Actions

Work Header

The Devil’s Footprint

Work Text:


Part I: The Devil’s Footprint

Sherlock needed a vacation, John was sure of it. The Moriarty case, and particularly its ending, had taken a toll on both their nerves, for longer than John wanted to admit. He craved excitement, certainly, but that had been a bit too much excitement. Sometimes when he slept he could feel the red dots of the lasers, like bugs crawling over his skin. He woke scratching at his face, trying to wipe them off.

Sherlock didn’t sleep at all. Aimless strumming and scraping at the violin invaded John’s dreams, though he’d wake to hear Sherlock playing something more euphonious: his own arrangement of Brahms’ Lullaby, perhaps.

At first Sherlock was so solicitous of John’s nerves that John didn’t notice the circles around Sherlock’s eyes, the nervous bounding of his motions, which had gotten more violent since Moriarty, less precisely controlled. Truth be told, he was flattered at Sherlock’s attention. John had expected him to lapse back into his usual flippant self, and it was only after it had gone on for a few days that John grew worried.

“You need a vacation, Sherlock,” John said over breakfast. Sherlock was only half paying attention to his beans on toast, getting up every few minutes to peer out the window at some unusual business going on between a panhandler and a woman with a grocery cart.

“I don’t take vacations,” he said absently, from the window. His beans were soaking into the toast, turning it all into one sodden, unappealing lump. John finished his own quickly.

“You’re not sleeping, you have bags under your eyes, and you’ve just spent ten minutes watching that businesswoman talk to one of your spies.”

“She’s been talking to him for a while. It’s not liberal guilt. She lost something on the street, and wants the man to help her find it.”

“Whatever. You need to get away from here. If you’re too tired to do good work. You wouldn’t be in any shape to go after Moriarty, if—”

“If he ever pokes his nose out again,” said Sherlock morosely. John wisely didn’t mention that it had only been a week. He could go to ground for years, if he was half as clever as he claimed.

“Your brother’s been texting me.”

“Ignore them. Delete them.”

“Your brother’s been texting me,” John repeated doggedly. “Says he has a cottage on Chesil Beach we can use for the week.”

“If I am to go on vacation, I’m not going to some dreadful British seaside resort. Beaches aren’t supposed to be cold. Why not Miami? I liked it there.”

John, who had visited Miami once himself, nearly choked on his coffee imagining Sherlock, pale, elegant, frequent wearer of top coats, among the bright colors and loud parties of Miami Beach. “We’ve no money,” he said instead.

“Chesil Beach it is, then.” He smiled: one of those quick, mirthless expressions. “Mycroft will be so pleased.”

 

***

 

Arthur didn’t know where Eames had gotten the car—it was almost certainly stolen—but he was in no position to complain. Eames pulled up to the curb and threw the passenger door open.

“Why didn’t you get Ariadne? She’s the one they want.” Arthur asked as soon as he got in.

Another time, Eames might have sniped back, but instead he pulled a revolver out of the waistband of his trousers. “I can’t shoot and drive,” he said.

Another time, and Arthur might have said, That’s disappointing. But he was too worried to bother.

“She was climbing over that fire escape last I saw her,” said Eames.

Arthur craned his neck. She would have landed outside an alley that jogged left and then continued through to the street on the other side. Arthur knew that from years of less than legal activity in London, but Ariadne might not.

He directed Eames to make the three left turns, and saw nothing. Trash and recycling containers lined the streets. Arthur didn’t see her pursuers either, but that didn’t mean they weren’t nearby.

“There, behind those rubbish bins,” said Eames. Arthur looked and saw the toe of a brown woman’s oxford peeking out under the legs of the paper recycling container. “Cover me.”

He jumped out and pulled her to her feet. They ducked as the first shots rang out. Arthur couldn’t see the shooter, but could tell the general direction the bullets were coming from, and fired some shots that way, just over Ariadne’s head.

“You drive,” Eames yelled. Arthur slid across the seats, cursing the shifter as it bruised the inside of his thigh, and put the car in gear. A bullet spider-webbed the rear windshield as Arthur peeled away.

This wasn’t Arthur’s first car chase in London, but it was never something he was going to enjoy. Traffic tended to crawl at all times of day, and he was never quite comfortable shifting with the wrong hand.

“I could have gotten her,” he said when he thought he’d lost the pursuit.

“I’m fine by the way,” said Ariadne. Arthur glanced in the rearview mirror. She was white as a sheet, but looked uninjured.

“I’m glad,” said Arthur through a clenched jaw. “You weren’t supposed to stay under that long.”

“It was my dream,” she said, frowning at him. “Where are you going?”

“To the safe house.” That was where Yusuf would be. He had elected not to go under with them this time.

“We can’t stay in London,” said Eames.

“But the job—”

“Head toward the A303.”

It was a bit of tricky driving to get them going in that direction, and for a moment Arthur thought he saw their pursuers again, but it was just a private car, ferrying a businessman to a meeting.

The A303 took them southwest out of the city. Apartment buildings gave way to row houses, which in turn gave way to detached homes, and then the hedgerows of country side.

“Where are we going now?” Arthur asked.

“That lot can’t abide the country,” said Eames. “We’re going to a place I know where we can lie low and plan the next step.”

“The next step?” asked Ariadne. She didn’t look so angry now, merely thoughtful, with her head leaned back against the car’s back seat.

“Adams’s boys saw your face. They’ll be trying to kill you. So we either need something big and concrete enough on Tommy to take to the police, or juicy enough to feed to his second-in-command so he’ll kill Tommy. My preference is for the latter. It’s neater.”

“Why don’t we just kill them?” Arthur asked. He didn’t like killing in the real world, but he’d done it before and would again if it protected Ariadne.

“If you kill Tommy Adams, his brother will send someone after you,” said Eames, slowly, as if to a particularly dim child. “If you kill his enforcers—well, I’m sure even you can see why that’s useless.”

Eames was right, of course, but that didn’t make it sit any easier. “It wasn’t my idea to go after the Clerkenwell syndicate,” said Arthur.

“Hush,” said Ariadne. “We all agreed.”

There was nothing to say to that, so they drove in silence for a while. The roads Eames directed Arthur down grew narrower, until he was following one-lane tracks with cut-outs for cars to pass each other. The countryside of Dorset was hilly, the grass the sort of emerald green that can only be found in perfectly groomed ballparks and English fields.

They drove through the town of Beaminster. The houses were of stone, and the roofs grown over with moss. It was hard to imagine a London crime family here, but that made Arthur all the more nervous.

Finally Eames told Arthur to take a right, and he turned the car through a crumbling stone gate. On either side were well-manicured grounds with just enough wildness left to be beautiful. As Arthur rounded a corner, he saw the stone bulk of an English country house, sitting on a hill overlooking a walled garden.

“We’re going there?” Arthur asked. “Do we need a reservation?” He looked down at his clothes. He was dressed for the job, which meant slim cut trousers and a leather jacket. This looked like the sort of place where one dressed for dinner, and all his suits were back in London.

“We already have one, in a manner of speaking.” They pulled up in the gravel drive and got out. Eames walked up the steps and rang the bell.

The housekeeper opened the door and smiled. “We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Eames. Come in.” She looked over at Arthur and Ariadne, who were still standing in the drive. “You as well. I’ll show you your rooms.”

“Mrs. Taylor, thank you,” said Eames.

“I’m afraid only the east wing is open right now,” she said as she walked the main stairs. They were of polished wood, a deep chestnut. Ancestral portraits of important-looking people lined the walls. For all its age, the house had a light and airy feel about it.

“You boys can take the rooms off the library, and this young lady can have the rose suite.”

She pushed open the library door. It smelled of leather and old books, two of the best smells in the world to Arthur. “Give Arthur the nicer room,” said Eames. He winked at Arthur behind her back. Mrs. Taylor nodded and opened a door near the rear of the library. The room beyond had been some sort of solarium, but now held a couch, a couple of chairs, and a simply made-up day bed.

“Why don’t you rest while I have Morrison bring in your bags,” said Mrs. Taylor. Arthur nodded mutely. Eames could explain that they didn’t have bags, that they’d left those, along with their chemist, when they left London fleeing armed criminals.

 

***

 

The speed at which Sherlock had agreed to the vacation convinced John that he was in greater need of it than he would ever admit. They made arrangements to take the train to Weymouth. An old fisherman cum caretaker had picked them up and driven them across the strand to the Isle of Portland where the cottage stood, not far from the neck. It was a whitewashed structure with wooden floors and charming, if cheaply carpeted, upper bedrooms.

Two faced the ocean; he and Sherlock each took one. It was still midmorning, so Sherlock suggested a walk to Bridport, and John agreed.

In April the ocean air was cold with the departing winter, although a brisk walk along the coast still made the sweat stand out on John’s brow. One could walk along the shingle beach, which was a trial to the ankles as the stones shifted under foot, or the dunes, which were a constant succession of ups and downs but afforded a view of the country inland, the fields and golf courses that hugged the sandy cliffs.

They were ninety minutes out when the walk started to feel more like a forced march. John had seen no sign of another town since leaving the cottage.

“How much further, Sherlock?” John asked. He felt like a petulant child, but he supposed he shouldn’t have minded—Sherlock reminded him of a petulant child nearly all the time. It was well for him to experience it himself.

“Perhaps ten kilometers more,” said Sherlock.

John stopped, and as soon as he did the sweat that his walking had kept at bay coalesced under his clothes. “Are you planning to drive yourself into relaxation by sheer exhaustion?”

Sherlock pushed his back up even more ramrod straight upon his walking stick and sniffed the sea air. “Yes, if necessary. That is what one does at the British seaside, as it is too cold to swim, and nothing interesting ever happens. Fresh air and exhaustion, John, are the palliatives it offers, and today we are taking advantage of both.”

John decided not to speak to Sherlock for the rest of the walk, which turned out to be a singularly ineffective punishment, as Sherlock was able to discourse on whatever subject took his fancy without any hint that his interlocutor was interested, or even listening. His topic today was entertaining enough, the ancient peoples that had populated Dorset and Cornwall before the coming of the Romans. He turned out to be quite knowledgeable on the subject, which made John soften somewhat.

“I thought you didn’t like to fill your hard drive with anything useless. How does that knowledge help you solve crime?” he asked.

“Done with your sulk, are you?” Sherlock asked, but continued without waiting for an answer. “It got in there before I could pry it out. I thought I might expel it by telling you about it.” He smiled, quick and puckish. “Bridport.”

John looked beyond Sherlock and saw it, a cluster of houses on the beach with a few roads leading inland.

“Beer and a gluey seafood stew await us,” said Sherlock. “Another palliative.”

The stew at the pub they found was not gluey but lovely, velvety and studded with pearl onions, carrots and nuggets of waxy potato. John’s resentment melted away. He still might take a cab back without Sherlock, but he’d consider them even after that.

“Do you think that prehistoric societies had no crime?” asked Sherlock, picking up the thread of their earlier conversation. John made a noncommittal noise and continued looking out the window. Sherlock hadn’t been wrong about the dreariness of an English seaside, especially now, before many visitors arrived, but it had an undeniable beauty as well. Chesil Beach provided a long, cool, embracing arm for the West Bay to lap against. Rain storms chased each other across the horizon, but on shore, dapples of sun pierced through the clouds.

It suited Sherlock. His cheeks showed a faint etching of color from the exertion that reminded John, forcefully, that however strange Sherlock was, he was undeniably human. Looking at Sherlock now, as he ate his soup and sipped his beer, John was afflicted by the same double vision that had been troubling him for the last month: his mind still regarded Sherlock with the same mixture of admiration and annoyance that it had upon their meeting, now mixed with some affection, but his body had conceived some other reaction entirely, warming to Sherlock beyond all reason.

It was the allure of the unattainable, John decided. He’d had a brief dating career with beautiful and chilly women in his youth, but had given that up as a profitless enterprise.

And now—“I assure you, they did, and for much the same reasons,” Sherlock said, interrupting John’s reverie.

“Who? Did what?” John asked, hoping that Sherlock would attribute heat that had risen to his cheeks to warm food and a much-needed beer.

“Prehistoric peoples and their crimes,” said Sherlock. “Do pay attention. Their motives for crime were much the same as ours, as I said: love, which usually means jealousy, religion, politics, but I’m sure most were committed for the same reason they are today: money. People have changed little from those days.”

 

***

 

After Eames sent Mrs. Taylor off, they met up again in the library. “Is this the Eames family pile?” Arthur asked.

Eames looked some mixture of sheepish and mischievous, which shouldn’t be possible. “You of all people should know that my family name is not Eames.”

“Eames,” said Ariadne firmly.

“This is Mapperton House, grounds and garden. There’s a church too, All Saints. Medieval, I think. Predates the house, certainly. I don’t think they still have services there, but you can probably get married if you want to.” This last said directly to Arthur.

“Eames,” said Arthur this time.

“It belongs to the Earl of Sandwich, but Bitsy and I are friends, so I texted her on the way down and asked if she wouldn’t mind us staying for a while.”

“Bitsy?” asked Ariadne. “Doesn’t sound English.”

“She’s not,” said Eames. “It was a terrible scandal. From Connecticut. Rich though, so that made up for it.”

“Who is she?” asked Arthur.

“Lady Montagu, wife of Lord Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich. Enjoy it. The grounds are lovely, and we’re just a quick drive from Chesil Beach.”

Arthur smoothed his hair back and paced around the room. Even with the overstuffed leather furniture, there was plenty of floor space for his walking back and forth. Which was good. If he was sharing a house, even as big as this one, with Eames, he would need to do some angry pacing.

“We’re on the run from the most dangerous crime syndicate in London, who may, even now, have captured Yusuf—”

“They didn’t,” said Ariadne. “He called on the burn phone. He’s on the next train into Bridport.”

“We have no clothes,” Arthur continued as if Ariadne hadn’t interrupted him. “And we’re supposed to enjoy ourselves?”

“Yusuf is bringing the clothes,” said Ariadne. She looked at her watch. “We should really go meet him.”

The three of them climbed into the stolen car. This time Eames drove, which was terrifying, since he took the blind curves of the one-track roads at the same speeds as he did the Autobahn. Arthur’s knuckles were white where he gripped his seatbelt.

Then he noticed that all the other cars were being handled similarly, and decided that fearless negotiation of these roads must be some skill taught to everyone who lived out here. He catalogued that with the other information he had gathered about Eames: misspent youth in the hinterlands. The Dorset country was charming, Arthur thought, as soon the rolling fields and wooded glades gave way to sandy beachfront roads.

Bridport was a charming little collection of streets lined with bed-and-breakfasts, tea nooks, and pubs. Yusuf was waiting for them on the platform as the train pulled away, surrounded by cases. Arthur counted two PASIV briefcases, and his own scarred Coach luggage, Ariadne’s nylon duffels draped over Eames’s Chapman bags.

Yusuf hugged Ariadne. “I’m glad to see you’re alright.”

“I’m glad you survived our luggage,” said Eames. “Thank you.”

They filled the trunk of the car and then went to find lunch. Eames knew of a pub that had views of the moody waters of West Bay, so they walked to the quay, while Ariadne caught Yusuf up on their aborted heist, the pursuit that followed, and the hideaway Eames had found for them.

“Not inconspicuous, my friend,” said Yusuf, when Ariadne described it.

“Where’s the gratitude?” Eames grumbled.

“It’s lovely,” Ariadne told him. “The rose suite has a sitting room, a dressing room and a bed room. I feel like I’m in a Jane Austen novel.”

The pub was decorated in wood paneling and incongruously floral upholstery. The only two customers were an ordinary, dishwater blond man in his late thirties, and his companion, rather younger, tall and slim, with legs like a stick beetle and a face with an odd, fey beauty to it.

Eames pulled his phone out of his pocket, glanced at it, and walked over to them, trailing the rest of the team behind him. “You must be Sherlock Holmes,” said Eames to the fey one.

“How on earth could you—?” said the plain-faced man sitting opposite him.

Eames pulled out his phone, on which was a clear picture of the man he’d called Sherlock. The face in the picture wore a look of annoyance, as if the subject had been caught unawares.

“Mycroft,” said Sherlock.

“Yes,” said Eames. “He keeps texting me. I’d like to know how he found out I was down here. That’s not something I want to get around.”

Sherlock tilted his head to one side. “Mycroft can be discreet.” Sherlock’s companion rolled his eyes and Sherlock appended, “When he wants to be.”

Introductions were made. John and Sherlock said they were staying on the Isle of Portland. Eames promised to send a car so they could visit Mapperton house, and they retired to the other side of the pub to eat lunch and plan.

 

***

 

“That’s an odd group,” said John, when he thought the foursome was out of earshot. They had been odd in more ways than one: all young, although the girl was clearly much younger than the others. All oddly good looking too, especially the one who had only given his last name: Eames.

“Odd, indeed,” said Sherlock. John waited for Sherlock to give him a rundown of each of their backgrounds, professions, reasons for staying together at Mapperton house, but he merely tapped his fingers to his lips. “An intriguing puzzle. That will liven this grim vacation.”

Grim. John didn’t like the sound of that. He happened to glance over as Eames flashed a knowing smile at Sherlock across the bar. Sherlock smiled back.

They drank enough beer that John’s medical opinion was that they’d be better off taking a car home, and so they did, although it was rather dear, and passed the afternoon lying on couches in the living room. John dozed, drifting pleasurably in and out of dreams, punctuated by Sherlock’s cries of “wrong” and “ha” at whatever article he was reading.

At what would have been a late tea time, if John and Sherlock had bestirred themselves for tea, a knock sounded on the door. Sherlock sprang to answer it, and let in a man in ecclesiastical dress, who proved, on introduction, to be the vicar at the Church of Our Lady, Queen of the Martyrs and St. Ignatius in Chideock.

“Let me guess,” said John. “Mycroft texted you.”

Father Shaw smiled. He looked like all vicars had since the beginning of time: careworn, but still a little innocent, no matter what terrible things his parishioners had confessed to him. “Yes. Thank goodness my sister gave me one of these.” He pulled out a phone that was three years out of date, and showed Sherlock the text.

“What brings you here?” asked Sherlock.

“I am, of course, aware of your abilities,” he said, his face growing pensive. “Mycroft can hardly cease to speak of the work you do with Scotland Yard.” Sherlock’s face took on a skeptical cast, but Father Shaw continued. “Something terrible happened to a family of parishioners last night, a brother and two sisters. The Welds. The brother lives, or lived, I should say, in Chideock Manor, and the sisters were visiting.”

“Tell me what happened,” said Sherlock. “John, will you make us some tea?”

John turned on the electric kettle and sat back down with Sherlock and the vicar.

“I was up this morning, to invite them personally to the Concert of the Martyrs that the choir is giving at the church. And found—I can hardly bear to speak of it.

“Isobel, the youngest, was wandering around the garden, utterly out of her wits. When I went up stairs, I found Katherine and Stephen in even worse straits. Stephen can do nothing but stare, and Katherine starts screaming if anyone comes near her. Their minds are gone.” He spoke all this with quiet horror in his voice, looking all the while at his hands, but then he turned his face up in entreaty and said, “How could this have happened, Mr. Holmes? It seems it must be the work of the devil.”

“Where are they now?” asked Sherlock, as John got up to pour their tea.

“They’re in hospital in Bristol now. I called the local doctor, but he could do nothing.” Father Shaw lifted the teacup to his lips.

“No,” said John, while pouring the tea. “I don’t suppose he could.”

“Tell me more of the family,” said Sherlock. “Are these the only siblings?”

“No, there is a fourth. The youngest brother. He had some falling out with the others over issues of money. I gather he makes imprudent investments with his portion of the trust. He lives in London. I telegraphed him. He’s coming down this afternoon.”

“What can you tell me about the room where you found the elder siblings?”

“It was a sitting room. A chess table was set up on a small square table. The game appeared to be over, since the white king lay on its side. Their hair was in disarray as if they had not been to sleep the night before.”

Sherlock steepled his hands and nodded. “Excellent. Is there anything else you can recall?”

“No, no more than that.” He turned the teacup in his hands. “Will you help?”

“I will investigate,” said Sherlock.

John showed Father Shaw to the door. “Do you think he can do anything?” Father Shaw asked.

“He is the best,” said John. “And they may yet get well.” He bid the vicar goodbye.

“Did you find anything strange about that?” asked Sherlock when John rejoined him.

“What wasn’t strange? How could three siblings go mad all in one night? Some kind of poison or drug overdose?”

“Very good, John,” said Sherlock. “Anything else?”

John shrugged. “His hands,” Sherlock prompted. “Did you notice anything odd about them?”

John shook his head. “They were perfectly steady,” said Sherlock. “He has just had a terrible fright, perhaps one even of a religious nature, and yet his hands did not even shake minutely when he took the teacup from you. We must find out what his relationship is to the family, and where this brother was last night.”

 

***

 

Arthur, Eames, Ariadne and Yusuf had been working as a team for six months since the Fischer job. Cobb had told Arthur he was going to spend at least a year with his children in Ferndale before he wanted to do another job. He asked Arthur not to contact him.

Arthur, hurt, had agreed. Yusuf had returned to Mombasa for a time, but within a month had called Arthur to say, sheepishly, that he missed going into the field, and would Arthur keep him in mind if anything came up.

Not that they had spent all the time together. Ariadne had her last semester to finish. Yusuf had his dreamers in Mombasa. Eames had whatever he did—probably unsavory things in Vegas and Monte Carlo and Gstaad and wherever else the beautiful, amoral and wealthy gathered. As with all things Eames, Arthur tried not to think about the information he catalogued.

This job had come from Saito, as had all the others they had done together. He never used them again for corporate espionage, at least not that Arthur could tell, but instead for side projects that had no connection, however tenuous, to his own businesses. Before this engagement with the Clerkenwell syndicate they had taken down an African water baron, whose connections could buy him out of many things, but not a murder committed on Egyptian soil.

If Arthur didn’t know better, he would have suspected Saito of using them as his vigilante service, removing unsavory characters from the global landscape. But more likely was some link back to his companies, too buried even for Arthur to find, to some criminal activity that threatened his profits.

The first few days at the house they stayed on the grounds. Ariadne put on a jacket and settled in one of the composed gardens in the front of the house with a pile of books when she wasn’t in the library, making her models. Arthur couldn’t tell which was for their next job, and which was for school, but he supposed she would tell them when she was ready.

Yusuf turned out to be a fair tennis player, more than a match for Arthur, and they played some games that varied from athletic to somewhat desultory.

Yusuf also trekked to the local farmer’s market on their second day and came back laden with vegetables and packages of rice. He announced his intention to cook them an authentic Kenyan meal. Since then he’d been badgering the cook, and making an agreeable nuisance of himself.

Arthur went for runs and kept to his room or the library when Eames wasn’t there. His London contacts gave him no good news. The Adams brothers had a distressingly high price on Ariadne and any of her associates, although so far neither names nor faces for those associates had surfaced.

He caught glimpses Eames of in the garden in the mornings, doing what looked like Tai Chi with utmost seriousness. It was a side of Eames Arthur hadn’t seen before, and he watched, longer than he meant to, as Eames went through the slow sequence of figures, clad in white pyjama bottoms and a long sleeved Clash t-shirt.

By some unspoken agreement, they didn’t discuss the Adams brothers, the mishaps that had gotten them here, until they sat down to Yusuf’s dinner, starting with samosas, and then a complicated pulao, on the side of his samaki wa kukaanga, which Yusuf described as a famous Kenyan fried fish dish.

It was the first time they’d been together, all four of them, since the pub. Yusuf raised his glass of ale and said, “To friends, and a vacation, no matter the circumstances.”

They all clinked and drank. Ariadne gave Arthur a shy glance, and he could read in it the same thing he was thinking. No, they were not friends yet, but perhaps they could be. All of them had found, one way or another, that working together was preferable to working with other people. Friendships had grown from less.

They switched to single malts over dessert, a sugary soup with crisp, caramelized banana slices floating in it. Yusuf’s only concession to the cook was that he could serve coffee, which he did when they cleared away the dessert, along with some defiant chocolate biscuits.

“So,” said Eames, holding a coffee cup in one hand and a tumbler of scotch in the other, “are we going to talk about the job?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” said Arthur. “I think we’ll need Saito to pull a few strings with his airline again, but Tommy is going down to see his brother in Torremolinos. That’s when we can grab him.”

“I’ve been working on some designs,” said Ariadne. “But I can’t go with you.”

“We wouldn’t ask it,” said Eames, glancing at Arthur. Arthur warred between a treacherous warmth at the “we” and bristling at Eames taking on a leadership role. “He knows your lovely face, I’m afraid.”

“I have a very powerful sedative,” said Yusuf.

“He does need to wake up,” said Eames. Yusuf smiled and shrugged. “However much we might want him not to.”

“Tomorrow then,” said Arthur. “Ariadne, you’ll show us your plans.”

After dinner Arthur went to the library with his drink and a nineteenth century translation of Orlando Furioso that he’d found shelved between the Montagu family bibles. It was illustrated with Gustav Doré lithographs: strange scenes of female knights fighting chimeras, of angels and demons at war.

“Mad Orlando,” said Eames when he came in, materializing behind Arthur’s shoulder. “You’ve been avoiding me,” he said.

“I’ve been avoiding everyone,” said Arthur. “You know me. Incurable misanthrope.”

He sat down across from Arthur and put his hand on Arthur’s knee, tracing patterns through the fabric. Arthur swallowed. Eames had to know how enticing he looked in the lamplight, eyes bright, lips glistening. He was so damn certain of himself, it made Arthur want to hate him a little. “Don’t do that,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Avoid me.”

Arthur sighed. “What are you doing?”

Eames sat up straight, and echoed Arthur’s sigh. “I would think that’s obvious, but if you need it spelled out: I’m trying to take you to bed again.”

“Because that worked out so well last time,” Arthur muttered.

“I didn’t hear you complaining.”

“Well, now you are.”

“And what exactly are you complaining about?” asked Eames delicately.

Arthur thought about saying something cruel and untrue like, You. You’re what I’m complaining about. He thought about getting up and walking out of the room without saying anything. One of those options was how these conversations had always gone before. “I don’t like to be played with,” said Arthur, as close to the truth as he could manage.

“Is that what you think I’m doing?” Eames’s fingers were still on the Arthur’s leg, having moved further up his thigh.

Arthur got up and walked over to the door of his room. He opened it carefully—no need for theatrics—as Eames called out, “Why don’t you ask me what I’m doing instead of assuming?”

“I did,” yelled Arthur, and slammed the door to his room. Once inside he slumped down on his bed. Eames made him feel like nothing so much as a hormonal teenager, with messy emotions and even messier longings. He was probably still lingering outside, waiting for Arthur to think better of it, and succumb, but Arthur lay down until the light in the library went out, and then re-read his dossiers on the Clerkenwell syndicate until morning.

 

***

 

Sherlock persuaded Father Shaw to show them around Chideock manor the next day. The manor was of Regency construction on a much older site, not far from the ruins of Chideock Castle, which had been razed to the ground during the English Civil War.

Sherlock examined the rooms where the siblings had been found. They had been tidied up since the siblings had been taken away. Sherlock was heard to rail against overly fastidious housekeepers.

He knelt on the carpet for a moment, tracing something John couldn’t see with his fingers. Then he rose to his feet, and bounded down the stairs, leaving John staring after.
That afternoon they borrowed the vicar’s car and drove up to Bristol, to visit the unfortunate Welds. Katherine was still too distraught for Sherlock and John to be in the same room with her, while Stephen was fully, peacefully comatose.

John distracted the nurse long enough for Sherlock to have some time with the patient, and was rewarded by the smug expression Sherlock wore when he emerged. “It is as I suspected. Stephen Weld was in a shared dream when this happened to him.”

John remembered reading something about that in the Lifestyle pages of the Times, but not enough to understand why it mattered. “What’s that?”

“The PASIV device,” said Sherlock. “It enables people to share each other’s dreams. It sat there on the carpet. I suspect, although there is little word of it, that there is a rich body of crime that can be committed in dreams. Imagine the secrets one might have access to, wandering around in someone else’s dream.”

Sherlock sounded a little too enthusiastic about the criminal aspects of it for John’s taste, but the idea intrigued him. Shared dreams. What might he find in Sherlock’s dreams? Would it be the key to unlocking his strange companion, or would his mind be a rabbit hole from which there was no emerging?

“How do you know?” John asked.

Sherlock waved that off impatiently. “Track mark on the wrist, traces of sedatives in the blood, according to the doctor’s notes. The same track marks I saw on the wrists of our friends at Mapperton House.”

John thought back to the strange group they had met in Bridport. Shared dreamers. It made no more sense than any other scenario he had tried on them, but Sherlock was rarely wrong.

“How do you know they’re not just druggies?”

“Clear eyes, bright skin, firm physiques. No, these are not addicted to any chemical. Although they may be – to dreams.”

 

***

 

Ariadne was describing her landscape when Mrs. Taylor knocked on the door of the library. “There’s a man to see you, Mr. Eames. A Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Taylor,” he said. “You can show him in.”

“Who is he exactly?” Arthur asked.

“He calls himself a consulting detective,” said Eames. “He’s a brilliant criminal investigator.”

“Oh, great. That’s what we need right now.” Arthur wanted to say more, but was interrupted by the appearance of the man himself.

“Mr. Holmes,” said Eames, extending his hand. “Thank you for accepting my invitation. I would certainly have sent the car and spared you the trouble of . . . hiring one?”

“Sherlock, please. I’m afraid we’re not here on an errand of pleasure. We’re also not here to arrest you, Arthur Cohen.”

Arthur gave him a look, which he turned to level at Eames as well. “Cohen?” said Eames, clearly delighted. “That wasn’t what I imagined; I always thought it was something rather more like And-His-Knights-Of-The-Round-Table.”

“And that would be you, would it?” Arthur asked, unable to resist the bait. He caught himself smiling.

“Gentlemen,” said Sherlock. “Leave off flirting and allow me to tell you why I’m here.” He had an amused, superior look on his face that Arthur found instantly annoying.

Eames smiled, perfectly pleasant and perfectly unwelcoming. “Very well, what do you and your boyfriend want?”

John rolled his eyes, but Sherlock ignored that and sketched, briefly, the story of the Weld siblings. “And so, you see, I am in need of your expertise.”

“How do we know you don’t suspect us?” Arthur asked him.

“Because I would be here with the police if I did. You are too many for John and me to handle alone.”

“Maybe you’re just waiting to gather enough evidence,” said Arthur.

“The criminal classes are often overly suspicious,” said Sherlock, as if to John. “May I have some tea?”

Eames gestured at Arthur, who went to pour with ill grace. When he returned, Sherlock continued. “Aside from your visit to Bridport three days ago, I don’t believe any of you have left the grounds. With the exception of Dr. Yusuf, who went to the farmer’s market on foot, two days before the crime.”

“How did you . . . ?” Arthur asked.

“The treads of your—stolen—car are filled with sand from the streets of Bridport. If you’d driven up to Chideock Manor, they would be full of clay. The rest is a simple matter of cultivating contacts in Beaminster. You haven’t called a taxi or hired a car. The gate keeper said that I was the first for whom he had opened the gate in 48 hours. So I do not suspect you, not of that, at any rate.”

“I guess it’s obvious, then,” said Arthur. Eames was regarding Sherlock with a curious expression that Arthur didn’t like. He couldn’t tell if it was a put-on or not.

“I note you don’t ask why I think the car is stolen,” said Sherlock.

“That’s right,” said Arthur. “I don’t. Why should we help you?”

“Arthur. Be nice,” said Eames.

“Because, although I suspect your little cadre of working more outside the law than within it, I also imagine you think yourselves artists in your field. Someone is abusing the power of dreams to end lives. I doubt the unfortunate Weld siblings will never recover.”

“They probably won’t,” said Arthur.

“Will you help?” Sherlock asked.

“What do you need?” Eames asked.

“How does this work?” Sherlock asked. “I confess I am out of my depth in this area.”

“He would have led them into Limbo,” Arthur muttered.

“We can show you,” said Eames. “I will be the dreamer. Sherlock can be the subject. The rest of you can come or not, as you wish.”

 

***

 

Ariadne and Yusuf were content to let Eames and Sherlock go on alone, but Arthur didn’t trust Sherlock in Eames’s mind without a chaperone, and evidently John Watson felt the same way about Eames.

Eames constructed a seamy slice of London nightlife that looked like something out of the previous century. The street under their feet was cobbled. The lamps gave off a sulfurous glow. Sherlock, John and Arthur all appeared in evening attire. Eames was too, if you could call it that, but the white waistcoat under his dinner jacket cinched over bare skin. His hair was slicked back in its customary part, but his chin was without its usual stubble, and he had dark lines of kohl drawn around his eyes. Arthur swallowed hard and looked away, but not before Eames caught him looking.

“Do you like it?” he asked, leaning in so the words found Arthur’s ear alone. “I’ve been wanting to get you here.”

“Where is here?”

“A dream I’ve been working on for a while. Let’s go in.” They stood at the door of an underground club, which scraped over the cobblestones as it opened. Eames spoke a password, and down they went, through a dark hallway, to a dusty, gas-lit stage. A solidly built young woman in man’s drag sang a torch song in a deep contralto. Threads of cigarette smoke climbed toward the ceiling, stirred by a lazy fan.

A hostess showed them to a booth in the corner, where the sound was somewhat blocked. Arthur slid in first, and Eames after him, his thigh pressing against Arthur’s.

Sherlock looked off-balance for the first time in Arthur’s short acquaintance with him. He examined his surroundings minutely, but so quickly that Arthur might have missed it if he hadn’t been watching carefully. “This is evidently a club of some ill-repute,” said Sherlock. “I trust you will tell me your meaning in bringing me here.

“How did we get here?” asked Eames, instead of answering.

“We came in the door,” said John. He looked around, seeming a trifle uncomfortable with the surroundings.

“How did we end up on this street?” Eames persisted.

“I—don’t know,” John answered.

“Where are we?” Eames asked.

“London,” Sherlock answered. “No other city in the world smells like this.”

“Where in London? Is there a street of this nature that you don’t know?”

“Of course not. This street is almost certainly the hub for some kind of criminal activity, beyond the obvious perversions,” Sherlock said, although without judgment. “I would know it.” A smug smile of understanding curved his lips. “If it were real, I would know it.”

“So you see?” asked Eames. “We are in a dream. My dream. You are the subject. This place is populated with figures from your subconscious.”

Sherlock looked back at the stage. “I thought I recognized her. She was the suspect in the rather grisly murder of a young woman last year.”

“Did she do it?” John asked.

“No, it was the girl’s ex-boyfriend. The police were too keen to look at the lesbian angle and missed the obvious. So we are here, Mr. Eames. How would you steal someone’s mind?”

“I would take them down to Limbo, and leave them there.”

“What is Limbo?” Sherlock asked, with some distaste.

“Ah, you don’t like the religious imagery,” said Eames. “Well, it is no invention of Dante’s. If you are too heavily sedated in dreaming, when you die, instead of waking up, which is what usually happens, you go into Limbo. In a heavily sedated state, the mind knows that it can’t stay where it is, without violating its own sense of reality, but neither is it able to wake up, so it goes to Limbo. Completely unconstructed unconscious.”

“And that drives you mad?” John asked.

“No, but every minute in the waking world passes like years in Limbo. If I hadn’t prompted you, would you know that you were dreaming?”

“I would have”—Sherlock broke off and looked around—“no, perhaps not.”

“In Limbo, even if you know what you’re doing, you won’t know you’re dreaming, so you can’t wake yourself up. Your victims lived out their whole lives down there in the blink of an eye, and eventually, as centuries seemed to pass for them, their minds would have given up.”

Sherlock pressed his fingers together as Eames added, “The veneer of consciousness, of civilization, is a thin one, don’t you think, Sherlock?”

Sherlock looked mildly shaken. “I suppose so. How do we wake up from this?”

“The time will run out soon enough. Why don’t you enjoy yourselves while you’re here?” Eames gestured the waitress over for a drink.

“Will you dance with me, Arthur?” Eames asked, once they had given their orders. Arthur looked over at the small dance floor. Couples of all configurations held each other close, and swayed slowly.

“Why?”

“Because I want to,” said Eames. “And so do you.”

Arthur let Eames lead him to the dance floor. It had been a long time that Arthur was in a dream for any purpose other than the job or preparation for the job. He’d forgotten how easy it was, without the keen focus that a job gave him, to be swept along with the construction of the dream, to do what either dreamer or subject suggested.

“When do you plan on forgiving me, Arthur?” Eames asked when they danced. Arthur always forgot that Eames was actually slightly shorter than him, until they were this close, and Eames turned his eyes up to look into Arthur’s. Lined with kohl, they looked very dark, a dream Arthur could fall into and never return from.

“Nothing to forgive,” said Arthur.

“In my dream, I can tell when you’re lying. Come to think of it, I’m pretty good at it when I’m awake too.”

“I don’t forgive myself, okay? I know what you’re like.”

“What am I like?” Eames asked.

“Impossible,” said Arthur. He spun Eames slowly out away from him. Eames’s jacket opened and Arthur could see the tracings of tattoos running over his shoulders like question marks. He remembered the first time he’d seen them. The tattoos were lovely, but Arthur always wished that he’d gotten Eames’s unmarked skin, that first time, so he could mark it himself. Now they were just something else he couldn’t let himself touch.

 

***

 

“Do you want to dance?” Sherlock asked.

“Me?” said John. It came out an undignified squeak.

Sherlock looked amused.

John shook his head. “No. Why do you ask?” he said, trying to sound casual. He had grown accustomed to people thinking they were together, had even started to think of them as married himself, in some old sexless bachelor kind of way, but that was dependent on their strange equilibrium being maintained.

“It seemed like the thing to do,” said Sherlock with a wave.

“Since when do you do the thing to do?” asked John.

“This is a perfectly pointless place. Nothing but hedonism. Nothing that happens here is real. Must do something to pass the time until we wake.”

“Well, since you asked so nicely,” said John sarcastically.

A pause, then, “I’ve hurt you,” said Sherlock. That was the second time in John’s memory that Sherlock had made some deliberate move to try to understand John’s feelings. It was flattering and discomfiting at the same time.

John looked out onto the dance floor and saw a pair dancing there who were undoubtedly himself and Sherlock. The projection of Sherlock was moving with slim, insectile grace, leading the much shorter John, who looked vaguely embarrassed. Sherlock’s unconscious had gotten that part right.

Then he looked again and saw that all the couples had turned into the two of them, and even the other players, the singer a John, the waiter a Sherlock, a whole world populated by just them.

“Well, that got creepy,” said Eames when he and Arthur returned.

“How do you know my brother?” Sherlock asked. John focused very deliberately on Eames’s handsome face, trying to ignore the strange pageant around them.

“I helped him out with a rather delicate situation. And he did me a favor in turn.”

“Your name,” said Sherlock.

“Shhh,” said Eames. “Arthur doesn’t know that ‘Eames’ isn’t my real name.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “I had an idea.”

John stole another look out at the couples dancing. Still all Johns and Sherlocks, except where Sherlock danced with himself. One set had grown closer, and they were smiling at each other—John hoped he never looked that dopey, although Sherlock looked quite human with that look upon his face.

“Sherlock . . .” said John, hoping Sherlock might deduce the rest of what he wanted to say, so he that he wouldn’t have to think it through himself.

“It’s just a dream,” said Sherlock. “Random firings from the brain. Our companions here are simply good at exploiting and tricking those firings into giving useful information.”

An Edith Piaf song cut across the music in the club, and Eames looked up. “Ah, time to wake up,” he said.

Then they were. John sat up and pulled the lead out of his wrist. It stung for a moment but the pain passed quickly. John felt the threads of the dream slipping away.

“Next time don’t sit up,” said Arthur, who must have noted the confused expression on John’s face. “If you want to remember, stay in the exact same position and try to commit all the details to memory before moving.”

“Does that work?” John asked.

“That and practice,” said Arthur. “Do this too much and the dream becomes more memorable than reality.” He frowned at Eames.

Eames, in his gentlemanly manner, asked Sherlock and John to stay to dinner, but Sherlock refused, for which John was grateful. These were dream thieves, Sherlock had as much as said so. John did not share Sherlock’s certainty that they were not involved with the derangement of the Weld siblings. They drove the vicar’s car back to Chideock, and he gave them a lift back to their cottage.

The next day Sherlock and John went up to Chideock Manor to call on James Weld, the youngest brother, who had come to settle his siblings’ affairs. He met them at the steps of the house, waving off attempts by the butler to greet them in a more fitting way.

He was a charmingly disheveled young man that reminded John slightly of Eames, although there didn’t seem to be any performance here. “Ah, Father Shaw said you might be coming.” He stuck out his hand and shook Sherlock’s and then John’s. Firm grasp, slightly moist. John fought the urge to wipe his hands dry. This was their most promising suspect, a man who may well have condemned three siblings to madness.

Sherlock wasted no time in grasping James Weld’s wrist and turning it up, so he could see the red track marks. “I—it’s nothing illegal. I can explain,” said James. He led Sherlock and John into the solarium for some morning tea.

“It’s shared dreaming,” said Sherlock.

James nodded, still too much in shock, it seemed, to be surprised at Sherlock’s quick reading. “It’s my latest investment scheme,” he said. “I was working with some blokes who thought they might do a dream vacation bit, you know, three hours in a dream’s like a week in Malta, then you wake up and go back to work. Good for the proles, that sort of thing.”

“What happened?” asked Sherlock.

“Well, they buggered off with my money is what happened. I was drinking it off when Father Shaw called.”

“You were in London when this happened.”

James nodded unhappily. “I didn’t know it could be dangerous, or I never would have sent the kit to Stephen. It seemed like just the kind of thing he’d enjoy.”

Once Sherlock was convinced that James was telling the truth, something that only took a few minutes with his smart-phone, he evinced a perfectly natural sympathy and asked, “Tell me about your siblings.”

“Stephen was a workaholic. Katherine was too—those two, always competing. Isobel was the dreamer—I mean—” he broke down briefly. “What they all had in common was that they thought I was a louse. They were right too. I could tell you stories—”

“No need,” said Sherlock, cutting off the flood of self-pity. “Why did you get Stephen the PASIV?”

“As I said, I thought he’d enjoy it. It’s good for lucid dreaming too, so if you want to dream you’re shagging Liz Hurley, you can.”

“Liz Hurley? Bit out of date, that,” said John.

James grinned quickly. “You never forget your first,” he said. The pall of mourning settled quickly upon his features again.

“Am I missing something?” Sherlock asked John under his breath. John shook his head.

“Did he ever use it?” Sherlock asked.

“Not that I know of,” said James. “He told me he’d given it away, last time we talked. He did like to be cruel.” James stared fixedly into middle distance for a moment. “Not that he deserved this. My God, he’s my brother.”

“So, did he do it?” John asked as they walked out to the car.

“Not James Weld. He was in London. We must find out who Stephen gave the PASIV to. “

 

***

 

“I think we should see Father Shaw,” said Eames when he found Arthur drinking his coffee in the breakfast nook. Arthur had decided that he might be able to get used to life at Mapperton house, even sharing it with Eames. His newspaper was always pressed to keep the ink from his hands, his coffee made just as he liked it within five minutes of his waking.

He brushed a crumb of coffee cake off his robe as Eames poured himself a cup from the French press. He was wearing a threadbare t-shirt and pajama pants that were too short, and rode too low on his hips for Arthur’s comfort.

“Why?” asked Arthur. He had a few simple rules, and one of them was: you can only care about your team. Of course, he tried to be honorable in the rest of his life, as honorable as a rifler of minds could be, but that was benign disinterest. Limit the things you care about, and you’ll still get hurt, but at least it will be worth it.

“He’s messing around in dreams,” said Eames.

“We’re not the dream police,” said Arthur. He saw the hurt that flashed through Eames eyes and put his paper down. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “Why?” he asked more kindly. “Tell me.”

“This. Beaminster, Chideock, it’s all the home I have left.” Eames rushed out it with a sort of flippancy, as though he could use the tone of voice to disguise the truth behind the words.

“Then we go. I’ll go,” said Arthur simply.

The Church of Our Lady, Queen of the Martyrs was a beautiful old Catholic Church. They went through the front doors, and halfway down the aisle, Eames genuflected. “Old habits,” he said as he came to his feet. “You’re picturing me in a priest’s collar right now, admit it.”

“Not everyone’s mind is as perverse as yours, Mr. Eames,” said Arthur.

Eames sighed theatrically. “What dull lives they must lead.”

They found Father Shaw in the vicarage, after wandering around in the church for a while.

They introduced themselves. “Mr. Eames,” said Father Shaw. “I have heard stories about you. Forgive me. I’ve a bit of pottering to do. We can talk while I work.”

They exchanged pleasantries while Arthur followed a few paces behind. The soft grass gave way under Arthur’s square-toed oxfords. Father Shaw asked after Eames’s family, and Arthur learned more about Eames in a few minutes than he had in their years of acquaintance and occasional accomplice. Eames had an older sister who also did not use the family name, and their parents had long passed on. Father Shaw’s predecessor had known the two siblings and the cadre of aunts and cousins who passed them along as they grew up.

“What happened to Father Mortimer?” Eames asked.

“He’s been asked to be Headmaster of a school in Essex. He always did like young people, and this area has been growing sparse as folk move to the city.”

They chatted on a bit more, until Eames brought the conversation around to the recent crime. “What can you tell me about Stephen and his sisters?” Eames asked.

“A nasty business, that,” said Father Shaw. “I’m sure Sherlock Holmes will set it right though.” He looked up, at something behind Arthur. “Speaking of the—Sherlock, do you know—?”

“Yes, yes,” said Sherlock, who had just come up the lawn with John, as always, in tow. He waved off introductions. “Did you know that Stephen had a PASIV, a shared dreaming device?” he asked without preamble.

Shaw’s face took on a more serious expression. "Yes, he gave it to me.”

“You?” said Eames. “Why would he give it to you?”

Father Shaw looked around. “Perhaps we should retire to my study,” he said.

Once inside, after he had everyone settled on couches and ottomans, Father Shaw looked each and every one of them in the eyes and said, “I believe dreams are the key to reaching God. I ask that you keep this between yourselves, as it is much frowned upon in the church. I am certain they will come around soon, but for now, I must work quietly.” He took a deep breath.

“Within dreams are the signs and symbols that led early man to first belief. I think that if we just go deep enough, we can find them again. Stephen knew of my interest and generously donated his PASIV to me so I wouldn’t have to use the one in Bristol. Do you know I’ve led ten souls back to Christ through dreams? I can help you. It hurts my soul that someone would use this device for harm.” He patted the silver case almost reverently.

“Well, that was unpleasant,” said Eames once they were outside. “Confused Jungian twaddle dressed up as religion.” He shuddered.

“Decidedly so,” said Sherlock.

“What’s the problem? He’s a priest, isn’t he?” Arthur asked.

“I forget, you’re American,” said Eames. “We British think our priests should be like the rest of us: faintly embarrassed by religion. Anything else is just . . . unsightly.”

Arthur looked at John for support, but John just nodded. “Exactly. Religious enthusiasm is so embarrassing.”

 

***

 

“What do you think?” asked Sherlock when they returned home. He pulled a large metal briefcase from somewhere under his voluminous coat.

“How on earth did you hide that?” John exclaimed.

Sherlock shrugged off John’s astonishment. “I thought it would be good to do some experimenting of our own. I have some theories to explore.”

“Your penchant for larceny never ceases to amaze me,” said John dryly, but with Sherlock grinning at him, he couldn’t help but grin back.

Sherlock opened the case. Within were the leads and the vials of sedative, graded from weakest to strongest. The stronger ones were marked with a red X. “I have to assume that these mean the danger of Limbo is present,” said Sherlock. He took the weakest of the X sedatives, and put it into the machine.

“The dream Eames showed us was benign enough. This should be strong enough that we will get to experience Limbo but not be trapped in it. Then I will have my proof that this was the method used.”

It seemed far-fetched. “We?” John asked. Sherlock was tapping on the veins of his arm with a practiced touch.

“I want you to come with me, John. Without you—I want to make sure I can get back.”

John could not refuse a request like that. They set up each lying on a couch, as they had the day before. “I’ll do it,” said John. “I am a doctor, after all.” He pulled up the sleeve of Sherlock’s jacket, exposing the pale, delicate skin, and the blue veins just below. He slid the tiny needle in.

His own was just as easy.

They fell into dreams again.

He and Sherlock stood overlooking a high cliff. From far below the sound and mist of a mighty cataract rose to them. A sign in German told its name.

“I have dreamed these falls many times,” said Sherlock. “But this is just a dream.”

“How do we get to Limbo?” John asked.

“We die,” said Sherlock. “If the sedative isn’t strong enough, we wake. If it is—”

“We may never wake again.”

Sherlock gave John a look. It was as full of vulnerability as any John had ever seen him wear, the same look that he’d seen at the pool.

John extended his hand, and Sherlock took it without hesitation.

Together, fingers clasped like schoolboys, they jumped into the abyss.

 

***

 

It was only fifteen minutes after Eames and Arthur returned that Father Shaw called Mapperton House to enquire after his missing PASIV.

“Damnit, they’re going into Limbo,” said Eames when he hung up the phone. “He wants to know. To be sure. And to think he tweaked your nose over the stolen car.”

My nose? You’re the one who stole it.”

“There’s no time. We have to get them back,” said Eames. “They’ll never come out of it without help.”

“Maybe not,” said Arthur. He was frantic with worry at the idea of anyone stuck down there, especially amateurs who wouldn’t even know how to use the PASIV if Eames hadn’t shown them, but Eames usually seemed to be a proponent of the theory that you couldn’t save people from themselves, and trying was a good way to get yourself killed. Sherlock and John weren’t from Chideock.

Eames answered hurriedly. “Aside from the fact that anyone deserves better, Mycroft would cheerfully have MI-6 kill anyone he suspected of harming his brother. And if we save them, we may not have to worry about our Adams problem.”

“Fine, let’s go,” said Arthur.

Ariadne met them at the door. “Let me come with you. I’ve been to Limbo before. I can get us out.”

Arthur kissed her on the forehead. “No. If we’re not back tomorrow, get Yusuf to take you out of the country. You should probably leave Europe altogether. Contact Cobb. He’ll help you get the Adamses off your back.”

“Come back,” she said.

Eames drove at breakneck speed over the hilly, one-track roads between Mapperton and the Isle of Portland. When they got there he jumped out of the car without locking it and shouldered the door open.

John and Sherlock lay on the couches, their faces slack with sleep. Arthur and Eames settled themselves on the floor. “Remember it’s a dream,” said Arthur. “Remember your totem.” He fingered the die in his pocket.

Eames reached over and kissed Arthur swiftly over the cold metal of the briefcase. “In case we don’t come back,” he said when it ended, his forehead resting briefly on Arthur’s. Then he bit Arthur’s neck, hard enough that Arthur could feel prickles of blood rising to the surface.

“What the hell was that?” he said, clapping his hand to the wet mark on his skin.

“Does it hurt?” asked Eames. Arthur nodded, frowning at him.

“Good. It will hurt in dreams too. Remember it. Use it to bring us back.”

“Me?”

Eames gave Arthur a sweet smile. “You’re the best, Arthur.”

He put the lead in, a faint sting, and he was dreaming. Eames’s dream, in fact. The same London street, outside the same seamy club. “I’ll shoot you and then myself,” said Eames.

“No thanks,” said Arthur. He shot himself in the head. As he fell, he saw the muzzle flash of Eames’s gun.

 

Part II: Limbo

John was tossed by waves for an eternity. When eternity was over, he washed up on a beach of the same pebbled shingle as Chesil Beach. This water was warm, though, so warm that he could hardly feel it as water, just a gentle rocking in the waves. He wanted to float like that forever.

“I knew you’d turn up,” said Sherlock, his voice carrying to John’s ears, even under the water. He was sitting on the beach, perfectly dry.

“How long have you been here?” John asks.

“Two days. Come see what I’ve been building.”

It seemed perfectly natural to take Sherlock’s hand and wander among the buildings stretching inland. It looked like the London of a hundred years ago, with cobbled streets and gaslights, but empty. “Where are the people?” John asked.

“I see flickers sometimes,” said Sherlock. “But I’m not very good at building people, I’m afraid. Perhaps you’ll do better.”

Sherlock had replicated their flat for them, a house replete with detail on an otherwise featureless street. It still held their piles of books, Sherlock’s violin. John found the couches were similarly sprung, although his bed was far more comfortable than the one far away in Baker Street.

The first day they walked the streets, exploring what Sherlock had built with his perfect memory. “I left out the billboards,” said Sherlock. “And no streetlights, since there are no cars. It’s much more pleasant this way.”

On John’s second day, he discovered that he, too, could build things. He constructed a newspaper shop where he could pick up the Times and the mints he liked. The mints tasted perfect, but the papers were blank.

Weeks of building and exploring passed. This world was a strange one, and yet it seemed it was his world, a whole reality with just him and Sherlock in it. He knew this wasn’t London, however it might wear London’s face. In the London he came from, he couldn’t create whole city blocks with a whim, with stripes of Afghan battle fields running through it, oddly sunbathed rocky spots in the gloom of Sherlock’s London. Sometimes battles raged through them, but more often shadows of soldiers took their rest in the shade of scrubby trees. They played cards and wrote emails home. John saw them only in the distance; when he approached them, they disappeared.

“I’m bored,” said Sherlock when they’d been there for a few months. “There’s no crime here. No puzzles to solve.” He looked up at John from where he sat on the couch. His eyes were very green, and very lost. “I could solve you,” he said.

“Please don’t,” said John.

 

***

 

It was the realest place Arthur had ever been. He washed up on the beach with Eames wet and gasping. He put his hand to his neck. A half pleasurable sting went through his nerves at the touch. There was something he was supposed to remember.

But Eames sat pale and shirtless in the sun, whorls of tattoos snaking over his shoulders. Standing in the water of a new made world, Arthur looked at him with pure longing, undiluted by bitterness and regret. He left his totem with his clothes when they went swimming in that sea of possibilities, and never noticed its loss.

Here was no past and no future, only a gift of endless days. Arthur didn’t waste time in wondering why they had been given him.

 

***

 

Sherlock touched him more here, in this world. A hand on the arm. A touch on his shoulder, where his thumb would find the skin of wrist or neck. John grew to crave those touches. They were the only real people here. It was desperately lonely.

It took John a long time to teach himself how to construct people who would remain when Sherlock questioned them, who would walk through the motions of their own lives, who would populate this city. He made Sherlock’s cadre of homeless first, turning them into Victorian street urchins, since those fit better into the landscape Sherlock had constructed. When they flitted away on one of John’s errant thoughts, at least it was in character.

The adults, the tradesmen, the cabbies, the lawyers, the doctors, those took more time to construct, but John created them all, making endless tweaks based on Sherlock’s criticisms.

Then he set them to murdering one another. At first the murders were easy to solve, taking Sherlock mere minutes of questioning the guilty-faced housewife about the death of her husband, the fish-eyed banker about the dead librarian, the failed writer about the old woman shopkeeper with the cleaved skull.

John wracked his brain, pulling out the plots of every episode of Law and Order, of Dalgleish, of Miss Marple and composing them into mysteries for Sherlock to solve. One time he created a mystery that took Sherlock a full six hours to unravel. That was a good day.

They watched the sun set over the endless ocean from their balcony. Today their apartment was on the thirtieth floor rather than the second. Gulls called in the air. John tossed bread to them, which they caught on the fly.

Below people moved to and fro, as small as ants. “I know you did this for me,” said Sherlock.

John nodded. It was a very obvious thing for Sherlock to be saying. Sherlock leaned over and brushed his lips across John’s cheek, softer than the passing breezes. “Thank you,” he said.

John couldn’t sleep that night. He lay in bed, hand pressed to the shadow of Sherlock’s kiss, wondering how long would they be in this strange place before they became lovers? It wasn’t as odd a thought as it might once have been. Who else was there? Even in a world of real people, no one was more real than Sherlock. And even he, it was becoming clear, had some need for physical contact, especially in this world where all other contact was stripped from him.

 

***

 

Who was he? Arthur didn’t remember, or didn’t want to. He remembered a few things: that he had been a man with a job he enjoyed and did well. That he had enjoyed the precise pleasure of life, the well-made coffee, the soft coolness of morning slippers, the fine crease of a perfectly pressed suit. Here he found other pleasures, less precise but no less perfect. He traced Eames’s tattoos with tongue and fingers under the hazy sun. He constructed beds with silk sheets for them to spend all day in.

Underneath he thought perhaps a part of him could love Eames here because it was only the two of them, because part of him knew it was an unreal cocoon. Here Eames couldn’t be unfaithful to him, because they were the only ones. If either one of them walked away, they would only have to walk around the whole world to come back.

 

***

 

“I remember another London,” said Sherlock, as they lay on the roof of their building, watching the clouds of a spring day go by. At John’s request, Sherlock allowed John to clear the sky of the pea soup fog he usually kept blanketing it in.

“So do I,” said John, his throat tight with longing.

“There were other people there, most of them irritating, but a few were bright. And even some of those who weren’t could be entertaining. Lestrade.”

“Sarah,” said John.

“I don’t remember her,” said Sherlock. “But we’ve been here so long. The other London . . .”

“Must have been a dream.”

For a few days Sherlock was obsessed by the idea that they were the ones in the dream, and that their old world was real. The idea made John queasy. He tried to remember how he’d gotten here, to this city of creation, but couldn’t, finding rather than memory the bone-deep certainty that he had always been here and always would.

Sherlock set out to test his hypothesis with a single-mindedness that terrified John. Sherlock went to extremes to prove his rightness, and John feared what he’d do now.

“I could fling myself from the building and see if I die,” said Sherlock. That thought brought up a kind of existential terror in John at the thought of being here all alone that he couldn’t speak. “I wouldn’t,” said Sherlock, perhaps even attempting to be reassuring. “I’m far too valuable to waste that way.”

And short of killing himself he could come up with no certain check, although he did spend a few unpleasant days pinching John at odd moments to see if he would wake up.

One morning Sherlock set out to walk to the edge of their city, and when he came back a few weeks later, he told John that the shoreline stretched as many miles as he could walk, and the horizon grew no closer. He said he was tired.

 

***

 

“I love you,” said Eames, and here Arthur let himself believe him.

 

***

 

It took the plot of Strangers on a Train to pull Sherlock out of his funk. The mystery occupied him for almost twenty-four hours. John had put his all into this one, crafting detailed backgrounds for his actors. They met on the tube platform, rather than the train, and didn’t even travel in the same direction. He stayed one step ahead of Sherlock, constructing clues, so that he never uncovered the blank canvas that lurked in every unopened file cabinet, behind every closed door.

John was glad that Sherlock’s tastes ran to opera over Hitchcock movies, otherwise he might have gotten it much earlier.

“That was brilliant, John,” he said when he finally figured it out, and kissed John firmly, but not sensually, on the lips.

John blushed, pleased and flustered. “Um, what was that?” he asked.

“What, that? I am fond of you, and I was pleased with you. Was it strange?”

“Yes, it was,” said John. “Not bad strange, though.”

Sherlock clapped him on the shoulder. “Good man.”

John spent the night sleepless again, lips tingling, all too aware of the quiet from the room below, where Sherlock, it seemed, suffered no such disturbances. If he let things go on this way, it would be years before anything more happened between them than an oddly collegial kiss. He supposed he could make a move, but Sherlock had always set the terms and boundaries of their relationship, at least overtly.

He arranged for the next murderer to chase them through a graveyard of boxcars. They stood at odd angles to one another, and echoed footsteps so that they might come from anywhere.

John had modeled this murderer after The Golem, and found himself genuinely terrified at his own creation as he and Sherlock ran between the train cars. He wondered if he could be killed by one of his own constructions. It had happened to Dr. Frankenstein, and this creature owed more to that tale than to any mystery novel.

“Shht,” said Sherlock when John caught up with him. John was winded, but Sherlock’s eyes shone bright, and his hands were steady. “Did you do this, John? This is wonderful.”

“I did,” said John between wheezes. “But I can’t call him off, and the police aren’t coming. We really must kill him.”

“Perfect,” said Sherlock. He stepped behind the boxcar and shot the creature. It groaned when Sherlock’s bullet penetrated its shoulder, and took off after them again.

It gained on them over an open stretch of ground, but then Sherlock saw a narrow passageway between two containers, and they ended up wedged together in the collapsed corner of a corner of one of them, Sherlock curled around John most intimately. The creature turned, its heavy footfalls pacing a circle around their hiding place.

“It’s been too long since we’ve had a good chase. I find this very exciting,” Sherlock whispered.

John shifted slightly and encountered evidence that yes, Sherlock was finding this evening’s proceedings extremely exciting.

“Yes,” said John. “I can feel that.”

“Hush, John. I’m sure I’m not the only one who reacts to adrenaline in that way.”

He wasn’t, John realized, embarrassed. Sherlock should be embarrassed; he was the one with a hard-on pressed up against John’s thigh. John was wondering where they went from here when Sherlock turned and kissed him again; it wasn’t so collegial this time, and although their heads were turned at odd angles, it left John gasping and wanting more.

“There now,” said Sherlock, sounding smug. “I’ve been wanting to that on every chase we’ve ever been on.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked John.

“Well, you were dating Sarah.”

“Sherlock.”

“Truthfully, I had wanted to do something, but hadn’t quite worked out what it was until now. Happy?”

“Is that all you want to do?”

“God, no.”

“Good, then let’s kill this thing and get home to bed.”

Sherlock stepped out of their hiding place and shot the creature between the eyes. John got up and walked around the body. It was starting to blur around the edges already. If John forgot about it, it would disappear entirely by morning. No mess, no smell.

“That was a crack shot. You were holding out on me.”

Sherlock’s eyes sparkled in the moonlight. “I didn’t want the chase to end too quickly.”

It was awkward the first time, but lovely, and all awkwardness was gone the next morning when they woke together, naked and entwined. “Happy?” asked Sherlock when John opened his eyes. The sun was bright again, bathing the room in golden light.

“Yes,” said John.

 

***

 

Arthur woke before Eames one morning, and looked out over the endless ocean. The wave patterns formed themselves in the shapes of the thoughts swimming under the surface of his mind. He looked away. If he looked too long, he would see things he didn’t want to know.

Eames sat up behind him. He gave off heat just like the sun, but his was infinitely more delicious. His stubble tickled Arthur’s shoulder as he nuzzled a spot there, then worked his way up Arthur’s neck.

“That’s odd,” he murmured against skin. “I don’t remember giving you this bruise.” He pressed his fingers over where Arthur’s neck hurt, where it always hurt. “Let me kiss it and make it better.”

 

***

 

The final mystery John gave to Sherlock was a murder he himself committed. Sherlock never solved that one, and eventually they pretended it hadn’t happened. It flattered John that Sherlock had that blind spot for him, and made up for any number of spats and stormy silences over the years.

Sherlock moved on to other puzzles, challenges he set himself, challenges of world-building and architecture, replicating Escher’s impossible stairs for a time, then devising a chess game that could be played on an ever mutating board.

Sherlock still fell into funks, and sometimes would invent odd drug cocktails, sending himself into days of half-consciousness. John did not chide him. He went to his battle fields when that happened, trying time and again to make things come out right, positioning the soldiers from his memory, so that this time, when they brought a bleeding 18-year-old to him, he would not die.

But those times grew rarer as they became used to their world.

They were lovers, and friends. They built castles together, fought and explored, and gave each other puzzles like other lovers give jewels.

They grew middle aged together.

Sherlock grew gray at the temples. His hair receded elegantly, in a widow’s peak, a contrast to the bald spot that grew on the back of John’s head.

John could smooth out his wrinkles when he looked in the mirror, but it took energy, and one day Sherlock told him, peremptorily, as he said much else. “Don’t. I like the wrinkles. You’ve been my John for some time.”

 

***

 

They made love in the soft, hazy light of morning. It was slow this time, Eames rocking endlessly inside him, narrowing Arthur’s world to sensation and vision, no plans, no desires but this, again and forever.

But when it was over, and they lay in the warm breeze, Arthur put his hand to his neck again and felt the sting, deeper than the sensitivity left from their fucking. That, Arthur knew, would fade as soon as he stopped thinking about it. This came back again and again.

“This is Limbo,” said Arthur, sitting up. He found himself clothed again: the three piece suit, buttoned closer and more comforting than any embrace.

“I was wondering when you’d notice,” said Eames. He was still shamelessly, gloriously naked, sheet draped over one thigh, the dark thatch of hair between his legs exposed. Arthur wanted to touch, and forget himself again, but thought wormed its way down into Arthur’s mind.

“You knew? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Eames reached over to touch Arthur’s face. He’d taken to wearing his hair loose, and a lock fell over one eye, terribly alluring. Arthur had spent God knew how long erasing any ability he had to resist, but he tried now. “We’re here for . . .” Arthur began, but he couldn’t remember.

“For Sherlock and John,” said Eames. “I only realized it a three days ago and then—”

“Then you thought you’d keep playing with me.”

Eames pressed his lips together. He looked perfectly composed. “I thought I’d see if you came to it yourself. Would you have believed me then?”

Three days ago they’d flown on wind currents and capricious dream physics, laughing together through the clouds until they came to earth and fucked on a canopied bed Eames had invented for the occasion. “I don’t know,” said Arthur.

“I think they’re over there,” said Eames, gesturing toward a dim patch of city where he and Eames had spent little time. Looking now, Arthur realized that some part of him had assumed it was the creation of the darker parts of his and Eames’s subconscious—the dark streets, the battlefields.

Eames put on a tank top and some rolled up khakis as they walked.

Although the city looked close, it took a long time to get there. “You don’t want this to end,” Arthur accused him.

“Why should I?” Eames asked. “But this isn’t my doing.” Indeed the land that had sprung up between them looked suspiciously like the Tennessee forest where Arthur had spent a happy summer as a camp counselor between high school and college.

He should be able to banish it. One of the earliest lessons he learned in dreams was how to brush aside subconscious wishes, concentrate on the task. A few steps more and the forests disappeared, leaving only beach behind them and city before them.

The concentration of people grew. Arthur looked up and saw two figures in each other’s arms. They were silhouetted against the sky, but they felt different to Arthur, and when he and Eames took the elevator up to that floor, they found Sherlock and John, looking rather older than when he had left them.

“You’re . . . real,” was the first thing John said. “We haven’t . . .”

“You are real,” said Sherlock brusquely. “I can’t identify it, but I’m sure there is some minute difference that makes it obvious. If you’re real, how did you get here? Do you know if this is a dream, or if the life I had before was a dream? Do you—”

John laid a hand on his arm. “Sherlock. They just got here.”

“This is the dream,” said Arthur. “Nothing that happens here is real. You stole a PASIV device and have been sleeping for a quarter of an hour on a hideous orange couch in a cottage in Dorset.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Sherlock. “I don’t steal things.”

“This is a dream. And when you both come to believe that, you can wake up.”

 

***

 

A dream. Suddenly John had no trouble believing it. In no real place would Sherlock have unbent enough for them to become—what, lovers, companions—as the years flowed by? No, Sherlock was married to his work.

“How do you think we wake up?” he asked Sherlock. They put Eames and Arthur in the unused bedroom. At least Sherlock still wanted to share after this revelation. Or the force of habit was too strong to break just yet.

“It seems like magical thinking, but the concept appears to be: if we know we’re in a dream here, we can die and wake up. Or maybe we have to fall. The mechanics of it are obscure.”

The nights they did more than sleep had grown fewer as their age and time together increased, but tonight Sherlock kissed John with an ardor undimmed from their first nights.

“I want you inside me tonight, I think,” he told John, with the frankness that had always astonished John.

“You think?” John murmured, kissing skin as he uncovered it. Sherlock’s hair had gone salty with grey, but his skin was still smooth and white, and shivered at John’s touch. Exquisitely sensitive.

“You’re right, I should be certain,” said Sherlock. And he laid out the ways he was certain, described the sensations that John’s touch inspired, both current and the ones he hoped to experience, until John kissed him to stop the flow of words.

“You’re incorrigible,” said John, moving lower on the bed so he could open Sherlock with fingers and tongue, doing what years together had taught them.

“You’re mine, John Watson,” said Sherlock when John entered him. His eyes were open, and absolutely clear. “Don’t forget that.”

 

***

 

The room was too small for them, Arthur thought. They could have stayed anywhere in the city, or made a castle in the clouds but they stayed there. Without John and Sherlock, Arthur feared that he would lose his attachment to reality again. He could feel them above, and imagined he could even hear the low murmurs of long contentment.

Arthur thought about going out to the living room to sleep on the couch with broken springs. “I’ll just—” he even began.

“Don’t be so bloody predictable,” said Eames, anger twisting the carefully blank expression he’d worn since they met Sherlock and John again.

“What did I do?”

“What didn’t you do, Arthur? You are far too easy to read, and now you’re thinking, ‘How do I get rid of him? How do I end this?’ And not even because you want to, but because you think you should.”

“This isn’t real,” said Arthur.

“You can only love me in a dream where no one else is? What kind of love is that?” Eames ran his hand through his hair. “That’s classy, Arthur. I’m a bit on the side, but not someone you can take home to Mummy and Daddy.”

“They’re dead,” said Arthur.

“So are mine. That’s not the point. I’ve thought you were many things, Arthur, but not cruel.”

“Have you met yourself? It’s the only way. You fall in love with everyone, you make everyone love you. How could you ever just love me?” Arthur realized his hands had formed themselves into fists, and tried to let them fall open.

Eames came in closer to him. His skin looked very pale in the moonlight, the tattoos a deep black that Arthur could fall into. Softly, he said, “That’s a selfish way to go through—”

“I don’t care if it’s selfish. I don’t want to share. Here you were mine. Out there . . .” Arthur gestured out at the dream ocean, where the moon painted the ripples silver. The real world felt close suddenly, claustrophobically so, pressing in on all sides with demands and expectations.

“Out there I’m yours too. You have only to take me.”

There were sunlit days of perfect joy behind them, but what lay between them next felt like something entirely new. Arthur didn’t want to lose himself in the perfect dream of Eames again. He had clothed himself in one of his favorite suits, layer upon layer of tailored cloth, not pleasure this time, but armor.

“What do I do?” he asked Eames.

“Take off the suit, darling,” Eames answered.

“You left me last time,” said Arthur, as Eames nibbled over his shoulders, down his chest, tongued his nipples until Arthur gasped.

“I was going to come back,” said Eames playfully. “If I’d known you’d take it so hard . . .”

“I did.”

Eames looked at him. “I will always come back,” he said, serious now. “I promise. Would I lie to you?”

“Yes.”

“I wasn’t lying then, and I’m not now.” He kissed Arthur’s thighs until he was tingling, aching to be touched for real. “I will always come back,” said Eames again.

“Fuck me,” said Arthur.

Eames fucked him open with his fingers. “Please fuck me,” said Arthur.

“And when we wake?” Eames asked. Eames’s fingers felt huge inside him, but he still wanted more: the touch of Eames’s skin to his, his hips against the backs of Arthur’s thighs.

“That’s not fair,” said Arthur breathlessly. “I’d say anything right now.”

“No you wouldn’t. I know you, Arthur.” He licked a stripe up the underside of Arthur’s cock, and then another and another, until Arthur wanted to scream for it.

“When we wake up, I’m doing this to you, except I’m not going to relent so easily,” said Arthur.

Eames smiled as he pushed himself home. “Yes, you will.”

 

***

 

The next morning, as the sun painted the ocean and sky pink, they jumped. John screamed as he fell, and woke up hoarse with it.

“What happened?” John asked. His muscles felt as though he hadn’t used them in fifty years. But the sun hadn’t even set yet. They’d been under for less than an hour.

He stayed lying down and remembered: the dream world that felt so real, the puzzles he’d built for Sherlock, the moment when Sherlock said he loved him. When he sat up, he knew it would start to fade.

Sherlock rushed to his side. “I am so sorry, John.” He was babbling. “I should never have put you through that.”

“It’s alright, Sherlock.”

The waking had been unpleasant, but the rest, well, Sherlock sat close, closer than John ever recalled him being in the waking world. “What do you remember?” he asked.

John looked him square in the face. His eyes were not the green, inhuman cat’s eyes that John had once thought, but his friend’s eyes, beautiful and worried. “I remember everything,” said John.

“Thank heavens,” said Sherlock, and he covered John’s face with kisses.

“Ahem,” said Arthur. John turned his head to see Eames sitting on the opposite couch, watching them with undisguised interest. Arthur stood over him, with his hand on Eames’s shoulder.

“Yes,” said Eames. “We’ll be going now, and taking this with us.” He patted the case for the PASIV, which sat on the floor next to him, coiled up and closed.

“Theft is a crime,” said Arthur. One of his cheeks dimpled as he turned.

When they were at the door, Eames called out, “Sherlock, if you want to remember us to your brother, that would be most helpful. Tell him we saved you.”

“After you stole from us,” Arthur muttered.

But neither Sherlock nor John heard or answered.

 

***

 

“You know, I had that called,” said Eames.

“I’m not sure they were together before the dream,” said Arthur, but he still dug a five pound note out of his wallet and put it in Eames’s waiting hand.

“You want to go back and ask them? I’ll turn around, if you like.”

“No, I don’t want to see pasty British sex on a polyester carpet,” said Arthur.

“On behalf of my countrymen, I resent that.”

“It would have been pasty.”

“Very,” Eames agreed.

They drove in silence for a while. “I can hear you thinking,” said Arthur. “You’re not pasty, if you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t—”

“You were. You’re the vainest person I’ve ever met.”

“Have you looked in the mirror, darling? There’s no other reason to tailor suits like that.”

“You were sitting there thinking ‘Arthur thinks I’m pasty. I’d better self-tan.’ Or something equally stupid.”

“So you don’t think I’m pasty?”

“I think you’re pale. There’s a difference.” All the difference. Arthur remembered the marks his fingers had left on Eames’s skin in the dream world, and wondered if they would look as beautiful in real life.

Eames kissed him as soon as he pulled the car in. Or not—the word couldn’t do justice to the desperation in the way his breath hitched, the way his mouth found Arthur’s, hungry as though he were trying to drink Arthur in, while Arthur kissed him back just as greedily, until they were both gasping.

“Do you want some food?” asked Eames as they walked up the stairs to the house. “I’m feeling a bit peckish. We could pop in the kitchen and see if any of Yusuf’s leftovers are there.”

“No. Not now,” said Arthur roughly. Eames laughed and kissed him again.

 

***

 

Arthur woke up in Eames’s bed the next morning, feeling deliciously sore. His neck hurt, his lips stung, and parts of him felt like Eames was still inside, a thought that made him lazily contemplate waking Eames for another go.

Instead Mrs. Taylor knocked on the door to tell them that they had a visitor. They found Sherlock and John waiting for them in the library.

“I think I have our man,” said Sherlock.

“You certainly have yours,” said Eames with a grin.

John flushed, but Sherlock continued, unperturbed. “How well do you know Father Shaw?”

Eames shook his head. “He’s new to the area.”

“He said, ‘it hurts my soul that someone would use this for harm,’” said Sherlock. “Did you tell him that I suspected dreaming as the cause?”

“No,” said Eames.

“Three dreamers had connections to the Welds. You and your friends are not suspects for many good reasons that I have already explained. The brother was drinking away his sorrows in a London pub, as the bartender, Evan Hollis, will attest. That leaves the excellent Father Shaw.” He turned abruptly on his heel.

“Why would he do it?” Eames called after him.

Sherlock whirled, eyes blazing with the triumph. “Come with me and I will show you.”

They drove the stolen car to Chideock manor. Sherlock rang the bell and pushed in past the butler who answered.

“Ah hah!” he said, and bounded up the stairs.

“What?” Arthur asked.

“This portrait. Does it put you in mind of anyone?” He stood next to an ornately framed painting of a gentleman in a long white wig. It wasn’t the sort of art Arthur knew much about. He shrugged.

Sherlock curled his arm over the hair, and suddenly the plump, careworn face of Father Shaw jumped out of the picture.

“He’s a Weld?” asked Eames.

“Distantly related, but the next heir after the remaining brother is imprisoned for the murder of his siblings. I made some inquiries and found that the real Father Shaw disappeared under suspicious circumstances in Ireland. This one is an imposter.”

“But how can it be proven?” Arthur asked.

“I see some professional curiosity in your question,” said Sherlock. “It can’t, but I have provided James Weld the details and with the PASIV device that through his brother came into Shaw’s possession. If he is of a mind, I’m sure he can find a way to take his revenge.”

“And if not?”

“I’ve also informed Interpol and church authorities of who and what has situated himself here. One or the other will deal with him. I’ve no further interest in the matter. Perhaps you will let me return your car to London,” said Sherlock. “I think I’ve spent enough time in the country to recover my health.”

“Won’t the police think you’ve stolen it?” Arthur asked.

“They might do—” said John, but Sherlock interrupted him.

“They’d never suspect me of so unimaginative a crime,” said Sherlock.

“Are you going to come after us?” Arthur asked.

“Your crimes are entirely too subjective for me,” Sherlock answered. “I’ve spent all the time in dreams I mean to.” He turned his cool gaze to John. It might have looked impassive to most, but to Arthur it seemed there was passion there.

“Mycroft should be able to fix your problem,” Sherlock added. “But I’d recommend your girl spend some time outside the UK if I were you.”

“What do you think, darling?” Eames asked, after he called a taxi to take them back to Mapperton house. “Shall we find a real beach somewhere?”

“I’ve had enough of beaches for a while.”

“A fine hotel, then, good room service. The Paris opera is having its closing gala soon. Then I can show you off in a suit.”

“Let’s stay here for a while longer,” said Arthur. “I want to see more of your home.”