In the days following the pool incident (as that was how John referred to his most recent brush with death in his mind), he saw Sherlock’s sister no more than half-a-dozen times while running errands around the city. Death always spared him a smile or wink before going on her way. It was a little disconcerting as he was sure no one else could see her.
John didn’t mention it to Sherlock. He wasn’t sure if he was seeing her now simply because they had been properly introduced, or if Death wanted him to know that she was there. Maybe Sherlock had asked her to keep an eye on him? Ever since they’d come home from the hospital, he would become clingy if John had to leave the flat for something, even groceries. Or perhaps Death had freely decided to include John in her familial duties due to him being her brother’s friend.
Sherlock spent the first day home sleeping like the dead, only waking when John forced him to take his pain medication and a bath. If he hadn’t been there, John had no doubt that Sherlock would have got his cast wet without a care. On the second day, still sluggish from the pain killers, he sat in the living room and plucked mindlessly at his violin while John struggled with writer’s block. He really didn’t know how to put into words the way it felt to be wrapped in semtex and used as a human puppet by a psychopath. He eventually gave up and shut the laptop down. There were some things that couldn’t be put into words – that, and the whole pool incident felt painfully private.
The next two days consisted of John and Sherlock arguing over medication as the stubborn detective refused it, claiming the painkillers clouded his thinking. John had begrudgingly agreed and decided to let him win this round. When it came to Sherlock it was best to pick your battles. Lestrade ignored all of Sherlock’s texts and calls, which John knew he was doing to aid Sherlock’s recovery, but he wasn’t the one who had to endure the antics of a bored genius.
On the fourth day of his imposed vacation, Sherlock checked his emails as usual only to abruptly hurry off and bundle-up with a thrilled look on his face.
“And where exactly do you think you’re going?” asked John, using his best doctor voice.
“Out. I have a meeting with an old friend who’s in town, and has some information regarding my pouch.”
“Oh.” John started to anxiously pick at his jumper. They hadn’t addressed this since their return home, and he had begun to think that they never would.
Sherlock paused at the front door and glanced back, practically chomping at the bit.
“Well? I can’t very well leave without my blogger, can I? Though keep in mind that everything you hear must be kept off the record,” he added teasingly.
John smiled and heaved himself out of the armchair, trying not to look too eager. From the amused glint in Sherlock’s eyes, he had failed spectacularly.
“So where are we meeting your friend?”
“A tavern called the White Horse,” said Sherlock before rattling off an address for the cabbie. “That’s always been our rendezvous point.”
It turned out that the place was in Whitechapel. Thankfully Sherlock paid the fair because John hadn’t exactly been making money by staying home and looking after the detective. As they walked down the street he noticed how Sherlock stuck close, occasionally bumping shoulders with John. He was visibly tense and Sherlock’s eyes darted about, quickly assessing and dismissing nearly every person they passed on the street.
“Sherlock, are you-”
“A flow’r for yer lapel, milord?”
John pulled back, startled by the homeless woman who had appeared out of nowhere. She was missing several teeth and looked rather frightening with her large olive green hat. Sherlock accepted the small poppy from her with a gentle smile.
“It’s nice to see you too, Hettie. How have you been?”
“Rough,” she replied. “Cheeky young jackanapes ain’t got a lick of sense!”
“That is one assessment I cannot disagree with.”
“Poppy for the soldier?” asked Hettie, holding out a flower to John.
“Uh, thanks. They’re very pretty.”
Hettie beamed at him and said to Sherlock, “Smart boy. I says ‘e’s a keeper.”
Sherlock agreed and thanked her for the flowers before leading John away from the woman giving away poppies on the street corner. He tucked the poppy into a buttonhole in his coat affectionately.
“Who was that?” asked John as he tried to decide what to do with his.
“Mad Hettie. She’s almost three-hundred years old.” He stopped walking, forcing John to do the same. Sherlock took the poppy from him and tucked it into one of John’s buttonholes and smugly closed his mouth, which had opened in shock. “Why so surprised? I told you that before 1933 I was immortal and you seemed to accept it without any difficulties.”
“I don’t know,” said John, shrugging. “It just seems different somehow. More real, I guess. Is she really mad?”
Sherlock gave him a mysterious grin before scanning the shop signs overhead. His playful disposition disappeared with as his lips twisted into a scowl.
“Ye Olde Ice Cream Shoppe?” he said incredulously. “This is an absolute travesty. All that rich history gone, just to satisfy a society that has no true appreciation for its past.”
John knew he was being lumped in with the rest of the human race as a ‘society’, but was too used to Sherlock over-generalizing to care. The inside of the shop was even more of an eyesore than the sign outside, and mildly busy. The theme appeared to be chrome and plastic with a few fake antique decorations thrown into the mix. Booths lined the walls and he saw that the bar was still intact. A man wearing a decent suit sitting in a booth at the back of the shop waved at them.
Sherlock’s friend was a man who looked to be middle-aged with brown hair and a friendly temperament. He gave John a good, firm handshake.
“Robert Gadling, but you can call me Hob.”
Hob gave Sherlock a warmer handshake with a clap on the back. He eyed the pink cast and laughed, asking, “Do I want to know?”
“Moriarty. We had a little run in a few nights ago, and I decided to end the party with a bang,” said Sherlock wryly.
“Is that all?” asked Hob, eyebrows rising in surprise. “What else have you been up to?”
“This and that,” said Sherlock vaguely. “I’m a consulting detective now. Made the job myself.”
He pulled a business card John had never seen before from his wallet and handed it over. Hob studied it for a moment then chuckled.
“Sherlock Holmes? Where in the hell did you get a name like that?”
“Clio,” he said, and that was where John began to lose the thread of the conversation.
“Isn’t she supposed to take your name? Then again, you don’t have one and I remember her being very willful.”
“We never married – she didn’t want to. My birth certificate lists her as my mother, though.”
“So Mycroft hasn’t forced you to make her an honest woman? Guess he’s still afraid of her, like you.”
“I’m scared for her not of her.” Sherlock leaned forward, brimming with excitement. “Now, onto business, please.”
Hob pulled a folder out of the briefcase sitting next to him in the booth and gave it to Sherlock, careful not to spill any papers. He began to talk as Sherlock started to scan the folder’s contents, more for John’s benefit than the detective’s.
“The last person to have been seen with your pouch with John Constantine. One of my sources saw him with it a couple of years ago although no one’s really sure if he still has it. I’ve also found that he’s distantly related to that bloody Lady Johanna.”
“You should recall that Lady Johanna proved to quite useful after our little run-in,” said Sherlock, not bothering to draw his attention away from the notes.
Hob patted his front shirt pocket and took out a cigarette. When he started smoking without lighting up John realized that it was electric. Hob caught him looking and said, “Incredible, isn’t it? I remember fumbling with matches and rolling my own fags. God, how times have changed…”
“How long have you and Sherlock been meeting here?” asked John.
“We first met in 1389.” Hob took a deep drag on his cigarette, smiling at John’s shocked expression. “I was talking to my mates about how people only die because everyone else does it, and that I was too smart for that. And then this one here,” He blew vapor in Sherlock’s direction, who ignored it with a faint smile. “He walks up and says, ‘Did I hear you say that you had no intention of every dying?’ I told him, ‘Yeah. That’s Right. It’s a mug’s game. I won’t have any part of it.’”
“’Then you must tell me what it’s like,’” said Sherlock, still focused on the task at hand. “’Let us meet here again, Robert Gadling. In this tavern of the White Horse. In a hundred years.’”
“And we have,” finished Hob. “Come hell or high water, I’ve found there’s always something to live for. No matter how many children or lovers you lose, the show’s got to go on. It’s something Dream and I know quite well.”
“You have kids?” John said to Sherlock, astonished. The man just shrugged in response.
“I’ve lived a long life, John. Children tend to happen and proper birth control didn’t exist until recently.”
“How many are alive right now?” asked Hob, as if they were talking of something as casual as the weather.
“Two, although I haven’t seen my oldest son since before the birth of Christ. Listen, Hob, about these-”
“Um, sorry. Is there a Mr. Holmes here?” a young woman called from behind the bar. When Sherlock stood up she held out a phone with a long, curly cord for him to take. “It’s a call for you, sir.”
“Oh, what now?” he huffed before walking off.
“So how long has he been Sherlock Holmes?” asked Hob, distracting John from watching Sherlock answer the phone.
“Honestly? No idea. We only became flatmates a couple of months ago.”
“Hm.” The other man puffed on his cigarette speculatively and John found himself squirming under Hob’s gaze. “Dream told me you had been invalided home from Afghanistan. That’s one war I’m more than happy to stay out of.”
“Yeah. Have you been in many wars?”
“More than a fair share, but I suppose that goes with being immortal. I was knighted, once. People paid for them back then – one could argue that they still do.”
“Sherlock never told me he was a father,” said John, unable to stop thinking about it.
“From what I’ve heard, when it comes to his most recent children he’s nothing more than a sperm donor. After what happened with-”
“We need to go,” said Sherlock abruptly. He looked distressed and slightly harried. “Do you think you could track down Constantine for me, Hob? I’d do it myself but something’s just come up.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Hob, rising halfway out of his seat.
“Orpheus is gone,” he said. “A priest just realized it this morning and they’ve already sent someone to Baker Street. Mycroft’s there also, waiting for us.”
That must have meant something, because Hob nodded and walked out of them shop with them. Once they were outside he put a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder.
“I’ll find Constantine for you. I just wish I knew people in Greece who could help you figure out who took Orpheus.”
“Thank you, but it’s alright. I trust Mycroft will be able to assist me.” A familiar black car appeared and Mycroft’s assistant got out. “Take care of yourself, Hob.”
“Likewise, my friend.” He turned to John as Sherlock started to walk away, and said, “Tell me John, have you had any nightmares since meeting Moriarty?”
“No. No, I haven’t. I hadn’t even noticed...”
“Yeah, there are some upsides to being friends with the Dream Lord.” Hob gave him one last smile before walking away, raising a hand in farewell. “Good luck, doctor.”
“Uh, thanks. I think…”
“Come on, John.” Sherlock grabbed his arm and started to pull him along towards Anthea and the car. “We don’t have all day!”
She caught the eye of every man – and a few women – as she strolled through the airport in her strategically chosen tight dress. The whole point was to look like a WAG who had just returned home from an exotic vacation. The world was her stage and anything else was simply backdrop, the people only extras in the movie of her life. Playing dress-up and make believe had been fun as a child, but working as a professional con artist was the next best thing to sex. Well, let’s be honest – it was a close second.
The customs official resembled a zombie until she stepped up to his desk and gave him her best flirty smile. He was close to middle-age and wore a wedding band (tight on his sausage finger, had definitely put on some weight since tying the knot), but he drank in her beauty like a lost man in the desert. She knew that a night with her would make his day, hell, his lifetime.
Boring. It was always more exciting when they played hard to get.
“Welcome home, Mrs. Adams. Did you have a good trip?”
She winked and, using her finest posh accent, said, “Darling, I don’t think this girl’s ever had so much fun.”
Too easy; the man stuttered and blushed at the implication. And people said Americans were prudes.
Leaning forward, she gave him a better view of her cleavage and the poor fellow almost had a fit on the spot. Soon her papers had been enthusiastically stamped and she was off to pick-up her luggage, a simple rolling suitcase.
A handsome man in a suit carried a small crate marked FRAGILE to her rental car and put it in the passenger seat for her. It was still in pristine condition, a fine example of what sort of quality care money could buy. It had taken some cash and a few well-placed spells to keep airport security from discovery that what the crate held really wasn’t a delicate piece of pottery.
She took the top down, turning the rental car into a convertible and donned a pair of designer shades. After taking a moment to admire her reflection, she barred her teeth in a feral grin.
Irene Adler had arrived in England.