"How do you know he's gone missing?" John wanted to ask, but thought better of it. By now, he should have come to terms with the fact that none of their steps inside or outside 221B went unnoticed. What was rather strange, though, was Mycroft asking for his help, knowing that he was incapacitated. The astonished doctor raised his eyebrows, throwing a meaningful glance at his still plastered leg. The personified British Government, however, merely stated that legwork agreeably wasn't both their cup of tea, not at the moment at least, but would be inevitable to a certain extent. He appealed to his soldier honour and discipline and ordered him to bring his gun. John, taken aback by the fact that so far he had been so stupid as to believe that Mycroft didn't know about him keeping an illegal weapon at Baker Street, just frowned and looked at Sherlock's brother as if he didn't understand what he was talking about. He had been careful not to wave about with his firearm, but obviously there were clear signs that there was at least one available in the flat. The Michigan zinc coloured smiley face full of bullet holes on the wall, grinned down at him, proving his naivety.
"Oh, John! Don't pretend to be more obtuse that you naturally are!" Mycroft said patronizingly, "You're not really considering me stupid enough to not know about your army gun, are you? - Haha! That's whimsical."
John, angry about his own thickness and about being ridiculed, straightened his back and raised his chin.
"Of course I'm not. You have your eyes and ears everywhere, so how could you not know it? I'm just surprised by the fact that you know and tolerate it, and even more so that you ask me to use it for your purposes," he countered, trying to keep his face neutral.
"I can sleep a little better knowing that there is actually something more effective than mere words to offer resistance to my brother's opposite number," the aristocratic man stated conceitedly, however with the faintest of smiles on his lips.
The ex-army doctor, still not reconciled about Mycroft's blatancy, and simply angry about his method of forcing people into doing something, shot back, "And anyway, Mycroft, has nobody ever taught you that asking is a much nicer and easier way to achieve something rather than threating people into doing something?"
The previous signs of amusement instantly vanished from his face when he replied, "Only those doubting what they want to achieve, ask. If you know what you need, what you want to have, you order. Asking includes the risk of a rejection. I can't tolerate rejections, thus, I don't ask. And now get the gun you're pretending not to possess and let's get my stupid little brother out of the trouble he's got himself into!"
That caught John's attention. "Trouble?" he asked. So far he had only thought it was Mycroft's compulsion to control his brother's whereabouts and to secure he wouldn't forestall his own hunt for the person who had tried to kill his little brother, but now a pang of worry went through John.
"Of course trouble. Do you think I would come here just because I enjoy your company or Sherlock would follow me more easily when you called him?" Mycroft's disdainful manner of talking to him brought John on the verge of losing his temper. Grinding his teeth and shaking his head briefly, he glared at Sherlock's brother.
"Why don't you call your services, - MI5, MI6, whatever you command anyway - why don't you call them?" he spat, pouting and clenching his fists endeavouring to control his anger.
Mycroft, suddenly dropping his hostile and contemptuous behaviour, looked John straight into the eyes, granting him a brief glance behind the arrogant façade.
"Because it's a private matter."
"You want to keep your name out of it. Your family was involved in the Tabun testing and that's not good for your reputation, is it?" John stated angrily, driven by his rage, albeit sensing that he wasn't completely right. He had seen something in the stiff man's eyes that told him that there was more behind it. Something personal.
Mycroft turned around, but then stood motionless, facing the door to the flat.
"As if I was in danger, John," he remarked silently. Then, throwing him a glance over the shoulder, he added, "I know about Sherlock's motives - and that's a private matter. - I won't beg for your support, John, but I thought that as my brother's... friend... or whatever you consider yourself... you would want to help him in a situation when he really needs your help."
John cleared his throat. Without any doubt, he wanted to help his flatmate, but the way his brother acted and spoke to him drove him up the wall every single time.
"Coming," he merely replied, knowing that any further words were pointless and would result in yet more banter.
Before long, they were gliding through the streets of London in Mycroft's limousine. John tried to find out more, but all questions as to how Mycroft had managed to find his brother, how he knew that he was in trouble as certainly Sherlock wouldn't have contacted his brother, were answered with a curt "You know I have my ways".
John finally gave up asking. He was more likely to receive an answer from someone whose tongue had been torn out than obtaining information about Mycroft's mysterious modes and, admittedly, all that mattered now was finding Sherlock and extricating him from the apparently ticklish situation he had got himself into. According to his brother, he had managed to hunt down the woman who had tried to poison him - and John as well - with the nerve agent.
"I take it you already knew where to find the lady. Why didn't you do anything about her before Sherlock put himself into danger again - and poisoned you, by the way? - How's your head?" John added, smirking.
"Fine," Mycroft replied, prolonging the fricative so as to leave no doubt about the validity of the word, however, leaving the circumstances about the poisoning uncommented. "I had hoped Sherlock wouldn't find her so fast. He thinks she's the one pulling the strings, but, stupid as he is, unable to get past his emotional involvement, he's wrong. Someone else is behind all that, helping her - offering her his "service". He's the one I'm pursuing."
John, watching the houses passing by, suddenly turned to Mycroft, staring at him, the hair at the small of his neck standing on end. Offering criminal services. He knew what was coming and he feared it, he feared him - that maniac who took pleasure in playing sick games with Sherlock, going so far as to putting people, including John himself and even innocent children, into Semtex vests and letting Sherlock solve mad riddles to save their lives.
"Moriarty," he croaked, getting in ahead of Mycroft.
The man in the three-piece suit sitting next to him raised his eyebrows without saying anything.
All of Moriarty's twisted amusements seemed to have been aimed at killing Sherlock off, and this time it could actually result in a successful attempt, if they weren't quick enough. Sherlock in trouble, yes, that hadn't sounded all too dangerous, given that Mycroft seemed to be calmness itself. However, with Moriarty involved, that was perilous. All of a sudden a thought crossed John's mind and he sent a quick prayer to heaven.
"Is... Molly with him?" he wanted to know, hoping that her promise to help Sherlock hadn't put her into danger as well.
"Yes, she is. However, they were separated and it seems that Ms Hooper is held captive."
"No!" John moaned, piercing the bridge of his nose. Molly had agreed to help Sherlock instead of him, John, but he had believed that she would just do minor legwork, nothing that would place her in jeopardy. On the one hand, the ex-army man felt miserable, annoyed about his poor health condition and particularly about his bloody broken leg, however, on the other hand, he felt determination settle in his mind. Nothing and nobody had been lost so far and he would never allow that.
"Tell me your scheme!" he ordered, forcing his voice in the most military sounding tone that he could muster.
A trace of an appreciative raise of the eyebrow could be seen in Mycroft's face, and for the next couple of minutes, he filled John in with his plan without dropping any snide remarks anymore, and the ex-soldier repeatedly let his hand wander to the now body-warm piece of metal in his waistband, feeling some kind of solace in the knowledge that he undoubtedly was a crack shot. Assuming that they weren't too late, he would again use his skills to save his flatmate's and also Molly's lives, making up for his annoying inability to have stood by his side before due to his broken leg.
Arriving at an old brick building that was clearly identifiable as a chemical factory, John wondered whether it was the right place. No car or other person was to be seen, no traces of people anywhere - as far as the ex-army man could tell from the distance. He knew, though, that this impression could easily be merely specious. As quietly as his crutches allowed it and extremely carefully, they entered the factory building, trying to hide wherever possible. John was rather amazed by Mycroft's cat-like movements and his attentiveness that seemed to have their origin in some kind of military training as well. Never before had the fact crossed his mind that Mycroft could be anything else but a pen pusher. It made sense, however, as someone who had the whole British nation in his hands, more or less commanded the secret services, the armed forces, the navy and whatever England had to offer to defend its country, that he had gone through some kind of military career as well.
John suddenly stopped short, pierced by Mycroft's look. "Stop grinning! My life is not just desks! And don't tell Sherlock!" he hissed, barely audible for John. If the situation hadn't been that serious, the doctor would have burst out laughing, which his military training allowed him to suppress successfully right now.
Suddenly, they heard distant voices and they slowly moved into their direction, John having the gun cocked. The voices were becoming clearer and they could identify one as Sherlock's. Thank God, he was still alive! However, upon entering the next room, John was facing an unsurmountable obstacle on his way to rescuing his flatmate - a long, metal staircase. It was absolutely impossible for him to get it up without making the hell of a noise and without being utterly exhausted at its end.
He whispered to Mycroft, "Take the gun, I won't make it up there. Damn this bloody leg!"
Sherlock's brother pushed away John's hand that was offering him the weapon. "I have astigmatism. I don't want to shoot my brother or Ms Hooper. You have no choice."
Again, John felt a giggle in his throat but swallowed it. If astigmatism wasn't corrected through contact lenses or glasses, it wasn't good for shooting as the object would probably be a bit blurred, and he might even see double. On the one hand, it made sense not to risk a shot, on the other hand, it was their only means to defend themselves.
"I'll go upstairs and distract her a bit so that you have enough time to get up there. Don't dawdle!"
That hissed, Mycroft turned around and crept up the stairs. The voices from upstairs were becoming louder and John could even understand them now.
"...child's play!" That was Sherlock. "I searched your hotel room. I had thought you weren't such a moron, but you've made such a basic mistake, leaving a real estate brochure with the picture of this site, that I knew you were expecting me. This, being a chemical factory, is the perfect place to hide forbidden substances. Nobody would come looking. Everything is locked and guarded, so it was unlikely that homeless people would be loafing about here. Plus, as your first attempt at killing me was clearly a failure, but you are striving for the perfect revenge for your father and grandfather, you wouldn't just go and shoot me or choose any other simple way to kill me off. No, you would try again to poison me, to see me suffer and die slowly."
John noticed that what had begun as merely a drily stated deduction had ended with Sherlock's voice almost trembling and having become somewhat shrill.
"And you have run into my open arms, Mr Holmes. Welcome to your death!" a woman with a rather dark voice, which told of too much alcohol or smoking over the years, replied. There was a brief pause; then she went on.
"What a lucky incident it was that you were so successful and actually becoming famous. That made it so much easier for me to get hold of you. To take revenge - eventually!"
Sherlock's voice was dangerously low when he spat out his reply and John was wondering whether it was from suppressed anger or exhaustion, both equally likely. He only hoped that his flatmate wouldn't collapse as his physical state still wasn't good enough for running around and catching killers.
"Your father has already taken revenge!"
"You escaped - heaven knows how. My father was an idiot. And still, you had no right to just kill him!"
"Agreed, your father was an idiot, just as you are. For the record, he was the one who abducted me, tortured me. It wasn't me who killed him! None of this was my fault! I - was a CHILD!"
Sherlock's voice was unnaturally loud and John took the opportunity to make his first steps up the staircase, very slowly, very cautiously and very painfully, leaving his crutches behind. Mycroft was out of sight.
"But it was your family! You destroyed my family and I'll destroy yours! How unfortunate, your brother is so hard to get hold of!"
"Should make you think."
Sherlock seemed to speak between gritted teeth, but still loudly enough for John to understand. The voices were echoing from the stone and tile walls. Incredibly slowly he mounted stair after stair.
"Haha! I will get him, one day or the other. I have my whole life; - but you - and this woman here - you have nothing anymore. Nothing. No life. Enjoy your last minutes for the pain, that horrible pain, will soon get you and you will die in inexplicable agony."
The Consulting Detective's voice was a bit calmer and firmer now.
Again, there was a pause and John could imagine an expression of surprise on the woman's face in view of such a plain but recalcitrant reply.
"What makes you so sure you won't?"
"You chose the wrong place." Sherlock stated matter-of-factly.
Wrong place? John wondered. If the woman was about to poison Sherlock and Molly with Tabun, the place simply didn't matter.
"What?" the woman shrieked, laughing madly.
"Yes, wrong place. The idea of choosing a chemical factory wasn't all too bad, admittedly, but as if to prove your utter ignorance of chemistry in general and Tabun in particular, you chose a factory that produced bleaching powder. Everywhere there's bleaching powder. The floor is covered in it, it's in the air, everywhere!"
"Bleaching powder?!" she probed, still laughing, but a slight undertone of doubt was creeping into her voice.
"Bleaching powder, chlorinated lime. Rings a bell?" Sherlock had now fully regained his steady voice.
There was a pause, after which the Consulting Detective spoke again.
"Oh, that's as stupid as it can get! You want to poison me with Tabun - for your revenge - in a factory full of bleaching powder, the substance that instantly neutralizes your bloody nerve agent!" he spat. "It's useless, utterly useless! Hahaha!"
Sherlock's laughter sounded malicious, and to John's concern even a tad hysterical. He hadn't paid any attention to the "dust" on the floor so far, but now he only hoped that Sherlock was right. And still, if the woman wasn't an utter moron, she would most likely have any other kind of weapon. The danger had not yet been banned.
There was no spoken reaction from the woman.
"Ignorance is dangerous. And now it's you who's in danger, because this… is my revenge!"
Sherlock's voice sent a shiver down John's spine as it was cold as ice and alarmingly determined. Revenge. This was all about Sherlock's reprisal and obviously Mycroft knew it! Sherlock on a campaign of revenge - the realization slowly sank into John's mind. The extent to which the memories of his captivity were really troubling the otherwise self-proclaimed unemotional Consulting Detective was a true shock to his flatmate. The question was, however, what his flatmate's means of retribution would be? He didn't have the gun and it was unlikely that he would have got one from someone else, so what could he use?
Oh! Of course! the doctor realised. The weapon that was absolutely suitable for his revenge and that he felt entirely familiar with would be a chemical one, too. John, fearing that in this state of agitation, Sherlock could react impetuously, taking the risk of poisoning himself in order to just carry out his counterblow, tried to ignore the searing pain in his leg and more or less pulled himself up the stairs. Just a few more steps to go.
"Haha! Your revenge," the woman mocked. You're not even armed! If I can't poison you then I'll just shoot you. As easy as that."
"No you won't." That was Mycroft's voice.
"Mycroft Holmes!" the woman jubilated. "Welcome! How lucky I am today. Both Holmes brothers here in front of me, and, as it seems, both entirely defenceless; how very fortunate!"
"I wouldn't rely on that, if I were you," Mycroft suggested and received a giggle as a response.
John wondered why the woman was still so calm after Mycroft had shown up. Either she was really insane, which was quite likely, or she didn't know about his position in the British Government, which was rather unlikely, going by the fact that if Moriarty was involved, she would have got sufficient information from him. Normally, Mycroft Holmes showing up anywhere where there was peril meant a whole army right at his tail. That in this case it was different, she couldn't know, unless…. Moriarty was of the same opinion as he himself: that Mycroft would try to keep his forces out due to a desire to keep his name clear and his position secure.
"What are you doing here?!" Sherlock asked, the disapproval clearly audible in his voice.
"Just checking on your well-being, little brother."
"I'm perfectly fine, Mycroft. And anyway, keep out of my business!" he hissed.
Oh, well, John thought, this sounded pretty much like the start to all the banters they normally had, so this was very likely to develop into one if they weren't interrupted. Depending on the woman's reaction to it, she would most probably be distracted enough for him to forget a bit about the caution and to climb the rest of the stairs more quickly. He could see the door to the room everything took place in standing ajar. The white light that shone through the chink looked like an invitation to hell.
"I don't see how you want to get out of here without my help. You're standing here at gunpoint, in case you haven't noticed."
"Did John call you? Argh! He should really reconsider his attitude towards loyalty these days!" Sherlock replied rather angrily and John frowned about the implied accusation.
"There's absolutely ... nothing wrong with his loyalty ... loyalty towards you, quite on the contrary. He's still sitting ... at home, resting his leg, watching crap ... telly and waiting for you to show up!"
John had nearly reached the door. He felt uncomfortable about having become the subject of the brotherly skirmish. Drawing the woman's attention to him wasn't all too clever. He only hoped that she believed in Mycroft's tale about him. The latter, however, seemed to be distracted by something as it was entirely unusual for him to make pauses in the middle of a sentence and his voice sounded slightly strange.
"Oh, boys!" the woman called them. "As nice as it is to see you both here, united, I have business to attend to. So shut up! - Mr Holmes, Sherlock, I'm curious about your revenge. Tell me more about it!"
There was no talking in the room
at the moment and John wondered about what was going on in there. A
second before he reached the door, he heard a moan followed by a thud.
The voice had been male, but he couldn't say whether it had been
Sherlock's or Mycroft's - or somebody else's. There hadn't been a shot
or any other suspicious noise. What the hell was going on? The laughter,
however, that followed the short period of silence, was venomous - and