Tim pulled up to a little cottage in the middle of nowhere and leaned his head back against the seat. His breath was slow and sharp, like the prolonged drag of a razor. "I don't enjoy killing people."
"He wasn't a nice man," John wasn't going to apologize for almost getting captured by a psychopath's henchman. "You did what was necessary." Everything was softly gray and yellow with the night and the headlights; the soft whispered rumble of the car, John felt almost that none of it was quite real. Like a dream had while he was awake. His body tired and heavy as if it was filled with sand, it was very easy to feel small, right then. They had driven for some time; John is certain at least a day and a half. But Tim wouldn't stop, except when he had to. John slept through most of it, but he remembered seeing Tim furiously scowling, watching him practically clench his jaw and hands and shoulders through half opened eyes. When Tim finally pulled off onto a narrow road that seemed to lead to the middle of a forest, John was very grateful. His bladder was starting to make itself known again.
The cabin was very round.
The response to John's pronouncement, after such a long stretch of silence was simply a small sigh. Silently John watched Tim go to the back, grab a brown paper bag and then walk around to John's side. John looked up through the window at him; it was a bit of a shock when the car door opened. Everything was slow.
"John, you look half dead."
He knew what was coming and saw no reason to fight it. He had fought enough; he was finished fighting. They were going to go to war. Them and whoever else Tim had enlisted while John followed after Sherlock. With only the whisper of a name for protection? They were madder than Grendel. John winced back in his seat, his chest feeling cracked open, free and frightened at the same time.
He blushed at the shame of it, but lifted his arms up toward Tim.
Anyone else would think he was a kid, acting like a kid. But Tim made a kind sympathetic sound, and with a hand so practiced it almost made him cry, Tim scooped him up and held him close. The smell of the paper bag was very close to John's face. It smelled warm and organic, familiar. He let Tim carry him like that, resting his head on his shoulder, half asleep. Tim knew he was a grown man, that this was the same as one bloke carrying another. One soldier carrying another. He was tired. Tim understood that too.
The car went silent and dark, but Tim seemed to know the path well enough, humming gently to himself, the vibration of it light as a hummingbird under John's cheek. There was the fumble of having no real free hands, and trying to reach into a pocket and get the door open. Dimmock didn't turn on any overhead lights, just the yellow orange light over the stove. He didn't say anything when John curled his arms around his neck, just hummed, walking back and forth in the dark, soft hold of the cottage, like fingertips against the skin. It fascinated, the way that all new safe places fascinated. John tried not to look at anything yet. He didn't really want to half see anything, think anything too hard about the cottage yet.
Other than the bathroom where he had to look out of necessity, it could have been any place really, with his eyes closed, could have been central London. He ended up leaning cheek down on the bathroom counter staring at a clamour of bar soaps in exhaustion so that Tim had to come in, muttering about stress reactions and lifting John's trembling body back up against his chest, steady hands working circles on his back. This wouldn't work if John wasn't a small child, and for once John didn't resent it. Tim rested his cheek against the top of John's head. He didn't hold it against them. They were both pretending.
He must have fallen asleep because when he woke up he was nested in an overly stuffed sofa which seemed to agree with the circular theme the cottage sported. It took him an age to get up the will to leave the comforting softness of his little nest, and then an age again to wade out of it. He was in a sitting room, facing a high, sturdy coffee table and a stone fire place, the wooden mantle above it draped in a menagerie of lace and strange small bits of things. There appeared to be a crystal doorknob and a small flock of china birds.
"Norton is rich and American," Tim said from behind him, leaning in the doorway of the sitting room. The doorway was strangely, also round, but in a way that suggested it was only that way because someone had discovered the need to move furnishings after its initial construction. "And in addition a bit like a bower bird."
"Pardon?" John blinked at him. He looked… melancholy. Not quite, but that was the only thing John could think of that was happy and sad at the same time.
"The man who owns the cottage. He collects things a bit, Norton. I'm glad you're up. I didn't want to wake you, but I didn't want to eat lunch alone." The last part was said gently, achingly, like discussion of an open wound. They may both be rawer than either would like to admit, but both quietly ignored the implication of it.
"No point in sleeping any more than I need," John tried, smiling awkwardly. The morning had come regardless of how tired either of them was, John supposed, and with morning what they had pretended had faded with the night. No more playing at anything. He was a man again, if not in body, and Tim had neither interest nor inclination to pretend otherwise for both their sakes. All the better for it really.
"Clothes in the arm chair," Tim nodded, "and bathroom down the hall. My rooms upstairs so don't worry about disturbing anything."
There were a pair of jeans, small comfortable looking loafers and a brown cable sweater just a size too big in the seat of an overstuffed armchair with a little flowery peach-y, yellow-y pattern. It was very maiden aunt-ish
"I had children once," Dimmock smiled at him and before going to the kitchen to mutter in starts about spaghetti sauce. "Should be a little while longer; probably have time for a quick bath if you want one. Don't drown in the tub."
They ate at the kitchen table like… a family. Like two brothers, John laughing in high notes, slightly less hateful now he wasn't paranoid about sounding like a squeak toy. Like a child. All the adrenaline was out of his system, leaving him. The whole cottage smelled delicious, like onion and tomato sauce with real beef and rosemary.
After Tim dragged in an old boxy cassette tape player from somewhere and they listened to something with a laugh track he only half paid attention to, John allowed himself to be highly ironically tucked into a make shift bed arranged on the sofa. He had once done the same to Sherlock when he had the flu. Tucked him in like that, patted him on the head. Tim laughed at his little joke. It was meant to be funny. Meant to be ironic because Dimmock knew he was a grown man too. John suddenly loved Tim, more than the affection he had previously. Wished for, and guiltily scrubbed out the idea of, a grumpy, puggish brother instead of a loud, bitter sister. He only hoped he was a good mock brother in return. "Sorry," John half-whispered, squeezing Tim's shoulder.
"No apologies," Tim's smile, thin but tender, didn't falter. "You've done your share. You need to rest."
When John dreamed it was of the desert, miles of it, gently curving. It felt like the soft-strong curve of a woman's body, the curl from her hip to her waist and up her back. It made him feel safe. He walked across the sand, and loved it; the burning annihilation that was the sun was present but very far away. When he finally woke he didn't feel tired or frightened.
"So, Godfrey Norton?" John asked at breakfast. They had reheated spaghetti, neither of them really minded. Tim would drop off the stolen car as soon as breakfast was over, retrieve supplies and his own car and then return. John would be alone in the little cottage with no telly and no internet, but the old stereo, lots of books and a little garden in the back. When Tim returned he'd bring his Grendel hatebox and the two of them will try to track the madman down again. For now, while things were hot Tim would work in the field while John worked the network behind the scenes, pencil and paper mostly, a modified clatter of Davey's little dancing men. It was quicker than typing two fingered. It was backward considering their specialties, but at this point there were four brilliant minds after him. Too many to consider letting his face leave the cottage for a good month. And they had done something similar, Tim sending him reports and John texting the Holmes as W.
It wouldn't be as good as a mystery with Sherlock, but Sherlock didn't want John anymore. He belonged with Dimmock, a new brother in arms and one that still needed to be healed. Few things appeal to John more. He is a fixer of things. There could be a new friendship here, there could still be danger and excitement and tea. So instead of badgering someone to eat John tried not to fall out of his chair laughing while Tim told about dropping in on Godfrey Norton, who at the time had an exceptionally beautiful mustache and a potentially dangerous disagreement with Argentinian authorities over some limited release Russian dubbed DVD box sets.
They spent a month at the cottage, two weeks together, two weeks with Tim in and out sporadically while things were organized. While Tim, flew blondish ginger and bespectacled to Germany, acquired a new flat in Paris with John blathering in his ear about windows and fire escapes, raided a Swedish laboratory with a laundry list of scientific odds and ends for their nervous Austrian scientist, then took a boat, a snowmobile and a train back to England to deliver them, and check on the progress of developing a way to reverse the effects of the ray with what information they had. His trail had been a long stumbling stack of places and people. The whole way enduring the sound of John in his earpiece issuing strict doctor's orders to drink lots of water, to eat lots of vegetables and to avoid the curry since they both knew he would only regret it later. Over the miles Tim's voice, warm and gentle complained back in words that in aggregate meant he loved John too.
Timothy Westmorland's death passed in London as effortless as a dream, a whisper that brushed across the lips of gossips and then faded again just as quickly, his face only half remembered. Someone else came to empty the bins and clean the windows. Tim watched the edges of his false life fade away effortlessly and wasn't troubled by it at all. It was only a soap bubble that had persisted for longer than expected.
John wanted to go with him and threaten Bad Davey and ask after Rooster and bed down with Bailey's crew. But that wasn't safe. Instead he waited till the end of that long month, not too bad with fresh veg and a chance to go over the stacks of pictures, dates, facts, invoices, bits of obscure evidence that made no sense but was there, sketching out a life. One they needed to find.
Tim arrived at the end of his European tour looking a little lighter, but still with that gentle indent between his eyebrows, that tendency to look away slightly in the disappointment of a lonely child. That disappeared as soon as John descended on him with his notebook in one hand and a map in the other. "We need to have Adair move to England."
"Can I put my bag down?"
John took his bag, wasn't quite knocked over with it and after a moment slung it under the kitchen table instead of trying for a chair. "We need to move Adair to England. He's starting to get boxed in at work, lose his efficacy, and apparently he already has family in England, and a friend who works in the government has recently transferred over. He's perfect. Ideally we can get him over to one of the same building where Mycroft works. Added security. And! He's being wasted where he is, he's an excellent mathematician."
"Are you alright?" Tim stared at John's tapping foot, the corner of his mouth slowly curling up.
"Yes," John crossed his arms tight to his chest, ignoring the crinkling paper.
"You've been into the tea," Tim grinned at him.
John made a face at him and boosted himself up on a kitchen chair.
"You are thoroughly caffeinated."
The replying expression was as irritated and it was twitchy. "Yes well, we have a lot going on and I just couldn't-" he scrubbed at his forehead a moment. "I just couldn't think. I was just going too slow, so I speed things up a bit."
"Can we go to the sitting room?" Tim asked, hip sagging against the kitchen table.
Turning bright red, John flustered, "Sorry, I, sorry." Tim wandered off while John heated soup and made tea, carrying them in on the big wicker tray that lived against the side of the refrigerator. Laughing and looking tired in equal measure, Tim accepted both from where he curled on the large sofa. "So," he sighed, inhaling his tea. "Ronnie Adair?"
"I don't want to leave Mycroft alone."
Over the soup bowl Tim's face darkened.
"I'm not entirely sympathetic to him either," John vibrated gently. "But it would be disastrous to leave him unattended. At least this way someone could tell us if he gets shot."
"I'll set something up later today," he acquiesced.
"No," John murmured from where he sat at the edge of the coffee table. "You rest. I forgot how much you've been doing while I lay around here picking lettuce and trying to put clues together. Take a nap."
Sighing at him, Tim set the bowl aside, still holding the mug close with one hand. "I forgot how slow the internet used to be. Is now. And how long the train took, I was about to climb out and try just running home. Everyone uses wifi now, it makes me feel positively antsy. The only good thing about it is I can wander in and out of people's computers at my leisure. But really! Is no one concerned about the holes in the system? I had to break into a couple secret experimental systems to feel like I was getting any work done on a secure line."
"Alright future man," John felt the corners of his mouth curling up while the waving of Tim's free hand got positively passionate. "Sorry you're stuck in the stone age with us."
"Davey sends his love," Tim receded back against the sofa cushions, half laughing at himself now. "He's not going to make me kiss you again."
"I couldn't bear that. My face might fall off."
"Aren't you just hil-arious."
John just grinned, cheeks round and bright.
"I know you would have liked to hear from him. I told him, we got into a bit of a scuffle, nothing to worry about," he added when he saw John's face. "It was mostly for show. He'll send a note when he's feeling more himself; this whole thing with Sherlock and Moriarty is throwing him."
"I'll be fine," he bit his lip against asking if Tim had seen the Holmes brothers. It wouldn't go over well. And he didn't need to know. "Now observe," he retrieved the map from where it was awkwardly folded next to him. "I have been brilliant."
After a day of comparing notes and making battle plans, they put away the linens, vacuumed through the house and packed everything they could safely carry. Everything else was packed and moved into the attic of the cottage, neatly labeled T and W. Then that's it, Tim and John are going to France. When they can come back again John doesn't know, doesn't think about Sherlock or Baker Street, doesn't think about the mazework of London with everything anyone could want. Snow piled white and free of feet before changing to grey slush that turned the city (if you watched the news) into the set of a disaster movie. Chased through the fog are stretches of sparkling stars, better than diamonds, like the opening of smoggy eyelids. Comfort, adventure, home and strangeness, tea, books, Bond movies, almost all of his family. Sweet, grey suited, mad and brilliant London, politician, banker and glittering golden woman.
But he's been dreaming of the desert. A woman just as gold, just as dangerous, if more subtle about it. And the one part of his family not in London, someone he chose out of mutual pain was going to France to fight Grendel and try to care if it killed him in the process.
"You ready?" Tim asked, duffel over one shoulder. He looked sharp, almost on the edge of dangerous, if not for the thick oversized jumper he's using to hide John's gun. John pulled his back pack up close, heavy with a kit that Tim brought him and a brand new Grey's. They both have the touch of Davey about them, but Tim didn't say and so John wasn't asking.
"Yeah," John smiled back, "Off to war."
Mr. Adair, I believe you have some experience with my associate. We would like to talk to you. – W