Rating: Probably an R
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Angst, partner betrayal, aftermath of torture in this chapter
Summary: Written for a kinkmeme prompt: Moriarty frames John and "Anthea" of betrayals which cause both of the Holmes brothers to cut them off. Cue BAMF!John and BAMF!"Anthea" doing their best to clear their names. Both het and slash; Mycroft/Anthea and John/Sherlock.
(Title page by mabivia)
There were very few problems that two weeks of sun and sand couldn’t – if not help – then at least bring a measure of perspective to.
It also helped that Anthea had been very focused on John’s recovery, and trying not to think about anything else. But now, with the last of John’s bruises vanished and his gashes knitted into the vivid pink of new skin, it was getting difficult to maintain that focus.
Not that they were healed, of course, not entirely – Anthea sometimes wondered if this was something they could get over, or if the fear and relentless paranoia that lurked in the back of their minds was something they just had to adjust to.
John still had nightmares – silent horrors that would keep him up for the rest of the night, starting at every little sound – but he seemed almost resigned to them, as though bad dreams were an old habit he was simply re-learning. They were new to Anthea, though – she’d never been the kind of person who had nightmares, and now almost every second night she was dreaming of running, of being pursued and not being able to find John and knowing that she was dead as soon as she was caught but she couldn’t run fast enough…
John stiffened when dark-haired men in well-cut suits moved close to him, especially the light happens to glint off a watch or a ring. Anthea knew she was displaying something similar to separation anxiety in regards to John, reluctant to let him out of her sight for even a moment. And she couldn’t stop herself from automatically evaluating the threat level of anyone they saw, which okay, yes, she’d done that beforehand, but never with this level of desperation to it.
Right now, they were on the beach, sitting on a picnic blanket and enjoying sandwiches and soft drinks, and Anthea was considering going to the couple at the other end of the beach and just punching them both in the face. At first glance they appeared to be a businessman and his much-younger wife, but considering she’d seen them every day, and those very distinctive mannerisms that just kept bleeding through, likely only visible to her…
She should probably tell John. “You know that couple over there-”
“Are Sherlock and Mycroft,” John finished, taking an appreciative slurp of his lemonade. “I know.”
John nodded. “I suspected, but it wasn’t until this morning that I knew for certain. Only Sherlock can sweep out of a restaurant like that.”
Anthea didn’t glance at the Holmes’ – there was no need to alert them to the fact that they’d been discovered after all – and instead fixed her gaze on the waves. “Do you think we should go over there?”
“Definitely,” John said, with a surprising amount of conviction on his voice. “There’s something I promised Mycroft I’d do.”
That sounded a little ominous, but Anthea had been nursing a secret desire to do Sherlock some serious physical harm on John’s behalf for a while, so she simply nodded in agreement. They packed up their lunch, John tossing the blanket over his shoulder, and set off down the beach with every appearance of two friends going for a nice stroll. They even maintained a conversation for appearances’ sake, though Anthea doubted it was the kind of conversation people usually had on a beach.
“So what were you saying about fighting with a knife?” she asked.
“Well, with a knife, you can really make your first blow count, so a lot of people tend to give into the temptation to go for the neck or chest, thinking they can kill the person straight off,” John said, his tone bland. “But your chances of getting a seriously damaging wound aren’t good – they’ll bring their hands up automatically to protect themselves, and the neck is such a small area you’re likely to get their hands rather than what you want. The chest is even worse because although you might draw blood, the blade’s more likely to skitter off a rib than do any serious harm. Your best bet is to aim just about here,” John tapped the middle of his abdomen. “Just below the sternum, and angle upwards. With a bit of luck, you’ll puncture the diaphragm, and even if you don’t you’ve still hit a lot of blood vessels and a heap of nerve endings. And if you hit the digestive system, that really ruins their day.”
“And how do you know these things?” Anthea couldn’t help asking. “Not that I’m doubting you, mind, but you seem very well informed in ways to kill people for some who supposedly didn’t see much front line action.”
John shrugged. “I’m a doctor; it’s my job to know the weak points of the human body. And I accompanied a few Secret Service missions now and then – unofficially, of course, so it was never in any records. You pick things up.”
Anthea shook her head in amazement (because attending SS mission unofficially wasn’t the sort of thing offered to an army medic, and there had to be more to that story), unable to resist teasing him a little. “And to think, all this from a part-time GP.”
John grinned good-naturedly. “I must admit, you’ve inspired me to try my hand at something a bit more exciting than part-time GP. I’m a good doctor, and it helped get me back on my feet when I was still shaky and worried I’d kill someone if I had to operate on them…but I think I’m ready for something more suited to my tastes. Like working in an emergency room.”
They’d drawn level with Sherlock and Mycroft now, and Anthea could reluctantly admit she was almost impressed; Mycroft’s face looked very different with a beard, and Sherlock was a rather convincing woman. Not good enough to fool either herself or John, but a commendable effort nonetheless.
“Do you have the time?” she asked, deliberately turning to John.
John picked up on what she was doing of course, and shook his head. “Didn’t bring my watch.”
“Excuse me, but do you have the time?” she addressed to Mycroft and Sherlock, smiling the polite smile she always used when dealing with strangers.
Mycroft glanced down at his watch, clearly not suspecting he’d been recognised, and John moved. In one moment, he’d stepped around Anthea and punched Mycroft straight in the face.
Anthea could tell he’d pulled the punch because Mycroft merely staggered instead of dropping to the ground. Perhaps doing the same to Sherlock was uninspired, but there was a pleasing symmetry to it, and she certainly felt satisfied when he rocked back on his heels and clapped a hand to the blood running from his nose.
“It appears you are not a man for idle promises,” Mycroft commented, his words addressed to John even as his gaze remained on Anthea.
“What the hell are you two doing here?” John snapped, sounding so very military that Anthea felt an instinctive urge to straighten her posture.
She expected some kind of snappy comeback, but instead both brothers looked away and came very close to shuffling their feet.
“We just…wanted to watch over you,” Mycroft said quietly.
Anthea despised the way those words made something lurch in her chest. Because while most people had difficulty determining when Mycroft was just telling them what they wanted to hear, she knew that right now, he was completely in earnest. They hadn’t come expecting forgiveness or to salve their consciences, but because they were genuinely worried about them.
She also hated the way time had dulled the sting of betrayal, so that now beneath the hurt and resentment she was remembering. Remembering the way he was the only person who’d never been intimidated by her intellect, who’d never made her feel as though she had to consciously dumb down her own talents for fear of scaring him off. Remembering that in spite of his own staggering intelligence, he’d never made her feel as if she were foolish or stupid when she couldn’t follow his train of thought. Remembering the way he’d never smothered her with overprotection, never thought she was somehow less capable or dangerous just because she was a woman. Remembering that he was the first person she’d ever been herself with, instead of what she thought the other person wanted.
Remembering just how much she loved him. Still. Goddammit.
“I don’t have nearly enough alcohol in my system for this,” she muttered.
“Well, I fulfilled my promise, so I’m up for a nice drink at that swanky restaurant we passed on the way here,” John declared, but she noticed it took effort for him to look away from Sherlock.
He turned to her, and held out his arm like a turn of the century gentleman. “Shall we, Rosy?”
Anthea laughed, the nickname grounding her as nothing else could have, and she put her arm through John’s. She took his hand, intending only a brief squeeze to convey her gratitude, but John held on just shy of too-tightly, the only sign that he wasn’t as unaffected as he seemed.
The soft scuff of feet on sand told her Sherlock and Mycroft were following them, and she was torn between whirling around and shouting at them or whirling around and (god help her) hugging Mycroft. She settled for completely ignoring both brothers.
“Tell me more about the ‘things you pick up’ with the SS,” she prodded.
“Well, I already told you it was off the records so I couldn’t have any formal training,” John said, his voice picking up the ‘storyteller’ vibe it sometimes slipped into. “But there was this one guy on the team, I can’t tell you his name – I mean, you’ll probably figure it out yourself but it’s the principle of the thing – and he kind of took me under his wing, so to speak-”
Anthea closed her eyes, letting John guide her through the crowd, and hating herself for the fact that the footsteps behind them sounded louder than his voice.
“So, exactly what kind of alcohol do you want?” John asked, thumbing open the wine list. “Something a bit posh? Or just something that’ll get you drunk?”
Anthea took a few moments to take in the restaurant before answering. It was the sort of place designed to fleece tourists with safe options at ridiculous prices, but Anthea didn’t mind. She might have dined at some of the world’s best restaurants but at times tacky and convenient hit the spot nicely. Besides, she knew that fussing over her like this helped take John’s mind off his own problems – he was a caretaker at heart – so she simply smiled at him.
He smiled back weakly, darting a quick glance towards the table behind her. Anthea didn’t bother turning around – she knew that Mycroft and Sherlock were sitting there. They’d changed their clothes and tried to cover their bruised and swollen noses, but it was them.
Later, she was never precisely sure what had alerted her. Perhaps it was the hyper-vigilance she’d felt the need to maintain ever since they’d escaped that meant she saw the glint of metal in the waitress’s hand, perhaps it was the paranoia that had dogged her that made her think the woman’s expression was entirely too calm and still for someone dealing with a lunchtime rush, perhaps it was her need to protect John that made her assume the woman intended him harm. All Anthea knew was that she saw the woman, and realised something wasn’t right.
John’s head, already half-turning towards the waitress, snapped around at her cry, and his arm shot out just as the waitress stabbed a long, slightly curved knife towards his neck. His hand caught her wrist and twisted – probably breaking something judging by the snapping sound – and his foot swept out from under the table to hook her knee and force her down, giving John enough time to get out of his chair.
Anthea had already moved. She grabbed the woman’s other arm and twisted it up behind her back, planning on holding her immobile for questioning (never mind that the police were probably going to be there within ten minutes, judging by the way the other customers were screaming).
“Down!” Mycroft shouted.
Anthea obeyed automatically, a relic from back when that voice never said anything that wasn’t in her best interest.
Even before she was entirely behind the table, there was the tinkle of breaking glass and the high whistle of a bullet, ending in a sharp crack as it was embedded in the floorboards.
John was on the floor beside her, having already put their attacker in that fancy sleeper hold of his (and Anthea really wanted to learn that).
She could hear Sherlock muttering acerbically at his brother, something about ‘if he had any bright ideas’, but she was more concerned about John.
And she might have flicked a quick glance over her shoulder to check that Mycroft was unharmed, but they’d never be able to prove it.
“Are you all right?” she hissed, trying to be heard over commotion.
People were screaming, glasses and dishes shattering as employees and customers alike stampeded towards the exits, overturning tables and chairs as they went. She was tempted to rise and join the desperate rush to the door, hoping that the sniper wouldn’t be able to pick them out of the crowd, but she knew better than to suggest it to John. He wouldn’t agree to any plan that had the slightest chance of innocent bystanders getting shot.
“Fine,” John grunted, relaxing his hold and letting their ‘waitress’ slump to the floor. “You?”
“Likewise. Any thoughts?”
“They attacked me first, and only started shooting when we’d overpowered their assassin,” John summarised.
“Which suggests that you are the main target,” Mycroft interrupted.
Anthea was severely tempted to tell him they’d already realised that, but Sherlock was quicker.
“As no one here has a brain the size of a lemming’s, I think we’ve all deduced that,” Sherlock snapped, but his eyes were white-rimmed when they fixed on John. “The sniper has also refrained from indiscriminately shooting at the tables, so we can assume they don’t have a substantial supply of bullets – they need to make each shot count.”
“But if they were confident enough to bring so little bullets, it’s unlikely they’ll miss once they are presented with a target,” Mycroft interjected smoothly. “And all our routes to the exit necessitate breaking cover. I can call for backup, but I doubt they will arrive before the sniper decides to switch their vantage point to one better suited for killing us.”
John sighed. “I don’t suppose there’s any point to mentioning that I could try to draw his fire while the rest of you escaped?”
Anthea scoffed, and Sherlock looked disgusted.
“I’m not leaving you!” he snapped.
Anthea wanted to laugh at his scandalised tone, and couldn’t help but think that he’d have given a very different reply three weeks ago. Judging by John’s bitter smile, he was thinking the same.
Of course, she didn’t trust John not to perform heroic sacrifices, so she laid a hand on his arm to keep him where he was.
“Bad things happen when we split up,” she reminded him a level voice. “It’s not happening again.”
John grinned wearily. “Still, I figured the option should be on the table.”
“Well, no one’s going to be taking it up, so take it off the sodding table.”
John giggled, and Anthea couldn’t help but giggle along with him – John had a dangerously infectious laugh.
Sherlock and Mycroft were still muttering from her other side, forming and discarding plans at lightning speed, but Anthea’s eyes were drawn to the bullet hole in the floor. It was impossible to tell the gunman’s exact position just from one bullet, but she could at least take a vague guess. She raised her eyes to meet John’s, and knew by the hard glint in them that he was thinking the same thing she was.
“Shut up, both of you,” she barked, turning to Sherlock and Mycroft. “We’re going to get out of this.”
“And just how are we going to manage that?” Sherlock snarled.
Anthea gave him a scathing look, then smiled conspiratorially at John. “John’s a dark wizard.”
“Excuse me?” Mycroft’s expression of disbelief was cut short by John’s cry of triumph when his search of their ‘waitress’ produced a pistol.
“Nice heft,” he observed, checking the clip. “Fully loaded – certainly serviceable. Cover your ears.”
Anthea obeyed instantly, but both Holmes brothers delayed to ask ‘why’, and as a result cringed and flinched when John fired into one of the chairs the other diners had overturned in their rush towards the exit.
“Pulls a little to the left,” John observed, studying the small hole he’d made in the wood. “I’ll have to watch that, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
“Into the breach?” Anthea smirked.
“Since we never seem to do anything else,” John quipped. “Into the bloody breach, then.”
With that, Anthea grabbed the collar of the ‘waitress’s’ shirt and hoisted the top of her head above the table. She let it drop just as quickly, and sure enough, a bullet smashed into the floor, followed by the echoing bang of a gunshot.
Apparently the sniper wasn’t fussed about checking the identity of his targets.
Anthea stared at the bullet holes, calculating distance and angles, remembering the layout of the street opposite them…
“Blue house, second story, right window.”
John nodded, readjusting his grip on the gun.
Mycroft looked alarmed. “You can’t possibly be thinking of-”
John rose the way he’d done in that house all those weeks ago – smooth and fluid, without the slightest flinch as he brought the gun to bear and fired. One shot, just one.
And there was no answering bullet.
“Right, that’s sorted, but there might be more of them,” John said, bending his arm back and holding the gun pointed at the ceiling. “I’ll check out the exit – the three of you, stay here!”
Then he was gone, and Anthea was left to enjoy the flabbergasted expressions on the Holmes’ brothers’ faces. They recovered quickly, of course, but she couldn’t resist rubbing their noses in it a little.
“John Watson; death from above,” she snickered. “And also below and the side and really, wherever he happens to be at the time.”
“There was nothing in his papers,” Mycroft said, strangely insistent. “There was nothing in his papers about that kind of…”
He trailed into silence, which only happened when he was truly shaken.
“I knew he was a good marksman,” Sherlock said hoarsely. “The way he handled the gun, the way he sighted along it – it was all there. But I never-”
“We’re clear!” John called. “Come through the kitchen.”
Anthea set her shoulder against the unconscious woman’s belly and dragged her into a fireman’s carry. It was difficult – people were always so much heavier than they seemed – but she snarled at Mycroft when he moved to help her.
Sherlock, of course, was paying absolutely no attention to them and already sprinting after John. The fact that he was doing it in a dress made her want to laugh.
John was waiting outside, next to the restaurant’s pick-up truck.
“This is more your area,” he offered, gesturing to the vehicle and holding out his arms. “I’ll take that off your hands for you.”
Anthea handed over her burden silently and went to work on hotwiring the car.
Mycroft was rarely surprised, and almost never to this degree. He’d seen John’s record – above average, perhaps, but certainly nothing extraordinary. The only area he’d truly distinguished himself was marksmanship, but he’d never actually done anything with it…or at least, nothing that made it to any kind of record.
It took a certain kind of man to break cover when a sniper was firing and calmly eliminate the threat the way John had just done. And that kind of man wasn’t made in the RAMC.
They were trundling down the road in a restaurant’s pick-up with an unconscious woman who was clearly one of the remnants of Moriarty’s organisation, and Mycroft was staring at John and wondering what else he’d missed.
It also helped that staring at John kept his eyes off Jane. She’d refused to speak directly to him, barely glanced at him, refused his help…
It was true he hadn’t expected anything less, but it still hurt.
“May I suggest we depart the country with all haste?” he offered, and he would never have thought ‘tentatively’ could ever be applied to any of his communications, but there was no other word for it.
Jane’s jaw clenched, and her eyes didn’t move from the road.
“Good idea,” John agreed. “Any suggestions, Rosy?”
It made no sense for that familiar, obviously fond nickname to sear Mycroft’s gut the way it did, and yet…
“It would be easy if you came back to England,” Sherlock burst out, then promptly pressed his lips together, as if even he knew that wasn’t the right thing to say.
“What if we don’t want to go back to England?” Jane snapped. “Suppose John and I have decided we want to stay in Italy?”
Three weeks ago, Mycroft would have been able to tell whether she meant that comment in spite or in truth. Now, he honestly had no idea, but that wasn’t what was frightening him – it was the fact that whatever Jane decided, he had no say in it. She could decide to immigrate to Thailand, and he couldn’t even expect a courtesy call to inform him of that – he’d lost that right the moment he decided to believe his informants over her.
“Rosy,” John said quietly, and they shared a glance full of unspoken communication that made Mycroft clench his jaw, not in juvenile jealousy, but in regret.
“We can always come back here afterwards,” John pointed out, the words sounding like a tag to a much deeper conversation. “Or go to Germany or France or wherever you want. But not Switzerland – I think I’ve gone off Switzerland for a while.”
Sherlock’s eyes were dark and pained even if the rest of his face was motionless, and Mycroft didn’t think he was the only one experiencing jealousy.
They ditched the truck close by the hotel he and Anthea were staying at, and packed as quickly as they could. John twisted his belt into a makeshift holster and tucked the gun into his waistband, ensuring it was at an angle where it wouldn’t blow off part of his leg if it discharged. He slung his suitcase partway over his back, so he could draw the weapon quickly if he needed to.
Sherlock and Mycroft had changed out of their ridiculous disguises, and were trying to find the most expedient means of transport. John still wasn’t sure what to think of the fact that Sherlock had followed him all the way out here simply to watch over him. On the one hand, he was quite irritated at having his nice holiday/recovery period interrupted, but on the other hand, the idea that Sherlock had merely wanted to keep him safe without any kind of ulterior motive made him feel…well, made him feel the way he’d felt three weeks ago, before any of this had ever happened.
It felt strange to contemplate going back to London. Like he and Anthea had built their own world over here in Italy, and now they had to return to the real one.
He wondered if the woman they’d picked up had any more ammunition.
John strode into the little sitting room/kitchen area, giving it a last glance to make sure he’d taken everything, to find their captive unconscious on the sofa, Anthea standing over her. He didn’t know what made him pause – perhaps it was the set, rigid expression on her face, or how still she was standing, despite the fact that her slightly bent posture couldn’t be comfortable.
“What’s going on?” John asked, his free hand easing towards his gun as he carefully set his suitcase on the floor.
Anthea raised her head, and in the light from the window John could see her face was quite pale. “We need to know if there are any others coming after us.”
Before…everything…John might have wondered what she meant, but now he understood only too well. “Are you saying…?”
“I don’t have time for anything you’d call torture,” Anthea said (and John noticed her use of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’). “But people give away a lot without realising it – if she’s expecting rescue, I’ll be able to spot it.”
“What about Sherlock and Mycroft?” John asked. It felt somehow disloyal for him to be mentioning them, as though he was disparaging Anthea’s talents, but it had to be said. “Wouldn’t they be better at that sort of thing?”
Anthea shrugged. “If I can’t tell, they can give it a try. But I don’t think she’ll be particularly difficult – I don’t think she’s particularly skilled or exceptional. I don’t think the sniper was, either. They’re professional, of course, and competent, but…”
Anthea trailed off, but John thought he understood what she was trying to say. These people were dangerous, yes, but they lacked that particularly vicious edge that Moran and the others pursuing them had possessed. If this had been an organised attempt on their lives, it was a pretty poor one – it was more likely that any high-ranking people in Moriarty’s organisation had either joined someone else or struck out on their own, and these two were just middle rankers that had been left adrift when he died. Enough so that pointless vengeance had begun to appeal to them.
“I won’t ask you to get involved,” Anthea said quietly.
John shook his head, even though he felt a bit queasy. “We stick together, remember? I’m pretty sure we made some kind of promise about that.”
Anthea smiled weakly. “It was certainly implied, but I can’t recall ever actually saying the words.”
“Then we’ll say them now – we promise to stick together, right?”
“I promise,” Anthea nodded. Then she giggled, and held out her little finger. “Pinky swear?”
John laughed, and linked his finger with hers. “Pinky swear.”
They pumped their hands once, then let them drop, both of them giggling so hard that the unconscious woman began to stir.
Anthea cursed. “Keep her here for a minute, I just need to find something to tie her up with.”
John drew his gun and kept it pointed at their captive, absently stilling his hands when he noticed they were shaking.
The woman – who John decided on the spot to call ‘Amy’ because she looked a bit like that character from Doctor Who – opened her eyes, and he made sure the gun was the first thing she saw.
“Move, and I’ll fill you full of so many holes you can double as a sieve,” he growled as Anthea returned with what looked like the length of plastic wire they’d used to hang their clothes on.
It was kind of a rubbish threat, but it worked – Amy kept still and silent while Anthea bound her to one of the kitchen chairs.
John holstered the gun as soon as he was out of her sight, then found he had to go and sit in the bedroom doorway for a few minutes.
Anthea made certain Amy was secure before hurrying over to him. He could tell she knew what was upsetting him, but grateful she didn’t comment, instead forcing a smile.
“You can double as a sieve?” she whispered. “You can use people as sieves?”
To his own surprise, John found himself chuckling. “Best I could come up with at the time – my threats tend to be kind of medical, and hard to understand, like; ‘I’ll hit you so hard you’ll display haematemesis, that kind of thing.”
“Vomiting up blood.”
“Oh.” Anthea nodded, patted him tentatively on the shoulder, then went back to Amy.
She positioned herself in front of their captive, speaking so low that John couldn’t make out her words, for which he was rather grateful. He didn’t want to hear what she was saying, didn’t want to look at the woman tied helpless in the chair, didn’t want to remember Moriarty, didn’t want to think about high laughter and chill hands…
He started when Anthea laid a hand on his knee. A quick glance at Amy showed she was now gagged with something that looked suspiciously like their clean tea towel.
“It’s fine,” she said in a low, steady voice as though trying to calm him, which John might have resented if it hadn’t worked so well. “It’s over – it was just the two of them.”
“But there might be more,” John pointed out, and by Anthea’s grim nod he knew she’d already thought of that.
“But given that these two seem to be the first to have found us…” Anthea took a deep breath. “We don’t have to go back to England. We can send Sherlock and Mycroft away, and we can go somewhere else, if you like.”
John absorbed that for a moment. Amy would be easy enough to get rid of – a little anonymous tip to the police when they left – and given that he and Anthea didn’t know any locals, it would take a long time for the authorities to realise they’d been involved in the shooting in the restaurant. And Mycroft could probably exercise some of that bloody omniscience of his to get that taken care of…somehow. John was quite certain Anthea knew how Mycroft did what he did, but he was equally certain he didn’t want to know.
They didn’t have to go back to England, not unless they wanted to.
The trouble was, John wasn’t really sure what he wanted anymore.
AN: Thanks so very, very much to my beta, ginbitch, who saved me from falling into the trap of assuming my readers can also read my mind.