Nat knew that half of getting their plan to work was a matter of dancing on the line between believability and outrageous bravery. That second part of that was commandeering the ground keeper's small sized all-terrain; the first of course was making sure it had enough petrol. She had pulled it up to the predetermined side door and come to fetch John. He was pale and anxious looking when she opened the door, knuckles standing up like a little snowcapped mountain range. "Hurry up," she told him, holding out her hand. His face arranged itself like a hand smoothing over table linen; she could see something that twisted strangely like fear in her stomach, but he smiled faintly. There was something in his smile that brought her to her senses. His hand curled gently in hers.
There was something innately comforting about John, small and golden. The tight reins he had over his anger. Nat had been angry for so long, the stretch of townhouse, consulates and embassies stretches of fine wood and stonework covered by stretches of brocade and patterned carpeting as if that made them any softer. She had been so angry for so long she had grown tired of it; it left her feeling tired and vaguely aggressive. But John, small and sweet kept his anger tightly closed up, carefully controlling how much he felt. It made Nat want to control herself better, find that point of perfect equilibrium inside herself. He didn't have a father living off a military legacy that wasn't his own, shuffling off interpersonal relationships in favour of diplomatic parties. But he did have something. She saw how he snuck off at lunch, the urge to share news vibrating under his skin, and how he returned looking content and calm.
John hated it here with the same fervour she hated her father's assigned postings, she tried to get him to look at it like she did, but a step to use on her way up in the world, to a place where no one could ignore her any more. But he was so excited, so happy when he explained that someone was coming to get him, that he needed her help that she couldn't help but let him go, wish him the best.
They started down the hall, her hand squeezing gently in time. John wasn't a normal kid (of course she noticed within about half a second of meeting him, smart kids usually weren't that well socially adjusted – they were either manipulative or didn't get it), but it was still nerve wracking to consider him running for his life. Or thinking too much about that bright red spot forming on his cheek. There was a sudden voice, the question in it curling like a hook. "John, where are you heading?"
John froze, the gentle squeeze of his hand going stiff and taut. His face shifted somehow, everything packed up and hid away behind the folds of his new expression. It was frightening, almost as frightening as the expression on the professor's face when she turned around too. Not that he was scowling or gnashing his teeth, he was just a bit too watchful, a little too aware of them. It made Nat's stomach twist in knots. She had seen him around, Professor Moran, young enough to steal some of the other girl's attention in that bookish nonthreatening way that teachers usually had, but he didn't look nonthreatening now, even smiling almost pleasantly in the hallway with his hands loose behind his back.
"Hello Professor Moran."
As quickly as his expression flitted darkly it evaporated, leaving only a pleasant, mildly concerned look on his face. "How did it go? I wanted to talk with you."
Nat flipped her hair over her shoulder and tried to look as uninterested in the proceedings as possible. Not at all like she was about to facilitate a daring escape, and definitely not like she had caught a glimpse of something dangerous behind the professor's pleasant tweed exterior.
"Natasha's catching me up everything," John told him, face in a strained, pinched little smile. "Since I missed math class."
"That's nice of you Miss. Sholto."
She shrugged absently in that way girls have when they'd much rather be off playing with sines.
"Go on ahead," John looked up at her steadily with that shuttered smile stiffly in place. "I'll catch up with you."
"Fine, but I have German study group at six," she tried to speak coolly, not at all like she was seriously freaked out, and very calmly went around the corner, to the prearranged side door and got the all-terrain running, the back passenger door open.
She was starting to lose a bit of her nerve, her fingers tapping a tattoo against the leather, worn by the grounds keeper's hands. The pale worn stretches along the wheel where he had grasped it while he patrolled the stretch of woods, minding the low stone fences and patrolling the back garden. The side door suddenly flew open, John managing two steps, lit from above in a rapture of golden light before he went airbourne. Small body going streamline as he dove fluidly into the back. She didn't wait for him to fumble the door closed before her foot was on the accelerator, nursing it brutishly toward the floor. It made her think suddenly of a chemistry joke, and she let out a surprised little laugh, more like a hysterical hiccup then as the side door slammed open again and Professor Moran flew out in a rage.
So Nat peeled out toward the woods behind school like she was staring in an American movie. It only would have been better if she could have worn her sunglasses; because really, she was only going to do this once in her life, she might as well look cool doing it. The day was disappearing like it had somewhere to be, she looked anxiously between the sky and the rearview mirror debating the wisdom of headlights. If they were really lucky their unorthodox escaping options would gain them a few valuable seconds, avoiding the main gate and cutting across to that unfortunate hole in the fence that led to Lord what's his name's land. But they also didn't want to get too far ahead. What she and John needed was attention, and lots of it, as quickly as they could get it.
Turning onto one of the narrow wood roads she squinted forward and back, spare branches leaving long squeaking kisses along the sides of the car. It tumbled darker by the second, but she didn't think it was smart to turn on the headlights yet.
"You were perfect," John said, leaning forward between the front seats to fish through her purse for his phone.
She let a small hissing breath between her teeth.
"No, really," he looked up at her, pressing a quick press of forehead against her temple. It was an almost sort of kiss, quick and gentle. "You've got nerves of steel."
Rolling her eyes a little and huffing softly she bumped him with her shoulder. "Get back there before I have to break for a buck and you take a trip through the window."
"Fine, fine," he disappeared again, the sounds of his phone coming faintly from the back seat. "Give me a second. Go dark for about ten more minutes and then use the lights. Are you really okay with this? The chase might get a bit messy. Your dad won't get…?" the end of his sentence hovered out in space, the only humane thing to do was put it out of its misery.
"He'll send a barrister, and if I'm lucky my uncle will show up briefly to bribe everyone and then disappear again. How about you?" Anxiety shivered right under her skin, making her feel like she was about to fall over a cliff.
She caught his small face turned to the side in the mirror. He looked like he was trying to decide something. "I'll stay with family. It'll be fine." That seemed to be all he was willing to say on the subject.
Nodding at him she kept her eyes ahead, ignoring the squeak and squeal of branches against the doors. It didn't take long for ten minutes to pass. It was like a revelation to have her lights on; it chased away a huge amount of the fear under her shoulder blades.
Luckily she didn't acquire an ominous looking tail until she merrily cut through the middle of Lord what's his face's back garden, trying to avoid the heritage roses. There really was no need to destroy priceless fauna, even for the sake of getting police attention. After that it was mostly her trying to flex loose the faint stick of her cami against her back from nervous sweat and checking her mirrors while black SVUs shot at her. She was, if she did say so, an excellent driver, and she had quite a lead. Defensive driving wasn't the most traditional hobby for young women, but it helped channel her constant fury in puberty and a skill that she thought might benefit her future career in politics.
Then there was a police helicopter, which was beautiful, and police cars, which was beautiful and an impressively swerved SUV alongside her. She finally stopped, taking deep calming breaths and trying to get her arms to stop shaking.
Her door was thrown open by a skinny, angry looking man, face pale and desperate in the overhead light, the dark circles under his eyes standing out starkly purple against the paper whiteness of his skin. After a quick look he yanked open the back passenger door and half climbed inside before popping up between the seats like a demented ferret. "Where's John?"
"Who're you?" she snapped back.
"Where's John? He's not here."
"Of course not," she said slowly easing her way out of the car. "That would have been stupid."
The man's eyes went round, the sudden flash of realization hitting him between the eyes. "Mycroft!" he shouted in a flare of black coat. "It's a diversion! W is here."
"Pardon me," came a voice from behind her. Nat took a deep breath, didn't jump and pivoted neatly in place, flipping her hair neatly over her shoulder.
"Good evening," she said politely, noting the umbrella. "You must be Mycroft."
He gave her a bit of a withering look, but she was used to that from her parents.
"John said you'd come," she told him hands on her hips again.
"I don't suppose he told you where he was going."
"Of course not," she said again. "That would be stupid."
"I find it surprising he could allow a young lady the risk of capture," Mycroft leaned back on one heel.
"There was never any risk of capture. It's just that you have a mole," that sounded like she was making some sort of strange remark about his skin so she winced and specified. "In your organization. That's how Moriarty was able to plant one of his men at the school. And how he was able to get in and out without causing any alarm."
Mycroft's eyebrows lifted.
"There's more of course, but I'm only meant to tell you. John said that was safest."
"Mycroft," the pale man hissed, looking halfway to panic. "W. He's going to take John, we'll never track him down again."
"Take the car," Mycroft said staring steadily at Nat. "This young lady and I are going to have a brief discussion about what John told her."
Far from the road, at the edge of the woods, John stepped carefully along the deer path, wishing absently for tea, and a jumper, and a quiet chair to curl up in. The dark was soft and tender as fingertips against his skin, secret and solitary. A strange power in it. He felt a little powerful anyway, the way being alone was powerful if it wasn't for very long. It made him feel a strange angry sympathy for Sherlock.
John was tired, a little sore from jumping out of the land rover, but that was the distant sort of ache he was expert at ignoring. Leaning against a tree to catch his breath he scanned through his apps to find the one that would turn his phone to a torch. He thought he was near where Tim was waiting, but he couldn't be sure. It was too dark to see more than just a few feet in front of him. The light came on suddenly, bright and blinding for a moment. Leaving him to stupidly blink out into the night, wrist turned down to protect his night vision. He stumbled a bit, irritated at himself, putting himself back on the narrow path. It shouldn't be too far now.
There was a soft rustle, like a breath through the grass and a sudden prickle snuck up to nip at the back of John's neck. He turned just as Moran loomed up behind him. Before John could get his wits organized to do more than crouch at the ready a shot rang out catching Moran in the shoulder. Letting out a little ha of surprise John scuttled back, turning to look behind him. Headlights flooded the path, everything cut into sharp blinding shapes. Dark slices of trees, the curling shapes of branches and there was Tim, lit into a dark silhouette, like some action hero cut out of black paper. John was up and running toward him, his hand rested briefly on John's neck, propelling him toward the passenger's side. Moran wasn't moving.
It was hard to tell how much of it was real or faked. It was so sudden, so unsympathetic. Tim's face, when John crossed the line to the midrange of the lights, was starkly lit. Hard in a way that was almost unfamiliar, as if he had turned adamant in their short time apart. His eyes looked dark, unyielding, something more than human in his fierceness, as if the gun were unnecessary.
As if he could strike Moran down with his will alone.
John hovered at the car door while Tim stepped forward, "This is Moran?"
"Yeah," he said softly.
He looked at Tim's back, all straight hard lines in his coat, cut into geometric planes by the bright lights. Watched him straighten his arm, saw him look and consider, too far away to hear if Tim said anything. John couldn't hear much beyond the strange surging silence in his head. Moran may have shifted where he lay spread on the ground. It didn't matter much. John heard the sound of the second shot. It burst past the static in John's head, blowing his awareness wide open, the night suddenly seemed full of eyes. There was a moment of tension, John watching, Tim looking down at Moran. The woods gone wary and startled, the buzzing brush of insects stumbling unevenly the vacuum left. Tim finally lowered his weapon, he let out a heavy chuff of breath but said nothing else.
"Moriarty must really want you; Moran was his second in command."
John didn't say anything. He shivered.
Tim turned to look at him, the immutable sternness in his face suddenly cracked by the gentle compassion of his face lit by the headlights.
He might not have anyone else, but he had Tim.
He had always had Tim.
They could do this.
It would be fine.
He closed the car door behind him and then after a moment of thought locked the door.
The moon was faint and soft through the trees. Birds shifted faintly in the tree, their rounded bodies shifting darkly against the purple blue black of the sky.
When Tim rejoined him in the car (he had turned off the overhead light so it was dark when John crawled in) he took a moment to grab a wooly blanket from the back and press it to John's chest. "Shoes off, this is someone else's car."
The giggle was startled out of him. Followed by a sharp huff of breath.
"I don't know how he was as a teacher, but he wasn't a very nice man." Tim shifted the car into reverse, not looking at John.
John shook his head. "I don't doubt it."
"And I'm not taking the risk of him surviving. Not when he got that close to you."
"I didn't say anything," John fished with his sock feet until his toes caught on the plastic shopping bag in front of his seat. It rustled softly as he dripped his shoes in and tied a slip knot.
Tim reached over, hand squeezing gently on his shoulder.
He laughed softly to himself, looking out the window as Tim pulled away. He couldn't quite seem to stop, as soft as his laughter was. It might have been a little delight. Delight to have escaped, escaped rejection and escaped Moriarty. John slipped his shoes into the plastic bag at his feet.
"All your clothes in fact, throw what you want to keep into the back seat and we'll see about cleaning them later."
"Yessir!" John smiled softly before his face dripped down to something quiet and sad. "I missed you. Everyone else treats me like a child."
"Well," Tim smiled. It looked like something tired and wearing in him had been peeled away leaving him looking tired but lighter. He reached out with one hand and squeezed John's shoulder. "No more of that."
You get dibs on Moriarty. –D
What's happened with John? – BD
He's fine. I'm picking him up now. – D
I've got business to take of, then I'll get down to it. – BD
Let me know what support you need. – D