The sky was always massive and clear in Kandahar Province. Lying there with his back in the sand, John thought the stars stretched for miles. It was one of those perfect clear nights, when the world was nothing but black sky and black sand and twinkling stars, one of those nights when the world was calm and quiet and no one was shooting. Nothing but warm ground and cooling wind, alone in the eye of the storm.
Well, almost alone.
Sebastian dropped down to the sand, stretching out next to John with a grunt. He folded his hands behind his head, nudging John with his elbow. The Captain grunted out something that might have been construed as a greeting to the Colonel, nudging back.
"Rough day, Doctor?"
"A day plus some. Eighteen hours of meatball surgery plus regular duty. Only just got off." John sighed. "Wouldn't trade it for all the rain in England."
Sebastian's laugh was rich and full.
"Neither would I, Johnny. Neither would I."
They were both quiet a moment, staring at the stars.
"My tour's up in a month," John said, reaching for a conversational tone and only just failing.
"Lucky bastard," Sebastian joked. "What'll you do when you get home?" John shrugged.
"Find some general practice work, maybe. Maybe a hospital job with the NHS." He paused a moment to let that sad, lifeless picture form. "Just keep going, keep hoping to be sent back, I suppose." Sebastian chuckled.
"I got another five months. Not sure what I'll do after. Not much out there for a sniper. Not what's on the up-and-up anyways."
Silence fell again, only the whistling wind and the quiet breathing of two brothers-in-arms.
"Do you ever think about it?" John asked hesitantly.
"Just going home," he explained. "I think about it sometimes. Getting off the plane at Heathrow, seeing all my family waiting for me. Mind, Harry'd have to stop drinking for a day." Sebastian snorted.
"No point in thinking about it for me. No one'll meet me, my family's gone." The words were heavy in the cool, light night of the air.
"I'll meet you at the gate, Bastian." It was a whispered promise beneath the stars, in that moment of calm. Words that might have been meaningless, a joke, a cheering phrase, never remembered otherwise, but in a warzone everything has too much meaning.
A week later, John followed Sebastian off the base. He was the unit's favorite medic. The officers laughed and joked, finding humor even in the overheated interior of the armored convoy.
Until the lead truck was blasted apart.
In the still moment immediately following the explosion, while the air was still shaking around them, John tensed. The smile disappeared from his face. Good-natured Johnny went away and Doctor Watson came out to play. Before the truck he was in could fully stop, John had his kit and was out the door.
"Watson!" Sebastian was barrelling toward him, crouched down. "Shit! You can't just go swanning off like that!"
But John was only focused on the twisted wreck in front of him, the limping enlisted man pulling the blood-soaked driver from the hulking, shattered form.
"Yes sir," he replied automatically, not stopping for a moment. He grabbed the driver, helping the sergeant he couldn't think well enough to recognize yet pull him onto open ground. Blood soaked into the sand and dust.
"Get Bill!" he ordered. He heard Sebastian yelling in the background, calling for Lieutenant Murray, as he stood straight and craned his neck, looking for evidence of any other survivors in the wreck.
The first bullet grazed his right leg, knocking him to his knees, and buried itself in the chest of the dying driver, rendering him no longer in need of John's services.
The second hit the back of Sebastian's left thigh, just off centre. The Colonel dropped like a stone.
"Bastian!" Ignoring the pain and weakness and blood loss in his own leg, John forced his way to his CO's side, Bill Murray crouched in front of him.
"Pressure, tourniquet, get him in the truck and let's move," he ordered, setting to work making sure the hot lead hadn't nicked the femoral artery.
The third bullet ripped through his left shoulder, back to front, then scraped the side of Sebastian's hand before it dug a hole in the dry ground.
He collapsed on top of the Colonel. The last thing he heard was Sebastian calling his name.
John woke slowly to a bright, fuzzy world, full of the sharp smell of disinfectant and the heaviness of painkillers and a throbbing ache that even morphine couldn't quite mask in his shoulder.
Hospital, then. After a moment, events came back to him. They'd been ambushed, he'd been shot (twice), he'd collapsed on top of Sebastian-
"Bastian?" he croaked out. The nurse he heard shuffling around turned to him, checking over his signs. "Colonel Moran? What happened to him?" His voice was rough with disuse. How long and he been out?
"I don't know, sir. I'll ask, if you'd like." Then she told him what had happened since he'd lost consciousness in the desert.
Captain John Watson was immediately put into a truck and returned to base, where he was stabilized just enough to be evac'ed out of Afghanistan and back to an RAMC hospital in Germany. A pair of metal plates now held his left scapula together, thirteen stitches did the same for the graze on his leg. Still out from the surgery, he'd been loaded onto a plane and set back to his home base in England to recover. He'd likely not be cleared to be a surgeon again, which would mean the end of his RAMC career.
Colonel Sebastian Moran had been taken back to the base in Kandahar in the same truck. He'd been patched up in the same hospital in Germany and remained there to convalesce. He would probably limp for the rest of his life, but that wasn't for certain. Physiotherapy and a physical evaluation would determine whether he would remain in the Army or be discharged along with John.
John cursed his damned leg and the stares it got him, a still-young man with a cane. Medically, he knew his leg was healed. It shouldn't hurt. There was no lasting damage, only a scarred depression in the side of his thigh, but it still hurt. Damned psychosomatic pain, damned therapist. His whole life had gone pear-shaped as soon as that Afghani bullet had ripped through his shoulder. He should have been on base, he should have been the one to dig the twisted lead out of Sebastian's leg, repair veins and nerves and muscle with a master's touch.
Not meeting him at the gate in England.
John kept his eyes fixed on the board announcing flight 368's arrival from Frankfurt a.M., Germany. He stood out among families awaiting the return of travelling members and drivers meeting business people. Usually the men in fatigues were getting off the plane, not meeting it, but he hadn't been sure Sebastian would recognize him in his civilian uniform of jeans and wool jumpers.
Especially with the cane.
Even stooped and walking with the aid of a cane of his own, Sebastian Moran towered over business men in sharp suits and casually dressed tourists. When he spotted his waiting friend, John lifted his cane in a salute of commiseration.
"Johnny," he greeted, swinging his rucksack down off his shoulder. "What're you doing here?"
"I said I'd meet you, Bastian. And good thing, too! Got any money for a cab?" Sebastian's good-natured grimace answered that question.
They were quiet for a moment, looking at each other. For a mere minute, they could forget they were in the middle of Heathrow's International Terminal, forget the canes they both held, forget the discharge papers in Moran's back pocket and on Watson's desk in his bedsit, forget the fact that they were essentially starting their adult lives over again.
Then Sebastian shifted to lean on his crutch and the world came rushing back in. John looked down, tapping his own cane against the ground distractedly.
"Well, we'd better get goi-" John's words were cut off as the large Colonel wrapped him in a tight hug. He stiffened a second, then relaxed, winding his arms around his friend. They stayed that way for a few beats, just enough for people to begin to point at them and smile, and neither one said anything when they let go.
"Yeah, let's go."
Life in a bedsit differed only slightly from life as an officer on a Forward Operating Base. Blank, beige rooms, small beds that Moran and Watson still made up like they were going to be inspected in basic training, food that met caloric and nutrition requirements but didn't do much for the palate. It was quieter in England, though. No mortar rounds in the night, no sudden calls for surgeons to the base hospital. No young enlisted men tromping through the corridors talking loudly, excitedly, drunkenly.
It rained outside John's window. It hadn't rained once in Kandahar while he'd been there, not during the dry season. He missed the sun, the clear air, the miles upon miles of night sky with millions upon millions of stars.
The constant rain and mist wore down on two men who found themselves alive in the heat of the desert. They spent a week together, living down the hall from one another, getting to know England again. They went for curries and had cups of tea and talked about their lives before the Army. They went to pub in the evenings sometimes, where Sebastian drank two pints to John every one, and talked about life in the Army, the alcohol an aid to speaking about the life now closed to them both.
Sebastian gave John his old sidearm one night. He didn't ask what John would do with it. John didn't ask why the Colonel had brought it with him.
The call was quiet, but John was awake in an instant. He'd slept lightly (when he slept at all) since returning from Afghanistan, still always waiting for a call to the hospital. He rolled out of bed to open the door, glances at his watch as he grabbed his cane.
Half two in the morning.
Moran was leaning against the doorframe, dead on his feet with exhaustion but with the haunted look in his eyes that bespoke nightmares. Just like John.
No words were needed to explain. John just stepped aside, hobbling to the little gallery kitchen to make tea. The drowned their nightmares in steam and splashes of milk, silently mourning the end of the nights they spend laying on the sand and watching the stars shine through the miles of dark night sky.
It was halfway through their mugs when Sebastian spoke again.
"I got a job offer." John grunted into his mug, raising an eyebrow. "It's…shady."
The second eyebrow joined the first, reaching for John's still-short hair.
"'Personal security.' Bodyguard, really." John looked pointedly at Sebastian's left leg. "That's the official story, anyway. The guy…he's some kind of crime lord, and he wants a sniper. A good one."
Silence fell heavy on the tiny beige kitchen, the way it can only fall in the early hours of the morning, before the sky is even hinting at grey.
Then John nodded.
"Do what you love, yeah?" He quirked a half-smile at the larger man. "Money any good?"
"Money's fantastic." A long drink of tea, swirling the dregs around in the cup before downing them too. "Wants me to live with him, too. Always on call."
"Live-in PA?" John smirked. Sebastian shook his head ruefully, grinning.
"Something like that."
Sebastian left when the sun came up. He'd always had an easier time sleeping in the daylight. John was jealous, and of more than his ability to sleep. Sebastian was moving on, moving up, moving out. He stopped at the door.
"Visit me, Johnny."
John wouldn't see him again for three months.
John had woken from maybe half an hour of sleep with another nightmare of blood and bullets and sand. This time it was Moran he hadn't saved. Sherlock was in a mood, plucking shrill, pointed notes on his violin and John's leg was aching. He was bone tired, not having slept much at all through the case with the bank and the Chinese crime ring.
"I'm going out for some air." Sherlock just picked another painful-noise-masquerading-as-a-musical-note. "Right."
John's unease carried him out the door, into a cab, and all the way across London to Sebastian's flat. The stars were hidden behind the constant English cloud cover that night, and it unsettled John even more.
His heart was racing when he reached Sebastian's door, his breathing fast as he banged on the solid wood. He heard someone swear and knock something over behind it.
"Bastian?" he called hesitantly. Moran swung the door open, shirtless and bleary-eyed, handgun held by his side in a loose grip.
"Dream. Our last ride out."
They could almost speak without words now. Sebastian scratched the back of his head with his gun and sighed, but he stepped aside to let John through anyway. He knew what John needed. He needed to come back to the real world, out of the hazy, bloody realm of his dreams. He needed the hot steam rising off a cup of strong, Army-grade coffee. He needed to sit with the man he watched die, to be reassured by his casual conversation and half-smiles and his large, warm presence in the tiny kitchen.
Sometimes Sebastian needed it too.
And so it was they ended up in opposite chairs in the living room, talking quietly and sipping coffee strong enough to make the spoon stand straight up. John told his friend about living with a man who called him an idiot as a term of endearment and told him he constantly missed the important things.
He didn't miss the way Sebastian stiffened suddenly.
"Bastian?" The Colonel sat with military straightness, features blank where there had been a crooked smile before, tightness around his eyes betraying his anxiety at what was about to happen.
"Moran? Who's 'ere?"
Standing in the darkened bedroom doorway behind John was a slight, sleep-mussed, dark-haired man with an adorable Irish accent. He rubbed his eyes with one hand, the other busy holding onto a gun.
John was sensing a theme.
"Oh, God, I'm sorry," he apologized automatically. "I forgot Sebastian didn't live alone. God, it's a terrible hour and I've woken you, I'll go and let you both go back-"
"Johnny," Sebastian interrupted his rambling.
"It's alright," the small Irishman said. "I don't sleep regular hours anyway. I'm Jim." He didn't let go of the gun.
"John Watson," he gave his most charming smile, the one that made women (and men) on three continents fall over themselves. "I was stationed with Bastian on our last two tours in Afghanistan."
"Were you really?" Jim's smile was even more crooked than Sebastian's, and more endearing, but his gaze was as sharp as Sherlock's. John was suddenly reminded that Sebastian had said Jim was a criminal mastermind. "I'd love to hear about it sometime, but right now I think I'm for bed again. 'Night, Moran."
"Boss." Sebastian gave a sharp nod, still stiff as a board. He didn't relax until Jim shut the door. "Sorry about that, Johnny. That was the guy I told you about last time we talked, the Boss." John hummed, swirling his coffee.
"He doesn't look it. Most people wouldn't remember him if they passed on the street." Then John thought about the small frame, dark hair and eyes, that adorable accent. "Well, I might, but I'm not most people." The silence stretched as they spoke without words, asked and answered questions.
"Gay?" John eventually asked.
"You've met someone."
"Yes, good morning to you too, Sherlock," John said absently, putting away the shopping he'd picked up on his way back from Sebastian's.
"Yup. Bastian's flatmate," John answered.
Sherlock thought for a moment. "Is this going to precipitate some tedious crisis of your sexuality?"
John grinned. "Nope. Not my fault everyone assumes 'I'm not gay' means I don't like men ever. I just don't like labels." John shrugged. Sherlock seemed reassured that he wouldn't have to deal with anything dull and sentimental.
John didn't recognize the number that popped up on his phone, but he shrugged and answered it anyway. Things were quiet at the surgery, it was near closing time, and chances were high it was just Mycroft.
"Hey, Johnny." Not Mycroft, then.
"Hey, Bastian. What's going on?"
"Nothing. I'm bored as hell, Jim's in a mood, and I don't like the way he keeps eyeing my rifle. What do you say we all go out for a drink? My treat."
John thought about the long day he'd spent at work, about the achy tiredness that had seeped into his bones after too many nights of too little sleep, about how bored Sherlock was and how likely the flat was to suffer from it.
"Great! We'll meet you at the pub just down on the corner after you get off, yeah?"
For a second, John wondered how he knew where the surgery was and what time it closed. Then he smiled to himself, remembering what Sebastian did for a living now and just who his employer was.
The pub was bustling, but not crowded. John got off work rather late, after the usual pint-after-work crowd was gone. The air was full of warmth and the hum of happy talk, helped along by good beer.
The two men met him at the door, Jim's smile just as endearingly crooked as John remembered. Sebastian still looked like a soldier, standing straight and tall and constantly surveying the area. He'd traded tan shirts tucked into fatigues for a grey shirt tucked into dark jeans, but his ID circles still lay proudly on his chest. Only John's trained eye picked out the lingering hitch in his step when he walked.
They found a table in the back corner and loaded it down with three pints and a pile of chips.
"I think you've saved London from Jim's boredom today," Sebastian said. John chuckled.
"No need to thank me, you saved me from my own flat mate's boredom. I swear, the man's only three years old inside. I can't leave my gun anywhere, he'll find it, and last time he was bored he shot holes in the living room wall." John could only shake his head at the memory of Sherlock's antics. "I'll probably go back to find he's stolen some more body parts from the morgue to keep in the fridge. Again."
"Seriously?" Sebastian raised his eyebrows.
"No kidding. They're nutters, him and his brother both. The brother thinks he's a James Bond villain." John paused. "By the way, do you know anybody who's good with technology and not connected to the government in any way?"
"Why would you need someone like that?" Jim looked curious, but John could see a hint of his suspicion, too.
"He's probably bugged my phone. I like Bastian, and I'd rather not see him come down just because he has the misfortune of knowing me. Make him catch you for a mistake you made, instead." Jim and Sebastian both frowned at him blasé attitude to their careers, but John just shrugged and took a drink.
"I can do it for you now, if you want," Jim offered.
"Really? Thanks, that'd be great." John handed over his phone with another of his most charming smiles. Gorgeous, dangerous, and intelligent? He was liking Jim more and more.
"I noticed you don't really work regular hours at the surgery, John," Jim said as he looked over the phone.
"And I'm flattered that you were interested enough to stalk me," John replied without missing a beat, bringing a smile to Jim's face that he quickly hid. Sebastian just laughed. "It's just locum work anyway. It's hard to work regular hours when you live with the world's only consulting detective, who happens to be a madman who drags me off to solve murders at all hours." John chuckled and took another drink. "Everyone seems to think we're a couple, too, despite the fact that no one has ever seen Sherlock have any romantic interest in anyone, ever. He shut me down on the day we met, before I could even start, really."
"If you've watched me enough to know what kind of hours I work, I'm going to find it very hard to believe you don't already know who I live with," John raised an eyebrow at a slightly abashed looking Jim. Sebastian had to set his glass down, he was laughing so hard. "Yes, Sherlock Holmes: genius, self-proclaimed sociopath, and world's biggest brooding toddler. I swear, he throws temper tantrums." Another drink. He'd nearly finished his pint. "So what have you two been up to that you can share in public to one of the uninitiated?"
Jim and Sebastian gave him identical looks of surprise and speculation at his insight. John only smirked.
"Well," Sebastian began with a glance at Jim, "I had to deal with the clean-up from a client who was shot in the heart by an expert marksman with an unregistered handgun."
"He wasn't long for this world anyway," Jim interjected, back to fiddling with John's phone. "Brain aneurism."
John stared at them both in shock, head swivelling back and forth. Then he burst out laughing.
"That was you! You were Hope's sponsor and Sherlock's fan." He shook his head in amazement, still chuckling. "That was good, very clever."
"You really think so?"
"Of course I do. Killer cabbie? Completely unexpected. And the fact that you found someone who could play the game with Sherlock, someone who everyone else overlooked. Brilliant, all of it."
The look in Jim's eyes was so familiar. John realized it was the same look Sherlock had had, the first time John had told him he was amazing. It was a sort of tentative pride and wary joy, as though he was about to shout 'April Fool's!' and call him a freak instead.
"Yeah, really amazing. Sorry if I made a mess for you, shooting him and all."
"Nah, don't worry about it," Sebastian dismissed. "He was going to die soon anyway, since both those pills were bad." Jim glared at him, and John thought privately that it was because Bastian had given away what had been a really good plan. "Anyway, I got to see all that time I spent training you put to use!"
"Are you kidding?" John laughed, and Jim switched his odd, intensely curious gaze to him. "I was a damn good shot without your help!"
"You know, that always seemed odd to me," Sebastian wondered. "How did a surgeon end up with a marksman's aim?"
"Or was it a sharpshooter who ended up as a surgeon?" Jim added. John just gave them his favourite enigmatic grin, the one that made even Sherlock unsure.
"Steady hands," was all he said before getting up to fetch more drinks from the bar. When he returned, Jim passed him his phone.
"It's clean now," he said quietly. "Mycroft's usually one step behind me, technology wise." John didn't question any part of his statement, just nodded his thanks. "I also put in our numbers," Jim added hesitantly. "Moran is under Steve Morstan, which is one of the aliases he uses now. I'm in as James Reginold, and the number goes to my private phone." He pinked faintly. John wasn't stupid, he knew that showed how much trust Jim had in him, and the way Sebastian sputtered into his beer and excused himself for the loo only confirmed it.
He reached out and squeezed Jim's wrist, running his thumb softly against the back of the Irishman's hand. He could feel the pulse quicken under the pad of his middle finger.
"Thanks, Jim," he said, giving his trademarked Heartbreaker smile. "I suppose that means you be hearing from me again about going for drinks. Or maybe dinner?" He leaned a little closer, enjoying the way Jim bit at his lip slightly. "And maybe we could go without Bastian next time?"
"I'd like that," Jim answered softly, just as Sebastian returned. John removed his hand and leaned back, since the look on Bastian's face clearly said he was thinking about turning around and leaving again.
"Well, must be off," John said with a grin as he stood. He watched in fascination as Jim collected himself and a calm, confident mask slid across his features. He was better than Sherlock, as good as Mycroft. "Sherlock's probably gone through all my bullets by now and is back to being bored. Should probably make sure he isn't going to blow up the flat accidentally. Or on purpose," he mused, frowning. Jim laughed.
"Don't worry about the tab, Johnny," Sebastian said, and John saluted him mockingly. "See you around?"
"Yeah," John replied, looking at Jim. "Definitely."
John was all but humming to himself as he made a lasagne for dinner, determined to make Sherlock eat at least half a normal portion. He'd had coffee with Jim that morning, before going on to an afternoon shift at the surgery, and he felt like walking on air.
It was so easy to forget Jim was a criminal mastermind sometimes. Granted, John had not actually seen him at work, so to speak, but he just seemed like a normal bloke, if genius and always slightly fidgety, running over with manic energy. Though living with Sherlock made Jim look ordinary by comparison.
Just sometimes, John would catch him surveying exits and studying nearby people with an intense, x-ray scan kind of gaze, the way he had always seen SAS guys in Afghanistan do. It was threat assessment, one of the markers of Jim's deeply ingrained paranoia. Jim always sat with his back to the wall in sheltered corners and alcoves, but with a clear view of the main part of the room and as many exits as possible.
Not to mention the first time John had met him, when he came out of his bedroom with gun in hand.
But their conversation flowed easily and stuck to fairly normal, if sometimes morbid, topics. Jim liked to hear about Sherlock's experiments and the bodies John examined in the morgue at St. Bart's. John listened raptly to stories about years-old murders in and around London. The stories were always carefully edited and censored, but John always knew in the back of his mind that Jim was the one responsible, though the man was quick to tell him what the victim had done to deserve such a fate. Besides, Jim was only the organiser. Someone else always did the actual deed, and they could have backed out in the end, right?
"I take it your date went well?" Sherlock said with a faint sneer, cutting across John's thoughts. He grinned.
"Yep," he chirped, popping the lasagne in the oven. "We're having a little get-together here for my birthday next week," he informed the detective, who was beginning to show clears signs of a pout at the news. "Just dinner and drinks with a few people."
"Tedious," he declared, flopping gracelessly into his chair.
"Too bad," John replied. "It's the first birthday I'll spend on English soil in five years, and people are going to celebrate with me, yeah? I don't care if you spend the whole night sulking, either, since everyone already knows you. Or at least, about you."
"Your boyfriend is coming, too, then." Now Sherlock was definitely sneering. John wondered what his problem was.
"Of course he's coming. So is Bastian, and so are Greg and Molly and Mrs Hudson. Mycroft can come too if he wants, and that woman of his that's always on her phone. You two can sit in a corner and snip at each other the whole time, for all I care. Though it might be interesting to get Mycroft drunk…" he trailed off, thinking.
As is turned out, John was spared the stressful, if likely to be entertaining, meeting of Jim and Sherlock, as well as the politely worded horror that would be introducing his boyfriend to Mycroft. Sebastian was the first to arrive, his heavy tread on the stairs a surprise to John, who knew the sniper to be silent on his feet usually. He shook the odd detail away, thinking it was probably to keep Sherlock from noticing anything off.
"Happy Birthday, Johnny," the large man rumbled, clapping John in a one-armed, manly sort of hug. "Something came up with work, so Jim can't come, but he'll probably want to take you out tomorrow." John smiled ruefully, knowing Jim worked even odder hours than he did. The man was almost as single-minded as Sherlock on a case.
"Probably better that way. Him in a room with Sherlock and Mycroft would only end in tears."
"Who's crying?" Sebastian asked with a grin.
"Humanity," John chuckled, motioning his friend to a chair at the table and fetching a couple cold beers from the fridge. Sebastian dropped a box on the small bit of surface not covered by Sherlock's glassware.
"Open it and see," the sniper replied, laughing as John eagerly ripped through the paper. "Actually, I don't know either. Jim got them all and just handed it to me. Apparently it goes along with his."
John lifted out the tooled leather and laid it on the table for Sebastian to drool over too.
"Oh, that is sweet," the bigger man muttered. He ran his fingers along the stitching.
"This might be the nicest one I've ever seen," John murmured, lovingly touching the high-quality, custom made concealed carry shoulder holster. "Christ, Jim didn't get me a new gun, did he?" Sebastian just laughed, drinking his beer.
Mycroft and the phone assistant never did show up, though John did receive a lovely and expensive bottle of single malt whiskey that he was quite looking forward to sharing with Jim and Sebastian sometime. He tucked the holster away in his room before Greg showed up. Sherlock sat awkwardly in the corner, choosing to just shut up over risking John's wrath by being insensitive or rude.
"How's life, John?" Greg asked, somehow managing to pull himself away from Molly. John grinned.
"It's going alright. It's still new, you know?" He glanced out the window at the drizzling rain. "First birthday in England in five years. Rain sounds caused by actual rain, not bullets or artillery. I'm still getting used to it." He could feel Sebastian coming up behind him, his gait just on the wrong side of even. The Colonel placed a hand on his good shoulder. John grinned, watching Greg watch Sebastian. "Of course, the boyfriend helps."
"Boyfriend?" Greg just barely managed to keep from stuttering, eyes flicking from John to Sebastian and back.
"Oh, not him," John said carelessly. "Sebastian's my oldest friend and my former CO, but not my boyfriend. He's not even- actually," he turned to Sebastian, "what is your sexuality, anyway?"
Sebastian screwed up his face in thought, then shrugged. "Probably something along the lines of Can't-Be-Arsed-sexual." John snorted, and even Greg grinned.
"See? Nah, not Bastian. His flatmate, actually. Gorgeous little Irishman obsessed with computers named Jim."
Greg flushed a little, but he still smiled. "Well, whatever makes you happy, mate. I can't say the Yard'll expect that."
John shared a glance with Sebastian. "What do you mean by that?"
"Er, well," Greg shifted his glass awkwardly in his hands. "Most of them figured, if you dated a bloke…well, it would be Sherlock."
"Sherlock?" John coughed. A quick glance across the room showed Sherlock was watching them closely. "Wow. He's a looker, don't get me wrong, the man's bloody beautiful, but he's just…not what gets me, you know? Too much perfect for an old soldier like me. Too cerebral, too harsh. I've been with Jim for almost two months and he's not once called me an idiot."
John looked down at his phone in his hand on his walk. Incoming Call, Steve Morstan. He grinned.
"What's up, Steve?" he answered.
"Get over him and deal with him," Sebastian gritted out. John could hear glass shatter in the background.
"Bored or angry?" He immediately started looking for a cab, shifting absently into his RAMC ways of speaking with as few words as possible.
"Bored first. Now furious," Sebastian replied, just as a cab slid to a stop in front of John.
John barked out Jim's address before going back to his phone. "Orwell?" he asked, slipping into their code.
"Fucking Eric Arthur Blair," Sebastian gritted. "ETA?"
"Twenty." John tried to avoid bouncing his leg in impatience. "Armed?"
"Only with kitchenware," Sebastian sighed. "ASAP, Watson."
"Yes, sir," John snapped, barely refraining himself from adding 'over' as he ended the call.
As he drew near Jim's flat, he could hear yelling and the sound of a plate impacting the wall. The door was locked, so John rotated and hit it with his good shoulder, smashing the lock open as he reached across to his left armpit to draw his gun from his shoulder holster, the weapon a gift from Jim.
Gun held loosely, he came into the kitchen just in time to duck as a mug came flying toward him. He brought his arm up on instinct and zeroed his arm on Jim, bringing up his left hand to support. Jim froze, saucer stilling in his hands as his eyes went wide and dark.
"Fucking hell, Watson," Sebastian grunted.
"About done there, Jim?" John said pleasantly, gun never wavering.
Jim put the saucer down on the table, raising his hands. "Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?" he smirked.
John let the gun fall, taking the safety off as he holstered it again and tugged his jumper back into place over it. He smiled and stepped forward to grab Jim by the front of his shirt and tug him in for a harsh kiss. "I'm always pleased to see you, but you know I never go anywhere without a gun." Jim grinned ferally and nipped at his lip.
"Oi, c'mon," Sebastian called. "Can't you do that in your room?"
"Mm, can we John?" Jim hummed.
John trailed soft kisses up from Jim's shoulder to his ear and whispered, "Nope." Jim pulled away and glared at him. "No, Jim, you're bored. Sex is not what you need right now. A puzzle is, and I have the perfect puzzle for you."
He dragged a confused Jim into the living room and shoved him onto the couch before stripping off his shirt and trousers.
"Sixty seconds with my bullet wounds, and then you tell me what happened," he grinned.
Jim laughed and clapped his hands once, jumping up to circle John and stare closely at his scars. John kept time on his watch. Sebastian just stared.
"Time," John said. "Tell me what you got."
Jim's eyes glittered with excitement. "There were mountains behind you."
"It was Kandahar," Sebastian pointed out. "There were mountains fucking everywhere."
"The first one hit your leg. It happened while you were standing. The hit to the shoulder would have dropped you, thrown you forward. It's too easy, John!" He groaned and threw himself back on the couch.
John shared a look with Sebastian, getting a tiny nod in return. "Alright, tell me what happened to each bullet. Where did it end up? What did it hit? Recreate the scene."
Jim jumped back up. He moved John to stand straight up. "Right! First bullet comes in," he whistled like a falling bomb in a cartoon, "but the angle's all wrong, so it only grazes the side of your leg. You fall to your knees." He pushed John down into a kneeling position, shoulders slightly bent. "Then, second shot," he smacked a hand on John's scar with a sharp sound, "hits your shoulder, takes you out of action. Both ended up buried in dirt, going by the downward angle of the trajectory as they passed you." He crouched down to meet John's eyes. "Did I get it all?"
"Good," John praised, then smirked, "you got the very basics right. The details…well, can't fault you for lack of information." Jim's face fell, but his eyes were still glittering with the challenge. John waved Sebastian over. "You know Bastian and I were shot at the same time, right? Same attack. Now add in Bastian's scars and tell me what happened." He stood and pushed the coffee table out of the way with one leg, making room for their re-enactment. "Trousers off, Bastian."
"Oi, I'm getting there!"
"And just a hint, Jim," John added, ignoring Jim's glare, "there were three bullets." Jim's eyebrows jumped up his forehead and he threw himself into observation.
"Time," John said a minute later. "Jim, go."
Jim went through another really close story, but John just grinned and shook his head when he was done. "Bastian?"
"Go for it."
John put Jim back on the couch. "Watch. Three bullets, three casualties. Where are we?"
"Off base," Jim answered, frowning.
"All of Afghanistan is 'off base,' be more specific."
"You're in a convoy, going through a valley. There are snipers on the hill, waiting for you. Waiting for the convoy to stop."
"Good, but the snipers aren't important right now."
"Awful snipers anyway. Amateurs," Sebastian added.
John grinned. "In less than two minutes, there are going to be three casualties in one spot. What happens first?"
"The convoy stops."
"No, that's the result. What's going to happen?" John stressed.
Jim's eyebrows scrunched up adorably. "Something stops the convoy." His face cleared with realisation. "An explosion! The lead truck hits an IED."
"Right," John nodded. "Lead truck ends up a pile of shrapnel. Now the convoy has stopped. Bastian and I are in truck three. What's happening now?"
"You're running toward the lead truck, dead set on saving someone," Jim smirked.
"Got any evidence for that?"
"Just how much I know about you," Jim replied cheekily. "So you're running for the lead truck. There's a survivor and you're dragging him out, that's where the third casualty comes in." John nodded, standing so Jim could position him like a dummy. "Now the first bullet hits, grazes your leg, but the angle's weird, you aren't standing straight."
"Right." Leaving his legs straight, John bent from the waist, frozen in the act of reaching for his patient. "Now the bullet hits. Where does it go?"
"Into the survivor," Jim realises, standing to trace the scar on the outside of John's knee. "He dies. First casualty." He turns to Sebastian, but his eyes are glazed in a way that John knows means he's seeing the scene in his mind: cover fire, sandy dust soaked with blood, ragged mountains in the background. "Here comes Moran-"
"Shouting and swearing about my medic captain not going off alone," Bastian interjected.
"-and he turns his back to the hillside for just long enough. Second bullet, buried in his leg, and he falls forward." Bastian grinned and flopped down on the floor, stretched out on his stomach like he had been when he was shot. "But he's here, and you," he frowned at John. "You get up and move."
"I haul myself up," John did so, "and kneel here, putting pressure on the wound." He pressed lightly on the back of Sebastian's leg.
"Hit. Bullet number three, in here," he touched the entry scar, "out here, the angle changes. Is this positioning exact?"
"Oh yes," John said. "It's not exactly something you forget." Sebastian shuddered faintly under his hand.
"So it lands…" Jim's eyes followed the path of the imaginary bullet, tracing the scar near Sebastian's wrist, "in the ground by Moran's hand."
"Scared the fuck out of me," Sebastian said quietly. "The most frightening thing I saw in that whole damned war was my best friend bleeding out across my back."
"I was so mad that I wasn't your surgeon," John admitted, squeezing the arm nearest him. He stood and gathered up his clothes. "Jim," he smiled slowly, "now we can go to your room."
"Do you miss the war?" Jim asked softly in the dark room.
John shifted beside him, rubbing a hand along his spine. "Sometimes. Not the excitement or danger, I get enough of that from you and Sherlock." He paused, thinking. "You make friends easily in a warzone. You have to trust the people around you with your life, just like they trust you, for every second of every day and especially if they're in your chain of command. You have to be friends."
"It's that easy?" Jim asked curiously.
"You make it that easy. Don't talk about politics, don't talk about gays, don't give your opinions on the war. A soldier's job is to point and shoot and never to think beyond the permitted subjects. So we play games and drink, and we laugh in the face of death. Gallows humour is an entry requirement for any branch of the military. Everyone becomes friends out there, but you can't get too attached either, because you could all die tomorrow. Real friends are rare out there."
"Like you and Moran?"
John quirked a smile that couldn't be seen in the dark room. "Yeah, like me and Bastian." He hesitated. "It was…hard for me to become a civilian again, especially without being a surgeon anymore. If I'd lost Bastian in the field that day…hm." He couldn't say it, but the way Jim's arms tightened told John that he knew.
"So what else do you miss?" Jim asked, moving the conversation away from the idea of John's suicide. John pressed a kiss under his ear in thanks.
"The stars," he whispered.
"Stars?" He could hear the little eyebrow pucker of confusion in Jim's voice.
"Yeah, the stars," John smiled. "On quiet nights, I could get away from the base. There was a flat bit of land beside a dry riverbed I would lay on and just stare up at the sky. There's no light out there at all, so you can see all the stars. Bits of light I had no idea existed, just miles of them. You can see without the moon out there." He pulled Jim close to him. "It was beautiful. It almost hurt to see the rain when I came back."
They were quiet for a long moment, enjoying the comfort and each other's quiet breathing.
"John Watson," Jim said softly, "you are the most enigmatic man I have ever met, and I think I love you."
"Not quite the same, is it?"
Sebastian's shadowy face loomed over John, blocking out the few stars he could see. John glared at him.
"Nothing is," he agreed.
"Aren't you cold?" Sebastian asked, crouching down beside him.
John shrugged. "No different than at Baker Street, since Jim blew out the damn windows." Sebastian grimaced and sat, stretching his legs out. "Am I allowed to know where he is?"
Sebastian shook his head. "Europe," was all he said. "He doesn't really understand why you're mad."
John sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Of course he doesn't. He's too involved with his little feud rivalry whatever-the-hell-it-is with Sherlock, just like Sherlock can't be arsed to be a human being because Jim's being all 'delightfully interesting.'" He looked over at Bastian. "It's rough being the normal, ordinary counterpart to a genius."
"Trust me, Johnny, no one normal or ordinary points a loaded gun at their boyfriend just to make him stop throwing a fit," Sebastian said, grinning. "Or lets him recreate the time he got shot, or just accepts that he's a criminal mastermind. No ordinary man illegally carries two guns on a daily basis, just because one was a gift from his boyfriend, or shifts as easily as you do between happy civilian and Army surgeon, like the time I got my face busted. You definitely hold your own."
"Why Colonel Moran, are you flirting with me?" John teased, then his smiled turned genuine. "Thanks, Bastian. Really."
Sebastian grunted and stood, dusting off his jeans. "See you soon, Johnny."
John was shaking with repressed rage beneath his parka. He could feel the weight of each individual wire and pack of Semtex attached to the bomb vest. He figured Bastian had dressed him, since he could also still feel the weight of his Sig Sauer p226 in its holster on his hip, both gifts from Jim.
Jesus, Jim. Why?
An anonymous voice whispered through the earpiece. "Ready, Captain Watson. Just a few minutes." It wasn't even Jim telling him what to say.
He could hear Sherlock entering the pool, talking about the missile plans. Getting the go-ahead, John stepped out to stare flatly at his flatmate.
"Evening, Sherlock," he said tonelessly. He mindlessly repeated the voice's words while he tried not to scream in anger. "I can stop John Watson too. Stop his heart."
His eyes followed the invisible path of the laser sight, knowing Bastian was at the other end. He blinked twice, quickly, while looking up at him, an old silent signal of theirs from Afghanistan.
Got my back?
The dot on his chest wavered, up and down like a nod.
Good. Sebastian would protect him over Jim, if it came down to it.
"John had my number," an Irish voice sing-songed from behind him. "I thought you might call." John turned to see Jim come through the far door, dressed in an impeccable dark suit. "Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?" Sure enough, Sherlock drew John's gun, his Army sidearm that he had just taken off to relax in the flat!
Suddenly, John just couldn't take it anymore. Praying that Semtex wasn't triggered by impact, John snapped out a hand and twisted Sherlock's wrist until he dropped the Browning. With his right hand, he drew his Sig out of his waistband. Next second, he was a human bomb, standing in front of two geniuses, with a loaded gun aimed at each. They had identical expressions of wide-eyed shock. He heard a whistle of approval from the upper level, all Sebastian.
"Thank you, Bastian," he called, never taking his eyes off the geniuses. "So I am so. God damn. Done with all this. Sherlock, you're like a spoiled three-year-old who's never been told 'no' before. Jim, you're an arse. And the both of you are obsessed. Well, I hope you'll be very happy together." He kept the Browning pointed at Jim, tucking the Sig in his armpit to free up a hand, "Bastian, any triggers if I take this off?"
"It's not real, Johnny," the Colonel called from the upper level.
"Good, just making sure," John answered, already ripping open buttons. "Got a car nearby?"
"Yes sir, Captain Watson," another voice called, one that made John pause.
"Damn," he grinned. "Lieutenant Colson, it's good to hear your voice again." He went back to his buttons, ignoring the growing scowl on Jim and Sherlock's faces. "Still in one piece, I hope?"
"Yes sir, all thanks to you."
"Good, very good." He finally got the vest undone and shed it and the parka, one arm at a time. "Colonel Moran, Lieutenant Colson, I'm going to leave now. I'd appreciate it if no one shot at me, since I know all those boys up there are relying on your leadership, not Jim's. I would also be very grateful if someone could take me to a car outside. A signal when you're ready, please."
John nodded sharply. "Jim," he softened his voice, "I don't know why you thought this was necessary, but it isn't. I'm sorry that it came down to this, but you forced my hand. I'm leaving, don't try to find me." His gaze flicked to Sherlock. "Either of you. And that goes for Mycroft, too."
"Ready, sir," Colson called. John heard familiar, faintly uneven steps coming up the hallway behind him, and he trusted Bastian would watch his back if he turned around. All he had was one for thing to say.
"Sherlock, you aren't a freak," he said gently. "Don't think you have to be normal just because people are mean."
"John-" Sherlock's eyes looked suspiciously watery, but he just nodded sharply and look away. "I'll…I'll miss your food."
"Mrs Hudson will make sure you eat," he smiled sadly. He hardened his face as he turned to Jim. "Jim Moriarty, god damn it. I don't know if anything I say will ever make you understand what I feel like right now." Jim opened his mouth to speak, but John cut him off. "I thought I loved you too, Jim. Now," he shrugged, "I don't know what to think."
Sebastian put a hand on his shoulder, and he stepped back. "Goodbye Jim. Sherlock. Have fun."
Sebastian led him down the hallway and out to a nondescript car. "Where do you want to go?"
"Heathrow," he answered, sinking into his seat. "I've always wanted to go to Australia."
"I've heard you can see the stars really well in the Outback," Sebastian said quietly.
"Coming with me?"
"Course I am." He squeezed John's good shoulder. John leaned into it, tired beyond measure.
"Should we take up sheep farming?" John teased.
Sebastian laughed. "I was thinking game hunting and doctor-on-call."
John smiled. "Thanks, Bastian."