Disclaimer: Neither BBC's Sherlock or Marvel's Avengers belong to me; however, I am certainly enjoying myself thinking of ways to mash them together.
Summary: The Holmes brothers never knew their father; in the aftermath of the Manhattan incident and the Reichenbach Fall, old truths come to light, and Sherlock is thrust into a world of gods and heroes.
Chapter 2: A Life, Given Freely
It was a fine day in Paris; while the onset of autumn had brought a distinct chill to the air, it was countered by a cloudless sky and skin-warming sunshine.
With such lovely weather, it was unsurprising that a tourist would choose that day to frequent the outdoors area of the local cafés. The man appeared to be in his twenties, with close-cropped ginger hair, fair skin and pale eyes. He sat alone, maps and brochures spread out over the table, scribbling madly in a notebook.
The waiter was bringing another cup of coffee to replace the empty cup sitting forgotten. "I hope your planning goes well, monsieur," the waiter said as he switched the cups. He couldn't read the man's writing; even for his not-so-limited English, the writing was bad enough to be illegible to all except the one who wrote it. The man in question looked up, flashing the waiter a dazzling smile as he murmured his thanks.
Reassured of his customer's contentment, the waiter retreated indoors. With any luck, the tourist would give a generous tip as he left, satisfied with their service.
As it happened, the waiter was right about only one thing pertaining to the man out the front. Sherlock Holmes was planning to leave a decent tip, if only to cement his disguise. However, he was no tourist, and he was certainly not planning a holiday; rather, he was plotting the downfall of one of the largest criminal organisations the world had ever seen.
For two months, Sherlock had been in Paris, tracking down Moriarty's base of operations in the city. It was a slow, arduous process; leads were few and far between, and most of them ran into dead ends. Sherlock had spent far too much time becoming intimately familiar with Paris' dark underbelly, with little to show for it.
Now, at least, Sherlock thought he might have enough information to act. While his papers might seem like holiday brochures and maps to the outside observer, they contained all the scraps of information he had found. If he could just manage to pull it together, he might be able to shed himself of this city at last.
It was so much harder to link this information together without being able to talk aloud! The former detective felt a deep ache within his chest, in a hole he had labelled 'John'. Sherlock squashed the feeling with a scowl, instantly forcing his features to smooth out and produce a more pleasant, less suspicious expression. He couldn't afford sentiment, not now; not when the lives of the few people he cared about rode on his focus.
From what Sherlock had already been able to piece together, Moriarty's organisation was far more widespread than he had guessed in his initial estimates. It had already been two months with very little progress; Sherlock could easily see the hunt stretching out for years, even decades. For such a young man, Moriarty had certainly been productive.
At this rate, he should cut off access to memories of home in his mind palace. He would not be going back, not for a long time, if he ever did.
That was, if he survived to see this through to the bitter end.
Lost in his work, Sherlock didn't pay any attention to the man in the wheelchair entering the café. He didn't notice when the man wheeled over to his table, stopping in a spot barely big enough to squeeze his wheelchair between two chairs.
He did, however, go on alert when the man spoke to him.
"Is this spot taken?" the man asked him in perfect French, smiling genially.
Sherlock glanced up, visibly relaxed but inwardly wary. "No, no, you can have it," he replied in heavily accented French; he was capable of speaking the language much more fluently, but it didn't fit with his tourist persona.
That one glance told him enough to go on with for now. The suit was clean, meticulously so; the man hadn't stopped for anything today before coming here. It was a tailored fit, but a little loose on the man's frame; he'd clearly lost weight recently, but expected to put it back on, or he would have bought a new suit.
The wheelchair was of a simple design and functionality, but high quality. The wheels weren't very worn yet; it had been in use for maybe a week, maybe a month; certainly no longer. The brightness of the man's shoes showed that they were new, and unused for walking.
While the man seemed relaxed, the way he held himself showed a stiffness in his torso; either that, or well-masked pain. Clearly an injury, fairly recent and still healing, which explained the weight loss and wheelchair.
Overall, the man could have been any businessman or politician (who else would wear a suit out on the middle of the day on a weekend?), except for the area around his ear, where the haircut showed a patch of skin less tanned than the rest; a tan-mark in exactly the place where a communications device would fit.
Conclusion: either a government lackey, or a criminal one. Neither prospect was particularly appealing.
Logical follow-up: either his work or his identity had been compromised.
Whichever the case, this was not good, but he'd be damned before he threw the game, not with so much riding on it.
"Phil Coulson," the man introduced himself, resting his arms on the table as if he didn't have a care in the world.
"Normand Sigerson," Sherlock replied, "from Norway. Where-" He halted, made a face and switched languages from French to English. "Where are you from?" he asked in a lightly accented voice. "Are you local? If you are, I've been trying to find the best bakery in…"
Coulson raised a hand in supplication, and Sherlock trailed off, blushing. "Sorry," he said, "my mouth runs away on me sometimes." Which was actually true, much to John's dismay.
The other man's serene expression never wavered. "There's no need for this, Mr Holmes," he said calmly.
"Sigerson," Sherlock corrected. "Or Normand, if you prefer." He let a look of understanding dawn upon his face, before speaking again, this time loudly and deliberately with exaggerated movements of his lips. "What is the best bakery in the district?"
There was a flash of amusement in Coulson's eyes. "I'm not deaf, Mr Holmes," he said. "You can speak normally; we will not be overheard."
He leaned back, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "And while you have undoubtedly worked out that this café serves the best coffee for a mile in any direction, there's no competing with the croissants in the bakery two blocks north of here."
The man was good, Sherlock acknowledged, very good. But the detective was nothing if not stubborn and unwilling to admit defeat.
"Two blocks north, you say?" he said excitedly, scrambling for a clean sheet of paper. "I think I might have walked past it earlier, but there's a few up that way… do you remember the name? Or maybe the address?" Pen poised over paper, Sherlock looked up at the other man, ready to start writing; he was well aware that the overall effect made him look much younger than he really was.
The amusement was still there, now accompanied by respect and admiration, as well as exasperation. "Mr Holmes, I represent the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division."
What a mouthful; the name was familiar, but Sherlock would need his Mind Palace to remember why. At least he had confirmation of government; few other organisations would saddle themselves with such a ridiculous name like that.
"We would like to make you an offer, Mr Holmes," Coulson continued.
An offer? Sherlock was instantly on guard; dropping his previous act, he leaned forward, fingers stapling together. "What makes you believe I would be interested in anything you have to offer?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.
Coulson met his gaze squarely. "You've been on this crusade for two months already, with nothing to show for it." Sherlock bristled, two red spots of anger appearing in his cheeks. "For all your talents, Mr Holmes, you are in over your head. You need help."
"I need nothing," Sherlock snapped. "Least of all from you!"
A raised eyebrow was the only reaction to the detective's outburst. "It is also in our interests to see Moriarty's organisation dismantled. In return for your services, we are willing to provide you with the training and resources to further pursue this course, with more success."
Frowning, Sherlock considered that for a moment. The offer was uncharacteristically generous; it seemed far too biased in his favour. There had to be a catch.
"If you wished me to consult for you," he said slowly, "you would have offered to pay me in cash."
"It is not as a consultant that we would hire you, Mr Holmes. It would be as an agent, a member of our organisation."
"No!" The response came immediately, no thought required. The mere idea of degrading himself so was horrifying. Sherlock worked alone, and answered to no one but himself; no ties to a single organisation or person, no orders he had to follow; no fools less clever than himself to obey.
He was done here; this lackey had nothing he wanted. The whole meeting had proved to be utterly dull. "You have wasted both our time by coming here," the consulting detective said, rising from his seat. "I am not interested."
The other man watched for a moment as Sherlock gathered his papers, making no move to leave despite his dismissal. Indeed, he looked thoughtful, rather than angry as would be expected. Sherlock turned to go, no longer caring about the meeting he had just had.
"Did you ever wonder about your father, Mr Holmes?"
Sherlock stilled at the unexpected question. He turned his head slightly to indicate that he was listening, but continued to face away from the other man.
Now this is interesting.
"You're stronger than most men; you heal faster. You're clever, far more so than the other members of your family, brother excluded."
"Your point being?"
"You've had questions all your life, but no answers. If you come work for us, we can provide them." Coulson reached into his jacket, producing a business card. He lay it down on the table where Sherlock's papers had previously sat.
With no response forthcoming from the frozen detective, Coulson nodded to himself. The man wheeled himself away from the table, coming round to its side.
"I hope to be hearing from you, Mr Holmes. I will remain in Paris for three days, should you reconsider."
Sherlock did not move a muscle as the government agent departed; he remained standing, eyes fixed on nothing. Eventually, he pulled himself together, re-assuming his Sigerson persona to go pay for his coffee.
As he passed the table, long fingers reached out to take the card, slipping it into the pocket of his jacket.
In the Realm of Asgard, behind guarded doors, there was a luxuriously decorated room. The walls held bookshelves standing floor to ceiling, full near to bursting with old, valuable tomes.
Two armchairs sat in the middle of the room, soft and comfortable, large enough to lose oneself in. Indeed, that was how one of them was being used; a dark-haired Aesir was curled up in it, idly flicking through the pages of a book so old it appeared ready to fall apart at even the slightest touch. On the low table sitting between the two armchairs rested a large pile of equally fragile books, indicative of how the Aesir had spent his day.
Loki was enjoying the peace and quiet; it had been a rare occasion in the past few years to have the opportunity to simply relax with a good book. While he was ever conscious of the guard outside the door and the wards within the walls, as long as he was left alone, he could pretend that this situation was of his own choosing.
A knock sounded at the door; it was a testament to the strength of the structure that it didn't so much as shudder under the force. So much for peace and quiet, Loki thought with a sigh. He knew exactly who was on the other side of that door, and was in no mood for their company. He may let himself in; I most certainly will not.
The Crown Prince of Asgard did just that. When no invitation to enter was issued, Thor pushed the door open and stepped into the room, closing it behind him with a crash. Loki's eyes never left the pages of his book as his once-brother seated himself on the armchair opposite.
Unlike during most of his previous visits, Thor did not immediately start talking. He simply sat there, eyes fixed on Loki; the God of Mischief felt the Aesir's stare like so many bugs crawling across his skin, irritating beyond belief.
Finally, Loki could take it no more; the sooner he discovered Thor's purpose here, the sooner he could send the mighty warrior packing.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" Loki drawled, looking up at last. He was taken aback by the look of studied concentration on Thor's face; he had often wondered if the God of Thunder was even capable of thinking that hard.
"I seek answers, brother," Thor said. Loki winced at the term of endearment; it seemed that Thor still held to his delusions of family. "I believe you can help me find them."
Loki eyed the sheets of paper Thor was clutching, wondering what the other Aesir would do if they were to spontaneously combust. For a moment, he entertained himself with the idea of Thor dropping them in fright before running screaming around the room. He reluctantly decided that the damage to his room would not be worth the look on Thor's face.
"The mighty Thor is having difficulties with scholarly pursuits, is he?" he said mockingly. "Will wonders never cease."
He was disappointed when this drew no reaction; he would simply have to try harder. Messing with Thor's mind, while often a disappointingly easy endeavour, never quite lost its charm.
"Loki," Thor said, placing the papers on the table, "you have mastered the art of travelling between the Realms. Have you ever been to Midgard, prior to my exile there?"
What? "Is your memory truly that poor, Thor?" He crossed his arms, the look of superiority coming naturally to his features. "Do you not remember the feasts of our youth, in those tiny halls of what the mortals like to refer to as towns-"
"Brother," Thor groaned, making Loki smirk with victory even as his eyes filled with derision. This was too easy, even with such a wide gap between their intellects. He yearned for a more worthy opponent to spar with than the brute before him.
"In the past fifty years, did you visit Midgard?"
Now we're getting somewhere, Loki acknowledged. He gave his answer as a nod, his curiosity aroused by the unusual question. Surely there must be a reason behind it, though Loki had not deduced it yet. Maybe the one-eyed Midgardian had surrendered to his paranoia, and was convinced that Loki had left behind a weapon on Midgard capable of destroying it.
Thor took a page from his pile, turning it over and pushing it towards Loki. "Do you know this woman, Loki?"
"I do not trouble myself with the differences between mortals," Loki said, not bothering to look at it. "What is one ant compared to another?"
His companion's hand clenched into fists where they rested on the arms of his chair. It seemed that Thor still had a weakness for humans; Loki longed to slap sense into the fool, but had doubts as to the probable success of such an action.
"Just look at it, Loki," Thor said, relaxing his hands with obvious effort. "Have you met her?"
By the stars, the Aesir was insistent. It was becoming annoyingly obvious that nothing less than Loki's full co-operation would satisfy the God of Thunder. With an exaggerated sigh, Loki uncrossed his arms and reached for the picture, holding it up; only to drop it as if it had burned him.
How? How could Thor have possibly known of her? Loki had never spoken of the woman whose large blue eyes and keen wit had caught his attention. Even she had not known his true identity, just that he had answered her call from beyond the stars.
"So you do know her," Thor said triumphantly, picking the picture up from the floor. Loki nodded jerkily, eyes following the picture in its path back to the table.
"You know of her passing, then?"
He had sought her out, during Thor's exile. At the house where she had first sent out her call, where Loki had first encountered her, he had found only a slab of marble bearing her name. At the sight, he had felt… not grief, not for one whom he had only met twice, for such a short time. A sense of loss, maybe; the woman had possessed a clearer view of the universe that any other mortal he had encountered, even now.
It had been a shame that she was only a mortal, so very fragile. In the end, she had fallen, as all of her kind inevitably would.
Taking Loki's silence as acquiescence, Thor laid out the other pages on the table. They each showed a man, one dark-haired, the other ginger.
"Did you know that she had children?"
"No," Loki said hoarsely, "I did not." The two men did resemble her, the ginger one in particular. The God of Mischief felt a surge of anger, swiftly suppressed; how dare another man touch what he had claimed as his? He quickly calculated the approximate ages of her offspring, based on the pictures; the result only caused his fury to rise.
"Loki." Thor was leaning forward, trying to catch his eyes; instead, Loki kept his gaze on his hands, trying to still their trembling.
"What?" he snapped, head jerking upwards. Thor did not flinch at the burning rage; rather, his face acquired an understanding look, one that made Loki wish to tear it from his head, to gouge out those blue eyes and see blood run; he would not have pity, especially not from Thor.
"Brother," Thor said softly. Loki bit back a wordless snarl. "She did not marry; those children did not have a human father."
"What are you trying to say?" Loki ground out.
"The eldest is thirty-seven years, the younger thirty. Their father is of Asgard," Thor tried to explain. Loki could feel the blood draining from his face; he knew what Thor was saying, but it was not possible. Surely - surely he would have known!
"Given that - could they be yours, Loki?"
Mine. He stared at the pictures, trying to understand, to see - and found his gaze drawn to the dark-haired man. His features were familiar, so very familiar - he saw them in the mirror each day.
It was not possible - but it was a truth that was finding purchase deep within him. He never thought - never expected - but here was proof, proof backed up by facts that Thor could not have otherwise known. Proof that not even Loki could deny.
"Yes," Loki whispered at last. "They could be mine."
Back in his tiny hotel room, Sherlock paced, hands clasped behind his back and eyes narrowed in concentration.
His encounter with the agent that morning have given him much to think about. Having finally had the chance to go to his Mind Palace, Sherlock had been able to place the organisation: SHIELD, an extra-governmental agency - there was always something he got wrong - with a focus on defending the world against all threats, including the more… unusual ones. He vaguely remembered hearing of their involvement in a recent debacle where Manhattan was supposedly attacked by aliens.
The problem now was that his identity and work depended on SHIELD's ability to keep its secrets; now that Sherlock had been found, there was no knowing what SHIELD might do with that information.
Apart from trying to recruit him, that was.
In a move rather uncharacteristic of him, Sherlock cursed aloud, running his hand through his shortened hair. As much as he hated to admit it, he had been hit with a few uncomfortable truths during the course of that meeting.
The first was that they were right; Sherlock's endeavours were getting nowhere. He had practically nothing to show for his time here in Paris, and his money was swiftly dwindling.
Secondly, if SHIELD were able to track him down, it was far too likely that Moriarty's network would be able to do the same, given the slightest hint. A single slip at any point in the future would have fatal consequences, and Sherlock wouldn't be the only one paying the price.
At that thought, his mind was all too willing to conjure up images of blood, of death, of blankly staring blue eyes… he shook his head, trying to dispel the image as he resumed his contemplations.
Finally, Sherlock needed help. He needed more resources, more information; he needed someone who could watch his back and help him cover up if he slipped, or made a mistake. Should he continue his current course of working alone, failure would be inevitable, and that was something he would not tolerate.
The question here was to whom could he turn? SHIELD may have shown themselves to be an interested party, but the price of their aid would be high; perhaps too high. Sherlock had no illusions; if he accepted their help and joined their organisation, they would never let him go again; he would be sacrificing any hope of a future beyond this chase. His exile would stop being a necessary, if temporary evil; it would become permanent.
You could always go to Mycroft, whispered a voice in the back of his head.
At this thought, Sherlock halted in his steps, one hand reaching down to press against his chest, as if it could ease the ache within. The memory of his brother still hurt, a pain that wasn't easing with time.
For all of their quarrels, their rivalry, Sherlock had never expected Mycroft to betray him so completely. The elder Holmes had proven their adage about sentiment being a defect found in the losing side when he had given Moriarty all the information about Sherlock the madman had needed. He had given no thought to warning the little brother who had let his heart blind him to the possibility of an attack from that corner.
No, Sherlock would not - could not - go to Mycroft for help again. He could not forgive his brother his betrayal, and he could not trust the man with something so important, not yet; maybe not ever.
At least with SHIELD, Sherlock knew where he stood; they had revealed exactly why they wanted him. Agent Coulson had read the situation perfectly when he had revealed his hand that morning; it wasn't Sherlock Holmes the consulting detective they cared about, but Sherlock Holmes, son of an unknown father.
Somehow, SHIELD must have managed to discover information that had eluded the Holmes brothers for decades. The two of them had long ago accepted that their father would remain a mystery; the information simply wasn't there for them to find, and the only person who knew the truth had taken it to her grave.
Sherlock couldn't deny that it intrigued him, pulled at his ever-present need for puzzles to solve. Now that he knew the information existed, every instinct in him demanded that he seek it out, if only to put his mind to rest.
But could he do it? Could he surrender himself to SHIELD? He would be giving up his autonomy, his experiments, his Work. He had spent his life rebelling against any hand that dared try to guide him, especially that of his brother; he truly didn't know if he was capable of submitting to authority.
However, it wasn't just his life that depended on this.
Mrs Hudson. Lestrade.
In the end, it always came down to John.
Three days later, as the French police stormed the house of the leader of a previously unknown arms smuggling ring, Sherlock Holmes picked up the phone, dialling the number written on the back of a business card he had been given by an unassuming-looking man in a wheelchair.
A/N: I am amazed and overwhelmed by the response to this story. To all those who have reviewed, followed or favourited this story, I thank you, and hope you enjoy this latest instalment as much as the first. Your feedback has been most welcome.
To all those who enquired about John: never fear, he will make an appearance, but it may take some time to set the scene for his debut.
The next chapter will appear at around the same time next weekend. In the meantime, all feedback for this chapter is much appreciated.