There was something slightly off with the silence that descended over the car on the way back to Baker Street; something more than the occupants of the car digesting the suspiciously opportune reappearance of the late, unlamented James Moriarty. It wasn't just that Mycroft had insisted on driving them, having sent his assistant, the security flunky, and both drivers off to parts unknown in the other car. And somehow, it wasn't even that John's right hand was being clasped in his wife's trembling hands while his left hand was clasped tightly between both of Sherlock's.
John shifted uncomfortably in the middle seat and glanced at Sherlock, whose chin was resting on their entwined fingers, a posture that appeared to be considerably more difficult to maintain whilst sitting in a moving car than in his chair at 221b. As if sensing John's amusement, Sherlock released John's hand and pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket.
Mycroft sighed. “Do you really think that's wise?”
Sherlock continued tapping at his screen. “I suppose you have a better idea?”
“I thought that perhaps, under the circumstances, it might be expedient if you all were to-”
“You can't deny it would be safer for all parties involved,” said Mycroft, his eyes darting to John and Mary in the rear-view mirror.
“I can deny it, and I will.”
John sighed inwardly. Holmeses.
“Sorry, what's safer for whom?” asked John.
“My brother has graciously invited us on an all-expenses paid holiday to his unbearably pretentious flat, where he can keep us out of the public eye and under his,” said Sherlock.
Mycroft smiled thinly. “You have made your bed, brother dear. I'm afraid you have to lie in it.”
“Meanwhile, he conveniently forgets that the person or persons responsible for Moriarty's purported return are just as likely to seek revenge on him as any of us, and we would be doing them a favour by gathering in one place.”
“You can't have failed to notice that Moriarty's crude but effective display was timed to the minute of your departure,” said Mycroft. “That would indicate that you are his primary target, not myself.”
“Which indicates that the person or persons responsible have infiltrated your organisation, thus making your home the last place any of us should be. Besides, you're too late. I've already texted Mrs. Hudson that John and Mary will be staying with me at Baker Street. She'll have everything ready by the time we arrive.”
“For pity's sake, Sherlock-”
John had just taken a breath to stop the siblings' squabble when Mary spoke.
“I'll go,” she said.
Sherlock leaned forward to glare at her. “You won't.”
John felt Mary stiffen slightly at his side, but she squeezed his hand encouragingly. “I will. I'm not asking either of you to come with me, but Mycroft's right. It's safer with him, and I've got more than my own safety to think about.”
“Quite sensible of you,” said Mycroft.
“Shut up, Mycroft. John, are you just going to let him steal your wife?”
“He's not stealing me, Sherlock. I'm stealing myself. And sorry to say it, but your flat isn't the most defensible place in the world, should it come to that.”
“That's your professional opinion, is it?” asked Sherlock.
John felt the moment that Mary's trembling hand stilled.
“It is,” she said firmly. “And what's more, I don't think any of us should go to Baker Street. Sherlock, you should stay with John, and someone should warn Mrs. Hudson and the other tenants to get out for a few days. Say the place is being fumigated.”
“Someone has to be at Baker Street,” said Sherlock. “Moriarty does not operate by stealth; he would consider going into hiding boring and obvious. He wants the world to know his plans and be helpless to stop them. I should be there when he is ready to speak.”
“James Moriarty is dead,” said Mycroft, his knuckles white against the brown leather of the steering wheel. “I do not yet know who has engineered this spectacle, but you cannot presume that whomever is responsible will operate in the same manner as the man himself.”
“It's not so difficult to come back from the dead,” said Mary.
“Not if you have Mycroft's help,” muttered Sherlock.
“And what, pray, are you attempting to insinuate?” asked Mycroft, glaring into the rear-view mirror.
“Right, that's settled,” said John, clapping his hands together. “Sherlock goes to Baker Street, I go home, and Mary goes to Mycroft's. And you'd better take good care of her, or I'll kill you.”
“Don't be stupid, she'd kill him first,” said Sherlock.
“Enough,” said Mary, her voice sharp. “I'm sure everyone has more important things to think about than sniping at one another.”
“That's rather your area, isn't it?” said Sherlock.
John winced for Mary's reaction, but instead of offering Sherlock violence, she burst out laughing. “Touché ” she said, pointing her index finger at Sherlock and giving him a sunny smile.
“More important, indeed,” said Mycroft, giving Mary a thoughtful glance in the rear-view mirror before returning his eyes to the road.
“Not more fun, though,” said Sherlock.
“Shut up, Sherlock,” said John, failing to hide a smile as he pulled Mary's hand and Sherlock's hand together in his lap.
The silence that fell was a comfortable one, and it lasted the rest of the way back to Baker Street.
Mycroft knew that the rhythm his fingertips were drumming on the steering wheel was no less subtle in expressing impatience than Sherlock's weight-shifting dance on the pavement next to the car, but he didn't particularly care.
“I'll have them cancel your shifts,” said John.
“Already did,” said Mary, holding up her phone. “And I asked Sarah to take the Margie until this blows over, so if anything happens, you don't have to worry about her.”
“Couldn't you take her to Mycroft's?” said John.
“I'm allergic to cats,” said Mycroft, imagining what a bored feline might do to his favourite chair. Leave it to John to find a more destructive pet than Sherlock.
“No you're not,” said Sherlock and Mary in unison.
“What about your appointment on Tuesday?”
“I'll postpone it,” said Mary. “It's just a check-up, anyway. No tests that they haven't already done loads of times.”
“For someone concerned about snipers, you don't seem to mind being out in the open very much,” said Sherlock.
“I'll miss you too, Sherlock,” said Mary, wrinkling her nose at him. “Give my love to Mrs. Hudson before you send her off to her sister's, would you?”
“Of course,” said Sherlock, accepting her hug without the awkward expression he characteristically wore whilst enduring displays of affection.
Mycroft rolled his eyes. Apparently Sherlock had acquired a barracuda as well as a goldfish.
Mary pulled her husband into a kiss. “Bye, darling. Don't have too much fun while I'm away.”
“Wouldn't dream of it. Don't break the British government, even if he is a pain in the arse.”
She smiled. “I'll try. Ready, Mycroft?”
“I was ready twenty minutes ago” said Mycroft, holding the door open for Mary as John hailed a cab and Sherlock disappeared into 221b.
“Cheer up, Mycroft,” said Mary, waving as her husband rode away. “We can paint one another's toenails and tell ghost stories.”
Mycroft's eyes were on the road as he pulled into traffic. “There's no need to pretend for me, you know.”
Mary's smile dimmed a fraction. “What do you mean?”
“John might not have looked into AGRA, but you can be certain that I did.”
“I see,” said Mary. “So you believe that what you know of AGRA and what you know of Mary Watson are incompatible.”
Mycroft was impressed by how little she gave away. “Is there any other conclusion to be drawn?”
“You might ask John that, or your brother,” said Mary, effectively ending the line of discussion. “All right, so you don't want a pedicure. What do you want?“
“I thought you might wish to discuss the recent disaster in Washington.”
“I don't, thanks very much.”
“I saw one of your former colleagues testify before a Senate subcommittee on the matter,” said Mycroft.
That got a reaction. Or a telling lack of one, anyway. “I'd heard. But at this point, you know more about it than I do.”
“It's been five years.”
Mycroft's eyes narrowed. “Don't tell me you're not the least bit curious about whether what happened in Washington has anything to do with recent events.”
“I can't afford to be curious. Unless you have specific information about it, I'm going to assume that 'recent events' are no more than they appear to be. And wouldn't that be bad enough?”
“How well do you know the new director?”
“I don't. Can we please change the subject?”
“If you wish,” said Mycroft, well aware that his peevishness was audible. “Mrs. Hudson seemed glad to see my brother.”
“She wasn't in.”
Mycroft tutted. “The doorstep, Mary, the doorstep.”
“Anybody could have brushed it off.”
“And the doorknob?”
“Wiped, not polished. Someone compulsive. Or perhaps someone in gloves who wished not to leave fingerprints.”
“A most dramatic interpretation, but you're forgetting the music.”
“What about it?”
“Sherlock's favourite violin concerto was playing in the flat as we said our goodbyes. Who other than someone long inured to his tastes would put it on to welcome him home?”
Mary went very still. “Was it playing loudly enough to interfere with your audio surveillance on the flat?”
Mycroft frowned. “It's possible, but-”
“Stop the car,” said Mary flatly. “I need to go back to Baker Street.”
To his credit, Mycroft did as he was bid without question. He didn't even seem particularly surprised when Mary opened the glove box to retrieve the Glock within. She loaded the magazine mechanically, her face as still as a statue's.
“Do you require assistance?” asked Mycroft.
“No. The fewer people involved, the better,” said Mary. “Sherlock's not in any danger, not from his guest, anyway.”
Mary slid the pistol into her jacket pocket and pulled out her phone to text John. “I'm a big girl, Mycroft. And I am sorry. I was so looking forward to doing your toenails.”
Mycroft gave her a glacial smile. “Life is full of disappointments.”
Sherlock Holmes was rarely surprised, especially on his home turf, but the flat was spotless, Bartok's 2nd Violin Concerto was playing, and there was a large, one-eyed black man sitting in his chair.
“What-” he began, but the man put a finger to his lips and pointed to the bust of Paganini that Mycroft had given him one Christmas, which contained one of the bugs that Mycroft and his people used to monitor Sherlock's flat. Judging by the compression of the chair cushions, the man hadn't been there long, but in that time, he'd identified and foiled the audio monitoring on the flat, the visual monitoring as well, as the curtains and blinds were closed, and deduced Sherlock's favourite recording of his favourite piece. If this man wasn't a spy, he'd eat his ear hat.
Sherlock shot the man an irritated look and spread his hands interrogatively.
The man slid to his feet with a pantherlike grace which was belied by infinitesimal hitching in his motions, which suggested that he had recently suffered serious injury, but he bore the pain impassively. Shot several times, if he had to guess, which explained or partially explained the numerous, certainly illegal, firearms concealed by his long coat. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an ancient mobile flip phone that Sherlock eyed with disdain until the phone in his pocket buzzed.
His phone had automatically connected to a private network that Sherlock strongly suspected was emanating from his guest's mobile. This confirmed Sherlock's working hypothesis that the man was not only a spy, but a very dangerous, very well-financed one. All he needed to know was for whom and for what reason he was currently here. The most obvious answer was, of course, for him. This man's agency would not be the first who had sought his help.
The man handed Sherlock a battered-looking pair of earbuds, first generation with a mediocre microphone embedded in the cord and proceeded to attach a pair to his own mobile. He began to speak too quietly to be heard over the music and gestured for Sherlock to put in the earbuds. The moment Sherlock inserted them, he heard the man's voice in his ears as clearly as if he had been speaking into his ear in a perfectly silent room- another remarkable piece of tech disguised as something mundane.
“...yet? How about now? I know you're probably hearing me, so just give me a wave if you do. Yes, that's right. Good. Now, have a seat, and we'll talk.”
Sherlock was tempted to protest, but there was something about the man that brooked no nonsense. Instead, he took the opportunity to analyse the man's voice- unambiguously American, authoritative, used to being followed- and sink down in John's chair. “Who are you?”
The man settled back into Sherlock's chair and threaded his fingers across his chest. “Call me Ezekiel. Now, Mr. Holmes, I know you've already deduced a damned sight more than I feel strictly comfortable revealing, but I have overcome my natural reticence because I know you possess some information that I need.”
“And what is this information worth to you?”
“My undying gratitude,” said Ezekiel, sitting forward.
“You have my attention,” said Sherlock.
“I need to find this woman,” said Ezekiel, holding out a photograph of Mary Watson. The photo was at least ten years old, and her hair was a deep auburn that suited her far better than the blonde she wore now, but despite the lithe, muscled physique that Sherlock knew she no longer possessed, it was undoubtedly her. The winsome, weary eyes were the same, though without the laugh lines he so often saw on display. He wondered if she still had the leather catsuit.
Sherlock gazed at the photograph for a few more moments, though he could glean little from it, apart from the fact that Mary clearly had martial arts training and that she had done considerably more than assassinations for the people who had financed the photograph, which was no mere mug shot- it had been taken in a studio by a professional photographer.
That, and the contrast between the colours at the edge of the photograph and the centre suggested that the photo had been displayed for several years under clear glass on a wall opposite a south-facing window, though not for the duration of its existence. Moved to a file, perhaps, and it had suffered from rough handling as of late, from the creased corners and compressed edges. Ezekiel had taken it and was himself on the run, or at least, in a more vulnerable position than he cared to be in.
Sherlock met Ezekiel's eye. “For what purpose do you wish to find her?”
“I think that's between her and me,” said Ezekiel.
“It may seem that way to you as her former employer,” said Sherlock, “but as someone who is currently her friend, I don't see it that way at all.”
Ezekiel sprang to his feet. “What the hell do you know about it?”
“Merely what I have deduced,” said Sherlock. “I don't know what American agency she worked for, and I don't particularly care, but I would like to know your intentions towards my friend. Then, perhaps, I may be able to help you.”
Had Ezekiel been wearing spectacles, he would have been staring over the frames at Sherlock. “You seriously don't know.”
“It's irrelevant,” said Sherlock, “as are these precautions. My brother and his people already know you're here. If they were concerned, we would have been interrupted by now.”
Sherlock kept an eye on Ezekiel as he removed the earbuds and rose to turn off the music.
Ezekiel looked none too pleased, but he made no move to stop Sherlock.
“If I wanted her dead, you know she'd be dead.”
“Perhaps,” said Sherlock, handing the earbuds back to Ezekiel. “She's rather resourceful, you know.”
“Yes,” said Ezekiel, enunciating the consonants deliberately. “That is why I am trying to find her.”
“You want her to work for you again. I'm sure that's something else my brother knows.”
“Then your brother will also know how much we need her,” said Ezekiel.
“I don't think she'll be interested.”
“I think that's for her to decide.”
“She has,” came a voice from the doorway. Mary stood there with a handgun pointed at Ezekiel's head. “She wants to know what part of 'I'm retired' failed to penetrate.”
Ezekiel's eye widened at the sight of Mary's heavily pregnant form. “Whoa, mama,” he said, awestruck, though he quickly recovered. “The hell? That's not even supposed to be possible!”
Sherlock frowned. There were no reputable American agencies that restricted their employees' fertility, unless it was done prior to her arrival there.
“Amazing the things one picks up learning to be a nurse,” said Mary. Sherlock detected more than a hint of an American accent, with a touch of something Slavic in the alveolar consonants. Very interesting. Perhaps she’d been Russian black ops?
Ezekiel ran his palm over his head. “Well, shit. This puts a bit of a damper on my plan to take you shopping in Belgrade.”
“No shopping for me, unless Belgrade has a maternity section,” said Mary. “How did you find me?”
“Engagement announcement,” said Ezekiel. “Cross referenced lifestyle news with records of the appropriately-aged deceased and spent an inordinate amount of time sorting through the list. I didn't share my findings with anybody else.”
This man still had respect for old-fashioned spycraft. Sherlock was becoming more interested in his guest with every word.
Mary sighed. “I told John I didn't want anything in the papers.”
“His mother put it in their hometown newspaper. Not exactly the Times of London. You weren't an easy woman to find...” Ezekiel let his voice trail off interrogatively. A polite, if not entirely deferential request to know what she preferred to be called. Undoubtedly a significant olive branch.
Mary lowered the handgun and sighed. “Mary. Mary Watson.”
Ezekiel rose and offered her Sherlock's chair, which she sank into gratefully, massaging her forehead with her fingertips.
“All right, Nick. What do you want?”
Ezekiel's eye darted in Sherlock's direction and cleared his throat.
Mary met Sherlock's eye for a moment, then pursed her lips. “Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of him.”
“And the brother?”
“I asked him not to intervene,” said Mary.
Ezekiel scowled. “And you think he won't?”
“I don't think it matters,” came another voice from the doorway, where John stood with his service revolver trained on Ezekiel's head.
Sherlock ruthlessly suppressed a bark of laughter.
“And this must be the husband,” said Ezekiel, with an amused glance at Mary. “I get what you see in him.”
“It's all right, John,” said Mary. “He's an old friend.”
John looked adorably baffled but lowered his weapon. “I didn't know you had those.”
Mary gave him a half-smile. “Neither did I.”
“Now, if we're not expecting anyone else-” began Ezekiel.
“Yoo hoo!” trilled Mrs. Hudson's voice from the corridor. “Tea!”
Mary began to giggle.
“I'm glad you’re finding humour in the situation,” said Ezekiel, who clearly did not.
“Terribly sorry to interrupt when you're working,” said Mrs. Hudson, bustling in with a tray laden with tea things, “but I'm popping round the shops later and wanted to see if you needed anything.”
She went on chattering blithely as set the tray on the table and poured the tea, delivering a cup to each person in turn. “I'm so glad you decided to stay, Sherlock, the place wouldn't be the same without you. John, you're looking well, considering. Mary, you look so tired. You must be sure to rest, because heaven knows you won't get much for the next couple of years. Goodness, two pistols? This has been an exciting day! And you must be the client!”
To Sherlock's horror, Mrs. Hudson blatantly looked Ezekiel over from head to foot, her gaze lingering on the empty ring finger of his left hand. “Well, once our Sherlock has sorted everything, luv, feel free to stop by for a nice, hot cup.”
She gave him a saucy smile and practically kicked her heels as she cast a breezy “Ta ta!” over her shoulder.
Had Ezekiel been less self-possessed, Sherlock suspected he would be agape.
Sherlock felt a laugh building somewhere around his solar plexus, but instead he caught Mary's eye. “We could call Lestrade and Molly if you like,” he said, letting amusement lift the corner of his mouth.
“Hell no,” said Ezekiel, finding his voice once more. “Do you really want to have this conversation like this?” he asked Mary.
She wasn't laughing any longer, but a smile lingered in her eyes as she looked at Sherlock and John in turn. “Yeah,” she said, as John came to sit on the arm of her chair. “Yeah, I do. But first things first.”
Mary raised her gun and neatly shot the bust of Paganini, a stuffed cormorant, and volume H of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 7th edition, thus destroying all of Mycroft's bugs in the main room.
“John, Sherlock,” said Mary, snapping on the safety and setting the gun on her thigh, “this is Nick Fury, director of SHIELD.” She took John's hand and looked composedly at Fury. “Now, what was it that you wanted to discuss?”
Fury sighed through his nose and shook his head, a familiar gesture that made a tiny part of Mary's heart that she had carefully locked away throb.
“You've been following the news out of Washington?” he asked.
“I'd been avoiding it, but yes.” Mary caught John's eye. Of course, he followed the news, but Sherlock lived in his own little world.
“They’ve been in the news, haven’t they?” asked John, glancing at Sherlock. “Got infiltrated by a bunch of neo-Nazis?”
Mary smiled at him. “Got it in one. SHIELD investigates weird things and keeps the world safe, HYDRA, the Nazis, pops up periodically and tries to conquer it. Their recent effort failed, but it left SHIELD is in tatters, and Director Fury, sorry, the late Director Fury, is secretly trying to put it all back together again.”
“Am I the only person in this room who hasn't faked his or her own death?” asked John.
“One of your many charms,” said Mary.
Fury's face was still grim. “Am I also correct in assuming that our little infestation was the reason for your damn inconvenient departure five years ago?”
Mary felt her face assume the blank expression she hadn't used in five years, which concealed a flare of irritation at Fury. “I don't know, was it?”
“If it was Sitwell or Pierce, then yes.”
Mary pursed her lips. Pierce had always been a slime, but she'd gone through training with Sitwell. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but she wouldn't have guessed he was HYDRA. “What about Hand?”
“No,” said Fury, his voice tight. “Just a hard-ass to the end.”
Mary swallowed. Victoria Hand might not have been friendly, but she was smart and capable, and Mary thought she'd be running SHIELD one day. “I'm sorry.”
“Yeah, so are a lot of us,” said Fury.
Mary mulled this over for a moment. “Hand must have suspected something. She started treating me oddly after the Tirana mission, and that's what tipped me off that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. I never suspected it was HYDRA,” she said, catching Fury's eye ruefully. “I just thought it was more of the same.”
Sherlock suddenly sat forward in his chair. “AGRA,” he said. “Arachnid.”
She felt a flare of instinctual panic, which quickly faded into admiration. How on earth had he guessed?
“He doesn't know?” asked Fury, his voice rising to indicate warning levels of displeasure. “You ask me to involve him in our business, and he doesn't even know?”
“He knows everything important,” said Mary, pitching her voice to match Fury's for carrying threat.
Fury's mouth thinned at John's look of befuddlement, and he gave her the look that made her feel five years old. “So you don't think the fact that you were the Black Widow is relevant information for them to know?”
John blinked. “What's the Black Widow? I mean, besides a spider.”
“Really, John, she's only one of the great legends in intelligence circles,” said Sherlock. “Assassin. Spy. Femme fatale of the first water.”
“Huh,” said John mildly, squeezing Mary's shoulder. “That explains the tattoo.”
If she wasn't already married to him, she would have proposed then and there. “You idiot,” said Mary, kissing his hand.
“However, despite the rumours of various biological modifications, I don't believe you're seventy years old,” said Sherlock.
“There was a program,” said Fury, who sounded somewhat put out that his revelation had generated so little response. “The Russians grabbed a bunch of girl orphans, fed them, housed them, and trained them up into good little spies and assassins. But, to their dismay, they found that false memories and brainwashing don't exactly inspire long-term loyalty. SHIELD had an initiative, operation Arachnid Ghost, specifically aimed at getting the little spiders to defect. We succeeded with ten and even recruited four of those to work for us on a freelance basis.”
”Arachnid Ghost,” said John. “A.G., but what’s R.A?”
“Romanov, Anastasia,” said Sherlock. “The surname was easy,” he said, after a moment’s pause to savour their looks of disbelief. “All the Black Widows have had similar surnames in order to sound properly Russian. It’s not so rare a name that it would be remarked upon.”
“At least not until I told SHIELD,” said Mary.
“After that, spider identification got much easier,” said Fury. “Dumb asses.”
“Did they ever figure it out?” asked Mary. “That we knew?”
“I think the current Black Widow sent them a telegram informing them the day the program was terminated,” said Fury.
Mary smiled. “It's a shame our years of training didn't overlap- I think I'd have liked her.”
“I will do everything in my not inconsiderable power to prevent you two from ever meeting,” said Nick, shuddering.
“Don't be melodramatic,” said Mary. “And for god's sake, sit down and have a biscuit.”
Fury scowled, but sat down on the sofa and doubtfully took a bite of Jaffa cake. His glower lessened somewhat as he chewed. “This is a tasty biscuit.”
“They're especially good with tea,” said Mary, sighing inwardly. Fury was even more discursive when his blood sugar was low. Perhaps now he'd actually get around to saying what he came to say.
As if reading her mind, Sherlock sat back in John's squashy chair and crossed his legs. “The excellence of Mrs. Hudson's tea notwithstanding, there is still the question of what exactly you wish Mary to do.”
“I'm getting there,” said Fury, sipping his tea. “It's not my fault your ass is so far behind the times.”
“I knew she was the Black Widow the day I woke up in hospital after she shot me,” said Sherlock. “Given her skill set, it was the only logical conclusion. It was only the first half of AGRA that remained mysterious.”
“Hang on, you knew and didn't tell me?” asked John.
“You didn't even know who Black Widow was,” said Sherlock.
“I might have done!”
“She told me not to tell you anything. At the time, I was more wary of her than I was of you. Besides, I did let you in on the salient your-wife-is-an-assassin part.”
“Yes, and it was cleverly done,” said Mary in a patronising tone calculated to distract Sherlock from bickering with her husband. “And you were actually right.”
“Actually?” repeated Sherlock, sounding disgruntled.
“Shut up, Sherlock,” said John, giving one of the little half smiles Mary adored.
Mary sat back in Sherlock's chair to accommodate the baby, who was now awake and testing the structural integrity of her bladder. “Now that you've conveniently laid all my cards on the table for me, how about giving me the actual information I'm going to need before deciding to help you?”
Fury set down his cup, laced his fingers together, and leaned forward with the air of a soldier making a difficult report to his CO. “We have five bases under our control, seven or eight senior agents and their teams that I can trust, and the rainy day stockpile. Not to mention Congress is on our ass.”
Mary winced. “Liabilities?”
“They might have raided the Fridge,” said Fury.
Mary exhaled slowly and silently. Of course he'd saved that detail for last. Mycroft's question about SHIELD's fall being involved in Moriarty's return seemed annoyingly prescient in light of this particular revelation. “Did they leave anything behind?”
“We're currently putting together a list,” said Fury.
“So you don't know who's running three-quarters of your bases, Hydra's plundered our biggest repository of dangerous alien tech, they've released SHIELD's most notorious and super-powered detainees, and you've got maybe seventy reliable people out of thousands who are all going to have their hands full cleaning up. I'm glad you have faith in my talents, Nick, but this is kind of a tall order.”
Fury held up his hands in defeat. “Cap's taken over special ops and placating the politicians, Hill's back on recruitment and tactical, and Coulson's overseeing the clean-up. Paperwork- that's all I'm asking you to do.”
That sounded suspiciously reasonable. “Paperwork and...?”
“I want you to look at everything that Sitwell and Pierce had a hand in. Anything that has even a whiff of snake to it. Follow the funding. See if there's any kind of pattern.”
“Or a vector,” said Mary.
“The fact of the matter is that we don't have the first fucking clue. The Fridge inventory, while helpful for the field agents, is just a distraction from the larger game. What I need to know is what Hydra was developing at the same time as they were having us build their airborne death rays. Because killing everybody they don't like- that's not the end. That's a means to one.”
Mary folded her hands atop her stomach, which resulted in a fluttering kick from the child within. “I can offer you nine weeks, take it or leave it. Part-time, otherwise they won't keep giving me shifts at the clinic. Besides, John and I have some important preparations to make, and Sherlock will want to repaint the nursery at least once more.”
“It's not my fault you refuse to disclose the sex of the infant,” said Sherlock.
“It's not my fault you cling to outdated notions of gender representation,” said Mary.
John cleared his throat, which shut them both up.
Fury might have been through the wringer, but his ears were as sharp for negotiations as they ever were. “Your terms?”
“Sherlock, be a darling and fetch Nick your file on Richard Brook.”
If Sherlock was surprised by this request, he made no sign of it as he rose and pulled a stack of papers, photographs, and newsprint from a nearby pile and handed it to Fury.
Fury glanced through the contents of the pile. “I take it this person is responsible for more than a vaguely disturbing children's TV show?”
“James Moriarty,” said Sherlock. “Consulting criminal mastermind who shot himself in front of me but has somehow sent us a message from beyond the grave.”
Fury smirked. “It's not so difficult, coming-”
“-back from the dead, yes,” said Sherlock. “I'm aware of that. But this bears none of the hallmarks. The body wasn't conveniently moved, the way mine was when I made the world believe I was dead. I witnessed the autopsy, and he was perfectly recognisable, unlike the time I made a friend's enemies believe she was dead. I probed the hole in the back of his head with my own fingers. If his death wasn't real, I doubt my own senses. His apparent return is of great interest to myself and other parties.”
Only someone who knew Fury as well as Mary did would have recognised the bland expression on his face as concern. “I'll look into it,” said Fury, taking the papers from Sherlock and tucking them under his arm. “Anything else?”
“Permission to let John and Sherlock assist me,” said Mary
Mary gave Nick her best approximation of the naughty five-year-old glare. “They're my team, Nick. You always said that people who have faith in their team can accomplish more than any of them alone.”
“Of all the wisdom I spouted over the years, that was your take away? I meant a team of trained agents, not a bunch of goddamn civilians.”
“They're hardly civilians,” said Mary, frowning. “Exactly what is your problem with them?”
“They are unknown quantities,” said Fury. “Unknown quantities are what got us into this situation.”
“Unknown only to you,” said Mary, fully aware that she was letting her anger get the better of her. “You came to me because I realised something was wrong with SHIELD before you did and I got out. You don't get to barge into my life and question my judgement about my team, and you absolutely do not get to demean their years of service, especially when you're asking me to do you an enormous fucking favour. So you can accept our help- all of our help- something you clearly don't grasp the value of or you'd be kissing my feet right now, or you can go fuck yourself. The choice is yours.”
Mary struggled to her feet, tucked the pistol into the back of her trousers, and gave Fury her iciest glare. “Now if you'll excuse me, I really need to pee.”
She stomped into the loo and let the door slam behind her for good measure.
When she returned to the room a few minutes later, John was rinsing out a teacup in the kitchen and Sherlock and Fury were by the fireplace in quiet discussion. Or as quiet as Fury got, anyway. Mary smiled at the abundance of expletives as she leaned up on her tiptoes and kissed John's cheek. He turned his face and pressed his lips tenderly to hers. Mary felt the tension in her shoulders drain away.
“You okay with this?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Mary, smiling. “You?”
“I just don't know what kind of help I'm going to be,” said John.
She kissed him and began to rub circles into his lower back. “Look at it from a strategic standpoint. Each of us brings a necessary knowledge set to the table. I know the intelligence game and how to kill a man with my big toe. Sherlock can look at a data set and instinctively see deviations in patterns without necessarily knowing why it's important. But you, my love, you have invaluable insight into how HYDRA thinks and functions.”
This startled a laugh out of John. “Thanks?”
“You speak military bureaucracy like I speak Russian, which, trust me, is fluent and indescribably sexy. HYDRA is, underneath it all, a military organisation with all the rules, regulations, and hierarchies that go with it. If we're going to find any weaknesses, we need someone who will know where to go looking for them. We need you, darling. We need you very much.”
Mary felt his acquiescence in the muscles of his lower back before he sighed. “Does anybody ever say no to you?”
“No,” said Mary. “But that's because I don't start arguments I can't win.”
“Nastya!” shouted Fury. “Shit. Mary. Whoever the fuck you are. Explain to this asshole why he cannot have his own phone.”
“Sherlock likes it you when you pull rank, too,” whispered Mary in John's ear as she squeezed his right buttock and padded back to the main room.
“Mary, please inform this gentleman how I work,” said Sherlock stiffly. “I require access to my clients by some means. Obviously, you're a man accustomed to secrecy, so contacting you over any commercial phone or data plan is out of the question. The obvious answer is to give me a phone that's tied specifically to SHIELD's wireless networks.”
“So you can hack into them,” said Fury, sounding unimpressed. “I don't think so.”
“Sherlock, I can promise you full access to your client,” said Mary, “because I'm your client, not Director Fury.”
Sherlock opened his mouth to protest and abruptly shut it. “Ex-Director,” he said sulkily.
Fury gave Sherlock a smug look. “Give me your phone,” he said to Mary.
“So you can hack into it?” she asked, fetching it from the coat she'd thrown across the back of a chair, unlocking it, and handing it to Fury.
“Oh, I'm sorry,” said Fury, with sarcastic politeness. “Will this interfere with the other secret organisations whose apps you've installed?”
“Oh, so you think Words With the NSA has a nefarious purpose?” said Mary.
Fury snorted, and handed the mobile back to Mary a minute later. “This is how to request additional information.”
“Really?” said Mary, glancing at the app Fury had installed on her phone. “Snapchat?”
“A modified version,” said Fury. “And none of that sexting shit. We get enough of that from the Avengers initiative.”
“I'll try to control myself,” said Mary. “What about ultrasounds?”
Fury gave her a warning look that made her want to giggle. “No. Any questions?”
Mary glanced at John and Sherlock, who appeared to be amused and resigned, respectively. “I think I have everything I need.”
“You will share what you find about Moriarty,” said Sherlock. “Even if it's something inconvenient.”
“It's on the to-do list,” said Fury impatiently. “Is class dismissed?”
“For today,” said Mary. “Good luck, Nick.”
He favoured her with a silent nod as he swept down the hallway and into Sherlock's bedroom.
“Um,” said John.
“He's leaving by the roof,” said Sherlock. “Sensible. Are you all right?” he asked Mary, offering her his arm as she sank gratefully down in John's chair.
“I'm fine,” said Mary. “Thank you. Both of you.”
“Think nothing of it,” said Sherlock, pulling his buzzing mobile out of his pocket and glanced at the screen. “Mycroft wants to know if I'll accept a private Gil Shaham recital in exchange for details about our recent conversation.”
“I hope you told him to sod off,” said John.
“Of course not,” said Sherlock. “Shaham has flawless technique and impeccable taste. You'll both be quite taken with his playing, I assure you.”
“What'll you tell Mycroft?” asked Mary.
Sherlock smiled, the first proper smile Mary had seen on his face since before their confrontation at Magnussen's.
“I'm sure we'll think of something.”
Mary's mobile phone buzzed.
Do I want to know why MI6 is in Greenwich looking for shit Coulson's team picked up months ago?
“Sherlock,” called Mary, seizing the opportunity to stretch her arms over her head, which released a startling cacophony of popping sounds. “Did you send your brother on another wild goose chase?”
Sherlock's eyes were fixed on the wall, where the three of them had pinned numerous pictures, maps, documents, and pieces of string linking the disparate elements. “I might have let something slip when he was moaning about having missed Shaham play his favourite partitia while he was too busy chasing down another cold lead.”
“A cold lead you put him on so you wouldn't have to share the private recital? He will stop believing you at some point.”
“Not as long as we have you,” said Sherlock, tearing his eyes from the wall and giving her the terrifying smile she loved and he probably knew she loved.
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” she said, lurching to her feet with the help of the kitchen table. The third trimester was truly not for the faint of heart. Or the vain. “Now, smile for Nick.”
Mary snapped a picture of Sherlock’s truly alarming grin and sent it to Fury.
“You're both awfully quiet over here,” said Mary, glancing at her husband, who was frowning at his laptop. “Anything I can help with?”
“What's the most powerful weapon that was stored in the Fridge?” asked John.
“Why would a Prussian style himself as a Spaniard?” asked Sherlock.
“That depends on your goal, love,” said Mary. “Do you want to blow up the earth? Do you want to raise an army of clones on Mars? It all depends.”
“His occipital condyles scream of Baltic descent. Besides, he doesn't even look Spanish.”
“If I wanted something to use in battle that would make me unstoppable one-on-one,” said John.
“Something Asgardian, maybe,” said Mary. “They get off on the whole honour-in-combat thing. And Nazis adore Norse myth.”
Mary's phone buzzed. Fury had sent a selfie of himself looking less than amused.
She responded. I just screencapped that and texted it to Mrs. Hudson
The hell you did.
Not my fault you modified the buggy version of Snapchat.
“Sorry, Sherlock. Who's this Prussian?” asked Mary.
“You do realise that Prussia isn't a place anymore,” said John.
“Don Guy Antonio Caballero,” said Sherlock, rolling the r dramatically.
“The philantrhopsit who gave all that money to Ormond Street?” asked John.
“Nobody becomes that wealthy and remains this insufferably clean,” said Sherlock. “If you're looking for suspicious characters, he is where I would start.”
“So billionaire philanthropists are our target? As if Nick needs a reason to be a pain in Tony Stark's arse,”said Mary, typing into her phone.
Things We Are Suspicious of Today: Asgardian artifacts from the Fridge, particularly those used in hand-to-hand combat, and Don Guy Antonio Caballero.
Thank you. Give Sherlock the phone now.
Mary frowned as the message disappeared. “Fury wants you,” she said, handing her mobile to Sherlock.
The mobile buzzed, Sherlock tapped the screen, and his jaw dropped.
“You all right, mate?” John closed the lid of his laptop and went to Sherlock's side.
Mary, equally surprised by Sherlock's reaction, followed suit and attempted to look over his shoulder. Unfortunately, whatever had so powerfully affected Sherlock had already disappeared. “Fury didn't send you one of his pictures of Clint Barton's ass, did he?”
Sherlock was silent for long enough to make Mary nervous, and then suddenly stood up, pumped his fists in the air and shouted, “I KNEW IT!”
John and Mary exchanged glances.
“Moriarty never played the game,” said Sherlock, his eyes ablaze. “He cheated!”
Several things slid into place in Mary's brain. “He has regenerative powers.”
“Oh no, they brought him back to life using some unknown method,” said Sherlock flapping his hand dismissively. “It doesn't matter. What matters is that he has telepathic abilities! Every meeting he engineered with me, every challenge he sent, it was all meant to make me think we were two sides of the same coin. He may be a psychopath, but ultimately, he is a narcissist. He built an empire based on his hidden powers, and he couldn't stand seeing me, who lacked his gifts, close at his heels. For all his quixotic bravado, wanted to be me, and when he couldn't, he cheated.”
“Wow,” said Mary. “That's egocentric.”
“You get used to it,” said John.
You broke Sherlock.He's pacing he room moaning about how having telepathic powers is cheating.
Pics or it didn't happen
Mary sidled up to John, kissed his cheek, and snapped a couple of selfies. The one she sent to Fury featured Sherlock in the background with his arms raised, clearly mid-rant, and herself laughing as John nibbled on her ear.
Your team has officially replaced Clint Barton's ass at the top of my list of Things I Do Not Want To See. Ever. Also, I'm sending that shit to Stark.
Do I really need to threaten you with death?
Just shitting you. Coulson's on Moriarty's recapture once they're done with whatever the hell they're doing now.
Mary hummed in satisfaction. Much obliged.
I don't suppose there's anything I could say to induce you all keep this up beyond the agreed nine weeks.
Mary smiled in spite of herself. You're sweet. Ask me again in eighteen years.
You could just say no.
Mary snorted. As if you ever take no for an answer.
That's because I only ask for what I know people desperately want to give me.
Mary glanced at her husband trailing Sherlock, attempting to deflate his diatribe and snickered.
That's what he said.
Fucker. Good to have you back.