John hung back a few rows, near the trees, when he saw the woman sitting on his friend's grave. He didn't recognize her. A fan? Maybe. But there was something about her behavior that was overly familiar. In the last half a year or more, he'd met a handful of Sherlock's acquaintances here—some in law enforcement, some on the other side of the law. It was always amusingly awkward when those visits coincided. Or lost souls from the homeless network. This young woman was none of the above, so far as he could tell. Of all things she reminded him of himself—an upright military carriage conflicting with the weight of the world upon her shoulders. World-weary.

She had a worn leather jacket, open and flowing around her despite the January chill that had invaded his bones blocks ago on his walk over here. Her dark hair was tied functionally at her neck, tightly and without a strand out of place. She reached into the open backpack, taking out a pack of cigarettes. She opened it with her teeth, then with drew one, placing it between her lips. She threw the rest of the box of unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes at the black granite tombstone, and for a minute, John wished he had Sherlock's ability to read people—what a story this one may be.

"So, I heard you were back to smoking, so there's that." The woman sighed, lighting the cigarette between her lips. "Fresh out of heroin. Wait, that wasn't your thing. Cocaine, then. Sorry about the 'being dead' thing. And happy birthday. I guess. Deadness aside." When she took a long drag off the cigarette, she turned her head, and John could see a scar that ran from her collarbone past her chin, to somewhere on her face. His own shoulder began to ache in sympathy.

"Gotcha something," she continued, the hand holding the cigarette dropping to her side. Smoke twisted up from it, hanging in the stagnate air. "The cigarettes were in lieu of flowers. This one's well… this one…" She pulled out an American-looking handgun, Glock from the looks of it, and set it in the grass in front of her crisscrossed legs, taking another drag off the cancer stick. "I'm thinking… one in the head, two in the chest. Or one in the chest, one in the head, one in the chest." Another long drag and she tossed the remainder carelessly on the frozen earth. "Two in the chest, one in the head. I'm sort of out of combinations, after that. But at that point, I guess it doesn't matter. Dead is dead."

She sighed. "A good chainsaw massacre might make me feel better. I guess I was hoping you'd talk me out of it, but it appears that your silence is just egging me on." She slid her legs beneath herself and grabbed the enormous backpack. "If I don't see you again… well, sorry for the way it is with our family. And your friend is afraid I'm going to go on a murderous killing spree." She turned toward him as she slid the backpack onto her shoulders and slipped the gun under her jacket. "John Watson?" she smiled, which only made the shining, fairly recent scar running from collarbone to cheekbone look even more jagged and raw.

John stepped away from the tree line, frozen pine needles crunching under his feet. "Anything I can do to stem the murder spree?" he offered casually, with a smile, and maybe even a touch of humor. Which was all wrong. Potential murder sprees shouldn't make one joyful. In the least.

She zipped her jacket up, and he wondered how she'd managed to sit there for who knew how long on the frozen earth, wearing nothing but a t-shirt underneath. "NO murder spree. Single target." She nudged her chin stiffly toward the tombstone. "His fat, evil piggy of a brother."

John paused for a moment, not sure what to say. Half-torn between a responsible adult answer like 'murder never solves anything' to the more instinctive response of 'may I supply the bullets?' After biting his cheek and rubbing his brow, he came to an intermediary response of "I'm not sure this is what Sherlock would have wanted."

A genuine smile of something like affection stretched across her face. "OH, he had plans. And if he told you otherwise, he was lying. We all did." She thrust out a thin, bony hand, gone red from the cold. "Aurelia Holmes."

Courtesy won out over caution, and John shook her hand. "John Watson, but you knew that."

She actually had the decency to blush a tad and look away. "Yeah. I've been gone from England for six years, and even in the goddamned desert, with no electricity and running water, I heard that Sherlock had a friend."

John's weight shifted forward and backward uncomfortably. "That monumentous?"

"There was a Christmas newsletter that circulated, courtesy of his mother. Complete with newspaper clippings, salient points highlighted." She stuffed her hands in her pockets. "You ever met the old witch?"

John shook his head no. "Not even at the funeral."

"That's cos she's fuckin' evil, mate. Be glad for it. Buy you a drink? Or two? Or ten?"

Without waiting for an answer, she walked past him, knowing he would follow.

John took four long strides to catch up. "And you're his…?"

"Second cousin, just barely."

Nodding, he processed this and filed it away as they covered the length of the cemetery in quick, long paces. "And we're killing Mycroft because…?"

She grinned and slapped him on the chest. "See, I knew you'd see it my way. Didn't expect you to want to help. Doctors usually don't go in for that killing thing. Could always use the distraction, though…"

John failed to point out that this hadn't been his intent at all. He had a mind to see where this was going, first. Aurelia was the biggest mystery he'd had to solve in nine months, at least, and he could tell she was troubled, and possibly IN trouble. The decent thing to do would be to see where this was all going.

He was supposed to meet Lestrade, so he sent off a quick text explaining where they'd be, after Aurelia said she didn't mind the extra company, then they settled in at a pub that was not his style at all. It was far too dark, far too neon, and the beer was horrifically overpriced. Thank God she had offered to pay. He was back working as a doctor again, actually putting his medical training to use for more than establishing time of death for Sherlock (which he'd been perfectly capable of doing on his own), but he was still watching the budget. He was paying additional expenses now that he was keeping the place at Baker Street, and doing his damnedest to avoid actually going there at all costs.

Two beers and a plate full of non-descript battered and fried things later, and he knew more about Sherlock's family than he'd managed to glean in the entire eighteen months of their rooming together. Aurelia was just related enough to spend adequate time with the brothers growing up. She was not fond of Mycroft's manipulative ways, and while she found Sherlock annoying and entirely lacking in tact, she appreciated his knack for the truth. John really couldn't argue with that assessment.

But, in listening to the slightly younger woman talk, he suspected she hadn't really liked Sherlock all that well. No one really seemed to, and that was ok. It had taken almost a year for that to be OK, but it was. That said… people tended to remember the dead more fondly than they did the living. Annoyances grew endearing through that lens and the very things one would have strangled someone for in the moment become laughable anecdotes later on.

Which was how he ended up laughing himself nearly nauseous telling her about the drugs bust that had happened not even a month before The Fall (which was still the only way John could refer to it, and still manage to get the words out of his mouth). "Then, alright, and you have to remember this is our twelfth raid in a year and a half… so he's booby-trapped the crisper drawer. Anderson opens it, and BAM, severed hand comes flying up out of the thing and hits him in the chest. I have never seen a grown man piss himself… WHILE SCREAMING like a little tiny girl, like that before."

She had an extra drink on him, and her face was flush as she wiped away tears of mirth. "Brilliant. And good on the police for giving him trouble, and keeping him on the straight and narrow."

John looked away, remembering just how hard it was, sometimes, to keep Sherlock sober. "Well, it was more of a murky middle with him. He was always just one bad day away from hitting the hard stuff again, in my estimate."

The young woman nodded with an understanding borne of long experience. "Never did anything in halves did he? He was never the type for rehab to actually stick all the way." There was something sad about her features then, but it was hard to read since she had less control over the side of her face with the fresh scarring. But John saw it there—like she somehow wished she could have prevented even a bit of what had happened, even if she'd not been near the country when that whole sorry mess with Moriarty had gone down. Like it was her problem, or business.

Putting up a finger, she managed to get the bartender's attention in record time. He replaced her glass again just as she finished the last bit in her pint. She now had TWO on John, who obviously wasn't drinking fast enough for this. "Last time I talked to him was…. Maybe ten years ago? Maybe nine. His second stint in detox. That I know of, at any rate. That visit went well. Oh, I don't know why I even went. I got called every name in the book, and he informed me, by a glance at my hair and clothes, of every sin I'd committed in the previous three years since he'd seen me last. Even that far gone with withdrawal, and he was still brilliant and cutting, and horrible… and completely right."

There was admiration there, and John knew exactly how she felt. No matter how horrible Sherlock was capable of being, his ability to be brilliant outshined it, for an admiring few. At least they were in the same boat, as far as that went.

They were silent for a while. An entire half a glass in John's estimation. "That was always the problem with him. Even at his worst, he was still… magnificent."

Nodding, they both stared at the bar's sleek polished surface, each lost in thought.

Her index finger ran next to the scar that went from her cheek to her collarbone. "If I would have listened to him, I might have avoided this. He was right. I knew he was right about working for Mycroft. But I was so damned desperate to be USEFUL, I ran headlong into something that had no way of ending happily. For god sakes, you'd think I had never met Mycroft before in my life, the way I snatched up his job offer the minute visiting hours at that overpriced rehab clinic were over. But Mycroft knew I was scared of ending up like Sherlock, or Christ—like Mycroft. I don't nearly have their brains, but we're a family of addicts, you see. I had my own troubles with those, and seeing Sherlock struggling with getting all of the drugs out of his system was like being visited by the ghost of Christmas Future." She sighed. "Mycroft knew that. He wanted me 'in the family business,' and he pushed all the right emotional buttons until I got there. Fucker."

Nodding, John held his peace. He knew when to keep his mouth shut, which seemed to be one of his talents. People came round to the heart of the matter eventually. If they wanted. Aurelia wanted to. Hell, she'd gone to a dead man's grave, looking for a ghost to stay her hand. He'd met enough people like that during the war—they didn't want to go down the path they were taking, and were desperate for anyone to stop them… but they couldn't stop themselves. They couldn't think of how to get themselves going in another direction, like everything was inevitable once it had been set into motion. For once in his life, when dealing with a Holmes, John wasn't out of his depth. This was something he had far too much experience in dealing with. He recognized damaged goods when he saw them. But then, it took a damaged soul to find its kind.

"But you know, he always had that tone in his voice, when he tells you things you ought to know, that make you want to go off and do the exact opposite as he says, just to spite him."

John nodded, but didn't agree. No matter how insufferable Sherlock was being, he was always right. But then, he'd always understood his friend differently than everyone else had. It was why they'd just… worked. "He did have a way of infuriating people. I probably wanted to strangle him at least twice a day."

She tipped her glass to him in respect. "A martyr, as well as a saint."

The pub door opened, and at the end of a long string of professionals in their late twenties was Lestrade, looking as out of place as John felt. They'd been planning to have dinner or something, to remember Sherlock's birthday together.

Aurelia immediately repositioned herself at the bar, sliding to the stool on the other side of John, putting the scarred side of her face away from the stool Lestrade would inevitably take. 'So that's my sad and sorry tale, John Watson. What about your friend here?"

Catching the attention of the bartender again, she ordered for Lestrade. It was awful forward of her, but it was what Greg usually ordered for himself, whenever they'd go out on these commiseratory outings. She began working on yet another for herself while John slowly began nursing on his third. If she'd hoped to avoid the family's addiction problems, she was probably failing at it, to judge by how she was plowing through the pints.

For his part, Lestrade, who looked tired, his entire day being worn on his face, waited patiently for introductions to be made.

John put his beer down. "Greg Lestrade, DI. Greg, Aurelia Holmes, Sherlock's second cousin, just barely, recently returned from abroad," he introduced with a smile. "I was just telling her about the hand in the crisper drawer."

Lestrade grinned instantly, much of the stress of the day fading to the background, but still present, like white noise. "The drugs bust? With the thing? Oh god. Anderson needed a change of pants. It was brilliant."

It hadn't been so brilliant at the time. It had been chaos, punctuated by Lestrade threatening to take Sherlock in for desecration of a corpse, just for fun, if Sherlock didn't apologize to Anderson. Which he hadn't done.

Lestrade then launched into other highlights and Best Ofs from various Baker Street drugs busts, while Aurelia managed to sock at least three more beers away.

She was good at it. She ordered when she was half-empty, finishing up just as the new glass was set in front of her, and took a huge gulp the moment the old glass was out of the way, making it hard to tell just how often she was having another. John had seen his sister pull the trick many times before, otherwise he would have lost count of her drinks ages ago.

"…And this idiot here," Lestrade gestures affectionately to John, who simply nods, "is going on about how could Sherlock POSSIBLY be holding, just look at him. Meanwhile, Sherlock has cocaine in one of the book cases, and the landlady's got six ounces of pot stuffed in various drawers down stairs, because she keeps buying some, forgetting where she put it, and buying more. And I'm like… look, you could have a kilo of crack next to the telly, at this point, and I wouldn't give a damn so long as you stop withholding evidence.

John gave a long-suffering shrug. "I'd known him for like twelve hours at that point. And they're not joints. They're Mrs. Hudson's 'herbal soothers.' But seriously, when the weather's giving her joints trouble, she will smoke so much that it drifts up through the floorboards, and you can smell it in the attic."

Aurelia grinned as she slowly started to relax. John wondered if it had been a long time since she'd done that. If he could help her with that, at least—one world-weary soldier to another, then maybe she would cease feeling compelled to cap Mycroft like a hit on an American mob television program.

She pushed the drink away from her slightly, and John hoped that maybe, just maybe she was done with the drinking as well. "Yeahhh. I have a little story I like to call 'The Adventure of Sherlock, His Homemade LSD, and Our Great Grandfather's Hundredth Birthday Celebration.' The best part, the old badger didn't notice anything was amiss, until Sherlock began insisting Mycroft was the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. By this point I'd only been out of the juvenile detention center for a week, but no one even remembers the grand theft auto conviction because HE ended up naked in the water fountain, screaming about not crossing the streams while he pissed on a three hundred year old cherub statue. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why he is my favorite relative."

Dear god, John thought, no wonder he wanted nothing to do with his family. If he'd managed to embarrass himself like that, John would never ever visit home again either.

Lestrade was trying not to spit beer. "And how old was he?"

She thought about it for a minute. "Thirteen? Fourteen. That was the great thing about having him in the family. Suddenly all of MY indiscretions fell right under the radar, and I was FAR less of a disappointment, comparatively speaking. It was fabulous. Well, you know, until the rehab and taking stupid jobs to spite him thing. But I only have myself to blame for that one."

John could tell she was feeling it now. The words were flowing freely as her tongue loosened in comfortable company. Soon would be a good time to ask her exactly why she intended to kill her cousin.

If he could prevent a murder, he'd consider it his civic duty. It wasn't because he actually wanted to spare Mycroft's life. Mycroft had, after all, given Moriarty the tools of Sherlock's destruction. Which, in John's estimation, was entirely unforgivable.

He'd been trying to learn in the last few months how to go from just going through the motions of living to actually being alive again. He was not OK with his best friend being dead, but he was learning how to be OK with continuing to be alive, like he'd had to after he'd left the army. This did not mean, however, that there was room in his heart for forgiveness for Mycroft. As far as he was concerned, the bastard's manipulation games had come back to bite him in the arse, and Sherlock was the one who had paid—and paid dearly. There was no room for forgiveness for that, just yet. Maybe someday. But John doubted it. He was his mother's child, and therefore capable of taking a grudge to the grave. It was his god-given right as a Watson, and he was not afraid to exercise it in this instance.

And maybe, some day, after he was done learning to be OK with continuing to be alive, he'd work on learning how to be OK with being OK. Till then… fuck Mycroft.

Somewhere, while John had been caught up in his own private thoughts, Lestrade had lean across the bar into John's personal space to have a slightly more intimate chat with the woman. "So, I've got to know, what's the deal with the brother's weight? He's the incredible inflating-deflating man."

Which was true enough, John knew. It went up and came down just as fast. They all noticed it, but no one ever said anything. Well, except for Sherlock, who always felt compelled to ask his brother if he was losing or gaining.

She leaned closer to Lestrade, and John backed up on his stool a bit. He almost asked if they didn't want to be left alone, because, really—they were checking each other out pretty damned hard. "He…likes food. A lot. The gains and losses used to be far more extreme before the bypass surgery. And a Holmes never does anything half-arsed. So it's not like having a stomach the size of a walnut stops him from eating something fatty and French whenever the mood strikes him." She tapped her nose. "Addictive personality. Different poison. Way more accessible than cocaine. Same basic end result."

She gestured for another beer, and one for Lestrade as well. "The least I can do is keep you full," she told him by way of explanation.

Lestrade stood up. "yeah, well, all that beer has to go somewhere. Be right back." On his way to the loo, he slapped John on the back.

John had no idea if that was tag team, or if he was Lestrade's wingman on this one. Either way, he wanted NO part. This could only lead to drama and shame. And John was well out of THAT business. He hadn't even been on a date since…

"So, is your friend separated, or divorced-divorced. And who has custody of the kids?" Aurelia asked as she watched Lestrade stagger through the crowded space, eyes transfixed on the bottom in the well-fitting jeans. "Cos I am not up for attachments, but I could tumble that."

Blinking, John gulped down the rest of his glass, then slammed it on the bar. He had no idea how she'd figured that out. Probably a talent similar to her cousins' 'gifts.' "I am NOT getting involved. So, on that note, if you two are going to hook up, I will just take my leave. And FYI, he's divorced-divorced. He has the kids every other weekend, and while I would like to see Mycroft squashed like the cockroach he is sometimes, it is not going to solve any of your issues with Sherlock, or your bucket full of regrets." He pulled a business card out of his wallet. "She's decent with PTSD, so call her before you assassinate your remaining cousin. Goodnight."

He got ready to toss some bills on the bar to cover his tab so as not to be beholden to someone with so many obvious issues, but she put her hand on his just before he could slide the bills out of his fold. "Aw come on, you're not insulted that I fancy him a bit, are you? I though you and Sherlock…" She winced.

"Why does everyone assume…"

The wince evolved into a cringe. "Oh my god. I am SO sorry. I was getting this vibe… look, mate, I can tumble you too, if-" seeing his reaction, her hand slid off of his and covered her eyes. "Oh god. I've bunged that up. Hell." She sighed, sitting back on the stool. John didn't join her, but he didn't exactly leave, either. "This is why I leave the thinking to Mycroft and Sherlock. There is always some piece of the puzzle I am missing."

John felt bad, then. "Not your fault. Everyone always assumed when we were out and about that we were together." And, god, half of London couldn't be wrong, could they? "I don't know, we just understood each other in a certain way, you know? I guess you don't go through half the stuff we ended up in, and not."

She smiled. "I am glad he had someone. However he did. Nothing about him was conventional, so it doesn't surprise me this wasn't either." The smile was short lived and fell when she caught site of Lestrade step popping when he came out of the loo, and staring at the scarred side of her face. She sighed. "Well, there went that." It came out flippantly enough, and to anyone else it would have seemed like she didn't' care. But John knew that note of regret. He'd felt it a lot after he'd come back and had a string of failed interactions with women.

"Greg's a decent guy," he offered in the other man's defense. "You never know."

She stared at him seriously. "Come on, Doctor. You know. You know exactly how this goes down. He tries to ignore it, but stares at it all night. Then finally, either right before, or right after, when I am vulnerable, he'll ask me. I'll feel compelled to tell him. And then we'll both be miserable as fuck the rest of the time we're together." Almost without thinking, she pushed away the empty glass, then grabbed the one she had ordered for Lestrade and gulped it down. "I have stuff to do, anyway." She pulled out a black card and tossed it to the bartender.

The problem was, John knew exactly. He'd been there. You relived it, telling a stranger… and then they felt awful that they couldn't understand. He rubbed his shoulder, even as he blocked her exit. "No, I get it."

Greg sat down and looked at his empty glass. "Leaving?"

John gestured with his chin for Lestrade to say something to fix the situation, but it seemed the DI was at a loss.

"Stuff to do, things to see… people to kill." She picked her backpack up off the floor beside her, just as the bartender handed her back the card.

Lestrade snatched it out of her hand. "Mycroft J Holmes?" Why do I have a feeling that isn't your legal name?"

She shrugged. "Mycroft owes me—all of us—more than just a few drinks."

There was this frozen look of 'what the hell' on Lestrade's face, and John didn't need Sherlock's deductive powers to tell he was debating whether to arrest her, or to pretend he'd never even seen the card. One solution was not without its hardships. The other, while possibly the easier rout, was a moral slippery slope. "Ok, I gave Sherlock a lot of leeway. But I'm not entirely sure it extends to the entire family." Not when he'd only met her an hour and a half ago. His grip on her wrist tightened.

Her head turned so that the scar was facing Lestrade. "I think you can guess that I won't let you run me in for anything."

John didn't even want to imagine how that would end up. She was a hard woman who'd led a hard life, and he had no doubt that she had the skills and means to effect an escape (and a strong suspicion that she wouldn't care who she was hurting along the way). He held up both his hands, attempting to diffuse the situation. "How about this? She gets them to run the charges on her own card, and we pretend this never came up. You can give her a… strongly worded warning. How's that sound?"

Lestrade hesitated. "Your entire gene pool is more trouble than it's worth." But he let go.

Aurelia pocketed the card, and then pulled out another. "Mycroft killed Sherlock. The least he can do is buy a few drinks on his baby brother's birthday," she grumbled, something petulant now crossing her hardened features. She gestured for the bartender to come back over.

John sputtered a little. "Why—why would you say that?" Yes, Mycroft WAS responsible. But that wasn't exactly common knowledge. And she was taking it to a whole new conclusion: not that her cousin had been responsible but that it was entirely his fault.

She leaned her back against the bar, looking out into the dimly lit faces, all laughing and oblivious. "When I got back here, and I asked what happened with his brother, he didn't say anything. No explanation that Sherlock had thrown himself off a tall building after his very public shaming. Hell, he could have told me it was all over the Internet, to do a damned Google search if I wanted to know. No. He just says he's 'Sorry about Iran.' Bastard leaves me playing spy games across half the world for YEARS, almost no contacts, next to no support… part of that rotting in a prison in the desert on charges I had NO chance of refuting. And what's he got for me, when I ask about something COMPLETELY unrelated? 'Sorry about Iran.' Sorry about the last six years of your life. And if we know anything, it's that he's never sorry for anything. Ergo, he killed Sherlock. How wrong AM I?"

And that was it. The very thing that had been on her mind when she'd showed up at the grave today. The thing she was hoping a very dead relative would somehow console her upon. She'd been off in parts of the world unknown, doing Mycroft's bidding, and she was done. She'd returned broken, prepared to level rage at her years of pain at Mycroft, only to find out that there was someone out there who'd gotten an even shittier deal from the man who 'was' the British government. From that perspective, John supposed, shooting Mycroft in the head was a completely reasonable response to the last few years of her life.

Greg sat back on the stool, resting his head on his hand, elbow propped against the bar. He looked a bit deflated while he watched her explain to the bartender that she wanted to move the charges to another card.

John shrugged at Lestrade while this was happening. "She's not wrong."

Lestrade looked fucking exhausted by the entire soliloquy, only the barest bit of empathy visible in his eyes. "Christ. All of you. The drama never stops. I'll just sit here and pretend identity theft is no longer a crime."

"Glad you see it my way." She plunked back down on the stool then leaned across John, like he wasn't even there, to where Lestrade was sitting. "Fancy a shag? That's not propositioning an officer of the law or anything—I liked what I saw before you turned into a rules fascist."

Sighing, John rolled his eyes. Nothing could ever be simple, could it? A headshake of disgust actually turned into laughter from Lestrade. "You're mad, aren't you?"

She shrugged, taking the pen and receipt from the bartender. "Gotta be, working for the people I do. You don't have to be crazy to work there—they'll provide training."

"Yeah, well, the booty call is NOT on. YOU are insane, and I'd really rather not be visited by men in black, or the angry ghost of Sherlock Holmes because I shagged a distant cousin. I have enough of my own problems, thank you." He tossed some bills on the bar, probably just to make a point about not being bought, but he didn't take off. He kept leaning against the wood rail, marveling that the situation could somehow find yet another way to depart with reality.

John was immediately grateful THAT hookup ended before it began. That was… trouble. Horrifying trouble. Just waiting to happen. He also had the sneaking suspicion that if the incident with the card had never happened, Greg would have taken her home.

He remembered when things had been simple like that. Meet someone nice that you fancy, go back to your place, or hers… things happen…

Of course he only remembered that sort of thing with fond nostalgia because things had not been that simple since he'd come back from Afghanistan, since Sherlock and their madcap relationship.

Sure, he'd managed a string of girlfriends in that time, but they had all been messy and had ended badly. Over Sherlock. What he wouldn't give for a good anonymous, no-strings-attached, shag… Well, he said that. And in theory it was the case. But in actual practice…

Life, he pondered philosophically, had somehow become measured in three distinct time zones: Before Sherlock, Sherlock, After Sherlock. He'd ask how that happened, but he knew.

His phone beeped and instinctively, he took it out to read the text. Lestrade had been putting on his coat, but stopped, wondering what the hell the message was. Everyone who might text John was already in the pub.

Unsurprisingly, the text was from the Devil himself.

Thank the good inspector for his effort at preventing credit card fraud. It is good to know we have such upstanding men on the force. -M

John looked around the pub for prying eyes, knowing full well he'd see none, then held the phone up for Lestrade to read. "So, apparently you have a fan."

Lestrade squinted to read it as he zipped his coat. Just as John was about to put the phone away, it beeped again, another text coming in. "And tell my cousin she's welcome to TRY to kill me, but not even SHE is that good?" Lestrade read out loud, looking past John to Aurelia, who shrugged innocently.

She ripped the phone out of John's hand and began texting back. "I bet he thinks I didn't LEARN anything at all in six years. Whatever." Her grin was maniacal when she was done typing. And because there were universal constants, she was a Holmes in need of an audience, so she flashed the phone in John's face before she hit send.

"'Wanna bet, FATBOY?' Oh that'll go over well. And thanks for sending that from MY phone, by the way."

For his part, Lestrade was slumped against the bar, hands in coat pockets, exhaustion painted all over his face. "Ok, identity theft is one thing. Murder threats are another. I don't care if he's family."

"OH, it's not a threat," she announced with a proud grin. "I'm going to kill the fucker. And it's going to be magnificent." Gone was all the deeply rooted pain of her time away, replaced with a manic bravado. She was in a really, REALLY bad place right now.

John insinuated himself back between her and Lestrade. He kept his voice low and serious. "Look, Greg, she's had twice as much beer as both of us put together. Let me get her somewhere to sleep it off, and I'll talk to her in the morning. She's obviously got some PTSD thing going on, and I've been there. She's not going to kill Mycroft." Maybe. Probably. If John could help it. Maybe. Goddamned conflicting feelings and moral high roads and shit. "I'll keep an eye on her, and make sure she gets help. But she's certainly not going to get it in an overnight holding cell."

Lestrade sighed. "Fine. I have shit to do anyway. But you're responsible for her."

Smiling, John zippered up his own coat. "That's who I am—John Watson, medical doctor and babysitter to grown adults." He turned to Aurelia. "Ok. Look, you can kill Mycroft tomorrow, how's that sound? Right now, we're going to get some food into you, a good night's sleep, and then go from there."

Her manic cheerfulness dropped. "I'm not kidding, John."

He just nodded. "I know. Look, lets just get out of here." He waited until the enormous backpack was on her back again, and then practically dragged her to the door. "We can talk some place that's not here. You know, with the cop sitting right there?"

The pub had been less than ill lit but it still took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the nighttime and street lights. Then he began searching for a cab.

As they tossed the backpack (which no doubt contained all her worldly possessions) in the back and got in, he saw Greg at the pub door, watching them to make sure they got on ok. If John managed to pull this off with no blood shed, he owed Greg more than a few drinks. But he'd spent the whole evening observing this wreck of a human being, and he was finally prepared to go on the offensive.

The cabbie asked where to, and he said Baker Street. There really was no choice—he doubted she had any comfortable lodging arrangements, and John's other "arrangements" were not what you'd call… hospitable, so it'd hardly do for entertaining. "Look, Greg is good people. He's put up with a lot from Sherlock over the years. But don't push him. Cos if it comes to that, you'll be sitting in a short, squat cell with a lady who smells like rotten oysters and dog piss."

Aurelia held up her hands in defense. "Fine, fine, OK. I wasn't even bringing up my plans. Mycroft did that. Because he's a manipulative bastard who's trying to start something."

"OH, and I suppose it's hardly worth mentioning that YOU were the one who declared your intent first?" John looked ahead to the cabbie to be sure he wasn't taking up any interest in this conversation. "Seriously. And I'm pretty damned sure you gave away far more information on your… employment history than you're legally allowed to." Which meant she didn't give a shit, which meant she was perfectly fine with going out with Mycroft. God, he'd managed to walk in on a hot one.

She stared out the window for a half a dozen blocks. Not at the other cars, or people on pavement, but up at the rooftops. John had no idea what she thought she'd see up there. "It's been a long time since I've had anyone to talk to," she said quietly, like she was just realizing it herself. "A very long time."

In a lot of ways, John had been where she was now. Not quite wanting to take a chainsaw to another human being after returning to civilian life. But he knew. He knew how confusing and relentless the 'real' world could seem when your head wasn't screwed on straight.

He looked out the opposite window, thinking of his own return. "I get it. Coming back to civilized life is tough. The things you think about and worry about aren't even close to what everyone else in the aisles of the supermarket has on their minds. And you wind up and down the aisles wanting to go up to just one person and say…"

"I've killed people," she finished. "A lot of people."

John nodded. "And you don't know what they'll do. Maybe they'll be shocked, or angry. Or maybe, just maybe… they'll understand."

She looked into his eyes, searching for answers to what ailed her. "They don't understand. But they're not supposed to, are they?" Pulling the band out of her hair, she ran a hand through it. "I had an adult conviction. Got in with the wrong people, a gun was involved, someone died. I didn't do it. But I was as good as guilty. Mycroft said he could make it 'disappear' if I just did him a few favors. Goddamnit. Sherlock said he'd own me, and he did."

"How old were you? Eighteen? You made the best decision you could at the time." They turned onto Baker Street, and John started fishing for cash for the cabbie. "It wasn't perfect, but you did what you thought was best then."

"And look how it turned out."

It was cold in 221B when they finally made it up there. He turned the heat up, but had no idea when it'd be warm enough to take off their coats. Instinctively he sat in his own chair, which left only Sherlock's chair for Aurelia. There wasn't a huge family resemblance, but when she was slouched in the chair, an unhappy look upon her face, he could see it, if only in attitude alone.

"Look, I'm not the right person to be judging someone by the anger they carry around with them. And I'm not going to. But I am going to say my peace," John said after a long silence dragged on between them. "You have a right to it, ok? I am not going to even say you aren't. Mycroft is everything you say about him, and more. And yeah—he fed a madman every detail about Sherlock that was needed to destroy my best friend. I have no love for the man, myself. But… if it humanizes him a little more, he did worry about Sherlock. Obsessively, and in a completely codependent and toxic sort of way, but he did try to look after his brother."

Aurelia's initial response was protest, but then her resolve started to waver. "I really don't give a shit—I mean… he's got a brain the size of Everest, and that's what he uses it for? War games and spy games? It's not even real to him. Those were real people in all those places I went to. The people walking down the street, not knowing (or ignoring) when on in dark places…they were real people. Hell, the people I ended were people. Bad people. But people. But they weren't to him. No one's real to Mycroft. They're all pieces on a chess board that can be manipulated."

"Sherlock was real." John could really stab his own eyeballs out. Defending Mycroft. He had no idea what the world was coming to. "And you don't have to deal with Mycroft any more, if you don't want to, right? You can go your separate ways. That'd be fine, wouldn't it?"

She sniffed. In disgust. "Because I have a ton of options open to me. Especially if my record hasn't been expunged like he said he would. And he's Mycroft. If he wants me back in the game, I'll be back in before you can snap your fingers."

John rubbed his chin. "Not if I can help it. I mean—it's not like I have a ton of pull. But I can try. He owes me one last favor, at least." He had guilt on his side. And he wasn't afraid to weald it like a weapon. Mycroft may not be capable of feeling many emotions, but when Mycroft asked John to look after his brother that last time, he'd seen it there. He at least had the decency to feel a tinge of remorse for destroying Sherlock. And John was not afraid to twist that around and use it to help Aurelia 'retire,' as it were.

"God. To be done with it. I don't even know what the hell I'd do." She stared up at the ceiling, as if there'd be answers there.

John could tell she really HADNT thought about what she'd do if she left Mycroft's employ. "Well, what would you WANT to do?"

She bit her cheek, still staring upward. "I have no fucking clue. I've not done just what I wanted to do in at least a decade. What the hell do people DO, if they're not killing people to further the political agenda of their deranged older cousins? I mean… get a real job? What exactly does your CV look like at that point?"

John didn't have any answers, but it sounded like she had some decent questions. That was a good enough start. "There has to be some way to turn a phrase and spin it in a positive light. 'Capable of executing organization objectives. Like that."

The young woman glanced down her nose at him suspiciously. "Sure. That'll work. Perhaps the local nursery school is hiring."

John laughed. "See, you have a bright future ahead of you."

They settled into silence again, each lost in thoughts they had no clear way to describe to the other. She was contemplating changing her whole life. Staring over.

And he—he had no idea what the clear through line was between all the things swirling in his head. He'd spent six months wandering around in a haze after Sherlock died. He existed, he subsisted, but he didn't live. And then, at one point, he realized it had been exactly six months. Some sort of bell went off in his head, a buzzer saying that enough was enough, he had to get on with life. He had lost his best friend, but the world kept turning. The world moved on. The last three had been ok. He was not really doing rather well with the whole concept of not hating himself for being alive when his best friend was dead.

But the point was…he was hardly in a position to be a model of mental health. And here he was, with a very serious situation on his hands.

He sat up suddenly. "Shooting instructor. There. I solved your career problems."

She shrugged, mulling it over. "Something like that. Have a responsible day job. Oh god, I don't know if I could stand it. Being regular."

"I'm working on it myself. It's nice, sometimes. The little things are nice. Reading until bedtime and not standing in the dark and in the cold watching and waiting until some bad guy makes a drop or something. Sometimes it's downright fabulous."

"And others?" she asked, suspicious.

"And other times, I want to dig my own eyes out with spoons." He sighed. "Those're the times I miss Sherlock so bad it's like my chest will burst from it."

A fond smile crept across her lips. "You loved him."

John opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again, thoughtful. When he finally did speak, it was more considered than his usual litany of objections. "In my own way. In his own way. We both sort of did. But… it was weird, you know?" And god, what he wouldn't give to have it all back. Long silences in the evening where they went about their separate hobbies, working together on cases, fighting over chores and shopping… It had been fine. It had been good. Everything he'd been led to believe a decent long-term relationship should have.

Well, except for sex. There'd certainly not been any of THAT going on in 221B. Sherlock was indifferent, at best. And John's situations with his various girlfriends certainly had the sex part going on, but had failed miserably at the companionship part. Nothing ever worked right, did it?

"He was insufferable, of course. And wonderful. And amazing. And an absolute fucking nightmare, all at once." John let out a deep breath, trying to exercise the tension that this new line of thought was stirring in him. "But I could have done it forever, you know? The running, the chasing, the eyeballs in the microwave. Maybe not that bit. I swear to god, I saw more parts of corpses in the kitchen in 18 months of knowing him than in all my years in medical school. Which is tough—that place is a festival of body parts, usually."

"But you'd do it again in a minute."

He grinned. "Yeah, I'd do it all over." It had been its own sort of odd domestic bliss, eyeballs and catapulting refrigerator hands included. "This doesn't leave this room. But sure, ok. I loved him. We were very domestic together."

Suddenly he understands why things had been just so damned difficult the last nine months. He hadn't just lost a roommate who also happened to be his work-mate and best friend. He'd lost his life-mate. Probably wouldn't have changed anything about the months of hell he went through though—grief was what it was.

But he may have been kinder to himself about it. Instead of always ordering himself to pull himself up by his boot straps, grow some balls, and get over it (and when it became evident THAT wasn't going to happen, to suck it up and ENDURE), he might have let himself feel entitled to his emotions. "So, you know, it was PERFECT. Except for that total lack of sex, and how I'm straight and Sherlock was probably asexual… well, except for the thorough brain fucking he kept giving this one woman."

"Asexual, panromantic," the woman across from him muttered absently, then looked his way. "What? I can't know things about things, just because I haven't been laid (for real) since before I was in prison?"

John held up his hands defensively. "I didn't say anything! I just… well, it doesn't matter now, right? But now that you've got me thinking about living with Sherlock in weird, crime-fighting domestic bliss, it's just making me sad for what could have been. And what wasn't. I guess. I don't even know how it makes me feel." Other than like the universe was somehow betraying him yet again, simply by giving him a better understanding of what was, and what wasn't in his relationship with his dearest friend.

Aurelia sat up in the chair, folding her legs under herself again, just how she sat at the gravesite. "Ok. That, right there, that actually helps. If Sherlock could find someone willing to put up with him… and lets face it, I was arrested twelve times before I ever got my A Levels, but HE was the black sheep of the family… then maybe a delinquent like me has hope. Or I could continue to shag my way across all of Mycroft's assignments. But most often I do that just to spite him."

"So, you're just going to go back to work for him." It wasn't a question. John just knew the future was too uncertain for her to see past the path she was on.

"It's the easiest thing for now."

It would kill her in the end, though. Not ever having anyone to rely on or talk to. The military harped on the idea of providing emotional and mental health resources to soldiers, and even with actual available help the mental health statistics were discouraging. What hope did someone have out there in the cold?

"And you're not going to kill Mycroft?" He had to be sure.

"Not just yet. But only if you admit you're not entirely straight."

"Why can no one ever take my word for it? I think I'd know my own sexual preferences."

Elbows on her knees, she steepled her fingers in front of her, and for a moment, she was almost the spitting image of her cousin. "And yet, here we are. You had absolutely NO concept of personal space with your cop friend. That is a sure sign that you're entirely comfortable with close proximity to the same sex. Most men are obsessed with the pretense of heterosexual norms and proving their virility through the execution there-of, but you don't even notice space issues. And the way you talk about Sherlock… oh come on. You were pinging HARD on my gay-dar when I first met you. You've never even been curious?"

He felt his jaw clench. "Not really."

She grinned. "Well, then, my friend… it's time to explore a whole new side of you."

He didn't necessarily see the point. It wasn't like it was important any more—the only person of the male persuasion that he could actively contemplate shagging at this point in his life was dead. He wasn't up for a relationship with an actual female right now, and he already knew how those things went and worked, much less exploring same sex relationships.

"Yeah, I think I'll skip that for now. Put it down for the… slightly unimportant at this juncture list."

"You'll come back around. They always do."

"Oh, great."

There was something a little vicious in her aloof grin. "It's true. I have now planted the pink elephant in the room. It will be impossible to ignore, and will work on your conscience until you finally decide to bone some dude."

John went back to staring at the ceiling. "Oh, that's romantic."

She drummed her fingers against each other. "Not romantic, only God's truth. Life's too short not to shag every chance you can get. And that is also God's truth."

"That really, REALLY sounded like a proposition."

She looked over her steepled hands at him, leaning forward just a little bit more. "Maybe it was."

Another item in the very long category of 'Shit that cannot possibly end well, he told himself. "And what if I say yes?"

The woman unzipped her jacket slowly. "No strings attached, simply medicinal fucking. I promise not to attempt to be a replacement for Sherlock, and you can promise not to be a substitute for allowing me to watch Mycroft die vomiting his own blood."

That was a cheerful image. "Fine. Also, you have to call that number on the card I gave you."

"For the therapist?"

John nodded. He couldn't believe he was actually trading sex for getting someone into mental health services. It was like prostituting yourself for Jesus, or something. "Believe it or not, you need it. People don't go through that sort of shit and not need a therapist. It's just not possible."

She let out a sound somewhere between an exasperated sigh and a whining noise. "What exactly do I tell a therapist anyway? Hi, I am a state-sponsored killing machine? OH yeah, and it's a family business where I come from?"

He unzipped his jacket, wondering exactly at what point he'd gotten himself signed up for medicinal no-strings-attached fucking. "I don't know. You'll manage it. You'll think of something. I have tremendous faith in you." The room was still a little chilly when he tossed off his coat, letting it fall over the back of his chair. He noticed her biting her lip thoughtfully. "What?"

"This is weird. Even for me."

"OH and this is perfectly normal for me. Look, we can just call the whole idea off, if you want." Because the sterile manner in which this was progressing was not anywhere near mood-setting.

"No," she said too loudly and quickly. "No. Gotta…get back in the saddle again. As it were. Get my mojo back. And you haven't had a shag, from the looks of you, since dinosaurs roamed the earth."

John was starting to hate people younger than him. "Thanks for that." But, the way she said it 'getting her mojo back,' he suspected something especially heinous had happened during her time in prison. She was trying to take back her power, and control. Their proposed…arrangement could help. It could make things worse. He wasn't a psychiatrist by any stretch. But he'd seen enough of this stuff in the RAMC that he knew when he was out of his depth. "But if you change your mind, I have a full assortment of board games around here somewhere."

She actually laughed. "Doctor Watson, have you ever played a little game called Strip Uno?"

"I don't even want to know."

"It's the only rules that make sense with only two players." And was probably about to be used as a substitute for foreplay, if he consented. Great. That was romantic.

"Uh… there's also full-contact Uno. Slap for a skip or reverse, punch in the arm for a Draw Four. Uh… well, at least that's how my sister and I always played it."

She slid off her jacket. There were various and sundry injuries to her arms as well. Burn marks, cuts, scrapes… "Your family is very violent. I like it."

Probably about all she could relate to, at this point. Who knows how long it had been since she'd had a normal relationship. Hell, he didn't know how long it had been since he'd had a normal relationship. His thing with Sherlock had been the closest to normal, and it was not very normal at all.

She sat back down, and tugged up the leg of her jeans, past her calf to pull the zip on her boot. He guessed they WERE really doing this now. There was something clinical and desperate and wrong about the whole thing. Which probably put it right up his alley, given how the last few years had run for him.

Sliding out of her other boot, she stood up again and kissed him firmly. There was no doubt in it, no lingering distrust, but it was very…perfunctory. She unbuckled her belt.

Passionless sex was still sex, right?

Half way through unbuttoning his jumper, he stopped. "Your grandfather, and Sherlock's grandfather… were brothers?"

"Like I said, we're barely even related. Oh come on, you're not going to make this weird, now, are you?" She was already down to just her bra.

"It's too late for that." John sighed, sitting on the arm of his chair heavily. "Sorry, sorry. Not feeling it." He stared at a starry-looking blotch of a scar on her abdomen. "And I don't think you are, either."

She put her hands on her hips. "Then I get to go kill Mycroft, right?"

"You don't want to do that, either. Or go back to work for him." Maybe he was more trying to convince her, than state a fact, he didn't know. "You want out of all ofthis."

Aurelia kissed him again, this time softly, on the cheek. "You're a good man. Too good. Sherlock never deserved you." She slid the t-shirt back on, twisting up a handful of shirt near her midsection, indicating some pain with no physical cause. John knew where it came from, though. "Why is it like this?"

"It gets better," he promised. "Eventually. I think." It had been better, dealing with his time seeing things human beings shouldn't see…with Sherlock. A lot better. Now days? The nightmares were back, in spades. With new ones besides. He wished he had some magic words that would make the last six years of her life disappear, but he didn't. "Allegedly, time heals all wounds."


The bar had been a dive, but most of them were. These sorts of things never happened in nice places. Well, that wasn't true. There'd been an Applebee's in Sandusky, Ohio once, where she'd strangled a man in the family bathroom and cut him open with a broken piece of mirror to pull out the USB drive he'd just swallowed. That had been fun.

She never asked what she was retrieving, or the final destination of the information she had acquired, but there was a few names that kept coming up over and over. Moriarty had been one of them, that time—the head of whatever organization Mycroft had his feelers searching for.

That name had fallen off the map when Sherlock had died. But the web was enormous, and she'd been chasing after a shadow for the last year and a half, since the therapy didn't take, and she'd given up and come crawling back to her cousin, seeking something meaningful to do. The only thing that therapy had taught her was that she drank too much, smoked too much, shagged too much, and had no polite skills of a marketable nature. OH well, at least she could tell John she'd truly tried.

But right now, she was meeting someone who supposedly had worked with the new big name back before he had become the big name: Moran. Moriarty's second in charge.

And here she was, waiting in a booth for the last hour, facing the door, but with her scarred side near the wall, hoping this source didn't chicken out, or, as tended to happen with this web—end up dead in a ditch somewhere.

It didn't help that SHE had been tailed. Shadowy figure she'd picked up on the edge of a mining town yesterday. She'd tried to get around behind him half a dozen times since then, but he'd vanish, like a phantom. She hoped he wasn't here to kill her contact.

It didn't seem that way. Otherwise he wouldn't be letting her get this far. If anything—there was something benign about the phantom. Something she trusted.

After another half hour, she paid her bill and moved on, fairly certain the person she'd been sent to meet was dead. That's how these things worked. Just when you got close to Moran, the trail vanished. She was not the only person in Mycroft's employment to be working this. She had no idea how close she had come, and if anyone else had come closer… she just kept her head down, and did her job.

The streets were quiet, which was worrying, in its own special way. No movement around her, not even her shadow. Nothing in the buildings of the small town. All the windows above the storefronts were dark, not even a flickering television gave life to the desolate little avenue. The orangeish streetlamps reflected off the windows, hiding whatever lay beyond.

Which should have been her first tipoff.

She usually had pretty good self-awareness—hell, she'd survived this long, in all of the messes Mycroft sent her into. But this… Moran was good, and she'd been a sitting duck. She hadn't even realized the rifle had been fired, until she heard breaking glass somewhere down the street, just a heartbeat before she hit the ground as someone landed on top of her. "He's here," she whispered to the dark figure lying on top of her chest, pressing both of them to the ground.

This was… a new development. Moran was a sniper, but as the second in command, he'd kept his own hands clean, staying far from any dodgy activity. The web must be crumbling, if he were taking matters into his own hands. Another bullet hit the lamppost directly between them and the broken window. While it hadn't connected with them, it had hit its intended target. A man like Moran never missed. He was trying to drive them into the open where he had a better shot. "We need better cover."

She shifted under the heavy weight pressing her to the ground. "Like I hadn't thought of that myself. Though I am open to suggestions…Sherlock."

He pointed to an alleyway about twenty feet from them. "I'll go. Give a two count, then follow."

At least one of them would make it, Moran couldn't reacquire a target again that quickly. Before she could protest the plan (not that she really had much to offer), he took off, staying low, and diving into the gap as another round went off. Bolting as well, Aurelia dove, hitting the wet ground in the alley, the smell of fermented garbage water curling inside of her nose before she even took the time to look up. "This is good, right? I mean—not the getting shot at bit. But this is a desperate act, right?" She was just checking. She had to be sure.

He gestured with his head for her to follow, and they took off running again, down the alley, to another passage between buildings, then up a fire escape, to a window barely big enough to tumble through. Once she was in, he poked his head back out to be sure there were no unwanted followers, then closed and shuttered it. "VERY good. Now, we just need to get out of here alive."

"Not easy. The rest of his people will be crawling this place in a few hours." She brushed the tiny rocks out of her palms, then rubbed the gross water on her hands into her jeans. The smell didn't disappear. "Which means we probably need to haul tail, right now."

Sherlock shook his head in the dim light coming through the cracks in the shutters. "No. There's no way out of town that he can't see from that vantage point on the bank."

Tired, Aurelia slid down the wall, trying to catch her breath. "Great. We'll just sit right here. That'll end well."

"Let me finish. We are going to wait until his people are in place. And then we're going to walk out through the center of town."

"I thought being dead was supposed to give one insight. That's the stupidest plan I've ever heard."

His lips twisted, asking without words if she had any better ideas.

Letting out a deep breath, she kicked her legs out in front of her. "No, no. I know when to let the thinkers think, and the doers do."

They were inside a small storage room, empty except for some heavy metal shelves. Sherlock also slid down onto the ground and took a breather. His hair was longer than she remembered, and a color that did not suit him. And his clothes were utilitarian and well-worn, which must have been killing him, and his usual sense of perfection. The army-green coat may have been worn, but also was not his thing. Especially considering the sleeves and chest were stained with old blood. Hopefully it hadn't come off the corpse of its last owner in order to go onto his body. "We have some time. Like you said, in a few hours this place will be crawling with his men."

"So, we've got some time?" Yes, she knew he had just said that. But she needed to confirm.

He nodded, not even getting snarky with her about her being thick or dull. Might not have been worth the effort. She didn't care. She got the confirmations he had needed.

She punched him in the arm. "That's for making me think you were dead." The second connected without any attempts on his part to stop it. "And that's for making John Watson think you were dead." The final one was a little bit harder. "And that's for falling into Mycroft's trap."


"Is funding this expedition, I know. But what did you tell me? Do you even remember? Once you get involved in his private wars, you never get out? And look at me. I never got out. And here you are." She had half a mind to kick him, too.

Attempting to punch him again for worrying people, she was stopped whence caught her hand, deciding he had had enough of her abuse. "What choice did I have? You are Owl, aren't you?" It wasn't really a question. That's was her name out here.

She nodded. "And I bet you are Hawk," the one no one was allowed to go near. "Isn't that sweet, Mycroft gave us all birdy names."

He ignored the barb. "You have been on Moriarty since he flashed onto Mycroft's radar. You know what is at stake. You know I got...involved, and you know I got burned. THIS is the only way back home." He sighed. He looked tired.

They both were. It was easy for Mycroft to conduct these clandestine wars. He sat behind a desk all day and ma decisions. He had no idea just how tiring all of this was, if not in body, at least in soul.

"Did you ever wonder how Moriarty found all of your weaknesses? How he knew how to crush you?" She shook her head. "Mycroft. Mycroft had him in custody, and spoon-fed the maniac everything he needed to know. Then turned him loose again."

Sherlock swore. He had suspected it. But now knowing Mycroft had Moriarty, and let him go..."Moriarty destroys me, I come running to him, in order to keep John safe, and do his bidding dismantling Moriarty's network, which he hasn't been able to do in years of trying. I will kill him."

"I will help," Aurelia grumbled unhappily. "I wanted to kill him years ago and Doctor Watson wouldn't let me." She kicked him half-heatedly. That is what you get for having decent friends. And while I am thinking about it...welcome to the family business."

He stared at her a moment, and she knew he didn't even have to ask her how the last decade or so had been. But he was also reading something else on her, his lip twitched but he wouldn't say it.

She groaned finally, exasperated. "I didn't sleep with him. For the love of god. Can you two just get gay-married already?"

Her second cousin (just barely) made a face. "You tried."

"I also tried to get your DI friend in the sack, but apparently he doesn't like 'drama.'" She made air quotes. "Who knew you would end up with friends, much less such noble ones?"

They sat in the dim little cupboard, letting the silence fill the distance between them for a while.

Finally Aurelia felt the need to fill the void. "For what it is worth, thanks for not letting me get sniped. And I'm glad that you're not dead. But I think you need to tell your friend." She had kept in sort-of contact with Watson over the last couple of years. Text messages now and again, but it was still contact. "He is still kinda messed up about it." She waved her hands in front her. "After you kill Mycroft, of course."

"I am heading directly home. From here."

She pulled out a pack of cigarettes, slamming them into her wrist. "I know 'please shag your boyfriend already' wasn't THAT convincing of an argument."

He held out his hand expectantly. "Moran knows I'm alive now, after that last stunt. John's in danger. Everyone...related to my old life."

Aurelia handed him a cigarette. He reached out and took the whole pack. "Dick. Can't you just say the people you care about? People have those, you know. I've read about them in books. Friends, loved ones. Ties. Families. Well, not our family. But, families you make. Ones that aren't difficult and horrendous and awful and trying to kill you constantly."

There was suspicious glare in his eye, and it was aimed at her. "You have never had a single relationship in your adult life that has lasted more than two weeks. You haven't spoken to your parents in at least seven years, you hate what you do. You hate what's been done to you as much as you hate what you do to others, and you tried to quit, but it didn't last long. You gave it a good a decent try, though, but something was always missing. You've been to a therapist but she said you drank too much, smoke too much and had too many sexual partners, at which point you fired the therapist and returned to work for Mycroft. You have no idea where your life is headed, except for an early grave, but you think you can solve everyone elses's emotional difficulties. Have I missed anything?"

"First of all, fuck you. Second of all...fuck you. It IS possible to observe things, and just not share you know," she said miserably, pulling one knee to her chest. But then she grew quiet. "At first, I thought I'd get out quickly," she whispered. Goddamn him, and his ability to cut to the heart of her. "Then I consoled myself that at least I'd die young. But that didn't happen. Now I'm terrified I'll just go on living."

He handed her back only one cigarette, pulling one out for himself, then pocketing the rest. "So? Get out. And before you ask me 'and do what, exactly,' use your brain. Starting over is as simple as a fake passport and a well-detailed birth certificate. Move somewhere, maybe by the sea. Maybe Sussex. Have a garden, find a modest way to make a living. Tell Mycroft which hole to blow his conspiracies out of. There, solved."

Lighting up, then passing him her lighter, she drew in a deep breath of nicotine, air of the gods. "You've given this WAY too much thought. You were planning on just walking away when this was done, weren't you?"

"One of many options."

"No one tosses around words like 'Sussex' without having a plan in place. How's about this? I'll move to a cottage somewhere vaguely Sussex-like, if you promise to go home and shag your boyfriend when this is all over." God, she couldn't believe she was trading a boring life for herself for someone else's chance to get laid. She was turning into a model of altruism in her old age. Old age being, of course, thirty-one.

He made a disgusted sound that was too dignified to be a snort. "You make a lot of presumptions."

She took a drag so long and hard off the cigarette she thought her lungs would burst from the sweet, nicotine-infused smoke. "Look, Sherlock, you have your area of expertise, I have mine. I can kill a man with an empty lipstick tube, and I can tell when there is something going on. I haven't even seen you two together, and I can see it."

Sherlock, ever the overachiever, finished his and tossed the butt away, pulling out another. How's about I start with minimizing the impact to our friendship of allowing him to believe I have been dead for three years? Followed by minimizing the impact of me only returning because he has been targeted for death?" He rolled his eyes, as if all of this should how've been obvious, then went back to smoking.

"Well, you are thinking ahead about it, that is good. Forethought is the new sexy, I hear. Seriously, this is so solvable. But you won't LET yourself see the solution."

The cupboard was dark with a cloud of smoke now, and they both quite preferred it that way. It was like drowning in a beautiful miasma of nicotine, the fuel that was keeping both of them alert and going after months of work on getting to Moran's immediate company. The Asia arm was still active, but South and North America's operations were crumbling. Europe was a shell of what it had been, and Africa was prepared for a dive. They were so close-all of them were, who had been working on this operation. This thing with Moran revealed just how broken and desperate this all was becoming for the web. It was good, of course. But they both also knew desperate people with nothing to lose were very, very dangerous.

Her cousin scoffed. "The odds run like this: seventy-five percent he punches me, and in half of those scenarios he doesn't talk to me ever again. Ten percent he kisses me, ten he calls the police, and five percent unknowable. So, please, tell me your solution. Your obviously fool-proof solution. This coming, of course, from someone who, just yesterday, had sexual relations with a flight attendant in the airplane lavatory while the plane was in ascent."

"And I got a free Internet during the flight out of it, I was so good," Aurelia responds flippantly. "Don't be judgy. Seriously, you need to force the five percent. Then, make the unknowable known."

The ugly face he made was priceless.

"Yes, Sherlock, apologize. Tell him he is right about everything horrible he is thinking about you, then tell him you love him, and ask him to take you back. Whether it is true or not."

But he saw the merritt of her plan. "Do I have to use the L word?"



"Not if you are going to make it sound like you are discussing a rotted pig corpse in the middle of the flat. However, it gives you control of eighty percent of the unknowable five percent. His reaction is assured within that range." She tossed away the spent cigarette. "Plus, you are going to need to have at least some of his cooperation in saving his life. It would be nice if he wanted you around LONG enough to make sure his brains do not become a new wallpaper pattern in your droll little flat."

"It isn't droll."

"It IS little."

"Compared to what?"

"Great grandmother's walk-in closet."

Sherlock gave a relaxed half smile. "That wasn't a closet. That was an entire apartment filled with clothes. It hardly counts."

They looked at each other fondly, both suddenly laughing. "Mycroft in the silver dress!" They both exclaimed.

"And he was twelve. Too old for dress up. Therefore: he liked it." Aurelia chuckled. "I suppose that would make him the J. Edgar Hoover of British intelligence, wouldn't it?

But then the laughter fell short as their minds simultaneously ran through all the vicious and conspiracy-laden reasons why that were true.

Aurelia looked away. "I saw this movie once where the alien assassin rips out this mobster's trachea."

That hung in the air like the smoke surrounding them, with neither expounding on that idea any further.

Slowly, the air between them cleared while they continued to wait out Moran's people. Aurelia was very hazy on the details of how they were going to walk out through the center of town, but figured Sherlock had it covered. He was good with plans.

Her suspicions were confirmed when, about forty-five minutes later, the explosions started. Far off, near the bank tower at first, then closer. "Tricky," she grinned as they prepared to run for it. Nice."

Sherlock contemplated calling first. Or sending a text. Or having Mycroft send a text. Or...

He unlocked the front door, a bit surprised to see that the locks had not been changed, then walked up the steps loud enough that John would that someone was approaching. He knocked politely, knowing John was home. He hadn't left since coming home from having a drink with Lestrade the night before. THAT had been strange and awkward to watch. They had had their heads together, discussing something neither had been comfortable with, but he had been too far away to hear or read their lips. Oh well. It would soon all be resolved.

When there was no response to the second knock, he unlocked the flat door as well. John was sitting at his desk with a stack of patient records, scribbling notes, back to the door.

"Shut the door," John Watson muttered, "There's a draft." Closing the folder in his hand, he moved it to another stack on his desk. "And about damned time, too. I bet you forgot the milk?"

He glances over his shoulder at Sherlock, gives him a bit of side eye, then opens another folder.

Sherlock closes the door. Loudly. "I did not bring milk."

John snorted. "Why am I not surprised."

So, that was it? He had been gone for three years, and John's only response was to as if he had remembered milk? He sat down quickly. This was that one percent unknowable he had been unable too account for. That John had gone completely around the twist in his absence, and spent all his time talking to a figment of his imagination as if Sherlock had never left.

His phone beeped, and he pulled it out.

Just as he looked at the message, he heard John chuckling.

'Gotcha. Now go kiss the hell out of him. -AH'

He slid the phone back into his pocket, but stayed on the chair. "Very funny. I should have known Aurelia would tell you I was alive."

John turned the chair to face him finally, busting into an incorrigible looking grin that made him look like a small, badly behaved child. "Come on, you can't fault us for a bit of fun at your expense. I have only spent the last thirty-five months convinced my best friend was dead."

Sherlock didn't have an adequate response to that, really. He just nodded.

But he knew things were about to get emotional and complicated when John leaned forward on his chair, resting his elbows on his knees, and let out a deep, serious sigh. "I had a few days to think about this, thanks to Aurelia. And I am hurt. I know why you did it, but I am still angry. And hurt." He paused. "And disappointed."

Oh. Disappointed. This was one of the trickier emotions. And it was in that grey five percent category that Aurelia had suggested he apply emotion to, in order to diffuse. Pressing his lips together, Sherlock screwed up the courage to enact her brilliant plan (she was a Holmes, after all, and terrible life choices aside, she was quite smart at these things, therefore, 'emotional plea' would be deployed on John), took a deep breath and got on with it.

He rose, moving from one chair to another closer to John, moving it around and situating it so they were face to face, mere feet apart. He also leaned in, very seriously. "I know. I should not have done what I did to you."

"Is that an apology?" John sounded suspicious. He would have to turn it up a notch.

Sherlock shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know yet. I just know that I hurt you. It was for a good cause. I had to do what I did, or they would have killed you. And Mrs. Hudson. And Lestrade. I couldn't see any other way to protect you."

"Because you never asked. We could have figured out something. I could have helped."

Somehow, he resisted the urge to explain all the many ways in which that idea wouldn't have worked. Instead, he swallowed it all down, in an effort to make this plan work. He needed John's cooperation if they were to defeat Moran. He wouldn't have that, if they were still fighting over something as stupid and unnecessary as Sherlock attempting to keep those he...cared for safe. He had done the right thing. No emotional plea would make him think otherwise.

"I know. You are right. I would have done it differently, in retrospect." No he wouldn't. "I was not thinking clearly. My mind was...clouded." Another lie. "With...emotion is a liability..." He hoped he had put enough syllable stress on the last word to have it confused with actual feeling.

John's eyes had grown hard, like he was attempting to resist. So Sherlock went for the coup de gras, the thing his cousin had assured him worked almost every time with people whose emotional centers were wired together correctly (her words, not his-he did not believe he was broken in any sort of way)... He took his friend's hands. "Will you, John Watson, forgive me?"

"I had sex with Lestrade," John blurted loudly and quickly, then sat up and pulled away from his friend.

Sherlock froze. This was that one percent. That percent that did not respond properly to Sherlock's emotional plea. He also had absolutely no idea what to do with this new data. "Oh-kayyyy" he dragged out, his mind calculating possibilities. He had tailed John last night, in order to gauge his friend's mood before making his appearance today, and based on their body language, they were no longer still involved. In fact, they we're quite uncomfortable talking intimately with each other. "So, what are you saying, exactly? Because, for all of his brains and wits, Sherlock had no fucking clue where this conversation had just snuck off to, when he wasn't paying attention.

John got up from his stiff wooden desk chair, rubbed his hand along his neck, then began pacing. "Ok, it wasn't sex-sex. There was some kissing, and a mutual feel-up, and maybe some hand jobs...and we were drunk, ok? And it was just once. And that was like a year-look, this is your stupid cousin's fault. She put the elephant in the room."

Sherlock rubbed is temples. "Why, exactly, are you telling me this," he asked in exasperation. "I am possibly the last person that needs to know about this."

John continued to pace, breathing. "I have absolutely no idea. I asked Greg last night if we should tell you, and he said if you didn't deduce it, to let it go, but, elephant. So, um anyways. You were apologizing for being a git and letting me to agonize about your death for three years, the last two of which I spent realizing I had lost my soul mate, but go on, tell me how I should forgive you for it all because you are hear now, and couldn't I just get on with-"

Sherlock caught him by the shoulders and looked intensely into his eyes. They didn't have time for this emotional...stuff. "I know. What I did was insufferable. And it will take you time to forgive me. But do you think, maybe eventually..." John looked away, and he knew he was losing his best friend. "Because I forgot to be logical and rational because I care-care about you." He had no idea what that meant, but it sounded incredibly good. "And I have been so interminably lost without my blogger," he continued, his mouth and the words somehow rushing ahead of his thoughts, "that I've resorted to taking advice from a delinquent assassin and serial shagger."

Somehow his hands were off John's shoulders and were gripping his cheeks… Then his brain caught up to the place where he realized he had meant the last thing he had said, and it was not a calculated ploy to gain John's cooperation in the final push against Moran. This realization was so profound it took the synapses a moment more to realize he was kissing his blogger. With tongue. And his blogger was kissing him back.


'I'm done. I quit. -A'

'You'll be back. -M'

'Not this time. I made a promise. I keep mine. Have a nice life, Mycroft.'

'Sussex? Really. -M'

'Glad you know where to find me. Don't bother coming to call. –A'

'Noted. –M'

'You should also know I siphoned money off your South American operation to buy the cottage, too.-A'

'Also noted. –M'

'Least you could do for not clearing my record like you said you would. -A'