italy for a case. Or holiday. Both.”

Mycroft nods. Of course he is aware already, because Sherlock charged the hotel to Mycroft’s card, but that isn’t exactly new. “That sounds exciting.”

“I suppose that’s what they like. I thought Sherlock was being rude about John’s holiday time at first, but then I thought about how wild he’d be without anything to do, and, well. Yeah. I think a case is probably the right idea.”

“No doubt. I’ll see if I can drop a hint to the local constabulary that neither of them are to be arrested for anything foolish.”

Greg glances up over his fork, a flicker of concern crossing his face. “Are you- back in working with the foreign operative types already?”

“Not yet, but I will be. And those connections never really vanish.”

“Right. Guess I’m just- gettin’ used to you being home more.”

Mycroft reads between the lines, skimming the worry on Greg’s face. “Gregory, are you… concerned about the ramifications of my hours increasing again?”

“Well… yeah, a little.” He sighs, scruffing a hand through his hair. “F’you can get called in any hour, and I can- s’just hard to keep things- you know. Consistent.”

“Greg.” Mycroft reaches his hand across the table and claims Greg’s, drawing in a breath to ask what he’d been thinking of asking since the day he brought Greg home to recover from his concussion. “You are my constancy, no matter the hour or what work requires of us. I would like it very much if you would consider living here a… permanent arrangement.” He watches Greg’s face shift in a surprise and feels compelled to elaborate, just in case. “I have greatly looked forward to your return here each day, and I imagine I shall feel the same if I can come home to you. Knowing we shall both arrive at the same place, the same bed- that is enough.”

Greg mouth works, then he huffs a laugh and grins, his eyes glittering. “Yeah? You don’t mind me trodding all over your posh things?”

“I’d prefer if you thought of them as your posh things as well, my love.” Mycroft squeezes his hand, smirking mischievously. “Except perhaps the projector. You can have that when you can safely figure out the controls.”

“That was one time! Git.” Greg smiles and squeezes his hand back. “I love you, you know.”

Mycroft smiles, a happy fluttering feeling in his belly. “I love you too, Gregory.”

“Good.” Greg draws Mycroft’s hand to his lips, and Mycroft can feel the warmth of his kiss. It’s the same warmth he’ll find in bed later, and the same he’ll wake up to tomorrow. And so on.

Always and forever.

 

 

FIN