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Off on the Wrong Foot

Chapter Text

"I need a job." John will go insane otherwise.

Mike Stamford asks, "Locum work?"

"Anything. I need to get out of my flat."

"You still in a hotel?"

The answer is no. John is not in a hotel. Despite the fact that he has heard not a blip from Ministry Intelligence, he has somehow been gifted with a two-bedroom gorgeous flat in Soho. The rent is a pittance of the market rate and affordable even on his paltry pension. It's beautiful. It's lovely. A balcony, even.

John wants to shred the walls.

"I need a job," he repeats.

"Well, there's something at Bart’s." Mike rubs his chin. "But it's a nasty business."

"Nastier than war?"

"It's in the morgue," Mike says carefully.

John will take dead bodies over endless ear infections and no, you cannot have antibiotics for a viral infection lectures any day. "Pathology work?"

"I don't know if you've been following the papers, but there's been a massive influx of cadavers, and Bart's has taken the bulk. They need someone to assist with the autopsies."

John has been avoiding the papers, not wanting to see the names of dead friends listed on the rolls. Still, he's not sure that he heard Mike right. "A massive influx of cadavers?"

"Almost all unknown persons. They're having a hell of a time getting them sorted."

“Wait? Where are they finding the bodies? Where are they coming from?”

“Everywhere! Roadsides. Sitting on park benches. Staged in shop windows like mannequins. Some were donated to science. Others were stolen from funeral homes. Grave robbery. There’ve been a few oldies that were missing persons. Some, they suspect are murder victims or accidental drownings. It’s giving the Yard a hell of a time.” Mike chuckles, as if he’s replaying a recent memory in his mind.

“So they need a surgical assist with the autopsies?”

“Yeah, plus the tests for identification and the like.” Mike is watching his face. “You’re interested, then?”

“I am.”

Mike stands. “Come with me. I’ll introduce you to Molly Hooper, Bart’s lead pathologist, and I’ll bet my hat that she’ll be very happy to see you.”

-

John's memory of the incident has all the weight of a rowboat in a hurricane. That is to say, mostly he remembers men charging in through doorways like ocean waves.

7 o'clock.

2 o'clock.

Glass spraying from the upper window.

John pushes Farid to the floor. Farid is the man he's in charge of. The mission: get Farid Shaheen to his meeting and then return him to base. Lives, fortunes, the future of Britain—it all depends on Farid.

Farid will die. The mission will be a failure.

But first, before all is lost, John is fighting back. He fires and takes out three men in four seconds. That's why he was chosen for this op. Because he's as good with a scalpel as he is with a gun.

The attackers fall like flies.

It's not just him that's firing. He's got Colt and Sam at his back. Farid is ducked in the middle of their makeshift triangle behind a couch, a piano, and a desk.

The funny bit is that everything seems okay until it isn't. The copter radios in, and the onslaught slows enough that they decide to break for the hallway. There is a noisy idiot with a knife, sure, but John puts a bullet in his temple before he can extend his elbow to thrust.

Outside, the copter is in position. Bill is hanging out the side, gun ready to give them cover.

It's when he turns back to signal that he sees Farid slumped on the wall. Blood is gushing from his throat. Fatal. Five seconds.

Colt is farther down the wall, a red stain painting over the sand-camo pattern. John blinks once, twice. There's movement from his left, enough that he dodges, but then—there—then the pain rips through his shoulder.

Through the fog of agony, John gazes into blue eyes that flash a smile. His gun slips from his fingers. It clatters to the floor. Like a madman, John stumbles toward the copter.

Around him, gunfire sings with laughter and snaps with death.

He thinks it's his own.

-

Molly Hooper gives him a tremulous smile before fixing her gaze determinedly on Mike Stamford as he explains John’s interest in the position. When she’s focused on Mike and not giving John the unsettling, querulous expression—he thinks she’s a fair-looking girl.

But no, the nervousness kills it. If only she had more confidence.

“You’ve done surgery?” she asks finally.

“Loads. Treated bullets wounds on the spot. That sort of thing. Although I haven’t got the same coordination I once did.” He pats his shoulder.

“That’s alright. It’s not like you can kill them.” But then she clamps her hand over her mouth, embarrassed.

John laughs. “I could ask you to handle any tricky procedures.”

“Right.” Molly agrees. Her smile is more relaxed.

Five minutes later, he’s in HR and signing a stack of paperwork tall enough to make his shoulder ache.

-

On his third morning, John sees Molly frantically putting on lipstick. It’s not for him, because she glances up, her compact mirror ever-steady, and says, “Three new ones just arrived. One male. Two female. They’re in the fridge. I’ve already got their dentals running.” She goes back to tracing the line of her lips.

“So, who is he?” John leans forward with his chin on his fist.

This time, the lipstick goes under the table. “Who is who?”

“The bloke.” When Molly only blushes, John rolls his eyes and says, “It’s you, me, and a graveyard in here, Molly. Who is the bloke?”

“Oh, no one.” Molly picks up her lipstick again. “He doesn’t even notice me.”

She sounds so sad, and even if Molly has a few irritating quirks (just like everyone does), she’s been wonderful to John, patiently guiding him through every new procedure, answering his constant questions. This is why he says, “Chin up, doctor. I’m not sure it’s so bad as that. A man would have to be insane not to notice you.”

Molly’s answering smile is both hopeful and disbelieving.

Except that it’s all ruined when the morgue doors bang open and the insane man strides into the room.

Well, for starters, John has to give Molly some credit for having taste. The stranger marches up to the exam tables with long, self-assured paces. His very black posh coat and unruly hair contrasts sharply with his pale complexion and cat’s eye gaze. His focus is on the chart on the counter, not on Molly or John, and he brushes past them without so much as a “Wotcher” or a blink of acknowledgment.

Molly’s lips form a thin smile. “Hi, Sherlock.”

When the man doesn’t answer her (he’s frowning at the chart), Molly says, “We’ve three new bodies in.”

John cringes because hell, that’s not the best pick up line he’s ever heard, but the negative reaction he’s expecting never comes. Instead, Sherlock finally glances over at her. “You’re wearing lipstick.”

Molly’s fingers fly to her rouged mouth. “Just a bit.”

Sherlock jabs his finger at the chart. “The man they fished out of the Hyde Park fountain is Daniel Kher. Give me five minutes and I’ll have the other two.”

Molly nods unquestioningly before squaring her shoulders. “Maybe, you can tell me about them over coffee?”

Sherlock frowns. “No need. It’s obvious it’s him. The body has a wedding ring, including the soft callus on the palm to show that he always wore it. Married men don’t go unreported, so we have our limiting factors: male, British Indian, approximately 40 years old according to the dental records, married, and despite the water damage from the fountain, the body looks to be at least a month old. And since Daniel Kher is a British-Indian business man who went missing four weeks ago after a stint in Mumbai—we have our man.” Sherlock picks up his phone and starts texting. “Call his wife. She’ll be able to identify the body.”

John is impressed until the seriousness of the last line hits him. He doesn't know who this man thinks he is, but this is definitely not how they do things. He steps in front of the tall man, blocking him with a flat palm. “We can’t ask a woman who’s lost her husband to come in on the off chance that we’ve found her husband—not like that. We’ll need to run more tests first.”

Sherlock turns and stares at him for the first time. It’s unnerving to be under the gaze. “Iraq or Afghan—” he starts to ask but then he cuts himself off. “No, both.”

“Excuse me?”

“Molly, call the wife. You can google the phone number. They even have a hotline set up for the man.”

Sighing, Molly walks over to the computer.

“Why are you listening to him?” John feels a bit betrayed.

“Because he’s always right?” She grimaces apologetically.

“Rarely wrong,” Sherlock corrects, marching up to John. “There’s a difference. So what was a doctor doing in both Iraq and Afghanistan? Elsewhere, too, I think.”

He’s close enough that John can speak softly without Molly hearing. “You may have missed it before. Molly asked you out on a date. To drink coffee.”

“Not interested.” Sherlock sniffs and skirts past John. He’s headed for the fridge.

Molly meanwhile has picked up the phone and is saying, “He’s identifying the bodies now. … You told me to call. … Get here before he does it again.”

John suspects she’s talking to the police. He’s about to ask when there’s the unmistakable sound of the surgical saw winding up in the back room. “Is that—?” John asks.

“I hate it when he does this. Especially before lunch.” Molly sighs, and for some reason, doesn’t move or stand up, just stays on the phone.

Force of nature or not. Dismembering bodies is not okay.

John races to the back. The door to the surgery opens to reveal Sherlock, wearing lab goggles and a mask, rotary-sawing right above Ms X's ankle.

“Stop!” John calls, even as small bits of dead tissue begin flicking through the air.

Sherlock glances up, looks plaintively at John, and goes right back to his task.

Now, when someone’s holding a blade (any kind, whether it’s a flick knife, a cleaver, or as in this case, a surgical saw), the general rule is to never make sudden movements. Except that the military-part of John’s brain takes over. In one second he has the saw‘s cord yanked out of the wall socket, and in the next second, he has Sherlock’s wrist in a twist. When the maniac tries to struggle, John kicks his legs out from underneath of him. Sherlock plunges forward, over the very blue, stinky breasts of Ms X.

Sherlock attempts a back kick but John blocks the move. His training makes the move instinctual. Sherlock's fingers even extend far enough to scratch at John’s arm, but John doesn’t so much as budge.

“You are destroying evidence!” Sherlock snarls.

“Yes, I, the doctor assigned to this lab, was destroying evidence. You were filching her foot!”

Sherlock is quiet for a single, tense second before he demands, “Did my brother send you?”

“Your bro—there are more of you?”

Sherlock takes John’s moment of mental distraction to wiggle an elbow loose and in the general neighbourhood of John’s stomach.

It connects but John moves with the blow, swinging Sherlock off the dead body and slamming him against the wall.

This is when John realizes how tall Sherlock is. Looking down at him, Sherlock snarls. “Shove off.”

“Only if you promise to leave and not come back. Who the bloody hell just saws off a dead lady’s foot?”

“Someone not content with wasting valuable hours on useless tests and procedures!”

Their breathing is intense, and Sherlock is giving him a look that is part scrutiny, part something else. John would say it’s mental calculus, except that when Sherlock tries to slip his hand free, John catches it easily. Sherlock (though he lacks John’s training) has shown a basic knowledge of hand-to-hand, so it seems intentional then, when the move brings John closer to Sherlock. Close enough to feel that Sherlock is hard—as is John.

John doesn’t know what to think, because in part, he feels amazing. Alive. Enjoyment shouldn’t be a part of this, but his blood is singing from their fight. John’s muscles are tense, but he almost feels relaxed, and he hasn’t felt this way since Afghanistan.

That’s the only reason he has a hard-on, he tells himself. And yes, he is all ready to ignore it. Erections happen. But then the sound of hysterical laughter bursts from doorway

Both John and Sherlock turn to see Molly and a silver-haired man looking almost purple from the efforts of trying to hold their breaths.

Sherlock rolls his eyes before dramatically declaring, “Unhand me.”

John wants to. Especially now that they have an audience, but still. “Only if you promise to leave.”

“I require my foot.”

“You have two feet. That’s sufficient for most human beings.”

“There’s a fungal pattern around the toes that’s most typically found in a certain type of north English lake, not to mention the calluses on the heels, which are typical of a woman who wears workman’s shoes given the weight and depth of the rough tissue. The pinkie toe has been broken multiple times, and by the scratches on her leg—likely a poorly trained Border Collie given the height and depth—she’s some type of small rancher, but to be sure of what kind and where, I need to analyze the fungus.”

John can’t do much more than blink at the man.

Sherlock huffs, impatient, and calls to the silver-haired man. “Lestrade, he assaulted me. As that is a crime that even you can solve based on the apparent evidence, arrest him.”

Lestrade snorts. “I was actually kicking myself for having forgotten a camera. As it is now, I’m thinking Sally will probably pin a medal on him.”

Sherlock turns back to John. His pale eyes glare.

“No foot,” John repeats.

“Fine,” Sherlock says.

John’s not sure if he believes him, but he’s also a man who takes another at his word. He steps back, releasing Sherlock. “Now, leave.”

Sherlock, still pressed against the wall, crosses his arms and stares John down. He could not look more petulant as he says, “You are going to be a problem.”

Lestrade marches forward. “Like you aren’t.” He reaches out to shake John’s hand. “DI Gregory Lestrade.”

“Nice to meet you,” Johns says. “John Watson.”

“Military training there, yeah?” Lestrade looks impressed.

“I was in the field for seven years, so yeah.”

Sherlock has picked up a pair or forceps and is flexing them in and out with an aura of tedium. “Oh, pleasantries. There are murders—murders—to be solved, and instead we have to go through this social drivel.”

“He’s Sherlock Holmes,” Lestrade says with perfect patience, “and I’ll get him out of your hair.”

“Don't bother. I was on my way out,” Sherlock says, and before Molly or Lestrade or even John can say a word more, Sherlock sails from the room.

After a moment, John asks, “Is he always like that?”

Molly makes a soft snorting noise, but Lestrade looks contemplative. “Worse, actually. Have to say, it was a bit fun to see him after he’s been taken down a peg. That rarely happens. He actually did what you told him to.”

John frowns. “I don’t understand why you tolerate him.” Because yes, Sherlock Holmes is good looking. Yes, he’s posh and wicked smart, but no, the rest—the cruel disregard to lovely Molly and then Ms X's unlicensed amputation—those were not okay.

Lestrade shoves his hands in his pockets. “Because he is a genius who solves crimes that no one else can. He gets completely single-minded when it comes to a case. He’s a ruddy blood hound when it comes to solving a mystery.”

“So, by that, you think he’ll be round again?” John leans back against the counter. “Molly, I know you like him alright, but he can’t be hacking off body parts as per his fancy. It’s not on.”

“He’ll be back. Sherlock always comes back.” Molly looks both fatally sad and happy as she says it.

Lestrade frowns. “Oh, fuck. Now that I think about it. John, check your wallet.”

“My wallet?” John reaches into his pocket to feel... nothing. “He stole my wallet!”

Molly and Lestrade turn and exchange a knowing look. In the next second, Lestrade’s phone buzzes. After he reads the message, Lestrade extends his mobile so that John can have a look:

Tell John Watson he lost his wallet in my hand.
Thankfully, it can be retrieved
at 221b Baker Street this evening
after dinner. And John, if you really want it,
you’ll bring me the foot. -SH

Chapter Text

John leaves Bart’s minus decomposing flesh. He’s not bringing that idiot “his foot.”

Normally, he’d meet up with Mike or a uni mate at the pub, but today, he can’t be bothered to text anyone. There is an open spot in front of the barman, who doesn’t even ask, just has the good sense to pour out a full pint. John picks it up, and a minute later, the bottom is showing.

Molly lent him cash, but not enough to get pissed on, so after two, he heads for the door.

John is a street down from the tube when a non-descript saloon pulls up to the curb. A woman in a suit as black as the car steps out. “Dr. John Watson,” she says with certainty.

The woman is hot. The car is expensive. Everything about it screams too good to be true. Also, there’s what his mother told him when he was a little boy: never climb into strange vehicles, never go into strange houses. Hansel and Gretel, darling. Yet, it’s as if the woman in front of him has read his mind, because she tugs an ID out of her (rather tight trousers) pocket and holds it up for John to see.

Agent Anthea. Secret Intelligence Service. John’s former, unofficial employer.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” He ducks into the car.

For the duration of their drive, the woman does not say another word to him. John is ignored for a smart phone.

John does not expect it when the car stops—not in a shady car park or in front of a desolate office building—but along a string of high end shops. John is familiar with most of London, but this tree-lined side street consists of exclusive tailors, rare book shops, antique parlors, and several discreet marble door stoops with small signs that say, “by appointment only.”

Pointing at Earl’s Haberdashery, Anthea says, “He’s waiting for you inside.”

The haberdashery doorfront is partially obscured by vines. Inside, in place of glossy maple tables and display racks, there are simply many stacks of what seem to be shoe and hat boxes. Stepping out from behind one tall stack, a tall, rather pointy man stretches out his hand. “Dr. Watson, a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.” It’s a quick, firm hand shake, and then the man reaches for a particular box on the table. He opens it to reveal a plain, black umbrella. Somehow, John doubts it is all that plain, though.

“Thank you. Do I get to know your name?”

The man continues inspecting his umbrella.

“Alright, well, how about why I am here?”

The man’s mouth twinges. He holds the umbrella on each of his palms, like he’s testing the balance of a sword blade. “Oh, there we are. He did make the modifications. Good man, Oliver. Perfect as usual. And Dr. Watson, how are you enjoying your Soho flat by the way? A wonderful location.”

“The flat is lovely. Are we here to discuss my furniture choices?”

The man laughs. “I can see why you intrigue him.”

“Him?”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

John is not of a mood to discuss Sherlock, but apparently, the blighter isn’t done with hijacking John’s day. “You called me here to discuss him? Well, I don’t know anything about him, except the bastard stole my wallet—and oh God, this isn’t a hit request, because—”

“No, no. I don’t mix assassination orders with umbrella shopping. I called you here for the opposite reason. I want you to keep an eye on Sherlock.”

“Um, no. You can have the flat back if you want. It’s not worth all that.”

The man stares at John like he’s suddenly become interesting. “Working in the morgue, you’re in an unusual position to be helpful to government intelligence. We believe that the recent flood of cadavers is not the work of random and unconnected pranksters. They are indubitably part of a larger web, and the best person to find the source of all the strands is Sherlock Holmes.”

“The Met is on it.” But John thinks about what Lestrade said earlier, about Sherlock somehow being worth it all.

“Oh, not just the Met, branches of the government you’ve never heard of are pursuing the case, but nevertheless, there’s only one unifying factor: Sherlock Holmes.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Whoever is responsible for the cadavers is doing it to attract his attention.”

“That’s sick.”

“Of course, the cadavers are also a cover for real crimes, and it’s for that reason that I need Sherlock protected. You don’t have to like him. He doesn’t need to like you, but I need you to be around him when possible. It’s not dissimilar from your final mission, the one with Farid Shaheen. You just need to keep your king from getting checked. That’s all.”

“Using my last mission against me is not fair.” John can’t help the steel in his voice.

“No, it’s not, but we suspect that the same man who ordered Mr. Shaheen’s execution may be behind the cadaver crisis.”

Which means John can’t say no. Fuck. He’s going to have to babysit Sherlock. No, that makes no sense. “This won’t work. I have no reason to see him unless he comes by the morgue. You expect me to what—shadow him?”

“No, that won’t be necessary. As I said before, he’s intrigued by you. A doctor and a killer, the combination must have the wheels in his head churning. And don’t worry about bad blood. Your tiff from early will barely register with him. All you need is a peace offering.”

John gives the man a level stare. “You want me to placate him an apology?”

The man smiles. “No, a peace offering.” And out of a brown bag, he lifts what is unmistakably a dead foot.

 

John buzzes 221B Baker Street at half past eight. No response. So, he gives up and knocks.

The door is opened by a small, older woman who looks him up and down, clearly confused and says, “Yes?”

“Oh, I’m here to meet Sherlock.” Upstairs the sound of violin music is soft but constant.

“What for?” The woman's tone says she confirming he’s neither an evangelist nor an imposing salesman.

John can’t take it anymore. “He stole my wallet and blackmailed me into coming here. If he’s not in, I’ll leave.”

“Oh, dearie, you should have said!” She laughs and waves for him to come in. “Right up the steps. He’s probably immersed in one of his experiments. I’m his landlady, Mrs Hudson.”

“John Watson. Sorry—I didn’t mean to burst out like that.”

“No, don’t. I perfectly understand. Sherlock does that to people.”

She calls up the stairs. “Sherlock, you’ve a visitor!”

The violin playing cuts off.

“He heard me. You can head on up. Just be a dear, and try to mind too much noise if you two get up to…” She grins at him in a way that is not appropriate on a nice old lady’s face.

“Um, we’re not. I’m not. We don’t get along, actually.”

“He told me you were coming.” The wink Mrs Hudson gives him says she’s intent upon believing her own set of facts.

“We actually got into a fight earlier today. We don’t like each other.”

“Pulling pigtails,” she says, and before John can protest she’s shuffling away from him.

Upstairs, John enters a living room cluttered with unpacked boxes and medical equipment. Yet somehow, the Persian rug and very pirate-esque skull don’t seem out of place with the microscope and spiraling stacks of Petri dishes. Sherlock is in the very center of it, standing with his violin between the two windows. His eyes go directly to the sack in John’s hand.

“You brought it.” Sherlock is frowning. “You weren’t going to bring it.”

John sets the bag on the table. “I’d like my wallet, and do you have a place I can put this?”

“Oh, the fridge is fine.” Sherlock’s arms are crossed. He’s staring with obvious frustration.

“The fridge,” John says, mostly to himself. “Of course, it’s the fridge.”

He goes into what is apparently the kitchen, though it looks more like a biohazard dump, and opens the fridge. The fact that there are other body parts in the fridge isn’t all that surprising, but what does make John gasp is the fact that there, on the middle shelf is another foot.

John yanks the other foot out of the bag. One is right. One is left. The skin and yes, even the fungal scaling on the insides of the toes are the same.

Still holding the bag, John storms into the living room. “You came back after I left and cut off the other foot? What is wrong with you?”

“You weren’t going to bring it.” Sherlock lashes his violin bow, and it makes a petulant whooshing sound. “And the other foot was still there when I came for it, which means…” Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “Did a black government car cross your path on your way here?”

“Sherlock, I came for my wallet. Where’s my wallet?”

“He did. He probably asked you to shadow me. Oh, it’s sad I wasn’t there. I would have gathered so much from your reaction.”

Wallet, Sherlock.”

But Sherlock ignores him. “You wouldn’t have expected me to return your wallet. You would have gone through the whole process. You would have replaced the money, all of the cards, your ID—because that would have been 'the right thing to do,' rather than having given over the foot to me.” Sherlock steps forward and reaches for the bag in John’s hands.

John jerks it away. “Are you going to give me the blasted wallet, or not?”

“The deal was clear. Wallet for foot.”

“You already have one of her feet!”

“The more evidence the merrier.”

“No.”

“You said a normal person had two.” Sherlock grins—grins—at him.

“WALLET.”

“Oh, that. It’s here.” Sherlock pulls it out of his coat pocket before waving it tauntingly.

John lunges for his wallet at the same time that Sherlock swipes for the bag. As John is stronger, they end up toppling onto the couch behind Sherlock. Sherlock is pinned, his bony hips pushing into John’s quads as John smashes his hands into the cushions.

They’re like that for a moment until Sherlock bites his forearm. Sherlock’s free elbow whacks John in the chin.

Bugger, it hurts. The taste of blood is metallic in John’s mouth, but he ignores it, once again catching Sherlock’s hands and pushing them down into the couch fabric.

They’re both seething, but Sherlock looks less angry and more irritated. John, on the other hand, wants to murder Sherlock.

“All I wanted was my wallet. My own bloody wallet. A normal person would have just handed it over, but no, not you. You’re insane—a brilliant, mad idiot.”

“You called me brilliant.”

Cocky bastard. John considers punching him in the mouth. As it is, his own is still bleeding.

He doesn’t punch Sherlock. A loud chime sounds.

“My phone,” Sherlock says.

John counters, “My wallet.”

“The text is probably from the Yard. Therefore, it’s important, so get off of me, and I’ll hand over your wallet.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“Fine, then get it for me. Left pocket.”

So fucking typical. John leverages himself so that he has both of Sherlock’s hands pinned over his head. Somehow, as close as they are, with both of them breathing heavily, John can’t bring himself to meet Sherlock’s eyes as he reaches to down to grab the phone.

He grips something long and hard—but it’s definitely not a phone. “Fuck.”

Sherlock has let out a gasp, but his voice remains emotionless as he says, “I did say my left pocket. Do you require stage directions? Or did you misplace the pronoun when I said get off of me?

John wants to deck him. Or kiss him. Which is confusing. And fuck, where is his brain?

“My phone,” Sherlock repeats before yanking a hand out of John’s grip and reaching down. Then Sherlock is talking as he’s reading. “Another body, this time hanging from the monkey bars on a school playground. A bullet hole in the back of the head. Well, time to get moving.” He shoves at John.

John should say, “Good riddance,” but no, instead he blurts, “Close range or sniper?”

Sherlock, still mashed as he is in the couch cushions, rolls his eyes. “I’d ask you to come, but in our current situation that might seem untoward?”

John pushes off of him in a hurry.

Sherlock stands and hands him his wallet.

John takes it uncertainly. “Thank you.”

Sherlock frowns and straightens his jacket, brushing imaginary dust off the sleeves. “When the SIS twit interrogated you earlier, did he talk money?”

“Money?”

“An expense account, perhaps?”

“I’m not confirming anything.”

“No then. What a pity. I was hoping you could pay for the cab.” And with a knowing wink, Sherlock holds open the door.

Chapter Text

The taxi cab is far too small. Sherlock’s legs seem to be everywhere. Most of the trip is spent on diagnosing John’s history. And it’s a sign of his mood that he’s glad for the distraction. Well, it’s all fine until Sherlock focuses on John’s family, inexplicably deriving clues from his mobile—which he swiped. Sherlock guesses or “deduces” (as he would say): Harry’s alcoholism, her divorce from Clara, and also, the little fact that he and Harry almost never see each other.

Sherlock look so smug by the end of it that John grins as he says, “Except that Harry isn’t a man. Harry is short for Harriet.”

Sherlock’s hands ball into fists. “Sister,” is hissed like a swear word.

“You know you’re not that difficult to tell yourself.”

“Oh?” Sherlock arches a brow.

John rolls his eyes, as if the posh accent, perfectly tailored coat, and dynastic antiques in his flat didn’t spell it out. “Eton or Harrow?” He mimics the tone that Sherlock used before in the morgue, when he’d asked, “Iraq or Afghanistan?”

Sherlock gets the joke. “Both.” His mouth twists into a smile.

“Hah. They kick you out?”

“Eton did. Apparently, my lack of contrition for slipping Ampicillin-resistant e. coli into the rugby team’s water cooler amounted to poor presentation for a young gentleman of Eton.”

John can’t help it. He laughs. “What did the XV boys do to deserve that?”

Sherlock gives him a glare that speaks worlds.

Right, then. Sherlock is entirely self-possessed as a man now, but John can see it: the pale, skinny kid with no social skills—a ripe target for bullying. John swallows. “And no problems at Harrow?”

“No. I was left alone. My reputation preceded me, I believe.”

‘Cause he’s a right scary git, no doubt. “And you have a brother. Older?”

Sherlock shrugs.

Before John can ask another, the taxi pulls up at the crime site.

It’s a playground, all right, but it’s in ill-repair. The fluorescent street lamps reveal graffiti, piles of rubbish, and rusted equipment. Combined with the yellow police tape surrounding it, the appearance is all too sinister. No place for children.

John hasn't forgotten why he’s here. After paying the driver, Sherlock runs ahead, ducking beneath the police tape, but John stops at the line. Hands in his pockets, he scans the area for threats. Three windows in the north building are in sniper range. No movement, but that could change in a blink. The flats are working-class residential so there will be neither cameras nor a security system. Next, the trees surrounding the park are spindly birches, but there are no broken branches lying about. Threat level: minimal. Behind John, there’s a bare hill beyond the fencing. At the very top, there are some rocks a sniper could hide in, but he’d have to be very, very good. As good as John. Lastly, he scans the Met personnel. The greatest danger is always the friend who turns out to be an enemy.

John is sizing up the various faces when his eyes meet Lestrade’s. The man waves and heads right over. “He’s not still blackmailing you for your wallet, is he?”

“No, got it back.” John holds up the evidence. “Actually, I have no good reason to be here. Somehow I ended up in a taxi cab with Sherlock.”

Lestrade waves off his explanation as if he understands perfectly. “What happened to your lip?”

Oh, right. John never washed that off. “Ah, well, he didn’t immediately hand over my wallet.”

Lestrade laughs. “Anderson and Sally already want to meet you.”

“Anderson who does Forensics? We get his reports in the morgue.”

“The very same. This way.” Lestrade lifts up the tape.

 

Lestrade leads him right to where Sherlock and a pointy-nosed man in a blue crime scene suit are amidst an argument, or at least, the man seems to be arguing with Sherlock.

Sherlock is pointedly ignoring him, in favour of examining the body. Up close, John can see medium, brown skin; straight, black hair; and an aquiline nose. With the pallor of death, John isn’t certain on what ethnicity the victim is, but if he had to hazard a guess, John would say he was Arab. But then, John’s subconscious might be assigning what’s familiar to him. He can’t be sure.

“Anderson, someone I want you to meet,” Lestrade says. “Dr. John Watson.”

Anderson looks up. “Oh, right, you’re helping Molly in the morgue at Bart's. I’ve gotten some of your reports. Nice reads. Also, aren’t you the one that threw him out this morning?” Anderson smirks at Sherlock.

Lestrade claps John on the back. “This is him.”

They shake hands, and Anderson glares over at Sherlock. “Maybe you can convince the bastard.”

“Oh?” John asks.

Sherlock cuts in. “Anderson is an idiot. The man was alive when he shot—and he was shot here.”

Anderson rolls his eyes. “It’s a strange case. There’s no orange-red powder tattooing around the wound. Well, it’s bit reddish, but nothing clear.”

Sherlock steps away from the body. “And you mistakenly assumed that because he was brown-skinned the gray and yellow marks would be less visible, because you’re idiot. John, explain to Anderson what he’s missing.”

“Could you punch him for me?” Anderson asks John.

John shrugs. Talking publicly about his fighting with Sherlock isn’t all that funny. If anything, it’s uncomfortable. John’s goal is not to shame the man.

Not that Sherlock is all that easy to shame.

Anderson waves his hand at the body. “Have a go, then. We’ll consider this a pre-autopsy.”

On the back of the neck, the bullet wound, as Anderson said, shows no obvious red-orange spray. Still, tissue has been expelled from the exit wound, and there are signs of fresher blood in that—which is probably what Sherlock seized upon. But no, if the man were still alive and shot on site, they’d have pints of blood on the floor.

Unless the man was drained beforehand.

John checks the neck, the wrists, but there are no marks.

“You’ll have to take off his trousers,” Sherlock says, coming up alongside him.

“I already said ‘no,’ you perv,” Anderson groans.

John sighs. “We need to rule out torture. He could have been blood-let before he came here. If so, he was probably unconscious when the bullet hit. Since there are no cuts on his wrists or neck, the most likely place is…” John eyes the groin area.

“You got pictures before we check?” Lestrade asks Anderson.

Anderson suddenly seems much less friendly to John. “Yeah, go on then.”

John undoes the button and the zip on the man’s trousers. The moment they’re open, the smell of old blood hits the air, stronger than before. On the inside of the man’s thigh, sure enough, there’s a bandage, heavy with blood. There are also burn marks, going up and down his thighs, on his testicles. It’s something he’s seen before, but that doesn’t make it any better. “He was tortured.”

“To the edge of sanity,” Sherlock says. “But what did they want from him? And did they kill him because they got the information they wanted, or because they gave up? He’s a translator clearly, but—John, I assume you don’t recognize him.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Aw, the freak is back,” a woman says, walking up to them. Her gait is a bit unsteady, and when John looks down, he sees it’s because she’s wearing heels. They keep sinking into the playground sand. Not the best footwear for a Met officer.

“You have the bullet,” Sherlock says, eyes seizing on the baggie in her hand.

Sally rips the baggie out of his line of sight. “Hands off.” She frowns at John. “And who are you?”

Lestrade immediately launches into introductions, and John smiles, says hello, but he’s not really focused on the pleasantries. His eyes have honed in on the metal in Sally’s hands. Long, narrow. Not a shot gun bullet. Long-range, rifle. The bend in the metal, at that angle—and it’s not a boat tail. It’s all one solid metal.

John spins toward the hill, eyes narrowing in on the rocks. The wounds on the body shouldn’t have been that big from a bullet that small. That is, unless it was shot from very far away. Two-hundred meters at least. Winds from the southwest at 30 kilometres per hour. With the bend in the hill, not to mention the effect of the curve of the earth at that distance, the sniper would have to be incredibly gifted.

And if a gifted sniper was honed in on them now…

John half-jumps when Sherlock says, “Don’t worry. He’s dead.”

John blinks at him. “Well, obviously. That’s why it’s a crime scene.”

“No, I meant the sniper.” Sherlock angles his head toward the rocks.

“Sniper?” Lestrade asks.

“Likely,” John points at the bullet. “That’s an army-issue tellurium bullet made with CNC lathes. You don’t see them that often because they’re expensive as hell. Sniper was probably on the hill.”

To their credit, no one asks how he knows all of that. Apparently, the fact that he served as a military doctor yet managed to tackle Sherlock in the morgue is answer enough.

“But why would they have needed a sniper, if they had already tortured him?” Lestrade asks.

“Tortured? What?” Sally crosses her arms. “I thought the bloke was dead before he got here.”

“Idiots,” Sherlock says, before turning and charging for the hill.

It’s all John can do to run after him.

 

At the hill top, splayed among the rocks is their sniper, as dead as Sherlock predicted. The shot was in the back of the head at close range; powder dusts his hair, while a puddle of blood dribbles down the rocks. And holy fuck, John recognizes him. “Alan Reinhardt. I served with him. But he wouldn’t have murdered—he wouldn’t have—”

“He didn’t,” Sherlock says. “Or at least, he didn’t take the shot until the man on the playground was at the point of no return. When he did shoot, it was a mercy killing. More importantly, he would have been under the very highest orders.” Sherlock’s tone makes obvious what he thinks of the “very highest orders.”

“The men who shot him were the same men that abducted the man on the playground?”

“Connected.” Sherlock is already marching about the area, scanning for clues. “You should call your SIS twit. Tell him he has a man down.”

John rubs at his temples. “I don’t have his number.”

“Blast.” Sherlock picks up his phone and starts hitting buttons.

Because apparently he has creepy umbrella-man’s phone number stored.

Lestrade shows up a few seconds later. “Really, I’m too old to go chasing after—oh, shit.” He rubs his eyes. “And there I was thinking I might be home in time for the re-run of Man. U. match.”

Sherlock brushes off his coat sleeves, looking deeply unsatisfied about something. “You still might. John knows the man from his purely medical army days—that naturally, have nothing to do with MI-6. So, yes, Alan Reinhardt is SIS, and they’ll probably be here any moment to take over your scene.”

Lestrade grins. “Oh, that’s all right, then. No pissing contest with me. We’re past budget on overtime, anyway.”

“Yes,” Sherlock says, “You never did have a problem letting others do your work.”

“Oh, hey now.” Lestrade holds up a finger, but he’s still smiling.

Sherlock mutters something about “ingrates,” but there’s no heat to his tone.

 

Sure enough, within three minutes the whole hillside is swimming in dark suits. John thinks he spots Anthea, but he's not entirely sure. Meanwhile, Lestrade gets a call from his boss’s boss, and his team is summarily told to “go home.”

Unlike Sally and Anderson, Lestrade leaves the scene whistling, though, not before inviting John along with him to a pub. “Good place not far from here. We’ll be able to catch the match.”

It’s only when they’re about to hop into the police car that they realize that Sherlock is still with them.

“Hold up,” Lestrade complains. “I am not your chauffeur. You can take a taxi.”

“I’m coming with you,” Sherlock says, and he pushes past Lestrade and into the car.

“To the pub, really?” Lestrade says.

“I go to pubs,” Sherlock insists, as Lestrade and John sit in the front.

“I’m not talking about for a case. I’m talking about for fun.” Lestrade shakes his head in disbelief. “There will be football. And you can’t take over the telly. You just try. It won’t just be John then. The whole pub will be on your arse.”

Sherlock arches his brows. “I fancy a whisky.”

Neither Lestrade nor John knows how to answer that.

 

At the pub, Sherlock hands the barman a shiny black card and points to a brand that John’s never even heard of.

“You didn’t nick that off of anyone, did you?” Lestrade frowns at the card.

Sherlock levels a glare at him.

Lestrade cracks a grin. “Right. Then you’re buying. Two more for Johnny and me.”

John waits for Sherlock to protest, but he doesn’t. He twists his wrist in a gesture that unmistakably means “whatever,” and John can’t help but think it would be awful nice to be that blasé about money.

For his part, Sherlock sips at his drink with aristocratic slowness, while John has to make himself not chug down his glass. And he really should appreciate the fine blended malt. It’s not every day he gets this, so he forces himself through the motions: sip, let his tongue longue in the taste, take a breath, and then swallow. After half a glass, his dry lips are stinging, and licking at them does next to nothing.

When he looks up, Sherlock is watching him.

“What?”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “Bored.”

“You don’t have to stay. We’re not going to entertain you.”

Sherlock has an insult brewing when Lestrade cuts him off. “Sherlock, check out the ladies in the pub. If John were going to make a go of it, what’s the best looking bird that he’s got a real shot with?”

Sherlock glances from Lestrade to John, and John thinks he’s about to get slighted again, but instead, Sherlock spins around in his chair and scans the bar. Not a minute later, his drink is back in his hand, and he’s got a self-satisfied smile on his face.

“All right, I’ll bite. Who?” John asks.

“Behind you, the woman with long, light brown hair, she’s interested. Recently divorced but no children—although she would like one or two. You have your profession in common. She’s a local doctor. Not used to being in pubs, but her friend dragged her here. Actually, it would seem she’s deciding between you and Lestrade.”

John casually turns and looks. The woman is… not bad. She’s early-mid thirties, but she’s fit, and yeah, the eyes. Nice eyes. Still, John is not the best looking bloke at the table. “Not you?”

Sherlock sighs. “Lestrade, sit next to me.”

“Why?” Lestrade sits back suspiciously.

“You’re still pretending your marriage isn’t over, and John might have a chance.”

“Oh, well, for a mate then.” Lestrade slides in on the other side of the table.

Sherlock swipes his glass from him. Takes a sip.

“Hey, now. That’s mine!” Lestrade complains.

“I bought it—” and before Lestrade can protest, Sherlock says “—and so did she.”

Lestrade blinks. “Oy, she thinks I’m with you now, doesn’t she?”

Sherlock steeples his fingers beneath his chin, pouting. “Get me another, and then she’ll be sure.”

“Only if I’m getting myself one.”

“As if I care.”

Lestrade rumbles off to the bar.

The moment Lestrade is gone, Sherlock cocks his head to the side. “Lestrade said women, but there’s also the man in the dark suit in the corner. The woman he’s with is his friend. He just had a break up, and if you were looking for a no-strings attached, he’d be the better option. He’s better looking than the doctor, don’t you think?”

John can’t stop his eyes from sliding that way. And yeah, Sherlock is right. The man is… hot. Blond, sharp jaw line, fine-boned, and in his rumpled suit with his melancholic, enormous eyes—he’s probably the second best looking person in the pub. After Sherlock.

Or maybe not. Maybe John, being a blond himself, doesn’t have a blond kink. Maybe, he likes dark contrast. Or maybe, Sherlock has a way of slinking under his skin.

“Oh, you definitely play both sides of the fence,” Sherlock’s voice is low and far too knowing.

John refuses to look at him.

When Lestrade comes back with drinks, John gets up. He orders a drink with his own cash, and then he goes to chat up the doctor.

 

An hour or so later, John has learned that the divorced doctor’s name is Sarah, and she’s incredibly sweet. When she laughs at his jokes, it’s with a damn pretty smile. Given the insanity of the day, her positive normality is a welcome delight. Case in point: before leaving, she asks nicely, then picks up his phone, and plugs her number into it.

John wonders then, why he didn’t try for a shag.

Because he’s out with mates? No, Lestrade would have been all for it, clearly, and well, Sherlock is... not a mate.

Because she’s definite girlfriend material? She is, but that’s not it.

Is it because he’s out of practice, having been overseas for so long? No. She’d leaned into him at the end there. And he hadn’t kissed her. No, he’d taken her hand, like a bloody pouf, and stroked it. There’d been none of his usual hunger, though, no yearning that had made him want to pull her mouth to his own.

No matter. He’s tired. He’s seen two dead bodies, and sex is simply not at the forefront of his brain tonight. Besides, he has her number. John heads back over to where Lestrade is engrossed in the match, and Sherlock is… looking right at John.

“What?” John asks as he retakes his seat. His drink sloshes as he sets it down. Well, shit, he didn’t think he was that pissed.

Sherlock’s eyes make John feel like he’s gazing into the view screen of a super computer.

Lestrade, though, leans forward. “So you got her number?”

John wiggles his phone and smiles.

“Well, done then. Man. U. won, as you knew, yaddy ya. Okay, I’ve sobered up to legal limits.” He sets down what is unmistakably a cup of coffee. “I’m off. You two live in Central London, yeah? So you’ll catch a taxi?”

After Lestrade leaves, John doesn’t know where to look. Looking at Sherlock is a messy business. Because Sherlock stares back.

“Why are you here?” John asks after a moment. “You don’t seem like the pub type. More like the five-course-faire type, especially with the coat.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes and pushes his still full glass at John.

“You’ve had next to nothing to drink,” John says, but he picks up the glass anyway.

“I prefer stimulants.”

“Or you like being sober when everyone else is pissed.”

Sherlock sighs into his palm. “You’re not easy to read. The gun calluses on your hands have mostly worn off since your injury, and the calluses from using medical equipment obscure what little evidence is there.”

“Nuh-uh,” John wags his finger. “You don’t get to interrogate me.”

“And have you done that before, interrogation? Are you skilled in torture methods?”

“We’re British. We don’t torture.”

“Officially.”

“And I’m a doctor.”

“Who can calculate sniper angles in his head.”

“My turn, so what’s it for you, blokes or birds?”

Sherlock’s face hardens.

“Come on, tit for tat. I’ll answer yours if you answer mine.”

Sherlock looks fixedly at the napkin tin. “I’m married to my work.”

John knows a dodge when he sees one. “You should wear a priest’s collar then. It’d suit you.”

Sherlock’s mouth forms a line. “My turn. What can you tell me about the man on the hill?”

John cringes. “I know the obvious. The man was good with a gun. He got orders like I did. We were on a mission or two together. As for the other stuff, Alan was a good guy. He has a wife and two kids. They live in Dover. I met her two years ago when I was on leave. This is going to devastate her.”

“She didn’t know he was doing special ops?”

John shrugs. “I don’t know whether he would have told her. I mean, he was in the military. There was always a chance… Hey, now, that’s two. My question. How is it that you can read people so well and still be such a total shit?”

Sherlock leans back in his chair. “Because knowing what most people want doesn’t mean I want to give it to them. If I gave in to everything that everyone wanted, I’d be permanently bored.”

“And why did you come to the pub with us?”

Sherlock’s face goes from rigid to knowing. “Because if I had gone home, there would be a gunman waiting for me.”

“What?”

“No, my turn. Why the woman and not the man?”

“Because… probably because you and Lestrade were here.” It’s honest enough. “And why would there be a gunman at your home?”

“Two reasons. First, he knows I called the SIS tonight. That will have angered him. Second, he knows you are now with me. That will have infuriated him.”

“Him? Not the gunman. Who the bloody—?”

“—No, that was two answers for the price of one question. If I leave now, would you go for the man? He was rather put out when you went to talk to Sarah.”

“Am I going to leave with him? No! You just fucking told me that there’s a gunman sitting with his gun cocked on your sofa. Now, who is the ‘he’ that sent him there?”

“A despicable criminal mastermind with a brain crush on me. When you think about it, it’s quite flattering, really. Every girl’s dream. He likes me for my mind.”

“Oh, for the love of—that’s half an answer. Name?”

“I don’t know his name. I’m still searching.” Sherlock’s pout is pure frustration, but then his face brightens. “Wait—I have a plan.”

John rears back with distrust. “Should I ask?”

“No,” Sherlock stands and straightens his coat. “I think we are done with questions.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s plan is, as to be expected, both brilliant and barmy. To be fair, it’s not as bad as it could be. John is to go around back, up the fire escape on the adjoining building and then go in through the upstairs window. After securing his landlady (which seems to be Sherlock’s chief priority), Sherlock is going to open the door to his apartment, and as he says, “smoke the fox out of the hole.”

“Assuming the fox doesn’t pop a bullet in your brain.”

“Oh, don’t be daft. This is a warning. At worst our shooter has orders to maim. Our mastermind is having far too much fun to kill me.”

“Fun,” John repeats.

Sherlock’s head cocks in his direction. “Yes, doctor. I’m not describing to you anything you don't feel. War may not be kind or just, but don’t deny the soldier’s gleam in your eyes.”

John isn’t denying it, but still, he’d never label it as fun. And more importantly... “This is London. It’s not the Middle East.”

Sherlock glares at him. “As far as I’m concerned, this is my home, and it’s under siege. There is no more basic defence.”

John wonders if Sherlock knows how his words affect John, if this is blatant manipulation, or if Sherlock believes in what he’s saying. Either way, he has that feeling in his chest again. His whole body feels loose, like he’s primed to jump off buildings or shoot-to-kill between the ribs for the heart. Regardless, he doesn’t answer Sherlock. He only loads the gun.

“Now, we just need to make a little side trip. I need some chemicals.”

Of course, by “chemicals,” Sherlock means highly volatile compounds purchased from a dodgy back alley fellow.

In a nearby restaurant kitchen (Sherlock claims to know the owners, “who won’t mind”), the man proceeds to make some kind of smoke bomb. “One that won’t smell,” he explains. “Normally I wouldn’t go to the trouble, but this is my flat, and I don’t want this interfering with my experiments.”

When John inquires as to how he shall survive the smoke bomb, Sherlock provides a plastic pair of surgical goggles (which read Property of St. Bart’s on the side) and a small green glass bottle.

“Explain,” John says with as much patience as he can generate for 1. having seen two murders victims, one being his friend; 2. the time being after two in the morning; 3. spending the whole day with Sherlock; and 4. having long since lost his buzz from the whisky.

“Open the window, grab a sheet, a shirt, whatever, and then dump the liquid over it and hold it over your mouth and nose. It will neutralize the effects of the smoke bomb. Then proceed out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and it’s likely that having heard my presence, our target will be in the living room.”

The problem with working with Sherlock is that when he explains it all, when he weaves the crystallized web of perfect rationale, John starts to get sucked in. And as everything goes so smoothly, John really starts to believe.

The leap onto the fire escape is soundless. The bedroom window is unlocked. No need to break the glass. When the smoke starts filtering up under the bottom slit in the door, John has a pillowcase doused in the fluid, and lord, it reeks and makes his eyes water, but there’s no doubt that it’s doing something to neutralize the smoke.

Down the steps, the smoke is thicker but not thick enough, and that's when John knows something is wrong. The southeast window is open, as is the one in the kitchen. Regardless, when the hazed figure charges at him, John isn’t entirely caught off guard.

In the smoke and the darkness, it’s hard to see clearly, but John dodges as the fist flies for his bad shoulder.

He can’t move the way he wants--not with the pillowcase braced over his mouth--but he aims a kick for the attacker’s legs.

The attacker doesn’t fall, but he does stumble backward into a book shelf.

Except then something that must be an Oxford dictionary smashes into his kneecap.

John is so over this. Before his opponent can regain his footing, John shoves him against the bookcase.

The man stumbles back toward the fireplace, landing in a spot where the glow of the outside street lamp makes a pale, bare arm visible.

For a second, John wonders if his opponent is some kind of Asian acrobat, but then he ducks another punch and gets a grip on the elbow and twists--and there’s an unmistakably feminine snarl.

That’s why it’s only half a shock when he tackles her, skidding forward on the Oriental rug, and feels what is unmistakably a very naked and obviously very fit female body.

“Not to be greedy,” the voice says, panting, “But I lost my oxygen can in our little tussle. Mind sharing your pillow with a girl?”

John doesn’t know what it says about him that he leans down and presses his (what must be drool-covered) pillow case to her mouth.

It’s when he's in this state that Sherlock opens the door and flips on the light.

“I, um, caught her,” John says, lifting himself as much as he can while still keeping the woman’s arms pinned.

Sherlock’s mouth opens and closes and then opens again. His lips fail to form a syllable.

The woman, who has yet to show a trace of fear, breaks the silence. “Is it necessary to pin me down? Obviously, I’m unarmed.” But then she smiles. “Unless you need to check my cavities?”

John doesn’t let go. “Do you normally break into people’s houses to wait naked on their sofas?”

“No one’s ever minded before.” She throws her head back and sighs. “I was just planning on having a little chat with tall, pale and clever in the corner. I thought I could use a private eye.” She winks lasciviously at Sherlock.

Sherlock still hasn’t budged so much as a facial muscle.

It’s almost enough to make John laugh, except that he doesn’t trust this woman for a second. “Our apologies, then, for the smoke and tackle.”

“Oh, no hard feelings, while I usually prefer to be on top, a little breath play mixed with asphyxiation softens this girl right up. Not to mention the unexpected audience.” She looks from Sherlock and John and licks her lips. “Let’s just say I always had a weakness for salami sammie.”

Well, oh, fuck.

John isn’t dumb. He knows exactly what he’s looking at: the hottest weapon he has ever seen. White skin. Black hair bound up. A blood red smile. Therefore, it’s pure, excruciating pain to draw his mind out of dick, back into his brain, and say, “So what were you planning on doing with Sherlock when he turned up here? What was the message?”

“I was going to introduce myself.” She smiles. “Irene Adler.”

“John Watson.”

“Yes,” she says in a voice that is all purr. “The doctor. We didn’t think you’d be here. Not because you would have left him unprotected. No, because we didn’t think he would tell you he was expecting company, but he did. That’s so interesting. You have no idea.”

“I’m chuffed, really. And after introductions?” he presses.

“I was going to tie him up.” She bites her bottom lip, laughing low and mischievous.

John can’t help it. He really likes the image. “Oh, don’t hold back now.”

“Well, to be honest, after that, I hadn’t decided. I like to be spontaneous. Adapt to my environment. For example, right now, we have you here. The doctor with all the secrets. Like those biceps.” Beneath him, he can feel her arch her hips. His dick is so hard it hurts, and what is more is that this siren knows it. “I love medical men. They’re not weird and wimpy and afraid of hair and fluids. Like you, Dr. Watson, I bet you know exactly how to please a woman. I bet once you got my clit in your mouth, you wouldn’t let up until I was spurting down your chin.”

John’s voice is an echo of sanity as he says, “Is that all?”

“No, it’s just the beginning. Even with that shoulder, I bet you could lift me and slam my bare arse against the wall. Hold me there for an hour if I you wanted, just pounding away. You know, normally I prefer women.” Her hips do that thing again. His grip on her palms is becoming sweaty and slick.

“That’s very nice,” John says faintly.

“But sometimes, you know...” Her eyes flutter. “All a girl just really wants is to come on a dick.”

It’s in the moment that John is out of his mind—God, he could come on command at this point—that Irene Adler makes her move, wrenching her hand frees.

And Sherlock blocks her.

John doesn’t even really understand what’s happened, except one second Irene is all sultry sensuality and in the next her hair is unbound, and her wrists are locked in handcuffs but she’s flailing, kicking, and shrieking, and John is doing his damnedest to hold her still and not get his crotch kicked, while Sherlock takes a seat on the sofa. When Irene finally stills, John looks up to see Sherlock twisting a hairpin between his fingers.

“Well, that was highly informative,” Sherlock says, leaning back in the chair, and when Irene responds by thrashing at her handcuffs, he shakes his head. “Oh, do stop. It’s not like you’re not used to them.”

Irene sucks in a harsh breath through gritted teeth. “Take them off.”

“John, please put the blanket over her, and then...” Sherlock’s eyes move downward on his body. “...the bathroom is around the corner.”

“It would be prettier if he put it your mouth,” Irene snaps.

“Blanket, bathroom, John. On the double.”

John rolls off of Irene. She doesn’t hesitate but rocks upwards into a sitting position and glares freely at Sherlock. John grabs the throw off the rocking chair and drops it over her shoulders. And then, with Irene’s knowing grin following him, John goes into the bathroom. He yanks down the zip, pulls once, pulls twice, and then... um, yes. Fuck. He feels suddenly seventeen again.

In the living room, John finds Irene and Sherlock locked in a battle of wills.

“I’m as good as dead now,” she says.

“Exaggeration. For failing to scare me?” Sherlock drops his chin into his palm. “I think not. You have an unusual skill set. Valuable. That is, unless your goal wasn’t to just scare me.”

“Oh, I’m hardly so selfish.” She licks her lips and smiles.

“No, I think you are absolutely selfish, so how did you get mixed up with him? Not for sex, no. You truly do prefer women.” Sherlock frowns at her, before comprehension dawns on his face. “Ah, yes, you gambled and lost.”

Irene crosses her legs in a way that makes the blanket ride up the curve of her thigh.

Sherlock, however, examines the movement with something like sympathy. “So you’re better at poker than chess. It’s not the end of the world. What were you supposed to do with me after you had me unconscious?”

“Take you to a van. It would have taken you to him.” She smiles cruelly at Sherlock. “But you knew that. We even though you might want that. We failed to factor in the new card in the deck.” And this time she’s glaring at John.

“And whether I lived or died, that would have depended on what?”

She looses a bitter laugh. “Your soul.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but John can’t help his own shiver. Irene, for all her machinations doesn’t seem evil. Rather, she seems, like Sherlock said, defeated.

“Now what to do with you?” Sherlock asks.

“Sex?” she drawls, but there’s no energy in it this time.

“I could kill you,” Sherlock says.

“Oh, hey now.” Irene tutts, “Play nice. We don’t shoot the messenger.”

“Because all messengers come naked with poisonous hairpins.”

“All the fun ones.”

“I think,” Sherlock finishes, “you need a new master.” He picks up his phone, fingers flying over the buttons.

“I prefer to be my own master.”

“I know, but I’d rather not see another cadaver,” Sherlock says.

Irene and Sherlock stare at each other for a long second, and then she nods.

It’s close to four in the morning when the man with the umbrella shows up. John has long since served everyone tea, and Sherlock has already flapped in three rotations about the room, muttering in a never ending loop about his experiments getting botched from the smoke. Irene’s eyes, meanwhile, have been flipping between the windows and the door.

There is no knock on Sherlock’s door, merely the click of the key, and the “SIS twit” strolls into the room in a perfectly pressed suit, not looking for a minute like the hour is late. “John, Sherlock, Ms. Adler.”

“Mycroft, isn’t it? I really am too tired to flirt, but I have to say I’ve always wanted to do two brothers. Mr. Ruthless and Mr. Clever, I could only begin to imagine the fun.” She yawns, before sleepily smiling at Sherlock. “I just had to put that out there.”

“Get out,” Sherlock mutters.

With an air kiss, Irene struts to the door. Two security personnel automatically take her arms, but before they lead her out, she calls, “I’ll see you sooner than you think.”

Meanwhile, John has finally put two and two together. “You’re brothers?” he asks, trying to see the resemblance. They are both tall. But Mycroft looks like a normal human being, whereas Sherlock is damnably gorgeous.

“The keys to the cuffs, Sherlock.” Mycroft holds out his hand.

Sherlock tosses the set.

“And you shouldn’t stay here. I need it cased for bugs, and more importantly, your little habit of shorting out the CCTV cameras in the general vicinity of your home has put your safety in jeopardy. I suggest you both go to John’s place.”

“Which you have bugged,” Sherlock mutters.

“My place is bugged?” John really doesn’t like this Mycroft fellow. Then again, Sherlock is a total wanker, too. Must run in the family.

“Your safety is my priority,” Mycroft says to Sherlock.

Sherlock makes a rude gesture.

Oh, bloody enough. “Sherlock, let’s go. I’m exhausted, and I listen to enough of my own family bickering. I don’t need to listen to yours.”

Both Sherlock and Mycroft give him nasty looks, but whatever. He and Sherlock take the car over to his place.

At his apartment, John throws a blanket and pillow at Sherlock, and then goes and collapses in his bed.

It’s sometime around dawn that he feels a warm body slide in next to him.

“Ouddamybed,” John grumbles. “Izmine.”

“That sofa is a concrete joke,” Sherlock says with matching grouchiness, and he pushes on John’s hip.

John is too tired to argue. He rolls over and goes right back to sleep.

Chapter Text

John awakens blinking. The blinds on his bedside window are open, and even if it’s a gray morning, the rain puddle on the sill is reflecting light directly into his pupils. With a groan, he turns over and oh—right—Sherlock.

The man is taking up the entire left side of the bed. His pale chest is bare, and he has most of the sheets twisted around him. Instead of putting his head on his pillow, he has it mashed to his chest like a stuffed animal. With his eyes (and more importantly his mouth) closed, there is something almost vulnerable about his expression. Or maybe it’s just that his hair is an absolute nest and there’s sleep goo in the corner of his eyes. Without his haughty glare present, he looks downright boyish.

Well, and gorgeous. It really isn’t fair. John wants to touch him, but that’s a terrible idea.

John decides he needs a piss and some very black tea. With a clear mind, he’ll be able to get on with his day. The only hurdle is Sherlock. John’s bed is pressed against the wall, and with the bed rail at the bottom, the easiest path is over the sleeping man.

John pushes up on his knees and throws a leg over—at the same time that Sherlock decides to twist.

His knee lands on Sherlock’s hand.

Before John can apologize, Sherlock’s eyes pop open and his open palm flies for John’s face. The smack lands on the underside of his cheek.

“Sherlock!” he starts to yell, when the man’s legs twist in his, and an elbow ploughs into his own.

That leaves John balancing on his bad shoulder, so that when Sherlock yanks at his neck, the manoeuvre succeeds.

John kicks at him, yelling, “Stop it, you git!”

But Sherlock doesn’t stop. He’s still pushing, which is stupid. This is so stupid. They’re being idiots.

John stops fighting. His arms go lax, and yes, Sherlock flips him over, but his grip loosens. When he lifts enough to look into John’s eyes, there’s obvious confusion on his face.

“I’m sorry my knee landed on your hand. I was trying to crawl over you so I could make tea.”

“You woke me up.” Sherlock’s voice is still groggy with sleep.

“You’re in my bed, you git.”

“I forgot.” Sherlock finally releases John’s hands, but he doesn’t move off of him.

They look at each other. John nearly always wakes with morning wood, and it’s apparent that Sherlock does too. Both of them are clad only in their pants, so that they’re skin to skin in most places. And where fabric covers them, it’s also covering their erections.

It’s not fair. He’s stuck in his own bed with a bastard who professes to be married to his work. That’s why his tone comes out crosser than he means for it to. “Are you going to take care of that in the sacristy?”

“No.”

“Then are you going to get off of me?”

“You don’t want me to.” Sherlock lowers his hips, and then hell, they’re lined right the fuck up. “You’re attracted to me,” the bastard says with a coy smile.

“Maybe my dick is, whereas I think you’re an absolute pain in the arse.”

Sherlock leans down, coming so near that the tips of their noses are almost touching, and says, “You woke me up. Don’t be inconvenient.”

“Inconvenient,” John is repeating, when Sherlock grinds against him.

The first thrust is slightly off and far too obscured by fabric, but on the second, Sherlock gets it perfect. The friction rubs just so, and John’s breath goes out of him.

When John looks up, Sherlock’s expression isn’t smug. It’s intense. His mouth is gaped and his eyelashes are fluttering. With a gasp, he asks, “Pants?”

John nods yes, and then Sherlock is off of him, standing and pushing fabric down past the white curve of his arse. It takes an inordinate amount of John’s own concentration to focus on kicking his own off. He’s not even done. His pants are still wrapped about one ankle when Sherlock slides in next to him.

Sherlock doesn’t try to crawl back on top of John. Instead, he stretches his arms up over his head, so that his elbows are resting against the headboard. John’s never seen a more blatant invitation.

“This is not what we should be doing,” John says, even as he clambers on top of Sherlock.

“It’s a mutual wank. Get over it.”

“Oh, you shallow public school boys. Masters of bedroom etiquette.”

“Shut up.”

John does in fact shut up, because the tip of Sherlock’s cock is ticklish and silken as it brushes against his abdomen. When John grabs it, forming a fist first and then pulling upwards, it’s far too appealing to watch lordly, rigid Sherlock groan like an animal. Or better yet, when he lines up their cocks and starts thrusting, it’s glorious to feel Sherlock get even harder.

Not a priest. Gay. Gay. Gay, John thinks, but he doesn’t say it, just rocks harder and faster, until they’re both grunting and slick with sweat.

John comes first, going a bit crazy and yanking on Sherlock’s hair as he thrusts in the final throes. He’d feel bad for being rough except that Sherlock follows in the next moment, digging his nails into the planes of John’s back.

Oh and well, then they’re smeared with cum and sweat and John doesn’t care. Sherlock smells fabulous with no obnoxious cologne, just saltiness and sweet skin. No lie, John’s feeling a bit possessive as he nips at the soft spot just beneath Sherlock’s ear.

Sherlock tenses.

“What?” John asks, pulling back.

“Where’s your bathroom?”

“Loo is off the corridor.”

When John doesn’t immediately move, Sherlock arches his brow.

Yeah, fine then. John rolls off of him.

There’s no denying it: Sherlock bolts for the door.

Well, fuck. This is going to be bad.

John goes into the kitchen to clean himself up and put the kettle on. Sherlock still isn’t out of the bathroom when he’s done, so he goes to get dressed.

When the kettle starts to scream, he sprints down the hall. Sherlock is at the kitchen table with John’s laptop, oblivious to the high pitched noise coming from the counter.

“That had a password.” John pops the release. The whistling stops.

“Your point?” Sherlock doesn’t look up from the computer screen.

“Oh, where to start?” John grumbles but he wants his tea more than he wants to argue. He pours out two cups, squeezes in the honey, and digs the milk out of the fridge. “Toast?”

“Jam?”

“Strawberry.”

“Not margarine.”

“Never. Butter, yes?”

Sherlock graces him with a nod. And when John sets down the tea, Sherlock takes it without so much as a “thank you.” Instead, he looks around and says, “This place looks like a hotel.”

“You mean—unlike your place—it’s clean?”

“I mean it’s empty. You’re a man who wears ugly jumpers and loose flannel and carries a gifted phone from your sister. If you stayed anywhere long enough, it’s likely that it would accumulate personal mementos and objects of comfort at a rapid pace. Therefore, this flat doesn’t make any sense. It looks like it jumped out of the pages of an IKEA catalogue,” Sherlock frowns, “which would explain the sofa.”

“Eat your toast. Stop analyzing my apartment and trying to come up with an excuse for coming to my bed to get sex out of me.”

It’s meant to be funny, but Sherlock actually follows orders, taking a bite of toast and not saying another word. The tension in his shoulders is obvious, and John can’t help his own curiosity. He wants to know what the fuck is going on inside that mind.

But no, it’s not going to happen. Sherlock is bent over John’s laptop, sipping tea and ignoring him.

“I need to head into the morgue,” John says at last.

Sherlock glances up. “In addition to the ones from yesterday evening, there will be two more cadavers. One was found sitting at a law firm reception desk. The other was making scenic circuits on the London Eye.”

“That’s fun.” John rolls his eyes.

Sherlock takes a sip of tea. “I’m waiting for the day one shows up lodged in the jaws of the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Natural History Museum.”

“Dressed in yak skins?”

“I’d been thinking loin cloth, actually.”

And now John’s thinking about sex again. Sherlock is just sitting there, looking slightly silly and adorably human with a spot of jam in the corner of his mouth. John just—John wants.

Which is why he takes the two steps toward the table, grabs both sides of Sherlock’s face and kisses him.

Sherlock’s lips are dry, but he tastes sweet, of strawberries and Assam tea leaves, and his tongue slides so terribly soft and wet against John’s own. And that’s why it’s bad, really really bad, when Sherlock jerks his mouth away, cupping it with his hand, and says, “No.”

John steps back and sits on the edge of the table. “Then what the fuck was this morning?”

Sherlock meets his eyes. “I said no. This morning was a one off.”

“A one off. Brilliant. You’re the one who started off the morning by humping my leg.”

“Ergo, I should be bent over and on my knees at your disposal. I think not.”

“Don’t put words in my m—” John cuts off with a frustrated groan. There’s no point in arguing. It doesn’t matter that it was Sherlock who initiated it. John, the pathetically emotional one, is to be the villain. Sherlock has reasoned himself innocent by his own cold, desolate logic. And how dare John think it could be otherwise.

Well, bloody fucking fine.

John sets down his tea. “I’m getting in the shower. Feel free to get the fuck out.”

When he emerges an hour later, dripping and cold, Sherlock is gone.

 

At the morgue, John is happy to focus on work. If Molly notices his mood, she doesn’t say anything, for which John is grateful. She doesn’t even ask about Sherlock, just a quiet, “Did you get your wallet back?”

He nods. They go back to work.

On a different day he might feel guilty over Molly’s crush, except that on this afternoon he’s too worn.

They work late into the night until he has to insist that Molly go home. He finishes up around eleven. Back in his flat, he crawls into bed, only to immediately get out and change the sheets.

He ends up sleeping on his own sofa.

Which is surprisingly soft.

 

Two days later, he realizes that the weekend is fast upon them and he hasn’t called Sarah. He picks up his mobile, searching through the contacts and finds not her number but two new ones: “SIS twit” and Sherlock Holmes.

Sarah’s number has been deleted.

John almost throws his phone against the wall. Sherlock did this on that morning, probably right after he cracked John’s laptop password and right before John kissed him.

The utter prick.

 

John’s still fuming when Lestrade turns up. John is immersed in the nasty business of cutting open the back of a skull. He and Molly are pretty sure this one died of natural causes, but the woman was young, so they need to figure out if it was an aneurysm or what.

When John sets down the scalpel, Lestrade is looking a little green.

“The receptionist, yeah?” he asks.

“Actually, a waitress. She matches a Ms Gwendolyn Strauss on the missing persons list. I should have the report into you by tomorrow.”

“Not why I’m here.”

John takes off his gloves and waits.

“So, not to pry...”

“But you’re going to.” John crosses his arms.

“Did something happen with Sherlock the other night? When you two were out?”

“Why? What has he been doing?”

“Let’s put it this way... He’s always a berk, but normally he only makes the weak ones cry, and I figure, what’s a little tear or two if it saves lives? But with the way he’s been going off on my people the last couple of days, it’s not worth it. I had to throw him off the crime scene last night.”

John rubs at his temples. “He hasn’t been in the morgue. I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Well, him not being in the morgue tells me a whole hell of a lot.”

John signs and says, “Tell him when you see him next that he can come in here,” before quickly adding, “as long as he behaves.”

Lestrade nods, looking grateful. “Oh, hey, you call that woman back? The one from the pub?”

“Would you believe me if I told you that Sherlock deleted her number off my mobile?”

Lestrade’s mouth forms an o-shape. “I think I would, yeah.” He crosses his arms and looks thoughtful. “Well, hey, you almost done? This is my last stop for the day, so if you’re done, we can head back to that pub. Maybe she’ll be there again.”

“She probably won’t.”

“Can’t hurt. Besides, you look like you could use a drink.”

John could use drink and a solid, sane friend. He goes and gets cleaned up.

Chapter Text

John really likes Lestrade. It’s hard not to. The DI is easy going—even when he’s having a good drunken rant.

“So my wife, she says to me, ‘We need marriage counseling,” and I say, ‘I’m there,’ and I just can tell. I can see how damned well she didn’t expect that, so then she says, ‘You won’t go,’ and I say, ‘Give me the number. I’ll make the appointment myself.’ And well, then it’s all about how maybe I should go by myself because ‘what’s the point of working on our issues’ when clearly I have so many of my own to work through first.”

“Ouch.”

Lestrade waves it off. “Well, and the only issue—the only issue that we’ve ever had—is my job. I tell her people don’t get murdered on a schedule. And for that, I’m accused of not caring about her. I care about dead people more than her.” Lestrade spins his empty glass. “I think she’s shagging someone. Or did. She wouldn’t be so vicious otherwise. But really, I don’t want to know. I told Sherlock not to tell me. And I would kick him off the case if he told me.”

John doesn’t want to talk about Sherlock. “You’ve got a kid?”

“Yeah, Annie, she’s eight, and she’s the one worth fighting for. If it was just me and her mum, I wouldn’t—I mean I haven’t had a proper shag in months.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“Ah, it’s fine, and too bad that—Her name was Sarah, yeah?—isn’t here. She seemed like a good one.”

John shrugs. “I’m over it.”

“Well,” Lestrade looks around the pub, “I’m out of practice at this sort of thing, but there are other fish in the sea.”

If I felt like fishing. Really, I’m fine, though.”

Lestrade gets a funny grin on his face. “You totally shagged him, didn't you?”

“Who?”

”Don’t play dumb.” Lestrade wiggles his glass on the table. “Sherlock normally walks around with a bee in his bonnet, but this week it’s been a whole damn hive.”

“It was—” John’s not really pissed enough to talk about this. “I don’t even know.”

Lestrade leans back in his chair. “Lemme wager, he acted weird and impulsive. You acted like a normal human being, and then afterwards, he freaked out.”

“Pretty much.”

Lestrade is smiling happily. “I’ll get the rest of the drinks tonight.”

“Don’t feel sorry for me.”

“Nah, it’s not like that. My team has a pool going...”

 

By the end of the evening, John is definitely a bit pissed, but Lestrade is downright rat arsed.

“Don’t you think Molly needs a good shag?” Lestrade thumps his fist on the table. “Like you’ve seen the scary way she drives in with the drill—that’s a lot of pent up aggression, eh?”

“Why?” John is giggling. John doesn’t even know why he’s giggling. “You up for the job?”

“I dunno.” Lestrade appears completely gobsmacked. “She’s not really my type. I normally go for the sassy ones. But maybe that’s my problem.”

“Probably.”

“You doing both sides, men and women, make it easier?”

John snorts. “I am single, aren’t I?”

“Well, there’s that bloke from the other night. He’s staring.”

It takes a minute for John to figure out where Lestrade is pointing (but this may be because his finger is not pointing so much as helicoptering). And oh, lookie. It’s the guy from the other night. He’s with his friend again. When he sees John and Lestrade looking, he flashes them a smile.

Lestrade turns back to John. He looks a bit disconcerted. “With men, is it that painless?”

“In a pub like this... not normally. If you went to a gay club…” John shrugs.

To Lestrade’s credit, he changes the topic of conversation to guns. “When I was younger we used to go hunting. My dad had a rifle, so I know how to use one, but now even if I’m a DI and I could get a license, I don’t want one on me.”

“I understand that.” As much as he loved being a soldier, John has done far too many surgeries on gunshot wounds to ever disagree.

"Well, I got a taser, which is just as effective and more fun. Not that hunting wasn’t.” Lestrade makes the shape of a gun with his hand. “Bang! Oh, hey, and look there. That’s a good shadow on the wall.” Lestrade wiggles his hand so that the shadow moves.

Lestrade, as it turns out, know how to make an astonishing variety of shadow puppets on the wall. And after the first few gun-related ones are demonstrated, he moves on to the animals. By the end, John’s stomach hurts from laughing and Lestrade is smiling but also looking beat.

Lestrade has yawned six times in the last minute.

“Time to be getting you home,” John says.

Lestrade complains but doesn’t protest when John lugs him to his feet. The DI is taller and two stone heavier than John, so when Lestrade trips going out the front door, it’s all John can do to keep him from smashing his head into the wall.

Problematically, as soon as John has him going away from one wall, Lestrade swings out toward the door. John would stop him except that Lestrade has stepped on John’s shoe, and John is not an octopus.

It’s a coup de grace then, when a shadow ducks out and catches Lestrade under the shoulder.

It’s the man from the pub. He’s dressed down tonight in black jeans and a thin grey t-shirt. For being on the thin side, he’s holding up Lestrade with a dancer’s easy grace.

“Oh, hey there. Cheers.” Lestrade smile at the man and then turns to wink scandalously at John.

“Happy to be of service,” the man says with a laugh, and then turns to John. “We’re putting him in a cab?”

Somehow they manage to get Lestrade into the taxi without any injuries.

As the car pulls away, John turns back to the man, “I’m John.”

“Jim,” the man says, and up close, beneath the street lamp, he is smaller and less dramatic than he seemed in the pub. Despite the blond highlights and obvious use of product in his hair, there’s a certain sharpness to the man. He smiles, and his hazel eyes look keen.

John puts his hands in his pockets. “That was really great of you. Thank you.”

“I wanted to.” Jim’s smile is full of implication.

John can work with that. “I am pretty done with drinking, but do you want a coffee?”

Jim smiles at him like he’s made his day.

 

Jim is smart. Jim is nice. Jim is sane. And he has a real job.

“I’m a doctor too,” Jim says, “just not medical. I’m a professor at King’s. My field is Middle Eastern politics.”

And well after that, they have to talk about John being a soldier, the color of the desert sky, what it’s like to be gay under Islamic governments, and so on.

Jim is a riot. He says the most unexpected things. “I like studying war. Peacetime doesn’t add much to world history, and my field is so riotous at the moment. I love it. But then, it does ruin all the nice places to go on hols, doesn’t it?”

When John glances at his phone and sees the time, he groans. “It’s late. I have to be at work in less than six hours.”

“Drat. And there I was hoping you’d come back to my place...” Jim leans forward, resting his hand on John’s.

John wonders if Molly would kill him if he came in late. She would. They’re already so behind. “I want to, but... Friday?”

Jim smiles and says yes, and they walk outside.

They’re walking toward the corner, when Jim presses up to kiss John.

John is expecting sweetness, maybe a little bit of technique, but that’s not what he gets.

Jim’s teeth slide up his bottom lip, and once his tongue finds John’s, Jim sucks hard. At first it’s a little shocking, John freezes, but then oh, fuck yes—Jim’s hands grab his shoulders and John gropes for anything, everything, to pull him closer. They're on a street corner, and he thinks he hears a distant whistle, but Jim is kissing John like he’s his last meal—with the promise of dessert on the other side of the tunnel of white light.

John wants to drag him into an alley right now.

But no, Jim pulls back, says “Friday,” and kisses under John’s jaw before leaving with a smile.

 

The next day in the morgue, John is distracted and exhausted. His sixth cup of coffee is sitting on his desk, and he wonders if Molly will notice if he goes for a seventh. The report he’s typing up is tediously long. The body had been in the Thames for three days, and John has to explain what is the damage from the fish and what is directly related to the cause of death. Not fun.

He’s not pleased though when his phone rings, and it’s news that a new body is coming up.

Since Molly is in the middle of an autopsy, John goes to sign off on the delivery.

By the time they get around to opening the body bag, several hours have passed. John managed to get a cup of water in, but then he caved, and now he’s popping antacids while simultaneously drinking his ninth cup of coffee.

When Molly unzips the bag, John drops his mug. Coffee scalds his fingers, but he hardly notices.

Sam Roberts. The last time John saw him, they were on base in Kabul, just returned from a mission. The instructions had been to disable a northern terror cell that specialized in planting landmines along supply trains. Mostly, they’d succeeded without too much of a hitch. All of the explosives were disabled. Sam had gotten a nasty gash in his forearm, and John had stitched it up on the way back.

Looking down, John can still see the scar.

It takes him a minute to get everything sorted: to tell Molly that he can ID the man, to clean up the coffee spill, and to lastly assure Molly that he is fine while also politely excusing himself.

He goes out into the corridor and paces, trying to think.

This isn’t a coincidence. It can’t be.

What to do? He could call Sherlock’s brother. Mycroft.

No. The twit probably knows anyway. The body’s already been through the Yard, so SIS is all too aware.

John finally decides to call Bill Murray. If there’s anyone that John can trust, it’s Bill.

Bill was the one who pulled him out of that gunfight when he was shot. Bill is the reason that he’s alive.

Upon hearing John’s tense “hello,” Bill knows that John means business.

“You calling about Alan Reinhardt? I was going to ask if you were going to his funeral.”

John had completely forgotten about the funeral. “Sam’s dead too.”

Sam?”

“He’s in the morgue, in front of me.”

Bill is silent for a moment.

“What?”

Bill’s voice drops to a whisper. “Kate disappeared last week.”

“Kate too? That’s—”

“A lot of our guys. I know. Not that we were even an official unit, but...”

“But it’s our guys—we’re not easy to kill. This is too close to what happened when I got shot—”

“I still think someone betrayed us. You said you saw blue eyes.”

“Everyone died except for me. I could have been looking in a puddle at my own reflection.”

“You know you weren’t. They never found any bodies,” Bill hisses.

“None of our guys would have betrayed us, Bill.”

“Then why are we all showing up as corpses?”

“SIS is working on this. Just—I called because this is a mess. And Kate missing too. I want you to be careful, okay?”

“You too. I want to go to Alan’s funeral, but maybe that’s...”

Bill is still talking, but John has stopped listening.

Sherlock is in the doorway, head bent back against the wall, watching John with far too much interest.

John considers throwing something at him, but he’s better than that. Or so John tells himself. For the next few minutes, he does his best to ignore Sherlock, but it’s close to impossible, so finally he says goodbye to Bill.

And then it’s just him and Sherlock.

“Yes?” John crosses his arms and waits.

Sherlock steps forward. “Your former colleagues keep winding up dead.”

“You eavesdropped, good for you.”

Sherlock smiles thinly. “You should lay off on the coffee. It’s affecting your nerve.”

Yes, because John wants to talk about his beverage choices. “I thought you liked stimulants.” John pushes past Sherlock, but before he’s through the door, Sherlock grabs his hand.

“I’m not here to talk about what I like.”

Whatever that is supposed to mean. John shakes his hand loose. “Is this some dreadful attempt at an apology?”

“I don't apologize.” Sherlock scowls.

John rolls his eyes. “Like I said, dreadful.

Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “You're being droll, not combative.” His forehead wrinkles. “You’re seeing someone.” His eyes move to John’s pocket.

John has his phone out of reach before Sherlock can swipe for it.

Sherlock only misses by a hair.

John shoves at him. “What, are you—ten? You don’t steal other people’s mobiles, you git. And you don’t delete phone numbers off of them either.”

“Sarah would have been a waste of your time.”

“I choose how and with whom I waste my time.” He tries to step around Sherlock, but Sherlock spreads his coat like a bat, blocking his way.

“So who is he?”

John shoves at him. “Stop probing.”

“I am sorry about the other morning. For being rude.”

John rubs at his brow. “Don’t believe you. Don’t care.”

Sherlock huffs.

“Move.”

Sherlock doesn’t move. Instead, he kisses John. It’s a sweet, innocent peck, popped right onto John’s mouth.

Still, it feels stolen, because it’s a sleight of lips in the same way that Sherlock’s pickpocketing is a clever sleight of hand. There and gone in a blink.

“What was that?” John’s lips are still tingling.

Sherlock looks profoundly dissatisfied. “I wanted to see your reaction.”

John makes himself take a steadying breath. Apparently, experimenting on other people’s emotions is today’s recreational activity. It makes him think of Harry when she was four and would shriek bloody murder, only to curiously be examining everyone's expressions the instant her act was over. His family had called it her “emotional scientist” stage. She had been gauging her own power.

Just like Sherlock is now.

“Grow the fuck up,” John says, and then he shoves past Sherlock.

Chapter Text

It’s Friday and John has a date. He’s totally getting some tonight.

“You're in a good mood,” Molly says, smiling at him.

John stops typing and beams at her. “I am. Also, I meant to say so before. You look nice today.” The lipstick she’s wearing is a soft rose. It has the effect of making her eyes look bright.

Molly flushes slightly and ducks his compliment. “You have plans?”

“I’m going out with someone tonight.”

“Must be nice...” Molly rests her chin on her palms and sighs girlishly. “What’s her name? Tell me all the details.”

“It’s a he, actually.”

“Oh.” Molly nods thoughtfully. “Well, I’ll bet he’s nice. So, spill. What’s his name?”

“Jim...”

John tells Molly all about Lestrade getting drunk and performing shadow puppets and then about the final event in which the DI almost earned a concussion except that Jim stepped in to save the day. Molly even prods a few details about the kiss out of John. They’re bent close together and giggling when John’s mobile buzzes.

Ah, yes, what a joy it must be
to have one’s uvula hoovered.
- SH

John looks up, and Sherlock is there, bent forward over a gurney.

Fan-fucking-tastic. Sherlock probably heard everything that John definitely did not want him to hear. “Normal people say ‘hi.’”

Molly pipes up with a “hi.”

Sherlock doesn’t spare her a glance. He rolls his eyes at John. “Spare me the monotony of your labels.”

“Why are you here?”

Sherlock stands and straightens. “In Edinburgh, they found the body of a 1.53 meter female: brunette, Caucasian, approximately 29 years of age. She had a four-leaved clover tattoo on her left shoulder blade. Dead four days.”

“Kate.” John sits down.

Bill was right. She wasn’t just missing—she’d been murdered.

“The relevant parties are in the know.”

John suspects this is Sherlock’s attempt to be comforting. “Then why don’t they do anything about it?”

Sherlock rounds the gurney, walking up to John and Molly. “The gunshot though obscured by fire-damage, matches Alan Reinhardt’s, Sam Roberts’, the others. Close range. Back of the neck.”

“Not possible. It would have been impossible to sneak up on Kate. She had ears like a mouse.”

“It’s possible she fought. It would explain why her body was left in a burning shack.”

“I just don’t get it. Why the men that I...?” But he lets himself trail off. Molly is looking between him and Sherlock with clear consternation, and it wouldn’t be proper to involve her.

For once, Sherlock seems to get this. He changes the subject. “This must be so trying for you.”

John regards him suspiciously. “I appreciate your... concern, but I’m not fragile.”

Sherlock smiles and types something out on his phone.

John’s phone buzzes.

As you are apparently so affected,
mayhaps you should stay in tonight.
- SH

Really, Sherlock? Really? John closes his eyes so he doesn’t glare. “No.”

Wear that horrid knit jumper you own.
It so wonderfully accents none of your features.
-SH

“My favourite aunt made me that,” John snaps.

Obviously. -SH

“Oh, and what should I wear to ‘accent my features’ then?”

The SIS agents you knew
are being targeted because
they either knew something
or are in the way of something. -SH

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Mine is more important. -SH

“Well, I have no idea.”

Yes, you do. You can give me a list,
of those with whom you served.
Bill thought someone betrayed you. -SH

Oh, that. And this is when John finally pays attention to the fact that Molly is looking between him and Sherlock, and her face... it’s like she knows. Or at least, she hasn’t missed the fact that Sherlock is standing an arm’s length from John and is focused on him in a way that he’s never been focused on her.

And John’s morning had been going so well.

“Molly, I need to talk to Sherlock outside for a moment about, well, my personally being able to ID some our patients.”

“You don’t have to explain,” Molly says, but oh, her mouth is too tight. She’s hurt.

“I’ll be back in a jiff,” John promises with as much kindness as possible, and then he marches for the door.

They find an empty storage closet. Sherlock closes the door and wheels around. “I wanted you to tell me about your last mission, the one in which Farid Shaheen was killed—”

“And how do you know that name?”

“Irrelevant. I want your account.”

“For your sake, I’m assuming your brother told you that name and that you haven’t somehow violated national security.” When Sherlock shrugs indignantly, John continues. “It’s pretty simple. We took Farid to a rendezvous with an informant. Farid was supposed to meet a Saudi ‘businessman’ that wanted to pass on essential intelligence. All I knew was that it wasn’t directly war-related. It had something to do with money laundering networks in Britain. Anyway, we got Farid to his contact. They talked. The only English word I recognized was ‘spider.’ Anyway, the moment the contact left, all hell broke loose. We radioed the copter, but only I made it out.” John pats his shoulder.

“Besides you and Farid, who else was in your unit?”

“Colt and Sam.”

“You’d done mission with them before.” It’s not a question. “During the attack, you saw Farid get shot, but what about the others?”

“Colt had a bullet wound in his chest. I didn’t see what happened to our third guy, Sam. Bill said that when he pulled the helicopter round—he wasn’t there. Sam had our tail. They took him out first.”

“Sam? Sam Roberts?”

“No, a different Sam. We called him Sam because of his initials. Sebastian A. Moran.”

John watches as Sherlock starts swiping and typing on his phone. “He has blue eyes,” he says at last.

“Had. He’s dead, Sherlock.”

Sherlock’s brow is furrowed in concentration. “How old was he?”

“Young twenty-three, twenty four at most.”

“And what was his specialty?”

“Solo assassinations.”

“Not a sniper?”

“No. He was a bad shot at long range. Actually, it was weird that he was on that mission with us for that reason.”

“Hence, up close and personal.”

“He’s dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Just like everyone else I went on special missions with these last few years.”

But Sherlock is frowning. “But then, why keep you alive? Why go after the others?” Sherlock’s eyes widen. “Ah, yes...”

“‘Ah-yes’ what?” John prods.

But Sherlock has already spun for the door. “I have to leave.”

“You never answered my question.”

Sherlock pauses in the doorway, his back to John. “Nothing.”

“It’s not nothing! You just said—”

Sherlock turns to look at him. “Earlier you wished to know what to wear to accent your best features. I just answered you.”

The door bangs shut behind him.

John lets out a string of curses that only a military man could have mastered. But still, not enough. There are simply not enough swear words in the English language for Sherlock Holmes.

John doesn’t wear a jumper. The restaurant Jim chose is a Lebanese place, off the beaten path but the menu looks great; the atmosphere, nice but not overly formal. John decides to opt for a fitted collared shirt.

Before he pulls it off the hanger, he glances in the mirror. Even if his stomach is as flat as ever and he’s still got definition, his arms aren’t quite as big as they used to be.

But then he thinks about what Sherlock said...

“Nothing.”

The bastard. This was totally his plan.

And now John’s thinking about Sherlock—about how he looked in John’s bed when he was still asleep. And then after he woke and his neck was stretched and his cheeks were flushed pink... If only he wasn’t such an attractive, brilliant berk, John could forget about him. But Sherlock has to keep inserting himself into John’s life.

Well, John’s not letting him. Except that as John’s leaving, he gets a text:

You probably chose the collared shirt.
Should have gone with the long t-shirt
-SH

John resists the urge to go and change. His collared shirt is fine.

Sherlock’s probably trying to get anxious and make him change.

But then that long gray tee shows off his arms better...

Oh, why? Why?

John marches out the door.

At the restaurant, Jim has reserved one of the small corner tables. They share mouhamara and lamb shank and other dishes combining the flavours of lentils, pine nuts, yogurt, mint, and pomegranate. For John, it’s a walk in nostalgic heaven. He loves these dishes, but since he could never remember the names, he hasn’t had tasted them in ages.

And then there’s Jim, who’s brilliant and talks a mile a minute when he’s excited. “And my students—I try to allow for discussion, but each time I do, I regret it, because there’s always the rich girl on-a-mission who only wants to talk about burqas—then the oaf who cuts her off who only wants to talk about the evil, non-Christian brown people—and finally there will be the Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square moment for the day, in which one of my four ethnically Arab students will have had enough, and so he’ll stand on top of his seat, decry modern colonialism, and then once the moment is over, spend the rest of the class period hoping the oaf doesn’t beat him up after class and that the creepy silent type in the corner doesn’t report him as a possible terrorist in training.” Jim wipes his brow, sighing dramatically.

John takes another sip of wine and smiles. “I bet you're a good lecturer.”

Jim grins. “It’s a fun job: flexible hours, a way to build a solid reputation, and also access to young minds. I get to destroy ignorance. I revel in it.”

John laughs. “Well, we’re all a little ignorant.”

“What’s important is to always be learning. Don’t you think?” Jim presses his wine glass to his lips, takes a slow sip.

“Not all knowledge is good.”

Jim smiles, lips ever so slightly stained in the inner crescents. “Good, bad, I don’t think it’s the knowledge that is at fault. Is there any secret so great that it could destroy the world?”

“The plans for the atom bomb? Monica Lewinsky's stained dress? Pluto is not a planet? That’s a whole world gone, right there.”

Jim laughs. “Well, disregarding poor Pluto, it’s not really the secret that matters. It’s whether the man with suitcase decides to push the button. Knowledge is the chessboard. We are the ones who move the pieces.”

“Spoken like a true professor.” John shakes his head.

“Well, knowledge certainly makes things more interesting.” Jim looks down, like he’s embarrassed by how much he’s said, but then a little grin sneaks onto his face. “After all, it’s what you do with the knowledge that matters, don't you think?”

“How do you mean?”

Jim dips his pinkie into his wine glass, swirling the liquid. Then he brings a droplet to his mouth and licks it. “Well, more knowledge, more complexity sweetens the wine, makes it bold.”

“Well, then, I think I agree.” And John thinks he agrees very much if the innuendo is what John’s pretty damn sure it is.

“I was thinking...” Jim starts to say, when John’s phone chimes.

Where are you? -SH

“Oh, sorry, ignore that. An annoying guy from the office.” John lowers his phone. “You were saying?”

“My office is nearby. I left papers there that I need to pick up, but I was thinking that we could stop by and I could show it to you?” Jim smiles hopefully.

John’s phone buzzes again.

At that stupid Lebanese restaurant
with the prix fixe menu that Mycroft likes.
I’m on my way. Tell Iskandar I said hi
and that if the hummus is still garlic-heavy,
the cook is skimming from the till. -SH

He wouldn’t dare.

Oh, but he would. Sherlock totally would.

“Um, yes, let’s go.” John hurriedly texts a message as Jim puts on his coat.

Bugger the fuck off.

Jim’s office is a wonder. Photographs climb the walls. John sees a gorgeous shot of the Black Sea during a gale. There’s another showing the great market in Kashgar that John recognizes. And then there are the pictures of war, of strife. John ignores those. He focuses on Jim’s books. Volumes on politics and history are mixed with worn paperbacks of Junot Diaz and Solzhenitsyn and Borges.

“You keep doing that,” John says, glancing up from the shelf.

“Doing what?” Jim asks.

“Making me nostalgic. I used to read a lot when I was overseas, but since I’ve been back... ” John trails off, frowning. It’s not like he hasn’t tried, but he’s been too anxious to pick up a book.

His phone buzzes with a text. John ignores it. When he glances up, Jim is eyeing him a way that is almost predatory. “Tell me your favourite.”

“No favourite. I like Vonnegut. Definitely the Russians, too. When I was younger, I would have said Catcher in the Rye, but now that I’m—”

He’s cut off by Jim charging at him. Hands are buried in John’s hair; Jim’s nails claw. There are lips insistent against his, pushing and nipping—and then a swipe of tongue that’s begging John for a taste.

John hasn’t even realized that he’s been backing up until his legs hit the back of Jim’s desk, and then that’s even better because Jim can push between his legs and press.

“Keep doing that,” John groans out, and he grabs Jim’s arse, pulling him even tighter—enough to hurt, but not enough to stop them from kissing.

“Wait. Wait. Wait.” Jim pulls back.

“Don’t want to.” John refuses to let go of him.

But then Jim’s hand pushes down between them and goes for John’s zip.

Okay, John can work with that.

And as if that isn’t enough, once Jim has got him undone, he drops to his knees.

John’s mind is a little fuzzy, mostly desperate. “Oh, you look—“ he starts to say, when his phone buzzes.

“That’s the sixth,” Jim says, but he doesn’t stop his efforts on John’s trousers, grabbing the pockets and tugging them down. “You said a guy from the office. Seems more like a stalker.” Of course, this is the moment where he bends forward and licks John through his pants.

“Phone—mmfpf—don’t care.”

But then John’s phone buzzes fucking bloody hell again.

“Oh I’m going to murder him,” John groans. “I’m so sorry. I’ll just turn it off—”

Jim takes the phone from him. “Oh, no. Let me.” And then Jim replies to the text with a typing speed that could only rival Sherlock's. When he’s done, he’s smiles at John, while chucking the mobile over his shoulder. It lands in the cactus planter.

“What’d you text?” John tries to ask, but it comes out as clouded slur, because Jim yanks at his pants, and there’s the sudden flash of cold air around his dick, which lasts for one, two seconds before Jim’s tongue is parading up the underside.

“Oh, fuck. Don’t have a condom,” John says.

“Such a responsible doctor,” Jim says, smiling like sin incarnate, and then well, condom be damned, because Jim just goes and swallows John.

It’s all John can do to leverage himself on the desk—there’s something poking in his kidney—a letter opener. John bats it away.

Jim is a goddamn artist, because his cheeks are puffed and then they’re hollowed, and his nails scratch down John’s thighs as he drags up to the tip, and fuck, fuck, fuck, John wasn’t expecting this. But he’s really glad it’s happening. And he’s entire body is trembling as Jim gets messy, making loud, embarrassingly erotic noises as he takes John in and out.

And then there’s the knock on the door.

John is vaguely aware of making a noise. “No-no-no.”

But then there’s Jim who pulls back to say, “We’re finishing this.”

If John thought that Jim was good before, it’s nothing to his opinion after Jim grabs John’s hip with one hand and the base of him with the other, and sucks and licks and plunges with a vigour that has John moaning unintelligibles and slumping back gracelessly on the desk so that his ear is making friends with a stapler.

When the knocking on the door turns into a pounding, John comes. He tries to warn Jim, tries to whisper “geyser” or something informative, but Jim doesn’t back away. He just pulls John in deeper and drinks him down.

John’s breathing is still too rapid when Jim throws open the door.

There’s Sherlock, and hell, his face. His gaze is normally a bit remote, a bit lost to a different world of harried details and scrolling code in green irises, but right now his stare is pure steel. Yet it’s not directed at John. It’s burning holes through Jim.

Sherlock steps forward. “And I believe you would be Professor James Moriarty.”

“Sherlock, isn’t it? I saw your name on John’s phone.” Jim smiles at him, but then pauses. His finger touches a shining spot on his cheek, and if that isn’t mortifying enough, Jim sucks the finger into his mouth and smiles outrageously at Sherlock.

“So sorry to interrupt,” Sherlock says. “It’s just something has come up and I needed John.”

“Sherlock, I’m not—” John starts to say.

But Jim speaks over him. “Oh, but that’s fun. I like it when things come up. Maybe we should have a drink to talk about it. Do you fancy something to drink?” he asks Sherlock.

What in blazing hells?

“Sherlock does not fancy anything to drink,” John says at the same time that Sherlock says, “I’ll take a glass.”

“I have a whisky I think you’ll both like.” Jim walks around his desk and pulls a crystal bottle and two glasses out of the top drawer.

“Not drinking?” Sherlock asks.

“Oh, I think you’ll find I’m no longer thirsty.” Jim flashes a bright white smile again and holds out the glass to Sherlock.

But Sherlock holds up his hand. “I couldn’t possibly, that is, if you don’t.”

Jim rolls his eyes. “Oh, it’s like that? Well, I’ll have a sip or two then.”

It’s like John isn’t even in the room. Jim sets his glass by him, but his eyes are locked on Sherlock’s when he pours himself a portion from the bottle and takes a sip.

Then Sherlock picks up his glass and takes a sip. “Thirty year old reserve, personalized label, not normally afforded on a professor’s salary.”

“A gift,” Jim says.

“And the Ali Zayers photographs, were all three of them a gift?”

“You're familiar with her work. I’m impressed.”

“The realism and detailing is exquisite, which was the reason that they fetched such a fair price at auction.”

Jim spins the glass in his palm. “A man must have his passions.”

“Must he?”

“Assuredly. Hesitate and lose, that’s always been my experience.”

“Only if you’re playing games.”

“I’m a professor of Middle Eastern politics, of course I love games—game theory, Darwinism, all of it.”

Sherlock’s glass comes down with a clink. “Oh, don’t be obvious.”

Obvious? Obvious. John doesn’t see what’s so obvious. And sexy blow job or not, Jim is quickly seeming just as crazy as Sherlock.

But Jim looks ready to laugh, but then he glances at John’s face. “Oh, I’m sorry, John. You’re quite right. I shouldn’t be indulging your stalker like this, should I?”

Sherlock mutters something under his breath. John isn’t close enough to hear.

John really doesn’t care who is indulging whom at the point. Jim is...

Well, John no longer has the warm and fuzzies about Jim. By comparison, Sherlock is seeming like the sane one. John’s Friday night was not supposed to be like this.

Nevertheless, before he can make an excuse to leave, Jim’s phone starts blasting the Bee Gees.

John is not impressed.

Jim takes the call with a quickly mouthed “sorry” and listens intently to the person on the other end.

“No,” he snaps firmly and clicks off the phone. He turns back to Sherlock. “You were saying?”

“Thanks for the drink. It was terribly enlightening. John and I must be going.” Sherlock stands, and for the first time since he arrived, he looks John in the eyes.

The look is anathema on Sherlock’s face. The look is pleading.

“John and I were—” Jim starts to say, but John cuts him off.

“Jim, I’ll make it up to you, but I should probably head out. Duty calls.”

When Jim smiles at him this time, it’s the old Jim. “Oh, well, that’s too bad. I’m sure it’s important though.” His expression is slightly hurt, subtly hopeful.

John doesn’t trust it for a second.

Sherlock bangs on the doorframe. “Yes, a shag and dash makes for an awkward goodbye, but drawing it out won’t make it better.”

Yes, and thank you for nothing, Sherlock.

“Bye,” John says, and he picks up his mobile from the planter and follows Sherlock out the door.

No sooner are they out the door and around the corner, when Sherlock throws up a flat palm and grinds to a halt. “You’ll need this,” he says, and he hands John what is unmistakably his Browning.

“Um, care to explain why you have my gun?”

“I brought it for you. You forgot it.”

“Yes, I did. In my flat because I was on a date.”

Sherlock peers around the corner. “And because we’re likely to meet resistance. If this was a mission, which direction would you consider the safest path of exit?”

“What do you mean by resistance?”

“At least three armed gunmen.”

John considers punching him but something about Sherlock’s tone makes John pray that he’s kidding. “Then the safest bet would be to find a room, bar the door, and call for help.”

“He’ll be expecting that. They’d probably just gas us or burn us out.”

John starts to complain, “Sherlock—”

But then there’s the unmistakable sound of a bullet whizzing past his ear.

Chapter Text

A bullet whizzes by, and John throws himself in front of Sherlock.

Highest threat: down the east corridor, using the arched alcove for cover.
Secondary threat: northern hallway is empty but there’s a lift…
Anyone could pop out of that lift.
To get out, there are stairwells at the end of either hall.
Also dangerous.

John is vaguely aware that Sherlock is protesting their relative positions. But he’s easy to ignore. Two more shots ping into the opposite wall, but the third goes and cracks a window.

Actually, that’s spot on. John fires at the window next to it, glass splatters, and next he aims a shot at the fire alarm. Emergency lights begin flashing; the high-pitched sirens blare. Hopefully, if there are any students or after hours staff, they’ll get the hell out. Whether or not the Met or the fire department will show up in time is less certain—but some help would be awfully nice.

John’s shoulder is throbbing and Sherlock is muttering a constant stream of useless blather behind him when John’s subconscious yanks out the words, “Cover me. Then follow,” it’s all John can do to start shooting when the maniac runs up the hall.

John sees the arm comes out, raising the gun toward Sherlock. For the next half second, John is all reflex—and up the corridor there’s a splash of blood and a clatter of metal as the gun falls to the floor.

John is already chasing his own bullet. He shoves Sherlock to the side, and the man he comes upon is dressed in black bullet-proof gear. Despite his wound hand, he’s ready with a knife.

In the corner of his eye, John sees another dark shadow.

He parries the knife thrust, throwing the man in front of him—and there’s another grunt.

Instead of hitting John, the bullet has pierced the man’s chest.

John throws the man off of him, diving for the cover of the doorway. But shit, oh, shit, Sherlock is firing at the next shooter. He has zero cover.

They are so going to have a lecture once this is over about how suicide and playing chicken are one and the bloody fucking same.

Sherlock is at his side in the next moment, though, and miraculously, not full of bullet holes.

“John,” he half-yells, trying to get his voice louder than the alarm. “The man up the hallway. That’s Moran.”

John wheels to look, and that’s the exact moment that the lights go out and the sprinkler system turns on. John wipes the water out of his eyes.

Well, bugger.

“Sherlock, screw Moran. We need to get out of here.”

John expects Sherlock to argue—or to do something stupid again, but when John yanks at his hand and pulls him down the corridor, the man merely holds his hand and follows.

They’re passing the lift when the up-arrow blinks and dings.

Too soon for the fire department. More likely a man with a gun or some poor berk sent to check out the source of the alarm.

“John,” Sherlock yells, and he’s pointing at a stone column.

They run for cover. As John slides in behind Sherlock, the doors of the elevator open and the fire alarm stutters and goes silent.

“John, Sherlock,” a terribly familiar voice calls.

“Mycroft,” Sherlock mutters. As John is behind him, he can’t see Sherlock’s face, but he can practically hear him rolling his eyes.

For John’s part, he positively sighs in relief, slumping forward and relaxing on Sherlock.

“Stay put one moment more,” Mycroft calls. “Just a few men with shields to clear the halls…”

Two duos of blue berets exit the lift, taking the north and east corridors.

When Mycroft Holmes steps out, his umbrella is open, and the spray from the sprinklers falls in a neat hoop down the sides of him. The man is as dry and spotless as ever. “Most unfortunately, it seems that Professor Moriarty has already vacated the premises.”

“Of course he has,” Sherlock spits.

Sherlock’s back is tense as John steps away from him, giving him room to show all of his usual pomp and circumstance in his brother’s presence.

Mycroft looks inordinately ghoulish, backlit as he is from the lights of the lift. “If only you’d involved us sooner, dear little brother—then the dog may not have slipped the leash.”

“I needed to be certain. If I called you too soon, he would have been informed.”

“We are not so porous.”

“Which explains how Sebastian Moran became one of your operatives.”

Mycroft’s face displays all of the amusement of concrete.

Sherlock smiles victoriously at his brother. “Moriarty will be harder to catch now, but he’ll also be less effective at managing his operations.”

“No.”

“‘No’ what?”

“To both. Firstly, do not suppose for a second that our professor wished to be caught. Otherwise, he’d have never revealed his hand. Second, I think we’ll bag him yet.”

“Oh?” Sherlock sounds bored. Nevertheless, both John and Mycroft know he is anything but.

“Chess, Sherlock, chess. Jim has called ‘check.’ Do you think he’s willing to stop at anything less than checkmate? Would one such as he let you keep your king?” Mycroft smiles horribly at John.

“Let me guess,” John mutters, “Sherlock is the queen in this atrocious analogy.”

“Wrong. I’m the chess master,” Sherlock snaps.

“Oh, come on. I at the very least am a knight. Me, a pansy-arsed king. Really?”

“More like the pawn that won’t die.”

“If anything, at best you’re a bloody bishop.”

“Boys…” Mycroft sighs, sounding so very put upon.

Sherlock’s head whips toward his brother. “Go home, Mycroft.”

“I’d advise you to do the same. And get a towel.” Mycroft sniffs.

Sherlock’s hair is especially wet at this point, but instead of making him look hassled or ill refined, the water has caused his curls to form in dark loops on the back of his neck. More so, when the lights flip back on, causing him to blink in a flurry, John is more than a little mesmerized by the glistening drops suspended from the ends of his lashes. Not to mention the sheen across his cheekbones…

But then Sherlock attempts to snatch Mycroft’s umbrella from him, and well, that’s the end of John’s moment.

Mycroft, despite being older and not nearly as fast, dodges Sherlock’s attempt with a practiced air. He takes the three steps back into the lift and closes his umbrella with two quick movements, all the while glaring at his younger brother. “Take the stairs,” he says.

“If anyone could use to take the stair—” Sherlock starts, but then the doors clang shut.

Overhead, there’s the hissing mist of the sprinklers, and outside, John can hear the distant wail of sirens, but the corridor is otherwise silent. Sherlock pivots on his heel so that he can look on at John. His chin is ground up, and his eyes are slices. “I was right about you.”

“What?”

But Sherlock doesn’t answer him. He’s already headed from the end of the stairwell at the end of the hallway.

“And just where are you going?”

Sherlock throws open the door.

“To your place. It’s closer.”

“Wait. What? No. My place?”

John doesn’t get an answer. Sherlock is already down the first set of stairs.

 

The ride home is not entirely dissimilar to past homecomings John has experienced. For one, despite all of the adrenaline in his system, he’s grateful to be alive. Neither he nor Sherlock are injured. Yet, John is aware that one man is very much dead. Whether that man was good or bad, well, it’s still a life. That’s a fair reason for John to be silent.

Everything else. Jim—dear goodness—Jim. John is having a hard time hating him. It’s more like he is very disappointed. Because really, when there’s decent head involved, is it possible to hate someone within twenty-four hours of receipt?

In fact, John’s going to stop this train of thought.

He suspects Sherlock is quiet for a completely different reason. For the first two minutes of their taxi ride, his sole focus was his phone. John caught a picture of a northern garden and a King’s college class roster, but then Sherlock had switched over to texting, and when he had apparently typed all that was possible—he had drawn his knees to his chest (an awkward position for being a taxi) and stared blankly out at the passing streets.

It’s only once they’re inside John’s apartment that Sherlock seems to come alive again. He starts flitting about, popping open books only to slam them shut—unscrewing lamp posts--poking at floorboards.

“Or you could just ask,” John says, splaying himself on the sofa.

Sherlock doesn’t pause. “I’m trying to find the bugs.” He looks accusingly at the wall vent.

“Lift up the gray rock in that stupid sculpture in the corner. Next you’ll find a green wire going into the south wall socket that’s definitely not a part of a proper electric circuit. For the video feed, that entire mirror.” John points at his own reflection.

Sherlock turns around, and John gets a full on sneer. “You left them in.”

“I rearranged a few, but as a former operative, it’s logical that our government would want to keep an eye on me. I have nothing to hide. Why not let them?”

“Basic privacy.”

The show-off suddenly wants privacy—in someone else’s home. John thinks not. “What is going on, Sherlock? Talk.”

“I want tea.” And to John’s astonishment, Sherlock goes into John’s kitchen, where he fills up the kettle and lights the burner.

John is feeling deeply unsettled. At any moment, Sherlock is going to do something rash—or worse, dastardly and experimental. “Is this about Jim?” John hedges.

“You want to know if what is about Jim?” Sherlock wheels around, glaring at him.

“I’d apologize, but I didn’t know he was evil.”

“This is not about Jim—directly. Or, well.” Sherlock makes a sound of disgust. “It’s not supposed to be. Because if it was about you and Jim, it would be about sentiment, and I've always been able to keep myself distant. Divorce myself from feelings. But you see, then you had to show up—and did I not say you would be a problem?”

“You did,” John agrees, but Sherlock carries on, speaking over him. (Apparently, the question was rhetorical.)

“Because it’s not supposed to happen this way. My body is not supposed to be betraying me. You're supposed to be a piece on the board. Interesting, yes. But not distracting.”

John can’t stop himself from examining Sherlock’s body for immediately visual signs of betrayal, but Sherlock’s hips are twisted away. He has a hand shovelled in his hair, and John can’t help from wanting to soothe him. “We fight all the time. And we seem to get into scrapes. Of course it’s distracting.”

“No. I misspoke. Distracting is too light word.”

“Infuriating?”

“Consuming.”

And this is the moment where Sherlock picks up a wooden stirring spoon and chucks it at John.

Because John is not expecting this level of juvenility, the wooden spoon sails past his defences and thwacks him in the arm.

“Er, ow.”

“You’ve had worse,” Sherlock growls—right before sending a continuous volley: sugar spoon, fork, butter knife, sugar spoon, and (what the fuck?) an actual table knife.

John manages to throw the kitchen chair up as a shield, before doing the damn logical thing and bull charging the bastard.

John’s “What the fuck is your prob—?” gets choked off as Sherlock mashes a rather brown banana in his eye socket.

Okay, no more Mr Nice John.

Blinking past the Fyffes label, John wraps his fist in a dish towel and decks Sherlock right under the chin.

There’s a guttural sort of “yip” before Sherlock remembers he has heels. One of them smashes down on John’s toes.

And yes, a smashed big toe fucking sucks, but so does hair pulling—and there’s a reason military men keep it short—because Sherlock’s dark curls make yanking fucking easy.

Sherlock’s hand fumbles backward on the counter, and suddenly a powder puff of white is engulfing the two of them. He grabbed the icing sugar, the fucker.

But no, John is not letting this skinny git have another go. He tackles Sherlock to the floor, and they slide across the tiles for an extra foot longer than necessary. There is unkind clawing at John’s ear.

John slams Sherlock’s wrist down. And since he has the greater upper body strength, when he puts his weight forward, Sherlock is smashed, pinned, underneath of him.

Still, Sherlock is not so confined that he can’t lean up to lick at John’s bottom lip.

This is no fast swipe. It’s a slow, wet tug.

Shit.

“No,” John says and he pushes Sherlock’s face away with his own, forehead angling him away.

“But you want it.” Sherlock is panting, slightly sweaty--and well, he’s right, but...

“That’s not good enough.”

Sherlock tries to kiss him again, but this time it’s more of a nip of John’s bottom lip. “I want to see what happens. I need to see.”

“Absolutely fucking not. I am not a hypothesis. I will not let you control the variables. We are not doing this again.”

And this is where Sherlock pauses and he finally gets it. John is serious. He’s not going to let Sherlock play his fucking games.

“I want to fuck you,” Sherlock says. “It’s all I can think about. It’s annoying. It’s boring. But I see you bend over, and I want to put mine in yours.”

Or not.

John thinks his jaw is hanging open. Either way, Sherlock uses the opportunity to press up and lick at John’s bottom lip, to bite softly, and then—the damn tease—to tickle John’s tongue tip with his own.

“Sherlock,” John protests. Sherlock has moved on to pressing languorous kisses, shaping a valentine around John’s mouth, and it’s so sneaky. It’s like he’s trying to spell John’s lips so they’ll never speak against him, just agree and agree and yes, sir, yes, yes.

But no... no... Sherlock has it all backwards.

“Shhh...” Sherlock hushes, attempting to loosen John’s grip on his wrists. “Relax.”

John needs to clarify. “You’re not fucking me,” he says and tightens his grip once again on Sherlock’s wrist. “I’m on top.”

“Wrong. I am.”

“Right now, might equals right.”

Sherlock freezes. His teeth snap shut. “I’m taller than you.”

John snorts. “My dick is bigger.”

“Thicker. Approximately the same length.”

“You’ll like it.” And John grabs Sherlock’s chin and kisses him hard.

Beneath of him, Sherlock stops squirming and just sort of softens. And the harder John kisses him—the more violent his teeth and tongue—the more Sherlock simply melts.

That’s when John gets it. The spoons. The knives. The antagonism.

“You like it when I fight with you.” John looks him in the eyes. “It’s a kink?”

“Fuck you,” Sherlock says.

Which John reads loud and bloody clear. “You do. You so do.”

“I have no such thing,” Sherlock counters, but the words are more breathed than spoken; his pupils are blown. His neck and lips are bruised.

John rolls off of him. Sherlock, freed of John’s grip, pushes up to his feet. It’s a futile effort, but more importantly, it’s what John wants.

Sherlock shoves at him, but John catches his arm, twisting it in a half-Nelson so that Sherlock stumbles backward. That’s when John slams him up against the fridge. From there, it’s easy to get at his belt, buttons, and zip.

Sherlock hits him hard across the jaw. Not once but twice. Also, a nasty jab to John’s bad shoulder.

But when John has his cock loose and in hand, Sherlock’s hand clings to the fridge door handle. Sherlock’s neck cranes upward before he nose-dives, grappling for a kiss.

It’s deep and the strokes of his tongue seem to beg for equivalent strokes below, but John can only tug so fast at this level of friction, and that’s why it’s a blind fumble a moment later as he reaches for the bottle of oil on the counter. He doesn’t pour it, just knocks it over, smearing his hand in the spilled puddle.

After five or so slick pulls, Sherlock isn’t standing straight so much as slumping over John, and if he doesn’t do something, they’ll both collapse—which John isn’t ready for. He has plans.

Sherlock isn’t all that cooperative; he’s a tall, if skinny, man, so it takes some serious coordination and effort for John to walk-carry him over to the kitchen table.

It’s more fun to shove him onto his back.

“You’re not going to—I am going to—” Sherlock tries to push on his elbows, but his eyes aren’t remotely focused and it’s like bullying a toddler when John knocks him back down.

After that, it’s easy to rip off his shirt, and well, his nipples are pale and pink. The last time they did this John did not pay them proper attention—and oh, God, then he has to work his way back up, because that neck. It’s bloody elegant is what it is and when John sucks on it, Sherlock makes deep groans that cause him to scrabble at his own zip, and Sherlock sort of bats at him—but then John licks the tip of his pretty cock, and well, that distracts Sherlock completely for a good twenty seconds.

Long enough for John to get more oil and circle the first finger in.

Sherlock makes a growl of protest but it cuts off with a groan that can only be pleasure.

John is working the finger in and out. His own dick is so hard it hurts. It’s leaking and brushing against Sherlock’s thigh—and he wants inside so badly.

He pushes in a second finger. Sherlock’s eyes widen. His cock pops a bit on his stomach, and the man looks so bloody gorgeous, but John needs to be sure.

“Say, yes, you bastard,” he hisses. “I need a yes.”

“I—” Sherlock sucks in a breath. “Not like this.”

“Say yes.”

And Sherlock shoves him. With a yet unseen show of force. Enough that John falls back on his arse, and his finger comes out of Sherlock—and that can’t have felt good—he thinks his nail scraped.

But Sherlock is in hot pursuit. He’s crawling over John, grabbing his jaw and kissing him and his arse is... it’s teasing John’s cock. Hips don’t shift quite like that and not mean something, so John isn’t utterly surprised when Sherlock pulls back to take him in his fist, and then—oh, it’s fucking beautiful—spreads his cheeks and sinks down.

“I said I was going to fuck you,” Sherlock says.

“Okay.” John is stupendously proud of his two syllables. Mostly, he just wants Sherlock to move.

“I win this.” Sherlock arches up. Hot, slick. Fuck.

“We can both win. It’s a win-win scenario.” And how could it not be? John has two handfuls of gorgeous arse rising and falling on his cock. And Sherlock’s is bobbing and bouncing deliciously in front of him, and John didn’t expect this. He doesn’t know what he expected, but right now, it’s so absolutely perfect.

Sherlock is unsteadily shaking his head. “No, if you come first, I win.”

Utter sexy git. “First and second place, then.” John grabs Sherlock’s dick and sets to pumping.

And at that point, it’s a bit complicated, because John is really in a two-front war, and all tactical manoeuvres start fading into the haze at a certain point as John’s balls clench and he’s going to—he’s going to—

Sherlock sees it. Pumping faster on John, he looks so determined, but John is holding on. He’s keeping his rhythm on Sherlock’s dick.

Until out of the fucking blue—Sherlock smacks him.

John comes.

Well, and then he forgets he has hands.

He’s splayed on the floor, seeing stars in the universe and the deepest red light in the ocean, when Sherlock crawls up him, and well, there’s a dick against his cheek.

Fucking rude.

But then John supposes he has unfinished business.

Either way, John pushes Sherlock over and takes him in his mouth. He tastes olive oil, which isn’t bad, but Sherlock is close—on the brink—so John sucks once, twice, and Sherlock’s balls tighten, so then there’s the other flavour: bitter protein shake, coating John’s tongue.

John isn’t ready for it, so he ends up spitting, which makes a worse mess than if he’d just swallowed it, but oh, who the fuck cares?

Looking at John, Sherlock laughs, almost a giggle, and he stretches out, a boneless angel on the floor.

John doesn’t want him to fly away again, so he grabs his hand and looks him in the eye. “Come to bed.”

Sherlock gives him a look. John isn’t sure how to interpret it.

“You hate the sofa.”

It’s the right thing to say. Sherlock follows him.

 

When John wakes up the next morning, Sherlock is gone, but there’s a note at his bedside.

Gone after him.

John crumples the paper with a sigh.

His mobile is on the kitchen counter, and he’s about to call Sherlock when the alert chimes. John opens the message to find it’s a picture.

Bill Murray is tied up with a gun aimed at his head.

You have twenty four hours, the caption reads.

Chapter Text

John takes a breath. Panicking will not help Bill. John isn’t dumb, and he knows he’s been roped into a trap, one that’s baited and set with a thousand possible triggers. To navigate this, he needs to be calm. He needs to figure out the where, when, and how. If he’s honest, he needs Sherlock.

No. He doesn’t need Sherlock.

Well, he kind of wants Sherlock.

Even though the git was gone before John woke up.

Though, he did leave a note, which—from Sherlock—is nearly a love letter.

Oi, focus. Bill.

John picks up his phone, examining the picture. Bill is positioned from the side. His nose is bloodied and a purple bruise makes a horn beneath his left eye, but his gaze is otherwise as clear and eagle sharp as ever. The gun is pressed into the back of his neck at an upward angle, pointed toward the brain stem.

The hand gripping the gun is rough and scarred with hairless knuckles.

Sam.

John still can’t believe it. The kid had a bloodthirsty streak, sure, but so does most of the military. Coming home isn’t easy for them, with PTSD and sudden cultural anarchy, but they manage. They find ways, whether it’s rough rugby and shoot-em-up video games or in parallel careers, like the police force or private security. Being addicted to adrenaline doesn’t mean they turn on kin and country.

Or their mates. Never their mates.

But then there was that one mission... A town north of Kalar was supposed to be considered safe. However, intelligence was reporting one of the local politicians secretly channelling funds and weapons to insurgents. Evidence had been found in a roadside bombing.

The turncoat needed to be taken out, but the hit had to be passed off as a death-by-natural causes. Religious tensions in the town were already too high among the local government.

With his infallible ability to move soundlessly, Sam had been the one to secure the target, tranquilizing him before he could utter a peep, and then serve the poison. John was supposed to merely follow him as backup and confirm the death.

But when John had slid into the room, the man was not tranq’d. His eyes were wide and terrified as Sam held him down, slowly plunging the syringe into his wrist. And well, death was always horrible- Always, but Sam’s face—stretched with black hate and a mocking smile—it wasn’t human.

Behind John, the door had clicked with a soft click. Sam had tensed, aware of John’s presence. And the plunger was emptied into the man’s arm in the next second.

Later, Sam apologized. “I-I shouldn’t have done it that way. I should have tranq’d him. I was being an idiot. But you should have heard what that dick said to me. I got so angry. I wasn’t myself.”

John had let it go. Sam was young, still crazy with youth. And well, John liked to think the best of people.

In hindsight...

John forwards the text and picture to Sherlock.

Then he waits.

Five minutes later, he’s screwing with his phone when he sees the texts from last night, the ones that Sherlock had sent—and also, the one from Jim.

John. You need to leave.
You need to leave now.
This is not idiot jealousy .
-SH

You’re in danger. -SH

Don’t drink his tea. -SH

Don’t drink his anything. -SH

He’s trying to weave you into his web.
Don’t let him.
-SH

I’m outside the door.
Please.
-SH

Sherlock. Sherlock. Why so afraid?
Only certain species of spiders weave webs.
But then, I suppose, only some drink their mates,
but first we always play, don’t we?

John can’t help his wince. Because, well, that’s not creepy or anything...

Next, John checks his laptop. No emails. He considers his options. It could be that there are some clues left at Bill’s... Maybe, if he went there, he’d find something.

Sherlock still hasn’t texted him back.

But then John sees the other number. Mycroft.

John gives in and starts typing: “Good morning, so it seems like another one of your agent’s got kidnapped...”

He hasn’t even pressed send when the mirror in his living room lights up; instead of reflecting the a view of the fireplace, it’s showing a rather harried Mycroft Holmes.

John throws a pillow over his bottom half. He’s been pacing about in pants.

“And good morning to you, Dr. Watson.” Mycroft smiles like they’re sitting down to beans and toast, rather than what feels like a highly invasive government Skype chat.

“I assume this is about Moriarty. He has Bill.”

“We are aware.” Mycroft folds his fingers together.

“And?”

“And we need your help. We need you to extract Bill Murray, and more importantly, stop my brother.”

“What is Sherlock doing now?”

“Dancing on a tightrope above a pit of spitting lava.”

Well, Sherlock is rather flexible, John thinks, but still—dangerous. “He’s tracking down Moriarty. He left me a note that said as much. He’s closing in?”

“If by ‘closing in,’ you refer to him being pulled forward by a string.”

“Then why don’t you help him yank it back?”

Mycroft scowls. “When going toe to toe with Jim Moriarty, the strings tend to be sticky for even the biggest bugs.”

John is a little tired of the spider analogies. “Right, so you really have no bleeding clue what this mess is, and it’s easier to send me. Roger that. Where am I off to then?”

Mycroft raises his umbrella and examines a particular thick spoke as if it’s immeasurably interesting. “Your guide will be arriving any second now.”

Behind John, there’s a knock on the door.

“There she is. Good luck, Dr. Watson.”

The screen goes dark, and John is left staring at his own reflection.

When John opens the door, he’s greeted by red lips and a leather mini skirt.

“Ready to play?” Irene Adler snaps a crop on her thigh.

At John’s grimace, she laughs.

 

They’re heading to a country estate. That’s all he’s told. John has his gun, a knife hidden under his thick jumper, and even a small blade fitted to the back of his thigh. Nevertheless, he feels naked sitting across from Irene in the car.

When she isn’t interrogating him with words, Irene seems confident to dissect him with her eyes.

“Why you?” she wonders aloud. “He didn’t kill you. And the way Sherlock Holmes watches you, his eyes widening like magnifying glasses—it’s mystifying.”

“And you love mysteries.” John’s tone comes out a bit clipped.

But Irene slumps back crossing her legs and “There’s not much theatre to you. You’re so perfectly understated. You look kind—and you’re a doctor. A real one. Not some freak with a pain fetish, and yet a military man. You don’t hesitate to fire.” She pauses and smiles, biting her thumb nail. “Or maybe I simply haven’t tested you enough. Maybe you really do like pain.”

“If I recall, on our last test, you failed.”

Her smile is gone. “Sherlock intervened. I would have pricked you with that hair pin, and your night would have been over.”

Her affect of confidence is iron, but John knows she’s not sure. Like Sherlock, she’s trying to sort him out. Find the cracks.

“So why’d the elder Holmes let you off your leash?”

Irene leans forward. “Because I know where daddy hides the toys.”

“And how does Mycroft know you won’t go running back to ‘daddy’?”

Irene stretches her neck from side to side. The cracks are audible. “Because he knows his benefits package is more suited to my tastes.”

“More theatre?”

She forks her fingers into an ‘x’, smiling like a cat. “No one can beat James Moriarty for theatre.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Oh, what light through yonder window breaks?”

“That there’s no greater theatre than beating him. Mycroft offered you a chance at revenge.”

Irene’s face breaks into a genuine smile. “Oh, good. You get it.”

“So tell me what I need to do.”

“Not die,” she says.

Terribly helpful.

Outside, the car starts to rumble as they turn onto an old stone drive.

 

The car rolls to a stop alongside a thick patch of forest. It’s apparently their destination, because as soon as Irene is out, the vehicle makes a u-turn and heads off in a new direction.

John is about to ask what they’re doing here when a pinecone thwacks off the top of his head.

He looks up.

Sherlock is in the tree.

Spitting lava and tightropes, indeed. More like twiggy limbs and pine sap.

Looking down at them, Sherlock looks like a cat which, after so expertly climbing up, requires the fire bridgade to fish him out. To his credit, though, he doesn’t fall—to the ground. He does whomp his chin on a rather bulbous knot, however. At the lowest branch, he tosses John his binoculars. They smack John in the chest, and he has to scramble, tossing the binoculars to Irene so that he can be free handed to catch Sherlock—who jumps right at him.

Well, and then he has an armful of consulting detective.

“You didn’t answer my text,” John says.

“You weren’t supposed to be here.” Sherlock is staring at his mouth.

“They have Bill. Did you really think I wouldn’t come?”

“I knew you’d want to. I didn’t consider the possibility of your using outside help.” His eyes flick toward Irene in brief annoyance before returning to John’s face. “You should go home.”

“Funny.”

Sherlock is still gripping his shoulders, tighter than necessary. There’s a dark streak of sap along his jaw, not to mention some pine needles in his hair. He’s not wearing his coat. When John looks over, it’s carefully folded and set on one of the broader tree roots. Such a posh git.

“What?” Sherlock’s eyes are suspicious.

But it’s Irene who answers. “Oh, the shag must have been fantastic. I can taste the testosterone from here. We do have at least a few minutes. If you boys can work fast...” She winks at them.

Sherlock drops his arms from John’s shoulders, glares at Irene, and then stalks over to retrieve his coat. “So far an ice truck and two cars with tinted windows have pulled up to the house. I’m certain that the ice truck truly only delivered supplies. But the cars delivered our professor and then Sebastian Moran. I suspect they’re awaiting us.”

“Just a quickie,” Irena whinges, biting at the tassel on her crop. “John and I were discussing how he wasn’t particularly theatrical, but I bet he puts on a good show for you. I’m perfectly happy to assist.”

Sherlock ignores her. “John, they have cameras along the paddock fences as well as motion detectors sporadically laid on the open, forested areas to the north and west.”

John nods. “So... you’re saying there’s no unobserved way into the estate.” And they can’t wait for night. John would bet they’d set a patrol then anyway, and who know what could happen to Bill in that time?

“We’ll have to set off the motion detectors,” Sherlock says.

“And here I was hoping we could be old fashioned and knock.” Irene puts her hands on her hips.

John rolls his eyes. “Setting off the motion detectors seems to be exactly what we don’t want to do.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “Not so.”

“How’s that?”

Sherlock reaches into his coat and pulls out a rather ripe-smelling sack of what might very well be road kill.

John really doesn’t know why he’s surprised. “Are we going to lure them away with a barbeque?”

Sherlock nods. “Our targets are Doll and Cuckoo.”

Irene giggles. “Sounds like my kind of girls.”

“You mean dogs, yes?”John doesn’t think Irene’s kind-of-girls would be attracted to the contents of Sherlock’s’ baggie.

Sherlock grins. “A border collie and a beagle, to be precise.”

 

Once the wind picks up and Sherlock opens the bag, the dogs arrive in no time. Since Harry was allergic, John grew up in a house without pets, but he’s always wanted a proper dog. Doll, especially, is a beaut, waiting patiently with big, sweet eyes for John to toss her a bit of chop.

For the next five minutes, Sherlock, John, and Irene take turns throwing bits of meat for the dogs to catch. The motion sensors have to be going nuts.

The guard shows up at minute six. Sherlock with his binoculars spots the guard well before so they’re well hidden by the time he arrives. Nevertheless, the dogs are still out in the field, hunting for scraps. When the guard approaches, they immediately start circling him, and John is very impressed. It’s almost like they know the big, bad man is a threat, and they’re trying to herd him away from John, Sherlock, and Irene.

“Git!” the guard shouts, swinging a kick out at the dogs.

He gets a chorus of barks in return.

But then he unholsters his gun.

John has his own aimed in the next second. But Sherlock is pushing at the barrel, shaking his head.

Sure enough, the man lets out another growl, before stomping back toward the estate. “Stupid mutts.”

After the coast is clear, Doll and Cuckoo come back around. Sherlock gives them the last of the meat, although John thinks he gives Cuckoo more. He seems especially fond of the little beagle, letting him lick the last bits of flavour off his fingers. John wonders he had a small hound as a boy.

Regardless, Sherlock stands. “We should hurry.”

 

The house is surrounded by carefully maintained gardens. Topiaries in avante garde shapes twist over long hedges. Small spirals of boxwood frame roses, Greco-Roman statues, and fountains. The stonework is a uniform honey colour that’s probably regional. As a doctor, John is used to having wealthy friends, but there’s wealth and then there’s, well, this.

Sherlock and Irene barely seem to notice except for her occasional descriptive opinion at the random naked bust. In fact, as they close in east side, Sherlock tramples on more than a few flowers without paying the slightest bit of attention.

“John,” he says. “You’ll head up through that window right there. I’ll climb up on the upper balcony—and you—” He glares at Irene.

Irene smiles back. “I am going to shimmy around to the greenhouses and see if I can’t sneak into the security room.”

“Don’t sound the alarm,” Sherlock says.

Irene tutts. “I was planning on stealing a uniform, actually. Then... once I was comfortable in the security room, a girl just needs to let her hair down, well, doesn’t she?”

John flinches when he sees that Irene has not one but four hairpins holding her hair aloft.

Sherlock, though, seems satisfied. “No time to waste. And John, getting Bill out is not your priority. Putting a bullet between Sebastian Moran’s eyes is.”

“And what about Moriarty?” John asks.

“Leave him to me.” His tone is dark enough that neither John nor Irene feels like protesting.

 

John is in what he thinks must of have been the old servant’s wing. A thin iron bed with no mattress is gathering dust on its rails. Cobwebs hang in the ceiling corners and a cabinet with a cracked mirror sits desolate on the south wall. When he pokes his nose out into the hallway, he hears nothing. A ten count, then.

The mental count has just reached number seven when the first soft footfall reaches John’s ears.

John backs away from the door, softening his breathing, and holding out a small thin hand mirror.

At the end of the hallway, there’s no person, but John can make out the shadow on the wall.

The shadow is moving.

But then outside, the breeze picks up. The tree outside the window shakes and before John can withdraw the mirror, the light reflects in an unnatural flicker.

The steps start down the hall towards him.

If it’s Sam, John needs to cut low. He’s a match for the man on speed, especially when the man doesn’t have the element of surprise. Sam will come in with a low thrust, especially if he’s uncertain of who’s in the room. If he knew it was John, Sam wouldn’t be coming down the hallway. He’d wait for John to come to him.

But as John listens to the footfalls, there’s too much weight in the way the floorboards groan.

Not Sam. Another guard. John readies his knife.

The door is kicked open, but John waits.

One. Two.

The man swings into the room, but John is behind him and already has the knife sliding across his throat—while the other hand wrenches the gun free from the guard’s hand.

John lays the man out on the bed rails.

Then he listens.

All clear.

John takes the left side of the corridor and pads his way over to the stairwell. Sherlock is coming from the upstairs balcony, but he’d bet anything that Bill is going to be kept in the basement. The stairs lead down to another small corridor. John is leaning over the banister to see when another guard appears.

Unlike the last one, this bloke is banging about making a great deal of noise and looking bored. Still, the way he’s holding his gun, the man knows how to use it.

John waits until the man has his back turned and then it’s a quick, silent slide down the banister, two steps and the guard only manages a single constricted whine. John hides him in the broom cupboard.

The door to the basement is through a green-tiled kitchen and down a short stair with walls of canned fruits on either side.

John is rounding the bottom step, pulling out his mirror, when he hears the soft click.

His neck is stinging.

When he reaches for the spot, his fingers close around a plastic dart. There’s his blood and an oily chemical streaked across the needle.

He twists, aiming his gun, but his fingers start to shake. A tingling numbness rolls down his spine.

The gun falls from his hand at the same time that the right wall of shelves swings open—a hidden crawl space—and out steps Sam. “Johnny, Johnny, I was so hoping you’d show up.”

John can’t move, even though his gun is at his feet. More importantly, his balance isn’t doing so well. He braces himself for the pain as he starts to pitch forward.

But Sam catches him. “Didn’t think I’d let you fall, did you?”

John’s mouth feels too slack to respond.

“Well, maybe you were right.” Sam slams him backwards.

John’s head hits the door first instead of the stone floor, but it’s not much of an improvement. There’s a flashing of black and white in his vision. To his left he hears the crashing of glass—he probably knocked off one of the jars of canned fruit. When he stops rolling, his elbow is trapped and throbbing beneath his body. Glass is stinging against his palm.

Fingers clamp around his shoulders and he’s lurched upright to face Sam.

“That was for putting your cock in my boyfriend's mouth.” And then Sam smiles, and his cruel grin is far too close a match to the one in John’s memory.

John is ready for it when the fist clocks his temple.

Chapter Text

He awakens with a throbbing head, and vision that is all rainbows. It takes a moment for his eyes to focus, but by that time, he’s aware that his hands are cuffed to a pole behind his back; his feet seem to be roped together. As for his weapons, the cold press of his knife is no longer along his ribs. As for the small one on his thigh, John can still feel the medical tape holding it in place. That’s good.

What’s not good is that sitting across from him is Bill.

And behind Bill is Jim. Sam is nowhere in sight.

Jim’s hands come down on Bill’s shoulders as he looks at John. “Oh, our good doctor is conscious. A bit sore, likely. But Sebastian does tend to be over-enthusiastic in his handlings. And in your case, John, I told him not to hit you—and he did. Twice, was it? But not to worry, you’ll be fine. You look fine.” Jim winks at him.

John works his jaw. It’s still numb, but he thinks he’s managing to glare. Meanwhile, Bill is glumly frowning at John. “Sorry there, mate. Didn't mean for you to get messed up in this.”

“Not your fault.”

“I was bait.” Bill’s voice comes out in a growl.

“Oh, not fishing analogies,” Jim groans, his hand cutting through the air. “After all, why sit and wait when you can use super sonar and a harpoon?” And then he laughs.

John wants to reassure Bill, but Jim is smiling maniacally over his shoulders. “So you've got us caught. Now what’s the plan?”

“We wait for Sherlock. He should be here...” Jim fishes his mobile out of his pocket. “...any minute.”

But what about Irene? And does Jim know that Sherlock is already in the house? John doesn't want to give anything away. “So why me and Bill?” he asks. “The government already knows about your boyfriend. Killing more agents isn't going to clear his name.”

“Not my boyfriend—though he wishes.” Jim rolls his eyes.

“Said he was when he decked me.”

“Oh, he’s a little jealous of you, I think. Actually, he tends to be jealous in general. It’s irritating but also convenient. Like the owner of this house for example. I hadn't planned on killing him.” Jim flips his wrist, sighing dramatically. “I just wanted a little country affair, but no, Sebby had to go a little crazy. And oops, another cadaver.”

John thinks back to the morgue. There’d been an older male, decapitated. None of the missing persons had fit the profile. It was probably because he hadn't been reported missing yet. All thanks to Sam. And Jim. “So why come after SIS operatives then?” John asks.

“John, are we being nosy?” Jim’s lips are turned up in a smirk.

“Well, you’re smart. And isn’t that what geniuses do—they love to share?”

Jim laughs. “You’ve been spending too much time around Sherlock.”

“Probably.”

Jim walks around Bill, standing an arm’s length from John. It’s unfortunate that John still finds him good-looking, if in a werewolf-puppy sort of way. “And what does Sherlock tell you?”

“Now, Jim, I don’t gossip.”

“You don’t kiss and tell?” Jim pouts.

“My mum raised me to be a gentleman.”

Across from them, Bill is looking deeply disturbed (John doesn't blame him), and his face is positively terrorized when Jim throws over a leg, straddling John’s lap. “My mother was an alcoholic who gagged on her own vomit. I suppose my unrestrained upbringing has resulted in stinted manners.”

“Well, let me help then. Not killing people, that’s a fair start.”

Jim doesn't laugh, though it looks like he wants to. No, he leans forward and runs his hand beneath John’s jaw. “I hate feeling this,” he complains.

There are both physical and emotional possibilities for what Jim is feeling, so John attempts to clarify. “And what’s that?”

“Regret.” Jim is biting his bottom lip.

“For?”

Jim laughs. “Oh, you are good!”

“Er, why?”

Jim leans into whisper in his hear. “Because now I want to tell you my diabolical scheme.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s super diabolical.”

Jim snorts. “You wonder why we started going after SIS agents. Well, it’s because of Sherlock.”

“You wanted his attention, and you knew his brother’s role in the government.”

“And Seb was bored.” Jim shrugs. “Apparently, trained military assassins are more fun targets.”

“So you got Sherlock’s attention. Obviously.”

“Yes, but not him.”

“Well, no,” John agrees.

“Because...?” Jim prompts.

John rolls his eyes. “...of me.”

“Yes, sir.” Jim salutes and laughs. “And now he has to choose.”

“Me or death?”

Jim tutts. “Nuh, uh, uh. Don’t be boring.”

“Doesn’t sound all that boring.”

“No, you ought to think bigger—grander. Like, let’s go back to the day that Bill saved your life. You were on guard duty—which didn’t go so well.”

John’s shoulder tenses at the memory. “I won’t say I disagree with you.”

“Yes, nasty, nasty Farid, he was going to tattle on me. I had to bribe a whole terror cell to take him down, and then that didn’t even work. Your little team took out my baker’s dozen of enemy combatants. Seb had to out himself and then fake his death—annoying.”

“Annoying is not the word I would use.” John thinks of Farid and Colt. He thinks of all the funerals, widows, and children without parents. He thinks of all of those blue lips and sunken eyes showing up in morgue. His wrists push against his handcuffs and if he could slip them out, he’d have Jim’s wind socket crushed in the next second.

“Oh, you’re angry. Good. I need you angry.”

“Part of your plan?”

Jim smiles, and then he whistles, clear and sharp. Then he stands and skips over toward the centre of the room.

Two thumping sets of feet descend down the stairs. The first is a thin guard with a moustache—the second is a young woman with dark eyes and dark hair. She looks uncannily familiar to John.

“Hi, princess,” Jim calls.

The girl is gagged, but that doesn’t stop her from making a sharp “Ermph!” through the cloth covering her mouth.

“May I present the Saudi Ambassador’s daughter? She was one of my students until I kidnapped her—not that she was a good student. Her research paper was a grave disappointment.” Jim’s voice goes teasingly sing-song. “Too much time spent shopping, me thinks.”

John’s stomach bottoms out. He and Bill exchange looks of mutual apprehension.

“That’s right.” Jim skips in place. “You can read the headline now: MI-6 Operatives Assassinate Saudi Ambassador’s Daughter.”

“That makes no sense.” John shakes his head. “What reason would we have to go after her?”

Jim laughs. “Well, our princess here has been up to no good—but that’s too long of story to get into. Really, I have both your and Bill’s fingerprints. I could just shoot her now, and the deed would be done.”

“And why don’t you?” John doesn’t actually want to know, but he needs to stall.

Where the hell is Sherlock? Irene, even?

“Because I’d rather you did it voluntarily on video. I do have the cameras all ready.” Jim points at the small black boxes on either sides of the room.

“Multiple views. Very cinematic.”

“I know—it’s so sad that I went into crime and academia—just think, if I’d gone into media—Spielberg would have wept.”

“And um, why do you want to shoot her? I’m supposing it’s not for submitting a bad paper.”

“You didn’t read the paper,” Jim deadpans. “No, no. I am low on chaos. And I have all of these clients—they don’t like it when oil prices get low. And what keeps oil prices low? Peace,” Jim spits out the word like it’s a rotten cherry. “Oh, don’t give me that look. It’s fun to control oil prices like a dimmer switch.”

“For oil? You’re in cahoots with Big Oil.”

Jim scowls. “Don’t be like that. I’m no Standard Oil man. I’ll have you know. I invest heavily in Chinese solar.”

John is still gaping in disbelief when the upstairs door bangs open. Tripping down the stairs comes Sam—followed by Sherlock and another guard.

“Oh, at long last!” Jim cheers. “I had already given John most of my criminal mastermind speech, but luckily, you’ll be able to hear the end.”

Sherlock glances from the bound girl to John and Bill and rolls his eyes. “You’ve been using the war as a cover for a large number of your criminal operations. Therefore, the de-escalation in regional tensions, the troop withdrawals, and your own attachment to Sebastian Moran—who was one of your former students—forced your hand. Now you want an SIS operative to shoot the girl and therefore destabilize Middle Eastern relations or possibly start a war. Boring.”

Jim crosses his arms. “Don’t lie, Sherlock. You weren’t bored.”

Sherlock looks considering. “Certainly less than normal.”

“And please explain to our lessers, how am I escaping this scot free?”

Sherlock’s eyes close then open. “You’ll leave no traces of your presence here. Step one. Will you fake your death? Yes. Another cadaver. You’ve so much experience with them at this point. Alas, you, the poor professor caught in the middle. Step Two. But still, even if you killed the girl, both nation’s intelligence services are aware of your criminal networks—ah yes, the girl. She’s an accidental spy.”

“Your brother found a blond-haired, blue-eyed footballer fluent in Arabic to sit next to her in my class.” Jim’s look is nostalgic. “I can’t really say I blame her for blabbing state secrets. He was awfully pretty.”

Sherlock’s mouth falls open. “Ah, she was the girl with you in the pub on the night that I first spotted you with John. What I observed was not untrue—you pretended to pour your heart out to her about your recent breakup and in turn, she poured out hers. Calluses on the fingers and fanciful dress style—she kept a diary or something else moronic.”

“Yes!” Jim claps.

“And so step three, once you, John, or Bill kills her, you’ll release a media thunderstorm. Step four, you’ll blackmail my brother. Initially, you threaten him with my life. You’re supposing that will buy you enough time to get me out of the country. You’re assuming Mycroft cares about me more than his job. You’re assuming he would choose me. It's not a gamble with good odds.”

Jim crosses his arms patiently.

“But then you know that, so ah, yes, you intend to use John against me. You’ll only spare him if I cooperate—I’ll have to help you with something dastardly and criminal. Probably involving public murder. And then that’s the second level of blackmail. You’ll threaten to publicly expose Mycroft as my brother. Embarrass the whole monarchy, so on and etcetera.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Jim says, but he’s grinning in delight. “We play the board move-by-move.”

“Well, I’ll spare you the trouble. I refuse to play.”

Jim’s smile falters. “You can’t.”

“I can.”

“You’d watch John Watson die?”

“Irrelevant. John would rather die than watch Britain fall into a new war. Not only is he painfully patriotic, but he’s also a doctor. He doesn't like it when people die.”

Jim turns around. “Such a complicated boy. Is what he says true, Johnny?”

John swallows. “It is.”

“Well, then surely he won’t mind this.” Jim makes a signal to Sam.

John is ready for anything. He’s braced for pain—even a bullet. What he’s not ready for is to watch Sam pick up a loose floorboard and swing it at the back of Bill’s head.

Bill—oh God—Bill realizes it’s coming a second before John does, because he gives John a look—one that is almost an apology, and then he does the impossible and tries to stay loose despite the blow. But there is no staying loose when a long wooden lever smacks into your skull at that velocity. There’s a hollow thud, and Bill’s mouth falls open with a scream-groan.

Sam is raising the board again, ready for a second blow, when Jim snaps his fingers. “Enough.”

“He’s not dead yet,” Sam protests.

Jim rolls his eyes. “So, doctor, you were saying?”

John doesn't know what to say. There’s a trickle of red rolling down the back of Bill’s neck. John’s worrying over internal bleeding. Definitely a concussion, but it could be worse: soft tissue damage, long term memory loss… The horrid thing is that John knows what Bill would say. Their lives don’t weigh more than a mad man’s victory. They’re soldiers—this is what they signed up for. John takes a breath of stale, basement air and shakes his head.

“Oh, dear,” Jim says with fingers splayed over his open mouth. “Poor Bill. Such a pity, now Se—”

“Stop.”

John is still shocked that it was not his own voice. It was Sherlock's.

Arms out in front of him, Jim turns in what is almost a sit-spin. “Change your mind?”

“Let the girl, Bill, and John go, and I’ll cooperate with you.”

“And why would I do something like that? Besides, if I let him go, wouldn’t you miss him?” Jim puckers.

Sherlock brushes a spot of dirt off his left cuff. “You like the money, you like the power, but you’ve been growing weary of them. You feel intellectually isolated. You’re even bored of trying to challenge me. You’d prefer that I challenge you.”

“So you will play.” Jim, for once, is serious. He and Sherlock deadlock gazes, and the amount of cross-calculation going on between the pale and dark eyes makes John feel like the wind has picked up, like he’ll look up and suddenly find himself in the eye of a tornado, with dark shifting walls on either side.

“I’ll even let you pick the first game,” Sherlock says, voice deep like a dark spell, so much that John shivers in his bindings. It's not real. John knows it's not. Sherlock will find a way out. He has to. He will.

Jim sucks in on his right cheek before rolling his neck lazily. “I think not. White moves first.”

“Classic? You’ve never played that way before.” Sherlock smiles tauntingly.

“Exactly, as you said that’s why it’s now fun, so how shall we tie up the loose strings?”

“Bill has a head injury. Nothing he says will be trusted. The girl can be blackmailed. You and I can produce bodies for the morgue. I suppose you have a few spare? I saw the ice truck. John can assist with the smooth confirmation of our deaths.”

“What about me?” Sam asks. He has not one but two guns, one for each hand.

“You’re already declared dead,” Jim snaps.

Sam doesn’t say anything, but John doesn’t miss the anger that crosses his face, much less the way the man is gripping his guns. It’s especially unsettling when he settles his eyes on Sherlock.

“I just—one thing,” Sherlock says.

“Yes?” Jim is wearing a far too amenable smile.

“I want to say goodbye to John.”

“Wave,” Jim commands.

“Privately,” Sherlock snaps.

“No. But oh… hot, jealous love. I’m feeling sympathetic—and rather voyeuristic. If you want to say goodbye, then I’ll let you. Just don’t mind us. We promise to turn our eyes if it gets too heated.”

Sherlock shoots Jim a glare, but otherwise strides straight for John. For a concrete second, Sherlock is standing there, staring at him with his ice-jade eyes, but then he hisses, “You fucking idiot. You shouldn’t have come.” And the next thing John knows, he has a lap full of Sherlock.

Sherlock doesn’t kiss him. Not at first. No, instead Sherlock shifts on John’s lap—and at first John is all embarrassment—because a rub off through the pants, here? But then one particular movement hits along John’s inner thigh, right where his remaining knife is, and John realizes that Sherlock was checking for it. He’s even more certain when Sherlock reacts by sliding his hands down John’s back, grabbing his arse so hard that it hurts, and finally—finally—bringing their noses together and letting their lips touch.

Somewhere in the background, John hears a startled laugh or a snort—but John’s instincts are a complete mess when it comes to Sherlock. John, as logical as he can be, isn’t sure he has a flight or fight complex. More like a save or fight or fuck complex. It is unhealthy how Sherlock fits into that, commanding all of John’s senses—because he tastes like herbs and spice, and when he leans in to whisper in John’s ear, it’s like salt and lemon stinging and astringent in his brain.

Except wait. Sherlock whispered something important.

Don’t react.

Given the state of his lower body, John thinks Sherlock’s asking the impossible, but then John feels a sudden loosening on his wrist. His handcuffs. They’re unlocked. But not off. John has never been happier for Sherlock’s sleight of hand. But how the fuck did he get the key? Regardless, his feet are bound up while Sherlock sits astride him, grinding ever so constantly—and well, maybe things could be worse. Only, they suddenly are because Sherlock is there, but then he isn't—he’s yanked backward. Sam has shoved him, and he’s glaring at the whole room but mostly Jim. “Stop looking at them that way.”

“Oh, Seb,” Jim groans. “Don’t be like that.”

“You promised,” Sam snarls.

“Right. Right. Okay, fine. We have a schedule to keep, I know.” Jim huffs. “Keep Sherlock still. You two—” he points at the guards on either side of him. “Shoot princess and Billy.” And then he pulls a doll-sized gun from his own pocket, “I’ll take care of John.”

John bodily throws himself at Jim. A gunshot goes off above them, but it's into the ceiling—and to his right, he sees Sherlock wrestling with Sam—not good—not good—Sam is a small ox compared to Sherlock's wiry frame. But his own fight is dangerous enough. Jim is a bag of weeds, but slippery. After knocking the small gun away, John manages to punch him in the face once—and in the next second his knife is out through the whole in his pocket and against Jim’s Adam’s apple.

When John looks up, the room is at a standstill. The two guards both have their weapons drawn—on each other. John blinks twice and sees that the moustache on the thinner one is peeling off, and a tendril of hair has fallen out of the cap.

Irene.

But Sam has—Sam has Sherlock, and his gun is putting a painful dimple into Sherlock’s cheek as his hand shakes. “Let Jim go or he’s dead.” Sherlock is shaking his head rapidly. Since he is fucking insane, Jim is giggling like he’s had way too much weed.

John’s mind is racing—he can’t count on Sam to be rationale. Sam is mad at Jim—what if he cuts and runs? Oh God. But then the other guard in the room falters, his eyes swimming as he takes an unsteady step. As he plunges forward, John sees a hairpin sticking out of the back of his neck. Before any of them react, Irene has already crossed the room.

Sam tries to swing at her—but she aims a high kick right at his chin. It connects with a bloody crunch, sending him flying backward and though his gun goes off—Sherlock is clear of the shot, having dropped to the floor.

This is also when Jim manages to knee John in the balls. John tries to grab for him—but John's legs are still bound, and Jim dodges with a laugh and a swirl of his wrist. He scoops up his fallen pistol, and then: bad, bad, bad. Jim has the princess. They’re all frozen yet again.

“Oh, this isn't nearly as fun as I’d hoped,” Jim says licking at the blood on his bottom lip. “Now we have to do the boring old hostage bit. I had really wished to avoid that.”

Jim has his gun against the girl, and he’s backing up the stairs with her one at a time.

“Aren't you forgetting something?” Sherlock drawls, chin pointing to where Moran is in the corner. Irene has just finished putting handcuffs on him.

“No,” Jim says coldly.

From the floor, Sam’s mouth falls open, and though the bastard is downright evil—it’s still wrenching to watch his whole face crumple, like his soul has been sucked out.

Jim is at the top of the stairs, still holding the girl when he gives them a final smile. “It’s been fun. Time to fly." But instead of actually running, he raises the gun to the girl’s temple. John screams, “No!" And yet the shot never comes.

There’s a burst of black nylon, and Jim Moriarty is toppling down the stairs. It takes John a moment to believe his eyes; for, at the top of the steps stands Mycroft Holmes, gently holding the ambassador’s daughter in one hand, while steadily holding his umbrella in the other.

“And to think," Mycroft scoffs, "the day’s forecast was sunny."

Chapter Text

After Mycroft’s Mary Poppins trick, the room quickly fills with government personnel. John doesn’t waste time, rushing right toward Bill.

Bill is breathing, but when John nudges him, he doesn’t wake up. The blow to the back of his head only barely broke the skin, but John can feel the swelling. He calls for an icepack, and someone puts it in his hand. When the stretcher finally arrives, John is vaguely aware of Lestrade off in the corner talking with Mycroft. And it would seem that Irene has the Saudi princess in hand, as the girl is blushing crimson at whatever has been whispered in her ear.

At the ambulance, John is dismissed.

“He’s in good hands, Dr. Watson,” the rather young man insists.

John’s ready to protest—Bill doesn’t need anyone inexperienced handling him—when a hand grips his from behind. When he turns, it’s to see Sherlock, draped in an orange blanket and frowning at him.

“This way,” he says, pulling John along with him.

Somehow they end up alongside a duck pond where Sherlock attempts to put his head in John’s lap.

John wants to lie down, too, so it’s something of an exhausted jostle, but then they end up on top of the orange shock blanket, legs tangled in the grass. And maybe that’s what they both wanted all along because with the afternoon sun cresting the tree line and the low burping of frogs in the pond, they’re both so comfortable that they end up napping.

 

The thing that wakes him up is wet and rough.

And it smells not so nice.

“Hi there, Doll.” John makes himself sit up, petting the soft black ears and earning a happy wag of the tail.

When John turns to the side, Sherlock has Cuckoo in his lap, and he’s petting the small dog with utter gentleness.

“My brother and Lestrade have teamed up against us. We have to go answer questions.”

John nods. “It’s normal that we’d need to have a debriefing.”

“I don’t understand why he can’t text me if he has questions.”

John snorts. “Yes, you do.”

Sherlock shrugs, but then he’s looking down at Cuckoo. “His master’s dead. He doesn’t have a home anymore.”

“You could take him.”

“And I’d thought you might take Doll. She’s taken with you.”

“Jealous?” John asks with a grin.

Sherlock’s mouth twitches. “She’ll miss Cuckoo. They’re quite close.”

“Will she? Well, we can help with that—arrange doggie dates in the park and the like. Or...”

“Or what?”

“Or, Sherlock, you could ask me on a date like a normal person.”

“Boring,” Sherlock says, but he’s smiling.

John shoves him. Sherlock pokes him in the stomach. John pinches his bottom. Sherlock bites his finger.

They end rolling across the grass until Cuckoo thinks Sherlock’s under attack and chomps down on John’s ankle.

Either way, all is forgiven, and John and Sherlock head back to answer questions.

 

Jim and Sam are somewhat less than democratically locked away in a “waiting facility” reserved for wartime criminals.

Bill has a lot of annoying tests but heals up just fine. The only change that John notices is when Bill takes up bird watching with a zeal that’s somewhat alien. Up north, he actually meets a nice woman in some forest, though. John thinks they’ll get married.

With Jim and Sam locked up, there are fewer corpses. John’s work at the morgue winds down, but not before he witnesses a pattern between Lestrade, Molly, and Mycroft. Molly seems to be permanently blushing these days, and Lestrade isn’t blushing, but he is smiling again. It turns out his divorce papers have been expedited. And by the smarmy look on Mycroft’s face when he’s around Lestrade—well, John thinks he might have a good idea on just how that happened. Also, Molly has been walking funny.

Moreover, she doesn’t seem to care at all that Sherlock has taken to snogging John with random visits in exam rooms.

John did ask, but Molly turned ten shades of scarlet.

John isn’t sure if Irene is an operative for Mycroft or what, but John keeps seeing her in the society pages with pretty, rich Arab girls, in which she is always grinning with lecherous beauty. In the end, John decides it really is better if he doesn’t know.

 

He ends up moving in with Sherlock a few months later. Doll and Cuckoo seem smug about it. Sherlock’s landlady makes any number of inappropriate winks and nods, and John manages to set some house rules (not that Sherlock follows them). For example, training Cuckoo as a sniffer dog must never involve diseased corpses or toxic chemicals. And while yes, Doll can fetch the paper, she’s not supposed to be fetching Sherlock’s scarf all the time. Lastly, if they are mid-shag, there shall be no phone checking.

But of course, despite the fact that Sherlock is bent over the sofa getting his prostate pounded, when his phone goes off, he still wants to check.

“What if it’s a serial killer?” he’ll ask, face flushed and eyes straining to get a glimpse of the screen on his mobile.

But John holds him down. “Probably not. Probably a question about what flowers to get your brother.”

“Do not—” Sherlock starts, but then he gasps, as John changes the angle, bringing his hips into a higher position, and moving ever more relentlessly. “I bet it’s a cold case. Triple homicide.”

“Shut up,” John growls, but he doesn’t really mean it, not when Sherlock looks so happy, body belonging to John and brain skipping like a school boy at the thought of a new puzzle.

When Sherlock comes, it’s with his hands gripped hard on either side of John’s head, like he wants to own his brain.

“So, case?” John asks, breathing still heavy.

Their eyes meet, and Sherlock's are ancient jade in the morning light.

“And you.” He kisses John at the same time that he jabs his bad shoulder, but instead of hurting, John feels a shot of pleasure up his spine.

 

It is a case. A teenage girl is missing.

Sherlock uses it as an excuse to take the dogs, and out and away they go.

Later that evening, John briefly wonders how his brand of happiness ended up so insane, but then he looks over at Sherlock who is collapsed on the sofa with a bowl of Chinese takeaway still on his belly and one long arm tossed over his head. Doll is sniffing at his fingers.

John smiles. Best not to overthink it.

 

-The End-