Sherlock has just run off in a whirlwind of coat without a word, leaving Scotland Yard cursing his name. It’ll be a while before they can get someone to translate this, and meanwhile that tall know-it-all bastard has gone off to do god-knows-what without bothering to even tell them what the note says.
John edges forward in the middle of the uproar, and surreptitiously glances at the note.
Androvy , it says briefly. The warehouse at five. Serdyukov.
Oh, good. In that case, Sherlock will probably just be killing time until late afternoon, so John shouldn’t have too much trouble catching up to him.
John politely tells Lestrade he’s leaving and slips out without telling anyone he understood the note.
Understanding Russian is one of the Things That John Watson Does Not Do, along with throw knives with perfect accuracy, possess dozens of contacts in small European countries, know how to discreetly install a spy camera inside a woman’s bra, and receive the occasional postcard from a small red-headed assassin who once used the name Natalie Watson.
It’s a surprisingly long list.
The thing is, Harry is too young to remember – she was only three when Natalie Watson ‘died’ in a horrible and dramatic car crash, in which her body was burned beyond recognition – but growing up, John basically thought everyone’s life was like his. That other people secretly spoke Russian as a second language, that other people’s mothers showed them behind closed doors how to take out someone’s knees in one blow, and talked to strangers in long coats and hats sitting on benches in the park, and that like him, no one else was allowed to talk about it (especially not to Daddy), either.
By the time that he was old enough to learn how to kill a man with his bare hands, though, John had worked out that his mother was different from other mothers, and that most people did not, in fact, learn to do all the things he did, or take notes to Andrei who always sat on the bench where John would feed the ducks.
All the other boys his aged liked to read spy stories and watch Bond films, and John thought that while these were wildly inaccurate, and not at all like real life, the things in them probably meant that his mother was a spy.
Maybe John should have been upset by this, but Mama was Mama. Besides, she wouldn’t have been able to teach him all those interesting things, otherwise.
After the car accident John was very sad, even though he knew his mother was fine. He loved Dad, and Harry, but Mama had been different. He soldiered on, though, because it was silly to be too sentimental about it. His mother would have told him that it was fine to have feelings, but never to let them rule you.
For some reason the fact that John was determined to carry on made everyone coo over him for being so brave, which John didn’t understand at all. He was twelve, not some crybaby, and Mama would have slapped him round the ear if she’d seen him getting too self-indulgent. Dad was taking it hard enough for both of them, and Harry needed someone to look after her. John couldn’t afford to be over-emotional.
Three months after his mother’s ‘death,’ John came home to find an old paperback book on his bed. He eyed it dubiously: it was bright pink, although the gun on the cover suggested that maybe it wasn’t going to be as bad as it looked.
‘Modesty Blaise,’ said the front cover, and when John read the blurb, it was apparently about a retired criminal mastermind – a female retired criminal mastermind – and her right-hand man getting bored of everyday life and getting back in the game, on the right side of the law this time.
When John settled down to read it, there was a little doodle of a spider on the flyleaf, bearing the distinctive hourglass marking of a black widow spider. John smiled.
A couple of years later John spotted Andrei with a truly awful haircut, loitering at Kings Cross Station. John thought about giving a small wave, but it wasn’t nice to blow someone’s cover and it put you in danger besides, so he simply let his eyes slide over Andrei and walked past him like they’d never met.
It was like living another life, really.
In his first year of uni, John received a postcard of the Parthenon. Written on the back was a short summary of its history, including a brief mention of the current restoration project. There was no signature. Only a scribbled drawing of a black widow spider.
John’s mother always had been interested in history and archaeology. He stared at the postcard for a long time, trying to derive some kind of meaning from it. Mostly, it reminded him of Mama telling him bedtime stories about Roman emperors and Greek heroes and Egyptian pharaohs, and describing grand architectural wonders that had withstood the sands of time.
There weren’t many places to hide something, when you were sharing a dorm room. John ended up sticking it into the torn lining of his overcoat, where it slipped right down and stayed hidden until he was able to obtain a suitcase with a false bottom from a bloke.
Over the next twenty-two years John received quite a collection of postcards. His favourites were the picture of the Berlin Wall being torn down, which had been stamped and written on despite being an actual photograph, the one with the picture of the Sphinx in Egypt which complained vociferously about the uncooperativeness of camels and sand in unmentionable places, and the postcard John received from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York shortly after his enlistment, which said simply, American healthcare is much better than in Russia.
That one made him fall around laughing for several minutes, to the bemusement of his fellow soldiers.
John has been living with Sherlock Homes for three months, more or less, when he notices he is being tailed.
Well, no, that isn’t exactly true – John has actually been aware of being followed for months now, but he isn’t too worried about Mycroft, even if he thinks the man needs some better hobbies. No, this is a different tail, someone who is strolling along casually behind him but whose walk and posture says military, and who is closing the distance between them as John nears a small, conveniently dark alley. A car with tinted windows is propped nearby.
John considers his options. Last time he’d let himself be kidnapped, his date had also been taken, which was a Bit Not Good. That’s less likely to happen this time, although on the other hand John is almost certainly being kidnapped by someone sent by Moriarty, which means things are going to be far more efficient, thorough, and dangerous than last time.
John is a lot tougher and more skilled than people know, however. And this is probably the closest he or Sherlock are going to get to the criminal mastermind.
With a resigned sigh, John pretends to amble on obliviously, until he’s dragged suddenly into the alley and knocked out with a swift blow to the head.
When John comes to, he is tied up.
He pretends to be still unconscious for a few moments longer, keeping his breathing the same and staying relaxed, while he tries to collect his bearings.
He feels sick, and there is a throbbing ache at the back of his skull.
“Oh, very clever Johnny, but that won’t help you,” a lilting Irish voice tells him. “I know you’re awake, you see.”
At this, John opens his eyes to find himself being regarded by a dark-haired man in a designer suit, in a way that reminds John of Sherlock studying one of his experiments.
Выродок , John thinks grimly.
“Wha? Jim?” John blinks, inserting just the right amount of disoriented bewilderment into his voice.
Moriarty had been right under their noses, and no one had noticed. Well. At least, John hopes no one had noticed. If Sherlock had suspected, John is going to bloody kill him.
“That’s right, John,” he says, in a mocking falsetto. “Jim. Jim Moriarty, to be precise.”
“You’re – you’re Moriarty?”
“I know, it’s such a surprise, isn’t it,” Moriarty says sympathetically. His eyes are very bright and cold. “Right out of left field, that one. But yes, I’m afraid so, Dr Watson. I’m the one who’s been playing this little game with Sherlock, and you are the next piece in the puzzle. Or should I say, the next pawn?”
The ropes restraining him have been very well-tied, John is piqued to discover.
“Who – how did I get here?” John snaps.
“Oh, that was dear Sebby,” Jim says blithely. “He’s my pet sniper. He’s part of this game, too.”
No one has bothered to search John’s shoes, apparently, because when he wriggles his foot around he can still feel the thin loop of wire underneath the layer of lining in his left boot.
Well, that’s something.
“I’m sure you’d like to know what your role is in all this, so allow me to explain. In a minute, Seb is going to come in here, and dress you in a lovely vest that I’m sure you’re familiar with, and stick an earpiece in your ear. Then we’re going to drive out to a location of Sherlock’s choosing – really, quite an inspired choice, very dramatic, brings us back to the beginning of it all – where you will proceed to follow my directions to the letter. Try to rebel at any point during these proceedings, and things will get very, very painful for you, my dear, do you understand?”
John just glares, and waits for Moriarty’s sniper to enter and untie him.
“Excellent,” Moriarty exclaims brightly. “Sebastian!”
In walks a man maybe a little younger than John, the same man who had abducted him.
John lets his mind go tranquil and still, and thinks of all the combat lessons his mother gave him.
He hopes it’s enough.
As it turns out, it is. One day, people are going to stop underestimating him.
Fortunately, that day isn’t today.
Twenty minutes, a bloody nose, and a throbbing shoulder later, John rings Mycroft.
He gets Mycroft’s damn assistant.
“I’ve just killed Moriarty,” John tells her without preamble.
There’s a moment’s pause.
“John.” This time it’s Mycroft’s voice on the other end of the phone. Hah, John thinks. “Would you care to repeat your statement, please?”
“I just killed Moriarty,” John reiterates. “Also, a sniper named Sebastian, probably Moran, and a bunch of goons. My shoulder is killing me, and I think I wrenched a hip. I’m really not pleased about this, and I’d like you to send someone to deal with it. I was supposed to be at my girlfriend’s. Did you know your brother’s been texting Moriarty like a secret crush?”
There is a momentary silence.
It’s just as well, because at this point a man with a – oh, for fuck’s sake, a fucking Kalashnikov comes round the corner.
John swears in Russian, because it’s really the only language that completely expresses his feelings about this (this is ridiculous, honestly), and darts forward to knock the gun aside and jab the idiot in the throat. John grabs his head in both hands and twists.
John walks back to retrieve the dropped phone, where it’s repeating his name in a tiny alarmed voice.
“Sorry about that,” John explains. “There was some twat with a Kalashnikov. If I punched your brother for making plans for meeting psychopathic criminal masterminds behind my back, would you mind?”
“Not at all,” says Mycroft. “I rather sympathise actually. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Alright, then. I’ll just… wait.”
Mycroft shows up fourteen minutes later, along with his PA and a clean-up crew. He also brings Sherlock, who wears a well-concealed expression of frantic worry. John might have felt touched by this, if it wasn’t at least partly Sherlock’s fault he’s ended up in this situation in the first place.
John punches him. It’s well-telegraphed, but Sherlock is surprised enough (or, just possibly, contrite enough) to let it happen.
“That is for making secret assignations with psychotic criminal geniuses,” John tells him. “ глупец.”
“That hurt,” Sherlock complains, but he’s looking John over closely. He relaxes when he sees that none of John’s injuries are serious. “Did you really kill Moriarty and all these others? Yes, you did. How?”
John would really like to look puzzled and innocent and talk about how he’s an ex-soldier, but he’s pretty sure he won’t be able to fall back on that nearly as often in future.
There isn’t much point in dissembling; enough digging, and Mycroft will work it out in the end.
“My mother was a Russian spy,” John explains. “I had an unusual childhood.”
Sherlock looks confounded, while Mycroft looks… well. Fairly taken-aback, perhaps, with a hint of chagrin. John sort of wishes he had a camera.
“I’m not going to tell either of you any more than that,” John adds firmly. “If you have to know more, you can damn well find it out for yourself.”
Sherlock looks like someone’s handed him a particularly fascinating puzzle to solve; Mycroft looks bland, which is no doubt masking determination to uncover every one of John’s hitherto-unsuspected secrets.
Good luck with that. John’s biggest secrets have always belonged to someone else, and she’s far better at covering her tracks than he is.
John receives a postcard, three days later. It’s a Doctor Who postcard, of all things, with an image of the new series Master on it, smirking in his expensive suit.
John turns it over. The writing on the other side says simply, Nice work. There’s a little drawing underneath that, though, of a small angry man with his legs locked around the neck of a comically bulging-eyed figure in a suit. Underneath that is a second cartoon, of a curly-haired figure in a long coat with hearts for eyes and multiple question marks hovering over his head, next to another figure, this one dressed in a three-piece suit gnawing on the handle of his umbrella in agitation.
John laughs outright, and smiling, sticks it on the fridge with a magnet.
Sherlock frowns when he sees it. John just grins, and says nothing.
Two years later, a few weeks after an alien attack in New York is foiled by a small band of superheroes – no, really, superheroes – and John saves photos of them in action to his laptop, John receives a new postcard.
It’s just a plain New York postcard. On the back is a proper sketch, done in black ink: Captain America, a robotic figure that John recognises as Iron Man, a giant man with bulging muscles and a scowl, some guy with flowing hair wearing armour and holding a hammer, another guy (this one holding a bow and arrow), and a small feminine figure dressed in what looks like some kind of catsuit whose wavy red hair has been drawn in red ink. It’s the only colour in the entire sketch.
At the bottom of the postcard is an address for Natasha Romanov, Avengers Tower, New York.
John starts planning how to convince Sherlock that they need to go on a trip.