Title: Ain't Seen the Sunshine (Since I Don't Know When)
Pairing: John/Lestrade pre-slash
Notes: Title stolen from Folsom Prison Blues. Written for a prompt on the Sherlock fic meme where John is Sherlock and Mycroft's nanny. It's also somehow warped into a massive retelling of Hound of the Baskervilles. Thank you very much to louiselux and justblue0162 for beta and helpful advice and just generally seeing me through this and once again to sevenswells for the French help.
Also, nanny!John's blog.
It was the only job interview John had ever had in a moving vehicle. The woman who sat opposite him had red hair, cut close to her head, a sharp navy suit, and the expression of someone who was used to getting what she wanted without even having to ask for it. She was half a foot shorter than John, which took some doing. She sat straight, despite the encouragement of the limo seats toward the sort of slump John found himself adopting.
He had no idea how she'd found him.
"I have two sons," she said. "Ages five and twelve. They're very bright, and I don't say that as a doting mother. I say that as someone who's seen their IQ scores and discovered that the elder was writing essays for a number of university students at fifty pounds a paper."
John blinked. "I'm not really sure I'm the best candidate for--"
"You're ideal. You've the necessary self control, the ability to remain calm under stressful conditions, which, believe me, you will need, your COs and nurses alike speak well of you as a person, a soldier, and a doctor, you'll be able to patch Sherlock up when he decides to-- Oh, heaven knows." She pressed a hand briefly over her eyes, the first sign she'd given that she might be human.
She'd rung him from a public phone as he walked past it. And then from the next, and the next. When he'd finally picked up, she had instructed him to watch as all the security cameras in the vicinity looked pointedly away from him. With that lead in, he'd expected something a touch more exciting than this.
"Bit of a handful, are they?"
"Sherlock, the younger, in particular. Mycroft was never such an active boy. His mischief is not the sort that results in grievous bodily harm, at least. Anyhow, you don't have a choice. You've precisely seventy six pounds eight pence in your account, and unless you want to go to your sister, you'll be on the street when next month's rent comes due. The Army pension is not sufficient. You won't look for work as a doctor, I presume because of either residual guilt or because you find the tremor in your dominant hand problematic. This is my stop."
The limo coasted to a smooth stop. Outside 10 Downing Street. John swallowed.
"I'll send a car for you tomorrow morning at ten. Please be packed and ready to leave promptly. I'll messenger the contract round this evening. You're signing on for a month, though I have high hopes you'll manage longer. Goodbye, Dr Watson."
She shook his hand and looked him in the eye. She had a firm grip and an honest gaze, both of which, John was fairly sure, were the result of extensive practice.
got a job, going to babysit for a spy, he texted Harry, after she was gone.
Harry wrote back:
phase 1: steal govt secrets
phase 2: ???
phase 3: profit!
He snorted. Clearly Clara had left her South Park DVDs behind when she moved out.
phase 3: be executed for treason, possibly by her demonspawn. leaving tmrw morning. dinner tonight?
They ate tempura. Harry got thoroughly sloshed on Sapporo and sake. John didn't even try to stop her. He dwelt on the happy thought that, for at least a month, Harry and her drinking and her drama would not be his problem.
The Holmes family lived in Dartmoor, at Baskerville Hall. It was a solid, daunting mass of stone that sat hunched on the moor near the town of Cowlip. John had been expecting a house, perhaps with a garden, ideally within walking distance of a chemist since his Vicodin prescription would need refilling soon. This was not a house. It was not even a residence. It was a defensive position.
When John got out of the car, he felt he'd stepped into a scene from a Merchant Ivory film, one of those where the whole household turned out to greet the new lord. He would've expected this house to come with a rather larger household. There were a couple in their fifties, a maid in a genuine maid's outfit complete with little white frilly apron and cap, and the two boys. Mycroft wore a suit and stood quietly with his hands clasped in front of him. Sherlock also wore a suit. His shirt was mostly untucked, there was mud on both his knees, and his clip-on tie was clipped to the lapel of his jacket.
John shook hands all around with a dazed feeling that came from sleeping for most of the drive out from London. The couple were housekeeper and butler, Mr and Mrs Hudson. Mrs Hudson squeezed his hand in both of hers and called him dear. Mr Hudson gave him an icy stare and a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
The maid was Anthea Groves. John hadn't been aware it was possible to curtsy ironically before she did it. The Blackberry she held at her side suited her better than the uniform. John wondered if she were some out of work corporate type trying to make ends meet. Things were hard all over. Well. Look at him. He gave her a warm smile, which she returned in a no-thank-you sort of way. Just his luck.
Mycroft said, "I'm very pleased to meet you, Dr Watson. I hope you will enjoy your stay with us," in a smooth and practiced tone.
Sherlock kicked John sharply in the shin and ran off in the direction of the moor.
"I apologize for my brother," Mycroft said. "Would you care for some tea? Hudson, take Dr. Watson's bag to his room, please."
"Sir, if I'm to make it to London in time to return tonight--"
"Five minutes will not unduly delay you."
Mycroft and Mr Hudson stared at each other. It seemed like glare should be the proper word, but in truth neither of them was wearing much of an expression at all. Mr Hudson nodded at last and snatched up John's bag.
He disappeared inside, and Mycroft turned to John. "Shall we go in?" he said.
"What about your brother?" John said.
"Oh, he'll be back for dinner. He always is. Nearly always. Anyhow, you'll never find him. He knows the moor too well."
John glanced at Anthea, who nodded in confirmation. John wasn't sure he cared for the thought of a five year old running wild out there, but no one else seemed bothered at all. And it wasn't as if he could run after the boy.
The high, shallow steps were especially awkward with his cane, and of course there was no handrail. By the time he reached the top, he was guiltily glad to sit down to a lavish tea spread with Mycroft, who talked to him about Dartmoor, Baskerville Hall, and the legends attached to the place in a perfectly charming if slightly eerie way.
"The hound supposedly carried off the soul of one of the Baskerville family a few hundred years ago, and there was another incident blamed on it in the eighteen hundreds. They say it still haunts the moor. People really will believe anything," he added, with a sniff.
"People like stories. This sounds like a good one." It was something for his blog, anyway. Assuming there was internet access out here.
"A dark creature out of hell come to Earth to punish an evil man? Yes, quite satisfying. Perhaps not as satisfying for the girl whom he rode down and murdered. Stories and religions punish after the fact while common sense tells us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It certainly would've been for her."
John drained the rest of his tea from the paper-thin china cup and rearranged his eyebrows so they weren't trying to crawl up and nest in his hair. He hoped suddenly that Mycroft wasn't planning to go into politics.
"You can't punish people for things they haven't done yet," he pointed out.
"You can make sure they never do them. That's better."
"I suppose it depends how you make sure of it."
"Am I supposed to say the ends justify the means now?"
John shrugged. "Dunno. Are you?"
"Privacy is an outmoded concept, one people willingly sacrifice every day for the privilege of vomiting their innermost feelings onto Facebook and Twitter in hope of some understanding from a world that neither understands nor cares. How then is it wrong to violate that privacy to prevent crime or even war?"
John shrugged again. He didn't think his view that the cameras in London were fucking creepy would go far with Mycroft, and it wasn't an argument he was prepared to get into with a twelve-year-old. Especially not one he suspected was smarter than he was.
"Nice biscuits," he said instead. "I'm glad it's the dark chocolate ones. They're my favorite."
Mycroft gave a little sigh and poured more tea for them both from a huge, silver teapot. His thin wrist shook under the weight of it, but he didn't spill a drop. The marmalade was John's favorite brand, too, which was interesting, given that the strawberry and raspberry preserves were homemade.
"Was it you or your mum?" John asked.
Mycroft smiled his polished smile. "Pardon, doctor?"
"The marmalade, the McVities. Come on."
Mycroft smoothed a hand over the white tablecloth. "Mummy is tired of sending us new recruits. I am tired of breaking them in. There is nothing I can do about Sherlock except try to...make up for his behavior in some small way."
"So I'm just here for Sherlock, am I? You don't need anyone to look after you."
Mycroft raised an eyebrow and made a little gesture which was either inborn or practiced multiple times in front of a mirror. It encompassed the tea spread, the polished, glowing wood floors, the sparkling glass in the windows, and the view outside them of meticulously cared for gardens.
John had to admit that Mycroft had a point. And yet. He was twelve.
"Your mum told me you were selling essays to university kids. I can't see how you'd need the money."
Mycroft's lips thinned and tightened. "It wasn't about the money."
"What was it about then?"
Mycroft studied him, and it was like that bit from the Bible about being weighed, measured, and found wanting. John fought the urge to look away.
"All of them will go into politics," Mycroft said, at last.
"Pointless. One paper, a decade back? Who would care? But they'll remember me."
"I imagine they will," he said. John was willing to bet that no one who met Mycroft Holmes even once ever forgot him.
It was dinner time. The dining room was brightly lit, table set, good smells wafting in from the kitchen. John sat on the darkened steps in the front hall, waiting. His leg ached like bloody fuck and he'd just had a seriously sharp conversation with Mrs. Holmes about how he was not a sodding child psychologist.
"Of course not. They eat psychologists alive, Mycroft in particular. Mental health professionals of all sorts are his preferred diet. You like them already," she'd said, and she'd sounded surprised. "You even like Sherlock. Oh, he likes you too, incidentally. The last man we hired did not get kicked in the shin."
The big front door swung inward silently, and a small, dirty boy slipped through the gap.
"Hello," John said.
The boy looked at him.
"Dinner's almost ready." He paused, trying to remember how much five-year-olds were supposed to be able to do on their own. "Can you go and wash your face and hands?"
Sherlock nodded and shot up the stairs, giving John a wide berth.
"He doesn't talk much," Mycroft said.
John tried not to jump. "Has this place got secret passages? Where did you come from?"
"It does. But there's also a door back there from the kitchens." He gestured into the gloom behind the stairs.
"How much is not much?"
Mycroft hesitated. "When he feels like it. Sometimes not for days, and sometimes you can't shut him up. Often he'll only speak in French. I don't-- It's not one of my better languages."
Another part of John's C.V. suddenly lit up with the cold light of relevancy. He'd had years of French at school, and then a French girlfriend before Afghanistan. He'd managed fairly tolerable conversations with her, though she'd laughed at him a lot.
"When did this start?"
"When I-- When Grand-mère died. Nine months ago."
"I'm sorry. You were close to her?"
Mycroft shrugged one shoulder. He looked uneasy in the dark hall, and even younger than he was. "Sherlock was. It's time for dinner, Dr Watson."
"When you what? You were going to say something."
There was a long silence. The clouds shifted outside, and moonlight brushed over the leaded glass above the door, pushed through the dust to spread out across the floor.
"I seem to want to tell someone," Mycroft said quietly. "Or I wouldn't have slipped like that. It might as well be you."
The last sentence had a clear addendum of you don't matter so why not? John waited.
"He said some things that... Well, they weren't true. I told him to shut up, that he didn't know what he was talking about."
"If people stopped talking because their big brothers told them to shut up--"
"I know," Mycroft snapped. "And yet the coincidence is difficult to ignore." He took a breath and turned away. "He won't be back. You've got to catch him the minute he comes in or he runs off."
"He must be hungry? He's been out all day."
"He probably eats bugs out there," Mycroft muttered. It was the most age-appropriate thing he'd said since John arrived.
"All the same," John said. "Let's go fetch him, eh? Can't take that long, and then we can all eat together."
"Dinner is at seven. It's now five past. I am going to eat. Run after him if you like. He won't thank you for it. He won't thank you for anything." Mycroft turned on his heel and stomped off.
John looked after him, and then up the long, dark staircase. He could drag Mycroft along unwilling or look for Sherlock on his own. Clearly Mycroft would resent either one. His other choice was to go eat and leave the five year old alone in a house that seemed as large and dark as the moor outside. Wonderful.
When he got up and started to make his way toward the dining room, he was afraid he wasn't so much making the right choice, or even making the best choice he could, as reacting to Harry's drama, yet again. Harry had always been the one who needed running after. John could remember all too vividly wishing she would go sit in the dark and eat bugs.
He sighed. Half an hour, and then he would go and find Sherlock. Or try to. The damn place was so huge he might have trouble finding his own room again.
Dinner was pleasant enough. John wasn't used to being waited on, but given it meant he got to sit still and eat excellent food he hadn't cooked or bought and wouldn't have to clean up after--well, he thought he could manage the transition without too much pain. Afterward, Mycroft bid him a solemn goodnight and vanished upstairs before John could even get a proper grip on his cane.
The stairs took the best part of five minutes to negotiate. He was tired. Everything hurt worse when he was tired, and there was a damp chill in this place. In enclosed rooms, it was seen off by crackling fires and possibly central heating, though John wasn't sure about that last. There were a lot of tapestries about, rugs piled two deep or overlapping, details that suggested heat retention was a necessary fact of life here.
John's own room had a fire going. It was cheerful and warm and tempting. He stumped on past it.
"Sherlock!" he called. It was a ridiculous name to call out in an echoing hallway. His voice came back to him, sounding too high and thin. "Sherlock? Where are you?"
A door opened, and Mycroft looked out. He was wearing an actual nightshirt, white and billowing around his skinny frame. He looked like he'd just stepped out of a Gothic novel. Fits right in here, then, John thought.
"You won't find him, Dr Watson. Just go to sleep and do stop bellowing." He pulled his head back into the room and slammed the door.
John kept on. He kept on bellowing too. There was an angry heat building in his stomach. Why was he the only one in this entire household trying to find the boy? Even if he knew how to hide. Even if he didn't want to be found. Even if he kicked strangers or didn't speak or ate bugs. John shouldn't be the only one.
He bellowed louder. If they weren't going to help, at least they weren't going to get any decent sleep, either.
The halls stretched out endlessly in front of him, all hard, cold stone that made his joints ache. The soles of his shoes made soft slapping sounds, and the rubber tip of his cane squeaked. There were more stairs. More hallways. He gave up on the bellowing and started wishing for a drink of water. Or just a drink.
By the time he reached the attics, he realized it was hopeless. If Sherlock didn't want to be found, he would not be found. It would take an army to search this place for one small boy who could hide nearly anywhere. Checking over entire abandoned villages in Afghanistan for snipers and weapons caches had been easier.
The sensible thing to do would be to give up and go to sleep. John had been doing the sensible thing all day. He'd been doing the sensible thing since he got back to England. He was still angry.
Fuck this. He was done with sensible. He found the farthest corner of the attics (definitely plural, with little connecting hallways and flights of steps and views of the vast darkness outside), and set out in a spiral search pattern from there.
He found a lot of boxes and a few footprints, suggesting the contents of the attics hadn't been entirely abandoned to time. There were three or four open trunks full of antique-looking ladies' accessories that would probably pay the rent on his London flat for a month or two; a lot of silver, tarnished almost beyond recognition; and a rather frightening stuffed owl. He made it out of the attics by daybreak. He was afraid he might dozed once or twice, sitting on boxes and trunks and resting his eyes. There was no sign of Sherlock.
When he got down the stairs and closed the door behind him, he did that spy movie trick with a piece of his hair stuck over the crack of the door. At least he could be sure Sherlock wasn't up there. His leg felt like someone was stabbing it from the inside out every time he took a step. His shoulder ached with a dull, threatening throb. He set off grimly to search the third floor.
Mrs Hudson found him an hour later, rattling doorknobs on a series of locked rooms along a endless hallway. She popped out of the room right across from him, and they both gave a little shriek, his not appreciably deeper or more manly than hers.
"Ah, sorry," he said. "Have you seen--"
"You look just awful, dear! Have you slept at all?"
"I was looking for--"
"You come along and have some tea. Breakfast isn't till eight thirty, but I've a pot made and it should still be warm."
She tugged his sleeve. He stood firm, well aware his behavior was not entirely rational at this point, and yet unwilling to give up.
"I'm looking for Sherlock," he said. "Have you seen him?"
"Oh, he's out, dear. He went out at half past. I packed him a sandwich."
John stared. "What the hell is wrong with you people! He's five years old!"
Mrs Hudson backed up a step, eyes wide.
"Sorry," John said. He took a breath. "Sorry, I've been up all night, and my damn leg..."
"Oh, I know how it is, dear. I've got a hip. Come on and have that tea."
A few minutes later, he was settled in the kitchen with a mug of strong tea and a plate of thick cut toast glistening with butter that ran over the edge and onto his fingers. He licked his fingers clean and added marmalade to the toast.
"Did you sleep at all?" Mrs Hudson said.
"No. I was in the attics. Mostly."
"You might try his grandmother's room next time. I'll show you when you've had your breakfast if you like."
"Mm," John said. "This is amazing. Did you make the bread yourself?"
"Fresh this morning."
He blinked. "You must've been up nearly as long as me."
Her mouth turned up in a smile that peaked quickly and faded slowly from her face. It never touched her eyes.
"Sometimes I have trouble sleeping," she said. "My husband...."
It was something in her tone, something he'd heard too many times working in A&E when he was still in medical school. He tore his attention from the toast and looked her over. There were no obvious bruises, but she was wearing long sleeves and thick stockings.
"Your husband?" he prompted, gently.
She gave him a better smile. "He snores, dear. Something fierce. Sometimes it's just easier to get up. Men. Can't live with them, can't smother them with a pillow in the dead of night. Paper?"
"Newspaper, dear." She set it down in front of him.
The headline was done in a font size that, in London papers, was usually reserved for major land wars. It read:
MURDER ON THE MOOR?
Footprints of gigantic hound found near savaged body!
John scanned the article. It was the third body in the last ten years, but the second in the past six months. The first was the last Lord Baskerville, a decade ago. Died of heart failure, savaged after death by some kind of animal. The last two had not died of heart failure, and their wounds, pre-mortem, were far more extensive. The journalist had a particular fondness for the words: "ripped," "gashed," and "canines." It formed quite a vivid image in John's mind.
"Where does he go?" John demanded. "You knew about this? You all knew and just let him wander off?"
"Oh, he's quite safe! Don't worry about that."
John stared at her.
"He's such a clever boy," she added. She wiped her hands on her apron and left them twisted up in it, thin cotton stretched over swollen joints. She looked down at them, away from John. "Perfectly safe."
John shoved his chair back from the table and started for the stairs, his room, his gun. He paused at the doorway and came back to gulp down his tea and grab the rest of his toast. Between his grandmother, his mum, and the Army, wasting food was well drilled into his subconscious as a sin right up there with murder and breaking Harry's toys.
It was a big moor, some part of his mind told him while he struggled up the stairs. Very big. The odds of Sherlock running into the killer or a spectral hell hound of any sort were small. The odds of John finding him out there were small. In short, heading out with his gun, his cane, his collection of aches, and his sleep-deprived brain was almost certainly a senseless gesture. Much like searching the attics had been.
On his way out the front door, gun down the back of his trousers, he wondered if he weren't a bit cracked.
John turned and saw Mycroft halfway down the stairs, pale, still in his nightshirt and clutching a newspaper to his chest.
"What is it?" John said.
"Look near the big tor. They call it Hewn Tor. You'll know it when you see it."
The moor was big. John felt lost in it, even with the bulk of Baskerville Hall still clearly visible behind him. He'd seldom left London before the Army. This unbroken stretch of sky and earth was something he associated with Afghanistan, not with England.
As soon as the thought had fully formed, it started to rain. Yeah, now I feel at home. Thanks.
Hewn Tor had to be the one he could see near the horizon; almost a dome with a high point well above the outcroppings around, bare above a haze of green. It had a crack running through it from top to bottom, like some giant's axe had split it in two. It had to be miles off. John wished he'd eaten more than toast.
He walked. Mud briefly swallowed his cane, and then one of his boots, all the way to the knee. He learned to test each step where the ground seemed less than certain. The rain stopped, and the sun came out and inched across the sky while he inched across the ground.
Even worried and angry and sleep-deprived as he was, and even with one leg coated in mud, the landscape had a beauty he couldn't miss. A sharp wind whistled through the rocks and over the grass. It caught in various holes and chinks in the granite and made low, almost musical sounds. Butterflies lit on the grass like mobile flowers.
One of them, a little blue one, came and sat on John's forehead when he lowered himself onto a rock to rest. He stayed very still and felt its tiny rough feet and the brush of a wing on his skin. When it left, he felt it had taken some of his anger with it. He felt blessed, which was absurd. He didn't believe in anyone or anything capable of handing out blessings.
It was past noon by the time he reached Hewn Tor. The clouds were drawing in again, and the wind had turned cold. The sun was still shining through behind him, and the tor was spotlit against a bank of storm clouds. He took a picture and texted it to Harry.
He got an answer almost immediately.
heathfulll walks in the county gettign u over that ptsd? hows the limp, gimp?
He sighed. She was only ever that unpleasant when she was completely shitfaced, and of course the atrocious spelling was a dead giveaway as well. He saved it so he could show it to her when she was sober. She corrected other people's bad spelling, grammar, and various offences against the English language all day long at work, but only her own really made her mental.
He slipped his mobile back into his pocket and looked over the tor.
It was big. Like someone had crash-landed a medium sized building in the middle of the moor. He walked around its circumference until he reached the crack. It was wider than he'd realized. The space between the two halves of rock might be wide enough to get through to the other side if he turned sideways. It would be a tight squeeze in places.
He was three feet into the gap when Sherlock popped out of an alcove in the stone and kicked him in the shin again. The boy directed a scowl and a pointed finger at John and let loose a torrent of high, thin, lisping French that John found almost completely incomprehensible.
His girlfriend had always spoken with a sort of clipped crispness that suggested she was biting off each word when she was done with it.. Sherlock's words tumbled over each other and bled into one another and the only ones John was absolutely sure of were words he was also absolutely sure a five year old shouldn't even know, let alone use.
"My mum would've spanked me for talking like that," he said.
Sherlock crossed his arms over his chest and glared.
"J'aime ta... maison," John said, waving around to indicate the tor. He didn't know the French for clubhouse, or hideout, or Fortress of Solitude.
"Va-t'en!" Sherlock shouted, enunciation perfectly clear now that he had something to communicate other than abuse.
"I'm not going anywhere. Have you seen the paper this morning?" John asked, and then felt like a fool. He didn't even know if Sherlock could read.
Sherlock looked outraged. "It's not some big stupid dog and it's 'specially not one from hell! That's so stupid, people are so stupid."
John leaned against the wall. "I don't care if it's a dog or a person. Someone's killing people out here, and I don't want you running off on your own anymore."
Sherlock shoved his hands into his pockets and stared hard at John. "You looked for me all night."
"I was worried."
"Mummy always does the same contract. You get money no matter what."
"So what? So I ought to sit around on my ar-- bum and do nothing?"
"That's what people do." Sherlock rubbed at a smudge of dirt on his cheek. "No one ever looked all night."
"Yeah, well, they should have done," John said.
"I followed you. You sweared a lot."
"You followed me? You couldn't have said something? Like, Here I am?" John frowned. "Did you follow me all night?"
"Aren't you tired?"
He looked it. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his whole body seemed to droop very slightly. John couldn't shake the image of Sherlock following his predecessors around for an hour or two, until they gave up on him and went to bed. And left him alone.
"We should go home then," John said. He held out his hand, and hoped.
"Je n'irai nulle part avec toi."
I'm not going anywhere with you. Wonderful. It wasn't enough he had to be stubborn; no, he had to be stubborn in a whole other language. John sighed inwardly and wrestled vocabulary in his head. He was not going to have Sherlock thinking this was an effective way to win an argument with him.
"Allez, viens. Il fait froid. Nous sommes tous les deux épuisés. Je crève la dalle et ma jambe me fait mal. Aie pitié, un peu." *
Sherlock frowned and shuffled his feet. He opened his mouth and then they both jumped a bit as lightning singed the sky. Thunder followed on its heels and swore, loud and brassy. The rain came down all in a rush, like it was late for a meeting.
There was a dogleg in the crack in Hewn Tor that kept most of the rain from falling on them, but it trickled down the rock in a river and wet John's back where he leaned against the stone.
"You can come in my cave," Sherlock said. He plucked at John's jumper and ducked into a shadow.
*"Sherlock. Come on. It's cold out here. We're both tired. I'm bloody hungry and my leg hurts. I'm not leaving you alone out here. Have some pity."
It was really too small to be called a cave. There was just about enough room for both of them if John sat with his knees bent. He wedged his cane in beside his good leg. Sherlock hugged his own knees and hunched up like a wet bird.
"Your brother was worried about you," John said. "He told me where to find you."
"He doesn't like me."
"Why's that?" John said, instead of arguing.
"Mummy says it's because I was born."
"That's why my sister doesn't like me." At least one reason. The first reason.
Sherlock stopped glowering at the opposite wall and glanced at him. "Mycroft says your sister's a drink."
"A--" It was not funny, he told himself sternly. Not at all. "A drunk," he said. "Not a drink."
"What does it mean?"
"It means she gets drunk a lot. By drinking lots of drinks." He bit his lip. Still not funny. Except that it definitely was. "Alcohol. It...affects people's brain chemistry--" Five years old. "Uh. It makes people behave oddly."
John blinked at him. "You know a lot about those, do you?"
"I looked them up. They wanted to give me them because I wouldn't talk to anyone but that's stupid, I talk to Mummy and sometimes I even talk to Mrs Husdon and I talked to Grand-mère and anyway not talking isn't the same as being depressed, I'm not depressed, I just hate everyone."
"Even your mum?"
"Yes!" He rested his chin on his knees and rubbed a grubby hand over his face. "No. I don't know. She hates us. Mycroft says I'm wrong but he knows I'm right really. If she didn't hate us why would she leave us here and go live away? Normal mums live with their kids. He just says things that aren't true. Everyone says things that aren't true all the time. It's so stupid."
"Mm. Quite right. So what's the point in even talking to them?"
Sherlock glanced at him, frowned, and looked away quickly. "You're trying to trick me. I know what reverse psychology is, just because I'm five doesn't mean I'm stupid."
"I'm not trying to trick you. I'm...empathizing, I suppose. Do you know that word?"
Sherlock shook his head, expression sulky.
"It means you know how someone feels. Or think you do. Or you're trying to."
"You don't know anything."
Very often these days, John felt like that was absolutely true. He sighed. "People do talk a lot of shite, don't they?"
Sherlock stared at him, eyes wide.
"Er. Sorry. I'm not used to being around children. Or. People who don't swear like-- Hey, hold up, you heard me last night you said. Did you pull this shocked face then? Because I said a lot worse than sh-- Than that."
Sherlock smiled a very tiny smile. "No. But you made a funny face just now."
John watched water stream down the far wall like a waterfall and thought about the field hospital, after he'd been shot. Fever. Spreading infection. A constant stream of perky nurses who all assured him he would be just fine, Dr Watson, right as rain in a week or two. It was a week or two before they'd decided he wouldn't stabilize enough to be moved safely and they'd have to do it anyway. And all the while: just fine, right as rain, aren't you glad you're going home?
"Do you want half my sandwich?" Sherlock said. "It's cheese and onion and Marmite."
John thought it sounded horrific, but he was hungry enough to nod.
They ate in silence. Apart from the sandwich, on Mrs Hudson's fresh brown bread, there was half an apple and two of the digestives from yesterday's tea.
"I wonder where the butterflies go in this rain," John said, as they dribbled biscuit crumbs down their shirts. "One landed on my forehead when I was walking over."
"It was drinking your sweat," Sherlock said. He sounded sleepy, and he was leaning against John's side now, eyes half closed.
"They like cow poop, too."
Sherlock closed his eyes and grabbed a fistful of John's jumper. He gave a hitched little sigh.
John put an arm around him and watched him sleep and thought: You are responsible for him. You. What the bleeding fuck was his mother thinking?
He'd never thought much about having kids of his own. He'd thought, occasionally, of love, of marriage, of some sort of life with a house he owned and a bit of a garden, maybe a dog. That was before, of course. When the thought came up these days, practicality squashed it quickly. Ex-Army, ex-doctor, no profession, no money, limp, frankly grotesque wound over all his shoulder and half his sternum. Perfectly nice chaps with undamaged bodies and good jobs went begging for romantic company every day.
He wasn't especially upset about it. Sometimes he got upset that he wasn't upset about it. Probably this was the sort of thing he was meant to write about in his blog.
He had plenty of blog material today. A little rest and then the walk back, and he'd check about the internet connection. He closed his eyes.
When John woke, he was back in the desert. It was pitch black. The power was gone. There must've been an attack, mortar fire, something. There would be wounded. He scrambled up and knocked his head on the roof of the--cave?
"I've got a torch," someone said.
There was a click, and light bounced off the low ceiling and lit up Sherlock's face. His hair was stuck down on one side where he'd been leaning against John. The pattern of John's jumper was imprinted on the side of his face.
What the hell was she thinking, I can't do this, this is mad, completely--
"Are you okay, Dr Watson?"
He had to be, didn't he?
"Glad one of us thought to bring a torch. Good work."
Sherlock looked startled, like that wasn't something he heard often. "All right. Are we going back now?"
"Yeah, we're going back. And you can call me John if you like. Go on, go see if it's raining still."
Sherlock crawled out and gave John a chance to untangled himself and get to his feet.
"John! The hound! I see it!"
John banged his head for the second time and scraped his arm getting out of the crack in the rock, only just in time to see Sherlock tearing over the grass toward a moving, glowing thing.
John had his gun out in half a second, but he was running instead of taking aim. Was it a dog? Was it even alive? All he could see was the glow and a vague darkness amid the rest of the darkness, and Sherlock's increasingly faint torch, bobbing like a buoy on a rough sea.
His feet slipped on wet grass, and he stumbled, caught himself against a rock, invisible in the dark, and went on. His heartbeat thudded in his ears and his chest and for a moment he thought the growl he heard was his own pulse. It wasn't.
Glow and torch light converged. John's heart and thoughts slowed, and every detail of the situation came into sharp focus. He could stop, aim, make the shot; or he could reach the boy before the--thing--did. One shot might not do it. Two might not do it. He didn't know what it was, its basic physiology, where to aim for (whether it was real or some nightmare out of hell), and even assuming it was a dog of the normal non-hellish variety, he couldn't be sure in this light where the head was. Obvious course of action: he kept running.
He reached Sherlock with the thing so close he could smell its dog breath. Probably not from the pit of hell then. He scooped Sherlock up in one arm and vaulted them both over a rock just as the thing--dog--leaped.
Shots rang out. Not his. The dog snarled and loped away into the night.
"Are you two all right?" a woman's voice said.
"We're fine," John called. He shoved his gun down the back of his trousers and pulled his jacket over it
"It's Anthea," Sherlock said. He had both arms wound tight around John's neck. "She saw it, too. You both saw it, it was just a dog, you saw it, right?"
"We saw it," John assured him.
Anthea came round the rock and crouched down beside them. She was no longer wearing her maid's uniform, but something black and vaguely paramilitary, accessorized with a Browning 9mm. She typed something into her Blackberry and focused on John.
"It's a long walk back," she said, with a little smile.
Hopefully that meant they could talk on the way, because he had not a few questions for her.
"We'd better get started then."
She pulled one of those silvery emergency blankets out of her pack, and John wrapped it around Sherlock, who was now shaking just a bit. He stood, and Sherlock wrapped his legs around John's waist. He was a small boy, which was a good thing, because it looked like John would be carrying him all the way home.
"You saw it, too?" Sherlock said to Anthea. "You saw it was a dog."
"It was a dog," she confirmed.
"That proves it."
"Proves what?" John said, as they started back.
"That the dog didn't kill those people!"
John thought about that one for a minute. "Finding a giant, savage dog roaming the moor at night proves it didn't kill people, how exactly?"
Sherlock gave him the most withering look John had ever received from a five year old. "It was painted with glowy paint. It didn't paint itself, did it?"
Anthea let out a dainty snort of amusement.
"Fair point," John said. He would've thought of that himself, obviously. Although probably in the morning after he'd had some decent sleep in a real bed and maybe some food that didn't include Marmite.
Sherlock fell asleep with his head on John's shoulder before they'd gone a mile. He was heavy and warm and made John's shoulders ache more with every step.
"I can take him for a bit if you like," Anthea offered.
"No," John said, maybe too sharply. "No, I've got him. Thanks. So. What are you, some kind of secret agent? You work for Mrs Holmes?"
"Mm. Something like that."
"Can't say, or you'll have to kill me?"
She smiled at him. "Yes."
They walked a while longer in silence.
"How did you find us?"
"It wasn't that difficult."
"Ah. And...I suppose that takes up a lot of your free time, that secret agent thing. Not a lot left over for, oh, dinner. Or the cinema?"
"Mm," she said, and offered him another smile. She snapped a picture of him and Sherlock on her Blackberry and showed it to him.
Maybe that was supposed to be his answer. He could understand, if so. He looked like hell.
Anthea vanished when they got back to the house, leaving John to realize that he didn't even know where Sherlock's room was. He tucked the boy up in his own bed, dragged a chair over to the door and parked himself in it. At least there would be no sneaking out before dawn to get eaten by hellhounds tomorrow. He closed his eyes.
John dreamed of a desert with stony tors rising out it, of his unit defending against attacks from a pack of dogs as big as horses. One of them said his name as he was about to shoot it, in a high, shrill voice.
"John! John. John. John."
He frowned and pried his eyes open. They were so gritty it felt like he'd grown a bonsai desert in them overnight.
"John. John. John."
Sherlock was jumping on the bed, repeating his name with each bounce. John closed his eyes again, briefly.
"I'm awake," he said.
"I'm boooooooooored." Bounce. The springs squeaked in protest.
"Of course you are," John muttered. "What time is it?"
"Quarter past seven." Bounce. Bounce. Squeak. "I tired to get the window open but it wouldn't."
John walked over and plucked him out of the air in mid-bounce. "Right, here's what is going to happen. You are going to wash your face and...and everything. And change and not run off again because if you do, I will find you, and when I find you, I'll have Anthea microchip you with a GPS locator for next time. Got it?"
Sherlock tilted his head to one side. "Can she do that?"
"If she can't, I'm sure your mum can."
Sherlock kicked his feet in the air slowly as he thought that over. "Yes, probably. All right."
"Good." John set him down. "You can manage on your own?" He frowned. "Can you even reach the sink on your own?"
"I have a stool," Sherlock said, with great dignity.
John moved the chair out of the way. "Go on then. Meet me down in the kitchen. We're going out after breakfast."
Sherlock tore off down the hall, and John sat on the edge of his bed and seriously considered crawling under the covers and sleeping another eight hours.
It was Mycroft, once again in his Gothic nightshirt and poking his head around the doorframe.
"John. Come in."
John patted the bed beside him, and Mycroft sat gingerly. His feet didn't quite reach the floor.
"Thank you. For finding him. Anthea told me about the dog. You saved his life."
"Thanks for telling me where to look."
"I heard you say-- You're going out with him after breakfast?"
"You're coming along."
"I-- I couldn't possibly. My studies--"
"No arguments," John said. He might've let it go if he hadn't seen the faintly pleased expression before the protest. "It's only a couple hours."
Mycroft hesitated a moment and then nodded. "Very well."
He started to slip off the bed, and John stopped him with a touch on his shoulder.
"About your studies--it's November."
"And here it is Monday, and you're not at school."
"Have you got a tutor?"
"I have books," Mycroft said, stiffly.
"Right. Well. You can certainly learn a lot from books." He made yet another mental note under the category of: things to work on, later. "Breakfast downstairs in twenty minutes, all right?"
Mycroft nodded and left.
John locked the door after him, stripped, and got into a very, very hot shower. After fifteen minutes and a lot of soap, he almost felt human again. They could go into town, stroll about, maybe have a picnic somewhere. A nice relaxing day, that was the ticket.
They set off an hour later. All three of them were clean and fed, and John didn't know about the boys, but he certainly felt more positive about life than he had the night before.
"You can show me around the town," he said.
"It's about as big as the Hall," Mycroft said. "Possibly smaller. Certainly less interesting."
"Oh, come on. There's got to be something you like there. Library? Sweet shop?"
"Smith Confectionary sells little foil wrapped chocolate pigs, Mycroft eats dozens of them, he has a bucket full in his room, under the bed. He doesn't think I know, but I do, I'm not stupid. Unlike some people."
Mycroft's mouth tightened, but he didn't say anything.
"And how do you know that?" John said, mildly.
Sherlock gave him a look like he was as stupid as everyone else on Earth. "I saw them."
"Did you ask your brother if you could go into his room?"
"No, I snuck in when he was reading in the library. He's always reading, it's so boring."
John stopped walking and crouched down so his eyes were level with Sherlock's. "You're not to go in his room, or anyone else's, without their permission. Do you understand?"
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Would you want people poking through your things?"
"I don't care."
John considered that. "Do you care that they don't want you poking through their things?"
"No! They just want to be able to lie to me more, but if I know all the things, they can't lie."
"Then because I said so." It had always worked for his mother.
"I don't care what you say!" But the way Sherlock looked down at his shoes and the dusty road suggested that maybe he did, at least a little.
"We'll talk about it again when we get back from town."
John tried to get up, felt his leg start to cramp, grabbed for the cane he'd left back at Hewn Tor, and landed in an undignified sprawl on the ground. He dug his thumbs into the center of the pain and concentrated on keeping his mouth shut. None of the words he wanted to say were appropriate for children.
He hadn't noticed last night, too tired, but he'd known when he woke up. Ran all that way and then the long walk back and no pain, no cane. He'd realized and hadn't dared to think about it. Like if he didn't let it in his mind, maybe it would forget about him. Of course that wasn't how it worked, and he knew that, and god, it hurt.
"John?" Mycroft said, tentative, hovering near. "Are you all right?"
"I thought this was fixed," Sherlock said. "You walked all that way and I read Mummy's file, it said you weren't even properly hurt there. It said it was psycho... Psycho something."
"Psychosomatic," Mycroft said. "From the Greek, soma, meaning body."
Sherlock glared at him. "I'm not talking to you! I'm talking to John."
"Ow," John said, and he said it with feeling.
"I saw a stick," Sherlock said. "I'll get it." He ran off.
"Sherlock! Damn it. Mycroft, go after him, please."
Mycroft looked at John and then after Sherlock. He sighed and set off into a flailing sort of jog.
"Fuck," John muttered, when they were both out of earshot. He banged his fist against his thigh. There was a scar under there, a knife wound. He'd stitched it up himself. It had healed cleanly, unlike his shoulder. Given him no trouble at all until after he got shot, after the fever, after they sent him home. His body was, in Sherlock's words, so stupid.
Prompted by the sound of a car engine, he shuffled his way to the side of the road. It was a teal Honda Civic, and looked rather out of place as it drew up beside him. The driver was a bit older than John, greying hair. He wore a rather sharp tan trench coat and an expression that successfully married detached concern and suspicion.
"Everything all right here, sir?"
"Fine," John said. "Thanks. Just waiting-- Oh, here they are."
The boys were back, carrying between them a solid four foot length of wood that should work quite well to get John into town. He grinned at them.
"Hey, that's brilliant. Thanks. Nice job."
The pair of them gave him a matched set of shy smiles that made John want to smack every bastard who'd apparently never had a kind word to spare for either of them. He took the makeshift cane and levered himself upright.
The man in the teal Honda was watching him with less suspicion and more interest. "Dr John Watson?" he said.
"Yes? Who's asking?"
The man stuck out his hand. "Detective Inspector Lestrade. I've been looking for you."
John took it, and shook it. Lestrade's hand was warm, skin rougher than John would've expected. "About the dog?"
"Yeah. Whole town's full of gossip about your run-in last night. Let me give you a ride. We can talk on the way."
They all piled in. Sherlock and Mycroft poked at each other in a reassuringly juvenile fashion as they got settled in the back. Lestrade turned the car round in a three point turn that ended up closer to a sixty three point turn on the narrow road.
"Tell me about it," he suggested, when he had them pointing toward town. He sounded casual. It wasn't quite what John had expected from a police investigation, but then he'd never been involved in one before.
"Ah, well. It was about nine at night. We were out by Hewn Tor--"
"We?" Sharper, less casual.
"Me and Sherlock. The younger of the gruesome twosome back there."
"He'd run off. I was looking for him."
"And then we fell asleep," Sherlock put in.
Lestrade raised his eyebrows.
John sighed and started over from the beginning. Sherlock let him gloss over exactly nothing. For a child who'd supposedly stopped speaking to anyone but his mum, he was inconveniently voluble now.
"And I was looking at the dog but then John came and grabbed me and jumped over a rock and Anthea--"
"Scared it off," John put in quickly, on the off chance that her privileges as a secret agent did not include the freedom to tote a gun around with her in the course of her duty.
Lestrade glanced at him. "Anthea?"
"The...maid. Anthea Groves. Nice girl."
"You know her well?"
How did Lestrade manage to pack that much insinuation into a perfectly innocent four word sentence? It wasn't even his tone, which was perfectly even. Perhaps the police got special training in that sort of thing.
"No, just met her day before yesterday, in fact. It seems a week ago, at least."
"You've had a busy time of it."
"Yeah, I suppose I have really. Mostly thanks to Sherlock, but the dog didn't help."
"Hm," Lestrade said, and drew up in front of Smith Confectionary. "Why don't you boys go in and get yourselves something. My treat." He gave Sherlock and Mycroft a pound coin each, or tried to.
"We have our own money, thank you, Detective Inspector," Mycroft said. "That wouldn't go far in any case."
He slid out of the car, and Sherlock followed.
Lestrade sighed. "I would've killed for that sort of offer when I was a kid."
"Things have moved on a bit."
"It's hell getting old."
John snorted. "I wouldn't be their age again for anything."
"See your point. Still."
"There was a reason you sent them off."
"Just wondering what a war hero and, by all accounts, a damn good surgeon, is doing out here looking after a couple of little brats."
"They're not brats! They're just-- No one's shown an interest, that's all."
Lestrade settled back in his seat and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "Until you," he said. "You seem to have taken an interest quite quickly."
"It is my job."
"Is that the only reason?"
"They're nice boys. Smart, obviously. Just, they've run a bit wild maybe."
"You haven't really answered my question at all, you realize."
"Poverty," John snapped. "Why do most people take jobs, in your experience?"
"Hm." Lestrade looked away from John, out the window at the town's cobbled main street. His fingers on the steering wheel rubbed together and twitched toward his pocket.
"Smoke if you want," John said. "Doesn't bother me."
"My sister's tried to quit about fifteen times. I recognize the symptoms."
"Your sister is not the only one." Lestrade tipped his head back against the headrest. "What a week. I'm not from here, you may have guessed. I'm down from London. We've had a couple of bodies turn up with marks similar to these. Someone made the connection, and then I noticed a certain Dr John Watson got here just in time for the latest. And that you'd come down from London, where you'd been staying in a flat not far from where the other two bodies were found."
John stiffened and tried not to show it. "And you came straight here to interrogate me?"
"Came straight here to have a look around generally. I'd hardly call this an interrogation."
"When exactly were these bodies found?"
Lestrade sighed. "While you were in hospital. One while you were still in Afghanistan. Congratulations on the best alibi I've come across in my career so far."
John frowned. "So what are you... Did you just want to hear about the dog?"
Lestrade took a biro from his pocket and held it between his first two fingers. "Have you met the local medical examiner?"
"I've only been here two days. I haven't even seen the town."
"He seems to spend most of his time in a fog of creme de menthe and horse tranquilizers. Lovely man, apart from that." Lestrade paused with his biro halfway to his lips. He looked immensely disappointed that it hadn't turned into a cigarette on its journey. "And I say medical examiner. In fact, he's the local doctor. Not a lot for him to examine, generally. Not a man accustomed to the effects of violence on the human body."
"Yes," John said.
Lestrade raised his eyebrows in inquiry.
"Yes, I'll look at the body for you."
Lestrade's mouth twitched. "Good. You're quick, too. I've got one question I hope you can answer for me, should take about five minutes, and then I'll get back to London. Hopefully by this afternoon. Do you know, I stepped in horse shit twice today? I've only been here an hour."
John was about to ask what question that was when Mycroft and Sherlock emerged from the shop loaded down with about six bags each, and not small ones. John twisted around to stare as they piled into the car.
"How much pocket money does your mum give you?"
Mycroft blinked at him slowly. "Pocket money? I have a credit card."
John gaped and then turned to glare briefly at Lestrade, who was muffling laughter in the depths of his scarf.
"A credit card. Just you, or does Sherlock have one too?"
"Mine's only normal, Mycroft's got a gold one."
"Right. Hand them over, both of you."
"No! It's mine," Mycroft said.
"You are twelve. You do not need a credit card. And you definitely don't," he said to Sherlock. "Let's have them. And while you're about it, you can each keep one of those bags, and you're not eating it all at once. You can have some after dinner. Credit cards. Now." John barked out the last three words and extended his hand. The trick to giving orders was simple. The possibility of being disobeyed did not exist. As long as you believed that, generally everyone else did too.
John was relieved to find it worked on children, as well. Or at least on Mycroft, who handed his over without a word.
Sherlock sat and glared.
"You too," John said. "Come on."
"Je t'avais bien dit qu'on n'aurait pas dû en prendre autant," Sherlock said to Mycroft. "Tout ça c'est de ta faute."
"Do you want him to leave?" Mycroft hissed. "Do you want another one like the others? Ne fais pas l'idiot, Sherlock."
The last sentence was awkward, accent possibly worse than John's. Not his best language, Mycroft had said. He knew enough to berate his brother in it, but Sherlock clearly knew more and wanted everyone to know he knew more. And John was looking after the sort of children who used a foreign language as a weapon. Lovely.
"Sherlock," he said, packing in as much warning as he could.
"Mummy said they're for emergencies," Sherlock muttered, but he did hand his card over, smacking it hard into John's palm.
"Aller à la confiserie ne compte pas pour une urgence," John said.
"It might be," Sherlock said.
John tried not to ask, but he genuinely wanted to know. "All right. How?"
"You could use the hard ones for projectiles. There's sugar bullets. Maybe you could use them instead of real bullets if you had a gun and you could lay traps with the ones that are sticky, like gum, and melted jelly ones, and--"
"Who are we defending ourselves from in this scenario?" Mycroft said.
Sherlock glared at him, but Lestrade cut in before he could say anything.
"Zombies," Lestrade said, as he started the car and pulled out.
Sherlock made an impatient noise. "There's no such thing as zombies."
"Well," Mycroft said, and paused long enough to get the attention of the entire car, even his brother. "There are certain drugs that can induce a state virtually indistinguishable from death, even to a doctor."
"Oh, yeah," Lestrade said. "We had a chap in the mortuary, declared dead at the scene, but he jumped up and yelled when they started the autopsy."
"What's an autopsy?" Sherlock said.
"It's when they cut open dead people to find out why they died," Mycroft said, before John could object.
"So they cut him open and he was still alive?" Sherlock said, wide-eyed.
Lestrade grinned. "It was quite a day. All quiet in there, all the stiffs laid out in a row, and then they wheel this one in, unzip the body bag, get him all arranged on the table--"
"They're special tables with drains all round the sides for the fluids," Mycroft said.
"Wow," Sherlock said.
John shut his eyes briefly and hoped there would be no nightmares tonight. Sherlock seemed fine, but he was so very young.
"Drains, yep. And they start, you know, with the Y-cut, two incisions down across the sternum and then down the abdomen, but when the doc made this tiny little nick, the bloke started bleeding and screaming bloody murder and jumped off the table, and we're all chasing him around--"
"Christ," John groaned.
"Did you catch him?" Sherlock said.
"Oh, yeah. He wasn't in much shape to get away, poor man."
"But he wasn't really a zombie, was he?"
"Who's to say? The ME said he was dead, and he wasn't."
"But he wasn't dead, so that's not zombies, that's more like Jesus," Sherlock said. "Mrs Hudson said he disappeared from a cave because he was alive even though he died."
Lestrade looked ready to burst with the effort of not laughing. "I see your point, certainly, but I don't think he was the second coming either."
"The ME made a mistake," Mycroft said.
"Or he was a vampire," John put in.
This suggestion was met with scorn from all sides. Sherlock discovered sugar vampire fangs in one of his bags and jammed them into his too-small mouth. Mycroft made the sign of the cross at him with his fingers, and Sherlock hissed. Lestrade and John looked at each other and shared a smile that seemed to John much too intimate for half an hour's acquaintance.
"If he has nightmares tonight, I'm blaming you," John said. "Zombies and vampires and autopsies."
"Oh, my," Lestrade finished, deadpan. "I bet they've both seen worse on telly. They stuff they show these days would've given me nightmares for weeks. Here we are," he said, and parked in front of a low building with red ivy climbing up the front.
John and Lestrade left Mycroft and Sherlock in the waiting room with the receptionist offering them lollipops. Lestrade led the way into the back.
"I just want to know if the wounds are actually from an animal, leaving the whole spectral hell hound bit out."
"There's dog saliva all over. But. Just take a look, I don't want to influence you."
The body was a man, mid to late fifties, about six foot, maybe two-fifty. Shabby clothes, dirt ingrained in the creases in his hands and face, probably homeless, which had to be rare around here. Maybe from London if that's where the other murders took place?
"What's this on his arm?" John said. It was the only clean thing he was wearing; a scrap of some fine material, slightly splattered with mud on one corner, but otherwise pristine. It had a spray of violets embroidered along one edge.
"Handkerchief," Lestrade said. "Antique if it's the same as the others. We're not releasing that detail to the press, so keep it under your hat."
John bent closer over the body. He could see the source of Lestrade's confusion immediately. Some of the wounds were certainly caused by some kind of animal gnawing and biting. A few chunks were missing in a distinctive pattern of hinged inward pressure than only sharp teeth and a strong jaw could manage. Here, though, below the rib cage, and here, on the inside of the thigh and just at the back of the ankle...
"Do you have a magnifying glass?"
Lestrade found one on the doctor's desk, and John peered through it at ruined flesh.
He straightened up.
"My opinion is that you should get a forensics expert to look at this," John said, slowly.
Lestrade leaned back against the wall and raised an eyebrow at him.
John sighed. "There's cuts under the tearing. Across the tendon, here." He gestured at the ankle. "Definitely here under the rib cage. Maybe here on the thigh, too. You wanted an opinion, and mine is that someone slid a knife in here up to the heart, and that's what killed him. But this isn't my field."
"Right. Same as the ones in London."
"I'm sorry? If you knew--"
"Killers, especially serial killers, have a damn hard time being objective about their handiwork. And very few of them recommend further investigation."
John stared at him. "You said I was in Afghanistan."
"The Army says you were. I wasn't convinced." Lestrade gave him a thoughtful look. "Did you know your service record's been sealed? I put in a request for clearance, and it was denied in about five seconds flat. Then I got a personal visit from MI-5."
A suspicion started to form in John's mind. "Did it take the shape of a tiny little woman who's just, sort of, oh...scary beyond all reason?"
"Yes! Christ, she's terrifying. How did you-- You're not a spy, are you? I just can't see it."
John waved toward the waiting room. "She's their mum."
The light of comprehension dawned across Lestrade's face. "Oh. Oh, of course she is. I can see it now. And you're, what, their new bodyguard?" Lestrade looked John over with a slight frown.
John snorted. "No. I really am just the nanny. Not a spy, not a bodyguard. I don't have the faintest why she had my service record classified, but I will be asking her quite soon, believe me."
"Better you than me."
John peeled his gloves off and set the magnifying glass aside. "So," he said, and then stopped. His entire thought process was ridiculous, and he wasn't sure he wanted to share it out loud.
Lestrade looked at him, expectantly.
"You thought I was a spy?" John burst out. "And what, I had some kind of top secret black ops stuff on my record and also I incidentally slipped home early and took a break from the James Bond stuff to get in a bit of serial killing? Really?"
Lestrade cleared his throat. "Yeah, well. Things weren't adding up."
"I think you were using the wrong sort of maths."
"Yeah, thank you, okay."
The door creaked, and they both looked over. "I want to see," Sherlock said.
John got himself between Sherlock and the body in case Sherlock decided to make a dash for it. "No. Absolutely not."
"Because you're five! You'll have nightmares. The zombies were bad enough."
"Zombies aren't even real! I want to see what happened to him."
"No. Come on, we're done here. Where else do you want to go while we're in town?"
Sherlock stared at him a second and then burst into tears.
John gaped. He looked at Lestrade, who only shrugged.
"Right," John muttered. "We're going. Sorry about this, Inspector." He scooped Sherlock up, started to walk out, and then paused when the tears abruptly dried up and Sherlock frowned at him.
"It didn't work," Sherlock said. "Why didn't it work, I want to see!"
"You... Can you cry on cue?"
"What's on cue?"
"Whenever you feel like it."
"Yes. Why doesn't it work on you?"
"You can't get your own way all the time, Sherlock."
Sherlock kicked him in the thigh, and John had to struggle not to drop him. He got him over his shoulder and scowled at Lestrade, who was smirking at him.
"A lot of help you are."
"Hey, I'm not the nanny."
"Let me down! I want to see the body!"
John ignored both of them and stomped out to the waiting room. It was conspicuously empty of Mycroft. John turned to the receptionist.
"The other boy?"
She frowned. "He followed you in. Didn't he?"
John turned on his heel, walked back, and there, somehow, was Mycroft, just exiting the room with the corpse.
"You got to see and I didn't?" Sherlock said. "I hate you!"
"I came looking for Sherlock," Mycroft said.
Sherlock smacked his fist against John's back and declared his hatred of the entire world, loudly.
"I think I'm going home, John," Mycroft said. "If that's all right. I should work on my Latin."
"Yeah, we'll all go, just give me a minute here."
"No," Mycroft said quickly. "I will go on ahead, thank you. Please, I am twelve, and it's broad daylight, and the road is not the moor. He will be at this for some time." He shot his brother a look of distaste.
John glanced at Lestrade again.
"Should be safe enough," Lestrade said. "He's not exactly the target demographic."
"All right," John said. "We'll see you for lunch."
"Do you have kids?" Lestrade said, as they watched Mycroft walk out with a straight back and two bags of sweets.
"It usually takes years of training to be able to ignore something like that." He nodded to Sherlock, who was still screaming his unhappiness to the world. The receptionist had her hands over her ears.
"Sorry. He's quieter than mortar fire. Is there a room we can have for a minute?" he asked the receptionist.
She pointed, and John went through to a small room, quietly decorated in brown and beige. He sat down on a small sofa with Sherlock in his lap. He couldn't keep it up forever, surely.
After ten solid minutes of screaming, John started to think maybe he could.
John reviewed his options. His mother had spanked him once or twice when he got himself worked up into this sort of state, but it wasn't done to hit other people's children, and in any case John didn't think he could. Sherlock was so small, and the thought of hurting him at all-- No.
John could probably find a sedative, but--also, no. He was just a child having a tantrum. There had to be some less extreme way to fix this.
It wasn't only children who threw fits. He'd seen it from soldiers, in the field hospital. Boys who woke up from surgery missing an arm or a leg, or just missing home so badly they lost control. Sometimes they screamed, but more often it was silent tears. John had nearly been one of them, in the last days before they shipped him home.
He remembered heat and racking shivers, pain and the smell of his own decaying flesh. And he remembered his nurse--not of the ones who'd been treating him, but the one who'd been with him when it happened, who had saved his life and got him back to camp. Murray had visited him and sat and talked. Just talked, about things that didn't matter, or the things that mattered most of all.
John cleared his throat. "You know, when I turned six, my mum made me this birthday cake. It had strawberries from our garden and chocolate icing, and she set it on top of the fridge while she went to pick up my grandmother from the train station. Harry--my sister, the drink--was supposed to watch me, but she was about as interested as Mycroft is in watching you. No, less, definitely less."
Maybe it was his imagination, but the screams seemed quieter and further apart.
"So there I was, alone in the kitchen with that cake. I just wanted to taste the icing, just a bit. Not enough so anyone would notice. I got up on the counter, but I still wasn't tall enough. There was a gap, between the edge of the counter and the fridge, and we had this little cart stuck in there, but it was a lot lower than the counter. Wobbly, too."
Sherlock sniffed. "Were there boxes?"
"Boxes would've been better," John agreed. "I got books. Phone books and the big dictionary I could barely lift, and a few volumes of the encyclopedia."
John sighed a little. "It's like the internet, but in book form. Anyhow, I piled all that on the cart--"
"And it broke."
"It did indeed. Loudly. And I fell, and Harry came running, and my arm hurt like fury. I was crying, and Harry must've been scared out of her mind. You know what she did?"
"Got the housekeeper?"
"No housekeeper. No servants at all. Not everyone has that kind of money."
"Called your mum?"
"No mobiles back then. She couldn't. Guess again?"
"No, that would've been sensible, but I think she was too scared of getting in trouble. She sat me on the handlebars of her bike and rode all the way to hospital. I was crying because my arm hurt so much--it did turn out to be broken--and she started singing my favorite song, and by the time we got there we were both crying and singing Folsom Prison Blues. The A&E staff must've thought we were quite mad."
"Tell me the song."
John debated the wisdom of singing to Sherlock about how he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but it hadn't mentally scarred John for life, so probably it would be okay. More to the point, Sherlock wasn't screaming anymore. He was looking up at John with interest and the tracks of more genuine tears of frustration on his face from his little upset, and John really wanted to keep him distracted.
"All right. And then we'll go say goodbye to Detective Inspector Lestrade and apologize to him, yes? And get some lunch. It must be getting late."
John glanced around the room. No clocks. "How did you know that?"
"I can feel the time going by in my head. Sing the song."
John sang him Folsom Prison Blues. Sherlock leaned against his chest, warm and solid, plucking at the hem of John's jumper as he listened. John thought about Harry. They'd let her come with him past the waiting room, probably because she was only nine herself and no one wanted to leave her alone. She'd held his good hand while they cleaned him up and set the break. She'd told him he was brave and that she'd tell mum and dad it was her fault for not watching him.
John finished the song and took in Sherlock's solemn expression. "Look, don't take that as a moral statement. It's only a song. It is not okay to shoot people just to watch them die, not ever. Are we clear?"
"When is it okay to shoot people?"
The proper answer to that was probably never, but John was all too aware that it wasn't an answer that worked in the real world. Especially not if your mother was a spy and your brother apparently planned to grow up to rule the world.
"When they're trying to hurt you or people you love and there's absolutely nothing else you can do to stop them," he said.
"All right. Why should I say sorry to the policeman?"
"Because throwing screaming fits when people don't let you do what you want is very, very rude."
"But they do what I want when I do that."
"It's still rude. And also it will not ever work on me. Understood?"
Sherlock gave him a considering look and nodded. John had the feeling this was an experiment Sherlock would be repeating multiple times before he believed him, but at least they'd made a start.
Sherlock slid down off John's lap and went back to the waiting room. John followed.
Sherlock marched up to Lestrade. "John said I have to say sorry but I'm really not but I'm saying it so it counts," he said.
Lestrade's mouth twitched in an obvious effort not to laugh. "A word of advice," he said, leaning down. "When you have to say you're sorry and you don't mean it, don't point out you don't mean it. Saves you having to say it again later."
Sherlock eyed him a moment, and then nodded. "All right. Can I have another lollipop now?"
John rolled his eyes. "No, you cannot. We're going to have lunch, you'll spoil your appetite."
Lestrade did laugh this time. "You'll be telling him to spit into a hanky so you can clean his face next."
"Yeah, I'll use the one off the corpse, shall I? Shut up, you."
"Uh huh. Do you want a ride back to the Hall?"
"That'd be great, thanks. Are you sure you have time?"
Lestrade assured him that he did. They donated the excess bags from the sweet shop to supplement the receptionist's supply of lollipops and piled into the car. John felt guiltily glad Lestrade was sticking with them a bit longer, and perhaps that was why he found himself asking Lestrade to stay to lunch.
"Are you sure? I don't want to put you to any trouble," Lestrade said.
"No trouble," John said, ignoring the fact he wouldn't be the one cooking. "You've got to eat, right? I don't know what there is in town, but it looked pretty sparse."
"I was going to try the pub, but it'll be nice to have something with a bit less grease than usual."
"No home cooking for you?"
"Not since my since my husband left me," Lestrade said, with a certain tight set to his jaw and shoulders: braced against old pain and the possibility of new pain. "I'm not much of a cook myself."
"Sorry," John said. "That's hard. My sister's going through the same thing. Her wife's just moved out, and I'm pretty sure she's living on oven chips and Pot Noodle." And vodka, but no need to mention that.
"Very tactful," Lestrade said. "Well done. Is it true?"
"'Course it's true! Do people make up divorced gay sisters often to make you feel more comfortable?"
Lestrade smiled at the road in front of him. "I wouldn't say often."
"Good. I'd hate to think I'm being unoriginal." That didn't even make much sense, and Lestrade was still smiling. Those two things together pretty much defined John's entire experience of flirting. It didn't matter what you said nearly so much as how you said it. So he was flirting with Lestrade. That was interesting.
He wondered if Lestrade knew and glanced sideways to see Lestrade giving him a sideways glance of his very own. So, yes.
"You never said how long you're down here for," John said. "Or, you did, but that was when you thought I was a serial killer, so I won't take it as gospel."
"Overnight, at least. Longer, maybe. Depends what we find out."
Baskerville Hall loomed into view just then. It saved John having to answer, which was good, because all he could think of was that Lestrade could easily stay overnight here. There was no shortage of room.
"That's quite a pile," Lestrade said. "Big family?"
"Me, the boys, Mr and Mrs Hudson, and Anthea. It's mad. You could rent out the attics to a family of ten."
"Any ghosts?" Lestrade's expression was just a hair too interested for it to be entirely a joke.
John grinned at him. "I haven't seen any. You could come by tonight and check."
Lestrade let the car roll to a stop by the front steps and caught John's eye. "Oh, yeah?"
God, yes, John thought, and automatically turned to check on Sherlock. He seemed just the sort of child to interrupt a successful pull in progress with a lecture on the unreality of ghosts.
Sherlock was slumped sideways against the door, eyes closed, sucking not his thumb but the cuff of his jumper and possibly the heel of his hand.
John heard a faint, wet patter, which he at first assumed was the sound of his heart melting and dripping all over his shoes, but turned out to be only rain on the roof of the car. He cleared his throat and got out without looking at Lestrade, who was undoubtedly smirking at him again.
He knelt next to the open back door in the rain and shook Sherlock's arm gently. "Hey. Nap time's over. Hungry?"
Sherlock screwed his eyes shut tighter and reached for him. "Up," he said.
John scooped him up and shut the door with his hip. For a moment he just stood there, staring at nothing, getting damp.
Lestrade patted his shoulder. "My sister has kids. It's sort of a shock how much trust they've got at this age."
"Yeah," John said, faintly, and let Lestrade's gentle nudge set him walking up the stairs. "Does it ever stop being quite this terrifying?"
"No, but they do grow out of it."
Just inside, Sherlock wriggled down out of John's grip, now thoroughly awake. He volunteered to go and find Mycroft. Which...John didn't want to discourage. And yet.
"You will be back, won't you," he said, more than asked. "No more running off, even in the house."
John held out his little finger. "Swearsies?"
Sherlock stared at him. "What?"
"You hook your little fingers together, like this." John demonstrated. "And then you can't break your word. It's the most solemn and binding of oaths," he said, remembering his grandad saying those exact (ridiculous) words to him shortly after the broken arm. He'd made John promise not to climb on the counters anymore. John had graduated to trees by then anyway.
Sherlock nodded and curled his little finger tighter against John's. "I promise," he said, and then took off up the stairs.
"The most solemn and binding of oaths?" Lestrade said.
"Shut it," John said, smiling, putting a hand on his back to propel him forward. But it was nice to be teased, honestly. And nicer to realize he'd left his stick in the car when he'd got out to examine the body. It was still there.
They found Mrs Hudson seated at the kitchen table. She had a dishtowel full of ice in front of her and a bruise on her cheekbone. It looked almost like a lopsided blush, pink and red, just shading to purple at the outer edge.
"Who--" John started, but of course he knew. Of course it was her husband. The bastard. He took the ice from her loose grip and pressed it gently to her cheek. "Where is he?"
She gave him a little smile. "Gone. I know what you're thinking, but it is actually the first time he's hit me. I shouldn't have said what I did."
"That's--" Bullshit. Complete bollocks. He bit down on both the words and the anger that spread through him like a shot of adrenaline. He wanted to do something. To Mr Hudson. Maybe a bit more therapy was in order after all.
Lestrade opened his mouth, shut it again, and started making tea in the background.
"I don't mean I deserved it, dear." She patted his hand, like he was the one in need of comfort. "I only mean I knew what would happen if i didn't stay quiet. I suppose I'm tired of doing that. A body can only stay quiet so long."
John held her hand and held the ice to her cheek and listened to the kettle boil. No one spoke. John wrestled with his temper and, eventually, won.
A few minutes later, Lestrade set down three mugs, the tails of tea bags hanging over their rims. He sat down and got out a notebook. "Detective Inspector Lestrade, ma'am. Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Mrs Hudson was quiet a long time. She set the ice aside and sipped her tea, both hands wrapped around the mug like she couldn't even feel the heat. John's grandmother had had hands like that. She'd reach into boiling water and pinch out a noodle to see if it was cooked.
"I'll tell you what I know," she said, at last. "Maybe I'm wrong. But either way I'm done with him, and I hope this finishes him off. He's a terrible man." She smiled down at her tea. "I'm glad we never had children. I'm not sure I could love them properly with that bit of him in them."
John remembered what Mrs Hudson had said yesterday morning, how she was so sure Sherlock would come to no harm on the moor because he was such a "clever boy." Or maybe because she knew the killer was busy weeding the vegetable patch?
"He always goes up to London a day or two before the bodies turn up," she said. Her voice was quiet, but there was a thread of something very hard running through it. "I don't know anything, not really. Not anything you could call proof. He comes back late, smelling of wet dog. He meets with strangers. You can ask in town, they've seen the cars. Black Land Rovers with tinted windows. People from London and from much further away. Men with rifles. I don't think you've found all the bodies."
John and Lestrade glanced at each other. The picture Lestrade had painted didn't exactly match up with this. Serial killers, so far as John knew, didn't hunt in packs.
The pounding of running feet made them all turn toward the doorway. Sherlock skidded to a stop. "Mycrotf's gone," he said.
"Have you looked everywhere?" John said, like Mycroft was a toy Sherlock might've misplaced. He sounded calm, despite the sudden flash of worry that gripped his throat like a fist.
"I looked where Mycroft goes. He's not there. Someone took him away. He didn't want to go."
John swallowed. "Look, it's a huge house--"
"The hair you stuck on the attic door was gone so I went up. Mycroft was there, there's footprints in the dust over yours from before. Him and another man with big feet. They went by the trunks of Grand-mère's things and they had a fight. There's." He stopped and chewed his lip. "There's blood on the corner of the trunk. And a piece of Mycroft's hair." He looked down at the floor.
John went to him and put a hand on his head. "He'll be all right. Don't worry.
"I'm going to check the attic," Lestrade said.
Mrs Hudson wiped her eyes briskly and stood. "I'll show you the way, dear. Come along."
John waited till they were gone and took Sherlock's hand. "Come on. I need to get something from my room."
"Yeah. Keep it to yourself, all right? I'm not supposed to have it."
"Are you going to shoot the man who took Mycroft?"
"Only if I have to."
Sherlock nodded. He was quiet all the way up to John's room and stood by the door to watch as John opened the desk drawer, got his Browning, checked the clip and safety, and stuck it down the back of his trousers, safely under his jumper. Sherlock took his hand again as they walked back down to the kitchen. His hand was cold, and he held on tight.
John sat him on the kitchen counter and gave him tea and bread with cheese. Sherlock made a face.
"I don't want it. My stomach feels weird."
"So does mine." John bit into his own bread and cheese.
"Why are you eating anyway?"
"Because I'm going to get Mycroft back, and I'll need it, even if my body doesn't think so right now."
Sherlock looked at him a second and then bit viciously into his own bread, like it might be personally responsible for his brother's disappearance.
"You don't have to," John offered. "I'm sure Mrs Hudson will fix you something later when you feel a bit better."
"I'm coming with," Sherlock said.
"No, you're not."
"I know where Hudson took him. It was Hudson, right? I saw him out there lots of times when he didn't see me. I know where he goes. You won't ever find it without me, you'll sink in the bog and die. I saw a sheep die like that. It gurgled."
"We won't-- Look, the police have helicopters and things." But he hadn't planned on waiting for the police, had he? Lestrade maybe, if Lestrade could be persuaded to go without waiting for back up. But otherwise John planned (only it wasn't really a plan, was it?) to go off on his own again, with his gun and his limp and not the first idea where to look.
"He killed Grand-mère," Sherlock said quietly. "He made her heart pills bad. I looked at them, they were wrong, but no one believed me."
John remembered Mycroft saying that Sherlock had said "some things that weren't true" after she died.
He remembered the open trunks in the attic, the handkerchiefs in them among the lace shawls and gloves and feathered hats, the handkerchiefs on the corpses, the dog. Dogs hunted by scent, and John could remember even now how everything up in the attics had smelled: of mothballs and lavender and dust. A strong scent, easy to follow. And Sherlock's grandmother had gone up to get something and found--what? Hudson going through her old things? Or something even worse. She'd been suspicious, and Hudson had poisoned her. And then carried right on with his bloody business. It accounted for everything except the strangers with rifles, and John didn't care about them right now.
"I believe you," he said.
The floorboards creaked to herald Lestrade and Mrs Hudson's return. Lestrade nodded to John. "It's just like he said."
"Not a lot. Try not to worry."
"I know where they went," Sherlock said.
"Forget it," John said, though with less conviction than he might've wished. He had a thought and turned to Mrs Hudson. "Where's Anthea?" With her gun and secret agent training and ability to find him and Sherlock in the middle of nowhere and the middle of the night.
"Oh, I think she said she was going to dust in the east wing?"
That might mean anything from secret spy duties back in London to actual dusting, although John strongly suspected housework did not feature prominently on Anthea's list of duties.
"Do you know her mobile number?"
John took a breath, let it out, let calm replace oxygen. "Right, well, if you see her, tell her where we've gone. Are you coming, Lestrade?"
"Coming-- I am not coming anywhere because you are not going anywhere. Don't be stupid."
"Sherlock says he knows where they are, and I believe him. The longer we wait, the more danger Mycroft is in. I'm sure you've more experience with kidnapping cases than I have. Isn't that right? Especially when he doesn't mean to hold Mycroft for ransom. He can't afford to give him back. He's just trying to buy himself some time to think."
Lestrade opened his mouth to answer, glaring, but he got interrupted.
"He has to kill him," Sherlock said, in a small voice. "I don't want him to be dead for real, I didn't mean that."
I hate you, I wish you were dead. It was easy to imagine Sherlock coming out with something like that in an argument. John picked him up off the counter, and Sherlock held onto him tight.
"I know," John said. "Everyone knows that. Even Mycroft, I promise."
"You can't mean to take him out there," Lestrade said.
"Do you really see a choice?"
There was more argument. Yelling, really. But when John walked out the front door with Sherlock, Lestrade came with them.
"This is mad," Lestrade said.
"You might get a medal."
Lestrade rolled his eyes. "Let's all just get back alive, yeah?"
"Sounds pretty good to me."
John glanced down at Sherlock, but Sherlock didn't even seem to hear them. He held John's hand and pulled him forward. John thought he'd run the whole way without the two of them holding him back.
They veered east of Hewn Tor, and John saw the land ahead of them take on a virulent green shine.
"This is where the bog part starts," Sherlock said. "You have to stay behind me." He looked at both of them and frowned. "And don't be so heavy."
"We'll do our best," John said. Behind him, Lestrade snorted with repressed amusement.
They followed close on Sherlock's heels. The ground gave under them like a sponge, or a waterbed; firm enough to walk on, but by no means actually solid. It was saturated with water, covered in some bright green weed that made it impossible to tell where safety ended and danger began. John had no idea how Sherlock had managed to find these paths, but he was absolutely never coming out here on his own again.
The passed the sheep. It was quite definitively dead, mostly submerged, one ear half rotted away. Sherlock didn't look twice at it, but then he was at that age where kids poked dead things with sticks to see how dead they were. John and Lestrade were quite old enough to see their future rather than a fascinating new experiment.
"Lovely," Lestrade said under his breath.
They trudged on, shoes squelching more with every step.
"Sherlock, where are we going? Where is this place?"
It was not soon, or not what John would've considered soon. Sherlock led them, if not quite in circles, then definitely not along any straight line between two points. They wandered. They backtracked occasionally when solid ground sank and disappeared into the mire. Sometimes a wrong step sent the path wobbling or sent up a burst of marsh gas. When John was eight, he'd had a dog that specialized in farts of the silent-but-deadly variety; it smelled exactly like that.
Finally, Sherlock stopped and pointed. "There."
"Where? That-- Is that a house?" Lestrade said.
"It's a ruins. The people who used to live here a long time ago made them and now Hudson has his things in there."
"His things?" John said.
Sherlock looked up at him. "He's always bringing things, in boxes. And now Mycroft." He looked at the stone hut again. "I can go straight from here, but you can't, you're too heavy."
John grabbed the back of his shirt, and Sherlock glared at him.
"I wasn't going to!"
"Just making sure," John said. "Don't want to end up like the sheep."
Sherlock shook him off. "This way."
The hut grew closer. John hated how out in the open they were, but on the other hand, there didn't seem to be any windows, and the door was not on this side. He could only hope Hudson wasn't spying on them through some crack in the wall.
The structure was low and round, jammed between two fingers of rock that jutted out from the low tor. It was simply one course of stone laid on another, built up and up, capped in a roof that looked like the result of a rock slide and a wind storm. Bleached branches tangled together and supported a mish-mash of stones, tufts of dried grass, and more modern rubbish. A flap of blue just visible at one edge suggested the whole thing was laid over a tarp to keep the rain out.
The ground underfoot changed gradually from waterbed to sponge to soggy earth, and then there was stone underfoot again. The bright green weed receded.
"You can go straight from here," Sherlock said.
"We need a plan," Lestrade said.
Sherlock stared at them both like they were being unbelievably dense. "Go in and shoot him and get Mycroft back!"
John sighed. "Sherlock."
"If you didn't want me to know about the gun, you probably should've made me walk ahead of you. That's a pretty distinctive lump under your jumper there," Lestrade said.
"Yeah. We'll talk about that later. Right now, you can give it here and I'll have a look around."
"Look, I don't want to get into a pissing match with you, but--no."
Lestrade raised his eyebrows. "No? You're the civilian. It's my job to--"
"No, see, I'm actually not. At all. That's the thing. That's why I'm going, and you're staying here with Sherlock."
John met Lestrade's eyes and waited. He would've tried for calm, for stillness, but there was no need. It filled him up like brackish water now filled his shoes. He doubted Lestrade had ever had reason or opportunity to use a gun against another human being, and he'd point that out if he had to, but he didn't think he'd have to. Lestrade didn't seem the stupidly macho type.
There was a long pause while Lestrade seemed to study every line in his face, every movement of his eyes.
John let him see everything. He might not be much good in London, or as a nanny, might not be much fitted for anything approaching a civilized life anymore, but he could do this. God, could he ever. His heart beat slower, and his hand lay still against his side, tremor fled to parts unknown. He felt better than he had since he'd got shot. He would be good at this.
Finally, Lestrade nodded. "Call if you need help."
John took off his shoe and socks. The ground was cold and some of the rocks were jagged, but he could hardly hope for stealth if he squelched when he walked. One hundred meters to the stone hut, and then fifty, twenty, ten. He touched his tongue to the roof of his mouth and modulated his breath to silence.
There was no crack in the ancient structure big enough for him to get a look through, but he could hear faint sounds inside. Snuffling, panting, nails on stone. Dogs were never really quiet even when they weren't making a fuss. Sherlock and Mycroft could do with a dog. Assuming Mycroft hadn't been traumatized into some sort of phobia by the end of this.
John crept around toward the front of the building, wary of rocks underfoot, chinks in the stone, watchers from above. He saw nothing. When he got round to the side that faced the tor, he saw a wooden door had been fitted into the doorway of the hut. He also saw Hudson, facing away from him, texting furiously on his mobile. He had a cigarette hanging from one corner of his mouth and a shotgun over his shoulder.
If he was alone, there was no problem. John could get close, knock him out, and call for Lestrade. If he wasn't, if there was someone in the hut with Mycroft, or if Mycroft was somewhere else entirely-- He had to know.
He kept his eye on Hudson, opened the door a crack, and slipped inside.
He saw Mycroft immediately, gagged, blindfolded, and tied to a chair. John wanted to go to him, but he made himself stop and look over the room first. There were two laptops, a printer, the hum of electricity that suggested a generator. There were leaflets near the printer that read The Ultimate Hunt. Things started to take shape in John's mind, and it wasn't a shape he wanted to see.
The dogs--two of them, black and enormous and huddled together--watched him from inside their cage. John expected them to bark, but they were eerily silent apart from the low level doggy noises he'd heard earlier. Thank god for small favors.
He edged across to Mycroft. There was blood in his hair, but dried, and he was clearly awake and aware. John's hands itched with the need to check the wound, but now was not the time.
"It's John," he said softly. "Keep quiet, I'm going to get you loose."
He stood behind Mycroft to keep an eye on the door while he untied the blindfold and gag. Mycroft coughed almost silently and said nothing. John bent to work on the rope around his wrists. Mycroft's hands were shaking and clenched into fists.
"It's all right," John whispered, and squeezed one hand gently. It was cold. "Just a moment more, hold on."
Of course that was when Hudson walked in.
He had the shotgun aimed before John could get to his gun.
"You people," Hudson said. "Little kids and bloody cripples! Stay right there or you're both dead."
"You ought to give yourself up," Mycroft said, voice clear if not quite steady. "It was a bad tactical error taking me. I told you."
"I gagged you for a reason. Shut it. You," he said to John. "How the hell did you track me out here?"
"Your wife gave me directions," John said.
"That cow. This is shit, this is all shit!" He started to pace, shotgun muzzle wavering, but still pointed in their general direction. "You, get over here, hands against the wall."
John slid his gun out of his waistband, checked the safety, and pressed it into Mycroft's hands as he rose. "Just hold it," he murmured.
Hudson shoved him against the wall and patted him down with a thoroughness that bordered on bruising.
"Who else knows you're here?"
"No one. Please don't hurt us," John added, after a second. He hoped it sounded convincing. He was never a good actor, and the larger part of his mind was given over to wondering how fast he could move next time Hudson let the barrel of the shotgun shift to the right. It happened every few seconds, a little jerk like a nervous tic. It would be hard to get in close enough starting from this position.
John raised his hands slowly. "Can I turn round please?" He did, still talking. "Look, you could just go, couldn't you? You could just leave us here. Tie me up too, if you like. You'd be long gone before anyone thinks to look for us."
Hudson laughed. "Yeah, oh yeah. Just leave you here to spout off to the Yard when they get here, that's--"
The shotgun swung a few inches down and to the right. John smacked it aside with his right hand, stepped in smartly, hit Hudson in the stomach and then, as he bent double, caught his jaw with a knee.
Hudson grasped the shotgun with both hands and swore, tried to bring it up and aim again. John kicked his knee, pressure down and inward from the side. There was a pop, and Hudson went down with a scream. John toed the shotgun out of his reach
He rubbed his knuckles. That could've gone worse. And then, as he stood up to look for rope and to call for Lestrade, the door opened.
Two men in black stepped in. Their gear looked vaguely similar to Anthea's, and, for a moment, John thought the cavalry had arrived. The cavalry probably wouldn't be aiming Steyr AUGs at John, though, so that theory needed reworking.
A man stepped between them. He had white blond hair, a scar on his face, and a mobile held to his ear. "Yeah," he said into the phone. "I'd say tits up is a fair assessment." He glanced at John. "A copper, the two kids, and the nanny. And Hudson. Yeah."
Another man prodded Lestrade into the hut and followed him in, pulling Sherlock by the arm. Sherlock was doing his best to bite him. It was going to get him smacked in a second. John could see it in the man's face.
"Sherlock, stop it," John said, putting as much urgency into his voice as he could. Sherlock ignored him, of course.
The man shoved him forward and raised his arm, fist clenched, and John-- Well, he hadn't planned to charge across the room, past the two men with assault rifles, and knock the man on his arse, but there he was, doing just that. In the next moment he got a rifle butt jammed into the side of his head, but it was worth it.
He saw darkness and little bursts of color for a while. When the world focused properly, he was lying on the floor, and Sherlock was holding onto his sleeve with both hands, mouth forming words John couldn't hear just yet.
He shook his head experimentally, and the roar in it settled down. "What?"
Sherlock was pale as paper, and his eyes were very wide. "Are you okay, John?" he said.
"M'just fine. Don't you worry." He got himself propped on one elbow and then managed to sit up all the way. He took a look around.
One of the assault rifles was trained on him, one on Lestrade, who stood against the wall, near Mycroft. One guarded the door. The blond man was pacing, rolling his eyes, and apparently trying to get a word in edgewise.
"Yeah--" he said. "Yeah, I do know that. I just think-- Goddammit, Jim, will you shut the fuck up for two fucking seconds? I'm just saying, this bog could hold a lot of bodies, okay?"
That...did not sound good.
"What do you want them for?" the man said, and his eyes flicked to Sherlock and Mycroft.
Worse and worse.
"Fine. Yeah, no, fine, you're the boss. You want to bring an MI-5 shitstorm down on us, that's your prerogative. Okay. Back soon."
He shoved his mobile in his pocket the nodded to Sherlock. "You, get over there with your brother."
"Go on," John murmured, when Sherlock looked ready to bite people again.
Sherlock glared at him, but his eyes caught on John's head where he'd been struck. He went without a word and stood behind Mycroft, one hand on his shoulder. That was nice to see, even if it was under extreme circumstances.
John looked over at Lestrade, who'd been trying to catch his eye since he sat up. "All right?" Lestrade mouthed, silent. John nodded, though it made him go a bit dizzy again.
Three men with assault rifles, another who was almost certainly armed, and Hudson, who was now sitting against the wall and watching John with gleaming hatred in his eyes. If he could reach his shotgun without moving his knee, John would certainly be dead. The odds were not good.
Surely they wouldn't shoot them in here and drag their bodies out to the bog when it would be far simpler to make them walk out on their own. Things were too static here, and there was no room, too much chance of the boys getting hurt. When they moved would be the time to try something.
He wished he could be more sure of how Lestrade would react, but he looked calm enough, leaning there against the wall with his hands in his pockets. He'd put up some kind of a fight outside too, going by the state of his clothes and hair. Good.
John got slowly to his feet, relieved when it didn't earn him another blow. He wouldn't be much use unconscious.
The blond man came to stand in front of him, looked him over slowly. "How many people have you killed?"
John blinked. "A few," he said, too surprised to lie convincingly, more than a little disturbed that this man could apparently read that about him at a glance, like there was a sign hanging over his head that read killer.
"You're not MI-5. Who are you?"
"You said it. I'm the nanny. Who're you then? Who's Jim?"
"You don't miss a trick."
"You were talking pretty loudly."
"I could do the whole super-villain explain-it-before-you-die bit, but that's not really my speed." He paused. "Don't suppose you want a new job? It pays a damn sight better."
John wished he were that good at lying, but he just wasn't. The man would never believe him. He shook his head.
"Shocker. Right," the man said. "Take these two outside. You know what to do."
"No!" Sherlock yelled, and came barrelling across the room to hug John's leg and press his face against the John's stomach.
John was momentarily quite touched until he felt what Sherlock was pushing into his hands between the cover of their bodies: his gun.
John tucked it away under his jumper, taking more care to conceal the shape this time. He hugged Sherlock tight, all the praise he could give right now, and sent him back to his brother.
This was going to be tricky. Having the gun was great, but Blondie would hear the shots. And he had two hostages. There could be no shots, then. That didn't mean the gun was entirely useless.
John and Lestrade were herded outside, out to the bog, back to the bright green weed and shaky ground. John's feet were numb. It made it hard to walk. His left big toe was bleeding from some unseen, unfelt rock.
Only two of the men had come with them. That would make it easier.
John let himself stumble, which wasn't difficult. He was finding balance a strange and tenuous thing with no feeling of his feet on the earth to ground him. He stumbled again and went down. When one of the men came close to give him a kick, John surged up at him and jammed his gun under the man's chin.
"Drop your weapon," he said. The man complied. Behind him, John heard the thud of something hard hitting a skull and turned in time to see the second man go down. Lestrade stood over him, holding the other rifle like a club.
John nodded to him, and Lestrade nodded back, and John felt something of the comradeship he'd felt in the war, something that warmed his chest, if not his feet.
"Right," John said, to his prisoner. "We're going back there, and you're going in first, and if you try to warn anyone I really will not have a problem shooting you in the back. Understood?"
Lestrade gave him a look that was not quite so warm at that, but John ignored him. This next bit could go so badly wrong. He had to concentrate. Anyway, he didn't mean it. Probably.
They walked back to the hut with their prisoner in front of them. Things would happen very quickly when they got inside, and he hadn't wanted to do any of this in there, in that small room enclosed by stone walls with tremendous ricochet potential. He couldn't see a choice now. Hopefully, there would be no need for bullets.
Their prisoner opened the door and stepped in, and John came right after him, pushing past, taking aim. The remaining man with the assault rifle turned toward him and brought it up, and John shot him in the shoulder.
Lestrade was in the room beside him, knocking the butt of his rifle against their prisoner's head as the man tried to take a swing at him. The blond man charged straight at them, no visible weapon, just a mad grin and an erratic, zigzagging path. John couldn't get a lock on him for even half a second and would've hesitated to shoot an apparently unarmed man anyway (probably). A moment before he crashed into Lestrade, he dropped, rolled, bowled John right off his feet and was up and out the door and running.
John took off after him. He could hear Lestrade struggling with someone else just outside the door. The blond man was halfway up the tor, and John scrambled from rock to rock, just barely aware that he was scraping bits of skin off his feet and ankles, that everything was wet and cold and slippery, that his head was pounding, he was dizzy, he was--hearing voices?
"John!" Again, faint. Behind him. Mycroft's voice.
He turned and saw Hudson through the open door of the hut. He was still sitting against the wall, but he had his shotgun back, aimed toward the chair where Mycroft was still tied up. John couldn't see the chair, or the boys, but he could see Hudson's expression, just barely, even at this distance. Hudson had no plans to take hostages.
John braced himself against the rock. Gun in his right hand, left cupped underneath. "Close your eyes!" he yelled to the boys, without any real hope they'd listen. It made Hudson turn toward him though. John breathed out in a steady stream, took aim, and pulled the trigger in the space between heartbeats. The bullet went through Hudson's left eye.
John slipped and skidded back down the rocks, past Lestrade, who was tying up his opponent with the man's own belt, into the hut. Mycroft had turned away from the body to look at the wall, rope now undone, arms wrapped around himself. Sherlock was staring.
John crossed the room in three short steps, went to one knee, and pulled first Sherlock and then Mycroft into his arms. It was clearly a shock to both of them. Mycroft unbent first, losing his stiffness and wrapping his arms around John's neck. Sherlock was more cautious. He looked up at John with wary eyes.
"Sorry," John said softly. "I shouldn't have left you alone with him."
Sherlock ducked his head to John's chest and held onto his jumper with both hands.
John smoothed a hand over his hair. "Good job getting me the gun. Thanks," he said.
"It was Mycroft's idea," Sherlock said, with obvious reluctance.
"Thanks to both of you then. Good idea, good execution. You make quite a team."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, and Mycroft gave a quiet snort into John's shoulder.
John wondered if he could pick both of them up. He badly wanted to get them outside, away from Hudson's body and the slowly growing pool of blood under his head.
A sound that had been nagging at the edge of his consciousness finally registered as it grew to a roar: incoming chopper. He had half expected it, which was why it'd taken so long to penetrate. Fire exchanged, wounded, bodies, of course there would be a chopper. But this was not Afghanistan, so this was not their ride to the field hospital. He looked to the doorway and saw the grass ripple and flatten out as the chopper landed just out of sight.
A minute later, Mrs Holmes walked through the door.
John loosened his grip on the boys, expected them both to go to her, but they stayed where they were. She stayed where she was. Sherlock watched her with the same wary expression he'd given John. Mycroft didn't even look at her.
"Thank you," she said to John. "They're both...well?"
"They will be. I need to look at Mycroft's head, but I don't expect it to be serious." He glanced at Hudson's body. It was probably not good form to expose other people's children to dead bodies. "Sorry."
"Don't be. He had to go."
John was a bit shocked to find he agreed, for Mrs Hudson's sake if nothing else. He wasn't actually sorry.
"The man in charge got away," he said.
"We're looking for him. Don't concern yourself." She paused. "The helicopter will take you back to the Hall. I can see Sherlock and Mycroft will want you to accompany them."
Mycroft raised his head at that and wiped his eyes roughly with the heels of his hands. He straightened up and turned toward her. "You're not coming with us?" he said.
John could see her hesitate, but her eyes dropped to the body, and she shook her head. "I have things to do here. I'll see you all for dinner."
She stepped out the door and was immediately replaced by four men in black. Two went for the body and two for the computers, and John decided it was time to get out.
"I told you she hated us," Sherlock said to Mycroft, perhaps to the world at large. "You never listen to me ever."
"She doesn't hate you," John said, but he didn't think either of them believed him. He wasn't sure this was something he could fix. Triage, then. He herded them both outside and shoved one of the Ultimate Hunt leaflets into his pocket on the way. When Mrs Holmes' people were done there would probably be nothing left in the way of evidence.
Lestrade leaned against a rock outside, arms folded over his chest, watching the chopper as its blades spun down toward stillness. There was an entirely new look on Lestrade's face when he turned to John, a bit wary, a lot impressed. John wasn't used to having anyone look at him like that.
"All right?" Lestrade said.
John nodded. "You?"
There was blood still oozing from Lestrade's split lip, and a cut on his cheekbone had leaked blood all the way down to his shirt collar, but he nodded. "Fine. Are we leaving?"
"Yeah." John cocked his head toward the chopper. "Want a ride?"
Lestrade straightened up and walked with them.
"Nice shot," Lestrade said.
"Ah. You saw that."
"I saw you didn't have a choice. Not that it's ever likely to come to a court case. I don't imagine any of it will now this lot's here. One of them found these," he added, and held out John's shoes and socks.
John laughed, startled, and apparently startling Lestrade in turn. "Thanks," he said, and took them. "I would've forgot them."
Lestrade gave him a brief grin, and some of the tension in the air between them eased.
Less than thirty feet separated them from the chopper and its promise of warmth and somewhere to sit down. Each step took more effort. John had cuts on his feet, a throbbing pain in his head, definitely a bruise to go with, and an ache in his bad shoulder that hurt worse than all the rest combined. His leg hurt again, and he didn't know when it'd started.
He was probably the worst off, physically, of all of them, which meant he'd done something right, at least. He'd need to look at Lestrade and definitely at Mycroft as soon as they got back. Check Sherlock over, just in case. All in all, though, it could've gone much worse.
At the chopper, yet another man in black stopped them with a hand on Lestrade's chest.
"Sorry, sir. Three passengers only. We can come back for him."
"You can get out and let him have your place," John said.
"Sorry, sir. Can't do that, sir."
"It's okay," Lestrade said. "Go."
"We'll walk," John said, and he meant it. He'd had enough.
"Are you mad? Just go. I'm fine."
But John was tired, and irritated, and ten times more stubborn than he ought to be, as his mother often said. He felt a bit mad as he stalked off with the boys in tow, but it worked. Before he'd gone ten paces, Lestrade had a seat on the chopper.
In the air, Sherlock pressed his face to the window. Mycroft sat with his hands folded in his lap and looked as if he might be ill. John hoped he wouldn't. There wasn't enough room.
John and Lestrade were pressed shoulder to shoulder. Lestrade was a lot warmer than John, and it was hard not to lean. John focused on the fast-approaching Hall and keeping his spine straight. There was still so much to do.
It went all right until they landed and he had to climb out.
Lestrade's hand clamped around his upper arm and kept him from pitching face-first onto the grass as his leg picked the worst possible moment to remind him that, oh yeah, it hurt for no sodding reason. Well. All right, not the worst moment. Earlier would've been much worse. He thumped it with his fist and tried to ignore it, which seemed easier now, possibly because of how much the rest of him hurt.
Sherlock grabbed John's hand again, and John's stomach lurched with distant panic. It was not going to be a month. It was going to be years, assuming he didn't get fired, and Christ, there had to be someone better qualified. He didn't even have nieces or nephews, not that it would even be relevant if he did, because no one had nephews like Sherlock and Mycroft.
He managed a reassuring smile, which in fact must have looked pretty horrible. Mycroft straightened himself up and told the pilot he could go. He turned to John.
"You must be tired, Dr Watson. Please feel free to retire to your room. I shall ask Mrs Hudson about dinner."
It was a good effort, except for the way his voice kept wobbling, except for how very pale he was.
John searched for something comforting to say and found he was fresh out. He could treat wounds like this, because he could treat wounds with half his blood pouring out onto the sand, but for anything else he felt fairly useless.
It was, therefore, a great relief when Lestrade said, "Right, enough of this. Everyone, inside now. It's a bit nippy out, and some idiot's not wearing any shoes."
He still had hold of John's arm, so when he stepped forward, John moved, too. Mycroft hung back for a moment, but Sherlock grabbed his sleeve and tugged until he started walking. John looked away so neither of them would see him smile.
Mycroft's wound was minor, more a scrape than a cut. It took some time to get it cleaned and dressed, but Mycroft bore it well. Lestrade was another story.
"Ow! That bloody hurts," he said, at the first touch of the alcohol swab to his cheek, and followed it up with a series of ridiculous grimaces clearly designed to make the boys giggle. It worked. Even Mycroft cracked a smile.
"It might scar," John said, as he finished up with two butterfly stitches.
"S'all right. I've got a good story to go with it."
"One I'd very much like to hear," Mrs Hudson said, stepping into the kitchen. She'd been off delivering shepherd's pie to Anthea and the large security detail that had taken over the Hall. "But not right now. You boys need to eat."
John's stomach clenched all over again. There was still one more thing he had to do. "Your husband," he said, and stopped.
"Anthea tells me you shot him."
"Yes." There was nothing else to say. He was certainly wasn't going to try to justify it.
Her face relaxed. It wasn't quite a smile, but that was hardly surprising. She kissed his cheek. "That's good. You're a good boy, dear. Now go and clean yourself up. I can't have you bleeding into the mashed potatoes."
John blinked at her. His leg throbbed, and he was suddenly uncertain he'd be able to stand.
Lestrade's hand was on his elbow. "Up. Come on. I'll help."
"Where're we going?"
He let Lestrade pull him up and steer him out of the kitchen. Only Lestrade's arm around his waist got him him up the stairs. He'd have to go back and retrieve his cane from Hewn Tor at some point.
"Could've washed up in the sink," he said. "You did."
He wondered if he were about to get a good life-affirming tumble out of the day's events and wondered also if he were up to it. He was afraid he might be up to a lie down and some aspirin and not much else.
"You're a bit worse off than I am," Lestrade said, with a grim note in his voice that probably precluded any sort of bedroom activity apart from sleep.
When they got to his room, Lestrade steered him into the bathroom and sat him on the edge of the tub.
"Do I look at your pupils or something?"
"What? Oh." Head injury, right. He ran through a mental list of symptoms and found nothing especially alarming. The nausea had mostly gone, and the dizziness was going. He was tired, but given the past two days, that was only to be expected. "No. I'll have a bit of a lump, but I'm fine."
"Yeah, you look it."
That was probably sarcasm, John decided, but he had no time to respond. Lestrade had got down on one knee and picked up John's foot.
"Uh," John said.
"Do you have tweezers?"
John found them in his dopp kit and handed them over. The next few minutes were spent in silence as Lestrade picked small stones and splinters from the soles of John's feet.
"I can do that myself," John said, as Lestrade switched feet.
"It'd be awkward."
It would be. Feet were always awkward. John let him get on with it. The bathroom was warm, and by the time Lestrade was finished, John's head was drooping toward his chest and his eyes were half closed.
Lestrade set the tweezers aside, and John looked at the little pile of debris now sitting on the edge of the sink.
"That's a lot," he said.
"Yeah. You were bleeding a bit on the floor."
Lestrade snorted and ran the bath until it was few inches deep. "Stick 'em in there."
John winced, but did as he was told. For a few seconds it felt like his skin was boiling off. After that, it was quite nice.
"You should go and eat," he told Lestrade. "I mean, thanks. But I'm okay, really."
"Almost done." Lestrade sat next to him on the edge of the tub and pressed a warm, damp cloth to the side of his head.
John winced at that too, and then ended up leaning into it, despite the extra pressure it put on his wound. Lestrade wiped away dried blood a little at a time as it softened.
"Towel's ruined," John murmured. He felt warm and sleepy, and it was shockingly nice to have Lestrade sitting so close.
"Mrs Hudson strikes me as a woman who knows how to get blood out of anything."
"I s'pose she'd have to with him for a husband." He paused. "Oh, god. That's awful, sorry." But he couldn't quite keep from giggling, and neither could Lestrade.
John knocked their shoulders together, grinning. "Stop it."
"You stop it. You started it."
"Think she's got beer down there?"
"Oh god, I hope so."
They leaned together. Steam rose gently from the surface of the water.
"That was actually amazing, you know," Lestrade said, after a moment. "What you did."
John could feel himself flushing. "You did it, too."
"Followed your lead, that's all."
"I didn't-- It was the only thing to do."
"Oh, sure. I can quite see that. Rush off with no back-up and take on five armed men in the middle of a swamp. You mad bastard."
John flicked water at him.
Lestrade laughed. "Damp enough already, thanks. Where are your socks?"
"Er. In my bag. Left inside pocket." He hadn't even had time to unpack yet.
Lestrade fetched his socks and then leaned against the sink while John dried his feet and stuck a couple of plasters over the worst cuts.
"That was probably the most ridiculous thing I've ever done," Lestrade said. "I only went-- Well, you didn't leave me any choice, going off with the boy like that. You were right though. An hour later would've been too late."
"I could've as easily been wrong."
"Yeah, but you weren't. That's what counts."
When they got downstairs, Mrs Hudson had dinner on the table; shepherd's pie and green beans, and beer for "the older boys." Mrs Holmes never did show up, but by the time John finally made it up to bed, he was too tired to worry about it.
He woke up in the dark, filled with an awareness that he was not alone.
"You're awake," Mrs Holmes said, before he could reach for his gun.
"Yes," he said, cautiously. "You're in my room." He glanced at the clock. "At two in the morning. Since we're stating the obvious."
She switched on the light and sat in the chair by the door, hands folded in her lap, back straight. "You're staying," she said.
"Again, stating the obvious."
"Yes. Let's move on. Since you are staying, I expect you have terms you wish to discuss."
He would've liked to point out this wasn't a hostage negotiation, but since he actually did have terms, it might fall a bit flat.
"They need to be where you are. If not in the same house, at least in the same city."
"A move to London would help your blossoming romance with that detective inspector."
"Please don't refer to any part of me as blossoming ever again. And that's completely beside the point." He took a deep breath. "Look, I know you stuck them out here to keep them safe, but it hasn't worked. They're just kids. They need to be with their mum."
"I 'stuck them out here' so they would be out of the way. I really can't have them underfoot."
"Oh, bollocks! One phone call and you're out here with helicopters and half of MI-5! I think the boat has sailed on this pretending not to care lark."
She was quiet a long time, looking past him, out the window at a moon that was edging toward full.
"I should never have had children," she said, finally. "I had hoped their father's genetics would have a tempering effect, but they are both quite as bad as I am."
"There's nothing wrong with them. Nothing." John couldn't help wishing he weren't having this conversation in his pajamas, but he forged on. "They're smart boys, maybe too smart to fit in easily, but fitting in is hardly the pinnacle of achievement, is it? Strong willed, all right, but that's not bad either, and what do you mean as bad as you? You seem to have done quite well for yourself."
She sat up, if possible, even straighter, face setting into rigid lines. "Very well. London. I'll see about a flat."
"Mrs Hudson, too."
She looked momentarily startled. "Why?"
"She's all alone now." And it's my fault. "I can't imagine she has much saved up to retire on. Also, I can't cook. So unless you want them living on doner kebabs..."
"All right. Mrs Hudson, too."
"And you've got to come see them, at least at weekends."
"I had imagined this conversation focusing more on dental benefits. This is not a divorce hearing. We're not deciding custody."
Time to pull out the heavy ammo. "Sherlock thinks you hate him."
"I know." Her expression didn't even flicker.
"I'm not staying if you're going to to go on letting him think that. You can get someone else."
"Don't try to bluff me. You are not equal to the task."
He sighed and rubbed at his face. Tried to think what to say next. She got there before he did.
"I am in a position that makes having hostages to fortune potentially devastating. Not merely to me and to them. To the country. It would've been wiser to send them abroad or better still have them put up for adoption when they were born. I couldn't. Nor can I manage to regret it. All I can do is make them less of a target."
Her face was strained with repressed emotion. She thought she was doing the right thing for them. Maybe she was. It was hard to argue that she was being over-protective with the memory of Mycroft and Sherlock's would-be kidnapper so recent. This was clearly not a war he could win tonight. He focused on the battle instead.
"London. Mycroft needs a tutor, at least. He can't learn everything from books. And Sherlock--there's got to be a gifted program somewhere he could try."
"I've already said I'll look for a flat."
"Oh, for heaven's sake! Tomorrow, if you like. I've said I'll do it. These are not delaying tactics."
"Why did you have my service record sealed?"
"Better to be thought one of my assets than someone who is close to my children. Safer."
"So they'll start in with the really heavy torture right away instead of building up to it? Great."
She very nearly smiled at that, he thought.
"There was a chap I knew in Afghanistan," he said, carefully. "He had two boys as well."
"I dislike anecdotes in general. I can guess the ending of this one, and I can guess the moral. Please spare me."
"Terms. This is one of them. You've got to listen."
She made a sharp hand gesture, which probably meant continue, but possibly meant I hope you die in a fire quite soon.
"It was hard on them every time he left. They'd cry, and it just about killed him, but he kept on signing up for another tour, and another. He had to. Just one of those people. He and his wife rowed about it, I know, and probably other things. They got divorced. He didn't see his kids after that. Not because he didn't want to or because she wouldn't let him. He thought it would be easier on them if he just stayed out of their lives altogether."
She stared out the window. "I see."
"You thought he was going to die at the end."
"Yes," she admitted.
"It would've been a better story that way. Death redeems almost everyone. Do you have a first name?"
Her attention swung back to him, and she frowned. "Everyone has a first name. Is that all?"
"Do you have further demands?"
"Oh. I want... Something that makes it legal for me to carry my gun would be helpful. A permit, or a license, or... I don't know. Something."
"Already done." She slipped a laminated card out of her pocket and set it down on the small table beside her. "Not precisely legal, but it should keep you out of trouble. Is that all?"
"I wouldn't mind some sort of dental plan," John admitted.
This time she did roll her eyes. "I'll have a new contract drawn up. Good night, Dr Watson."
She smoothed her skirt down as she rose. "Don't push your luck."
John woke again with the pale light of early morning pushing through the curtains. Once again, he was not alone.
Sherlock and Mycroft stood by the bed, side by side, Mycroft in his voluminous night shirt and Sherlock in flannel pajamas with the periodic table printed on them. John blinked at them.
"Good morning," he said, cautiously.
Sherlock poked Mycroft's arm. "Tell him."
Mycroft bit his lip. John looked to Sherlock, but Sherlock shook his head. "Mycroft has to say it, he's better at saying things so people don't get mad."
John pushed his pillows behind him and leaned against the headboard. He waited. The silence built up around them until it was almost visible.
Finally, Mycroft shook his head. "I can't. It's not fair to him. We should have professional protection. We can't ask him to do this." He looked miserable.
Sherlock shoved him so hard he stumbled sideways.
Sherlock's mouth tightened, and he kicked hard at the side of the bed. "Sorry!" he shouted. "But it's his fault! He has to ask you to stay, you have to stay, I don't care if it's not fair, how's it fair for anyone? It's not. Nothing ever is. I hate everything."
John looked between the two of them, Mycroft unhappy and hunched in on himself, Sherlock with little clenched fists and just about glowing with anger.
"Yes, well," he said slowly. "I have some bad news."
"Don't, Sherlock," Mycroft said. He laid a hand on Sherlock's shoulder, and Sherlock didn't shrug it off.
"I am staying."
He held up a hand as both of them tried to talk at once. Sherlock was bouncing on his toes, but he did manage to keep his mouth shut.
"You might not like it," John said. "There will be chores. And pocket money you actually earn. And you will start school next year and try to get along with the other children, and you," he nodded to Mycroft, "You will at least have tutors. There are still people in the world who know more than you do, and not all of them have been so kind as to write books. There will be music lessons," he added, in what he hoped was a suitably threatening tone. "And you can both help me with the shopping, although you won't have to suffer my cooking, because Mrs Hudson is coming with us."
They both gaped at him. After a few seconds, Mycroft managed, "Coming with us where?"
"Your mum's moving us to London."
They looked at each other and then back at him. There were no smiles. Just shock.
"How did you do it?" Mycroft said.
John wanted so much to lie and say it was her idea. If he'd thought he could get away with it, he might've.
"I just said what she already knew. She had you out here to keep you safe. It didn't work out quite how she'd planned. So. No reason not to come back to London."
"When?" Sherlock said.
"Soon. She said she'd start looking for a flat straight away."
"I don't want to go to school," Sherlock said.
"Yeah? Hard luck for you, then. You're going."
Mycroft, at least, smiled at that, though he was wise enough to turn away so Sherlock wouldn't see it.
"You can't make me."
"I actually can."
Sherlock stared at him hard for a few seconds. "I'm hungry," he said, and bolted for the door.
John grinned after him, so suddenly full of unexpected happiness that it came out as laughter. After a second Mycroft joined him.
"Thank you, John," Mycroft said. "For staying. And for--yesterday. I'm sorry you had to shoot Hudson. Are you all right?"
Mycroft was the only one who'd asked him. Funny, that.
"I am, yeah. Thanks. There wasn't anything else to do. So it's okay."
"Good. I'll leave you to get up, then. I suppose if we're moving I'll need to see about getting the house packed up. I'm sure all the furniture won't fit, but perhaps a storage facility--"
"Hey, easy. I'll take care of it, or your mum will. It's not your job. Don't worry about it, okay?"
"I'm perfectly capable--"
"That's really not the point."
Mycroft pressed his lips together and looked for a moment as if he might follow Sherlock's example and storm out. "What is the point?" he said.
"You're only a kid for so long."
"I've run this household since I was seven."
"You had some help though, didn't you? Your grandmother? Not that I'm trying to replace her, obviously, just, some help wouldn't hurt, would it?"
Mycroft was quiet for a moment and then looked up and met John's eyes steadily. "I was not what she wanted in a grandson. Sherlock, for all his faults, does act like a child, albeit an overly intelligent and rude one. She had no idea how to relate to me. I imagine that will be an overarching theme in my life. I would not want you to replace her."
John reached for his hand, and if Mycroft looked rather stiff about letting him take it, he held on like he had no plans to let go.
"I know Sherlock thinks Hudson killed her," Mycroft said. "He thinks I don't care because she didn't like me."
John said nothing. He felt entirely unprepared for this conversation and wished, once again, not to be having it in his pajamas. He waited.
Mycroft swallowed audibly and finally dropped his eyes. "I suppose that was more information than you wanted," he said.
"Exactly the right amount of information, I should say. Look, if you want that kind of responsibility, I'm not going to take it away from you. I'm only saying, you might give being a kid a shot for a little while. It's going to be a bit late if you change your mind when you're thirty."
Mycroft gave him a very small smile. "I suppose I could try it."
"Just for a while."
Mycroft nodded gravely and left, nightshirt flapping behind him.
John had only a few seconds to smile at the sunlight creeping across the bedspread before Sherlock ran back into the room and launched himself onto the bed. He crawled up John's legs and knelt in his lap, horribly pointy little knees digging into John's thighs.
"John! You said it was only okay to shoot people to stop them hurting people you love and you shot Hudson so that means you love us! It does, doesn't it?"
John might've been forgiven for hesitating. He'd only met them three days ago, but when he said, "Yes," it felt true and natural, as much as when he assured Harry he still loved her, despite everything. "'Course I do," he said. "And your mum does too. You saw how fast she got down here, and quite ready to shoot people, too. Did you see all those guns she brought?"
There was something deeply wrong about that statement, but John didn't really care. It'd made Sherlock's face go thoughtful and soft, and when he flung his arms around John's neck and squeezed, his grip was nearly strangling. John smiled to himself and hugged him back.
"Here," Sherlock said, and pushed something into John's hand.
It was an embroidered handkerchief, much like the one he'd seen on the corpse. This one had yellow roses instead of violets. It was wrapped around a number of red and white pills.
"Her heart medication," John guessed.
"They're wrong. Aren't they?"
"I can't tell just by looking, but I'm sure Lestrade can have them tested."
Sherlock nodded, slid down off the bed, and scooted out the door.
John leaned back against the pillows and shut his eyes. He felt he'd put in a full day already, starting as he had at two in the morning, and would be fully justified in going back to sleep.
There was a knock on the door. So much for that plan.
"Come in," he said.
It was Lestrade, with a sheepish expression and a tray full of food. "Mrs Hudson sent me up," he said. "Sorry. I can leave it and go."
"Or you could shut the door and stay," John said, which sounded...really a lot more like an invitation for a quick shag than he'd meant it to. Or at least than he'd consciously meant it to. He wouldn't say no.
Lestrade smirked and set the tray down on the bed. He pushed at John's legs until John shuffled over and made room for him to sit.
"Oh," John said. "Here." He handed over the pills and the handkerchief. "Sherlock's grandmother's heart pills. He's convinced she found out about Hudson and he did something to them."
"I'll have them checked out." Lestrade produced an evidence bag from his pocket and dropped them in, handkerchief and all.
"Do you carry those everywhere?"
"What--? Oh, the bags. Uh, yeah, actually. It's got to be a habit. Come in handy more than once."
There was a moment of silence and of spreading various things on toast. Lestrade poured them both coffee
"You'll be heading back, I expect," John said. He wondered how to phrase the news that he would also be back in London shortly and cursed Mrs Holmes when the word blossoming popped into his head and wouldn't leave.
"Soon, yeah. I'd really like to talk to Mrs Holmes, and it doesn't look likely to happen down here. At least I know where her office is, even if I'm not sure they'll let me in the building."
"She's gone already?"
"Haven't seen her myself. Mrs Hudson said she had an early breakfast and went off again. John-- Uh, Dr Watson--"
"John's fine. Really--fine, good." He didn't even know Lestrade's first name. One more item for the mental to do list.
"Right. John." Lestrade paused for a sip of coffee and to eye his toast like he had dark suspicions about it. "I know it's a bit of a trek to London for you, but if you ever-- I mean, your sister's there, right? So you'll back at some point and-- Would you like to get a coffee or something?"
John was usually the one doing the asking in situations like this. He got the feeling from that somewhat fumbling sentence that Lestrade was usually not. It made John feel absurdly warmed, and his answer was probably visible on his face even before he said, "I would really like that, yeah."
Not just a quick shag, then.
Just because he hadn't historically dated men (as opposed to fucking them) didn't mean he couldn't start. Harry would be smug as hell, but John could live with that. He was a bit worried about the scar, but if Lestrade could get past seeing him shoot a man in cold blood--no, that wasn't fair, but seeing him shoot a man on instinct was hardly better--he could probably get past the scar as well. If they were going to start with coffee, it would as least be less red by the time they got on to sex.
"Ah, it might be sooner than you think," John said.
"Coming back for Christmas?"
"Before that. She's-- Their mum's moving us to London. Soon. She wants them closer." She did, really, so it wasn't quite a lie. And John didn't want Lestrade thinking he'd orchestrated it because of anything to do with their blossoming romance.
Too late, he thought he should've told Lestrade that right off before any requests for coffee had been made. What if Lestrade only wanted something long distance, not something regular at all-- But Lestrade was grinning ear to ear, and John probably didn't need to worry about that.
"Oh," he said. "I've got something for you. In my trouser pocket."
Lestrade raised an eyebrow.
"Not-- Over there, on the chair, thank you! Go on."
Lestrade smirked went to extract the Ultimate Hunt leaflet John had filched from the stone hut. "What's this?"
"Hudson's grand plan. I thought you'd want to know."
Lestrade read it through, face growing still and tight. John had glanced through it before he went to sleep and confirmed what he had hoped were his overwrought and unlikely suspicions. Hudson had been kidnapping people--people who wouldn't be missed-- to serve as prey, and setting up hunts on the moor at night. The prices listed to join the party ran to six figures.
"The Land Rovers and the men with rifles," Lestrade said, voice flat.
"Yeah. I'd guess this Jim person was either his sponsor or his client."
"I suppose we'll never know now."
John hoped they wouldn't ever need to know. He could live with the mystery.
Mrs Holmes was having breakfast with Sherlock and Mycroft when John came down. He paused in the doorway to stare. This was not the scene he'd been expecting. He hadn't expected to see her at all, perhaps not until they were settled in London.
Lestrade was there too, watching the show. John settled into the seat next to him.
"A chemistry set," Sherlock was saying, with a look of great determination. "You said! You said anything I wanted."
"I did not. I said anything within reason."
"That doesn't mean anything! That just means you can say no whenever you want!"
John sipped the coffee Lestrade poured for him. He was looking forward to seeing how someone else, presumably with more expertise, handled Sherlock.
Mrs Holmes glanced at him and smiled. "It's up to John. He's the one who'll be living with the explosions."
Sherlock was out of his chair immediately and pulling on the sleeve of John's shirt. "Please?" he said. "Please please please? I wanted one forever. And not one of those ones for stupid little kids where you can't even make it do anything but turn colors, a real one!"
John was clearly going to need to get a lot better at saying no.
He sighed. "You're only to use it when I'm there. I mean actually in the same room. With a fire extinguisher."
Sherlock hugged his arm tightly, and John caught Mrs Holmes' very faint smile. He gave her a look that hopefully conveyed that he'd caught what she'd done there: sliding off not only responsibility but Sherlock's gratitude on him, as well. He would have to do something about that. As soon as he figured out what.
"And you?" she said, turning to Mycroft.
"I want the dogs," Mycroft said.
There was a brief silence.
John cleared his throat. "The dogs from the hut?"
"They were the ones that..."
"Yes, I know. Hudson told me all about it. In rather graphic detail. It wasn't their fault, though. Dogs do what they're trained to do, and they hunt what they're trained to hunt. They're going to be put down, aren't they?"
"That was my thought," Mrs Holmes said. "I doubt they're safe around people now."
"They could be retrained."
Mrs Holmes glanced at John, who held his hands up. "This one is all on you, sorry."
"I shall speak to a trainer," Mrs Holmes said, at last. "And then we'll see. If you don't want them put down, I can at least ensure that, but they may never make suitable pets."
"That's good enough. Thank you, Mummy."
"And you, Detective Inspector?" she said, a hint of humor in her voice.
"I would say this is rather above and beyond the call of duty. The least I can do is offer you some reward."
"I'd quite like all the stuff from the hut your people carted off so I'd have a chance of closing this case."
"That I cannot do."
"Then I'm fine, thanks."
"Hm. I'll have to see what I come up with on my own. John?"
"I've got everything I want," he said, and meant it. "Just don't make the flat in London too flash, all right?"
"Oh, you needn't worry about that."
"No, not there! The boxes are all labeled, why would you put the second bedroom boxes in the third bedroom? That makes no sense!"
John leaned against the horrible wallpaper and watched Mycroft berate the moving men. John had taken care of most of the arrangements for getting them and their things back to London, but Mycroft had snapped in the end and labeled every single box that left the Hall. When they'd arrived at 221b Baker Street, he proceeded to label the rooms as well. John found it rather oddly endearing.
Mrs Holmes had been true to her word. The flat was essentially the opposite of flash. He could almost afford it on his own. It was old and rather damp, with wallpaper that verged on the Lovecraftian. The kitchen appliances looked to have been made around the time John was born.
John had a room on the main floor of the flat. The big bedroom upstairs had recently been divided in two, thank god. John couldn't imagine that forcing Sherlock and Mycroft to share a room could end in anything less than grievous bodily harm and possibly a structure fire.
The basement flat, 221c, had been stripped of wallpaper, partitions, and black mold, and now housed their security detail. From the one glimpse John had got, it was already fully stocked with electronics, weapons, and men and woman in sharp black suits. Anthea was still with them, which John was glad of. Apart from being so obviously good at her job, Mycroft seemed rather attached to her.
Mrs Hudson had all of 221a, and, to John's surprise and delight, the deed to the building. She came up the stairs now, with a tray full of tea and sandwiches.
"Don't count on this all the time, dear," she said as she put it down. "I'm your landlady now, not your housekeeper, after all. Oh, and your young man's here."
She gave him a wink and disappeared down the stairs just as Lestrade came up them.
"Sandwich?" John said, waving one at him.
They sat on the sofa, ate cheese sandwiches and carrot sticks, and watched Mycroft sort out boxes. The movers were certainly paying him more heed since the dogs had arrived.
"Is that really them?" Lestrade said. "She got two dogs that look like them, right?"
John shrugged. He hoped so. It was probably better not to know. "They're very obedient."
They followed Mycroft's every command in a way that was almost eerie.
"...Yeah. So, I got the report back on those heart pills."
"They're fine. Perfectly normal. It doesn't mean all of them were fine, of course. There's no way to be sure without exhuming the body. Would you have time to get that coffee tomorrow?" Lestrade laughed and shook his head. "God, was that ever a bad lead-in to that question. Sorry. I've been thinking about it all morning."
John smiled and pushed their shoulders together. "Tomorrow's good. Mrs Hudson should be able to look after them for a bit."
Sherlock came down the stairs from his bedroom two at a time. He had two test tubes in his hands. "John! Look what I made!"
"I said only when I was with you!"
"You are with me," Sherlock said, and poured the contents of one in to mix with the other.
After the resulting cloud of violet smoke had cleared and the fire brigade been convinced that, truly, nothing was on fire, Lestrade volunteered to take them all out for hot chocolate.
"We'll be done by six," Mr Kimble said, waving to his men to come back up and start unpacking the kitchen. "Don't bring them back before then or I swear we'll leave it all on the doorstep and go."
John was happy to leave it all behind for an afternoon of watching Mycroft and Sherlock play with the dogs in the park. The warmth from the hot chocolate seeped through his gloves and warmed his hands.
It was quite peaceful until Mrs Holmes sat down next to him like she'd materialized out of thin air. John jumped half out of his skin.
"Good afternoon, John. Detective Inspector. Do you plan to request an exhumation?"
"What's that?" Sherlock said, popping up quite suddenly from behind the bench. John had been sure he was halfway across the park. A family trait, perhaps.
"The topic under discussion is whether Inspector Lestrade wants to remove your grandmother's body from her grave in order to determine how she died."
Sherlock frowned. "Her pills were okay?"
"True, but a faulty assumption," Mrs Holmes said. "The police might well want an exhumation if they were poisoned or otherwise altered."
Sherlock turned to Lestrade. "Is that right?"
"Yeah. More likely, in fact. Right now we've got no evidence it was anything but natural causes. And no," he said to Mrs Holmes. "We weren't planning on an exhumation request."
"Do you have any further evidence to offer, Sherlock?" she said.
He was silent a long time, eyes downcast.
"Her things in the attic," Mycroft said. "All four trunks open at once. It does suggest she realized Hudson was up to something. He would have no reason to open more than one, or to leave them open."
Sherlock shook his head. "That's not good enough, there's lots of reasons to explain that." He frowned at Mycroft. "You know all the reasons. Why are you trying to help?"
Mycroft hesitated. "Because I want you to be...satisfied. Regarding her death. I know you cared for her."
John held his breath, willing Sherlock to resist the temptation to say something horrible to his brother, just this once.
"Thank you," Sherlock said. Rather stiffly, but he said it.
"You're welcome." Mycroft looked as surprised as John felt.
Sherlock turned back to his mother. "I don't have anything else."
"Then there will be no exhumation."
"Don't you want to know?" Sherlock said.
She folded her hands together and closed her eyes for just a moment. "She was my mother. I would prefer not to have her body carved up by strangers. She is dead. Hudson is dead. Nothing will change that. And there are more important things than knowledge."
"Like what?" Sherlock looked deeply skeptical.
"That is something you'll have to learn on your own. It took me most of my life, but you might get it faster than I did. We'll see." She rose. "Have a pleasant afternoon."
"See you for dinner on Sunday," John said. "As we arranged."
She looked momentarily startled, which, as they hadn't arranged any such thing, was understandable. Her expression quickly shifted back to neutral as Mycroft said, "Are you really coming?"
Sherlock was watching her intently as well. One of the dogs put his head to one side and whined.
She gave John a somewhat strained smile. "Yes, of course. At six, I believe you said? And I will be happy to pick up your sister on the way. Please do let her know to expect me."
She was gone before John could respond, striding off across the grass toward a black car just pulling up at the edge of the park.
"Your sister's coming, too?" Sherlock said, looking far too happy about it for John's peace of mind.
"Come on," Mycroft said, tugging at his brother's sleeve. "Let's teach the dogs how to play dead."
"What for?" Sherlock said, but he did allow himself to be pulled along.
"So we can play Hannibal crossing the Alps. They can be the elephants."
John and Lestrade watched them run after the dogs across the lightly frosted grass. Lestrade was having a hard time keeping a straight face. John nudged him.
"You come, too. On Sunday. Share my pain."
"All right, if you like."
It was probably a bit intense for a second date, but if John hadn't scared Lestrade off himself, Harry was unlikely to manage it. And there would be a sort of buffer date of coffee and actual vaguely normal conversation between now and Sunday. That one should've come first, really.
"Do you think I should be worried that the two words Sherlock's learned since I started looking after them are autopsy and exhumation?"
Lestrade laughed out loud. "You can't blame yourself for that. One was my fault and the other was his mum's."
"Point. All right."
"What did he name them?" Lestrade nodded at the dogs. One was lying on the ground, quite still except for its wagging tail.
"Phobos and Demos." John had not been in the least surprised. In retrospect, it seemed inevitable.
"Fear and madness," Lestrade said, leaning back on the bench in the weak sunlight. "The dogs of War. That boy is not right."
None of us are, John thought, and smiled. "You like us though," he said aloud, and winced slightly. You like him, that was supposed to be.
"That I do," Lestrade said and draped an arm around his shoulders. It was much better than coffee.