‘Why are you here, Mycroft?’ John appeared calm but there was an edge to his voice that reminded Mycroft in the strongest possible terms that this man had killed for Queen, country, and his younger brother. ‘I distinctly remember telling you not to contact me at all.’
‘And I agreed that I would refrain from doing so unless it was a matter of life or death. I have not broken that agreement. Your life is now in real and present danger and I am here to ensure that you are not harmed.’
John looked at Mycroft, still standing on the doorstep, immaculately dressed and tapping his umbrella impatiently by his right foot. He looked tired. More so than the last time John had seen him; although John would have been the first to admit that his memories from the funeral and the days surrounding it weren’t the clearest. He didn’t want to let Mycroft in, didn’t want the flood of memories his presence was sure to generate, regardless of why he was here. Especially not right now, barely two days after John had completed his annual pilgrimage to the grave. Whoever said that time heals all wounds clearly didn’t know what they were talking about, since the pain didn’t seem to have dulled an iota in the past three years.
‘I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself,’ was what John finally said, when he was certain his voice wouldn’t betray him.
‘As I am fully aware but this is not just about you. Mrs Hudson is also in danger.’
At that the fight went out of John and he stepped back, let Mycroft enter the building and shut the door behind him.
‘So what exactly is going on?’
‘I would rather explain to everyone all at once, John, so if you could just ask Mrs Hudson to accompany us we should be on our way at once. Unfortunately Detective Inspector Lestrade and Ms Hooper are also caught up in this situation. They are being collected as we speak.’
‘Our way where, Mycroft?’
‘Somewhere safe, John. I cannot explain everything here, not without compromising the operation. I …’ Mycroft paused before continuing and his sudden moment of hesitation did more to convince John to do as he asked then the words which followed. ‘I know you have no reason to trust me but I would not have come if I could have avoided it.’
John gave a curt nod and then turned back up the stairs to 221B. ‘I’ll fetch her in a moment. I’m not leaving here without my gun.’
‘I wouldn’t expect anything less,’ Mycroft murmured as he pulled out his phone to call his assistant. Today was not the day to leave anything to chance.
‘I hope there’s a really good explanation for this,’ Greg said once Anthea had concluded her phone call. ‘I didn’t even realise Mycroft knew where we lived.’
‘You’d do best to assume Mr Holmes knows everything,’ she replied as the car moved through the London traffic, ‘and accept that he doesn’t act without reason.’
‘Can you tell us why?’ Molly asked as she shifted again in the leather seat, the sumptuous upholstery not doing anything to ease the ache in her lower back. ‘Is it …?’
‘Please, Miss Hooper, Mr Holmes will explain everything as soon as he is able to.’
‘It’s Ms Hooper now, thank you,’ Molly responded, pointedly resting her left hand on her bump. ‘I may not have changed my name but I am married. And I’d appreciate not being “handled”. I do know what’s at stake.’
‘Of course.’ Anthea actually sounded sincere. ‘My apologies, Ms Hooper.’
‘Molly?’ Greg looked at her with a mixture of confusion and pride. ‘What’s going on?’
Molly locked gazes with Anthea, inclining her head slightly. Anthea stared at Molly, searching her face, before giving a brief nod and asking the driver to pull over. Within seconds she was elegantly ensconced in the front, the partition was closed, and the car was moving again, giving Greg and Molly complete privacy.
‘Molly?’ he said again, resting his hand over her own, smiling as he felt their child kick in response.
Molly closed her eyes briefly, teeth worrying at her lower lip before she laced her fingers into Greg’s, using her other hand to cup his cheek.
‘You remember our first date.’
‘Vividly.’ Greg twisted his head a little so he could kiss her palm. ‘Two very mediocre cups of coffee in the Bart’s coffee shop, neither of which actually got drunk because we couldn’t stop talking.’
‘And you remember the conversation.’
‘Of course I do, I … Oh!’
‘Yes. I … I’ve wanted to tell you about this so many times, because I can’t see how you’re going to forgive me when you find out what I’ve been keeping from you … but I made a promise and …’
‘Hush.’ Greg gently pressed one finger over her lips. ‘I said it then and I’ll say it again now. I don’t want you to break any promises and, providing you haven’t committed murder or helped shield a criminal, then I don’t care what it is you can’t tell me.’
‘I think you’ll care about this.’
‘As long as it isn’t that Mycroft’s your uncle and is about to start interfering in our lives on a daily basis, I think I’ll cope.’
He slid one arm round Molly’s shoulders, wrapped the other round the bump and cuddled her close as she gave a reluctant giggle. ‘I love you, Molly Hooper, for better, for worse. I’m not going to run out on you for something you did before we got together.’
‘Thank you,’ Molly said softly, relaxing against him as the car began to slow down. ‘I love you too.’
I’m going to kill him, John thought as he stalked to and fro in front of the unlit fire, or at least give him a black eye and a bloody nose. Mycroft had disappeared approximately five seconds after he’d ushered John and Mrs Hudson into what he’d called the living room but actually looked like something out of a big budget costume drama. In fact the whole place, which John thought was somewhere south-west of London from what he could remember of the route, looked like one of the last bastions of Victorian society; imposing, elegant and, John strongly suspected, incredibly secure. He also thought it might be the Holmes' family home and that really wasn’t helping his temper. He kept imagining a younger but no less stark Sherlock perched on one of the chairs or rifling through the well-stocked shelves and the only thing holding the pain of loss at bay was the anger simmering in his chest.
He’d been able to distract himself initially - greeting Greg and Molly and listening with half an ear as Mrs Hudson managed to get every single detail of Molly’s pregnancy out of her within fifteen minutes - but that had been an hour ago and now he just wanted to get the hell out of there, danger or no. It wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been some windows, but the room was right at the centre of the house - solid walls covered in bookshelves on all sides - and he was beginning to feel like they were closing in on him.
A light touch to his arm stopped him in his tracks. ‘You’ll wear a hole in the carpet if you keep this up and I suspect it’s worth more than both our flats combined,’ Molly said, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. ‘Won’t you come and sit down for a bit?’
John forced back the sharp retort that had leapt to the tip of his tongue. It wasn’t Molly’s fault Mycroft was behaving like a cross between George Smiley and M. Instead he took in the way she was rubbing her lower back with one hand and the slight tightening of her jaw muscles every few seconds and asked, somewhat contritely, ‘Is my pacing bothering you?’
‘No. I just … I’m sorry John.’
‘Why are you apologising? You aren’t responsible for any of this.’
‘Wrong. Without Molly this wouldn’t be happening at all.’
John could feel the colour draining out of his face as Molly looked past him towards the door, expression flickering through relief to annoyance and then back to relief with a touch of guilt. At which point John lost focus, trying to force himself to turn round. That voice was so familiar, so wonderfully, blessedly familiar and yet it couldn’t be … it wasn’t possible that ...
It was that voice again but now it was uncertain, slightly wobbly and right behind him.
Pulling courage from the same part of him that had given strength to his legs each time he’d had to run into the line of fire, he turned and looked up; up into the eyes that had been haunting his dreams for the past three years. The breath left his lungs as fast and hard as if he’d been sucker-punched.
‘How?’ he gasped, unable to stop himself stepping forward, closing the distance as his hands reached for Sherlock, fingers brushing an errant curl off his forehead and tracing the lines and angles of his face, lingering on the places he’d last seen smeared with blood. He felt, rather than saw, Sherlock reciprocate; Sherlock’s hands running up John’s sides, over his shoulders and then coming to rest on John’s back where they started making tiny, jerky circles.
For a moment John’s vision blurred until he remembered he needed to breathe and managed to drag some air into his lungs. Sherlock’s eyes came back into focus, sharp and intent and God, this is real, Sherlock is really here.
‘How?’ he said again, a little louder this time. ‘And more to the point why? Why did you do it?’
‘Could we sit down while he explains? Only it’s quite a long story and I’m really feeling quite tired.’
Molly spoke from beside them and for John it was as if she’d broken a spell. Now he could hear Mrs Hudson’s quiet sobs and Greg’s murmurs of comfort and then, as an awful lot of loose ends tied themselves up in the patchwork of his mind, a sick feeling of betrayal welled in his gut.
‘Yes, of course.’ John switched to doctor mode as he turned to her, grateful for a good reason to pull away from Sherlock. ‘You’d probably be more comfy in one of those wing back chairs, better support for your back.’ He scanned her properly, noting that she was rubbing the underside of her bump and that her eyes were clouded with pain. ‘Unless you find lying down more helpful with your Braxton Hicks?’
‘No, sitting is fine.’ Molly winced, hand tightening on John’s arm. ‘I just don’t think I’m ever going to get used to them.’
‘Well you’ve only got another five weeks to go now, love,’ Greg said from the sofa, where he was hugging Mrs Hudson.
‘Is that supposed to be a helpful observation?’ Molly queried with a small smile as she let John ease her into the chair. Greg just gave her a grin and one shouldered shrug in response.
John looked between them, trying to decide if he wanted to know whether the suspicion that had just sprung into his mind was correct.
‘Greg didn’t know,’ Sherlock said, making John jump again. ‘He went almost as white as you did when I walked in.’
‘And you’re ok with this?’ John turned on Greg, unable to tamp down on the hurt inside. ‘You’re perfectly happy that she didn’t tell you anything? That she let you think he was dead!’
‘She told me straight off that she’d made someone a promise, that there was one secret she had that wasn’t hers to tell.’ Greg disentangled himself from Mrs Hudson and stood, moving over to Molly and resting a hand on her shoulder. ‘I told her it didn’t matter to me and I stand by that, regardless of how blown away I am by what she was hiding. I wouldn’t say I’m happy but I’m not upset, either.’
John looked away, shoulders hunching as he moved to the other side of the room. He needed some space, needed to find some perspective on everything before the anger he’d been saving up for Mycroft was detonated by Sherlock instead.
‘No, dear, leave him for a moment.’ Mrs Hudson’s voice trembled but there was a note of steel that left John in no doubt Sherlock would obey without him needing to turn round and confirm it. ‘You can just sit down here and start talking because I, for one, want to know what exactly has been going on.’
‘Yes, Sherlock, I really think that would be best.’ Mycroft spoke from next to the closed door, where he’d been watching proceedings with a politician’s eye. ‘Since everyone is now in twice as much danger thanks for your penchant for dramatics.’
‘Thank you, Mycroft.’ Sherlock attempted to sneer but it was clear his heart wasn’t in it. ‘You know perfectly well that my confirming to them what Colonel Moran already knows makes no difference to how much danger they’re in. He wanted them all dead the minute he realised I was alive, regardless of whether they were or weren’t aware of the fact of my continued existence.’
John was moving back to Sherlock’s side the instant he heard the name Moran; eyes flashing and jaw clenched as he dropped to his knees the better to search Sherlock’s face.
‘Say that again.’
‘He wants you dead, John. You, Mrs Hudson, Lestrade.’ Then Sherlock added, almost as an afterthought, ‘And Molly and me as well, once he’s completed the original mission, I should think.’
‘Not that,’ John snapped, waving his hand dismissively. ‘Mycroft told me this was a life or death situation. I want you to repeat the name.’
‘Moran?’ Sherlock looked and sounded entirely confused. ‘But who he is doesn’t ma …’
‘You mean Sebastian Moran, formerly of the Royal Irish, don’t you?’ John snarled, patience running out as memories thronged in his head. ‘Sebastian Moran, who was probably the best sniper in the British Army? A guy so good he was attached to the same unit as me in Helmand and succeeded in taking out all three of the Taliban snipers that had been plaguing us for weeks within in two days? The Sebastian Moran who turned my gun skills from very good to excellent and who I nicknamed Colonel on account of his practically obsessive love of the fried chicken we got at Bastion. That Moran?’
‘You know him?’ Sherlock’s face paled and his eyes widened.
‘No, I just made all that up!’ John yelled, nostrils flaring as he mentally demoted Sherlock to Private and let Captain Watson take control of giving him the dressing down he so obviously needed.
‘Of course I fucking know him, you idiot! We served together for close on four months. I know what he smokes, what he drinks, what he likes for breakfast. I know that he ended up leaving the army under a cloud in 2008 and I know that it was down to what he was trying to smuggle out of Afghanistan in his kit when he went on R&R. What’s more I know that it wasn’t the oversight he claimed …. Where the hell do you think I got this from?’
He yanked his Sig from his waistband and waved it at Sherlock.
‘You don’t think I brought this out of Afghanistan myself, do you? They brought me from Kandahar to Birmingham unconscious, Sherlock! Do you think they just tucked it under the blankets of my stretcher and the nurses at Selly Oak let me keep it? Dear Lord, our internal security may be piss poor half the time but really, even you shouldn’t underestimate it that much!’
‘I …’ Sherlock faltered, eyes darting round John’s face as John took shaky breaths, face burning red as he struggled to control his temper.
John’s left hand was clenching spasmodically, his right still holding the gun in front of Sherlock, although he wasn’t pointing it at him. Not that it seemed to matter; Sherlock’s face had gone paler than John had ever seen it and his mouth was quivering as if he was on the verge of speech but not quite able to force the words past his lips.
And then suddenly John knew, the last few displaced threads weaving themselves together in John’s head and he understood all of it. It was like a summer sunrise in his mind, glorious and almost blinding in its intensity. Very briefly he wondered if this was how Sherlock felt all the time, making connections out of seemingly innocuous facts until certainty struck at the very core of his being and brought all his nerve endings to sizzling life.
Lowering the gun and letting his gaze drop to the floor he took several deep, slow breaths, taking the time to order his thoughts into something coherent despite being aware that the entire room was silent. They were all waiting on him. Waiting on his words.
Finally he looked back up at Sherlock and started to speak.
‘It’s been Moran this whole time, hasn’t it? That’s why you jumped – Moriarty had a sniper on me, with orders to take me out if you didn’t and that sniper was him. Moriarty was the “crazy motherfucker” who Moran told me had hired him for his military expertise, who “valued him more than the arseholes that’d sent him to die over and over again in sandy shit-holes ever did.” God!’
John shuddered in another breath.
‘Moran took Moriarty’s place once he was dead and it’s Moran who you’ve been chasing all this time! That’s where you’ve been; hiding in the shadows, pretending to be dead to keep us safe while you tried to out-hunt one of the best hunters on the planet.’
Sherlock nodded infinitesimally and the last of John’s control deserted him.
‘You complete and total idiot!’
He slammed his hands against Sherlock’s far too bony shoulders, grateful the gun stopped him getting a grip on the other man and just shaking him until he understood how much pain he’d put John through.
‘You were playing against someone you couldn’t understand, someone you couldn’t hope to understand, given how different you are. Shit, Sherlock! This is someone who could wait in one place for days for a target and even then not take the shot if the conditions weren’t right!’
‘Shut up, Sherlock.’ John’s voice had turned hard and dangerously low. ‘I’m not finished talking yet. You’re supposed to be the genius of our partnership so why couldn’t you find a way to get word to me? What the hell possessed you to do all this alone? Didn’t you think that my experiences might actually be a help in this situation? Did you think at all?
‘God, Sherlock! You’ve been risking yourself all this time when I could have got Moran in the open with a simple text message and Mycroft’s boys could have ended him there and then! None of this … none of this needed to have happened!’
Sherlock heaved in a breath, opened his mouth again but then shut it with a snap, breaking eye contact with John as his shoulders slumped and his chin dropped to his chest in an unmistakeable gesture of defeat.
With Sherlock’s head out of his line of vision John found himself staring into Mycroft’s face, which was almost as shell-shocked as Sherlock’s had been, and his still unquenched rage found its original target.
‘And you! Did you not check Moran’s records to see where he’d been stationed and make the connection? Or are there no mentions of us having served together?’
Mycroft gave one curt shake of his head.
‘And you didn’t question it? Didn’t double check the information? Jesus, Mycroft … how can it not have occurred to you that if Moriarty was capable of creating an entirely new person in your systems, and hiding his true identity completely, that he might have taken the opportunity to ‘tidy’ Moran’s records a little too?’
Mycroft was frozen for a moment but then, with a twitch of his shoulders, found his voice. He answered John in the clipped tones of someone who knew just how much of a cock-up they’d made and, worse, were now required to admit the fact out loud.
‘You are entirely correct. His records give no suggestion you two ever so much as had an opportunity to pass in the corridors of Bastion, Captain Watson, never mind that you were quite so personally acquainted. This is an oversight I will be following up very soon.’
He stepped forward, briefly glancing at John’s hands, still on Sherlock’s shoulders.
‘And whilst your analysis of the situation with Moran is superficially correct, there were other factors, other snipers, other issues. Sherlock has done more in the past three years than stalk Moran.’
Mycroft allowed his eyes to close for a moment before he continued.
‘However, we are where we are and I have just been informed that Moran is now …’ Mycroft waved his other arm at the door. ‘Somewhere in the grounds of my home. Since you’ve enunciated very clearly the unquestionable failings of both Sherlock and myself in this matter up to this point I now bow to your superior knowledge and experience - both of Moran and of situations such as this. I put what happens next entirely in your more than capable hands. Tell me what to do.’
John couldn’t hear anything but total sincerity in Mycroft’s words. After taking a moment to collect himself he released Sherlock and stood, tucking the Sig into the back of his waistband at the same time, consciously drawing himself to attention as he nodded, accepting command of the situation physically as well as mentally.
‘Fine. In that case, I’ll need the plans of the house and the grounds, if you have them.’
‘I’ll fetch them now,’ Mycroft said and was gone, the door swinging shut behind him with an audible click.
John turned back to Sherlock, who was still staring down at the back of his hands, apparently transfixed by them. John opened his mouth, to say what he wasn’t sure but the words turned to ash on his tongue when Sherlock turned his head to look up at him and every minute of the past three years were etched on his gaunt face. The anger that had still been an almost comforting fizz in John’s veins was extinguished in an instant by the anguish and exhaustion he saw oozing from every pore.
‘We’ll talk about this,’ John said, gently, nudging Sherlock until he’d moved over enough that John could sit next to him.
‘We’ll have to talk about this, but …’ He held his hand up to forestall the protest he assumed Sherlock would make, despite Sherlock not having so much as twitched. ‘… We’re not going to do it now. Because right now I need you to help me end this once and for all. We need to make sure that all the pain, all the hurt, all the misery, has a purpose. That it's worth something.’
Sherlock’s murmured yes was barely audible but it didn’t matter, not when his whole body sagged into John’s, John slipping his arm round Sherlock's waist instinctively as Sherlock let his head fall into the crook of John’s neck. It was such an uncharacteristic action for Sherlock to make in public that he couldn’t have signalled his agreement louder with a klaxon and a marching band.
‘Right then,’ Greg said, shooting a concerned look at Sherlock before he briskly rubbed his hands together and squared his shoulders. ‘Now that’s settled, you’d better tell us what you want us to do, John.’