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Past, Present & Future

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With a bit of assistance from Mycroft, they pick up Moran's trail in south-east France. John has no idea how they're going to track him any further, but is soon surprised to see that it is a skill Sherlock appears to have honed to perfection, and he's in his element. He has contacts almost everywhere, and when he doesn't he makes them. He has a way of winning people around with an efficiency that is almost frightening to behold.

"You told that woman you were an only child," John says, watching from across the room as Sherlock scribbles in his notebook.

"People like talking to people who have similar backgrounds to themselves. Besides, I'd love to be an only child."

Sherlock gives him a wide smile, but John can't let it go that easily.

"So you just lied to her."

Sherlock's smile fades away as his eyes track over John's face. "It bothers you."

"A little bit."

Sherlock frowns.

"I just find it a bit unnerving that one minute you're you, and the next you're this complete stranger," John explains awkwardly.

As soon as he says it, he regrets it. They have fallen into their old ways out of necessity, but there have been odd moments of tension that prove all is not as well as they'd like to pretend.

"It gets results, doesn't it?" Sherlock says, cutting in on John's thoughts.

John huffs. "Yeah. Yeah, it really does. You would've made a good actor."

Sherlock rolls his eyes and goes back to his notes. John has nothing to do, having given up on the newspaper when his GCSE French was insufficient to understand more than the odd word. Sherlock, of course, has no such problems; he's on the phone five minutes later, chatting away fluently.

He hangs up and presses his phone between his hands, touching the tips of his fingers to his lips.

"What is it?" John asks.

"He's moved again. Heading across the border into Germany."

"Where is he going?" John wonders out loud, turning to where they have a large map laid out across the table.

"I don't know," Sherlock mutters, voice edged with a note of frustration and John hears him get to his feet and cross the room. Sherlock pushes in next to him, hip to hip, his hands splayed wide across the map.

John steps away and settles in one of the chairs. He can't shake the feeling that Moran knows exactly what he's doing and that he's leading them right where he wants them.

"What's wrong?" Sherlock asks. John looks up to find Sherlock watching him closely.

"He's got a plan."

"Of course, he's not stupid."

"We don't know what that plan is," John continues. "We don't know what's waiting at the end of this."

"No, but we'll find out."

"By turning up exactly where he wants us and probably getting ourselves killed."

"That's not going to happen," Sherlock says with far more certainty than the situation warrants.

"You don't know that. He's a professional killer. He could probably take us both out before we even realised it."

Sherlock tenses for a moment, before he turns away dismissively. "He almost killed you once before and I stopped him."

John lets out a shaky breath. "All the more reason to be prepared."

"We will be."

John doesn't feel much better, but he lets it go for now. He trusts Sherlock, always has, and in the end he's ready to do anything to get the man who took Marcus from him, however foolish it might be.

*

Moran zigzags across the Black Forest before heading towards the Swiss border. John and Sherlock are only a few hours behind him, but the trail goes cold in the heart of Zurich.

"He can't just have disappeared," John reasons over dinner.

Sherlock hums distractedly, picking halfheartedly at his food whilst scrolling through the map on his phone with his free hand.

"Sherlock?"

"I don't know," he snaps, looking up just in time to see John's expression settle into a forced calmness. He sighs and drops his phone on the table, runs a hand through his hair. "Sorry."

"I just... I don't like this."

"No." It would be hard to miss, with concern practically oozing out of John's pores. Sherlock has no assurances to give him, no words to inspire confidence. Moran has taken the game to another level, and Sherlock has no idea of the rules. He taps a finger agitatedly against the screen of his phone.

"We'll find him," John says firmly, drawing Sherlock's gaze to his. He looks so confident, his faith in Sherlock as strong as it's ever been, and Sherlock knows he cannot fail. He will not fail.

His phone rings, making them both jump. He answers quickly: "Yes?"

"Limmatquai. Vor zehn Minuten." His contact, Lukas, has always been a man of few words.

"Allein?" Sherlock asks.

"Ja."

"Danke."

He hangs up and meets John's expectant gaze. "He's still in the city. One of my contacts saw him at the Limmatquai not long ago."

"The Limmatquai?"

"It's in the old town, not far from here."

"Right, so, what's our plan?"

Sherlock looks out into the street. "We find a place to stay for the night."

"Let me guess, somewhere in the old town?"

Sherlock turns back and gives him a half-smile, before throwing some cash on the table and beckoning for John to follow him. "I know just the place."

*

When Sherlock said he knew somewhere they could stay, John hadn't been expecting this five-star hotel in the centre of Zurich. The room they are given by the owner, a gentle giant called Hans who reminds John vaguely of Angelo (and who was just as pleased to see Sherlock), is huge and almost certainly ridiculously expensive. John is almost afraid to sit down on any of the antique furniture, so he wanders over to the balcony windows as Sherlock puts on his politest smile and thanks the owner whilst guiding him towards the door.

John steps out onto the balcony, looking out over the Limmat river and the ornate buildings lining the opposite bank. He takes a deep breath of fresh air and lets it out again, grounding himself with that simple act. He hears the main door shut and, moments later, Sherlock joins him in the balcony.

"Everything alright?" he asks Sherlock.

"Fine."

Sherlock shifts restlessly from foot to foot, before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a packet of cigarettes. John raises an eyebrow but says nothing, slipping back into the room and lowering himself onto the nearest bed with a sigh.

John is just thinking about falling asleep right there, still in his clothes, when the room phone rings. He glances over at the balcony, but Sherlock hasn't moved. He rolls to his feet and rounds the bed to answer it.

"Hello?"

"I hope you're settling into your room alright," a strangely unaccented male voice says.

"Oh, err, yes. Thank you."

"Do you have everything you need?"

"Yeah, err, yes."

A moment's pause and then the voice speaks up again. "It's a lovely view, isn't it?"

"I suppose so. Look, sorry, is there a reason for this call? I'm about to go to bed."

"You should tell your friend to be careful."

"Excuse me?" John gets out, eyes flicking to the balcony again.

"It would be an awful shame if he were to fall... Again."

The line goes dead and, after a moment of paralysing shock, John rushes for the balcony. "Sherlock, get down!"

Sherlock turns to him in surprise, and lets out an 'oof' as John grabs him by the wrist and yanks him inside, forcing him to the floor. "John, what are you-"

The glass of the window nearest them shatters, followed immediately by the one next to it.

"Down!" John shouts, pushing Sherlock's face to the floor as he dives down next to him, arms tucked over his head.

One after another, the line of windows explodes in a shower of glass and a cacophony of noise until, finally, it stops. John peeks up from the shelter of his elbow, chest heaving, heart pounding. He turns towards Sherlock, reaching out to grab his arm.

"Are you alright?"

Sherlock turns his head, a line of blood smeared across his cheek, and nods slowly. His eyes drop to John's hands. "You're bleeding."

"Minor cuts, it's fine. We need to get out of here."

Sherlock moves to push himself off the floor and John flattens a hand against his back. "Stay down."

Sherlock nods and wriggles his way behind the nearby sofa, John right behind him. They sit up, backs pressed to the seat, breathing heavily in the eerie silence.

"Moran," John says simply.

"Yes. A warning shot."

"I consider myself warned. Now what?"

"We go underground."

*

"When you said 'underground'," John says in a hushed whisper. "I didn't think you actually meant, you know, underground."

Sherlock ignores him, creeping down the last two steps and heading silently for the steel door at the end of the short corridor. He takes out the key Hans had retrieved from his safe and unlocks the door. This bolthole saved him more than once in the three years he was hunting down Moriarty's men, and he feels relieved as soon as the heavy door is shut behind them.

"What is this place?" John asks, looking around the small space that contains only a foldaway camping bed, a battered armchair, and a small cupboard.

"A safe place."

"And we didn't come here first because..."

Sherlock frowns and turns away to inspect the contents of the small cupboard - a first aid kit, several tins of food and, crucially, a gun. He pulls it out under John's watchful eye, testing the feel of it in his hand.

"That also might have been useful before now," John comments.

Sherlock rolls his eyes and replaces the gun, before sinking into the armchair, his legs thrown over the side. He briefly contemplates having a cigarette, but he doesn't think John would take it very well.

"So what happens now?" John asks, moving to sit on the bed.

"We rest. Then we hunt."

"I hope you have more of a plan than that," John says with a tired smile.

"I'm working on it," Sherlock replies, pressing his hands to his lips. John nods and rests his back against the wall, arms across his knees. He looks exhausted.

"You should get some sleep," Sherlock suggests.

"I'm fine," John lies, sitting up a little straighter.

"You won't be much use if you're overtired."

"Neither will you," John counters. "Look, we'll take it in turns, alright? Get a few hours' sleep at least."

"Alright," Sherlock agrees. For once, he's not going to argue; he knows he needs to be on top form tomorrow if he's to outsmart Moran.

"Alright," John says, laying down in the bed. "Wake me in a bit."

"I will."

"You'd better," John warns.

Sherlock rolls his eyes and the room falls silent but for John shuffling as he settles into a comfortable position, his arms crossed over his chest. Sherlock can't help watching him as his body slowly relaxes and his breathing evens out, the lines of his face smoothing as sleep claims him. He finally tears his eyes away and forces his mind back to the problem at hand.

*

John wakes to darkness and it takes him a moment to remember where he is. He rolls over onto his side and looks over to the chair.

"What time is it?" he croaks.

Sherlock doesn't even start at the sound of his voice. "Just gone four."

"You were supposed to wake me."

"You needed the rest more than me."

John sighs and rubs his hands over his face. He briefly considers the possibility of forcing Sherlock to bed, but gives it up just as quickly.

Sherlock is really nothing more than a dark silhouette, an ephemeral shape in the gloom. John can't even properly make out his features.

"We talked about you," Sherlock suddenly says, his voice barely more than a whisper.

"What?" John gets out in confusion.

"After Marcus was shot. We talked about you."

John stills, his heart constricting unpleasantly in his chest.

"He... He had confronted me about my feelings for you half an hour before. And I couldn't lie to him. I wanted to but I was too busy trying to... trying to stop the bleeding."

John closes his eyes and takes a fortifying breath as Sherlock continues.

"He was so calm. He was... joking about it, about how it didn't hurt that much. I've never-" Sherlock's voice catches and he pauses, a silent shadow as John fights the trembling in his hand.

"He was a good man," Sherlock finally gets out. "One of the best men that I've ever known."

John lets out a shuddering breath. It's almost too much to take. "Why are you telling me this now?"

He can just make out Sherlock's face as he turns towards John.

"Because I might not get another chance."

John is up and off the bed before he can think it through, crossing the distance between them and crouching down in front of the chair, his hands grasping Sherlock's arms.

"Don't say that," he says fiercely, emotion making his voice shake. "Don't even think like that, okay?"

"You know just as well as I do-"

"No," John cuts in, fingers digging into Sherlock's biceps. "Stop it."

"John-"

"Moran is the only one who's not walking away from this tomorrow, alright?"

Sherlock laughs brokenly. "You don't know that."

"Yes, I do. Now promise me. Promise me you won't let him win." John knows this isn't a rational request, and yet he's determined to hear Sherlock say the words. He reaches up to press a hand to Sherlock's nape, forcing him down to John's level.

"Promise me, Sherlock."

"I promise," Sherlock gets out, his eyes closed, his expression twisted into something desperate.

John lets out a breath of relief, but can't let go, not just yet. He's too close - he can tell by the hitch in Sherlock's breath, and the pounding of his pulse under John's hand - but desperation keeps him close.

"Thank you," John whispers, breaking the silence as he finally lets go. Sherlock blinks and then visibly shakes off his daze, straightening up in the chair and putting even more distance between them.

"You should get some more sleep," he says in a hoarse voice.

"It's your turn," John reminds him, and Sherlock looks hesitantly towards the bed. "I'll wake you in two hours' time."

Sherlock turns back to him, but doesn't quite meet his eyes. "Thank you."

Sherlock crosses to the bed and throws himself down on it, his back to the room. John returns to his chair and settles in for a rather tedious wait.

*

It's a dream. Of course it is - he knows it even as he experiences it. And yet he can't help wishing it was real. John smiles at him warmly, curled up on one arm next to him.

"I thought you were never going to wake up," John murmurs, running a hand over Sherlock's arm. "Big day ahead."

"Is it?"

"Yes." John grins. "Now get up."

The next thing Sherlock knows, he's doing up his shirt and John has disappeared. "John?"

"In here."

Sherlock follows his voice, but it's all wrong - he's in his old flat, Marcus's former flat.

"John?" he says again, heading towards the living room.

He rounds the corner and comes to a halt. Moran has John on his knees, a gun pointed at John's chest. He looks up and gives Sherlock a wide grin. "Hello again, Sherlock."

"Let him go."

"I don't think so."

Sherlock's eyes fly to John's face. "I trust you," John whispers, and a moment later the gun goes off, sending him backwards.

Moran disappears and Sherlock rushes to John's side, dropping to his knees. John is pale and shaking, his hand pressed to the gaping hole in his chest.

"It's going to be alright."

"I don't think it is," John gets out shakily, studying his bloodied hands. "I think you might have killed me. Just like you killed Marcus."

Sherlock makes a desperate noise in his throat.

"At least we'll be together again," John says with a smile that suddenly turns into a gurgle as blood pours from his mouth.

"John? John!"

"Sherlock, wake up."

Sherlock starts awake to find John watching him with concern, one hand pressed to his shoulder. Sherlock lets out a shuddering breath and closes his eyes as he sinks back into his pillow. He swallows hard, fighting to get his heart rate under control.

"Alright?" John asks softly, and Sherlock gives a jerky nod.

He does not know what today will bring, but he will do anything to make sure John is not harmed, even if it means sacrificing his own life - for real this time.