The front porch seemed eerily quiet in comparison to the formal ball that was still in full swing only a little ways away. John Watson stepped outside and pulled back a suit sleeve to check the time. His watch was hard to make out in the dark, but pressing a button in its side backlit the screen. 2:02.
John half expected Sherlock to already be waiting for him. After all, he hadn't even wanted to come in the first place and made a point of reminding John at least once every hour since they arrived that evening. The party was a celebration for some politician or another, and Mycroft insisted that his younger brother come and congratulate the family friend. John tagged along at the promise of meeting a handful of celebrities if he could coax Sherlock into showing up dressed accordingly.
With a sigh John settled down on the steps. He listened to crickets chirp for a couple moments before pulling a mobile from his blazer's pocket and texting his flatmate.
What's the holdup? –JW
After another minute or two he got a response: Something came up. I'll let you know when I'm ready. –SH
The doctor reread this message twice before calling Sherlock. It was already well into the wee hours of the morning and Sherlock couldn't have picked a less convenient time to change his mind about the social gathering. John almost didn't expect Sherlock to pick up, and when he did his voice was difficult to hear over music, excited chatter, and other background noises.
John only caught a few words here and there - guest list, plotting, strange, and something about men in suits that didn't belong. John pressed the mobile close up against his face and covered his other ear, but it did little to improve the situation.
"Sherlock? Sherlock, I can't tell what you're trying to say. Can you hear me? Sherlock?"
There was a loud static noise at the other end and John had to hold the mobile further away to keep from hurting his eardrums. After another half minute the thing went quiet and he recognized Sherlock's voice, now entirely audible.
"Is this better? I shut myself in one of the private rooms upstairs."
"Yes!" John exclaimed. "Yes, much! Ah, sorry, what were you just going on about? I'm afraid I didn't catch… well, any of it."
The detective almost sounded annoyed at this. "I suspected as much," he replied. "Anyway, I can't leave. Not yet."
"Why the hell not? You don't need Mycroft's permission, do you?"
"You really didn't pick up a single word, did you?" There was an exasperated sigh before Sherlock continued. "There are six, possibly more men here that don't belong. Or if they do it's because they're here for reasons other than the concession stand. I snuck a peek at the guest list and the ones I was able to identify are all on there, but that proves nothing. I also suspect they're working together, even though they all arrived separately and at different times. Quite clever on their part, but the shifty glances and short comments into an earpiece caused them to stick out like a sore thumb."
"Okay, so what's your point?" John sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose with his free hand. "If they haven't done anything I don't understand what there is to make a big deal over."
"No, they haven't done anything yet, but they're going to! That's what this has all been leading up to. I just need fifteen to twenty minutes to figure out what. Half hour at the most."
"Sherlock. It's late, I'm tired, and we're going home. Now hurry up and meet me outside or so help me-"
Just then John heard a muffled conversation on the other line. It sounded like someone was talking to Sherlock, but perhaps the man's finger was pressed over the mobile's receiver or something. John waited for a moment, listening in as the second voice repeated whatever it was they said the first time.
"I said this room's taken!" Sherlock shouted back loud enough for John to hear. "Probably that foreign couple from downstairs. They had just finished occupying this room when I came up. You'd think that a full hour were more than enough time to take care of whatever business was going on between them, but apparently not."
John was about to reply, but before he could do so, there was a loud crashing noise from over the mobile's speaker, as if someone were kicking down a door. The talking that followed on Sherlock's end was easier to make out than before, but John had a difficult time registering what was going on.
"Do you mind?" Sherlock was saying. "What is it you gentlemen so desperately want, anyway? Hey! Hey - stop that! What are you-" A sort of rustling noise came through the mobile before Sherlock spoke again, his voice now louder, as if he were yelling into the speaker. "John! John, I need you to come and get-"
Although John was convinced that his friend was asking for help, he never got to hear Sherlock say it. Instead there was a thump from the other mobile having hit the floor, more rustling noises, a few snippets of a conversation that was in an entirely different language, and then silence.
"Sherlock?" John called into the receiver desperately. "Is everything alright over there? Sherlock!" He glanced down at his mobile's screen and saw that the call was still connected, although from what it sounded like, Sherlock had just been escorted out of the room against his own will.
Without hanging up first, John immediately sprinted back inside and raced through the center of the ballroom, accidentally knocking into one lady and causing her to spill a bit of red wine down her perfectly white dress (which he somehow tried apologizing for without even slowing his pace).
John dashed up the stairwell and ran into the first room that he came across. Its door was swung wide open and John immediately spotted Sherlock's mobile lying in the center of the vacant room with its screen lit up. Kneeling down beside it, John picked the mobile up and disconnected his call.
He then spent the following hour racing back and forth across the premises. Despite his best efforts, John never did find where Sherlock had disappeared to or a single guest who had seen him leave. Dismayed, John eventually gave up on his search and slumped down on the porch steps where he had started.
Still trying to remain hopeful, John took a cab home by himself that night. The next morning he slept in quite a bit and had all but forgotten that Sherlock wasn't with him until he realized how disturbingly quiet the flat was. It was at this point that John really began to worry. He'd gotten halfway through a text before remembering that he still had Sherlock's phone.
"Calm down, John, you're probably just getting upset over nothing," he muttered to himself while filling up a tea kettle. John paced up at down the kitchen several times. "He's off on another case, that's it! The man just loves theatrics, that's all. That has to be it."
The kettle let out a high-pitched whistle and John shut it off. The man then reached for a mug and began to fill it with a shaking hand. A bit of the hot water splashed up on this finger and John set the tea kettle down again in a hurry. "Shit!" he cried out, turning on the faucet to run cold water over the area.
The pain quickly subsided and John shut the water off again and dropped a tea bag into his cup. He hesitated for a moment, strumming his fingers along the countertop, before pulling out his mobile once more and dialing Mycroft.
"Ah! Um, hey, this is John. Uh, wonderful party. I… really enjoyed it. Quite a bit, actually. Ah, sorry to bother you this early, but I was just, um, wondering if you happened to have by any chance heard from your brother since last night or maybe, I don't know, happen to have seen him leaving the party? Nothing's wrong! I hope. Just… just curious, that's all."
Mycroft's response came as a bit of a surprise to John. "No, I'm afraid I do not know the whereabouts of my brother, but I appreciate your concern. Now, if that's all that you were calling about-"
"Then help me find him!" John interrupted. "Please. I don't know where to start looking. Knowing him I shouldn't stress out about it this much, but last night he was telling me about these… these guests who didn't belong, and then there was shouting that I didn't understand, and he even left his mobile sitting in the middle of the floor and still on, which is entirely unlike him! Now, I don't like jumping to conclusions, but I'm starting to think that Sherlock may've been kidnapped last night. Mycroft? Are you even listening to me?"
The other line was silent for several seconds before Mycroft answered. "Don't be ridiculous, John. I'm sure everything is fine. Goodbye."
The call cut out and John stood there for a minute with his mouth ajar. Of course he already knew that the Holmes brothers didn't get along well, but that was just insensitive. John took a deep breath and shoved the mobile back into his pocket. He then picked up the steaming mug of tea and relocated himself to his favorite armchair. John wasn't even halfway done with the drink, however, when there was a knock at the door. He stood up again and set his mug down before answering it.
John was surprised to find Anthea facing across from him. Well, perhaps that wasn't her real name, but it had been the fake one she'd given him well over a year ago and he wasn't any closer to finding out the truth. Or having another go at asking her out. "Hello," she smiled.
No questions necessary, John took his jacket off a nearby hook and pulled an arm through. "Yeah yeah, I know the drill," he grunted and followed the woman out.
As he expected, Anthea dropped John off outside Mycroft's office. The doctor was then escorted inside, where he found the elder Holmes brother staring wistfully out the window.
"We were just talking over the phone," John cut in after a moment of awkward silence. "It's a perfectly valid form of communication. If you had something to add to our previous discussion, there's this convenient little redial button. Look, I'll even show you." John began fumbling around with his mobile.
"There are some things that cannot be expressed beyond direct contact," Mycroft said without turning around. "And even fewer that can be said over a tapped line. I'm being watched, John. Phone lines, computer screens… If I lift a single finger they'll hear about it one way or another."
John squinted. "Who's watching you?"
"I'm afraid the specifics of the situation as well as the motives of those involved must remain confidential," Mycroft sighed. "But I can tell you that last night, Sherlock was abducted against his will."
John's spine straightened and he shouted, "What? Who-?"
"The people responsible are allied with certain influential leaders who are interested in furthering a political movement I have been doing my best to eradicate. They thought it pertinent to hold my baby brother's safety over my head to ensure that I would not interfere." Mycroft turned to look at John for the first time, and the man seemed to have aged ten years since the doctor last saw him. "However, elections are not for another month, and they are already mistreating him. They have sent me pictures, John. For motivation," he spat. "And even then, if I play their idiotic game for four more weeks, there is nothing to guarantee that they will return Sherlock immediately or in one piece. They might just decide to stop feeding him out of boredom."
"I can't bloody believe this," John said. "Why can't you send out your cronies to kidnap him back?"
"As I already mentioned," Mycroft muttered, sounding annoyed, "I am being watched. Any attempts to make use of my extensive connections will result in, and I quote, 'one appendage taken off for each individual mobilized.'"
"They are either severely underestimating the number of people in your power or overestimating the number of Sherlock's limbs."
"I tend to agree."
"But why are you telling me this?" John asked doubtfully. "I mean, don't you think they'll decide to hurt Sherlock because you brought me here?"
"Hardly," Mycroft said. "You and I meet in my office often enough for this not to be too suspicious. Regardless, people are apt to misjudge your... abilities."
"I'll take that as a compliment," John said.
"You should," the taller man stated. "Honestly, John, did you imagine I would risk my brother's safety if I weren't sure? They will think nothing of one lonely doctor knowing his friend has gone missing. I am hoping this will be their downfall."
"Wait, what?" John eyed Mycroft distrustfully. "Don't tell me you expect me to solve your little political dispute for you? I'm not your personal mercenary, Mycroft."
"No," Mycroft said. "But I was under the impression you were my brother's."
He pulled out his mobile, opened a picture, and turned the screen for John to see. The photo was of some sort of dark basement-looking room, with one Sherlock Holmes squinting painfully up at the camera through a swollen eye. The left side of his face was dominated by bruises, and he had a small cut on his brow that was dribbling blood down the bridge of his nose. His belstaff coat and suit jacket were missing, and a pair of handcuffs were only just in frame behind him, bounding the detective to what looked like a water pipe.
"Okay," John said. "So you want me to adventure off to find these dangerous thugs, take them all out by myself, and rescue Sherlock before they realize anything's wrong, do you?"
"Good," John said. "Because I was going to do that anyway. Now, who the fuck am I going to murder?"
Mycroft moved to his desk and picked up a manila folder, thick with several documents. "I am glad you asked, because I had Anthea make a list," he said.
"I've never been down here before," John commented. He was currently trailing Mycroft into an underground portion of the building. The walls were white and lined with what looked like rows of school lockers, each labeled with a letter and 3-digit number.
"Few have," answered Mycroft. "It used to be somewhat of a research facility, but has become solely a storage unit as of late. Not many venture inside, much less make use of its… features. But as I figured it, with an operation such as this, one ought to be armed appropriately."
"I have my own gun."
Mycroft smiled. "That's cute. Now how about…" The man trailed off as he stepped in front of the lockers. He felt his hand across a few of them before selecting one and punching in a code. Mycroft then pulled open the locker and took out a briefcase, which he handed John, who stared back at him blankly. "You're allowed to look inside, you know."
John hesitated for a moment before taking a knee and unlatching the briefcase. Pulling open its lid, he found that inside was an entire pop-up arsenal, complete with three shelves of various guns, knives, and hand grenades.
"And you're absolutely sure they're going to let me through airport security with this?"
"Sherlock currently resides somewhere in Turkey, that much is obvious. Conveniently enough, I have a certain shipment flying out to Bulgaria as it is. I can get you onto that flight and from there they should be able to help you pass the border with little difficulty. But from that point on you will be on your own."
John shut the case and took a deep breath. "Wow. I feel like I'm in a James Bond movie. This is exciting, isn't it?"
Mycroft sighed. "Whatever it takes to motivate you. But remember, Dr. Watson: your number one concern during this mission is subtlety, and I cannot stress this enough. Sherlock's safety depends upon you staying under their radar."
"Right. Don't get captured. Got it."