The serious part of the conversation done for now, John was enjoying a chance to sit and chat with Ian. After the visit with Andy at prison this morning, and the row with Sherlock about being over-protective, and then the heart-to-heart with Ian, it was good to have a normal conversation. Really, he had so few of these in his bizarre, Sherlock-dominated life, he always appreciated anything resembling normal.
They had been talking for about half an hour when his phone rang. He glanced at the number and paused, midway through a story about his mum.
“Sherlock?” Ian asked.
John shook his head. “He prefers to text. It’s Harry.” He glanced at the sick man, who waved his hand. John nodded and took the call. “Harry? Are you all right?”
“You haven’t called me. What’s happening with that idiot who kidnapped me?” Harry’s voice was harsh in his ear.
He stifled a sigh. “He’s in prison, Harry. I don’t know any more than that.”
“How can you not know? I thought that brother of Sherlock’s could find out anything?”
“That doesn’t mean he tells me about it, Harry.” John stared at the squares of afternoon sun on the carpet and tried to be patient. “But, you’re doing okay? Did you call Clara?”
“She called when she saw the news.”
“Good.” John glanced across at Ian who was watching him with interest. “Look, Harry, I’ve got to go.”
“Sherlock pulling you away as usual?” Snide and jealous. At least Harry was getting back to normal, John thought.
“No, I’m here with Ian.” John was surprised to see Ian holding his hand out. “I think he wants to speak with you. Be nice, would you?” He walked over and handed the phone to Ian.
“Ms. Watson? I wanted to extend my apologies for my son’s actions the other day. I was horrified when I heard. Are you well? Unhurt? Is there anything I can do for you?” Ian listened for a few minutes. “Yes, I hope so, too. He deserves to.”
There was another spate of words from the phone and Ian looked up at John. “I agree, but it was what your mother wanted.” Another pause. “Yes, I know.”
Hearing just one end of this conversation was agony, but John tried to keep his face neutral as he imagined what Harry was saying. From the tone he could hear in her voice, she sounded like she was in big sister mode, and he was momentarily amused at the thought of Harry telling Ian Littleston what was best for her little brother. His thoughts were pulled back when he heard Ian mention a gift, “Just a small apology. I’ll send it around this evening.”
And then he was handing the phone back to John, who got Harry off the line as quickly as he could, with promises that he would see her soon. “I’m sorry for that,” he told Ian.
“Don’t be silly. The poor woman was just kidnapped, after all. It’s reasonable that she’d want to hear from her brother.”
John smiled wryly. “Conversations between me and Harry don’t usually qualify as reassuring, but you’re right. She deserves a little more attention right now. I’ve just been … distracted.”
“And you don’t really want to see her,” Ian said, watching him. “Was she that bad a sister?”
“Absolutely not. We’ve never been that close, but she’s still my sister. I really do need to get over there to see her.” He wiped his face with his hand, thinking about the logistics and how far away the train station was. He was thinking so hard, he missed Ian’s next comment, and looked up. “Sorry, what?”
“I said, why don’t you let my driver take you, since he’s going anyway?” Ian looked amused.
“Do you have a sister, Ian?” John asked, realizing that he had no idea what kind of new, extended family he suddenly had—other than a murderous half-brother.
“I did, and a brother, as well.” Ian chuckled. “I’ll have to get you a copy of the family tree. But really, I was just thinking that most siblings I know get that exact same look on their faces when dealing with them.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to see her,” John explained. “It’s that, no matter how good my intentions, it always goes badly. We care, but we rub each other the wrong way, and her drinking doesn’t help. And … it’s just been a full week.” A deep breath. “But I do need to see her. What’s this about a car?”
“I wanted to send her something as an apology for her troubles … do you think she’ll take it the wrong way?”
“Like thinking it’s a bribe rather than an apology?” At Ian’s nod, John said thoughtfully, “I don’t think so. In my experience, if you’ve made a mistake with Harry, you should apologize early and often. She doesn’t care that much about things, though. To her credit, she’s never been greedy that way.”
Ian grinned back at him, and John was struck again by how much he liked this man, followed immediately by the regret for all the lost years. “Right, so, a gift. And since my driver is taking it anyway, and he’s had sorely little to do of late, why don’t you go with him? Visit with your sister, and then he can take you home.”
John had to admit it sounded like an excellent plan. “I’m going to get spoiled, tooling around in private cars all the time,” he said with affection.
“I could arrange that, you know.”
“Don’t you dare. What would I do with a chauffeur?” John grinned back at him and settled back in his chair. “So, like I was saying, Mum was reaching for the flour when the cat ran past, and…”
In which John hears Harry's news and makes some calls.
It was just about 4:00 pm when Ian’s car pulled up in front of Harry’s house. John hadn’t been joking—he really could get used to this, he thought as Stephen jumped out to open the door for him.
“You really don’t have to…” John started, and then shut his mouth as the man walked to the boot to pull out the large box Ian had sent.
“Would you like me to carry this in for you?”
“No, thanks. I can manage. It’s bulky but not heavy.” John took the box, festive with its red bow. “Hopefully I won’t be too long.”
He walked up to the door and knocked. Harry opened the door almost right away, pulling him inside with a hug as he struggled not to drop the box. “What’s this, then?” John asked, surprised.
“I’m just glad to see you.” Harry sniffed into his shoulder.
John did some sniffing of his own and stifled a groan. Harry had been drinking. He mentally kicked himself. He should have known this was a possibility. The woman was an alcoholic and she had just been kidnapped. He should never have assumed she would be okay. “What happened? Did you see Clara today?”
She shook her head, eyes red. “No, I got sacked.”
Now he did drop the box. (He hoped it wasn’t anything breakable.) “You what?”
“They said I’d missed too much work. I told them about being kidnapped, I showed them the newspaper article, but they didn’t care! I think they just wanted to get rid of me. But honest, Johnny, this time it wasn’t my fault!
He pulled her more firmly into his arms “Of course it wasn’t.” Even he couldn’t blame her for taking a drink on this news. Being kidnapped and tied up in a wine cellar, finding out her brother is only her half-brother and possibly heir to a fortune as well, and then getting sacked? He was furious. Who would fire a woman for missing work for being kidnapped?
He led her into the sitting room and sat down on the couch with his arm around her, trying to ignore the open bottle of gin on the table. He was already thinking about all the things he wanted to say to her boss—former boss—and wondering what he could do to help.
He let her cry for a bit, and when she’d quieted, pulled his arm away and stood up. “Let’s see what’s in that nice present Ian sent, shall we? Maybe it will cheer you up.”
Mental fingers crossed that Ian was good at gift-giving, he hurried to the hallway to retrieve the box and then back to the sitting room before she could reach for the gin. He slid the box onto her lap and then moved the bottle and glass off the table so she’d have room to open it.
“You know,” he told her, trying to cheer her up, “I’ve never gotten a sorry-you-were-kidnapped present before. I’m quite curious.”
She looked skeptical but sat up straight as she slid the box across to the coffee table. “It’s enormous, what could it be? A box of ransom money to avoid this happening again?”
John watched her untie the bow, curious himself. Ian had said he didn’t want the gift to seem like a bribe, but this wasn’t like a birthday or get well present. There were no greeting cards for ‘Sorry You Were Kidnapped.’ He was anxious to see what Ian came up with—because there was obviously very little room for error here..
Struggling a little, Harry eased the lid from the box. On top of the massive pile of tissue paper was a note which she read quickly. She handed the note to John and started to dig in the tissue paper.
My sincere apologies for the actions of my son Andrew. He has always been selfish and short-sighted, but I never realized he would go to such lengths against an innocent woman, daughter of my old friend. I offer this in hopes that it will bring you comfort in a difficult time.
May I also add that you and your brother are both a credit to your mother. She was the finest woman I ever knew, and devoted to your father. I wish you well in all your future endeavors.
John looked up as Harry gasped. “Oh my God, it’s beautiful.”
She stood up, arms full of silk and fur. John reached for it, too, and helped her hold out the most amazing blanket he had ever seen. Luscious with soft fur lined with silk, it was rich and warm and the feel as it slid across his fingers was almost sensual. He had never seen anything like it. The fur was stitched into a subtle herringbone pattern, a thing of beauty as well as impossibly luxurious.
Harry sank back down on the couch, pulling the rug into her lap. Her face was stunned and John gave a silent tip of the hat to Ian for nailing the perfect gift. “It’s amazing,” she said, hands stroking the fur, eyes soft. “I can’t believe … it must have cost a fortune!”
John sat next to her, unable to keep his hands away from the fur, either. “I think cuddling into this would definitely make me feel comforted.”
She nodded. “It does. It doesn’t change anything, but it makes me feel better. At least I’ll be comfortable sitting on the couch doing nothing for the rest of my life.” She glanced at the gin, mouth pulling at the corners.
John stood up abruptly. “Let me get you some tea, yeah?” he said as he headed for the kitchen.
“I only had the one drink, you know.” Harry said quietly behind him. “I know I shouldn’t have, but I did stop at one.”
He nodded once and then continued into the kitchen, thinking hard. John was furious, but not at Harry. This time, at least, he didn’t blame her for needing a drink. How could her employer do that? Weren’t there laws about wrongful termination? He knew exactly who to ask about that. He started the kettle and pulled out his phone.
Mycroft was gratifyingly as appalled as John at Harry’s being fired. John smiled grimly as he hung up. He didn’t know what Mycroft was going to do, but was reasonably sure that (1) Harry would have a new, better job very shortly and that (2) her old employer was about to be audited at the very least.
He realized he didn’t have Ian’s number, so he called Mycroft back. (Because of course Mycroft had it.) He was just pouring the water into the teapot when he got through to Ian. “That gift was amazing,” he told him.
John could hear the other man smiling down the line. “It was a delicate decision, but I thought it would do.”
“It’s perfect. I don’t think she’s going to put it down. She’s going to be on the couch with that rug for days. She’ll forget to eat, but she’ll get plenty of sleep.”
“I hope her employer offers telecommuting as an option, then.”
“Not really a concern at the moment,” he told Ian bluntly. “Apparently they found her absence to be inconvenient and have let her go.”
Silence from the other end, then, “Do you know who her employer was?”
John smiled to himself at the thought of siccing not one, but two formidable, powerful men against Harry’s old boss, and so he told him. He instantly regretted it, though, when he thought about Ian’s health. “I told Mycroft, too, Ian, so you don’t need to worry.”
“Nonsense. That kind of insensitivity is bad for business and therefore bad for the economy as a whole. Employers need to realize they get their best profit from happy employees, not down-trodden ones. Believe me, this will be my pleasure. One last favor for an old friend. Besides, I’ll enjoy throwing my weight around one last time.”
John’s smile was wicked now. “Okay, then, just don’t tire yourself out. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
John tucked the phone back into his pocket and went back into the sitting room with the tea. Harry was staring into space, absently petting her new rug with a blissful look on her face. “I brought tea,” said John, “But you’re going to want to sit up. You don’t want to risk a spill.”
She sat bolt upright with a start. “God, no!”
Harry was just reaching for the cup when her phone rang. She looked surprised at the number, but took the call. She listened in disbelief and then said, “What makes you think I want my job back? What kind of company fires someone when she’s just been kidnapped? It was a lousy job anyway. What? No, I don’t care who just rang you … Look, I’ve got another call.”
She disconnected and answered her second call. “Yes, this is Harriet Watson. What? Why, that’s, that sounds amazing. Who did you say you are, again?” Her eyes were wide as she stared at her brother.
John glanced at his watch. 10 minutes 37 seconds since he called Mycroft. He certainly was efficient. He sipped his tea and just enjoyed watching Harry’s astonished face as she received yet another call with apparently another fabulous job offer.
She arranged for an interview tomorrow and disconnected, staring at her brother. “What did you DO?” Her voice was shaking.
“Called in a few favors,” he told her. “Luckily for both of us, my friends were as appalled at your old boss as I was. Not to mention owing you something for the whole kidnapping thing.”
She sank back into the couch, pulling her new blanket up to her chin, eyes wide. “I don’t think I know you any more, little brother.”
He put his teacup down with a clink. “Nonsense. I’m the same little brother I’ve always been. I just have more powerful friends, is all.”
Harry shook her head. “No, that’s not it. It’s you. When you stormed into that basement the other day? I didn’t recognize you. You were actually scary.” She nestled into the fur, looking comforted. “I’m so used to thinking of you as my little brother, who I need to protect. I forget.”
John would have been amused if his heart hadn’t been thudding so hard in his chest. “You do remember I was a soldier, right?”
The slightest trace of a smile. “Yeah, of course, but it’s not like I ever saw you being a soldier, Johnny. I thought you were safe somewhere in a hospital behind the lines right up until you got yourself shot and there was nothing I could do.”
She shuddered at the memory, and John put his tea down and moved to the couch, sliding under that incredible blanket to lean his shoulder against hers. “You know you wouldn’t have really been that much help, right?” he asked her, voice gently teasing.
“The point, though, is that I always thought I needed to look after you, and then this week …” She pulled a hard breath through her nose and blinked. “This week, you’re the one looking after me. How did that happen?”
“It’s what brothers and sisters do, Harry. It’s not about older or younger, it’s about being together. We just tend to forget that. We might fight, but we’ll always look out for each other.”
“Even if you’re not really my brother anymore?” Her voice was small.
“I am too your brother,” John told her as firmly as he could. “Same Mum, remember? Not to mention a lifetime habit. You’re stuck with me, Harry.”
She reached for his hand, fingers intertwining with his. She didn’t say anything for a few minutes, then, “You’ve got some pretty impressive friends, little brother.”
He shrugged. “Occupational hazard, really. I just meet a lot of people.”
“People willing to do favors for your alcoholic sister?”
John looked down at her head nestled on his shoulder. “People willing to do the right thing, sis. It’s not about favors. Your being sacked today was just wrong. All I did was let a couple people know about it. Luckily for both of us, they have a strong sense of justice.”
As if on cue, her phone rang again. He gave her a quick kiss on top of the head and slid out from under the fur. It looked like she was going to be a while, so he walked back to the kitchen and rinsed out his cup, then went back to give her a quick hug. “You’ll be all right?” he whispered as she listened to whomever was on the phone. She nodded and gave him a huge, one-armed hug. Feeling unusually cheerful, he left the house, taking the gin bottle with him.
And he laughed when he saw the florist van pull up as Stephen pulled out of the driveway. He wondered if Mycroft would be willing to tell him what, exactly, he had said to Harry’s old employer. He had a feeling it would be highly entertaining.
Riding back, John sent Mycroft and Ian quick thank you texts, and then sat and thought, savoring the memory of Harry’s expression when she took that first call. That little bit of justice had been totally satisfying, even better than punching her boss in the face would have been. It reminded him of calling in airstrikes in Afghanistan—an instant strike against a distinct target, only bloodless this time, and so with fewer consequences for his conscience.
Because his conscience was totally clear. Mycroft and Ian could lean as hard on Harry’s old employer as they liked and John wouldn’t feel a twinge. On a normal day, he wouldn’t dream of calling down Mycroft Holmes and the British government on anyone, but this time?
It felt good being able to do something to help Harry. She drove him crazy, but he still loved her. You do what you need to help family, after all.
Scenery sliding past the window, he blinked suddenly. Wasn’t that exactly what had made him so angry with Sherlock? Being protective and going over his head?
That was different, he told himself. Sherlock had kept knowledge of John’s father from him, not to mention the murderous half-brother. Secret or not, that was information John needed to have. What he had done just now was nothing like that. He had just pointed out a grievous injustice and let events take their course.
Though … that was sophistry, and he knew it. Sherlock had promised to keep Ian’s secret. He had to. It hadn’t been his secret to tell. No matter how John hated the necessity, he was honest enough to admit the truth.
How was he going to get Sherlock to see it, though? He had to at least acknowledge that John had the right to make his own life decisions. John had already forgiven one huge deception, and if he forgave this one as well, he had to make sure Sherlock knew that that was IT. No more. Professional secrets, yes. Huge, personal, life-changing secrets, no.
The car was nearing Baker Street now. “You can drop me at the corner, Stephen,” John said.
“Are you sure, sir?”
“Yeah. Right there by the Chinese place. I’ll just pick up some dinner on my way home.”
Thirty minutes later, he climbed the stairs to 221B, reminding himself how lucky he was to have this crazy life filled with people willing (and able) to do whatever it took to keep him and his as safe as he tried to keep them. It might be the most mixed-up definition of family he’d ever heard of, but it worked, and it was his.
Taking a deep breath. He opened the door.
He was home.