Back to Part 1
Warning: Discussion of injury to and mutilation of bodies by explosion
Sarah’s assumption that Mycroft’s people hadn’t been keeping a close enough eye on Sherlock was wrong. A Grade 3 Active surveillance status meant that a team was always close by, tracking his movements, monitoring his phone calls and internet usage and – wherever possible – being one step ahead of him to ensure that he wasn’t about to endanger his life. The team had found themselves trailing behind Sherlock on the night that he and John went to the empty factory simply because Sherlock had found the vital clue in a newspaper rather than through electronic means, and their need to remain covert had meant that they were still searching for the best surveillance point when the building had exploded. After calling for a dedicated rescue crew and setting up an exclusion zone around the area, two members of the team had ignored their standing orders and made their way into the rubble to conduct an initial search and had been fortunate to find Sherlock and John quickly. As one of them carefully cleared the worst of the debris covering Sherlock he had regained consciousness and despite his pain had insisted on speaking to Mycroft urgently. All attempts to get him to remain still had only resulted in him becoming more agitated and distressed, and finally one of the team had phoned Mycroft and held his mobile to Sherlock’s ear while the brothers held a frantic conversation in which Sherlock insisted that it was essential that he came out of the building dead. Moriarty was clearly determined to prevent Sherlock from interfering any further in his work and had now gone beyond the point of threats and deliberate near misses. Sherlock knew that if he survived this attempt to kill him and was put under even greater protection by his well-meaning brother, Moriarty would use other means to persuade him to lose interest – and the most likely target would be John.
“He’s not just going to strap a bomb to John next time,” Sherlock had said into the phone, biting back a scream of agony as the surveillance team member gently supported his shattered left leg. “A sniper is going to shoot him in the head right in front of me. Either that, or someone who we both know will be targeted – Sarah or Harriet, or even Mrs Hudson. I’m a threat to everyone who knows me. I have to be taken out dead. It’s the only way I can protect everybody else, and it will leave me with greater freedom to hunt Moriarty down. Get this done, Mycroft.”
His brother’s reluctant agreement had been interrupted by a nonchalant comment of “Make that two bodies,” from John who had been lying quietly nearby with his eyes closed while failing to mention that he wasn’t quite as unconscious as everyone thought. An insane three-way debate had broken out until John had eventually told the other two that he outright refused to stay behind and pretend to mourn his friend’s death.
While Sherlock had continued to argue with John – a dispute which John spectacularly won by lapsing back into unconsciousness – Mycroft’s organisational skills had been sorely tested as he put his brother’s idea into action. A medical team had been smuggled into the ruins dressed as demolition experts and they had stabilised the injured men as best they could while another group masquerading as the forensics team had liaised with the police – who were kept out of the building on safety grounds – and finally brought out what they claimed to be the bodies of Sherlock and John. This had not been as difficult as initially planned when the teams had found the remains of two other people in the debris and, drawing as much attention to themselves as possible for the benefit of onlookers, had taken them out in multiple body bags just as Mycroft had arrived to make a fuss and be loudly angry with anyone who came near him. It had been several hours later and long after most of the investigating authorities had left for the night that the boys had been smuggled out hidden in skips which appeared to be full of rubble before being rushed to a private hospital.
The explosion had dismembered and badly burned the unknown bodies and therefore no excuse had been needed to avoid Harry being asked to attempt to identify her brother’s body by sight. The two sets of remains had been kept under close guard by Mycroft’s forensic team and had been carefully contaminated with DNA from Sherlock and John before samples were sent out for testing, thereby receiving confirmation of the required identities by independent sources. The need for closed-coffin funerals was obvious and had avoided any further complications, and careful enquiries around the site of the explosion had eventually concluded that the two people unwittingly caught up in Moriarty’s latest attempt to end the life of his nemesis had been homeless people who had intended to sleep in the factory that night. It had been pure fluke that they were closer to the explosive device than Sherlock and John when it had detonated.
“Oh my God,” Sarah said numbly. “That’s why you were so upset when you saw the homeless network at the gates. They didn’t know it, but they were honouring their own people.”
Mycroft looked at her tiredly. “I was moved on two accounts: yes, they were unwittingly standing honour guard over two of their own, but also they had walked all that way to honour my brother. I chose that particular location because it was somewhere that we could set up full hidden surveillance in case James Moriarty should ever choose to visit and gloat, but I could never have anticipated that Sherlock’s network would travel so far and make such an unforgettable gesture in his memory. I had spent almost two weeks playing the role of a grieving brother, but at that moment I genuinely did feel his loss.”
He sighed and looked down briefly. “For security reasons, I am not allowed to contact Sherlock as frequently as I would like.” He lifted his gaze to her again. “Their medical team send me regular updates but I find it difficult not being able to speak with him and reassure myself as to his and John’s welfare.”
“How are they?” Sarah asked softly.
“Their injuries were severe, but their doctors believe that they’ll both make a good recovery in time,” Mycroft said. “John sustained abrasions and burns to both legs and is walking with a cane again but he has the very best physiotherapists working with him and I’m assured that he will eventually be able to dispose of it again. He has a great deal of scarring on his back where the explosion caught him; surgeons have already given him some skin grafts and he will need further treatment.” His mouth twitched momentarily. “He is more indignant about the hair that was burned from the back of his head than anything else, even though it is growing back satisfactorily.”
Sarah shivered. “They were that close to the explosion, then?” she said in horror.
Mycroft nodded. “I’m informed that they are very lucky to have been as unscathed as they are, all things considered. The force of the explosion was such that they could have been far more badly injured.”
The dry voice was murmuring in Sarah’s mind again but she ignored it for the moment, aware that there wasn’t much time before the surveillance was switched back on. “How’s Sherlock?” she asked.
“His left leg was broken in eight places when he fell awkwardly and the bones have had to be pinned together,” Mycroft told her. “He is still on crutches but again the doctors believe he will make an excellent recovery and should be fully mobile in time.” Again he gave her a brief smile. “You can imagine how impatient he is to start his hunt for Moriarty, and he is finding his current lack of mobility most irritating. He also had numerous cuts and bruises, mostly caused by falling masonry, some burns which are healing well, and he will have a few small, barely noticeable scars on his face caused by flying debris. He was less injured than John because ...”
He faltered and the dry voice prompted Sarah to confirm what it had already been suggesting. “He was less injured because John put himself between Sherlock and the explosion,” she said.
Mycroft lowered his head and took a shuddering breath. Sarah had never seen him so close to falling apart, and absolutely understood how he felt. It was no surprise to her that John would so nobly and selflessly endanger himself to protect someone else, but Mycroft was probably less emotionally aware of how someone other than himself would be prepared to make such a sacrifice for his brother. Automatically she started to reach towards him but he raised his head and stood up, back in control of himself. Walking around the desk, he put his hand onto the phone and looked at her.
“There’s nothing much more that I can tell you,” he said. “If you have any further questions, ask them quickly. Once I reinstate the standard surveillance of this room I shall be asking you to leave, and we shall not see each other again until such a time as I or my brother have tracked down and dealt with James Moriarty and it is safe for Sherlock and John to come home.”
Sarah was aware that later in the day she would think of a thousand things that she ought to have been asking but right now only one question occurred to her and it was a pretty stupid one. “Can they come home?” she asked.
“If they wish to return to Baker Street, I am keeping the flat for them,” Mycroft told her. “The couple who purport to be the new tenants are in my employ – they stay there frequently enough to prevent Mrs Hudson from becoming suspicious.” His fingers tightened on the phone and he looked at her more urgently. “Sarah ...”
“Switch it on,” she told him flatly. The energetic buzz that she had been feeling ever since she had made her staggering realisation last night was beginning to fade, and even her euphoria at having her beliefs confirmed wasn’t likely to prevent another sobbing bout in the bathroom later that evening.
Mycroft looked at her closely as if to reassure himself that she could be trusted with the knowledge which she held. “It’s up to you to protect their safety,” he told her, “and it will get harder not to talk to anybody as time goes on.”
“I know,” she said with a tired sigh, then raised her eyes to his again. “But they’re alive,” she added fiercely. “It’s all that matters.”
She nodded to the phone. “Switch it on,” she told him again.
“You’re a brave woman, Sarah Sawyer,” Mycroft said to her. “I wish we could spend more time together.”
“We will once they’re home,” she promised him.
Holding her gaze, Mycroft lifted the phone and spoke another code into it. Replacing the handset, he walked around the desk as she pushed herself to her feet and wobbled slightly after having sat for so long in the uncomfortable chair. He gave her an apologetic smile, then offered her his hand. Without hesitation she took a step to her right, bypassed his hand, walked closer to him and put her arms around his neck to give him a brief tight hug. As she released her grip she turned her head and breathed into his ear, “Take care of them.” Pulling back until just her hands were resting on his shoulders, she added softly, “And take care of yourself.”
Mycroft nodded, either unable or unwilling to say anything in return, and Sarah turned around and walked to the door. Opening it, she glanced back but he was already facing away from her and picking up a folder from the desk. Sadly she walked out into the corridor and followed the security man back to the reception, noting absently that this time he escorted her at a more comfortable pace. He walked her to the front entrance and held the door open, gesturing out to the street where a black cab was idling.
“The taxi will take you wherever you wish to go, ma’am,” he told her politely. “The fare is already paid.”
“Thank you,” she said as she walked out of the building, and he released the door behind her and turned away. She stood on the steps for a long moment as her tears started, and she did nothing to stop them. Even if Moriarty’s people were watching her, it was perfectly appropriate for her to be upset: whether or not her apology had been accepted, her friendship with Mycroft Holmes had come to an end.
And so as her tears continued to fall, Sarah climbed into the taxi, went back home, and began the long wait.
Three years later, battle-scarred and exhausted but with a fierce triumph in their eyes, Sarah’s boys came home to her.
The sequel: Courting Unending
Author’s Note: Back in October, when I sat in the National Theatre bar giggling with atlinmerrick, mirith, and anarion, we came up with three lines which we agreed to each include in future fics. The first was “When an army doctor and a consulting detective love each other very much ...”; the second was “A Doctor on the Brain, geddit?” and then none of us could remember what the third one was, but Atlin later found a piece of paper on which she had written, “Courting is over – let’s get down to business” and emailed asking if that was the third line. None of us could remember for certain but we agreed to make it the third line.
It was only a few days ago when Anarion incorporated one of the lines into a 221B story that I even realised that the third phrase ends with a ‘b’ word, so I’m now sitting and looking tiredly at this massive thing I just finished and wondering where I went wrong ...
I still think it’s the fault of verityburns and the fluffy plotbunny she recently sent me. Clearly she imbued it with her own skills at writing five thousand words before breakfast, and then I made it worse by giving my new fluffy the name VerityBun. Since then she (the bunny, not the human) has sat on my desk at work looking all innocent while projecting evil fic ideas at me. If you belong to a teachers’ union and your insurance claim hasn’t been processed, you can blame the bunny rather than the glazed-eyed woman sitting nearby who is pounding away on the keyboard looking very busy but not actually getting much paid work done.
I’m living in fear of the day that one of us suddenly yells, “Hey! I remember what the real third line was!” On that day I’m running for the hills ...
Oh, and yes – all the ‘allegedly’s (and sometimes the lack of them) were just to annoy the heck out of chocolamousse. That’ll teach her to criticise me for writing het ... ;-)