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Mrs Hudson let Mycroft in and enveloped him in a tearful hug before he could extricate himself and make his way up to the stairs to 221B, where he paused briefly outside the door. He could hear the slightly-louder-than-talking-but-not quite-shouting tones of an argument that had clearly been going for some time. It could be about John’s predilection for terrible puns, or what Sherlock had left in the bread bin, but the odds were in favour of it relating to Sherlock’s return from the dead the day before. He schooled his face into impassiveness as he pushed open the door.

Sherlock was standing in the middle of the room facing John, who was sitting in his armchair with crossed arms and a stubborn expression. On seeing Mycroft he got up without saying a word and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Mycroft looked at Sherlock. He looked more upset than Mycroft had seen in a long time and still bore the signs of chronic exhaustion, but there was no sign of bruising. Mycroft raised an eyebrow as he slipped Sherlock a folded £20 note.

“Don’t think I’m getting away lightly just because he hasn’t hit me yet,” muttered Sherlock. “We’ve been talking about our feelings.”

Mycroft mentally congratulated John on a move well-played.

“I take it you’ve explained your reasoning?” he murmured.

“Of course!” hissed Sherlock. “Although it should have been perfectly obvious from the clues I left at the time.”

Mycroft regretted leaving his flashcards at the office. The one he used for the Foreign Secretary entitled ‘The acceptable proportion of an apology that may be made up of insults regarding the person to whom you are attempting to apologise’, complete with colourful pie-chart, would have been quite useful at this point in the conversation.

Instead he pulled a slim paper file from his overcoat pocket.

“Moran?” asked Sherlock at a normal volume so that John could hear. There was a rattle in the kitchen as John dropped the teaspoon, and Mycroft made a mental note to check the latest notes from John’s therapist regarding the tremor in his hand.

“Of course,” replied Mycroft, passing a slim paper file to Sherlock. Sherlock flung himself down on the sofa, flicked through it and frowned.

“I see,” he said. John came back round with three cups of tea, passing one to Mycroft but setting Sherlock’s down roughly so that some spilled.

“What’s happening?” he asked, leaning against the desk and blowing on his tea. Mycroft and Sherlock glanced at each other.

“I have brought Sherlock the intelligence report on Colonel Sebastian Moran,” said Mycroft. “Such as it is.”

“What’s the point of you running the government if you can’t access classified material?” asked Sherlock, glaring at Mycroft. “Half of his military career is blacked out.”

John frowned. “Moran? I don’t think you’ve mentioned him before.”

“The sniper Moriarty sent to kill you,” said Sherlock without looking up. John sipped his tea.

“Right. And you two are...?

“Not planning how to kill him in the most painful manner possible, unfortunately,” said Sherlock. Mycroft sighed, and lowered himself down to sit on the other end of the sofa.

“As you are very well aware, my powers are limited. Covering up murder does not fall within them, nor would I wish it to.” He looked at John. “Unlike Moriarty, Moran has no inherent bias towards criminality. He works primarily as a mercenary; indeed, he has worked for several governments in the past, including us. He might best be described as amoral, rather than immoral.”

“No morals, then,” said John. “Doesn’t sound like a very nice man.” Sherlock shifted in his seat. Mycroft glanced at him before continuing.

“Moran has access to a great deal of useful information, and Sherlock has managed to obtain enough evidence of his criminal activities to act as leverage. However, Moran has been reluctant to meet with us.”

“Why’s that then?” asked John.

“It appears that he doesn’t trust us,” Mycroft said with a small smile. John’s mouth twitched. “Which is where you come in.”

“Absolutely not,” said Sherlock, whipping his head round to stare at Mycroft. “It’s completely out of the question.”

“What is?” asked John, putting his mug down. Mycroft noticed that his hands were completely steady, and couldn’t help himself glancing round the room to check for weapons. His eyes met Sherlock’s doing the same thing, and they glared at each other for a moment before looking back at John.

“What my cretinous brother is suggesting is that you approach Moran on his behalf. As Moran knows your value to me, it would be seen as a gesture of faith,” spat Sherlock.

John pursed his lips. “I see. What happened to the others you sent to approach him?” Sherlock smirked at Mycroft, who raised an admonitory eyebrow before responding.

“They were incapacitated, but with no lasting damage. Needless to say, we would put considerable precautions in place to prevent any injury to you.”

John directed his next question to Mycroft. “And what’s to stop him using me as leverage? I mean, if he’s convinced I’m so valuable, why wouldn’t he use that in some way?”

Sherlock smirked again, but the smile dropped from his face when John didn’t pay any attention to it.

“As I said; considerable precautions,” said Mycroft.

John mulled this over for a moment. Sherlock looked at him for a moment, and frowned. “Well, obviously, we’re not going to do that. We’ll find another way to get to Moran, we’ll -“

“I take it you’ve already ruled out the option of, I don’t know, arresting him?”

Mycroft leant forward. “A very last resort. The information that Moran holds could save countless British lives; surely you can appreciate that?” John looked at Mycroft, then nodded.

“No,” said Sherlock. “You’re not going.”

“You don’t get to decide for me,” said John, crossing his arms. “Besides, how do you think you’re going to stop me? Handcuff me to the desk?” Sherlock’s face brightened and his eyes flicked to the desk drawer. John noticed, and moved away from the desk.

“Don’t actually handcuff me to anything, please.”

Sherlock scowled, and slumped back onto the sofa.

John turned to Mycroft. “I’ll do it.”

Mycroft stood up. “Thank you. I’ll return at nine o’clock.” He inclined his head towards each of them before letting himself out of the flat. He could hear the shouting start again as he walked down the stairs, and spared a moment to be grateful that they were both still alive and capable of arguing. And, more importantly, that Sherlock’s return to Baker Street meant that Mycroft would finally have his sewing room back.

.......................

They were driven to Moran’s location in one of Mycroft’s departmental cars. Sherlock sulked in a corner while Mycroft went over the details again with John.

“Won’t he think it a bit strange, being approached by a stranger?” asked John.

“Not at this particular bar, and by a man, no,” said Mycroft.

“Ah,” said John. He was silent for a moment. “And if he doesn’t want to come with me?”

“Then let him. You won’t need to say anything to him, other than some pleasantries for the sake of appearances; he will know what your presence implies. He will leave the bar immediately if he’s not interested. If he’s willing to talk to us, then he’ll leave the bar with you using whatever pretext you give him.”

“Hmm,” said John. “Clever man.”

“Yes. He is a player in this game of ours, after all,” said Mycroft.

“Not a pawn like me, then,” said John flatly. Sherlock froze, a warning to Mycroft not to tell John that he was the king of Sherlock’s game; weak, vulnerable, and the most important piece on the board, to be protected at all costs. Mycroft said nothing.

John stared out of the window, Sherlock stared at John, and Mycroft amused himself by musing idly on the nature of their relationship. As far as he could tell, John thought he was heterosexual and Sherlock was a celibate homosexual, Sherlock thought John was a repressed bisexual and he was asexual, and Mycroft thought they were both idiots.

“John,” said Sherlock in a hesitant voice. Mycroft kicked him gently to shut up, but Sherlock persisted. “John, you have to know that I did what I did to save you. If there’d been any other way -“

“No, I get it,” said John, still looking out of the window. “You couldn’t bear to go through the pain of losing your best friend -“

“Yes, exactly!”

“- so you thought you’d let me go through it instead. Very selfless of you.”

Both Holmes brothers winced, and Mycroft was struck by a sudden urge to call his mother. They continued the journey in silence.

.......................................

Mycroft and Sherlock settled themselves with one of Mycroft’s surveillance specialists in a room above the bar. They had a live video feed from the security cameras in the bar (secretly upgraded by Mycroft’s team the day before), and audio from John’s microphones.

They could see Moran sat at the bar with a half-drunk pint of beer. He was simply dressed in black jeans and a leather jacket, but his large hook nose, dark eyes and military short haircut gave him an intimidating appearance.

John entered the bar at the top of one of the screens, scanned the room, and walked over to stand next to Moran. Moran stiffened immediately, but John ignored him while he ordered a drink of his own. Only when he’d taken his first large swallow of whiskey did he turn to look at Moran.

“Long time, no see,” said Moran with a grin. His broad northern accent came across crystal-clear in their headphones.

“Too long,” said John with a hint of a smile. Mycroft was surprised; he’d expected John to be a mediocre actor at best. He raised an eyebrow at Sherlock, who shook his head and frowned at the screen.

“Keeping out of trouble?” asked John.

Moran shrugged. “More or less. Depending on the incentives.” He cast a sideway glance at John, who leant closer.

“Then I think you should probably come with me. So I can steer you in the right direction.”

Moran downed his drink in response. John knocked his back, and together they headed for the back door.

Mycroft breathed a sigh of relief. That hadn’t been exactly how he’d imagine it playing out, but now everything was back on tra-

There was a rustling sound and a stifled moan from one of the speakers. Sherlock had his hand halfway to the emergency button that would trigger the armed response before Mycroft held up a hand to signal him to wait. They could hear the swing of the toilet door, faintly wet noises of rough kissing, the rustle of clothes being moved, and then two thumps in rapid succession.

Mycroft glanced at Sherlock, who was watching the screens with wide eyes. There was nothing to see, as they hadn’t seen the need to cover the short corridor that led via the toilets to the back door, but every sound made the scene perfectly clear to a Holmes. He thought of remarking to Sherlock how good it was that John’s leg was clearly fine now, or that Moran would likely have a nasty bruise on the back of his head in the morning, but managed to restrain himself.

Mycroft reached his hand out to remove Sherlock’s headphones but got his hand smacked away. He glanced at the red-faced surveillance tech, who signed Well, this is awkward.

Indeed, Mycroft signed back, but hardly unprecedented. Think of 007. Would you be a dear and fetch the emergency brandy from the car? The tech crept out of the room with alacrity.

The slurping and moaning noises had been continuing throughout this silent exchange, and now stopped as John stood back up. There was some more rustling, and sounds of belt-buckles and zips being undone.

“Fuck me, John,” said Moran in a breathless voice as John chuckled. Mycroft hoped for a moment that he’d misheard the inflection and that it was an exclamation rather than a request, but the sound of hands slapping against the wall put paid to that.

The ensuing grunts and pants would have painted a graphic enough picture without the various sounds of flesh on flesh. Mycroft distracted himself by planning a suitably caustic dressing-down for the agents who’d managed to miss this connection out of both John’s and Moran’s reports, but he couldn’t stop his brain translating the slaps into thrusts, and the shift in angle and rhythm to John reaching round a hand to wank Moran off while fucking him. He breathed a sigh of relief when they both finally came with muffled grunts and tidied themselves back into their clothing. The technician returned with a small bottle of brandy and three glasses and Mycroft poured two large measures, passing one across the table to Sherlock and swallowing the other in one quick gulp.

Mycroft turned his attention back to the video screens and carefully avoided looking at Sherlock. He frowned when John and Moran didn’t appear in the screen covering the car park, then looked across and saw them re-entering the bar.

Sherlock picked up his phone and texted John, hitting the keys so hard that Mycroft thought they’d break. He leant across to see.

What are you doing? SH

On screen John had ordered two more drinks for him and Moran. Mycroft saw him lean down and check his phone before typing a response.

I’m trying my hand at interrogation. Think he’s starting to open up.

STOP IT NOW. SH

For the sake of Queen and country, am willing to have another crack at him.

Mycroft’s picking up the bill for the drinks, right?

Right?!

Your grammar is as appalling as your morals. LEAVE NOW. SH

That’s an interrobang. Which is, coincidentally, what I’ll be doing again in about half an hour’s time.

Sherlock made a pained noise and threw his phone at the wall. Mycroft rolled his eyes, not sure whether he was more impressed by John’s stamina or his punning. Either way, there were three clear implications.

Firstly, that the interrogation of Sebastian Moran was not going to be as difficult as he had feared.

Secondly, that if John could be kidnapped by a handsome man as easily as he was by a pretty woman, Mycroft’s staffing rota was going to be a lot simpler to draw up.

And thirdly, that (judging by the rate Sherlock was drinking) they were going to need a considerably bigger bottle of brandy.