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The Case of the Burglarious Bibliophile

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“The Case of the Burglarious Bibliophile”

by Mackiedockie and AD absolutely

*****

Dr. John Watson carefully hid a smirk with his hand, miming thoughtfulness, as he listened to his flatmate rant at his brother Mycroft Holmes.

“A book? Boring. Unbelievably boring.”  Sherlock bent over and spoke sharply through the open window of a dark town car parked outside 221B Baker Street.  His feet tapped on the pavement, as if he were ready to bolt at any moment. “It’s not even missing! Why waste my talents exploring the appearance of a book, when London is full of real mayhem in need of sorting?”

Moments before, as they exited their flat, an understated luxury car had cut in front of them, rudely interrupting their late afternoon walk.  Recognizing the bulletproof limo, John relaxed, standing at ease to Sherlock’s right (surreptitiously using the Bentley for support.) He anticipated the battle of wills between the secret-level bureaucrat and his brother, fascinated by the undercurrents of a lopsided power dynamic, a long history of suppressed emotional pain and weathered affection.

“This isn’t a crime.  This is a matter for the lost and found clerk,” Sherlock stated with magnificent disdain.

“No, not exactly.  There’s far more to this story to be discovered,”  Mycroft insisted, trying to convey to his mercurial sibling why his case could actually constitute an intriguing puzzle.  “It went missing from the Louvre during World War II and recently turned up in a cupboard at the British Museum.”

John could not stop himself from saying, “And that’s never happened before, an artifact gone missing elsewhere in the world and reappearing at the British Museum?”  The blank looks he received confirmed that using sarcasm on the Holmes brothers was a wasted effort.  John sighed.

“It was found concealed in a tin of prepackaged American tea.  Naturally, it sat undisturbed for decades.  Quite undrinkable, even under rationing.”  Mycroft shuddered delicately and continued, “The book was published in 1801.  The author mysteriously died soon after, and all of the volumes (except this single copy) were systematically bought up and burned.  Remarkably, the censorship campaign can be traced to no known social movement.”

“1801! Even for me that is a bit of a cold case.”  Sherlock’s tone damped down from annoyed to merely impatient.  “Perhaps it is simply a very bad book.”

John asked, “What’s in this book that someone would kill the author and try to destroy all trace of it?”  Both Holmes brothers had answers for that of course.

“That, John, is the leading question,” Mycroft approved, then directed at Sherlock, “The book’s title is Immortal Swords.”  

Sherlock appeared to ignore his brother and instead reproved his flatmate, “John, you are jumping to a premature conclusion that the author was murdered.”

“Depends on how mysteriously he died,” John replied, his expression a mix of irritation and merriment aimed at Sherlock.   “Of course, murder is hardly mysterious to the likes of the Holmes brothers.  Still, after a thorough book burning, one would think the next logical step is to eliminate the book’s perpetrator, the author.  What’s the subject of this banned book anyway, religion?”

“It seems only to be a history of swords and their owners, filled with line portraits of both.”  Mycroft didn’t elaborate, but he didn’t ridicule the theory, either.

“Pity.  Religious tracts tend to be rather more murderous than sword catalogs,” Sherlock dismissed.  

“Swords? Sounds like rather ordinary subject matter for the heart of the Napoleonic wars,” John agreed.  “They practically invented sabre-rattling.”

“The term ‘sabre-rattling’ was coined in 1922, to be precise,” Mycroft said.

“Storing that fact is a shocking waste of mental resources,” Sherlock jeered. “Rather like a sword catalog.  Hardly worth burning.  Why does it warrant your time, much less mine?”

“There must be regular channels for provenance and ownership disputes,” John added in support.  “Academic debates are hardly a matter of life and death.”

“You would be amazed,” Mycroft said, his calculated vagueness making him even more annoying than Sherlock.  Casually he glanced up the street, his eyes narrowing at a certain nondescript Volvo creeping by in the slow and congested traffic.  He glanced at his assistant Anthea, who shook her head once, sharply.

“Two.” she murmured.  “On foot.  Denmark Street.”

Mycroft picked up the conversation thread as if there had been no interruption.  “Let us just say there are parties other than the two museums lurking in the shadows.  Many players watch from the wings upon this stage.”

“And we would have access to the book?” Sherlock’s interest seemed suddenly to be aroused, though John had no idea why.  The Volvo passed without slowing.

“Of course,” Mycroft agreed.  “Time is of the essence.  For certain diplomatic reasons, I cannot claim it myself.  There is no other I trust with this particular errand.”  Mycroft appeared unhappy about the fact, but the truth of it seemed to be confirmed by Mycroft’s implacable demeanor.  

“Aunt Vernet still hasn’t forgiven you for the Fleur de Lis affaire?” Sherlock swooped into the backseat of Mycroft’s sedan, his mood swinging to cheerful amusement.

It was a rather rare occurrence for him to condescend to ride with his brother, so John followed, albeit with reluctance.  Settling next to his flatmate, he gave Sherlock the look, you know there is much he’s not saying.  Sherlock responded with the barest nod, eyes gleaming as he scanned the Baker Street traffic.  

*****

Lurking in plain sight on a corner near the British Museum, Watcher Joe Dawson dug an elbow into Methos’ side.  “Let me get this straight ‒ you and Amanda stole the copy of Immortal Swords from the Louvre in 1940 and left it in the British Museum?  In a tea pantry?”

“In a tea tin.  American tea.  In the basement bomb shelter.  It should have been safe for the ages,” explained the oldest surviving Immortal.  “Or, at worst, consigned to a dustbin without ever being opened.”

“I take it the sarcophagi were occupied?  Why not just squirrel it away in a bank vault?” Joe asked, somewhat scandalized.  “Or in one of your personal libraries?  I know you have at least one hideout in London.”

“Two, actually.”  Joe figured the true number was probably greater, but was long since over expecting Methos to tell him everything.  

Methos continued, “The British Museum is better than a bank vault.  Banks and townhouses were going up in smoke with the Blitz.  But the basement of the British?  Sacrosanct!  Or so I thought.  That was before the Coins and Medals wing went down in flames.  And by then, I had urgent business elsewhere.”

“I’ll bet,” Joe agreed.  “You and half the world.”

“Interesting times, Joe.  I’d planned to retrieve it at some later date, but then seem to have forgotten it.  Another bit of jetsam from a long life.  Now that it’s resurfaced, I’d really like to get the book out of there before they loan it to the British Library and everyone and her aunt read it.”

“Yeah, right,” Joe sighed.  “Okay, let’s get this over with ‒ after all, I’ve gone at least nine whole months without getting arrested for covering up for you.  I’m due,” he sighed.

“That was MacLeod!  You always take the rap for MacLeod.  I only Watched.”

“Amateur,” Joe grumbled.  “I’ll take the lead and stand sentry at the head of the stairs.”  He nodded toward the museum entrance and with his cane gave Methos a friendly tap aside his shoe for emphasis.  “You go channel Amanda,” Joe said.†

They entered separately, Joe straightening his collar and tie, every inch the neatly dressed tourist.  He apologized as he shook a bit of damp from his travel coat, smiling at the museum staff, making a donation, asking questions, getting directions, and generally genially getting underfoot.  Meanwhile, Methos breezed through with his head down over a clipboard.  Joe zigzagged erratically after him, playing the burbling docent-wanna-be, happily speaking to anyone within hearing about form and line and the golden triangle, a harmless, pleasant, totally clueless American tourist.

As Joe cut a genial swath down the hall, Methos, dressed as penny-strapped student researcher in jeans and shapeless trench coat, dodged down a staff-only stairwell.  Joe ensconced himself on a bench near some pleasantly erotic statuary, figuring he might as well have something more educational to watch than a ‘fire exit’ sign.  

Joe had been fine tuning his appreciation of a well marbled marble for between five and ten minutes, when an approaching pair of young men caused his Watcher hackles to rise.  One tilted slightly as a cane took some of his weight, the other paced with tight steps, holding back for his companion with barely concealed impatience.  They both were aiming directly for the staff stairwell.

He palmed his phone and whispered “Cheez it!  Da cops!” and then shook the phone with a puzzled look on his face.  “Honey, I can’t hear you,” he said much more loudly. Using the bench for leverage, he rose to his feet and started down the hallway directly toward the approaching pair, obscuring as much of the corridor behind him as he could manage.  “Honey, slow down, wait, I need to get a better signal.  Must be all this bronze...”

He slowed and shook his cell phone again as he approached, playing the distracted tourist overloaded on art and technology, glancing everywhere but straight ahead.  He subtly altered his track to head for the tall, lanky, impatient young man in the lead.  Joe managed to temporarily crowd everyone to a halt between the wall, his companion with a cane, and his own rambling course.  “Sorry, kid,” he said with an absent air, dodging right to slow him even further, before drawing himself up to nod in proper acknowledgement of his older companion.  “Sir,” he added with an honest tone of respect due another veteran.  

Joe smiled to himself as the first youth glowered at being called ‘kid’ in front of his more mature companion.  His more mature, familiar companion, now that he thought about it.  He very nearly hailed Dr. Watson by name as his taller friend bounced around his delaying block and strode quickly for the corridor.  But Methos had already materialized and was ambling down the hall in the other direction, all innocent academia personified.

The hyperkinetic younger man practically dove down the corridor Methos had just exited.  Joe watched Dr. Watson hover at the entrance, hesitating, staring down the hallway.  At Methos.

“Shit,” Joe muttered to himself, putting some distance between them.  When he was safely out of range, he keyed his phone again.  “Did you get it?”

“There was...a difficulty.  I hid it, though.  Very well.”

“As well as the last time?”  Joe asked skeptically.

“Last time there wasn’t anyone looking for it,” Methos pointed out.

“Someone is now,” Joe said thoughtfully, glancing back down the corridor.  “I’ll meet you at the exit, we’ll see if they are carrying anything, and which way they go.”

“Who?  Police?”

“Worse.  Someone who just recognized you.”

*****

John caught up with Sherlock as the consulting detective entered the room where the found-book was supposed to be stored.  Sherlock flashed the papers Mycroft had provided to a security guard and darted into the cataloging room.  John followed, surveying the cluttered room filled with bookshelves, file cabinets, artifact drawers and project desks.  “What could interest Dr. Adams and...now I remember...his name was Joe... here?” he muttered to himself.

“Mycroft mentioned other players upon the stage.  The question is, how you know them,” Sherlock said sharply, data-starved.

“I know those men from Afghanistan ‒ they were in an advance party for an NGO convoy.  The man with the cane, Joe, caught a stray round and the chap with the clip board was their medic.  I tell you, Sherlock, I saw him dabbing cobwebs into an open wound to slow the blood flow! Barbaric!"

"But fascinating,” Sherlock allowed.  

"And damned if it didn't work.  We were somewhere remote ‒ maybe not quite Afghanistan.  Supplies were dangerously low at this aid station.  It was not much more than tents backed up to an overhanging rockshelter.  The medic was a civilian attached to a Doctors Without..."

*****Afghanistan, 2008

John walked the perimeter of the make-shift mobile charity aid camp at sunset while the light held.  He checked the last sentry posting anchoring the west cliff, and noted a bloodstain and drag marks from the ambush earlier in the day.  The drag marks led to a protected rock overhang.  John ducked under the low entrance, and found a passage that angled right and opened into a small cave, well-sheltered from small arms and random rpgs.  He stopped at the sound of voices, and let his eyes adjust from the Afghan sunset to the dimmer light of a camping lantern.

A civilian with a medic armband was trying to calm the last patient left in triage as he attempted to wriggle away from his ministrations.  John glimpsed fresh blood oozing from the patient’s inner arm above  the elbow where a combat tourniquet had just been removed.  John automatically felt his kit for extra Celox dressings, but his last had gone to pack a chest wound, earlier.

“What the hell is that stuff, pocket lint?” the wounded man protested.

“Shh.  It’s organic.”

“I don’t want to know, do I?”

The medic pragmatically pinned the patient by leaning one elbow on his breastbone and the other on his right forearm to keep him from flailing the wound open further.  “Hold still.  You’ve used up your share of the O negative.  No fair borrowing from the other patients.  Everyone is a pint low.”

John moved closer, eyeing a gray, malleable mass that the medic was apparently applying to the wound.  “May I help?” he offered, indicating the combative patient.

The medic glanced up, and John took a step back as a sidearm suddenly appeared in the patient’s hand.

“Easy, Joe, don’t shoot the nice Captain,” the medic chided, guiding the barrel away to the side.  “I’m pretty sure he’s on our side.”

“We’re supposed to be neutral.  I’m pretty sure that means nobody is on our side,” the patient objected.  “Ow!  What is that gunk?”

“Spiderweb.  It will help the wound close.”

“With a web that big?  What was it, a camel spider?” Joe cast about restlessly, checking the darker corners of the cave suspiciously.  John scuffed the dirt floor and checked the shadows in the corners and under the cot as well.  He wasn’t fond of the giant arachnids, either.

“Nonsense.  Camel spiders don’t spin webs,” the doctor admonished.  “The common house spider is the best, but cave spiders are next best for a coagulant.  Now lie still.”

“Is that wise?” John asked, moving closer.  “I would think it...not antiseptic.”

“The younger generations are so squeamish,” the doctor observed as he finished dabbing some loose, sticky gray strands into the wound, and turned to string a less than ideal suture needle.  “Joe’s survived a lot worse,” he added airily.

Nevertheless, John pulled out an antiseptic and wordlessly started cleaning around the wound.  “What happened to your supplies, Doctor...?”

“Dr. Benjamin Adams, professional vagabond, at your service.  Shelling caused an avalanche, blocked the road between us and the main convoy on the pass.  This is Joe Dawson, nursemaid to a Highland wanderer.”

Despite his evident loss of blood, Dawson managed to smack the doctor hard in the chest with his good hand.  Luckily, he no longer gripped the pistol.

“Oof.  Hold still, or I’ll tell MacLeod,” Dr. Adams warned as he pulled the suture out of harm’s way.  The peculiar threat was apparently fearsome enough to still the patient’s struggles, if not his complaints.

“What, did you steal a knitting needle and run it through a pencil sharpener?  Don’t you have anything smaller?”

“Don’t tell me a big, strapping Marine like you is afraid of this little needle?” Dr. Adams said, his voice low and soothing in contrast to his words.  “And it’s your own fault you’re in this mess.  I told you we should have stayed in Kathmandu.”

“Mac came here,” Joe sulked.  “You should have told him to stay in Kathmandu.”

“Like he listens to either of us,” Adams sighed.  “Or you listen to me,” he added under his breath.  John suppressed a smile, and studied the doctor’s unorthodox but efficient and speedy technique.  

“Where is he?”  Joe tried to edge up onto one elbow to watch the doctor stitch.

“Stop fretting, I’m nearly done.” Adams eased him down, stroking the deep furrow between Joe’s brows, feeling the fever feed the anxiety.  “Mac went back to see what’s delaying the supplies.  He’ll be here when you wake up, with nice, pretty plasters, potions and pills.”  It was less a lie than an embroidered hope, John judged as he silently assisted.

“You’re not going to tell him I followed you guys,” Joe ordered.

“Of course not, Joe,” Dr. Adams said, clearly holding back a sharper retort in front of company.  “I never do.  Get some sleep, and I’ll have you skulking behind your assignment in no time.”

“I’m not sleeping,” Joe objected.  “There’s going to be another attack.”  The patient looked at John, long and hard.  “Just ask him.  He’s not standing down.”

“Hush. Relax.  I’ll take the Watch.”  Dr. Adams met John’s gaze, then moved his fingers to a pressure point behind Joe’s ear.  As the seconds wore on, Joe’s breathing evened out, and his eyelids drooped, dozing, if not truly asleep.

John rose and drew the doctor closer to the entrance, out of earshot, while they both wiped their hands of drying blood.  “You should have evacked him with the others before sunset.”

“I know.  He hid it at first.  He knows he isn’t supposed to be here.  Pride will kill him someday, if the all the wars don’t.”

“He’s a bilateral amputee?  I agree.  He shouldn’t be here.  Things explode.”

“Things explode.  I am fairly sure that nobody is more aware of that than Joe,” Adams agreed distantly, staring out at the red-streaked sky where the sun fell over the Kashmirs.  “None of us should be here.  But we are.”

“Who is Mac?” John questioned, keeping his tone light.  Just a soldier, passing time.

“Just a friend, Captain.”

“You called him ‘his assignment?’  Is Mr. Dawson some sort of journalist?”  John studied the young doctor with a touch of doubt.

“Best freelance writer you never heard of.  And never will.  He ghosts for...well, it’s not my business to tell,” Dr. Adams said modestly.

Nevertheless, John would make it his business to question the journalist later, when he got the chance.  “This MacLeod must be charismatic, to draw you both into the Khyber after him.  Not a...sect leader...I hope.”

“Heaven forfend,”  the doctor denied, not entirely faking a shudder.  “Just an NGO white knight.  Free advice:  avoid him at all costs,” Adams laughed softly.  “Fools gallop, where angels fear to tread.”

*****

“And you saw them here? Just now?”  Sherlock asked.

“You passed them in the corridor,” John told him.  “If memory serves, their names are Joseph Dawson and Dr. Benjamin Adams.”

“Interesting.  Not Mycroft’s usual crop of lurkers,”  Sherlock replied, but his focus was on the middle-aged curator as she frantically searched the stacks.  “The covert American bartender who delayed us is no civilian, yet has more recently come from playing lead guitar on a stage in Paris.  If he returns the way he came, we will find his trail near the Thames.”

“A covert bartender and lead guitarist?  Is there such a thing?  Even among Americans?” John challenged.

“Observe the hands, John.  The callused fingers betray the instrument, the rough hands a close acquaintance with bar sanitizers.  The mud on his Mephisto shoes is Thameside, overlaid by drain works on Denmark Street, where a part-time musician might seek work.”

“But covert?”

“How many musical bartenders did you meet on that tour in Pakistan?”

“Afghanistan,” John growled.  “And he said he was a writer.”

Sherlock sniffed, not deigning to respond.

The curator looked up at the pair with suppressed outrage.  “It’s gone missing!” she said.  “I don’t understand you young lot.  I was quite clear to the cheeky student from the Sorbonne that the book had to be returned to the blue shelf.”

“Here, let us help you look.”  Sherlock flashed her a broad and toothy grin.

“And you are?”

“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.”  With a flourish Sherlock handed over the papers to the frowning curator.  

“Sherlock, that ‘Sorbonne student’ ‒ ”  John whispered.

“Didn’t have the book on him, so he must have hidden it.”

“Are you sure? He had on a trench coat.”

“Yes, John.  With a large broadsword in the lining sheath, but no book.”

John’s eyes widen briefly and he drew an extra breath.  “Oh, well, only a sword, no problem then.”  His stance remembered the soldier.  “I think I should go follow, while you look for that book.”

“No need.  Though I admire your thirst for the chase, John, I’m sure he will be waiting for us.”

“Waiting?”

“To see if we leave with the book.”

“No one is leaving with the book!” The curator protested.

Sherlock pointed at the papers he had handed her, then turned away to begin his search.  “Where would a sword-packing Sorbonne student, who spends his vacation time in free fire zones, and harbors excellent acting skills, hide a book?”

“And why?” John frowned at him.  

“Yes, I know, John, but first I need more data for the ‘why’.”

*****

Joe and Methos rendezvoused on the west side of Bloomsbury Street to wait and watch the tourist-laden museum entrance.  A babble of many languages filtered through the late afternoon air.  The sun would soon be setting, and a ground fog was creeping up the street from the direction of the river.  The international crowd that filled the museum court yard (busily snapping pictures of each other) created a moving screen, partially occluding Joe and Methos’ view of the museum entrance.

“You remember that time I got that little ding in the borderlands?  That Brit unit swooped in to provide security ‒ the guy in the corridor doubled as their medic.  Doctor John Watson.  You should remember him, he was bird dogging you for hours.”

“You remember all that?  You were supposed to be sleeping.”

“Bullet holes give me insomnia.”

“And yet you seem so fond of them,” Methos chastised.

Joe ignored the dig.  “The point is, he recognized you.  That gives them a reference point on one of your alternate IDs.  And Dr. Benjamin Adams isn’t anywhere near London.”

“I didn’t get a clear look at your bird dog in the corridor.  But the tall one reminded me of a druid I dated once.”  Methos kept a sharp eye on the museum entrance.

“Only once?”

“Keep your friends close, and your sacrificial victims closer,” Methos said philosophically.

“Nevermind.  I don’t want to know,” Joe headed off the reminiscence.  “I’ve never laid eyes on the taller guy before, but Watson was Special Recon. That can’t be good.”

“I’m supposed to be the one with the undying memory.  How did you find out his name?”

“He told me in the cave.  When he was checking out your stitches, I introduced myself,” Joe grinned.  “Old Watcher trick.  Now ‒ we follow them and find their lair?”

“Speaking of old Watcher tricks.”  Methos considered.  “I take first shift.  You hail a taxi, and we tag team.  If they don’t find the book, they’ll come after us.”

“And if they do, we go after them.  Either way, you get the tall one, he’s faster.”

“Cuter, too.”

“You start double-timing Mac with a doppelganger of one of your old flames, I’m telling,” Joe warned.  “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Telling Mac?  He’d just invite the kid over for tea and sympathy,” Methos boasted with an evil grin.  “And turn down the bed and put out extra towels.”

Joe winced, then objected, “Hell, Mac puts out towels for everyone.  Even me.”

“Precisely my point.”

“But I’m not the reincarnation of one of your old flings.”  Joe’s quelling gaze bounced off Methos with no visible effect.

“Sez you.”

Joe managed to keep a straight face for all of two seconds before cracking up. rather defeating their attempt to blend invisibly into the crowd.  “Hey, that could take care of my Christmas shopping for Mac this year.  What do you think, will a dozen new towels cover the traffic?”

Methos considered the question seriously.  “It’s a good start.”

*****

“An audacious man,” John commented. “He didn’t act like a thief.”

“Exactly!” Sherlock exclaimed then dashed to the curator’s desk and began sorting through the accumulated clutter of catalogs and museum memos, while the curator threw a minor conniption at the detective’s invasion of her personal office space. Within moments he was checking the inside of a book wrapped with a dust cover that claimed it was a text on Carbon-14 Dating. Sherlock removed the dust cover with a flourish to reveal the missing tome, Immortal Swords, perfuming the air with the scent of old paper. The consulting detective flashed a genuine smile at John then spared a bland glance at the curator as he headed toward the door with the book.

John nodded. “In plain sight.”

“How on earth did that get there!” The curator looked puzzled and outraged at the same time, intercepting them and laying a firm hand on the book before they could escape. “Be careful! This is over two hundred years old!”

“Don’t be silly, it was practically printed yesterday. It doesn’t belong amongst the Elgins,” Sherlock complained. It was left to John to patiently deal with Mycroft’s permissions.

The curator insisted on ID and a signature on the paperwork for the book, which John rapidly supplied, but he deflected her attempts to extract more information on the sudden flurry of interest and activity surrounding what on the surface appeared a mundane book. She frowned at his left handed smear and attempted a last protest (then sighed in resignation) as John went dashing off after Sherlock.

He tucked his cane close to his body, no longer feeling the need of its support. He had utilized the cane frequently since the pool debacle. Perhaps he was developing psychosomatic arthritis, which responded well to a good jolt of adrenaline. If he remained Sherlock’s companion for much longer, he’d have enough data on the effects of adrenaline for an article in the Lancet.

Before leaving the museum they detoured to the gift shop where they purchased two book bags plus a London guide book of the approximate size as Immortal Swords.

Upon emerging from the museum Sherlock charged north up Gower Street, while John walked a short distance south on Bloomsbury, both with a book bag slung over a shoulder. John recognized the distinctive features of the ‘Sorbonne student’ as the lean man ghosted by in the direction Sherlock had gone. He watched them disappear into the crowd of museum goers, wishing to follow when suddenly he sensed he was being watched. He turned to find a quite uncovert American guitar player standing directly behind him on the busy pavement. There was his shot of adrenaline. He felt better already.

“Dr. Watson! I thought I recognized you! Can I buy you a beer?”

“Mr. Dawson isn’t it? How about a cup of tea instead?”

“Call me Joe. That’d be fine as long as mine is coffee.”

“Somehow, you don’t strike me as a coffee snob?” John asked as he stepped toward a storefront out of the flow of the mass of international tourists making their way toward the museum.

“Hell no, plain black will do just fine.” Joe waited, apparently quite happy to let him take the lead. Still, John noticed how Joe’s eyes openly lingered on the book bag weighing against his hip before meeting his gaze.

John studied the American equally closely, maintaining eye contact while evaluating him, tuning out the hubbub around them on the pavement. The furtive nature of this meeting coupled with the worry he felt for Sherlock irritated John to the point of casting aside this cat and mouse game and asking plainly, “I don’t suppose we should go after them? Keep them from causing an injury?”

A moment of surprise showed on Dawson’s face, then he nodded at John. “Well you might keep up, doctor, but I’m afraid my running days are over. You worried about ‒ ?” He let the question trail for John to supply the name.

“Sherlock Holmes. He’s a consulting detective. Not really worried. Dr. Adams seemed like a peaceful sort at the aid station in Afghanistan.” Though John couldn’t help wondering about the sword Sherlock claimed Adams was packing.

“Mostly peaceful,” Joe confirmed. “But of course, looks can be deceiving.”

John nodded. “Yes they can.”

“ ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ Familiar name...Holmes.” Joe looked thoughtful.

“Really? Oh, speaking of coffee, there’s a little place nearby on Russel Street.” So John led that direction, matching Joe’s pace as they walked a short distance west to a small cafe where they were greeted by a middle aged Portuguese couple and their daughter. The cafe had a wonderful aroma of freshly ground coffee beans and spicy brewed teas. They ordered their caffeine at the counter and settled into a booth. John laid his book bag and his cane on the seat close to hand.

After a polite pause to enjoy their respective stimulants, Joe put down his cup, glanced down at Watson’s cane, and locked gazes with his erstwhile host. “Looks like your tour got a little sportier after we left.”

John grimaced at Joe’s bluntness and thought, Americans!

Joe grinned, reading his expression, if not his thoughts. “I’ve learned over the years, being proper is overrated.” Joe rapped his knuckles against one of his prosthetic legs, sighed, then nodded toward John’s cane. “Bad?”

John glanced away, then dragged his gaze back to Joe’s cane hanging on the back of his chair. It had seen considerably more wear than his own. “Not bad. Not by your standards,” he said honestly. “Phantom pain.”

Joe lost his grin. “Yeah. Bad. It sucks, doesn’t it?”

John felt his face warming. “It is...inconvenient.”

Brits,” Joe said, needling him gently, before properly returning to his coffee.

‘Well,” John began, paused for a sip, contemplating his approach. “Why does Dr. Adams want the book?” This earned John a sharp, weighing gaze.

Apparently, he passed muster, because Joe sighed and leaned back, to respond with refreshing directness. “From what I understand, it’s not that he wants the book, particularly. It’s that he wants it to be safe, and he doesn’t want certain people to read it. He should have just destroyed it years ago when he had the chance. There could be...consequences...if it’s contents were revealed.”

John picked at a piece of the puzzle. “He knew that it was hidden in the British Museum?” He added with a smirk, “Years before he was born? Under that vile Yank tea?”

“Hey, I wouldn’t insult your Marmite. At least, not out loud,” Joe pointed out, delaying. “But that’s Ben for you. Some families keep some pretty strange secrets. And he has a thing about old books. Hates to see them destroyed. Even books that could be inconvenient.”

“What on earth could be in a book from 1801 that would be inconvenient to Dr. Adams today? Or anyone else, for that matter?”

“Don’t know. But I’ve read the provenance papers, and his claim looks good,” Joe replied, patting his breast pocket. “Maybe one of his ancestors was indiscreet. Why don’t we take a look at it and see?” His eyes gleamed with honest curiosity and more than a touch of mischief.

John smiled, rolling an idea around in his head. “Why not?” But his hand halted on the way to his bag. “But not here in the open. Somewhere secure. Back at my flat?” He could steal a march on Sherlock, bringing in both book and book thief’s accomplice.

Joe paused, apparently considering the suggestion. “That’s trusting of you. You’re not afraid that I might rob you?”

John gave him a dangerous sort of grin. “I’m really not as mild mannered or peace loving as I appear. Any more than I suspect you are. However, if you were to do anything untoward, I believe that Sherlock and Mycroft would express their objections. And I do own a service revolver.”

“Mycroft...Holmes?” Joe sat back, his coffee cup rattling in it’s saucer. He quickly scanned the other customers, and the nearest parked cars for curious eyes.

John was surprised to see the older veteran’s face blanch when he caught sight of a black Bentley. “Are you all right?”

“No. We need to get out of here. Now.”

“But I haven’t finished my tea,” John said, curious at Dawson’s extreme reaction.

Joe patted a familiar hard shape in the side pocket of his coat. “Unless you want to compare calibers, I suggest we pay the bill and depart.”

*****

Sherlock was confident that John could deal with the musician, even though he was armed. Had he warned John about the revolver? Surely John must have observed. The man was American, after all, it was practically de rigueur.

His plan to lead the other man, the ‘Sorbonne student,’ away from John seemed to have worked. He continued his dash toward Regent’s Park, while evaluating the risk of confronting his sword bearing pursuer. The likelihood of physical danger versus the quantity and quality of information to be obtained from allowing the man to intercept him, did not seem so great at this juncture of the chase despite the fact that Sherlock was weaponless.

Once inside the boundary of the park, his stalker increased the distance between them along Avenue Gardens, and by the time Sherlock passed St. John’s Lodge he seemed to have out distanced the man. This would not do. Despite the man’s outward appearance as a library dwelling scholar, Sherlock had observed that he moved like a long distance runner and should have had no problem following. Sherlock retraced his steps until he found the man sitting on a bench. Sherlock approached, frowning at his opponent’s failure to pursue. The man sprawled on the bench, as if without a care, not even breathing hard. Sherlock stopped at the opposite edge of the park bench, and tilted his head in study of the man.

They appeared to be about the same age and he was quite as slender as Sherlock, but with a sharper face the like of which might appear in profile on an old Roman coin. And then he smiled, his face a confusing mesh of innocence and danger. Sherlock frowned.

“You stopped chasing me.”

“I don’t do the park at dusk.”

“Phobia?”

His failed stalker replied with a certain unnecessary jolliness, “You might say that.”

“I didn’t state it as fact, I asked. It was a question.”

“You’re very precise.”

“Thank you,” Sherlock said, but without any expression of pleasure.

“Disappointed? That’s a question.”

“Yes.”

“Sorry, I got tired. Can’t chase you all night.”

“A lie.”

“Very good.” The man smiled. “What you’d really like is for me to dash off so you could chase me. Adrenaline junkie.”

Sherlock suppressed a smile, and finally sat down at the opposite end of the bench. Both of them looking south instead of at each other. “And I had such high hopes for this case. I should have never trusted Mycroft.”

“Mycroft? Holmes? I should say not,” Adam said sharply. “You should have kept the book instead of giving it to your companion, I might have chased you a bit longer, or faster. Dr. Watson and my good buddy Joe will have the whole adventure wrapped up before you get a peek at the book.”

Sherlock huffed. “You are not a very satisfactory opponent.”

“Sorry, kid. Aren’t you going to ask me how I knew?”

“No need,” Sherlock replied with the wave of a hand. “You deduced that I ran toward the park to lead you away from my friend with the real copy ofImmortal Swords. Furthermore, you realized I was unlikely to risk taking the real book of interest into the park where you, or a confederate, could have found the privacy to steal it from me. Actually, my main goal in leading you on a chase was finding a chance to talk with you.”

“Then you’ve won. We’re talking.”

Sherlock turned to watch the man’s face searching for tells, eye dilation, sweating, tics, and met the same evaluating gaze from his opponent. Maybe not so unsatisfying after all.

He gave the man his broadest, most dependably disturbing smile and reached out with his hand, “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective.”

“Aw, Mycroft’s younger, prettier brother!” The man took his hand: palm dry, grip firm, smile genuine, “Adam Pierson, vagabond.”

Sherlock continued to hold the hand, counting his pulse. “Not Benjamin Adams?” The name John had remembered.

“Not today.” Sherlock finally dropped the hand realizing the man wasn’t pulling away, but was staring in apparent fascination.

Then suddenly Adam broke their shared evaluation, looking around into the dusk for something he seemed to have heard. “I need to go now.” Adam stood and looked north, deeper into the park. “Maybe I’ll catch you later.”

Sherlock watched in the direction where Adam was staring. Suddenly, before Adam could move forward, they were both blocked from retreat by a man with a gun rushing in from the west. “Another American?” Sherlock complained.

“The gun is often diagnostic,” Adam glanced at the gunman doubtfully. “Reminds me of the last time I was in New York.”

“But the trainers are definitive,” Sherlock sniffed as he peered into the dimming light and revised his conclusion. “Isle of Man, not Manhattan.”

“If you say so,” Adam shrugged, allowing the point, but concentrated on another man walking more slowly toward him. “Hunting with a mortal, now? Not very sporting, Albert,” Adam said to the tall red haired man who emerged from the park shadows.

He also wore an overcoat. Sherlock observed the shape of a hidden sword.

“My man will take care of your man. You’ve grown a reputation for running with mortals yourself,” Albert replied. “I just wanted to make sure you face me this time.”

“Sherlock, tell Albert how long we have known each other.”

“We exchanged names approximately two minutes and 14 seconds ago.”

“A new friend for the good Doctor Adams to protect, then.”

“Actually, I’m really not that good,” Adam said as he captured Sherlock’s attention with a steady gaze. “Skillful perhaps, but goodness has nothing to do with it.” Sherlock realised that the look directed at him was full of meaning, and if it had been John sending him facial data, Sherlock would have stood a chance to interpret the meaning, but this man’s visage remained an interesting mystery.

The thug waved his gun forcing them deeper into the park. “Hurry along before we lose all the light,” Albert ordered.

“We’re going to disturb the lions,” Adam said.

Sherlock frowned, the zoo was located at the northeast corner of the park. He wondered what level of disturbance Adam and Albert planned.

The four of them reached a copse of trees located midway between the zoo and the Winfield House, and entered the shielding wood. There was a cottage-sized opening within the grove where they all stopped and stared at each other in momentary silence. The accomplice still held a gun on Sherlock when Adam and Albert pulled out their swords and set on one another with obvious ill intent.

“You’re going to duel! Fascinating.” Sherlock attempted to take a step toward the fighters.

“Stay still or you’ll be a bloody corpse!” Albert’s man demanded. He kept his gun steady and pointed at Sherlock. “Don’t interfere, and maybe nobody will kill you.”

“Definitely not American after all. Just a common imitation,” Sherlock stated, confirming the underlying Manx accent. “But the death threat? Overkill. Boring.”

*****

Joe hustled them into the second cab in the rank, despite the glare they received from the first cabbie. “It’s getting dark, maybe we’ll lose them in the traffic.”

“So you are a covert operative? I thought Sherlock was over-extending his logic. CIA?”

“Christ, no. I’m a...bookrunner. A book scout,” Joe lied ‒ but only a little bit. He had been a scout for Shakespeare and Company, back in the day, among a great many other more nefarious things. “Getting a line on this book ‒ it’s like getting an autographed first edition of Ulysses. Which, believe me, is a glorious thing to behold.”

Joe paused, looking thoughtful for a moment before he continued, “I’ve heard a bit about Mycroft Holmes. He’s one of those formidable players hidden in the ranks that you’re better off not crossing paths with. If he took the notion, he could freeze my passport all over Europe with a wave of his hand.” If the rumors from the Watcher hierarchy were correct, Mycroft could do far worse than that, and had, to some careless Watchers who had troubled his webs. Joe had no intention of following their example.

John frowned. “Mycroft Holmes isn’t a name I’d expect to be bandied about in book groups. Sherlock said you were a bartender and a musician.”

“Hell, as old as I am, I’ve had a dozen jobs.” Joe relaxed a bit as the traffic closed around them. “Been fired from a dozen more,” he added, either lying or boasting, he wasn’t quite sure himself. “I guarantee that when I left the Marines, government work was the furthest thing from my mind. But you work for Mycroft? Talk about covert...SAS?”

John’s laugh was brief and mirthless. He shook his head. “No. Sherlock takes care of occasional commissions for him.”

“And you take care of occasional commissions for Sherlock?” Joe asked dryly, glancing at the bag containing the book, carefully ignoring the touch of red rising in the Doctor’s cheeks.

“He’s ‒ my friend.”

Joe nodded. “I hear you.” He checked their backtrail again, squinting against the falling darkness and the bright headlights, but saw nothing but commuters and traffic cameras. “How far to your flat? It would be nice to settle this peaceably.”

John nodded, his jaw tight. “Not far to Baker Street. You can call your friend, and I’ll call mine,” he said, making no promises.

“You can show me yours, and I’ll show you mine,” Joe agreed, a merry glint in his eye.

*****

Sherlock, having taken advantage of the distraction provided by the two swordsmen, disabled the unfortunate thug, swinging the solid weight of the guidebook in it’s bag as a satisfactory flail and significantly heightening his vocal range. Plucking the gun, a dull but serviceable Glock, from the miscreant’s now slack fingers, he traded the book bag for his new toy. Engrossed by the violent blade work, he allowed Albert’s man to creep away into the growing darkness. He concentrated on the fight, acutely enthralled.

Belatedly, Sherlock berated himself for not having the foresight to bring a torch. It
seemed that the combatants would soon need to call a halt to their struggle of thrust, parry and riposte in which they so vigorously attempted to destroy each other, as the light surrendered to the evening. Vicious wounds were inflicted on both sides, yet as blood crazed men they continued to punish each other.

Finally, Adam stumbled, oddly and awkwardly, it seemed to Sherlock, and Albert raised his sword for a great blow. It appeared his new acquaintance would perish in this battle, and Sherlock seriously considered interceding with the weapon now in his possession. He calculated the likelihood of his inconsistent marksmanship having the desired effect. His findings were that a wall was a far more cooperative target than two struggling combatants, and judged that there were too many variables ‒ including the second short sword that Adam suddenly pulled from behind his back and used to disable and disarm Albert. Adam stood tall and with a merciless backhand sundered the head from the body and so the life from Albert.

Swords! Sherlock saw Adam fall exhausted to his knees. He pointed at Sherlock, "Run! Get back!" He shouted. An electric tendril reached from the body toward Adam. Book! Sherlock quickly stepped back from the clearing where the swordsmen had been fighting. In his peripheral vision he caught actinic light and movement. Under the trees, Sherlock turned back to watch as lightning enveloped Adam, seeming to electrocute the man. A stream of electricity continued to flow from the corpse to Adam’s body in an eldritch reversal of the animation of the Frankenstein monster. Energy? From the dead? The book! Immortal Swords!

Adam jerked like a ragdoll, each bolt of light shaking him down. As the strikes diminished, Sherlock walked back into the circle of violence, needing to understand. This man, Adam, he should be dead. Electrocuted. He was not. Swaying on his hands and knees, producing sounds of despair, muttering, "Too old for this!" But very much alive. Blood on clothes. No welling wound.

"Keep your distance, Sherlock.”

"Why? Will you cut off my head too?" Sherlock began pacing, waving the gun recklessly.

"No, not that, but I might hurt you." Adam climbed to his feet, looking demolished, hardly threatening. "Stop that, Sherlock! That's no way to handle a gun."

Sherlock pointed the gun at Adam. "Is this better?"

"Much." Adam tucked his bloodied sword back in his coat and stumbled off along the path. "Let's get the hell out of here, before the American ambassador starts complaining about the light show in the park to your brother."

Sherlock nodded his agreement, quite in favor of leaving before the authorities arrived. He knew that the telling of this sort of tale, no matter how true, would likely result in his being held for psych evaluation. Again. That was a nuisance he would rather avoid tonight.

They stole away back the direction they'd come.

"Why did you say you would hurt me? Are you electrified now?"

"No. Sometimes after the ‒ aftermath ‒ there's a tendency to take a shiny thing, if it's there handy."

"Take a shiny thing?" Sherlock required the whole of eleven seconds to realize he was the shiny thing. "Oh. You’re aroused. By the combat. Physiological response. Oh. No. It’s not ‒ I don't do that." His own raw physiologic reaction to the spectacle was slowing his reasoning time.

"No?" They were now a good hundred meters from the trees. “You don’t?” Adam stopped, catching his breath, head bent with hands on his thighs for a moment, then straightened and sighed. “Never?”

Sherlock studied him closely as if he were watching a magical creature dropped into modern London. Adam grinned, shook his head then grabbed the lapels of Sherlock's coat, pulling him close. "Then a chaste kiss." And Adam kissed him. It was not chaste, but it was not long either. Short, demanding, sensual. Then over. Adam released him and sighed deeply as if the kiss had taken all his energy, then he resumed walking out of the park. As if he’d been out for a mere...walk in the park.

In three, slightly accelerated heart beats Sherlock resumed walking too, following silently, brain sorting data.

When they reached the Outer Circle of the park, Adam said, "You haven't asked me a question in almost 30 seconds." His voice sounded tired.

"Processing."

"Smart man. You should do something about that adrenaline addiction though."

"You think you are immortal. You aren’t afraid of a gun. 'Too old' you said. You are old enough that you can slip from one job to another to another, having mastered many skills over an extended period of time, despite your young appearance. And you involuntarily lock in ritualized mortal combat with others that share your beliefs. That would explain several old myths. Not to mention a number of unsolved homicides involving headless cadavers through the centuries."

"Very good, Sherlock, very smart. Except that there is really no such thing as immortal. I’m just very hard to kill."

"Yes, obviously. What was that ‒ ah ‒ light show?”

“Some would say nirvana, I say hell on Earth.”

Sherlock nodded, perceiving that the man’s life could be hellishly long, lonely, boring, and punctuated with sudden unprovoked violence. “I am glad I’m not like you."

"More than smart, youngster, you’re a genius."

“Are you a genius too?”

“Nope. Just a very tired guy.”

*****

Joe hesitated when they came to the steps leading to John and Sherlock’s flat, eyeing the stairs like an old enemy. “Why don’t you go up and find us something stronger than tea, and I’ll be up in a flash,” he said with an encouraging grin.

“Sorry,” John said contritely.

“Hey, you didn’t build ‘em,” Joe shrugged.

“I do have beer, if that helps,” Allowing Joe his space, John climbed the steps a bit less briskly than he started.

“It never hurts, in my experience,” Joe allowed. “Guinness?”

“Continental. My flat mate has esoteric tastes.”

“I think I can manage to choke it down, just to be sociable,“ Joe said with teasing martyrdom.

“And I’ll see if Mrs. Hudson has any of that Marmite left,” John threatened good-naturedly in return.

As John disappeared up the stairs, Joe shamelessly exploited the opportunity, and quickly pulled out his phone and speed-dialed Methos. He quietly cursed like the Marine he’d once been when it went to voicemail. “221B Baker Street, one flight up, negotiating for the book.” He snapped the phone shut, and did his damnedest to double-time up the seventeen steps.

As he entered the flat, he caught John deactivating his own phone even while surveying the disordered flat with dismay. “Apparently your buddy is having as much fun as mine. No answer either?”

“Sherlock rarely answers when he’s on a case,” John admitted. “And your...buddy?”

“He’s more of a ‘don’t call me, and I won’t call you’ kind of correspondent. But he’ll hear the sound of a beer cracked open from three counties away.”

“Shall we experiment?” John offered. He carefully opened the refrigerator as if he were expecting something to jump out at him, then appeared relieved that it had not. He offered his guest a choice of either a dark Belgian or a light French lager, and seemed surprised when Joe took the dark.

“Adam says there are more vitamins,” Joe said with a smile.

“He’s a very strange doctor,” John remarked, as he moved around the room randomly moving objects in an apparent attempt to straighten up. “How is your shoulder?”

“Good as new,” Joe shrugged. “It was just a little bitty hole, nothing to write home about.” Passing by the couch, Joe settled at the kitchen table. Unbuttoning his coat, he reached into an inside pocket and drew out a fat envelope. “Provenance,” he said shortly. “Adam Pierson inherited the book legitimately from his paternal grandfather.”

John picked up his bag and settled across the table. “Adam Pierson? Not Benjamin Adams. A different name for each country? Papers can be forged. If they are legitimate, why steal the book in the first place?”

Joe leaned back, a pained expression on his face. “Good question. I think Adam wanted to avoid the fuss of a custody dispute. Though I’d like to point out, he didn’t actually steal anything.”

“And you? You’re carrying the papers. That argues a vested interest.”

Joe nodded slowly, not denying it. “He’s my friend,” he countered quietly. “Which reminds me... ,” he reached into his pocket and drew out his gun, slowing his movements when John tensed. Carefully, he popped the ammunition clip out, and slid it across the table. “You keep this until we’re done.” Pushing the empty gun well to the side, he added, “Friends don’t need extra persuasion to get together and talk. I never thanked you properly for the cover you laid down for our aid convoy. You saved a lot of people that day, not just my sorry hide.”

“I suspect you’d have done the same for me,” John said diffidently.

“I’d have been honored,” Joe said without embroidery.

John pulled out the the two-century-old tome from the book bag and placed it on the table where they could examine it together. “Careful. The curator mentioned it might be fragile.”

“It’s well sewn, and the spine is solid. Good craftsmanship,” Joe observed, as he ran his fingers over the cover, dry and pebbled, but the gilt lettering still shone. It had that ancient leatherbound book aroma that Joe loved. He turned the pages gently, and they both admired the clean, sharp illustrations.

“Nice drawings. Men and their swords, seems quaint. What is the mystery?” John mused. “And is that a woman? With that glorified hay scythe?”

‘A precursor to the battle bardiche ‒ probably reforged from a scythe, yes,” Joe answered distractedly.

“Nasty.”

“You’ve no idea. You wouldn’t want to meet that lass in a dark alley.”

“You sound like you’ve had some personal experience in that vein.”

“I’ve been in a lot of dark alleys,” Joe confessed with a half smile.

“Or you’re older than you look.”

“Bite your tongue, whippersnapper.”

Joe grew silent when he recognized more of the Immortals from Watcher chronicles. The majority had lost their head since the book had been published. He shook his head sadly when he caught a glimpse of Fitz’s merry profile in one of the woodcuts. And there was a quite dashing depiction of Ramirez, based on the portrait in a very private museum in Toledo. He did place a few swordsmen that were still around, though most of those had changed their name and appearance enough that the book would not be harmful to them. Thankfully there seemed to be no illustrations of Methos.

Even better, there was no obvious place where the author explained what he meant by Immortal or had announced to the world, “Hey, these guys live forever, unless you remove their heads!”

And then he came to the illustration of one Duncan MacLeod. Artfully flanking his full figured portrait were a detailed depiction of one of his early Scottish blades, and his current signature katana. Joe sucked in a breath and swiftly turned the page. Damn. Four centuries old and their buddy had yet to change his name. Maybe this was what Methos was so tetchy about.

The likeness had been eery, and eerily familiar ‒ it strongly reminded Joe of one of the woodcuts in Duncan’s own chronicle from around the time of the French Revolution. Joe paged back, and stared for a few seconds at the tumbling curling hair, the intricacy of the lace cuffs, the curve of his devil-may-care smile. It was, in fact, nearly line for line the same. The author had copied Watcher Chronicles for source material. This was a problem.

“Hey, don’t bogart that book,” John reminded him in an affected American accent, edging around the table to look over his shoulder, clearly curious.

“Just a little longer, bloke,” Joe grinned, or tried to, hoping his host had only glimpsed Duncan’s profile.

He paged further, and frowned at a gathering of monks, clustering around Darius. One hooded figure, face hid in shadow, rested his hand on the pommel of a very familiar broadsword. In the margin, neat calligraphy listed dates and heads taken going back to...”Shit.” Methos’ sword was worse than a fingerprint, in this context. He paged on, quickly. More swords. There was a Ramirez forged blade. And another. Connor’s dragon-headed katana as well, for Watcher’s sake. And dates, and opponents, and glowing reviews. Joe flipped to the back page, and ran his fingers over a blackened Watcher symbol deeply embossed on the inside leather binding.

Joe sighed. The author had penned an Immortal compendium, as controversial then as the Watcher’s computerized database was in the 1990’s. And he’d certainly done it without sanction from the Watcher bigwigs. This is what got him eliminated and the book destroyed. Even today its existence embodied the constant potential for exposure faced by Immortals.

Transfixed by the Watcher symbol he started, but didn’t draw away when John gently grasped his right wrist and turned it over, revealing a matching tattoo graved into the sensitive skin of his wrist. “That must have been painful.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”

*****

When he arrived at 221B Baker Street, in his other Bentley, Mycroft used the key Mrs. Hudson had given him (in the event of an emergency) then quietly climbed the steps and entered the flat with the skill of which a ghost could be proud. John and his new acquaintance had their heads bowed over a much-travelled volume, and were arguing over an illustration.

“It’s a coincidence.” The man with the well-trimmed beard twisted his face when he spoke, as if the obvious lie caused him actual discomfort.

“It’s got to be a forgery! It’s the same man I saw in Afghanistan, bringing in supplies! The hair is longer, and he was wearing khaki, not plaid, but it’s the same man! Someone is pulling one over on both of us,” John was insisting.

“It’s worse than a forgery, John,” Mycroft interjected. “It’s an impossibility. An intolerable impossibility.”

Both men started, then John sighed and glanced at his guest. “Sorry, Joe. I had locked the door, but he rarely knocks. Rudeness runs in Sherlock’s family. It practically gallops, as they say.”

Dawson slowly closed the book, keeping his hand down on the cover. “Mycroft Holmes, I presume?”

“Presumption is dangerous, Mr. Dawson.” Mycroft cocked his head. “Very dangerous. You should watch your words.”

“I should watch my backtrail,” Dawson growled, gripping his cane.

Mycroft took in the tableau. Dr. John Watson and Watcher Joseph Dawson meeting at the kitchen table, scattered beer bottles, disassembled pistol, provenance papers and the found copy of Immortal Swords lying between them.

“Well John, I see negotiations are well underway.” He made a show of looking around, a three-sixty turn with his umbrella as axis. “Missing the more excitable members of this party, I see.”

“I’ve been authorized to act alone,” Dawson said evenly, revealing a telling bent for self-sacrifice that might prove useful. “As an agent for the owner. Everything is aboveboard.”

“Including your handgun, I see,” Mycroft nodded at the table. “Your highly illegal handgun, I’m afraid.”

Dawson kept his eyes on Mycroft, and straightened. “In point of fact, I have papers for the weapon, too, if requested.”

“Indeed? Remarkable. I must look into that.”

Outside the sitting room window the dimming sky suddenly lightened as if by fireworks, briefly brightening the apartment.

“I’ve got to go,” Dawson said, jamming his cane down for extra leverage to stand up quickly. “We’ll chat soon.”

“I’m afraid I must insist you share our hospitality for a good deal longer,” Mycroft purred like a cat with no sense of humour. His hand shot out and anchored the book to the table before Dawson’s hovering hand could gather it in. Mycroft sat down at the table and Dawson re-seated himself with a heavy sigh.

“Joe is my guest,” John warned.

“Your choice of friends is perilously flawed.”

“Including Sherlock?”

“Quod erat demonstrandum.” Mycroft smirked. “QED.”

Mycroft opened the book with the point of his finger, unerringly locating the illustration of MacLeod. “How very interesting.” Then he pulled out his smart phone and spent a few moments locating a black and white photograph, which he then shared with them. “This is from a personal top-secret file of Sir Winston Churchill. ‘Duncan MacLeod, 1943. Excellent operative,’ is the note. Quite a likeness, wouldn’t you say?”

*****

“You should dispose of that sword in the Thames.” Sherlock commented as they walked briskly along Marylebone Road toward Baker Street. They had not discussed their destination, yet Sherlock felt compelled to return to his apartment to ascertain what John Watson and Joe Dawson were on about, and it appeared that Adam Pierson/Dr. Benjamin Adams/whomever-the-hell intended to accompany him. He reassessed the help to added-danger ratio of bringing Adam to their home. Though the man seemed sapped of strength by the fight, Sherlock would not underestimate how dangerous he might be, having seen said fight. He also craved an opportunity to examine Adam’s wounds, which seemed to have only bled briefly and hindered him not at all.

“No need. Albert’s sword and body are gone by now. The Watchers were practically shooing us away. You must have seen them lurking?”

Watchers. Sherlock nodded. Indeed he had seen movement through the trees in the park, though at the time he had suspected Mycroft’s minions. Many players upon this stage. “Some would take it as a bad sign that you are telling me this ‒ that you mean to dispose of me, as well.”

“I see no point in trying to lie to you. Deduction is what you do. But if I were going to dispose of you, I’d have already done it. And that would irritate Joe. Besides I find you amusing.”

“Humph! No one finds me amusing.” Sherlock objected.

“No one? Your friends must all be idiots.”

There was enough street lighting that Sherlock’s slight grin was bound to show, so he admitted, “Except for John, sometimes, when I’m not completely annoying him. Occasionally Mrs. Hudson I make smile. Once in a great while Lestrade. Maybe once a decade Mycroft.”

Adam laughed. “Four people! Well you’ve got me beat soundly.”

Sherlock actually smiled broadly for a moment as they continued walking rapidly ‒ too rapidly ‒ toward Baker Street. There were sixteen ‒ no ‒ eighteen questions he still needed to ask Adam while they were alone, and before he risked taking him home to John.

“Watchers, they watch you ‒ Immortals?”

“Could be.”

“How old are you?”

“Don’t know precisely.”

“Where are you from?

“Same answer.”

This was getting nowhere with the utmost speed. “Does Mycroft know about your kind?”

Adam sighed, shrugged then finally asked, “Wouldn’t it be an interesting secret for us to share?”

Manipulative bastard, Sherlock thought and gave Adam his best crocodile smile. He searched around for a distraction to delay their arrival and prolong his interrogation. A pub lacked privacy, an alley had too much, he needed something semi-private like a taxi. Then he saw the ideal venue. “Do you care for a ride?” Sherlock pointed at a horse drawn landau for hire, just letting off a young couple near the uni.

“Never have liked horses much,” Adam lied, “but I’m game if you are.” ††

Difficult as it was to perceive Adam as a serious threat to anyone, considering the enervated state he appeared to be in at the moment, Sherlock remained cautious, having witnessed the man's super-normal healing ability. Questioning him now was an opportunity not to be missed. So he hailed the horse-team driver and inquired about a short ride. Arrangement made, they piled into the open cab of the well sprung carriage, sitting facing each other. The driver called to his Shires and they lurched forward. It took Sherlock but a moment to adjust to the rocking motion, then he commenced studying Adam's deceptively young looking face. Appears guileless = accomplished liar. Relaxed = experienced. Patient = old.

"I have deduced that I can not believe a shockingly large percentage of what you say."

Adam grinned then pursed his lips, fiendish glee evident. "Then you do the talking," Adam suggested. "Or we could just enjoy the evening in silence."

He thought that highly unlikely. “So you're not going to try to seduce me ‒ to your way of thinking ‒ whatever that may be."

"Nope."

"You are a disappointing opponent."

Adam laughed merrily, his whole body taken over by the quake of it. When his chortling stopped he said, "I often get that complaint. But you, Sherlock, are a treasure." And more quietly, "It's always the brilliant ones that...lead me astray."

“Your kind must live in secret. Mycroft...” Sherlock lapsed into silence searching for clues, any scrap of data that might inform him of what his brother, and hence the government, knew.

Adam spoke softly, “I’m not sure what he knows.” Adam sounded sincere, for what that was worth. “At some points in history, certain of us, of my kind, become key players, in extreme situations. A friend of mine is one of those. Gets involved. It’s never a good idea.” He shook his head as if despairing for this friend.

“And you,” Sherlock prompted, “are you a player?”

“Not any more. This book...” he sighed. “Damn! I should have burnt it, but I knew the author. Liked him. I don’t want his final work completely destroyed, but I find the idea of your brother sitting down with this book rather disturbing. If he were to out us, it would be catastrophic, we’d be hunted down.”

“My brother would more likely make use of such as yourself, than let the world know your secret.”

“Yes, of course. Blackmail.” Adam nodded. “There is that. Our kind make rather good spies. It’s one of my least favorite roles. I never underestimate the human temptation to extort.”

“Blackmail!” Sherlock echoed, biting off the word.

“Information is currency and power in this age, Sherlock,” Adam said, almost kindly. “Some men will kill for our secret, or worse. Others will die to protect it. What kind of man are you?”

The carriage stopped suddenly, the momentum flying Adam from his seat, and allowing a sudden landing against Sherlock. He braced himself against the young man’s shoulders and tucked his head to steal another kiss. This time Sherlock’s lips softened under the crush.

Sherlock tried to form thoughts, collect and analyse data, but his processing seemed blocked by the weight of the broadsword inside the trench coat bumping against his leg and the very idea of an Immortal kissing him.

The tap of high-heeled shoes proceeded the sound of a woman clearing her throat.
“Time to go home, Sherlock.” The speaker was Mycroft’s assistant, Sherlock deduced without looking up, standing outside the landau waiting impatiently for his attention. Anthea, a strikingly beautiful woman, and two large physically fit guards had emerged from a Bentley that now blocked the carriage’s path.

“Sorry, sir,” the driver apologized to Sherlock. “Should I call...?”

“Show time.” Adam whispered as he broke the kiss. Sherlock smiled, taken with the idea of Mycroft’s assistant reporting this encounter.

To the driver he said, “It’s all right. The ride was splendid.” He passed a tip to the driver then climbed down from the landau.

“Your friend, too,” the woman nodded at Adam.

Adam looked at her large henchmen and sighed. “I miss the old days, when one could just stab and run. Those were simpler times.”

*****

During the automobile ride to Baker Street, Adam attempted conversation with his companions with little luck. Sherlock merely said, “Mycroft’s assistant, ‘Anthea’,” nodding at the attractive woman who now ignored them both in favor of communing with her Blackberry.

“I’m a solicitor too,” Adam offered as a conversational toss, apparently to the universe. The synaptic sparking in Sherlock’s mind could practically be seen. “If you ever need one.”

“What?” Sherlock gave him a look as if he’d just remembered he was there.

“Since you already have a doctor.”

“It is not the book Mycroft is interested in, but you.”

“Well you’ve got that deducing thing down aces.”

“He claimed that for some reason he could not pick up the book himself and insisted I collect it, no doubt hoping I would at least catch sight of you in the act of absconding with it.”

“Indeed. No doubt to convince you of my nefarious nature.”

“He failed.”

“Oh, no, he succeeded, as he will soon find,” Adam said sadly, “Beyond his wildest dreams.”

*****

“Not happening.” Joe stated the words just as clearly and stubbornly as he had when Mycroft had first started outlining his proposition.

Mycroft heaved a long suffering sigh. “And in return for allowing this book to remain ‘under-wraps’ the occasional services of the elusive Adam Pierson/Dr. Benjamin Adams would be greatly appreciated.”

“The book really isn’t yours, you know,” John said unhappily, clearly not liking this turn. He was ignored.

“You realize that commanding Adam to do something is like telling a cat where it’s going to live.” Joe laughed. “Maybe it will, and then again, maybe the cat decides the mice are fatter somewhere else, ‘see ya later,’ Mycroft.”

“Ah, but it’s not just the lone cat is it? It’s all those cats everywhere prowling around playing naughty games with swords,” Mycroft said with a pleased smile. “And I’m only asking for the services of one. You could of course introduce me to this one if you think he’d be more suitable.” Tapping the illustration of Duncan MacLeod.

Joe shook his head. “Not happening.” Joe didn’t move a muscle, but Mycroft leaned back, respecting the glint in his eye and the reach of his cane.

The sound of the front door being opened, and the stomp of multiple feet interrupted the exchange. Sherlock and Adam entered the flat bracketed by Mycroft’s assistant and her muscle men. Sherlock quickly broke formation, sweeping into the room to where John was sitting.

“I brought you a present,” and with a flourish handed over the Glock he had appropriated in Regent’s Park.

“Ah, thank you, Sherlock. I’d have been happy with milk and beans. Who did you get this from?” John asked.

“We were never formerly introduced. I simply thought of him as ‘Albert’s thug’.”

“Albert? Who’s Albert?”

“Will inform later.”

“And if I should need to identify him ‒ what does he look like?”

“Shorter, by a head.”

“Shorter than you or me?”

As Sherlock and John carried on what passed for a normal conversation in their home, Mycroft and Adam studied each other.

Joe, Mycroft suddenly realized, was studying the Glock in John’s experienced grip, and frowned at the gambling glitter growing in the Watcher’s eye.

“Perhaps we should move this discussion to the living area?” Mycroft directed the question to John, of course. Still, he peremptorily directed his assistant to stand behind the seated Watcher.

John glanced at Joe and instinctively moved the gun away from temptation, leaning against the wall where he could keep everyone under his eye. “Sorry! Yes, let’s move where there’s more space.”

Sherlock sneered a brotherly sneer. “Surely you’re not afraid of the musician, Mycroft.”

“Who, me?” Joe smiled, just a bit too widely. He folded his large, knurled hands over his cane, again tapping his index and forefinger to an inner beat.

“I’m disappointed in your imagination, Sherlock,” Adam said under his breath. “There’s times like these Joe terrifies me.”

“Terrifying Mycroft is counterproductive,” Sherlock hissed back. “I’ve experimented.”

“Point taken.”

As people shifted around the room, Sherlock snatched Immortal Swords up and tucked himself at one end of the couch and began paging through the old book. For the rest of those assembled, Adam seemed to become the center of attention. His most profound ‘innocent man’ mask remained firmly in place.

Joe remained seated, restive under the eyes of his new guard. “Mycroft Holmes, meet Adam Pierson,” he said with only a modicum of irony.

“I do believe you are the most dangerous person in the room now.” Mycroft commented.

“Me?”

“Him?” Joe scoffed helpfully.

John said, “Adam’s a doctor. I’ve seen him at practice.”

Not looking up from his perusal of the book, Sherlock noted, “So are you, John. And we both know how dangerous you can be.”

“Hey, I’m just a guy,” Adam said.

“Wrong!” Sherlock jumped up and began pacing, tapping the book against his chin. “Your wounds from the sword fight are all healed.”

“Sword fight? You were serious about the head?” John asked.

“Yes, in Regent’s Park. Observe the bloody slices in his shirt, John, underneath the flesh is healed.”

“Do you mind?” John moved in front of Adam and pointed to the obvious damage he was trying to hide with his trench coat.

Adam rolled his eyes. “Be my guest,” but he glared at Sherlock while John gently examined the flesh under the torn cloth where indeed, but for smears of dried blood there showed no signs of damage.

“Amazing,” John said. Then Mycroft observed another wordless conversation between John and his brother. He saw Sherlock’s lightening of expression at the word ‘amazing,’ quickly followed by a tiny nod of confirmation that John appeared to watch for from his flatmate.

Adam said, “Don’t be so easily impressed, Doctor. It was dark, and I tricked my opponent. The blood is his.” Thin, but more plausible than instant healing.

Sherlock asked, “And if I where to shoot you through the heart?”

Adam’s eyes opened very wide.

John admonished quietly, “Gun rule, Sherlock. But wait a second.” John dashed out of the room obviously in search of something.

“Gun rule?” Mycroft asked.

Sherlock huffed, but answered, “When John is available he does the shooting.”

“Wise.”

Adam had a pained look on his face. Mycroft observed his nervous glance at Joe, and added that detail to what he knew about the relationship between Immortals and Watchers.

John returned with a medical kit, which oddly enough seemed to reduce Adam’s nervousness. “How’s your blood sugar level?” He asked as he grabbed Adam’s hand and quickly jabbed a finger, before the man had a chance to reply. The blood welled up promptly enough, but then a tiny flick of energy could be observed. The flesh was healed. “Fascinating.”

John’s gaze met the Immortal’s. “The cobwebs. Very old trick. You’ve been a doctor for a long time.”

“Oh, in Afghanistan. Yes, cobwebs in a pinch. Better than flour in my estimation.”

“Not very sterile.”

“Well when someone is bleeding out....”

“I wasn’t bleeding out. It was just a little hole,” Joe grumbled from the kitchen, where he was keeping a very close eye on everybody. Mycroft sent him a suspicious glance, and Joe subsided, his fingers tapping anxiously against the edge of his thigh.

“You use what’s at hand, of course,” John cheerfully observed. “How long have you practiced medicine?”

“Ever since I discovered healing could be as fascinating as killing.”

Despite himself, John smiled. He looked over at Mycroft. “Maybe Mr. Dawson is right about him, he might be a tricky one to control.”

“If he heals as well as he kills, I’d say he’s been practicing a very long time,” Sherlock said in dry counterpoint.

“It’s clear that Mr. Dawson and his friend have a strongly vested interest in concealing the existence of these ‘Immortals’,” Mycroft indicated the book.

Joe straightened, a penny dropping. “You’ve already read the book. You set a snare for a pet Immortal. What’s next, rendition to the secret labs?”

“What secret labs?” John asked, with a grimace of horror.

“That will not be necessary,” Mycroft placated, without issuing a specific denial. He lifted a brow in consideration, sighed, and studied the man in question, whose own visage flickered between innocence and dangerousness, at will it seemed. “All I’m asking, Adam, is that you accompany me walking through a certain building, then the book is yours to do with as you like.”

“Ah!” Sherlock exclaimed. “Albert in the park! You reacted to his arrival. You can somehow sense when another so called Immortal is present. Mycroft wants you to be his sniffer dog. To identify other Immortals.” Sherlock turned toward his brother. “Which government building?”

Joe protested, “Just because someone is Immortal doesn’t make them evil. They can hold jobs, contribute. You’re asking Adam to turn in one of his own. Maybe even one of your own best people.”

“And just because I want to know does not mean his or her head is on the block. Necessarily,” Mycroft reassured with an unreassuring smile.

“Not the best choice of words, buster,” Joe said.

Adam glared at Mycroft, an ancient Immortal visage showing through his facade. No one spoke. The silence was a great weight on everyone in the room. Finally, Adam nodded. “But we leave Joseph out of this.”

“Hell no!” Joe smacked his opened palm angrily against his leg. “There’s always another option.”

Sherlock picked this moment to sweep between them and interrupt. “Mr. Dawson, I’m afraid I must warn you that Mycroft is well aware you have been trying to communicate an escape plan to your friend via your peculiar hybrid sign language and...what is that, prisoner taps? The rhythms you keep repeating with your left hand?”

“I wasn’t planning on escaping,” Joe snapped.

“No, of course not,” Sherlock smiled. “You were going to create a diversion for your friend.”

“Dammit! Adam,” Joe gave up all pretense. “You run. You live. It’s what you do.”

“You’ve been a bad influence on me, Joe,” Adam said airily. “You know how easily my ideals are corrupted.”

“You got that right,” Joe agreed, thoroughly disgusted. “Hell, according to the bylaws you should have offed me when you saw Mr. Crown and Country had the upper hand.”

“The situation is contained, Sherlock,” Mycroft said confidently. “The book was never leverage enough. I needed to harness this particular brand of loyalty, as well.”

“Loyalty can’t be contained, Mycroft,” John warned softly, his eyes flickering from Joe to Adam to Sherlock with a hint of worry.

“It’s now a matter of the security of the Crown,” Mycroft stated with finality. “And my assistants can handle it from here. We will no longer need your services, Sherlock. John.”

“I’m not hauling myself through one of those piles you call English architecture,” Joe vowed. “You can stuff your Crown where the jewels don’t sparkle.”

John stifled a laugh, but just barely.

“Never fear, you can wait with my assistant while Dr. Adams and I stroll through the building. I’ll return him to you in short order with his book.”

“I don’t know, your brother seems to have taken quite a shine to it,” Adam observed.

“Thank you, Sherlock.” Mycroft snatched the Immortal Swords from Sherlock, who look miffed, but unsurprised.

“Boring book.”

“I’ll get you a more interesting one.”

*****

After Mycroft and his horde had departed with Joe and Adam in tow, John sat at one end of the couch lost in thought, occasionally shaking his head in disbelief of the afternoon’s events. “What on earth is happening?” He muttered, not expecting an answer.

Sherlock cleared his throat and said from the other end of the couch, “Mycroft is counting on the physiologic response the Immortal will display in the presence of others of his kind. And Mycroft dearly wants others of his kind.”

“What response?” John asked, roused from his contemplation.

“A look of surprise on Adam’s face when Albert appeared was what I observed. I did not get the chance to ask what he was sensing. I had many more questions, but was loath to ask in front of Mycroft’s assistant....Though I would love to see the look on his face when she tells him about the kiss.”

“Kiss?”

“Adam kissed me.”

"He kissed you!" John repeated, outraged. "He kissed you?" he repeated, with a bit more self control. A bit. "You let him kiss you?"

“Not the first time! But the second time, I thought to go along with it. I was curious.”

"You let him kiss you a second time! How many times did it take to satisfy your curiosity?" There was a growl in John’s voice.

“Only twice. What’s with the shocked look, John? I know you are not straight-laced. Maybe if I’d have gotten a third kiss it would have been enough to deduce what I needed to know to form a hypothesis."

John rolled his eyes. "For heaven's sake, Sherlock, I've had experience on three continents. I could teach you whole theorems! Calculus of three dimensions. I could cube your tonsils!”

"Don't you want to hear my hypothesis?"

Sunk in a slough of despond after his outburst, John slumped on the couch. For politeness sake, he waved Sherlock on, bracing himself.

“Well, having observed that the results from contact with a virtual stranger were rather interesting, a sample of contact with ones close confidant might be...even more stimulating...." A bit of a catch could be heard in Sherlock’s voice.

John blinked. “There might be something to that. You haven't already observed me and deduced the probable effect?"

“I have been concerned about the volatile nature of the experimental elements.”

“So you’ve had your fingers burned along the way.”

“Fingers were involved.” Sherlock sighed and for once spoke slowly. “Though I believe it is my mind that suffers most in this experimental field.”

“As a doctor I’m intolerant of suffering.” John smiled broadly at the dash of panic he saw on Sherlock’s face as he leaned toward him. "Let me know if you begin to suffer.” Just as he began to close the distance, Sherlock sat bolt upright, nearly bouncing John off the couch.

“Bylaws!” Sherlock bellowed.

“Bylaws?” John echoed, cursing the pitfalls of the empirical method and his own recklessness.

“Quick, John, we must stop Mycroft, before he triggers murder, and worse!”

“What do you mean?” Sherlock’s urgency already had John gathering up the guns he’d laid aside even as he surreptitiously adjusted his trousers.

“Bylaws! The mark on the book ‒” Sherlock pounced on his phone to summon a taxi while he talked.

“It matches Joe’s tattoo,” John offered.

“And Adam spoke of Watchers...numerous and powerful enough to hide bodies and sterilise crime scenes...quickly, what happened to the writer of the book?”

“He died mysteriously.”

“No doubt murdered by the selfsame Watchers, who could not tolerate the exposure of their charges! If they see a Watcher collaborating with Mycroft...”

“But Adam is an Immortal, not a Watcher.”

“I suspect that Adam has played both sides of the street over the years, or he wouldn’t have recognized Joe’s code.”

“Still, he can’t be hurt. Certainly not in the middle of Mycroft’s lair.”

“Not easily, but no one knows better how to slaughter sheep than a shepherd.” They clattered down the stairs, Sherlock’s jacket billowing. “But Adam isn’t the immediate problem. If what I infer from the book is correct, the Watchers have a zealous hands off policy when it comes to the Immortals.”

They spilled out onto the pavement, Sherlock craning his neck and imperiously waving to a cab ‒ any cab, inhabited or not ‒ to stop. “The problem is Mycroft. If the Watchers followed Adam from the park to here, then they saw Joe taken into custody, as well. When Mycroft left with that book in hand, he turned Joe into a collaborator, willing or not, and according to their bylaws...”

“...Joe Dawson is a dead man.”

*****

Departing the Holmes/Watson flat, Methos slowed as they descended the stairs, unobtrusively spotting for Joe. “Let’s ride it out, Joe. It’ll be fun. I promise.”

“Easy for you to say. You probably had a ball in the Tower of London,” Joe muttered as he carefully eased down the steps.

“If you never ask, I’ll never tell,” Methos said virtuously.

“Flake.”

“Ah, but I’m your lovable flake.”

“In your dreams.”

“Shall I describe them?”

“Please, don’t.”

Methos sighed dramatically. “Me thinks I should never have started the Watchers. Damn that Gillamesh.”

“I don’t believe a word of it,” Joe grumbled.

When they emerged, squabbling, onto the pavement, Mycroft was waiting for them still idly paging through the book.

“Put that away!” Methos hissed, staring at the book. He glanced back at Joe.

Joe shook his head, minutely, and glanced in turn at the dark windows of the empty house on the other side of Baker Street. There was a glint of polished lens behind the window to the left.

“Don’t be preposterous. That’s where I keep my cameras,” Mycroft waved them into the Bentley, motioning the guards to follow in the other armored sedan.

“He keeps cameras rolling on his brother? And I thought my job was sordid,” Joe said to Methos, deliberately slowing and leaning on the car, giving Methos one last chance to bolt.

Methos ignored the opportunity, and slipped gracefully under Joe’s arm and into the sedan. “On the contrary, Joe. You’re a professional,” Methos complimented. “In the field of voyeurism, this lot is painfully amateurish, and far too dependent on technology.”

“Thank you. I think,” Joe bowed his head regally and then arranged himself in the deep seats of the Bentley with a resigned air. “Speaking of talented amateurs, why involve your brother and Dr. Watson at all, Mr. Holmes? You could have picked us both up at the museum. I’m assuming you had us under surveillance even then.”

“I’ve had you in my sights since Orly,” Mycroft stated without boasting. “Technology, as your friend observes, has its limitations. However, my regular operatives can lack...tact. A fellow war veteran like Dr. Watson provided the ideal intermediary. And Sherlock needed the exercise.”

*****

The Bentley found an improbable central London parking space in front of a large turn of the nineteenth century beige stone office complex, mostly unremarkable, but quietly proper. It was the sort of structure people walk past every day without noting or remembering.

Mycroft smiled without warmth as he handed the visitor’s badge to Adam. He examined the young looking face of his guest, gauging how subtle the tells he might display would be. Perhaps he should have brought Sherlock, who had already spent time with the man. No, his younger brother would only distract him with his unbounded energy.

They walked from room to room, Mycroft greeting with a nod his subordinates throughout the complex, while keeping an eye on the Immortal for any reaction that signaled the presence of another of his kind.

“It really isn’t me that you want, is it?” Adam asked as he walked beside the tall bureaucrat through the halls of his lair.

“No. But it was you that came for the book. It must be a full time job protecting him.”

“Joe can look after himself.”

“Don’t attempt to misunderstand. We are still speaking of the other one. The one called the Highlander. Churchill’s man.” The Immortal’s sigh was a painful thing to hear. Unless you were Mycroft Holmes, in which case it thrummed with victory. “You know it’s possible that Mr. MacLeod and I would rub along rather well.”

Methos’ laugh fell like a dry leaf suddenly blown off by the wind, then gone as if it had never been. “Only if he thinks it’s his idea.”

“Ah, so you are saying that my using you and Joe as incentive to be helpful won’t work.”

“No. It would work, for a time. A very short time. MacLeod worked for Churchill for many years, but that was because he believed it was the right thing to do.”

Mycroft nodded and an extraordinary thought pinged his subconscious. He grasped hold of it ‒ oh, oh! Why of course. He closely re-examined Adam. So it was like that. Maybe this was the one he wanted after all. But how to control the tiger? He would have to think more on that later.

Throughout the tour, which took a bit less than an hour, he had watched for any minute reactions that indicated Adam ‘felt’ the presence of another Immortal. Only once did he show a hint of recognition and that occurred while near a woman Mycroft had known for a decade and whom had obviously aged during that time, so unlikely she was an Immortal. He thought he knew her well ‒ could she be a Watcher?

“Well that wasn’t too painful was it?” Mycroft asked as he escorted Methos back outside the building. He handed over the Immortal Swords with a flourish, still watching Adam for clues. There seemed to be an almost sad look on Adam’s face as he accepted the book.

As they stood together in the shelter of the entryway, Adam suddenly froze then turned to look down the pavement. Mycroft followed his gaze to an attractive, well dressed man striding toward them.

“I believe the pain starts here,” Adam said.

Mycroft recognized the man that he had been researching as Duncan MacLeod, in the flesh, at last. Their eyes met. Interesting. Who has been the manipulator in this case? You, me, or Adam? Mycroft examined the threads of the plot for frays, knots and breakage. Spy or counter spy?

Stepping forward, Adam placed himself between them, while MacLeod quickly approached and stopped very close to his friend and informed him, “I received an interesting call from Joe.”

Adam replied, “Of course you did. And wasn’t one of the things he told you, ‘get out of London’?”

MacLeod shrugged then nodded politely toward Holmes. “I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding.”

“I suppose simply refusing to introduce you two to each other...no. Wrong century.” Adam sighed, stepped back and simply added, “Mycroft Holmes, Duncan MacLeod."

Mycroft smiled before saying, “ We meet at last! Do you drink whisky, Mr. MacLeod?”

“Only with friends.”

Mycroft nodded. “A wise rule. I’d like to invite you to my club. We can talk, get to know each other. I would so love to hear about your time with Churchill....”

MacLeod turned his head toward Adam, giving him an angry what-the-hell-have-you-been-saying look. “Speaking of leaving, Adam....”

“Hey! Am I not dressed nicely enough for this club?”

“Sorry,” Mycroft apologized. “The slices in your shirt and the blood....” Mycroft shrugged.

“Always the blood stains,” Adam sounded long suffering. “Well I’m very happy for both of you, please end some of the wars ‘fore you start new ones.” He turned his back and walked to the street where both of the Bentleys were parked and waiting.

*****

As Methos approached the street he saw Joe and Anthea climbing out of the first town car. She had apparently offered Joe a ride to his next destination, and he was declining politely when Methos reached them. “Ah, Joe, when a handsome woman offers you a free ride, it’s polite to accept. At least, in the more advanced cultures. Like Phrygia. I liked Phrygia.”

“You like sea urchins, too, but you don’t catch me snacking on them, either,” Joe parried, while moving far enough away from the car to be just out of ear shot of Anthea. Joe exhibited relief at the sight of the book Methos carried, but his smile faltered as he recognized Mycroft with a certain Highlander climbing into the other Bentley. “What the ‒ Mac!”

“Mac is completely untrainable,” Methos responded.

“Dammit, Mac,” Joe agreed with resigned fervor. “Back to Watching the old-fashioned way, at a distance. Where are they going?” Joe demanded, as Mycroft’s Bentley pulled away. “I’ll catch up to them after I’m sure we’ve ditched Anthea.” Joe sent the lady in question a smile and a wink as she leaned demurely against the Bentley.

While Methos rolled his eyes at the plan, to Methos’ surprise, she winked back.

“You sly fox,” Methos complimented, before answering the question. “Mac is off to confer, and conquer. But it might be a good time to give them some room. Mac’s Watchers in the Churchill era had a bad habit of disappearing. Churchill was the jealous sort, and this Mycroft seems to be a fan of his work.”

With a synchronicity known as bad luck to those stressing the inequities of life, and as providence to the manic, there approached from the right the man that Methos knew only as Albert’s thug.

“Albert’s thug!” Methos proclaimed gleefully, greeting him like a long-lost friend.

“Can it, will you? That’s Henry, Albert’s Watcher, and I don’t need you provoking him ‒ I’ve got enough procedure demerits with the brass as it is,” Joe caught Methos’ sleeve. “Think you can keep the redcoats at bay while I do some conferring of my own?” he asked.

“Joe, the book...” Methos protested, holding it out.

Joe gently tucked the book back into Methos’ coat pocket. “Hide it better, next time.” The approaching Watcher froze at about fifteen paces distance when he spied the book being passed back to an Immortal he had just seen behead his own assignment. Joe straightened, stepped closer to Mycroft’s assistant and drew a deep breath, “Good evening, Anthea, it’s been...instructive. Adam, say goodbye to Mac for me. And show him the inscription on the verso ‒ Mac needs to know how he got tangled in the Great Game in the first place.”

Joe stalked off to meet his colleague as Methos scrabbled out the book to check the inscription. So many books over the centuries, so many inscriptions... ’To General Wellington, your Watchful Servants, Fra. Darius and friend.’ Oh. So many ways that little phrase could be misunderstood. No wonder Joe had been a bit testy with him.

While Joe walked away, Methos saw Anthea frown prettily as she took a picture of the man waiting for Joe with her smartphone, and tapped a few buttons. “Interesting. Facial recognition software registers a hit, but his record is doubly encrypted and ‘Eyes Only’.” She snapped the phone off, irritated. “And now I’ve been red-tagged just for asking for it.” She glared at Methos as if it was his fault.

“Hey, it’s not my fault!” A new idea tingled along his Quickening-charged nerves. “What say we slide into your nice warm, private limousine and discuss this...closely.”

Anthea opened the sedan door and slid inside, holding up her hand when Methos moved to follow. Perfectly cool and deadpan she said, “There is quite a bit of paperwork in exercising my licence to kill. Perhaps it would be worth it?”

Methos skipped back before the closing door caught something near and dear to his belt, if not his heart. With a wave to the driver, Anthea was gone. Methos sighed and looked around and muttered, “Alone...again.”

Within moments a taxi pulled into the opening left by the Bentley’s departure, and Sherlock and John popped out and approached Methos from the left. “You missed me!” Methos announced joyfully. “Just when I was going to settle for take-out.”

Without saying a word, Sherlock grasped Adam by the shoulders and bodily moved him to the side and began studying the kerb, the pavement and the gutter.

“We missed Joe,” John Watson said icily, stepping between them. “Where is he?”

“Nearest dark alley. Some people have offices?” Methos gestured toward the painfully nondescript building behind them. “Joe has alleys. He has alleys everywhere.

“Another one of his ‘bylaws’? “ Sherlock asked sharply. “This way, John. The ferrule of his cane leaves a distinct mark on the damp concrete.” Sherlock, closely followed by John, charged into the office/alley and then pulled John up short at the sight of Joe and a stranger engaged in a verbal dispute under a streetlight just ahead. Methos followed at a more leisurely pace, but was close enough to hear Sherlock tell John, “We’ll interfere only if it comes to blows, or worse. We need to know how far they will go. How far Mycroft will let them go.”

Methos bumped into him from behind, and leaned his chin on Sherlock’s shoulder to see. “What’s Henry going on about?”

“Shush. Henry’s his name? Albert’s Watcher. Of course. From the way he’s holding a weapon hidden in his coat, I suspect he’s demanding Joe’s last words. No doubt for one of your peculiar Chronicles.”

Farther down the alley, Joe and Henry were squared off, Joe clenching his cane as they traded bitter words.

“Duty! Honour! Propriety!” barbs crackled and hung in the air as Henry accused Joe Dawson of derelictions and iniquities.

Joe answered the charges with hard facts. “Do you really believe governments and Watchers haven’t crossed each other before? You’re not a raw rookie ‒ your family has had Watchers for ten generations! Look at the bigger picture!” Joe demanded. “Watchers collide with spies in every century. We’ve made devil’s deals with Alexander. Sun Tzu. Hell, even Hammurabi. Especially Hammurabi, the sonovabitch.”

“I’m not talking about the damn book, or your crooked politician!” Henry spit.

“Oh. My. Mycroft won’t like that,” a grin flitted over Sherlock’s face, and was gone.

“You sent your pet assassin after my Immortal! You’re rigging the Game!” Henry’s voice rose. “I could shoot you just for consorting with an unwatched Immortal!”

“Nobody watches you?” Sherlock cocked his head with predatory curiosity. “I wonder why?”

“The game? What game? The Great Game?” John whispered, drawing his weapon, but unsure of a target.

“No, the Stupid Game,” Adam hissed, a nagging sense of alarm finally penetrating the Quickening fog that had dogged him since the duel.

But Sherlock gripped his arm as he started to push past. “No. There’s more.”

Henry drew a back-up gun, a ring on his hand reflecting in the light from overhead as his finger tightened on the trigger. “Traitor!”

Sherlock watched in fascination, thoroughly examining the actors in the fractious tableau playing out before them. He saw how Joe’s face hardened with grim expectation. And then he saw... “There! John. That’s it!” he shouted.

The standoff was broken when Sherlock spoke out, causing everyone to stare at the consulting detective as he stalked forward to command the spotlight. “Notice the ring on his hand. An ancient signet ring of Manx origin with a triskelion ‒ Albert’s of course. And why would a Watcher wear such a personal symbol of his Immortal? The rules of the Watcher society say he must hold himself at a distance.”

John looked solemnly at Albert’s Watcher and replied, “I would have to deduce there existed a special relationship between them.”

Sherlock established eye contact with Joe, “Dawson, what does the Watcher organization say about Watchers with special relationships with their Immortals?”

Joe locked gazes with the other Watcher, but remained silent for a time. Finally, quietly, “Sorry, Henry, sorry. Your family Watched Albert a very long time. He must have come to seem like family, himself.”

“You don’t understand,” The man backed away, trapped by the very accusations he’d used against Dawson.

“I understand all too well. It’s all right, Henry. I won’t say anything.” Joe murmured.

“What about him?” Henry pointed at Adam. “You gave him the book!”

“No,” Sherlock cut back into the conversation. “The British government returned the book to Adam for services rendered. You’re all just pawns and don’t know it.”

Both Joe and Henry stared angrily at Sherlock. “Sherlock, ‘nough now,” John cued him.

Methos spoke softly, if not gently. “Henry, the man that wrote Immortal Swords was a a good man and Darius’s Watcher. And Darius’ friend. He was like Joe. He was like you. I just didn’t want the Watchers to destroy the last copy of his book. I’m sorry about Albert. I really didn’t want to fight him.” †††

“My family watched Vicomte Albert for over three hundred years,” Henry, sinking in on himself in despair, turned away, hiding his face. No one followed his lone footsteps down the alley.

Joe watched his receding figure for a very long time. “It could have been you. Or Mac. If it had been ‒ I don’t think I could just walk away.”

“It’s over for now, Joe,” Methos touched his shoulder.

“For you, maybe. As long as I’m a Watcher, it will never be over.” Restlessly, Joe shook off the touch, still staring into the shadows. “Give me a moment.”

Methos took a closer look at Joe, but he wasn’t waxing maudlin. He was still on a mission. And he was already making his way into the deepest shadows of the alley, to finish it.

*****

Joe was aware that he was backlit and vulnerable, and placed his feet carefully as he entered the nearly invisible dark alcove notched into the side of Mycroft’s headquarters.

“A secret entrance? How 007,” Joe taunted lightly.

“We call it the Mews, after Steed’s infamous apartment, actually,” a woman answered from the dark. “Best stop there, Joe.”

“Where my silhouette makes an easy target? Are all three of you going to keep skulking in the dark, or does one of you have the guts to look me in the eye?” he asked conversationally. “I don’t have a gun, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

There was an embarrassed silence, and a scuffing and shuffling sound before one form separated from the shadows. There was the sound of a closing door beyond. “Relax, Joe. I’ve sent them back to work. How did you know there were three of us?” the woman asked, a bit put out.

“One Watcher per Immortal, three Watchers per Tribunal. Old customs die hard.” Joe eased forward into the shadows, close enough to hear her breath. “So do I.”

“Don’t boast, Joe. It’s so...American.” The woman’s heels clicked on the pavement as she moved close enough to touch, one hand on her hip, and one hand holding a gun pointed confidently down and away.

“I am American, Laura.” Joe reached out and tucked back a straying lock of her hair. “I stopped apologizing for that thirty years ago. It got my Irish up.”

“I remember. And my parents will certainly never forget.” Laura allowed the barest smile, and the gun disappeared. “Then how about apologizing for blowing my twenty year cover in British Intelligence into tiny little fragments the first day you visit London since that Clapton concert...”

“Hey, wait, I didn’t even enter the building!”

“Yet your pet Immortal recognized me on sight.”

“He’s not my pet ‒ did Mycroft notice Adam’s reaction?”

“Mycroft notices everything, when it suits him,” Laura sighed.

“You had a good run, Laura. Longer than anyone since...hell. Longer than anyone. In Churchill’s era, Watchers dropped like flies. It’s past time to get out.”

MacLeod’s Watchers dropped like flies. You know that.”

Joe knew that. “MacLeod will get this out of his system. It’s not like the old days. Mycroft isn’t Churchill.”

“You’d better hope not, Joe.” Laura glanced over his shoulder. “Mycroft’s smarter younger brother is getting restless. You’d better go. If that boy had an ounce of common sense, he’d give Mycroft a run for his money.”

“Maybe he has too much,” Joe murmured. “You haven’t asked about Amy.”

“Amy and I talk on Facebook all the time,” Laura said tartly.

“Oh. Well. That makes sense,” he hedged, sounding a bit left out, even to himself. “Will you be okay? You can come away with me now. Adam will cover for us.”

“Not necessary,” Laura said briskly, again all business. “I have an exit strategy. You’re in the crosshairs, now, with MacLeod drawn back into the Great Game.”

“Was the smart money on Henry?” Joe asked with a touch of cynicism.

“Let’s just say that no one expected you both to walk away from this one. Be careful, Joe.”

“You know me.” He straightened the escaping lock of hair again, his hand lingering.

“Exactly.” Laura closed the distance between them, and grasped the lapels of his coat, pulling him down to her level. “I know you all too well...” and she stopped his protest by bringing her lips to his, tentatively, searching.

He pulled her close. Not tentative. Not searching. Knowing.

*****

John kept a close eye on Adam, standing between him and Sherlock as the consulting detective stared into the shadows at the melding bodies.

“How interesting. Dawson seems to be quite proficient in non-verbal dialog,” Sherlock observed.

Adam snorted. ”What you are observing now is Joseph Dawson reprising an earlier role, I believe the current term would be ‘baby Daddy’. Though in this case their baby is now a fully grown Watcher like her parents.”

“Interesting.” Sherlock took a step forward, but was stopped by John.

“Sherlock,” he warned and caught him by an elbow to steer him the other direction, giving the kiss stealing Immortal a wide berth. “I think there’s somewhere else we need to be.”

“Oh?”

“I’m sure of it.”

John tugged Sherlock away from the area of Mycroft’s building, leaving behind Adam, who waved whimsically at them as they departed. They walked a block before John hailed a taxi to transport them back to Baker Street. Inside the cab he sighed with relief. “These Watchers seem to be a mite over armed.”

“And with two mites you’d have a farthing.” Sherlock’s droll reply was accompanied by a steady stare at his flatmate. “You neglected to return Dawson’s gun to him.”

“I’ll return it to him later. If I see him again.”

“I rather expect we will.” Sherlock looked a thousand miles away for a moment before he said, “Gilgamesh,” then fell silent again.

“Gilgamesh?”

“Yes. You’re right, John. Violence appears to be endemic to Immortals and Watchers alike. I’m reviewing my history for incidences best explained by the existence and involvement of these two groups. I may have previously deleted pertinent data.”

John smiled. “May have.”

They rode along in silence for awhile, Sherlock gazing out the taxi window. John glanced over occasionally, but thought it best to allow Sherlock’s hard drive to hum. Shortly before turning onto Barker Street Sherlock asked, “Why would a man centuries old still bother to steal a kiss?”

The question startled John briefly, it had not been the direction he expected the cogitation to travel. John answered as best he perceived immortalkind, “His body is staying young.”

Sherlock nodded. “No telomere degradation.”

“Yes. And he still feels. Participates.”

“When I told you about the kisses, your reaction was interesting.”

“Was it? Should I apologize?”

“I think it best we remain a non-apologising household, John.”

“Good! Good. Because I can’t explain my reaction. I know that you’re not ‒ .” John was at a loss for words, so stopped.

Fortunate timing it seemed as the taxi pulled up in front of 221B Baker Street, John paid the driver and they emerged onto the pavement.

Sherlock stopped abruptly at their door, turned to John and inquired, “Why have you never stolen a kiss from me?”

Because you don’t hold still long enough? John thought, but answered with more care, “It would be a bit not good of me when I know you’re ‒ that you’re married to your work. Not good to risk an important friendship.”

“An important friendship....” Sherlock smiled. It was a dazzling and scary smile. “John, what if we agreed to an experimental kiss ‒ would that risk our friendship?”

John considered as they continued walking inside together. He pitched his voice low as they walked up the steps to their flat. “I’m not sure.”

Once inside their apartment, Sherlock asked “Because you don’t want to kiss me? Or because you do?”

They stopped walking and held each others gaze. Both men resisted looking away. John finally broke the silence. “You already know the answer to that.”

“No. I wouldn’t ask if I did.”

John sighed. “Yes. More than is appropriate for an experiment. Perhaps we should let it go ‒ think on it for a few days.”

"John, do you think I’ll arrive at a different conclusion after a few days?"

"No," John replied, "but I might."

"Ah."

For a moment it looked to him as though Sherlock would pout, brow wrinkled, lower lip protruding, but he quickly returned to an expressionless state. At that point they scattered away from each other as if pinged apart by an electrical charge.

John filled the kettle with water, and Sherlock called out to him from the living area, “Don’t forget the biscuits, John.”

“Yes, dear,” John teased. Sherlock rolled his eyes on cue.

*****

“Some members of the Club have expressed the opinion that the modern anti-smoking laws are overly intrusive,” Mycroft commented to MacLeod as he passed him a hand rolled Cuban. “Even though the Diogenes Club has a...certain immunity. I have to admit to mixed feelings ‒ indulging in the occasional cigar versus slavery to cigarettes.”

MacLeod waved the cigar under his nose and sniffed with appreciation. “We can’t control other peoples reactions, only our own.”

“True. Though with careful observation we can predict outcomes.” Mycroft rose from the table and moved to the window, studying the rainwashed street with a slightly furrowed brow. The light shower that had resumed during their dinner now beat in sheets against the snug windows of the club.

“You strike me as a careful man. Too careful to stand in front of a plate glass window.” MacLeod moved to join him at the high window. Bemused, he tapped the surface, returning a dull thump. “Bulletproof?”

Mycroft nodded. “Soundproof. Camera proof. Spy proof.”

“Hubris proof?” MacLeod allowed a ghost of a smile.

“We shall see, won’t we?” Mycroft considered, returning his gaze to the street. “We have come to a mutually beneficial agreement, I think. But speaking of hubris, do the Watchers really hound your steps so...doggedly?” His voice was delicate, his gaze was not as he picked out two forms in the shadows. “This is not a joint operation.”

MacLeod sighed, and regretfully dowsed his cigar. “I’ll speak with Joe.”

“Do.”

*****

“A proper Guinness draft.” Methos wheedled. “In my townhouse.”

Joe blinked as a gust of wind drove rain spatters into his face, but his eyes never left the dimly lit steps that led up to the Diogenes Club.

“From a proper Irish pub, then.”

Joe’s gaze flicked to the warm glow of the glazed windows, then back to the entrance.

“From a proper Irish pub in Ireland?” Methos raised with a touch of asperity.

“Careful. Next thing you know, you’ll be promising Tintagel,” Joe said softly.

Methos shivered, and not wholly from the cold. “No chance of that. They’re your ancestors, not mine.”

“Like we need more ghosts, either of us,” Joe huffed with amusement, finally cracking a small smile. “I’ll settle for a shower if there’s any hot water left in the rooms.”

“You mean I spent all this time offering good beer and Irish magic to get you to come in out of the rain, when all it took was a hot soak?”

“You must have scored yourself a room upgrade ‒ I have a trickle, not a tub.” Joe turned up his collar against another gust, unimpressed.

“I have a townhouse, Joe. With a capacious bath.” Methos blew into his cupped hands, then plunged them back into his pockets, his shoulders hunched. MacLeod’s warm aura danced teasingly at the edge of his nerve ends. “A Roman bath. A veritable calderium.”

“Roman? What can I say? I’m a cheap date.” Joe leaned forward an inch, unplastering himself from the wet wall.

“Little did I know,” Methos said brightly, clearly ready to abandon MacLeod to a fate worse than death in the Diogenes Club, if it meant getting out of the rain. “I’ll get a taxi.”

“Answer a question, first.”

Methos caught himself in mid-step. “If I can,” he said carefully, knowing Joe all too well.

Joe tilted his head into the shadows so the street camera couldn’t read his lips. “If you and MacLeod had already planned out this little spy adventure, why drag me to the British museum? You could have gotten Mycroft’s attention all by yourself.”

Methos squinted at the nearest camera, and put his back to the lens. “I didn’t really want to attract Mycroft’s attention...all by myself,” he admitted softly.

“Enter Joe Dawson, professional catspaw,” Joe mocked himself, with a fleeting smile. His gaze traveled from Methos over his shoulder to focus again on the club stairs.

“We needed to convince Mycroft that MacLeod’s friends were potentially useful. And...mostly...harmless. You do ‘mostly harmless’ a lot better than I do.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“Ah, ah, don’t get snippy, Joe. You know your body count is higher than mine this decade,” Methos reminded. “Mycroft is a walking lie detector. We couldn’t let you in on the scheme ahead of time.”

“Yeah, don’t say it. You think I’m a lousy liar.”

“No, I think that hanging around MacLeod stunted your practice in prevarication. Which in this case, was an advantage we could make work for us.”

“Makes sense,” Joe acknowledged softly, his eyes never leaving the club.

Methos crossed his arms, staring at Joe suspiciously. “You seem to be taking this awfully well.”

Joe shrugged. “I’m unarmed. For the moment. Besides, I’d figured most of it out. And playing the bumbling, harmless sidekick beats being left behind altogether.”

“See? A nice, healthy lie. Don’t tell Duncan. You know that MacLeod wouldn’t...”

Joe’s eyes flicked to a spot directly behind Methos’ right shoulder, and grinned. “MacLeod wouldn’t what?”

“He’s walking up behind me, isn’t he?” Methos asked just before he sensed MacLeod’s approach.

MacLeod’s arms stole around Methos from behind, and his head dipped to nuzzle under Methos’ rain-damped collar to nip lightly at the smooth skin beneath. “MacLeod wouldn’t what?” he whispered.

Methos provisionally surrendered to MacLeod’s warm envelopment, his jangled, quickening-fired nerves dangerously soothed by his touch. “You wouldn’t have left Joe behind. Not when there’s so much fun to be had.”

Joe shook his head, and edged away, well aware of the true extent of Methos’ idea of fun. “I would have tracked you down, anyway,” he groused. “Eventually. I always do.”

“This is a new situation.” MacLeod hesitated, diplomacy warring with honesty. “There will be missions you cannot watch.”

Methos dug an elbow into MacLeod’s side. “Don’t say ‘cannot.’ He abreacts.”

Joe studied MacLeod’s face for a long moment. Then he laughed, outright. “You know I’m going to figure out what you’re planning somehow, even if it kills me.” Still grinning, he turned on his cane. “Well, I’m off to the inn. Maybe I’ll check the want ads for a new flat. See you around,” he said, with just a hint of challenge.

“But Joe,” MacLeod countered. “No need for you to leave your work in Paris. What about your music?”

“There’s perfectly good dives in London I can play, MacLeod,” Joe sniffed, as the wind picked up again.

Methos added, sotto voce, “And he brings his work everywhere, even if it kills him. Keep your friends close, MacLeod.” Raising his voice, Methos threw out one last temptation. “But Joe...what about the caldarium?”

‘I’ll take a rain check. You two look like you have...important business to conduct of your own.” Joe lifted an eyebrow as Methos shamelessly insinuated a hand into one of MacLeod’s warmer, and dryer, pockets.

“Behave. The walls have eyes.” MacLeod caught his wrist before he could wriggle deeper.

“Make me. I’ve performed for the masses before,” Methos teased. “I was the belle of the Coliseum.”

“I’ll catch the repeats on YouTube,” Joe said acidly, glancing at the camera.

MacLeod disentangled himself from Methos. “Come by the townhouse tomorrow, Joe, we’ll work out a safe plan to keep in touch.”

Joe took one last look at the shadow in the window watching them all from across the street. “We’ll see. If you two keep me in the dark too long...” Joe grinned, his teeth gleaming in the streetlight. “...there’s this consulting detective I just met who would be intrigued to take the case.”

*****

While the tea steeped, an awkward silence stretched taut between them. Sherlock paced around the flat while John stood at the window. His gaze shifted from the street, to the tea brewing and then to Sherlock in a circuit. John felt rather like he was wearing sweat soaked leathers now drying uncomfortably in the sun (a totally illogical feeling considering the drizzle) as he waited for the conversation to start.

“Do we ‒,” Sherlock started to ask something, but it died with a huff and a sigh.

John asked, “What are you thinking, Sherlock?”

“How short our time is.”

“Compared to his, yes, but you and I ‒ we have time. Enough time not to be idiots.”

“But John, we’re men,” Sherlock said earnestly, a smile flickering across his face.

John snorted, nodded. “True. We may be prone to idiocy in the relationship area. And you have previously expressed a lack of interest.”

Sherlock walked an indirect path toward John as if to hide his approach, finally coming to a halt in front of him. “Yes. And due to that history, I’ve deduced that waiting for you to act will take longer than I can possibly tolerate, since you were foolish enough to listen to me that first night at Angelo’s.”

John laughed and reached out to hold Sherlock still, clasping him around his biceps. “So that ‘married to my work’ speech is simply a protective disguise to ward off messy interpersonal attachment.”

“Something along those lines. I may have derived the technique from a doctor I know.” Sherlock brought his hands up to cup John’s elbows so that they were locked together as brothers-in-arms, then he pulled John close.

John muttered against Sherlock’s neck, “We’re not going to talk about this, are we?” Not sure if the question was a protest or relief.

Sherlock’s voice was a deep rumble. “Hm...no. That would be counterproductive.” He bent his neck and pressed his mouth against John’s. The kiss was at first tentative, but grew more heated, and soon it melded them together as they explored each others taste. When they came up for air, Sherlock proclaimed, “The results of the experiment,” as he rubbed his body against John’s, “suggest that one kiss from you will not be nearly enough for a conclusive...ah...whatever...” He bent his head for another kiss.

“Sherlock! Hold on for a minute.” John’s voice, both joyful and desperate as he pulled away, “I agree, a sample of one isn’t valid. It would never stand up to peer review, but ‒”

“What do you recommend doctor?”

“First that we move away from the window. Eliminate that peering at least.”

Sherlock groaned and John apologized, “Sorry.”

“Punsters need be punished, John.”

“As long as it involves additional snogging I’ll take my punishment, but away from the window. OK?”

John allowed Sherlock to drag him toward the couch. “Come along then, John, some of us don’t live forever.”

“Forever would be boring,” John concurred as his back met cushion.

(fini)