Mycroft's home did not have the best of memories for John. It was a place of unpleasant revelations and reminded him of bad days gone worse. Though his current opinions of the day were high, he did not look forward to whatever confessions might be uttered in the elegant abode. A fine ending did not make for a perfect excuse for acceptable means. Refinement and high position made John think of words like Coventry and as John caught sight of Sherlock, standing in the parlor, dabbing at his face with a bulky white cloth, the reasons why were quite inelegantly clear.
Sherlock turned to him as he heard his heavy footed entrance, smiling only slightly as he kept the cloth-concealed ice against his cheek. His bottom lip was split but the least of which needed attending to with angry splotches of purples and reds spreading on his neck. "To be fair, this was not what I had in mind when I inquired about lunch. I'm hoping to make this a short interlude."
John ignored his jest as he took hold of his hand, tugging to unveil the discolorations that had had time to rise against his face. The cut was scabbed but the bruising fresh. He looked quite roughed and tangled though in his experience, John had seen much worse. "Jesus, Sherlock," he sighed all the same, giving the whole of his face a quick inspection with fingertips tracing and prodding as gently as possible. "A doctor seen these?"
"Yes. The best." Sherlock pressed his hands away, leaning back far enough to hold the ice back against the required areas which served him far better than concern. "I'm fine," he said. "Promise. You?"
John balled his hands into nervous fists, fingers fidgeting against his palms. "Me? Yeah. Fine." He looked around, noting the standard seating area, the cream upholstered loveseats and high backed, claw footed chairs. Their host was not present, a fact John was both grateful for and annoyed with. He wanted it all over with. He'd waited long enough for answers already. "How long had you known?"
Sherlock pursed his lips, left brow arching. "About Moran? Not as long as Mycroft knew if it's any consolation. He told me when he realized I'd work it out and how much trouble that'd make. You were right: you're not very good at deceiving me."
"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sick of you being so damn good at it. Fuck, Sherlock, I thought... I planned your murder for Christ's sake. Do you have any idea... And then you today with Moran? You brilliant bastard, I thought... Fuck! You know exactly what I thought! Jesus!" John could not keep his hands from searching once more against Sherlock's neck, wanting to inspect each splotch that marred his throat.
Sherlock stood still for him, accepting the attention though he made no effort to raise his chin in assistance. "We're both alright now, John."
"I know; I know. Just... fuck." There were not enough words in the English language to vocalize the sheer amounts of panic and relief he'd felt in the span of less than an hour.
As he traced a particularly angry looking bruise-a thumb's by the span of it-he heard the door to the room open and similarly close as their host joined them. John felt no need to greet him as such, content to seeing to the health of his friend first and allow the pompous official to wait. He considered he probably owed him more than a small amount of gratitude but being angry with him and blaming him for the things that went wrong was as comfortable as shouting unwarranted abuse at Anderson was for Sherlock. There was a natural order to things. There was complicated history.
Mycroft sat in a chair that by all accounts appeared to be his normal seat in the room. The side and coffee tables were at a perfect distance from it and the space between them and the chair allowed for the perfect storage of his briefcase which he slid on the floor beside him, handle up. He waited without hurry, not bothering to even watch them it seemed as John finished his compulsory examination. The way he commanded their attention without speaking a word annoyed John almost as much as the silence he'd granted him through the entire ordeal.
John looked at him, expecting to see perhaps a small hint of remorse at seeing his brother wounded, even if superficially so. Mycroft was a paradigm of composure, the British gentleman to his core. John was not good at hiding his repulsion. "You're quite the spectator, aren't you?" he spat, turning away from Sherlock to stand with his arms at his sides, glaring down at the seated giant. "You watched me struggle to keep Moran happy then delivered your own brother to him? This is becoming a sick trend, Mycroft!"
"John." Sherlock shook his head, gesturing for him to take a seat as Sherlock himself moved to the furthest end of the parallel sofa, forcing John to sit closest to his brother with straight backed agitation.
Mycroft breathed through his nose, looking far more annoyed than John felt he had the right to be. "It was necessary. We knew Moran was planning something but our intelligence offices were coming up with little. It wasn't until Moran made contact with you that we discovered his plans at all. We were tapping your lines, obviously. It was how we knew about the mugging task and were able to prepare one of our own agents. If Moran had been present, things would have been much simpler but allowing you to gain his trust was just as necessary to collecting more information. For every crime you imagine yourself to have had a hand in, we were able to learn more about the current structure of Moran's syndicate and infiltrate it. The men you saw escorting Sherlock to Moran were our men, not his. I assure you, I sent my brother in with every available resource at his disposal should his plan have failed." His pointed scowl in Sherlock's direction was filled with displeasure
Sherlock did not so much as fidget under his stare. "Which it didn't," he assured them.
"I don't remember asphyxiation being included in the preliminary plans."
"So it seems."
John looked between the two in their short discord, watching Sherlock grimace and pout while Mycroft simply sank into his chair in mild defeat. Not so heartless after all it seemed.
He leaned forward, elbows on knees as he engaged the official, his anger diminishing under the weight of the revelations. "Did you know about the explosives in 221c?" he asked.
"We did." Mycroft ran his fingers along the fine details of the chair wings, idly ignoring his audience as he spoke. "This was before the code for the Oxford Circus line was deciphered, of course. At the time, we could not risk interfering with Moran's as-of-yet fully explained plan."
John nodded. "What about the cameras or microphones or whatever Moran planted in our apartment?"
"Nothing was planted there. Moran was really quite clever in some ways." Mycroft's face seemed to pinch just slightly at the admission, no love lost on the man now held quite securely captive. He breathed deeply, as though the whole ordeal were now quite superfluous to deal with. "You may not remember the scare a while back on Bluetooth enabled phones. Seems someone found out how to turn them on and use them to listen in on people remotely. The scare is generally forgotten, most of the rumors of the plausibility being dismissed as technology advances. Hackers become more advanced as well, though, I'm afraid. Moran could turn your phone on and listen in to any conversation you had without you knowing, the beauty of it being that as you grew to fear him more, you kept the phone even closer at hand."
"So by listening in he could tell when I was alone or away from Sherlock."
Mycroft nodded. "Simplicity is at times its own brilliance."
John blinked, waiting for something more to follow than just the simple explanation. With nothing offered, he prompted for more. "So... what now?"
"Now Moran will stand trial and he will be found guilty of the bombings and the murder of Mary Morstan. Not only will Sherlock's name be cleared but the good press on solving the bomber case should bring you in some clientele. The last of the scars left by Moriarty's deception will fade and as far as anyone is concerned, life will go back to normal."
No, not normal. Normal was something far less pleasant for John Watson. With Moran in prison and Sherlock's name cleared, things would return to what they were three years earlier. Things would go back to being unspokenly perfect.
"Is that good enough for you, Dr. Watson?" Mycroft asked, fingers trilling against the armrest of his chair. "I'd hate to fall short of your demands."
"No.. I... Thank you. Thank you. I.. it's... it's really over. All of it. Every.. last bit."
Like the Nothing never was. Like there had never been a James Moriarty or a Richard Brook.
Mycroft smiled, his dark eyes darkening. "Not quite," he said, turning to his brother. "Sherlock, if you'd be so kind as to leave the good doctor and myself alone for a moment. We have some matters to discuss."
Sherlock's face turned somewhat sour. "What matters?"
"Private from me?"
"That would be the general idea." Mycroft sighed, long suffering. "Perhaps the lack of oxygen to your brain has caused it to slow down momentarily."
Sherlock was not amused. He stood up, ice still clutched to his cheek as the white cloth grew dark with the damp. He looked down at his friend, gesturing with his chin. "Don't kill him, John. Life would be far too boring without at least one enemy." He stepped aside, knocking against the coffee table with his shin to upset a neat stack of journals as he walked. "Is Carolyn in?" he asked, pausing at the door with his free hand to the handle.
"Cathrineand no. You'll have to find less destructive ways to entertain yourself in the interim. Might I suggest testing to see how long you can sit still and be quiet?"
"Two days, fourteen hours, twelve minutes, thirty-seven seconds." Sherlock rattled off, managing to sound bored even as his eyes sparkled with the tiniest bit of pride. He pulled the door closed behind him with a careful click as he left the two men alone.
John pursed his lips, trying not to smile. "Certainly wasn't while he was with me," he said.
"Myself either." Mycroft pulled out his briefcase, setting the dark, leather rectangle on a side table where he opened it just enough to remove from it his intended purchase: a folded piece of white-grey newsprint. John recognized it as The Sun, his eyes immediately drawn to the front cover photograph of the events at the Royal Albert Hall. Mycroft held it out to him. "You know what this is?"
John accepted it, shaking the folds out as he set the front page open against his lap. Twenty-one dead, fifty-odd injured. John didn't remember seeing so many ambulances and police cars there at the time. He hadn't been paying much attention in all honesty. He sighed quietly, nibbling at the inside of his cheeks. "Yeah. I read it. Doesn't sound like there was much we could have done, I guess."
Mycroft nodded. "Quite right. I'm most interested in the headline."
"Terrorists Strike Royal Albert Hall? What about it?"
"It's not about what it does say. Do you know what it doesn't say?" The older gentleman smiled thinly, his face doing little to hide the contempt riding on his words. "I'll help you. It doesn't say 'Consulting Detective Stood Up by Long Time Friend and Partner'." From the briefcase came another item, smaller and glossy: a set of photographs of a well dressed man in an otherwise empty balcony among red pulled curtains.
John clenched his jaw, molars sliding against each other in a painful grind as his thumb imprinted on the photo's surface.
Mycroft's false smile faded, barely a pause given. "And do you know why it doesn't say that?" he asked. "Because while your lives are so very interesting to you and Sherlock, the rest of the world honestly doesn't give a damn. However, to be clear, if I ever see my brother looking as such again and it is not for your funeral, it soon will be."
"Hold on. Let me tell you what I want to hear first before you say anything further." Mycroft's face once again pulled into a tight smirk, his words carefully chosen and eerily familiar as John sat straight, a slight shiver running down his spine. The official leaned forward, finders steepled below his chin with his small triumph. "I want to hear that you're going to think about him first and public reaction last if at all. I want to hear that you are going to remember he is unique and requiring of perhaps quite a bit more patience than you are used to in this regard. I want to hear that you are not going to let this be a mistake now that you are both committed to this. That's what I want; that's what he really needs from you right now. How much of that can I expect to actually happen?"
John half wanted to punch the man for throwing that back in his face. Instead he swallowed hard, stumbling for purchase in a conversation he'd thought he'd been prepared for. "Committed?" he repeated, brows flying high against his wrinkled forehead. "Hang on, he and I-" His mind slowed to a steady stop, his compulsion to correct having waned to no more than a defeated, internal shrug. Committed. Yeah, probably. Why not? John's lips curled into a half smirk, his mind wondering just what had been so hard about that while his heart seemed to sigh with exasperation. Committed. Committed suited him just fine. "Look, we don't need the protective older brother talk. We're sorted, thanks. Sherlock and I, we can handle our own affairs."
Mycroft nodded, slowly sitting back in his chair. "I'm glad my brother's better half is still the reasonable man I thought he was."
"Yeah, well... you don't have to be so smug about it." John stood, feeling tired and hungry and in need of a lifetime's rest and relaxation as three years of stress ceased their slow, glacial melt and flowed through instead like rivers. "Thanks and all, Mycroft, but my date's waiting. We'll see you around."
The official nodded, smug just about covering the knowing smile he wore with practiced perfection. "Goodbye, John."
John waved a hand in a mute gesture as he walked to the parlor doors and out into the hall. Sherlock stood leaning against the wall, poking at his sore flesh like a bored child. He stopped as soon as he saw John, standing up straight and replacing the ice to his face as though he'd kept it there the whole time. He nodded towards the door with his chin as he pushed off to join him.
"I will kill you if you hurt my baby brother?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Did you tell him to piss off?"
"I should have. Think you could wait five more minutes while I pop back in?"
Sherlock shook his head, starting off down the hall towards the front door at a leisurely pace. "Don't bother. It won't be near as effective now you've had time to think about it." He reached the front door first and held it open. "Italian?" he asked.
John nodded, his stomach growling in protest to the wait. "God, I could murder a spaghetti. Angelo's?"
"Bit of a ride from here. Could find someplace closer."
"We could, yeah." John walked out to the curb, hanging back for Sherlock before leaning out to hail their cab. "Angelo's is a good place for a first date, though," he said, trying not to call too much attention to his choice of words.
Sherlock smiled, hands clasped behind his back as he rocked on his heels, leaning down just the slightest bit closer to John's level. "It was, wasn't it?"
Well, and there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the destination as much as the journey. I'll be working on the next installment though I'm uncertain as to when that will begin. Until then, you can follow me on tumblr as nikoford for updates, I guess.