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The Empty Rooms of 221B Baker Street

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There was a strange and unsettling finality to the sound of the door of 221B Baker Street slamming shut. It wasn’t the first time the residents had argued, not by a long shot. And it wasn’t the first time one had stormed out in a fit of potentially misplaced rage, but it was the first time the words “I don’t need you!” had left the mouth of London’s only Consulting Detective and Chief Arsehole. And it was certainly the first time his assistant had left the house without her coat, keys, or mobile phone. It would only be later that either of them realized this, or cared to do anything about it. Frustrated and feeling very unwelcome in the flat, John Watson had simply…left.

 

As she walked down Baker Street, going in no particular direction with no particular destination in mind, she refused to look back at the windows. She knew damn well Sherlock Holmes was standing there, watching her walk away and waiting for her to turn back. Every time they fought over something, if it was an experiment she’d come upon in a place it didn’t necessarily need to be or found something in the fridge beyond its use, or something he had taken of hers without asking, or…well, any number of things; she always looked over her shoulder as she walked away. It was kind of her subconscious way of letting him know she was coming back later. But she didn’t look back this time, and she wasn’t in a hurry to go back to that, anyway.

 

At least they hadn’t disturbed Mrs Hudson, who was out of town visiting her sister. Mrs Turner would probably have plenty to say about it when Mrs Hudson got back, but she didn’t give a damn. With her hands in her pockets and her head down, John stormed the streets of London alone.

 

She wandered for hours, it seemed, blessing the weather for being kind to her for once. It was a nice day, not too cold and not too warm, no clouds or rain in sight, but there were people. Too many bloody people. After being jostled one time too many, John growled and took her hands out of her pockets, lifted her head, and squared her shoulders. She must have looked a bit of a fright, people were rather quick to get out of her way as she kept moving.

 

It was nearly noon when she finally took a minute to get her bearings. She stopped on a street corner and looked around. She knew every street in the bloody city no thanks to her reckless, selfish flat-mate, so…where the hell was she? Not anywhere near Baker Street, good riddance. John looked around, caught sight of the cameras on the adjacent building, and growled. Mycroft. Fucking nosy little shit. He’d probably been tracking her across the city for hours and giving his dear little brother updates.

 

Baring her teeth, she flipped off the camera and ducked around the corner. She only stopped walking when she reached a dead end. No big deal. Looking around, she spotted a nearby fire-escape and smirked. He may be the smartest man in the city, and definitely the smartest sociopath (though John was starting to think he was more of a psychopath than she’d given him credit for), but she had to give Sherlock credit for teaching her clever ways of getting around the city. Climbing the fire-escape, she took to the rooftops and just…ran.

Finally, she was forced to ground again and stepped out onto the pavement brushing off her jumper. It was colder now than when she had left the house, and she had stupidly left her coat back at Baker Street. She didn’t have her phone or her keys, either. Not that she cared. She hated her phone, it was a hand-me-down from her brother anyway, and she didn’t care about the keys, but she did wish for her coat. What she did have, because God forbid she ever leave the house without it, was her SIG L105A1. Last time she’d left it at home, she’d gotten back from errands to find Sherlock shooting holes in the wall with it. Out of boredom, he’d said.

Ever since, she had never left the house without it. So, when she heard a soft scrape behind her as she stood in a CCTV blind-spot, she reacted with speed gained from experience and hours of training. She wasn’t technically the shoot first ask later sort, but she wasn’t above pulling the trigger first.

“Oh, you don’t need that, dear.” Her company, as unwanted as Sherlock, just grinned at her and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and good-will, “I’m not here for trouble.”

“Jesus Christ.” She let out a slow, sharp breath, “Mr Moriarty.” And it was. Standing at the head of the alleyway, dressed immaculately as always, was James Richard Moriarty. Not the worst of men but certainly a clever criminal, and far smarter than people gave him credit for.

“What the hell are you doing in this part of town?” She lowered her gun.

“I imagine I have more legitimate business here than you do, love.” He took two steps towards her, gauging her state of mind. She was too tired and too cold to threaten him, and honestly, she was glad to see him. Glad? To see Moriarty? The man who, not two weeks ago, had kidnapped her off the street in front of Baker Street, drugged her, tied her up, and used her as bait to lure Sherlock in a mad game of wits?

She still remembered the weight of the bomb-vest, the dread, the utter fear, wondering if Sherlock would even show up. He’d shown up, alright, with a dud copy of the missile plans in hand. When John had emerged to confront him, Moriarty’s words in her mouth, he had been momentarily confused, betrayed even. He’d honestly thought she was Moriarty. For one split second, he’d thought John was Moriarty.

That moment had presented a turning point in their relationship, and it hadn’t been a very good one. Getting out of the pool-deck alive and unharmed had been a relief, but now…no, she wasn’t thinking about it right now. Not the way Sherlock had treated her like she didn’t matter, belittling her work (both on the blog and at the clinic), insulting her not-insignificant intelligence, leaving her out of case-work or leaving out details he thought she didn’t need to know. When she tried to protect him, he pushed her away. When she tried to take care of him, he pushed her away. It was awful, it hurt, and she had no one to talk to, no one to turn to for help. Lestrade tried, but he was in Sherlock’s camp and turned out to be good for little more than empty platitudes and too many pints. And she knew that anything she said to him wasn’t sacred. So she didn’t…Jesus.

John wasn’t aware of anything until she found herself sitting on the cold, damp ground with her back to the wall. She’d lost her footing and slid to the ground. She was aware of something landing on her shoulders, something warm, and raised her head. It was a coat, a rather nice one. Moriarty? Oh, right. He was still standing there. He’d…given her his coat? Why? She leaned her head back and looked up.

He was rather handsome, she thought blearily, in a way Sherlock wasn’t. He wasn’t tall, or skinny, but he was…the right size, she thought. Just a few inches taller than she made taller still by the slight heel of his shoes, still slim but not cadaverously skinny, and not as pale as Sherlock. His eyes were a rich, pretty brown that had just as much character as Sherlock’s, which nine times out of ten couldn’t fucking make up their minds and were awfully cold. His hair was soft, shorter, cut long in the fringe but kept neat. Almost military neat. His clothes were carefully chosen, still cost more than anything in her pitiful wardrobe, and gave him a subtly sinister air.

It was his personality, too. He could get whatever he wanted, through force or negotiation. She remembered the sweet, slightly-clumsy man she had met at Saint Bart’s during The Great Game, and how shocked she’d been when she learned that soft-spoken, giggly Jim From IT was not who he seemed.

Now, to be fair, John thrived on danger and adrenaline rush, this was no secret, and she had kind of enjoyed the game; at least until she was one of the pawns. Then it hadn’t been so much fun and she’d kind of lost her touch after that.

She was aware of careful hands prying the SIG out of her grasp and she heard the click as he ejected the clip and the chambered round, pocketing both before he tucked the gun into a holster hidden in his waistband. She caught a glimpse of another gun, knew he wouldn’t travel unarmed. But she didn’t feel threatened. For some reason.

“What the hell are you doing out here, Doctor Watson?” He crouched before her, holding her hands between his, “How long have you been out here?”

“I’d be Anderson’s idiot if you didn’t know.” She sniffed, “You’ve as many cameras as Mycroft Holmes.”

“But I wasn’t tracking you. I wasn’t even looking for you.” He rubbed her hands, “You don’t even have your phone, love.” There it was again, that “love”. It sounded nice in his native accent. She liked his accent, she decided.

“No coat. No keys. No phone. You could disappear and no one would ever know the difference!”

“No one would care.” She spat, “Did you at least see me leave Baker Street?”

“No?” He pulled her to her feet, but her legs didn’t work suddenly. “What happened at Baker Street? You weren’t…ah.” He made a soft sound. “You were kicked out, weren’t you?”

“Both. Get me up.”

“A moment, love.” He turned and looked over his shoulder, “Seb! Get your arse over here!”

“Coming!” A moment later, another man appeared. He wore black tactical fatigues and a drop-holster on his leg with an L105A1 tucked into it. She saw a couple of knives and loaded magazines on the duty-belt. He took one look at John and both eyebrows went up. “Bloody hell! Doctor Watson?”

“Get her up, and get her to the car. Don’t ask questions.”

“Jesus! Missed at Baker Street yet?”

“Not yet. This place would be crawling with spooks if she was.” Between the two of them, they got John to her feet and tucked into the idling car. She slowly she came to her senses as they left behind wherever they had been. Somewhere in Brixton, of all places.

It was a quiet drive from Brixton, she didn’t feel threatened.

“Where are we going?”

“Can you trust me?”

“Should I trust you?” She shrugged off the blankets. “I let you take my gun. Why did I let you take my gun? You…”

“At the moment, I don’t pose a threat to you.” He watched her, “You’re not asking any questions.”

“You caught me at a bad time.” She rubbed her forehead, “A really bad time.”

“Cameras caught you leaving Baker Street without your coat, keys, or your mobile phone.” He folded his arms and looked at her.

“Yeah, well.”

“I knew you were smart, the first time we met. Smarter than that silly Holmes. This?” A gesture at the car, at their current situation, “This was not smart. At all.”

“You didn’t even look at me, you didn’t give me the time of day. I was no one to you.” She narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t care about me until I was useful.”

“You surprised me that day.” He smiled, “You were smarter than the others. There was no begging, no pleading for mercy, no crying. You were calm, frightened, and in control. But…” Something occurred to him and his eyes widened, “Oh my god.”

“Sherlock thought I was you.” John refused to cry, “For approximately two minutes, he thought I was Moriarty. He had no idea about any of it.”

“You let him keep thinking that.”

“You try talking sense into him some time.” She looked at him for a minute, then leaned her head back.

“I feel like I should have packed some clothes or something before I stormed out of there. I really don’t want to go back to Baker Street right now.”

“You are amazing. Does he know how lucky he is to have your loyalty?” He leaned across the space between them, resting one hand on her knee. It was unexpected and unsolicited, but she didn’t mind as much as she knew she should. 

“You do everything for him, without question, without asking for anything in return. Shelter, perhaps, somewhere to lay your head a few hours at odd times.”

“Desperate times, desperate measures. It’s kind of hard to make ends meet when you’ve had a fucking hole blown through your life and you can’t even do the job you went to school for or the one you spent nearly two decades doing.” She shook her head, “Y’know, not forty-eight hours before I heard your name the first time, I’d put my gun in my mouth?”

“Yes. I know.” His smile softened, “I’ve watched you far longer than Mycroft Holmes has. I knew who you were that day.”

“You were testing us.” She couldn’t be mad at him.

“And you passed with flying colours, love.” Again with the endearment. Was he aware of doing it?

She was aware of the car slowing and coming to a stop, and she looked out the window.

“We’d better not be at Baker Street.”

“Oh, no. We’re taking care of some practical matters.” He grinned and Moriarty’s driver/henchman/bodyguard was holding the door for her. She climbed out of the car and looked around. They were still in London, at one of the stores that dealt in electronics.

“Uh, what…what are we…?”

“Come along, lovely!” He went into the store ahead of her, whistling a cheerful ditty. Well, she was about to get a new phone. And she could choose hers this time! Thank bleeding Christ! Shrugging, she went into the store.

She had forgotten everything else, but she did have her wallet. She made sure she had the proper card, it was right where she’d kept it. There were secret compartments in her wallet, one of them contained a specific card Sherlock knew nothing about, and he had stolen her wallet many, many times. She had her i.d. cards, her Oyster card, an appointment reminder, a ticket-stub from something, a couple of receipts, and her secret cards. Her cash and bank card were both missing. Well, that was fine. She knew what to do with that.

But it looked like Sherlock had left her a little gift. She tugged the tracking device free and looked at it. Sticking it in her pocket for the moment, she caught up with Moriarty, who was speaking to one of the sales associates, who wore a vaguely frightened expression.

“Well, that’s a look.” He had noticed John’s expression, “Everything alright, my dear?”

“I need to put a hold on some of my bank accounts and freeze my cards.” She showed him the empty wallet, “My flat-made had sticky fingers.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Don’t worry. He didn’t find this one.” She flashed the secret card, “And he has no idea this account even exists. It’s my money, I just don’t do anything with it.”

“Oh, you clever little thing.” Moriarty chuckled, “I like you. Well, after you!” She explored the wares, played around with different models, and finally settled on a BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100. Her only regret was not having her SIM-card. There weren’t many numbers on it, and really, she didn’t have anyone on that card just at the moment that she really felt like talking to.

As she was settling the bill, she heard Moriarty make some discontent noise behind her and raised an eyebrow.

“I thought Sherlock was the only person who made that noise.” She finished what she was doing and smiled at the helpful, timid clerk who had taken care of them.

“Thank you.”

“Yes, ma’am. Have a pleasant afternoon.” The girl smiled shyly and looked at Moriarty, eyes wide. She probably had no idea who he was, but she knew he was bad business if he was angry.

Whatever it was, Moriarty was not pleased. She snickered and dug into her wallet for something. A little memento from The Great Game. God alone knew why she’d kept it, but she still had the card Moriarty had originally left for Sherlock that day at Saint Bart’s with his number and a handwritten note to “call me!”. So, with her new phone set up and functional, she entered his number into her address-book and sent him a text.

 

Smile! ;) – J

 

She was halfway out the door as his phone chimed, distracting him for a minute, and she giggled as his outburst followed her out.

“What in the…what is this!”

“I thought my flat-mate was the only person who made that noise! Can’t be all that bad, can it? Come on, lad, smile a bit!” She popped her head back through the door and wondered how much trouble she was in for baiting him like that.

“That was gutsy of you.” Seb, whoever he really was, stood at parade-rest to her left by the car, having elected to wait outside while John and Moriarty went into the shop together. She turned and looked at him more closely.

Former military, like herself. Ex-Special Forces, she’d bet, with that bearing. He knew his business, six ways around a gun, and twelve ways to maim and/or kill, six of them subtle. Master marksman, sniper, top of his class, definitely knew his business and exactly where his loyalties lay. He was about Sherlock’s height, but much broader, tanned from service in the Middle East and in the tropics, scarred from the same, auburn hair cut close but a bit longer than regulation, and eyes that reminded her a bit of sea-glass in colour. He looked very familiar. As they waited for Moriarty to come out, she joined him by the car.

“I know you from somewhere.” She said quietly, “I know you. Your name escapes me, but…”

“Where would you know Seb from? No one knows him.” This was from Moriarty, who had come out finally, catching the last of that conversation.

“Service, I think. That’s all I can think of. But the when escapes me. You were Special Forces. One of mine, then. Above me in rank, if I had to guess.” She kicked the hubcap, looking up at the sky. She took the opportunity to drop the tracking device from her wallet and destroy it under her heel. She kicked the remains under the tyre and knew the rest of it would be taken care of when they pulled out.

“You were…”

“Didn’t look through all of my records, did you?” John looked sidelong at Moriarty, who studied her with new interest, “I’ve got a couple of things on my records I’m not terribly proud of. Where do you think the secret fund came from? I make a pittance on clinic-hours, my pension goes to rent, and not a dime from the work I do at Baker Street. I have plenty secreted away for any needs I may have.”

“Oh, you’re one of those soldiers! Oh, I like you more! You clever, sneaky, deadly girl!” Moriarty grinned, that sly smile she’d seen at the pool. But it didn’t scare her this time.

“Targeted hits?”

“Who would expect someone who looks like me to be an assassin? Whatever it was, I did the job. Clean kill, or otherwise. I’ve got morals, but not strict ones. The military kept me busy until some Taliban sniper took my livelihood and my everything else.”

“If I remember that day, Captain, you took a bullet to the shoulder and kept fighting, kept standing.” Seb was grinning, “Fought until your ammo ran out. And when that failed you, bare hands and a couple of carefully-aimed rocks. You looked like death warmed over by the time we found you.”

“Which, if I recall right, was about six months later.” She rocked on her heels. Now she remembered. It was service, all right. Sebastian Moran had been one of the people to pull her out of Afghanistan.

“You told me I looked like shite, and I asked what the fuck had taken you six months.”

“You were a prisoner of war!”

“Yes, I was.” She rubbed her shoulder, “And they were very nice to the Western doctor. Kept me alive so I could keep them alive, moved me every couple of weeks.”

“Seb!”

“Oh, calm down, Boss. Your little soldier made them pay.” Seb was smart enough not to laugh at Moriarty, but damn it was close. “We, uh, found her in a rather interesting position.”

“Alive?”

“Conscious, even. Lucky us.”

“Thank Christ.”

“Sly little minx had stolen a key-ring during a fight between the guards, the place was pretty sparely kept for what it was, and let herself out the next night. She had a stolen pistol, hers, I think, a couple of knives, an American AK-47, and stolen clothes. We found her fifteen miles down the road from the place.”

“You walked out of captivity, under your own power, and left…how many alive?”

“None. Seb and a group of searchers found me with a truck and a chopper walking down the middle of the road. Initial reports had cleared the base as abandoned, any left were dead before our lot showed up.” She leaned over and poked at her former commanding officer, “I was mad as hell when I heard what they’d done to you. That was all kinds of wrong-doing.”

“All water under bridges burned, sweetie.” Seb just shrugged, “Don’t worry about me, lovely.”

“Guess not. So, what, you run after this cute bastard now?” She hitched a thumb at Moriarty, who looked at his phone, then at the two of them, and tried to decide if he should be upset by this or not.

“Try to keep him straight. More worried about you, though. You can do so much better. Deserve so much better.”

“Yeah, I know. But what can you do about it?” She checked her phone for messages, out of reflex, and made a face. There were none, of course, none from Sherlock. He didn’t know she’d replaced her phone yet, he would eventually, and so he hadn’t blown up her phone with text messages. Thank god.

“So, back to business. What the hell had you all mad back there, sir?” She looked at Moriarty, “I honestly thought Sherlock was the only person who made that kind of noise, and that’s when he has to deal with Greg Lestrade’s idiots. Lestrade, I like, he’s smart. He’s nice, and deserves better than his current. His team, on the other hand, can all burn in hell. Special circles for that lot.”

“No, I forgot…I had a dinner engagement tonight.”

“Oh?”

“Rather important one, to be honest. I am not looking forward to it at all.”

“Why not?”

“People.”

“What kind of people?”

“Important people.”

“So, what’s the problem? You can do whatever you want.”

“Not this time.” Seb leaned over with a stage-whisper, “Bad luck for him.”

“Seb!”

“Would he kill me if I said it out loud?” John didn’t miss the adorable blush that turned his face red.

“Depends.”

“He’s cute when he blushes like that. Would that get me killed?”

“Mm, not sure. Most people call him cute don’t really get away with it.”

“Pity. But, I can be nice.” She leaned against the car, “What’s the problem with this dinner party you’re obligated to go to? Family affair or something?”

“Yes.”

“Yikes.” She made a face, “Parents? Grandparents?”

“Mother.”

“Well, at least yours is still alive.” John cleared her throat, “And not…”

“We know, Jack.” Seb put a steadying hand on her shoulder, “We know.”

“My mother expects me to make an appearance at her birthday dinner.” Moriarty hissed, “And she thinks I have a girlfriend!”

“Well, to be fair, you had a girlfriend a few weeks ago.” John remembered what she’d seen at Saint Bart’s that once, “Don’t tell me Molly Hooper dumped you?”

“She was not very kind about it, either.”

“It might have been for show, but…damn! You don’t do that to someone!” John shook her head, disgusted, “And she’s falling over herself about Sherlock Holmes. She can have that bastard for all I care.”

“He hurt you, didn’t he?”

“Said he didn’t need someone like me. Hasn’t trusted me since that night. Keeps me off of cases, won’t talk to me at all most of the time.”

“Selfish prick,” Seb muttered.

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“You can do so much better.”

“Where do I even start?”

“Disappear for a while.” A simple suggestion. Simple in practice, maybe not in execution.

“How?”

“Come with me.” The door of the car opened and he got in, she followed him in. It was barely two.

“So, where are we going?”

“Back to mine to regroup. You wouldn’t have anything suitable to wear to a dinner party, would you?”

“Not…specifically. I mean, the nicest clothes I own are my dress-uniforms. I’m not sure if that’s really appropriate.” She felt bad for leaving all of her gear behind, she really didn’t want it getting trashed by Sherlock.

“Seb?”

“Sir.” Without missing a beat, Seb handed back a tablet. Moriarty reached for it, but John got to it first. Ignoring him, she swiped into it, worked out the passcode, and found what he might need. It was an app that showed CCTV footage from cameras all over London.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking for someone. Stop it.” She pushed his hand out of the way, “Hang on. So…here’s Baker Street. Looks empty.” She narrowed her eyes and flipped through the cameras. Three in the sitting-room, two in the kitchen, one in the hallway going up, one in the entrance hall, and one, she noticed, in her bedroom.

“Pervert.” She muttered. He had the grace to blush but didn’t deny anything. Reviewing footage, she saw that Sherlock had left the flat about an hour ago, left in a bit of a hurry. Thinking on something, John pulled up a website on the tablet and waited for it to boot. Entering the information, she got a very quick ping-back and triangulated the location of the subject, then she pulled up the involved CCTV cameras.

“Ah hah, there he is. Busy with The Met.” She picked out Sherlock and Lestrade, and a couple of the others. It looked like a juicy one, and she didn’t feel bad for missing it at all. He’d be gone for hours, at this rate. Fine.

“Seb?”

“Yes’m?”            

“Baker Street, please.”

“You got it, Captain.” She swore he smiled, but didn’t care much. At least Sherlock wasn’t around right now.

 

When they got back to Baker Street, she broke into the house and packed up her laptop and charger, left her old phone where it was after taking the SIM card, and packed up a few things. John didn’t really have much, having lived sparely for so many years. She packed a work-bag for her laptop, a few days worth of clothes, a few books, and garment-bags for her dress uniforms. Her fatigues were packed in a rucksack and there was a footlocker full of gear that she would be taking out. She wasn’t keeping her gear at Baker Street any longer.

“Is this all you own?” Moriarty looked up from loading her first load into the boot of the car. “I thought you’d have more.”

“This isn’t all of it. I kind of kept to myself in there, kept to my room.” She looked up at the dark windows, “I just packed a few days of regular clothes and all of my Army gear. I’ll move the rest out later if I need to.” Slamming the boot, she got into the car and did not look back as they pulled away. She hadn’t looked back that morning, she didn’t look back now. 


 

Chapter Text


When he came upon John Watson in Brixton, Jim Moriarty was very much aware of circumstances, but he still hadn’t expected to see her on the streets. When he got to her, she had been out since 4 am. She hadn’t eaten, she didn’t have a coat, keys, or her mobile. He had been fascinated by the feisty soldier for months and had gotten everything he could about her. She was smart, maybe smarter than Sherlock Holmes, but street-smart as well. She was kind, both to those who were kind to her and those who were not; loyal, perhaps to the wrong people; gifted in so many ways. Jim had a fondness for soldiers, and despite what people thought, he was quite fond of Sherlock’s soldier. She was strong but fragile, and entirely unappreciated by her flat-mate.

 

When they had first met, he had paid spare attention to her, he didn’t want anyone to know. She had been on his radar for months, and when he finally had a chance to bring her into play, she had broken the rules beautifully. John did not behave as the other hostages had behaved, she was stubborn, defiant even, and he loved watching her play. What broke his heart, though, was the way Sherlock had treated her.

 

She explained what he had witnessed, how that encounter in Camden had changed things at Baker Street. Sherlock, the blundering fool, had thought John was Jim. That had skewed his judgment and his treatment of John had gone from bad to worse to downright negligent. He cut her out of his cases, he ignored her needs, demanded more of her than ever without giving anything back when he did need her for something. It was only a matter of time before he began to belittle her in public forum. His comments on her blog had been derogatory and spiteful, and Jim was surprised she hadn’t just shut the thing down completely. When Molly Hooper hadn’t even bothered to try and introduce her by name that day at the hospital, that had been his first sign something wasn’t right. People ignored John because Sherlock ignored her.

 

When they moved her out of Baker Street while Sherlock was gone on a case, he was appalled at how very little she owned. This was not a move he had expected, but Jim was nothing if not adaptable. He hadn’t clawed his way to the top by being predictable, after all. All he had suggested was that she disappear for a bit. She had made the decision, on her own, to begin the process and move out. She had a few days of clothes and all of her Army gear. Her uniforms, a footlocker full of equipment, useful things. He only really needed her for tonight, but he could certainly find use for the clever, gifted doctor beyond tonight. She got along with Seb, anyway, and no one got along with Seb. But they had a history, a special history that they both respected. That was important.

 

---

 

Once they returned to his London flat, a penthouse in Kensington but not his primary residence, he laid out the details for that night’s festivities and what was expected of them. John was moving on from a painful, even abusive relationship, but he was not unaware of how her behaviour changed when they were around each other. Her skills and confidence made her quite bold and she had no problem teasing him like they were old friends. And no one, no one, teased Jim Moriarty. People disappeared when that happened. But she wasn’t making fun of him for spite’s sake, she was teasing him because he was being silly. Never mind that he had been dropping endearments rather carelessly. But, smart man that he was, Jim knew when a girl needed to hear a few pretty words. And she liked to hear it. He wondered if anyone had ever truly loved John Watson or even been kind to her, she was a most remarkable woman. She was pretty in her own way, not quite beautiful but certainly not homely (get her out of those frumpy jumpers and into clothes that fit her and suited her, and she was stunning), and her assumed plainness was one of her secret weapons.

 

When she asked, again, what the evening’s dress-code would be, and reminded him that she had nothing really suitable, he told her to wear what made her comfortable. He was asking her an enormous favour he really didn’t have a right to ask, but she had kind of taken that choice out of his hands in the first place and all but made it clear that whatever it was, she was with him. He did not mind.

 

As time wore to within an hour of when they were expected at the party, he began to fret. Seb and a handful of staff watched with wary gazes. Finally, he heard footsteps on the staircase from the mezzanine level where the principal bedrooms were and turned. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but the sight of John in her No 2 Temperate Parade Dress uniform was…not it. She had opted for the trouser option, he noticed, not that he was surprised, and he found himself selfishly pleased that she could still wear her beloved uniforms. That was also slightly concerning. She hadn’t taken very good care of herself after returning to London and had lost a bit more weight than was healthy, so the khaki fit a bit loose on her frame. It was concealed by the cut of the uniform and the addition of a Sam Browne belt. He could fix that, though. He would. But, oh, she was a sight to behold.

“Oh, Captain.”

“Sorry it took me forever.” She blushed as she took the offered hand, “I wasn’t sure the damn thing even fit me anymore.”

“Oh, it’s perfect!” He smiled, “Shall we?”

“Before we’re missed? Of course.” She just smiled back, a sweet, slightly dangerous smile. Whatever was expected of the night, she was prepared to meet it head-on. The tension in the room dissipated as Seb dismissed the staff to their tasks and followed them out. He noticed that she wore no medals, but she did wear service ribbons instead, or lapel pins for a couple of them. This was not a ceremonial event, but she was proud enough of her accomplishments, and he recognized every one of them, to wear some signifier.

 

A very self-impressed person, and quite selfish, Jim was impressed with John Watson and very happy to say she was his. Even if it wasn’t quite true in the sense that they were boyfriend-girlfriend or whatever. Two grown adults in their thirties, but that mattered very little. He was doing this to convince his very pushy, very concerned, very eager mother that he could, in fact, hold a stable relationship with someone. Jim wasn’t quite certain she knew what he actually did with himself, but wouldn’t be at all surprised if she did. She knew he had a girlfriend, but he had never introduced her to Molly Hooper, who was sweet but very much not Jim’s “type”. He preferred a girl who could stand up for herself and speak her mind without tripping over her own tongue. The kind of girl, to be completely honest, who could stand up to him. Like John Watson? Hmm.

 

He was surprised by a touch on his sleeve, which turned into skin-to-skin contact as she rubbed under the cuff of his shirt and jacket, circling his wrist with two fingers.

“What are you doing?”

“Sorry. I’m…kind of touchy.”

“Oh. No, don’t…” He stopped her from pulling away. To pull this off, they had to be touchy. For all anyone at this party knew, he and John had been dating for two or three months already. He liked being in control of things, it was a demand, but he suspected John was very much the same.

“How much touching is allowed?”

“Whatever it takes to convince people that you’re actually my girlfriend.”

“Well, don’t treat this like it’s something you don’t want to be doing, even though I know it’s not. You are not the first person I’ve pretended to be dating, y’know.” She looked him over, “Is there anything about your mother I should know before I meet her?”

“Words can’t…begin to do her justice. You’ll understand when you meet her.” He sniffed.

“Relax! Jesus, Jim! This isn’t exactly war, and I’ve been to war!” She pinched the back of his neck to get his attention when he started trailing into his head, “A dinner-party is quite different! A very, very different battlefield.”

“Still a bloody battlefield!”

“Let me do the talking and the charming, you just smile and nod and look handsome.” She patted him on the hand, then surprised him when she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t flinch when I do that.”

“Sorry.”

“Silly thing. You’re shaking, aren’t you?”

“Why aren’t you nervous?”

“Who says I’m not?” She raised an eyebrow in challenge.

“Hey, you two!” Seb chimed in from the driver’s seat, “We’re here! Get out or I’m taking off again!”

 

Before he could order his friend to do just that, John grabbed him by the wrist, kicked the door open, and dragged him out of the car. Taking charge like the soldier she was. With one hand on his wrist, she leaned in through the window and spoke to Seb. A minute later, he pulled away to park and John took a moment to straighten her uniform and set her peaked cap at the proper angle. She had a beret as well but had chosen the cap for this evening. Jim wondered, momentarily, about the other people John had been asked to act the part of the doting significant other on their behalf. Because whoever they were, they were damn lucky. She was good.

 

They handed over their coats and John’s cap to the waiting butler once inside, and he guided her through the house in search of something to drink. Something strong.

“Wine, beer, or something stiff?” John murmured as they explored their options. He was fine with anything that had alcohol in it, Christ knew he couldn’t face his mother without at least one drink under his belt.

“Surprise me?”

“You trust me like that?”

“I doubt you’re going to spike my drink, love.” He grinned at her and she rolled her eyes.

“You like to call me that, did you know that? You’ve said it several times today.”

“Said what?”

“Love. You’ve said it at least six or seven times today.”

“I know you like to hear it, and I like to say it.” His smile turned easy and soft. It was true, as it had been before. Endearments didn’t come very easily to him in most cases, but there were always exceptions.

 

Once they had drinks in hand, he took her off to introduce her to a few of the guests he knew. They were all absolutely beside themselves with glee to meet Jim’s “girlfriend”, and watching them light up at the sight of John’s uniform was worth every trial and fake smile. She charmed the crowd, worked them like a pro, and all he could do was watch.

“You picked a good one, Boss.” Seb murmured, sidling up to him as John chatted up a couple of his mother’s guests, bureaucrats and boot-lickers every one of them. Magistrates, barristers, people in positions of power that, if manipulated properly, could be quite useful.

“She was a lucky find, Seb. We both know that. That bloody idiot Holmes almost ruined her.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve saved that girl’s arse. You be good to John Watson or I will not be alone in beating your sorry arse raw and burying you alive.”

“Figured you wouldn’t. Get me her records. The ones that don’t exist, I’d like to know more about my girl.”

“Absolutely. I’ll have them by morning.”

“Good man.” He just smiled and watched her, pleased with the way she was handling this unexpected turn of events. He knew when someone brought up Sherlock Holmes, John was not a nobody in London after all, and he narrowed his eyes as she clammed up a little bit. It occurred to him that she was using this as a distraction from what had happened this morning. 

“That’s my cue. Make yourself scarce before my mother finds you.” Not that Sheila Moriarty disliked Seb, but she had a nasty habit of using him for intel.

“I’ll be around if you need a hand.” Seb patted him on the shoulder and he went to intercept while his most trusted deputy disappeared into the crowds.

“Everything alright, my love?” Jim inserted himself smoothly into the conversation, one arm going around her waist. 

“It’s alright, darling.” She looked at him, putting on a pacifying smile. “Passing commentary only.”

“Ah.” He turned to the guest who had cornered John, “Are you enjoying your evening, Mr Sykes?” Because one wrong word from you and they’ll find you buried head-first in three feet of tidal mud off the tide-line of The Thames with your tongue ripped out and your eyes gouged.

Richard Sykes was no idiot, but he wasn’t the brightest, either. Not always quite aware of when Jim meant his unspoken threats.

“Oh, of course, Mr Moriarty! A grand time!” Sykes gave them a patronising smile, “Please, my regards to your lovely mother, sir.”

“She would be pleased to hear from you, I’m certain. Have a fair evening, sir.” He steered John away from Sykes and debated different ways of getting rid of him.

“Who the hell was that!” John hissed, reminding him very much of an angry cat.

“An unfortunate cretin by the name of Richard Sykes. Not my favourite of people. Ambitious, greedy, selfish a bit, eyes for the pretty girls. Steer clear or he’ll have you in no time.”

“I’d break him in two over my fucking knee before he got a finger on me.” She snarled, “I hate men like him! It was the uniform that got his attention first, y’know? Said he “might have use” for the likes of me, someone with my skills could be quite valuable.”

“Oh, he said that, did he?” Jim knew Sykes was ambitious, but even that was bold. Now, to be fair, it hadn’t been made very clear that John and Jim were an item. Jim narrowed his eyes, thinking on this. Touching and teasing had been the order of the night, socially acceptable kissing.

 

They hadn’t seen his mother yet, hadn’t presented to her. She knew they were here, they had seen her a number of times across the crowded rooms but had not introduced John. John was apparently thinking the same thing and he saw her looking around. Off to their right was Sykes, in cahoots with a couple of cronies, plotting no doubts; to their left was his mother. John had made the same conclusion and he saw her eyes light up.

“Want to make a point to Sykes? I’ll help you plan out his untimely demise later.”

“Oh, I like how you think.” He chuckled and knew she would be a valuable addition to his team. She smirked and turned to face him head-on.

“I was thinking subtle kidnapping. A bit of dirty work. Maybe I could talk Seb into helping me? I haven’t had a good go at someone in a long time, I miss it.” She had one hand on the lapel of his jacket, thinking out loud, “Play with him, get him to beg, find out what games he thought he was playing with the professionals.”

“You never got a go at suspects, did you?”

“Only on take-downs when one of them slipped the nets. I wasn’t allowed to question them.”

 “Pity, you’d have all the answers in a confession in no time.” He smiled, “What else?”

 “Eyes, first. Tongue, so he can’t sweet-talk, and then…hmm.”

 “You wouldn’t let him walk away alive.”

“No. No, no.”

“Hmm?”

“Take his dignity.” The fire in her eyes was a little frightening. There was a viciousness to her method, the way she thought things out, and he loved it.

“His…dignity, darling?”

“One. Piece. At. A. Time.” She smirked, leaning up on tiptoe to kiss him in emphasis of each word. She had moved into his personal bubble, there was no space between them, and she cleverly slid one foot between his, tugging on his jacket to bring them closer. Jim was already embarrassingly hard, he had been half-hard most of the evening. That was a first for him, no one had ever affected him like that. She knew it, too, the clever minx.

 

Jim smirked, pulled her in with a hand to the back of her neck, fingers tight in her hair but not enough to hurt.

“I like you, Watson. Can I keep you? Please tell me I’m allowed to have you.”

“All yours, sir.” She smiled and raised an eyebrow, “Now, if you’re going to kiss me, I’d suggest you get around to it before I show you how I got my nickname.”

“You’ve a nickname, do you?” He knew what her nickname was, thank you very much, and a damn good idea how she’d gotten said nickname. Instead of giving him an answer, John raised an eyebrow and one hand was tight on the front of his jacket, the other was tight in his hair, and then…they were kissing. Not the silly, playful kisses, awkward and shy between them as they played out a very clever ruse, but…something so much more.

 

He wasn’t particularly fond of kissing, really, it just wasn’t something he liked doing, but trust the underestimated blogger of Sherlock Holmes to prove him wrong on that, and a great many other things. If there was one thing, among a long, long list, that she was very good at, he decided that John Watson was probably the best kisser he’d ever encountered. It was unhurried, careful, tasting of nicotine, beer, and something sweet. And when he took over, she let him. He may not like kissing, but he liked to think he was rather good at it.

 

It was the necessity to take a breath properly that drove them apart.

“Oh, you liked that!” John was glowing.

“I’d do it again, but I think we’ve given my mother’s guests enough of a show just for the moment.” And how unfortunate they were in public, there were so many other things he wanted to do. With and to her.

“You do have a problem, though.” She was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Thank Christ his back was to the wall, but he was fairly certain she was holding him up.

“Your fault entirely, Captain.”

“The unshakeable Jim Moriarty comes to his knees for Captain Watson. What a lucky bastard I am.” She whispered, holding him up with her knee between his, one hand on his hips, the other on the back of his neck.

“You…did that. You did that.” He murmured, pathetically out of breath. John chuckled and kissed the side of his neck.

“I would apologise, but that would be a lie. I am not sorry.” She whispered, nudging his jaw, “You saved me, Jim. I don’t know if you know that.”

“Don’t  do this because you owe me anything.”

“Who said I was?” She backed off, smoothed his hair back into some semblance of order, it had gotten a bit mussed, “Take a breather and come back. I’ll find Seb for company.”

“Yes. Right. Perfect.” He was aware of her leaving and grabbed her by the wrist, pulling her back for one last kiss. Playing this role with John was much easier than he’d thought. It was easier than with Hooper. But she was a simple woman, requiring only a few dates and some low-scale cuddling. Not much of a challenge. John Watson was a challenge in every way that mattered, and he was looking forward to seeing how long this lasted. Maybe it could turn into something else? He wouldn’t mind. 

 

Jim realized that he might have done this out of the goodness of his jaded, blackened heart, but he cared about John. He didn’t care about anyone, but he cared about her. Why did he care about her? Why did he care about her enough to let her get away with this? He hated losing control, Seb knew this. Everyone who worked for him knew this. You did not challenge Jim’s status as Alpha, you did not get this close and expect him to play by the rules. Trust the likes of unassuming John Watson to turn Jim Moriarty on his own head. Ignoring the knowing looks and kind if patronising smiles, he ducked the crowds and took refuge in his old childhood bedroom at the top of the house. The room itself had changed very little over the years, it was still the room of a young boy.

 

With his back against the frame of his bed, and eyes on the door, Jim contemplated a future in which John Watson featured very strongly. World travels, crimes of varying degree to keep her stupid former flat-mate busy enough he didn’t try to kill himself and to give the good lads at The Met some honest work, learning from each other, taking care of each other. Doing silly things and laughing at themselves. He thought of how this had started, rescuing her. It hadn’t just been a rescue from the streets, he had probably saved her life. He wasn’t used to saving someone, not like this. It was providence he’d even found her, and he regretted very little of how the day had gone since finding her in an abandoned alleyway down in Brixton. She made him feel. He hated feeling, but he…liked it. Why? For once in his life, Jim was at a loss. How did he do this? How did he…do any of this? 

 

Reaching to his belt, he pressed his hand hard against the bulge in his trousers. This wasn’t fair, really. Jim absolutely hated losing control, and yet...John had neatly plucked it from him and held it just out of reach. And he had let her, without knowing he’d even done it in the first place. Sherlock Holmes, he decided, was a roaring moron to have ignored John Watson for so long, to have misused her so despicably. Thinking on the skilled, pretty ex-soldier charming her way through his mother's birthday party with all the finesse of the best socialites, Jim fumbled his belt loose and tugged on the placket and flies of his trousers. Christ, but she would be the end of him, wouldn’t she? He was desperate for relief and groaned as some of the pressure was relieved, but not all. This wouldn’t take long, not the way his whole body had responded to John's advances. When she had spoken of the slow, gruelling destruction of Richard Sykes, how she'd do it, Jim had nearly begged. Had nearly grabbed her by the arm and dragged her up to this very room to have his way with her.

 

Three Continents Watson, they'd named her back in the Army. Skilled seductress, all she had to do was smile a certain way, bat her eyelashes just so, leave her door unlocked, any target she wished was hers for having. In some circles, she might be considered a whore, but it was the furthest from the truth. The clever woman knew how to use her assets to her best advantage. Being as she was practically a spy, Jim wondered how many times John had used her appeal to pull a mark and then use them to deplorably glorious ends, playing with them like a cat plays with a mouse before putting it out of its misery. And yet no one would ever assume John Watson was capable of killing a man at close range and making it look like an accident. 

“The unshakeable Jim Moriarty comes to his knees for Captain Watson.” she had said earlier, teasing him. But it was true, and they both knew it. Jim, a man who bowed to no one, would very happily go to his knees for John Watson, as often and for whatever cause she demanded. He would worship at her altar, he would sing her praises. Whatever she demanded of him, if it was his to give, he would see it was hers to have. No one had that power over him, no one except John Watson. And he had only just taken the step to bring her into his circle. After months of surveillance, and one encounter he may or may not have regrets about, he had found reason to introduce himself properly to John Watson. It had gone so much better than he had expected. He couldn't waste this opportunity, he just couldn’t. He would never forgive himself. Holmes had already made that mistake, Jim would not do the same. 

 

Thinking of what she was capable of, in the bedroom and on the field, Jim gripped his erection just so and stifled a needy whine. Quiet and quick, quiet and quick. No time to dally. Finding the right combination of rhythm and pressure, and secretly wishing it was not his own hand, Jim dragged his own climax out of his body, was left shaky and gasping when it came. None of his clothes were ruined, he’d had the foresight to remove his trousers and jacket and unbutton his shirt, and he quickly cleaned up, getting dressed and making himself presentable before anyone came looking.

 

A quiet knock two minutes later was Seb, come to look for him and tell him it was time to sit for dinner. He knew without saying anything that his lieutenant knew exactly what he’d been up to, but Seb wasn’t going to out him, he knew better. Jim tugged on his jacket and straightened his tie. Seb just grinned at him and followed him downstairs still smiling.

---

Once she’d sent a flustered, highly-aroused Jim Moriarty away for his own sake, a few minutes to cool his head and body, John Watson made her rounds of his mother’s birthday party. It was nearly time for dinner, and she was having a great time. Discounting the brief unpleasantness with Richard Sykes, she had no complaints about the evening. She didn’t get many chances to show off, so being able to do that with these people, who all knew who she was and didn’t care at all that she’d left Sherlock for a while, was wonderful. She wasn’t stupid, not by any means. But she had learned very early on in her life that playing stupid was a very easy way to survive a cruel, hateful world. It hadn’t quite saved her from the uglier designs of her father, and later her step-father, but it had certainly kept her alive. She had adapted and learned, honed a skill set so specialized she could work for anyone with the means to fund her services and buy her confidence, a skill set she was willing to offer Jim for whatever he could give her in turn. But she didn’t want him just for professional purposes, she was already cheerfully plotting out the ruin and ultimate end of Richard Sykes by herself. What did she want from Jim? And when had he become “Jim” and not “Moriarty”?

 

She was pulled out of her miserable reflections by a hand on her shoulder and a glass pushed into her hand.

“You look like you could use a few more of those, Captain.”

“Ta.” She looked over at Sebastian Moran, who had been one of hers ages ago and one of their best. They had always gotten along, from their earliest days. Seb had liked her spirit, her willfulness, the way she did whatever was asked with a certain flair. When she had recovered from her injuries and moved back to London, he had contacted her with an offer of work if she needed it. The kind of work she had been so good at, and he believed she still was. But the scar on her shoulder had killed her confidence and her hands shook. She had no control over anything, and as much as she missed clandestine work, she couldn’t bring herself to go back. So she’d said no thank you and left him alone. But now…how different would her life have turned out of she’d just swallowed her bitter pride and accepted his offer? It certainly hadn’t stopped him from giving her the gear carefully stashed in the footlocker she’d packed out of Baker Street.

“Seb?”

“Hmm?”                                                                         

“Give me work.” She looked around the crowded rooms, “Whatever needs doing. Give me names, locations. How you want it done and when.”

“Are you offering your services?”

“Absolutely. I’m going half-mad, I miss it. My hands don’t shake anymore.”

“Y’know, as soon as they said Jefferson Hope was a dead man, been shot, I knew who’d done it.”

“Did you tell anyone?” She wasn’t sure The Met knew who’d killed that stupid cabbie. Sometimes she regretted saving Sherlock’s life that night, sometimes she didn’t.

“I told Jim. He was thrilled.”

“I bet he was.” She smirked, “I learned from the best, after all.”

“So, what’s this I hear about you plotting against Sykes?”

“Oh, want to help?” She grinned and laid out her plans for Richard Sykes. This is something she had missed so much, planning hits with Seb. He helped with the planning, she did the dirty work, and he kept her out of trouble. It was a relationship that had worked and flourished and made her a pretty penny.

 

They were discussing ways to get Sykes into custody, if they should be subtle or bold, when they were interrupted not by Jim but by his mother, Lady Sheila. John had seen the woman but had not met her properly.

“Well, well! What are the two of you little birds twittering about on your branch?”

“Lady Sheila.” Seb straightened up and took the offered hand, bowing to place a polite gentleman’s kiss, “You look lovely.”

“You flatter, Colonel. But that is what you are very good at, isn’t it?” Sheila Moriarty was certainly her son’s mother, but taller than Jim. She still had the same face, the same eyes, the same dark hair. This was a woman of intelligence, cunning. Did she know what Jim really did with his time? Or did she think he was a Renaissance Man who dabbled in a bit of everything? Tech, politics, business, literature, sciences.

“A man must have secrets, my lady.”

“Hmm.” Lady Sheila smiled and turned to John, “And my son seems to have been keeping a very lovely secret from all of us. Who is your pretty friend, then?”

“Lady Sheila, this is Captain John Watson, late of Her Majesty’s Royal Army. Formerly of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, 5th Regiment, the Royal Army Medical Corps, and Special Forces. You have certainly heard her name.”

“Ah, yes! It is delightful to finally meet you properly, Captain.” That smile changed a bit, “You seem to have made a bit of a name for yourself among the criminal classes of London.”

“A name overshadowed by my employer, madam.” She looked at Seb, who just raised an eyebrow. “I work for Sherlock Holmes.”

“You do not seem very happy with that.”

“No, madam.”

“Perhaps your not-insignificant skills are better put to use elsewhere, my dear?” Smart woman!

“I think I would offer my services to your son, madam.” John met her gaze steadily.

“What sort of work have you done, then, that would interest my Jimmy?”

“Some work not spoken of in decent company, madam.” She cleared her throat, “What is it your son does?”

“Oh, you are clever.” Lady Sheila chuckled and put a hand on John’s arm. She looked at Seb. “Colonel, go find my son and get him before he jumps out a window. It is nearly time to sit for supper. Captain, why don’t you walk with me?”

“Of course, madam.”

“Come along, my dear!” Linking arms with her, Lady Sheila took the lead. John let her. Once they were out of earshot of most of the guests, Lady Sheila turned to her.

“I know what my son does, Captain Watson, I watched him build his empire from nothing. I have never been so proud of him. What can you offer him?”

“Another set of hands, another set of eyes. I can offer him my gun, my blade. He came to me for companionship, madam, but I can offer him much more than that.”

“You were an assassin in your own time, were you not?”

“For the right price on a hit.”

“Clean kills?”

“If that’s what the client wished.” She looked around, “There are people who have underestimated me, my lady. My intelligence is ignored or scorned. My work has suffered.”

“Your pride has suffered! You can do so much better than that clot Sherlock Holmes! You must have been truly desperate to take up with him!”

“He provided work when I needed it, but nothing else.”

“And you have come to your senses?”

“Yes, madam.”

“Oh, you’re a good girl.” Lady Sheila stroked the lapels of her uniform tunic, “But that is your secret. You are so ordinary no one cares to look beyond the surface.”

“Not often, no.”

“Mhm. You have no qualms about killing?”

“Those who deserve it? No. I will not kill innocents.”

“Innocence is relative.”

“I will not kill children.”

“If that child has a grenade or rifle?”

“Then they are soldiers.”

“Have you killed children?”

“Once.” And in the process had saved ten soldiers and fifteen civilians. She only regretted that the insurgents were using children.

 

When they were seated for dinner, she sat next to Jim, who looked as calm and put-together as he always did. She was to his left, Seb sat to his right. She had been seated first and was a bit surprised when he stopped behind her chair and leaned over the back of it to kiss her on the temple and cheek.

“Wow. Hi!” She giggled, “What’s that for?”

“I’m in a good mood.”

“I’ll say!” She turned her head for a proper kiss, “Now sit down!”

“Yes, ma’am.” He took the seat to her right and she caught Lady Sheila beaming at the head of the table.

“So, has your mother worked it out yet that we haven’t actually been dating for three months?”

“Mm. I’m not certain. I doubt it matters to her at all. She likes you.”

“She’s a smart woman. She’ll work it out in time.”

“It still won’t matter.” He smiled at her as plates were put before them, “I hope you came hungry.”

“Oh my god.” She’d glimpsed the bustling kitchen on her tours of the house, but the final spread was impressive. “This is definitely better than I’ve eaten in…months.”

“John, you will never go hungry another night in your life.”

“God I hope not.” She sighed, “You’ve seen what the kitchen at Baker Street looks like, yeah?”

“That’s not a kitchen, it’s a science lab that lost control of itself,” Seb muttered. John snorted. He was not wrong. She minded her manners, but it was clear to everyone else at the table around them that she had not eaten in quite a while. At least, not well.

 

---

 

After a lively, leisurely meal that consisted of at least three full courses plus dessert, the guests began to take their leave of Lady Sheila. John made sure that her small party of three were the last to leave, figuring they owed Lady Sheila as much of their time as they could spare. As it got late enough she was worried about Seb driving them back home, Jim came to find her. She was sitting in the reception room just off the study, enjoying a quiet cuppa with Lady Sheila. Lady Sheila had asked all of the typically nosy questions and John had answered honestly, bending the truth just a bit.

“We met in January, but were formally introduced in March.”  

“And that whole mess in April?”

“That wasn’t a kidnapping.” She rolled her eyes, “When you’ve been taken hostage by the Taliban and forced to treat wounded enemy agents at gunpoint, the likes of the encounter in Camden are a treat.” John made a face, “Besides, living with Sherlock Holmes, I promise that wasn’t the first time I’ve been kidnapped by an overzealous villain trying to make a name for themselves.”

“Who’s an overzealous villain?”

“Oh, there you are!” She looked up as he stood behind her chair, “You like doing that, did you know that?”

“Doing what, sweetheart?” God, he was good about that, wasn’t he?

“You like standing behind my chair.”

“Mm. Does that bother you?”

“No.” She grinned up at him, “Can I do something for you, love?”

“Seb’s ready to take us home, if I can drag you away from the gossip?”

“Oh, leave her alone, Jimmy!” Lady Sheila scolded, “Poor girl’s had no good company for too long. You behave yourself.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And no, we were not talking about you just now, silly thing.” John rolled her eyes, “I was talking about the other idiot criminals who thought kidnapping Captain Watson is a good way to get to Sherlock Holmes.”

“Was it ever?”

“That is debatable. He certainly made a point of coming to my rescue, when he could be bothered.”

“For The Work, I suppose.” Jim’s eyes narrowed, “You can do better.”

“I am doing better.” She couldn’t help herself and swallowed her laughter with her tea as he turned bright red. She knew he didn’t like being laughed at, so she tried not to. He dropped his head to her shoulder and groaned, a long, pathetic sound.

“You can’t say things like that! That’s just cruel!”

“Well, you’re the one who started it, my dear.” She finished her tea, “Up, you.”

“Why is it I put up with you?”

“Because you know the alternative and we both know that’s no good.” She collected empty cups and took them to the kitchen, waving off Lady Sheila’s insistence that she didn’t need to do any washing up.

“I can wash out a few teacups, ma’am.” She called over her shoulder as she ran the water and filled the basin with hot, soapy water. She shucked her belts and tunic and rolled her shirt-sleeves to her elbows.

 

It took all of five minutes and by the time she had set the cups on the drying-board and dried her hands, Jim had gathered their coats and Seb was waiting. Setting herself to rights, John went to say goodnight to Lady Sheila and thank her for inviting her reluctant son and his “girlfriend” to her birthday party.

“Oh, the pleasure was mine, Captain! Please, don’t be a stranger. I do love having company. It’s just me in this lonely old house now.”

“I’ll see what I can do. I think I can carve some time out of my schedule to visit.” She smiled and leaned in to kiss Lady Sheila on the cheek, “Your son is a good man, in the ways that matter.”

“Yes, he is. Do you suppose the incident in Camden was his attempt to open your eyes?”

“Oh, yes. Now, he could have been a bit more subtle, but…when he wants to make a statement, he prefers to be direct.” She smiled, “If you need anything, please call.”

“Did you leave me your number?”

“I’ll write it down for you. I got a new phone today.” She found a piece of paper and wrote her new number down for Lady Sheila, “For anything. I’m still a doctor, those kinds of problems count.”

“Thank you so much, Captain. Be good to my son, he needs a level head like yours.”

“He’s easy to manage, once you’ve roughed with the likes of Sherlock Holmes. Insensitive git doesn’t even realize I’m gone, probably, being on that case like he is. Keep him busy for a couple of days at this rate.”

“John! Come on!” Jim yelled from where he waited by the door.

“Go on, my dear. Safe travels.”

“Goodnight, ma’am.” She left Lady Sheila and caught up with Jim outside. He handed over her coat and they ducked into the warm, waiting car.

“My mother approves of you, then?”

“Wants to see more of me. Would probably like to see more of you, but knows better than to ask outright. She’ll take what she can get.” John sighed as they got underway, “She’s smart, Jim. I think she’s got us made.”

“I’ll hear about it later.”

“We both will, I assume.” She groaned and hunched her shoulders, “Ugh! My kingdom for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.”

 

The drive back to Riverside Tower was smooth and quiet. Understanding that all she really wanted was a hot shower and six hours of uninterrupted sleep, Jim and Seb left her to her own devices once they were back in the penthouse. She retreated to the suite that was hers until further notice, carefully removed and hung her uniform, and took a shower. It felt wonderful to be able to lock the door and know she wouldn’t be disturbed by an inconsiderate flat-mate who couldn’t possibly be bothered to knock. 

 

After taking a shower, she got ready for bed and went through emails. Nothing from Sherlock, of course. He had no idea she was even gone. Still. She answered a couple of emails that needed responses, got rid of a few others, and checked her blog. Stable activity, nothing new from Sherlock. She debated the wisdom of shutting her blog down, and decided to wait a bit. John would return to Baker Street at the end of this little hiatus, but if she stayed or not remained to be determined.

 

 


 

Chapter Text


John was up at her usual time the next morning, thanks in part to her training, and she realized that she had actually slept well. She was not on Baker Street, thank Christ. Having taken a shower the night before, she grabbed a dressing-gown and headed for where she remembered the kitchen to be in the penthouse. The place was already humming with activity, and she spared the armed security a quick glance. The two downstairs bedrooms were relegated to use as a command centre and an armoury. She snorted and kept towards her original. Christ knew she needed coffee, and the kitchen was the best place to find it. The kitchen was quiet, compared to the rest of the place, and she peeked in to find Jim and Seb gathered around the centre island. She had done what he needed her for, he hadn’t kicked her out, but she had no idea what to do. Coffee. Coffee first. Seb, seeing her coming, had a cup ready when she got to them. She took the cup and thought of something important halfway to her first sip. Eyes narrow and bleary, she peered into the dark contents suspiciously.

“What’s that look for?”

“What’s in this cup?”

“Coffee.”

“And?”

“Nothing else.”

“No one’s poisoned your coffee, love.” That was from Jim, who looked far too awake for her liking. It was barely six and he was bright-eyed and raring to go. She hated that.

“Has it been in the past?”

“Baskerville.” She muttered, reaching for a pitcher she knew contained milk. “Didn’t speak to Sherlock for two fucking weeks because of that screw-up.”

“Oh, the pattern started before Camden?”

“By a couple of weeks.” She stirred in the milk and took a sip. Nope, needed something sweet. She stayed away from sugar these days, but honey did the trick. Shuffling to the pantry, she found what she wanted and fixed up the coffee her preferred way. Going back to the centre island, she stood behind Jim and leaned against him, forehead to his shoulder-blade, hoping this at least was okay.

“John? What are you doing?”

“Give me a mo.” She listened to the soft background murmur of the other people in the penthouse. “Sorry.”

 

After a minute or two, she turned so her back was against his, leaning against him shoulder to hip, and kept an eye on the door as she drank her coffee. She felt something hard against the small of her back and made an annoyed sound as she shifted. Poking at it, she made out the outline of a pistol-grip. Oh, right. Making a face, she shuffled a bit and got comfortable again.

“You know, there’s a team of twelve armed guards in this residence right at this moment?”

“Habit.” She shrugged and sipped at her coffee, “And yes, even in pyjamas.”

“Smart girl.”

“Told you, Boss. She learned from the best.” Seb grinned and reached around them to take her cup when it was empty, “Give that here, sweetie. More?”

“Yes please.”

“Did you sleep at all last night?”

“Yeah, actually.” She yawned and took the fresh cup, which he had fixed up the way she had before, “Oh, God bless you, Seb!”

“I pay attention.”

“Yeah, you do. Keep ‘im, Jimmy. Whatever you have to do, keep ‘im. He makes damn good coffee in the morning.” She didn’t miss the rumble against her back as he chuckled. “So, what’d I interrupt?”

“Plans.”

“Business, then. My bad.”

“Why are you apologising?”

“Because it’s usually bad form to barge in on a strategy meeting I have no business putting my nose in.”

“Well, you live here. My business is your business.” Jim nudged her in the hip, “In every way that matters now. I doubt you’ll go running to those brothers with anything you hear around here.”

“Oh, please. If they hear about anything, I will not be your leak.” She shook her head, “Not happening.”

“Did you have anywhere to be today?”

“Nope. Not working the clinic this week, didn’t need me.” She shrugged, “If you need me somewhere, all I need is the who, what, where, and when.” John didn’t have to be looking at Jim to know he was smiling.

“Are you offering, Captain?”

“You bet your arse I’m offering! This is what I used to be good at!”

“You used to be the best, Jack, don’t sell yourself short.” Seb scolded, “Still are. Look what you did in January.”

“And that was with this thing.” She put her SIG on the counter, “A hundred yards, one open window and one closed, right over Sherlock Holmes’s fucking shoulder. He figured it out pretty quick, never ratted me out.”

“Never?”

“Nope. Not that I’m aware of. Pretty sure I’d know if I had any warrants out, considering that bastard got me into trouble in March.” She recalled the job they’d worked for Sherlock’s old university mate Sebastian Wilkes. “Were you behind that one?”

“Of course I was, silly thing. I told them to be nice to you.”

“I guess your Chinese thugs didn’t get the memo.” She recalled that kidnapping not fondly at all.

“How soon can you be ready?”

“Where am I going?”

“Paris.”

“Undercover?”

“All surveillance has been run, all we need is a steady, reliable agent.”

“Christening the new girl. Works for me. Train?”

“Leaves in an hour.”

“I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes.” She gulped the rest of her coffee and left the kitchen.

 

Running upstairs, she took another shower and got dressed in standard civilian clothes. But she packed black tactical fatigues and one of her kits from the footlocker. She also packed a couple of changes of clothes. She wasn’t sure precisely what she was being asked to do, but she would be prepared for everything. By now, she was running on a sense of precision and readiness she had learned in the Army and had served her well at Baker Street. You never knew when Sherlock would come barreling in, screaming about a new exciting case that just couldn’t wait. It was nice to have a purpose again.

 

Seb and Jim met her at the door and she headed for the street. Seb had another couple of bags, Jim had her mobile and her SIG.

“You’re not coming, are you?”

“Oh, absolutely!” He grinned crookedly, “What on earth gave you the idea I was missing out on a chance to watch you in action? Oh, no no. This I must see!”

“Suit yourself. I can’t promise it’s going to be much fun for any of us.” She shrugged and checked her watch. Or…would have, if she’d worn it. It was one of the few things she’d left at Baker Street.

“Oh, did you have your tech guys sweep my laptop?”

“Yes I did, as soon as you arrived yesterday. We got all of the tracking-devices we could find.”

“Had one in my watch, left that at Baker Street. Old phone had one, too, I’m pretty sure.”

“He didn’t trust you, did he?”

“He said it was for my own good, but I doubt it was.” She rubbed her forehead, “Shit, I need a watch. I’ve always worn one.”

“Was there anything special about that watch?”

“Nope. It was a birthday present from my sister two years ago, she doesn’t remember giving it to me.”

“Ah.”

 

The drive from Riverside Tower to St Pancras International went quickly, they took a cab, and soon they were on their way from London to Paris. John made a point of marking off every single CCTV camera she saw, knowing damn well who was watching.

“He can’t see you, love.” Jim reassured her as they passed through the crowded station, “I promise.”

“How?”

“I have my ways.” He just smiled and put his hand in her pocket. Sneaky bastard. She knew what he was doing and rolled her eyes.

For the purposes of travel and blending with the common masses, Jim wore denims, jungle boots, and a layered green Henley with a layered biker jacket that looked casual but probably cost more than most people made in a week. John wore denims, desert boots (old habits and that business), a layered stripped purple Henley under a grey baby doll tee-shirt adorned with silver-glitter screen-printed roses, and her favourite shooting jacket; she had added a zip-up hoodie under the shooting jacket for an extra layer. Seb, on the other hand, wore unadorned black tac-fatigues. His gear was in their luggage with John’s, Jim and John carried their pistols in conceal-carry holsters under their clothes. Seb had one knife and a Glock 17. They weren’t stupid, but unless you knew they were armed, they gave no indication. People steered well-clear of Seb anyway, but today they gave John a bit more room in passing. Usually, they were scrambling to get out of Sherlock’s way as he charged through the crowds with abandon. Today, she wasn’t following the tall boffin, but people still got out of her way. It was the way she carried herself, and her current company.

 

Once they were underway and heading for Paris, John read up on her mark. The only disturbance was when her phone rang. Almost no one had her new number, and the only people who did were travelling with her. She picked up her phone and looked at the number.

“Oh, that’s interesting.”

“Who is it, love?”

“Lestrade. Hang on a mo.” She took the call.

“Watson.”

“Oh, thank Christ you answered!” It was Greg, alright. He sounded kind of nervous, “Hi, John, it’s Greg!”

“Yeah, I know that. Caller-id? How did you get this number?”

“I…er, I cheated.”

“Greg.” She narrowed her eyes.

“I’m sorry, but you weren’t answering! I went to Baker Street, and you weren’t there. Some of your stuff was gone. Your phone’s dead, by the way, did you know that?”

“Yes, I knew that. I’ve obviously replaced it. Why are you calling me?”

“I just…I wanted to make sure you were okay after the other day.” She heard voices in the background and looked at Seb and Jim, who wore the same expression. Using the tablet, she got a trace on his location. No sign of the brothers. Well, she saw Sherlock, but he was nowhere near Lestrade. She sighed and looked out the window.

“I’m fine, Greg. I’m staying with friends for a bit is all. I haven’t moved out of Baker Street.” Not yet, in any case.

“Oh, okay. That’s fine. I was just…I’ve never seen you two like that before. What happened?”

“I think the question is what didn’t happen?” John tapped on the window as they entered the tunnel, “Listen, Greg, I’ve gotta go. Sorry, I’m about to lose reception.”

“Where are you going? Can you tell me?”

“I’ll be in Paris for a couple of days. I’m not scheduled at the clinic this week, and I haven’t had a holiday in a while.” Not that this was a vacation, by any stretch of the imagination. Across from her, Seb smiled.

“Yeah, if you consider this a working vacation.” He muttered. She kicked at him and stuck her tongue out.

“Shush!” She hissed.

“Be nice, Seb.” Jim scolded, reading something and pretending to ignore them. She noticed he was reading one of her books, an old medical text.

“That’s my book, y’know.”

“And?”

“Ask first.” She rolled her eyes.

“Sorry, Greg.” She returned to her conversation with Lestrade.

“No problem! Just…stay out of trouble, will you? Please? I’ve got Sherlock raising Caine, God knows how you stand living with him.”

“Discipline. And recognizing that killing your own flat-mate is generally frowned upon by the law.” She grinned as Lestrade worked this out in his head and then started laughing.

“Oh, Christ! I’d probably help you, Jack.” Greg chuckled, “Let me know when you’re back in town.”

“Yeah. Maybe we can go for a pint or something. God knows I could always use a drink.” John sighed, “Listen, if the brothers ask, just tell them I’m out of town.”

“I’m not about to tell them you skipped town, sweetie. Not after the way things have been going at Baker Street. You need a break.” Greg’s voice crackled and started to break up, “Wouldn’t blame you a bit if you ended up moving out of Baker Street.”

“I’d rather not, do you have any idea what a pain it is to find a decent place in London?” She rolled her eyes.

“You’d live with me, or I’ll find you a place.” Jim muttered, “You’re not living in a cut-rate flat somewhere in Brixton or Whitechapel. Or leaving London.”

“I’ve a vague notion. You take care of yourself, lass, I’ll see you later.”

“See ya, Greg. Thanks.” She hung up with the kind DI who looked out for them and kept them out of trouble, setting her phone on the table with a sigh.

“Well, that could have gone worse.”

“He’s not going to rat you out to the Holmeses, is he?”

“Probably not. He’s more Sherlock’s minder than mine.” She leaned back in her seat, “Well, in any case, I doubt they’ll find out I’m gone in time to complain about it. Sherlock barely notices if I’m home or not.” Especially these days.

 

There were no more calls after that first, not from Lestrade or anyone else. Lestrade did send her a few more texts, however, with tips on where to go and what to see if she had time while she was in Paris. That was when she learned that he was French-Irish and still had family in Normandy and in Paris. And a grandmother in Portavogie, Newtonwards. She showed the texts to Jim, who just smiled. Maybe she didn’t get along with her flat-mate, but she didn’t mind Lestrade. After talking to Lestrade, the rest of the trip was quiet.

 

John thought of how the man sitting across from her had come to the attention of Baker Street in an explosive fashion. Literally, there was an explosion involved. The discovery of an in-tact safe with a pink smart-phone inside, one that looked eerily familiar to John and Sherlock, in the ruins of the house across the street led them to the basement-flat of Baker Street. In 221C, they had discovered a pair of old, well-kept red-and-white trainers that John recognised right away. She not only knew who had owned those shoes but when they had last been seen and what had happened to the owner. She didn’t regret a damn thing that had happened to Carl Powers, the sly little fucker had deserved everything that happened, but she had regretted the loss of those shoes. John remembered young Jim Moriarty recruiting her, all of thirteen and already rather crooked in her own way, to help him plan out the end of their mutual bully Carl Powers. She had met Jim when she was five and he was six, on a playground near her family’s house in Paddington. It had always confused people that Carl was such a bully, considering he was younger than some of them. But age did not define how kind or cruel someone could be. When Carl Powers had died in 1989, he was eleven, Jim was fourteen, and John was thirteen.

 

After that quietly-orchestrated, carefully-planned murder, John and Jim had lost touch. Her family had moved to Glastonbury that winter and she hadn’t returned to London for more than a brief holiday or university, when she decided to go to medical school, since. She had missed Jim terribly, he had been her best friend. They had done everything together, had shared grievances of abusive parent-figures and cruel siblings. John had her father and her sister Harriet, Jim had his father and a brother named Richard.  Twins, Richard James and James Richard.  She had thought of him often in the years since, but when she tried to look him up once, there wasn’t anyone under that name to be found. His father was dead, and his brother had hung up on her, said he didn’t know what she could possibly want with his failure of a brother and too bad she’d lost touch, or this wouldn’t be a problem.

 

The shoes, Carl Powers’s shoes, had led to a string of live victims and hostages, one ended up dead and took twelve others with her when the poor woman tried to describe the sound of the bomber’s voice. But nothing had really changed in John’s dynamic until she found herself among the hostages, strapped to a Semtex vest at the mercy of an unseen sniper (one sniper and a couple of carefully-calibrated laser pointers, Jim could be a clever bastard when he felt like it), in the same pool where Carl Powers had died twenty-one years before. For approximately two minutes, Sherlock Holmes had believed that John Watson was the faceless Moriarty (at that time they had no first name for him, despite John having very strong suspicions). Things had gone from bad to worse after that and that had led John to here, to this moment, on the EuroRail bound for a working-holiday in Paris.

“Doctor Watson?”

“Hmm?” She raised her head to look at Jim, “You don’t have to call me that anymore.”

“I can call you John?”

“If I’m allowed to call you Jim.”

“Absolutely!” His whole face just lit up and he leaned across to her, “Please.”

“Of course.” She smiled, “Have you worked it out yet?”

“Worked what out?”

“Where you know me from.” She had been working it out in her head all of last night and had pieced together the man who had taken her off the streets and seized her evening and taken it hostage without shame with an old, long-missed childhood friend of hers she hadn’t seen or spoken to in twenty-one years.

“Before my name was associated with the biggest arsehole in the country, before I lost what made me, what gave me purpose, before I was a soldier.”

“John Hamish Watson, second of two daughters, born 31 March 1975, one minute shy of midnight. You would have been an April Fool’s baby.”

“Technically, I still was an April Fool’s baby.” She shrugged, “I grew up down the street from your grandmother, spent more time in her house than I did in my own.”

“Did you know, Mum kept asking me about you? All these years later, she’ll call me and ask if I know how you’re doing.”

“And you tell her?”

“Not as well as you could be.  John, I’m sorry I left you. I’m sorry we lost touch, and I’m sorry if anything I did hurt you.”

“Jim Moriarty apologises to no one.”

“Yes, I do.” He shook his head, “Mum’s going to remember, she’ll put those pieces together by herself. No one’s going to have to tell her a damn thing.”

“And she’ll probably just think to herself that it’s about fucking time the two of us stopped being idiots about things.” John smiled and stretched out across the space between her seat and Jim’s, hooking her foot around his ankle.  Seb just rolled his eyes and made a noise, but said nothing. John stuck her tongue out at him, daring him to say a word about it. He wasn’t stupid, he knew better, and just gave her a look.

“Really, Captain?”           

“What are you going to do about it? Stop me?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, dear.”

“Didn’t think so.” She grinned at him. Jim chuckled, very much amused by the dynamic between John and Seb. This would be a very interesting trip, certainly the most fun she’d had since…well, probably since January.


 

Chapter Text


After arriving in Paris and making herself at home in Jim’s residence in the 7th Arrondissement in the Invalides neighbourhood with a handful of landmarks and museums pretty much spitting distance, including the Eiffel Tower, John finished reading up on her mark and got some sleep. She had a long night ahead of her and if she didn’t sleep now, she wouldn’t get any. That didn’t mean she wasn’t above sneaking cat-naps on the job, but she’d always kept those to a minimum as a matter of principle. Leaving Jim and Seb to finish planning, knowing they’d catch her up to any changes or add-ons, John laid out her kit for tonight and got some sleep.

John arrived in Paris around 1pm, excused herself to make preparations for the night at 2pm, and slept until 9pm. Getting dressed in familiar black tactical-fatigues, she tied her hair back in a braided bun that she had favoured in the Army. She was lacing on her boots when she was aware of a soft knock. Seb would have knocked twice and let himself in, so that meant it was Jim. She smirked and looked to her right where her weapons were laid out on the bed.

“Come in!” She called, getting up as the door creaked open. With her back to the door, she finished getting ready. Her SIG and a Glock went into their holsters, she put a spare magazine for each in magazine pouches on her duty-belt; there were three knives, two went on her belt, one in her left boot; she had a TASER and handcuffs that Lestrade had given her as well, one for self-defense and the other because he wanted her to have them for cases (her take-down rate was one of the highest at The Met and she wasn’t even an officer) and was tired of Sherlock always nicking his. As the door closed, she loaded her SIG and chambered a round, double-checking the safety before she shoved it into the drop-holster. The Glock had a single round chambered and a full magazine ready to load, it went into a holster tucked into the back of her trousers. On the bed, an Accuracy International L115A3 lay in pieces waiting to be packed into its case. The L115A3 was the military variant of the AWSM-F, hers was fitted with a threaded muzzle brake, suppressor, dark earth folding stock, butt spike, adjustable Harris bipod and Schmidt & Bender 5-25x56 PM II LP sight and modified to take a 10-round magazine of .338 Lapua Magnum rounds. Seb had given her a couple of new spacers for added length on the butt if she needed them.  

“Oh, you have one of those.”

“Yes, I do have one of those.” She packed the L115A3 and zipped up the case, putting it over one shoulder, “Seb’s got the same one. This is the one I carried in the Army.”

“How’s your aim?”

“You’ll find out.” She just smiled at Jim, who took a good long look at her in kit and she saw a twitch in his jaw. Standard Desert Pattern fatigues were nothing spectacular, in her opinion, she knew he had pictures of her in No.5 Desert Combat Dress uniform during her service in the Middle East, but she didn’t think he’d ever seen her in the black tac-fatigues she wore on certain missions. For tonight’s job, he was intimately involved and had changed out of his casual clothes into the familiar Westwood. He looked very handsome and suitably sinister, she liked it.

“Well, you look suitably dangerous, love.”

“That is precisely the idea.” She held the door for him as she left her room and they met up with Seb in the main foyer of the building. The car was waiting outside for them. As she tossed her kit into the boot of the car, she looked around. The streets were busy, but no one really paid them any attention. A quick risk-assessment showed no threats or anyone of real interest in the vicinity, but that could change very quickly. The car behind them carried a security-team of three, they were the visible protection while Seb and John were the invisible protection, Jim’s eyes in the sky such as it were. There was something about this hit that had her uneasy, but she didn’t want to say anything and give them reason to doubt her resolve or her loyalty. But she noticed signs in Jim, especially, that this wasn’t something he was looking forward to, either. Did he have similar doubts?

 

---

 

Fifteen minutes later, Seb dropped her off and she got set up at her post. Five minutes after that, he came back to join her and she kept her sights trained on Jim, who was visible in her scope from 1500 yards. She’d made a kill-shot at double that distance, so this should be relatively simple. All she had to do was wait for the magic word.

“Now we wait.” She sighed and leaned her head back, looking up at the sky. At the moment, she was on her back next to her rifle-perch, one arm under her head.

“What are you doing?”

“Remember when we used to count the stars, Seb?” She squinted, “Back in Lashkar-Gah and Kandahar? Long nights like this one. You, me, and the empty desert for six hours.” It was quiet for a minute and then he started laughing.

“Oh, Jesus. Jack, please don’t ever change. Hear me?” He chuckled, “You used to do just this, and leave me the boring work of keeping an eye out for our mark or whatever the hell we were supposed to be looking for.” He shook his head.

“Or Istanbul. Or Novgorod. Or…any of the places we’ve been.”

It was quiet for a few minutes before a familiar code was tapped out on her sleeve and she switched her radio over, then they settled again. Unable to help herself, and knowing damn well she should keep the channel clear and keep her mouth shut, John started to hum. Only three people had this channel, and she was one of them. This was fine. If nothing else, it would waste time and keep them from thinking too hard on the what-ifs and possibilities of this whole thing going very badly sideways.

 

---

 

It didn’t take very long for something to come over the pick-up of the radio he had linked to his snipers, and Jim Moriarty was about to give Seb Moran a few words for speaking out of turn before he realized what it really was. Singing. And that was certainly not his deputy. That, if he wasn’t mistaken, was John Watson. On a secure radio-channel, she was singing. Oh, she was too good for the likes of Sherlock Holmes, far too good. Too gifted, too kind, too patient, too much of everything that pompous tall bastard did not deserve from her.

 

This, apparently, was routine. Seb kept an eye on things and John…counted stars and sang Broadway show tunes. And yet, at a moment’s notice, she was ready for action and prepared to do whatever it was that needed doing. An absolutely beautiful rendition of “The Music Of The Night” wasted time enough for Laurent Vaillancourt to make his appearance. Jim hadn’t said anything to John or Seb, but for all the legwork they had done on Vaillancourt, he was not at all comfortable with this rendezvous. And he had his doubts about the men behind him. But until he was presented with an obvious threat, or had any concrete evidence that he’d been had, Jim would play it cool and play the game his way. Either way, Vaillancourt was not walking away from tonight alive. His loyal snipers would make very sure of that. John had some issues to work through and if some of her frustrations were taken out on a couple of unfortunate goons, that was alright with him.

“Monsieur Moriarty. A pleasure to see you again.” Vaillancourt beamed as they shook hands, “But, what a place, yes?”

“Monsieur Vaillancourt.” Jim gave the man his unassuming smile, the smile he’d given Sherlock Holmes that day in Saint Bart’s. “Surely you understand the necessity of doing business in careful places?”

“We are very much in the open here, good sir.”

“And yet, far from prying eyes.” He shrugged, “Enough banter, let’s talk business.” And start the count-down to your last moments on this miserable earth. Willing to play, Vaillancourt just smiled and turned to the business at hand. All the while, Jim kept tabs on the men behind him, and on his snipers. Some of his rivals were better at the game than others, but none were that good and always slipped up in some way. He saw Vaillancourt flick a glance over Jim’s left shoulder and a minute twitch of his head to nod. Right, then, that’s how it was? Before the man behind him could take another step, he heard a crack and a whistle. The goon fell with a grunt and a .338 in his skull. It was another wait of seconds before the other two were taken down and Vaillancourt took advantage of a split-second of inattention as he turned to do a body-count.

“I am not a stupid man! You brought me here to die, but you did not think to vet your security!” Vaillancourt snarled as they tussled.

“And you didn’t think to account for the security you didn’t see! Your men are dead, Vaillancourt, all of them!” He growled, fighting off the bigger man. Those who had come to the rendezvous certainly were, and the rest would be dead by morning. But before Vaillancourt could do much more than pin him and try to strangle him, another gunshot rang out. This one much louder and much closer than the rifle-shots earlier. That, he knew, was an L105A1. The bullet grazed Vaillancourt's shoulder, startling him, and bounced off the tarmac by Jim’s ear, throwing fragments of debris. He had the foresight to shield his face against bits of burning brass, and rolled, making a smaller target. Another shot was fired and he heard a grunt and the sound of a body hitting the ground.

“Jim Moriarty, you are an idiot.” There she was, standing over him, “I say that with all the affection I have in me. You’re a fucking idiot.”

“Your idiot, I think, Captain?”

“I thought you were Seb’s idiot.” She rolled him onto his back and made a noise.

“That was you.”

“I got those three and the two with Vaillancourt.” She helped him sit up, touching a mark on his cheek, “Christ that was a close shot. I’m so sorry.”

“This is nothing, love.” He shook his head, knowing the buzzing in his ears would go away tomorrow. “Seb?”

“Took care of the rest of the posse.”

“There are others.”

“We’ll take care of them and then go home. You need looking after.” John got him to his feet and looked around, “What about these?”

“Don’t concern yourself.” He knew she was worried about disposing of so many bodies, but he had connections. There were always corrupt lawmen looking to make an extra buck on the side and willing to turn a blind eye. He had several members of the local force in Paris and a coroner. John called in a shots-fired to the local precinct, and he made a call of his own.

“Hello?”

“Inspector Delsarte, good to hear your voice.” He grinned, “I need your help, again.”

“Ah! James! We just got a call for shots fired near The Catacombs. Was that you, my friend?”

“Yes, it was. You know what to do.”

“Of course I do. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything. Will there be others?”

“Yes.”

“Very good. Plenty to keep us busy! Be safe and well, my clever friend.” He heard the glee in Gabriel Delsarte’s voice and smirked.

“My regards to your commanders and apologies for the mess.”

“No worries! I will speak with you again soon!”

“Goodbye, Inspector Delsarte.” As always, Jim hung up first and as he pocketed his phone, John was dragging him back towards the cars. The three that had come with him were wrapped up and stowed in the boot of their car. Seb was waiting for them and informed him that a wet-team had been dispatched to take down the rest of Vaillancourt's cell. He sent the addresses to Delsarte for when those calls came through and left the proceedings in his hands. It was time to go home, regroup, and debrief.

 

---

 

John wondered that her life hadn’t really changed that much since she’d left Baker Street, she was still running after a dark-haired maniac and trying to keep him from getting himself into trouble or killed. She had plenty of experience doing that, ta, but it was interesting that she was doing it for someone who had been an enemy. But there was something about Jim that Sherlock lacked, she hadn’t figured out what yet. Once they were safe in the house, she gave her kit to Seb for cleaning and told Jim to sit down, shut up, and let her take care of it. Thankfully, it was just a couple of bruises and small abrasions.

“I’ve already said this, but you are an idiot.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Jesus, I thought it was bad enough running after Sherlock Holmes, but you’ll keep me plenty busy! Never mind putting me in the field, you need someone on your six all the time.”

“That’s Seb’s job.” He hissed as she cleaned a scrape on his cheek.

“Split my time, then.” She rolled her eyes, “And hold still, will you? I can hit a moving target if I need to, but I’d rather not.” It took him a minute, but he snickered.

“Moving target, am I?”

“Slick mister. But I’m not one of the best for nothing. A couple months out of practice, skills are a bit rusty, but don’t you dare try any funny business.” She shrugged, “You’re not a target, you’re an asset.”

“Lucky me.” He grimaced, “Ow.”

“Sorry. It’s not deep, but it’s going to hurt.” She finished cleaning the wound, having picked out bits of gravel and debris, “It’ll heal cleanly.” Two days and it would heal enough to use concealer. Until then, a plaster and triple-antibiotic ointment would have to suffice. It looked like Vaillancourt had taken a swing at Jim and then pinned him face-down. She’d seen worse. Cleaning up her medical-kit, she caught him lifting one hand.

“Don’t touch it.”

“It feels odd.”

“Numb?”

“Yes.”

“That’s the antibiotic.” She had gotten a look at his medical records before taking care of things, thanks to Seb, and had memorized his allergies. His drug allergies were of no consequence, and he had no recognised food allergies, which made her job relatively simple. While he settled down with reports, she went for her kit and cleaned her guns. Seb joined her and they worked in an old, companionable silence. Once her kit was clean, she put it away until she needed it again and made herself at home on a massive L-shaped sectional couch in soft brown leather. Putting her feet up, she leaned her head back against the arm-rest and closed her eyes. She was worn out, but it was the kind of tired she got from doing what she was good at. Jim kept familiar hours, and she was rather good at taking cat-naps when she could get them. Lulled by a familiar calm, she fell asleep there.

 

---

 

Aware of everything around him, always, Jim marked the instant John Watson fell asleep. He left her alone for five minutes, knowing precisely how long it took her to fall asleep, and how long it took her to reach the first stage of REM-sleep. As soon as he heard the single slow exhale, he knew. Time to move. Getting up, he stood over her and watched her sleep. This was when the troubles of her daily life let go of her and her facial features smoothed over. There was a tension of readiness there, but it would be a bit difficult to wake her suddenly. She had been so good to him, for him, and he knew she deserved better than what she had. But he wouldn’t ask her to upend her entire life for him. Not in ways that would alert her idiot flat-mate to anything between them. He would happily keep her gear for her, he would have Seb add it to the armoury and ensure that John’s kits were kept apart with his. He had a special locker just for his kits that no one else (except Jim and now John) was allowed to open. Seb would look after her, and Jim would keep her happy. Simple in theory, it would interesting to test in practice. How did you keep someone like John Watson happy? She was a woman of simple principles and needs. Honest work to do (the honesty in his line of work was debatable, but work was work and she knew what she was doing), a roof over her head, a place to sleep, and someone to appreciate her efforts. At Baker Street, she had two of those four things, he could give her all four of them, and some. Taking her to bed, he removed her boots and jacket, but nothing else. Kissing her on the temple, he smiled when she stirred in her sleep just a bit.

“Jim?”

“Back to sleep with you, lovey. Another day ahead, I want you rested.” He touched her hair, “You saved my life tonight.”

“You saved mine yesterday.” She murmured, fingers closing lazily around his wrist, “Guess we’re even.”

“Go. To. Sleep.” He shook his head. A petulant, sleepy “Yes, Daddy.” drifted out of the pile of blankets and he chuckled.

“Good night, John.” Content to leave her, he made sure the lights were off and closed the door. It was late enough he retired to his own rooms and followed his own advice. Morning was soon enough to face the world again and begin planning how to properly woo John Watson.

 

---

 

While they were in Paris, John saw the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and other Paris landmarks. One night, she toured The Catacombs with Jim and Seb, it was probably one of her favourite tours of the whole trip. She ate at the best restaurants, drank expensive wine, and kept a sharp eye on her reckless new boyfriend. Except for a few after-dark outings for dinner or a show, John wore nothing but her battle-dress fatigues in either black or khaki and she never went unarmed. She always had at least one gun and two knives on her at all times. It was liberating to wear her uniform again, and she loved having the freedom to do so.

 

But, as with all things, she eventually had to return to London and to Baker Street. She spent an extra two nights with Jim before returning to the flat and she took the Tube to keep Sherlock from asking questions he had no right to ask. Of course, no sooner had she gotten one foot in the door than he was barreling past her at high speed.

“Oh! Watson, there you are! Good, I need you!”

“Wait…what?” John shook her head, “Where the hell are you going?”

“Lestrade called! Said he needed us!” He stood by the taxi that had materialized out of nowhere and looked at her impatiently. “Well, come on, then!”

“Jesus, I must be crazy.” She groaned and made sure she had her wallet, keys, and phone before she decided to take her rucksack upstairs. “Give me a minute, Holmes! I need to put my bag down!”

“Hurry!”

“Yeah, yeah, you can wait, you impatient, ungrateful bastard.” She muttered as she went upstairs. Her room had not been disturbed while she’d been gone. Setting her bag down, she went back downstairs and wondered if he’d even noticed she was out of the house this past week. As was typical, he rushed her to come along only to ignore her as soon as they were in the taxi. Fine. No change in routine, then.

“You got a new phone.” Or maybe not. Observant bastard, wasn't he?

“Yes, I did.”

“Why?”

“Because I left my other one behind that day, you moron. I wasn’t about to come back for it!”

“But you did come back, and you still left it behind.”

“It was dead, Sherlock, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Let alone you.” She shook her head, “Did you even notice I was gone?”

“Were you?”

“See! That’s all I need to know! You didn’t even notice I was gone for a week, did you? You got so lost in your fucking head you didn’t even bother to see if I was around! You’ve been talking to an empty house, Sherlock!” She shook her head, “Why am I not surprised.”

“Are you angry?”

“Do I look happy?”

“Not particularly, but I don’t care either way.”

“You never have.” She felt her phone vibrate and pulled it from her pocket. She had three text messages. One from Jim, one from Seb, and one from Greg. Greg was making sure she hadn’t gotten ditched for this last case, he really needed a secondary medical opinion and she was the best he could think of: no, she hadn't gotten ditched; Jim wanted to know if she’d gotten back to Baker Street: yes, she'd made it back to Baker Street; and Seb…clever Seb, his was a little different.

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 17.15)

Don’t let him get under your skin. – SM

We’ve got eyes on you, sweetie. If you need us, just give the word. – SM

 

Text to SM: (sent 17.15)

I might just. Be in touch. – JW

Sending that reply, she pocketed her phone again. When they got to the location of Greg’s latest crime-scene, Sherlock flew out of the taxi in a fit and left her behind. She shook her head and wondered why she put up with this kind of behaviour. Getting out, she passed a couple of bills to the driver.

“Want me to stick around, Captain?”

“Um.” She looked around, “Nah. If I need a ride, I know how to get one.” She patted the roof of the car, “Thanks, though.”

“Pleasure, ma’am.” The cabbie smiled and touched his cap as she went around the car and towards the line. Of course, Jim had the cab-drivers of London in his pocket. And thank Christ he did, getting a cab the next time she got ditched at a crime-scene or anywhere else she needed a ride home from would be so much easier. She knew that every single one of them had been informed of things and what to do if she was seen on the streets in need of a taxi.

Sherlock, in typical fashion, dismantled the whole scene in six minutes, talked a mile a minute all at once, and was gone in a swirl of that coat. As soon as he was out of earshot, John closed her notebook and let out a long, slow breath. Shoving the notebook into her pocket, she circled the body on her own. A helpful tech gave her a pair of gloves and she did a thorough exam of the body. Lestrade stood behind her, taking dutiful notes as she made her own deductions about the victim. After doing her bit, she stripped off her gloves and tossed them into a box as she headed for the line. She needed a cigarette. Badly.

“Hey, Jack! Wait up!” Lestrade came after her, and she let him catch up. “Hey.”

“Hey, yourself.” She found a new unopened pack of Sterlings in her back pocket and smiled. That was from Jim, it wasn’t the brand she usually bought. She was fond of Lucky Strikes or Parliaments (a couple of American Marines had introduced her to the brand in the Army, it reminded her of nights in the desert or long afternoons in the motor-pool). “So, Himself didn’t even know I was in Paris?”

“Nope. Didn’t notice, didn’t ask if he did, never brought it up.” Greg shrugged, nodding towards the pack in her hand, “Mind if I steal one of those?”

“Help yourself.”

“Ooh, these are new.” He took one and handed the pack back to her, “Where’d you get these?”

“Generous friends.” She smirked, “I had a blast in Paris, by the way.”

“Good, Christ knows you’ve needed a break for a while.” Greg made a face as he lit his cigarette and handed the lighter to John, who nodded her thanks. It was quiet between them for a while as they took a minute to themselves. John took a deep breath and let it out slowly, watching the stream of smoke curl away towards the sky.

“So what are the chances His Highness will be back at Baker Street when I get there?”

“Wouldn’t count on it. Christ knows where he’s got off to.” Greg shrugged, “How do you do it, Jo?”

“Used to it, unfortunately. Is that a problem?”

“I don’t know. He kind of treats everyone like that, I just thought…maybe you were different? Hoped so, anyway.”

“He wouldn’t be the first person to underestimate me, or take me for granted. I grew up with it.” John felt her phone buzz in her pocket and checked for messages. It was Sherlock. She wasn’t surprised that he’d gotten her number.

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 17.45)

Gone to Bart’s. Won’t be back tonight. Don’t wait up. – SH

 Text to SH: (sent 17.45)

Wasn’t planning on it. Be nice to Molly for once, will you? – JWatson

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 17.46)

I am not a petulant child. Do not treat me as one. – SH

 

John read that response and snorted. Rolling her eyes, she showed it to Greg, who shook his head.

“Idiot.” Greg muttered, “Why don’t you move out?”

“Have you seen the market around here? I couldn’t stay in London on my pension!” She shook her head, “Besides, someone has to keep an eye on Sherlock Holmes. I might as well do it.”

“Well, that aside, have you eaten?”

“Not recently.”

“Come on, then. My treat.” He dropped the dog-end of his cigarette and crushed it under his heel. John shrugged and followed Greg to his car. It was quiet as they left the crime-scene together. They ended up getting dinner at an Indian place and when another call came in, John followed Greg to the new scene. It was past midnight when she got back to Baker Street, exhausted but content with her work. She slept until her alarm and returned to routine.

She worked the clinic that day and the next three days, helped out on a couple of cases both with Sherlock and without him, and had dinner with Jim once when he picked her up at work unannounced. She saw the car and Seb leaning against the bonnet, minding his own business but keeping an eye on things. When he saw her come out, he opened the door and she didn’t even bother to look for Mycroft’s cameras as she got in. Jim took her hand and kissed her knuckles, a bit of affection after a very long, very busy day. They were still very new to open affection, but she was slowly breaking him down. It was a fun process, at least for John.

 

A month later, she had left the clinic and was working full-time at the A&E Department at The Royal London Hospital where a position had opened up for a lead surgeon. Between her new hours, a lighter case-load from The Met (she didn’t do as much work with Sherlock anymore, but Greg kept her busy and shared her with Dimmock and the others as an official consultant and informant), and the occasional outing for or with Jim, she was plenty busy. Sherlock didn’t notice when she spent a night or two at Riverside Tower, or said nothing if he did.


 

Chapter Text


In September, John and Sherlock picked up a high-clearance confidential case for a very influential client. In the interest of privacy, names were withheld, but John knew it was serious when she found herself the lucky recipient of a last-minute chopper flight from God knew where in the countryside (a separate case for her idiot flat-mate) back to London, only to touch down on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, where she was whisked inside and shown to a room to await the pleasure of their new clients or a representative of such esteemed personages. What she found was both unexpected and highly typical: Sherlock Holmes, sitting on a couch that cost three times what either of them made in a month, wearing for all intents and purposes a bedsheet. And, by the looks, not much else. She spread her hands in a silent “What the fuck did you do this time?” gesture that only got her a noncommittal shrug. Deciding she’d better sit down, she sat next to Sherlock.

“So…”

“Mhm.”

“Buckingham Palace?” She raised an eyebrow, looking him over, “Are you wearing any pants?”

“Nope.”

“Right. Of course you’re not.” She snorted, snickered, and they started giggling. Getting control of themselves, she caught her breath and sighed.

“Okay. So, seriously. What are we doing here?” She asked, looking around, “Are we here to see the Queen?” Just at that moment, a door opened and a few people came in. One of them was Mycroft. John and Sherlock looked at the eldest Holmes, and then at each other.

“Apparently,” Sherlock muttered. John couldn’t help a mean snicker as Mycroft rolled his eyes and set a stack of folded clothes on the table.

“This is serious business. Can you two act like adults for once?”

“We solve London’s crimes, sometimes England’s crimes, he forgets his pants, and I blog about it.” John grinned at Mycroft, her smile slightly menacing, “I wouldn’t get your hopes up.” Mycroft looked mildly alarmed by her attitude, but his expression smoothed over in no time. There was some back-and-forth between the brothers, as was typical, and when Sherlock decided to swan out in nought but the sheet, refusing to change into the clothes Mycroft had brought, Mycroft stepped on the sheet. It slipped and was caught just in time to spare them a view of something they didn’t necessarily wish to see. John rolled her eyes and watched.

Finally, Sherlock agreed to listen to sense and to the case before them. John and Sherlock sat on the couch, listening and making judgments. Apparently, a member of the Royal Family had been compromised and the culprit had retained a camera-phone of illicit images of the family member in question. The guilty party in question was a woman by the name of Irene Adler, and the task set before John and Sherlock was simple in theory. They were to find Adler, engage her, retrieve the phone, and await further orders once they had it. Simple in theory. 

With their orders, John and Sherlock left Buckingham Palace and set off for Belgravia. The first order of business was a return to Baker Street to do some research and prep for the case. It was nice to work a full case again, and Sherlock was interested enough not to ignore her.

“You’re not going to cut me out of this one, are you?” John asked in the cab on their way to Belgravia after an hour at Baker Street.

“No. I need your help.”

“Well, fancy that. Sherlock Holmes is asking for help.” She looked out the window, “I hope you know this doesn’t mean I forgive you.”

“Of course it doesn’t.” She swore he smiled at her and narrowed her eyes.

When they got to Belgravia, Sherlock took the long way on the streets by foot. In a residential alleyway, it was more of a mews street than anything, he stopped and turned on John.

“Hit me.”

“What?” She stared at him.

“Hit me!” He repeated himself, “I want you to hit me.”

“Why?”

“For the case, of course! Now hit me!” He grinned at her, leaning down and in so they were eye-to-eye, “You’ve wanted to for months, haven’t you?” John had already clenched one hand into a fist. She looked around, looking for witnesses and cameras. There were a couple of cameras. She smirked and flexed the fingers of her left hand, looking at her tall, irritating flat-mate.

“Are you sure you want me to hit you?”

“Absolutely. It has to look like I was a victim of an attempted mugging when I knock on Adler’s door.”

“And I’m the well-meaning bystander who ran off the ruffians before they did more than muss that pretty hair.” John knew where this was going and snickered, shrugging, "Alright, if you trust me.” She wouldn’t go all-out on him, as bad as she wanted to, but she could get away with a bit of mutual roughing-up. Besides, he’d asked, and Christ knew she’d been dying for a chance and an excuse to take a swing at his smug face for a while. Taking a step back, and then another, she paced a bit, flexing her fingers and rubbing her knuckles. This was going to hurt both of them. Sherlock moved closer in increments, one hand out, and he touched the sleeve of her coat. Without warning, she spun on her heel and whack! The impact startled them both and she caught him as he stumbled. Using his backwards momentum, one hand against the back of his head, she swept his feet out from under him and took him down. Flipping him onto his front, she pinned him to the pavement. He struggled, she pulled him back on his knees, one arm carefully around his neck.

“Stop struggling, you!”

“You were a doctor, John!”

“I was a soldier first.” She grunted as he shoved to his feet, trying to dislodge her. She wasn’t interested in legitimate injury, but she wasn’t going to pass up the chance to rough-house a bit. “I killed people, it was part of my job!” And it still was part of her job, a rather key part of her job. Not that Sherlock had to know that.

“So much…for a friendly doctor!”

“Sherlock, I’ve…ugh, I’ve killed more people than you’ve solved cases for! This isn’t a pissing-contest, you idiot!” She tugged and he choked. “Down on your knees, you’ll breathe easier.” Obedient, he sank to his knees and she went down with him, loosening her grip.

“Where…did you learn to fight like that?” Sherlock asked, rubbing his throat ruefully, “You’re a brawler, you are.”

“Good way to waste time and energy in the desert. Most blokes wouldn’t think a girl could throw a punch, I loved proving them wrong.” She went around to face him and tipped his head back, inspecting the injuries to his face, “One of my commanders trained me in underground ring-boxing, street-style brawling.”

“I would imagine most commanding officers would not condone that behaviour, it would be highly frowned-upon to promote the practice.”

“Most of them didn’t care, and those who did didn’t care enough to do anything about it. It was better than taking it out on the locals. Sometimes we’d brawl with the locals, unlucky bastards who thought they had a point to prove in a makeshift ring with a couple of Westerners.” John shrugged, missing those days a bit.

“But you…no offence, you are a woman.” Sherlock held out one hand to her and she helped him up, “How did you do it?”

“Carefully.” She grinned, “Apparently, I make a very passable man with a binder under my vest. We all wear the same uniform, the trousers are fairly unrevealing, and I’m not the prettiest girl. My hair wasn’t always this long.” Jim and Seb would probably beg to differ, and she knew Jim had spent their working holiday in Paris hoarding every photograph of her in uniform he could get his grimy little hands on. There was plenty to be had if you knew how and where to look for them. And that was a search he would do himself on his own time, ta, not something he would entrust to his team of hackers and programmers.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself.” Sherlock made a tsking sound with his tongue as he straightened out his coat and ruffled his hair, “You’re pretty enough.” John raised an eyebrow.

“I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. At least in the last four months, anyway.” And it really was. All that got her was a shrug, and then he was gone around the corner. Shaking her head, John ran to catch up with him. Getting into Irene Adler’s flat was easier than she’d thought it would be, and that was where things got very interesting.

 ---

They weren’t the only people after that phone, it turned out, and John found herself held hostage with Sherlock and Adler by a couple of American agents. CIA, it looked to her. They managed to run the Americans off, and then Adler knocked Sherlock out. John was in a different part of the house, looking for that blasted phone, when she heard him give a shout. Running to help, she broke into the bedroom and found him flat on his back, Adler standing over him.

“Jesus!” She gasped, lowering her SIG, “What the hell did you do to him?”

“Oh, he’s fine. He’ll be right as rain in a few hours.” Adler shrugged, flicking a riding-crop as she stepped over Sherlock, who was in rough shape.

“What on earth did you give him?” She dropped to her knees and checked his vitals.

“Just a bit of Ketamine, I do it to my friends all the time.”

“J-ohn.”

“Hush, you.” She put her hand flat on his chest. “You use that on him, by any chance?” She nodded to the riding-crop.

“Yes.”

“You didn’t take it easy on him, did you?”

“Why would I do that?” Adler just grinned at her. John snickered. She watched Adler collect a few things and narrowed her eyes.

“Where are you going?”

“Your friends from The Met are on their way. I can’t stay.”

“Oh, that? Hang on a minute.” She pulled her phone from her pocket and made a quick call. She explained to the clerk that it was a false alarm, they could call off the response to the Eton Square address. It turned out someone else had already beaten her to it and all response to the house had been cancelled. A single car was responding, but no more than that. She had a pretty good idea who was coming and looked at Sherlock.

“Where’s that phone?”

“It’s safe.”

“Stay put, I’ll be right back.” She got Sherlock to his feet, “Uh, his coat?”

“This one?” Adler brandished the Belstaff with a grin. John smirked and got Sherlock to the front door just in time to pass him off to a very amused and mildly concerned Greg Lestrade.

“Jesus, what the hell happened to him?”

“Tussled with a couple of Americans, then got hit with a dose of ketamine.”

“Looks like someone took a swing at him.” Greg raised an eyebrow. John looked over her shoulder at Adler, who stood just inside the doorway, and snickered. Greg caught sight of Adler and his eyes widened. “Oh. Right then. I’ll leave you ladies to it and get this poor sod home.”

“Thank you, Greg.” John helped him get Sherlock situated, “If you can stay with him a couple of hours, that would be great.”

“Yeah, no problem. I can work from Baker Street, no problem. Take care of yourself, yeah?”

“Always do. I’m not the one you have to worry about, Greg.” John closed the door and watched until the car was out of sight. Once they were gone, she let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Come in, won’t you, Captain?” Adler called sweetly from the door.

“Please.” She turned and went back into the house.

“Can I get you something to drink, Captain?”

“Got anything stronger than tea around here?” She handed her coat to her host and ruffled her hair. “I am so sorry about Sherlock, no manners on that one at all.”

“Oh, don’t. I had fun.” Adler smirked and they returned to the sitting-room. Adler found some wine, and John leaned against the mantle where the safe was hidden.

“It’s lovely to finally meet you, Captain. I was wondering what kind of special girl it took to get Moriarty’s attention like that, should have known you were the one.”

“Nothing terribly special about me, ma’am.” She took the offered glass, “Thank you.”

“So, what can I do for you, Captain?”

“What’s on that phone?”

“Insurance. I’m not going to sell any of it, but…I need insurance. Leverage. Something to offer.”

“Ah.” John understood, “It’s for your own sake.”

“Precisely.” Adler sipped her wine, “You are not what I was expecting, Captain.”

“What were you expecting? Muzzled, dimly obedient dog?”

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. You’re fascinating. You show promise.” Adler smiled, “You’ve kept yourself very busy, too.”

“Better than I used to be, in any case.” She shrugged, “It’s nice to be appreciated and useful.” After finishing one glass of very good wine, not that she was surprised Adler had good taste, John decided it was time to go home.

“Do give Sherlock my love, will you?” Adler smiled, wistful if John had to put a word on it, and took John’s empty glass. “Can I call you a cab, dear?”

“No, thank you, I’ll manage.” Making sure she had her keys, coat, and mobile, John left the Eaton Square house.

---

She took the Tube back to Baker Street and let herself into a quiet house. Greg was in the sitting-room, content to work from home for a few hours, and she checked on Sherlock to investigate what sounded like someone falling out of bed.

“John!” He yelled before the thud, “John!”

“Only ever needs me when it suits him.” She muttered, pushing the door open and looking into the dark room, “You alright, Sherlock?”

“W-what happened?” He struggled to sit up, tangled up in the sheets. “Where were you?”

“I was out. You, my idiot friend, got yourself into a bit of trouble with Miss Adler. I think you may have met your match, Sherlock.” She got him to his feet, “Come on, you, back to bed. You need to sleep it off.”

“What’d she give me?”

“Ketamine, I think it was. Just enough to subdue you, not enough to knock you out.” She bundled him back into the bed after getting him stripped to his pants, giving him a tee-shirt, “There. Do you need anything?”

“Eh, water? Please?”

“Of course.” She stepped out and got a glass of water. After he drank it all, she had added an antacid tablet for the headache he was inevitably going to have and to help with the nausea, she left him to sleep it off.

“If you need me, I’ll be just down the hall.”

“Why would I need you?”

“Because you do. Get some rest, Sherlock, I’ll be out here if you need anything.” She shook her head and closed the door. “Bloody moron.”

“Himself asleep again?” Greg looked up as she came back into the sitting-room.

“Yep. Thanks for helping me out, Greg.”

“No problem. Want me to stay?” He looked meaningfully to the back room. She shook her head.

“Nah. I’ve got it. Thanks, though.”

“Alright.” He packed up his work-bag and collected his coat, “Well, take care of yourself, love. Call if you need anything.”

“Will do. Thanks, Greg.”

“No problem. Always glad to help out if I can.” He smiled and let himself out, whistling as he went down the stairs of 221B. She heard him call out to Mrs Hudson and watched from the window as he got into his car and drove away. Once the silver BMW was out of sight, John decided to get some sleep. She’d worked a couple of very long shifts at the hospital before taking the Adler case with Sherlock, and she needed the sleep. Calling down to Mrs Hudson to let her know that they were home for the afternoon and had no plans to go out again, to turn away any and all callers who came for the agency, she went up to her room and collapsed. This case was by no means over, not by a long shot, but she would take a break where she could get one.

 

---

 

After the initial excitement, which cascaded into a string of interconnected incidents and ended with a plane full of cadavers, things got quiet on Baker Street again and Sherlock went back to ignoring John except when it suited him. John kept busy with her hospital work and got a bit of an escape in October when she was invited to attend a conference in Dublin on neuropsychology and PTSD. She, as it turned out, was being asked to speak at the conference of her experience with psychosomatic medicine, and the long-lasting effects of PTSD and how it affected her daily life and quality of life. As a former soldier, she knew plenty, had suffered plenty and still did. She debated telling Sherlock and figured he wouldn’t care either way. She did tell Jim, though. He was, of course, absolutely thrilled to hear that she was finally getting some recognition. Seb helped her write her speech and put together a short presentation for her bit. There were cocktail parties and dinners, networking workshops and discussion groups. It would be interesting. And a chance to escape for a bit.

Taking time off from work wasn’t that hard, and she packed for a week in Dublin. She packed pantsuits for the lectures, a Temperate Parade Dress uniform for the cocktail parties and dinners, and realised that she didn’t have a gown for the two formal dinners. But, trust her observant, generous boyfriend to know this and take care of it. Two days before the conference, she was picked up after work by Jim. And he did not wait on the kerb for her, he came into the hospital and found her. She was at the nursing-station, reviewing a few last charts, when she was aware of a familiar presence to her right. It wasn’t exactly the first time he’d picked her up from work, or even the first time he’d come into the hospital for her, but that didn’t stop a delicious little shiver from running it’s sweet way down her spine.

“Can I help you, Mr Moriarty?” She glanced at her watch, a gift to replace the watch her sister had given her that she had left behind at Baker Street that first fateful day, then wrote something down on the chart she was working on before closing it and setting it on the rack.

“I shouldn’t think you’ve come down with anything in the past forty-eight hours, have you?”

“Of course I haven’t. I’ve come to kidnap you.” The poor young nursing student on the other side of the desk looked like she wanted to run. John heard a muffled whimper and raised an eyebrow.

“Mm. That would make you the most-wanted man in London almost overnight.” She set down the rest of her charts and tucked the biro into the pocket of her lab-coat, turning away from the desk with a smile for the nurses.

“Have a good weekend, Doctor Watson! Have fun in Dublin!”

“I’ll try.” She rolled her shoulders, feeling a twinge from a scuffle earlier when a patient’s father got physical with one of the nurses. John had gotten involved and taken the man down in a move learned on the streets running after Sherlock. In the habit of carrying a gun, handcuffs, and pepper-spray at all times no matter where she was or who she was with, she’d subdued the parent very quickly. They had left The Met out of the situation, hospital security was more than capable of handling the man once John got him cuffed properly. But the scuffle had left her winded and her shoulder ached.

“What was it this time?” Jim asked as he put a hand on the small of her back, making it very clear to anyone who cared to put their noses in her business that she was, in fact, not single. They all knew she had a boyfriend, and most of them knew Jim’s name, but they occasionally forgot that she had a real boyfriend and a very protective one at that.

“Patient’s father tried to hit one of the nurses.”

“You say he tried.”

“He did not succeed. And he learned, very quickly, that attacking any of my nurses or staff, for any reason, is a very, very bad idea.” She rubbed the side her jaw, which was still a bit sore from where she’d been kicked by a separate struggling patient, a young kid strung out on coke who had honestly thought they were aliens trying to experiment on him and had lashed out appropriately.

“I was not aware that your job was quite so…physical.”

“Angry parents and strung-out patients are all part of the job description.” She shrugged, “It’s alright, no permanent harm done.”

“If you’re sure.”

“Absolutely sure.” She smiled and took his hand, “I can handle myself, you know.”

“I do wonder.”

“You know I would give all of this up in a heartbeat to stay on your six, but you know why I can’t.” John tightened her fingers in his and pressed a kiss to the back of his hand.

“Yes, of course, I know. And that, my dear, is one of the many, many reasons I love you so.” He flashed her that sly smile of his and turned her hand so he could do to her as she had done to him. Returning to the locker-room, she collected her few things and slung her bag over one shoulder.

“Feel like showing off today, do we?” Jim tugged on the collar of her lab-coat as they left the hospital together. Sometimes she changed before she left work, sometimes she didn’t. She knew of doctors who made a point of leaving the hospital in scrubs and lab-coat, as a matter of showing off to the world just how very important they were, others preferred to leave the hospital where it belonged and changed out of their scrubs before they left no matter what the hour. John alternated, depending on her schedule and her mood. Today, she just didn’t care. Her scrubs and coat were both clean, she’d had one shower today already no thanks to a patient who had thrown up on her. That had required bio-hazard procedures to be followed as there was blood in the bile. A very hot shower with special soap and a rinse with her own body-wash and shampoo had about done the trick, but she didn’t feel bad at all for leaving still in her “uniform”.

“More like I just don’t give a rip.” She turned up the collar of her coat, “I don’t have to worry about packing, Seb picked up my luggage this morning from Baker Street, and I’m flying out early. What were you planning?”

“A bit of last-minute spoiling. May I?” He gestured to the waiting car. She smiled and ducked into the three-year-old Aston Martin. He closed the door on her and went around to the other side, getting behind the wheel. It wasn’t long before they were threading their way through London’s awful traffic. John found herself wishing, again, that she had been brave enough to ask if Jim wanted to come with her. There had been an option to bring a plus-one to the conference and she had debated between asking Jim, Seb, or even Greg Lestrade. And that was just for the meagre company when she wasn’t in lectures. As it was, she was making the trip solo. She could handle it, but the idea of speaking before hundreds, thousands of people was a bit nerve-wracking and she was not looking forward to it. She wouldn’t be the only veteran in attendance, she was sure of that, so there would be a targeted audience for her bit of the presentations.

---

When the car had come to a stop, she looked up. They were back at Riverside Tower. Good. Collecting her things, she followed Jim to the penthouse and took five minutes to change her clothes. Before she settled on fatigues or something else, she poked her head over the railing of the mezzanine.

“Jim?”

“Yes, love?” He came out from under the overhang and she could just hear Seb rolling his eyes and the muffled titters of the staff. They knew better than to laugh out loud. She shot one goon a sharp look and he shut up real quick.

“What, exactly, did you have planned? What kind of dress-code can I get away with?”

“Wear what makes you comfortable, love.” He just gave her that sweet smile she was fairly certain no one else got and couldn’t help blushing.

“God I love you. Have I told you that lately?” she leaned against the railing, folding her arms there.

“Mm. At least once a day.” He just winked and she heard a rude sound from Seb and raised an eyebrow.

“Seb.” She did not raise her voice above a conversational tone.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“I heard that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You know the rules here, Colonel.”

“Yes, ma’am. My apologies, Captain.” And didn’t he make that sound like she was the one with a higher rank? Jim’s smile had turned absolutely wicked as John turned her back on the foyer and went to her room. She did not miss the subtle relieved exhale as she disappeared from immediate view. Ah, the perks of dating the boss. Not that she needed him to help her influence the staff. Going to her walk-in closet, she picked out a clean, properly-starched set of fatigues and laid them out before she took a fast shower. She’d already taken one, but she felt the need to take another. Stepping out of the shower, she dried off and wrapped the towel around her waist, using a second towel to dry her hair. Hanging her towels, she finished getting ready for whatever it was Jim had planned for tonight.


 

Chapter Text


There weren’t many people in Jim Moriarty’s life who just seemed to…fit themselves in. His circle of friends was abysmally small, his enemies were far more numerous, but those he considered worthy of his innermost circle were few. And then there was John Watson. She continued to surprise him in marvellous ways. It seemed that, away from the oppressive atmosphere of Baker Street, she flourished and thrived. She had been in his life for approximately six months, but it seemed as if she had sort of always been there. He was so used to playing a role, wearing a mask, but with John, all she wanted was Jim Moriarty. Not James, not Jim From IT, none of those people, she wanted him. Plain old Jim Moriarty. Clever, powerful, and completely at her mercy.

He knew if she was upset with him, she had this look to her, this air. It was rare for her anger to be directed at him, but no one was completely safe from her ire. Sometimes, he was a convenient target. There had been a time, not very long ago, when he would have had her eliminated for behaving that. But now? He loved it. In the six months they had officially been dating, he had watched her change from the shy, bumbling sidekick of one of the most intelligent arseholes in London (getting little to no recognition for her loyalty and her hard work) to a strong, independent woman who had quickly become one of his deadliest assassins. He loved to watch her work, whether it was at the hospital or in the field on a hit, there was something about it that just made him so happy. People still feared him, his staff still refused to look him in the eye when making their reports, but Jim had a soft side. She was not a weakness, and they both knew it. Woe be unto the idiot who thought she was, she would be pleased to prove them deliciously wrong.

At the moment, he was watching Sebastian Moran, who was standing just out of his girlfriend’s line of sight. And that was probably a good thing. She was flying out to Dublin for a conference the day after tomorrow, at which she was giving a talk on her personal experiences with PTSD and psychosomatic medicine, what had worked for her and what hadn’t. She was kind of a guest of honour, and he was excited on her behalf. Seb had helped her write her speech and put together a short presentation. But at the moment, Seb was on her naughty list. He tried, so hard, to keep quiet when Jim and John were sweet to each other, but he failed. And John heard him.

“Seb.” She did not raise her voice above a conversational tone. Everyone else in earshot cringed. It was worse than when she raised her voice to you, when she kept her voice level like that.

“Yes, ma’am?”

 “I heard that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You know the rules here, Colonel.”

“Yes, ma’am. My apologies, Captain.” And didn’t he make that sound like she was the one with a higher rank? Jim’s smile turned absolutely wicked as John turned her back on the foyer and went to her room. He did not miss the subtle relieved exhale as she disappeared from immediate view. It wasn’t until the shower ran a minute later that Seb finally relaxed. Jim chuckled and rocked on his heels as he studied his lieutenant.

That’s interesting!”

“I taught that girl everything she knows, Boss, you bet your arse she can make me sorry for being disrespectful.” Seb cleared his throat meaningfully. Jim just smiled and checked his watch. John had simply asked what the evening’s dress-code was going to be, to get an idea of what would be appropriate when they went to dinner. Her personal dress-code at Riverside Tower was battle-dress fatigues in either two-tone khaki or solid black, with one or two pistols in proper holsters and a knife in a boot-sheath. She had missed wearing her uniforms, and Jim was going to do whatever it took to make her happy. If that was the freedom to wear her fatigues wherever and whenever she damn well pleased, it would happen. If that was calmly reprimanding her own former commanding officer in ten words without ever raising her voice, and scaring every unfortunate goon and staffer in the room, it would happen.

Patting Seb on the shoulder, Jim went upstairs to change. At the seven-minute mark, he smoothed his jacket and tie and went across the hall to John’s room. He knocked before entering, waited a minute, and went in when he got no reply. He knew she was just fine, but she hated it when he snuck into her room. Technically, he’d knocked, so it wasn’t exactly sneaking. Now, in the six months they’d been an item, he had seen John naked a number of times. She was body-shy, naturally, but he loved all of her. Every blemish, scar, and wrinkle. No one was perfect, absolutely no one. Her biggest point of contention was the scar on her shoulder, the one that had seen her dismissed from a service faithfully attended for thirteen years. And that had been after she had freed herself from six months of captivity and walked down an abandoned desert highway until search-parties found her! So, when Jim caught her buttoning up a pair of khaki trousers, no shirt, he smiled softly. She wore a functional, practical black bra with a playful lace overlay, just a bit of the naughty, but nothing else. He caught her vest as she went to pull it over her head and chuckled as she spun on her heel.

“Jim!”

“I know, you don’t like it when I sneak up on you. I’m not sorry.”

“You’re a bastard.” She reached for her vest, but he pulled it out of reach. “Jim.”

“Yes, love?”

“Things to do? Places to go?”

“Mm, yes. A moment, my dear.” He leaned in and kissed the scar, wondering for a moment how different things would be if she hadn’t been shot and captured. He very likely wouldn’t have ever met her or met under very different circumstances. John sighed, but it wasn’t an annoyed sound, and he smiled as her hand slid into his hair, tugging gently until he lifted his head. It was a slow thing, unhurried, just something to distract him. He chuckled and steered her back towards the bedroom. Dinner could wait a bit, there were other things to do. She had caught on quick to his designs, smart girl that she was, and he stilled as she loosened his belt and worked on the button-placket of his trousers. He had the sense to kick his shoes off, slightly annoyed that she had far less to remove than he did but figuring it made no difference in the end. John chuckled as she worked on his tie and the buttons on his shirt.

“Your fault for wearing these suits.” She murmured, “I thought we had a schedule?”

“You’re leaving in two days for a week.” He tugged on the waistband of her camouflage trousers, “That’s schedule enough for both of us.”

“You’re going to miss me, admit it.” She teased, stalling any response he came up with by sliding a hand into his trousers and curling her fingers just so. Sometimes he forgot that his clever, gifted girlfriend was a doctor and knew where to touch. Her experience with past lovers had taught her how to touch. Jim had been the willing recipient many times of that skill as John taught him how to show his affection through touch, everything from publicly-acceptable caresses to more-heated contact like this. Clothes were hastily but carefully removed and set aside and Jim tumbled onto the massive bed, always touching, nearly forgetting how to breathe on his own. John came down on top of him, eyes bright.

“Wicked creature.”

“Oh, you love me.” She chuckled and rubbed along his flanks, “Don’t start something you don’t intend to finish.”

“Who said I wasn’t intending to finish this?”

“Were you?” She cocked an eyebrow and looked down at him. Jim snickered and grabbed her by the shoulders, rolling to switch places with her. The change of momentum and position startled her and she yelped, grunting as she hit the mattress.

“You test and puzzle me in the best ways, always. How do you do it?” He looked at her, taking in the woman beneath him. Her eyes were bright and focused, her skin flushed. Pupils dilated, cheeks flushed, pulse-rate elevated, breathing slightly unsteady. Her hair, still damp from the shower, lay across the pillow under her head. She had the most beautiful hair, silver-lit blonde, kept long despite her many long years in hot desert environs. She just smiled at him, shaking her head.

“A girl’s gotta have secrets.”

“Clever girl.” Jim chuckled and leaned down, rubbing his cheek along hers, which made her gasp as a few days’ stubble, carefully kept, gave up a pleasant irritation.

The discovery that she had a fondness for facial hair had been an accident. She had mentioned in passing that she disliked beards, but stubble was a weakness. John was faithful, would put herself before a bullet on his behalf, but she had pointed out on someone else that she liked a certain amount of scruff on her men. She had discovered that kink during her Army days when a bloke could go weeks between shaves. Jim had made the best of it on more than one occasion and always took a wicked pleasure in making her gasp and squirm.

“Oh, you haven’t shaved!” She breathed, one hand coming up and shaky fingertips brushing his jawline. He grinned against her skin and kissed the soft skin behind her ear.

“Just for you, my love.” He tracked the fingers of one hand down her body, drawing nonsense designs on her skin, finding each of her “hot-spots”, sensitive bits of skin that got the most delicious reactions when played just right. John moaned when his fingers made their way between her thighs to play. In five months, they had found every way known to man (and there were quite a lot, ta) to bring each other pleasure without going all the way. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, or she didn’t want to, it just wasn’t something either of them thought was absolutely necessary to the happiness of their relationship. And John, far as Jim knew, was very happy. She was a very tactile person, loved giving as much as receiving touch, and knew how to read her partner’s body to bring the most pleasure. Jim, at his core a very practical, calculated man, had learned over time to give up his lauded control. And it was because of the woman under him at the moment, trusting him with everything she was and everything she had.

“Jim.” She tightened her grip, one hand in his hair and one on his shoulder, her body arching beneath his as he slipped two fingers inside and crooked one just so. “God! Please!”

“Please what, dear?” He kissed the shell of her ear, feeling her body react to everything he was doing, in beautifully familiar ways. John freed one hand and worked her way down his body in turn. He kept her quiet with a kiss and muffled an answering moan when she found what she was looking for. This was what they did, this was how they brought each other pleasure. But he wanted more this time, he wanted John in every way. He wanted her as his, mind, body, and soul. John, affectionate, observant, glorious John, was one step ahead of him. She usually was, and it was both slightly annoying and surprisingly liberating that there was someone who was just as clever as he, and she took care of him all the same. He heard a soft rustling sound and caught his breath as she worked a condom on.

“John, do you want this?”

“If only to get His Highness to shut the fuck up about it.” She hooked a foot behind his knee, eyes sharp, “Says I’m losing my touch if my boyfriend doesn’t care for a shag.”

“As if that’s any of his fucking business!” Jim rolled his eyes and kissed the wrinkle between her eyebrows, “I respect you far too much to ask that of you!”

“For the man who asks for nothing but loyalty.”

“You’ve given me that, and so much more I never dreamed of having.” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had sex with someone else, having stayed away from the practice altogether with Molly Hooper. Someone else would make that girl very happy, but it wasn’t going to be him. John shuffled under him, stilled when he touched her hip. Jim suspected that as long as it had been for him, it had been that long for John. This was the first time for both of them, then, and special. One of many firsts for them.

He settled between her thighs, careful of her dodgy left knee, leaning down to kiss her as he pushed. It was one of the few times he felt a true hatred for her flat-mate, the way he treated John was abhorrent and wrong. John was a loving, beautiful woman who deserved the best of life and the freedom to whatever she damn well pleased. That included the freedom to love how and as she wished. But Sherlock had never let her keep a relationship longer than a few weeks, if he let it go that long. Jim was, to date, John’s longest sustained relationship and he kept wondering how it had gone this long from a last-minute favour for his mother’s birthday party.

After a few false starts, recovered and made easier by careful foreplay beforehand, they found the right angle, the right everything, and Jim dropped his head to John’s shoulder as he bottomed out after a long, slow slide. He had been very careful with her, he always was, and rested to give them both a chance to adjust. John, blessed girl, was quick to acclimatize to having someone this close, this intimate. Her breathing slowed and steadied, she began to roll her hips, and her grip loosened.

“You can move.” She murmured, “It’s okay.”  He gave an experimental roll of his own hips to gauge her mood and the soft, broken moan said everything. Jim smiled and kissed his way from her hairline to her scar as he began to move. John relaxed into the motions and responded brilliantly. Once they had found the position and the rhythm that worked for them, it was magnificent. Now, that wasn’t usually a word he would use to describe penetrative sexual intercourse, but with John Watson, it was…magnificent. It was beautiful. John responded with honest emotion, Jim was rather good at knowing if a partner was faking for his benefit. John was doing no such thing, and if he’d been a weaker man, it would have brought him to tears. This was trust, love even. Climax, when it came, was unexpected and spectacular.

--- 

Recovering from a frankly fantastic unplanned shag, Jim was aware of John’s head on his chest. They slept like this the nights they shared a bed, always touching in some manner but not always holding each other. John suffered from terrible PTSD and occasionally lashed out in her sleep. But right now, she wasn’t sleeping. And neither was he. Smiling, he rubbed her arm in slow, light strokes.

“Mhm?” She stirred, but didn’t really move, “Finally made it back to me, then?”

“Is that…normal?”

“Different for every person. You didn’t pass out, I did have a partner do that to me once.”

“Shame on him.” Jim didn’t laugh, though the mental image was rather amusing. Some lousy civilian tosser who thought he was good enough for the likes of John Watson had fallen rather short of his mark.

“You can laugh. It was downright ridiculous.” She rolled over and kissed his chest, a warm, intimate touch over his heart, which was rather calm for what they’d just done. “I was gone by the time he was conscious.”

“John!”

“He was a moron! He made bloody Anderson look like a fucking genius! Never mind he was married!”

“Oh, you were used!” That made Jim a little angry, “John, that’s shameful!”

“He thought he was clever, he thought I was just another simpering, ignorant shag who thought he was God’s gift to women.” John shook her head, “He worked in finance, but he was a clerk, not even responsible for any big accounts. He had a wife and three children, all very cute.”

“And you knew this…how?”

“I worked with his wife at Sarah Sawyer’s clinic, and she works with me at The Royal Hospital now.”

“You told her!”

“Of course I told her! Lucia Timmons is my friend! She knew something wasn’t on, but she had no idea I was “the other woman”. I told her it wasn’t just me, and honestly, she deserved someone so much better who could really take care of her and their children.” John drummed her fingers against his collar-bone, “They divorced six months ago and she’s dating one of the neurologists now.”

“You sneaky little thing.” He chuckled, unable to help himself. “She got custody?”

“Oh, yeah. I made sure of that.”

“Good girl.”

“Come on, you. Shower, dress, and then food. I’m starving.” She kicked out of the bed and was halfway to the bathroom when he caught up with her. This kind of spontaneity normally bothered him, but John was master of spontaneous shenanigans and at least once a week his plans went right out the window because she decided rigorous scheduling was boring. After a brief, invigorating shower to clean up after their bout of fun, they got dressed and finally went back downstairs together. Seb waited patiently at the bottom of the stairs, looking almost bored as he glanced at his watch at the sound of their footsteps and voices.

Now can we go?”

“Seb?”

“Yes?”

 “Do you like your job?”

“Absolutely. Yes, ma’am.”

“Then be quiet.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Oh. Two for two. Seb was really rolling over for John, wasn’t he? And he didn’t roll for anyone. Jim just looked his trusted lieutenant over and smirked. John was Seb’s subordinate rank-wise, but he definitely knew she was his boss. And he respected her influence and her skill enough to say “yes, ma’am” with an appropriately shame-faced expression. With Seb in tow, they headed for the streets.

 

---               

 

After Jim picked John up from work, taking her back to the Riverside Tower penthouse, they spent the evening together and John was thrilled to do it. He took her out to dinner at one of the mid-range restaurants, still way out of her pocketbook price-range, but he had mentioned some last-minute spoiling. That was fine. She liked being spoiled, and he liked doing it. For someone who could do pretty much whatever the fuck he wanted, Jim had a very touching sensitive side. Halfway through dinner, they were distracted by a sudden, loud outburst from another table in their section. They weren’t the only ones startled, and John’s head shot up.

“What the hell was that?”

“Nasty-looking public domestic.” Jim could see the table in question, she had her back to them at the moment, “Table six over and one back to your right, love.” She looked over her shoulder briefly and did a quick-study of the couple in question. Oh, it was that table. She had noticed them earlier, when she and Jim had first been seated, they had walked past the couple now engaged in a bit of a shouting match. The woman, wife to the man facing John but not seeing her, was doing most of the shouting. Her unfortunate and timid husband just sat and quietly took the verbal abuse. It wasn’t just verbal abuse that harpy put him through, John knew that much about the situation. The way he flinched and shrank under each harsh word spoke of a physical aspect. Which was ridiculous when you looked at them. And yet, how many times had she patched up post-encounter scrapes and bruises for Greg Lestrade when he showed up at Baker Street looking like a kicked puppy?

“Oh no.” She turned her back to the couple before Greg could look up and see her. He wouldn’t be able to spot her with so many people between them, but it was knowing he looked up that unsettled her.

“John.”

“I’ll handle this.” She set her fork down, took a sip of wine, and folded her napkin on the table, “Will you join me?”

“Do I need to?” He looked her up and over once, eyes wide, “You could snap that woman in two without breaking a sweat, why on earth do you need me to be there?”

“Because that’s a very dear friend of mine, and I think he deserves to know he’s safe in this restaurant.” She got up after pushing her chair back, “You get the manager and the maitre d’, and I’ll go break up that spat before she hits him again.”

“Isn’t that Greg Lestrade?”

“Yes, it is. And that awful woman is his wife.” She heard someone else give a short shout of alarm and spun on her heel at the same moment she heard glass shatter.

“Jim!”

“Go!” He was already on his feet, signalling for his security-detail, led up by Seb as always, and the floor-managers. If Patricia Lestrade had just laid a hand to her husband, John would be happy to make sure she never saw the light of another sacred day. People were already scattering, she cleared a few now-empty tables.

“One fucking quiet night!” She snarled, “That’s all I want! Just one, is that too much to ask for? Jesus fucking Christ!” It was worse than she’d thought, and she was dying to know what had gone so wrong Patricia had a knife on her husband. Seeing the way of things, she swung wide around the table, which had been knocked over and now stood as a barrier between Greg and his soon-to-be ex-wife, coming up on the altercation from behind Greg. Clearing the table in a smooth jump, she landed on the other side inches from Patricia and knocked the knife out of her hand, catching it mid-fall and tucking it into her belt. This took less than a minute and she grabbed the woman by the wrist when she lashed out at John instead.

“Don’t. Do. That.” She said calmly, “Don’t you dare.”

“You let go of me right now, you interfering hussy!” Patricia screamed, several people in earshot gasped in shock, “You get your hands off of me or I will sue you!”

“You lay another finger on that man behind me, Ms Stapleton, and they will be finding you in several pieces.” John, experienced with difficult marks and suspects of all shapes and sizes, was unimpressed.

“Threats! Threats to my safety! Get this freak off of me!” Patricia yelled, “And my name is Lestrade, don’t you know who I am!”

“Oh, I know.” She leaned in and smiled at the struggling woman, “We’ve met a few times. Of course, you wouldn’t remember me, no one really ever does. Shame, though, or you wouldn’t be threatening me like that.”

“When the fuck would I have ever had a thing to do with the likes of you? You let go of me right now!” Patricia didn’t get the idea of keeping her voice down. John remained calm through the verbal abuse, six months with Jim had reinstated a lot of her former military discipline. Not that she’d ever really lost any of it, but her grasp on her rather bad temper had frayed quite a bit after her disgraced return to London. She had several awards and medals and recognition for her bravery in service, but her life had quite frankly sucked. Living at Baker Street had been great for a while, but nothing had really changed until she’d met Jim.

John forced her focus back to the present just in time to dodge a remarkable right-hook from Greg’s cheating whore of a wife. She ducked the blow and swung around Patricia, pulling her arm back to pin against her back in a half-nelson. With one sweep of her left foot, she brought the struggling, spitting woman to her knees and knocked her onto her front, kneeling on her shoulders. She’d taken down suspects three times Patricia Lestrade’s size in the course of a chase and had dealt with all manner of ill-suited denizens working for Jim, so handling Patricia was very easy. The woman finally stopped struggling when the ratchet of handcuffs broke through her rant. John smirked and patted Patricia on the shoulder.

“That’s a good girl. Shame I had to cuff you to get you to shut the hell up, though. You made a bad call taking a swing at your husband, y’know? Assault on a police officer?”

“I did not!”

“Sweetie, you lunged at him with a four-inch dinner-knife. That’s assault with intent to maim or kill. No judge is going to let you walk away from that kind of charge when a member of The Met’s involved. And if you breathe a word against him, I promise you won’t see a day in court. They’ll find your body before you see a judge.” She tightened the cuffs and looked up and over the table. “You okay, Greg?”

“John!”

“Serious, mate. Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah. I…think so? Where the hell did you come from?”

“I was here with my…boyfriend.” She had to think about that, not because it wasn’t true, but she just hadn’t ever used it in context with Jim in the same room.

“Boyfriend?” Greg blinked, “Oh, yeah. That’s right, you’ve got some mystery boyfriend. How is it I’ve never met this bloke?”

“Turn around for a minute and you can.” She smiled as Jim appeared behind Greg, one hand on the detective’s shoulder in a gesture of support.

“Are you alright, Inspector Lestrade? Did she hurt you at all?”

“Oh.” Greg turned and got a good look at Jim, “Uh. No? Least, I don’t think she did. Probably have Jack to thank for that. Quick on her feet, she is.”

“Yes, she is.” Jim smiled, “Why don’t you come with me, Inspector, and let Captain Watson and my detail handle your wife?”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Oh, absolutely. They’ll be discreet and careful.” Jim looked at John and Seb, his gaze conveying everything he left unspoken. She nodded and let two members of the detail get Patricia to her feet while she collected the woman’s purse and coat. She took her phone from her pocket and dialled 999 to report a disturbance at the restaurant and informed them that no one was injured and everything was under control, but if they could dispatch a unit to collect the attacker, they would be very grateful. She made sure to mention Greg’s name, that should get them on the move fairly quickly. Sure enough, the startled clerk promised they had someone on the way, hers was not the first call made in regards to the disturbance, and five minutes later, she was watching a struggling Patricia Lestrade get bundled into the responding Panda car.

“If she gives you any trouble, call us. Either of those numbers.” John handed the constable her card and Seb’s. There was a name, mobile number, and the name of a private security firm. Nothing else.

“Oh. Er, yes, ma’am. You alright, Captain?” The constable looked at John, eyes wide.

“I’m just fine, Constable Richardson. You get her to booking and call us if she acts up. We’ll be happy to help.”

“Oh, of course, ma’am! Um, I guess we’ll talk to DI Lestrade in the morning?”

“I think that would be for the best. Give him a night to put his thoughts in order. He wasn’t harmed, don’t worry. I’ll make sure he gets to the office in the morning.”

“Of course, Captain. Have a good rest of your evening.” Lory Richardson saluted and ducked into his car. John watched until the Panda car was out of sight and let out a slow breath.

“God damn it.”

“Nice work, Captain.” Seb was behind her, standing at parade-rest, “You handled that very well.”

“How’s it inside?”

“Calmed down by now, people will talk for sure.”

“Of course they will. How’s Lestrade?”

“Shaken up, don’t think he was expecting the missus to pull a knife on him.”

“Mhm. Probably wasn’t. Poor chap, he can do so much better than that vindictive harpy.” She rubbed her knuckles and went back into the restaurant. As soon as she appeared in the dining-room, the whole place erupted in applause as the diners whistled and clapped. John stopped in her tracks, surprised by the reaction. She was attacked from the side, just about knocked right off her feet by Greg, who had the guts to kiss her in public. She laughed and hugged him tight.

“Okay, okay. You’ve got your head on, Greg Lestrade. Just remember to breathe for me, alright, lad?”

“John! Thank God you were here!”

“Thank God I was.” She rubbed his shoulders, felt him shaking, “Jesus, Greg, she would have killed you! Damn near tried it in a crowded restaurant.”

“Where’d you send her?”

“Holding, just for tonight.” She nuzzled against his jaw, “If you want me to, I can make her disappear. It’s something I’m kind of good at.”

“Bloody little assassin.” He wasn’t even joking, “I knew there was something about you, John Watson. You clever, wonderful girl.”

“I mean it, Greg.” She pushed back and looked at him, “She’ll just find other ways to make you suffer.”

“What would I owe you?”

“Not a bleeding cent. This one, I would happily do for free.” She put an arm around his waist in a friendly, supportive embrace and steered him back to the table she shared with Jim, who was waiting for them.

“So, riddle me this one, Captain Watson.” He leaned close, “How long have you been dating bloody Jim Moriarty?”

“Since April.”

“Camden?”

“Shortly after. Two weeks?”

“Damn.” Greg whistled, “Does Sherlock know about this?”

“Probably. The real question is, does he care? He barely notices when I’m gone, how would I know if he’s aware I’m dating his nemesis?” Greg looked at Jim, who looked surprisingly unthreatening just at the moment. Jim wore a typical smart Westwood, looked every inch the mastermind he was, but there was a softer air to him. He understood that Greg was a friend of John’s, someone in her inner circle and therefore close to and very important to her.

“Mr Moriarty.”

“Inspector Lestrade. I am very sorry about the mess earlier.” Jim stood up to shake Greg’s hand, “It will be handled with proper discretion.”

“Yeh, I bet it will. What with the likes of that one on your six and calling the shots?” Greg looked at John, who just smiled benignly. “Oh, don’t you dare smile at me like that, you sneaky little thing. I know better.”

“Which is precisely why I know you won’t say anything.” She pulled a chair out with her foot, “You sit down.”

“Yes’m.” Greg looked around the restaurant as they all sat down, “You own this place?”

“Yes, I do,” Jim affirmed, proud of that knowledge.

“Nice digs.” He nodded, “Kind of like this place, actually.”

“Come any time you like, Inspector. We’d be happy to have your business.” Jim just smiled and signalled a nearby server, who came right over and asked if she could get them anything, apologizing for the commotion earlier.

“Just a round of the Inspector’s choice, Louise.” Jim looked at Greg, who shrugged. He had simple tastes, preferred whiskey and beer to wine on most nights.

“Uh, Connemara, please?”

 “12-year, sir?”

“Got Turf Mór here?” Asking like a child after a sweet, afraid of being told no. “12-year if you don’t.”

“I’ll see what I can do, sir. How do you take it?”

“Er. Rocks, please?”

“Of course, Inspector.” The server just smiled sweetly at Greg and disappeared. John waited until she was gone to chuckle.

“And that, right there, is all the proof anyone needs that you’re an Irishman at heart, Inspector.” Jim smiled, “Brave man you are.”

“I’d drink it more often, but it’s so bloody expensive it’s not even worth it most times, and that’s a special-occasion whiskey anyway. I’ll drink 15-year or cask-strength. Jameson’s a go-to for me.”

“Oh, is this a special occasion, then?”

“Just about got my head knocked off tonight by a maniac.”

“Just say the word, Greg.”

“Yeah, I know. Never thought I’d ask for that.”

“Inspector, if it’s not impolitic of me, I think you might find this particular gentleman of my acquaintance to be very helpful to you going forward from tonight.” Jim took something from his pocket and slid it across the table to Greg, a business-card, “He’ll take care of you properly.”

“What’s this?” Greg picked the card up and read it, “Jaques Lafreniere. Family Law Solicitor. Lafreniere, Morisson & Gaines. Oh, ta, mate.” He pocketed the card.

“Tell him I sent you, he’ll see to it you get what’s fair. No sly tricks by your ex-wife’s solicitors will get past him.” Jim smiled, a benign smile he never gave anyone but John. Greg nodded distractedly, probably wondering which end was up right now. The server came back with three Old Fashioned glasses filled with three ice-cubes and a full measure of whiskey. The colour promised Greg’s wished-for Turf Mór.

“Three measures of Connemara Turf Mór, on the rocks. Enjoy.”

“Thank you, Louise.” Jim nodded to the server, who ducked her head and disappeared again. John smiled and slid a glass across to Greg, who picked it up and studied it for a minute. The look on his face when he took that first sip was almost heartbreaking.

“That’s it. That’s…right there. Thank you.”

“A pleasure, Inspector.” Jim smiled and raised his own glass, “To clean slates, bright futures, and the things that make us happy in a miserable world.”

“Amen, gaol.” Greg raised his glass and John just watched them drink. Cousin, he’d said. Greg was French-Irish, she had learned that many months ago. But cousin…that was such an intimate word. She turned things over in her head, putting pieces together that had always been there but had never fit, or needed to. Were…was it possible? Was she sitting between cousins? Was there more to Jim being nice to Greg than just because he was one of John’s best friends and kept her in detective work when Sherlock turned his back on her?

“Well, that’s interesting.” She murmured into her whiskey.

“What’s that, love?”

“Does anyone important know about this, or is it really just a dirty family secret?” She looked from Greg to Jim, “I mean, does Sherlock know? Speaking of that great idiot knowing things.”

“Oh, she’s smart.” Greg chuckled, “Jesus, can’t get a damn thing past you, can we, Watson?”

“Sorry, lads. I didn’t get this far in my life because I’m an idiot.” She smiled, “Not that I’ll say anything. Makes sense to me, though. Family’s gotta look out for each other in bad times, we’re all we’ve got in the end.”

“True, that.”

“So…what would that make us, then?”

“Family.” Didn’t even blink. Greg finished his whiskey and smiled, “Really is just that simple. You’ve been good as family to me since January, that’s not about to change. Kind of wondered who’d gotten their hands on you in April that you kept going back to them.”

“Never occurred to you to ask where I was going when I went on “long weekends” or last-minute holidays to random places?”

“I figured you knew what you were doing, and I wasn’t about to rat you out to Holmes anyway. If they don’t know, that’s their own damned fault.”

“I am okay with that. But if Mycroft Holmes doesn’t know about this, he really needs to get new people on his surveillance and intelligence-gathering.”

“Oh, he knows.” Greg rolled his eyes, “Trust me, he knows.”

“And didn’t tell his little brother? Shocking.”

“He didn’t tell Sherlock because he knows better.” Greg eyed John’s glass for a minute before she raised an eyebrow in challenge and downed the rest of it in a single gulp. Both boys winced as she calmly swallowed and overturned her empty glass after getting rid of the ice.

“Jesus!”

“What?”

“John?”

“Don’t look at me like that, lads, I can drink any lush under the table on any night you please.” She shrugged, “Hard to get me hung-over properly.”

“Even on that?”

“I’ve had one measure of Turf Mór and two glasses of wine. I’d have to drink half a bottle of Connemara by myself to even come close to regretting some really shitty life choices.” John leaned back in her chair, tilting it a bit, “Used to drink the lads under the table back in Afghanistan when we got too terribly bored.”

“Was that before or after you beat the shit out of them in the boxing-ring, love?” Greg blinked.

“Sherlock talked, I take it?”

“You could say that. Said he asked you to hit him?”

“Gave me a free shot, you didn’t think I’d be stupid enough to turn down that chance, did you?” She wiggled her eyebrows, “After the way he’d been treating me, I earned it. And he let me go for it.”

“Damn, remind me never to piss you off, then.”

“You’re not likely to, cousin.” Jim chuckled, “She likes you too much.”

“Thank Christ.” Greg yawned, “Lord, I hurt.”

“Let’s get you home, then. Come on, boys.” John kicked to her feet and looked around. They were some of the only customers left, testament to the hour. She smiled and collected their coats from the hostess. Seb was waiting outside, of course, and just smiled when he saw Jim and Greg supporting each other.

“Everything sorted out, then?”

“More or less. Thanks, Seb.” She looked at Greg, “Where can we take you, Greg?”

“Um, Baker Street? Please?”

“Is Sherlock home right now?”

“I’ve got my key, in any case.”

“Don’t let him be a pest.”

“Think he’s at Bart’s with Molly right now, so that’s not a problem.”

“You know where everything’s sorted. My bed if you need it, God bless you if you’re brave enough to sleep in the back room.” John took the front seat with Seb for the drive back to Baker Street, giving Jim and Greg time to unwind and talk if they wanted to. She got the feeling they didn’t see much of each other.


 

Chapter Text


When they got to Baker Street, John got Greg out of the car and looked up at the windows. The lights were on, but that didn’t necessarily mean Sherlock was actually home.

“I’ll get him inside and settled.” She looked at Seb and Jim, who stood on the pavement, “Won’t be long, and I’m not staying. Easier to get to the airport from Riverside Tower.”

“Of course it is.” Jim smiled and looked up at the windows, “What if he’s home?”

“Who cares? He can’t be mad at any of us, really, can he? Bit hypocritical. I’m still working with him, which he should be damn grateful for, I have a legitimate job at the hospital, and when I’m not at either of those, I’m doing something else I happen to be very good at. And I’m not breaking the law.”

“Not most of the time, anyway,” Greg muttered as she got him through the door. She snickered and held him steady.

“Sherlock?” She called up the stairs, “You home?”

“John?” Mrs Hudson, drawn out by the noise, poked her head out of 221A and her eyes widened when she saw John and Greg, “Oh! Greg, dear! Hello!”

“Mrs H.” Greg grinned at their eternally patient land-lady and sat down on the stairs.

“Are you alright, dear?”

“He’s fine, Mrs Hudson, just had a rough night is all.” John looked up at the first floor, “Is Sherlock in?”

“Yes, I am.” His voice was above them and she raised an eyebrow.

“So much for being at Bart’s.” She looked up at her flat-mate, “Sherlock.”

“Watson. Greg?” He looked from John to Greg and deduced everything in a split second, eyes wide, “What in the world happened to you?”

 “Long story.” She got Greg up on his feet, “Can he stay here tonight?”

“Absolutely. Are you going to stay?”

“Nah.” She shook her head, “I have work tomorrow and then I leave for Dublin for a week.” Between the two of them, they got Greg up to 221B. John looked around the place and noticed that none of her stuff had been touched since the last time she'd stayed. She was kind of in and out of Baker Street these days.

“Place looks…clean.” She inspected the skull, “Taking care of yourself, then?”

“I can look after myself.” Sherlock sounded mildly insulted. He had taken Greg to the back bedroom. John snorted and went to look out the window. Jim and Seb were waiting, of course, and she waved. Murmured voices and footsteps behind her heralded the return of her flat-mate. She stayed put and folded her hands behind her back. This would be interesting, to say the least.

“I know you’ve been spending time with Sebastian Moran, but…you surprise me.” He joined her by the window and looked out over Baker Street, eyes sharp as he picked out Jim and Seb standing on the street by the car. His eyes narrowed and she felt him tense up.

 “Moriarty.”

“He’s with me, Sherlock. He’s here on good faith, we brought Greg home.”

“What will become of his wife?”

“That’s up to him. I’m willing to pull a job for free on his behalf. She tried to kill him, Sherlock. She pulled a knife on him in the restaurant.”

“It’s always something.” He huffed, “But…you’ve never been happier. You’re doing work you love, in three different places. Where do you go when you leave Baker Street?”

“Riverside Tower. He keeps a penthouse there. One of four properties in London, I think. He has a house in Cuffley, too.” She looked sideways at him, “Holmes?”

“I had wondered why he’d suddenly gone so quiet.” Sherlock folded his arms, “I don’t suppose they would come up?”

“If I trusted you to be nice to them?” She raised an eyebrow, “You do understand, I’ve been dating Jim Moriarty for six months by now?”

“The single longest committed relationship you’ve ever been in, right under my nose.” He folded his arms, “How did you get away with it?”

Very carefully. You’re not terribly angry?”

“Does he take care of you?”

“What do you think?” She raised an eyebrow and faced him properly.

“He’s the one behind the puzzles and pips, back in March and April.”

“Yeah. He is.”

He’s the one who killed Carl Powers!”

“Didn’t do that job alone, either.” She cleared her throat.

“He didn’t...oh, he had help.”

“Yep.” She leaned her head back to look up at him, “He was a bully. Younger than us by a couple of years and a bully through and through. He pushed me around and called Jim names.”

“Oh, you were friends with Jim! As children!”

“Practically grew up together. I lived on the council estate near his grandmother’s house in Paddington.” She shrugged, “We went to school together.”

“You must have lost touch in secondary school.”

“1989. We moved to Glastonbury that winter and I didn’t see him or hear from him again for almost twenty-one years.”

“All that time?”

“Nope. I mean, the last time I had anything to do with his family was when his grandmother died and I got bereavement leave.”

“But how did you get bereavement leave for someone who wasn’t family?” He tilted his head. She just looked at him, not giving any hints. “You must have lied and told them it was your grandmother, not his, said you were cousins or something?”

“They never asked, I just said my grandmother had died unexpectedly.” John rubbed her fingers against the surface of the bench, “And since I was stateside in barracks up at Durham, getting leave to come down to London was pretty simple.”

“You’re much smarter than you look, annoyingly so. Why do you act so normal?” He frowned, almost insulted that he had missed these things about her. “Your intelligence is...disarming. I’ve noticed, when you show off during cases, I’ve wondered.” And she had shown off a little during cases, testing Sherlock to see just how observant he was, offering straight answers to his nebulous ones or making sense of something that had the rest of them scratching their heads after he was out of the picture.

“Because being smart when I was little was a short ticket to getting the sense beat out of me. Da threw me down a set of stairs one night because I dared to talk back. And then there was Harry, she wasn’t too nice to me, either. Called me a suck-up, a tattle-tale. She’s convinced I outed her to Da and Mum, but she kind of did that herself.” John shook her head, “It was easier to play dumb than keep getting myself tossed around.”

“And when you went to university?”

“Medical school? God, I’d hoped it was a clean start.” She shook her head, “Boy, was I wrong.”

“Who hurt you, John?”

“Mean fucker in law school. Name was Trevor.”

“Victor Trevor?”

“Mhm.”

“My height, dark skin, slightly bigger frame?”

“Yeah.” She turned her head, “Did you know him?”

“My God.” If she didn’t know better, she’d think Sherlock looked sick all of a sudden.

“Sherlock?” She put one hand on his shoulder, “You okay?”

You were the ex-girlfriend! Oh god, John!”

“It’s okay, Sherlock.” She put her hands on his shoulders, “Take it easy.”

“I knew he was up to something, I knew it! He told me not to worry about it!” Sherlock’s hands came up and took hold of her wrists, his grip tight and shaky. This clearly bothered him. “He said you weren’t going to be a problem anymore! I thought you were dead!”

“Nope. Army called me up halfway through fourth year. You can bet your arse I jumped on that plane faster than a jackrabbit with its paws on fire.” She took his hands, loosening his grip enough to do so, “Trevor hurt both of us, didn’t he?”

“He knew all the right things to say.”

“Yep.”

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“You’ve got a black record. What kind of work did you do?” And now his mind was on a different track, probably trying to distract himself. That was fine with her.

“Let me take this phone-call.” She checked her caller-id as her phone rang and sighed. “That would be him.”

“He can see us.”

“That doesn’t mean he trusts you to let me leave of my own will.” John shook her head and took the phone-call.

“I’m fine. You can see me, you silly thing.”

“You’ve been there for a while. What’s taking so long?”

“He figured it out.” She looked over at Sherlock, who raised an eyebrow. “I don’t suppose I could talk you into coming upstairs, could I?”

“Do you trust him?”

“Can you be nice?” She covered the receiver and looked at Sherlock.

“Tonight? Yes. In the future? For as long as I need to be.” He shook his head, “You’ve…done me a good turn.”

“I live with you, idiot.” She rolled her eyes, “Just don’t do anything stupid.”

“I can behave.” He sniffed.

“Jim?”

“We’re coming. Is the door unlocked?”

“Yep.” Not that it would stop them, of course. Seb had a copy of her Baker Street key. Three minutes later, Seb and Jim stepped into the flat.

“Gentlemen.” Sherlock nodded politely, eyes narrow as he deduced the pair. “Tea? Or something stronger?”

“Something stronger.” John was already halfway to the kitchen, “You three idiots sit down and be nice to each other.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Sherlock sat down in his chair, Jim took John’s chair, and Seb sat down in the “client’s chair”. John snickered and dug up a bottle of Connemara 15-year she’d gotten as a birthday present from Mike Stamford and a couple of glasses. Greg came out of the bedroom in pyjama bottoms, tee-shirt, and dressing-gown. John handed him a full glass and took four more out to the sitting-room.

“They stayed?” Greg looked at the three men in the sitting-room, “What happened?”

“Sherlock figured it out.” She shrugged and handed out three of the four glasses.

“And he promised to be nice?”

“Yes, he did.”

“Okay then.” Greg took a sip of his drink, “Oh, nice that is!”

“Thank Stamford for that, he gave me a bottle of Connemara 15-year for my birthday.” She shrugged and watched the dynamic between her flat-mate and her boyfriend. Somehow, they managed to have a very civilised conversation. John shared a look with Seb and Greg and giggled.

“What?” Jim leaned his head back and looked up at her as she stood behind her chair, leaning against it.

“You’re being nice to each other!”

“I can be nice!” Sherlock looked so insulted and made a face when John and Greg snorted. “What? I can be!”

“When the circumstances call for it, Holmes?” Jim prodded with a snicker.

“Oh, as if you’re any saint.” Sherlock would have stuck his tongue out if they’d been children.

“Boys, boys, you’re both pretty and it’s far too late to marshal any scrap you two get into.” John rolled her eyes and finished her drink.

“Who said we were interested in scrapping?”

“Who said you weren’t?”

“She’s smart.” Sherlock muttered, “Damn smart.”

“Pity she doesn’t get credit for it.” Greg looked at the ceiling as he finished off his whiskey, “I don’t know about you rowdy kids, but after the hell of a night I had, I need some sleep. If you lovely folks will excuse me.” He got up, collecting empty glasses, and disappeared through the kitchen. John sighed and leaned over the back of her chair, resting her cheek on Jim’s hair, watching the flames burning in the hearth. Sherlock had been smart enough to start a proper fire, the flat was comfortably warm and felt almost homely. John took a minute to appreciate the domestic touches, wishing they were more consistent. She moved around the chair and slid into the comfortable niche tucked between the arm of the chair and Jim’s torso, tucking herself into the space like this wasn’t the first time she’d done this in Baker Street. They didn’t do this very often outside of Riverside Tower or the Cuffley house, the fact that he let her get away with it in Baker Street was really something. John didn’t care, though. And it didn’t seem that he minded much, either. In fact, it didn’t look like either of them cared. 

 

Sherlock had taken the revelation rather well, all things considered, John would have to ask Greg to keep an eye on him while she was gone in Dublin. He would do it for her, though, he always did. He was just that kind of friend. And, she suspected, maybe a bit more than just a friend to Sherlock. That was fine. More than fine. Perfect. She got comfortable and dozed off a bit. Her week before tonight had been kind of long, exhausting even, but she didn’t hold Sherlock responsible for any of it. He’d actually been very nice to her. In fact, if she thought about it long enough, he’d been nicer to her in the past three months than he had been since inviting her to live with him at Baker Street back in January. As the bedroom door closed, she listened to the taps run in the bathroom and something occurred to her. Maybe she was good at keeping secrets, but Sherlock had her beat there. She wasn’t an idiot, she wasn’t ignorant. But in keeping her distance from Sherlock, and not knowing any better, she had inadvertently missed all of the same signals she’d been broadcasting to everyone except her flat-mate. Had they both missed the very same signals? That was irony. Greg wasn’t going to need that business-card, she didn’t think.

“Sherlock?”

“Hmm?”

“How long have you and Greg been dating?” Better come right out with it, and accept the consequences if she happened to be wrong.

“What makes you think we’re dating?” Well, he hadn’t denied it outright. She smiled and cracked an eye open.

“Just a hunch. Am I right?”

“So what if you are?”

“It would explain why you’ve been nicer to me in the past three months than you’ve been since January. I knew there had to be someone out there who could handle you, take care of you. I just didn’t have the guts to hope it was Lestrade. He’s…good for you.”

“Good for us.”

“All of you.” Seb pitched in, coming back from the kitchen with tea. She hadn’t even noticed him leaving, that was just pitiful.

“Stop it.” Jim huffed, breath warm on her ear.

“Sorry?”

“You’re doing it again. Stop it. You’re tired from your week, no one is going to care if you missed Seb moving from the couch to the kitchen and fixing tea.”

“Shouldn’t let myself slip like that, though. What if it wasn’t Seb?”

“John, my love, you kept my idiot cousin from getting himself shanked by his deplorable harpy of an ex-wife. You are allowed to miss small things like Seb moving around the Baker Street kitchen doing your job.”

“Besides, you still make better tea than any of us, and Christ if I know what your secret is.” Seb handed her a warm cup, “Drink up, lass. You need it.”

“Thanks, Seb.” She squeezed his wrist as he handed another cup to Jim before settling on the couch next to Sherlock. “You’re too good at your job, you know that, right?”

“And?”

“We pay you a pittance for it.”

“I’d do it for free if I thought I could get away with it.”

“Absolutely not!”

“Of course not. Pipe down, kiddies.” He snickered, “Sherlock, you take care of Greg Lestrade. He’s a good friend of mine and one of the smartest men I know who’s not family or some relation.”

“He could do better.”

“He doesn’t want to. He knows you inside and out, every quirk, every strop, every trigger. He’s been looking after you for long enough he might as well just make it official.” Seb patted Sherlock on the hand, “But if you break that man’s heart or do wrong by him.”

“It wouldn’t just be you coming after my sorry arse, I know.” Sherlock looked over at John, who narrowed her eyes, “Your boss’s girlfriend is rather fond of my boyfriend. I always thought those two would hitch up. But they never did. It was…annoying.”

“Annoying?” John raised an eyebrow at him.

“You’re perfect for each other, you have so much in common. But you were content to be friends with him.” Sherlock shrugged, studying his tea, “You found someone better. Don’t you dare break John Watson’s heart, Jim.”

“There wouldn’t be much left for you to take your anger out on, I’m afraid, Holmes.” Jim grinned benignly, and John rolled her eyes. “This one is far more than capable of doing quite a bit of damage by herself.”

“Let me know if Anderson ever touches you. I can’t kill someone for being a moron, but if he puts hands on you, that’s very different.” She sipped her tea, “And you wouldn’t owe me a dime.”

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Were you behind Richard Sykes?” It was an honest question. John sighed. She had been in Belgium at the time Richard Sykes’ body had been dragged from the Thames, but she had certainly heard about the excitement. Jim had told her, of course, as had Sherlock and Greg, the latter two remarking on the violent nature of the cause of death. Molly Hooper had done what she could with what they pulled from the river, but she couldn’t isolate a single cause of death. She suspected it was either the head-trauma or the drug found in his bloodstream, bare traces were left by the time he was found, body nearly unidentifiable due to the missing parts and the bits nibbled away by fish and other creatures of the riverway.

“And if I was?”

“I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it, but what on earth did he do that you exercised such precise and humiliating violence on him?” Sherlock set his cup down, “I mean, for Christ’s sake, the man’s eyes, tongue, and genitals were missing!”

“Should I tell him?” John looked at Jim, “Or would you like to?”

“Not that Greg or I were going to rat out the culprit if it turned out we knew who it was, of course. But…who would do a thing like that?” Sherlock tilted his head, “I know Sykes wasn’t very well liked, he had plenty of enemies, it could have been any one of them who paid for the hit.”

“No, it was my hit.” John murmured, “Didn’t do it alone, though.”

“Mycroft doesn’t know, and he won’t know, but when he heard that Richard Sykes had been pulled from the river after he’d been reported missing a week prior, he just smiled.”

“Was he looking for reasons to make Sykes disappear, then?”

“Just a few.” Sherlock shrugged, “It never occurred to him, I suppose, that there might be someone else who didn’t need a few reasons. One would do fine. What did he do, if I might ask?”

“He tried to solicit my services and skills. Said I could be “very useful”.” John grimaced, “I didn’t tell him to go fuck himself with a rusty railroad spike, as much as I wanted to.”

“When the hell did Sykes get hold of you?”

“Back in April.” John tucked her head under Jim’s chin, “That was our first “official” date.”

“When did you meet him?”

“15 April.”

“It was my mother’s birthday party.” Jim supplied, “She was aware that I had been dating someone for a while and wanted to meet my…girlfriend.”

“Molly Hooper?” Sherlock tilted his head, “But she had already broken up with you by then.”

“I know.” Jim frowned, “She was not very nice about the break-up.”

“God have mercy on the man who’s brave enough to date Molly Hooper,” Seb muttered. John snickered. She liked Hooper, she really did, but she had terrible judgment in boyfriends and no concept of how to break up with someone properly. “Sorry, but you tried to kill my crush and I hate you because you’re a lying weasel” really wasn’t the right way to go about things. Sherlock was by no means heterosexual. He probably wasn’t even bisexual. Asexual or homosexual, but nothing in between. Greg sure had his work cut out for him, but if anyone could handle Sherlock Holmes, he was probably one of the most capable.

 

Seb got up and collected their empty cups, taking them to the kitchen and doing the wash-up. John yawned and uncurled from her perch. Going to the window, she looked out on a dark, quiet Baker Street. Someday, she would look out on a different view, a different street. Riverside Tower was kind of headquarters for Jim, it wasn’t really a place to live. He owned the top few floors of the tower anyway. John tapped her fingertips on the cold glass and wondered what kind of future she had. If Sherlock gave her an ultimatum, she knew what her choice would be. A hand on her shoulder was Jim. It was time to go home. She nodded and looked around the little flat that had more or less been home since January. Sherlock followed them down to the street and before she ducked into the car, he pulled her back and hugged her. He had never hugged her before.

“Be safe, John. I know you’re happy, but be safe.”

“I fought a war, Sherlock, I can handle the likes of Jim’s marks.” She looked up at him, “Y’know, if things go right for us, we’ll be cousins of a sort.”

“I suppose we will be. I think you could do worse.”

“I have done worse, ta.” She rolled her eyes, “You be nice to him, Sherlock.”

“I’ll be nice if he is.”

“He can behave himself. You’re the impulsive bastard, he’s impetuous.”

“Good luck in Dublin, John.” He smiled at her.

“Oh, you were paying attention!” She wrinkled her nose, “Sneaky bastard. Well, in any case, I’ll be back in a week.”

“That’s fine. Safe travels.” He tugged on her sleeve, “You look good in fatigues.”

“So I hear.” She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek, “You might be an insensitive bastard, Sherlock Holmes, but you’re my insensitive bastard.” Sherlock chuckled and pushed her towards the car.

“Good night, John!”

“Good night, Holmes. See you in a bit.” She waved and ducked into the warm car. He stood on the kerb until they were out of sight, she watched the back window of the car as they drove down Baker Street. Once they were home at Riverside Tower, John got ready for bed and slept in the master suite. It was another hour or two before Jim came up to join her, and she was aware of a warm body taking up the space beside her on the bed. She heard him say goodnight and felt the touch that was a brief goodnight kiss to her temple. He hated waking her up and tried so hard not to, but she was a light sleeper some nights and knew when he came in anyway. It was sweet of him, though, and reminded John that she was dating a sweetheart masquerading very successfully as a criminal mastermind. She liked that, more than she’d admit to anyone.


 

Chapter Text


John was up with her alarm and dressed for work by the time anyone else in the place was stirring. Jim found her reading the morning papers before work with a cup of coffee and offered to drive her to the hospital. She took the offer and dreaded the long day ahead.

“I’ll pick you up at five.” He said as she slid from the car.

“See you at five, then.” She smiled, unable to help herself, and leaned back into the car for a goodbye kiss. Running into the hospital, she clocked in on her shift and got to work. There was plenty to keep her busy and she spent much of the day running between patients and keeping the peace in the department. She dealt with confrontational family-members, combative patients, and her fellow staffers.

 

At one point, John found a quiet corner and locked the door behind her. Well, the door locked itself, but it was the principle. She sank to the floor, her back to the row of lockers, and put her head down. John had fought and failed to save a patient. She hadn’t lost a patient since Afghanistan. It was worse since her patient had been a young soldier home on leave. It had been a fight, of sorts, the victim had come between two civilians to break up a domestic and the male partner hadn’t appreciated his chivalry on behalf of the girl, and gone after him. The couple in question were being detained at The Met, John had gotten the victim. With her phone in hand, she brushed her hair from her face, wet with tears, and she dialed a number. It rang a few times, three in all, and she wondered if he was in the interview rooms or at his desk. Probably the former, if she knew his habits. Finally, right before it rang to voicemail, the line clicked over.

“Homicide, Lestrade.”

“Greg, hi. It’s John.” She rubbed her face on her sleeve, “Corporal Vincent is deceased. Head-trauma and internal bleeding.”

“Jesus.” She heard the stutter. “Jesus.”

“I’m so sorry. I tried…I tried everything. He just…I couldn’t do it, Greg. I’m…so sorry.” She sniffled, “Shit.”

“Watson, you listen to me. You listen to me, girl.” Greg’s voice was soft but steady, “You did everything you possibly could for that boy. That is enough. Leave the suspect to me. You wash your face, find clean scrubs, and get back out there. Save someone else’s little boy. Hear me?”

“Yes, sir.” She took a deep breath and looked for the clock. She had time to get clean scrubs and wash her face and hands properly. Hanging up with Greg, she washed the blood from her hands and washed her face, and returned to the floor feeling slightly better but still very sad. She had them take Vincent to the hospital’s morgue, she would send him over to Molly Hooper later, with orders to clean him up but not to do anything else to him. She needed to speak to his family about autopsy or if he was an organ-donor. She thought she’d seen on his ID that he was, but she needed to double-check.

When she got back to the floor from the morgue-run, a nurse flagged her down.

“Doctor Watson! Sorry to stop you, but…Robert Vincent’s parents are here.”

“Shit.” She sighed and raked one hand through her hair, knowing she had to face this sooner or later. “Right, where are they?”

“This way, ma’am.” The nurse took her to a waiting-area and she picked out Robert Vincent’s parents almost right away, he was the spitting image of his father. John sighed, this was a service-family, Robert had been one of many members to serve in the Armed Forces. The father was Royal Marines, still active. She brushed off her scrubs, wishing she’d had a chance to change into clean ones, and approached the couple.

“Major Vincent? Mrs Vincent?” She stood before the couple in parade-rest, an old habit she’d never given up. The husband, a major with the Royal Marines by his rank-marks, looked up first and was quick on his feet when he saw her.

“Doctor! Is he…?”

“I’m so sorry, sir.” She put one hand out, “We did all we could for him.”

“Oh no!” Vincent’s mother, a pretty woman in her fifties with dark hair and a lovely tan, couldn’t stand up. “No, he can’t be!”

“I am so, so sorry. I did everything I could, but…”

“No, doctor. No, don’t…don’t apologise.” Major Vincent put a hand on her shoulder, his grip tight and firm, “What of the other party?”

“Held up at The Met at the moment. We’ll have answers in time, I promise. It was a lover’s spat and your son, he…”

“Did the noble thing and got himself involved.” Vincent sighed, “Can we see him?”

“Absolutely. If you’ll follow me, sir.” She turned and led the way to the morgue and let them see their son’s body. “What do you want us to do, Major?”

“No autopsy. He was a donor, however.”

“I thought he might be. We can begin that process if you’d like us to? He was very healthy before this incident.”

“Please.” Vincent nodded, stiff and calm, “Thank you, Doctor.”

“Sir.” She looked at the young soldier on the table and sighed, reaching out to touch the short-cropped hair, “Jesus, I hadn’t lost a patient since Lashkar-Gah before today. In all the time I’ve been working this department, I’ve never actually lost a patient. Others have, and I’ve come damn close. I’m sorry your son was my statistic.”

“Were you Armed Forces, then?”

“Army, sir, twelve years. I was out last year.” She ushered the couple out of the morgue, “Spent most of that in Afghanistan.”

“Mean bush, that is. Hasn’t gotten much better.”

“Mm, no. Probably won’t change in time to make a difference.” She sighed, “I’ll get a headstart on things on my end, make what arrangements you need to on yours.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Vincent smiled, offering a hand, “For everything.”

“My condolences to you and your wife and your family.” She shook hands with Vincent and saw them out of the hospital. She spent the next few hours making arrangements for Robert Vincent, turning his body over to the proper authorities to collect what organs could be harvested for whatever purposes were necessary, contacting Molly Hooper over at Bart’s to collect the body after the donor teams were done with him and informing her that the family did not wish an autopsy to be done, and locating the names and contacts for Robert Vincent’s commanding officers. She made more phone-calls than she could count and hated each one of them, she wrote up more reports than she thought were strictly necessary. Then another patient came in and she moved on.

 

-&-

 

Finally, it was five o’clock and John was very ready to get out of the hospital by then. Without changing her clothes, John met the car on the kerb and the first thing Jim did was hug her. Hard. She had never said a word about how her day was, besides the usual “busy as hell”, “crazy”, “business as usual” texts in response to his standard questions, but she wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he knew how her day had gone.

“I heard about Robert Vincent. That was…unfortunate.”

“It was stupid, is what it was! I told Greg to wring that bastard dry and make him suffer for it, there was no reason for that boy to die.” John sighed and nuzzled under Jim’s collar, “I’m so glad I’m leaving for a week. Christ knows I need a reset.”

“And I will be here when you get back,” Jim promised, kissing her temple, cheek, and jaw. “Come home, love.” She let him situate her in the car, ordering Seb back to Riverside Tower, and put her feet up on the adjacent bench.

“Rough day in the office, Captain?” Seb glanced over his shoulder.

“That’s a word for it, Seb. That. Is. A word for it.” She sighed, “Can’t wait for tomorrow.”

“You’ll be fine.” Jim put an arm around her shoulders, rubbing his thumb along the side of her neck. She leaned her head against his shoulder and ran through the schedule for the conference in her head. Tomorrow, she left London at 5am and flew from London to Dublin, caught a cab or a shuttle to the hotel, and reported to the first meetings at 8am, then she took a break at noon for lunch and worked until six when she had the first dinner. And it was basically rinse-and-repeat for the rest of the week.

 

-&-

 

When they got to the house, she took a hot shower and got dressed in fatigues. Jim took her out to dinner and then surprised her with a last-minute trip to go dress-shopping. She didn’t have anything for the two formal dinners, still, but trust Jim to take care of that for her. They finally settled on a classic floor-length gown in black, black was a classic choice and flattered nearly everyone, incredibly elegant, with a structural peplum and crystal-embellished waist. Jim liked it especially because it flattered her sturdier form and it made John feel good. She just about squealed in the changing-stall when she tried it on.

“I think she likes it, Boss.” She heard Seb murmur from outside where the boys were waiting.

“I don’t like it!” She twirled in front of the mirror, “Oh my god, I love it!” Eager to share, and show off, she threw open the door of the changing-stall and bounced out of it. As soon as she appeared, the boys were on their feet. It wasn’t the flashiest dress or even the most revealing, but that was part of its appeal to John. She knew she could pull off a strapless dress, she could pull off a short-short skirt, but she didn’t like that. She didn’t wear those styles because she didn’t feel like herself in them. Understated elegance and a hint of the forbidden was more her style. Jim was on his feet in a heartbeat, and she accomplished a rare feat. She made him drop his phone. Seb smoothly caught it one-handed and slid it into Jim’s pocket for him, grinning around him at John, throwing her a wink. Nice work. John blushed and stood still for Jim, who circled her and stroked the material, using that excuse as cover to touch. She knew he liked it in the way his whole face lit up, the slight tremor in his fingers as he traced the back, brushing fingertips along her spine.

“John.” He stood behind her, hands on her waist, pressing soft kisses to the bared skin. “This dress…”

“This is it. This will come with me to Dublin.”

“Oh please, let me have this for you?”

“Absolutely!” She leaned her head back and smiled, “Too bad you can’t be the one to get me out of it tomorrow night. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Wear this, my love, and only this.” He murmured, “No one will be any the wiser, will they?”

“None of their business, is it? I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I damn well please.” She smiled, knowing damn well that he would find an excuse for her to wear this dress again just so he could get her out of it. He chuckled and twirled her.

“Let me take you home, my love, just for tonight. Tomorrow, I have to give you up for a good cause, but a terribly boring one.”

“Jim Moriarty is a sentimental fool.” She teased, leaning her head back, “My sentimental fool. God, I’m going to miss you.” She really was, and that was the saddest part of the whole mess. Normally when she travelled, she didn’t miss anyone because she didn’t have anyone to miss. But now that Jim was part of her life, she kind of hated being gone for too long. Traveling for jobs was one thing, but this was different.

 

Jim shooed her back into the changing-stall and she skinned out of the dress. Feeling mischievous, she also removed and stowed her undergarments, which were carefully tucked into the pockets of her trousers. One benefit of wearing fatigues was the spacious pockets, and she put them to very good use. Emerging from the changing-stall, she gave the dress to Jim, who just smiled and kissed her long. He liked doing that sometimes, she noticed. Not that she minded or anything. Seb would just roll his eyes, but he never said anything. John needed shoes, as well, and settled on a comfortable pair of silver cross strap heeled sandals with a 3.5-inch heel. They were comfortable, just a bit flashy, and she didn’t mind the extra bit of height. With their last-minute errands run, it was time to go home and prepare for tomorrow. She repacked her luggage to account for the latest purchases and packed her gown with her dress-uniforms.

 

-&- 

 

John usually slept alone the night before a trip, but she didn’t feel like adhering to that tradition just this once. Setting her bags just inside the door of her room, she went out to the mezzanine and looked over the rail. She couldn’t see him but she could hear him, and raised an eyebrow. Burning the late-night oil, was he? Not if she had anything to say about that. Humming a few bars of “The British Grenadiers” under her breath, she trotted down the stairs to the work-rooms and found him in the “control centre”, buried in a report from somewhere in the world. Most of the minions and goons knew that when she entered the work-rooms, it was serious. Especially if she didn’t call for him first. She leaned against the door-frame, arms across her chest, feet crossed at the ankle, watching him. He had no idea she was there, none at all. Seb sure as hell did, his eyes went wide when he caught sight of her, and a couple of minions, too. He frowned, knowing she didn’t come in here just for kicks, and she nodded to Jim, who had his back to her at the moment. John snickered when he simply took the tablet from Jim and pointed over his shoulder to John when he fussed about it. She smirked and pushed away from the door, closing the distance from the door to her clueless boyfriend in a few strides. All it took was a quick tug on his collar and she turned on her heel. He was right behind her a second later, making his excuses to the staff, who were smart enough to know exactly what was going on and keep their mouths shut about it. Never mind that things had been much easier since John had moved in, she was just as capable of flaying those who tripped up. And they all knew it, too. 

 

Going back upstairs, she didn’t care a whit what the staff might or might not think. Jim certainly didn’t complain when she kicked the door of the master suite shut behind them, setting the lock in a quick, practised motion. The muffled sound he made when she pushed him against the door was perfect, she loved taking him by surprise. Holding him in place with a carefully-placed knee between his thighs, she got to work on the buttons of his jacket and shirt, artfully and carefully loosening the silk tie until she could pull it free of the collar. She held onto that, wrapping it around her wrist for safekeeping, and went back to what she’d been doing. Jim, meanwhile, had gotten his head back on straight a bit and was busy with the buttons on her jacket. All she wore beneath was a vest, and he was about to find out about that little bit of sneakiness in a moment. Tugging on the belt-loops of his trousers, she steered him towards the bed, rarely losing contact with him. Clothes were shed and discarded, John played a dirty trick and made use of the tie to bind his hands up behind his back, pushing him back until he was forced to sit. She was still half-dressed, he…was not.

“Cheat!” he hissed, tugging against the loose bonds, “You play a dirty game, madam.”

“Did I ever say I played by the rules?” She grinned at him, standing before him in vest, trousers, and boots. “I leave tomorrow, and with any ill luck, I won’t see you for a week. That simply will not do. Tonight is for my sake and yours.”

“You have a plan, then?”

“Simple one, really. I never properly showed you how I got my nickname, did I?” She raised an eyebrow, tugging on the hem of her vest. “Leave your hands right where they are, or so help us both I will stop.” The sight of Jim Moriarty, rogue mastermind and overlord of London’s criminal class, stark naked and bound by the hands, at her mercy, was a sight to behold. She stepped closer to him and beckoned with one hand.

 

“Sit at the edge of the mattress. I want you to pay very close attention to what I do and how I do it.” She said calmly as she dropped to one knee and carefully untied and removed first one boot and then the other, tossing them aside for later. Settling into a comfortable kneel, she was right between his knees and had a chance to study and appreciate his very lovely cock. She was quite familiar with it, but she always loved a chance to give it the kind of adoration it deserved.

 

She pressed a kiss to the inside of his left knee, marking an old scar there from some forgotten childhood incident, and proceeded to kiss, nuzzle, and caress her way up to her goal. She came upon one scar, white with age, in a very concerning place and paused to regard it carefully. John knew the human body inside and out and praised whatever benevolent deity had been looking after Jim Moriarty the day he’d been the victim of an assault that had resulted in a wound three centimetres to the left of his femoral artery. It was a broad scar, the wound had been significant. Possibility of a nicked artery, he was fortunate he hadn’t bled to death. Had Seb been with him, there to provide necessary field first-aid until proper help could be found? Or had he been with someone else less knowledgeable? She kissed the scar, reminded herself to ask for the story later, and kept moving.

 

His hand was in her hair, not tight, just resting there, holding on, carefully-trimmed fingernails scratching pleasantly against her scalp if she moved just so. He’d  gotten one hand free, then. She threw him a reprimanding look, he just gave her a sweet, “sorry I didn’t listen, please forgive me” smile. She shook her head and chuckled. Finally, she reached the object of her mission and she smiled, tongue darting out to wet her lips and she leaned in to nuzzle the crease of hip and thigh, before moving further along and finding that sweet-spot behind his perineum. Oh, the noise he made when she kissed right there was beautiful. John chuckled and tasted every glorious inch, cataloguing taste, texture, and size. Christ, she hadn’t done this in an age! It wasn’t that oral sex was her favourite thing, but she loved foreplay for it and exploring her partner’s most intimate of intimates like this. And she happened to be rather good at it, so that didn’t hurt at all either. Without warning him, she got his legs over her shoulders and tipped him onto his back. The startled yelp was quickly muffled and if she hadn’t been busy with something far more interesting than his indignation, she would have laughed at him. As it was, she settled for licking a broad stripe from the quivering pucker of his very lovely arse to the tip of his equally lovely, equally twitchy member. Lovely, lovely, absolutely fantastic. Oh, the noises were downright scandalous! She pulled off long enough to look up at his face and raised an eyebrow.

“Quiet, sweetheart.” She murmured, nuzzling his thigh, “Don’t want all of London to hear, do we?”

“Bollocks all of London! What are you doing?”

“Something I was rather good at but didn’t do very often.” She pressed a kiss to the flushed tip, “Please don’t ask me to stop.”

“Please don’t stop!” He huffed.

“Then be quiet. If I have to, I will gag you.” She shoved him back on the mattress and climbed up onto the bed, crowding over him, “You lovely, ruined thing. My fault?”

“Completely!”

“I’d apologise, but that would be lying.” She leaned down and kissed him, reaching for the tie that had been discarded at some point. Jim whined, whimpered even, as she carefully gagged him with the tie, and shimmied back down his body, laying soft kisses and love-bites along the way. She got back to her original goal and took just the head into her mouth, suckling on it for a bit. He thrashed and whined, and she rolled her eyes as she pinned his legs in place over her shoulders.

“Don’t kick me.” She warned before going down on him and deep-throating him. If he hadn’t been gagged, neighbours would have heard him scream. She chuckled and set to work seeing how far she could push. This was taking apart a man one piece at a time and laying his soul bare to the world. Pity it had taken her this long to get around to doing it with Jim. A familiar, long-missed saltiness flooded over her tongue and she carefully pulled back, pushing up on her elbows as his left leg slipped from her shoulder.

“You alright, love?” She asked of her wrecked, sweaty lover. He nodded frantically, chest heaving. She smiled and leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. “How do you want me to finish you off, then, Boss?” He groaned, a long, deep, pained sound and she rubbed his chest. Using her teeth, she loosened the knot on the tie and it slipped free.

“Finish me off indeed! You sly little minx!” He gasped, “Have mercy, woman!”

“Then I’ll do this properly.” She dropped a quick peck on his lips and went back down, “Please don’t kick me.”

“Have you been kicked before?”

“Twice. Those partners didn’t last very long.” She smacked her lips, “Lovely, lovely man. All mine for taking.”

“Jesus Fucking Christ.” He breathed, fingers tight in her hair as she went right back to business. It sounded like he was reciting the names of every saint ever recorded, in alphabetical order. John chuckled, causing him to gasp and his hips to stutter. She had him secure, she was in no danger of being kicked or choked, and hummed as she gave two carefully inserted fingers a precise twist.

“John!” He gasped, “John!” Something muffled his hoarse yell as his climax thundered through him like a tidal wave and she was pleased to take every last drop.

 

As soon as he began to soften, she licked him clean and hopped from the bed. Once in the loo, she brushed her teeth and rinsed with mouthwash before fetching up a couple of warm, damp flannels to clean up. Returning to the bed, she was careful with her clean-up and tossed aside the soiled flannels. She rubbed along twitching muscles, soothing out the last bits of that endorphin rush, paying special attention to his knees and thighs. She wiped him down again with a cool cloth, laying a clean, damp folded flannel over his face, tracking his come-down with two fingers pressed to his wrist. She pulled the covers up to provide a bit of warmth, knowing it wasn’t unusual for a partner to feel chill after something like that. And she lay nearby him but only with the point of contact against his wrist, she had encountered one or two who were touch-averse after that much excitement. After a while, he tugged against her grip and she raised her head.

“Finally back with the living souls?” She watched him. He pushed the cloth on his face up enough to look at her and frowned.

“What are you doing over there?”

“I’ve been pushed away very forcefully by former partners who didn’t want to be touched. One didn’t want me anywhere near him, I waited in the sitting-room for him to come down enough to tell me if he wanted me to stay or not.”

“From that?”

“No, I never did that to him. He was in control of the relationship.” She sighed and rolled over so she was closer, putting her head down on his chest to listen to his heartbeat. That was a tame way of putting things. When she had dated Victor Trevor during med school, he had been in law school, he had controlled more than just their relationship. When she had been called to service in her fourth year, she had almost wept, because that meant she got away from Trevor. She had the sneaking suspicion Sherlock had been involved with Trevor at one point, and felt very sorry that they had both been ensnared by the charming, domineering law-student. She wasn’t sure what had ever become of him and was in absolutely no hurry to find out. And wondered, just for a moment, why being in a relationship with someone like Jim Moriarty hadn’t sent her running for the hills.

[Because James Richard Moriarty is nothing like Victor Trevor. They couldn’t be any more different.] She thought dimly, [Jim cares about you, he loves you, he wants your happiness and your loyalty. Trevor wanted to own you, he controlled who you were friends with, when you went somewhere, where you went, how long you were gone, what you did with your free time. The Army saved you from that.]

“Jack?” Jim’s voice was soft in her ear, his hand gentle on her hair. “Where’d you go just now, dear? You left me.”

“Nowhere I’d care to revisit.” She leaned her head back, “I was just thinking I got damn lucky.”

“With me?”

“With you, with the Army. You know I was called to service halfway through my fourth year of medical school.”

“Yes, I know. Your instructors were rather sorry to see you go, you were a promising student.”

“On the days I had the energy to show up for class.” She wondered if Jim knew about Trevor, he seemed to know everything else about her.

“The…energy to show up for class?” This got his attention. He frowned. “John, the only time you were recorded to have missed class-time was in secondary school and a bit of primary. That was because of your bastard father who thought…”

“Who thought it was perfectly acceptable to beat me in a drunken rage. He threw me down a set of stairs once.”

“Yes, I know that.”

“If you look at my university records more closely, you’ll see there were times I missed classes.” She shook her head, “I thought if I escaped my father, I wouldn’t see that ever again. I told myself I was smarter than that.”

“Who was he?”

“His name was Victor Trevor. He was older by a few years, tall, handsome, brilliant.” She closed her eyes, “He was clever, manipulative. Knew how to get what he wanted with a few sweet words and a look.”

“Sounds like someone else we know.”

“Oh, no, he was so much worse than Sherlock. Sherlock’s arrogant and insensitive, Trevor was a legitimate sociopath. I would even say a psychopath.”

“Then what does that make me?”           

“You might be a psychopath, but you have manners, charm, and there are a few people you care about. You’re not a completely heartless bastard.” She took his hand, “The Army saved me from Trevor.”

“John.”

“Go find those records, do your reading.” She nuzzled under his chin, “I don’t know where he is and I don’t particularly care. He was a fucking bastard, I hated him for having so much control over me.” 

“Don’t think about him, love. I’ll keep you safe and happy, and if I ever hurt you, you can do whatever you damn well please.” Jim rubbed her shoulder, “Sleep now, you have a very long day ahead tomorrow.”

“Sleep if I can.” John sighed and pushed up for a kiss before settling. He chuckled and kissed her hair before sliding from the bed. She knew he would come back and kept one hand on his warm pillow. She was aware of him returning and smiled, scooting closer as he took his place back. She fell asleep listening to his heartbeat and was glad to have no dreams of any manner that night. And after the day she’d had, that was a blessing.


 

Chapter Text


With her ridiculous schedule, John was up at 3am and took a quick shower before going downstairs. Seb met her in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and a bagel. For the flight, she wore a pair of her favourite denims and desert boots with a heather grey v-neck jumper with a peplum hem and contrasting bands of ribbing. Collecting her small luggage, she headed for the main atrium. Seb disappeared to get the car and as he put her things in the boot, Jim appeared behind her, holding the door for her with a smile.

“Coming along, then?”

“Just to the airport.” He promised, getting in behind her. She rolled her eyes and stifled a yawn. It was too fucking early for this madness. The drive from Riverside Tower to London City Airport took forty-five minutes with traffic, what little there was, and while Seb took care of her small luggage, Jim kissed her goodbye.

“It’s too bad you can’t come with me, it would be so much more fun if you were there.”

“I doubt you’ll be terribly bored, love. Besides, I can always call you.”

“I guess that’s true.” She sighed, “I don’t like it. Take care of yourself while I’m gone, yeah?”

“Oh, of course I will!” He beamed, “Now give us a kiss and get on your way.”

“Brat.” She rolled her eyes and stretched up on tip-toe for a proper kiss. Shouldering her garment bag, she headed for the terminal, waving over her shoulder. Getting through ticketing took no time, and she breezed through security.

 

Her flight boarded on time, and she was in the air and heading for Dublin right on schedule. John napped for most of the flight, and as soon as she was wheels-down in Dublin, she called Jim. He was glad to hear she’d made it safe and wished her luck. She was definitely going to need it. John found a shuttle going to her hotel and joined a cluster of sleepy, jet-lagged businessmen and doctors. They were all ultimately going to the same place. When they got to the hotel, John checked in, got her room key, and double-checked the itinerary she had gotten in an email at the start of the week. The breakfast meet-and-greet was at eight, it was 7:05 now. That gave her enough time for a nap before she had to be anywhere. She debated on what to wear to the meet-and-greet, she had choices, and decided to put it to a reliable jury.

 

Text to Jim M., SH, and Lestrade: (sent 7:10am)

Alright, boys. Your pick. Breakfast meeting in 45. Majority wins vote.

 

When she had the text away, including a picture apiece of the choices available, John kicked off her boots and stripped to vest and pants. Her phone pinged three times in succession, each of the boys had responded. She glanced at the responses and chuckled. She had suspected her dress-uniforms would win the day, which is why she’d packed three of them, and all three had voted for a uniform.

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 7:15am)

How formal is this meet-and-greet? – SH

I think a Temperate Parade Dress uniform is acceptable. – SH

 

Text to SH: (sent 7:16am)

Business-casual is what the schedule says.

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 7:15am)

What about your No 5 Desert Combat fatigues? – Lestrade

Would that suit? Did you pack any of them? – Lestrade

 

John looked at her suitcase, and raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t even thought of that. But trust Seb and Jim to look out for her. She went to the suitcase and zipped it open. Sure enough, there were several sets  of clean, crisp fatigues for her to wear in the outside chance she didn’t feel like getting all properly tarted up. Something like the breakfast meet-and-greet was perfect for the more-casual fatigues, and she was definitely most comfortable in them. Grinning, she sent back a short text to the boys.

 

Text to Jim M., SH, and Lestrade (sent 7:20am)

Lestrade wins, boys. Pack up and go home. – JWatson

And whichever clever bastard at Riverside Tower thought it was a good idea to pack my fatigues, I’d love to kiss him. – JWatson

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 7:21am)

Oh, I had forgotten those! Yes, wear your fatigues! You look so sharp in them! – SH

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 7:21am)

That would be Seb. He suspected you might like that. Shall I pass along your thanks? – Jim M.

 

Before she could send a response, her phone rang. She answered it right away.

“Yes! Hand him the phone!”

“Yes, Captain?” He must have answered, given the speed with which she heard his voice.

“Moran, you clever fucker. What gave you the idea that packing for me was even remotely a good idea? Or a safe one?” She pulled out one of the uniforms in question and shook it out, travel had not wrinkled it badly, “You know me well.”

“Of course I do, Captain. So, you’re wearing your armour to this little shindig of yours?”

“For the breakfast do, at any rate.” John dug through her suitcase, “Seb?”

“Yes’m?”

“Did you pack my…ah. Yes! There it is! Damn it, Seb!” She had discovered the hidden compartment under the false-bottom, which, to this day had never been found by anyone. Behind the cover, she found her SIG, a conceal-carry holster, three magazines, and a brand-new box of ammo. There was also a pair of knives. She loaded the primary magazine and a spare, put them both in their proper slots, tucked one of the knives into her boot and the other into a concealed sheath. With her small array of armaments situated, she picked up the trousers and gave them a shake.

“Seb, if I didn’t know you so well, I would be insulted. But I do know you so well, and you know me better than anyone else in this miserable little world. Thank you.”

“Better to be prepared, yeah?”

“Absolutely. Hand the phone back to Jim, would you please?”

“Pleased to. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Yeah, yeah, right.” She rolled her eyes and pulled on the trousers, buttoning them up with an efficiency that she had never quite lost.

“Just play nicely with the other children, Captain Watson. No picking fights.” There was Jim. She snickered and pulled on a clean vest, tucking it into her trousers before she started buttoning up her jacket.

“Yeah, but what if the others kids pick a fight?”

“Then kick the other kids’ butts. My mother would be happy to tell you that a lady does not start fights.”

“But she can sure hell finish one!” John laughed, “God, I love your mother.”

“The feeling is completely mutual, my love. I promise. She knew you were something special long before she met you.”

“She reads the blog, doesn’t she?”

“Of course!”

“Figured.” She sighed and finished getting dressed, looking at her reflection in the mirror, “Wow.”

“How do you look?”

“I’ll take a picture and send it to you. I’m not quite sure what these people were expecting when they invited me, and I’d love to know who gave them my name, but if they were expecting Doctor Watson, they’re going to be a bit surprised.”

“Because you’re giving them Captain Watson. Of course.” She could hear his smug little smile, he always seemed to enjoy watching her surprise people who were expecting one thing and got something else. “People seem to underestimate you at a distressing rate, don’t they, love?”

“You can say that again!” She rolled her eyes, “Alright, well, I’ve gotta report in thirty, so I’ll finish getting ready and talk to you later.”

“Have a good time, my dear. I do miss you.”

“I miss you, too. I’ve only been gone for two and a half hours, and I miss you. This is going to be a miserable week, isn’t it?”

“You have weathered worse than a week-long medical conference, lovely.”

“Wish me luck.”

“I always do.” He chuckled, promised to call again if she didn’t call him first, and hung up. John finished getting dressed and carefully concealed her weapons. As a rule, she never, ever went anywhere without at least a knife; the only time she remained unarmed was in transit on a plane or on a train.

Once she was ready, or at least as ready as she would ever be, John pocketed her phone, wallet, and room-key and made sure the “Privacy Please” hangar was visible on the door. She had her work-bag over one shoulder since it was unlikely she would have any time to come back to the room to get her laptop.

 

-&-

 

When she got to the registration tables, she was relieved to note that she was not the only person in the pre-function area in some kind of uniform. She had done her research on the conference and knew what they did here, what kind of topics were discussed, but that didn’t preclude such a palpable military presence. She could have sworn she saw at least three people she knew personally, including at least one of her former commanding officers. Which was both very odd and a relief. Shrugging, deciding she would at least hunt them down later to sit with them for breakfast, she approached the buzzing tables. 

“Good morning, ma’am!” One of the conference staff gave her a smile far too cheerful for the hour, “Are you here for the conference?”

“Yeah. Name’s Watson?” She looked around, “Not the only one of my kind, looks like.”

“Only one of your…oh!” The woman trailed off as John motioned to her uniform, “No! We have a number of veterans among the guests for the conference. You’ll be in very good company!”

“That’s fine.” She took the packet handed to her and pulled out the printed copy of the itinerary, looking for her name on the list of guest speakers, “Let’s see, when am I…oh, good. Sunday, right after…lunch. Perfect.”

“Are you a speaker, ma’am?”

“Yep.” She took her badge and slung it around her neck, “Here’s to hoping. Let’s see, the Sullivan Room is…that way. Perfect. Thanks.” She smiled at the staffers and put the packet in her work-bag as she headed in the direction of the conference room. She recognized Adam Ferguson from clear across the room, kind of hard to mistake that red hair, and snuck up behind him. John couldn’t sneak up on any of her guys, she’d never been able to, but she couldn’t help a mean giggle when she made Ferguson jump as she poked him in the ribs.

“Lookin’ sharp, Gunny.” She purred, fingers tight on the material of his jacket. “Been a couple years since that convoy in Kabul, hasn’t it?”

“Jesus shit! John Watson!” He spun on his heel, eyes wide, “You smug little shit, where the fuck have you been sneaking around, then?”

“Heya, Gunny.”

“Mother of Christ, it’s good to see you again, lass! You look good!” The tall Irishman lifted John off her feet for a minute, “Where are you living these days, then? Haven’t heard from you since…Christ, last year, was it?”

“Been in London, Gunny.”

“Livin’ with someone, then? Can’t afford that place on your own, can you?”

“Nah. I’ve got arrangements.” She chuckled, “Tell me you’ve heard of Sherlock Holmes? God knows one of you idiots reads my blog.”

“Ooh!” Ferguson’s eyes sparkled, “I thought you were still with him! Thought you were! Doin’ the noble work of the coppers, yeah? Smart girl, you are!”

“And a couple of not-so-noble jobs on the side when I’m bored.” She leaned up and kissed Ferguson on the cheek, “Where are you then, Gunny?”

“Oh, slumming in Whitechapel.”

“By yourself?”

“Nah.” He beamed, slinging an arm around her shoulders, “Give me a mo, love!” Ferguson closed a hand around the strap of her work-bag, as if afraid she was either going to wander off on him or vanish in a puff of smoke. Neither of which was bound to happen this morning, or anytime soon. He apparently spotted whoever it was he was looking for in the pre-function crowd, which had grown a little bit, and whistled shrilly. It was a field-call from Afghanistan, she would have remembered that anywhere. She laughed as the man in question, a rather handsome specimen in matching fatigues, appeared between a cluster of suited physicians.

“Oi! Jenkins!” She waved and watched the man’s eyes light up. “Hey!”

“Watson!” He shoved between a couple of attendees, completely ignoring the dirty looks, “That you, Hedgie?”

“In the breathing flesh, my wayward son! Come ‘ere, let me…Christ, you look fabulous!” She hugged Rodney Jenkins hard enough he squeaked and then smacked both of the boys for dropping out of contact like that for so long. They both shame-facedly apologised, and ragged on her for the same crime. But she had been legitimately busy lately and hadn’t even had a clue how to reach out to any of her guys. A chime sounded and they looked at each other.

“That’ll be the signal, then. You comin’, Captain?”

“Well, somebody’s gotta look after you two dorks. I don’t trust you to behave yourselves.” She rolled her eyes, “Get moving.”

“Yes’m.” Jenkins and Ferguson offered passable salutes and they headed for the conference room. They were assigned tables, she had gotten lucky to sit with the lads, and they had a handful of civilians to play nice with. John was starving, and the instant their table was released to the buffet-lines after a “short” welcome spiel by the Master of Ceremonies that seemed to drag on longer than necessary, she was at the front of the line.

“Hungry, are we?” One of the civilians in line behind her mused with a not-unkind chuckle.

“Didn’t get a chance to eat this morning before I left London.” She studied her options. Jim would want to make sure she ate well while she was away from home, and the food here was appealing enough to a tired full-time A&E surgeon who split her spare time between solving crimes for The Met and working for a private security firm owned by her boyfriend running hits and protection detail for different clients. Making her choices, she headed back to her table and sat down again. She caught Ferguson putting something in his coffee and narrowed her eyes.

“That’d better not be what I think it is, Ferguson.” She said calmly. Ferguson just grinned at her and put a bit of whatever it was in her coffee.

“Never too early for a good Irish Coffee done right, Captain!”

“Ooh!” she snatched the flask from him and took a quick sniff before she took a sip. “Oh, that’s the good stuff, Gunny! You don’t waste that on bad coffee!”

“Sure does make bad coffee taste heavenly, though, don’t it?” Ferguson discreetly pocketed his flask and she stirred her spiked coffee.

“Yeah, it does. Never thought about putting Jameson in coffee. Usually put the gut-rot in coffee to cover the taste because some moron burned the pot.” She smacked her lips appreciatively, “Good stuff that, get your eyes open for damn sure.”

“That’s the idea, ain’t it?” Ferguson wiggled his eyebrows. She kicked him under the table for the cheek. Breakfast was quiet until everyone had passed through the line and gotten something to eat. An American doctor seated at their table could barely keep his eyes open, having flown in that morning from Chicago and gotten in at roughly the same time John had flown out from London.  He’d slept a bit, but he was hurting. Feeling kind of sorry for him, John quietly stole Mark Spencer’s coffee-cup and Ferguson added a bit of Jameson. She added more coffee and some creamer and stirred it well before pushing the mug into Spencer’s hands. He hadn’t even noticed she’d taken it from him, he was that tired. She smiled sweetly and nodded.

“Take a sip of that, Doctor Spencer, see if it’ll get your eyes open proper.”

“What’s it?” He peered at the cup. “What’d you do to my coffee, Doctor Watson? Or…uh, Captain?”

“I’ll answer to either. It’s Doctor now, more than Captain.” She leaned towards him, “That’s got a little something special, you can thank my idiot friend Doctor Ferguson for that.” Seemingly content that she wasn’t going to put anything untoward in a cup of coffee, not that she hadn’t in the past, Spencer took a careful sip. It took a minute for the Jameson to hit him, and when it did, he was definitely more awake.

“Jesus! What was that?”

“Irish Coffee done our way, son.” She chuckled, “Welcome to Dublin!”

“Jesus, I guess so! Shit, that’s good!” The other attendees at their table just chuckled. In a place like Dublin, it was almost expected that someone in this crowd of misguided do-gooders would have a flask or two stashed. Especially the locals, the likes of John, Ferguson, and Jenkins. When the Master of Ceremonies got the business bit of things underway, John’s table was one of only a few who didn’t really pay attention. They knew how this kind of thing worked and they weren’t really interested in the “Thanks for being here, we’re so glad you could make time in your very busy schedules to travel halfway across the civilized world, some of you did anyway. Now, sit down and be quiet and listen, we’re talking to you.” spiel that was part of any breakfast meet-and-greet. John had deduced every useful thing about her seven unknown table-mates and was glad to share her “tame” deductions with her table-mates when one of them figured out that she was, in fact, that John Watson.

“Ooh, you’ve got some international fans there, Captain!” Ferguson whistled, “Nice work!”

“It’s a blog, Ferguson, shut up.” She rolled her eyes, “So, who’s up first, then? And I’m nice about it, Holmes wouldn’t be.”

“Do Brockton first! Do him first!” Someone else at the table crowed. John eyed up her potential target and raised an eyebrow.

“Anything off the table for sharing, Doctor Brockton?”

“Mm.” Silas Brockton, a senior partner with a neurology speciality clinic in Moscow and several articles published in well-known journals, had a few secrets she was willing to keep mum for him. He narrowed his eyes and then shrugged.

“Nope! This isn’t quite a safe space, but I trust these people to be adults about things.”

“Oh, you would be shocked how often we’re like belligerent children.” She huffed, “I’ve seen it all.”

“Bet you have, working with The Met like you do!” Someone else grinned, “Do you really work for them?”

“I absolutely do.” She grinned, “My story comes later. And keep it down, or we’ll become the “naughty table”.”

“Who cares if we do?” Spencer chuckled into his coffee, now far more awake and in a rather good mood about things. Funny what a good cup of Irish Coffee could do for a man’s soul. John looked around to make sure they hadn’t drawn any undue attention to themselves and started in on Silas Brockton: Senior Partner with the well-known Greater Moscow Center for Neurological Research, published in six major medical journals with articles on several subjects related to neurology, psychology, and the effects of lifestyle on mental health. He specialized in psychosomatic medicine, in fact, and had spent the last few years doing intense research on PTSD and how it affected different people in different ways. Everything from rape victims to car-accident survivors to soldiers returning from war. John, it turned out, was his ideal subject and when he found out she was speaking on Sunday, he was more than happy to sit in on her lecture.

 

Brockton was the eldest of six children, born to an Eastern Orthodox Jewish mother and a Roman Catholic father (made family dinners around the holidays very interesting), unmarried, no current plans to marry, but not single. And this is where she was hesitant to lay out his life. She looked at Brockton, unwilling to out him if he wasn’t already “out”.

“Are you sure, Doctor Brockton?”

“If it’s not obvious to half the people at this conference, my dear, it will be by tonight. I’m not shy aboutit, at all.”

“Making you a better person than ninety percent of the people I know.” She took a sip of coffee and looked around the table. On first glance, and further study, it didn’t seem that anyone at their specific table was blatantly homophobic, but there was a very quick way to settle the score properly.

“Does anyone at this table, at least, have issues with non-heterosexual orientations?”

“That’s a direct question for you.”

“An honest question. Answers?” She took a bite of toast. No one seemed to care really, and John finished up on Brockton. He was out-of-the-closet homosexual, he was pansexual and proud of it. John hadn’t ever met a pansexual before, she knew plenty of bisexuals and regular homosexuals, gays, lesbians, and everything in between. She knew an Ace, for God’s sake! Bless Greg Lestrade for putting up with Sherlock Holmes, son, Jesus Christ. No one really cared about outing Brockton, he was comfortable with it, and they just didn’t see the point in getting ruffled. John got two more of her table-mates done before they broke up, including sleepy Doctor Spencer. It was a fun, low-key start to what promised to be a very long, potentially boring week.


 

Chapter Text


After the breakfast meeting, which John had to admit had gone well, she remained busy with other meetings throughout the day; break-away groups, lectures, more meet-and-greets, but she always seemed to travel in the same pack, the same group of people. She was very happy to see Ferguson and the rest of her guys, there were at least fifteen of them present. And they swore, up and down, that one of her former commanding officers was there. She couldn’t think of why, or who it might be, or come up with anything concrete or useful. But they said she was there, and if John happened to see her, it would be very good for both of them. But she enjoyed her table-mates, she enjoyed her discussion groups, and she spent hours, literally hours talking to Doctor Brockton. He asked, politely of course, if he would be allowed to maintain contact with her beyond the conference, she was his ideal subject. John, of course, said yes, she was actually rather fond of Doctor Brockton.

Then around noon, between meetings, she ran into someone else she knew. She was with Brockton and Ferguson when someone behind them yelled her name across a crowd of people maybe fifteen strong.

“Watson! Hey, Watson!” Puzzled, John turned.

“Yeah? Who’s asking?”

“John!” A petite, feisty auburn-haired woman with a young, smiling face. burst out of the crowd and charged at John full-speed. “John, you're here! What!” John had almost no time to react.

“Wait a minute. What? Clara!” Sure enough, it was her sister-in-law. “Clara! What! Not to sound like an idiot, but what are you doing here?”

“Same thing should be asked of you!” Clara Oswin poked at her, “What in the name of God are you doing at a neurology conference? How did I not know you were on the list of attendees or guests?”

“Because I think there was a last minute addition? Jesus, Clara!” John hugged her sister-in-law, “God, you look great!” Ferguson coughed politely, and John remembered that she was, in fact, going somewhere.

“Sorry, manners! Clara Oswin, let me introduce you to a couple of my friends.” John turned to the gents, “This is Adam Ferguson, he and I served together. We kept each other straight in the Army. And this is Silas Brockton, he’s a recent acquaintance.”

“Nice to meet you both, gentlemen!” Clara was her usual charming self, “So, how did you meet? How did this happen?”

“Somebody gave my name to the right people, and here I am. I don’t know.” She shrugged and checked her watch, “Why don’t you come with us?”

“Are you breaking for lunch then?” Clara just grinned as she slid her arm into John’s.

“Getting ready to.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all!” John shook her head quickly. Ferguson and Brockton were more than happy to have Clara join them for lunch. Jenkins and Spencer were already camped out at a table, joined by other attendees from different tables. Lunch was generally a mixer of sorts, a chance to mingle and meet people. And it was one of the few times blocked out that did not have a lecture or some kind of speaker involved. John introduced everyone to Clara, Clara charmed everyone, and John kept an eye out for anyone she might have missed that morning.

“So, what is it you do in London, Doctor Watson?” Brockton asked during a lull in conversation at their table. John looked up from her notes taken during an earlier lecture.

“Hmm?”

“I was wondering, for the sake of curiosity, what it is you do to keep yourself occupied and employed in a city the size of London. Do you practice? Do you do research? What is it you do?”

“Oh! Well, um.” John closed her notebook and looked around the table. “I have the blog, of course. But that’s a record, it’s…not really a job.”

“Have you considered publishing? You’ve a gift for writing, certainly.”

“Mm. Maybe someday.” She smiled, twirling her biro between her fingers, “I do a bit of everything, really. At the moment, I’m a lead surgeon at The Royal London Hospital in their A&E Department. But I also work a case-by-case basis for The Metropolitan Police Service in their Homicide Division as a consultant and informant.”

“You get paid for that, right?”

“I do. Yes.” She grinned, “But in the few spare hours I have, I also work for a private security firm based out of London. I travel when and where they need me to go.”

“Oh, you’re a busy woman, aren’t you?” One of their table-mates, a cheerful senior researcher from Malaysia with four grown children and twelve grandchildren on his second marriage after his first wife died of breast-cancer, chuckled.

“Bet you ten quid she’s too busy for a decent love-life,” Clara muttered to Ferguson, who snorted. John raised an eyebrow and took a sip of her iced tea.

“Who says I’m too busy for a decent love-life, Doctor Oswin?”

“Damn, she’s got good ears.”

“Best in the squad, back in the day,” Jenkins whispered.

“So, go on then!” Clara raised both eyebrows at her in challenge, “Go ahead and prove me embarrassingly wrong!”

“I’d watch where you throw stones in the water, Doctor Oswin.” John said calmly, “You’re not quite the one to point fingers, are you?”

“Oh, don’t you dare!” Clara’s eyes darkened, “Don’t you bring that up!”

“How is my sister?”

“She’s fine, ta." Clara was nearly spitting, “Would love to talk to you sometime if you’ve got a minute.”

“Give me her number and I’ll call her when I get back to London.” John flashed Clara a slightly-hostile smile, knowing damn well there were two places Harry could be at this moment. Taking her phone from her pocket, she swiped into her photo albums and pulled up some pictures she had of her and Jim together. She passed it over to Clara. “That’s my boyfriend. We’ve been dating for…six months and a week exactly.”

“Ooh. He’s handsome!” Clara’s eyes widened, “He’s a looker, Jack, where’d you meet ‘im?”

“At Bart’s. We were on a case and he happened to be there at the same time. He worked in their IT department at the time. We met in March and started dating mid-April, about a month after we first met. It was sort of a favour I did him that we never put an end to.”

“Damn, he’s good-looking. What’s he do?”

“He’s a bit of an entrepreneur, a Renaissance Man. He dabbles in a bit of everything, politics, cyber-tech, private security. The like.” She folded her hands under her chin, “It was damn good luck I ran into him, really.”

“Oh?”

“I was in a pretty bad place, kind of got kicked out of Baker Street, to be honest. He found me down in…Christ, Brixton? Yeah, down in Brixton. Probably noon on a nice day. Cold day, but a nice one. Could have been raining and it wouldn’t have mattered. The rest is very safely history.”

“Jesus Christ, Jack! When did you go back to Baker Street? You obviously still live there?”

“For the moment, I do. Holmes and I have long since made our peace with each other and he’s given his blessing, as unlikely as it seems, to my relationship.”

“Thank Christ he got his head on right for that at least.” Clara muttered, “You sure picked a cute one, though. Smart?”

“Oh, very smart. Smarter than Holmes.” She grinned, “Knows it, too, both of ‘em do.”

“What’s his name?” Brockton studied a picture of John and Jim taken by a very sly member of the paparazzi.

“That’s Jim.” She couldn’t help a silly grin, “I’ve talked about him on my blog before.”

“Jim? He looks…like a James, almost? Jim is a bit…boring for him.”

“He doesn’t like it when people call him James, I think only his mother gets away with that.” She remembered the one time she had yelled at him, for some reason she couldn’t clearly recall at the moment, scaring every minion and goon in the penthouse in the process, and used Jim’s full name.

“Have you ever used his full name?”

“Just once in the six months we’ve been dating. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but that was the day he learned that if he wanted me to do something, he needed to be completely honest with me. Not that he’s ever lied to me or kept intel from me, but…well, when he nearly got himself killed for the third time in as many weeks, I had a few words for him.”

“What’s his name, then?”

“Moriarty. Jim Moriarty. If you haven’t heard of him, go do your own research, I can’t begin to do him proper justice.” A couple of people around the table went very still and Clara almost choked. They knew exactly who Jim was, ta, and more importantly, who he was to Baker Street and The Met.

“Oh my god.” Clara looked at her, “You’re dating Jim Moriarty!”

“I absolutely am.”

“Jesus, you’re brave! Stupid, and brave!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Morarity’s the same fellow who caused a bit of trouble up on Baker Street back in March. Don’t ask how I ended up dating him, because I couldn’t say anything that would make sense.”

“Jesus, Jack, that’s…gutsy of you.”

“With her background, she’s too valuable.” Ferguson muttered, “I know what he picked you up for, love. You be careful.”

“Doctor Watson?” Brockton swiped through the pictures, eyes narrow but not judging, “Are you happy with this man?”

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been outside of my service to the Army, sir.” She kicked Clara under the table when she made a face, “The work I do may not be “honest” work, but it’s hard work and it’s work I happen to be very good at.”

“You’re working with Moran, then?” Jenkins tilted his head.

“Yep. He sends his love.”

“I bet he does. Keeping that idiot out of trouble, he’d better be getting paid for it.”

“My idiot, thanks.” John rolled her eyes, “Moran’s one of the best men I know.”

“Amen to that.” Jenkins huffed, raising his glass, “Damn sorry shame what happened to him.”

“I was in a hospital, or I’d have set the records straight for them, but they didn’t want to listen to me even when I did have my head on straight. Said I must have been delirious.”

“Delirious?” Ferguson snorted, “You walked out of there on your own two feet with stolen weapons and got fifteen miles before anyone found you! You were a sorry sight when we got hands on you, but there was nothin’ wrong with your head until you got that damned fever.”

“You did what?” Spencer coughed. John cleared her throat. The specifics of her escape and rescue were classified.

“Gunny.” She shook her head, “Don’t scare the civilians, you loon.”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

“What happened?”

“Long story very short, I was taken hostage and held by Al Qaida for six months, at which time I broke out of the compound I was being held in and escaped to freedom. I was miles from anything by the time search-parties found me.” She shrugged, “I found myself in London six months later, it was another six months before I met Sherlock Holmes and found something to do with myself.”

“I’d say you found plenty to do with yourself!” Ferguson rolled his eyes. John had something not-so-nice to say to Ferguson about that, and more to say to Clara (who, given the shabby state of her marriage to John’s unstable older sister, didn’t have much room to point fingers at questionable partner choices), but not a word of it got said. Six months of working for Jim had sharpened her spatial awareness and she knew before anyone else at their table when they got an unusual, but not unwelcome, visitor. Ferguson, Jenkins, and two others were the next to become aware, and John did not smile, hard as it was, when she quietly interrupted.

“Watson may not be your superior anymore, Captain Ferguson, but is that any way to speak to her? I suspected it was you three making trouble around here, and I was not disappointed.” She had been forced to separate John and the boys in the past when Ferguson finally pushed the wrong button and pissed John off enough she took a swing at him. John laid her hands flat against the table and closed her eyes. She knew who it was, she knew better than she knew Ferguson, or Jenkins, or anyone else she’d ever been involved with. But…what was she doing in Dublin? Why here? Why now? Where had she been all this time? What had she been doing to keep herself sane? How had she been?

She might be dating the most dangerous man in the UK, but John had a special place in her heart for one very important person: Janine Sholto. Major Janine Sholto, late of Her Majesty’s Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (5th Regiment). John’s focus narrowed down to the woman standing directly behind her, the feel of her, the smell of her, the sheer closeness. If she leaned back, she would make contact. And oh, god, she wanted that. She was the first one on her feet, the others followed very quickly, and John ran over the rest of the day’s schedule in her head as she stepped around her chair and turned very neatly on her heel. 

“At ease, lads.” Sholto returned their hasty but proper salutes, her focus completely on John.

“Ma’am.”

“Captain. A word in private, if you would.”

“Of course, ma’am.” John was amazed her voice was that steady. With a brisk nod, Sholto was gone again. John took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.

“Are you alright, Doctor Watson?” Trust Brockton to have an insight. She nodded, tracking Sholto’s departure from the smaller conference room designated as a dining-room. She took a deep breath and smoothed down the front of her fatigues. There were a few more lectures before the opening ceremonies dinner, was she actually required to attend any of them? It was just now 1.30pm, the next lecture block started in fifteen minutes. Outside of lecture-blocks in her field of work/study/interest, and the block she was speaking for, she was pretty much free to come and go as she pleased, to attend those lectures that interested her, drift between discussion-groups and break-aways as it suited. And if she wanted a break, she could take one.

“If you good folks will kindly excuse me, I have business to see to.”

“Absolutely. Good luck, Captain.” No one else thought to question. Tilting her beret at a bit more of a rakish angle, she left her table.

“John!” Clara had come after her and caught up with her halfway out of the room. She kept moving. “Jack, hold up here! Wait a minute! What are you doing?”

“I’m following orders, Clara. It’s just that simple.”

“It is not just that simple!” Clara grabbed her by the arm, “Don’t do something you’ll regret later! Please don’t! If he thinks you’ve crossed him, Moriarty will make you disappear!”

“Clara, I love you, but kindly keep your nose out of my personal life. I haven’t seen Sholto since three months before my discharge. I wasn’t even sure she was still alive. If she wants to talk, I will be more than happy to talk, to listen, whatever she wants of me.” John turned on Clara, “I have dated Jim for six months and a week, and I have never been happier. I have work to do, work that keeps me busy.”

“You’re a gun for hire, John! Where’s the glory in that?”

“What the fuck do you think I was doing in the Army, Clara!” She snapped, “I was Special Forces, for fuck’s sake! That wasn’t fluff-work!”

“Spec…oh god.”

“Targeted hits, sensitive work. I’m not obligated to tell you anything, let alone explain myself.” She felt her phone vibrating in her pocket and made a face. That was probably Jim, and talk about timing. John sighed and pulled her phone from her pocket, glancing at the caller-id.

“I’m sorry, Clara, I have to take this phone-call.”

“Well, if you end up dead in pieces in some back-country ditch, I’ll know who to blame.” Clara frowned, “I’m worried about you, Jack.”

“You’re a few months too late for the pity-party and I’ll thank you to spare me your self-righteousness.” John snapped, swiping into the call.

“Yeah. Watson.”

“Oh, sounds like I called right in the nick of time, love. Bad day at the office, was it?”

“Oh, god, Jim.” John looked at Clara and made a shooing motion, walking away from her sister-in-law. “No, things are…fine. They’re good. I’m alright.”

“Was that your sister-in-law Clara Oswin who was giving you trouble just now?”

“Yeah. Where…ah, there you are.” She caught sight of the cameras and smiled, blowing the camera a kiss, “No, Jim, it’s alright.”

“You don’t sound alright. Who was the woman behind you a minute ago? One of your commanding officers, by the look. Seb knew who it was.”

“That’s Janine Sholto. She was my commanding officer before and in collaboration with Seb. He knows her as well as I do. I didn’t even know if she was alive, if she’d gotten out of Afghanistan or not.”

“No, she did. He got her out, made sure she got out and got what she deserved before they cut him loose.”

“God bless him. Jim, she’s…she was…everything. She taught me as much as Seb did, maybe more than he did. She was the first person I felt safe falling in love with, she treated me like she said I deserved. I wasn’t a freak to her.” John leaned against the wall and covered her eyes with one hand, “I don’t want to hurt you, Jim, I love you so much it hurts. This hurts.”

“John, my love, she came first. I never told you that you weren’t allowed to tap other resources if I couldn’t offer you something. All I asked was that you do exactly this: ask me first.”

“Is this asking?”

“Absolutely. I am confident in letting you spend time with Major Sholto for one very simple reason. You are mine.” His voice was calm and soft in her ear, and she felt very much as though he was standing with her, reassuring her of things, You may venture elsewhere for something, but you will always come home to me. Because I know you love with all that you are and all that you can be. You love as you fight: fiercely, and completely. Go to Major Sholto, let her take care of you for now. And if she asks to continue your contact, let her.”

“Thank you so much, Jim. I love you, you do know that?”

“Of course I do, you like to remind me rather often of it. And you know I love you, as well?” He was smiling, she could tell just by the sound of his voice, “I trust you, John, you are something I never thought I needed or wanted. I adore you, and if I don’t show it, I’m sorry.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

“Oh, my god, you are such a nerd!” John leaned against the wall, chuckling, “My boyfriend is a Star Wars nerd! Oh my god!”

“Does that surprise you?”

“Nope! That’s absolutely fantastic! You silly bastard!” That just meant they’d have to have a marathon night sometime, complete with popcorn and blanket-forts. And he wouldn’t complain about it, either.

“Your silly bastard, I think, Captain. Go on, then, you have important business with Major Sholto. I’ll talk to you later, my love.” He chuckled, “Do take care of yourself, my dear doctor.”

“I’ll try. I’ve only been here twelve hours or so and I miss you so much it actually, physically hurts.”

“That’s the best kind of love, when you can take time away from each other and still desperately miss each other.”

“I don’t think we’ve ever been apart this long before, have we?”

“Not since we started dating, no.” His voice got soft again, “I have to let you get on with your business, my love. Do enjoy yourself, please? Don’t worry about me, or us. I know you better than that.”

“Okay. Don’t get into any trouble without me while I’m gone, will you please?”

“What if it’s for dear Sherlock’s sake?”

“Just…just don’t play with human lives this time. Petty crimes are fine, murder is not.”

“What if it’s someone who deserves it?”

“Well, then that depends on the crimes of guilty.” She rolled her eyes, “Just…don’t be obvious about it?”

“I can be as subtle as you please!” He sounded so insulted. John snickered and said goodbye to Jim, hanging up first. No sooner had she hung up on that call than her phone was being plucked from her fingers and carefully tucked into a pocket that was not hers. The hand on her wrist was familiar, the grip weaker than she remembered but still firm.

“You’re going to come with me, and you won’t ask any questions. Is that understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.” John looked right up into hazel eyes she knew as well as she knew her own and fell into step behind Sholto as the major headed for the lift-bank. They took the lift to a higher floor and she followed Sholto through quiet hallways, dodging a few cleaning crews but no hotel-guests or conference attendees along the way. When they came to the proper room, she was quick to hang the “Do Not Disturb” tag on the door in such a way that it would not easily get dislodged and made sure to set the deadbolt and the security latch as extra precaution.

 

The room wasn’t extravagant, it seemed a bit smaller than her own, but it had a king bed, a wardrobe, a dresser topped by a flat-screen TV, a writing-desk, two armchairs, and a sleeper couch, as well as a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a single-cup coffee-maker. John leaned against the door, tucking her beret into her pocket and reaching back to set the safety on her SIG. It was already engaged, of course, it was long habit that had her checking. She touched the handcuffs and incapacitant-spray on her belt. Ooh, handcuffs! Hmm. Those could possibly be useful, but John doubted she would be the one using them.

“Captain.” Sholto’s voice was calm and soft but left no room for insubordination.

“Ma’am.” John made eye-contact with her former commanding officer, knowing she could get away with it.

“Come here.” Pointing to the space between the dresser and the bed-frame. John stopped where instructed and stood perfectly still, relaxing into rest with her hands folded against her back above her waistband. She waited for orders, watching Sholto the whole while. Sholto was busy at the coffee-maker. Tea, John knew, that she would have brought in herself. Good old Sholto, never changing her habits. She must have smiled because Sholto turned sharp eyes on her.

“Why are you smiling, Captain?”

“I’m very sorry, ma’am.” She schooled a straight face again, “My apologies.”

“Hmph. Seems you’ve forgotten yourself. I’ll fix that. Weapons on the dresser.”

“Ma’am.” She didn’t ask how Sholto knew she was armed, she just did as ordered and carefully laid aside her SIG, the two knives, and the spare magazines. She also set down the TASER and the spray, laying her duty-belt on the surface of the dresser. The SIG and the knives were in sheath and holster, completely safe and harmless. She even laid the handcuffs down, leaving them on their hook for the moment. On a disobedient whim, she stole the handcuffs back and held onto them.

“Whatever you’ve retained from your belt will go on the bed, Captain.” Sholto didn’t even look at her. John smirked and laid the handcuffs on the pillow on the undisturbed side. The bed had been perfectly made to set standards, but she could tell which side had been slept in and which hadn’t. She looked around and spotted a cushion on one of the armchairs.

“Take that and lay it on the floor. There.” Sholto indicated where to place the cushion, and John set it on the floor by the bed, right where she had initially been told to stand. John waited for the next order and dropped when she heard “Kneel.” Rocking forward a bit to rebalance her weight, she settled into a familiar pose and waited. She closed her eyes and lowered her head, resting her hands palm-up on her thighs, taking deep, steady breaths despite the racing of her heart. And as usual, her heart rate slowed again. She still felt a sharp thrill, but she was in control of her body. At least for the moment. About ten minutes had gone past, during which time a text had been received (probably from Ferguson or Brockton) and a reply sent. She would not be attending any lectures in the next two hours, they were free to take notes on her behalf and share later if it was something necessary. That would keep them off her back, those who knew better than to stick their noses in her business.

“Drink.” An order given as a cup was handed to her. Just a flimsy foam-paper take-away cup, but it was tea. Hot tea. Earl Grey steeped for seven minutes and seasoned to taste with honey and milk the way John liked hers best. She raised her head and accepted the cup, blowing carefully across the rim. It was quiet as she drank her tea, still kneeling on the cushion. John thought of what Jim had told her during their conversation. He trusted her to come back to him no matter what happened, who she was with, or what she did. He trusted her to take pleasure at someone else’s hands and know that she still belonged to one man only.

“Do I have your boyfriend’s blessing to do as I so please with you for as long as you are in this room, Captain Watson?” Smart woman. She had looked at John’s call-history and probably looked into her message-threads.

“Yes, ma’am.” She swallowed a mouthful of tea. “He was…more understanding than some others.”

“They do not matter. Your sister-in-law is in no position to cast stones, it reflects poorly on her character as such.”

“I wasn’t expecting to see her.” John held onto the warm cup, “I was…happy to see her, surprised to see her. But, she…”

“She judged what makes you happy very harshly. I know.” Sholto reached out and finally touched. John did not whine, but it was close. Familiar fingers weakened by injury but still very strong stroked through her hair, reaching for the tie and bobby-pins. Working the fastening loose, she freed John’s hair from the braided bun and stroked her fingers through the long strands.

“Your hair is much longer now. You’ve grown it out.”

“Not by much, ma’am.” She finished her tea and set the cup aside. It was collected and disposed of. Sholto ordered her up off of her knees and handed her a small toiletry kit.

“You know exactly what that is, and what to do with it. Take your time, I will wait here and undertake my own preparations when you are done. Fold your clothes on the sink and I will collect them for you.”

“Yes, ma’am.” John stepped into the attached en-suite and carefully removed her uniform, folding it on the sink on top of a towel, setting her boots atop the whole lot and leaving it for Sholto. Then she undertook preparations for whatever lay ahead. Forty-five minutes later, she was in the shower, cleaning up. She had eaten lightly at breakfast and at lunch, not in anticipation of anything in particular but out of habit. It had served her well now. John was aware of Sholto coming in and collecting her uniform, as promised, but she said nothing.

After a brief, efficient shower, she got out and dried off with one towel. Wrapping it around her body, she stepped out of the bathroom. Sholto sat in the desk-chair, reading something on a tablet, a fresh cup of tea in hand, one leg crossed over the other, waiting with great patience. John knelt on the cushion again, prepared to wait. Aware of her return, Sholto made a noise of consent and set aside her things, rising in a fluid, slightly stiff motion, disappearing into the loo with a passing caress to John’s hair.

“Put on that robe and kneel on the bed.” Indicating a bathrobe laid on the bed. “Wait for me.”

“Yes, ma’am.” John waited until the door had closed before she moved. Tying the sash of the robe loosely, she got comfortable on the bed. John only waited ten minutes for Sholto to come back. Without a word, the older woman settled behind her and ran her fingers through John’s hair, following with a comb. She braided John’s hair in a certain fashion and when she was done, touched the back of John’s neck. John kept her eyes closed through all of this, just revelling in the closeness, the intimacy, the realness of having Sholto with her, breathing in a familiar scent. When Sholto moved around to sit in front of her, she stayed still, even when familiar, roughened fingers pushed open the robe and bared her scar.

“Oh, Watson. Is it like they say?”

“What do they say, ma’am?”

“They say you were the last man standing and continued to fight them off until you ran out of ammo and were forced to use knives, rocks, and bare fists to beat them back. They say that you dug the bullet out of your own shoulder and it wasn’t until you passed out from exhaustion and blood-loss that they were actually able to take you captive.”

“That’s true.” She smirked, “Then they kept me alive so I could keep them alive.”

“Better than killing you or using you and making an example of you.”

“Their leader was impressed with me, he said he was reminded of a tiger he had seen once in the forests and plains of the Sub-Indian territories, which had been wounded and still fought. They called me Western Tiger.”

“What made you so special?”

“I was a doctor. The fact that I was female meant nothing to them, they needed a doctor more than they cared for the mores of society telling a woman what she can and cannot do.”

“There are plenty of women doctors.”

“Exactly.” She sighed, “But they disguised me as a man, told me not to speak at all, and kept me away from any Westerners.”

“You marvellous thing.” Sholto murmured reverently, stroking the lines of her scar, “You are a true survivor, Watson. You survived Afghanistan, you survived fever in Germany, you survived London. You made a way for yourself.”

“It took me almost four months to find that way.” She looked up at Sholto, “But I have made my peace with Sherlock Holmes.”

“Does he understand?”

“If he doesn’t, he will in time.” She leaned forward, “But I’m in a very good place now.”

“You must be. You’re here as a guest of honour, did you know that?”

“Yeah, I saw that. I wonder who gave out my name. I’m nobody.”

“You’re somebody to someone important. You must know someone who knows one of the donors or sponsors.”

“I am not a charity case.”

“Oh, no, you’re not.” Sholto chuckled and kissed her on the forehead, “You sweet, stubborn girl. Jesus, I have missed you.” John let out a soft, unsteady breath. Sholto kissed her on the forehead, on the nose, on each cheek, and the corner of her mouth before giving her a proper kiss. She kept her hands on her thighs, letting Sholto take the lead.

“You can touch me, love. I promise I can stand it.” Sholto breathed against her ear, giving John permission to touch and explore and return caresses. So, she did. John explored to her heart’s content, relearning a familiar body and reducing her former commander to a string of incoherent noises. She surfaced from a close study of Sholto’s intimate folds and rested her cheek on a heaving stomach.

“Guess I haven’t lost my touch.” She grinned, “Should have seen my boyfriend last night. I thought I’d stopped his heart at one point.”

“You didn’t?”

“Nope. It was close, though!” John kissed the softness of Sholto’s midsection, brought on by middle age and a lapse in rigorous routine.

“I think I would like your boyfriend. He seems like a very interesting fellow.”

“Jim? Oh, you’d love him. He’s…smart. Brilliant, even. Dabbles in a bit of everything.”

“I imagine he must be.”

“He treats me better than anyone else I’ve ever dated.” She rubbed a finger along the crease of Sholto’s left thigh, “And let me tell you, I have dated a fair number of people.”

“Do you still do Special Forces work?”

“Yeah. With, um, Moran. Do you remember him at all?”

“Oh, of course I do! He’s the one who pulled me out from under the truck that day and then went off to find you!” Sholto chuckled, gasped when John slipped a finger into slick folds. She wasn’t quite wet, but it wouldn’t take long to get her there.

“Yeah. He’s…not my boss. I’m his boss. But we’re partners.” She shimmied down and licked her own lips, dying for a chance to play. “Does that make sense?”

“Hmm. I can…see how that might be a beneficial arrangement for both of you.” The sharp inhale said a lot about Sholto’s state of arousal. The smell flooded John’s nose and she took a deep breath.

“I’ll be careful, but please don’t kick me.” She murmured before she flicked her tongue across the still-hidden nub of fleshy nerves. She wedged her good shoulder under Sholto’s right leg, using her left hand to tease and tickle. John licked, nibbled, and sucked until she had her former commander thrashing and cursing in Dari. She made good use of her fingers, as well, crooking and pressing against the G-spot in an inconsistent rhythm designed to drive her partner mad. When Sholto finally came apart, it was beautiful. John licked her clean and kissed trembling thighs before she darted into the loo to brush her teeth and rinse her mouth. Returning to the bed, she curled up alongside Sholto, rubbing her down with a warm cloth.

“Three Continents Watson has not lost her touch!” Sholto murmured, “My God.”

“Didn’t see Him, did you?”

“No, but it was close. How can you do that?”

“Just good at making other people very happy.” She smiled and kissed Sholto, “Besides, you earned it. I haven’t seen you in an age and I missed you.”

“Oh, I wish I could keep you, John Watson, I wish I could make you all mine! But that would be selfish of me and someone else has you where you want to be.” Sholto smiled, “But you make me so happy. Can I return a favour?”

“When you get your breath back. Take a rest. You’re not young as you used to be.” John rubbed along familiar curves, laying soft kisses to familiar scars and new ones alike. Ten minutes passed and she was flipped onto her back. Added incentive to stay still was the careful application of the handcuffs, tight enough she couldn’t break out of them but loose enough they wouldn’t hurt. She shoved her hands under the pillow and held on while Sholto returned a couple of favours.

“That’s a girl.” Sholto murmured, kissing her as she twisted clever fingers deep, “Not so loud.” John tried to stay quiet, but it was so damn hard! Sholto had an effective way to keep her quiet and kissed her, long, hard, and with remembered skill. Then she moved on to kiss and tease to her heart’s content, making effective use of tongue and teeth in conjunction with digital stimulation. John breathed deep of familiar scent, memories of desert mountains, escapes from base and from duties for a few hours, the freedom to do as they wished in the sanctity and safe haven of oases known to few and found by chance. She remembered poppies, fields of them, cool winds carrying away poorly-muffled cries of ecstasy.

John moaned, rutting against the fingers crooked inside. She forced her eyes open to focus on Sholto, who knelt over her, hazel eyes bright, and she shivered. A careful twist of fingers and John’s whole body convulsed. She wailed, thrashing, gasping, shuddering as wave after wave washed over her, and John covered her face, whining, as Sholto kissed her back to ground and disappeared into the loo to get a damp cloth. After she had recovered from that first round, Sholto did it again, this time using her tongue to get the same result. She cursed her ability to have more than one orgasm in a row. John wasn’t sure she’d be able to walk after this. Sholto chuckled when she said this out loud and held her close after removing the handcuffs. 

“Sleep this off, my love. I’ll make sure you go back to your friends looking just like you did when you followed me.”

“They’re going to know.”

“So what if they do? The only one who matters is that handsome rogue you’re dating.” Sholto smiled and kissed a soft trail down her body, paying special attention to her scar, “What’s his name again?”

“Jim.” She sighed, “You’d like Jim, I think you’d get along.” John tried to imagine Sholto meeting Jim and wondered how that would go.

“Right. Jim Moriarty, is it?”

“If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve heard me talk about him.”

“It’s how I’ve kept tabs on you, love, before you started working with Moran.”

“You did not!” John narrowed her eyes.

“And if I did?” Sholto grinned, stroking along invisible lines down her body, “You don’t strike me as the kind of girl to go in blind.”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting to end up dating the man who thought it was a good idea to kidnap me off the streets and strap me to a bomb-vest in an abandoned pool-deck.” She made a face, “But I don’t regret that.”

“As long as he treats you well. You seem to be dating London’s criminal mastermind.”

“And I don’t care. He treats me like a queen.” John sighed, “I think I love him, Jen. Beyond just saying it and meaning the words.”

“Would you spend the rest of your life with him?”

“If he asked me to.” She wasn’t expecting Jim to propose, it wasn’t his way.

“Some deity of the foolish has looked after you, my love.” Sholto stroked her hair, which had been let down from the braid, “In every reckless thing you have ever done, some benevolent god has kept you safe, protecting you for greater purposes.”

“A proper renegade, yeah?” John chuckled, kissing Sholto’s collar-bone, “You know, you taught me everything Moran didn’t. Dirty tactics and all. Every sneaky trick in the bedroom, every ploy to turn things to my favour.”

“Oh, you were a clever girl before we corrupted you, my love, and I never regretted a moment of it.” Sholto smiled, but there was a sadness to it. A regret for things that could not be and opportunities missed. John sighed and kissed her properly.

“It’s alright, it really is.” She murmured, “If you’re in London, just look me up. This doesn’t have to be the end of us.”

“That would be…nice. I would love to stay in touch. I lost you once, I couldn’t…” Sholto sighed, “I can’t do that again. Can your boyfriend share?”

“He’s willing to share with you.” John rolled onto her side and looked for a clock. “Ugh.”

“Let’s get washed up and make an appearance before someone comes looking for you.”

“Let’s.” She kicked off the blankets and grabbed Sholto by the hand, dragging her to the en-suite. They took an efficient shower, trading touches and kisses all the while, and helped each other dress. Sholto braided John’s hair just the way it had been before and they returned to the conference together. The rest of the day passed without issue, discounting the dirty looks she kept getting from Clara. But she didn’t give a whistle about what her sister-in-law thought of things, it was none of her business and she wasn’t the person whose opinion actually mattered.


 

Chapter Text


That night, John attended the welcome banquet, sitting with her table-mates from that morning. Sholto sat with them, making herself part of the group quite seamlessly. John enjoyed herself immensely, laughing and mingling with a practised ease. At one point, she was chatting with Brockton and the Malaysian doctor when the subject came up, again, of how John had gotten herself invited to the conference not only as an attendee but as a guest speaker. She suspected a donor or a sponsor had heard about her, found her through the internet and looked into her blog and possibly her records (though God knew how they’d find them, there were of course ways if you knew how), and decided she was worthy. It was anyone’s guess how they had heard her name in the first place.

“Gentlemen, madam.” One of the organisers came upon their threesome, wearing a broad, slightly-oily smile. He was chairman of the board, good at what he did but sly in his dealings. He was an only child, from a moderately wealthy family, had gone to the best schools and found his place in finance before branching out into pharmaceuticals. Married three times, currently to a woman John’s age and twenty years his junior. He suffered from a congenital heart defect that had never been properly repaired, smoked at least a pack a day, and would die of lung cancer before he was seventy. John read all of this in a single glance but said nothing.

“Mr Rollins.” They were polite to him.

“I’m very sorry to butt in on your little pow-wow, but I wanted you all to meet one of our sponsors. Especially Doctor Watson.”

“Oh?” John flicked an invisible speck of lint from the bodice of her gown, glancing up through her eyelashes at the chairman and his rather handsome companion. It took her a minute, which was shocking, to recognise him, and when she did, she caught her breath. She glanced quickly at Brockton and Masayu bin Mariah, who had both recognised Mr Rollins’ sponsor.

“We can thank this fine gentleman for bringing Doctor Watson to us, he spoke rather glowingly of her.”

“Ah.” A look of understanding between the three of them, and a sly smile on Jim’s face. That smug little bastard hadn’t said a word about any plans to crash the conference! Not that she minded at all.

“Doctor Watson, Doctor Brockton, Doctor bin Mariah, please allow me to introduce Mr James Moriarty. He made a rather large donation to our primary charity just last month.”

“That was rather generous of you.” John took a sip of her wine, hiding her smirk. The conference was being held on behalf of a number of associations and charities, including a number of Armed Forces charities to support returning veterans and advanced studies on the effects of PTSD. Which was one big reason John had been invited to speak and a major focus of the whole conference.

“I have a special fondness for our Armed Forces, you know.” Jim was smooth, stepping around Rollins to take John’s hand in his, making no indication whatsoever that they knew each other or had anything to do with each other. “It’s lovely to see you, Doctor Watson. I’m so glad the board took my advice to invite you.”

“Charmed, I’m sure, Mr Moriarty.” She kept her voice soft as he kissed the back of her hand, his eyes bright and full of mischief.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then. Have a lovely evening.” Rollins said, looking around the crowded room, “And don’t forget the dance-floor.”

“Of course not, Mr Rollins.” John did not miss the subtle hand that came to rest on her lower back, out of sight of Rollins. As soon as he was gone, John downed the rest of her wine in a single gulp. Brockton and bin Mariah both let out the breath they’d been holding and John stifled a chuckle.

“Well, then?”

“You clever, sneaky bastard.” She looked sideways at Jim, who just looked smug and pleased with himself. “Should’ve known it was you.”

“Anything to see you get proper recognition.” He put his arm around her waist, setting her empty glass on a passing tray and looking around, “You’ve kept yourself busy?”

“Acceptably so.” She looked at the other two, “But before either of us forget our manners, I’d like to properly introduce you to a few of my associates. Silas Brockton, and Masayu bin Mariah. Top researchers in their fields of study.”

“A pleasure, gentlemen.” Jim smiled as he shook hands with Brockton and bin Mariah, who were just thrilled to properly meet him.

“Pleasure’s ours, Mr Moriarty. Wasn’t expecting you to crash the party, but we’ll be happy to have you.” Brockton was just beaming, “You’re a clever sort of fellow, and good to our girl here.” As if they were long-time friends and not recent acquaintances. John blushed at the praise.  Jim chuckled, rubbing his hand along her waist, and suggested returning to their table, as dinner was about to be served. John was nervous but excited to introduce him to her table-mates and took her seat back. There was plenty of room at their table for Jim to join them, mingling among the tables was highly encouraged, and she patted the seat beside her. Ferguson and the lads recognised him right away. Hearing about him and seeing pictures was one thing, meeting him in person and talking to him was quite different. Of course, Jim was charming and polite and made friends like a pro.

 

The only one he had a bit of trouble with was her sister-in-law. Not that John was terribly surprised, but he handled Clara the same way he handled all difficult clients. Carefully but firmly, gently putting Clara in her place. He knew how to be nice when called for, but he could also be downright hostile. John had seen both during her six months with him. With Clara, it was a combination of both, and by the end of the evening, Clara knew better than to say anything. It was very clear that not only was John legitimately happy, but her significant other was willing to do whatever it took to keep her that way. If that was keeping her employed with less-than-noble work, giving her a place to go when Baker Street got to be too much, or just being there for late-night phone-calls when she needed to hear his voice. If she needed it, he would provide for her to the best of his abilities and resources.

 

After dinner, John coaxed Jim out onto the dance-floor for a couple of turns before deciding to call it a night. He, of course, was happy to escort her back to her room. She fell asleep that night with a warm body at her back, a familiar presence. It was nice to have him in her bed, she didn’t quite like sleeping alone like she’d used to.


 

Chapter Text


John was so nervous on Sunday that she barely ate breakfast, Jim had to force her to eat something so she didn’t pass out, and at lunch, she finished maybe a quarter of what was on her plate. After stomaching what she could, John retreated to her room to rest, change, and brace herself. It didn’t take Jim long to come after her and she looked up from where she sat on the bed as he locked the door behind him.

“Not getting cold feet, are you?” He kept his voice soft, and reached out with one hand, stroking her hair, “You’re cold to touch. Not getting sick on me?”

“It's nerves.” She sighed and nuzzled against his hand, “That’s all.”

“You’re afraid to tell your story to strangers?”

“Not all of them are strangers, and many of them share my story. I know Doctor Brockton was very interested to attend my lecture.” She sighed, closing her eyes, “Can I do this, Jim?”

“Oh, absolutely you can!” He smiled down at her, tilting her head back with careful hands, his thumbs stroking her jaw and neck with care, marking where her pulse was strongest, making soft sounds in his throat. John whined, hands resting on his wrists, a neutral grip. He chuckled and nudged her back on the bed, straddling her hips as he pushed her back until she rested against the pillows. 

“Just relax, my lovely girl. Let me take your worries away.” He murmured, nuzzling her cheek and laying a trail of soft kisses. Careful, clever fingers worked on her buttons and she returned favours, clothes were discarded with some care, kisses and caresses were exchanged with careful passion. 

 

Jim distracted her very efficiently, and when he finally slid home, John was begging and desperate. She buried a moan in his shoulder, fingers digging into the soft, smooth flesh of his arse. The way Jim gasped, his hips stuttering, was always a joy to her. It always made her smile later to know that she could bring the second-most powerful man in London to his knees and that he let her do such things. At one point, he pulled out completely for a moment, and in that moment, she slicked her fingers with her own wetness. The noise he made as his penis grazed her fingers in passing was glorious and she chuckled, a choked sound that turned into a groan as he pushed past her fingers and went deep. She gave him free rein, she had something better to do. Sliding her hand around, she tickled the furled pucker and chuckled, pulling him down with one hand for a perfectly filthy kiss.

“You sly little prick.” He muttered, “Cheeky thing, aren’t you?”

“As if you mind terribly.” She rolled her eyes. Jim cocked an eyebrow and changed his angle just a bit, which changed her angle. She gasped, cursed him in Dari, and worked one finger and then another into him. This was something rather new to their lovemaking, in a way, but she didn’t mind and neither did he. John smirked when she found that neat little bundle of nerves and crooked her fingers just so. Prostate stimulation was not a new thing to their bedroom play, and she knew just how long to go before he was pushed up to the edge and over. He moaned, cursing in his native Gaelic. She chuckled, twisting and scissoring her fingers just so.

 

Five minutes later, she had him well and truly balanced, and making eye-contact, she pressed her fingertips to that sensitive bundle of nerves, marvelling as always at the way he just went completely to pieces above her. She rolled them, bearing down on him, flexing core muscles and rotating her hips just so, and swallowed his outburst with a rough kiss. She loved doing that to him, every time it left them both content with the way of the troubled world. His fingers dug painfully into her shoulder and bicep, she whined. Finally, when he was panting and tremors shook his body in aftershocks, she carefully moved off of him and removed, tied off, and binned the spent condom. Someday they would do this and there would be nought between them but the air between their bodies, skin-to-skin in the most intimate of ways. Gathering a warm cloth, she wiped him down with care, having executed a wipe-down on herself when she disposed of the condom in the en-suite and brought him back to ground with soft caresses and kisses. Their aftercare was very simple but suited to their practices, and they took care of each other.

 

A shower was in order, and he washed her hair for her. When they got out, he dried her off with soft towels and once she was dressed in a No. 2 Temperate Parade Dress uniform, he sat her down and braided her hair appropriately. She had always been fond of a modified braided bun, and despite its look, she had never been reprimanded for it. It was neat, uniform, and kept her hair confined at all times. Pinning the tail-end into place, and securing any potential fly-aways with pins, he set her beret in place at the proper rakish angle and handed over her phone, wallet, and badge, and the thumb-drive with her presentation on it. She held the door for him, he stole a kiss, and they made their way to the meeting-room hand-in-hand. She wasn’t ashamed of it, he wasn’t, and anyone who had anything to say could damn well keep it to themselves.

“You obviously feel better.” He murmured in the lift. She grinned and nudged him in the ribs.

“Amazing what a good shag can do for the self-esteem, yeah?” She whispered back, just loud enough for the elderly woman in front of them to hear and shoot them a dirty look. John just smiled at her benignly.

“You are a horrible person.” He managed to keep a straight face, but only just.

“As if you’re any saint!” She rolled her eyes, “Her fault for listening!” Jim snorted and tugged her out of the lift as the doors opened.

 

John felt a stab of nerves as they approached the room, but Jim squeezed her hand and pulled her to a halt in an alcove, putting her back to the wall and blocking her in.

“Stop. Worrying. You’ll be fine, I promise.”

“I feel a little sick.”

“That’s perfectly normal. You can do this, John. It’s only fifteen minutes.”

“Of talking about something I haven’t been able to face since I was discharged.” She took a deep breath and leaned her head back, “This is the first time I’ve even tried talking about it.”

“I love you. You are the strongest woman I’ve ever met, and if you need to stop, then stop. No one will judge you for taking a minute to get your head on straight about something most people like you live with every fucking day of their lives thinking there’s something wrong with them when it’s just mischance and misfires.” He stroked her cheekbone and leaned in for a kiss, “Now come on, let’s go make sure the projector’s actually working.”

“Oh, god, this morning was a disaster, wasn’t it?” John giggled, “I am so glad that wasn’t me up there!”

“See, and I have efficiently distracted you. Come along, my dear.” He beamed and tugged her towards the room. It was still empty, she could run through her presentation, and test-run the glitchy projector. Nodding to the few brave souls who had ventured in ahead of time or were staying over from the last lecture, John started her set-up. She was aware of Jim claiming two seats for them at the table set off to the side of the podium and looked over. He just gave her that quirky little grin of his and wiggled his fingers. She rolled her eyes and plugged her thumb- drive into the provided laptop.

 

She ran both presentations, one was a test-run of pictures, and both functioned properly. She let the test-run cycle as she finished setting up, humming under her breath.

“You were a proper fresh-faced little shite, weren’t you?” Jim chuckled, pointing at the projector screen, “Look at how young you were!”

“Oh, god, that was ages ago!” The picture in question was one from her earliest days in the Army, fresh out of basic training and barely able to tie her boots up properly. “Did Seb put this together?”

“Must’ve. I can’t think of anyone else who would have access or time to dig for older pictures of your service.” Jim grinned, “You were a cutie! Look at you!”

“Shut up, will you?”

“Oh, hey! That’s Gereshk! Looks like 2003, I’d say?” A voice sounded from the back of the room by the doors, and John looked up.

“Oh, great. What are you doing here!”

“Moral support, of course!”

“No, no, no. You three will sit in the back of the room and be quiet!” She pointed an accusing finger at the trio of camo-clad attendees, “Hear me?”

“Aw, you’re no fun, Hedgie!”

“Call me that again, Roxy, and I will use your guts for my bootlaces.” She muttered. Rosalina Lunet, a Marine she had served with in Afghanistan for a few years, just blew her a kiss and made herself at home in the back row.

“At the very real risk of losing my head, and maybe something else, why do they call you Hedgie?” Jim wandered over, leaning against the podium. “Friends of yours?”

“You met Gunny and Vex on Friday. You haven’t met Roxy.”

“Nicknames?”

“Best way to keep track of each other. That pesky specimen of a Royal Marine is Rosalina Lunet, we all call her Roxy. You already know Adam Ferguson and Rodney Jenkins. ”

“And your nickname?”

“The socially-acceptable nickname that doesn’t make me sound like all I did was spend thirteen years sleeping with anyone who caught my eye?” She sniffed, “Hedgehog.”

“Hedgehog?”

“I swear to god, Jim, if you even think about laughing.”

“Oh, sweetheart!” He giggled, “They called you Hedgehog!”

“Jim!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” He put both hands up in surrender and ducked a half-hearted swing, “It fits, though! Who gave you that nickname?”

“Who do you think?”

“Seb?”

“Yep. Didn’t speak to him for a few weeks.”

“Ooh.” Jim’s eyes were bright and she knew she would never hear the end of it. She had earned herself the nickname Hedgehog due to her temper. One moment, she could be sweet and cheerful, the next she was liable to rip a man’s nuts off bare-handed. And when she was in a bad mood, she tended to curl up and close out the outside world.

“Well, well, well well well!” Lunet came sashaying up to the podium, in a frighteningly good mood, “Look who came out of her hole!”

“Roxy.”

“Hedgehog Watson! You’re a sight for some sore eyes!” Lunet gave her an enthusiastic, wet kiss on the cheek, “How is it I haven’t seen you in two days? Hmm?”

“Different schedules? Bad luck with timing? Hell knows. Where have you been hiding, then, Sergeant?”

“Oh, here and there and a bit of everywhere.”

“Uh-huh.” She rolled her eyes, “Really, Roxy? I’m not an idiot.”

“Never said you were, my love!” Lunet grinned, “Heard you’ve been keeping yourself pretty busy in London, though.”

“You mad brat! You’ve been stalking my blog, haven’t you?”

“All of us do, Hedgie! It’s some good reading!”

“Yeah, on the days I don’t feel like murdering my flat-mate.” She huffed, “But his boyfriend helps, I like him, so that’s a good thing.”

“Oh, trust the good-looking ones to be the wrong gender or taken!” Lunet stomped her foot, “He’s so bloody handsome!”

“And an insufferable bastard most of the time.” She shook her head.

“Speaking of handsome bastards.” Lunet had spotted Jim and decided to introduce herself. “Hi, I’m Roxy Lunet.”

“Sergeant Rosalina Lunet, Jim Moriarty.” John introduced the two as they shook hands, “And hands to yourself, Roxy. He’s not on the market.”

“Damn it.” Lunet made a face, “He’s not yours, is he, Watson?”

“Yeah, so hands off my boyfriend.”

“Ugh! I knew it! I knew it, I knew it I knew it! Richards owes me twenty quid!” Lunet tossed her head in annoyance, “I knew you were a thing, I knew it! Fucking hell, Watson! You landed a sweet catch, didn’t you?”

“Thanks.” She coughed, “Shoo, Roxy.” People were starting to file in.

“You and me need to go for drinks sometime this week.” Lunet cooed, hugging her tight and kissing her square on the lips, “You owe me time.”

“Bloody hell, Roxy! Go on with you, you mad thing!” She sputtered, kicking Lunet in the shins in parting as the flamboyant Marine went off with a cheerful wave, whistling some jaunty ditty. John grabbed the offered bottle of water, twisted the cap off, and chugged half of it.

“I like your friend.”

“She’s lesbian. But I’ve seen her run after blokes before, so she’s likely bisexual. One of the weirdest people I know.”

“And you know a lot of weird people.” Jim muttered, “That’s a lot of energy for one person.”

“She’s great at parties. Only person I know who can drink me under a table, too.” John watched Lunet settle at the back-most table with Ferguson and Jenkins.

The Master of Ceremonies for the block got everyone’s attention once the last attendees had trickled in and taken their seats. There was a standard, short welcome spiel, the MC thanked the chairmen and sponsors present, and went on to name the block’s speakers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for a guest of honour we are lucky to have with us. Please welcome Captain John Watson, late of the British Army.” The MC smiled as he extended one hand to John, who took a deep breath to steady herself. “Captain, the stage is yours.”

“Go get ‘em, love,” Jim whispered, squeezing her hand under the table as she got to her feet, tugged on the skirt of her tunic, and took the podium.

“Thank you, Mr Blakely.” She clicked the mouse on the laptop and brought the displays back to life, looking over at her notes before she looked out over the crowd. She picked out the faces of her friends and associates.

“First of all, I would like to thank the chairmen of the board of trustees, for inviting me, and the generous donor who gave them my name in the first place, as well as a significant donation to our charities last month.” She looked at the table to her right, “It was a generous thing you did.” Jim just gave her that sweet smile of his and a subtle thumbs-up. She suspected he wasn’t just a donor and sponsor, she suspected he sat on the board and that’s how she’d gotten herself invited to speak at the conference. That was fine. She looked down at her notes, swallowed past the knot in her chest, and looked out at her audience.

“This is actually the first time I’ve ever spoken to anyone about any of this, so you’ll have to bear with me.” She cleared her throat and winced at a bit of feedback. She was wearing a headset and receiver so she could move around if she needed to, which was nice.

“How many here know what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is?” Several hands went up. “How many here suffer from PTSD in some form?” A few more hands went up, most of them from her fellow service-members.

“There’s more than a couple of Armed Forces representatives here, most of you know me and I know you. We’ve seen the same places, the same people, the same nightmares.” She switched to her presentation slideshow, starting off with a photograph she hadn’t seen in a long while. It had been taken around the same time the earlier photograph that Jim had teased her about, on the same deployment.

“This is me, with my squad, back in 2004. We were young, stupid, didn’t know what the fuck we were doing or what we were getting ourselves into. Almost every single one of those men and women came home. Not…all of them came home alive. Those who did, I wouldn’t say we were lucky. Fortunate, but not lucky. I started showing signs and symptoms of PTSD fairly early but returning to the field after Leave helped keep me stable. I was with people going through the same thing, living the same hell.” She looked out at the crowd, “How many of you have been in an accident of some kind? A vehicle incident, the like? Show of hands?” A few hands went up.

“And this is more personal, but raise your hands because you still matter. How many of you have been assaulted? Either sexually or not?” It bothered her, deeply, that nearly every single woman in the room raised their hand. A couple of the men raised their hands.

“Jesus.” She muttered. “Then you know what it’s like, not being able to sleep at night, looking over your shoulder, seeing things that aren’t quite there. You don’t trust strangers like you used to, you don’t trust friends like you used to, you make up lies for yourself and your loved ones and try to move on with your lives. You cover the bruises with makeup and the inner hurt with smiles.” John paced along the stage a bit, “I’m going to tell you my story, and it starts long before I ever set foot in Afghanistan. If you have questions, please ask me. I’ll try not to get lost in my head, and if I do, I want Mr Moriarty or any one of you in uniform to come and get me out of it again. You know what to do.” Heads nodded and she took a deep breath. She hadn’t forgotten about the hell she had been put through before going to the Army, not even close, but she hadn’t really spent a lot of time talking about that, either.

She set a timer for fifteen minutes and braced herself. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t get caught in her head.

“The first time I learned that you can’t trust someone just because they’re family, I was nine years old. My dad was drunk and he hit Mum first.” She didn’t tell them that her father had pinned her to the bed and raped her after chasing her out of the kitchen, that wasn’t their business, but she recalled that clearly. It had not been the last time, either. She had worked hard to overcome her fear of sexual engagement and had learned that taking control of the bedroom helped, being picky about her partners and how far things went. She told them about her abusive ex in medical school, how Victor Trevor had controlled nearly every aspect of her life.

“The Army gave me an escape from all of that, and I was happy to leave it behind me, in my past, where it belonged. I forged a new life for myself, honed a new skill-set, made myself invaluable and indispensable. I got good at my job and joined Special Forces on the recommendation of two of my commanding officers. I regret none of my service, but I have often wished for a peaceful nights’ sleep. The faces of the people I couldn’t save, the people I killed, their voices. I hear gunfire and mortar-fire in empty rooms, I see people who aren’t alive anymore on the streets.” She took a deep breath.

“If you have panic attacks in public places, that does not make you weak. Asking for help does not make you weak. Fighting your demons by yourself is not selfish, protecting your loved ones by keeping your distance is not selfish. Talk to someone you trust, if you feel like talking. Find an avenue for putting your thoughts in order. I blog, several of you know this, and despite the shite I gave my therapist at the beginning, it does help to put things down in some physical form. 

“Find a hobby to keep you busy. I happen to be good at solving crimes. If you know my name, you know my partner’s name. I work with Sherlock Holmes in London, solving the city’s crimes, sometimes the country’s crimes, but I have to admit, I never thought I would do something like that. Find a passion and find a way to follow it. You will feel so much better about yourself. Get out of the house, go for walks, go be with people. Even if you don’t want to, just getting out of your room can make a difference. Four walls become very stifling and you get trapped. But always, always take care of you first.” She looked at her watch for the time, she was nearly up. That was fine.

“My time’s nearly up, but you should all have my email and phone number. Find me on the web on my blog. If you need someone to talk to, no matter what it’s about, I’ll be happy to listen. Thank you all for putting up with this, and letting me talk to myself. I hope you take something away from this to help yourselves or your patients, or even your friends and family if you know someone suffering from PTSD.” She couldn’t remember half of what she’d talked about, but she had that light feeling in her chest, which was always a good sign. 

“Thank you, Captain Watson.” The MC came back up on the stage, “Give her a hand, folks!” The audience was already on its feet, the board members were on their feet as well.

John was shocked by the positive reception. More than a few people were crying, but that meant they’d been paying attention. John knew her eyes weren’t quite dry and touched damp cheeks. Jim was at her side in an instant, praising her for laying herself open like that in a room full of strangers, Roxy and the lads were quick to join him. She pulled away to shut down her presentations and tucked her thumb-drive into her pocket, going to shake hands with the board members, who thanked her for sharing her experiences.

Making plans to rendezvous with Roxy and the lads at a later date, she left with Jim, who kept one arm around her at all times.

“John.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Jesus!”

“I know.” She sighed, “I survived.”

“How!”

“Hell if I have a bleeding fucking clue.” She rubbed her nose, “I can’t imagine any of that was a surprise to you.”

“Some of it was. I knew about Trevor, of course. That bastard had better hope he never meets me.”

“Do whatever you fucking want with him, burn him.” She sniffed, “Just a bleeding shame Da’s untouchable.” Her biological father had died when she was twelve, but her step-father had been just as cruel.

“Samuel Vorland is serving prison-time in Newgate for murdering his wife.”

“Twenty-to-life, no parole.” John shuddered, “Fuck him.”

“John?”

“Do it.” She knew the unasked question, “Do whatever you want. Call them right now.”

“Do you want me to?”

“Yes.” She looked at him, “I have never wanted anyone dead so badly.” Jim nodded and retrieved his phone, dialling a certain number. He gave a name to Seb, who promised to make it happen and asked for the target.

“Samuel Vorland.  Send word as soon as it’s done.” Jim said before hanging up once he’d gotten the affirmative from Seb.

“Seb will handle things.”

“Fine by me.” She fought the lock on the door to her room. She stepped into the loo to wash her face and listened to Jim move around. She heard a soft thud and the sound of a zip. She poked her head out as hangars rattled.

“What are you doing?”

“Kidnapping you.”

“Fine? Where are we going?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Belfast.”

“Right.” She shrugged and ducked back into the loo, “Back tomorrow before I’m missed?”

“Should be. Not that anyone would have much to say on the matter anyway.”

She brushed her teeth and rinsed her toothbrush as he packed a change of clothes for each of them. She packed their toothbrushes and toothpaste, he finished packing and left the suitcase open. She tossed the toiletry kit into the suitcase and changed out of her dress-uniform, trading khaki for black tac-fatigues. She grabbed her work-bag and slung it over her shoulder after making sure she had everything, and pocketed her key-card. The lectures had remote-access options, so she could still keep up with things wherever they were going.

“Are we going to have internet access?”

“Yes, it’s rather good where we’re going. You shouldn’t be worried about missing any lectures, though this isn’t quite a working holiday.”

“I know, but it’s for my sake.” She kissed him on the cheek, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Happily!” Jim took their suitcase and they closed the door after making sure everything was good. John stopped by the front desk to ask for her room to be serviced, she was going to be gone for the night and back later tomorrow, she would like turn-down service and the bathroom needed to be cleaned and she needed clean sheets.

“Of course, ma’am. Enjoy your time away!” The clerk said cheerfully. John smiled at the girl and followed Jim out to the round-about.

They hopped a shuttle back to the airport, where they met up with an agent who took their bags and hustled them through ticketing and security, they bypassed almost everything that stalled other travellers, and led them to a car waiting on the tarmac, a van. John didn’t bother to buckle up, nodding to the driver and guard. Two of Jim’s people, she recognized them from other jobs.

“Hawkins. Pence. Good to see you again.”

“Captain.” The pair saluted and Roman Hawkins looked over his shoulder once they were in. Didn’t say anything, just got them underway.

The drive across the tarmac was quiet. Jim collected a bag from under the seat, handing it to her.

“That’s for you.”

“What is it?”

“Put that on when we stop.”

“Okay?” She opened the bag and raised an eyebrow. Inside was a dark-grey flight-suit and gloves. She pulled out the flight-suit and shook it out. “Huh. I was wondering when you’d make use of that.”

“If you don’t mind, love?”

“Nope! I can fly us from Dublin to Belfast no problem!” She grinned and pulled on the flight-suit, loosening her bootlaces and tightening the blousing-laces on her trousers. She fastened the blousing-straps for the flight-suit, tied on her boots to fit comfortably, and shrugged into the rest of it, zipping it up properly and fastening the collar-strap.

When the van stopped, Pence hopped out and threw open the sliding door for them. John was out first, taking her bag from Jim as she caught sight of the Airbus H130 nearby.

“Oh, yeah, I can get us to Belfast in that!”

“Thought you might be able to, lovely.” Jim smiled and put an arm around her shoulders, kissing her on the cheek, “My clever Watson.” She thought of the last time she’d flown a chopper and wondered if Seb had tattled on her about the incident in Rome. Probably, but she didn’t mind. She grinned and gave him her work-bag when they reached the H130. The crew stowed their small luggage and she saluted the lads.

Hopping into the pilot’s seat, she started pre-flight checks and checked in with the air-towers here in Dublin and in Belfast at George Best Belfast City Airport. Getting clearance on both ends, she made sure everyone was buckled up, she was flying out with Jim, Hawkins, and Pence, and took off.

“Sayonara, Dublin, see you tomorrow.” She murmured as the city-scape spread out below them. She got them on course and settled in for a short, but enjoyable flight. She wasn’t sure the Holmes brothers knew she could fly helicopters. Well, Sherlock probably knew, but she doubted he would have told Mycroft.

As they left Dublin behind, she was aware of a touch on her hand. Jim rubbed her wrist and pulled away, not wanting to distract her.

“Do you ever miss flying, John?”

“Sometimes. But I sneak in flights here and there.”

“Rome?”

“Seb talked?”

“Gushed.”

“He does not gush.”

“He did. I laughed at him.”

“That was gutsy of you.” She chuckled. “Nah, I’ve had my license for years, I just don’t get to use it very often.”

“I can fix that.” That was a worrying smile.

“I said I missed it, that doesn’t mean I want one.” Which was a complete lie, she knew it and he knew it and he was going to make sure she got what she wanted.

“What’s the point of dating you if I can’t spoil you properly?”

“Don’t you dare, Jim Moriarty!” She snapped, looking over at him, “Don’t you dare think it!”

“Thought it.”

“Then don’t buy one, Jesus.” Behind them, she heard badly-muffled snickers. Staff generally knew better than to laugh out loud at them when they were having a bit of a tiff like this, but sometimes they just couldn’t help it.

“Hawkins.”

“Sorry, Captain.” Hawkins cleared his throat and it got quiet behind them. John rolled her eyes and focused on getting them to Belfast safely.

“God it’s pretty.” She looked out the cockpit windows at the spread of the terrain below them, “It’s so green.”

“Head east a bit, love.” Jim looked out his window and down. She checked her gauges and altered course accordingly.

In no time, they were flying along the coastline, and she sighed at the sight of water.

“Wow.”

Following the curve of the land, she swung wide a bit and came back west. They began their pass over the little port-town of Portavogie, and she saw Jim’s eyes light up.

“What’s down there?” She asked, looking down on the tiny township.

“My grandmother’s house.” She would be damned if his voice wasn’t soft.

“Oh, that’s right! You do have family up here, don’t you?”

“Yes, Captain. Oh, yes.” He looked at her as they turned back on course for Belfast.

She reached across and took his hand, knowing this visit was very important to him. She remembered visits to Paris and Normandy to visit family there, and standing through a rather severe tongue-lashing for visiting Paris in April and not bothering to come and visit. The Lestrade side of the equation was a force to be reckoned with, but they all loved John, naturally, and told Jim to not be an idiot and run her off. Now she was visiting the other side of the family. This would be a fun little side-trip for both of them, a bit of a break from things.


 

Chapter Text


When they landed at Belfast City Airport, John was quick about shut-down and clambered out of the H130. Unzipping the flight-suit, she skinned out of it and stuffed it into the kit, which she slung over one shoulder. They breezed through customs in a similar fashion to their trip through Dublin Airport and were soon on their way. They hired a car for the duration of their short stay and Jim drove them out to Portavogie after acquiring the keys to a Jaguar. John let Jim do the driving, not that she didn’t think she could, she just didn’t want to right at the moment. And Jim asked if she wanted to drive.

“How about you drive to Portavogie, I’ll drive back.” She slammed the boot after loading their small luggage.

“You have yourself a deal, Captain Watson.” Jim chuckled and held the door for her, “After you, ma’am.”

“Thank you.” She smiled and dropped into the passenger seat of the Jaguar, buckling up as he went around and slid into the driver’s seat with a knowing smile. John just rolled her eyes as he started the ignition. As they left the airport, he set their destination and headed for the A2.

Once they were on the A2, he set the cruise control and found something suitable for a short road trip on the radio. As they made their slow, easy way from Belfast to Portavogie, John kept herself occupied with something very girly and unusual. But she had gotten rather good at doing it in a moving vehicle and when she got a strange look from Jim for it, she just smiled at him.

“Do I want to know what you’re doing?”

“Maybe.”

“Do I want to know why?”

“This, lovey, is my trademark.” She studied her work, “Keep the wheel steady, will you?”

“Are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

“Yep.” She inspected her pinkie nail, “Just ask Seb, he always made fun of me.”

“That’s a risky thing to do.” Jim snickered, “But you wear gloves on the job, love.”

“Which is why I get away with this. I didn’t do it in the Army, at least not in this colour. Neutral pink was my colour of choice.”

“You may be capable of killing a man with everyday objects, but you look good doing it.” He chuckled, “You like to feel pretty.”

“I’m a girl, of course I do!” She rolled her eyes and added another coat of bright-red polish to her nails. She had always worn red nail-polish, on jobs outside of the Army when she wasn’t in the field. On those jobs, she’d worn neutral, pale pink.

“You, my dear, are a tomboy.” He pointed out with a grin. She rolled her eyes.

After finishing her careful job of repainting her nails, she stashed everything she’d used and reached across the console to take Jim’s hand. He let her, of course. The days of shy touches were long behind them. She looked out at the landscape they were driving through. The coast was such a pretty place, and she knew very well that he had taken the long way to Portavogie just to give her a broader taste of his homeland.

“It’s so pretty here.”

“This was home for such a long time.” He threaded their fingers together and smiled, “I think Moree will love you. Everyone else has.”

“I guess Móraí was a bit of a mouthful when you were little, wasn’t it?” John couldn’t help a sly smile at the childish, lifelong pronunciation of Móraí, which was the Irish Gaelic word for Grandmother.

“Is she used to you bringing people home like this?”

“She’s met Seb a couple of times, she adores him. Thinks he’s too serious and works too hard.”

“Seb can be charming when he wants to be.” She chuckled, trying to imagine how her former commander had gotten around to charming Jim’s mysterious grandmother.

“Do I need to know anything special about this woman?”

“She’s smart. Like my mother.”

“Runs in the family, looks like.” She smirked, “Does she know what you do?”

“Mum does, Moree…I doubt it. She knows that I do a bit of everything, but nothing specific.”

“So, for all she knows, you’re just a clever entrepreneur who dabbles in a bit of everything.”

“Yeah.”

“Fair.” John nodded. “What’s your grandmother’s name?”

“Catríona Young.”

“Mother’s side of the family, then.”

“Mhm.”

“Works for me.” She sighed, “I guess I can turn my charms on your grandmother, see if she likes me enough to let me stay.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that.” He squeezed her hand and lifted it for a kiss. “You’ll be fine.”

“Does she even know about me? I mean, we’ve been dating for six months.”

“Yes, she knows about you. Mum told her about you a couple of months after we started officially dating.”

“Okay.” John sighed and settled in for the remainder of their drive.

Fifteen minutes later, they pulled onto a small pad of concrete in front of their destination and John looked out the window of the car. The house was a well-kept, charming period two-story that was walking distance to the beach with gardens to the front, side, and rear aspects of the house, from what she could see.

“That’s a proper house.” John murmured, kicking her door open and getting out, “Your grandmother lives here?”

“She’ll die here. This house has been in the family since it was built, it will pass to me when she dies. My mother doesn’t want it, but she wants it to stay in the family.”

“It’s lovely.” She closed the boot, “So, she does know we’re coming?”

“Yes, she knows. I called her last night.”

“Okay, I don’t like surprising elderly family-members with unannounced visits.” John sighed and shouldered her work-bag and the kit.

As Jim locked the car and took the suitcase, the front door of the house opened and a stately woman about Mrs Hudson’s age came out onto the walk. Expected visitors indeed. She looked like Lady Sheila, and like Jim. John could see the family resemblance and couldn’t help a smile. The same dark hair, greyed by time and age, the same intelligent brown eyes, a faced lined with a lifetime of experiences. Catríona Young looked like a proper grandmother in her floral-print house-dress and apron that looked like it belonged to a different era and comfortable brogues. She was wiping her hands on a dish-towel and there were smudges of flour on the apron and cuff of her sleeves. Catríona looked from John to Jim, tilted her head, put the pieces together, and broke into a broad smile.

“You must be John! Oh, you’re prettier than your pictures!” She came to the gate, “It’s lovely to finally meet you properly, my dear!”  John pushed the gate open and stepped through, right into a tight hug. Definitely a proper grandmother. She smelled like John had always thought a grandmother should, a nice blend of yeast and flour, spices, and that particular kind of floral perfume all grandmothers tended to wear. John’s own grandparents had been either dead or distant and no efforts had been made to amend that in the past few years, so she hadn’t really enjoyed the kind of affection Jim had apparently gotten from his grandmother.

John wanted to cry, but she wasn’t sure why she felt like crying. There was no danger here, nothing she had to worry about. She blamed her presentation earlier, that had apparently taken more out of her than she’d thought.

“Oh, you sweet girl, what a thing! Why don’t you two come inside and we’ll get you settled, then?” Jim’s grandmother must have known something was a bit off in John’s head, she tightened her arms a bit before letting go of John to usher them into the house. John followed obediently, following the smell of fresh-baked bread and scones and…soup. Something good and hearty for the chill.

The house was beautiful, really. Inside the entry was a feature-piece of coloured ceramic tile leading from the porch and down the entry hall to the kitchen, where the flooring transitioned to well-maintained hardwood. A staircase led up to the first floor, that’s where the principle bedrooms would be. A door off to the left led to what was either a sitting-room or ground-level bedroom for Catríona, the painted door was closed momentarily and John didn’t have the heart to look in. A second door led into a full bath with a shower-over combo, dual-sink vanity, and a closet dedicated to the washer-dryer combo with shelves above for linens and necessary accessories.  To the right was another door leading into the spacious, cosy lounge with a wood-burning hearth. No, not wood-burning. Peat! Oh, that was fantastic!

At the end of the hall was the small, completely functional kitchen with a fridge-freezer combo, integrated dishwasher, one and a half-basin sink, and a range-cooker and oven that looked very capable of cooking up a full Christmas dinner. The work-tops were a wood-effect laminate that was quite stylish and sturdier than it looked. It was clear this kitchen got its use, evidence of Catríona’s efforts were all over the work-surfaces. A big cast-iron pot sat on the stove, set to a high simmer, and the oven-racks held trays of baked goods nearly ready to put up on cooling racks.

“Wow.” John looked out the windows that gave a view of the back garden, parking tarmac, and a clear view of the sea. “Look at that view!”

“I know a prettier one.” Jim crooned from the door, where he leaned against the frame and watched her. “You love this house, don’t you?”

“It feels the way a home should.” She turned and leaned against the work-top behind her, “I never felt really safe in my house, or any house. Baker Street was the first time I didn’t feel out of place in a house. Except for Nan’s house.”

“Now?”

“Keep this house in the family, whatever you have to do.” She rubbed the worn work-top, pushing a couple of veg peels into a pile, “This is a house of love and caring. Did you grow up in this house?”

“I did. Moree insisted that we live with her while Da was out on business, he didn’t like that much.”

“Seems we had bad fathers, didn’t we?”

“And yet, here we are.”

“Survivors.” She leaned her head back, “What a crazy thing.” He chuckled and came to her, standing in front of her and blocking her in with his body, removing her grey beret and tucking it into her back pocket, taming a couple of fly-aways back into order and kissing her in a particular order: forehead, nose, cheeks, and finally, lips. She leaned into the kiss, appreciating the itch of scruff. One-day stubble, oh he was clever. Smart man, him. It didn’t occur to her to be bothered that they were kissing like this in the middle of his grandmother’s kitchen, in Portavogie.

They were interrupted not by his grandmother, but by a sound John hadn’t heard in ages and startled her enough she jumped. She let out a startled gasp, unable to help herself.

“Take it easy, love. It’s just the dogs.” Jim rubbed her arms to calm her down.

“Dogs! Oh, God, of course she has dogs!” John covered her face and giggled, “Bloody hell, why did that startle me to a jump like that?”

“You weren’t expecting it.” Jim kissed her on the cheek and went to open the door that let out into the back garden, admitting entry to a small pack of dogs. German Shepherds. John’s favourite breed. She had wasted hours playing with the military working dogs attached to her unit during her service in the Army, she had always loved to give the dogs some affection.

“That big brute is Anselm. The other two are Eowyn and Lore.” Jim introduced the dogs by name as they introduced themselves to John.

“Oh, okay. Hi, you big beauty. Yes, yes, hi.” John chuckled and took a face-shot lick from friendly Anselm, “Alright, you mad thing! Get down with you.” She shoved him back onto all fours and coughed.

“Oh, Anselm, you bad thing! You have no manners!” Catríona scolded from the door, “Don’t let him do that, Captain. If he does that again, just give him a shove.”

“Oh, it’s alright, Mrs Young.” John ruffled Anselm’s fur, “I love dogs! I haven’t seen any Germans since I left the service, this is perfect!”

“Oh, don’t you dare call me Missus!” Catríona came in and shooed the dogs out of the way, “Call me Moree, love, we’re family after all.”

“I guess we kind of are, aren’t we?” John looked at Jim and wiggled her eyebrows. He had the good sense to blush.

 “Of course we are!” Catríona just smiled and patted her on the arm before turning to Jim. “Now, Jimmy, you be a good boy and show her the bedrooms upstairs.”

“Yes, Moree.” Jim ducked his head and led the way out of the kitchen. So, the women of the family had him by the collar. That was respect there, and she appreciated that there was someone else who could bring him down a bit when he got too into his own head. John chuckled and followed him out. They climbed the stairs and John looked over her shoulder as the dogs followed.

“Is Moree a traditionalist?”

“On what?”

“About sharing a bed?”

“Yes. But she doesn’t stick by her rules.”

“So if, say, I snuck across the hall to your room or you snuck across the hall to mine, she wouldn’t have anything to say about it later?”

“Not much, in any case. We’re both consenting adults. God knows we’ve had our share of bad relationships.” He sat down on the small double bed, neatly made up, patting the mattress. She smiled and sat down next to him, looking around the room. It was a simple room, the walls painted a soft off-white, with a writing desk, bookshelves, wardrobe, and a small dresser. An oriental-style rug covered the floor, and soft gauzy curtains hung on the windows. He took her hand in his, linked their fingers together, and kissed the back of her hand. That led to more serious kissing, and she squeaked when he pushed her over and pinned her to the mattress. It turned into a soft moan as he coaxed her to open for him, tasting of menthol, coffee, and something sweet. His tongue explored familiar corners and she pushed back, going one-for-one. There was some give-and-take, of course, and neither of them quite played by the rules.

John turned the tables on him by shoving a knee between his thighs and twisting her body, flipping them over so she was on top. The air rushed out of his lungs in a soft “oof” and trailed into a chuckle.

“Clever girl.” He breathed.

“Your clever girl, I think, Mr Moriarty.” She murmured, going down for another kiss, “You don’t mind it.”

“No, I really do not mind.” He smiled and stroked her cheekbone with his thumb, “How did I get so lucky?”

“We both got very lucky that day. And every day since then.” John loosened his tie with careful fingers. The buttons of his collar were undone, but she didn’t go beyond that. Suddenly, the door crashed open and they were ambushed by furry assailants.

“Anselm! No!” She rolled and made herself a smaller target, shoving the dogs off and out of the way, “Bad manners, the lot of you monsters!” Jim just laughed and sat up, putting himself back to right. Eowyn came over for a conciliatory lick to John’s hand, and she stroked soft ears.

“Hi, you pretty girl. I wonder who named you?”

“I did.” Jim smiled as he did something with his hair.

“Tolkien fan?”

“Absolutely.”

“Films or books?”

“Both.” He smoothed his tie and ruffled his hair, “I prefer the films.”

“We should have a marathon night sometime.” She looked up from rubbing under Eowyn’s chin, which the dog very clearly enjoyed. “She likes having her chin rubbed. I knew an MWD who was a sucker for chin-scratches.”

“Were you a handler?”

“No, but I knew a lot of them.” She slid from the bed to her knees and inspected Eowyn’s teeth, ears, eyes, and paws. Her joints were sound, she came of good stock, but she was a bit soft and swollen in the belly. John arched an eyebrow and took a closer look. Her teats were swollen and hung low.

“Oh! You’re a mum!” She grinned, “Jim, you didn’t say your family raised dogs!”

“Moree does, has for years.”

“Oh, that’s fantastic! Eowyn’s puppies must be a couple of weeks old by now? Maybe a month or two?”

“Want to see?” He smiled down at her, offering her a hand up.

“Oh, God yes!” She took his hand and pulled herself to her feet. Jim chuckled and kissed her on the cheek.

“I’ll get changed and meet you downstairs.”

“Good with me!” She pushed him out of her room and closed the door behind him after shooing the dogs out. She stood for a moment in the middle of the room before she decided to go out. She found Anselm and Lore sitting outside her bedroom and Jim’s respectively, and she chuckled. Jim’s door was closed, but she didn’t bother to knock.

Patting her thigh, she whistled as she went downstairs. She sat on the bottom riser and retied her boots, humming a few bars of “The British Grenadiers” under her breath as she did. A door open and closed somewhere above, followed by heavy footsteps. He was wearing his jungle-boots again. John smiled and looked over her shoulder as he appeared at the top of the stairs in worn denims, a layered Henley, and a parka for the weather. He had a coat for her, too. She got up and took her coat, a very familiar green parka with a fur-trimmed hood. John chuckled and put it on.

“I can’t believe you kept it.”

“Of course I did! I was hoping you’d be able to wear again, and not have bad memories.”

“Oh, that’s a long way behind me. Not even the worst kidnapping.” She zipped up the parka, “Though, it was one of the few times I was strapped into a live bomb-vest.”

“Oh.” His smile turned a bit wicked and he leaned close until his lips brushed her ear, “I forgot to tell you. Yours was a dummy-vest.”

“You bastard!”

“I told you! I knew who you were, I wasn’t about to waste you like that, on the outside chance your idiot flat-mate really was stupid enough to shoot the vest that night!”

“Who had a target on me, then?” She wasn’t surprised to hear that hers had been a dummy-vest and not the real thing, not like the other poor bastards he had yanked from London’s crowded streets to play a deadly game. “Seb?”

“Absolutely. Gave me no choice in the matter, not that I was going to put anyone else on you.”

“Seb and…?”

“A couple of calibrated laser-pointers.”

“How many snipers did you have up there that night?”

“Three. They have long since been…relieved of their duties.” Jim kissed her on the cheek, “Don’t worry, love, I take care of my Watson. Always.”

“You sly, smug bastard.” She shook her head, “Wonder what Sherlock would say if he knew.” Jim just smiled and led her through the kitchen to the side-door, and out to the back garden. The dogs followed them out and Jim let her into a small shed that had been set up as a whelping-pen. An enclosure attached to the side gave the dogs a place to run and as they approached, several puppies came tumbling out of the animal-flap and approached the side of the enclosure. John couldn’t keep herself from squealing at the sight of the puppies.

“Oh my God, they’re adorable!” She dropped onto her heels on this side of the fence and slipped her fingers through the gaps, “Oh, Jim!”

“I knew you were a dog-person, but not to this extent.” He stood behind her, highly amused by her reaction.

“Oh, God, I love dogs! Love them! Always wanted one when I was kid, never could have one.” She stroked the muzzle of one puppy, who decided to see how she tasted. “I always loved spending time with the working dogs on base, you know? How old are these, then?”

“Two and a half months. Those with coloured collars have been sold, those with black collars are waiting for homes.”

“Pink for girls, blue for boys.” John nodded. She had seen the colour-coding practice in other breeders. After making sure the main gate was secure, and moving the Jaguar out of the street-parking, Jim opened the gate to the enclosure and let out ten German Shepherd puppies. John raced them to the grass and ran erratic circles with the pups, wearing them out and wearing herself out at the same time. At one point, she collapsed on the grass, face-down, completely worn out. In a heartbeat, she was attacked by a furry mob. She yelped and protected her neck and head, pulling up the hood of her coat for an added layer of defence. For all the good it did, one very determined pup got past her defences and squirmed under her hood, digging tiny sharp claws and teeth into the back of her neck, trying to be the big scary alpha. John kicked free of her tiny attackers and dislodged her sneaky assailant, rolling onto her back and holding the guilty party tight in her arms, but not too tight.

“Alright! That is enough from you, you tiny terror!” She sat up, holding the pup at arm's length and raised an eyebrow, “Well, you’re not much to look at after all, are you? Bit of a runt, eh?”

“Looks like you made a friend.” Jim was almost doubled over his was laughing so hard. She looked over her shoulder and flashed him a rude gesture.

“Aw. You don’t mean that, love!”

“I might!” She spat, “Besides, I have an army!”

“An army of what?” Jim snickered, obviously unimpressed. John eyed her puppy pal, then looked at the rest of the swarm. He obviously had no idea what she was capable of when pressed. Well, no, he did, but this was just for fun. She brought the puppy up close so she was nose-to-muzzle and rubbed noses with him.

“Listen here, fuzzy, I need you to do something for me. Listen up good, I’m only going to say this once.” She glanced up at Jim and narrowed her eyes, “See that man over there? He’s your target. I need you and the rest of your pack to take him down.” She tucked the puppy against her body, pointing to Jim. “Right there, that’s him. Can you take care of that for me? Don’t hurt him, I like him, but take him down and make him sorry for not taking us seriously.” Getting eyes on Jim, the puppy started squirming and whining. John chuckled and set the pup down, letting go after a bit and watching it take off at a stumbling charge, the others followed in a blink. John watched the swarm take on Jim, who was caught enough off-guard he staggered. In another two steps, he went down and disappeared in a tumble of fur and tiny teeth.

“All right! All right! Mercy!” He hadn’t stopped laughing, “I believe you! I’m sorry!” John got to her feet and pulled him out of the dog-pile, getting him to his feet properly and brushing his clothes off.

“There, no harm no foul.” She smiled, “So?”

“See if I ever doubt you again. Puppies, John!”

“I know. I never said I played by the rules.” She kissed him on the cheek, “I happen to like dogs.”

“Something about you I did not know. You are a woman of many surprises.”

“And you just got your arse beat by a pack of German Shepherd puppies.” She looked at the swarming puppies, “These puppies. Fierce little things, aren’t they?”

“Quite.” He reached down and picked up their initial assailant, a black-collared unclaimed pup, “This one’s kind of small, ain’t he?”

“Small but mighty. That there would be the runt of the litter, so you know he had a rough start to things. He’s certainly healthy, but a little puny.”

“He wouldn’t sell to the Army or the police. I don’t know if assistance-animal programs would take him.”

“Does Moree sell to the training programs?”

“Always. Sell to training programs and private owners alike.” Jim scratched the runt behind the ear, something the pup liked very much, “Keeps records of all of ‘em, names, litters, date born, date sold, if they’re alive or not.”

“It’s a small house for raising dogs.”

“The vacant lot next door is ours, Moree bought it up when it went on the market, fought a developer for it, too.”

“Smart move.” She herded the rest of the puppies back into the enclosure and the shed, securing the gate. Jim still had the little one in hand, and John wondered if they were going to return to London with a dog. She certainly wouldn’t complain.

Going into the house, Jim showed her where the breeding records were kept and she pulled down a volume of dogs given to the Armed Forces. Sitting down at the dining table in the lounge, she flipped through the pages, a notebook and biro at hand with a pad of sticky-tabs to mark the pages when she saw a dog she recognised. John had almost a quarter of the album marked, and was writing down the names and dates she had served with them and where, when Catríona came by with tea and fresh scones.

“You’re not thinking of taking one of these rascals home, are you now, Captain?”

“Maybe.” She flipped through the book to another page, “This is all of the dogs that went to be Military Working Dogs, I’m trying to see how many of them I know.”

“Were you a handler, dear?”

“No, but I worked with them. Had my life saved by these dogs on more than one occasion. We…uh, lost one of them the day I was taken captive.” She saw a familiar dog and flipped back a page, “That dog, Loki. We lost handler and dog that day, it was terrible. They shot Loki to get to me, he wouldn’t leave my side. Sergeant Macklin told him to protect me, and he did. To the death. That dog was my best friend and he wasn’t even mine.”

“How long did you know them?”

“Macklin and Loki were with us for…almost four years?”

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Can you come with me?” Jim was in the kitchen again. He had returned the puppy to the whelping-hut, he had his coat on, “I want you to see something.”

“Um. Sure.” She looked at the pictures of Loki, sliding out a picture that, for some reason, showed her with Loki. She tucked it into her pocket and went to the kitchen, taking her coat from Jim. He led her out of the house and to a gate in the fence separating the property from the lot next-door, which was fenced off by high wooden fences on the perimeter. She had wondered about that when they’d driven up, and now she knew what was behind those fences, and she was about to see it.

“Moree will take back working dogs from the police and the military, sometimes if the handler dies but the dog doesn’t, or if they’re retired out and the handler can’t take them on for whatever reason,” Jim explained as he opened the gate, letting her through ahead of him. She stepped through into a yard lined with familiar chain link kennels at one end, each one containing one or two dogs. There were sleeping platforms with soft beds, the floors were lined with sawdust, raised feeders held bowls for food and water, and the kennels were topped with sloped roofs to keep rain and snow out of the kennels and keep the sun from causing trouble. Each platform had a small doghouse of suitable size for the dogs to sleep in when the weather was inclement. These dogs were well cared for and loved.

“Alright, have at it.” Jim gestured broadly at the kennels. “See if any of these dogs remember you. I guarantee we have a couple of your old Army mates here.”

“I bet you do.” She took a deep breath, one hand over her heart, where she kept the picture of Loki. The lads had always teased her, saying Loki was more her dog than Ricky’s, but it never really mattered if Loki slept under her cot or Ricky Macklin’s cot. Macklin was Loki’s handler, John was his human. Macklin had offered her Loki if something happened, if Loki was retired out. John had jumped on that, so desperate for a dog that she would take her friend’s  MWD. She wanted a dog, she wanted Loki, and when she’d been told by her captors that the dog had been killed protecting her, she had screamed and fought them. It had taken six men to hold her down, and a full dose of a strong sedative to knock her out long enough for them to put her in a cell.

John knew there was way to see if these dogs remembered their origins and training. And, if any of them remembered her. She walked the aisle between the cages, looking at each dog. She knew the ones that recognised her and she gave each one an ear-scratch through the fence, calling them by name. At the end of the row, she didn’t see a dog at first, but there was evidence in the cage that it was inhabited. She frowned and stood outside the cage for a minute.

“Jim?”

“Yeah?”

“This cage isn’t empty, is it?” She looked over her shoulder at him.

“Which one’s that, love?” he wandered over. She pointed.

“This one. Where’s the dog?”

“Oh, that one?” He smiled, a sad smile she didn’t see very often, “You’d better go inside there, John. Just trust me, you want to. There’s a dog in there, but Moree says she can’t get ‘im to respond to anything. He’s obedient, just...she thinks he’s mourning.”

“Mourning what?”

“He lost his handler in Afghanistan. Right about the same time you were taken captive.”

“Oh?” She carefully undid the latch of the gate. Most dogs came running out at that sound, this one didn’t. Interesting.

“Dog’s not sick, is he?”

“Nope. Heartsick, maybe. Three vets have cleared him as the healthiest ex-Military Working Dog they’ve ever seen. Swears he must be part-cat for the number of times he should have died or been seriously injured and wasn’t. The last time that got him booted being one of them.”

“The Dog with Nine Lives.” She huffed, “Who got him out?”

“Seb did. Said it was the saddest thing he’d ever seen, a wounded MWD wandering an ambush site, crying for someone who wasn’t there. The handler was dead, of course.”

“Jesus.” She stepped into the kennel, “Must’ve played dead!”

“Must have.” Jim watched her as she stood just inside the gate. Each kennel was tagged with a name-plate, but she hadn’t looked at the name-plate for this cage. Sitting down on the sawdust, she put her back to the fence and folded her legs under her, wincing as the cold caused her left knee to object a bit.

“What are you doing?”

“Whenever I met a Working Dog for the first time, I always sat down with my back to the fence, leaving the gate clear for an escape.” She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds the dogs made in their cages. She listened for the sounds this dog would make.

“Moree says this one likes it when she sings. Try that, maybe?” Jim prompted. John tipped her head back and looked at him.

“What is so important about this dog? This dog, above the others here?”

“If he comes out of his shelter, you’ll see. It’s been a long road to get here for him, but he’s here.” Jim smiled, “And so are you. You know what we like to say about coincidence.”

“Rarely is the universe so lazy.” She rolled her eyes, “Yes, I know.”

She had met one other dog who liked it when you sang to him. John, thinking of Loki, sang “Learn To Be Lonely”. She wondered what Jim saw from the other side of the fence, and didn’t really care. She was trying to coax a lonely, depressed cripple out of his hole. She knew what that felt like, she had been there. As she sang, she heard movement.

“John!” Jim whispered. She put one hand up to keep him quiet and sang Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”. She heard the dog move closer, come down the ramp from the platform, make a cautious approach.

John stretched out one hand, keeping her eyes closed. Her fingers brushed soft fur, she stroked a broad head, soft ears, a scarred muzzle. This dog had seen action in places no sane man or creature had any business to be. There was a notch missing from the left ear, taken by a piece of shrapnel during a fire-fight in Gereshk when a grenade had taken out part of a wall they had been using for cover. John had lost her hearing for a while, and had counted herself fucking lucky she hadn’t been hurt worse, having grabbed the dog and covered him while the handler covered her six and fired over the crumbling ruins at their attackers. She had suffered a mild concussion, and a chunk had been missing from her helmet when they’d done an equipment-check after returning to base.

She’d been put on medical leave for a month and a half, taking her recovery in Scotland on a family property that was hers by inheritance, only returning to active duty when she was cleared by two Army physicians. She had stayed out of the field for a while, working from the hospitals instead, but as soon as she was given the go-ahead by her commanders, she’d gone right back into the thick of things.

She lifted the dog’s paws, asking for them in Scots Gaelic, a language she had trained him to respond to over a few months’ time. Like all Germans, he responded best to German, but she had trained her favourite dogs to respond to orders in Gaelic and French, asking their handlers’ permission before she went forward with the training. Good, strong paws, the pads worn from working rough, unpaved streets. She felt a scar from where he had stepped on a loose nail from a hulked-out house and she had pretty much been forced to sit on him long enough to remove the implement from his paw and bandage it until she could get back to base and take care of it properly. With a whine, the dog collapsed in her lap, rolling to present his belly to her in a sign of remembered trust as she looked down at him.

“Hi, Loki!” She stroked his flanks, finding other scars from other patrols, “Hi, my lovely, sweet boy! Oh, I thought you were dead! I thought I’d lost you!”

“Seb brought him to us, almost right away. It took a few days to get him out of Afghanistan and back to the UK, but as soon as we got him here, we put whatever resources we needed to make sure he survived.” Jim spoke up from behind her, “He has a lot left in him to give, he just…needs a handler. He can still do his job, he’s shown it over and over in trials.”

“Why hasn’t Moree re-paired him with another handler?”

“Because she knew there was only one person who deserved him.” Jim sounded nervous, almost, sad, “He told us the whole story, Seb did. Said there was only one person he thought it was right for Loki to go to, but you were gone and it wasn’t until much later that anyone realised you were still alive.”

“And when I walked out of the desert by myself?”

“They patted you on the back, gave you a couple of medals, and said, “good luck to you, dearie”. Never mind you suffered a terrible fever in Germany.”

“I imagine Seb wasn’t too happy about that, was he?”

“No. He asked me a favour.”

“A favour?” She looked up and back at him, “What kind of favour?”

“He asked for a private hospital, where your name wouldn’t mean anything and the only thing that mattered was making sure you got out of the hospital alive.”

“The…private hospital in Doncaster.” She remembered an emergency airlift from the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany to an undisclosed location in England. She vaguely remembered seeing Seb there, and someone else she had never gotten a name for.

“Were you there?”

“I absolutely was there.”

“I’d say you had more than a few months of surveillance on me by the time we met in Camden.” She smiled and rubbed Loki’s head, “I don’t…Jim, I don’t know if I can ever repay you for any of this. You saved Loki, you saved me. Twice, at least. Christ.”

“You don’t owe me anything, John. Having you alive and happy is all I want.” He unlatched the gate, “Come on out of there, let’s get back to the house.”

“Okay.” She got to her feet slowly and patted her thigh, “Come on, Loki. Let’s go.” Loki followed her out of the kennel and immediately took point at her side, just ahead of her like he had when they’d been on patrol. John smiled and took Jim’s hand as they crossed the massive yard and returned to the house. When Catríona saw them with Loki, she just smiled and hugged John.

“You got your own dog back, didn’t you?”

“I thought he was dead, Moree, that’s what they told me.” She rubbed Loki’s ears, swearing she wouldn’t cry.

“Well, they were wrong. And this sir’s got plenty of work left in him. Plenty of spunk.” Catríona looked a bit smug. “He’s all yours, my love.”

“I’ll have to come back for him, I think. I’m not…”

“John, he’s a Military Working Dog. Not exactly retired.” Jim knew exactly where her mind was going about what to do with Loki. And really, all he had to do was call the hotel before tomorrow and inform them that he was bringing a working dog back to the hotel.

“I’ll take him back to London, seeing as I’ll be back before you.” He kissed her on the cheek, “Don’t worry about it until you have to, love. I’ll take care of things.”

“I just…I didn’t want to leave him behind again so soon.” She sat down on the couch and told Loki to sit by her feet. He did that, keeping an eye on her all the time. John leaned against Jim, wondering how things kept changing when she wasn’t expecting them to, and wondering when she would find herself up against an unpleasant change.

“Stop that.” Jim whispered, rubbing the side of her neck, “You’re thinking too hard.”

“Sorry. But…can you blame me?”

“Of course not, but stop doing that.”

“I’ll try.” She sighed and took his free hand in hers, “Do I deserve you, Jim Moriarty?”

“Out of your head, right now.” He dug his fingers into her bicep, “What kind of idiot question is that?”

“I was thinking about my step-father, and Victor Trevor, and my father, and everyone who ever told me I’d never amount to anything.”

“John.” Jim sighed, “How many times have I told you? Yes, you do deserve it. Not just me, but being successful, being happy, being loved.”

“Okay. I’m sorry I’m such a drag sometimes.”

“Don’t apologise for something you have very little control over. I still love you. So get it out of your head that I’m going to leave you.” Jim rubbed the back of her neck to distract her, “I’m the one who should be questioning that kind of thing, not you.”

“Well, if you’re not leaving, neither am I. It’s been this long, hasn’t it? And since Sherlock doesn’t seem to mind too much.”

“Which is some kind of weird miracle in itself.”

“I think he knows you’re important to me, and since he’s dating your cousin, he can’t really give me much grief.”

“Who’s dating who now?” Catríona came out of the kitchen and gave them fresh tea and more scones.

“Oh, my silly flat-mate is dating Greg is all.” John smirked, “I was wondering about that, really. He started being nice to me all of a sudden and I didn’t have a clue why. Then I saved Greg’s sorry arse when his ex-wife went legit psycho on him a couple nights ago at a restaurant.”

“A week ago.” Jim took a sip of tea, “We went to La Manetta a week ago.”

“Oh, that’s right.” She nodded, “That was Wednesday. I worked all day Thursday and flew out bloody early on Friday.”

“Your cousin Greg?” Catríona narrowed her eyes, “Greg Lestrade?”

“Yup.” John nibbled on a scone, wondering if she could convince Catríona to share her recipe. “That Greg. He’s dating Sherlock Holmes, I’m dating Jim, and it seems to be working out on both accounts.”

“Good, it’s about time he found someone who can handle him at his worst and still want to be with him for the rest of it!” Catríona sniffed, looking very…determined.

“Who, Moree?”

“Sherlock!” She looked at them like they had grown two heads each. “Blundering idiot’s going to get himself killed if he’s not careful! Might not even be a criminal who does it, either. Can see any of you lot offing him in his sleep some night. Can’t say he wouldn’t deserve it, but it would be such a shame. Such a handsome face. Could use some work on the personality, but there’s really nothing doing for that, is there?” Jim and John looked at each other as Catríona carried on about Sherlock Holmes, a little confused by her passion. It was a given she followed the papers, but this was more than following the papers.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that! I follow your blog, Captain!”

“Oh!” John let out a long sigh, “Thank Christ! Of course, you follow my blog!”

“That makes sense to me.” Jim shrugged, “I think it’s safe to assume that if he wasn’t so useful, or so damned handsome, Sherlock Holmes would be long in his grave by now.”

“Yeah, probably.” John rolled her eyes, “First-rate git, he is. But his brother is so much worse.”

“He’s just downright nosy, is what he is. Proper posh bastard, ain’t he?” Jim grinned at her and she giggled. “Has this way of making you feel like a complete idiot just by lookin’ at you.”

“Yeah, he does. But he doesn’t scare me. Told him as much the first time we met, too. He didn’t like that much, I don’t think.” John sniffed and looked into her cup, “Oh.”

“You do that when you get into a conversation. Same with eating.” Jim smiled and took her empty cup, “Didn’t know you’d done it, yeah?”

“Nope.” She shrugged, “Oh well!”

“Looks like the dogs are getting along.” Catríona had noticed that Loki had some company of his own kind and she looked over to see him curled up with Lore and Anselm. Eowyn was in the whelping-shed with the puppies. John chuckled.

“He’s always been very good with other dogs.”

“You can tell he’s happy. Look at his ears.” Catríona smiled, quite pleased with things.

“Yeah, he’s happy, that’s for sure. You dork.” She stuck her tongue out at Loki, who just wagged his tail. A timer went off in the kitchen and Catríona got up, collecting their empty cups.

“What’s that?” John looked over her shoulder. 

“That’s dinner ready. Up on your feet, lazies.” Catríona patted her on the leg as she passed them by, “Come help an old woman with getting the table set.”

“Right behind.” John kicked to her feet and followed Catríona to the kitchen, where she took a stack of dishes and silverware to put on the table. There was the soup, a thick potato-chicken stew, and a proper roast that came out of the oven with sautéed seasonal veg and rich brown gravy, and homemade bread. For afters, there was sticky toffee pudding. John loved to cook, and she wished she’d asked if she could help in the kitchen, but she got the feeling that Catríona would have shooed her out.

“This is an awful lot of food for just three people, Moree.” She looked at the stack of dishes in her hands, “Are we expecting some company?”

“I have friends coming! They heard you were coming to town and wanted to meet you, of course.” Catríona just smiled. John looked at Jim and made a face. He laughed at her, choked when she kicked him in passing.

“Yeah, hack it up.”

“Worth it!” he chortled, taking a bottle of red wine from Catríona, and hunting down a bottle-opener and glasses. John put the dishes on the sideboard next to the range and laid silverware and glasses at each place at the table.

“If you want to go get freshened up, there’s a bit of time to nip upstairs.” Catríona gave her a nudge and shot Jim a look. “Not that I mind how you look. But I know you two.”

“I’m fine in this get-up, it’s him you should wonder about.” John poked Jim in the ribs as she took a couple of wine-glasses from him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He gave her a dirty look as he worked the cork out of a second bottle of wine, having gotten the first open.

“You have a certain way you like to appear to people. It’s not usually denims and a layered Henley, love.” She kissed him on the cheek, “I like the casual look, but you might not.”

“I look fine, leave off!” He nudged her out of his way, “Go on, you!”

“Who’s coming, Moree?” John put the glasses down on a side-table, they were still empty, and looked over her shoulder towards the kitchen.

“I have a list and place-cards. Come and take a look.” Catríona was enjoying this greatly. John rolled her eyes and went back into the kitchen, passing by Jim, who pulled her into a quick kiss before disappearing upstairs. She would laugh if he came back down in one of those damn suits. She picked up a printed list of names. The table sat eight people comfortably when it was fully extended, there were six people coming to dinner. One couple and a singleton, plus the three of them. Friends and neighbours of Catríona, no doubt, who’d got word that her elusive grandson was in town for a short visit and had brought a girl with him.


 

Chapter Text


After she had the place-cards arranged with Catríona at one end of the table, the mysterious Mr William Rutherford at the other, and the couples at either side with John seated next to Jim on the right and Mr and Mrs Abraham Monday on the left, having put down a nice dark-green tablecloth and a runner of County Down tartan before she put down any place-settings, John checked the time and ran upstairs to change. She’d spent enough time outside with the dogs, she could do to change her clothes. And she had time to do so. She was debating between tac or khaki fatigues when Jim knocked and let himself in.

“So, who’s coming to dinner?”

“The Mondays, and Mr Rutherford.” She folded her arms across her chest, “What kind of point do I want to make with these people? I want them to like me.”

“They will, I promise.” Jim smiled and hugged her from behind. “I say this every time, but wear what makes you comfortable.”

“What makes me comfortable makes other people nervous.” She sighed, leaning back against Jim. He looked properly spiffy in a Westwood sans tie and pocket-square, the bastard, so this might be a friends’ dinner but it was time to make a good impression. Not doing that in denims and a jumper, ta. John settled on her familiar khaki fatigues, forgoing her usual armaments. Well, except the SIG, that was a must. One round chambered, full magazine loaded, safety engaged.

She got a last look at herself in the mirror and decided she looked fine. It would be clear to their guests that she was ex-military and working private security, she probably didn’t need the fatigues to make that point, but it sure didn’t hurt her cause. She’d been running into people from her past all weekend, she might as well make it easy for them to remember why she looked familiar. And really, she wouldn’t be one bit surprised if someone at dinner remembered her from way, way back when. Hell, she had probably run into Jim while she’d been stationed here! Funny how she’d come back to Belfast so willingly, never mind her deployments here. Two years in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, how many times had she snuck past checkpoints to help civilians and allies? As a doctor, she was nigh untouchable, but that didn’t stop the IRA and it’s splinter groups from shooting at her.

“You’re doing it again.” Jim nosed behind her right ear, “Where are you?”

“Here.” She turned her head, “I’ve…been here before.”

“You have?”

“In 2001. I was here until 2003 when I was redeployed to the Middle East.”

“Oh, you were here for The Troubles, weren’t you?”

“Yep.” She sniffed, “Wouldn’t be surprised if you and I had something to do with each other back then, not that either of us would remember it by now.” John sighed and tugged on the collar of her jacket, “Damn.”

“There are far worse things than a connection that goes back nine years.” Jim turned her by the shoulders and kissed her. They were separated by the sound of the bell.

“Judging by the time, that’ll be dear Inspector Rutherford.” Jim looked at his watch and grinned, heading for the stairs. John went after him. It was just past seven. Where had time gone? They’d gotten to the house just after three!

“Inspector?”

“Chief Inspector, should be by now.  Maybe Superintendent. He’ll die before he retires.” Jim looked over his shoulder at her and smiled, “Don’t worry, you’ll like him.” John huffed and followed him down the stairs. It was so interesting that she had kind of ditched the conference to come up to Belfast with Jim to visit family and didn’t really mind the change of pace. She’d done her bit, technically she wasn’t obligated to stay for the rest of the conference or rush back down to Dublin tomorrow morning. She would stay, though, she owed it to her friends. But…maybe take a bit to get back in the morning? Maybe.

She was behind Jim as he opened the door to Mr Rutherford, there to greet him out of the porch. William Rutherford was seventy-three years old, still fighting fit, with wavy auburn hair gone grey just starting to thin at the temples, a friendly, weathered face lined with years of experience, bright, intelligent green eyes,  just a bit taller than John and Jim, and stepped into the house in a neat uniform. Definitely with the police, specifically with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which John remembered better as the Royal Ulster Constabulary. His epaulettes bore three pips, and his peaked cap a raised black band on the outer brim. Chief Inspector of the PSNI. John stood aside a bit as Jim ushered Rutherford into the entry hall, chatting with him like they were old friends. They probably were, to be honest. John took Rutherford’s coat and cap, hanging both on the row of hooks above the bench in the hall.

“And this is John Watson.” Jim said by way of introduction, “I’m sure you’re familiar with her name?”

“Oh, yes!” Rutherford shook her hand, absolutely beaming, “A delight to meet you properly, Lieutenant!” Lieutenant. Oh, lord, did he remember? People who followed her blog called her “Doctor”. People who knew her history more personally called her “Captain”. It was probably The Troubles he remembered. She had been a lieutenant at the time, fairly new to her rank but not quite her responsibilities.

“It’s, uh, Captain now, Inspector.” She smiled, “Come a long way from those miserable days.”

“Oh, Captain! Forgive, won’t you? Of course, it is! Brave Captain Watson!” He chuckled and seized her by the shoulders, “Let me look at you, lass! Oh, you’ve grown some, haven’t you!”

“Older, perhaps, Inspector, but…not up, sadly.” John couldn’t help herself. Jim almost choked, Rutherford threw his head back and roared.

“John, my love, see if he’ll calm down with a drink?” Jim was trying so hard to keep a straight face, but it was a close call. John nodded and offered her arm to Rutherford.

“Can I interest you in something to drink before dinner, Inspector?”

“Got anything stronger than wine around here?”

“Somewhere in this house, we do.” She rolled her eyes. “This way.” She got him into the lounge and sat him down in one of the armchairs before she disappeared into the kitchen, almost choking.

“What’s gotten into you, dear?” Catríona asked, eyeing her up as she raided the liquor cabinet. “What are you looking for up there?”

“Something stronger than wine.” She looked over her shoulder, “It’s Rutherford who’s asked, Moree.”

“Oh, that sly scoundrel!” Catríona rolled her eyes, wiping her hands off on her apron, “Here, give him a glass of Tyrconell. That’ll keep him happy.”

“Think I’ll take one for myself. Do you need any help plating, Moree?” She heard the bell again, and more voices as Jim ushered the Mondays into the house. John located the Tyrconell and gulped. She looked over her shoulder, “Er, Moree?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Which bottle?”

“Oh, bring down the purple label, will you? We might break into the copper later.”

“Got it.” She snatched the right bottle and climbed down from the liquor cabinet, “Still store the goods where littles can’t reach. Smart.” Hopping off the ladder, John rummaged for proper glasses and broke the seal. She poked her head out of the kitchen, thinking on something.

“Jim?”

“Yes, love?”

“Can you…come ‘ere a minute?” She leaned against the door as her boyfriend popped around the corner, “Whiskey or wine?”

“Ooh. What’s on offer?”

“This.” She held up the bottle in question, “Got it down for Rutherford.”

“That’ll do! Wine with dinner!” He smiled and came to help her portion out the whiskey. As they fixed drinks for their guests, they were aware of Catríona watching their every move. She knew what they were about, smart woman, and just smiled as they teased and flirted.

After a bit, Rutherford came wandering through. John handed him a glass of the whiskey with a smile. He took it as he passed her, kissing her on the cheek.

“Thank you, dear.”

“Pleasure’s mine, Inspector.” She wondered if it was just a thing about Scots and Irishmen that they were more affectionate with strangers than her own countrymen, but she had to give credit to her hosts for being very kind to a stranger.

“You are not a stranger. Stop that.” Jim had read her, as he always did. John chuckled and took a sip of her drink.

“It’s the hospitality I’m not used to, that’s all.” She shrugged, “Shall we go play nice with the Mondays?”

“I suppose. They’ve been rather eager to meet you.” He rolled his eyes and took one of the remaining glasses, giving her a second.

“The blog?” She had to ask, that seemed to be how most people knew her name, if not through the papers.

“Mm. No. The papers, this time, and gossip.”

“Of course.” She shook her head and followed him out to the lounge, where she met the Mondays, Abraham and his wife Victoria. They chatted for a while with the couple, explaining what it was they did. John worked three jobs, one at the hospital, one at The Met, and one for Jim; while Jim worked primarily in private security contracting and IT, but dabbled in a bit of everything else. It was amazing how people never considered that Jim was one of the most dangerous, powerful people in the UK. After a bit, John went back to the kitchen and checked on dinner. She had the sense to clear the corner before walking in, and it was a good thing she did, she caught Catríona and Rutherford in a rather…compromising situation. She bit back a gasp and ducked before she got caught, putting her back to the wall and catching her breath.

“Oh, you are kidding me!” She whispered, keeping an ear to the kitchen as she ducked into the loo. It wasn’t the first time she’d caught someone kissing, especially not a couple of seniors. She had caught Mrs Hudson with a beau a time or two, but…still! Once she felt less flushed, she washed her hands and face and went out to the kitchen. By now, Catríona and Rutherford were just chatting, standing close together, looking for all the world like a pair of flirting teenagers. Rutherford caught sight of her and just smiled, waving her in without breaking the flow of conversation. John chuckled and crept into the kitchen, taking their empty glasses and refilling them.

“Oh, John, would you be a dear and call everyone to the table, please?” Catríona broke away from the conversation long enough to ask her to sound the dinner-bell, such as it was. John smiled and went out again.

“I’d be happy to, Moree.” She called over her shoulder, poking her head into the lounge to rally the troops to the table. Jim saw the Mondays to the table and followed John back to the kitchen to help with plating and serving. Rutherford was shooed out of the kitchen, they did not miss the fond smack on the hip or the sneaky kiss that spawned the love-tap. Jim watched Rutherford go out of the kitchen and once he was out of sight, shot a look at John, one eyebrow raised. Did I really just see that?  John nodded subtly as she passed him a couple of bowls. Yes, you did just see that. I think it’s cute. Jim just grinned and kissed her on the cheek as he passed her by. She aimed a kick at his ankle in retaliation before following him out.

The soup was first, of course. Once everyone had a serving, they called Catríona out of the kitchen and sat down together. Catríona was, of course, a devout Catholic, and they obediently bowed their heads for a brief blessing before eating. Not that John or Jim were particularly religious, but they could humour their elders who still were. John, especially, didn’t particularly believe in any higher god-figure, not after what she had seen and done. She believed in a bigger something, but not a specific religious figure. The first course was rather quiet, as was typical, but it was a pleasant, companionable quiet. It wasn’t that there was nothing to talk about, they just chose not to at the moment. A couple of glasses into the Tyrconnell Port Cask Finish and they were all in good spirits, but John thought Rutherford looked a little nervous.  

-&-

Once the first course had been cleared, John collected their dishes and returned them to the kitchen. She would see about wash-up duties later. Jim poured a glass of wine for everyone while she helped Moree plate the roast and veg. She had just taken her seat when her phone buzzed in her pocket. There were only a couple of people who would call her right now, and she groaned.

“I am so sorry, would you excuse me please?” She pulled her phone out and checked the caller-id. Yep, it was Sherlock. And he only called her if it was important.

“Of course, my dear!” Catríona looked concerned, “Is everything alright?”

“I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll just be a moment.” She stepped into the kitchen before she took the call.

“Watson.”

“John?”

“Jesus, it had better be important, Sherlock. Where are you?” She looked around the kitchen, “I’m not really in a position to be fronting bail-money right now.”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that, dear. I have something rather interesting for you.” He sounded rather excited, so that meant it was a case.

“Fire away.” John rubbed her forehead, “But try to make it quick, will you?”

“I just sent you pictures. Tell me what you think.” He said at the same time her phone pinged to show an alert that she had received a text. Attached was a series of photographs taken at a crime-scene somewhere in London. John drew a sharp breath and winced.

“Well, it’s not as bad as some I’ve seen. Victim is twenty-three years old, trans. Looks to be male-to-female, top-surgery was done recently but done well. Bone structure of the face is still very masculine, but much softer than standard. Her features have softened a bit with the change.” Well, what features were still discernible from the mass of bruises and blood. Someone had beaten the victim to within an inch of needing dental records to identify them. She flipped to another picture in the chain and gasped.

“Oh my god. Sherlock!”

“I know.”

“Jesus Christ, who would do something like that?” She muttered, “Um, that’s…okay, that would be between thirty-eight and forty-two weeks, so…Christ, if the foetus survived, it’ll thrive. Should, anyway. You might want to look into the hospitals and see if anyone matching our vic’s physical checked in for anything recently.”

“This was not done in a hospital, but it was done with surgical care.”

“Find that baby, Sherlock. Find that girl’s family and loved ones, someone is going to be missing her.”

“We did.”

“Get them to talk. Find out who her friends and acquaintances were. Find out what her routine was, where she went and when she went there, find out where she was in the last three days, and see if she was reported missing in that time. Get back to me when you know something.” She hung up with Sherlock and silenced her phone before stowing it in her pocket.

Instead of returning to the table, she ducked into the loo and locked the door behind her, putting her back to the door. It wasn’t Venice Patrick’s death, violent as it had been, that bothered John, it was the uncertain fate of her baby. She’d left out something talking to Sherlock. She would have been one of the last people to see that girl alive. She remembered hugging Venice and telling her to take care of herself, to find somewhere safe to go until her baby came, which was due any day now. Venice had promised, and John had walked her out to a taxi. She was pulled from her thoughts by a soft knock on the door. She slipped the lock and moved over to let Jim in. He came in and sat down with her, putting an arm around her without a word.

“Who was it, love?”

“Just…” She handed him her phone and let him flip through the pictures. “That girl was one of my patients.”

“Oh, John!”

“I’m so worried about that baby, Jim.”

“Who would do something like that?”

“I don’t know, I just…I have no idea.”

“Do you want the scum responsible for this to explain themselves?”

“Absolutely!”  

“Of course you do.” He kissed her on the cheek and dialled a number they both had memorised. A short conversation with Seb in London had their nets spread to find the scum who had murdered Venice Patrick and stolen her baby. Seb offered to coordinate with The Met on this one, and John said go for it, sending a text to Greg to expect contact soon from Seb about the Patrick case. After washing her face, John returned to the table, apologizing for stepping away for so long.

“No worries, my dear!” Catríona smiled benignly, “Is everything alright in London?”

“The important people are safe.” She sighed, shaking her head, “But the violence we are capable of exercising on our fellows is shocking.”

“Ah, a case then?” Rutherford raised an eyebrow, “I know that look, Captain. See it in my line of work all the time.”

“Any violence against children always sits wrong with me.” She took a sip of her wine, “Innocence is subjective, but you never, ever harm children.”

 “Oh, it’s that, is it? What a shame, the lack of human decency and empathy is appalling.” Mrs Monday shook her head sadly, “But if you and that handsome detective of yours are on the case, you’ll put things to rights and get justice for those who can’t speak up for themselves.”

“I’m sure going to try.”

“Whoever did this will not get away with it, love. We’ve made sure of that.” Jim took her hand in his, “We can’t do much from here, and worrying helps no one. Focus.”

“He’s right, you know.” Rutherford poked at her with his fork, “Best listen to the lad.”

“It’s the part of me that’s a doctor that worries. I can’t help it.”

“Just try.”

“Yes, sir.” She focused on the moment, leaving the case for later consideration. The conversation turned to something entirely unrelated, thankfully, and she took the diversion at face-value.

After finishing the second course, John again collected the dishes and checked her phone for updates from the boys in London. Nothing, yet. After helping plate and serve dessert, she went back to the kitchen for a minute, just to get her head on straight. Cases didn’t usually throw her for a loop like this one had, and she was actually very glad she wasn’t in London right now. She leaned against the work-top and looked out the window into the back garden, drinking from a glass of water, when she heard footsteps.

“I’m fine, Jim, you don’t need to follow me every time I leave the room, y’know.”

“I’m afraid I’m not Jim, but you can’t fault the lad for doing just that.”

“Inspector Rutherford!” John set her glass down and straightened as Rutherford came into the kitchen, “I’m sorry, I thought…”

“I know what you thought, girl.” He just smiled, “Stand down.”

“Sir.” She relaxed again, “Jesus. Sneak up on me like that, give someone a fit for Christ’s sake.”

“You’re a smart girl, Watson, street-wise and clever.”

“Smarter than people like to think I am.” She cleared her throat, “Can’t help it if my old man thought it was acceptable to beat the sense out of me whenever he felt like it.”

“That was not your fault.” Rutherford came up alongside her, putting a careful hand on her arm, “But that wasn’t what I came here for.”

“Hmm?”

“I thought I’d better ask your opinion of things before I did it, not that there’s much to stop me.”

“What’s in your head, Inspector? You’ve been giddy and nervous all evening.” She studied the kind senior detective, “And I did catch you in here earlier with Moree. I won’t say anything.”

“Ah, you sneaky thing! I thought we’d been caught, but I didn’t see you and Jim was busy playing host.”

“Nope, that was me.” She smiled, “What’s got you tied up?”

“This.” He handed her something, something small and compact. John knew the feel and look of a ring-box and gasped, setting her glass down again in a hurry.

“Oh my god, is this…” she turned the box over, “Is this a ring?”

“Go ahead and open it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.” He waved her on and she carefully cracked the box open. Nestled inside was a gorgeous Claddagh ring delicately crafted out of 14 karat gold with pave set diamonds and Celtic knotwork and a diamond in the setting that was at least half a carat. It was absolutely breathtaking. 

“Oh my god.” John breathed softly, “Oh, this is beautiful! Where did you…?”

“Bout a month ago. I’ve been planning for months to ask ‘er, just never quite got around to buyin’ a proper ring. Saw that one and knew it was hers.”

“And now you’re going to ask her! Tonight?”

“Was wonderin’ if I should just ask the damn question or wait until the Mondays are gone.”

“Word will get out quick enough without them being witness.” John carefully removed the ring and studied it, “I’d wait until they’re gone. Jim and I will take care of washing-up, you get your nerves together and put the question to Moree. I don’t think she’s going to say no.”

“You think I should?”

“Oh, absolutely. I can’t imagine this didn’t cost you a pretty penny, it’s gorgeous!”

“That pretty thing is a sapphire.” Rutherford looked a bit shy, “Wouldn’t know that, would you, just lookin’ at it?”

“This is a white sapphire? Oh, sure fooled me! This is gorgeous!” She looked at the ring with new appreciation, it really was beautiful. White sapphire and...cubic zirconia or moissanite for the pave stones? 

“It’s about what a bloke the likes of me can manage these days.” Rutherford just shrugged a bit, almost...not ashamed, but very uncertain of himself.

“It’s perfect, absolutely just perfect. I couldn’t tell you the difference until you fessed up, who else is ever going to suspect? It’s the thought that matters, and the heart.” John smiled and put the ring carefully back in its box, closed the box, and put it in Rutherford’s pocket, “It’s in this pocket, don’t forget. And for Christ’s sake, don’t worry! You’ll make yourself sick doing that, and that’s no help to any of us.” Rutherford just smiled and hugged her tight enough she grunted. Going back out, she shooed him back to his seat and sat down with Jim, who gave her a suspicious look. Whatever he deduced, he kept to himself. Thankfully.

Dessert was delicious, of course, as the whole meal had been, and after they’d scraped their plates clean and enjoyed an after-dinner glass of wine, John and Jim collected the dishes, and Jim started in on the washing up, getting rid of his jacket and rolling back his sleeves for the job. John, on the other hand, corralled the seniors and banished Rutherford and Catríona to the lounge while ushering the Mondays out to their car. Jim had wisely, given the amount of alcohol consumed, called for a taxi to pick them up and take them home for the night. Once the couple was on their way, John went back into the house and locked up for the night. She had the feeling Rutherford would be staying over, and that was just fine. She’d muzzle Jim if she had to.

On her way through to the kitchen, she poked her head into the lounge to check on Rutherford and Catríona, who were seated on the couch together, talking in soft voices. He hadn’t asked the question yet, but he was going to.

“You two need anything?” She couldn’t help a smile.

“No, I think we’re in order. Thank you, my dear.” Rutherford just gave her an endearing, slightly-frightened smile. She rolled her eyes and went over to the couch, leaning over the arm of it until she was close enough she could speak to Rutherford without Catríona overhearing.

“I know you’re nervous, just go with your heart. It will not lead you astray. No time like the present, Inspector.” She whispered, kissing him on the cheek. He caught her by the hand as she pulled away and she gave a quick, reassuring squeeze. Christ, it had been ages since someone had asked for advice or help with a proposal. She’d done her share of match-making in the past, content to watch her friends find their perfect person, offering a shoulder to cry on when things didn’t turn out quite right and the relationship ended for one reason or another, even roughing up a couple of thug boyfriends who thought it was okay to play with her friends’ affections. John had dated here and there, but her past kept her from getting too deeply involved and then she’d moved in with Sherlock, who had ensured that she never kept a boyfriend more than a couple of weeks. Half that lot hadn’t been worth even a first date, so she wasn’t terribly upset that he kept running off her dates.

Then Jim had come along, barreling into her life in a dangerous, thrilling game of wits, promising chaos wherever he went. But the Jim she had gotten to know over the past six months was a very interesting, very human individual. Oh, he was capable of shocking mayhem and cold-hearted violence, but he had a sense of humour, an endearing sweet side, and seemed to have made it his personal goal to spoil John rotten. John had long since given up trying to talk him out of the occasional lavish gifts and date-nights that usually included some restaurant way out of her price-range and dress-code, but it was the little gestures that she enjoyed. The nights in at the penthouse, where they watched movies and ate takeaway. Sometimes, they watched a match and booed bad plays and dirty refs. There were the surprise visits at work when he would bring her lunch; the long nights when he would sit with her through the after-effects of a nightmare or a long case that ended badly. Or just a long case or a long week in general. He was very good at making her feel better about herself when things just didn’t seem to be going well. She appreciated that.

-&-

As she left the lounge to go let the dogs run before she finished locking up the house and see if Jim needed any help in the kitchen, John looked over her shoulder. She smiled as she saw Rutherford slip a hand into his pocket, feeling for the ring-box to reassure himself it hadn’t somehow migrated in the forty-five minutes since he had shown it to John and asked her opinion of things. Content to leave them, she fetched her coat and called the dogs, going out to the yard.

“Everything alright?” Jim looked up from the wash-up. By the looks of things, he was nearly done with it. She looked over her shoulder as she opened the door and let the dogs out first, fastening her parka as she did.

“Yeah. Why?”

“You’ve been all over the map, are you…okay?”

“Today wasn’t the best day, but I’ve had worse.” She smiled and checked her pockets, “Think you can leave that for a bit?”

“Yeah?”

“Come on.” She held out one hand to him, inviting him to join her outside. It was a cold night, but the skies were clear and she suspected stars could be seen for miles. Setting the last few dishes aside on the drying-board, Jim went to get his coat and checked in on Rutherford and Catríona, who reassured him they were alright and told him he had better things to do than worry about the likes of them. Not at all reassured, Jim let them be and followed John out of the house.

After they had run the dogs, she had an idea and went to get a couple of torches and leads for Anselm, Loki, and Lore.

“We’re only going to need two.” Jim followed her into the house, “Lore stays with Eowyn these days.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Used to sneak out of my room all the time when I was a lad, loved it.”

“Ever get caught?”

“A few times.” He just smiled and located a couple of torches while she secured leads for Anselm and Loki.

As they prepared to leave on their short excursion, she figured she might as well warn the seniors that they were stepping out. As she poked her head in, she heard Catríona give a soft cry. Jim was behind her in a heartbeat, but she held him at bay.

“No, it’s alright.” She promised and they watched as Rutherford got down on one knee, presenting Catríona with the ring-box and its precious contents.

“Is that a ring?”

“He’s had this planned for months, he got the ring a month ago.” John smiled, “It’s gorgeous, perfect for Moree.”

“About time.” Jim breathed, leaning against her back, “They’ve been courting for years, it seems. I always wondered when he would go ahead and propose to her.”

“Looks like she said yes. I think he’ll be staying over tonight.”

“Of course he will!” Jim smiled and kissed her on the cheek, “Come on, you.” John chuckled and they leaded up the dogs once they were outside, going through the gate and east down Warnocks Road and taking a right where the road curved left or a rough-paved footpath went right towards the beachhead.


 

Chapter Text


Following a very busy day in Dublin, which had included a shameless “kidnapping” once John Watson had finished her lecture and a brief chopper-flight to Belfast, Jim Moriarty was content to follow his girlfriend on a late-night walk down to the beach behind his grandmother’s house in Portavogie. They took Anselm and Loki, one of John’s former MWD service-mates from the Army, lighting their way with torches. He suspected this was John giving his grandmother and her beau some space and some time alone. The proposal hadn’t come as a complete surprise, but its timing had been. He was very honestly happy for them, his grandmother was one of the dearest people in his life and William Rutherford was intelligent, kind, and had been looking after him nearly as long as his grandmother had been.

 

Rutherford was an old, old family-friend who had been there for them through many trials. He remembered when Rutherford had stepped up in the wake of his grandfather’s death, offering support to the family and helping a young Jim come to terms with the loss of someone very dear to him. Rutherford had never told him any of his interests were wrong, or that he might be going down a path there was no turning back from, and in fact, Rutherford had been there for him when Carl Powers’ bullying turned to subtle physical violence.

“What are you thinking, love?” John’s voice was soft in his ear and he looked over. They had reached the beach and stood above the high-tide line, staring out across the water. The dogs played in the wet sand nearby, staying close on principle. Some splashing proved that one of them had jumped into the surf. Low-tide was no danger to them and he chuckled.

“I was thinking of how long I’ve known Inspector Rutherford. He’s been in my life almost as long as I’ve been alive, he’s a dear family friend.”

“So, none of this came as a surprise to you?”

“Not at all.” He leaned his head back and looked up at the stars. Quiet nights like this, with the skies clear and covered in a blanket of stars that stretched on and on for miles without end, cloudy arms of the Milky Way visible in swaths of pale white, had always made him feel small and humble. A small part of something so much bigger than any of them.

“You know, Sherlock doesn’t do much stargazing, says it’s useless in his line of work.” John was soft beside him, “But I always loved this.”

“Counting stars?”

“Sometimes I miss having clear skies like this, where I can see stars for miles and there’s nothing out here but me, the sky, and maybe my partner. One of us always kept watch.”

“Seb?” He remembered the Paris job and John’s little serenade.

“Or someone else, but it was usually him.” She rocked on her heels and looked down for a minute. Before he could ask what she was thinking, she switched off her torch, took his and did the same, secured them both on her duty-belt, and dropped into a crouch. It occurred to him that she was testing the sand only after she gave a soft “Yes!” and got comfortable. It was cold, of course, but where she had settled the sand was quite dry. He looked down at her, very much amused.

“What are you doing?”

“Counting the stars. Join me?” John held up one hand in invitation. It was a childish thing to do, but he had done it in his own youth. They were safe here, John was armed, he was armed, and the dogs would hear any comers long before they did. Shrugging, Jim joined her on the sand, laying so his head was to her feet and her head was to his feet, shoulder to shoulder with her.

“Look up, Jim.” She whispered, and he opened his eyes. Above them was an expanse of stars the likes of which he had rarely ever seen. Thousands of them, and a sliver of the moon just visible in the west. He picked out several constellations he knew and he traced them with a fingertip, naming them to himself and to John.

“Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco. Gemini.” He pointed them out, “More I can’t see.”       

“There’s Polaris.” John pointed out the North Star. “Sailors used to rely on the stars to navigate their ships, depending on fixed points to keep from getting lost.”

“I always thought it was amazing that you could get from one place to another on nothing but a few points of reference.”

“The North Star is the best way to orient yourself.” John smiled, “Mountains are almost always to your west, plains are to your east. Unless you live on the other side of said mountains, then it’s backwards.”

“Points of reference?”

“I knew a couple of Americans who got so badly turned around because we had mountains to the east, but they were used to them being to the west.” She chuckled, “Always look for the North Star, and you’ll find your way home.” Jim recalled something Sherlock had once said in a moment of kindness, that John was his “Conductor of Light”, his “Guiding Star”. John had been that moron’s moral compass, for what little good it did any of them. But Sherlock hadn’t really appreciated John like he should have. That had changed a bit lately, but Jim still thought John deserved so much better.

“I know what you’re thinking.” She murmured, her breath warm on his ear, the sand rustling as she rolled onto her stomach, “You can’t keep thinking things like that when it’s behind us.”

“You’re too good for us, John Watson.” He sighed, looking up into her blue eyes, lit by the same stars he had been admiring, small galaxies in themselves. “Why do you stay?”

“Because someone has to look out for you idiots, and it might as well be me.” She smiled, “Besides, I don’t regret anything. Maybe I did, but I don’t anymore.”The dogs were messing around in the surf and he rolled his eyes.

“I suppose we’ll have to dry those two off when we get back to the house?”

“Of course. Tempted to force them to sleep in the shed, what do you think?”

“Oh, let them have the house. It’s warm there, and I don’t think they’ve rolled in the sand much.”

“You’d be surprised.” John snickered, “Anselm’s your dog, isn’t he?”

“Mhm. Raised him from a pup.”

“Well, Loki gets along with him alright.” She moved and the sky was blocked out as she straddled him, “What say we get back to the house and get some sleep?”

“My room or yours?” He just had to ask.

“First one back to the house gets first dibs.” She smirked and leaned down to kiss him. Oh, that was a clever trick. He grabbed her by the arms and flipped them over, pinning her for a moment. The need to take a decent breath was the only thing that parted them, but it kick-started a scramble. John bucked him off and was on her feet in a heartbeat, halfway back to the footpath by the time he caught up. They called the dogs and raced back to the house. 

 

John was in better shape, but not by much, and the last he saw of her before they got back to the house was John vaulting the low gate separating the back garden tarmac from the road. There were still lights on, he suspected Catríona and William were still awake. He caught up with her at the door and grabbed her by the arm, spinning her around in a smooth motion. The dogs charged in behind them, creating more of a racket, and John giggled.

“We should dry the dogs off.” She murmured against his lips, “They’ve earned it.”

“Oh, very well.” He huffed, knowing she had a point. Finding towels, they wiped Loki and Anselm down and sent them to bed down in front of the fireplace. They said goodnight to William and Catríona, who seemed to know what they’d been up to and just smiled as they dismissed John and Jim for the night. Jim raced John up the stairs, catching her at the top and pinning her to the wall.

“If they catch us…”

“We’re all adults here, aren’t we?” He smiled at her, taking in the flush on her cheeks, the way her eyes were nearly black, pupils blown with arousal and the thrill of a friendly chase, the ragged rise and fall of her chest as she caught her breath.

“My room…or yours?” She asked, her voice rough with exertion and emotion, one hand resting on the back of his neck. They had worn gloves, but her hands were still cold and the contact was startling.

“You seem to have bested me twice, tonight at least,” He leaned in and nuzzled her cheek, not missing how she smelled of the ocean, their little escapade clinging to her hair and clothes. He didn’t miss the soft whine as he found the soft patch of skin behind her ear.

“Fifteen minutes.” He murmured, “I leave it to you, my dear Watson.” She nodded shakily and he waited until her door had closed. That was about how long it would take for Catríona and William to settle for the night, and it would be safe for them to move between rooms. Going to his old bedroom, which his grandmother had kept up for him all these years, Jim set aside his suit and put on clean pyjamas. He heard John moving around in the next room and knew her routine. She would remove her uniform, lay it aside to either wear again or to add to the laundry, placing her boots on top of her uniform if she folded it for later, buffered by a towel, change into pyjamas (usually her old Physical Training Uniform, which consisted of track-pants emblazoned along the leg with “Army” and a regimental tee-shirt, either long-sleeved or short depending on the weather and what she had available from the last load of laundry), and lock herself into the bathroom for five minutes. It was ten to fifteen minutes if she was taking a shower.

 

When he heard the shower go on in the guest-room en-suite, Jim smiled. He suspected that John would want to take a shower after her long day. Shaking his head, he took his time with his own routine. After five minutes had passed, he heard the water go off and timed the remainder of John’s routine. Propping his door open, he kept track of what she was doing in her room. At the fifteen-minute mark, he heard a door close downstairs, a bit louder than necessary, and chuckled. That was his grandmother’s way of alerting them to the fact that she knew what they were about and was not going to say anything in the morning. She might smile in that knowing way of hers, she might tease them, but there would be no judgment passed on them if they broke the rules of keeping to their respective rooms.

 

A minute later, his door was carefully pushed open just enough to allow John to slip in. He had heard her coming, there was a loose floorboard that always creaked, and looked up as she closed the door behind her, setting the lock. He had settled with an old book, but he put it down as she crossed the room, calmly removing her tee-shirt and track pants, letting them fall where they would. He was not surprised to find that she had gone commando, she often did in these circumstances, and Jim just smiled as she pulled him to his feet and made very short work of his pyjamas. John knew what she wanted, knew how to take it, and she pushed him back against the pillows. A soft, familiar ratcheting sound got his attention and he knew she’d handcuffed him. Clever, sneaky girl.

“So, Mr Moriarty,” She tugged on the chain as he tested the cuffs, tight enough he couldn’t easily get out of them but loose enough not to hurt him, “Will you come quietly?”  Jim just raised an eyebrow in challenge. Could he come quietly? Yes. Would he? That was a different problem entirely, and a question that remained to be answered in the next few hours. John levelled him with a stern look, which she somehow managed to pull off even in her highly aroused state.

“Well? What is your answer?”

“I make no promises.”

“I will gag you if I must.” She warned, dead serious.

“With what?” Always a risky thing to challenge someone as resourceful as his girlfriend. She dangled a length of silk, a very familiar length of silk. Jim snorted. “Is that my tie?”

“Mhm. Keep your lovely mouth shut or I’ll find creative ways to keep you quiet.” She said calmly, “While driving you to madness.”

“You do not play fair, my love.”

“I never said I was going to.” She just smiled at him and came down to kiss him. Jim knew better than to argue the point. After all, he was the one in handcuffs. Not to mention, he had better things to do than argue bedroom protocols. John sighed as he took over the kiss, despite being in the obviously submissive position. He shoved his hands under the pillow and pressed back against the mattress, letting her weight settle in a familiar, comfortable meeting of bodies.

 

They were soon joined from chest to hips, and Jim planted his feet firmly on the mattress, using that leverage to tilt his hips up against hers. The change of angle caused his half-erect cock to slide along her outer folds, teasing what could be. She moaned into the kiss, rocking her hips for more of the same contact. He gasped as one such pass pressed the tip of his cock against her clit. She shuddered above him, her breath coming in short, stuttered gasps.

“Oh, Christ. Oh god.” She whispered, an expression of pained ecstasy on her face as her fingers ploughed into his hair and tightened almost too painfully. Jim groaned, lifting his hips for more friction, biting off a louder exclamation. John dropped her head to his shoulder, panting. She hadn’t come yet, and neither had he, but Christ that had been close.  Recovering enough of his awareness to function, Jim rolled John off to the side and flipped over, reaching for the bedside table. Getting the drawer open with some fumbling, he reached inside and groped blindly for what he wanted. Coming up victorious with a row of condoms, he tore one free and ripped off a corner with his teeth. John took it from him and rolled it onto his aching cock. Straddling his hips, she removed the handcuffs and tossed them into the drawer with the rest of the condoms. Everything would be removed before they left the house, of course, but for now…for now. He had much better things to do. She kissed the marks on his wrists, they would fade in a few days. She had matching marks on her wrists, from when she had slept with Major Sholto. He still remembered that phone call, and giving John permission to do whatever her former commanding officer asked of her. It was an exercise of trust between them, letting someone else take care of his girlfriend like that. But if there was ever one person he would trust with John Watson that way, it was going to be Janine Sholto.

“Are you ready for me?”

“Always.” She leaned down and kissed him. He smiled against her lips and carefully rolled them so she was beneath him. John moaned into the kiss as he deepened it and pushed his hips forward, slotting against her body in a perfect fit. Before they had started dating, Jim had never really enjoyed sex, seeing it as an inevitable requirement of dating anyone, a way to further his influence and reach. He had never really appreciated sex for the very beautiful act of love and bonding that it could be, with the right partner. But John had always been rather good at changing his mind about things, and sex was one thing she had taken great pleasure teaching him to legitimately enjoy. Jim sighed, a slow, shuddering exhale against her lips, as he slid into a body he knew as well as he knew his own, his hands resting on her hips. He stroked from hip to thigh, from outer to inner soft flesh, tracing the familiar curve of muscle, finding the little ticklish spot on the anterior aspect near where her body curved into that delicious, pert little arse he adored.

 

John gasped and threw her head back, baring her throat to him, eyes slammed shut as he set the pace and found the rhythm that carried them both to that glorious height together. A familiar game of give-and-take took place and he pulled her by the hips until her angle had changed just so and balanced up on one arm, using his free hand to tease her without mercy. He dragged his nails over her swollen clit and dipped two fingers into her labia. She gasped as those two fingers slipped into her loose, wet channel, and the sensation against his cock was so electrifying, it served the purpose of double stimulation. Crooking his fingers on a withdraw, he pressed against that tiny bundle of sensitive nerves, stimulating her G-spot. Removing his fingers, he slammed home, wishing so very desperately there was nought between them but hot flesh and air. Someday, someday he would. John convulsed beneath him, coming apart so beautifully, bottom lip bitten raw and bloody. Jim grunted as his momentum stuttered and bit down on a groan as he climaxed, filling the condom.

“Shit. Shit. Oh, Jesus fucking Christ.” He whispered hoarsely, collapsing on top of John as his arms finally gave out. She held him tight against her, chest heaving as she flexed certain muscles.

“Ugh. I’ve got nothin’ left in me, woman! Have mercy!” He groaned as the hot walls around him clenched, milking him dry. Pull-out was going to hurt, but what a glorious, glorious hurt it would be. Sure enough, as he carefully withdrew from her trembling body, Jim hissed. A pained sound echoed by John.

 

She pushed him off to the side, rolling onto her stomach to recover. Jim gripped hard at the base of his spent dick and staggered to the loo down the hall to clean up. The taste of blood got his attention and he looked blearily at the mirror. He had drawn blood biting the inside of his cheek, but it would heal quickly. After a brisk, efficient wipe-down, he heard a soft shuffle behind him and looked up. John had come after him. He passed her a clean flannel and kissed her softly. She made short work of her wipe-down and tossed the soiled flannels into the laundry-hamper. His grandmother would do the laundry after they left if they didn’t do it for her before they returned to Dublin. Getting back to his bedroom was an act of careful negotiation and coordination, and he fell face-down on the mattress, groaning. Rolling, he got comfortable in the soft bed, warm with shared body-heat. John snuggled up behind him, pulling the blankets up around them both, her head on his shoulder.

“Good night, my love.” She whispered, kissing him on the temple. Jim fell asleep smiling. It had been a while since sex had wiped him out like that, but it was the second time they had done the deed just today, that was not typical. He wondered if they could extend their stay in Portavogie and Belfast a bit beyond tomorrow, he suddenly wasn’t in a hurry to get back to Dublin. John might not be, either, he would ask in the morning.


 

Chapter Text


Come morning, which dawned cold and misty with a fog rising off the ocean, John and Jim let the dogs out to run and took care of Catríona’s fosters as well as the house-pack before they fixed up breakfast for Catríona and William. After breakfast, the elders insisted on doing the wash-up and banished Jim and John to do whatever the hell they felt like doing with their day. Taking the dogs, they walked into town. Word would have certainly gotten out by now about Jim and John, and it went without saying that the locals would want a look-see for themselves. Especially since John was an outsider. She had fun touring the little fishing town Jim had grown up in, seeing places that hadn’t changed since the 40s and others that had changed with the times. The fishing quay was cluttered with boats of all sizes, conditions, and capacities, and even in October, the place was buzzing. The fishery docks had upgraded warehouses and new equipment, but the slips and tie-ups were pretty standard. They visited shops where the same family had owned it since the town was founded and the parents and grandparents, and sometimes the great-grandparents, had watched Jim grow up and move on with his life when that time came for him.

Up here, she wasn’t just John Watson, she was “that Watson girl”. A lot of these people followed her on the blog and read about her in the papers, she had a bit of a following in tiny Portavogie. It was funny how in the small corners of the world, she was the celebrity. They were all fascinated with Sherlock, of course, but it was her business they asked after. How did she like working at The Royal London? How did she like working with The Met? And most of all, how did she like dating a city-son? Jim wasn’t a nobody here, he came from one of the oldest families in town, being of the Portavogie Youngs, so she was a big point of interest for the locals. She was hugged, poked, pinched, and prodded by so many old women she lost track of who belonged to which family and how Jim knew them. The old men, aware of her military background, just hugged her and clapped her on the back like one of the lads, a couple of them saluted her out of respect. She kind of loved the little fishing town, the history of the place.

 

She and Jim returned to Dublin to finish out the conference after their first short visit to Portavogie, but they headed right back north for a short holiday. Greg and Sherlock were still working the murder they had called her with her first night in town. At this rate, they weren’t expecting to find the newborn alive, although they had apprehended a suspect. And gotten a full confession, besides. 

“Going back to London is going to be hard, I think.” She mused one morning as she sat on the beach with Jim, watching the dogs play in the surf.

“Hmm?”

“I got used to a tiny little fishing-town on the Northern Irish coast and I’m about to go right back to a metropolis with many times over the thousands of people who live here. Noisy streets, crowded streets, pollution, the like.”

“Well, we are always welcome here. Moree and William will be more than happy to have us.”

“What do you think they’ll do with the house when they marry?”

“William will move into it. He keeps a small flat just down the way on Springfield Road.”

“The house has a bit more room, doesn’t it?”

“It has enough.” Jim sat beside her on the sand, tugging on the cuff of his coat, looking out across the foggy ocean before them. “Jack?”

“Hmm?”

“Are you happy?”

“Am I happy?” She raised an eyebrow at the question, “What kind of question is that? Of course I’m happy, you know I am.”

“I wonder.”

“Well, stop wondering.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “You’ve been itchy all week. And the conference was over two days ago, so just calm down. Alright?”

“I’m sorry.” He took her hand in his and smiled, “I worry about you sometimes.”

“Why?”

“I wonder if you’ll get sick of me, of the chaos and unreliability, if you’ll ever miss out on a normal life.”

“Jesus Christ, Jim!” John was appalled. The idea that Jim was worried about her getting bored with him and the lifestyle he offered was scary. She got up and brushed sand from her trousers.

“Jim, you know what kind of life I had before you met me. You know it didn’t make me happy. What in Hell’s black name makes you think I’d even be remotely content with a “normal” life?”

“Well, don’t you want to get married?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

“And build a family?”

“With pets, maybe. Not with children.” She shook her head, “I love children, don’t get me wrong, but my lifestyle is not conducive to raising children and, to be completely honest with you, I’m not even sure I’m capable of having children.”

“What makes you say that?”

“A few false alarms.” She watched the dogs bolt down the beach towards the tide-line and sighed. “The men who took advantage of me didn’t always wear a condom.”

“Did you ever use emergency contraception?”

“Once or twice. The hormones make me sick, so I can’t really take any form of birth control.” She sniffled and looked over her shoulder, “Have you ever wanted children?”

“No. Not particularly.” He must have read something on her, he got up and came to her, hugging her properly, “John, having a family was never a condition of our relationship. We’ve talked about it, but I’m not going to demand children from my partner. And I absolutely refuse to put your health at risk that way. I’ll put you in the field before I force you to carry any child of mine.”

“I think I’d rather take a bullet than give birth to a child. The women who go through that are amazing, but I…I can’t.”

“Then don’t.” He kissed her on the cheek, “You’re more than I dared to want, John, I’ll take you as you are, just as you are.”

“Scars, hang-ups, and all?”

“Scars, hang-ups, and all.” Jim smiled, “Besides, you put up with my madness, which is more than most people can say.”

“Your brand of madness is my happiness. Keeping you safe, running your hits, that’s what I’m good at, that’s what I like to do.”

“But you happen to be a stellar doctor and a brilliant detective as well. You’re one of the smartest people I know.”

“You may think you’re charming, sir.” She rolled her eyes as he tried to sweet-talk her out of her mood.

“Well, you can’t blame a bloke for trying.” Jim just smiled at her and kissed her properly. They were distracted by the dogs carrying on just a ways down the beach.

“Think they’ve got something?”

“Flotsam or driftwood, most likely. Idiots.” She rolled her eyes. Loki and Anselm could be rather stupid sometimes and would treat a piece of driftwood like a major find.

“I suppose we had better go see.”

“Might as well, if it’ll get them to stop barking like that.” John huffed and stepped around Jim to whistle for the dogs. “Anselm! Loki! Come on, lads!” Suddenly, Loki’s bark changed and John froze. She knew that bark, what it meant. He’d found something. It wasn’t the bark she usually heard when he found driftwood, this was a field-bark when he found something that posed a threat to the troops. Looking through the blowing fog, she caught sight of the dogs in the shallows, barking towards the water. Loki kept charging into deeper water before retreating to the safer shallows.

“He found something.” Jim murmured, “I know that bark.”

“So do I. Come on.” She reached for her SIG, on instinct, and stalked the tide-line. The beach was littered with driftwood and flotsam, as expected, but no sign of what had the dogs up in arms.

“John.” Jim’s voice was low, “What’s that?”

That is driftwood, a big piece of it.” She saw what she thought he was pointing at, a piece of driftwood about the size of Anselm high and long, but he shook his head.

“No. That!” He pointed to something beyond, something in the water. John refocused and caught sight of something dark bobbing in the deeper shallows, trapped against the rocks.

“Oh my god. No wonder Loki can’t reach it!” The water at that point came to about John’s chest. The tide was a little rough due to the weather and the bulky object, a container of some kind, was getting a pretty sound thrashing as a result. John walked into the shallows up to her shins and watched the container. It was a cooler, the kind used on boats, but there was something not right about it.

Ignoring Jim, who stayed in the shallows, she holstered her SIG and waded into deeper water. The water was cold, below freezing, she suspected, but her instinct was telling her to retrieve the cooler. She kept going, gritting her teeth. An incoming wave knocked her off her feet, so she swam. Reaching the cooler, she discovered why it had looked so odd. It had been wrapped up in clear plastic, the kind used to pack furniture to protect it in-transit and keep pieces together. She managed to grab hold of a handle and dragged it back towards shore. John was alarmed to hear a noise coming from the cooler and hauled it carefully onto the beach, out of the tide, dropping to her knees with a knife in hand.

“John!”

“Call emergency services! We have a problem!” She didn’t look at Jim at all as she tore at the wrapping and fought the lid open. Tucked inside the cooler, buffered by blankets and carefully cut moulded-foam inserts, was…a baby. A week old at best guess, and in very poor shape. Carefully lifting out the wailing newborn, careful to buffer with the flimsy blankets, John turned to Jim, shivering from the cold.

“Jim!”

“Oh my god.” He choked, “Is that Venice Patrick’s baby?”

“It might be. We need to get her to a hospital immediately!”

“They’re on the way. Let’s get her back to the house and warmed up a bit.” Jim took the infant and John lifted the empty cooler.

“Did you call Rutherford?”

“Absolutely I called him.”

“Good. He can have this until The Met comes to collect for evidence.” She indicated her load and whistled for the dogs. “Loki! Anselm! Come on, lads!” It was a short, chilly walk back to the house and while Jim and Catríona took care of the infant, John took a hot shower and found dry clothes.

By the time she was dried off and dressed, William Rutherford had arrived with an ambulance. After a thorough check by the paramedics, they took the baby up to Belfast, giving the name of the hospital they were taking it to, and Jim and John stayed behind to give Rutherford their statements. John gave recorded spoken and written statements and when Rutherford took her paperwork, he looked it over with a sharp eye.

“You’re used to this kind of business, aren’t you, Captain?”

“It’s part of my job.” She twirled the biro between her fingers, “I can do that kind of thing in my fucking sleep.”

“You give a better statement than ninety percent of my witnesses and cleaner paperwork than just that much of my force.” He stacked the papers together and tucked them into a file, “Think you might’ve missed yer callin’, lass. You make a fine detective.”

“This one job, I’m lucky if I get paid anything.” She sighed, shivering. She was still cold from her quick swim. She wouldn’t get sick from it, but it wasn’t pleasant. “I should probably call London and let The Met know I found Baby Girl Patrick.”

“Why don’t you go get them?” Jim ushered her over to the fireplace and leaned her against the mantle.

“Sorry?”

“You heard me. Go to London and get them. Get Sherlock, get Lestrade. Go get them and bring them back here so they can take custody of the infant as soon as she’s discharged.”

“But that could take days. Lord knows how long that poor little girl was stuck in that cooler! Not to mention, how the hell am I supposed to get to London?” She raised an eyebrow, “Not a real short trip, y’know. Plane-tickets are bloody expensive.” Jim just smirked in that sly way of his and she knew, she just knew, he had some devious little plan up his sleeve.

“Here, love, you’re going to need this.” Catríona pushed a cup of hot tea into her hands. John didn’t question, she simply nodded her thanks and drank the hot liquid. It took a couple of cups and fifteen minutes standing in front of the hearth before she was properly warm, but while she was busy warming up, Jim was busy tracking Sherlock and Greg down in London. God bless their CCTV cameras. The boys were on a scene down in Battersea. Perfect. Now…how did she get to London?

“Inspector Rutherford can get you to Belfast City Airport.” Jim rocked on his heels, “Would that be a problem, sir?”

“Nah! No problem at all! And I can get you there faster than a taxi, that’s a sure thing.” Rutherford grinned, “How are you getting to London, then?”

“All taken care of.”

“Jim, you did not.” John groaned.

“You said I wasn’t allowed to act on it.”

“Or think about it! You did not!” John rubbed her forehead. She knew exactly how she was getting from Belfast to London. Jim, the sentimental moron, had gone ahead and not only thought about getting John her own helicopter, the silly thing had actually bought one!

“Y’know, the London boys didn’t know I held a pilot’s license.”

“They will in a few hours!”

“I hate you.”

“No, you don’t!” He chirped, so bloody pleased with himself. John was used to being spoiled, but not with something so exclusive or expensive. Her license was, of course, still good. So, saying her goodbyes to Portavogie (for the moment, at least), John got ready for her flight to London. As she prepared to leave the house, Loki tried to follow. John almost told him to stay behind but thought of something. With one hand on the door of Rutherford’s patrol-car, John looked back towards the house. Catríona and Jim stood at the door, watching. Loki, the silly thing, was sitting by the gate.

“Moree!”

“Yes, love?”

“Does Loki remember how to fly?”

“Yes, he does. We reconditioned him for that.” Catríona just beamed at her, “You can take him with you, love, he’s your dog after all!”

“Jim?”

“It’s all taken care of. You don’t want me along, do you?”

“Do you want to come?” She raised an eyebrow. He just grinned like an idiot and ran back inside the house. She shook her head and whistled for the dogs. Wherever Loki went, Anselm went with him. The two were nearly inseparable. Securing the dogs in the cargo-space of Rutherford’s Land Rover, John climbed into the back seat and buckled in. Jim came running out of the house five minutes later in an identical pair of black fatigues carrying a familiar kit over one shoulder. She rolled her eyes as he hopped in next to her.

“What?”

“You.”

“What about me?”

“You’re weird.”

“Your kind of weird?”

“Jim Moriarty is a sentimental dork with more money than good sense.” She shook her head, “What am I going to do with you?”

“Keep putting up with me, I hope?”

“Yeah, sorry, mate, you’re kind of stuck with me.” She took his hand in hers, “Even when you buy me outrageous gifts like helicopters. What does this thing even look like?”

“I think you’ll like it. It’s subtle but very pretty.” He smiled and leaned over, kissing her on the cheek, “Kind of like you.”

“That is enough out of you! Jesus, ruin your own reputation, why don’t you?” She rolled her eyes, “God, I love you. You know that, right?”

“Yep!” He just flashed a white smile and linked their fingers together. Up front, Rutherford was watching them in the mirror and rolling his eyes. As if it wasn’t already painfully obvious to him and the rest of Portavogie, John and Jim were disgustingly in love with each other and London’s deadliest criminal mastermind was really just a great big sap.

 

It took thirty minutes to drive from Portavogie to Belfast and Rutherford drove them out onto the tarmac to the waiting, custom Airbus H130 Jim had decided John was going to have whether she needed it or not. She had seen plenty of choppers in her day, flown her fair share of them, but this…she’d never seen anything like it! The belly, or C-Zone, was painted a lovely sunset-orange for high visibility from below, while the primary body, A-Zone and B-Zone, were painted a dark red and some nearly-black shade of purple.  On the tail and along the rear aspect of the main body was a wave-line detail in sky-bright blue and standard white, a flash of bright colour in the sunset-hues of the body.

“That’s a proper helicopter! It’s beautiful, Jim!”

“Think she’ll do?”

“Oh, she’ll do! She will do!” John kicked the door open and jumped out of the car, “I love it!”

“Figured you might, love.” Jim got out, unloaded the dogs, and came to put an arm around her, “So, London? Want to christen this beauty with a maiden-voyage to London?”

“I’m game if you are. Is she ready to go?”

“Absolutely. Come on, love.” He led her across the tarmac to the bird. The ground-crew backed away at a signal, Jim’s people of course. Their small luggage was collected and stowed and John looked at her watch. It would take about an hour to get from Belfast to London, the weather had cleared up nicely and the winds were manageable. She was flying low-altitude today, so she’d have to be rather careful, but she was good at that. Pulling her phone from her pocket, she took the flight-suit from Jim and pulled it on over her fatigues as she dialled Mycroft Holmes’s number. He, of course, answered on the second ring, he always did.

“Good morning, Doctor Watson. I assume all is well in Ireland?”

“Er, not so much, I caught a huge break in the murder-kidnapping case Sherlock and Greg picked up last week. I need you to do me a big favour, if you don’t mind?”

“Of course not. What can I do for you?”

“I need you to bring their go-bags to London Heliport in an hour and a half. Do not tell them.”

“How many days are you anticipating them staying in Belfast?”

“They’ll be staying in Portavogie with us, and I’d give it two or three days, max.” She cleared her throat, “It’s going to be pretty hard to miss us, Mycroft. Just have A meet us on the tarmac in an hour and a half and we’ll call it square.”

“Is Mr Moriarty coming with you?”

“Yes he is, and you can be nice.” She knew Mycroft wasn’t very fond of her relationship with Jim, but even he had to admit that London had been rather quiet after John and Jim started seriously dating. Occasionally, he would drop something fun in Sherlock’s lap, but nothing outrageous like The Great Game. Just little tidbits to keep him occupied for a few days or a week before he moved on after solving it.

“Very well, Captain. I will have Anthea meet you at The London Heliport. I will refrain from informing my brother and his partner, but how do you intend to do so yourself?”

“Oh, like I said, it’s going to be kind of hard to miss us.” She grinned and climbed into the captain’s seat, “They’ll know when they see us. They’re in Battersea on a case right now, which is why I’m even doing this. Be in touch, Mr Holmes.”

“Of course, Captain.” Mycroft only called John “captain” if he understood that the situation was a bit more serious and she required a certain level of respect he bestowed on very few. That happened more these days than it had before April, and John was very okay with that. Hanging up with Mycroft, she finished pre-flight checks and cleared her assignment with the proper towers. With clearance from the air-control tower, she took off from Belfast City Aiport and turned on course for London, three hundred and twenty-one miles east and south of them.

-&- 

Sherlock Holmes circled the body again, running through clues and bits of available evidence in his head. He talked as he observed things, leaving the rest of Greg Lestrade’s team scratching their heads. He had been in Battersea for almost two hours and the pieces were very slowly coming together.  Well, no, he had been back and forth from the Latchmere Road scene where some poor sod had been found in an alcove under the rail tracks for almost two hours. Cause of death was uncertain, but Sherlock was leaning towards blunt-force trauma to the head leading to swelling and internal bleeding. The skull had fractured on impact, but it wasn’t certain if it was from the initial blow or from when the victim had hit the ground after falling or being thrown from the tracks above. At the moment he heard two very interesting things, Sherlock happened to look up. One thing he heard was Donovan, shouting for Lestrade, the other was…unusual. That, if he wasn’t mistaken, was a helicopter. An Airbus H130, to be exact. Strange place for one of them to fly, wasn’t it? And this low? Low-altitude flying in a bird like that was best left to the pilots who had the hours under their belts and the knowledge of city-scapes and wind-patterns between sky-scrapers. Or anywhere they might be roof-top height to the likes of Buckingham Palace. And they were coming fast, too.

“Is that a helicopter?” Lestrade shouted over the sudden noise as the chopper made its pass. Sherlock got a very good look at the paint-scheme of the bird and a glimpse, just very briefly, of its pilots. There were two, of course. But the bird was configured for one if needed. The H130 was painted red, orange (on the belly for visibility from the ground), with a splash of purple on the doors, and an accent of blue and white along the tail and rear aspect. It was a very pretty bird, privately-owned. Either the purchaser or someone they knew was the pilot, owned a valid license and had undergone necessary training. The way the bird was handled at this altitude spoke of experience on the pilot’s behalf of flying at just this altitude in far different scenarios. Military precision, so former Armed Forces. RAF, AAC, or FAA, definitely. He shaded his eyes as the bird disappeared before reappearing on a short swing-around to circle. What were they doing?

“Hey, Boss!” Donovan yelled, “It’s for you!” She was waving her radio at them. Sherlock shared a look with Lestrade and they both looked up at the hovering chopper, which disappeared heading west a moment later. Lestrade held his hand out for the radio, misunderstanding, but Donovan shook her head and pointed at the distant chopper.

“No, sir. That!”

“What’s going on?” Lestrade shook his head.

“It’s my brother.” Sherlock had just caught sight of the black car at the kerb beyond the fence.

“God damn it! Now?” Lestrade groaned, running both hands through his hair. “I can’t leave this!”

“Yes, you can. It’s important.” Sherlock took those hands in his, “I’ll fill you in on everything else on the way.”

“Where are we going?”

“The Heliport, if I had to guess. They went west from here, five minutes by car. Let’s go.” He tugged on Lestrade’s hand. However his brother was involved, it was important. The driver was waiting by the car for them and he slid into the plush, heated bench as Lestrade gave a few last orders to his team. Wherever they were going, they weren’t coming back anytime soon. There was no sign of his brother, but Anthea was in the front seat. The divider rolled down and she looked in on them as Lestrade dropped into the car with a groan.

“Sherlock, Lestrade.”

“Anthea.” Sherlock nodded at his brother’s skilled PA, who was so much more than that. “Where are we going?”

“London Heliport. You’ve already seen your next ride.”

“Pretty bird, personal craft. Recent model of the H130, obviously a lavish gift to one of the pilots from a significant other for…reasons uncertain. Where are we going, then?” Someone had plenty of money to spare if they were dropping thousands on a gift like a helicopter.

“Northern Ireland.”

“Northern Ireland?” Lestrade frowned, “Isn’t John in Northern Ireland?”

“She’s in the village of Portavogie.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes, “She’s been there all week since the conference, staying with Jim’s family.”

“Oh, that’s right! They’re visiting Moree.” Lestrade broke into a bright smile. “Was that them, do you think?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if either one of them holds a license.” Sherlock rubbed his knuckles, encased in gloves for the rather awful weather they were having in London. Anthea just smirked as she rolled up the divider, telling the driver to head for the heliport.

 

It was a brisk, efficient five-minute drive from the Latchford Road scene to the tarmac and when he saw the H130, which he had privately nicknamed “Aurora Splendor” for its paint-scheme, Sherlock just smiled. Getting out of the car, he knew this was a quick pick-up. He took an overnight bag from Anthea, packed with a few days’ worth of clothes and necessaries, slung it over one shoulder, and headed for the waiting bird. A grey-clad ground-crew lackey pulled the door open as he approached, and Sherlock spared a quick nod to the waiting security. They weren’t coming along, of course, but they were on hand to make sure nothing untoward happened while the bird was on the ground. He recognized Sebastian Moran, of course, and gave the man a smile. Moran was one of John’s people, best at what he did and a valuable resource, loyal and confident.

“Mr Holmes!” Moran returned his smile as he gave Sherlock a boost into the chopper after taking his bag.

“Take a headset and find a seat, lads! You’ll have to share, though.” That was John, alright. And the passengers they were being asked to share with were a pair of gorgeous adult German Shepherds.

“The one on the right is Anselm, the one on the left is Loki. Buckle up, gentlemen, we’ve got a long flight back to Belfast!”

“Are the dogs friendly?”

“With friends, family, and handlers.” Jim Moriarty grinned at Sherlock as he took the seat to the left, beside Loki, “You’re a dog-person, Holmes?”

“Love them, had one as a child. An Irish Setter, as it were.” He thought briefly of Redbeard and missed his childhood companion. Greg clambered into the chopper behind him as he buckled the harness, giving Anselm a long look.

“Dogs?”

“Flight-crew, apparently.” He shrugged and adjusted his headset. Knowing when to pick his fights, Greg made a face and shrugged into his harness.

“So, what’s the occasion?” Lestrade asked once they were in the air heading west and north.

“We have a lead on the Patrick murder-kidnapping.” John’s voice crackled clear over the headsets, she looked over her shoulder briefly, “It’s not the total loss we were expecting but came fucking close.”

“What kind of lead could you possibly have come up with in Northern Ireland?”

“You’d be surprised.” John made a noise that spoke of restrained fury and Sherlock suspected that Venice Patrick’s killer should consider herself very, very fortunate his clever blogger and business-partner hadn’t actually been in London when the crime took place, or they would have been solving a simple murder on top of the homicide-kidnapping. And it would have looked like a complete accident, knowing what John was actually capable of. It still baffled him that he had spent three months living with an assassin. Apparently, he hadn’t fucked up too badly, he was still alive.

“I can hear you, Holmes.” John teased, “Being an arsehole is not grounds for offing your sorry arse, you can relax.”

“What about Anderson?”

“Can’t kill people for being morons. Let me know if he ever touches you, that’s different. And that one I’d pull for free.” She looked over her shoulder, “I told you that before, and it stands true still.”

“Thanks.” He smiled. She was willing to kill for him, for his happiness and safety, she had in the past. Twenty-four hours after they’d met at Saint Bart’s, she had killed a cab-driver for him. At the time, he had marvelled at her accuracy and how bloody calm, almost unaffected, she was by it. Now he understood why. That night, and on at least two occasions since then. It was a quiet, pleasant flight from London to Belfast, the view was breath-taking.

“How did I not know you had a pilot’s license, John?”

“A girl’s gotta have a few secrets, Holmes.” She chuckled, “That was one of mine.”

“You’ve got more than a few secrets,” Lestrade muttered. Sherlock smirked but said nothing.

 -&-

After closing the Patrick homicide-kidnapping case, which took three days of waiting for Baby Girl Patrick to be released from the hospital in Belfast before they flew her home to London and surrendered her to the proper authorities, John and Sherlock returned to their routine and continued solving those of London’s crimes that interested them. John took the occasional job for Jim, withholding the specifics but staying in touch with Sherlock while she was gone.

One thing John did was plan a costume party for Halloween, inviting Greg, Jim, and even Mycroft. She invited Molly Hooper, too, but wasn’t expecting the pathologist to show. And since it was a costume party, she gave the boys no choice on dressing up and ended up taking charge and getting the boys their costumes. Because of this, Sherlock dressed up as a pirate (which he absolutely loved), Greg and Jim got to dress up as characters from the Assassin’s Creed video-game franchise, and Mycroft was a vampire. She had to help him get dressed at Baker Street, and as she put the finishing touches on his costume, he made an annoyed sound.

“Why did I agree to this?”

“Because it was this or Santa Clause and to be completely honest, you wouldn’t appreciate the negative commentary from your brother. At least this way, you’re free to hiss and show your teeth and still be perfectly in character.” She peeked over his shoulder, “Jesus, you look amazing.”

“I feel a bit silly.”

“You look fantastic.” She scolded, tugging on the shoulder of the Inverness coat, reaching around to tug on the lapel and check the fit of the waistcoat, a gorgeous thing of red-and-black brocade she had found hiding in the back of his closet with a pair of trousers and a white button-down with the buttons going a quarter of the way down before stopping. This was because of the jabot tucked into the collar that attached by special collar-buttons. He had obviously bought the costume, had it commissioned, for something and either worn it once or never worn it. Going around in front, she smoothed down the waistcoat, tugging a wrinkle out of the shoulder, and setting the jabot straight, fluffing the ruffles with quick fingers. She also set straight the gold-and-cabochon cross on a thick chain.

“Is this real?” She rubbed the curve of the gemstone, “It doesn’t look like coloured-glass.”

“No, it’s real.”

“Jesus. It must have cost a pretty little penny.” She ran the chain through her fingers to work out any kinks, “You’d think it was Sherlock who could pull this off, but…Mycroft, you look amazing!”

“You keep saying that.”

“I’m not flattering you, I mean it.” She tucked the chain under the shirt-collar and smoothed the shoulders and storm-flap of the coat, “You know me better than that, I hope?” She looked over his shoulder again, catching his gaze in the reflection of the mirror. He made a face and she giggled.

“Stop it.”

“I can’t help it!” She backed away and smoothed the front of her own costume.

“You look fine, my dear.” Mycroft scolded, fussing with the white gloves that were part of his costume. John rolled her eyes and did a quick twirl to resettle the skirt. She had decided to wear a costume from Lord of The Rings and had settled on Lady Eowyn’s green dress from The Two Towers. She’d left her hair down, which was so hard for her to do. Sherlock had taken pity on her earlier and pull back two small pieces of hair at her temples, holding them in place with hair-pins tucked und another piece of hair to hide them so that she could at least see in her peripheral vision

“John!” Greg yelled from downstairs, “There’s another group coming, a big one! Get down here!”

“Ugh.” She stomped her foot, “Make Sherlock do it! Make him play nice! I’m busy!”

“Please, John?” That was Sherlock, “I’ve done the last two!”

“Fine, I’m coming down!” she yelled down the stairs. Gathering her skirts so she wouldn’t trip, she ran downstairs, heading for the front door just as the bell rang. They had been trading on and off with trick-or-treaters, and it was her turn again.

“Be nice to your brother, Sherlock!” She shouted at the landing. That just got a round of laughter from the boys. It was no secret Sherlock and Mycroft had a low-scale rivalry running, but they really did love each other as best as brothers could. It was all for show, for the most part, a ploy to throw off enemies who might try to use Sherlock against Mycroft. Which, really, would be a terrible lapse of judgment.

Grabbing the basket of candy, which looked a bit lower than she thought it should for the number of children they’d seen already tonight, she opened the door to a rather impressive number of trick-or-treaters. They, of course, recognised her character right away.

“Lady Eowyn!” They chorused, giggling as they presented their loot-bags to her. John listed off each character or costume as she gave them their sweets. There was one that had her almost dying and she turned to look over her shoulder.

“Oh, my god, you’re fantastic! Hang on!” She held out one hand to hold the group, who were busy trading candy on the pavement, looking up the stairs, “Sherlock! Sherlock, come down here!”

“What?”

“Get down here, it’s you!” She yelled. There was a commotion upstairs and she gave the child in question, a ten-year-old girl, extra candy for her clever costume. John was dying to know how and where they had gotten the coat and hat.

“Are you supposed to be Sherlock Holmes, then?” She asked seriously.

“Of course I am!”

“That’s excellent! Just a minute.” Several sets of footsteps heralded the boys arriving and she stepped aside to let them see what had her shouting for Sherlock like that. She would happily go to hell if Jim didn’t actually squeal when he saw the girl. It was good enough to get Sherlock out of the house to inspect her costume, and the girl stood very, very still. It always amazed John and the others just how many children idolized Sherlock. He was really a rather rubbish role-model, but children of all ages adored him.

“So, you’re me, then, are you?” He looked down at her. She nodded, eyes wide with awe. It wasn’t very often a young fan got the chance to meet Sherlock like this. John saw him reach into his pocket for something and held her breath.

“What’s he doing?” Greg whispered over her shoulder.

“I think he’s about to make that girl’s night, is what.” She murmured and they watched, as did the group’s parent chaperones, as he crouched before the girl and held something out to her. That, if John wasn’t mistaken, was his pocket-magnifier. Now, it wasn’t the only one he had, but…he didn’t just give away his things like that. That wasn’t the only thing he had, either, and John gasped when he pulled a bundle of blue fabric from his coat.

“Oh, he might be a complete bastard on his worst days, but he really does have a sweet heart of gold.” Jim breathed as Sherlock unfastened the faded scarf, some indeterminate shade of green and borrowed from a family-member no doubt, from around the girl’s neck and draped it over his arm before he wrapped his own two-tone blue scarf in its place. He even tied it the way he always wore it. The scarf was really the only part of the costume that had even been remotely off. The coat had been a bang-on replica, and the hat was perfect. The poor girl almost forgot how to breathe, her eyes were nearly double their size with awe, and John wouldn’t have blamed her one bit if she burst into tears. She watched as the girl stroked the scarf with shaky fingers, her bag forgotten between them, and raised her eyes to study Sherlock.

“But…these are yours, Mr Holmes.”       

“You’ll take better care of them than I will, love. They’re yours now.” He smiled and touched her hair and cheek, his eyes soft and open, “The world needs more smart people in it and you are going to be one of the smartest.”

“Really?”

“Oh, absolutely. Just be nice to people, don’t be like me.”

“But…what if people are idiots?”

“Well, then you can be mean to them, but don’t do it all the time. Remember to be nice to people.” He smiled at the girl, “Can you do that?”

“Yeah! I mean,” the girl blushed, “yes, sir.”

“Go on, then. Go change the world.” He got up, patted her on the shoulder, and picked up her forgotten loot bag, “But, I wouldn’t share any of that unless you’ve got to.”

“Right! Thanks, Mr Holmes!” The girl rejoined her group and they took off running for the next house. Sherlock returned the filched scarf to the girl’s parent-figure, her father by the looks, who shook Sherlock’s hand and thanked him for making his daughter’s Halloween a very special one. Usually, she didn’t want to dress up or go trick-or-treating, she apparently suffered from a mild learning disability and had a stutter. But Sherlock had become her hero lately, she said he was just like her and if he could do big things like solve crimes, then she could make small things possible. 

When the group moved on, John checked the candy-basket and rolled her eyes.

“Alright, which one of you idiots ate the candy?” No one fessed up, but all four pointed fingers. She shook her head. “Well, that’s just it, then. Besides, I think that was the last group. It’s almost nine.”

“Who’s hungry?” Greg piped up. John snickered as someone’s stomach growled. They had been working a case all week that had been solved just that morning, and none of them had eaten much while on the job, and she wasn’t about to let the boys get away with eating just Halloween candy.

“That’ll be Angelo.” Sherlock was scrolling through something on his phone as the bell rang again. John flicked her skirt as she pulled the door open for the friendly Italian restaurateur who looked after Sherlock and John and gave them free food whenever they visited his restaurant. He dragged her out of the house into a crushing hug that smelled of fresh yeast, wine, and spices, kissing her soundly on both cheeks before praising her costume.

“Oh, you look fabulous!”

“Thank you, Angelo.” John chuckled, “And thanks for coming up tonight.”

“Bah, it’s no problem! I left my nephew at the helm, it’s fine!” He waved her off and bustled into the house, carrying a few hot-bags full of food. She followed him upstairs as he called out to Mrs Hudson, who waved from her flat as she chatted up her latest beau.

“Food’s here, boys!” She yelled up the stairs. There wasn’t much, but enough to hold them for the night’s festivities ahead. She had planned a quiet night at Baker Street for friends and family, but Mycroft had gone one step further and secured invitations to a Halloween Masquerade that had an exclusive guest-list. He said it was the least he could do for John and the boys in light of all the work they had done in the past few months and weeks. John was looking forward to a good old-fashioned party, suspecting there would be plenty of alcohol to be had if you knew the right people, and she was eager to have some play-time with Jim in public.

She had taken their relationship public at the beginning of the month, with his permission, and there were still people who didn’t understand how she could be dating someone like Jim. Her sister and sister-in-law among them, but the people who legitimately mattered didn’t judge them and were just relieved that John was happy for once. And really, Jim took very good care of her. Maybe her work wasn’t clean or spoken of in public, but she loved what she did and she was damn good at it. Even Seb said she hadn’t lost her touch despite the difficulties she’d experienced at the beginning of the year and the last few months of the prior year. Being ambidextrous had its benefits and she could fire a rifle from either shoulder, intense physiotherapy (all on Jim's very willing dime) had given her back mobility in her left shoulder almost to the range pre-injury and discharge. 

-&- 

After a filling feast, thanks to Angelo, John and the boys prepared to leave Baker Street for the night. She helped Mycroft with some last-last-minute touches to his costume.

“Okay, I think that’s going to do it.” She stepped back from him and looked him over, “Damn you look handsome. Show me?”

“You flatter.”

“Stop that, and show me.” She bared her teeth to make a point and he rolled his eyes. She squealed when grimacing showed the fang prosthetics she had carefully applied in the privacy of the bathroom.

“You look amazing! A proper vampire lord, you are! Damn, I did a good job with your costume, didn’t I?”

“Where on earth did you find this?” He tugged on the waistcoat, “I thought I had gotten rid of it.”

“Anthea had hidden it in the back of your closet. She liked it and figured you might have a use for it in the future. She was right.” John smoothed the shoulders of his coat and handed him the gloves and cane. “Now, out you go.”

“Thank you, my dear.” He smiled shyly as he took the gloves and stylish cane and left the bathroom. She followed him out and they met the boys downstairs. Calling out to Mrs Hudson, she locked up once they were all out and crossed the pavement to the waiting car. She slid in next to Jim, making room for the boys. Once everyone was situated, Mycroft knocked on the divider and gave the driver instructions to head to their destination. 

 

Twenty minutes later, the car pulled to a halt and the driver came to the door for them. John got out first, followed by the boys. Mycroft took the lead and they headed into Central Hall Westminster. When they reached the pre-function area, they surrendered their coats if they’d worn them. John handed over her hooded cloak, done in the colours of Rohan to match her costume, handing Jim the claim-tags. He just tucked them into a pocket,  and they went to collect their masks after Mycroft had surrendered their tickets. John picked up a silver Venetian mask with matching trim and elaborate shimmering patterns throughout and satin ribbons. Sherlock wore a black-and-silver Zorro mask with silver beaded trim and Mycroft settled on a black Venetian mask adorned around the edges with black trim and elaborate shimmering patterns throughout, black ribbons secured the masks behind. Jim settled on a simple red Verona mask, Greg a black Verona mask. The only difference between them was the colour of their masks, otherwise they looked very, very similar with their hoods pulled up, which was exactly how they wore them. John thought her boys looked suitably handsome and just smiled to herself when people saw them come in together and whispered behind their hands, trying to figure out who they were. She didn’t often get to go out with her boys all together, so tonight was kind of special. John planned to thoroughly enjoy herself tonight, as she took Jim’s hand in hers.


 

Chapter Text


Two months later, it was Christmas. John had ensured that the holiday spirit came to Baker Street, at least, and spent a weekend helping Lady Sheila decorate the Viga Road house. She managed to rope Jim into helping decorate his mum’s house, a bit grudgingly, but it clearly made her so very happy to have company around the holidays and they promised to try and visit more consistently. They lived in the same city, for Chrissakes, and didn’t see as much of her as they would have liked. John made time for afternoon tea at least once a month, more if her schedule allowed it, and had introduced Lady Sheila to Sherlock and Greg. She, of course, already knew all about them and was absolutely thrilled to finally, properly meet them. She cooed and gushed and so thoroughly embarrassed poor Sherlock he didn’t stop blushing for almost two hours after they got home.

“That woman would be great friends with my mother!” the boffin declared, “But maybe we shouldn’t introduce them, they may successfully plot world-domination, or at the very least the United Kingdom and Greater Europe.” John, Jim, and Greg had just laughed at him and promised there would be no back-room plotting between the mothers.

They also travelled out to Portavogie to visit Catríona and William, help them set the house up for Christmas, and see Catríona’s new group of fosters and the latest litters of puppies. William declared his intentions to marry Catríona properly the following summer and made sure John and Jim knew they were invited to whatever small ceremony was held in Northern Ireland. John, of course, said yes, they would come. Just give them a date and they would come out again. They weren’t so busy they couldn’t make time for family like that.

-&-

John planned a small Christmas party for friends and loved ones, inviting Greg, Jim, Mycroft, Molly, the Stamfords, and Mrs Hudson. She even invited Seb, because he was such a part of their lives. John planned to thoroughly enjoy herself, even if she was missing Jim, who was gone on business. Seb had gone with him to appease John, who had only stayed behind because she was on the case that had taken all of the prior week. Otherwise, she would have been with Jim on his trip, but a case had come on just before he left and John had stayed to help Sherlock and Greg. Seb had promised to take good care of Jim and keep him out of trouble.

“That’s my job now, you know?” She had crabbed during a recent phone-call.

“Yeah, I know, but you’re busy saving London.” Seb had placated her, “We’ll be home by the start of the January, I promise.”

“What’s taking so long, Seb!”

“The clients aren’t cooperating, he isn’t very happy with them.”

“Well, make it fast, will you? No side-trips or over-stays.”

“Of course not, dear. He knows better.”

“You’d like to think so!” John had rolled her eyes and left the boys to their business. That had been a week ago. John knew Jim had something up his sleeve, some sly plan, but not a clue what it was. He had been very secretive ever since they had stayed with his grandmother in Belfast earlier in the month, but John was very good at waiting patiently, and she was willing to wait as long and as patiently as she needed to. To the New Year if she must. Not that she wanted to, but want and need were rather different creatures. But Jim wasn’t the only one with plans for the end of the year, she knew. There were at least two other couples involved with some degree of romantic planning, and she wondered which one would spring first and, for at least one of those couples in question, which party would ask first. In the months since October, when Sherlock and Greg’s quiet courtship had come to light, at least for John and Jim, things had gotten very close between the detectives and John was loving the chance to watch them spend time together and flirt. Even in public now, there was always some subtle teasing, a bit of close touching. She still remembered the first time one of Greg’s team had finally caught on to things and the scandalized looks when they realized exactly what was going on. John had just smiled and told off a couple of naysayers.

Come Christmas Eve, and the party, John was hanging a few last ornaments and last-minute touches were being made to the flat when she heard the street door bang open. She was momentarily on a ladder in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting-room hanging a kissing-ball and tilted her head. Over by the hearth, Loki and Anselm dozed in front of a fire Sherlock had set to warm the flat, and a recording of Sherlock’s music played on the sound system. She had the dogs at Baker Street while Jim was out of town on business; Sherlock had kind of fallen in love with the dogs during the Patrick murder-kidnapping case back in October, so he was fine with her keeping their dogs at Baker Street on occasion. As footsteps came up the stairs, she looked over her shoulder.

“Hi, Greg!”

“Happy Christmas, love!” Greg stopped on the landing and carefully kicked the last bit of snow from his boots. “Sherlock around?”

“In the back.” She watched him come into the flat, carrying a few  bundles, “Need a hand?”

“I got it, sweetheart.” He grinned up at her as he slipped past her perch and into the kitchen, “I should be asking you if you need help. What are you doing up there anyway?”

“Hanging tinsel, lights, and kissing-balls.”

“Oh?” A roguish smile lit up Greg’s eyes and she rolled hers as he laid out his packages on the table, “Plans for something, then?”

“Nah, but I’m not against promoting a bit of holiday affection.” She finished what she was doing and looked under her arm towards the back bedroom, “Sherlock! Greg’s here, sweetie! Come on out of there!”

“Must I?”

“You promised, Sherlock!” She shook her head and tugged on the string of the kissing-ball, “Get out here or I’ll sick ‘im on you!”

“Was that a threat?”

“Did it have to be?”

“Himself being a Scrooge, then?” Greg chuckled and moved some of his packages to the Christmas tree John had spent most of the past two days decorating.

“That’s a word for it.” John sighed and hopped off the ladder. “I think that’ll about do things for a Christmas party.”

“So what’s the hang-up back there?” Greg thumbed over his shoulder at the back bedroom as he handed her a glass of mulled wine Mrs Hudson had brought up earlier to simmer.

“He’s gone through his entire closet twice now, can’t decide what to wear.” She moved the ladder after setting the glass on the table, “Also, I think he might have misplaced something.”

“I did not misplace anything, John!” Sherlock yelled from the bedroom, “I just can’t find the damn thing!”

“Sherlock, you emptied your entire sock-drawer and spent an hour reorganizing it!” She snickered, “Like I told you earlier this morning, check your other pair of boots. The ones you don’t wear except on “undercover” jobs.”

“Which begs the question of what you were doing in my closet to begin with.” Sherlock appeared in a huff, hair in disarray, dust-bunnies stuck to the curls, and his face flushed. John and Greg looked at each other and choked.

“Oh, Sherlock!”

“Shut up! John, what did you do with it!”

“Oh, for…Christ, Sherlock.” She sighed, “I didn’t move anything, idiot. Come on, you. Greg?”

“I’ll man the helm, kiddies.” Greg just grinned like he knew some big secret and waved them off. John grabbed Sherlock by the hand and dragged him back to the bedroom. Closing the door behind her, she looked at the mess.

“Oh, Sherlock.” She sighed, “You really are in a mess, aren’t you?”

“John, help me.” He begged, nearly frantic.

“Alright, you calm down.” She collected discarded clothes and set out an outfit for her fussy flat-mate to wear to the party, something casual but still his taste, “Take a quick shower and get dressed. I’ll find that box.” She straightened up the bedroom and changed the sheets on Sherlock’s bed to the nice dark-blue silk-blend sheets that only came out for very special occasions while Sherlock took a shower. Christmas was a pretty fucking special occasion, and she suspected the bed would get plenty of use tonight. When he came out, she let him get dressed and reached up onto the high shelf Sherlock kept his spare shoes on and grabbed the pair in question, turning over the shoe containing the box Sherlock had spent God knew how long looking for. Shaking it out of the shoe, she opened it to make sure the contents were safe. They were, and she took a moment to admire the object Sherlock had spent some significant time and finances to acquire. It was lovely.

“John?”

“Here.” She tossed him the box one-handed, “And I thought Jim was a sentimental sap. Boy, was I wrong.”

“Is that…bad?” Sherlock turned the box over in his hands, cracking it open to look at the precious contents, almost…sad.

“Absolutely not.” She covered his hands with hers, squeezed gently, “Sherlock Holmes, look at me. Right now.” He wouldn’t, so she made him, tilting his head back.

“How did you know where it was?”

“Because the fucking thing fell on my head last week when I was hanging up your dry-cleaning. I knocked it off the shelf by accident.”

“Oh. I thought I’d done a better job of hiding it than that.”

“Well, considering you spent two hours looking for it this afternoon, I think it’s safe to say you did a fine job. I didn’t move it from that spot, I just put it right back and left it alone.”

“You don’t mind, do you?” He looked so nervous, but that was completely normal for someone in his position.

“Greg makes you so happy, Sherlock, when you didn’t think you’d ever be happy again.” John smiled, “It’s a great thing, isn’t it?”

“I never thought I was loveable. But you kept staying, and Greg kept…helping. He saved my life so many times. Y-you both did, John.” Sherlock looked at the ring-box, “Is this the right thing to do?”

“Absolutely, Sherlock.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, “And if you find words just can’t put themselves in order, just hand him that box. He’ll understand.”

“John, she hurt him so badly. I had no idea how bad it really was, even when I could read everything plain as day, I never knew. I didn’t read the important things.”

“He’s happy now, Sherlock, he’s with the person who makes him happy and keeps him busy. Maybe a bit too busy on some days, but he wouldn’t trade you for the world.” John gave her flat-mate a smack on the hip, “Now get out there and propose to your fucking handsome silver-fox boyfriend. Or I will.”

“What?” His eyes widened, “John!”

“Oh, calm down, Sherlock! Proposal by proxy is a thing, you know!” She laughed, kissing him as she shoved him out the door.

“Not in the twenty-first century, it isn’t!”

“And since when has anything in this house been done by modern standards of polite society?” She kept nudging him out, knowing he would freeze up if she didn’t, “The whole existence of Baker Street is an anomaly. We terrify common people because they don’t understand us, and that’s the way we like to be.”

“I guess we are, aren’t we?”

“Absolutely!” She ducked past Sherlock and looked for Greg. He was downstairs putting the ladder back in 221C, which was being remodelled into a livable space for future tenancy. John had plans to move into C with Jim and let Sherlock and Greg have the whole of 221B to themselves. She wasn’t sure what they would do with the upstairs bedroom where she currently lived and suspected that maybe it would be turned into an office for Greg or some other kind of workspace. Or Sherlock and Greg would move into that bedroom and turn the entire first-floor flat into a dedicated workspace. Smiling, she leaned over the railing.

“Hey, Greg!”

“Yo!”

“Found ‘im!”

“Oh, thank god! Be right there!” He yelled back and John chuckled, doing a quick sweep of the flat and double-checking the front door before she ran upstairs to change.

“Sherlock, if anyone gets here while I’m upstairs, please be nice!”

“What if it’s Mycroft?”

“It’s Christmas, you have to be nice to your brother.”

“Why?” He stood at the bottom of the stairs leading up and watched her, chameleon eyes doleful. He seemed awfully moody for Christmas, she hoped Greg could get his mood turned around.

“Because you have a brother who cares about you enough to stick his nose where it may not always be welcome.”

She sat down on the risers, listening for Greg’s footsteps, watching Sherlock. “Jim and I weren’t as lucky with our older siblings, Sherlock. You know about Harry, but did I ever tell you what Richard did to me when I called looking for Jim after I got home from Afghanistan?”

“No?”

“He practically told me he didn’t know what I could possibly want with his failure of a brother and too bad I’d lost touch. If I was any sort of resourceful person, with half a brain in my head, this wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Not realizing that you hadn’t spoken to Jim or seen him in almost twenty years?”

“Yeah. Not helpful.” She sighed, “So, as much as you dislike your brother, he’s not half as bad as you make him out to be. He cares, and that matters. Be nice to him?”

“I suppose it’s as much my fault as his that we don’t get along, more my fault to be honest.”

“Introspection. Not great for holiday cheerfulness, but nice to bring things to clarity.” John heard Greg coming upstairs and got up, “You have things to worry about, rather fun things.”

“John.”

“Hmm?” She looked over her shoulder at Sherlock, who still stood at the bottom of the stairs.

“Jim is not a failure. Not at all. And neither are you.”

“Thanks, Sherlock.” She smiled and ran upstairs while Greg met Sherlock on the landing. She sat in her doorway for a while and listened to them talk on the landing and leaned against her doorframe, glad at least one of them was due for a suitably happy Christmas Eve.

Going into her room, John changed out of her denims and jumper and into the khaki fatigues laid out on her bed. She had undertaken the habit of wearing fatigues at Baker Street on and off the job, having given poor Mrs Hudson quite a start one morning when she came upon John asleep on the couch in the sitting-room after a job in Istanbul had kept her away for a week. Instead of screaming, she had gone to get Sherlock, who was in the kitchen working on an experiment, and quietly informed him that there was someone asleep on the couch, what should she do? Sherlock had just looked over, he knew it was John, and just as quietly informed Mrs Hudson that there was no need for alarm, but another blanket or two and some hot tea and biscuits brought up in about an hour would be deeply appreciated.

After she had changed, John checked her phone for messages and sighed when there was nothing from Jim or Seb. Sitting at the top of the stairs, she tapped out a quick text to Jim wishing him a happy Christmas in Moscow.

 

Text to Jim M: (sent 18:45)

Happy Christmas, my love. Just feeling a bit lonely this Christmas, I miss you. I wish you could be here. – JWatson

Text to Jim M: (sent 18:45)

Also, I think Sherlock is going to propose to Greg. Or they’ll propose to each other. – JWatson

 

Firing off that last text, John pocketed her phone and decided to head downstairs. She hoped she wouldn’t disturb anything, but couldn’t be very sorry if she did, in fact, interrupt a Christmas proposal. The door was closed nearly all the way and she paused outside on the landing, holding her breath as she put an ear to the door. It was quiet inside for a minute before she heard someone ask, very softly, “What was that?” Greg.

“It came from upstairs, that was John. She won’t come in, not yet.” Sherlock. John bit her lip so she wouldn’t make any noise and carefully pushed the door open a bit more so she could see into the flat. Sitting on the landing, she watched through a small crack in the door as Sherlock slid from the couch and dropped to his knees before Greg, who obviously knew what was what and still hadn’t expected this from Sherlock. As she had known they would, words escaped her clever flat-mate and he just handed his baffled boyfriend the box John had discovered completely by accident in his closet. She was distracted by footsteps on the stairs coming up and looked sharply over her shoulder. It was Mrs Hudson, with company in tow. Molly and Mycroft. When they saw her sitting by the door, in fatigues, they all came to a startled halt. She put a hand up to keep them from asking and peeked into the sitting-room.

“It’s not every day I come to Baker Street and find you spying at your own door, Captain.” Mycroft came up alongside her, in a good mood for the holiday, “What, pray tell, are you doing out here?”

“Watching something very sweet. Keep it down, will you?” John turned her attention to Mycroft for a minute, “Did you have anything to do with Sherlock getting that ring?”

“No. I knew he had something planned, but he kept me out of it.” Mycroft leaned over her, joining her in her little bit of voyeurism. “Ah.”

“Oh, that’s perfect!” She sighed, content to know that Sherlock had gotten something he deserved for Christmas.

“Well, if we’re in the spirit of asking questions it takes guts to ask in the first place.” Greg held onto the box Sherlock had given him, almost in tears he was so happy, “I guess we’re both rubbish with sentimental words, aren’t we, Sherlock?”

“Greg?” Sherlock watched as Greg departed the couch and joined him on the floor, “What are you...?”

“Mine for yours.” Greg held up a small box, nearly identical, and Sherlock took it. John made a soft noise, thrilled by the turn of events. It was quiet in the sitting-room, and out on the landing thanks to John and Mycroft keeping their fellow guests from making much noise, and John watched the pair of unlikely detectives sitting by the coffee-table open their respective boxes, and remove what was inside. There wasn’t really much need for the question of “Will you marry me?” between the two, of course. Careful research had been done, necessary data collected and put to use, and the rings (as unique as the men who had purchased them and now wore them) fit perfectly. Of course they did. John couldn’t see from here what kind of ring Greg had given Sherlock, but she knew what Sherlock had given Greg: an unadorned white gold ring fashioned as an infinity symbol. Greg had always been there for Sherlock, nearly from the very moment they met, and always would be, into whatever mad future awaited them. John and Mycroft watched as the boys exchanged rings and tearful kisses.

“Let’s get married, shall we?”

“A summer wedding, then? Rules and all, you know?”

“Mm. Not May, that’s when Moree is getting married.” 

“June, then. That’s six months.”

“Or July, even. Give us a bit of time?” John and Mycroft shared a look and an eye-roll. Of course, Greg would want to give Catríona and William a special day of their own. But that didn’t preclude the two of them getting married later in May, did it? Of course, June was the six-month mark, which was about how long they would need to plan a half-decent wedding. John tapped out a quick text to Sherlock, not wanting to disturb if those two still wanted a minute alone.

 

Text to SH: (sent 19:00)

Can we come in now? Or do you boys want a little more time alone? – JWatson

 

A response came back pretty quickly, and John chuckled, showing the text to Mycroft before she took his hand and pulled herself to her feet.

 

Text to JWatson: (sent 19:00)

Of course, you can. I’ll even be nice to Mycroft. He is here, isn’t he? Thought I heard his voice outside. – SH

Text to JWatson: (sent 19:01)

And really, Watson? Spying at your own door? Have you nothing better to do than engage in a bit of harmless voyeurism? – SH

 

“Clever bastard.” She pocketed her phone and pushed the door open, standing aside to let their guests in first. Molly and Mrs Hudson knew something had happened, but not quite what. John and Mycroft had been rather tight-lipped about what they could see through the door. And if you hadn’t seen the proposal, it just looked like Sherlock and Greg were sitting on the couch together drinking mulled wine. There hadn’t been any real tears, but it had been a damn close thing. John left the door open and went to the window to look out over Baker Street.

“Well, what have you boys been up to in here? Those two were all but useless, snickering and twittering like teenage girls at gossip!” Mrs Hudson parked herself on the other side of the coffee-table and put her hands on her hips, fixing Greg and Sherlock with a stern look, “If you’ve been up to any mischief today, Sherlock Holmes, so help me…”

“Mischief of the benign breed, Mrs Hudson.” John said over her shoulder, “I promise.”

“And I reserve the right to doubt you.” Mrs Hudson narrowed her eyes at John before turning back to the pair seated on the couch, looking passably innocent. “Well? What have you to say for yourselves, then?” 

“Um.”

“Carpe diem.” Sherlock half-swallowed that in a sip of wine.

“Yeah, I’ll say you did!” John snorted, “Jesus, Holmes, just show her, will you? God, you two are awful.”

“Show me what?” Mrs Hudson folded her arms, eyeing the pair on the couch and John with a healthy suspicion. Neither of the rings was very flashy, they were actually perfectly subtle, and you would only notice them if you were paying attention. And Mrs Hudson, admittedly, was not. Sherlock had his wine-glass in his left hand, but the ring from Greg was in plain sight. John gasped.

“Oh, Greg!”

“Yeah, I know.” Greg, bless his soul, had the sense to blush. Greg had given Sherlock a gorgeous, two-tone Claddagh ring, a nod to his own Irish heritage. “Can you blame me?”

“Nope!” John leaned against the window, “Your cousin would approve!”

“Of course he would! He helped me pick the damn thing out!”

“My clever boys.” John went over to the couch and kissed Sherlock, then Greg, “You know we’ll have to tell Moree and Lady Sheila.”

“Oh, absolutely we will!”

 “I don’t think I’ve met your grandmother.” Sherlock looked at Greg, “Have I?”

“Um, not Moree. We stayed in William Rutherford’s house while we were in Portavogie.” Greg took Sherlock’s hand, “You did meet Nana, back in November. That case that took us to Paris? Remember?”

“Oh, of course, I remember!” Sherlock beamed, “Your French relatives are very…” He trailed off, making a vague gesture with one hand.

“Enthusiastic?” John snickered, “Oh, I remember the Normandy Lestrades very well from my own visit to that part of the world. I got a few stern words for not visiting when I was there back in April. Oh, they were not pleased.”

“Oh, Sherlock!” Mrs Hudson had finally put the pieces together and was nearly in tears. “Let me see those rings properly, you two!”

“Yes, Mrs Hudson.” They obediently got up and let her fuss over them.

“Oh, I finally get my own married ones! I thought John and that handsome devil of hers would go first, but you two beat them! Oh, wait ‘til I tell Marie, she’ll be so vain!” Mrs Hudson was in a twitter, of course, and carried on, “Oh, and we’ll have to put a rush on finishing up 221C! It won’t do to have married ones living with a lovely, terribly eligible bachelorette!”

“I don’t suppose it would do any good to remind her that Jim is out of the country right now?” John leaned against the mantle, watching their landlady carry on.

“Mm, unlikely. Where is he again?”

“Moscow.” She took a sip of wine, “I would have gone, but our last case kept me so busy I couldn’t leave and Seb had to go just so I wouldn’t keep him state-side.”

“You dislike letting him go anywhere without you.” Mycroft was not judging, those days were past them both, and he studied her, “You miss him, don’t you?”

“Can you blame me?”

“I may have, out of ignorance, when I first heard you were involved with him.”

“And I wouldn’t have blamed you at all.” She smiled at the elder Holmes, “It must have irked you so badly when I kept slipping into your CCTV blind-spots. Never mind I knew where every single one of them was well before I ran into Jim that day in Brixton.”

“Living with my brother gave you several habits, didn’t it?”

“I’ve always been rather good at blending with a crowd, I kind of had to, seeing as my particular line of work hinged on me being unnoticeable to my mark until it was too late if they ever saw me at all.” She smirked, “I may work for Jim Moriarty, Mycroft, but if you ever have a job you can’t afford to send a man out for, just give me a call. I’ll do the work for you.”

“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to do that for me, Captain.”

“You absolutely could. I used to run jobs for your bosses anyway, it’s not like I don’t know how things work in MI-5 and MI-6.” She raised an eyebrow, “So, again, if you ever need someone else to do the job no one wants to do for whatever reason, I am at your service.”

“I’d take her up on that offer, Mycroft.” Sherlock had caught on to their little pow-wow, “John’s an invaluable resource, and very good at what she does.”

“Yeah, no kidding!” Greg raised his glass to John, “You should see her in an interrogation room! She can get anyone to break open in under an hour!”

“Int…oh?” She swore his eyes brightened.

“I’m not just good at killing people, Mycroft. I’m also rather good at getting them to cough up information.” She smirked, “A valuable asset in the intelligence community, don’t you think?”

“Oh, interesting. How is it I didn’t know you were an operative?”

“Because on paper, I don’t exist.” She shrugged, “Jim thinks it’s hilarious that there’s sects of the criminal classes that still fear me. Maybe not John Watson, but I have a reputation.”

“Useful thing, aren’t you?”

“No one ever thinks to pay closer attention to the little crippled Army doctor taking notes over the dead body.” She shrugged and patted him on the shoulder, “You wouldn’t be the first person to underestimate me, Mycroft.”

“But I will never make that mistake again.”

“You’re safe, by the way. Not only are you family, but you’re sort of one of my bosses.” She sighed, “I don’t do that kind of trick anyway. I’ll kill myself before I turn on anyone. Or they’ll have to kill me.”

“Your value alive would be reason enough to launch efforts to recover you safely from whatever harm you’d come to.” Mycroft sized her up, “And I doubt Intelligence would be the only interested parties offering resources to do so.”

“Yeah, I doubt it. My offer stands.” She retrieved a business card from her wallet and gave it to Mycroft, “My card, if you ever need me. That’s the best way to get to me directly. A call on Baker Street is usually a fair chance to reach me, of course, but that will get you to me if I happen to be away on business.”

“Of course, Captain. Thank you.” He looked at the card and slipped it into a pocket. With a sort of truce made with Mycroft, and an understanding reached, John watched over the festivities, still wishing desperately for Jim. 

The Stamfords arrived around eight, apologizing for being late, but Mike had been caught up with grading papers and Constanza had worked a double-shift at Saint Mary’s. They all worked jobs with unreliable hours and completely understood, so they welcomed their tardy guests with open, slightly-tipsy arms. When Mike found out about Greg and Sherlock, he whooped and just about knocked Sherlock off his feet with a hardy slap to the back.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all month, Holmes! Good for you! Bloody good for you!” Mike beamed, “About time you found someone who can handle you proper!”

“Well, seeing as he’s been doing it for about five years, I think Lestrade qualifies for the position.” Sherlock sniffed, tugging on the skirt of his waistcoat.

“Y’know, I always figured you were Ace or some such nonsense. Had no interest far as any of us could tell.” Mike shook his head in wonder, “Guess I was wrong about that.”

“It was never important, Stamford.” Sherlock’s eyes darkened a little bit, “And you know my record was dismal.”

“Yeah, that’s a word for it. Well, you’ve earned it, lad! Good for you! Many happy returns!” Either Mike didn’t realise how close he’d come to stepping on forbidden ground or just decided to move past the slight faux pax, but he seemed genuinely pleased with the arrangement.

“Not the most tactful bloke, is he?” Mycroft murmured to John, having witnessed the same thing. She shook her head.

“Never really has been. Kind of gets ahead of himself and just…says whatever’s in his head first.” She sipped her wine, “That was kind of a stupid thing to do, though. Mike knows about Trevor, he was there when that whole mess happened.”

“Do not give that cretin five milliseconds of thought, he is unworthy of reflection or consideration of any manner, Captain.” Mycroft’s voice dropped a bit and softened, but his hand on her arm was stern and grounding. “What he did to you was beyond reprehension and disgust.”

“What he did to us both was beyond reprehension and disgust, Mycroft. I was not Trevor’s only victim, he got his claws into Sherlock, too.”

“I know.”

“That is one individual I will never wish happiness to. He will get his due someday, I’m just sorry I can’t be the one to see him served justice.”

“I imagine it would give you some degree of closure, wouldn’t it?”

“A great deal of closure, in fact.” She sighed, “Well, we can’t have everything, now, can we?”

“It seems not.” Mycroft frowned, “I am sorry James couldn’t be with us tonight, I know you wanted him here.”

“Yeah, I kind of did.” She rubbed her nose, “Ah, well. I’ll see him in the New Year if nothing else.”

 

After a while, Sherlock took up his violin and played a few carols for them to liven things up a bit. John was in the kitchen with Greg when she heard a commotion downstairs. The street-door banged open and she caught Greg reaching to his waistband same as she did. That would have been someone with a key, or a lock-pick kit. John eyed the door and looked at Greg.

“Were we expecting anyone else?”

“Or missing anyone?” He shrugged, “A couple, maybe.”

“Who…” She trailed off as the flat-door swung open next, admitting their missing guests.

“Happy Christmas, all!” The dogs went nuts then, abandoning their places by the hearth to greet Jim and Seb.

“Jim!” She cleared the distance from the kitchen to the sitting-room and nearly bowled Jim off his feet completely, “I thought you were in Moscow until the New Year!”

“So did I.” He recovered his balance and hugged her, “We concluded our business and came home. There was nothing more to be done with the clients, and I had rather run out of patience for them.” John knew what that meant and heard Mycroft make a subtle noise. Perhaps some trouble he had been having with Russia would be smoothed out now? Perhaps. John shrugged and turned back to Jim, who was grinning like he knew something delightfully juicy.

“Well, never mind the circumstances! You came home for Christmas!”

“Oh, for god’s sake! Would you two just kiss already!”

“Oh, be nice, Sherlock.” Greg rolled his eyes, “Not like you’ve got much room to point fingers, is it?”

“Maybe not, but he does have a point.” Jim’s smile did not wane. John raised an eyebrow.

“And what’s that?”

“I owe you a kiss.”

“A ki…ah.” He just pointed at the kissing-ball she had hung above the door earlier. “Well, don’t let me stop you!”

“Of course not.” He chuckled and went for a bit of dramatics as he carefully kicked her feet out from under her enough to send her backwards and she giggled as he dipped her for a proper Christmas kiss.

“Wow! Did you miss me?”

“I always miss you.” Jim smiled and let her up again, “Why shouldn’t I?”

“Oh, Christ, you two are adorable!”

“Greg, please do shut up.” John eyed him sharply.

“Be nice, John.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re family.” Jim’s smile softened and it suddenly got very, very quiet in the flat.

“Oh my god.” Someone else, not John, whispered. John was trying to remember how to breathe. Something in her chest tightened and she studied Jim. For nearly two weeks, he had been planning something. Or maybe it was longer than that?

“Jim?”

“Hmm?”

“W-what are you doing?”

“John, my love, please, if I ask you something, would you do me the unspeakable honour to say yes?”

“Oh my god.” She whined, “Jim!”

“Please?” Asked, sincerely, as he went down on one knee and presented her with a small box.

“Oh, where…it’s beautiful!” For three men who didn’t do so hot on the emotional availability front, Jim, Sherlock, and Greg had kind of outdone each other.

“That’s a proper ring, alright. That’s beautiful!” Greg murmured, having caught sight of Jim’s not-insignificant offering to John.

“Jim, is this…”

“Nenya. I was hoping it would be ready in time for Christmas.”

“Oh, you remembered!” John remembered the day they had set aside for binge-watching all three Lord of the Rings films, and of course the Halloween Masquerade. Their shared love of Tolkien was not quite subtle, and John shouldn’t have been surprised that he would remember such a small detail as her love of Lady Galadriel’s ring, Nenya. Of course he remembered, and of course it was a custom-designed and custom-built piece, set with a shimmering opal, and measured carefully to fit either hand perfectly. John let him take the ring from the box, amazed that neither of them was shaking more than they were, her hands were remarkably steady for the circumstances, and let out a soft sound when it fit just perfectly onto her left hand. Of course, her knee chose that moment to give out, finally, but Jim caught her smoothly and used her momentum for another kiss. She ended up sitting in his lap under the kissing-ball she’d hung over the door of 221B, kind of forgetting completely about the rest of their small group, not that anyone in said group really minded much, and only broke away from the kiss when one of the dogs came in for a face-shot.

“Eugh! Loki!” She shoved her ex-MWD out of the way, “You don’t do that!”

“We are on their level, love.”

“And getting up again is going to hurt a bit.” She huffed, leaning her head back, “Sherlock?”

“Hmm?”

“Could you…um…?” She reached for her flat-mate, who got the unspoken hint very quickly and took her hand, helping her up and then turning to help Jim up. She got about as far as the Chesterfield and had to sit down again. There was plenty of room on the couch, she minimized the space taken by herself and Jim by moving over to sit on Jim’s lap again. Tucked between the arm of the couch and Jim’s body, she was comfortable and still had left enough room for the boys. Mrs Hudson was just about beside herself, Mike patted her comfortingly on the arm and asked what had her so fussed.

“Oh, I just didn’t think I’d have two sets of married ones!” She admitted tearfully, sniffling as she took another glass of wine from Molly. “Oh, thank you, dear.”

“Why don’t you sit down, Mrs Hudson?” Molly steered Mrs Hudson towards John’s chair and got the woman off her feet for a bit. John thought about the implications of that claim and narrowed her eyes.

“What’s in your head, love?” Jim murmured, “I can just hear you thinking things over.”

“Mm. Just wondering something.” She took a sip from her wine-glass and leaned over to put it on the coffee table. “Would we live here at Baker Street or elsewhere?”

“Hm.” He hummed thoughtfully, “Is there some way we could live at Baker Street? After all, we don’t quite have a place of our own in London.”

“We’re in the process of remodelling the basement flat for tenancy. I suppose we could move into 221C and give Sherlock and Greg all of 221B.”

“What would they do with your old room, then?”

“Probably turn it into an office-space or storage for something. I doubt the kitchen would lose its designation as an impromptu lab.” John shrugged. “I want to stay on Baker Street if we can.”

“Of course we can.” Jim smiled and nuzzled behind her ear. He tugged on the sleeve of her jacket and made a noise in his throat. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?”

“Ask Mrs Hudson sometime, she’ll tell you about the morning she came in and found me asleep on the couch after the Istanbul job.” John looked over at their landlady and smiled, “I gave her quite a start, but she handled it rather well, I think.”

“Was there any screaming involved?”

“Nope, but I did get a very sound scolding for giving her a fright when she came upstairs again a while later with tea and biscuits. Until then, she’d only ever seen pictures of me in fatigues, the real thing was a bit more…alarming. Despite me wearing them almost constantly. I think that’s what threw her off, to be honest.” John smirked and just blew Mrs Hudson a cheeky kiss when that earned her a scolding finger-wag.

The mood in 221B was properly cheerful for the holidays and the newly-engaged couples were appropriately smitten. John just smiled into her wine when she caught Mycroft and Molly being cute under the kitchen kissing-ball. They were such an odd couple, but they were a good match. And really, one thing they all agreed on was the fact that Molly could do far, far worse than Mycroft Holmes.

-&-

It was well past midnight before anyone even considered taking leave. John dutifully hustled their drunk guests to the door and made sure everyone had coats, wallets, and phones, held the door of a taxi for the Stamfords, and made sure Mycroft and Molly got away safe. She hugged Molly a little tighter, giddy with a couple glasses too many of Mrs Hudson’s mulled wine and a euphoria that probably wouldn’t go away anytime soon.

“Merry Christmas, Molly.” She whispered, kissing the sweet-natured pathologist on the cheek, “Have a good night.”

“Thanks for inviting us, John. We had fun, I promise.”

“Oh, I know.” She grinned, “Trust me, I know.” Poor Molly turned bright red, hiding her face.

“Oh, John! I’m so sorry!”

“Don’t you dare apologise, Molly! I may not have been the only person who noticed, but I’m sure not the only one who’s not going to care.” She promised, “He makes you happy, and really, better him than Sherlock.”

“Oh god.” Molly giggled, “What was I thinking?”

“You probably weren’t. Sherlock’s in good hands, and so are you.” John looked over her shoulder at the first-floor windows where she could see Sherlock and Jim standing side-by-side, watching the street.

“Who’s in good hands?” Molly smiled, “But you can…handle him. I couldn’t have tried.”

“I just count myself lucky they get along.” She shook her head, “Go on, I’ll see you probably with the next body-call.”

“Probably. Thanks, Jack.”

“Goodnight, Molly. Goodnight, Mycroft.”

“Goodnight, Captain.” Mycroft just smiled as Molly slid into the car. She stood on the kerb until they were out of sight and sighed. The streets were fairly empty, but habit was a fickle creature. With one hand on the butt of her SIG, John walked the distance from Baker Street past Speedy’s to the corner and back on a brief patrol. Nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. So she did a full circuit.

There was nothing out of the ordinary tonight, a few late-going revellers who drunkenly shouted “Happy Christmas!” to her as they passed, but no dangers. Of course not. After clearing Baker Street, she did a two-mile loop and cleared every street between Harewood Avenue and Baker Street, every side-street, alleyway, and even did a rooftop search. She exchanged more seasonal well-wishes with those she encountered, called cabs for a few who needed a safe ride home, and ensured the safety of her neighbourhood. A couple of passing patrols from The Met stopped her, she wasn’t an unusual sight, and she reassured them all that things were good, she was just doing her rounds. If anything came up, she’d let them know or likewise if they got a call first.

“Roger that, Captain. Happy Christmas, ma’am.”

“You too, boys.” She leaned into the warm car and handed the young sergeant, just new to the force, a small bundle of biscuits, “Mrs Hudson’s regards, lads, something to keep you going tonight.”

“Oh, bless you, Captain! Thanks!”

“Y’know I don’t believe you if you tell me it’s quiet at Baker Street on Christmas Eve, Watson.” The inspector driving just looked at her with a sly grin, “You tell me Holmes is behaving himself?”

“And Moriarty, too.”

“Well, that is Christmas! Wasn’t he out of town?”

“Got back in time for Christmas, I will not be complaining.” She grinned, “See you two round, Rigdon.”

“See you ‘round, Watson. Have a peaceful night.” Clary Rigdon just smiled and shook hands with her. John chuckled and patted the roof of the car as she stood back, waving them off. Once they were back in traffic, she set off for home. She returned to Baker Street content to know everything was as it should be tonight and when she cleared the first-floor landing, the door was wide open and she was hit with a blast of warm air that smelled of mulling spices, pine, and rosin. It smelled like home. Sherlock was playing carols again, most of the lights were off and candles had been lit to provide some quiet ambience.

“This is a proper Christmas.” She stepped into the flat, closing the door behind her, “And it’s quiet in London. At least for now.”

“You’d know, wouldn’t you?” Greg smirked, “We’ll see how long that lasts. You do the two-mile loop tonight?”

“Yes, I did.”

“You must be the only person I know who will willingly walk a two-mile loop on a patrol just because you can, not because you have to.” Jim shook his head, “Habit?”

“Yep.” She plopped down on the couch next to him and loosened her boot-laces. “Probably should’ve taken Loki, but he would’ve complained about the cold.”

“He’s retired, remember?” Greg upended his glass, finishing the contents in a few gulps.

“Yes, I know he’s retired. That does not mean he gets to be a lazy layabout.” She shot a meaningful look at the pair sleeping by the fireplace, “Useless brat.”

“Aww, you don’t mean that, love.” Jim cooed, kissing her on the cheek. “Oh, you’re cold from that patrol, aren’t you?”

“So?”

“Silly thing.” He smiled and put an arm around her, handing her his glass, “That’ll help a bit, I should imagine.” She shrugged and sipped the warm concoction. The dregs were always stronger than the rest and she sighed as it went down sharp.

“Damn.”

“You like it.”

“Yep. Thank God for Mrs Hudson’s mulled wine.” She put her feet up on the coffee table and watched the flames in the hearth as they burned down. After a final glass of mulled wine, the fire had died down to embers and it was about time to turn in. Yawning, John shoved to her feet, collected empty glasses, deposited them in the kitchen for disposal later, and looked at the ring on her left hand. She still couldn’t believe he’d actually asked her. That was a very brave thing to do, but not entirely unexpected. She’d have to be careful with the ring, make sure she didn’t lose it. Maybe she could wear it on a chain when she was on a job, so it would stay safe? She sighed and leaned against the work-top, drinking from a glass of water. What kind of future did she have? Partners with Sherlock, engaged to Jim, cousins to Greg as soon as they were married. What a thing. What a mad, mad thing.

Jim came after her, taking the glass from her and finishing it off, setting it in the sink, and put his arms around her. Not asking for anything, just wanting to touch. She smiled and leaned against him.

“Y’know, you didn’t used to like this kind of thing much.”

“It was never something I wanted.” He leaned his cheek against hers, “I can thank you for that, though.”

“For what?”

“Teaching me that it’s okay to want intimate contact, to want a hug.”

“Oh, well, in that case. You’re welcome.” She smiled and leaned her head back a bit, “Happy Christmas, Jim.”

“Mm. Happy Christmas, John.” He grinned and rubbed noses with her, “Can I interest you in going upstairs?”

“Oh, god, yes. Please.” Sleep sounded amazing right now. Jim chuckled and pushed away from her, heading to the en-suite to get the first round. He was quick about it, he always was when he stayed over at Baker Street, and she went through next. He was already upstairs when she passed through the sitting-room.

“‘Night, Sherlock. ‘Night, Greg. See you in the morning.” She acknowledged the pair sitting on the couch together.

“Good night, John. Sleep well.”

“Ta. You, too.” She waved as she headed for the stairs. She sighed and made the climb. Someday, sooner than later, they would be going down to 221C. That would be kind of nice, and she was glad Jim was so willing to move into 221 Baker Street so she wouldn’t have to be too far from Sherlock. Their permanence in Baker Street was uncertain, but for the moment, they planned to live there. It had been John’s home for long enough Jim wasn’t going to insist that she completely upend her whole life just to marry him. He hadn’t insisted on much changing in her life, to be honest, and she really did appreciate that. She had just kind of…fit herself into his routine without much fussing and they had just kind of miraculously worked out. It was interesting to think that she had gotten to this point by offering/agreeing to be his date to placate his mother, who was a woman never to be underestimated and very much approved of John’s place in her son’s life. She respected Lady Sheila and was looking forward to making them family for once. Lady Sheila knew everyone important in John’s life and approved of them as well. She was ridiculously fond of Sherlock, which was kind of funny considering he and Jim had been rivals at one point and sort of still were. But they didn’t act like enemies did, they were like friendly rivals picking on each other for kicks.

Getting up the stairs to her room took some time, she wasn’t completely stable on her feet and slightly tipsy from the drinking done during the party. Her door was propped open and she let herself in, leaning against the door to close it.

“Come here, you silly girl.” Jim held out one hand to her, he was sitting on the bed. She joined him, getting comfortable on the narrow bed that had just enough room for two people. John sighed and snuggled into the warm body next to her.

“I can hear you thinking.”

“Mm. Not of much.” She murmured. Jim hugged her close and they fell asleep like that.

-&-

There were no further disturbances that night, and Christmas Day dawned peacefully. Keeping unusual hours, the inhabitants of 221B Baker Street were awake at their usual hour. Gathering in the sitting-room, they shared coffee, some of Mrs Hudson’s biscuits, and exchanged small gifts. Two very important gifts had been given the night before, but there were small trinkets for this morning. John passed out the gifts, four to each of them. A gift to the recipient from each of them and one from Mrs Hudson. John gave the box from Greg a little shake, wondering what in the world he’d gotten for her. She already had handcuffs, her weapons were properly licensed.

“What’d you get me, Greg?”

“You’ll like it, I think. For all the time you’ve spent in that city, I’m honestly surprised you didn’t have one of these already.” Greg just grinned, sipping at a mug of coffee. “Did I say before that you’re rather good at making coffee?”

“One or two times. It’s nothing special. Seb’s better, though.” She grinned and unwrapped the box. Inside was a snow-globe, which contained a miniature of the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Paris. She handled the snow-globe carefully, giving it a gentle shake to set the little particles adrift. “Oh, Greg. It’s beautiful.”

“I thought you might like that, being the history and literature buff that you are.” Greg was very proud of that gift, naturally. He’d given Sherlock his own handcuffs and Jim got a new watch. It was rare they saw Sherlock blush that particular shade of red and he looked at Greg.

“What are these for?”

“So you’ll stop stealing mine. Can’t stop you from stealing my badge, but I figure I can give you your own set of those so mine don’t go missing all the time.” Greg’s smile was a bit wicked and John shared an eye-roll with Jim as he leaned in and whispered something to Sherlock they weren’t supposed to hear. Knowing what she did about her own bedroom activities, she suspected the fun between Greg and Sherlock was similar. She was very familiar with those particular marks, thanks, and John hid her smile in her coffee.

“Useful for more than just arresting someone, aren’t they?” Jim whispered. John nodded.

“Oh, so much more.” She mused, grinning as they continued to open gifts from each other. Mrs Hudson had kept herself very busy and made each of them a new scarf. Sherlock’s was, of course, blue; Jim got a lovely crimson scarf, he was rather fond of red; Greg’s was a beautiful green, and John’s was gradient knit white-to-black in an ombre pattern. All of them were, in fact, and John saw a fleck of tinsel in the yarn. She didn’t miss how the boys very quickly donned their scarves, proud to wear Mrs Hudson’s hard work.

“Think that’ll replace your other scarf, Sherlock?”

“Absolutely.” He just smiled at her, “Why shouldn’t it?” She chuckled. It was quiet for a while, Sherlock collected and binned the discarded boxes and wrapping paper. 

“Oh, we missed one.” He was holding a small box in one hand, “It’s for John.”

“Give it here.” She held out one hand for the box. Sherlock tossed it to her as he passed her chair to go into the kitchen. She caught it and turned it over, studying the wrapping.

“What is this?”

“Open it.”

“What’d you do, Jim?” she looked at her fiancé and raised an eyebrow. He just smiled at her, that innocent, goofy smile he wore when he had done something possibly outrageous and wanted her to trust him. The last time she’d seen that expression on his face was last night, and before that when he’d gifted her with the H130. She sighed and shook her head as she unwrapped the small box. It looked very familiar and John narrowed her eyes as she carefully opened it.

“What is it, Jack?”

“It’s…a tracer band.” She looked at the simple, decorative ring. It would fit flush against Nenya or could be worn on its own, matching the ring she already wore.

“That’s something for you to wear if you want to keep Nenya safe.” Jim handed her a fresh mug of coffee, fixed her way. “Maybe on jobs, that sort of thing.”

“That’s thinking ahead.” Greg smiled, “Nice work, Jim.”

“I probably could have gotten away with just the tracer, but…” he trailed off with a shrug.

“You have a terrible, terrible habit of spoiling me, Jim. That is no secret to anyone.” John leaned her head back, “You know what I’m going to say.”

“Absolutely. And yes, you like to remind me quite often.” Jim grinned and leaned over the back of her chair for a kiss. “What else am I going to do?”

“I can think of a few things.” She rolled her eyes and sipped the coffee. “Oh, Sherlock?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Okay, first? Don’t call me that. I’m not a ma’am to you.” She shook her head and looked around the back of her chair, “What time were we expected in Ripley?”

“No later than two. We have plenty of time.” Sherlock called from the kitchen. John looked at her watch and sighed. She had never actually visited the Holmes family estate in Surrey, although she’d heard all about it from Greg and Mycroft. And prior to the short-lived falling out in April, she had anticipated visiting in the future. But sort of getting kicked out of Baker Street had put that on hold. That was behind them, thank Christ, and she had listened in on a lengthy phone-call in which Mummy bluntly informed her idiot son that if he had somehow managed to alienate one of his only real friends to the point they weren’t speaking for Christmas, she would have very unkind words for him. Of course Mummy knew about Camden, and everything that had followed, and she was most displeased with Sherlock. It was one reason she and Sherlock had made such an effort to reconcile, when he admitted that he had been soundly scolded by his mother over the whole Camden mess.

So, Christmas with Sherlock’s family, Boxing Day with Lady Sheila, and quite possibly New Year’s with Catríona and William in Belfast. That happened when you had family worth visiting. Her only question was if Sherlock had gotten bullied into coming down to Ripley for Christmas, was Mycroft going to be there? Stupid question, of course he would be there. Very likely against his wishes, but Mycroft would be there. They had tickets on an early train from London to Esher, which was a twenty-minute drive to the Holmes estate in Ripley. And of course Mummy had insisted that John and Jim come along. She had the sneaky feeling Mummy knew all about them, and not because of anything her sons might have said or not said.

The boys had gone clothes-shopping earlier in the month just for the party, John had been a very willing part of the madness, and three gorgeous suits had been ordered. Jim had dragged Sherlock and Greg to his tailor and they had spent hours trying on different styles and colours. The sight of Sherlock in a dark-grey Vivienne Westwood cut to his very exacting specifications, his long, almost gangly frame, was to be remembered. He looked good in a suit anyway, but a Westwood was something special. John was biased, it was practically all Jim wore when they were working, but seeing Greg’s whole face just light up at the sight of Sherlock was something. All he’d ever said was “Oh, now that’s just not fair.” John and Jim just looked at each other and offered to stay elsewhere that night. She had met Sherlock and Greg on a scene the next morning, both men looking very thoroughly shagged out and very content. Greg apparently had a bit of a suit-kink, and John did not blame him.

John had subsequently gone dress-shopping with Molly Hooper and come home with a beautiful, stylish gown with an elegant floor-sweeping skirt, a leg-lengthening side split and semi-sheer mesh detailing at the deep V-neckline to showcase the décolletage, metallic threading and cold-shoulder sleeves. Molly had gone home with a beautifully understated black velvet gown that sat just off-the-shoulders, perfect for showing off the décolletage, fitted at the waist spotlighting the figure and swept the floor with a column silhouette. Shoes and accessories had been purchased and John had considered asking Molly what the special occasion was, she honestly thought the dress was stunning and hoped the sweet pathologist had some event to go to so she could show off a little. She hadn’t said, but kept that thought to herself.

Chapter Text


Since they were due in Ripley at 2pm, John and the boys took showers and got dressed in simple outfits. John wore her standard uniform of khaki fatigues, she rarely wore anything else anymore, and leaded up the dogs while the boys finished packing up. Careful asking had gotten the dogs invitations to Lady Sheila’s, they would pick the dogs up on Boxing Day, and a car had been sent to collect them. It wasn’t the first time Jim’s mother had looked after the dogs for them, it was unlikely to be the last. By the time they locked up 221B, Mrs Hudson was out of town visiting her sister for two weeks, three cars were lined up in front of the flat. The third car was driven by Seb. He was taking the delivery-drivers back to base after dropping the dogs off with Lady Sheila. Sherlock and Greg were taking Greg’s silver BMW, John and Jim got the second car. It took John a minute to recognise the car itself, and she stood on the pavement wondering if she was imagining it or not. A red Ford Mustang with a black bonnet-stripe that had a Union Jack painted under the hood-vent, 2001 model-year. It had been purchased and shipped from the United States, modded to right-hand drive, and gotten a bit of use but not that much. It was the Union Jack that told her it was the same car she had been missing for almost ten years. She remembered the day she had bought the car, and the day she’d first driven it.

“You have to be kidding me.” She rubbed the wet metal. It was warm. Quite warm, there was steam rising from the heated metal. This car had not been parked at the house for very long.

“Redmane.” She had named her Mustang, in a fit of childish desire to own something for once in her life that didn’t have to be shared with anyone else in her family. Who the hell had not only found but repurchased Redmane? She was pretty sure the Mustang had been sold off for one reason or another, seemed to recall and insincere phone-call from her sister telling her that the car had been auctioned. It had taken four people pinning her down, and a direct order from her commanders to keep her in Afghanistan. Otherwise she would have stormed home and probably killed Harry. It turned out that Harry, the blundering moron, had wagered John’s car (which wasn’t even hers to do a damn thing with, ta) in a bet and had lost, terribly. So, away went Redmane, and all of Harry’s money. Her sister had subsequently spent a year in rehab and John had never seen the car again. It had been twice that long before John would speak a civil word to her stupid sister. Someone, someone who must have known the history of this car, had found Redmane, bought it back, and now…here it was. It looked almost new, she suspected the paint-job had been redone, and it was missing several dents and scratches she remembered. Someone had put love and effort into restoring John’s old Mustang, and she kind of wanted to cry. People didn’t do nice things for her, ever.

“Are you really going to stand there and stare at your car?”

“If I asked where you’d found it, would you tell me the truth?” She looked over at Seb, who stood by the boot. He just smiled and pointed back at the house.

“He found out pretty damn quick what Harry had done to Redmane. I’m not actually sure who was angrier, if it was you or him.”

“Probably a tie, Seb. You’re the one who sat on me, remember? Told me I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone, took my comm. privileges away for two weeks to keep me from spam-calling my sister and her creditors.” She leaned against the car as the boys came out, Sherlock pocketing his keys after locking the place up properly.

“Hey, Jim?”

“Yeah?”

“If I asked you where you found this Mustang, would you tell me?”

“That?” He nodded at Redmane, “She was in sorry shape when I found her. Took me six months to figure out who had her, another three to buy her up and start work on restoring her back to her former glory. What do you think?”

“I think my sister’s lucky I eventually forgave her. I never thought I’d see this car again.”

“John?” Sherlock had picked up on the mood and wandered over, “You okay?”

“Yeah. I am, Sherlock, I’m fine. Better than fine.”

“I can’t tell if you’re sad or not.”

“I’m…relieved. This? This was my old car, didn’t drive it as much as I wanted, I was with the Army.”

“I take it your sister sold it off for reasons?”

“Wagered the damn thing. It wasn’t even hers, her name was nowhere on the papers. At least, they shouldn’t have been.” She leaned against the car, “I can see her forging the ownership papers in her name. She’d do that.”

“Your sister is despicable. Have I said that before?”

“One or two times, yeah. Didn’t even remember giving me the watch I left behind when I took off out of here in April. And the phone was an after-thought because she was having a strop over Clara telling her to clean up or she was out for good.”

“You never liked that phone, did you?”

“Nope.” John shook her head, “By the way, I’m driving.”

“Absolutely.” Jim just smiled and secured their bags in the back seat. Seb tossed her the keys and she grinned.

“Thanks, Seb!”

“Have a good trip, Boss. We’ll be in touch.”

“Always are, Seb.” John snickered and waved him off, “Get back to base.”

“Roger that.” He tossed off a passable salute and was gone. As soon as the guide-car was out of sight, John got into the driver’s seat. She wasn’t usually so sentimental but…God had she missed her Mustang! The car had been meticulously restored after who knew how long in storage or wherever. The seat was adjusted to her liking, the mirrors were in the right position, and when she turned the ignition, the engine turned over beautifully. Seb must have driven it, he knew how she liked her seat positioned.

“Hello, old friend.” She murmured lovingly, stroking the steering-wheel, “I bet you got some love from Jim’s people, didn’t you? Rebuilt, if I had to guess, you would have been in rough shape when they got hold of you.” It was nice to be in her own car again, to be in control of how she was getting from Point A to Point B. Jim got in on the other side, and Sherlock came over for a closer look. He circled the car and leaned in through her window.

“Where on earth are you going to park this thing, John?”

“There’s a couple of lots near here. I’m not afraid of walking a couple of blocks to and from my car.” She watched traffic on Baker Street, “A monthly parking pass isn’t going to be much of a dent in my finances, really.”

“I guess not! I like this car, it’s…flashy but subtle. Where’d you get it?”

“Bought it off an American bloke who needed to upgrade to a more family-friendly car and had it shipped and modded.”

“That’s something you would do, isn’t it?” Sherlock smiled, “Any chance I can take it for a spin?”

“If you behave yourself? Yes, you may drive it someday. But be nice to my car, will you?”

“Of course I will be!” He looked almost insulted, “I can be responsible.”

“When you feel like it.” She grinned, “See you in Ripley, Sherlock.”

“You have GPS running?”

“Yep.”

“Alright. See you down there.” Sherlock pushed away with a final, wistful pat and John gauged traffic before merging. She could tell what was new on Redmane and appreciated the smooth response. The all-weather tyres were going to be very nice on the highways and rougher roads in Ripley for sure.

-&-

It was a quiet, pleasant drive to Ripley, and they were among the first guests at the house. Which, when John followed Greg’s car through a proper gatehouse, promised to be spectacular.

“That’s a proper gatehouse!” Jim murmured, “Wonder what the house is like?”

“Massive, from what I hear. You know how we were teasing Sherlock about our mothers conspiring together?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t think that was as much of a farfetched reality as we thought it might have been.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me. They run the same circles, I guarantee she heard our names from a mutual acquaintance.”

“Any chance Lady Sheila will be at this party?”

“I’d be shocked if she wasn’t, it’s very much her kind of party.” Jim reached over and took her hand. It was a short wait as they were cleared by armed private security with dogs.

“Well, I approve of their security protocols.” John murmured. “No getting through without permission.”

“Have a good day, Captain Watson. Enjoy your stay with us.” The detail lead handed John her license back, “An honour to have you with us, ma’am.”

“Easy, lads. Keep a sharp eye.” She smiled and shook hands with the lead, “I know you from somewhere.”

“Kabul, ma’am, 1996.”

“We were all a lot younger, weren’t we? Happy Christmas to your family, Lieutenant Stiles.”

“You as well, ma’am. Good to see you again.” The lead, who had been a hotheaded young Marine back when John had first known her, popped a proper salute and waved them on. John chuckled and looked at Jim.

“Jesus. You know everyone, don’t you?”

“We can pick out our own kind in near any crowd. I’d be surprised if I don’t see someone I know from my Army days at this party. I guarantee you the Holmeses know a few high officers. This should be fun.” She followed Greg’s car along a winding unpaved road carefully graded and maintained. She could see where it had been cleared for snow-removal by groundskeepers, appreciated the effort put into making the house accessible no matter what the weather. They passed by a paved car-park that was, for the moment, empty. Valet parking for guests, no doubt. Their cars would be parked there until notice, and John was okay with that. When they reached the main house, she almost forgot how to breathe.

“Wow. I thought the gate-house was impressive! Oh my god!”

“What a house!”

“How…did we get invited to this again?”

“Because Lady Holmes isn’t an idiot and would have crucified her sons if she missed out on a chance to meet you properly. It’s anyone’s guess if she knows anything about you. Sherlock wouldn’t have talked.”

“I’m all over the news.”

“Doesn’t mean she reads it or listens to it.” Jim got out first and fetched their bags. John followed and surrendered the keys to the hovering valet driver. As they headed into the house, she saw more cars pulling up. They had left London around noon, it was just one now.

“That would be some early guests. Come on.” John took Jim’s hand and headed for the house. Inside, they caught up with Greg and Sherlock. There was no sign of their hosts, but Sherlock promised that they would meet Mummy later. Right now, they had enough time to get ready.

“Right. Into battle, then.” John sighed, following Sherlock and Greg upstairs. She and Jim were shown to one of the rooms set aside for guests and spent a bit of time getting ready. She got into the dress alright and Jim helped her secure the back-zip, and she set aside a comfortable pair of silver cross-strap sandals with a 2.5-inch heel, a subtle contrast to the gown and just an extra bit of height.

She was distracted from putting the finishing touches on Jim’s suit, having finished her own preparations, by a soft tap at the door. Knowing it was one or other of the boys, she looked over her shoulder.

“Come in!”

“John?” Oh, both of them, then? She raised an eyebrow.

“Come in, boys.” She smirked and looked at them over Jim’s shoulder and smiled. She should have made a bet, Mycroft was definitely at the party, and he did not look happy. It wasn’t hard to figure out why, either.

“Oh, come on, Mycroft.” She chuckled, “I know if there’s one other person in this bloody house who knows how to properly knot a tie, it’s you. What’s all this, then?”

“Please, John?” As if they had to beg. “You have a skill I do not.” John shook her head and flicked a bit of lint off her fiancé’s left lapel.

“You can behave yourself, sir.” She muttered.

“Did I say anything?”

“Stop it.” She rolled her eyes and went to help the brothers. She worked on Mycroft first, shaking her head as she carefully looped the length of black silk around her neck for Sherlock’s turn in a minute.

“Who’s coming to this thing, anyway?” She focused on her work.

“I think the question should be, who isn’t coming.” Sherlock groused, “This isn’t her typical Christmas Soiree, there’s names on the list I haven’t seen in years.”

“Like…?” She raised an eyebrow, “I asked because the guest-list dictates the knot, lads. You don’t get a standard, alright? Who’s coming?”

“Not the Prime Minister, I hope. Just because I  can be nice doesn’t mean I want to be.” Jim muttered, adjusting his tie. “Jesus, Jack, how do you manage this every time?”

“Just happen to be good at tying knots.” She grinned as the door creaked open to let in Greg, who was handsome as ever in a No.1 dress uniform of The Met, wearing an open-necked tunic and trousers, worn with a white shirt and black tie. Two Bath Stars* adorned his shoulder epaulettes, marking his senior station as an Inspector of the police force. He had his peaked cap in one hand and a pair of gloves tucked into a pocket. He had managed his own tie, for once, she’d give it a go-over when she finished with the brothers. She raised an eyebrow.

“Four-in-Hand, Greg?”

“Yeah, can’t throw anything else. God knows I try.”

“Get in line, then.” She smirked and finished a nearly-perfect Trinity on Mycroft, “There. That’ll do you for the dignitaries.”

“Damn.” Jim whistled softly, arms across his chest, “How do you do it?”

“Just do. Alright, you.” She tugged on Sherlock, “Don’t you dare undo this, hear me?”

“Yes’m.” He stood obediently still, and she settled on a far simpler Half-Windsor for Sherlock. After she had cleared Greg with the same knot she’d used on Sherlock and Jim, John walked the line of her boys, making sure they were presentable to Mummy and Dad and to their guests. She was tugging on the waistband of Greg’s trousers when a knock sounded, louder this time.

“Five minutes, lads!” Dad called cheerfully, “The first guests are here already!”

“We know. We barely missed them coming in.” Jim groused quietly. John shushed him as the others tittered. Mycroft just smirked, but Greg and Sherlock snickered. Once she was satisfied with everyone’s appearance, she held the door for them. Mycroft went out first, followed by Greg, Sherlock, and last Jim. She followed Jim out and closed the door behind her. There was no sign of Siger Holmes, but that was no matter. They stood at the top of the stairs and looked down into the hall, which was already crowded with guests.

“What’d you say? Eighty to a hundred people?”

“About that.” Sherlock nodded.

“Damn. Well, if I can charm Lady Sheila’s guests, I can certainly work my magic at your parents’ Christmas Soiree.” John huffed, “There’d better be wine at this party, I’m not doing this sober.”

“Practical matters first. Come on.” Greg must have known where the bar was, he was already halfway down the stairs. John’s only regret was that, with her dress, she couldn’t carry a gun. She did have a knife, however, and all four of the boys had guns. Carefully concealed, but they were all armed. Habit. What a thing. She was actually surprised to see a number of familiar faces and looked at Jim.

“Run in the same circles?”

“To our good fortune! This should be simple!”

“Thank God.” She sighed, keeping Sherlock and Greg in her sights. Mycroft was…God knew where he’d gone, but he wasn’t in her line of sight at the moment. “Oh, by the way?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you for getting Sherlock into a Westwood. I thought his standard bespoke suits looked fantastic. This…a grand step up, he looks stunning.”

“I knew he would.” Jim smiled and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, nodding to a couple of guests they recognised. Halfway through the crowd, Sherlock and Greg resurfaced with drinks and John took a glass of chardonnay.

“Thank you.” She looked at Greg and smiled into her glass, “Sherlock.”

“Hmm?”

“You are damn lucky you’re engaged, we might have a problem otherwise.”

“What’s that?”

“Your fiancé’s fucking gorgeous in uniform is what. And the smug bastard knows it.” She narrowed her eyes as Greg just beamed at her, “You’re a terrible person, Inspector.”

“Ah, you love me.”

“Yeah, I do! Fuck you, soundly!”

“Time and place of your choosing, love.” He just wagged his fingers at her, teasing her. Jim, poor thing, hadn’t expected that and nearly choked. She took his glass away and Sherlock gave him a pat on the shoulder.

“John!”

“I am not sorry.” She sniffed, “It’s true, anyway.”

“Oh, my god.”

“You knew exactly what you were getting into when you started dating me, Mr Moriarty, you can just calm down.” She sipped at her wine and looked around the crowds, “Wonder if your mother’s here yet.”

“If she is, we’ll never find her. Not in this kind of crowding.”

“She’ll find us, if I know her at all.” John mused, messing with her engagement ring as she handed Jim his glass back. They made a circuit of the guests, and John was listening to Jim talk business with one of his mother’s contacts when someone shouted her name.

“John!” In an instant, she was alert. Who did she know here? There were a couple of people, for sure, but…

“Molly?” Sure enough, it was Molly Hooper. In that stunning black velvet dress. “Oh, Jesus! Molly!”

“John, what are you doing here?” She took an enthusiastic, slightly-tipsy hug from the pathologist, “Hi!”

“Hi, Molly! What on earth are you doing at this Christmas party? Who did…oh, hang on. You came in with Mycroft, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did!” Molly leaned against her, “You didn’t think I was letting that handsome bastard out of my sight until the New Year, did you?”

“Not after last night, I sure wasn’t! How do you feel?”

“Oh, I’m fantastic! I’m so glad you’re here, I actually know someone!”

“Do I need to introduce you to people, then?”

“Maybe?” Molly looked adorable and shy and so disgustingly in love John wondered if there was something in the water at Baker Street. She laughed and kissed Molly on the cheek.

“Jim, can I trust you to behave yourself?”

“I can handle my own, love. Go on.” Jim just smiled at them, “Molly, you look stunning.”

“Hi, Jim.” Molly gave Jim a kiss and then dragged John off. She picked out a few people she knew and introduced them to Molly. When they heard that she was a pathologist at Bart’s and worked with Sherlock on cases, she became a darling. She was smart, pretty, and not available. John didn’t miss Mycroft shadowing them and chuckled.

“What?” Molly asked as they chatted with a couple of Lady Sheila’s contacts.

“Your boyfriend is impulsively protective. He knows you’re with me, so he’s staying out of it, but I can tell he’s getting tired of all the attention you’re getting from the men.”

“Mycroft?”

“Mhm. Ten feet off your six.”

“Of course he is.” Molly gave a sigh, “What a dork.”

“Your dork, Doctor Hooper.” John chuckled, “You need to tell me sometime how you and Mycroft became a thing, because I always thought you were tripping over yourself for Sherlock.”

“I used to, but Mycroft’s…so sweet.”

“Make it a coffee-date and we can trade notes.” She smiled and put a bit of distance between them as Mycroft came up on their flank. “Mr Holmes.”

“Captain Watson. Doctor Hooper.” Mycroft was polite as he greeted them, but very clear to make sure it was obvious that they were his, under his protection, and John would happily take anyone to task who doubted. With Molly under Mycroft’s watch and Jim behaving himself, John slipped away to do what she did best and had done to great effect since she and the boys had come down. Making the rounds of the people she knew got her introduced to those who did not know her, but who had heard of her through the news and the blog. She was talking to the Swedish Ambassador to the UK, and his handsome husband, when Jim finally tracked her down.

“Oh, there you are!”

“Jim.” She smiled at her fiancé, “Miss me, did you?”

“May or may not have.”

“Well, come here a minute.” She pulled him over by the hand and turned, “Ambassador Södergren, Mr Alméras, this is my fiancé, Jim Moriarty. Jim, Emanuel Södergren and his husband Adrien Alméras.” Södergren and Alméras were pleased to meet Jim, who was charming and polite. Leaving the couple, John didn’t miss the subtle thumbs-up Alméras gave them and smiled.

“So, you’re apparently better at doing Mycroft Holmes’s job than he is.” Jim murmured, one arm around her waist as he leaned close, guiding her through the crowds.

“Apparently, I haven’t lost my touch.” She smiled, “Any sign of your mother?”

“Not yet, but I know she’s around here somewhere. Several acquaintances have seen her and passed word on to me.”

“Figures.” John rolled her eyes and sipped from her glass, “So, not only have we dodged your mother, but we’ve apparently also avoided the Holmeses.”

“Hmm?”

“Splitting up may have been a good idea, we’re harder to find in a crowd when we’re on our own.”

“The boys have been cornered, I take it?”

“Once for each couple in question. You should have seen the way Mummy lit up when she saw Greg and Sherlock’s rings, she was just absolutely beside herself.”

“Oh, I’m sure she was. And poor Mycroft, now he has to worry about pressure to propose.”

“He’ll propose to Molly when it’s the right time.” John looked around the crowded rooms. She had circuited the entire house on her own, including the gardens, and decided to take Jim out. “Have you seen the gardens yet?”

“Briefly.”

“Then you, sir, are coming with me.” Putting down their empty glasses, she led Jim out of the house and into the expansive, snow-covered gardens. It was beautiful and otherworldly with strings and nets of fairy-lights strung up along the paths to light the way and felt a bit like stepping into a different world, just for a moment.


 

Chapter Text


Sheila Moriarty had no problem locating her son and his girlfriend, even when they split up to make it difficult. John Watson, of course, was working her magic and charming every person she met. Several attendees were familiar with her and thrilled to see her again, said as much, and those who had not met her before were saying nothing but praise. As it should be. Sheila smiled into a glass of wine as the two vanished into the gardens together. As she watched from the Orangery patio, Mariane Holmes came up alongside her, beaming and tipsy.

“Happy Christmas, Mariane.”

“A very Happy Christmas indeed, Sheila. Thank you so much for coming, we have missed you so.”

“Well, of course I came!” Sheila rolled her eyes at her old friend, “Do you suppose our silly children know of our acquaintance?”

“If not before, they will tonight. After all, our children are very intelligent.”

“Of course they are! And with excellent taste in their partners, I am pleased to say.” She smiled as she looked over her shoulder and caught sight of Mariane’s youngest with his fiancé. Greg Lestrade was a handsome bloke, and absolutely the best man at The Met. They were very fortunate to have him there and God help them all if anything ever happened that put his career in jeopardy. Sheila suspected she would not be alone in seeking reparations for the wrong-doing.

“Your nephew is very good to my son, isn’t he?”

“Gregory saw in him what no one else did, until he met John Watson.”

“Who is here, somewhere, but that sly girl has evaded me so far.” And didn’t Mariane look so annoyed by John’s ability to disappear in a crowded room?

“Well, look at her background, Mariane, it’s her job to disappear like this. Her success has hinged many a time on her complete invisibility. You will see her when she wants you to see her.”

“Oh, I’ve seen her, but it’s the repeated slip before I can corner that is wearing on me. How does she do it?”

“She has her ways.” Sheila chuckled. “She is not afraid of you, she is simply playing a bit of a game.”

“Her and that clever son of yours. Dating, are they?”

“Oh, I suspect it is more than that.” Sheila thought of the intel shared with her by Sebastian Moran, who had always been a most reliable source of information on her son’s movements. “Last night was a rather busy night at Baker Street.”

“Oh?”

“Your son and my nephew were not the only ones to exchange a promise for a shared future, Mariane.”

“Oh, did Jim propose then?”

“According to my resource, he took her completely by surprise. A rather cliché day to propose, but they were not doing this by the rules of others.”

“Have they ever?”

“Mm. No.” Sheila smirked. The first time she’d met John Watson, the poor girl had been right out of a bad relationship with the very same man who had asked her nephew for his future, having been all but run out of her own home and ridiculed and scolded for caring. Jim, dear idiot, hadn’t even been looking for her when he’d found her. That had been the start of something truly beautiful and it had only gotten better. She had known, suspected, that Jim and John had never actually been dating, but had never said anything. And now? Well, she had a daughter-in-law to be proud of.

“The dynamic at 221B Baker Street has changed, hasn’t it?”

“The boys are getting along, from what I understand. Working together, even.”

“Working together?”

“My son is as gifted at solving crimes as he is at committing them.” Sheila narrowed her eyes, “Little puzzles to keep Sherlock’s mind sharp and offers of assistance when things need a boost.”

“And then he sends his girlfriend on missions to do the work we don’t speak of.”

“She knows her business.”

“She is a girl of many gifts. I am dying to meet her!”

“Hmm.” Sheila had a thought and looked at Mariane, “Shall we take a stroll, my dear?”

Oh, we shall! Have I shown you the Winter Gardens?”

“No, I don’t think I’ve seen them in person. From the house, they look gorgeous.” As if Mariane Holmes needed much prodding to go spy on Jim and John. Like the conspiring old hens they were, Sheila and Mariane made their way out to the gardens. It was chill, but lovely, and they made a circuit before putting effort into looking for the errant couple. They met the pair coming back towards the house, Sheila was delighted to see John in a gown that flattered her figure just the right way, flush with the cold and the good cheer. John was one of those people who fed off of the energy of a gathering and reacted appropriately.

“Oh, she is a lovely sight, isn’t she?” Mariane breathed softly, Sheila had to agree with her. John was glowing, she had a habit of doing that more these days.

“What are you willing to wager the next time we see her like this, she’s wearing white?”

“Oh, Sheila!” Mariane looked at her scoldingly, but only just so. “You’re terrible!”

“Come now. Shall we?”

“Oh, what’s to lose? Very well.” So, they shook hands on it. The next time they saw John Watson wearing that exact expression on her face would be the soldier’s wedding-day when she gave herself and everything she had and was to Jim, who had never wanted or dared to want anything more than what he had built for himself. And then John had come to his attention, thanks to Sebastian Moran, and the rest was quiet history. Months of surveillance, testing the waters, getting her attention in what was possibly the absolutely wrong way to go about it, and eight months in the single longest committed relationship either of them had ever been in. Sheila remembered a feisty young tomboy chasing Jim around the gardens at the Little Venice Gardens house. That property was still in the family, thanks to Jim’s clever manoeuvrings after Charles’s death. Of course, Victoria would have been happy to leave it to Jim in her will, but they were never certain of anything and when it was read out that Jim owned the house on Warwick Avenue only then had Sheila let herself breathe.

“You know something?”

“What’s that?”

“The last I saw John Watson was at Victoria’s funeral? She managed to work bereavement leave and come to London for the whole thing. It was rather lovely.”

“She must have cut a fine sight in her uniform, I bet.”

“Oh, she did.” Sheila smiled, “She certainly did.” John and Jim were dutiful in paying their respects, apologizing for dodging this long but…well, there was nothing for a couple of crafty children wise to the game of the older generation, now was there? They were, of course, promptly forgiven, and Mariane made quite sure John knew she approved. As the two made their way back into the house, Sheila smirked.

“There.”

“God bless John Watson.” Mariane sighed, “That is a woman in charge of her faculties. Cross her at your own risk.”

“As the boys have learned.” Sheila chuckled, “On more than one occasion for your block-headed idiot of a son.”

“Oh, Sherlock.” Mariane rolled her eyes, “That boy will drive a saint to sinning, I swear. He’s always been such an ornery thing, hasn’t he?”

“It became worse as he aged. But he is in good hands.” And really, the same could be said for all of them. The only one in question was the eldest, Mycroft. But his girlfriend was an associate of John, Jim, and Sherlock’s, and they really did make a rather cute couple. She suspected those two would not be engaged until the New Year. As it should be. The summer months would be joyful and busy, with any luck at all. Of course, an unusual precedent had been set by Sheila’s mother Catríona Young, so it would be a very busy summer indeed.


 

Chapter Text


The new year brought with it new cases, new adventures, and new troubles. It started very subtly, and if John hadn’t heard from Seb about the mishap at the beginning, it might have all ended in spectacular devastation. She was on a case in Devon with Sherlock, Seb was on a job in Scotland with Jim. They managed to close the case in record time and in typical fashion, complete with foot-chases, missing evidence, and incompetent police officials who turned out to be in on the whole thing from the get-go. That went over like a load of bricks with Baker Street and they left the tiny town of West Doran assured of only one thing: the next mayor and police commissioner were going to have their work cut out for them. Mycroft had been just bored enough between negotiation talks with China to orchestrate a bit of a political upset in the little pin-prick town after the locals sent John and Sherlock on a wild goose-chase for dead-end leads that went absolutely nowhere and each one came up bogus. They returned to London by train, and John knew there was something up when she saw Seb waiting by the Jaguar outside Paddington Station.

“Work?” Sherlock had seen him, too. John narrowed her eyes. Seb was very good at looking like he didn’t care, but if you knew him as well as John did, you knew when something was wrong.

“I’m not sure. You get back to Baker Street. I’ll see you later?”

“Sure. I might be at Bart’s tonight, Molly had a couple of bodies she wanted me to see.”

“Alright. You know the rules.” John hugged her flat-mate and future cousin-in-law, kissing him on the cheek, “Say hi to Greg for me if you see him before I do.”

“Of course I will!”

“You always do. Bye, Sherlock.” She waved and shouldered her bag, heading for the Jaguar. Seb held the door for her and got them on the road. He didn’t say a word to her until they were back at Riverside Tower, and she just knew something was wrong. There was no sign of Jim, no sign he’d been back to the penthouse. She checked his bio-tracker and got back…nothing?

“Seb? Where’s Jim?”

“I…lost him, John. I’m so sorry.”

“Where?”

“Middle of fucking Edinburgh! Right at the airport! He was right behind me, I saw him right behind me! And then, I turn around and he’s gone.”

“Did you manage to track him?”

“Yes, thank Christ I did.”

“When did you see him last?” John was already in planning mode, pacing the lounge, making the staff nervous. They were hoping she wouldn’t get too terribly angry, her fury was legendary. If Jim was bad about moods, John was worse.

“He was in Stichill, thirty-five miles outside of Edinburgh. They’ve moved him by now, south beyond the border.”

“Do we have any idea who took him?”

“No, but whoever it was was quick and clever, he’s smarter than that.”

“Yeah, he is.” John looked out the windows that gave her a view across The Thames. Whoever had taken Jim Moriarty wouldn’t stay quiet for very long, whoever had him would want to gloat, would want to brag. John and Seb would wait for that moment. In the meantime, they would make plans and wait for his bio-tracker to reset. It was a given the one that had stopped relaying had been removed, but the secondary would kick in soon and that would give them some idea of where he was.

-&-

It was another week before anything changed. By this time, Sherlock and Greg both knew Jim was missing and were prepared to do whatever was necessary to recover him. Sherlock had offered to get Mycroft involved, but John had refused on the basis that until she knew what they were up against, she didn’t require Mycroft’s precise services. And he had already helped them in West Doran, she didn’t feel comfortable asking him for another favour so soon. She was on a scene with Sherlock and Greg when it happened. She had her back to the line, Sherlock was across from her on his knees, and Greg stood behind Sherlock keeping an eye on the rest of the scene while Sherlock and John worked out the mysteries the body between them wasn’t quite willing to surrender to the living just yet.

“Oi! Watson!” Sally Donovan’s voice shattered what little remained of John’s focus on the case and she put her head down in her arms. She hadn’t slept in three days, eaten in two, and Greg had threatened to drag her out of the house in handcuffs if he had to, just to get her out.

“Damn it, Donovan,” Sherlock muttered. “You alright, Jack?”

“There had better be a fucking good reason for this.” She raised her head, “Greg, would you miss Donovan too terribly?”

“If it wasn’t harder to find a decent sergeant than it was getting you out of Baker Street this morning, I’d say no. Don’t even think about it.” Greg looked down at her, eyes dark. “I know you’re worried, Jack. It’s written clear as day on your face, has been all week.”

Shoving to her feet, offered a hand by Sherlock from the other side of the body, John tugged on her PPE coverall, turning to face Donovan, who stood almost too far away, radio in one hand and a smug look on her face. She hated Donovan rather much at the moment, but there was nothing for it.

“We’ve got this one, John. Go ahead.” Sherlock made a slight shooing motion with one hand. Shaking her head, John went to see what Donovan wanted.

“What’s on, Donovan?”

“Line-guard called in, someone’s here for you.”

“Did they say who?”

“No, but Rodgers thinks it’s your boyfriend.” Donovan shrugged, “Got a look at him, looked like him to me.”

John stifled a stab of relief, “Are you sure it wasn’t Colonel Moran?”

“Not him, ma’am.” Donovan shook her head as her radio squealed, pointing to the main line, “They’re over there.” John nodded and headed for the main line by herself. As she neared the line, she caught sight of a slight figure in a black Westwood. There was no sign of Seb anywhere, and he was never far from Jim’s side. And if Jim had resurfaced, she would have heard long before now. Seb would have called or come for her on his own, maybe bringing a ragged, sheepish Jim along for proof. John’s instincts were screaming. She wanted to believe it was Jim, but something kept nagging at her. She dismissed the constables manning the line, she needed a little privacy for this. Ducking under the line, John stood just out of reach of the man who had come for her. It looked like Jim, it could have been him. For a while, they just stood and stared at each other.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I’m…not sure I haven’t.” She kept her voice low, finally reaching out to touch him. He felt real enough, and it certainly looked like he’d had a hard time of things somewhere else unknown.

“I’m not a ghost, John.” He took her hand in his, “I promise.”

“Jesus. You’ve been gone for a week! I kept thinking we’d get a ransom video or something like that! What happened?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” There was a strange distance in his eyes, a coldness she hadn’t seen in…almost a year?

“Try me. I live with Sherlock Holmes, unbelievable is a way of life.”

“Just…trust me.”

“I don’t, but I’m not going to push. I’m just glad you’re okay. Has Seb seen you?”

“Not yet. I wanted to find you first.”

“You’d better let him know you’re alive.”

“I will. Where can I find you?”

“Baker Street.”

“Okay. You’re safe with Holmes, I suppose.” And that got her attention. There were a few things that weren’t matching up in her head, what she saw compared to what she remembered. Being detained against your will could mess with a person’s head, John knew this very, very well, but there was something about Jim’s behaviour that was just…off. “You’re safe with Holmes, I suppose.” What a strange thing to say.

“He may be a moron, but he’s my moron. He doesn’t hurt me on purpose.” John folded her arms across her chest, “He’s not that heartless.”

“Just watch yourself, John Watson. You can’t trust anyone in London, yeah?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I can protect you, Holmes can’t. Think about that.” He turned and walked away, “I’ll find you at Baker Street when I need you again!”

“Let me know when you get home, then!” She called after him, wondering what was wrong with him that he was acting so…weird. As soon as he was out of earshot, she called Seb.

“Moran.”

“Hey, it’s me.” John looked after the retreating figure, “I think we have a big problem.”

“What’s up, love?”

“Who else knows about Jim’s London safehouses?”

“You and Lestrade and the Holmes brothers. Why?”

“Okay.” She let out a slow breath, “Did Richard know about any of them?”

“Richard?” That got Seb’s attention. “None, that I’m aware of. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have found out about them, but he hasn’t been around much lately. Why do you ask?”

“Then we definitely have a problem.” She ruffled her hair, “Put Riverside Tower on red alert and double the guard at the other houses. Send someone you trust to protect Mum.”

Why don’t you take Lady Sheila and I’ll take care of the rest?”

Okay, that’s fair. Sorry, Seb.”

“What about Baker Street?”

“We’ll need to beef up security there, too. I might talk to Mycroft about that one.”

“Yeah, we’ll combine forces at Baker Street. Let me know when you’ve talked to Holmes.”

Roger that. Thanks, Seb.”

No problem. Time to play?” She heard the edge in his voice and smiled.

Yeah, I think it’s time to play.”

Leave Baker Street out of it?”

“Sherlock and Greg can’t know. They’re smart, they’ll figure it out eventually. But, leave them out of it. If I need to, I’ll get between Richard and Sherlock. I’ll be happy to do that.” She checked her watch, “Right now, I’m off to Grange Park. I’ll be in touch.”

“We’ll get Jim back from this, love. If you have to pull his location from Richard like rotten teeth.” Seb’s voice was scarily soft, John knew he was in a bad mood. It was bad enough Jim was missing, and now it was his own twin brother who’d taken him? This was bad. Hanging up with Seb, she went back to the body. People scattered like rats to get out of her way, she could only imagine how she looked. By the time she got back to Sherlock and Greg, they knew it had gone from bad to worse.

“Jim?”

“No.” She shook her head, “But now I know who has him. It’s safer if you don’t know who it is.”

“Is it?”

“Trust me. The man who took Jim Moriarty is just as flamboyantly showy. You’ll know when you need to. Is there somewhere outside of Baker Street you can stay? I’m not sure the house is really that safe right now.”

“Mycroft has a couple of safe-houses, we might be able to stay there.”

“I would see if you can stay elsewhere. I’m going to ground with Seb for a while.”

“Who has that kind of power?”

“You’d be surprised. Jim didn’t get to where he is without making enemies along the way.” She subtly reached for her SIG, taking it from her waistband and checking the magazine and chamber. Without thinking twice about it, she went around behind Sherlock and carefully tucked it into the back of his waistband, patting it once it was secure in the holster. He didn't carry a weapon of his own, despite owning one, and she was content to give him hers until further notice.

“You take that, I have others. That’s your protection. Always be aware, trust no one.” Moving over to Greg, she checked his Glock likewise for readiness before returning it to his duty-holster.

“How long should we stay out of Baker Street?”

“Two or three days. I wouldn’t stay out too long, but just…long enough to give him something to think about.” She looked around, “I’ve got to go, but I’ll be in touch.”

“Be safe, love.” Greg hugged her tight, Sherlock kissed her, and the two of them walked her to the line. Sherlock got her a cab, one of Jim’s people as always, and she went back to Riverside Tower to rearm. She also changed, she’d been wearing the same clothes for a couple of days and could use a shower.

-&-

Leaving thirty minutes later in black tac-fatigues with her usual armaments in place, John hailed a taxi to Lady Sheila’s house. She was due a visit anyway, so this wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to her future mother-in-law. When she got to the house, she was on alert and knocked on the door before letting herself in. Sheila had given her a key ages ago, with instructions to let herself in when she visited.

“Hello!” She called out in a cheerful voice, “Mum!”

“John, love! We’re in the kitchen!” She heard Sheila’s voice from the back of the house and bristled. Stalking the kitchen, she cleared each room she passed. Richard was in this house, she just knew it. She hadn’t seen him in twenty-two years before this morning, but she had spoken to him on one other occasion. Tucking her beret into her pocket, she peeked into the kitchen.

“John, you look awful!” Sheila was on her feet and around the kitchen table in a heartbeat, hugging John tightly, “What happened?”

“We still don’t know who has him, Mum, but we’re getting close. We’ll get him back alive, I promise.”

“Well, if anyone can find my idiot son, it’ll be you.” Sheila had not taken Jim’s disappearance very well at all. John looked over Sheila’s shoulder at Richard, who sat placidly at the table like he belonged there, sipping tea and smiling like he knew the world’s ugliest secret. Which he kind of did. John stiffened and pulled back a little from Sheila.

“I’m sorry, I seem to have interrupted something.”

“Oh, nonsense! You remember my son, Richard?”

“It’s been a while.”

“He heard about Jim and came to keep his old mum company!” Sheila smiled and moved past the table, pausing to give Richard a passingly-affectionate pat on the cheek, “Such a good boy.”

“I’m sorry to barge in like this, I just wanted to see that you were alright.”

“I’m fine, love. Will you stay for tea?”

“Of course she will.” Richard grinned at her, “What’s tea among family?”

“I’ve got some time, but I can’t stay long.” John sat down on the opposite side of the table and settled into a staring-contest with Richard. He knew she knew, and he knew she wasn’t stupid. Well, she wasn’t about to say anything. Sheila knew that John and Richard didn’t get along, so she didn’t force them to play nice. After a cup of tea, John took her leave. As she departed the house, she leaned over the back of Richard’s chair and gripped him tightly by the shoulder.

“You listen to me, you sorry sack of shite, if I find your brother and you’ve done a single fucking thing to hurt him, I will have your guts for my bootlaces and your head for a hood-ornament. You won’t get away with this. If anyone can find Jim Moriarty, it’s gonna be me. And don’t you for one fucking second think I won’t. I will find him. And I’ll expose you.”

“Oh, don’t threaten me, love. You’re no fun! I don’t know what he sees in you!”

“And I swear, if you come anywhere near my friends, I’ll put a bullet in your fucking skull. I have enough friends of influence heads will turn the other way when your name shows up on The Met's homicide rosters. Don’t touch them. I will break you in two and choke you in your fucking sleep with your own testicles. Do you understand me?”

“Little dog has a big bark.” Richard chuckled and had the audacity to kiss her. She almost decked him and shoved him out of her way.

“Don’t you ever do that again, Richard! You sick fucking bastard! The next time I see you, I won’t play nice!”

“Cheers, darling girl!” Richard wagged his fingers suggestively, “My brother was a lucky man!” John hesitated just a fraction of a second. Taking her leave of the Grange Park house, John returned to London, to a safe-house in Marylebone where Seb waited for her with a small detail of trusted security personnel. She told Seb everything, and they laid out their own plans. They would take out Richard, save Jim, and lay an old ghost to rest once and for all. And they would do it before anyone else they loved got hurt or killed. She suspected Jim was still alive, just desperately in need of rescue.

-&-

As badly as John wanted to devote her time and energies to finding Jim, as badly as Sherlock and Greg wanted to help her, they had lives to live and jobs to do. John worked at the hospital, ran cases with Sherlock and Greg, and worried herself sick about her fiancé. She spent every spare hour she had looking for him, hunting for clues and coming up empty. A series of cases had been keeping them busy over the last few months, the latest being the capture of wanted criminal Peter Ricoletti, which John and Sherlock had dutifully solved for The Met. The case had catapulted the two of them to internet infamy almost overnight. It was one of three very public cases they had taken, the others being the rescue of a kidnapped banker and the recovery and return of the infamous Turner painting The Falls of Reichenbach.

John had actually visited the very same waterfalls during a trip to Switzerland during a deployment in Germany, had thought them very beautiful, so seeing the priceless painting restored was something she was a bit proud of. But the recovery of the Turner painting and the rescue of the banker had landed Baker Street squarely in the public eye, both in good ways and in a few bad ones. The capture of Peter Ricoletti was just another notch on the belt, and not one either of them particularly wanted, especially because it meant another press-conference, which they were currently standing at, listening to Greg address the gathered, eager media. They stood by Greg, Anderson and Donovan stood near the back of the room, watching with smug glee. They knew John and Sherlock hated press-conferences, so this was just making their day.

“Peter Ricoletti: number one on Interpol’s Most Wanted list since 1982.” Greg was beaming, giddy with relief and accomplishment, “But we got him; and there’s one person we have to thank for giving us the decisive leads...with all his customary diplomacy and tact!”

“Sarcasm.” John muttered to Sherlock, “Though you’re not as bad as you used to be.”

“That’s true.” He kept a straight face, offering a benign smile to Greg, who was just beside himself. As the press applaud, Greg walks over to Sherlock and gave him a gift-wrapped package, smiling cheerfully.

“We all chipped in.” He admitted as Sherlock took the package and examined it. Gifts at press-conferences were generally to be handled with suspicion. What on earth had the Yarders gotten for Sherlock? Did they even want to know? So far, Sherlock had received a pair of diamond cuff-links and a tie-pin, neither of which he wore. All of his shirt-cuffs had buttons and he almost never wore a tie. As Sherlock tore open the wrapping paper, Donovan and Anderson grinned expectantly. Sherlock pulled out a deerstalker hat. John choked. Oh boy.

“Oh!” Sherlock actually smiled a little bit. That nervous, I-don’t-know-how-to-handle-this smile John saw when he was out of his element.

“Put the hat on!” One of the reporters yelled gleefully.

“Put the hat on!” Another followed suit.

“Yeah, Sherlock, put it on!” Greg was beaming. He knew they didn’t like this, he knew how Sherlock was about gifts. Sherlock looked at the reporters as if he’d like to kill them. John cleared her throat.

“Just get it over with.” John shook her head, taking the wrapping paper from him. Glowering at her, Sherlock put the hat on his head. Flashbulbs went mad and everyone applauded. John looked past Sherlock to Greg, who was being very good about the whole thing. She indicated Sherlock, who was ready to commit mass-murder on the press. The unspoken “You owe him big time for this. Make it up to him properly.” was completely understood. This hadn’t quite been Greg’s idea, but he certainly hadn’t tried to stop them from doing it. John sighed. Damage-control, again. As always. Such was her lot.

-&-

One afternoon, a while after that embarrassing press-conference, John was sitting on the sofa reading the papers while Sherlock, wearing his standard outfit of shirt, trousers, and dressing-gown, stomped across the room and threw the Daily Star onto the pile of newspapers on the coffee table. A couple of them fell off and scattered on the floor.

“Boffin.” Sherlock spat, indignant as he stabbed an accusatory finger at the papers, “Boffin Sherlock Holmes.”

“Everybody gets one.” John didn’t look up, as much as she wanted to.

“One what?” He turned on her, mildly confused.

“Tabloid nickname: ‘SuBo’; ‘Nasty Nick.’” She looked up at him for a minute, “Shouldn’t worry – I’ll probably get one soon. Got two already, y’know.”

“Page five, column six, first sentence.” He snarled, “And those don’t count, those are nicknames from the Army. That’s different.”

“Not terribly.” She rolled her eyes and turned to the relevant page in question while Sherlock went over to the fireplace, picked up the deerstalker and looked at it as if it had personally offended him.

“Why is it always the hat photograph?” He muttered.

“Because it’s a half-decent picture of you.” She read over the article, finding her new nickname. ““Spinster John Watson”?”

“What sort of hat is it anyway?”

““Spinster”? What the hell are they implying? I’m engaged for God’s sake! They all know this!”

“Is it a cap?” Sherlock was still messing with the hat, “Why has it got two fronts?”

“It’s a deerstalker.” John looked up briefly before reading more of the article. ““Frequently seen in the company of spinster John Watson ...”

“You stalk a deer with a hat? What are you gonna do – throw it at them?”

““... confirmed spinster John Watson”! Jesus!”

“Some sort of death frisbee?”

“Okay, this is too much.” She smacked the papers closed, “We need to be more careful.”

“It’s got flaps ... ear flaps. It’s an ear hat, John.” He accurately skimmed the hat across the room to John, who caught it with a flick of her wrist while still reading the papers. Her engagement was no secret to the people of London, hadn’t been since late January, this was the papers being a little spiteful.

“What do you mean, “more careful”?” Sherlock was finally paying proper attention and looked at her.

“I mean this isn’t a deerstalker now; it’s a Sherlock Holmes hat.” She indicated the hat he had thrown at her. “I mean that you’re not exactly a private detective any more.” She held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “You’re this far from famous.”

“Oh, it’ll pass.” Sherlock slumped in his chair, stretching out and steepling his fingers in his usual thinking pose.

“It’d better pass.” She sighed and tossed aside the papers, “The press will turn, Sherlock. They always turn, and they’ll turn on you.” Sherlock, hearing something in her tone of voice, lowered his hands and studied her more closely.

“It really bothers you.

“What?

“What people say.”

“Yes.”

“About me?”

“Yes, of course, it bothers me. You’re my best friend, Sherlock.” She leaned forward on her elbows, indicating the scattered headlines, “This? This isn’t good for either of us.”

“So, what do you think I should I do?”

“Just…try to keep a low profile. Find yourself a little case this week. Stay out of the news.”

“I’ll try.” He got up and went to fix tea. “This isn’t just the cases, is it?”

“No.” She shook her head and twisted her engagement ring on her finger, “I’m worried about him, Sherlock, what if…”

“Don’t you go there, John. We don’t have enough data to make that conclusion, and I guarantee if something like that had happened to Jim Moriarty, we’d know by now. He’s out there, we just have to find him and bring him home safe.”

“Oh, remind me to tell Mrs Hudson she needs to call the exterminator again?” She suddenly thought of something else, “I think an animal got in and got trapped down there, I heard that noise again last night.”

“Do you suppose the workers might have left a window ajar?”

“That’s all I can think of.” She sighed and took the tea when he brought it to her. For a couple of nights now, and sometimes during the day, John and Sherlock had heard strange noises from the basement flat, but there was never anything there. The workers refurbishing the rooms didn’t report anything unusual when questioned. A couple of stray cats and a family of mice had been evicted in turn, but the noises continued. Scratching and low-pitched whining noises, like some animal was trapped and trying to escape.

-&-

A month after it first came to her attention, after an excruciating amount of time and effort quietly put into finding Jim Moriarty and destabilizing his brother’s grip on things, John Watson watched everything come down at once. She was with Greg and Donovan running a series of simultaneous calls when it happened. Someone had remotely broken into Pentonville Prison, inciting a riot, and into the Bank of England, wiping out thousands if not millions of dollars and opening the secure vault with a keystroke. Suddenly, they got word of a physical break-in at the Tower of London. Someone was after the Crown Jewels.

“Greg, go. Go!” John leaned over the back of Greg’s seat, “Go!”

“Fucking hell! Who’s behind this?”

“I know exactly who this is. And that fucking bastard’s head is mine.” She snarled. If this wasn’t Richard showing off, she would be absolutely shocked. When they got to the Tower, she joined the rest of the police personnel responding, joining the CO19 team. Greg kitted her up in proper gear, handed her a rifle, and gave her a sharp tap on the side of her helmet. Geared up in fully body-armour and wearing a face-mask, there was no possible way Richard would recognise her among the rest of the team responding to the call. She followed the lead into the room where the Crown Jewels were on display and fanned out in formation, running on muscle-memory from her Army days.

 

The sight to greet them was one they would never forget. Sitting on the throne, wearing the crown, cloak, and sceptre, and a pair of earbud headphones was Richard Moriarty. John dropped to one knee and held her aim on Richard. She knew it was Richard, it had to be. He looked too healthy and smug to be Jim, who was being held somewhere in London. To his credit, Richard went without much struggle, beaming and just pleased as punch with himself for causing all kinds of mayhem. During the stand-down, Greg hunted John down and pulled her aside.

“Please, John, tell me that wasn’t Jim?”

“That wasn’t Jim. That’s his brother, Richard. Identical twin born first by five minutes. Nasty son of a bitch, made our childhood very interesting.” John pulled off her riot-helmet and pushed back the tactical hood she’d worn underneath, “He’s the one who told me it was my own fault I lost touch with Jim for twenty years when I got back from the Army and tried to look for him.”

“Even though it was Jim who pretty much single-handedly made sure you got home at all.” Greg rubbed his forehead, “Jesus Christ. Now what?”

“Mycroft’s turn.” She sighed, “And time to find Jim.”

“Think he’s in London?”

“Absolutely. I’d see if anyone in the Network has seen him. Search abandoned houses, bolt-holes. Double-check our own safe-houses.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Greg nodded and they watched as Richard Moriarty was bundled into a paddy-wagon and taken to jail. They would give him twenty-four hours to stew before questioning him.

John returned to Baker Street with Greg after all was said and done and slept fitfully that night. Around midnight, Sherlock joined her, waking her from a nightmare of Afghanistan. She’d had more nightmares in the past month than she had since leaving the Army in 2009. John appreciated Sherlock’s company and mindfulness and slept fitfully the rest of that night.

-&-

Another month later, making it two months since Jim had gone missing and John had identified his twin brother as the suspect but had never reported him, John attended what was being hailed as “The Trial of the Century”, a resurrection of an old, old rivalry. It’s all people talked about and there was debate in every public forum. Was it really Jim Moriarty coming after Sherlock Holmes again? And if it was, what had changed? Hadn’t they been friends? What was going on? John couldn’t leave the house without getting hounded by press and civilians alike wanting to get a piece of her time. For her own safety, she had stopped wearing Jim’s ring. It was on a chain around her neck, concealed under her clothes, and she wore her weapons openly.

A couple of brazen journos had gotten roughed up a bit when she lost her cool and took a swing at them, but the message was very clear: do not approach John Watson, her accountability is her own jurisdiction. Mycroft had given her a security-detail of one, which was added to the one she already had from Jim’s people. Seb had given himself the job, not trusting anyone else to protect John with her best interests in mind, and almost ninety-percent of the staff had been let go. Rehiring would be a fucking nightmare, but the process would be much stricter than before.

 

At the moment, John sat in the galleries of the courthouse, watching the circus unfold below. The defence had called no witnesses, it rested on the plea of Not Guilty, but the persecution was having a field-day and Sherlock was Star Witness #1. John watched as he underwent rigorous questioning. Someone asked him an unusual question, and he gave a strange answer.

“Mr Holmes, what happened the first time you and Mr Moriarty met in person?”

“The first time we met?” Sherlock frowned and looked at Richard, who just smiled at him. The fucking bastard was so sure he was going to get away with this and was chewing gum in the courtroom.

“The first time I heard Mr Moriarty’s name was in January 2010, on the night of 30 January. The first time we met, however, was almost two months later on the night of 31 March. Midnight, I think. It was…interesting to put the name and the face together.”

“Mr Holmes, I’m not sure you understand the severity of proceedings here. Just answer the question.”

“I am answering the question. You asked what happened the first time I met Mr Moriarty.” Sherlock glared at the attorney who was questioning him, “If you’ll shut up for five minutes, I’ll tell you. Now please, be quiet. I don’t know how you got your license with an attitude like that, sir.”

“Oh, for…Sherlock!” John put her head down, “You idiot, don’t hand it to him! Moron!”

“Easy, John.” Seb murmured, squeezing her shoulder supportively. For the occasion, John and Seb had dressed up a little bit. Usually, they wore fatigues, but today they’d pulled out their No. 2 Temperate Parade Dress uniforms with the emerald grey berets of their Special Forces unit, wanting to make a point to anyone who saw them. And really, it was an appropriate statement.

“Anyway, as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted. Mr Moriarty, you can stop smiling, I’m not talking to you.” This was to Richard, who had the nerve to giggle. John almost lunged to her feet, but Seb kept her still.

“Mr Holmes!”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Sherlock nodded politely at the magistrate, who was probably wondering what the fuck was going on in his courtroom, “My apologies, sir.”

“Please, continue, if you would? Sometime this century would be nice.”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Sherlock turned back to Richard and made a quick, silent assessment. This was actually the first time the two had seen each other, and John saw him twitch. Oh, he’d figured it out! He knew!

“Bless your intelligence, Sherlock Holmes. Rip him to pieces, destroy him.” She muttered.

“The first time I met James Richard Moriarty was at Camden Aquatic Center, a location with some significance to both of us. It was the scene of the very first crime he had committed and I had solved.” Sherlock’s focus was complete, he was settling into that strange mode he got into when he was deducing a crime-scene. At this rate, he would talk for hours if they let him. And John didn’t think anyone would be brave enough to stop him. Richard certainly wouldn’t mind, it would shred his credibility if he started rambling off-topic.

“Twenty-one years between us, and there we were, face-to-face on an abandoned pool-deck with one witness between us and Death staring us in the face. We had all of five minutes together, he threatened to kill me, I threatened to shoot him. Three lives were at stake and neither of us cared.”

“You say there were three lives, Mr Holmes?”

“Yes, Mr Moriarty, uh, Jim, he’d been playing with me, with us, leaving a trail of cases and hostages. The death toll from that engagement was nearly fourteen individuals, it might have been higher if that night had ended differently. You see, Jim Moriarty thought it was a good idea to do as so many other criminal hopefuls had done in the past and kidnapped my business-partner and blogger, Captain John Watson, hoping to use her against me as a pawn.” Sherlock was careful to use her rank when naming her in his commentary. She hadn’t been “Doctor Watson” to him or anyone in their immediate circle since last October when she got home from her trip to Dublin and Belfast.

“What happened, Mr Holmes?”

“Well, we all walked away alive from that night. But it made me think the worst of a very close friend, and I realise that was precisely Jim’s plan the entire time. He was trying to make a point, just as he did at The White Tower. I thought the absolute worst of my best friend because he made me doubt her. I was quick to doubt, quick to condemn, and slow to forgive.” He looked up at the gallery, where John sat with Seb and Mycroft’s man.

“It took me months after reconciliation to completely forgive myself for doubting John Watson. She has been so instrumental in my life and in my work, as has Jim Moriarty. But I know Jim Moriarty, and I know everything about him. I know his date of birth, his birth-order, shoe-size, what he eats for breakfast and when he travels for business. And that man.” Pointing at Richard, “That man is not James Richard Moriarty.” And there it was! Thank Christ!

“Did Sherlock just out Richard?”

“In front of a courtroom full of people? Oh, you bet he did! That’s beautiful!” John leaned forward.

“I’m sorry, Mr Holmes, I don’t think I understand.” The magistrate looked very confused as the place erupted, people chattering excitedly to their neighbours. Richard looked vaguely uncomfortable, and John grinned.

“Will the accused state his full name for the record?” The magistrate looked at Richard suspiciously after calling for order. John rocked forward in her chair. Richard could lie all he wanted, but they had other ways of catching him out. This would be fun.

“My name is James Richard Moriarty, I was born at 20.45pm on 21 October 1976 at Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, Northern Ireland.”

“Very well.” The magistrate sighed, looking at Sherlock, “Mr Holmes?”

“Mr Moriarty, this may be an impolitic question, so forgive me for asking, but, do you have any tattoos?”

“Ooh.” John snickered. That was the one thing Richard had always hated, he detested tattoos so much, he said it was a disgusting practice that defiled the human body. Jim, however, had a tattoo. One he’d gotten recently for John: a little hedgehog on his left ankle.

“What sort of question is that!” The defence attorney asked, “You’re not the one who’s asking questions!”

“Sit down!” The magistrate barked, looking at Sherlock. “What do you think you’re on about, Mr Holmes?”

“It’s a fair question, isn’t it?”

“I don’t have any tattoos! Can’t stand them! It’s such a disgusting practice!” Richard shouted, red-faced, “I hate them!”

“So, you don’t have any tattoos?”

“No!”

“But your brother does.” Sherlock was grinning like a Cheshire Cat, “One on his left ankle. So, you don’t have a tattoo on your left ankle?”

“No! Of course, I don’t! See?” Richard actually yanked up the cuff of his trousers and showed them all. No tattoo. “Why on earth would I have a tattoo?”

“Why would you have a tattoo?” Sherlock shrugged, “Oh, no reason. It’s just that I happen to know for intimate fact that James Richard Moriarty has one of a hedgehog on his left ankle.”

“What are you getting at, Mr Holmes? And make it snappy, before I have you ejected from my courtroom for disturbance of the peace.” The magistrate leaned across his desk.

“Simply this, Your Honor. That,” he pointed at Richard, who had gone dead silent and pale as a ghost, “is not James Richard Moriarty. That is his identical twin brother Richard James Moriarty, born at exactly 20.45pm on 21 October 1976. Jim was born at 20.50pm, five minutes later.”

“Then where, and I ask in all seriousness, is James Richard Moriarty?” The magistrate looked at Richard, “And God help you, sir, if you lie.”

“He’s right under your fucking nose, Holmes!” Richard lunged to his feet, furious at being called out like that, “Bloody fucking idiot, you are! Don’t even pay attention, do you?!”

“Right…under our noses.” John frowned, “What?”

“Right under your nose, Holmes! You’re no detective, you can’t even bother to go into your own fucking basement, can you!”

“Basement?”

“Oh my god! The basement!” John was up on her feet and at the rail in a rush, leaning over, “The basement! Sherlock, the basement’s been refit!”

“Call Mycroft! Call Greg! Go!”

“Come on!” She spun on her heel and bolted. The magistrate tried to call the room to order as it erupted in chaos and Sherlock took the opportunity to get up.

“Mr Holmes, if you’re a smart man, you will leave this courtroom and stay far away from it!” The magistrate bellowed as Sherlock escaped out the side-door. “Arrest that man! Do not let him leave this building!” This to the wardens as they advanced on Richard. John caught up with Sherlock in the foyer as the call to Greg rang through.

“I’m outside, love. What’s up?”

“Oh thank living Christ! Good! Call an ambulance, we need to get back to Baker Street immediately!” She hung up and took the stairs two and three at a time. She and Sherlock burst out onto the street at a sprint, followed by Seb and Mycroft’s man, who took the Jaguar as John and Sherlock dove headfirst into Greg’s silver BMW.

“What the hell is going on? You two tore out of there like your tails were on fire.” Greg leaned in and looked at them, “Everything okay?”

“No! Baker Street, Greg! Right now!” John was already shot-gun, “Quick! Did you call the ambulance?”

“No?”

“On it.” Sherlock was indeed on the phone. He spoke to a despatcher and explained that an ambulance was needed with great haste to 221B Baker Street. John called Mycroft, who answered on the second ring.

“John?”

“Mycroft! Baker Street! I know where Jim is! Hurry!”

“Baker Street?” She heard the wheels turning, the silence drew out, and then, “Oh my god.”

“Meet us there!” She hung up and looked over at Greg.

“Hurry, Greg!”

“God I hope you’re wrong, John.” He muttered as they got underway. In the interest of time, Greg made good use of his blues-and-twos and they made it from the courthouse to Baker Street in nine minutes. They beat the ambulance by a minute, and Mycroft by five. Rushing into the house, John fumbled her keys and isolated the key for 221C. Mrs Hudson had made them all copies of the key so that once the rebuild was complete, they could just move into the flat at their own pace. Drawn out by the commotion, Mrs Hudson poked her head out into the hall and gawked at the sheer number of people.

“John! What’s going on?”

“Not now, Mrs Hudson! Bit of an emergency!” She snapped, “Damn it!”

“Here, love. Your hands are shaking.” Greg took the keys from her and nudged her aside, “Let me.” With far steadier hands than John’s, he got the lock open and dragged the door open. John yanked open the inner door and bolted down the stairs. Fighting her way into the basement, she looked around, frantic.

“Jim!” She yelled, “Jim!”

“Spread out, people. Sound off. Every room, every corner, every wardrobe, closet, foot-locker. Everything is fair game.” Greg came in behind her, one hand on his service-weapon as he handed John her keys back, the other on his torch, “Move.” John took a torch from Seb and searched the small flat. Suddenly, from the unfinished bathroom, they heard Sherlock give a yell. She was the first one into the cramped space and smacked into her flat-mates broad shoulders.

“Sherlock?”

“John. I found him.” Sherlock was hoarse, and John peeked around him. There was plywood laid across a gap in the flooring where the bathtub would go, the space was due to be finished in the next two days.

Listening, they heard a faint scratching and the same familiar whining John and Sherlock kept hearing on and off. With help from Sherlock and Greg, though she probably could have done it by herself, John lifted the plywood and heaved it aside. Shining her torch into the cramped space, about six foot by three foot, she saw…Jim. He looked more dead than alive, but she knew it was him. He was curled up, and she lowered herself into the cramped hole, kneeling to take his vitals.

“John?”

“It’s him! Where are the medics?”

“Out here, love.” That was Seb, “They’ve got the gurney upstairs. They’ll carry him up.”

“No, no they won’t.” John tossed up her torch and gun, “I will.” Moving carefully, she leaned over and kissed her sick, injured fiancé. He stirred, whining, and she touched his hair.

“Shht, it’s just me, Jimmy. I’ve got you. You’re safe. It’s alright, it’s me. You’re with friends now, I’m getting you out of here.” She lifted him onto her shoulders, which was a little difficult because of the cramped space, and Greg and Sherlock took him from her before reaching in to give her a boost out of the hole. Once she was out of the hole, she knelt beside Jim and got her shoulders under him, rolling him into a fireman’s carry. She had help getting back on her feet, and steady once she was up, and Sherlock kept a hand on her back as she made her way to the door and up the stairs. She was nearly out of breath by the time she lowered Jim onto the gurney, but she wasn’t going to cry. She felt the pressure in her chest, but she didn’t feel like crying.

The medics took over and rushed back to the ambulance, John ran upstairs and changed into fatigues in the time it took them to free Jim from his restraints and get him hooked up to fluids and whatever else he was going to need. She was out the door and climbing into the ambulance as they got his vitals.

“Is he okay? I know he’s dehydrated and malnourished, has he been injured?”

“No, doesn’t look like it. Sleep-deprivation is likely, he’s a little hypothermic.” The lead medic looked at her, “You a medic?”

“Doctor. He’s my fiancé.” She showed them her credentials, “Can I ride in?”

“That’s not our policy. Family only.”

“Doctor Watson will ride to the hospital with you and stay with Mr Moriarty through his admission and examinations. She is his primary care provider and his primary emergency contact.” Mycroft’s voice from the open doors of the bay surprised all of them and John nearly jumped out of her skin.

“Mycroft!” she looked over and out. There he was, standing on the pavement in an immaculate three-piece suit, slightly ruffled by recent developments and deeply concerned.

“Are you alright, my dear?”

“Thank Christ you made it!”

“Where was he?”

“Tied up in the basement loo, of all places! We kept hearing noises, but the builders kept shooing out stray animals who got in through the windows, we just thought it was cats or something.” She turned and took Jim’s hand in hers, “Oh, God, how long was he down there?”

“Sir?”

“Oh, you heard me alright, son.” Mycroft narrowed his eyes at the medics, “You get that man to a hospital right now and I’ll take care of everything else. If you try for a minute to separate those two, there will be hell to pay. I already have business with his brother.”

“Y-yes, sir.” The medics exchanged a startled look and one of them slid bashfully past John, apologizing when he bumped her from behind. John wasn’t even paying attention as she held Jim’s hand in both of hers and watched his vitals. The medic still in the bay with her moved her to the fold-down jump-seat for the ride to the hospital. She heard him tell the others where they were going: Royal Hospital London. Well, at least she knew the doctors there.

As the ambulance lurched into motion and took off down the street, blues-and-twos running, John buried her face in her hands. How long had Jim been locked up in the basement without their knowing? How long had they ignored him because, likely as Richard wanted them to, they’d mistakenly thought it was a trapped, wounded animal crying for release? It was a trapped, wounded creature crying for release, and they had completely ignored him! John was aware of a hand on her arm and raised her head.

“Ma’am?”

“What?”

“Are you alright?”

“Oh, god, no!” She scrubbed at her cheeks and looked at the still, groggy figure on the gurney, “He’s been missing for two months! I have no idea how long he’s been locked up down there, if he’s been there all this time or in and out when we weren’t paying attention!”

“Who would do that to him?”

“His brother.” Who, if John had her way, would not be a problem ever again after today. She would call in favours if she had to, but Richard Moriarty would never see the light of another sacred day for the shit he’d pulled on them.


 

Chapter Text


Jim Moriarty remembered being taken in Edinburgh, and fractured bits and pieces after that. He knew who had taken him, and wondered how he could exact appropriate revenge on his brother. First, he had to get out of this alive. He had been moved every few days for almost two months, kept in one place for nearly a month before he was found. Wherever he was, there were a lot of people here. And they kept moving him around the space to keep him from being discovered.

“They’ll only find your body here, which is a real shame.” His brother sneered at him, “Your fiancée is a lovely girl, isn’t she? Poor thing, she’s just beside herself.” Jim wished he could speak, but between being gagged and dehydrated, he had no voice. John Watson was one of the smartest people he knew, and he knew she wouldn’t ever mistake Richard for Jim, she knew what set them apart. If he was missing, John would turn over heavens and earth to find him and keep him safe, just as he would do the same for her. This would have broken her heart, and the thought of Richard taking advantage of her made him sick to his stomach.

 

It was a few weeks before he was found, in a sudden and violent fashion. He heard shouting in the house, thundering footsteps on the stairs, and someone shouting for him.

“Jim!” He knew that voice, it was John. “Jim!” Oh, thank Christ! Where was he? How had they found him?

“Spread out, people. Sound off. Every room, every corner, every wardrobe, closet, foot-locker.” He heard his cousin’s voice next, “Everything is fair game. Move.” Of course John would have called for backup, of course she would have called for Greg Lestrade. God bless that girl. Now, how long would it take them to find him? Not long at all, as it turned out. He heard footsteps near his hiding place and made as much noise as he could muster his stiff, exhausted body to make.

“Oh.” A soft breath, “John! Greg! In here!” Thank god for the sharp hearing of Sherlock Holmes. In a heartbeat, his hiding-place was flooded with light and they were getting him out. John hauled him out of the hole on her shoulders, handing him off to Greg and Sherlock to pull herself out with help before she was over him and begging him to stay with her, she was getting him to help now. Then, his centre of gravity shifted again as she lifted him onto her shoulders and carried him up from his basement prison. Where was he? He remembered Richard saying something about hiding him in plain sight, practically. Right under the noses of the Baker Street detectives and his loved ones, who would never find him because who was going to look for him here? Richard had brought him to Baker Street, then, expecting him to die here. Well, he wasn’t dead. Jim lost consciousness somewhere between Baker Street and the hospital, but he knew John was with him, he heard her arguing with the medics and knew she would be there when he woke up again.

-&-

When he finally did wake up, he had no idea what time or what day it was, every bone in his body hurt, his head felt like it had been split open with an axe, and he had no idea where he was. All he knew was that he wasn’t alone. It was hard to move, for a number of reasons. He was hooked up to any number of medical monitors, all of which had been turned down significantly, and someone was holding his hand. Actually, it was more than that. Turning his head, which hurt enough he made himself a promise to move as little as possible from now on, Jim saw John. But she wasn’t sitting by his bedside. No, his stubborn, beautiful fiancée had charged through hospital policy about bedside etiquette in typical fashion and made herself right at home in a narrow space alongside him. Her head was resting on his shoulder, buffered by the corner of a pillow she must have brought from the house, which was tucked partway underneath Jim’s own head, her arm was across his chest, fingers tangled in the fabric of the flimsy cotton hospital-gown but careful of the wire-leads of the sensors taped to his chest beneath. The blanket that covered them both was definitely not hospital-issue, it was far too warm and far too colourful. It was one of Mrs Hudson’s Afghans from the flat. The one from the back of the Chesterfield, if he wasn’t mistaken? She looked awful, like she hadn’t slept in months and wasn’t sleeping well now. Of course she wouldn’t have, not with him missing for so long. Angling his head a little, Jim searched the room for the rest of them. No sign of his cousin, but Sherlock was asleep on the couch, curled up at odd angles to fit on the cramped couch. It was a hide-away bed, but they hadn’t pulled it out to make more room for the tall detective.

He was reminded of a similar bedside vigil he and Sherlock had split for John after one of her jobs went sideways a little and she landed in the hospital with a concussion and broken ribs. She had taken her recovery in Portavogie with Catríona and William, helping with the fosters. It was just low-key enough to prevent further injury or re-injury. Finding the strength to move, Jim put his arm around John as best he could and tugged her closer. She snuggled closer in her sleep and made a soft, pitiful sound, burying her face in his neck. That was okay with him. The pain she caused him was welcome. He sighed, coughed a little, and settled against the stiff pillow.

“You’re awake.”

“So are you.” Christ, he sounded awful. John carefully pushed herself up and looked at him, her eyes bloodshot and unfocused.

“Oh, Jim. Thank god.”

“Hey.” He pulled her to him as she slumped against him, “Take it easy, love. I’m not dead.”

“Oh, I thought you were! It was the worst two months of my life!”

“But you found me.” He stroked her hair, glad he had sensation in his fingers so he could feel it.  She kissed any bit of skin she could get to, apologizing for hurting him, for ignoring him so long and not bothering to investigate the noises in the basement on her own.

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not!” She whined, fingers shaking as she rubbed his cheek, frowning at the irritation there from the nasal-canula that provided humidified oxygen.

“It may not be, but it is what it is, my love.”

“I’m so sorry, Jim.”

“Oh, John, you wonderous thing.” He sighed, “I don’t deserve you, do I?”

“You deserve to be happy, to be healthy, to be loved.” She scolded. “Oh, thank Christ you’re awake, Jim!”

“I’m glad you found me, John.”

“I would have torn the house to its foundations to get you out.” She made a face, “All I really had to tear apart was the plywood subfloor in the bathroom.”

“By yourself?” He could see her doing that. Plywood was heavy but not enough she couldn’t handle it alone if driven. And she had certainly been driven that day.

“No, I had help that day.” She looked over her shoulder at Sherlock, “Greg and Sherlock were with me.”

“All we did was follow you. You did the hard work.”

“Git.” There was no heat in her voice and Sherlock unfolded himself from the couch, shaking out his coat before he tossed it aside, having used it as a blanket, and came over.

“Oh, you look awful.”

“Yeah, you’re no pretty picture yourself, Holmes.” Jim teased.

“I’ll get the nurse.” John rolled her eyes and heaved herself off the bed, pressing the call-button. “You two be nice.”

“We can be nice.” Jim and Sherlock said in tandem. She just rolled her eyes and straightened her clothes. Jim raised an eyebrow at his fiancée, taking note of what she was wearing.

“Why, Doctor Watson, are you wearing your uniform?”

“You bet your arse I am.” She shook out her lab-coat before putting it back on, tugging on the bottom of her scrub-top, “Did you forget I work at a hospital, love?”

“Where are we?”

“Royal London. I’ve been with you since the ambulance brought us over from Baker Street. And since I already work here, no one’s batted an eyelash.”

“I suspect that may have had something to do with the way Mycroft made himself known to the rest of the staff on this floor,” Sherlock muttered, tugging on the cuff of his shirt, that purple number they all adored so much that flattered his skin-tone and figure.

“Oh, I’m so sorry I missed that.”

“It was rather spectacular.” John smirked and picked up the chart hooked at the end of the bed, “He can be quite…passionate about certain matters.”

“I bet he can be.” Jim grinned. Sherlock offered him some water, which he gratefully accepted. A nurse came through and spoke to John after a brief exam had been done and left again without saying anything to him. The staff was only to do their jobs and not engage the patient or any of his visitors, then. That was alright with Jim, he didn’t particularly like being forced to make false banter with nurses in the hospital anyway. John worked in familiar, quiet proficiency, making note of things and if they were as they should be.

“Hmm. I’ll put an order in for another warming bag, your core-temp is a little low for my liking.” She was looking at one of the readouts, “Damn. You dipped again while I was asleep, wonder why the alarm didn’t trip?”

“You did turn it down.”

“No, the override would have kicked in and alerted us.” She frowned, “Must’ve not dropped enough to trip it, then.”

“Well, you were sleeping with him, you would keep him warm enough to prevent a drastic drop steep enough to trigger the override alarm.” Sherlock mused, “Not to mention you brought in one of the warmest blankets at the house.”

“Oh, you don’t get to complain, Sherlock, you have your own.” John rolled her eyes and pressed two fingers to the underside of Jim’s wrist. “Well, at least that’s stable.”  She timed it against her watch, which had replaced the watch left behind so long ago when this whole mad adventure had started one fateful day in Brixton on a cool April day. Jim noticed that John was wearing her engagement ring, not just the tracer band.

“Oh, you’re wearing your ring.” He caught her hand in his and looked at it. It really was a very pretty piece, and he was touched that she was willing to wear it in public like this.

“Of course I’m wearing it! I didn’t wear it for a whole month, for my safety. It was on a chain around my neck.” She settled by the bedside and threaded their fingers together, “It was awful, Jim, I looked everywhere I could think of for you and never came anywhere close to finding you. And then, you were right under our noses.”

“You know, he said you would find my body before you found me alive.”

“Don’t worry about Richard.” John’s gaze darkened, “We’re dealing with him now.”

“Good. What did you tell Mum?” He could only imagine how his mother had taken this whole mess.

“Your mother is a very smart, woman, Jim, and was very much aware of the way of things.” Sherlock mused, standing behind John and offering a bit of support, “We asked her permission to move forward and she gave us the all-clear. If some mishap befalls your brother at the hands of the Crown agents who have him in custody, there will be no tears shed.”

“God bless Mum.” Jim sighed and closed his eyes. His mother had always been aware of the way Richard treated Jim, and later how he treated John once they became friends, and had protected them as best she could. That also meant that Mycroft’s people had Richard. Good, that bastard could use a good scare or two. Knowing it was safe to do so, and knowing he wouldn’t be alone, Jim fell asleep to give his body a chance to heal and recover. The sooner he was stable, the sooner he could go home to Baker Street. He would insist upon it; he wanted to be home right now, not at Riverside Tower or any of the safe-houses.

-&-

As soon as Jim’s breathing slowed and deepened, John heaved a sigh of relief. It had been a very long week. Two of those days had been spent watching over Jim in a medically-induced coma, the third had been spent waiting for him to show some sign of life. They had waited three days for him to wake up on his own. His vitals had slowly returned to normal, but it would take a while before he was completely stable. John wasn’t going to keep him in the hospital for that, she could just as easily take care of him at home and she would. She pressed a kiss to her fiancée’s knuckles and got up from the bedside. She put in an order for another warming bag to bring his body-temp up a few more degrees and made a note on his chart accordingly. Once she had everything to her liking, John left to do her rounds and then got lunch in the hospital canteen with Sherlock. She didn’t have to worry about someone sitting with Jim, watching the room for her, a uniformed constable sat outside the room checking the badge of every person who came through whether staff or visitor and Sheila arrived as they were leaving to spend some time at her son’s bedside. When she asked if there had been any change, John was happy to tell her that Jim was finally awake.

“Oh thank God!” Sheila rubbed the blanket between her fingers, “Any word from your brother, Mr Holmes?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Sherlock nodded, “They’ve begun the final rounds of interrogation.”

“Good. I hope they picked someone who knows their business, Richard was always very sly.”

“Two of the best agents we have are questioning him.” Sherlock folded his hands behind his back, “My brother’s assistant is extremely good at questioning suspects, and I believe they pulled in Sebastian Moran as well to assist.”

“Oh, Seb’ll break him in five minutes.” John snickered, “Richard’s not going to know what hit him broadside.”

“John, Sherlock, you promise me, promise me one thing.” Sheila got their attention, taking them each by the hand.

“Anything, ma’am.”

“Promise me that my son will not walk away from that interrogation room. That he will never cause trouble for our family or anyone else’s ever again. That the next I see of him is ash.”

“If that is what you wish, ma’am, we can arrange that.” If Sherlock was surprised by the forcefulness in Sheila’s voice, he hid it well. John squeezed her future mother-in-law’s hand and nodded.

“I don’t think Richard will be making any more trouble, Mum, not for us or anyone else.” She promised.

“I hope so. I’ll let you two go, I just wanted to make sure.” Sheila smiled tensely and let them go. Content to leave Jim’s side, and starving besides, John took Sherlock down to the canteen. They got a small, sufficient lunch, and touched base with Mycroft. If they could possibly pull away from their vigil, they were close to breaking Richard if they cared to observe. They would very much care to observe. So, leaving the hospital, John and Sherlock met a car outside on the street. Mycroft’s driver held the door for them.

“Thank you, Charles.” John nodded at the man, who touched his cap to her.

“Captain.” He closed the door once Sherlock was in and got them underway without a word. Wherever they were going, it was clear the driver knew exactly where to take them. Twenty minutes later, they pulled into an underground car-park after passing through a set of heavily-fortified gates. John knew exactly where they were, and narrowed her eyes. The door was opened for them by Mycroft’s assistant, A, who was glued to her Blackberry as always. They followed her from the car-park through familiar hallways, down to the subterranean levels, and were let into an isolated observation-room.

“Do you need anything, Captain Watson?”

“No, Anthea. Thank you.” John wasn’t even paying attention anymore, her focus was on the bank of monitors. Sherlock shook his head and A let herself out. They watched on the monitors as A then let herself into the interrogation room. Seb was right behind her. They advanced on the hooded figure tied to the chair in the middle of the room and John folded her arms across her chest as Seb yanked the hood off, banging against the side of the metal-frame chair with the butt of his SIG. That was a mean wake-up tactic she had used on targets in the past, worked like a charm almost every time.

“Jesus, take it easy, would you?” Richard shook off the disorientation, “Hell of a way to treat a guy.”

“And no less than you deserve, Mr Moriarty.” A snarled, circling the chair and their hostage.

“You can’t hold me, you know that, right?”

“Actually, we can. We have all the reasonable doubt and cause we need to hold you indefinitely. Kidnapping, menacing, impersonation, lying in a court of law, blackmail.” A looked down at Richard, “Need I go on?”

“Oh, you’re too pretty for this job, love.” Richard grinned up at her, “Let someone else do the dirty work.”

“Oh my god.” John rubbed her forehead, “Do you think Anthea would break him over the chair?”

“Yep.”

“Fucking idiot.” She sighed, “Never mind Anthea’s one of our best.”

“The best, in fact. Not that Seb’s a slouch.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes, “This could take a while, or it could go quick.”

“Did we give A and Seb their orders?”

“Mm.” John narrowed her eyes and pulled her phone from her pocket. She pulled up a text-thread and fired off a quick text. In the room beyond them, Seb fetched his phone out of his pocket and glanced at it. He did not make eye-contact with the cameras, he knew better. He did, however, show the text to A, who simply nodded.

“That’s business taken care of, let’s see how long they’ll play with Richard.” She put her phone away and settled in to watch. This was something she had been waiting for, wanting, for a little over two months. She was not missing the opportunity to watch the man who had taught her everything about interrogating suspects and captives work his magic on the most twisted mind they had yet encountered. This might actually be a little...fun. Seb was very good at what he did, and A was one of the top agents between both Intelligence agencies. 


 

Chapter Text


An hour later, John and Sherlock were waiting outside the interrogation room for the door to open. John leaned against the wall, kicking her heels a bit as she messed with the cuff of her jacket. She had changed clothes from her scrubs to her fatigues about halfway through the interrogation. Sherlock stood across from her, scrolling through something on his phone. Suddenly, the door clicked and she straightened.

“Sherlock.” She whispered. In a heartbeat, they were at attention. Seb appeared in the doorway and nodded. John heaved a sigh of relief and went into the room, taking a pair of exam gloves from Seb as she passed him. Sure enough, Richard James Moriarty was soundly and irrevocably dead. She wasn’t sure how it had been done, didn’t care to know, but he was no longer a threat to any of them. Dropping the limp hand from her grasp, she yanked off the gloves and tossed them into a bin as she left the room.

“What do you want to do with the body, Captain?”

“Burn it. Lady Sheila said the next she saw of him, she wanted to see ashes.”

“We can do that.” If Seb and A shared a smile, no one mentioned it.

“Let us know when it’s done.”

“Back to the hospital for you, then?”

“No, actually.” Sherlock looked up from his phone, “Greg has work for us. There is someone with Jim right now, we can hold off on returning for as long as necessary.”

“Alright then. You two get lost. I’ll be in touch.” Seb just smirked as he shook hand with them. They left the interrogation rooms together and met up with Mycroft in a different part of the building.

“Is it done?”

“Seb and Anthea performed beautifully. The next time we hear from them, it will be to take delivery and disposal of my brother-in-law’s ashes.” John flicked a speck of lint from her uniform, “That bastard can rot in Hell for all I care.”

“He will. Rest assured he will find ample punishment for his crimes in the hereafter.” Mycroft put one hand on her shoulder, giving a cautious squeeze. Her phone and Sherlock’s buzzed in tandem. Greg needed them, and he needed them probably an hour ago. She read her text-messages and sighed.

“Time for a distraction. Off to work.”

“Good luck. We will be in touch.” Mycroft saw them out of the building, “Charles will take you where you need to go.”

“Thank you, Mycroft.” 

“Is there someone with Jim at this moment?”

“Lady Sheila was there when we left the hospital. The Met guard was on duty, no one was getting past.” John looked up at the sky, “You’re welcome to visit if you like.”

“I may. To inform Lady Sheila of matters.”

“She’d be happy to hear from you, I imagine.” Sherlock smiled at his brother. There were very few people Mycroft legitimately respected outside of a very small circle of influence, Sheila Moriarty and Mariane Holmes were at the top of that list of people.

Leaving the secure location, Charles drove them out to The Docklands. There, they met up with Greg and a team of Marine Policing Unit personnel. A missing-persons case had taken a gruesome turn and the victim’s boat had gone missing. A sighting had been called in and now they were going to stop, and search, the vessel in question.

“Not to state the obvious but, why do you need us?” John folded her arms as she stood on the jetty. Sherlock and Greg had already boarded the cutter that was going to take them out.

“Because there’s a chance the victim’s body has been stowed aboard his boat and if it is there, I need you to tell me how long he’s been dead and how he died. In that order. You’re better with a dead body than anyone else on my team, John.”

“Don’t say that out loud in Anderson’s hearing.” She muttered. “Fine. Where are we going?”

“West.”                                                                        

“Good thing I don’t get seasick.”

She sighed and hopped down into the cutter. She took a PFD vest from one of the constables on the crew and buckled it on. They were untied from the moorings and cast off, drifting with the current for a bit. Once they were underway, it was only a couple of miles before they caught up with the errant Glory of London. They took the boat on all quarters and John tossed a mooring-hook to secure their boat alongside.

A team from The Met cleared the boat after taking the crew into custody, or most of the crew. There was some shouting and a loud splash from the far side of the boat. John was on the move before anyone from their cutter could get underway, using the boat as a cross-over, and leaned over the port rail to find Stanley Hopkins bobbing in the water, spitting up and mad as a wet cat.

“Hopkins!”

“I’m fine! Don’t worry about me, I can swim!” He yelled back, “Watch your back!” John spun on her heel and came face-to-face with the errant crew-member who had hidden out somewhere on the boat and sprung on them unawares, making a good attempt to escape before he landed himself in police custody. He was armed, but only with a knife. John rolled her eyes and squared her shoulders, widening her stance a bit. Taking the dare for what it was, the suspect lunged at her and she grabbed him around the waist. Spinning, they toppled and the deck under her feet gave way. They went over kicking and fighting, hit the water still attached. It took John seconds to kick to the surface and she grabbed her fleeing suspect before he got too far, dragging him into a choke-hold as she held him above the water. In no time at all, they were being hauled out of the water and she flipped her suspect onto his front, cuffed him, and knelt on his shoulders.

“That was a stupid move, my son.”

“You alright, Watson?” Hopkins offered her a towel and a hand up, she took both.

“Yeah, I’m alright.” She spit over the rail, “Not that I was planning to take a swim or anything like that.”

“Yeah, speak for yourself.” Hopkins made a face and scrubbed at his hair irritably, “You know there’s something on that boat they didn’t want us to see. You just know it.”

“Oh, hell yeah.” She tossed aside her towel and looked over her shoulder at the boat, “Hey, Greg!”

“John?” he appeared at the rail, “Sorry, but we need you down here.”

“Knew it.” She huffed, “Be there in a mo!” She called back. Greg nodded and disappeared back below-decks. John finished drying off and boarded the stolen houseboat. She found Sherlock and Greg in the engine-room, gathered around the body of their missing victim. They looked each other and then at her.

“Don’t say a fucking word.” She growled, ruffling still-damp hair, “I’m gonna need a fucking shower after this mess.”

“Have a nice swim?”

“Shove off, Holmes.” She punched him in the shoulder, “I said shut up.”

“Sorry.” Not that he was, not at all.

“So, what’ve we got?”

“All yours, love.” Greg gestured broadly at the body, “How’d he die and how long’s he been like that.”

“I can tell you that real quick.” She tugged on a pair of exam gloves and inspected every inch of the body they’d discovered tied up in the engine room. Rigor hadn't set in, the body hadn't even begun to cool. The bowels and bladder had voided, however. Not on-location, but that had happened, the smell of urine was quite strong. 

“Well?”

“When did they declare the boat missing?”

“Maybe two hours ago.” Greg stood behind her, arms folded across his chest. “Why?”

“The victim hasn’t been dead an hour.”

“How can you tell?”

“Rigor hasn’t started to set in yet. I wouldn’t give it forty-five minutes.”

“They must have picked the body up somewhere else and loaded it onto the boat.” Sherlock frowned, “Are you sure he didn’t die on the boat?”

“No, but I can’t imagine the victim was still alive when they brought him aboard.” She shoved to her feet and snapped the gloves, muttering to herself, rattling off a list of post-mortem symptoms typical of a recent death. The body was still quite warm, but the skin and nail-beds were pale and dusky in colour, hands and feet were blue, skin-texture was waxy, and the blood was beginning to pool in the body. John made these observations to Sherlock and Greg and they called for a body-bag. John went to search the rest of the vessel for signs of struggle or if the victim had died here or elsewhere. She found blood in one cabin. So the victim had been alive prior to being brought aboard.

After turning the scene over to the Yarders, John paced the terrace outside the wheelhouse, fingers twitching. God, she needed a cigarette. She needed one so bad.

“Hey.” Sherlock was below her on the siding, watching her pace.

“Hey.” She turned on her heel and looked down at him, “What’s up?”

“You okay?”

“Nope.”

“Come on, then. Let’s get back to shore and get you home, you need dry clothes.” He held up one hand and she shrugged. Having done what she came out for, she let him help her down and onto the idling cutter. The Glory of London would be towed back to London and processed appropriately, the crew and suspects would be booked and questioned accordingly.

-&-

It was four hours before John and Sherlock got back to Baker Street, by which time John was very desperately in need of a shower. She’d gotten dry clothes from Greg at the office, but a shower hadn’t quite been in the cards. Letting herself into the house, she ran upstairs and locked herself in the bathroom, dumping her clothes in a heap outside before running the water as hot as she could stand. She took a decently long shower, washing quite a few worries down the drain. Getting dressed in fatigues, she sat down at the kitchen table and disassembled her pistol, cleaning and setting out each part to dry. Grabbing a shallow foil pan, she emptied all of the bullets from her magazines and set it aside to let the gunpowder dry. A small rack gave her a place to dry the casings and shells after cleaning them out. Sherlock worked on a few experiments while she cleaned her weapon, it was something they were used to doing together in what few quiet moments they had.

Once her gun was dry, she reloaded her magazines with new bullets and put everything back in its place.

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you still want that gunpowder?” Sherlock indicated the pan of drying gunpowder.

“Nah. I have fresh gunpowder I can reload those rounds with later. Why?”

“Can I have it?”

“Running gunpowder experiments, are we?”

“I had a few in mind. Nothing too bad, just…actually, can I have it now?”

“Sure. Why?” she nudged the pan towards him, “Are you running experiments to see if the gunpowder behaves differently dry or wet?”

“I’d certainly like to.”

“All yours. Be careful, though.” She found a container with a lid for him, setting it down by the pan to hold what he didn’t use right away.

“I always am.”

“Protective gear must be worn at all times and…where is that fire-extinguisher?” She dug up one of three fire-extinguishers they kept in the flat and put it down by Sherlock’s station, “There.”

“Are you going somewhere?”

“Back to Riverside Tower before I return to Royal London. Now that Jim’s awake, I want to be with him as much as I can until we discharge him.”

“Wouldn’t he be discharged tonight?”

“Very possibly.” She leaned over the back of his chair, “I’ll be in touch.”

“Alright. Let me know when you get there.” Sherlock smiled and she kissed him on the cheek.

“I always do.” She gave him a quick hug around the shoulders and made sure she had her keys, wallet, and…“Damn it.”

“Phone?”

“Guess that’s what I get for a quick swim.” She waved the water-logged phone at Sherlock, he just smiled.

“See about replacing it while you’re out. Do you have the SIM-card?”

“And it’s all backed up on the Cloud.” She sighed, “God damn it.” She hadn’t been forced to replace her phone in a while, but this was not the first time her current phone had taken a swim, so to speak.

“So, first stop to replace your phone, then Riverside Tower, then Royal London Hospital?”

“Yep. I guess so.” She shrugged and went for her coat, “You know the rules, Sherlock.”

“Yes, I do. See you when you get home, love.” He got up and went down to the street with her. Flagging down a taxi was simple, and she directed the driver to a nearby mobile store.

“Want me to wait for you, Captain?” the driver asked once they had reached her first destination.

“Yeah. This shouldn’t take too long.” She hopped out and looked around, “You know the rules.”

“Yes’m.” The driver touched his cap and switched off his meter. If anyone stopped him, he would tell them he was waiting on an existing fare.  John ducked into the store and looked around.

“Captain Watson!” One of the sales-associates appeared at her side, “We haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I need to replace my phone again.” She handed over the sodden piece of tech that had brought her here, “Took an unanticipated swim in the Thames four hours ago.”

“Oh, well at least it wasn’t blown up this time.” The associate chuckled and made a broad gesture at the tables full of wares, “I take it you know what you’re looking for?”

“More or less.”

She spent a few minutes browsing and settled on the same model she'd had before. After paying for and setting up her new phone, making sure her SIM-card hadn't been corrupted, John set off for Riverside Tower. Seb was there when she got in and took her phone to the command centre to finish set-up and make sure her phone was properly secured. She used Seb’s phone to call the hospital. Mycroft informed her that Jim was awake and the doctors had declared him fit for discharge, did John have any orders for the discharge-team? She asked to speak to Jim’s head physician, naming herself over the phone.

“Doctor Grant, good afternoon, sir. John Watson here.” She paced the reception room of the penthouse.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” Robert Grant sounded kind of tired, but with a roster of patients like his, she was not surprised. “Mr Moriarty is healthy enough to go home now, if you would like to discharge him?”

“I’d love to, but I would very much like a chance to examine him myself before sending him home.”

“Of course, ma’am.” She could just see Grant nodding. She really did have the final say in keeping Jim another night or sending him home. John sighed and rubbed her forehead. It had already been a very long day for her, and really, all she wanted was Jim home safe and a quiet night at Baker Street. She looked out the windows that gave them such spectacular views across the Thames, chewing on her thumbnail.

“Doctor Watson?”                                                                                         

“I’m here.” She turned as Seb came up behind her. He handed over her phone and she tucked it into a pocket.

“Is everything updated?”

“Most of it’s been updated remotely, and your SIM-card wasn’t damaged at all.”

“Thanks, Seb.” She murmured, turning back to her conversation with Doctor Grant. “Doctor Grant?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m on my way over now, I’ll be there in thirty minutes.” She checked her watch and hung up on Doctor Grant. Handing Seb his phone back, she double-checked for her wallet and SIG. Seb took it and gave her a Glock 17 L131A1 instead.

“This needs some TLC. I’ll take care of this, you worry about Jim.”

“Thanks, Seb. You’re great.” She gave him a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek before she left the penthouse. He offered to come with her, and she accepted. He hadn't seen Jim awake yet, and if anyone deserved a chance to make sure Jim was fit for duty, it was Seb.

The thirty-minute drive from Riverside Tower to Royal London Hospital was quiet, but absent was so much of the tension and worry that had hounded previous visits.

“Will you bring him back to Riverside?”

“No, I get the feeling we’ll be returning to Baker Street.” John looked out the window of the Jaguar, Seb was driving. He nodded sagely, knowing that even if Jim had spent uncounted days or weeks locked up in the basement of Baker Street, he would want to go home to Baker Street just for the sake of routine and getting back on his feet properly. They could always move to another residence if that became necessary.


 

Chapter Text


Jim Moriarty had fallen asleep again waiting to be discharged from hospital and sent home. But, as was typical, he had company. It seemed that for as long as he’d been in this miserable place, he’d always had someone there with him. Watch-duty had been split between John Watson, Sherlock Holmes, and, of course, Sebastian Moran.  At the moment, he was kept company by his mother. She was being typically strong and stubborn about it, but that was to be expected. When she fussed over him, he let her. It could have turned out so much worse than it had, but he was alive and…well, if he had to guess, Richard was not. Mycroft Holmes came by to see him, and Jim realized that he hadn’t really seen a whole lot of Sherlock’s brother one-on-one. His mother, sensing that she could step out and her presence might be a little bit of a risk, excused herself. As soon as the door had closed, Jim leaned his head back and looked at his cousin. Well, they would be cousins once Sherlock and Greg tied the knot properly.

“Mr Holmes.”

“Mr Moriarty.”

“What brings you?”

“I bring news.” Mycroft twirled that silly brolly, Jim was fairly certain the damn thing concealed a weapon of some kind, “I will inform your mother as well, but I wanted you to know that…for all intents and purposes of personal and national security, Richard James Moriarty is dead.”

“Thank Christ.” Jim felt a weight in his chest let up, “Oh, thank Christ. Did he put up a fight at the end?”

“Nothing our people couldn’t handle.” Mycroft looked up at him through lowered lashes, “Could I perchance bother you to borrow your man for future interrogations?”

“Who? Seb?” Jim raised an eyebrow.

“Yes.”

“You can have Seb and John, if you really need them. I can’t believe Seb agreed to work with MI6.”

“He had no qualms about working with us. At all. That man’s integrity is…startling. His loyalty is a marvel. He would kill for those he sees as family, and has.”

“You know he and John served together, way back when, yeah?”

“I was aware of that service, I did not know that it coincided with Captain Watson’s own service so closely.”

“Nope, Seb taught that clever girl almost everything she knows.” Jim smiled, “She’s not my best for no reason, Mr Holmes. That girl knows her business.”

“Yes, she absolutely does, and woe be unto the man who mistakes her as stupid.”

“Hmm. Like your brother did?”

“Yes. I…he is impulsive and rather stupid sometimes.”

“No one’s perfect.” Jim sighed and tried to get comfortable. He couldn’t, and stifled a wince. Observant man he was, Mycroft was at the bedside in a flash and took a minute to observe before making a few adjustments to the bed and another to the IV.

“Hmm. They’ve been weaning you from the morphine, I see.”

“Can’t go home with it. Too risky.” He kept his eyes closed, it actually hurt less that way.

“Water?”

“Please.” He cracked an eye open. Slightly warm, but not stale, the water felt quite nice on a sore throat. He imagined they might have had a tube down his throat for a bit, he’d been in very poor shape when they’d brought him in.

“Mr Holmes?”

“Hmm?”

“If…I asked you a favour, what would it take?”

“A simple asking. What do you need?”

“Seb and John have a list. Get that list from them. The names on the list are people who should be eliminated. If you could…”

“Of course, Jim.” Well, look at that, first names.

“National security?”

“Certainly.”

“God bless MI6.” Jim sighed. He was aware of Mycroft taking his hand, just for a moment. Well, the Holmes brothers weren’t completely heartless, were they?  The door opened, but Jim didn’t move. Neither, he noticed, did Mycroft. Interesting.

“Well, you look like shite.”

“Seb.” He knew that voice, ta very much. Sure enough, when he got his eyes open, Seb Moran stood at the foot of the bed in standard black fatigues, shoulders squared and feet braced in parade-rest, wearing a cheeky grin. But he knew Seb was worried, even if he was good at hiding it. Seb looked over at Mycroft, eyes narrow.

“This one behaving himself, Mr Holmes?”

“As well as he can stuck in a hospital bed, Colonel. He hasn’t tried to break out yet.”

“Good. Means he’s not a complete idiot about it.”

“Seb, be nice.” John stepped around Seb, focused on the chart in her hands, “Well, apparently you’ve been good enough they’re kicking you out of here, Jim. You get to go home.”

“I do?”

“Yep. The docs here like what they see and cleared it through me first. Orders are final.”

“Thank God.” Now that was very good news.

“I need to speak with Lady Sheila, I’ll leave you.” Mycroft took his leave, looking over his shoulder at Jim at the door, “If you need anything, Mr Moriarty.”

“Thank you, Mr Holmes.” He waited for the door to close. As soon as it did, John was right at his side and unhooking him from a few different machines after a brief exam.

“Time to get you back on the road to recovery.” John murmured, “Won’t do to have the second most influential man in London out of his head.”

“No, I suppose it wouldn’t.” Jim smiled and snatched at her hand as she reached over him for something. “Did I thank you, Jack?”

“For what?”

“For saving my life.”

“Twice, I think.”

“Okay.”

“Seb, can you bring over that bag, please?” John looked over at Seb, who brought over a suit-bag. Clean clothes. Glory. He desperately needed a shower, he smelled like a hospital, but he was clean. Bed-baths were very much a thing and thank God for them. John finished unhooking him and helped him sit up properly. It was a work of moments and some patience to get him dressed to standards, but even though he felt awful, he still felt better in regular clothes.

“Hmm.” He tugged on a sleeve-cuff, “Doesn’t fit quite right, does it?”

“We’ll get you fed up right and back to full health, Jim. Don’t worry.” John straightened his tie. “You need a haircut.”

“But not a shave?”

“Mm, not yet.” She smiled and rubbed two fingers against his jaw, “Not quite yet.” She wasn’t just touching, she was reassuring herself. She did that, sometimes. Two fingers to a pulse-point, a few beats of silence between them. God, he’d missed John, had worried about her, dreaded never seeing her again. But trust his brilliant fiancée to pull through for him and find him and get him out. He sagged against her, hating that he wouldn’t be able to walk unattended for quite some time. He could walk, just not very well. A nurse arrived with a wheelchair, hospital policy and all that, and John helped him into his coat before getting him settled. It was a quiet, not uncomfortable jaunt from his private room to the street. He was not surprised to see Sherlock and Greg there and just smiled when Sherlock offered him a hand.

“Jim, you look awful.”

“Seb said I look like shite.”

“Well, you sort of do.”

“What’d you expect, Holmes? I was tied up in the basement for Christ knows how long! I should be dead!”

“And the man who tried to kill you is dead.” Oh, if looks could kill. Good thing Richard was already dead, then.  John and Sherlock helped him into the car, and it was time to finally go home.

“Go with him, Sherlock. I need to stop by the pharmacy before I leave.” John looked at Sherlock, who nodded and ducked into the car. She leaned in and kissed him, “I’ll be right behind with Greg. Let Seb get you back to Baker Street.”

“Okay. Right behind?”

“Promise.” She smiled, “I’m glad you’re coming home, Jim. It’s been a pretty awful two months for all of us.”

“I’m alive, he’s not, and good riddance.”

“Our sentiment precisely.” Sherlock was busy with his phone, flicking a glance at the divider, “Baker Street, Seb?”

“You got it, Mr Holmes.”

“Mr Holmes is my brother,” Sherlock muttered, and Jim chuckled. Sherlock hated it when people called him “Mr Holmes”. Seb knew this, they all did, and made a point of teasing him. It was all in good fun, though, and there were no hard feelings. Once they were underway, Sherlock offered him water, which he eagerly accepted.

“Hungry?”

“Starving!”

“Hmm. Italian?”

“Nah. Thai?”

“Ooh.”

“Thai.” Said in tandem. Up front, Seb chuckled.

“Want me to stop off somewhere, Holmes?”

“Yes, please. A moment.” Sherlock made a quick call to one of their regular Thai places and placed an order. The food would be ready in thirty minutes, which was about how long it would take them to get from the hospital to the restaurant, so that was perfect. With food taken care of, it was a quiet drive the rest of the way.

They made a brief stop to pick up the food, and then it was home at last to Baker Street. Jim blamed it on his general state of confusion, thanks in part to the drugs still in his system and his extended captivity, but he didn’t feel any apprehension or fear walking into the house. Most likely because he hadn’t ever known where he actually was until they pulled him out. And even after bringing him to Baker Street, Richard still kept moving him every few days before, apparently, bringing him back for a while before taking him away somewhere else. All he could think was that Richard had used the outside downstairs construction entrance to move him in and out without anyone noticing.

“Oh, we might want to look into new contractors.” He looked around the foyer, “I think the current lot were paid off by my brother.”

“That’s been taken care of already, don’t worry.” Sherlock locked up behind him and Jim contemplated the stairs. He wasn’t getting up there without help.  

“What tipped you off?”

“The number of times we heard noises and never found anything, the way things kind of…stopped. The slow-down was a little strange. You go missing and things all but came to a halt.”

“Didn’t take a couple of detectives to put the pieces together, did it?”

“No, unfortunately for them.” Sherlock stood by him, looking up the stairs, “Need help?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“You always have a choice. Here.” Sherlock went up one step and offered him a hand, “One step at a time, take your time.”

“Ta.” He took the offered hand and made it two steps before he had to stop. That was just pitiful. Sherlock was very patient and quietly supportive, willing to let Jim rest on the landing before talking the last of the seventeen stairs to 221B. So close to home, he could practically taste it. As he rested on the landing, sitting on the stairs to catch his breath, Jim watched Sherlock brighten up suddenly and clear the stairs, disappearing into the flat above in flutter of coattails and an excited “That’ll do! Now, where did she put it?”

“Put what?” He called over his shoulder, wondering what the clever boffin was looking for.

“Just a moment, dear! It’s…around here…somewhere. Where the blazes did she hide that bloody thing? We don’t throw anything away around here, I know we still…Ah, her room!” With that, he was thundering upstairs to the room John and Jim shared, rummaging around for…something. Before Jim could wonder what Sherlock was going after or even get to his feet, he heard a triumphant yell and another clatter as Sherlock descended again.

“Found it! I knew she’d kept it!”

“Kept what?”

“This! This will be so very useful!” The private detective appeared at the top of the stairs, brandishing something in one hand. Jim almost laughed out loud when he recognised John’s old cane, the one she’d gotten from the Office of Veteran’s Affairs way back when she’d first gotten home from Afghanistan.

“Oh, I think this will be quite nice. She might hate the damn thing, but…oh, lovely.” Jim was not so proud he was ashamed to admit he needed the extra support the cane offered, and between Sherlock and the trusty old cane, he managed to get upstairs to 221B. 

The place looked just as it had the last time he’d seen it, and Jim had never been so happy for that. A few things were different, the cases pinned to the wall and sitting in boxes were new, but…it was home. Sherlock got him situated on the couch and shouted down the stairs for Mrs Hudson, who called back that she would be up in a moment.

“Is it a client, dear? You’ve been gone most of the day!”

“No, Mrs Hudson.” Sherlock and Jim called back in tandem. There was a brief pause and then…

“Oh!” And a great deal more carrying on as Mrs Hudson realized that not only Jim out of the hospital, but he’d come home where he belonged. It was a wait of twenty minutes for her to make her way upstairs, by which time Sherlock and Jim had arranged themselves on the couch with their food and a match on the telly.

“It’s about time you came home, young man!” She wagged a finger at Jim, her eyes a little too bright as she put down a cup of tea by his plate, “Don’t you ever scare us like that again!”

“Yes, Mrs Hudson. I’m very sorry for the worry and inconvenience.”

“You’re still moving in, yeah?”

“Absolutely.” He just smiled at John and Sherlock’s eternally patient landlady. “I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.”

“Good boy. Now, you two eat up and take it easy. Any callers come, I’ll send ‘em on their way.”

“Thank you, Mrs Hudson.” They said together. Then she was gone, shaking her head at the sorry state of things. As soon as the door of 221A closed, Jim knew she intentionally made noise closing her door, he let out the breath he’d unintentionally been holding.

“Oh, if I had six of her.” He mused between bites of curry, “What a woman.”

“Did she threaten you?”

“More or less. It was very passive aggressive, but I got the message quite clearly.” He chuckled, remembering his first proper introduction to Martha Hudson, and the unusual tug of…fear he’d felt. Not that she was going to actually hurt him, but knowing that she was capable of some physical violence of either of her tenants came to harm at his hands by some cause. She hadn’t quite forgiven him for Camden, and it had taken a month before she would stop watching his every move. She backed off when it became clear that he was taking very good care of John and she was much happier than she had been before their impromptu meeting in Brixton and the most unusual first date either of them had ever had.

“Do not ever underestimate Martha Hudson or John Watson. It may very well be one of the last mistakes you make.” Sherlock muttered around a mouthful of curry. Jim snorted and knew how very true that was. The quiet was kind of nice, but he didn’t usually have to make an effort with Sherlock.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Hmm?”

“You have that look on your face.” Observant bastard, but that wasn’t any surprise to Jim. He knew what Sherlock wasn’t asking and smiled.

“Just counting my lucky stars.”

“You’ve got a few of those, don’t you?”

“Y’know, he kept telling me that you would find my body before you found me alive. And I couldn’t believe him. I live with three of the smartest people in the city and he thought you weren’t going to be smart enough to figure it out.” He looked over at Sherlock, “How did you find me?”

“It was embarrassingly simple, actually. We caught your brother breaking into The White Tower, of all places, Greg thought it was you until John told him there was no way.”

“Oh, that clever fucker.” Jim knew exactly what Richard had done, and was amazed it hadn’t just come crashing down around their ears. “How did you smoke him out, then?”

“He sat for a month, and it went to trial.”

“Of course it went to trial! He broke into The Tower of London, for Chrissakes! But how did you reveal him?”

“That’s where it got easy for me.” Sherlock shrugged, making a soft hiss at a bad call during the match, “No, it wasn’t until I actually saw him sitting there that I realized it really wasn’t you. Until then, I hadn’t known. John and Greg knew, but they hadn’t said anything.”

“What gave it away?”

“Well, for one? If it had been you, I really doubt you would have looked that healthy. By that time, you’d been missing for two months. No one missing that long is going to look that healthy. And you have scars he doesn’t.”

“Just a few.”

“Also, I tripped him by asking about tattoos. I know you have at least one.”

“Oh, you clever little bastard! That’s how you got him to break?”

“It was beautiful. Also, he mistakenly gave his own time of birth, not yours, when the magistrate asked him to list his date of birth for the record. He was born first, I knew this, and when he gave the wrong time, I knew for certain.”

“Never try to fool Sherlock Holmes.” Jim chuckled, “God bless you. I take it he started ranting and taunting you?”

“More or less. It was John who put the pieces together first. I was pretty much kicked out of the courtroom and we rushed back to this house with Greg and an ambulance on its way. That’s when we found you.”

“That’s when you found me.” Jim sighed, “I know it was you, Holmes. I thought I was dreaming.”

“No, you weren’t dreaming.”

“Did John actually carry me out of the basement?”

“She wouldn’t let anyone else touch you, it was…heartbreaking.”

“Loyal to a fucking fault, she is.” Jim shook his head and turned his attention to the match for a bit. The referee made a call and he rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on! Really? What kind of call was that? That was a valid play!”

“It’s Manchester United. They always favour Man U.”

“Bollocks that! Make a fair call, you wankers!”

“Not a fan of Manchester United, I take it?” Next to him, Sherlock snickered.

“Hell I am!”

“Apparently. Didn’t take you for a fan of football.”

“Have you met John Watson? It’s a requirement, practically.” He snorted, “What’s fair play? Come on!” 

“Where is she, anyway?”

“Hell if I know. Text her for me?”

“Yep.” Reaching for his phone, which had been tossed aside at some point, Sherlock fired off a quick text inquiring after John’s precise whereabouts, she should have been home a long while ago. A response was quick to come and he saw an eyebrow go up.

“What’s it?”

“Figured it might have been that.” Sherlock handed over his phone and Jim glanced at the short thread. Right as John and Greg had been leaving the hospital, a call had come through for Greg and they’d gone straight to the job instead. Oh well.

“Well, at least he has John with him. She’s damn smart on a scene.”

“Smarter than anyone else there.” Sherlock mused, “Smartest person on the scene when I’m not around.”

“Well.”

“Greg knows she’s smarter than him.” Sherlock made a dismissive gesture with his fork, “She’s far nicer about it than I am, most of the time.”

“That’s not very hard, is it?”

“Shh.” That got him a dirty look and a vaguely obscene gesture. Jim snickered and settled against the back of the couch, by far the most comfortable thing he had sat on in...far too long, it felt like. Jim didn’t usually get homesick, but he had been terribly homesick for Baker Street while he’d been away and had no intention whatsoever of leaving again unless he absolutely had no choice or a damn good legitimate reason to do so. Work was not reason enough, he could do most of his work from home. It was probably safer for him at Baker Street than anywhere else at this rate, and he was content to stay here indefinitely. The family he had made for himself, on purpose or by chance, was not keen to let anything happen to him and he would be in very good company here regardless. John was here, Greg was here, and Sherlock was here. He had never foreseen the day he would consider his greatest rival a friend let alone family, and now he was pleased to call Sherlock Holmes both a great friend and family. Interesting how life had a way of happening when you weren’t quite paying attention and changing when you were in the midst of making other plans.