“I didn’t know you kept a diary, John.”
Sherlock paused in the doorway, holding a glass of water.
“What? Oh, that. It’s not mine, Sherlock. You know perfectly well I have a blog.” John pulled himself up in bed, skin still flushed pink from fever. “Besides, even if I did do it the old-fashioned way, you can be sure that my journal would not be covered in flowers.”
Sherlock smirked and walked over to the bed, handing John the pills from the nightstand. “It’s time for your medicine. I was given strict instructions to make sure you took it. You know how careless you are about these things.” His eyes strayed back to the diary on John’s nightstand.
“Go ahead, Sherlock. You know you’re dying to.” John said, leaning back against the pillows. “Tell me all about the diary.”
A keen glance showed Sherlock that John was more alert than he had been yesterday, and exhibiting signs of boredom. A sure sign of recovery, but also a stage where distraction is welcome. “The diary is clearly at least thirty years old. It’s covered in a rose-print fabric which strongly suggests it belonged to a woman. It locks, which is popular with teenage girls, but the quality of the diary suggests it belonged to a woman somewhat older. One with secrets, hence the lock—a remarkably good one for a diary. I’d say it belonged to your mother, since you pulled it out while you were ill and needing distraction.”
He glanced at John, who nodded at the diary. “Go on then. You know you want to look inside.”
Delicately picking up the book, Sherlock flipped through the pages. “She liked variety, your mother, using different color inks for each entry. Her penmanship shows her to be a warm person, energetic, compassionate, but with hidden depths. Not unlike her son.”
“Ta,” said John.
“It seems an odd reading choice.”
“Yeah, but Harry mentioned it the other day, and since I haven’t been able to do anything else this week….”
“Mmm.” Sherlock paged through the diary. “What did Harry want to know? What your mum made for dinner on July 7th?”
John gave a small smile. “No. She just said she remembered Mum keeping a diary when we were small, but it wasn’t with her things. It reminded me that it was in the box of pictures she left me when she died. I pulled it out to give to Harry next time I see her.” He turned his head restlessly on the pillow. “Frankly, I’m surprised she hasn’t called to ask about it. She was oddly insistent, but then, that’s Harry when she gets an idea in her head.”
Sherlock nodded absently, distracted by an anomaly under his thumb. He looked carefully at the back of the diary. “Did you know there’s something hidden in here?”
“What? No.” John started to reach for the diary, but the gesture started him coughing again. More phlegm than yesterday, Sherlock noted, which meant the congestion was breaking up.
“Here,” he handed the diary back and gestured to the cover. “See where the lining has been pasted down? It’s clearly been lifted, very carefully, and something hidden under the liner. It can’t be bigger than a single sheet of paper, or a photograph, or it would have left a bulge. It’s almost a perfect fit, just this slight tear to the paper and a smudge of glue, do you see?”
John nodded. “I do,” he said, voice hoarse from coughing. He looked up at Sherlock and his lips twitched. “Go ahead. Just try not to damage it, would you?” When Sherlock didn’t reach for the book, he held it out. “Really. My hands aren’t as steady as they should be right now. I’d rather you did it. You found it, after all.”
Sherlock considered. He didn’t always understand sentiment, but he understood John. This diary was a piece of his mother, and he was trusting Sherlock to treat it—her—with respect. He nodded. “I’ll be right back.”
It took only a moment for him to get a scalpel from the desk and to collect the new cough syrup from the kitchen before returning to John’s bedroom.
He picked up the diary. “You’re sure?”
“I’m not going to ask why you have a scalpel,” John said with a wan smile. Then he nodded at the diary. “I can’t believe you haven’t cut into it already, Sherlock. I’m sure. It’s not like I expect deep dark family secrets in there. And anyway, even if there were, you’ll find out anyway. Go ahead.”
Sherlock nodded, and took a seat on the wooden chair near the bed. He laid the diary on the mattress, very carefully inserted the knife between the cover and lining, and began cutting.
It was only a matter of moments before he had peeled away the lining paper. He looked down at the photograph for a moment and then passed it to John without comment.
John stared at it blankly, but all he said was, “Oh.”
John flipped the photo over to look at the back.
“Ian and me. October 1971.”
He turned it back to the front, mind churning slowly. Maybe he was still feverish? “I don’t understand,” he said, looking at Sherlock.
He felt like an idiot the minute the words left his mouth, his tongue working independently of his brain yet again. But staring at the carefully hidden photo of his mum standing next to a man who was decidedly not Harold Watson was enough of a shock to stop his brain in its tracks.
Sherlock looked down at the photo. “Not your father, I presume?”
“No, not my father,” said John. The man looking back at him from the photo had sandy hair and a friendly smile as he stood with his arm around John’s mum. His mum … well, she looked happy. Really happy.
With a glance for permission, Sherlock reached forward and took the picture, noticing the shape of the nose, the way the jaw curved, the slightly off-center smile. “Do you have a picture of your father?”
John blinked at him for a moment and then started to climb out of bed. He barely had a foot on the floor when he started coughing again. Sherlock’s hands caught his shoulders and gently pushed him back into the pillows. “Tell me where.”
Still coughing, John pointed to the dresser. “Bottom drawer. Box. In the back.” He gasped out the words between spasms. Frankly, he was surprised Sherlock didn’t already know, hadn’t already gone through his things in one of his fits of boredom.
With only the slightest hesitation, Sherlock slid the drawer open, long fingers unerringly reaching inside to pull out a wooden box. He carried it over to the bed and John moved over, giving him enough room to set it down.
Before he could reach for it, Sherlock handed him the new bottle of cough syrup. “Take your medicine first,” he said, glaring until John took a dose. (Really, all this nurse-maiding was quite unlike him. John wondered how he was going to pay for this later on.)
John slid the lid back and rummaged through the photos. There weren’t many of them. After their parents had died, Harry had taken the photo albums, leaving John with a few strays and the framed photos from their mother’s bedside. He pulled out a wedding photo, one of those staged affairs with the bride and groom standing in the sun, smiling happily at the camera. He gazed at it a moment and then passed it to Sherlock.
“1967?” Sherlock asked, without even glancing at the back. “And Harry was born…?”
“1968. July. She’s three years older than me.” John had finally gotten his breath back from the coughing, but still felt short of air, like he’d been metaphorically punched in the stomach. Even his sluggish brain was going to pull the pieces together eventually. He was starting to realize the implications of that hidden photo and was anxious to hear what Sherlock thought. (Any man who could deduce a boy’s father from the turn-ups on his jeans would surely be able to tell him if he was imagining things.)
John found another photo of his dad, one of him and John on some family vacation when John was about ten. They were standing side by side, holding ice cream cones and smiling. He held the photo out for Sherlock and then just closed his eyes.
He and his father had never been close, but he’d always credited that to his dad’s drinking. It was watching his father struggle with alcoholism for so many years that made it so hard for him to deal with Harry’s drinking. There had been plenty of good times, though, and Harold Watson had done his best as a father. It was just unfortunate that the alcohol always got in the way.
It wasn’t until John was in his teens that things had gotten really bad, when his father’s temper had escalated from yelling during the occasional bender to violent rages. His father never turned his rage on Harry (who had already turned to the bottle for her own coping mechanism). He hadn’t been violent toward John either, but he would sit and stare. John quickly learned to get out of sight when his father came home from the pub with that glint in his eye.
The emotional strain was hardest on his mum. He would hear his parents yelling while he tried to concentrate on his homework, and tried to ignore how extra quiet his mother was the next morning. He had tried not to show how relieved he was to get out of the house when he left for university.
His father’s drinking had gotten worse, though, and John had only been twenty-three when his father stumbled, drunk, in front of a car on his way home from the local pub. He had been killed instantly.
Sherlock’s voice broke into his reverie. “You don’t look much like your father.”
“No, I never did.”
“You do rather look like the man in this photo, though.”
John didn’t open his eyes. “Yes, I noticed that.”
John didn’t say a word after that, and Sherlock knew by the stubbornness in John’s jaw that he wasn’t going to. “Get some sleep,” he said finally. “It’s supposed to be good for you.” But it was unnecessary. John’s breathing was already deepening, rumbling with congestion as the medicine took effect.
He quietly left the room, taking the cough syrup with him, diary and photos still in his hands. He checked the phone for new messages and then sat down in his chair in the living room and thought. Wasn’t it wonderful of John to provide a mystery for him? Here he had thought that John being laid up would be boring (and it had been), but now he had a puzzle to occupy his time.
Except … Sherlock knew he wasn’t exactly an expert on “sentiment,” but this was obviously a delicate matter. Would John want him looking into it?
This was the key question. Knowing him as well as he did, John would know that Sherlock wouldn’t be able to resist such a delightful mystery, especially when John was at the center of it.
Hadn’t John had handed him the photos willingly? Without saying anything like “leave it alone?” (Which, he admitted, might not have stopped him, but it would made him pause at least for a minute.)
Of course, he told himself, John was ill. He wasn’t up to any serious detective work right now—not even on his own behalf. He was possibly even too ill to be curious, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t want to know eventually.
Still—Sherlock didn’t like when people pried into his childhood. It was one of the reasons he hated Mycroft. He was the only person left who had known Sherlock as a child. Sherlock didn’t like to think back on those days. He hated remembering all the things he hadn’t known, all the skills he hadn’t yet learned. He had been boring, and forever in trouble. Forever the butt of jokes at school.
It was possible that John might feel similarly possessive of his childhood, and might resent Sherlock looking into it.
Although, Sherlock told himself, he wasn’t actually curious about John’s childhood so much as the months before his childhood even began.
His eyes flicked back to the photo of John’s mother. The man standing by her did have many physical markers similar to John. The shape of the thumb as his hand rested on her stomach, for example, was just like John’s. So was the curve of the lips as he smiled.
There were almost no similarities between John and the pictures of Harold Watson.
Sherlock looked at the diary. John hadn’t told him NOT to read the diary, had he? And time was of the essence, if he wanted to get it read while he still had time.
Three hours later, John was woken by a pounding at the door. Hacking with his sore lungs, he struggled to his feet and headed to the stairs, blanket wrapped around his shoulders, just as the door burst in.
“John! Are you all right?” Greg asked as he saw John. “What happened?”
“What?” John stared at him muzzily. “What are you talking about?” He stumbled down the rest of the steps, weaving slightly at the effort, and leaned against the wall to catch his breath. “I’ve been asleep.”
Greg looked at him, taking in the pajamas and sleep-smudged face. “Right. Sherlock’s been kidnapped.”
John levered himself off the wall, dropping his blanket. “When? How?”
“About 20 minutes ago, mate.” Greg’s phone rang. “Yeah, Mycroft. John’s here. He’s fine. No, I haven’t had a chance yet.” He took John’s elbow and led him to the couch, pressing firmly on his shoulder to make him sit down, fighting another coughing fit, every muscle tense. He handed the phone to John. “He wants to talk to you.”
“Mycroft? What happened?”
“I was hoping you would be able to tell me, John.” Mycroft’s voice was clipped and even, but John could hear the stress he was trying to suppress. “Surveillance showed him being led at gunpoint from the premises approximately 20 minutes ago. He seemed unharmed and very calm, which is not at all like him.”
“No,” John gasped out, finally catching his breath. “Not at all. I can’t believe I didn’t hear anything. I was asleep upstairs; it’s this damn cough syrup.” He looked around the room. “The flat seems untouched. I haven’t been downstairs all day, but it looks pretty much the same as always.”
He got up and moved toward the desk as Mycroft asked, “Do you know of anything particularly threatening?” The merest pause. “To you, perhaps?”
“So far as I know, he hasn’t been doing anything the last couple of days, but I haven’t exactly been at my best. I could have missed something.” He rummaged through the clutter on the desk and swore. “Why is my phone down here?” He picked it up. 47 new text messages.
Greg walked back in, draped John’s blanket over his shoulders and handed him a cup of tea, which John sipped gratefully. The inspector had added honey (they had honey?) and a shot of whiskey and it felt wonderful on his raw throat. He sank down in the chair as he thumbed through the messages. Oddly, most of them were from Harry.
“Uh, Mycroft? You wouldn’t happen to know where my sister is, would you?”
“Not off hand, but I can check. Why?”
“I’ve got more texts from Harry in the last 24 hours than I do in a year, and they’re a bit worrying. Uh-oh.” He was still scrolling through the messages but he could feel the blood draining from his face. “Yeah, okay, these aren’t from Harry any more. They’re threats. From her phone.”
-Mr. Watson, I urge you to find that diary post-haste if you wish to see your sister again. A friend.
-Mr. Watson, why have you not responded? Does your sister not mean anything to you?
-Watson, If you make me come to you, you’ll regret it.
The last one was from an hour ago.
He handed the phone (both of them) to Greg and put his head in his hands. This would be bad on a normal day—Harry and Sherlock both kidnapped?—but why did it have to be while he was sick? He heard Greg reading the texts to Mycroft. The early ones were from Harry, asking with increasing urgency about Mum’s diary, and had he found it yet. The last texts were chilling.
John’s gaze focused on Sherlock’s phone. Why hadn’t he taken it with him? He looked more closely. “Greg. Sherlock’s phone. It’s recording.”
Greg looked up. “He might have recorded his call to me. I was going to tell you about it. You should hear it.” John picked up the phone, stopped the recording, and went back to the beginning of the message and hit Play.
Sherlock’s voice came over the speaker: Lestrade? Good. Don’t talk, I haven’t time. I’m at Baker Street. A black Mercedes has just stopped out front and is idling in a most suspicious manner.” He gave the tag number. “The driver has just gotten out and is looking up and down the street. Five feet eight, I’d say, overweight. He obviously doesn’t believe in exercise of any kind. Mid-thirties. Dark blond hair, much like John’s. Well dressed in a good suit, not at all like your usual kidnapper. Yes, I said kidnapper. He’s alone. Ringing the doorbell now. I’m going to try to keep this as quiet as I can, so as not to wake up John, but you need to send someone over here to look after him. It’s almost time for his medicine. Oh, and tell John it’s behind the Union Jack. Now, be quiet so I can leave this running….
With Lestrade on the line and the phone recording, Sherlock tucked his phone behind a pile of papers on the desk and picked up his violin, playing casually until he heard the tap at the door.
The kidnapper leaned in the doorway. He looked slightly tense, but more as if he were enjoying himself than as if worried. Too well dressed to do this often. Obviously used to getting what he wanted. “John Watson?” he asked.
Sherlock hid his surprise and nodded, putting down his violin. “Yes. How can I help you?
A slight smile on the man’s face. “I think you know, Mr. Watson.”
“I assure you I don’t,” Sherlock said, mind working quickly. The man couldn’t know much about John if he didn’t even know he was a doctor. What other details had he missed? Obviously not a fan of the blog, that was certain, or he would have known on a glance that he was not John.
“Don’t you read your texts? Your poor sister has been so worried.” A hint of threat.
“I, er, lost the charger and haven’t had a chance to replace it yet. You know my sister?”
A bigger smile crossed his face, one that might have looked intimidating if it had come before Sherlock had met Jim Moriarty. Compared to him (and Mycroft), nobody was intimidating. “Let’s just say I do now, though she hasn’t been enjoying it much. You don’t look much alike. … What was that noise?
“That’s just the neighbor upstairs, sick with bronchitis or some such. I barely know the man.” Sherlock said quickly, and to divert him asked, “What about my sister?”
“She told me she asked you about it, don’t tell me you don’t know.”
“Ah.” Better move this along, before the noise disturbed John. “The diary.”
“Yes. Where is it?”
“It’s a good question. I haven’t seen it in years. Back in Mum’s house, I would think. In the attic with her other things.”
“Don’t play with me. Your sister said it’s not there.”
Sherlock couldn’t keep a sneer from his voice. Obviously he needed work on his John impression. “And she knows all the secret hiding places? What do you care about my mother’s old diary for, anyway?”
“Let’s just say I found out she’s hiding something that’s very important to me and that’s the key I need to find it.”
Curious. Who was the man in the photo, Sherlock wondered. “My mother? Did she even know you?”
The kidnapper smirked. “No, but she knew my father.” He pulled a gun out of his coat. “Let’s go.”
Sherlock feigned alarm. Did the man know John was a soldier? “Be careful with that thing.”
The sneer grew more pronounced. Obviously not. “Never seen a gun before?” the man asked. “Just do as you’re told and you won’t be hurt, Mr. Watson.. Come on.”
Sherlock grabbed his coat on the way out the door and walked as quietly down the stairs as he could, grateful Mrs. Hudson was out for the day, hoping John wouldn’t hear anything,. Otherwise this whole charade would be pointless.
On the sidewalk, he pivoted to make sure the man’s face would point toward Mycroft’s cameras, but otherwise walked docilely to the car he was waved toward. “Nice car for a kidnapper,” he said.
“Probably the nicest car you’ve ever ridden in. I saw the house you grew up in. Get in.”
How very condescending, Sherlock thought as he got in the passenger seat.
“Don’t forget to buckle up for safety,” the man told him, glancing up the street. Sherlock pulled the seatbelt across his lap as the man walked to the driver’s side, gun still pointed at Sherlock. He got in and then pulled out a pair of handcuffs and secured Sherlock’s wrists. “First time you ever wear these? Or have you been arrested before?”
Sherlock felt a burn of indignation. What kind of man did he think John Watson was? “Is that what this is? An arrest?”
“This is what you might call a family reunion,” the man said, pulling into traffic with one hand, never letting go of his gun. “Now, not another word.”
Really, Sherlock thought, this was almost as civilized as one of Mycroft’s kidnappings, but he was under no illusions. This man was used to getting exactly what he wanted, and didn’t think much of people he considered beneath him. John’s life expectancy once this man got the diary was not likely to be long.
He reminded himself to think like John, running over salient biographical facts in his head, reminding himself of the address of his childhood home, current residence of Harry Watson. He hoped Lestrade was able to find it quickly—if not, he was sure Mycroft would help. Mycroft got so worried when he thought Sherlock was in danger, but his own danger was the least of Sherlock’s worries right now. Right now, keeping John safe was paramount.
He did hope Lestrade would remember John’s medicine.
John was staring at the phone in disbelief. What had just happened?
He looked up at Greg, who said, “Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction, too.”
“I didn’t think my fever was this bad. It sounded like the kidnapper was looking for me.” John said wearily after a moment. “And Sherlock just went with him?”
Mycroft’s voice came from the door as he walked in the room. “John, can you enlighten us?”
“I assume you already know where they’re going?” John asked, picturing the house he’d grown up in, the one where Harry lived now. It was one of the reasons he hated visiting her.
“Yes, I already have a team on its way.”
John laughed shortly and then regretted it as it turned into another coughing fit. He really needed to remember that his lungs hurt too much for him to laugh. Besides, this was not a laughing situation. “Of course you do. I hope they hurry, because the house didn’t have an attic and Sherlock’s only going to be able to stall for so long.”
Mycroft gave his own short chuckle. “I have every confidence in him. Now, tell me about your mother’s diary.”
John looked around the room. Sherlock had taken it with him when John fell asleep earlier, but he didn’t see … oh, of course. It was in the message.
He got up and walked over to his chair, pulling aside the Union Jack pillow and reaching into its lining. “Harry asked me about Mum’s old diary the other day. I didn’t give it a second thought, really, but while I was lying in bed, the thought kept nagging at me, so I pulled it out.” He held up the diary. “Sherlock took one look this morning and spotted that there was a photograph hidden inside the cover. I never realized.”
With a pang, he handed the photo to Mycroft. There went any possibility of keeping deep, dark family secrets secret. But lives were at stake, so there was really no choice. “And before you ask, no, that’s not my dad, but yes, it is my mum. The name on the back is Ian, but I have no idea who he is.”
Mycroft looked at the picture and glanced at John. “I’d say that this is your father, doctor.”
Greg, looking over his shoulder, blew a low whistle. “Christ.”
John nodded. “Exactly. I felt the same way, and then the cough medicine kicked in.” He looked at the clock. “About three hours ago, I think. I wouldn’t be surprised that Sherlock’s read the entire thing by now. For all I know, Mum did have a secret hiding place.” He couldn’t hide the bitter edge as he added, “She obviously had a secret.”
He sat and stared at the floor for a minute as Mycroft flipped through the diary. Then Mycroft’s phone buzzed. He answered it and came as close to cursing as John had ever seen. “What do you mean he waved you off? Is he…? Very well, but don’t lose him.”
He thrust the phone in his pocket and said, “Apparently Sherlock’s kidnapper decided the street was too busy for a daylight approach. My people were ready to intercept, but Sherlock spotted Carol and signaled her to do nothing. He said something about after dark.”
Greg looked dumbfounded. “If the kidnapper thinks the diary is inside the house, it buys us some time. But why would Sherlock delay?”
Mycroft said, “You’re forgetting something, inspector.”
He left it to John to say, “He’s still got Harry.”
John excused himself to shower and put some clothes on. He wanted to at least look human as this day went on. His mind was trying to absorb all the things that had just happened, but it was sluggish and unresponsive, like a car driving through mud. Sherlock kidnapped over his mother’s diary? His father wasn’t his father? And … Harry had been kidnapped?
He sat heavily on the side of the bed. What a stupid time to be ill. He was used to him and Sherlock being in danger, but Harry? The only thing that should threaten his sister was a bottle of gin, which worried him enough, but he had no control over that. They had never gotten along, not really, but she was all the family he had left and he wasn’t going to let her get hurt. Not if he could help it.
He pulled on his shoes and, glancing at the clock, took his antibiotic. He had a feeling he was going to be busy for the rest of the day, and had better get his dose in now.
He simply didn’t have the time to be sick.
When he got back to the living room, it was a lot more crowded. Mycroft’s assistant was there, as was Sally Donovan, but no Sherlock yet. When Anthea saw him at the door, she pulled him into the room and sat him down at the desk, handing him a takeaway bowl of soup. “Eat that,” she said.
John looked at her gratefully. “Yes, ma’am.” It was excellent soup, too, which wasn’t really a surprise. He could only imagine the kind of restaurants Mycroft’s people patronized. Finishing the last of the broth, he leaned back in his chair and just watched the fuss for a few minutes, trying to summon up the energy to do something. After a minute, he picked up his phone and started reading through Harry’s texts again.
How long had she been missing and he hadn’t realized? Whoever this kidnapper was, he had to have threatened her days ago, before she even mentioned the diary to her brother.
Her brother who promptly fell ill and completely forgot about her while a madman decided to take matters into his own hands and ratchet up the threats.
The first text to have come from the kidnapper was over 24 hours old. Harry might be the most annoying sister in the world, but John would never have failed her. Not on purpose.
All those texts. Sick or not, he would have responded to those texts. What was his phone doing down here, anyway? He drew his brows together, thinking hard, wishing his brain didn’t feel so sluggish. Sherlock had been awfully helpful the last couple of days. Considerate, thoughtful … and making sure John stayed in bed.
Had Sherlock seen the texts … and made sure John did not?
John’s blood pressure started to rise, burning the fog away from his brain. He’d taken prescription cough syrup before and it hadn’t knocked him out like this batch had. “That bastard.”
Mycroft’s eyebrows rose as he correctly interpreted. “What did Sherlock do now?”
“He knew this was going to happen and kept it from me. He drugged the cough syrup so I wouldn’t interfere. The kidnapper came here looking for me, and Sherlock let him think he’d found me and just left with him quietly so it wouldn’t wake me up.” John just shook his head, furious and touched at the same time. Sherlock had gotten so damned protective since he had “died,” but John thought he had been quite clear about not going off and leaving him behind.
“Can I hear that recording again?” They played it through, all of them listening intently. “Yeah, see? He pretended to be me and passed me off as a sick neighbor. But did you notice? The kidnapper must not know much about me. He refers to ‘mister’ Watson, not doctor. And he has no idea I was in the army—he thinks this is the first time I’ve seen a gun.”
“That could be useful,” said Greg. “If all the guy knows is who your parents and sister are, but nothing about YOU.”
“More importantly, nothing about Sherlock.,” John said, struggling to his feet and fighting back another coughing fit.
“You’re not going to be very helpful at anything requiring stealth, Dr. Watson. Sit down.” Mycroft gave him a stern look.
John matched his glare. “I’d like to see you stop me.”
It was forty-five minutes since they left Baker Street, and Sherlock hadn’t said a word. It was agony. Holding his tongue had never been easy for him. How many fights in school had started because he couldn’t help blurting out what he observed? How many sneers and snubs had he gotten for speaking his mind? The three years after his showdown with Moriarty, though, had taught him some hard lessons.
He had always resented Mycroft’s intrusive protectiveness, always insisted that he could take care of himself. Even the drugs, he had been convinced, were something he could control.
But when John had come into his life, he had realized what it was to be protected. Not cosseted, or shielded from dangers, but backed up with a solid, reliable fortitude that he hadn’t properly appreciated until it was gone. Mycroft’s distant support could not compare.
Those years of absence had shown him just how much he had come to rely not only on John, but on the other people in his life. People he hadn’t realized truly were friends until they were gone. Lestrade. Mrs. Hudson. Molly. Even Mycroft.
Without them, he had been forced to grow up.
Without them, he had been forced to admit that everything was pointless.
Without them, he had been empty, in a way he’d never been empty before.
And, without their buffering presence, he had had to learn some self-control. Not that he hadn’t had any before. Mummy had managed to instill some manners, after all. People never realized how much he did keep inside. He had built channels in his mind to force the flow deeper, keeping it internal, where it would be appreciated, but there were times when the deductions and insights would burst past the floodgates and spill over everyone in earshot.
His enforced solitude, though, had made it necessary to keep even those bursts in his own head, had forced him to rely on himself, knowing there was no-one to get him out of trouble.
This drive, though, was one of the most excruciating hours of his life. Once again, John’s life depended on him not making a mistake. On him being perfect.
He shifted slightly in his seat, and saw how quickly the man’s hand tightened on the gun. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
“That’s right. You’re not,” the driver said shortly. “And what did I say about talking?”
“Not to,” said Sherlock with a sigh. “This drive has always bored me.”
“Maybe, but today it’s not the drive you need to worry about, but the arrival.”
Sherlock felt nothing but contempt at the paltry attempt at a threat. “Is that supposed to scare me? If you’re going to threaten me, why should I help you?”
“Because your sister’s life depends on it.”
“Is she at the house? Will I see her?” Sherlock tried to inject a sense of urgency into his tone.
“That would be telling, wouldn’t it?”
“You know, you’ve given me no proof that you even have her. How do I know she’s not safely at work right this minute?”
Disbelief for a moment, and then the man said, “Right, you didn’t see your messages, did you? Awfully careless, wasn’t it, to let your phone’s battery die on the day your sister needs you. I sent you a picture.”
“I’d wager you’ve heard the phrase, seeing is believing?” Sherlock asked, challenging.
The man lay the gun in his lap and fumbled for his phone, swerving in traffic as he thumbed through the menu to recent photos. He handed the phone to Sherlock.
It was a picture of Harry Watson, gagged and tied to a chair in what looked like a basement. She looked unharmed, but her face was twisted with distress, much like the last time he’d seen her, shortly after his resurrection. (“You almost killed him, you selfish prick!”)
He placed the phone back in the impatient hand reaching for it. “You expect me to believe that you’re going to let her go after you’ve got the diary? When you’ve more or less told me that you plan on killing me once we’re there?”
A glance from the driver. “She’s in no danger from me, as long as you give me what I want.”
“No, but you implied that this boring drive was going to be the most pleasant part of the day, which doesn’t exactly bode well for me, now does it?”
Now there was a look of disgust on the man’s face. “Listen to you, trying to act better than you are. You think you’re smart? I’ve seen the house you grew up in, Watson, and I know all about your family. Your mother was a slut, your dad and your sister both drunks. You might be sitting there in a decent enough suit, but you’ve got nothing to feel proud about.”
Sherlock felt nothing but rage. How dare this man belittle John Watson? “There’s nothing wrong with humble beginnings. It just makes the journey more interesting.” He glanced across the seat and added with contempt, “A man who’s inherited everything should never sneer at a man who has created his own future.”
“Just shut up, Watson,” he spat out viciously. “Enjoy this journey because it’s going to be the last one you get.”
Sherlock couldn’t help a quirk of the lip and cheek at that. This man was definitely an amateur at giving threats. (“I’ll burn the heart right out of you,” his memory whispered.)
As they neared the house, Sherlock noticed more cars than would be the norm. It was subtle, but there for the noticing. And on the Watsons’ old street, more pedestrians—rather better dressed than one would expect (though thankfully not in 3-piece suits, which even this idiot couldn’t help but notice).
The car slowed as it rounded the corner, and Sherlock looked at John’s old house. Humble it might be, but cozy in a way his own boyhood home never had been. It looked the worse for its years—Harry obviously hadn’t been taking care of it—but it had a yard for a boy to play soldier in. He caught a glimpse of a swing in the back yard, and found himself wondering which window had been John’s.
“You’ve got an audience,” he remarked (trying not to hear Jim’s voice echoing in his head). “I hope you have the keys. Breaking and entering in broad daylight in front of the neighbors might cause talk.”
The man’s foot hit the brake and he cursed under his breath. “The owner’s brother isn’t allowed a visit?”
“I’m sure he is, but you may have noticed Harry and I aren’t that close. And neighbors love to gossip.” He looked at the man and let a grin spread across his face. “You don’t have the key, do you?”
“Give me yours.”
Sherlock laughed, delighted with the man’s entertaining idiocy. “I don’t have it. You made me leave the flat rather suddenly, remember? Maybe after dark would be better, hmm? Especially with all these neighbors around?”
“You’re just trying to distract me, Watson! What did I tell you about talking? Shut up, I’m trying to think.”
A woman walked by on the sidewalk with a dog, looking for all the world like a housewife gossiping on the phone with a neighbor. But Sherlock recognized her. One of Mycroft’s people. Carol, he thought.
Sherlock caught her eye and gave a quick shake to his head. He had no doubt Mycroft had dozens of people in the area, but if they took down this idiot now, Harry would still be in danger. He still didn’t know if she was inside, and he wasn’t willing to take that chance. John might not be close to his sister, but he would never forgive Sherlock if something happened to her.
He might never forgive Sherlock for this, anyway.
The merest trace of surprise on the woman’s face, but she spoke into her phone with a laugh and then flicked her eyes to the right. Sure enough, there was another “neighbor” watering the lawn.
His kidnapper saw him looking and touched the gun. “Don’t try anything, Watson. If you so much as hint you’re in trouble, I’ll shoot you and her, and then I’ll go kill your sister.”
Sherlock turned his head. “I can’t admire a pretty girl on my last day? What’s the world coming to?” He glanced back out the window, wondering if she could read his lips through the glass. “Are we going in, or coming back after dark?”
A swear from the driver’s seat and then his foot pressed the pedal and they sped away. Glancing back, Sherlock saw Carol speaking urgently into her phone, and caught a glimpse of a green sedan pulling smoothly in behind them. The kidnapper didn’t seem to notice, though. He was too busy cursing his bad timing.
Sherlock sat quietly, and thought.
“I’d like to see you stop me,” John told Mycroft, trying not to think of how easily Mycroft actually could. “I told Sherlock he was not to go off without me ever again, and I meant it.”
Mycroft started to speak, but John interrupted. “We’ve gone through this before, Mycroft,” he said wearily, cursing the fever and wishing he were steadier on his feet. “So have Sherlock and I. I’ll be talking to him later about his definition of partnership, but I understand why he did it. I know why he did it the last time, too.”
He tried to ignore the way the breath was whistling in his lungs, the way the muscles in his legs quivered from days of fever. “The difference is this time I know what’s going on, and I can help. I’m going to help. You’re not going to stop me. Harry is involved, too. I’m not staying here in the flat by the phone waiting to hear if either one of them has been killed.” He practically whispered the last few words, “I can’t do that again.”
Everyone was staring, but John only had eyes for Mycroft. Only the two of them knew exactly what had happened when Sherlock jumped, but everyone in the room had seen how close John had come to shattering irrevocably into brittle shards of broken soldier. John didn’t like to remember how close he had come to suicide after he lost Sherlock, and he certainly didn’t forget that the people in this room had witnessed his break-down and helped him back, even before Sherlock’s reappearance.
He usually tried not to think about those dark days, embarrassed by his weakness. Today, though, it was a weapon in his hand he could wield to get his way, and he wouldn’t set it down. Everyone in this room knew what it had cost him when Sherlock left him behind and would help make sure it didn’t happen again. It didn’t matter that he still had a fever, or that his cough felt like it was coming from his toes. He would not allow himself to be pushed to the sidelines on this one.
Mycroft met his eyes for a long moment. “On one condition, John,” he finally said. “You will do exactly what I say. Sherlock is doing this is to protect you, and if I allow you to come down with pneumonia, he’ll never forgive either of us.”
A tiny smile. “I’m not stupid, Mycroft. I know I’m not at my best. I am a doctor, after all.”
A ripple of relief around the room as everyone remembered to take a breath. (They made it look so easy.) “Right,” said Greg, “We’ve got several hours before dark. Let’s try to figure out what this guy wants. Do we have anything on the car yet?”
Anthea spoke up, eyes on her Blackberry, “It’s registered to an Andrew Littleston, 33 years old.”
“Littleston? As in…?” asked Mycroft with a suggestive lift to his voice.
“The son of Ian Littleston, yes sir.”
“Ian,” breathed John almost feeling Greg and Mycroft’s attention cutting through the air in the room.
“So, who is he?” Greg asked.
Mycroft spoke up, voice level but just a trifle breathless. “Founder of Little Stone Enterprises, better known as LSE, worth at least 3 billion pounds. I should have recognized him in the photo.”
“LSE?” John said blankly. “I have some of their shares, from my Mum.”
Mycroft’s eyebrows lifted. “Indeed? And you needed to find a flatmate to help with the rent?”
“I’ve never touched them, Mycroft,” John told him. “So far as I’m concerned, it’s just numbers on paper. The interest just reinvests itself and I’ve never really paid that much attention. There were more important things to worry about.” He couldn’t help a smile at the pained expression on Mycroft’s face. He knew from Sherlock that his brother was a titular accountant for the government, and no one with an accounting background could bear John’s complete lack of interest in a financial statement.
“What would Andrew Littleston want with John?” Greg asked.
Mycroft shook himself. “Ian Littleston is dying of cancer. The financial market is holding its collective breath. But there was something …” His voice trailed off as he searched his memory. “Ah. He had had an older son who died a year ago—in a hunting accident, of all things. Littleston swore it was suspicious. And now this photo arises and his son is looking for John?” He looked at John, mouth pursed with speculation. “I think we might draw some conclusions.”
He, Greg, and John all stared at each other, then John’s knees went weak on him again and he sank back to the chair, coughing weakly in disbelief.
“So, where are we going now?” asked Sherlock five minutes after leaving the Watsons’ street. He thought he’d been remarkably patient.
The man roughly pulled the car over to the shoulder and slammed on the brakes. “Look, I don’t know how many times I need to tell you this, but shut up! Do you have someplace you need to be? Are you missing important appointments? Because I am, but do you see it bothering me? If you’re smart, you’ll be grateful for the delay.”
Sherlock sat quietly, watching the sweat bead on the man’s forehead, his tension at the fore now that he had lost control of the day’s schedule. He hesitated for a moment longer and then suggested quietly, “I would like to see my sister again.”
Ramming his hands on the steering wheel, the man turned on him, pointing the gun at him with rage in his face. For a few seconds, Sherlock wondered if he’d pushed too hard, but then the man’s face cleared. “Yes, of course. It’s the only place. And it’s only right you two have a chance to see each other before the end of the day.” He put the car in gear and then said, “But if you say one more word, just one, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”
Sherlock raised one elegant eyebrow but forebore to say anything else. So far as he was concerned, the man hadn’t been responsible for any of his actions since he arrived at Baker Street.
He gave a thought to what was likely happening there. Obviously Lestrade had alerted Mycroft and he had no doubt that one or both of them was with John.
He didn’t like to think about how angry John was going to be with him. This went entirely against the agreement they had made … After … when he had promised John that he wouldn’t leave him behind again. He just hoped John appreciated the difference in circumstances. This man was no criminal mastermind, and on a normal week, he would never have kept John away from this case, especially with Harry involved. Sherlock knew exactly how capable his friend was of protecting himself and others.
This wasn’t a normal week, though. John’s fever had been too high and he had been delirious—in no state even to read the messages, much less contact the kidnapper. Even as the text messages had begun to escalate, Sherlock knew the stress of a hostage situation involving his sister would have put John into hospital. Then, today, finding the hidden photo in the diary? Well, Sherlock hadn’t had a choice.
He thought he deserved credit for alerting Lestrade and Mycroft, though. Wasn’t calling in back-up the kind of responsible thing John was always yelling at him to do?
He studied the man driving. The shape of the thumbs was the same as John’s, as was the color of the hair and something about the curve of the nose. He very well could be looking at John’s half-brother, though with an expression of arrogance that would never cross John’s face. He had the look of entitlement that Sherlock had always hated in his classmates. He and Mycroft might have come from a wealthy family, but they had both earned their way in the world with their wits. Neither of them had relied on their parents’ influence for anything beyond school fees.
After another 15 minutes of driving (in circles, as if to throw him off), they pulled into a street lined with the kind of homes rich people buy for their children—the kind that scream that there is family money that the sons and daughters hope to inherit.
Sherlock couldn’t believe the man had brought him to his own house. Had he no self-respect as a kidnapper at all?
Of course, he planned on killing Sherlock before the day was out, so he probably wasn’t worried Sherlock would tell tales. He just hoped Harry had been blindfolded before being brought here.
They pulled into the garage and Sherlock sat and waited for his abductor to come around and open the door for him, gesturing at him with the gun. “Out. Come on.”
He led him into the house, walking into a kitchen that could have graced a decorating magazine and looked like it had never seen a dirty pot. A pile of bills were on the counter and Sherlock read the name as they walked by. Andy Littleston, a name he was familiar with. He had gone to school with the man’s older brother, who had died in some stupid sporting accident a year ago.
As directed he walked down the hallway to paneled door, then through and down into the basement. He heard rustling up ahead and saw the light shining under a storage room door. “Stand aside, Watson,” Littleston said, and stepped forward with a key. “Heads up, Ms. Watson. Your brother’s here.”
And he opened the door.
“John, I think right now you would help most by looking through your mother’s diary for any hints to what Littleston is after.” Mycroft glanced past him, eyeing Sally. “Perhaps Detective Inspector Lestrade and Sgt. Donovan could focus on locating Littleston?”
Catching Mycroft’s eye, John nodded with a tight smile of relief. He didn’t want Sally involved with his mother’s secret if he could avoid it. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Mycroft and Greg knowing, to be honest, but he knew he could trust both of them. Mycroft’s discretion was legendary, and Greg was a trusted friend. He was sure Anthea would know at some point (if she didn’t already), and he supposed was fine with that, too. But Sally? They had salvaged something resembling a working relationship since Sherlock’s return, but there were some deep wounds there that hadn’t healed enough for something like this. Not today, at least.
Sitting down in his chair, he opened the diary. He tried to tell himself that this was not a trick of Mycroft’s to keep him quiet and out of the way. The diary was the key to this whole puzzle, and the only way to find out if there was more to its secrets than just the photo was to read it. It was just the soldier in him, longing to charge into battle to save his friend. Like Greg had said, though, they had hours before dark, so there was time.
He had never read someone else’s diary before, much less his mother’s. He was uncomfortable, reading her innermost thoughts from before he was even born. This wasn’t like his blog, meant for public consumption. This was private, and there were things mothers just didn’t tell their sons.
Luckily, his mother had been from a prudish era, so there was no explicit talk about sex to make her son truly uncomfortable. Much of the diary was just a recounting of her days, put down as a kind of remembrance. It wasn’t so much a recording of events as a means of connecting to the emotional resonance of her days.
He quickly noticed that the ink colors for each entry signaled her moods, and when she talked about Harold Watson, the color was usually blue. Entries about baby Harry were in pink. Days spent with her mother were green.
In August, a new color appeared—bright blue-sky baby blue. The entries were innocent enough, talking about making a new friend with whom she could discuss things her football-inclined husband wasn’t interested in. They had met at a lecture and gone in a group out for coffee afterward, a rare night out for a young mother.
There weren’t many entries that color, but every one of them sparkled with wit and energy. Delight practically spilled from the pages.
Then, on September 25th, nothing but a bright blue exclamation point surrounded by lines like an exploding firework.
As confessions went, that was pretty clear, even to John. He stared across at Sherlock’s empty chair for a moment, counting in his head. Eight and a half months later was his birthday.
The worst night of John’s childhood came when John was seventeen. That night, when his dad came home drunk and fit to tear holes in the wall, John stood blocking the hallway. “You need to sleep it off, Dad,” he’d told him, standing his ground.
“I … what?” John still remembered the dumbfounded look on his dad’s face at being stopped. At seventeen, John was sturdy but a good six inches shorter than his father, and in the habit of obeying orders. That night, though, was just two nights after one of the loudest rows he’d ever heard, and he had been determined that nothing more was going to happen to his mum that week. Not ever, if he had anything to say about it.
“I said, you need to sleep it off. You’re not going in there to bother Mum tonight.” He held out a pillow and a blanket. “I suggest you use the couch.”
“You little bastard …” his father’s simmering rage had boiled over in an instant. “Who do you think you are, telling me what to do in my own house? You step aside, boy, or do I remind you who’s in charge here?”
It hadn’t been John’s proudest moment. There had been a short exchange of blows, which ended with him on the floor with blood on his face as his father roared and his mother screamed. He had looked up at his dad and never seen such an expression on his face—rage, yes, but also shame and a deep grief. Then the rage had faded away and he had said to his wife, “This is all your doing. I would never hurt my son … you bitch.”
He’d looked down at John for a moment as his face crumpled, then he turned and left. John had never understood why. His mother helped him up from the floor while Harry watched in horror from her bedroom. “What did he mean?” he asked his mother.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” she said, dabbing antiseptic on his cheek. “What were you thinking, confronting him like that?”
“I was trying to stop him from hurting you,” John said, his voice tinged with more pain than he liked. “He needs to stop.”
“He will, dear. Don’t worry. You just concentrate on your grades so you can go to university. Things will be better.”
“Better when I’m gone?” he asked, bewildered
“It’s not as simple as that, John,” she said after a moment. She tutted at him when he opened his mouth. “All families have secrets, and you’re not ready to know this one yet.”
“I’m not a kid, Mum,” he said, protesting.
She smiled at him. “I know, dear, and that’s part of the problem. Your father can’t protect you any more.”
“Right now, the only protection I need is from him!”
“No, John. Your father is a good man, and an honest one. Things just weigh on him.” A sigh. “It’s only gets past him when he drinks.”
“This isn’t helping, Mum. What aren’t you telling me?”
She had laughed then and touched his cheek. “I promise I’ll tell you some day. I’ll even leave a clue for you in case I get hit by a bus tomorrow. Just remember that your father is doing his best to protect you. Don’t worry, dear.”
That had been the last row he’d witnessed before he left for university, but it was also the last time his father had ever spoken an unnecessary word to him. After that night, he treated John as if he were invisible, but since the drunken fights had stopped, John considered it a fair trade-off. He’d worried when he left for school, worried that the rows would start again when he was gone, but Harry assured him things were quiet.
Looking back now, his mum’s secret in his hands, he finally understood that mix of emotions. The man John remembered from his childhood had never been violent, but he had been haunted by memories John hadn’t understood. Then.
His dad had known. He had known, and it had torn him apart.
John wasn’t sure how long he sat there, but he was pulled back to Baker Street by Anthea handing him a plate of pasta. He blinked at it for several seconds before he came back to himself. Feeling like an idiot, he thanked her, suddenly hungry. The hot food felt like balm on his sore throat, and it was only then that he realized he had been so engrossed in his memories that he had completely forgotten how miserable he felt. Other than Anthea’s soup, he hadn’t eaten anything all day. His lungs were sore, his eyes felt like someone had rubbed sand in them. His skin felt sticky from the fever, and he didn’t trust his legs at all.
He didn’t know if the dizziness was because of the fever or because of the day’s revelations.
He was just finishing this depressing mental catalog and had put his dish aside when Mycroft sat softly down in Sherlock’s chair, carrying cups of tea for them both. “I know. He’s never going to forgive me if I have a relapse,” John told him.
Mycroft just gave him a level look over his tea cup. “He certainly has gone made an effort to see that you had time to recuperate this week.”
John choked down a laugh, hoping to avoid another coughing fit. “That’s true. Hiding my phone so I wouldn’t see Harry’s texts, drugging my meds so I’d sleep through a kidnapping, pretending to be me so I could stay safely home in bed while he risks his life to save my sister. He’s been very … helpful.”
“You do realize that he would have acted differently if you’d not been ill.”
“Of course I do, I’m not an idiot,” John said. “Part of me is grateful and reassured to know that Sherlock is taking care of this. With the two of you on the case—Greg, too—I’m not really worried. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.”
He glanced down at the diary and handed it to Mycroft. “It’s this that I’m worrying about. September 25th.” He waited until Mycroft had found the page and then said, “That ink color only shows up after she’s made a new friend named Ian at a lecture, but all the entries in that color are about him.”
Mycroft flipped through the pages, but made no comment. After a time, John said “I think my dad must have known. Maybe not at first, but when I got older and didn’t look anything like him. That’s when the rows with Mum started, and when his drinking got bad. It’s got to have something to do with all this,” he gestured at he diary.
Mycroft ran his finger along the diary cover, tracing a rose petal. “I’ve been doing some digging, and have found two interesting things. One, starting in 1972, the mortgage on your parents’ house was paid by a holding company controlled by LSE. The same company funded the scholarship that covered your school fees when you left for university.”
John could feel his face pale. His father had to have known, then. “And the second?”
“Secondly, it shouldn’t surprise you that I know Ian Littleston. Not well, of course, but we meet occasionally at charity events and such.” He gave John a tight smile. “In fact, he knew my parents, as well, and as such, he knew I had a younger brother.”
Mycroft sipped his tea, and John could almost see him choosing his words. “He spoke to me about Sherlock after, well, while he was away. He told me he was sure my brother couldn’t be a fraud because he knew the Holmes family. He also said that he read your blog and was impressed by your loyalty and intelligence.” He paused to sip his tea, then went on. “Later, after Sherlock had returned, he congratulated me, and said that he ‘imagined Dr. Watson was relieved’ to have him back after fighting so hard to restore his reputation.”
“At the time, I thought he was merely expressing his regards as an old family acquaintance, but in retrospect … I think he must have known about you, John.” He tapped the diary. “In light of what we’ve found here, I think he must have watched you your whole life. From a distance, obviously, and in secret, but enough to know the kind of man you are. Enough to be proud of you.”
John was dumbfounded, mind whirring dizzily. Ian Littleston read his blog?
Mycroft smiled gently at the stunned look on his face. “Sherlock is not the only one to see your sterling qualities, John. You really shouldn’t be so surprised when the rest of us do what we can to show our appreciation.”
Putting aside his tea, Mycroft stood. “My team reports that Littleston took Sherlock back to his own house.” He made a small noise of agreement at John’s expression. “Not a wise move for a kidnapper, I agree. We’ve determined that Harry is not at your childhood home, and are setting up a perimeter for taking care of this problem as soon as it’s dark. I imagine you’d like to come along?”
John was already on his feet, adrenalin helping keep him upright. “When do we leave?”
“Five minutes. Don’t forget your medicine before we leave. You know Sherlock will ask.”
John laughed. “The antibiotics, yes, but I won’t be taking more of that cough syrup.”
Mycroft nodded, glancing past his head and holding his hand out. “Anthea was kind enough to get your correct prescription filled. I assure you, you can take this one. In fact, we won’t step foot from this flat until you do.”
John was a doctor, for God’s sake, and perfectly capable of taking care of himself, he thought. The last thing he needed was to be nurse-maided by the Holmes brothers. He knew he should resent such high-handed control over the smallest details of his life.
But, damn it. He had to admit it felt good to be so cared for.
Littleston pushed the door open. “Your brother’s here,” he announced, pushing Sherlock into the room.
Sherlock’s eyes did a quick scan of the room. Approximately fifteen feet square, cement walls, single overhead light, no windows, no other doors, a wine rack in the corner. And tied to a chair in the middle of the room, one terrified Harry Watson.
He rushed toward her, warning her with his eyes. “Harry! Are you all right? I’ve been so worried.” He looked back at Littleston. “If you hurt my sister…”
“Oh, what will you do, Mr. Watson? You’re in no position to make threats.” He looked between the two of them. “Don’t look much alike, do you?”
Sherlock sniffed. “You’re not the first to say so. What does it matter?”
“Everything, Mr. Watson. It means everything. Sit down.” Littleston waved the gun toward the corner and after Sherlock sat, recuffed him with his hands through the wine rack. He tied his feet with a length of the same rope he’d used on Harry. “I’ll leave you two to chat.” He reached over and pulled the tape from Harry’s mouth and stalked out the door, locking it behind him.
Before Harry could say anything, Sherlock gave a warning look and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t answer any of your texts, Harry. I didn’t see them.”
“But, you…” Her voice was hoarse and dry from disuse. “Where is…?”
“Sherlock,” (he accented the name, warning her to go along, Littleston might be listening), “hid my phone. I didn’t know any of this until today. I’m sorry.”
“What are you talking about?” her voice was doubly harsh now as her anger kicked in. That was something she shared with her brother, Sherlock thought, and her temper wasn’t helped by having been tied to a chair for most of 48 hours. He noted the pale skin and red eyes; she was in desperate need of a drink as well. He winced at the cruelty of locking an alcoholic in a wine cellar.
“I’m saying that your brother would never have let this happen if he could have prevented it. I’m saying that I’m sorry. Me. Your brother.”
She blinked at him and he tried to breathe slowly, to summon patience and count his blessings that this was not the Watson he had to deal with every day. Though he supposed he should make allowances for her current situation. He wondered if he would ever see Harry Watson at her best.
“So,” she finally ventured, “Where’s your flatmate, then?”
He beamed at her. “Back home, sick in bed with bronchitis. I’ve been looking after him and didn’t want him to exert himself. He’s got a high fever, and you know how he worries. It was just easier not to tell him about any of this—though I imagine he’s noticed I’m gone by now.”
“He won’t be happy.”
“No, I know,” Sherlock said. “But he’s safe.”
She laughed, a hard little laugh, but a great improvement over terror. “Unlike us.”
“Well, yes.” Sherlock looked around the room, noting the absence of any spy cameras. He couldn’t be sure Littleton wasn’t listening, but was reasonably sure he couldn’t see anything. “We’ll have to see what we can do about that.”
He squirmed around a bit, hands reaching. He had known this was coming, after all, and had tried to prepare himself, though Littleston being such an idiot certainly was making things easier. He had left Sherlock’s hands cuffed comfortably in front of him and hadn’t even made sure he was unarmed. Picking the handcuffs would be easy just as soon as he…
A noise from outside the door interrupted him. It was Littleston, fidgeting and pale.
“Something wrong?” Sherlock asked.
Littleston gave him a dirty look. “Just checking to see how the reunion is going. I don’t trust either of you an inch, and I’m not risking anything until I get what I want.”
Harry’s eyes widened slightly, as if she hadn’t realized he knew.
”Yes, the diary, you idiot. It’s the key, and I need it. Once I have it and whatever it leads me to, I won’t need to listen to your aggravating voice anymore.”
“You said you wouldn’t hurt her,” Sherlock said just as Harry burst out, “Don’t you hurt him!”
Littleston looked at both of them, gun shifting between them.
“I know my brother can be annoying—believe me, I know—but you can’t hurt him.” Harry said, eyes flicking to Sherlock. “If you do, I’ll kill you.”
He turned to face her. “Oh, really? And how are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll do it.” Her voice was high and tense but she meant every word. “I might not get along with him, but he’s my little brother. And if you do anything to harm him, I’ll do worse to you. I won’t let anybody hurt him.”
Sherlock’s eyes closed briefly, fingers working busily. He remembered how furiously she had rounded on him when he had come back, after. “You almost killed him,” she had shouted at him. As if he hadn’t known how badly John had been hurt. As if he hadn’t been as badly wounded himself by their enforced separation. Her fury has surprised him, knowing how little she and John got along, but in retrospect he shouldn’t have been surprised. Affectionate or not, they were siblings and who knew better than Sherlock the lengths to which one would go for a brother?
“Aren’t you a little tiger,” Littleston said. “You have no idea how little your threats mean to me. You can’t hurt me, and you certainly can’t stop me from getting what I want. If he’s smart, your brother will get out of my way. If he does what I tell him, you won’t be hurt. Be grateful. But you can’t do anything for him.”
He was just turning away with another sneer when he tripped over Sherlock’s outstretched legs and fell, gun clattering from his hand.
Sherlock, handcuffs still dangling from one wrist and breathing heavily from the effort, flung himself on top of him. Using his longer reach to grab the gun, he rammed the man’s head against the concrete floor. “Don’t move, Littleston.”
Stunned, the man stopped struggling which gave Sherlock enough time to unlock the other cuff from his wrist.
“How do you know my name?”
Sherlock pulled the man’s arms behind him and secured them with the cuffs before rolling off him so he could untie his own ankles. “It was on your mail in the kitchen, idiot. I’m not blind.”
He rose to his feet, stamping them to restore circulation, before tucking the gun in his pocket and crossing to Harry. “It’s okay,” he reassured her as he reached for the rope. “You’re okay. Good job distracting him just then, by the way. John would be proud.”
“John?” a voice questioned weakly from the floor.
He turned his head toward Littleston. “Yes, John Watson, her brother. Do try to keep up.”
“But … you’re her brother.”
Sherlock made a rude noise. “You must be the most unobservant, most inept, most stupid kidnapper I’ve ever seen. Have you even looked at us? Do we remotely look like we could be siblings?”
He pulled the last piece of rope from Harry’s wrists and moved to her ankles. “You didn’t even do the most basic homework. If you’d done the simplest of Google searches on John Watson, you would have found his blog—with his photo, which clearly isn’t me. How you managed to find his sister is a mystery.”
“He had a letter from our Mum,” Harry croaked, voice raw and dry. Sherlock looked around the room and moved toward the refrigerator in the corner. Bottled water, as he’d hoped. He opened one and handed it to Harry who drank it eagerly.
“He came looking around the house and pulled the gun on me when I answered the door. He kept going on about a secret of Mum’s and where would she hide it. Asked if she’d had a diary, which made no sense.”
“And that’s when you told him about John?”
“What kind of sister do you think I am?” she asked hotly. “I mean, we don’t get on, but he’s my brother. I didn’t tell him anything. He got John’s name and your address from my phone. I couldn’t do anything. I don’t even know what he wants.”
Sherlock turned back toward Littleston. “He considers John to be a threat to him, Harry. And quite rightly,” he told the man. “John Watson is a far better man than you are Certainly not one to cringe at the sight of a gun.”
The man’s eyes were even more confused now, but he was just as arrogant as ever. Sherlock picked up a length of rope and began securing his legs. “He would have taken you down two days ago, I might add, the minute you threatened his sister, if I hadn’t hidden his phone so he wouldn’t see your texts. I’m his flatmate, by the way. Sherlock Holmes. I went to school with your brother.”
“Yes, school, where children learn to hunt in packs.” Sherlock couldn’t keep the disgust from his voice. “You thought John was an uneducated layabout, prone to being arrested and without a thought in his head because he didn’t grow up in a large house like you did. People like you disgust me. Arrogant with no cause, just an unfounded sense of superiority.”
He quirked a smile at the noise Harry made and moved back to her to massage feeling back into her wrists. “Yes, I know I’m arrogant, too. I’ve been told often enough. But I’m also very good at what I do. I earned my arrogance. This man is an idiot. If he’d done any research at all, he would have learned that your brother is not only a doctor, but a surgeon and a captain in the army. He’s also the finest man I have ever known. John Watson would never let any harm come to his sister, or indeed anyone he could protect.”
Sherlock glanced at Harry’s face, making eye contact for the first time. “My apologies for the delay, incidentally. I knew Littleston wouldn’t harm you before he had found John, and John was too sick for me to leave. He may never forgive me for making you wait.”
He raised his head, ears intent on a distant creak from somewhere in the house. “Did I mention that John and I spend our time solving crimes, by the way?” he asked Littleston cheerfully. “We’re really quite good at it, and have lots of friends on the police.” Another smile at Harry, who actually returned it this time. “Or at least, John does.”
Littleston just sputtered, speechless on the floor. “You don’t know who I am. I could BUY the Watson family, you idiot.”
“I know exactly who you are, Andrew Littleston. The smallest and weakest member of a fine family, eternally jealous of his older brother, who died suspiciously in a hunting accident right around the time your father grew ill a year ago. You were several years behind me in school, but even I heard the stories about the way you bullied every boy weaker than you and toadied to the ones above. You’ve been a creeper your entire life, a leech on your family, one who has never lifted your hand to support yourself despite a pile of debts.”
Sherlock couldn’t keep the contempt from his voice as he continued. “That is, not until just recently when you learned about another, greater threat to your inheritance and you decided to get rid of it. Even if it meant ridding the world of one of the finest men it’s ever known.”
There was a soft click at the far end of the hallway. Sherlock shifted so he was between Harry and the door, gun again in his hand as he continued, “Your mistake is that, not being in the habit of doing anything, ever, you completely bungled it. You didn’t do your homework. You kidnapped the wrong man. And you certainly didn’t think any of this through.”
His voice grew cold. “And you have no idea the world of trouble you’ve brought down on yourself by threatening John Watson and his family.”
“Not to mention the Holmes brothers,” came Greg’s voice from the doorway.
Sherlock looked up. Greg was standing in the doorway, weapon drawn, with Donovan and several more officers behind him. “Detective Inspector Lestrade,” he said. “What took you so long?”
I'm so glad you're all enjoying this, because there is more to come! Turns out, this is the first part in a series because I just can't seem to help myself. There's more that wants to be told!
Riding in the back of Mycroft’s car, John tried to breathe deeply to calm his nerves without triggering a coughing fit. It had been a long day, and his stamina wasn’t what it should be.
He still needed to wrap his head around the day’s revelations, but couldn’t force himself to concentrate. He was too edgy, worrying about Sherlock and Harry but not having the energy to do anything about it.
“Our people are in place. They’ll be fine.” Mycroft’s voice was quiet.
“I know,” John said. “I just need to see it for myself.”
“Which is why I allowed you come along, John. As much as you should be resting, I knew you wouldn’t be able to relax until you saw they were safe.”
“Thanks a bunch, Mycroft.” The words were rude, but they didn’t have the bite they normally would.
They were only about ten minutes away from the house when both Mycroft and John’s phones rang with a text alert.
--“Harry and I both safe. SH”
--“John had better have taken his medicine. SH”
John chuckled, feeling a flood of relief in his chest that had nothing to do with his cough.
Greg’s people moved in with their customary efficiency. They collected Littleston from the floor and helped Harry, stiff from hours in one position, from her chair, while Sherlock borrowed Greg’s mobile to text John and Mycroft.
Littleston was complaining to everyone in earshot that his lawyer would have him free in a matter of hours, that he had been kidnapped by these hooligans and kept captive in his own wine cellar. That none of this was his fault. He didn’t show the smallest sign of remorse or even awareness of the trouble he was in.
There was a commotion at the door and, with an instinct like animals when a storm was coming, everybody in the room froze.
Then John Watson strode in the door with a stone face and a snap to his stride that would make weak men quiver in their boots.
Sherlock heard a whispered, disbelieving noise from the corner as John went straight to Harry. “Are you okay?” he asked, hands on her shoulders. “Are you sure?”
She nodded, and asked, clinging to him, “You?”
He gave her a quick hug. “You know I would never have made you wait, right?”
Another nod. “Sherlock explained. He hid your phone.”
“Which he’ll never do again, isn’t that right?” John said, raising his voice with a command tone that his old army buddies would have recognized in an instant.
“Never again—unless you have a high fever or are in hospital,” Sherlock agreed from where he was leaning on the wall, watching the proceedings.
John turned to him. “Even then. You still tell me what’s going on, you hear me? I thought we’d been through this?” Their eyes locked for a long minute and to everyone’s surprise, it was Sherlock that looked away first.
“Very well. I’ll tell you. After I’ve tied you to your bed so I can get a headstart.”
John laughed. “Good enough. And now…” He turned again, this time looking around the room, taking in the hard chair surrounded by the pile of rope. He looked again at his sister, noting the rope burns at her wrist and ankles, the paleness of her skin and the signs of tension around the eyes. Another quick, knowing doctor’s glance at Sherlock, and then his gaze hardened.
Sherlock started to put a hand out as John spun on his heel and marched across the room to Littleston, every inch a soldier. An angry soldier.
A very angry soldier.
Other than Sherlock, only his comrades from the Army had ever seen this John Watson. Normally a polite, self-effacing man, it was easy to underestimate him. His friends knew he had a temper, and his sister had certainly seen it often enough. John being mad enough to blow off steam and throw a punch, John being indignant on behalf of a crime victim, or upset at atrocities—all of these were familiar.
But this? This John Watson was so incandescently, righteously furious that he emitted waves of cold rage that were even more frightening for being utterly under his control.
This was not a man likely to throw a punch. This was a man who was calculating exactly what he needed to do to utterly destroy.
This wasn’t a man you could imagine getting drinks at a pub, or giggling over a joke. This was not a man who made tea. This man drank fire. This was a man who was utterly terrifying.
Even Mycroft could take notes on being intimidating from this John Watson.
Moriarty would never have dared touch him.
Sherlock saw the moment Littleston realized the hell he had just brought down on his head. The man had been so smug and superior earlier, confident that he was entitled to anything he wanted, that rules didn’t apply to him. He had looked down at John’s beginnings and even when overpowered he believed that his lawyer would get him out of this mess.
But Sherlock had seen him flinch in recognition when John entered the room. He knew there was a superficial resemblance to Littleston’s father, but he found himself wondering what Ian Littleston looked like in a rage.
And then decided that all he needed to do was look at John.
Because when John stood in front of Littleston, the man’s knees gave way. He cowered with his head by his knees, babbling “I didn’t mean to” and frantically trying to make himself as small as possible.
“Andrew Littleston.” John’s voice was pitched to that of utter authority, ready to pronounce sentence. “Stand up.”
He glanced at the officers standing by and they instantly grabbed the man’s arms and pulled him to his feet.
The comparison was striking. The two men were of a height, with similar coloring. The shape of their faces was the same. Physically, they looked like they could be brothers. All similarity ended there, though.
The expression on Littleston’s face was pure, abject fear. Even Sherlock wondered at the depth of terror, because this was John, the man who would go into a fire to save a kitten. But of course, Littleston didn’t know that. He just saw the personification of Fury and Justice standing in front of him, ready to strike him down.
The tableau stood unchanging for one of the longest minutes of Sherlock’s life. No-one in the room breathed. They just stared at the doppelganger mirror-image in front of them; on one side, all that was good, on the other, all that was evil.
All John said was, “Don’t ever come after my family again,” but the tone of his voice resonated deep in the bellies of everyone there. It almost shook the floor.
Littleston was barely able to look John in the face before he had crumpled again, sobbing apologies and explanations, utterly reduced, broken.
And then John was John again, looking embarrassed at having made a scene and bending forward into a fit of coughs as the adrenalin faded. He turned back to Harry (who looked completely awe-struck) and put his arm around her. Together they walked to the door.
Those left in the room just stared at each other, not believing what they had just seen, wondering how much they had underestimated the unassuming man in the knitted jumper who had been showing up to their crime scenes and making tea for the last several years.
“Holy Jesus Christ in heaven,” muttered Greg. “I’d think twice before storing body parts in the fridge from now on, Sherlock. That was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Sherlock could only nod.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Later, sitting in the back of the ambulance, Harry insisted that she just wanted to go home.
The medic protested. “You need to be under observation after this, Ms. Watson. You should be in hospital.”
“That’s all right, I’ll be with her,” said John, trying not to look as tired as he felt. His fever was back, his lungs were whistling again, and he could barely keep his eyes open, but he looked at his sister and said, “I’m not letting you go home alone tonight.”
Sherlock suppressed a sigh. This meant he didn’t get to go home tonight, either. There was no way he was letting John out of his sight tonight, and even he conceded Harry probably shouldn’t be alone, either. Not that John was in any condition to watch someone else’s health tonight.
This time the sigh escaped.
John managed a smile. “Don’t worry. Harry and I will be fine.”
“Of course you will. I’m coming with you.”
One of Mycroft’s cars brought them to Harry’s house. (Sherlock was sure it would sit outside all night, too.) Before they were at the front door, a second car pulled up and Anthea climbed out with a large paper take-away bag and a suitcase, which she handed to Sherlock with a smile. Well, that took care of dinner. He hoped it was something nutritious. John and Harry were both undernourished.
They ate around the kitchen table (even Sherlock found himself with an appetite), but none of them talked much. It had been a long, exhausting day for them all and John barely had the energy to lift his fork. Harry excused herself early. She gave John a huge hug before she left and surprised Sherlock by giving him a kiss on the cheek, but otherwise left without a word.
Sherlock and John moved to the living room with cups of tea and sat companionably, John on the sofa with an afghan, and Sherlock in his dad’s old chair.
“I am sorry about today, you know. What I did. Not telling you.” Sherlock finally offered, bracing himself.
“I know,” John said wearily. “Don’t let it happen again.”
Another sip of tea.
Then he added, “Thanks for saving Harry, by the way.”
“She’s incredibly frustrating, but she’s the only sister I’ve got.”
“I know the feeling.”
They both grinned into their mugs, thinking about their respective difficult siblings.
“You would have been proud of her today, the way she distracted Littleston so I could get free,” Sherlock offered after a while. “She’s quite good at scolding.”
“I’m her little brother. I’d noticed.”
They sat quietly, watching the shadows shift across the room, dancing over the family portrait where a five-year old John smiled in his mother’s arms.
“Does she know?” John finally asked.
“What was in the diary? I don’t think so.”
“How did he even know about the diary in the first place? Neither Harry or I did.”
“He didn’t, not entirely,” Sherlock said. “I took a moment to look at his desk before we left his house and found this.” He held up an old, faded envelope with John’s mother’s writing and passed it over. “It’s just a simple note that says that her husband agreed to the terms and they would keep you safe. That Harold would protect the contract for as long as it took, but that she’d leave a note for you in a safe place. And this.” He held out a photo of baby John in his mother’s arms.
Sherlock sipped at his tea and then continued, “Apparently when Andy found this, he tracked down your mother’s address and confronted Harry, asking where your mother kept her secrets, the idiot.”
“Apparently LSE paid my parents’ mortgage after I was born,” John said quietly, looking around the room. “And Ian Littleston’s the man in the photo.”
“Mycroft told me.”
“I don’t understand about my dad, though. He was a good dad when I was a kid. But all that changed when I hit my teens when he started drinking, really drinking. And that one night…” He briefly told Sherlock the story. “Why would he be so horrified?”
“Most children look rather alike,” Sherlock offered. “Maybe it wasn’t until you started looking like the man you would become that your father truly began to have trouble. And maybe the agreement was founded on you being safe, would treat you like his own son.”
“Maybe.” John put his mug down, suddenly too tired to hold it. He looked sadly around the old, familiar room. “He did, though--treat me like his son. He loved me once, I can remember it. There was a lot of love, when I was still small.”
“He was horrified to find himself thinking of you differently, of having to admit you weren’t his,” Sherlock said very quietly, his years of exile flickering behind his eyes. His voice was even quieter as he added, “He couldn’t bear to think you didn’t belong to him any more.”
John looked over at Sherlock, noting the unusually vulnerable expression on his face. “And then he died before we could try to fix it. Dad and I never had a second chance. Unlike us.”
The room was gray now, with navy shadows streaking the walls, but Sherlock’s face was a little brighter. “You know, Harry looked pretty impressed when you confronted Littleston tonight. Awe-struck, in fact.”
John ducked his head, embarrassed. “Yeah, I let my temper get the better of me.”
Sherlock shook his head. “Quite the contrary. I’ve never seen you in better control of your temper. It was quite terrifying. Even Donovan looked impressed.”
“I’m never going to be able to show my face at a crime scene again,” John said with a groan.
“He deserved it.”
John nodded. Too tired even to think about what the day’s events might mean to his future. How was he going to explain to Harry? Could he possibly be Ian Littleston’s son? (Clearly that wasn’t possible, was it?)
“It all comes down to family, doesn’t it? You can’t put money first.” Staring at his dad’s face in the portrait, John said thoughtfully. “Not every man would be able to do that. Knowingly raise another man’s son, and do it with love. Even if he failed at the end.”
“I’d rather be a Watson than a Littleston.”
“Yes,” was all Sherlock said. “You were far better off here.”
John thought about all the things he didn’t know, all the things he thought he had known that now he must question. But what he did know was that Sherlock was the best friend he would ever have.
Throughout this entire long day, Sherlock’s only objective had been to help him. He had even allowed himself to be kidnapped to protect John—and had kept his temper! As much as John deplored being left behind, he had to admit he was grateful. Even Harry had been impressed. Given her own rage at Sherlock Holmes from those long years of absence, that was more than John ever expected.
“Sometimes,” he finally said, “it’s not the family you’re related to that matters the most.”
He glanced at Sherlock and saw his eyes widen just slightly. “John?” he asked.
“You did remember to take your medicine, didn’t you?”
John just smiled. Inside his chest, he felt nothing but warmth.
I hope you've enjoyed this. The funny thing is, I didn't set out to have John NOT be a Watson. It just happened because I wanted to create a situation where Sherlock was kidnapped to influence John for a change, and then things just kind of ... happened. There's more coming, though!
As always, comments are MUCH appreciated. And thanks to Castiron for beta-reading!
Thanks for the compliments, everyone. Part two, A Chat Between Old FamilyFriends, is up--I hope you like it!