AN: The timeline starts to get really loose from this installment onwards. I was planning on keeping in line with most of season three, but I gave up during the process of writing this fic. I'm using the general idea from each episode, but I've changed everything to suit my needs.

Also, this series is looking more like eleven installments in the series, instead of just ten. An anonymous reviewer pointed out one of my plot holes and I was scrambling to figure out how to deal with it, and really, the only answer was to add an installment that explained it. (This is not that installment, oops.)

ALSO: This installment is dedicated to Terri. She knows why.

Alex comes home, and there's a ghost in his foyer. At this point, he shouldn't even be surprised.

"Alex," Sherlock Holmes says, glancing up at him around the newspaper. "Thank God. This is incredibly boring." He tosses the newspaper onto the ground, leaping to his feet. "I need your help," he says, and Alex breathes in through his nose, out through his mouth, raises his eyes heavenward and shakes his head.

"John's going to kill you," he says, and Sherlock flinches, face raising to touch his suspiciously swollen, red nose.

"He punched me," Sherlock mutters. "He was proposing to some girl, and he punched me."

Alex takes this to mean that John and Sherlock are not on speaking terms.

"Sherlock," Alex sighs, running a hand down his face. "Sherlock, you're alive."

Sherlock winces, glancing down at the floor, and it might be the first time Alex has ever seen him look human. "I'm…sorry," he says, frowning, and Alex snorts.

"It killed you to say that, didn't it?" he asks, and when Sherlock scowls at him, Alex takes a hesitant step forward, into Sherlock's space. Sherlock eyes him like he thinks Alex is going to punch him, too, but Alex… Alex has lost enough people in is life that he's just thankful for the ones who come back.

Sherlock lets out a surprised oof when Alex hugs him, but Alex clings tightly to him, anyways. He's nineteen years old, living in a flat on his own in London, but he's clinging to Sherlock Holmes like a small child.

"I," Sherlock says, sounding choked up. Then, "I don't like this, get off of me," as he pushes Alex away. But a smile is threatening to overtake his features.

"You said you needed my help," Alex says, pulling himself together again. "With what?"

Sherlock frowns again, his shoulders drawing tense. "A woman named Katherine Clarke," he explains. "She used to be—she was—Moriarty. James Moriarty. He was the man I was trying to catch when I…faked my death. She was his right hand man. She was also—"

"Scorpia," a voice interrupts, and Alex stiffens, turning to see Yassen Gregorovich hovering in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. "Officially, Zeljan Kurst was the leader of Scorpia. But Katherine Clarke was pulling all of the strings."

There's a pause; a long silence where Sherlock frowns at Alex and Yassen and Alex tries to come to terms with the fact that two men he once thought were dead are in his flat.

Alex looks back and forth between the two men. "Which means…what, exactly? For me, I mean. Why do you want my help? You haven't so far."

He doesn't mean to sound bitter. He's happy Sherlock is back, he is, but he wishes he'd never had to lose him in the first place.

"She put out a bounty," Sherlock explains, voice curt and terse. "One million pounds for the recovery of Alex Rider. Alive and in good health, delivered on her doorstep."

Alex makes a face. "Finishing me off? I took down Scorpia once already. I'm not… I wasn't supposed to have to do it again. I wasn't."

He expects Sherlock to look surprised by this admission, but Sherlock doesn't. He just looks resigned. Alex wonders how much Sherlock has figured out about his past in the last three years—if he's finally discovered the truth.

"Scorpia is in shambles," Yassen offers. "For years, I've been taking out the key members. Katherine Clarke is the last one holding Scorpia, and Moriarty's chain of command, together. If we kill her, we take down both organizations. And you're our way in."

Alex lifts his gaze heavenward. "Bollocks," he sighs. "I'm bait, aren't I?"

John does not like the plan. Alex knows this because John has told them all, in great detail, how much he really does not like the plan.

"You don't get a say on the plan," Sherlock snaps, sitting across from John in the jet hanger, a deep scowl marring his features. "You were proposing to her," he points an accusatory finger at Mary, who looks vaguely amused by everything, "and so you don't get a say. At all. It's not your decision, anyways."

"You were dead!" John shouts. "If you didn't want me dating other people, you shouldn't have died!"

To Alex, Mary whispers, "Are they always like this?" and Alex nods, because yeah, they are. Mary laughs. "I like Sherlock," she tells him. "He's a good match for John." She sits back in her seat, smiling as the two men keep yelling at each other, and Alex frowns at her.

"You're not mad?" he asks. He's not sure how to tell her that, even if John is mad now, he's never going to stay away from Sherlock Holmes. Not if Sherlock doesn't make him.

"Mad?" Mary asks, shaking her head. "No, not at all. I'm not the marrying kind of girl, not me. I like John, but he was just fun." She sighs. "I'll miss you most after those two sort this out."

Alex has always liked Mary, to some degree. After he got over the fact that she wasn't Sherlock, she was funny, and sarcastic, and she always ganged up on John with Alex. But she's not Sherlock. When Alex moved back to England after graduating high school, he could tell right away that she never made John as happy as Sherlock did. He could also tell that John was terrified of losing her like he did Sherlock, of losing her before she knew how he really felt. That's why he rushed into the wedding proposal.

"You don't have to leave just because you won't be with John anymore," Alex says haltingly. "I…like having you around." And I'm tired of losing people I care about, he thinks, but he doesn't say that.

Mary just smiles at him. John and Sherlock are still yelling at each other, Yassen is at the front of the jet, flying the aircraft that's taking them to France, where Alex is going to play bait so that Sherlock Holmes and Yassen Gregorovich can kill a woman, while John and John's soon-to-be ex-girlfriend pretend to be assassins.

Alex's life is so delightfully weird. Maybe he never thought he'd have a family again, after Jack died, and maybe the Pleasures could never have amounted to the family they tried to be for him. But these four people around him now, doing this insane thing… It feels like coming home. Everyone here is home.

Katherine Clarke is your typical leader of a terrorist organization. Tall and stern, with black hair and blood red lips, and blue eyes that linger on Alex with frightening intensity when Sherlock and Yassen drag him into the building.

"You did well," she says with an approving gleam in her eyes, kicking a briefcase towards John. Yassen pushes Alex until he stumbles, falling to his knees on the floor in front of Clarke, and Alex glares back at him. He knows this is just for show, but that fucking hurt, okay?

Clarke crouches down in front of Alex, grabbing his chin between two strong fingers, inspecting him closely. He tries to jerk away, but her grip only tightens, and his hands are tied behind his back, unable to fight his way out of the bondage.

It's not different than any other situation he's been in, but it feels worse, because this time, it's his family who's handing him over. Even if it's just an elaborate plot.

"If that's all," Clarke says, voice ringing with annoyance, "you may leave."

"It's not all, actually," Sherlock says, somewhere behind Alex, and Clarke's gaze snaps away from Alex's face, towards the sound of Sherlock's voice. Then a shot rings out, and there's blood everywhere, and Clarke is crumbling into a pool of blood in front of Alex.

Alex squeezes his eyes shut against the image and tries not to throw up. Tries not to think about who took that shot. Tries not to wonder if the Sherlock who came back from the grave is the same one who died.

Things are blurry, after that. Clarke's men are shouting and gunfire blazes above Alex's head and Alex just ducks down, curling towards his own knees, trying to stay out of the way until there's a hand on his arm, pulling him up and onto his feet, crossing the hangar until they're safely inside of the jet again.

When Alex finally looks up, it's John standing there with him, a grim set to his face. Mary is close behind him, face drawn in concern and fear, and Alex wonders if Sherlock is the one who took the shot, after all.

After, back at John's flat, Sherlock says, "That's it. It's over. I can come home now."

He glances at John and adds, tentatively, "If I still have somewhere to come home to?"

John scowls at him. "Of course you do," he snaps, "don't be stupid." Then he reels Sherlock in by the collar of his coat and kisses him.

Mary laughs. "I think that's my cue to leave," she says, standing and knocking back the last swallow of her beer. Yassen left earlier, after seeing Alex home safely. He'd touched his shoulder, smiled softly, and said he'd check in later.

John pulls away from Sherlock guiltily. "Mary," he starts, and she shakes her head.

"Don't," she orders, grinning at him. "Take care of your boy, John, and call me when you're ready to be friends." She turns to Alex. "Let's do lunch?" she offers hopefully, and Alex hugs her before she leaves.

When she's gone, it's just Alex, Sherlock, and John, and it feels just like how everything should have been all along.

"So," John says to Alex. "This woman, who offered the bounty for you. Katherine Clarke? Sherlock said she wanted you because you've taken down Scorpia before."

"Right," Alex says, swinging his legs over the arm of the couch, sipping at his beer.

"You're nineteen," John says, frowning. "And unless you've been taking down terrorist organizations since Sherlock…" He trails off, and Alex shakes his head.

"Before I met you," he says. "I was fifteen."

John's frown deepens. "Alex," he sighs, "are you ever going to tell us who you are?"

Alex thinks about Jack, about Tom, about Ben, and thinks that life has been easier for those who haven't known who he is, what he's done. Jack's dead, and Alex hasn't heard from Ben in years, and Tom… God knows what happened to Tom. It's better this way, Alex thinks. He's protecting them. Isn't he?

"No," Alex tells him. "You'll have to guess." He smiles at them, then pushes himself up off of the couch, onto his feet.

"I'm crashing in my old room," he tells John. "Don't be too loud, the walls are thinner than you think."

These two people are as close to family as Alex is ever going to come again. And Alex knows, deep down, that he's going to lose them. Somehow. He's lost everything else so far, everyone else. And it's going to be his fault, when he loses them.

Alex should have known Sherlock wasn't really dead. It wasn't Alex's fault that he "died"—of course the man wasn't dead. No, Alex thinks, when Sherlock Holmes dies, it's going to be Alex's fault. And Alex is going to have to watch it happen, just like he has with everyone else.

Maybe it's time to distance himself again. The idea of pushing Sherlock away after just getting him back physically pains Alex, but he could do it. He could get used to it. It would be safer, for Sherlock and John, if Alex wasn't in their lives.

But Alex is selfish. And Sherlock and John are all he has. Yassen is distant, Mary isn't that close yet… If Alex pushes away Sherlock and John, he won't have anything left. And Alex doesn't want to hurt them, anyways.

He just wants to keep them close. And safe. And alive.

And he doesn't want to wonder which of them took that shot. He doesn't want to know which member of his family is going to have to hang onto that burden. He knows a thing or two about burdens, about killing people. He knows how hard it is to let go of.

That night, sleep doesn't come as easy as he was hoping. And it has more to do with the blood he sees every time he closes his eyes than the keening moans drifting through the flat from John and Sherlock's bedroom.