Chapter 1: A Disrupted Journey
Nothing ever happens to John now. Until a late night journey on the Northern Line that changes everything...
Twelve months after... everything. On the Northern Line heading south towards Kings Cross on a rapidly emptying train. Eleven thirty pm. The clubbers disappeared at Camden, leaving a scant hard-core population of drunks, shift workers and loners, just like John, scattered throughout.
His eyes slid shut. Permanently tired these days, rarely sleeping for more than an hour at a time. Dreaming meant remembering a bloodstain on a London pavement. Alcohol helped, but not always. Cat naps were preferable now.
This time, he awoke to stillness and near darkness. Disorientation faded as he inhaled the scent of Tube dust and brake fluid. A light flickered further down the carriage from the phone of a woman sat away from him. Its screen illuminated her with a brittle halo.
Another scent rose, wandering between aromatic and acrid. Smoke. John’s tiredness snapped away. He pulled out his phone and used it as a torch to locate the alarm. The smoke was visible now, drifting through the open windows at the carriage ends. He tried to work out how far they were from Euston. A matter of yards at a guess, but they had no real chance of escape unless the driver responded.
Which he did, just before John’s hand touched the alarm. ”Ladies and gentleman, I apologise for the delay. We have an electrical fault. This train will terminate at Euston.”
John sat as the lights returned. The smoke was still there, like an unpleasant whisper. Why hadn’t the driver mentioned it? Perhaps he didn’t know, or he didn’t want to cause a panic amongst his quietly exhausted passengers.
The train began lurching forward into Euston. As the doors opened, it was clear that they had arrived in the middle of a security alert. Transport police and Underground officials awaited them on the platform. The smell of smoke intensified, although its source was unclear.
John joined the weary stragglers as they left the platform and snaked off towards the escalators. The scent of smoke followed them vaguely. As he trudged onto the escalator, the sudden closeness of others tightened his chest. Panic rose in him. His leg grew watery. His right palm slicked with sweat. His grip on the handrail became increasingly insecure. He was not even halfway to the top.
It was all too easy to visualise the ridged contours of the tread below, beneath and behind him, constantly moving. There were people behind him. If he fell, so would they. A pile of broken dominoes. God help the one at the bottom.
Chapter 2: The Hand and The Scarf
No longer alone
He could not fall. He could not...
Focusing on the handrail, he gripped until his knuckles whitened in desperation. Not good. His hand slipped on the rail, and his knees sagged. He waited for the falling to start, dreading the bite of the treads on his scalp.
But they didn’t. He felt the imprint of a delicate hand, fingers spread like a starfish, supporting the middle of his back. “Lean. Breathe. I will not let you fall.” A soft, low, female voice. Calm, almost to the point of hypnotic. “You’ve got about a minute before we reach the top. Can you walk?”
His mouth dried as he tried to slow his breathing. His shoulders began to shake. The corridor was rising into sight, but he could no longer trust his legs. The pressure of the hand disappeared, and the strength of his good leg went it. His whole body wavered for a second, then an arm in a fine wool coat snaked between his left arm and his waist. The same cool hand starfished across his diaphragm to steady him.
“The trick is to keep breathing,” she said. “Lean if you need to. I will not let you fall.” It worked. His breathing slowed. His legs began to feel less traitorous.
The escalator finished its climb. He only needed to take one step, and he would be on solid ground. He willed his good leg to move forward and found that he could trust it. Its partner followed reluctantly.
The arm around his waist loosened its grip slightly, John headed to one side so that he could regain his breath and composure. The arm slipped away but he sensed she was just out of reach, watching, waiting.
One of the station staff approached him. “Are you alright, mate?” he asked.
John nodded. ”Went a bit dizzy. Fine now thanks.” The man went back to shepherding travellers out of the station.
John fumbled for his Oyster card. The woman who had stopped his fall had melted wordlessly into the crowds. She couldn’t have gone far, but he had no idea where. Shrugging, he made his way out of the station.
The earlier rain had dried up, enclosing London with a canopy of lamp lit clouds. The air felt cool and clear. The panic that had frozen his leg passed, and now he felt stiff. There were dozens of people on the street as a result of the evacuation, most of whom were trailing their way up the Euston Road. He needed the air, so decided to join them. Looking both ways, he crossed over and headed towards Baker Street.
When he paused at the Tottenham Court junction lights, something made him look to his right. A figure in a fine grey coat was also waiting to cross. He discreetly glanced across. Fractionally taller than him in her heels. Straight chestnut hair covering her shoulders. A vivid silk and velvet scarf threatened to escape from her neck. In the flash of oncoming headlights, it was a flash of gold amongst the grey. He realised that he was staring, and strategically shifted his gaze, hoping she hadn’t noticed him.
The lights changed from green to red. They moved in unconscious symmetry. John was now acutely aware of her. He was almost certain that she had been the woman on the escalator. Even so, it didn’t seem appropriate to accost a woman to whom he hadn’t spoken. Intrigued, he slowed just enough to watch her walk across the road ahead of him.
There was a wail of poorly applied brakes. A blue Micra with blacked out windows careered towards them. The scarf fluttered off her shoulder. The car swept past, radio blaring, chased by a Mini. The first car missed her by inches. The second one didn’t. She flew backwards. Her head met the tarmac with a sick thud.
Chapter 3: In the midst of it
Once a doctor...
John knelt by her, oblivious to the changing lights and the swerving cars. Blood oozed from her temple. She lay awkwardly on her side, half twisted towards him. He leant closer, taking her hand to discreetly checking her pulse. It was weakening.
Her fingers shifted fractionally against hers. “It’s going to be all right. Lie still. Shh, ” he whispered. He fumbled wrong-handedly for his phone, then saw the flash of blue lights shimmer on the damp road ahead.
A figure approached him. “ Mate, are you hurt? Help’s coming.” A familiar voice. The figure shielded his eyes with his hands, then hurried over.
Lestrade. “Christ, are you OK, John?”
John nodded. “Think so. She isn’t. Two cars jumped the lights, and the second one caught her. She’s got a head injury, and possible multiple fractures, judging by the way she landed.”
“I’ll get Dispatch to chase the call. We’d been after these buggers for some time.” Lestrade headed back towards his car. John looked across, and saw Donovan hurrying towards her boss. Lestrade made a call while she snapped on some gloves and started searching the accident site. She passed close by John, saying nothing but her disdain was clear.
He turned his attention to the woman on the ground. Gently, he guided hair away from her brow, the better to see if it concealed further injuries. She tried to inch her towards him, but he stopped her. “Just lie still. You’ll be ok. Keep holding my hand. “ His tone remained light and gentle. His fingers traced across her wrist. Where the hell was that ambulance?
Donovan approached, a scuffed handbag and the vibrant scarf dangling in an evidence bag. “I take these are hers,” she asked John. “Was she with you? “
“No. She was just ahead of me. I think she came out of Euston as part of the crowd after the security alert.”
Donovan nodded. She opened the bag to look for ID.
Lestrade joined her. ”Who is she? “
“Agnes Reynard, according to her licence. I’ve got uniform on the way so they can clear the road and do an evidence sweep.”
“Thanks Sally. “ She walked briskly back to the car. Lestrade came over to John. John kept whispering to Agnes, as he now knew her to be. His voice was calm, but the concern was clear on his face.
The paramedics arrived. He moved away to let them work. Lestrade tucked a blanket around his shoulders and guided him to his car. “I’m fine,” John protested.
“No, you’re not. Now stay there. I’ll talk to you in a minute.”
John sagged back heavily on the seat. He could see the paramedics working on Agnes in the near distance. One of them approached him.
“Right. Your turn. Details?” John told him. The paramedic smiled.
“Thought I recognised you. John smiled briefly, but did not respond. He was used to this by now. The paramedic checked him over, and continued. “Your mate was a good man, if a strange one.” John nodded, trying not to think what Sherlock would have been doing in a scene like this. “Right. You’re all done.“ John handed the blanket back and watched as Agnes was lifted into the ambulance.
“Where will you take her?” he asked the departing paramedic.
“UCH. It’s closest. Cheers, Doc.”
John watched the ambulance depart, lights strobing, siren wailing. Lestrade handed him a cardboard cup. “Right. Back to my car. We’ll get this statement down, and then I’ll drop you home.”
A few minutes on. John sipped the tea, glad for its warmth if not its taste. God only knows where Lestrade had got it from. Even Sherlock could have made better than that. The thought pulled him up short.
Lestrade touched his arm “Right, sleepy. Time to go home. You been on call again?"
“At The Whittington. They needed someone at short notice. Nothing drastic.”
“Fair enough. How’s Mrs Hudson?”
“Surviving. We keep an eye on each other.”
The silence grew. The car purred on through the quietening streets. They pulled into Baker Street and rolled to a stop. Lestrade turned to him. “Not the best of circumstances, but good to see you again.”
”You too. Thanks for the lift.”
“No worries. Just don’t be a stranger.”
“I’ll try not to be.” The car purred away.
John slipped upstairs like a ghost. Mrs Hudson had been in. A biscuit tin sat alongside the post on the worktop. He prised off the lid. Cheese scones. Bless her.
Chapter 4: The Morning After
Mrs Hudson keeps an eye on her tenant..
John woken up to the incessant beep of a reversing lorry. His skin was dry to the point of irritation and he was ravenous, but he seemed to have slept well for a change. Obviously he needed to kneel in the traffic more often. He could still taste the Tube dust in the back of his throat, and his hair felt greasy. Nothing that a solid five minutes under the shower wouldn’t fix.
Lestrade texted him about an hour later.
Morning. Just heard Agnes Reynard is conscious. She’d like to speak to you. Are you up for it? GL
Good to hear it. Thanks for letting me know, Did you get the bastards who tried to clean us up? JW
We didn’t, but Traffic on the A1 did. Want to meet up for a pint? GL
Sure. Text me when you’re free. JW
John checked the UCH website for visiting hours, then headed downstairs. Mrs Hudson was in the lounge when he let himself in.
“Morning dear.” Mrs Hudson was waiting with two cups of tea on a tray. "Come and sit down.”
John did as he was told. They hadn’t seen each other for several days, and the mutual air of concern had to be dismissed somehow.
“Thank you for the scones. They were a nice surprise.”
“It’s lovely to have someone to share them with. She paused. “And how was Inspector Lestrade?”
So she had noticed his arrival last night. “Oh, his usual self.”
“I thought you were up at the Whittington last night. Don’t tell me he pulled you out on a case after your shift.”
“No.” And with that, John filled her in on the events of the night, leaving out the panic and near collapse on the escalator. He didn’t want to add to her worries.
Mrs Hudson put on her most sympathetic face. “How is the young lady?”
“Conscious and talking. Wanting to see me, apparently. I’m going over to UCH a bit later on.”
“Is she pretty?” Her eyes glimmered. John pulled a face.
“I wasn't looking at her like that. She was only just ahead of me on the crossing. “
“Lucky you were there. What time are you going to the hospital?”
“General visiting starts at two.”
Mrs Hudson examined his appearance. “Well, you’ve got time to change your shirt before then.”
“This is not a date. She asked to see me, that’s all. Maybe she just wants to say thank you.”
“Perhaps. But you shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to meet new people.”
“Being witness to a hit and run is not the new speed dating. She asked me to see her and I said that I would.” John suddenly found the pattern of the paisley carpet desperately fascinating.
Mrs Hudson couldn’t resist one last attempt. “What’s she called?"
“Now that's a lovely name.” She looked across at him. “Will I see you later?”
“Bye. Don’t forget to change your shirt. Make a good impression.”
John humphed. He’d never hear the last of it if he didn’t.
He reached the ward at half past two, and was directed to a side room.
Agnes was propped up in bed, looking out of the window. Bruises mottled her face, apart from a large dressing covering her left brow. Her right arm was in a high sling. Her collarbone had clearly taken more of the impact than he realised.
She acknowledged him with a smile. “Daylight suits you.” Her calm, low, clear voice reverberated through him as he sat in a visitor chair. Despite a quiver of nerves, he couldn’t help smiling.
”We haven’t been formally introduced. I’m John Watson, Ms Reynard.”
John looked around the room. Why did she make him feel so nervous? “You’re looking better than you did last night. Do you make a habit of rescuing strangers on escalators?”
“No, that was a first.” They both smiled. “Actually, keeping you upright stopped me from panicking, if I’m honest . That smoke really frightened me. “ A glint appeared in her eyes. “And how often do you kneel in the middle of a busy junction to hold a stranger’s hand?”
“Only when required. Focusing on someone else to contain your own feelings seems to be a common tactic. Blame it on the Hippocratic oath.”
Agnes almost laughed, then winced. “Ribs?” he asked. She nodded.“Do you want me to get someone?”
“No thanks. I don’t think they can give me anything else right now. I think my pillows might have slipped. Could you adjust them for me?”
He was on his feet immediately. “How’s that?“ he asked, shuffling them behind her, doing his best to avoid additional pain. For all of her banter, it was clear to his experienced eyes how shaken she remained. “Have they said how long they want to keep you in?”
“As short a time as possible. If I didn’t ache so much, I’d be up and about already.”
“It’s probably best you stay in bed for at least a couple of days. Believe me, you’ll feel better in the long run.”
A silence grew, and John briefly wished he was one of those suave gits who had a line for every occasion. He suddenly felt as though he was the wrong side of sixteen again, desperate to impress a girl he fancied.
“Have you had many visitors?” he asked.
“My parents drove up from Suffolk to check how I was, then went back to make sure Ethel was alright.” Ethel?
“Ethel, is an opinionated tortoiseshell who deigns to allow me to pay her mortgage. She came with the flat and I hadn’t the nerve or the heart to evict her. Dad pretends that he hates her, but he’s always secretly pleased when she takes over his lap.”
“Sounds typical. Where’s home?”
“I’ve got a flat not far from Vauxhall. It’s surprisingly quiet once you screen out the sirens and the helicopters.”
“You get used to them after a while. I’m in Marylebone.”
“Very nice. You in a flat share?”
“More of a property guardian really. The building belongs to an older lady who lives downstairs. We have…” The words dried in his mouth. He started again. “I did have a flatmate. A good friend, but he died some time ago.” He swallowed and stared at the ceiling for a moment.
“It’s not been the best year,” he admitted, glad for once that he wasn’t being faced with the twenty questions routine about Sherlock.
“Where do you work?” she asked. Back onto safer territory.
“I float between a number of London hospitals, covering absences in A&E. And you?”
"PA for the director of a children’s charity in Waterloo. Very occasionally, I get to dress up and run fundraising events. I was just coming back from one in Highgate last night.”
“I was just coming back from a shift at the Whittington.”
“Are you working tonight?”
“Not so far. They’ve seen rather a lot of me this week. I’m hoping for a quiet night with some brain rot television. Nothing too exciting, unless it’s happening in Albert Square.”
The door opened. A smaller, greyer version of Agnes came in. “Mum, this is Dr John Watson, who helped me last night.” He stood up to greet her.
Mrs Reynard took John’s hand in both of hers. ”Thank you so much.” Her eyes were threatening to tear.
“I was just glad to be of help. Nice to meet you. Agnes, is it OK if I drop past tomorrow?”
“Sure. Anything to save me from the curse of daytime television. Bye.”
“Bye. “ They both smiled at him as he left.
John stopped at the ward desk. The same nurse was still there. He waited until she had finished typing before asking about Agnes,
“She’s doing much better than we initially expected. Thankfully she’s got a very hard head. Concussion, a broken collarbone, a couple of cracked ribs and the usual cuts and bruises. I think we might keep her a couple more days, depending on what the reg thinks. “
John thanked her and was turning to go when he felt someone touch his arm. ”Doctor Watson?”
“Yes?”He turned to see an older man with sharp, grey eyes. He might not have been not much taller than John, but his personality filled that corridor. “Andrew Reynard. My wife and I are profoundly grateful for the assistance you gave Agnes last night.”
“As I said to your wife, I would have done it for anyone.” Well, almost.
Nevertheless,” continued the older man. “You cannot imagine how precious she is to me. Please let me know if I can help you in any way. You’re a good man, and there are precious few around today.” He passed John a card, nodded to him, then went in to see his daughter.
John turned the card over in his hands. Andrew Reynard, Criminologist. No address, but John recognised the number. Mycroft’s division.
I will post things correctly. I will not accidentally delete my work.
I will post things correctly. I will not accidentally delete my work. Ad infinitem!
Chapter 6: It's a Small World
It's been a while since they met..
The sun was breaking through the afternoon murk as he left the hospital. He was glad Agnes was improving. He was looking forward to seeing her again.
His phone quacked. Mrs Hudson had finally succumbed to the mobile phone, if not to text language itself. Her messages were electronic calligraphy.
John, dearest, I’m out of coffee and milk. Could you please pick up some on the way home? Many thanks, Mrs H.
No problem- JW
He took a short detour to pick up the shopping, and was back on the pavement when a sleek black car snaked alongside.
There was no point attempting to ignore it. The rear passenger door opened, and John climbed in. “What I have done this time?” he asked the man in the immaculate brown suit.
“You were quite the hero last night. Agnes Reynard is my goddaughter. “
“Ahh. I suppose that her private room was down to you.”
“Not this time. Her initial condition warranted it. Thank you.”
“You’re the third person to say that to me today. She owes more to the paramedics and A&E than me. All I did was hold her hand and talk to her. Nothing heroic.”
The undeserved praise made him uncomfortable. It seemed to be much easier to stay under the radar.
“Andrew Reynard is a very influential man. He is a good ally.”
“And a dangerous enemy?”
“Possibly, especially where his daughter is concerned.”
“Are you trying to warn me off?”
“Oh no, no. Just tread carefully. She is all they have now.”
“Just what are you inferring?”
“Only that your previous romantic attachments have not ended well.”
Ouch. “My personal life is none of your business. Don’t you think that your meddling has done me enough damage?”
Mycroft glanced at him. “I supposed I deserved that.” He looked across at John. “I have precious little family remaining. I want to protect those who are left. That includes you.”
Difficulty built on difficulty. Mycroft was getting out of his emotional depth. John relented.
“I appreciate that you mean well, but I need to do this on my own.”
Mycroft admitted defeat. The car slowed. John got out to walk the last yards home.
Chapter 7: Conversations
A quiet night which makes up for the previous one
“Well?” asked Mrs Hudson over the credits of Eastenders.
“Well, I went to see her.”
“They are really impressed with her progress. We had a chat. Nice girl. Met her parents.”
“Ooh. That was quick. I hope they were grateful for what you did.”
“They were. As was Mycroft.“ He took a drink of tea, and noticed the roll of her eyes.
“What did he want?”
“He’s Agnes’ godfather. Appears to be very fond of her, as much as he can be of anyone.”
“What are her parents like?”
“Only met them briefly. Mother seems nice enough. Father works for the Home Office- which is where the Mycroft connection comes in.”
“Well, are you going to see her again?”
“I said I’d drop past tomorrow. She said she needed some respite from daytime television.”
“See.” Mrs Hudson with a smudge of hope in her voice. “Well worth changing your shirt for. Baby steps are better than none.”
John shook his head, but he knew she was right. ”We’ll see. I’ve got a day off tomorrow, and a mountain of washing to sort out. See you soon.”
“OK dear. Take care.”
John plodded upstairs and unlocked his door. The flat smelt of synthetic flowers. The sofa was covered in neatly stacked washing. Mrs Hudson had obviously been very busy while he was out, bless her. No wonder she had sent him to Tesco.
Agnes lay back, trying to find the most comfortable position. The gradual reduction of the pain relief had meant that she was becoming more aware of her injuries. The bruises were developing, especially across her back, although she was yet to see them.
Her parents had stayed for an hour. They had brought fresh clothes as well as news of Ethel, who seemed none the worse for wear for not seeing her. Fickle creature.
She was about to switch off the light when there was a knock at the door. “Come in." A tall man in a brown suit slipped in, carrying an arrangement of purple irises. He placed them on her bedside. “How are you feeling, my dear?” he asked.
“I’ve been better, but everyone’s been so kind.”
“You have given us quite a scare. I would have come sooner, but I was out of the country. I didn’t want to crowd the situation.”
“Thanks.” She didn’t quite know how to phrase the next question. “He's Sherlock's John, wasn't he?”
“Yes, but not quite in the way you might have thought. One of the few individuals who could cope with my brother.”
“Thought I recognised him from the papers and the internet. He was in my carriage. Then, when we were evacuated at Euston, I found myself behind him on the escalator. Poor guy was about to have a panic attack. I managed to keep him upright until we got off, then left him to regain his composure.He didn't need an audience, and it didn’t seem the right time to talk, if I’m honest. I didn’t know what to say. “
“What happened ?”
“We were at the Tottenham Court Road junction. Quite a crowd of people had come off the Tube, and were wandering along in small groups. I became aware of him glancing across at me, more out of curiosity than anything else. I just wanted to get home, which was why I sped up. I never saw those cars, I just remember the headlights and the brakes. My scarf fell off and then I was knocked flying.
“I remember being on my side on the tarmac, barely able to move. I felt like I was drifting until he touched the side of my face and picked up my hand. And there he was, kneeling next to me in the middle of a major junction, completely ignoring the traffic. He just kept calmly chatting away, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “
“Did he recognise you from the escalator?”
“He might have suspected, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t leave me until the paramedics arrived, and only then when he got ordered away to get checked out himself.”
Mycroft had been listening in utter stillness. He realised that he another reason to be grateful to John, and regretted being so high-handed earlier.
“What did your parents make of him?”
Mum liked the look of him. Lovely manners, she said. Dad was quieter. He said they’d spoken briefly. John said he’s going to come back tomorrow. I hope he does.”
“He’s a man of his word. But be careful. He's still grieving for Sherlock.”
“Clearly. He mentioned it in passing, but I didn’t want to ask him. It just wasn’t fair. Does he know about us?”
“I spoke to him this afternoon. He wasn’t best pleased to see me. He still blames me for what happened to Sherlock and he still has got some way to go.”
“So are you adding matchmaker to your unofficial roles?” .
“Not quite, but do your best to befriend him. He doesn’t make friends easily, but he’s loyal and he’s fair. Both of you have spent far too long alone.”
“Is that an order? “
“More like godfatherly advice. Now go to sleep.” He leant across and kissed the unbruised fraction of her cheek.
“Yes, Godpappa. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight my dear.” Mycroft disappeared into the corridor. He hoped that some of his advice would be taken.
Chapter 8: Midnight
John is dreaming again. Elsewhere, someone is stirring.
This is officially the longest thing I've written in twenty years. Please let me know if it starts creaking! Thanks.
John was back on the Northern Line, surrounded by smoke. The escalator loomed ahead. This time there was no Agnes to steady him.
He tumbled backwards into other passengers. Their screams echoed in his ears. His hands were dripping with sweat and blood. He tumbled back onto the smoky platform and cracked his head.
He awoke on the floor, gasping and sweating. His head ached and felt disturbingly moist. He felt his scalp for fresh injuries. It was clammy with sweat rather than blood.
The floor was icy smooth. John climbed back into bed and stared at the moon in the crack of the curtains until his eyes grew heavy, hoping that Agnes was more comfortable than him.
Mycroft’s phone vibrated three times.
Quietly heroic. Saved Agnes from a hit and run. First on scene, held her hand, kept her calm. You’d have been proud. MH
-Never thought otherwise. All OK?
Yes, but he still misses you. As do I. MH
-But you know I’m OK - he doesn’t.
How much longer? MH
-All over soon. Be patient.
Chapter 9: Words
A classic board game becomes a flirtation device
The morning brought stiffness and bruising. John staggered into the shower and let the scalding water pound against his body. What could he take to distract Agnes this afternoon? When he spotted a familiar box on top of his wardrobe, he knew the answer.
Two o’clock couldn’t come fast enough.
Agnes had had a good night. She was out of bed, her legs covered by a blanket. The bruises were fading, and her hair looked neat and smooth. A mixed collection of vases stuffed with flowers decorated the windowsill. “Someone’s popular,” he joked.
“A combination of family, friends and the floral displays from the fundraiser. When my team found out, they went into overdrive. They’re gorgeous, but I might ask the nurses to do a little bit of floral distribution for the benefit of the rest of the ward.” What have you got there?”
“No flowers, I’m afraid. However, I hope you’ll like it.” He put down his box and unpacked it to reveal a Scrabble set.
“I like the way you think.” He set up the game board.
She placed her opening word - BEING.
Highly respectable. He counted up the score and noted it down. How about this?” SNARK.
“As in The Hunting of the …”
“Exactly. If we can use words invented by Shakespeare, a few by Lewis Carroll can’t hurt, although bandisnatch and momewrath might stretch it somewhat.” She smiled. .
They fell into the rhythm of the game. John soon realised that he was up against a formidable opponent, He has always viewed himself as a tactical player, but he was nothing in comparison to Agnes. It was almost as good as being beaten by Sherlock...However, after her second victory, John admitted defeat, and they packed up the tiles. Agnes felt it was time to confess.
“I wasn’t entirely straight with you yesterday. I recognised you on sight, when you got into my carriage at Archway. I didn’t say anything because you looked like you needed privacy.”
He had known this would be coming. Deep breath. “So Mycroft didn’t frighten you off?”
“He knows better than that. I figured that you’d tell me what you needed to. Besides, it really is none of my business..” Her voice trailed off as she watched his eyes.
“Thank you.” Her discretion touched him. He let her continue.
“I was worried, and not just about my own skin. I knew I could support you until we reached the top. I was hoping you’d regain your composure. And you did.”
John quirked his eyebrows. “So where did the pep talk come from?”
“You needed to be calmer. It was so hard to see anyone struggle like that. I couldn’t stand there and watch when I knew I could do something to stop it.”
“How did you know that I wouldn’t react badly? “
“I didn’t. I took a risk. We were a hundred metres underground and the last thing we all needed was a blind stampede on our best means of escape. I felt it was worth a try.” She looked directly at him. You didn’t seem dangerous, just enclosed.” She didn’t pity him, or want to fix him. Her practicality made a positive change from the well-meaning but often trite comments from which he couldn’t escape since Sherlock’s death. She could almost see the thoughts rolling across his face as he absorbed her words. Now it was her turn.
“When did you realise you were following me?”
“At the traffic lights. Your scarf caught my eye, and then I noticed the colour of your coat. I didn’t say anything in case I alarmed you. After all, it was almost midnight, and you were on your own.”
“I knew you were watching me.”
Now he felt sheepish. “I couldn’t be sure, because I never saw your face. I was hoping you’d say something at the traffic lights, but you never got the chance.”
“But I’m here because of you. It’s all still a bit sketchy, but I remember your hands. They smelt of sanitiser. I couldn’t see much other than the street lights and your trousers. I didn’t want you to leave, but the paramedics had other ideas.”
“I was in the way. I knew I’d done as much as I could. I hoped it was enough.”.
“So does that make us quits?”
“I suppose so.” A comfortable silence developed between them. John’s phone rumbled in his pocket. He pulled it out instinctively. Lestrade. That could wait.
“Yeah. I’ll sort it later.”
“Not at work today?”
“Nope. The guy I was covering for came back today, so I’ve got time on my hands before the next assignment. I might even get to see some daylight, if I can avoid the rain.”
“Would you like to meet for a coffee when they finally let me out.”
“Love to.” John scribbled his mobile number onto the back of the Scrabble score page. He folded the paper and put it on her bedside cabinet..
His phone quacked. He jumped, and she tried not to laugh because it would hurt. “You seem to be in demand.”
“Unfortunately. I’d better go. Anyway, you’ve got my number. See you soon.”
“Thanks for the Scrabble. Better than flowers any day.”
“Don’t tell your other admirers that - they’ve got florists to keep in business.”
“Stop making me laugh – it hurts. See you soon.”
Chapter 10: A Challenge to His Authority
Mycroft and Andrew Reynard in the Diogenes Club
“Andrew.” The two men nodded cordial greetings as the attendant left them alone in the communication room.
“Thank you for visiting Agnes. She was grateful for the company.”
Mycroft nodded in acknowledgement. “It was the least I could do.”
“It appears she had a fortunate escape. Your pet doctor did a fine job.” Andrew Reynard swirled the whisky in his glass. “It surprises me that a man of his skills isn’t busy running the A&E of a regional hospital. Or failing that, assisting in a military rehabilitation unit. I hear that there is an exemplary one on the outskirts of Birmingham.”
Mycroft did not outwardly react. “John Watson was one of the finest officers in the RAMC. Since his enforced retirement, he has chosen his own path.”
“So I see.” Andrew’s stare was glacial. “And since your embarrassment of a brother thought he could fly, how does he spend his time? Picking up graveyard shifts in crumbling hospitals? Hardly an economic use of his skills.”
Mycroft’s temper was bubbling under, but his tone remained calm. “Do not speak ill of the dead, Andrew. Such comments have a habit of returning to you. As I said, John Watson has made his own decisions. He was close to my brother, and I am proud to know him. Now what is your problem with him?”
“Mycroft, must I spell it out to you? I do not wish my daughter to become further acquainted with this man. I will not have my family tainted by scandalous association. How difficult would it be for you to arrange a job for him elsewhere?”
“Don’t lie to me. “
“I am not. It is impossible because I do not wish it to happen. Agnes is a grown woman who will not take kindly to a previously absentee father making infantile and belated attempts to control her life.“
“Rescind that comment, Mycroft, or…”
“Or what? You’ll make me disappear? It really wouldn’t do for you to blot your career with such folly so close to retirement. My reach and influence is double that of yours these days. Do not waste my time with your pathetic threats. Leave Dr Watson alone, and most of all, allow your daughter to make her own choices.“ Mycroft stared back at Reynard. The older man blinked first.
“And if I don’t give Agnes her head?”
“You will lose her, and she will hate you for it. You’ve already buried one daughter. Marianne would never forgive you if you lost the other.”
“Is that your last word on the matter?”
“It is.” Mycroft drained his whisky. “Good evening, Reynard.”
“Good evening, Holmes,” he muttered, sweeping out of the room.
This came from the last sentence of Chapter 5 'Mycroft's division'. I really wanted to show that Mycroft has a heart as well as a brain.
Chapter 11: An Amicable Pint
Greg and John at the pub
The weather had broken when John reached the hospital entrance. He hurtled across the road to the sanctuary of the bus stop. He fished out his phone. Two messages.
-All quiet in the Yard. You up for that drink? GL
The Stars at 5.30 suit you? JW
See you there. GL
-My dear John, how did it go? Pray tell. Mrs H.
Pleasantly. Speak to you tomorrow. Off for a pint with Greg Lestrade. JW
Oooh. Enjoy yourselves. Mrs H.
The Stars was packed with after work drinkers. He spotted Greg at the bar. “Good day?” he asked.
“As of half an hour ago, I am officially on leave until Tuesday. Cheers.”
“So, what have you got planned to do in, let me see, a whole four days off?”
“Nothing much. I have learned the art of winging it. If I plan more than a week ahead, it all goes pear-shaped. I’ll see what turns up.”
John put down his pint and glanced across at him. “And would Dr Hooper be involved?”
“Perhaps.” Greg smiled as Molly crossed his mind. Their increasingly frequent dates gave him something to look forward to. “How’s Ms Reynard getting along?” His eyes glinted.
“Perfectly well, as far as I can work out.”
“Do you always follow up your patients so closely?”
“Only the interesting ones. She needed rescuing from daytime television and the invasion of the flowers. You have to feel sorry for the girl – nearly gets wiped up on a crossing and has to deal with Mycroft Holmes as a godfather.” Greg’s pint nearly dropped onto the floor.
“You’re kidding. That’s downright cruel and unusual. Did he kidnap you again?”
“Oh yes. Right outside Tesco. I swear he’s got his own parking space.”
“So he did he give you the ‘Stay away or you will be disappeared’ talk?”
John looked across at him as they found a table. “That’s the strange thing- he didn’t. More like warning me about Agnes’ father.“ He put down his drink. “Have you ever come across Andrew Reynard?”
“Not directly – he’s always been more of the smoke and mirrors department. Almost dangerously intelligent, and cold with it. Highly proficient, but lethal if you answered back or tried to chase him for details. “
“Figures. There’s definitely some history there, but no chance of getting it out of the British Government unless he chooses to divulge. I tell you, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear he and Mrs Hudson are in cahoots over this. “
“Really? That’s a pair I wouldn’t have matched. “
“She’s a woman of hidden depths. Just as well you’re seeing Molly, or you’d be getting the coded invitations.” John’s giggle was infectious, and Greg realised just how long it had been since they’d both laughed.
“Is she still pretending not to be your housekeeper?”
“Oh yes. There were a tin of scones the other night, and then I came back yesterday to find my washing folded and ready.”
“So not your housekeeper. Did she return your rent again?”
“Yep. She’ll let me do her shopping and any heavy lifting, but that’s it. Anthea drops in to see her once a month with a suspiciously slim envelope which she never refuses.”
“She only wants to help. We all do, including the Government Pain. Mrs Hudson gives you the mother hen treatment, and you get the blokey crap down the pub with me. What can Mycroft do? Throw money at the situation, and maybe smooth your path with Agnes by warning you about her father. It seems to bury his heart a long time ago. Think it goes with the upbringing and the job. This is the only way he seems able to care. You might as well accept it. “
“Another?” John nodded.
“Well, it’s your round. Go fight your way to the bar, and I’ll grab us a space on the pool table, but remember Sunshine, this is the Stars, not the frontline. No bloodshed, no elbows. I’ll grab us a space at the pool table.”
It had been a very good night. They wandered out of the pub, and headed off in search of a taxi, vaguely drunken. “We should do this more often,” said John.
“Definitely. Molly mentioned dragging you over for dinner sometime soon.”
“Are you sure I wouldn’t be in the way?”
“You’d never be in the way, mate. It’s got a bit hectic. We miss you.” And Sherlock, thought John with a pang. “Besides, you could always bring Agnes, once she’s feeling better.”
“Bit premature- poor girl isn’t even home yet. But we’ll see how things go.”
Greg’s phone miaowed. His embarrassment was clear, even in the dark. “Gis a minute, John. Just want to check things are ok.”
“Sure.” He wandered a little further up the street, and wondered how long it would take to get a taxi this time of night. He was aware that Greg’s demeanour had changed. Something was definitely up. He wandered back into his eye line. “All OK?” he mouthed. Greg nodded, then turned away, still listening intently to what Molly was saying.
John wandered back to his original spot and decided to check his own phone.
Hope you’re having a good night. Enjoyed the Scrabble. Am being discharged on Monday. Parents are coming over to take me back. Agnes.
John smiled, then replied. Good to hear. Suffolk or Vauxhall? JW
Her reply was almost instant. Vauxhall, thankfully. Mum’s fine, but Dad is best in small doses. Agnes
Take care- text me if you need an escape. JW
He slid his phone away as Greg jogged up to him. “Sorry about that. Someone broke into Molly’s lab and made a bit of mess.”
“Is she OK?”
“Yeah- it happened when she was in the canteen. She’s a bit shaken up, but nothing was taken or compromised, thankfully.”
“Who’s picking it up?”
“Bart’s are trying to keep it as an internal thing – it’s probably just some of their postgrads, but I’ll feel easier if I head over there myself and catch up properly with Molly.” A taxi appeared at the top of the street. Greg pulled out his warrant card and flagged it down. “Come on, John, we’ll go via Baker Street.”
Sorry it took so long to get back to this. The next couple of chapters will be up faster, I promise!
Chapter 12: Big Brother in the park
Mycroft tells a story and shows his hand.
What were you thinking of at Barts? I do not approve of the risks you are taking. MH
Calm down. There’s no harm done. Needed some lab space. In and out in half an hour. SH
More like twice as long. The security footage has been corrupted beyond use. MH
I suppose I should thank you for that. Any further news on Moran? SH
Not as yet. Keep your head down. MH
I will consider it. How‘s Agnes? SH
Home tomorrow. Reynard still poisonous. Thinks John not good enough for her. MH
She doesn’t deserve her father. John’s twice the man he’ll ever be. SH
I said as much at our last encounter. Agnes isn’t frightened of him. MH
Good. John won’t be either. Look after them. SH
I will. Security detail already assigned for Vauxhall at the same level as Baker Street. As requested the rent continues to be paid from your trust account. How much longer will you need? MH
A month. Perhaps less. Do not fret. SH
Have I ever? MH
Anthea slipped into Mycroft’s office and held out his coat. “He’s on his way back to the flat. Shall I call for the car?” she asked.
“That would be effective. How long do I have before my lunch with Mr Osborne?”
“Two hours, providing he doesn’t get caught up at the Treasury.”
“That will suffice. Take an early lunch yourself- I’ll handle this from here.”
“Very well.” Mycroft shrugged on his coat and headed out.
The text arrived just as John put away the last of his shopping.
-The car will be outside in three minutes. Please join me for a walk.MH
Thought you didn’t do legwork. JW
You’ll be back before you know it. The car will be here in two minutes. MH
I take it refusal is not an option? JW
No. I am here. You should be. I do not have unlimited time. MH
John slid into the car seat opposite Mycroft with a glare. He was acknowledged with a brief nod, before Mycroft returned to his phone. Central London glided past on the other side of the tinted glass for a few moments.
“What do you want this time, Mycroft? Another ‘watch your step with Agnes’ chat? I thought you’d got your point across the other day. For as much I was listening. Which wasn’t much.”
“John.” Mycroft pocketed his phone. “I’m sorry if our previous meeting ended so poorly.”
“Don’t they always?”
“John, you’re not making this any easier, and you’re within your rights to mistrust me.” John turned away from the window to face him. Was Mycroft attempting to apologise? Couldn’t be. There was a vowel in the month.
Mycroft continued. “I owe you a great deal. Agnes is very dear to me. I have always done my best to help her whenever I can. Her father is a difficult man, and I would go as far as calling him dangerous in the wrong circumstances.”
“And what might those be?”
“Any circumstances where he does not get his own way, including anything to do with Agnes.”
“John, if you intend to continue to see Agnes, and I hope that you do, it is imperative that you understand what you are getting yourself into.”
“Again, meaning? Try speaking average for a change.”
The car approached Hyde Park and braked gently. “Walk with me, John.”
The two men walked through the gates. “It’s quite simple, if sad. Reynard wanted sons, not daughters.”
“Yes. Lucy and Agnes.”
“When you first spoke of the Reynards, you warned me that Agnes was all they had left. So what happened to Lucy?”
“Lucy was the elder by two years. She was intelligent, charming and pretty. Reynard was grooming her for Oxbridge, but she had other ideas. When she finished her A Levels, she moved into a house with some friends and started work as a runner for an advertising agency. Reynard was furious, and effectively banned her from his presence. Although I was Agnes’ godfather, not hers, we kept in contact, and I helped where I could, behind her father’s back. Not that she needed much assistance, or advice for that matter. She came back on occasion to see Marianne and Agnes, but only when she knew that her father was in London or even further away.
“The summer before Agnes was due to start at Cambridge, Reynard was seconded to Australia for several weeks. Marianne went with him, but Agnes stayed to work in my department, and lived in my flat. She actually managed to make friends with Sherlock. She was the only one to whom he was pleasant at that time. One weekend Lucy came to pick her up to visit some friends near Cambridge. Lucy said she’d call when they arrived, so that I‘d know they were ok. But she never did.”
“A van aquaplaned on the M11 and went straight into them. There was nothing Lucy could have done to avoid it. The Reynards flew back to find one daughter in the morgue and the other in ICU.
“Exactly. Agnes was in Addenbrookes for weeks. She wasn’t even conscious when they buried her sister. I visited her when I could, as did Sherlock, when he wasn’t strung out of his head.” Mycroft dug his hands into his pockets. “Agnes eventually made a good recovery, and settled into life at Cambridge, albeit a year later than planned. Reynard tried to help her, but she refused him at every turn.”
“Why are you telling me this now?” asked John.
“Because you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. I care about Agnes as if she was my own, and I don’t want her or you to get caught up in Reynard’s power games. You both deserve better.” They had completed a circuit of the park. Mycroft’s car purred in a layby.
John turned to Mycroft as they approached it. “OK, thanks for the heads up. I know it’s early days, and I’m not counting anything before its hatched, but can you trust me to take it from here?”
“Absolutely. Reynard tried to have words with me, but I put him straight. He won’t touch you. He doesn’t dare.” John’s eyebrows disappeared briefly towards his hairline.
“Should I be worried?”
“No. He’s a few months from retirement, and any rash actions would jeopardise his pension and his knighthood.“ The glimmer of a smile flickered across Mycroft’s face. “Come on, I’ll drop you back.”
Chapter 13: Something which needed to be said
No-one puts Agnes in the corner
A Battle of Wills
Reynard waited for his wife to leave the room before speaking to Agnes. She was sorting through her handbag when she felt him staring at her.
“I’m going to be fine,” she said, not even looking up. “I’m mending nicely, apparently.”
“That’s not my main concern.” He watched Agnes folded a slip of paper securely away. ”Do you intend to see Dr Watson again?”
“I hope so. He’s good company.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
Agnes glared at him. ”What do you mean?”
He noted the spike in her voice. “He’s an underemployed ex-Army doctor with a history of PTSD. He’s not held down a regular post since witnessing the suicide of his close ‘friend’ twelve months ago.”
“Been snooping , have you?”
“My job has its advantages. It wasn’t difficult to find things out.”
“Mycroft has no issue with him.”
“Mycroft isn’t your father.”
“I wish he was.”
“You can’t expect him to be rational about John Watson. After all, he probably employed him to mind that idiot addict brother of his. “ Agnes stared back at him, then blinked slowly, like a cat weighing up a snarling dog.
“Dad, Mum will be back in just a moment. Would you like to continue this conversation with her input? I’m sure she’d have plenty to say.”
“Agnes, that is unacceptable. You mother does not need to hear all this.”
“And I do? It’s always been about control with you. You couldn’t control Lucy, so now you’re trying to do the same with me.”
“John Watson is fifteen years older than you.”
“So? I’m twenty-six, not seventeen. Mum was sixteen when you made your first move, wasn’t she?”
“You make me sound like a Victorian seducer.”
“More like a hypocrite. It was perfectly acceptable for you to entrap a teenager, however willing, but when I show interest in an older man, you can’t cope.”
“Agnes, not the time or the place.”
“So when did that change? Would you like us to continue in the corridor, in front of the medical staff? Or in the car when you can’t hide your opinions from Mum?”
“And what makes you think she doesn’t know how I feel?”
“Because she’s not a coward or a bully, unlike the slug she married. I’ve been independent from you for eight years. You haven’t had to contribute a penny since I left school. You lost the right to manage my life for me the night you drove Lucy out.” Agnes stood, her bag clasped in one hand. “ Now if you’ve finished the lecture on personal freedom and morality, I’d like to sign my discharge forms.”
Marianne appeared in the doorway. Reynard turned to his daughter. “We will continue this later,” he asserted.
“No we won’t.” Agnes passed him. “I’ve nothing else to add.” She joined her mother in the corridor.
Chapter 14: Home Again
Reynard realises that he isn't always Mr Right.
A resentful peace had broken out. Marianne fiddled with the radio until she found Classic FM. Reynard kept his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road.
Agnes sat in the back of her parent’s car, supported pillows against the stop-start motion of the traffic. Her phone lay on her lap, set to silent. Was John at work? A text couldn’t hurt.
-Finally on my way home. Mum has packed half the airing cupboard around me. AR
John’s response was immediate.
-Glad to hear medical advice had been taken. How’s the pain? JW
-Bearable . They dosed me up before we set off. Bit stiff, that’s all. AR
Parental fussing? JW
Dad on silent sulk mode, Mum trying not to cluck. No change there. AR
OK – back to work. Am out of here at 3 allegedly. No dashing about and no lifting anything heavier than a cuppa. Not even Ethel. Text me later. JW
Yes, Doctor. AR
A Tesco delivery arrived shortly after they did. Marianne took charge of unpacking it after settling Agnes in a chair from where she could give instructions. Reynard stood in the hall, responding to some messages on his phone.
Marianne opened the kitchen door and wandered into the garden, Ethel twining around her legs. Reynard sat down opposite his daughter.
“Agnes..” he began.
“Dad.” She turned to face him directly. “We’ve both aired our opinions today. We are not going to agree.”
“I am aware of that.”
“So any further dictats about how I should conduct my life?”
“No.” The ferocity of her stare unsettled him. ”I’m not going to repeat myself. I won’t hide my disapproval or concern regarding Dr Watson because I’ve come to realise that it won’t make a snit of difference. Just look after yourself.”
“I have every intention of doing so. But you need to remember that we might not be able to have this conversation if John hadn’t stayed with me that night. I know how fortunate I’ve been. He’s a good man, and I’m going to take the opportunity to get to know him better.”
Reynard sensed his defeat. ”You are all we have now. Be careful.” He stood and folded cautiously stiff arms around his surprised daughter. She slid back against him as far as her sling would allow.
“I’ll do my best.” Her voice was muffled against his shirt, and she felt his chin rest briefly on her hair.
Marianne looked towards the kitchen window. It was a start, she acknowledged.
Chapter 15: Lamppost climbing and other late night distractions
Sometimes it's comforting to know that you're not the only one who can't sleep.
Even Ethel, queen of all-night madness, shot her a filthy look as Agnes snapped on the light. Half past three in the morning. Ethel jumped off the bed in disgust and prowled over to the wardrobe. She slid a practiced paw under the door and levered it open. She watched her clamber in amongst her shoes and settle into her preferred darkness.
Agnes wasn’t sure exactly what had woken her. The building was still; even the street noise had dissipated into the occasional rumble of the night buses. She wasn’t in pain, other than a minor stiffness. She reached for her phone. No missed calls, no unread texts. She slid it back onto her bedside and reached for the tv remote. Anything to pass the time.
She wasn’t expecting to find anything other than video dating (sleazy), infomercials (boring) or rolling news (depressing) when a glimpse of Gene Kelly caught her eye. Sure enough. Singing in The Rain, about halfway through, it seemed. This would do. She settled into a more comfortable position and began to watch.
Five minutes later, the mobile danced across the bedside shelf for a moment then stopped abruptly. Text? No. Wrong tone. A missed call, probably a mistaken one. She looked at the screen. John.She debated the logic of returning the call, then decided to text instead.
All ok over there? AR
No immediate response. John must have made a mistake, sleepy or drunken. Never mind. The phone dozed in her hand. She went back to the film.
Gene was strolling home, a fellow insomniac, his head spinning. She felt the phone start in her hands.
Knocked my phone off the cabinet. Hope I didn’t wake you. JW
Wasn’t you. Or Ethel. Just awake. Sorry for not texting you earlier- dropped off. AR
No worries. Pain? JW
Not really. Bit stiff, that’s all. How about you? AR
Me and sleep don’t always get along these days. Anything good on TV? JW
Just this Gene Kelly fella pootling around on a wet pavement. BBC2. AR
A few minutes passed.
Sorry for the delay. Am now on the sofa. Mr Kelly really shouldn’t
climb lampposts like that – they’re slippery. JW
It’s still pretty impressive for someone who had a raging temperature
at the time. AR
According to movie mythology. And that rain is actually watered milk.
God, that must’ve stunk. AR
The perils of showbusiness. Damn fine dancer, though. JW
Wouldn’t have pegged you as a musicals fan AR
Blame it on Sunday afternoons with my Nan. She used to go
embarrassingly squishy over Gene. JW
Can see her point of view. There’s worse things to be watching at
four am. Are you working later? AR
Not that I know. My next shift is on Friday. UCH this time. JW
In demand I see. Fancy a breakfast meeting? You, me and a garden tiger? AR
Sure. What can I bring? JW
Yourself and something sensational to read on the journey. AR
If you’re angling to read my diary, it’s non-existent. Would a copy
of Metro do? JW
I suppose. You weren’t found in a handbag on Victoria Station by any chance? AR
No, just a pleasant semi in Hertfordshire. JW
You’re better read than most doctors. ;) AR
Not sure how to take that! Did a lot of reading in hospital. I’ll
tell you about it sometime. When would be a respectable house to drop
Sod respectability. Besides, aren’t housecalls part of the general
job description? Come over when you like. 12a Green Street, Vauxhall. AR
OK, give me an hour. JW
Looking forward to it. AR
Chapter 16: On the Street where you live
John leaves Baker Street, and his absence is noted.
Where’s John? SH
Where's John? SH
Where’s John? SH
Mycroft, respond. Now. The flat is empty. His next shift isn't for a couple of days, according to the roster. Where is he? SH
Stop worrying. He’s on his way to Agnes. MH
At this time? Nightmares? Is she OK? SH
Both fine. Just insomnia. MH
What were you doing in Baker Street? MH
Needed something. SH
Or someone? Are you finally discovering feelings? MH
No more than you are capable of resisting a scone. SH
Be careful. Moran is still out there. Any closer? MH
A little. Will keep you informed. SH
John slipped out of Vauxhall station and crossed the deserted road. Predawn had always been special for him; a precious half hour or so before anyone else was awake. While training, it was the last chance for a cuppa before shifts changed. In Afghanistan it gave him the opportunity to stargaze before the sky brightened. With Sherlock, it usually meant a fragment of peace which encouraged a breakthrough - before the madness started again.
Now he was at the top of Agnes’ street. A twin row of Edwardian semis, once whole houses, now mostly discreetly halved into flats. Gardens were neatly maintained, and the sprinkle of cars carefully parked. Agnes’ flat, 12a, was pleasantly nondescript. A grumpy, dark-toned cat (the infamous Ethel?) glared from a downstairs window as he quietly opened the gate.
The door opened on a chain. A sliver of Agnes appeared, then disappeared again as she unlooped the security chain. Agnes stood in front of him, all fuzzy hair and pyjamas. A wide, happy smile. He stepped over the threshold and pushed the door firmly behind him. The latch closed with a satisfying click.
Thirty feet above them and across the street, a camera whirred.
Green Street is quiet. John has just gone into 12a. All is well. MH
Thank you. Now leave them alone. SH
Sorry this is so short. Work is invading my writing time at the moment - the next update will be longer.
Chapter 17: Watching, waiting, warning
A dead man is stalked by a living one. Mycroft needs to pay more attention to his brother.
Staying dead was getting harder. Moran was becoming more audacious. Twice in the past week, Sherlock had seen the ruby flicker of a laser sight pass over him. Both times, he had mentally braced himself for the snick and the thud of a bullet which never came.
He texted Mycroft after the second occasion, as he tucked himself into a corner of St Paul's Cathedral.
SM is stalking me. What the hell are you doing about it? SH
Gathering evidence. Stay calm. MH
Not good enough. Do you want my blood on your hands for real? SH
Do stop the melodramatics, Sherlock. You are perfectly safe. MH
Is John? Is Agnes? SH
They are being sufficiently if discreetly monitored. MH
Are you sure? SH
Completely. Now I have a government to run. MH
Still not convinced. SH
Contact Anthea. She will access the security logs for you. Now stop fretting. MH
Sherlock snapped his phone away , frustrated. Concern gnawed at him. Moran's arrogance and absolute skill set him apart from the other elements of Moriarty's web. The rest had been almost stupidly easy to eradicate. A dangerously loyal, superlative marksman. No doubt even more so now, since Moriarty's anonymous and unattended burial. Before, when John was with him, this danger was a lifeforce. Now he was officially dead, and John lived on, blithely unaware of the current risk, it paralysed him.
He sped out of the old building and headed for the tube. A message beeped just before losing reception.
His own picture, date stamped this morning. Where will you sleep tonight? I hear there's a spare bed at 221b. X
Not a kiss, more of a grave marker. Moran wouldn't leave a trail unless he wanted to be found.
He stopped in the middle of the ticket hall to forward the message to Mycroft, along with 'do you believe me now? ' before setting off at a pace down the stairs towards the trains.
The hallway prickled with something. John felt suddenly awkward until Agnes got herself together and eased John’s coat from his shoulders. “Morning,” she said, brushing a kiss on his neck.
Her touch electrified him. “What was that for?” he asked. His smile was infectious.
“Because I can. Thought you were supposed to be the intelligent one,” she joked. John cautiously folded his arms around her waist.
She wriggled closer into him. “I’m not made of glass”.
“No, but you’ve still got some repairing to do. Beside, you won’t be much use in the kitchen if you’re frozen in pain.”
“Realist, actually. And a guest.” Her hands travelled to his shoulders as he allowed her to steer him around.
“Go and sit down. Make yourself at home. Breakfast will be here in a minute.” She hung up his coat and headed into the kitchen.
“Anything I can do?” he called after her.
“Say hello to Ethel.”
“Ok.” John sat on the sofa. There was a rustle of curtains followed by a thud. Ethel appeared at his feet and appraised him. John leaned down and offered an open hand. Ethel sniffed, then rubbed herself enthusiastically against it, before collapsing into a purring mass around his fingers.
“Well, she likes you.” Agnes was in the doorway with their breakfast on a tray. “She’s not usually that friendly with new people.”
“Must be the Watson charm.” He stood up and took the tray from her with a gently disapproving look when he felt the weight of it. “You really shouldn’t have been carrying that.” He set it down on the coffee table.
“I’m fine. Hardly stiff at all now. You’re fussing.” She passed him a cup of tea. ” Sweet of you,” she added with a smile.
“I don’t want to incur the wrath of Mycroft if you hurt yourself.”
“Mycroft knows I can look after myself. This is the most dependent I’ve been on anyone since leaving school. As I said, I’m fine.” She handed him a plate of toast and jam, then sat down. “Your breakfast, Doctor Watson.”
“Thank you Miss Reynard. “ he took an appreciative bite . “Fabulous toast, by the way.”
“Thank you. It’s an old family recipe. Have to share it with you someday. Now, how about some crap TV?”
Ethel jumped onto the sofa arm nearest Agnes and settled down to watch as they flicked through the early morning channels. Acidly bright cartoons competed with the desperately serious new channels proclaiming breaking news every fifteen minutes. In between there were the infomercials for products no-one would ever want.
Agnes looked across at John. The heaviness of his eyes was palpable. His head slipped to one side against the sofa back. She edged closer until they were shoulder to shoulder, then slid a cushion behind his neck. He barely stirred. She put the TV on standby and watched him until she fell asleep herself.
John shot up, suddenly awake. Dry mouthed. Heart pounding. A touch anchored him to the sofa. “Sherlock?”
“No.” Agnes tried to hide her concern. “Only me.” She slid her hand down to capture his.
“Sorry.” His breathing deepened and slowed as he blinked. Damn, his eyes felt sore.
“Shh. It’s alright. You were dreaming.” Her gaze was calm, if a little anxious. “You OK?” She felt his hand curl around his.
“You’re exhausted,” she said. “How long’s it been since you’ve slept properly?”
“A year, two weeks, five days,“ he admitted for the first time.
“I’m not surprised.” She stroked his face with her free hand. “We can talk about him if you want, or we can leave it be.”
“Thanks.” He turned his face in her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. His neck cracked with audible pain.
She stood up and pulled John to his feet. “Come on, Creaky. Do you have to be anywhere for a while?”
“Absolutely nowhere.” A faded glimmer flickered in his eyes. “What do you have in mind?”
She led him out of the room. “Somewhere with more support than my sofa. Your neck will thank me later.”
“Are you always this forward, Miss Reynard?”
“Only when doctors can’t look after themselves. Now take your shoes off and relax.”
“Yes ma’am.” A smile slide across his face as he followed her instructions. She backed him towards the bed and gently but firmly pushed him down.
Agnes was right. Her bed was infinitely more comfortable. His neck and back sank into its comfort. “Come here,” he whispered, holding out his hand. She slid into his arms.
John relaxed into her kiss. As they broke apart to breathe, he humphed.
“Sh,” she whispered. “Sleep now, talk later,” and kissed him again.
“Yes ma’am,” he joked, before sleep overtook them both.
Had to repost this chapter - I initially missed out the first section. Sorry If I confused anyone.
Chapter 19: Flushing out
Sherlock is close, but Moran is closer.
A tall, blonde man slid into the opposite seat in the booth.
“Thank you for your email. It was somewhat informative.”
“My pleasure.” Reyanrd put down his espresso. A smile glimmered behind steely eyes. “I would appreciate your assistance in removing this individual from their current trajectory. I believe it would assist in the tying up of one of your previous cases.”
“Indeed. I have received your data package. Please be assured that all traces of it will be securely destroyed after the event.”
“Of course. Good day, Mr Moran.” The visitor disappeared as quickly as he arrived.
To be fair, Mycroft had acted swiftly. Sherlock's possessions were removed from the room in Bloomsbury within the hour, and all record of his stay erased from its books.
One of his minions, nervy as a yearling, bumped into him outside Starbucks. Coffee was spilled. “S-sorry,” he blustered, his face almost as fiery as his hair. “H-have my napkin.”
Sherlock said nothing as the younger man tried to blot the spill from his lapels. He felt the man's hand slide inside his coat pocket, before he dived away gawkily. Nothing more was said.
A few minutes passed. Sherlock stood under the awning, waiting for the worst of the rain to pass. He found the key card. The minion had been well trained.
His phone vibrated.
226b BS. Moved in two days ago. Room 434 at MSH booked in the the name of Crieff. Do not delay this any further. MH
On way. Are they all safe? SH
Mrs H in Wales, GL in secure meeting at NSY, J&A in Vauxhall. All safe for now. MH
Sherlock did not feel particularly reassured. He jumped in the next cab that stopped and headed for Manchester Square.
The new room was a distinct improvement on the last one. No damp, blackout blinds on the restored Georgian casements and a secure wifi connection. Best of all was the unimpeded view of the back of the short terrace which included 226 Baker Street.
The brightness of the day was fading. Lights were appearing in disparate upper rooms. Sherlock focused his attention on the 226. Moran appeared at an upper window. He threw a half-finished cigarette out of the window, then switched on a sidelight.
Sherlock strained his eyes to follow him. He was standing in the middle of the flat, unlocking a leather suitcase with ceremonial care. Sherlock watched Moran unpack, construct and test its contents before moving the apparatus to the window overlooking Baker Street.
For the first time in almost fifteen months, Sherlock felt imprisoned by fear. He turned and allowed his back to slide down the wall. He closed his eyes and projected the layout of Baker Street in his mind. There was a route. He could do this, but it had to happen now.
His phone trilled. Three photos. Vauxhall Station. A quiet, tidy street. A dark tortoiseshell cat snoozing happily on a doormat.
If you don't want your pet to go chasing fox cubs, perhaps you should call him home. X
He saved the message, then forwarded it. When Mycroft did not immediately respond, Sherlock dialled him.
Mycroft answered “I have received the images, Doyle. Arrangements are in hand to transport Hamish and Ms Fox to an agreed destination.”
“Not good enough,” he hissed. “When did you last speak to the Vauxhall team?”
“Three hours ago, as expected. No major change.”
“You won't receive another. Moran has compromised them. Where's Lestrade?”
“On his way to the Home Office. He has been called into a meeting with Reynard.”
“On whose request?”
There was a desperate silence on the other end. “Reynard himself.”
“Mycroft, you are an excuse for existence. Find Lestrade and keep him safe. Lock him in your boot if you must.”
“Doyle, every precaution has been taken. I will keep you informed. Now focus on your own task.”
“DI Lestrade, thank you for coming.” Reynard stood and shook his hand. “I appreciate that your schedule must be very busy.” The men sat down, each side of Reynard's desk.
“Not a problem, although I must admit to being somewhat puzzled as as to why you have called me here. “
“ How long have you known Dr John Watson?” Lestrade frowned.
“Dr Watson no longer has a consulting role with my team. That ended over a year ago.”
“I am well aware of that. You have yet to answer my original question. HOW long have your known Dr Watson?”
“Long enough to recognise his integrity and humanity. “
“Yet another member of his devoted fan club.” He reached into a drawer and produced a photograph with a flourish. A surveillance photograph, taken outside the Canongate, last week. John and him, vaguely drunken, arms over each other's shoulders. “A highly suggestive photo, wouldn't you say/”
“Not particularly. Even a DI is entitled to a private life.” His stare grew icy. “As is a respected doctor. What precisely is your game, Mr Reynard?”
“Merely doing my job, DI Lestrade. My remit is to observe and monitor individuals whose past behaviour has been somewhat questionable.”
Lestrade took a breath and stood. “Perhaps I should refer your behaviour to the Minister regarding the misappropriation of public resources for private use. I am not under investigation and neither is Dr Watson. There is absolutely no reason for this intrusive behaviour. Now if you'll excuse me, my team will be expecting me back.”
“As you wish, Lestrade.”
Lestrade nodded and left, appearing to be far calmer than he actually felt. He was glad to have the lift to himself. A text arrived as he handed back his visitor pass.
Please accept my offer of a lift. Black Jag at 2 o'clock. MH.
Lestrade walked out of the building and spotted the car. Another text arrived.
I am waiting to speak to you. MH.
The passenger door opened as if on a spring and Lestrade slid in. It closed with an expensive thud and they set off.
“It's been a while, Mycroft.”
“I am aware of that. I have been somewhat engaged lately.”
“So what has changed?
“The actions and behaviour of certain individuals. I am investigating the apparent misappropriation of government resources and personnel.”
“I'm as clean as a Persil factory! Compliance and IA cleared me months ago.”
“DI Lestrade, it appears that you are the target, not the subject.”
“Oh.” Lestrade swallowed and blinked.”What? Why me?”
“Your involvement with Sherlock brought you further prominence. This is not a
“For god's sake, Mycroft, can you translate this into standard Copper for me? What is going on?”
Mycroft sighed. “I will start again. Your sterling work with my brother has attracted the attention of an undesirable individual. Your safety has been compromised. This is not an acceptable situation.”
“Who else is at risk? Sally? Anderson? Gregson?”
“Your team are secure. They have not been targeted. They will receive a message from my department explaining your temporary redeployment.”
“What about Molly?”
“Dr Hooper has a new intern with her today who will ensure her safety.”
“All is in hand, Lestrade. “
He was far from convinced. Mycroft picked up his phone and fired off a number of text messages. Lestrade looked out of the darkened windows and tried to work out their destination, as they headed north at remarkable speed.
Chapter 20: This little room an everywhere
This calm cannot last..
Ethel's determined paws marking time on his chest woke him suddenly. Her claws pulled at his shirt and pierced the tender skin surrounding his shoulder. He gasped and flinched.
The movement woke Agnes. She plucked Ethel off him. “Go torment someone else,” she said. Ethel scrambled free and sulked on the carpet.
Agnes turned to John. “You OK? Her claws are sharper than they should be sometimes.”
John nodded and rotated his shoulder. “She caught a bit of scar tissue, that's all.”
“Well, you won't mind if I do this then.” Agnes leaned over and kissed him. His hands rose and speared through her hair.
The encounter which followed set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
There was something in the way that Agnes had kissed him and gently coaxed him out of his clothes and against her skin. The wordless confidence with which she slid her hands around him, sliding an almost unnoticed condom on him with a slick gesture. She toppled him onto the bed, legs tangling in the duvet, with a giggle. Neither of them had lasted long after that.
Later, John realised it had been almost two years since he had allowed anyone this close. Life with Sherlock had been too frantic and downright unpredictable to allow for girlfriends. Afterwards, the grief and feelings of dislocation had done their worst.
Not any more.
Four o' clock. John opened the lounge window and ducked back in almost immediately. It wasn't the light shower predicted by the BBC; more like stair-rodding, in his opinion.
He turned around and looked at Ethel. “Don't look at me like that,” he said to the huffy cat. “The weather is distinctly not my division.” Ethel lifted a distainful back leg and started grooming furiously. “Same to you, too.”
Agnes drifted into the hall, a towel wrapped around her hair. “Is she blaming you for the rain?”
“Looks like it,” John pulled her in for a kiss. Ethel sauntered towards the kitchen and jumped onto the windowledge. “See,” he said to the disgruntled cat. “It's raining on this side too.”
“You have to make allowances for Ethel. She's a bit of frustrated scientist, You should see her when she comes across soap bubbles. They fascinate her.”
“Not really. I swear you can see the cogs of her mind working sometimes.”
Agnes drifted back into the bed room to deposit her towel and finish dressing. Ethel headbutted John's hand until his fingers curled around her ears. Reluctantly, she began to purr.
A click and a thump distracted him. It seemed a little late for the post. John stuck his head into the hallway. A padded envelope, slightly larger than a paperback, lay on the mat. He took a couple of steps towards it, then froze. It was addressed to him, rather than Agnes.
His neck prickled with fear. He felt for his mobile and took a photo which he sent to Mycroft.
-Suspect package just delivered to Green Street. Am evacuating now. JW
Mycroft's response was immediate.
Help on the way. Get into the garden. Authorities informed. Stay safe. MH
John took a steadying breath. He stuck Ethel securely under his arm in a no-nonsense hold before heading towards the bedroom. She wriggled uncooperatively.
Agnes looked up at John strode into the room and slammed the door. “What's the matter?” she asked.
There was no time to reply. Ethel slipped from his grasp and ran under the bed. John tumbled Agnes to the floor just as the air above them was shattered with lethal fragments of glass, plaster and wood.
Chapter 21: Aftermath
Aftershocks rumble. A godfather does what a godfather has to. Lies protect people and betray others
Moran watched the footage of the explosion on his phone. The blast could be heard from half a mile away.
A vicious smile spread as he texted it to someone he guessed was perhaps ten minutes behind him.
Whoops. Let’s see how the pet doctor gets out of this one. X
The response took longer to arrive than he expected.
Game on. Hiding is for snipers. And cowards. And you would know all about that that.
I learned from a master. Shame you killed him. X
He swallowed his own gun. He pulled the trigger.
His blood is still on your hands. I look forward to washing my hands in yours. X
Or perhaps theirs. X A picture of John, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, taken at his funeral.
You want me, not them.
They would be a bonus. X
No response. Moran pocketed his phone and headed north. The final parts of his plan appeared to be dropping into place.
Did you get all that? SH
The cloning app is now fully operational, as is the keystroke recorder.MH
I hope you are prepared.SH
I am. Are you? MH
Of course. Will be dangerous. Protect them. SH
With my life. MH
“Sir, could I have a moment?”
Anthea’s tone worried him. “In the car.”
The sleek black car swept out onto the Mall. “Sir, I’ve received a report of an explosion in Vauxhall..” She watched him freeze, then continued .“Ten minutes ago. Green Street, sir.”
“Get Crieff over there to the back entrance.” Anthea nodded as she sent the relevant message.
Mycroft raised the phone to his ear. The call went straight to Agnes’ voicemail. Anthea watched his face, waiting for further instructions. “Sir, try Dr Watson’s phone,“ she suggested.
Mycroft felt the pressure in his chest ease a fraction. He began to text.
“Ish..Bit bruised and scratched, but nothing drastic. What just happened?”
“Not entirely sure, “ John was almost embarrassed by the ease of his lie. His phone rumbled against a bruise on his hip. He read a text, then responded quickly. They were sheltering on the floor, their backs against the bed, facing the window “Who is it? “
“Mycroft. He’s sending a car. He wants all three of us in it and away as soon as possible.”
“Shouldn’t we wait for the police?”
“He’ll be dealing with it. All I know he wants us out of here , and he’ll answer our questions later, if we’re lucky.“ John scrambled to his feet and offered Agnes a hand. She accepted, but the movement made her wince.
“How’s that collarbone? “
“I landed badly, that’s all. Stop fussing. “
“If you’re sure...” John was going to take more convincing, clearly.
“Absolutely. Now let’s get out of here.”
The window opened with only a minor shove. John pushed it as wide as it would go. He went first , then waited as Agnes scrambled out. Despite her smile, she was beginning to shake.
John pulled her gently towards him. so she could nestle into his neck. His hands ghosted along her spine. Sirens were approaching in the distance. Over her shoulder he watched as Ethel sped down towards the back gate, then froze as footsteps approached from the other side.
“Miss Reynard?” A warm voice with a hint of music about it. “My name is Crieff. Mycroft Holmes sent me.“
“We’re on our way.” Crieff opened the gate and held it to let them through. Ethel ran into the alley. He scooped her up. She complained briefly, then settled when she realised that she wasn’t going to escape.
A taxi, all sleek black paintwork and shining chrome, waited for them at the end of the alley. Crieff opened the passenger door and released Ethel. He waited until John and Agnes were comfortable, then drove off.
“Where are we going?” asked John.
“Highgate Village. Get comfortable- it might take us some time.”
Nothing could have stopped Mycroft as he paced through the outer office. Reynard’s inner door was open, although he could not see the man himself. He braced himself for confrontation, remembering how their last meeting had ended.
Reynard looked up in surprise when he registered his visitor. “Holmes, he drawled. “I do not have the time to speak to you now. Please organise an appointment with my diary team.”
Mycroft flipped Reynard’s folio closed. “Andrew,” he began. The use of his first name had immediate effect. Reynard’s eyes snapped up. “There’s no easy way to tell you this, but there was an explosion reported in the vicinity of Green Street, Vauxhall, about fifteen minutes ago. Its epicentre appears to have been Agnes’ building.”
“Oh God. Reynard paled. To the point even Mycroft pitied him. He went over to the cabinet and poured him a stiff measure of whisky. Reynard accepted it with shaking hands. “Agnes?”
Mycroft took a breath. “We believe that she may have been in the building at the time. I have tried her mobile, but to no avail. Is there anywhere else she might have gone?”
Reynard threw back half of his glass, and shook his head.. “I last spoke to her two days ago. She’s under strict medical instructions to rest, so I doubt she’d be anywhere but here, although she might have gone to Baker Street to see Watson.” He drank the rest of the whisky, and set the glass down. “Does my wife know?”
“I’ve informed the Suffolk constabulary. She will be brought to London. I’ve taken the liberty of setting plan four in place with immediate effect. A car will be waiting for you in the secure garage in ten minutes. Marianne will be with you in the safe house within the hour.”
“Thank you.” Mycroft saw the professional façade slide back over the man in front of him. Something didn’t quite add up, but now was not the time to push for information. “You will tell me as soon as you can if there is any news?”
“Of course.“ The lie sounded so reassuring. “You’ll hear from me at six, if not before.”
Reynard waited until the office door was safely closed. He unlocked a concealed drawer in his desk and pulled out a phone.
There were only two numbers on this phone; the first had fallen into disuse a year ago; the second connected immediately.
“Afternoon Foxy.” A confident, slimy drawl. “I trust I find you well.” Reynard chose to ignore the sarcasm.
“What have you done to my daughter?”
“Absolutely nothing. After all, the parcel was addressed to the good doctor.”
“She was in the flat at the time.”
A breathy chuckle. “I wasn’t to know that.”
“Oh yes you were.”
“Collateral damage is not my affair. You passed on relevant details. I merely used them to my advantage.”
“My daughter is missing, presumed injured at the very least. She was never truly part of this.”
“So why give me her address? “
“You wanted access to Watson. I didn’t expect the approach you took.”
“Blood for blood, Foxy. After all, I lost James because of you. Hurts, doesn’t it?”
“You heartless bastard..”
“A heart is a needless weight in my profession. And commenting on my parents’ marital status is somewhat irrelevant. You knew the risks when you contracted me. Don’t play the injured soul – it doesn’t suit you.”
“Rot in hell, Moran.”
“With pleasure, Foxy.” The call disconnected, and Reynard threw the phone back into its hiding place.
Hell , he realised, was not other people. It was sitting in a luxurious office, listening to the laugh of his daughter’s assassin.
If you've read this far, I am so sorry you've had to wait this long.Blame RL, NaNo, or just an author who seriously lost the plot. This will be finished by Christmas, honest, guv.
14/08/15 - Just done two tiny edits to darn a plot hole!
Chapter 22: The Actions of a Benevolent Dictator
Welcome to the most secure private house in London
It was almost dark by the time Crieff pulled into the drive of the house just off Highgate Hill.
“Is Mycroft here?” asked Agnes.
“I believe so, Miss Reynard. He said that he would work from here until you arrived.”
“This is Mycroft’s house?” John was gazing at the Regency-pillared frontage.
“One of them, “ replied Agnes.
Crieff braked gently, then opened the back door nearest John. “Anthea will ensure you have everything you need.”
John nodded an acknowledgement as he left the car, holding out a hand for Agnes. She winced as her bare feet hit the sharp edges of the gravel. He swooped in. “Hands around my neck,” he commanded, sliding his arms underneath her. “You’re getting far too cold.”
“I’m too heavy for you,” she protested.
“Bollocks. You can play the outraged feminist later.” There was a friendly warmth in his voice. She relaxed slightly in his arms.
“Now I know how Ethel feels when we manhandle her. Where is she?”
“That cat is already in my kitchen.” Mycroft, the light tone of his voice contradicting the concern in his eyes. He watched as John reluctantly set her down on the marble steps. Mycroft noted that his eyes never left her.
A familiar figure appeared in the doorway. “I’ll take them upstairs, sir.”
“Thank you, Anthea. I’ll see you in the study shortly.”
____ The room upstairs seemed bigger than 221b, in John’s mind. Discreetly luxurious, decorated in several tones of cream and grey. An equally comfortable bathroom could just be seen beyond a half-closed door.
“There are spare clothes in the wardrobe , and a full kit in the bathroom. We will be eating at seven-thirty,“ said Anthea before she disappeared downstairs.
They thanked her then sank onto the padded chest which lay at the foot of the large bed. He felt Agnes sag at his shoulder. “Right,” he said. “Time I had a proper look at you.” He eased the cardigan down her arms, taking care not to jar her shoulder. His hands traced her arms and sides with a gentle confidence, pausing as her breathing hitched. “Old or new injury?”
“Old, plus a touch of the tickles. A hot bath and some paracetamol will sort it out.” A smirk grew on his face.
“Doctor now, are we?” he joked.
“No- just entangled with one.” She kissed his cheek quickly.
John raised a hand to her hair. His fingers hit a sliver of wood. He teased it out and continued his exploration, removing more debris as he came across it.
He felt something hard pierce his hand. Agnes felt rather than heard the intake of breath and reached for his hand.
“Let me see,“ she demanded, holding his hand up for a closer look. A fragment of wood projected from his finger. She plucked it out and threw it in the bin, before plunging his finger in her mouth.
“Vampire,” he joked, enjoying the warm suction of her mouth. It went right through him. She let his finger drop.
“Said by the adrenaline junkie. My turn. Jumper off.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He complied with a grin. She pulled his head towards her, her hands sifting through his hair as he had done for her. He nestled closer, his breath tickling her neck and breasts. Too soon, she lifted his face for a brief kiss.
“All done,” she said. Now what about that bath?”
Greg was in the library, listening to Sally rant on his mobile. Finally she stopped for breath.
“Ok Sally, as soon as I get answers, you’ll have them. I’m safe, but I won’t be back today. Hold the fort, and text me if you need to. Fine. Bye.”
Mycroft hovered until the call was finished. “John and Agnes are upstairs,” he announced.
“Why are they here?”
“There was an incident at Agnes’ flat.“ Mycroft watched him closely, clearly trying to decide how much to say. “An explosion,” he continued, “The cause of which remains unclear.”
“Hell. They OK?” Mycroft nodded. ”Accidental?”
“We believe not. There’s an on-going investigation. My division, not yours. Some significant property damage but no fatalities or major injuries.”
“That’s something.” He looked Mycroft in the eye. “This is all connected, isn’t it?”
“So it appears. I’ll speak to you and John in a while. I’d prefer to keep Agnes in the dark if I can. She’s been through enough today.” He watched the cogs in Greg’s mind whirr into action.
“Are you suggesting that Reynard had a hand in this?”
“It is one of our leads.” He sighed. “I hope I’m wrong.”
“But you don’t think you are.”
“Not this time.”
Approaching feet made them look up. John, damp haired, dressed in clean jeans and a shirt. He blinked as he noticed Greg.
“You’re a bit north of your patch, aren’t you?”
“I’m not exactly on business, More like house arrest by a friendly dictator,” Mycroft smiled fractionally
”How’s Agnes? “asked Mycroft.
“She’ll come down in a while. I left her dozing.” Greg’s eyes widened at the inference, but said nothing.
“Good. I need to talk to you both before we eat. Coffee?”
Mycroft addressed them from behind his desk. “Particular and specific threats were detected against yourselves and to a lesser extent, Mrs Hudson, who is currently visiting her niece in Cardiff. Agnes and Dr Hooper were also caught up in this via their associations with you. Security measures have been put in place as a safeguard, and they will remain until such threats have been neutralised.”.
“Makes a brutal sense of the explosion,“ admitted John. “It was my name on the package, not hers.”
Greg goggled. “Is that generally known?”
Mycroft shook his head. “My team know, of course, as do you, now. It must go no further.”
“Agnes still knows nothing,” John confirmed.
“Where’s Reynard?” asked Greg. “Isn’t he a target also?”
The brief silence said a great deal. “Reynard has been taken to a secure location, as has his wife.”
“Do they know Agnes is safe?” asked John.
“I informed them myself as soon as you had safely arrived here. All being well, she’ll see them tomorrow.”
“All being well?” asked Greg. “What are you expecting tonight?”
“Trouble.” Mycroft looked at them both. “I needed you to be safe.” As did Sherlock, he thought. “This is the most secure private house in London. “
“Who’s behind all this?” asked John.
“Sebastian Moran, formerly James Moriarty’s pet droog. Court-martialled fifteen years ago for conduct unbecoming. A highly dangerous and apparently well-informed individual. No heart, no conscience and a deadly sniper’s eye. One of my agents, Doyle, has been on his track for some time, and I expect him to be apprehended tonight.”
“So what are we, then? Bait?” demanded John.
“No.” An emphatic reply. “Protected.” Mycroft took a shallow breath before continuing. “Moran knows the endgame is approaching. A wounded tiger is the most lethal. After the events of this afternoon, I could not take any further chances.”
“What about Molly and Mrs Hudson? If they’re not here, how can you guarantee their safety?”
“They each have one of my best teams with them. “
“Are they aware of the danger they are in?”
“I cannot speak for Mrs Hudson, as she witters on somewhat,” replied Mycroft, feeling John’s eyes harden on him. “..but Dr Hooper is more aware.”
John felt Greg start at the words. “Breathe, Greg.”
“They should never have been caught up in this. Where’s Molly now?“ Greg had texted her almost without thinking.
His pocket meowed. “Excuse me, could I have some privacy?”
“Of course.” Mycroft and John headed for the kitchen. Behind the almost closed door, they could hear Greg trying to keep the worry from his voice as he spoke to Molly.
Chapter 23: Truth and its devastations
The aftershock of the explosion rumbles on
Agnes woke to find that John had been gone for some time. She stretched carefully and realised that her bathrobe, no matter how long and luxurious, would not be suitable attire downstairs. She didn’t want to know how Mycroft knew all her sizes, but at this point she was grateful. The clothes she now wore were clearly new, but had been chosen and washed with care.
A vague suggestion of Chinese food drifted up to meet her as she wandered downstairs. Her shoeless footsteps were nearly silent in the carpeted hall. Somewhere, she could hear John talking to Mycroft. She passed the study, hearing snatches of a one-sided conversation on the other side of the wall. It ended as she passed, and the door opened.
The man who emerged looked as creased and worn as his suit. Grey haired and soft eyed, reminding Agnes of a bemused sheepdog looking for an errant flock. He smiled at her and held out his hand.
“DI Greg Lestrade.”
“Agnes Reynard.” She looked at him curiously. “Why do I know you?” she asked.
He grinned. “I was involved with a number of cases with Sherlock,” he replied, “as well as an accident on the Tottenham Court Road junction about a fortnight ago.”
She returned his smile. “Thought I recognised your voice.”
“It’s good to see you upright and breathing.”
“I am enjoying the sensation, especially after today’s events.”
“Are you ok? Or are you sick of other people asking?”
“I’m fine, although that’s mostly down to John. Where is he, by the way?”
“Kitchen, I think. I had to make a call, so they left me to it.”
They turned the corner into the kitchen. John was unpacking takeaway containers while Mycroft laid out plates. Both looked up as Agnes and Greg approached.
“Just in time,” said Mycroft. I take it you’ve introduced yourselves?”
“Of course, although Greg hadn’t got round to explaining why he is here. You’ve not been bombed out of house and home as well, I trust?”
The breath caught in Greg’s throat. He looked towards the other men. What could he say?
Mycroft rescued him seamlessly. “No. Greg is assisting my on a professional basis. It seemed much more efficient to complete our work here.”
Agnes was having none of it. “Which is Mycroft for much more secure,” she added, a touch of steel supporting the calm tone of her voice.
“There is that.” They ate in silence. Greg did his best to ignore the growing tension, and was stupidly grateful when Sally rang him. “I need to take this,” he apologised, disappearing into the hall and closing the door behind him.
“Will someone tell me what the bleeding fuck is going on?” Her voice was calm, contradicting the force of her words. “Why bring us here? And who tried to blow us up this afternoon?”
“Mycroft, your turn. You seem to have a better grasp on the wider picture.”
“Is that a cop out, John?” she asked. He tried not to wince. Mycroft stepped in for the second time that night.
“Not exactly,“ he responded. “Although I have the advantage of backstory and manpower.”
“How much can you tell me without going into Official Secret territory?”
That depended on the type of secret, thought Mycroft. “Agnes, I’ve always done my best to be honest with you, because you deserve the truth, so I’ll be blunt.
“My office was made aware of specific and persistent threat being made against individuals who had a significant connection with Sherlock before he died. Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson, their landlady and Greg in particular, although others, notably yourself and Dr Hooper at St Bart’s, were also seen as being at risk due to association. We maintained a monitoring presence as means of assessing the gravity of the situation.”
“How long have you known about this?” asked John.
Mycroft looked at his hands before answering. “Approximately a month, although the severity of the threat did not escalate until this afternoon.”
“When that bomb went off?” John had to admire her directness. A lesser woman would be in tears by now.
“Unfortunately. Before that time, the exact identity of the potential aggressor and the nature of the threat they represented had been unclear>”
Mycroft paused. “There is no easy way to say this. You were, and remain, in significant danger. I couldn’t protect you from what happened at your flat- by the time we had any inkling…”
“.. It was already too late.” Agnes paled, finally realising how close things had been. John saw the shiver on her spine and edged closer so she could lean against him if she chose.
“Remember I was a soldier,” he explained. “Being able to identify IEDs is now part of basic deployment training. That includes postal bombs. When that parcel arrived, something felt wrong, and I alerted Mycroft.”
“Why?” she asked. “It could have been anything. What made you so suspicious?”
“Instinct.” Only a partial lie.
“Was it addressed to me?” she asked.
“No.” Agnes turned in her chair at the word, watching John’s face. ”It had my name on it.”
“But no-one knows about us, except Mycroft and ...” The realisation robbed her of words.
“Your parents.” Mycroft acknowledged. ”There has been a security lapse at some level, focusing on your father’s office. The fact that this is concurrent with the threat against people connected with Sherlock appears to be an unfortunate coincidence at this point.”
“At this point?” Her shock was evolving into anger. “What else is there to know?”
Neither man would look her in the eye. Agnes had reached the conclusion they most feared.
“Does my father have blood on his hands?” Her voice developed a quiet ferocity. John shot a glance at Mycroft.
“My dear, I am very much afraid that we cannot rule that out.”
Agnes detached herself from John and walked over to the sink. Her stomach rejected its contents with vicious speed. John leapt up and hovered behind her. When her heaving stopped, he handed her a glass of water and a paper towel. She accepted them wordlessly.
“John, could you give us a moment, please?”
“If that’s what you want. I’ll be here in the lounge if you need me. Just make sure you drink all of that water. Slowly.”
“I will. “ She managed a brief smile, her eyes following him as he left her in Mycroft’s care.
Chapter 24: Knowing what to believe
Two hugs and a talk don't make it right, but it will do for now.
The silence in the kitchen took on a desperate edge. Mycroft busied
himself with stacking the dishwasher. Agnes sipped her water, eyes
focused on the table in front of her.
“Why would he do this?” she asked.
“I wish I knew. Until the investigation reaches a further stage, I can
tell you nothing more.”
“What are you thinking?”
“That for once I am desperate to be wrong.”
“Where is he now?”
“At a safe house, as per Department procedure when a security breech
occurs. Your mother is with him, as I said earlier.”
“Does she know that he is under suspicion?”
“Not unless he has said something himself.” Mycroft reached over and
laid his hand over hers.
“Will you tell her?”
“Only at the point when irrefutable evidence exists against him. At
such a time, we will have to.”
Mycroft sighed. “Then this will become an issue for the authorities. I
hope to know a great deal more by the morning.”
The lump in Agnes’ throat grew, reducing her to a whisper. “I don’t
know what to believe any more.” She placed her empty glass in the
sink, her body shaking with quiet sobbing.
And then Mycroft was there, holding her up. “Believe that you are
loved, and that I will move heaven and earth to keep you safe. John
will never be able to understand what he has done for me by protecting
“But why would he want someone who almost got them killed on their third date?”
“You have a great deal to learn about John,” he whispered into her
hair. “Remember he lived check by jowl with Sherlock for eighteen
months, risking his neck on a near daily basis for our beloved idiot.
Initially hearing about the explosion today terrified me until I
realised that John was with you, and that he would do his utmost to
protect you from harm.”
“But he couldn’t protect Sherlock,”
“Alas not. No-one could protect Sherlock from himself, but it wasn’t
for a lack of trying.”
There was a discreet knock at the door a moment before it opened.
Anthea. “Sir, the Minister is demanding to speak to you immediately.
This is the third time he has rung. I’m so sorry to interrupt…”
Agnes released Mycroft with a gentle shove. ”Go on, you’ve got a
country to run.”
“If you’re sure?”
“I’ll be ok.” Mycroft nodded, and followed Anthea to his study,
grumbling about the ineffectiveness of elected individuals.
Mycroft and Anthea acknowledged John as they passed, but said nothing.
He was sat half way up the stairs, looking for nonexistent cracks in
the ceiling. Every scrap of him itched to find Agnes, despite what he
had said earlier.
“There you are.” She stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking
flushed and somewhat weary. He came down to meet her, his arm snaking
around her waist poke first. . They stood there for a moment, heads
resting against each other.
“I’m about as alright as I’m going to be,” she admitted. “Don’t coddle me.”
“I won’t. Did talking to Mycroft help?”
“A little, although there wasn’t much that he could pass on right now.”
“Figures.” He pressed his mouth to her ear. “I’m in your hands. Do
you want some more space or would you like company and some inane TV?”
“Come join us in the lounge. There’s bound to be something
sufficiently gormless if we channel surf.”
Twenty yards away, on the edge of the wood, a camera phone snapped.
Oh this is too easy. Who should be first? Doctor, Fox cub, Copper or Iceman? X
One phone vibrated, then another. Two men paled at the message while a
third watched the crack in the lounge curtains through the
heat-seeking sight of a rifle. He didn’t have to wait long for a
You’re not alone out here. Touch them and it will be the last thing
you will ever see.
Not bothered. After all, James will be waiting. Could you say the same
of your pet? X
That would do it, thought Moran. He shouldered his rifle and slid off
the safety catch. Time to pick off some targets.
Chapter 25: Targeted malice
Sherlock is close, but Moran is closer
The lights snapped off. John tensed.
“Bit not good. Where’s Mycroft?” he asked.
Anthea appeared in the doorway. “Follow me..”
They fumbled their way towards her. Greg was the last to leave.He heard the crack and tinkle of fractured glass a second before the bullet tore past his head. He sagged against the wall, chin on chest.
John sank next to him, propping his head up against his shoulder. “ Come on Greg,” he whispered, hands streaking through the greying hair, looking for wounds.
“How bad is it?” Mycroft, in the hallway.
“Bad enough. He was strafed, rather than hit, but he’s losing more than I’m happy with. Help me get him to his feet.”
They carried Greg into the study. John waited as Mycroft locked the door behind them. Mycroft fumbled in his pocket for his phone and sent a text. The bookcase behind the desk slid away, revealing a triangle of subdued light.
Greg was propped up on a chair against the wall as Mycroft closed the door behind them. “This is in the very centre of the house. We’re undetectable here.” He turned to John. “There’s a full paramedic kit in the cupboard behind you. It should be sufficient for your needs until we can leave.”
John nodded. Agnes was suddenly next to him. “How can I help you?” she asked.”
“We need something to stop the bleeding." He rifled through the cupboard and flung her a packet of dressings. “One of these, firm but gentle.”
The pressure produced a groan from Greg.”Shh, easy, tiger,” he said in his doctor voice. “Let’s have a look at you.”
John did his best to ignore his captive audience. Mycroft turned to him. “How bad is it?”
“Potentially a fractured skull, with significant blood loss. He needs pain relief and and fluids. “
“You’ll find everything you need to stabilise him, “said Mycroft. “ The Air Ambulance will be here as soon as the threat is identified and neutralised.” John turned back to the cupboard and found what he needed.
“Let me help.” Agnes moved to one side, giving him room to work. He placed an IV line in Greg’s arm, then showed her how to hold the bag. His fingers lingered over hers before he turned back to the supply cupboard.
When Mycroft’s phone rang, he almost dropped it. The panicked movement caught John’s attention. He tuned into the conversation without turning his his head.
“Yes Doyle? - Correct, no power. Yes - Lestrade - No, not too seriously, I believe - No, no further injuries- yes he is fine . Back up will be with you shortly. Keep your head down. Intellect is useless if its transport is destroyed.”
That last phrase sent a jolt through John. Transport?
Sherlock’s phone buzzed against his thigh.
One down, three to go. Either you come out ,or I go after them . How is your trusty copper? It’s so hard when pets get hurt. X
I do so love these sofas. So comfortable. And that school picture? My, haven’t you changed? X
Turn around. SH
Sherlock checked the clip and slipped off the safety catch. He stood on the edge of the trees, eyes straining into the shadowy lounge.
It took a moment to spot Moran, who had taken up residence in a high backed chair. He turned to face Sherlock and raised his pistol. “Such a beautiful house, “ he drawled. “Shame it is owned by such a slug.”
Sherlock edged closer. “Didn’t think you’d met my brother .Clearly I’m mistaken.”
“Only through a gun sight.”
“And I thought it was me you’d been after all these months.”
“You always miss something.” Moran’s eyes were dark and unblinking. “Far more fun to pick off your friends, just to watch you crumble.”
“Not that successful at that are you? Two strikes ,two failures.”
“Third time’s a dream. They’re still here. I will find them., but I’ll start with you.” He levelled his gun and fired. Sherlock fell against the wall. A sticky trickle oozed into his shirt. A coppery taste filled his mouth.
Moran stood over him, gun poised. Sherlock scrabbled for his own weapon and fired directly into his stomach. Moran fell back with a gasp amongst the broken glass.
Sherlock hauled himself up, legs shaking with the effort. Moran grinned.
“Still got time to take me with you, he taunted. Moran lifted the edge of his shirt, revealing the mass of wires extruding from his chest. “My heart stops and I go boom, along with anyone else in the vicinity.” He looked up at Sherlock. “Care to join me?”
Sherlock’s foot stamped on his hand and kicked his gun out of range, before, dragging his body into the garden. Moran’s pulse weakened under his palm. He reached the grass before the adrenaline gave out. They slumped on the lawn in a tangled heap. He froze as he felt Moran’s fingers clawing his ankle, pinching him to the bone as his pulse faded.
Sherlock pulled viciously at Moran’s cooling fingers. He crawled free and rolled down the sloping lawn before the ground crumbled into smoke and blood and bone.
A helicopter swam overhead. The ground shook. A platoon of boots surrounded him. Voices shouted. A pair of rough hands hauled him up until the pressure on his leg made him scream. A piercing light burned into his eyes before a welcoming darkness claimed him.
John remained by Greg, checking his pulse at regular intervals. Agnes was beside him, within range but not quite touching. Mycroft and Anthea remained glued to their phones on the far side of the room.
There was a loud, rhythmical knock on the outer side of the panic room door. Mycroft repeated the pattern, then stood back as the door swung open.
A tall man in black combat gear peered in at them. He stood to attention .
“All secure, Sir,” he said. “I understand you require assistance.”
“Yes, Richardson. DI Lestrade needs an immediate medical transfer.”
“The helicopter is here, Sir.”
“Good. Have you located Doyle?”
“Not as yet, but we are continuing our search..” He paused for a moment. “The back of the house has suffered some significant damage. I would recommend a full evacuation, Sir.”
“Understood. Let’s get things moving.” Richardson saluted him, then looked to John.
“Is it safe to move him, Doctor?”
“If we’re quick and careful,” John replied, his eyes on Greg’s greying face.
Richardson disappeared for a moment, returning with two paramedics and a wheeled stretcher. Greg was maneuvered onto it and strapped in. John swiftly debriefed them before turning back to Agnes,
“Go with him,” said Agnes, her hand on his arm. “Mycroft will look after me.”
“I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.”
They were in the corridor when he heard Richardson shout. “Sir, we’ve found Doyle.”
Mycroft paled. “Where?”
“Under some debris in the garden.”
“Take Dr Watson to him,. There’ll be space in the ambulance if it’s needed.” John nodded and ran towards Richardson’s voice.
Mycroft appeared to lean against the wall, his mind blanking. Agnes slipped her hand into his, realised he was trembling,
“Breathe,” she whispered. “When was the last time you slept?”
“Two hours on Monday,” he admitted.
Agnes huffed. “As bad as your brother.” She squeezed his hand gently. “Do I need to bully you into looking after yourself?”
Mycroft shot her a sharp look. “Not your job.”
Anthea appeared at his shoulder. “Doyle?” he asked.
“Unconscious but receiving attention.”
“Where will they go?”
“The trauma centre at The Royal London is expecting us. Transport has been dispatched for Dr Hooper and Sgt Donovan. Creiff is waiting in the car.”
John followed Richardson through the ruined lounge and out onto the lawn, his feet skidding on debris. His eyes grew accustomed to the pattern of shadows, and spotted two men crouched over a body.
“OK. Give me some space.” He slithered to his knees and took the gloves he was offered.
His patient was clarted in bloody and other debris, but reacted to his voice. When the eyes opened a fraction, the recognition was fleeting but absolute.
Deep breath, John, he told himself, as he pressed temporary dressings to Sherlock’s wounds with a superficial calm and speed. “Right. He’s got a chance if we get him into surgery within the hour. “ Mycroft’s men nodded, and prepared for evacuation.
The helicopter rose swiftly into the sky. John accepted ear protectors and strapped himself between the two stretchers. A paramedic worked on Greg, cleaning some of the blood from his face. He handed John a wipe, so that he could do the same for Sherlock.
Sherlock whimpered at its sudden coldness. John leant in until his mouth almost touched Sherlock’s ear. “Enough. I’ll think about talking to you tomorrow when you get out of surgery. You’re going to survive this because I’ll kill you myself if you don’t. “Anger kept confusion at bay, but only just.
Far below, London spread out beneath them in a blur of streetlights. John’s hand slipped across Sherlock’s wrist and stayed there.
Chapter 26: The British answer to everything
Tea does not cure everything, but it's a start
John’s hand rested gently on Sherlock’s scalp as the helicopter landed smoothly on the hospital roof. Lestrade lay silently next to him, his scalp sticky with oozing blood. Calmly and professionally, John listened as the crew debriefed the waiting team before stepping aside and watching them disappear into the waiting lift.
Night was bleaching into a cold dawn. The helicopter crew acknowledged him with a nod, then climbed back aboard, on their way to their next call. He watched them until they were a flashing speck in the sky.
“Dr Watson.” A confident but respectful voice behind him. He ignored it. “Dr Watson.” More insistent this time. He turned around reluctantly. Anthea.A paper cup of tea in one hand and a clean sweatshirt in the other. “I think it might be better if you change your shirt. It is somewhat... alarming.”
John looked down, and noticed the bloodstains.He rapidly donned the sweatshirt ” When your boss deigns to show his face, he should know that I want a serious word with him.”
The tea had clearly never seen the inside of a vending machine- it was smooth, hot and perfectly brewed. It mellowed him somewhat. It was pointless to shoot the messenger, no matter how angry he felt right now.
“ Mind reader as well as demon texter?” he asked, as she led him into the building
“Just an observer of human nature. Remember for whom I work. “
“Downstairs. The authorities have allocated us a secure area.” She handed him a unmarked security pass. “Tenth floor. Third door on the left will lead you to the office suite we are using.”
“Is she under arrest?”
“Miss Reynard’s continuing well being is of utmost importance.Nothing more, or less.”
“What about Sergeant Donovan and Dr Hooper?”
“On their way. Mr Holmes has overridden security to allow them to stay with DI Lestrade when he wakes.”
“Thank you. Please let them know where I am if they need me.”
“Of course. They will be brought to you as soon as appropriate. I will also keep you informed of Agent Doyle’s progress in surgery as we have it.” John glared at her.
“Why do you still call him that?”
“It remains absolutely vital that his birth identity remain concealed until we are utterly sure that all threats have been removed. “ She softened slightly. “Keeping this secret has been the greatest challenge either myself or Mr Holmes have ever faced in our professional relationship. Please do not be too hard on him. Great power is often wrapped in appalling choices.”
John sipped his tea as her words flowed round him. “Thank you for your candour, Ms Smith. I will bear it in mind.”
They stood by the lift buttons, watching the electronic numbers climb towards them. Anthea watched as John got in, and the lift doors closed on him, before heading down the corridor in search of Mycroft Holmes.
Chapter 27: Triangle, spiral, mountain, squiggle, snake
When Sherlock wakes, he is not alone
Blank walls, smothered in institutional magnolia. Heavyweight disposable cubicle curtains, two shades away from Mediterranean blue. Starched, white sheets enfolded him, weighed down by an acrylic blanket of nondescript peach .On a ward, then, but not a private room. Murmuring voices outside the door. Not John. Not Lestrade. Not Mycroft. Where were they?
As he inhaled, he remembered the fine tube in his nose, easing oxygen into his lungs. Shallow breaths were easier, not forcing his lungs against fractured ribs. Significant movement of any kind seemed impossibly hard. His eyes slid shut against his wishes.
Footsteps approached. Small, determined feet in soft soled shoes. New jeans which swished and creaked. The scent of green tea perfume. Fresh, clean, practical.
A chair was quarter-turned towards the bed and then occupied. Gentle, cautious fingers traced a code against the back of his hand. Triangle, spiral, mountain, squiggle, snake. Over and over. The predictability was restful.
“Agnes,” he whispered eventually. Her fingers stilled and she smiled.
“You’re remarkably healthy for a member of the living dead.” Her eyes were clear and almost too bright. She leant in and kissed his forehead.
“Why are you here?”
“It’s the safest place for a few minutes of quiet. My flat’s a bombsite. Mycroft’s house isn’t much better. My parents are holed up somewhere, location undisclosed. Mycroft and Anthea are constructing a whole smoke and mirrors campaign to keep this out of the media, and that lovely Inspector is being watched over by Dr Hooper and Sergeant Donovan.”
“As soon as you were safely in here, he took off. He told me he’d be in touch when he’d got a better grip of himself. He looked like the world had just collapsed around him. I tried to go after him but he pushed me away.”
“You’ve got to find him.”
“Says the man who threw himself off a building in front of John. “
“I’ve got to see him. Speak to him.”
Agnes sighed. “Sherlock,” she began. “I’m not sure…”
“Not sure what?”
“That he wants to see anyone right now. Not even me.”
“You have to find him.” He took a sip the water that Agnes offered him. “Ask Mycroft if you must. John must be protected.”
“He deserves some serious answers from you. And just because I’m glad that you’re not dead doesn’t meant that I’m any the less angry, with you, or your brother. Is that clear?”
Sherlock nodded fractionally. “Now will you go find John?”
Agnes stood up. “I’ll find Mycroft. No doubt he’s already got a minion on it.” She squeezed his hand gently, then left.
John’s finally got a woman with brains, he thought. Better leave them to it this time.
Chapter 28: Very Loyal and very stubborn
Two bloody-minded individuals meet on a park bench and negotiations start.
London passed in a furious blur. His limbs worked on autopilot. If he stopped to think, his head would shatter.
It was his legs that gave up first. They brought him to a garden square somewhere near the British Museum. A few peeling lime trees , and a couple of sparsely planted flowerbeds bisected by a path. A couple of serviceable benches, not quite parallel. Vaguely familiar, but that could cover half of London, thanks to Sherlock.
John sank onto one of them, hands pushing his hair into spikes, his eyes focused on the ground. Hiding in plain sight seemed the simplest thing to do . A constant trickle of commuters flowed past him, punctuated by the occasional dog walker.
He’d been there an hour when he became aware of a figure sitting on the opposite bench. Agnes. She waited a few minutes, then crossed the path and joined him on his bench, maintaining a discreet distance, and waited for him to speak.
“How did you find me?”
“Mycroft and his cameras.”
“Figures. Has he sent you on his latest recovery mission?”
“No.When I realised you were gone, I asked for his help to find you. He doesn’t get to veto my actions.”
“This can’t happen. “
“You heard. I really like you, but this isn’t going to happen. It can’t happen.”
“John, you’re not making sense. What’s changed?”
“I’m not a good person to be around. I’m not an easy person to know. Things can get very dangerous, very quickly near me. You deserve better. You deserve to be safe.”
“It’s not up to you.” Her tone was quietly adamant. “You do not get to make decisions about my life like that. Two weeks ago, I nearly died because of that getaway driver. It would have been easier just to close my eyes and drift. But you thought better than that. You kept prattling on and stroking my hand.” She took hold of his hand and felt as it began to shiver. “And at the risk of wandering into soap opera territory, I’m glad you did.”
John curled his fingers around her hand, soaking up her warmth. “I’m not an easy person to be with. You haven’t seen the worst of me. “
“ We’re all broken in some way, John; it’s just some of us are better off at hiding it. The only reason you haven’t seen me at nightmare pitch is a combination of exhaustion and oxytocin. Now what’s the real reason behind all this?”
Silence. John sighed. “Sherlock.”
“Right, “ she huffed. “ Is this the part where you tell me that you want to end this because your heart belongs to a recently resurrected six foot loon of a detective?”
“No - never like that. He was-is, however, the closest friend I have ever had. He drove me utterly batshit on a regular basis, but he was also the one who cured my limp and gave me something worth living for. And then...” The words deserted him.
“And then he forced you to watch him die.”
“Exactly. Friends don’t do that.”
“He had his reasons. He didn’t mention them to me, because that’s a conversation for your ears, not mine.”
“So did he send you out to find me?”
“No. Mycroft may have offered some technological assistance, but it was my decision to traipse across half of London on a filthy morning, against the rush hour traffic, to check that my bloke was still my bloke. And are you?”
“Do you realise what you’re getting involved in? Are you sure?”
“Answer my question, John. Are you going to give this a go, or gently and nobly put me aside because you’d rather have me bored and safe?” John’s throat tightened. He unlaced his hand from hers and pulled her close.
“I don’t think I could. But this will complicate matters. Sherlock has intentionally disrupted every relationship I started while we were living together. He doesn’t know how to share.”
“Well, he’s going to learn. An inability to appreciate boundaries is part of the Holmes DNA. I politely told Mycroft to back off unless I needed him at nineteen. Introducing Sherlock to the altered social order that has developed in his absence is nothing I’m afraid of. Underneath the suits, he’s an overgrown nine year old.”
John smirked. “As old as that? There have been times I would have pegged him as nearer four.”
“We’ll sort him out between us. Get him to undelete some social niceties. Now come on. You’ve got a once and future patient to see.”
Far above them, a camera whirred, sending pictures to a polished desk three miles distant. Mycroft watched as they climbed into a taxi, hands clasped tight. His throat wasn’t tightening or drying- he was merely thirsty.
They’re on their way. Don’t mess this up. MH
I won’t. Thank you. SH
Chapter 29: The unravelling of untangled webs
Someone wakes to a thankful audience.
Elsewhere in the building, Mycroft's suspicions are confirmed.
“No, Sally. She’s just popped out for a moment.”
“Figures.” Greg’s throat felt croaky. He glanced around. Not your average hospital room. Subdued lighting. Soft sheets. The distinct absence of other unfortunates. “Where am I?”
“The private wing of the Royal London, courtesy of Holmes senior. What the fuck happened?”
“Don’t exactly remember much.” He took a closer look at Sally. “Hell, you look rough.”
“How kind of you to notice,” she replied dryly. “So when am I going to get an explanation for the last thirty six hours?”
“Talk to Mycroft. He seems to be at the centre of it all.”
“And when will that happen?”
“Sooner rather than later, I would expect.”
The door edged open. Molly, all hasty ponytail and dark-shadowed eyes. “Right, boss, I’ll make a move.”
“Go home, Sally, " he insisted weakly.
“Don’t worry, I will. Dimmock is keeping an eye on your caseload.”
“Good. As long as he doesn’t upset the ecosystem of my desk.”
Sally squeezed his shoulder. “No chance. I’ll drop past tomorrow.”
She gave Molly a quick hug. “All yours.”
“Will do.” Sally slipped out. Molly stood against the door for a moment.
“Moll, what is it? I’m going to be fine. “
She sat in the bedside chair. Her hand crept up to find Greg’s, but eyes remained down.
“Before I start, you have to believe that I’m sorry that I had to lie to you. He made me promise.”
Dread pooled in his stomach. He stretched out his hand until it circled his wrist until it circled her wrist. Her veins ran with panic. Molly, what did Mycroft ask you to do?”
“Not Mycroft.” She took a steadying breath before looking up into his eyes and began to speak.
Greg edged up and listened, eyes widening as she continued.
The suite on the tenth floor gave a commanding view of London. Mycroft glanced once, then ordered the blinds to be pulled. He preferred oaken panels and oxblood walls, but this would do for now.
Anthea appeared and handed him a file. “As you suspected, Sir. Definitive evidence has been found, both physical and electronic.” He flicked through the papers. His wince was virtually undetectable. She waited until he placed it on the desk behind him. “What would you have me do now?”
“The decision will be made forthwith. Maintain discreet security on all groups.”
“What about Reynard?”
Mycroft’s voice grew grim. “Leave him to me.”
Chapter 30: The terms of surrender
An uneasy peace process begins
The taxi pulled up outside the Visitor Entrance of the Royal London. John thrust some money at the driver, and they headed inside.
Critical Care was on the third floor. Anthea was waiting outside the lift, as professionally neutral as ever. “You’ll be able to see him shortly, although not for long. The consultant and surgeon are with him. Everything is progressing as it should.”
“Thank you.” He tried to smile at her and found it hard. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes. Miss Reynard, your parents are here. Your mother is asking for you.” John felt Agnes shiver, despite the overheated air.
“And my father?”
“Is currently in a meeting with Mr Holmes.” An unsaid litany flowed between them.
“Please take me to my parents.”
The women stepped into the next lift. John wavered briefly then followed them. “What about Sherlock?” was all Agnes could think of saying.
John slipped his hand discreetly into hers. “He needs his sleep. I haven’t figured how I’ll react just yet, so a bit of distance would do us both good.” He looked at her plainly. “That is, if you don’t mind?”
“Of course I don’t.”
Anthea did her best to give them the scant privacy the purring lift could offer. When they reached the tenth floor, she stepped out, and pretended not to notice the kiss that Agnes pressed into John’s neck.
Anthea’s phone shook in her hand. John watched her out of the corner of his eye. He caught a flicker of worry in her face, and raised his eyebrow in query. Anthea did not respond.
When they reached the outer door of the office suite, she turned to them. “Miss Reynard, you mother is waiting for you in here. Dr Watson will be with you presently, “
“Thank you.” Agnes slipped away from John, and went in.
As soon as the door closed, John turned to face Anthea. “Right. This is where you tell me what’s going on.”
Anthea looked him up and down before replying. “Mr Reynard has been most forthcoming. I believe that he has something that he wishes to say to you in relative confidence.”
“He’s got a nerve. As does your boss.”
“Not quite my terminology, but you have a point. Through here.” She ushered him through the next door on their left before striding up the corridor.
John found himself in Mycroft’s office. The man himself was sitting behind an acre of desk, a file of papers spread out across the top. He was not alone.
A figure in a suit from a minor Saville Row tailor sat with his back to the door, handcuffed to the chair. Fear radiated from him despite the fact he was being thoroughly ignored by Mycroft, who looked past him with a radiant smile for John.
“Ah Dr Watson. So nice that you could return so swiftly.” Mycroft rose and walked towards him. The seated man shrank into himself as he passed. “There’s someone here who’d like to speak to you. Please take a seat.”
“I’d rather not, if it’s all the same, replied John evenly. “I’ve got people of my own to see.” He perched on the corner of the desk, arms folded.
“I understand. This won’t take long.” Mycroft’s smile lost some of its wattage as he turned his attention to the seated man. “Andrew, we’re all yours.”
Reynard said nothing. “Come now, Andrew, “ chided Mycroft. You were positively loquacious until Dr Watson came in. You wanted to see him, and now he’s here. Doctors are such busy people. We really shouldn’t waste their time.”
The underlying menace in Mycroft’s smooth tone worked. Reynard lifted his head and looked directly at him. “Sorry.” Two sets of eyebrows lifted into respective hairlines.
John spoke first. “Is that all?” he snarled. “It’s one thing to take exception to your daughter’s choice in men- it’s quite another to pass crucial security details onto a psychopath.” He reached across and clamped his hand around Reynard’s jaw. “Agnes survived by inches. Physically she’s as ok as can be expected. How she comes to terms with the snivelling, heartless insult to female genitalia you’ve turned into is another matter.” He released Reynard with such force that the chair wavered for a moment.
Reynard’s eyes flashed.“And you think she’ll be safer with you? A shaky-handed ex-squaddie medic who can barely get through the night without pissing himself? “
John’s voice was deadly calm. “Whether we stay together, or we split will be down to Agnes herself. Not me, not Mycroft, certainly not you.”
“So is this when you shoot me? I’ve heard you’re quite the marksman.”
“Nothing as simple as that, Andrew,” Mycroft smiled tightly. “I’ll uncuff you, and you get to play happy families for the sake of your wife. Whether you are able to rebuild your relationship with Agnes hinges on your ability to develop an acceptance of her choices.”
Mycroft came around the desk and unlocked the handcuffs.
Reynard adjusted his jacket. “And what if I don’t?”
Marianne will receive a copy of this file, along with all the details required to fleece you via the divorce courts. You should save her that agony. After all, it’s her love and misplaced regard for you that’s saved your pathetic life. Do you understand?”
“And what do you get out of this?”
“Your retirement from the department on the grounds of poor health, and your immediate removal to Suffolk for the foreseeable future. Your acceptance of Agnes’ life choices.”
“And if she won’t speak to me?”
“That is for her to decide. That is all, Andrew. Anthea will be passing on your resignation papers. The signed copy will be on my desk this afternoon. Dr Watson will be through in a moment.”
John waited until the connecting door was closed.
“My turn. As soon as Sherlock is fit for questioning, the pair of you are going to tell me what the fuck has been going on for the past year.” He glared at Mycroft. “The only reason that I’m not across the desk rearranging your face is that Agnes doesn’t need to see any more blood today.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“John,” said Mycroft. I do understand. I value honesty above all else. The past year has been hard on all of us.”
“Prove it. Text me when you’ve organised that meeting.” John left to join Agnes and her parents.
Chapter 31: Pigeons and Sympathy
Agnes grabs the chance for some peace and quiet.
That proved it. Agnes deserved an Oscar for maintaining a civil and appropriate conversation with her father while in earshot of her mother. Dame Judi was a callow amateur in comparison.
The Reynards had left for Suffolk an hour ago. John was elsewhere in the hospital, visiting DI Lestrade. Anthea and Mycroft were back running the government now that the initial crisis appeared to have been averted. There was already a team of builders at work in Highgate under Richardson’s supervision. Mycroft had already forwarded a picture of Ethel sitting on top of the latest edition of the Standard, huffy but unharmed. Richardson and his team had been instructed to ensure her safety, to be proved by regular photo texts.
It was now past three, with not much hope of any let up in the rain. It would be cold and dank outside, but anything would be better than breathing in any more of this overheated, recycled air. She sent identical texts to Mycroft and John.
-Gone for some fresh air and a bit of space. Back shortly. AR
OK. All well here. GL improving. Consulting idiot still asleep, thankfully. JW
Thank you for the update. Plans already underway for overnight accommodation. MH
-Better make sure it’s bombproof. Wrecking a third house in twenty four hours would be somewhat rude. AR
I will take that into consideration. MH
The first blast of air was heavenly, despite the exhaust chaser which coated her throat. The gentle drizzle pattered against her hair and face as she walked over to the Visitor’s Garden and found a bench sheltered by a wall.
She sat so still that it took several minutes before the pigeons cottoned on to her and began to advance in a casual formation towards her feet. One had the nerve to peck at her shoe. It didn’t hurt at all, but the reflexive jerk caused her phone to slip out of her hands and disembowel itself on the path. The pigeons scattered in alarm.
“Bugger.” She scrabbled on the path for the phone’s components. It had come to no lasting harm, although the SIM card had vanished. “Buggering fuck,” she cursed, scanning the ground around her.
A gentle tap on the arm made her look up. “Is this yours?” A woman in a brown cardigan held out the missing SIM card.
Agnes smiled and took it from her. “Thanks. The pigeon came a bit close and I dropped it. Not the way to treat a new phone.”
“You OK?” She had a gentle, quiet smileand appeared to be held together by a sagging ponytail.
“Knackered. Not really up to fighting off the zombie pigeon hordes.”
“You visiting someone?”
Agnes nodded. "Friend of ours. Sort of a cousin, really. Got caught up in an incident– got helicoptered in at something close to stupid o’clock last night. It got a bit hairy for a while, but they seem to be fairly content with his progress now.”
“ My boyfriend got shot at last night,” she admitted. A vague bell tolled in Agnes’ mind.
“You poor thing, how’s he doing?”
“Improving, thankfully. He’s a DI, you see.”
Was this Molly? thought Agnes. She wanted to ask, but lacked the courage to do so. Instead, she smiled sympathetically. “That must have been a hard call to take.”
“It was, but he’s in the best place possible. He got called in to deal with a case of which I’m supposed to know nothing, and got a head injury in the process.” She focused on her hands then at the pigeons. “I mean, it could have been worse. He’ll have a scar and a story to tell...”
“..but it’s one you’d have preferred never to have happened,” added Agnes.
“Exactly.” Her phone vibrated in her hand, then miaowed. “Oh.Excuse me.”
Agnes acknowledged her and turned away.
”Hi Sally. Yes, I’m fine- he’s talking and almost sitting up – no, drop in whenever – I’ll be heading back to my flat soon, before Toby forgets who I am – Sure – Give my regards to the rest of the team – Bye.” She put her phone away and got wearily to her feet.
“I hope your friend gets better soon, They’re very good here.”
“Thanks. How long are they expecting to keep your bloke?”
“Another couple of days. They shoved him up to the private wing – easier to maintain the security, or so I’m told.”
“Sounds like the least they could have done. Nice to speak to you,” said Agnes.
Agnes looked across and saw John in the distance. “Got to go now. Take care.”
“Bye.” The woman turned back to her phone as Agnes passed out of view to meet John.
Chapter 32: A ceasefire, not a truce
The sanctity of Baker Street is disturbed by the confident stealth of feet on the stairs
“There you are. Progress report? ”Agnes scanned his face. John was just about dead on his feet.
“We're free to go. Baker Street suit you?”
“What does the British Government say?”
“It’s passed the security check..“ A taxi pulled up on the other side of the road. “He's even provided transport. Come on, let’s go.”
John's energy ebbed as they drove towards Baker Street. He leaned into Agnes' undamaged shoulder and let his eyes slide shut. Her thumb drifted across her his cheek. “Baker Street.,” she murmured into his ear. Crieff steered the taxi to the kerb and watched discreetly as they entered 221b, before blending back into the beginnings of rush hour traffic.
John allowed her to guide him to his room at the top of the house. He sat on the end of the bed and began to undress, starting with his shoes. Agnes went downstairs to investigate the kitchen. When she returned a few minutes later with two glasses of water, John was flopped back on the duvet, an overgrown toddler in new jeans and a borrowed sweatshirt.
“You really can't sleep like that.” Her fingers loosened the laces of his shoes and eased them off his feet. His other clothes were more of a challenge, but eventually she lifted the duvet and rolled him into the cocoon of brushed cotton. Agnes left her outer layers on the chair then joined him. Her arm found its home across his waist. As her other hand stroked his neck, she felt the bonelessness creep through him.
Afternoon traffic honked and shuffled in the street. Pigeons pecked and cooed on the window sill. Rain beat a heartbeat against the glass. They drifted into sleep together, finally safe.
The confident stealth of feet on the main stairs woke John with a start just after ten o’clock. He shifted gingerly away from Agnes, and silently pulled his gun from its holster under the bed. It was a comforting weight in his dressing gown pocket as he crept downstairs.
An expensive umbrella dangled from the bannister at the bottom of the stairs next to an immaculate grey overcoat. A familiar if unexpected presence filled the lounge.
“Good Evening Mycroft.”
“Good evening John. I trust you've slept well.”
“Why are you here?” He tried to swallow the growing lump of panic in his throat. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing unexpected, John. DI Lestrade will be discharged later today, and Sherlock, is, well, roughly as is to be expected. He’s begun to ask for you, John.”
John sat down opposite Mycroft. “I repeat, why are you here? Why not text?”
“I prefer to talk whenever possible.” He looked down briefly at his phone, then pressed a single key. “You would have every right to delete my texts without reading it, even to block my number. “
“Perhaps, but there are more feelings than mine to consider now. Whether I like it or not, Agnes needs you right now.”
“Which is why I am here. She has survived two attempts on her life, thanks largely to you, her home has been gravely damaged and her father has been revealed to be conspiring with terrorists. She has me, and she has you, and that it is all.” Mycroft’s gaze on him softened a little but it did not break. “Sherlock is in a similarly precarious position, albeit for differing reasons. Last year, he risked everything to ensure the safety of others. Your continued existence, as that of Lestrade and Mrs Hudson kept him going. Lestrade is still too fragile, and Mrs Hudson is sequestered elsewhere for her own safety. You are the single point of his focus right now. If you do not see Sherlock tonight, I fear for the continuation of his recovery.”
“And if I don’t what will you do?”
“Nothing, because it is beyond me.” His frankness was a shock, if it was to be believed.
“Oh God. Mycroft Holmes admitting stalemate.”
“Merely presenting you with the full facts of the situation.” The phone twitched in Mycroft’s hand. “Anthea is waiting for you outside. Please do not keep her waiting longer than necessary.”
John rose and stood in the doorway. “Just because I’m going, doesn’t mean either of you are off the hook. I’ll go to your brother’s room, if only to check that he hasn’t been a fucking PTSD symptom. If I choose to listen to anything he says, that will be my choice.”
“Of course.” Mycroft turned back to his phone.
John returned a couple of minutes later, anger and confusion softened by a familiar shirt and jeans.. He reached for his coat. Mycroft was sitting upright in the armchair, hands steepled under his nose. The fleeting resemblance to Sherlock shook him. “This is a ceasefire, not a truce.”
Mycroft nodded briefly. “That is abundantly clear, John. I will see you on your return..”
John nodded, and left.
Mycroft watched the car as it swept away into the dark. The powerlessness was terrifying.
Chapter 33: Voices in the dark
John faces up to the impossible
Sherlock’s room was quiet and full of shadows. The nurse sat at a desk close to the door, her head bent over her papers. She looked up as John appeared and acknowledged him with a nod. She handed him Sherlock’s chart.
“He’s had a reasonable few hours,” she whispered. “He was a little restless earlier when we took out his oxygen tube, but his conscious time is increasing. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Oh thanks, but only if you’re getting your own. I take it as it comes.”
“Certainly, Doctor.” He caught a glimpse of her smile as she headed into the tempered brightness of the corridor, returning a moment later with a steaming mug.
“Wonderful,” he said. “Could you give us a few minutes?”
“Of course. The nurse’s station is continuing to remotely monitor his vitals. I’ll be in the workroom across the way.”
“Much appreciated.” She nodded and returned to the corridor.
He opened Sherlock’s charts and flicked through them. Sherlock continued to make progress. The surgical team deserved knighthoods or beatifications for getting him this far. Thanks to them, he had every chance of walking out of here with nothing more than a collection of scars.
The chart was carefully replaced in its slot. Sherlock blended into the sheets. Three drips –saline, plasma and analgesics- dripped into his arm. His head was tightly bandaged, covering what remained of his hair.
John drained his mug and felt stupidly grateful for warmth it offered. He left it on the desk, his eyes never leaving the bed and its occupant. The unreality of the situation left him with dizzying thoughts and stinging eyes.
“If I was a machine I’d be easier to mend,” whispered a familiar voice, heavy with sleep and medication. John’s breath caught in his throat as he leaned against the wall.
The memory of that conversation hit him in the gut. “You’re remarkably quick for someone we buried a year ago.”
“Not a year. Three hundred and eighty days, give or take the hour.”
“I saw you fall. You had no breath, no pulse. You bled out.”
”A necessary illusion.”
“Moriarty didn’t burn your heart. You ripped out mine. I don’t even know who you are anymore.”
“I am as I always appeared to be.“
John blinked the tears away and took a deep breath. “This whole thing is fucking impossible.”
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
“And that means?”
“That I didn’t die, and neither did you.”
“Part of me did. “ John scrubbed his eyes and stared at the ceiling. “And that’s the problem.” He pushed himself back up off the wall and walked out before his legs betrayed him.
Chapter 34: The impact of the impossible on a medical mind
The fallout of John's miracle continues
The strength in John’s legs lasted until he reached the privacy of the visitor lounge. He sat in the corner, head spinning, stomach churning, eyes hunting for non-existent patterns in the carpet tiles.
Slowly his senses coalesced. He dared to raise his head and take a breath of air without the fear of vomiting. His phone slid from his pocket and clattered to the floor. It flashed incessantly as the texts silently flooded in.
I don’t have friends.
I only have one.
He flung the phone across the room. It broke apart in the middle of the carpet, just as the door opened.
John turned to see a pyjamaed Greg, held together by the belt of his dressing gown. A shuffling, panda-eyed Greg, who by all rights should have been in bed. He laid a hand on John’s shoulder, and was shocked by the shivering tension he felt.
The shivering evolved in shaking, shivering sobs as Greg pulled him up into a hug. They stood for several minutes until John’s tears ebbed into silence. He led him over to a chair and passed him a cup of water.
“I know you’d prefer a double vodka, John, but the bar’s closed.”
“Typical.” John looked up appraisingly. “You should be resting.”
“Well, there’s only so much of that I can bear, and I don’t really cope that well with boredom.” Greg looked down at his hands.
“Rather like someone else we could think of.”
“You can mention his name; he’s not Voldemort, you know.”
“He might as well be, going by your recent reaction.”
“Who told you?”
“I worked it out when I heard you in the helicopter. Your tone of voice was unmistakable, even though I couldn’t understand how it could be. I think Molly knows more than she’s letting on, but I’m not going to push just now.” John’s eyes widened, but he said nothing. “She’s been through enough in the last twenty four hours.”
“Been to see him then?”
“As ordered by the British Government. I lasted exactly ten minutes before he woke up and absolutely bottled it.”
“What did he have to say for himself?”
“Little that made any sense. He wittered on about how it was all an illusion, but I know what I saw.” John looked across the room. “There’s absolutely no fucking way anyone could have survived that fall. And he made me watch.”
“That’s the worst of it, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And he just wants to pick up from where he left off. I’d love to, but I don’t think I can.”
Greg sighed. “We’ve all got some adjustments coming. God only knows what the fallout from yesterday will be. What has Mycroft said? Or rather, how much are you able to tell me?”
“I really don’t know. Reynard is definitely implicated, but I’m trying to stay out of that for Agnes’ sake.”
“I can see why. Where is she, by the way?”
“I left her asleep at Baker Street, with Mycroft there in case she woke up. Anthea drove me over here.” He looked at the wreckage of his phone. “ I’d better put that back together in case someone tries to get hold of me.”
“Come on, I’ll give you a hand.” They collected the pieces, and managed to reconstruct the phone between them. The screen flickered into life, revealing the last message Sherlock had sent him. John deleted all of them, only to see the mailbox fill immediately. He dropped the phone as if it had burned him. Greg caught it before it hit the floor again.
“I can’t face this, “ admitted John. “How many are from him?”
Greg scrolled through the mailbox. They all are. Would you mind if I read them?”
John raked his fingers through his hair and stared at the floor. Greg remained absolutely still, the only movement coming from his thumbs and his eyes as read Sherlock’s texts.
After five minutes , he looked up at John. “You’re not going to like this,” he began, “but texting might be a way out of this. “
John was immediately on the defensive. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Texting might give you the thinking space you need. You respond only when you feel that you can.“
“That will only work if the consulting idiot lets me breathe in between. “
Greg rose slowly. “It’s about time I had a little walk down the corridor. Can I trust you to stay put and not commit grievous phone damage in my absence?”
“If you think it will make any difference, I’ll give it a try.”
“Thanks. Look, you never saw how frantic he became when you got shot at the end of the Garrideb case. He went apeshit when you passed out- I’d never seen him so frightened, or so angry.”
“And yet, he barely said a word afterwards.”
“Well, that’s because emotionally, he is the original single sex public school halfwit. Pretending to be above it all always was his coping strategy.”
John fixed Greg with a relatively calm stare. “If you’re not back in ten minutes, I’ll send a nurse after you.”
Greg smirked.” A threat or a promise?”
“Both, and then I’ll tell Molly that you’ve not been following medical advice, and see how she reacts to that.”
“No worries. Here goes nothing.”
John watched Greg leave. You’ve got your miracle, he thought. Now learn to live with it.
Chapter 35: The hunt for calm and silence
A mindless, wordless Sherlock is terrifying to behold, unless you've seen it before.
Greg heard the crash of a missile hitting the wall accompanied by a constant, low keening as he approached Sherlock’s room. The nurse let him in but hovered at the door.
“Watch yourself, sir. If Mr Holmes doesn’t calm down shortly, we’ll have to forcibly sedate him. He’s just destroyed his phone and the floor is covered in pieces.”
Greg nodded. “I’ve seen him do worse, believe me. Look, would if help if I stayed with him for a while? “
She looked at him dubiously. “Mr Lestrade, are you even meant to be out of bed?”
He had the decency to blush. “Not exactly, but I promise not to do any dancing around or heavy lifting. If there is a need for any significant patient wrangling, I’ll call for the experts.” His smile dazzled her for a moment before her professionalism slid back into place.
“On your head be it. Press the button if you need us.” She disappeared into the corridor.
Sherlock’s distress echoed around Greg as he edged around the bed and sat in the bedside chair, reaching for the dripless hand. Sherlock flinched and tried to flail away. Greg made no move to pursue him.
“Calm now. Choose one thing a time - being still or being quiet. I can wait all night if need be.”
He sat back in the chair, leaving his hand on the blanket- close enough for Sherlock to feel the presence, sufficiently distant to avoid conflict. Gradually, the tension left his body and he settled on his back, eyes still firmly shut. The keening continued, albeit at a lower volume.
Greg moved his hand across the bed. “Better, much better.”
Sherlock sensed the movement of his hand and grabbed at it. “See- I’m still here,” he whispered, tracing a spiral line across Sherlock’s wrist.
“Good. Now in a minute, you’re going to stop entirely and listen. Squeeze my hand if that makes sense.”
Sherlock’s hand snaked around his own. A fragment of silence grew. Greg took a long, low breath before beginning again..
“Good. Now you’re going to release my hand and I’ll pass you the water that you’re going to drink. Understand?” The pressure on his hand changed. “Good.”
Greg held out the bottle and extended the straw until it reached Sherlock’s lips. He watched as the water level dropped to half its volume before gently withdrawing it.
“That’s better, isn’t it?” Sherlock nodded. “Now do you want to start, or shall I?”
Sherlock’s voice was a lumpy whisper. “I’ve lost him. John doesn’t know me anymore, doesn’t even want to try. He’s never coming back.”
Chapter 36: A Matter of Brutal Arithmetic
“I wouldn’t call spending a year grieving and rootless as being in my best interests. If this was all just a magic trick, what the hell was it all for?”
“Because in Sherlock’s mind, a world without you, and to a lesser part, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, would be a pointless rock revolving mindlessly in space."
The phone sat on the low table, just beyond hurling reach. John watched it vibrate twice before daring to respond.
My brother deleted all concept of appropriate behaviour at the age of ten. Please persevere if you can. MH
Walking up without you felt strange. M looking after me. Let me know how you are. AR
Mycroft could wait- Agnes couldn’t.
Bit not good. Barely managed five minutes in his conscious company before I completely bolloxed it. Glad you’re not here to see this. Not a pretty crier. JW
Like I care what you look like. Where are you now? AR
Private wing visitor lounge. Third floor. Thank God for Greg who performed emergency social bloke reconstruction. JW
Give that man a chocolate Hobnob and a hug (if that’s allowed). Where is he? AR
Attempting similar emergency bridge-building with S – not something I can deal with right now. JW
We’re on our way in. M has a midnight conference call booked on the tenth floor. Be with you shortly, if you want me there. AR
Of course I do. JW
Please come up to the tenth floor, John. MH
On my way. JW
John went out in the corridor, and left a message for Greg with the nurses before heading for the lift. A familiar figure was waiting. Crieff. Ludicrously neat and remarkably awake. “Oh. Good to see you,” said John.
“Likewise. I’ve been asked to give you this.” He handed over a brown paper carrier. “Miss Reynard’s orders.”
John managed a brief smile, even though it felt alien on his face. “Better do as I’m told, then. Thanks for all of your recent help.”
The lift purred upwards. “One of the less arduous parts of work for Mr Holmes, I assure you. He will be working from here until his brother’s condition improves. Please let me know I can help you further.”
“That's good of you.” They arrived at the tenth floor. Crieff nodded in acknowledgement as they separated.
Mycroft was sat on one of the couches in his outer office, his coat and umbrella cast hastily over its back. He looked up as John entered.
“Agnes will be up in a few minutes. Thank you for seeing me. Please sit down.” John did so with significant caution.
“It’s not as if I’ve got anywhere else to go.” He sat on the opposite couch with significant caution.
“John, I have been made aware of what transpired earlier between yourself and Sherlock. Whilst I felt it was imperative that you came, I deeply regret the effect that this meeting clearly had on you.”
“Bit late for that.”
“Perhaps.” Mycroft glanced at his shoes before looking back at him. “You have to believe that all of Sherlock’s actions were, in his opinion, in your best interests.”
John swallowed hard against the spike of anger in his chest. “I wouldn’t call spending a year grieving and rootless as being in my best interests. If this was all just a magic trick, what the hell was it all for?”
“Because in Sherlock’s mind, a world without you, and to a lesser part, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, would be a pointless rock revolving mindlessly in space. He needed you all to be safe.”
“But why lie? Why pretend to be dead? He must have known that I would have followed him anywhere,” John protested.
Mycroft sighed. “Your problem is, John, that unlike my brother, your thoughts and emotions colour you entirely. If you had known or even suspected that Sherlock’s death had been an illusion, those watching would have known, and ensured that hour would be your last. Moriarty was after blood – either Sherlock died or you, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson would. A simple matter of brutal arithmetic.”
The impact of Mycroft’s words stilled him. “Hell.” John’s head sank against his hands.
“It was something like that,” Mycroft admitted. “For all concerned. “ His voice echoed with a knowing sadness. “As boys, we were both taught that caring was not an advantage, and that all hearts are broken, given time. As a result, Sherlock learned to hide his own. I doubted that he would ever show genuine concern for another living person until he moved to Baker Street. However, you were- are- his heart because you reminded him he had one. Without your friendship, he would have continued his hunt for chemical oblivion until it claimed him.”
John took a deep breath and raised his eyes cautiously. “So what now? An immediate and urgent need for an ex-army medic in the Falkands? Or maybe a paddle in the Thames wearing concrete wellies? “ He wasn’t entirely joking. Mycroft tried to conceal his alarm.
“Nothing of the sort. You did not break Sherlock – he fractured himself. He can and will mend, given time and patience. As will you.”
The door opened. Agnes, with Anthea beside her.
“Sir.” Anthea’s quiet, politely urgent tone. ”Your conference call will be starting in five minutes.” Mycroft straightened himself and adjusted his cufflinks.
“Thank you.” He turned to John. “Please feel free to use this suite or the facilities on the third floor for as long as you need. You will not be readily disturbed.” He rose and patted Agnes on the arm. “Please remind John to eat. Transport must be maintained. I will be free in an hour if I am needed.” Mycroft pressed a kiss to Agnes’ hair and entered the inner office.
John’s breath shuddered out of him. His head swam and the edges of his vision greyed. Waves of shock and exhaustion threatened to shatter him until he felt the warm circle of Agnes’ arms enfolding him. “The trick is to keep breathing,” she whispered in his ear. “You remember how this works. In for two, out for two. Repeat.”
Slowly, cautiously, he felt a strange normality returning.
Chapter 37: More than the old in - out
“Love is about more than batting eyelashes at someone pretty and getting down to the old in-out, you pillock.”
“I've lost him.” Sherlock's breathing roughened. Greg's fingers encircled his hand.
“You don't know that,” he soothed.”Twenty four hours ago, he knew you to be dead. Hell, we all did.” Except Molly, he reminded himself. “He's scared witless, because he begged for a miracle, for the impossible, and then it happened. You came back.”
“I thought he'd be glad to see me.” Calmer now, but still with the undertones of a child.
“Deep down, he is, I sure, but cut the bloke a break. Whatever you got up to last year, you knew he was alive. Thanks to that stunt you pulled, he hadn't a fucking clue.”
“And now you're angry with me as well.”
Greg rolled his eyes. “Angry, relieved, shocked, confused, the whole bloody lot. The only reason that I can talk without storming out or planting you one is that Molly told me some of what she'd done for you and why. I've had a few more hours to calm down and get my head back in the right place. John will come round.”
“What if he never forgives me?”
The insecurity of his voice shook Greg. It took him a moment to pluck the right words out of the air. “If, and it's a big if, that happens, we'll find a way. Focus on the definite,not the improbable. What do you actually remember of after you were found?”
“Heavy feet. Arms dragging me out. Shouting. Pain. Fear.” Sherlock swallowed rapidly. “John's voice. His hand in my gut, on my head, on my wrist.” He looked directly at Greg. “Your bloodied face in the dark,then patches of nothing.”
“At any point did John say he hated you?” Sherlock shook his head.
“He said I'd had to survive or he'd kill me himself. And he came tonight, and I tried to act as I've always done, and he lost it.”
“He had every reason. Nurse Wilson tipped me off and I decided to go for a wander.I'm not going to lie to you – the guy is almost back to the state you left him in when you jumped, only now he's trying to process why it had to happen. Hell, I'm not entirely convinced of that myself and no...” he put a hand up.”...I don't want to hear it from you right now. That can wait.”
Sherlock’s eyes tracked along the dressing on Greg’s head. “That wasn’t meant to happen to you.” Greg shrugged.
“Nothing major. Bled a lot, I’ll probably scar, but my idiot level brain wasn’t affected for long. John and Agnes literally held me together for a while until the paramedics arrived. You might have met your match with her - she’s got real guts.”
“Hardly surprising. She told Mycroft to back off when she was a teenager. I doubt I could do anything to frighten her. She’ll be good for John. He needed someone to lean on. I’m surprised that he stayed with me as long as he did.”
“Sherlock, he stayed because he loved you. He bawled into my shoulder half an hour ago because I believe he still does.”
Sherlock’s panic was tangible. “But I’ve never wanted him like that.. “ he began. “... he must know that....”
“Shhh. Easy, tiger.“ Greg forced the water into his free hand. “Have a drink,slow down your brain, and listen to me.” Sherlock drained the bottle obediently then passed it back.
“Love is about more than batting eyelashes at someone pretty and getting down to the old in-out, you pillock.” He grinned at Sherlock’s frown. “A Clockwork Orange. Sex, Ultra Violence and criminal gangs.” Still no idea. “Never mind - look it up. What matters here is that John loves you, and probably has done since the night that cabbie got shot. You’ve both been too pigheaded to realise.”
“But I told him I didn’t have friends, only one, and he didn’t respond.” Sherlock’s eyes darted around the floor. “I texted him, over and over, and he ignored me.”
“That’s because you forced him into a corner, just like at Baskerville, only this time you couldn’t control the situation, and you couldn’t save him from the fallout.”
“But why didn’t he respond?”
“Shock, anger, disbelief, emotional exhaustion - take your pick. He needed some space, which you so clearly didn’t give him. Listen, I’m going to put on the main light and see if your phone survived the assassination attempt. OK?”
Greg reached up and flicked the switch. Nurse Wilson came in and looked at her patient. “Good to see you’re feeling better.” She turned to Greg. “And how can I help you?”
“I’d like to perform reconstructive surgery on Mr Holmes’ phone, providing I can retrieve all the working parts.”
“Let’s see what we can do,” she replied.
After ten minutes, the phone’s components lay in a heap on Sherlock’s table. Nurse Wilson left them to it. After half an hour, it spluttered into life. Greg pressed it into his hand. “One text. No more. Give him chance to respond.” Sherlock nodded.
Sorry doesn’t have enough letters, and neither does thank you. Forgive me, if you can. SH
The phone was reverently placed on the bedside cabinet. “ Bit good that, Sherlock..”
“The main light goes off, and you go to sleep.”
“Will you stay?”
“ For as long as they’ll let me, ” Greg said, smoothing out the blanket.
When Nurse Wilson returned to check on them, both were sleeping. She snuck a pillow behind Greg’s head and tucked a blanket over his legs. Neither patient stirred.
The phone on the cabinet flickered briefly into silent life.
Message received and partially understood. J calm but knackered. Will update in the morning. AR
Chapter 38: Human Chess Part 1
"Time and space are wonderful dimensions. Let them do their work."
Mycroft, Agnes and two cups of tea.
I will be with you shortly. I hope that this will not be too much of an inconvenience. MH
John passed the phone to Agnes. “Just as long as I don’t need to speak to him,” he said.
Saturday night, at a fraction beyond half past nine. They were on the sofa, flicking between several channels of forgettable television. “You do realise that you will have to start speaking to him properly at some point,” she said.
“At some point, yes, but distance has its uses. Saves him from a black eye and me from being arrested for assault.” The dark humour in his voice made Agnes look up. He stroked a hand through her hair. “Don’t worry - it won’t come to that.”
“Are you going to see Sherlock?”
“I’ll go up to the ward, talk to his team, then see how long I can bear being in his room before I have to make a run for it. If he’s awake, I can always try that talking lark again. See how long I last this time.”
Agnes pulled him in closer. “You don’t need to do this on your own.”
“Yes I do. I stormed off, and seeing as I’m the one who’s mobile, I need to be the one who makes at least some of the right noises. I’ll be fine.”
She squeezed his hand. “Make sure that you are.” A discreet triple knock on the flat door distracted them.
“I’ll get my coat.”
Agnes raised her eyebrows. “This is your home. If Mycroft needs to talk, we should be the ones to leave.”
“Not this time.”
Agnes opened the door. “Evening Mycroft.”
“Good evening.” Agnes took his coat and hung it over the bannister. “Apologies for calling so late, but I am leaving tonight, and I wanted to speak to you first.” He turned to John. They acknowledged each other. “Crieff will take you to the Royal London, if that is what you wish, John.”
“Thank you. “John turned to Agnes and kissed her cheek. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Mycroft was curiously silent for several minutes. They sat in the lounge and watched the fire, cups in hand. “I’ve caused a rift between you.” His regret was almost palpable. It made her uneasy.
“It’s not as serious as that. John knows how much I need you, but he also knows he’s not ready talk to you without using his fists.”
“Understandable, if regrettable.” Mycroft sipped his tea. “John will come round in his own time. My brother and I have been the cause of grievous pain. It surprises me that I am still welcome here.”
“Underneath the anger, John wants what’s best for others, myself and Sherlock included. If that means we play human chess when you want to see me, so be it.”
“ Understood. I take it you are heading back to work on Monday?”
“Absolutely. God only knows what state that office has got into. It’s about time I got back into something like normality, instead of living through a live -action spy thriller.”
“The humdrum quotidian has its benefits.”
“Not that you’d know a great deal about that,” she joked.
“Now why are you really here?”
“You deserve an apology. You were never meant to get caught up in this.”
“Mycroft, I’ve never doubted your actions, even if you have sometimes been heavy handed. You’ve always appeared to act in my best interest, and have been more of a parent than my father ever was.”
“Agnes, you humble me. For all that has happened with your father, I am thankful that we were once friends. Without that, I would have never met your mother, and by that account both you and Lucy.” Agnes nodded at the mention of her sister. Mycroft paused, getting a grip on himself before continuing.
“As to the future, for once I cannot gauge what will happen. The extent of your father’s treachery will take some time to investigate. I will do my utmost to keep both you and Marianne out of it.”
“Will it go to trial?”
His face was unreadable. “I’m afraid that it may not be deemed in the national interest to head down that path. Significant and possibly irreparable flaws have been identified in the Department as a whole. Any trial involving your father would be a very public laundering of these.”
“So he just gets away it?”
Mycroft’s anger was emphatic. “No. Justice will be served in private. No knighthood, no City directorship, no place in the Lords. A significantly reduced pension, the balance of which will come to you and Marianne by invisible means.” He looked directly at her. “Most of all, being forced to step back and accept the effects of his appalling behaviour on you.”
“He can rot in Hell,” snapped Agnes.
“No doubt in due course, if such a place exists outside the human psyche.”
“So how do I even talk to him?”
“Be as polite and charming as you ever were,” he advised. “Keep meetings as brief and as public as possible. Set your own rules and live by them.”
“That will take some doing,” she admitted.
Mycroft set down his cup and laid a hand on her arm. “Time and space are wonderful dimensions. Let them do their work.”
“Good. Now I must leave. I should be back in a few days. Anthea is on call, as is Crieff. Their numbers are on your phone as Aunt Sally and Captain Martin, although I doubt you’ll need them.”
He slid on his coat. “Unlike my brother, I understand the basic structure of the universe because you are the centre of mine. Look after yourself.”
“Yes, Godpappa.” As Agnes hugged him, he was transported to an evening when a screaming baby was placed in his arms. Something about him felt safe, so she quietened. Little had changed in twenty six years.
Chapter 39: Human Chess part 2
John comes to terms with the rhythm of an impossibility.
Nurse Wilson met John as he turned the corner towards Sherlock’s room. “Evening,” she said.
“He’s had a reasonable day. He saved his worst comments for Jeremy Kyle, but I can’t really blame him for that. “
“Sounds like he’s getting back to normal. Look, I’m sorry for what happened last night- it can’t have made for an easy shift.”
Her smile was sympathetic. “Incredibly intelligent people, especially strong-willed ones, are never the easiest to get along with. “
“Exactly. Brain the size of a planet, occasional emotional understanding of a grumpy toddler when he’s tired. Thanks for everything you’ve done.”
“Not a problem.” The door swung shut behind her.
John slipped into the bedside chair, his eyes never leaving Sherlock's face. He noted the improved colour against the snowy expanse of renewed dressings. His eyes moved to the detective's chest, counting the pattern of its rise and fall. Regular and healthy, accompanied by the occasional whine from his sinuses. The rhythm of an impossibility.
John leaned forward until his hand rested on the blanket, a matter of inches from Sherlock. The inches between them felt further than a year. Breathe, you moron, he chided himself. The care team didn't need another patient on their hands, private or otherwise.
Slowly, calmly, the details of his new reality began to fall into place.
Silence is good? Just checking in. AR
Sorry. Switched my phone to silent so as not to distract the consulting idiot from his beauty sleep. How are you? JW
All fine. M left 20 minutes ago. Thank you for the space. Felt good to talk. AR
Not a problem. Where are you now? JW
A familiar hand touched his sleeve. Lips brushed his ear. “Here.”
Agnes leant over the back of John’s chair. Her arm looped across his chest. He turned his head to return the kiss. “Thought you were a nurse,” he said. He swore he heard her smile.
“That could be arranged,” she murmured in a husky whisper.
“Perhaps without an audience.”
Silence wrapped itself around them. John’s eyes returned to Sherlock. “Today has been better,” he continued. “Much calmer, even though his analgesic and sedative load are being gradually trailed off.”
“Have you talked?” John shook his head.
“He hasn’t woken. Perhaps later.”
“What about charming some tea out the care team? You look like you could do with something.”
John slid away from her arms and stood up slowly. He dusted a hair from her face. “Thanks for coming to find me.”
Agnes reached for Sherlock’s free hand, tracing patterns across his knuckles. His breathing shallowed. His hand flexed below hers. “Why are you ignoring John?” There was the tiniest fleck of iron in her voice. His eyelashes squirmed then separated briefly. He watched her through slivers of exhausted eyes.
“Don’t know what to say. Emotions hurt.”
“Cop out. Welcome to the real world.”
“Don’t appreciate being vulnerable.”
“A bonus five points to the consulting idiot. “ His hand flipped under hers as he stuck a finger up.
“Charming as ever,” her voice laced with friendly sarcasm. “Now start talking to him. Properly.”
She reached over and tossed the phone onto his chest. “There you go.”
John was in the corridor, when the text arrived. He put down the paper cups and opened the message.
Currently less of a detective, more of an idiot according to my all–knowing fairy god niece. Discuss, if convenient. SH
Not an apology as such, but the effort was something. When he looked up, Agnes was in front of him. He handed her one of the cups.
“Cheers. Mr Van Winkle is requesting an audience. I get the impression he’d prefer it to be a personal one.“
“Where will you be?”
“Tenth floor. Mycroft left some papers with Anthea that I need to sign, apparently.” She saw the doubt flicker across his eyes. ”It can wait, if you want.”
“No- this needs sorting now. I’ll text you if it gets hairy.”
“No worries.” John disappeared into Sherlock’s room. Agnes headed upstairs to find Anthea. Her phone remained calm and silent throughout.
Chapter 40: Falling never hurts but landing does
A conversation in the dark enlightens both parties
Title taken from 'The Beauty of the End' by Paloma Faith. If you don't already know her, check her out on YouTube. Utterly brilliant.
“Thank you.” Quiet, almost a whisper but unmistakable.
“For what?” John leant against the wall. His feet had got him in here, but now his legs felt strangely hollow.
“Returning. Staying.” Sherlock focused on the shadowed patch where John stood. “I’m sorry.”
“I think I understand.”
“Mycroft gave me the basic outline. You can give me the details later, but why couldn’t you have been given me a clue? You were so fucking convincing that I almost took a similar route.”
“What stopped you?”
John’s legs finally gave into gravity. He slid down the wall into a crouch. “I wanted to believe that you were alive. Two weeks after we...” he stumbled over the thought before catching it again. ”...Two weeks after the service, I went to your headstone and begged a sodding inanimate piece of marble for a miracle. Stupid, overemotional but true.“
John’s head drooped suddenly, weighed down with the memory and his voice thickened. “It would have been so simple to forge a prescription, or jump in front of a train, or stride into the Thames with my pockets full of rocks. But if I had – if I had done so, I’d never have known if I’d been right.”
A charged silence grew. The air seemed too thin. Neither man could look at the other. John continued. “Mycroft got an inkling. He must have had a minion watching me.” Sherlock’s nod went unnoticed. “He visited me later that day, and asked for my gun, in case I got raided for real. An utter bollocks of a reason. I thought I‘d lost the will to snipe back until he arrived. I refused, but it vanished anyway.” He looked up towards the bed.
“Mrs Hudson later admitted that she’d been involved. She wasn’t scared for herself, she was scared for me.”
“Was she right?”
“Initially….” The bluntness of his answer was shocking. “ …until I realised I couldn’t leave her with another dead tenant on her hands, and I kicked myself for being so fucking melodramatic. That worked, most of the time. Then three months ago, I found the gun had been returned to its spot under the bed. New holster, new box of bullets, new cleaning kit. All wrapped up in a yellow duster. The desire to use it on myself was gone.”
“ I hurt you. I’m sorry.”
John frowned. “Not like you to repeat yourself.” Their eyes found each other.
Sherlock shrugged. “Occasional repetition proves useful as an emphatic expression.” His tone softened. “Thank you for not dying.”
Chapter 41: A word I thought I’d never hear from you
Mycroft holds a difficult conversation with a challenging lady.
The car approached as he stepped towards the kerb. The back window buzzed downwards. “I want a word with you, ” demanded an irate female voice.
He peered through the open window with a professionally smooth smile. “Mrs Hudson, I am very pleased to see that you have arrived safely. I trust you had a pleasant journey.”
“Nothing less than I’ve come to expect from one of your minions. If I was needed in London, why couldn’t I catch the train?”
“Seeing as how the mainline into Paddington appears to be suffering almost constant reconstruction, I felt it was more expedient to send one of my drivers.”
Alarm spread across her face. “What’s happened? Has Baker Street burned down? Where’s John?”
My dear Mrs Hudson...” he began, as he slid into the car next to her. “I do need to speak to you in confidence.” Grudgingly, she waited for him to take his seat opposite her in the sleek black car before continuing the verbal assault.
“Spit it out. What is going on?”
The epitome of the British Government took a deep breath. “I will tell you precisely what has occurred. First of all, let me assure you that John is well and that Baker Street stands as you left it. There have been, however other developments.”
“I see.” A courteous if strained silence overtook them as the car purred away from the kerb outside the Diogenes Club.
“John sends his regards. I will take you to him. It has been somewhat of a tumultuous week, as you will hear.” He pressed a code into his phone then pocketed it smoothly.
“I regret to inform you that I have had to become party to a significant fabrication for the year, something for which I am deeply sorry.”
“A word I thought I’d never hear from you.”
“This regards the circumstances surrounding Sherlock’s death. It was imperative that the truth remained concealed until a certain network of criminals was dismantled beyond repair.” He watched her carefully before continuing.
“The events of last year which surrounded my brother were deeply painful for all of us. I can appreciate that the enforced secrecy placed undue distress upon yourself, and others, notably Dr Watson and DI Lestrade. Several significant and particular threats were made against all of you. Sherlock was faced with a choice. His life in place of those closest to him.”
“Oh my poor boy.” Her eyes stung and she struggled to control the quiver in her voice. ”Why didn’t you help him?” She accepted the exquisitely hemmed handkerchief that was offered to her.
Mycroft sighed. “I did my best once the situation was brought to my attention. And for once, he accepted my assistance, along with that of a few key individuals.”
“A fat lot of good that did him,” she retorted. He absorbed her anger before continuing.
“I repeat that I am truly sorry for the distress that my family has put you through. Your care and concern for Sherlock has not gone unnoticed.”
“But that’s not going to bring him back, is it?”
“Mrs Hudson, what I am trying to tell you is that the circumstances of Sherlock’s death served as an illusion. A desperately cruel but necessary illusion.”
The car swung carefully around a corner. She sat back in her seat, trying to unpick the truth from Mycroft’s verbiage. “Sherlock’s alive?” He nodded.
“Severely injured, but continuing to make vast and significant progress, thanks in no small part to the timely intervention of Dr Watson and the surgical trauma team of the Royal London.”
“Oh my goodness...” Mrs Hudson gazed out of the tinted windows, attempting to take in the implications of what she had just heard. “Wh- when did all of this happen? Sherlock returning, I mean.”
“Five days ago.”
“Can I visit?”
“Of course. We are now approaching the hospital. Dr Watson is waiting for you. With your permission, Anthea will deliver your case to Baker Street.”
“That would be most kind.” She took a breath before continuing, her eyes boring into him. “But don’t think that either you or Sherlock are back in my good books just yet.”
“I would not expect to be, and neither does Sherlock. There have been significant lessons for us all to learn.”
The car drew to a stop. “Sherlock is currently in the private wing on the third floor. My temporary office suite is in the same building. One of my team will arrange transportation to Baker Street when you wish to leave.”
“Thank you.” She blotted her face with the borrowed handkerchief, then checked the damage with her compact. She seemed suddenly fragile. Every hour of her age sat on her face.
Mycroft did his best to reassure her “All is well, and will be well,” he said, far gentler than he would usually speak. “Please follow me.”
Chapter 42: I'm your landlady, not your messenger
Mrs Hudson has words for the recovering detective.
“John, you're looking so ...” Mrs Hudson struggled for the words. “...so much brighter.” She reached up to hug him.
“To be expected, really.” His smile said the rest. “To be honest, I'm still a little dazed.”
“Understandable, my dear.” They walked up the corridor together. “So how is he?”
“The first couple of days were the worst,” he replied, “but the brain is back online, even if the transport is still under repair.”
“I do hope he's been behaving himself.” She cast him a look. “How many nurses has he scared off?”
John smirked. “A couple, but most have got wise to the silence-sulk-tantrum routine, and refuse to get drawn in.”
“And what about you?” The bantering tone didn't fool her.
“I've had a couple of tantrums myself,” he said. “ It was a bit fraught, but we're remembering how to talk to each other again.”
“Is that the plural or the royal we?” Hell, she was sharp.
“Both, “ he admitted. “He's just here. I'll be up the corridor if you need me.”
The blinds had been drawn completely back to make the most of the afternoon sun. Sherlock was wrapped in a new dressing gown and oversized pyjamas. He sat in a high backed chair, therapeutically sorting through a file of gruesome crime scene photos. He didn't look up when the door opened. “John, I need you to text Dimmock and let him know he can find the sister in the Baker case in Ormskirk with the parental money.”
“I'm your landlady, not your messenger.”
His body froze, but a smile bloomed across his face. “Hello,” he said, nervously happy. Her arms wrapped his shoulders in a cautious hug. As she released him, her fingers crept up and flicked his ear with some force.
“Ow!” His flinch was almost comic.
“You deserve more than that, but I'm not going to undo all the doctors' hard work, you wicked boy. Making us all worry so.” She sat down in the opposite chair. “You and your brother have a lot to answer for.”
“As I have been made aware.” He stroked his ear to quell the throbbing. “How was Cardiff?” Mrs Hudson was having none of it.
“Don't change the subject. Do you realise the effect of this whole escapade? You're fortunate anyone still wants to speak to you.”
Sherlock closed his eyes and steepled his fingers under his chin. “It took several days and multiple attempts, but communication has been achieved.”
“You just about broke his heart.” And mine, she thought. “Was all that really necessary?”
His eyes flew open in frustration. “I'd rather have you in confusion and tears than in a drawer in the morgue. Mycroft said he would debrief you . Clearly he did not go into sufficient detail.” His gaze blazed for a moment, then faded. “There was an ultimatum with no point of negotiation or escape. I hoped you'd cope. All of you.” His breath escaped in a rush. “Eventually.”
“And are we safe now?” she asked.
He nodded. “The eradication of the last threat landed me in here. I will be discharged in approximately ten days, when I would prefer to return to Baker Street, if such a thing is desired. I trust Mycroft maintained the rent payments?”
“Then I can see no significant problem, providing you are in agreement.”
“That will be up to John.”
“It was my flat first,” he replied petulantly. Her eyebrows ascended.
“Firstly, it is mine, and remains so. Secondly, you left, and the way you engineered it just about fractured John. I know you had your reasons, but he's got his for being cagey too.”
Sherlock looked straight back at her. “This continual repetition of my failings is growing tiresome.”
“They will be repeated until we are all convinced that the message has struck home. This past year has been hideous for us all.”
“I'll atone daily for my actions.” The last of his energy left him. When Mrs Hudson reached over, it was a gawky, ill at ease teenager who let her take his hand.
“You've been very lonely, “ she said.
“I thought I was immune to people, until I had to leave.”
She patted her hand. “It's part of being human,” she said. “We don't always realise what we have until it vanishes.”
“That's what scares me. How do you cope?”
Her hands enclosed his. “You take a deep breath and turn your back on the pain. The sooner you rebuild the bridges with John, the easier it will be to come home.”
The corners of his mouth wrinkled. “I'd like that.”
“So would I.” Her smile lit the room. “Welcome back.”
Chapter 43: The Wisdom of the Women in his life
Two women meet. John discovers the pleasure of being outnumbered and occasionally overruled.
Sherlock’s room had gone strangely quiet. John opened the door a sliver. He was dozing in his chair. Mrs Hudson sat opposite, a look of gentle bewilderment on her face. John crept in and slid the door closed behind him. He crossed the floor in careful silence, halting just behind Mrs Hudson. He laid a cautious hand on her arm. She smiled at him.
“This is all still a touch bizarre.”
John hummed in agreement. “But miracles happen, apparently.”
“Should I call for a nurse? He does look as though he would be comfortable in bed.”
John studied him for a moment. “I’ll do it.” He levered the file out of the sleeping fingers and passed it to Mrs Hudson before slipping his arm under Sherlock’s shoulder. He murmured slightly but didn’t complain.
“Are you sure you can manage?” she asked.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to do this,” he replied. Even so, she hovered just out of reach while he manoevered Sherlock back towards the bed. She pulled back the sheet as they approached.
“Easy does it, Sherlock,” as John tumbled him onto the mattress. “ I’m going to roll you onto your back so we can settle you in.”
Mrs Hudson swept the sheets back up to his armpits and tucked him in. “Not any more, love. Have a rest. I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon.” She kissed Sherlock's cheek and left.
John stood at the foot of the bed, counting Sherlock’s breaths. He heard the door push open behind him, but didn’t turn around. A hand slipped into his and squeezed. “You’ve got to stop creeping up on people like that,” he warned softly.
“Seems to work with you.” Her lips traced a line of kisses along his jawline until he turned his head.
“How was your day?” he asked.
“I’ve signed my name more times than I can think, but Anthea’s managed to get the insurance people onside. They’ve agreed to her choice of contractors, who will start on Green Street in a couple of days.”
“The joys of being connected to the British Government.” He ruffled a hand through her hair. “You hungry?” She nodded.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked.
“Sure.”He slipped out of her grasp and leant over the bed, close to Sherlock’s face. “See you later, loon.” His voice was a fond whisper.
A petite figure in a forest green tweed coat waited in the hospital foyer. John tapped her on the arm. “Glad I caught you. Have dinner with us.”
Mrs Hudson turned to him with a smile. “Oh that sounds lovely. Thank you, dear.”
“I’d like you to meet someone. Mrs Hudson, this is Agnes Reynard. Agnes, this is my landlady, Mrs Hudson.” The two women shook hands.
”Lovely to meet you, “ said Agnes. “John’s told me such a lot about 221 Baker Street.”
Mrs Hudson chuckled. “Well, there are a few stories, but they’re not exactly dinner conversation.”
A black taxi rolled up to the kerb. Crieff pushed down the driver’s window. “Where to?” he asked.
“Angelo’s,” replied John. “Northumberland Street.”
A pleasant evening followed. John found himself outnumbered on a number of occasions, but accepted it with good humour. They wandered back to Baker Street at a leisurely pace. Mrs Hudson wished them goodnight and went into her own flat.
A taxi drew up with Crieff at the wheel. He acknowledged them discreetly.
John turned to Agnes. “Would you mind if I went back to the Royal London for a little while?”
“Of course not. I’ll be fine. “
He pulled her close and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. Now go and see our favourite consulting idiot. Put your mind at rest.”
A bemused smirk bloomed on his face. “What did I do to deserve you?”
“Being in the right place, at the right time, with an excellent bedside manner,” she joked. “Now shoo. My phone’s on, and Mrs Hudson's downstairs. I’ll see you later.”
John waited until he saw her reappear at the lounge window of 221b before getting into the taxi and driving away. The image stayed with him as they drove through the dark streets.
Chapter 44: The New Normality
“I’m not here to be bought and sold,” objected John. “This isn’t about the money.”
“Well, what is it about then?” Sherlock’s question carried an unexpected barb.
Agnes returns to work. John is unwillingly thrust into peace talks.
“All set?” Agnes nodded as she slipped on her coat. “I’ll walk you to the Tube.”
She shot him a grin. “I’m a big girl, you know. I can spot an Underground station.”
“Well, it’s not as if I’ve got much else to do,” he replied. “Even with Mycroft’s dealings, I don’t like to interrupt the consultant’s rounds.”
Agnes pulled John close for a quick kiss. “That’s not stopped you before.” He straightened her scarf.
“Well, if he is awake, we’ve still got some significant talking to do.” His breathing hitched for a moment momentarily before he regained control.
“He isn’t the only one. Mycroft has been keeping his distance too.”
“Must be a Holmes thing.” They closed the door of 221 behind them. Mrs Hudson waved them goodbye from her front parlour window.
An understanding silence grew as they headed towards the station. John instinctively linked his arm through hers as they crossed a side street. They were passing a busy coffee shop when he clocked a familiar face. Crieff acknowledged them with a friendly eyebrow. John smiled back as they passed. He nodded and returned to his paper.
The station buzzed with people. Agnes pulled John out of the stream of pedestrians and backed him against a wall. Her hand traced his neck before they shared a final kiss. “I’ll text you as soon as I reach work. No doubt I’ll be up to my eyes, but my phone won’t leave me, I promise.”
“Fine, but watch what they give you. And if you feel tired or achy...”
“...I’ll take my painkillers,” she continued. “Now, Dr Bloke, I have a job to get to.”
“You don’t have to, you know. I could get you signed off for another week,” he offered with a glint in his eyes.
Agnes shook her head. “Sweet of you, but the sooner I go back, the easier it will be. See you later.”
“Bye.” They split apart reluctantly. John watched for several minutes as she disappeared into the crowd. His phone vibrated.
Daily inspection passed. Come if convenient. SH
Not immediately convenient. Will drop in later this morning. JW
If Mycroft is distracting you, tell him to fuck off.SH
That’s my general response to your family right now. Agnes excepted. JW
A somewhat unexpected response to someone who has watched me sleep for the last few nights. SH
My choice. Still getting used to the miracle. Will see you later. JW
Crief appeared at his elbow. “Dr Watson, Mr Holmes has put me at your service. Where would you like to go?”
John’s eyebrows rose and fell. “Am I still under close protection?”
“Not at all.“ The ginger-haired agent smiled. “The last week has proved that such measures are unnecessary. I will be returning to the Royal London and would therefore like to offer you a lift.”
“You’re not going to accept no for an answer,” said John.
“That is wandering close to the truth.” A diplomatic answer, delivered with humour.
“I take it that Mr Holmes wishes to speak to me?”
“He does. At your reasonable convenience.”
“Of course.” John gave up to the inevitable. “Better get it over then.”
“Thank you, Doctor. If you would just follow me....?”
“Where is Mycroft?” John crossed the hospital foyer, Crieff at his elbow.
“He is in his office, sir. I believe that his brother may be joining him.” He heard the undertone of scepticism in Crieff’s voice.
“Could be dangerous,” commented John. “Those two never meet without fireworks.”
“I believe that is what occurs when two very similiar personalities find themselves in dangerous proximity.”
John smiled. There was a lot to appreciate in a man who worked for the Britsh Government while managing to maintain a sense of humour. The lift arrived at the tenth floor. He followed Crieff into Mycroft’s office.
Anthea looked up. A briefly genuine smile flashed across her face at the sight of Crieff. It disappeared just as rapidly when she noticed John. You didn’t need to be a Holmes to recognise that look, he thought.
“Good morning, Dr Watson. Mr Holmes is ready to see you.”
“Thank you.” He headed through the open door.
The circular table was set for a breakfast meeting. An empty wheelchair relaxed against the far wall. Its most recent occupant sat rigidly on a high-backed chair, mentally calculating the density, volume and capacity of the teaspoon which span restlessly between his fingers. Disgruntlement hung around him like a miasma, which even John’s appearance could not shift.
Mycroft stood behind his desk, shuffling papers in a folio. “Good morning, John. I appreciate your time. All well at 221?”
“Fine. Agnes sends her regards, even if I can’t exactly share the emotion.”
Mycroft smiled professionally then came over to the table. “May I offer you a cup of tea?”
“Thank you, ” replied John. Anger or no, manners were important. Mycroft poured three cups and passed them around, ensuring that the accoutrements remained within civilised reach.
“Why am I here, Mycroft?” asked John. “I was getting used to your absences.” He spotted Sherlock’s smirk out of the corner of his eye. Some things never changed.
“ We need to talk about the future,” continued Mycroft. “Sherlock will be discharged next week, providing that his rehabilitiation remains under close medical supervision.”
“And where is this to take place?” asked John, if he really doubted the answer.
“Sherlock has..” Mycroft continued, as a teaspoon pinged off his forehead. “Sherlock!” he protested.
“.. So glad that you are aware of my presence. It’s not as if I am unable to speak for myself.” Mycroft huffed, but did not did not attempt to interrupt. “If I may be allowed to continue, the issue is whether you would be content for me to return to 221b.” HIs eyes remained fixed on John.
“As patient or flatmate?”
John cradled his cup in both hands and watched as the tea sloshed from side to side against the porcelain. “What if I say no?” he asked. Sherlock’s eyes widened at the thought. He gasped as though the air had thinned.
“Other arrangements could be made,” replied Mycroft smoothly. “Such a decision would be understandable, if regrettable.”
Sherlock stared at John and tried not to react. “What can I do to influence your decision? “ he asked. The room faded into an indistinct backdrop as he focused on John’s face.
“It’s not as simple as that,” he admitted, after a chasm of silence. “You were gone for a year. You’ve been back barely ten days. Half of my brain still doesn’t accept that you’re alive, and I don’t know how I’ll convince it otherwise.”
“Time and increased exposure may help,” replied Mycroft. “Further professional assistance can be arranged if that would help.”
“For whom?” asked John.
“For both of you, if and when required. I will speak plainly, John, if you will permit me this liberty. We...” His gesture included a reluctant Sherlock. “.. are responsible for the majority of the difficulties in which you found yourself during the past twelve months. A continuous chantry of ‘sorry’ and 'thank you' will never be sufficient to demonstrate commensurate gratitiude. But the start and finish of all this is that Sherlock belongs at 221b, as do you.”
John’s eyebrows rose and fell. “I’ve seen your charts, Sherlock. Even if they see fit to release you shortly, it’s going to take weeks of significant support before you’re completely fit. I’ve got a job already. It's one I enjoy. It pays the bills and makes appreciative use of my skills.”
“This would not be an unpaid position, John.” replied Mycroft. Sherlock and John both took visible affront at this implication.
“I’m not here to be bought and sold,” objected John. “This isn’t about the money.”
“Well, what is it about then?” Sherlock’s question carried an unexpected barb.
“Trust. I have to believe that you will never, and I mean never, pull such a stunt on me again. If you do, you might as well hold a gun against my head and pull the trigger, because it will end me.” Sherlock paled but nodded. John took all of this in, then closed his eyes briefly before continuing.
‘If you are truly back, the smoke and mirrors regime ends now, It will be all of the truth, all of the time. Or nothing at all. Agreed?” His eyes never left Sherlock.
Sherlock nodded. “Agreed.”
“ Good,” pronounced Mycroft. “ Now I really must be going. I’ve already kept the Prime Minster waiting for half an hour.”
“Nothing less than he deserves,” quipped Sherlock.
“Feel free to remain here to work out the details, John. All required resources will be made available to you. Please inform Anthea of you requirements.”
“Much appreciated,“ said John. Mycroft nodded and swept from the room.
Sherlock and John remained at the table, six feet and a year distant.
“John. Thank you for your frankness. How do you suggest we start?”
Chapter 45: Appreciating the importance of common ground
"Agnes lives by her own rules and makes her own mistakes. Meeting you wasn’t one of them."
A good-natured conversation skates over the depths of Sherlock's feelings.
“Dr Watson?” A friendly, professional, familiar voice.
“Afternoon Cassie. How's it going?”
“Not so bad. Is this a good time to talk?”
He looked around the cafeteria. “As good as any, I guess. Where do you want me?”
“ A later booking. Royal London. General A&E support. On at seven, off at six. Single shift at the moment, with the possibility of more. Are you available?”
Her chuckle rippled down the line. “You're a gent amongst men, “ she joked.
“So I've been told. Could you text me the details?”
“Not a problem. On its way. The paperwork will be waiting for you at Reception from six o'clock.”
“Thanks very much. Speak to you soon.”
“Looking forward to it. Bye.”
He waited a moment, then sent a text to Agnes. Got called to work at RL A&E. 1900-0600. Sorry for lack of notice. JW
No worries. About time you got paid for your doctoring again! Will entertain myself with your box sets. May drop into see S. AR
He’ll appreciate another victim, sorry, audience for his genius. Speak to you later. JW
He continued his journey up to the third floor.
His phone buzzed impatiently in his hand.
Where are you? – SH
On my way across. Where’s the fire? JW
Elsewhere, unfortunately. They’ve confiscated my cigarettes. SH
Public Building. Workplace. Therefore no smoking. Surely you didn’t delete that. JW
Obviously not. Bored. SH
“Well we can’t have that, can we?”
Sherlock looked up, eyes frowning, mouth almost curving into a smile. How on earth did he do that?
“What took you? You’ve been in the building at least fifteen minutes.”
John sat on the opposite chair and submitted himself to Sherlock’s scrutiny. “Hmm. Canteen, but no coffee, so someone must have distracted you. You got a sandwich, so you’re expecting to miss a meal later. Not lunch, as you’ll be sharing mine.” John rolled his eyes, but Sherlock continued. “If you were meeting Agnes, Mrs Hudson, or dread the thought, Mycroft, you wouldn’t need that. You’re guiltily excited about something, so that leaves one thing.” His smile became genuine as his brain whirred to its conclusion. “You’re back at work.”
“Just one shift. Downstairs. Seven till six.”
“It’s about time.”
“That’s what Agnes said. You might see her later.”
“That will relieve the tedium in your absence. What plans have been made for her flat? Moran’s demolition attempt can’t have left much there.”
“As I remember,” remarked John dryly.
Sherlock paled for a moment, realising his misstep. “What has my brother done about it?”
“According to him, the building has survived remarkably well, but it will take a least a couple of months before it’s anywhere near habitable. Thank God the family upstairs were out.”
“Boring.” John raised his eyebrows. “You are safe and she is safe, and that is what matters.” Sherlock cast him a sharp glance. “The fate of the rest of the street is irrelevant.”
“I suppose I should take that as a compliment?”
“If that is what you wish.”
“You’re rather fond of Agnes, in your way.”
“Almost as must as I am of anyone, despite her deplorable connection with Mycroft.”
“Is this a variant of ‘break her heart, I’ll end you’?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Your grammar is deteriorating at a concerning rate. Continue this way and you will soon be struggling with the construction of sentences.” He looked over his steepled fingers. “Such opinions are relics of a knuckle-dragging, foot stomping attitude towards women. It has nothing to do with their welfare or protection. Agnes lives by her own rules and makes her own mistakes. Meeting you wasn’t one of them.”
“She doesn’t seem to be afraid of anyone, particularly not you.”
“And why should she be? I’ve never been a threat in any way.” And that will not change, he added to himself.
“Does she know that? “
“Not explicitly, although I would hope she has grasped the subtext by this point in our relationship I have known her for much of her life.”
“So how would you feel if she was to stay at 221b? Just until her own flat is sorted?”
“I have no objection, as long as the Work is unaffected.” She could be an uncaged tiger if it kept you living in the flat, he thought. “We’ve always got on well, and will continue to do so if she doesn’t disrupt the experiments.”
John smiled. “I doubt she will. For your part, you’d better undelete the common decencies. Toga-style sheets are not appropriate attire in mixed company.”
“As long as the same is expected of her.”
“Mr Protocol clearly needs to sit down with Ms Manners and hammer out the details.” He checked his watch. "What time's lunch?"
"Any moment. And apparently, if I eat a suitable amount," he huffed, "Greg has left a sealed packet for me at the ward office."
"Well, you're a bit on the old side for a clean plate award." The grin which spread from John's face to Sherlock's seemed to suggest otherwise.
Chapter 46: A year is a long time in the morgue
“I did what I did for John, for Mrs Hudson and for Greg. The fact that it’s eventually made you happy is a convenient side effect.” She leant across and flicked his ear. “Make sure you stay for good this time.”
Sherlock blinked at the chair opposite. Not quite who he was expecting. When had he fallen asleep? “I was wondering when I’d see you again.”
Molly settled herself on the guest chair and passed over the files. “You would have had these earlier but Nurse Wilson said they weren’t much use to you whilst unconscious.”
“How considerate of her. You’ve missed John, by the way. He’ll be working downstairs tonight. Locuming in A&E.”
“Oh good. He must be feeling a bit better.”
Sherlock had unfastened the first file packet and laid it across his lap before Molly’s words filtered into his head. He blurted out “I didn’t know he’d been ill,” before comprehension hit him. “Oh.”
“Exactly. I take it he’s had words with you?”
“Frequently, as has Greg and Agnes. Mycroft has, for the most part, saved his visitations for when I’m asleep, or so I’ve been led to believe.”
“Perhaps that‘s just as well.”
Sherlock turned back to the photographs. “Hmm. Three individuals, each two, no four months apart. Similar wounds, but I’d hardly call them identical.“ He looked up towards her. “Any interesting tox results?”
“Possibly,“ she replied in an even tone. “Read through them. See what you come up with.”
“Who’s the current investigating officer?”
“Dimmock, with some assistance from Sally.”
“Greg still on sick leave?”
“He’s easing back into things. Working from home. His clearance medical isn’t until Wednesday.”
Sherlock huffed, frustrated. “He was strafed, not shot. What is taking them so long?”
Molly ignored his outburst. “A head injury is still a head injury. Paperwork and procedures, Sherlock. Not everyone has the British Government to ease their path.”
“Be glad you haven’t. The surveillance alone is too high a price.”
Molly looked him over. “How long before they release you back into the community?” she asked.
“That’s fast, even for you. Whose cage did you rattle?”
”Almost no-one’s. Rather hard to do so when you’re under significant sedation. Besides, my recuperation will be overseen by John and Mrs Hudson.”
“He’s agreed to that?”
“Yes, having laid down his ground rules. Agnes will help as well, seeing as she’ll be under the same roof for the foreseeable future.”
“Greg told me all about her. She sounds nice.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’d expect an educated woman to have a greater range of adjectives at her disposal. There are a thousand words I would use to describe her before debasing both her and myself with the use of such terms. She’s intelligent, free-thinking, attractive and possessing of sufficient clout to keep my insufferable brother at bay unless his presence is both expedient and requested.”
“And what does John think of your assessment of her qualities?”
“Well, he hasn’t objected.” He smiled at Molly through his fingers. “She’s survived remarkably well as Mycroft’s godchild, all things considered.”
“I’d like to meet her.”
“That no doubt will be arranged. Your paths are sure to cross sooner or later.”
Molly picked up her bag. Sherlock noted the movement, but concentrated on the photographs.
“I trust that you will respond if I text you later regarding this?”
“Not after nine. We’re going to the cinema.”
“Boring.” But there was no heat in the jibe. “I’ll bombard Donovan instead. Give her something to do instead of scrubbing Anderson’s floors.”
“She’ll be thrilled.”
“No less than I will be when I get out of here.” There was a look she’d never expected to see on his face. “Thank you, Molly,” he said, in a soft voice he’d not used in a long time. Her eyebrows lifted to her hairline.
“I did what I did for John, for Mrs Hudson and for Greg. The fact that it’s eventually made you happy is a convenient side effect.” She leant across and flicked his ear. “Make sure you stay for good this time.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Chapter 47: The Heart of the British Government
Sometimes family takes precedence over everything except HMQ in Mycroft's life.
“Sir?” She stood in front of the desk and waited while he sent his final email.
“Yes, Anthea?” He shut the laptop with a click.
“Miss Reynard is waiting in the outer office. I’ve cleared your diary for the rest of the day with the exception of the eight o’clock meeting at the Palace.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you. Please ring the Ladies’ Annexe of the Diogenes and reserve a table for three in about half an hour. Is Crieff still here?”
“Waiting in the secure garage.”
“Excellent. We will be down presently.”
“Very good, Sir.” They left the room together. His phone vibrated. Someone was clearly reading their emails.
-That would be an excellent idea.Will head out presently M.
The phone was slid back into his pocket before he turned to Agnes. “Good to see you, my dear." He folded her into a hug. “All well, I trust?”
“Generally.” They left the office and headed for the lift.
“How is work settling down?”
“It’s as if I’d never been away. How’s Ethel?”
I do believe she’s missing you, but she’s enjoying the facilities. I never knew that there was such a plethora of small mammals in North London. She appears to be working through the species like a small game hunter.”
“You don’t sound too distressed.”
“That’s because Crieff is in charge of biological clean up. I merely get a daily casualty report.”
Agnes spotted the satin-dark Jaguar purring at the kerb. “Has someone been promoted?”
“Not exactly. Crieff’s taxi is undergoing its MOT, so I’ve let him loose in this.”
“You’re such a thoughtful boss,“ replied Agnes. “Shame Anthea isn’t here to enjoy it.”
“Oh, she shall. Once my Palace visit is over, they’ve got the weekend to do so.”
Agnes chuckled. “No wonder he looks so happy.”
Crieff opened the back door. “Good afternoon. Diogenes Annexe, please.”
“Certainly, Sir.” He smiled in acknowledgement and shut the door behind them.
Mycroft watched Agnes as she sank back against the seat. “You seem settled, my dear.”
“Relatively. Baker Street feels safe.”
“Better than Vauxhall?”
“It’s different. I haven’t lived with anyone since university, but I’m beginning to enjoy the concept of company.”
“I don’t think you’re the only one,” he commented. “John seems much better now also.”
“I’ll think you’ll find that’s mostly down to Sherlock, not me.” Mycroft frowned.
“Agnes, remember the rules. Do not do yourself down. Your presence has been a constant support for John since Sherlock’s reappearance. You’re good for each other.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of, if I’m honest. Sherlock comes home shortly and the balance we’ve created can’t be maintained. I’d never ask John to make a choice because...”she faltered.
“...because you feel you’d lose?” he suggested. Agnes nodded.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Only to me.” He pulled her as close as their seatbelts allowed. “I think it’s time you sat down with my brother and really spoke to him. He’s just as scared of losing John as you are, possibly more so.”
“Humans are not static beings. We alter, according to circumstance. John isn’t the same soul Sherlock left behind. None of us are. Life has changed, and once Sherlock understands this, the easier it will be for him.”
“Are you sure.?” It shocked Mycroft to hear how uncertain she sounded.
“Absolutely.” The car glided around a corner and came to an elegant stop. Mycroft looked past Agnes’ shoulder. He spotted a woman in an immaculate violet twinset emerge from a Routemaster bus. She crossed the road as they left the car.
“Good afternoon, Mrs Hudson,” said Mycroft, bending slightly to kiss her cheek. “I’m so glad you could meet us. Shall we go in? I have a proposition to set before you both...”
Chapter 48: The unexpected chambers of a human heart
"... I have always held you in the greatest regard, despite your inflated opinion of Mycroft. You can’t help that any more than you’re to blame for the appalling excuse for humanity who fathered you. But you matter to me and now you matter to John. The rest of the world can fuck off.”
It would be good to see you SH
Have you frightened off everyone else then? AR
Me? Frightening? SH
Only when manipulation gets you nowhere. AR
Come if convenient. SH
“Evening.” She stuck her head into Sherlock’s room. The day chair was empty and the curtains around the bed were pulled closed.
“A moment please.” Nurse Wilson. “Just assisting Mr Awkward into bed.”
“I am not awkward,” complained a familiar voice.
“You are when I’m trying to wrangle you into bed without upsetting your stitches again.”
“It’s hardly your fault or mine if an assistant surgeon can’t remember how to properly secure a suture thread.”
“It is your fault when you fiddle and fuss.”
An improving Sherlock was an argumentative soul. The speed and vitriolic nature of his retorts was further demonstration of this. It made Agnes smile in spite of herself. “I’ll be back in a moment, “ she said, and headed off in search of coffee.
Nurse Wilson was just backing out of Sherlock’s room when she returned. “Sorry for the intrusion,“ said Agnes. “He’s hardly the easiest soul you’ve had in here.”
Nurse Wilson shot her a quick grin. “True, but we’ll miss him when he goes.”
“Is it safe to go in now?”
“Sure. Medication swallowed, dressings changed and in new pyjamas. No Dr Watson tonight?”
“He’s covering a shift downstairs in A&E. Maybe later.”
“That will be please his Lordship no end. Feel free to stay as long as you like.”
Sherlock was sat up in bed, straight -backed and sulking. The skullcap bandage had shrunk to a single wide band across his forehead, no longer camouflaged by chalky pale skin. Sherlock was pink now, almost florid in places. Fairly perfect for someone who had risen from the dead twice.
The whisper of a smile graced his mouth. “Why must you taunt me with caffeine when it’s been denied me since lunch?”
“Well, I’m not the one on weapons grade analgesics.” She leant in and gave him a cautious hug.
“Still not made of glass,“ he complained.
“You never were.”
Why has it taken you so long to see me again?” he asked.
”It’s called giving people space.”
”Rarely needed it. That's what a mind palace is there for.”
“You know what I mean.” She sipped her coffee and felt his gaze rake across her. “I’m way down the list.”
”Only because you put yourself there.”
She shrugged. “Better last than forgotten. I’d better get used to it, once you’re out of here.” Her words made Sherlock frown.
“How can I compete for John’s time with a resurrected genius? I’m all for sharing, but you’ve yet to grasp the concept.” The brittle edge of her voice sliced his thoughts. Not good. Not good at all.
“Agnes…” was as far as he got.
“I’m not after synthetic pity.” Sharp. Wounded. Unlike her. Why?
“Let me finish please. “ He was glad she did. “I’m intelligent, not clairvoyant. I have always held you in the greatest regard, despite your inflated opinion of Mycroft. You can’t help that any more than you’re to blame for the appalling excuse for humanity who fathered you. But you matter to me and now you matter to John. The rest of the world can fuck off.”
A partial recovery, but an insufficient one. Time for an alternative strategy. “Put down that cup,” he ordered.
“Because I don’t intend to sleep in a coffee-flavoured t shirt. Now put it down and come. Here.” Agnes blinked, unsure of what she was hearing, but the cup was stowed on the locker top. She perched on the bed. “Closer. I’m not allowed to stretch that far. “
She scooted up reluctantly, and almost yelped as two wiry arms pulled her off balance. Her feet swayed off the ground until she came to rest against Sherlock’s shoulder. Her pulse was at least perhaps fifteen beats ahead of his. His hands traced casual tracks down her spine, willing her body to slow it down. Eventually it did.
His hands came to rest on either side of her head, so that he could tilt her face towards his. “Tell me the cardinal signs of a liar,” he commanded.
Her reply was automatic. “Hesitancy, inability to maintain eye contact, nervous sweat, looking over to the upper left.” Some things were never forgotten.
“Now have I demonstrated any tells such as these?” She shook her head.
“So what does that tell you?”
“You’re telling the truth.”
“Precisely.” His hands drifted to her shoulders and eased her up. “Then why are you suddenly so unsure of yourself?”
“I’ve got a right to be.”
“Bollocks. Your health is good, you are maintaining a satisfying relationship and you have a job you appear to enjoy.”
“Ignoring the fact I’m officially homeless, cat-less and dealing with the knowledge my father is a murderously controlling psychopathic bastard.” She swallowed. “Think I’m entitled to feel unstable.”
“Well stop it. I’m already told John I have no problem with the concept of you staying at 221b, once ground rules and parameters have been set. On both sides.” He looked at her directly. “Is that clear?”
“Will Ethel be accompanying you?”
“Perfect.” Sherlock’s eyes gleamed.
“Should I be concerned for her future welfare?”
“Of course not. She’s second only to you in my brother’s priorities. I am thankfully somewhere down the list behind crème patisserie and chocolate ganache.”
“I don’t think Mycroft would have commandeered a medevac team to rescue his favourite icing. Or moved his entire office upstairs if cake was more important than you.”
“Your comprehension of my brother’s motives is clouded with emotion.” His shields were rising again.
“That’s because you’ve taken this long to realise their significance.Your heart is bigger than your brain, isn’t it?”
Sherlock nodded fractionally. ”Only in the past year. Knowing what’s been at stake, having to accept that a portion of it is out of my control, then dealing with the fallout. It’s exhausting. How do the normals cope?”
“We ordinary people take it a day at a time, or by the hour if we need to.”
“Agnes, you’re not ordinary. You never have been.”
“That’s Mycroft’s influence, then.”
“Unlikely. You’d be a minor Government drone if that were the case. Now sit back on your chair and drink the rest of your coffee. I have the image of a cold and awkward git to maintain. If that damned nurse comes in and finds you where you are currently are, the data will be irrevocably corrupted.” He smiled with the whole of his face before continuing. “The smell of that coffee is far too distracting.“
The uppity, temperamental persona had slid firmly back into place. She retrieved her coffee and returned to her chair.
Sherlock fumbled under his pillow and produced a TV remote. “Radio 3 or Radio 4?”
“Radio 3. More concertos, fewer political egos.”
“As you wish.”
The air quivered with the sound of a well- led string section. It seemed vaguely familiar. “Vaughan Williams. Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis,“ he explained. Agnes drank the remainder of her coffee.
“Pass me my phone, would you? It’s in my drawer.”
“Thank you.” Only one unread message.
Nicely handled, little brother. MH
Sherlock’s response was entirely in character.
Haven’t you got a war to start somewhere? Kindly point your nose somewhere else. Like at a cake. SH
Proud of you. MH
Kindly do not commit yourself to feelings you cannot express. SH
Still proud of you. All interior monitoring of 221b now offline. MH
Took you long enough. SH
It was imprudent to remove security protocols before the eradication of risk. MH
Agnes, I trust all is well now, I trust? MH
Better. Thank you. He’s all heart, really. AR
How rude to be texting about someone whilst they are still in the room. SH
John appeared at midnight carrying a brown paper bag. Both of them were asleep. Agnes woke instinctively. She uncurled herself from the chair.
“Didn’t expect to see you here,” he whispered into her hair.
Agnes’ voice was equally hushed. “We needed. To get a few things straight in my head.”
“Did it work?”
“Good. How long has he been sleeping?”
“Perhaps an hour, once he’d finished his text battle with Mycroft.”
“Great. He perched on the chair arm and breathed her in. “What about you? There’s a perfectly good bed waiting for you at Baker Street.”
“It would be that if you were in it.”
John huffed. ”Well, you don’t work on Saturdays…”
A disgruntled rumble emanated from the bed. “When you’ve finished your inane chatter, someone would like to get some sleep.”
“That’s a first, Sherlock.” Agnes stretched awkwardly. “Listen, I’ll make a move.”
“Text me when you get home?” asked John.
“Of course. “ They kissed. John watched her go before sitting down in the empty chair. It still held her warmth. He opened the paper bag onto his lap. “Mrs Hudson’s ginger shortbread. Baked tonight, I believe.” Sherlock’s hand darted out to the offered package and grabbed a piece. His eyes widened and his nostrils flared as he turned the biscuit in his hand.
“Hmm. A different brand of flour than I remember. She's upped the demerara sugar and ginger content also.” An exploratory nibble followed. “Definitely an improvement.”
“I’ll pass on your comments.” John ate a biscuit himself. "Very nice.”
“All sorted for my homecoming then?”
“Pretty much, although I’m sure you’ll find something not to your liking.”
“Well, it won’t be the company.”
“Talking to Agnes did you good.”
“More than you’d realise.”
Chapter 49: The coat, the scarf and a suitcase
"We live, we fight. We sort each other out.”
It's finally time for Sherlock to head home.
Sherlock glared from across the room. “I have been packed and ready for the last hour. How long does it take to secure the signatures of two individuals?”
John looked up from his newspaper. “Longer than you think.”
Sherlock paced up and down, fingers twitching. “What is keeping them?” he demanded.
“Probably ensuring that all is how it should be before submitting reports to the British Government.”
I’m fine. Why won’t they let me go?”
“They will. Now sit down. You’re making me dizzy.”
“Well stop staring at every move I make. I’m better, John. You’ve seen the scans and the x-rays. My continuing presence in this hospital is a waste of my time. And yours.”
John gave up on his paper. An element of army captain slid into his voice. “Sherlock, you will sit down now.” He flopped into the chair with very bad grace. John smiled grimly.
“Good start. Now listen to me. You are still recovering from significant multiple surgeries. You are still healing, and as such, you will follow my instructions to the letter, or find yourself back here. That is the agreement you signed, is it not?” Sherlock’s nod was mutinous. “Good. I’m glad we agree on that point. So if I tell you to sit, you will find a suitable spot and do so immediately. For as long as I see fit. Is that clear?”
“Yes, John. Crystalline.”
“Wonderful. Now stop overthinking. We’re going to back to Baker Street, where you’ll eat a light lunch and then you’ll have a rest. If, and only if, you manage at least sixty minutes of actual sleep, you’ll get some time with Greg’s cold case files after you’ve had tea with Mrs Hudson and Agnes.” Sherlock’s groan bordered on the anguished.
“It’s bad enough for you to be fussing, bit them as well? My manners will not stand for it.”
“They can and they will.” John went over to the bed and held up Sherlock’s coat. The same one, albeit with a new lining. “Put this on – it’s cooler outside than you think.Your scarf is in the right hand pocket.”
Sherlock did so, then spent a nervous five minutes fussing with the scarf. He was curiously thankful for the lack of an accessible mirror. He didn’t want to see a nervous reflection.
He felt the pressure of John’s hand on his arm and visibly flinched. “Oi, Sherlock. Come out of that head of yours and get back in this room. Your discharge paperwork is at the nurse’s station. Two signatures and then we’re done. Time to go.”
He watched as John grabbed his case and put a hand on the door. Sherlock remained in the centre of the room, trying to voice the words pounding in his head.
“What is it?” asked John.
“Watching, staying and believing. I really don’t deserve you.”
John’s mouth dried as his eyes moistened. Sherlock seemed to be in a similar state. “ Bullshit. We deserve each other,” he replied. “Good and bad. We live, we fight. We sort each other out.” A smile blossomed between them. “Come on, let’s go.”