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Under the glow of streetlights, Sherlock waited for John on the corner of the same street they had traveled less than twenty-four hours before. Bill stood next to him, calm as usual, his eyes locked on the building he had been told to watch. His vigilance in following Sherlock's orders was almost amusing.
The street was quiet in the early morning hours. Aside from the officer Lestrade had placed to look after things, not a single soul was to be seen. The officer remained huddled in his nondescript car, taking intermittent sips of coffee from a large, cheap Styrofoam cup. The drink would have long gone cold, the officer no doubt frustrated and uncomfortable, but it would provide the needed energy to finish the assignment from his superior.
A flash of headlights from around the corner caught Sherlock's attention and he watched as a cab rolled to a stop. John exited a moment later, jogging over to join Sherlock and Bill.
"They came home?" John asked, looking in the direction of the flat.
"Kostya, the boyfriend, did," Sherlock informed him. "Fortunately for us, Billy was here to catch it. The officer spooked the young man and he doubled back, went in through the back window from the alley. Always have a second set of eyes on a building, never just one."
"Noted," John said. "So we're waiting for him to come back out?"
It didn't take long. Mere minutes later, Bill's phone vibrated and he nodded off in the direction John had come from, leading them down the street and around the corner. Standing in the shadows of the alleyway was a young woman bundled in tattered trousers and an old army jacket. She whistled as they approached, pointing up the street, then to the left.
Sherlock felt his adrenaline spike, taking off down the street in the direction she had indicated. The morning air was stinging against his face as he ran, but he rejoiced in it, relating the sensation to closing in on success, making him feel alive.
They were moving away from the residential buildings within a few short blocks and when they spilled out onto a main street he was confronted with the start of morning commute pedestrians. His eyes scanned the crowd, looking for the outlier. Quickly spotting a young man with a rucksack tossed over one shoulder, hands shoved deep in his pockets, Sherlock looked to Billy. The man nodded and they picked up the chase, following discreetly as Kostya walked rapidly down the pavement, glancing around from time to time and running a hand nervously through his unruly brown hair.
Discretion became of the utmost importance as they were eventually led away from the presence of other people, moving into a more industrialized neighborhood. For as many gritty factories as there were dotting the large plots of land, there were an equal amount of abandoned and run-down buildings, giving the neighborhood a hopeless feeling of being on the descent to economic uselessness.
Focused as he was on tracking their target, it took John's strained voice to pull his attention to something even more important. And sinister.
"Sherlock," John repeated, catching the consulting detective's arm and jerking them to a stop, pointing up to the sky.
At first, it looked like the glow of factory lights and industrial smoke curling above the buildings on the street. The orange glow created a hazy highlight to the rooftops in the mist and dark clouds of the dawn. It took him only a second to realize that there was nothing industrial about what they saw.
He registered Kostya taking off at a sprint down the street and around the corner and caught the panic in his eyes. That was all the incentive Sherlock needed to follow, giving up on trying to avoid being seen. John and Bill were quick on his heels and they skidded to a halt as a three-story, brick structure came into view, centered on its own gravel-covered lot and spitting flames and sparks from the center windows on the second and third floors. He knew immediately that the fire would consume the building and everything inside of it; it was too far gone, creeping into the early stages of a raging inferno.
John was the first to move again, dashing towards the building with his instinct to save the lives of anyone who might be in danger. Sherlock shot after him with the intention to stop him before he could do anything stupid, knowing there was nothing John could do. A mild explosion from the top floor shot burning material into the air and blew a small hole in the side of the building, raining brick down onto the gravel lot below. John stopped short, throwing an arm up to shield his face as they watched the scene helplessly.
"Christ," John bit out, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out his phone to dial for help.
Sherlock knew his call would not be the first, not with the sound of the explosion and the increasing visibility of the fire. He watched the building carefully, hearing the first sirens far in the distance. To his utter astonishment, he saw movement in the shadow of the huge entryway on the ground floor. John slowly lowered his phone and again moved towards the building, Sherlock on his heels, as two distinct forms emerged from the billowing smoke, carrying something between them.
They had reached the forms to help by the time Sherlock recognized Susan Fisher, her face twisted in agony as she dragged the limp form of her daughter from the building with the help of Kostya. John swiftly lent his support, encouraging them all to a safe distance from the danger of the fire. Lillian was slowly lowered to the ground and John reached in to check her vital signs, his face grim as he looked down at the soot and singed clothing covering the girl. Sherlock was certain that she had sustained burns they could not yet see under the mess…if she had survived at all.
Susan collapsed next to Lillian, shoving John heedlessly out of the way, her hands gripping the side of the girl's head as sirens wailed as they grew closer.
"No!" she cried in anguish, angry tears falling from her eyes. She let out a gut wrenching sob and lowered her head to Lillian's chest. She stayed like that for several moments before dragging her body upright again, her devastated gaze fixed on Kostya. He had backed away from the group, conscious of Bill watching his movements. "You promised me she wouldn't be hurt… you promised me if I could get Sherlock Holmes involved, she would be okay!"
Sherlock had hardly registered the ominous words before Susan reached into the pocket of her coat. The metal of the gun flashed in her hand against the headlights of the ambulance and police cars descending on the scene. He cried out to stop her and John rushed forward, but it was too late. With a deafening bang, a bullet was lodged in Kostya's throat. Bill recoiled, his eyes widening at the sight. Blood seeped from the wound and Kostya's eyes crinkled in pain, then glazed over as his body crumpled to the ground.
They needn't have bothered trying to disarm Susan; she dropped the gun limply and fell to her daughter once more, her sobs only increasing.
One quick glance at John told him he had imagined nothing. They had been driven into the investigation for a reason, a deeper reason than a mother trying to save her daughter. Moving in tandem, John reached for Lillian and began to assess her injuries while Sherlock knelt in front of Susan, gripping her arms and forcing her to focus on him.
"Who wanted me involved?" he demanded, knowing they had only seconds before the police and medics would converge on the scene. "Who?"
"I don't know," she wailed helplessly. "They promised that I would get her back…they only told me that they wanted to see you work."
"What else did they say, tell me the exact words," Sherlock said, gripping her arms tighter. "Tell me!"
"They said he owes you," Susan gasped out before her eyes closed, falling into a wreck of silent crying, clutching at her coat as the medics reached them, supplying oxygen and treatment to Lillian.
His blood ran like ice through his body. He stood up quickly, shedding himself of the woman's weeping and locked eyes with John. The absolute terror he found there left him shaking. He wrenched his phone from his pocket, ripping off his gloves in order to navigate his contacts as quickly as possible, his blood thundering as he lifted the device to his ear and heard ringing.
"Dear brother, to what do I owe - "
"Anima," Sherlock said roughly, enacting the code the brothers had agreed upon in the wake of the threat of Moriarty.
There was a pause. He watched Lillian being loaded onto a gurney and wheeled hurriedly towards the ambulance. A sheet was placed over Kostya. Two officers were hauling Susan to her feet, looking regretful as they snapped a pair of handcuffs onto her wrists and walked her to a waiting police car.
"Are you sure?" Mycroft asked softly, though his voice was serious.
"Lock her down, Mycroft," Sherlock growled. "Don't ask questions, just do it. And send people to the Watsons' while you're at it."
He forcefully pushed the 'End Call' command, conscious of John standing close to his side.
"You think it's him? He's been behind all of this, just watching us for fun?" John seethed. "I thought Mycroft confirmed he was dead."
Sherlock looked up at the flames licking every available surface of the building, the fire growing by the minute while firefighters set up to beat it back. It was everything Moriarty would love. Big, flashy display with lives in danger and innocent people caught in the middle. He would have been so proud to see Sherlock narrowing down the clues, working towards finding one little girl in time to save her life.
He felt an anger like he had never felt before rise up from his gut, burning in his chest.
The answers to John's questions would lie in one of two places – with Susan Fisher, or in Kostya's flat. When he saw Lestrade pull up with Donovan in the passenger seat, he descended upon them before they even made it out of the car.
"Jesus, what the hell happened?' Lestrade swore, looking at the gruesome scene in dread.
"Things were more complicated than we thought," Sherlock said. He pointed towards the police car that held Susan. "Do not let her talk to anyone but you or Mycroft's men. Put her under strict surveillance and she is not to leave your possession, do you understand?"
"Since when are you in charge?" Donovan said, a hint of teasing in her voice.
"Since she was most likely involved with Moriarty," Sherlock replied stonily, looking her straight in the eye.
Donovan stiffened immediately, her professionalism coming into full swing. She nodded, her mouth set, and she marched off to the police car, informing the officers nearby that she would be taking control of the suspect in custody and planting herself in the vehicle.
Sherlock looked at Bill, who was lingering on the edge of the mass of police and fire responders, not attracting a bit of attention. He nodded almost imperceptibly when he caught Sherlock's eye, knowing that his responsibility lay in watching the scene and keeping an eye on things.
"You're taking us back to the flat," Sherlock announced to Lestrade. "I take it we won't need to worry about warrants and all that this time?"
That was the pattern.
Four cities, with most of the money in Kostya's flat coming from Ukraine. He would hoard it until his funds in London began to diminish, then he would slowly make the necessary exchanges, living off of the huge sums for months at a time. He had no employment record in London, no indication of how he could be accumulating the money.
Kiev, St. Petersburg, Marseille, London.
Kostya was a young man swept up in something that he had never intended to pursue. It was the pressure of friends, friends he had made because of a common cultural background, a common language and a familiar way of life.
He had loved Lillian; that much was clear. Pictures of her abounded on his laptop, in his phone. Both devices had revealed nothing in regards to the details of their life together or what they had been involved in. He had either been very careful to hide it or he'd wanted so little to do with it that it never warranted mention in writing. And he had been saving as much as he could each month in order to buy them a new life.
Those were the details Sherlock could glean from tearing through the flat. It gave him no clues as to the connection to Moriarty or the reason why Susan had said the exact words that would be guaranteed to spread fear through Sherlock.
He turned the facts over in his mind as he and John sat in a private meeting room at Scotland Yard, waiting for Donovan and Lestrade to be done questioning Susan. The muffled hum of his phone in his pocked alerted him to another text received. He slid the device out of his coat and glanced at the screen, knowing what to expect.
Sherlock, you need to answer me. What is going on? Mrs. Hudson is beyond worried…what's happened? - M
It was the fifth text he had received since arriving at the Yard. There were a multitude of security reasons why he didn't wish to let her know the events of the morning via text, but mainly he wanted to be there in person when he had to let her know her life might very well be in danger.
"Kiev, St. Petersburg, Marseille, London," he muttered, drumming his fingers against the glossy wood table as his thoughts returned to what they'd found at the flat. "The only paper trail that was left."
"Do you think he knew?" John said, his tone clipped and angry, as it had been since they'd left the scene. "Who he was involved with, I mean?"
"No," Sherlock said quietly. "He saw an opportunity to get the money he wanted to start over with the girl he loved and he took it. There was no questioning what it was all about."
He felt a sudden wash of empathy for Kostya, furious all over again at the actions of Moriarty…or whoever it was perpetuating his crimes. The feeling was brief as the doors to the meeting room opened and Mycroft walked in, looking rather put out that he was being forced into convening with the authorities at a common police station.
"Is it done?" Sherlock asked.
"Yes," his brother assured him, clasping his hands behind his back as he walked around the table. "To your exact specifications. Care to fill me in on the details of why we have gone this route?"
The door opened again and Lestrade and Donovan stepped into the room.
"We're about to find out," Sherlock said, watching Donovan drop a file of papers onto the table, planting her hands on her hips. Lestrade sank into a chair, looking completely worn out.
"She says she doesn't know who wanted you involved," Donovan told them. "The girl's boyfriend had contacted her when he realized he would get a nice payday for getting you involved. Told her they would all live in comfort if she succeeded. Figured he could get her to leave them alone that way. Charming bloke."
"He was doing what he could to make their lives better," Sherlock interrupted.
"Didn't work, did it?" Lestrade said.
"Why the fire? What happened there?" John asked.
Donovan looked down at the floor before her eyes flicked up to Lestrade's; waiting to see which one of them would have to deliver news they didn't want to.
"When they swept the building, they found two more girls in there," Donovan finally said, letting out a tired sigh. "They weren't as lucky as Miss Fisher."
"It was set up as a sort of residence," Lestrade added on. "Couple of beds, some personal things. We don't know what caused the fire yet – could've been anything in a building that neglected. The explosion you saw was just a coincidence. Spare bit of industrial chemicals left over in an abandoned room."
"We're not sure yet, but based on evidence found at the scene, the girls appear to be Russian," Donovan concluded. "Very young."
"They will be," Sherlock said with certainty, leaning back in his chair and resting his head against his fist. "And I think you'll find it was an exchange operation, one from which Kostya benefited greatly."
"And how does all of this lead the lot of you to believe it's connected to James Moriarty?" Mycroft asked calmly from his place at the head of the table, commanding the attention of the room.
Sherlock tilted his head towards his brother, reading every little movement in his face, the way he had placed his fists down on the table, leaning into his knuckles. He was doubtful that they were facing Moriarty again, but he was alert, his brow drawn in the serious line that meant he was done joking around.
"She said that someone owes me. They wanted to see me work," Sherlock said solemnly, knowing Mycroft would understand the personal nature of those words.
"Every movement they made over the past months will be accounted for," Mycroft said, straightening to his full height. "In the meantime, you may want to consider a trip to Baker Street to talk to Miss Hooper. She wasn't entirely pleased with being placed under armed guard."
Molly jumped up the moment she heard the front door of the building open, rushing to the top of the stairwell as Sherlock started up the stairs. Mrs. Hudson had heard him as well, popping out of her flat and rounding to the base of the stairs so that he was effectively trapped between the two women.
"Sherlock, why were there men invading my building this morning?" Mrs. Hudson demanded.
"The lack of appreciation for bringing a few men into your life astounds me," he said cheekily, though Molly could see the worry under his flippancy. Waving his hand in the air, he continued up the stairs. "Security measure, Mrs. Hudson. Please continue about your day."
When he reached Molly, he took her hand and pulled her into 221B, shutting the door behind them.
"This isn't a simple security measure," she said, slipping her hand from his and walking over to the window to look out at the obvious and not so obvious agents scattered along Baker Street. She knew there was at least one on the roof as he had gone up there via the stairwell and never come back down. "This is house arrest. They wouldn't let me leave for work."
"You're on call today," he pointed out.
"My cat?" she argued, stepping closer to him.
"You can't ask your neighbor to look after him?"
Molly's jaw tensed.
"I might like to wear some fresh clothes eventually," she said, gesturing down to point out the fact that she was wearing a pair of his pyjama trousers, rolled several times at the waist so she could walk without tripping, and one of his t-shirts. "Why the dramatics?"
He wouldn't look at her, his eyes focused far off into space, and she knew that he wasn't simply being inattentive to her questions. He blinked a few times before taking a sharp breath.
"The case…the daughter of the psychic. It was tied to Moriarty," he said, his voice disturbingly calm.
Feeling her flesh pull tight into goosebumps, Molly swallowed. Sherlock moved closer to her and pulled her into his arms. He smelled like smoke.
"Even if it's not him, your involvement in my suicide is public. If I missed someone in the network…if there is the slightest chance they know what you did, they will want to remedy the fact that we fooled them," he murmured into her hair. "He didn't win. And he won't stop until he does win, in the end."
"I thought," Molly started, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. "I thought, after a while, that maybe it was a joke…that whole broadcast. It all calmed down so much, we never found anything. I hoped…I just hoped that it wasn't real."
"It is very real."
She pulled back, looking up at him and curling her fingers around the lapels of his coat.
"I know you want to protect everyone," she told him gently. "But Sherlock, I can't stay locked up here indefinitely until everything is fixed. I mean, did you lock down John's house as well?"
Sherlock's bottom lip pulled tight and he glanced away from her, looking slightly guilty.
"Oh my god, you did, didn't you?" she said.
"Well if I can't keep an eye on them, then that is the only solution, obviously."
"Would it make you feel better to go over there?" she asked.
Sherlock tilted his head, scrunching his nose in a noncommittal way that let her know that was exactly what would make him feel better. She laid her hand against his cheek, stroking his skin with her thumb.
"Well, come on, then. We can stop by mine so I can at least wear clothes my size," she said with a smile.