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Between Frontlines

By TheLadyofPurpletown

Drama / Thriller

Chapter 1

Lieutenant Morstan looked around the small pub. It wasn't really a pub, but that was how homesick British soldiers had decided to classify the small unlicensed bar in what used to be private residence in the village of Maiwand.

She, like the rest of the patrons, was stationed at the base barely a mile to the north. When they were off duty there were two options: sleep or go to 'the Pub'. Well, at least for most of them. A few lucky bastards got special leave to go to Kandahar for a couple of days. Important bastards, like the medical personnel they all depended on.
She did not begrudge them, but as she sat waiting for her mate to arrive, she didn't know if she was dreading or anticipating hearing about his weekend 'on the town'.
As the door opened, too bright daylight flooded the small dusty room. She recognised the silhouette and waved.
With a wide grin, John walked towards her and kissed her cheek. "Hey there. Missed me, Morstan?"

"Every moment apart was agony, Watson," she teased, and handed him a beer. "You look inordinately smug. I take it things went well with your little... What was she? A nurse?"

He chuckled. "Yes, it was fun. But I bet things were even more exciting around here." He tilted his head in the direction of the door.

She sighed. "As exciting as usual. Two minor skirmishes, a couple of scraped knees and one split lip. You wouldn't have had anything to do, even if you had been here." Then she paused and raised an eyebrow. "Are you deflecting, Watson?"

"I wouldn't dare, and I don't see a reason either. Let's just say I haven't seen much of the town apart from a certain bed in it." He looked smug and put his beer to his lips.

"I knew it." She snorted. "She was all over you when she was down here." She sipped her own beer. "So what did it take? Just a 'hello' or did you have to buy her dinner first?"

"Trying to find out how to protect yourself against my charms?" John asked, looking amused.

"No," she laughed outright. "But I'm not exactly getting any action in this place. At least not of the good kind. So I have to live vicariously through you. Hell... If I had the chance I'd probably have shagged her too, I'm that desperate."

"Oh, you didn't have to be desperate to do that, have you seen her?" he laughed. 

"Yeah," Mary laughed. "Not really my type. Nice girl though."
"But you're right that it wasn't too difficult. At least not for me." He winked and downed his beer.

She raised her own beer in a mock salute. "Oh you are quite a piece of work, aren't you? No one can resist the great Captain John Watson. Army doctor extraordinaire. A woman in every city, right?"
"And not just on one continent," John shrugged, smiling, before ordering two other pints.

"Of course not. I would hardly expect that you haven't done a fair bit of shagging back home." She chuckled.
"Yeah. And then I've travelled a bit as a student..." 

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow again. "Do tell."

John chuckled. "I'm sure you get the idea about what happened." Still, he was happy to tell the whole story, and they kept exchanging experiences during quite a few more beers, before they realised it was getting late and they caught a ride back to the base.

As John entered his room in the barracks, he turned on his laptop . The few days in the city had the disadvantage that he had to leave his possessions, and although he doubted there would be any messages from home - Harry always had better things to do than mailing her brother to keep him up to date - he thought it was better to check his mail anyway. To his surprise, there were two actual messages for him. One was from an old friend, asking the usual stuff about how life was in Afghanistan. He didn't recognize the other sender's name and only opened the mail after sending a quick answer to his friend.

***

To: Capt. J. Watson
Subject: Col. S. Moran
I was referred to you by doctor Stamford at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, regarding a former member of your unit. I have been made to understand that you may have first hand knowledge of the incidents prior to the dishonourable discharge of Colonel Moran earlier this year.
I need as much detail as you can provide.
S. Holmes.

***

John frowned at the email and started typing an answer.

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: Col. S. Moran

Mr. Holmes,

What happened with Colonel Moran lies behind us. I don't know why this information is of importance to you and maybe it's politer to introduce yourself first anyway.

Say hi to Mike Stamford from me. It's been quite a while. Are you a friend of his?

Kind regards,

John Watson

***

With an incredulous shake of his head, he shut down his computer. Then he undressed and went to bed.


"Do you know anyone who is called Sherlock Holmes?" 

"No," Mary frowned as she sipped her tea. "That's a funny name."

"Yeah, so I thought. Maybe it's false," John mused. "He sent me a mail. Well, I suppose it's a he. Asked about Sebastian Moran."  

Mary shivered slightly. "That creep? Why would anyone want to know anything about him?"

John shrugged. "I don't know. He wasn't extremely polite about asking either. I didn't tell him anything."

"You should find out why he wants to know. He could be a mate of Moran's. Snooping for him."
"That's what I thought. How does he even know about the situation?" John frowned.

She considered for a moment. "Well, he has been back in England for a couple of months. He could have been talking about it. Or maybe he's applied for some kind of job and they're checking up on him." She snorted. "Can you imagine him in any kind of civilian job?"

"I can't even imagine a sentence that contains both him and 'civilian'," John said, wrinkling his nose. "What he did was inhumane."

"And disgusting," she shivered. "Let's talk about something more pleasant. I hear Carter's stump is becoming infected."

John snorted. "Don't believe everything you hear. I'm sure Dr. Sacker has it under control."

"Right." She chuckled. "Are you coming with us on recon today? I always feel more safe when I know you're the one who'll patch me up if disaster strikes."
John smiled. "Yeah, wouldn't want to miss it."


As John put away his rifle, he was smiling. To his and Mary's frustration, nothing special had happened during the recon. The young private who had been with them on the other hand, had been so nervous that the softest chirp had made him jump. Without thinking much, he put on his laptop, and he only remembered the previous email when he clicked his mailbox open.

***
To: Capt J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran
Doctor Stamford is an acquaintance of mine. I am investigating S. Moran in connection with a situation that has arisen around his new employer. Would you be willing to answer some questions or could you direct me to someone who would?
S. Holmes

***

Well, he and Mary had been right about that. Still, it was all too vague to know if he could tell that mysterious Holmes anything.

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Mr. Holmes,

I think I can give you some answers, but I still need a little more information. After all we don't know a thing about each other and considering Colonel Moran's history, anyone could be asking this for any reason. I hope you understand.

John Watson

***

He pressed 'send' and waited a little, hoping to be able to tell Mary a little more the next day.

The answer came almost immediately.

***

To: Capt J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran
Examine my website, then contact me.
http://www.thescienceofdeduction.co.uk/
S. Holmes

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

I'm not quite sure that is more reassuring. So you're a detective? Identifying an airline pilot by his left thumb? Not sure I believe you.

Anyway, ask your questions and I'll see what I can do.

John Watson

***

To: Capt. J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

How well did you know Col. Moran prior to the incidents?
S. Holmes

***

John sighed. On the other hand, if the detective thought he had been a friend of Moran, he could imagine he wouldn't trust him right away either.

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Personally I didn't know him very well. Had heard some people complain about him, mainly my female colleagues. But it seemed like he was doing his job just fine, until we discovered what was really happening.

John Watson

***

To: Capt. J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

What kind of complaints?
S. Holmes

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

How much do you already know about what he did?

John Watson

***

To: Capt. J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Assume I know nothing. If your information is coloured by what you think I expect, it will be useless to me.
S. Holmes

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Let's just say he never showed much respect to women. I'm not sure he realised the meaning of a 'no'. Not surprising if you look at what they found out about him afterwards. We still don't understand how he only got discharged instead of ending up in prison. Maybe you have an explanation?

John Watson

***

To: Capt. J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

How far did he go? Prior to the incidents that led to his dismissal?
S. Holmes

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Nothing that got him discharged. Don't know what exactly he did, but there weren't any registered complaints before. Just everyone thinking he was a creep.

I'd really like a proper explanation why you are asking all this though. If there's anything urgent, then ask it right away. It's getting late.

John Watson

***

To: Capt. J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

I am investigating his employer. I need to know which of Moran's actions are caused by his own drives and which are done according to orders.
S. Holmes

***

John nodded at his screen. He would tell Mary this, but now he really needed some sleep. For a moment he hesitated if he should say something about leaving, but on the other hand, Sherlock hadn't been that polite either.


The next time John got to check his mails was almost 36 hours later. He had only had a few hours sleep in the morning, and the night before had brought him a lot of work and soldiers to patch up. He had almost forgotten about Sherlock, and couldn't help an annoyed grunt as he read his new message.

***

To: Capt. J. Watson
Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Am I to take your lack of response as a sign that you are unwilling to help me?
If not, please let me know if Col. Moran in your opinion ever took pleasure in causing pain and/or if he ever caused unnecessary pain or damage to an enemy.
S. Holmes

***

To: Sherlock Holmes
Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Had a hell of a day and night, so I couldn't answer any sooner.

I think the reason why Moran got discharged made clear he took pleasure in it. I mean, I can't imagine it, but you need to be a sick bastard to even think of it.

Don't know about the enemy. Like I told you, I never worked that closely with him

John

***

To: Capt. J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Am I correct in assuming that you were one of the officers involved in uncovering Moran's crimes? I would like to know more.
S. Holmes

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

Yes, you are. Maybe it's easier if we switch to chat so you can ask your questions more quickly. I don't have that much time.

John

***
To: Capt. J. Watson
Re: re: Col. S. Moran

That is a sensible suggestion. Do you have the time for it now or should we make an appointment?
S. Holmes

***

To: Sherlock Holmes

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

I guess I have time now, if it doesn't take hours.

John

**

To: Capt. J. Watson

Re: re: Col. S. Moran

I suppose that depends on what you can tell me.

http://us12.chatzy.com/55338402919586

S. Holmes.

***

HOLMES started the chat

HOLMES sent out invitation(s)

Watson joined the chat

HOLMES: Tell me what happened when you discovered Moran's crimes.

Watson: We were doing a patrol and one of the houses simply was too quiet, so we checked the basement. Moran was standing there, but there was no question of him just having arrived earlier. He was still holding the knife with which one of the victims had been cut and the fear in their eyes told a lot.

HOLMES: How many victims were there? What was their age and gender? What condition were they in?

Watson: There were 4 of them. 3 men and a woman, all between 25 and 40, although I don't know their exact ages. They were alive. Healing from older injuries. One had been shot in the leg and then been taken care of.

HOLMES: Taken care of by Moran? Or the other captives?

Watson: Moran. The others wouldn't have had the equipment since they were kept there.

HOLMES: In your opinion, did he care for their wounds out of kindness or just to make his victims last longer?

Watson: He was the one who inflicted them, so why would he suddenly show kindness?

HOLMES: That is one of the things I am trying to find out. What had been done to them? You mentioned gunshot. Had they been hit? You said he was holding his knife when you found him. Had he used it on them before?

Watson: Yes, we're pretty sure the gun wound in the victim's leg was also his work.

HOLMES: Any broken bones? Areas of skin cut off?

Watson: Strange you ask. His female victim missed rather large parts of skin and had scars of earlier defacements. No broken bones. Did he make more victims in the UK?

Watson: Why didn't they lock him up in the first place?

HOLMES: He is suspected of hurting people like this in the UK, yes. The reason he has not been locked up is complicated.

Watson: I really don't understand. After doing all that he just gets the chance to start all over?

HOLMES: It is a bit of a mystery. But it seems he is under the protection of someone very influential.

Watson: And crazy, if they want to protect him.

HOLMES: That part is quite certain. What I do not yet know is whether Moran was working for this person when he was in Afghanistan and how many of his current actions are the carrying out of orders and how much is his own sadistic tendencies. Were his victims sexually assaulted?

Watson: The victims didn't want to talk about it when I examined them, but some traces seemed to point in that direction.

HOLMES: Were there any other kinds of abuse, or important details we have not yet discussed?

Watson: Let me think for a moment.

Watson: Maybe Moran's reaction when we 'caught' him. We had seen what was happening when we entered so it wasn't like he could deny anything, but still it was striking how calmly he let us lead him away, like he was accepting his fate, whatever it was.

HOLMES: That does indeed indicate that he knew at the time, that he would be protected from the consequences of his actions. Or it could be an indication of psychopathic traits. Did he seem proud of or indifferent to what he had done?

Watson: Indifferent. Just walking along as if it were an everyday thing. It was disgusting.

HOLMES: I see. This has been very helpful. I believe it may be what was needed to solve my case.

Watson: Glad to help with anything against that bastard running around freely.

HOLMES left the chat

***

John pulled up his eyebrows at the screen. Great, so he could provide information and Holmes would leave him without even a thank you. Who did he think he was? But on the other hand, he could at least hope that the detective would find enough evidence against Moran to have him locked up this time.

He switched off his laptop and got up to find Mary.

Mary was fuming when he found her. "I am this close to knocking that idiot's head clean off his shoulders," she huffed, pacing the grounds outside her barracks.

John frowned. "Who are you talking about?"

"That nitwit, Private Jenkins. He nearly got himself shot to bits, just charging in as if it was some damn video game." She was trembling both from rage and shock as she slumped down on one of the wooden benches next to the building. "Luckily, the enemy was so startled we had time to cover him and get him back to safety, but two seconds more and he would have been perforated."

"Ah. But everyone's okay?" John asked, friendly putting a hand on her shoulder as he sat down next to her.

"No thanks to him." She leaned a little into the touch. "But the fight turned pretty ugly. We had to shoot three of them. They were hardly more than boys, and had gotten so worked up by his actions, that they refused to listen to reason."

John sighed. "Sorry to hear that," he said. "Still, speaking of idiots you could as well have meant Sherlock Holmes."

"Your new pen pal?" she teased, smiling a little.

John snorted. "Even too impolite to thank me for information about the whole Moran situation. Who does he think he is anyway?"

She laughed. "How did it go? 'Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective'? That's what his homepage said, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, still don't know what to think about it," John said with a shrug. "His questions were... pretty specific. It was like I was there again, telling it all."

She shuddered. "It was so horrible. I don't think I could bear reliving it like that. Even if it meant that bastard finally getting what he deserves."

"I hope he will. Somehow Sherlock sounded rather reliable on that point. Still, that doesn't take away the fact that he seems a bit of a bastard himself."

"They can't all be through and through good guys, John," she said as she looked him in the eyes, smiling. "You are pretty unique on that point."

John chuckled. "Not sure everyone thinks so, but thanks."

"They do, John," she said, suddenly serious. "I know you don't think so yourself, but you are truly a good man."

John smiled, humbly looking down. "You're not so bad yourself."

"Gee thanks, Casanova," she teased. "Just what a lady longs to hear."

John grinned. "I wasn't trying to flirt with you. You know I'd be more effective at that. At least now you know that I mean what I'm saying."

"Well, I guess that explains why you have never tried flirting with me. You honestly think that I am just 'not so bad'." She sighed dramatically.

John playfully bumped her shoulder. "You know what I mean."

She bumped back a little harder. "Yes. That I am your mate. That I am 'one of the guys' that you can drink with and talk about your conquests on three different continents."

"It is nice that way, isn't it?" he asked, scanning her face as he absentmindedly touched the sore spot on his upper arm.

"Oh yes, very," Mary said sarcastically, rolling her eyes. "My lifelong ambition: to be the army buddy of a good looking decent bloke."

John looked her in the eyes with a small frown. "I love having you as my friend, Mary. You know how it goes with those girls." He tilted his head a little as if he were indicating them. "It never lasts longer than a few days."

She laughed. "Oh John, I'm not looking to have a relationship with you. I just mean that sometimes it would be nice to be seen as a woman and not just a soldier. To see that particular spark in your eyes that says 'I could do her'." She blushed a little. "Listen to me... A real feminist, eh?"

John laughed too, but it was a little uncomfortable. "Are you saying we should... I mean... I mean, I know it gets lonely here, but still I think we shouldn't rush into anything. Our friendship is worth more than that."

She shrugged. "Maybe you're right. But I'd rather ease the loneliness with a bloke I like and care about, than with some random soldier I pick up at the Pub or something."

John licked his lips, shifting a little. "Wouldn't it be weird? We've known each other for quite a while."

"Yes, you're probably right. It is a stupid idea. Forget I said anything."

John put a hand on her arm. "That's not what I'm saying. It's just that we should think about this, before we do anything we might regret later."

"If we think about it, you know it won't happen," she said, moving to get up. "I'm tired, John. I think I'll get some sleep while I can."

John looked up at her, hesitating. "Yeah, alright."

"See you around, John," she said as she left.

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