Crucial

22 December, 2016

PRESENT: Thursday, 22 December, 2016

"Sherlock? Sherlock, can you hear me? I'm on the tube. No signal!"

Silence. "...ary? Where are y..." Silence. "...ohn? Are you all r..."

"I just left the clinic, and I'm on my way to Baker Street now. If you need something, text me and I'll get it when I resurface." John didn't wait for a response before he disconnected the call. That it had rung through in the first place was no small miracle, but there really was no point in trying to continue the conversation.

Rubbing his thumb over the face of the mobile in his left hand, John drummed the fingers of his right hand on his knee.

Worrisome.

That was putting it mildly. Sherlock never called unless it was important.

Urgent.

It had sounded like he was asking after Mary, which wasn't all that unusual. What well and truly set him on edge was the fact that Sherlock Holmes had asked if he was all right. Unless he had evidence to the contrary, Sherlock seemed to operate under the general expectation that John was, in fact, all right.

Sherlock was seldom wrong. Not when it came to John. The same was true in the reverse of course, but Sherlock hadn't been the one to receive the package the day before.


YESTERDAY: Wednesday, 21 December, 2016

John had brushed it off as an old military acquaintance playing a joke. It wasn't funny, but still. No reason for alarm.

Sherlock disagreed vehemently. John was in danger, and if John were actually being honest and not trying to hide behind his blasted soldier stoicism, he'd admit to the same.

Mary mused out loud that it seemed to her Sherlock and John always just knew instinctively when the other was in harm's way.

John supposed it was because they knew each other's habits and tendencies so well; Sherlock knew how John was likely to react to any given situation, and how others tended to react to John. John knew the same of Sherlock. Any variance would be glaringly obvious.

Sherlock had congratulated John on that valiant, though overly simplified, attempt to understand the process. He launched into a complex explanation of observational techniques, John's emotional state on the day in question, and the probability of threat in relation to environmental factors and the amount of time that had passed since the previous threat. Of course, one must also make allowance for the fact that risk increased with the addition of individuals to John's social hierarchy (exempli gratia: one Mary Morstan-Watson).

Mary laughed at them both for saying exactly the same thing, in their own unique ways, and called them idiots. John huffed and conceded; they really were being idiots. This whole matter was idiotic. Sherlock flashed a glare of frustration at John, then turned to Mary and pouted, fixing his precision if-you're-so-smart-then-you-explain-it look on her.

Mary always obliged.

It was simple really, Mary reasoned. They were Sherlock and John. It was as if their connection was intuitive. They were meant to be soul mates (both men had lapsed into mock grossed-out-six-year-old mode with groans, exclamations of "blech," and horribly contorted faces), which did notimply anything sexual or otherwise by any means. Theirs was a relationship built on mutual respect, trust, kinship, brotherhood, and love (oh, do calm down boys). When a connection between two people is so strong, sometimes one just knows what the other is in need of. And, if either of them cared to know, she was just fine with the fact that in their little trio, it was Sherlock and John who were the soul mates. She was just happy to be allowed in, to be a part of something bigger than any of them as individuals.

Add Greg and Molly (yes, yes, she supposed Mycroft had his merits as well), and it was an embarrassment of riches as far as Mary was concerned. But that was beside the point.

"My boys. You worry too much." Mary stood from her perch on the arm of John's chair. "I'll make tea, and then together we'll make a plan."

She leaned down, patted Sherlock's cheek tenderly and then kissed his cheek. There was genuine concern in his eyes as he looked past her at John. So distracted was he that he didn't even wipe the residual lip gloss off his cheek. Using the pad of her thumb, Mary did it for him. Sherlock disliked the manufactured citrus tang it left behind.

Mary turned and performed the same ritual on John. Pat, pat. Kiss on the cheek. Sometimes John would try to steal a kiss, and they would bump noses and giggle. He refrained. It seemed important that everyone in the room knew they were cared for equally, so he let Mary carry out her affectionate ministrations, though he smiled up at her with his eyes. John never wiped the lip gloss away. He liked the way the sunny hint of lemon reminded him of the brightness that was Mary.

When Mary returned with the tea, arranged with precision on the tray, she wasn't surprised to find the two men still sitting in silence. John was watching her, a lopsided, closed lip smile on his face. She smiled back as she handed him his mug. Sherlock sat stark still, staring in John's direction, but not seeing him as he was lost in thought, with three fingers of his left hand pressed to the spot where Mary had kissed his cheek.

"Sherlock?" Mary held his tea out to him. He was slow to respond, but eventually took the cup and nodded his thanks. Mary dropped a cushion from the couch on the floor between the two chairs and sat to the right of John's knees, leaning back on the arm of his chair.

"So, what does it all mean?" She indicated with a lift of her chin the padded envelope resting on Sherlock's knee.

"It's from a man I met in Afghanistan. An American. Marine." Here John reached across and picked up the envelope. "A Private First Class. His unit got pinned down by a car bomb. We were the closest medical unit, so they were brought to us for triage. He wasn't wounded fatally, just needed some stitches. Physically, he was clear to return to combat."

John paused, lost momentarily in the memories. Mary gently nudged his knee with her shoulder. "Right." He cleared his throat. "Mentally, that was another matter altogether. As the lead medical officer, I had to make a decision. The report I filed went directly to his commanding officer. And it wasn't good."

Very carefully John pulled the contents of the package out. There was a Christmas card. Standard glossy card stock. From a big name retailer. The image on the front was a ridiculous illustration of Father Christmas reclined in front of a fireplace, and the wall behind him was lined with the heads of all the reindeer mounted for display. Jolly Saint Nick was using the mounted head of Rudolph as a reading lamp.

"A hunting aficionado from Alabama. Pfc. Klein's weapon of choice was a 12 gauge shotgun. The U.S. Marine Corps allow for the use of shotguns in close combat, in urban settings. They aren't too effective at long range, but at close range they are very effective at stopping a target, and require some real skill." John held the card up and tapped the picture on the front.

"Small talk. That’s how it started. I commented on his accent, asked him about home, his hobbies. Trying to distract him while I worked. He talked a lot about hunting, and how those skills carried over to being a Marine. And then he got..." With a shudder, John scrubbed his free hand over his face. "Klein was angry about the attack, of course. His unit had lost a few men, and several more were to be sent home because of their injuries. He figured it was his job to avenge them, and he was going to do it his way."

With a wary look to Sherlock, John continued. "His plan was to execute as many Afghan people as he could; men, women or children, they were all guilty as far as he was concerned. Close range shotgun blast, followed by field dressing - not the kind of field dressing an army medic does either, but the kind a wild game hunter employs, cutting the kill open bottom to top and removing all the organs to drain the blood - and then the mounting of heads."

Not much by way of criminal intent surprised Sherlock Holmes. To his credit, he was unable to completely mask the impact John’s words had. There was true horror reflected in his eyes, and the corners of his mouth ticked downward in disgust.

For her part, Mary had blanched at the description, and leaned closely into John's calf. He couldn’t see her face because she kept her head bowed to hide her response.

"I had to report it. He was subjected to mental evaluations, all of which he failed. He was medically discharged not too long after." John shrugged. "I never gave him a second thought. He only ever reached out to me one other time."

Sherlock's head shot up in shock. "This isn't the first? Idiot. Why didn't you mention this? Why is this the first time I'm hearing about this man?"

John huffed a laugh. "God, it was so long ago. Right after I was officially invalided. I was back in London and received a forwarded bundle of mail that had been sent to me at the military hospital. In it was a card from Klein. Kind of disturbing I guess, but at the time I just thought it was a bit of a sympathy thing, from one discharged vet to another. It was a simple postcard. The front was a comic book villain and the heads of super heroes mounted on the wall behi... Oh." He glanced down at the card he held, which he promptly handed to Sherlock when the tremor in his hand started.

"What was the inscription, John?" Sherlock asked. There was no compassion in his voice; the consulting detective had stepped into case mode and was all detached deductions and cold calculations. "Be as precise as possible."

"'Too bad.'"

"Excuse me?" Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John.

"That's all he wrote. 'Too bad,' and then he signed his name. No return address either. I remember thinking that was odd. Hmm." John furled his brow.

"What else? There's something else." Leaning slightly forward, Sherlock urged his friend on.

"I remember it wasn't a regular postcard. You know that heavy paper with the glossy front. It was card stock, and it looked like it had been printed on a home printer. So I guess he made it himself. Don't see how that applies." John sipped at his tea.

"Do you still have the card?" Sherlock's eyes gleamed with excitement.

"Oh well, of course. Let me just go fetch it from the box with the pictures of my dead mates and my metals, yeah?" John deadpanned. "God Sherlock, no I didn't keep it. It was disturbing, so I threw it away."

Sherlock crossed his arms over his chest, and slumped back into his chair with a petulant sigh. "Observation: You can recall the print and paper quality of a postcard you disposed of nearly seven years ago, yet you could not remember the simple components for an experiment I requested on your last outing to the market."

"I'm a doctor, Sherlock. Of course I bloody recognized the components needed for cooking meth for God's sake! I knew full well your experimentwas to see how quickly I'd be approached about my questionable purchases!" John growled between clenched teeth, "There's a big difference between forgetting and self preservation."

With a giggle, Mary patted John's bare foot. She looked up at John with a grin. "I told him you wouldn't fall for it."

John cocked an eyebrow at her in surprise. "Oh, you did, did you? So I'm being ganged up on now? I still blame you for showing him that program on the telly. I told you it was a bad idea." The corner of his mouth quirked up into a tiny smile.

Sherlock cleared his throat. "Back to the matter at hand. John. What do you make of the inscription on this card?"

The inside of the card had nothing printed in it. The sender had hand written the inscription.

He sees you when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

"Well that's a bit macabre now, isn't it?" Mary shifted to pull her knees closer to her chest.

"Wha..." John exhaled in frustration. "It's a children's Christmas carol. A fairy story!"

"Or the manifesto of a deranged stalker-turned-hunter declaring his sinister intent." Sherlock's severe tone made it clear that John's flippant attitude was not appreciated, nor would it be tolerated. John rolled his eyes in response. "And what of this?" Sherlock pointed at the scrawled letters. "KKK? You said he's American, from a southern state."

"That's a dubious leap, even for you. It's nothing so obvious as all that, Sherlock." Clearly enjoying the fact that he knew something Sherlock hadn't yet deduced, John grinned. "Those are his initials. Khristopher (with a K) Kellan Klein. That his initials are KKK proves nothing other than the fact that his parents are apparently sadists who hate their son. I remember he went by Kel, because Khristopher with a K is just ridiculous." Sherlock huffed at the explanation. Dull.

"And what's that little bundle?" Turning to look up at John, Mary pointed to the other item he had pulled from the envelope.

It appeared to be a sachet, of the sort one would stash in a sock drawer, or hang in their closet, in an effort to infuse their garments with a lovely, fresh scent. Rather than sandalwood, lilac or vanilla potpourri wrapped in delicate lace and tied with satin ribbon, this sachet was cut from canvas cloth resembling military camouflage, tied up with thin scarlet cording, and its contents were weighty and rattled when shaken. Very carefully, John unwound the cord and emptied the mysterious items into his cupped palm. "Oh God," he breathed as the color drained from his face. He held his hand down for Mary to see. She looked back at him, her brow creased. John gingerly tipped the contents into Sherlock's waiting hand.

"Fascinating!" Sherlock exclaimed as he examined the tiny metallic orbs.

Incredulous, John narrowed his eyes at his friend. "You know what those are?"

Pulling his magnifier from his pocket, Sherlock took his time evaluating the little spheres. "Seems too small to be a standard ball bearing, though not impossible." He clicked the magnifier closed and shoved it back into his pocket. Sherlock looked from the objects he held in his hand to John. The camouflage fabric that had made up the bundle caught his eye and he froze in place as his mind set to work making connections only he could make.

"There are a style of beads of Czech origin referred to as pips; while these particular beads do not appear to have the standard holes necessary for traditional beading work, there are types of bead work where the beads, or pips, are connected with intricate wire designs. I believe these to be those sort of pips. There are five, all of the same metallic composition. With further testing, I can break down the exact elemental structure. Five pips. Officers of the British military wear the insignia of their office on the shoulder boards of their uniforms. The little metal pins are also called pips. John, as a captain, you would have had a total of six pips on your uniform, correct?"

"Yes. But he didn't send six, only five. I think you're overthinking this. Kel, though demented, never really seemed the type to go to all that symbolic effort. I actually..."

"Please, John. These beads mean something. Your clear military connection to Klein makes the likelihood of a reference to your rank, or his ill feelings towards you because of his discharge, the most viable explanation."

"I agree with you on that," with a nod John held out his hand to Sherlock. Reluctantly the consulting detective surrendered the problematic spheres. "Your deduction is, simply put, too poetic for the likes of Pfc. Khristopher K. Klein. If he were a criminal the likes of Moriarty, who appreciated the beauty of complexity and intelligence, maybe. But he's not. This is Kel, whose passion is killing things and putting them on display. This," John held out his hand, "there is nothing poetic about this. These are not beads. They aren't pips. Nor are they ball bearings. These are large game pellets."

Stunned silent, Mary and Sherlock both stared at John. "You know, buckshot? Kel hunts with a 12 gauge shotgun. A standard 12 gauge cartridge can usually hold about nine pellets of this size, but depending on the cartridge up to 18. It's effective on larger game, or in situations of self defense and urban combat, buckshot is particularly damaging at a close range. When the gun is fired, the pellets spread out from each other, and just tear into whatever it is they're aimed at. The resulting wounds are... nasty. Where a single bullet punctures, buckshot rips and tears. I would have guessed you would recognize buckshot Mary."

Eyes wide, Mary nodded. "I suspected that's what it was. But I... what does it mean? I don't think I like the implications of this."

"A card depicting a morbid tableau disguised as a holiday joke. A veiled threat hidden within a children's song. Buckshot wrapped up in military camouflage and tied with cord the color of blood. Isn't it obvious what message the sender intended to tell John?" Sherlock stood from his chair and began pacing the sitting room.

"Do you think the number of pellets means anything specific?" John asked, suddenly feeling bone weary. He examined the envelope and a theory materialized, a thought he'd rather not vocalize. Best to wait for Sherlock. The doctor shifted in his chair; Mary patted his foot once more, though her eyes carefully followed Sherlock's erratic movements.

"Five. Five pellets. Why five? Five..." Sherlock's mad pacing ground to a halt in front of a stack of bills on the table. He picked up the stack, and shuffled through the pages, tossing them to the side haphazardly until something in the stack caused him to freeze in place. He unceremoniously discarded the whole lot of pages in the general direction of the table (most never reached their intended target) as he spun around to face John and Mary, a single envelope presented for their inspection. "The post date."

There was a full minute of labored silence as John and Sherlock stared at one another. Mary glanced between the two, wondering if perhaps they weren't communicating by telepathy.

"Tomorrow, then." With a quick glance back at the envelope in his own hand, John sighed in resignation. Sherlock's eyes were bright with the delight that John had put the pieces together until the full realization of what the puzzle revealed struck him, and his shoulders slumped ever so slightly as he dropped into his chair.

"Anyone care to elaborate for the unenlightened?" The question was posed as a joke, but Mary's tone reflected deep concern.

Holding the envelope down for Mary to see, John pointed to the post date. "Tomorrow's five days since the package was posted. Five pellets, five days. Incredibly decent of him, don't you think? Giving advance notice he was coming to exact his revenge."

"This was sent from the States, though. Even first class airmail, how could he be certain you'd get it within five days? Especially so close to the holidays and the increased mail volume?" Letting her fingers brush gently against John's, Mary took the envelope and studied the post mark for herself.

"He couldn't know for a certainty. Not that it would have hindered his plans at all. I suspect the date December 22 holds some special meaning for Mr. Klein." Sherlock looked to John expectantly.

"What? How should I know? I remember the car bomb was sometime just after the new year, so that's not it. And it's not the date I was shot," John reflexively reached for his left shoulder. "Maybe he just wanted to get it done and be home before Christmas. You know, miss the holiday rush at the airport?" He snickered at his joke. Nobody else found the statement funny; he was met with two sets of furled brows, narrowed eyes and pursed lips.

Even the skull on the mantle glared at him in distaste.

"Oh, what?" John scoffed. "This is precisely the sort of thing we face on a weekly basis. One of us is always in some sort of peril at any given time. Only this go around, we know when it's going to happen. I'm ex-military, I know I can match Kel for anything he throws at me. Mary, you're anassassin for God's sake, quite an accomplished one at that. And you," he motioned to Sherlock, "you're always three steps ahead of everyone anyway. Not to mention all the ridiculous hand-to-hand fighting styles you know. I'd say between the three of us, four after I call Greg, we've got this situation handled."

Mary looked up at him with a plastered on saccharine smile that didn't quite shine genuine. "John. Darling..."

John raised both hands to silence her. "Ah, no. Nope. We're not doing that. No pet names," he fixed a determined look on Sherlock, who glared back in like, "no vatican cameos protocol. We'll take precautions and be prepared, but that's it. I'm not going to give this mental case the satisfaction of disrupting another day of my life. We go about our day as usual tomorrow, staying vigilant as always, and that's it."

"John!" Mary exclaimed at the same instant Sherlock growled, "Absolutely, under no circumstance are you leaving this flat for the next 36 to 48 hours. Not until Klein is found and arrested!"

"I'm sorry, but there's nothing to be done about it. Tomorrow is the last day the clinic is open for four days because of Christmas. Flu season started early this year, and we're already short a doctor. I am going to work tomorrow." Defiantly, John crossed his arms over his chest.

Sherlock sprung to his feet with a roar. "Do stop being an idiot, John. You know very well it's the criminals with a plan who are often the most unpredictable. You said it yourself, he's a hunter, which means he's been tracking you. The package was sent to the townhouse, not here, so he knows you have a new mailing address. Logically, then, he knows you've married. He's likely mapped your route to the clinic, not to mention here, and noted the shops and other places you frequent. If he's done his job, he knows your schedule better than you do."

"How is that possible?" Irritation evident in his tone, John also stood. "He only mailed the envelope on Saturday. Even if he left the States right then, he's only been here three days."

"He could have had someone mail it for him," Mary suggested. "It's possible he's been here for weeks. Or months."

"Precisely! Think, John. That is the most likely scenario, is it not? He wouldn't be able to travel with his weapons, so he would've had to obtain them here. With his background he'd have to purchase a gun illegally, and that process can take time for someone who has no connections. He will be armed, he will have a plan, as well as several contingencies, and he will have had weeks to focus on nothing but his hatred of you. No. It's decided. You stay put, right here, until Klein is apprehended." Despite the fact that John was standing, the height difference between he and Sherlock, and the fierce glint in Sherlock's eye, made it seem the consulting detective was positively looming over the doctor.

John refused to break the eye contact. Not this time. "I appreciate your concern, Sherlock," his tone was forced control exemplified. Sherlock scoffed and mumbled something about sentiment under his breath. "If he has a plan, and several contingency plans, then let's operate under the notion that no matter where I am tomorrow, he'll find me. Here, the townhouse, the clinic, or Bart's even. I'd rather be keeping myself occupied at work than sitting home fretting. No. Thank. You." He accentuated his point by standing at full military attention.

With a devious smirk, Sherlock took a step closer into John's personal space. "Conscientious Doctor John Watson would never willingly put all those innocent, defenseless, people in harm's way. Children. Mothers. The weak and infirm. Old people. You would never put their lives at risk. You care.Too. Much." He punctuated each of the last two words by poking John on the chest just above his heart.

"Step. Back."

"Mmm, I don't think so." Sherlock stepped a little closer. "Not until you admit that I'm right, that the only logically safe place is right here." He motioned to the flat around them with a wide sweep of his arm, and managed not to break eye contact.

"I'm not so sure 221b is the safest place for anybody right this moment," the timbre of John's voice had edged from Captain Watson to something just the tiniest bit feral.

"Oh, you two. Mary dear, how did you ever get mixed up with this lot?" Mrs. Hudson bustled into the flat with a plate of colorfully decorated gingerbread. "Tsk. No Christmas tree? Not even a wreath. Well, I..."

"Not now, Mrs. Hudson!" The two men, inches from throwing punches, bellowed in unison. Scandalized, Mrs. Hudson's hands flew to her neck with a gasp.

"That's it." Having had her fill of petulant three-year-old posturing, Mary placed her arm around the landlady's shoulders and steared her toward the steps. "Mrs. Hudson, we were just in the middle of a rather unpleasant conversation. I think these two need a few minutes. Do you mind if I join you downstairs for some tea?"

"Of course, dear." Recovering herself, Mrs. Hudson tsk'd all the way down the stairs to her flat.

"I'll be right down!" Mary called sweetly after her. Spinning quickly, she dropped the facade. "You two settle this," she hissed. "Or I will settle it for you. There aren't many hours left until it's tomorrow. If we want to catch this maniac, we need to get started. I'm going to go down and beg Mrs. Hudson to forgive the both of you. While I'm gone, you get to work." With a huff Mary stormed from the flat. As she stomped down the steps she fired off a quick text.

Sherlock opened his mouth to say something especially scathing to John when his mobile began to ring. John's smirk was positively maddening, but not more so than the fact that Mycroft was the one calling. "What?" Sherlock growled as he conceded temporary victory of the stand off to John, and dropped dejectedly into his chair.

Sherlock growled. With a roll of his eyes he looked at John. "Mary texted Mycroft."

Huffing a laugh, John eased into his chair as his own phone began to vibrate. He glanced at the screen and held it up for Sherlock to see. They both sighed. "Greg. Mary text you? Let me put you on speaker. Sherlock's got Mycroft."

When Mary returned to the flat twenty minutes later the doctor and the detective were no longer ready to strangle each other, though tension still hung in the air as a heated argument was waged between the two men and two disembodied voices via mobile. Greg was of the opinion, in absolute accordance with Sherlock (HA!), that John had no business even considering leaving 221b until Klein was in custody. Mycroft, to the contrary, thought John's approach (thank you, very much) of drawing Klein out of hiding would be the most effective. Sherlock was actively accusing his brother of siding with John simply to be spiteful, and John was giving Greg a severe dressing down for attempting to mother him to death.

An ear piercing whistle brought the verbal brawl to a sudden halt. Mary lowered her fingers from her lips, and calmly smoothed the front of her blouse with both hands. "That is quite enough. Not exactly helping, are you Greg? Mycroft?" Mary's tone was light but firm. And terrifying. "Are we settled?" She looked from John to Sherlock. Both men stared wide eyed back at her, unmoving. The only sound from Greg was a nervous hum. Mycroft cleared his throat.

"No then? Fine." Mary stood in front of the fireplace, facing the two idiots sitting across from each other, and spoke clearly enough that the two idiots connected by mobile could hear her. "This is the plan. John is going to connect to the MI6 network with his log-in, and Mycroft's blessing..."

"Oh... Of course, yes." Mycroft's uncharacteristic stutter did not go unnoticed, evidenced by the corners of Sherlock's mouth quirking up ever so slightly.

"Sherlock is going to then begin a search for Mr. Klein. There has to be a paper trail. A passport. Airline tickets. Cash exchange. Credit card receipts. Anything. Greg, you're going to call Molly, explain everything, tell her you'll be late. Then, you're going to pick up dinner. Your choice. You will come here to 221b, and you will access the MET's network, and we'll all pretend Sherlock doesn't already know how to hack into it. Got it?"

"Uhm, okay," Greg mumbled. Sherlock nodded.

"Good. John's going to dig out the bullet proof vests Greg got the two of you for Christmas last year, and make sure his gun and ammo are ready. Then, everyone's going to get some rest. Tomorrow, Greg you're going to drive John to work."

John grinned triumphantly, first up at Mary, and then mockingly at Sherlock. Both Greg and Sherlock began to protest, loudly and with much vulgarity. Mary silenced them with another screeching whistle.

"John will have his gun with him, and he WILL be wearing the vest. No arguments, darling." Mary leveled a commanding glare at John who nodded once in resigned acceptance. "Mycroft, we'll need men posted around the clinic, as well as the townhouse and Baker Street."

"Agreed." Mycroft answered without hesitation.

"Greg, can you arrange to have extra patrols of those neighborhoods? Nothing too conspicuous."

"Done."

"Good. I'm off work tomorrow, so Sherlock and I will stay here and continue digging into Klein's past for anything that might tell us where he's hiding, or what his plan actually is. If Klein hasn't presented himself by the end of John's shift, Greg, you will bring John back here, and we will regroup and plan the next step then. Are we agreed?"

She was rewarded with a feeble chorus of "Yes ma'am."

"Excellent." Mary clasped her hand together and smiled cheerfully. "You have your assignments. I'll go set up the coffee pot."

Voice low, Greg wondered aloud, "Uhm, what just happened?"

"I... I have no... God... What..." John stammered, bewildered. He couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips.

"An eastern wind," Sherlock cocked an eyebrow as he watched Mary move about the kitchen.

"Hmm. Indeed," Mycroft concurred. "I best be about my assignment then. Sherlock, send me what you find and we can pull CCTV and security footage for you. And gentlemen? Good luck. It sounds like you'll need it." With that the call was disconnected.

"I suppose I'll be seeing you soon. Leave some coffee for me, yeah?" Greg hung up the call.

Sherlock and John were left stunned, staring at one another, with only the sounds of Mary running water and humming softly. The two men leapt from their chairs at once and each attempted to beat the other to the kitchen. John's smaller stature and physicality gave him a brief edge, but proved no match for Sherlock's grace and elongated stride.

"You aren't actually planning on staying here tomorrow, are you?" It was as much an accusation as a query. "What are you planning?" Sherlock demanded.

"Well, I couldn't very well tell those other two I'm going to play assassin tomorrow, now could I? I suspect Mycroft already knows, but Greg doesn't, and it's probably best for everyone that it doesn't come up, don't you think? And to answer your question Sherlock, you are correct. There is an empty flat just across from the townhouse. I've checked it out; it's a perfect vantage point for the entire front of the house. That is where I'll be. Until it it's time to report back here, of course." Mary winked conspiratorially at Sherlock. "And no, you can't come with me, you're too recognizable. And fidgety. You'll give me away."

Sherlock scowled and pouted.

"As for you, John," Mary took a step forward. John planted his feet firmly in his spot just behind and to the right of Sherlock (not hiding). "I know you keep the Sig ready, and I know the vests are stored in your closet. But I need you to go up to the attic and pull out my rifle. It's due for a good cleaning and oiling. The scope was a little off the last time, and you told me then you'd look at it, but you keep forgetting, so you can do it tonight. You'll have to keep it upstairs while Greg is here of course, but he won't suspect a thing." Mary patted his arm and nudged him toward the sitting room. "Go on and log in to MI6. Greg will be here soon with dinner." Mary turned and started pulling plates and coffee cups from the cupboard.

John picked up his laptop, sighed, and looked over his shoulder at his friend. "Sherlock?"

"Hm."

"Did I just get sent to my room?"

"It would appear so." Sherlock furled his brow, deep in thought. "If it eases the sting at all, I believe I was just grounded."

They shared a sideways glance, and all composure was lost. John snorted, "Oh God. We're whipped. Both of us."

"I don't think the scope of the whipping is limited to just the two of us. You heard Mycroft didn't you? And Lestrade..." Sherlock collapsed into his chair in a fit of laughter. The D.I. chose that moment to step into the flat, his laptop tucked under one arm as he balanced two pizza boxes and a six pack.

"What about Lestrade?" Greg eyed his friends suspiciously. John inhaled a shaky breath and Sherlock clamped a hand over his mouth. They exchanged a look and dissolved into another fit of hysterics.

"Oh, don't mind them, Greg. Thanks for coming so quickly. You can just put that pizza on the coffee table." Mary offered to hang up Greg's coat. "How's Molly? And the baby? Precious Ella." Mary smiled lovingly as she said the name.

The two chatted pleasantly as John forced a plate with a single slice of pizza, nothing green in sight, into Sherlock's hands. "It's going to be a long night, and probably a long couple of days. Please Sherlock, for me?"

Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John. "You're a diabolical, shameless manipulator, you know that, right?"

"It's how he ended up with me," giggled Mary. "Now eat up so we can get to work."

The evening was spent quietly anxious as the Band of Brothers, with the addition of Mary (an honorary brother as far as the men were concerned -- especially after that time she thwarted the would be mugger when she and a very pregnant Molly were out for lunch), set about their grim tasks.

Greg sat at the sitting room table and worked diligently, searching police records for any trace or mention of Klein; he took neat, concise notes as he worked. He had reached out to a friend in the States (law enforcement officers, no matter their nationality, are often drawn by a sort of sixth sense to their fellow peacekeepers, and if the need were to arise, they gravitate to one another for support and backup; as it turns out, 11 AM on a sweltering Tuesday morning in July, traversing the Magic Kingdom's Main Street USA with his unfaithful, soon to be ex, wife was reason enough for Greg Lestrade to require back up). Jackson Davis was Chief of Police of a small town in Alabama and God was he bored. He jumped at the chance to help his friend and the eccentric consulting detective Greg had told him stories about.

"Thanks, Jax. Sorry again for calling so early, but we're in kind of a bind here. Yeah... yeah. Okay, mate. Ring me if you find anything. No matter the time." The D.I. hung up and stood to stretch. "It's not much to go on, with no date of birth or address, but Klein's name is just unique enough, Jax thinks he'll be able to get us info if there is anything to be had. Here in London, on the other hand, we've got nothing. I've got searches on for a few recent John Doe cases, but Klein's name doesn't come up at all. Besides what we already know, he appears to be a model tourist." He went to the kitchen for more coffee.

Sherlock grunted in response, as he scribbled furiously on a stack of scrap paper. He leapt from his chair and immediately began unceremoniously rifling through the piles on the table. It took a few moments, but Sherlock managed to unearth a well worn map of London and tattered box of push pins. Without so much as a word of warning, Sherlock stepped over the coffee table and up onto couch. Mary, who was curled up against the arm of the couch, glanced up from her tablet long enough to roll her eyes at him, and then shrug at Greg. Sherlock had finished hanging the map and was pinning his scraps of paper to the wall. He crossed his arms over his chest and frowned as he looked over what he had. With an exasperated sigh he dropped down to the seat and took up every inch of the couch not already occupied by Mary.

"Mary, your hypothesis was correct. Klein went through customs with no issues at Heathrow on the 25th of November, so he's been here nearly a month. International flight on an American airline. One way ticket. Checked no luggage, but had a military style duffle as his carry-on. He used a personal credit card at an airport coffee shop. Exchanged the equivalent of $250 U.S. dollars at the International Currency Exchange in the terminal. There is security footage of all of his interactions, including hailing a cab. The paper trail ends there." Sherlock stared at the sparse notes affixed to his map on the wall as he absently steepled his fingers under his chin.

Greg and Mary had been listening intently, but exchanged a concerned look. "$250 U.S. dollars is only, what, about £160 here? Sherlock, that's not enough to buy weapons and supplies, especially not black market weapons. How..." Greg furled his brow as he turned his attention to the notes stuck on the wall.

"I am well aware the nature of the black market," Sherlock growled. "I am also aware of the implications. He must have a contact here. Someone who already has access to weapons, or can get access. And someone who has a place he can stay."

With a sigh Mary held up her tablet. "I've got nothing of any consequence either."

Greg hadn't expected Mary would find much by way of social media; Klein didn't exactly seem the type.

Sherlock tugged at his hair. Mary's news was more unsettling than Lestrade could ever know, as Mary had actually gained access (through channels she infuriatingly refused to reveal to Sherlock) to the CIA intranet. It was the one avenue Sherlock was certain would give them something to go on.Anything. An uncomfortable sense of failure hung between the three as they sat in quiet introspection, the realization dawning that after hours of searching they were no closer to finding Klein than they had been when they started.

"Well, I found them. Had to nearly tear the attic apart," John fibbed as he made his way down the stairs to the sitting room, "but I found the vests. Sherlock, yours still has the note card from Greg on it. You told me you... used... it..." Stopped short at the bottom of the steps by three plaintive gazes watching his every move, John cleared his throat. He glanced at Sherlock's evidence wall and winced when he noticed the meager notations made there. A look of resigned determination settled on John's face. "Right. So, it's almost 1 AM. Greg, you need to go home. See to Molly and the baby, and try to get some rest. I need to be at the clinic at 8. We'll pick up with all of this tomorrow, yeah?"

Reluctantly Greg nodded. "Okay." He set his coffee cup in the sink, put the untouched six pack in the refrigerator for a later date, and gathered up his laptop. Shrugging into his jacket, Greg clapped John on the back. "I'll ring when I'm on my way, yeah? Don't even think of leaving before I get here. I'm serious, John."

"Yes, sir." John mock saluted Greg with a grin. Greg rolled his eyes. "Greg, come on, everything will be fine. We'll be fine. Now, Go. Home. And lock the front door behind you, okay?" John nudged his friend out the door, watched him descend the steps, and then locked the flat door behind him.

The extra precaution did not go unnoticed.

John strode to the window, watched Greg pull away, and tugged the curtains closed. He did the same to the other window, switching off lamps as he went and grumbling about every light in the place being on and this month's electric bill. "Anyone else a little chilly? I think I'll start a fire." Without waiting for an answer John made quick work of getting a fire roaring in the fireplace.

Sherlock and Mary sat in silence watching their John bustle about the flat. When he turned back to collect the pizza boxes and dirty dishes from the coffee table his best friend and his wife both smiled tentatively up at him, the concern in both sets of eyes betraying their true emotions. John did his best to smile reassuringly back at them. "We're going to be fine." There was no way to know that for sure, but he needed to convince himself if he was going to convince everyone else. "I'm going to wash these, and then take a shower. I'll bring you tea in a moment."

The instant John had his back turned to them, Mary's hand found Sherlock's and they held tight to each other. Sherlock had long taken for granted the easy way he and John were able to communicate non-verbally, confounding criminals and utterly astounding everyone else. He had been taken off his guard entirely the first time he and Mary shared a look and had come to a mutual understanding. It was alarming, infinitely useful, and lovely.

Sitting together, holding hands, it was just such a conversation the consulting detective and the unassuming assassin found themselves engaged in. Sherlock's crystalline eyes had clouded over. I made a promise and I intend to keep it. No matter what, I will protect him. Mary looked up at him, tenderness in her own wary eyes. I know. She squeezed his hand. I promise too.

John returned with two steaming mugs and set them down on the coffee table. His voice was soft and his smile genuine. "I know you're talking about me." Sherlock huffed a laugh and Mary's breathy gasp was caught somewhere between a giggle and a sorrowful sniff. John released a shuddering breath and looked from Sherlock to Mary. We're going to be fine. He retreated to the shower and returned fifteen minutes later dressed for bed, a cup of tea in hand. Flipping off the last of the lights, leaving only the glow from the fireplace to illuminate the room, John grabbed the throw blanket from the back of his chair and turned to the couch.

Mary had fallen asleep, curled in a petite ball, wrapped in a fuzzy throw. Sherlock still held her hand, and sat watching her sleep. Memorizing John realized. "Scoot," John whispered. He didn't indicate which direction, leaving the choice to Sherlock, who opted to vacate the center of the couch. John squeezed into the middle, and Mary shifted in her sleep, slipping her toes under John's bum for warmth. "God, she has the coldest feet!" John gasped and Sherlock laughed softly. Sherlock pulled his knees to his chest and sank into the back of the couch, his right shoulder pressed against John's left shoulder. John put his feet up on the coffee table, crossing his legs at the ankles, and spread the blanket over as much of himself and Sherlock as he could. "Okay?" Sherlock hummed his contentment.

"We are going to be fine," John mumbled to no one in particular.

"So I've been told," whispered Sherlock.

They were going to be fine. John was sure of it. They were always fine. Always. Even when Sherlock had "died," it had taken time, but eventually, they were fine again.

So there was absolutely no reason he could logically come up with, tucked between two of the people he loved most in the world, that this tiny bit of closeness and restful peace should also feel like goodbye.


PRESENT: Thursday, 22 December, 2016

John found himself suddenly very aware of every single person in the tube carriage around him. His vantage point wasn't great from the seated position, and he considered standing next to the pole directly in front of him. He'd be able to look more people in the eye if he were standing. But sitting where he was, across from, and to the left of, the sliding doors, no one could take him by surprise from behind. And he would be able to see who entered and who left.

He opted to stay seated, back rigid, scanning the faces of his fellow passenger. Looking. Looking, looking, looking. He was still gripping his mobile, knuckles gone white with the tension. The weight of it grounded him. Well, that and the gun tucked away next to the small of his back. That helped too.

Breathe, idiot. You've taken the tube hundreds of times. This one's no different... Okay, a little different. But you've got your gun, you're in control of your environment, and the vest... Oh God...

Despite the temperature being unseasonably cold outside, the heating unit had gotten all out of sorts at the clinic. John's office in particular was especially sauna-like. It was out of pure necessity that he had shed both his jumper and the bullet proof vest by 10 AM that morning, working in just his button up and even forgoing the lab coat. He'd hidden the vest in a locked drawer, and by the time the exhausting day had ended, he'd forgotten all about it.

It wasn't like him to forget.

But then, he had been distracted. It seemed half of London had come down with this year's strain of influenza. Despite the pleas of the NHS, the general population seemed more convinced than usual that the most effective course of action would be to flood into hospitals and clinics, demand antibiotics, and essentially prevent patients who would actually benefit from a physician's assessment access to care. Sarah attributed the influx of patients to the fact that people didn't want to be sick for Christmas. John attributed it to stupidity, and had to increasingly fight the urge to fly into a full-on Sherlockesque rage with each new sniffling, achy, slightly fevered patient he saw.

Sherlock texted every fifteen minutes. John failed to respond in a timely manner only twice; on both occasions one of Mycroft's men had burst into his office unannounced, despite the protests of the nurses, and to the horror of both doctor and patient. Sherlock was going to pay. Dearly.

Mary called him every hour, on the hour, to check on him. He didn't dare decline those calls. He wasn't afraid of Mary, exactly, though he did wonder at the logic of that.

Greg planted himself in the waiting area for most of the morning, unbeknownst to John. It wasn't until John escorted one of his favorite patients, who actually had an appointment, to check-out that he spotted his friend. John simply leveled a glare in Greg's direction and motioned to the door with a jerk of his head. It was best for everyone present that Greg read the situation correctly and promptly vacated the premises; Dr. Watson didn't necessarily want to introduce his patients to Captain Watson, but he definitely entertained the idea.

John had also taken the precaution of alerting the clinic's lone security guard of the situation, with as little detail as possible about the threat to his own life, and despite the presence of Mycroft's men. It was really just a courtesy for when the real security would descend upon the clinic in the case Kel Klein made an appearance. Charlie, the young new security guard, took the burden of knowledge to heart, and reassured John he would be in top form; he was honored to have a role in this case for Mr. Holmes, and he would not let them down. John had genuinely smiled, and assured Charlie he knew it to be so.

The young man was barely 23 years old with no security experience, at least a foot taller than John, lanky yet muscular. He was a true teddy bear of a man, armed with nothing but a weighty police style torch (not standard issue for the security company, his mum had given it to him for his last birthday), a can-do attitude, very surprisingly a black belt in karate, and a healthy dose of reverential hero worship for the former military doctor. He eagerly checked in with Captain Watson on the half of every hour, despite John's insistence the reports weren't necessary.

Sarah hadn't been willing to turn anyone away, and at 4 PM, despite the doors to the clinic being locked, the waiting area still crowded. Even with everyone staying over, there was going to be at least two hours of work left to do. John sent a group text to Sherlock, Mary and Greg noting the change in plans.

He was met with vehement protestation.

Wrong. SH

John, Darling, you get to 221b this instant. This is not even a discussion. MW

I just received a call to a scene. I can't wait around. If you don't leave now, I'll have to leave you there mate. GL

Then it's settled. I'll stay and finish up here. Simple. JW

DO NOT LEAVE HIM THERE, GRAHAM. SH

Greg, please. MW

John, if you think it'll be two hours, I should be able to be back by then. GL

Take Sherlock with you. He'll figure it out. I'm not leaving. JW

JOHN. SH

John! MW

Okay, I'm pulling out now. GLx

Greg. Do NOT leave. John, you get in that car immediately. SH

Greg. SH

He won't answer. JW

GREG. SH

I'm going to kill the both of you. SH

Sherlock! MW

Oi! Real appropriate, Sherlock. JW

John, just be careful, okay? MW

We're locked in with security. And Mycroft's men are around too. We're going to be fine. JW

I will send a car after Dr. Watson. MH

Mycroft. SH

You don't text. SH

Mycroft? How? This is a private text conversation. JW

Never mind, I don't want to know. Thank you, that is very appreciated. JW

As far as John was concerned, the plan was set. Mary let him know that she was going to watch the townhouse for a little while longer, but she would pick up dinner and head to Baker Street within the hour. Sherlock expressed his disdain for the world, Lestrade and that God forsaken clinic in particular.

It was fine.

Everything was fine.

For about 45 minutes.

As it turned out, the after hours patients were just relieved to be seen, as ready to be on their way home as the staff, and most had settled down to become surprisingly cooperative and honest. John finished the last of his paperwork at 4:40 PM.

Done early. Mycroft, is the car here? JW

This is hardly early, John. SH

There's been a complication. The car is not there as yet. MH

WHAT? SH

Mycroft. MW

It's fine. ETA? JW

Could be hours. Due to inclement weather several traffic accidents have roads blocked. MH

The arranged car cannot get in, and the men who are there with you cannot get their vehicles out. MH

I advise you stay where you are. MH

I'm leaving the crime scene now. I'll try another approach. GL

That was surprisingly quick. SH

Quiet you. I AM a detective. GL

I could take the tube. It's not even a block away. JW

NO. GL

John. Darling. MW

Ill advised. MH

Idiot. Stay where you are. SH

John. Please. Let one of us come to you. SH

Everyone else has gone besides Charlie, our security guard. He's taking the tube. I'm walking with him. JW

JOHN. GL

Dr Watson. MH

NO, JOHN. MW

JOHN. NO. PLEASE. SH

I have my gun and he's a black belt. We're going to be fine. Headed out now. JWx

John Watson, you turn around and go back to your office immediately. MW

JOHN. SH

John, please. MW

Dr Watson and another adult male have exited the clinic. My men will stick with them. MH

John and Charlie slowly made their way to the station through the unusual slushy remnants of the sleet that had attempted to bring the city to a halt. John's patchwork family waited impatiently for Mycroft to send the next status report.

Dr Watson has entered the station. MH

A pause. Infuriatingly, exasperatingly too long.

Mycroft? GL

There's been a power surge. CCTV cameras are non-responsive. We've lost visuals on Dr Watson. MH

Mycroft. SH

Mycroft, fix it now. SH

Are your men with him? GL

Communication is limited underground and the weather is causing interference, Detective. We are working as quickly as we can. MH

Do it faster. SH

The brotherly bickering continued for another several minutes before Mary finally chimed in.

Oh God. Sherlock. MW

Mary? GL

None of you are at the townhouse right now, are you? MW

Of course not. MH

Almost to Baker Street station. GL

You wouldn't let me, remember? SH

Mary, what's happened? SH

I left from there to pick up dinner. 20 minutes ago. MW

WHY were you there? GL

Irrelevant. Continue, Mary. SH

I just got a call from our landline there. Ragged breathing. Definitely male. MW

Mycroft. SH

Still no confirmation. MH

I'm going back. MW

Mary, go to the apartment across the street. Wait there. Greg, come get me. SH

Be there in 2, Sherlock. Mary, don't do anything stupid. GL

I'm going in. I can't leave him to die. MW

Mary. It is very unlikely the caller was John. SH

MARY. SH

I've got verbal confirmation she has entered the house. MH

Stop her, Mycroft! SH

Jjhon daelng

Greg where are you? SH

Here now. What was that? GL

"John Darling." It's code for imminent threat. SH

Bloody hell. Hurry. GL

One of our cars is near Baker Street. I will send it and more men to intercept John. MH

Mycroft? SH

My men have entered the house. Visual confirmation. Emergency services enroute. MH

Detective. Brother. Hurry. MH

John saw the men in black suits before the train came to a halt. Four of them. Mysterious and imposing. Blocking the door to the third carriage. His carriage. He glanced at the onboard camera and rolled his eyes. Mycroft. Pulling his coat more tightly around himself, John stood before the doors even opened. One man stepped menacingly into the carriage, interrupting the flow of passengers from the carriage.

"Doctor Watson? Please come with me."

"Coming... Sorry... Oh, God, sorry... Excuse me..." John squeezed his way through the angry mass of passengers waiting to disembark. "So," John eyed the first intimidating man. "Which one of them sent you? 221b is just down the block. I'm sorry to waste your time." The four men surrounded John, and they very nearly marched as a unit from the station as the curious crowd parted around them.

"Mr.Holmes the elder sent us, sir. We're to take you to Mr. Holmes the younger."

"Riiight... But Mr. Holmes the younger is supposed to be waiting for me at 221b." Stepping into the growing dusk, John turned toward the flat. He was boxed in and forced to the waiting car. A door was opened, and as was his habit, he ducked his head in to glimpse his kidnapper. No Mycroft. No Sherlock. Not even Anthea... or whatever her name was now. "Okay. What's this all about?" John demanded as he stepped back away from the car.

"Please Dr Watson, for your own safety, get in the car. We are to take you to Mr. Holmes the younger. Mr. Holmes the elder recommends you review your text messages."

John sighed and ducked into the car. At least it was warm. He pulled out his mobile and scrolled back through the messages with a smirk. Until one stopped him cold.

Jjhon daelng

Oh God. OH GOD.

Mary.


PAST: Wednesday, 20 May, 2015

"Doctor Watson, do you need help with anything?" the office door clicked open with a knock, and Mary stepped further into the room. She had a file tucked under her arm, and her hands were clasped in front of her. "You've only just been out of hospital a week. Should you be here?"

John looked up from the tangle of computer cords in front of him. "Mary," he smiled kindly at her. "I think I'm okay. I just couldn't stand to be in the flat for another minute. I'm not actually seeing patients. God I hate this computer. Using it one handed is difficult enough, but the bloody interim doctor switched the mouse over to the wrong side of the desk, and I... can't... seem..." With a frustrated growl John tossed the tangled mess onto the desk. "And what is that smell? Oh my God."

"He eats a lot of tuna." Mary stifled a laugh at John's disgusted face and stepped up to his desk. She picked up the knot of cords. "Do you mind?"

"Please!" John groaned. "God, I can't wait to get rid of these braces and splints. The longer I go without full use of my hands, the closer I feel to insanity. Seriously. You have no idea."

Mary smiled sympathetically and nodded. She cleared her throat, suddenly looking very timid. "Doctor Watson, I wonder if I might have a few minutes of your time?" Mary looked cautiously around the room. The glance wouldn't have been obvious to anyone else, but John saw it. "In private?" With a final twist of a cord, Mary placed the mouse next to the keyboard so John could reach it with his left hand.

Nodding his thanks, John sat up a little straighter. "Absolutely. Are you comfortable with the door open?"

"I'd rather close it." Mary ducked her head and looked away from John. He simply smiled in return and motioned to the door. With a gentle push, Mary closed and then locked the office door.

Interesting.

"Doctor Watson, I have a proposition for you." Mary's movements were quick and fluid as she turned from the door and took the seat across the desk from John.

"That sounds..." He quirked his mouth into a slight smile. "Incredibly inappropriate for office talk."

The faintest hint of a blush bloomed across her face. She looked down at her feet and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. When she looked back up, the blush was gone, and her gun steel eyes stared back at him with determination. "They warned me about you."

John's amiable expression harden just slightly and he cocked an eyebrow at her. "Did they now? And what did they have to say?"

Looking John directly in the eyes, maintaining her cool demeanor, Mary smirked. "They warned me you consider yourself to be very charming."

"I see." John seemed to contemplate the accusation. "Well, I apologize for the confusion, but they are wrong, because I AM charming. There's nothing left to consider."

A surprised laugh escaped before Mary had time to stop it. She bit her lower lip.

"But that, I suspect, is not the reason you wanted to talk." John fished a set of keys from his backpack. He looked up with an embarrassed smile. "I feel like a twelve year old carrying this backpack, but..." he indicated to his right arm in the sling with his left hand still in a brace. "My friend Greg calls this my man purse, or murse. He and I probably won't be friends much longer." John huffed a laugh and Mary watched him warily. The entire time he was chattering, John was unlocking one of the desk's deep drawers. He pulled out a single file folder and placed it on the desk.

"Would you like a cup of tea, Mary? The water in the electric kettle is still warm." John pointed in the general direction of the kettle with his head as he locked the drawer and turned to open the drawer on the opposite side.

"No thank you. Um, Doctor Watson, I..."

"Please, you can call me John." He didn't even look up as he was concentrating on something in the drawer. Something that seemed incredibly difficult one handed.

"Oh, okay, John." There was a hint of a smile in her voice as she said his name. He looked up briefly with a small lopsided smile, but turned quickly back to his task.

"Almost got it." John grunted as he struggled with whatever he was working on and cursed under his breath. "Sorry, sorry."

Mary just giggled.

God. She giggled.

She's very good.

There was a very distinct pop, and John lifted what appeared to be a false bottom from the drawer. Next he produced a second file folder. This one was nearly three inches thick. Mary swallowed hard as she met John's eyes.

He knew.

How could he?

"You have a problem, Ms. Morstan." John's voice had gone suddenly sullen, and any trace of softness had vanished from his face. He lifted the first file folder for her to see. "This is your employment file. Just a copy, Sarah keeps all the originals. But she lets me make copies of everything. I convinced her it was because of my military background, and the need to know about those I'm serving with."

John flipped the folder open. "Nurse. Up to date credentials. Excellent education. Experienced. Volunteered for Doctors Without Borders, good for you." John nodded. He kept his eyes on the file. "Almost too good to be true." He looked up just as Mary's eyes flicked over the second file folder.

Hmm. Yes, there was panic there.

Not an act this time.

"Sarah adores you. She did from the moment you walked in to interview. Which is funny, because she didn't even want to hire a new nurse." A calculated grin spread across John's face. "I'm the one convinced her we needed someone. And I'm the one who made sure your's was the only resume she saw. Padded it a bit for you. Military service or working for the MSF. Always a good bolster, or a good cover, especially for someone as well travelled, and as skilled, as yourself. Hope you don't mind. Sarah loves globally minded people."

"I..." Mary's composure was very near breaking. "I don't understand."

Sliding the thick folder across the desk, John tapped it twice. "To the very best of my knowledge, with the help of the resources of MI6," John leaned in and whispered, "I have a secret consulting job there, by the way. It's a bit sexy, yeah?" Leaning back, John flashed a cheeky grin. "This is everything. This, Mary Morstan, is your life. Or, should I say, A. G. R. A. -- those are your initials, correct?"

Mary had gone a very unnatural shade of white. Her eyes grew wide as she listened to John talk, and an errant tear ran down her cheek. She was well and truly terrified. That meant...

Eyes and pallor, genuine reaction.

Tear? Fake. Nicely done.

"There are two complete copies of this file. This one," John indicated the folder on his desk. "And one in the possession of Charles Augustus Magnussen. And that, Ms. Morstan, is the reason you have locked yourself in my office, is it not?"

There wasn't any more hiding. She had to explain herself. The words just tumbled out. "I've done so, so many... things. Some I'm not very proud of. A few very terrible things. And I... He contacted me. I don't know how... or who... He has everything. He knows everything. Got me burned so I can't work for the CIA anymore. Can't work for anyone any more. No one but him. Not even..." Mary hesitated, and John just nodded. "Not even Moriarty would hire me. I found your blog. When Sherlock came back, I thought maybe, maybe, if anyone could stop Magnussen he could. I saw the listing for the job here, and thought..." Mary choked back a sob. "He's getting closer, John. I can't stop him. I've tried. But I won't work for that... that monster. I can't. I won't. I'll die first." Mary buried her face in her hands and took a few shuddering breaths to try to compose herself.

"So, you offered to proposition me, in my place of employment, in order to get to my flatmate? Huh. Can't say as I'm surprised though. There are worse ways to get to Sherlock Holmes than making a pass at me." John's tone had gone soft and friendly, as it had been when Mary first entered.

Inhaling sharply, Mary didn't even try to suppress her laugh. "Oh my God, would you get over yourself already?"

A box of facial tissues sat on John’s desk. He reached for one, but instead of handing it to Mary, as she expected him to, he brought it to his own eyes and pretend to dab tears. Mary scowled at him. "You're very good. I almost believed that whole performance. Your statements are true, but you aren't afraid of Magnussen. You hate him."

A sharp nod of agreement and Mary sat back in her chair making every effort to appear unreadable. She gasped then as realization set in. "You're not so bad yourself you know." She thought a moment. "You played me. The interim doctor is left handed too. Oh you, you really are..."

"Charming? Clever? Amazing?" John offered with a devious grin and a wink.

"Manipulative." She smiled coyly. She reached across the desk to pick up her file. John stopped her by wrapping his fingers around her wrist and pressing gently to her pulse point.

"Mary," serious John was back. "You need help. We want to help you. But we're going to need your help as well."

"Me?" She looked incredulous as she withdrew her wrist from John's grasp and placed it in her lap. The thumb of her other hand absently rubbed along the swath of skin where John's fingers had just been pressed.

"Magnussen is scum of the earth, and his reach is far. The fact is, taking him down is going to be... complicated. Sherlock's been trying for several months now. Someone with your particular skill set could come in infinitely useful. Rather than taking you on as a client, Sherlock and I would like to take you on as a private contractor." John stood and moved around to the front of his desk, leaning back against it, just in front of Mary. "Don't decide now. But we need to move quickly." He handed her a business card with 221b Baker Street printed on one side, and 7:00 PM scribbled on the back. "Meet with us. Tonight."

"Can you tell me any part of the plan? Anything at all? God, I don't even really know you at all. And we've not met, but I kind of really hate Sherlock. This is crazy. Absolutely insane." Mary looked at John, scrutinizing him. "I... You haven't even called me by my real name, though I know you know it. I'm going to have to assume a new identity aren't I? Can you at least tell me that?"

"Well, the plan is... I... We were thinking Mary Watson had a nice ring to it." John suddenly looked boyishly bashful.

Mary thought on that for a moment, and smiled conspiratorially at John. "So, a long con then?"


PRESENT: Thursday, 22 December, 2016

Despite the fact that it wasn't even 6 PM yet, the darkness of a winter's night had fallen across London. As the car drew near the townhouse, John could see the flashing police and rescue lights bouncing off the houses. The scene seemed distorted and otherworldly somehow.

Oh. Snow.

The other homes were all festive and welcoming with twinkling lights for Christmas.

They hadn't been very good at this part, keeping up appearances with the neighbors. Theirs being the only home on the block with no indication of seasonal merriment.

Home.

This wasn't John's home. Not really. It was a play house, a game.

Not that he hadn't loved the game, and the players for that matter. Yes, the other players were his life, his universe, and that universe seemed to revolve around the gravitational pull of 221b Baker Street.

Mary felt the same way. Though, the game was necessary, the play acting important to the work.

And God did they have fun.

But whatever lay on the other side of that door... That was real. This was real.

It wasn't a game any more.

John stumbled from the car before it was fully stopped, and Mycroft's men stormed out after him. He shoved his way through the crowd that had gathered on the front walk. Someone said his name. He glanced around. Donovan. She looked exhausted. "You okay?" John managed to ask her. She glared at him, taken aback, and shook her head no. With a garbled shout John didn't quite comprehend, Sally grabbed him hard by the elbow and dragged him toward the house.

John knew Sally well enough to see that she wasn't angry, at least not with him. No. This was different. Under the gruff manhandling, Sally was violently trembling. Horrified. Terrified. Weak.

Greg was waiting by the door. He looked... older. Greyer. Not just his hair. His face. His eyes seemed empty. "John." When he spoke his voice cracked and fell instantly hollow. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. We couldn't... We didn't get here in time." John noticed the blood on Greg's hands before the D.I. had a chance to bury them in his pockets. There was no hiding the dark stain up the sleeves and on the front of his shirt. CPR then.

"Where." John was moving automatically now, as Greg guided him through the house that he knew so well, but wasn't really his home.

The kitchen.

Oh God no. Not the kitchen. The one room that felt the most like home.

Mary's favorite room.

So many memories of laughter, scheming and planning. Dinners. Sherlock. Greg and Molly.

Mary. There. Right there. But it wasn't right.

John had been elbow deep in enough fatally wounded soldiers, been on the losing side of patient resuscitation as distraught families watch on, and attended enough crime scenes to know that unless a person actually died peacefully in their sleep, the deceased very seldom just looked like they were asleep. He'd been to enough funerals, far too many, to know the sentiment was spoken of the deceased in a shallow attempt for comfort.

So why he hoped against hope that in Mary's last minutes she would have been able to summon some semblance of peace, he had no idea. But the evidence before him made it devastatingly obvious that had not been the case.

She was laid out on the floor. The black coat she wore made it almost possible to imagine she wasn't covered in her own blood; all it took was one glimpse of the crimson pool spread out on the linoleum around her for the illusion to be shattered. The blood smeared mobile was still clutched in her hand. Her eyes were open and her face contorted in terror.

Mary was one of the strongest, most courageous people he had ever known. She deserved better. Not this. Never this. She had come face-to-face with mortality, and had been terrified.

And it wasn't right.

It was disorienting and wrong. Mary was not supposed to look like this. Ever. And especially not here. This place wasn't meant to be a crime scene. The battlefield was never supposed to impose itself here. But it had. The war had caught up to them here.

It was wrong. It was all wrong.

"It's not right... this... it's not..." John was mumbling to himself. He was standing in the kitchen, not on sun scorched sand. Greg was here. And Sherlock. Not soldiers. No orders being shouted. Why... Gun powder. Blood. So much blood. Why. Why?

"Why?" John whispered.

Sherlock was knelt over Mary, cold detachment the only thing visible on his face.

"Say again, John?" Greg leaned in closer.

"Why?" He managed a little louder. "Why her?" Louder still. "That's what I said, Greg. WHY? Why her? Sherlock? Why her?"

Everyone stopped what they were doing and gaped openly at the poor doctor who had already suffered so much. But they didn't understand. They would never understand. Sherlock stood slowly, and deliberately stepped too closely into John's personal space.

"Why her, Sherlock? It wasn't supposed to be her." John was shaking now. He didn't feel... anything. He couldn't feel anything at all.

Staring back at him with those calculating eyes, Sherlock considered what John needed to hear. Slowly he removed one of his gloves and wrapped steady fingers around John's wrist. John's pulse was strong and even, very near his resting pulse. A fleeting thought warned Sherlock that he should be worried, but this was John, and if Sherlock knew anything about his friend at all, it was that he had already worked out the answer to his question. He was simply seeking confirmation. That Sherlock could do. He knew what was expected of him by the others in the room. But what was expected of him was not the truth, and it would not help John make sense of this. With a deep breath, Sherlock steeled himself for John's sake, caring little about the fallout. "Because, you chose her John."

A collective gasp rose throughout the room. Greg blanched. "How dare you." He growled.

Sherlock kept his eyes fixed on John. Keep your eyes fixed on me, please. John had no choice but to maintain the eye contact. "But it wasn't ever supposed to be her."

"Statistically speaking, John, it was always either going to be you or her. I..."

"Don't, Sherlock. Please, don't say it." John pleaded.

"I'll not lie to you. I'm relieved the statistics worked in your favor." Sherlock maintained the intimate eye contact, but his tone was cold.

"Judas priest." Greg hissed. "Sherlock, you can't just..." He was near hyperventilating.

"No, Greg..." John turned slowly from Sherlock, to look at Mary. "He's... he's right."

"John, shut up. Right now. Just... Shut. Up." Greg was fully hysterical now.

"But, I did. I chose her. I brought her here, to... to us. Led her here. To this. This is..." John looked up at Sherlock, completely numb. "My fault. Thisis my fault."

And there it was. The horrible, ugly truth was out.

Satisfied the matter was settled, Sherlock spun dramatically back to Mary's body, and continued his examination of the gunshot wound.

The officers, agents and rescue workers stood uncomfortably silent, pressed along the edges of the room.

Greg seethed, clenching and unclenching his fists.

John stood still, as near attention as his numb body would let him. There was something else. Something that needed remembering. "Klein?" John's voice was ragged.

Without even looking up, Sherlock exhaled in frustration. "Gone before we got here." He looked up suddenly, a spark of excitement in his eyes. "The reason we couldn't find where he was staying... Oh, it's so brilliant." Sherlock seemed... not giddy. No. Energized. "He set up camp in your attic. You never use the second story, you're hardly here, and you're too easily distracted when you do come here. You would never notice a ghost on the third floor, so to speak." He pulled his magnifier from his pocket and examined the buckshot pattern in Mary's chest. "Oh, and he left a note."

John pinched the bridge of his nose. A slow agonizing pressure was building behind his eyes. His stomach lurched, and he dove for the sink to be sick.

Exasperated, Sherlock stood. "John. You're contaminating the crime scene."

"THAT'S. IT." Greg roared. He lunged at Sherlock, and knocked him back against the table.

"Boss!" Donovan shouted.

"Get him out of here!" Greg shouted over his shoulder. Donovan stood unmoving, looking perplexed. "John. Get him out of here. Put him in my car. I'll be right out."

"Greg..." John splashed his face and rinsed his mouth.

"I don't want to hear it John. I'm getting you away from this." Greg waved his hand to indicate Sherlock. He waited for John to follow reluctantly behind Sally. "You think this is all so bloody brilliant? Having fun? While your best friend's wife is dead in the middle of the kitchen. We all ate dinner here last week, Sherlock. Remember? Well, you can have it. All of it. I can't do this. This is Mary. And John. And all of us. So stay here and just be your cold, heartless self. Have fun skipping around the house. When Donovan comes back in, you answer to her. If you decide to act like a human being, you'll know where to find us."

Greg stormed to a cupboard and slammed the door open, he dug around until he found what he was looking for, and slammed it shut again.

"Oh for God's sake, it's below freezing out, and it's snowing. You aren't really going to drag him up there are you?" Sherlock scoffed.

"We agreed. We made a promise. It's something sacred to us, and we let you in. Take it or leave it, Sherlock." Greg waited just a moment for Sherlock to respond, then turned his back to the room and stormed out of the house.

John was slumped down into the front seat of Greg's car, staring out the window at the townhouse, unseeing and numb. He turned to look at his friend as the D.I. started the car, clearly in a rage.

"Don't." Greg growled. "No talking."

The drive was silent. The roads were mostly clear, due in large part to the temperature and fine dusting of snow.

John maintained his slouch, careful to appear as if he were near catatonic. It wasn't much of a stretch. He watched Greg from the corner of his eye.

Eyes glistening, rimmed in red. Tears, despite his best effort to portray stoic strength. His features were drawn and he worried his lower lip with his teeth.

Heartbroken. Terrified. Enraged. Decimated.

All completely reasonable responses.

Responses John himself couldn't muster. The best he could do was the nauseating ache of guilt roiling in his chest and gut.

Everything else was numb.

Without intending to, John had turned his full attention to watching Greg. The D.I. was acutely aware that he was being scrutinized. Fine. Anything to keep John occupied for a few moments longer. He shuffled his white knuckle grip on the steering wheel slightly.

Both men noticed it at the same time.

He hadn't washed away the blood.

Mary's blood.

Greg cursed under his breath. "John... I..."

"It's fine... I... You..." John stammered as inhaled deeply. "Put the window down a bit, yeah?"

Breathe. There's blood on Greg's hands. Breathe. Mary's blood. Breathe. My fault. Mary's dead. Greg's wrecked. BREATHE idiot. My. Fault. I killed her. Brea...

"Stop the car." Frantic, John scrambled to open the door. Greg had barely managed to skid the car to a halt before John tumbled out onto his knees in order to be sick once more. Greg was out and around to John's side nearly as quickly.

As he reached out to rub John's back, Greg caught sight of his blood stained hands. "Oh GOD. I'm sorry, John. I'm so sorry." Nearing hysterics, Greg knelt down next to his friend and scraped up a dirty, gravel laden handful of slush and snow and began scrubbing at the dried blood in a frenzied panic. "Son of a.... please... please come off... John, I'm sorry. It won't come off!"

John heaved twice more before slowly sitting back on his heels. Disoriented, John pressed his palms against his closed eyes and relished the calming chill. It was only then he truly heard his friend's distressed sobbing next to him.

"Greg! Greg you have to stop!" John shouted as he wrenched the D.I.'s hands apart. Mary's dried blood was still caked under his nails in the creases, but it mingled with Greg's own blood where he had scraped the skin raw. Cursing at the sight, John pushed himself up off the ground, dragged Greg up after and shoved him into the passenger seat of the car.

"You can't drive," Greg managed between sobs.

"I can, I just don't. You, on the other hand, are the one who cannot at this moment. Bart's is just around the corner, I'll manage." John slammed the door shut before Greg could argue. The remainder the short drive was uneventful as John forced himself to focus on getting them to Bart's in one piece, and not on Greg's heart-rending sniffles and sighs.

St. Bart's A&E was overflowing. John noted half a dozen sprains or breaks. Everyone else seemed to be suffering from the flu. He gritted his teeth and held his tongue as he ushered Greg through the masses. They managed to go unnoticed by the reception staff, and John borrowed a few things from a supply closet before he shoved Greg into the nearest lift.

The two men remained in silence until they arrived at the top floor. Cautiously, John scanned the hall and then ducked into the nearest unused patient room, urging Greg to hurry after him. He set to work quickly and efficiently scrubbing Greg's hands clean with disinfectant.

"Does Sherlock know?" The question was posed with unexpected timidity.

"Does Sherlock know what?" John patted Greg's hands dry and began his examination. There didn't appear to be any gravel or debris in the scrapes.

"The driving?" Greg winced at John's prodding.

"He found out. The Baskerville case. It's to do with the PTSD. A piece of garbage in the street. Thought it was an IED. Had a bit of a freak out." John shrugged and began applying antibiotic cream to Greg's hands.

"God, John. I had no idea. Sorry, mate." Greg shifted uncomfortably. "So... what's the prognosis doc?"

"No stitches necessary. I am going to wrap your left palm though. If you've got gloves, put them on."

"I'm sorry John. I just..." Greg's voice wavered.

"Not now. We're here, let's do this upstairs." John's voice was gruff. He cleaned up the medical supplies, grabbed some blankets from a linens cart, and led the way to the stairwell up to the roof. He shouldered the door open with a curse as an icy gust of wind stole his breath away.

They wrapped themselves in the blankets and leaned into one another for support as they picked their way across the icy rooftop to the spot.

The place from which Sherlock had jumped.

The place John and Lestrade had mourned, had faced mortality, had fought their demons (and each other), had healed, and had celebrated.

And once again they mourned.

Ever so carefully John sat on the ledge and turned to face out over London, his feet dangling below. Greg took his place to John's left. Neither man spoke.

Greg pulled the smallish bottle of scotch he had retrieved from John’s kitchen out of his pocket and snapped the bottle open. He took a large gulp and forced the bottle into the doctor's hands. John hadn't had a drop of alcohol since the single flute of champagne at his wedding. What was it he had promised? Special occasions and weddings.

Well, that didn't bear thinking about right now. He took a quick swallow. The liquor burned all the way down and lay smoldering in his weak stomach. He winced and sat the bottle down. Greg produced a pack of cigarettes and a small box of matches from his pocket. He lit two and handed one to John.

"Had them hidden. At your place. Mary..." Greg huffed. He held his cigarette up in silent tribute, and then hung his head. "God, John. I'm so sorry. I don't even... what am I supposed to do? What do you need?"

Taking a slow drag from the cigarette, simply for the warmth, John considered Greg in earnest. Brothers, no matter what. John knew that Greg loved him. He had loved Mary as his sister.

Greg deserved to know.

"I need..." John faltered. Greg watched him expectantly, concern in his eyes. Clearing his throat, John began again. "I need to tell you the truth."

"John?"

Another drag from the cigarette and John snuffed it out and flicked it away. With a raised hand he declined when Greg offered another. "See, the thing about Mary..."

Everything.

John told Greg everything. How Mary's file had come across his desk at MI6 for risk assessment, and John had withheld some of his finding from Mycroft, because he would have tried to force her into service. How John had manipulated the situation at the clinic so that Mary would be drawn there and so that Sarah would feel obligated to hire her. About Mary's problem with Magnussen, and how he and Sherlock had asked her to work with them. Greg was not shocked to learn, then, that she kept working with them after that case had ended. He was surprised to learn about the marriage.

"So... the wedding was fake? What the hell, John?"

"No, the wedding was completely legitimate. All the proper paperwork was processed. Everything was legal. The marriage itself, that's what wasn't real.” John exhaled deeply. “At least, not in sense you’re thinking of it. Not like what you and Molly have.”

“I don’t understand, John. You two, you loved one another, yeah?” Greg lit another cigarette.

“I love Mary… Loved her…” A falter. A crack in the numb emptiness. “No… I love her. I always will. But ours was different than what you and Molly have. I love her the way I love you, or the way I love Sherlock. Not infatuation or in love with, but love all the same. We were cut from the same cloth, she and I. The desire for normalcy, but the innate need for more. We’re wired differently than most. A doctor who went to war, and when that ended, took up chasing criminals with Sherlock, and working with the police and MI6. And a nurse who was also a hired assassin. Where Sherlock and I work well because we possess the characteristics the other is lacking and there is strength in those things put together, or you and I work well because we share like experiences and similar goals, Mary and I worked well because we could work as one unit. She was like an extension of myself, like I could be in two places at once almost. And now she’s gone. That part of me is gone. Forever. And it is… it’s my fault. And...”

A dam of grief broke loose and tears poured freely now. John was overwhelmed as the emotions, the hurt, the fear, the deepness of loss, flooded into the previously numb and vastly hollow cavern within his chest. He heaved a sob, and then another, and then they came of their own volition.

“Come here.” Greg had swung his right leg back over the ledge in order to provide more stability. He manhandled John until he was turned completely around, both feet on the rooftop rather than dangling over the street. Then with movements that were both brusque and radiating with genuine care, he pulled his shattered friend to his chest and enveloped him with his arms and blanket. John clung to the front of Greg’s coat and wept into his shoulder.

“We loved her too, mate. Molly and me. Sherlock. I think he rather adored her. And you, what you just said, John, it might look different than the love Molly and I have, but it was special, unique to you two. Your marriage was real, and never, ever let yourself believe anything different.” Greg didn’t try to conceal the sorrow in his voice. And there was no stopping the tears that ran from his own eyes.

“And I understand now, why you feel this is your fault, why you can justify the things Sherlock said. But you can’t do that. Where would she be if you hadn’t found her? She could’ve already been dead, or imprisoned in some God forsaken hell hole. You saved her, John. And she died doing the one thing I know she believed in more than anything else. God, it was so evident. She died trying to protect you.”

“But she shouldn’t have!” John wailed. “Why? Why would she do that?”

“For the same reason I would have done. Sherlock too. This world needs John Watson.” Greg’s voice broke and he exhaled a deep shuddering breath. John mumbled into his shoulder. “What’s that?”

John pulled back minutely, wiped his nose on his blanket, and kept his eyes turned away from Greg. “Sherlock said there was a note.”

“There was. But not here.” Greg cleared his throat and paused to compose his thoughts. “My friend Jackson from the States found it. Or, rather Klein’s sister found it. She went by his place since she hadn’t heard from him in weeks, and it was there. She took it to the local police, and Jax found the report in the system.” John sat back and searched Greg’s face; dread was building in his eyes.

“He, uhm, he mentioned his fiancee was murdered when someone broke into their home one night when she was alone. He said the reason she was alone was because no one would hire a mentally unstable discharged soldier for respectable work, so he had to take a night shift janitor position at the local school. And the reason she was murdered he blamed on the fact that when he tried to buy her a handgun, the dealer ran a background check and then refused to sell him one. He holds you at fault for all of that, mentioned you by name.” Greg scrubbed his hand down his face and sighed.

“Klein’s fiancee was murdered a year ago today. When he found out you got married, he decided to make you suffer the same way he had.” Greg looked John in the eyes, and held on to his shoulders. “He detailed a pretty nasty plan for you, and he’s counting on suicide by police. John look at me. He’s still out there. We’re going to find him. And he’s going to pay.”

The men jumped as the door to the roof creaked open. “God.” Greg panted. “Sherlock, I’m glad you…” He stopped short when something metal caught his eye.

A shotgun barrel.

Run, John.” If they stayed together they ran the risk of getting pinned down, separate they had the advantage. He shoved John to their left, and pointed at the bank of air conditioning units. “Stay in the shadows and get low!” Greg jogged in the opposite direction, blatantly making himself visible in the hope that Klein would follow him.

Greg checked over his shoulder to make sure he was being followed, to his relief, he was (Molly was going to kill him herself for that). He pulled his gun out and glanced back again. He didn’t see the patch of ice until it was too late. With a sickening crunch Greg landed on his left arm. Definitely broken. He lay there, injured, completely exposed, with Klein lumbering ever closer. readying his shot.

“KEL!” John yelled from behind the hunter. A familiar shot rang out, and the security light nearest Greg’s position went dark with an explosion.

“Watson.” Klein growled and spun around in a rage. He leveled his shotgun, despite the distance between himself and his target, and fired. John turned and ran as Klein loaded and fired shot after shot after shot.

“JOHN!” Greg screamed as he pulled himself up off the ice and tucked his arm protectively against his abdomen. He watched helplessly as John’s movements seemed to grow sluggish, and he finally stumbled behind the cooling unit. Klein kept up his barrage; he was surprisingly quick reloading, and he didn’t seem to be aiming at anything exactly, just in John’s general direction.

“Stop, Klein! I will shoot you.” Greg shouted as he approached Klein from behind.

The enraged man loaded and fired another shot into the cooling unit, sending buckshot ricocheting everywhere.

Greg felt a single sting along his cheek. He took aim and hit Klein in what appeared to be his dominant right shoulder.

Klein roared with rage, staggered, but managed to stay upright. He loaded another shot.

“I said, stop!” Greg yelled once more, and shot Klein through the left thigh.

“Watson!” Klein roared as he dropped to his knees. He tried to level his shotgun toward the cooling unit. “Watson, you come out here and take it like a man!”

With a feral roar and tapestry of obscenities Greg fired once more. “That’s for Mary!” He hit his mark in the middle of Klein’s back. As the man began to slump forward, Greg advanced on him and fired once more. “And that’s for John!” Klein was face down and unmoving. Greg wrenched the shotgun away and tossed it aside. Klein groaned.

Staring down at the man bleeding out at his feet, Greg felt something inside snap. This man had attempted to destroy the only family he had. He had stolen Mary away. John was injured, and emotionally decimated. This was no man. This was a beast. A rabid beast, and he… he deserved…

“Lestrade! Stop!” Sherlock had burst through the rooftop door and witnessed each shot Greg had taken at Klein. It was justified. He had warned the man. Sherlock would have relished an opportunity to take a shot as well. But the man was down, probably already dead. Sherlock sprinted to Greg’s side, and carefully placed a hand on his forearm. “Greg. Where is John?”

“Sherlock?” Greg started at the touch. “When... “ He looked down at the gun he had aimed at Klein’s head, then back at Sherlock.

“He’s dead, Greg.” Sherlock crouched down and felt for a pulse to confirm. He found none. “It’s over. You stopped him.” He stood fully upright, took the gun from Greg’s hand, and turned to look him in the eyes. “He’s dead.”

With a slight nod, Greg whispered, “He’s dead. Klein’s dead.”

“Greg, where is John?” Sherlock’s tone to that point had been controlled, but he couldn’t hide the edge of fear that crept in.

Cursing under his breath, Greg turned to the cooling unit. “He’s back there. I think he’s hit.”

Sherlock growled and started to charge behind the unit.

“Wait!” The D.I. grabbed the consulting detective by the sleeve. “This might… This could be disorienting for John. If he has been shot, and he felt like he was trapped while Klein was still firing, he could be having a flashback to Afghanistan. Or he could just be ready to shoot the next person he sees.” Sherlock closed his eyes and sighed in frustration. “Let me go first, yeah?”

“John?” Greg stepped to the corner of the cooling unit, but stayed out of John’s line of sight. “John, can you hear me? This is Greg. Sherlock’s with me. We need to come back there and get you out, okay?”

John moaned.

“John?” Sherlock inched closer to the corner. “John, we’re going to come back there now.”

“Sherlock?” John’s voice sounded weak, labored. “Greg, I need… Can you…” Another moan.

Sherlock lunged around the cooling unit, Greg close behind, using his mobile to light the area.

John was propped up in the corner, his right arm slung up onto the low wall of the ledge to help him stay upright. His gun was in his left hand, but the left arm hung limp at his side, and the white blanket bunched around him was soaked in crimson, the heat from John’s life seeping out of his body causing little wisps of steam to rise as the blood mingled with the trace remnants of snow. His Band of Brothers were knelt at his side in an instant.

“We have to get him downstairs.” Greg was trying his best to remember his training. “Sherlock, can you get his shoulders, and I’ll…”

“No… don’t move. Buckshot…” John had to pause to catch his breath. “It moves too. Wait for help.”

Greg and Sherlock shared a sideways glance, and Greg fumbled for his phone. He called down to the A&E and tried to explain the situation. He only ended up screaming that they needed to get a trauma team with a gurney up to the roof immediately. He called Sally and told her to send a team to clear the scene and to process Klein’s body.

“John.” Sherlock had taken the gun from John’s hand, draped his great coat over his shivering friend, and held tight to his left hand. “John, I’m sorry. I’m sorry about Mary, and about what I said, and…”

“Shhh. Sherlock, no.” John feebly shook his head. “You said… What you said was true.” He inhaled deliberately. “I chose her…”

“And she chose you.” Sherlock sniffed as he patted John’s hand.

“And you…” John forced a weak smile. “Mary chose you too Sherlock. Loved you too.”

Sherlock sat back on his heels, taken aback by the revelation. Tears pooled in the corners of his eyes. “I…” He stumbled for words. “And I her,” Sherlock whispered. He wiped his eyes with one hand and clung to John with the other, sliding fingers up to feel his friend’s pulse.

“Are you… are you going to be okay, John?” Sherlock’s voice wavered, and he peered into John’s eyes, searching. “You’ve lost a lot of blood. The cold is good… Slows the blood flow.”

John chuckled and was rewarded with a fresh wave of pain. He winced and squeezed Sherlock’s hand. He struggled to organize his thoughts over the pain. “I’m a doctor Sherlock… I know… I know how cold works… Miss Afghanistan right now… Warmth.” He shifted slightly to take the strain off his aching right shoulder. “I’ll be fine Sherlock… Kel was too far away… Nothing too deep… Just a lot… Mostly left side and back… Can ask the doctor to save them for you…”

“Oh God.” Greg came back around the corner with the trauma team just then.

“Ah, no. No, thanks for the very… thoughtful offer John, but I’d really rather never see large game pellets ever again.” Sherlock smiled sadly at his best friend as he stepped back to let the doctors and nurses in.

“Sherlock?” John called over the medical team.

“I’m here John. Greg’s right here too. We aren’t going anywhere.”

“Mary… Her file…” John cried out in pain as the medical team lifted him to the gurney and started to wheel him toward the door.

“It’s secure. We’ll make arrangements tomorrow John. Right now, we have to help you.” Sherlock reassured his friend, and ruffled his hair as the gurney rolled by. “I’ll be down soon, and I’ll see you when you wake up.”

Sherlock turned to Greg. “He told you.”

Greg hummed confirmation. “Probably not everything, but enough. Doesn’t really change anything. A few things make a little more sense now. Won’t say a word.”

“You can tell Molly. I know she can keep a secret.”

“That she can.” Greg huffed a laugh and shook his head. “So, what do we do now? How do we do this, Sherlock?”

“I... “ Sherlock shrugged and sighed. “I was hoping to defer to your experience with John in mourning.”

“Okay, first, I’m going to remember that forever, Sherlock Holmes deferring a problem to someone else. No one will believe me.” He offered Sherlock a lopsided smile and Sherlock rolled his eyes. “But the last time was different. He had hope, at least to start with, that you were coming back. And even after that was gone, he had to deal with the fact that you left, you made that choice.” Greg shrugged his shoulders. Sherlock looked nauseated.

“This time, Mary was stolen away. There isn’t any reason to hope she’ll return.” Greg’s voice caught, and he inhaled deeply before he continued. “ And it wasn’t a choice she could make, or that he could influence at all. She’s just gone, in one of the most sudden and traumatic fashions possible.”

Sherlock and Greg stood face to face, broken hearts evident to anyone who cared to pay them any mind as Sally and her team processed the scene.

“We’ll just have to do it together. Make arrangements. Support John. And each other. Together.” Greg ran his right hand over his hair and shivered.

“Together.” Sherlock repeated softly. He put his arm around Greg’s shoulders and started walking him to the door.

“Sherlock… I need to stay. Sally will need…” Greg tried to shove Sherlock away.

“You can give your statement later. I saw the whole thing. You clearly have a broken arm, and you’ve a cut on your face from a stray pellet.” Sherlock did not relent, despite Greg’s attempts to escape. “John is going to need you well, which means I need to get you off this roof.”

Greg slumped against his friend and let Sherlock lead the way. “Sherlock, how is this going to be okay? Are we going to be all right?”

Sherlock sighed. “I have it on good authority that we are going to be fine.

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