A/N: Here it is, the final chapter. Thank you so much to everyone who's read, reviewed and put me on alerts! Hope you enjoy this last instalment too :)
Sound the Bugle
John stood in the middle of the floor, breathing deeply for several minutes, before he started to pick up the bags of groceries to put them in the kitchen cupboards. The kitchen was really just a corner of the combined bedroom-living room of the place, but he didn't need much else. It wasn't like he had company often, or needed space to store things.
He had just put a plate of beans in the microwave when his phone beeped with a text.
New development. Subject about to move. We need to act NOW. Car is waiting.
John resignedly switched off the microwave, picked up his gun and jacket and walked out to where the car was waiting outside the building. He wasn't really surprised that Anthea paid him even less attention than usual; he figured her recent failure to get him to come along to meet Mycroft hadn't really sat well with her boss.
They had been driving for half an hour through dense London traffic when she put down her phone and reached for something in the compartment beside the door.
"I need you to put this on."
John realised what she was holding out was a black cloth of some kind.
"What, I'm to be blindfolded?" He couldn't quite keep the resigned incredulity out of his voice.
"Yes," was all she said.
John shook his head but reached for the cloth. When he unfolded it, he realised it was a black balaclava, though without holes for his eyes. He wondered for a fleeting moment if this was another of Mycroft's tricks, then decided he had nothing to lose and put it on.
The car kept going for what he thought was ten minutes more, then it turned away from the traffic and onto a gravel road, and a few moments after he could hear from the acoustics around him that the car had entered a large open building. When it stopped, the door beside him was opened and rough hands pulled him from the car. After a few stumbling steps, he realised the floor was even and he was able to more or less keep up with the people holding each of his arms. After a short walk, they stopped and pulled off the balaclava. John blinked a few times to let his eyes adjust to the light, then looked around him.
He was in a changing room with several other men in various stages of putting on battle gear – black clothing comfortable for movement, shoes with soft soles for walking silently over floors, bulletproof vests, various weapons and holsters. Mycroft Holmes was leaning against one of the walls, the ever-present umbrella in his hands.
"I see you're not taking any chances," John said drily.
"Of course not," came the short reply.
John looked around the room again. "So... What do I do?"
"You will be on Team One, under the command of Wolf One. I hope I can trust you to follow his orders." The last part was said somewhere between a question and an order.
"Of course," John snapped, military-style, though purposely omitting the usual 'sir'.
Mycroft smiled and nodded to one of the men closest to them. "All yours then, Wolf One." With that he turned and walked out the door.
The man Mycroft had called 'Wolf One' was already in full battle gear, balaclava hiding his face except his eyes and mouth, black clothing and weaponry giving him a sinister appearance. He looked at John for a moment as if – John felt – gauging his worth. John found himself standing to attention as if under military inspection.
"Spider One tells me you can look after yourself, take orders and know your way around a gun," the man said.
"Yes, sir," John snapped in reply.
The man looked him in the eyes for a long while, then nodded as if pleased with what he saw there. "Weapon?"
John took out his gun and handed it to the man who looked it over, then handed it back with another nod of approval. "Need anything else?"
"Your gear's over there. We leave in ten."
With that the man left him to go talk to some of the other men in the room. John walked to the pile of clothes the man had indicated and started changing, growling internally at the fact that everything seemed to be in perfect size for him – was there anything Mycroft didn't know about him? He had to admit to himself that it felt good to be getting ready for battle again, even though he knew he only had a minor role to play. He wondered for a moment why Mycroft had what looked like two teams – a total of ten people – getting ready for taking down one man, but figured the man – "Spider One, indeed," John thought– wasn't taking any chances where getting rid of Moriarty's gang was concerned.
When the ten minutes were up, the two teams filed out the door and straight into two vans parked right outside the rooms. The doors had barely closed when they vans took off.
John looked over the other four men, noting the numbers on each man's sleeve. He figured they denoted the men's code names as the man Mycroft had called 'Wolf One' had a large '1' sewn into each sleeve. John had the number '5', so he figured he was 'Wolf Five', a notion that was confirmed a moment later as the team leader started to speak.
"Team Wolf, as you know our job is to ID the target – Wolf Five, that is your job." At this, the man looked at John who nodded in confirmation. "When we arrive at the RV, we'll go in through the service entrance and up to a room on the same floor as our target. Here, we'll have eyes and ears on the target, and when Wolf Five gives us confirmation of ID, we will enter and extract the target. We have intel that the target may have company, if this is the case we may have to wait until he's alone. Team Snake will be our backup and cover the elevator, stairs and fire escape staircase in the unlikely event the target should evade us. Remember, our main goal is to extract the target alive, but should there be an incident, you are authorised to shoot to kill if necessary. Any questions?"
The three other men shook their heads, but John raised his hand. "What about alternative escape routes? Like the window?"
The team leader huffed in derision. "The room's on the seventh floor. I don't think the window will be a problem, Wolf Five."
John debated arguing his point – he of all people knew that anything could be a problem when dealing with Moriarty's people – but then figured if Mycroft's men were anything like the man himself, they wouldn't listen anyway. If the man did manage to escape, at least he'd made his point.
They arrived at the hotel in Kensington soon after. The vans had pulled up close to the service entrance, allowing them to jump out of the car and get inside within seconds. They were ushered through the kitchen and up service stairs narrow enough that it only allowed one to pass at a time. At the seventh floor the team leader halted them, speaking silently into his microphone before ushering them out into the hallway and into a room close to the door.
In the room, two men were sitting in front of several computer screens that showed various parts of the hotel. The main screen showed a view of a room with two men in it, one sitting in an armchair and the other moving around, packing things into two large suitcases. John was pulled forward and asked to sit in one of the chairs by the screens. One of the men handed him a set of headphones. "You know what to do," he said.
John put on the headphones, hoping he could give them the answer they were hoping for. He didn't recognise either man in the room by sight, but then he hadn't really seen much until he had been let out at the swimming pool; Moriarty's men had made sure he had been blindfolded all the time he wasn't in a drugged sleep.
It took a few moments before the men spoke – the one in the chair sat silently, watching the other throw things into his suitcases with increased force. Finally, the man packing growled at the other. "You could help, you know, instead of just sitting there on your bleeding arse."
The voice made John's skin crawl. The sound of it spoke straight to his subconscious with visions of a painful, fiery death for him and his friend. He nodded at the man beside him to confirm that the man was indeed one of Moriarty's henchmen, then froze as the other replied.
"I'm not the one who messed up and got recognised. I just came to warn you that you've blown your cover. Lucky for you, he's not in charge anymore, or you would've already been dead."
He was walking down the street, heading towards the underground to go to Sarah's, but the weather was dry so he decided to walk for a while instead. He wasn't really paying attention to where he was going, so when a light van pulled up next to him, driver leaning out the window with a map in his hand, he barely looked at the man, just listened to the question and started pointing at the map, when he was grabbed from behind and pulled into the van, drugged cloth held over his mouth, putting him out in seconds.
The flashback occurred in an instant, a jumble of noise and images flashing through John's mind, but there was no doubt afterwards, the other man was the driver who had asked for directions.
John realised the others were staring at him. He wondered if he'd said anything during his brief blackout; he hoped not.
He cleared his throat, then said, "We need to take them both."
Silence greeted him. He opened his mouth to repeat the statement, when Wolf One spoke up.
"We only have evidence linking the one to Moriarty," he said, a slight sneer in his voice.
"They were both on the crew that... I encountered," John retorted, steel in his voice.
"You do realise that you are potentially giving that man a death sentence."
John looked the man straight in the eye. "He is Moriarty's man."
The team leader looked at him for a moment, then clicked his microphone. "Wolf Five confirms both are targets, repeat, both are targets." He paused, listening to a reply. "Yes, confirmed, both," he repeated.
John looked back at the screen. The man who'd been the driver was reaching into his pocket, pulling out a mobile phone. He looked at the screen for a second, then rose quickly out of the chair, heading into the bathroom. The other man looked towards him, a puzzled look on his face, then went back to packing the last of his things.
John suddenly realised what was going on.
"He's running for it," he half-shouted, shooting out of his chair and out the door before any of the others had time to react. He didn't even realise none of the others were following him as he rushed into the hallway. There he saw the other team crouched outside the door to the room with the two targets in it. Figuring they had that exit covered, he rushed the other way to the service stairs. From the layout of the room, he figured the bathroom would have a window opening up onto the street.
Hesitating for a moment while debating whether the man would go up or down, he decided to go up since the man might think the building was surrounded. Which, in John's mind, it should have been. How the man had slipped Mycroft's intelligence agents' attention he wasn't sure, but then it seemed the man had been higher up the Moriarty gang than the one in the room, so maybe he had learned a trick or two from Moriarty himself. Enough, at least, for Mycroft to underestimate him.
John felt a small thrill at the thought of getting a chance of crossing metaphorical blades with a man like that. If only Sherlock had been there...
He pushed the thought away quickly and started up the stairs. He didn't have to go far before he reached a door leading out onto the roof. When he opened it, a bullet pinged off the doorframe, making him drop into a crouch. He saw a shadow move against the brighter sky on the other side of the roof and scrambled out the door, quickly closing it behind him to prevent the other from disappearing down it later. He crawled across the roof to seek cover behind a large air vent, pulling his gun out and forcing the breath slowly in and out of his lungs to get his body under control and in peak battle state.
He heard a small noise behind him and peeked around the corner of the vent, only to have another bullet slam into the ground a few feet from him. This time he saw the flare of the other man's muzzle and he didn't waste a moment returning fire. A patter of feet across the roof told him he hadn't hit the man, though, and he ran across the roof in the direction of the footsteps, crouched low to hide behind the vents that dotted the roof, being grateful for the cover they offered while hating the cover they offered his enemy. He heard a creak from the door and turned his head, a flash of light showed someone had come out of it. He could see a tall, black-clad figure crouching next to the vent nearest to the door and figured it was one of Mycroft's men coming to his aid.
Another shot pinged off the side of the vent he was hiding behind, and he started across the roof to the next. The shot turned out to be a ruse, though; as he left his cover, another shot rang out and he felt as if a horse had kicked him in the ribs. Although the bulletproof vest saved his life, the force of the bullet was still enough to thrown him to the ground, gasping for air. A second later, Moriarty's man was upon him, kicking his gun from his hand and ripping the helmet and balaclava off his head. He placed a knee on John's chest, pinning him to the ground.
"I like to see who I'm killing," the man hissed, then froze for a moment as he looked John in the face.
"Well, look if it isn't our good Dr. Watson. Nice to meet you again, it's been far too long," the man continued, an evil grin on his face.
"The pleasure's all yours," John hissed back through gritted teeth, fighting to get his breath back.
"I'm sure it is. It was such a disappointment not to kill you last time, but things have changed since then. No one can save you now. It will be such a pleasure to take you out, just like Moriarty took out the great Sherlock Holmes." The man chuckled. "Oh, if he knew that his great sacrifice had been in vain..."
John frowned in puzzlement.
"Oh!" the man continued. "You don't know, do you? You don't know why he died...?"
"What are you talking about?" John asked through gritted teeth.
"Your friend," the man sneered at the word, "Died to save you. Moriarty left orders – if Sherlock Holmes died, we were to let you go. We had men on you, on that copper, on your old landlady. I, myself, had you in my crosshairs, but the orders were clear, so I let you go."
John's mind was racing. Sherlock had died to save them? It all suddenly fell into place – the call, Sherlock jumping to his death even though Moriarty was already dead at that point... You stupid idiot, why didn't you tell me? He couldn't be angry with his friend, though – if anything, the grief deepened at the thought of what Sherlock had sacrificed, had been willing to sacrifice for them. And with that thought came a determination not to let the sacrifice be in vain.
He pushed off the roof, putting all his strength into tipping the other man off him. They rolled across the roof, neither really getting the upper hand, then the man suddenly pulled a knife from his pocket, flicking it open in an instant and holding it to John's throat. John managed to stop his movement a second before he speared himself on it, freezing in a crouch on one knee.
The man grinned at him. "Didn't see that coming, did you, Johnny boy? Are you ready to meet your precious Sherlock?" He held the knife to John's throat and forced him down on his back on the roof, placing his other hand on John's chest and putting all his weight on it to keep him down.
The man's lips split in a satisfied grin and he pulled his hand back to strike the killing blow across John's throat, but in that instant John's gun came sliding across the roof and straight into his hand. He didn't hesitate a moment; he grabbed it and in one fluid moment pulled it up against the man's chest and fired. The man died instantly, falling down on top of John. John pushed the body off and lay there for a moment, trying to get his breath back after the rush of adrenaline that had burst through him during the fight.
He suddenly heard footsteps approaching and he rolled over, gun in hand, to face the figure approaching him. It was the tall black-clad figure that he had seen earlier. He realised it had to be he who had slid the gun across the roof to him during the fight. The man bent down and reached out a hand to help him get up off the roof. John gratefully accepted, feeling exhausted all of a sudden.
When he had been pulled to his feet, the other man didn't let go of his hand. Instead, he held it for a moment as if in deep thought, then a familiar voice said, "We'd better take care of those powder burns, don't you think?"
John fainted. Although he tried to deny it later, there was no other way to describe the instant blackness that overwhelmed his mind when he heard those words. It lasted only an instant, then he was awake again, the other man – Sherlock? Could it be, or had he imagined it, had his mind finally caved in? – crouching over him. The man reached out a hand to him again, but this time John refused, getting to his feet slowly, breathing heavily, mind racing. He reached out a trembling hand to pull off the other's balaclava, scared of what he might find, scared of what he might not find.
He dared not believe his eyes when he finally pulled the mask off and Sherlock's familiar features appeared, although a little paler and more worn than he remembered.
"Hello, John," Sherlock said.
John started shaking, his entire body trembling like a leaf in the wind. "But... How...?"
"I had to. It's like he said, they would've killed you, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, if I hadn't... disappeared."
John shook his head, tears leaking from his eyes. He felt like crying, like laughing, all at the same time. The rational part of him told him he might be in shock.
"John..." Sherlock's voice almost broke on the word.
"You...are... a bloody... idiot." John shook his head again, knocking his clenched fists against Sherlock's chest.
Sherlock laughed a small laugh, John thought he caught a glimpse of tears in his eyes. He finally gave in, all the pent-up anger and grief of the last four months breaking through his carefully-constructed barriers and he pulled Sherlock into a tight hug, holding on for dear life, trying his best not to sob as the reality, the fact that Sherlock was back, alive, here sifted through his consciousness.
Sherlock hesitated for a moment, then he returned the hug, patting John gently on the back. "I'm so sorry, John. I am so sorry," he said in a strained voice.
John finally pulled back but kept holding on to Sherlock's arms, looking at him, really looking, a frown on his face. "But where... How...?" So many questions were fighting to be asked, he had seen Sherlock fall to his death, had felt his pulseless wrist, seen the blood pooling around his broken head...
Sherlock opened his mouth to reply, but before he could say anything, Mycroft's voice echoed across the roof. "Hold it, right there!"
A mischievous grin spread on Sherlock's face. He winked at John, then turned around. "Hello, dear brother," he said.
Mycroft, for once, was at a lack for words. He stared at Sherlock as if unable to believe his eyes, then he composed himself, smiling his crooked smile. "So it was you." He walked closer, putting his gun back in his pocket.
"I owe you something," Sherlock said.
"Yes, an explanation would..." Mycroft didn't get any further as Sherlock put a right hook straight into his face. John thought he heard bone break at the impact. "That's for messing with John's head," he said.
In that moment, more of Mycroft's men started coming out the door from the stairs, heading towards the three of them.
Sherlock turned back towards John. "Get your breath back yet?" The mischievous grin was back on his face.
"Ready when you are," John replied with an answering grin, and the two of them took off across the roof, heading towards the roof of the building next door and from there onwards towards Baker Street.