“John stares blankly at the detonator in his hand. He knows he will never live to be eleven or twelve or thirteen. He deserves to die, but the man standing next to him doesn’t Sherlock doesn’t deserve this.”
Summary AU – The British Empire spans the globe: her greatest threat is not foreign enemies but domestic terrorists, killing in the name of freedom and independence. Mycroft Holmes leads the grim war on terror and Sherlock is his best secret agent: cold, calculating and obsessive, who is hell-bent on destroying the militant rebels until one explosive day when he meets a child soldier named John
Genre Adventure/Action, Kidfic, Espionage, Romance, Dark,
Characters Sherlock/Irene, Sherlock&John, Mycroft/Anthea, Lestrade, Sally Donovan, Anderson, Moriarty
Length 40,000+ 16 Chapters
Dinner with Mycroft would be insufferable…so Sherlock decided to skip the compulsory appointment and take Irene to Angelo’s instead. The plump Italian was overjoyed to see his favourite friend with a lady, and brought out two candles to make the occasion doubly romantic. Unfortunately, it only served to get twice as much wax stuck to the table.
Irene looked like she was thoroughly enjoying her linguini, while Sherlock stared out of the window at Northampton Street and the dark, sleek cabs passing slowly by.
“Expecting company?” she quipped with light amusement, stretching one foot out to massage his calf under the table. A frisson of unexpected pleasure tingled in his nerves, threatening to preoccupy his mind with a completely different kind of problem to the one he had been contemplating.
“No,” he murmured, “just watching.”
“For Moriarty?” asked Irene with a wicked smile “Lestrade was almost in tears this afternoon. I had to feed him half a bottle of whiskey.”
“Apparently, Moriarty is dead and I’m expected toe the party line.”
“Chasing ghosts is never healthy; you’ll only catch a chill.”
Sherlock suppressed a smile at the terrible pun, but Irene knew him far too well by now to miss the amusement in his eyes.
“I mean it, Sherlock, it’s not good for you.”
“I know,” he said quietly, shifting his leg forward to gain more contact with her thigh. “I’ve been told that three times today.”
Irene studied his profile silently for a moment. Someone who didn’t know her well might have thought she was scrutinising her partner, but Sherlock could see the subtle hint of compassion in her eyes. Irene knew what it was like to be so completely absorbed and obsessed by the hunt. She understood the painful, humiliating experience of failing to complete a mission – and the deep, driving need to make up for that failure.
Sherlock gazed back at her, quietly accepting her empathy, until Irene decided to broach the subject of his mission.
“How was your commute?” she asked, clearly indicating his trip to the Underground.
“Uneventful, but I have many questions.”
“You always do.”
Irene smiled warmly, all trace of anxiety gone from her expression. She was watching him fondly, as if lost in happy thoughts of their shared past. The couple continued to sit in comfortable silence together: Sherlock gazing out the window and Irene daintily eating her meal. If only they could stay like this forever, secure in this moment of time and their love for each other – despite an uncertain future and haunting regrets from the past.
Suddenly the jarring sound of Irene’s new ringtone broke the peace.
“It’s Lestrade,” she sighed. “I hope he’s actually left the office…. Lestrade?” Indistinguishable noises emanated from the phone. “A body? Shouldn’t this be left to the police? ...No, I understand…. Yes, I’ll bring Sherlock.”
She hung up, looking puzzled and anxious, the rapidly-cooling linguini in front of her completely forgotten. “Lestrade has found a body and he needs you to ID it.”
“Is it Mycroft? Has someone finally managed to hit the wide-load target his backside presents?”
Irene didn’t smile. In the flickering candlelight it was hard to judge her complexion, but Sherlock thought she looked paler than before.
“It’s a homeless woman, early twenties, found in Southbank under the Waterloo Bridge. Lestrade thinks you might know her from your circle of ‘informants’.”
Sherlock twisted hastily in his seat. “Did he say anything else?”
“There was a message left on the body: Sherlock.”
“What message? What did it say?” he asked, feeling a rising tide of excitement and panic mingling in his mind.
“The message is Sherlock. Someone carved your name into the flesh of her back.”
The morgue was cold and silent, a fitting place for the dead to rest. Lestrade pulled back the sheet so Sherlock could see only the face, and nothing of the mutilated torso or back.
“That’s her,” said Sherlock flatly. “Ruby Cavanaugh. She testified before the Select Committee last October about the possibility of Moriarty’s continued survival.”
“Anyone apart from the Select Committee who might know about her involvement?” inquired Lestrade, his hands planted on his hips in a futile gesture of frustration.
“No, not even the rest of my network; she was the only one brave enough to volunteer to testify.”
“What about the other sources mentioned in that report?”
“Unlikely. Whoever did this got her name and face through the Select Committee recordings,” stated Sherlock, looking down impassively at the cold, mottled face of a young woman who had suffered so much in her short life, yet found the courage to stand up in a room full of fat, arrogant politicians and tell the truth, regardless of what the Select Committee wanted to hear.
“Are you saying that someone in the Joint Intelligence Committee is a mole? Someone who has access to our most top-secret records?” hissed Lestrade through gritted teeth, his voice dangerously low. By the way he grimaced as he frowned, Sherlock could tell he was suffering from a severe tension headache, made worse by the cool temperature of the morgue.
“Yes,” he replied flatly. “Anything else you want to know?”
“Dammit, Sherlock!” growled Lestrade, cradling his head in one hand. “Why is it that wherever you go, trouble always follows?”
“Trouble is always there, Lestrade – some people are just too blind to see it.”
“There’s another thing,” continued Lestrade grimly, “someone’s opened her chest.”
He carefully pulled back the sheet further to reveal a long incision running down the middle of Ruby Cavanaugh’s chest.
“They took out her heart…and – and burned it. The pathologists found a small mound of ash inside the chest cavity where the heart should be,”
Sherlock stared down at Ruby’s lifeless features, committing them to memory. He could feel a boiling sense of determination rising within him. Moriarty’s vicious words echoed tauntingly in his mind: I’ll burn you, Sherlock, I’m going to burn the heart out of you.
Lestrade was watching him intently as if waiting for an explanation but Sherlock did not respond. The head of Section D had no patience for the truth even when the evidence was staring up at him in the form of a young life so cruelly snuffed. Lestrade would list a thousand possibilities, all of them logical, valid and completely wrong. He, like the rest of the world, would rather believe in a fairytale than the grim reality. There would only be one way to end this.
And I’m going to catch you, Moriarty, Sherlock silently vowed, even if it is the last thing I do.
The next morning, John rose earlier than usual and drank his fill from the metal bucket. The footlocker was still sitting in pride of place on the table, looming over the small room like a holy artefact, but for once John didn’t spend much time contemplating its contents.
He was looking forward to seeing Dr Sigerson again. He wanted to hear more deductions. Would the good doctor be able tell who his family were just from looking at him hard enough? John hoped so; the thoughts of his life before coming to the Underground were starting to mean more to him than before. Perhaps it was because he knew that when the mission was completed he would finally be able to set foot on the surface. He didn’t know how he would go about finding his family, but he had found he wanted to try, and just thinking about the possibility sent shivers of excitement bubbling down his spine. He could face the noise, the light and the colour. He just wanted to see their faces when he finally appeared.
John wasn’t invited to the briefing session this time around, but he was still tasked with accompanying Dr Sigerson to the empty bunker where they would start wiring the bomb. Once Captain Moran, Slightly, and Murray had moved the footlocker into the bunker, John was at last left alone with the genius doctor.
“Did you go back to the surface?” he asked, unable to contain his excitement. John wanted to ask Dr Sigerson what he did on the surface. Perhaps he liked to swim in a pool of water, or kick a ball on grass.
“Of course,” replied Sigerson as he examined the bomb. It was not quite a bomb yet, just a secure, square container which contained the explosive. John wasn’t sure what made a nuclear bomb so special, but he knew that it would be able to blow up more than an ordinary bomb could. From personal experience, John knew fifty kilos of semtex could level a large building, but the other soldiers said a small nuclear bomb could probably level an entire square mile.
“What – what did you do? On the surface, I mean?” asked John eagerly, staring up at Dr Sigerson.
“I went to visit my brother and his wife, and then I had dinner with my girlfriend.”
John wrinkled his nose in disgust and disappointment. It sounded like something that happened in those weird TV shows about “normal” families, where nothing ever really happened.
“Did you go swimming?” he asked, hoping Dr Sigerson would tell him about pools and lakes and oceans.
“No, but I have done in the past.”
“Is it good? Swimming, I mean?”
Dr Sigerson paused in his examination of the bomb to look back at John with his dark eyes.
“Swimming? It’s neutral.”
John didn’t understand what that word meant. He’d never heard it before, but then, he had read only half the Oxford Dictionary.
“It’s not good or bad,” clarified Dr Sigerson as he pulled some more circuit diagrams from his new, shiny briefcase. “It’s just something to do.”
“But everything is either good or bad,” said John, feeling confused. His entire life was clearly split into good and bad things: good things like playing with Murray and when Seb ruffled his hair; bad things like losing Hoot and being hungry. He had never found anything to be “neutral”.
“What about things you don’t have any feelings about?”
“I have feelings about everything,” stated John. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“No,” replied Sigerson flatly. “I don’t feel anything for swimming – or eating or sleeping, for that matter.”
“They’re all good,” said John helpfully. Perhaps Dr Sigerson just needed to think more carefully about the things he did.
“Good and bad are just points of view, John. What one man thinks is good can be very bad to another.”
“That’s not true: freedom is good, tyranny is bad. Everyone would agree with that.”
Dr Sigerson looked like he was about to smile but was trying very hard to stop himself. John didn’t know what was so amusing, but making Dr Sigerson smile was definitely a good thing.
“Tyranny, that’s a big word for a small boy. What do you know about tyranny?”
John thought Dr Sigerson might be laughing at him because he thought John was just an ignorant child. “A tyrant is one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, and uses extreme and cruel tactics – against his own people as well as others,” recited John proudly. He had learnt that definition off by heart and he knew it sounded suitably impressive, but Dr Sigerson just looked even more amused.
“So, who’s this tyrant you keep talking about?”
“The Queen and Mycroft Holmes – well, more Mycroft Holmes, because the Queen is a little old lady and sometimes confused.”
Dr Sigerson laughed. It was an odd sound coming from such a serious man, but the resonance was warm, rich and very real. “I suppose you’re right; Mycroft Holmes does run the government,” said Dr Sigerson once his laughter had subsided. “Do you know what he looks like?”
“I’ve seen him on TV. He’s weird.”
The answer seemed to please Dr Sigerson, because the man clapped him on the back and John felt a satisfying warmth at the contact.
“What do you think we should do about this?”
“Kill him,” said John vehemently, “and everyone else like him, with that bomb.”
For a moment he thought Dr Sigerson looked suddenly afraid, but then he realised the man had only stopped smiling.
“Then once they’re all dead, we let all the colonies be free, and no one will ever have to live in fear ever again!”
“You’d be happy to detonate this bomb?”
The question sounded like a test of John’s resolve. Perhaps Dr Sigerson could only see a short, skinny boy with dirty clothes, but John was determined to prove to the good doctor that he was able to complete this mission; he was the right choice to carry out this attack.
“Yes!” he said fiercely, “I’m honoured to do it. We’re going to free the world, Dr Sigerson, and then everything will be good.”
John got the strange feeling that this wasn’t what Dr Sigerson had wanted to hear, but the idea passed as quickly as it had come over him as the doctor turned back to his blueprints and ordered John to bring him a pen.
For the next few hours they worked together: Dr Sigerson modifying his diagrams, and John running to and fro sourcing all the equipment he could find for their masterpiece. By the time Dr Sigerson started to pack away his belongings, nests of wires, circuit boards and other paraphernalia were scattered around the bunker in an organised mess.
“When are you coming back?” asked John when Dr Sigerson was ready to leave. The man looked surprised at the question, but then the warm smile that John had quickly come to love spread across his features.
“Can you…” John paused, wondering if his impulsive idea would get him into trouble, “…can you bring me a book?” he asked tentatively. “I’ve read all the books I have so many times, I can recite them all.”
The doctor considered the idea for a moment and nodded. “I can do you one better. I’ll need an assistant to help source some more materials from the surface. I’ll ask Captain Moran if you’ll be available tomorrow.”
John stared blankly at Dr Sigerson, not quite able to believe his own ears. He’d never thought that he would be asked to venture up to the surface again. His mind raced with questions.
What if someone spotted him and asked where he’d come from? If Murray was right, would his face be plastered on wanted posters everywhere? Could he bring his gun? Would that look odd?
“It’ll be at night, and I’ll provide you with clothes to help you blend in. We shall go over your cover story tomorrow, if I get permission,” assured Dr Sigerson.
John tried to say something, but his voice was lost in a sea of fear and excitement. Dr Sigerson didn’t seem to mind. He stepped forward and clasped John’s shoulder in a brief gesture of approval before walking out the door.
Dr Sigeron’s touch left a warm tingling feeling where his hand had been and John found himself staring into the empty doorway, wishing the brief moment of contact could have lasted longer.
When Sherlock barged into Lestrade’s office and explained his plan, the head of Section D managed to produce a spectacular jet of coffee from his mouth, enough to rival the fountains in Trafalgar Square. It was only Sherlock’s sharp reflexes that prevented him from being drenched. The cream-coloured venetian blinds covering the windows were ruined, but he knew Lestrade hated the neutral-toned décor of his office anyway. If the seasoned MI5 officer had half a brain, he would repaint his office in the dead of night and pretend that nothing had changed. The unimaginative and spineless members of Section D were unlikely to challenge their boss over something as trivial as the décor.
“You want to what?” demanded Lestrade, still clutching a donut in one hand and his Starbucks coffee mug in the other. Droplets of coffee spewed in a small shower from his lips, dotting the surface of his black, polished desk. It was at times like these that Sherlock wondered if stupidity was inherited, or just inherent to the human race.
“I want you to call off the blanket kill order on the terrorists. I want you to promise me that the special ops team will not shoot to kill every human being in the Underground,” Sherlock reiterated impatiently.
Lestrade’s eyes bulged dangerously, and the donut in his left hand was suddenly reduced to a crumpled, shapeless mass. Sherlock had not yet been officially informed of the special ops mission to raid the Underground and discreetly destroy all evidence that a rebel base had existed, including evidence of the living variety…but it was not exactly a hard deduction to make. The special ops liked to talk profusely within the safety of Thames House, and just from the snippets Sherlock had gleaned, he already had a good idea of what they were planning.
“Wait – wait,” Lestrade dropped the donut back into the box and pushed himself up out of his chair. “You worked this out? You weren’t supposed to be informed until –”
Sherlock couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes at the sheer stupidity of Lestrade’s response. “Yes, obviously,” he sneered, “and I am changing the game plan.”
“You can’t do that!” Lestrade sounded like he was on the verge of either banging his own head on the desk or using Sherlock’s skull as a substitute.
“Listen, John is just a child, he trusts me and is easy to manipulate. There is no reason why we can’t shut down this rebel cell within the next 24 hours without murdering every man, woman and child living down there. Think of all the intelligence we could gather if we actually took them alive!”
“When did he go from being ‘the boy’ to ‘John’?” demanded Lestrade, sharply
Sherlock glared at him; the man had the annoying habit of being very perceptive in rare moments when it suited himself and not Sherlock. “Stick to the subject, would you?”
“Okay, even if I’m not going to question your attachment to the boy, let me ask you this: what about Moriarty?”
“Apparently he’s dead and it’s old news,” replied Sherlock with a generous dose of sarcasm.
“Yes, but you don’t think so; isn’t this whole mission about biding your time waiting for Moriarty to appear? So why do you want to shut the cell down so quickly?” asked Lestrade, leaning back in his chair and making himself comfortable again. The seasoned intelligence officer knew exactly when he had the upper hand in a conversation. “You know what I think? I think you’re getting cold feet.”
Sherlock frowned and scrutinised his former boss’s expression. Could it be possible that Lestrade was far more perceptive than Sherlock had given him credit for?
“You can smell a rat from across an ocean, Sherlock,” continued Lestrade, lacing his hands together in front of his stomach. “Even I find the whole situation stinks: not blindfolding you around the base, giving you access to the bomb so quickly without an interrogation when Parliament doesn’t reconvene for another month, leaving you alone with just the kid for a chaperone, letting him come with you tomorrow. It stinks to the high heavens.”
“Then you know why I want to end this without taking out all our potential sources of information.”
“No – I don’t,” Lestrade tilted his head backwards to look straight into Sherlock’s eyes. “You’ve never cared about the large-scale loss of life on missions. You’re not some bleeding heart who thinks of these terrorists as precious human lives with lost potential. So this isn’t about you at all, it’s about that boy.” Lestrade gave him a searching look, and then laid down the law with unwavering certainty. “You’re going to be there to make sure that bomb can’t be detonated. We are going to swoop down and clean everything up so the people of London will never have to know how close they were to a terror cell.”
Sherlock stared back at his former boss, wondering what it would take to make the man listen to him. The stupid, reckless plan of simply unleashing a massive amount of firepower on the terrorist cell without any real intelligence on their operation would cost the lives of MI5 operatives. However, there was more than that at stake. He told himself vehemently that he had promised Mycroft he would deliver John alive, and Sherlock Holmes hated failing missions, even if the missions were for Mycroft. However a small rebellious part of his mind that Sherlock wished he could disown, reminded him that this was not the real reason.
“John is going to detonate the bomb – he wants to detonate the bomb, he thinks it’s an honour! He’s been so brainwashed by these terrorists that he has no idea what is right or wrong. I agree that those men and women down there chose to become criminals, but John didn’t. He never had a choice! How can you execute him for being a terrorist when he had no choice in the matter?” Lestrade appeared to be completely unmoved, but Sherlock knew that under his seemingly ruthless exterior, there was a human being who did understand the moral dilemma.
“Lestrade, we are effectively going in blind. I’ve found out nothing about their network, I’ve only been in one base – I have no idea how many of them are out there. We need to get the information from John!” said Sherlock in frustration. Then he realised something so simple that he had previously overlooked it in his haste to do battle with Lestrade.
“Whose bright idea was it, anyway, to set up this blanket kill order? It wasn’t you, Lestrade, because you’re a spy; you want information as much as I do. So who?”
“Who do you think is in charge of this operation?” At the blank look on Sherlock’s face, Lestrade threw up his hands in exasperation. “Mycroft!”
“But…” for a second Sherlock couldn’t quite comprehend the information being presented to him. Why would his brother insist that Sherlock capture John alive, and yet at the same time order the wholesale slaughter of everyone in the Underground? Didn’t Mycroft realise that Sherlock couldn’t exactly kidnap John before the bomb was due to explode? “…he wants me to bring in John alive.”
“I’m not privy to the inner workings of your brother’s mind,” sighed Lestrade, “I just transmit the orders.”
“John,” replied Sherlock, “is apparently important to my brother. I don’t know why yet –” he held up a hand to ward off Lestrade’s protests, “– but Mycroft must have worked something out. What is he not telling me?”
“If I were you,” said Lestrade in a deadly quiet voice, “I wouldn’t confront your brother over this; he could completely destroy both our lives with a single nod. Remember, you and I only operate under his good graces.”
For once in his life, Sherlock seriously considered taking Lestrade’s advice.
Production Notes: Lestrade
I felt it was not a great leap of the imagination to write Lestrade as a spymaster. If anyone has watched Spooks, I think Harry Pierce and Lestrade share many qualities. Lestrade is a straight-talking, highly pragmatic spy, who worked his way up from being a field agent to the head of Section D. Lestrade in this AU is acutely aware of political influences, as much as he may hate them. He understands that his job depends on Mycroft’s good graces. His work is also not as morally clear as that of a policeman – he has to kill people personally and order the deaths of many others. Lestrade works within a shadowy realm where there are no uniforms, badges or medals. However, underneath it all he does have a conscience and a great sense of loyalty to his country.
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