Both of them tensed: Mycroft with dread, Sherrinford with excitement. The latter stared eagerly at the vague shape behind the door's frosted glass, his smile widening like a growing wound.
The stooped form and light wheeze identified the newcomer as an elderly male, former smoker. A pensioner augmenting his pitiful income with a night job as private security. Most likely a former policeman or military man, Mycroft concluded. The guard's attention had probably been attracted by the light that Sherrinford had turned on. Mycroft silently willed him to walk away after finding the door properly locked.
But it wasn't properly locked, and yielded when the knob was turned. The regular occupant must have been in too big a hurry to get home and watch Dr. Who or meet their friends for a pint. The guard was now obligated to enter the office and face certain death.
Sherrinford's grin took on shark-like proportions. When the door swung open, he sprang toward the shrivelled, rheumy-eyed figure, powerful hands aimed at the man's throat.
Mycroft kicked Sherrinford behind the knee and jumped onto his back, knocking both of them to the floor. "Get out of here!" he shouted at the shocked guard, who gaped at them before hobbling speedily away. A two-way radio crackled as the man called for assistance.
Sherrinford rolled onto his side and jabbed backward with his elbow, catching Mycroft in the stomach. Mycroft grunted but held tight, squeezing his brother's neck in the crook of his elbow. His legs closed around Sherrinford's waist to avoid being thrown off.
"For someone with your background, your tolerance for violence is pathetic," Sherrinford wheezed.
"Not really. Choking you is quite refreshing."
They wrestled on the filthy floorboards, Sherrinford twisting like an eel and Mycroft trying to hold on long enough to throttle him senseless. The contest ended when the back of Mycroft's head collided heavily with the desk's base. He cried out in pain and reached for the injury, letting Sherrinford break free. The eldest Holmes jumped to his feet, red-faced and bright-eyed.
"Don't get me wrong, brother, I quite enjoyed that," he said breathlessly, "but I do believe you underestimate the gravity of your position. You need my assistance, Mycroft. You're tough, but without your trappings of power, you don't stand a chance in the big bad world out there. It will be interesting to see who finds you first: your old masters or Jim."
Mycroft rolled onto all fours and got unsteadily to his feet. The room swayed, and he touched the desk's edge for support. "I want nothing from you. Not if it means letting you treat London like your personal hunting ground."
Sherrinford rubbed his reddened throat and smirked. "Your days of 'letting' me do anything are done. From now on, we shall be either partners or adversaries. I'll give you two days to decide, as that's the longest you'll likely remain at liberty on your own." He strolled to the window. "I must be going now, or Jim will be suspicious. As it is, I must think of a viable excuse for failing to bring Sherlock in."
"Wait," Mycroft said.
Sherrinford, who had just hooked his leg over the sill, paused. "Yes?"
"Thank you. For not turning Sherlock over to Moriarty."
"Jim will never touch him if I have anything to say about it. He's one of us. You're the one who has to choose a side: ruler or subject. I await your answer."
Then he was gone.
Mycroft took his fingers away from his throbbing scalp and saw slight traces of blood. It was a stark reminder that Sherrinford was right: if the wound had been more severe, forcing him to seek medical attention, Oversight would have detected him the moment he appeared at any hospital's A&E department. Digital spies were everywhere, largely thanks to his own efforts. He shook his head, the irony of the situation not lost on him.
Sherlock moaned and began to stir. Mycroft's throat tightened. He had to go: the police would arrive any minute and if detained for questioning tonight, he'd be in an Oversight holding room by sunrise.
"I won't let them hurt you, Sherlock," he promised before turning to the window.
Then he stopped.
Maybe he shouldn't run after all.
Sherlock cracked one eye open. "Mycroft?" he slurred as he raised his head off the desk and stared blearily about.
"I'm here." Mycroft returned and touched his shoulder. "You're safe. Help is coming."
"What happened?" Sherlock rubbed his face and swayed, groaning. "God, my head."
"Men sent by Moriarty tried to take you. They're gone." As he spoke, Mycroft heard police sirens approaching. He had to decide on a course of action. Quickly.
If he left now and went into hiding, he would be alone in his fight against Moriarty, Moran, and possibly Sherrinford. What were his chances of success?
Mycroft had undertaken high-risk solo missions during his field agent days. Once he'd infiltrated a bio-weapons compound in Tibet and disabled its security system so that British forces could move in. Another time, he'd hid on board a plane whose pilot intended to fly from a Black Cell base in Norway and crash into the United Nations building in Geneva. He'd killed the pilot, sent the plane crashing into the North Sea, and floated in freezing waters until an MI6 helicopter retrieved him. Although older now, he could still strategize, strike, and kill. But now it was different. Now he was without resources.
If he surrendered voluntarily and cooperated, perhaps Oversight could be persuaded to protect Gregory, Sherlock, and John during his absence. One of the Directors, John Greco, had been his weapons instructor at the academy and still thought highly of him, and another, Emily Sanderson, was typically sympathetic toward the families of compromised agents. While in custody, Mycroft wouldn't be permitted to contact his loved ones -a restriction that killed him inside- but logic dictated that they stood a better chance of survival this way.
Carmilla Berg would be a problem though. She'd been against his return to duty the first time, and would seize on this second perceived lapse as an excuse to contain him for as long as possible. In her case, the punitive attitude was personal: Mycroft had rejected her advances during their days in the field, and she never forgave or forgot. She continually belittled his efforts and questioned his decisions, and had gradually won over two of the other four Directors- James Clay and Sherman Wein- to her point of view. Mycroft knew she was sleeping with them: he always detected traces of her perfume on their suits during meetings. Maybe all three shared a bed.
"Moriarty is behind this?" The name worked on Sherlock like an adrenaline shot. He sat up straight and became more lucid. "There was a man who stopped me when John and I arrived at the hospital. He knew who I was and asked if I remembered him. I felt like I should. Then they took me. I remember a van. And gunshots." He blinked and shook his head to clear it further. "Who… who was that man?"
"That's not important." Mycroft took Sherlock by the shoulders. "Listen to me, please. I have to go away for a little while, and you won't know where I am."
Voices echoed on the building's lower level, accompanied by the crackling of police radios. There wasn't much time left to speak privately.
"The police are on their way. I'll talk to them and ensure that you're reunited with John at the hospital. Gregory is going to be all right, but he, you, and John all have to remain on alert. I can't emphasize how dangerous things are going to become. I've even called Mina for assistance."
"Mina?" Sherlock echoed, confused.
"Yes. Things are going to escalate, and you'll need her."
Worried grey eyes scanned Mycroft's face. "Just tell me everything. Quickly."
Keeping one eye on the door, Mycroft quickly told him about the rooftop shooting.
"Moriarty wants to burn me, Sherlock, by taking away everyone I love before he finishes me off," he said, telling the truth without mentioning Sherrinford's involvement. "If I disappear, the rules of the game change. He wants to watch me suffer, and if he can't do that, you won't be as disposable."
"He'll know that you're somewhere though. Watching."
"No." Mycroft took a deep breath. Then he lied. "I staged something for Moriarty's benefit tonight. It will convince him that I experienced a nervous relapse after Gregory was shot. Oversight agents will retrieve me by prearrangement, which he won't find surprising after last summer."
Sherlock lowered his eyes, all too aware that Mycroft had nearly died because of him. "It will look as if they detained you for another evaluation."
"Exactly. The façade may have to be maintained for awhile. Gregory and John don't know yet: things happened just after you were taken. I need you to tell them."
"How long will you be gone?"
"I honestly don't know." Mycroft kept his tone level, although the thought of being separated from the man he loved made him want to collapse. "Sherlock, it's complicated. Please."
"I think there's more that you're not telling me."
"There always is. Now promise me that you'll work with Mina to keep John and Gregory safe. My office will maintain the normal protection detail" -here he silently hoped for the best-"but Moriarty is not some run-of-the-mill terrorist. You and Mina will have to keep one step ahead of him, something even my best people would be challenged to do."
Out in the hallway, the lift doors opened and a bell rang. Footsteps strode down the hall just before four uniformed police officers entered the room. Both Mycroft and Sherlock were taken into custody for questioning, although they weren't handcuffed after the elder Holmes showed the senior officer his credentials. The man nodded respectfully and said, "I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding, Mr. Holmes."
"That's exactly what it is, Officer. Shall we go?"
During the lift ride down to the lower level, Mycroft took out his phone and sent Lestrade a text.
Sherlock is safe. You'll see him in a couple of hours. He'll explain everything. I love you. MH.
After pressing the send button, he swallowed heavily. It wouldn't be long now. As soon as his ID was entered into the police computer, Oversight would have him.
As they stepped out of the department store's huge glass entryway and headed for a waiting police vehicle, a large black minivan rounded the corner and halted in front of the building with the pained screech of speedily applied brakes. A man leaned out the open passenger side window and opened fire with an automatic weapon. One policeman fell with a bullet in his shoulder, while everyone else dropped to the ground and scrambled for cover. Just before he leaped behind the police van, Mycroft saw Sebastian Moran and three armed men jump out of the van and rush toward them.
It was Mycroft's first look at Moran in the flesh. Moriarty's new sidekick was a former sharpshooter with the British infantry. He liked to call himself 'Colonel Moran', although he'd only attained the rank of Sergeant before military officials discharged him for repeated acts of insubordination. Mycroft had been unable to trace the origins of his partnership with Moriarty, but he suspected that it had been forged by elements that also drew Sherlock and John together: alienation and the need for distraction.
Moran was tall, like Sherlock, but twice as broad. His wheat-coloured hair was army-short and his jacket, T-shirt, and loose trousers were varying shades of dark green. He ran with his shoulders hunched, head bowed, and a high-powered rifle cradled in his hands, like he was charging across the Iraqi desert instead of a busy London street.
Mycroft was preparing to throw himself over Sherlock when a black BMW roared into view at the opposite end of the block. Moran and his fellow storm troopers hesitated when it charged down the street, bathing them in its harsh white headlights. When it didn't stop, they scrambled backward. Mycroft saw Moran land heavily against the side of his minivan.
The BMW pulled up directly in front of the police van, so close that their headlights comingled, providing additional cover for those on the pavement. The door on the driver's side swung open and a woman leaned out, her long black hair whipping about in the strengthening wind and angular face glowing with excitement.
"Lucky for you I was in London when you texted, Mycroft!" Mina Trevanian shouted to her shocked cousins. "Get in- now!"