A/N: so I had this idea I needed to get out.
Rider on the Storm
He holds the gun smoothly, cradled in practised fingers. They fit around the metal like they were made for it. It heats beneath his skin like a firecracker, waiting to rocket forth and explode inside the other man's body.
His aim will be perfect. He looks down at his fingers as they curl around the gun.
His aim is perfect. He ducks down. He can hear the distant sirens and the familiar buzzing hum of a bullet shot.
He looks down at his fingers and smoothes them over the broken bits of glass. He looks into the shards and can't see the reflection of anything at all.
He closes his eyes and sees Sherlock standing with a pill raised against his lips. He opens them again and looks up at the ceiling and sighs, feeling old and weary. He had been finished with this – completely, utterly rid of everything. He would never have had to look back, with an injury like his keeping him down. But, for Sherlock – for that brilliant, stupid man – he couldn't quite regret his choice.
He doesn't need to look to see his hands are steady. He doesn't want to look at his gun and know that they were right and that he'd never be rid of it.
"Afghanistan or Iraq?" The man says, and he's momentarily blindsided because wasn't that supposed to be confidential? And then the man with the cheekbones opens his mouth again and he's blown away because wow, even though he's a bit bloody offended by how easily some random stranger can blurt out his secrets, that is seriously impressive.
John figured he was due something interesting in his life that wouldn't involve violence. He knew he'd never be able to settle down in normality, but at least with a flatmate like him he wouldn't be bored.
He walked out of the hospital with a smile, and looked forward to seeing Baker street. It all seemed a bit unbelievable – him, getting a flatshare? It felt even more fantastic than going to medical school. Maybe now he'd even be able to settle down and get a proper, steady job. Maybe he could finally live a normal life like he'd always wanted.
He was sat down very comfortably thank you very much, with a nice hot cup of tea and the morning paper. The look on his flatmate's face was far too stubborn for this time of day. He'd been around long enough to recognise the look on Sherlock's face when he'd sniffed up another interesting case.
"Oh, what is it now?" He groaned, picturing the running. He knew he loved the excitement but damnit, he'd just finished an all-nighter at the hospital. He wasn't going to leave this armchair until he'd had at least two biscuits.
Sherlock gave him a curious raise of an eyebrow, dark eyes giving away nothing. "You have an unusually high number of medals, John."
It wasn't phrased as a question, but John felt it bristle in the air anyway. He forced himself not to move a muscle, not to give anything away.
"They can't have all been from when you were in the army." He spoke with a surety that John just knew had to have come from, well, from licking the metal or something and being able to taste how far back the material was manufactured. "What are they for?"
"I've done a lot of stupid things," John says, and takes another sip of his tea and turns resolutely back to his paper.
He can feel Sherlock's frown burrowing into his back. If it were anyone else but him, John knows that he would have ignored the unsubtle dismissal of the conversation. But they'd had a big fight just the other day, and Sherlock isn't quite willing to risk chasing John out of the apartment. (Of course, John knows that no argument would ever be big enough to ever chase him out forever. But Sherlock is aware of how sensitive John is to anything related to his military career, and so soon after 'the pool incident', as they call it, Sherlock is unwilling to unnecessarily upset him. John thinks it's kind of sweet, and reminds himself later that day to hide the medals and hope that he can distract the other man enough that he won't bring them up again when he's in a less charitable mood.)
He thanks his lucky stars that Sherlock doesn't know that he's been knighted (met the queen and everything, quite a few times, in fact). God knows how much he'd be mocked for it.
They're sat outside a café and Sherlock's in the middle of explaining a police report when the man suddenly stops and looks over John's shoulder with narrowed eyes. John turns in his seat, and can't believe his eyes as a grin overtakes his face.
He wonders what Sherlock sees about the man standing behind them. Older than John by around twenty years at least. Tall figure, intimidating, strong posture barely weathered by age. A fine-cut suit tailored to fit him like a glove.
John wonders if Sherlock sees the guns that John sees – as many as two hidden discreetly on his person, and three – no, four – knives. The slight hint of unusual scarring.
The man looks at him and gives him a rare smile – one John knows is never given to anyone else. John is still smiling back because it's been quite a while since they crossed paths.
"How good to see you," The man says, and as John keeps an eye on Sherlock, he notices his flatmate frown a little. It figures, John thinks, that Sherlock has noticed the other man's distinct lack of accent and has also probably noticed that the other man doesn't originate from Europe.
The man nods his head at him, and John sees Sherlock's eyes rivet to the neck. Probably at the long scar there that could only have come from one thing.
"You too," John replies, and the older man's eyes flick to Sherlock and back again. John tilts his head no, and they both know not to use each other's names.
"I heard about the bullet," The man says with a wry grin.
John feels the heat of a blush creep up his neck. "Yes, well. You know. Things happen."
The older man narrows his eyes. "I hope it was an accident," he says, and even though John knows he's not the only one to catch the hidden intent behind the words, he at least knows that Sherlock will have no clue what the words mean.
"Right. Of course I tried. I'm just – not young, anymore." John smiles a little bitterly. "I've gotten slow in my old age, didn't you hear?"
The older man sighs and puts his hand on John's shoulder and squeezes. "You were never too young in the first place. Just dodge better next time, yes? I'm far too glad to see you still living. I'm almost too old to avenge you, you know."
"Almost?" John laughs, a little. "Well, you've always been old to me, so I guess I'm not surprised."
And then John stands up and the two men hug. "Look after yourself," The older man says. "I'd ask you to stay out of trouble if I thought it would make any difference."
"Right," John says, "And you. Just try not to get caught."
"I never do," the man says, and then finally turns his attention to the man still sat at the table. "Look after him, Sherlock," he says, and then continues down the street.
John isn't at all surprised that the other man knows who he's living with. Probably reads his blog. God knows everyone seems to be doing it these days.
He sits back down at the table and waits for it. He knows when Sherlock is about to ramble genius.
"Who was that?" Sherlock starts in, leaning forward, "And old friend? No, you're more than that. But you're not family – even though you have a familial relationship. He wants to protect you. Like a father? No, for your father. A Russian man who has experience with violence other than in the military and owes your father. They were both working together? Secret service of a sort, maybe? No, nothing legal like that. But not anything as unsophisticated as a gang or the mafia. Something bigger and more dangerous, perhaps. Looked out for you before you joined the military. Perhaps during the sort of situations that got you those medals? But he's not the sort to work with the government, no. The question is not why he would help a government-sanctioned individual – obviously, he feels indebted to your father, who saved his life with that near-miss shot by his neck." Sherlock narrows his eyes at him. "What was the son of an assassin doing, working for the military or the government? Especially the kinds of assassins who's names can't be mentioned in public? Incredibly dangerous men. Notorious men."
Sherlock leans back and frowns. "But you're not going to tell me anything because Mycroft might be listening and you don't want to put whoever that man is in any danger from the government. So either he's presumed dead or is still a highly wanted man."
"Spot on with almost everything," John says, and sees the consternation on Sherlock's face. "You're right as much as you are wrong about my father though," he says, and sees Sherlock's ire grow.
John grins into his tea. It's fun knowing more than Sherlock for a change. It's interesting in ways he doesn't want to look at too closely, knowing that Sherlock is studying him with such intensity and trying to figure him out.
He's surprised by how unbothered he is by Sherlock knowing so much about everything already. He always knew some of it would come up sooner or later, though, but he's not quite ready to share everything yet.
He feels the blush creep back up his neck as he stays aware of Sherlock's piercing gaze.
John decides to be a doctor because he's always wanted to help people. And besides, he already knew how to do everything else anyway.
He's eighteen and standing in front of a desk in an office he's known for four years and knows he's already won arguing his case.
The rather grey man behind the desk is frowning at him, rather grumpy and cold. John wants to snigger at his look of constipation, but doesn't let his control slip no matter how much he'd love to mock the other man. They've come to an understanding in the past year, and John would like to think they've become friends, of a sort. Well, as friendly as the other man is capable of being, he supposes.
"Becoming a doctor is going to take a long time," The woman next to the desk says, although she sucks on a peppermint with the barest hint of a smile.
"I know," John says, and shrugs his shoulders. "I figure I deserve a bit of a holiday."
" A bit of a holiday –" The man behind the desk scowls out, but huffs quietly as the woman shoots him a look. "You're right, of course. You do deserve a – holiday. Why not take a few weeks in the Bahamas?"
John rolls his eyes. "Right. No, thanks. I know what sort of 'holidays' you always have in mind."
The man sighs. "We need you to –"
"Not as much," John interrupts. "I know I'm about as tall as I'm going to get which isn't much, but I don't look like a teenager anymore."
"You're still the best we have."
"I know," John says. "And I know I'll never get away. But – I need this, Alan. I need something different, something that doesn't involve any of – of this to focus on, or I'll go mad."
There's a silent moment. "Alright. But you're still working for this company. Every holiday, I expect you to come back."
John grins, because it had taken him several weeks to convince them not to call on him during term time at medical school. He gives them both a respectful nod and turns to leave.
"Why go back to school?" The woman asks, just as he's halfway through the doorway. "No matter what degree or doctorate you get, you'll still be working for us."
John doesn't turn around but his grip is tight on the door-handle and he's no longer smiling. "I know," he says, "but the illusion of having something else to fall back on is nice."
His name isn't John Watson that day, but it turns up on a passport through his letterbox the night before his first day of University. He opens it and smoothes out the pages, tracing the name John over and over with his fingers. He thinks of his dad, and then he thinks of his mum being a nurse, and wonders if they'd be proud now that he's following in both of their footsteps.
He likes what the name means. It's – It's something different. It's something new, as much as it reminds him of what could have been. It's as close to being someone normal that he'll ever get to be, and he looks forward to being J. Watson for the next few years.
Another day, another kidnapping. John leaves the black car with a sigh and barely a limp. Not Anthea doesn't look up from her blackberry.
Mycroft is waiting for him in the restaurant. Just as John settles into his chair their meals are brought out, and he isn't the least surprised to find that it's something he'd quite enjoy. He feels Mycroft's piercing eyes on him as he digs into his meal (no need for perfectly good food to go to waste, even if the similarity of the Holmes brothers gives him a shiver down his spine because he recognises that look as not good).
"Alex," Mycroft begins, and John isn't the least bit surprised. He sees faint disappointment flit through Mycroft's expression, and figures the man was looking forward to his reaction. But John is far from stupid, and he's worked with the government enough by now to figure out how they tend to work.
Besides, he'd heard plenty of insinuations from Sherlock that Mycroft was the government. So of course Mycroft would know about Alex, because the government sure as hell knew about John.
And John has a very good memory for faces. He was only fifteen at the time, but hasn't forgotten the glimpse he got of that umbrella.
"I'm technically retired," John says after he's taken his time to finish his mouthful and follow it with a sip of wine. He rolls his eyes at Mycroft. "Oh, don't give me that look. You called me Alex. Of course I know what you're wanting from me."
"Don't worry about convincing me," John says as Mycroft starts to speak. "I've been doing consultation work for them for years. I'm guessing that Alan's passed away – he wouldn't have just retired – and now it's up to Tulip to contact me. But she's reluctant to ask for me since she still feels guilt for using me when I was just a kid and guiltier now that I've been permanently injured, and now that she's in charge she wants to give me the space I'd wanted so much as a teenager. So unless it's an absolutely last resort she won't even try to approach me."
"But you – well, you have no compunctions about using the most useful resources available to you, no matter what they are. Even better if those resources are already connected to you and easy to reach."
Mycroft raises an eyebrow, and John again sees the similarities between the brothers, although there's definitely something much haughtier about this one. "Technically retired?" Holmes asks.
"Well, of course," John says, and wonders why Mycroft is asking him to spell out the obvious since it's something he knows both brothers hate. He's probably just testing to make sure John fully understands the situation. "You got the best man capable in the perfect position to constantly look after your little brother. And I'm very comfortable where I am. You're hardly going to move me from Sherlock's side. So no, you wouldn't send me on a mission. And as a man with such a... minor position in the British government, I doubt anyone will be contradicting you. I guess that means I'm retired from missions. But I've still got a lot of knowledge and hell of a lot more practical experience than anyone else out there, so I'm only technically retired because I'm still very useful."
John took a pause to drink some more wine, "You would have already been grooming me to take over from Tulip if it weren't for your brother."
Mycroft stares at him, then smiles. John thinks it's quite a creepy smile, and reminds him of the one Mycroft had worn when he'd said he worried about Sherlock.
"I'm pleased to see you haven't lost your edge despite being outside of the conventional field," Holmes commented, and then lifted a file from his briefcase. "I don't think I have to tell you to keep these papers from my brother. Text the normal number when you're done."
And then Mycroft smiles at him a calculating smile. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Agent Rider."
Jack was ten years older than him, and only eighteen when she first started working for his uncle. She'd always thought of him as the younger brother she'd never had, so of course she was delighted when her new identification had made it legally true.
"Oh John," she moaned as she sat on his sofa, holding one hand with his, "Clara's been ringing me. Wants to try and work it out. But – I still can't tell her what she wants to know. The stuff about me that she can't know."
"I understand," John says, and thinks of Sherlock and the frown he keeps giving him when he thinks John's paying attention to the laptop.
Clara had been a bit of a surprise. He'd always thought Jack and his uncle had had a thing going on when he was too young to notice those sorts of things. When he'd said as much, Jack had clipped him around the ear.
"Alex, ew," she'd said, American accent creeping back through as she wrinkled her nose. "I was only eighteen when we met. Ian was way too old for me. And dude, he was my employer. Just – no. Ew. He was, like, family."
Jack hadn't been too pleased with her new identity.
"What's wrong with being my sister? Why might as well be related anyway," John had said, feeling a little hurt. He'd always figured them as family was always an implied thing, anyhow.
Jack had scowled at him fondly. "Of course I'm your big sister, you big idiot. But why the hell do I have to be Harriet? Ugh."
"It's not a bad name," John had tried to defend, but Jack had cut him off with a shove against his shoulder.
"Duh," She'd said with a huff, "But it's not Jack."
John laughed. "Of course it's not Jack! It's Harry."
Because even though Jack still wouldn't tell him what 'Jack' was short for, her going by an actual girl's name just felt weird.
So of course she'd smirked at him. "You could have called me Alexandra."
And Just – no.
Back on the sofa with Jack – with Harry – he squeezed her hand a little tighter. "It'll work out. If – if she really loves you, maybe she can let those things go, for you, yeah?"
He thought a little guiltily of Sherlock, and doubted he'd be able to keep his secrets for much longer.
And then think of the devil, and all that. Sherlock Holmes strode into 221B with purpose in his step, tall and imposing and all dark and brooding. He stopped and stared at Harry, and at their joined hands.
"Sherlock, this is my sister. Harry, this is Sherlock, my flatmate."
Sherlock's eyes seemed to stare even more. Harry narrowed hers.
"Hmm," she said, looking him up and down, "I've heard a lot about you, mister."
"And you don't naturally have the same hair colour has John."
"Nope. I'm a redhead." She grinned at them both and hugged John goodbye. "I'll see you later little bro. Try not to do anything I wouldn't do," she said, and then she left.
Sherlock continued to stare. "She's not your sister."
"Of course she's my sister," John said as he got up and went to make himself a cup of tea, "check anything you can find, it's all there,"
"Adopted sister, then. You share no familial characteristics, but the familial relationship is still there." He frowned. "And yet, she's actively attempting to look more like you." He paused as John stirred the milk in, "But if she were actually an adopted sibling with enough time as a part of your family to feel such a strong, natural familial connection to you she would have been adopted early enough to have lost more, if not all of her American accent. In fact, she hasn't lost any of it. She's just attempting to sound English. She still considers herself American, which she would if she had actually been adopted."
John stares back as Sherlock strains to make sense of that which is John.
"She's my sister," John says again, and sees Sherlock look confused.
"You're not lying."
"But you're not wrong, either," John finds himself admitting, because he really can't find it in himself to deny Sherlock a correct deduction. Can't force another lie out of his mouth even though he knows he could do it convincingly enough to fool even a Holmes.
But John still isn't ready to tell him everything yet. Because every time he thinks of doing it – of turning to Sherlock and saying, 'look, my name isn't actually John,' and telling himabout how he's been living off adrenaline since he was fourteen – he hates to imagine what it could do to their relationship to know how much he's lied about.
And because he wants to be John. He sees himself reflected back in Sherlock's eyes and wants it to be true.