No one pays John any attention as he walks down the block to the office. He’s a smallish man, ordinary looking, middle-aged, wearing a vaguely shapeless jumper and shoes that need a good clean. Really, it’s no surprise that no one gives him a second look.
This time three days ago he was in Japan, wearing a thousand dollar suit, and shoes that shone so much that John could practically see his face in them.
Honestly, he prefers the jumper. But you know. Needs must, and all that.
The office building he enters is nothing special, and John heads up to the second floor, to a set of offices which have a sign saying ‘Sigerson & Sauer Pty. Ltd.’ on the door, and nothing else.
“Morning, Molly,” said John, as he breezes in.
John’s secretary looks up with a nervous jump, and a smile. She’s a lovely woman, Molly; very kind-hearted, if rather awkward. It’s a continual source of amazement to John that she sees nothing wrong with working for a professional assassin.
“Oh! John!” Molly grabs some papers off her desk and leaps to her feet, following John as he walks into his own office, and frowns at the pile of papers stacked neatly on his desk. “John, um, the client called.”
“Oh?” John glances up, and takes a good look at Molly’s expression. She looks apologetic. Not a good sign.
“They’re a bit peeved,” says Molly, in what has to be a massive understatement. “They say they wanted it to look like a natural death, and uh, shooting him in the head doesn’t really look very natural.”
“Yeah, well. He moved. Nothing I could do about that.”
“I know, but they’re very unhappy about it.” Molly checks the papers she’s holding. “They want you to take on another job, for free, to make amends. They’re a big client of ours, you know, it wouldn’t do to make them unhappy. And there might have been some threatening undertones in that conversation.”
“They do know what I do for a living?” John asks dryly. Molly giggles slightly.
“Yes, well, they’re insisting. It’s some senior official in British intelligence – they know where he’s going to be and when, and the level of security, so it should be fairly simple.”
“Hah. Simple.” John knows there’s no such thing, especially when you’re dealing with the intelligence services. “Where is it? What’s the location?”
“I’m afraid it’s in London,” Molly says regretfully, and John frowns in irritation.
“I don’t like visiting London, Molly, you know that.”
“I know, John, but they’re one of our major clients,” Molly points out, sounding sympathetic, but firm.
It’s not that John doesn’t like London. Far from it, and that’s the whole problem. John grew up in London, and all the things he left behind – expectations, his broken family, a past – are still there, waiting for him. John’s fear is always that someday someone there will recognise him – not the persona he’s carefully crafted over the years since he got into this business, but John Watson, that promising young lad who vanished halfway through his first year at uni. Sooner or later John’s past is going to catch up with him, but John hopes he’s got a while yet.
Still, this is an important client, and if the job is in London, John doesn’t have much choice. He sighs.
“Fine. Let them know I accept the contract.”
John expects Molly to go and phone or email the client, but instead she gives him a long look.
“Are you alright, John?” Molly asks in concern. “Only, lately you’ve seemed a bit out of sorts.”
Only Molly, John thinks, faintly amused, would worry about the emotional wellbeing of her assassin boss.
His first instinct is to smile and lie, but something stays him, makes him reconsider his automatic response. Then he sighs, and tells her the truth.
“I’m getting close to forty, Molly. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m getting too old for this job.”
Molly pats his arm.
“Don’t say that, John – you’re one of the best there is.”
“I know that. But–” John wonders how best to express his sense of creeping dissatisfaction with his current life. “There’s a whole generation of up-and-coming young people ready to take my place if I retired, Molly. I don’t want to end up old and alone; I want to settle down sooner or later. You know? But how likely is that, really? Besides my contacts, who aren’t exactly relationship material, you’re the only person I actually know, these days.”
John inhales deeply, and exhales.
“I used to love this job for the excitement, you know. The adrenalin fix. But… it’s just not the same as it used to be, and I’ve been wondering if maybe it’s time to get out. Before somebody takes me out,” John adds, with a flash of black humour. He summons up a smile when he sees Molly’s worried expression. “Listen to me, blathering on. Don’t worry about me, Molly. Chalk it up to, I don’t know, a mid-life crisis, or something.”
“John.” Molly stands there obstinately until John meet her eyes. “This isn’t the sort of work you can do if your heart’s not in it –” John snorts at her choice of phrase, “–yes, I know, it sounds silly, but you know what I mean – this business takes a certain sort of disposition and if you’re not suited to it you’ll burn out in no time. And people change as they get older. I don’t want to see you burn out, John.”
In spite of himself, John is touched by Molly’s earnest words.
“Fine. I’ll think about it,” he concedes. “After this job. I’ll take a holiday or something, consider my options.” He gives her a tired smile. “Thanks, Molly.”
Molly smiles back.
“It’s not a problem, John. Someone needs to look after you.” She hesitates, and adds more quietly, “besides, I don’t really… I don’t have anyone else, either.” She smiles awkwardly, looking self-conscious at her admission.
“Right.” John clears his throat. “Well. Let the client know I’m accepting their contract, will you?”
There’s silence but for the tapping of keyboard keys and the clicking of the mouse, and John starts going through the papers Molly has left on his desk.
After a little while, Molly appears in the doorway with a cup of tea. John thanks her, and takes the tea gladly.
Molly doesn’t leave.
“Is there something you wanted, Molly?” John asks. Molly bites her lip, and visibly steels herself to say whatever it is she’s debating about inwardly.
“I was just wondering,” she says tentatively, “before you joined the army, was there anything you wanted to be? Career-wise, I mean. Besides an assassin, because that doesn’t really seem like the kind of job people dream of having – um.”
John gives a short laugh. There’s no mirth in it.
“Believe it or not, before I signed up, I was part-way through a medical degree. How’s that for irony?”
Molly looks flustered and embarrassed, and leaves John to drink his tea and go through his papers in peace.
John would feel bad about it, except, well. He’s not exactly gregarious these days, and besides, he’s a professional killer. They’re supposed to be immune to bad feelings, aren’t they?
John snorts again.
John is on a plane to London by that evening.
The client will email him the details of the job when he arrives. John isn’t happy with the situation, but Molly was right: he can’t afford to upset such an important client. He gets a lot of contracts through them.
Even if he does end up getting out of the assassin business, it’s best not to leave any unhappy customers behind. Only common sense.
John sighs, and once again finds himself thinking about his current lifestyle. He’s been working as a professional killer ever since he was discharged from the army, a good… it’d have to be a good fifteen years ago, now. He’d been recruited to his current occupation by a fellow sniper named Moran, and later on had moved into working as an independent assassin-for-hire. He’d never really regretted it. The work was… well, it sounds bad to say that a life killing people was enjoyable, but it really was: the planning, the physical aspect, the edge of risk to every kill he carried out was something that John derived pleasure from. The money hasn’t been bad, either: John can afford a nice house and nice things and good food, which is more than he grew up with. It’s a world away from his childhood, when every penny was guzzled away by his alcoholic bastard of a father.
The problem is, John hasn’t really felt that old pleasure in his work for a while. He doesn’t know if it’s just that he’s getting older, or if he’s lonely, or if it’s simply that the nature of the industry has changed; but somehow, the job feels like a chore, something he needs to be put up with, instead of a thing John enjoys doing. And when you come down to it, what has John got? A lot of money, a reputation as a stone-cold bastard, outstanding warrants for his arrest on three continents – that’s all, really.
It used to seem like a lot. Not so much, anymore.
Telling himself sternly that he’s got no time for existential angst, John tries to put such depressing thoughts out of his mind, and leans back in his seat to spend the next few hours napping.
That’s something he’s got, at least – he can afford to travel business class, unlike the poor sods stuffed into the tiny seats back in economy.
John closes his eyes, and dozes.
At the airport, John collects his luggage, just another innocuous businessman in a suit. Normally he uses hire cars, but considering that this is London, he plans to just take taxis or walk everywhere.
John is walking towards the line of cabs, pulling his suitcase behind him, when he hears a horribly familiar voice.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Johnny.”
All of John’s senses go on high alert, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Oh, fuck, John thinks, and turns to face a smiling Moriarty.
The professional assassin business attracts far more than it’s share of psychopaths and madmen. Jim Moriarty just happens to be both.
John has known him a long time, ever since they were both employed by the same client, on a large-scale assassination project in some little tinpot dictatorship that took several months to carry out. John had somehow earned Moriarty’s approval, by being good at his job, smiling politely at Moriarty’s jokes, and never being as overtly stupid as some of the others they were working with. He also never made the mistake of thinking that just because Moriarty smiled and joked a lot, that didn’t mean he didn’t want to kill them all in unpleasant ways.
John isn’t stupid, and Moriarty’s always given him the bloody creeps. Unfortunately, that’s a hazard of working in the assassination industry: creepy colleagues and associates.
“Jim,” John acknowledges, and sees a flash of amusement in the dark eyes. John has always known exactly what kind of monster lies under Moriarty’s pleasantly charming facade. For some reason, Jim has always found this entertaining.
It’s better than the alternative, John supposes.
“It’s not often anyone sees you in London, Johnny-boy,” Moriarty says, affixing a look of puzzled interest to his face. “Not really one of your usual destinations, is it?”
John gives a perfunctory smile.
“Yes, well, clients,” he says. They share a polite chuckle.
Moriarty looks John up and down deliberately – and, John knows, unnecessarily.
“Forced you into a corner, did they? Something not go as planned?” He clucks his tongue. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
Moriarty gives John a coy smile that tells him that Moriarty’s already deduced all of the important details about why John is here. Not that John is surprised.
That’s the other reason John’s so wary of the bastard: mad or not, he’s also bloody brilliant, and always a step ahead of everyone else. His phenomenal intellect – coupled with his mercurial temperament and complete lack of remorse or affection – makes him probably the most dangerous man John has ever met.
In all his life, John has known only one other person who could match Moriarty for brilliance.
“Yeah, well, even I can’t control all the variables,” John says a little stiffly. “I don’t exactly have your blazing intellect, do I?”
Jim chuckles, preening slightly at the compliment. He likes compliments. John has always been quite willing to give them if it means he stays on the man’s good side.
“It’s funny you should mention that,” Moriarty begins thoughtfully, and John thinks, oh, bollocks. “You see, I’m starting up something of a – hmm, I suppose you could call it a union.”
John blinks. He can’t quite believe what he just heard.
“A union,” he says flatly. “Of assassins.”
It takes John a moment to absorb the ridiculous idea.
“Ah, I wouldn’t describe most of our profession as ‘team players’,” he points out carefully.
“Oh, I think they’ll fall into line,” Moriarty replies nonchalantly.
John thinks that is the very opposite of a comforting thought. The idea of Moriarty with God knows how many assassins under his thumb might actually be enough to give John nightmares.
“Actually,” Moriarty adds, “I was hoping I might – persuade – you to join, John.”
For a second, John’s mind goes completely blank. It simply breaks down under the enormity of that horrifying picture.
It takes him a moment to reboot.
“To be honest, I’m thinking of retiring,” John says quickly. “You know how it is… age starts to catch up with you…”
“…and you start making mistakes?” Moriarty asks innocently, with what in anyone else might be mistaken for friendly mockery. John knows it’s anything but. “I’m glad to say I don’t. Well, that is a pity. Still, if you change your mind…” He sends John a sly, sideways glance. “I’m sure I could find a place for you, for old times’ sake.”
“Right,” says John, meaning not a fucking chance in hell. “Look, it was nice to see you again, but, ah, I should probably go.”
“Oh, Johnny, you know I hate it when you lie,” Moriarty mourns, then flashes him a quick-silver grin. “But by all means, my dear. Hurry along. I’d hate to see you get yourself into further trouble with your client. I’ll be seeing you, John.”
Jim gives John one last smirk – and then he’s gone, swallowed up by the surrounding crowd.
John takes a deep breath, and then another, trying to release some of the awful tension that an encounter with Moriarty always causes.
God, I hope not, he thinks, in reply to Moriarty’s farewell. He isn’t idiot enough to say it out loud.
Gathering his composure, John flags down a cab, and gives directions to his hotel.
Once he reaches his hotel room, John sets about unpacking his suitcase. He’s brought a few changes of clothes – pyjamas, some casual clothes, a second suit (pin-striped, this one, a formal suit rather than a business one) – and hangs them carefully in the wardrobe. Then he lifts out the false bottom of his suitcase to check that his weaponry is all as it should be. It is. He replaces the false bottom, leaving no sign that his luggage is anything other than an ordinary suitcase.
That done, John grabs some snacks from the minibar, and settles down with his laptop. He isn’t expecting to receive the file from his client until later in the day, but in the meantime, he’ll check his emails for any other correspondence.
There’s a few emails from John’s contacts in the industry, nothing of vital importance for the moment, but mixed in with those is a notification that John’s old private email account, the one that he used when he was still in the army, has received an email.
John doesn’t really use that old email address anymore, but there’s the odd army buddy who occasionally contacts him that way, so John has maintained it, even if it isn’t all that useful. If nothing else, he’d miss exchanging occasional jocular emails with Bill, and his stories about the mischief his kids keep getting into.
Feeling curious, John logs into his old email account, and frowns. It’s from Bill, as he expected, but the subject line says ‘FW: Invitation.’ John opens it.
There’s a note at the top, added by Bill, saying that he was contacted by a bunch of people from John’s old school, because they’d had a devil of a time trying to track him down. John barely notices. His attention is riveted to the message below, which begins with a heading in 24-point font saying ‘CLASS OF 1992 TWENTY YEAR HIGH SCHOOL REUNION,’ and which goes on to invite John to attend a twenty-year reunion of his graduating class, which takes place in two days time.
And even though it’s been nineteen years, John’s first, involuntary thought is Sherlock.
The thing is. John did not exactly have the happiest home life.
Even now, it’s not something he likes to thing about. His father was a whiskey-swilling, abusive tosser, who took out his frustrations on his family, and whose alcohol addiction kept them in poverty. John’s memories of his childhood are full of hiding in corners, hoping to escape his father’s attention, climbing up through the manhole into the attic to quietly read in peace, and shielding his little sister Harry from the worst of his father’s wrath.
They’re not good memories.
From as far back as he can remember, John was determined to escape the hellhole he was living in and make something of himself. He didn’t want this life. He wanted to do something, achieve something. He was always good at school. Other kids used to complain about having to sit and do boring stuff all day, but for John, school meant he didn’t have to be at home. School was full of interesting things to learn, and friendly people, and adults who complimented him on his good behaviour instead of yelling and throwing bottles at him.
It had become clear, over the years, that John was pretty bright, and when he was older, the school suggested that he sit the scholarship exam for one of the big, prestigious boarding schools. John had excitedly agreed, and thrown himself into the task of studying with a will. His father hadn’t much cared one way or the other, but his mother had liked the idea well enough to take John out to the school on the day of the scholarship exam so that he could sit it. And somehow, John had won the coveted scholarship.
Of course, things out at the school weren’t exactly a bed of roses; within a few days of starting the first form, John had already been bullied by some of the other boys, and it had been made clear to him that a lot of the other kids didn’t think much of someone who came from a family who couldn’t afford the school fees on their own. John did his best to blend into the background and act as inoffensively as possible, just as he did at home, and focused on his studies as best he could.
There was another boy in his form, though, who was probably the most bullied of the lot. His name was Sherlock Holmes, and he was a small, skinny little kid with a bird’s nest of curly hair, and pale, odd eyes, who spent most of his time directing an eerily penetrating glare at anyone who came near him. To be honest, Sherlock was downright weird: he behaved oddly, and he didn’t seem to have the slightest grasp of how social interaction worked; he was abrupt and insulting and contrary as hell.
He was also, however, incontrovertibly brilliant.
John can’t even remember, now, but somehow, he’d ended up becoming acquainted with the strange boy. Within no time at all, they were firm friends. Sherlock was peculiar, yes, but he was also the most fascinating person that John had ever met, and with a fierce intelligence that left John awed. By the time they graduated, John and Sherlock were an inseparable pair, and John, incidentally, happened to be madly in love with the crazy bastard.
Not that he said anything, of course: maybe it was easier to admit to that sort of thing now – being in love with another boy – but at the time, it could still be fairly hellish for anyone who was openly gay. Besides, Sherlock just wasn’t that sort of person: John wasn’t sure he’d ever felt the slightest attraction to anyone in his entire life, let alone towards John. Sherlock, frankly, sometimes seemed baffled by sex and romance: intellectually, he seemed to understand that for other people, they were strong motivators, but on a personal level, it was like everyone else was speaking a foreign language.
That first year out of school had been fantastic: John had enrolled in a medicine degree while Sherlock had gone into chemistry, and the two of them had found their own flat and moved in together. Sherlock was horrible to live with: he played the violin at three in the morning until John threatened to bash his head in with it, and conducted experiments in the crockery, and left a godawful mess everywhere; but it was worth it, for all their mad antics and because no matter what happened, John was grateful to be such a part of Sherlock’s life.
And then John had gotten the call about Harry, and –
Well. That was it, wasn’t it? His fifteen-year-old sister was dead because she’d gotten into a car with a bunch of drunken mates, and John – just couldn’t take it. Couldn’t bear it.
He’d packed a bag and up and left the next day, and gone straight to enlist in the army, and never said a word to anyone from his old life ever again.
He’d thought about it, so many times: just picking up a phone, or writing a letter, and telling Sherlock where he was and what he was doing; but he could never quite face it. Because Sherlock would have been angry, and worst of all, he would have been hurt – and for all his purported bravery, John was a complete coward when it came to dealing with the fact that he’d abandoned the most important person in his life.
So, nineteen years had passed, and John had no idea what Sherlock had done in the meantime, or was doing now.
Except. What better time to finally pull himself together and face Sherlock than their school reunion?
On impulse, John rings Molly. As the phone rings, John is already second-guessing himself, but even as he debates ending the call, Molly picks up.
“John?” Molly sounds surprised, and a little worried. He usually doesn’t ring while he’s away on business unless something’s gone wrong.
“My high school reunion is on,” John tells Molly. There’s a short pause as she processes this.
“That sounds like fun,” she offers. “Do you want to go?”
“Oh yes, because that couldn’t possibly go badly. ‘Hello, I’m John Watson, I’m a professional killer.’ ”
“Well, I don’t know what you want me to say,” Molly tells him.
John doesn’t know either. It’s possible that he is having a small personal crisis over this.
“There’s – an old friend,” John finds himself blurting out. “Best friend, actually. But I up and left and haven’t talked to him in nineteen years. That’s – it would probably be awkward.”
There’s another short pause from Molly’s end. John wants to bang his head against something. God, he sounds like a moron.
“Was he special, then, this friend?” Molly asks carefully.
John thinks about the question. Then he thinks about all the time he’s spent running away from his emotional issues.
“I was fucking in love with him.” There. John can’t get much plainer than that.
“Then I think you should consider going,” Molly says eventually. “Weren’t you just saying, before you left, about how you wish you have more connections with people?” John wouldn’t have phrased it that way, but he supposes that really, that’s what his confession boils down to. “This is a chance to reconnect with someone important, John. Even if it goes badly, at least you’ll have tried.”
“Right,” John says. He takes a deep breath, steeling himself. “Thanks, Molly.”
God help him, if he’s asking Molly for advice on his life choices, John really is well and truly in trouble.
John ends the call, and brings up the invitation on his computer again. He knows that his window of opportunity for his current contract is for sometime tomorrow, even if he doesn’t have the details yet; the reunion isn’t until the day after, which leaves him plenty of time, if he wants to go.
John scrolls down until he finds the phone number for the reunion organiser.
“Yeah, hi,” he says, when the other person answers the call. “Uh, my name’s John Watson? I know it’s very late, and I’m very sorry – I didn’t receive the invitation until just this morning. Ah, I’d like to attend the class of 1992 twenty-year reunion.”
Afterwards, John is full of nerves. He checks the suit he hung in the wardrobe earlier, to make sure it’s presentable. He checks his shoes for any scratches. He wishes he’d picked some different shirts, although he supposes that the ones he’s brought with him are nice enough.
He’s going to need a handkerchief for the breast pocket of his jacket, he finds himself thinking, maybe a dark blue one to go with his tie? Oh God, his tie – should he wear the blue one? Or would the thin black one be better?
Realising that if he doesn’t stop this he’s going to go mad, John deliberately tries to calm his mind. Relax. You will look fine, he thinks. You can buy a handkerchief later. He’s still got until the day after tomorrow before the reunion takes place, anyway.
John Watson: completely calm under fire, panics over social events.
It’s something of a relief when he realises that it’s almost the right time for him to receive the file from his client. John logs back onto his computer and into his email account, and waits until the exact time rolls around. As expected, an anonymous email appears, with a memory-heavy attachment.
John opens the file, and the first thing he sees is the target’s name.
It is at this point that John has an uncharacteristic panic attack.
So, John thinks. He’s been engaged to murder Sherlock’s older brother. That’s going to go down well.
He goes off into a fit of giggles that takes a couple of minutes to die down.
When the giggling stops, John feels marginally calmer, and less panicky. He forces himself to think about the situation logically, even as he continues reading through the file.
It seems that Mycroft has formed quite a place for himself, as a shadowy, powerful figure in the British government. Thinking back, John probably shouldn’t be surprised: Mycroft was probably as intelligent as Sherlock, although John didn’t know him very well, and he always seemed like both the ambitious type and the sort of man who respected the traditional halls of power.
There’s no question that John can’t go through with this, not now he knows who the target is. The question is, what is he going to do about it?
John closes his eyes. He has a conflict of interest clause in all his agreements, which says that if it turns out he can’t take the job for personal reasons, he will destroy all the information that his client has given him, and notify them of his inability to carry out the task in time for them to hire someone else to do the job instead. John’s never actually done so, before.
His client will no doubt be even more annoyed with him than before; after this, John’s going to have to retire. Because John can’t, in all conscience, just leave things as they are. He can’t just hand the job over to someone else, and disclaim all responsibility, not when he knows it’s going to happen.
John closes his eyes in frustration, because he really, really doesn’t like the idea, but if he wants to be able to look Sherlock in the face two days from now, he can’t let Mycroft die.
Which means saving his life. Damn, damn, damn.
John can’t just ignore the job; his clients would be downright angry, and John doesn’t really need that in his life. For this to work, he has to notify the client that they need to find someone else to assassinate Mycroft, and then – somehow – stop whoever they decide to hire from doing so. If the new assassin is murdered themselves before they can kill Mycroft – well, the client won’t know for sure who was responsible, will they? It might have been one of Mycroft’s people. This path is the only one that John can take if he wants to get through this with a chance of survival afterwards.
John sighs wearily, and calls Molly, a second time.
“You’re feeling chatty today,” she comments, as soon as the call connects. “Are you going to the reunion after all?”
“Erm, yes. Look, Molly, you know my conflict of interest clause?”
“…yes?” Molly’s tone has turned wary.
“I’m sorry, but I need you to tell the client that I’m invoking it. And, uh, I think I’ve decided to retire.”
It takes Molly a moment to find her voice.
John knows what she’s actually asking: why now? What’s changed since earlier this morning?
John chuckles faintly. He can’t help it. The situation is farcical.
“You know that friend I mentioned, the one I thought I might meet at the reunion?”
“My current target is his brother.”
There’s a stunned silence from Molly.
“Oh dear,” she manages, after a moment. John can’t help giggling at the inadequacy of her reply.
“Exactly. So, I need you to contact the client, and then… well, tie up any loose ends and take us out of business, I suppose.” He clears his throat. “It had occurred to me, that I might end up retiring at the end of this trip, although I didn’t imagine it happening like this. Anyway, you should check the underside of your desk.”
There’s a pause.
“I don’t want to seem like I don’t trust you, John,” says Molly, “but it’s not a bomb or something, is it?”
John closes his eyes for a second. If it were a bomb, does she seriously expect John to answer that question honestly?
“No, Molly, it’s not a bomb.”
“Well, I thought I ought to ask,” says Molly, “because you are an assassin. And I can always tell when you lie, I know you ate that last packet of chocolate biscuits last month, even though you’re not supposed to eat too many so you don’t get fat.” There’s a sudden shriek of delight as Molly discovers the stack of plastic-wrapped currency that John taped to the underside of her desk before he left. “Oh my God, John!”
John finds himself grinning.
“It’s a thank-you gift,” he tells her, a little awkwardly, over her stammered thanks. “For all the times you looked after me.”
“Oh, John, you didn’t have to!” John can tell from Molly’s voice that she’s started crying.
“I wanted to,” John says firmly. “Buy yourself something nice with it.” He hesitates a little, over the next bit. “Um, if everything works out okay, I’ll probably be living in London for the foreseeable future. So, if you ever return to Britain, feel free to… look me up, I guess.”
Molly is full of tearful thanks and assurances and goodbyes, and it takes a good twenty minutes before she finally hangs up.
John pockets his phone with a sigh, but he’s smiling.
This – whatever happens – it feels like he’s making a good choice.
Now all John needs to do is check out the location where Mycroft is supposed to be tomorrow night, so that he can work out where the replacement assassin is most likely to hide themselves.
But first, John is going to get some sleep. He’s going to need it.
Eleven o’clock the next night finds John in an empty office, several floors up. He has a good view of the building perpendicular to the one he’s in; he also has the best view possible, under the circumstances, of any angle from which another sniper might choose to shoot Mycroft. John’s sniper rifle is set up on it’s tripod, ready to go. All John has to do now is wait.
Of all the ways an assassin might strike, a sniper makes the most sense: given his important position, Mycroft no doubt has an active security retinue that will make it difficult for any assassin to get close enough to kill him. For a sniper, on the other hand, the job isn’t all that difficult: there’s a lot of tall buildings here, and a sniper could simply shoot Mycroft and pack up and be gone before anyone even worked out where the shot came from.
John glances at his watch, noting the time, and nodding to himself, moves into position. Mycroft should be here soon, and John needs to be ready, even if the man is early or late.
As John waits, a black car pulls up in the street below. John scans the windows of the surrounding buildings using his telescopic scope, but doesn’t see anything at all out of the ordinary.
Down below, several people get out of the car, and start to walk towards the closest building. John is about to go back to scanning the other buildings when his sharp eyes capture movement, and automatically search for the source.
John sees the walk, and the slicked-back hair, and knows.
Cursing to himself, John immediately trains the scope on Moriarty’s head as the other assassin walks casually down the street. He can’t believe that anyone would take the risk of attempting to kill Mycroft at close range, except that this is Moriarty, so John would believe anything.
It happens almost too fast to see: Moriarty pulls a gun out from under his coat, begins to bring it up to aim. But John has kept his rifle on-target the entire time, and before the handgun is pointing anywhere near Mycroft, John shoots.
Moriarty collapses on the pavement in a disgusting splatter of blood and bone and brains. As John watches Mycroft is hurried indoors, and people in suits form a protective guard around him, while someone jogs across the road to take a look at Moriarty.
John waits until he’s sure that Mycroft is under cover, out of sight, and then he packs up his gear and gets the hell of out there.
Two streets away he leaves the CCTV blind spots, emerging into the street as an unremarkable man in a suit holding a briefcase in one hand. John hails a cab, and directs the driver back to his hotel.
Twenty hours later, John steps out of another cab, and walks into the building where the twenty-year reception is being held.
He’s wearing the pin-striped suit, along with the dark blue tie, and a matching blue handkerchief folded into the breast pocket. His hair has been freshly trimmed, and his shoes freshly polished, while the gold watch he wears on his wrist is both attractive in design, and very expensive. Appearance-wise, John admits that there’s not much else he could do to improve himself, which is one stressor less. However tonight goes, at least he’s well-dressed.
John shows his ID to the people at the door and collects the badge with his name on it, grimacing at the yearbook photo on it. He attaches the badge to the edge of his breast pocket, and pulling on a pleasant smile, goes forth once more unto the breach.
He doesn’t recognise anybody. He wasn’t close to most of them, so this isn’t surprising, and the addition of twenty years of aging means that his memory probably wouldn’t have been much help anyway.
Everyone seems to have gotten fatter. Or bald.
John knows that Sherlock is planning to attend: he’d asked the event organiser, who had been quite happy to tell John all about Sherlock. He’s something of a vague celebrity now, apparently: some sort of ‘consulting detective’ with the Met, whatever that means. His name’s been mentioned in the paper a couple of times, though, in connection with the solving of several high-profile crimes.
To be honest, John was rather taken-aback by Sherlock’s choice of career. Sherlock had never been one to respect any kind of rules, including the law, and the last time John saw him he was studying chemistry. But then, as John keeps telling himself, it’s been nineteen years; God knows what else has changed. He just hopes that Sherlock hasn’t turned into someone who feels morally-bound to report someone who kills people for a living.
John makes his way through the crowd with polite smiles and chit-chat, looking for Sherlock.
He’s edging his way past an attractive woman in a red dress, apologising as he does so, when he hears a sharp voice that cuts through all the chatter around him.
“Don’t be an idiot, of course she’s cheating on you.”
John feels the blood rush from his face, and feels for a moment like he’s going to pass out as he hears the familiar impatient, deep tones.
He turns slowly, his heart beating wildly. A short distance away a chubby man stomps away from a tall, sharply-dressed figure with fashionably-cut curls, who simply turns away in disdain. He couldn’t stand out more: where everyone else is carrying extra weight and beginning to look their age, he is slim, striking, elegant.
John stares at him.
After a moment Sherlock glances up, as though sensing John’s gaze, and looks straight at him. Eyes widening, Sherlock looks utterly thrown. John isn’t close enough to hear him, but sees the way Sherlock gasps out a shocked ‘John?’ and takes a small, involuntary step forward.
He’s never seen Sherlock look so shaken.
John walks forward, bridging the gap between them as Sherlock makes an attempt to regain his previous composure.
“Um. Hello.” John’s throat feels uncomfortably restricted.
Sherlock’s keen eyes scan him, and John knows that he’s seeing the calluses on his fingers, the pattern of wrinkles around his eyes, the way John constantly appraises the room, as well as all kinds of minutiae that even John himself probably hasn’t noticed.
“You’re an assassin,” Sherlock says, in accusation.
John clears his throat as several heads turn curiously in their direction.
“Maybe we should have this conversation somewhere else.”
Sherlock gives him a measuring gaze, then a sharp nod, and immediately heads for the exit. The crowd seems to magically part in front of him, leaving a path free. John follows in his wake.
John rejoins Sherlock outside on the footpath. Sherlock begins to walk down the street, and John falls easily into step beside him, as though the last time they did this was only yesterday, instead of almost two decades ago.
“You’re an assassin,” Sherlock says, a second time.
John shrugs a little.
“Hmm.” Sherlock’s eyes scan over him, again. “Ex-military.”
They walk in silence for a little while, Sherlock continually looking at John, cataloguing him down to the last detail. John feels nervous and giddy, and strangely peaceful.
“You kissed me,” Sherlock says abruptly, after a long period of silence. He’s talking about the last time they saw each other before John went and enlisted, right after John found out that Harry had been killed.
“I did,” John confirms.
“You were distraught,” Sherlock continues, with a swift flicker of a glance in John’s direction. Otherwise, he doesn’t look at John at all.
“I was,” John agrees.
Sherlock stops walking.
“Was that all it was?”
“No,” John admits. He meet Sherlock’s piercing gaze with a flutter of nerves, feeling absurdly shy. But Sherlock doesn’t say anything, so John clarifies. “I’d been in love with you for ages.”
There’s a long silence.
Sherlock, John notices, looks like he isn’t quite breathing.
“It never really wore off,” John continues. “I mean, where else was I going to meet someone as brilliant and amazing as you?” He looks Sherlock directly in the eyes as he says this.
That seems to be what Sherlock is looking for, because the next moment John is caught up in a scramble of long arms and curls and is being kissed with desperation.
Sherlock is a little taller and more muscular than the last time John did this, and he’s probably changed in all sorts of ways that John can’t fathom, but John doesn’t care. Because this – this feels absolutely right, like John has finally found what has been eluding him for so long.
And then someone delicately clears their throat.
John goes still at the same moment that Sherlock suddenly loses his enthusiasm. Slowly, the two of them disengage, and turn, and are met with the sight that John is dreading, but which is sadly not unexpected.
Mycroft Holmes is standing there, leaning on his umbrella slightly, one eyebrow raised in fastidious distaste at the display in front of him. A black car is idling a short way behind him.
“Erm,” says John’s mouth, without his consent. John curses himself. He’d have thought that after all this time Mycroft would no longer have this affect on him, but no. Bugger.
“Do you mind?” Sherlock demands testily. “We’re busy.”
The raised eyebrow inches higher.
“So I see,” Mycroft responds dryly, with a touch of disdain.
His gaze transfers to John, and John carefully doesn’t wince. He’s always wondered how Mycroft can make his opinion so clear without speaking so much as a single word.
“Mr Watson,” says Mycroft. “Or should I say, ‘Single Shot Watson’?”
To hell with it, John thinks.
“I’m retired now, actually,” he tells Mycroft. “As of, ooh, I’d say about twenty-one hours ago?”
It’s possible that Mycroft’s eyes narrow slightly.
“Quite. Well, I suppose that I should thank you for saving my life.” Another look of barely-veiled disdain. “I suppose it’s just as well you’ve never been officially connected to any crimes within Britain, isn’t it?”
John’s mouth is dry.
“Yeah. I suppose it is.”
Mycroft gives a tiny sniff, and eyes Sherlock.
“You really do have deplorable taste, Sherlock. Still, he seems to be loyal, at least. That’s something.”
For the life of him, John can’t decide whether he finds that remark offensive, or funny.
“He’s mine,” he tells Mycroft. Mycroft makes a considering noise.
“Yes, I suppose you never did have anyone else.” He looks at John assessingly. “I assume that you intend to be a peacefully law-abiding citizen from now on?”
John can’t help glancing at Sherlock. He can’t imagine Sherlock as a peaceful and law abiding anything, even if he is a detective these days.
“Erm. Yes, of course.”
“Dull,” Sherlock interjects.
“Then in that case,” Mycroft announces, ignoring Sherlock’s interpolation, “welcome back to England, Mr Watson.”
He gives them a short nod, and the black car pulls forward so he can step into it. John and Sherlock are left alone once more.
Their eyes meet.
“You saved Mycroft’s life?” Sherlock complains. “Why?”
He sounds genuinely put-out.
In spite of himself, John feels a smile tugging at his mouth.
“You’re incorrigible,” he tells Sherlock, pulling him down by the front of his suit jacket.
“Obviously,” Sherlock has just enough time to reply before John shuts him up in the best way possible.
Two months later, and John is following Sherlock onto a crime scene.
It’s hardly the first time that John has been at a crime scene, but usually John is fleeing before someone else turns up, not walking onto a crime scene that someone else has perpetrated, while the police are investigating. It’s just another of the adjustments that John has been making, since he retired.
Sherlock holds up the police tape so that John can duck under it more easily, and the two of them head for the harried-looking man giving out orders.
“Lestrade,” Sherlock greets him, which by Sherlock standards is downright cordial.
“Sherlock. Who’s this?” Lestrade asks, frowning at John, who’s wearing his most innocuous jumper. Sherlock says that John should wear suits all the time, like he does, but John prefers to save the suits for more appropriate occasions.
“This is John Watson, my partner,” says Sherlock, glancing at John with that tiny almost-smile he gets when he tells people he and John are together. It’s endearing, really. “John, this is Detective Inspector Lestrade.”
“Hello,” John says amiably.
“Your – what?” Lestrade looks flummoxed. “Wait, do you mean – like a romantic partner?”
“What else?” Sherlock gives Lestrade a puzzled look. John can tell he’s enjoying this.
John wanders over to the body while Lestrade and Sherlock are still talking. He considers the trajectory of the bullet, and glances up at the surrounding buildings.
“Oi, you can’t be here!” a policewoman tells him indignantly. John ignores her.
“Sherlock!” John waves him over, and points out one of the buildings. “Fifth floor, second window from the left.”
“Ah, thank you, John.” Sherlock looks pleased.
“What?” The DI looks even more confused.
“Your sniper, Lestrade,” Sherlock says in a bored voice, as he crouches to examine the body. “John has kindly pinpointed their location at the time of the shooting.”
“How…?” Lestrade begins, completely bewildered. John feels a little sorry for him.
“I’m ex-military,” he explains easily.
“And a fantastic shot,” Sherlock adds, still examining the corpse.
Lestrade and the policewoman exchange glances.
“Are you as much of a freak as he is?” the policewoman demands of John. Lestrade sighs.
But John grins.
“Probably,” he agrees, and hears a small huff of amusement from Sherlock.
If he is, it doesn’t bother him one bit.